SciFi Weekend: Breaking Bad; Dexter; Hannibal; The Blacklist; Sleepy Hollow; The Americans; Community; True Blood; Broadchurch; Doctor Who

Breaking Bad Series Finale Elliot and Gretchen 1

Vince Gilligan ended Breaking Bad just as most would have predicted if not for feeling that this was too obvious and trying to throw in a twist. In the end, Walt killed the Nazis, rescued Jesse and then died. Jesse escaped, Lydia was killed, and plans were made to get money to Walt’s family. Realistically Walt’s death was the most probable end-point for the series since the first episode. Initially it might have been from the cancer. Events since then changed how it most likely to occur. It became inevitable that he would face a violent death, but also achieve some measure of victory.

The only surprises in the finale were the details in how everything would be accomplished, such as threatening Elliott and Gretchen with assassination by “the two best hitmen west of the Mississippi” who were really Skinny Pete and Badger armed only with laser pointers. There was no need for a surprise ending, and certainly not a gimmick such as a dream or fading to black. Breaking Bad feels more like a continuous story in a novel, leading to the most likely conclusion. The finale has received universal praise, showing that no gimmicks were needed. Hopefully writers of future series will learn from this.

The success of the finale of Breaking Bad led to inevitable comparisons to other finales. To be fair to other show runners who fell short, the structure of Breaking Bad lent itself to coming to such a definite and obvious conclusion. While I was not satisfied with the ending to The Sopranos, an ambiguous ending was more in line with that show than Breaking Bad. After the full run of the series, it was realistic that Tony Soprano had made enough enemies that one would just walk up to him and shoot him in a diner. It would similarly be realistic to interpret this otherwise and see Tony Soprano continuing as he had for years, as with Sam Malone on Cheers. Breaking Bad had a clear storyline leading to an inevitable conclusion.

Damon Lindelof was blasted on Twitter during the Breaking Bad finale for not providing such a satisfactory conclusion to Lost. While I think they could have done better with Lost, a key difference here is that Lost had developed such a complex mythology that there was no realistic way to end the series. Lindelof defended his ending in The Hollywood Reporter, which was more a plea for everyone to stop talking about it.

The remaining questions are trivial compared to the questions raised by Lost. There was no question to the motivations of the main character. Walt revealed to Skyler that he was doing this all for himself. Did Walt initially plan to kill Jesse, and then change his mind when he saw how he was enslaved? That change in motivation is suggested in several interviews where Vince Gilligan compared the ending to The Searchers:

On the story inspiration for Walt, who was hellbent on killing Jesse, saving his ex-partner out of sudden instinct 
“A lot of astute viewers who know their film history are going to say, ‘It’s the ending to The Searchers.’ And indeed it is. The wonderful western The Searchers has John Wayne looking for Natalie Wood for the entire three-hour length of the movie. She’s been kidnapped by Indians and raised as one of their own, and throughout the whole movie, John Wayne says, ‘I need to put her out of her misery. As soon as I find her, I’m going to kill her.’ The whole movie Jeffrey Hunter is saying, ‘No, we’re not — she’s my blood kin, we’re saving her,’ and he says, ‘We’re killing her.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh my god, John Wayne is a monster and he’s going to do it. You know for the whole movie that this is the major drama between these two characters looking for Natalie Wood. And then at the end of the movie, on impulse, you think he’s riding toward her to shoot her, and instead he sweeps her up off her feet and he carries her away and he says, ‘Let’s go home.’ It just gets me every time — the ending of that movie just chokes you up, it’s wonderful. In the writers room, we said, ‘Hey, what about the Searchers ending?’ So, it’s always a matter of stealing from the best. [Laughs]“

Did Walt have any plan for after he killed the neo-Nazis if he survived? It did not appear that he did. If not for the last-second decision to save Jesse, I wonder if he had planned to jump to the floor, or remain standing and die with everyone else in the room.

We know Jesse is free but from there it is all speculation:

“We always felt like the viewers desired Jesse to get away. And it’s up to the individual viewer to decide what happens next for Jesse. Some people might think, ‘Well, he probably got two miles down the road before the cops nailed him.’ But I prefer to believe that he got away, and he’s got a long road to recovery ahead, in a sense of being held prisoner in a dungeon for the last six months and being beaten to within an inch of his life and watching Andrea be shot. All these terrible things he’s witnessed are going to scar him as well, but the romantic in me wants to believe that he gets away with it and moves to Alaska and has a peaceful life communing with nature.”

Unfortunately it wasn’t realistic to have Jesse wind up raising Brock, providing him with a true happy ending.

What was going through Jesse’s mind when he didn’t shoot Walt? Was this the outcome of Jesse previously saying he would never do what Walt told him to do again, a desire to be done with killing, or did a remnant of his old respect for Walt prevent him from pulling the trigger? Would he have shot Walt if he didn’t see that Walt already had a gunshot wound?

Will Walt’s scheme work and will Gretchen and Elliott really get the money to Walt, Jr.? There’s no way to know. On this show many elaborate schemes have worked well. It was quite fortunate for Walt that Lydia kept to her old schedule and was the one to take the pack of poisoned Stevia. Everything also had to go right for his plan to kill the neo-Nazis to succeed. While throughout the series many elaborate plans were successful, not everything went right for Walt. Most notably, Walt ruined his plans by leaving the Walt Whitman book out in his bathroom, and easily fell for Jesse’s plan to lead the DEA to the money. We also do not know if his plan for Skyler to negotiate with the coordinates of  Hank and Gomez’s bodies will save her, with his previous phone call not appearing to have helped her very much.

