“BABYLON 5” RETROSPECT: (1.11) “Survivors”

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“BABYLON 5” RETROSPECT: (1.11) “Survivors”

For the first time during its five-season run, the award-winning science-fiction series, “BABYLON 5”, focused on the major supporting character of Security Chief Michael Garibaldi. The name of the episode was Season One’s (1.11) “Survivors”. And I never realized until now, how much it foreshadowed future events in the series’ major story arc, until recently.

“Survivors” begins with the news network, ISN, announcing President Luis Santiago’s intention to pay a visit to Babylon 5 during his tour of Earth Alliance outposts. The president also intends to present a new wing of starfuries (fighter planes) to the station. While Garibaldi and Babylon 5’s second-in-command, Lieutenant-Commander Susan Ivanova, discuss Santiago’s upcoming visit, the station is rocked by an explosion inside its Cobra landing bay. An injured crewman named Nolan is tended in Medlab by medical officer, Dr. Stephen Franklin; while Garibaldi, Ivanova and Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (the station’s commanding officer) discuss the possibility of sabotage. Santiago’s security detail, led by one Major Lianna Kemmer, arrives on Babylon 5. Kemmer, who knew Garibaldi when she was a child, treats him coldly and demands that her detail investigate the Cobra Bay explosion. She and her aide Cutter, interrogate the badly wounded Nolan against Dr. Franklin’s wishes and manages to extract one name from him – Garibaldi’s – before his death. Kemmer demands that Sinclair put Garibaldi on suspension. And when Cutter finds the Cobra Bays blueprints and a bag of Centauri ducats inside Garibaldi’s quarters, Kemmer tries to arrest the security chief. But the latter makes his escape and tries to learn who had framed him.

Judging from the episode’s initial plot, one might be led to wonder what the title had to do with it. I mean . . . “Survivors” . . . in a tale about a political assassination plot? Once the episode moved into the details of Garibaldi’s history with Lianna Kemmer, I understood . . . completely. Babylon 5’s security chief had been a twenty-something Earthforce security guard at the ice-mining station on Europa, when he first met a shuttle pilot named Frank Kemmer and his family. Garibaldi had also developed a drinking problem to deal with the strains of working at the station. Garibaldi managed to make a few enemies on Europa, who decided to retaliate by rigging his friend’s shuttle pod to explode. Frank Kemmer was killed, Garibaldi was blamed and retreated further into the bottle. He eventually became estranged from Frank’s wife and daughter, Lianna, when he left Europa without any further word to them. Lianna grew resentful and angry over Garibaldi’s disappearance from the Kemmers’ lives. This continuing resentment spilled over into her willingness to quickly assume his guilt on the word of a dying terrorist. The presence of Lianna brought back painful memories of Europa for Garibaldi. His situation grew even worse after being named as a collaborator in the bombing and stripped of his position on the station. Once viewers became of Garibaldi’s history with Lianna, it became easy for me to see that the episode’s title referred to both characters.

I read a few reviews of “Survivors” online and noticed that most critics seemed to regard this episode as either a filler or an opportunity to flesh out the Michael Garibaldi character. On a certain level, they might be correct. The events of“Survivors” were never referred to again in the few episodes that followed, aside from a brief mention of the Cobra Bay bombing and President Santiago’s visit. And yet . . . I noticed something else. This episode also featured some major foreshadowing that not only played out by the end of this first season, but also as late as Season Five. One of the episode’s foreshadows featured Garibaldi’s alcoholism, which will rear its ugly head in future episodes. Many fans have never been able to deal with it. They were barely able to tolerate his alcoholism, as long as he was able to overcome it by the end of this episode. But when he succumbed to it again, they complained. Loudly. Apparently, they could not deal with him succumbing to it . . . again. And I never understood their attitude. Surely, they understood the struggles for any addict not to succumb again. But it seemed as if they could not deal with a guy like Garibaldi possessing such a major problem in the first place.

I must admit that it was interesting to watch someone like Garibaldi, an authority figure who knew more about the in and outs of Babylon 5 than anyone else, find himself stripped of his authority, neutralized from his friends and hunted down by an authority higher than the station’s commander, Sinclair. What made it even more interesting is that Garibaldi’s situation led him back to the bottle and at his lowest, before he could climb out of the gutter. It was also interesting to watch both Sinclair and Ivanova try their best to help Garibaldi. The commander came to Garibaldi’s rescue in a brief, yet rousing fight; while the latter was being beaten down by bounty hunters. And I found Ivanova’s subtle, yet brief threat to Lianna, when the latter tried to enforce her authority in the station’s Command and Control Center rather amusing. But in reality, there was very little they could do. It was Garibaldi who had to climb out of the bottle, do his own investigation and convince Lianna that he was an innocent man.

“Survivors” featured solid performances from the likes of Michael O’Hare, Claudia Christian, Richard Biggs, Tom Donaldson, David L. Crowley, Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik. But the real stars of this episode were Jerry Doyle as Garibaldi and Elaine Thomas as Lianna Kemmer. At first, I was not that sure about Thomas. She seemed stiff and a little uncomfortable in her early scenes. But once her character’s determination to hunt down Garibaldi became prominent, Thomas really grew into the role. And she did a marvelous job in her final scene. Jerry Doyle gave an outstanding performance as the increasingly besieged Garibaldi. Not only was he very effective in portraying his character’s growing desperation to escape the situation he found himself in, Doyle was surprising effective in portraying Garibaldi’s alcoholism. And I have noticed that portraying a drunken character does not seemed to be an easy thing to do.

I would never count “Survivors” as one of my favorite “BABYLON 5” episodes. I would not count it as one of my favorite Michael Garibaldi episodes. But I must admit that I have always managed to enjoy myself, while watching it. Unlike many other “BABYLON 5” fans, I have never been put off or outraged over the show’s portrayal of Garibaldi’s alcoholism. It gave Jerry Doyle an opportunity to really strut his stuff. And show runner J. Michael Straczynski managed to reap narrative gold out of this character trait – not only in this episode but also in future ones.

