Friday, June 23, 2017

A Brief Review of Episode 1 of "The Mist"

I will not be reviewing the ten-episode miniseries based on The Mist.  I apologize for any of you that may disappoint, but I decided after my experience with Under the Dome that I am oil and reviewing weekly television is water; we simply don't mix.
  
However, I feel obliged to at least off a few words about the pilot episode.
  
I'll begin with these words: I hope it gets better.
  
  

 
Yes, I surely do.  Because this premiere episode is pretty mediocre.  Not awful; there are going to be people calling it awful, but I can't roll with that, because I've seen Beyond Westworld, and know what awful is.  THIS is mediocre, which is another thing altogether.
  

Know this, o reader: I could easily write you a 10,000 essay on how mediocre this episode of television is.  I have the tools, and I have the talent.  I don't have the time (or, if I'm being honest, the inclination).  Work is hammering me like a nail lately, and so while I could write you that essay, I don't know where the eight hours to do so would come from.  I owe Where No Blog Has Gone Before an essay of 10,000 words or so on "Balance of Terror," so that'd be what got my time, anyways.
  
But COULD I, in fact, write it?
  
Believe it.  Because mediocrity drips off this sucker.  I knew within thirty seconds what I was in for, because the filmmaking -- acting, editing, cinematography, sound design, set design, etc. -- cued me in to the nature of this particular beast.  I've had this feeling before; any longtime viewer of genre television (certainly one of my age, 42) has seen many, many examples of it.  I'll give you one: Under the Dome, which showed its colors as a mediocrity within the first few beats of its introductory scene, too.
  
The pilot for Under the Dome is superior to the pilot for The Mist, though, and if that rocks you back on your feet a little bit, you've had the correct reaction.  Under the Dome went on from its mediocre pilot to be a genuinely bad series; I hope that that will not be the fate of The Mist, and I will certainly be watching to see.
  
One aspect in which I'd give Under the Dome the advantage is its concept.  Say what you want, but that show had a great concept, courtesy of King's excellent novel, and the pilot more or less spiked the ball that King set for them.  (Hey, volleyball reference!)  It did so in lowbrow manner, but at least it did it.  The Mist doesn't even manage that.  King set the ball in his 1980 novella, and then Frank Darabont set it again in his 2007 movie, and you'd think a television series on a cable channel named Spike would know what to do next.  
  
Uh-uh.  This series sits there like Sissy Spacek in the opening scene of Carrie, gawping at the ball in obvious confusion; she knew enough to be on the court in uniform, but beyond that, she's all static.  (And yes, for the record, I know that Carrie was spiked ON in that scene, not missing an opportunity to spike the ball herself.  It's an imperfect metaphor, so sue me.)
  
The titular mist is, here, seemingly not the (partial) result of a violent storm that knocked something loose at the Arrowhead Project.  No, there's no storm.  The filmmakers behind this series have compared it to FX's Fargo series, which is more of a riff on -- or, if you prefer, a very imaginative critical essay about -- the Coen Brothers movie of the same name.  I have no problem with that as an approach to Fargo, especially if the series is as good as that (imperfect but frequently inspired) series is.  When I heard this was the goal for and approach to The Mist, I thought that was a great idea.  I got quite excited by it.  Subsequent evidence indicated that what would be happening was that Stephen King and/or Frank Darabont's The Mist would be happening across town, and this was a sort of a parallel story.
  
It might be that I read too much into that latter bit, in which case, my bad; that's on me, guys.  The good news is that that's okay; I don't actually need this to be taking place in the same world, at the same time, as King's (or Darabont's) The Mist, provided I get a good series.
  
Thus far, this is not that.  Only one episode has aired, and that's too soon to make a judgment.
  
Except ... IS it?  In 2017, is it, really?  I don't think it is.  Circa 2017, you've got to hit the ground running if you're making a television series.  I don't know that it would be fair to expect every series to have a pilot like the Westworld pilot, or even the Fargo pilot; but I think that at this point, if you aren't at least aiming for something in the general vicinity of those pilots, you are wasting everybody's time.  I can't find the time to watch American Gods or The Handmaid's Tale or Twin Peaks, but you expect me to put up with something that would have been only so-so in 1997?
  
