We're well on our way to the end of a great freshman season: where did Masters of Sex take us this week? Let's see.
We find Ethan on his last day at the hospital, but he still seems disarmingly upbeat about the whole thing. (Hey, character development!) Anyway, Ginny's kids absolutely adore him, and when she has to jet off with Dr. DePaul, he gallantly volunteers to babysit. Things are going well, until Ginny's douche-y ex-husband shows up. What proceeds is quite the junk-measuring fiesta: they bicker so much about manly activities like riding bareback and growing a real beard that her adorable bespectacled son is forced to reprimand them. Eventually, they come to an understanding: all Ethan really wants is to be there for the kids and make Virginia his family. (Is this really the same man who brattily punched her in the face?) He seems pretty sure of himself, but Virginia doesn't exactly seem excited when he tells her he wants to take care of her. Hmm...
While Ethan's at home with the kids, we get more of the very-excellent Johnson/DePaul duo. They're kind of great together: Virginia has wangled DePaul a spot at a gynecological conference, but their bus (a train ride is too expensive for their pittance of a budget) breaks down, and they end up missing the conference. DePaul's more than a little upset at the futility of their trek (especially as she's just found out Masters is paid buckets of money more than her, making his funding much easier), but Virginia's as resourceful as ever. With some deft small talk, she manages to get DePaul an entirely different audience: the wives of the doctors. Now more than ever, DePaul realizes just how determined Virginia is, and it inspires her to ask Virginia to continue the work that she won't be around to complete. Remember those stage IV cancer slides we saw a few weeks back? Well, DePaul confides in Virginia, and it's quite a lovely moment: though Virginia is appropriately upset by the news, DePaul just smiles and feigns sleep as she looks out into the unknown. The symbolism hits us like a sledgehammer, but it doesn't lessen the beauty of the scene.
While DePaul makes strides in her pap smear campaign under Virginia's care, Masters is going a little crazy without her. With the presentation looming, he begins to panic: he wants something that will hook everyone in, so he decides to pull out the big guns (ahem). He decides to add "size doesn't matter" research in so the everyman will be personally invested in the study. Imaginary Virginia cautions him against it, and she questions his true motives in the process. She tough talks him him, saying, "It's not whether you're big enough, it's whether you're good enough." And we know Masters has some pretty giant inadequacy problems: when Libby asks him if when he'll stop acting like he has something to prove, he replies with a curt "There's always something to prove." And that may just be Masters in a nutshell.
Speaking of Libby, she's taken it upon herself to become, in her words, Bill's "new Virginia." The only problem is, she and Jane unearth the file of a divorced woman with two kids who has completed a whopping 23 sessions, all with the same man. (Sound familiar?) Back at home, in their twin beds, she asks Masters about that mysterious couple: coming back to each other again and again, surely they must have fallen in love? Masters barely manages to stutter out an "I don't know." Oh, Bill.
The episode draws to a close, split between happy Virginia/Ethan Family Time at the carnival and icy cold Virginia/Bill ignoring each other in the elevator, all set to Virginia crooning, "You Don't Know Me." A nice love triangle tableau to set up next week's finale, eh?
* Ginny gives a long rant about why Masters is so successful. DePaul's response? "Well, having a dick doesn't hurt."
* We love you Jane: out of all the euphemisms for "vagina," "down the mineshaft" might just be the best.
* If that's really Lizzy Caplan singing – well, she's got a gorgeous voice!
Even though all the die-hard SkyeWard shippers are still reeling from the recent MayWard twist, and FitzSimmons shippers are still swooning over "F.Z.Z.T," brace yourself for yet another ship: Skimmons.
Yep, it's true: one Redditor asked Chloe Bennet the following question as part of her AMA (which was pretty hilarious, by the way): "What do you think of Skimmons?" Bennet's response? "I SHIP THAT S**T SO HARD." It took me a second to get on board – after all, Skye and Simmons tend to share little screen time, and they have even fewer one-on-one scenes.
