Posted in Television

Gendry Redux

“By George, she’s got it!”

I’m surprised the “Game of Thrones” showrunners haven’t stuck it on a billboard by now.

In case you were busy, unconscious or otherwise occupied during GoT’s Episode 5, “Eastwatch,” Gilly’s perusal of a musty text at the Citadel revealed that Rhaegar Targaeryan was both divorced and immediately thereafter married on the same day in a secret ceremony in Dorne. And who do you think the (un)lucky lady he took to the altar was? Could it—no, it couldn’t be!—Lyanna Stark?!?! Well, duh. Those signals have been blaring for months, and this latest felt like being hit over the head by a 2 x 4. If true, Jon’s not really a Stark bastard, but the rightful and legitimate Targaeryan heir. And if any doubt at all remains, notice how he made friends with Drogon. Awwww, cute puppy! So, Danaerys—who has to bend the knee?

This penultimate season keeps chuddering along with relatively few surprises to date. Notice how quickly both news and people travel these days–this show seems to be on speed dial. It used to take Jorah Mormont half a season to travel from Point A to Point B, and here he is, from Citadel to Dragonstone in the blink of an eye. Fortunately things are kept lively by choice one-liners from our favorite quipsters. Tyrion to Jorah: “Nobody glowers quite like you–not even Grey Worm.” And Tormund remains in rare form. When he’s not lusting after Brienne, he’s getting straight to the heart of things, as witness his attempt to clarify Jon’s mission to north of the Wall: “How many queens are there now?…And you need to convince the one with the dragons, or the one who fucks her brother?”

Speaking of which, Cersei is once again with child, cooking up more Lannister devil-spawn. Jamie may be a proud papa, but I’m not so sure he’s looking forward to being paraded about in public as Cersei’s incestuous brother. He’s got the smarts to realize that even a queen may not be able to get away with this one.

Other developments that bear watching: As the result of yet another dragon barbeque, Sam, no longer an apprentice maester, is the new Lord Tarly though he doesn’t know it yet. I suspect the bookworm will eventually turn warrior. And with the return of Gendry, we now have a Baratheon in the mix who wields a hatchet like nobody’s business. If he keeps a list like Arya does, I would imagine Cersei and Melisandre are Items 1 and 1A on that document.

I have to confess I had my hands over my eyes during the Arya/Littlefinger mutual spying scenes. It’s my fervent hope that her time as “No One” will tip Arya off that he’s manufacturing the basis of a split between her and Sansa, leading not necessarily to Arya’s death but more likely, to her banishment from Winterfell. Trouble is already outpacing Littlefinger. Arya has always had Sansa’s number, even when the two were children. Arya rightly senses that Sansa wants that crown as Queen of the North—“You don’t want to, but you’re thinking it right now.” Despite their history, my money’s on the Stark girls to prove that blood is thicker than water, with Littlefinger as the loser (And if the girls don’t come through, I suspect Bran the Three-Eyed Raven will).

So we end with two major events pending: a confrontation between Jon’s ragtag army of Tormund, Ser Jorah, the Hound and the Dondarrian boys with the Army of the Dead, and a sit-down between Danaerys and Cersei. The suspense is building.

Posted in Baseball, Television

Home At Last

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

What riches in this week’s “Game of Thrones” episode, “The Spoils of War:” Arya back in Winterfell! Theon washed up (in more ways than one) on Dragonstone! Bran knowing Arya’s list without even peeking! Historic cave hieroglyphics! Dragons incinerating an entire Lannister army! Jamie dunked!

Arya’s long-awaited return to Winterfell is one of the Top Ten highlights of the entire show. Her verbal sparring with the sentries was delicious, though her uncertainty as to who was currently wearing the title of “Lady Stark” underscored a bit of vulnerability (I suppose as a non-head of House she’s merely “Lady Arya”). Her sad gaze around the castle courtyard spoke volumes—see what happens when Greyjoys and Boltons don’t bother with upkeep? Her reunion with Sansa was chock full of treasures. When Sansa, referring to Jon, remarked, “When he sees you, his heart will probably stop,” did you yell at your screen “It already did”? However, there was a superb moment of ambiguity that followed Arya’s reference to her list. At first blush she’s a deadly serious adult thirsting to kill her remaining enemies. Sansa’s reaction is pure shock, then riotous laughter. Does she see this as a joke, or is she taken aback by the gravity of her sister’s intentions? Or both? At the sound of Sansa’s laughter, Arya suddenly smiles, a truly rare reaction from her, as we see her instantly revert from experienced killer to cute younger sister. Kudos to Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner for realizing the subtleties of this scene.

This could only be topped, and it was, by Arya’s training session with Brienne. Remember Catelyn’s smile when she first met Brienne back in Season Two? You knew exactly what she was thinking: “This is my daughter in ten years,” though she had no way of knowing it wouldn’t take quite that long. The Brienne/Arya sparring match was made even more impressive (and amusing) by the fact that Gwendoline Christie is about a foot and a half taller than Maisie Williams, though the latter can definitely twirl a sword like nobody’s business. A mutual appreciation society is born. And aside from their fighting prowess, the ladies obviously share the same view of Littlefinger. If looks could kill, their mutual glare at him would have made him an undertaker’s delight. By the way, that dagger Bran gave to Arya? He might as well have instructed her: “Go, sis, and plant it in Littlefinger’s chest.” I doubt Lord Baelish is long for this world.

One by one the loose ends are being tied up. When Theon came ashore at Dragonstone, I expected Jon to kill him in short order for selling out brother Robb. I would have thought Theon’s leaping rescue of Sansa did nothing more than square Greyjoy debt vis-a-vis House Stark, not created a Stark I.O.U. However, Jon evidently has his own bookkeeping system and thinks otherwise. And speaking of what is owed, Bran’s send-off of Meera Reed was awfully harsh. I’m glad she read him the roll call: the deaths of her brother Jojen, Hodor and his own direwolf Summer in his service, not to mention the numerous times she risked her own life to save his hide. I know the Three-Eyed Raven is taking over Bran’s consciousness, but that’s no excuse for treating her without a breath of empathy.

Catching up on Lannister business, they continued to pay their debts…with the money of other Houses. Given the extensive pillage at Highgarden of both gold and grain, it appears there wasn’t even a Tyrell second cousin once removed left to fight back—Lady Olenna was evidently the last of her House. While we’re on the subject of Lannisters, does anyone really think Cersei’s going to go through with a marriage to Euron Greyjoy, war trophies or no? They may make it to the Sept, but you can bet her apothecaries are already whipping up a wedding night special.

The end of the episode was worth waiting for. A full twelve minutes of screen time, from first rumble of dragon thunder to a sinking Jamie, Dany’s unleashing her dragons for a Lannister army stir-fry proved to be one of GoT’s epic battles. There was even a blink-and-you-missed-it guest appearance by GoT fan and Mets pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, who at 6’6″ made the perfect Lannister spearchucker (Celebrity has its perks). Nevertheless, it was slightly ridiculous to see everything surrounding Jamie go up in flames while he remained untouched. I was hoping to see Bronn incinerated—his constant kvetching about being awarded a castle has become tiresome—though upon repeat viewing this did not seem to happen. A pity.

Although the next episode seems to be North-centric, here’s hoping we learn Jamie’s fate in short order, not to mention that of poor Drogon (can he still fly?), the cured and presumably homeward bound Ser Jorah Mormont and the still missing in action Gendry (Remember him? Robert Baratheon’s bastard). And when oh when will Dany give up her obsession with knee-bending and rule the school as co-equals with Jon?

Only three more episodes in this season.

Ride ’em, Dragon Girl!
Posted in Television

Endgame

Don’t Fight, Kids–You’re Family!

 

There’s a scent of inevitability in the “Game of Thrones” air, isn’t there? The longed-for meeting of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. Yet another Stark family reunion. One more harbinger of the end: “Epigramish” seems to have displaced the Common Tongue as the main language on this show, not always for the better.

