Ian Mcshane (#110 of 19)

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 3, "Head Full of Snow"

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 3, “Head Full of Snow”

Starz

American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 3, “Head Full of Snow”

After the enraged and despairing racial-religious politics of “The Secret of Spoon,” “Head Full of Snow” serves as a tonal palette cleanser for American Gods, reveling in the solace of belief during times of loneliness and despair. The episode is appealingly scruffy around the edges, as television isn’t usually allowed to roam this freely. At times, “Head Full of Snow” suggests that creators and screenwriters Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and director David Slade are getting high on the existentialist fumes of Mad Men. And this episode also once again recalls certain portions of Fuller’s Hannibal, notably the first half of the third season, in which the characters wandered the Italy of our opera- and horror-film-fed imaginations.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 2, "The Secret of Spoon"

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 2, “The Secret of Spoon”

Starz

American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 2, “The Secret of Spoon”

Starz’s American Gods comes into its own with “The Secret of Spoon,” achieving a free-associative emotional ferocity that wasn’t fully present in last week’s “The Bone Orchard.” While the phrase “free-associative” feels right as a descriptor of this episode’s wandering, hallucinatory emotional texture, “The Secret of Spoon” is actually quite tightly structured and governed by rhyming symbols, in a manner that recalls co-creator Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal.

American Gods Recap Season 1, Episode 1, "The Bone Orchard"

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American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “The Bone Orchard”

Starz

American Gods Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “The Bone Orchard”

While reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I was often stopped in the street by people who saw it in my hands and wanted to have an impromptu pow-wow about its greatness. I often have a book in my hands, and I’ve never before encountered such reactions, which I enjoyed more than the novel. Gaiman’s narrative is imaginatively conceived, but it’s composed of hundreds of pages of exposition preceding a battle that never commences. Gaiman tells a long shaggy-dog joke, in which humankind’s various gods across the ages are revealed to be as gullible as their worshipers, subject to the manipulations of a rigged society that distracts us from our subservience with a trumped war between cultural factions that serve the same leader. It’s quite resonant politically, but the novel is all theme. There’s barely a plot, the characters are ciphers, and Gaiman’s prose is lean and studiously workmanlike. The notion of gods as scared and foolish projections of their scared and foolish creators (for we are their gods) is poignant though, and it’s this idea that’s ostensibly captured readers’ imaginations.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 7, "The Broken Man"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man”

Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) have come to Bear Island, home of the Mormonts, to ask them to honor their pact with House Stark and to aid them in reclaiming Winterfell. The scene could be set as a sad comedy, what with Jon, the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, reduced to humbly petitioning a 10-year-old, Lady Lyanna (Bella Ramsey), for troops—and there’s a grim humor in the fact that she has but 62 soldiers to pledge. But that’s not at all how writer Bryan Cogman and director Mark Mylod establish the scene, for they understand that war is a serious thing, regardless of the ages of those involved. Lyanna is impatient, but not impetuous, and though she’s reluctant to endanger the men and women she’s found herself responsible for, she understands Davos all too well when he warns her of the undying who will split a divided North. “This isn’t someone else’s war,” he tells her, not as a superior, but as an equal comrade. “This is our war.”

Big Love Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, "Come, Ye Saints"

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<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “Come, Ye Saints”
<em>Big Love</em> Recap: Season 3, Episode 6, “Come, Ye Saints”

So let's talk about God.

I mean, He's arguably the most important character in Big Love, even if we never directly see Him, even if we never are sure how He feels about the Henricksons. Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) is always so concerned about how the two of them are getting along that we are forced to take these sorts of things into account, even if we don't particularly believe in God in any way, shape or form. Bill's deteriorating relationship with his faith has provided a hidden spine to Big Love's third season, and it finally erupts in tonight's episode, in one of the all-time great television images to my mind.

Coraline: How Awesome? So Awesome.

