Well, they got me. After last episode’s seemingly reductive, overly saccharine stumbles, I thought I’d figured out how “Resident Alien” was going to be closing out season two. I was wrong on most counts. The arc I was most hoping would get some resolution does—it’s something they’ve literally been putting off half the split season, so it’s long overdue. Given how recurring guest stars drifted in and out, I wonder how much Rona shooting affected things.
Everyone’s back for this episode, even if they’re just background. One scene promises a Jenna Lamia and Diana Bang friendship, which ought to get a whole episode to itself. Alan Tudyk’s also got a character development arc, which isn’t particularly easy because he’s playing an asshole alien who’s cagey in his narration about himself. Thanks to the script—credited to series creator Chris Sheridan–Tudyk can get past it long enough; it’s a powerful sequence given who’s inciting the revelation.
Without getting into the big spoilers for next season, how the episode “works” is where I was most wrong. I thought it’d be a reset point for the series, what with Tudyk rescuing his alien baby and “adopting” the almost thirty Paul Piaskowski. While those characters play into things, it’s not for reset purposes. It’s for ongoing narrative things; “Alien” doesn’t wind down to prepare for its next season; it revs the engine. Three to five revelations, double agents, double-double agents (maybe not), and unexpected alliances. The episode has to race through montages to get the setup done.
There’s great acting from Tudyk, Sara Tomko, and Corey Reynolds. Reynolds has more than a dozen four-star one-liners and blathering monologues. It’s so many they’re either doing it to distract, which isn’t impossible, or they just needed to use all the room’s great lines before the end of the season or something. Regardless, Reynolds is hilarious. He also gets a character development arc, supporting deputy Elizabeth Bowen, who should get a bigger one but doesn’t exactly. Bowen’s excellent, and so is Alice Wetterlund, but they both get a little less than it seems like they should.
Because the episode’s too packed with Tudyk’s full realization of the evil grey alien plan and the cosmic repercussions, not to mention the fate of planet Earth.
The episode’s also got a fun framing device, even though it raises some timeline questions.
While the episode ends on many an ominous note, it’s settled enough; waiting for next season isn’t going to be an antsy thing.
Also, last thing—Robert Duncan McNeill again directs. Last time I accused him of Capricorn. This time, there’s no Capricorn, and he does a fine job. Though distracting with Capricorn also might’ve been the point….
The cover to Trigger Warnings #1 promises a “self contained” story, which is technically accurate–all five issues of Red Room, the first series and now this issue, have been self-contained, but self-contained’s not the same as a good jumping on point.
Especially since this issue is a direct sequel to the original Red Room #1, checking in with serial killer turned snuff video star splatterer Davis and his teenage daughter Brianna. Since we’ve last seen them, Davis has continued his rise to fame and fortune as “The Decimator,” and Brianna has graduated high school, deciding to study journalism in college.
And wouldn’t it be cool to get a head start investigating her dad’s weird crypto-currency lifestyle?
Meanwhile, Davis is in trouble at work—at the Red Room—because he’s been killing women on the side. The inbred human cattle the Red Room provides for him to slaughter on camera aren’t doing it for him; he’s getting the itch for the normies. Except outside murder is forbidden, it might tie someone to the business, so Davis is in trouble with Sissy, the Red Room boss lady.
Creator Ed Piskor splits the comic into three sections on each page. Top strip is Brianna’s story, middle is a Red Room video still with the white Republicans talking in the chat about how cool it is to see gross poor people butchered, bottom is Davis’s story. There’s some crossover between Davis and Brianna’s story, including some intentionally confusing but definitely tone-setting transitions, while the Red Room videos are independent. It’s a wild format for a whole issue, with Piskor keeping the nauseating material steady but with ebbs and flows of concern for Brianna between the top and bottom strips. Davis is terrified Sissy will punish his kid for his indiscretions, while Brianna’s just trying to figure out what’s happening in her world.
