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Better Call Saul Starts Season 4 in Mourning

Bo

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better call saul season 4 featured

Today’s a good day. Better Call Saul is back! After a season 3 that was every bit as good as anything Breaking Bad ever managed, I admit I’m a little hesitant about season 4. Last season was so remarkable and necessitates such drastic change that I worry where it will go from here.

Mind you, I don’t worry too much. If I’ve learned anything from 8 seasons of the Breaking Bad world, it’s that everyone involved deserves the trust of their audience. So let’s get into season 4’s typically excellent premiere, “Smoke.”

Sifting Through the Ashes

Understandably, Better Call Saul spent much of this episode confronting the consequences of the season 3 finale. Much of this revolved around the suicide of Jimmy’s brother, Chuck. Jimmy, Kim, and Hamlin spend the episode grieving, culminating in Chuck’s wake at the end.

This premiere did a terrific job establishing the weight of Chuck’s death on not just the characters, but the show itself. So much revolved around Chuck in the first 3 seasons. His relationship with Jimmy was the driving force of the legal side of the show. Hamlin and Kim were directly affected by their relationship. Chuck played a central role in helping Better Call Saul establish an identity outside of Breaking Bad.

The weight of this absence could be felt not just in scenes focused on it, but minor touches in direction and editing and such. The traditional Gene opening saw him wheeled out of the mall on a stretcher in the same fashion that Chuck was wheeled into the hospital in season 2. His funeral featured the song he practiced on the piano. Everyone who ever had a relationship with Chuck shows up to pay their respects.

I think I felt it most while Hamlin read his obituary. However antagonistic and outright awful Chuck might have been to his brother, he was a positive force in the world. A legal giant who worked hard all his life and made a major difference in the legal world and the worlds of everyone who came across him. He was a transformational figure who mattered a hell of a lot more than Jimmy ever could. It really made me think about who I’m rooting for and why.

For most of the episode, Jimmy appears to be broken by his brother’s death. He clearly blames himself for not seeing the suicide coming and for abandoning his brother. He shuffles through scene after scene like a zombie, rarely even saying a word. It’s easy to see how he could blame himself. Jimmy’s Bar hearing started a downward cycle for Chuck, and informing the insurance company of Chuck’s condition led to the rate increase leading Hamlin to push Chuck out of HHM. Jimmy’s actions initiated the events leading to Chuck’s decision.

Like the audience, I think hearing the obituary made Jimmy realize what the world had lost. He clearly couldn’t handle it. I don’t think the blurred view of everything in the background past his head was a coincidence. Jimmy was in a haze blinding him to everything around him. He never really saw anything, but reacted robotically.

Then Hamlin gives him an out by blaming himself. He pushed Chuck out of the firm, after all, so obviously Hamlin did it. Jimmy jumps on the opportunity to shift the blame to someone else with a vicious coldness ranking up there with anything else Better Call Saul has ever aired. Next thing you know, Jimmy’s whistling and making coffee like he’s totally absolved.

Does he really feel that way? I highly doubt it. This was Jimmy’s defense mechanism kicking in. He needs to find someone else to blame before the guilt swallows him whole.

Without Chuck or even the legal profession to lean upon, we’re probably going to see Jimmy turn full Saul Goodman throughout this season. His initial falling-out with Chuck began the process way back in season 1, and it’s been a consistent downward pattern since, only briefly dispersed by bouts of conscience. Not having Chuck around at all breaks down a significant barrier. Without his law career, Jimmy will resort to the same kind of scams and general criminal activity he was deep into before Chuck bailed him out of years in prison.

First, though, we needed an episode like this where everything feels frozen in place. We all needed to process the sense of loss here; both the audience and the characters needed this time to understand just what Chuck’s death meant to the world and ourselves. There’s a reason Jimmy, Kim, and Hamlin spent this episode basically frozen in place. Everything was forgotten for now. Kim needed to be there for Jimmy, while he and Hamlin tried to cope with extreme guilt.

Now the question posed is about how long it will take everyone to move on. Jimmy looks ready to do so immediately. Hamlin will struggle to. I expect he’ll eventually find out that Jimmy told the insurance company about Chuck’s condition and shift his blame and anger in that direction, but it won’t change anything. This was a loss both will feel for the rest of their lives. Chuck was just too damn impactful for it to go any other way.

Better Call Saul gave his towering presence exactly the send-off it deserved.

better call saul bolsa and gus

Gangland Promotion Season

While the legal side of the show remained frozen in place, however, the criminal side did not. Mike and Nacho went through the same kind of transitional change as Jimmy. Mike accepted a new “job” working for Gus while Nacho’s pill plan led to Hector Salamanca’s stroke. Both moved forward to new, broader horizons, though their comfort with this new direction in their lives differed significantly.

And while the gangland side of things still remains separate from the legal side (the one true flaw I think Better Call Saul has at this point), I think we’re finally reaching a point where this changes. I think the moment where everything merges together into a cohesive whole is finally approaching.

