Reviews

Oxstu’s writers review the latest releases.

Review: Mad Men ‘Time Zones’

Review: Mad Men ‘Time Zones’

Where some would say that a three-angled shot of a recently-shaved Don Draper is excessive, three angles cannot even begin to cover the many sides of Don that have gradually been revealed through the past six seasons of the hit show Mad Men. By the first episode of season seven the Mad Men cast is undoubtedly well established, uneasily familiar, and unashamedly entering, or even striding into the 70s. The opening scene introduces Freddy Rumson giving a pitch for the watch brand ‘accutron’. The pitch is aimed at Peggy, but filmed to only reveal the speaker. This effect, like the rest of the pitch, acts as an uncanny meta-commentary of Weiner’s framing for the rest of this episode. Rumson suggests an advert that moves from black and white to colour, from boredom to interest, to the modern, and most importantly to the appearance of the ‘accutron’ watch, a reminder of the precious time we have left. Perhaps more important than these qualities is, however, the ‘hum’ of the technology in which he suggests the advert eventually concludes, overwhelming and the audience.

This hum is echoed throughout the episode. We hear it in the moving walkway through which Don enters and in the television that Don imposes on Megan’s bachelorette pad. Perhaps the hum is heard most literally in the sound techniques of the airplane scene, surreptitiously and bizarrely mocking Don’s confessions, or perhaps boasts, to a total stranger. Yet the greatest comment made through the technological hum comes in the form of Megan’s new sports car, which quite literally allows her to take the steering wheel in her own hands. Indeed she is driving Don to her business meeting to celebrate her own success, a journey that leaves a bad taste in our mouth as we remember Don’s personal probation following the disastrous Hershey’s pitch at the end of season six. Megan is not the only woman who has come to her own, in an equally short skirt Joan Holloway takes to a business meeting under Ken Cosgrove, single handedly fighting chauvinism for the SC&P Butler Footwear account. Similarly Peggy Olsen speaks up under her new boss Lou for Freddy Rumson’s accutron pitch. With the ladies in the lead in the work place, we are left with the men lagging behind, sporting a delayed hangover from the party of the last decade. We find Roger Stirling, named partner, appearing naked bar a crotch-covering telephone, surrounded by uncountable women, and lying on an unnamed floor in an unnamed building. Don, on leave, joins the mad men out in the midday sun of L.A., ironically dining in a New York – esque diner with everyone’s favourite, Pete Campbell, as awful as ever, only this time in shorts and a tan. Indeed amongst the women, alcohol, cigarettes and suits, it seems Weiner may be pushing the audience to listen to the Peggy’s words – ‘it’s time for a conversation’.

Right on cue Freddy Rumson enters Don’s glamorous city flat, metaphorically equipped with an open balcony door to allow for a biting breeze, he nods to Don, starting the conversation with – ‘You’re giving me a good name’. So we are left to ask what’s in a name? What has Don Draper done and what will he do? Just as we think we have returned to a more measured state of affairs, complete with a confessionary, moral Don, business acknowledgment (almost) for women, and the sun of L.A. to balance the snow of New York, we meet Peggy sliding down the back her apartment-for-one door in tears. In close succession Don strides into the snow on his balcony. Whilst the camera toys with suicidal angles, we watch a man who has filled a name and a character collapse to the fetal position, shivering to the sounds of Vanilla Fudge’s ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’. If the last six seasons have given us someone we thought we knew, it is clear that closing the curtains on Don is not going to be an easy task.

Photo/zap2it

 

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Review: The Lunchbox

Review: The Lunchbox

On the basis of its plot alone, you might walk into The Lunchbox expecting a kind of Bollywood You’ve Got Mail. Prepare instead for a refined meditation on loneliness that is at once genuine and effortlessly heartwarming.

Set in modern day Mumbai, the debut film of writer-director Ritesh Batra begins when Ila (Nimrat Kaur, known prominently in India as a theatre actress and internationally for her Cadbury commercial), hoping to reignite the interest of her increasingly distant husband, prepares with love and care for him a meal that is to arrive at his job via the city’s lunch delivery men, the dabbawallahs. This 125 year old system, which delivers daily to hundreds of thousands of Mumbai’s workers, is best known for its consistent efficiency, with Harvard Business School concluding that only one in every million deliveries goes wrong. For reasons that are not made apparent to the viewer, Ila’s is that one in a million. Her feast reaches Saajan (Irrfan Khan of Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi), a widower in the last weeks before retirement from his job at an insurance company and about to be replaced by a young newcomer (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). The meal is a jolt to Saajan’s senses, breaking the monotony of the second-rate restaurant from which he usually orders and of his daily routine generally. Ila quickly realizes that her husband is not receiving her food and out of intrinsic curiosity includes a note within the stack of naan bread in a subsequent delivery. And because Saajan so obviously appreciates her cooking she continues to send it as their letters increase in length.

But the film focuses less on their relationship and more on how the exchange affects their ability to maneuver their individual worlds. Much of the dialogue consists of the voiceover narration of their letters, underlining how the exchange is more for themselves than for each other. As Saajan admits to Ila,“We forget things if we have no one to tell them to.” Indeed, the film beautifully illustrates how loneliness arises when one’s world becomes increasingly confined which, ironically, is more than likely in a city of 11 million people. Not only does Ila suffer a distant husband, but her sole confidant besides the anonymous Saajan – in the letters he does not reveal his name – is an upstairs neighbor who is never physically present. Their conversations, which invariably begin when Ila cries “Auntie” with an infectious cadence, consist of them calling out to each other from their individual units. Saajan’s mourning of the death of his wife and the impersonal nature of his job have made him box himself in and reinforce his own loneliness. Consistently, for instance, when the children in his neighborhood play around his apartment, he shrewdly sends them away. Then in the evening from his balcony he watches them through their windows at dinner with their families, longing for a time when he could claim such connection for himself.        

Thus the viewer’s interest draws not so much from the question of whether Saajan and Ila will come together as from whether they will be able to break from the confines causing their loneliness. This is especially compelling with regards to Ila since her confines are, to a greater extent than Saajan, beyond her control. Even when she tries to tell a dabawallah of the mistaken deliveries, he dismisses her, saying that “men from Harvard came” and confirmed the system’s efficiency. So she doesn’t even get a say in who receives her cooking. And with her brother, who committed suicide sometime in the past, as her only example of someone who “broke free” one wonders whether the exchange of letters will bring her a greater sense of control or reaffirm her sense of powerlessness. While Saajan feels equally trapped, the nature of his confines stems more from the way he has reacted to his own situation. As he grows closer throughout the film with his newcomer-to-be than he thought possible and his qualities of sensitivity and dignity become more apparent, one hopes that his neuroses will not continue to overwhelm him.

Finally, if the film’s effective blend of melancholy, introspection and organic charm does not sound worth the price of admission, its potential redirecting of Indian cinema should. Its neorealism is not characteristic of India’s commercial successes in recent years. “My parents were worried for me when I showed it to them,” says Batra. “My mum couldn’t understand why I hadn’t included any songs.” But by the film’s fifth week it was still playing on over 300 screens before it went on to win the viewers choice award (the Rail d’Or) at Cannes and cause a public stir when the Film Federation of India myopically neglected to submit it for the best Foreign Film Oscar. Indeed, the fact that much of the plot is constructed around characteristics of life in Mumbai has only added to its appeal. But although Batra has shown that a film can have a quiet, introspective tone, can have the elements and setup of a romance without necessarily being one, and still gain commercial success, it is still uncertain whether a slew of films that attempt to mirror this achievement is forthcoming. With certainty, however, it is an extraordinary achievement for a first-time director, and if he remains the only one making films like this, it will be a welcome development nonetheless.

Photos// artsatl,dfuse

Review: Game of Thrones ‘The Lion and the Rose’

Review: Game of Thrones ‘The Lion and the Rose’

Warning: This article contains spoilers. For anyone who hasn’t seen the newest episode of Game of Thrones (not sure why you would click on the review if you hadn’t), here’s a picture of a porpoise looking super chilled:

 

 

Okay?