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<em>Coraline</em>: How Awesome? So Awesome.
<em>Coraline</em>: How Awesome? So Awesome.

How awesome is Coraline? So awesome. That's the Twitter review, and that's really all that needs to be said up front.

Coraline is that rarest of creatures, the PG-rated kids' movie with no big scares (there's one “boo” moment, but it's pretty wan) that can still creep you out through tone and theme alone. Neil Gaiman's come up with a plot mirror to, well, Mirrormask: young girl feels neglected by well-meaning parents, enters a much more appealing fantasy world, wants to stay, discovers her desire to escape is actually selfishness that could literally kill her parents, saves the fantasy world's oppressed and her parents, returns to a reality where it seems it's all been a dream, and has ambiguous confirmation of her heroism at the end. The difference, visually, is money and medium: Mirrormask's relatively low budget led to conceptually clever but necessarily murky CGI visuals roughly interacting with live-action players. Coraline has more bills, hence 3D stop-motion animation, which is the perfect way for Gaiman's fantasy to come alive.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 12, "Tell Him Something Pretty"

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Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “Tell Him Something Pretty”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 12, “Tell Him Something Pretty”

The closing shot of last night's Deadwood episode was never meant as a series-ender. But that's what it was, and for a number of reasons, it was both appropriate and troubling: Ian McShane's Al Swearengen kneeling on the floor of his office, cleaning up a bloodstain.

The blood belonged to one of Al's prostitutes, Jen (Jen Lutheran), whose only crime was vaguely resembling Trixie (Paula Malcomson). Trixie impulsively shot and wounded mining mogul George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) in last week's episode to avenge Hearst's contract killing of the good-hearted miner Ellsworth (Jim Beaver), husband of Alma Garret Ellsworth (Molly Parker), owner of Deadwood's bank and its second largest gold claim.

Of course Hearst demanded that Trixie be killed. Al realized Hearst never got a good look at Trixie's face because he was too busy looking at her exposed chest. So Al decided to sacrifice someone he didn't care about in order to save a woman he still loves—and save Deadwood in the process.

The shot of Al scrubbing that floor didn't just remind us of how many throats he's slit. (He's so experienced he's been known to lecture employees on their scrubbing technique.) It suited the narrative of this episode, “Tell Him Something Pretty,” which complicated the show's master narrative—barbarism giving way to civilization—and showed how the former never really gets pushed out by the latter, just enclosed and domesticated.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 11, "The Cat Bird Seat"

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Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “The Cat Bird Seat”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 11, “The Cat Bird Seat”

Deep down, you just knew that Whitney Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) was too good to live.

When we first met him, the Deadwood character was a grizzled, foulmouthed prospector. You sensed decency there, but it was buried under so many layers of hard experience that you weren't sure if he'd ever excavate it. Yet over three seasons, he established himself as one of the se ries' most good-hearted characters, along with Doc Cochran (Brad Dourif), Martha Bullock (Anna Gunn) and Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie). Time and time again, Ellsworth stepped up and did the right (often difficult) thing, sacrificing his own comfort to give comfort to others, namely his wife, mining heiress, banker and drug addict Alma Garret (Molly Parker), and her adopted daughter Sofia (Bree Seanna Wall), who was orphaned in a stagecoach attack in the show's very first episode.

And now he's gone—shot dead in a tent by a Pinkerton goon while seeing to Alma's gold claim in Sunday's episode “The Cat Bird Seat.” That Ellsworth's death was so brutally matter-of- fact—banal, even, like the death of certain Sopranos characters—somehow made it more hurtful, because he was on his way toward being not just a good person, but a great and significant one, an example of how to behave toward one's fellow human be ings. Just last week, when Alma was shot at by a Pinkerton in the employ of her chief business rival, George Hearst (Gerald McRaney)—in an attempt to spur El lsworth and Alma's ex-boyfriend, Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Swearengen), into a violent reprisal that would give Hearst an excuse to level the town—El lsworth let himself be talked down from his rage. To invoke the old western cliché, he refrained from doing what a man's gotta do. Now one wonders what might have happened if he'd gone ahead; he still might have ended up dumped in a buckboard, but at least he might have taken one or two Pinkertons with him.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 10, "A Constant Throb"

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Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “A Constant Throb”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 10, “A Constant Throb”

Vice kingpin and frontier power broker Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), once the reigning goblin prince of Deadwood, acted like a real prince in Sunday's episode—the kind of man who jumps off a balcony to help a woman in danger.