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“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” (2014) Review

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” (2014) Review

I have never been a major fan of Wes Anderson’s films in the past. Well . . . I take that back. I have never been a fan of his films, with the exception of one – namely 2007’s “THE DARJEELING LIMITED”. Perhaps my inability to appreciate most of Anderson’s films was due to my inability to understand his sense of humor . . . or cinematic style. Who knows? However, after viewing “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”, the number of Anderson films of which I became a fan, rose to two.

Written and directed by Anderson, “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” is about the adventures of one Gustave H., a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka during the early 1930s; and his most trusted friend, a lobby boy named Zero Moustafa. Narrated from a much older Zero, the movie, which was inspired by the writings of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, begins in the present day in which a teenage girl stares at a monument inside a cemetery, who holds a memoir in her arms, written by a character known as “The Author”. The book narrates a tale in which “the Author” as a younger man visited the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 Zubrowka. There, he met the hotel’s elderly owner, Zero Moustafa, who eventually tells him how he took ownership of the hotel and why he is unwilling to close it down.

The story shifts to 1932, in which a much younger Zero was one of the hotel’s lobby boys, freshly arrived in Zubrowka as a war refugee. Zero becomes acquainted with Monsieur Gustave H., who is a celebrated concierge known for sexually pleasing some of the hotel’s wealthy guests – namely those who are elderly and romantically desperate. One of Gustave’s guests is the very wealthy Madame Céline Villeneuve “Madame D” Desgoffe und Taxis. Although Zubrowka is on the verge of war, Gustave becomes more concerned with news that “Madame D” has suddenly died. He and Zero travels across the country to attend her wake and the reading of her will. During the latter, Gustave learns that “Madame D” has bequeathed to him a very valuable painting called “Boy with Apple”. This enrages her family, all of whom hoped to inherit it. Not long after Gustave and Zero’s return to the Grand Budapest Hotel, the former is arrested and imprisoned for the murder of the elderly woman, who had died of strychnine poisoning. Gustave and Zero team up to help the former escape from prison and learn who had framed him for murder.

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” not only proved to be very popular with critics, the film also earned four Golden Globe nominations and won one award – Best Film: Musical or Comedy. It also earned nine Academy Awards and won four. Not bad for a comedy about a mid-European concierge in the early 1930s. Did the movie deserved its accolades? In spades. It is the only other Wes Anderson movie I have ever developed a real love for. In fact, I think I enjoyed it even more than “THE DARJEELING LIMITED”. When I first heard about the movie, I did not want to see it. I did not even want to give it a chance. Thank God I did. The movie not only proved to be my favorite Anderson film, it also became one of my favorite 2014 flicks.

Is “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” perfect? For a while, I found myself hard pressed to think of anything about this movie that may have rubbed me the wrong way. I realized there was one thing with which I had a problem – namely the way this movie began. Was it really necessary to star the movie with a young girl staring at a statue of “the Author”, while holding his book? Was it really necessary to have “the Older Author” begin the movie’s narration, before he is replaced by his younger self and the older Zero Moustafa? I realized what Anderson was trying to say. He wanted to convey to movie audiences that M. Gustave and Zero’s story will continue on through the Author’s book and they will never be forgotten. But I cannot help but wonder if Anderson could have conveyed his message without this gimmicky prologue.

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” may not be perfect. But I would certainly never describe it as a mediocre or even moderately good film. This movie deserved the Academy Award nominations and wins it earned . . . and many more. It was such a joy to watch it that not even its angst-filled moments could dampen my feelings. Anderson did a superb job of conveying his usual mixture of high comedy, pathos and quixotic touches in this film. Now, one might point out this is the director’s usual style, which makes it nothing new. I would agree, except . . . I believe that Anderson’s usual style perfectly blended with the movie’s 1930s Central European setting. For me, watching “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” seemed like watching an Ernst Lubitsch movie . . . only with profanity and a bit of sexual situations and nudity.

I have only watched a handful of Lubitsch’s movies and cannot recall any real violence or political situations featured in any of his plots. Wait . . . I take that back. His 1942 movie, “TO BE OR NOT TO BE” featured strong hints of violence, war and a touch of infidelity. However, I believe Anderson went a little further in his own depictions of war, violence and sex. But this did not harm the movie one bit. After all, “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” was released in the early 21st century. Sex and violence is nothing new in today’s films . . . even in highly acclaimed ones. Despite the presence of both in the film, Anderson still managed to infuse a great deal of wit and style into his plot. This was especially apparent in two sequences – Zero’s initial description of M. Gustave and the Grand Budapest Hotel; and that marvelous sequence in which a fraternal order of Europe’s hotel concierges known as the Society of the Crossed Keys helped Gustave and Zero evade the police and find the one person who can who can clear Gustave’s name and help him retrieve his legacy from “Madame D”. I especially enjoyed the last sequence. In my eyes, Lubitsch could not have done it any better.

There were other aspects of “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” that enhanced its setting. First of all, I have to give kudos to Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock for their work on the movie. Stockhausen, who also served as the production designer for the Oscar winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”, did a superb job of reflecting the movie’s two major time periods – Central Europe in the early 1930s and the late 1960s. Pinnock served as the film’s set decorator. Both Stockhausen and Pinnock shared the Academy Award for Best Production Design. Milena Canonero won an Oscar for the film’s costume designs. I have to admit that she deserved. I feel she deserved it, because she did an excellent job of creating costumes not only for the characters, but also their class positions and the movie’s settings. She did not simply resort to re-creating the fashion glamour of the 1930s for the sake of eye candy. Robert Yeoman’s photography for the movie really impressed me. I found it sharp and very atmospheric for the movie’s setting. I can see why he managed to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.

I was shocked when I learned that Ralph Fiennes failed to get an Academy Award nomination for his performance as M. Gustave. What on earth was the Academy thinking? I can think of at least two actor who were nominated for Best Actor for 2014, who could have been passed over. Gustave is Fiennes’ masterpiece, as far as I am concerned. I never realized he had such a spot-on talent for comedy. And although his Gustave is one of the funniest characters I have seen in recent years, I was also impressed by the touch of pathos he added to the role. Another actor, who I also believe deserved an Oscar nomination was Tony Revolori. Where on earth did Anderson find this kid? Oh yes . . . Southern California. Well . . . Revolori was also superb as the young Zero, who not only proved to be a very devoted employee and friend to M. Gustave, but also a very pragmatic young man. Like Fiennes, Revolori had both an excellent touch for both comedy and pathos. Also, both he and Fiennes proved to have great screen chemistry.

