April 29, 2020

THE ‘HOMELAND’ SERIES FINALE: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Spoiler alert: Please read on only if you’ve watched the series finale, or if you don’t mind spoilers

Last week’s series finale of HOMELAND didn’t exactly tie everything up in a neat bow, but it did give us closure and satisfaction. Here’s a take on how things went down, as the world discovered the truth about how that helicopter went down


When season seven of HOMELAND ended two years ago, it hinted at a poetic final season. It seemed as though the swansong might explore the idea of prisoner of war Carrie Mathison having turned and become a spy, just like prisoner of war Nicholas Brody was suspected of it in the original premise of the show. It was the perfect little teaser, leaving us to anticipate how things would go when Carrie would be the subject of suspicion after being released by the Russians. It was the idea of the show coming full circle in its final season that made its onset so thrilling.

In the beginning of the final season, there was suspicion from various ends, the most prominent form of it being from Mike and Jenna at the CIA station in Afghanistan. While their mistrust might not have been completely unfounded, we knew it wasn’t completely warranted either. Yet, Carrie seemed to be waving red flags all over the place, mainly owing to her questionable friendship with Yevgeny Gromov. Based on the time that Carrie lost when she was in Russia and the things about her that Yevgeny knew, it wasn’t unfathomable that she might have been recruited by him as an asset. Now, lucid and aware, Carrie was doubtful of it herself, but her intentions were clearas clear as the faith that Saul still had in her. She was hell-bent on doing what it took to prevent disaster, even if it meant going rogue, and against Saul’s cautionary instructions. She took it on herself to retrieve the one thing that it came down to—the flight recorder. She would do anything—perhaps even betray Saul. It wasn’t completely unimaginable. After all for years, we’ve been hearing her say it in the opening credits: “I missed something once before. I won’t…I can’t let that happen again.”

So off she went, risking her life, relying on dubious people, throwing herself into risky situations, et al. It might have seemed reckless for most people, but not for Carrie. She’d earned the reputation of being unhinged, whether or not she was on her medication. She had even done the responsible thing by letting her stable sister raise her daughter. Yes, she was unhinged, but not without a cause. Over the seasons, she’d learnt to find method in her madness. She knew what she was doing and what she was risking for it, and she did it anyway. Saul saw that and relied on her to never do anything untoward, even if he didn’t agree with her methods. He had taught her too well to not compromise and to squeeze out all she could from an asset. She did this even if there was a chance that Yevgeny would turn on her the moment he had the chance to. It made sense. Turn on her he did, as he stole the flight recorder, and it was clear as day where the loyalties were. But it did leave her in a tight spot—eventually being arm-twisted into turning on Saul. Carrie did consider it, and knowing how unhinged she was known to be, I’m sure we all had our moments of doubt, thinking that she might actually do what it would take. It would be ‘the cost of doing business’.

In a way, it did all come down to whether Carrie would ‘turn’, but it wasn’t her country that she’d be turning against; it was her mentor. The show did come a full circle, but in a much bigger way. Right from the beginning, the one thing that formed the essence of the show was the relationship between Carrie and Saul. From the Brody seasons to the complete reinvention of the series in season four, it was essentially about these two and their formidable partnership. So it was fitting for the finale to upend all of it. Yet, since they had made a great team before, I was hoping that the finale would be about how they’d turn the tables on the Russians together, as they'd find a way to save Saul’s asset and get the flight recorder to prevent the mother of all wars. Still, the finale didn’t disappoint.


Without trying to create the most explosive scenarios we’ve seen, they did present to us the most explosive conflict that the show could give us. Carrie almost did betray Saul, even if she never had the intention to go all the way to killing him. The asset had to be sacrificed from a storytelling point of view, but it didn’t go that way without all efforts being made to avoid it. It gave us one of Mandy Patinkin’s most gut-wrenching performance moments, when he heard the gunshot that killed his asset and friend. Carrie had done the unforgivable, and we didn’t think he would begin to accept that the end justified the means anytime soon. It was devastating really to see the core relationship of the show destroyed. That’s why I found the epilogue to be the perfect ending. The only way Carrie could make up for what she had done was to at least give Saul a reliable asset, if not bring back his friend. And when it came to protecting America, the one person he could rely on, despite her betrayal was strangely Carrie herself. The moment we saw her in Moscow, I knew what she’d used those two years to do. She had built a network of sources to put together her ultimate gift to Saul—now packaged neatly in a book, addressed to Professor Rabinow. And when he opened the package and discovered what it was, those smiles on Saul’s and Carrie’s faces, thousands of miles apart, were everything.

