Big Little Lies: the first two episodes

TV

So Sky Atlantic have a new flagship show out, Big Little Lies, written by David E. Kelly and based on a novel of the same name, penned by the wonderfully named Liane Moriarty.

And, as you’d expect, it’s got a formidable cast. One which includes Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley. Along with Academy Award nominated director Jean-Marc Vallee at the helm. Perhaps most notable for directing the acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club. But also for directing Witherspoon and Dern in Wild – a rather beautiful and underrated film. So, he’s got game. And as we all know, TV is big game these days. 

Now in terms of the story, I’m only two episodes in, but it’s layered – nay, dripping – with intrigue. You’ll be hooked fast. Indeed, Wikipedia describe it as a dark comedy drama and, whilst this is true, a simpler reference might be to say it’s Broadchurch meets Desperate Housewives, which is reductive, but gives you a rough idea. It’s far more cinematically shot and beautiful to look at than either of those, though. (Just saying.)

So in terms of story, what we have, is a number – for the most part – of highly privileged families that live near the beautiful Californian coastal town of Monterey. And the first scene opens with a crime; one where the details are murky and unknown to us. We’re then introduced – through Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) who’s new to the town – to the rest of its key players. In particular Madeline MacKenzie (Reese Witherspoon, in excellent form); a mother who specialises in poking her nose into everybody’s business and manipulating most scenarios to her own ends, often leveraging her children in the process. But there’s more to her than you first expect – naturally.

And whilst she drives much of the plot in these first episodes, the rest of the cast, in particular Jane (Woodley), Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Renata (Laura Dern), have more to them than first seems the case as well. So within a couple of scenes you’ll think you have them nailed as characters, then they subvert expectations – like good actors should. (And Kelly, as writer, no doubt had a hand in this as well.)

As these moments are ultimately where life resides right? In the wrinkles, the gaps between floorboards, the conversations between the sheets, the furtive glances and simmering silences of words left unsaid, or words said but loaded with subtext.

This will get you asking questions upon questions. What’s the crime that took place? What’s Jane’s backstory? Is there more to Celeste’s relationship than on show? Why do Renata and Madeline almost loathe each other? Why does Madeline feel the need to control things so much? Is everyone a suspect? They all seem to want to kill each other. 

And the list goes on…

Furthermore, other than Billions, with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti (another on Sky Atlantic), a show hasn’t gripped me so quickly in quite the same way in some time. It’s a marvel in that respect, what clever screenwriting.

So in essence, it’s painfully human. It’s got more nuanced, flawed and complex characters than you can shake a stick at – and actors that have us believing in them from the get-go. It’s beautifully shot (hats off to Vallee), and it’s achieved all this in a mere couple of episodes. Plus it’s got an 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so I’m not alone in my assessment. 

This also means that if you didn’t catch it there’s still time. So do it. You know you want to.

Luke Cage: season one review

TV

Take Captain America and add a dash of Superman and thread Harlem throughout his core and what do you get? Luke Cage. A badass bulletproof hero in a hoodie. Originally a character that turns up in Jessica Jones but now has his own show. And one that feels pretty different from others out there, and indeed, different from other Marvel ones too. From the opening yellow-washed, funk-inflected theme song – that’s simultaneously retro and contemporary – you get a sense that a lot of love has gone into its creation and how important the Harlem setting is to its fabric and structure.

For example, music is vitally important. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Mohammad put it together and said they were influenced by Wu-Tang Clan, Ennio Morricone and Mohammad’s group A Tribe Called Quest. So we’ve got Western meets ’90s hip hop, with an original track by Method Man too (video below). All of which adds to its identity.

And on the character front, our main man Luke is interesting. Not immediately likeable and some may say stoic and unreadable, but there’s a fire under his surface. He’s a quiet hero, fierce, intelligent, troubled. There’s no spandex or cape and he half shuns the limelight for the most part. In reality, he’s an ex-convict trying to lay low and live his life in peace. But he’s too special to do that for long. He’s bulletproof for one thing, but it’s more than that. He has a strong sense of injustice and the people of Harlem need him to step up and protect them. So far so very Western, right?

Marvel's Luke Cage

And whilst it’s easy enough for him to hurl gangsters about (he’s bulletproof and can heal incredibly fast and has superhuman strength) he does have weaknesses. Namely loved ones, the people that he cares about. Which you’d expect. If you can’t hurt a bulletproof man, hurt those around him. Which is the approach our bad guy Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali) takes for the first half of the season.

