Season Recap

Photo Courtesy Of TV Guide

WARNING SPOILER ALERT:

Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt.”

Mark Twain

The fifth season finale for the longtime NBC series “The Blacklist,” left the show’s faithful fans in one of three subsets. Elation, Anger/Sorrow/Denial, or just outright Confused. Despite series creator Jon Bokenkamp’s statements that James Spader’s portrayed an imposter since entering our lives, there’s many diehard fans still refuses to believe it. There’s yet another group that’s stated that they’re disgusted by the news revealed in the season ending episode, and vow they won’t ever watch the series again. They feel tricked, and deluded, some even fell they’ve wasted five years, falling for the “ULTIMATE CON MAN.” Isn’t that exactly what this show’s always been about? “Criminals Are Notorious Liars.

Some incredibly intuitive viewers, realized early on that “OUR RAYMOND,” wasn’t the Naval Intelligence Officer that fathered Masha Rostova. I failed to catch on until it became apparent when Mr. Kaplan left her going away present, a valise she dug up from Tansi Farms, in the season four finale. That gift that kept on giving, along with Dembe Zuma’s reaction to the news that Raymond didn’t deny being Elizabeth Keen’s father, felt like waking up from “The Matrix,” for this viewer. It felt like shields being lifted from my eyes, this season’s purpose was always about how they’d reveal that news.

Let’s get the formalities out-of-the-way early on, lest we forget. congratulation to Samar Navabi and Aram Mojtabai, on their engagement! May they have a long and happy life together, and remain the example that functional relationships do exist; even in The Blacklist Universe.

We’re not going to delve too deeply into this episode or the latest Blacklist member, Sutton Ross. It seems that Ian Garvey’s legacy was a softness for young girls in the Witness Protection Program, and sympathetic thieves. Garvey granted Ross his freedom years before, rather than arrest him, so Ian knew exactly where to turn to ensure the bones would be revealed to Lillian Roth. The supposed kidnapping of Lizzie from the witness interrogation room, was handled ham-handedly. How on earth did Sutton get his kidnap victim to voluntarily crawl through an air-duct system?

However this episode’s intention wasn’t meant to be put under a microscope, and combed for clues to solve the mystery, this was the payoff we’ve waited for, or at least part of it. The whole kidnapping ploy didn’t need to exist, save for the chance for Liz and Jennifer to hear the imposter almost say “I am not Raymond Reddington.”

Next season should get broken down into three sections; revealing the identity, acceptance by Keen and willing to continue working with “OUR RAYMOND,” and finally gratitude. Although John Waters expressed admiration of the name, the man we’ve watched for five seasons remains Lizzie’s “SIN EATER.”

We’ve made some rather bold predictions on these pages, especially since late December, and admittedly the sense of validation’s welcome. However it’s only being mentioned in the hopes that our theories have proved credible, and that there’s a method to our madness. With that in mind let’s delve into speculation as to the true identity of “OUR RAYMOND.”

Why did he assume the identity of “THE AMERICAN,” in Katarina Rostova’s journal, a once well-respected Naval Intelligence Officer, who at the very least betrayed his marital vows and had an affair with Rostova, producing a child we know as Elizabeth Keen? We see the love and protective quality that in the end guides his every move. If not for the SWAT-Team breaking into Ross’ compound, he’d have said the words he vowed would never leave his lips. We soon would have heard his entire back-story, in order to keep Lizzie safe.

Who Is The Man In The Hat?

He is not Elizabeth Keen/Masha Rostova’s father. Raymond Reddington’s Lizzie’s father, he died when she shot him as a four-year-old the night of the fire. The scenario she remembers actually took place, we saw the aftermath in “Requiem,” as Katarina consoles her daughter, telling Masha he was a very bad man. Raymond Reddington took Masha from her home and away from her family. The night of the fire, a confrontation took place between Rostova and Reddington, possibly and likely physical. Masha somehow got a hold of a gun and shot the bad man to protect her mommy. Unfortunately that shot doomed them both, KGB, CIA, The Cabal, and possibly all three would soon be looking for Raymond Reddington. What could Rostova do?

The Third Family.

Sorry to burst the bubble of the Katarina’s Actually Raymond contingency, but “Our Raymond’s,” a man. The Imposter’s daughter’s the little blonde-haired girl we’ve seen with the bubbles in the flashbacks. She’s the ballerina, and it’s her house that Raymond purchased in season one and subsequently blew up. The story he told Madeline Pratt of coming home to find his family executed took place. That’s the family Diane Fowler refers to just before Raymond says she talks too much and shoots her.

Dominic Wilkinson AKA Oleander.

Dominic Wilkinson appears for the fourth time in the series, since being introduced in the show’s third season. This time “Our Raymond,” and Dembe bring the Real Reddington’s bones to his place to finally burn them. (I’ve seen some fans question why the bones weren’t burned originally instead of buried? My guess would be that Rostova buried the bones at Tansi Farm, in a panic and didn’t consider that option.) We’ve been able to perceive a bond between the two men, since the first time we met Dom. One that never added up if it existed between the old man and the Real Reddington.

Raymond takes a sip of milk and his face shows his displeasure. Dom tells him it’s buttermilk, and Reddington’s about to spit it out, when the old man stops him with the words don’t you. Dom’s stopped playing his piano, because he’s got a broken key. While Wilkinson’s away doing chores, Raymond heads to the old man’s work bench and painstakingly crafts a replacement, before he departs. Reddington saying to him at one point that he realizes he’s not what Dom wanted him to be.

Combine that with the obvious love he’s got for Lizzie, and in this viewer’s eyes’ the answer’s obvious. Certainly there’s a chance that he’s just another former KGB operative that worked with Dom and Katarina, but it makes a lot more sense if our imposter’s Dom’s son and Katarina’s brother. Desolate after the loss of his own family, “Our Raymond,” agrees to become Raymond Reddington. With that move he effectively killed the man he once was, that’s why Kate and Dembe always referred to him as Raymond.

How He Fooled The World?

Obviously he didn’t fool everybody, we know that Mr. Kaplan and Dembe have always known, however it’s unclear because of “Requiem,” when Kate actually found out. Was she referring to the imposter, when she initially refused Sam Milhoan to talk with that awful man, or did she believe the Real Reddington was still living? I’d also venture a guess that Alan Fitch and Peter Kotsiopoulos, knew that he wasn’t the Real Reddington. I’m also in the camp that believes Naomi knew as well, and not on board with the idea that she’s dead.

As for everybody else, it seems pretty obvious that he became Raymond Reddington’s Doppelgänger, courtesy of the skills of renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Abraham Maltz. Longtime viewers remember his introduction in the first season, portrayed by Andrew “Dice” Clay. We may have sneaked a peek at one part of the rest of the process, when we watched Raleigh Sinclair III, coach Anthony to ape the characteristics of Ian Garvey a few weeks ago.

However the entire process would be far more entailed. Over the last few months we’ve learned that our intelligence officers, are well-trained in the art of taking meticulous notes. That certainly would have been a valuable resource that the imposter used to garner as much information as possible about the Real Reddington. Likely there was also a large trove of video and audio tape of Reddington, given his position, and the imposter probably spent weeks perfecting Reddington’s sound and cadence. Who was his trainer, was it his father and sister?

Obviously this new “Reddington,” couldn’t return to the original’s old life and family, for fear of being found out. Perhaps with the aid of The Cabal, the imposter used the name and reputation of the former Naval Intelligence Officer, to create a criminal empire worth millions. How much of that empire was actually used to keep Elizabeth safe, would be up for debate.