But when you think about it … they have arguably more chemistry than any of the other ships; they have more chemistry than Skye and Ward, that's for sure. And their respective "bad girl"/"good girl" personas (exemplified by leather jackets vs. Peter Pan collars) make for some great comedy; they play off each other wonderfully. After all, it stands to reason that two characters who often serve as polar opposites would play off each other in a more interesting manner than two who are very similar. (I'm looking at you, strong, silent, and baggage-ridden Agents May and Ward.)
Skye and Simmons' joint espionage arc in "The Hub" was some of the funniest material on the show thus far: the scene where Skye talks Simmons (who's pretty dead-set against illegal activities: "I can't be a part of your bad girl shenanigans!") into helping her hack S.H.I.E.L.D's computer mainframe was wonderful. Oh, and Skye trying to talk ultra-awkward Simmons through smooth-talking thorny Agent Sitwell? Pure gold.
This kind of relationship; this kind of rapport and back-and-forth is the cornerstone of a classic Whedon show; for better or for worse, that famous witty banter helped make Buffy into the huge success it was. As the show continues to struggle to find its footing, Skimmons serves as a reminder for what the show should strive for: real, human interactions with a bit of sass thrown in for good measure.
I said it last week, and I'll say it again this week: this show sure is hitting its stride. A lot happened in this whopper of an episode, all set against the fatalistic (though slightly forced) background of a simulated air raid. Where to start?
Well, Ethan seems like a logical choice; he seems happily domestic with Virginia (you almost forget that he punched her). But all's not well – he learns he is effectively fired from the hospital. A quick confrontation with Scully reveals that it was Masters' poor performance review that barred Ethan from being hired. Thinking jealousy over Virginia is the root of it, he gets into it with Bill, only to find that it was instead Libby's near-immaculate conception that got him the bad rap. He puts Masters in his place, telling him scathingly, "I'd do it again." *Mic drop*
And speaking of the Scullys, Margaret Scully is back! After she's forced to realize that divorce is not really an option for a middle-aged woman (mid-century, remember?), she promptly decides to fix her marriage. Bless her soul, she heads back to the bar and strikes up a conversation with a prostitute, in the hopes of picking up "some of the tricks of the trade." Yep, and if looks could kill ... but after a few words, the prostitute's won over, and agrees to help. After Margaret outlines her husband's likes and dislikes (LIKES: Opera, Agatha Christie. DISLIKES: Looking at her during sex, topless Tahitian women), the prostitute gets right to the skinny: "He's queer!" Margaret's response? "It's very queer, yes." After some tough talk and a couple of giggles, she heads home. The subsequent scene is pure heartbreak – she grabs one of Barton's ties and curls up into the fetal position.
The next time we see her, she's going for a cathartic swim. Who else should she run into but Dashing Dr. Langham? He's also had some pretty world-bending news: he's just found out that one of his partners in The Study (it earns capitalization, right?) is pregnant. Player-douche that he is, he's done absolutely nothing about it, but even so, he claims he's had a worse day than Margaret. (Sorry buddy, think Margaret takes this one.) Despite their messy break-up, they're able to find comfort with each other as they float and contemplate falling.
Virginia, on the other hand, is a woman of action. She tracks that poor pregnant woman down, and hands her a fat envelope of cash. She also has a chance meeting with Dr. DePaul, and she's finally able to charm her: next time we see DePaul, she's dolled up with her hair down from her severe bun. Poor thing does her best "Virginia" in hopes of receiving more funding from the chancellor, but doesn't quite get it right ("What a delightful necktie – what would you call that color?"/"Red" *crickets*). And in addition to befriending DePaul, the ever-astute Virginia has managed to put together the pieces: Masters' demeaning attempt to pay her for "conducting research" with him + new knowledge of Libby's pregnancy = something fishy. She confronts Masters, and accuses him of carrying on a not only physical, but emotional affair with her; an affair he guiltily (and cruelly) wrote off by paying her for it. She's hit the nail on the head, of course, and she tops it all by admitting that she paid the pregnant woman out of their research funds, promptly quits her job, storms out on him...