It’s easy to see where Nacho and Mike will merge. Nacho appears to have been given de facto control over the Salamanca operation, with Tuco in prison and Hector recovering. Good thing, right? Not really. He’s clearly stuck in a bad place, where he has to cover up his involvement in Hector’s stroke, and that won’t be easy with Gus clearly aware of what happened. Nacho’s stuck in a mess, and considering what Saul says in Breaking Bad about Nacho, you have to assume he’ll eventually be found out.

His role in Hector’s stroke definitely piqued Gus’s interest, and with his guys following Nacho around, you have to assume he eventually tasks Mike with the job. Mike’s certainly bored enough to do so, based on his showing up at Madrigal to do a job no one expected him to. Mike and Nacho already have a history, so it makes sense that they’ll eventually come together. Since Jimmy’s looking for new gainful employment and inevitably heading towards a life of crime, I imagine he’ll enter the mix this season as well.

We’ve watched all three of these characters move towards this position for 3 years now. And while it’s been a terrific journey, it’s exciting to see it finally happening. We’re not just heading towards the moment where Better Call Saul might merge its two halves to create an all-time great whole. Better Call Saul is finally merging with Breaking Bad, and it’s both exciting and terrifying.

Right now we’re seeing the changes that put everyone where they are when Breaking Bad began. We’re seeing how Gus became THE boss of the Albuquerque drug scene. We’re seeing how Mike became his right hand man. Hector will end up in his wheelchair. Jimmy will become Saul and start representing clients from that world, potentially including lower level guys from Gus’s crew. He will probably also, 3 seasons later, realize he has entered that world and make good on Nacho’s offer from season 1.

The timeline has begun to merge. It’s a little bit worrisome for one petty reason; I don’t want to see Better Call Saul’s identity vanish. Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould worked so hard to give the show its own identity outside of its predecessor/sequel.  Breaking Bad has always been a dominating presence on Better Call Saul, and the day would always come where the two merged. Am I particularly worried, though? Not really. Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and everyone involved in plotting the direction of this show have earned my trust twice over. I have 8 seasons of one of the best stories in television history letting me know I have little to nothing to worry about.

My excitement easily wins over my minor worries about Better Call Saul’s identity. Chuck is gone, and while I’ll miss the hell out of him, the void left in his wake will inevitably lead us to Saul and the day where Walter White walks into his office.

Season 4 is upon us, and if previous seasons of both Saul and Breaking Bad are any indication, we can expect it to somehow top everything that came before. It’s good to have this amazing show back.

Other Thoughts:

  • There were so many callbacks in this episode. The song at Chuck’s funeral, the similarities in Gene and Chuck’s time on a stretcher, the warehouse Mike visits at Madrigal, the bottle of rich alcohol Kim busts out that she and Jimmy conned someone into paying for, etc. What really made these moments work was how subtle they were. The episode never really shouted at you in hopes you remembered.
  • Speaking of the warehouse, how perfect was it that Mike couldn’t handle sitting around doing nothing and went to actually work as a security consultant? And trust me as something working in a job with a badge and locked doors and tons of security protocols; too few people actually follow said protocols.
  • Mike and his granddaughter used the homemade soakers they made back in season 2! Guess he wasn’t just using her to create the makeshift spike strips he used for the truck heist.
  • Jimmy looked for work in the Albuquerque Journal. One of Chuck’s favorite newspapers. Ouch.
  • There’s nowhere to really talk about the Gene sequence in the review proper, so let’s talk about it now. Did the taxi driver recognize him? Will we get another Gene sequence this season? I’d love to hear some thoughts.
  • I loved the Muhammad Ali vs. Bruce Lee argument the two Madrigal employees had. Look, I actually trust a lot of the Lee stories more than most people, but Ali would obliterate him. It’s not even a question. He was the best heavyweight boxer of all time, and Lee was ultimately a small actor skilled in martial arts.

Images courtesy of AMC

Bo

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and continues drifting wearily through the slog of summer TV.

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Summer TCA Say Much About Fall TV

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Seher Says Logo Summer TCA

Second to Upfront presentations in May, the Summer TCA (Television Critic Associations) press sessions and show panels held for 15 days in the end of July through the start of August are my favorite time in the TV press schedule. Networks have chosen the shows surviving to and starting in the next season. They’ve sold shows for international distribution and advertisers have bought much of the time available. So the Summer TCA give anyone who pays attention to this stuff learns a ton about the state of each of the networks present, their present, and future.

This year, however; two networks sat out the expected executive session where the network’s execs offers remarks and takes questions. ABC (not ready to handle questions about Roseanne?) and NBC (word is Greenblatt just dislikes the TCAs).

