Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 9

"But I'm the only one who's guilty!"

This is where the excrement, as they don't exactly say, hits the rotary device. Lots of people die. It is in fact, structurally speaking, more or less the actual season finake. Anne's hubris hits it's heights ("The King cannot satisfy a woman. He has neither the skill nor the virility.") and ultimately there is nemesis for... well, a bunch of people who committed the crime of standing too close to the Sun. For Anne's own fate we shall have to wait.

We begin with an autopsy of Anne's miscarried son, who is deformed: a pretty obvious metaphor and a pretty obvious augury. She is living on borrowed time and, I think, she knows it, so she can scream at Cromwell about the corruption surrounding the dissolution of the monasteries to her heart's content. She knows what's coming: the signs are obvious. 

One big sign if how the world has turned upside down is that Chapuys is actually in favour: he actually a supports a new, "legal" marriage with Jane Seymour. In favour, that is, until he makes the mistake of mentioning Henry's lack of a son. Thomas Boleyn is somewhat nervous, and George even more so; his wife is sick and tired both of his abuse and of being his beard. Meanwhile, Thomas Wyatt and Mark Sneaton find that their levity sit not well with the times. All of Anne's friends at court are looking over their shoulders. 

It is Charles Brandon who lights the match, telling the King that there are rumours floating around, rumours of the Queen's flirting, of men in her room. Richard Rich and Thomas Cromwell are ordered to preside over the kangaroo court, and they preside with much cruelty. Even the sparing of Wyatt, the only one guilty of sex with the Queen, is an act of sadism; Cromwell has deliberately executed the innocent, some of whom are a threat to him, and left the guilty party to love with that for the rest of his life. Still, some great poetry came of it, so that's ok.

It is Smeaton who suffers the most, being put to the rack, but Sir Henry Norris and George Boleyn are not spared, George being denounced by his own wife. George, of course is not tortured, of course; he is a peer of the realm. To torture him would be barbaric.

Thomas Boleyn shows himself a wretched coward, saving his own skin by not lifting a finger to defend his "beloved" daughter. She was never more than a pawn to him, and this makes a general feminist point about aristocracy and it's treatment of women. The aristocratic rich, defined as they are by the inheritance if property through the male line, are the very essence of patriarchy.

Anne looks on as George is beheaded, to the jeers of the crowd. She cries. Thomas Boleyn looks away. We end on a medley of bloody executions to the melancholy verse of Thomas Wyatt...

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 8

"Those carefree days are gone."

This episode is something of a watershed: Henry has his big accident that both beckons in middle age (well, he is 45, however young and slim Jonathan Rhys Meyers may look) and, it is rumoured, permanently unsettles his mind. He also spends much of the episode perving over Jane Seymour, and has properly and officially had enough of Anne Boleyn. Oh dear. And Cromwell glides serenely above it all, consolidating his power yet flying close to the Sun.

We're fully introduced to the sweet yet intelligent Jane, her scheming brother Edward and, again, her father Sir John. Her male relatives are using her in exactly the same way that the Boleyns were using her, even if they seem a little less horrible.

We're also reminded of what a small fish Henry is in the big European pond; he passes on to Chapuys his congratulations to Charles V on his conquest of Tunis, well and truly sucking up on the hope of an alliance, and sending Cromwell to the Habsburg court to boot. Meanwhile, Francis I is on a pilgrimage to Rome, and heard from the Pope that Henry is to be excommunicated. Clement VII then tries to persuade the capricious Francis to invade England, but the promises of kings are, of course, worthless.

In other news, the monasteries are dissolved; Cromwell's son Gregory is summoned to court; and Jane has another brother- yet another character called Thomas. Henry is assiduously nice, even courtly, to Jane; his intentions are obvious but, for now, he's pretending to be chivalrous. But Anne is still around, and Natalie Dormer is particularly superb as the now-defensive Queen. She is what makes this season so good.

The King goes jousting, pretending he's still young, but it all goes horribly wrong; he is unhorsed by Sir Henry Norris, and seems to be on the edge of death for a long time, causing the whole court to manoeuvre themselves into position for his death. It's a dangerous moment; a new monarch means potential purges. Cromwell is insistent that Elizabeth be Queen; he fears Mary. He makes plans to deal with her, but the King lives.

Henry's leg is now buggered; the ulcer will plague him for the rest of his life, and in ten and a bit years' time it will kill him. He is a new, harsh Henry, cruelly goading Anne with his decision that Mary will be betrothed before Elizabeth. This harshness doesn't apply to Jane, of course; she's playing hard to get, and the King likes it.

Anne is set firmly on a track to ruin, badly falling out with Cromwell and suffering a miscarriage. Henry is furious (You've lost my boy!"), convinced that God will never give him a son through Anne. They row furiously, with some great acting from both of them.

Henry confides to Cromwell that he considers his marriage to Anne null and void; he wants another wife...

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 10

"You have a cappuccino maker. And I love you!"

And so Sugar Rush ends, with a happy ending and a bit of minor uncertainty. It's satisfying enough and wraps the series up, but can't hold a candle to last season's magnificent finale.

Sugar is now living in a depressing little bedsit and facing a marginalised, underclass future now that her relationship with her upper middle class boyfriend is over. It is awful, but realistic, to see a woman from Sugar's background finding escape from poverty not in achievement but in finding a suitable man; I'm glad they didn't take that route, but poor Sugar ends the series in her usual precarious position.

Stella is determined to be a good mother this time, even giving up the wine. Sugar has a new place. Kim is moving back in with Saint- it's new beginnings for everyone. But there's a tension; will Kim choose partying, and Sugar, or settling down, and Saint? This is a commonly seen but false choice, and not one I like to see; I'm married, and my life is no less of an adventure. Settling down does not mean less excitement or fun, whatever popular culture may say.

Sugar makes Kim see sense ("Go and get your girl!") and so ends up being a good friend after all. She and Saint have a touching reunion. But there's a twist- Sugar's place has burned down during the party and she needs somewhere to stay...

It's a fitting ending, even if they did take the easy option and make it a happy one.

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 9

"I'm pregnant!"

So, Kim is back with Saint and very much in love. Everything's fine, right? Well, wrong. While Kim is all self-obsessed about her own happiness, she fails to notice what is going on. Things fall apart in an episode based on failure to communicate. You know, Marshall McLuhan and that.

Firstly, Saint is in a bad mood because of work and isn't feeling horny. And there is tension with Sugar, too; Kim wants to get pissed with her, but she's busy with Mark. People insist on having lives of their own. How dare they!

It's Mark who has to explain to Kim that it's the anniversary of Saint's mum dying, and she isn't sharing this with Kim. How can she connect with her?

Stella drops the bombshell that she's pregnant, and hasn't told Nathan. When she does, he doesn't take it well; once again, failure to communicate.

Sugar is nervous about meeting Mark's parents, but is relieved to find their class background similar to hers. Things are fine and relaxed- until she mentioned prison. This ruins the night and, when Mark says the wrong thing (that theme again), she hastily dumps him.

Yes, this is effectively an episode that comes up with a bunch of problems for the finale to solve, but it's a nice treatment of the themes.

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 8

"When you care about someone, should you risk them finding out about the real you?"

All is seemingly sweet with Kim's love life, but there remain tensions at home. Stella is still well up for swinging, but Narhan has started insisting on things like "family time", and is being, for him, assertive. Sugar, meanwhile, is getting together with Saint's male ex, Mark. Yet again, though, class rears it's head: Sugar is nervous about impressing her cultured, middle class boyfriend, so she lies about her poverty-defined past and especially the prison part.

Saint, meanwhile, is employed doing the gear for a swinger's party and, what with this series being no stranger to high farce, we all know where this is going. 

The Saturday night in question sees a number of deceptions. Kim lies to Stella in saying she will babysit Matt. Stella and Nathan, naturally, conceal the nature of what they are doing. Matt, while alone, cross dresses. So many secrets, and some rather clever structural plotting.

In contrast, Sugar decides to be honest to Mark and it pays off; she is, ironically, the honest one in an episode about deception which culminates in Kim seeing Nathan hurt on a sex swing...

The best thing about the episode, though, is Saint's awkward Sunday lunch with Kim's family: "Breast or thigh, Saint?"

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 7

"I'm in love with you!"

"Good. Pass the cheese."

Oh dear. Kim is in a bit of trouble. Looks as though she punched the "other woman" who went to Saint's and got herself arrested. Oops. Luckily, Saint is able to persuade her to drop the charges. They are back together. Aaah!

