Maximiliano Hernandez (better known as the dearly departed Agent Chris Amador) said of The Americans, "The Americans for me is analogue. There's a texture to it, you can hear it." And in Wednesday's Season 1 finale, "The Colonel," all the gears and cogs — of Directorate S, the FBI, and the Jennings' marriage — are laid bare to suspenseful, poignant effect.
The Americans has walked the line between camp and drama all season, using moments of levity (such as chuckle-worthy fashion choices and antiquated — yet period-appropriate — technology) to add lightness to what would be an otherwise very, very dark show. By including just the right amount of kitsch, we are able to continue to root for characters — namely Keri Russell's Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys' Phillip — who rack up quite the body count. And in "The Colonel," when the stakes are higher than ever, your allegiances lie firmly with the Jennings.
The main action of "The Colonel" obviously hinges on the bait-and-switch of the trap the FBI has set for the Directorate S illegals (who we know to be the Jennings). As Elizabeth prepares to meet the colonel — and then when Phillip actually does, after he goes rogue — the audience knows that the real danger lies in picking up the surveillance tapes. And therefore the moments in which Elizabeth approaches the vehicle while Phillip tries to intercept her are the most suspenseful of the episode. Although, the car chase that follows ain't bad, either (I personally loved the vintage feel and old school car stunts).
The emotional high point of the episode, however, is of course the touching final scene between Elizabeth and Phillip. When Elizabeth asks Phillip in Russian to "come home," you feel the cathartic release as a season full of back-and-forth rushes away. It's obvious these two love one another and, after the heartbreaking scene in "Covert War" during which Phillip rebuffs (or is oblivious to) Elizabeth's attempt at reconciliation, this moment of tender forgiveness seems long overdo. And I, for one, can't wait to see how their relationship progresses going forward, especially with the new specter of Phillip/Clark's marriage to Martha haunting them.
Speaking of Martha, the secondary characters really came into their own in the season's final few episodes. Martha, played with incredible earnestness and care by Alison Wright, is pitiful, yes, but you can't help but love her. She's not so blinded by her love for Clark that she fails to exert her own convictions — she was, after all, able to convince Clark to let her tell her parents about their relationship as well as move up the wedding date — and that's appealing. Wright has created a layered, nuanced character where it would be so easy to fall back on caricature. And it was a surprise to all that she was able to survive the season — although I doubt she'll be so lucky in Season 2.
The other big surprise of the season was Nina's (Annet Mahendru) new role as a double agent. Nina transformed from the victim to a force to be reckoned with, and could very well be Stan's (Noah Emmerich) downfall. Stan and Nina are, in a way, foils for one another. As Nina gains strength and grows stronger in her convictions, Stan is reduced to nearly a shell of a man. He lost his partner, he is well on his way to destroying his marriage, and his big professional moment was a bust. Nina has taken control of her fate while Stan has become victim to his — and that makes me want to root for Nina and Directorate S. Team Nina!
So, where do we go from here? When Season 2 begins, we will once again have a unified Jennings family and Directorate S will once again have an upper hand on the FBI (thanks to Nina's double agent status and the colonel's new intel) — but that doesn't mean we have returned to square one. While Elizabeth and Phillip's relationship seems stronger than ever, how will they keep the Martha ruse going? It will surely tear Elizabeth apart to watch Clark return to Martha's (soon to be redecorated) apartment night after night.
Also within the Jennings family, we have Paige's growing suspicion to deal with. Is Paige's curiosity simply reflective of your normal teen rebellion and tendency to delve into one's parents' past? Or will Paige become a real threat to her parents' secret identity? Furthermore, if Paige does discover her parents' true lives, how will she take it?
The other huge question mark is Claudia's (Margo Martindale) fate on the show. In the final episode, the audience was given a look at Claudia's true loyalties — which, contrary to the Jennings' belief — lie firmly with the agents in her care. And yet, Claudia may be out of the picture come Season 2. Unfortunately, Grannie's future on The Americans may be determined by outside forces; she has a starring role in the pilot for Will Arnett's new comedy, which is currently awaiting pickup by CBS. If her new show gets a green light, we might unfortunately lose Claudia. And what a loss it would be.
Bigger picture questions I have going forward involve the spy aspect of the show, rather than the familial one. How long can the FBI and Directorate S continue to play this game of cat and mouse without it wearing thin? And will Phillip and Elizabeth continue to be given one-off missions that don't forward the overall arc of the show? These seem to truncate the action without advancing the characters in noteworthy ways. Furthermore, how do we progress in the Cold War without rewriting history? In order to keep things accurate it seems we have to shy away from big, international moves. They can't actually assassinate Reagan or drastically change the space program... can they?
The show is ripe with possibilities for Nina's advancement as well as the Martha/Clark storyline, and I'd love to learn more about Sandra (Susan Misner), Stan's cuckolded wife with an impressive amount of backbone, so hopefully we see those progressed in a second season. Ultimately, I feel in good hands with Joseph Weisberg and Joel Fields at the helm; I can't wait to see where they take us.
