Top Chef: The First Thanksgiving

TOP CHEF 13.06: “The First Thanksgiving”

Yes, I’ve absolutely missed out on weighing in on a couple of Top Chefs, including an episode that was practically filmed in my backyard at the Watertown Arsenal. How did I miss out on that? Anyway, I’d say the most notable event over the last few weeks was Aaron, aka Douchehat, who I’ve pretty strongly disliked since the beginning of the season. I’ll admit, I actually felt a little bad for him after his final speech; he’s obviously a guy who’s had a tough life and probably didn’t have a very positive home life to grow up in, and that’s got to leave some scars (that are hidden by adopting the exterior of a raging asshole), so it’s hard not to feel for someone with that kind of background, especially when they’re on the way out and you don’t have to deal with their posturing anymore. But then I hear that he got arrested for felony domestic abuse, which sends the sympathy quotient plummeting back down again.

Anyway, enough of him. We’re somehow down to nine contestants; I can’t believe the numbers are so low already. The Quickfire starts with a mad dash through a flooded cranberry bog; the four chefs who can fill their crates the fastest get to use better ingredients in the cooking portion of the challenge, when they’re tasked with making something that highlights cranberries. Can’t say I’m a super fan of the cranberry rush, though, as it seems to give an advantage to the more physically built chefs, although it was amusing to see Katsuji rolling around on the floor afterwards like he’d just run a marathon. Of all the Quickfire dishes, Katie’s stood out for me; borscht with cranberries instead of vinegar? How creative! Obviously the judges thought the same, because she wins and gets immunity.

The elimination challenge takes place at Plimoth Plantation. The chefs will have to cook at true 17th century Thanksgiving feast, using not only period ingredients (duck, venison, goat milk, squash), but also period cooking equipment, and serve the results to descendants of Mayflower passengers and local Native American tribes. It’s a lot of fun to see the chefs work with open flames, iron spits, cauldrons, and wooden spoons. It strips away a lot of the high-technique distractions of contemporary cooking, which is a nice change of pace. No xantham gum, no liquid nitrogen, nothing special. It’s great, and interestingly enough, everyone gets along incredibly well, functioning as perhaps the most well-oiled team ever seen on the show as they work together to get their feast on the table. The strong teamwork apparently shows in the quality of the food as well; the judges have high praise for pretty much everything, and the three folks on the bottom only had minor flaws in their dishes. I actually thought they might not kick someone off today; certainly this season, with it’s unexpected elimination quickfires, is primed for at least one unexpected non-elimination challenge. But in the end, its not to be and our local Boston girl, is sent home; it’s a shame, because any other day her dish would have been good enough to save her for the next week.

Restaurant wars is next week. Despite Gregory’s weak showing in the elimination challenge this week, he’s still clearly at the top of the pile. Mei, Doug, and Adam are a tier below, with everyone else perhaps just a step below them.

The Vampire Diaries: The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get

The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get

THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: 6.06 “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get”

What an…interesting episode. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen once Damon returned. We got to see him reunite with Stefan last week, and I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see more reactions from folks about his reappearance. I mean, we got to see Caroline tell Elena, but we didn’t really see Caroline react — which would have probably involved some rather wide eyes and big exclamations, knowing Caroline. We saw Damon and Enzo see each other in the truck, but Enzo had been watching Damon passed out for a while before he woke up. Geez, we didn’t even get to see a reaction from Alaric. And Jeremy… Well, we might not have seen Jeremy’s initial reaction, but at least we got to see them have a short frustrated conversation about it.

To be honest, I wish we could have seen more Jeremy in this episode. I thought it was so sweet of Damon to lie to Jeremy, to tell him that Bonnie found peace instead of telling him that she sacrificed herself (not that I really think Bonnie’s dead — if Kai can’t die, who’s to say Bonnie can). But Jeremy’s reaction at the end of the episode — the brutal reaction to really discovering that she was gone — was just heartbreaking. That real emotion was missing in this episode. He’s the only one who got a real reaction.

And part of that is because most of the episode was devoted to Elena and her trying to avoid Damon. While the moments they were close to each other were tangible, like when they were on either side of her door (man, Damon plays unrequited love so well), because they were apart instead of even just dealing with the fact that she doesn’t remember, it felt empty, and possibly not in a good way. Honestly, I got rather annoyed at Elena’s inner turmoil (which came across more as confused).

That being said, I give the writers of TVD props for coming up with a creative way to prevent her from getting her memories back. It’s much too easy to just un-compel her. We needed something. Sure, I doubt that Jo could really fix and save Alaric from, what, a ripped aortic valve or aorta? in the middle of the road. But it made for a good story device.