Revolori also shared a solid screen chemistry with actress Saoirse Ronan, who portrayed Zero’s lady love, pastry chef Agatha. Ronan’s charming performance made it perfectly clear why Zero and even M. Gustave found Agatha’s sharp-tongue pragmatism very alluring. Another charming performance came from Tilda Swinton, who portrayed one of Gustave’s elderly lovers. It seemed a shamed that Swinton’s appearance was short-lived. I found her portrayal of the wealthy, yet insecure and desperate Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis rather interesting. Adrien Brody gave an interesting performance as Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis, Madame Villeneuve’s son. I have never seen Brody portray a villain before. But I must say that I was impressed by the way he effectively portrayed Dmitri as a privileged thug. Willem Dafoe was equally interesting as Dmitri’s cold-blooded assassin, J.G. Jopling. And Edward Norton struck me as both funny and scary as The movie also featured first-rate performances from Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban and especially Bill Murray as Monsieur Ivan, Gustave’s main contact with the Society of the Crossed Keys. The movie had three narrators – Tom Wilkinson as the Older Author, Jude Law as the Younger Author and F. Murray Abraham as the Older Zero. All three did great jobs, but I noticed that Wilkinson’s time as narrator was very short-lived.

What else can I say about “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”? It is one of the few movies in which its setting truly blended with Wes Anderson’s off-kilter humorous style. The movie not only benefited from great artistry from the crew and superb performances from a cast led by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, but also from the creative pen and great direction from Wes Anderson. Now, I am inspired to try my luck with some of his other films again.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – Episode Two “July 1861 – August 1862” Commentary

 

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” (1986) – EPISODE TWO “July 1861 – August 1862” Commentary

Episode Two began with the aftermath of Bull Run. It also featured Brett Main Hazard and Semiramis’ journey to South Carolina, Orry Main’s wedding to his widowed neighbor Madeline LaMotte, and Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon’s smuggling operations. I wish I could be objective about this particular episode, but I cannot. I dislike it too much. It is one of the main reasons why I have so much difficulty with “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” in the first place.

My main beef with this episode centered around the plot line that featured Brett and Semiramis’ journey south to Mont Royal, following the Bull Run battle. First of all, I believe that this particular plot line was badly written. Brett and Semiramis should not have had any difficulties getting past Union lines, since nearly the entire Union Army had fled to Washington in disarray, following the battle. Second, once they had reached Richmond and delivered the message about Clarissa Main’s injury, they could have accompanied Orry back to South Carolina. They would have arrived at Mont Royal in late July or early August 1861, instead of November 1861. And why did it take them so long to reach South Carolina in the first place? Surely, the two could have traveled by train. The Union Army had not began destroying Southern railroad tracks during the summer of 1861. And one last question – why on earth was a message sent to Brett in Washington D.C. in the first place? An accommodating neighbor of the Mains or a local doctor could have sent the message about Clarissa to Orry in Richmond. It would have been a lot easier. And quicker. Talk about bad writing!

I have a few other qualms about Episode Two. I find it odd that Justin La Motte never suffered any legal repercussions for his attack upon Mont Royal in Episode One. Nor did Orry Main encountered any repercussions for La Motte’s death, when he rescued Madeline from her venal husband. And could someone please explain Orry’s war duties to Jefferson Davies and the Confederacy? It is bad enough that he managed to procure such a high position within the Confederate Army, considering his previous military history. But what exactly was his duty? Was he the main quartermaster for the Confederate Army? Was he involved in investigating war profiteers? Or was he some unrealistic jack-of-all-trade? In fact, I have the same complaint about George Hazard’s position with the Union Army. Like Orry, his previous military history was very limited. Yet, he managed to become a military aide to President Lincoln and serve other duties for the Army – duties that seemed to be very varied. I was especially shocked to find George attending one of Lincoln’s Cabinet meetings. Really? Are they serious? This is incredibly sloppy writing. Both Charles Main and his fellow officer Lieutenant Ambrose Pell continue to unnecessarily cart around their swords, during their duties as scouts. And I still see no signs of enlisted men under their command. Episode Two also featured a moment when President Lincoln announced his“Emancipation Proclamation” to his cabinet . . . and George Hazard. I realize this should have been a profound moment, but the pretentious dialogue left me feeling cold.

However, there were some good moments in this episode. George and Orry had a bittersweet reunion inside a barn, while both were traveling to their respective capitals. Charles visited the widowed Augusta Barclay’s farm after being injured by Union cavalry. Stanley and Isobel Hazard scheme to profit from the war and make enough money to take over Hazard Iron. And in one brief scene, Congressman Greene had an embarrassed reaction to a wounded soldier that did David Odgen Stiers’ skills proud as an actor. Of all of these scenes, the one that really impressed me proved to be the one that featured Stanley and Isabel’s scheming. For me, this was a step up from their narrative in John Jakes’ 1984 novel. The reason I was so impressed by these scenes was due to the first-rate performances from the cast.

Aside from the Stanley and Isabel story arc, I feel that the rest of the scenes benefited from the cast’s excellent acting. This was especially apparent by James Read and Patrick Swayze’s performances in the scene that featured George and Orry’s reunion, and also the performances by Lewis Smith, Kate McNeill and first-time actor John Nixon. Both Philip Casnoff and Terri Garber continued to amazing heat in their portrayals of Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon. Kurtwood Smith gave an intense and fascinating portrayal of Billy Hazard’s commander Hiram Burdan. And Whip Hubley, an actor I have never been that particularly impressed with, gave an interesting performance as Billy’s regimental rival, Lieutenant Stephen Kent.

Kevin Connor continued to handle his actors with skill. And the miniseries’ photography by Jacques R. Marquette continued to strike me as colorful, but not particularly impressive. But there is one aspect of this production that continued to really impress me was Robert Fletcher’s costume designs – especially for the women. Below are examples of his work in this episode:

But if I must be brutally frank, Episode Two featured some of the worst writing in this miniseries, and probably in the entire trilogy. No amount of excellent performances or dazzling costume designs could improve my opinion or save what proved to be an otherwise dull episode.

