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Season Finale

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Hannibal at its core is a visual feast. With a color pallet like that of a depressed Scandanavian lumberjack with a design degree, the series exercises your plasma and liquid-crystals just as it does your capacity for gore and icky stuff. The season finale this past week begins with Will finding a severed ear in his sink beneath his morning vomit. After weeks of dealing with feverish hallucinations and other treats of untreated encephalitis, it’s unclear really if this is even a strange start to the day. Will handles it, as he’s handled any bump in the road to this point, with a phone call to his pal, confidante, and therapist Dr. Lecter. It’s a curious testimony to how Will perceives his relationships with the other characters of the series. Surely, it makes sense to trust your therapist, and if that therapist so happens to be your friend, so then is the trust doubled—tripled if you share some murderous secret, as is the case with Will, Hannibal (and Abigail).

So blatantly an unhealthy relationship and violation of professional boundaries, the comfort Will draws from Hannibal represents possibly Will’s infatuation with the surface of it all, the way things look. He seems to actively accept his role as the unstable intellectual to the detriment of his physical well-being and the safety of those around him because that’s how the offer Jack places on the table and the image of him that’s attractive to everyone from Jack to Alana Bloom. If Will’s brain was simply inflamed and his methodologies were plainly crazy, Hannibal might as well start serving french fries and holding sessions on a futon in an office building. It’s serendipitous for Will to find someone—an intellectual like himself, meticulously concerned with appearance and artifice—to reinforce the image of Will Graham, the dynamic of series itself.

This is Hannibal. A beautifully designed, smart procession of images. If it were a murder mystery, the logic may fall apart somewhere before Abigail Hobbs is merely given incredulous jeers and snarky looks by the FBI for her involvement in her father’s murder spree and her own body count. If it were a police procedural, Jack Crawford would probably need a better reason to keep an notoriously unstable professor out in the field, armed and fugue-ing all over the place, than his so-called success rate in subduing the show’s rogue gallery of cooky serial killers, which in 13 episodes amounts to more of a fortunate string of outliving them. If Hannibal were any less beautiful, it would become too unabashedly clear that things are not as they may seem. There are no gargantuan moose (“meese” if you’re nasty) haunting Will. Gastronomical proficiency doesn’t equate to quality meat. And intelligence does’t mean psychopathy, no matter how much we’re told psychopathy means intelligence.

Will put his faith in the visage of a thoughtful psychoanalyst with a stylistic flare and a perpetual extra plate, and inadvertently, his fate in the hands of a psychopath. For some reason, with all his intellect, it occurs to Will that Jack may be the copy cat killer their team has been pursuing, before putting the puzzle pieces together and finding an unbelievably stunning portrait of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Behind bars, wearing a dull orange jumpsuit, Will Graham has finally seen past his elaborately grotesque hallucinations and what he finds is plainly ugly—a set up, betrayal, lost friends, disappointment. The framework remains ornate but the picture, after a gradual, satisfying buildup, has revealed itself to be simply sublime, leaving us all wondering: how will next season look?

Raylan Givens will kill all your henchmen. This is a fact that viewers fully understand but everyone in the fictional universe of Justified consistently seem to forget. Being from out-of-town, Detroit namely, is not an excuse to be ignorant of the fact that your mid-level goons are not going to be enough to carry out the foolishly ambitious task of holding Raylan’s family hostage in an attempt to extort the man. The very premise is ridiculous. Nonetheless, it seemed provocative enough to warrant opening the final episode of one of Justified‘s most satisfying seasons to date. Not as daringly exciting as a bomb strapped to an expecting mother’s rocking chair (you know you thought it), but putting the future of the Givens bloodline in danger towards the end of an arc that explored so much of the Givens history and mythos, brought a lot about who Raylan Givens truly is into perspective.

He is one bad-ass motherfucker. With all the talk about Raylan’s propensity to put bullets in people, sometimes we forget how very effective he is at doing so. When Raylan first makes eye contact with the firearm at the waist of Lex, the dimwitted Augustine thug who basically begged to be shot first, the writing appeared on the wall. In fact, one could argue that as soon as we first see tears on Winona’s face for reasons other than Raylan being a complicated lover, someone was going to die.

So as this season has painstakingly reminded us of Raylan’s relation to Arlo, Arlo’s relation to the long history of criminal activity in Harlan, and Harlan county’s relation to the very ideals people hold dear from loyalty to honor to wealth to love, the finale chooses to refocus its storytelling lens on relationships in general. More specifically we find Raylan, if not reconfiguring, recommitting to having relationships and working to protect. Likewise, we find Boyd and Ava fighting for their relationship’s survival in the wake of Ellen May squealing about their past indiscretions. There’s something truly sentimental about this being what constitutes a final battle — fighting purely for the opportunity to love and be loved. It would apparently require more than a firefight.