So, while technically self-contained, not the place to start Red Room. Hell, you don’t even get a sense of how disturbingly gory Piskor makes it.
It’s an excellent start to the new series; I wonder if Piskor’s bringing back the original cast to check up on them. The format also means Piskor’s smallest panels need a lot of detail, with Brianna going between multiple urban and rural settings; he does a beautiful job with all the art. Trigger Warnings shows no signs of being any less mortifying or grand than the original series.
There’s a slight mea culpa feel to this episode, which is really Pilot: Part III. The show’s finally ready to set up the ground situation, for real this time, and it’s going to be more accessible. There aren’t any big CGI set pieces this episode, but there’s more with crows being sheriff Gary Cole’s evil messengers. The show also remembers there ought to be some Black characters, so Jake Weber’s sidekick Michael Burgess gets the A-plot. Cole wants him to testify against Weber in Lucas Black’s custody hearing, so Cole sends Burgess’s wife, N’Bushe Wright, some kind of cursed mirror.
To get his wife back, Burgess will have to betray a friend.
It’s a nice arc for Burgess, who previously just nodded along to Weber’s medical dialogue, and its not too dreary ending is successful. “Gothic”’s got a problem with its cast, lead, supporting, and guest—they can only take so much before they’ll have to leave town, one way or another. Especially since last episode set up the town as the “Bermuda Triangle of South Carolina,” with the most missing persons in the state.
Because Cole kills them, presumably.
So it could very easily do a loose anthology format for the A-plot, with the Cole versus Weber and Paige Turco for Black’s soul being the continuous season plot. It still may. But from this episode, it appears “Gothic” will keep things entwined and dependent. It’s a well-executed story, which includes Black making a new friend in conveniently introduced boarding house proprietor Tina Lifford (also Black, so the show’s got at least two Black recurring cast members now).
There’s some spectacular acting from Black in this episode, whose performance is a masterclass in good kid acting. Cole’s awesome, though his character’s supernatural powers are starting to raise many questions for characters and viewers alike. There are some bad nineties video editor filter montages to show when Cole’s using the powers, and since he can go into a church and be devilish… they’re racing towards needing some explanation.
Weber’s barely in the episode (Nick Searcy’s not at all), while Turco kind of hangs out with Black, kind of wanders around her long abandoned hometown. It’s a mystery arc. “Gothic” is basically tying four strong protagonists together and hoping Cole’s compelling enough to keep moving in lockstep. So far, so good.
While not entirely absent, Sarah Paulson doesn’t get much this episode. Including a resolution to her and Black’s “fight” last episode, which was the hard cliffhanger and was in the previous episode recap… something else the show apparently decided to tone down.
Judi Ann Mason gets the writing credit based on her story with show creator Shaun Cassidy. Jim Charleston directs. On the one hand, Charleston’s not very good. On the other, he knows to let Black and Cole have their space. However, Thomas R. Moore’s editing is way too impatient.
The end’s a little too neatly tied, going past not too dreary into saccharine. Hopefully, they’ll get the tone settled, as they’ve established the ground situation (again).
Eve’s Bayou is Southern Gothic, but it’s got a kids’ summer story grafted onto it; by the end, the two genres are working together to great effect. I mean, the end’s got problems, but the way the film gets to it is captivating.
The film opens with Tamara Tunie narrating from the future—when she was a kid in early sixties Louisiana and played by Jurnee Smollett, she killed her dad one summer. Right away, we get the hook, for better or worse, and it makes the father—played by Samuel L. Jackson—entirely suspicious when he otherwise might not have been.
Okay, he spends all his time at a party with Lisa Nicole Carson instead of his wife Lynn Whitfield, but he’s just a good host, right?