You're asking a lot.  You've got the name "Stephen King" up front, so I'm granting you that time; but I'll be squinting at you until you give me a reason not to, which so far, you have not.  What you've given me is a CGI mist, silly plot developments, inconsistent character development, and a decapitated dog head.  I'll give you the time; I will give you zero slack.  Am I expected to think that you having named a character "Mrs. Carmody" is enough?  Am I supposed to think that killing her almost immediately is fun?  What am I too take away from a decision like that?  Do you even know, or is this one of those things where you think a reference is enough in and of itself?  I fear that is the case, and if so, then this series is fucking doomed, because that's not storytelling, that's an Instagram feed.
  
There are things I liked relatively well here, though.  My hope now shifts away from any -- ANY -- hope of fealty to King's novella toward the hope that the original characters who have been created can find focus and move the series in an interesting direction.  The main characters are the Copelands, a husband and wife and 16-year-old daughter.  The wife is a school teacher who just got fired for teaching material she wasn't allowed to teach in a sexual education class.  Guess what?  She SHOULD have been fired for that!  Not for wanting to teach it, but for disobeying the curriculum; even if it's a shitty curriculum, it's her job to follow it.  So fuck her.  Anyways, her daughter supposedly gets raped at a party she's not allowed to attend, and her daughter has a queer best friend who's also somehow the family best friend, and none of this is exactly The Leftovers, but it's all fine.  I'm interested in the queer friend, and in the relationships he seems to have with the senior Copelands; little is made of it here, but it's potentially fertile ground.
  
So if the series can take advantage of some of that, then maybe it's got gas in its tank.  If it can't, woe unto those who watch it.
  
Other characters are less successful.  A woman on the run from something could be the sister of Barbie from Under the Dome; I like the actress playing her, but she's incredibly poorly written.  We're expected during her first scene to believe that she is a bit of a badass, and then later the tables get turned on her in an unconvincing manner that undermines all of her badassery; then, later still, not only does her badassery return, it triples.  All of this is in service of where the writer wants the story to go; none of it makes any sense on its own, as individual scenes, and therefore it has no dramatic heft to it.
  
Even worse: the police chief, and if he wasn't bad enough, his deputies are even worse.  
  
Frances Conroy, who was once on a prestige series named Six Feet Under, is set up to be a conspiracy-theorist / environmentalist-hippie type.  I loved Conroy in Six Feet Under, but I'm already dreading  the type of scenes she seems likely to be given here.
  
Bottom line: the episode just doesn't work.  What's any of this got to do with Stephen King's The Mist?  I don't know, and I should.  After one episode of Noah Hawley's Fargo, I knew what relation it bore to the Coens' Fargo.  For Spike's The Mist to have not succeeded on at least that level makes it a failure.
  
At least, so far.  It's entirely possible the subsequent nine episodes will address my concerns.  Maybe it will turn them on their head, even.  Stranger things have happened.  But this show isn't even vaguely as good as the actual Stranger Things, which also seemed to have a better handle on what makes Stephen King's work tick than this actual series with King's name on it.
  
This shit seem okay to you?
  
Nah, me neither.

25 comments:

  1. Mr. Burnette:
    I agree, in 2017 TV has to be better right out of the gate. I'm not going to waste my time watching something I don't like. There's plenty else out there that I can watch that will give me something in return - other than a headache.

    Once again, good post. Thank you.

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    1. What confuses/frustrates me is that this series appears to be a gambit from Spike to get on the map as a provider of original content. Not that it's their first series; it isn't. But with this one, they seem to be trying to compete.

      Based on the pilot, though, I wonder who it is they are trying to compete with, and who they think their audience is. If they are trying to compete with SyFy, then maybe they hit the mark in some respects; this is about as good as "Haven" (eesh).