And I very much think this is a season of two halves. First is set-up and a bit slow burn, then the second gets more gung-ho, with Luke half on the run from the law and the bad guys at the same time. So an educated outlaw and vigilante with the common people on his side? May as well call him Robin Hood.

Whatever we call him, it’s a good first season for a show and gets better as it goes on. And it’s nice to see Marvel trying new things, but all the while building the MCU on the small screen. We’ve had Agents of SHIELD (decent and still going) and Agent Carter (had its moments but cancelled after two seasons), Jessica Jones and Daredevil (heard both fairly good but haven’t caught them) and now we have Luke Cage. It’ll be most interesting to see what happens in season two.

Westworld: season one review

TV

Now I’ve called this post a season one review because, as we all know, Westworld has been renewed for a second go round. Hardly a surprise, given it’s a flagship show on Sky Atlantic, it’s got a sickeningly talented cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood etc), clever, tricksy writers (Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy), strong concept (sci-fi meets Western) and has been a storming hit with audiences (89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).

It’s also fresh because it bucks the modern trend of drowning us in nudity and violence (Game of Thrones we’re looking at you) and doesn’t serve up that much story in one go. That’s not to say it’s light on story and character. In fact it’s quite the opposite. This is a slow burn, but one that’s worth your time. And it’s also somewhat rare for a show to start with the number of characters that it does. In that at least four or five of them have key storylines. (So maybe it’s a little like Game of Thrones.)

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For the uninitiated though, at its basic level, Westworld is a theme park, albeit a giant one, where the population are made up of ‘hosts’ (synthetic robots) that are so lifelike that you cannot tell them apart from humans. The park’s purpose is for humans to visit to get away from the world, to fight and have sex and enjoy the wild west. And the series starts with The Man in Black (Ed Harris), who’s been coming to the park for years. He’s no longer interested in the park’s base attractions, but is searching for its centre, the centre of the maze, as he calls it. To give his life meaning and purpose.

We also have various hosts who evolve throughout the story, becoming more human as they go. In particular both Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood’s characters are searching for who they really are. Their purpose.

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In fact, most characters are searching for meaning, trying to discover who they really are and why they’re here. Why are they a part of this world? What makes them who they truly are? What makes humans real and hosts not? Tugging the strings and playing God with barely concealed glee is Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who’s treading a fine line between villian and a mysteriously benevolent creator. It would be easy to play him as a straight up bad guy, but Hopkins gives us more, adding layers and nuance to Ford. And by the end of the season you’re still not sure of his motives and whether he’s playing a trick on everyone, as all the best magicians do.

So this show has laid down a big and bold marker; in that it’s fairly different from a lot out there. A bit more thinky thinky and less smashy smashy. But it gets the balance right and answers enough questions to keep season one satisfying, but holds enough back so that season two promises to be worth waiting for.

Walking Dead: season 7 – midway review

TV

It’s funny… the ‘mid season’ break of The Walking Dead seems like it’s splitting hairs calling it mid season, because the show is basically over for a few months. It even had a mini finale and everything (as it always does). Although this means as fans we get left in the lurch, and I often find I half forget what happened in the first half of a season by the time the second half comes around. It feels, at least to me, that the show’s creators have to rekindle my interest. Which they nearly always do (or at least by a few episodes in).

But maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, as usual, I’m off topic before I’ve even begun.

So let’s talk about the first half of season 7, which has been interesting and actually a significant change in terms of the journey of the characters. Indeed, almost fundamental, in that an encounter with a new bad guy has shaken them all to their core. The guy? Negan, the despotic leader of a violent group known as the Saviours, who’s played with relish and gusto by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And what a way to keep a show fresh. Seldom has an actor that’s been drafted in to play a big character – in such an established story – managed to cause such an upheaval. In the most delicious way possible, of course.

Often it’s the case where actors make the mistake of hamming up the baddie, sneering and moustache twirling until the cows come home. That’s not what you want in this day and age. I mean, this ain’t the 80s or even the 90s. You want menace and charisma in equal measure, and you want him or her to flip between the two on a dime. Which Morgan does as Negan like a natural, it’s delightful.

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And everyone loves to hate a bad guy, right? It’s like we’ve all got Stockholm syndrome when they start abusing the characters that we know and love. But then, that’s what the show’s creators wanted Morgan to bring when they cast him. And boy, did he deliver. It helps that Negan is meant to be the biggest threat old Rick and the gang has ever had to face (at least in the comics, and the show is shaping up that way too).