On the other hand, CBS. which is embroiled in legal problems after a recent article on CEO Les Moonves’ behavior with women still held its exec session with Entertainment Pres. (CBS also has a lawsuit against its majority shareholder) Kelly Kahl knowing the questions were coming. Of course none of his answers were really all that helpful, but he showed up and that’s sadly still a big deal.

Still, we got a lot of tidbits on returning and new shows! (I’ve listed the networks in the order of their days at the TCA.)

FOX

Surprisingly FOX was the most normal of exec sessions this year with discussion of bringing back Last Man Standing and the real news: what the heck happens now that Disney’s acquiring so many assets and the studio FOX makes (made) TV with most! CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman spoke about working more with the indie studios and bringing them back into the fold after the last few years of networks choosing to pick up series from their vertically aligned studios.

Which makes sense, 16 new series came from outside studios five years back, with only six this year. NewFox will go for partial ownership for new series. And is currently aiming to have the same mix of scripted, sports, and live offerings. Though starting fall 2019 for a large part of their regular season will only have four days for scripted offerings due to TNF and WWE Smackdown (the latter airs every week year-round).

As far as the show panels, I think Aisha Hinds (911) talking about how she was once shot in the back and then later also revealing that she lost a kidney is the wildest thing to happen this year.

Otherwise, I was really pleased to learn more about The Passage, the father/daughter relationship that exists both on screen and behind the scenes with Mark Paul Gosselar’s Brad and Saniyya Sidney’s Amy. Event TV that succeeds is rare and I’m hoping this show does it for broadcast.

The Passage FOX

The Passage

CBS

CBS is finally moving towards more inclusive casting on their shows after years of not doing so. Which is great. Sadly the folks in charge though, and at least at TCA were still white dudes. Except for one white woman, Diane English from Murphy Brown. And a question about the Magnum PI reboot’s writer rooms doesn’t inspire hope about the writers rooms. Both EPs Eric Guggenheim and Peter Lenkov responded in an unsatisfactory manner when asked about Latinx writers. At the time, they stated the show had none among four men and three women! And that it was “hard to find writers.”

As Kori said to me, “you probably could’ve run up ODAAT” and they would have pointed Guggs and Lenkov in the right direction. Or you know the super popular and successful Vida which did it in about a week. The best (worst) part about all of this is that on Sunday, Lenkov tweeted that they do in fact have a Latinx writer, an alumnus of the CBS Writers Mentoring Program. So either they forgot she’s Latinx (for whatever reason) or they just forgot she exists entirely. Even so, Jay Hernandez should not have to advocate for his own character’s Latinidad and heritage!

On the flip side, The Neighorhood‘s writing room is inclusive as it should be for a show focusing on a white dude moving in next to Cedric the Entertainer! Both of CBS’ fall comedies (Happy Together, Neighborhood) this year center on Black families being disrupted by a white newcomer so if they can revive the currently dead Monday comedy block…well, success! (Actually, so does the comedy slated for spring, Fam.) 

Magnum PI

The CW

Returning to exec sessions (skipped Winter) Mark Pedowitz did not give us much more about the fall DCTV crossover introducing Kate Kane (Batwoman). He did reiterate that it won’t include Legends of Tomorrow in the sprawling and schedule intensive episodes. And Batman won’t be appearing. Of their 17 shows, twelve(!) are executive produced by some combination of women and men of color though with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and JTV ending that will drop to ten of 15 pending new pickups for fall 2019. And! By my count we’ve got at least 20 LGBT series regular and recurring characters on the network with 8 coming this fall which is pretty cool.

Other interesting tidbits included a comment that both Warner Bros. and CBS are happy with how The CW is growing (it functions to advertise the produced shows) and MP expects that to stay the case with new AT&T ownership (which acquired Time Warner). Added to their game plan is more scripted in the summer for more year-round programming. Of course, this bode well for the shows that are old and even by CW’s standards are not doing as hot!

For Charmed, one of the shows I’m looking forward to most, the panel sounded like a ton of fun even if it involved answering a ton of questions about the backlash against it. More importantly the showrunners emphasized that we will see the sisters’ Latina heritage, especially since various cultures approach witchcraft differently and because all three sisters have a different dad. (Though the latter understandably has some folks concerned.) Good thing they’ve got a Latinx witch on the writer’s team!

It might be cheesy but at least it’s accurately cheesy! (Hopefully the cheese melts down a bit after the first few episodes.) At this point, anything premiering above a .7 is probably something to call home about.

Charmed

Charmed

ABC

Warning for brief mention of suicide in an upcoming fall ABC show. Skip to FOX if necessary.

I reiterate again how it’s totally bull that they didn’t hold an exec session. You made your bed, now you gotta lie in it. No panel for The Connors either which is unfortunate.  Especially considering it as the launchpad for their new Tuesday line-up which has for years plagued them at 10pm (now filled with The Rookie). Pres. Dungey was around to take questions and a few articles are now up, but they should have just held the dang session.

