Monday, June 27, 2016

Ranting On...Game of Thrones and Veep


For years now, my favorite night of the week has been Sunday nights in terms of television.  That has meant different things at different times (Murder, She Wrote, Desperate Housewives, The Simpsons), but it has meant for the past few years HBO original programming for at least a good chunk of the calendar.  Perhaps no part of the year has meant that more than when I got the double-feature of Game of Thrones and Veep.  Sometimes I'd watch both live (Game of Thrones really has to be seen live), but the finales I always stay up late and watch in real-time, just so that what the entire season was building toward I can actually take it in and process.  And usually that's a reward worth watching.  Whether it's Selina Meyer getting her opportunity to become president on the same night that Arya sets sail to the West, or the dramatic twin cliffhangers of a stabbed Jon Snow and a presidential tie, these shows know more than any the way to my heart and have always ended their seasons on enormous high notes.  Until last night.  I have many thoughts about last night, but the reaction is tinged with a little bit of "ehh" and also a lot of "I don't think so" in the case of one of the finales, and so I'm going to get that out into the universe as we begin our Monday morning.

Game of Thrones-I think the thing that really stuck out to me about Game of Thrones was the first thirty minutes were SO much better than the rest of the episode, it was kind of ridiculous.  That rocking cello music meant we knew something extraordinary was going to happen, and I loved the way that they played with us a bit, having the Mountain show up at Tommen's door (you knew the second Tommen betrayed his mother he was going to end up dying one way or the other), making us think that Cersei had her own son killed to save her neck only to realize once again she was saving his life, or the look on Margery's face when she realized that she had been vindicated, all of the high nobles and religious fanatics of King's Landing being destroyed in a sea of wildfire, but she had to die to get there.

And yet, those moments, as brutal as they were (Margery's death easily being the most shocking since Robb Stark's three seasons ago, and one few if any people actually predicted), they felt a little bit tagged on with the rest of the series.  It's hard for me to say this about a show that has largely been able to discard the obvious in season-after-season (so many unexpected deaths), but that's not really true, is it?  Since the Red Wedding we haven't really experienced a particularly shocking death on the show until last night.  Tyrion killing his father makes sense, as does Jon Snow dying and coming back to life (everyone predicted it), and in general nothing particularly galling has happened in the past few seasons save for Ramsey, and that story-line needed some work.  Don't get me wrong-some of the past few seasons have been my favorite bits of television for those years.  After all, the acting on the show has gotten tremendously good, with the series accidentally stumbling across two very great child actors (Williams and Turner), a thespian of enormous skill (Headey), and potentially a new matinee idol (Harington).  But the question here is what happens next.

The rest of the episode, after all, went exactly as planned.  We knew Lady Olenna would join with Dorn, we knew that Jon would be proclaimed King of the North, we knew Baelish would confess that he wants Sansa as his wife, we knew Arya would come to the Riverlands and kill Walder Frey, and we knew the true parentage of Jon Snow.  All-in-all, everything else that happened was in a dramatic fashion, and occasionally beautifully-acted (Headey ascending the Iron Throne being a particular highlight), but the course before us is relatively simple, and don't say on Game of Thrones that nobody is safe, because there aren't really a lot of options here.  It's either Dany, Jon, or Dany/Jon.  HBO is too big of a television network to watch Westeros fall complete prey to the White Walkers, and they have made Cersei too great of a villain to not eventually offer her to the sword of her brother or Arya Stark.  Yes, we'll likely see some major characters in the next two seasons falter (Cersei, Jamie, Baelish, Brienne, and even Tyrion come to mind), but it will almost surely end with Dany and Jon sitting on the Iron Throne, or its proxy.  Keeping someone like Margery Tyrell, who never really got to fulfill her promise as a character, around was a gambit and a wild card.  This season was all about killing off every beloved side character that the show could think of, but it would have been more interesting if they'd kept at least one character around such as Margery (perhaps pregnant with Tommen's baby) to keep us guessing as to the ultimate ending.

Also, watching Finn Jones get carved to pieces by religious fanatics, followed by being blown apart was a bit jarring in a way I hadn't anticipated (I had, after all, predicted Loras would fall this season) considering how hatred toward gay people in recent days has been all around us.  Renly, Oberyn, and now Loras have all died horrific deaths.  Here's to hoping that Yara Greyjoy can at least carry on as the only living LGBT character on the show, but it's disappointing they couldn't let at least one male character make it through without intolerance or lack of intelligence taking him down.

