What have you been watching? Including Ascension, The Fall, State of Affairs, Ground Floor and Scorpion

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Yes, a doubler – two in one week to cater for the Christmas break and mop up a few leftovers. There’s only been one new show of note this week, though, and that’s…

Ascension (US: Syfy; UK: Sky1)
A spaceship is sent out in the 1960s to colonise a planet in the Alpha Centauri system. 50 years later and the ships’ descendants experience their first murder. Except there’s a Completely Obvious Twist…

I’m only about halfway through the second of the three episodes, so I can’t comment on how this ends, only that the first episode is catastrophically dull as it tries to establish its Mad Men in space vibe while simultaneously trying to avoid giving away that twist, which even a passing acquaintanceship with science, technology, history and the release date of Elton John’s ‘Rocketman’ will reveal within the first ten minutes. However, once the twist is revealed, everything gets a lot more bearable as the writers stop contorting themselves to avoid giving the game away. It’s still not great, and the main stars – Tricia Helfer and Lauren Lee Smith – are lumbered with duller versions of their best known roles, but you might be relieved to know it does at least get better. And you can while away the time spotting references to classic SF authors and noted authors of the 1960s.

After the jump, I’ll be running through only The Fall, Ground Floor, Scorpion and State of Affairs. I’ll tell you now, though – I’m only halfway through Elementary (it’s okay so far – who is the publisher of the ornithology quotes, hmm? – but isn’t this a show that’s supposed to be about Holmes and Watson? I’m not getting that any more).

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Scorpion (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
Dominoes
The rare beast of a schmaltzy Christmas episode that still works, with a wittle wost boy stuck in a sinkhole on the beach and only our team (plus 1,700 other emergency workers) can save him – while learning a little something about both themselves and Christmas. Very silly and ultimately emotionally manipulative, but it all sorts of works quite well.
First episode

State of Affairs (US: NBC)
Ar Rissalah
And we’re back to the standard political staples of all-powerful Islamic terrorists, journalists being unhelpful, etc. But the arc is at least proving interesting and Heigl’s ties to the president are paying off as plot elements now rather than being a hindrance. Probably a keeper now I’m in this far, but still not a recommend.
First episode

The recommended list

The Fall (UK: BBC Two; US: Hulu)
Episodes six
Once again, Alan Cubbitt proves he can’t end a series, but a cracking extra long episode that finally gives us the confrontation we’ve been waiting for. Nevertheless, some brilliant moments in both this and the series, and whether the series returns or not, it’s easily the best modern ‘serial killer’ drama and the ending works well either way.
First episode

Ground Floor (US: TBS)
Baked and Toasted
A slightly painful episode, with few laughs. Efforts to make Briga Heelan’s character a reformed and unknowing mean girl seem strange, but almost work, but pretty much everything else flounders. Back to the romance, guys – it’s what you’re best at.
First episode




  • aylwardreed

    I thought the ending to The Fall was fantastic. I've heard a fair few people(particularly The Guardian) having a big whinge about the decline in quality this series and how it's really silly. Personally I don't know what series they're watching as apart from that stupidness in episode 3 it's been top notch. The confrontation we'd all been waiting for was brilliantly written. I was just amazed by the layers and gradual push/pull nature of the dialogue. It also had some interesting things to say about consent/rape/age etc.

    Two brilliant bits: the conversation between Stella and Jim about the difference between what Paul had done and what Jim briefly tried to do with Stella in the hotel room.

    The part of the interview where “Who were you talking to? Me? You the people who like to read and watch programmes about people like you?” was pretty much said down the lens to us and made you think about why we watch things like serial killer shows.

  • I agree 100%. The absolute conclusion was the only bad bit about the final episode, because it felt like an abrupt way to keep the story open-ended. Otherwise, all good.

  • JustStark

    It was… okay. I was a bit disappointed that as soon as the killer got Stella in the room, he just started confessing to all his crimes. There wasn't really push/pull; Stella was pushing at an open door. I mean, maybe it makes psychological sense that he was just waiting to unburden himself to the right person; but it made foe an unsatisfying conclusion.

    Also, it seemed off that with a possibly-alive victim still out there, and the kidnapper in custody, the detectives would find time not only to shag but to have a leisurely breakfast chat. Surely there should have been some sense of urgency? Some efforts to find the dying woman?