But just so I don’t get carried away, waxing lyrical on the Negan bandwagon, there’s the main cast to consider, too. Because it should not be underestimated just how fine a performance the majority of them put in. We take it for granted now (as most of them have been around for a good few seasons, and some since the start), but that’s our failing, because they really are outstanding and know their characters inside out.

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And top of that tree has to be Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, the heart and soul of the show. After Negan more or less breaks him by dispatching a number of notable characters in a highly brutal and visceral way, Rick is left utterly hollow, devoid of any fight he may of once had. And gone is the confidence, swagger and resolute nature that had served him well as a leader up until then. He’s unsure of his path and focused on the safety and survival of the group alone. And the others cannot handle seeing him this way.

It’s not the Rick we’re used to but perhaps the one we need, as the show had become a bit samey in recent seasons. Or you could say that Rick was losing himself and his way, that he needed focus. Maybe Negan, as his nemesis, gives him that? Particularly as he breaks him in such a profound way, that the payoff for us as an audience is going to be that much bigger when Rick finally bests him. As he surely must do this season, no?

And this break has taken us up to a nice point, bringing the group back together. Where for most of the season they’ve been disjointed and fragmented, hiding out in different communities, or on different quests after one another. Originally I had planned to talk more about the ins and outs of the show in terms of plot, but that seems unecessary. I prefer to just offer my general thoughts and feelings on the season so far. And to say that, with the mildly hopeful ending, it seems to have set things up for the second half to be most interesting indeed. Or as some might say, one hell of a shitstorm.

What Game of Thrones spin-offs would you watch?

My musings, TV

On the way to work today I walked past a mother and a young boy and couldn’t help but notice that the level to which he quizzed her on her activities was startling. And it reminded me, in a way, of the refreshing introduction of Lady Mormont in the season six of Game of Thrones and how it’d be great to see her in a spin-off.

Then I thought, what other characters would be great in a show of their own. So here’s my list. (I should have been in TV production with genius ideas like these. Expecting the call any day now.)

Lady Mormont: the path to power
Now whilst the first cousin of scaly love fiend Ser Jorah Mormont only had a few episodes upon which to make her mark, she did so most emphatically, like a mini Cersei chastising various Lords of the North like they were little boys. Then declaring her allegiance to Jon Snow as King in the North and embarrassing everyone else to do the same. What kind of ruler would she be on Bear Island I wonder? It would be fascinating to watch her rise to power.

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Clegane: the wilderness years 
Ah, Sandor Clegane. A big and brutal beast of a man, but oddly sympathetic as each season went on. Let’s be honest, none of us wanted him to die after Brienne worked him over and when he turned up in a peaceful community led by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray we all rejoiced. I’d have liked to have seen those two team up to bring peace to the region in a buddy comedy. Brother Ray with a twinkle in his eye as Clegane grunts, grudgingly accepting the way his zen-like friend does things, perhaps uttering the line, ‘I’m getting too old for this shit.’

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Assassin’s Creed: the tutelage of Arya
The most fiesty Stark was one of the more fascinating characters to watch develop in seasons five and six. Mostly because we were slowly seeing her become a faceless assassin and taking her fate into her own hands. And I’m all for seeing her development under the watchful eye of Jaqen H’ghar. As she gets sent on missions we would get to see how she wrestles with her progression from sweet and fiesty to bad-ass killer. And each episode could be titled, ‘A girl…’. Like, ‘A girl angers the Many-Faced God’ for example.

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Olenna Tyrell: the evolution of the Queen of Thorns
Now let’s all agree, actress Dame Diana Rigg pretty much stole every scene she was in as Olenna Tryell. Not quite a Dame Maggie Smith performance, but comparisons will be made, and rightly so. And considering she came to the Game of Thrones late, it would be interesting to see what she got up to before she made her way to King’s Landing. Sharp, wily and speaks her mind. Who wouldn’t want to see her run rings around everyone?

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Daenerys Targaryn and Asha Greyjoy: a love story
Now whilst they’ve only shared a single scene in season six, there was enough interaction between the Mother of Dragons and Asha to suggest something of a hint of romance. A frisson you may say. And why not? Asha has already had a scene in which she basically ‘acted like a man’ nuzzling boobs and spanking wenches. And Daenerys seems one of the most progressive characters in terms of the relationships and sexuality. It’d be great to see them take to the seas around Slaver’s Bay and beyond, raining fire down upon their enemies and falling in love in the process. A Westeros power couple, if ever there was one.

