Sunday-Night TV Precap: Carrie Mathison’s Terrible at Her Job, Rick vs. the Guv, and 50 Years of the DoctorShowtime
Homeland: The Carrie Mathison Performance Review
Andy Greenwald: Two years ago, after watching the first few episodes of Homeland, I wrote the following: “To be clear, [Carrie Mathison], as played by Claire Danes, is extremely good at her job. Too good, perhaps.” At the time, I was struck by how Homeland was the rare show to directly challenge the male-dominated paradigm of prestige television. It wasn’t afraid to portray Carrie breaking bad — binge drinking, whore’s bathing — but it was also tough enough to suggest she wasn’t fundamentally broken. She was the best at what she did, even though what she did wasn’t very pretty.
How quickly things change. Last year, Carrie’s supposedly unshakable love of country went weak in the knees in the face of her ardor for admitted terrorist Nicholas Brody. At season’s end, she was so busy playing CIA-sanctioned footsie with him that she failed to notice the worst domestic attack since 9/11 being planned and carried out all around her. In the waning moments of the finale, rather than do her job and find out what, exactly, Brody knew, she came down with a case of the feelings (call it a different kind of Carrie fever) and escorted her suspicious prince to the Canadian border. Their farewell was rapturous. The resolution? Nonexistent.
This season has seen her professionalism go from bad to worse. So far Carrie has made cryface in a Senate subcomittee hearing, replaced her body’s water table with reposado tequila, and pretended to be dangerously crazy enough to be institutionalized (yes, “pretended” in the same way the guy in the corner bar at 11 a.m. is “pretending” to be drunk). The worst twist of all in a third season riddled with poor decision-making has been the revelation that Carrie is carrying Brody’s baby, the physical embodiment of the timeless, ill-advised passion that no one outside of the Homeland writers’ room seems to share. Pregnancy on TV is almost never interesting; it’s a cheap tactic used to bind together characters and stories that don’t have enough emotional glue to stick on their own. Worse, it continues the sad stripping-away nature of Carrie’s agency. Not the one that blew up at Langley: her own ability to function as a compelling, individual character. Now every move she makes is literally connected to her harlequin romance with Nicholas Brody. She can’t be free of him. And neither can the show.
Last week hit rock bottom (though I fear Carrie hasn’t) with the sight of our once intrepid patriot careering across a parking lot, threatening years of CIA work and potential Iranian regime change just so she could get some closure on her boyfriend. In order to stop her, Quinn shot Carrie in the shoulder. This was meant to be shocking. The only real surprise was when I realized I had been hoping all along that he’d pull the trigger.
It’s time to admit the obvious: Carrie Mathison is terrible at her job. When Senator Lockhart and Dar Adal question her employment status, I’m inclined to agree with them. So much time has passed since this supposed savant has accomplished anything that didn’t involve (a) Brody, (b) yelling at Max/Virgil/Saul/Quinn, (c) “acting” crazy, or (d) Brody, that it’s hard to remember just who or what the character is supposed to be. What drives her? (Other than Brody.) What does she care about? (Other than Brody.) What is she good at? (Other than Brody — no, wait, turns out she’s pretty lousy at that too.) What initially united Carrie with the long line of beloved male antiheroes that stretches from Tony Soprano to Walter White wasn’t the bad behavior; it was the core competence. The awfulness of their acts was always complicated by the elegance of their actions. Messiness is at the root of good drama. But, as Carrie’s recent conduct proves, sloppiness is far from the same thing.
Homeland’s bumpy third season has left many people wondering about the long-term viability of the show. But off seasons happen, even to truly great series. What makes me concerned about the future is the rapidly diminishing viability of Homeland’s protagonist. Two years ago, I admired Carrie (and Claire Danes’s bold, uncompromising performance) because she was tough and smart and didn’t care whether anyone liked her. Now that the latter part of the sentence has extended to the audience, I’m not sure if I still feel the same way.
Ja'mie: Private School Girl: A Quick Preview (Even Quicker Version: Chris Lilley Is a Genius)
Juliet Litman: When you watch Ja'mie: Private School Girl on Sunday, keep one thing in mind. This television program was coproduced by HBO and ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Company. This ABC is government-owned. Thus, there is a government on our planet that pays for comedic genius Chris Lilley to play a stuck-up teenage girl who insults as many people as possible. And, this is not Ja'mie’s first time on TV! The Australian Broadcasting Company also paid for We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, two other hilarious and incredibly offensive television shows in which Ja'mie appeared. If you are looking for a country that truly supports freedom of expression with no regard for political correctness, Australia may be the place for you.
Until Sunday, spend some time getting to know our private-school girl.
The Walking Dead: Why Do We Love the Ones Who Hurt Us Most?