    But mainly… RUC officers always carried their weapons attached to their belts with a coiled kettle-lead kind of a thing, specifically in order to stop them being stolen as happens in episode five (and sets up the ending). I see no reason why the PSNI would have stopped that, so what exactly was going on there? Dramatic license of a very annoying kind?

    (But then, it seems such a sensible thing that I don't see why US cops don't do it and apparently they don't).

  • My impression from documentaries and the like (caveat: best behaviour for benefit of cameras possible) is that police interrogations in the UK aren't interrogations – they're interviews, at least in cases like this. The idea is that there's so much evidence on the table already that it's clear it's going to court and the suspect is going to lose. Given that it counts against them later if they don't say anything, uncoerced confession is the best strategy at that point.

    So to me, that was one of the best bits of the interview. It's very much like the ending of Prime Suspect, too, and Cubbitt wrote PS2, so possibly a homage.

  • JustStark

    The idea is that there's so much evidence on the table already that it's
    clear it's going to court and the suspect is going to lose

    I understand that too, though I thought the general result of it was not so much 'uncoerced confession' as, 'Suspect sits with mouth shut and lawyer beside them while police officer rads out the case for the benefit of the tape', ie, they are less about getting a confession and more about setting up the 'do not mention' bit of 'it may harm your defence if you do not mention when

    questioned something you later rely on in court'.

    But be that as it may, I still found it dramatically unsatisfying. The driving question of the series has been, 'Will Scully find the kidnapped girl in time to save her?' (It's a given that this time the killer will be caught, so the suspense is in the fate of the kidnapped victim).

    And yet once Spector is in custody… they seem to forget all about that. From the moment Spector is caught hey don't seem concerned about Rose at all. And then out of the blue he offers to make a deal (not even when she's in the room: it's relayed by telephone!); and, as it's not an unreasonable deal which might require Scully to make a dramatic decision, she simply goes along with the deal and, indeed, finds the girl.

    It feels unearned, lacking in causality. Undramatic. It's as if he had simply walked into Musgrave and given himself up.

    (Or maybe I'm just still disappointed about the 'stolen gun' thing.)

  • “I understand that too, though I thought the general result of it was not so much 'uncoerced confession' as, 'Suspect sits with mouth shut and lawyer beside them while police officer rads out the case for the benefit of the tape', ie, they are less about getting a confession and more about setting up the 'do not mention' bit of 'it may harm your defence if you do not mention when

    questioned something you later rely on in court'.”

    It can be both and other things. I have, in my time, had to edit articles by lawyers about the purpose of pre-court cross-examination (in a different context), and my memory of the advice was that it could be used to gather evidence, to put the case so that there are no surprise revelations in court, to make sure that the defence doesn't have to explain why it never put the evidence to the accused before the trial and so on.

    But if you have a big chunk of evidence, a confession is obviously the golden result.

    The converse of that is the US system where you don't have the “if you don't mention it…” caveat. David Simon (writer of The Wire) says that every cop he knows instantly rejects any TV cop show where the first thing a criminal does is anything except say “I want my lawyer” and then not say a word. Confessions never happen.

    But I wonder how much we're conditioned to expect the confession by TV drama, simply because of the time/cast restraints requiring it, rather than a lengthy, indeterminate court scene at the end?

    I didn't get the impression the police forget about Rose. They contrasted John Lynch and Gillian Anderson's approach, I thought, where Lynch is old school cop “he's evil” getting nowhere with Anderson's “weight of the evidence”, intellectual approach. Lynch didn't get anywhere with getting Rose's location, and it was clear Spector wasn't going to reveal it no matter what because that would mean he was guilty and confessing to a crime. It's only when he confesses to Anderson about the other murders that it becomes a possibility, and even then it's not until later.

    The rush of the denouement was the dissatisfying part of the episode, but I imagine they're saving up Spector's motivations for the next series, if there is one.

  • JustStark

    It's only when he confesses to Anderson about the other murders that it
    becomes a possibility, and even then it's not until later.

    Well that was it, you see: she shows him they've got him bang to rights for the murder where they have the weapon, and he confesses. But he doesn't tell her where the girl is, or confess to any of the other crimes. Because they haven't got him for those.

