Monday, 30 April 2018

TV76: Updates on Some Great TV Serials: Black Sails, Mr. Robot, Homeland

Black Sails, Seasons 3 and 4

The final two seasons of Black Sails were very much in keeping with the first two seasons: a compelling, well-written and well-conceived plot (see original review (TV45) for characters and plot) along with intelligent and nuanced dialogue, excellent acting, lots of extraordinary cinematography and a great score. If anything, the amount of gratuitous sex and graphic violence decreased in these final seasons, so in some ways I liked them better than the first two seasons.

Watching the first season, it took me two episodes to realize that one of the characters was none other than John Silver. I understood immediately that this was one character, at least, who wouldn’t be killed off, but I didn’t fully realize until the end of the fourth season that the entire purpose of Black Sails was to provide a prequel to Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I should have guessed this, but I assumed the writers were just trying to throw in any pirates associated with the Caribbean at the time. Not so. This serial is carefully researched and brings together not only the key players we know from history, but also ends in such a way that it sets up Treasure Island perfectly (I know because I reread Treasure Island immediately after finishing Black Sails).

TV critics weren’t much impressed with Black Sails (other than the cinematography), which I can’t understand at all, especially since they tended to pick on the character development. I thought the characters were endlessly fascinating and that the character development was as almost as good as the best cable shows. I was generally very satisfied with the entire serial and if anything I am now inclined to give Black Sails somewhere between ***+ and ****. My mug is up (but remember that the show is quite violent at times).

Mr. Robot, Seasons 2 and 3

Unlike Black Sails, Mr. Robot gets rave reviews from critics. These are well-deserved, as Mr. Robot continues to be an incredibly compelling, intelligent, well-acted and beautifully shot TV serial (again, see my original review (TV44) for details about the plot and characters). 

I didn’t like season 2 quite as much as season 1, but it was still great TV, and season 3 is almost as good as season 1. Unfortunately, the ending of season 3 didn’t work for me. As always, the sudden bursts of graphic violence in Mr. Robot turn me right off, but the final episode of the third season goes well beyond the pale in this regard and the entire episode left me rather unsatisfied. 

Nevertheless, this cutting-edge surreal psychological cyber-thriller remains among my favourite TV serials of all time and retains its solid ****. My mug is up.

Homeland, Seasons 5 and 6

I promised to keep you updated on Homeland, a brilliantly-acted TV serial about the CIA that experienced a dramatic decline in its storytelling after the first couple of seasons. I became so worried about the writing in seasons 3 and 4 that I contemplated no longer watching the show, but Homeland was on my list of all-time Top Ten TV serials after season 2, so I couldn’t stop watching. Good thing.

The plots of seasons 5 and 6 are too complex to deal with here, but of particular interest is the involvement of Israel and the Mossad in both seasons, and how that involvement leads to major tensions between Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). Carrie (Claire Danes) remains the show’s heart, of course, but Saul’s role is of paramount importance because of my previous worries about Homeland’s political direction (as expressed in my earlier reviews). Regular readers know how little respect (that would be zero) I have for the CIA and Mossad, so I am wary of any show that grants them too much respect.

In my earliest review, I noted that the only thing that kept my hopes strong in this regard was the presence of Patinkin, a left-leaning Jew with strong views about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I was convinced that Patinkin’s tremendous integrity would not allow Homeland to go too far wrong. My patience was finally rewarded in the sixth season as Saul indicates to his sister that his views coincide with those of the actor playing him. So while the critics were less impressed with season 6 than with season 5, season 6 is one of my favourite seasons of Homeland. If only the last episode hadn’t gone off the rails. The ending of season 6 felt hurried, anticlimactic and downright crazy. Not impressed at all. 

But even in that unimpressive ending, as well as in the ending of season 5, there were some wonderful moments in the midst of the chaos. As of now, Homeland retains its solid **** and remains among my favourite TV serials.

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