“Defense of the Realm” [PG-13] – 5/14

“DEFENSE OF THE REALM”

CHAPTER 5

A brown folder fell upon Darryl’s desk. The police lieutenant glanced up at the man who had tossed it. “What’s this?” he asked.

Marcus Anderson, the slender, sandy-haired man who served as the fifth member of Darryl’s team, sat down in the chair next to his boss’ desk. “File on a possible suspect in the Kostopulos murder. And maybe the Liederhoff case, as well. Check out the photo inside. Matches the description your Miss Newman gave on the perp she had ID yesterday.”

“Her name is Miss Newhan,” Darryl retorted. “And she’s not mine.” He picked up the file and opened it. His eyes scanned the material inside. “Huh. Gerry Gallagher. Name sounds familiar.”

The other man said, “Remember the Cesar Aviles case, two years ago?”

Darryl nodded. “Pawnbroker on Franklin who had been robbed and murdered. There was a suspect . . .” He paused. “This dude here? Gallagher?”

“The very one,” Marcus replied. “Aviles’ thirteen year-old daughter claimed she had spotted Gallagher at the crime scene, but the son-of-a-bitch had an alibi. And Miss Aviles was never really sure it was him. Which means that the Aviles case is still . . .”

“. . . unsolved.” Darryl sighed. “Why don’t you and Scott pick up Miss Newhan? You’ll probably find her somewhere around Union Square.”

Marcus shot back, “Actually, she’s here at the station. Olivia took her to Dave’s Café for something to eat.”

“And Olivia is back.” The two men glanced at the doorway and saw the redhead stride into the squad room. “What’s up?”

Darryl tapped the file in front of him. “Marcus may have found the perp who matches Grace . . . uh, Miss Newhan’s description of the man who killed Kostopulos. Where is she, by the way?”

“Ladies’ room.”

The two men groaned. “Jesus, Olivia!” Darryl protested. “Couldn’t you have shown some consideration for the other women on this floor?”

“She’s using the restroom on the first floor!” Olivia retorted. “Besides, she’s managed to clean up a . . .” She broke off, as the person in question entered the squad room.

Olivia had been right about the homeless woman. Darryl could not help but marvel at the lack of odor emitting from Grace. Or the lack of grime on her thin face and clothes. And the latter seemed as if they had been purchased at the nearest Goodwill store.

Darryl stared at Olivia, who shrugged. “I thought that Grace could use some cash and new clothes. And a place to live, where she could wash up and sleep. So, I made a few calls at the local Social Services office, yesterday.”

“I’m staying at a hotel on Union Square,” Grace added proudly. “And I’ve got a job.”

Darryl frowned. “Within a day?”

“I found Grace a job serving food at a local café,” Olivia said. “So . . . um, about this so-called perp?”

Marveling at his partner’s generosity, Darryl suggested that Grace sit down in the chair now occupied by Marcus. The sandy-haired detective stood up, allowing the no-longer homeless woman to sit in the chair. “Okay Grace,” Darryl continued, as he pulled out a tape recorder.

“What’s with the tape recorder?” Olivia asked.

Darryl sighed. “Thanks to your generosity toward Grace,” he said, “any defense lawyer could accuse us granting Grace a few favors, in exchange for her testimony.”

A sheepish expression appeared on Olivia’s face. “Oh. Sorry.”

“But I’m not doing this because Inspector McNeill got me a job!” Grace protested.

“Yes Grace, we all know that. But no one else does. And I’m just taking extra precautions. Okay? Now, let’s begin.” Darryl pushed the REC button. “I’m going to show you a picture, Grace.” He handed her a photograph of Gallagher. “You recognize this man?”

Grace stared at the photograph, before she cried out, “Oh my God! That’s him! That’s the guy who killed Mr. Kostopulos!”

“Are you sure?” Olivia asked.

“Of course I am! Look, I may be . . . I mean, maybe I was homeless at the time, but I’m sure as hell not blind! Then or now!” Darryl and Olivia exchanged triumphant looks. Grace added, “When the guy had raised his arm to shoot Mr. Kostopulos, I saw a tattoo on the outside of his wrist. I don’t know what kind of tattoo, but I saw something.”

Darryl read the physical description of Gallagher. He smiled. “She’s right about the tattoo. Gerry Gallagher has one of a hornet on the outside of his right wrist.” He slammed the file shut and said to Olivia, “Send out an APB on Gerald Gallagher. I’m sure McPherson will approve it.” The redhead nodded and reached for the telephone on her desk. Darryl returned his attention to their visitor. “And Grace, thanks. You’ve been a great help.”

Grace beamed happily. For the first time, Darryl realized that she was not a bad-looking woman. If one could overlook the missing teeth.

————

Unbeknownst to passing pedestrians on the Rue Estienne in Paris, several blue lights appeared before they converge into the form of a forty year-old woman with red hair pinned into a chignon and hazel brown eyes. Madeline Pivet glanced around and rang the doorbell.

Two minutes passed before the door opened. An elderly woman with dark, intense eyes opened the door. “Elder Pivet!” Jeanne d’Arcy cried out with pleasure. Speaking in French, she continued, “I was wondering if you would arrive.”

Madeline replied, “Yes, well the Council had some last minute business to discuss. But,” she beamed happily, “here I am. I could not pass up a chance for my regular visit to my favorite charge.”

“Your former charge,” Jeanne corrected. “But come in!” The elderly woman swung the door wide open, allowing her former whitelighter to enter the house. The two women exchanged a brief embrace, before they headed for the elderly witch’s sitting room. While the Elder sat down on the sofa, Jeanne headed toward an antique sideboard. “I have just finished preparing some of your favorite tea. Cammoline, isn’t it?”

The Elder smiled. “Ah, Jeanne! You do know how to warm a whitelighter’s heart. Cammiline tea sounds wonderful.” A sigh left her mouth. “More than you can imagine. The past week or two has been very trying.”

“Trying?” Jeanne set about preparing a cup of tea for her guest. “What do you mean, Madame Pivet? What has been going on?”

Again, Madeline sighed. “Death. New Council members and a lost opportunity.”

“Pardon?”

