Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is "Game of Thrones" Glorifying Rape, or Just Being Honest?

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in HBO's Game of Thrones

I don't know about you, but I really enjoyed the second episode of Game of Thrones. I thought it was more tightly plotted and action-packed than pilot, which was tasked with introducing all the characters and their relationship with each other, and I thought that there were some really nice character development moments, particularly the early scene between the Lannister siblings and the final, heartbreaking sequence, when psychopathic Prince Joffrey behaved like a complete dick and got both Sansa's direwolf Lady and the butcher's son killed. And that early scene of Tyrion bitch-slapping Joffrey like there's no tomorrow is a moment that I could watch over and over again, on repeat. (And now you can too, because someone made a .gif of it, available here.)

One of my favorite characters on the show is Emilia Clarke's Daenerys, and I really enjoyed her story arc, which featured Dany starting to gain some power in her relationship with Khal Drogo through (this being HBO) more graphic sex. However, while reading EW.com's excellent recap of the episode, I was struck by several commenters who argued that, rather than empowering my favorite bleached-blond, her storyline was glorifying rape. Commenter Georgia said, "I thought we left the 'women secretly love to be raped' behind in the 80s right alongside the old 'no means yes' chestnut. Guess not," while Amy takes on the recapper directly, saying in reference to his comment about the difference in Dany and Drogo's relationship in the book and on the show, "So you'd prefer Dany to swoon for a murderous brute after he RAPES HER REPEATEDLY? Gosh, that's much more realistic."

The comment that Amy was referring to concerned the different way Dany and Drogo's wedding night was portrayed on the show, as opposed to in the book. As those of you who watched the first episode probably remember, the fairly quick scene that shows Dany consummating her relationship with Drogo is a rape scene, in which Dany cries and says no while Drogo removes her clothes and then has sex with her. (A similar brief scene appears near the beginning of the second episode, and once again features Dany crying while Drogo has his way with her.) In the book, however, Drogo manages to seduce the initially fearful Dany, and she ultimately says yes to his advances.

I can see why the show's writers changed this scene, and the reason behind their decision has little to do with glorifying rape and everything to do with the amount of action they are forced to pack into each episode. As James Hibberd, EW.com's recapper, says, "If you have to tell the story visually, I can also understand why producers may have wanted to show Dany struggling to find her own power amid a difficult situation rather than appear, in this compressed version, to seemingly swoon for a murderous brute right after meeting him." This is the comment that Amy takes such issue with, and while I can see her point of view, mine was closer Hibberd's, as well as that of the AV Club's recapper Todd VanDerWerff, who takes some time in his recap to talk about the excellent way in which the series portrays the relationship between the powerful and the powerless in Westeros.

VanDerWerff starts out talking about the death of Arya's friend, the butcher's boy, as an example of how "the Middle Ages were pretty much shit if you weren't in a position of power." VanDerWerff notes the way in which the boy is a complete afterthought, and even noble Ned "gives it only a single moment before going off to kill his daughter's pet." In my experience with the episode, the audience reacts in much the same way that Ned does; I for one was so upset that Sansa's innocent Lady was going to be killed that I barely spared a moment's thought for the equally innocent boy, which I suspect was the expected reaction. It was only when I stopped to think about the story arc as a whole, after the terribly sad execution of the wolf, that the magnitude of the boy's death hit me.

What does this have to do with Daenerys, you might be asking. VanDerWerff draws a comparison between the death of the butcher's boy and Dany's sexual subjugation, saying that this scene is "similar to the way the series portrays, say, Daenerys, who doesn't have a ton of options in her life and can really only take charge sexually." This is why Georgia and Amy's comments struck me as false. I didn't think that Daenerys' desire to please Khal Drogo came from a new-found love for the husband she was sold to and who sees her as nothing more than an object; instead, I saw it as an attempt to gain the upper hand in at least one aspect of her relationship, and start to find some power in a situation in which she is powerless. (Plus, if we want to get into the mechanics of sex positions - which I think we should, if only because this is HBO, and sex positions are symbolic purely because they can be - the girl-on-top position that Dany pushes on Drogo is one in which the woman is much more in control of all aspects of intercourse, and can more easily keep her partner from hurting her. See, that was useful.)