The woman was Alma Garret Ellsworth (Molly Parker), proprietor of the camp's first bank, owner of the area's second richest gold claim, and now the target of what looked like an assassination attempt. The shots hit a storefront on either side of Alma; the shooter was a Pinkerton agent employed by gold mogul George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), who once tried to buy Alma's claim. Later in the episode, Al, who's studied Hearst carefully after being repeatedly abused by him, deduced the attack wasn't meant to hurt Alma; it was intended to frighten the camp and provoke Alma's husband, Whitney Ellsworth (Jim Beaver),and Alma's ex-lover, Sheriff Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) into a violent response, giving Hearst an excuse to unleash his hired guns on Deadwood.

It's telling that when Al, a volatile man himself, profiled Hearst not as an evil wizard, but a wealthy, sadistic terrorist with a bad back, he devised a counter-strategy that required participants to keep a cool head—even Ellsworth and Bullock, who were so enraged that it's a wonder their heads didn't pop.

This article was originally published in the Star-Ledger.

Deadwood Recap Season 3, Episode 8, "Leviathan Smiles"

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Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “Leviathan Smiles”
Deadwood Recap: Season 3, Episode 8, “Leviathan Smiles”

Deadwood has never shied away from theatrical flourishes that make metaphors concrete. But the one that kicked off Sunday's episode—a portentous, King Lear-style thunderstorm that howled through town and turned the already muddy streets into soup—was so capital-D Dramatic that during certain shots, one half-expected the camera to pull back and reveal a proscenium arch framed by velvet curtains. Dramatically speaking, a storm was about to hit the camp; what simpler way to say that than with an actual storm?

On this gray, wet morning, the Deadwood Pioneer published a letter by Sheriff Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) to the family of a miner who was murdered for trying to organize against his boss, George Hearst (Gerald McRaney). Hearst, a gold mining tycoon who aims to rule Deadwood by destroying its burgeoning sense of law and order, was in a vulnerable spot for the first time since arriving in Deadwood. In the past few days he had already been humiliated by the public death of his feared chief henchman in a street fight (the killer was Dan Dority, boss strongman for Hearst's main business rival, Al Swearengen) and by his subsequent arrest by Bullock for cursing and threatening the sheriff. Fearing Hearst's wrath, the town's most influential citizens then gathered to discuss a pre-emptive strike against any gunmen he might hire; but instead of using force, they decided to publish Bullock's heartfelt condolence in the Deadwood Pioneer, in order to “bear witness” to the man's death and bring the camp together against Hearst and his minions.

As the storm winds blew, the newspaper's publisher, A.W. Merrick (Jeffrey Jones) and his constant companion and maybe-protégé, the telegraph operator Blazanov (Pasha D. Lynchnikoff), went from storefront to storefront, delivering the paper. It was a Robert Altman-style narrative hand-off device, moving us from location to location and character to character while building dread of Hearst's response. A succession of simple but meticulous shots by director Ed Bianchi—the show's most elegant storyteller—invested this elemental display with Old Testament coldness. (The wide shot of Blazanov and Merrick entering the Grand Central Hotel in the background, while two out-of-focus pots swung and clanked in the foreground, was pure John Ford.) After 52 minutes worth of anxious anticipation, the human storm finally arrived, heralded by hoofbeats of Hearst's hired guns riding into town and assembling beneath Hearst's balcony.