Known Unknowns.

Exactly why did “Our Raymond,” enter back into Keen’s life five years ago? Was it a combination of his disapproval of her marriage to Tom, his need to recover the Fulcrum, or to protect her from Alexander Kirk? Or is there another purpose that we’re unaware of? Is Naomi Hyland, truly dead and if so why wasn’t Raymond informed of her death? He’s the one who arranged for her and her husband Frank, to assume new identities in a new location. It would seem logical that he’d be made aware of her death by his people. Does Jennifer have her own agenda? When will Lizzie reunite with Agnes, and where is the dog?

We’ve got until next January to kick around these subjects. Thanks to you for joining us for this ride, and we look forward to getting more answers in season six.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

WARNING: SPOILER ALERTS

We’ve all got people in our lives that takes great pride and pleasure in informing the rest of us that they don’t watch television. For those of you who keep the set off, please allow me to inform you that you’re doing yourself a great disservice. We’re living in a Platinum-Age of the medium with series emanating from a variety of sources, that’s helping to redefine television. One of those series at the top of the freshman class was the USA Network Original Drama “Mr. Robot,” that concluded its first season on Wednesday night, leaving viewers chomping at the bit for the show to return next summer.

Series Creator and Show-Runner Sam Esmail created a universe eerily like our own, complete with a stock-market reeling from vast fluctuations and the Ashley Madison scandal. (When the site that existed only to aid people in committing adultery got mentioned, I wondered if the scene between Gloria Reuben and Armand Shultz had recently been re-shot.) We left Esmail’s universe in complete chaos, mainly due to the efforts of a brilliant but deeply damaged computer programmer named Elliot Alderson. Elliot and his rag-tag band of fellow hackers, along with the assistance of a Chinese group known as the Dark Army, destroyed the global-economic-system. The moves of “f_society,” erased all debt and grounded commerce to a halt. The world became a cash-only system, as credit-cards were rendered useless.

That’s the big-picture view, but this is a story that examined the seemingly innocuous, unimportant, people that sent the planet on a downward spiral. Although Elliot Alderson’s our central character and anti-hero, he was just one of the incredible characters we met along this journey. We met lots of bad folks over the course of ten-weeks, some who hailed from the streets to those at the top of the economic and power structures of our world. However, we never met one person that could qualify as being truly good, even with the most sympathetic characters, we saw the darkness inside them and the demons they battle daily.

We’ve got to remember that we’ve viewed this universe mainly through the eyes of Elliot, so any conclusions we come to at the end of season one, could be refuted early next season. Even with that being stated, I think we can safely assume that the scenes revolving around Angela, the Wellicks and E-Corp were indeed real, including that mind-blowing segment after the credits rolled in the season finale. That reveal’s pretty mind-blowing, as we watch White Rose dressed in male-attire talking with E-Corp Chairman Phillip Price, we realize that everything’s indeed connected. That the person who pats you on the back with one hand, could easily be sticking a shiv into your belly with the other seconds later.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

BD Wong the actor that portrayed the transgender character White Rose, only appeared on the screen for a precious few minutes during the ten episode run, but perhaps no other character in the series could make our collective draws drop during that conversation with Price in the final scene of the season. White Rose talks of Nero playing a lyre while Rome burned, then compares that anecdote to the harpist playing “Nearer My God To Thee,” for the One Percent in the room they’re in, the same song that played as the Titanic went down. We saw White Rose speaking for the Dark Army for three-minutes in episode seven wearing women’s clothes as she spoke with Elliot about his planned hack of E-Corp’s servers, telling Alderson that while he hacked people, White Rose hacks time. The connection became complete, when White Rose’s watch alarm sounded in the middle of her conversation with Price, letting us know that White Rose works both sides of the street in her business dealings.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Many of us figured out early on that Mr. Robot was actually an extension of Elliot, personified in the form of his late father Edward who died in 1995. He took on the role that Elliot couldn’t handle, being the Alpha-Male Leader and devising a plan to destroy the company that killed his father, while saving the world. What we didn’t realize until the series progressed, was just how mentally unbalance Elliot actually is, forgetting that Darlene’s his sister and realizing he’s blacked out the memories of the previous three days in the season finale. He’s got no memory of putting the hack into motion and perhaps more unnervingly, he’s clueless about the whereabouts and welfare of Tyrell Wellick. The former E-Corp executive paid Alderson a surprise visit and forced him to reveal his plans in the previous episode. Did Elliot shoot Wellick with the pistol stored in the popcorn machine?

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Alderson did speak with Wellick’s wife Joanna about Tyrell and she said she hadn’t seen him in the last three days. She asked Elliot his identity and relationship with her husband. He responded that he worked with her husband as a consultant and told her his name’s Ollie, stealing the moniker of his friend Angela’s former boyfriend. During their conversation she suddenly spoke in what sounded like her native Dutch, but neither we or Elliot understood what she was saying. Does she secretly hope that Tyrell’s dead as he’s unable to fix the mistakes he made?

Elliot decides that the only way he can fill in the gaps in his memory, is to summon back Mr. Robot. After screaming for him to appear, Elliot forces the issue by dialing 911 and saying he wanted to make a confession. Suddenly we see Mr. Robot hanging up the land line, although he fails to offer any answers to his son. We finally get to view what it looks like to an outsider watching Elliot interacting with Mr. Robot. Although I imagined the scenario many times in my head over the past ten weeks, it looked even more chilling on the screen.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

The one character that seemed to stick to her principles in order to gain justice Angela Moss, finally succumbed to the dark side in the season finale. Angela sacrificed her reputation and career in the tech industry to make a deal with Terry Colby so that he’d testify that E-Corp held responsibility for her mother and Elliot’s father’s death among others. However Colby convinced her to take a job in the public relations department of E-Corp, leading her to being present at a horrific event as E-Corp executive James Plouffe took a pistol from his suitcase and shot himself in the mouth during a nationally televised interview. Most times in those situations, we’ll see the character put a pistol in their mouth and the camera pans to a wall, that wasn’t the case with Plouffe as we saw the results of his actions.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

A while later, we see Angela approached by Phillip Price who tells her she can feel free to go home after witnessing Plouffe’s suicide, but then he realizes who she is. She says they’re holding a press conference later that day and suggests she attend. Flustered by his seemingly callous suggestion, she says she thinks not, he proceeds to pull a bankroll out of his pocket and slams some bills down on the table in front of them. He says that she needs new shoes, as the ones she’s wearing are stained by Plouffe’s blood.

Courtesy Of USA Network

Courtesy Of USA Network

Instead of heading home Angela heads to a shoe store, where the shoe salesman figures out she just came from the room Plouffe shot himself in and asks her what she’s doing there and then asks how can she work for E-Corp. She starts to explain herself, but stops and then tells the salesman she’ll try on the Prada’s next. She’s become Terry Colby, getting drunk and eating shrimp-cocktail, while talking about sentencing Angela’s mother and others to death.

She returns to E-Corp for the press conference and Price’s glad to see her and lets her see the man behind the curtain. She tells Moss that in reality, he’s glad Plouffe killed himself and he thinks the world’s a better place now that he’s left it. He then excuses himself to take the podium and asks those in attendance to bow their heads in a moment of silence for their lost friend and colleague.

