These are the episodes of television I watched that aired this week, not including any previously aired episodes that I watched in addition: 

The Americans: “Arpanet” (2.07) - B 
Bates Motel: “Plunge” (2.06) - B+ 
The Following: “Betrayal” (2.12) - F 
Game of Thrones: “Two Swords” (4.01) - B+ 
House of Lies: “Joshua” (3.12) - C 
Justified: “Restitution” (5.13) - A- 
Parks and Recreation: “Flu Season 2” (6.19) - C 
Review: “Road Rage; Orgy” (1.06) - C 
Saturday Night Live: “Seth Rogen/Ed Sheeran” (39.18) - B 
Shameless: “Lazarus” (4.12) - F 
Silicon Valley: “Minimum Viable Product” (1.01) - D 
Turn: “Pilot” (1.01) - C 
Veep: “Some New Beginnings” (3.01) - C+ 

image

A few days ago the fourth season of Showtime’s Shameless wrapped up its year with a final scene that left a bitter taste and highlighted many of the flaws that the series has faced since its genesis. On the other end of the spectrum, FX’s Justified has now finished its uneven, occasionally directionless fifth year with a final scene that spotlights the ultimate endgame we’ve known was coming all along and should have everyone on their feet in anticipation for the show’s upcoming final year. From the opening episode Justified has always been about the relationship between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder and it’s only fitting that this is where the series will end when it returns for one last run next year, but the fifth season overall spent a little too much time working its way around to that final moment and a little too much time on diversions that it ultimately didn’t seem to care too much about. 

While any meandering plot strands could be attributed to character building and there was never really a moment in this season where I wasn’t at least enjoying myself, there were definitely some elements that felt a little sloppily written or perhaps too much like filler when looking at where everything would end up. As always, the season featured a tremendous rogues gallery of memorable characters played by actors like Alan Tudyk and Wood Harris, along with some returning favorites like Jeremy Davies and Kaitlyn Dever, further cementing the fact that Justified has perhaps the most impressive and natural understanding of how the federal and criminal worlds overlap and intersect in their day-to-day routines. Each season inevitably focuses primarily on one or two key figures for Raylan and Boyd to cross paths with, but there are always those lasting criminals in the background who come and go but never seem to wither away and having them back whenever they’re around is a welcome treat as always. 

If there was one big problem with the fifth season of the show it’d have to be with the Crowe family and how scattershot their importance was in the grand scheme of things. At first it seemed like all the cards were being set up for Daryl Crowe Jr. (a very game Michael Rapaport) to be this year’s Big Bad in the same way that Mags Bennett and Robert Quarles were in the second and third seasons, but as time went on the whole Crowe family seemed like the least interesting element of this season for both this viewer and the writers. Once things became established that the next season would be Justified's final year, the building arc for it all to be about Boyd and Raylan became the only picture in sight and by the time we reached the finale it was almost as if the Crowes were nothing more than an afterthought. Which is fine because they were the weakest antagonists the show has had to date, but also makes the season look a lot messier when reflecting on it overall. 

Really though this was all about Raylan and Boyd, as it always has been, and the people that these two men drag into the world around them. Raylan spends so much time defending the idea that him and Boyd aren’t the same, but this season more than ever has shown them as being two of a kind in the way that they use everyone around them and only care as long as the other person is serving their ultimate goals (in a lot of ways I’d actually say Raylan is very similar to another great FX anti-hero, The Shield's Vic Mackey). Neither of them are men who are inherently evil but instead the darkness in them is drawn out of their own narcissism and their refusal to accept responsibility for their actions. 

This year both men were separated from the women in their lives (Boyd’s Ava being in prison — a largely hated arc that in my opinion was absolutely necessary in making her decision in the finale a believable one —- while Raylan’s Winona has taken their child to Florida) and both men constantly had their backs up against the wall no matter how eloquent they were in using their roguish charms and silver tongues to try and get out of situations. Each men dragged down so many of the people in their orbits, whether it was Raylan’s actions ultimately getting his former father figure shot or Boyd losing the only men loyal to him he had left, but the beauty in Justified is in how fascinating and insanely likable both of these guys remain no matter how much damage they cause. I can’t see a time ever coming where I don’t light up when I see either of these men come on screen and that’s a real testament to the work of both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins, both of whom had stellar years and for Goggins I’d say it was the finest season for him on this show to date. Boyd was really put through the wringer this year and through it all Goggins was absolutely electric. 