Farewell Notes:
  • I wasn’t entirely sure of what the relationship between Carrie and Yevgeny was at the end. Of course, they seemed to be romantically involved. But we know that Yevgeny wouldn’t be a part of her network of sources. He had used her and thrown her under the bus, so there’s no way he would turn on his country and work for her, and it also made me wonder if and why Carrie even trusted him. And if the relationship was a farce—to what end could that have been? Also, could Yevgeny trust Carrie? I don’t believe that even two years would make them truly start trusting each other and be in a genuine relationship. I just think the show could have done without implying that the two of them ended up together. Carrie could have still been in Moscow, and as a spy even.
  • Carrie’s book about why she’d betrayed her country did however indicate that her alliance with the Russians and what she’d done had become public knowledge, and she was now a pariah for America. It explained why certain Russians would trust her, which might have helped her in developing her network of sources in Moscow.
  • I didn’t see the need for Carrie and Yevgeny to flee from Israel the way they did, once the asset was killed. I don’t believe Saul would have turned her in, despite what she’d done. And at that point, the authorities didn’t know what Carrie had done, only Saul did. Even without that bit, Carrie could have still ended up in Moscow two years later.
  • Speaking of the asset, it would have been far more impactful if they had sown the seeds of this secret asset over the last couple of seasons. It wasn’t unbelievable that Saul had had this extremely crucial asset for decades, but it did come up quite suddenly.
  • Similarly, John Zabel also appeared quite suddenly, and I wasn’t quite sure why he felt so stubbornly motivated to throw the country into war. A little background to the character might have helped. Also, I was hoping to see Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy share the screen, so I was disappointed that it didn’t happen. But I do understand that the narrative didn’t demand it.  
  • It was sad that Carrie didn’t reunite with Franny, but it was also very true to her character. She had done the right thing in letting Maggie raise her. Yet, I would have liked to see her at peace with Maggie, just like Saul was finally on good terms with his sister.
  • Jenna was a surprisingly interesting character this season. When she was disillusioned and ready to give up everything towards the end, I could almost see the makings of a spinoff—with Jenna being the new Carrie, as she might eventually come around to understanding the good that could come out of a job that otherwise made her feel miserable.
  • If there’s a reboot miniseries or TV movie, which has become de rigueur these days, I wouldn’t mind getting an explanation as to what the Carrie-Yevgeny relationship was, if and why they trust each other, and other things that went down for her to become the spy that she did.
  • RIP Max...It wasn't as devastating as Quinn, or even Brody, but it was heartbreaking still.  

April 10, 2020

A MODERN FAREWELL TO A MODERN CLASSIC—FIVE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ‘MODERN FAMILY’ SERIES FINALE

Earlier this week, we bid a ‘modern farewell’ to the Pritchetts, Dunphys, Tucker-Pritchetts and Delgado-Pritchetts. The end of MODERN FAMILY was a bittersweet end, even as it left me wondering why they couldn’t just go on! Here’s a look at ‘Leave the porch light on’, who moved out and how they all moved on


The thing about the MODERN FAMILY farewell that made it perfect was that in a lot of ways, it was just like any other episode of the show. Yes, a lot was changing for everyone, but the episode was still very true to what it’s always been, with the regular banter between characters, situational goof-ups, out-of-context misunderstandings, and the characters just being themselves, unapologetically, as they always have been. But in a lot of ways, it bookended the series, and gave us a picture of the last 11 years. Here are the major highlights of the farewell.


1. A FAREWELL TO THE RELATIONSHIPS
In their own way, all the relationships that made the show what it was for 11 years got their moments to shine. Of course there were the three main couples. Claire and Phil were frustrated by the chaos in their house, and then reminisced about it all less than an hour later. Jay and Gloria reflected on their relationship and defined their role-reversal, with Gloria being the full-time career person now. Cam and Mitch explored what was important to them as they prepared for the next chapter of their lives, while welcoming a new member to their family. However, it was good to see that even the sibling bonds that have formed such an integral part of the show being given their moments—the Dunphy kids pranking each other and getting emotional about going their separate ways, Joe pranking Manny, and of course, the most important sibling bond—Claire and Mitch—was done complete justice to. There were nods to even the other important relationships, such as Cam and Gloria (even though Gloria trivialized it a bit), Manny and Luke, and of course, Jay and Phil adding to the awkward moments that have been pure gold since Jay flew that model plane into Phil’s face back in season one. It was all quite well done, squeezing as much as they could into the two-part finale.