In the car en route to Nicky Augustine’s final stand, Boyd and Raylan have the sort of heart to heart that viewers come to expect from the two when their paths are inevitably entwined. They talk a little about what it means to be in love and what it means to wake up in morning and seeing yourself as “not the bad guy.” Raylan challenges Boyd’s affections for Ava primarily as an asshole and a frienemy, but, at least to a small extent, he seems generally interested in the question of love, like a drunken fiancé at an engagement party, unsure and needing both an out and a justification, all at once. Boyd has the certainty that Raylan undoubtedly envies. But for Raylan, in a world where he’s the hero and Boyd the villain, another relationship tirelessly fought for by both men, certainty comes in the form good guy posturing.

So the showdown between Augustine and Givens, leaves a lot to be desired. Raylan’s already resolved somewhere in the car with Boyd that he’ll sit tight on his side of the divide, on his murky moral (not-so) high ground, and let the bad guys be bad guys. Ava on the other side of town finds herself in trouble meant for Boyd, seemingly preventing the two of them from living out their happily ever after.

There’s something dissatisfying about what the finale presented viewers with this week. There’s some underlying cynicism masked in the old adage about good always trumping evil, because it doesn’t actually feel good. It forces us to think back to Shelby/Drew, Hunter Mosley, Randall, Colt, et al. Murky characters, played magnificently by some talented folk, who imbued the stories of this season with well-balanced malign. But it satisfied, at least momentarily, whether our bloodlust or soft-side. Even when Jody, the murderous, abusive crook, came back for his ex-wife (and/or her money) and went on a bit of a rampage, two dead bailbondspeople at least, there was a feeling that good or bad wasn’t as much at stake as the feeling of getting what you want from life — vengeance, loyalty, money, satisfaction. The lesson here, it seems, of the season 4 finale of Justified is either that you can never really be satisfied or it’s foolish to even want to be.

Apologies for the hiatus during the warm months. It was certainly not for a lack of great viewing options. In fact, this summer brought to mind how much we’ve progressed from the dark and dreary, pre-ubiquity of cable past of not having anything at all to watch between the season finales of May-June and the premieres of September-October. I once spent a whole summer just watching reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess. Oh, how I miss Lucy Lawless and the New Zealand countryside. But it was a tragedy nonetheless. These days, the bounty of new offerings on summertime television work, along with climate change, to tear down whatever semblance of seasons we once had — way back when we had ice in the arctic or when social media was just for the living. Times are a’changin’, premieres are a’premierin’, but before that, let’s look back at a summer show that The CW feigned interest in as they waited for Gossip Girl to return. Shall we?

I want to discuss The LA Complex for two reasons: 1. Canadians are pretty much our summer saviors here in the states whether we like it or not; and 2. Degrassi: The Next Generation. The second reason pointedly alludes to television’s yesteryears in that, as many of us know, Degrassi: TNG, the most recent installment of a Canadian teen drama franchise that stretches as far back as 19791, was a angsty, rapey, stabby-shooty gem of a series that completely ended after its seventh season — completely1 — but before then, it brought the lovely Cassie Steele into our lives as the incorrigibly adorable Manny Santos. Fundamentally, Manny is back in The LA Complex. She has the same penchant for making poor romantic decisions; same confusingly misguided Hollywood aspirations; same infuriatingly naive disposition; same Manny. And we love her for it through thick and thin. But somehow she manages to find herself again playing second fiddle to the rest of the ensemble despite The LA Complex being transparently a vehicle for her to shine. Her character Abby Vargas (subtly, almost repentantly Latina, same ole Manny) galavants around town in a way that actually gives me pause to criticize because I would hate to get caught up in something like slut-shaming. Because it’s not her sexual body count (which is high and rising) that is an issue, it’s more so that as a character and as a storytelling channel for the show, her hook ups and the usage of her sexual body seems primary to her contribution to the show. And that comes across to me as either lazy or demeaning; demeaning maybe to women, but definitely to those that wanted to see Manny as a full-fledged adult, as the series was implicitly billed.

Luckily, The LA Complex offers Jewel Staite as Raquel Westbrook for our fix of all-grown up favorites. (She’s Canadian. Did you know? See the first reason above why this series is worthy of note.) With Stargate Atlantis and Firefly not too far from anyone’s mind (read: nerds), Staite portrays a bitter has-been actress down on her luck but very much up on her scheming. In fact, she plays the role so well that I’ve bookmarked her IMDB and Wikipedia pages just to remind me not to despise her.3 The premise of the series, young people struggling to make it in the city of angels, is legitimized through Raquel Westbrook. Her ofttimes noxious and wicked interactions with the wide-eyed other characters is at points the only way to distinguish this Faux Angeles from the soft-pedaling melodrama of Degrassi Community School. And then like a cute toddler with a sharpie in an all white upholstered room, the viewer is almost forced to forgive Raquel’s misdeeds. She’s too cute. She’s still young (sort of). She’s an imperfect vessel, like us, after all, and she just wants to be loved and have nice things, like we do. She aggressively pursues ends like the woman-of-action we wished Manny had grown up to be, and suffers for it each step of the way. Raquel Westbrook is the most LA the show has to offer, as well as one of the most complex characters the show has bothered to roll out up to this point, and she is the unexpected heart of the series — not the whiney children running around humping one another. And she’s damn good at it.

