20 Things Every Witch in Her 20s MUST Know

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American Horror Story: Coven – “The Dead”

After building to it for a while now, American Horror Story: Coven is finally addressing its big theme: resurrection, and how subverting death shifts the paradigms of both the resurrected and the living. Oh sure, there’s the magical race war and Fiona’s long, slow death (more on those in a moment), but “The Dead” almost entirely spends time with our characters who have cheated death. And with one notable exception, it’s all the better for it.

That notable exception is the Axeman. I’ll be blunt: I don’t like the Axeman. He’s a lame character trying to spice up a boring storyline and failing miserably. All of his sax tunes are insurmountably cheesy, but in the wrong way, immediately sucking any fun or tension out of scenes where they pop up in the background. The fleshing out of his time as a ghost starts tender and turns deeply creepy, and when the show tries to bring it back around to tender, it just never happens. Danny Huston is a perfectly fine actor, but the character is so flat, and the writing, oh god, the writing! The shoehorned-in 1920s slang alone is enough to drag even Jessica Lange down, who unfortunately spends most of the episode with Mr. Axeman. What’s most perplexing is watching the rest of the episode snap the season’s narrative into place while the show keeps insisting that the Axeman belongs somehow, even though there’s no place for him. The only character he has any effect on is Fiona, and even then his purpose is what, exactly? To give her powers a momentary kickstart with his magic jazzy ghost sex? Puh-lease.

Fortunately, the rest of the episode actively works to push the season forward in the right ways. Most promising is the development of the relationship between Queenie and LaLaurie. Both outsiders, they bond over burgers and shakes in one of the season’s best scenes to date. Even after Queenie visits Laveau and LaLaurie tells her the story about the infant she killed (which was genuinely chilling), I believed in their new friendship, and was heartbroken when Queenie delivered LaLaurie to Laveau with as much venom as she could. What started as a groan-worthy pairing has subtly morphed into one of the season’s best relationships, largely due to the work of Gabourey Sidibe and Kathy Bates. LaLaurie is the “dead” in the most precarious position: fully aware of her actions, complete mental faculties, and suddenly thrust far into the future. Oh, and also hated and hunted by one of the most powerful beings in town. As the plot now most associated with the magical race war, it’s a relief that it’s a successful story being told by three fantastic actresses.

The remainder of the episode’s plots hang loosely around Zoe, pushing Taissa Farmiga further into the center of the story and the stage. Cordelia discovers Madison and learns that Fiona killed her, so Cordelia and Zoe plot to take Fiona down. Zoe tries to put Kyle out of his misery, but instead brings him into the house and begins fixing his brain. Zoe interrogates Spaulding, who has a tongue again thanks to some exposition that was both deeply disturbing and distractingly tacked-on, and he corroborates Cordelia’s story, so Zoe kills him. Now that the season’s narrative is coming together around her, Zoe is becoming a real character, and Taissa Farmiga is mostly rising the challenge. Her attempts at season-one level deadpan fall much flatter than they intend to, but when called on to be conniving, tender, or angry, she delivers.

But the “dead” the episode title refers to the most are Kyle and Madison. The cold-open gives us a flashback of Kyle with his frat brothers, two of whom are getting lame tattoos, and though it’s extremely on the nose–both his line about only getting one life to live and the reveal of the two frat bros’ tattoos–it’s a nice break from Naked Hulk, the mode Peters has been in most of the season. Madison opens the episode proper with a voice-over that is both jarring and more than a little silly, about “millennials” and how all the methods she used to “feel” in life are useless in… not-life? Undeath? Whatever. But when Emma Roberts and Evan Peters finally share the screen, it’s one of the season’s biggest lightbulb moments, even if they had to punctuate it with a nice, big shot of Evan Peters’ ass. Having the two undead characters use each other to become more alive is an interesting idea, even if it’s not wholly original. And it gives the episode another one of its best moments, when a towel-clad Zoe is dragged into the room by Madison, only for Madison and Kyle to invite her into their kinky zombie love fest. Pedestal down as the towel hits the floor, cut to black.

Oh, and Hank the witch killer’s got his arsenal laid out and is coming soon. Yipee?

