Tag Archives: television

‘True Detective’ Finale: The Big Twist or the Obvious Killer?

Season one of HBO’s bayou crime drama True Detective draws to a close this Sunday, leaving the series in a unique position: It’s been renewed for a second season, but its stars — Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey — only ever committed to eight episodes. The show goes on with two new detectives and a new mystery to solve, says series creator Nic Pizzolatto, which means that questions about a Yellow King and a murderous cult will (hopefully) be answered this weekend.

Not since the days of Lost‘s smoke monster and four-toed statue have we speculated this much about the conclusion of a TV series. In the spirit of Marty and Rust’s car conversations (albeit with more exclamation marks), two Culture Binge editors consider what’s in store for True Detective.

Kadi Hughes: Are you all caught up?

Laura Dannen Redman: I am, finally. The man with the scars…drives a lawnmower.

KH:  He is also the spaghetti monster.

LDR: It’s like a Scooby Doo prelude. Never suspect the gardener/housekeeper/butler.

KH: Old Man Withers! From the Amusement Park!

LDR: So clear something up for me. What exactly is Carcosa?

KH: Carcosa is a place — it’s the place that the rich men go, and perform the rituals with the hoods and the whole bizarro ceremonies.

LDR: Right, the masks and the chanting…

KH: The snuff film! The photos! The children! The evil Tuttles!
How awesome was it to see Rust and Marty back together again?

LDR: Amazing. Marty has that one line that sums it up, when he tells Rust: “Father Time has his way with us all… Looks like you must have pissed him off.”

KH: I always forget how funny Woody Harrelson is. He has great timing and delivery. So…what do we know for sure? And what do we predict is going to go down in the finale?

LDR: We know the Tuttles are evil. And the Tuttles seem to own most of the Louisiana bayou.

KH: The Lawnmower Man is a Tuttle half-brother and the man with the scars. Plus the Tuttles have been around “for a long, long time.”

LDR: Was the Lawnmower Man the same one from earlier in the season?

KH: Yes, he was. How creepy was that end shot/pan out? The lawnmower circle and that silent barge?

LDR: It was like an alien/occult circle he was mowing into the grass, like a scene from Signs. So if the Tuttles have been around for a long, long time, then conceivably they’ve been behind many missing children for…decades. Which brings us to…the video. I also don’t know why I keep using the … (dot dot dot). So much suspense that needs to be conveyed.

KH: The video. Props to Woody for his reaction.

LDR: Seemed like an authentic reaction, an Everyman or Every Father response to seeing the rape of a young girl.

KH: I also like how, thematically, it came back to one of my favorite lines in the series: “We’re bad men. We’re the bad men who keep the other bad men from the door.” I’m misquoting slightly but it was early-days Rust philosophy in the car, and chilling!

LDR: It speaks to the best part of the whole show: the complex characters of Rust and Marty.

KH: Marty and Rust are clearly broken and with faults, but maybe their ‘badness’ is what makes it possible for them to stop the Tuttles. Perhaps ‘better’ men wouldn’t be able to do so, because they wouldn’t see it, or understand it, or get so obsessed with it.

LDR: As Rust shows, you need to be as obsessed as the villains you seek out. Walk their walk. I also like how you could conceivably suspect Rust or Marty of murder. The show creator said in an interview that by episode 7, it should be clear that neither did it.

KH: I agree with that. Although for most of the season I was CONVINCED Marty was evil. While we are talking about complexity, the show has gotten a lot of flack recently about the female characters (ex. Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker) — arguing that they aren’t complex, that it’s “shallow deep talk” and male fantasies, etc. I’m a bit torn on it.

LDR: I read a good defense by show creator Nic Pizzolatto in EW that it’s such a strict point-of-view show that to deviate much from it would seem peripheral. But that Marty’s wife Maggie is the most emotionally astute character on the show.

KH: I agree with that and I hope the rumor about season 2 having two female detectives is true. Because Michelle Monaghan [who plays Maggie] is KILLING it.

LDR: Oh man, killing it.

KH: Also, it has been established, multiple times, that these narrators are not reliable. So that girl Marty ‘saves’ from the bunny ranch and then sleeps with later? When she is in front of the mirror, it’s pure male fantasy. Probably because it is! That is what Marty is thinking!

LDR: It’s an Anthony Weiner sext. It’s straight out of Hustler. Which might be the only reading material Marty has.

KH: I have noticed a trend with female leads in these types of shows. They are often so understated that people don’t realize how amazing they are. See: Robin Wright in House of Cards.

LDR: Remember the episode when Rust meets Marty’s family? I loved how Maggie basically tapped into Rust’s psyche before dinner was served. She had him sharing more than Marty got in months of car conversations.