So now we’re left with Damon having to make Elena fall in love with him again. Which should be rather frustrating but fun to watch. Damon can be very convincing — at least for this viewer. I just hope Elena stops looking confused — and stops wearing that awful golf shirt.

*Photo by Tina Rowden/The CW

The 100: Reapercussions

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THE 100: 2.03 “Reapercussions” (Get it?)

Well, this episode was a doozy. I want to jump right in and say how happy I am that Dichen Lachman is back on the show. Since Anya was presumed dead at the end of last season, it was a shock to see her alive and caged in last week’s episode. And she’s certainly not lost any of her anger and determination this week.

My last review, which was about the season opener, was all about power. This week, though, it’s less about power and more about morality. From the get-go, we’ve always been rooting for The 100. We ultimately wanted them to survive, even if they were a rambunctious group of criminal teenagers.

In the start of the series, we certainly didn’t trust their moral code. After all, Bellamy was automatically against the Chancellor, telling everyone to take their bracelets off to fool them. And that was the least they did. A child slit Wells’ throat, and Murphy was strung up from a tree.

But over the season, they seem to have found a moral code. Suddenly, they’re who we’re basing everything off of. The Grounders wanted to kill them. Grounders are bad. The Reapers wanted to kill them worse. The Reapers are worse.

So where are we now? Suddenly, The 100 are faced with those that imprisoned them, the law-abiding citizens that launched them to the ground in the first place. Instead of floating, we now see Camp Jaha using electric whips on their law breakers — even if they’re in such high places as Abby. Sure, Kane clearly felt lousy after the fact (though, honestly, it makes no sense to put the person you just publicly tortured in the Chancellor seat), but nonetheless, harshness rules. Right and wrong fall along a pretty violent line.

Then we have Mt. Weather, who we just discovered is MUCH less than than moral. Not only are they draining Grounders of their blood to save their own skin (literally, it saves their radiation-mutilated skin), but they’re handing off the bodies to the Reapers, who, in turn, hand over fresh bodies to Mt. Weather. While, certainly, these folks have realized how to survive in a rather cruel world, it’s brutality at its worst.

So clearly, The 100 have the moral high ground here. They kill, but only in extreme circumstances: when hundreds of Grounders are coming to kill them, or in self-defense, like Octavia (who suddenly became badass in this episode, by the way). But is that all?

Let’s look at Finn, who has suddenly gone off the deep end in his search for Clarke. Sure, love is guiding his actions, but he killed a Grounder execution-style — a Grounder we know had nothing to do with Clarke’s disappearance. Where is the moral line now?

Oddly enough, it may be that the Grounders have the most defined lines of right and wrong. Now that we know the connection between Mt. Weather and the Reapers, it’s suddenly clear the abuse these Grounders have been dealing with. No wonder they’ve been so easy to defend themselves. Any strike against them is just another clean-faced human working against their people. They’re already in a war. The 100 just happened to come down in the middle of it, already looking like some of the enemy.

It’s a brutal, “trust no one” world. And with Clarke and Anya in a enemy/ally situation, it can only make the lines between good and evil that much more blurry — and interesting.

*Photos by the CW/Cate Cameron

Top Chef: Boston’s Bravest and Finest

TOP CHEF: 12.02 “Boston’s Bravest and Finest
Last week, I identified two early villains in this season; DoucheHat (Aaron, who wears the black baseball cap), and Adam. This week, Adam comes across as much more tolerable. He seems easy-going, energetic, and there’s not a whiff of misogyny in sight; of course, the emotional way he tells the story of his mother’s experience at Ground Zero in New York during 9/11 goes a long way to help the audience connect with him. Not so much for Aaron, who seems even more unpleasant and arrogant than last week. He seems completely unable to function in the group challenge, insisting on wasting most of his time making some kind of bullshit molecular gastronomy “gel” to serve to Boston Firefighters and Police Officers, a group which is probably not really into gimmicky, fancy, ultra-haute cuisine. Worse yet, he gets plenty of warnings from his teammates, particularly Keriann, who as the daughter of a firefighter insists that they shouldn’t get too fancy and stick with simple, well-prepared food with good flavors. Of course, he completely ignores her in the most dismissive way possible, earning him the misogynist card for the week, and nearly getting himself kicked off in the process. I feel bad for Stacy, the Boston contestant, who’s stuck in the middle of such a dysfunctional dynamic. Somehow she manages to deal with it, because her chicken is actually well done and apparently the only thing that keeps her team from being ranked on the bottom.Joy from the other team, unfortunately, is sent home for serving some undercooked veal chops. It’s disappointing, because I believe she had talent and I would have liked to see what she could do in future challenges, though given the nature of the mistake, it’s maybe not all that surprising. The judges seem to always be harsher on simple mistakes of execution, and undercooking veal is certainly that, than they are on failures of complicated concepts, like Aaron’s (Sorry, I mean DoucheHat’s).

