"The Bear and the Maiden Fair" wasn't a particularly good episode of Game of Thrones. I found it draggy and digressive, which was a surprise considering it was written by author George R.R. Martin, whose past contributions have been among the series' best, and directed by the truly gifted Michelle MacLaren, the visual genius behind Breaking Bad’s "Madrigal," who, for some reason, was handed an hour that was all tell and very little show. But it was an ideal episode for Mother's Day. Not because it featured marked-up brunches and a flurry of last-minute flowers — though I'm sure there's a Sansa Stark joke in there somewhere — but because of the way it demonstrated that there's no love more lasting or abiding than that which exists between a mother and her child.
Westeros is a harsh, decidedly macho realm. Its females, in Bronn's words, are generally afforded only two options in life, to be wedded or bedded — though I'd add a third in memory of Ros: to be deaded. Yet it appears that maternity grants Westerosi women something nearly as valuable as Yunkish gold: perspective. Turns out, Margaery's preternatural calm isn't due to the tightness of her corsets cutting off her circulation, it's because the version of Game of Thrones she's playing is a very long game indeed. Though she's marrying a preening, bloodthirsty sadist with an itchy trigger finger where his heart should be, Margaery seems sanguine about her chances. "My son will be King," she shrugs to Sansa. "Sons learn from their mothers. I plan to teach mine a great deal."
If you watch Survivor, and I’m assuming you do, you undoubtedly find yourself discussing it with other fans over the course of the season. Survivor people have little homing devices; we find one another, and then we stand around in offices or on telephones or huddled over other people’s side tables of BBQ chicken and we talk about our picks to win. Then we talk about our mother’s picks to win. Then we talk about who knows a person who knows a contestant and who their pick is to win. And this season, one name that keeps popping up in these conversations, despite her anorexic story line, is Brenda.
The traditional place to start a story — particularly a story featuring beautiful maidens, brave knights, and extravagant, fairy-tale weddings — is at the beginning. When the sun is shining and the storm clouds of plot are still a ways away, it's possible for an audience to gain perspective and appreciate the purpose of the struggle to come. It's why The Fellowship of the Ring opened with a Hobbit birthday party, not a savage orc battle: It's a necessary glimpse of good before things inevitably go bad.
But Game of Thrones is far from a traditional story for reasons that go well beyond the fact that the beautiful maiden in question is currently a hostage, the brave knight is gay, and Westeros's wedding of the year will celebrate the union of a cleavage-baring schemer and a psychosexual sadist whose mother is also his aunt. Things may have gotten progressively worse in the Seven Kingdoms since the series began, but decline seems to be the natural direction of things in Westeros. As far as I can tell, there have been no good times, only moments that were slightly less bad. Before Joffrey's reign of errors, there was Robert Baratheon, a wine-drunk usurper who treated the Iron Throne room like the MLB Fan Cave. And before Robert, there was Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, who burned bridges and allies with equal ardor. Barristan Selmy's recognized as far away as Essos as a great warrior, but what he really is is exhausted. "I've burnt away my years fighting for terrible kings," he sighs to Jorah. "Just once in my life, before it's over, I want to know what it's like to serve with pride." The quiet calm of Winterfell we witnessed back in the pilot wasn't merely brief, it was illusory. The crush of plot and the multiple points of view since then have taught Game of Thrones watchers an important lesson: Peace is only pleasant for the winners. And even for them, it always arrives with an expiration date.
Survivor has always been fascinating for its character studies: The social nature of the game, which doesn’t necessarily encourage but definitely allows for lying and manipulation, is one of the most gripping parts of the show. There are always two sides to each contestant: the person presented to the tribe, and the one revealed in the private confessionals; being skilled at the interpersonal aspects of Survivor is a requirement, and being able to bluff is the only way to execute a blindside or outlast the rest of your alliance. Obfuscating their motives and plans while still being able to defend themselves as relatively honest and loyal in front of the jury are as key to the players’ success as choosing the people who will sit next to them during the final episode.
It may be a good game for sociopaths, but it’s not the right arena for insecure, confused citizens who just want to find themselves on the sandy beaches of deserted tropical islands. You can win Survivor if you’re crazy, but you have to be crazy like a fox, or you’ll get crushed. This week, Brandon Hantz got crushed like a bug in the tiny, many-needle-toothed jaws of a bush baby.
“Get Drew” is the Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird of Justified episodes, and I mean that largely as a compliment. It’s an episode where everybody pairs off to haul in Drew Thompson (whom I’m going to call "Shelby" in this review for old times’ sake), while Shelby and Ellen May make a break for his escape route. The episode does a surprisingly good job of getting us to a place that’s inevitable — Shelby in U.S. Marshal custody — while making it not seem like an inevitability that we’ll end up there. This is a tough thing to do, particularly in Episode 10 of a 13-episode season, and the end of “Get Drew” sets up some great cliffhangers for everybody going forward. Boyd is out of money and has angered the mob. Johnny has finally succeeded at foiling one of Boyd’s plans. And Raylan and the other marshals have to get Shelby (and themselves) out of Harlan alive.