2. THE FAREWELL BUILD-UP
Speaking about Jay’s model plane ‘accident’, we saw them revisiting that incident earlier in the final season with Dylan joining Jay and Phil. Phil, still craving approval and affection from his father-in-law was upset with Dylan getting special treatment, only to eventually understand why Jay was so mean to him back in the day. It was all really a part of the entire season building up to the finale—a season-long farewell in the making. Through the final season, they’ve even had episode titles such as ‘The last Thanksgiving’ and ‘The last Halloween’. The latter was also a subtle bookend, with Gloria feeling conscious about her age when someone correctly assumed she was Jay’s wife, which was a reference to the series premiere in which someone mistook her to be Jay’s daughter. Other big changes were building up as well—Claire quitting her job at Pritchett’s Closets, Jay saying goodbye to a retiring Margaret, Cam exploring the big job opportunity in Missouri, etc. In fact, in ‘The last Christmas’, in which they all get together for Christmas dinner at Mitch and Cam’s, was almost like a finale in itself, as was the final family vacation in Paris, which ended with an emotional moment in a restaurant that overlooked the Eiffel Tower. The entire season was a big finale event, and it was just the nicest way to do it, all the while never changing what the show was always about.



3. THE GROWING MODERN FAMILY TREE
It was sweet that the ever-growing family got their final member before we stopped following their lives, in the form of Rexford Tucker-Pritchett. And it didn’t feel gratuitous, because several seasons ago, Mitch and Cam had contemplated adding to their family. It wasn’t something that came out of the blue only in the last couple of episodes. So Rex joining the other new entrants to the family—Poppy, George, even Dylan, and Joe—who weren’t a part of the tree in the beginning, was a nice little nod to the evolution of this modern family.


4. THE MODERN FAMILY THAT MOVES ON
Of course, while staying true to the essence of the show, there had to be some major changes that would close the chapter of this family’s lives that we’ve witnessed. It started with Mitch and Cam deciding to move to Missouri, then Alex finding out about moving to Switzerland, Luke declaring that he'd be moving out for college, Manny's plans to travel the world, and finally Haley and Dylan deciding to get their own place with the twins. It was all just bittersweet and perfect, showing everyone’s evolution. A lovely touch was having Haley and her family move into her uncles Mitch and Cam’s old house, keeping all three scene-starter houses in the family.

5. THE FAREWELL FRAMES
The final moments of a series are always so important. It’s almost like a show that’s over is only considered to be as good as its finale. And the last few shots and frames are those that can leave a lasting impression for years—quite like the last shot of the iconic gold frame on Monica’s purple front door in FRIENDS. What MODERN FAMILY chose to do was probably as good as that, closing the episode with the exterior shots of lights going off in the three houses that started most episodes over the last 11 years. The final epilogue then showed us family photos in each of those houses, the last frame being the big season one family photo of them all dressed in white. It was all very nostalgic, emotional and symbolic. 


Of course when the Dunphys kept that porch light on for their kids who might return home, I couldn’t hold back those tears. It’s the end of an era. One of the best series ever—a modern classic—has come to an end. This is a family that will be sorely missed.




March 25, 2020

THE ‘THIS IS US’ FINALE: PEARSON DRAMA AT ITS BEST, RANDALL PEARSON AT HIS WORST

Spoiler alert: Read on only after you’ve seen the season four finale of THIS IS US, or if you don’t care about spoilers


“I’m sick of chasing ghosts,” said Kevin, as he went back into the house to tell Madison that he was ‘all in’ to be a dad to his unborn children that she was pregnant with. And I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved to hear someone say that, or something to that effect, on this show, where everyone seems to live a little too much in their past. Yes, it’s a show set across numerous timelines, and how those timelines inform each other, but sometimes the narrative should just leave the timelines of the past to tell us, the audience, what happened back when…and not be a means for the characters in the present to constantly mull over. It’s unhealthy and unreal, and it just takes away from the moment sometimes. It should be for the audience to reflect on the past, having known these characters for a while, knowing how events of the present might make them feel. Instead the show constantly forces the audience to confront the past every time a little detail in the present has even a slight connection with what’s happened before in their lives.