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Penny Dreadful: season three review

TV

And so endeth Penny Dreadful. Before its time some might say. Despite the fact that creator John Logan said it would always end with (*spoiler!) the death of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), not many of us believed him.

It felt rushed, particularly as most of the characters had been flung across the globe on personal quests of their own. Suddenly they’re hurried back to London at pace, at the bemusement of fans no doubt. Fair enough conflicted Texan werewolf/gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) always had the threat of his father with which to contend, so it made sense he deal with that.

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And why not have a dishevelled Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) along for the ride? Even though he’d half lost his way he was still a better father figure to Ethan than his real dad, Jared Talbot (played with gusto by Brian Cox).

The creature (Rory Kinnear) was off on a quest of his own to discover god-knows-what in the Arctic. He then returned to London after a few episodes to reconnect with his family. It was touching I suppose, but not really the story I wanted to see and his arc felt like a distraction. In some ways it would have been more exciting to see him team up with the gang to fight a common foe.

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And speaking of common foes, this season saw the introduction of Dracula (Christian Camargo), bringing to a head his long pursuit of Vanessa Ives; which more or less started in the first season. And, whilst it was refreshing to see the way in which he pursued her, like most delectable things in life, it was over all too soon. For a baddie that big I wanted more.

Especially because the gang got two new additions, which both proved extremely interesting as characters within the first few episodes, but didn’t get the time they deserved. Namely, Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), a stunningly attractive supernatural expert who was sassy, held her own in a fight and seemed to flirt with every character she encountered – and that was seriously refreshing when the show was in danger of becoming too dour for its own good. We also got the addition of Vanessa Ives’ therapist, Dr Seward (Patti LuPone), who gave the show a nice bit of weight and gravitas cutting through the melodrama with her no-nonsense approach.

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The trouble with a lot of it – because so much revolved around Vanessa Ives at the end of the day – is that most of the main characters didn’t interact with each to any great degree until almost the last episode. Long-form storytelling is fine if you’ve got maybe five or six seasons, but if you’ve only got three you’re shortchanging everyone, from characters to actors to audiences alike.

So I’m somewhat conflicted. Big fan, but frustrated.

And I’d also add I’ve been a huge fan of Eva Green since her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and this show – and her character – perfectly suited her occult and otherworldly qualities. Not that it was all about her, as the rest of the cast were also outstanding. I’d go so far as to say this has been the best work we’ve seen from both Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett in a long time. Rory Kinnear, as ever, is a very fine actor and massively underrated and the others all did a fine job, too.

Perhaps, in some ways, there were too many characters and stories to explore. From Lily Frankenstein’s (Billie Piper) escapades with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) to Victor Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) experiments with Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif) it seems like John Logan bit off more than he could chew in the time he had given himself.

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These days it seems like every show wants to be Game of Thrones but tries to leap ahead and run before it can walk. Not that you can really compare the two shows, but the point has some relevance. Whatever caused the show to end before its time there’s one thing that’s clear, it will be missed by some pretty devout fans. Particularly as it was a show of real quality and substance.

And if they resurrect it minus Eva Green, it just won’t be the same. Don’t do it. Let’s just let it rest in peace as a decent thing which ended before its time eh?

The Leftovers: season two review

TV

Where does one begin with The Leftovers? It’s safe to say it’s like no other show out there. For sure, it has shades of other shows, mostly drama. But there’s a lot in there, and a lot that’ll go over your head (it did mine).

It’s also maddeningly infuriating too. As viewers and consumers and fans and critics we’re used to knowing everything these days. Instant gratification. The Leftovers takes that away from us. It puts us in the same boat as the characters, utterly lost and confused. And you sort of love it for that.

Assuming you’ve seen season one (it would take too long to explain, see here), season two picks up with the Garvey family (well, Kevin, Jill, Nora and a random baby) moving to Jarden, a town in Texas which has seemingly been spared the apocalypse while the rest of the world has not.

As well as being a tourist attraction the town is also closely guarded – after all, they can’t just let anyone in. This expands the world of The Leftovers and gives us an insight into other communities and how they’ve dealt – or failed to deal – with what happened; as the people of Jarden aren’t as ‘spared’ as the Garvey family first think. Furthermore, fleeing to this place won’t solve all of Kevin’s problems – he still suffers from guilt and is plagued by suicidal thoughts and visions which worsen as this season progresses.