KH: Michelle is just a lot less flashy. I think her character is a manipulation queen, between that and the sex trap. But she is also clearly a good mother and a woman with an internal struggle. The sex trap was brutal. She knows that will destroy Marty.

LDR: It raises her up to “bad woman” status. So how do we think this will all play out in the finale? How do they track down the Lawnmower Man? They must get some key information from the sheriff they’re holding hostage on the boat.

KH: Agreed. He gives them a clue and I think we escalate quickly. I think they go to “Carcosa.”

LDR: The preview of the finale showed them guns out, reinforcements on the way.

KH: Does everyone die?

LDR: I kind of think so…

KH: I think at least one of them will, right?

LDR: Why else would Maggie say this in the penultimate episode? “Marty, are you saying goodbye?”

KH: What about the two detectives grilling Rust and Marty? How are they involved? Do they bring them into the fold?

LDR: They probably help invade Carcosa. Rust and Marty die knowing they’ve been vindicated, but the two cops take credit for solving the case. Bleah, eh? Ha, I meant to say “bleak,” but “bleah” works, too.

KH: Or will there be a darker twist?

LDR: What do you think?

KH: The creator said that there will be no supernatural elements. It’s pretty clear Rust is far gone, so him dying would be a bit of a mercy killing. I think we might see Maggie’s father again, and find out he did some sick shit to his granddaughter. I would like to know more about the mythology of the cult. Why the antlers? Why the human sacrifice?

LDR: Was it a Tuttle family tradition, passed down for generations?

KH: Is it a bit of voodoo?

LDR: Maybe the dreamcatcher sculptures are voodoo objects. Who is the Yellow King?

KH: How confident are you that our questions will be answered?

LDR: WHO IS THE YELLOW KING? Not very.

[Said at the same time] LDR: Like with Lost, origin stories don’t necessarily get tied up.
KH: Because by the time we got to the end of Lost, I knew there was no way it would all be accounted for.

KH: Though I think that True Detective will tie most things up. The structure of the series dictates that a bit. Also people (ie. me) were rabid at the end of Lost. I had invested so much time and emotion into all of these clues and mythologies and theories, and most of them were just bullshit. If True Detective does that to me, I am pulling a Rust and heading to Alaska. Even though I, like him, do not like the cold.

LDR: And they were mostly bullshit because — in my humble opinion — there was a writers’ strike halfway through the series. How do you write for a show that could end tomorrow, three months from now, or three years from now? True Detective does have the added benefit of one season and boundaries for the narrative. By the way, don’t go to Alaska. You’re a vegetarian. You’ll starve.

LDR: So…who is the yellow king? I kind of think he’s part of the mythology — the spiritual chief.

KH: Top three guesses:
1. Governor Tuttle.
2. An unknown we meet in the last episode.
3. The viewer.

LDR: The viewer.

KH: Yeah, I said it.

LDR: Meta.

KH: POST MODERNITY. I rabbit holed down an iO9 comment thread one day. This one guy had a great theory on how meta the show was. “Time is a flat circle” repeating over and over again = DVD. Rust becomes aware that he is a character on a show and that we are The Yellow King because we want more. People keep dying, bad things keep happening, to entertain us.

LDR: So they blow up the fourth wall.

KH: While I don’t really think that is what is going on. If there is a Neverending Story moment when Rust turns to the camera and calls out for “Bastian” I will lose. my. shit.

LDR: Ha!

KH:  Okay, who are your three predictions for The Yellow King?

LDR: 1. The god of the cult. Not actually a human, but someone the group pays homage to. 2. Governor Tuttle. 3. The Lawnmower Man. Occam’s Razor: the simplest answer is usually the right one. Though the show creator is a pretty sharp guy and now I’m liking your fourth-wall-gone theory. It goes along with the philosopher-king style of the show.

KH: There was a great retweet from The Millions on an article posted a year ago about how all detective fiction is the same — or at least that there are only a set number of outcomes. It’s completely applicable to True Detective, but I still am going to watch and then be emotionally adrift when it is done.

LDR: Great article. So essentially, we’re waiting for The Big Twist or The Obvious Killer. And then we cry.

KH: Exactly.

Any other conspiracy theories out there? Join the conversation in the comments section below. True Detective’s season one finale airs Sunday at 10pm on HBO.

Vikings Had Threesomes? Debunking Season 1 of ‘Vikings’

The History Channel (desperately) wants you to believe that history is sexy. With its first-ever scripted TV series, Vikings, the legend of Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok unfolds like a finely polished HBO drama: lots of epic, bloody battle scenes; beautiful hard-bodied Vikings in bed together; panoramic shots of Ireland standing in for eighth-century Scandinavia. Close one eye and Vikings is a poor man’s Game of Thrones. But if you pry them both open for a season 1 binge — all nine episodes are available On Demand in anticipation of tonight’s season 2 premiere — the show delivers much more than a glut of lusty warriors.