But then there’s Kaldrick King. Besides filling the series to the brim with just the right amount of heated man-on-man-against-wall-or-floor make out scenes and (literally) explosive sequences of violence, the hip-hop superstar caricature, played by Andra Fuller, brings a dimension to the series that — while so distant from the rest at times it seems like its own show — is needed to dilute the white whines. At its core, The LA Complex is about a bunch of self-indulgent dreamers living and building their dreams — gigs, parties, big city, sex aplenty, ostensibly cheap rent — but blinded to it by their self-indulgence. It’s an interesting contrast to see the Black man with all the money and fame, taking indulgence to another level, struggling with it so much, and desperately seeking repentance and acceptance. His kisses appear distinct from the other kisses in the series, not because they’re with other men, but plainly because they mean more. They speak to indulgence in more than flesh and conflicts of interests that are more than just fame and fortune and glitz and glamour. Not to give the super two-fer tokenism too much credit, there’s certainly a lot of unflattering discussion happening over this story arc of the show, but Kaldrick King and his new budget Obama love interest is surely compelling, provocative drama if not just an unconventional sexual aesthetic for primetime network drama. He also doesn’t look too bad in a tank top. I definitely look forward to seeing him the season finale next week.

1Apparently TVs did exist back then. Whodathunkit?

2Yup.

3 OMG, she was in Flash Forward too!

Oh, Ava

It was a sad day for righteous gun slingers with daddy issues in Harlan County. “Slaughterhouse,” the season 3 finale of Justified, begins with the case of a murdered state trooper, Tom Bergen, a father and husband as Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens later emphasizes. Raylan searches high and low for the culprit and finds that it was in fact his own father, longtime crook Arlo Givens, who pulled the trigger. Early in the episode Arlo walks onto the tumultuous scene with a curt “Heard that a cop in a hat got shot. Guess it wasn’t you,” aimed directly at Raylan’s well masked heart of pudding. Come to find out, daddy dearest had steadied his aim at the state trooper genuinely believing him to be Raylan—because he’s an old coot and old people are generally off kilter.

But in the mean time, there’s fun to be had in Harland. Quarles got his arm chopped off by Limehouse. That’s one of the most fulfilling sentences ever written. Prior to that, viewers were treated to the beautiful and loyal Ava treating a prostitute like, well, a pimp would treat a prostitute—rough but with purpose and subtle restraint. She acted in accordance to her primary impetus, to help Boyd, and although usually some feminist critique might be applicable, Ava’s agency and liberation is almost undeniable at this point. She singlehandedly (because her other hand is busy punching whores) gives love a good name.

But once again, Quarles got his arm chopped off by Limehouse. The scene was interesting in that Justified precedent dictates that in a showdown of this nature—Quarles, with a gun on Raylan and a young boy hostage, attempting to extort or threaten money from Limehouse armed with a butcher knife, as always—that people will get shot, people will die, it most certainly won’t be Rayland and chances are, the young boy is safe too. This is a family show after all, in a strange, very true sense.

The sheepish telephoned request by Quarles earlier that day, “I want to come home,” was perhaps the most straightforward foreshadowing of his death that could still be palpable. Contrast this with the saddest Black man in the world being turned away from his Noble’s Holler home by Limehouse earlier and making sure to look back as he walked away, and you have at least two characters that don’t have a justifiable reason to exist anymore. So….Quarles got his arm chopped off by Limehouse. And Errol, the saddest Black man in the world (really look at his face when he’s excommunicated from the Holler), gets shot.

But back to the family show, and fathers in particular. The reason all of this went down, Raylan’s commitment to finding Quarles, the prime murder suspect at the time, Arlo being the one to actually have killed Tom Bergen, Ava smacking whores, was family. It’s revealed that Arlo killed the cop in the hat, the man he believed to be Raylan, to protect Boyd, his family. This dynamic has been used throughout the series to convey how Boyd and Raylan are sort of like brothers, but never before has it seemed so poignant as to point out that Raylan could not be in the family at all. Arlo apologizes to Raylan at some point in the episode for some things he’s done. It didn’t seem like much. But after the realization that he would kill his actual son to protect his real son, the apology may not mean anything at all.

Note: Limehouse is ostensibly a butcher and as the de facto banker of the criminal community keeps money inside of pigs.
…At least Quarles laughed.