Shetland – TV Series on Netflix

Some people who love dogs may be amazed by the instincts and smarts of the dog known as The Shetland Sheep Dog. The dog looks like a small collie and at one time was even known as the Shetland Collie.

But that name was lost in the legal wranglings brought on by the collie breeders. So the Shetland Collie ultimately became known as the Sheltie, and today is known as the Shetland Sheep Dog.

And who among us, both men and women, have not treated ourselves or been gifted a beautiful Shetland Wool Sweater?

So considering that you may already know about the dogs, and the wool, and of course the sheep – where exactly is Shetland?

Southeast of Iceland, west from Bergen, Norway, and northeast out of Scotland are the general instructions to find the Shetland Islands on a map.

You know I like to watch TV series set in places I’ve not been to. One such series is called Shetland and you may currently watch the first three ‘seasons’ on Netflix. I’ve placed quotation marks around the word seasons for a reason.

Season One of Shetland (available for streaming on Netflix) consisted of one mystery which aired in two one hour episodes. This two parter was called Red Bones. This was in effect a ‘pilot’ and was based on the novel Red Bones written by Ann Cleves.

The lead of the series is Detective Inspector Jimmie Perez who is played by Douglas Henshall. Now Henshall in real life, is a Scotsman born and bred. There is a back story of how a Scottish Detective comes to have the name Perez, and it is revealed but really doesn’t command or need a lot of space in this review.

He is ably assisted by Detective Constable later to be promoted to Detective Sergeant Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh. She’s played by Allison O’Donnell. 

The third member of their team is Detective Constable Sandy Wilson and he’s played by Steve Robertson.

Season One’s Red Bones is about a present time murder that some how reaches back in time and connects with a previous murder some 19 years earlier. We get lots of outdoor location shooting and what seems to be most remarkable is the utter absence of trees. We have lots of green rolling hills and the sea, and an often rocky coastline, but – NO TREES. Most of the roads are narrow, and outside of town, the homes are spread far apart.

For those of you who have watched the TV series Humans, you will be happy to know that Gemma Chan from Humans is in this series. She plays an archeologist involved in a dig for relics from long ago. In case you didn’t know this, humans have lived on the Shetlands all the way back to the Mesolithic Era.

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Bordertown – New Netflix Series

This is a series about one of the most respected detectives in the country. When his wife has been released from the hospital after barely surviving brain cancer, he decides to take his family to a small town near the border. To move far from the grind of the big city, and to live, while still working as a police homicide detective, he hoped would lead to a quieter and peaceful life. But life is not very peaceful on this particular border. Murders, rapes, kidnappings, prostitution, drug trafficking and dog fighting are among the crimes that this detectives will find after leaving the big city.

And you thought living at a distance from a large urban setting would lead to a quiet and peaceful existence, with crime appearing once in a while, as opposed to continuously.

As far as a border town, were you thinking of El Paso, Texas and its Mexican counterpart across the river known as Juarez? Or maybe you thought of the border town with a triple frontier. That would be Ciudad del Este which sits at the confluence of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentine. Both would be good guesses.

No, this Bordentown is called Lappeenranta. My guess is that you don’t really know where Lappeenranta is. Full disclosure – I didn’t know either and I’ve never been there. Lappeenranta is a two and half hours train ride heading Northeast out of Helsinki, which means we will watch this series which mostly shot in Finland.

It isn’t all in Finland as Lappenranta is about three hours by a combo of bus and train traveling Southeast to the Venice of the North, which as we all know, is St. Petersburg, Russia. In this part of the world, Finland and Russia share a land border – hence this series, airing on Netflix is called Bordertown.

Our lead detective is called Kari Sorjonen. The actor who is that role is Ville Virtanen. He’s in his mid 50’s and here he’s been tasked with the portrayal of Sorjonen, a man who is both driven, intense, quirky, and brilliant. This brilliance often gets him in trouble with his boss Taina who is this head of this special investigative unit. which is a new department and is currently operating on a trial basis. You know why don’t you? It’s the same all over – they call it funding.

