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Music Monday: Homeward Bound, Family and the Season Finale of The Leftovers

7 Dec

Justin Theroux is good at many things – no one quite does despair and bewilderment quite like him – plus he is super good looking to boot, but one thing he is not so hot at is singing. This we discovered in his rendition of “Homeward Bound” as he buys his freedom from the hotel limbo nightmare (Part II) in The Leftover’s season 2 finale and the episode benefits from his shaky and far from perfect vocal.

The Leftovers 2.10 KevinWhen Kevin wakes up in that same bathtub and is faced with the same selection of clothes he opts for the uniform he once wore. His mission isn’t to rid himself of Patti this time; instead he needs to find his way back and we don’t have a whole episode to complete this task. Instead things take an even more surreal turn when he gets told that all he needs to do is sing for his freedom like a twisted version of a reality competition. Luckily it isn’t based on how good Kevin is and he crushes the song on a deeper level than talent. Also I get how hard it is to sing along to Simon & Garfunkel because a) I am a terrible singer and b) Simon & Garfunkel are one of my go to writing/reading music choices and I tend to enthusiastically join in at random points.

Instead what this song allows Kevin to do is see flickers of his past from the cigarettes he smokes (being the only thing he shares with the GR), to the issue of National Geographic his father was intent on him reading and then to the images of family when all was not well in “The Garveys at Their Best” prior to the sudden departure (with the lyrics “I’ll play the game and pretend”) and ending on Nora’s smiling face when they decided to really make a go of it at the start of this season. These last two are the most important because they focus on the one thing Kevin realizes he desperately needs and that is family. Patti wanted to destroy the idea of family because the only ones she knew had marginalized her and treated her like shit, but now Patti is gone and Meg has a different opinion on the matter as she tells Tommy that “Family is everything.”

The leftovers 2.10 TommyThe latter helps Tommy with his journey and thereby becomes part of the striking final motif joining the rest of his family at the Garvey/Durst residence while chaos reigns outside. Everyone is searching for something to make them feel okay and while some are better at pretending (see Michael’s story about the truth behind the bathtub incident) Tommy has been bouncing from one ideology to another finding temporary solace. Nothing has stuck, but seeing Nora and Lily in danger on the bridge connects both his pre-departure life and the one which started his journey on looking for a broader meaning in this fucked up world. Tommy has never met Nora before, but he played a vital part in Nora’s decision to stay when he left Christine and Holy Wayne’s baby on his dad’s porch and she was the one who found her. Lily gave hope and the chance for these broken people to connect.

In the second episode this season Kevin couldn’t quite understand why Nora spent such a vast sum on money on a house she had never seen and Jill was the one who had to point out the obvious – she did it to feel safe. When Tommy bundles Nora and Lily into the Airstream he tells her she is okay and they are safe. Everything she has wanted to feel since October 14, four years ago.

The Leftovers 2.10 NoraBabies aren’t band-aids (and now I’m singing a weird version of “Bad Blood”) and one of the questions which plagued Kevin this season (mostly from Patti, sometimes from Jill) was whether he really loves Nora and Lily or if they are just an attempt to cover up the chaos. Ever since Holy Wayne hugged Nora she has been full steam ahead on the ‘everything is good’ train and Kevin’s Patti revelation coupled with the ‘lens’ theory really shook this whole idea prompting her to flee the house. It’s why she reacted so violently to the radio discussion about the departure and moving on, but she also has her faith renewed in her choices by how panicked/devastated she is when Lily is snatched from her arms. The image of Lily lying unprotected on the bridge is where my stress levels went through the roof as was Nora’s decision to lie down and protect her with her body as the crowd continued to surge forward. But Lily is more than just a concept in helping Nora move on and this confirms just how important she is.