“The Dead” is uneven, but in the parts that work, it makes a concerted effort to connect lines and fix Coven‘s cohesion issues. Brad Falchuk’s script tries to distribute the screen time fairly, even if the plots aren’t always working, and director Bradley Buecker (whose previous directing is exclusively in Ryan Murphy shows, including a few pivotal episodes of the first two seasons of American Horror Story) keeps the tricks to a minimum, instead opting for many smartly-framed shots that enhance the emotional beats of the scenes. And with a better idea of where much of the season is going–Laveau exacting her revenge; Cordelia and Zoe taking down Fiona; Queenie’s struggle over where she belongs; the sexy zombie threesome–it gives the less savory elements a small pass, though if I hear that damn saxophone the rest of the season, I might go Naked Hulk myself. “The Dead” has problems, but in the context of the season, it’s a tightening of the screws that sets up the back half of the season with reasonable success. And with so many wildcards still in the deck who don’t get any attention here, “The Dead” is as much about anticipation as anything else.

Stray Observations

  • Ghoul Tunes: Pretty obvious choice, “Song for the Dead” by Queens of the Stone Age.
  • Sarah Paulson doesn’t get much to do in this episode, but as always, she makes the most of it.
  • Hey, where’s Nan?
  • Actually there’s a whole lot of stuff that kind of disappeared this week. But there’s plenty of season left, so I’m not concerned just yet.
  • I really can’t get over how awful all of the Axeman stuff was. Remember when Connie Britton ate brains? It was pretty much like that.
  • Have you guys seen the Entertainment Weekly cover for Coven? Because it is absolutely glorious:
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Who will survive in America?

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Homeland – “A Red Wheelbarrow”

Maybe this season has been extra light on the plot twists. Maybe the slower speed of this season has had a lulling effect. Whatever the case, “A Red Wheelbarrow” kicked the narrative into overdrive and threw out about forty big twists, and with all this happening, it was easy to miss the best parts of the episode: the toll Saul’s operation is taking on Fara Sherazi.

We learn more about Fara from her few scenes here than we have all season. Before coming into the CIA’s fold, she worked as an investment banker. She lives with her father (who requires a nurse to stay with him while Fara is at work), and the two have come to America to make better lives for themselves. Fara’s kept her new line of work a secret from his father, but when an inspector general comes knocking after Fara takes two sick days, the secret’s out. This, unsurprisingly, does not go well. Fara’s father is furious, worried what might happen to their family and friends who live in Tehran when it’s discovered that she’s working for the CIA. “I’m an American!” she insists, and her character snaps into focus. Fara Sherazi feels the weight of the long war, the endless espionage, information gathering, stealth assassinations, bombings, and drone strikes that make up the War on Terror. She feels guilt from her own heritage; because she is Persian, she is seen as the Enemy, a symbol of every Al-Qaeda militant, every life lost since 9/11. But not even becoming an American citizen is enough atonement for Fara. Her work at the CIA is a path to perceived redemption. Though she still retains her cultural identity, she wishes to wash the symbolic blood from her hands, to finally pay penance for sins she didn’t commit.

Homeland has had consideration for the experiences of Middle Eastern and Muslin peoples living in the United States before, but not often, and it fell off considerably in season two. But here we are confronted with it directly. We’re seeing the pain and guilt of a young woman who shouldn’t have to bear either of those things. Fara isn’t an informant or agent, she’s an ordinary citizen who has internalized the massive amount of all-encompassing hatred that has no regards for borders or citizenship. When the inspector general mentions that her “loyalty” may be in question, it’s plain on Fara’s face that this is far from the first time she’s heard such concerns, except now they’re coming from the very people she’s fighting for.