Cersei may have settled a ton of Lannister business in last night’s episode, “The Queen’s Justice,” but the GoT audience knows that such relief is usually transitory at best. Whipping up a batch of Dorne Killer Lip Balm, Cersei’s favorite apothecary provided the means for his boss’ squaring accounts with Ellaria Sand. In an excruciating scene, Cersei gets her revenge for the murder of daughter Myrcella by not only assuring a slow, painful death for Ellaria’s daughter, but forcing her mother to witness it and live with her rotting corpse, all the while chained to a dungeon wall. The Sand Snakes were not among my favorites, but that’s somewhat beyond the pale, even for Cersei. While GoT periodically tries to remind us that Cersei’s one redeeming feature is her love for her children, it’s hard to keep that in mind in the face of how she spends the rest of her waking hours.

On the bright side, the Targaryen/Snow confab was really a master class in the subtleties of diplomacy, as conducted by Tyrion and Ser Davos. How both strived to keep the dialogue going in the face of mutual refusals by their leaders to acknowledge the other’s sovereignty made for instructive viewing (Washington, take note). At least good intentions were displayed on both sides: Dany apologized for her mad father’s burning Jon’s grandfather and uncle to death, and he acknowledged Ned Stark’s breaking faith with the centuries-old alliance between the Houses Stark and Targaryan. Their interests are similar to the extent that both want Cersei’s head on a spike, but who gets to rule the schoolyard Seven Kingdoms?

At least both houses came away with something they wanted, unlike Varys, who received a very unwelcome prophesy from Melisandre. Evidently dying in Dragonstone is not what he envisioned—for the first time in ages, he looked afraid. On the other hand, Littlefinger not only remained in character, he somewhat upped the ante. The man loves to speak in riddles, but the advice (?) he gave to Sansa was so obscure, I still need a translation. Speaking of Sansa and riddles, I loved the expression on her face when she walked away from her conversation with Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven: It screamed “My brother is a weirdo!” Ah, siblings.

I’m going to miss Diana Rigg’s presence on this show. What a tough old bird Olenna Tyrell was, and how right she’ll be about Cersei’s eventually being the death of Jamie. Cersei may be queen, but it’s not a good idea to have your waiting woman catch you in the sack with your brother. That kind of behavior usually has a tendency to make you vulnerable to wannabes, no? (Hello, Euron Greyjoy!) Olenna’s pre-death conversation with Jamie was a refreshingly civilized bookend to Cersei’s dispatch of Ellaria Sand. One thing about Jamie—unlike his sister, honor means a great deal to him (See “Edmure Tully, Defeat of”). However, Olenna’s needling confession about Joffrey’s murder confused me. Didn’t she have a collaborator in Tywin Lannister? I’m surprised she didn’t skewer Cersei further by dropping that bit of information.

So…Will Dany’s dragons carry the day and destroy Euron Greyjoy’s fleet? Will the newly-cured Jorah Mormont arrive in time to help? Will Theon ever stop being a wimp?

Only five episodes left in the season.

I Hope Not!
Posted in Movie Reviews, Television

July 4th Roundup

“Yankee Doodle do or die!”

Has any biopic had a more visible reason for being than 1942’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy”? This terrific movie, featuring the once-in-a-lifetime performance of James Cagney, may be one of the best World War II propaganda films Hollywood would produce.

Ostensibly the life story of George M. Cohan, Broadway songsmith, playwright, producer and actor, whose career peaked before World War I, the movie is shot through with anachronistic exhortation to “get behind the man behind the gun,” as the film’s additional lyrics to “Grand Old Flag” urge. In similar fashion, so do the additional verses of Rodgers and Hart’s “Off the Record,” from 1937’s “I’d Rather Be Right,” tweaking Hitler and Japan. Was it any wonder? “Yankee Doodle Dandy” premiered only seven months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, at a time when war production and home front restrictions were gearing up. While a Cohan biopic had been a possibility for a number of years before then, the fortuitous match of current events and flag-waving subject resulted in one of the most memorable Hollywood films of that era. Watching it today, you can easily imagine audiences in 1942 responding when Cagney, during the World War I “Over There”scene, turns to the camera and proclaims “Everybody sing!”

In true biopic fashion, there’s a lot of editing and sanitizing with respect to Cohan. While depictions of real figures in his life—Sam Harris, Fay Templeton, the other members of the Four Cohans—appear in the film, both his marital history and his anti-union bias are scrubbed (His siding with Broadway producers rather than actors in the 1919 strike that lead to the creation of Actors Equity was the real reason for his split from producing partner Sam Harris). Yet “Yankee Doodle Dandy” features that wonderful Cohan song catalog, and best of all, James Cagney.

I can think of few other stars of that era for whom the description “There’s no one else like him” is more apt. Whether as Cohan or Tom Powers in the iconic “Public Enemy,” or the psychopathic Momma’s boy Cody Jarrett in “White Heat,” there’s not a moment you can—or even want to—take your eyes off him. His boundless energy, that cocky strut, the feeling than only he and the audience are in on the joke, all stand him in excellent stead in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” More than that, you sense he enjoyed every minute shooting the film, which makes for the happiest of viewing experiences. Yet he’s not just a sunny song and dance man: the scene he plays with the memorable Walter Huston as his dying father is one of the most poignant he ever shot. Rarely has a Best Actor Oscar been more deserved than the one awarded Mr. Cagney for his performance in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Long before Turner Classic Movies I grew up with “Million Dollar Movie,” featured on one of the local New York City stations. The program would run the same film every night for an entire week, and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” would show up regularly. Even though I can probably recite all the film’s dialogue by heart, I never tire of watching it. It’s so Warner Brothers—S.Z. Sakall as Schwab, the roped-in producer of Cohan’s first hit (“I pwomise, I pwomise”); George Tobias as tin-ear producer Dietz, spending his wife’s money; Irene Manning as Fay Templeton, actually playing the piano for “Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway;” the raucous, jalopy-riding teenagers who show up on Cohan’s front lawn (“Stix Nix Hix Pix”). And there’s Cagney, tapping down those White House stairs.

Long may it wave!

P.S.: In case you’re wondering, Cagney copied his “Yankee Doodle Dandy” dancing style directly from George M. himself, as is evident in a YouTube video from the 1932 film “The Phantom President” (Warning: Cohan appears in blackface for a good portion of the clip). While Cagney’s normal style did feature some “on his toes” tap work, his dancing more closely resembled that of a typical hoofer of that era. Check out the “Shanghai Lil” number from “Footlight Parade.”

——————————————————————–

Detecting Again: Olivia Coleman (DS Ellie Miller) and David Tennant (DI Alec Hardy), “Broadchurch”

Holidays are always the best time for binge-watching, and this July 4th is no exception. Somehow I missed that Season 3 of “Janet King” just dropped on Acorn TV, I’ve barely started the latest run of “Orange is the New Black” and I haven’t even touched “Glow” yet. Best of all, though, the latest, and unfortunately last, season of “Broadchurch” recently premiered on BBC America.

I was terrifically let down when I learned that “Broadchurch” will shortly end. However, after watching the first episode of the new season, I think I know where the show is headed. “Broadchurch” at its best is about the impact of crime—on the family and friends of the victim, on the community and on the police who investigate. This was starkly portrayed in the first season of the show which focused on the murder of 11 year-old Danny Latimer. The second season, while rich in character portrayal, meandered in plot. However, “Broadchurch” seems to be back at full throttle in its current episodes. Even after three years the repercussions of young Danny’s murder are still being felt, and a new crime threatens the community. Stunning in its detail, this episode walks us through the police and hospital response to a rape—the compassion and support offered to the victim and the painstaking efforts to obtain, catalog and preserve evidence of the crime. The tone of this sequence couldn’t be more fitting. Needless to say, we’re far beyond what “Law and Order: SVU” can depict.

On a happier note, I’m delighted to see the return of my favorite bickering (un)married couple, the detective partners Ellie Miller and Alec Hardy. The lapse of three years hasn’t spoiled their style or their differences. There’s added value this time around—it’s eye-opening to see Ellie having to instantly change gears from ace detective to exasperated single mother called to a meeting at school to discuss her 15 year-old son’s suspension for dealing porn. And it’s odd to see loner Alec Hardy parenting his teenage daughter. But unlike other shows, “Broadchurch” has a way of using issues outside crime and police work to illuminate rather than distract.

Looking forward to the next seven episodes.

Posted in Television

Compare and Contrast

A Sip of Noir: Grace Billets (Amy Aquino) and Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver)

Now that the networks are in Rerun Hell, the only way to keep one’s sanity is to head for the Stream. I recently caught up with two favorite online series which in their new seasons have significantly diverged in fortune. One, by deepening the complexity of its characters, continues to engage. The other, now seemingly with its best days behind it, is clearly on a downward slide.

WARNING–SPOILERS ABOUND

“Bosch,” based on the series of novels by Michael Connelly, continues its impressive way on Amazon. Now in its third season, the show reveals new, and not necessarily pleasant, shades of Detective Harry Bosch’s character. The seeming solution to the murder of his prostitute mother, a crime which served as a running thread in the first two seasons of the show, begins to unravel, and his clashes with the L.A.P.D. and District Attorney hierarchies have become more explosive. Harry Bosch, superbly played by Titus Welliver, is no longer the pristine upholder of justice, if he ever was. In his pursuit of a suspected serial killer, he’s definitely of “The Means Justify the Ends” school, a side of him we never before suspected. And we’re not alone—his longtime partner J[erry] Edgar (a terrific Jamie Hector), shaken by the shadiness of Bosch’s actions, ends the current season by telling him “I’m not sure I can work with you anymore.”

Yet the Good Bosch is still there for us to enjoy. He cares—about his partner, his superior officer and peers and most of all, his teen-aged daughter Maddie, now living with him and itching to follow dear old dad in his cop’s footsteps. And his concern for ex-wife Eleanor, Maddie’s mom, remains despite her remarriage. He has a habit of reaching outside his family circle, as we see his protective interest in the young street hustler who stumbles upon the murder of a Marine veteran with whom Bosch shares a similar service record.

Usually I like the detective/mystery genre to move along at a decent clip, but “Bosch” is worth taking the time to savor for a variety of reasons—the writing, the actors, but best of all, the characters. It’s fun spending time with these people: Bosch and J. Edgar, their detective cohorts, refered to as Crate (Gregory Scott Cummins) and Barrel (Troy Evans), Sgt. Mankiewicz  (Scott Klace), and their boss, Lt. Grace Billets (Amy Aquino). Any show with Lance Reddick would automatically get points from me, but here he has a role to sink his teeth into: the wonderfully named Irvin Irving, newly made Acting Chief of Police, still carrying the guilt of his detective son’s death and the end of his marriage. I even enjoy watching the power-hungry District Attorney O’Shea (Steven Culp) who will forever be at loggerheads with Bosch. If this show were a baseball team, I’d say it had a very deep bench.

But this series’ biggest asset will always be Titus Welliver as Bosch. With his gray hair. laser blue eyes and wardrobe to accentuate both, he’s definitely easy to spend thirteen hours a season with. He’s somewhat reminiscent of Bogart in his prime, and his assurance, both as an actor and as the character, sells the show. Interestingly enough, I recently caught Welliver on a very old episode of “Law and Order: SVU,” and in his younger version he wasn’t half as impressive. Some of us need that extra mileage to blossom.

The current season of “Bosch” ended with some tantalizing teasers. There’s still the issue of who really killed Harry’s mother, and of greater concern, who in the police hierarchy covered for him. And ex-wife Eleanor, a former FBI agent who supposedly quit the Bureau to become a professional card player, seems to be working undercover for them on an assignment yet to be revealed. Perhaps best of all, Veronica Allen’s murder trial resulted in a hung jury. Hopefully this means we’ll see Bosch vs. Allen, Round 2, next season—Jeri Ryan makes a great Shady Lady (Blonde Division), and the powers that be have got to bring her back.

If you’re not watching “Bosch,” you should be.

The Ever-Plotting Underwoods: Claire (Robin Wright) and Frank (Kevin Spacey)

I wish the fifth season of “House of Cards,” recently dropped on Netflix, merited equal praise, but unfortunately it does not. The show suffers from a number of issues, not all of which are curable. One is inherent in the nature of the story, as was evident in its British television source: it’s always more fun to see devilish characters on the way up rather than working hard to maintain power. And with the current real-life goings-on in Washington, events and personalities which may have proved entertaining in seasons past no longer seem so.

While Robin Wright as Claire Underwood continues to intrigue in all senses of the word, I’ve grown tired of her television husband. Kevin Spacey seems to have completely emptied his actor’s bag of tricks on the role of Frank Underwood quite some time ago, and there’s nothing fresh about his portrayal. The fact that he has sex with men? That chime was rung back in Seasons 1 and 2. More importantly, unlike Ian Richardson, his British counterpart, he has little if any charm to compensate for the skullduggery, which made for very heavy sledding throughout the most recent season.

“House of Cards” has always been somewhat over the top, but the events of Season 5 make the show look like it just dived off the Empire State Building. I had reservations last season when Claire managed to get herself nominated as her husband’s running mate, but seeing it play out has only demonstrated that having a show rely on a twist so far removed from reality is not a recipe for success. And speaking of derailments: The murder of Tom Yates? Pushing Cathy Durant down the White House stairs and into a coma? The unraveling of Presidential Candidate Will Conway? To what purpose? I’ll really miss these actors—Paul Sparks, Jayne Atkinson and Joel Kinnaman, respectively—and I hope the show runners at least try to rein in some of the show’s outrageousness by replacing them with equally high-caliber actors. Every time Reed Birney, as the discarded Vice President Donald Blythe, appeared on screen, the audience received a lesson in subtlety, not to mention a breath of “good guy” air. Hopefully the addition of Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson will help, though her character is absolutely baffling up to this point (Is she just working for Premier Petrov, or is she playing all ends against the middle?).

C’mon guys–you should be doing better.

Posted in Television

The Keepers

The latest “must see” from Netflix, the seven-episode documentary, “The Keepers,” is a compelling exercise in storytelling. It begins with one narrative, namely the investigation of a 48 year-old murder, but quickly veers to another in order to shine a light on even older crimes: an extensive pattern of sexual abuse covered up by a powerful archdiocese. While the subject matter is absorbing, it’s the manner of the telling that keeps the viewer coming back. Director Ryan White is a master at revealing information only a bit at a time. It makes for such tantalizing viewing that you’ll literally find yourself leaning forward for more clues, more witnesses, more facts.

It’s unfortunate that we don’t get enough to satisfy; this parceling out of information leads to mixed results. While a definitive answer as to who killed Sister Cathy Cesnik is not forthcoming, at least at this time, the actions of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in covering up years of sexual abuse of minors by a particular priest are without question.

“The Keepers” begins by studying the abduction of Sister Cathy, formerly a teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, in the fall of 1969. At the time of her disappearance she and a fellow nun were living in an apartment away from their convent and teaching at a public high school in an experiment sanctioned by the Church to promote closer contact with the community. On the night of November 7, 1969, Sister Cathy left her apartment to run several errands, including a stop at a local shopping center; she never returned although her car was later found parked haphazardly in the driveway of her apartment complex. Two months later her body was found in an isolated area several miles away. Her skull had been crushed.

The extensive investigation which is the focus of “The Keepers” was conducted by Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two of Cathy Cesnik’s former students, whose results, we come to learn, are far more informative that those previously obtained by law enforcement. It’s the old story of too many cooks stirring the broth: both the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County apparently had jurisdiction, though the sharing of information left a great deal to be desired. That the ball was dropped on more than one occasion becomes glaringly obvious during an interview with a county detective in charge of the still-open crime file. His shock and embarrassment in discovering that a key bit of evidence—an unopened letter Cathy wrote to her sister postmarked the day after her disappearance—was never turned over by the city police to the county, and in fact remains missing altogether, is painful to see.

But “The Keepers” ultimately spends less time on Sister Cathy’s murder than on the behavior of the priest who is strongly hinted to have been involved. Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain at Archbishop Keough High School at the time Sister Cathy taught there, was a textbook sexual abuser who methodically identified and preyed upon the most vulnerable students in order to secure their silence, whether by religious coercion, physical threats or both. However, not all kept quiet; at least one girl confided in Sister Cathy, who assured her that “This will stop.” Whether her knowledge led to a confrontation which culminated in her murder remains a mystery, though it’s obvious the Baltimore Archdiocese knew of Maskell’s behavior. In a pattern so well detailed in the film “Spotlight”, the powers that be hopscotched Maskell from parish to parish over the years, and in fact sent him to the Institute for Living in Hartford for six months to get him out of the reach of irate parents. He was eventually named as a co-defendant in an action brought by two Keough abuse survivors in 1994, and later fled to Ireland; he died in 2001. While he was interviewed by law enforcement during the initial investigation of Sister Cathy’s murder, nothing came of it.

Which brings me to an irritating flaw in “The Keepers”—hints are frequently dropped, but follow-up is sometimes lacking. While Father Maskell may have had motive, did he have opportunity? There’s no discussion of his whereabouts on the night Sister Cathy disappeared, though “The Keepers” may or may not prove that he knew where her body was dumped (While I believe Jane Doe’s account of the abuse she suffered, I don’t buy her story about Maskell’s showing her the body). There’s also the matter of Gerry Koob, a former priest who had an extraordinarily close relationship with Sister Cathy; whether their attachment went beyond the platonic is another question that maddeningly remains unanswered, even though Koob is interviewed extensively throughout “The Keepers.” Law enforcement evidently thought there was both smoke and fire, and in fact treated him as a suspect. They had some questions regarding Koob’s whereabouts on the night of Sister Cathy’s disappearance, since the friend he claims was with him had a somewhat different story. After all these years, the friend can not be located, even by the intrepid team of Gemma and Abbie. Equally frustrating is the fact that Sister Russell, Cathy’s roommate, having left the order and married, died a few years ago; she consistently refused to discuss Cathy, the crime or even her years as a nun during the intervening decades. Again, there are implications that threats may have been made, but there’s nothing concrete.

In its fixation on Father Maskell and to a lesser degree, two other suspects who are questionable at best, “The Keepers” omits or downplays some key information. Not until the final episode do we learn there was an eyewitness who saw Sister Cathy on the night of her disappearance being driven in her own car by an unidentified man as she struggled to exit the vehicle. This is mentioned in one sentence and dropped. While “The Keepers” does examine the abduction and murder of 20 year-old Joyce Malecki, which occurred four days after Sister Cathy’s disappearance, there’s no mention of the two 16 year old girls who were also abducted from Baltimore area shopping centers in separate incidents in 1970 and 1971. Coincidence or connection? Equally telling is the condition in which Sister Cathy’s body was found: her skirt was hiked up and she was nude from the waist up, which is more than suggestive of a sex crime. Yet there’s no discussion of this, let alone a confirmation or denial of the presence of semen or any evidence of rape. However, one question has been answered, only days before “The Keepers” became available for viewing. Maskell’s DNA, obtained after exhumation of his body, is not a match for that recovered from a cigarette butt left at Sister Cathy’s crime scene.

Even with its flaws and particularly in light of recent developments, “The Keepers” cries out for at least one more episode. You listening, Netflix?