Though their panel for A Million Little Things which follows a group of friends after one commits suicide does indicate that the writers have put a lot of thought into the show. Especially since its inspired by creator DJ Nash’s own life. Hopefully the show will start conversations like This is Us has (a comparison they’re complimented by) and unlike The Big Chill see what happens to the friends after the funeral. AMLT is the only show I’m planning on watching from ABC this fall. Plus it’s got Grace Park in her first role lead role since leaving H50 and I’m super excited to see the cast working together. From a ratings perspective, clearly this is ABC’s hope for their next The Good Doctor (also a strong performer at 10pm).

A Million Little Things Cast

A Million Little Things

NBC

Like I mentioned earlier, NBC had no exec session. They only brought one of their truly new fall shows, I Feel Bad to panel. Though Manifest‘s exec producer was part of the NBC showrunner panel. Highlights from I Feel Bad were that the show wasn’t written for an Indian lead. Rather after Sarayu Blue’s casting, they based other casting on her. Additionally with Aseem Batra running the place, the show will reflect experiences she’s had as sometimes the only woman in a writer’s room. Comedies on NBC are a mixed bag but this is airing after Will and Grace so anything could happen.

I Feel Bad NBC

I Feel Bad


Overall, the press sessions during this TCA were another indication of how far broadcast TV has come in regards to “representation” and how far it has to go. Having folks on screen isn’t enough. Shows need to have representation behind the scenes to write the characters well and realistically! POC on screen is an easy metric to pass, but it shouldn’t be the only one. As for where broadcast stands in the overwhelming offerings of Peak TV, well it’s not going anywhere yet.

Images courtesy of the networks

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Killjoys Remains the Only Show About Parental Issues That I Get This Excited For

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Content warning for discussion of attempted suicide

This week on Killjoys: Dutch is baaack! And D’av is now a D’ad.

Kendry goes into labor, and since she’s Hullen, she can’t feel pain (lucky). Zeph figures out that the baby is too big to deliver normally, thanks to Hullen regeneration, and they’re going to have to attempt a C-section—which fails, also thanks to Hullen regeneration.

Dutch wakes up and finds herself locked in her cabin on Lucy. Worried that this is all part of the Lady’s illusion, she overrides the lock on the door and breaks out. Once out, she wanders into the cargo hold, and demands to know where Johnny is.

Dutch is less than happy (okay, she’s furious) that Johnny is Hullen—though, in all fairness, it reads like she’s mostly upset that Johnny is so obviously not alright. Regardless, D’av reminds her that it really isn’t fair for her to act like the decision and the fallout was somehow easy for him.

Dutch goes to the cockpit to “think”, and changes their course for the nearest Green pool that isn’t the one she came out of. Rightfully, we all start to worry that maybe this isn’t Dutch, or that something happened to her in the Green.

Dutch claims she’s looking for a Green pool to Cleanse Johnny. D’av points out that they need some of Johnny’s source plasma, which is most likely going to be on the Armada, not some random pool. Dutch only squeaks past that bit of logic because Lucy announces that this pool, and all the other pools on Johnny’s plasma map, are just as solidified as the one Dutch came out of. Even the Green that Zeph took from the Necropolis is solid.

They tell Johnny, who is pretty upset that he’s not going to be able to either be Cleansed, or reach critical Hullen mass. We get a little more insight into what kind of pain he’s been in, being in limbo between his human connections and Hullen detachment, and he’s had enough. Instead of waiting for another possible solution, Johnny opts to attempt suicide by breaking his own neck.

While they’re trying to heal him, Zeph realizes that the Hullen parasite almost died completely off when Johnny’s spinal cord was severed. She inserts a knife into Johnny’s spinal column, waits for the parasite to die off, and then heals Johnny’s spine with her regeneration… lamp? As fast as she can. This gives her an idea for how to deliver Kendry’s baby. (That whole plot point makes me more and more uncomfortable the further out from the episode I get.)

Kendry is, understandably, unwilling to go through with this, since it means she won’t be Hullen anymore. She’s on a ship full of people who have every reason to want to kill her; being Hullen is survival, since she’s not a combatant. She’s alone, and Aneela, her protection, has disappeared. She handled it like a pro last episode, but now, she’s a lot more vulnerable, and she’s running out of options.

She corners Dutch and demands to know where Aneela is, reminding Dutch that the Lady wants to use the child to escape the Green. She also doesn’t quite manage to avoid saying that she wants Aneela to be there when the baby is born—and, as far as emotional moments go, this was one of my favorites for the episode. Kendry might be scathingly sarcastic and totally done with everyone around her, but she is absolutely terrified—of going through this surrounded by people who don’t care for her at all, of the reminder that her agency was subverted and that’s why this baby exists in the first place; of the fact that the Lady will undoubtedly try to claim the child somehow. And the only person who has a chance at preventing that is Aneela. Dutch realizes this, and tells Kendry that she had to leave Aneela in the Green, and reveals that going back in and saving Aneela is something she was already planning to do.

Once the procedure is performed, there’s an obligatory scene with the crew and “D’av’s baby”, which is funny and sweet, though I still feel obliged to point out that, like Kendry says, D’av had very little to do with the creation of this child—really, Aneela is the one responsible for the baby existing at all, and she’s not there. D’av “contributed” his DNA by getting beaten up. It is completely in character for D’av to find out that this baby has his DNA and compulsively care, though, and he seems happy about becoming a dad.

We also get to see Dutch get all doe-eyed watching D’av hold a baby, and it’s surprisingly nice that, even though D’av is nominally her love interest, they haven’t tried to shoehorn her (with all of her trauma around her training as a child) into parenthood alongside him.

While they’re having a drink to celebrate (and Kendry is presumably taking the longest nap ever), Dutch fills her family in on the Lady, including the fact that the Lady showed her a vision of the future in which they lose the fight against her. Zeph asks why they don’t just leave Aneela and the Lady in the Green. Dutch replies that Aneela trapped the Lady in the Green with her, but that Aneela can only hold out for so long, so they should do their best to save her and stop the Lady.

Thoughts

With Dutch returning to the land of the living, the emotional core of the show locks back into place. The other characters have carried the show incredibly well for two episodes, but the shift with Dutch back in the driver’s seat shows exactly why this is Dutch’s story more than it is anyone else’s (not to mention that Hannah John-Kamen played three separate characters this episode). Without her and Aneela, the Armada, the RAC, the Killjoys themselves—they just turn into so much of what “clever” contemporary sci-fi tries to be: Somewhere on a spectrum from blatant fanboy nostalgia a la the CW, to something like “Sherlock” or “House”, but in space. Clever, maybe (rarely), but ultimately ungrounded.

There’s some temporal switching that happens, because we need to fill in the backstory, but we can’t fill it in too fast, otherwise this would be a very different episode: Everyone is asking what Dutch’s secret is, including Dutch, and the audience is on the ride with them. Practically speaking, maintaining a level of suspense around Dutch’s intentions is good, because we’ve seen just how interacting with the Green can change people, but they don’t draw it out unnecessarily long. Creating a sense of mystery around Dutch is something this show has done well since the beginning, and I’m still enjoying their use of it—mostly because they don’t go back to the same “mystery” over and over again, and when it comes down to it, they drop the pretenses, tell you what’s going on, and deliver on the emotional fulfillment that that kind of build-up needs.

Dutch and Aneela

In an episode drowning in themes of parenthood (not usually my thing to begin with), the line that actually made me tear up was this one: “You shouldn’t be doing this on your own, Yala. I didn’t give you life just so you could throw it away.

The Lady tries to imitate the care that Aneela radiates in this moment, and I love the play between the two bookending scenes: In Dutch’s first encounter with the Lady, the Lady (wearing Aneela’s face) says, “You matter, too”, trying to lead Dutch to think about how to get out of the Green. She also provides the kind of awkward-yet-oddly-sweet interaction that we might expect from the Aneela that we saw in the season premiere: Aneela trying to help Dutch, but not really knowing how.

But at the end of the episode, we get this reveal: In a flashback to the scene that was teased in the season premiere, where a hooded figure approaches Dutch’s collapsed form in the forest, we find out that that figure is actually Aneela. She wakes Dutch up and tells Dutch to go, to leave the Green, in words that sound very similar to what the Lady said earlier.

The difference is entirely in the delivery.

Dutch has spent her entire life being shaped into a weapon. She spent the last third of Season 3 preparing to die, knowing that if she killed Aneela, her “source”, she would die, too. It’s why she keeps hunting the Lady, even when wounded; she’d already made peace with dying, with the fact that Aneela wants (or at least wanted) to “put her back” in the Green, to close the door that might allow the Lady to escape. The only difference was that she was going to die fighting a different enemy.

In this episode, Dutch does what she always does: Run headfirst into the fray. Unlike usual, she’s beaten, badly. The Lady, with her vision, reveals that Dutch’s sacrifice could be for nothing. And then Aneela rescues her in the forest, and tells her to go; that this isn’t what Aneela wanted for her, living through the same psychic torture that Aneela’s endured, over and over again. You see Aneela’s words get through to Dutch for the first time in this interaction: Regardless of how wrong things went for them, Aneela wanted Dutch to exist. She wanted Dutch to live, and she still does, and while Khlyen was perfectly content to “fix” Dutch’s memories so that everything wouldn’t be lost when the Lady overcame her, and send her back out alone, Aneela isn’t.