The same can be said for Kevin and while he has never wavered from his position of loving his family this rendition of “Homeward Bound” is like the weirdest test of putting his money where his mouth is. It is an ordeal of a completely different kind to the challenges he has previously faced and he nails it. The tight close ups on his face captures the intense emotions of the song and what it means to Kevin; it’s not just the far from perfect singing which shows a lack of vanity in this performance as there is also snot dripping from his nose. Justin Theroux continues his spectacular portrayal of Kevin’s desperation and desire to be with his family again as his voice cracks on certain words.

The Leftovers 2.10 Kevin singingIt turns out that “Homeward Bound” wasn’t the first choice of song for Kevin to sing as Damon Lindelof tells Alan Sepinwall in this excellent interview that Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” was the original intended track (it is still on the wheel). They couldn’t get the rights and so it fell to Simon & Garfunkel and I agree with Lindelof that this is a better choice. I also love that Justin Theroux pointed out that he can’t sing and still went with it.

Despite losing a fuck tonne of blood (an official measurement) Kevin does indeed make it home and I’m not even going to question the logistics here – maybe there are miracles in Miracle – and his place is far from empty (as John fears his house will be). Panning around the darkened room with the strains of the Leftovers signature theme we first see those he had told to stay (Jill and Laurie), Matt and the now wide awake Mary, followed by Tommy holding Lily still dressed in his all GR white and finally Nora entering the room illuminated by a candle. Kevin has found his way home in all senses of the word. And as with the first season finale we are left with Nora saying the final line of dialogue and a repeated sense of hope even as everything burns up the street.

It is unclear whether The Leftovers will get a third season pickup, but I am so not ready to be done with this crazy fucked up world. Especially if next season has some kind of version of all these characters living under one roof as things sure could get uncomfortable fast. But first Kevin should probably go see a doctor about that hole in his chest.

And for your listening pleasure here is the Simon & Garfunkel version of “Homeward Bound” and sadly HBO has yet to put up the Kevin version.

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Masters of Sex 2.10 “Below the Belt” Review: “What is Wrong with Me?”

15 Sep

On Masters of Sex Bill Masters spends so long trying to ignore the past and listing off the things he either refuses to do (beg) or acknowledge as a potential reason behind his current condition (rejection) so even when he does admit there is a problem it is hard to feel sympathetic. There is something about Bill that draws Virginia to him even when he is pushing her away and it’s this push/pull that is compelling both to us an audience and the PR man who thinks Bill and Virginia would be great on TV. The back and forth between them continues to shift the power dynamic and Virginia is remarkably similar to Bill in how little of herself she gives up; even in the therapy session where she is admits deceit, she is still holding back anything that resembles her true feelings. Only giving snippets here and there when she is pressed and the psychologist can see through her defense mechanisms.

“Below the Belt” explores both those things physically below this item of clothing and confrontations that take things to an uncomfortable level; the success of these different storylines varies and it’s another case of an episode trying to address too much in one hour.

Masters of Sex 2.10 BillStarting where we left off last week with Bill and we get to see the rest of the post-confession conversation between Bill and Virginia while at her therapy/coming clean session. Virginia explains this isn’t an affair as an affair is primarily about sex and this isn’t happening right now (although Virginia doesn’t include those times Bill has recently ‘taken care of her,’ how very Bill Clinton of her). The doctor doesn’t not buy this for a second and neither do I; Virginia and Bill both recoil from the word ‘affair’ as it taints what they are doing, but it is clear that this goes way beyond the work even if curing Bill’s impotence is work related. In this scene we see Bill reiterate once again the importance of finding a cure without looking at the why, despite the fact that they are probably intrinsically linked. This would involve too much soul searching and as we know Bill is not so good at looking inward. Bill admits to being “broken” so this is something I guess and then explains how Virginia is the only one who can help him.