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Hillary Clinton is spending her last days as Secretary of State by testifying before two Congressional Committees about the September attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. She was ready to discuss the ongoing investigation and she was ready to share the measures that will be taken to protect diplomats on foreign soil from here on out... but she was not ready to beat a dead horse. When repeatedly asked — or hounded, really — by Republicans to explain why the State Department was not forthcoming with their information in the hours after the attack, Clinton gave an explosive response. And thank goodness she did.
The handling of the tragedy, specifically the State Department's initial reports that the deaths were caused by protestors (these, of course, proved to be false, as we now know the attack was perpetrated by militant terrorists), monopolized much of the presidential debates this fall. Then, in the months that followed, Clinton accepted responsibility for the events, and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of state after being accused of deliberately misleading the American people with the aforesaid protest story. When Clinton appeared in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, she expected to answer any remaining questions, not to defend herself against an onslaught of Republican frustration regarding an issue that has already been addressed. So when Sen. Ron Johnson pressed her on the issue, Clinton lost her cool.
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“With all due respect, the fact is, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they would kill some Americans?" she said. "What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”
Finally. Call it an outburst, an explosion, or an eruption if you like, but what Clinton really did here was show us how she really felt. Long criticized for being an "ice queen," Clinton allowed Wednesday's hearings to melt her chilly exterior. For, the above was not an isolated event. From her choked-up opening remarks to her animated expressions, it's clear that Clinton was feeling a lot of feelings, and wasn't afraid to show it.
If only more politicians would be as brave as Clinton. It has become the norm for politicians to hide behind stoic expressions and practiced speeches, for them to give firm handshakes to their opponents and to nod appropriately during debates. Politics has become synonymous with soullessness.
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There's a good reason "diplomatic" has come to colloquially describe compromises and negotiations as well as refer to actual state-appointed diplomats: agreements are more often easily reached with a clear mind and a staid demeanor. And so, politicians have across the board adopted straight faces. And who can blame them? A firm stance and steady gaze are signs of confidence. Politicians want their constituents to know that they are in control, that they know what to do in times of doubt, and that they can be depended on to make the right choices. A somber expression says, "You can rely on me, I've got this." It does not, however, say, "I understand you."
For politics, despite all the pomp and circumstance, is not an abstract idea. "For me this is not just a matter of policy, it's personal," Clinton says in her opening statement at the Benghazi hearing. And really, isn't all politics? The choices made by elected officials in Washington do not exist in a vacuum; they affect each and every one of us. It's easy to see how hot topic issues like marriage equality and reproductive rights have a direct effect on your life and the lives of your friends and families. But the same is true of every political issue. If a decision regarding the much-ballyhooed fiscal cliff couldn't be reached, all of our wallets would be impacted — even if you couldn't say for certain what the heck the fiscal cliff even is. You may not be familiar with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, but the Supreme Court's latest interpretation of it could still change your life. And sometimes, we need a reminder that politicians have us in mind when they sign off on this complicated legislation.
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While politicians are elected to be the voice of the people, it's sometimes easy to forget that they are people. In those rare moments that politicians let their shiny robot veneers slip — like Clinton during Wednesday's hearing, President Barack Obama during his tearful speech following the Sandy Hook shooting, and Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie in the days after Hurricane Sandy — we are reminded that the issues that are nearest and dearest to us are also important to our leaders. Stoic exteriors can lead citizens to think that the politicians they voted into office don't care. That they aren't giving certain issues the weight they deserve. That they are more interested in putting on a suit and smiling for photo ops than they are in making real change. But in those moments of emotional truth, we see that that is not the case.
Every politician need not be someone with whom you want to share a beer or even someone you particularly like. He or she need not have the stance you prefer on every issue. But politicians do need to care about their jobs, and about the lives of those they represent. And never is this more clear than when a politician treats an issue as personal, rather than political.
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[Photo Credit: Getty Images]
Before there was Walter White and Dexter Morgan, before Stringer Bell and Tony Soprano, there was Heathcliff. The leading man in Emily Brontë's classic novel Wuthering Heights was one of fiction's first antiheroes, and his story of passion and revenge has stood the test of time. The novel's latest cinematic adaptation, from Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold, opens in limited release this October. If the trailer (which premiered exclusively on Vulture) is any indication, the film uses a sweeping landscape and muted palette to viscerally evoke the source material's pain and ecstasy.
England's windy moors — unforgiving, callous, and cold — provide the perfect setting for Heathcliff and Catherine's ill-fated love, and upon watching the trailer you can almost feel the wind whip through your bones. Heathcliff and Catherine's tale may not be happy, but it is full; full at first of childhood innocence, then of betrayal, and, ultimately, of despair. And this trailer hits all of those notes.