      As for their audience, if they are aiming for the kind of people who write/read King-related blogs, then MAYBE that will work. But how many of us can there be? Not enough, that's for sure.

      I just don't see a scenario in which an executive looks at this pilot and says, "Yessir,this is what's going to move us to the next phase! Give me nine more episodes!" It baffles me.

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    2. I'm not really sure what Spike is aiming at with this series. They seem to be a bit all over the map in some respects.
      I think the executive you mention will hope that the King name has the cachet to pull the series through. I guess it worked for Under the Dome for a while.

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    3. If I recall correctly, it worked for "Under the Dome" for about one episode -- and after that, ratings began dropping off weekly. You could practically see a million people or so vanish every week. And that was on CBS!

      It just feels to me like Spike was determined to make a series based (or "based") on this specific property, and for a specific amount of money, and as long as what they got fit those criteria, they were going to be happy, provided it also meets whatever internal goal they have for viewership and/or sales to streaming services.

      It just seems to me that they ought to have aimed higher. For example, everything I've seen so far from "Mr. Mercedes" -- which is on Audience, a channel even less well-known than Spike -- looks top-notch.

      I don't want to be too down on this series until I've seen more episodes, though. It could turn out to be better than the pilot indicates.

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  2. "that's not storytelling, that's an Instagram feed."

    I desparetly hope you have not just described the future of ALL media.

    Glad I read this review / checked my email before I wasted any time on this. Like you say, time's at a premium and at this point you have minimum bars to clear to justify the expenditure of time, and extra-deductions if you flub the fundamentals/ fail to capitalize on the more obvious aspects of the enterprise.

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    1. I only hope -- speaking of enterprise -- that I'm not similarly dissatisfied with the new Trek series when it lands this fall.

      I suspect that that won't be the nature of ALL media, but I could be wrong. I'm certainly not encouraged.

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  3. Too bad about the first episode. I am a King junky though, so won't be able to stay away.

    I can't recommend Handmaid's Tale enough, it is an excellent series.

    American Gods I've watched and thought it was "ok". It is visually excellent and has great atmosphere and some pretty good acting but story itself didn't do much for me. Which I guess proves (at least for me) that story is the most important.

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    1. Story is definitely most important. I've seen the first two episodes of "American Gods" and ... appreciated them. Can't honestly say "liked" or "enjoyed." I planned to watch the rest, but lately, I just can't get stuff like that done.

      Same deal with "The Handmaid's Tale." Saw two episodes, thought they were well worth seeing more of, and just haven't been able to get back to them. I turned off my Hulu, though, so who knows when I'll catch up. I'm not a believer in paying for services like that if I can't find the time to use them, so they all got the axe a few weeks back.

      I hear you on the subject of being a King junky. I'm right there with you, but this series is looking to me like the equivalent of sifting through ashtrays looking for smokable butts.

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    2. If I'm being honest, I'd say I've reached the point where I can say its better to skip "American Gods" the series, and stick with the book.

      If you thought the episodes you saw were okay, I think I can pinpoint the reason for that. It sticks to the original text. It's at the fourth or third episode that things go downhill. They went for this whole revamp of the Laura Moon character.

      The show-runners have given her this whole go to-hell-I-don't-give-a-fig attitude, which I'll swear is the first instance of a sexist trying to be feminist and failing every step of the way.

      The worst part is in between making Laura this whiny idea of a tough girl, they then revert back to lines and plot elements from the original source material, and suddenly she's back to being one Gaiman's strong and resourceful female characters.

      The tonal shift is jarring to say the least. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg. I realized just how far off-course things went when Gillian Anderson drifts into the room as Marylin Monroe and they bring a giant rainbow unicorn.

      ...No, sadly, I'm not making any of that up, and if it sounds like I'm describing "Twin Peaks", then I'm proud to say I'm not. From then on, its been downhill.

      Something I do kind of wonder (worry?) about is whether the whole cable television boom is starting run down.

      Either way, thanks for the heads up, I can't say I know whether to tune into this version of "The Mist", however, at least I've been given food for thought.

