What happened with Masters of Sex?

Careful: this text contains more spoilers than my average review.

Ok, I know I’m a bit late for this one, but I’m still trying to process what was this second season of Masters of Sex and I’m not sure what to think. A show that I absolutely loved has turned into something that when it wasn’t tedious, it was straight out annoying.

The first season was a triumph in including interesting, engaging and intelligent plots into a story about sex that could have easily become no more than an excuse for naked bodies on prime time otherwise. Season one showed us real dramas of real people connected to a historical background that made us see how our mentality as a society has not evolved as much as we would like to believe. Season two had Bill and Virginia having sex.

I never thought the chemistry between Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Dr. Masters and Virginia Johnson was that great to begin with, but in this second season it just seemed to grow weaker by the episode, despite of them both being amazing actors on their own. When the characters first got together I had hope they might break up, but this is not Reign, historical accuracy actually matters to these people and History tells us that Masters and Johnson eventually get married (what, haven’t you wikipedia them yet?), and that’s a tough one to swallow. With that bleak destination in sight, it’s hard to expect nice things on the road.


Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan as Masters and Johnson

To be fair, the first half of the season was very good. Virginia and Bill’s struggles to keep their careers on track and maintain the respect of their peers after the presentation of the study was badly received seemed like a great beginning. The first three or four episodes, which included the stories of the baby with ambiguous genitalia and the girl who could not control her sexual urges, were compelling to watch. For a moment I was sure that Masters of Sex would become closer to a procedural, with a new case every week to serve as a background to the development of the main characters, and that might have been a nicer alternative to what we actually got on the season’s second half.

As Virginia and Bill’s encounters got more and more awkward, all hopes fell on the sub-plots. Dr. Masters working at a Negro hospital in times of extreme segregation in the US? That might be interesting — an episode latter, he doesn’t even work there anymore and we are set on a couple of years ellipsis. He decides to go on a independent venture and open his own clinic, rent is high and he is in on the verge of bankruptcy. Ok, now something might happen and — another couple of years ellipsis, everything is fine, now Masters is the landlord. Time just flies by, does it not? Yet strangely, Virginia’s kids stay always the same age.

While Virginia and Bill still use “work” as a synonym for “love”, and Bill still insist that he is a happily married man, this thing that they have between them will be forever awkward. Master’s of Sex’s second season wasn’t all bad, not at all, but it definitely lost a lot of its power while dwelling on Masters’ obsession with his own penis and his refusal to look an inch beyond it. Yes, characters are more interesting when they have some ambiguity, some contradictions between what they say and do, however, Virginia repeating to herself the lie that to screw her boss is to help his marriage is pathetic at best. She is way smarter than that, I mean, C’MON! 

Most engaging plot-points of the season: Betty; Dr. Masters fighting ignorance and prejudice to help the baby, the girl and other patients (he might have one decent bone in his body after all. A bone that completely disappears on the season’s second half); Call-O-Metric’s inventor and boss Flo Packer; the relationship between Libby Masters and Coral, and Libby finally having some fun with Robert; Betty; Lester and Barbara; Virginia learning she can’t have it all and, of course, Betty.

Most disappointing elements of the season: the ellipsis, no more Allison Janney, Bill Master’s endless obsession with himself.

Since ellipsis seems to be a favorite of the producers now, I have a request for the third season: can we please just skip to when Masters and Johnson get divorced? (Oh, just wikipedia them already, goddamn it).


My new guilty pleasure: Reign

Reign fits perfectly into the guilty pleasure category. The series embraces its historical inaccuracies as a style rather than a defect, stands proudly by it’s silly plots and has the grace of not taking itself too seriously.

The series, currently in its second season, is centered in the figure of Mary Stuart, who spent a significant part of her life in France, was betrothed and subsequently married to Francis II. Historical accuracy is not interesting for a series that intends take this theme and make it into a teenage/ young-adult drama in the moldes of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. Mary was barely fifteen when she married fourteen year-old Francis, and luck was not on their side since Francis died less than two years after their wedding. Not exactly The Tudors material either, thankfully.


Adelaide Kane as Mary (right) and her ladies-in-waiting

Reign allies silly entertainment with darker topics, such as the intrigues and betrayals of life in court and how the struggle for power can convert well-intentioned leaders into backstabbing  son’s of Queens. Mary, played by Adelaide Kane, is a compelling character. Her gradual lost of innocence before the intrigues of the French court and her struggle to remain just and loving to her people despite having to order murders and other gruesome affairs is touching. Kane plays her character’s transitions with sufficient competence to convince.