...and walks right into Dr. DePaul's office and hires herself. After hearing of DePaul's failed attempt at catching a fly with honey (as opposed to her usual vinegar), she informs her of their next strategy. It's moments like these (excellent) ones between Virginia and DePaul that remind us that Masters of Sex is one of the few shows on air with a female executive producer (go Michelle Ashford!). As the show reaches its climax (I didn't even mean that sexually, I swear), we're all on tenterhooks to see where the final two episodes will take us.
* Jane and Lester (yay?) I'll ship anything.
* (Regarding golf): "What's your wife's handicap?"/"Stella had polio as a girl..." may have been one of the best pieces of dialogue ever.
Michael Sheen – he's done everything and been everyone; from (evil) vampire royalty in the Twilight saga, to the titular character in a recent production of Hamlet at the prestigious Young Vic in London, to Liz Lemon's decidedly non-dreamy "Future Husband" Wesley Snipes on 30 Rock. And he's played each part to a T.
Now, he's sinking his teeth (sorry, it was such low-hanging fruit, I couldn't resist) into quite the juicy role on critics' darling Showtime's newest endeavor, Masters of Sex. He plays the ultra-repressed William Masters, whose unflinching and clinical exterior masks quite a bit of fear and childhood abuse. My words can't do him justice; he's eminently watchable, and I think Emmy voters will agree. Forget Wesley Snipes the "Future Husband," can you say "Future Emmy Winner?" (Actually, don't forget about Wesley, please: he was delightful and a true high-point in late-era 30 Rock).
Sheen's performance on the show is nothing short of fascinating. There's just something about the way he lets everything simmer just below the surface – in fact, there's a wonderful moment when his wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) first announces her pregnancy. Barely moving a muscle, he gives a look that somehow manages to radiate pure terror. He gives a similar stone-faced look (though rather more hopeful than frightened) when research assistant Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) disrobes in front of him for the first time. Even though we're well past the halfway point in its freshman season, the only time we've actually seen him boil over so far was a heartbreaking moment in the episode "Catherine," where Libby's miscarriage and the corresponding guilt he places on himself causes him to break into heart-wrenching sobs privy only to Virginia. And he's so ashamed by this momentary loss of control that he actually orders her to close her eyes – it's deep stuff, and Sheen plays it all perfectly. It's not all stoicism and intermittent sobbing, though: Sheen also brings levity to the show (humming a cheerful tune after doing some "research" with Virginia is one moment that pops to mind), and his chemistry with co-star Caplan does much to drive the series forward.
No matter how good Sheen might be (and he is good), this Emmy season Bryan Cranston is the one to beat. From his going full Heisenberg over the phone to Skylar and the police to his (relatively) peaceful, almost romantic end, it might not be the year for upsets. That said, Sheen could give heavyweight Cranston a definite run for his money, and I'm looking forward to watching him do so.
Joss Whedon has oft referred to his Xander-centric Buffy episode "The Zeppo" when talking shop about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. His point? That S.H.I.E.L.D. is basically about the people behind the scenes; the people who are ignored. In this crossover episode, the agents (plus Skye) are tasked with a correspondingly non-glamorous job: tidying up after Thor et al. Thankfully, the show spares us what is sure to be some pretty dull clean-up, by taking a abrupt left turn: the villains du jour have found an ancient Asgardian artifact called the Berserker staff, which causes them to go, well, a bit berserk, and its up to our trusted agents to stop them.
There's a bit of a quandary, isn't there? Overlap the two plots enough that people in the know will be satisfied, and viewers who haven't seen Thor: The Dark World yet won't be completely confused. The show straddles the line somewhat dissatisfyingly; while it sure won't alienate (har-har) or befuddle anyone, its ties to the film are paper-thin. Yes, it has to do with Asgard, but other than that? No relation to the movie. Many hoped this media-hopping crossover would save S.H.I.E.L.D. from its steadily declining ratings. It was certainly a solid (and at times rollicking, with shocking twists and everything – I'm looking at you, Agents May and Ward) episode, but did it have enough punch to get them on their way to a second season? I'd have to say no.