In setting up the final season, Justified did a great job in establishing the similarities of these characters and the inevitability that all things will come to an end with the two of them standing on opposite sides of a line. We’ll see who will pay the price come next year and it’s looking more and more like the both of them are going to end up going down for all of the pain they’ve been at the trigger for, but no matter what happens I will be very excited to see it all unfold. Justified's fifth season may have seemed to run off course in the middle stretch but once again it found itself in the final run by bringing its characters all back together and through everything it remains the show with far and away the best dialogue and the best cast to deliver it on television. A final season of Boyd vs. Raylan once and for all is exactly what's been needed since the beginning, bringing us right back to that first episode with the two of them on either side of the table and Ava right in the middle. Now just give me more of Tim and Rachel and we'll have a final season for the record books. 

B+ 

Episode Highlights: 
01. "Starvation" (5.12) 
02. "Shot All to Hell" (5.05) 
03. 
"The Toll" (5.11) 
04. "Over the Mountain" (5.04) 
05. "Kill the Messenger" (5.06) 

Perhaps it’s unfair to condemn a season of television based primarily on the final episode, particularly when it’s the final moment that doesn’t even come until a mid-credit stinger, but for the fourth season of Shameless that episode really just exacerbated a lot of problems the show has always had. For the majority of the season things were relatively status quo. Instead of using the traditional structure of starting off largely comedic before building to an intensely dramatic final stretch of episodes they started off hitting hard with the drama right away, but aside from that it was the same mix of great arcs for the good characters and terrible, plodding and uninteresting ones for the annoying characters. That’s how the show has always gone for me so I wasn’t surprised to see it happening the same way again. 

While I hated everything that was happening with Frank (and by extension Sammi and Sheila) and others, I loved the arcs for Fiona and Lip and the way they converged. Pulling Fiona down was a bold and brilliant move for the show to make, painting a picture of her removed from the strong and resourceful woman we had seen before and showing us how easy it could be for someone in her position to succumb to the urges that had dragged other members of her family down in the past. Having Lip practically abandon her and take her driving force away to only push her further down felt like a natural decision for the characters to make, and it was devastating to watch them both in so much pain which only made it so much more cathartic to see the two of them come back together in the end. I’ll always stick by this show for the two of them even if nothing else is working, and for a lot of this season nothing else really was working. I really enjoy Mickey and I think out of any character this season he had the most satisfying arc from start to finish, but the way the show treats Ian is so weird that it’s hard for me to be fully in that corner since their arcs are so obviously entwined. 

However, anything that was good in this season was really thrown away by the finale which felt like one big hour of the show shitting all over the fans before delivering the biggest fuck you possible. I’m about to include some big spoilers for the finale so don’t keep reading if for some reason you haven’t seen the episode but are still reading this, which would be weird. Anyway, no one gave a shit about Jimmy anymore, him being gone from the show did nothing negative and now they’re bringing him back for what? I hate shows that don’t have the guts to drop characters when they’ve outstayed their usefulness but what’s even worse is when they fucking tease their exits and then pull back from it at the last moment or even after the fact. No one thought Frank, who has always been one of my least favorite characters on television and a giant anchor that’s been weighing this show down from the start, was going to die but having him near death the entire season and then coming back to life in the last episode, complete with a big moment of fucking conquest in the final scene made me want to scream and cry absolute bullshit. Them not showing Jimmy’s death on screen made it obvious that they would bring him back at some point but fucking whhhhhhhhhhhhy. 

Fiona’s arc this season was one of the best things they ever did but the natural peak was for her to be in prison, which they just wrote her out of almost immediately with some bullshit “overcrowding” reasoning. As for Ian and what seemed to be a good deal of foreshadowing to a serious problem all season, they end it with a flat moment of “oh guess he’s bipolar now” and everyone just goes home. And don’t even get me started on Sheila and Sammi who fully conquered their crown as two of the most searingly annoying characters in television history. I really want to kill like 90% of the characters this show has right now. This show has always been rocky and the fourth season was no different but the finale reached an absolute nadir which dragged everything that came before down with it. I love Lip, I love Mickey, I love Fiona and I really love Emmy Rossum but fuck this show right now. 

C- 

Episode Highlights: 
01. "A Jailbird, Invalid, Marytr, Cutter, Retard and Parasitic Twin" (4.07) 
02. "Iron City" (4.06) 
03. "Hope Springs Paternal" (4.08) 
04. "Strangers on a Train" (4.04) 

These are the episodes of television I watched that aired this week, not including any previously aired episodes that I watched in addition: 

The Americans: “Behind the Red Door” (2.06) - A 
Bates Motel: “The Escape Artist” (2.05) - B- 
The Following: “Freedom” (2.11) - F 
House of Lies: “Together” (3.11) - D+ 
Justified: “Starvation” (5.12) - A 
Parks and Recreation: “Prom” (6.18) - C+ 
Person of Interest: “Most Likely To…” (3.19) - Will update later. 
The Red Road: “The Journey to Sunrise” (1.06) - C- 
Review: “Having a Best Friend; Going to Space” (1.05) - C+ 
Revolution: “Austin City Limits” (2.18) - B 
Saturday Night Live: “Anna Kendrick/Pharrell” (39.17) - D- 
Shameless: “Emily” (4.11) - D 
The Walking Dead: “A” (4.16) - B 

A great first episode showed a lot of promise but it quickly spiraled into something far too messy and unfocused for having such a short season. The first season of The Red Road really would have benefited from having twice as many episodes given the fact that there are plots that emerge and disappear without warning, elements whose importance varies drastically from one episode to the next and a finale that felt like it resolved absolutely nothing and didn’t even satisfy dramatically. That’s not to say it’s without its positive qualities, it’s just that every solid aspect is met with something that doesn’t quite work. 