Sugar is still trouble, though. She needs money to replace what she stole from Dmitri, fast so, after some hilarious scenes of her in the sex shop, she betrays Kim's trust by stealing money from the till, as we, the viewers, knew she would.

This leads to the most brilliant sequence of the entire season, as Kim, Saint and Sugar plan a daring burglary of Dmitri's home to get the money back, which is hugely entertaining viewing. Dmitri ends up tied up, expecting sexual delights which will never arrive, while our three conspirators are laughing and drinking.

That seems to tie up the biggest dangling plot threads, so where now...?

Sugar Rush, Season Two, Episode 6

"I don't judge you for being a swinger."

Kim is still ridden with guilt over her betrayal if Saint. Stella and Nathan are still the same therapy-obsessed stereotypical Guardian readers. Sugar is still allowing Kim to believe that it was herself that took her to hospital. What is going to puncture this awkwardness?

Firstly, Sugar, as heedless of consequences as ever, is recklessly spending Dmitri's money. Secondly, an awkward conversation with Kim reveals to Saint that Sugar lied. At this point we know that the status quo cannot last.

To complicate things further, as soon as Sugar knows that Saint knows she goes to ridiculously doomed-to-fail lengths to avoid Kim finding out. Eventually she is found out, and Kim throws her out of the house. She's in a bad situation, especially as she stole Dmitri's money.

There's a twist, though: it appears that Saint is now with someone else, and a broken-hearted Kim returns to Sugar after all. It's getting complicated, which means the season is starting to rev up for the finale.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Turn, Turn, Turn

"Don't trust anyone..."

Well, well, well... what a gripping and twisty-turny episode this is. A lot happens and the status quo is overturned, but not without some good character stuff.

Before we talk about that, though, we ought to talk about episodes tying in with Marvel movies that have just been at the pictures; having not seen Thor: The Dark World I was extremely put out by the fact that it seemed to be required viewing. This time around, however, I just so happened to have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier on my honeymoon a few weeks ago and, for some strange reason, I don't mind so much. Odd, that.

Anyway, let's get back to the episode, as we ended on a cliffhanger; not only is Agent May ratting on the team via a secure line, but Agent Hand suddenly wants them dead. Could she be HYDRA?

After a bit of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper", Someone is after Garrett's plane, too. But first we have to sort out the sudden tension between sort-of traitor May and the rest of the team: apparently she was reporting to Fury all this time, and it was her who, seemingly via currently fashionable "nudge" techniques, put together the team with the aim of keeping an eye on the resurrected but possibly damaged Coulson. Understandably, Coulson is a little put out by this, and their relationship will take a while to repair. But when May tries to contact Fury again, this time with Coulson present, they learn that Fury is supposedly dead. Oh dear. This is something of an "everything you think you know us wrong" moment, and not the last one the episode has to offer.

Joined by Garrett, the team piece together the clues to discover that HYDRA has taken over the upper echelons of SHIELD, and their plane is forcibly headed to the Hub, now HYDRA central. Worse, both Simmons and sometime red herring Triplett are ar the centre of the web.

The second big reveal is that Victoria Hand is not, in fact, HYDRA (and I have to praise Saffron Burrows here, in hindsight, for her performances from the beginning), and Garrett is, which would explain why he's being played by an actor of Bill Paxton's stature.

But perhaps even bigger than this is that Ward, just before he may be about to die on a mission, asks Skye out on a date, and she accepts, thereby fully vindicating the predictions of my good lady wife from way back when. Amusingly, Skye knew about Ward and May because it was "obvious" in the small world of the plane. And, as he's about to risk his life, she even kisses him. Aaah!

So it turns out to be something of a surprise when, with HYDRA seemingly defeated by Captain America and Coulson and the rest of the team off to clean up the organisation, Ward should turn out to be a traitor, killing Hand and working with the splendidly charismatic Garrett. And they bloody go and end it there...!

Wow. How did Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D get so good?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 7

"Now I am indeed Queen!"

No pre-titles sequence. That's weird. And then we get a dream sequence for Queen Anne that is even weirder; she ends up in a cage and set on fire in some bizarre Celtic ceremony, Wicker Man style. It's not hard to see what it symbolises, or what it presages. Still, she's not for the chop quite yet. What's impressive, though, is the parallel with last season, and Wolsey; we know where this is going, but this time the events are gripping, and it doesn't feel as though we're treading water.

In other news, the King needs money, so the monasteries are for the chop. Cromwell and the other Protestants at court are quite happy with the king just pocketing the proceeds, despite the fact that this is blatant corruption and thoroughly irreligious. Then again, truly pious characters in The Tudors are hard to find, especially with More gone and Catherine on her way out. 

Meanwhile, the King and Queen are not getting on, and Anne despairs of her future while Catherine and Mary still live. But Henry dismisses her opinions, dreams of an alliance with the Habsburg Empire, and warns her to keep her pretty little head out of politics. There is quite a contrast with Cranmer and his sadly unnamed (?) German Protestant missus who, to her husband's (and Cromwell's) admiration, is sounding very radical and, indeed, proto-feminist. Good on her.

The King, to great awkwardness, rudely brings Anne's party to a halt, ordering Mark Smeaton to play the violin for him. The scenes of Henry dancing with Anne that follow are juxtaposed with scenes of very rough sex between them, after which Henry cums hard. This nicely structured sequence tells us much about their relationship.

It's at this point, wisely and cunningly, that Anne chooses to tell Henry that she's desperate to conceive again, but can't while Catherine and Mary are alive. Henry is shocked, but too sex-brained to bite her head off.

Meanwhile, the inevitable contrasting scenes in the Vatican see Peter O'Toole's splendid Clement VII making sure that his son(!) will become a future cardinal, and the creation of the Sistine Chapel is directly contrasted with what is happening to the monasteries in England. Thematic contrast, as much as narrative, is the point of these Vatican scenes.

Henry, hunting with his good mate Charles Brandon, ends up staying at the house of a stereotypical local squire, Sir John Seymour, with whom he reminisces about the Battle of Spurs, a personal highlight of Henry's young and carefree days. Thus are we introduced to one Jane Seymour.

Catherine of Aragon finally snuffs it, tragically without seeing her beloved Mary for four years, except in an hallucination. And Anne has a right go at Cromwell over the dissolution of the monasteries and the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. Indeed, she goes as far as to threaten to have him "chopped at the neck". Interesting to ponder the eventual fates of them both...

Time passes. Thomas Wyatt finds his bit on the side, Catherine's lady in waiting, hanged in an obvious suicide; this is a perfect if devastating illustration of how he is far too flippant for this harsh world. In other news, Sir John Seymour is a regular fixture at court for some reason...

We end with Henry being a good dad to Elizabeth when he wants to be, the Boleyns falling out over Cromwell, and Anne telling Henry that she's pregnant with a son. So everything's all right then...

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 6

"Something's going to happen to me..."

This is where the long, horrid slide from favour begins to accelerate for Anne. Henry is a subtly changed man; he suddenly looks older even in the opening titles.

The Pope is not best pleased with him, although in sure the depth of his anger is mainly for show. It's 1536, and there is no love lost between Henry (or Cromwell) and the trappings of Catholicism, as stained glass windows are smashed and all wealth and colour sucked out of England's churches. Gross "abuses" are "discovered" in the monasteries. Meanwhile, Henry sits back and counts the cash. It's a far bigger nationalisation than anything Clement Attlee would go on to do, much, much later.

Protestant propaganda abounds in the realm, yet all is not well for our Protestant Queen. Things are awkward between her and Henry, but a betrothal between Elizabeth and a French prince will fix things, right? 

Meanwhile, George Boleyn acquires a wife, or rather a "beard", but in spite of being gay he rapes her anyway, and cums laughably quickly to boot. Suddenly he's a lot less sympathetic. Henry, meanwhile, has an orgy with various people who are not Anne, because it's not treason when he does it. The men of Henry's court don't exactly look good right now.

Mary is not happy with things right now, being scolded for hugging her own sister. But the court Catholics as a whole are not happy with the new climate, and rumours abound of Anne being a witch. But Annecus not happy either; the king's affairs are taking their toll on her, and on top of that there's the post-natal depression. She thinks that something bad us going to happen to her, but in sure things will be fine.

Thomas Wyatt is an interesting character, being both the trope of the genius and somewhat aloof from the games being played at court. In asking Cromwell if he worries about the levels of absolute power being amassed by the long he is expressing a very modern point of view. It's tempting to see him as the voice of the author, which would be rather big-headed of Michael Hirst!

