THE STRAIN Recap: “Loved Ones”

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In “The Disappeared,” I criticized The Strain when it came to emotional moments.  The show has excelled in badassery, but its character interactions can feel forced, particularly during supposedly tender moments.  After “Loved Ones,” though, I retract that statement in part.  The Strain went back to its early episode formula; that is, it showed a full transformation and the effects because of it, and for the most part, it worked really well.  What didn’t work was everything else.  But The Strain knows just how to insert enough of its entertainment worms into us that even when it’s not at its best, it still keeps us hooked. Part of “Loved Ones” was excellent, and part of it was ridiculous, but would it be The Strain if it were anything less?  Hit the jump to find out who put me in charge.

MASTERS OF SEX Recap: “Below the Belt”

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At the end of “Story of My Life,” Masters of Sex’s study turned personal in a new way for Bill and Ginny.  Bill, finally admitting his impotence problem (and not just trying to deal with it using Lester as a substitute), found a way to incorporate Ginny’s desire to have them study sexual dysfunction, while also treating his own.  Though their methods differ (Ginny initially wanted to consider psychology, while Bill is adamant about the physiology of a “cure”), they are united on a personal level.  But Bill’s pride, as always, creates problems.  Hit the jump for why despair is the greatest sin.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE Recap: “The Good Listener”

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Was Boardwalk Empire‘s episode title referring to viewers this week?  It might as well have been.  “The Good Listener” was essentially a slate of conversations, mostly had by Nucky, that updated us on the current gangster alliances (which are always shifting).  It also was a reminder that if you don’t listen to every conversation, and catch every name, there’s a chance it won’t be repeated again and you’ll never catch up.  Even those with a photographic memory might have trouble telling apart all of these well-tailored white gangsters and politicians apart (and is there a difference?)  In this final season, it makes one wonder why kind of show Boardwalk Empire is aiming to be.  Hit the jump if you find it easier sometimes to despise someone rather than love them.

RAY DONOVAN Recap: “Volcheck”

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RAY DONOVAN Recap: "Volcheck"

So much of Ray Donovan this season has hinted at possible catharsis for Ray, and what the consequences are the longer he denies his past.  “Volcheck” was about that, but even more generally about fear.  Ray fears confronting his past, but is also a fearsome figure for many (like Ronald, and to a certain degree Mickey).  Abby fears retaliation on Bridget by Cooke Brown, while Terry fears he’ll lose Frances and his dreams of escape unless he throws his lot in with Mickey.  And Avi, who has been critical of Ray all season, seems concerned about his boss, and where Ray is taking them.  Hit the jump if you like to swim in the ocean naked.

THE KNICK Recap: “They Capture the Heat”

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After watching so many Fall pilots in which everything is spelled out and set up in sometimes excruciating “telling but not showing” detail, The Knick is a breath of fresh air from the other side of the spectrum.  But for The Knick, it’s also not about style over substance (like, say, Boardwalk Empire‘s latest premiere) or telling vignettes that don’t seem to propel the story forward in any way (like much of Masters of Sex this season).  Instead, it swims along, connecting everything back to the premise of early 20th century medicine in a number of different ways, while keeping them all interesting.  Hit the jump for why “it’s a crying shame all those pretty silver stitches are going to seal up that fat man.”

SONS OF ANARCHY Season Seven Premiere Recap: “Black Widower”

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Sons of Anarchy has always made bold choices, but nothing could have been more controversial or far-reaching within the world of SAMCRO than its sixth season finale.  It was the culmination of struggles that existed on several different planes on the show: Gemma and Tara, Jax and Clay, and between a motorcycle club in theory versus and an outlaw gang in practice.  The back-and-forth that has taken place over the last six seasons, though, now has a clear resolution.  As the show’s final season begins, it’s also clear that the focus is going to be on endings — and most of them personal.  Hit the jump for why “I am the only thread holding this family together.”

MASTERS OF SEX Recap: “Story of My Life”

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masters of sex recap

In “Story of My Life,” Bill and Ginny both used surrogates to gain unexpected, deeper understandings of themselves.  This season of Masters of Sex has not been as even as most of us had hoped, having both some great episodes (“Fight”) and some clunkers (last week’s “Mirror, Mirror” to name but one).  Many of Masters‘ best stories come from characters who aren’t Masters or Johnson, but what made “Story of My Life” one of the better episodes this season was that it took that idea and applied it to Masters and Johnson, making them better in the process.  Hit the jump if you like French New Wave.