Madeline’s first instinct was to keep all matters pertaining to the Whitelighters Realm a secret – as protocol demanded. But the pressure of the latest crisis led the Elder to reveal everything. She told the elderly witch about the Council’s fears surrounding the relationship between the American McNeill witch and Belthazor, the growing number of whitelighters rejecting the Council’s authority, Mathilda Everard’s failed plot against Belthazor and her subsequent dismissal from the Council. And about the latest deaths in the Realm.

“When the Charmed Ones had finally vanquished the Source and his Council over a year ago, we believed that sooner or later, all evil would eventually vanquish. And the supernatural world would no longer be under the threat of the Underworld’s evil.” Something akin to a snort left Madeline’s mouth. “One of our whitelighters thought otherwise. She had told the Council that the Source’s demise would upset the balance of good and evil in our universe.”

Jeanne frowned. “But I thought the Charmed Ones had killed the Source, because he was trying to kill them?”

“Oh yes.” Madeline allowed herself a small chuckle. “The prophecy.” Jeanne handed her a cup of tea. “If you only knew the truth, Jeanne. If you only knew the truth.” She took a sip.

Jeanne wiped her hands on her apron. “What truth?” Madeline opened her mouth to speak, when the telephone rang. “Pardon, Madame,” and the witch left the room.

Madeline continued to drink her tea. It was not long before she began to feel slightly groggy. In an attempt to remain conscious, she rolled her eyes. It did not help. Not only did she become increasingly groggy, her sight began to fade.

“Jeanne? Jeanne!” Panic-stricken, the Elder cried out for her former charge.

The elderly woman rushed back into the sitting room. “Is there something wrong, Madame?”

Madeline struggled to bring Jeanne’s wizened face into focus. “Wha . . . what did you put into this tea?”

“Tea?” Jeanne’s dark eyes widened. Or so it seemed to Madeline.

“The tea! Yes! What did you . . .?” Madeline found herself feeling slightly breathless. “Mon dieu! What is happening?” To the Elder’s horror, Jeanne suddenly transformed into a familiar dark-haired woman with a sneer stamped on her face. “Belinda? Wha . . . Why are you impersonating as . . . Mon dieu! You’re a . . .”

A slow, sinister smile spread across Belinda’s face. “I’m a darklighter, Elder Pivet. I’ve been impersonating a whitelighter for the past four years.”

“But . . . how . . .?” Pain suddenly gripped Madeline’s chest.

Belinda continued, “That’s my little secret. Meanwhile, I should warn you that I had put poison from a darklighter’s arrow into your tea.” Her smile widened. “I hope you enjoyed it.”

Struggling to maintain her breath, Madeline demanded, “Where’s . . . Jeanne?”

“Don’t worry.” Belinda glanced at her wristwatch. “You’ll soon be joining her.” Madeline gasped. “Oh, and Mathilda sends her regard.”

Mathilda? At that moment, a pain-filled Madeline realized that her former colleague had been behind the deaths of the other Elders. “Oh . . . dear God! Oh!” She gasped, as a jolt of pain twisted inside her.

Belinda’s smile grew wider. “Oooh! Poor thing. That must hurt.” Again, she glanced at her watch. “Hmmm. Time to check out. Oh well. Adieu, Madame Pivet. Can’t say that it was nice knowing you.” The whitelighter/darklighter disappeared just before Madeline drew her last breath.

———-

The news about Elder Madeline Pivet sent the whitelighter community into a state of shock. In a short space of time, four Elders had been systematically murdered. There were many, including Leo, who wondered if the killings would stop with the Council.

In the end, Leo realized that only the Elders were being targeted. If it had been a matter of wiping out all of the whitelighters, there would have been reports of his colleagues being killed by darklighters on Earth. So far, only poor Elder Pivet had been killed amongst the mortals. Which led Leo to wonder if someone in the Whitelighter Realm was responsible.

Not long after Elder Pivet’s death, Leo discovered that the Elders Council had a suspect in the killings. He entered Ludmilla Kremilov’s office, bearing several parchments. “Here are the latest candidates for . . .”

“We have a suspect,” the pale, and thin-faced Ludmilla announced to her subordinate.

Leo frowned. “I’m sorry?”

“A suspect. The Council now knows . . . or has a good idea on who is behind the murders of our Elders.” She regarded the other whiteligher with triumphant eyes. “I must say that I’m not surprised. I knew it was her! Only she would be so bold.”

“She?”

Ludmilla rolled her eyes. “Yes! Of course, she! I mean . . . her! Natalia Stepanova.”

The name took Leo by surprise. “Natalia Stepan . . . Not Mathilda?”

“What?”

“Mathilda Everard,” Leo repeated. “The Elder who had been recently dismissed from the Council. She’s the reason why I’m working here.”

The older whitelighter dismissed Leo’s suggestion with a wave of her hand. “Of course not Mathilda! Yes, the Council had originally suspected her, but she has an alibi. Besides, one of the new Elders – Elder Johann Bauer – had discovered that Miss Stepanova was missing from the Realm around the time of Elder Pivet’s death.” A malicious gleam lit up Ludmilla’s eyes. “The Council also discovered that Natalia is behind a movement to depose the current members of the Council. And replace them with new members.”

“I . . . I don’t believe it!” Leo protested. “Whitelighters against whitelighters? A civil war within the Realm?”

Ludmilla crowed, “A civil war that will soon be nipped in the bud. When Natalia is captured. Hopefully, that will happen in the immediate future.

Leo certainly hoped so.

———–

A lone figure burst into the circular Council chambers of the Order of Gimle. The leader, a 846 year-old daemon named Rannveig glared at the intruder. “Emnick!” she exclaimed. “What is the meaning of this disruption?”

“Pardon Chairman Rannveig,” the young daemon said between deep breaths, “but you have a visitor.”

“Visitor?” Rannveig, along with Marbus and the other Gimle Council members, stared at Emnick. “Who is he? Or she?”

Emnick’s next words took the Council by surprise. “She . . . is a whitelighter. And she’s requesting sanctuary.”

While the other members burst into surprised chatter, Marbus silently contemplated Emnick’s news. A whitelighter asking a demonic order for sanctuary? Who had ever heard of such a thing?

