A Look at “True Blood” Season 7, Episode 5: “Lost Cause”

For the people of Bon Temps, what is normal, if not constant attacks and living in fear of the supernatural? This week’s “Lost Cause” has Sookie becoming host to a party that feels very out of the ordinary compared to everything else. This party leads to a series of unfortunate events where almost nothing goes right. Balanced against this is the continuing adventure of Eric and Pam to snuff out Sarah Newlin.

Lost Cause- Eric prepares to release Willa

The episode begins with the disposal of the bodies in the aftermath of the battle. Eric and Pam are about to head off, but Willa doesn’t want to go. She’s still pissed at Eric for leaving her, while Tara did a better job helping her adjust to being a vampire. Eric admits he’s been a terrible maker, but he doesn’t regret turning her and he still needs information regarding Sarah’s location.

Willa offers it, but only if Eric releases her. And like that, Eric renounces his dominion over her. Huh. To think, all Willa had to do was ask. Willa spills: Sarah has a sister named Amber, which is not news at all. What is news is that Sarah’s sister is also a vampire. Apparently, Willa overheard Sarah having a phone conversation with Amber at the mansion. Willa couldn’t overhear everything, but she at least knows that Amber called from a Dallas area code. Well, that settles it. Time for a trip to Dallas!

Lost Cause- Ginger doesn't want Eric and Pam to leave

But before that, there’s the matter of Ginger, who doesn’t want Eric and Pam to leave for fear that she’ll never see them again. If Ginger can’t come with them, she at least wants Eric to fuck her. After all, she’s been their loyal slave for so long without getting any from either of them, so it’s the least they can do. And they’re both diseased, so it all balances out!

Lost Cause- Ginger won't take 'No' for an answer

No dice.

Lost Cause- Lafayette sends Sookie to bed

So at Stackhouse Residence, Sookie heads in and finds Alcide’s jacket. She’s not alone, however. James and Lafayette are already there and came by as soon as they heard what happened. Though Sookie wants to do some cleaning, Lafayette orders her to bed.

Lost Cause- Sookie sees the others have prepared a banquet dinner

Time passes and Sookie later heads downstairs, only to find Jackson, his lady friend, James and Lafayette there. The house has been prepped, almost as if Sookie were about to have a party. Guess what? They’re throwing a party for the entire town! What better way to celebrate life after a day of death and sadness?

Oh, and Bill brought flowers because he’s a gentleman.

Lost Cause- Amber Mills, played by Natalie Hall, not sure yet whether she likes Pam

In Dallas, Texas, Eric and Pam find an infected Amber Mills, played by Natalie Hall. She shares her story with them: she has always been the black sheep of the family. After Amber had been turned by her boyfriend, Sarah freaked out. She’s been paying Amber money to stay in a coffin, all while convincing the populace that her sister had just been taken away by vampires. Family, am I right? Amber needs no convincing to help Eric and Pam, especially when she learns that the two plan to kill her. However, it’s been years since the two talked in person. Sarah did recently call, looking for a place in Dallas to stay. Mom and Dad are attending a Bush Gala for Ted Cruz, so Eric and Pam have a location. Amber warns the two: only assholes are invited to this gala. Clearly, this woman has never met Eric Northman and Pam De Beaufort.

Lost Cause- Lettie Mae wants to attend the party

Lettie Mae wants to attend the party. Reverend Daniels says no. While the reverend is conveniently looking away from Lettie Mae and focusing on his food, Lettie Mae spots some allergy medicine. That’s a scene.

The party is in full swing. Bill keeps himself to a corner while Arlene and the rest of the girls celebrate freedom.

Lost Cause- Charles Dupont, played by Matthew Holmes, rouses the men

We flash back to Bill during the lead up to the Civil War. He speaks with a young man named Minus, played by Gilbert Owuor, before heading to the bar. Inside, Charles Dupont, played by Matthew Holmes, gives a rousing speech about all able bodied men serving in this incoming war against the Northern carpetbagger. These fine, Southern gentlemen shall do all they can to maintain their way of life. And, by God, it is their sovereign right, as the good people of the state of Louisiana, to secede from the Union!

“With what?” is the ultimate question that Bill asks. After all, the North is better equipped, so the men of the South will be crushed! The bar doesn’t take kindly to this carpetbagger sympathizing and the bar’s owner, Louis Bodehouse, played by Brian Patrick Mulligan, orders him out.

Lost Cause- Jackon says kind words about Alcide

After Violet awkwardly tries to cheer Sookie up, Jackson says a few words about Alcide. Though the two never got along, Jackson appreciated that his son was happy when with Sookie. You can’t die a hero without having a righteous cause.

Lettie Mae would also like to say a few words, about Tara: Tara was a hero, too. Mae might not have always been there, but she tried her hardest. And when she wasn’t around to help her daughter, Mae could always count on Tara’s friends to help her.

Lost Cause- Jessica refuses to join the party

Not joining in on the festivities is Jessica, who has remained outside while still feeling guilty about Andy’s daughters. Andy comes out and basically tells Jessica that she’s being a buzzkill. Jessica torturing herself keeps the pain alive for Andy, as well. After all that Jessica has done for Adilyn, the least she could do is realize that life’s too short and precious to look back. Yet we’re still seeing flashbacks. Andy needs help from Jessica, specifically a ring to propose to Holly, but Jessica insists that something so precious shouldn’t be done with one of her rings. Why? You’re not exactly using them!

Lost Cause- The ring

Inside, Sookie gives Andy one of her grandmother’s rings- a ring that was originally intended for Jason. Andy kills the music and gets on one knee before Holly. He’s nervous, and it’s made no better by the fact that Holly says ‘Yes’ before Andy gets a chance to pop the question. When he finally does, she kisses him. She didn’t ‘Yes’ that time, though.

James wants to leave the party, but Jessica tells him not to be a wet blanket and enjoy himself. Really, Jessica? You’re telling him that?

Lost Cause- Arlene and Sookie talk about the pain of loss

Upstairs, Sookie and Arlene talk. Sookie’s feeling overwhelmed by all of the festivities and finds it hard to miss someone that she can’t fully believe is dead. Arlene tells her that no matter how much you love someone, death is inevitable. Every night, Arlene puts on Terry’s jacket just to feel his arms around her. Arlene, I swear. Arlene believes that you never get over the loss of a loved one- you just learn to live with it. That should be one of this show’s mantras. All healing comes in due time with tequila. A worthy combination.

Lost Cause- Lafayette and James bond on the porch

Out on the porch, James and Lafayette bond. James isn’t feeling his so-called relationship with Jessica. Lafayette poses a question about James’ former friend, Danny: were the two intimate? James confirms that they were. Things are starting to heat up!

Lost Cause- Eric advances to stage two of the virus

Back in Dallas, Texas, Eric and Pam get ready to infiltrate a “Republicunt” stronghold. You know, in the politically charged world that we live in today, where so many feel they must be one way or the other, I wouldn’t be surprised if the term “Republicunt” didn’t originate from True Blood. But I digress. When Eric removes his shirt, Pam sees the veins making their way all across his body, indicating that he’s advanced to Stage Two of the virus. Not one to stop with the plan, Eric simply tells Pam to cover the marks that would be visible.

Despite just calling him a wet blanket, Jessica asks Arlene about James’ whereabouts. Arlene last saw him step out with Lafayette. You know where this is going. Jessica follows the sounds and…

Lost Cause- Lafayette giving it to James

…whoops! Jessica storms off and won’t listen to either James or Lafayette. James goes off to sulk. Jason even rescinds his invitation.

A now confused and distraught Jessica tells Jason about what happened. Jason isn’t entirely surprised. Given Jessica’s description of James, it seems pretty clear that he’d be gay. Jessica just thinks that James may be confused.

Lost Cause- Lafayette tells off Jessica

In enters Lafayette, one of the last people Jessica wants to see, and she makes it known. The two exchange barbs before Lafayette leaves.

But Lafayette’s not done yet. Even though Jessica caught him and James in a compromising position, Lafayette knows more about James than Jessica does because he actually gave a damn and asked. And if Jessica was honest with herself, she’d see that she and James just do not fit. It’s not a stretch that Lafayette would want some happiness after seeing everyone around him find someone. Nicely done, Lafayette.

Sookie makes her way through the party and overhears the thoughts of citizens that now regret the awful things they said to her before.

Lost Cause- Bill in flashback

Bill thinks back to the time when he, Minus and a group remain hidden from Confederate troops. Just when they think the coast is clear, Charles fires a shot and kills Minus. That shot, Charles tells the group, is a warning to any deserters. All he wants is Bill’s map, but that goes up in smoke.

Back in the present, Sookie thanks Bill for seeing her the way she can’t see herself. As she continues through the party, she hears Lettie Mae’s thoughts, and the lady wants more vampire blood.

Lost Cause- Willa stabbed by Lettie Mae

So Lettie Mae takes a knife and stabs Willa in the shoulder! This causes a ruckus and although Willa’s wound heals in no time, Lettie Mae manages to bring the party to a screeching halt. Mae tells Lafayette that Tara has been contacting her: she’s stuck and the only way out is with Willa’s blood.

For whatever reason, Nicole is the voice of reason and calls out the absurdity of having a party in the middle of so much carnage. All right, I guess. You’re still new to town, lady.

Lost Cause- Jason and Jessica talk

Jason and Jessica have more girl talk. Jason admits that Violet is just a bit off. Also, it really meant a lot that his grandmother meant for her ring to go to him. He’s unsure now whether that ring would have gone to Violet. Then they kiss. They get to the loving later on, which Violet overhears.

At the gala, Eric and Pam split their priorities: Eric will get Sarah’s father alone, while Pam heads for Mom.

Lost Cause- Sarah and her mother, Nancy, played by Bess Armstrong

In the ladies room, Sarah surprises her mother, Nancy, played by Bess Armstrong. Nancy lets her daughter know that the world is looking for her. Sarah knows this and wants some powerful help: Laura Bush! But Laura stopped taking their calls. Well, darn.

Lost Cause- Eric meets Sarah's father, Paul, played by Brett Rice

Eric meets up with Paul, played by Brett Rice, but before the two get a chance to talk for long, the Yakuza pop in to make quick work of the Mills’ parents.

Both Paul and Nancy are killed in the attack. Sarah runs off, but heads straight into Eric. Before Northman can deliver the killing blow, he dispatches some Yakuza.

Lost Cause- Sookie in Alcide's jacket

In Bon Temps, the party is over and everyone is gone. While the people of Bon Temps may have changed their opinions on Sookie for the better, they were still dicks that didn’t bother to help her clean up. Before laying down for bed, she takes a moment to inhale the scent of and put on Alcide’s jacket. Sookie, I swear…

In one final flashback, Bill tells his wife that he doesn’t want to fight. She says not to worry, though. He is her’s.

In the present and after his bath, Bill heads to the mirror and sees that he is also infected with the Hep-V virus.

I wouldn’t call this a bad episode, but it has its fair share of problems. Luckily, the different plotlines were contained this week. We were either at the party or with Eric and Pam. Where the episode suffers, I think, was in characters making predictable and very stupid decisions when they should be smarter than this. More than that, they learn lessons that, given what they’ve been through, should be nothing new to them. At the same time, Eric and Pam’s separate storyline and Bill’s reveal at the end did help make the episode more entertaining.

Lost Cause- Violet tells Sookie about her hundred boyfriends

With True Blood, characters must have come to accept the death and craziness that has plagued Bon Temps, time and time again. What would be out of the ordinary anywhere else turns out to be just another week in good ole’ Louisiana. These people have lost loved ones before, but the grieving process has never been the same, like Terry getting almost an entire episode dedicated to him. The characters can accept death, yes, but they don’t know how to process it.

They’ve been able to come to terms with loss without having a party. It feels like the episode tried to tackle how we grieve after a heavy loss, but I question the execution.

Lost Cause- Toasting to Alcide

When trying to find happiness, something always gets in the way, making it almost impossible to be happy. Additionally, characters don’t realize how good they have it until the one thing they love is gone, whether that’s Lettie Mae grieving Tara or Sookie accepting that Alcide is not coming back. There’s a time and place for everything, and that doesn’t mean just saying something for the sake of saying it.

It’s fine to grieve, but this season has moved so fast with its murders that raising glasses felt like a half-hearted attempt to get us to care about or remember characters that the show was perfectly fine with getting rid of. The death of Vince and his mob, Kenya, Mrs. Fortenberry- none of them are brought up. I’m not saying the episode needed to reference everyone, but if the show is going to kill off characters we’ve known for awhile, there ought to be a payoff. Otherwise, it makes the deaths feel pointless.

The main issues I find with the episode revolve around character decisions, specifically those at Sookie’s party. Who honestly thought having a party to celebrate life was a good idea? What in the world made Jason and Jessica think it was a good idea to bone then and there, with other people in the same house? And why wouldn’t Reverend Daniels think to keep a closer eye on Lettie Mae, who he already knows is unstable?

Lost Cause- Sookie and Bill

Sookie, I feel, mostly existed this week as a background character. Sure, she’s prominently featured throughout the party, but most of what happens has little to do with her. She’s mostly an observer. I’m surprised she was so open to letting Lettie Mae remain at the party, despite Mae blaming her for Tara’s death. Can’t say I buy her sadness for Alcide, given how we know that she didn’t love him with the same affection that he did.

If Jason was so dead set on accepting his grandmother’s ring, why not just accept it and keep it until the time came? I’m glad he showed some backbone to Violet when he told her off about mentioning her many, many boyfriends to Sookie in an attempt to cheer her up. He seems to be at absolute ease when speaking with Jessica.

Lost Cause- Jason and Jessica bone

And really, if he and Jessica wanted to bone, they could have taken it somewhere else. I don’t see Violet taking this lightly. I also don’t understand why he was so quick to rescind James’ invitation, given how what James and Lafayette do really shouldn’t be any of his business.