However, yes, it’s true that many of us carry our past as baggage, as it weighs down on everything in our present. If that starts to be a problem, there’s obviously a need to deal with what’s gone, and move on from it. Clearly, Randall Pearson has had that problem for a while now. He’s been unable to shrug off the feeling that he failed to save his father, as well as the grudge he apparently still holds against his mother for keeping his biological father—William—a secret from him. He confronted both these things with therapy, yet dealt with it all in probably the worst way he could have. On the one hand, he said that he wasn’t going to ‘re-litigate’ the whole issue of William with Rebecca, claiming that he didn’t want to jeopardize his relationship with her. And then he goes and emotionally blackmails her with exactly the same thing, to use as leverage against her to make her participate in the clinical trial that she’d already told him she didn’t want to do. If he had simply asked her to know all about the trial before turning it down, or if it had been a terminal illness that she was refusing treatment for, it would have been understandable. But he completely disregarded her wishes and is making her sacrifice probably the best nine months she has left in her life, which she’s doing out of a misguided feeling of guilt or remorse. And as we saw in the finale, even Beth doesn’t approve of this, proving to us again that Randall doesn’t deserve her. Still, when Randall tells Kevin in the finale that in the future they’d regret not doing what he was doing now, in order to have more than just those nine good months with her, I did for a second think from Randall’s perspective. But then I remembered, Rebecca is clearly in her 70s (she was most probably in her mid-30s when her almost-40-year-old kids were born), so every minute of lucid happiness with her family means the world to her, and Randall is not even willing to see that from her perspective.

And then to make things worse, Randall spews such venom on Kevin, it left me despising Randall more than I ever have (and I’ve never been a fan of Randall at any age, except for maybe sometimes liking kid-Randall). Kevin may not have assumed a sense responsibility towards the family like Randall did over the years, but that doesn’t mean he’s been absent or unavailable for his family. We’ve seen Kevin come through for his brother during Randall’s anxiety attacks more than once. He’s been Kate’s person. He’s helped Rebecca in his own ways. And he’s even been an awesome uncle to Randall’s kids. What has Randall ever done for Kevin aside from looking down on his career choices and personal life! And now he has the nerve to tell Kevin that their dad died being ashamed of Kevin… Firstly, Jack could never have been ashamed of any of his kids. Secondly, this is just Randall at his worst—trying to prove a sense of superiority by hurting his brother and dishonoring the memory of the father he wishes he had saved. And what Kevin said about the worst day of his life being the day Randall became a part of their family was clearly him lashing out at Randall trying to hurt him back. And one could see that it pained Kevin to have brought their quarrel down to that, while Randall had looked on with contempt from his high horse all along.


From a finale point of view though, their showdown was executed extremely well. It was intense without becoming hysterical, and the restraint really amped up its impact, as it highlighted the depth of the animosity. One thing was seriously lacking though—the absence of Kate in all of this. Of course she’d have something to say about all of it, and she was a part of the conversation before she took off with Toby and little Jack to the hospital. Yes that subplot was important, and eventually Kate’s reaction to the brothers’ conflict is surely going to be explored next season. But to not have her there, to mediate, take sides, or just be caught in the middle, was a missed opportunity for Pearson drama, especially considering that her relationship with Rebecca has been so good lately, and that she didn’t even get a chance to weigh in in New York.

Aside from that, it was quite a finale, despite Jack and Rebecca’s unnecessary and unrealistic seeking of emotional support from their OB/GYN. It was severely indulgent but still sweet. What was a total waste of time though was showing us Madison’s OB/GYN trying to train his horse and have a moment with his daughter (do we really care?!). I mean, there has to be a limit on how much they can delve into the individual stories and conditions of characters who are at best peripheral in the main cast’s lives (especially since the show is limited to six seasons, and just 18 episodes per season). It’s what made the season opener so frustrating, but thankfully in the finale it was far more limited than in the premiere. If they had used the time instead to involve Kate in the brothers’ altercation or at least make her a witness to it, I think the finale would have been perfection. Without it, I suppose there’s even more to look forward to in season five than there anyway would have been. There are so many unanswered questions, about Rebecca’s condition, the future, Kevin’s wedding ring in the future, Nicky in the future, Kevin and Randall’s tense-yet-optimistic body language towards each other in the future, and so much more. And let’s not forget, Kevin and Kate still don’t know exactly how Randall made Rebecca agree to the clinical trial. I do hope we see their reactions to how low Randall stooped to get what he’s sadly mistaken to believe is the best for the family.