As tie-ins like this take a large role in the marketing strategy of the show, you can count on the fact that we'll be seeing more episodes like this. That's a given. But the question is, should they? In order to draw in the viewership that they so desperately need, it's going to take a bit more than a half-hearted crossover episode; the format could certainly work for them if done right, but they're going to have to iron out the creases and find a more compelling means of tie-ins. Unfortunately, it looks like our "Zeppos" still need to find their legs.
MTV After Hours
A couple of weeks ago, we touched on Tom Hiddleston's at-times pretentious (but still adorable!) mannerisms. But in addition to being one of the most skilled backdoor braggarts out there, we can't lose sight of the fact that Hiddleston is made up of pure awesome. I mean, I've always been a Hiddleston fan, and a recent viewing of Thor: The Dark World only increased his swoonage factor; he really did steal the show. But even better than (or at least on par with) his turn as the "God of Mischief"? All of the publicity he's done in recent months to promote it. It's been quite a boon to all of the Hiddlestoners out there: his quite numerous appearances have provided us with enough Hiddleston-charm to get us through a drought (luckily, we're not expecting any sort of Hiddleston deprivation any time soon). Here are some of our favorites:
* His dancing to K-Pop was pretty awesome, but he really schooled us in this MTV After Hours clip:
Boy can move! And in his Avengers-themed pajamas, no less. "Snake hips" may just go down in fandom history for years to come. His attempt at pop 'n lock is also pretty unforgettable in and of itself.
* And speaking of MTV, we recently saw the return of "Loki'd" and the mustachioed Steve.
* He took selfies (or "selca") with K-Pop band Girls Generation singer Tiffany.
* On a related note, if you haven't seen this video of Hiddleston giggling at a video compilation of himself giggling (Hiddle-ception?), you're really missing out.
* There's also the fact that he posed as a damsel in distress, thus making himself the target for a lot of wonderful photo manips.
* He (attempted) to teach Cookie Monster about delayed gratification.
* His impressions are quite hilarious.
* And the cherry on top? Let's not forget that he showed up at San Diego Comic Con in character as Loki.
My eyes are still recovering after four hours (four hours!) of sparkle exposure. (I complain, but I love it.) Part I of the DWTS finale was pretty jam-packed: in addition to their judges' choice dances, the four finalists had to do a samba relay challenge and a freestyle challenge.
The judges' choice dances were interesting to watch: the judges chose something they wanted to the see the competitors work on improving. We got to see repeats of old dances – most contestants improved, even Bill, who managed all nines. Next came the Samba Relay. As with many challenges, Corbin and Karina reigned supreme, though Amber got points from Carrie Ann ("That was some nice undulation going on"), and Bill got an honorable mention for briefly shakin' it with Derek.
The freestyles, as it turned out, were the main event for finale part I: they were basically an invitation to go all out. Bill and Emma went first, doing a rousing rendition of the Indiana Jones theme song, complete with multiple whips. Then came Corbin and Karina, who did a crazy (crazy good) Michael Jackson-meets-Cirque du Soleil routine to "Smooth Criminal," which blew everyone's socks off, then Jack and Cheryl with did a "showstopping" (according to the judges) hat-and-cane number, and finally, Amber and Derek finished things up with a Western-inspired saloon number – Len called her "Class, fast, and built to last" (now imagine it in a British accent). Aside from Bill, perfect scores were to be had all around – the dancers really had fun with their freestyle, and it sure showed.
After the numerous challenges came the dreaded elimination. Corbin and Karina and Amber and Derek were predictably safe, leaving Jack and Cheryl and Bill and Emma sweating under the lights. This time around, the reign of Bill Engvall finally came to an end: he was sent home. I'm quite glad he stuck around for so long – he was so well-liked by, well, everyone; his levity and charm made him compelling. And he and Emma had an absolutely adorable relationship; at the start of the episode he admitted, "I have a new best friend and fake-daughter," and after his elimination he echoed the sentiment.
