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.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I started watching the first season of The Sopranos.

I have to apologize, dear readers, for my sporadic posting behavior as of late. The simple fact of the matter is that I am in a bit of a TV dead zone, as the normal seasons of all the shows I watch have wrapped, and I am waiting for the summer shows to start. To pass the time, I’ve been watching movies, most recently Night of the Creeps. But I digress – this is a TV blog, after all.

A couple weeks ago, I started watching The Sopranos on HBO On Demand. I’ve also been watching the final season of the Tudors on Showtime (which took a break for the Memorial Day holiday). I’m a little more than half-way through the first season of The Sopranos, which I have been meaning to watch for a couple years now. So far, it’s a pretty good watch – James Gandolfini (as Tony Soprano) is excellent, as are Lorraine Bracco (as Dr. Jennifer Melfi) and Edie Falco (as Carmela Soprano). At times, the actors who play the Soprano kids are a little annoying, but that is forgivable. I didn’t know if I would like Falco’s character, as I was never very impressed with Nurse Jackie (in spite of the wealth of critical acclaim it has garnered), but it turns out she is really quite good in this role. She portrays the wife of a mobster with complexity, and avoids the overdone clichés of such a role.

Of course, I am counting down the days for the premiere of True Blood (only 10 days left) and enjoying all of the promos HBO has been putting out for that. The newest trailer is awesome, and all of the minisodes have been really cool. I have to admit, I had little faith in these shorts, but they have been worth watching every week. My favorite is still the first one, in which Eric and Pam audition strippers for Fangtasia. Alas, even with all of the trailers, minisodes, and posters, waiting still sucks.

I’ll also be watching season 2 of Being Human on BBC, starting July 24, as well as the sophomore season of Warehouse 13 on SyFy. What will you be watching this summer?

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.”

Ode to Netflix

While most of my posts up to this point have focused on what I watch on TV, I haven’t taken any time to wax poetic on how I watch TV. Mark and I have both praised the DVR, but for me Netflix trumps the DVR as the most innovative way to watch TV.

Specifically, I’m talking about the Netflix Instant Watch service, which comes with the mail plans. In case you aren’t familiar with it, Netflix Instant Watch allows you to stream movies and TV shows from the Internet to your TV. There are a variety of devices you can use – Roku box (that’s what we have), Nintendo Wii, X-box, and others. You can also stream on your computer.

The Instant Watch catalog is impressive – with tens of thousands of movie choices and past seasons of shows from nearly all the major networks. In fact, there have been numerous shows that I started watching on Netflix. Given my rave reviews of Lost, you would probably assume I’ve been watching from day one, but I actually watched the first five seasons from December 2009 to February 2010. Warning: this can become quite addictive and often results in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like state that your friends and family may assume is related to drug use. I also started watching The Office, Dexter, The Tudors and 30 Rock on Netflix.

Of course, for those shows not available on the Instant Watch, there is always the old-school, DVD-in-the-mail option. We have the three-movie-at-a-time plan, and have watched several great shows this way including Deadwood and The X-Files. Right now, I’m catching up with Big Love through the mail. Sometime I’ll talk about these shows.

What prompted this Ode to Netflix? Twas the night before last, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for my two cats. My husband in his boxers, and I in my PJs, had just settled down to watch nothing on TV. When I pulled up the Instant queue and realized The X-Files was added, I arose from my couch and shouted “Yippee!” I browsed to see what else was added, when what to my wondering eyes should appear – Bones, 24 and Arrested Development. I spoke not a word, just frantically clicked “Add.” And as the night waned, I watched 24 with bloodshot, tired eyes. As I dragged myself to bed at an all-too-late hour, I arose from the couch and said with a tired stammer, “Happy viewing to all and to all a good Netflix night!”