Lost Cause- Jessica outside, talking with Andy

Speaking of Jessica, I’d like to know why she’s still so upset about what she did. Wasn’t this the entire reason Lafayette came in to have a pep talk with her? And now, it’s as if she’s forgotten all about that. Her emotions are all over the place. First, she doesn’t want to come to the party, and then she chastises James for wanting to leave the same party she didn’t even want to join.

Lost Cause- Jessica after finding James and Lafayette fucking

She freaks out when she finds James with Lafayette, but to be honest, Jessica and James don’t have any sort of chemistry. She wouldn’t even listen to James when he mentioned that she hadn’t fed. Even though we’re supposed to believe that James and Jessica are a couple, they appear very distant.

Lost Cause- Lafayette wants happiness, too

And to be honest, Lafayette has a real point. Throughout the series, he’s watched from the sidelines as others made connections. He was there for support and while he had a relationship before, it didn’t last long. And Lafayette has taken the initiative to get to know James outside of knowing that he’s a vampire. We’ve seen the two interact and grow as a pair, which gives credence to the possibility that the two could form a strong bond.

Lost Cause- Sookie and Arlene speak with Keith

I’m glad that Arlene has made a full recovery and is ready to move forward, but she could have been a little grateful to Keith. She may be right to fear him since, vampire and all, but he did save your life. Some gratitude would be in order.

Lost Cause- Bill sees that he's infected with the Hep-V virus

While Bill’s flashbacks felt like he just longed for the old days, I get the feeling that they’ll connect with the reveal that he’s infected.

Lost Cause- Bill's final flashback of episode

And like Pam and Eric’s flashbacks, we did get to learn some more about his past. It’s a past we’ve seen before, but I hope there’s a payoff to them.

Lost Cause- Pam and Eric stopped by Ginger

And as before, Eric and Pam had the most entertaining part of the episode, with their search for Sarah. Whether it’s Amber and Pam slowly gaining respect for one another, Eric telling Pam that she must accept that he’s going to die or how disgusted they are at the gala, the two make for some great character moments. Plus, I got a laugh when Eric told Amber that he and Pam could definitely be assholes if that meant it would get them into the gala. Even if the two can be major assholes, they clearly care for one another.

Lost Cause- Eric rips off Yakuza's face

Unlike last week’s battle at Fangtasia, I thought the battle with the Yakuza was well done and much easier to follow. Eric ripping off the face of one Yakuza reminded me too much of the battle between The Mountain and The Viper on Game of Thrones.

All in all, this was a decent episode. While it had characters doing stupid things and somewhat forced drama- seriously, characters like Lettie Mae and Nicole should be killed off- the character moments from Pam and Eric, as well as Bill’s infection, kept me interested for more.

A Look at “The Walking Dead” #129: “Even Now, They Still Find New Ways to Dispose of the Dead”

The Walking Dead #129 Cover

The Walking Dead #129 pushed Carl’s arc forward and gave us another look at Rick’s growth as a leader, but also his desire for stability and rigidity.

The Walking Dead #129- On the road with Rick and Carl

Things have noticeably slowed down since the events of “All Out War,” and while some may consider this new storyline as moving too slowly, I personally don’t have a problem with it. For me, a slower paced storyline can work if it’s building to something great.

The Walking Dead #129- Rick and Negan Talk

One of the series’ main focuses has been the ethical and rational decisions behind murdering in a post-apocalyptic world. We see this play out with Rick’s decision to leave Negan alive as opposed to killing him. Had this been early on in the series, I’m positive that Rick would have killed Negan. But now that society is beginning to rebuild itself, as far as Rick is concerned, there’s no need to kill Negan. He kept him alive to prove that the people of Alexandria and beyond are better than him and the Saviors.

Rick doesn’t give into Negan’s taunts because he feels that he’s already won, based on how civilization has progressed. Rick’s being a bit too idealistic, something Andrea warned him about earlier. In both the comic book and television series, we’ve seen Cynical Rick and Optimistic Rick. Here, Rick’s optimism may get the better of him, because keeping Negan alive will only come back to bite him in the ass. Morally, would it have been right for Rick to kill Negan? Possibly, but had he done that, Rick would think he’s no better than Negan. He wants to prove that there’s a better way. Despite all of the terrible things that Negan has done, Rick won’t kill him because he’d be showing that he can stoop just as low.

The Walking Dead #129- Rick attacks Benjamin

That’s not to say Rick isn’t prone to violence anymore. Sure, he’s out of practice, but attacking Benjamin proved that he can still kick ass when necessary. Everyone has worked hard to secure the stable life they’ve built for themselves. There have been less roamer attacks because people have taken care of them, ahead of time. When even a few appear, someone screwed up on the job, and no slip-ups can be afforded when it comes to dealing with roamers.

The Walking Dead #129- Carl watches silently while Rick lashes out at Benjamin

Not strange at all is that Carl doesn’t flinch through all of this. He’s used to seeing his father behave this way. He knows that Rick does it because society is reforming itself. In Rick’s mind, sometimes you have to knock a few people around to make a point, especially when it comes to the well-being of his son.

The Walking Dead #129- Carl and Andrea

Though Carl got to say his goodbyes to Andrea, Anna and the like, this issue allowed him and Rick to spend some time together. Most of this involved Rick goading Carl into talking about his “girlfriend,” Anna, but it’s probably one of the most human conversations they’ve had in a long time. That, coupled Carl telling Andrea that he never expected to have enough things to fill two Duffel bags, is an example of characters beginning to have what feel like normal talks instead of fearing for their lives.

The Walking Dead #129- Magna and her survivors meet Negan

So Negan’s not the only one in the jail? Surprise to me, but then, we’ve only seen Negan, so it’s not too far off to think that everyone in Alexandria is a saint. However, Negan has said before that Rick should have killed him. Now that Magna and the others have found him, he can spin whatever B.S. tale just to get them on his side. From the beginning, Magna’s crew hasn’t fully trusted Rick. This wasn’t out of spite. It’s because the people of Alexandria haven’t been completely open about everything. Again, in this world, putting everything out in the open can be disastrous when it can be used against you.

So Carl is moving on up to the Hilltop and Negan may be on the verge of walking out of his cell. Things are getting very interesting.

A Look at “Masters of Sex” Season 2 Premiere: “Parallax”

In hindsight, maybe “Fallout” would have been a better title for this premiere if the name hadn’t already been used. The season premiere to the second season of Masters of Sex, “Parallax,” had a tall task. It had to deal with the aftermath of Bill’s disastrous presentation, as well as his confession to Virginia, advance character storylines and continue exploring the wonders of human sexuality. Credit where it’s due, I think the premiere managed to accomplish all of this by taking its time with its storytelling. It doesn’t just try to reintroduce the characters all at once. It takes what we’ve been given, introduces new issues to tackle, and paves the way for what will be major dilemmas throughout the season.

Parallax- Bill sleeps on the couch

The season begins in the dead of night. Bill Masters watches his television, but remember this is at the point where television actually ended in the evening, so there’s nothing really to watch. As he overhears a baby cry, he settles on the couch, all while remembering the night he spent with Virginia Johnson after his confession.

Parallax- Langham comes in the ladies' room just as Virginia knees Dr. Crane

Speaking of, we then revisit Virginia Johnson, who catches the wandering eye of Dr. Crane, played by Jed Rees. She enters the ladies’ room, but a door is no match for Dr. Crane! He soon follows and corners her, admitting that he can’t stop thinking about her after the presentation. Langham, who has been watching this play out, goes in and tries to be a hero, but Virginia knees Crane in his goody bag before leaving in a huff.

Parallax- Virginia talks about her troubles, Langham proposes that Virginia sell Cal-O-Metric

In the cafeteria, Langham advises Virginia not to take guys like Crane seriously. That’s easy to say, hard to do, as Virginia has been propositioned quite often. Men have left notes on her windshield and she’s even found a dildo on her desk. Though that one she assumes a woman left for her. She never says whether she kept or donated it, but I guess that’s not important. It also doesn’t help that the money Virginia makes from working for Dr. DePaul doesn’t cover essentials. She stands no chance of getting a raise, so she’s in a tight spot.

Langham proposes something called the Cal-O-Metric, a product Elise once tried after she went stir crazy and got tired of junior league and scout mothering. Soon enough, she lost all of the baby fat. Virginia finds it all too surprising that Elise still cares for him. Quite frankly, so do I, but Langham insists that his wife deserves a medal for her for her forgiving heart. She deserves way more than that!

Parallax- Bill watches Barton undergo shock therapy

Elsewhere, Bill accompanies Barton to his first session. The doctors don’t want Barton to drive after the session. Since Margaret doesn’t know that Barton is still having the procedure, he wants Bill to keep this under his hat. Once Barton has his routine set, he’ll be able to handle himself.

With the pain clear on his face, Bill watches as Barton is given shock therapy and convulses.

Afterward, he wakes up, unclear where he is. He even vomits on Bill, who isn’t upset at that. The memory loss and confusion are only temporary.

Parallax- Virginia meets Flo Winters, played by Artemis Pebdani from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Taking Langham’s advice, Virginia meets with Flo Winters, played by Artemis Pebdani from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia! Nice. Flo gives Virginia the lowdown: Virginia sells the product and keeps some of the profit. Some will go to the Headquarters, which is Flo. But because Virginia can’t pay for it, the best Flo can do is give Virginia some pills right now, but the Flo’s cut goes from 20 percent to 50 percent. After all, you can’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer. Virginia questions the effectiveness, and Flo responds by noting that she was once 198 pounds until she heard about the starving Chinese. Oh, and Virginia will have to go by a script. Even though she prefers to go off the cuff, Virginia has to stick with what she’s given.

Parallax- Bill wants Barton to stop the electroshock therapy

Barton is ready to drive home, but Bill shoots that idea down. He’s still against this form of therapy. Electroshock is unpredictable and the side effects could be permanent. More than that, there’s no hard data proving that this cures homosexuality. All Bill wants Barton to do is think about it.

Parallax- Bill checks into the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, speaks with Thomas, played by Daniel Rubiano

At the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel, Bill checks in under a Dr. Holden. The clerk, Thomas, played by Daniel Rubiano, confirms the reservation and Bill heads to his room.

Parallax- Flashback, Bill and Virginia talk after sex

During his shower, Bill has another memory and we again flash back to the night they had sex in Virginia’s home. Afterward, Bill actually takes Virginia’s pulse. But since there are no instruments, there’s no clear way to interpret what just happened? Soon, the phone rings. Virginia knows that it’s Ethan, and he’ll keep calling until Virginia decides to pick up. She eventually does and heads to another room to talk. She apologizes and tells him that things have changed.

When Bill emerges from the shower, he sees that Virginia has arrived.

Parallax- Libby takes the baby to see Dr. Begner, played by Chris Conner. Begner demeans Bill

In the present, Libby Masters takes her baby to Dr. Begner, played by Chris Conner. Begner is surprised. Not because Libby has come in for the baby’s first major checkup, three weeks after he was born, but that she dared to even show her face at the hospital after her husband’s presentation. But hey, you never know what you’re in for after you say “I do.” Libby shouldn’t blame herself. She doesn’t, though. In fact, she defends her husband.

Parallax- Virginia tries to sell diet pills to Yvonne, played by Lauren Pritchard

So Virginia isn’t a natural salesman, judging by her shop in the cafeteria. Most of the women give her cold stares, except for one: admissions newcomer Yvonne, played by Lauren Pritchard. Virginia goes by the script, which mentions a baby- something Yvonne hasn’t had. Needless to say, the attempted sale turns into a train wreck and Yvonne leaves Virginia with her pills.

Parallax- Libby offers to let Virginia hold the baby

Luckily, Libby arrives, so the two are able to talk. Libby’s received her fair share of scorn and pity. I’m guessing she hasn’t received any surprise dildos, though. Libby would like nothing more than for Bill to return to work. She asks Virginia for advice on how to go about it, but they agree that trying to force Bill to do anything will backfire. If Virginia were in her shoes, however, she’d care for the baby, then herself.

Parallax- Bill and Libby prepare to leave for gala while Essie watches the baby

At House Masters, Libby prods Bill to attend a gala for the St. Louis Community Chest. Her plan is to get close to Doug Greathouse so she can talk him into giving Bill a job. Greathouse is head of the Obstetrics Department at Memorial Hospital, so it’d be a big deal if they could just talk to him. Luckily, Mama Masters is there to take care of the baby.

Parallax- Dr. Doug Greathouse, played by Danny Huston

At the gathering, Bill drinks in a corner while the man of the evening entertains the crowd. We then meet Dr. Doug Greathouse, played by Danny Huston. They are all gathered, he says, to help eliminate Rubella- German measles. German because they were discovered by a Kraut. But hey, at least the measles weren’t discovered by a Jap. Otherwise, we’d be calling it Fried Rice!

His words, not mine.

Libby is anxious to speak with Doug one-on-one, while Bill would rather be boiled in oil. It’s a tough call, to be sure, but no matter. Bill doesn’t have to talk to Doug.

Parallax- Betty and Gene, Annaleigh Ashford and Greg Grunberg, run into Bill at the gala

He can catch up with Betty and Gene, with Annaleigh Ashford and Greg Grunberg reprising their roles. Gene is there because the hospital loves his money, but Gene would love a family, so he’ll be paying Bill a visit to discuss that. When pressed about his future work, Bill is confident that he’ll be able to work at a hospital more receptive to his study.

Libby, unfortunately, did not talk to Doug one-on-one, but Bill says he’ll call him tomorrow.

Barton takes a look at some nude male figures before heading to his beloved Margaret. To her surprise, Barton wants to stay there, with her. Just to prove it, Barton has Margaret feel his erection. Something is definitely happening down there. The two strip down and get intimate, but things go south when Barton turns Margaret and plants butterfly kisses up and down her back.