The King is continuously nasty to Anne, and she suffers an assassination attempt to boot. To add further insult, the French are not only rude but reject the proposed betrothal on the grounds that Elizabeth is a bastard in the eyes of both the Pope and the Emperor. The French prince is to marry a Habsburg instead, and England will be alone and insignificant. Henry may be a powerful man, but only in his small pond.

The King ends by confiding to Brandon that he regrets More's death, and blames Anne for egging him on. Things look ominous...

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 5

"Mr Cromwell, there really is no difference between us... except that I shall die today, and you shall die tomorrow."

Spoiler: Sir Thomas More dies at the end. Sorry about that.

Everyone at court is all a-flutter about the oath they have to swear, on pain of death, recognising the king's marriage and his religious supremacy. There then follows an episode that examines the concept of integrity under such extreme circumstances: will people stick to their principles if it means a tortuous death? It is still moral to stick to one's principles if, like More, one knows that it will lead to penury for one's entire family? We know not, for we enjoy such things as freedom if speech and freedom of religion. This episode examines the choices open to those who do not enjoy such things. Oh, and More cops it.

Henry will not be moved; More must swear, as has the rest of his family, no doubt under protest, or suffer death by hanging and disembowellment. The scenes between More and his wife, with moral blackmail on both sides, are difficult viewing.

The King's mood is not improved by Anne's miscarriage, Both Catherine of Aragon and Chapuys are left to wonder what will become of them as they, of course, refuse to sign. Pope Clement VII, meanwhile, remains the cynical political operator, who can see the public relations benefits of Bishop Fisher's forthcoming martyrdom, an excellent touch and a welcome bit of black humour.

Power, meanwhile, accrues to Cromwell more and more. Anne is also coming to enjoy the dizzy heights of monarchical power, but is forgetting where she came from, conniving with her father in disowning her pregnant sister Mary Boleyn for the terrible crime of marrying a commoner. Hubris can be terribly unjust.

She should, perhaps, think on the precariousness of her position. We have just seen the king shagging a random woman, and the King could change his mind in a heartbeat, disinheriting Elizabeth in favour of Mary. All live at the harsh caprice of their king.

Fisher's graphic be heading is all the more affecting because of his frankly admitted fear; the bishop has a wobble of faith at the moment of his martyrdom, which is both horrible and deeply ironic. 

The Pope is, as it happens, furious about Fisher's killing. He is more tolerant of Michelangelo's constant swearing, for "We forgive him because he is a genius." There can never be too much praise for the late and much lamented Peter O'Toole.

Henry, self-indulgent and spoiled as only a king can be, feels both guilt and resentment towards More, who has the effrontery to prick the conscience of a King. He reacts childishly, of course, cruelly depriving More of books for his last few days. 

More is, however, magnificent at his show trial, and his condemnation brings forth a sense of joyful freedom; the worst is now happening anyway, and he can now speak his mind and damn the already decided consequences. The king is, at least, kind enough to commute his sentence from hanging, drawing and quartering to the rather less tortuous beheading.

More, respected by the crowd and begged for forgiveness by his own executioner, faces his death with a simple dignity and grace, and we must force ourselves to remember that he, too, persecuted and murdered innocents for their faith. Henry, meanwhile, screams and screams like the petulant little boy he is.

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 4

"I will recognise no Queen but my mother!"

Events are still fluid and volatile after last episode's violent severing of England's links with Rome, and Henry's court has never seemed a more dangerous place, especially for the former Queen's Catholic supporters. Mary is the most humiliated, forced to wait on her little half-sister Elizabeth and then sleep in humble lodgings, but all those who supported the old faith fear a purge of some sort. And there will be no help from Charles V, who is busily warring with the Habsburgs' perennial enemy, the Ottomans. 

Anne is not happy either; on her father's advice she swiftly gets rid of the king's mistress by framing her for theft, and chooses a mistress of her own choosing whom she can manipulate, who is both a cousin and a good Protestant. This is the reality that early modern kings and queens lived with. Meanwhile, the king pays a visit to Elizabeth but ignores Mary, who watches from a window.

The purge finally arrives, as Cromwell drafts a law forcing all subjects to swear an path recognising both Henry's marriage and his supremacy over the Church. The Pope sees the danger for Fisher, who is swiftly and futilely made a cardinal for his protection. Cromwell then twists the knife by advising the king to dissolve all of the monasteries which refuse to abide by the oath and he agrees, entirely uninfluenced, I'm sure, by the oodles of cash that promise to head his way. As for Fisher, he is sentenced to death for treason. The spotlight now turns to Sir Thomas More; will he swear the oath?

Mary doesn't swear the oath, but she is too royal to die; instead she is forever banished from court. As for More, he tries dissembling, as will many other Catholics facing difficult questions on pain of death during Elizabeth's reign. This eventually fails, and he is left facing the inevitable, without much dignity. But we should perhaps not feel too much sympathy for him; he himself had people burned at the stake for "heresy". However sincere his beliefs, he was a serial killer.

We end with More imprisoned directly above the cell of the condemned Bishop Fisher, looking out if the window to a CGI London landscape and a world wider than the cell he will inhabit for most if the rest if his shirt life...

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 3

"What harm can a nobody inflict on our Holy Church?"

This is a big, big episode. The fact that this is the break with Rome is signalled by Peter O'Toole's promotion to the credits, and we start with a bang. There's a duel over Anne. The two sides are entrenched. It's all very serious except for Thomas Wyatt who, despite his promotion to the Privy Council, takes nothing seriously.

Catholicism in England is clearly in retreat, with the King promoting arch-Lutheran Thomas Cranmer to the See of Canterbury, but Pope Clement VII remains airily complacent. But soon a surprised Cromwell is appointed Lord Chancellor and, most significantly of all, Henry and Anne are finally married. After all that build-up it's almost an anticlimax.

Catherine is utterly humiliated. But Brandon, it seems, is getting close to her, and siding more firmly with More and Fisher. The English Reformation finally takes off as even this Pope takes steps to excommunicate Henry and he finally breaks with Rome. Cranmer says he's legally married, like a good little lackey (albeit, like Cromwell, one with an agenda), and that's all that matters.

In other subplots, Wyatt carries on a casual affair with one of Catherine's maids. King Francis, quelle surprise, breaks his promises. The Jesuit order is founded. And Anne is pregnant, to excitement all round.

The build-up to Anne's coronation as queen consort leads to an attempted assassination- the people still like the old Queen and the old religion. Fisher and More, who sadly notes that his once-close friendship with Henry is over, snub the ceremony. Anne, as Queen, establishes uber-Protestantism in her household, giving them all a copy of Tyndale's Bible, which is still technically illegal.

One feels most sorry for Mary, no longer a princess and forbidden from all contact with her mother. But this does not quite feel like a total victory for Protestantism in England. For one thing, we get a shot of the King and the new Queen in bed, shot from above, he half-naked and her fully clothed and turned away from him. It seems their relationship, following marriage and pregnancy, may be losing it's ardour. And, given the context, this could potentially have huge political and religious ramifications.

Anne finally gives birth, and it's a girl, and future Virgin Queen. Henry hides his disappointment, but summons a Lady Eleanor to his chamber for sex. Is he beginning to lose his desires for the woman he wanted so desperately for so long? It looks more and more desperately vital that she gives him a male heir, and soon.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 2

"Now, my love. Let me conceive, and we will have a son."

A change of style; no longer do we have the "back to the beginning" stuff at the start of the episodes, just one of many small changes from last season. Another is the absence of Henry Czerny. But we are still treading the same water, plot wise, as per the final few episodes of last season.

We begin with some startlingly odd-looking sixteenth century playing cards, some CGI snow, and a discussion about religion in which Thomas Boleyn shows himself to be very, very Protestant. It's Christmas and Henry, being Henry, is delighted by his gift from Anne Boleyn (a rather large boar spear that might cause Sigmund Freud to raise an eyebrow), but rudely rejects the gift from the Queen. Thomas More gives him a silver cross in this last Christmas for England under the Pope; all the presents, predictably, are symbolic.

Christmas is as extravagant as one might expect, but marred by rumours about Anne and Wyatt. The king, freed from Wolsey's influence, nevertheless proposes alliance with France against his Habsburg in-laws. Oh, and the king more or less proposes to Anne while she's wanking him off. Merry Christmas.

This causes some considerable commotion at court, and even Charles Brandon, who avoids nvokving himself on court factionalism, comes out in favour of Catherine, and is subsequently banished from court. Cromwell, as the most Protestant member of the main cast, is making himself unpopular, particularly given his humble origins. Nevertheless, his influence with the King is strong, and Henry is soon declaring that priests' oaths to the Pope contradict their oaths to him. After all these episodes of treading water it looks as though something may now be happening.