Circling back to this point at the end of the episode and after a huge blowout with his brother, Bill comes to the hotel room and admits everything to Virginia that he should have said to his brother and it appears that this unburdening has possibly solved the problem at hand (pun intended). Not sure how enticing the blood face marking and generally pulpiness of his face is, but I guess Virginia doesn’t have an issue with this. He really should clean up first, but bearing the outward signs of this fight is maybe Bill’s way of exhibiting manliness. That’s what a lot of this has to do with really and Bill considers not begging for pain to stop to be an exhibitor of being strong. It is incredibly fuzzy logic and a sign that Bill probably really needs to be in therapy to get beyond this particular sticking point. He taunts his brother into beating him by calling him weak and a coward in response to Frank’s assertion that the reason their family is broken can be traced back to alcohol.

Frank believes alcohol is why their father was a monster, Bill recollects things different stating that Frank Sr. only had one drink a night (like their mother’s one Tom Collins) and his despicable treatment of his family had nothing to do with alcohol. So who is right? Well Bill doesn’t know what the drink intake was after he left so they could both be right as Frank Sr. could have drank more in those later years. Bill is so convinced that his brother is stealing his story that he can’t admit his guilt in his presence, even if they had a variation of this conversation last week that didn’t end in a fist fight. Essie’s assertion earlier when she’s talking about Frank with Bill is an accurate take on this scenario “Everyone has their own version of everything that’s ever happened.”

Masters of Sex 2.10 lobbyThe precarious financial situation continues as the power is shut off for a brief moment and Betty reinforces the point that they need to rent out more office space. The lobby looks majestic and with ice rinks and roller skating jokingly mentioned – Michael Sheen’s reaction to the roller skating question is hilarious and I’m glad we got to see a hint of his comedic side – but really it ends up as a boxing ring. Frank and Bill spar first with words and then with fists as Bill ignores Libby’s plea to “summon your better nature.”

Only in the safe haven of the hotel room can Bill admit that he is at fault; it’s not Bill’s fault for leaving home as he was forced out, but it is for pushing him in this manner. Bill asks “What is wrong with me?” and rather than getting an actual answer it is in this moment where things appear to be working for him. This could turn into a whole Freudian thing, but really what it comes down to is acknowledging how he feels complicit in abandoning his brother and this weight being lifted even if his question doesn’t come with an answer. Rejection played into the origin of his problem and this could easily go beyond what he saw as Virginia’s abandonment. It might also be a post fight adrenaline thing and I worry that Bill hasn’t really come to terms with anything as he’s only saying these things to Virginia.

Masters of Sex 2.10 VirginiaFrank’s return has helped repair one family connection, though he might not be happy with the how as Bill and his mother bond over their disdain for the 12-step program mocking certain aspects suggesting that accusations are dressed up as an apology. They refer to it as being like “policeman” and “amateur psychiatrists” using it to spin the past in the way that benefits them. There’s a clear divide here with Essie and Bill on one side and Frank on the other with an argument erupting while Frank is giving their mother stitches after she got involved in a car accident after having one drink. There is an element of projecting here and while I think Frank’s got a very real problem with alcohol, he might also be looking too hard for a solution as to why their family is so broken and landing at a shared alcoholism. Through his prism this is the answer; Bill and Essie feel very differently and while they both do drink I can’t see it being to the degree that Frank fears. Bill’s secrecy and impulsive decision making comes from a whole other place and that is this one of trying to do great things and make his mark on the scientific community as a whole.

Hubris is a strength for Bill as much as it is a weakness when it comes to their work and he feels challenged by Dr. Kaufman’s published study of which they are simply a footnote. Bill wants to be much more than this, he wants to be first and so he sets about doing this by seeking the advice of a PR guy. Shep Tally (played by episode director Adam Arkin) sees potential in Bill and Virginia for television throwing Bill completely. Virginia is very much into this idea of showing off their work to the world in this manner, for Bill TV does not have the same gravitas as a medical journal even if they would be reaching a much more substantial amount of people.