Obviously not. Obviously. Multiple times throughout the film, when one of the adults finds out Jackson is a cheating man slut, they react with exaggerated surprise, even though we meet Jackson grinding on Carson. He just happens to be a good dad to kids Smollett, Meagan Good, and Jake Smollett. Good’s about to be a teenager, Jurnee Smollett’s ten, and Jake Smollett’s the youngest. Jack Smollett will be an occasional comedic relief valve and often adorable, but he’s otherwise irrelevant to the narrative. He gives cast members something to do in the background, though he’s absent from the crucial third-act moments.
It’s not his story.
Despite opening with the narration and finding Jurnee Smollett in the past, Bayou widens for the first act, spending lots of time with Whitfield, her sister-in-law Debbi Morgan, and Morgan’s husband, Branford Marsalis. Marsalis is grandstanding delight in the first act; it’s a showcase, letting him be charming to Morgan, a good uncle to Smollett, and even get in drunken fisticuffs with Jackson. Morgan becomes the film’s principal female adult in the second act, whereas in the first act, she’s supporting Whitfield (at least during the party).
Just as the film seems like it’ll stay wide, it focuses in on Smollett and her reactions to the various events going on with the adults. She also sees something she shouldn’t; when she shares that secret with Good, it works to drive the sisters apart a little. Once aunt Morgan has a vision about a kid being hit by a bus, Whitfield orders the kids under house arrest.
Simultaneous to this house arrest is Whitfield’s suspicions about Jackson’s catting around now noticeably affecting home life. So the kids are cooped up in a layer cake of agitation. It’s just a matter of who breaks bad first.
Smollett’s the protagonist in front of those events. Her actions, reactions, and observations drive Bayou. Luckily, she’s excellent. The film doesn’t have any shabby performances, just ones needing either more time or… well, the finale reveal calls a couple of the characters into question, even more, changing the tone before the closing narration comes in to change the tone again.
So a couple of the performances have asterisks by them.
But Smollett’s fantastic, ditto Good, Morgan, and Diahann Carroll (as a rival psychic to Morgan). Whitfield and Jackson have asterisks unrelated to the conclusion, just because they’re the parents in a troubled marriage from the kid’s perspective. Outstanding performances, lots of complexities, certain constraints. In addition to the aforementioned Marsalis, Roger Guenveur Smith (as Carson’s husband) and Ethel Ayler (as Grandma) are also delightful.
Then there’s Vondie Curtis-Hall, who shows up for an unexpected romance arc for one of the adults, and he looks like a romance novel cover. He serves almost no purpose in the movie—there’s not even real character development for his love interest—but he’s terrific. The wig’s magnificent, the performance is wonderful.
Speaking of character arcs to nowhere… despite featuring three psychic characters, the supernatural aspect’s entirely window dressing. It doesn’t actually affect the narrative, not even really in how the psychic characters experience anything. Like, they’re aware of their visions and premonitions, but Bayou avoids ever affirming their accuracy.
Then the epilogue narration skips over all the interesting elements. So a muddy finish, but an otherwise excellent picture. Lemmons’s direction is good, her writing strong. Other than the very nineties “psychic” montages, the technicals are all good. Even the montages aren’t bad; they just terribly date the film and muss with Amy Vincent’s photography.
Bayou’s a complicated, conflicting, haunting experience.
Almost nothing happens this issue. The cop starts investigating the missing sister, thinking she’s the Creeper. He teams up with her twin, Maddy, for a combination walking tour of Paris and detective snoop. He discovers all the things we saw happen last issue, which isn’t great plotting from writer Jason Hall. Depending on the final two issues, it sure seems like Beware the Creeper didn’t need five issues. Unless they knew it’d take artist Cliff Chiang until this issue to get cooking because, wow, the art’s great.
There are some big, complicated composition pages where Chiang’s got the Creeper hopping all over the Paris rooftops, but it’s also how the various reveals work. Before the cop starts investigating, most of the issue is just snippets of the Creeper’s hijinks, alongside contemporary reactions and media coverage. She’s the current hero of surrealism as she wages her prank war against the wealthy Arbogast family.