Parallax- Margaret tells Barton that he can't pretend she's someone else

Margaret stops this, telling Barton that he can’t pretend that she’s someone else. And that means Barton should be willing to look at her. Only a shred of her feels like a woman and damn it, she won’t let him take that away from her. Barton insists that Margaret let him try things his way. He insists that he can change, but they have to try harder!

Parallax- Virginia and Jane talk about their futures

Virginia catches up with Jane, who is making future travel plans. Lester works as a production assistant for a studio out in California, which means that he’ll be a director very soon. Jane, you don’t go from production assistant to director in a short amount of time, regardless of how well you can capture vaginal walls on film. But anyway, Jane wants to be in pictures- ones where her face can be seen. Oh. She should follow her dream. As should Virginia, who Jane insists should come with her. After all, no kid could turn down a trip to Hollywood.

Jane also knows that Virginia shot down Ethan’s proposal. You know, Ethan needs more guy friends if Jane was his go-to person. To Jane, Ethan offers stability. Virginia won’t get anywhere selling diet pills or working on pap smears with Dr. DePaul. She certainly won’t get anywhere with the study, seeing as she only remained at the hospital because her name is on it. Regardless, Bill Masters is gone. And the study? It’s not real. Not anymore. Virginia can’t pin her hopes on something that can’t be. Buzzkill much, Jane?

Parallax- Flashback, Virginia checks into hotel

We cut to Virginia checking in at the Chancery Park Plaza Hotel as Mrs. Holden.

Parallax- Flashback, Virginia tells Ethan that things have changed

As Virginia enters the elevator, we once again revisit the night Bill arrived at her doorstep. However, when Virginia goes to take Ethan’s call, we stay with her and hear the rest of their conversation. Things have changed, and Ethan guesses that Bill is the reason that Virginia is calling things off. But Ethan promises her the life that she wants. All Bill can offer is work. It just cannot be. But, Virginia says, it is.

Parallax- Dr. Ditmer asks Virginia for advice on his use of cold light illumination for esophageal study

Back in the present, Dr. Ditmer approaches Virginia. Thinking he’s making a move on her, Virginia lashes at him, but turns out that Ditmer isn’t interested in drinks, a quick romp, or dinner, nothing of the sort. Actually, he’s received a grant to use cold light illumination for esophageal study, similar to the technology Bill and Virginia used for their study. Ditmer is just looking for some advice and maybe Virginia could apply her skills to the study. And the study is well-funded, so Ditmer is able to pay Virginia, as well.

Virginia apologizes, and while the offer is enticing and for a good cause, she’s already working for Dr. DePaul. However, Ditmer is willing to accommodate to whatever fits Virginia’s schedule, not his. That’s actually pretty nice of him.

Parallax- Bill buries himself in work while Virginia heads to brunch

Libby prepares to meet with Tatti Greathouse, who included Libby in her Women’s Auxiliary Brunch. It’s important that she go. This means Bill is in charge of Baby James- he has a name, now- while she’s gone. Sounds easy. Plus, Bill is a doctor, so he knows about babies, right? Nothing he can’t handle.

Parallax- Dr. DePaul and Virginia talk about pushing pills and medicine cabinets

Virginia heads to her desk, only to find Dr. DePaul already at it. She was looking for a stapler, yet found Virginia’s desk filled with diet pills, which are really just off-market amphetamines combined with sugar paste or talc. Hey, the pills are just for extra money since Virginia’s salary isn’t enough to support her family. Virginia calls attention to the giant shiner under DePaul’s left eye. DePaul says she ran into a medical cabinet, but Virginia knows better. She also knows that DePaul doesn’t date, so what really happened?

Parallax- Langham rushes into DePaul's office to hide from his wife

No time for that! Langham rushes in like he’s running away from Death.

Parallax- Elise storms in and demands to know where Austin is hiding

She’s not Death, but I guess his wife is close enough. Elise storms in with the kids and demands to know where Austin is hiding. When no one answers, Elise hands Virginia the baby and takes the microphone, which is conveniently right there. On the intercom, she puts out an all points bulletin for Austin Langham, the hospital’s resident philanderer and insufferable cad. This cad spent the last two months fornicating with his sister-in-law, Rosemary, who must have been the last woman Austin didn’t skewer like a pig!

Really, Austin? I mean, really?

Bill calls Doug and apologizes for not speaking with him, but offers to visit him later that afternoon.

Parallax- Bill unsure how to deal with the baby

Before this, Bill must deal with the matter of his son. The crying continues and Bill can’t bury himself into his work. He approaches the baby’s room, but stops short before heading to the record player. In one of those moments where Masters of Sex is about as subtle as a train wreck, Bill plays The Everly Brothers’ “Bye, Bye Love.” The music does drown out the baby’s crying, but soon, all is silent.

Parallax- Bill tells Essie that he has become his father

Essie got a call from Libby to stop by and check on how Bill faired. Bill’s certain that he did as well as she did when Bill was a young boy. Bill admits that what he makes is intolerable. Essie thinks that Bill is talking about parents and babies, but Bill has nothing to hide from his mother: he’s been having sex with Virginia on a regular basis and has no intention of stopping. Just like real magic, he’s turned into his father. Heck, he’s turned into her as well!

Parallax- Libby returns to find the baby asleep

Libby later returns, astonished at Bill’s baby magic. Bill tells Libby that Essie is returning to Ohio for good. And despite how much Libby depends on Essie, it’s time that she starts looking for a sitter, preferably one that can start as soon as possible. They will speak of Essie no more.

Parallax- Rose McIver returns as Vivian, talks with her mother about college

To my surprise, Rose McIver is back as Vivian. And more than that, she’s having an actual conversation with her mother instead of being limited to a mere mention! So yeah, Vivian talks about going to college, even though her parents want her to stay close. After hearing a thud, Vivian heads downstairs.

Parallax- Margaret and Vivian find Barton trying to hang himself

Upon hearing her daughter scream, Margaret rushes down and finds that Barton is trying to hang himself. Vivian holds onto her father for dear life while Margaret brings over something for him so stand on.

Vivian rushes to find a knife, which Margaret uses to cut Barton down. They all fall to the floor and Margaret breathes breath into her husband’s body until he revives.

Parallax- Bill and Libby have dinner with Doug and Tatti Greathouse

Bill and Libby have dinner with Doug Greathouse and his wife, Tatti, played by Rya Kihlstedt. It’s time for a new beginning. Or, it’s time now, after Gene made a sizable donation to the hospital, with a few strings attached. Libby’s just glad that Bill is going back to work, but she’s equally curious as to whether Virginia will be joining him again. Tatti wants Doug to play no part in this study whatsoever.

So when the ladies go to powder their noses, Doug admits that he let too much information slip. Gene’s donation came with the condition that Bill be allowed to work. He’s very interested on what happens behind closed doors when it comes to Masters’ study, and wants to be kept in the loop.

Later on, Bill heads to the Scully residence to talk with Barton and share the news, but Margaret tells him that Barton is on a long distance call and could be tied up for a while.

Parallax- Dr. DePaul offers Virginia a drink

DePaul is still hard at work, despite Virginia’s advice that she should turn in for the night. So the good doctor’s proposal is alcohol! As the two drink, DePaul finds it sad that no one would ever think her black eye was because of a jealous lover. Hey, you brought that perception on yourself, Doctor. But Lillian DePaul is never reckless. But then, as Virginia notes, it’s not bad to be careful.

Parallax- Flashback, Bill and Virginia talk about how to proceed with their affair

We flash back- first to the end of Virginia’s call with Ethan, and then we cut to the hotel where Bill and Virginia meet to discuss how they’ll move forward after their encounter on the previous night. It’s no surprise that they came to a hotel in Alton, Illinois, a half-hour’s drive outside of town. Virginia is certain that Ethan must be taking the breakup pretty badly, and getting some distance won’t help him make sense of it. Rarely, Virginia says, does a man understand why a woman would choose love over work.

Hey, here’s an idea! The two could have an affair! What they’re doing is completely pedestrian and the story always ends the same. This time, however, it’s much more than that. They have the work. At the apartment, there were no wires. As Virginia noted all along, there are some aspects of sex that are immeasurable. This opens up an entirely new line of inquiry, Bill says. It would be a mistake to end what the two of them have right now. They will continue whatever it is they have, but with terms- Bill doesn’t want Virginia to feel like she’s being led on.

With that, Bill talks to the hotel clerk and wishes to check into a room. He reserves it under the name of Dr. Francis Holden.

There’s a lot to work with in this premiere, and what the show gives us, I think, is handled very well. Out of the gate, the season is taking a much darker turn, but not as in everything looks dreary and unpleasant. Even the first season handled mature subjects with care, but with moments like Barton’s attempted suicide, DePaul drinking and Bill’s home life, the premiere’s tone is noticeably darker and sets the tone for the rest of the season.

Parallax- Barton looks at male figures

Characters are pretending to be people that they aren’t. Like last season, the masks they wear only show that the happiness they want can only be attained outside of their own skin. Living a lie worsens things not just for you, but the people close to you, made very clear through Barton and Austin’s personal lives.

And as before, we see characters struggle with either maintaining the status quo because it provides stability- as Ethan would like Virginia to do- or stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something out of the ordinary. As DePaul and Virginia noted, there’s nothing wrong with being careful. But if careful becomes too routine and ordinary, you want some chaos in your life to help shake things up. This includes going off-script, and we see many a character deal with that. Virginia likes to go off-script because she relates to people better that way, while trying to get Bill off-script is asking for trouble. Some reverse and find the status quo to be preferable, as is the case with Jane, who now favors pictures with her face and a happy future, believing Masters’ work to be over.

Parallax- Elise wishes more women stuck up for each other

The premiere addresses loyalty, or lack thereof, when characters can’t commit to the people they supposedly love. This is mostly for the couples, however, as with Langham and his philandering. Most of the actual unity comes through while talking to members of the same gender. For example, Elise chastised Virginia for not sticking up for women everywhere when she refused to give up Austin’s location. In instances like this, men and women are expected to be there for one another, regardless of how messy the situation. It’s hard to remain loyal when you’re hiding something. And this is further exemplified with DePaul hiding the truth behind her shiner or Doug secretly being interested in the sex study, against his wife’s wishes.

Parallax- Dr. Ditmer benefits from Bill and Virginia's study

For all the negativity still surrounding Bill’s presentation, it was refreshing to see something positive come out of it. Recall that because of Ditmer’s lackluster presentation on diverticulitis last season, Bill realized that he needed something exciting to maintain audience interest. Here, Ditmer is being given a chance to apply the same technology that Bill and Virginia used for something that will also be of some good. More than that, because of Virginia’s intellect, she may be able to make some extra money out of it, should she accept the offer. Even if she doesn’t, I was glad to at least see Ditmer make the offer, despite, Virginia at first, thinking he had ulterior motives.

Michael Apted’s on this episode really allowed us to get inside the character’s heads this week. This has been done before, but from the opening shot of Masters staring blankly as he watches television, Apted takes time with scenes and lets viewers fully take in what we see as opposed to just jumping from scene to scene.

Parallax- Bill takes Virginia's pulse after sex

This also applies to the sex scenes, which are still filmed with the same close-ups we saw last season, but because Bill and Virginia’s session doesn’t have any of the wires or schematics that they’re used to, more focus is put on their facial expressions and reactions. As such, the scene feels more visceral and real. In fact, a lot of focus goes onto facial expressions and we can tell, words or not, exactly what they’re feeling, whether it’s Margaret and Vivian’s shock at finding Barton trying to kill himself, Elise’s rage at her husband’s continued philandering or Masters’ smug grin when he tells his mother that he has become just like his parents.

That’s not to say the episode is completely dark, as there were plenty of comedic moments, the highlight being Elise’s very public summary of her husband’s affairs.

I did like the use of flashbacks. I enjoy nonlinear storytelling when it’s done right. While the flashbacks could have been done in one sequence, showing them from different perspectives added something each time. We didn’t just get the exact same flashback- the episode built on what we’d been shown.

With all that said, let’s dig into the characters.

Parallax- Dr. Austin Langham does his profession proud

Come on, Austin Langham! You’ve learned nothing from the past season. So since Jane is indeed with Lester, it’s clear that Langham won’t be able to pursue her anymore. I like that he’s able to talk with Virginia about dealing with the advances from men at the hospital. And while the plan may not be worthwhile, he does provide Virginia with another opportunity to make some extra money. Clearly he wouldn’t want to put the moves on Virginia since she could, if she wanted to, spill the details about a certain woman named Flora Banks.

But his sister-in-law? How does that even happen? I mean, what happened to the lady from the jewelry store? The man is as much of a dog as he was last season, but there’s one minor difference. Before, Langham went after women without worry of what would happen to him. Now he’s actively hiding from his wife, and for good reason. Not that it mattered since she put his philandering- which most of the staff probably already knew about- on public display for everyone to see.

Parallax- Elise on the war path

Having said that, I’m glad Elise is showing some backbone. When we first met her, she found her husband’s behavior to be typical of his character. She lamented the women who Austin eventually left, but now, enough is enough. And if other women won’t back her, she’ll deal with her cheating husband on her own. Austin played around with family. Literally played around with family. That’s entering HBO territory. As many familial conflicts as we have already, I would actually like to see more of Elise, given this is only her second appearance on the show. And now that she’s on the war path, I’m sure she’ll still be out for Austin’s blood.

Parallax- Jane tells Virginia that Dr. Masters' study isn't real anymore

Jane seems to be on her way out, which, to me, is a good and bad thing. Good in the sense that she’s following her dreams and still has feeling for Lester, but bad in the sense that, you know, Jane is leaving! Along with Allison Janney, Heléne Yorke has been my favorite female actress on the show, and with her leaving, this means we won’t get to hear any more of her great lines. Side-note, I’m not really upset that we don’t actually see Lester since he wouldn’t have had much to add after Jane told us what he’d been up to. Plus, he kind of hit his high point in “Manhigh” when he admitted that Jane had beautiful vaginal walls. I mean, how do you top that?

