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Hello, Hello, Hello: The Comeback 2.05 “Valerie is Taken Seriously” Discussion

13 Dec

The Comeback continues to be one of the year’s best shows as it examines Hollywood perceptions through Valerie Cherish with the word ‘brave’ in terms of performance taking center stage this week. I am once again joined by Kerensa Cadenas and we’re both a little concerned for where everything Paulie G related is heading for Valerie this season.

the Comeback 2.05 ValEmma: A reporter from the New York Times calls Valerie’s Seeing Red performance “brave” and this sends Valerie spiralling because she thinks brave is a reference to how she looks. As we know Valerie is all about how she appears and she never wants to come across in a negative light, which tends to make her look bad by extension. The Comeback is the ultimate show in terms of the terms ‘unlikeable’ and ‘difficult’ in that it explores what these characteristics mean while the lead character is trying to do everything in her power to be liked. Fame is Valerie’s ultimate goal but she’s determined to be seen positively along the way, that might be an even stronger impulse for her so when she’s called ‘brave’ and she sees the dailies it horrifies her.

It’s rare for Valerie to snap, but she does exactly this when Jane insists on use low lighting. This is exactly the kind of set up that Valerie views as insinuating that she looks terrible. Brave does get thrown around in terms of performance so often that it really has lost its meaning – Julia Roberts is brave for not being made up in The Normal Heart, Jennifer Aniston in Cake, Charlize Theron in Monster and the list goes on – and it does tend to mean when a glamorous stunning actress looks normal. It’s insulting to both their performances and every regular person. Or what Lena Dunham and her attitude towards nudity, which is also referred to as brave rather than the actual work she is doing. And this is what Valerie is told brave means in this context as Valerie has never been seen like this before, not unmade up but emotionally raw.

I’ve got to say that while the script is clearly a turd (because Paulie G will always be a hack) it’s quite captivating seeing Valerie acting like this and while I’m not surprised that she is great, I think she is surprised by what she sees in these dailies and it scares her.

What did you think of the whole ‘brave’ aspect?

the comeback 2.05 dailliesKerensa: I thought that Valerie’s reaction to being called ‘brave’ was exactly how Valerie and maybe anyone would take it in that position. But I agree with you, while Paulie G’s lack of talent is apparent, Valerie crushes it. She’s so good, even in the low lighting. Good enough for Mickey to say, “wow you can act Red!”

I think the sad thing though in the episode is just how intensely Val ties that ‘brave’ to how she looks where you can almost sense her desperately about to claw her face off the entire episode until she speaks to the NY Times reporter at the end of the episode.

What also seems to scare Val is this idea that we’ve discussed over and over again and is always discussed and I’m so tired of: unlikeability. Val knows that this role will make people see her differently and she’s terrified that means they won’t like her. I think it’s one of the reasons why she overcompensates so much with Paulie G, even though she shouldn’t give a fuck, but she can sense how much he loathes her and she’s desperate to change that, even now. It’s why she goes to Tom to see about helping Paulie. She can’t stand people not liking her in both her personal life and public life which could possibly change.

The Comeback 2.05 ValerieEmma: Unlikeable as a term to describe character needs to be done with and it definite only seems to aply to women – men are difficult, women are unlikeable. Flawed is a much better way to describe what we all are and one of Valerie’s greatest flaws is her drive to get people to like her. As you mention this is why she is so determined to get Paulie G to change what is a very strong hatred (let’s not sugarcoat this is as it goes way beyond disliking) as she can’t stand to be seen like this. I think this is a pretty common reaction especially as Paulie G’s reaction to Val far outweighs anything she has ever done to him, can he really justify why she is the monster who rips apart his inner child? Val goes way beyond the point most people would if they were to experience this level of abuse, but Val doesn’t know when to quit and this determination is both a strength and flaw.

Going to see Tom is Valerie’s way of trying to help out Paulie and after the suicide that ended last week’s episode, plus Paulie’s needle comment and signs that he is cracking under the pressure she thinks Tom can help. But Tom doesn’t give a shit about Paulie and is pissed that Paulie as the fuck up is the one who got the HBO show. I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for Tom as while he never reached Paulie G levels of vile, he was still a massive shit at times. What do you make of his outburst?