In comparing the recent finales of Breaking Bad and Dexter, it seems like the Breaking Bad finale was planned from the start while Dexter‘s finale decided late in the series. The opposite turns out to be true. Vince Gilligan had no idea about some major aspects of the ending, and has revealed other endings under consideration.

Dexter and Hannah

It was the opposite for Dexter. While Clyde Phillips, the original show runner, had a different idea, current show runner Scott Buck and longtime executive producer Sara Colleton told Entertainment Weekly that this ending had been planned for years:

Before the season started, you said the core idea behind this finale has been in the works for years. What was the original concept?
BUCK: The kernel idea were the last few scenes. They were what I pitched a few years ago. The main idea was Dexter is forced to kill Debra. And there are many ways that could happen. But those final scenes were pretty much unchanged.
SARA COLLETON: From the very beginning the paradox was here’s a guy who doesn’t feel he’s a human being, who has to fake it. But in faking it, he’s a better brother, boyfriend, colleague that most real people. People think of him as a monster, but he yearns to be human. We’ve seen him go forward on this journey every year. Now we found out what the final price was. What sums up the entire journey was the scene on balcony of his apartment before going on the boat to put Deb down — that’s horrible to say aloud. The voiceover: “For so long all I wanted was to feel like other people … now that I do just want it to stop.” It’s the horrible awareness of what it was to be a human being and how overwhelming that is for him. His punishment is banishment. He sends himself into exile. Killing himself is too easy. When he turns and looks into the camera at the end he’s stripped everything away.

Were there any other versions of the ending that you rejected?
BUCK: The only real variation was what he would be doing. I knew he would be in a self-imposed prison that would be as far from Miami as possible. We’d find him working in some solitary environment where even if other people were around he would make no contact and not talk to anyone. We would follow him home and he would have no human contact.

In a way that’s his new code — avoiding human contact.
BUCK: Yes. For us, that’s the tragedy. The one thing we felt Dexter wanted more than anything was human connections. Even in the first season we see him trying to get with Rudy. Now that he’s finally made that journey and he’s almost poised to have a real human life, he has to give all that up to save Harrison and Hannah.
COLLETON: He went into an absolute shutdown. He no longer has even his voiceover.

 Hannibal Season 2

The above poster was released for the second season of Hannibal. Bryan Fuller explains: “After a horrifying descent into madness in season 1, this image ironically represents the perspective of a scrappier, clearer-minded Will Graham in season 2.  The scales have fallen from his eyes and he finally sees Hannibal Lecter for the monster he is.”

The Blacklist remains the best new network show so far, and has become the first to receive a full 22-episode pick-up.

Sleepy Hollow will remain with a thirteen episode run this year, and has been renewed for a second 13-episode season.

The Americans was one of the best new shows last year. Creator/executive Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields discussed the show at PaleyFest.

Nathan Fillion will guest star on Community, making Firefly references inevitable.

Rob Kazinsky says True Blood “kind of ran out of ideas and now they’ve got an idea again and they’re trying to finish stronger than ever… which they’re going to do next season!”

David Tennant will reprise his role as star of Broadchurch for a US adaptation from Fox. It was an excellent show, but I’m not sure why we need a second version. I imagine that many US viewers neither have a way to  pick up British shows and don’t watch BBC America, leaving an untapped audience for Fox.

David Tennant will also be staring in Day of the Doctor, the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who. Current plans include simulcasting the show in 75 countries.  Steven Moffat has also discussed the upcoming regeneration from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi:

If you haven’t seen it, there is a particularly fine interview Steven Moffat has given to Nerd3 in which he discusses, well, a lot of things you don’t often hear Steven Moffat discuss.

One section is devoted to regeneration, and the fact that it would not be a break with Whovian tradition for the Twelfth Doctor to look a lot like someone the Doctor has already met. In fact Peter Capaldi has been in Doctor Who (as Lucius Caecilius Iucundus in “The Fires of Pompeii”) and Torchwood: Children of Earth, and Steven has already had a chat with Russell T Davies over how this will all work.

He said: “We are aware that Peter Capaldi’s played a part in Doctor Who before and we’re not going to ignore the fact. I’ll let you in on this. I remember Russell told me he had a big old plan as to why there were two Peter Capaldis in the Who universe, one in Pompeii and one in Torchwood. When I cast Peter, [Russell] got in touch to say how pleased he was, I said ‘Okay, what was your theory and does it still work?’ and he said ‘Yes it does, here it is’. So I don’t know if we’ll get to it… we’ll play that one out over time. It’s actually quite neat.”

If they try to be too clever I  suspect they might run into problems analogous to explaining why the Klingons look different in different versions of Star Trek. There’s a simple explanation–the same actor played three different roles. Sure, you could come up with an explanation which includes the Doctor taking the form of people he encountered in the past when regenerating. Then how do we explain Karen Gillan’s appearance, as she also appeared in The Fires of Pompeii as a different character before playing Amy Pond?

J.J. Abrams has apologized for all the lens flairs in Star Trek Into Darkness.

And finally, this video on the finale and a farewell video from the cast of Breaking Bad:

SciFi Weekend: Hannibal Finale; Matt Smith Says Good By; Marvel Movies; Veronica Mars; True Blood Sex Scenes; James Gandolfini; Disney Princesses and the Doctor

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Those who haven’t watched Hannibal may want to skip down below as there are some major spoilers here. The first season of Hannibal ended with a scene which was sort of a reverse image from Silence of the Lambs with Will in the prison for the criminally insane. Looking back, this ending seemed almost inevitable, but I am glad we didn’t actually see Abigail’s death. As for Will, it appears that having been framed for her murder is a problem which will not be resolved quickly. Bryan Fuller gave some hints as to where next season will go:

Jack conveniently comes in after Will accuses Hannibal of all the murders. Would Jack have been swayed if he had heard Will’s thoughts?
Fuller: In Season 2, Jack will be investigating those accusations. I think after Will woke up from getting shot by Jack and before he was put into the institution, he shared his theories about Hannibal. Now it’s up to those characters and Hannibal Lecter to either support or deny those accusations in a properly investigated way.

