It’s not just that Sabrina’s decision to try resurrecting Harvey’s brother, in “The Burial,” was a dumb one, fueled by the hero complex of an over-confident witch. It worked, to an extent. Continue reading
I’ve written a lot on this blog about Sabrina Spellman’s smarts and her hero complex. Continue reading
There’s a single scene attached to either end of eight episodes of Mindhunter‘s first season that leaves the central narrative. The first season of the Netflix series focuses on the development of the FBI’s behavioral analysis unit — studying serial killers, a term first coined by this real-life team — while departing eight times, as if to say, “Meanwhile, in Kansas,” to begin developing the story of a creepy, mustachioed man working for a home security company by day and terrorizing unsuspecting Kansans by night. (Psst, it’s Dennis Rader, the “BTK Killer.”) Separate, but on a collision course with the main story, the scenes tracing Rader’s story are no more than a minute long and rarely include dialogue. . . Slow burn.
Mindhunter, overall, is a lot like that. It’s as much really into its characters and developing them as it is really into aesthetics (David Fincher directs four episodes), and it’s as aesthetically pleasing a television series as there’s been recently. The subject matter is interesting and ready-built for suspense, but the large disappointment of it, during its first season, is that nothing really happens.
Just like the hours upon hours of interviews and research the team (Holden Ford and Bill Tench) is on the road gathering, Season 1 of Mindhunter builds on the background. There are the foundational murderers they begin their study with (Ed Kemper, Richard Speck, the like), the couple killers they help catch, and then there are the main characters themselves, Ford, Tench and Wendy Carr. Beyond trying to develop a rapport between those characters, killers and us as an audience, Season 1 doesn’t reach much further.
With that, it’s a fundamental example of what you can execute on a streaming service, like Netflix, that you couldn’t on CBS.
The structure for crime shows on something like CBS is pretty straightforward — maintain long-term, less impactful personal story arcs for main characters on the outside, while starting and finishing individual stories for each episode. . . be made aware of the killer, think like the killer, catch the killer, end the episode. It’s a formula that works because it gives the viewer dramatic climaxes every week. When you’re watching a show every week, or developing one for that matter, there needs to be a sense of finality to each episode in a way that a show runner doesn’t have to worry about as much when writing and directing for a streaming service.
Because the audience of Mindhunter can binge as many or as few episodes of the season as they want in one fell swoop, the people writing the episodes can treat it more like a long, drawn out movie. You can watch three hours of it in a row without barely even remembering they were separate episodes (Netflix resumes awfully fast). In fact, if you’re like me, you may find yourself longing for that finality that you get turning on CBS each week to watch Criminal Minds catch a killer and tuning in the next week to see what kind of un-sub they’ll bring you then. So, you find yourself watching a bunch of episodes of Mindhunter back to back until the end of one gives you enough of a finite conclusion to press pause.
The show can be so high-concept at times that rather than feeling settled when I’d stop it, I’d more often experience a lingering feeling of Hmm, interesting…
It takes a huge backswing developing young, hot-shot investigator Holden Ford, who has an interest in studying serial killers, gets a real big head about how good he thinks he is and toes the line one too many times during his interviews. He’s well-dressed and an annoyance, in contrast to his partner and superior, Bill, who has reasonable humility and a golfing habit. A buffer from what he does professionally, Holden’s got a girlfriend, Hannah, who you couldn’t pay me to care about, but who Holden can’t help but profile as well, because he can’t turn it off.
That’s the character’s major flaw. There’s a safe pace for building and preserving the study this new department of the FBI is creating and Holden doesn’t know the limits of it and doesn’t realize how far he’s pushing it until a unsupervised meet-up with Kemper that leaves him keeled over, panicking in a prison hospital hallway, in the Season 1 finale. And that is all Season 1 builds up to — Holden losing his colleague’s respect, his girlfriend’s interest and, ultimately, himself within his job.
It’s a long character arc until you think, maybe, quite a bit of time has passed, but it’s not the dramatic arc you’re hoping for. It’s the serial killers who have the more interesting things to say.