      ChrisC

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    3. If I'm being honest, my desire to see more of "American Gods" is due almost entirely to fealty to Bryan Fuller, whose past television work I have enjoyed. But those first two episodes left me completely cold; I can't say they're bad, but they didn't speak to me in any way, didn't make me feel anything other than drunk, didn't entice me. So maybe I'll watch the rest at some point, and maybe I won't -- either way, I am not excited about it.

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  4. Great review, and I agree with all the points. Pretty worthless, and it was more like watching a SyFy original, when it should have been a prestigious HBO-like product. The characters are mostly uninteresting, and the acting talent is third rate. Not sure why the badass chick didn't just grab that bag full of cash as soon as she (easily) overpowered that guy with the gun. It was her raison d'etre, was it not? Did she think it would still be there next time she want back for it? Stupid, lazy writing.

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    1. That scene where she basically just runs away from the cash was where I realized the episode wasn't working. Because, as you say, there really is ZERO reason why she wouldn't have at least tried to still get the money. If the police had been literally right outside or something, maybe then it would make sense; but as-is, it made her seem uncharacteristically weak.

      My fear is that this is going to be precisely the kind of series "Under the Dome" was: one in which the characters simply do whatever the screenwriters need them to do to get the story from point A to point B on a weekly basis.

      I'm king of hoping that was a one-time plot contrivance undertaken so as to get her inside that jail cell next to Bryan Hunt. But, somehow, I doubt it.

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  5. I may not be able to help myself -- I may just have to leave brief comments about each episode here.

    There are a couple of cool things that happen in the final scene (one of which is a major tip-of-the-hat toward the novella [or novel, as the credits here refer to it]). But up until that point, this is one stupidity after another, with the characters here behaving even more stupidly than the characters in the tv version of "Under the Dome" do. And that is saying something.

    So all things considered, this is pretty bad. I was wondering not too long ago where all the fauxquels that were once all the rage had gone -- the "Children of the Corn" and "Sometimes They Come Back" cash-grab Kingsploitation movies. I'd neglected to consider the fact that they'd simply migrated over to television and donned the hat of official adaptations: first in "The Dead Zone," then in "Haven," then (arguably) in "Under the Dome."

    Now, "The Mist," which may as well be "Children of the Corn X: The Mist." "The Mist: Carrie 3." "Sometimes The Mist Rolls Back In!" Some bullshit like that.

    I will say, I like most of the performances. Not all of them, by any means; but most of them, and pretty much all of the major ones. They are good performances in service to nothing, but that's better than poor performances in service to nothing.

    Actually, as soon as I say that, I'm not sure I believe it; maybe it actually makes this worse, somehow.

    In any case, whatever hope I had that the pilot might merely be a mediocrity which was improved upon in subsequent episodes has been dashed against the rocks that are this second hour. If the pilot was mediocre, this episode is, for most of its runtime, genuinely bad.

    Eight more of these things to go.

    Great.

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    1. "Sometimes the Mist Comes Back" would be an awesome name for a parody, though!

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    2. It sure would! And a parody might actually have something to do with King's work, whereas this mostly doesn't.

      And damn it, I don't want to be the King fan beating his chest and insisting that IT'S GOT TO BE THE BOOK OR GTFO!!! I don't feel that, and I don't want anyone to think I do. I just ... I mean, if it isn't going to be the book, there has to be a good reason for it. So far, this series does not have a good reason; its reason for existence is blatantly to cash in on King's name, which is fundamentally the same impulse as that behind "Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return." Is this better than that? Sure. Is it more pure? Absolutely not. And I can live with that, provided nobody tries to convince me that something else is going on, which every bit of press for this series has tried to do.

      Shit, even King has given it a thumbs-up! So in his book, that's a thumbs up for this mess and a thumbs down for Stanley Kubrick. Shaking my damn head (and refusing to use an acronym for it) over here.

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    3. "So in his book, that's a thumbs up for this mess and a thumbs down for Stanley Kubrick"

      Hear, hear! WTF Uncle Steve...

