With Rectify, Top of the Lake, and The Returned, SundanceTV made a name for itself in 2013, creating and/or distributing thoughtful, stylish short-run television. The Red Road,their first series of 2014 and only second original series (the first being Rectify), doesn’t live up to these antecedents, at least in its pilot, but is nonetheless interesting. While it lacks the emotional depth and gorgeous visuals of these other series, the pilot makes the case for following for this first, six-episode season thanks to two of its central performances and its unique setting.
Second seasons are notoriously difficult to pull off. We saw the collapse of Homeland after putting together an exciting debut season, and it’s certainly not alone in recent promising shows that have struggled to improve upon themselves—or even just prevent themselves from declining. Two shows, though, have really stood out to me this year in terms of upping their games in their second seasons. Both Arrow (The CW) and Banshee (Cinemax) have come from relatively meager beginnings to grow into two of the most entertaining and rewarding TV experiences for me at the moment.
In a lot of ways, The Good Wife is a show that takes its time. Part of this comes from its status as a network drama, which requires it to produce 22 hours of television a season and thus, to stretch its storylines over longer periods than its cable brethren. Yet mostly, this is a stylistic choice for the show, one that allows it to develop characters in moments, over time. Every week, the show needs to create some procedural element to hook in new viewers, but by allowing for small character moments even in its most stand-alone episodes, The Good Wife allows us to learn its characters over time, until all it needs to deploy is a glance or a gesture to shake us to our core.
In last week’s review, I talked a little bit about how the decision to keep Rabbit around for another season might have been an understandable misstep for the freshman series, Banshee. “Bullets and Tears” makes the best case possible for why Rabbit’s presence this season has at least been important in helping develop the relationship between the man known as Lucas Hood (or Tom Palmer, as he would have been known in another life) and Anastasia. And even though I would have liked to have seen more Proctor or Chayton in the main antagonist roles this season (more on that below), “Bullets and Tears” is about as perfect of an ending to the Rabbit years of Banshee as you could get.
After an excellent episode last week, Black Sails picks up right where it left off. Following a beautifully-shot ship battle, Flint and his crew find themselves in a bit of a stalemate after boarding the ship they’ve attacked. Most of the action here takes place a night, giving the scenes an appropriately dark atmosphere as Gates tries to come up with some kind of plan to infiltrate the holding without getting his men killed. Meanwhile, Billy is becoming more and more skeptical of Flint’s intentions, creating both a physical and verbal tension in much of the episode. By the end, Billy winds up overboard, and though not seeing a dead body in an episode of television is a good indication that a character is still alive, it’s a good indication of just how far Flint is willing to go and how low his moral compass swings. There’s an obstacle? Great. Overcome it. Even if that obstacle is an ally who is universally liked by the rest of the crew? A goal is a goal. Gates raises an eyebrow at the whole situation, especially after Flint takes the sword to drop in the water during the nautical funeral service held for the fallen pirates. Flint is crafty and a solid actor when he wants to be; but his shipmates aren’t as dumb as he thinks they are, so some sort of reckoning is certainly on the horizon.
In “Flo”, Bruce Eric Kaplan ditches the entire main and supporting cast, except for Hannah (Lena Dunham) and Adam (Adam Driver), and decides to show her, her mother (Becky Ann Baker), aunts, and cousin Rebecca (Sarah Steele) visiting her dying grandmother Flo (played by Academy Award nominated June Squibb). This episode places the episode’s focus solely on Hannah and her relationship with her family and shows that maybe she isn’t so bad after all. Her behavior at her editor’s funeral pales in comparison to her mother and aunts who are fighting over Flo’s pills and possessions. Kaplan uses Hannah’s various relatives to look at the different sides of her personality. Flo is where she gets her sense of humor and positive attributes from. Some of her negative attributes come from her mother and aunts. And Rebecca is like a darker version of Hannah, who is more serious and doesn’t have someone like Adam to ground her. “Flo” is another episode without much of a plot, but it is an excellent character study and look at how people never really grow up despite getting older.