Dutch wasn’t meant to be a weapon. Or a distraction. Or a pet. Aneela doesn’t view her as dispensable; Aneela views her as her child, someone she created—maybe for not the best reasons, but she didn’t create her just to watch her die. And even though Dutch has every reason to be angry with her, Aneela doesn’t waffle or struggle to express how she feels. And when Aneela tells her to go, you can see Dutch’s eyes go wide: She understands, after her experiences with the Lady, what Aneela is volunteering for—The Lady has threatened to trap her in her worst memories, to take away the experiences at the core of her being, and this is maybe the one arena that Dutch truly can’t fight in. No one can. “They’re who you are,” the Lady says, and Aneela has already lived through the Lady’s mental manipulation—and emerged all the worse for it.

Given that we’ve had a total of (maybe) twenty minutes of them actually interacting, it’s mind-blowing how Aneela has shown far more care for Dutch in that short time than Khlyen ever showed for either of them.

The fact that Aneela made a decision to leave the ruins, go out, and find Dutch also feels incredibly significant—instead of allowing Dutch to play the role she’s always played, Aneela puts her mind and possibly even her life on the line to keep the Lady from Dutch. Aneela has picked a side, and it doesn’t matter whether or not “no one is coming” to save her—she’s decided. And it makes even the Lady a bit nervous.

Of the two semi-decent parental figures in this episode, I also feel obliged to point out that D’av shows a lot of promise (and remains the eye candy, looking pretty and cuddling a baby), but it’s Aneela who takes action.

This might be going too far, but this episode made me want to jump up and down and go “THIS. THIS is how you talk about how powerful motherhood/fatherhood can be without lapsing into the sanctification of motherhood.”

Next week on Killjoys: It’s gonna be real hard figuring out what Khlyen’s “message” is when Johnny and Dutch have very different recollections of how they met to begin with.


Images courtesy of SyFy

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Wynonna Earp Questions Reality with Murder Trees and Mama Earp

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Wynonna Earp Season 3, Episode 4 Review “No Cure for Crazy”

After the death of a major character, it’s not always clear how a show will move forward. Sometimes, it will linger or carry a through line of heaviness for a while. Other times, it will screech to a halt, do a one-eighty, and speed off in the other direction. This week, Wynonna Earp chose the latter, to mixed results.

OMG, What?

We open on Wynonna and Doc tracking down the last revenants who stole Dolls’ serum. A tree literally jumps in his way, but when Wynonna tries to shoot him, Peacemaker stalls. A young man sticks his finger in a mysterious hole in a tree weeping red goo; the ‘sap’ turns out to be blood. Elsewhere in the woods, Nicole talks with Waverly about surviving the Bulshar cult. She mentions there not being a fire there when she escaped—meaning Black Badge burned the evidence—and ponders the fast growth of the trees. They run into the young man from earlier—Robin, one of Waverly’s old friends—who asks to be taken to Nedley. Nicole tosses Bulshar’s ring in the woods.

“This is why you don’t do dragon drugs; jacking other people’s prescriptions can cause hallucinations.”—Wynonna

Doc and Wynonna discover they’re fresh out of bullets for Peacemaker, as Dolls, their supplier, is now dead. Nicole and Wynonna get into it about keeping secrets (the Bulshar cult and Mama Earp being in prison, respectively), but Waverly resolves it. Wynonna promises to take Waverly to see Mama in prison after they find more bullets. We cut to the prison, where Mama writes “Never ever get out” on the walls of her padded cell with what appears to be the blood of her cellmate.

“Just give her a minute, her purse is bigger than my vehicle.”—Wynonna

Wynonna and Doc flirt their way through piles of old things looking for bullets and/or something to sell to fund the team’s work. Wynonna finds a cradle Doc made for Alice and feels guilty, which gets her thinking about Mama. Flashback to seven years ago when Mama makes Wynonna promise not to let Waverly know she’s in prison or to ever come back. In the present, Nicole grabs Wynonna on Nedley’s behalf while Waverly plays matchmaker with Jeremy and Robin. On the way out of the lab, she gets a call from the Ghost River institute, so she heads down to finally see Mama Earp. Jeremy and Robin flirt about the murder tree? It’s fine. At the prison, when Mama sees Waverly, she freaks out, screaming “Get out!”, “I’ll kill you!”, and “Kill the demon.”

“I guess it’s only fair me walking in on you for a change.”—Nicole

Jeremy and Robin can’t find the murder tree in the woods. At the sheriff’s office, Wynonna tries to help Nedley defend the sheriff’s department from budget cuts and inadvertently makes matters worse by mentioning the marshals. Wynonna encourages Nedley to step down so Nicole can take a crack at heading up the police department. Waverly arrives and tells Wynonna that Mama tried to kill her. In the woods, Robin and Jeremy get lost in dense fog and find a creepy stone staircase. Wynonna heads to the prison, threatens mama for threatening Waverly, and then inadvertently lets Mama escape when she grabs Peacemaker. The guards then lock up Wynonna for being “an accomplice.” Nicole digs up the old, and incomplete, police report for Mama’s arrest; Nedley fills in the details: Mama was arrested for burning down the Homestead barn while Waverly was in it.