Rannveig ordered, “Send in the whitelighter.”

A few minutes later, Emnick returned to the chamber with the refugee in tow. Marbus nearly shot out of his seat at the sight of the familiar figure in a whitelighter’s robe. “Bloody hell!” he cried. “Natalia Stepanova?”

“Marbus!” The Russian-born whitelighter rushed toward the Council’s semi-circular table. “Marbus, I need your help! Desperately!”

Rannveig frowned. “Emnick told us that you are seeking sanctuary?”

“Yes, I . . . The Elders Council believes that I am responsible for the recent murders of four of their colleagues. Also, they know about the faction led by Barbara DeVilliers and myself.”

“Faction?”

The whitelighter informed the Gimle Council about her faction’s fear that the Elders have lost their way. “For the past four or five centuries, they have become obsessed with destroying the Source’s Realm. More so than simply offering spiritual guidance to mortals at large, including some witches. This obsession . . . has led to the creation of a prophecy that a trio of witches would eventually destroy the Source.”

“The Charmed Ones,” Marbus added.

Natalia nodded. “Precisely. This prophecy had sent the Source into a state of paranoia that finally drove him to go after the Charmed Ones. And to ensure that the witches were prepared to kill him, the Elders developed the Warren line so that the Power of Three would exist.”

Most of the members of the Gimle Council reacted with shock from Natalia’s revelation. But not Marbus. Ever since his confrontation with Lucia Miller, one of Melinda Warren’s descendants, he had been suspicious about the Warren line. A fellow council member named Ladira exclaimed, “Are you saying that the Elders had deliberately interfered with the Warren line in order to create the Power of Three?”

“Yes,” Natalia calmly replied. “The Elders had made sure that a middling witch named Charlotte Warren would conceive a powerful offspring with a powerful sorcerer named Philip Lacey. Apparently, they had manipulated a meeting between Charlotte and Lacey somewhere in Colonial Virginia. A few days after Melinda’s conception, Lacey had mysteriously disappeared. When Charlotte gave birth to Melinda Warren, the Source’s Oracle experienced a vision of his death at the hands of Melinda’s descendants.

“Some of us in the Whitelighter Realm had been appalled by this revelation. And when the Elders had decided to reward the Charmed Ones for killing the Source – even at the expense of Belthazor, who had been a victim of demonic possession – we could not condone the Elders’ actions any further. Our faction has been growing ever since. We also feared that the destruction of the Source’s Council would upset the balance in the supernatural universe. Something that had not really concerned the Elders.”

Shaken by the news that his nephew had been a pawn of the whitelighters, Marbus asked in a gruff voice, “And it’s because of this faction that you’re being considered as the main suspect behind the killings?”

“Yes.”

Another Gimle Council member asked, “Who do you believe is behind the attacks on your Council?”

The whitelighter hesitated. “The only person I can think of is Mathilda Everard.” Marbus bridled at the mention of the ex-Elder’s name. Natalia continued, “She had recently been ousted from the Council for her plot to kill Belthazor without their consent.”

“Yes, we’ve heard about that,” Rannveig said, shooting a quick glance at Marbus. The latter remained silent.

“And there is also Gideon Elliot,” Natalia continued. “He is the headmaster of our school for young witches. Like Mathilda, he is a fanatic for the . . . cause. Of course, he keeps these views to himself. And he has been pre-occupied with his school. Mathilda, on the other hand . . .”

Rannveig shook her head. “I simply find it difficult that a whitelighter would concoct a scheme to kill others.”

“I don’t,” Marbus coolly replied. “Considering that Everard whitelighter had plotted to have my nephew killed, and what Natalia has told us about the Elders and the Source . . . I have no trouble at all.”

The older daemon sighed. “All right. We will grant you sanctuary, Miss Stepanova. But not here. If you can orb here, so can other whitelighters . . . accompanied by witches to attack us. We need to find you a place where the Elders and their charges cannot track you.”

A grim Marbus nodded. “Don’t worry. I know the very place where she can hide. And the right person to protect her.”

END OF CHAPTER 5

“INTO THE STORM” (2014) Review

 

“INTO THE STORM” (2014) Review

When I first learned about the theater release of the 2014 disaster movie, “INTO THE STORM”, my first instinct was to go see it. The summer of 2014 proved to be a very hot and dry one for Southern California. And I had longed to see rain of any kind – even on the movie screen. But in the end, I never did.

Caution eventually overrode my desire to see “INTO THE STORM” and I had decided to skip it. After all, movie tickets these days are not as cheap as they used to be. I was enduring a period of financial straits at the time. And “INTO THE STORM” had been released in August . . . a graveyard period for summer movies. So, I decided to watch the movie after it was released on DVD. And you know what? The movie turned out to be everything I had imagined.

“INTO THE STORM” is basically as disaster movie about how a team of storm chasers and citizens of a small Oklahoma town deal with a series of major tornadoes and rain storms. The movie begins with the deaths of a group of teenagers killed by a major tornado in some nameless small town. Unfortunately, the storm chasers led by a wealthy man named Peter Moore, failed to be in the storm’s vicinity, thanks to the team’s meteorologist, Dr. Allison Stone. The latter eventually discovers another storm/tornado heading in the direction of Sillerton, Oklahoma. Among the Sillerton citizens unaware of the incoming storms are Gary Fuller, vice-principal of the local high school and his two sons, Donnie and Trey; and Donnie’s fellow classmate, Kaitlyn Johnston. Since his wife’s death, Gary has been somewhat withdrawn and brusque toward his sons. Donnie seems to resent his father’s cold behavior, despite his willingness to video record the upcoming graduation ceremony for the town’s time capsule. In fact, Donnie has no trouble handing over the video recording task to younger brother Trey, when the latter suggests he do the job. Instead, Donnie helps Kaitlyn video record a school project at an abandoned paper mill as a means to get emotionally close to her. In the end, the lives of the Fuller family, other Sillerton citizens, Allison, Pete and the rest of the storm chasing team are endangered by on coming hail storms and tornadoes.