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Other characters get a few scenes to keep things varied, but most are largely sidelined (Jill and Nora, prime suspects). So this season, it’s really all about Kevin. How does he adjust to Jarden? How does he deal with his guilt and depression? How does he connect with those closest to him?

With this show (based on a book by Tom Perotta), screenwriter Damon Lindelof has crafted something incredibly poignant, nuanced and painfully flawed. It takes a long, hard look at death, loss, grief, faith, religion, zealotry, persecution, belief – and a heck of a lot more. It poses more questions than it answers and, as a viewer, you’re often at pains to see where, if anywhere, the story is heading. Yet that’s its strength.

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And it has matured drastically between seasons one and two, shifting locations, adding characters, expanding the world and so on. Currently HBO are pondering whether it deserves a third season. Like many, I’m torn (almost every reaction I have to do with this show). On the one hand, like many fans, I crave a third season, one which might provide some answers, or at least some glimpse of where it’s going. But then, the show’s not about answers and story arc, not really. It bucks convention.

In some ways ending where it does would be sort of perfect. It’s dramatic, narratively satisfying and poetically beautiful. And I bet most shows would give a lot to be able to say the same thing after two seasons. Golden age of television, indeed.

True Detective: season 2 review

TV

Whilst it’s incredibly easy to jump on the critical bandwagon and denounce the second season of True Detective as a confusing and unengaging flop, I feel that’s slightly unfair. It’s also unfair to constantly compare it to the first season. A season which, let’s face it, had little expectation, other than the fact it had a couple of A-listers in the lead roles. Yet delivered and then some.

For the sake of fairness, the first season had a couple of obvious but vital things going for it too. It was a simpler story, albeit leaping around time periods. It also had a secret weapon: Matthew McConaughey, a man at the top of his game. But, first and foremost, we identified with the two lead characters and the interaction they had together.

Fast forward to season two and the cast has changed and grown, the story has become more complex and layered, and the location has shifted from the simmering deep south to the urban sprawl of LA.

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So, it’s literally almost an entirely different show.

That said, some things remain. Such as the slow burn tone (expertly continued with a woozy, languorous and devilishly seductive soundtrack) and the tortured characters (instead of two leads we now have four – more bang for your buck). Although what this does mean is that we as an audience need to reinvest ourselves in an entirely new set of troubled souls.

So in step Colin Farrell (a washed up old copper desperate to connect with his kid), Rachel McAdams (a prickly detective unable to meaningfully connect with anyone at work or at home) and Taylor Kitsch (a young traffic cop grappling with – and hiding from – his sexuality), who are thrown together to initially solve a murder which spirals out into a much bigger web of corruption and deceit, partially involving Vince Vaughn’s aspirational gangster.

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With the series finale (after eight episodes) I was left feeling rather relieved it was all over as it had sort of collapsed under the own weight of its expectation. And, despite the cast all giving a decent account of themselves (particularly Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell), there was nothing they could do to elevate the confused and convoluted script.

Will there be a season 3?

Smart money would say no, although HBO are open to it. The first season was critically acclaimed and the second the polar opposite; maybe the result of just trying to be too ambitious for its own good and different for the sake of it? If that’s the case then the show’s creator Nic Pizzolatto should be applauded for his bravery. After finding a winning formula in season one he then oddly, largely, abandoned it. Or perhaps tried to evolve it, it’s hard to say.

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On the plus side there were definitely things to love about the second season. For example we had proper, cinematic, edge-of-your-seat scenes throughout, in particular a street gun battle in broad daylight that felt akin to the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

Then there were quieter, more introspective moments that were incredibly tender and showed a deftness of touch. In particular a series of intensely vulnerable moments between Farrell and McAdams’ characters as they opened up to one another, which were understated and deeply moving.

In some ways I’d be interested to see what they do with a third season, should they choose to make one. Different location again? Different characters? Would any return or cross paths?

These days, TV audiences are a little spoilt for choice with the quality out there, despite the fact that the ‘golden age of TV’ is reportedly over. And anything that plays by its own rules is bound to divide people. But there is definitely a place for this sort of show, so maybe let’s not give it a kicking just yet eh?

[Related articles]
Guardian article: In praise of… True Detective

Penny Dreadful: season 2 review

TV

The first season of Penny Dreadful focused on Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) hunt for his daughter, who had been captured by some sort of vampire master. It also shared equal screen time exploring Vanessa Ives’ (Eva Green) story, a battle with a demonic spirit which was attempting to consume her soul.

