Late Review – Boardwalk Empire

I have been in the midst of watching Boardwalk Empire. As is my normal custom, I didn’t start until well after everyone else has consumed it. Spoilers are obviously ahead and in full disclosuure, I must also say (and this probably gives you an idea of what I think ahead of time) I did not finish the series and have no intention of doing so. I got through season four but couldn’t make it any further.

I love history, always have. Gangster history is no exception. It’s such an odd and interesting era in America’s culture. It is possibly one of the best examples of how to build a black market, was a time of lawlessness rarely seen, as well as a moment when law was so blatantly disregarded that the line between common sense and corruption became blurred.

And the legends, oh the legends. Our country is so young, there are just certain events that seem to take on this mythical status. A lot of people point to the Wild West for our demigods and myths, but the Roaring Twenties was another time when certain figures rose to legendary status. Seeing figures like Meier Lansky, Lucky Luciaono, and Al Capone was quite a joy.

In fact, if I’m being honest, that’s what the show should have been about. I understand that Nucky Johnson (Thompson in the show) was a real life gangster and a big deal, even though he’s not as well known as many of the other figures. In fact, the only reason I know this is because I had to look it up. I didn’t actually realize the show was going to include such historical figures. Until Luciano showed up, I thought Nucky Thompson was completely fictional and the world that was being set up was a reflection of that. I do owe the show that and more, I am remiss to say that, while I knew many of the figures, I had no idea who Arnold Rothstein was or the foundational role he played in the American Mob.

But the execution in the show leaves much to be desired. I love Steve Buscemi as Nucky, and there are moments when a lot of his other surrounding characters are interesting, but the show always seemed to shine brightest when involving his foils, Lansky, Luciano, Rothstein, Capone, even Torrio. You really get a sense for what is coming, what is being built. You are watching as crime becomes organized, watching legends be born as men become godfathers and kingpins.

The issue the show continues to repeat is that, in this world of legends, those characters who are nonexistent in history find very little role to play. It often times seems to get bored with key characters and no long has anything for them to do. But because they are key, the show seeks to keep them in the loop. Margaret seems to be one of the bigger issues, but even Chalky, Eli, Gillian, Harrow, and Jimmy seem often time rudderless. Their arcs are uneven, sometimes repetitive, and often times uninteresting. Many time, they even seem to act against their own nature to drive the story in a certain direction. I did not care when Jimmy died, only disappointed that the show expected me to care. The show jumps around to such disconnected story arcs that it oftentimes fails to flesh people out, at least until they are about to die when they will almost always get a tender moment or episode at the last moment to try and make it feel impactful when their face gets removed.

For example, Nelson. Why in the hell is he even in this show? He bungles through everything, starting out as a ridiculously religious, flagellating Prohibition Officer who kills his corrupt partner, then to a man on the run who stumbles into organized crime, before becoming an enforcer for the Capones? Really? As far as I can tell, his ends his run by getting his face blown off while trying to kill Al Capone. Watching that clip sort of nailed down for me that I didn’t need to take this further.

One of the very last scenes in the fourth season (which I hated) was Harrow dying under the dock. He hallucinates approaching his sister’s farm, seeing his new wife, father in law, and adopted son. His face is complete and unscarred for the first time and he dies with a smile on it. That is heartbreaking, and fitting for Harrow’s story arc, but comes after one of the most horrible scenes in the entire show. Harrow is dying because he was shot in Chalky’s club, after accidentally killing Chalky’s daughter in an attempt to kill Narcisse. There are two, horrible things here. First, the last thing Harrow does in the entire show is kill an innocent person. I hated that as a sendoff. But also, why the fuck did we kill Mabel??? Don’t get me wrong, Chalky’s reaction was perhaps the one of the best pieces of acting he does in the show, but shit, Mabel? It just wreaked of HBO’s desire to shock the audience.

A few things I will call out as excellent. I have already said I love the big, major historical figures, but there are some fictional ones that are very well done. Valentin Narcisse was based upon Casper Holstein, who was a Harlem gangster and politician in the same era. I have only seen Jeffery Wright in a few things, but I loved his role here. Boardwalk made race a big focal point of its storytelling, so to have black man who was so condescending and hateful of anyone not black (or not black enough), while talking about the decay of his people (while also selling them heroin) was fascinating. And his writing, the use of words, and his voice, just all sum him up into a complex, lethal character.