Masters of Sex 2.10 Virginia and LibbyElsewhere Libby continues to volunteer for CORE despite Bill’s reservations – Bill is put out as he has lost the stability of knowing Libby is at home preparing his dinner, instead she is getting lunch for other dudes, ugh Bill – and she’s striving to make a difference. She complains to Virginia that people think she’s just a bored housewife and she wants to show she is more than that. In a way she is just this and yet her desire for purpose makes so much sense, I just still get the sense that she would have picked any cause and this just happened to be the one in the building her husband works in.

Robert’s initial concerns about her coming to help with flyering seem genuine and I can understand why her presence could be an issue, but she’s just as stubborn as her husband can be and she goes regardless. Libby ends up being a help and so Robert doesn’t dissuade her from coming next time. Libby asks Virginia to lie to Bill for her (while fixing her tights with the classic clear nail polish trick) and Virginia agrees to this. Feelings of guilt are probably why and Virginia also notes potential flirting between Robert and Libby; if Libby has an affair this will surely ease her conscience of the ‘non-affair’ she is having with Bill.

Masters of Sex 2.10 BettyOne theme that runs through this episode is the notion of giving up and Betty* tells the story of a former customer and impotence sufferer who she ended up avoiding through a variety of excuses because she couldn’t stand the look of agony on his face coupled with a plea of why aren’t you fixing this? There is a similar expression on Bill’s face when an attempt at arousal almost hits the mark through a technique of withholding as he can look, but not touch. Virginia has tied Bill’s hands behind his back – her dress embellishment doubles as seduction tool – putting him in a submissive position, but as soon as she stops talking he loses what he had.

*In this scene Betty is wearing the stunning dress that is featured on the Masters of Style feature and I’ve been waiting all season to see this frock. It looks just as good on screen as it did in the behind the scenes segment. 

There’s another submissive/dominant relationship going on and it is one that might not be quite hitting the mark. Austin is now working full time for Cal-o-Metric and after turning down Flo’s advances in the past she is now telling him that if he doesn’t do as she says then he will be fired. This is of course sexual harassment and while I get what they are going for the tone of these scenes is off. Quite often Austin has been the comic relief and so these scenes, particularly with the cat still have what seems like a light and jokey edge for something that shouldn’t be funny at all. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but for me there is something troubling about this storyline.

Masters of Sex 2.10 Barb and LesterA different kind of connection is made elsewhere between Lester and Barb with an overt discussion about giving as they talk about their dysfunctions. This meet cute doesn’t get off to a good start as Lester accidentally insults Barb regarding her religious beliefs. Later Lester apologizes and they acknowledge they both share in despair and giving up; maybe they should not give up together? It’s a little neat bringing these two characters together in this way, however I am all for them finding happiness and if it is with each other then I can’t argue with that.

The breakthrough at the end of “Below the Belt” could be temporary or if Bill is willing to look deeper beyond just the desire to find a cure, then perhaps he will be prepared to respond to his own “what is wrong with me?” conundrum. When Masters of Sex focuses on Bill and Virginia the narrative feels like there is a strong narrative, as soon as it goes elsewhere it becomes a bit of sprawling mess and I hope in the last two episodes these elements are reconciled. Performances remain as strong as ever, as do the costumes which I continue to draw inspiration from.

The Americans 2.10 “Yousaf” Review: Mutually Assured Destruction

1 May

The kitchen is the hub of most households and for Philip and Elizabeth this is no different as The Americans uses this location to bookend “Yousaf” and to reunite the pair after another day of emotionally draining spy work. It’s a significant location as it’s where most of the interactions with the kids take place – we barely ever see their living room – and this week Philip and Elizabeth are taking risks with what they are doing in this communal and open space. In the last episode Philip went to a dark place as he continues to add innocent bystanders to his body count and while he is far from being in a good place, his ability to compartmentalize has kicked in.

Danger comes at them from all angles and as we head towards the climax of the season certain threads are coming together including Stan’s investigation into the illegals he was pursuing last year. That’s not the only threat as Larrick is back in the country and looking for revenge; he is a truly formidable foe who seems capable of doing anything to get what he wants. Personal feelings are threatening the balance of everything and it is only going to get messier as everyone has their finger on the trigger and it only takes one person to ruin the whole precarious environment they are part of.

