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Friday, July 3, 2020

Hanna Season 2



Hanna season 2 ingeniously reinvents the series about the teenage super-soldier Hanna Petrescu (Esme Creed-Miles) and injects the story about one lone girl searching for purpose into a compelling larger universe of an entire school of teenage assassins looking for a greater purpose. Hanna season 1 was loosely adapted from the 2011 feature film directed by Joe Wright starring Saoirse Ronan in the title role before it veered in a different, and frankly, better direction. With Hanna season 2, showrunner David Farr's soft reboot cleverly forces Hanna to answer the question of where she fits in and what role she will have in this new expanded universe she finds herself at the center of.

Hanna was originally part of Utrax, a clandestine CIA program that began in the early 2000s in Romania. Utrax has a vague, science fiction-y premise of injecting infants with wolf DNA to make them superior soldiers... uh, however that works. Regardless, Hanna and her adoptive father Erik Heller (Joel Kinnaman) shut down Utrax in Hanna season 1, although it cost Erik his life and Hanna fled back to the forest where she grew up with her 'sister' from Utrax, Clara (Yasmin Monet Prince). Hanna season 2 picks up some time after; as Hanna and Clara continue hiding in the Romanian wilderness, Utrax relocated to a Downton Abbey-like English country manor called the Meadows. Utrax's trainees, who were treated like robots in season 1 and are now enhanced synthetically instead of through genetic manipulation, received a serious lifestyle upgrade. Each given fabricated names and histories, the girls of Utrax find themselves living and learning in a boarding school for assassins. Hanna turns season 2 into a cross between Harry Potter and Killing Eve - it's brilliant and it works like gangbusters.

Naturally, Clara is unhappy living in the forest (who can blame her?) and she's obsessed with finding her birth mother (again, hard to blame her). Utrax reacquires Clara and sends her to the Meadows where she's the problem child in the school -- until Hanna arrives to rescue her and Hanna herself becomes the school's even more-of-a-problem child. But the best characters of the show are the girls who are gung-ho to be in Utrax. Hanna's prize pupils are Sandy Phillips (Aine Rose Daly), the blonde, effervescent true believer, and Jules Allen (Gianna Kiehl), the headstrong, independent thinker who figures out pretty early on that she fancies girls more than boys. When Hanna season 2 focuses on the trainees at Utrax, their training, and their attempts to be "normal teenage girls" (wholly sponsored by their CIA overseers), the series really crackles. These girls are being trained to become US Government sanctioned assassins but they're delightful, bright, naive, and incredibly dangerous. No teenage boy is a match for Utrax's trainees and they know it. Placing the girls of Utrax at the heart of the show alongside Hanna is the series' masterstroke.

Meanwhile, there are also adults on this show. Hanna season 2 brings back devious and tough-as-nails Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos), who was relentlessly hunting Hanna in season 1 but they're now on the same side, although Hanna can't bring herself to fully trust Marissa (Erik taught her well). Marissa's real obsession is getting to the bottom of Utrax and her old teacher at the agency, John Carmichael (Dermot Mulroney), who now runs the program for a shadowy section of the CIA called the Pioneer Group. Marissa has a tough season 2; she's beaten up and captured several times (Hanna also hands Wiegler her ass) but she's the smartest person on the show and, eventually, Marissa figures out how to take Utrax over to her own advantage. Another compelling new character is Terri Miller (Cherrelle Skeete), a fresh recruit from the CIA who creates all of the Utrax girls' identities and intimately gets to know them in ways no one else does. Also, Carmichael doesn't seem all that bad for a bad guy. Late in the series, Carmichael gently pats Sandy on the shoulder and tells her "I'm proud of you". This sweet moment was one of the highlights of young Sandy's life.

As entertaining as the Meadows school setting is, the final three episodes of the season highlight the new direction's true potential when Hanna and Jules are deployed to London while Sandy and Clara are sent to Barcelona to take out their targets. Hanna season 2's spy games are a cross between the first Mission: Impossible movie and Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Utrax's girls are trying to acquire a list of future targets but that list sounds suspiciously like Hydra's Project Insight plan - except Utrax will use 18 -year-old female assassins in lieu of Helicarriers. Hanna, Jules, Sandy, and Clara plunged into the real world, and posing as international boarding school students delightfully brings with it all of the requisite coming-of-age thrills of travel, discovery, rebelliousness, and, of course, gun-toting violence. More of this please, Hanna.

