As a society, we've come to rely on rules to protect us and rights to give us a sense of power. If there's a disturbance coming from the home next to our own, we know that there are authorities who we can alert. And if our government takes an action that we find undesirable, we can petition against it. Perhaps the biggest psychic trauma, then, experienced by many people in this country after Trump's election to the presidency—a trauma that's the focus of American Horror Story: Cult—is the realization that those rules and rights don't feel as sacrosanct as we thought they were.
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Officer Chris Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) issues the titular ultimatum of “Show and Prove,” the second episode of The Deuce, to hookers during a farcical street raid: Show a property voucher proving your residence or spend the night in a holding tank. Alston is nonchalant as he demands paperwork allowing him to plausibly overlook the block's rampant prostitution, and arrest only hookers who don't pretend to be merely half-nude loiterers. Like paper bags concealing liquor bottles, the vouchers provide a shroud of willful ignorance for the cops who tolerate squalor but not brazenness.
For better and worse, the horror on American Horror Story: Cult is all text and no subtext. Take the title of “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which isn’t some abstract nod to our needing to face the fears lurking in the darkness of our lives, but a reference to the blackout that leaves Ally (Sarah Paulson) in a panic. The show isn’t content to simply talk about the red-meat hate speech of the right; it literally hangs it out in the open after Roger (Zack Ward), a bigoted sous-chef, is found affixed to a hook in the Butchery’s kitchen freezer.
Written by Issa Rae and directed by Melina Matsoukas, “Hella Perspective” is Insecure’s most beautifully shot and structurally ambitious episode to date. The season-two finale is divided into three 30-day vignettes focusing on each of the show’s main characters: Lawrence (Jay Ellis), Molly (Yvonne Orji), and Issa (Issa Rae). The cyclical, nonlinear timeline of “Hella Perspective”—each section loops back to the marathon in which Lawrence and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) are participating—is central to the episode and strays from the usual format of the HBO series. In lieu of traditional establishing shots, visual and aural cues lead one scene into the next, whether it’s through specific objects, sounds, or even a character’s sightline. These transitions lend the episode a dreamy, albeit rushed, quality.
Fans of David Simon’s The Wire won’t be surprised that the pilot episode of The Deuce lacks a singular inciting event designed to ensure audience retention. In the place of narrative hooks, the episode thoroughly maps the ecosystem of vice that was 1970s New York City, and beckons us to explore a ruinous Times Square alongside a sprawling cast of vibrant characters.
After years of trying to conjure up a universal boogeymen with which to tap into the primal fears of Americans, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have landed almost effortlessly on target. “Election Night,” the first episode of American Horror Story: Cult, knows exactly how to trigger us; in fact, that’s the modus operandi of the show’s central antagonist, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). This anarchist’s most terrifying moment isn’t when he rubs blended orange Cheetos all over his face in a send-up of Glenn Beck’s mocking of Donald Trump, or the thought of him donning a three-faced clown mask to terrorize his fellow Americans, but when he calmly walks into a local city council meeting, clad in a suit, to suggest that government allow fear to reign. “Haven’t you been watching what’s been going on in the world?” he asks.
After the end of this week’s episode of Insecure, Natasha Rothwell, who plays Kelli and is also one of the show’s writers, joins Issa Rae for “Wine Down,” the weekly post-show discussion that airs on HBO. Rothwell describes Issa as a human game of Jenga, with the writers taking pieces from the character over the course of “Hella Disrespect” until she’s spent and unstable. As Rothwell puts it, “It’s gotta crumble at some point.”
The two-part finale of Twin Peaks: The Return puts us at long last in a position where we can assess the various layers of sense, nonsense, and pure irony contained in the show’s very title. We’ve always assumed that, at the narrative level, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) would finally return to the town of Twin Peaks. And the finale certainly delivered on that promise, albeit in an extremely offhand and attenuated fashion, exemplified perfectly by the fleeting glimpse of the iconic “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign we catch during Cooper’s limo ride into town. Series creators Mark Frost and David Lynch pointedly frontload “Part 17,” paying off several major storylines in the first half hour, only to spend the next 90 minutes spiraling into a terrifying Moebius strip of time loops and alternate realities that effectively undercuts everything we thought we knew about Twin Peaks.
There’s a moment in Insecure’s first season when Issa (Issa Rae) is greeted by a chorus of children who, having found a video of Issa displaying her amateur rapping skills online, gleefully parrot their instructor’s lyrics back to her: “Maybe it’s really rough/Maybe it had enough/Broken pussy!” The series may navigate the less raucous aspects of work and romance, but its this adherence to the risqué—and, at times, the downright gross—that’s helped cement the show’s silly, sometimes absurd tone. It also proves that a little raunch doesn’t necessarily diminish earnestness.
At the start of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the season-seven finale of Game of Thrones, the lengthy Dragonpit meeting between Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and their respective alliances reestablishes relationships and reminds us of long-simmering feuds with nothing more than a few brief conversations and glances. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) warily assesses Cersei while Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) violently dismisses his nephew, Theon (Alfie Allen). Meanwhile, the dishonored Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), unsurprisingly, finds it difficult to make eye contact with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). With the exception of the moment that Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) rolls a wight out of its makeshift prison, the entire sequence is notable for how it sees the episode zigging away from the spectacle that has increasingly defined this season and toward the show’s once-stubborn obsession with the art of diplomacy.