John Lopez: After five plague-ridden episodes that strained so hard to be Camus and zombies, The Walking Dead surprised me last week by actually shifting into second gear. Or rather, switching cars entirely. All through the return of the Governor, the show’s one-eyed psychopath-sex-god par excellence, I couldn’t escape a recurring dark thought: I don’t really care what’s happening at the prison right now. Seriously, what was I missing: Hershel’s Sunday Sermon/Book Club discussion of Travels With Charley over elderberry tea? Tyreese playing crazy-eyes whack-a-mole with the gate zombies and his favorite pet hammer? At best, I could look forward to Daryl getting into a macho-forehead pressing contest after Rick admitted to ditching Carol out in the forest like some hissy raccoon he caught rummaging through the trash.
Then, it got darker and I started fantasizing. What if the Governor came back, took Rick out (Carl would obviously hide in the prison showers with his favorite sock), and established himself as new paterfamilias to the Rickettes? Would that be so bad? You have to admit, even though it was built on a foundation of severed zombie heads and walker pits, Woodbury in its heyday probably had way higher property values than Rick’s Supermax condos. The man clearly has administrative abilities that Rick seems incapable of considering, let alone mastering. You think Walkers would be storming the prison gates every time Glenn and Maggie duck out for some special time on the Guv’s watch? The Governor would have an impenetrable moat, filtered water supply, and weekly zombie rodeo for the kiddies up and running in no time. But am I so fickle? Does it really only take one blonde, doe-eyed little princess and a really nice backgammon board to get me rooting for a megalomaniac whose idea of a halftime speech to his loyal minions was a shower of hot lead? Last season, Philip was the ultimate Jim Jones meets Lifetime MOW–nightmare-boyfriend mash-up; yet now here I am admiring the MacGyver-like finesse with which he beheads a walker using whatever skeletal remains just happen to be lying around.
And pardon this Grand Canyon’s leap of a comparison, but I couldn’t help thinking of the dear departed Walter White. As bad as the relationship between Walt and Jesse got — and selling out your former partner into meth-cook slavery while admitting you stood by watching his beloved die and did nothing is pretty bad — all I ever wanted was for them to hug it out. What is it about antiheroes? Why can we forgive them so easily? Granted, the current herd mentality of TV programming and failure of Low Winter Sun illustrates that not just any antihero will do. And if I bothered to subject myself to more than the 25 minutes I watched of its premiere waiting for a Breaking Bad sneak peek, maybe I’d gain some clarity. Is the need for reconciliation so strong it outweighs the moral judgments Rick loves to agonize so much about? Or is it just that the Governor’s decisiveness and instinctive leap to action is so much more soothing than Rick’s half-priced Hamlet impression?
Or maybe it’s just that antiheroes like the Governor move with a linear dramatic momentum that plain vanilla heroes who run in circles contemplating moral quandaries never can. To sell that and get away with it, you better be Shakespeare. Because on Sunday nights, I’d rather set The Myth of Sisyphus aside for the moment and watch an ex-homicidal maniac grasp at meaning in an absurd world by deboning zombies and saving little girls. Yeah, I’m intrigued.
Boardwalk Empire: The Unkillable Chalky White
Mark Lisanti: How many close calls with mortality has Chalky White had now? I’ve lost track. It feels like the Grim Reaper has come knocking at his door in almost every episode, but arrives so perpetually shitfaced on Boardwalk moonshine that Chalky just ducks his wobbly scythe, gives him a swift kick in his bony ass, and dispatches him to Chicago to go clear some random bar of midlevel gangsters. (Though, props to G-Reaps for the poisoned kid with the explosively fatal diarrhea; that was some creative work. Icy fist-bump.)
I bring this up because Sunday night’s the season finale, and you have to wonder if Chalky’s incredible luck is finally going to run out, if his vintage Steven Seagal hard-to-killness, bloated from success in the death-avoiding arts, is about to abandon him for the blues. He has survived the treacherous Purnsleys and the backseat hits. But like this video warns with ironic precision, if you come at Narcisse you best not miss. Reaper comin’.
Masters of Sex: The Porn Self-Parody
Emily Yoshida: Masters of Sex has quietly become a great little show, and since it recently was renewed for a second season, it has the chance to be discovered during its hiatus and potentially be a great big show in 2014. You know what that means: the Masters of Sex porn parody is due by 2015! Hey, don’t laugh; they made a Game of Thrones one, and there is no such word as unnecessary in this business. And something tells me that nobody is looking forward to Masturbators of SeXXX more than series developer Michelle Ashford, if only because the show seems to be subtly sending up another porn scenario every week in between conversations about scientific breakthroughs and women in the workplace.
Right off the bat you have a gimme, the Mad Men–like boss/secretary late-night-at-the-office trope taken to a clinical extreme. Once the study begins in earnest and ol’ Ulysses starts to get a workout, you’re in some kind of proto-anime-cyberpunk-porn territory with all those wires all over the place. And now Ashford’s just making fun of us with Libby Masters’s seduction by her sensitive gutter-cleaning handyman. (I mean … the week before last when Bill first mentioned getting some help around the house, we kind of all knew where that was going, right?) The great thing about this show is how unafraid it is to walk so close to the smut line while still earning every emotional beat it gets; this is a show about removing the stigma surrounding sex, so of course it’s not going to be too good to play around with soft-core conventions. Just like in porn (or a CW show), every other time two characters start talking for the first time you start counting down to the point when they finally bone ('shipping Virginia and Dr. DePaul, obvs). The difference with Masters of Sex is that Allison Janney is there to BREAK YOUR HEART.