History paired with MGM Studios and English writer-producer Michael Hirst (Elizabeth, The Tudors) to create the sleek, stylized historical drama, with Australian actor Travis Fimmel starring as Ragnar, a farmer-warrior (aren’t they all) who aspires to head west rather than back to the tapped-out east to pillage and plunder. Ragnar has Norse god Odin on his side, along with the love of his wife, shield maiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), his two children, a smattering of loyal men with amazing hair, and a dubiously loyal brother, Rollo (Clive Standen).

The History Channel does due diligence to lowercase “history” by introducing characters of the time, though this lesson left me wondering how much of the fiction was inspired by fact. A little research cleared things up:

Was there actually a farmer-warrior-king called Ragnar Lothbrok?
Ragnar Lothbrok (or Lodbrok) is a Viking hero who appeared regularly in Old Norse poetry and sagas. Legend says he was the descendant of the god Odin — who, Marvel’s Thor teaches us, is the Zeus/Anthony Hopkins of Norse gods — and the father of many sons, including historical figures Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. Not kidding.

It’s unclear whether Ragnar was one man or a compilation of many; his history takes place around 793 AD, when the first recorded Viking raid on Britain (on a monastery, just like the show) took place.

One of the main characters in Vikings is a shipbuilder named Floki. Like…Loki? The Norse god of mischief?
Why yes, kind of like Loki! The character Floki could be Loki on Earth, causing trouble, though as played by actor Gustaf Skarsgård, he’s more like Johnny Depp’s pirate kook Jack Sparrow. Never go raiding without your eyeliner.

In Vikings, shield maidens go to battle alongside Ragnar, the women rule while the men are away, and Ragnar’s wife Lagertha kills two home intruders in the opening episode without breaking a sweat. Were Viking women…dare I say it…the equals of men?
Ehhh kind of. The BBC history of Vikings says that the Old Norse word vikingar applies exclusively to men, but there is evidence that women ran the show at home while the men were off raiding, and may have been part of a merchant class. The shield maidens appear in sagas, as did valkyries, armed with sword (or spear) and shield, who often accompanied dead heroes to the great big after(life)- party Valhalla. Women could have fought alongside men, so credit goes to the show Vikings for taking that idea, running with it, and creating some of the most badass female characters on television right now.

Did the Vikings really keep slaves?
Yes.

And ritualistically sacrifice humans?
Most likely.

And have a thing for threesomes? Because they sure do on the show…
Vikings were considered pagans with different moral standards than Christians. Still looking for the history book that will discuss threesomes, so for now, let’s chalk this one up to the Book of Cable.

So now you want to watch? Season two of Vikings premieres Feb 27 on the History Channel at 10pm.
Recap: A History Channel infographic of Vikings, Season 1

Image: Travis Fimmel (center), Katheryn Winnick and the cast of Vikings. Courtesy Jonathan Hession/History Channel.

Viral Video Recap: The Best of Jimmy Fallon’s First Week on ‘The Tonight Show’

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, which he officially inherited February 17, is looking a whole lot like Late Show with Jimmy Fallon — lots of singing and dancing, #hashtag conversations and comedy sketches with buddies from his SNL days. Even the First Lady made an  appearance. It’s what we expected: Fallon does fun time well. The 39-year-old brings a lot of playfulness (and talent) to the late-night timeslot, like a goody goody teen who’s finally cutting loose…on Red Bull and vodkas.

Check out the best of Fallon’s high-spirited first week. Honorable mentions go to Ragtime Girls’ Ignition (Remix) and NBC news anchor Brian Williams performing “Rapper’s Delight.”

Feb 17: The Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing (with Will Smith and Jimmy Fallon). “Making It Rain” followed by “Picking Up the Money Because That’s All You Had.”

Feb 18: Jimmy Interviews Harry Styles. Oh, I’m British?


Feb 19: Hashtag #2 with Jimmy Fallon and Jonah Hill.
With cameos by Martin Scorsese and Questlove. #famous

Feb 20: Will Ferrell Figure Skates to the Downton Abbey Theme. Without the skates. Or the ice.

Feb 21: History of Rap 5 with Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon. Twenty-three songs in five minutes.

The Loss of TV’s Happiest Married Couples

You may be one of the few people who actually watched Happy Endings when it was on ABC from 2011–2013.  Originally dismissed as a new Friends (six people in their mid-twenties living in way-too-huge apartments in a city), the show quickly distinguished itself with its edgy, pop culture–heavy humor — the same kind of humor that, sadly, leaves well-written shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Community begging for viewers.