In quick succession, Parliament makes Henry supreme governor of the English Church, Henry gracefully accepts More's resignation as Lord Chancellor, Brandon is recalled to court because the King misses his old mate, and Cranmer goes to uber-Protestant Nuremberg and comes back with a wife. Oh, and Anne is made Marchioness of Pembroke, and thus rich.

More retires, in despair, from public life and starts discussing martyrdom with his family, with whom he is touchingly close. Henry gives Anbe the Queen's jewels, while Anne gives him a hand job. Suddenly, it's all happening.

Brandon is now a fully paid up member of the anti-Anne faction ("I grew up"), while Henry is suddenly very friendly with Francis I, who hates the Emperor. He also has a friendly warning for Anne; being a monarch is not easy.

The episode ends by hints of the future as the King and Anne have sex (finally) during a thunderstorm. Symbolism much?


The Tudors: Season Two, Episode 1

"The time for Harry is over!"

It's a new season, but everything is in media res. the king's "Great Matter" is hanging over everything and there is much tension. It's now 1532, and we are still living in a very Catholic England. Things have changed, of course, such as the King's facial hair and Peter O'Toole as a splendidly cynical new Pope, but the only issue in town is the King's divorce. 

Behring the scenes, though, Anne Boleyn has increasingly been feeding ever more radically Protestant ideas to the king, ideas which happen to align rather well with his personal desires. On the other hand, Sir Thomas More is more and more outspoken in support of the established church and the Queen. Aligned with him is Bishop Fisher, who also sees any potential break with Rome as heresy.

There has been much commotion in Rome, with the papacy pushed and pulled between Francis I and Charles V, and realpolitik is the order if the day. Charles V remains omnipotent, and Henry is never going to be allowed to divorce his Aunt Catherine by any Pope.

We have new characters- Anne's ambitions and intelligent brother George Boleyn, a coming man; shy and nervous Thomas Cranmer, a Lutheran protege of Cromwell and suddenly the king's personal chaplain; and Mark Smeaton, a good looking violinist and simpleton at court amongst the wolves.

Other marriages are less weighty than the matter of the king's; he is much amused by Charles Brandon marrying his seventeen year old ward, which everyone seems to think is perfectly fine. More seriously, Thomas Wyatt is risking his neck by shagging Anne Boleyn, and Smeaton is playing with fire by publicly flirting with her. 

The atmosphere at court takes a turn for the worse with the attempted poisoning of the court Carholics, and it never really recovers; court is a dangerous place, where one risks random execution for a whiff of power. A lowly cook is arrested, tortured by Cromwell, and killed by being boiled alive, but the crime was masterminded by Thomas Boleyn, who is never implicated. 

There is tension everywhere- between the Queen and Anne Boleyn over who makes the King's shirts; between Henry and More, as the old friends realise they now have nothing in common; and between Henry and the recently evicted Catherine, where things are getting particularly ugly; the King even duffs up the Queen's messenger.

Even more alarmingly, Ambassador Chapuys takes up the Pope's suggestion and hires an assassin to kill Anne Boleyn. Things are slowly getting more and more tense...

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: End of the Beginning

"(Skye) has something we want. And she will die giving it to us."

Oooh boy. This is a big episode. There is soooo much going on that I don't know where to start. Given the ending, I expect even bigger things next episode. In fact, I couldn't help noticing Jasper Sitwell being suddenly called away for his scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The fallout from that will be huge, and I suspect it will be next. And Fury is waiting to speak to Coulson at the Triskelion?

Still, for the time being, things are already huge. We begin with the team, augmented by Agent Hand (boo!!!), the unfortunate Agent Blake and the awesome Agents Garrett and Triplett, engaged in a comprehensive search for the Clairvoyant, in a clever plan to which Skye (appointed, at last, as a SHIELD agent) is central. In a nice little character moment, it's nice to see Skye, who hasn't previously met Garrett, bonding with him. It's also interesting to see how quickly he picks up on the obvious sparks between Skye and Agent Ward.

Although there are a few red herrings, the presence of Mike Peterson, now looking much more like Deathlok from the comics, sort of leads us to what the team seem to be looking for; an apparent vegetable in a room, and a disembodied voice, seemingly that of the Clairvoyant, goading them. Said goading (see the quite up there) leads very suddenly and very shockingly to Ward shooting the suspect dead.

This is from right out if left field, and seemingly out of character. Is it his feeling for Skye that made him do it, as his words in the later scene with him and Skye seem to imply? Or does he have an agenda? Coulson, for one, thinks the man Ward shot is just a fall guy. He's probably right.

The penny finally drops during a conversation between Coulson and Skye: the Clairvoyant is not literally telepathic at all, but a SHIELD agent. And then it comes out that Skye has been reporting to someone on an encrypted line, and Coulson confronts her. I don't think she's connected to the Clairvoyant, though. But one of the regulars, at least, must be.

We end with the team trapped in their crashing plane, with Agent Hand, who always seemed a wrong 'un, trying to kill them all. Exciting times. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is on fire right now.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 5

"Which grape goes best with group sex, do you think?"

Again, we have Stella and Nathan providing comic relief to counterbalance the serious emotions involved with Kim's, Saint's and Sugar's plot line. Saint is away for the weekend, and Sugar is missing, and possibly in trouble. Kim is very alone; her many messages for Saint go unanswered, and she gets the crop only in dream sequences.

Sugar, it turns out, is apparently safe-ish, and with a bloke called Dmitri. But could he be her pimp? Kim is tempted to cheat on Sugar by the highly alluring Montana at the club, played by the actress who played a very similar role in a Torchwood episode (Greeks Bearing Gifts). We never know whether Kim would have cheated on Saint, but Saint is back early, in the club, and sees them kidding. Everything has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

It seems that Kim has wrecked her relationship withbthecwonan she loves. Distraught, she drinks herself into oblivion and wakes up in hospital, with Sugar by her side. Sugar takes the credit for taking her to hospital, but it was actually Saint. What's Sugar's game? And can Kim's and Saint's relationship be resurrected? The tone has suddenly become very, very serious...

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 4


It's predictable: things are awkward with Sugar. She has a minimum wage job (with sales of, er, pharmaceuticals on the side) on a stall; those class issues are rearing their ugly head again. And Sugar has adopted the role of the annoying gooseberry in Kim's and Saint's relationship. They find themselves going to clubs with men for Sugar's sake, and having frustratingly little time alone together.

In the B plot, meanwhile, Stella suggests tentatively that she and Nathan might go swinging, which feels very Brighton, although not as Brighton as a sex shop called "Munch Box". This eventually develops into having the neighbours round, one of whom Stella fancies. It won't end well.

Meanwhile, Kim becomes unreasonably jealous after Saint and Sugar have a night out together. There is a horrible, horrible argument, partly caused by possible stirring from Sugar but essentially Kim's fault. And Sugar is, unsurprisingly, depressed. She feels a spare part, but has no one else but Kim. So, when she disappears, things could be very bad...

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 3

"You're probably going to need some lube...!"

So, Kim is now in a relationship with Saint, who is the purveyor of a sex shop. Like many lesbians, she is kinky, and floggers and other toys abound. But Kim has it wrong; she's a little anxious about how she, a sexual novice, can satisfy someone who runs a sex shop, but the deeper truth is both simple and beautiful: Saint is a sensitive soul who likes snuggles.

Sugar, meanwhile, has very nearly finished doing her porridge. Awkwardly, she has nowhere else to live and wants to stay with Kim. I foresee difficulties here. Meanwhile, an ex of Saint's enters the scene. A male ex. Does this mean she "misses cock"? There are harsh words, but Saint gets her revenge on Kim. With a crop. While she's tied to a chair with handcuffs.

The inevitable ending happens on schedule as Kim finds Sugar waiting inside the place she shares with Saint...

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 2

"Spanking, role play... she's a dyke."

Kim confidently rings up Saint on the number she obtained at the end of last episode so, obviously, with this being Sugar Rush, that would be a dream sequence. Her gaining the confidence to actually talk to this girl she likes is obviously going to be the subject of the episode.

In other news, Nathan is feeling emasculated, but it was ever thus. And Sugar, still inside, has been caught with some hash. But she has some advice for Kim: woo Saint by playing hard to guess. So she pretends to be in a relationship with the annoying Melissa, which turns out to be a bad move, as Melissa is really dull.