Do you intend to keep Will locked up for a while?
Fuller:
He will be incarcerated, and we will be dealing with all of the threads of that. We need to see all of the things happen that would happen in that scenario. Will Graham needs to go on trial for the murders that he may or may not have committed. Jack has to be brought before a review board for his participation in what happened to Will, and Hannibal, as Will’s psychiatrist, is going to continue to try to help Will see the truth that Hannibal wants him to see. The ball is up in the air in so many ways for Jack and Hannibal and Will. The fun of Season 2 will be spiking those balls…

From the beginning, you made it clear you were telling your own story, but do you fear that this choice will alienate some of the diehard Red Dragon fans?
Fuller:
If you look at the scant two pages that talk about Will Graham’s back story, they tell us that Will was so psychologically compromised from investigating the Minnesota Shrike that he had to become institutionalized. So, I feel like I’ve got a car jack and I’ve wedged it in between those lines. I’ve just opened them up for room to tell more between the lines than what you may have anticipated. But we’re also sticking to the canon. We will deliver what we’ve come to expect in Red Dragon of Will Graham, but he’ll just have a longer, harder journey to get there. I gave myself room to wiggle, so we’re going to see some wiggling in the next two seasons.

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Bryan Fuller revealed his seven year plan for Hannibal, getting into the novels by season four. Beware, this contains spoilers for the books as well as future seasons.

AX: How many seasons do you have plotted?

FULLER: I can see pretty clearly seven seasons. I think that there are always shifts and alterations and course corrections that you have to take, because you’ll be cruising along and then you’ll hit an idea and go, “Oh, wow, that’s a great idea, we have to do that now.” That being said, I can see the structure for a seven-season arc for the show, but then I also am very open to course corrections along the way to adapt to changes.

AX: If you don’t get to run for seven seasons, are you going to make available to the public in some form what the unaired seasons would have been?

FULLER: Well, when you get into Season Four, you get into the literature. And so Season Four would be RED DRAGON, Season Five would be the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS era, Season Six would be the HANNIBAL era, and then Season Seven would be a resolve to the ending of that book. HANNIBAL ends on a cliffhanger. Hannibal Lecter has bonded with Clarice Starling and brainwashed her and they are now quasi-lovers and off as fugitives, and so that’s a cliffhanger. It might be interesting to resolve that in some way and to bring Will Graham back into the picture. So once we get two more seasons, say, of the television show, those are the aren’t-novelized stories, and then we would get into expansions of the novels after that and kind of using the novels as a backbone for season arcs that would then be kind of enhanced.

AX: Assuming you cover the eras of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and HANNIBAL, when Will Graham isn’t a character in the books, what do you do with Hugh Dancy for those two seasons?

FULLER: Well, it would be about incorporating him in a way that he hasn’t been incorporated in the books, because Will Graham was only mentioned in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, he was not seen, and so I would be curious to see what happens to Will Graham after RED DRAGON. By the time of RED DRAGON, he’s married to Molly and has her son from a previous marriage, but doesn’t have any children of his own. And then that relationship is more complicated by Francis Dolarhyde and there were suggestions that there was a not-so-happy ending for Will Graham after RED DRAGON because he has his face carved up and you wonder what’s going to happen to Will now, and I’m curious to see what happens to Will after that.

More from Fuller here.

Matt Smith says thank you in the video above. Interested in tea at the Ritz with him? Check it out here.

Jenna-Louise Coleman will be appearing in Death Comes To Pemberley:

Last month, BBC One set Matthew Rhys to play Mr. Darcy in Death Comes To Pemberley, the three-part serial based on P.D. James’ suspense novel which revisits Jane Austen’s most iconic characters. A vast lineup of British TV talent has now been added to the cast, including Doctor Who star Jenna-Louise Coleman as Lydia Wickham, the sister of Austen’s Pride And Prejudice heroine Elizabeth Bennett. As previously announced, Anna Maxwell Martin is playing Bennett and Matthew Goode is George Wickham, Lydia’s husband. The story picks up six years into Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage as they prepare for their annual ball. When Lydia arrives, she brings a shocking halt to the proceedings and a murder investigation unfolds.

It looks like there may be no truth to the rumors reported last week of finds of more lost episodes of Doctor Who. They are being described as destroyed rather than lost, which doesn’t sound very encouraging.

Joss Whedon says Loki won’t be appearing in The Avengers 2. More importantly, Robert Downey, Jr. will be back for The Avengers 2 and 3. Like we really thought there was any chance they would do it without Tony Stark, or anyone else could replace him. At present chances don’t look good for another Iron Man movie. More Marvel movie news here.

Shailene Woodley’s role as Mary Jane Watson has been cut from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and MJ won’t appear until the third film. Maybe this means that the rumors that Gwen doesn’t get killed off in the second movie are true.

Veronica Mars

Filming on the Veronica Mars movie has begun. I’m looking forward to getting my digital copy when the movie opens due to contributing to the Kickstart campaign.

Secrets of True Blood sex scenes here.

Dan Harmon didn’t like season 4 of Community any more than we did.

Sopranos Diner

The scene went to black for James Gandolfini in the past week. It looks like he was way too busy to die. Here’s a list of his unfinished work. Apparently the Grim Reaper isn’t a fan. Some of Tony Soprano’s best quotes can be found here.