But moving on, Jane seems to have put the study behind her, which I get. While she was initially interested in the subject matter, it wasn’t until she saw the footage of herself that she concluded that what she did wasn’t sex. She sees that nothing worthwhile can come out of a study that few respect, so may as well do what she loves- where her face can be seen, anyway. Jane is still the same confident woman that she was last season, unafraid to call out Virginia on selling diet pills when she’s capable of so much more. And, from a narrative point of view, I did like her line about not pinning hopes on what can’t be.

Parallax- Betty, Gene and Bill catch up

This leads me into Betty. Before the season premiere, we’d been told that Annaleigh Ashford would be returning to the role. But it doesn’t appear that we’ll be returning to the brothel. That still upsets me, but nothing I can do about it. Betty was the one who told Virginia that women must hitch their wagons to men if they want to get ahead. Since Betty can’t bear children, she’s pinning hopes on what she can’t have: a family with children. She already said she had no intention of telling Gene about her chronic salpingitis, so at this point, she’s still leading him along with the impression that she’ll be able to conceive. Betty does appear to at least be financially secure thanks to Gene’s position and power, so that’s at least something. And despite how she and Bill came off during their run-in, I do hope they maintain the mutual love-hate friendship they developed up through “Standard Deviation.”

Parallax- Dr. DePaul finds it sad that no one thinks her black eye came from a jealous lover

Dr. DePaul seems to have lightened up since last season, and for the better. She’s dripping with sarcasm and open to drinking at work. After hours, anyway. Plus, it was a bit funny for her to feel insulted that absolutely no one would think her shiner came from a lover. I’m sure we’ll get the story behind that later, along with her cancer, but for now, I’m glad she comes off as more personable.

Parallax- Barton and Margaret's attempt at sex doesn't go as planned

And man, did the Scully clan have a horrible couple of days. Every single one of Barton’s scenes were uncomfortable to watch, whether seeing a nun hold him down while he convulses, when he loses his memory and when he tries to convince Margaret that he’s different than what he truly is. The symptoms he shows after the treatment are exactly what Dr. Ellenburg predicted what would happen, and now we’re seeing this play out.

Barton is absolutely desperate to rid himself of his homosexuality. He’s doing this at a point when America didn’t- and to an extent, still doesn’t- fully understand homosexuality. Against Bill and Margaret’s wishes, he undergoes surgery that could potentially kill him, and watching him try to make love to Margaret was just awkward.

Parallax- Scully family all falls down

And the literal image of the Scully family falling to the ground shows that the family is crumbling because of Barton’s behavior. Not his homosexuality, mind you, but his attempts to get rid of it. When Margaret and Vivian find Barton trying to kill himself, there’s real concern not just in their facial expressions, but at how frantic they are when trying to cut him down. They ask no questions. All they know is the man they love wants to end his life, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to let that happen.

Parallax- Rose McIver as Vivian

Allison Janney and Beau Bridges, as always, turn in great performances, but I was more surprised to see Rose McIver return. Last time we saw Vivian, Ethan had broken off the engagement during “Involuntary.” After that, Vivian’s character had been limited to mentions. Now she’s actually having a full, open conversation with her mother. And, you know, helping save her father’s life. I am glad Vivian looks to have put Ethan and the proposal behind her, and good. She deserved better than that.

We already knew the Scully family was headed in a dark direction, but talk about throwing it right at you from the start. At this point, Barton could use a friend, so I’m not sure why Margaret wouldn’t let Bill in, but I guess this is a family matter for now. It’s going to spill out eventually, though.

Parallax- Libby and Virginia talk

Libby should take a page from Elise’s playbook and be more assertive. She shouldn’t have to scrape, beg and plead for Bill to do something that he’s fully capable of. After all, the fallout from Bill’s presentation has affected her, too, as she must endure the scorn directed toward Bill. But to see her drag Bill to a gala is frustrating because she ought to know that this won’t work. She had that moment in the episode where Virginia mentioned that trying to force Bill to do something wouldn’t work. Not saying Libby shouldn’t try at all, but take a different approach.

And be more up front with your husband! Libby already suspected last season that the naked woman in the presentation might have been Virginia and even questioned Bill on it. With Virginia potentially working with Bill again, she has good reason to be curious about the nature of his work relationship with Virginia. Like Vivian and Elise, Libby deserves better than the man she has. She can’t handle the baby by herself and she shouldn’t have to. However, I’m glad Libby at least still has a friendship with Virginia, even if it could be on the verge of ending.

Parallax- Bill in the dark

Then we come to the man himself. Like Martin Freeman’s work on Fargo, I’m surprised at how well Michael Sheen is able to transform into this despicable character. His facial expressions show something deeper than Bill lets on. He’s not entirely a bad person, as he does show concern for Barton during the shock therapy. As a doctor, he’s still trying to rationalize everything with scientific jargon, but that doesn’t apply when it comes to his relationship with his family. He tells Virginia that he’s a happily married man, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Parallax- Bill tells Essie that Baby James isn't Jesus

He seems absolutely disgusted by the baby, as if he doesn’t even want to acknowledge its existence. Trying to drown the crying with music was a nice callback to what Essie did when her husband beat Bill, but also shows how much Bill is becoming just like his parents. It’s disheartening to see, but Sheen’s performance in the scene where he faces off with Essie was well done. The smug grin on his face, how he rambles openly about his affair with Virginia, this is a man with many burdens and his only way to work out his feelings is to cheat on his wife. Granted, Bill doesn’t have a new job yet, but at the same time, he has a decent amount of money, a wife and child. The problem is that he doesn’t fully appreciate them. He probably never will until he suffers another huge loss, as was the case with the miscarriage. He’s as emotionally distant as he was before. Bill sits on a lot of rage and because he has few outlets to express it, he lets his anger build until he explodes.

And just like Bill to try and tell Virginia that it would be a mistake to end their affair. Always the doctor, aren’t you, William Masters? He’s a little condescending when he tells Virginia that he doesn’t want her to think he’s leading her on, but he has to know that this affair is having a negative impact on her life. When Bill overhears Virginia talking with Ethan, there’s real regret on his face, as if he knows that his involvement is keeping Virginia away from Ethan. More than that, when the two have sex, Bill has nothing but absolute relief on his face, as if he’d been working up to this moment and Virginia needs to be there with him.

Parallax- Virginia talks with Dr. DePaul

So that leaves Ms. Johnson herself, who has her own personal problems to deal with. Luckily, like last season, Virginia has never let her problems weigh her down and get the best of her. She still walks and talks with complete confidence like a woman ahead of her time- a testament to Lizzy Caplan’s performance.

Despite the propositions, a meager income and affair, Virginia isn’t about to let the world get the best of her. Like Dr. DePaul, she wants to get ahead on her own steam. She’s managed to do it and still has open opportunities, as we see with Ditmer’s offer to use her background to help with his project.

Parallax- Virginia fails at selling diet pills

Completely opposite from Bill, Virginia is not one to do things by the book. Heck, that’s what made men like Bill and George so interested in the first place. She thinks outside the box and plays by her rules, not society’s. This is nothing new, but we see here what happens when she’s forced to conform, when she tries to advertise the diet pills. Disastrous results abound, but only because she did what she’d been told to do, not what she wanted.

And at the end of the day, they still have the work. Virginia still talks with Bill like the two have been a couple for years and she shows a playful side around him that we’ve never seen her show around Ethan. It’s funny how open Virginia is about the idea of her and Bill having an affair. To an extent, she’s right: the stories surrounding affairs usually end the same, but most probably don’t involve coworkers who have partaken in their own study of human sexuality and showed their coworkers some footage of a naked woman masturbating. It’s the little things that matter.

Parallax- Virginia talks about affairs

It would be easy for Virginia to hitch her wagon to Ethan because he offers the status quo. Bill keeps things interesting, when he’s not being an absolute prick. But it’s his dedication to the work that draws Virginia to him. And as we’ve seen, Virginia shares that passion of doing work for the good of science, so in a sense, the two are perfect for each other.

“Parallax” is a strong start to the second season of Masters of Sex. It continues the storylines from the first season, builds on them and paces its storytelling so we’re able to fully grasp what we’re shown. It introduced new characters without feeling forced, made good use of already established characters and gave them something to do instead of just shoving them on screen. This episode set the stage for this season to make a darker turn as these already complex characters prepare to deal with more problems. I can’t wait.

A Look at “True Blood” Season 7, Episode 4: “Death is Not the End”

And here’s the episode where apparently no one cared. We dug some more into Pam and Eric’s past, while everything else occurs with no real sense of tension or surprise. What should have been big moments were brushed aside like any side plot from any episode of Power Rangers. Most of them, anyway, but that’s another conversation. The show still manages to squeeze in too many characters for its own good. As a result, “Death is Not the End” feels very muddled with only a few pockets of entertainment.

Death is Not the End- Jackson learns that Alcide is dead

The episode begins in Jackson, Mississippi, where Jackson receives word from Sookie that Alcide has died. Jackson tells Sookie that, while he and Alcide didn’t talk much, he spoke fondly of her. Sookie advises Jackson not to come at night.

Death is Not the End- Hoyt learns that his mother has been killed by a vampire

At the same time, in Anchorage, Alaska, Hoyt hears from Deputy Jason Stackhouse that his mother was killed by a vampire.

When the Stackhouse siblings finish their respective bad news calls, Jason isn’t ready to move on. However, as Sookie points out, people are looking to him because he’s the law.   Sookie, what people? Those people are the very ones that think he shouldn’t be in charge anymore! But anyway, Sam enters. Everyone’s ready.

Death is Not the End- Pam and Eric en route to Louisiana

Pam and Eric are en route to Louisiana. Pam feeds on a flight attendant named Victoria, played by Christine Pitre, and her reward for being a good woman is she now has Hepatitis-V. Congratulations, you’re so screwed! They’re taking a slight detour to Shreveport, much to Pam’s displeasure. Eric just wants to see Willa again, despite abandoning her. Doesn’t matter if Willa hates him, Eric just wants to see her one more time before he dies.

Death is Not the End- Zeljko Ivanek as The Magister, showing Eric and Pam the video store

We then flash back to 1986 and get a brief reappearance of Zeljko Ivanek as The Magister as he shows Pam and Eric a shitty looking video store. But not just any video store: it has the largest collection of adult videos in Northern Louisiana. Enticing indeed. There’s even a tunnel that dates back to the Civil War. The Magister makes it clear that not only is Eric the new sheriff- because the Authority doesn’t trust him and wants to keep an eye on him- but he and Pam are to turn this dump into an operational business. Though Pam and Eric would rather die, they aren’t really given much of a choice. And they’re being watched day and night, so better watch your step.

Death is Not the End- Sookie visits Coby and Lisa

For some reason, Sookie pays a visit to Coby and Lisa to talk about their mother. Everyone else talks to them like they have no idea what’s going on, but Sookie won’t. She knows that Arlene is still alive and will do all she can to make sure she returns to her kids. Promise.

Death is Not the End- Sookie tries to get Holly to remember

The only lead to Arlene is Holly, who is in no condition to talk whatsoever, given the hell she’s been through this on sloppy season- I mean, the horrors she went through in that dungeon. Andy insists that Sookie leave Holly be, but Sookie made a promise! Yeah, Andy, weren’t you listening to the last scene? Sookie made a promise, damn the mental consequences!

Last thing Holly remembers is the mixer and then meeting Sookie in the woods. Everything else is a blur, so the two join hands and Holly begins to relive the memories. She clearly doesn’t want to remember, but Sookie tells her that she’s doing great! Sookie eventually figures out that the others are held at Fangtasia. With this information, she, Sam and Jason leave, while Andy must contend with a still fragile Holly.

I have a huge problem with this scene, but I’ll get into that later.

Death is Not the End- Jason and Sam argue

While Sookie goes to meet with Bill, Sam intends to drive straight to Fangtasia. Jason implores that Sam stop since rushing into Fangtasia without a plan would be suicide. Sam is tired of waiting, however, and keeps on driving…

…until Jason puts his gun to Sam’s head and demand that he stop. Soon enough, Sam brings his truck to a halt. He won’t go to Fangtasia, but he won’t drive, either. He wants Jason to take the wheel. That way, Sam won’t have to say that he’s the one who drove away. Right.

Death is Not the End- James and Jessica in bed, Jessica won't feed

In what I think is their first extended scene on-screen together, we actually get a moment between James and Jessica, whose wound is still not healing. The reason? She hasn’t fed in quite some time, as she still feels guilty about what she did to the fairies. Since Jessica won’t listen to James, he brings Bill instead. But even that does no good.

Death is Not the End- Sookie doesn't give a shit about Jessica's problems

Sookie arrives to the rescue and tells the boys to leave so she and Jessica can have some hard talk, woman to woman. This talk? Sookie just doesn’t give a shit about why Jessica isn’t eating. She doesn’t care about what Jessica did or any of her personal problems. Right now, Sookie needs all the vampire help she can get. This is the strangest girl talk I’ve ever heard.

Death is Not the End- Flashback, Ginger visits the video store

We flash back to 1996. The video store is up and running. In walks a very young Ginger, yet Tara Buck doesn’t look any younger. In fact, she just looks like a female version of Garth from Wayne’s World. Anyway, Ginger is really into vampire cinema.

She’s then in awe at the sight of a clean looking Eric walking in slow motion. Instantly, Ginger wants to apply for a job.

Death is Not the End- Sam and Jason tell Rosie that Kevin is dead

Sam and Jason pay Rosie a visit to tell her about Kevin. She’s distraught, but still isn’t above calling Sam a freak. To be honest, this scene wasn’t necessary, especially given what happens later.