The character who steals the show, however, is indisputably Queen Catherine. Actress Megan Follows is not afraid to take her character to the next level. Catherine is sarcastic, over-dramatic and flamboyant, but realistic and serious enough when she must. She is one of the few actually well-developed characters of the show, and when she is not whining to Nostradamus about her fears of losing her son, the writing for her is great. One of her most memorable moments happens on the first season, when the she runs up and down the castle working as a busy bee on… her execution, which she plans to make into a grand and luxurious spectacle. Too bad Anne Boleyn didn’t have the same privilege, but even if she did, I bet Catherine would have found a way to surpass her.

catherine reign

Megan Follows as Queen Catherine

The modern soundtrack, sweet and sticky, is filled with indie and folk rock by the likes of The Lumineers and Twin Forks. The music is an important element with which Reign dissociates from its period piece aspect, and so it’s the costume design. Most of the clothes are stunning, but not exactly what sixteen-century people would wear. The costume design department takes inspiration from the period, subtracts a great deal of historical accuracy and adds a touch of glamour and boho-chicness. The result is a wardrobe that, despite not being wearable on a daily basis and not as nearly as enviable as anything we might have seen on Gossip Girl, is usually better than some of the wacky combinations that appear on other shows that target the same audience.

If you are ready to accept Reign as it is: a teenage drama that portrays a stylized, or better, a parallel universe kind of Medieval France, than you are headed for a good time. If you can’t handle historical inaccuracies, go watch some The Tudors DVDs or a History Channel documentary and leave us alone to admire the good bits of fashion Mary wears and laugh at Catherine’s sarcasm in peace. 

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Bering: Balance and Resistance – Ambulante at USC day #2

Bering: Balance and Resistance is the first documentary feature directed by the Mexican photographer and video artist Lourdes Grobet. Its theme is the life of the Inuit at the american side of the Bering strait.

Filled with powerful images that reflect the sensitivity of its director, Bering is specially competent on bringing its public closer to its subjects. There is beauty in the ice covered landscapes of the Arctic, but there are also challenges.

bering poster

Watching Bering brings another documentary about the Inuit of the Arctic to mind: Nanook of the north. Filmed in 1922 by Robert J. Flaherty, it centers in the life of Nanook, an Inuit man from the Canadian Arctic and his family. Nanook was one of the first documentaries ever made, and its genre is still questioned to this day due to the fact that a couple of its scenes were staged. Still, it was an important documentation on how the Inuit lived 90 years ago, with no electricity, wearing clothes made of animal fur and surviving with subsistence hunting. The Inuit of Bering at the present day have electricity and heaters, wear clothes made at factories and buy coca-cola at their local grocery store. They still hunt, but now they have guns and motor boats. Their greatest struggles are not how to get food or stay warm, but how to preserve their culture while still finding their place in the modern world.

Two scenes on both Bering and Nanook can be paralleled. In the first, two men come back from a hunting trip to the ocean where they caught a walrus. Those who are near come to help bring the animal to the shore, a task that requires strength and coordination. Once they achieve their goal, the director makes a cut, and in the next scene we see the snow tinted red by the walrus’ blood. In Nanook, we see the capture of an immense seal, one that requires about as many men to retrieve as the walrus of Bering. However, in Nanook the director does not spare its public of the most crude and real moments of the Inuit life and shows the skinning of the animal, an image that, even in black-and-white and lower definition, is still gut turning.

While Flaherty patronizes his subjects, Grobet values them and give them their space to be true to who they are. The contact of the white men with the Inuit began about about a century ago, and it’s interesting to see it that generated, especially at Bering, a place that was once dominated by the Russians and later bought by the Americans with no consultation whatsoever of the desire of its native population. In the movie, a lot of them express the sense of being disregarded and carried by the flow.

Bering it’s a beautiful and touching documentary in itself, but knowing how the Inuit have been portrayed by other directors in the past gives the public a sense of perspective that can only foster their understanding of the matter.

Mexican immigration – A peek at Ambulante Festival

It’s been a while since I went to a film festival for the last time. I almost forgot how it feels like. The not-so-modern theaters, the crowd of mostly film students, professors and hippies. The general predisposition to like everything that comes up on screen is a mood quite characteristic in festivals, you can feel it in the very air around you, in the way people gasp and laugh and applaud at the movie on screen.

Ambulante Festival had that feeling in the air tonight at its USC screening. I caught Ambulante in its second half – the Festival premiered at September 21st – and don’t have to say much about it other than it is a sort of unpretentious hipster (a rare thing to come across these days), indie, bilingual, documentary festival from Mexico that it’s now crossing the border to California. The idea of Ambulante is to be an itinerant festival, each day – or couple of days – its screenings and panels move to a different location of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Last night’s screening at the USC School of Cinematic Arts brought two movies which theme is human migration to and from Mexico. Ambulate’s Mexican origin’s wouldn’t let it shy away from this theme.


From Poland to Santa Rosa

From Poland to Santa Rosa, a 10 minutes documentary short, has as main characters two polish ladies who immigrated to Mexico in 1943, establishing their families in Santa Rosa, an area specially dedicated for the polish immigrates in the city of Leon, Guanajuato.

The movie opens with a beautiful but unsettling image of a shrouded body sinking in the water as a female voice tells the story of one of her earliest memories from childhood: the bodies of those who died in the journey from Poland to Mexico and had the sea as their burial site. It is a strong image attached to a strong memory. The ladies go on from there, talking about their memories of arriving at the train station, growing up and building their lives.