Last week we looked at the combination of Disney and Marvel characters. This week we’ll look back at prints by Karen Hallion combining Doctor Who and Disney princesses and other stories. (More here). Incidentally, Disney recently had a coronation for their eleventh princess. Eleven Disney princesses. Eleven Doctors. Sounds suspicious to me. Glenn Beck has devised elaborate conspiracy theories based upon less.

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Why Did The Bomber Return To His Seat?

Andrew Sullivan posted an email from a reader wondering why the “undie-bomber” didn’t just set off the explosion from the bathroom as opposed to returning to his seat. On first read it is a compelling theory that al Qaeda wanted the bomber to be seen by other passengers:

If the intent of al Qaeda in this latest instance was to bring down an airplane, then it failed.  But if its intent was to create fear and overreaction, then it succeeded  Personally, I think it was the latter.  It is quite possible (in fact I think probable) that the people who planned this event, and used the young man from Nigeria as a tool, were aware that due to security measures in place, there was no way they could actually get a bomb through that would actually work.  The detonation equipment needed would have been detected.  The same applies, by the way, to the shoe bomber.

Again, think about it.  If you wanted to blow up a plane, would you attempt it from your seat, where somebody could quite possibly stop you?  No, you would go to the washroom where you could set off the bomb without disruption.

To have plausibility, it is probably necessary to assume that al Qaeda was using him as a tool. We know that al Qaeda would have no problem recruiting people who are willing to die in such a bombing. It’s the old 70 virgins reward. The same thing which makes some willing to take up such a deal would also make many reluctant to set off a bomb which is not intended to explode in their pants. I suspect that it would be harder to recruit someone to ignite such a device near their testicles knowing they were going to both live and be apprehended. (This brings to mind an episode of The Sopranos where Tony was confronted by a religious individual who did not fear death and would not give into his demands. The target complied when the threat was changed from death to castration.)

I really have my doubts that al Qaeda’s main goal was anything other than for the plane to explode. Yes, they had a partial victory with the fear they created in this country, but that was nothing compared the reaction they would have obtained from a successful bombing.

There is a good explanation for why the Nigerian returned to his seat. He was intentionally seated over the fuselage. I’ve heard speculation that the intent was not only to destroy the plane, which might not have been successful from another location, but to have an explosion while the plane was descending which would have resulted in casualties on the ground in suburban Detroit. While still not as dramatic as 9/11, this sounds far more what an al Qaeda organization would plan than an intentionally failed bombing attempt.

This is not to say that they it is not possible that they realized that the could salvage some degree of a psychological victory even if the bomb did fail to explode.

SciFi Weekend Part I: Ron Moore on BSG and ST; Majel Barrett Roddenberry Memorial Services Announced

With the final season of Battlestar Galactica to resume airing on January 16, Ron Moore it looks like Ron Moore has been out on the interview circuit. He discussed the role of religion on the show and the suspense regarding the identity of the final Cylon with SciFi Scanner:

Q: You admitted recently that Battlestar‘s themes of faith and religion were something the network requested after reading a line in the miniseries. How did it evolve?

A: It was very natural. At Trek I was always trying to work in those angles and blur peoples’ religions, but it was very much not a part of what Trek was about — it just wasn’t part of Gene’s vision. It appealed to me because science fiction shows just didn’t go there. I thought the idea of robots who believe in God was just a fascinating concept. And then I really liked the idea of the polytheists versus the monotheists, and that the monotheists were actually the “bad guys” because there’s certain repetition in Western society of the one God driving out the many. There were just layers and layers to play with.

Q: Fast-forward to the Season 4 mid-season finale, when they find their faith has driven them to hell. Was that faith for naught?

A: There’s a lot of that going on. The journey is not over, but certainly both sides are suddenly faced with the prospect, “Maybe it’s all been for nothing. Maybe there is no God, and if that’s the case where do we go from here? What does it all mean and what are we going to do with ourselves?” which I think is a great place to take the characters.

Q: And then you have Baltar, who goes from a man of science to a man of faith.

A: Since the beginning, Baltar has been challenged on that very issue. He begins with a profound, shocking realization that he is personally responsible for the destruction of billions of people, and that there seems to be a God who wants him to do that. He’s gone through so much, and had so many failings — been so vilified– that there’s a part of him that wants somebody to take the responsibility off his shoulders, and is hoping against hope that as a scientist and atheist he’s wrong.

Q: The build-up to the final Cylon has been unprecedented. How is the revelation not going to be a letdown?

A: It will never be as powerful as the build-up. I resigned myself to that a long time ago. The “Who Shot JR” of it all is an instructive lesson: No matter who it is, it’s still going to be a bit of a letdown. But I decided that precisely because of that, it wasn’t going to be in the final episode. I didn’t want that to become the entire series. I’m sure there will be a variety of reactions. Some people will love it, some people will hate it. But I think when you see how the revelation fits into the overall mythology of the show, when all the questions are answered by the end, then it’ll make sense and you’ll think, “Oh, well it kind of had to be that person.”

Moore also considered the ending of The Sopranos to be perfect but I agree this would not work with a show such as Battlestar Galactica:

I felt like the series I was telling, unlike The Sopranos, had a beginning, middle and end. So as much as I love The Sopranos, I never seriously thought that was an option for us because it’s just not part of our narrative. Theirs was about these characters’ lives that presumably were going to continue beyond the final fadeout. Our finale will be the end of our narrative, the period at the end of the sentence.

No, it  would not be satisfying if the series ended with the fleet on the run, the Cylons attacking, and the screen going to black.