But these scenes account for just a small part of “A Red Wheelbarrow.” Mira breaks things off with her lover, who turns out to be a spy of some kind. Or a stalker. I’m not totally sure. (Though after that cafe scene, one thing was certain: dude was a huge dick.) Carrie goes in for her first prenatal exam… thirteen weeks into the pregnancy. Wait, thirteen weeks? Does that mean…? Well, yes, here Carrie finally all but announces that Nicholas Brody is the father of unborn ginger lovechild. Saul reveals his plan to the White House, where Lockhart is sitting by smug and ready for Saul to be chopped down, only for Saul to get the go-ahead with his plan–which, by the way, turns out to be even more insane and extreme than we thought, including a regime change–until his last nine days are up. And then there’s the massive play against Leland Bennett, the lawyer Javadi said has ties to the real Langley bomber. But it all goes to hell once Franklin (the associate of Bennett’s who visited Carrie in the hospital) goes to help the bomber escape. For starters, his plan of “escape” involves a couple of silenced bullets. But Carrie sees the gun and, against Adal’s orders, goes in after him, forcing Quinn to take her out with a bullet to the bicep. Franklin kills the bomber and begins to melt his body with I have to guess is hydrofluoric acid–thanks Breaking Bad!–while Carrie is rushed to the hospital.

Oh, and if you, like Carrie, were wondering where Saul was during this highly important operation, don’t despair! Turns out Saul’s in… Caracas! At the Tower! And as he moves into the room of a doped-out, red-eyed, half-alive Nicholas Brody, the two finally meet eyes for the first time since the attack.

“A Red Wheelbarrow” is an immensely busy episode of television, jumping from plot to plot, though I commend the episode for mostly following the characters through the chronology of the narrative. And it’s hard for an episode to not be exciting when plot twists are flying at your face every ten minutes with even more new questions being raised in between. But man, the reveal of the real Langley bomber was one of the most anti-climactic moments in Homeland‘s brief history. There’s no way this wasn’t intentional–there’s definitely a whole lot going on with Franklin and Bennett we don’t know about, and if you weren’t sure, Carrie spells it out for us after getting shot–but after all this time you’d think the show would give the guy a little more time to materialize before getting the whole bullet/acid bath combo. And I guess Lockhart doesn’t really have the power I assumed in the past, as he’s treated as a minor annoyance before being scuttled off for the rest of the episode. And I’ll reiterate, I have no idea what that scene with Mira’s lover in the house was about. All this creates more questions Homeland will have to own up and answer at some point, and with the Javadi plot (which, fairly, could be a multi-season arc), Carrie’s pregnancy, and what I’m assuming will be Brody’s return to America, the back half of season three is going to have a ton of answers to dole out, a task the show is not always up to.

And it’s a bit of a shame that all these plot acrobatics essentially drown out Fara’s scenes, full of deep emotion and superb acting from Nazanin Boniadi. Better understanding the character means better understanding how the character fits in the narrative, obviously, and it’ll be helpful to have this glimpse into Fara’s personal life as Saul’s operation goes deeper and deeper, but there was a fragility to these scenes that can’t be replicated at Langley or a CIA safehouse where everyone’s trying to figure out their next move. Homeland rarely indulges in humanity like it did in those scenes, and I hope it’s a well the show won’t be afraid of returning to.

Stray Observations:

  • Chris Brody Watch: No Chris again this week, though now that his dad’s coming home maybe someone will finally pick him up from karate.

  • “I love you, I love making love to you” is the kind of line, at least in this context, that will instantly create a bottomless pit of disgust for anyone, fictional or otherwise, within me. Considering that Mira’s boytoy had barely been introduced, they picked the perfect way to signify that the dude was bad news.

  • I wonder how Quinn shooting Carrie will impact their near-inevitable future relationship. Better yet, what about Brody’s baby? Or Brody? Quinn is getting the short end of the stick on this one.

  • So now that Carrie’s going to a hospital outside of an intricate ploy, everyone’s going to find out she’s pregnant right?

  • I almost felt a tinge of sympathy for Senator Lockhart after he was forced to leave the briefing, and I wish we’d gotten a scene of his sitting on a bench looking dejected.

  • So who’s the bad guy this week? We’ve had Lockhart, Javadi, and Real Langley Bomber, now Franklin–and I guess Bennett?–is added to the list.

  • As early as last week I still firmly believed Dar Adal had some kind of ulterior motive in all of this, now I realize he’s just a professional ass-kisser.

  • I wonder how long Saul knew about Caracas before going there at the end of this episode. It could certainly put a different spin on his apology to Carrie about not telling her the Brody info earlier.