And so, after three seasons of every single viewer’s collected fury, spite, anger and loathing being hurled at him, (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!) King Joffrey of House Baratheon, the King of the Seven Kingdoms and the blood of House Lannister died. Amongst vicious cried of glee from the millions watching Monday’s episode, Joffrey wheezed and spluttered and choked to death, his face purpling in pain and tears of blood running tracks down his face in his final moments. And of course, that was always going to be highlight in the second of what is shaping up to be an absolute blinder of a season. Might as well open this review with that.

However, this episode was phenomenal for so many more reasons- the primary reasons being the inclusion of several delicious pieces of double edged banter that took place between several of the major characters, but more of that later.

The first half of the episode took it’s time to touch on a number of myriad of story lines permeating through the show. In the North, Roose Bolton rode home to see his bastard son Ramsay Snow and his ‘prize’, the sorely battered and emasculated Theon Greyjoy. What followed was a display of coldness from Ramsay, a hint at his calculating nature and signs of bubbling unease between himself and his son. ‘I needed Theon whole,’ he whispers angrily, commenting on the loss of a bargaining chip for negotiations with Balon Greyjoy. Ramsay, in his giggling, acidic madness, simply asks Reek (as Theon is now known) to shave him with a cut throat razor. A benchmark is set. Reek is Ramsay’s, entirely and completely—an utterly broken man.

 

Stannis’ world is equally cold, although ironically he has the option of warming himself in front of the ever increasing number of execution pyres springing up—the latest being that of his own brother in law’s. Mellisandre’s word was seen to be spreading ever further, an insidious power that has now mutated to the point where people rejoice in the ‘purification of souls’ that the last pyre brings to the screaming victims. A dinner scene with Stannis, his wife and a typically aloof Mellisandre revealed the edges of emotion in the eldest Baratheon. As his wife berated their daughter Moonface as childish and stubborn and deserving of the stick, Stannis flatly refused. ‘You will not touch my daughter.’ There was only a flicker, but enough of a defensiveness there to highlight that Stannis’ humanity has yet to be completely eroded away.

And so then to the ‘Purple Wedding’. Taking up the entire second half of the episode, it was a slow draw; thirty minutes of set up littered with back handed one liners and simmering tensions. It started off with Loras Tyrell and Jaime Lannister exchanging casual pleasantries that descended into a wonderfully venomous threat to Loras that Cersei would strangle him in his sleep if they ever got married. And then the whispered ‘But it doesn’t matter because you’ll never marry her,’ from Jaime. A stare off between a known killer and a character whose only real legend is that of a known ‘pillow biter’. But then with unexpected sass came the deadpan reply: ‘And neither will you.’ A tap on the arm and the walk away. Pew pew pew, shots fired.

Oberyn Martel carried on with his singular objective in coming to King’s Landing of fucking everyone’s shit up when he decided to throw the very minimal caution he had to the wind and antagonise both Cersei and Tywin Lannister. Oberyn threw Cersei’s rapidly dwindling power in her face while she threw the disdain at his low born paramour back. Oberyn pointed out however that all places obviously have their differences: one place looks down on the low born while the other considers the rape and murder of women and children to be distasteful. He also points out what a lucky thing it is that Cersei’s only daughter is at the latter. Facts pointed out, threats made and animosity rekindled.

And then onto the feast. A feast where the sole focal point was the endless and repeated verbal torturing of Tyrion by a smug, vindictive Joffrey, drunk on power and presumably lust. It was handled brilliantly in both the writing and the directing; it was a continuous stream of humiliation steered towards Tyrion—highlighting that yes, he’s a dwarf; the pouring of wine over his head and then charging him with being the King’s personal cup bearer. All of these were deftly handled by Tyrion, but with each slight, the tension cranked up. It was there in the music and in each curled lip that Tyrion bared to his nephew’s attack. Something had to snap.