Moore was also interviewed by Kate O’Hare. In Part I of the interview he considered whether the upcoming Star Trek movie would be “Star Trek” by looking at how the movies were handled in the past:

“That’ll be everyone’s question,” says Moore. “I don’t think there’s an easy answer. That’s a very individual choice. I don’t think there’s a definitive list of what makes it ‘Star Trek’ or not.

“The difference between the original series ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan’ is a profound one. They are not the same characters; they’re not in the same place in their lives; they’re not on a mission; Kirk’s an admiral. It’s like a completely different world, but it’s absolutely ‘Star Trek.'”

Interestingly there’s one thing that “Khan” and two other installments in the movie franchise featuring the original cast — “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” — have in common, besides being, IMHO, the best of the lot … writer/director Nicholas Meyer.

“He was a man who had no prior relationship to the franchise whatsoever,” Moore says, “never even saw it.  And he was not afraid to not worry about the continuity of it all.

“He was not hung up on who said what in episode 43, and that is a yoke that has to be thrown off at this point.”

While they were not hung up on every continuity point (and there were some errors for purists), it is also notable that the movies did take place in the same Star Trek universe as the television series. The characters were at a different point in their lives but they did not throw out the previous history with a total reboot as some now advocate for Star Trek. Despite several series, The Star Trek universe is flexible enough to allow for such updating and new stories without needing to ignore the past. There is a tremendous difference between trying to reboot a series with a strong history such as Star Trek and totally redoing a weak show such as Battlestar Galactica. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, I agree Moore was best off restarting from scratch rather than being tied down by anything from the original series.

The different versions of Star Trek were discussed in Part II. There was an attempt to modernize the Star Trek television show with Enterprise , hoping to make it more like other hit television shows. In the process, they lost what made Star Trek great, and worthy of surviving since the early 1960’s. I agree with Moore’s assessment :

“I think ‘Enterprise’ misunderstood what the original ‘Trek’ was,” Moore said. “I don’t think they were shooting at the right target.”

In a third post from O’Hare, Moore discussed what he learned about writing from his work on Battlestar Galactica:

“That’s a fundamental lesson. There wasn’t a place we wanted to go that the audience didn’t go there with us. We had episodes that didn’t succeed as well as others, like any show, but I don’t think there was anything philosophically that we wanted to do, that the audience wasn’t willing to go along for the ride.”

“It taught me that you really can stick to your guns and do a good show. You can do a smart show and really ask a lot of the audience. You can challenge them. You can not deliver Pablum, and they will go with you.

“You don’t have to give the easy answers week to week. You don’t have to have uncomplicated heroes who always do the right thing and always save the day, that you can really challenge the audience.

Information has been released on the memorial service for Majel Barrett Roddenberry, which is to be held on Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 10:00 a.m. in Los Angeles. Additional details are available here.

The other big news of the week was the airing of the Doctor Who Christmas special, The Next Doctor. I was originally going to review this in SciFi Weekend, but as any discussion would include major spoilers for US viewers who have not downloaded the show, I’ll place it in a separate post. I would advise those who plan to watch the show in the future to not read my post, or any other discussion of the show, until after it is viewed.

SciFi Friday: Deaths, Spoilers, And It’s Very Stressful Being an Other

There’s some major spoilers here in case anyone is behind with their television watching, especially with regards to Jericho. The show is increasingly becoming a conflict between the people of Jericho and the Cheyenne government. We find that Jennings & Rall (think Halliburton) was involved in the nuclear attacks, setting themselves up for future success. The first battle of the rebellion against Cheyenne took place with Bonnie getting killed, but not before she did shot several of Goetz’s people. The final three episodes should be interesting.

Another female lead might also have been killed on another show. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles wrapped up the season with a cliff hanger in which Cameron is in an exploding car. I can’t get too worried about her fate. If she isn’t successful in rebuilding herself after the explosion, another cyborg of the same model could be sent back in time to replace her. I’d be far more worried about the fate of Kyle Reese, now that we’ve seen him as a child if Skynet should ever find out who John’s father is.

Lost returns to flash backs as opposed to the recent flash forwards. The episode is officially about Juliet, but in many ways provides more information about Ben. Just when we thought he was as creepy a guy as possible, he out does himself in taking Juliet to see Goodwin’s impaled body. The best line of the night had to be when Juliet explained why she was seeing a therapist by explaining, “It’s very stressful being an Other, Jack.”

We also learn why some of the people from the freighter have gas masks, and fortunately it turns out that Ben was misleading everyone else about their plans.  Next week we will learn who Ben’s spy on the freighter is, and it is made clear that we know who it is. The most likely candidate is Michael, but I wouldn’t rule out Walt considering how time is different on the island compared to the outside world.

Recently the actors had the opportunity to ask the producers some questions and some minor spoilers were revealed.  The season will end by revealing the deal the Oceanic Six makes to get off the island, and we will also discover the identity of the person in the coffin at the end of last season.

There are a number of rumors floating around regarding Doctor Who and Torchwood. Rumor has it that if David Tennant leaves after next season, The Doctor will regenerate into Robert Carlyle of The Fully Monty. 

I really hope this rumor regarding Torchwood is not true. They’ve been trying to make the show more “family friendly” with the move to BBC-2 this season. The rumor is that they are going to make it even more family friendly for season three and write out regular cast members including John Barrowman, Burn Gorman and Naoko Mori. Eve Myles would return as Gwen and Freyma Angeman would return to Torchwood as Martha Jones.

There’s also a minor spoiler about Heroes. Eriko Tamura, who played  Hiro’s 16th-century love interest, is going to be brought to the present for next season. The plans were delayed by the strike.

24 was also delayed by the strike, with the entire season postponed until next year. Due to the long gap there are now plans for a two hour television movie to air next fall to bridge the two year gap between seasons six and seven.

