Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Treading water at the very surface of RoboCop, there is an idea. A dense concept, ready and willing to provide no dearth of dissection for any eager student of philosophy, psychology, political science, physics — hell, any of the Ps. To simplify the idea on hand: What separates man from machine? It's a question that is not just teased by the basic premise of José Padilha's remake of the 1987 sci-fi staple, but asked outright by many of its main characters. And then never really worried about again.
We have principal parties on both sides of the ethical quandary that would place the security of our crime-ridden cities in the hands of automatons. Samuel L. Jackson plays a spitfire Bill O'Reilly who wonders why America hasn't lined its streets with high-efficiency officer droids. Zach Grenier, as a moralistic senator, gobbles his way through an opposition to the Pro-boCop movement. We hear lecture after lecture from pundits, politicians, business moguls (a money-hungry Michael Keaton heads the nefarious OmniCorp...) and scientists (...while his top doc Gary Oldman questions the nature of his assignments while poking at patients' brains and spouting diatribes about "free will"), all working their hardest to lay thematic groundwork. Each character insists that we're watching a movie about the distinction between human and artificial intelligence. That even with an active brain, no robot can understand what it means to have a heart. But when Prof. Oldman tempers his hysterical squawking and Samuel L. Hannity rolls his closing credits, we don't see these ideas taking life.
In earnest, the struggle of rehabilitated police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — nearly killed in the line of duty and turned thereafter into OmniCorp's prototype RoboCop — doesn't seem to enlist any of the questions that his aggravated peers have been asking. Murphy is transformed not just physically, but mentally — robbed of his decision-making ability and depleted of emotional brain chemicals — effectively losing himself in the process. But the journey we see take hold of Murphy is not one to reclaim his soul, although the movie touts it as such. It's really just one to become a better robot.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
Meanwhile, RoboCop lays down its motives, and hard: Murphy's wife and son (Abbie Cornish and a puckish young John Paul Ruttan) lament the loss of Alex, condemning his dehumanization at the hands of Raymond Sellars' (Keaton) capitalistic experiments, and sobbing out some torrential pathos so you know just how deep this company is digging. Weaselly stooges (Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle, and Jackie Earl Haley) line the OmniCorp roster with comical wickedness. Overseas, killer combat bots take down peaceful villages, unable to work empathetic judgment into their decision to destroy all deemed as "threats." And at the top, figures of power and money like Sellars and Pat Novak (Jackson) speak the loudest and harshest, literally justifying their agenda with a call for all naysayers to "stop whining." Clearly, RoboCop has something to say.
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And when it's devoted to its outrage, RoboCop is terrifically charming. The buzzing political world is just a tiny step closer to ridiculous than our own; the pitch meetings at OmniCorp are fun enough to provoke a ditching of all the material outside of the company walls. And one particular reference to The Wizard of Oz shows that the movie isn't above having fun with its admittedly silly premise. But it loses its magic when it steps away from goofy gimmicks and satirical monologues and heads back into the story. We don't see enough of Murphy grappling with the complicated balance between his conflicting organic and synthetic selves. In fact, we don't see enough "story" in Murphy at all. First, he's a dad and a cop. Then, he's a RoboCop. But can he also be a RoboDad? With all of its ranting and raving about the question, the film doesn't seem to concerned with actually figuring out the answer.
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“True power comes from within,” Emily said in the typically sullen voiceover that stated the theme of Revenge’s midseason premiere. I disagree. True power doesn’t come from within. True power must be taken. Just like how I took this Revenge recap away from Kelsea Stahler!
Okay, not really. Kelsea handed off Revenge to me, your new recapper Christian Blauvelt, because she’s taking over our American Idol recaps in a few days.
I formerly cataloged all the sudsy drama in the Hamptons in my Revenge recaps for EW.com, so here I am, at your service. It's fitting that I'm taking over with this particular episode, because Revenge itself seemed interested in hitting its own reset button this week.
“Power” began with Daniel Grayson being accosted by Helen Crowley, the smirking, dark-suited, stiletto-heeled mistress of the Americon Initiative who seems like a cross between the Evil Queen on Once Upon a Time and Cora on Downton Abbey.
She told Daniel that if he kept digging around in the more shadowy corners of Grayson Global, he might find a fortune, just like he did when he discovered his company’s claim on NolCorp.
Daniel wasn’t the only one whose turf was being encroached upon by sinister forces. Jack had just given Faux-Manda a seaglass necklace as a wedding present—it was something new, borrowed, and blue!—when she told him that she thought the Ryan brothers were bad news. No kidding.
Jack had all but discovered as much himself, but when you consider that Amanda, who likes to pal around with strippers from a club called the Beaver Dam, thinks the Ryan brothers are bad news, that means they’re really bad news.
