Valentine's Day shall be my reckoning!
Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy celebrate Valentine's Day, Melanie Lynskey invades 'The Last of Us,' and 'Poker Face' goes to the theater
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up Just as soon as I return to the spirit realm of Pensacola…
Harlivy celebrate Valentine’s Day
A shorter newsletter than planned, because one of this week’s columns got bumped to next week at the last minute. But let’s start out with my review of Harley Quinn: A Very Problematic Valentine’s Day special that’s mostly a love letter to what has improbably turned out to be one of the best DC movie or TV shows of this modern era, and how the series manages to have things both ways in terms of being utterly filthy and yet somehow sincere. The special’s a fun one, especially if you are — as I am — a fan of James Adomian’s take on Bane. And I’m glad that Harley for the moment seems immune to the larger chaos regarding the new Discovery/Warner/DC management.
Because the column was focusing on the HarlIvy of it all, I didn’t get into what a remarkable achievement last season’s Batman origin story episode was. On the one hand, it is an utterly ruthless parody of how pop culture can’t resist showing us the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne again and again and again. And on the other, it demonstrates enormous sympathy for Bruce, and completely shifts his relationship with Harley in the process.
Lynskey’s Last of Us
I was half-tempted to push this week’s newsletter to Saturday. Why? There will be a new Last of Us episode streaming and on VOD at 9 p.m. tonight, as part of HBO’s usual strategy when the Super Bowl or Oscars will be airing opposite one of their big Sunday shows. And in this case, tonight’s episode (which will also air Sunday at 9 if you are somehow a linear-only user of HBO) is very much the continuation of the episode I recapped earlier this week — and a case of the show basically sacrificing one episode to more properly set up the one that follows.
But for now, let’s try to keep the discussion separate. You can spoil episode 4, but save anything regarding episode 5 until next week.
Also, loved the thread begun here by the great Melanie Lynskey about how she wanted to build up this character:
Poker Face recaplet: “Exit: Stage Death”
Finally, it’s Poker Face time. “Exit: Stage Death” was the last episode critics were given before the show premiered. (I now have the remaining ones, but am trying to parcel them out a week at a time, so these takes are a bit fresher.) This one does a nice job of keeping the audience guessing during the opening sequence. Is Tim Meadows going to kill Ellen Barkin, or vice versa? Instead, it turns out the two Eighties mystery drama co-stars are only pretending to want each other dead so that they can secretly conspire to murder Meadows’ wealthy wife (Jameela Jamil). It’s another clever deviation from the default Poker Face formula. And like “The Night Shift,” it’s an instance of Charlie having no real relationship with the killer or victim, but instead getting invested because she likes the person taking the fall for it — in this case, involving a literal fall.
The sequence where Charlie is trying to close the case during the dinner theater performance — with an urgency coming from the realization that Meadows and Barkin are now trying to murder the co-star who’s blackmailing them — is a lot of fun, particularly when she winds up on stage and has to pretend she’s part of the show for the half-interested audience. It’s also interesting that Charlie’s bullshit detector power gets put to use here in her critique of Barkin’s performance. Depending on which actor or director you talk to, all acting is on some level a lie, or else the great stuff has to have some level of truth to it. This episode chooses the latter point of view, so that when Barkin realizes the jig is up and this will be her last performance, she is finally able to give enough of herself to it that even Charlie is impressed.
(Though side-note: the first time I watched it, that whole concluding sequence felt oddly ambiguous about whether Barkin is simply going out with a bang, or using the trapdoor to kill herself and avoid prison. On subsequent view, it seems the former, on top of this not feeling like a show that would conclude with the killer committing suicide. (UPDATE: Or not. As someone reminded me, the first episode — which I watched a million years ago as prep for my magazine feature on the show — ends with Adrien Brody doing exactly that.) But for what it’s worth, I asked a handful of critic pals which they thought it was, and response was about even between the two.)
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