But my favorite absolute character I think I have seen in this show, and many others, is Gyp Rosetti. I think Bobby Canavale is mostly a character actor, usually playing these types of tough guys, but man did he nail it in this. Part of what I hated to see throughout the series was how it lost a lot of its fun. Nucky gets more and more dour, and most of the other characters just plain start that way (Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…). But Gyp is just the right combination of vicious insanity, sexual depravity, horrible insecurity, and humor that he is one of the singular reasons the third season is my favorite. Canavale owns the role and delivers the best Sicilian sociopath since Joe Pesci made it a thing. From his opening murder to colorfully insulting the most dangerous people in the world, either arguing with God or choking himself with a belt while…you know, this was a character that was vibrant and interesting in any and every scene he made an appearance and truly drove the storytelling that occurred in this arc.

I ended the fourth season exasperated. I wanted this to be good, and it has so many great moments that it always felt on the verge of becoming what I wanted. Yet, and this was what made me finally give up, it never dives deeply into the quality I would expect from such a show. It was ambitious, but fails to hit the mark often enough to enjoy thoroughly. Its greatest sin is in its inconsistency. With its writing, its characters, its conflict, just about everything. It’s possibly worth diving into, but only if you’ve already knocked out some of the heavy hitters like The American, House of Cards, or Justified.

 

Dracula Untold and Vampires in Virgil’s World

I wanted, so very, very much, to hate this but it actually doesn’t look half bad. Did Dracula need an origin story? No, certainly not, and definitely not as the hero, but it looks like it’ll be better than Maleficent or I, Frankenstein. I have yet to see it, but if the trailer and reviews are any indication, it was horrible. At least Frankenstein’s Monster is a bit sympathetic, I don’t know how they screwed it up so badly.

Trailer for Dracula Untold on TrailerAddict.

I’ve been wanting to write a short story about Vampires for a while, and this just might have goaded me into action. I hate that Vampires have lost their monstrous quality, that the only dynamic anyone wants to tell anymore is that of the sympathetic, abused, misunderstood, glittery, romantic immortal. Even in stories like Underworld, where the vampires are the baddies, they’re really just guys that fangs and guns that are a bit tougher. They downplay the raw power, the awe, of a legend that has haunted mankind for millennia, crossing across nearly every culture. At least with this, they seem to have gotten the Sorcerer aspect of that right.

From a purely emotional level, I think my favorite portrayal was Salem’s Lot. King said he wanted to portray the vampire as a monster, a ravenous unthinking beast, barely contained and concealed behind the facade of an elegant and dignified noble. It wasn’t a curse, not to the vampire, but the true source of his power. He celebrated that but was intelligent and stylistic enough to know that each had its place and time. This is a complete opposite from, say, a werewolf which is usually victim to their other self. Vampires, Dracula in particular, were rarely the victim, always in charge, unstoppable, a force of nature.

That’s a true villain of the night.

So, I’m gonna try and crank out a short story. Who knows how long that’ll take, but I’ll send it out in my email but may put it on the site as well. Like everything else in Virgil’s world, it reflects my favorite aspects of fantasy and how I see things, and in this case I want everyone to know how I feel.

I think I’ve got a fun take on how Vampires should be.

The Game of Thrones is About to Jump the Rails

I don’t really watch GOT. I’ve seen the first season, which was very enjoyable, but I have neither HBO or the patience and talent to obtain the series in a more illicit manner, nor the finances to buy each season. Nevertheless, I have followed how the series progressed. I, like most readers, loved watching people’s reaction to the Red Wedding, along with the other major moments like the Red Viper’s death. The memes have been great and watching the world learn to love and appreciate the Imp has been something I never really thought I would get to see.

So, even though I don’t watch the show, I’ve kept up with it.

There have been a lot of articles about what GOT will do if it catches up with the books. This is a valid concern, one that is stressed by the way A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons is constructed. For the uneducated, it breaks up the POV characters into two novels. Basically, you have all of Westeros in Feast and the Wall, Dany, and Tyrion in Dance. For the books, this was a little hard to chew. A lot happens in Feast, but it lacks Jon Snow and Tyrion, my favorite parts. A lot happens in Dance too, but focuses very heavily on Dany, my least favorite part.