And in the end, the death came from nowhere. People might have expected Tyrion to simply pull his knife out and gut the King in justified rage, but it wasn’t that. A pie, washed down with a cup of wine, and then the coughing fit. A fit that wouldn’t stop. A fit that turned into vomit and bile and a swelling throat and a purple face and twitching fingers. An insane king reduced to what he has always been; a spoilt, lost, stupid boy, dying helplessly in his mother’s arms in front of a world that hated him enough to barely lift a finger as he passed. And then with Cersei’s wails, the accusatory gaze towards the last man who had held the cup of wine that Joffrey had drunk. The Imp.

The rest of the season is unlikely to be particularly kind to Tyrion. Oh he’s been in jail before, but he can’t really bribe the guards at King’s Landing with the same money that his father pays them with. How or if he wriggles his way out of Cersei’s wrath is going to be real treat in the coming weeks. Who am I kidding? It’s all going to be a treat. Benioff and Weiss have laid down the marker with The Lion and The Rose, it can only carry on getting better from here.

 

Photos/ drunkmonkeys, chicagonow

Review: W1A

Review: W1A

While there’s still time before term starts, make sure you catch up with W1A. The sitcom set in the upper echelons of the BBC’s Broadcasting House had to live up to the success of its predecessor Twenty Twelve, and it has beautifully caught the modern horrors of office life and bureaucracy. Laughs aplenty, and with a spectacular comic cast, you should certainly set time aside for W1A.

Nobody likes to talk about themselves more than the BBC does. Which is probably why the comedy department gave themselves a hearty cheer when John Morton wrote a sequel to the brilliant Twenty Twelve. The former thrived on exploiting the systems of communication that afford too little representation on today’s television: the instantaneous release of information to a global audience, and the baffling office lingo designed to obfuscate rather than communicate were two key elements of Twenty Twelve, and again here in W1A. Few other shows have been able to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology – House of Cards, Sherlock, and Modern Family have made some strides. None have captured the frustratingly common factor of speaking as much possible but actually saying as little as possible like W1A.

The main comedy comes from the wonderful cast as they blunder from one gaffe to the next: Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Hynes returning, but also Sarah Parish, Jason Watkins and many more. The meticulous “umm”s and “err”s are perfectly timed. David Tennant’s voice-over, like Michael Buerk in Pineapple Dance Studios, peppers the scenes with his own comedy, as the committee descends further and further into mess. Parish and Watkins both betray a sense of malice behind their lightheartedness, perhaps indicating the cut-throat world of the BBC and the media in general.

If you’re seeking realism though, there is one issue shining through, possibly the show’s only fault. Some of the characters are totally unrealistic. You never got this with mockumentary-style predecessors. Gareth Keenan in The Office, Alan Partridge, or even Malcolm Tucker might have been exaggerated caricatures, but still representations of people in normal life. Yet it is too unbelievable to think that the well-meaning but moronic Will, and “lovely” David would ever have risen up at the BBC. We’re constantly told about the overwhelming bias towards white, middle-class Oxbridge grads, so how did “no, yeah, cool, like, yeah” Will get an internship?

In Twenty Twelve, the stakes were raised as Britain was heading for the mother of all cock-ups, and we were familiar with the issues faced by the committee due to the extensive media coverage: lack of toiletage, the legacy of the Olympic Stadium, or the use of Games Lanes. W1A has never had the sense of direction laid out in its first press release, that Ian Fletcher would be drafted in to negotiate the BBC’s upcoming Charter renewal, and discuss the future of the licence fee. The show has no focus or drive in the way its predecessor managed, but the presentation of bungling bureaucrats and creatives running the corporation does not suffer for this lack. Its slipshod scatterbrained variety of events reflects the difficulties of modern working life: too many emails to answer, too many tasks to deal with.

Four episodes was a woefully short run – were the BBC uncertain about its success? Surely those media types love the comedy more than anyone else? There are just a couple of missteps that do not place it on a pedestal with Twenty Twelve, but it’s still worth watching. It’s better than most comedies around, and through its faults, you’ll realise just how good the first show was. Here, we’re looking forward to another series, reported to feature the great Lord Director General Tony Hall himself.

