And that was the way the world ended: not with a bang but a whimper. If you had that famous phrase stuck in your head while tuning into the series finale of “Sons of Anarchy,” we wouldn't blame you. Not with everything that went down last week. But if you still haven't tuned into Tuesday's final episode, well ... do it. Immediately. As for everyone else, well we all deserve some hugs, Brutha.
The brilliance of Lisa Kudrow's performance as Valerie Cherish is that it's cartoonish and absurd, yet through her behavior you can see Valerie's complicated motivations underneath it. Some people dislike "The Comeback" because they can't get past that facade--it's overwhelming, and really grates, whether it's intended to be comedic ("Jane, Jane...") or just annoying ("Jane, Jane...").
Both in season one and now, Val's behavior is largely an act of self protection. Her image matters to her, and she desperately tries to shape it, usually failing. Then, though, her behavior at least turned out to be somewhat justified: all of her raw, unflattering moments were used against her by the reality show. Even though it was a hit, you can see how that sort of betrayal would send her even deeper into self-protection.
Throughout most of "Valerie is Taken Seriously," Valerie is doing damage control for what she thinks is more potentially damaging footage. A New York Times reporter who's seen the first episode of the faux HBO series "Seeing Red" tells her that her performance is "brave," and Val takes that as Hollywood code for a woman who looks ugly on screen.
But the reporter is really referring to her acting, which is extraordinary. To add an additional layer of meta, which "The Comeback" loves to do, the scene Val watches shows her character, Mallory, talking to the Paulie G character, Mitch, and saying, "I'm your way out, and you're too fucking stupid to even know it."
It's a powerful moment, even for us as viewers of "The Comeback." Mickey is stunned. "Red--all these years! You can really act," he says. "It's wonderful." A quick glimpse of Jane shows that she, too, is impressed.
That line we hear Mallory deliver is key because that's what she, Mallory, is for Valerie: a way out of the caricature, a way in to earned respect. Her acting is so strong it will undoubtedly lead to better things for Valerie Cherish. Val's character might as well be speaking directly to Val, but of course Valerie doesn't get it, reacting instead to her physical appearance, and in particular how the light makes her look.
Of course, Valerie finally learns to stand up for herself and push back at exactly the wrong time, again getting in her own way. Her self absorption ensures that, as usual, she prioritizes her own insecurities. That leads to Paulie G.'s biggest flip-out to date. She's been warned that Paulie G. is struggling with "Seeing Red," falling behind by two scripts and even being replaced as director, but she still tries to convince him to change the lighting to make her look better--even though, again, what they've created together is pretty impressive.
Paulie G.'s flip-out opens up an opportunity for a cameo from Paulie G.'s old writing partner, Tom, who delivers one of "The Comeback"'s most overt lectures on Hollywood's dysfunction. Now executive producing a Nickelodeon show, Tom finally flips out himself, yelling, "I don't get this business. Why does everybody make excuses for that guy?" The episode answers that by showing that Paulie G. still has talent, despite his awfulness, and that talent may just help both him and his past and present nemesis.
It's ironic that Val would finally choose to confront Paulie G. about making her look bad because of something that does exactly the opposite. Yes, there's a somewhat humiliating scene of Val, in full green screen attire, turning into a CGI monster and literally tearing a to-be-added-in-post child apart--a representation of their relationship and of Paulie G.'s "inner child." At one point he tells her, "You're the monster, Val, you got it? You don't have to do anything because you're the monster--you. Clear?"
By the end, Valerie finally is clear: "Jane, I'll do whatever you want."
Although he appeared in last season’s best sketch (“Monster Pals”), James Franco hasn’t actually hosted “Saturday Night Live” in almost exactly five years. With “The Interview” just around the corner, don’t be surprised to see Seth Rogen show up tonight. (I’d be more surprised, but also more delighted, if co-star Lizzy Caplan shows up for a “Masters Of Sex” parody as well.) Franco has been up for anything in his previous “SNL” appearances, and just released a fantastic “SNL” documentary now available on Hulu Plus, so he’s a good host to kick off this final leg of the Fall 2014 season.
As always, I’ll be liveblogging each segment. This week, I’m giving everything a “B” just to appease those that quibble with the individual grades I assign. Oh wait, that probably wouldn’t be any better. Grades are imperfect, in-the-moment reactions and nothing more. This has been a strong overall season, one that’s been a lot of fun to recap thus far. I’m hoping Franco, Martin Freeman, and Amy Adams bring things to an equally strong conclusion.
Waiting to sit down for that 80-minute movie event that was the penultimate “Sons of Anarchy” episode? Better eat up those pies, set down the gavels and smell the roses because you probably don’t want to be spoiled by the review that follows.
Tuesday’s “Red Rose” was everything this season has been building to and more, yet true to the overall tone it took us a damned long time to get there. Although the set ups that went down in the first 50 minutes or so will inevitably lead to next week’s wrap-up, none of the real action took place until the last half hour. To be honest, I can’t decide if that slow burn made those final minutes more climactic or not, but either way those are the cards we’ve been dealt so let’s see how they were played — shall we?
This is it, y’all. We made it to the mid-season finale! After tonight it will be farewell until after the first of the year. So let’s squeeze ever last insane drop out of “The Akeda,” like a giant shake’n’bake of mythology and history.
Abbie and Ichabod have the sword of Methuselah, and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse have Moloch. Who will triumph?
Thunder and lightning greet the audience to let us know things are about to Get Real™. Ichabod and Abbie are headed straight to Fredrick’s Manor with the sword, because time is of the essence. Henry has blown the horn to signal the rise of Moloch.
I kind of wonder what the range on that thing is? All across the tri-state area, the top news story tonight is about the strange trumpeting sound being reported by hundreds of people. More at 11.
Ichabod is giving directions the old-fashioned way, and a good thing too, because no sooner has Abbie derided his ye olden ways than lightning STRIKES THE CAR and shorts out the GPS. But doesn’t electrify them? Undeterred, they push the car — I assume since there’s no tow truck in sight — to a local gas station but BAM! Lightning strikes again, shorting out all the lights and making repairs impossible. Thor really wants Ragnarok to happen, you guys.
Being an officer of the law, Abbie steals…commandeers…a motorcycle while the repairman fades into the mist of Tertiary Characters. We learn Abbie had a motorcycle as a teen and there is no way the lightning can short it out since it has no electrical parts. She’s right, but I mean…it could still just strike them dead on the spot, right? Third time’s the charm, after all.
Except tonight. Our heroes arrive on the scene and Crane adorably proclaims, “I want one of these as soon as this is over!” It’s like a horse, but without all the manure and getting kicked in the stomach!
With no time to spare on fripperies like “reconnaissance,” Crane and Mills burst into the Manor. Lucky for them, it’s been abandoned. Or unlucky, since Abbie went through all that effort to upgrade from a handgun to a sub-machine gun. All that remains in the house is Henry’s tiny Quasimodo replica of Sleepy Hollow, complete with suspicious markers. A few bits of red string later and Henry’s evil plan becomes clear: he had to draw a pentagram and/or pentacle over the city! That bastard? To what purpose remains a mystery.
Ichabod manages to shoehorn in a reference to George Washington’s Bible and how a demon will rain Hell on Earth. Everyone keeps assuming this demon is Moloch, but considering we’re two Horseman shy of an Apocalypse, this seems like premature Armageddon.
Katrina’s screams keep anyone in-universe from putting two and two together though. Ichabod and Abbie rush outside to stop the binding ritual. Katrina is all tied up and the boys are gonna fight over her. Do we really have time for this? Shouldn’t “You stole my girl!” be third tier concerns right now?
Crane gets the better of his former friend and Death is down for the count. Ichabod is seconds away from skewering Abraham when he hesitates. Just standing there. Dude, no. The pointy end goes into his fleshy bits. It’s not hard.
Oh, apparently our heroes need to know where Moloch has gone and Death is the only one who knows. I mean, it’s not like he’d be in the center of the pentagram drawn over the city. Or like they have a witch who could perform a tracking spell. Nope. They only have a witch who can expand her illusion so we can all hear Abraham talk. Sigh.
Once Abraham properly has his head again, he wastes no time in throwing a wrench into everyone’s plan. “All magic has a cost,” he says. Calm down, Rumpelstiltskin. But he’s right. The sword of Methuselah demands a sacrifice. In order to wield the power to destroy demons, in return the sword kills the man who wields it and takes his soul.
Ichabod is suspicious because it seems too convenient. I am suspicious because I’ve seen “Lord of the Rings.” In a group consisting mostly of XX chromosomes, surely this is an “I AM NO MAN” scenario?
While the Scooby gang looks into the veracity of Death’s claims, they decide to take him back as a hostage. Now Katrina is tying up Abraham….how the tables have turned. Ichabod and Abbie discuss the strain on the Crane marriage and if it can withstand everything it has been through. Considering Katrina is properly Stockholm Syndrome’d? I’m gonna go with no. Regardless, they leave the former kidnap victim alone to interrogate her captor. This should go great.