And we were introduced to troubled doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and the monsters he creates – in particular John Clare (Rory Kinnear). Then there was strong and silent American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) with a dark past of his own. Plus the mysterious and eternal Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) popped up from time to time in a subplot that bubbled along throughout.

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For season two it’s very much a continuation of the first in terms of the main characters and their journeys, albeit with a different antagonist for them to face; a trio of nightcomers/witches who, at the bidding of their master (spoiler: a fallen angel aka the devil) step up their pursuit of Vanessa’s soul.

In general the show is quite slow burn, so if you’re expecting True Blood set in London go elsewhere. It’s dark, moody and there’s some nudity involved, but otherwise it’s a completely different beast. Again there’s a large focus on Vanessa, building up more of her backstory; as she’s such an interesting character it’s a pleasure to spend time in her company. There’s also Ethan Chandler’s past which catches up with him, along with a secret he can no longer keep hidden.

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The primary difference in season two is two-fold: first, the main antagonist has more of a human face and development of character; as the witches are led in suitably machiavellian fashion by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory).

Secondly, the main group, essentially rookies in season one are more cold, clinical and ruthless this time round. They know the sort of darkness they face, both internal and external. That said, the demons they’ve accumulated keep coming back to haunt them.

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We get more Vanessa Ives backstory in which to sink our teeth and the relationship between her and Ethan develops almost as you might expect. Dalton’s Sir Malcolm takes a bit of a backseat this season, but makes way for more of Victor Frankenstein and his flawed creations, including Lily (Billie Piper), who becomes – in almost a 180 switch of character – a bit of a walking nightmare for Victor. Vanessa aside, she probably has the most compelling character arc.

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The season finishes (without giving too much away) with the characters all pursuing different goals of their own and in different places, geographically. As such it will be interesting to see – should they choose to do so – how John Logan and the show’s writers will pick them all up again come season three.

We’ve had vampires and witches. What’s next for them to face?

Game of Thrones: season 5 review

TV

Are seasons of Game of Thrones getting shorter? Or are we just expecting more from them each time round? Or is it because the world is expanding and characters are all off on quests of their own that we barely get any time with each of them each episode?

What I do know is that, as George R. R. Martin’s world expanded in the books, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were left faced with a gargantuan challenge of getting this all on screen in a satisfying way. Also, the show has now – with some characters – pretty much overtaken the books, so we’re in slightly uncharted waters.

This has left the show’s producers and writers open to an unprecedented level of abuse from fans. With less of the original material to hide behind as they go on they’re exposed. Not that the changes they’ve made thus far are misguided, but fans are getting ever more demanding and increasingly protective of their precious characters of Westeros.

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This season is the leanest yet in terms of screen time for all the characters you know and love. There’s literally no fat in any of the episodes. Bang! We’re into Arya’s story, on her quest to become a faceless assassin and take out everyone on her kill list. Then bang! We cut straight to Tyrion’s journey to meet up with – and advise – Deanerys as she tries to get to grips with ruling a city that’s tearing itself apart.

Then there’s Stannis running about fruitlessly trying to win the north, Jon Snow saving far too many wildlings for his own good, Jaimie Lannister off on a foolhardy trip to Dorne to possibly lose his other hand, Cersei scheming and scheming and scheming too far, Sansa growing up fast and learning to play the game of thrones (although perhaps not learning quick enough). And the list goes on.

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It’s so tough that some characters barely get a look-in all season (Bran anyone? Rickon?). And the whole Dorne section (so detailed in the books) almost felt like it was shoehorned in for the show. I mean, can anyone explain the point in the Sand Snakes?

They’re supposed to be deadly but spent most of the time in jail or flanking their vengeful mother Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) like a group of sexy – but rather superfluous – backing singers. Perhaps they would have been better off in a spin-off mini series.

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Ranting to one side there was still a lot to love about the season as a whole. Standout character arcs (and actor performances) for me included Cersei (Lena Headey) facing off against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) taking on white walkers and wrestling with the lonely job of a leader, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) making very hard decisions come the season’s closing episodes and Arya (Maisie Williams) becoming more ruthless as she learns the ways of the Many-Faced God.

Each had thrills, spills and proper Game of Thrones shocks. An impressive feat, given the already stellar four seasons that have come before it. What more could you want or ask for?

Roll on season six I say.