While the rest of  “f_society,” hosts a party in their headquarters so they can obscure their fingerprints in an investigation, Elliot heads down to Times Square and witnesses a sea of humanity standing together all wearing Mr. Robot masks. He suddenly realizes he’s got some uninvited company as well, not only his father but his mother and the eight-year-old version of his self. Little Elliot tells his adult counterpart that the three of them will stay with Elliot from here on out.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Elliot tries to block out all the sights and sounds so he can think, he holds his hands to his ears and suddenly he’s the only person in Times Square and it’s totally silent. That’s until he sees his family up on the Jumbotron that dominates Times Square. His father tells him to get on the subway, go home and sit behind his laptops and revel in the chaos he caused. Which he does until a knock at the door interrupts him, we’ll find out next summer whose knocking.

Photo Courtesy Of TNT

Photo Courtesy Of TNT

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Over the last few years the TNT Network’s created original programming, resulting in some surprisingly good shows, that can hold their own against most series presented on broadcast networks. Tuesday night marked the conclusion of the first season of “Proof,” a medical drama with a twist starring Jennifer Beals who stole American’s hearts in the movie “Flashdance” back in the early eighties. Her character Dr. Caroline Tyler’s a highly respected heart-surgeon, who’s just gone through the toughest year of her life. Tyler survived a car accident, that took the life of her teenage son Will and she blames herself for his loss. Soon after Caroline survived a plane crash and had what is known as a “Near-Death-Experience.”

The crash caused Tyler’s heart to stop briefly and while her life hung in the balance, she saw her son Will near her and tried to grab his hand. She also recognized someone else in her vision, an elderly woman with short gray hair, wearing a green scarf. Caroline got revived before she had a chance to talk to her son or the woman, but the vision’s haunted her ever since she had it.

Tyler’s estranged from her husband Dr. Len Barliss, portrayed by veteran TV actor David Sutcliffe and both doctors work in the same hospital. We’re under the impression that their marriage fell apart due to Caroline’s accident, that killed their son, but we find out the reasons are far more complicated than that. They have a teenage daughter named Sophie (Annie Thurman,) whom like most teenage girls can be both adorable and incredibly frustrating, depending on her mood.

The stars from the Eighties keep arriving as Caroline’s life gets altered forever when she meets Billionaire Industrialist Ivan Turing. Matthew Modine, who as a young man starred in the movies “Vision Quest” and “Full Metal Jacket,” as well as a score of other films, takes on the role of the brilliant visionary diagnosed with terminal cancer. Wanting to find out what, if anything awaits us on the other side, he offers to build a new wing for Tyler’s hospital if she consents to help him in his research.

Yet another actor who came of age in the eighties, Joe Morton who portrayed “The Brother From Another Planet,” plays Dr. Charles Richmond, who encourages Tyler to work with Turing, so the hospital can get the new wing, but he’s unaware of the nature of their research. Caroline enlists the help of a young doctor Zed Badawi (Edi Gathegi) a young man from Kenya that Tyler’s taken under her wing and expresses passion for the project.

Throughout the series ten-episode run, the show explored topics such as reincarnation, receiving messages from the dead and in one episode, a young woman who woke from a coma without any memories of her own had distinct memories from the lives of the other patients she shared the coma ward with. Although the series left open the possibility, that there could indeed be an afterlife, they also presented the full spectrum explaining that there could be very logical reasons, behind the seemingly paranormal events.

The characters are empathetic, the writing’s strong and the episodes seem to pass quickly, all benchmarks of mine for an enjoyable viewing experience. TNT has yet to announce whether Proof will get brought back for a second season next summer, but the finale ended in a way that gave the viewers closure, while leaving open the possibility for another season. TNT’s currently streaming the show on its website, it’s a show worth checking out.

Photo: Courtesy Of FOX

Photo: Courtesy Of FOX

Warning: Spoiler Alert

 The FOX Network concluded their ten-part miniseries “Wayward Pines,” with an episode that’s kept social-media-sites buzzing, over the last few days. The finale divided fans of the series into two camps, those who think the show ended on a brilliant note, while others simply hated it. During the last few minutes of the finale, the show-runners pulled a “bait and switch” maneuver, altering the optimistic ending that got set-up during the hour, to a much darker conclusion. While many viewers enjoyed the twist in the final minutes, many fans got confused or disgusted with the ending.

Although I’ve yet to read any of the Wayward Pines trilogy of novels, written by author Blake Crouch, I’m aware that the miniseries ended differently than the first novel did. I’m also aware that a plot-device used in the TV show “The First Generation Of Wayward Pines,” wasn’t utilized in Crouch’s books. The fact that the mini-series used the youngsters prominently and they figured into the conclusion, has many friends of mine that read the novels, besides themselves in consternation. We’ve seen Hollywood reconfigure some incredible novels, into films that were barely recognizable to the book’s fans for decades. So we’re going to leave that subject alone, in this article and just deal with the perspective of fans who didn’t read the books.

The series and its final episode are recapped elsewhere on this site, so we’re going to concentrate on just the final scenes of Thursday’s finale. The creator of Wayward Pines, David Pilcher got shot to death by his disillusioned sister Pam, earlier in the evening. The show’s protagonist, former Secret Service Agent turned Wayward Pines Sheriff Ethan Burke, sacrificed his life to save the rest of the residents. Burke connected four bombs to a detonator and when the Abbies began to attack the elevator car he rode in, he blew them and himself up. The elevator exploded into a ball of flame and then dropped like a stone to the bottom of the shaft.

Hearing the explosion, Ethan’s son Ben stuck his head inside the shaft, looking and calling for his father. However, his search didn’t last long as a piece of debris hit him in the head and knocked him out cold.

A while later, things have calmed down in Wayward Pines, as the power’s restored, the people are safe and they’ve had a chance to catch their collective breath. Pam and Kate Balinger, Ethan’s former partner in the Secret Service, knock down all the barriers that have come between them for the last 12-years and level with each other. We see a pact formed between the two women, to help run the town and end all the secrets and lies that David insisted on using. Things appear to be taking an optimistic turn as the women attempt to put humanity in the year 4028, back on the right path. Then the screen goes blank for a few seconds, something doesn’t feel right, it seems unfinished. We soon find out that’s indeed the case.

When the picture returns we hear a female voice asking how are you feeling Mr. Burke? Ben’s in a hospital bed and Amy’s wearing a nurse’s uniform, he asks what’s going on and Amy says his doctor will be there shortly and explain everything. Ben asks her why she’s dressed like that and she replies she’s a nurse and graduated two weeks ago.

Ben soon finds out he’s been in suspension for the last three-years and four-months, along with all the adults from Group B. The First Generation Of Wayward Pines, overpowered the adults and after putting them all back to sleep, took over operation of the town. The fear and ignorance are back in full force, emphasized by corpses hanging on light-poles on Main Street, one having a sign around his neck reading “Do Not Try To Leave.”

Judging by the posts I’ve encountered on Social-Media-Sites, a sizable portion of the viewers were confused by the ending. They failed to realize that Pam, Kate, Theresa Burke and the rest of the adults from Wayward Pines, were back in their cryogenic tubes in suspended animation. Many also failed to grasp that the dozens of students that rode out the storm in the supply room of Wayward Pines Academy, had taken control of the town and running it just as the man they refer to as their Savior, David Pilcher kept things in order.

Another segment of the audience, believes that the last-minute twist was the perfect conclusion for the miniseries. Many felt that an optimistic ending, with all holding hands and singing “Kumbaya,” would have felt false and forced. This was after all the story of a psychotic genius, who kidnapped hundreds of people over a 15-year period, ripping them away from their lives and loved ones, so that Pilcher could restore humanity in the distant future. The optimistic conversation between Pam and Kate, was in fact just a mirage. A momentary feeling that they could reshape their society.

