Did I mention I like lists? Most disturbing TV scenes by EW

Last week’s episode of True Blood was the inspiration for Entertainment Weekly’s list.

Entertainment Weekly published a list of the top 20 most disturbing scenes on TV. I haven’t seen a lot of the shows that made the list, but here’s what I thought of the ones I do know about.

First up is the scene from last week’s episode of True Blood, in which Bill and his maker, Lorena, have some really bizarre and violent sex that involves her head being twisted 180 degrees, as she chokes out “I still love you” whilst coughing up blood and smiling sickly. That was weird, and disturbing, and surprising. Definitely not for the kiddos. I think most True Blood fans would agree that Bill has usually been portrayed in a more gentlemanly fashion than, say, Eric. So this behavior was shocking coming from him, but also shocking behavior in general.

The next scene I recognized was from The X-Files episode “Home.” This scene, in which Mulder and Scully find the mother of a family of imbreds hiding under a bed, is a classic moment in a show with a lot of creepy, memorable scenes. I’m glad this made the list, as “Home” was truly a great hour in TV history, and is almost universally recognized as the best episode of The X-Files.

Also on the list is a scene from Dexter. The last season of this show brought us many jarring scenes, thanks to the expert portrayal of the Trinity Killer by John Lithgow. Entertainment Weekly points out the Thanksgiving scene, where Dexter snapped and nearly killed Trinity in front of his family, as the most disturbing. To be sure, this was memorable, but for me, the most disturbing scene of this season (aside from the shocking ending, which is the obvious choice) was the first time we saw Trinity kill in the bathtub. Who will ever forget those dead eyes, staring into the eyes of his victim, as the water turned crimson from her blood?

 I also took issue with the scene EW picked from Deadwood. If I had to pick a most disturbing scene from this HBO drama, I would not have picked this one. To me, the most disturbing scene came when Al Swearengen (expertly portrayed by Ian McShane) was taken ill with kidney stones. You could literally feel the agony as he tried to pass them, having stroke in the process. I think it’s safe to say there was a universal wince when he squeezed out a few, bloody, foamy drops of urine. I just winced again as I wrote that.

From the Twilight Zone, EW chose one of the most classic episodes, and one that is oft-quoted in jest in the Rogers Household. Have you ever wished your spouse into the cornfield? I have.

EW also picked the scene from Lost where the guy gets sucked into the plane during the pilot. However, to me this really wasn’t very disturbing. Truthfully, while there were many crazy twists and turns in Lost, I didn’t find any of them to be as disturbing as some of the other items on the EW list. It seems like they just wanted to include something from Lost.

A few things I thought should have made the list:

  • A scene from The Sopranos. There were a lot of disturbing moments in this show (which I have only watched two seasons of) that could have been mentioned.
  • Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season six, episode 19, “Seeing Red.”
  • Any one of the cruel and unusual punishments doled out by Henry VIII on The Tudors. Probably the most disturbing for me was the execution of Katherine Howard.

The crown jewel of Showtime’s lineup

I can’t say I was sad for Henry at the end, but I was a bit sorry for him.

I watched the series finale of The Tudors last night, and while I already discussed a lot of my feelings about the show last week, I did want to talk a little bit about the last hour of this outstanding four-season historical drama on Showtime.

Series creator Michael Hirst discussed the last episode in a brief segment after the credits, mentioning that he wanted to end the show on a balanced note, which is why we didn’t actually see Henry’s death. Hirst’s rationale was that if Henry simply died, his character would be remembered for the cruelties and excesses alone. As I mentioned in my last post, there has been little to like about Henry this season. He’s been brutal, and I agree that if he would have just died, with no reflection on his past deeds, it would have seemed flat. Kudos to Hirst for realizing this.

Instead, Hirst said he tried to elevate the episode, and I believe he succeeded in this goal. The dream sequences with the white horse were beautifully filmed, and the use of young Henry was perfectly orchestrated to evoke authentic sympathy for a man who was undoubtedly cruel, but also complex and very conflicted in his life. The scenes in which former wives appeared, particularly Anne Boleyn, served as a reminder that Henry was obviously a man of great passion, often ruled by emotions and therefore fallible in life and love.

As I mentioned before, this show was filled with outstanding actors. In this final hour, the meeting between Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk (played by Henry Cavill) and Henry VIII (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was genuinely touching. What a sad turn the Duke’s health took – sad for his mistress who could not morn him in public and deeply sad for Henry, his lifelong friend who mistakenly believed he had the divine power to will him back to health.

The final montage of happy scenes from the show was effective in two ways. First it reminded me of how gorgeous Rhys Meyers is without all of that aging makeup. Second, it allowed the audience to rethink his character. Was he a true villain? Was he a misunderstood monarch? Or was he just a man with too much power and influence for his own good, capable of extreme cruelty but also pure love? Maybe the lesson is that he was all of these things.

I often wonder, in 500 years, how history will portray current heads of state. Who will be revered? Who will be forgotten? Who will be hated? This leads me to the other lesson of The Tudors, one about the passing of time and history, which Henry vocalized in this scene:

Henry: “What loss, your Grace, is to man most irrecoverable?”
Charles Brandon: “His virtue.”
Henry: “No, for by his actions he may redeem his virtue.”
Charles Brandon: “Then his honor.”
Henry: “No, for again, he may find the means to recover it, even as a man recovers some fortune he has lost.”
Charles Brandon: “Then I cannot say your majesty.”
Henry: “Time, your Grace. Of all losses, time is the most irrecoverable for it can never be redeemed.”

Thoughts on a monarch

Henry VIII has aged noticeably at the end of The Tudors.

Now that True Blood is back, I am forced to DVR The Tudors and watch it on the Monday following its airing. So forgive my delayed reaction to this week’s episode.

Henry VIII is now noticeably aged, with graying hair and beard as well as a more gravelly voice. His leg injury also seems to be more intense. Perhaps it is this old wound coupled with his loss of the war in France that has made him so incredibly bitter, cruel and uncompromising. Or maybe it is simply the sum of a life lived without fear of repercussions.

Often on this blog I have lauded the well-written anti-hero – Walter Bishop, Dexter, Tony Soprano and Eric of True Blood, for example, are all so complex. The anti-hero can often be very cruel, but he can also be kind. Perhaps there was a time, early on in The Tudors, when Henry also possessed some of these qualities. However, at this point in the show there is little to like about him, and I find it impossible to sympathize with him. As I’ve mentioned before, just watching some of the scenes of torture and imprisonment give me a newfound respect for my constitutional rights. This week was no exception – the torture and execution of Anne Askew as well as the unjust trial and sentencing of the Earl of Surrey were two of the darkest moments on the show to date.

This final season of The Tudors has explored in-depth the darkness of Henry’s nature and the corrupting influence of absolute power. We have seen him use and destroy his wives, friends and political allies for his own ends, which range from advancing his political agenda to his petty whims.

In its four seasons, this show has given its audience a lot to think about. As we approach the series finale on Sunday, I say kudos to the writers, directors and actors for making such a deep show. It is not a rollicking good time – it is an ever-evolving, insightful character study of an oft-documented and much-debated historical figure.

Good for you, Duke

Swoon.

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only person watching The Tudors, and that just saddens me. As I’ve said before, it is an excellent show – entertaining for a lot of reasons, and not just for fans of historical fiction, but I don’t hear a lot of buzz about it.

Last night’s episode was notable for a couple reasons. First and foremost, we had the end of the siege of Boulogne. The battlefield scenes were truly impressive in the last two weeks – even the CGI was OK, and I am a critical judge of CGI in general. Also, siege warfare, dysentery and starvation, and the great loss of life – all were portrayed with realism. As I’ve said before, I am not an expert on this time period, so I can’t speak for the strict historical accuracy. However, watching the show the last couple of weeks has given me a new appreciation for rank and file, peasant soldiers of that time.

All in all it was a sober episode. Henry’s mood was remarkably dark, even for him. The siege was pointless, as he returned to England without moving on to Paris. And it was sad to see the two soldiers who enlisted together separated by death.

The bright point in this otherwise dark installment was the Duke’s new French lady love. I have a real soft spot for the Duke of Suffolk (played by Henry Cavill), and it’s not just because he has a sexy beard. He’s morally conflicted, tough, sometimes brutal and cocky, but also sensitive – what’s not to love? I thought it was sad what happened with him and his wife, and was happy to see him bring this saucy woman warrior back to England.

Now that’s what I call cruel and unusual

I was never a fan of Katherine’s character, but I felt pity for her last night.

It’s not often that a show makes you feel grateful for your constitutional rights, but that’s exactly how I felt after watching last night’s episode of The Tudors.

Of course, I knew what was coming – history tells us that Katherine Howard was beheaded, and although the show takes some liberties with the true story, it doesn’t veer so far off as to let her live. Anyone who has watched this season would say she had it coming and so did her accomplices. Thomas Culpepper, Francis Derehem and Lady Rochford were a band of nincompoops who couldn’t hide a secret if their lives depended on it.

I have to say that even though I knew what was going to happen, I still found it incredibly gripping, even shocking at times. This is probably the real magic of this show – to take a story that has been done so many times and to make it new and interesting for the audience. Kudos to the writers and actors for bringing it to life.

Even for a seasoned horror buff, watching Derehem get his fingernail pulled out in the Tower was cringe-inducing. And I don’t know about you, but the idea of being drawn and quartered, even when it’s not shown in graphic detail, is a bit hard for me to swallow. Equally shocking was Henry’s insistence that Lady Rochford be executed even though she was clearly insane.

At the end of the episode, I turned to the husband and said, “Thank goodness the founders had the sense to ban cruel and unusual punishment.” After all, even though Katherine and her crew were careless, and often cruel themselves (in the case of Culpepper), it is a horrific thing to imagine someone being tortured to death in the public square for having an affair.

Divorced, beheaded, died; Divorced, beheaded, survived

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the last three seasons of The Tudors (Showtime, 9 p.m., Sundays), it’s that Henry VIII (as portrayed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was a man-whore. So it came as no great shock when, at the end of last season, he took up with a new gal.

In the premiere of season four, which aired Sunday, we learned a lot about Catherine Howard (played by Tamzin Merchant). Not your typical queen, she is a horny, bisexual 17-year-old who enjoys seductive dancing, mud wrestling and midnight frolics in the rain. Even if I hadn’t paid attention in history class, I would guess that this marriage was destined for trouble.

We also got a pretty good indication of Henry’s mental state from his order to have Catherine’s cousin dragged to death. He seems to be more sadistic with each passing season, and Rhys Meyers expertly portrays his ever-growing depravity. Long gone is the handsome charmer of season one, torn between passion and duty. In place, we have this dark, arrogant character who surrounds himself with scoundrels (such as the not-so-gentlemen of the privy chamber).

This is the final season of The Tudors, regrettably. It’s a great show, not only for those who enjoy historical drama but also for those who enjoy steamy romance and political intrigue. Of course we know how this story ends from the popular rhyme, but it sure has been fun to watch it play out. And you never know, maybe the next historical drama on Showtime will be based on a man-whore of our time – perhaps the tale of Tiger and his harem or Bill Clinton and his bevy of beauties (?). Unfortunately, those tabloid stories aren’t quite as exciting. But give it time – maybe Sandra Bullock will behead Jesse James. And Showtime can buy the rights for a dramatization aptly titled “West Coast Choppers 2.”