Veep-I can chalk up in some ways my general malaise about the Game of Thrones finale to perhaps a bit of anguish over its imminent demise.  The final few seasons of any show exhibit a decline in quality (for my opinion, most long-running television series have their best season in season 4, as the first couple of years are growing pains and the last few are tying up loose ends, but season 4 is almost always the best of the bunch), but Game of Thrones has by-and-large been my favorite show on TV since its start six years ago, and that didn't change last night or this season-it's still appointment viewing and one of my favorite things to watch each week.

Veep, on the other hand, had me deeply conflicted last night.  Veep has long been a show that I have run hot-and-cold with, and it's perhaps because it is too close to something else I love.  I adore politics and film (TV I only love if it's a select show, not a blanket love like the cinema), so whenever the two combine I am either going to be enthralled (The West Wing) or completely loathe (House of Cards).  Veep, so funny and brilliantly-acted and generally well-written, has mostly been love but occasionally they make me so frustrated I feel like I can't actually keep watching.  The end of last season I remember vowing to myself if they made Selina Meyer lose the election I would give myself permission to quit watching, and then they gave us the tie and I was forced into/blessed into another season, one that gave us some really great patter (Dan/Amy, Jonah for Congress, Sue running the world).  The end of this season, though, when not only Selina but also Tom James are out-maneuvered, is ridiculously over-the-top and badly misjudged the audience's want for Selina Meyer to get her comeuppance.

I watched last week impressed, but knowing that the likely answer for the next season was going to be Selina Meyer becoming the VP again, perhaps for a few episodes, and then Tom James dying or being forced to resign so she once again accidentally becomes president.  This week Tom James was out-maneuvered by Vice President Doyle, who breaks a shock tie in the Senate and actually casts a vote for the opposite party.

I'm sorry, but that doesn't happen, period.  The reality is that there would be huge public media whips of the members of the Senate over this vote and enormous pressure from the media to forecast what would happen on the Senate floor.  It wouldn't be a surprise, end of story.  All Democrats from Meyer states (come on-it's obvious she's supposed to be a Democrat even if they never say the party label) and all Republicans from O'Brien states would be forced to support their nominees or risk being castrated their next primary.  The swing votes would be Democrats from O'Brien/Republicans from Meyer, but those would be relatively few in a true political system, and would have been heavily targeted by James and the press, and quite frankly they probably would have supported their state's nominee in almost all cases because that's what would have happened.  The fact that they could be surprised, again, is ridiculous after last week's House vote.  And if there's one thing I hate on a television show is when they have to suspend the show's reality in order to give us a twist in the plot-it's lazy writing, and extraordinarily disappointing without having some other invisible shoe drop.  Say what you will about Game of Thrones, but at least everything last night on that program made sense.

The other part is: we didn't want Selina Meyer to lose.  The show's producers are saying they will now explore the life of an unpopular former president, but we already know how that works because we saw it in the show's first three seasons, which were never as good as the ones where Selina Meyer, fully unprepared for the job but clearly in command, was the president.  We saw that she had little respect, was overshadowed by another person, and that's a tune every one of us has heard over-and-over again. A series of book tours, unimpressed secret service agents, publicly being derided by former members of her administration, and things like that I don't know if I can watch it.  In many ways it mirrors the disappointing Seinfeld finale where they misread how much the audience had come to love essentially terrible people (and it's not a coincidence, in my opinion, that there are multiple members of the Seinfeld team involved here).  Perhaps it's because I've never felt more petrified to lose an election in my life this November (I'd gladly take President Romney over even having to think about what might happen this fall), but watching my candidate lose in such a way, where someone tricks their way to the White House on a technicality is the stuff of nightmares.  And even if the finale gave us some brilliant work from Julia Louis-Dreyfus (crying on that bleacher, listening to what should have been her parade), it also gave me a moment with a woman who never got her chance to be the first woman elected president, and instead saw that moment stolen, and that's WAY too close to home for me right now.  Couple that with the prospect of just having to watch Selina Meyer be degraded for another season, and I have trouble seeing how I can look forward to Season 6.

Those are my thoughts on last night's finales-how about yours?  Are you already counting the days (I am for GoT, Veep I'm going to need some time), or are you thinking that this is time to call it in?  Share your thoughts below!

No comments: