‘Jane the Virgin’ Finale: 5 Theories Explaining That Massive Twist

The CW series continues to surprise but stays true to its telenovela roots as it closes out its fourth season.

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Jane the Virgin,” Season 4, Episode 17, “Chapter Eighty-One.”]

Well, we really didn’t see that one him coming.

While “Jane the Virgin” hinted that something huge and unforeseen would happen in the finale, that felt as if it were an obvious promise. After all, it’s a show based on a telenovela. But what would it be this time? Many hints pointed to another death or a deep, dark secret in Rafael’s (Justin Baldoni) past that would put a monkey wrench in his future happiness with Jane (Gina Rodriguez).

Viewers had become somewhat used to the usual twists — dead bodies! secret twins! — by now. Besides, after the show killed off Jane’s husband Michael (Brett Dier) before the third season even reached its halfway point, it felt as if viewers couldn’t be that blindsided again… until Friday’s Season 4 finale.

Throughout the episode, Rafael had acted despondent and upset over some piece of information that he had learned from his sister’s jailed lover, Rose (Bridget Regan). But it didn’t turn out to be the identity of his biological parents or that he was secretly Jane’s half-brother (eww!). Instead, in the last moments of the episode, Rafael invites Jane inside his apartment to reveal… Michael.

Record scratch. This is more than a mere Friday night cliffhanger. This is a season cliffhanger that upends what was expected to be Jane’s path. In the timeline of the show, several years have passed to the point that she’s found some peace with Michael’s death, moved on, and intended to marry Rafael. No wonder Raf was feeling bummed. The love of his life’s husband was still alive!

This gives new meaning to the narrator’s earlier prediction that “for as long as Michael lived, until he drew his very last breath, he never” doubted that he and Jane belonged together. Also, this will throw all the ‘shippers into a tizzy as allegiances are tested.

While we’re not sure what romantic future lies before her now, the only thing we can do is speculate how Michael is still alive. Here are our five best guesses:

1. Michael Knowingly Faked His Death

Brett Dier, “Jane the Virgin”

Colleen Hayes/The CW

This makes the most sense, because that would explain why he stayed away for so long if this was a willing deception. There are probably many ways to fake complications from a gunshot wound (which is nicely vague). We’re just hoping that he did it for some noble purpose, perhaps another case. You can take the man out of the police force, but perhaps you can’t take the cop out of the man.

2. Someone Else Faked Michael’s Death

In this scenario, another person wanted him to seem dead and created a medical situation where he collapsed. Later, he was revived, but the tale about his death had already been told. It gets a little tricky at this point, trying to understand why he had stayed away for so long, but either he got convinced of the other person’s purpose and went along with it, he was imprisoned or blackmailed to go along with it, or maybe he had amnesia. Hey, memory loss is a staple in telenovelas!

3. This Isn’t Michael But a Long-Lost Twin

The show had already killed off one twin — Petra’s sister Anezka (Yael Grobglas) — so we’re due for some twin shenanigans. As much as this theory might make sense in the DNA of the show, we don’t like it quite as much because this seems unnecessarily cruel for Jane to see a stranger with her husband’s face.

4. This Is a Manufactured Michael Lookalike

Surgery and/or prosthetics can do wonders, and someone masquerading as Michael seems like just the kind of deeply messed-up mind game that Rose would perpetrate. After all, she was a master of disguise herself. Not sure what purpose a fake Michael would serve, but it would add a finger-twiddling sinister quality to the whole affair.

5. Michael Did Die, But Got Resurrected

This could be a “Flatliners” situation where modern science intervened, or better yet, a zombie or Frankenstein scenario in which a semi-dead Michael came back but slightly… off. The CW already has “iZombie,” but who’s to say that the undead can’t be found in Miami? Michael certainly does have a pallor to him.

It’s nice to know that “Jane the Virgin” is still able to surprise its viewers and is a solid asset to The CW’s lineup. Fortunately, we already know that “Jane the Virgin” has been renewed for a fifth season. We’ll just have to wait to see which of these theories hold true. And what that damn narrator has to say about all of it.

‘Genius: Picasso’ Review: Antonio Banderas Spices Up a Painfully Banal Portrait of the Great Abstract Artist

Too many women reduced to muses and a routine rags-to-riches backstory make “Genius: Picasso” feel antithetical to both words in its title.

Genius: Picasso” is a telling title in how it orders those two words. Though last year’s debut season of the National Geographic anthology series didn’t feel the need to incorporate “Einstein” into its name, the second season makes sure the brand takes priority over the subject — and the creative elements follow suit.

Season 2 is a painful bore. Using the same formula devised for an entirely different character, “Genius: Picasso” short-shrifts the few compelling angles it touches upon in favor of covering a wide swath of the painter’s life. Again, there are two stories running in parallel to each other: One is of Picasso in his early twenties, with Alex Ross depicting a passionate artist finding his vision. The other, largely framed around the Nazi occupation of Paris, follows an older Picasso played by Antonio Banderas.

Each timeline has its strong points (Ross and Banderas both among them), but there’s not enough to save “Picasso” from suffering a fate the real man would hate most of all: It’s conventional, and borderline-ugly.

Given the chosen subject, the choice to fit in is doubly misguided. During the first four episodes, Picasso goes on and on about making his own art instead of copying others. When he’s starting out, the young artist makes a decent living replicating the styles of his famous would-be peers. He’s naturalistic, painting portraits and landscapes so paying customers have something simple and nice to hang above their dinner tables.

Barcelona, Spain - Alex Rich plays Pablo Picasso in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

But he begs to be cut free. He wants people to respect his unique styles and passions, not the ones he cribbed from other people. And yet as he rails against convention and playing it safe, the series exists in exactly those spaces. Aside from its time-jumping story structure between younger and older Picassos — which the brand is based on — there’s nothing particularly striking about it. Even that feels like a convenient recycling of last season’s Einstein structure (as well as plenty of other biopics) more than a necessary means to capture this man’s essence, complexity, and life’s work.

“Genius: Picasso” tries to include too much of the artist’s story and pays the price for it. Early scenes move at a preposterously rapid pace, shooting through adolescent building blocks like his father teaching him to paint, the death of his younger sister, the loss of his virginity, and up to his schooling in less than 20 minutes. They’re only included so Picasso can reference them when he’s older, but they’re only rushed past so the audience doesn’t have to juggle more than two men playing Pablo. And the women in Picasso’s life are only there to help define him; none of his muses are given much backstory outside of their obsession with him or rejection by him. (This could be a way to avoid the more problematic aspects of the artist’s past, though they technically still could come up later in the season.)

Including so much in such a short amount of time is a way of catering to a wide audience — if you don’t like this story, don’t worry, there’s another right around the corner. That’s fine in theory, but it’s something Picasso himself didn’t want to do. Yes, he desired to be seen, but his choices purposefully bucked the status quo. “Genius: Picasso” seems to favor the former, and it will snag viewers for National Geographic. Many will come simply for Banderas, and they won’t be disappointed. Though not as transformative as Geoffrey Rush’s Einstein, the Spanish actor brings his trademark conviction and charm to the older Picasso, but he’s also contemplative. (Picasso is undoubtedly pretentious, but Banderas’ portrayal is anything but.)

Budapest, Hungary - Antonio Banderas (Pablo Picasso) with Samantha Colley (Dora Maar) in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

There’s a pair of scenes in the premiere about Picasso’s art being taken from him: once by accident when he’d made nothing of value and then again when he’s an established icon and the Nazis threaten to destroy his art. In younger Picasso’s timeline, the scene falls apart. As rain starts to pour, Picasso and his friend scramble to protect his paintings that were left outside to dry, but the show underlines their panic with a ludicrous grandiosity for how silly it seems at the time. Even a brief cut to that footage in the present, while older Picasso recalls his past, risks ruining Banderas’ moment.

He doesn’t let it. “I’ve had my work destroyed before,” he says. “I won’t let it happen again.” The fact that he’s talking about Nazis burning down decades of important pieces should work against Banderas’ sincerity, since the comparison between an accidental loss due to weather and the deliberate destruction by fascists should never be made. But it’s his simple belief in his own art, sold by Banderas’ relaxed yet earnest delivery, that keeps the later timeline from suffering the same fate as the earlier one.

Ross is not to blame for any faults either. If anything, he’s given more to handle as the emotional younger Picasso, and he does so with gusto that never feels falsely inflated. The words may not ring false, but the performance stays grounded. Still, in the end, “Genius: Picasso” remains a minor effort all around. It moves so quickly and summarizes so much, it’s hard to trust anything but the most basic aspects of the story. Even the art is relegated to the background, as the series highlights only one painting in the first four hours. What is on display feels far removed from Picasso’s genius, even if it’s right in line with the “Genius” brand.

Grade: C-

“Genius: Picasso” premiered Friday, April 20 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Its National Geographic debut is set for Tuesday, April 24 at 9 p.m. ET.

‘Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas’ Takes on Police Mistreatment of Transgender Women With Sensitivity

The comedian’s new HBO series tackles social issues through the lens of policing, using Cenac’s unique blend of dry humor and undeniable heart.

In the second episode of “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas,” the stand-up comedian’s new late night series for HBO, Cenac finds a glimmer of hope in the most unlikely of places: Birmingham, Alabama. The half-hour episode concludes with a field piece that finds Cenac in the birthplace of the civil rights movement, where he is surprised to discover a majority black police force that has been working with community groups to make amends for its history of police violence. Despite the progressive changes, one of the city’s most vulnerable groups is left out of the process: The transgender community, particularly women of color.

Daroneshia Duncan, who runs a resource center for transgender women in Birmingham, says police often misgender transgender women, or label their murders cold cases without conducting a thorough investigation. “They still refuse to accept you for who you are,” she said. Another woman added: “You see a lot of the girls get molested, you see a lot of them still go to jail after molestation… They’re gonna always make you the bad person regardless if you’re the victim or not.”

During a recent interview with IndieWire, Cenac was visibly moved when he recounted meeting Duncan and the other members of the Birmingham transgender community.

“She’s a trans woman of color, and so there’s also this added layer of it that is like, right, you’re in Birmingham, a place that’s obviously known for a complicated history with law enforcement and people of color. And then now here is a person of color who is also trans,” he said. “I never thought about it through this particular lens, and that’s interesting as we talk about police and police reform and police accountability. What does that look like for the person who gets misgendered in a crime scene report and is the victim of a crime and gets misgendered, and how much more dehumanizing is that?”

Duncan’s organization, T.A.K.E. (Transgender Advocates Knowledgeable Empowering), provides peer support, health information, and job training to transgender women of color. “To go to Birmingham, Alabama — Jeff Sessions’ home state — and see that there is a community and there is outreach for trans people,” said Cenac. “It would be very easy to say, ‘Oh yeah. You do not want to be trans in Alabama.’ You probably don’t, but…if you are, you’re not alone. You have resources, you have people, and what you need is the people of Birmingham to see your humanity and respect you as an individual, and as a resident of the same community, and make sure that you have all the same rights and privileges.”

In the episode, Cenac sits down the with police Chief Roper, the man responsible for the recent changes to the department, and asks him point blank about those pesky cold cases. Roper acknowledges the mistakes of the past, and proudly states that he closed at least one case after Duncan made him aware of the problem. “She put us on notice. So we solved that case,” he tells Cenac.

Each episode of “Problem Areas” will visit a different American city, exploring different issues all through the lens of policing. Rather than make another show about Donald Trump, he said, he wanted to find a way to directly address problems faced by the country’s most vulnerable.

“When we simply write a place off as like, ‘Well, it’s just Trump country,’ for the people who are there we do them a disservice on some level,” said Cenac. “It’s their country, too. It’s not just Trump country; it’s theirs and they have just as much right and access to it, and we should be telling their stories so that their existence doesn’t feel so foreign or bizarre to the people who do live in that community.”

The episode concludes with Cenac sharing a personal story about his own run-in with a mall cap when he was 19 years old. “On a personal note, this story it really resonated with me because, like so many people of color, I’ve also had my own uncomfortable run-ins with the police,” Cenac says. “Sitting across from Chief Roper, I felt compelled to tell him about it.”

This being Cenac, he asks Roper to apologize on behalf of the mall cop, and the moment takes a lighter turn. It’s this unique blend of humor and heart that have always made Cenac such a vital comedic voice, and one we’re lucky to have back on TV.

“Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas” airs on HBO Fridays at 11:30 pm. Check out a clip from Friday’s episode below. 

‘Into the Badlands’ Season 3 Review: Martial Arts Drama Goes Deeper With the Mythology, But Remains Bonkers Fun

The best martial arts on television, paired with a dense and original premise, make for a captivating series (if you’re willing to buy in).

Let’s open with this: Nick Frost is a gift. Not just to mankind, but very specifically to “Into the Badlands.” Added to the series in Season 2 (perhaps after creators Al Gough and Miles Millar heard one too many complaints about Season 1 lacking a sense of humor), scenes featuring the frequent Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright collaborator often involve him simultaneously slinging around quips while performing the sort of physical moves you wouldn’t believe a man of his build capable of naturally. But it’s fun to watch, especially when Bajie (Frost) teams up with Sunny (Daniel Wu) to destroy packs of guards. Wu dances his way through a battle scene, sword slicing through limbs like butter, while Frost balances that with powerful punches and faster-than-light kicks.

It’s worth singling out Frost because while the character of Sunny is at the center of the bonkers AMC drama, which returns for a third season Sunday, April 22, Bajie remains just one of the secrets to its ongoing placement at the top of our not-so-guilty pleasures list.

There is no way to recommend jumping into “Badlands” with Season 3 — the season premiere makes no effort whatsoever to re-establish the characters or scenario for new audiences. But fans who either kept up with the series during its run on AMC or discovered it on Netflix can rest assured that the narrative continues on in a relatively seamless manner.

That said, if you need a quick debrief, here goes: In a society hundreds of years devolved from the present day, technology is scarce to nonexistent, and the land is ruled over by a number of “barons.” The barons maintain control over their lands and resources with the help of “clippers” — or at least they did, until the barons went to war in Season 2 and the power structure collapsed. Oh, and everyone is very very good at fighting, and some characters, like young M.K. (Aramis Knight), may or may not have magic powers that make them even better at it.

Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC

Season 3 begins with the Widow (Emily Beecham) trying to cement her power over her new territory, while the rest of the ensemble, scattered to the winds following the events of Season 2, slowly reunite. This all happens in between semi-regular bloody fight scenes, which are executed using traditional Hong Kong martial arts techniques that lead to jaw-dropping moments of brutal honesty on a regular basis.

Oh, and also, everyone wears the coolest clothes and because the show shoots in Ireland, many scenes take place against the most jaw-dropping of visuals. “Badlands” does not invite you to ask things like, “How do the soldiers of these fiefdoms have such cool uniforms, given the resource-poor post-apocalyptic setting?” And seriously, don’t question the way in which these characters spin in the air while committing so much bloody murder. If you’re able to sit back, relax, and accept the show for the fantasy it is, “Badlands” is a great deal of fun.

Well, for the most part. The show has always had one big weakness: There are so many genre homages happening here that they have a bad habit of piling up in the writing. It’s not uncommon to hear a character say something like, “Finally, our destiny is at hand,” with no trace of irony, for example. And while there are so many wonderful weird twists and turns and betrayals that spin these characters together in unexpected ways, “Badlands” sometimes can’t escape plot cliches, never more egregiously than with the end of Season 2.

[Editor’s note: Mild spoilers for the Season 2 finale follow.]

In the final minutes of “Wolf’s Breath, Dragon Fire,” Sunny’s beloved partner Veil (Madeleine Mantock) sacrifices herself to allow her infant son and Sunny to escape, and the moment was the show’s most meaningful moment of drama to date. However, it also represented a disappointing lapse into the time-honored tradition of “fridging” the girlfriends or wives of male protagonists, to emphasize the man’s pain and drive his story forward.

Daniel Wu as Sunny - Into the Badlands _ Season 3, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC

The tradition of killing lady love interests extends beyond comic books and Christopher Nolan movies to the kung-fu genre, so it’s not shocking to see it here, but it still casts a shadow over the early episodes of the season, as Sunny copes with single fatherhood.

The show doesn’t wallow too much in his grief, as Season 3 seems poised to expand some of the background mythology of the series, specifically around the legend of Azra, the mysterious city that might be the salvation of this broken world — especially thanks to a new clan, led by Cressida (“Orange is the New Black’s” Lorraine Toussaint) and Pilgrim (Babou Ceesay), which offers up new insight into what might have led to the destruction of our society.

Never fear, Sunny also does stab dudes in the head — Wu remains in top form here. Meanwhile, the beginning show’s most badass character, in reality, has always been the Widow doing everything the guys did in (and sometimes with) heels, and at least one fight scene in Season 3 does showcase exactly that; Beecham deserves so much appreciation for her talents.

Loyalties may change, but one thing remains constant on “Badlands”: The giddy glee taken in the glorious and dazzling fight scenes, which are just hyperreal enough to tap into a delight over the spectacle, as opposed to dismay over the deaths that ensue. When rating children’s’ programming for families, both the MPAA and the TV parental guidelines make a distinction between realistic violence and “fantasy violence” — with the fantasy violence, supposedly, meant to be more palatable. “Badlands” is definitely not for kids, but the same principle applies here. Because if you’re able to buy in, the cast flies through the air with swords drawn, childlike glee is the natural reaction.

Grade: B+

“Into the Badlands” Season 3 premieres Sunday, April 22 at 10 p.m. on AMC. 

‘Blue Night’ Review: Sarah Jessica Parker Shines In a Dour Homage to Agnès Varda — Tribeca

A terrific Sarah Jessica Parker sings the blues in this sensitive but shallow homage to Agnès Varda’s “Cléo from 5 to 7.”

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Fabien Constant’s “Blue Night,” a sensitive but shallow homage to 1962’s “Cléo from 5 to 7,” is that it convincingly validates the idea of updating the Agnès Varda classic. The worst thing that can be said about it is that it peaks with a Sarah Jessica Parker cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” during the closing credits, but we’ll get to that later.

The story of a beautiful young woman’s brush with mortality, Varda’s film used the timelessness of its premise as an opportunity to contextualize the topical despairs of the day, which ranged from the ongoing Algerian War to Édith Piaf’s recent stomach ulcer surgeries. Seen through the eyes of a potentially dying chanteuse — the film’s title refers to the anxious hours that its heroine spends waiting for the results of a biopsy — everything became equally small, and the narcissistic Cléo was liberated from the limits of her own self-image. In 2018, when the promise of interconnectivity has prioritized self-image above all else, and communication has become so diffuse that we can no longer tell who’s even listening, Varda’s New Wave fable is ripe for reinterpretation.

Read More: ‘Nico, 1988’ Review: Trine Dyrholm Brings the Chelsea Girl Back to Life in a Singular Biopic — Tribeca

And “Blue Night” is definitely a reinterpretation, not a remake. Screenwriter Laura Eason (“House of Cards”) borrows Varda’s basic structure, but flips it sideways with a deceptively major twist in the very first scene: Whereas Cléo Victoire was afraid that she might be terminal, Vivienne Carala (Parker) is shell-shocked by the news that she is. Sitting alone in a Manhattan doctor’s office, the famous jazz singer is told that she has an aggressive brain tumor, and that the average life expectancy for someone with her diagnosis is 14 months.

“Blue Night”

At first, this might seem like a radical change to the story, but it turns out there’s only a tiny sliver of light between the fear of a diagnosis and the reality of a death sentence. Everybody dies, and everybody knows it. What separates Cléo and Vivienne from the rest of the people rushing around their respective cities — what detaches them from their own lives, and connects them to each other — is their newfound inability to ignore that. It’s like they’ve been shown the sailboat hiding in a Magic-Eye illusion, and may never be able to unsee it.

Nevertheless, there’s real danger in immediately answering the dramatic question that drives the original. If we know Vivienne’s fate from the start, where do we go from there? Eason’s gentle script finds another source of suspense: Vivienne is scheduled to return to the doctor for tests the following morning, and she’s required to bring someone for support. Who’s she going to pick?

At 25, Cléo saw every passing stranger as a possible soul mate. At 53, Vivienne only has so many options (that has more to do with the narrowing of her life than it does the aging of her body — dressed in a Parisian blue that brings out her eyes, Parker radiates the crisp appeal of a snow princess, her character highly visible to all of the various men she encounters). Most of the movie is spent running through the roster of possible plus-ones, as a long summer afternoon stretches into an open-ended downtown night.

Does Vivienne feel closest to the hot drummer she makes out with after a rehearsal session for her upcoming tour? How about her manager (Common)? There seems to be some history there. Her teen daughter (Gus Birney) probably isn’t at the top of the list, but maybe her loaded ex-fiancée (Simon Baker) has a better shot. At the very least, it seems obvious that she won’t pick her overbearing mother (a very French Jacqueline Bisset); even the agitated Lyft driver she keeps running into (Waleed Zuaiter) seems like a more solid choice.

Shifting the focus towards Vivienne’s personal relationships is a clever decision, though a limp and drifting mood-piece like this would have been wise to present the stakes in more explicit terms. Constant opts for a hazier approach, allowing Vivienne to sink into an understandably catatonic state. Parker commits to the part with a profound sense of feeling, hinting at Vivienne’s numb inner life as she runs the full gamut of emotions and even warbles through an original Rufus Wainwright song in close-up. She hasn’t been this soft or sympathetic in years.

And yet, “Blue Night” is strangely disinterested in Vivienne’s specifics. More often than not, the movie uses her grim situation as a prompt to illustrate some more general sensations, like the obliviousness of a big city, and how — even on the hottest day of the year — it can still be cold to your personal concerns. In its unsubtle way, the film is sharply observant of the modern dynamic between private lives and public living, the terse scenes between Vivienne and her Lyft driver making hay of the old saying that “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Constant, here making his first non-documentary feature, calms his erratic camera down in these moments, as though he’s finally found the heart of the story.

Elsewhere, he seems as unmoored as his protagonist, as though he shares our growing confusion as to why Vivienne is shouldering her burden alone. It’s a valid question, and it can be interesting to watch her suss out the support (or lack thereof) that she’s earned from the people around her, but it isn’t long before the most urgent day of Vivienne’s life begins to lose its shape. None of her relationships reveal very much about her, and her random encounters reveal even less.

A chance run-in with an estranged friend (Renée Zellweger, in a very welcome cameo) leaves all sorts of meat on the table, minutes of screen time wasted on the vague understanding that growing older requires people to tighten their emotional bandwidth. Given the value this story places on time, these wasted moments are almost as distressing for us as they must be for Vivienne. We don’t get to the root of her loneliness — we don’t even know how deep it runs until she covers Tommy James & the Shondells over the credits (for what it’s worth, Parker’s breathy style is a beautiful fit for the song).

For an homage boasting a far more fatal outlook than Varda’s original, it’s frustrating and kind of perverse that “Blue Night” should be so gentle. “I’m not done yet,” Vivienne declares. But we never even see her get started.

Grade: C

“Blue Night” premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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‘Charité’ Review: Netflix’s Historical Hospital Drama Won’t Fix ‘The Knick’-Sized Hole in Your Heart

Set at a German hospital in the late 1880s, this latest Netflix import gathers everything that can make medical dramas compelling — for better and for worse.

One of the most fascinating elements of “Charité,” the new six-part German miniseries now available on Netflix, is the operation theater. As a medical drama set in the late 19th century, this combination lecture hall and surgical venue is as compelling a concept as it is unsanitary. To see a procedure like a tracheotomy or an appendectomy, both in their nascent development stages, presented in such a matter-of-fact way is jarring by design. To see progress and hubris in tandem is one of the main reasons why medical dramas (especially ones set in a distant time) continue to be a regular TV staple.

Whenever “Charité” returns to the exhibition-style setting of that instructional surgery hall, it’s hard not to think of the similar scenes in “The Knick,” a show that by virtue of its styling and being set a decade later took a more modern approach to this subgenre. With its troubled doctors, slippery romantic entanglements, and bureaucratic concerns, “Charité” isn’t quite a replacement for fans still grieving the end of Steven Soderbergh’s Cinemax show. A handful of tumultuous outbursts and 360° views of various rooms within the title hospital clinic aren’t trying to capture the same frantic energy that “The Knick” did. But given the histories of the individuals that make up a significant portion of this limited series, it shows that “Charité” never gets quite as revolutionary as its main characters were.

“Charité” may have some of the similar story beats as other turn-of-the-century fare, but as the series progresses this actually leans closer to a “Downton Abbey”-style story. With discussions of social position, forbidden love, and roles within an established hierarchy, what starts out as a more scientific approach slides into something less rigorous. Still, the divide between the scholarly physicians and the hard-working nursing staff becomes a kind of “upstairs, downstairs” story. When new assistant nurse Ida Lenze (Alicia von Rittberg) makes known her intentions to try to advance beyond her rank, she’s laughed out of the room on at least one occasion.

Those that Ida has to contend with range from Dr. Robert Koch (Justus von Dohnányi), the movie star bacteriologist of the day, to would-be surgeon in training Georg Tischendorf (Maximilian Meyer-Bretschneider). In a story rife with frustrated ambition, the poster boy is Emil Behring (Matthias Koeberlin), whose efforts to prove his diphtheria cure are almost as strong as his worsening opium addiction.

As strong as the efforts of these individuals are — Koch, Behring, and other figures like Paul Ehrlich and Rudolf Virchow were actual figures involved in the history of the still-operating Charité clinic — love still seems to be a much more powerful dose. Whether it’s seeking the approval of a father, a father figure, or a young lover, most of the scientific elements of “Charité” is couched as a pawn in the greater game of affection.

So even at six hours, “Charité” feels constricted by a sense of time. With so many captivating angles to this life at this institution, the romantic moments often crowd out the more interesting subplots that only get a tangential amount of attention. If aspiring actress Hedwig Freiberg really is the superfan of scientific journals, it’s put forth mainly as a way to bring about one doctor’s shaky fall from grace. If one of the nurses really wants to pursue a career in medicine, it’s used as a wedge in the middle of a love triangle.

Charite Netflix Operating Theater

“Charité”

In broader strokes, “Charité” lands on some ideas that elevate this above a simple period piece. For the specific place that investigate scientists held in the public fascination of the day, the constant parade of public acclaim mixed with private insecurity makes for some compelling psychological dilemmas. Watching how each of these men deal with their respective bouts of imposter syndrome is some of the series’ most insightful bits of character work. The great men in this story each have succumb to their own weaknesses.

Unfortunately, “Charité” is still locked with in the familiar rhythms of period-specific melodrama, so that even when world-changing scientific discoveries are in the balance, the show frames them as volleys in a petty ego war that quickly becomes a simple back-and-forth. These men of upright standing, throughout the hospital/medical chain of command fight over attention, funding, and stature. (And yes, women, too.)

After a first episode it seems to take pleasure in digging into the particulars behind these discoveries (including a handful of operation sequences that spare no expense on viscera), all that falls away over time as the romance takes center stage. The early problems at the show’s outset feel like they could be transposed onto any setting, be it a hospital, a financial office, a law firm, or any other place that may fall under occasional public scrutiny.

What “Charité” really benefits from is capturing the sensation of frustration that comes with discovery. In diagnosis, prognosis, or cure, these people are searching for something that they know exists but in many cases can’t prove is actually there. There are few premises with more inherent drama than a group of people trying to verbalize ideas and solutions they literally don’t have words for. Whether it’s the technique for certain procedures or the simple terms for depression, seeing them on the verge of these breakthroughs is where the show does the storytelling work that makes it worth investing in.

Though the series takes on a few too many characters to do them all justice, it’s finds a fasting later to this in Martha (Ramona Kunze-Libnow), a deaconess at Charité. Her continuous insistence that illnesses should be cured by God and not man provides a fascinating foil to all of the investigative work the physicians are doing elsewhere. Just as the students at “Charité” are wrestling with methodology and the purpose of their profession, so are the nurses behind the scenes. That also expresses itself in a later-season arc when the nurses discuss the formation of a union. Seeing that amount of agency in a story where women are very explicitly regarded as something less than men by its male characters, it’s enough to make you wish the show was much more about the women of “Charité.”

As most of the doctors in this institution succumb to the usual antihero trappings – addiction, adultery, creeping white supremacist tendencies – it’s the women who emerge as the heroes of the story. It’s even more disappointing when the show literally ends at the point when its main character is on the verge of an even more extraordinary chapter, free from the real-life and in-story limitations she faced over these six episodes. It’s not that “Charité” tells an uninteresting story, it’s that the better one always seems to be right around the corner.

Grade: B-

“Charité” is available to stream on Netflix.

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‘Atlanta’ Writer on Paper Boi’s Heartbreaking Loss, ‘Teddy Perkins,’ and Life After ‘Deadpool’

“I don’t think any of our characters are safe,” Stefani Robinson tells IndieWire.

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “Atlanta” Season 2, Episode 8, “Woods.”]

“Teddy Perkins” might have been the most horrific “Atlanta” episode to date, but Thursday’s “Woods” still gave viewers plenty of reason to flinch and be frightened. After ditching his not-girlfriend at the nail parlor, Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry) is walking home when three teenagers recognize him as Paper Boi, but decide to mug him anyway because he’s alone. The resulting struggle is messy, brutal, and difficult to watch. When one assailant pulls a gun, Alfred flees into the nearby woods.

As a main character, Alfred would normally be free from real consequences on a so-called comedy, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it here. With the murder-suicide and Darius’ (Lakeith Stanfield) close call in “Teddy Perkins,” it seemed as if maybe this would be the episode where one of our heroes dies. Alfred certainly doesn’t get away from the encounter unscathed.

“Our goal is always to make things feel as real as possible, which I think is why that mugging is so hard to watch, because it feels real,”“Atlanta” writer/producer Stefani Robinson told IndieWire. “It’s not just a quick flashy boom-boom-punch. There’s a real struggle going on, and it’s violent and dirty and at times Alfred has the upper hand and then he doesn’t, and he’s outnumbered. That type of stress comes from that ambiguity of ‘What’s going on? He could die.’

“We like creating a universe where there are real consequences much like the universe we live in, and I don’t think any of our characters are safe,” she added. “To be completely honest, I don’t think that we’re afraid of hurting someone or killing someone if that’s maybe what a story demands. I don’t think that we ever talk about having crazy boundaries about what the violence is. It’s kind of open-ended.”

Here’s what else Robinson had to say about Paper Boi, previous episodes “Teddy Perkins” and “Barbershop,” and what she’s working on next now that the “Deadpool” animated series is dead.

The Double Heartbreak

Brian Tyree Henry, "Atlanta"

Brian Tyree Henry, “Atlanta”

Matthias Clamer/FX

The violence Alfred encounters with the teens and later in the woods are only his physical struggles, but he’s grappling with something far more debilitating. In the opening scene, Alfred is sleeping on the couch when he is given grief for being lazy and messy. Later, he wakes from a call from Earn (Donald Glover) and sounds unmotivated about filling out paperwork related to his career.

“I don’t think it was supposed to be super apparent, but the episode takes place on the anniversary of Alfred’s mother’s death,” said Robinson. “She’s this weird kind of ghostly figure in the beginning and she’s noticeably absent throughout the entire episode. I think he’s dealing with the weight of that, not having a confidant and not having a parent anymore while he’s having to make these really big personal decisions and personal growth moments without any guidance, or seemingly any guidance.”

This loss is also Henry’s loss. The actor’s mother died in a car accident two years ago, which explains the dedication at the end of the episode: “In loving memory of Willow Deane Kearse.”

Robinson confirmed, “Yes, Brian’s mother, unfortunately, passed away after we were finished shooting Season 1. I think that was sort of one of the bigger thematic things that jumped out to Brian and I think he connected with the script obviously not a technical level but on a very emotional and personal level.”

This gives an extra layer of meaning to Alfred being lost in the woods. Robinson reveals how the episode’s director, Hiro Murai, was able to capture Alfred’s state of mind.

“We were talking after I saw the episode and I think it was important to him to show an accurate interpretation of grief,” she said. “Whether you know that that is what Paper Boi’s going through or not, it is about someone who’s grieving and feels lost and disoriented. I thought that he did such an amazing job in capturing the anger and the danger and especially that fight was so great.”

Into the Woods

After fleeing into the woods, Alfred encounters a man named Wally (Reggie Green), who appears a bit unhinged and yet overly familiar — saying things like, “Boy, you is just like your mama.” At one point, he holds a boxcutter to Alfred’s throat and threatens, “Make the decision. Keep standing still, you’re gone, boy. You’re wasting time, and the only people who’ve got time are dead.”

Wally, whose methods may not be the gentlest, may have had Alfred’s best interests at heart, according to Robinson.

“I think that he, the crazy guy, his role is probably the role of [Alfred’s] mom in a really weird bizarre way,” she said. “His mom, or the universe or God, or whatever, I think he’s a manifestation of someone or something proposing the idea that you’re either going forward or you’re going back. Like, ‘I can’t tell you where to go, but you have to go. You have to make a choice about where to go.’ And I think that that’s his role to directly, indirectly reference that.”

As for why all of this goes down in the woods, Robinson explained, “In a hero’s journey there’s always a point where our hero, Hercules or whoever, goes and has a brush with the underworld or hell or whatever that may be. That’s what that represented to me, is this sort of full of life, but devoid of life and we’ve got the dead animal and you’ve got this crazy creepy figure who’s almost like the ferrymen on the River Styx. He’s this character who’s walking him through, who knows the world and is sort of a guide to what’s going on even though he’s not a reliable guy.

“That’s emotionally and physically what’s happening with the woods,” she added. “He goes in one way and comes out different, and has a brush with something surreal. The junkie is humming the same gospel tune that his mom was humming in the beginning, and it’s sort of like this interesting connection between someone who’s died and someone who’s there.”

see you soon #robbinseason

A post shared by Hiro Murai (@muraihiro) on

Paper Boi vs. Being Real

Alfred’s struggles with inertia plays out in how resistant he is to creating a persona – whether it’s buying a certain kind of shoe that makes him look like Black Aladdin, or posting selfies on Instagram. After his ordeal in the woods, he agrees to take a few selfies with an admiring fan. But there’s a price: Alfred’s smile in the photos is bloody from his earlier fight.