This show spends very little time in the Real Worst World house, and that's likely for the best. I read an interview with Carrie Lee and she said much of the downtime was spent putting makeup and drag on Aadip and Alex. I bet Alex put on women's clothing a lot in college, for the joke, and that he thought it was extremely, overwhelmingly funny every single time. "Hmm, which dress should I put on tonight to make my housemates laugh? Something elegant." But this week's episode begins with Anne and Bobby paying a surprise visit to the contestants' kitchen. Bobby peeks in the fridge, only to find nothing but an overturned apple sauce. He's disappointed with all the takeout menus he sees, which the producers planted. "They should be practicing at home!" Why in the world would they want to do that, Bobby? Reality competition shoots famously take a dozen hours; I imagine they get home exhausted. Also, they are so bad at cooking. Literally some of the worst. Who wants to come home and eat their own garbage after a long, hard day? "All I want is some of my famous burnt chili mole pasta."
Well. It’s over. Are you OK? Are you going to be OK? Are we going to be OK? American Horror Story: Asylum has wrapped, and Shelley hasn’t been turned into an immortal legless fembot. We never got a close-up on the aliens. Satan Mary Eunice never ghosted herself back into Briarcliff to put her feet up on a desk and contemplate the roaring fire while wearing Nazi-stained jewelry. And almost everybody died. Yet this finale was palpably satisfying, like eating an entire pizza by yourself with no one watching.
Before I even start this recap, I should point out that I’ve now written over 30,000 words on this season of American Horror Story, and other than the fact that that qualifies me for admission to Briarcliff asylum, it means that I have very high standards for the parabolic plot arcs of this show. That’s why I'm totally flummoxed and disappointed by certain aspects of last night’s episode, namely the fact that Kit Walker (Evan Peters) had the unbelievable bad luck to cohabitate with two ax murderers. Ax murdering is not contagious: It is not the flu, it is not the herpes virus, it is not even AIDS. What a screwy, evil-mustachioed red herring to throw into the penultimate installment of your awesome torture-porn show, Ryan Murphy. Why do you play me thus? I already ate Catfish last night. I didn’t want to swallow the entire contents of the narrative ocean.
I don’t know that I necessarily agree that American Horror Story: Asylum is paratactic, as Slate recently and somewhat convincingly argued, because after recapping it all season, I’m pretty sure I can connect the threads. It just takes six billion years and a lot of retracing of sadistic torture scenes.
Last night was Ladies’ Night at Briarcliff, and by “Ladies’ Night” I mean that ladies were on the torture menu exclusively. Nipple lampshade appetizers? Sure thing. Sliced abdomens over alien babies? You got it. Lobotomy frozen islands? Falling-down-a-trap-door parfait? Cold-corpse-of-your-ex-girlfriend flambé? NO THANK YOU, I’M FULL. But we’ve removed the teeth, sir. Well, then. OK!
So far, one of the most intriguing aspects of American Horror Story: Asylum has been the promise of exploring the dark side of psychiatry’s history: Skinner Box name drop (I’m still hoping that an upcoming episode will ignore the fact that Skinner’s baby-tender-as-human-isolation-chamber has been debunked, and run with it), misused electroshock therapy, exorcisms, and generally corrupt and creepy doctors. This week, as Satan Mary Eunice’s plotline napped with its opaque eyes wide open, AHSA dove deeper into that weird and awful rabbit hole, pumping the saga full of Nazi human experiments and aversion/conversion therapies. I call it Apomorphine & Anne Frank: A Bedtime Story for Young Children. The Parents TV Council loves this show, as you can imagine. Loving your recaps, PTVC!
The Top Chef Masters finale happened, and here is my gripe: As with this season of MasterChef, the finalists were made up of one person who had been slaying it all competition (in the case of MC this was Christine, who was, incidentally, blind) and one culinarian who had been bobbing along in a warm pool of the consommé of mediocrity for the whole season before getting things in gear a few episodes before the finale (MC’s Josh frequently found himself in the bottom three, and was even eliminated once before being invited back into the game). In the final episode, these slackers bust out with menus completely unlike any of the wallflower gnocchi and unspectacular over-easy eggs they’ve been handing out for weeks, parading out a pea flan and saying, “Hey, look, I’ve always been Mr. Pea Flan!” You can’t save the goods for the finale. Saving the goods for the finale and hoping to win goes completely against the nature of these competitions: Before you were Mr. Pea Flan, you were Mr. Who’s That, and nobody wants Mr. Who’s That to win a very important Bravo-emblazoned chef’s jacket worth $500 million. This is why I was very concerned to see Kerry Heffernan against my boy Chris Cosentino in the finale of TCM.
The fairy squad lays the whammy on Russell Edgington from their Pleasure Island funhouse goblin-mouth portal. He mocks their inefficacy until Eric puts him in a headlock, at which point his face melts off like the Nazi's in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Russell bursts all over Eric's torso, giving him a contact body high.
To punish me for rooting for Chris Cosentino last week, the gods sent the gentle citizens of Yorba Linda 30 earthquakes over the course of 24 hours. I’m sorry, Yorba Linda. I did that. So let me begin by saying that Chris Cosentino was really tacky this week and I am considering shifting my allegiance to Takashi Yagihashi. He seems like a nice guy. WILL THIS SUFFICE, GODS? I have a nice glass teapot on a narrow shelf and my dog hates aftershocks.
The episode starts with two of our liars, Aria and Spencer, discussing Maya's blog. Aria's freaking out because she saw a picture of Maya with the same sketchy wrist tattoo from The Night. Spencer's hearing her, but not having any of it. Why? She forgot to apply early-admission to Penn and got a B on a test, so her life is collapsing. Oh, and her boyfriend hates her. So she's got other stuff to deal with.