All that jazz

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American Horror Story – “The Axeman Cometh”

How important is it for a season of American Horror Story to have a strong central narrative?

In its two previous seasons, the show had a clear storyline that spanned the entire season, with a million and a half subplots branching out from it, many of them evaporting after a single episode or spiraling into craziness. So far in Coven, there are several main plots, but none of them feel fully formed quite yet, and combined with the requisite diversions into crazy town, it’s made the season a bit more difficult to parse out.

When I read the episode synopsis for “The Axeman Cometh,” I immediately was taken back to Asylum‘s “Unholy Night,” the episode that gave the world Murder Santa, quite possibly the greatest thing to exist in American Horror Story yet. And in some ways, “The Axeman Cometh” is reminiscent of Murder Santa, but mostly in concept. Where Murder Santa was a way to pay homage to season one’s–and no, I will not call it Murder House because that is dumb–premise, where the murders of the past haunt of the tenants of the present, Coven brings the Axeman directly into its DNA. I’ll admit, I had almost forgotten the Axeman was even a component of this episode after Zoe found Madison, and his appearance in Cordelia’s room was the most Murder Santa-esque part of the whole episode. But when he sits down beside Fiona at the bar, Coven enters an entirely different relationship with the character. And that’s the biggest problem: where, in this menagerie of crazy swirling around our four or five big plots, is there room for the Axeman, and what purpose can he serve? I’m interested to find out, but it’s odd choice at the season’s midpoint.

Despite being the episode’s namesake, “The Axeman Cometh” has surprisingly little to do with the charming fella who just wants to hear a little jazz. I already mentioned that Zoe finds Madison, but there’s also Cordelia dealing with her new blindness (and the visions it allows her), which leads directly to the revelation that Hank is actually a witch hunter (as opposed to just a garden-variety serial killer) hired by Laveau to infiltrate the school and destroy the coven, Zoe conveniently stumbling onto FrankenKyle when she goes to Misty Day for help reviving Madison, and also more business about Fiona slowly dying of cancer and gaining new powers, or something. Oh, and Zoe is either 100% the new Supreme, or we’re being set up for a plot twist that will make zero sense whatsoever.

It’s all very ambitious, but ambition needs a foundation to support it. It’s here that the Ryan Murphy American Horror Story Repertory Players come in. The slow, nearly-plodding Fiona arc survives almost solely on Lange’s performance, which takes elements from her two previous performances and mashes them into yet another boozy mess. Taissa Farmiga, who was good-not-great as the moody loner, shines in her new position as the leader of the young witches. And Sarah Paulson, bless her heart, continues to imbue some of the season’s most bizarre stories with a grace that would be impossible from a lesser actress. And the supporting players are no slouch, either. While I crave more Misty Day, Lily Rabe steals every scene she wanders into, and her spotlight tonight, when she attempts to bathe FrankenKyle and sends him into a sexual abused-triggered rage, was one of the episode’s best moments. Gabourey Sidibe and Jamie Brewer continue to deliver from the sidelines, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cackle with glee when the first words from a revived Emma Roberts, slit throat still exposed, are “I could really use a cigarette.”

But what does it all amount to? Just when it seems Fiona is the season’s secret protagonist, Hank as Witch Hunter is revealed; the new Supreme keeps switching from girl to girl at a dizzying pace; I’m still not 100% what Laveau is even doing. I don’t mean to sound so harsh, I really am enjoying this season! But Asylum set a bar for the way this series tells its stories, and Coven hasn’t quite lived up. Do I expect several thousand more twists and turns? Absolutely. Is it possible this will all make sense in a few weeks’ time? Of course. But by the season’s midway point, I’m longing for a more cohesive effort, because without that cohesion, the bonkersawesome doesn’t get the chance to shine the way it should. And if the bonkersawesome isn’t shining bright, is it even still American Horror Story?

Stray Observations:

  • Ghoul Tunes: In honor of the Axeman, it’s “Bloody Murderer” by Cursive.
  • Dennis O’Hare speaks! Sort of!
  • Myrtle Snow has been sown, which means we’ll be without her for at least a few episodes, but I can’t wait until she returns.
  • Evan Peters is really making the most of naked raging.

Steven Universe and the embrace of genderless programming

For those in on the new school of hip, all-ages appealing animated programming, Steven Universe is likely already on the radar. The show tells the story of a young man, Steven Universe (Zach Callison), who lives with a team of intergalactic warriors called the Crystal Gems: Garnet (Estelle), Amethyst (Micheala Dietz), and Pearl (Deedee Magno). They all posses a magic gem (Steven, whose gem is embedded in his bellybutton, inherited his from his mother, Rose Quartz, a former Crystal Gem) that summons a different special weapon, and have been tasked with defending humanity. Though Steven in an anomaly among the Gems–he’s the only male on the team, still young, and has little control over his magic gem–the others care for him, helping him train his powers and solve life’s little (and sometimes, very big) problems.

What immediately makes Steven Universe distinctive is the woman behind it all, Rebecca Sugar. A former storyboard artist, writer, and composer for Adventure Time, Sugar is the first sole female creator in Cartoon Network history. But while this is an important accomplishment, Sugar seems to have no intention of creating a “female” show. Or a “male” show, for that matter. Steven Universe has no use for traditional gender lines in animation or storytelling, trading those in for forward, smart stories that cover the spectrum: action-packed beat-em-ups sit comfortably within outsider stories; sentimental family moments rub shoulders with comic book-level apocalypse scenarios. It’s not just that three of the protagonists are female, it’s that gender has little bearing on what happens within the show. Even The Powerpuff Girls, a show that dealt with gender stereotypes directly and indirectly, is seen as a “male” show–though how much of this is because of the show or because of our cultural attitudes is up for debate. Steven Universe isn’t the first show to shift in this direction, but it feels like the first to fully embrace to, to not cover it up with subterfuge.

But the genderless nature of Steven Universe is just one reason to watch. The animation is lovely, utilizing big, distinct shapes and a large color palette that make each character, villain, and location distinctive, and the action animation is no slouch either. The writing aims for pleasant, but is peppered with enough gut-busting humor and touching moments to keep it fresh and exciting. The music is lively, incorporating electronic styles that suit the sci-fi/magic mashup of the show. And the influences run the gamut: Adventure Time (obviously), 70s and 80s sci-fi anime like Robotech and Mobile Suit Gundam, The Powerpuff Girls, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and more. It’s a smorgasbord of treats that combine into a new flavor all of its own.

With the right push from Cartoon Network, Steven Universe could become their next big intergenerational hit, and hopefully with that will come the big shift away from gendered storytelling. In our modern age, there’s just not a place for it, and Steven Universe could be the show to finally give it the boot.

The damage we do

Homeland – “Gerontion”

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities.

This passage comes from the T.S. Eliot poem “Gerontion,” which gives the episode its title. “Gerontion” relates the ideas and thoughts of an old man, a man who has lived most of his life in one era, only to have the world drastically changed and brought into a new era by violence. Saul is Homeland‘s Gerontion. He pines for the old ways in all aspects of his life, bemoans the changing of the world. But as most things in Homeland, it’s never quite that simple.

Much of “Gerontion” is given to Saul’s meeting with Javadi, and it’s the “Q & A” sequel I wanted and more. The interrogation in “Q & A” was loud, passionate, violent. Here, it’s quiet. It’s two old men, both looking at the paths they’ve taken to end up where they are. Saul is confident, and Javadi is more than willing to flip. But Saul wants more. Saul knows his time is limited, and he’s going out with a bang. A new scheme is launched. Javadi returns to Iran.

But Fara isn’t part of this world, not really. She sees the facts, the direct lines between consequences and actions, with no room for moral ambiguity or schemes. In her eyes, Javadi is only evil, and deserves punishment. Saul’s plan does not sit well with her, an unwanted complication in an operation this small, this secret, this fragile. Fara holds more power than she yet realizes, and combined with her thirst for justice, she may figure out how to wield it.

Peter Quinn is a man who just wants out. After confessing for the murders Javadi committed, he admits to Carrie that he doesn’t believe in the work they’re doing anymore. But even though he is beaten, he is still loyal. When he agrees to help Carrie follow her new lead on the Langley bomber, it isn’t in the name of justice or freedom. He agrees because Carrie needs him. But how long can a single man dive deeper into a world that is tearing him apart? Maybe he should ask Saul.