PHOTO/ toddkelley.net

Series review: True Detective

Series review: True Detective

True Detective hit the small screens back in January, and two months later, it has all come to an end. The show splits into two, with the first half focusing on two Louisiana State detectives talking about their first case together; that of the death of Dora Lang, a woman killed, stripped and left in a field with a crown of antlers. The second focuses on their actions in the present day, decades after the case ended, after they were meant to have found closure. With its stellar cast and its short series run, it is a booking that came in with big expectations. Are they met? Absolutely.

HBO’s show is a renegade in several senses. There is no crack team of writers and directors all jigsawing the show together; instead it’s left to the two man unit of Nick Pizzolatto writing every single episode and Cary Fukunaga directing each one. The series is an anothology—eight episodes encompassing one single story and then moving on. Different case, different actors. The final effect is of something that is just subtly more cohesive than anything else that has come before, something that feels whole.

The acting for a start is simply magnificent. If Fool’s Gold and Ghosts of Boyfriends Past has been the price paid for McConaughey’s current emergence, well then, the price is worth it. McConaughey plays Rust Cohle, a dark, twisted, bitter cop with a viciously nihilistic take on the world and the people around him. Pizzolatto’s writing shines through him, with the first episode laying down the marker for the rest of the season; Rust slips scathingly into a cold, calculated tirade against human existence. Marty Hart, his partner, played by Woody Harrellson asks ‘So what’s the point of getting up in the morning then?’ ‘Because it’s obviously my programming… and I lack the constitution for suicide,’ comes the deadpan, matter-of-fact answer.

With so much of the praise headed towards McConaughey, it would be easy to miss Woody Harrellson, and it would be wrong too. As Marty, he is the foil to Rust’s venom, the straight guy to the philosophical mess that is his partner. And with these two comes the fizzing, flickering tension that the show is really about. For all the death and symbolism, the show is about these two men as partners who struggle to stay in the same room together. This is not a buddy cop antagonism, this is far deeper and far more visceral—a palpable sense of distrust and borderline intolerance of each other and what they each stand for. For a show so dominated by these two men and their issues, with life, love, death and work; credit must also go to Michelle Monaghan as Maggie Hart, Marty’s wife. While not afforded as much screen time as the others, she still manages to pull off her role with subtlety and verve, playing a wife who watches her husband slowly succumb to the case he works.

The entire show is shot through with a heavy sense of dread, an almost physical weight of unease that seems to hang darkly in the air. It’s a combination of so much in the show, the slight sepia colouring to the screen; the long, slow drawls between the main characters; the thudding growl of the guitar in the background as the tension ramps up. The vast openness of Luisiana, with its unkempt wild grass and the wilting, splintering houses stretching out along the Bayou paradoxically suffocate the viewer, pinning them down with the idea that a killer could hide anywhere. The Dora Lang case which is the sole pivot of the first half of the season is played out slowly and deliberately—the occult and voodoo surrounding the case, the deer antlers and Carcosa and the Yellow King all left unnervingly unexplained as the show spools out.

Cary Fukunaga, with no real experience and almost unheard of, punches leagues above his weight, handling the camera with the confidence and style of someone far, far more experience. The highlight of course, something inevitably championed by anyone who has seen the show, is the utterly phenomenal six and a half minute tracking shot that plays out in episode 4- an astonishingly choreographed six and a half minutes that sets off and ends one of the true great scenes of screentime.

The second half of the season slips back into a more standard cop drama thriller, with Marty and Rust chasing down a dead lead from a long time past. This tends towards a lessening of the dread that was cultivated through the previous episodes and at times it feels like a different show, but what it loses in unease, it gains in ratcheting tension levels. The chases and the leads, the unearthing of new clues in slick snapshots steer the show towards it’s inevitable ending, with the inevitable unmasking of the monster at the end of the dream. The final scenes, when they come, feel right. Maybe not what you were hoping for, and maybe just a touch below the startling brilliance of the early part of the show, but right nonetheless. The show highlights some of the best writing since Breaking Bad, and possibly also some of the best acting. If you watch nothing else this year, be sure to watch this.