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    4. Bless his heart, though. I mean, I never get the sense he's just shilling. I think, all things considered, he's just a b-movie kind of guy. You could line up all the Tarkovskys and Bergmans in the world and he'd opt for "Night of the Lepus."

      I wouldn't have it any other way, either. I still shake my head at it sometimes, but I wouldn't change it at all.

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  6. Hmm. Interesting. So ... I actually kinda liked episode 3. Not in a way that makes up for the deficiencies of the first two episodes, granted; but on its own, it's a much better episode than either of them.

    The acting continues to mostly be pretty good. I like the queer kid and Dexter's mother from "Six Feet Under" and the gay dude from "Frasier" and the druggie woman; they're all really good, and if the writing was up the their level, this show might have something.

    It's closer this week, so we'll see where it goes from here.

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  7. Episode 4

    Not particularly good. Some of what's going on is interesting and compelling. For example, Frances Conroy is terrific and creepy as Natalie, whose story this week involves trying to save a really heinous-looking spider. Dan Butler is really good, too, playing the Reverend who is steadily growing in his opposition to her.

    Everything else this week was iffy at best, and as dumb as a corncob at worst.

    I'll give you an example. There's a scene in which a bunch of characters are "trapped" inside a glass-doored bookstore. Some mist has gotten inside (in a feat of geography that seems implausible), and there is a group of people on the other side of the doors who are standing there watching in horror at the mist does its thing. One of them is the mother of a little girl who is "trapped" inside the bookstore. Everyone, including the mother, just stands there and watches as a monster of some sort shows up and sucks the little girl's face off, or something. Kills her, at any rate. Why? Because they don't want to let the mist into the rest of the mall. Moments later, another daughter -- the one of the main character -- shows up, having apparently survived meeting the same monster. They just open the doors and let her into the mall. If you're wondering why this isn't what they did when the other girl showed up, well, join the club. The answer is: because the stupid screenplay wanted to kill the one girl and keep the other one alive. Nothing more sensible or dramatic than that. Plot shenanigans in the midst (pardon the pun) of poorly-written nonsense.

    Bad show, folks. Bad show.

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  8. The fifth episode managed, against all odds, to be even worse than the fourth.

    It is clear beyond any question now than Christian Torpe has no clue what he is doing, no talent, and no business having been given this job. Maybe he's a great guy. I dunno. Let's assume so. But he clearly has no interest in Stephen King, and if he says he does, you will have just heard the words of a liar. This series has nothing to do with the novella "The Mist." It has nothing to do with the movie "The Mist." I don't know what this series is supposed to be, but it's NOT "The Mist," not even in spirit.

    Another thing it isn't? "Fargo," which Torpe routinely mentioned in pre-release interviews as being a point of comparison for his series. "Fargo" the FX series bears thematic, stylistic, and (potentially) plot relationship to "Fargo" the Coen Brothers movie, however. The same equation does not apply to this abomination Spike is calling "The Mist."

    This week's episode involved Mike taking "Bryan" (not actually Bryan, and don't ask, 'cause I don't care and neither do you) to the hospital. So yeah, when the plot wants them to be able to do so, people can just go wherever on this show. Fuck you, Christian Torpe. Anyways, Mike finds his brother there, with a piece of rebar stuck in his stomach; because when the plot wants things like that to happen as a result of being in the mist, that's what happens. Fuck you, Christian Torpe. Anyways, as a doctor says, "the mist is in the east wing," so they can't get to an operating room. So Mike takes his shitty brother there, and uses a walkie for the doctor to talk him through the surgery, and then the brother dies anyways because leeches fall from the ceiling. I think he explodes or something. I was brushing my cat and was no longer actually watching by then.

    All of this is enhanced by "Lost"-style flashbacks to Mike and Eve's fractured marriage. Fuck you, Christian Torpe. Eve has great legs and you get some nice sideboob from her, and yes, I have to resort to being a degenerate pervert in order to enjoy anything in this episode.