I would never classify “INTO THE STORM” as a major disaster movie on the scale of “EARTHQUAKE” or “2012”. It felt more like a small scale production limited to a small town or farm community setting. To be honest, it reminded me of movies like“DANTE’S PEAK” or “TWISTER”. Especially the latter. And like the last two mentioned films, “INTO THE STORM” almost seemed to have a B-movie veneer. Only the film’s special effects, which impressed me very much, made it difficult for me to view it as a B-movie. In the end, I am not surprised that “INTO THE STORM” was released in August.

Brining up “TWISTER” reminded me that this movie has more in common with the 1995 movie than any other. Both featured the following – heavy rain, hail, tornadoes, storm chasers and a Midwest setting. “TWISTER” was publicized as more of an “A” quality film and featured well-known actors in the lead. And yet . . . I came away feeling more impressed with “INTO THE STORM”. How odd. Mind you, “INTO THE STORM” was not perfect. As I had earlier pointed out, it seemed to have a B-movie veneer about it, despite the production values and special effects. But the movie also possessed two aspects that failed to impress me. One, I could have done without the two yahoos who had decided to face the storms for the sake of thrills. I found their characters so idiotic and not worthy of remembering their names. And two, I was not that impressed with the movie’s dénouement in which the storms’ survivors express their relief over being alive and what their experiences meant to them. I found the sequence a bit wince inducing, pretentious and a bore. I honestly could have dealt without the “meaning of life” speeches.

Despite these annoyances, “INTO THE STORM” proved to be an entertaining movie for me. Director Steven Quale and John Swetnam’s screenplay kept the narrative taut, well-paced and to the point. Some might say that the screenplay could have delved more into the characters’ background before placing them in the midst of the storm. I am not sure if such a ploy would have been necessary. The few scenes that focused on the private lives of the Fuller family and the storm chasers pretty much told me all I needed to know about them. Swetnam was pretty blunt about the characters’ personalities and their situations in their lives before the storms hit Sillerton. I also have to comment on the movie’s production values. I was very impressed by Brian Pearson’s photography. Surprisingly, the movie was shot in Michigan, instead of Oklahoma. Michigan or Oklahoma, I cannot deny that I found Pearson’s photography sharp, colorful and rather beautiful. Pearson’s photography also enhanced the work of the movie’s special effects team. Speaking of speacial effects . . . I thought the movie makers did an outstanding job in creating both the storms and tornadoes featured in the movie. I was especially impressed by the movie’s last tornado and one particular scene in which one of the characters ended up in the center of the storm – namely the eye.

I was also surprised that “INTO THE STORM” avoided the usual cliché of a romance between the two leading characters. There was a great deal of potential for romance between the Gary Fuller and Allison Stone characters. Both were portrayed by very attractive performers. Gary Fuller was a widower with two sons and Allison Stone was a single mother with a five year-old daughter. Whether she was divorced or single, I have no idea. The chemistry between the two seemed pretty obvious when they first met. And yet Swetnam’s screenplay merely allowed them to become friendly acquaintances and co-survivors . . . and nothing else. I would have been disappointed, if I had not found their lack of a romance surprisingly refreshing.

Considering that “INTO THE STORM” was not exactly a major Hollywood production, I felt rather relieved that the cast managed to give decent performances. Aside from the two actors who played the two thrill seeking yahoos, I was very satisfied with the rest of the cast. Both Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies clicked on screen as Gary Fuller and Dr. Allison Stone, despite the fact that they were not portraying a romantic pair. And Armitage’s American accent struck me as a bit of an improvement over his accent in 2011’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. Max Deacon and Nathan Kress gave solid support as Fuller’s two sons – Donnie and Trey. I could also say the same about Alycia Debnam Carey, who portrayed Kaitlyn Johnston, and the actors who portrayed other members of Pete Moore’s storm chasing team. Speaking of the Pete Moore character, he struck me as quite a pip. I could not decide whether to like or dislike him. And I have to give kudos to Matt Walsh for making him such an effectively ambiguous character. I thought he gave the best performance in the movie.

In a nutshell, “INTO THE STORM” did not strike me as a particularly mind blowing or memorable film. I am not saying that it was terrible or even mediocre. I would say that it was a pretty solid and entertaining film, despite its flaws or 89 minute running time. I thought director Steven Quale did a good job in creating a decent film, backed by superb special effects and competent acting by a solid cast led by Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies.

“LOST”: “Kidnapping a Child”

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“LOST”: “KIDNAPPING A CHILD”

I was reading this ARTICLE about the girl who had been kidnapped at 11 and found, 18 years later. And it made me think of the numerous child kidnappings that have occurred on “LOST”:

 

 

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*Ben Linus’ kidnapping of Alex Rousseau, Danielle’s infant daughter. Ben had kidnapped Alex when she was an infant, against Charles Widmore’s orders. He pretended to be her father for sixteen years. Eventually, mother and daughter were finally able to reunite. But they were never able to enjoy their reunion, due to them both being killed by Charles Widmore’s hired thugs within a few days.

 

 

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*Walt Lloyd’s kidnapping by Tom Friendly, at Ben’s orders. We all know the circumstances that resulted from that particular kidnapping. Walt’s father, Michael Dawson, disappeared for a while to search for Walt. Once he found the Others, he made a deal with them to free Ben, who had become the Losties’ prisoner. In order to free Ben, he murdered Ana-Lucia Cortez and accidentally killed Libby. Then he made a deal with the Others to lead Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, James Ford and Hugo Reyes to their camp. Upon leaving the island, Walt forced him to tell the truth about his deal with the Others and his shooting of Ana-Lucia and Libby. Father and son became estranged. And later, Michael returned to the island to atone for his actions . . . and ended up deal in a freighter explosion. All because Ben Linus had ordered Walt’s kidnapping.

 

 

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*Kate Austen’s kidnapping of Aaron Littleton. Upset over Sawyer’s decision to jump from a rescue helicopter and return to the island; and traumatized by the events of their departure from the island; Kate decided to claim Aaron Littleton, the infant son of missing castaway Claire Littleton, as her own. She convinced Jack to help her. And both of them convinced Sun Kwon, Sayid Jarrah, and Hurley Reyes to pretend that Aaron was Kate’s son. Kate kept Aaron from his grandmother, Carole Littleton, for nearly three years; despite knowing that the woman was alive. And I cannot help but wonder if Carole Littleton would have ever learned about her grandson if Sawyer’s ex-girlfriend, Clemmentine, had not convinced Kate to give him up or Kate had decided to do so on her own.

