Monday, October 24, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x5)

Is Once Upon a Time a diamond in the rough? It feels strange to ask that question six seasons in; either it's a good program or not at this stage. To extend the metaphor, it either shines brilliantly after much polishing and care, or, it is simply a lump of coal, past the time when it could be something to truly behold. I suppose I'm asking because the Pilot of OUAT premiered 5 years ago and since then so much has changed; what once was a diamond in the rough has become a pile of ashes that was precious but barely resembles that which came before. Harsh? Yeah, maybe, but honestly this week's episode, "Street Rats" felt like more filler than it needed to be given the big build up to the much anticipated 
(and promoted) Aladdin and Jasmine. We gleaned almost nothing about Saviors and their mythology apart from a handy dandy magical MacGuffin (because of course!) that can cut the line of destiny that surrounds all Saviors. Any pertinent information about the Savior is either being left for another day or the writers are simply unconcerned with exploring why the universe they created makes Saviors and what criteria makes up that title. In other words, was there a point to this episode? What did we learn, if anything? Maybe we should all go hang out in the Cave of Wonders for a bit until we've figured it out. Grab your magic pair of scissors and let's go!

Honestly did you learn anything from this episode? New information doesn't even need to focus on the plot at large--the role of the Saviors, the identity of the Saviors, the makeup of the Saviors, ect. The audience can spend an hour of their lives learning more about their core characters, about how they interact with their ever changing world given the over the top magical circumstances they encounter weekly. Tonight, Emma's entire family learns that she believes her death is nigh and instead of having a character driven episode revolving around that rather weighty bit of information and how it affects everyone from Hook to Snow to Henry to Regina, we have our characters chasing after a magical object (Aladdin, or Diamond in the Rough if you want his MacGuffin name) only to obtain, not enlightenment and resolution to something internal, but yet another heretofore unmentioned magical object! The only information the audience received was either known in advance--Aladdin was a Savior and believed that all Saviors would die, just like the situation Emma is currently facing--or does little to expand the universe the story is taking place in. Sure, there are shears that can cut the Savior's line of destiny, but that does nothing to answer the big mythological questions about the Saviors themselves. In fact, it complicates it more, and not in a good way! Thus far, we've met two Saviors and their reasons for being Saviors are not even remotely identical. Emma is the Savior through birth and circumstance; she is the product of the Truest Love and because the essence of that love was placed onto the Dark Curse before it was cast. Her Saviorhood is dependent upon certain factors, namely parents and Rumplestiltskin. Aladdin is the Savior because he's the "diamond in the rough," whatever that vague title even means outside of being important to the Disney universe. He's a thief with a heart of gold, but is that what determines his Saviorhood? Aladdin cannot possibly be the only good-hearted thief in Agrabah (or anywhere) so is everyone who shares his philosophy, that starvation and cruelty are bad, equally Saviors? There must have been other factors that led Jasmine to seek out Aladdin specifically but they are not divulged to us here tonight. The reasons for Aladdin's Saviorhood are all fanservice callbacks to the much beloved Disney movie instead of actually helping the narrative about our main Savior, Emma. In fact, there appears to be no commonalities between Ms Swan and the thief of Agrabah, leaving me frustrated to the nature of Saviorhood in the Onceiverse. If that concept--the Saviors--is supposed to be so important this season that it takes central stage, then why do I feel as though nothing new is being said? If I sound angry, it's because I don't like it when this show wastes my time. If you're going to explore the nature of the Savior, then actually explore it. Doing anything else feels like a waste of an hour, the writers just trying to kill time before some big climatic winter finale; and even if the episode doesn't advance the main plot of the Saviors, at least give us something to digest and ponder about! Last week's episode has little to say about Saviorhood, but it had an interesting philosophical, cultural, and moral bent. In sum, don't waste my time, OUAT. I'm out of patience.

Miscellaneous Notes on Street Rats

--This is probably my shortest review for OUAT ever but honestly I can't be bothered to waste your time and mine after this episode offered up nothing interesting.

--Karen David looked amazing in the blue outfit.

--Aladdin calling Jasmine out on only caring about the welfare of the Kingdom once her own family was affected was great and I wish it would translate to other monarchs. The myopic vision of the royals is an ongoing issue on this show (poor peasants)

--"If the baby dies, you die!” Seems fair.

--“It made me a mother. It gave me a family. I have actual magic in my life. I have you.” That’s it. That’s what this show is supposed to be; the idea that your community is your family and everyone needs one to be a self-actualized person. It’s nice when Emma remembers this instead of focusing on one aspect.

--Is this Deniz Akdeniz’s natural accent? Or is he doing a (bad) Cockney accent to demonstrate that Aladdin is poorer compared to Jasmine’s posh British accent?

--Emma lies to Hook. And Hook lies to Emma. Such a healthy relationship. Obviously the shears will come back into play but we'll just have to wait and see if Emma uses them or someone uses them on her.