The last segment of the audience, simply hated the conclusion. They didn’t like the fact that Ethan Burke died and got more upset when they realized his death was in vain. The open and free society, that Burke envisioned never came about and in fact many folks got punished just for learning the truth. They didn’t play an active role into finding out what their circumstances were, but just by getting informed they got put back in suspension.

There were some published reports last week emanating from Internet-Based TV Sites that FOX had decided against bringing back Wayward Pines for a second season. However as of this writing, the network’s been mum on the series fate and no mainstream publication such as Entertainment Weekly, or USA Today have gone with the story running on the Internet sites. So as far as this writer’s concerned, the decision whether to bring back Wayward Pines next summer’s a 50/50 proposition and the controversy over the finale, helps the chances of FOX renewing the show.

As far as this writer’s opinion on the finale, it was far from being a satisfying episode. Had we flashed ahead and witnessed a teary-eyed Theresa, Ben and Amy at the dedication of a statue to the town’s hero Ethan Burke, for sacrificing his life to save Wayward Pines and all the residents were happy, that would have been a true “warm-and-fuzzy” moment. But the “bait and switch” conclusion, may have been the best fit. It was a dark-ending for a dark-series and 48-hours after being broadcast on the East Coast it’s still causing a buzz.

This analysis of the lessons learned in the Justified series finale puts a bow on the Season 6 coverage, co-branded between this site and The FDH Lounge.

This is the review for Season 1 of Breaking Bad, focusing on the biggest revelations of the first 10 episodes of the series.

House of Cards Season 3

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Warning: Spoiler Alert

As was detailed in the spoiler-free analysis of House of Cards Season 3, this run of episodes – 27 through 39 in the series – represented the sharpest break yet for viewers.  While Francis Urquhart served as Prime Minister for two-thirds of the BBC original, Frank Underwood (inhabited by the excellent Kevin Spacey) took until the end of the second season to become president – and had never been without his most trusted aide and henchman, Doug Stamper, until that point.  The journey from the start of Season One – with Frank, seething at having been passed over for Secretary of State by new President Walker, deciding to use his post as House Minority Whip to secretly take his revenge – through to Season Two’s adventures as Vice President and up to the actual seizure of the Oval Office at the end of it all – seemed to indicate that there was nothing that Frank and his equally cunning wife Claire (portrayed in fascinating fashion by Robin Wright) could not do.  As such, the presidency itself should be a breeze, right?

Oh, dead wrong.

Why was Frank’s journey in Season 3 so fitful?  It would be cynical to spend too much time analyzing the meta angle about Beau Willimon’s crew needing to maintain the intrigue by making Frank suddenly seem fallible.  After all, there should have been plenty of warning signs about the actualization of the goal being more perilous than the amazing journey to attain it … and some of these elements may actually have been conceptualized by the writing staff!

1 The difference between Urquhart’s and Underwood’s difficulties at the top can be explained by the difference between the UK and American electorates.  The real president compared most often to Underwood is, of course, Richard Nixon – who, in typical awkward fashion, was known to remark that, unlike other politicians, he was not a “personality kid.”  Well, neither is Underwood, although he’s better at faking it enough to get by than Tricky Dick, who was undone not only by scandal but by a complete lack of a safety net in the form of public affection.  Meanwhile, in the UK, Gordon Brown lasted three years as prime minister despite possessing the magnetism of a fat-free, unsalted potato chip.  Francis Urquhart ruling Britain with an iron fist despite an unlovable persona made sense: over there, if the public perceives you as delivering for them, you don’t have to be a baby-kisser.  Did showrunner Beau Willimon take this difference into account when fashioning Season 3?  Candidly, it doesn’t seem likely, but it was brilliant if he did.

2 An egotistical man on his best days – witness his smug asides to the camera – Frank’s cockiness was bound to grow out of control and undermine him when he achieved his ultimate prize.  Realistically, attaining the Oval Office itself was Frank’s only goal once he put his revenge plans into motion at the start of the series.  American society views the office with Godlike awe, reflective of the reality that less than 50 men in the 239-year history of the country have ever held the office.  When you become the president, there are few if any opposing voices in your inner circle grounding you as there might have been previously.  So with all of this taken into account and with Frank’s journey to the top of government probably more difficult and unlikely than any in actual US history, how was Frank possibly going to keep his ego in check and prepare for the very real daggers being sent his way?  He couldn’t possibly muster the necessary humility to make those adjustments.

3 As noted at the end of the season, there’s only one chair behind the desk in the Oval Office and at some point after achieving the goal, Frank and Claire were going to have to come to grips with all of the glory being his.  Again, for Frank and Claire, the journey to the White House was all-consuming.  They both knew that they were consumed with the prize, but when it arrived, Frank’s “equal partner” wanted more than he could deliver – and when the grievances hit the light of day, Frank alienated her just as he had Jackie (played by Molly Parker) and Remy (played by Mahershala Ali) earlier.

4 Frank’s skill set seems suited to working in the shadows, rather than the broad daylight of the presidency.  Like the British “FU,” Frank’s talents for backstabbing, leaking, undermining and outright murder were unmatched.  However, none of those abilities are nearly as useful in the 24-7 bright spotlight of the presidency.  It was surprising how often his adversaries – such as Vladimir Putin knockoff Viktor Petrov (played by Lars Mikkelsen), Supreme Court Justice Jacobs (played by Jonathan Hogan) and Solicitor General-turned-rival candidate Heather Dunbar (played by Elizabeth Marvel) – saw right through manipulations that would have easily succeeded in the first two seasons.  When you don’t get to use your core skills at all times, they can get rusty.  Frank Underwood: Peter Principle prototype?

5 Even Frank didn’t realize just how indispensable that Doug was to his successful schemes over the years.  Clearly, Frank knew that Doug the henchman accomplished a great deal for him over the years, and as such, he should have been alarmed at the prospect of serving in the presidency without him.  But he wasn’t and it took Doug’s stunt late in the season, offering to sell Claire’s most sensitive secrets to Heather, for Frank to realize just how vital Doug was to his success.  Seth Grayson (played by Derrick Cecil) is no Doug Stamper.

Having proven that he was, by a large amount, the most duplicitous and untouchable predator in D.C. on his way up the ladder, Frank’s lack of footing in the Oval Office proved confusing and even greatly disappointing to many critics and fans.  And an even more controversial angle involved Frank’s earnest pursuit of actual public policy initiatives: the America Works program at home that would aim to ensure full employment and the plan for international peacekeepers in the Jordan Valley to (somehow???) bring about peace in the Middle East.  Some commentators have been so cynical (in true Frank Underwood fashion, fittingly!) as to refer to Prez FU as a cut-rate Jed Bartlet, the liberal idealist chief executive from the West Wing.

The latter criticism is patently unfair.  Sure, it’s jarring to see the human embodiment of selfishness pushing a public policy agenda not aimed directly at personal enrichment or power – but there is in fact a bit of the pursuit of power in the plans.  After all, Frank believes that these policies, if implemented, will be successful – and that could allow him, questionable public personality and all, to be re-elected as a man who “gets things done.”  And Frank also alluded during the season to his legacy.  Mere attainment of the presidency brings with it a form of immortality, but a successful, two-term presidency?  That’s true immortality and what could be more important to a narcissist like Frank Underwood?  Remember, in the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, his aides used to joke about doing opposition research on his predecessors so that history might remember him more kindly relative to his peers.  Having become president, Frank Underwood wants to be known for the rest of his life and well beyond that as one of the all-time greats.  So watching him push his programs – no matter how ill-conceived they are in the real world – is entirely consistent with his persona.  Those who don’t understand this point simply don’t understand his new role.