PHOTO/ wired

Review: The Crimson Field

Review: The Crimson Field

Oona Chaplin stars in the BBC’s new drama, The Crimson Field, which forms part of the centenary season for the First World War. When three young nurses arrive at a hospital camp near the front line, they are thrown into a world very different from the one they are used to. As the new voluntary helpers, they are instructed to treat the wounded where possible, comfort the patients and turn down beds, all overseen by the frosty yet benevolent matron (Hermione Norris).

Chaplin plays Kitty, the surly and quick-tempered newcomer with a past troubled by love, whose attitude immediately forces her into the bad books of matron Grace. Then there’s Flora (Alice St. Clair), naïve but well meaning, and Rosalie (Marianne Oldham), reserved and desperate to be of use. There are some rather clichéd ‘baddies’, who take the form of cake-hogging meanie, Sister Quayle, and unsympathetic Colonel Purbright, who forces shell-shocked Lance Corporal Prentiss to return to the front line, despite the best efforts of the kindly resident surgeon (Kevin Doyle from Downton Abbey).

While the script is relatively simplistic and the action is pretty slow moving, the opening episode was intriguing enough to persuade me to return for the second installment. That said, I had no idea everything would be quite so clean in a war-zone hospital (the aprons are constantly gleaming white and the vehicles are bizarrely lacking in any scratches or dirt). The nurses are surprisingly glamorous, while even the gory bits seem contrived and weirdly out of place. I was therefore left a little disappointed. I was rather hoping for something grittier.

There is, however, an array of strong performances. Norris is formidable as Grace, striking a balance between strict and soft. Chaplin in particular stands out among the rest of the cast, whose grace and subtlety as an actress I have always been a fan of. After her stint on Game of Thrones came to a dramatic end last year, I am glad to see her thriving on our screens once again.

One will see immediate similarities with BBC drama Call the Midwife and obvious links can be made with season two of Downton Abbey. In fact, it seems as though they’ve tried to combine the two hit shows in an ambitious attempt to create some kind of ‘super period drama’. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the end result feels both too safe and a little confused at the same time. Who knows? Perhaps that is the intention.

The Crimson Field may not be ‘outstanding’ or ‘innovative’ telly, but it certainly understands what the British public want. The impressive viewing figures are testament to how we really can’t get enough of these types of shows. As long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously and we take it for what it is, a slightly shallow but ultimately compelling watch on an otherwise dull Sunday evening, I can’t see the harm in one more.

Photo: historyextra

Review: Starred Up

Review: Starred Up

Jack O’Connell, once of Skins fame, shines in this simple yet powerful drama about a young offender struggling against authority. It follows his 19 year old character, Eric Love, as he battles against staff, inmates, his father and his own temper when he is forced to fend for himself after being prematurely transferred to adult prison.

Eric quickly makes enemies and exhibits his proneness to extreme violent outbursts. Nev, who happens to be both his father and a fellow inmate, warns him to dial down his aggression and unsuccessfully tries to be more of a protective father figure than he had been on the outside, his own anger often getting the better of him. Meanwhile, Eric takes part in therapy sessions with other prisoners, which seem to have an effect on the troubled protagonist.

The tension is ever-present and violence is never far from the surface, keeping the audience entertained but never fully comfortable. The atmosphere is pretty bleak throughout and it all feels quite claustrophobic, which works well given the subject matter. I’d go so far as to say that the film felt a little slow moving overall and there were times when I could potentially have lost interest if not for the consistency of the hard hitting performances.