Let’s take a quick break for that, since everyone is always so surprised that I hate Dany. She is an idiot but that’s not really my problem with her. My problem is her dogged insistence that her family was betrayed, usurped by the “rebellious” lords of her father’s kingdom. I get that this is a world that has never seen democracy, so I’m kinda supposed to approach this with a certain amount of fealty, but the Targaryens that were overthrown in Robert’s Rebellion were monsters, descended from an inbred line of lunatics. Now, I can get behind much of that lunacy, but their actions have continuously ripped Westeros apart, and every single horror that has befallen their bloodlines was earned through years of faulty rule.

Oh, but Dany doesn’t know that?

She would if she would listen to anyone! All of her advisers come along and say, “you know, you’re dad wasn’t all that great” and she throws a hissy fit. Maybe, just maybe, she should remember her psychotic incestuous brother who her Sun and Stars crowned with a pot of molten gold? Maybe she should think about where her horrible sibling got some of those traits?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand she’s a child queen and barely into her teenage years. Who cares! This is a series that has many child characters (Bran, Sansa, Arya) and they get along just fine without being morons. Well, not Sansa but I don’t think anyone thinks that has anything to do with age.

Anyway, the books split up the POV characters. The series has to deal with that. It looks like they’re already incorporating elements from Feast, such as Bran finding the last Greenseer, but it’s still one hell of a task to tackle. Probably, the best way would be to take all the POVs from Feast and Dance and cut it in half, making that a season.

Here’s the problem with that, that’s a lot of content, more than a Storm of Swords. Some people have said it’s a couple seasons in that book and a half, I think it’s more like three or four, depending on how much they want to retain. Then you will have Winds of Winter and whatever comes after that, unless Mr. Martin decides to go ahead and do an eighth. That could be a good, solid decade down the road, if not fifteen years, and by then there could be a ninth and tenth!

Based on some of the changes they’ve been making in the show, and some of the talk from the cast, I’m willing to make a hypothesis. I could be wrong, and honestly the only reason I’m writing it down is so I can say “I knew it!”.

Game of Thrones is about to jump the rails.

What I mean by this is the show is going to diverge from what the books are doing. It might not scoop any of the elements from the series, but it’s about to become its own thing. The stories we know from Feast and Dance…

SPOILERS!!!

…with Tyrion going over to Essos, getting kidnapped by Jorah, Jon dealing with Stannis, Arya becoming an assassin, all that stuff, I think is going to get boiled down to some essential elements. From this point on, it will be a separate entity from the books. I know over the years, A Song of Ice and Fire has become more than what George R. R. Martin originally saw it as. That makes me think, based on my own ways of writing, that he had other ideas that he abandoned for this sprawling epic the books have become. This could be an opportunity to go with one of his earlier drafts, when it was still envisioned as four or five books.

But what about his plan, you might ask? He was on the cover of Vanity Fair talking about his plan to wrap things up, doing interviews on talk shows, blogging about how the show will still follow the books.

That, my friends, is a lie.

That’s what I’m really boiling this down to. Next season and for the rest of the series, I think the readers who watch the show are in for a few surprises. We’re going to hit a point where Martin looks at us through the screen and say, “What, you though you were safe?” We will see some surprises as the show begins to veer, much to his malicious enjoyment, I’m sure, and readers and watchers are united in their surprise as the Game of Thrones separates itself from the paper and ink that birthed it.

Legend of Korra Book 3 Trailer

They have a new trailer for Book (Season) 3 of the Legend of Korra. It’s good, giving absolotely no hint to story or theme, just a ton of bending action shots with an eerie musical backdrop. It’s interesting, becuase one of my main problems with the Legend of Korra from last season was the lack of action. Too much politics, talk, whining, etc. And when they did have combat or bending it was very basic, nothing creative or imaginative like I’d come to expect from Avatar. That really picked up toward the end though and I have high hopes for Book 3.

How I Met Your Mother Finale

Yeah, yeah, I know, I haven’t posted anything in two weeks. I don’t like to be that out of touch and usually I post something on at least one of the blogs. The day job beckoned though and it took me away from…well…everything.