In other comic relief, Stella spikes Nathan's wine with Viagra, leading to a weird orgasm and an uncomfortably lingering erection. But the episode ends as it had to: in spite of Kim's silly games, Saint ends up with her anyway and we end with a long, lingering kiss.

For the first time, we get to see Saint as something more than the impossibly cool and sexy object of desire. She's clever, nice, and a little bit vulnerable...

Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor

"Why are you naked?"

"Because I'm going to church!"

Yes, I know. I'm very, very late. But I spent Christmas away in an ITV household and only saw The Time of the Doctor late at night and on iPlayer, and when we finally got home after the New Year we discovered that Youview hasn't recorded it. Grr. We're switching to Sky.

But now I've finally seen it again, thanks to Netflix, and been able to take notes so I can blog it at long last, and there is soooooo much to talk about, old news or no. I'm aware that there is a very vocal group of online Moffat-haters, but I'm not one if them, I'm afraid. There will be gushing. If you don't want to read a gloriously positive meditation on the perfect conclusion to the Matt Smith era, look away now.

One thing I've often wondered about Steven Moffat, what with his near-Douglas Adams approach to deadlines, is to what extent his intricate plot lines are charted in advance and to what extent they're made on the hoof (an equally valid approach). Personally, I suspect the answer lies at neither extreme, but it matters not: however he's done it, the Moff has triumphantly tied up all the ongoing plot lines of his era so far as far as I can determine. So let's get all the arc stuff out of the way first so we can move on to talk about the episode, shall we?

The cracks in Amy's wall? The Time Lords trying to get through to our reality via the original crack, so to speak, at Trenzalore. The question that must never be asked, "Doctor who?" Required by the Time Lords so they can come through. Who is behind those religious, military types who have been a theme of the Matt Smith era? The Papal Mainframe, headed by the Doctor's friend and fellow exchanger of flirts, Tasha Yem (whose name reminds me of Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

There's more. The Time Lords cannot come through, whether they're nice now or not: their reputation precedes them, and a new Time War would erupt. Tasha Yem's lot go through an "unscheduled faith change" (delightful dig at religious hierarchies there!) to ensure that Trenzalore is protected, the question is never asked and that "silence will fall": the Silence, it transpires, are actually goodies, and we see them fighting alongside the Doctor.

There's even more. The Doctor is, in fact, on his thirteenth incarnation ("Are we forgetting Captain Grumpy?"): this is it, although we should perhaps not think too much about what looked like an aborted regeneration in The Impossible Astronaut. The Kovarian chapter broke away from the Papal Mainframe to blow up the TARDIS and send River to kill the Doctor ("Totally married her!"). And I do believe that's all the loose ends.

Anyway... we all love Handles, who is cool, cute and useful to the plot, but he is also a useful metaphor for that old Christopher Bidmead theme of entropy, essentially that things fall apart, and as with Logopolis this functions nicely as a metaphor for the Doctor's regeneration. But- and this is important- the fact that everything is going to fall apart and degenerate until the eventual heat death of the universe ("Can't get the parts") is no reason to despair. The Doctor knows that the siege of Christmas will eventually break through and destroy everything, but that's not the point; generations of people will live and love laugh there in the meantime, and these people matter. They matter so much that the Doctor, with his notorious wanderlust, is content to spend his last few centuries of life staying in the one place, defending the citizens of Christmas for as long as he can. This kind of cheerful defiance of entropy is the most Doctor Who thing ever.

The funny scenes of Christmas dinner with Clara's family are important, as they anchor these weighty themes to everyday reality. There's a definite parallel, in the Doctor sending Clara home to protect her, in what he did to Rise in The Parting of the Ways. We remember this as another regeneration story, so the stakes are raised. Still, it says a lot about Clara that she is a lot more resourceful and clever in getting back than Rose was.

Christmas is under attack, so we get nice set pieces with Daleks, Sontarans, cool wooden Cybermen and Weeping Angels, although the latter are a little under-utilised. There's a scene which nicely exploits the fact that Matt Smith has a shaven head during filming. There is the delightful concept of a town where lying isn't possible. But better than any if this is seeing the Doctor embedding himself into a real community, slowly growing old (this is an acting your de force from Matt Smith), yet holding out against all comers... except old age. By the end of the episode he's at least 1,400, and dying. The clock is striking twelve.

But there's Clara, as ever, to save him, in this case by having a chat to the Time Lords on the other side of the crack. Yes, entropy, everything dies, blah blah blah, but why not kick the can down the road for a bit more and give the Doctor a brand new regeneration cycle? We may all be doomed in the end, but the Doctor will now live to save a load more people along the way.

The regeneration itself has its cake and eats it in being both enormous (the explosion) and low key (Clara and the Doctor in the TARDIS). The short cameo from Karen Gillan, "the first face this face saw", is far more effective than Tennant's over-indulgent "reward" in The End of Time. And the underplayed regeneration is brilliant; it would have been so easy, as with last time, to be self-indulgent. Instead we have an exciting and unknown future lying ahead.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Sugar Rush: Season Two, Episode 1

"I don't want therapy. I want sex!"

Quite sensibly, given what happened at the end of last season, we fast forward eighteen months. Kim is back with Stella and Nathan, who are back together and embarrassing as always. Matt, sensible chap, is a Goth. It's all back to normal for Kim but Sugar, who is not so middle class, is consequentially still in prison. Kim hadn't seen anyone since and is desperate to go on the pull.

While the first series is based on the Julie Burchill novel, this season is entirely original. It feels much the same, certainly, but a certain amount of exposition is required to untangle the mess that was the end of the last series.

Stella and Nathan are currently celibate, and are receiving sex therapy in scenes which delightfully skewer the whole self help industry. Kim fancies Saint, the purveyor of "Munch Box", a new lesbian sex shop in town (it's definitely Brighton!), but chickens out of asking her out. Saint, and her shop, symbolise the deeper waters of sexuality where Kim is not yet a confident swimmer.

Kim, naively, meets Anna in a gay club and has an amazing time with her, culminating in a bit if schoolgirl roleplay, during which her parents walk in ("That, Nathan... that is sex.") I'm the episode's funniest moment. That's the thing about Sugar Rush; much of it is really just old-fashioned farce, but it feels much witter and meta and modern.

Sugar, during one of Kim's prison visits, clocks immediately that Anna is just using her (is she jealous?!) and, yep, she is ("You were sweet. I had a nice time"). Sugar is afraid of her imminent release from prison; beyond the visits from Kim she has nothing, no life. Never has the class gulf between the two of them seemed so stark. 

Things are looking up, though: Kim ends the episode with Saint's number...!

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 10

"How many have you burned, Thomas?"


And so the season ends, with a dramatic if historically inaccurate end for Wolsey and with harbingers of the massive religious strife that lies ahead in the next season. 

We start with the sexually frustrated King, ahem, masturbating, which is quite a contrast with the long subsequent council meeting scene in which we see him actually, er, kinging. There is a lot of talk, especially from the Duke of Norfolk, about Wolsey, and what he may be up to in York. After all, he may return to power and exact revenge against his persecutors; for the likes of Norfolk, Wolsey must die.

Ironically, while the psychopathic Sir Thomas More is busy torturing and murdering "heretics", the king, under Anbe Boleyn's and Cromwell's influence, is amongst their number. Very much drawn to ideas of kings being the supreme head of religious life in their realms, with no Papal involvement, he has an epiphany: "This book is a book for me, and for all kings!" This does not mean, as we will later learn, that the King will become a full-on Protestant. But it does, as we will later learn, mean that the kingdom will soon be turned upside down.

More is looking less and less sympathetic; the camera lingers on the burning of the "heretic" whom he has put to death. Things are not so simple as his being a tragic figure; we must not forget that his hands are steeped on blood.

The king makes a few more fruitless diplomatic gestures to the Pope and Charles V, but this is utterly pointless. Rumour abounds of an upcoming break with Rome. So it goes for everyone at court. 

There is also the more pragmatic matter of the kingdom's finances, however; as Henry angrily declares, Wolsey was, whatever else he may have been, a competent administrator, and the public finances are in the toilet now he's gone. Could there be a u-turn in the offing? Wolsey's enemies act quickly, led by Norfolk (now more openly Lutheran) and Cromwell, and Wolsey is finally charged with high treason. 

Things seem to be moving in a certain direction; Chapuys leaves court, disgusted at the Protestantism he sees on display there. There are scenes of Wolsey, praying in his cell, juxtaposed with Norfolk and other triumphant Protestants at court. It's a nice sequence of scenes, incorporating a play in which the Roman Catholic Church is mocked in ways which would have recently seemed unthinkable.