Bill admits that his side will be greatly outnumbered when they converge on Fangtasia, but he’s doing this for Sookie because he owes her. Well, isn’t that special?

Death is Not the End- Lafayette talks with Jessica

Since no one else could help Jessica, they decide to bring in the big guns: Lafayette. He gets right to it- he won’t pretend to know what Jessica is going through. Jessica fights back. She may be a vampire, but Lafayette has no idea what it’s like to kill an innocent person. Except Lafayette does. He never forgave himself for it, but he accepts that he’s flawed. And even though Jessica is technically dead, she can still be worse than she is right now.

Death is Not the End- Flashback, Ginger brings Pam a shitty looking chair

We then flash back to 2006, where Ginger is dressed like Harley Quinn from Batman: Arkham City. Not Asylum, but City. There’s a difference. In Asylum, she’s dressed more like a nurse, but in City, she-oh, never mind. I’m getting off track. Anyway, she brings in a shitty looking chair and has quite the proposal for Pam: the space is theirs, so why not just turn it into whatever they want?

When Pam continues to listen, Ginger pretty much describes the bar we will soon come to know as Fangtasia. And since Eric Northman embodies sex, he can sit on the shitty chair like a king. It’s still a shitty chair, Ginger. Pam likes the description and Ginger’s suggestion for a name. In fact, she likes it so much that she glamours Ginger and decides to take the idea for herself.

In the present, Eric’s impressed that Pam would do such a thing. Nothing less from his progeny.

Death is Not the End- Assembling before the attack on Fangtasia

The time for attack has come. Bill called all the unaffected vampires he could, but only managed a few. No word from Willa yet, but she does suddenly sense something and leaves the human she’s feeding on.

Death is Not the End- Pam and Eric arrive

A knock at the door later, Pam and Eric arrive. That was fast. Sookie speaks to Eric alone and embraces him. Sookie doesn’t want him to die on her. Since they last saw each other, Eric has had quite the life: he triggered an avalanche, went to South America, all over the world until he ended up in France.

Death is Not the End- Willa confronts Eric

Suddenly, Willa enters and demands to know why her maker left her in such a huff. She doesn’t give a shit about what Sookie’s going through- she just wants an answer. Eric tells Willa that, as his maker, they will talk about it later. Well, I guess that settles that.

Death is Not the End- Sam finds the hostages

Sam enters the dungeon as a rat and informs the ladies that help is on the way. But they still need to trust the vampires.

Death is Not the End- Hep-V vampires feed on Arlene

As he leaves, however, one of the Hep-V vampires comes down and seizes Arlene. She’s taken upstairs, where the others begin to feed on her.

They stop when they hear a knock at the door. Eric tells the vampires that he is in need of help and even has a savory human along with him. Before the vampires can feed on Sookie, Eric’s reinforcements attack.

But just as this happens, Vince and what’s left of his ragtag mob- directed by Rosie- throw Molotov cocktails into Fangtasia and fire into the bar.

So things get a little crazy, the vampires fight and Arlene needs clean blood. She’s at death’s door to the point that she’s hearing and seeing Terry. Just as she’s ready to cross onto the other side, one of the vampires, Keith, played by Riley Smith, gives Arlene some of his blood. She lives.

Meanwhile, the good vampires apparently won and the mob looks to be all but dead.

All right, I guess. This final season really seems like it wants to wrap up as many loose ends as possible, but almost as soon as they begin. The Hep-V vampires are crumbling, as is Vince’s mob, and Alcide’s death is all but forgotten by the end of the episode. The trouble is that the season is moving too fast for its own good and we can’t fully take in what we’re given. It’s like the writers aren’t interested in telling a cohesive story. If the writers want to introduce multiple story arcs and bring in as many as characters to fit into an episode, they’d better do something meaningful with them instead of trying to force an emotional response from the audience.

That’s not to say this episode didn’t have some positives. Eric and Pam’s flashbacks did help flesh out their pasts and showed how Fangtasia came to be the bar we know it as. And Pam taking the idea seems like something she would do without hesitation. Jason had a funny moment where he compared the upcoming attack on Fangtasia to storming the beaches at Normandy, only for Bill to point out that said battle lead to 200,000 casualties. And though I never liked the Hep-V vampires, I’m glad their arc seems to be over.

So while there are elements of this episode that I liked, where the episode suffered for me was in the writing and characterization. Not that what we saw was out of character, but selfishness was evident in the amount of characters who didn’t give a shit about anything except their problems.

Death is Not the End- Sookie makes Holly relive nightmares

Let’s start with Sookie and return to her scene with Holly. She knew that Holly was broken and didn’t want to relive the horrors of the Fangtasia dungeon, but she used her anyway. Making her relive a nightmare just to get the location of a place you should have suspected in the first place is unnecessary. And what’s worse is that Sookie doesn’t seem the least bit remorseful by what she did. She just leaves with her information, but at the cost of Holly’s already fragile psyche. Sam and Jason don’t even say anything about it.

And then she doesn’t give a shit about Jessica’s situation. Fine, since the two haven’t interacted much, anyway, but this was only because Sookie had a use for Jessica. After everything that’s happened, with Sookie pleading the town to let her help, she just starts demanding whatever she wants? It’s not a stretch that Sookie would be this selfish, though.

Death is Not the End- Sookie and Eric embrace

I don’t personally care who Sookie ends up with when this is all over, but I just hope we avoid another love triangle between her, Eric and Bill. Pam even tells Bill that nothing would come of him and Sookie. We’ve seen this play out many times.

Also, there was no reason to show Sookie talking with Arlene’s kids. Could have just gone straight to Holly.

Death is Not the End- Arlene on the verge of death

Speaking of, if Arlene had died, I wouldn’t really complain. Heck, I probably would have welcomed it, even though I’m a fan of redheads. The scene where she almost died looked like it was supposed to be tense, but it wasn’t. We got a very unnecessary cameo by Todd Lowe as Terry, just to give us one last look after he got almost an entire episode dedicated to him. Really, if the show wants to kill off anyone, just axe Nicole. That’s all I want.

Death is Not the End- Sam and Jason

Sam and Jason mostly play tag-along, but they have their moments. I thought it was nice of Jason to call Hoyt to deliver the news, while also trying to pretend that the two never met.

Death is Not the End- Jason pulls a gun on Sam

But what in the world was up with him putting a gun to Sam’s head? And even worse, what made Sam think Jason would have pulled the trigger? That sort of reckless behavior would only get them killed faster.

Death is Not the End- Jessica argues with Lafayette

Here’s another question: when did Jessica decide to stop feeding? We never got any sort of indication that something was wrong with her before. At all. Now, all of a sudden, she doesn’t want to feed because she feels bad about what she did? She’s had chances to talk with Adilyn and the two appear to have a connection, so why not share it with her? If, in fact, Jessica has felt guilty, I refuse to believe she’d just keep quiet about it. But hey, I guess it’s a good thing she got shot. Otherwise, we never would have known her problem. Or, follow me on this, it would all too convenient. And Lafayette’s reduced to being the magical sage Negro that gets her to bare her fangs. And really, Jessica couldn’t have been all that useful to Sookie since she almost got killed.

Death is Not the End- Pam and Eric in flashback

With Eric and Pam active again, they were, by far, the most enjoyable part of the episode. Not just because of their chemistry, Eric and Pam are just more fun to watch interact. If this is Eric’s last hurrah, hopefully he’ll be a lot more involved outside of his search for Sarah. And, again, I did enjoy seeing how their dump of a video store became Fangtasia.  Hopefully Eric and Willa resolve their mess, though.

And at the end of the day, a bunch of people and presumably vampires die during that awkward final fight scene. Vince is gone, so the mob won’t last much longer. Who else died? No idea. And who cares?

With this episode, it’s like the writers of True Blood are actively trying to make me dislike the characters or the storyline. The episode moved at breakneck speed with questionable character motivations, particularly from Sookie. If the final season wants to wrap up every single thread, then fine, but do it with care. The final season isn’t an excuse to shove as much into the show as possible. No amount of funny moments can overshadow that. We heard a lot of characters not giving a shit this week. Right now, I have to wonder if the writers even do anymore.

A Look at “Begin Again”

Begin Again poster

Begin Again is a film about second chances. It tells a very familiar, traditional storyline that we’ve seen before, but is still fun to watch as we watch characters find a nontraditional way to produce a music album. In an age where the entertainment industry puts so much emphasis on appearance, the film is also a satire of the music industry by looking at music that some deem authentic, put up against catchy tunes that are made for the dance floor. The movie asks why we make music: is it for the love of the craft or to sell albums? The movie isn’t a full-fledged attack on the entertainment industry. It’s about finding inspiration when you reach a low point, whether in your professional or personal life. But it also makes the point of saying that nothing is wrong with letting go. Again, while not an original concept, Begin Again is still an enjoyable watch.

The film begins at a New York club. A man named Steve, played by James Corden, entertains the crowd briefly before suggesting that the audience give listen to some music by his friend.

Begin Again- Keira Knightley sings

To his left is Greta, played by Keira Knightley, who doesn’t want to come up and sing, but eventually makes her way to the stage. Her song is for anyone who has ever been alone in the city. While it’s hard to gauge the audience’s reaction, her song has a lasting effect on one patron.

We then flash back to earlier that day and are introduced to Dan Mulligan, played by Mark Ruffalo. Dan is a bit of a sad sack. He sleeps the day away and rejects every prospective musical talent he listens to on his way to work. It’s all too derivative and lacks the heart.

Dan heads to pick up his daughter, Violet played by Hailee Steinfeld, before heading to a meeting that he thinks he has.

Begin Again- Dave and Saul, played by Mos Def, argue

At said meeting, we also meet Dan’s longtime business partner, Saul, played by Mos Def, and we see the growing friction between the two not because of broken bonds, but differing opinions of the music industry. More to the point, Dan believes that modern musicians are mostly monosyllabic teenagers with nothing to say. He’s not completely wrong, really. But Dan and Saul used to beat the top of their game for their independent record company, Distressed Records. Dan believes that music needs a vision, not gimmicks. While there may be some truth to that, times have changed and it’s time for Dan to go.

Begin Again- Dan's daughter, Violet, played by Hailee Steinfeld

If Dan’s professional woes weren’t enough, he later learns from Violet that her mother thinks he is a loser. More than that, Violet knows little about her father. It’s to the point that she has a psychiatrist.

We later meet Dan’s estranged spouse, Miriam, played by Catherine Keener. We see the strains of their relationship when Miriam brings up the fact that Dan, despite wanting to bond with Violet, only shows up every now and then to spend time with her.

Depressed and dejected, Dan heads to a bar. As he drinks his sorrows away, he overhears a young woman sing a song targeted toward anyone who has ever felt alone in the city. The beat and lyrics speak to Dan to the point that he visualizes the instruments behind the woman playing by themselves.

After the young woman, Greta, finishes her song, she heads to the bar, where Dan tells her that he’s in. He wants to sign her. Trouble is that Greta writes for her own pleasure. She isn’t a performer. Dan lays it all out: he was just about to kill himself just before he heard her song. Nice save, I guess. Dan feels that his label has lost faith in him. The trouble is that people are too interested in image as opposed to authenticity. After some prodding by this man she’s just met, Greta promises to at least think about it. After all, what’s one more day in New York?

There’s an Avengers joke in here, somewhere.

Begin Again- Greta and boyfriend Dave, played by Adam Levine, in flashback

Never mind. Anyway, Greta heads home and she watches a video of her with her boyfriend, Dave Cohl, played by Adam Levine himself.

The film them flashes back to show us Greta and Dave’s time together before things went south. Dave is a well known musician and his music has made its way into a motion picture that is selling out fast. When a record label wants to produce a soundtrack, it only wants the music from the film, even though Dave wants to include Greta on the album.

What happens is Greta is reduced to the role of intern: fetching coffee for the producers and listening in on recordings. What’s worse, Dave will be heading to Los Angeles to meet with a director. Only Dave.

As a result, Greta spends some time on her own and even runs into her old friend, Steve, who plays music near a subway station.

Begin Again- Greta singing her Christmas gift to Dave

Greta watches a video she and Dave made of them recording a song, and the film then flashes back within the flashback to show the two recording music. The song in question is Greta’s Christmas gift to Dave.

Back within the first flashback, however, Dave returns from Los Angeles to present a song he made while in California. After listening to the song for just a few seconds, Greta gets the hint and hits Dave, hard. The song is for someone else, a woman that Dave met in Los Angeles. Things just happened, he says, and he has to see it through.

So Greta packs her things and moves in with Steve. While there, she’s in the middle of purchasing a plane ticket to go back home across the pond, but Steve will have none of that. In fact, he thinks that Greta should come with him to the bar.

She does, though she’s in for a surprise when Steve calls her on stage to sing for the audience. Though initially reluctant, she eventually sings her song.

Begin Again- Dan talks with Greta

Sometime later, Dan gets a call from Greta and the two meet. Though Greta still insists that she writes for pleasure, Dan sees potential in her.

Saul isn’t bowled over when he hears Greta play, but she’s given a chance if she can produce a demo.

How do Dan and Greta plan to do this? Well, going by what Dan says, they don’t need to rent a studio. They’ll just record outside and have each song based in a different location as a tribute to New York. Damn the consequences and if the police come a-knocking, they just keep on moving. The plan is to play everywhere at anytime!

Time to make an album

Again, the plot to Begin Again isn’t all that original. In fact, from what I’ve read in other reviews, this film is very similar to a 2006 film also directed by John Carney called Once. Me personally, I have never seen Once, so any similarities to that film aren’t all that important to me.