The existential themes don’t mesh well with the normalcy of the rest of the proceedings, especially when taking into account the odd direction they took everything with Julianne Nicholson’s character and how they manifested her troubled psyche. Her performance is riveting and the best in the series by far, but everything with her character doesn’t really fit into the majority of the show. Although there’s a lot that doesn’t seem to fit. The love story with Junior and Rachel could have done with a lot of work, as could the stuff with Tom Sizemore’s character. The performances vary drastically, with Nicholson and the towering Jason Momoa being the peek and a wooden Martin Henderson being the lowpoint — he spent the whole series looking like he was confused as to why he was there. 

Perhaps what’s most disappointing is that the first couple episodes open up an interesting discussion on the cultural conflict happening in the area between the suburban folk and the Indian community but it becomes such a background non-entity in exchange for a more cliched, lazy and rushed attempt at forcing conflict in the cops vs. criminals arc that is left totally open with as little resolution as there was in the beginning. It’s also one of those cop shows that has an absolutely mind-boggling abundance of unintelligent police work from start to finish. Looking at the season overall makes it look worse than any grade I would give to each individual episode, but there’s still a lot of potential here that could turn this into something more impressive if it’s given another shot with a second season. I wouldn’t complain if it weren’t given the opportunity, though. 

C-

Episode Highlights:
01. "Arise My Love, Shake Off This Dream" (1.01)
02. "The Bad Weapons" (1.04)

The Walking Dead has never been a consistent show. Current showrunner Scott M. Gimple has said that it’s a show which reinvents itself every eight episodes and while I may not go that far, it’s certainly one that has very distinct shifts in quality every half-season. In my eyes the first season was great, the opening half of the second wasn’t too good, the back half of the second was great, the opening half of the third was solid and the back half of the third was garbage. Of course it’s also become a very divisive show so there are plenty out there who will disagree; some think it’s been great from the beginning until now, some who think it was trash from the start and some who feel the total opposite to myself in terms of where it was good and where it wasn’t. That’s the way the world works and this is obviously just my personal opinion on the series and the season that wrapped up last night with a decidedly (and appropriately, in my opinion) anti-climatic finale. 

The fourth season of Walking Dead was its most inconsistent to date, but not in a way that varied from episode to episode. Each year the series builds to a big mid-season finale before taking a long hiatus and returning for the second half of the season, and this year it was that break that really drew a definitive line in the sand from where the show went from awful to great. In my eyes, the first half of the fourth season was the worst the show has ever been by far and that’s saying a lot given some of the bad stretches its had before. The writing reached its laziest points, retreading so much of the same material to such an extreme that the hyped up mid-season finale was exactly what it had spent the entire third season teasing that it was building to before backing out completely, just to spend eight more episodes before coming back to the same thing. They went around in circles for no reason, drawing out inevitable storylines that had no suspense to them and driving their already corny and poorly acted characters to even greater lengths of stupidity. 

The illness taking over the prison was a decent idea in concept but when it became clear that some characters have reached a point of popularity where the show is afraid to actually put them in real danger for now, any possible suspense went out the door as the only ones to really fall prey to it were the obvious new characters that we were introduced to for a few minutes before they met their grave. It was a series of episodes void of anything resembling tension or interest, only made better when put into comparison against the truly god awful Governor-centric episodes that followed them leading up to the pitiful mid-season finale. I was all but ready to give up on the show, but curiosity for where things were headed after the destruction of the prison got the better of me and I continued watching. To my great surprise this total demolition of where the series had been spinning its wheels for the past season and a half was exactly what the show needed to get its creative energy back and find a way to explore these characters on a more substantial and intimate playing field. 

Breaking the ensemble (and this year truly became an ensemble show rather than a Rick-centric one) off into so many separate groups was a risky and polarizing move but for me it paid off ten fold, giving us these detailed short stories that shockingly gave me an emotional investment in characters I previously had no interest in and really made the events going forward something that will have a higher value for me on every level. Daryl and Beth were two of my least favorite characters going into this season and when I saw that we would be spending time with the two of them alone I was cringing in displeasure, but the building of their relationship quickly gave me such a strong connection to them that seeing her taken away absolutely shattered me. Moments like these demonstrated what a great gift this string of episodes were in building these characters up and giving them more depth to have a stronger investment in them for what’s to come. 