Saul feels a sense of pride by the end of “Gerontion.” He’s recruited Javadi as an asset. His secret operation seems to be going as smoothly as any top-secret intelligence operation can. He makes up with his wife. He gives Lockhart a proverbial middle finger and regains an ally in Dar Adal. But all of these points of satisfaction are built on the weakest foundations. Javadi is a massive liability. His secret operation is taking an immense toll on those involved. Mira isn’t interested in getting back together with Saul. And Lockhart, even when locked in a tinted and soundproofed conference room, has power and a line to the president, and now that he knows the truth about Saul’s operation, there’s no way he won’t act on it. It’s a question of when, not if, everything falls apart.

And Carrie moves one step closer to the truth, to Brody. While driving to his plane, Javadi reveals to Carrie that Saul asked him if Brody was the Langely bomber, and that Javadi said no. But he dangles the question in front of Carrie, begging for her to bite. She resists intially, she knows his tricks–and even tried to warn Fara earlier, to no avail–but even she crumbles eventually. And when she finally asks, he tells her that the bomber is still alive, still living in the country, and that Javadi’s lawyer can lead her to him. Carrie has a new mission: exonerate Nicholas Brody.

As much as “Gerontion” is about the old men observing the world around them and how it’s changed, it’s also about the truth, whether it be the actual truth, or the “truth” we use to manipulate events in our favor. What Lockhart and Carrie do with the information they’ve received is vitally important, and yet we only know for sure of one who has accurate information. Lockhart has the truth and can weaponize it. Hell, that’s his job. Carrie might have the truth, but when it comes to matters of Brody, she’s impulsive and pushes too far. There’s no way at least some of this truth doesn’t hurt our protagonists, and worst case scenario, we’re heading into a full-scale shitfest.

“Gerontion” is continuing the slow and steady course correction of season three’s midsection. As with the last few episodes, new plot lines are opening up in ways that exciting, if also terrifying in how badly they could play out. Mandy Patinkin and Shaun Toub are dynamite together, and Rupert Friend is giving a lot more shades to “brooding loner” than should be allowed. Even Nazanin Boniadi, who is shunted aside after the first few minutes, gets a few intense scenes that sell her own conflicts with a handful of worried looks. Director Carl Franklin, whose recent work includes episodes of The Newsroom and House of Cards, treats each plot as its own distinct entity, changing styles to fit an episode that, tonally, jumps around quite a bit. But what’s most immediate about “Gerontion” is what happens next. Homeland has finally set up some dominoes, we just have to wait until it knocks them down.

Stray Observations:

  • Chris Brody Watch: Look, we don’t even get any Dana in episode, so there was no way in hell we’d check in Chris’ karate class.

  • Spending some time away from the Brody family was a relief.

  • Fara makes another pointed reference to Caracas in the beginning of the episode, which makes me wonder which happens first: Brody being exonerated, or found.

  • I’m not sure if Carrie’s sickness at the crime scene was supposed to be a reference to her pregnancy or just being overwhelmed by Javadi’s carnage. Or maybe it was both.

  • As always, I’m aiming for “cautiously optimistic” when new, crazy twists are introduced. There are just many ways for “Carrie exonerates Brody” to go right as there are wrong.

The good son

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Adventure Time – “Play Date”

Since Ice King moved in with Finn and Jake, Adventure Time hast mostly relegated him to the background, popping up once an episode to remind you that he’s still hanging around while Gunther rebuilds his kingdom. And yet, he’s seemed like a fine guest, but even pleasant guests have to move on eventually.

The plan to get Ice King out of the tree fort is a classic: the New Best Friend. It’s a simple play, but it does require some planning. The NBF needs to be someone from the periphery of all parties, able to bring something different to the table, yet connect to the target. And for Ice King, Abracadaniel is an excellent choice. They’re both outcast wizards with childish outlooks on life who enjoy music and being the center of attention. But there’s one thing Finn and Jake couldn’t plan for: the Trickster Twins.