The trailer opens with a heartbeat and a question. "Will you forget me?" our heroine asks, to which Heathcliff responds, "I could no more forget you than myself." Even those unfamiliar with Wuthering Heights' story know from this opening alone that these two characters have an intense bond. As children, the trailer tells us, the two entwined lives would play together and suffer together. The cruelty that Heathcliff faced — at the hands of his adopted family as well as Catherine herself — is keenly felt. With each lash of the strap, the audience winces along with Heathcliff. The trailer's greatest strength is that it allows us to feel sympathy for Heathcliff. It shows us that, like Frankenstein's monster, Heathcliff's brutality is a product of his upbringing.
The film's two lead actors, James Howson as Heathcliff and Kaya Scodelario as Catherine, seem more than capable of handling the emotional depth their characters require. And their young counterparts, Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer, seem equally up to the task. Judging from the trailer (which we know is risky business) this film has the odds stacked in its favor. A great director, a great cast, a stunning setting. We can only hope that the film lives up to the high bar it has set for itself.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Agatha Nitecka/Oscilloscope Laboratories]
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The very first moment of Robot & Frank is kind of a groaner: a title card flashes before the woodlands of upstate New York informing the audience that the film is set in “the near future.” At once the golden rule of show-don’t-tell is broken while the time-sensitive ambiguity of the information can come off as careless and frustrating. But Robot & Frank is for the few of us out there with enough patience to last beyond the initial five-second frame of a movie.
Everything thereafter is wholly impressive from the engrossing confusion that overtakes the audience when we first meet the on-in-years Frank (Frank Langella) a retired jewel thief struggling with the early-to-mid stages of Alzheimer’s. The story opens with Frank attempting to rob his own house — trapped in the motions of his youthful glory days and at painful odds with his increasing struggles with memory. Frank is alone: his affectionate flighty daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) is off traveling the world only speaking to her father via fleeting video-phone conversations. Frank’s resentful son Hunter (James Marsden whose only flaw here is that his ever-present charm makes him a little hard to believe as an embittered everyman with daddy issues) visits regularly to check on his father but brings nothing but malice and judgment. The only company Frank does have is a friendly librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) the object of his flirtatious affections. Frank’s regular visits to Jen’s library — which is being “reimagined” as a digital cutting-edge social-media-incorporating blah blah blah experience — help to establish his lasting affection for the woman as well as the reality of the world in which this story is set. Jennifer like many in their society is abetted by a robot associate who helps to carry out her day-to-day.
It isn’t long into the film before Hunter decides that a caretaker robot would be the right fit for his father; unsurprisingly this is not an idea to which Frank takes too kindly. At first the highly intelligent android (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) simply insists on feeding Frank a healthier diet taking him for hikes and employing the mindful activity of gardening. Frank is interested in none of this — except for the robot’s apparent knack for lock-picking. After taking note of Robot’s (he never gets a name) skill Frank decides to get back in the game: with his knowhow and Robot’s aptitude the two can really make a run for some high-profile items like the priceless copy of Don Quixote that the new owners of Jennifer’s renovating library plan on disposing (Frank wants to steal it so that he can give it to her — a sweet gesture if it weren’t so misguided). Beyond the monetary gain from this return to action is the first friend Frank has had in years. He shares stories with Robot relishing in his pal’s unwavering loyalty (he’s programmed that way after all) but lamenting in Robot’s frequent admissions that he is not actually alive.
Therein lies the heartbreak of the story: the affair of unrequited love. While Frank gradually (and begrudgingly — don’t you worry the process is quite begrudging!) comes to care for and cherish Robot he is placed with the new struggle of accepting his companion’s lack of ability to reciprocate any truly genuine affection. Robot is there for Frank through anything. He is “instinctually” driven to protect Frank from harm even if it means sacrificing his own well-being… as he understands he has no being to preserve. And although the self-involved Frank revels in this kind of relationship at first his love for and friendship with Robot becomes a source of deliberate pain in the film: beyond his shattered relationship with his children and his waning mind the sorrow is in Frank’s inability to accept that his closest friend is not really there.
As obvious ties can be drawn between this and the tragedy inherent in an Alzheimer’s sufferer grasping at things long gone the movie also serves as a truly interesting and approachable examination of the science fiction element of artificial intelligence — probably one of the best takes on the idea that film has given us in recent years. Capped with a fun albeit extremely odd performance by antagonist Jeremy Strong (as the new owner of Jennifer’s library) as well as an always welcome visit from Jeremy Sisto (as a crafty law enforcement officer with eyes on Frank… but don’t worry the heist motif never overtakes the film to the point of crime-thriller) as well as some genuinely unforeseen turns of events Robot & Frank is consistently gripping. A rare thing to say about a somber character study. Robot & Frank uses sci-fi as it was created to be used: to say something poignant about the human condition. Jake Schreier's Robot & Frank is not at all something you have to be "into" sci-fi to appreciate; it's simply a story about friendship and loneliness... something all humans (and some robots) can understand.