Rather than glorifying rape, I think that Game of Thrones is bringing us a fairly realistic portrayal of a powerless woman doing anything and everything she can to make herself into her husband's equal in a time in which women have no power whatsoever. If you choose to read it that way, Sansa is doing the same thing; if she marries Joffrey, she'll be in the same position of power as Queen Cersei which, as we have seen, is the most power any woman in the kingdom can attain. Catelyn Stark does seem to have a fairly egalitarian relationship with Ned, but even she has no control over his choice to leave with the King, and she's forced to live with her husband's bastard son. Westeros may not be medieval Europe, but in many ways it's pretty damned close (except for the zombies and the dragons), and the series aptly conveys the absolute line between the powerful and the powerless, both in terms of class and in terms of gender. And we haven't even gotten into race yet.

On a side note: if you were as upset as I was about the death of Sansa's direwolf Lady, you can take some solace in this item. Apparently Sophie Turner, who portrays Sansa, loved the dog who portrayed Lady so much that, after filming on the season wrapped, she adopted her. Yay happy endings!

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Archer:" The Best Show You're Not Watching

Clockwise from top left: Chris Parnell as Cyril Figgis, Lucky Yates as Dr. Krieger, Judy Greer as Carol/Cheryl, Amber Nash as Pam, H. Jon Benjamin as Sterling Archer and Adam Reed as Ray Gillette
I suppose I should qualify the statement "the best show you're not watching." You could, after all, already be watching FX's absurd spy comedy Archer, in which case you are already awesome. You could also be ignoring other wonderful shows, like Fringe or Community or The Vampire Diaries, in which case Archer would merely be one of the best three or four shows you're not watching. However, if you, like me, already watch the aforementioned shows, but have missed out on Archer because it's on FX, or you don't like animation, or you simply haven't heard of it, then you should listen up, because Archer is actually the best show that you aren't watching.

Created by Matt Thompson and Adam Reed (the guys behind such previous cult shows as Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021), and featuring the best voice cast on television, Archer is a workplace/family comedy in the vein of Arrested Development. The show takes place at a spy agency, ISIS, run by the cold, snobby Malory Archer (the fabulous Jessica Walter, also known as Lucille Bluth) and revolves around the exploits of Malory's son Sterling (H. Jon Benjamin), the organization's top spy. The time period is some ambiguous and possibly nonexistent era when the Soviet Union and the KGB still exist, but the characters talk on cell phones and are perfectly capable of using Skype.

Benjamin's Sterling Archer is one of the most famous secret agents in the world, which is rather surprising given that he is completely incompetent at his job. He regularly blows his cover in order to pick up women, often abandons his missions because he sees something better going on, and is constantly fighting with fellow agents Ray Gillette (Adam Reed) and Lana Kane (Aisha Taylor), his seductive ex-girlfriend, not to mention his mother. Archer is basically Arrested Development's G.O.B., but with even more of a god complex and access to a lot of guns. He's a somewhat endearing (depending on the day) man-child who drinks, smokes, and screws his way through life. And like G.O.B. he even has an illegitimate son, although this one is a wee baby named Seamus rather than dumb jock Steve Holt.

The rest of the cast is fabulous too; Walter nails it as Malory (although granted, she's basically playing the same character she did on Arrested Development) a greedy, distant boss whose love of expensive things is only overshadowed by her love of men. One of series' best ongoing jokes is her relationship with Nikolai Jackov (Peter Newman), head of the KGB and possible father to Sterling. Aisha Taylor imbues Lana with seduction and danger, while at the same time making her unable to resist engaging with Sterling whenever she disagrees with him (which is all the time). Their combative, flirtatious (at least on Archer's part) relationship is one of the most amusing parts of the show.