Twerking

While the storyline isn’t novel, I did appreciate the film’s commentary on the modern music industry. We live in an age where events like Miley Cyrus twerking and Justin Bieber egging a house are considered major events. Scandalous stories surrounding the rich and famous are nothing new, but the idols for prepubescent boys and girls are getting younger and younger. They sell out concerts not necessarily because of their musical prowess- though that’s one person’s opinion- but because their image sells. They don’t come off as genuine because they’re constantly saying and doing things that will keep them in the public light. Not to imply that the aforementioned examples were because Cyrus and Bieber were in danger of fading out of the public spotlight, though.

Begin Again- Recording album

The point is, in Dan’s mind, that the new guard of music is more style than substance. We see this play out through Dave’s rise, but also in the dialogue itself. At one point, Dan asks Greta to name one consistently authentic artist. At first, she picks Bob Dylan, but Dan shoots him down on the grounds that Dylan constantly reinvents himself. Who do they agree on? Randy Newman. Given how much emphasis is put on the artist instead of their art, it’s easy to see why Dan has become so disillusioned with the same label he had a hand in creating. People aren’t interested in music that means something- they just want something that they can dance to and the music can be as gimmicky as possible. At the same time, though, I wonder if the inclusion of artists like Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine was done to draw in viewers or because the writers felt they could bring something to the storyline, but I digress.

Begin Again- Trouble Gum, played by Cee Lo Green

This movie isn’t about longing for the old days so much as it is trying to reinvigorate what made those days so special. Dan gets a glimpse of that when he hears Greta perform. Though Greta isn’t interested in the deal, we at least tell that both of them are more interested in the craft of making music than the end result. Much like a Kickstarter, the film is a love letter to those who want to make art on their own steam. Greta and Dan don’t fully do this on their own, as Cee Lo Green’s character, Trouble Gum, has enough connections to help the two get their project off the ground. However, Gum is just there to help out a bit and the two don’t rely on him every time they need help.

Begin Again- Greta and Dave reunite

However, while the film isn’t a nostalgia trip, it does highlight- particularly through Dave’s musical journey- how the spark we once had while creating art can suddenly vanish if we get caught up in fame and fortune. At one point, Dave has Greta listen to a new recording. She calls it stadium pop and says that Dave’s song is lost. And this is her immediate reaction, without having to mull it over. You can’t have all the fame and fortune without losing some of the creative magic that got you there in the first place. I’m reminded of a scene from the show Extras, where Ricky Gervais’ character, Andy, wants to be in great projects, but also just wants to remain in the public light. He’s given a choice: he can either be rich and famous or have integrity and respect. Andy wants both, but he’s told that only a handful of people in the world get to have both, and he’ll never be one of them.

The point I’m trying to make is, without doing any sort of research, the artists, actors, musicians and entertainers that we look up to change all of the time to keep up with the times. Sometimes you’ll have people, who don’t change who they are at all, and that’s perfectly fine, but others just adapt on the grounds that doing so will keep them relevant. This movie would probably be better for me to analyze if I was a walking music encyclopedia, but because I’m not, I can only base this off of what little I know about the ever-changing music industry. But it did appeal to me when it spoke of doing what you love not because you want to get noticed, but because you appreciate the craft. I’m a journalism major and want to break into the field, but I’m not only blogging because I want to get noticed. I do it because I enjoy writing, but also because I enjoy mediums like comic books, television and movies.

Begin Again- Dan talks with Saul

Redemption is one of the film’s bigger themes, with Dan being so cynical with modern music and his life to the point where he wanted to kill himself. Only after hearing Greta did he find light at the end of his tunnel. Cliché, yes, but I enjoyed it all the same. He became inspired to turn his life around and prove that people still like authenticity in their music. More than that, he decides to strengthen the weak bond with his wife and daughter, to his eventual success.

Begin Again- Dan and Greta

And Greta has a chance at happiness after Dave leaves her for another woman. She could have just written depressing songs all day and play them to her cat, as we know she did at one point, but she moves forward with her music. Despite the deep bond she and Dave had over their music, she realizes that it’s not the end of the world and there’s still a reason to keep doing what she loves. Despite having no social media presence, no demo, and no sort of sponsorship, Greta is taking on what seems like an impossible task.

Begin Again- Dan tells Greta about his past

I like the way the film is shot. Like Obvious Child, this film shows New York as very vibrant and an active nightlife. In addition, we see how big a role music plays in the city with Dan’s idea to play anywhere at any time, eventually drawing in random citizens to stop and listen.

Begin Again- Party scene

The movie is fun to watch, the songs are catchy and there are plenty of comedic moments. One highlight, something I actually want to use at some point, is a party scene where Steve has everyone freeze in place while he plays music that is near impossible to not dance to.

At times, the film’s storyline is presented out of sequence. I’m personally a big fan of nonlinear storytelling and telling a narrative from different perspectives if it’s done correctly. We see the opening scene of Greta performing three different times, all from different perspectives, but each time we revisit the scene, it’s to fill in blanks that were left out of the original scene. It didn’t feel out of place and it explained the circumstances that brought the characters to the bar in the first place.

Begin Again- Dan at work

From his first appearance, we would think Dan as an unlikable, sad excuse for a man: he sleeps around the house, doesn’t have a close relationship with his daughter and spends his time yearning for the good old days. He’s stuck in the past. However, as the film progresses, we learn that Maggie had an affair, which led to his nervous breakdown. That, coupled with Violet not thinking much of him and losing his job paint him as a broken man. However, he’s not a deadbeat. He makes a concerted effort to become a better man, and this comes through in Mark Ruffalo’s performance. We know that Dan is sitting on a lot of rage, but he manages to keep it all in check and never has a big blowout scene where he completely falls apart. Even the scene where he’s fired, he doesn’t just fall to pieces.

Film Review Begin Again

And despite how frustrating his family life is, they aren’t at each other’s necks. Ruffalo has good chemistry with both Keener and Steinfeld and all three have very warm moments together. There’s a scene where Dan goes to Miriam’s place to freshen up, while also on the lookout for other men who may be around. There weren’t, but Miriam would have told him that. That’s probably the best news Dan could have ever received.

Begin Again, Greta, Violet and Dan eating ice cream

Not to mention that including Violet in the band gave Dan a chance to bond with his daughter, even if Greta was the linchpin that made it happen. Dan really does come off like a father who is just trying to find some common ground with his daughter, but still acts like the dad who chastises his daughter for wearing a suggestive skirt. Granted, Dan doesn’t go through some huge transformation by the end of the film, but he does still help Greta produce an album, given his knowledge of and connections to the music industry.

Begin Again- Greta singing in bar

And I never would have expected Keira Knightley to have such a great singing voice. Knightley almost appears to be making fun of herself in the role, when she admits that Brits can be a bit snobbish. Not interested in fame, Greta is more focused on maintaining her dignity and respect. She doesn’t care about making money. That doesn’t mean she’s not knowledgeable about the entertainment industry. She has a great moment where she asks why Saul receives so much of the profits made from album sales when she’s the one who did the singing. Clearly, Greta is meant to be the sticking up for the little guy…er, little gal, in this case. She would be happy if everyone heard her music for as little cost as possible.

Begin Again- Flashback of Dave and Greta

And Greta, to me, never came off as overconfident or cocky. Her relationship with Dave exposed her to the greater musical world, but as Dave’s popularity grew, she became second fiddle. I loved the scene where she figures out that Dave has been cheating on her. It’s all just done through facial expressions and her reaction to his song. And when she records her own song and plays it to his voice mail, there’s real anger in her voice for how she’s been fooled by him.

Begin Again- Dan and Greta listen to music together

She forms and has great relationships with the others, though. She and Steve talk like they’ve been friends for years and they have playful banter that shows how far their friendship stretches. And her relationship with Dan remains professional. There are glimpses of moments where it seems like they could develop feelings for each other, but the film doesn’t allow that to happen. We don’t get any sort of awkward love triangle. Greta, as I mentioned, helps Dan strengthen his relationship with his family by giving Violet advice and suggesting that she also play in the band.

Begin Again- Dave recording album in studio

I don’t have much to say about Adam Levine, though. He plays the part well and is representative of the artist who gets swept up by fame and doesn’t realize how good his relationship with Greta was until she sang him her song.

I do have a few negatives, though. As mentioned, the film’s plot is nothing new and while there are a few elements that went against my expectations, some of the beats are very predictable.

Begin Again- Recording in the water

For starters, I have to wonder how plausible it actually is to record music in random locations throughout New York without much prior notice. I mean, noise disturbances much? But then, the film addresses this by having citizens for and against the random music.

Begin Again- Band recording

And the musicians that Dave recruits- they all appear to be aspiring artists.  I question whether people would realistically drop everything they’re doing to create an album for a producer that just randomly approached them and couldn’t even pay them.

Toward the end, the film feels the need to tackle online distribution and Greta’s decision on what to do with her album. Now I won’t say what she chooses to do, but ultimately, I feel the ultimate achievement came from her and Dan’s success at making the album at all. They tried and succeeded when the odds were heavily against them. That’s all we needed to see. The film didn’t need to bookend the journey because, all this time, it didn’t seem realistic that they could pull off creating the album. Just leave it at that and let the audience assume the end result.

Begin Again- Recording album in an alley

Despite my criticisms, Begin Again is still an uplifting movie that provides great commentary on the state of the music industry. It questions whether authenticity can still matter in an age where image is increasingly becoming what sells albums. Do we seek fame and money or remain the tortured artist that creates beautiful works? While the plot is very familiar and may be too cliché for some, I still enjoyed the movie and the songs, more than once, managed to put a smile on my face. Helped by some great chemistry through the lead performances of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley, Begin Again is a film I’d recommend. It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s worth a watch.

Also, you can learn a lot about a person based on their Ipod playlist. Something to remember.

A Look at “True Blood” Season 7, Episode 3: “Fire in the Hole”

And with that, True Blood has delivered two major character deaths within three episodes. This must be the final season, as if the writers are scrambling to free up space for other characters to get the occasional time in the spotlight. Sometimes this works, but more often it doesn’t. We’re starting to see some semblance of a bigger threat that hopefully will get more characters involved. This move wasn’t handled gracefully, but at least we appear to be gaining momentum.

Fire in the Hole- Guru Sanbir Dutta, played by Shishir Kurup, instructs the class

The episode begins in Los Angeles, California at a yoga facility. The instructor, Guru Sanbir Dutta, played by Shishir Kurup, gives the typical yoga shtick that you’ve heard before: be in tune only with yourself. The payoff to this scene? A young woman who looks very familiar.

Fire in the Hole- Sarah Newlin does yoga

Oh, wait.

Fire in the Hole- Pam asks Eric how long he's been infected

Back in France, Pam demands to know how long Eric has been infected. He saw the first signs last month in St. Petersburg, but kept moving anyway. Pam is obviously livid since she felt Tara’s true death, but Eric remained silent. He’s supposed to be a fighter, but for now, he looks to have given up.

Fire in the Hole- Eric feeds berries to Sylvie

We flash back to Rhone Valley, France, 1986, where we see Eric feeding berries to a young woman named Sylvie, played by Gabriella Wright. They’re doing very naughty things, don’t you know? If caught, Eric will just glamour the girl’s father. Or kill him. But for now, he feeds and they fuck in the grass.

Fire in the Hole- Authority tells off Eric and Pam

They’re interrupted by a woman from The Authority, who chastises Eric and Pam for not registering, being in touch with the local sheriff or paying their taxes. What leeches! They can either be in hiding or out in the open, but don’t try to mix the two. That’s hard to do when Eric is biting and fornicating with the French. There is something to look forward to, though: a human blood substitute. If the two aren’t interested, their option is to leave tonight, but Eric is far too interested in the French vagina. Who wouldn’t?

Fire in the Hole- Eric tells Pam that they're not leaving

Though Pam wants to flee, Eric points out that he’s protected her for 81 years and has no intention of stopping now. So she must fall in line with him. Maybe Pam should just show Eric her vagina and match it up against Sylvie’s. Just a suggestion.

Fire in the Hole- Alcide heads to Bill to find Sookie

Alcide finally finishes his shower to find Sookie gone. Following her scent, he heads to Bill’s, but she’s not there, either.

Fire in the Hole- On the road with Bill and Sookie

Instead, we’re on the road with Bill and Sookie. Bill’s convinced that he covered their tracks so Alcide won’t be able to find him. We’ll see about that. It’s too late for Sookie to be talked out of this plan. Bill won’t be able to feel her because he’s been drained of most of his blood after giving his blood to other vampires at the end of last season. He’s not the same Bill that she once knew, but he still has her memories. Regardless, she still needs his blood now.

Fire in the Hole- Jessica and Andy free Adilyn and Adam

Adilyn reminds Adam that they once made out, but a vampire glamoured the memory out of him. This is somehow the best news he’s heard all day. Can’t say that I disagree with him. Andy arrives to spring the two free and learns about the stolen guns by the mob. What’s the mob after? Anyone and anything that’s different than them. Real subtle there, True Blood.

Fire in the Hole- Sam and Reverend Daniels speak of faith and death

Sam and Reverend Daniels talk of faith, which Sam believes got the missing family nowhere. Death still came for them. The reverend gets real: death is a dark, blinding motherfucker.

In come Willa and Lettie Mae, who is still seeing Tara.

Fire in the Hole- Matt and Sam meet the mob

Sam and his vampire, Matt, are on a drive when they run smack dab into the mob. They all know of Sam’s ability to shift. They’ve come to take back their town and want Sam gone. To make their point clear, they dispatch of Matt. Sam, with few options, flies off.

Fire in the Hole- Jason tells Violet that he eventually wants a family

Jason proposes to Violet the idea of having a baby. Violet thinks he’s out of his mind. Sure, Violet can’t have bodies, but they could adopt one. After all, a man is nothing without his family. Violet thinks that Jason is behaving like a girl. He’s nothing like the men in her day: warriors with iron hard cocks. Where did this come from? Also, Violet is reading a magazine. She’s a vampire. What magazine could possibly appeal to her?