Meet Mike and Eileen Parker. Are they the portrait of what Queen Elizabeth II’s and Prince Philip’s marriage will become five months — a year? — from the time in 1957 The Crown begins its second season? Rocky, untrusting and absent, that’s the comparison show runner Peter Morgan starts to unfurl in “Misadventure,” and it’s the primarily plot point we were promised.
Mike Parker is the private secretary to Philip. He’s the closest adviser accompanying the Prince on his five-month royal assignment around the world. And, as described by Princess Margaret, whose unwavering social life would seem to qualify her to make these kind of well-informed descriptions, Mike is a man with famous friends and a reputation that’d make him a sour influence on Philip. We’ll likely be seeing a lot of him. But, in “Misadventure,” it’s the portrait of his wife, Eileen, that is most interesting, a housewife left too often to care for her family alone — one son, one daughter (not unlike that other couple).
It’s one of the Parker kids’ birthdays, after dad leaves for the business trip, and the family is waiting for a phone call that never comes. There seems a long-unsettled argument between mom and dad, about Mike having accepted such a time-consuming position, when the family is dropping dad off at the airport. From the backseat even, one of the Parker kids is noticeably, significantly more dispassionate toward their dad than the other. And finally, both when Mike picks up Philip for Lunch Club and after Philip boards the plane and says goodbye to Elizabeth, Mike very openly expresses his dissatisfaction with his wife and the institution of marriage altogether.
None of it sounds good. Mike doesn’t seem like the type of person Elizabeth would want Philip to be around. It’s the type of personality Philip is susceptible to. The Queen’s been warned before, and no doubt has concerns of her own about him, about Lunch Club, etc.; after all, as she packs away a surprise gift for her husband to open on the plane (a video camera), she attaches to it a brief message: “Always remember you have a family.”
With that, Season 2 of The Crown is off and running. We’re expecting to see quite a bit from Philip this season, as that what was described as one of the primary focuses of this continuation from the show’s award-winning first season.
It’s the main tension this premiere focuses in on, beginning the episode actually five months later than the season will flashback to begin to tell its stories. News men and photographers are scratching notes and snapping photographs from a dock, hundreds of yards away from the boat Elizabeth and Philip occupy, in this flash-forward scene. The papers have been going crazy for weeks (months?), rumors are swirling about Philip’s infidelities and his missteps. On board, Elizabeth and Philip are sitting down together in a eerily quiet, almost pitch-dark master suite to discuss their huge problems. Divorce isn’t an option, so what do you need in order to make this marriage bearable, Elizabeth asks Philip to no response — no response, yet.
When the episode tracks back to five months earlier, the time period in which this second season will take place, the royal couple is actually rather happy together, still frisky, still with some of the child-like exuberance when they’re alone together.
But just as the sparks faded in Season 1 and the doubt entered, the same quickly happens in this premiere. It so often seems like Elizabeth and Philip have their moments of happiness that only temporarily distract from the real problem.
In the scene in which Elizabeth excitedly goes to put a new camcorder in Philip’s carry-on as a nice surprise for her husband, she discovers a small framed picture of another woman as she’s pulling out items from the bag to make room for it. Her joy quickly hides away as panic overcomes her. She’s noticeably distracted during much of the rest of the episode, when it comes to dealing with some political happenings.
She recognizes the woman in the photograph. It’s Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova, one of the famous women that would be in Mike Parker’s larger circle.
A staunch supporter of the arts as she is, Elizabeth goes to see the ballerina when the Russian ballet is in the country. It’s this scene that’s one of the best of the episode. Silent but deadly it is, a first-one-to-look-away-loses stare down.
Outside of the royal marriage and its surrounding variables, the groundwork for other important storylines is just now being laid.
Margaret is expected to have a big, extravagant arc this season, but only in one short sequence to be find out what she’s up to — staying out ’til 4 a.m., partying, sleeping in, rinse and repeat. She’s a royal socialite.
Politically, something large is developing at the Suez Canal. Egyptians have taken over the British port and Prime Minister Anthony Eden, seemingly bored of speaking at universities and looking for his thing that’ll take him out of Churchill’s shadow, puts boots on the ground to take it back — going behind the back of the U.N., and leaving the Queen in the dark until he’s already moved in.
There’ll be much more to break down this season, in what’s shaping up to be a pretty contentious period of time.