Now, I have a vague recollection of the finale reveal, so I’m going to baby step so as not to spoil, but as the Creeper targets this one family, people start noticing and asking what’s made them a target. The matriarch realizes it’s got something to do with her shitty son and sends him off to Germany, where he can carouse in peace, seemingly not being as violent to the call girls there. The Arbogast son is a prime suspect in the missing sister’s assault, something the comic laid so heavily into back in the first issue I thought it was Hall doing a red herring.
I don’t think so anymore. I think Hall’s just really, really obvious, and the setting and Chiang’s gorgeous art distract from the obvious plotting.
There’s also not much in the way of character development. Yes, the cop is moping over the missing sister and tries to seduce her twin as a stand-in at the Eiffel Tower, but what else is a French cop going to do? Hall plays the remaining twin, Maddy, as an enigma who has at least one big secret from the other characters and the readers. Again, Hall’s pretty obvious.
Or I’ll be entirely wrong and surprised. Fingers crossed. Either way, I can’t wait to see Chiang’s art. It’s magnificent this issue and has just been improving as Creeper creeps on.
Tree picks up immediately after the pilot, only it’s been however many months since they shot the pilot, and now they’re filming for fall airdates. Lucas Black and Sarah Paulson are both a little visibly older, Jake Weber’s got a completely different haircut, Paige Turco’s costumes are better, and Gary Cole’s even eviler.
With the previous episode, I was worried the lackluster mid-nineties CGI special effects and bewildering “horror” direction would set the tone for the series itself, regardless of the director returning. Unfortunately, the regular series seems to be doing more bad CGI effects and editing transitions with less money for the effects. More bad effects. It looks goofy.
But it also doesn’t matter. The show survives the bad special effects, the unimpressive direction (Michael Katleman), and photography (Stephen McNutt). It excels, in fact. Not despite its technical failings but indifferent to them. Once the actors start talking, nothing else matters.
The show’s split between the good guys—Black, Weber, Turco—and the bad guys—Cole, Brenda Bakke—with Paulson detached because she’s an ethereal being. Everyone else is a pawn in some way or another, most obviously Nick Searcy, who’s got a great, awkward scene with Weber to kick the episode off.
There are a couple guest stars this episode: Arnold Vosloo (still during his “Renaissance Productions-only” phase) and David Lenthall. Vosloo’s an out-of-town reporter who’s got one heck of a story to tell, while Lenthall is the county coroner. He’s got to do autopsies on Paulson and her father, except Cole doesn’t want anyone finding out he snapped Paulson’s neck and whatever happened with the dad. And Lenthall owes Cole.
Paulson doesn’t take kindly to Lenthall screwing up her autopsy and letting her murderer go free, so she causes a supernatural incident in the morgue. It’s so much bad special effects at once—and Lenthall’s bad—it seems like the show’s going to derail. But then the regular cast takes over, and things smooth out again.
While Weber’s not on the level of Black, Cole, or Searcy, he takes it up a notch this episode as he gets to interact with Bakke for the first time. There are some nice muted character reveals and development, and Weber works them in beautifully. And Turco’s better, though she’s still just hanging around. Bakke’s Southern belle femme fatale is captivating, even if the characterization’s not without its issues.
Series creator Shaun Cassidy again gets the script credit, with the episode really finishing up the pilot responsibilities. It might’ve been nice for CBS to let them do a two-hour premiere… or at least give them enough money to keep the effects on the same level. But, no, “American Gothic” appears it will have some lousy mid-1990s TV show CGI.
And I do not care.
Because the rest of it, even when the cast’s interacting with that lousy CGI, more than makes up for it. I’d forgotten TV could look terrible and still be great, thanks to the actors and writers, back when it was more filmed stage productions than segmented movies.
“American Gothic” gets great by the end of this episode. It’s incredible.