Another person who has a meltdown is Billy and a lot of this episode covers the fear of getting left behind. Billy feels undermined when HBO ask him to scrap all the interviews he has set up (and they are all with reputable sites) and thinks that it is history repeating with yet another client leaving him behind. There’s a lot of ego in this business and everyone is striving to get ahead so it’s not surprising that nerves are frayed and Billy has always had a temper issue. His terrible attempt at leaving dramatically only to come back for his phone had me in stitches. Poor Billy, but hey he gets his job back at the end.

the comeback 2.05 BillyKerensa: Billy’s meltdown was funny and completely made sense to me, but at least for me, watching anything after Val’s meeting with Tom was kinda hard to pay attention to. Their whole interaction made me feel nauseous. Not because Tom necessarily did anything wrong–but finding out more that happened behind the scenes in that Room & Bored writers room was horrifying. I felt bad for Tom when he complained about how much Paulie G had fucked up but was still able to make it within the industry. And there was Tom, who did everything he felt was right, and is stuck working on Nick shows.

When Tom mentioned all the horrific things that Paulie G said about Val–wasn’t there something about wanting to basically murder her–I just felt this awful sinking feeling. I don’t think The Comeback is going to GO THERE obviously, but I am so so nervous about what is going to happen with Paulie G and Val. It’s just been building and I’m really stressed about it.

Are you feeling like that? Am I just being insane?

the comeback 2.05 val and tomEmma: If definitely sucks that Paulie G has been gifted his own comeback while Tom’s career was torpedoed by Room and Bored. And pretty much everything that happened in that writers’ room sounds incredibly toxic and horrifying. Tom definitely alludes to Paulie G saying he wanted to harm Val, how he called Valerie the devil and said they should “find a stake and pound it through your heart. If you have one.” He also explicitly warns her to stay away from Paulie G and while I hadn’t considered that he would hurt her before you mentioned it, he did write a sequence with Mitch with a shotgun outside Malory’s house so his mind has definitely gone there.

I second your stressed out feelings and it is a vibe that is permeating the whole show, so much so that the documentary is now going to be focusing on this relationship. It’s like everyone is aware of how much Paulie G hates Valerie and I find it hard to believe she is that oblivious to it all. Maybe it’s just her grin and bear it demeanor but I wonder how long she is going to tolerate the way he treats her and if she pushes back what he will do next.

He’s clearly crumbling under the pressure and Valerie is getting positive notes, which is also not going to help his negative feelings. Also what do you think Paulie G made of his replacement director?

The Comeback 2.05 Val and Paulie GKerensa: Actually the whole Paulie G’s replacement director thing was weird to me. She was SUPER annoying I thought. And I bet he hated it because he couldn’t be in control because he’s falling apart.

What did you think?

Emma: She was weirdly a bit cutesy for me with the whole dance thing, I’m guessing they wanted to go for the complete opposite type of director who is warm and encouraging but it came across as a little forced. But I’m happy that it probably/definitely pissed Paulie G off. And I found the green screen stuff to be very disorientating aesthetically which makes sense as it is meant to throw Valerie as well. I did like how she didn’t really get that the fake audience were laughing on cue and so she really dug that reaction as it felt real to her.

What did you make of Mark’s decision to go ahead and get a sublet now they are using their house to double as a hospital?

the comeback 2.05 Valerie and MickeyKerensa: Mark’s decision to get a sublet is just another ingredient to my anxiety about this final episode. Seeing Val’s face when she says that to the camera while trying to blow it off as nothing is A+ from Kudrow who totally nails the almost casual anguish (is that a thing) that Val is trying to hide. But it does make me even more worried for her. Mark’s always been her rock, a really grounding force, and if he’s gone, then what?

Emma: Val doesn’t have a whole lot of people she can really rely on and with Mark reaching his fame breaking point, it’s only really Mickey that she has truly on her side (I’d argue you Jane as well, but she’s definitely not in the same support league as Mark and Mickey). Mickey has his own concerns of course with his skin cancer diagnosis and it’s unclear what’s going on there as it didn’t get mentioned this week. I’m pretty concerned about that as week. Everything is stacking up and it feels like the breaking point is coming. And I think Valerie is the poster child for casual anguish.