There is another movie being rumored. The owner of the strip club which was used to film the scenes at Bada Bing on The Sopranos  says he is holding off renovations on the club after getting a tip that there might be a Sopranos movie. HBO denies this, and we don’t even know if Tony remained alive after the finale.

And, finally, Ausiello has a guess as to who ultimately becomes the mother on How I Met Your Mother. He reports that Alicia Silverstone has been cast in a multi-episode arc, playing a doctor who dates Ted. The show has not officially been renewed for next season, and the produces have promised that we will see Ted’s eventual wife before the series ends. He speculates that Silverstone will be identified as his future wife, keeping the promise to show her before the series ends should it not be renewed. Knowing Ted, I wouldn’t be surprised if he dates Silverstone, breaks up, and then meets his eventual wife at the time of the break up. 

Terrorist Mickey Killed

I’ve had a number of posts on television finales, from The Sopranos to Studio 60, but here’s one I missed. The good news is that, after previous promises, Hamas is finally getting rid of the Mickey Mouse look alike which is used to indoctrinate children in terrorism. The bad news is that the method by which this was done might reinforce hatred:

In the final skit, Farfour was beaten to death by an actor posing as an Israeli official trying to buy Farfour’s land. At one point, Farfour called the Israeli a “terrorist.”

“Farfour was martyred while defending his land,” said Sara, the teen presenter. He was killed “by the killers of children,” she added.

SciFi Friday: Finales For Doctor Who and Studio 60; Best Genre Shows of All Time

The major event in science fiction this weekend is the finale of the third season of Doctor Who, with this weeks episode running an extra six to eight minutes. My review of the previous episode, The Sound of Drums, along with a video clip, is here. Of course those planning to watch the season starting in July on the SciFi Channel might want to avoid these spoilers.

Many questions remain going into the finale, including the nature of the droids which are literally decimating the earth. I say literally as their instructions are to kill one tenth of all humans. We do know that The Master has converted the Tardis into a Paradox Machine to bring them to earth. He calls them Toclafane, which The Doctor says is really a fairy tale villain, not a real alien race. The Master also warned The Doctor that their identity will break his heart. One theory is that The Master is using The Paradox Machine to bring Cybermen in a new form back to our dimension, with Rose somehow involved, explaining the part about breaking The Doctor’s heart. (Fortunately The Doctor has two hearts). Another possibility is that The Paradox Machine brings fairy tales to life.

While Doctor Who has more episodes of any genre show, TV Guide didn’t give it the respect it deserves. They have released an updated list of the top thirty genre shows as follows:

30) Strangers with Candy (1999-2000)*
29) Absolutely Fabulous (1994-2003)
28) Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007)*
27) H.R. Pufnstuf (1969-1971)
26) Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1975-1978)
25) Firefly (2002-2003)*
24) Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
23) Dark Shadows (1966-1971)
22) Doctor Who (1963-present)
21) Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

20) The Avengers (1966-1969)
19) Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
18) Veronica Mars (2004-2007)*
17) Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990)
16) Babylon 5 (1994-1998)
15) Family Guy (1999-present)
14) Battlestar Galactica (2003-present)*
13) Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1989-1999)
12) Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1991)
11) Jericho (2006-present)*

10) Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)
9 ) Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
8 ) The Simpsons (1989-present)
7 ) The Prisoner (1967-1968)
6 ) Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)
5 ) Lost (2004-present)*
4 ) Farscape (1999-2003)
3 ) Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
2 ) The X-Files (1993-2002)
1 ) Star Trek (1966-1969)

Shows marked with an asterisk are new to the list. I can’t see placing Doctor Who, which has more episodes than any show on the list (even if we add on all the spin offs to Star Trek) and is far better than many of the shows, at only 22. Firefly is ranked at 25. While I might place it a little higher, I do agree that it doesn’t deserve as high a ranking as some would give it. For example, recently I posted a list of top science fiction movies which listed Serenity (which was based on Firefly) as the top movie. They might also be overly influenced by the reaction to the cancellation and subsequent saving of Jericho. While a good show, it is over ranked here. I have no disagreement with the two two spots, Star Trek and The X-Files. While I’ve never seen Buffy, it has a tremendous following and I can also see ranking it highly. A few shows which have been left out, Heroes, 24, Lost in Space, and Dark Angel, are far more significant than several of the shows on the list.

Finally, a farewell to Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Fans of the show took out the above ad in the Hollywood Reporter thanking Studio 60 and encouraging donations to the Tipitina’s Foundation of New Orleans.

The problem with the show, which led to its demise, was that it was composed of Aaron Sorkin characters engaging in Aaron Sorkin dialog about Aaaron Sorkin’s favorite issues, transferred from the West Wing to the set of a television show. On the other hand, the great thing about the show was that it was composed of Aaron Sorkin characters engaging in Aaron Sorkin dialog about Aaaron Sorkin’s favorite issues, transferred from the West Wing to the set of a television show.

Prior to the finale, the show had a three part episode which ranks with the best of television. The finale tied up the loose ends, giving everyone a happy ending, even if not always realistically. Personally I don’t ever recall pulling a patient’s family aside with the words “I need to talk to you” to deliver good news! On the other hand, I’m glad to see that Jordan not only survived, but had already thought to draw up papers for Danny to adopt her newborn daughter. It was predictable all season that Matt and Harriet would follow the Ross and Rachel route and get back together. The best Harriett scene in the final four episodes, however, was not with Matt and Harriet but between Harriet and Danny. When things were looking bleak for Jordan, Harriet came up with,”Let me teach you how to pray.” If it was anyone but Aaron Sorkin, I’d start worrying–this is Studio 60, not Seventh Heaven after all. Fortunately it turns out that it was Danny who had something to teach Harriet, placing a few questions in her mind.

Sorkin ended Sports Night with a jab at ABC when he had a character say, “Anybody who can’t make money off of Sports Night should get out of the money-making business.” That left me wondering if he would end Studio 60 with a similar message to NBC. With all the happy endings in the finale, my suspicion was that Aaron Sorkin might have been thinking, “so this stuff is too complex for you. Here, have a nice happy television ending if that will make you happy.” While there were perhaps too many happy endings for all, it was preferable to shows such as Veronica Mars which ended without a resolution in the hopes of being renewed. For better or for worse, it was also as different from the ending of The Sopranos as an ending could be.

Sci Fi Friday: Blink and You’re Dead, But What About Tony Soprano?

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Today’s edition of SciFi Friday will look further at the finale to The Sopranos, as well as other shows but first, don’t turn around, don’t look away, and don’t blink. Blaink and you’re dead. That is unless you haven’t watched last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who and plan to watch in the future. In that case, close your eyes and turn away. This one was just too good to risk seeing these spoilers.

Blink, like the excellent two episodes before it, was based upon a written Doctor Who story which is available on line here. I really didn’t have high hopes for this episode, coming after two such excellent ones and knowing that it was both a Doctor-lite episode and one which was being billed as being behind-your-couch scary. With The Doctor only playing a small part, Carey Mulligan did a superb job as Sally Sparrow. There’s already talk among fans that she should be the next companion.

The show opens with Sally Sparrow investigating an old house and finding a warning addressed to her on the wall to duck, saving her from getting hit. The clues increase as the show goes on until we ultimately learn that the weeping angel statues are actually aliens which have the ultimate protective device. They are “quantum locked, meaning they turn to stone and connot be harmed if anyone is looking at them. If you just blink they can move at incredible speeds. They live off the potential energy of the lives they take away, but they have a humane way of “killing” their victims. They are sent back into the past, leaving their future lives for the weeping angels to live off of. Instead of the typical chases, we have tension created as the statues approach should anyone take their eyes off of them, wondering how long they can go without blinking. Unfortunately nobody thought of alternating closing one eye at a time to give them a rest.

Having characters sent to the past leads to Sally receiving information, such as a letter from a friend who accompanied Sally in a return to the house. The letter was sent down through the generations and was delivered to Sally by the friend who recalled exactly when she would be there. Other clues pop up as easter eggs on DVD’s, which turn out to be messages from The Doctor, who was himself sent back in time by the weeping angels without his Tardis.

Any description of the show doesn’t do it justice as it was the execution of the story which made it work so well. Generally the Tardis is a simply a gimmick to get The Doctor involved in stories which can take place at any time and place. It was a welcome change to see time travel actually play a significant part in the story, despite the paradox. Next week we see the end of the universe, Utopia, and the return of Captain Jack.

Blink left us wondering about the fates of characters, as The Sopranos did at the end. I’ve previously discussed the finale here, and quote information from an interview with David Chase here. Chase accomplished the goal of keeping everyone talking, but I continue to feel he made a mistake in the abrupt ending. Too many of us first questioned whether our DVR was working correctly when we should have been wondering if Tony was dead or alive.

We were left to talk not only about how the show ended, but whether there really was any definite ending at all. Some people are convinced that the screen turned black as things turned black for Tony, noting how Tony had previously told Bobby, “At the end, you probably don’t hear anything, everything just goes black” if you are whacked. Some interviews witih David Chase, as well as HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer, suggest that Chase did intend to leve clues to a definitive ending. James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, isn’t so sure. He says he has “no idea” as to how it ended, and said, “I thought it was a great ending. You decide.” Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio, also suported the idea of an ambiguous ending, saying “Life doesn’t have tidy little endings.” Personally I prefer to think that the guy going into the bathroom was just a guy who had too much coffee in his bladder, and that after a good dinner Tony took Meadow out to teach her how to parallel park.

I have mixed feelings as to the ambiguity of the ending. While life doesn’t have tidy little endings, the death of Tony would provide such an ending if that was what was intended. Otherwise the series, like many novels, could end with one aspect of Tony’s life ending, with the future beyond that remaining unknown.

The finale has been compared to The Princess or the Tiger but I don’t find that comparison to be accurate. In The Princess or The Tiger there is a reason for not revealing whether the protagonist lives or dies as we are left to wonder about the motivations of the princess who lost him. There is no such reason for ambiguity in The Sopranos. We’ve seen many gang killings and there was no question that there are people who would kill Tony. This was just a cliff hanger for the sake of a cliff hanger, and reminds me more of the final episode of Dallas. We wereleft to wonder whether J.R. Ewing was dead or alive until the television movie was done. While David Chase denies any such plans, he certainly has left open the door to another story involving Tony Soprano.

Heroes also ended the season with ambiguity as to the fate of Sylar, who appeared to escape after earlier looking like he had been killed. Zachary Quinto, who played Sylar has now signed on as a regular for the second season, answering that question.

The show with the most questions currently on television must be Lost. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof promise that Lost “will not be ending with a blackout.”

“Obviously, we can’t wait to the 48th hour to say, ‘Here are all the mysteries of the show,”‘ Lindelof said. But Cuse also noted the reality of the sometimes vociferous and heavily engaged viewership of the show, which uses the Web to advance theories and post explanations and even freeze-frames to parse further meaning.

“I’m not sure there is any ending that will satisfy everyone,” Cuse said. “Our hope is that the ending will be … the logical conclusion of the story.”