Wolsey's final prayer is moving, as he accepts that he will never see heaven. His suicide is not exactly the same as the massive probable stroke which history records, but then I suppose Sam Neill is not so morbidly obese as was the historical Cardinal. 

We end with a symbolic scene which points to the future; Henry and Anne, having sex in a forest. But Anne won't let him climax, and once again he flounces off in frustration...

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 9

"You have destroyed me!"

Events continue on their inevitable path and, for the first time in many episodes, stuff actually happens. Hallelujah.

The Queen is being tried for having apparently consummated her marriage with Arthur. Therefore, it is said, she is not the king's true wife and, having flounced off, she is said to be in contempt of court. She is dignified, defiant, and extremely popular with England 's splendidly bloody-minded people.

Wolsey remains desperate for the divorce to happen, but whatever he does Catherine will still be the daughter of Charles V, who controls the Pope. The Boleyn tribe certainly expect him to fall. And the king's mood is not much improved by a speech in which Catherine's friend Bishop Fisher compares him to Herod.

Wolsey had an interesting chat with Sir Thomas More; he realises that all depends on events on the continent, and is desperate to prevent peace between France and the Empire, something which horrifies the pious and idealistic More. Wolsey fears that Charles may go to war if Henry divorces his aunt.

Tempers are frayed all round, not least between Henry and Campeggio. Henry lectures the Papal Legate on Vatican corruption, and states that perhaps the Lutherans "have a point". This is, then, a rather odd moment for him to be shown composing "Greensleeves"!

Even the trial is a washout: it is all postponed for a final decision at Rome, and has thus been a massive waste of time. Worse than that: it has all been ultimately directed by the Emperor. Relations between Henry and the Papacy are at a low ebb, so much so that Anne Boleyn is able to speak Protestantism to the King, and even gets him to read a book.

Princess Margaret, meanwhile, is sick and dying, and scenes of her on her deathbed are nicely juxtaposed with her husband Brandon shagging another woman. So it goes in the Tudor court. The king is rather displeased at his neglect.

Other news is not good. Charles V sends another Spanish ambassador, Chapuys, who wastes no time in getting pally with the Queen. And peace is finally made between France, the Empire and the Pope. Little England, naturally, is sidelined. There will be no divorce.

This is it for Wolsey, who is made to suffer a thousand small humiliations as he is slowly frozen out. He is dismissed, disgraced, and demoted to Bishop of York. At least he's alive. For now.

We end with Henry appointing his new Lord Chancellor to replace Wolsey- Sir Thomas More, against his consent. Henry assures him that his disagreement with the King over his divorce will not be a problem, but this cannot possibly end well...

At last, some movement. But the second half of this series has been agonisingly slow.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Yes Men

"I'm not sure how I feel about Dr. Simmons. She's so strict!"

This episode goes full-on with characters from Thor's supporting cast, with Lorelei as the baddie of the week and Jaimie Alexander reprising her role as Sif from the films.

The result is a thoroughly entertaining one-off, with Lorelei using her powers to enslave men's minds, including those of Ward and Fitz. It's left to the women (and Coulson) to save the day.

That's what's going on on the surface, anyway; there's also a lot of arc and character stuff bubbling away underneath. Coulson is being very cagey about what happened last episode, something which May is quick to notice. He asks Sif about blue aliens of her acquaintance; as I failed to notice last week (duuuh!), the damaged figure seen by Coulson was apparently blue and non-terrestrial. Sif spouts a long lists of aliens, none of whom have ever visited Earth, including the Kree. Hmmm.

Coulson is much distracted by events of last week, enough so as to have an interesting chat with Jasper Sitwell in which he learns that Nick Fury is "off-grid". Presumably this is because of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I saw on my honeymoon in Edinburgh nearly a fortnight ago.

Skye, meanwhile, is back and healing with incredible speed; it seems this mysterious substance was indeed a wonder drug. It's fascinating, too, to see a clash between Coulson and Simmons, hardly natural antagonists, on whether the drug should be researched for general use. Not until the end do we understand his reluctance.

The big moment in the episode, probably, happens when May encounters her lover, Agent Ward, while he's under Lorelei's control. Earlier there was a sex scene between them- unlike her other male slaves, Lorelei actually finds Ward sexy- but here comes the real betrayal: "He told me who he desired before me. But... it wasn't you." Skye, anyone? My then-fiancée predicted this long ago...!

We end with Coulson confiding in Skye, and only Skye, that the drug used to save her (and him) is of alien origin and that the side effects are unknown. He demands answers, and to hell with the rules; he and Skye will get their answers. Only thing is, May is listening in, and reporting to someone...

There are a couple if minor gripes: sometimes, as in this case, the "previously on" bit at the start can act as a spoiler by highlighting the arc strands to be covered in the episode, and I'm afraid Jaimie Alexander does an awful British accent. Otherwise, a solid episode very much in keeping with the show's recent dramatic upturn in quality.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 8

"God has given me gout as a great trial."

The status quo is as it has been for several episodes, but at least, unlike last episode, stuff happens this time. There is a papal legate, Cardinal Campeggio, who us to finally rule on the king's "great matter". There is no doubt as to the outcome, but at least there is potential for drama.

Wolsey has, unwisely, made assurances to Henry, and is increasingly desperate. He attempts to pressure Campeggio with the risk of England turning Protestant, but it is to no avail. Henry is told, humiliatingly, that until a decision is made he must return to Catherine, for appearances. Ouch.

Henry tries to pressure Catherine to go to  a nunnery, a typical example of the gender double standards at work; unwanted women are expected to go into a convent while the men shag whom they please. Unsurprisingly, the Queen is not keen.

The Reformation is moving into the foreground as Thomas Cromwell makes links with Anne Boleyn while Catherine entrenches her position in confession to Cardinal Campeggio; she insists that she never had any carnal knowledge of the King's late brother Arthur. She will neither go to a convent or divorce Henry.

Elsewhere, pieces are being moved for the season finale. Charles Brandon is back at court with his new wife and failing marriage. Thomas Tallus is having what seems to be a serious relationship with a woman

The Queen is rapidly becoming persona non grata at court, but sticks to her guns.  And the King, inevitably, is turning against Wolsey, who has to fall to his knees and beg. There is no pleasant way that this can end. Cromwell is to go to Rome to make vague threats of independence, while Brandon is to investigate Wolsey's French sympathies. It's not looking good.

The Queen is getting chilly with a bishop called Miller; much of the Church supports her. But many don't, and Cromwell's report from his visit to Pope Clement is not positive. 

Wolsey is desperate, desperate enough to get violent with Campeggio. But we all know where this is heading, and because of that it's getting hard to pad out these last few episodes of the season until Wolsey's fall. The Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and the Boleyns are all conspiring against him by now...

Sugar Rush: Season One, Episode 10

"Don't you just love happy Hollywood endings?"

Let's step back a bit: this is based on a novel which Julie Burchill wrote a long time ago. We shouldn't be surprised to see an ending which is not designed to enable a second series, and that's exactly what we get. The season ends dramatically, finally and metatextually. It's the last episode, and the narrative is finally liberated from the tyranny of consequences. Anything can happen.

Sugar has stabbed someone and is covers in blood. There are extenuating circumstances- it was an attempted rape- but she is still going on the run, fleeing, with nothing in particular planned, to the only possible destination: London. Kim, still infatuated, goes with her, and both of them irrevocably outlaw themselves by stealing a car.

Both of them are outside the law and doomed to capture and consequences; all that matters is how they spend the few hours before that happens. They talk; Kim tries to tell Sugar that she's wasting herself on useless men who don't care about her, but it's no good; the series has always had a subtext of social class, and it is here that Sugar points out that she and Kim were always going to have different futures.

The two of them illicitly stay at a penthouse in central London for what must surely be their last night of freedom. A lot is said; Kim loves Sugar and will do anything for her. She always comes running, while Sugar does nothing but take and take. But there is kidding, and implied sex. And then, finally, in slow motion, the police, Stella and Nathan arrive at the hotel... 

This is a perfect, beautiful, clever ending to a perfect, beautiful, clever series. Can the second and final season be as good...?

Sugar Rush: Season One, Episode 9

"I'm a homophobic gay virgin..."

Kim is still, for the time being, pretending to experiment with the fundamentalist Christian homophobes. Still, at least there's a nice Irish lesbian girl, Beth, who only goes to the group to pull: I love that!