Kerensa Cadenas is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is an Editor for Snakkle. She also writes for Women and HollywoodThe WeekThis Was TelevisionForever Young Adult, and Bitch magazine. You can follow her on Twitter to read her thoughts on teen TV, snacks and terrible pop music.

Masters of Sex 2.05 “Giants” Review: Taking the Plunge

11 Aug

So much of Masters of Sex deals with public and private battles for progression as these characters navigate a reluctant and repressive landscape; from the sex study itself to gender and most recently race issues. This is a period of fundamental change and as Bill’s new boss Dr. Charles Hendricks (played by the always excellent Courtney B. Vance) points out the actions of pioneers like Bill (and Virginia) are important when it comes to ensuring monumental change; someone needs to take the plunge.

Once again there are multiple power dynamics at play with the Virginia and Bill continuing their push/pull dance and home life at the Masters’ takes another turn for the awful. These aren’t the only relationships that are under strain as Virginia and Lillian continue to argue and Betty receives a blast from the past that threatens to disrupt her already precarious marital situation.

Masters of Sex 2.05 BillBill’s new place of work is a lot more amenable with who he wants to hire as part of his work requirements as well as being fully behind the study – well to a certain extent as it turns out that Dr. Hendricks is the one sabotaging the recruitment of new participants and isn’t as in favor of the sex study as he is projecting – on the surface Bill is getting what he wants. To Bill, his new office is tiny and yet he is being accommodated in a manner that is at a disadvantage to the other doctors, one of whom is now in an even smaller thanks to the arrival of Bill. Bill also manages to secure a contract for Virginia, something she insists upon and isn’t the norm for support staff at Buell Green. For Virginia job security is a condition of her moving hospitals as she has her family to think about and even though her working relationship with Lillian is in tatters she also needs to ensure that she can provide for her children. So while Bill might refer to the diet pills in a fanciful derogatory sense, Virginia is only selling them as a means to an end.

Financial security is one thing, but she also has another issue to work through with Bill and their participation in the study. After Virginia’s huge blowout with Lillian where Lillian accuses her of sleeping her way to her new position and scoffing at the scientific nature of her work with Bill, Virginia now has other stipulations. As with season 1, Virginia asks Bill if she has to participate in the study to get the job. Back then he said no and this is his initial response here too and then he changes his mind; it is indeed mandatory. Virginia finds a way to assert her dominance and agency when they venture to the hotel as she tells Bill to strip and pleasure himself. This is a twist on what happened in “Fight” when Bill told Virginia to strip and beg for it and instead she showed she has control over her body. Bill complies with Virginia’s demands from the Q&A – why he closes his eyes and who he is thinking about – to when she tells him to stop.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Virginia stopwatchThe Bill/Virginia relationship is in a state of flux as both are trying so hard to deny any actual feelings and the intimacy of their work can result in moments like this. When Virginia tells him to stop before completion this is another moment where she is fully in control and Bill continues to meet Virginia’s demands; it’s a banner week for lady pleasure as Bill follows the Outlander lead and goes down on Virginia. It’s also worth noting that as the camera pulls away we see the very naked Bill and the still fully dressed Virginia. Bill is later propositioned in “Giants” by Libby (more on the reasons why below) and the sex between this pair is stale and kinda awkward looking (plus Bill keeps his t-shirt firmly on). Having established a new power balance and one that is sure to ebb and flow as they continue to view these activities as research only, Virginia takes the position at Buell Green.

Masters of Sex 2.05 white coatThe return of the white coat! Virginia might not be an actual doctor, but the symbolism behind this garment is incredibly important. This indicates her experience, expertise and equal standing with Bill when it comes to their work on the study so while she doesn’t come with Dr. before her name she shouldn’t get overlooked. The dress Virginia is wearing is one of her super professional and very Lillian looking outfits thanks to the grey tone and high collar. We first saw this piece of costuming in the episode where Lillian was introduced and it also happens to be the first dress Virginia wore the lab coat with and this is significant. Inner strength is something Virginia possesses in droves and yet she has the same insecurities regarding her self-worth and how she is perceived as everyone else. The white coat is like armor and it sends out a message that Virginia is not here as a play thing for Bill. After her argument with Lillian it is understandable that she embraces this coat and dresses conservatively to portray a certain version of herself.

When Virginia fights with Lillian several home truths come out from both parties; Lillian gave her work away to secure its future as she always suspected that she was Virginia’s second choice and Austin’s revelation confirmed her fears. As with Bill, Virginia references money and supporting her family to explain her actions and tells Lillian that she “had it easier.” This is one of those bitter arguments where every single fear and resentment is laid out and when Lillian first met Virginia she believed that she was using her looks to get by; in one respect Lillian believes her initial assessment has been confirmed, however it is far more complex than that. In a hurtful argument it is all the ammo Lillian needs to push Virginia further away. It is not the end of my favorite lady friendship on TV, although I suspect there isn’t much time left for Lillian and she is now done with work after she collapsed in the bathroom.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Lillian and Virginia“I am scared though for what’s ahead, which means I can’t really afford to be upset with you, can I?” The line that caused my screen to go blurry and despite their big fight this friendship has not been broken and there is no need to say sorry for the things they said to each other; the hand holding is more than enough. This has been a sublime representation of a female friendship and I’m really not ready for it to be done. I know it’s not that kind of show, but I really want them to find a miracle cure.

Masters of Sex 2.05 CoralMoving on from an interaction that is tear inducing to one that causes another emotional reaction – of the “Shut up, Libby!” variety – and Libby continues down the path of self-righteous destruction. Libby’s relationship with Coral reaches new lows of patronizing after she receives a visit from Coral’s boyfriend Robert regarding the degrading shampoo incident. Libby can’t understand that what she did was completely inappropriate until Bill points out just how horrific these actions were. Libby is being painted in a very unfortunate light and her attempts to do the ‘right thing’ like impart life lessons as she “knows a thing or two about the world” lead to further humiliation and anger. With Coral when she tells her to dump Robert, Coral uses her knowledge of the separate beds in the Masters’ bedroom to poke at Libby’s insecurities (and it prompts Libby’s ‘seduction’ of Bill later on) and Robert points out how she should be apologizing to Coral not him. Libby is shocked that Robert is calling her racist and while we saw some liberal attitudes from Libby last season there is still inherent snobbery that translates at racism with how she is treating Coral and Bill’s new workplace location.

Libby doesn’t apologize to Coral most likely because she thinks it will undermine her position and because she is already feeling inferior to her employee. This is the original reason why Libby corrected Coral’s grammar in the first place and a lot of Libby’s insecurities are bringing out this ugly side of her in the same it does with Betty Draper on Mad Men. Feeling powerless is not a reason to be awful and I worry that Libby is being portrayed in this way to make her less sympathetic when it comes to her marriage.

One thing we know about Libby’s past is that she did have it pretty hard as a child with her mother dying young quickly followed by her father walking out and never coming back. This makes her comment about knowing things about the world believable, but this is not how she presents herself so she comes across as spoiled and sheltered.

Masters of Sex 2.05 B and HEmbracing the past is something Betty has to do when ex-girlfriend Helen (oh hey Sarah Silverman) turns up unannounced and threatens to disrupt the marriage Betty is in the middle of trying to save. Gene is still upset with Betty, not because she can’t have children, but because she lied about it in the first place. The scene where she tries to serenade Gene with a cute song and dance doesn’t work (he compares her voice to “migrating geese” and Annaleigh Ashford is really a Broadway star, Betty not so much) and it adds depth to the Pretzel King and shows there is genuine affection here, even if it will never be that kind of love. In the same way Barton Scully is limited to how he can love in the eyes of society this is another version of this heartbreaking story. Betty married Gene as a way to secure herself a future away from the brothel and while she sees this as another form of prostitution in this version she gets a hat for each day of the week and gold facets. When Libby says she knows the world it sounds ridiculous, with Betty it’s totally believable when she states she “has seen things.” Gene isn’t a bad guy either, but this kind of settling is only going to lead to further misery for all concerned. This is clear during the double date when a story about how much Helen cares for Betty goes from hysterical laughter to teary bathroom kisses.