The supporting cast also provides a lot of laughs, particularly Judy Greer's dimwitted, extremely slutty receptionist Carol (or Cheryl; it's unclear) and Chris Parnell's nerdy yet sex-addicted accountant Cyril. Much of the supporting players' job is to provide an even more insane backdrop against which Sterling, Lana and Malory can seem at least a little more human, but the subplots involving the office workers are often just as funny as the main storylines, and are generally even more absurd.

One of the nice things about Archer being an animated show is the freedom the writers have to create elaborate action sequences on the shoestring budget. There are just as many explosions and gunfights as you would expect from a typical action movie, although they tend to have an absurdist edge to them. One nice running gag is when Archer, as generally unrealistic as it is, calls out action movies for showing their heroes walking away from explosions or giant gun battles with their hearing completely intact, and a recent episode set in Russia mocked the action trope in which a character is the target of massive machine-gun fire and somehow never gets hit. The way that Archer makes fun of action movies is one of the most consistently amusing elements of the series.

I should also mention that Archer has amazing opening credits (sorry this isn't the real credits, which are very hard to find, but the remake is really quite close to the original, so shout-out to SkipShot77):

Take my word on this: Archer is a slick, giddily fun, edgy spy comedy that will have you laughing out loud even as you cringe at the characters' behavior. And it's extremely easy to catch up on: only twenty-two episodes at twenty minutes each makes this a perfect distraction during final's week or over the summer. Watch it now, and thank me later.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"Fringe" Recap: The Man and the Machine

John Noble as Walternate and Ryan MacDonald as Evil Brandon
For weeks now, Fringe promos for "6:02 AM EST" have been asking us "Where will you be when it happens?" Well, fellow Fringe-philes, I'm happy to report that It. Is. Happening. And that is just awesome.

The hour started with a scene featuring Evil Brandon (I don't know if he has an official nickname, like Walternate or Fauxlivia, so I'm calling him Evil Brandon because, well, he's super evil) telling Walternate that he managed to strip Fauxlivia's chromosomes out of the blood sample that he took from baby Henry, and that the resulting concoction should be enough to start the Machine and destroy our world, once and for all. Evil Brandon is so excited about this prospect that he can barely hold in his pride and joy as Walternate gives a sobering speech where he quotes Oppenheimer saying, at the first nuclear test, "I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," and talks about how Oppenheimer couldn't bear the nightmares, attempting to impress upon Evil Brandon that this is not a time to rejoice. Well, at least he tried.

We then cut from Earth-2 to our Earth, where two shepherds, one having just driven through a swarm of locusts (because apparently the machine is causing our world to go all Biblical plagues), are observing a flock of extremely unhappy sheep. As one pulls out his walkie talkie to radio for help with the flock and their sudden case of Mad Sheep disease, they both stare into the sky, mesmerized by something extremely bright. Apparently the Machine is working. And, credits.

Post-credits, we get a nice scene where enigmatic bowling alley owner/possible First Person Sam Weiss notices that his bowling balls are knocking together completely of their own accord. Disturbed by this event, he goes into the back room and, in a rather overcomplicated process, retrieves his special Newton's Cradle from a secretive, locked cabinet. Now, Sam Weiss is one of my favorite recurring characters, right up there with the Observer, but I know that they sell those things in every museum and planetarium shop ever, so I'm not sure the secrecy was necessary. Still, it's good to see Sam again.

We then get a bit of comic relief, as Olivia, having slept over at the Bishops' house, gets out of bed and wanders into the path of Walter, who is wearing nothing save a pair of extremely fuzzy slippers since, in his words, "this house can get very chilly." He then walks past Olivia to make another mushroom frittata, and the way that Anna Torv delicately skirts his path to avoid closer contact with Little Walter is just funny.

Of course, Olivia then just has to go ruin everything by going back upstairs and telling Peter than sunrise is her favorite time, because "the world is full of promise," because she apparently wants the world to be destroyed today. And then, right on cue, both their cell phones start ringing. Seriously Olivia, when are you going to learn? You never start talking about how nice the day is, or how anything can happen, or how the morning is full of promise when you know full well that there is a good chance the world is going to start disintegrating at any time.