As noted above, Frank was forced to navigate the presidency without Stamper at his side until his stunt at the end of the season.  Prior to that, extensive surgery and rehabilitation was necessary for Doug to regain his faculties.  At the end of his training with his female therapist, a passionate encounter took place between the two, leaving red-blooded males everywhere to wonder why they don’t have more inclusive health insurance.  Doug kept making efforts to get back into the inner circle, but Frank – not trusting his effectiveness because of the lack of decisiveness in dealing with loose end Rachel Posner (played by Rachel Brosnahan) – kept putting him off with the “sure, pal, once you’re 100%, we’ll talk” rap.  Through it all, Doug struggled with backsliding into substance abuse before getting clean with the great help of his brother.  In connecting for the first time with his brother’s family and appearing to understand that there is life outside the corridors of power, Doug appeared to become a fully redeemable human being.  But then he spotted the opportunity to betray Heather, get appointed as Frank’s chief of staff – replacing Remy, who had replaced him – and the true relapse, to becoming a scumbag yet again, was underway.  Having tracked down hacker Gavin Orsay (played by the always-awesome Jimmi Simpson) in South America, Doug used the information that he obtained there to track down Rachel yet again.  It’s clear that she posed no threat whatsoever; she was a scared, helpless little puppy who wanted to live off the grid, away from the power circles she once inhabited as a call girl.  And when he caught up with her, Doug appeared to accept this – until he changed his mind, murdering her in cold blood after he initially set her free.  Doug, you’re going to Hell, dude.

And while four of the five reasons identified above for Frank’s struggles in the presidency didn’t involve Doug, one wonders how he might have made a difference for the chief executive had he had the opportunity – and how he might be able to weave his magic in Season 4.  In his absence, Frank’s America Works program perished nastily in Congress, leaving Frank’s former colleagues in the party leadership from those chambers to withdraw their support for his re-election.  Borrowing a page from LBJ, Frank gave a nationally-televised address to announce his withdrawal from the 2016 race so that he might devote all of his efforts to the passage of the program.  But unlike LBJ, who stayed out of the 1968 race despite rumors that he might reenter at some point, Frank’s statement was a ruse that he always intended to abandon later.  With his efforts still flailing, he relied on a highly dubious interpretation of the Stafford Act to provide the legal authority for him to raid FEMA funds.  When the mayor of Washington, D.C., at his instigation, requested federal emergency relief for rampant unemployment, Frank put $1 billion worth of FEMA’s dwindling cash reserves at his disposal in the pursuit of full employment in the capital.  The leadership of both parties screamed and howled, but they were powerless – until, inevitably, a Sandy-like superstorm headed straight for the East Coast.  The authorization that was passed ahead of time included a poison pill for any future FEMA participation in America Works.  Frank’s feverish study of weather patterns did not give him confidence that the storm would veer away, so he capitulated.  But the storm did, in fact, hook back around to sea, leaving the predictions of catastrophe unfulfilled and depositing Frank’s hopes and dreams for first-term America Works success somewhere out in the Atlantic as well.  But the forced abandonment of the program, just when joblessness in D.C. was plummeting – providing even old rib-cooker Freddy Armstrong (played by Reg E. Cathey) a job, although House of Cards of course doesn’t reveal the cost-benefit analysis behind the public sector’s massive investment – provided him the excuse he needed to “get back into the race” so that he might obtain a public mandate for a second-term America Works push.

But he was still trailing Heather in the polls (perhaps voters intuited that he was the kind of man to urinate on his father’s grave and spit on a hanging crucifix, both of which he did this season – in cowardly secret fashion, of course).  She had resigned as his solicitor general to take him on, enraged that he acted on rumors that she was interested in the race by “subtly” threatening Jacobs with the public revelation of his dementia, so that he might clear his seat for her.  Frank’s divide-and-conquer tactic, pushing Jackie into the race with the plan of putting her on the ticket when she dropped out, backfired when he greeted her dissatisfaction with the implementation of the plan with arrogant attempts at intimidation.  Notwithstanding the fact that Heather wouldn’t promise her anything for her support, Jackie quit the race and endorsed Heather completely out of spite.  This debacle caused Remy, who remained closer than he should be to the now-married Jackie, to resign his post.

Frank, however, gained ground in Iowa thanks to his star surrogate, Claire.  The story of how she ended up there, however, was another major plot point for the season, covering her ill-fated stint as UN Ambassador.  The nomination process was, of course, fraught with accusations of nepotism, but Claire appeared to have neutralized perhaps her most powerful potential opponent, Republican Senate Majority Leader Hector Mendoza (played by Benito Martinez).  However, his promise of not actively opposing her nomination was merely a ploy to lull her to sleep so that he might ambush her in the hearings.  Her clumsy response doomed the vote, but she badgered Frank successfully for a recess appointment.  While she was demagogued in fairly stupid fashion, the “No” votes turned out to be correct about her aptitude for the position.  Understandably, Secretary of State Catherine Durant (played by Jayne Atkinson) was uneasy about having an ostensible subordinate who was sleeping with the president.  Well, Frank and Claire don’t do much of that – with the exception of one notable scene this season – but that’s the assumption about them, anyway.  Claire’s sole triumph in the position consisted of winning over Catherine after a state dinner with the Russian president by – believe it or not – tanking a game of beer pong with her.  Statecraft in 2015, ladies and gentlemen!

But Claire’s relations with the rest of the world were far more challenging.  She struggled to whip the Israelis and Palestinians in line with Frank’s Jordan Valley peacekeeping initiative, but really had her hands full with Petrov.  Having started on a bad note with the Russian strongman at the aforementioned banquet – it didn’t help matters when Petrov spoke to Frank of killing a man with his bare hands and the president stayed silent, aware that he was a coward in terms of how he executed his two murders – she and Frank became sidetracked in their pursuit of his support for the Middle East plan by Heather’s traction in the polls on the issue of Russia’s jailing of American gay activist Michael Corrigan (played by Christian Camargo).  She and Frank flew to Moscow to obtain his release, only to learn that he wouldn’t sign a statement that basically renounced all of his beliefs.  Arguing with him in his prison cell while Frank sat through an uncomfortable meeting with Petrov – so much for the supposition that an American president “more like theirs” would be more successful in dealing with them – she succumbed to sleep only to awaken to the discovery that he had hung himself.  Having a rare attack of conscience, she made an impromptu decision at the joint press conference to attack Petrov for his cynical scapegoating of minorities.  Of course, this caused a complete breakdown in US-Russian relations and she and Frank had a vicious fight on Air Force One as they returned home.

This rupture coincided with the window that she and Frank had established every seven years when they always renewed their wedding vows – with the understanding that either party could end the marriage at that time.  Working their way through the rubble once Russia (apparently) reconsidered and sent troops for the peacekeeping force to the Jordan Valley, Frank and Claire followed through with the vows, only to confront more problems in the form of her worst failure yet.  Gaslighted by Petrov’s operatives, she became convinced that an attack on Russian forces in the region was a false flag instigated by their own government.  When Frank sent in special forces to penetrate the area ruled off-limits by the Russians for an investigation, a firefight ensued and an American casualty resulted.  Flying to the Jordan Valley for an emergency summit with Petrov, Frank was devastated to learn that his wife had been set up and he had compromised himself by being persuaded by her.  Petrov was willing to make nice, but the price for his support on any geopolitical issues would involve Claire’s head on a stick.  Pointing out that she was needed in Iowa anyway, Frank told her to announce her resignation with that face-saving excuse handy.  During her door-to-door campaigning, she encountered an Iowa housewife dealing with the same kind of double standards that she increasingly saw Frank as imposing upon her.  She imposed a “sit-down strike” of sorts, claiming ill health as an excuse to stay in the White House over the last few days of the campaign while Frank barnstormed the state.  In the end, his victory was narrow, but it was all he needed to survive to New Hampshire.  With his ego fueled by what resembled a “Truman-in-‘48” comeback and his anger at Claire’s sudden resistance to going along with the program, the two had another vicious fight that resulted in her delivering the season-ending cliffhanger: she was leaving him.

