My wife has been waiting impatiently for season two of The Handmaid’s Tale since season one ended. Season one was gripping and profound in ways few shows are. Especially when it daftly draws parallels to our past and our always possible future. Warning, this review contains a few minor spoilers for season one and the beginning of season two.
Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale starts off right where season one (and the book it is based on) left off: with Offred/June in a truck on her way to freedom. The writers had to figure out a way around this however, so they waste a few episodes writing out of that hole. Which is to say, season two starts slowly, and not entirely coherently, but once it finds its feet in the second third, it is as gripping as ever. New horrors await June and her fellow Handmaids at every turn.
Which besides the slow start is another criticism I have about season two, it really, really wants us to know how bad Gilead is. I mean trust us Hulu, we get it. It is terrible there, like super bad. Though it makes this season’s payoffs even sweeter when they come. Even if I am still baffled by the ending of the season, the build up was fantastic.
Elisabeth Moss continues to be a tour de force as June, who does such a great job it glosses over any of the faults this show has, and Alexis Bledel is fantastic as well. Joseph Fiennes’ portrayal of a desperate man trying to keep all the power he has, and barely holding it together, is immensely watchable.
In the end is season two perfect? No, but it is very good. Had they cut out a few of the opening episodes and tweaked a few things, it probably could have been. The Handmaid’s Tale is Hulu’s only truly must watch show, and it lived up to that in season two. If you have been holding off so you can binge the whole thing during a free trial, you are in for a treat.
I have been watching a lot of anime lately, and I just finished two series, so I thought I would let you know how I felt about them. First up is Darling in the FRANXX.
I started Darling in the FRANXX because there was a lot of excitement online about this show, but after the first episode I was confused. It seemed like the standard girl in a skin tight outfit with a crush on a whiny dude who pilots a giant robot mecha-anime. To make matters worse the guys have to get behind the girls in a very compromising position to pilot these mechs, but it was well drawn, and the action was cool, so I stuck with it.
It turns out the looks can be deceiving. While Darling could have very easily turned in to just another cheesecake affair, it morphed in to something deeper. The ‘children’ driving these mechs had real feelings, and the bonds they were creating were fascinating. The mystery of the world around them was intriguing. By the end of its twenty-four episode run I was tearing up on a regular basis. Sure hearing “Darling” and “Zero-Two” over and over got a little annoying, but I will forgive it just this once. I am not sure how they could create another season, but I would watch it if they figure out a way. You can watch all of Darling in the FRANXX on Crunchyroll or Hulu now.
Now for Children of the Whales!
Children of the Whales was another anime that took me by surprise. At first it is a bunch of happy kids on an idyllic island, but then everything goes sideways and there is blood everywhere. The fact it is TV-MA should have tipped me off. While I didn’t like it as much as Darling in the FRANXX, it is still a well done show.
The gist is that there are a bunch of kids on an island, the ‘Mud Whale’, on a sand sea that floats around all over the place. There are two types of people on the island, the ‘Marked’ who can move stuff with magic, and they die around 30. While the ‘Unmarked’ get to live long lives, but they don’t get the cool powers. They believe they are all alone until they come across a new island with a lone girl who also has magic powers. That is of course when all sorts of bad things start to happen.
Netflix only has half of the twenty-four episode arc as of now, but I am dying to find out what happens to the “Mud Whale’ and her passengers. If you can handle a few crazy people and a lot of blood, Children of the Whales is the type of anime that reminds you that Japan can do more than just fanservice-y nonsense. It can also create weird and interesting mysteries to solve.
The first season of Westworld told a tale of abused robots, and a creator doing strange things. In season two those robots start figuring out what they want to do with their lives. While season one was over the top with sex and violence, season two gets toned down in both respects. It is as if that now that the robots are playing for real, humanity’s ideas about fun are pushed to the background.