Walter, Peter, Olivia and Broyles go to the field where we previously saw the sheep, and where there is now nothing left but a wide swath of destruction. Walter, pointing out the obvious, tells everyone that this event is the beginning of our universe breaking down, which I really think everyone had probably figured out. While the Bishop boys and Olivia are checking out the sheep-killing vortex, we get some nice product placement for Sprint as Nina Sharp tells Broyles via video-chat that the machine, which is being housed at Massive Dynamic. Peter and Walter are appropriately disturbed by this, although in the next scene, in which Peter is talking to Olivia about how the machine could have turned on by itself, mostly seems miffed that the machine turned itself on while he was several hundred miles away. That cheating tramp machine!

As Walter tells Peter and Olivia that the machine's magnetic field indicates that it came on as a sympathetic reaction to the activation of the Earth-2 machine (and now it's cheating on Peter with another machine! What nerve!), Astrid comes over with more bad news; four more similar events have been reported, which Olivia quickly names "the blight." The Fringe team realizes that their world is toast, and a serious silence reigns.

One of the things I love most about this episode is that it is a rare hour in which we get storylines in both Earth-1 and Earth-2. As we cut to the Earth-2 storyline, Fauxlivia is interrupted in her fussing over baby Henry (and by the way, I'm so excited that she named him after Henry, another of my favorite recurring characters) to find out that there is a massive energy spike happening on Liberty Island. As she and Lincoln Lee rush to the scene to begin the evacuation, Walternate calls Lincoln to call off the Fringe team. Lincoln wonders what's going on, and Fauxlivia uses her new status as Walternate's sort-of daughter-in-law to head up to the State of Liberty and gets some answers.

Fauxlivia is horrified to find out that Walternate is planning to destroy Earth-1, home of his son and the father of her child. I really like the way that this character has become more sympathetic over the course of the season; at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, I despised her and her duplicitous agenda, but as we've gotten to see her struggling, first to reintegrate herself into her old life after her affair with Peter, and then being forced to come to terms with her pregnancy and motherhood, I've really come to love her. There is nothing I would like to see more than Fauxlivia starting a family with Lincoln and Henry, and living out the rest of their lives in peace. However, given that this is Fringe, I doubt that will happen, particularly given Fauxlivia's treasonous mission in this episode.

We then go back to Earth-1, where Olivia is heading off to Massive Dynamic to help with a detection and quarantine protocol based on her experiences in Earth-2. Meanwhile, Peter has accepted that the only way to stop the Machine is for him to get in it and stop it somehow. This leads to a lovely scene with Walter and Peter, in which Walter finally realizes that when the Observer told him to "give him the keys and save the girl," he was preparing him for this eventuality. I know that many people will prefer the later scene in the hospital chapel - and I can't deny that John Noble plays that scene brilliantly - but I love the way Noble conveys Walter's quiet despair and resignation in this scene. John Noble should just win every Emmy.

Meanwhile, at Massive Dynamic, Nina Sharp is telling Olivia that, while the detection protocols are in place, there is only enough amber to quarantine eight to ten Fringe events. As Olivia struggles to take in this news, Nina tells her about Sam Weiss, his relationship to the First People, and the fact that he has inconveniently gone missing just when they need him. Olivia vows to find the possibly immortal bowling guru, who is, at that moment, looking through one of those nifty cross-universe flat screens and solving some complicated-looking equations, which ominously equal zero.

Just to demonstrate again how much Fauxlivia has changed since we first met her, in the next scene we see her rocking baby Henry and singing him an out-of-tune lullaby. She then puts him to sleep and goes to share some (somewhat forced) banter with Lincoln, who tells her that she "can't do this alone," and then is left in her apartment to take care of Henry. The sadness and longing on Lincoln's face made me really wish he would just go for it and kiss her, but I guess that would have been inappropriate, particularly considering that she is currently heading to Liberty Island to somehow cross into Earth-2 and bring back Peter.