Taina is charged with both solving the cases which are in the hands of her staff of detectives as well as controlling expenses.

As part of moving out of Helsinki for a less hectic home in the country, Sorjonen has promised to not bring his work home with him. But crime doesn’t punch a clock which means our detectives get far less down time then they’d hoped for. Sorjonen’s wife (above) has to constantly urge him to answer his phone.

His daughter (above) has to adjust to a new home in a town she doesn’t know. And as we were once teenagers ourselves, we know that this isn’t always easy.

Detective Sorjonen has his own adjustments to make. His case solving techniques or methods are a bit strange with Sorjonen is seen holding his head in his hands, as if in deep pain. The reality is that he’s in another place mentally. This is just a part of his focusing or concentration techniques. I thought it was more of an actor’s gambit, so I didn’t buy into it.

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Hotel Beau Séjour – New Netflix Series

What do I know of Flanders?

We can start with the famous poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McRae, written in May of 1915 during The Great War (1914-1918), or as it is called here in the USA – World War I. McRae was a Canadian military doctor and an artillery commander. One of McRae’s friends had just been killed by an exploding artillery shell near Ypres, in West Flanders, Belgium. As the chaplain was off base, McRae himself led the burial service. Following that he was inspired to author this poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

My knowledge of Flanders also includes some famous Flemish painters like Pieter Bruegel the Elder whose most famous work is called The Dutch Proverbs.

We can easily state that this depiction of life (circa 1559 is not exactly a walk in the park.

Then there was Jan van Eyck famed for his earthly realism combined with spiritual symbolism, and

Peter Paul Rubens who specialized in extravagant Baroque style works many of which are far too voluptuous and detailed to be adequately displayed on these pages..

Now those above are mainly just factoids. I have in fact traveled in Flanders which is a region in Northern Belgium, bordering with The Netherlands. I boarded the Thalys High Speed train in Amsterdam Centraal Station bound for Paris.

I stepped off the train at Paris Gare du Nord  in just over 3 hours after passing through Flanders and even stopping in Brussels.

But why I am really writing about Flanders? Just released on Netflix, a few days ago, is a new series set in Flanders. It is called Hotel Beau Séjour. The quick summary is this:

After finding her own bloody corpse in a hotel bath, Kato slowly realizes that she’s dead – yet a handful of people can still see and hear her.

Or said in a different way:

Caught in an afterlife limbo, Kato investigates her own mysterious death, and unravels a web of secrets in her seemingly tranquil village.

Okay, I’ve reviewed a number of Nordic noirs, and British mysteries, and series about French detectives – but I think this is the just the second series from Belgium that I’ve reviewed. The first was La Treve aka The Break reviewed here.

It is a bit strange, but not off-putting to have a new and an unusual perspective; that being the perspective of the victim. She’s a bit of a ghost in the literal sense of the word, but for those that can see her, it is as if she’s returned from a journey.

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Tokyo Trial

Formally, it was called The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Convened in late April, 1946, the purpose of this trial, also known as the Tokyo Trial, was to try the leaders of Japan for three kinds of war crimes.

Netflix, in conjunction with the Japanese TV Network called NHK, Don Carmody Television, and FATT Productions, has made this mini-series (4 episodes) available to its streaming service subscribers.

General Douglas MacArthur appointed 12 judges (the 12th was a replacement as one judge left to return home. These judges came from 11 countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, UK., USA. and the Soviet Union.

The expectation was that the trial would last about 6 months. Instead it lasted 2 1/2 years, or about 1000 days.

MacArthur not only agreed to prosecute 28 Japanese leaders but he also approved the Charter which gave the Tribunal the right to prosecute the Japanese.

They would be charged in three categories.

  1. Crimes of Aggression
  2. Crimes against humanity
  3. Conventional war crimes

Using the Nuremberg Trials as the precedent, the President of the Tribunal,  Sir William Webb from Australia, believed that they had the moral authority as well as the legal authority to try to convict the Japanese. Item # 1 would prove to be both a stumbling block as well as a controversial point in their judicial discussions.

Webb was played by Tim Ahern in this production.

The item #1 – Crimes of Aggression – was also known as Crimes against peace. The concept of this was to charge the top Japanese leaders with: leading, organizing, instigating, or being accomplices in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to wage wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law.

Said another way – this concept was the opposite of a self-defensive war effort.

The first of the justices to step up and disagree was the Indian Rabhabinod Pal, a Judge on the Calcutta High Court. He argued, in a lengthy dissenting opinion (over 1200 pages) that a) At the time of the crimes, there was no international law against waging an ‘aggressive’ war. The basics of that was the Japanese were being charged retroactively. He also argued that b) the argument of the prosecution was quite weak with regard to the conspiratorial aspects of waging an aggressive war, and c) there was nothing to show that these crimes were a product of government policy or that the Japanese government officials were directly responsible for the atrocities committed (like the events in Nanking, China, or the maltreatment and abuse of POWs).

Indian actor Irrfan Khan had the role of Justice Pal.

Also in the trenches (at least in the pre-verdict discussions) with Judge Pal was the Law Professor from New Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Professor Bert Röling.

Dutch actor Marcel Hensema played Röling.

On the other side of the ledger, meaning those who argued (most strenuously in favor of the prosecution)  were the Scottish Judge, The Honorable Lord Patrick, the Chinese Judge, Mei ju-ao, and the Canadian, Edward Stuart McDougall, Justice of the Court of King’s Bench of Quebec. In today’s terms, they would be called the hawks.

Paul Freeman played Lord Patrick.

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The Break aka La Treve – Now On Netflix

Have you ever been to or driven through the Ardennes?

Do you know where the Ardennes are? Though I knew the name, I had to look them up to be able to place them on a map. The Ardennes are a hilly and forested area that is mostly in South East Belgium. but also included a part of Northern France and Luxembourg.

The Ardennes, specifically the small town of Heiderfeld, Belgium is the location of a new offering from Netflix. The original title was La Treve which is French for ‘The Truce’, but Netflix has chosen to call this 10 episode series ‘The Break’.

In fact La Treve’s English translation can almost mean something like:

A break in the hostilities
A respite
A ceasefire
or peace.

Which fits the series exactly. Here’s a version of the story line for La Treve:

The body of 19-year-old Driss Assani, above, who is a young African from Togo, recruited to play soccer for the Heiderfeld football club,

is pulled out of the river Semois, a short distance from Heiderfeld, a small town of a few thousand inhabitants in the Belgian Ardennes. The police investigation is led by Inspector Yoann Peeters, who has recently moved there after a personal domestic tragedy and a professional one as well. Peeters is aided by Sebastian Drummer, an idealistic and inexperienced young police officer.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Peeters is adamant that the death was not a suicide, as in a leap from the local bridge. That’s Peeters on the bridge in the image below.

The suicide idea was formulated by the local chief of police, who, likely – above all other considerations, wanted to keep the peace, close the case, and not stir things up.

At this point, there’s a flash forward, and we find that Detective Peeters is in a psychiatric hospital and is under going an evaluation. We have no idea why.

And that is the basis for the series. It is sort of like a TV series told in separate layers:

The Present time: The murder investigation as led by Peeters
The Past: The fact of how Driss was killed is shown in different perspectives as new suspects come into play
The Future: Peeters is in a psych ward.

I kind of liked the show as it seemed to be drawn from the British series Broadchurch. In the British show, a new cop came into a British coastal town with some baggage which included a problematic situation as a policeman in another jurisdiction, Yoann Peters is in the same situation as he headed up the disastrous Operation Berger, which led to four police officers being killed in Brussels.

Peeters is played by an actor called Yoann Blanc. Peeters is intense and driven, to put it mildly. In addition, he is popping antidepressants and amphetamines. It is obvious that while he seems over his wife’s passing, and the infamous Operation Berger, the affair in Brussels, externally – in reality, he’s still a struggling work in progress.

But if only it was just a lead detective struggling to solve a case, and overcome his personal demons at the same time. Heiderfeld is a small town but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. In no particular order there’s the issue of teenage drug use and sex, an ambitious dam project that will require some locals to give up their lands and homes, a crooked soccer coach who has a history of fixing games, and the soccer players are still waiting for their signing bonuses.

There’s a hermit like guy who lives in the woods. He’s called Indian Jeff and he is who the police like as the killer. Then we have a young man, the son of diplomats, who throws wild parties involved sex and drugs. There’s an older fellow who has his own museum of Nazi paraphernalia and artifacts. Let’s not forget a woman who twenty years prior was Peeter’s girl friend.

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Four Seasons in Havana

Detective Conde: I’m too fucking nostalgic…
Karina: How decadent…
Detective Conde: Decadence is what fucked up Havana

That’s a bit of the dialogue from Episode 1 f the 4 part series that Netflix has introduced to us just a few weeks ago. The series is called Four Seasons in Havana, and the star, as Detective Conde is Jose Perugoria.

The basics are straightforward. Homicides happen and homicides need to be solved.

The title of the first episode is The Winds Of Lent. The skinny is this: There’s been a brutal murder of a young high school teacher. Conde is on the case and as he works through it, he becomes aware that this teacher taught at the very high school that Conde went to.

As the story expands, we are going to discover the involvement of a drug dealer, some possible police corruption, how important is loyalty, the truth does matter, and that our lead detective falls in love far too quickly.

The series begins this way: It is night-time in Havana but more like in the last few hours before sunrise. There’s some smoke and it seems to becoming from a few separate block. A fire? Not at all. This is just a fumigation truck spraying something into the atmosphere.

But that can only hold your interest for just so long. We need something else. How about this?

 

A woman and a car. Who is she? We have no idea.

A man enters the scene. He asks if she needs some help with the car which has a left front tire that needs to be changed. We have no idea who he is either. But we will come to learn that he is Lieutenant Conde, a homicide cop.

Later, or is it the next day – the homicide dicks get a call about a murder. Conde goes there as does the forensics officer. There are some available clues – Marijuana in the ash tray, a packet of four tabs of methamphetamine under the bed. Attempts were made to wipe away finger prints. The woman was beaten, raped, and then choked to death.

And there was more, Semen was found in the vagina and a used condom was found in the bathroom. The forensic analysis reports that the semen samples came from two different men.

Conde tries to gain some information or insights to the case so he goes to the high school to ask some questions. None of the students will talk to him – as Conde is a cop.

So it looks like Conde has run into a stone wall. The higher-ups down at Police HQ want results and fast.

Conde will seek some help from an old friend of his from the neighborhood. A guy named Red. Conde asks him to get him some intel.

Red: Asking questions will get me killed
Conde: You don’t have to ask, just keep your eyes open…

The series is set in Havana in the 1990’s. This was the period that was the most difficult for Cuba. The economic sanctions as well as the isolated status of Cuba made living conditions difficult. People lacked so much that their main passions were limited to food, music, and sex.

This Havana, though filled with color and ambience is kind of a bleak place. Detective Conde and his brother and a few other friends all remember the Revolution and the bright promises made by Castro and company. Now they are in their late forties and their disappointment with the Cuba they live  in, rather than the Cuba they had hoped for, is not only apparent, but is more than a feeling. It imbues every aspect of life.

Conde’s brother was wounded in the war in Angola and no longer has the use of legs which is of course a difficult reminder of the Cuba that had failed at that time.

Any way, I’d rather not give away too much of either the first episode of the three that follow. This mini-series has been billed as the first Caribbean Noir. Directed by Felix Viscarret, and adapted from the novels penned by Leonardo Padura, the series oozes atmosphere, color, and vivid characters.

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No Second Chance aka Une Chance de Trop

How about a six-part TV series that has a kidnapping, multiple murders, secret service agents, plenty of twists and turns, great action sequences, and some terrific dramatic scenes. Adapted from the Harlan Coben novel, French TV has made the book No Second Chance into a rather well done series. They re-titled it to Une Chance de Trop for the French Market. And the best news is that you can see it on your Netflix Streaming service right now.

The star is Alexandra Lamy who plays Dr. Alice Lambert. For the record, she has 48 acting credits, but unless you live in France, she’s likely to be new to you. Also for the record, she was formerly married to French actor Jean Dujardin who is most famous for his role in The Artist – a film that walked off with an armful of Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. But I digress.

Here’s the lead into the film. We begin at a birthday party for a baby less than a year old. This is Tara, Dr. Alice’s daughter. All seems idyllic. But then…..days later….

Alice, the doctor, is shot in the back in her home, her husband is murdered and her infant daughter kidnapped. Faced with inept police, who at times suspect her, she begins her own hunt for her baby and the culprits.

That’s the thumbnail description of the film on IMDB. But that is the kind of sped up version. We actually see her get shot, but we don’t see by who.

We find her in the ICU of a Paris hospital. The police hover around her ready to pounce and ask some questions.

What can you tell us?

I was preparing a bottle for Tara, and now I wake up here. Where is my husband? Where is my baby?

We’ll get to that in a minute…do you remember anything else?

What day is it?

It is Sunday–

So this happened to me yesterday…?

No, it is 8 days later, you’ve been in a coma.

She’s been shot in the back, and the bullet passed through her chest. Her reality is simple – she’s lost her family, been shot, and she learns all this 8 days after it happened.

From there, as you can easily imagine, things barely progress at all when it comes to solving her case. Which probably means we need more characters. We’ll meet the sister of Dr. Alice. The girls used to be close, but now the younger sister has a serious drug addiction and has fallen in with the wrong crowd,

We’ll meet Alice’s in-laws, or said another way, her dead husband’s parents, the Delaunays. They are filthy rich and live in castle or chateau if you prefer. Their moral compass is a bit off.

Then there’s the cops. Hippolyte Giradot plays Detective Cyril Tessier. He’s kind of a pompous ass. His partner, who is way more effective than you might think is called Detective Florence Romano. She’s played by Charlotte Des George, and she’s rather pleasant to watch.

There’s the old boy friend who comes out of the shadows after 15 years. His name is Richard Millot and he’s played by French Actor Pascal Elbé.  He’s a part-time cop, a liar, and a thief. He will have you wondering if he’s the good guy who has ridden into town to save the good Doctor and help find the killer and the missing baby. Or if he’s something else.

Another guy we have to watch is Dr Alice’s neighbor and lawyer.  He’s called Louis Barthel (played by Lionel Abelanski). He;s a successful criminal defense lawyer, and the police detest him. We might call him the ‘good’ lawyer in this series, if for no other reason than to separate him from the ‘bad’ lawyer.

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Marseille (2016) – Netflix Goes for the Global Market

Ever been to Marseille? Marseille is France’s second biggest city after Paris.

Marseille is France’s main Mediterranean port city. My very first trip to Europe was 30 years ago. We flew into Nice, and when the idea of visiting Marseille came up, I was told that it was a dirty city, filled with drugs, hookers, and the Mafia had a strong presence there. In short, way too dangerous.

So we skirted around Marseille. Even though we virtually traversed all of France’s southern coast and coastal areas; we visited Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nimes, Beziers, Narbonne, and Perpignan – we did not set foot in Marseille.

Now, Netflix has premiered an original series entitled Marseille, just four days ago, on May 5th. Billed as a tale about the long time Mayor of Marseille who is preparing to hand over the reins to his protegé when a sudden and ruthless battle erupts for control of the city; this may make you think of the Kelsey Grammer show, Boss, about a fictional Mayor of Chicago, which aired on Starz a few seasons back.

We can call Marseille a cousin of that show, and we’d also be forgiven if we attempted to compare Marseille to House of Cards. But in either comparison, Marseille falls way short. Robert Taro is no Frank Underwood.

In fact, Marseille cannot and should not be mentioned in the same breath as those other two series. Starring one of France’s most famous actors – Gerard Depardieu as Mayor Robert Taro, this is a series with high production values. Watch for the breathtaking shots taken from high above Marseille, and the multitude of on-location shoots. In fact I’d venture to say that very little of this show was shot in a studio.

It is almost as if the city of Marseille is a character itself. Only most of these shots are simply transitional. There are no long range zooms taking us from the sky right into a conversation on a park bench.

Netflix wants desperately to gain a lion’s share of the global market, and this French production is the latest of their ventures.

Depardieu is now nearly 30 years older, and maybe 40 to 60 pounds heavier than he was when he starred as a city man who brings his family to the South of France in the wonderful 1986 film Jean de Florette.

But aging and gaining weight is not a phenomenon (or a crime). It is the natural order of things. As the Mayor of Marseille, Taro is more of an institution than a new face on the horizon. His Deputy Mayor, Lucas Barres (played by Benoit Magimel) was hand-picked, and groomed as Taro’s successor many years ago.

Now Magimel has a face that is not unique in fact, if you look at the quad image above, you will see that Magimel looks like a he could be the offspring of David McCallum who starred as Illya Kuryakin in a tv series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and/or the British rock star Rod Stewart.

Now Taro is ready to leave the political arena and has worked quite hard to set in motion a new development project as his outgoing gift to the city. He wants to convert a section of the port to an area that would contain luxury apartments and hotels, top-drawer restaurants, upscale shopping, and of course a casino.

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House of Cards – Season 4, Episode 1

The long wait is over (nearly a year for me). House of Cards returned to Netflix today to open its 4th season. Though all the episodes are available, I will only discuss the past season and the opener in this post. This is not a full recap, but there are some spoilers – so you’ve been alerted.

When I had finished last season, I was sure (looking ahead) that Kevin Spacey‘s President Frank Underwood would be facing a difficult year. There was the Presidential election to deal with and Underwood’s rival, Heather Dunbar, played by Elizabeth Marvel, was a way tougher opponent than the usual straw men that Underwood pushed around, stepped on, or sent packing as if they mattered not. Of course they mattered, otherwise why would Underwood have bothered.

Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) returned from the presumed dead and eventually, he not only resumed his role as Underwood’s chief-of-staff, fixer, bagman, and aide-de-camp; that is, after Remy Danton stepped aside and moved to a less stressful (and better paying) job in the private sector, a position made available by the maneuverings of Underwood’s Press Secretary Seth Grayson, but Stamper also joined his boss the President in that not so exclusive club known as I Am a Murderer, after he disposed of the bothersome (in Stamper’s mind) Rachel Posner.

Now Rachel had gone off the grid, like Jason Bourne did in India, only in her case it was somewhere in the Southwest and would have remained so, but Stamper put the screws on Gavin Orsay to bend the FBI rules and discover her whereabouts via facial recognition software, so he could thereby remove the last possible impediment to making sure Congressman Peter Russo’s demise remained as reported – a suicide.

On top of everything else, as season three ended,

The First Lady, Claire Underwood announced to her husband Frank, I am leaving you.

So of course, I was taken completely by surprise when this, the fourth season, opened in a prison cell –

the one where Lucas Goodwin was incarcerated. Goodwin, as you may recall, worked with Zoe Barnes until she had an unfortunate collision with a fast-moving Washington Metro train at the hands of Francis Underwood to open Season Two. Goodwin did not witness Zoe’s murder, but he knew enough about Zoe and Underwood to raise many questions. Goodwin got sent to prison after he was duped into committing a cyber-crime, a crime that was arranged by the big-nosed guy from the FBI, and his operative, Gavin Orsay.

More than a few folks said at the time, that this Lucas Goodwin would be a key person down the road, and be at least an involved player in bringing down Frank Underwood. Which is all fine and good, but in this the opening stanza of the 4th season – Goodwin appeared in 4 separate scenes – 2 in his cell, one with his lawyer, and then again, in a safe house that he would occupy under a new identity.

As his attorney would say – the government is not your enemy. The government is protecting you. I’m not sure why – unless, Goodwin has told them what he knows about Barnes and Underwood.

To me, this undercuts any drama that might have arisen when we learned that Goodwin was no longer in jail. I think it was a mistake to reveal this in the first episode of the season. In fact it was an even bigger mistake to open the episode with him.

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