Red lightning flashes over the cabin, signaling Moloch has leveled up. Jenny meets up with the heroes with bad news. Death wasn’t lying. The sword will definitely murder any man who uses it. But wait? Didn’t Methuselah kill thousands of demons? Is there a Fill Meter on the blade or something? How do you know when the sword is coming to collect?
But Genre Savvy Jenny has a plan. The sword can’t consume the soul of someone who doesn’t possess one. Someone like Captain Frank Irving. Now they just need to find him.
Meanwhile, Henry and New Dad are having bonding experience, chatting about complex modern family dynamics, raising Purgatory into the plane of the living…you know, normal blended family stuff. Henry basically says “You’re so much cooler than my real dad. He never let’s me do anything fun.”
Armed with knowledge that the sword is a tricky shit, Ichabod goes to retrieve his wife. But Katrina is too good at her femme fatale schtick, as evidenced by even her husband believing she truly still has feelings for the Headless Horseman. Tensions run high as Ichabod asks if Katrina would have the stones to kill Henry to get to Moloch, because it might (definitely) come to that. Katrina is still Team Delusional and fails the test utterly. Rather than face reality, Mrs. Crane opts to stay and “interrogate” Abraham further.
Ichabod is forced to return to the cabin empty handed. He rages a bit at the unfairness of being forced to murder his own son, tying it in to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abbie points out that Isaac was an innocent child, not a murderous Horseman of the Apocalypse. Mills is still solidly Team Common Frickin’ Sense.
Jenny saves everything from getting too philosophical by pulling up the voicemail Irving left when he abandoned her near the Canadian border. At the end, he leaft a series of numbers. A code! It’s a date. September 23, 1780. Is everyone in this universe a history buff and if so, how do I get there because MY PEOPLE!
In the first season and now, Valerie's quest for attention and affirmation led her to be filmed by a camera permanently mounted in her bedroom. Last week, Valerie Cherish was turned into an object and humiliated by Paulie G., via her character, Mallory.
So, while it seems like there's little dignity left for her to give up, this episode makes it clear that she can still find ways to sacrifice. Because Valerie Cherish is once again desperate for her new TV show to work, and in this episode of "The Comeback," that leads her to literally give up her house.
In order to save scenes featuring her character at home, which have been cut because of the budget, Valerie offers her home as a ready-made location. Besides the impact that has on her life, it also further blurs the line between the character Mallory and Valerie Cherish.
After last week's affront, Paulie G. is entirely silent this episode, but he's just as awful as always. During filming at Valerie's house, instead of just asking Valerie and Mark (and Mickey, and her camera crew) to leave, he whispers to a crew member to let her do the job. It's comedic because they're literally the only people there, but the crew member shouts as if she's talking to 50 people.
The take-over of their property leads to Valerie and Mark seeking refuge at a hotel-like rental property that they own. After Mark succeeds -- for once! -- in shutting the cameras out, there's a literal gunshot. It's truly shocking for everyone, us included, when a gunshot leaves Jane literally ducking for cover (she's usually just ducking out of the way of the cameras), but even more shocking when we see its aftermath: a blood-splattered wall.
That's the image we're left with, but a good part of the episode is spent on Valerie trying to become a better actor. Recognizing Seth Rogen's skill in improvisation, she takes an improv class at The Groundlings.
This gives "The Comeback" yet another meta layer to play with, because The Groundlings is where the Valerie Cherish character was literally born. Lisa Kudrow created her there in 1990 (Kudrow <a href="http://metro.co.uk/2009/
Of course, Valerie Cherish is not Lisa Kudrow, and Val it's no surprise at all that she's horrible at improv. During her first scene, she comments on everything that's happening and whispers to her scene partner. As we know from watching "The Comeback," she needs to control everything; she can't just listen and respond, as a good improvisational scene requires. And she most definitely cannot stay present in the moment.
During a break, Mickey says that tests revealed he has cancer, and when Valerie goes back on stage, she keeps saying that word, bringing it into the scene because that's all she can think about. It's a nice nod to both her failure at improv (Jane's face says it all throughout these scenes) and Valerie's concern about Mickey, even if, at first, she's too busy performing for her camera crew to recognize her friend's stricken face.
All that gives "The Comeback" a chance to comment on its own use of Mickey's cancer as a comedic device, with the Groundlings' instructor telling her that while nothing is off-limits, there are some things that just don't really make people laugh.