And now we get Fauxlivia's stone-cold badass side, as she threatens Evil Brandon and sees through all his bluffs, which is just great because he is the worst. She demands that Evil Brandon provide her with the means to travel between universes. Her general badassery makes it even worse when Evil Brandon provides her with two cylinders that we the viewers know are not any sort of technology that will enable her to get to our world. She leaves with them, but just for good measure she punches Evil Brandon in the face. I was hoping she'd shoot him, but you take what you can get.

Fauxlivia is then chased through the bowels of Liberty Island by armed guards, and after yelling at her for thirty seconds to just use the cylinders already (I guess I was hoping they would be real), she finally does, and realizes that Brandon has played her. Now she's trapped, and pissed about it.

Back in Earth-1, Olivia manages to find Sam Weiss' apartment, only to realize that he has completely vacated it. She's disappointed, but not as disappointed as Peter's about to be (well, would be, if he was conscious). He's at Massive Dynamic, being given a spiffy jumpsuit, because apparently the man who can save the universe can only do it dressed as a mechanic. Walter has another stellar scene, as he talks to Broyles about the chances that this will work, and the possibility that Peter will die.

Now suited up in his jumpsuit, Peter prepares to get into the machine. He shares a series of nice moments with Astrid, Walter and Broyles, and even gets an adorably hug from Astrid. He then gets ready to enter the machine, accompanied by some suspenseful music. This entire process takes so long, and the build-up has been so dramatic, that it is a really great, really shocking fake-out when Peter finally gets to the top of the machine, touches it, and is immediately zapped into oblivion and falls a story or two onto the cement floor (you'd think that Massive Dynamic techs could have put down some mattresses or something). I really enjoyed this twist, as I was getting kind of tired of the Peter, Savior of the Universe storyline.

Peter, unconscious and accompanied by Astrid and a hysterical Walter, is taken to the hospital. Olivia shows up some unspecified amount of time later, and is so worried about Peter that she doesn't even have time to be royally pissed that no one told her about this plan. I'm sure the anger is coming though.

Now we cut to the Walter in the chapel scene I mentioned earlier, and it is just a lovely performance on the part of John Noble. He has to play it completely by himself, with no one to react to or even make eye contact with, and he just knocks it out of the park. Seriously, how does this man not have an Emmy, or even a nomination, to his name?

Olivia goes outside to look at the sunset, which resonates a bit obviously with the earlier sunrise discussion but I'll let it slide. She is joined by Sam Weiss, who needs her help to stop the destruction of our Universe. After looking back into the hospital for a moment, she leaves with Sam. Meanwhile, on Earth-2, Walternate goes down to the holding cells in Liberty Island (to, if I am not mistaken, the same cell where Olivia was held at the beginning of this season) to tell Fauxlivia that she's lucky Henry is his grandson, and that he's going to keep her alive, but hold her here until everything has gone down. Personally, I don't trust him not to just kill her and take Henry for himself, but even Walternate has softened a bit over the course of the season, so I'll keep hoping.

This was a great set-up episode, and I can't wait for the presumably balls-out awesome of the final two episodes of the season. Personally I'm hoping that Olivia and Fauxlivia unite to save the world, and although I'm worried that one of them isn't going to make it to the end, I would really like to see Olivia end up with Peter and Fauxlivia end up with Lincoln. They could even share custody of baby Henry, although I'm not entirely sure how a cross-universe shared-custody system would work. Also, speaking of Henry, I'm also really hoping that Andre Royo's Henry comes back and saves the day by doing something awesome. After all, he's already gone on the run from Fringe Division and delivered a baby; I'm sure he has some more tricks up his sleeve.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"Doctor Who" Countdown: Dissecting the Trailer

Karen Gillan as Amy Pond and Matt Smith as the Doctor

Who else is crazy excited for the premiere of the new series of Doctor Who this Saturday (which, coincidentally, will mark the first time that the show will air on the same night in the US, on BBC America, as it will in Britain). In honor of the Series 6 premiere, let's take a look at the trailer.