Declan had also sniffed out their villainy and gotten Charlotte—who’s decided to take up residence with the wharf rat on the Amanda—to distract Nate, or as I like to call him Mr. Starbuck (it is Battlestar Galactica’s Michael Trucco, after all), while he snooped around among the goods they were stowing in the back of the Stowaway.
Charlotte was talking to Mr. Starbuck about how damaged people can be by their experience in prison, and Nate agreed, saying that he himself had spent a nickel in the slammer in his youth. He had been left holding the bag for his associates who were “purveyors of recreational curiosities.” Declan discovered that such curiosities could now be found in the back of the Stowaway, in the form of coke-stuffed coffee beans. You know, for when you really need a buzz.
Yup, the Ryan bros were using their bar as a front for their true moneymaking enterprise.
While the reputation of the Porter boys was about to be ruined forever, Victoria and Conrad sought to salvage what was left of theirs. As is often the case, a charity fundraiser would prove useful for that objective.
Remember, what Bert Cooper said on Mad Men: “Philanthropy…that’s true power.” (He said it a lot more cynically that it may come across in print.) They wanted to invite Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert Barnes and his wife, Patricia, to their house for dinner to discuss a fundraiser for their not-for-profit, the Liberty Foundation, an org that investigates claims of wrongful convictions.
It would make sense for Victoria to pledge a huge sum to the Liberty Foundation since Conrad himself had been wrongly accused of a crime. “If they sold stock in irony, I’d be richer than the Sultan of Brunei,” said Conrad, who really is getting all the best lines these days.
NEXT: Nolan forgets that no one has said “bros before hos” since 2002, and Aiden comes face to face with the Initiative.
Of course, this bit of charitable giving would work neatly into Emily’s own plans. Turns out, Barnes was the presiding Judge at her father’s trial.
And she had a letter that her father received from someone with “unparalleled access” to the court that alleged corruption and jury tampering, possibly from Judge Barnes himself, that assured David Clarke's wrongful conviction. Unfortunately, that letter was unsigned.
Now that he and his wife would be visiting Grayson Manor, Emily would be able to get out her red marker for some payback. Hell yeah, it’s crossing-out-headshots time!
Luckily, Emily would have one-on-one access to Barnes because Victoria wanted one-on-one access to her.
She paid a visit to Casa Clarke to suggest that Emily re-declare her love for Daniel, because her son had become drunk with power, ambition, greed, and anger ever since their breakup, and Victoria wanted him to become the kind of man he’d aspired to be when he was with Emily.
She thinks he only turned to Grayson Global to drown his heartbreak. It was just the opening Emily needed. She and Aiden quickly staged a loud, very public breakup at the restaurant where they knew Daniel would be. Conrad was there too, having sauntered in like a sleepy cat in plaid shorts and a yellow golf shirt. They were both very much aware of Emily and Aiden’s fireworks, and, like the gentleman he used to pretend to be, Daniel extended consolation to his old fiancée.
Remember, Aiden was denied a place on the Grayson Global board, so Emily still had the best shot of infiltrating the company from within…but to do so would require rekindling her romance with Daniel. Aiden would continue to try to get back into Daniel’s good graces, himself, but Nolan wisely noted that “Bros before hos only works if he’s not still in love with the ho, bro.” Emily would be the ho in this situation.
Speaking of recent hostile-takeover victim Mr. Ross, Daniel wanted Nolan to hack into the Grayson Global database using his tech expertise and look for rogue programs. Aha! Now he had the access they needed to investigate the company’s ties to the Initiative, and neither hos nor bros were needed.
He found surveillance video of Helen Crowley making a phone call and leaving a voice password: ingredi, the Latin word for “enter.” Aiden called the number that Nolan showed him Crowley had dialed, and who picked up? Crowley herself! She had been awaiting this call from Aiden all along, and now she was inviting him to meet her at an abandoned building.
When he arrived, he discovered that she’s the kind of woman who’s typically flanked by snipers and says things like “You’re in deep, Mr. Mathis. I hope you know how to swim.” She told him that they still have his sister, Colleen, and she’s alive. But if he continues his investigation, he will never see her again. Cold.
But though the scene was moodily suspenseful, rather than feeling worried for Aiden I just kept wishing Helen Crowley were played by Kate Mulgrew.
NEXT: Patricia Barnes has an alarming rate of equestrian-related injuries, and Declan proves that young people on TV can only eat breakfast food.
At the Grayson dinner party for Judge Barnes and his wife Patricia, Emily tried to provoke a reaction. She had deduced that the author of the letter to her father was Barnes’ old court clerk, James Palmer.
A court clerk who died three days after the guilty verdict was rendered...in a subway accident. Pretty mysterious.