“He needs to choose if he wants to be Alfred or Paper Boi,” said Robinson. “We see him vacillating between being in the entertainment world – he’s got a little bit of fame and he’s going on meetings and he’s performing and things like that – but he’s also still hanging on to the things that make him feel regular. He continues to deal drugs even though he was robbed by his own dealer. He puts a premium, I think, on staying regular and he’s prideful in that he’s a regular person and that he’s just sort of that guy down from the street.

“There’s becoming a point in his career where he has to make a choice and you can’t just be a famous rapper selling drugs in the street anymore,” she added. “You have to choose if you’re in it or not, you gotta choose if you’re really wanting to get into the world of entertainment. And that was sort of the inspiration for the episode, dealing with how Alfred would come about making a choice like that.”

From “Barbershop” to ”Teddy Perkins”

Brian Tyree Henry and Robert S. Powell, "Atlanta"

Brian Tyree Henry and Robert S. Powell, “Atlanta”

Guy D'Alema/FX

Robinson also wrote another Alfred-centric episode this season. In “Barbershop,” Alfred is forced to follow his fast-talking but unreliable barber Bibby (Robert Powell) all day until he’s free to actually give him a haircut.

“It is the stereotype within the black community, especially the black hair community, that we’re sort of held hostage at times by your hairdressers or hair stylists or barbers,” she said. “We all reference different points in our lives where we had similar interactions with someone doing out hair. They’re either late or they’re eating or they’re doing your hair and they just leave or they’re talking to you and you don’t know if they’re talking to you or not. But you have to trust the person because they’re doing your hair, which is an incredibly intimate thing. African American hair or black hair is so specific, not only culturally but texturally. To find someone who understands the hair that grows out of your head is difficult in this country.”

As one of the more straight-out humorous episodes of the season, “Barbershop” lulled viewers into a sense of complacency and safety that was torn away the following week with “Teddy Perkins.” Although Robinson wasn’t the writer on that episode (that honor went to Donald Glover), she explained her take on it from the discussions in the writers’ room.

Read More: Atlanta’ References You May Have Missed, From ‘Rocky III’ to Nicolas Cage’s Dinosaur

“I don’t even think I fully understand him to be completely honest. It’s undeniable that there are references to Michael Jackson and the idea of someone changing themselves within the industry,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s about Michael Jackson or a direct riff on him but more of a symbolic reference to the industry maybe and what you do for greatness, or what one will do to be perceived as great.

“As we were first talking, I think it was less about Teddy Perkins as it was about pain and a robbed childhood. There’s a lot happening thematically but I think the thing that really drew us to it were just the idea of this eccentric guy who’s just inexplicably changed his face, or is like a monster in his home but he’s nice and he’s polite but he’s also confusing and he’s got an ostrich egg.”

Teddy Perkins, "Atlanta"

Teddy Perkins, “Atlanta”

FX "

The scene in which Teddy eats the soft-boiled ostrich egg in front of Darius is perhaps one of the most disturbing sequences in the entire series.

“That was probably what spawned the whole thing. One day one of us posed the question like, ‘Can you hard-boil an ostrich egg?’” she said. “We Googled it, and it turns out you can. We watched this video of this Australian man who boiled an ostrich egg for his kids, and they were eating it, and it was the most foul thing that we had ever watched before. We were like, ‘Who on earth would do something like this?’ And we sort of created this character Teddy, and it’s like, oh he’s this scary-looking man … who eats this egg and that’s normal.

“When we were writing ‘Deadpool’ in London together, we actually did buy an ostrich egg,” she said. “Donald’s friend runs a grocery store. We put it on a grill and soft-boiled it, and it was just as disgusting as we could have imagined, a lot of egg smell. We were just drawn to the eccentricity of the character, and then Donald filled in the blanks of what was going on thematically and emotionally.”

After “Deadpool’s” Demise

Donald Glover, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Stefani Robinson, and Brian Tyree Henry

Donald Glover, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Stefani Robinson, and Brian Tyree Henry

Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

As referenced above, Robinson had also been a writer/producer on the FX “Deadpool” animated series before Marvel pulled the plug. Unfortunately, she wasn’t privy to the exact details of why the deal was killed.

“I don’t know what happened to be completely honest. I’m not the showrunner. I was not involved in any of those conversations,” she said. “It was just creative differences. This is definitely not the first time it’s happened in the industry, and yeah it sucks, but it sort of is what it is, which is a bummer, but it’s okay.”

Robinson isn’t sitting around wringing her hands, however. She also has an overall deal with FX, and as “Atlanta’s” youngest and only female writer, she has a lot to offer.

“I have an overall deal with FX, so at least in the TV space I’ll be working with those guys, which is great,” she said. “They’re great with collaborating on original ideas I have. A couple are going to development, and hopefully I’ll be able to collaborate with other artists who do work with FX as well.

“Then I’m also writing a couple movies,” she added. “I’m writing a feature for Sony called ‘Princeless,’ and then I’m doing an original idea that I have for Fox Searchlight which is a passion project. I won’t speak a ton about it, but it’s super exciting and I’m having so much fun working in the features space. Obviously very different than meeting in a room with a bunch of goofy guys to talk about the internet and stuff!”

”Atlanta” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.