Andy arrives with Adilyn, Adam and Jessica. He tells Jason that the mob may be after Jessica and instructs Adilyn to stay at Jason’s. Violet, for some reason, confronts Jessica on the grounds that the two apparently have a problem. Jessica didn’t know this.

Fire in the Hole- Lafayette and James talk drugs

Lafayette jams before getting a visit from James, who wants more pot. However, Lafayette is all out. The two can still take some pills, but vampires can’t swallow pills. Lafayette gives James a chance to get any issues off of his chest: he doesn’t want to deal with any of Jessica’s shit. The two aren’t really together. They just happen to share the same space and occasionally fuck. That alone isn’t a bad thing. Anyway, the last pill James took turned his body into an ocean. Lafayette may not be able to replicate it, but he can still mix three random drugs and maybe come close. Soon, Lafayette’s gonna take James to the beach. I want to go with them.

Fire in the Hole- Hep-V Vampires argue about their dwindling food supply

At Fangtasia, the Hep-V vampires realize they don’t have enough energy to go hunting for more humans. They bicker until they settle on the idea of taking one of the humans with them as bait. They decide on Holly.

Fire in the Hole- Sookie as bait, Bill in a tree

So Sookie puts her plan into motion: using herself as bait. She’s fulfilling her purpose this way and doesn’t want anyone else dying because of her.

Bill, sitting in a tree, asks Sookie if she loves Alcide. None of his business, Sookie counters, but she eventually tells him anyway. She wants kids, but deep down, she’s afraid that she doesn’t love Alcide the same way that he loves her. Bill tells her that love isn’t always equal, though.

Fire in the Hole- Andy and company find Sam's truck

Back with Andy and the others, Jason tries calling Sookie’s phone. Sookie really should have told everyone that she tossed her phone. They come to a stop when they spot Sam’s truck…

Fire in the Hole- Standoff against the mob

…and the mob. Were they just waiting there or something? Ms. Fortenberry lashes out at Jason and Jessica for making Hoyt leave her. To punctuate her anger, she shoots Jessica in the shoulder. In return, Violet rips out an internal organ and Fortenberry falls to the ground. The mob disperses. To think that’s all it took.

Fire in the Hole- Talking about Six Flags

After a series of random events, Sookie asks Bill if he ever went to Six Flags, which Bill believed was closed down. Sookie once went on her ninth birthday and rode one of the free fall rides. I actually don’t think this is part of the script. I think this is just Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer having a conversation and the cameras happened to be rolling. Sookie said the scary part wasn’t the drop, it was the wait, like now. Bill knows that feeling from going to war.

Fire in the Hole- Flashback, Bill speaks with Julian Fortenberry

So we flash back to him preparing to leave his family. Before he does, he asks photographer Julian Fortenberry, played by Drew Rausch, to take some photos of him and his family.

Fire in the Hole- Willa and Reverend Daniels

Reverend Daniels tells Willa that Lettie Mae most definitely burned herself on purpose. As she feeds on him, the reverend shares his story: he moved to Bon Temps after he and his first wife lost their daughter. This destroyed the both of them. His wife strayed and he lost all faith in everything: God, his marriage and himself. He became withdrawn. One day, he put on his collar and just went for a drive. He found a boarded-up church and a woman sitting on the steps. This woman was Lettie Mae Thornton, and she’s still as much of an addict then as she is now. To Mae, Willa is as enticing as a bottle of alcohol. Willa also hasn’t stopped feeding on the reverend while he shares his story. He can’t have her there because it will complicate things. But no worry. God will protect him.

Fire in the Hole- James thinks Lafayette is dead

Meanwhile, Lafayette has died. Or James at least thinks so, but he’s just passed out.

Fire in the Hole- Yakamono Corporation threatens Eric, Pam and Sylvie

We flash back to Rhone Valley as men in black from the Yakamono Corporation get the jump on Eric, Pam and Sylvie. Eric promises to be more careful, but it’s too late for that and The Authority isn’t interested in his money. He must choose whether Pam or Sylvie will die. He can’t offer himself because The Authority wants him arive, I mean alive. After grappling with the decision, Eric chooses Sylvie to die.

In the present, Pam asks Eric whether he got the virus on purpose, which he didn’t. There’s still hope. Vampires can live long lives with the disease and science has almost developed a cure. Subtlety again, True Blood! Eric tells Pam that she’s free to leave and ignores her pleas.

Fire in the Hole- Pam tells Eric that Sarah Newlin is still alive

So Pam plays her trump card by informing Eric that Sarah Newlin is still alive. This gets a reaction out of Eric, who gets up and decides it’s time to pay Ms. Newlin a visit.

Fire in the Hole- Sexy time

Speaking of, we return to the guru and Sarah having sexy time. They must hold their breath so they can climax together. He sends her off to fetch a bottle of red wine while he draws a bath.

Fire in the Hole- Men in black pay a visit to the guru

However, the men in black drop by. When the instructor doesn’t give up Sarah’s location, Sarah can only watch in horror from the other room as blood pools under the door.

Fire in the Hole- Things escalate

Bill finally senses someone else arriving. Holly makes her way toward Sookie. A cavalcade of ambushes ensues as the Hep-V vampires, Sam and Alcide, and Andy’s group arrive all at once. The Hep-V vampires are dispatched of.

Fire in the Hole- Alcide is shot

But so is Alcide, who is dropped by a few bullets by a few folks off-screen. They’re simultaneously taken care of. One of the shooters? Lou, who now knows what it’s like after pulling the trigger and will now most likely bleed to death.

Jessica offers to turn Alcide, but Sookie refuses as the episode comes to a close.

So it seems as if the Hep-V vampires are all but taken care of. But now that Eric’s out of retirement and has motive to find Sarah, hopefully we get a better plot out of the remaining episodes.

I’m actually fine with the end of the Hep-V vampires, if that’s the case. Betty’s death from last week was not addressed at all, which makes me wonder what the writers gave Betty a connection to Arlene and Holly. It’s surprising that the vampires lasted together as long as they did, considering how much they bicker. But since they all seem to be gone, I assume this means the hostages will be freed soon.

Fine for Jason to pick up on what Andy said about family, but he won’t have time to settle any time soon.

Fire in the Hole- Violet calls Jason a girl

And what’s up with Violet? I mean, in the prison, she said that Jason was hers and hers alone. He answered to her. Now all of a sudden, she wants a big, strong man. It’s not a complete 180 since she was so happy when Jason wanted to bone, but it just felt weird to me.

Fire in the Hole- Violet and Jessica apparently have a problem

More than this, what’s her beef with Jessica? I doubt Jessica cares about whatever problem they had, so no reason for Violet to bring it up just to create forced drama. Furthermore, Jessica already has someone- sort of- so Violet shouldn’t even be interested in what happened in the past.

Fire in the Hole- Lafayette and James get experienced

Interesting how Lafayette and James had the most interesting part of the episode to me, and it had nothing to do with the main storyline. Maybe it’s because Lafayette is still humorous without it coming at the expense of his character, as has often been the case with Jason. Or maybe the writers just needed to give Lafayette something to do since he’s not summoning any spirits.

He and James are on the verge of will they/won’t they, but it looks like James doesn’t want to progress. I’m not sure why James seems to have such devotion to Jessica, given how speaking of her doesn’t fill him with joy.

We’ve barely seen the two together, and it’s even more frustrating to imagine James and Jessica working out when you consider that, because of the actor switch, we’re basically being re-introduced to the character. They talk fondly of each other, but we don’t see their love play out on screen.

Fire in the Hole- Reverend Daniels rescinds Willa's invitation to his house

As for Reverend Daniels and Willa, it’s too late for me to care about these characters when the series is already overstuffed with folks. But hey, they’re here, so we get drawn out conversations for the purpose of character development and growth. It’s not worth the time and we don’t learn anything new about Lettie Mae. I don’t care about her plight, as we’ve already seen True Blood tackle addicts to vampire blood.

I appreciate that the Reverend took the initiative to rescind his invitation to Willa instead of hoping and praying that things would eventually work out. He recognizes that Mae is an addict and keeping Willa around will just cause complications, even though it’s not her fault. Here’s hoping that the Reverend’s faith is enough to keep him alive.

Fire in the Hole- Mrs. Fortenberry is dead

I suppose I should say something about Mrs. Fortenberry being dead. Well, she’s dead. Yeah, she’s been with the series for a long time, but I honestly could care less about her loss. Plus, she shot Jessica! She had it coming!

Fire in the Hole- Sookie drinks Bill's blood

Bill and Sookie are just dull together. I don’t care about their filler talk of Six Flags. We get more of the same conversations with the two talking of love and junk. Sookie, once again, doesn’t want bad things to happen because of her, yet that still happens. Her plan isn’t too well thought out- she looks too much like obvious bait and doesn’t go where she thinks the vampires would be. Bill acknowledged before that the vampires nest in certain locales, so why not just drive to one?

Fire in the Hole- Alcide before he's dropped

Then we’ve got Alcide, who, in my opinion, hasn’t been nearly as interesting of a character since he left the wolf pack. At least there, he had better characterization. Here, he was just existed to take off his shirt and argue with Sookie. And from Sookie’s conversation with Bill, we at least know that he cared for her much more than she did for him. But at least Alcide had his death take place on-screen!

Fire in the Hole- Eric learns that Sarah Newlin is still alive

Eric’s return is a welcome one, sure, if only to see what he has planned for Sarah. I wasn’t a fan of how much he seemed to pine for Sylvie, given how little he knew about her compared to Pam. Even without knowing that this all takes place in the past, Eric is Pam’s maker. No way would he have her killed, so why have him grapple with the decision of which should die? Is the French vagina that alluring?

Fire in the Hole- Sarah Newlin has an orgasm

And bringing back Sarah not only gives Eric motive, it ties her involvement this season directly to the events of the previous one. Considering, you know, her involvement in the vampire camps and corrupting the Tru Blood. Not to mention her heel kill.

With this episode, the wheels feel like they’re in motion. With another major character death, the show looks like it wants to thin its ranks as much as possible before it ends. The Hep-V vampires plot looks to be almost over for now and Eric’s involvement will hopefully make things more entertaining as he goes on his hunt for Sarah. Will it ultimately be interesting? Hopefully.

A Look at “Californication” Series Finale: “Grace”

And so it’s come to this: seven seasons of flings, heartbreaks, memorable nights and awkward mornings. We arrive at the series finale of Californication, which tries to wrap up a lot of loose ends and provide a feeling of finality for as many characters as possible. And while, of course, the finale to a series can never fully satisfy everyone, I did find a lot to like here. From the beginning of the season, Hank made it clear to Karen that he wanted to grow up. However, since Levon and Julia entered his life, he’s slid backwards and caused headaches for those around him. Time to see if he’s finally learned anything.

Grace- Hank talks to Becca in dream sequence

The episode begins with Hank trying to bribe Becca out of her marriage. We’re off to a good start. Hank admits that he can’t help his behavior. He’s just an asshole who loves his daughter and wants what’s best for her, so it’s hard for him to get excited about his little girl getting married. But it turns out that Becca isn’t so excited anymore. There’s no point in getting married. Ever. Hank agrees. Better to wait until you’re 30 or 35, he says. Becca is convinced that she can’t have a successful relationship due to her father. After all, he never had one. He might love Becca and Karen, but Hank has only managed to let them down, over and over again. With that, Becca bids farewell to the cruel world and lets herself fall into the water below.

Grace- Hank and Charlie in bed

Time to wake up, Hank. Next to him is Charlie, who is in the middle of a quarrel with Marcy, who is set to bed Stu tomorrow.

Grace- Hank heads to talk with Karen about Becca

Following this, Hank heads to Karen’s, but Becca has already left for New York to meet Roscoe’s parents. The ceremony will take place on the upcoming weekend. Try as he might, Hank can’t convince Karen to see thing his way. Hank doesn’t see this as a normal step for Becca, but Karen looks at her own life with Karen: they didn’t get married because they felt they were too cool and Bohemian for that shit. And look where that’s gotten them. Does Hank really want that same fate for Becca? Karen refuses to let Hank drag her mood down and she won’t drag him kicking and screaming into doing the right thing. As Karen continues preparing to leave, Hank receives a phone call from Julia.

Grace- Marcy and Charlie talk on Marcy's big day

Marcy’s big day has arrived. As she gets ready, Charlie does a poor job of hiding his sarcasm and contempt for what his wife is about to do, which is why Marcy didn’t want him in the house while she prepared. Charlie is still free to fuck who he pleases, as long as it’s not in the house. And Charlie doesn’t want Marcy having any orgasms, either.

Grace- Julia and Hank bail Levon out

At the police department, Hank and a disappointed Julia leave with a free Levon, who now has a criminal record and owes Hank a lot of money due to finding comfort in the arms of a streetwalker. I would think California had massage parlors or strip clubs where Levon could take out his sexual frustration, but I guess not. I dunno. I’ve never been to California. But Levon didn’t think such behavior was illegal. He figured cops looked the other way. Only during Spring Break, my friend.

Julia would like nothing more than to send Levon back to his therapist, Dr. Lawson, who Levon stopped seeing because he healed himself. Whatever all this nonsense is, Hank promises to put a stop to it.

Grace- Krull arrives with Hope and Love

Back at House Runkle, Krull arrives with a lovely pair of ladies: a blonde named Love, played by Diana Terranova, and a black haired pretty young thing named Hope, played by Kelen Coleman. Love is for Krull. Hope will give Charlie a good ass licking if he would like, which is apparently even better after exercise. Bleh.

Grace- Hank and Levon discuss real life relationships

So Hank takes Levon to a bar and demands that he stop with the hookers. What Levon needs is, and run with me on this, something close to a real human relationship. He can’t keep paying for body parts. But Levon believes his looks are the problem. Girls don’t like clammy hands on their tits, he says, and that’s a fact. I did not know this.