See, the problem that arises from Finn and Jake dealing with manchildren is that neither has experience with real children. Sure, Finn is young, but he’s not old enough to recognize the behaviors of children. Jake is just clueless all around. And so neither realizes that sticking Ice King, mischievous and attention-seeking, to Abracadaniel, a beta even to Ice King and a willing enabler of his hare-brained schemes, is a recipe for trouble.

And man, does that trouble escalate quickly. Just like in “We Fixed a Truck,” a pleasant episode turns very dark very quickly. Ice King and Abracadaniel have fun putting on a revue for Finn, Jake, and BMO and playing video games together, but eventually the Trickster Twins have to cause trouble. Ice King takes down the demon sword and reveals an incantation on the handle that he says will summon a vision of the demon Kee-Oth, whose blood is infused in the sword. But when Ice King actually reads the runes, they summon the real Kee-Oth into the tree fort. Finn and Jake show up a minute too late, and Kee-Oth demands his blood back or else he murders Jake (who he mistakes for Joshua, the one who actually stole Kee-Oth’s blood). Finn relents, but it’s not enough. A now-superpowered Kee-Oth disappears in a burst of flame, taking Jake with him. Ice King and Abracadaniel decide they’re bored of the tree fort, so they head back to the Ice Kingdom, which was been rebuilt for weeks. Finn is left alone, without his best friend or his sword, and in shock.

Finn hasn’t thought of Ice King as a bad guy for quite some time now, but with the recent number of incidents causing him to question the loyalties of long-time friends, this could, and should, have a massive impact on their relationship. Finn is able to accept and roll with many things, but even he has a breaking point, and the loss of his best friend to a demon bent on revenge is more than enough to get him there. The fact that Ice King’s apathy has rubbed off on Abracadaniel is also a bad sign. Abracadaniel is impressionable and in the infancy of his powers, but his compassion is what drew Finn and Jake to him in the first place. With that gone, and his involvement in Jake’s kidnapping, there’s nothing to stop Finn from seeing him as one of the bad guys. Perhaps we’re reaching a point where Finn is going to say enough and step back into his rigid Lawful Good alignment. This could have dangerous repercussions for many characters, most importantly Bubblegum, Marceline, and Jake, all of whom have taught Finn that the line between good and evil is extremely fuzzy.

But most immediately, Finn has to rescue Jake from Kee-Oth, and there’s no chance that’s going to be easy. As we reach the end of season five, it makes sense for the writers to bring back the more serialized and epic elements of the show, and Jake’s kidnapping is an exciting and unexpected way to begin.

Shrill, sad cannonade

Homeland – “Still Positive”

At the mid-way point of Homeland‘s third season, it’s impossible to tell who’s winning and who’s losing. After a lot of middling around, in the last two episodes plots and schemes are unfolding and winding their serpentine paths toward presumed disaster. The show is shifting back to its original themes: the advantages of human espionage and the dangers of trust. Our characters, drawn in such close parallels at the beginning of the season, have begun taking divergent paths that cross and deviate at a moment’s notice. And somehow, in the middle of that, Homeland seems to be becoming a show about Saul Berenson, the man attempting to hold everything together.

Mothers, current, perspective, and all other variants, litter “Still Positive.” Hell, it’s what gives the episode its title: after her first meeting with Javadi, Carries takes an at-home pregnancy test, which gives a positive readout. She places it in a drawer, where we see rows and rows of other pregnancy tests, all with the same result. Jessica Brody feels more powerless than ever, and when Dana finally leaves at the episode’s end–but not before legally changing her last name–it’s less a shock than a devastating sense of failure that seems to was over her. And then there’s Javadi, who murders the mothers of his son and grandson in an act of retaliation against Saul.

Outside of Jessica Brody, motherhood has never been a major area of exploration for Homeland, but with Carrie’s impending pregnancy, it seems to exploding into the mix. Many Golden Age dramas have dealt with motherhood, usually by examining how terrible mothers are and how it effects their children. It’s too early to say, but I’m not convinced that’s what Homeland has in mind. Ideally, given that Dana’s departure and the reveal of Carrie’s pregnancy both happen here, the show will shift some focus onto Jessica Brody herself, as opposed to Jessica Brody in reaction to Dana. Morena Baccarin could work magic with the right scenes, and if motherhood is going to become a major theme, there’s no better place to start.