In a genuinely startling event, it turns out when it comes to Joe Staton, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire—this issue features Staton’s most successful work. His inker? Vince Colletta. It’s not good art by any stretch, but it’s far more competent and consistent than Staton’s been on the book. Will Colletta be back to save the world from Staton’s pencils? Who knows, the issue feels like a fill-in.
The end of the last issue promised a Brainiac 5 resolution. This issue also promises a Brainiac 5 resolution… for the next issue. Instead, it’s a very Superboy story for Superboy and the Legion. He’s back home in Smallville, trying to be a regular kid in the fifties or sixties or teens, except he’s just too darn super. Lana Lang is on to him, so he’s got to do hijinks while helping out at Pa Kent’s store.
The Smallville sojourn doesn’t last long, with the Legionnaires coming back in time on a mission. Someone robbed the Superman Museum in the future, and they need Superboy’s glasses, except the future villain already came back in time and stole the glasses while he was distracted at work. They go back to the future, fight, fail, then go back to Krypton before it explodes to swipe some more Kryptonian glass, which is renowned around the galaxy.
Why couldn’t the bad guy go back in time to Krypton himself, maybe even head to a glass factory? Don’t ask.
There’s a funny moment when the Legionnaires ask Superboy to suit up–they wouldn’t want anyone seeing Clark Kent with some scantily clad exhibitionist time travelers. It’s unfortunately not self-aware; writer Gerry Conway keeps the plot moving, but there’s nothing to it. Clark’s bored in Smallville because it’s dull, and he’s not wrong; Conway writes a dull Superboy solo story.
It’s a mediocre narrative, but the not-horrendous art gets it through. Staton and Collettta. I’d never have guessed it.
I think this “My Life is Murder” is the most empathetic episode ever. When Lucy Lawless gets to the solution to her murder mystery, there’s a lot she doesn’t like about it and has feels. She also has feels because her brother, Martin Henderson, has gotten out of prison and hasn’t contacted her. He’s the gardener at her latest investigation, a suspicious drug overdose in an elite retirement community. The victim’s a former judge, introducing assassination potential, and her son, Kelson Henderson, is an entitled prick.
Luckily, Kelson Henderson’s only got the one scene. Lawless is really investigating because Rawiri Jobe gave her the case, promising an interesting mystery—the victim died of a heart attack while on LSD. Tatum Warren-Ngata is back helping Lawless out, but like last episode’s teaser promised, Ebony Vagulans makes her return. Vagulans doesn’t have time to help out with the case; really, it’s mostly wrapped up by the time she arrives from Paris (which the show seems not to be explaining). Having Martin Henderson participate in the investigation—Lawless’s reluctant man on the inside–also changes the chemistry.
It’s a more ensemble “My Life is Murder,” which is fine; the cast is more than enough fun to sustain it. Though Jobe doesn’t get much to do—he and Lawless are apparently on the outs, she won’t even go for coffee with him as the show continues to shroud their extra-professional relationship in bemused secrecy. The revelation of previously unknown brother Martin Henderson also causes some relationship bumps.
However, there’s a weird scene with Joseph Naufahu and Warren-Ngata in his café; he pesters her to buy something or stop using his WiFi. I sort of assumed if you worked with Lawless, you got to hang out at Naufahu’s. It just seems like an excuse to give Naufahu a scene, but he’s setting a weird boundary with Warren-Ngata.
All of the suspects are good. There’s husband Temuera Morrison (in a charming, brief cameo—they got him for an afternoon, it looks like), next-door neighbor Elizabeth Hawthorne, drug-dealing nurse Jessie Lawrence, and bent community manager Blair Strang. Any of them could have a motive, but having Henderson on site—doing more than gardening, it turns out—complicates Lawless’s investigation when he’s found out.
Lots of good acting. Strang’s hilariously put out once he realizes Lawless is a cop, and then Hawthorne’s fantastic. She and Lawless have a nice character arc. Lawless handles the more emotional stuff well—her scenes with brother Henderson, for instance; it’s probably her best performance this season.