Betty reinforces why she chose Gene as there is no future for them; pretending to be sisters so they can live together is not enough and they don’t fit in with the style of the lesbian scene. For Betty it broke her heart, but she wanted a future for herself even if that future is built on lies.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Betty and HelenStyle wise like Betty, Helen wears colorful and bold attire refusing to blend in. They are an explosive pair and the chemistry between Annaleigh Ashford and Sarah Silverman supports this notion that they have been in love for years.

Masters of Sex 2.05 Gene, Helen, BettyI also really want to include this shot as there is so much going on in this scene costume and set wise; there is a clashing quality between Betty’s colorful stripped skirt, Helen’s floral teal dress and Gene’s camel suit. The opulence of the room (haunted by the ghost of a 93-year old) adds to the busy looking frame underpinning the conflict at play. There are ghosts in this room of course, but not the one Gene thinks there is.

Masters of Sex 2.05 VirginiaThis whole episode is full of vibrant colors with strong blues dominating scenes; Coral is in blue when Libby attempts to give her advice and Libby is in a similar shade when she tells Coral she can take care of the master Masters bedroom. Betty wears electric blue when she confronts Helen and Helen in turn wears this to dinner. It’s like there is a power struggle between the women who wear this color. Virginia reverts back to red after her initial grey power dress and it’s the Capri blue car that gets referenced as a way to show the neighborhood isn’t so bad; this car is also the location for the Virginia/Lillian reconciliation. In the final scene Virginia is wearing a beautiful darker blue outfit when Bill pays her the ultimate compliment by referring to something she does way better than he does and I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into it, but this color plays an important part in the power struggles between some of these relationships. Now Bill and Virginia are in a better place she is wearing less black around him. The overall challenge is far from over and this is not a conflict free situation, however it does appear that Bill and Virginia are on the same page in the same hospital once again.

The Americans 2.05 “The Deal” Review – What is Home?

27 Mar

Notions of identity lie at the heart of The Americans and while season 1 focused on marriage, this year broads the scope as there is new found stability and trust in Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship. Last week ended on a cliffhanger as a simple snatch and grab descended into chaos. “The Deal” picks up immediately after this incident as they must try and rectify what went wrong. The man who attacked them and who they end up taking hostage is a Mossad agent and this brings a whole new set of ideologies that conflict with what our protagonists believe.

The Americans 2.05In terms of costuming Philip wears his snatch and grab beanie attire for the majority of the episode as he is left to deal with the captured and injured agent – whose name we never learn – and the discussions about home stem from him as he tries to mess with Philip’s psychological state. Philip as we have seen throughout the series isn’t just an automaton despite what he is later accused of by Anton. Philip has feelings, he also has orders and even though he likes living in America he is a KGB officer first and foremost. The question of identity is raised throughout, from this agent mentioning the icicles and asking if they have them in Russia – Philip lies that he doesn’t remember as he’s trying not to give up anything about who he is. Later when Philip hands him over the agent mentions they spent the night together and they don’t know each other’s name followed by a dissection of the man Philip might not be “But your name isn’t your name, is it? Is your face your face? Are your children your children?” All this man knows about Philip is that he likes the cold, that’s all he has given to him.

There are two defining identities when it comes to Philip; the “Mr KGB Man” aspect of Philip, the one plays many roles and who will kill a young kitchen porter after he has seen his real face and there is Philip, father of two, loving husband and travel agent. The two aren’t separate people, he’s just very good at compartmentalizing these aspects when he is out in the field and it’s why he is so good at his job. Identity is something he does possess even if there are conflicting aspects and this is why his bond with Elizabeth, which evolved throughout last season, is so important to whom he is and this is no more apparent than in the closing scene of “The Deal.”

The Americans 2.05 E and PIn flashbacks last season they were told to never speak of who they were and where they came from before they became Philip and Elizabeth. After Elizabeth was shot in the season finale she asks Philip to come in their native tongue and while the Mossad agent doesn’t think that this home for Philip – because his heart lies in the motherland – he couldn’t be more wrong. The bed that he sarcastically quips must be so nice to lie in, is in fact where Philip is at his most content. The bed on this occasion is the sofa as Philip lies down next to his wife after a terrible and exhausting night at work. Philip’s long exhale as he can finally relax tells Elizabeth of the trying night he has had so she gently jokes that “Clark has some explaining to do” as she spent the night with Martha.