To rewind just a bit, the opening quickfire featured Todd English as judge, and tasked the chefs with cooking surf and turf. They had to select their ingredients based on several lanterns lighting up at different intervals, a call back to Paul Revere’s famous ride; I may not have been paying close enough attention at this point, because this never really did make sense to me. Some fellow who I didn’t recognize from the previous episode came out on top, with $5000 for his victory. In the main challenge, competitors are split into five groups, assigned a time by which to show up to the restaurant they’re cooking at (I forget the name), where they will select a basket of ingredients. Of course, the best baskets go first. They’re all cooking and serving to members of the Boston Police Department and Fire Department. Aside from the dysfunctional nature of DoucheHat’s team, I thought the team with two people seemed to function pretty well together; despite being down by one hand, they seemed to be on the same page and produced some good food. The winner was Adam’s team; as I said above, this episode does a lot to rehabilitate his image, especially because Aaron comes across as such a raging misanthrope.

On to next week, and a meal underneath the Green Monster?

‘The 100′ Returns — And Everything’s Changed

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THE 100: 2.01 “The 48″

One of my most anticipated returning series of the year was The 100 from the CW. If you’re surprised, well, I am too. This was a series that I just fell into over the early summer, something that I had heard a little bit about (but not much), and since nothing much else was on, I thought I’d try it out. But I was instantly hooked — primarily because of its fascinating post-apocalyptic setting and because it did not hesitate to kill off both major and minor characters.

On the Ark alone last season, they killed off more than 300 people. On the ground, if we’re counting native armies, it’s more.

This season set all kinda of new gears in motion, and I can see that the theme of this season will be about two words: power struggles.

It’s funny. For some reason, we all saw the Ark coming down to Earth as a blessing. Suddenly, the 100 (or what’s left of them) weren’t alone anymore. They’ll have help, supplies, comfort! But we seem to have forgotten that the 100 are criminals in a rather oppressive civilization. The only reason they’re not dead already is because of their age — and the only reason they’re even on Earth is because the Ark saw them as expendable. As much as we like Jaha and Abigail (and even Kane…sometimes), they run a tight ship, and that ship doesn’t have room for error.

And with Kane now in charge, it seems that tough hand is going to continue, which will be a rather tough pill to swallow when people like Clarke and Bellamy have been running the place. Not only that, but Clarke and Bellamy know what they’re dealing with; the Ark does not. Sure, Kane very easily took down the big bad Grounder with his gun, but he’s only one of many dangers on Earth. They do not have everything under control as they’d like.

So here we already have on distinct power struggle between Bellamy (who’s already arrested, while Murphy runs free — metaphorically, of course, given his injury) and Kane. To Kane, Bellamy’s just another bad seed, the one who shot Jaha. But we all know he’s more than that. And I’d rather be in Bellamy’s guiding hands than Kane’s.

Meanwhile, Clarke is separated from her friends at Mt. Weather, facing her own power struggle with President Dante Wallace. Clarke is 100% sure that Dante is keeping information from her (and I tend to agree), feeling like a prisoner in this underground world that seems to have everything they need for not just survival but a happy life (enter similarities to Mockingjay here, but I won’t go into that). At the most basic level, Dante is telling Clarke that there are no other survivors that they’ve found; we viewers know that’s true. But there’s also something strange about the fact that they can’t even open the door. What is the real reason Dante doesn’t want anyone to get out? How does he know so much about Clarke? And if no one was to get out, what made them leave to come find Clarke and her team to begin with?

Also, did anyone else notice that new girl Maya said she wasn’t “pressing charges”? If the Ark floats their criminals, what will this underground society do to its wrongdoers?

Speaking of, Mt. Weather is an interesting place. Parts of it seem lost in time — particularly its clothing, music, and decor (by the way, if you’re curious about the art at Mt. Weather, you’ll probably enjoy reading about the real Mt. Weather). But this society still has no experience with the ground. Just like Clarke in the first episode, pining over an opportunity to one day plant her feet onto the Earth from space, this new world has her within it, still unable to smell the air and run free. It really is a new prison below, instead of above. I’m incredibly curious to find out what really does go on there.