Posted in Music, Opera

Lingering in the Glow

Party Like It’s 1911: Elina Garança (Octavian) and Renée Fleming (The Marschallin)

If you think the customer is always right, you might have believed the audience members who booed the production team of the new Robert Carsen “Der Rosenkavalier” that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera several weeks ago. But you would have been dead wrong. I saw it last Friday, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Carsen has tossed aside the powdered wigs and knee breeches and set the opera in the year of its premiere, 1911. His take on this Richard Strauss-Hugo von Hofmannsthal masterpiece is a marvel of detail, so much so that I plan to attend the Live in HD telecast in two weeks just to catch some business I might have missed. It’s spot-on to see the egotistical Italian tenor (a terrific Matthew Polenzani) present the Marschallin with a 78 rpm recording of his latest hit, which he proceeds to autograph for her with a flourish. And in an uproarious Act III, how can anyone be surprised that the band showing up to serenade Ochs and Mariandel is clearly Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters from “Some Like It Hot,” complete with sax and bass. (I know that’s the 1920’s, but if Strauss can write an 18th century opera replete with three-quarter time though the waltz wouldn’t be invented until decades later, anachronism becomes the norm). I could go on, but I don’t want to give away all the incidentals that make this production such fun.

As sharply observed as this production is, it wouldn’t have the impact it enjoys without its cast. Much publicity has surrounded Renée Fleming’s final appearances as the Marschallin, and while I can’t say that her voice retains all the luster it once possessed, dramatically speaking she’s grown enormously in the role. Years ago I saw one of her first Marschallins at the Met, and she seemed somewhat intimidated by the part. In Carsen’s production she easily achieves what all good Marschallins must—she holds the audience throughout the levée, her monologue and the following scene with Octavian, and captures the bittersweet ending of Act I perfectly. Yet her final exit in Act III, on the arm of the Feldmarschall’s “brave orderly,” after a not-quite covert glance or two, reminds us that Octavian wasn’t her first lover, and certainly won’t be her last.

(A propos of absolutely nothing, what do Marschallins do when they’re off-stage during Act II and the first half of Act III? Play cards with the stage hands? Take a snooze? Maybe Ms. Fleming will spill the beans during the HD telecast intermission).

Elina Garança is a phenomenal Octavian. She certainly makes a gorgeous guy and her voice is lovely, but the uniqueness of her portrayal rests on her vivid embodiment of the 17 year-old boy he’s supposed to be. The petulance and impetuosity are there, but her Octavian is slightly more deferential to his lover than most, and his departure at the end of Act I is done not so much out of anger as of befuddled sorrow. Garança hints at his growing knowledge that his affair with a married woman really can’t go anywhere, yet she still manages to convince us that his love for Sophie is not just a matter of falling for the first pretty face he sees. She plays the comedy very well—her “Victor/Victoria” in Act III (the trick of a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman) is flawless.

Waltzing Away Act II: Ochs (Günther Groissböck) and Annina (Helene Schneiderman)

Because Baron Ochs is usually played as a fat fool, you tend to forget that Strauss and von Hoffmannsthal had something else in mind. Günther Groissböck portrays him as the 35-year old bachelor he was conceived to be, and it’s wonderfully refreshing to see a young, attractive bass in the role. This Ochs may be an idiot over Mariandel, but he’s no fool. His harping on “die Marschallin…Octavian…Mariandel” in Act III poses a real threat, and it’s only when the Marschallin doesn’t flinch that he gives in to her insistence that he depart the field.

Unfortunately the performance I saw was missing the excellent Sophie of Erin Morley, but she’s due to return shortly and will be on hand for the live telecast on May 13 that will also feature Ms. Fleming’s last ever Marschallin as well as Ms. Garança’s final Octavian (she’s headed for the more dramatic flair of Amneris, Santuzza and Dalila).

The score and libretto of “Der Rosenkavalier” are among the finest in the literature. But Robert Carsen’s production also reminds us what superb theater this work can (and should) always be. Bravo!

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It was a double-header weekend for me. Yesterday I attended a concert performance of Handel’s “Ariodante” at Carnegie Hall that was simulcast on Medici TV. The entire opera will be viewable on the Carnegie Hall website for the next 90 days, and if you’d like to hear what perfection sounds like, cue the webcast at 1:10:30 for Joyce DiDonato’s “Scherza infida,” accompanied by Harry Bicket and The English Concert. Time stands still.