Now, without any further ado, on to part II...as a first time DWTS-watcher, I was completely unprepared for the bonanza that lay ahead of me. It was quite the event – all of the contestants came back to dance encores, and there were live performances about with huge names including Lady Antebellum, Enrique Iglesias, Ylvis (which brought about the resurrection the ever-excellent Team Foxing Awesome), and Colbie Caillat.
Though with all of the replays and encores, we never lost sight of the true challenge that lay ahead: the fusion dances. Corbin and Karina took the stage first, with a cha-cha/foxtrot combo – it looked perfect to me, but apparently he missed a step at the end that led to nines as opposed to tens. Next up, Jack and Cheryl performed a Paso Doble/Salsa dance. Upon finishing, they got some pretty high praise from Len: citing his improvement week to week, Len told him, that out of al the dancers, "You have given me the most pleasure to watch." Finally, Amber and Derek did a near-flawless samba/quickstep concoction. Fun and energetic, it earned them a perfect score.
And finally, after much ado...the moment we've all been waiting for: the bequeathal of the coveted mirror ball trophy. Jack ended up taking third (he tied with his sister!), while Amber took the lead and Corbin second. Not a surprise, I guess? We knew right out of the gate that Corbin and Amber were the ones to beat (though to be fair, it was fun to watch Jack, the dark horse, come so close to the top). Quibbles aside – I mean, who can blame a reality competition for being predictable? – Amber definitely deserved the win; and let's hope she keeps on dancing!
Warner Bros via Everett Collection
As we eagerly await (wait, wait, wait) the distant release date of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, why not rewatch some of the Harry Potter films? Which one was your favorite? Here are ours, ranked worst to best.
Sorcerer's Stone/Chamber of Secrets
Both so bad they don't even deserve their own ranking.
Order of the Phoenix
Many name Order of the Phoenix as their least favorite book – Harry's angrily depressed for a good portion of the story, and that's not exactly fun for the readers. A lot of that dementor-y angstiness carries over to the film, which doesn't make for the best cinematic experience. Quibbles aside, we can all agree that Imelda Staunton was the perfect Umbridge.
Goblet of Fire
This one gets a lot of hate (they did cut out a lot of the best moments), but I don't know; the awkwardness of the whole Yule Ball debacle kind of saves it for me. Oh, and the adorable Beauxbatons hats.
Deathly Hallows Part I
People say that Deathly Hallows is basically Harry Potter and the Never-ending Camping Trip. Which, okay, it kind of is. But I think the marriage between the book and the movie worked well here – even though Daniel Radcliffe/Emma Watson's chemistry had everyone clamoring for a rewrite of the Hermione/Ron storyline.
Half-Blood Prince was awesome, right? Right? ::crickets:: At least JKR's got my back (it was reportedly her favorite of the first six). I loved the balance of humor and darkness in this one. The Felix Felicis scene? Daniel Radcliffe at this best. And the extra material that Rowling added about Professor Slughorn's remembrances of Lily Evans? Absolutely beautiful.
Deathly Hallows Part II
A just conclusion for a franchise that went on for roughly a decade – it certainly went out on a bang (well, a bang followed up by that infamously bad epilogue, anyway).
Prisoner of Azkaban
Prisoner of Azkaban was such a breath of fresh air after the first two butcheries, was it not? Many hail it as the film that saved the franchise – it finally captured the humor of the books, and the Harry/stag patronus scene continues to get me time after time. And honestly, the entire time turner sequence made for some popcorn poppin' cinema.
Some shows have them, some don't, to varying levels of effectiveness. Many would gladly swap Breaking Bad's 15-second opener for Orange is the New Black's 1-minute plus Regina Spektor-powered number. Most shows get a kicky theme song, some sort of montage and call it a day. But what shows treat the opening credits as an art form?
Game of Thrones
Okay, full disclosure, I don't watch Game of Thrones. (YET. I promise I'll get to it). But I was enthralled by the theme song when I watched Corbin Bleu dance a Viennese Waltz to it in an episode of DWTS. Embarrassing, I know, but let's get back on track: the opening credits on the show are amazing. Apparently, it takes ten people to work on them, and they have to be careful to make sure the hyper-realistic computer-generated gears and cogs follow the laws of physics. Their hard work certainly shows; the results are stunning.