Despite the visible care with the image, some framings don’t work as well as the crew evidently intended them to. They are beautiful, but distract the viewer from the story. It is a documentary short, but still the ten minutes seem to leave out a lot of important information. Who are those ladies to each other? Relatives, friends? They waste a precious opportunity to truly engage the public.

To the other side

To the other side is a feature documentary that establishes a relationship between the Mexican popular music style of the corridos and the Mexicans that are intimately connected to the music, their daily struggles and their dreams of a better future, their relationship to their home country and to their neighbor, the Unites States, which floats over their lives both as a gloomy shadow and a sunny ray of hope.

The corridos are songs that tell stories, mostly about the simple life of the people and their daily struggles, but also about powerful and dangerous narcotraficantes, their legendary deeds and their boldness. It couldn’t be different, since the dealers pay to have corridos written about them. Drug dealing is intensely present in the lives of the Mexicans portrayed in the movie. Mostly fisherman, a lot of them also use their boats to do smuggling jobs, and for that are called lobos marinos (sea wolves).

Madgiel Rubio Burgos is a young composer of corridos who works alongside his father in the sea, the cornfields and the family’s soda store. He sings about poverty, drugs, his hopes of a better future, which he only sees as possible across the border. He sees the United States as a land of possibilities where jobs are abundant and he can make real money, if only he had the means to pay for the trip. In Madgiel we see the Mexican youth of a poor village, he is the irreverent, talkative, often angry, mostly hopeful point-of-view of most of the movie. An interesting character to follow.

Across the border, the Mexican immigrants and their descendants show their intense connection to both Mexico and the United States. They are making it. And singing about it in their corridos.

The crossing of the border through the desert is brutal. A lot of people get seriously hurt or are caught by border patrols. There are terrible stories of the coyotes (people smugglers) leaving behind to perish those who get too sick to make the journey to the end. The Mexicans talk about the good coyotes, those whose intention is to help people get a better life (always for a fee, of course), and the bad coyotes, those who smuggle people out of sheer greed and calculate their profits based on a success rate of how many will live or die in the journey.

To the other side’s approach to the emigration theme through music is engaging, it makes people feel real and close, it gives another dimension to their struggles and provides a connection between the stories shown, it’s a narrative continuity to the movie. Despite its realize year been 2005, its theme is still relevant today, and the questions asked remained mostly unanswered.

You gave us a shitty How I Met Your Mother’s finale, now have the decency to stick to your guns

Back in March 31st the beloved sitcom How I met you mother wrapped up its ninth and final season. While the whole season made me mad with the lack of good jokes, excess of cheap sentimentality (the red balloon episode was the worst) and a bunch of episodes which sole purpose was to stall the viewers, I had high hopes for the finale. Everyone did. And most people, myself included, were deeply disappointed.

Back then the show runners revealed that they had planned the finale early on, while filming the first season, or the second or so. The actors who played Ted’s children were growing up fast, so the producers recorded their reactions to the big final revelation and locked the can safely under the label “must use under any circumstance”. Because, you know, to exclude a scene from the final product in the editing room is a crime in this industry. Anyway, the series ended up lasting longer than they expected, which created several twists and turns and character developments that simply got completely overlooked in the finale. At least they didn’t waste precious footage from nine years ago, amIright?

When the show runners where bombarded by negative feedback of the fans after the finale, they were brave enough to stand up by their choices and say that they loved how they chose to end the series. A little bit later, though, a talk about they having had “doubts in the editing room” began to appear, and soon a special alternate ending was announced to be featured in the season’s DVD box set.

The box set was released a few days ago, and the alternate ending leaked online. All I saw of it was some descriptions in websites, especially on buzzfeed (the video was disabled by Fox by the time I got there). I don’t want to talk about how lazy it is to make an alternate ending with no new footage and an editing that most fans had already done themselves in their windows movie makers to post on youtube. I want to talk about how coward it is to put on the hands of your fans the fate of your creation.

HIMYM show runners, I respected you more when you stood by your choice. I was pissed at you, but I respected your bravery. To give in to a bunch of whining fans (myself included) because they might not like you anymore is below you, and frankly, insulting to us. I know, or at least I want to believe, that you care more about your creation than to just throw it at the fans as if your saying “do what you want with it, choose your own ending if you’re so mad, whatever”.

If some high studio executive made you do it, I’m truly sorry for you. I’m truly sorry that your creative choices were taken from you like that.

I’m not unfamiliar to alternate endings, I know they have been used before, I just think they belong to home editors and fanfiction writers, and that no author should be forced to do it to their creation unless they truly regretted their previous choices, and not because of fan’s (or anyone else’s) pressure, which does not seem to be the case here.

I was sad by how HIMYM ended, and now I’m even more sad by how this crowd pleasing lazy alternate ending came to be. It was better if it didn’t existed.

P.S.: The origin of the mysterious pineapple was also revealed, and it’s as lazy and uncreative as can be. Check here.