First of all, the moment when Amy asks the Doctor "Where are we?" and he responds "Where we've never, ever been" is a nice shout-out to the fact that, for the first time in the show's forty-year history, this season features a storyline set in America! That gorgeous red rock scenery glimpsed at the 42 second mark is Monument Valley, Utah, a place of spectacular natural beauty that has been previously seen in films like Stagecoach, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mission: Impossible II and Thelma and Louise. Who else is excited to see what the quintessential British series can do with an American setting?

I'm also excited by the return of Alex Kingston's River Song, and the promise of a greater role for her character in this series. I know that River has her haters, but I've enjoyed her presence since she first appeared with the Tenth Doctor in "Silence in the Library," and I'm excited to learn more about her relationship with the Doctor.

Another exciting moment in the trailer comes 30 seconds in, when the mysterious voice tells the Doctor, "Fear me. I've killed hundreds of Time Lords," and the Doctor responds in the most awesome way possible: "Fear me. I've killed all of them." I hope that this signals the return of the darker side of the Doctor, most memorably realized by David Tennant in episodes like "The Family of Blood," "The Sound of Drums," "Last of the Time Lords," and "The Waters of Mars." As much I love the goofy side of the Doctor - and goofy is something that both Tennant and Matt Smith do extremely well - my favorite episodes of Doctor Who are those that dig down deep into the tortured psyche of the man who exterminated two races, who has lived alone for hundreds of years, and who has never stopped running.

Other fun tidbits: it seems that Doctor Who is continuing its tradition of disturbing villains. I highly doubt any of this season's antagonists can reach the blood-chilling level of the Weeping Angels, but the quick shots of those frozen people were nicely creepy, and the beings with the doll-like masks reminded me in the best way possible of the frightening clockwork robots from "The Girl in the Fireplace." Smith wearing both the Stetson and an astronaut's helmet bodes extremely well for the Doctor who, last season, insisted that both bow ties and fezzes were "cool." While I do love the tormented Doctor, I also really enjoy seeing him in a silly hat. Go figure.

Who else is looking forward to the premiere? Are you as excited for the return of River Song as I am? Do you prefer your Doctor goofy or tortured? And, most importantly, which of the Doctor's silly hats is your favorite?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Game of Thrones" Controversy: Is Fantasy Just for Boys?

Mark Addy, Lena Headey and Jack Gleeson in HBO's Game of Thrones
Anyone who has watched television or been on the internet in the past few months has probably heard about HBO's luxurious and expensive adaptation of Game of Thrones, the first novel in George R.R. Martin's ongoing fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. Those who follow television news and gossip a little more carefully have probably heard about the controversy surrounding Ginia Bellafante's review of the series for the New York Times, specifically the way in which the author implies that fantasy series are "boy fiction," not for women, claiming that the many, many (many) sex scenes that appear in the first few episodes were placed there as "a little something for the ladies," and because "no woman alive would want to watch otherwise." Bellafante goes on to say that she has "never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to The Hobbit first," a statement which is not only completely irrelevant to the task at hand, which is reviewing a TV show and not pontificating on perceived gender differences, but which also demonstrates that she has an extremely limited group of female friends. I for one have never heard of Lorrie Moore, but I am a voracious lover of Tolkien who has, on several occasions, dressed up in a homemade elf costume just because I could.