Beth is extremely good for Kim; at last she has someone with whom she can properly unburden herself and, yes, engage in the requisite sexual tension culminating in kissing.

Things are looking good. Very good. Naturally, it can't last, by all the rules of drama. We end with a phone call from Sugar: she's in deep, deep trouble...

Sugar Rush, Season One, Episode 8

"OK, so the stupid Malory Towers gay crush thing had to end."

It's all change. Stella is, awkwardly, back with Nathan. And Sugar is over what for her was a casual dalliance with Kim ("We were on E. It's no big deal."). For Kim, of course, it meant everything. And rejection hurts.

So Kim experiments with fundamentalist Christianity, half-heatedly trying to "cure herself". But she's too intelligent to keep up the pretence for long. She's just gay. It's as simple as that. The bloody self help culture and homophobia don't exactly mix well. Ironically, Kim fancies one of the girls there. And sex with Tom is both meaningless and uncomfortably reminiscent of Stella and Nathan.

We end with Stella going to hospital for some reason and, awkwardly, Sugar sleeping in Kim's bed without warning. Two episodes to go...

Sugar Rush, Season One, Episode 7

"OK, so Sugar's worked out that I'm a rug-muncher..."

Again, a fairly serious episode which starts with Kim staying in her room and unable to face the world for a week, on spite of the fact that Sugar turns out to be completely sensible and pragmatic about the whole thing. The point is, of course, that coming out can be traumatic even if there isn't any great drama.

This being a fairly serious episode, again we get sone comic relief in the form of Matt, who is supposedly having his period. Nathan tries to have "the chat" with his son about manhood, but the problem is that he isn't very masculine. Meanwhile, the age gap between Stella and the much younger Dale throws up cracks in their relationship; beyond the sec they have little in common, and even the sex is no longer what it was once Stella's back goes. Reality bites.

Sugar, rather nicely, is a little bi-curious and is willing for Kim to show her about lesbianism. The men in her life have, after all, left a lot to be desired. So they go clubbing, they take pills, there is some nicely druggy camerawork, and... Sugar ends up kissing a man. Devastated, she meets Stella outside, who has come to realise how little in common she has with Dale. There's a very obvious parallel between mother and daughter.

So, both have gained a little self-knowledge. What next? The series continues to he gripping, smart, witty and emotionally real.

Sugar Rush: Season One, Episode 6

"I am totally off men!"

Guillaume has not yet buggered off; Sugar is apparently off to Paris to be with him, until she realises exactly what he really meant by "putain". So she goes off on the prowl. For men. Poor Kim's love for her has never seemed more unrequited.

Things don't go to plan. Kim intends to go to see Sugar and declare her love, but instead she shags Tom the stalker. Oops. But she goes all out to sabotage Sugar's date, right up to the point of dog kidnapping.

The ending, with Sugar trying to comfort Kim, is something of a turning point: she jokingly says "Well, maybe you like me then" only to realise that, yep....

Oh dear. What next? This series is gripping, and shows a complete mastery of tone.

The Tudors, Season One, Episode 7

"And this ointment will comfort your cock if it is sore..."

So, we get a sweating sickness episode. In a sense, this is padding, a means of having the plot tread water for an episode to allow us to get to the end of the season before Wolsey's inevitable downfall. The facts remain the same: Henry wants a divorce. Catherine doesn't. Wolsey is under pressure to get said divorce. Catherine's uncle, Charles V, is the most powerful man in Europe, has Pope Clement by the balls and will never allow said divorce. Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

Wolsey's mates, the French, are at war with said Habsburg dominions, and they and the Genoese besiege the Emperor in Naples. Henry sends a diplomat to Pope Clement, but nothing of substance happens. A papal legate is on his way, but nothing has changed, or will change.

Still, it's interesting seeing the main cast succumb to the plague, one by one. Only Sir William Compton dies (Thomas Tallis observes discreetly), but Henry, Anne Boleyn and Wolsey all survive. Henry's state of mind is much affected, however: why is God punishing his kingdom thus? He still refuses to sleep with Anne in his stubborn piety.

There is, of course, a bit of "Bring out your dead". Which inevitably recalls Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There are hints of the future as Sir Thomas More angrily denounces Lutheranism as a "disease", which has ignited civil war in Germany. But this is, for the first time, an episode in which not enough happens.

Sugar Rush, Season One, Episode 5

"I was their French-speaking, gooseberry interpreter."

After the intensity of last episode we get much more comic relief this time around, as Sugar gets involved with a French bloke, Guillaume, with whom she is unable to communicate without Kim translating, which gives rise to much comic potential. (The best example is when Kim translates "cunnilingus" as "up the arse". But things are still very raw. And Kim is still sexually and emotionally frustrated by Sugar's unavailability. And she is, as she says, "sick of being the sensible one."

Things are awkward at home; Nathan, always a weak character, is unsurprisingly miserable, and he wants Stella to leave. He's finding it hard to cope. Stella, meanwhile, leaves the family home and is absolutely fine.

Guillaume is the first person ever to give Sugar an orgasm, a really big deal, but he isn't staying. Is there any hope for Kim? This is the halfway point of the season; I suspect there very much may be. 

Sugar Rush, Season One, Episode 4

"Just when you think life can't get any worse, you're a virgin with a sexually transmitted disease."

The tension finally snaps, in a delightfully and relievingly farcical way, as Stella infects the entire family with crabs and is forced to confess all to Nathan. This is a massive event and a turning point in the season, shattering the status quo in all sorts of ways. Yet Kim, of course, retains the preoccupations of a teenage girl throughout it all. And there are more dream sequences.

It's a fairly Sugar-lite episode, for understandable reasons, but we end with Sugar, erm, doing Kim's bits for crabs. It's not hard to see a bit of sapphic sexual tension here.

Four episodes on and the series continues to astound with script, performances and directorial style. It's superb.

Sugar Rush, Season One, Episode 3

"Are you on something?"


"Then why are your hands on my tits?"

The tension now ramps up with both it strands- Stella's affair and Kim's unrequited passion for Sugar, and things start to get seriously uncomfortable. There's a change of tone, and a fair bit of non-linear storytelling.

There's a more serious tone. We learn that Sugar's mum tried to kill herself "when Dad pissed off". There's real darkness beneath the chirpy exterior, and sex is cheap for her: she's always "too pissed to remember." This does not indicate a particularly filling sex life.

We see plenty more of Stella's mid-life crisis affair with Dale, with spliffs, wine and cunnilingus. Matt has an accidental overdose. But the episode ends with the tension unresolved.

Sugar Rush: Season One, Episode 2

"I hope your pubes turn ginger!"

In a sense, this episode is still setting stuff up- the alienation between Kim and her parents being symbolised by Kim's knowledge that her mum, oblivious to her dad, is having an affair, and also of course by the theft of her parents' credit card. There's also the usual wit, and some very nice use of dream sequences. Even the plot structural things are witty and a bit meta.

The most blatant sign of Kim's alienation from the not-exactly-maternal Stella is their failure to connect even during their "mother and daughter day" at the spa; she'd rather be with the object of her desire, Sugar, who unfortunately has yet another useless male lover, Ray. Instead she has her misfit parents and Matt, the worlds oddest brother.

We end with Stella blackmailing Kim with the prospect of divorce if Kim spills the beans. These episodes are very short but this allows for a lot of playfulness. Still great so far.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sugar Rush: Season One, Episode 1

"Nice tits!"


It's entirely possible you haven't heard of Sugar Rush. Well, it was on Channel 4 from 2005, with just ten short episodes for each of it's two series. It's a delightfully irreverent lesbian coming-of-age story set, naturally, in Brighton, and based on a series of novels by everyone's favourite controversialist Stalinist Christian veteran of the punk era music press, Julie Burchill. And yes, I'm still fully commited to all my ongoing series. Tell you what, I won't start anything new for a bit, ok?

This was a favourite of my then-girlfriend, now-wife and we recently (ish) watched the whole thing together. I had no preconceptions, but I found the whole thing to be superb. The first short episode gives first impressions of being very, very mid-2000's with the opening titles, and the first person narration from Kim which gels well with the directorial style. It reminds me, visually, of Nathan Barley.

Kim is a teenage closeted gay virgin, just moved down from London. Her family is middle class, slightly bohemian and probably takes the Guardian. Her mum Stella is having a mid-life sexual crisis while her dad, Nathan, is a wet drip. She calls them both by their first names, naturally. And her brother is... eccentric.

The best bit is Nathan's unintentional double entendres after Kim has seen Stella banging the decorator, but there are many funny moments. It a smart, snappy kind of humour. 