The Americans 2.10 drape neckPhilip and Elizabeth are certainly in more tune with each other this year and yet there are still plenty of things they disagree on with how they approach work and family responsibilities. Let’s start with work and Philip’s attempts to protect Elizabeth have left him in a vulnerable position. Elizabeth shows she is more than capable with the assassination end of the business and yet she’s been less comfortable with some of the more intimate activities they have to partake in. It is not something Elizabeth has explicitly pointed out to Philip and yet he’s definitely picking up on her hesitance when it comes to this kind of work, even if she assures him she is more than capable. This is also the first time we have seen them get intimate since Elizabeth’s misguided desire to sleep with ‘Clark’ and what better place to hook up than in your kitchen. Philip is more worried about the kids smelling Elizabeth’s cigarette at the end of the episode than he is of them walking in as they do it on the dining table, but hey after what Paige saw in the premiere there will be no more sneaking around the house in the middle of the night for her.

Last week Philip pretty much cut himself off from everyone as he emotionally spiraled and by coming home and reaching out to Elizabeth in this way he becomes stronger again. It’s more complicated this season as their new found shared love is both a hindrance and a savior. It’s what we saw when Philip came home after his night with the Mossad agent as he found peace with his wife on the sofa in a brief quiet respite before the day started all over again.

The Americans 2.10 kitchenHome is rather fraught as the Paige religion debate rages on and Philip’s feeling pretty shitty for his outburst last week; Elizabeth reassures him that what he did wasn’t wrong as Paige was disrespecting them and she tells Philip about the middle of the night kitchen cleaning punishment she dished out. Philip’s back in fun dad mode, including a super adorable, but maybe trying too hard pre-April Fool’s joke on Henry as he tries to repair some of the damage from the Sunday meltdown. He is open to Paige’s request to go to a Bible camp for 3 months, way more receptive than her mother who finds the perfect reason to tell her she can’t go when she discovers Paige’s attempts at forging Elizabeth’s signature. Their parenting styles differ greatly and Elizabeth accuses Philip of letting Paige walk all over him – tell that to the Bible that is now missing several pages. Paige is also pretty pissed and rightly so as the reason behind their distaste for religion is vague, we know why they are so worried, but to Paige they’re being completely unreasonable. It’s also hilarious that drinking or taking drugs are activities that are probably preferable to Elizabeth when it comes to her daughter, to her religion is a drug. Factoring in Henry’s recent break and enter jaunt and his lack of punishment beyond guilt and she’s right to tell her mother it is bullshit. I am disappointed in Paige’s terrible attempt to get rid of the evidence; she might get her ability to lie from her parents, but not this piss poor evidence disposal.

Discussions about Paige going to camp and Elizabeth’s fear she will come back a “Jesus freak” are intersected with mission talk. So when Elizabeth is done talking about it she simply changes the subject to Anneliese. Anneliese is someone we haven’t seen since the second episode of season one even though Philip has been maintaining this relationship and between Martha, Anneliese and Elizabeth, Philip is juggling a lot of fake declarations of love with one real one – no wonder he looks so tired. Instead of putting Elizabeth in a potentially dangerous sexual situation he palms it off to Anneliese who appears to be a willing participant. This is until she sleeps with Yousaf and is disgusted at what Philip got her to do asking “What kind of man are you?” It’s a question that keeps coming up and this time he uses his fake love and the cause as an excuse. Philip’s assertion that this kind of work  is “not something I take lightly, ever” is an honest one, it’s just he’d rather use case anyone but Elizabeth to be the honeypot, even if she has the more physically dangerous mission this week.

the americans 2.10 PhilipAfter weeks of Rust Cohle’s brother disguises and various workmen uniforms, it’s good to see Philip looking rather debonair in his fancy suits and think rimmed glasses. I wonder if it’s going to be a problem that Anneliese has seen pretty much his real face (sans glasses) and with slightly more slicked down hair.