If there's a stick-in-the-mud at the Meadows, it's Hanna herself, who can't bring herself to fit in at Utrax, even though it's really where she belongs. Esme Creed-Miles always makes Hanna empathetic, but come on, she's not much fun to be around, is she? It's certainly hard to go to school with Hanna. To her credit, Hanna fundamentally objects to being used as an assassin, which is what makes her a hero, and yet, she simply can't survive in a world where the CIA will continually hunt her. As the Utrax O.G., Hanna is certainly tough, clever, and resourceful but Hanna season 2 does a thorough job of defining her limits. The show doesn't flinch from the harsh realities that Hanna has no options for a happy life of freedom, but Hanna herself, for all of her abilities and life experience her 'sisters' lack, can't see how to make Utrax work for her. This is why the ending of Hanna season 2 is so brilliant: Marissa takes over Utrax from Carmichael and will use them to fight their patrons, the Pioneer Group in season 3. That's a hell of a hook and Hanna season 3 can't come soon enough.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Killing Eve Season 3



When Carolyn Martens (Fiona Shaw) originally recruited Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) to MI6 and brought her to what would be their office in Killing Eve season 1, she pointed out to Eve that she once saw a rat drinking from a can of Coke with both hands. "Extraordinary!" Carolyn mused. That's as apt a simile as any to describe my fascination with Killing Eve, which just wrapped its third, and possibly, its most seismic season. The series is long past the giddy novelty and sheer inventiveness of the Phoebe Waller-Bridge-helmed first season, but Killing Eve remains a lurid and florid dream, anchored by the consistently impressive performances of its leads. Jodie Comer is undeniably magnetic and finds never-ending ways to be electifyingly provocative as Villanelle, Sandra Oh is an understated cauldron of barely suppressed rage and desire as Eve, Fiona Shaw's stiff-upper-lipped, calculating calm only grows more riveting as Carolyn, and no one forces himself to swallow down his evident, rampant fears more than Kim Bodnia as Konstanin Vasiliev.

The ending of Killing Eve season 3 haunted me. Eve and Villanelle were kept apart for almost the entire season; except for a brawl and long-awaited kiss on a London bus in episode 3, "Meetings Have Biscuits", the obsessed would-be lovers didn't spend any real time together until the season finale, "Are You Leading Or Am I?" By the time they met up in a dance hall (the site of Villanelle's first murder in London), it seems everything between them has been tentatively forgiven: Villanelle shooting Eve (dead, she thought) in the season 2 finale now seems like a lifetime ago (despite less than a year passing in the series' timeline). By this moment, Villanelle can call Eve for help and she comes running. As the two of them sat together and watched happy couples dancing, everything has changed for them as individuals. Eve has lost her marriage - Niko miraculously and inexplicably survived Dasha Durzan (Harriet Walter) framing Villanelle by stabbing him in the neck with a pitchfork and he told Eve to "piss off" - and she has no career direction.

Meanwhile, Villanelle's entire self-designed world collapsed in season 3. Already deeply unhappy (season 3 forgot that Villanelle got married at the start of the season and she presumably still is), she had an identity crisis that led Villanelle back to Russia to confront her mother Titania (Evgenia Dodina) and then kill her. Villanelle hasn't been the same (how could she be?) and she no longer wants to kill. But being the best assassin money can buy is not only her first, best destiny, but the series poses the question (directly articulated by Carolyn) of what value Villanelle holds to anyone if she's not a killer? Throughout the season, Villanelle, who "was trained to be devastating" and invented a glamorously appealing persona she was quite pleased with in season 1, has only grown sadder and, in a way, behaves in a more childlike and pure way. She wanted a hug from her mother, who was an abusive psychopath incapable of affection. The hug that Villanelle expectedly did get (which stunningly brought her to tears) was from Helene (Camille Cottin), the leader of The Twelve, who only rewarded her for being a "beautiful monster". But is that all Villanelle truly is?

"Do you ever think about the past?" Villanelle asked Eve. "All the time," Eve responded, sadly. "It's all I think about." Indeed. Everything Eve gave up, everything she lost, was because deep down she wanted to. And for Villanelle, her past is lined with blood and corpses, including her own mother's. In their climactic scene at the Tower Bridge, Eve tacitly admitted that she didn't really want her marriage to Niko, their home, or their chicken (and she probably never did) and that the monster inside Villanelle enabled the monster inside Eve. And that Eve wants her to. She doesn't want it to stop, even though she thinks she does.

And with that, Killing Eve asks us to consider, for Villanelle and Eve, and for ourselves in this violently unfair, tumultuously uncertain world we live in, what is the future? What can we really hope for? What is possible for us? What is hopeless but worth reaching for anyway? Before they tried to walk away from each other - and they both stopped and betrayed their agreement never to look back - Eve confessed that every time she visualized her future now, she saw Villanelle's face. "It's a very beautiful face," Villanelle assured her. Killing Eve season 3 sadly comes to the conclusion that Eve and Villanelle are two people swimming against the tide, doomed to drown with each other, their futures forever in doubt. Their two monsters wrecked the other relationships in their lives, and yet, they do have each other, which, in the twisted way that's pure Killing Eve, makes them both lucky. In their world, and in ours, what more can Villanelle and Eve really ask for? 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Star Trek: Picard at Screen Rant


Sir Patrick Stewart returning as Jean-Luc Picard in the first Star Trek series set in the 24th-century in 18 years is a dream come true. As part of Screen Rant's bridge crew for Star Trek: Picard, here are all my Screen Rant Features about Picard's newest voyage into the final frontier.