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Perhaps the worst type of series finale of all occur when the fate of the show is not known when the season ends as occured with Veronica Mars. Fans of the show were far more concerned as to whether the show would be renewed than how the season-ending cliff hanger would turn out. The offical word came last week that Veronica Mars has been cancelled. It might be for the better. Without a good idea for a mystery good enough to last all season, the third season was weak compared to the first two. The show also lost a lot of its edge when Veronica went from high school to college, and the theme of the class differences in Neptune was no longer an issue.

And finally, here’s a story where we know the ending. Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign is being made in to a Broadway play:

Last week, Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal did a private reading of “Farragut North” (written by playwright and former Dean campaigner Beau Willimon) about the presidential hopes of a charismatic, unorthodox candidate and his staff. The 26-year-old “Brokeback Mountain” star would play the idealistic young communications director sabotaged by old political dogs with dirty tricks, reports the New York Post. If he’s cast, it would be Gyllenhaal’s Broadway debut.

“Jake was a big campaign supporter of mine, so I hope he takes it,” Dean told us yesterday. “But I want him to play me.” The DNC chairman likes the concept — “Hell, I’ll go to it” — even if it includes his famous scream. “I’d like to see him do that.”

David Chase Speaks About The Sopranos

When asked about the final scene of The Sopranos, David Chase has “no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there.” He also denies that the abrupt ending was to set up a future movie. We do get a few clues as to what he was thinking as he ended the show. One reason for the long delay until the final portion of the season was a demand from Chase for more time to come up with the ending. I assume he must mean the manner in which he built up tension in the diner as opposed to the abrupt cut to black.

-After all the speculation that Agent Harris might turn Tony, instead we saw that Harris had turned, passing along info on Phil’s whereabouts and cheering, “We’re going to win this thing!” when learning of Phil’s demise.

“This is based on an actual case of an FBI agent who got a little bit too partisan and excited during the Colombo wars of the ’70s,” says Chase of the story of Lindley DeVecchio, who supplied Harris’ line.

-Speaking of Harris, Chase had no problem with never revealing what — if anything — terror suspects Muhammed and Ahmed were up to.

“This, to me, feels very real,” he says. “The majority of these suspects, it’s very hard for anybody to know what these people are doing. I don’t even think Harris might know where they are. That was sort of the point of it: who knows if they are terrorists or if they’re innocent pistachio salesmen? That’s the fear that we are living with now.”

Also, the apocryphal story — repeated by me, unfortunately — that Fox, when “Sopranos” was in development there, wanted Chase to have Tony help the FBI catch terrorists, wasn’t true.

“What I said was, if I had done it at Fox, Tony would have been a gangster by day and helping the FBI by night, but we weren’t there long enough for anyone to make that suggestion.”

-I spent the last couple of weeks wrapping my brain around a theory supplied by reader Sam Lorber (and his daughter Emily) that the nine episodes of this season were each supposed to represent one of the nine circles of Hell from Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.” Told of the theory, Chase laughed and said, “No.”

-Since Butchie was introduced as a guy who was pushing Phil to take out Tony, why did he turn on Phil and negotiate peace with Tony?

“I think Butch was an intelligent guy, he began to see that there was no need for it, that Phil’s feelings were all caught up in what was esentially a convoluted personal grudge.”

As David Chase wouldn’t say much on the ending, the author of the article looks at some of the speculation:

Theory No. 1 (and the one I prefer): Chase is using the final scene to place the viewer into Tony’s mindset. This is how he sees the world: every open door, every person walking past him could be coming to kill him, or arrest him, or otherwise harm him or his family. This is his life, even though the paranoia’s rarely justified. We end without knowing what Tony’s looking at because he never knows what’s coming next.

Theory No. 2: In the scene on the boat in “Soprano Home Movies,” repeated again last week, Bobby Bacala suggests that when you get killed, you don’t see it coming. Certainly, our man in the Members Only jacket could have gone to the men’s room to prepare for killing Tony (shades of the first “Godfather”), and the picture and sound cut out because Tony’s life just did. (Or because we, as viewers, got whacked from our life with the show.)

The ending may have been frustrating, especially as it left many of us momentarily wondering if our cable had gone out, but Chase certainly has done as he had hoped in keeping everyone talking. In consideration of all the hype, I bet that no matter how the series ended there would be a lots of talk, and almost as many fans left unhappy.

Related Stories:
The Sopranos Ends Without Even Fading to Black

Cable Finales: The Sopranos and The Tudors

Update: More on The Sopranos finale in SciFi Friday for June 15.

The Sopranos Ends Without Even Fading to Black

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David Chase just was not up to doing justice to all the hype created by the talk of the series finale to The Sopranos. Possibly there was no ending which could have really been totally satisfactory. Some loose ends were tied up, including the war with Phil. We get an idea of how Tony’s organization will go on with the loss of some of the top lieutenants. There is closure of sorts to the story with Uncle Junior, and we see what A.J. and Meadow will be doing at least in the immediate future.

I feel David Chase was toying with us in the final minutes. So much was done to create a feeling of imminent dread, and then nothing. Literally nothing. We are left to imagine our own endings. The other patrons of the diner who were made to appear ominous may or may not have threatened or even killed Tony. Assuming he lives, Tony has a legal battle ahead which he may or may not win. There’s sure plenty of material left for a movie if that is the goal. It may also increase sales of the DVD assuming that the other two filmed endings are included in the hopes that one of them will be more satisfactory. It is not even known if the other potential endings provide a finale for the scene in the restaurant, showing whether Tony gets whacked, or if they show a totally different situation.

Ending the series by having life go on without a clean ending would have been fine. The problem is the manner in which this was done. Viewers shouldn’t have been left with the first reaction consisting of wondering if their cable went out. Fading out over a scene of a family dinner might not have created as much internet buzz tonight, but would have been a more conventional way in which to end. But then David Chase never wanted to be conventional.

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