Carol has been one of the most inconsistently written characters on the show but she’s hit a real peak of quality this season, as has Melissa McBride’s searing performance. Her being matched up with Tyreese and the children was an interesting play (one of many unconventional and illuminating groups that were formed in the wake of the prison fallout) and it gave all of these characters a far greater depth than they had been given before. Chad L. Coleman’s performance before this back half of the season was possibly the worst the show has seen to date, but in the episode “The Grove” he hit me on a level that I had no idea he was capable of reaching. That episode in general is easily the best the show has had so far in the entire run of the series, hitting the pinnacle of exactly what a great benefit this series of episodes were for the show. 

I didn’t think Walking Dead had the capacity to shock me anymore, but in taking a step back and reevaluating itself it managed to come back strong with a jaw-dropping moment that was done not for the sake of shock value (which this show and many others have used way too often as a crutch in recent years) but rather to examine the show’s rarely seen ability to mine the devastating toll this world can take on the human psyche. It’s something we haven’t seen the show explore as much as they should in the four seasons it’s been running, but this last string of episodes really provided such a refreshing dose of creativity and thematic weight that I had been wanting from them since the very beginning. I hated the first half of this season so much that I almost gave up on the show, but I’m so glad I didn’t because ever since they came back from the mid-season break it has been better than it ever has been or I ever imagined it would be after the first three and a half seasons. 

The season ended with most of the group reuniting in their own makeshift prison cell at Terminus, which was a nice little juxtaposition to how the season opened and while part of me is worried that everyone being together again may end up leading the show back down a path towards that quality drop I’m hopeful that they can keep these creative juices flowing strong and keep the show on the great path it has set forth in these back eight episodes of the season. Seeing them all together in that cell really hit home the way that the show grew its characters and gave us a better understanding of them in the back half of this season. They had experienced so much tragedy individually and we had experienced it first-hand with them so now when they’re all back together the reunions have a genuine impact because these feel more like actual human beings who are hurting as opposed to mere set dressings. 

We always knew that they had all experienced things before we were introduced to them (aside from our entrypoint Rick), but the writing and acting on this show was never strong enough to convey that kind of character depth the way that having them split up and existing in their own separate groups with us watching was able to. I sincerely hope that now with most of the group back together (and surely Carol and Tyreese will be there soon and helping the group break free) we will still be able to explore them as deeply as we have recently, rather than resorting back to the old ways. If nothing else, it’s nice to see Rick having his badass head back on his shoulders and instead of twiddling their thumbs like they were at the prison the next season should open up with some prison break ingenuity that I’m really looking forward to seeing. 

This season did an exceptional job of bringing these characters to lows far darker than they had experienced before (the death of Hershel taking its toll on many of them, Rick and Carl believing Judith is gone, Carol doing what she had to do with Lizzie, etc.) and there’s definitely the sense with Terminus and all the other ominous foreshadowing, along with what comic readers (myself included) know could be coming, that it’s all been to prepare them for what’s up ahead. Although if the next season follows the path of quality that the show has had so far it looks like the first half of the season will be great and the second half will drop considerably. We’ll see what happens in the fall I suppose. Seasons of The Walking Dead have always been difficult to give a grade to given its inconsistency and how dramatically they tend to shift at the halfway point, but that change in quality is so insane this season that I have to split the grade up into two parts. 

Part One: F
Part Two: B+

Episode Highlights: 
01. "The Grove" (4.14) 
02. "Inmates" (4.10) 
03. "Alone" (4.13) 
04. "A" (4.16) 
05. "Us" (4.15) 

Yes, I still watch this show. Don’t be like me.

D+

Episode Highlights:
01. Any time I got to spend with Constance Zimmer.
02. Laughing at the fact that once upon a time this show was able to get guest stars like James Cameron and Martin Scorsese but by the end their big grabs were Johnny Galecki and Mark Cuban.
03. The inevitability that none of the bullshit happy endings that were so rushed in for the finale could possibly last in any real world so within a week of these events happening everyone was probably miserable again and all three marriages should logically end in divorce. I’m going to be pissed if they’re all still together in the movie.

Grade: D-

Episode Highlights:
01. The one with the Sasha Grey full-frontal.
02. The five seconds where I was excited about them bringing Billy Walsh back before they quickly revealed that they had neutered the character, removed any sense of the fire and energy he had and then kept him in the background for the rest of the season.
03. I guess parts of the finale were okay?

Grade: D-

Episode Highlights: 
01. "Give a Little Bit" (6.12) 
02. "Fore!" (6.05) 
03. "One Car, Two Car, Red Car, Blue Car" (6.03) 

Grade: C-