Rupert Friend is great as Oliver, the prison therapist who leads the various group discussion sessions. Not to mention Ben Mendelsohn as Nev, whose performance is gritty and compelling. But the real star is O’Connell. He thrives in a demanding role, always striking the right balance between volatility and vulnerability. I remember watching his scene stealing performance on Skins all those years ago (when “Cook” was just about the only interesting character on a distinctly mediocre show and certainly my only reason for watching it), and I am reminded of his extraordinary acting ability, which really hits its stride in this “raw and immediate” drama.

Jonathan Asser’s professional roots as a prison therapist are manifest throughout, with the most effective scenes being the group discussion sessions lead by Friend’s character. It is here where his script is particularly convincing and his experience is a huge advantage. Other aspects are not so convincing, namely the rather too obvious character of Governor Hayes (Sam Spruell) as the token evil and corrupt prison official. The depth and complexity of the characters is, for me, the strongest part of the film, so in this way Hayes feels a little out of place.

However, these are just a minor quibbles. All in all, it is a well-written and strongly performed drama which is a bleak yet powerful statement (although about what specifically I’m not exactly sure). It is well worth seeing for Jack O’Connell alone.

Review: Game of Thrones ‘Two Swords’

Review: Game of Thrones ‘Two Swords’

Opening with a bravely symbolic sequence involving Tywin Lannister melting down the Valyrian steel blade once belonging to Ned Stark to make two new swords (giving the episode its title), season four of ‘Game of Thrones’ promises not to shy away from the political (and quite literal) mess left in the wake of season three’s Red Wedding. If the re-purposing of ‘Ice’ for Lannister ends was too subtle for you, Tywin throws a wolf pelt onto the fire to drive the message home. Indeed, although Sunday night’s première may not shock like Bran’s fall from the Winterfell battlements nor thrill like Daenerys’ liberation of the Unsullied, ‘Two Swords’ (at a pace far more subdued than viewers of ‘Game of Thrones’ are used to) develops into a powerful and nuanced character-centric episode: character-driven at the expense (quite rightly!) of the action. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Two Swords’ is appropriately bloody, with an utterly riveting action sequence starring the Hound and Arya occurring near the end of the episode. But, all in all, characters in this episode are in a state of flux rather than activity. Jamie, Tyrion and Cersei struggle to come to terms with the changes forced upon them last season rather than driving the action relentlessly forward as we’re used to.  Peter Dinklage as Tyrion  in particular treats us to some first-class acting in his battle to patch-up his relations with his young bride, Sansa, after the brutal murder of her family at the hands of his father (Sophie Turner’s acting was remarkable for her unique blend of numb-shock and melancholy, incidentally).

Certainly, for a show famous for its blood, guts and breasts, ‘Game of Thrones’ refuses to succumb to the temptation to ram its first episode full of brainless battling and pointless plot developments. Instead, ‘Two Swords’ continues to subtly and masterfully develop the myriad of  plot-lines which D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have to balance their own quiet, assured manner. Indeed, with some magnificently-phrased profanities from the Hound and some ominously sadistic smirks from Arya (coupled with their fearlessly bloody, squirm-inducing encounter with some Lannister goons), the character-development of this simultaneously moody and surprisingly funny ‘duo’ is definitely the highlight of the episode (and perhaps, at this rate, the entire season to come).

A particular challenge addressed in this episode is also how to introduce new characters and plot-threads, appearing, most obviously, in the form of the side-smiling, yellow-clad, Oberyn Martell (otherwise known as the ‘Red Viper’), and his smoulderingly beautiful ‘paramour’, Ellaria Sand. The explanation of Oberyn’s backstory was a little rushed, perhaps, given its emotional importance. However, within minutes of being on-screen, Oberyn lifted the pace with some bloody and erotic (not at the same time) antics at the brothel. Plus, Oberyn’s threatening reworking of the Lannisters’ vow to ‘pay their debts’ shows that his back-story did pack some hefty punch when it needed to. The appearance of Brienne with the Tyrells, although neither are new characters, was also a pace-enhancing sequence. With more girl-power than you can shake a stick at, the Tyrells and Brienne are a match made in Heaven…it just remains to be seen where their relationship will go.

PHOTO/ pixgood

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