“The one available guy in town and he’s probably a murderer.”—Jeremy

Jeremy tries to direct Doc to find him and Robin, instead Doc hears the sound of a baby crying, then the sound of flames. Bulshar arrives and tries to threaten Doc into working for him. Before Doc can answer, Jeremy and Robin show up, the mysterious staircase is gone, and so is Bulshar. In the institute, one of the guards, a revenant, suggests killing Wynonna to cover up Mama’s escape. Nedley opens up about the night Mama Earp set the fire. Wynonna and the revenant fight, but she decapitates him with her handcuffs and gets the Warden to set her free.

“Does your car have seat warmers? Because I ripped my pants while decapitating, it happens.”—Wynonna

Jeremy hits upon the idea of a shared delusion being the source of the staircase he and Robin saw; when Robin leaves the lab, he coughs up black blood. Waverly listens to tapes of her mother’s therapy with Nicole. Doc stumbles in and hears a third voice on the tape. Looking for whiskey for Doc, Waverly finds Mama in the barn setting up the same occult paraphernalia from 10 years previous. A demon then shows up, one who had come “for Waverly.” Robin goes to visit his sick father and gets attacked by a large vine. Wynonna arrives at the Homestead to find everyone happily (scary happily) eating desserts baked by “Jolene,” who forces a brownie on Wynonna and jokes about them all ‘dying’ without her.

Favorite One Liner: “If I’ve learned anything over the past few months, it’s that evil wears many faces.”—Waverly

I Gotta Say…

I find myself once again ambivalent at the end of a Wynonna Earp episode. On the one hand, the demon-of-the-week plot this episode was better than the last two. Woods are a prime liminal space, and this episode used it to its’ full effect. Nicole’s comments about how quickly the wood grew back and the bleeding tree with a person’s eye inside set the tone right away. Rather than focus on fast-paced action with this demonic force, the show took a more eerie, atmospheric approach that worked well. I much prefer a creeping sense of horror and mystery to punching demons, so this episode gripped me. I’m invested in finding out the truth behind the walking forest of murder trees, the background with Bulshar, and how it’s related to the vine that grabbed Robin and Jolene.

At the same time, you can see the problem: there were a bit too many plot threads this episode to keep track of. Is the murder tree related to Jolene, the demon after Waverly, and/or the mysterious plants and vines outside Robin’s father’s place? How are any or all of these related to the stone staircase, Doc’s auditory hallucinations, and Bulshar? Any one of these threads could have worked as the primary demonic force for the whole episode, instead, we got multiple mysterious creatures and forces that could all be related or disconnected plus Wynonna and Waverly coping with everything to do with Mama Earp.

Thematically, the idea of not knowing what’s real or a hallucination ties everything together, and I don’t hate that as a unifying thread. In a town like Purgatory, one never can be sure what’s real. Is the past real or a delusion? Is the present stable or shifting? And if memories are unreliable, perception even more so. Doc’ has auditory hallucinations, as does Mama. Robin and Jeremy seem to believe they hallucinated the staircase, and the latter seems to think the murder tree might not be real either. And until we actually see the demon, we think Mama might be having visual or otherwise perceptual hallucinations about Waverly. Are our ‘demons’ real, imaginary, or some combination of both real and metaphorical? As an overarching theme, I can see what the episode was going for, and I like it.

Still, this episode was packed. Overfull, if you ask me, especially tonally. Mama Earp’s scenes and the murder forest are both eerie on their own. When juxtaposed without the proper resting period between them, it’s too much tension. Both ought to elicit a deep sense of horror. Together in one episode, I don’t think either had the full impact they should have had.

Plus, the cold open included multiple lines of dialogue ripped straight from song lyrics in a way that seemed flippant after last week. I know shifting direction after the death of a major character is tough. And I applaud the team for not making Dolls’ death a joke even as Doc and Wynonna cracked jokes. A generous viewer could read the situation as Doc and Wynonna coping the best they can: if you don’t cry, you laugh, and they got most of their emo out last week, so…irreverent jokes it is. I can see that, and I’m not mad at it as a direction. I’m not sure it was the best choice narratively, but it wasn’t the worst either.

I will say this: they haven’t just ignored Dolls’ death even if the emotional weight of it isn’t the primary emphasis right now. Focusing on the more tangible effects of Dolls’ death provides space for the show to continue grappling with the loss of his character without every episode being an emotional slog. I’m talking, of course, about the sudden cash flow problem. Theoretically, it works as a means of various characters coping with Dolls death. Even in practice, I find it an interesting narrative choice that creates space for metaphor. The lack of money is an analogy for Dolls’ absence, so frustration or anger or sadness about the former is a means of representing the latter.