Grace- Hank and Levon run into Tara

Across the bar, the two again spot Tara. Levon doesn’t think she’s his type, but Hank insists that he not have a type. Just be bold, funny and charming.

So it goes as well as you would expect: Levon brings up a girl he went to school with named Sara, who was retarded. He didn’t make fun of her because he had his own issues. What he’s certain of is that Tara is uniquely pretty and that there’s probably no other girl in the world who looks exactly like her. Plus, Tara makes Levon feel good, but not in a creepy, his wiener feels weird kind of way. Yeah, Levon needs to stop talking right now.

Somehow, Tara agrees to have a drink with Levon, so I guess we’ll give him a point for that. She just needs to make a quick stop to the ladies’ room, first. Hank bids his farewell, but not before giving Levon some cash just so he can enjoy Tara’s company. No sex.

Grace- Hank updates Julia on Levon

After this, Hank heads to Julia’s with the good news of Levon’s slow, but steady progress. The two have a tender moment with Hank admitting that Julia and Levon have been the most pleasant surprise of his adult life. Before they can get hot and heavy, Hank would prefer to take Julia to dinner later that evening.

Grace- Hank walks in on Krull and Love

He then heads to House Runkle and makes his way past Krull and Love making…well, love, and finds Charlie and Hope in his bed.  Hank is a bit miffed, despite the fact that he doesn’t live there in the first place. Charlie didn’t want to bone in his marital bed. Things didn’t go well, anyway. According to Hope, trying to suck Charlie off was like nibbling on a piece of string cheese. Californication never ceases to amaze me with its metaphors.

Anyway, Hank encourages Hope to pursue her dream of going back to law school, as well as tells Charlie to fix this mess with Stu.

Grace- Stu and Marcy have done everything but have sex

Speaking of Stu, we learn that he and Marcy swam, played tennis, meditated, did yoga, had massages, everything under the sun except for have sex. Marcy’s just feeling weird, that’s all. Before the two begin, Marcy wants to make sure the money has been transferred.

Grace- Marcy finds the fuck doll

While Stu goes to take a leak- which is apparently hard to do with an erection- Marcy finds Stu’s very expensive fuck doll. Marcy, like any sensible person would be, is aghast at what Stu calls a loving tribute to her.

Marcy tries to leave, but Stu gets her on the bed. While this technically could be called rape, Stu and Marcy apparently used to play rape games in the past, at Marcy’s request. The hell is wrong with these people?

Grace- Stu, Marcy and Charlice sort of reconcile

But Charlie enters and clocks Stu with one of his awards. Luckily, his wife couldn’t go through with the idea. Stu admits what he and everyone else has probably known all along: this was a terrible idea. He also apologizes for messing with their marriage. Charlie retorts that he could leak a story about a washed-up producer who is into prostitutes and sex dolls. Stu, however, is glad that Charlie’s growing some balls. He’s not glad when Charlie decides to keep the money, though.

Grace- Julia and Rath both surprised

Julia awaits her dinner date, and she’s met not by Hank, but Rath, who also expected to see someone else.

Grace- Hank goes over his letter

In his Porsche, Hank goes over to his letter to Karen. The car doesn’t start, so he bids his beauty farewell and runs to the airport as fast as he can.

Grace- Hank reads his letter to Karen

Having purchased a ticket for a flight that’s about to depart in a few minutes, Hank finds Karen. The woman next to her, played by Sharon Angela, refuses to leave, so Hank just hands Karen his letter. She doesn’t read it at that moment, so he reads it aloud. He admits that each time he opens his mouth, something stupid comes out. Their life has never been perfect. Through the ups, downs and all-arounds, Hank is still a sucker for happy endings. He is a writer, after all. Whatever he and Karen have will never end as long as there’s her, him, hope and grace.

Grace- Woman offers her seat

A woman sitting across from Karen, played by Dana Delorenzo, solves the seat debacle, which gives Hank a chance to sit next to Karen one more time. His declaration hasn’t won Karen over, but it’s still something.

As Elton John’s Rocket Man kicks in, we get a montage:

Grace- Levon and Tara take a selfie

Tara and Levon enjoy their date, but also take a selfie, which automatically makes them horrible people in my book.

Grace- Rath and Julia after their date

As do Rath and Julia…

Grace- Stu dines with his doll

Stu enjoys dinner with his fuck doll just because…

Grace- Marcy and Charlie

Marcy and Charlie find their spark again…

Grace- Hank and Karen kiss

And as Hank Moody looks back on his life, he and Karen kiss, united again and headed to watch their daughter wed.

And that was Californication, folks.

Californication delivers its final episode, packaged in a neat box, bow tied to perfection and everything in place. It wraps up continuing story arcs from this season and, as any series finale tries to do, gives viewers a sense of finality. The season began as a chance for Hank to right some of his many wrongs and man up. As the season progressed, things slowly became worse and his relationships suffered as a result. The man has struggled to do the growing up he promised Karen that he would do.

The season threw curveballs at us, such as Karen’s car accident or the introduction of Levon and Julia, but one of the overall messages has been about acceptance and taking responsibility for our actions. Characters have realized that no matter how fucked up a situation becomes, pity will get them nowhere. You take what life throws at you and make the most of it. That included accepting character flaws, and though folks like Charlie and Marcy did come to terms with how screwed-up they are, it took awhile for them to actually do anything about it. They just continued living the best way they knew how. That’s fine, but with so much talk of growing up, it shouldn’t take until the series finale to begin making a change.

Grace- Holding hands

Happy endings can and have been very cliché: everything can feel too neat and routine just for the purpose of giving the audience a final farewell to a series they stuck by. Karen herself doubted whether she and Hank could live happily ever after. She knew all along that the two were not a perfect fit. In contrast, Hank never accepted that, despite the wreckage his past and present have caused. It showed his stubborn belief that he and Karen, despite all the odds they face, will always find a way to work things out. The future is never promised for any of us, but Hank, it will be bright as long as he’s with Karen.

Grace- Stu, Marcy and the fuck doll

Temptation was rampant this season, particularly this episode with Marcy grappling with Stu’s deal, Hank’s brief encounter with Hope, and Levon’s constant love of prostitutes. Though Levon gives in, we’ve seen characters give into their lustful desires, even when it drags them down even further. That doesn’t help their situations- just gives them some temporary pleasure. I’m reminded of a quote from True Blood by Jason Stackhouse: Sometimes the right thing is to do the wrong thing. Indeed, a bit of pleasure is nice, but in the long run, it showed the characters’ inability to make good decisions.

Grace- Hope and Charlie

Our heroes tried hard to prove that they had grown up. The real world is scary, though. If it’s not what we want, we act like it’s not true or we try to change what’s in front of us. Karen refused to drag Hank into doing the right thing when he wanted to pretend that their daughter wasn’t growing up without them. Levon wanted to keep fooling with prostitutes even though he didn’t have a job. Heck, even the folks on Santa Monica Cop though they were safe until their show got the axe. Granted, the characters did do some growing up and took responsibility for their actions, but I wish this all came sooner. Doing it now just seems like a forced way to tie up loose ends.

Grace- Charlie and Marcy decide to keep Stu's money

Though we did get some resolution for Charlie and Marcy after so much ‘will they, won’t they.’ Marcy’s sudden shift felt a bit too quick, but from the start, despite how much she wanted the money, she’s had doubts and second thoughts about having sex with Stu for a million dollars. I don’t fully get why she chose to back out, especially considering how tame sex would be compared to the games she and Stu apparently used to play

But I guess seeing a fuck doll in your likeness could have something to do with that. Not sure why the doll was there, considering we saw it in a separate room last time.

Charlie standing up for himself would be a bigger deal if he hadn’t already done it twice already. He already told Stu he wouldn’t be disrespected, but here it was again. However, I am glad that he and Marcy admitted just how terrible they are. And I suppose their money woes are over for now.

Grace- Julia considers sending Levon back to his therapist

Levon and Julia were a welcome distraction since they provided some drama and humor to Hank’s life. We’ve watched Levon slowly develop a spine in his own, awkward way. He still has self-doubt and confidence issues, no doubt. Given his reckless behavior this season, I can’t say I blame him for wanting to tread carefully, but I wish he was more charming and less prone to saying stupid things. He lacks the control and confidence factor, as well as way with words, which seem to come naturally for Hank.

Grace- Julia smiles

And really, all the nice things I’ve had to say about Heather Graham have already been said. The woman is sunshine in human form and while Julia could be a bit overprotective, she had her reasons and did soften up to Hank’s approach.

Grace- Rath runs into Julia

I also enjoyed Rath’s sort of mentor-like relationship with Hank, as Rath seems like the type of person Hank could be if he spent more time focusing on his work.

Grace- Karen talks to Hank about Becca

To be honest, not much changed with Karen this season. She’s been resolute in her stance on not fully letting Hank back into her life. She loves him, but cannot be with him. She won’t pity him when he’s down. She knows Hank better than most women and, like Becca, doesn’t mince her words. Was it too easy for her to just accept him at the end? Not necessarily since she said his letter didn’t win her over, but maybe she’s more willing to take a chance.

Another chance, I mean.

Grace- Hank in dream sequence with Becca

From the onset of the season, Hank has wanted to prove to everyone that he can grow up and do the right thing. He wanted to move past the sex crazed hound that he’s been known as and tries to influence those around him to grow up as well. He became the problem solver of the episode. This I didn’t really like because it felt like such an abrupt turn. I can buy his pep talks with Levon since he’s been trying to help the boy grow a pair all along, but why lecture Charlie and Hope on the importance of doing the right thing? They’re both…well, Charlie’s not really a responsible adult, so I guess I can only assume Hope is since she considered going back to school.

Grace- Hank Moody tells Charlie and Hope to be responsible

I just don’t get Hank’s motive to suddenly become Mr. Responsible. He’s still not on board with Becca’s marriage. Karen didn’t tell him anything new that she hasn’t said before. And what’s more, he still came off as petulant when he still expressed anger at Becca’s marriage. I can’t help but wonder if the dream sequence at the beginning of the episode was part of what he would like to happen, with Becca realizing that she’s not ready for marriage. But Becca isn’t under his control.

Grace- Becca

Side-note, I actually think the episode worked better by not having Becca in it, outside of the dream sequence. Not that I would have been against having her, but she said exactly what she needed to say about Hank and his toxic behavior. Having her here again wouldn’t have done added anything that we didn’t already know.

No doubt Hank wants the storybook ending. In a sense, he got it. He has always had a way with words. His letter ready was a very open and heartfelt moment, but just a prettier way of him saying what he thinks, feels and has expressed to Karen for years.

Grace- Public letter reading

So why this public approach? If Hank wanted to be direct, he could have told Karen all of this at the start, even though Karen wouldn’t change her position on Becca. Was it for the spectacle? Because Hank bought a ticket on the day of a flight, which couldn’t have been cheap, so maybe he always intended to go to New York, regardless, but just wanted to be on Karen’s good side. It felt like a last ditch effort of the guy trying to get the girl. The only thing that would have made this even more cliché is if the episode included a scene of Hank running through the airport and confessing that if he doesn’t board the plane, he may never seen her again. Pretty sure Not Another Teen Movie made fun of that worn out cliché.

And let’s not forget the feel good montage.

Look, I’m not saying Californication had to end on a downer. In fact, I’d say this finale is in stark contrast to the ending of Season Three. Maybe a bit of the first season as well because, although it had the happy ending, it also reminded us that you can’t always get what you want.

Grace- Season Three finale

Let’s look back at the end to Season Three, as it also made great use of Elton John’s Rocket Man. At the end of that season, Hank’s world crumbled around him. He confessed to Karen that he had slept with Mia, then an underage girl who had formed a strong bond with Karen and Becca. Hank and Karen’s confrontation spilled into the streets until the police arrived. The season came to a close with Hank Moody hauled away in handcuffs, his life in shambles while his lady and daughter could only watch.

Grace- Happy ending

Big turnaround here, as the song is used again here to show that people can get what they want. The future looks bright for our characters. In the end, even though Hank hasn’t fully won Karen over, we have no idea how the two will end up. Does that matter at this point, so long as Hank is sitting next to Karen and holding her hand? Do they indeed have the happily ever after ending? I can only assume that the writers wanted to give Hank exactly what he wanted: real happiness with the one woman he’d do anything for. In the process, he betters the lives of Rath, Julia, Levon, Charlie and Marcy. Does it seem practical for Hank to solve so many issues when he’s spent the bulk of the season just causing more? Seems too quick of a change for me.

Look, at the end of the day, I wasn’t disappointed with what I saw. I didn’t know what to expect with this finale. It was good and did its job, but not great or up to the writing caliber we’ve come to expect from Californication. Looking back, the series has given us a man who has a great gift of writing, but he focused too much on women and repairing his damaged relationships. We watched life throw him plenty of surprises, not the least of which includes a son he never knew about, and he’s grappled with growing up while realizing that he can’t stop his daughter from wanting to grow up.

As cliché as “Grace” is, I am going to miss Californication and given all of the shit everyone’s been through this season, at least they got a bit of happiness. For a season that’s felt so uneven, this show’s biggest strength, to me, has always been its writing. The most average of Californication still provides great lines and sexual metaphors I find myself quoting and laughing at. To sum up the season as a whole, it’s growth. It took quite a long time to get there and there was some flip-flopping along the way, the characters got what they wanted.

For a show that’s been about the impossibility of the happily ever after ending, Californication delivered just that. Was it the safe route? Possibly. Was it the most realistic ending or strongest send-off for the series? Probably not. There’s much to enjoy in “Grace” and the series as a whole. It can be brutally honest in how much life sucks and how we can’t always get what we want, but should we be complacent or fight to ensure ourselves a happy ending?

So long, Californication.