That includes TV and that would be why I just got around to watching the HIMYM finale.

Like any other successful show, the finale is likely to ignite strong opinions. Some people will hate it no matter how good it is and some will love it no matter how bad. Honestly, I felt myself conflicted. So did my wife. We spent a good hour talking about it, trying to wade through the story. I’d seen on Imgur that a lot of people weren’t happy, I even thought I knew why, then I saw it.

From here on, SPOILERS!

Okay, the ending sucked. Sucked bad. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Because the 58 minutes leading up to that were beautiful.

A lot of people, I’m sure, have problems with many aspects of the show. Robin and Barney get divorced. Robin distances herself from the group. Barney knocked up some chick. Some people will continue to mistakenly complain the mother takes a backseat role in her own show (I’ll get to that in a minute). And of course, there’s the fact that she dies. The ending has a general bleak quality. The happy endings are lacking a bit, except of course with Lilly and Marshal who everyone knew would end up well.

But that’s kind of the point.

The show has always been about life. More than that, it has been about the phases of life, about how people grow together and apart through their journey. Horrible as it was that Robin and Barney get divorced (especially since it was such a HUGE focus for the last few seasons) it also happens.

People move on.

It’s horrible that the mother dies. It’s terrible. We spent ten years waiting to meet this character and then they’re together for less time than it took to meet her.

Welcome to life.

The way that was done was actually quite beautiful and they do a good job of pointing a lot of that out. I do wish Barney and Robin’s marriage had at least been pleasant for its brief existence but, considering everything we loved about those two characters, it’s easy to believe that wasn’t in the cards. That doesn’t negate the many beautiful moments.

Barney meeting his daughter for one, finally finding the one person in his life whom he will dedicate everything to. The simple, sublime joy of watching Ted and Tracy fall to fate. I don’t believe in fate, at least not in that way, but watching these two people as they meet and realize how they were connected, even if it was through a stupid, yellow umbrella, was beautiful.

Then the last two minutes comes along and shits all over that.

I simply don’t understand why this show insists upon Ted ending up with Robin. Their initial meeting and his courting of her was exceptionally well done. It’s what drew us into these character’s lives. But it came and it went and it was over. For this whole story just a lame attempt to bring these characters together seems distasteful, especially considering how eloquent at storytelling the show has been. The foreshadowing and dedication to continuity has always been on of this show’s greatest strengths, for him to show up at her door with that blue horn just felt so tacked on and cheap.

It felt like a cop out.

If I didn’t know better, and I guess I don’t, I’d say they did it at the last moment, though I don’t see how since it seems like they filmed the kid’s response way back in the beginning. Part of the weakness of the show was Ted’s on/off relationship with Robin. The story has always been wishy washy with this, and it drew in other parts of the story. Barney was good with Quin and even with Nora. It felt like they sabotaged those to build up the relationship with Robin. All of this was part of the show outliving its welcome. I think it’s fair to say the show could have ended two, even three seasons ago. It also felt like it was planned that way. Instead we see character get yanked all over the place.

The only context I can offer to make this better is the scenario my wife and I came up with. It would have been better had Robin and Ted never ended up dating in the beginning of the show. Ted would have tried to court her but it never would have worked out. She would have eventually returned his feelings just for Veronica or Stella or work or any number of other things to get in the way. Frankly, that’s what they did anyway so it’s not too far out of the realm of possibility. Then, after finding the love of his life and building a family, just to lose his wife tragically to disease, he asks his children for permission to move on, to seek out the woman who he’s always loved, never forgetting that first partner.

Instead of having two characters slide back into bad habits in an unnatural and contrived scenario we would have the culmination of years of friendship blossom into a late in life romance.

And as far as the mother, Tracey as we now know her, not being a big enough part of the show. Don’t do that. Don’t belittle that. If there is one thing this show did, it was building a character that was never seen, never heard of, only alluded to. No, we didn’t meet her until the last season, but we knew all about her. We knew the music she liked, the movies, the food, her hobbies and personality.

I don’t believe she was brought in too late, if anything, I think it was too early.

The best, the absolute best ending I could have imagined would have been for Ted to approach the woman on the station terminal. For the last thing we saw was that umbrella turning, the last word of dialogue being either him saying hello or her introducing herself.

But that’s life.