Die-hard fans of Happy Endings knew the writing was on the wall when ABC dumped the show to Friday nights during the third season and played new episodes back to back, but it didn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the show was finally cancelled. Happy Endings had some amazing moments, but none more so than the scenes with Damon Wayans Jr., who played silly yet successful businessman Brad, and Eliza Coupe as his ambitious wife, Jane.

Let it be known: Brad and Jane are my favorite TV married couple ever. (Bold statement and I’m sticking to it.) The two of them actually…wait for it…liked each other. Shocking! A married couple on TV that had fun together, cracked each other up, tore each others’ clothes off? Marrieds on TV are usually of one variety: They “love” each other, but the wife is a nag, the husband a slob, and the jokes are always at the expense of one or the other. I’m bored just writing that. But Brad and Jane were a team. Thanks to writing that didn’t resort to lazy stereotypes and the comedic talents of Wayans and Coupe, they were the perfect aspirational married duo. How many TV couples (or, for that matter, regular couples) can you say that about?

Over the years, there have been just a few bright spots in the drudgery of TV marriage. The Huxtables on The Cosby Show were a refreshing example of two equally driven adults — Cliff a doctor, Claire a partner in a law firm — who supported each other while raising a family.  A more recent favorite was stoic Coach Taylor, played by Kyle Chandler, and the go-getter Connie Britton (whose gorgeous locks inspired its own blog) as Tami Taylor on the always underrated Friday Night Lights.  Despite critical praise, it took until the fifth — and final — season of FNL before anyone bothered to pay attention.  But I continue to pitch this as the best show for a couple to watch together: It’s a compelling high school drama (check) that has great football action sequences (check) and is anchored by a marriage (!). Wow, it just got real dusty in here.

Alas, these are all examples of past bliss.  Is there anything to keep a viewer happy these days?  Yes, but not for long.  The ninth and final season of How I Met Your Mother ends March 31, and along with it, our glimpses into Lily and Marshall’s kooky-yet-enduring relationship.  No more Marshpillow (Lily’s body pillow substitute for Marshall), no more hitting “pause” on the fights, no more sexual innuendo at the bar.  Sigh.  Here’s hoping that it won’t be too long before another great couple takes their place. Otherwise, we may need to find our own Marshpillows.HIMYM_Marshpillow3

In Defense of ‘Sherlock’

Why doesn’t everyone love this show? The third “season” of the BBC Masterpiece miniseries — a modern reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories — finished Sunday night and brought in about 3 million viewers. By comparison, Downton Abbey had more than twice as many viewers in the same week, and Culture Binge fave Scandal brought in three times that number for its season 2 finale last fall.

This is odd for a couple of reasons. First: The resurgent US obsession with Britishness that started with Harry Potter should, by extension, apply to Sherlock. Downton was (and to some extent, still is, although the quality of the show has dropped) appointment viewing. Since Sherlock is on the same channel, PBS — it even has Downton as a lead-in — I’d think it would bring in just as many fans by proximity alone. It’s true that the melodrama of Downton has a different feel from the tense, tight mysteries of Sherlock. But it’s not as if the show is one of those slasher SVU types — there’s very little graphic violence, and more than a little humor. Those Brits…they crack me up.

Second: Sherlock’s lead, Benedict Cumberbatch, is an actual movie star, with name recognition beyond that of anyone on Downton Abbey (except for the amazing Dowager Countess). The man even inspired a Tumblr name generator (try it out—and for the record, I got Beetlejuice Clombyclomp).

Third: Of late, there’s a glut of TV shows that rely, heavily, on the Holmes model of a “high-functioning sociopath” who solves crimes and has trouble making friends. (See also: The Bridge, The Killing, Broadside, Dexter, True Detective…the list goes on.) Modern TV viewers can’t seem to get enough of the anti-hero, but these shows don’t hold a candle to what Steven Moffat have concocted for the BBC. Sherlock does personal relationships better, the mysteries are more inventive, and the show is funnier than those dour, depressing, violent competitors.

Perhaps the format of the show — three movie-length episodes, with years between seasons — turns people off, but I find that hard to believe. The miniseries is a prime example of how TV can stay relevant in this age of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, et al. It falls squarely into appointment viewing. It’s short-lived, condensed, and over before you can grow weary of it. This isn’t some 22-episode arc on ABC.

Finally (and then I’ll get off my soapbox) this is yet another area where we’re falling behind China, people. The Independent reported this week that the Chinese are head-over-heels for Sherlock like a 13-year-old swooning over Harry Styles. With a fourth season of Sherlock in the works, there’s plenty of time to get on your couch, turn on the English subtitles (those blokes speak quickly) and get caught up. It’s a mystery worth solving.