The point of the episode, and the series, is Kim's infatuation with the alluring, fascinating yet rather direct Sugar- seemingly completely straight and, in spite of her near-RP accent, rather more working class than Kim is. This latter point will remain a constant, unspoken subtext.

This is a nicely done introduction to the characters and the premise, and it even has a young Andrew Garfield as Kim's hopeless male stalker Tom. And the toad on the hole metaphor for sexual orientation is magnificent!!!

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 6

"You don't like the French very much, do you, Mr More?"

"I don't mind them, Mr Wyatt. It's just that they're so very, very French."

This episode we get to see the French court, which, as the cliche goes, is much more fun than the English one. There is more geopolitics, in which Henry is again shown to be king only of a middling power, nothing compared to France and the many realms of Charles V.  The clutching at the small straw offered by Pope Clement's escape from the Emperor is pathetic to see, although at least the ambitious Thomas Cromwell gets a chance to ingratiate himself with the King.

Possibly the most horrifying thing here is the sight of Anne reading her love letters from Henry to her father and uncle; as an aristocratic woman she is nothing but a commodity, pimped out by her male relatives. She is a sympathetic character, only beginning to learn the cynicism that will eventually lead to her tragic and awful death; for now the most awful thing is an unpleasant clash with Catherine of Aragon.

Wolsey is off to France, his favourite place, for a spot of doomed diplomacy, and Thomas Wyatt goes with him. Unfortunately Catherine, in cahoots with her bezzie mate the Spanish ambassador, has diplomatic aims of her own; there will be no divorce, however hard Wolsey tries and however much his future, and probably his life, depends on it. Life isn't fair in an early modern autocracy.

There's a parting between lovebirds Sir William Compton, who was serious, and Thomas Tallis, who just wanted sex. But we must forgive Tallis, for he's a genius, and to France he must go. Diplomacy goes through the motions; Mary gets another pie-in-the-sky betrothal, this time to the Duc d'Orleans, but it doesn't feel very substantial, just like Wolsey's desperate plan to set up a conclave on Henry's divorce in the absence of the Pope.

The whole theme of the episode is summarised, beautifully, by Thomas Wyatt's poem, They Flee from Me, about his fling with Anne Boleyn, yes, but also the attractions and extreme dangers of court, with a predatory Henry at the top of the food chain and getting hungrier and hungrier. The future for courtiers can be bleak, and Wolsey is looking increasingly doomed, especially with the Boleyn menfolk poisoning Henry's mind against him; he's been embezzling money, like pretty much anyone in this period of history.

Henry and Brandon eventually reconcile in the most laddish manner possible but, while Brandon is guileless and straightforward, he cannot remain untainted by the moral compromises necessitated by his closeness to power. He may not be burned by the son, but the episode ends with Wolsey, having failed, looking desperate, alone, and in fear of his life.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: T.A.H.I.T.I

"What do you think, Fitz? Can you get us inside?"

"To certain, horrible death? Absolutely!"

Could it be? Two superb episodes in a row, both arc episodes to boot? It seems it could. Joss Whedon may not have written or directed anything since the first episode, but at last this feels like one of his shows.

We begin as we left off, with Skye's life in the balance. The episode takes the form of a quest to find the only possible cure for Skye: whatever it was that S.H.I.E.L.D used to bring back Coulson. There's a catch, though; Ian Quinn is being held prisoner, and he points out that, if the team choose to save Skye, the Clairvoyant will discover what he's been wanting to know. Still, at least Agent May gets to duff him up a bit.

At last the whole team gets to find out what happened to Phil, and we learn that the whole thing is top secret, outside the usual structures, and sanctioned by Nick Fury himself. There are some dodgy ethics involved, surprise surprise. And, most relevantly, we find out where it all happens, so this episode can have a dramatic climax.

Anyway, Skye survives in the end, although possibly not unchanged, in an episode that requires very little acting from Chloe Bennet. But just as interesting  is the introduction of two characters, whom we will obviously see again, in the form of Garrett (played by no less a figure than Bill Paxton!) and Trip, seemingly an old friend of Ward. It is, perhaps, a little convenient that, having arrived to seize Quinn from a disobedient Coulson, they turn out to be so obliging, but they're cool characters of whom I'd like to see more.

Also intriguing is what Couldon finds behind the door marked "T.A.H.I.T.I". What is going on? And if all that isn't enough, it's Lorelei over from Asgard...

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: T.R.A.C.K.S

"Prostitutes, plural?"

Wow. This episode was very good, in fact brilliant. I'm not used to this. We even got some clever games with structure, with an intricate plot examining the same event from multiple viewpoints. It may not quite be Rashomon, but it's the sort of thing that you expect to see in a Joss Whedon show. Plus we get a magnificent Stan Lee cameo. And Mike Peterson is Deathlok!!! Could Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D be turning a corner?

We begin, following Skye's legwork last episode, with the gang searching for Quinn on a train in Italy, as Ward once again gets to show off his impressive linguistic skills, Simmons steals the show with a hilarious piece of method acting and I'm reminded of the Firefly episode The Train Job. But it's all a trap: the Clairvoyant, as the name sort of implies, was expecting them, and it all goes horribly wrong in structurally interesting ways.

What's impressive about this episode isn't just that it's so damn good, but that it manages to be so good while also being an arc episode. We get snappier dialogue than before, and important dialogue is allowed to be snappy, as May casually tells Ward that she told Coulson about their relationship last episode, which sets up a chain of events which leads to Coulson mentioning "Blonsky's cryo-cell"- the Abomination...?

We get to see Mike Peterson again, deformed and rather cyborgier than when we last saw him. He is, of course, being controlled by that eye thing, but he seems rather pleased that he doesn't have to shoot Skye. Quinn has no such qualms, and shoots her.

This suddenly feels like an actual Joss Whedon show, so we feel a slight frisson of fear that Skye may actually die. As it happens, she very nearly does but for Simmons' sci-fi stopgap quick thinking, and the characters' reactions to her possible deaths are superb, especially Coulson's; he reacts as though he's losing a daughter.

Skye's fate is our cliffhanger, but we end with Peterson in a scene evoking Boris Karloff in Frankenstein.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Tudors: Season One, Episode 5

"I have yet to decide whether to make your bedmate a head shorter...!"

Things don't go very well for Henry in this episode, meaning he's in a bit of a mood and others are therefore in peril. The Boleyns are in the ascendant- Sir Thomas Boleyn is ennobled and Anne Boleyn is made the King's official mistress. This doesn't mean she's getting any, however; Henry refuses to shag her until he's divorced Catherine and married her. So Wolsey, whose responsibility this seems to be, had better get that divorce. Or else.

Of course, getting said divorce requires the cooperation of Charles V who a) has the Pope by the short and curlies and b) is inordinately fond of his Aunt Catherine. Worse, he seems rather dismissive of Henry, releasing France's King Francis without even thinking to notify his supposed bezzie mate Harry and, worse, marrying his son to a Portuguese princess instead of Mary. It must be somewhat emasculating for an autocrat to be reminded of his less-than-alpha-male status on the European stage.

Still, he may not have an heir but at least he has his toy sword-wielding (aaah!) little Fitzroy to remind everyone that he is definitely all manly and virile and so forth. The Queen doesn't quite feel the same, and her own position is looking perilous; Mary is to be sent away from her, and Catherine's good friend the Spanish ambassador receives a bollocking from Henry. It's all gone very wrong, a line has been crossed and if Henry doesn't get that divorce then heads will roll. Except he won't.

Meanwhile, our new Duke of Suffolk may not have particularly offended the new King of Portugal in marrying his Tudor stepmother, but Henry is furious and has a potentially homicidal falling out with his friend. Elsewhere at court, a young Thomas Tallis is getting some cock.

Henry, however, officially confirms Anne Boleyn as his official mistress, a title which reminds us of the fundamental decadence of monarchical power. He will not, however, shag her until they marry. This is going to lead to a lot of sexual frustration for Henry, which will probably cause a fair few deaths.

The real meat of the episode, though, comes in the clash of principles between Wolsey, he of the realpolitik, who seeks to get the King his divorce, and More, who suddenly seems less progressive. The humanist is quickly becoming yesterday's man, and there is much friction. Wolsey, of course, is far more interested in manipulating the King into an alliance with the French.

It all goes horribly wrong at the end, as our little Fitzroy dies of that most Tudor of ailments, the sweating sickness, and the 1525 sack of Rome by Charles V happens right on cue. However autocratic Henry may be in his own kingdom, he is at the mercy of greater forces.