 

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.04) “Walls of Jericho”

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.04) “Walls of Jericho”

The previous episode of CBS’s “JERICHO”(1.03) “Four Horsemen” – proved to be something of a disappointment for me. I felt certain that I would feel the same about the next episode, (1.04) “Walls of Jericho”. Thankfully, my assumptions proved to be wrong.

I would never regard “Walls of Jericho” as one of my favorite episodes of the series, let alone the first season. But I have to give credit to screenwriter Ellie Herman for creating one of the stronger narratives among the series’ first batch of episodes. “Walls of Jericho” not only proved to be a very solid episode with a strong and centered narrative, it also contributed a good deal to the series’ overall narrative.

Jake Green and several other citizens of Jericho are at Bailey’s Tavern, watching three scenes of a news report regarding the bombings over and over again, when the power dies. With no television to watch and no booze left, Mary Bailey orders everyone to leave. After Jake encounters schoolteacher Heather Lisinski on the street, they discover a man inside the local pharmacy, dying from radiation poisoning. With the help of Eric Green, Stanley Richardson and a few others; carry the man to the town’s medical center. With no power for the hospital, Jake’s sister-in-law, Dr. April Green reveals that gas is needed for the generator.

While Jake and his friends scour the community for gasoline, newcomer Robert Hawkins forces his family to rehearse the cover stories he had created for the new identities they have adopted. He is recruited by Deputy Sheriff Jimmy Taylor to help maintain the peace in town. They interrupt a party held by wealthy teenager Skylar Stevens and Robert is unpleasantly surprised to find his daughter Allison there. Jake and the others successfully find enough gas for the hospital. They also discover that the stranger’s name is Victor Miller, who had been driving Shep Cale’s truck when he arrived in Jericho. Shep had been one of the four men who had left town to discover information from the outside. It is believed he had committed suicide. And unbeknownst to Jake and the other Jericho citizens, Robert knows Victor Miller.

My main beef regarding the previous episode, “Four Horsemen” was its narrative. Although it continued the series’ main narrative, it lacked a central plot of its own and the story seemed to be all over the map. I certainly cannot say the same about “Walls of Jericho”. Two incidents contributed a great deal to the episode’s narrative – the power outage and the discovery of Victor Miller. Both incidents led Jake Green and some of Jericho’s other citizens to search for gasoline that could provide power to the local clinic. More importantly, Miller’s presence in Jericho both centered the episode’s plot, but also provided a major contribution to the series’ main narrative – one that will resonate into Season Two. His presence also added another notch to the mystery that surrounded Robert Hawkins. Speaking of the latter, the search for gasoline and Miller’s presence led Deputy Sheriff Jimmy Taylor to recruit Robert to temporarily help him maintain law and order in Jericho. And this act not only led Robert to reconnect with his daughter Allison in a very unexpected way, it will resonate later in the first season. See how everything seem to connect with the Victor Miller character and search for gasoline? This is why I feel that screenwriter Martha Mitchell made “Walls of Jericho” is one of the stronger episodes of Season One’s first half.

The episode also featured some very memorable scenes that featured strong acting. If I must be frank, I was not that impressed by the Green brothers, Stanley Richmond and Heather Lipsinski’s search for gasoline. It seemed like the typical scramble for resources and survival that marked Season One’s early episodes. However, I do admire how the screenwriters allowed this search added to one more notch in the decline of Eric and April Green’s marriage. I thought it was a very subtle move on their part. “Walls of Jericho” did feature some very powerful scenes. One of them proved to be a minor scene between Robert and his young son, Samuel. It was such a minor moment near the end of the episode, yet it revealed just how damaged Robert’s relationship with his family really was. Even more interesting proved to be Robert’s interrogation of Victor Miller, once he found himself alone with the latter. I found it interesting due to Robert’s discovery that a traitor existed within the mysterious group to whom he belonged. Yet, he later discovers that his son harbors very little trust in him.

Another powerful moment featured a debate over whether or not to feed the dying Miller a drug to gather more information from him. Jake, Robert and Eric wanted to use the drug to revive Miller’s consciousness in order to learn more information – even if this act will cause him pain. As a doctor, April opposed this action on the grounds of compassion. The conflict between pragmatism and compassion resonated strongly in this scene. This same conflict also played a part in a scene in which Jake had to shame Jericho’s citizens into helping him search for a group of survivors that also might be dying from radiation poisoning, and in Gracie Leigh’s refusal to contribute gasoline for the town’s power generators. It is interesting how these three scenes featuring pragmatism vs. compassion ended differently. This conflict will prove to have a major impact on Gracie’s story line, later in the season.

I have very few problems with “Walls of Jericho”. Actually, I only have two. If it were not for how it affected Eric and April’s marriage, I found the gasoline search rather unoriginal and a little sophomoric at times. This episode also marked the showrunners’ continuing attempt to create a romance between Jake and Heather – especially in a scene in which she unexpectedly encounters him leaving one of the clinic’s showers. And despite the presence of a half-nude Skeet Ulrich, I still failed to sense any romantic spark between the pair. What can I say? Jake and Heather tend to generate a sibling-like vibe.

Thanks to a strong narrative and interesting subplots, “Walls of Jericho” featured some first-rate performances from members of the cast. I was especially impressed by Kenneth Mitchell and Darby Stanchfield as Eric and April Green, Jazz Raycole as Allison Hawkins, Beth Grant as Gracie Leigh, and Candace Bailey as Skylar Stevens. But I believe the best performances came from Skeet Ulrich – especially in the scene in which Jake shamed the town’s citizens for their lack of compassion; Adam Donshik, who had to portray the dying Victor Miller; and Lennie James, who added more depth to the mysterious aura of Robert Hawkins.

Although “Walls of Jericho” featured an uninspiring potential romance and a search for gasoline that failed to grab me, I must say that it proved to be one of the stronger early episodes of “JERICHO”. I have to credit fine performances from a cast led by Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James and a very strong narrative written by screenwriter Martha Mitchell for making this episode very fascinating . . . at least for me.