Masters of Sex
The Masters of Sex opening credits has a remarkable sense of levity. Like much of the humor on the show, it is powered almost on innuendo alone. It doesn't show you anything x-rated per se, just a lot of traditionally suggestive images like the Washington monument, a beaver chomping down on some wood, a rocket taking off – you get the picture. It's almost astounding how simultaneously dirty and non-dirty this sequence is. Tip of the hat to you!
Like Masters of Sex, Dexter's opening theme also uses innuendo to get its message across. It's kind of astounding just how skin-crawlingly disturbing they can make a simple morning routine – the blood orange gets to me every time. It all comes together perfectly with the downright cheerful (with just a touch of eeriness) theme song.
Six Feet Under
Instead of something you fast-forward on the DVR, this was a sequence that never failed to captivate, week after week. It takes us from hospital to grave, using a muted, almost monochromatic color palette that lets the blue sky be the focus. But the music may be the true star here: the instrumentation is refreshingly innovative – I love the off-kilter pizzicato supporting the clarinet/oboe-like electronically generated theme. Bottom line: death has never been so pleasant as it is here.
The study's still chugging along: this week's topic of choice? Documenting the physical response of orgasm. Some Virginia-induced scratch marks on Bill's back (yeah...he wasn't strutting at all after that) bring them to the topic of involuntary responses. They decide that the next step in their research is to document the various involuntary muscle spasms. They convince good ol' Jane to be filmed, but she drops out at the last minute – it's just too personal. But that's where Virginia steps in – she agrees, on the terms that Masters is the one to film it (walk, don't run, please) as opposed to their delightfully awkward "cinematographer."
Meanwhile, poor Ethan's still along for the ride with Vivian "Crazy Eyes" Scully. A quick conversation with a bewildered Vivian regarding an uncircumsized penis ("It looked like an anteater!") reveals that Ethan, is in fact, Jewish. Long story short, she's Catholic (and more than a little anti-Semitic), so Ethan agrees to convert. But as his resentment grows throughout the episode, it's clear that he's rethinking things. A philosophical chat with a hospital patient gives him the push he needs to admit to himself (and a bereft Vivian) that their impending marriage is not going to work out. This little chat also reminds him of the one thing he truly went after in his life: guess who? He comforts her as she sobs in her car...can we expect them to strike something up again? Next week's preview suggests so.
Now, why was Virginia crying in her car? Let's back up. Bill's mother, Essie is back, and wreaking some serious havoc. Well, that's not quite fair; she's more the catalyst that sets the ball in motion. She susses out a lot of information that everyone else has been ignorant to (willfully or otherwise) – she's alone with Libby for less than a minute before figuring out she's pregnant. Libby goes on to tell her a heartwrenching story of how her father abandoned her and her sisters quickly preceding her mother's death; thus setting in motion her deep-seated life-or-death need to have a family – or as she puts it a "happily ever after." Our hearts – and Essie's – break a little for her.
Just as she discovered Libby's pregnancy nearly immediately, it takes Essie about an instant in a room with Bill and Virginia to realize that they're in it up to their necks already; no matter how they may deny it to themselves. She subsequently ambushes her son – first, she makes what is clearly a long-awaited apology for her silence back when Bill's father was around, for not stopping him. But that silence is exactly why she feels the need to speak up now: she warns him that he'll ruin his family like his father before him if he's not careful, and Bill takes the message hard. That, combined with a fight and concession with Libby after learning of her pregnancy, causes him to "do what's right."
It's not right; it's anything but right – in fact it's cringe-worthy to watch: he pays Virginia for her time in the study; for each time they've had sex, plus extra for the little film she's just made (which is heartbreakingly complete with a beatific smile just for Bill at the end). But his action has the desired effect: the trust, the rapport – most importantly, the feelings that they have been building together – all are shattered, just like that.
Whew. What a powerhouse episode.