Other loose ends involved Gavin on the loose in Venezuela with the capacity to become a Snowden-like thorn in the administration’s side (or possibly much worse, considering that Snowden apparently does not possess any dirt on President Obama or his inner circle personally) and star novelist Thomas Yates (played by Paul Sparks), who was enlisted by Frank to write a hagiographic book about Frank/America Works to aid in the 2016 election, only to have a falling-out after Frank and Claire confided many sensitive details about themselves.

Other returning characters for the season included Vice-President (!) Donald Blythe (played by Reed Birney), Edward Meechum (played by Nathan Darrow), Lisa Williams (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), Ayla Sayyad (played by Mozhan Marno), and the wonderfully greasy Bob Birch (played by Larry Pine).  Another cast addition was decorated aggressive journalist Kate Baldwin (played by Kim Dickens).

The season was very compelling and entertaining on the whole.  In terms of the execution of public policy and geopolitics, House of Cards is easily picked apart by political junkies, but the target audience is far wider than that – and this season’s plotlines were no more unrealistic than those of the first two.  It’s a program that’s always going to wallow in some soapiness, like Magic City, but not as often as some critics allege.  While Frank’s various missteps throughout the season are jarring given what was shown of him in the first two seasons – and do not really ring true in terms of him ultimately avoiding all consequences in Iowa, a turnaround that is never explained – the widely-circulated conventional wisdom that this season represents a dramatic departure is extremely overwrought.  President Frank Underwood, especially shorn of his essential right-hand man, Doug Stamper, was always going to be traveling a tougher road than Future President Underwood.  Remember that old saying about airplanes, that passengers in first class hit the mountain first when there’s a crash?  Well, when you’re riding Air Force One, the entire plane is first class.

 

House of Cards Frank Claire Petrov

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

NOTE: This is the spoiler-free analysis of House of Cards, Season 3, but with Season 1 and 2 spoilers.

As with any “based on the BBC original” series, the American version of House of Cards veered from the original a bit in the first two seasons.  Some of this discrepancy owes to the difference between the British parliamentary system and the American “three branches” structure.  It would have seemed strange for Francis Urquhart to take more than one season to rise to Prime Minister from whip; however, with the separation of powers across the pond, Frank Underwood (played so memorably by the great Kevin Spacey) must traverse the Gerald Ford path, hopping to the executive branch when the vice presidency is vacated at the end of Season 1 and taking the promotion to the Oval Office at the end of Season 2 when he secretly instigates the scandal that eliminates the man above him.

So while two of the three British seasons of the program featured the antihero protagonist dispensing with rivals while on top, everything that we’ve seen until now on the Netflix version saw the bad guy still working his way up the ladder.  As such, with Frank Underwood now at the head of government (“God help us,” as he memorably intones to the camera midway through Season 3 at the thought of a lesser hack succeeding him in office), Season 3 was set up to be something completely different from what we’ve seen.

The other most important feature distinguishing this season from those that came before involves the absence from Frank’s side of his most important aide/henchman, Doug Stamper (played by Michael Kelly).  When we last saw this indispensable creeper, he was being pounded with a rock in the head by onetime call girl Rachel Posner (played by Rachel Brosnahan), who feared for her life at his hands.  In the spirit of keeping this column spoiler-free, let it be noted that Kelly reappears this season, but whether that’s in ghost, flashback or “real” form won’t be revealed here.  But all fans of the show know that, like Frank and Doug, the program doesn’t tolerate loose ends – so Rachel’s heart-rending attempts to escape the consequences of her actions are intense indeed.

Frank’s curious lack of mojo as Commander-in-Chief, at least relative to his peerless string-pulling in the first two seasons, demonstrates how badly he misses having Stamper by his side.  Of course, the arrogance in him that keeps growing exponentially during his young presidency blinds him to the need for a Stamper-like presence – until a dramatic reversal late in the season.  But before that point, he alienates two key allies and suffers setbacks in his dealings with Vladimir Putin knockoff Viktor Petrov (played by Lars Mikkelsen) and even his own wife Claire (once again played in alternating icy and passionate manners by Robin Wright).

Jockeying with the Russian president on different fronts occupies the primary foreign policy subplot for the season, while the domestic issue du jour is Frank’s large-scale jobs bill, America Works.  The reluctance of Congress to move the measure forward causes him to take extreme measures to get at least part of it in place – with consequences invariably following.  Additionally, Frank tries to maneuver a potential Supreme Court opening into the sidelining of a potential rival in his re-election efforts.  And his attempt to persuade an author to write an admiring portrait of him for the 2016 race ends up injecting tension into a marriage that Claire’s new job as UN Ambassador has already larded with trouble.  A series of other incidents – an ill-fated special forces mission in the Jordan Valley, the ultimate decision made by a jailed gay American activist in Moscow, Frank’s fateful early-season address to the nation and an Iowa debate for the ages – help to shape a season crackling with consequences.

Returning characters include Seth Grayson (played by Derrick Cecil), Vice-President (!) Donald Blythe (played by Reed Birney), former rib-cooker Freddy Armstrong (played by Reg E. Cathey), Edward Meechum (played by Nathan Darrow), Gavin Orsay (played by the always-awesome Jimmi Simpson), Remy Danton (played by Mahershala Ali), Jackie Sharp (played by Molly Parker), Lisa Williams (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), Catherine Durant (played by Jayne Atkinson), Heather Dunbar (played by Elizabeth Marvel), Ayla Sayyad (played by Mozhan Marno), Hector Mendoza (played by Benito Martinez) and the wonderfully greasy Bob Birch (played by Larry Pine).  The most prominent cast additions are star novelist Thomas Yates (played by Paul Sparks) and the decorated aggressive journalist Kate Baldwin (played by Kim Dickens).

Overall, this is a season that doesn’t require as much suspension of disbelief in terms of machinations like Frank’s murder plots, but it does take some in terms of the workings of the political system.  Nevertheless, this has never been a program that has promised C-SPAN-like fidelity to the realities of American civics, so it’s not fair to grade it in large part on that basis.  While it’s hard to pick which of the three seasons of House of Cards has been the best, it’s reasonable to argue Season 3 for that designation – which is why you need to see it quickly if you’re a fan of the show and haven’t yet begun to watch it.

Photo Courtesy Of FX Network

Photo Courtesy Of FX Network

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT

As the first episode of the new FX Network series “Tyrant” concluded, this writer felt intrigued, if not yet convinced that this show could live up to the level of two of the Network’s other series; “The Americans” and “Justified.” Although the show uses a very familiar plot device, of a man who left home as a teen to escape his fate, only to return home years later, The presentation unfolds  in a rather unique and topical manner. The home of our protagonist, is a fictional country in the Middle East.

The series begins in the Pasadena bedroom of Barry and Molly Al Fayeed, as Molly (Jennifer Finnigan),  is sound asleep while Barry (Adam Rayner) is awake and clearly agitated. He leaves their bed and he makes a call, receiving the voice-mail of a man speaking in heavily accented English. He leaves a message that he is coming home for the wedding of his nephew and he hopes to see the man while he is there.

Although Barry is a California pediatrician and has a typical American family, he is not a native of the USA. He was born and raised in a fictional Middle-Eastern Country and his real first name is Bassam. His father is the President of their country and his older brother is next in-line to succeed him. We see flashbacks of Barry’s childhood and soon realize, that the grooming of his older brother  to succeed his father began at birth, while Barry is relatively ignored. Barry left his country at the age of 16 and made a new life for himself in California.

The first flashback we see Barry and his older brother in the back of a limousine, with Jamal wearing a uniform that resembles a hybrid of a military uniform and a boy scout uniform, while young Bassam’s dressed in suit and tie. Their father yells at Jamal to button his shirt correctly, that the people will never respect him if he can’t dress properly. The President’s limousine s surrounded by his adoring constituents, smiling and waving flags.

The event is a ribbon cutting ceremony and the President tells his attendant to give the scissors to Jamal. The President starts to speak to his people, praising them for their hard work, when soldiers spot an opposition truck that crashes through the barricades and bent on destruction. The President grabs Jamal and dives off the podium, leaving Bassam to fend for himself. When the truck explodes, the force of the blast throws the boy off the podium, just in time to see his father railing at his enemies that they did not kill him.

The next scene opens later in the morning as Molly and the couple’s two teen-age children, Sammy (Noah Silver) and Emma (Anne Winter), are discussing their upcoming trip. Emma plainly does not want to go, bringing up reports of people rioting in the streets and burning pictures of her grandfather. She asks what will happen if an attack occurs and Sammy replies that their escorts will protect them. He’s excited about going and tells his sister that their grandfather’s considered a king in his country and that they qualify as royalty. Emma responds that their father does not want to go on this trip and either does she.

Barry walks downstairs just in time to hear the tail-end of the conversation and passes Emma as he heads into the kitchen. Molly tells her husband that he’s to blame for his daughter’s attitude, that if he would be more positive about going home to see his family, their daughter would as well. Barry tells his wife that they are not his family, she and their kids are his only family, a line Molly has heard far too often, judging by her facial expression.

We get our first glimpse of Barry’s homeland and meet Jamal (Ashraf Barhom), as an adult while he is the midst of committing a heinous act. He is raping a woman in her bedroom while her husband and children are cowering in fear in their kitchen. Jamal’s cellphone rings and he does not even stop as he takes the call. After he has finished he tells his aides that the call was from his wife, telling him that Barry and his family has landed and they have to head to the airport to greet him. When he leaves, the husband finds his wife in the bathroom washing herself with a look of pained resignation on her face.

We soon realize that Jamal combines all the bad qualities, from all the real despots that have ruled Middle-Eastern countries. He is a man of huge appetites and he is in a position where he can get what ever he wants, with nobody able to stop him. As he gets into his car it becomes apparent that his constituents no longer think kindly of him, as their faces project their fear and disgust for him and his family.

As Barry and family de-plane, Jamal drives up in a red convertible blasting Aerosmith. He embraces his brother in a bear hug, then greets the family, calling Molly Miss America, and Emma his Little Mermaid. He then tells Sammy that he has a new boat, that is the fastest vehicle on water and says he will take his nephew fishing after his son’s wedding.

The family heads to the palace and Sammy’s impressed with the opulence. When they arrive, Jamal’s wife and Barry’s mother are their to welcome them. There is definitely tension between Jamal and his wife and he tells her he was on his way to the airport when she called. Barry then greets his mother who informs him that his father wants to see him and that he is a different man than he was when Barry left.

Barry is respectful but distant when he greets his father Khaled Al Fayeed  (Nasser Faris), the President tells his younger son that he wants to take a walk with him, but first he has a matter to discuss with his brother. When Barry and his mother leave the office Khaled tells his son that he is hearing rumors that a bombing by the country’s opposition forces will take place at the wedding. Jamal suggests having the men involved deported, but his father dismisses that notion due to the protests that will cause. He tells Jamal that he has to talk with the man he pays to keep the terrorists in line and to bring Barry to the meeting.

Barry and his father take their walk in the next scene and the son tells his father he looks well. Khaled responds that times are tough, that as much as he has done for his constituents, they are clamoring for freedom. Barry clearly is uncomfortable talking politics with his father and cuts the conversation short, telling Khaled that they have to check into their hotel.

When the family arrives at their hotel Sammy’s underwhelmed by the facilities. Emma says that she does not want to go to the bachelorette party that night and Sammy asks his father, if that means they are going to a bachelor party. Barry confirms that, but tells his son not to get excited that the evening will consist of a bunch of men hanging out at a sauna. After Barry and Molly head to their room, we learn that Sammy is gay and excited about the evening. Emma reminds him that they are not in America.

After spending a short time at the women’s gathering, we head to the steam-bath where Jamal is entertaining his guests with stories about embarrassing events in Barry’s childhood. A man in a suit enters the doorway of the Sauna and Jamal tells Barry to follow him, they are about to talk to the guy Jamal pays to keep the opposition quiet. As they leave a teenager smiles at Sammy.

When the brothers enter the room, the man tells Jamal that as soon as he heard that the elder Al Fayeed brother wanted to see him, he dropped what he was doing and rushed over. Jamal counters that the reason he is there is because Jamal’s soldiers brought him. He then asks the man if his nephew is planning to bomb the wedding and the man replies that he is ignorant of any such rumors. Jamal asks if the man can guarantee his nephew won’t bomb the wedding and the other man makes excuses instead of promises. Although Jamal’s naked except for a towel around his waist, he starts attacking the man, then strips off the towel and starts kicking him. He then tells his opponent that he will cut off all of his fingers, one at a time and pulls out a knife cutting one of the man’s fingers.

Barry speaks for the first time since the brothers entered the room and tells Jamal that this is not the way to handle the situation, it will only make matters worse. The older brother asks Barry, what is his alternative and the younger brother replies talking. Hearing this Jamal starts mocking his brother, asking if they should discuss things like Oprah does on her TV show. Barry responds that is not his intention at all, that he suggests that Jamal invite the man’s entire family to the wedding and seat at least one of them at every table, guaranteeing that an incident won’t take place. Jamal sees the logic of the move and tells the man that his brother has extended an invitation for the man and his family as his special guests at the wedding. The man accepts the invitation.

We head to the wedding and see that the bride is a beautiful young woman, while Jamal’s son is portly and appears over privileged and soft. He is definitely marrying above him, if he was not a member of the Al Fayeed family, she would be totally out of his league. The scene shifts to after the ceremony, as the men in Muslim Culture dance with only other men. Jamal is the center of attention, relishing the moment and appearing blissfully happy. He sees his brother in the crowd and calls for him to come over, which after some hesitation Barry does. Jamal pulls out a pistol and starts shooting it into the air as celebration, he hands Barry the gun, but after holding it momentarily he hands it back to his brother.

He has another flashback, this time as his father, brother and he arrived as fellow citizens named enemies of the state heading to prison or shot by the soldiers. As one man is heading to the vehicle for the prison, Khaled stops the soldier and calls for Jamal to get out of the car and come over to his father. When the boy arrives, the father tells him that the man is their enemy and he must pay with his life and he wants Jamal to shoot him, pressing the pistol into Jamal’s hand.

Back in the present as Jamal is still dancing, he notices his son’s new bride talking with a good-looking young man, then the camera pans to his son who is dancing with the others. The scene shifts to the bridal room, where Jamal’s new daughter-in-law is freshening up when Jamal walks in and locks the door, asking his son’s wife if she had many suitors before his son. She responds no, but he tells her his son would be heartbroken if she was not pure, then he finds out she was by violating her. He leaves the room with the bride in tears.

When Jamal returns to the wedding, Khaled’s chief advisor tells the family that he had collapsed moments before and rushed to the hospital. The family is in the waiting room when the doctor comes out and tells them that the President had suffered a stroke and asked to see Barry. As he walks to his father’s room the rest of the flashback plays out in his mind, we see that the young Jamal was so scared that he urinated on himself then went and hid in the car after dropping the pistol. As the President yells at Jamal to get out of the car, young Bassam steps out of the car, casually picks up the weapon and shoots two bullets into the prisoner’s chest, showing no emotion. His father hearing the gunshots looked at his younger son in shock.

Barry walks into the room and sees how bad shape his father is in. Although Barry tells the President not to talk, his father ignores him and tells his son that if he heads back to California, the family will fall apart. He then tells his son the words he had longed to hear his entire life, as Khaled tells his son he was wrong, that he should have been the one he trained instead of Jamal. He then tells his son that he wants to see Jamal and their mother.

Jamal exits the room a few minutes later telling his wife and brother that their father has passed. He says he needs to leave, but his wife grabs him and tells him this is his time and he must embrace it like a man. He laughs in her face about her telling him to act like a man when he can’t recall the last time she acted like a woman for him. He then slaps her face and leaves the hospital, he calls the woman he raped when we first saw him and tells her to meet him downstairs. The woman goes into a kitchen drawer and pulls out a bag filled with syringes, one of which she grabs.

Barry looses it when he finds out his father has died and tells Molly and the kids that they are leaving immediately. Molly responds that they don’t even have their passports and Barry replies they will stop by their hotel to get their stuff then they head to the airport and take the next plane to California. Molly asks for an explanation, but Barry refuses to explain his actions.

We find Jamal and the woman in his sports-car as he is driving recklessly on curvy roads while drinking liquor from a bottle. Seeing the fear on the woman’s face, he forces her head down to his crotch and forces him to orally please him. He swerves into the other lane and almost collides head on with a truck. The woman then grabs the syringe and stabs her attacker in the thigh with it. Jamal’s pain is so great, he loses control of the car and they drive over a cliff smashing on the rocks below. Jamal is alive but badly injured.

Barry and family are in their coach seats on the plane to take them back home, when the pilot gets on the speaker and says there will be a delay. He then walks down the aisle and hands his cellphone to Barry, who’s told that with Jamal fighting for his life he has to stay. He looks down on the runway and sees a squad of limousines with his father’s advisers coming out of them. He turns to Molly and says that he told her they should never have come for the wedding.

The story will pick up again next Tuesday on FX.

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Photo Courtesy Of USA Network

Ah, yes. It’s that time of year again. The days are longer, the nights are warmer, and Graceland is back on my DVR schedule.

Premiering last summer on USA, a fresh-out-of-the-box Federal Agent Mike Warren placed in a Southern California beachfront house, affectionately nicknamed “Graceland” with other FBI, DEA and Customs agents. Graduating top of his class, his housemates are a bit skeptical about why he hasn’t been fast tracked straight to DC. After a stumbling start, Mike proves himself a valuable to his training officer, Paul Briggs. Little does Briggs know, Mike has been specially placed there to investigate his fellow agent.

Ok, enough with the book report. To be honest, the only reason I was originally interested in the show was because Broadway star Aaron Tveit (Mike Warren) was in it, and I’m a big fan. But then again, who wouldn’t be a fan? Incredibly talented, Disney prince good looks, the voice of an angel… One could go on for days. Anyway, I’m usually not one for these types of shows. If there isn’t some sort of sci-fi or fantasy element, I get very snooty with my TV, proclaim “BORED”, and move on to something else. But, I thought, Mr. Tveit is a pretty great actor (especially after how he portrayed Enjolras, leader of the revolution in the latest movie version of Les Miserables), why not give it a shot? Ok, ok, it was more like “AAAAH! AARON IS GOING TO BE ON MY TV! I NEED ALL THE EPISODES IN MY EYEBALLS IMMEDIATELY!” But you get the point.

I was very pleasantly surprised with how the first season unfolded. The storylines are so twisty-turny, wibbly-wobbly that it really held my interest and kept me screaming for more. The depth of Paul Briggs – effortlessly portrayed by Daniel Sunjata – really grabbed me. I outright hate that guy. He is shady as all get-out and no matter what he does, I am always waiting for him to figuratively (or literally, for that matter) stab someone in the back. With Briggs, you either love him, or hate him. But those who hate, LOVE to hate him.

The rest of the core cast is expertly written and acted. Manny Montana as the snarky, almost Navy SEAL kid who is always great for the comic relief (not to mention the eye candy factor for those of you into dudes). Vanessa Fertilo as hard-nosed Charlie DeMarco is not a chick you want to mess with. She is very much a part of the boys’ club while still managing to stay very female. Serinda Swan as Paige Arkin is by far my favorite female that has been on the show yet. She’s gorgeous, hilarious, and her back and forth discussions with Johnny and Mike are great. Brandon Jay McLaren brings Customs agent Dale Jakes to life in a quiet way, which is a nice balance to the rest of the personalities in the house, but don’t let him fool you. He is as explosive as the rest of them. The chemistry of this cast makes you feel like you could live in that house and be a part of all the best inside jokes.

And let’s not forget the bad guys! Drug Lord Jeremiah Bello, played by Gbenga Akinnagbe is downright terrifying. He is a ruthless business man with a fondness for pouring melted, boiling hot lead onto people, or sending people back to their bosses minus a hand. Bello is the guy in charge, and he makes sure that all his people toe the line, or its lights out. He will just straight up kill you and your whole family and not think twice about it.

So what happens now? After taking down the two big bads of the first season – putting Bello in jail, and putting two in the chest of Federale Rafael Cortes who was really the notorious bad guy boogey man “Jangles”, Mike Warren,  promoted out of Graceland and up to Assistant Deputy Director in DC, and Briggs was seemingly cleared of the death of FBI Agent Juan Badillo.

It looks like USA is pulling a BBC – Sherlock, sent off, called back as soon as he leaves. Mike is coming back to Graceland, not as the green rookie, but as the boss. My mouth is fairly watering at all the delicious drama that is about to unfold before me. There are so many questions that need answering. How is Briggs going to handle his trainee being his boss? Can Mike handle all that pressure being plopped into his lap? What’s happening with Bello in jail? Is Odin Rossi, Briggs’ alter ego going to re-emerge? SOMEONE BRING ME THE HEAD OF PAUL BRIGGS! AND WHAT ABOUT THAT KISS BETWEEN MIKE AND PAIGE???

Excuse me. My fangirl was showing.

With Agents of SHIELD, Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow and Sherlock all on hiatus (then again, when ISN’T Sherlock on hiatus?), I worried that I would be relegated to reading my entire book collection AGAIN, and then have to spend the rest of my entertainment time watching Chuggington and Doc McStuffins with my two-year-old son. Actually, I like Chuggington, and Doc McStuffins is pretty much awesome, but that’s beside the point. What is going to fill my weekly fangirl need for emotional distress during this long, hot summer? Well, my friends, never fear. Graceland is back and looks better than ever.

The second season begins on Wednesday on The USA Network