Still, I have so many questions. Was it established that Peacemaker needed special bullets and I just forgot? I always assumed it was the gun that made Peacemaker special, not the bullets. How would the past Earps have gotten these magic bullets? Are we to assume BBD has always been the supplier or did they make their own? And if it just needs regular bullets, why would BBD need to supply them and is the team really such poor planners that they don’t have a stockpile larger than a quarter of a box? You’re telling me neither Waverly, Jeremy, nor Dolls know Wynonna well enough to not have a cache of bullets?

Secondly, why is the sheriff’s department suddenly short on cash, too? Was BBD funding their payroll? But how? Wasn’t BBD dissolved in season two and the team had to find a way to make things work on their own then? Suddenly, this is all feeling familiar. Plus, Moody revealed that BBD had never even been a government organization, so where did the money Dolls was supposedly bringing income from? I’m so confused.

Speaking of confused, holy whiplash, Docman! Look, I’m here for promiscuous Doc. I love that both he and Wynonna make no apologies for not being monogamous. My issue with the heavily suggestive dialogue and flirtation this episode stems from how rushed him jumping into bed with Kate last week was in the first place. The show barely spent any time establishing Kate as a potential sexual partner for Doc, rushed them into bed together, then rushed him back to verbal foreplay with Wynonna. Jeremy mentioned Doc’s sex afterglow right in the middle of Doc flirting with Wynonna. That just feels weird to me.

Delete that one comment from Jeremy and Doc sleeping with Kate last week and you have a seamless arc for Doc and Wynonna’s complicated sexual chemistry and history. The night with Kate might as well not have happened based on Doc and Wynonna’s characterizations. But it did, and I’m not sure why.

I’m also confused regarding Doc’s feelings about Alice. He’s either guilt-ridden or has a sense of peace about it, depending on the needs of the story. When Wynonna needs comforting, Doc evinces little to no guilt or pain. Yet when he’s the one in need of internal conflict, Alice’s loss and his descent to hell suddenly exist again. I suppose I could be generous and say Doc is coping better with his emotional struggles than he has in the past, but the more critical side of me says he’s just not being written consistently. I really like these as struggles for his character arc; I just want more. Which brings me back to the sense of the show trying to do too much, so there’s less space for characters’ consistently grappling with their internal struggles.

The one thing Wynonna Earp has done consistently well this season is the Mama Earp storyline. To my mind, this is the primary focus of the season, and it shows. The Mama Earp plot was truly horrifying. Believing that she was trying to kill Waverly the whole episode shook me to my core. (Can Waverly have one parent who actually gives a shit about her and is nice to her please and thank you?) Megan Fellows acted her face off, and Nedley played the role of the reluctant informant with heartbreaking accuracy. I look forward to seeing if his beliefs about Mama not having a mean bone in her body are correct.

As for what this episode means for Waverly’s heritage, I’m on the fence. I like the character work and internal conflict the plot creates. Wynonna defending Waverly is everything, and seeing Waverly struggle with Mama’s reactions to her broke me inside. Complicated family dynamics are my jam, and this episode delivered on that score.

Nevertheless, I don’t like the idea of Waverly being a demon as much as I did when last season’s arc with Bobo Del Rey started (Speaking of whom, where is he? What’s he up to?). After resolving the concern over her being a revenant in the season two finale, dangling the idea of Waverly being a demon feels too much like a rehash of last season. Same with the sheriff’s office having to once again deal with not having BBD support…BBD support they didn’t actually have because BBD was dissolved last season. Like Jeremy and Robin, the show feels like it’s walking in circles.

Maybe it’s because Mel’s pregnancy forced the writing team to change direction last season and we’re getting where certain plot threads ‘should’ have gone last season if they hadn’t have had to include the pregnancy. However, since these plot threads were dealt with last season—even if not fully to the writing team’s liking—revisiting them feels repetitive. I hope we get out of the woods soon, because there are some genuinely good things here to explore that feel like they’re being bogged down.

Overall, there are some elements I really liked on their own, yet they didn’t all gel together the way Wynonna Earp is usually so good at making happen. This episode juggled a lot of balls, and I’m not sure it caught them all.

I see you, Andras

  • Lots of song lyric references this week. Ngl, it got irritating after the first one.
  • New guy really needs to not put things in his mouth; he’s apparently also the infamous “potato licker” from this season’s teaser trailer. Guess no one told him to never touch the goo.
  • Nice to hear Wynonna say, “Make your peace” again. How long has it been?
  • Weird how quickly the WayHaught tension regarding talking to their parents was resolved with a joke about sportsball… the show reaaaaally isn’t allowing anything to last long? Not longer than an episode is one thing, but barely 10 seconds?
  • Flashback Wynonna looked on point.
  • The #MeToo line felt a bit too forced and weird tonally.

See you next week for “Jolene” (Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeeeeene!). With Bobo back, it looks like I’m getting at least one of my questions answered, and I’m excited to see Mama Earp in a different context!


Images Courtesy of SyFy

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