The Americans 2.10 ElizabethNot to be outdone on the hot stakes is Elizabeth’s Yousaf seduction outfit as she borrowed his newspaper in a jacket showing off the true hero of the 1980s – shoulder pads – she caught his attention as well, before Philip chose to go in a different direction. At the moment Philip is the person who decides how they’re playing the spy work, while Elizabeth rules the roost at home.

The Americans 2.10 swimming capMost shows have cute moments over dinner or drinks; The Americans does this while discussing how to give someone a heart attack and the pill that will stop Elizabeth from being affected. Elizabeth is the most unassuming of the pair with something like this and it goes off without a hitch – a rarity this season. Elizabeth’s costuming is dominated by white and black in “Yousaf” and the white swim cap is a striking part of her inconspicuous look. It’s also one of the simplest disguises yet as the goggles obscure her entire face. If only everything they did took place in a pool.

Respect is something Philip and Elizabeth demand from their daughter and yet they are both rather dismissive of their handler Kate. The problem with Kate is her inexperience and her lack of intuition as she complains that if they mess up her “head will roll” in the figurative sense, with Philip hammering home the point that if they mess up then they’re dead. Not that it looks like Kate is particularly safe as Larrick’s trail leads to the KGB’s phone intelligence service in DC with Kate’s phone being the one he calls. Larrick is a terrifying foe as he’s a trained killer and he doesn’t appear to have many scruples. Larrick’s also a man of many faces, except he uses his the entire time and just changes his clothes depending on what information he needs to access.

The Americans 2.10 Arkady and GaadMutually assured destruction is discussed in an explicit manner between Arkady and Gaad as the Vlad case has been put to bed with Gaad getting reinstated. There’s a cycle of actions that took place by mistake in a way as the murder of FBI agent Chris Amador had nothing to do with the Cold War; it was at the hands of a KGB officer, just for very different unfortunate reasons. A covert war means not owning up to things and the domino effect from one mistake can be huge and it’s why everything is in such a heightened state. At the moment Larrick is running around trying to find Philip and Elizabeth, as is Stan and even though they’re on the same team their motives differ greatly. Stan has also stumbled onto something with the Emmett and Leanne murder case as thanks to Gaad’s briefcase observation they now know there’s way more to this crime than a simple unsolved murder. When Stan questions Jared about any secrets his parents had it is heartbreaking to watch this boy get defensive and then soften to Stan as he believes Stan wants to find out who was responsible. In a way this is exactly what Stan wants, but he’s also manipulating him to help with his illegals end game.

As you can see in the shot above the snow really adds to the aesthetic of The Americans and both this and Hannibal are benefiting from the heavy snowfall the East Coast had early this year, even if it’s probably a nightmare to shoot in.

The Americans 2.10 NinaNina is going full 80s with her hair as she continues to live the tangled life she was bemoaning to Oleg about earlier in the episode as Stan tells her about his illegals theory and Sandra’s affair. Stan doesn’t know why he is telling her about his marital problems, but secrets are there to be shared and he has to unburden his soul to someone. If only he knew that Nina is also sleeping with Oleg and not as part of a ruse, they actually look like they’re enjoying each other’s company even if they are from very different backgrounds. With the Russian characters there is always a push/pull between what they didn’t have growing up and what they have access to now and Nina is very much like Elizabeth as she longs for the simplicity, even if she didn’t have much beyond a pin of Lenin from Young Pioneers. Everything is a commodity on The Americans and stealth technology is the biggest of them all at the moment. It’s what Oleg is investing all of his time in and it’s what everyone is risking their lives either to protect or obtain.

Ending the day with an illicit cigarette in communal spot like the kitchen is the least of Elizabeth’s concerns and I love that a scene this quiet ends such a frantic and tense episode. It is only going to get more fraught and so Philip and Elizabeth should enjoy this momentary peace while they can.

Julie Hammerle

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