Philip brings up the icicles he refused to discuss with the Mossad agent and it leads to a very tender conversation about their train ride out of Moscow and how when Philip grew up they played with the icicles using them as swords. Elizabeth is the one that brings up the Moscow train and while she isn’t sure what has prompted the icicle questions, she is intuitive about Philip needing an anecdote like this. Elizabeth understands her husband and when she tells Brad earlier as part of her cover that it has taken her time to start feeling again, she is telling the story of her relationship with Philip. Now she can reveal these parts of herself to him. It’s important that we get these moments, however brief, so we can see beneath the surface and share in the emotional honesty before the next day begins. It’s because of this that we know the accusations leveled at Philip by Anton are not true.

The Americans 2.05 driving“You’re a monster. You’re not a man. Whatever you once were, whoever you were they trained it out of you. No feeling, no humanity. You may as well be dead.” This what a pleading, crying Anton tells Philip as she drives him in silence to his very much unwanted journey back to Russia. In this moment, for Anton this assessment is accurate as Philip doesn’t engage with him. A stone cold stare forward is what Philip gives him, nothing else. He is merely the driver, delivering his cargo. For a brief moment, in his eyes you see all of his humanity.

Philip does show compassion earlier in the episode when he’s with the Mossad agent; he helps him go to the toilet even if he has to wipe his ass and knows that it will end in an attempted escape. There is no pleasure taken in operations like this and he doesn’t use it as opportunity to exert again kind of aggression or put on a display of extreme masculinity. The same cannot be said for Oleg, who is not only going up against Arkady, but he also confronts Stan about Nina; what is his overall play here?

The Americans 2.05 BradPhilip’s not the only one in the Jennings’ house doing the heavy lifting as Elizabeth gets the files she needs from Brad and then has to let him down gently. From the shot above you would think this could be a rom-com rather than a spy show.

The Americans 2.05 J and MThe other major role Elizabeth plays this week is with Martha as she goes to stop her from putting down Clark’s name on the job application and this means the return of Clark’s sister Jennifer and the amazing bouffant short wig and giant glasses combo; she really does look like the female equivalent of Clark. Elizabeth plays up how awful Clark is with everyone card so Martha doesn’t suspect he is only terrible at maintaining contact with her and as the wine flows so does Martha’s mouth about Clark. That’s right this also includes chat about what Clark is like in bed – he’s an animal. This is the only time that Elizabeth betrays her cover as she asks “what does he do?” and this is something no sibling would ever ask follow up questions about. Elizabeth looks sad when Martha tells her that Clark makes her his and I think this is in part because Elizabeth knows this is not true, but also as it’s upsetting to think about the person you love having sex with someone else, even if it’s for work. Both Brad and Martha are collateral damage on the romantic front; Brad’s was brief but it will have a lasting impact on him. With Martha it’s going to be more devastating in the long run.

One person who Elizabeth doesn’t know who to talk to or understand is Paige and when Paige comes to her to explain why she is going to this church group it misfires. Paige starts to explain that it’s not her mom, it’s her “My life, my crazy life. I don’t know where to put everything.” Paige goes to elaborate further and stops; she just can’t articulate these feelings and while Elizabeth knows how to relate to Philip, there is something stopping her from interpreting her daughter. As Elizabeth mentioned last week, they know what their values are, but Paige is searching for a connection and it’s something she can’t find at home.

“The Deal” also introduces Kate (Wrenn Schmidt, Richard Harrow’s wife Julia from Boardwalk Empire), the Jennings’ new handler and she’s not a Claudia. Philip has no time for her friendly introduction and while her appearances were brief I’m looking forward to seeing more from her, especially when it comes to meeting Elizabeth.

The Americans continues to expertly handle both the spy and relationship aspects of the show, while also making my stomach lurch thanks to the endless tension. The final scene this week between Philip and Elizabeth illustrates why their relationship which exists in this complex world is so simple at the heart of it all as they do really love and understand each other; excellent performances from both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys once again.

 

Julie Hammerle

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