Bellafante has also clearly never made the acquaintance of Ilana Teitelbaum, who wrote a brilliantly insightful article in the Huffington Post about the sexism inherent in Bellafante's article, namely the idea that women aren't bothered with watching fantasy, and would instead spend their time shoe shopping and watching Sex and the City. Indeed, in the opening paragraph of Bellafante's article (I'm going to stop calling it a review, because there is very little actual reviewing happening here), she says that the show's opening credits should come with a warning stating, "If you can't count cards, please return to reruns of Sex and the City." For the record, while I am a huge fantasy nerd, I also really enjoy stereotypical female activities like shoe shopping, spa days and lunches that include mimosas. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I'm not even going to go into all the sexism (aimed, oddly enough, at her own gender) contained in Bellafante's article, partly because Teitelbaum does the job much better than I ever could, and partly because I think it's fairly apparent in the aforementioned quotes. (Seriously though, just because someone happens not to like Game of Thrones doesn't automatically imply that they're a woman, and even if they are a woman, it doesn't automatically imply that they will be watching Sex and the City. They could be watching baseball, or Fringe, or Community.) Instead, I want to respond with my own opinions about Game of Thrones, the first episode of which I decided to watch before writing this post.

I should state that, because I am not a critic for any of your fancy newspapers, I did not get screener copies of the first six episodes of the season, so this review is based entirely on the pilot episode. Having noted that, I really liked the show. Scratch that: I LOVED it. Game of Thrones was well-written and well-acted, the production values were absolutely top-notch, and there was just enough sex and violence to provide a nice, gritty atmosphere without completely upstaging the plot, although the producers could have cut down a bit on the exposed breasts. Plus, there were zombies. Zombies! I particularly enjoyed the performances of Sean Bean as Lord Eddard Stark, a man torn between loyalty to his king and his family; Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Lena Headey's Queen Cersei who is witty, often drunk, fond of prostitutes, and much tougher than he looks; and the luminous, marvelous newcomer Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, descendent of the deposed king who is now being used a bartering tool by her nasty brother to get his kingdom back. Clarke perfectly captures Daenerys' innocence and fear, and her performance in the scene of her wedding to savage warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) is mesmerizing.

Speaking of Daenerys and her forced marriage to Khal Drogo, the scene later in the episode in which she unwillingly consummates her marriage is a refutation of Bellafante's assertion that the sex was put into the series for the purpose of pandering to women. Even if all the sex in the episode was not in the books, which is most certainly was, there a three major sex scenes in the episode, and none are the sort that strike me, a woman, as being particularly sexy. They are: a scene in which Tyrion pays four prostitutes to have sex with him at once; Daenerys' consummation of her marriage, which is, to put it bluntly, rape; and a scene in which Queen Cersei is glimpsed having rather vigorous sex with her twin brother (not the dwarf, her other brother). These scenes are not titillating so much as degrading, and the first two in particular serve as a commentary on the place of the women in the fictional kingdom of Westeros and, by extension, the very real setting of medieval Europe.

There are certain small problems that I had with the series. The number of characters and their shifting allegiances confused me, and I don't know if I would have been able to follow had it not been for the assistance of my boyfriend, who has read A Song of Ice and Fire. The episode was also extremely expository, and while the exposition was well done, there's only so many times you can hear a character refer to another character as "my brother" or "my husband" without completely giving up on the verisimilitude of the thing. However, these were small quibbles, and I suspect that the second in particular will be resolved in a few episodes, after the audience has become better acquainted with the intrigue. I, for one, will definitely be watching the second episode come Sunday, and I can't wait to see where the series takes me. I might be a little late though; I have to get in some shoe shopping first.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Welcome to the new (and improved) home of Pencils Down, Pass the Remote!

Welcome everyone to the all-new, improved, Internet home of Pencils Down, Pass the Remote. Those of you who followed my writing in the Swarthmore Phoenix will be excited to know that, thanks to the new format, the former trickle of reviews and opinions will be replaced by a veritable flood of TV criticism and commentary, with a healthy dose of snark thrown in for good measure. For new readers, this blog will provide you with my take on both new and classic TV shows, industry gossip, scandals, and all the television arcana you can handle. Stay tuned this week for posts regarding the mini scandal surrounding the New York Times' sexist review of Game of Thrones, as well as impressions of the new season of Doctor Who, which includes the first episodes of the venerable series ever filmed in the United States (and in my home state of Utah no less), plus recaps of some of my favorite shows (did someone say Fringe?). So grab some snacks and settle onto the couch, friends, because it's time for us to watch some great TV together.