Masters of Sex: The Road Ahead
Zach Dionne: I burned through the first eight hours of Masters of Sex this week. It’s nice to have found something that vaguely takes me to that Mad Men place without taxing my brain as hard and without depressing me a fraction as deeply. The series is admirably unpredictable and feminist-friendly, super watchable, and packed with terrific performances. Accolades established, let’s move to the requests:
I would REALLY like Allison Janney to stick around this week. I want to see if Margaret can dredge up the bravery to tell her newly engaged daughter that she very recently came to believe marriage, monogamy, and the American housewife fantasy are all bullshit. I want to see her try being as honest with her daughter as she was with her husband’s gay prostitute lover. And I just want to see another Allison Janney monologue! Hopefully Margaret’s story line doesn’t fade away with her seemingly unavoidable divorce — I haven’t watched CBS’s Mom, but I want Janney on Masters of Sex this week, next week, next season, and beyond. She can be this show’s double-duty-rocking Alison Brie, right down to the first name.
But the real plot development to care about, I guess, is Libby’s pregnancy. Mrs. Masters just lost her baby three episodes ago — recently enough that it haunts us like it haunts her. While Bill’s internalized grief led him to those unforgettably brutal sobs, he’s never been fully on board the Baby Express. How will he react to the theoretically happy news this time around? Silently? Irritably? Studiously clinically? Bill thus far has been a deeply unpleasant man to spend time with. He almost never smiles or indicates feelings of joy; brief scientific wonderment is as far as he’ll allow himself to go. He cares exclusively about work that’s driven by his own ego and insecurities, convincing himself it’s all for the good of humanity’s future. Another pregnancy is another chance for Bill to give Libby a sliver of actual connection, to show he doesn’t completely not care. But we know it’s impossible, don’t we? He’s Bill Masters, which is strike one. He’s investing more and more resources and orgasms into the Research Sex With Virginia Johnson Project, which is strike two. And, strike three, he’s preparing to present his data for the first time. Good luck with your lonely baby feelings, Libby. Maybe this’ll get as depressing as Mad Men after all. (Nine-time Mad Men director Jennifer Getzinger is at the helm this week — her credits include “The Suitcase” and the two-hour Season 5 opener, “A Little Kiss.”)
Doctor Who: The World’s Fastest Primer on 50 Years of the Doctor
Sarah Larimer: Guys, guys. Has your one nerd friend been losing his/her goddamn mind over the British Broadcasting Corporation this week? Is it getting super annoying, because you’re all “Doctor Who now?” and he’s like “TARDIS,” and you feel like maybe you should be on board with whatever this show is — because it’s British and who doesn’t love British stuff — but to be quite honest, you’ve never really been one to freak out about the time vortex?
Well that’s too bad! Because Doctor Who is a brilliantly charming journey across time and space, and you’re missing out. Luckily, there’s still time to get on the bandwagon before the 50th anniversary special Saturday. (The show is currently streaming on Netflix and Amazon Instant, if you’re living the Prime life.) To help newcomers get ready for “The Day of the Doctor” special, I have prepared this introductory Q&A. Allons-y!
Who is Doctor Who?
Oh my god. OK. I’m glad we’re starting here, because seriously, dudes, you gotta just say “Who is the Doctor?”; there is no Doctor Who, exactly. There’s only the Doctor. See what they did? Because people are always asking him his name and he’s like, “Hello! I’m the Doctor!” So the show is called Doctor Who, sorta like a question. Brits. So clever.
No kidding, I have spent the entire week rambling about two things: the Cornell-educated backup goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings and a 900-year-old Time Lord. So it’s either The Doctor or The Professor. Take your pick.
OK, OK FINE. So who is the Doctor?
He’s an alien who travels through space and time, saving the universe with the help of his plucky companions. (But what’s his real name? Don’t ask me!) There have been three Doctors since the show rebooted, 11 total, and another coming when Matt Smith leaves after this year’s Christmas special. That’s going to be tragic, because no. 11 is my favorite of the Doctors, and his current companion, Clara, is also dope. Meet them here, in this preview clip:
Why is Saturday important?
It’s the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. I KNOW. The 50th! Can you even believe it? Happy birthday, Doctor Who!
So why is this Saturday show in a Sunday precap?
Ssssshhhhhhhh. It’s probably Sunday over there by the time you can see it. Who knows how time zones work?
Explain this special episode in 50 words or fewer.
Oh, god, I don’t know, because I’ve actually been avoiding stories on it (spoilers), but I think it’s supposed be rather dark and science-y wience-y, while also honoring the show’s history.
Here goes: The Doctor (Smith) will meet the incarnation he’s been running from (John Hurt) for his entire existence or whatever. David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, is also there for some reason. Basically, it’s gonna be the best here’s a trailer and that’s about 40 words, right? Phew.
Please insert the Doctor Who GIF that best expresses your feelings right now.
Thank you for ending on an easy one.