I’d last like to mention Jaha, who I was worried about in the finale (I’m going to skip over Octavia, as I can’t quite remember what happened to her in the last episode, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s going yet). Jaha, I was sure, would be taking his last breath in this episode, with the final “Jaha out.” But what happened next made me audibly gasp. Could there really be a child left — a baby, at that — in the Ark? I have three possible hypotheses:

  1. Yes, there is a child. She’s a child like our own Octavia, who was illegal and hidden, and when the Ark fled, the poor thing was left behind due to headcount rules. At which point, Jaha will do everything he can to see this child live a life on Earth (and hopefully get there himself).
  2. No, there is no child. His grief over Wells and lack of oxygen is making him go crazy, and we’ll see him slowly dissolve in what remains of the Ark, which will, in essence make my heartbreak and I will possibly flood the planet N’oreaster-style with tears.
  3. No, there is no child, but the possibility of one will suddenly awaken his zeal for life, and he’ll make his way to Earth somehow anyway.

I hope for #1, it could be #3. Please don’t let it be #2. I’m not sure I could take it. I hear that we’ll find out more in the next episode (Disclaimer: potential hints or spoilers at the link provided), so I guess I won’t have to wait too long to find out. Either way, with all of these power dynamics at play, we’re in for an exciting season.

Gotham: Viper

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GOTHAM: 1.05 “Viper”

Oh, Gordon, Gordon, Gordon. What have you gotten yourself into?

Well, let’s just say that Gordon is certainly in the thick of it now. Not only does he have to pretend that he’s in line with Falcone and Fish, now he’s going to be controlled by Maroni. This is what you get for keeping the moral high ground and not killing a weasel. (Though, to be fair, I don’t think I’d want to see him kill a weasel anyway.)

This pull and tug should be an interesting one to watch Gordon maneuver. How he’ll be able to successfully play both sides while still staying true to his moral code should be…well…frankly impossible. But I’m sure it’ll be something he can do at least for a while.

What I found interesting as a slight side note in this vein was Bullock’s reaction when Gordon returned after his “lunch” with Maroni. There was his usual off-the-cuff comments about Gordon’s behavior, only to be followed up with genuine interest and care about what kind of personal matter would have held Gordon up mid-case: “Is it Barbara?” Could it be that Bullock is starting to actually care for Gordon, beyond the general “let’s not get killed” attitude? Interesting development.

Meanwhile, the case this week was just disgusting. It’s a good thing I watched Fringe all those years, so I could be warned about some gruesome deaths. Watching these people’s bones just crumble beneath them (starting with their skulls and jawbones), was just awful. I guess, based on the last few episodes, we better get used to some brutality in Gotham. It may be at an 8:00 time slot, but it’s not holding anything back. (And next week’s Halloween episode looks suitably creepy.)

Once again, though, the bad guy wasn’t necessarily trying to be a bad guy. I mean, he was because he was trying to kill people. But like the Balloonman a couple weeks ago, he was just trying to do good by exposing the bad. He wanted to stop people from making the drug; they wouldn’t so he took matters into his own hand. I’m not quite sure yet how Bruce Wayne Enterprises would have funded such a project — I suppose that corruptness has yet to be discovered, and our new “middle manager” is holding the secret to that.

Speaking of the Waynes, Bruce actually had a role this episode. I’m a little nervous about Bruce’s role in the series, actually. I don’t mind his scenes, but I just don’t think that there’s any room to grow. Or actually, there’s a ton of room — years before he becomes Batman. The only problem is that the series will try to speed up the process to avoid his becoming boring, and that could prove problematic. (If it were my pick, I would have started the series a season or two before the Waynes were killed, so we could really get to know this empire — and then the deaths would have had that much more impact, and Bruce’s determination would have aligned with our own.)

As for Fish…eh. In the first scene with Fish, I could tell she was training her little girl to be Falcone’s new dish, so she has a mole and, potentially, a way to kill him. So I found the last scene to be no surprise. Well, except for maybe her transformation. She looked stunning with her new makeover. Kudos to the costume, hair, and makeup department. A classic beauty. So classic it reminded me of an earlier era — probably the one in which Falcone’s mother lived.

*Photo by FOX

What’s on Tonight: ‘Big Driver’ on Lifetime

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You know me. I’m a sucker for new Lifetime movies on a Saturday night. And tonight, Lifetime combined two of my guilty pleasures: TV movie thrillers and Stephen King.

If you don’t know the story of Big Driver, which is based on a novella by King, here’s a quick summary: