Welcome to the first in a series of post-season Venice: The Series commentaries with kind and thoughtful hosts, kelinswriter, jaina47, and myself, rysler. This post contains spoilers. Follow the Venice Episode Reviews at ryslerfic.
Tonight’s topic is Top Moments of Season Two. I asked each of us to come up with five moments, just five, that encapsulated the season for us.
Which was kind of a bad idea. I should really have Crystal’s top five moments, and Nadia’s top five moments, etc. I could write just about Gina/Ani all day. Or just about Hillary. Or just about Owen/Van/Sami! There’s just so much.
My personal approach to this task was to consider the scenes that changed my perception of Venice as a series. Things that elevated the show past my expectations. And things that were just fucking awesome. I really like being surprised (I’m the most spoiler-free person you’ll ever meet), and these were my best surprises.
I tried to combine our top picks into roughly episodic order, and there will be overlap, and there will be straying.
Gina’s breakdown, Episode 1
rysler: There’s so much to appreciate about episode one. Gina (Crystal Chappell) crouching protectively over her father after he has a stroke, when she’s scared and angry and alone, is a great contender for rawest moment of the series. Then Gina’s breakdown, that night, sets the tone for the rest of the series for me. She’s isolated from her father, but carrying his secrets, and isolated from Ani, who doesn’t want to speak to her. And she’s in that gorgeous, lush outdoor garden.
This is not a pretty cry. Not a teardrop to convey love or pathos. This is Gina being flayed alive and gasping. I love how ugly it is. Veins and skeleton and brokenness. Invited into that exposed, intimate place (would Gina let anyone see her like that? In a million years?) left me in awe. And set the bar high. This is the kind of performance I could expect in season two.
Here’s the thing about soaps. They thrive on heightened emotion. In other genres, these moments may come along once a series. Maybe once a year. But in soaps, people are pushed to their limits and in a webseries, everything is compressed. It can so easily look cheap and melodramatic.
Here it looks real. And quiet and beautiful.
Honorable mention to my second favorite Gina moment, her confrontation with the Colonel (Jordon Clarke) as she sits on the exercise equipment. I appreciate her rage as much as I appreciate the Colonel’s defiance. She’s so hurt there. “If I go out with a man will you get on the bicycle?” She’s at the end of her rope. I like it when she’s dangling.
Jamie Cleans Up, Episode 1
rysler: All of Harrison White’s scenes are standout this season. Candy Cane, the screaming run, the tender turning point with Owen. I chose this one because it’s so out there. Episode 1 gives us Gina’s anguish, which is the blood running through the series (and all over everyone), and the Guya and Ani/Lara funtimes we’d come to expect from Season 1. And THIS.
Like the breakdown, this was a throwdown moment for the rest of the series. Wickedly funny and foreboding, it established Jamie as a relevant character (yay!) and the dead prostitute as a relevant plotline. Not just a wacky aside, but core. This was their Buffy moment. There’s more to this series than romance (NTTAWWT). There’s Jamie.
Also, his outfit was just perfect.
Katherine’s monologue, Episode 2
rysler: Building on acting showpieces (like the breakdown) and wackiness (Jamie’s Sunshine Cleaning) comes Katherine’s “How Not to Seduce a Younger Woman 101” monologue. Like Harrison White, Tina Sloan’s moments are all scene-stealers and it’s only appropriate that she get to be alone here to charm us with her easy and graceful insecurities. Who could compete? I’m not really sure why Katherine is in the Venice fabric, but scenes like this remind me that it doesn’t matter. She’s a pleasure to watch, over and over again.
Episode 3 (in its entirety)
jaina47: This is Ani at her best this season. She’s reconnecting with Gina, we get to see what they were like when things were still new before everything went to hell in a handbasket. And I love the sweet, light, flirty and supportive relationship that Ani and Lara have at this point in time. It’s all kind of okay – just for a moment – except for all the ways it isn’t.
kelinswriter: The Kiss. (aka Suck It, TPTB). There’s no way around it – this moment is squeeworthy. The Otalia faithful have been waiting almost three years to get a full on, dizzyingly romantic kiss, and oh was it worth the wait. You could hear the thuds from coast to coast.
(rysler: I’m still thudding.)
(jaina47: See this is how I feel about the dancing. I mean, don’t get me wrong the kiss was perfect and mind-blowing and sweet and amazing, but I don’t know… It’s not that I didn’t like it, because I did. Maybe it was just that in this moment the kiss felt like a natural conclusion of the scene, whereas I did not see the dancing coming at all. Or maybe this is a sign that I’ve finally moved past the kiss-less-ness of Otalia into accepting it for what it was without getting upset about what it wasn’t. Okay, so it’s probably not that. But it was still an awesome kiss!)
Ani Photographs Lara, Episode 6
rysler: Ani is the most accessible of Jessica Leccia’s characters (what depths lurk in the office girl at Staples?), certainly because she’s being written by people who know and love her best and because she’s getting to play more of herself. I am a photography geek, so I feel a particular affinity to Ani’s artistic process. To date Ani is to consent to being photographed. This is a dealbreaker. This is an absolute.
I love it. I love Lara playing along–we see her playing along so much in Season 2, trying, lying–this is my favorite moment of that. She’s so damn eager to please, and to be worthy of Ani’s eye and Ani’s lens. That must be a good feeling, to be desired in that way.
And I feel a particular affection for Ani/Gina. Ani’s goodbye to Gina, captured in her photographs, was my favorite scene from season one. Here it echoes and there’s all new layers and new energy. Sandwiched between the post-sex flowers and the Aunt Carmela story, it’s my perfect Ani/Lara moment.
I like that we don’t get to see the pictures Ani takes. I hope it stays that way. Don’t restrict our imaginations. But I still can’t wait to see how her personal life will impact her career next season.
jaina47: It’s your fault for making me decide this, because I really wanted to add the Great Aunt Carmela story and the letter! Ah!
kelinswriter: The Aunt Carmela story (aka Funniest Moment). While Jamie’s run through a parking lot qualifies as the most hysterical moment of the season (also the moment that made me question if it is possible to do the Heimlich on oneself), Ani telling Lara about Aunt Carmela calling her out at the old biddy’s 80th birthday party never fails to make me laugh. Jessica’s fearless delivery – complete with “Sorta Rican” accent – gets more delightful with every viewing. Honorable mention: Anytime Crystal loses her shit onscreen (points to “the asshole game” for reference).
The Dance, Episode 8
jaina47: It made me gasp the first time I saw it and I love it for that.
kelinswriter: (aka Most Romantic Moment). To me, the most romantic moments are rooted in kindness – in choosing to do something for someone for no other reason than it will make them feel happy or loved. When Gina asked Ani to dance, it was a direct rebuttal to Ani’s self-consciousness about dancing with Lara. What followed was a beautiful, restrained moment in which we saw not just the strong physical attraction the characters have for each other, but more importantly, the profound emotional connection they share. They didn’t have to say a word, they didn’t even have to look at each other, and still we knew everything they were feeling. To call it the dance that melted the fandom would not be an understatement. Honorable mention for the conversation that preceded it: not only did it gave us the first glimmer of how Ani may have contributed to the failure of Giani 1.0, but it also made us realize just how deep Gina’s love for Ani goes. Plus, who doesn’t like “Clean Slate” on the sound system and a direct Otalia callback in which we are invited to go along for the ride?
jaina47: I was going to add something else about this, because my original comment was so short for a scene that I loved so much – possibly my favorite of the season, but I think if I did it would just be retreading Kelins comments. But I will say this, obviously it was supposed to be a very Otalia moment. They all but wrote it in skywriter from the beginning of the scene, but I think the other thing that made it feel that way, was all the things they couldn’t say. Sure, they were talking about their relationship, Ani’s issues and a little about Ani and Lara, but most of all they were metaphorically dancing around all the feelings that they still have for each other. Like Olivia, Gina’s trying to figure out how she can indulge in this closeness with Ani, get the fix for her craving that she needs without going to far, violating some hard to pin down line and Ani’s trust. And Ani is busy deny deny denying that she even still has feelings for Gina, while she’s in Gina’s arms. Because it’s plain that she does and that in this scene she knows she’s in trouble that way. What could be more Otalia than that?
The Colonel Learns Gina is a Sap, Episode 9
kelinswriter: “The episode where everyone turns what we know about them on their heads.”
jaina47: The Colonel and Gina discussing her life. More to the point, the Colonel actually asking Gina about her life, taking an interest and giving her advice. Because while the letter might be the biggest, best thing he’s done for her this season, I’m also not sure that’s going to be something that Gina’s going to appreciate immediately. I have a feeling she might be pretty damn pissed actually. But this was their moment, where just for a moment they started lowering the walls and actually having a relationship of some kind. I loved it.
Guya Reads her Diary, Episode 9
kelinswriter: (aka Most Devastating Moment) We knew there was a story behind the loss of Katie, the “uncast” character on the canvas. The moment Guya turned the page and said, “It was an accident” I knew what was coming – and the next thing I knew I was out of my chair, pacing, because it physically hurt to hear the story of how Katie lost her life. I could feel the crushing weight of the guilt that Guya has been carrying ever since that fatal trip down the PCH.
rysler: What I love about this moment is how it resonates throughout the rest of Episode 9 and the series. Guya and the wondertwins Gina and Owen. Guya and Van. Guya, unable to really date, trying to reach out to the spirit world, trying to help others with crushing losses. Guya, off her rocker. Definitely the most devastating moment, and a truly defining one.
Jamie’s Run, Episode 10
jaina47: Jamie, screaming, running across the parking lot with the dead hooker. Because it was freaking hilarious! It was the culmination of his season of being awesome and absolutely hilarious.
The Letter, Episode 11
kelinswriter: (aka Most Emotional Moment). Gina sits at a table with a glass of wine and reads a letter aloud. Doesn’t sound like the stuff of great drama, and yet there may not have been a more profoundly beautiful moment all season. Watching Gina read this letter was like watching her walk through fire – we saw resistance yield to determination, then to pain, then to acceptance. Through it all there were words – simple, heartfelt, loving words, the sort we all dream that someone will write for us and to us someday. In a season filled with extraordinary moments from Crystal Chappell, watching Gina put her soul on the line is the one that most resonates for me. It was a pitch perfect, bravura performance.
rysler: I also picked this one, but didn’t know what to say in a coherent fashion, so I let kelinswriter carry the load. She’s the poet. But I will say this is one of the greatest Crystal Chappell moments I’ve ever seen and it was truly a gift.
(kelinswriter: I’m not a poet. I just like to yammer.)
(jaina47: I second Rysler on this. And also thank you for mentioning this moment. Drat Rysler for making me narrow it down to five. This was originally on my list, but got removed in favor of the entirety of Episode 3. I told Rysler the other day that this reminded me very much of Olivia confessing her feelings to Gus’ headstone just before the wedding – the infamous graveyard scene – and yet when I watched those two scenes back to back the other day, the letter scene almost felt like the better of the two. Take that as you will.)
kelinswriter: (aka Best Episode). There were several extraordinary episodes – 8 and 9 come quickly to mind – but I felt episode 11 most perfectly encapsulated the ability to continue forward the ongoing canvas while also telling a specific story. Lara and Ani come apart in an arc that has a beginning, middle, and shattering end, but that’s not the only story in play. The letter, the talk on the beach, Owen’s heart-to-heart with Guya, Van making his power play on Sami, Gina giving The Colonel his absolution – this episode is full of moments that will reverberate into season 3 and beyond. Every performance was spot on, every line was resonant with meaning. Spectacular, award-worthy stuff.
kelinswriter: The Wall. (aka Bravest Moment). Throughout the season, I kept noticing that every once in a while, Lara would touch Ani in a way that made me uncomfortable, as if there was a violent possessiveness lurking just under the surface. At first I thought I was just being paranoid, but as the season wore on and Lara’s drinking escalated, I felt the tension building to an inevitable confrontation. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for how shattering that moment of violence was. I give the Venice team credit for “going there” for lots of reasons: for showing realistic domestic violence, for having it be female on female, for the risk they’re taking by making a key character the perpetrator (as opposed to having a short term character be the “bad guy”). The real impact of this moment isn’t the brutal violence – it’s the aftermath, and how it will change Ani and her relationships. If “traditional” daytime still told stories as brave as this one, we wouldn’t be down to only six soaps on the air.
The Mirror, Episode 12
jaina47: It was a stunning moment – for Ani, for us. I knew from the minute that we didn’t get to see that side of Ani’s face while they were in bed that this moment was coming. The impact of it was still shocking though, staring back at us without words like Ani staring into the mirror. It was the cold hard reality of it- this giant impact that’s going to ripple out into everything that comes after it.
Lara’s arms around Ani suddenly have this new meaning. They’re not cradling her. They’re holding her, trapping her, strangling her. And even though Ani looks scared and uncomfortable and just…dead, she’s also not trying to move away from that either. Watching Ani let Lara touch her makes my skin crawl. For the scene that’s a very good thing; for Ani I have a feeling it’s going to suck majorly.
This is the exact opposite of Episode 3 for Ani. Everything is falling apart. There’s no supportiveness here, just ruins and sharp, jagged edges, clashing against each other. It’s painful to watch, and where the dance made me gasp, this one just kind of sinks in and every time I get done watching it, I just have to shake it off.
Other “best ofs”/Tops that aren’t “Moments”:
jaina47: Honorable mention for any scene with Guya and Amber/Katie. Half the season I had no clue what the fuck was going on with Amber/Katie but it was always intriguing and spooky as hell. And the ending was so explosive.
Biggest improvement from last season:
kelinswriter: Episode length. There were lots of lovely little moments in s1, but about the time I’d feel like the episode was getting into some sort of rhythm, the end credits would be rolling. This year, every single episode had a cohesive narrative structure that worked within the whole of the series. It made for a rich, emotionally satisfying viewing experience while still leaving me wanting more.
Most improved character:
kelinswriter: Sami. We didn’t see much of Sami in season 1, and what we did, I wasn’t too sure about. (The AIDS vaccine thing – cuz see how there isn’t one – definitely didn’t work in her favor.) But this season, we discovered Sami’s place on the canvas. Her scene in Episode 8 with Van was a definite turning point. At last we saw Sami the caretaker, the healer – the person who sees the best in others and wants them to find that in themselves. That’s why her final scene in Episode 12 is such a heartbreaker. When Sami admits to herself that Owen is too filled with bitterness and mistrust to ever be a good match for her, regardless of Van’s machinations, we see the heart of this character – someone who is brave enough to walk away. Gorgeous work by Gina Tognoni combined with sharp, sensitive writing makes this a character I’m looking forward to getting to know better.
kelinswriter: This one is HARD, because it was a season filled with standout performances. Nadia Bjorlin proved that when she’s allowed to take off the Chloe straightjacket, she is a powerful, sparkling, unpredictable onscreen presence. Jordan Clarke did some extraordinarily nuanced work that actually made me forget how much I miss Billy Lewis. I felt like Gina truly came to life this season, and along the way, Crystal Chappell delivered some of the finest work of her career. But then so did Hillary Bailey Smith, particularly in episode 9. And Jessica Leccia has never been allowed to show off her acting range as thoroughly as she is allowed to do with Ani. Wes Ramsey, Liz Keifer, Harrison White, everyone I didn’t list – it was a season full of “knocked out of the park” performances. If forced to make a decision, I choose Jessica, because it was the performance that most consistently surprised and delighted me. The Meryl Streep award goes to Crystal, because she is so reliably awesome that I forget sometimes just how amazing she is (only not really, because who could ever forget?).
kelinswriter: After Episode 3, I said this was a show that matched any soap on broadcast. After Episode 11, I said this was a show that SURPASSED any show on broadcast – prime time too. I haven’t felt this much anticipation over an episodic series – and by anticipation I mean repeated rewatching, constant speculation, and feeling like the day of the show is Christmas come early – since the Slayer closed up shop and took my Tuesday night haven with her.
rysler: This week’s byline truly belongs to kelinswriter, who approached this commentary topic with surpassing gusto and insight. But stay tuned for next week’s topic, “Hey Guys, I Have Some Suggestions For Next Year” where I will tear this show TO PIECES.
In the meantime, what were your top moments? What moment of transcendence did we miss? What do you flashback to when you’re squeeing to the uninitiated? What do you revisit the site to see again and again?