    Meanwhile, Adrian seduces a jock in the hopspital, a typo which I will not correct, and that scene is at least kind of interesting because it feels like there is something actually at stake for the characters. You'd think a brother trying to save his brother's life would count for that, but no, sure doesn't.

    "Under the Dome" was better than this, and by a considerable margin. Fuck you, Christian Torpe.

    Oh, and once again, a talent-free television showrunner is proving their King-fan stripes by inserting lame homages. Here, we get (among other things) a patient in the hospital staying in "room 237."

    Here's the thing about that. That's from the Kubrick movie, which I love, but which King himself hates. He hates it so much that he brings it up in interviews when he hasn't even been asked about it. And in his novel, it's room 217. So you, Christian Torpe, you hack, decide to pay homage to King by shouting out the movie he hates? It's almost as if you don't actually know a GOD DAMN THING about King's actual work...

    Yeah... yeah, it's almost EXACTLY like that, isn't it?

    Fuck you, Christian Torpe.

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  9. Episode #6. Should have been asleep instead of watching this dog's-breakfast of a series; I gotta be at work in 8 hours and 8 minutes, which means seven hours of sleep at most. Thing is, I am shit at sleeping, so even if I'd tried, I'd probably have failed.

    But I'm better at sleeping than the people making "The Mist" are at making a television series. They tried, and THEY failed, and while I do pretty good at sleeping two or three times a week, these chuckle-monkeys are 0-for-6 thus far. Or maybe 1-for-6; I did kind of like the third episode.

    And what continues to depress me is the way, several times an episode, you'll get hints of the type of show this could have been. The acting continues to be mostly okay, and while that isn't enough, it's at least something.

    But the writing is a failure at virtually every step. This week, Army Guy With No Memory (who found the real Bryan Hunt last week, conveniently laying around a hospital room) gets in a Diet Bourne style fight. Now, this is silly, because he just got shot in the leg and had major surgery for it. But that's okay, on account of the guy he's fighting having a broken arm. And yet, these two go at it like they're in tip-top condition. Why? I'll tell you why: because the writers wanted to reveal in episode 5 that Bryan Hunt is not actually Bryan Hunt, but did not want to actually keep somebody around who could EXPLAIN anything, so they had the fake B.H. kill the real B.H. And since they want us to like the fake one, they did it in such a way as to make it count as self-defense.

    Elsewhere, the junkie woman goes BACK to that house where her mother used to live. She gets trapped in the mist and has a close call with "her mother." See, the mist is deadly within a few seconds if the show wants it to be; but if it doesn't, it isn't.

    In this episode, they try to make that part of the story. The mist reacts to each person individually, you see.

    Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck that.

    This is adapfaketion nonsense. This is SKINO bull-mess right here, Stephen King In Name Only doodoo straight from a bull's butthole. Oh, yeah, sure, I got the "1408" reference. I didn't like it. All you got is plagiarism masquerading as homage? Get bent.

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    1. "Straight from a bull's butthole."

      ha!

      I hope for my own reading pleasure you continue to watch this and leave angry reviews, because they're fun. But who'd blame you if you stopped?
      Sounds awful!

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    2. If I were ranking what I'd seen so far, I'd probably have one or two "Children of the Corn" movies ranked ahead of it. It's that bad.

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  10. Episode #7 --

    Like the third episode, this one kind of works, and it's because there is a consistency of tone, as well as a lack of cheese. Nothing special; don't misunderstand me and think that the show is on the upswing, because that is not my perception of the show's trajectory. Still, on its own, this was okay.

    Except for Frances Conroy's butt double. Not convincing. Also, unnecessary. Why go that route?

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  11. Episode #8 --

    Okay, well, with a few scenes excepted, this was actually a pretty good episode. It took full advantage of the talents of several members of the cast, and in so doing indicated what kind of show this COULD have been. It still feels too late for it turn things around this late in the season, but I have to say, I feel more optimistic about that now than I did two weeks ago.

    If that does end up happening, though, it only makes the bad episodes all the more unforgivable.

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