But even more mysterious was Patricia’s odd reaction when Emily asked the Judge if he’d ever lost any sleep over one of his verdicts. “No, that would be my job,” Patricia said.
Immediately, her husband grabbed her hand. And not in a loving way. In a fierce, controlling way. He then declared that they would leave. At once. If his suggestion to Conrad “I think a man of your acumen, wealth, and guile belongs in politics” didn’t already label Barnes a villain, that hyper-controlling gesture hinted at a greater darkness.
Emily wasn’t going to let that go, so she investigated Patricia’s history of injuries by downloading her medical records. She had a long spate of broken bones, all of which occurred after 10:00 p.m. and which she attributed to horseback riding. Hmm.
So what should Jack and Declan do about the fact that their bar is a front for drugrunners? Well, luckily Porter the Elder had a friend in the Montauk PD.
And maybe if he called that friend and asked him to suddenly raid the Stowaway all their problems with the Ryan brothers would be solved. Problem was, Mr. Starbuck had already seen Declan sniffing around their stash, so he merely moved the drugs, and an unlicensed gun, out of the bar and onto the Amanda. That was where Charlotte was making a breakfast dinner for Declan. (Walter White Jr. has already shown us that young people on TV only ever eat breakfast foods.)
I suspect Declan was hungry for something else, though, so Charlotte said she would help him relax. Of course, the best way to relax is to cuddle up with your girlfriend...then have drug-sniffing dogs from the K9 unit of the DEA burst in. The cops quickly found the drugs, and Declan found himself in handcuffs, though not in handcuffs the way he might have wanted.
If only Amanda had been there with her tire iron. Not surprisingly, Jack had to play the hero and he immediately declared that those drugs were his, not Declan’s, even though they didn’t belong to either and were obviously planted there by the Ryans.
Thirty seconds more and Jack could have tried to explain as much to the coppers. But why be logical when you’re trying so hard to be noble? It’s just like the question facing Revenge’s writers regarding this storyline: why be entertaining when you can doggedly pursue a tedious subplot nobody cares about?
At the fundraiser, Emily went to apologize to Patricia. By “apologize” I mean make Patricia feel even more guilty by saying that Amanda Clarke gave her this letter her father had received from an unknown insider at his trial saying he’d been the victim of jury tampering.
And because she’d been torn away from her father, Amanda spent her youth in a series of foster homes, some of which were abusive environments…just like how Patricia is being abused. The guilt and the regret was simply too much for her. Patricia threw out the speech she had written extolling her husband and instead said that he’d rigged the verdict in the David Clarke case.
And if that weren’t enough, she then dramatically took off her coat, to reveal her arms all black and blue. Those bruises could only have come from her husband. Just like that Judge Barnes’ all-but-guaranteed spot on the Supreme Court vanished.
After all, as Patricia herself had put it, “The greater the power, the greater the chance for abuse.” Oh, and it was she who was the insider who wrote that letter to David Clarke. Her husband thought it was poor James Palmer, and Palmer ended up paying the ultimate price.
NEXT: Does this mean Revenge is hitting the Reset Button? And, if so, is moving forward by looking backward really an effective long-term plan for the show?
So Emily ended up putting a red X over the judge’s face. This was one of the more cathartic, satisfying bits of vengeance she’s ever enacted, because it not only meant exposing and disgracing a tyrant, it meant empowering a woman who’d been silenced for too long.
And to make it even better, Barnes was played by the third 24 alum we’ve seen on Revenge this season (after James Morrison and Joaquin de Almeida), Geoff Pierson, who played President Keeler, the doomed Commander in Chief who was assassinated on Day 4 when Air Force One was shot down by terrorists.
Of course, Conrad was immediately spinning his involvement with the Liberty Foundation, saying how thankful he was that Barnes had been exposed for the man he really was.
But it was because of the Grayson connection to this debacle that Daniel decided the company needed a new director of its philanthropic endeavors: Emily. And instead of discussing salary, he sealed his job offer—and her acceptance—with a kiss. A kiss which Aiden saw. Remington Steele, as Nolan called him (Nolan’s become the Hamptons’ turned-up-collar version of Sawyer), will not be a happy man.
Oh, speaking of Nolan, his old CFO/lover, Marco, is indicating that he wants to reignite his relationship with him. Despite helping to turn NolCorp over to Grayson Global and thinking that Nolan accepted money from a terrorist.
Apparently, this Marco may actually want to help Nolan bring down Grayson Global, and he gave him a flashdrive with a program, Carrion, that he said had some of the most powerful coding he’d ever seen.
Nolan, who’d designed it and abandoned it, called the program “cyber plutonium.” But it could be an effective weapon against their enemies. Yep, we’ve got ourselves a new MacGuffin.