Everything gets a bit better in season two, the characters get a little more rounded, the mysteries get more interesting, and we get some actual heroes to root for. It is not just waiting for the robots to rise up. It is now that they have risen, what do they want to do? What is the company that created them trying to accomplish, and just how long have the robots had some form of consciousness? Better yet, they answer almost all of those questions.
Now Westworld season two does drag from time to time. Mostly because while Dolores deserves to be a monster it just never feels right, and when it is a Dolores heavy episode it doesn’t feel like the story is moving forward in a meaningful way. However, episodes like The Riddle of the Sphinx and Kiksuya might be some of the finest television ever made, which was never something I could say about season one.
Season two ends in an interesting place, it could end right now and be a mostly complete package, or if it keeps going (which it is), it is in completely new territory from here on out, and that is pretty exciting. It took almost two years for HBO to create season two, and I am guessing we may have to wait longer for season three, but if the quality jumps up this much again, we will be in for something special.
If the first season of 13 Reasons Why was a slow burn, then season two is just slow. The first season gave us a gritty and sad take on modern high school life that marched towards a devastating conclusion. Season two just stumbles around, sometimes hitting on something interesting, but its pacing and padding ruin any intrigue those good ideas my have fostered. I think you may have gathered that I did not enjoy the second season of 13 Reasons Why.
Season two starts off not long after season one, and Hannah’s Mom and Dad are suing the school for not protecting their daughter. In each episode a different character, or two, tells their story in court. This is supposed to allow the kids to give their side of Hannah’s tapes, but in the end we are just covering old ground and confusing the narrative. Meanwhile Clay is slowly (very slowly) trying to find more evidence to try and get back at Bryce, but mostly he is just angry and talks to ghost-in-his-head-Hannah at lot.
There are reasons not to go beyond the source material, and 13 Reasons Why suffers from all of them: not enough new material, character motivations get muddy, logical flow of the narrative changes, and it retcons what we learned in the first season. In theory hearing the kids’ rebuttal to Hannah’s tapes is a good idea. People only understand things from their side of the story, so to get both sides should have added extra context, but because they are all lying to cover their own hides in court that is not what happens. The producers must have known this, so most of their testimonies are just played over the top of angry Clay meandering around. Which is the opposite of riveting.
Whether or not you agreed with the material covered in season one at least it was gripping television. Season two is not. Hannah got to tell her 13 Reasons. They did not need further analysis, or another “mystery” for Clay to solve. My wife pointed out that by the end of the season it had devolved in to a bad clone of 90210. Netflix greenlit season three, but they had better figure out something interesting to make the show about because season two gave us more than 13 Reasons Why to stop watching.
It is always amazing how quickly things are forgotten. It turns out that when I was very young there was a cult that tried to take over Wasco County, Oregon, and that they poisoned over a hundred people in The Dalles with salmonella. They wore bright colors and meditated a lot, and they tired to assassinate the Attorney General of Oregon. It seems like it would have been such a massive happening that people would still be talking about it, but until I watched Wild Wild Country on Netflix, I had never heard a thing about it, or if I had it must not have been talked about with any importance.
Wild Wild Country is a docuseries that interviews all parties involved with setup of Rajneeshpuram, the commune created for the followers of Rajneesh. Those who made it happen, and those that tried to make it go away. It is an amazing tale, and all I could do is watch in disbelief as I heard of some of the things that went on out in the middle of nowhere Oregon.
The documentarians do a good job of leaving their voices out of this series, and letting all the people have their say, so it ends up being surprisingly nonjudgmental. You can see both sides up to a point, and that point is obviously committing several Federal crimes. Then you realize some terrible stuff was happing out on their ranch.
Wild Wild Country was fascinating to watch. It is so crazy, I can’t believe this was the first time I really heard about all this. If you are like me, and have never heard about any of this, it is must watch, or if you do remember it, but want all the info it is still worth your time. Obviously due to the subject matter it is rated TV MA for a reason, so it is not a history lesson for young kids, but if you are of age, it is a mind trip worth taking.