Tag Archives: Season 4

A review of Season 4 of “The Man in the High Castle” (2019)

The fourth and final season of “The Man in the High Castle” (2019) ended the show pretty strongly — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10 for concluding the dystopian science fiction epic just when its ambitious storytelling started getting too unwieldy.

I won’t lie to you … I loved the show, and was the sort of fan that exhorted all of my friends to watch it — but even I have to admit that there were some general narrative failures.  This show tackled nothing less than multiple, detailed parallel universes — each with its own history and analogous characters.  (It is an Axis Powers’ World War II victory that sets the stage for the story’s initial, “prime” universe.)  That’s a lot to tackle, and “The Man in the High Castle” didn’t always follow through.  (It didn’t help that there was a seeming myriad of subplots and character arcs fleshing out its prime universe alone — and that some of Season 4’s story setups seemed redundant with those of prior seasons.)

By the show’s end, there were major plot threads that were left dangling — including key questions about the show’s basic plot elements.  I wouldn’t blame many longtime fans for feeling frustrated at the overall story’s insufficient exposition — and this last season’s deliberately vague, befuddling final moments.

But “The Man in the High Castle” was still simply too good to dislike.  What the show does well, it tends to do very well — especially its grand, sweeping, Wagnerian science fiction world-building.  I’ll bet you’ll never see another what-if-the-Nazis-won story as good as this one.  With everything from its panoramic backdrops to its costuming to its incidental dialogue, “The Man in the High Castle” tackles its sprawling milieu with zeal, style and impressive detail.  You can tell that it was a labor of love for the screenwriters to bring Philip K. Dick’s dangerous multiverse to the screen.

Its cast includes performers that absolutely shine — most notably Rufus Sewell as the premier American Nazi, John Smith, but also Alexa Davalos, Chelah Hordal, Joel de la Fuente and Rick Worthy.   For me, Sewell often made the show; his role here seems like one he was born for.

Despite its admittedly significant flaws, Season 4 was still a great watch.

 

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That time when Sherlock and Watson grew up.

“Sherlock” Season 4, Episode 2. The three-way conversation in this scene gets me every time. It might have been the best segment of the entire show in some ways.

Yes, there were some strange tonal and stylistic changes in this last season. But Season 4 also offered some of the show’s best screenwriting and acting. The depth and maturity of this scene alone makes all the previous episodes (which were all outstanding) seem sophomoric by comparison.

This was the season when the two lead characters stopped resembling only fun, quip-a-minute 20-something yuppies and became mature adults and equal partners. This and the change in the show’s tone were both brave creative choices on the part of the writers.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — I’ve loved the Sherlock Holmes books and stories since I was a kid, and this might be the best film or television adaptation I’ve ever seen.

 

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A short review of Season 4 of “The Strain”

The fourth and final season of “The Strain” was easily its weakest, but was still fun enough to merit an 8 out of 10.

Season 1 was a unique, detailed, methodically assembled techno-thriller crossbred with vampire mythology — you could tell that it was adapted from a pretty decent book series by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  The show’s subsequent seasons progressively meandered farther and farther into comic book territory … the fourth felt loosely and hastily plotted, with spotty and confusing exposition.  (I was considerably confused until late in the game about who deployed nuclear weapons in the war between vampires and humans, when they did so, and what their strategy was.)

But what the hell.  I still enjoyed this.  The writers here still know where their bread is buttered, and gave survival-horror fans more of the screwball guilty pleasures they were tuning in for.  There was plenty of blood and gore (even if it’s only the white, worm-infested vampire blood that I suspect was easier for the censors to approve). There were more of the show’s creepy, cringe-inducing monster effects.  And there was plenty of action — right up until a finale that was predictable but cool.  (If you’ve been following the show the way I have, do you not want to see machine guns, explosions, swords and severed vampire heads?)

Richard Sammel consistently outshined everyone in his role as the WWII Nazi turned vampire Himmler.  What an extraordinary villain.)  It’s a further testament to his talent that the man actually appears sublimely good-natured in real life.  (He interacts with his fans from time to time on Facebook.)

The show actually surprised me, too, by how attached I got to its characters.  It hasn’t always been a show that is strong on its characters, but … I’m going to miss them.  Vasily Fet (Kevin Durand) and “Dutch” (Ruta Gedmintas) were two in particular that I found myself surprisingly attached to — especially considering that Dutch was a superfluous character that seems to have been added only for sex appeal and romantic tension.  I was rooting for both of them.

So I’d still recommend “The Strain,” despite Season 4’s failings.  To quote Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s “Batman,” “I don’t know if it’s art, but I like it.”  (Yes, I do know that Walt Disney said it first.  Whatever.)

 

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A short review of the Season 4 premiere of “The Strain”

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PAST SEASONS OF “THE STRAIN.”]  I love “The Strain.”  It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s usually creepy, and the screenwriters seem to want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink in order to please horror fans.  It’s also the most ambitious horror show on television — it endeavors to depict nothing short of an entire vampire apocalypse, from its inception back in Season 1 to what appears to be a complete victory by the monsters at the start of its fourth (and apparently final) season.  Only the outstanding “Fear the Walking Dead” has attempted something like that.  And although “Fear” is the better show, it can’t match “The Strain’s” epic storytelling goals and its level of detail.

The writers’ energetic efforts almost always pay off.  Part of “The Strain’s” appeal is that you never know how far they’ll go.  And they do push the envelope so creatively that they sometimes hit upon ideas and story points that are grotesque and darkly creative.  I’m still enjoying this show even after I predicted back in Season 1 that the plot-driving creatures themselves would grow boring after our repeated exposure to them.  (I’m happy to be proven wrong.)