The implication of “Power” is clear. Revenge’s writers are, in their own way, trying to hit the reset button on the show. They have Emily brandishing a red marker, putting X’s over photos of her targets’ faces. And they have her romantically entangled with Daniel once again.
It’s just like Season 1, folks! Forget about that dead-end storyline with Ems’ mother.
We’re moving forward by looking backward. The question is, is that a viable strategy? Will repetition of what worked in its early days help us slough off our frustration with Season 2? I’m not entirely convinced, especially since the least compelling Season 2 storyline of all, the Porter boys’ Montauk dock-bar politics, is still alive and well.
I’m hoping, though, that Revenge will prove me wrong. Share your thoughts in the comments below, and see you next week!
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Vivian Zink/ABC]
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"Revenge is a stony path," Hattori Hanso says in Kill Bill. Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp) knows that all too well on Revenge. In the first half of the ABC sudser's second season, Emily lost sight of her main objective—to clear the name of her father, David Clarke (James Tupper), by bringing to justice the Graysons, the tony Hamptonites who framed him for their own crimes. Instead, she went on a search to find her mother, Kara (Jennifer Jason Leigh), which became something of dead end when Emily found out mommy is a crazy person who tried to kill her when she was a kid. And she got entangled with old flame Aidan (Barry Sloane), who, like Emily herself, is a pupil of revenge maestro Satoshi Takeda (Cary Hiroyuki Tanada).
So, yeah, Revenge kind of lost its way in the first part of season two. Don't even get us started on the addition of Nolan's love interest Padma (Dishad Vadseria) and a totally vestigial subplot about mobsters taking over Jack and Declan's bar. But it looks like the second half of season two is going to hit the ground running as it careens toward the mystery that we first glimpsed in September: Jack's yacht, the Amanda, sitting on the ocean floor. Here's a guide to catch you up.
Where We Left Off: Daniel launched a takeover of Grayson Global after discovering that the company secretly held a controlling share in Nolan Ross' (Gabriel Mann) tech firm, NolCorp. That meant he unseated his father, Conrad (Henry Czerny), as chairman of the board. Unfortunately, Daniel was unaware of daddy's little business arrangement with the Americon Initiative: Connie had continued to launder money for the terrorists who downed that airplane in the '90s for which Emily's father took the blame. That means the Initiative now sees Conrad, and possibly Daniel, as expendable if the Grayson scion won't continue to do their bidding. In worse news for Daniel, he discovered that his girlfriend Ashley (Ashley Madekwe) had hot, fully-clothed sex with his father and one of his father's business partners (Joaquin de Almeida). Actually, that may have been good news for him, because he promptly ended the creepiest relationship Revenge has ever given us. Also, in the dock-bar politics of Montauk, Jack (Nick Wechsler) discovered that the Ryan brothers, the guys who've quickly taken over his bar, are two shady dudes.
Biggest Jaw-Dropper of the Fall: Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) accidentally pushed a pregnant "Amanda" (Margarita Levieva) over a balcony railing.
Biggest Let-Down of the Fall: The search for Emily's mother was a total non-starter. Ms. Thorne discovered that her mother wasn't really worth finding in the first place.
Most Improved Character: Conrad Grayson has gone from being the starch-shirted weaker half of his marriage to Victoria to Revenge's MVP. Henry Czerny seems to relish delivering each of his soapy lines more than anyone else on the show. Conrad may now be a more accomplished practitioner of bitchery than his wife.
Least Improved Character: Daniel Grayson (Josh Bowman) went from clueless playboy to clueless tycoon...and remains the dumbest man in the room.
5 Reasons You Should Keep Watching: 1) Revenge's rut in the fall may have just been the usual second season slump for writers who aren't certain how many seasons they'll be given to tell their story. It's very likely they've heard viewer complaints and will tighten the focus of the show. 2) Victoria now needs Emily's help. Some sort of alliance between these two could be epic. 3) With Daniel in charge of Grayson Global, the Americon Initiative, so far only seen watching Daniel's moves in a darkened conference room, may be forced out of the shadows. More action, less lurking. 4) Nolan's lame romance with Padma seems headed for the back-burner now that he's conjured a plan to take down Grayson Global from the inside. 5) From balcony throws to passive-aggressive trap-shooting contests, Revenge is still the greatest custodian of TV camp since Dynasty.
What We Ultimately Want to See: Not only does Revenge need bigger stakes, it needs stakes period. Right now, it's not entirely clear what Emily wants to accomplish or who her real enemies even are. She needs to figure that out quick, or viewers will lose interest.
What Would Make Us Turn Our Backs: If any more subplots are added like Nolan's romance with Padma or Jack's mob drama at his bar, it could water down the focus of the show to the point of it becoming completely incoherent. As it is, let's hope those two unfortunate narrative threads are tied up sooner rather than later.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Vivian Zink/ABC]
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