Monday, April 4, 2011

HBO Airs Third Installment of Miniseries Mildred Pierce and AMC premieres new series The Killing

Last night, HBO aired the third installment of its miniseries Mildred Pierce and AMC rolled out a two-part pilot for its series The Killing. Both series began with a funeral and a death respectively, so Sunday night TV was depressing to say the least.

Last night’s episode of Mildred Pierce actually rolled along quite nicely, with the action now centering on Mildred burying her youngest child, Ray, opening her restaurant to great success, and helping to build surviving daughter Veda’s blossoming operatic talents. I won’t go too much into the plot (I’m not good at recaps and I’ve never really found much use for them frankly), but focus instead on the style of this production.

I found it interesting that this installment lacked the flourishes Todd Haynes brought to the series in the previous episode. There aren’t very many lingering moments, such as the scene of Mildred sitting in a diner contemplating her options following her split up with Bert. While Haynes’ directorial style was beautifully cinematic, it was also ponderous and tended to slow the action down. This week however the episode gets the plot moving along, setting up the conflicts between Mildred and Veda. The episode opens up with a shot of Mildred’s foot (perhaps the only scene Haynes concedes to the previous directorial style) and follows up her leg and torso, only to reveal that she is lying in bed with Veda. When she snaps awake, she gazes across at the empty twin bed in her daughters’ room. What a great beginning since it not only reminds audiences of what happened the previous week, but it also sets the stage for the emotional action to follow.

The acting performances, as with last week, continue to excel. Three notable performances belong to Kate Winslet, Morgan Turner, and Brian F. O’Byrne, who plays Bert, Mildred’s ex-husband. O'Byrne's most notable occurs early in the episode when Bert breaks down over his daughter’s death. It’s such a short and simple scene, but it packs a wallop. And while I hate to have to compare this version of Mildred Pierce to the original movie, I can’t help but say that Bert comes across as a much more sympathetic character. Not to say that he wasn’t in Crawford’s version, but Bert had very little screen time since the movie focused more on Mildred and Veda’s relationship. Turner as Veda is ratcheting up the character’s brattiness quite nicely. Some of her actions are beyond belief, but since this is a melodrama certain things are allowable. As Veda, Turner employs certain expressions and twists of the wrist that reveal just how hateful a human being Veda is. Veda and Mildred’s relationship is full of toxins, a mother-daughter love that, when taken from its source material, is gleaned through a male perspective. You can take that for whatever that means or not, but I’m less concerned about subtext than I am with performance and both Winslet and Turner do a wonderful job of portraying the twisted relationship these two share.

Winslet, of course, delivers another fine performance as Mildred builds a successful career as a restauranteur only to still be overwhelmed by the demands of a selfish daughter and an even more selfish lover, Monty Beragon, played by Guy Pearce. Pearce was introduced in the drama last week, but we really get a better sense of his character in this episode. A rich playboy, polo player, and businessman fallen on hard times, Monty uses Mildred to finance his own lifestyle and develops a close kinship with her daughter. Veda comes to idolize Monty. He is after all everything she seeks out herself: the unbridled sense of entitlement that can only come from idle wealth. Their relationship in the end is what leads to Mildred and Monty’s break up. Mildred and Monty have a purely sexual relationship, one that Mildred is forced to recognize in one argument after Monty complements her for being a nice “piece of tail.” Yet, as with her daughter, Mildred allows herself to be strung along. She breaks up with him only because he has formed a friendlier relationship with Veda. The break up scene is remarkable and both Winslet and Pearce ground their performances, which easily could have drifted into melodrama, with a naturalism that holds the final moments of the episode together.

All in all, another good installment from Todd Haynes and company. Next week, Evan Rachel Wood takes over the role of Veda in the last two episodes that will be aired. From what I have learned online, the ending of the novel is much different from the movie, so I’m curious to see how things will play out.

AMC premiered their new series The Killing with a pilot two-parter. I only watched the first part and recorded the second half while I watched Mildred Pierce, so I’m not fully prepared to give my judgment on that series. I will say that of what I did see there was much to recommend and much not to. Based on a Dutch production called Forbrydelson, the series is about the killing of a young girl, Rosie Larsen, and the subsequent investigation into her murder. The series covers not only the detectives who investigate the homicide, but her family as they grieve, and a city councilman running for mayor whose campaign vehicle was the scene in which the young girl’s body was recovered. One thing that did strike me though was the atmosphere. The series takes place in Seattle, Washington, and has the damp, dreary atmospherics that reminded me so much of the early years of The X-Files. The production made me realize how much I missed The X-Files and how the right tone and atmosphere to a series can really create a compelling backdrop to drama. Whether or not I’ll continue to watch remains to be seen (I haven’t fully committed to a TV series since The Sopranos left the air four years ago), but I’m interested enough to give it a try.

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