A beat later, there's a joke about the "Seeing Red" line producer's wheelchair. Then, a suicide played for shock value. At least when "The Comeback" sacrifices its own dignity, it's completely aware of what it's doing.
Last week was an Abbie-centric episode where we finally got to see her and Jenny interact with their mom. Of course, Mrs. Mills was embodying the “cryptic messenger” trope, so the family reunion was laced with unnecessary terror and miscommunication. So, a pretty standard family gathering.
This week, the gang returns to the task at hand. Moloch — and certain doom — are barreling down on the world. They’ve got to gear up for the “Magnum Opus.”
No nightmare cold open this week. Instead we get the other, far more delightful opening where Ichabod and Abbie do something with modern technology, causing the curmundgeon in Crane to come out. This time? A friendly game of Head’s Up charades using their phones. Abbie’s clue is Crane “Cannot tell a lie,” which leads to outrage by Ichabod because his BFF George Washington lied ALL THE TIME.
“Whatever, Colonial Mythbuster,” chides Abbie, voice of the audience.
This attempt to trick their subconsciousnesses (that is one awkward word) into making sense of the Mills family journal is cut short when Katrina pops in via mirror call. This is the first time the gang has heard from her since she went back “undercover” and it’s not good news. Katrina hasn’t managed to kill Moloch because murdering evil children is wrong or hard or something. Suck it up, girl.
Katrina warns that Moloch is days away from reaching maturity and her hands are tied. Truly, TRULY the most inept witch of her age, you guys.
Abbie is like “Back to the drawing board, we gotta find this weapon my mom said was hidden in the pages but couldn’t be bothered to tell us exactly where and oh my God, I hate this obtuse bullshit.”
Unbeknownst to our heroes, Henry’s mirror has a redial function. Exposition Library is compromised! Sound the drudge siren! The Horseman of War is able to eavesdrop as Abbie and Ichabod finally puzzle through the myriad of steps needed to find the weapon. Nothing is ever easy.
Speaking of difficult situations, Abbie gets an alert that Reyes is hot on the trail of Captain Frank Irving, Escaped Convict. Abbie texts Jenny to let her know the cops are setting up checkpoints and to be safe, since Jenny is transporting Irving across the border to Canada. I hope Abbie was using a burner phone or that warning is gonna come back to bite her in the ass.
One anagram, distorted drawing, political cartoon, and epiphany that America might have been founded as a by-product of preparing for the Apocalypse later, we arrive at the solution to all our Moloch woes. The Witnesses must find the sword of Methuselah. Luckily, like all major artifacts pertaining to the End Times™, it’s located in Sleepy Hollow. You cannot throw a rock in this county without hitting a priceless mythical artifact.
There is one catch: prophecy states in order to wield the sword of Methuselah, one must “Know yourself of perish.” Crane pretty much says, “Um, so maybe I shouldn’t touch it then,” and I concur because this is a man who latches onto the viewpoints of loved ones like an opinion leech.
Back in the Carriage House, Henry congratulates himself on being clever enough to let Katrina use the mirror. Now he and Death know what the plan is and can stop the heroes. Sure dawn is approaching, but that’s not War’s problem. Abraham had best just ride faster to get to the sword first.
Despite our fugitives taking a road supposedly checkpoint free, there’s one anyway. Irving isn’t surprised; the cops are widening the net. Jenny the Genre Savvy keeps a spare burner phone in her glovebox though, so armed with a means of communication Irving bails out of the moving car. They’ll meet up on the other side.
Not gonna lie, I’d watch a show just about the hyper-competent adventures of Jenny and Irving.
Following the map laid out by Ben Franklin, Abbie and Ichabod have reached the point where 'X' marks the spot. But there’s a whole of nothing…until Abbie sees the ruins from her vision last week. Turns out Mrs. Mills wasn’t in Victorian London OR ancient Rome; she was singing eerie lullabies in the wilds of New England.
Suddenly, a wild Headless Horseman appears! He uses “Can’t see shit.” It’s super effective! The Scooby gang hides in the bushes while Abraham curses his lack of eyes. But he has bigger problems. Dawn is coming, so murdering his friend-turned-foe must wait. Headless dismounts to enter the ruins and I instantly want our heroes to steal his horse. But sadly, it is not to be. Instead Abbie sneaks up the back while Ichabod pleads for restraint. Just let the UV Rays get him, seems to be Crane’s argument.
Abbie is having none of that nonsense and spies on Abraham. The Horseman of Death is engaged in a bout of vandalism. He’s stealing property like a teenage hooligan. Abbie’s a terrible spy and knocks a brick loose, turning the unseeng gaze of Death upon her. Uh, oh.