    And then she goes off and shags Merlin (with, as mentioned, time for a relaxed pillow chat about who is more screwed up, even though there's a kidnap victim out there somewhere freezing to death) and… he suddenly decides, offscreen, for no reason, not because of anything she does, not because of any new evidence, not because of any clever insight she has, but just… decides, to confess and take them to the kidnapped girl.

    Why? Did he realise there were only twenty minutes left and people weren't going to accept another lack of climax like the last series?

    Or maybe Merlin cast a spell on behalf of his new girlfriend…

  • I think both the first and the second series endings were open. The second series' ending certainly feels as much of a bolt-on to ensure another series as the first series'.

    Basically, I don't think Cubbitt can do proper series endings. Or if he can, he (or the producers or the BBC) choose not to in order to get more series. Up until then, beyond the silliness in episode three (?), the whole thing was very sound, though, I thought.

  • JustStark

    I think both the first and the second series endings were open

    Really? The first series didn't end at all, it simply stopped. The central driving question, 'Will they catch the killer?', was neither answered nor dramatically twisted; it simply was left hanging.

    The second series, on the other hand, did resolve both that and the new central question set up in the second episode, 'Will they find the girl in time?'

    The weird coda thing notwithstanding, the second series didn't have an open ending. What do you think was open about it?

  • Will Rose survive? Will Spector survive? Will Merlin survive? Will Spector escape? Will Spector use his knowledge of Lynch/Anderson's conversation somehow? Have the Italian girl, the wife and the daughter really come to terms with what Spector did?

    I imagine, if there is a third series, it'll either be about the prosecution of Spector and possibly release following a mistrial or renewed hunt from him following his escape. So all those questions and incidents have been set up in preparation for that third series and therefore haven't been answered.

  • JustStark

    Will Rose survive?

    The implication is clearly yes, isn't it?

    Will Spector survive? Will Merlin survive? Will Spector escape?

    We don't know, but those aren't 'questions left open', they're new questions asked by the cliffhanger.

    There's a big difference between leaving a question open, and introducing a new question in the last seconds to form a cliffhanger.

    I imagine, if there is a third series, it'll either be about the
    prosecution of Spector and possibly release following a mistrial or renewed hunt from him following his escape. So all those questions and incidents have been set up in preparation for that third series and therefore haven't been answered

    Right, but they weren't the focus of the series. The actual story of the series (of both series) was resolved in the final episode, before the cliffhanger was used to suggest a new direction.

    There was, in that horrible Yank term, 'closure'.

    This is very different to, say, the ending of the first series, which answered none of the questions it had brought up and felt more like a pause halfway through the story than an ending.

    And — to come back to other TV — very different to the ending of this last series of Homeland, wich also annoyingly simply ended without any resolution (very differently to, say, the second series of Homeland which did resolve all its plot threads, before again using a cliffhanger to send the story off in a new direction at the last moment).

  • “The implication is clearly yes, isn't it?”

    Or she dies in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Or there's not enough room in the ambulance for he, what with Spector and Merlin having been shot – who gets priority? That's clearly an implication from the dialogue over the radio.

    But the cliffhanger isn't absolutely arbitrary. The storyline with the violent husband is set up throughout the series and it's integral to the arrest of Spector in the first place. That final half hour is as much about providing the husband with an opportunity to shoot Spector as it is about locating Rose, so if we discount it as inadmissible then so too must the revelation of Rose's location be inadmissible, in which case the whole thing is still open. It's a cliffhanger, but one that's been architected from the beginning of the second series and perhaps even the first.

    And the (main) dramatic question of the first series was surely: “Will Gillian Anderson discover who the killer is? Will she be able to arrest him? Will she then be able to get him into prison and stop him killing again?” Which hasn't been answered because Spector's still alive, not in prison, etc.

    As an adjunct to that and thematically, the point of the series was to demonstrate that Spector was in a sense a 'normal' outcropping of society's concept of masculinity. And the questions raised in the first series included “What will happen when his wife finds out that he's a serial killer? Will she accept it? Will she try to excuse it?” Again, no true resolution on that, since we don't even have the announcement of Spector's arrest in connection with the murders.

    So I'd say that all the second series really does in the second (or was it third episode?) is raise a new, more specific, limited question “Can Rose be rescued?” which it then answers. None of the big questions of either series are truly answered, so they're really about as open as each other.