Regrettably, the Season 4 premiere suggests that the writers are now reaching too far, too fast.  It continued the show’s pattern of brave creative choices, but it was sloppy.  There were enormous changes in story and setting with insufficient exposition.  We jump nine months forward from the close of last season, when a nuclear explosion devastates New York, and our heroes are scattered.  We’re offered little information about how our protagonists arrived at their respective new junctures, and that is forgivable.  (It’s a convention of serialized storytelling like this that things can be explained in subsequent episodes.)  But the enormous changes in the overall milieu left me a little confused.

Following the nuclear conquest of New York last season, why would Philadelphia and other cities also be ruled by the vampires?  I understand that the nuclear winter is to blame for this, because the bad guys can move about by day.  But would a single bomb cause a sufficient nuclear winter to affect the entire Eastern Seaboard?  (Yes, I am aware that I am illustrating my ignorance of this subject.)

Or … is it the entire continent that’s affected, or the entire northern hemisphere?  Have other cities been bombed or not?  Why are the vampires seeking out more nuclear devices?  (We are given confusing information about these things through new story elements and dialogue.)  Furthermore, why is Vasiliy Fet (the likable Kevin Durand) trying get his hands on a nuke on behalf of the human resistance?  Is he planning on nuking an entire city, with both vampires and their human slaves?  If he neutralizes “The Master” in the remains of New York City, will it be worth it?

These are important plot and story elements that left me scratching my head.  What’s more, the season opener was further marred by some pretty spotty scripting and direction.  (The action sequence at the end was poorly done.)

The episode was still fun enough.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.  I’m just surprised that an episode that seems so hastily developed served as the season’s opener.

 

A spoiler-free review of “Sherlock” Season 4

I actually can understand why some “Sherlock” fans were less than thrilled with its fourth (and apparently last?) season.  (I’ve read that the final episode received the lowest ratings in the show’s history.)  Even if Season 4 wasn’t quite as strong as past seasons, however, I’d still give it a 9 out f 10.

The narrative style and the content of this three-episode arc changed drastically.  The detail and methodical pace of past seasons gave way to a faster, looser narrative that made the show feel more … mainstream, in a way.  These episodes felt more like the standard adventure tales that you’d expect from any television thriller, and far less a genuine homage to the literary source material.  At times it was a little sloppy, with bombs, disguises, false memories and other over-the-top plot devices that were sometimes pretty implausible.  The final episode even seemed directly inspired by a series of horror films not known for being critically acclaimed.

The writing and directing wasn’t as clean, either.  This was easily the most surreal of the show’s four seasons — especially if you count the standalone “special,” “The Abominable Bride,” which preceded the official initial episode.  There were some overly stylized flashbacks, spliced scenes, and other departures from a linear narrative.  (I can’t be more specific without spoilers.)

The tone of the humor changed, too.  Some of the droll, dialogue-driven British humor was replaced by the zanier, crowd-pleasing stuff that you would expect from a more mainstream television comedy.  (One lamentable scene involving the outcome of a car chase, for example, was entirely too silly.)

At the same time, this was the darkest season yet.  The goofier humor was juxtaposed with story elements that were hard-hitting, sad and occasionally frightening.  When one character delivers the line, “Maintain eye-contact,” it was chilling enough to stay with me hours after the show aired.  There was some scary stuff this season, on a couple of different levels — the second episode, in particular, superbly delivers creeping psychological horror, then tops if off with a chilling story resolution.

And here is where Season 4 shined.  At one point, I asked myself, “When did ‘Sherlock’ become a horror show?”  But it was shortly thereafter that I realized that I absolutely didn’t mind.

The season’s success boils down to three things.  The first is the darker story content, which I thought was a bold and surprising choice for what is probably the show’s last season.

The second is the quality of the writing.  I realize that sounds strange, given my above criticisms above, but it is still a superbly scripted show.

And, third, the performances from its principal actors were still uniformly excellent.  (And when they combine via some great dialogue, “Sherlock” still hits it out of the park.)  Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Amanda Abbington were all at their peak — particularly since their characters have evolved now to what is probably their culmination.  This last  season was easily the most personal and character-focused, and sees these protagonists finally complete their individual arcs.  Sherlock is finally sufficiently humanized, Mary’s development finally reaches full fruition, and Watson has finally grown into his own man.  If I had quibbles about Holmes and Watson’s portrayals in past seasons, it was that Holmes was too much of a jerk , while Watson was merely a weak, even neutered foil for him.  Holmes was never such a heel in the stories I loved a boy — neither was he in the film adaptations.  And I found the far stronger Watson in “The Abominable Bride” to be truer to the stories as well — not to mention reminiscent of my favorite Holmes films, like 1976’s “The Seven Percent Solution” or 1979’s “Murder By Decree.”

The villains were damn good too.  “Sherlock” has always excelled at bringing believable, well scripted and creatively conceived bad guys, and this season was no exception.

All in all, this was still terrific television, despite its relative flaws.  I heartily recommend it to Holmes fans.

 

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“Sherlock” Season 4 trailer!

“Sherlock” Season 4 arrives in just a little over two months?!

Did “The Abominable Bride” Christmas special really appear nearly a year ago?!  I feel like I just wrote a review for it.

I keep telling my girlfriend how “fun” and “witty” this show is, and how its banter and one-liners will crack her up.  (There are still people out there who associate Martin Freeman primarily with Bilbo Baggins.)  But this trailer makes it look like a goddam John Carpenter film.

For a while now, I’ve been saying that the only thing that could make “Sherlock” better was the addition of Tom Hiddleston.  And now I’m reading on spoiler sites that fans are theorizing that he will indeed join the cast?!