For once, Crane gets to play the hero, distracting his estranged friend while Mills escapes. Ichabod runs about twenty feet and dives behind the rocks, winded. Time to add in some cardio, dude. The mood lightning vanishes just in time for the sun to rise. Abraham is forced to retreat, steaming like a plate of fajitas.
Ichabod Crane, the only human on Earth who actually uses the Sunrise/Sunset part of his phone’s weather app.
A major, unanswered question this season of "The Comeback" has been what exactly is motivating Paulie G., why he created an HBO dramedy to depict his experience writing a short-lived sitcom. Episode three didn't answer that question, but it did underline it with a very disturbing scene that Paulie G. wrote into his new series: Valerie's character performing oral sex on Paulie G.'s character.
While that never actually happened, as Valerie Cherish and eventually Paulie G. acknowledge, it's written as Paulie G.'s fantasy, which may very well have happened. Either Paulie G. did once fantasize about Valerie in the past, or he's using that to humiliate her in the present; both are disturbing.
Seth Rogen, playing Paulie G's character on "Seeing Red," is the only person who recognizes how demeaning this scene is for Valerie, and how much she really does not want to do it. He stops it by suggesting that he can sell the scene and it can be shot without her needing to be visible. (Because she's Valerie Cherish, she ends up in perhaps an even more embarrassing position, her head on his lap, out of the frame, as he fakes his own orgasm.)
Maybe he's the only person with the power to do that, since Val does ask Paulie G. how to play the scene, and ends up suggesting that she could do it "eager, reluctant, [or] not at all." She doesn't stand up for herself more than that, though, having previously acknowledged to Paulie G. how much she needs this show to work, just as he admitted to her the same thing.
Seth Rogen is not the only person who shows Valerie respect this episode -- Jane is particularly forthcoming about how exploitative she thinks all this is, which is very out-of-character for her -- but Seth Rogen is remarkably perceptive about everything while still being jokey. He notices Paulie G. giving Valerie a look and calls him on it, which puts him on the side of the audience/camera crew.
Rogen, the rela-life actor (not the actor-as-character), plays this version of himself remarkably well. So many of these types of cameos end up being exaggerated, obnoxious versions of an actor, who clearly has fun playing a jerky version of him- or herself. Here, it's the opposite, but Rogen plays himself with restraint and humanity so his character doesn't come off like as one designed to make the real-life actor look good.
It just feels real and genuine, like you could imagine Seth Rogen in this actual position. And there's fun interaction between his character and Lisa Kudrow's Valerie Cherish, who is, as usual, trying to impress others.
What didn't feel as real was the scene in which Valerie had to stand in her "Room and Bored" track suit between two fully naked porn stars, who were making orgasm sounds. That seemed to serve no actual purpose for "Seeing Red" other than to humiliate her and degrade the women; perhaps the same could be said for "The Comeback" using that scene. Do we really need to humiliate Valerie this much? Is this much awkwardness necessary? We get it.
Now that "The Comeback" season two has arrived on the set of "Seeing Red," the show felt more grounded than it did in the first two episodes -- but it also felt like it found very familiar territory to settle on for its themes. How much humiliation with Valerie Cherish subject herself to to earn some respect? Can she prove that she's more than who Paulie G. thinks she is? Will the ever-present camera crew undercut her efforts?
"The Comeback" season one did those things so well, I'm not sure why "The Comeback" season two is trying, unless it's trying to prove that nothing really changes. But like Paulie G., its motivations are still unclear.
In Cameron Diaz, “Saturday Night Live” has its second consecutive host making an appearance after a lengthy absence. Although Diaz has hosted the show three times before, this is her first time doing so since 2005. Will there be “Annie” sketches? Probably! Will there be a Jamie Foxx and/or Quvenzhané Wallis cameo? Possibly! Will Bruno Mars make an in-sketch appearance in addition to his musical role tonight? Likely! Will this be an exciting episode or one that puts audiences to sleep faster than Thanksgiving dinner? Who knows!
As always, I’ll be liveblogging the show in real time, assigning grades to each segment. As always, I’ll remind you that comedy is subjective and the grades don’t have any more power than you allow them to have. As always, a few of you will ignore that last statement and quibble over a “B-“ versus a “B”. It’s cool. We can all hold hands and sing “Massachusetts Afternoon” together when it’s over.
Nerves got the better of you during Tuesday night’s nail-biting, reveal-all episode of “Sons of Anarchy?” Well light up them ciggies and let’s get joyriding because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.