All of which is not to say that Carrie being pregnant is necessarily a good idea. It seems almost desperate by the writers, a card they get to play because they have a female protagonist. It’s a stale story to be sure, especially when there are so few “prestige” dramas with female protagonists, and it also might create some more big logical problems for the show. Mainly, how did no one ever realize she was pregnant? Carrie was committed to a mental institution just a few episodes ago, did no run any blood work on her? Is this part of her and Saul’s plan? Maybe they’ll attempt to explain away these questions later, but for now, they’ve been raised on a massive level.

In the CIA’s orbit, schemes on schemes on schemes are hurtling along, and just when the season didn’t have a single clearly-defined antagonist, we suddenly find ourselves with two. Having both a foreign and domestic threat is nothing new to the show (remember when Brody stopped the vice-president’s heart with hacking?), but neither of these threats are vying for our sympathy, which gives both Javadi and Senator Lockhart better definition, a saving grace consider they’re truly emerging halfway through the season. The Lockhart scenes weren’t as riveting as those in last week’s episode, but seeing Lockhart plant the seeds of a partnership with Adal was worthwhile. On the other hand, nearly all of the Javadi scenes were exciting and riveting, especially in the episode’s second half. Seeing Carrie on the other side of an interrogation has been a popular trick this season, but it’s never worked better than it did when she was hooked up to the polygraph being grilled by Javadi. I also didn’t realize how much I’d missed those scenes of Saul and his small team sitting in a CIA safehouse listening and worrying about Carrie. The team, which includes Carrie, Quinn, Virgil’s brother Max, and Fara, is great, even if we’re Virgil-less, and now that they’ve got Javadi, I’m hoping for a “Q & A” sequel next week.

There were still some bumps in the road, most of them occurring during the scenes between Javadi and Carrie. When Carrie revealed her plan immediately after Javadi’s men leave the room and he calls her on lying, I was suspicious, and the dread that accompanies every instance of Carrie playing her hand too soon appeared in my throat. But when it was revealed that it was all part of the plan, it was less unsettling and more just clunky plotting. I’m also still not 100% on the plausibility train for a lot of this deeply intricate plan Carrie and Saul are playing, and there were more than a few moments throughout the episode where I wasn’t quite sure what exactly was going on, especially with surveillance situations. I’m also still worried Leo is lurking in the shadows ready to leak Dana’s nude photos to the press, but I won’t stop worrying about that until the last cut to black of the season.

Earlier, I said the title “Still Positive” came from Carrie’s pregnancy tests, but it also ties into my thoughts about Homeland becoming the Saul Berenson show. From the time Carrie was captured last episode to the moment they realize where Javadi is going at the end of this one, Saul is inhumanly optimistic. The world he knows, already destroyed by a literal bomb, is being destroyed by plenty of metaphorical ones. All of these schemes lead back to him eventually, whether he’s the mastermind or they exist to take him down. Saul has a singular vision, but just like Carrie before him, that singular vision might leave him as a threat to homeland security, a broken person living a broken life with nothing left to fight for. Then again, as I said, we still don’t know who’s winning and who’s losing, and it’s truly anyone’s game.

Stray Observations:

  • Chris Brody Watch: Chris may think his sister’s new last name is cool, but she doesn’t even give him a hug goodbye when she leaves. Don’t worry Chris, you can always vent in karate.

  • I have to admit, I gasped in shock twice during this episode. One when we saw the drawer of pregnancy tests, and again when Javadi went on his little murder rampage.

  • Looking back on this episode, I can’t help but feel a good 20-30% was setting up future stories and mysteries, but it wasn’t immediately obvious while I was watching, which is a plus.

  • If Leo is gonna leak those nudes, I hope they take a few episodes before it happens. He’s such an awful character who dragged Dana’s story down considerably, and I’m excited about being free of him for at least a little while.

  • Let me be clear: I’m not 100% against the idea of Carrie being pregnant, it just seems like hoping a huge can of worms when they need it the least. I’m anxious to see how the writers navigate the story, and if they handle it poorly it could send the show flying off the rails again.