THE LEFTOVERS Season One Finale Recap: “The Prodigal Son Returns”

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For those who were ambivalent about The Leftovers, but decided to at least finish out the season, the finale was the make or break moment.  In a season with great highs and very, very deep lows, there was a hope that things might settle down into something decent at least.  Though creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta said they didn’t agree on whether the show was supernaturally-oriented or not, it seemed possible that the finale would help clear that up as it steered its story towards the future, and a second season.  But what we got was “The Prodigal Son Returns.”  Hit the jump; I’ll be dead in a minute.

THE STRAIN Recap: “The Disappeared”

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After last week’s excellent Walking Dead-esque “Creatures of the Night,” things went back to normal in The Strain‘s “The Disappeared.”  The gang continues to assemble, the virus spreads, more backstory about Abraham and Eichhorst and the Master is revealed, and we learned that even in times of apocalypse, there’s plenty of time for lovemakin’ (but only if you make it clear to the person immediately afterwards that it meant nothing to you).  Also, that kids are really into fighting vampires, and are not afraid to burn some bodies along the way.  Hit the jump for why “there’s power in naming things.”

BOARDWALK EMPIRE Recap: Season 5 Premiere, “Golden Days for Boys and Girls”

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The first episode of Boardwalk Empire‘s final season was a dreamy meditation, punctuated by violence.  That’s also a pretty good way to describe the series at its best.  “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” also set the stage for what Boardwalk‘s final season is going to look like as a whole: acknowledging the pull of the past, but focused on moving forward.  Moving forward also means a time jump from Season 4′s 1924 setting all the way to 1931.  Hit the jump if you are an honest and true boy (or girl).

RAY DONOVAN Recap: “Snowflake”

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ray donovan recap snowflake

Though Ray Donovan‘s “Snowflake” was largely focused on the fallout from “Sunny’s” brutal murders, it was also still about the show’s central theme of how Ray, and what he does, affects his family.  As Detective Halloran tells him (after Ray threatens him to stay away from his kids): “you’re the one who turned your daughter into a liar.”  By the end of “Snowflake,” Ray’s cracks about decisions like those were starting to show.  Is he really ready to confront things?  Hit the jump for Shorty’s 9/11 Truther theories.

THE KNICK: “Where’s The Dignity?”

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At some point I’m going to stop pointing out that what makes The Knick such an engrossing watch is Steven Soderbergh‘s direction, but we’re not at that point yet.  Consider everything that Soderbergh’s unique filmic sensibilities do to make The Knick different from other period or medical dramas, and you’ll see that without that visual distinction, The Knick would still be good, but it might not be special.  The cast and the narrative are all great, but what brings it all together — what makes it shine, and really stand apart — is the direction.  Hit the jump for why “If he dies because of your horseshit, I will stab you in the throat with my father’s Union Army sword.”

THE STRAIN Recap: “Creatures of the Night”

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Something is going on with current TV shows where (this week in particular) a capsule, single-focus episode sneaks in around mid-season.  It’s a good thing.  It’s also a great way for character development, instead of having the plot jump all over town, whipping from story to story.  The device also makes the show feel more novelistic, and acts as a great stand-alone (one of those episodes, too, that you can point to to get new viewers interested).  “Creatures of the Night” was all of that, and it continued The Strain‘s track record of improving every single week.  Hit the jump to put it to a vote: “who wants to stay and die?”

MASTERS OF SEX Recap: “Mirror, Mirror”

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The hope for Masters of Sex was that it would have a second season renaissance that would collate the best parts of its first season, and leave the rest in the dust.  Masters had a good first season, but none of it came together as beautifully as it did in just its second season premiere.  Since then, only “Fight” has really been exceptional, and instead of taking flight, Masters‘ second season has gotten stalled out in some tedium (like the fact that an episode that spanned three years only covered, essentially, one conversation, then ended up back where things started).  “Mirror, Mirror” had some great moments (mostly thanks to Flo), but still felt like more of the same.  Hit the jump if you’ve been a very naughty orthopedist.

RAY DONOVAN Recap: “Sunny”

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The best laid plans of Ray and kin often go astray.  The overarching irony of Ray Donovan is that for a fixer, Ray isn’t very good when it comes to his own family.  The truth about him laundering money through the gym to help support Terry (as well as clean Ray’s money) ends up alienating Terry completely.  The house in Trusdale meant nothing to Abby without Ray’s emotional support behind it, and she finally challenges his years of cheating on her.  Ray was willing to allow Cookie Brown to take hold of Marvin’s life, so long as he moved him to South Beach to keep him away from Bridget.  But that, too, turned sour quickly.  Hit the jump for Ray’s other misdeeds, and how it all might get put back together again.

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