--“Why does magic always have to be so literal?” This line pleases me.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

In Which I Review Class (1x1 and 1x2)

Imagine if Pretty Little Liars had aliens. You'd get all the teenage angst of school, family, friends and coming of age stories mixed in with the edge-of-your-seat science fiction action that pushes ordinary boys and girls to grow up just a little bit faster to becomes heroes and saviors. This heady mix of real and other worldly is what the new BBC Doctor Who spinoff "Class" strives to achieve in its first two episodes, "For Tonight We Might Die" and "The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo." If the BBC is going to keep my beloved Time Lord from me for another few months, then we might as all pack our trusty screwdrivers into our backpacks and go back to Coal Hill; goodness knows there are corridors aplenty to run down inside its locker-lined halls. Doctor Who spinoffs can be hit or miss; I never got into the Sarah Jane Adventures but Torchwood churned out some pretty impressive and grown up science fiction. Class feels like it sits right in the middle; it's more adult than the former with an almost surprising amount of gore and blood for a show aimed at the YA audience, but less mature than the latter. It's a surprisingly decent outing that grounds itself in the knowledge that its audience already had a firm footing in its universe because of Doctor Who. We can easily accept that Coal Hill, the seat of so much Who history and lore, would suddenly have a rip in the fabric of space time (sorry, Tanya. We're not calling it a bunghole). If I can access your world without the writing have to do any somersaults, then we're well on our way to a good bit of narrative. Turn on the lights and check for shadows! Let's go!

At first glance, the characters in class might appear to be walking cliches. You have the outsider who can't quite relate to his peers (Charlie); the jock who has everyone in awe (Ram); the brainiac who just wants a friend (Tanya); the too-nice, big hearted but lonely outcast (April) and the tough as nails teacher whom you suspect became a teacher on a whim because they clearly hate their job and the students (Miss Quill). But like so much in Doctor Who, and in good TV, once the characters are faced with something outside their normal day to day lives, they show us their true colors. We get glimpses of what lies behind the cliches, of who Charlie, Ram, April, Tanya and Miss Quill really are. April has a heroic and self-sacrificial streak; Ram is under too much pressure from his father to perform well; Tanya really just wants to be normal in spite of her mother's own demands that she be extraordinary. Oh and Charlie and Miss Quill are actually aliens on the run from a Tolkien-esque monster, carrying the souls of millions in a box, and are telepathically linked because of a bug-brain. See. Layers! Like any show that hinges on the adventures of people only thrown together because of circumstance, the first few episodes are about trust and how hard it can be to work together with people you had never regarded before, but that doesn't make it unwatchable. The student characters are funny and there's a tangible ethos in some, especially Ram who struggles with the loss of his girlfriend (at prom of all places!) and his abilities as a footballer. The big themes are of the universal kind--the ordinary becoming extraordinary, the different talents each individual brings to a collective whole, the perils of growing up with danger all around. Like Doctor Who, Class is about individuals thrown into a whirlwind and finding the best of themselves (there's even a snarky, grumpy, yet somehow comical mentor along for the ride, though Miss Quill would probably shirk at being compared to the Doctor). Charlie, April, Ram, and Tanya have to "figure out how to make this new reality work," probably on a week-to-week episodic basis and it's a fun ride to go on. Plus, if it means we get to see the Doctor every now and then, I'm all for it!

Miscellaneous Notes on For Tonight We Might Die and The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo

--Class is spearheaded by Patrick Ness, a Young Adult author. If the characters on screen are less annoying than other attempts at teenagedom, this is why.

--The show deserves some credit for the wide diversity both racially and with regards to sexual orientation, though I wonder if making the sole LGBT representative an alien was a good idea.

--The CGI effects are surprisingly great; the dragon of the second episode was quite good to look at.

--Miss Quill will undoubtedly go on to be the fan favorite for lines like "you ludicrous Care Bear!"

--"We're not superheroes." On the nose commentary from one of the future "superheroes" of Coal Hill.

--The Doctor notices Clara's name on the school wall while explaining that "time never forgets"; a nice touch to remind the audience what happened to the Doctor at the end of last season.

--"You are the Great Destruction of the universe..." "Yeah, but most people just call me the Doctor."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x3)

Are you a complex person? I don't mean complexity in the sense of being challenging to your peers, but rather are you sophisticated enough to be introspective, to understand your own self-awareness? Do you have the complex, metaphorical language needed to engage with the world around you in a meaningful way? If your answer is yes, then congratulation you're probably a real person. Last week, we opened with a wide view of what makes a person real--your memories, your biological responses to stimuli, your cognitive abilities to reason, argue think, understand. In this week's episode, "The Stray," we move past what it means to be real and focus on what it means to be complex and whether or not your complexity is derived from experience or manufactured by those around you. Expositions galore this week, but there's so much to unpack in the show's almost meta examination of reality and scripted narratives that I'll take it! Grab your thinking cap and let's go

I do hope no one thinks me uncomplex if my review is a bit all over the place but this show has opened a flood gate of deep philosophical questions and that excites me! The search for consciousness is at the heart of the human experience, that which we are always searching for even when we don't know it. If the first two episodes were essentially about being real, then this episode is tackling the idea of “are you complex?” For clarity's sake, I will be using the word "uncomplex" in place of the more proper uncomplicated. Yes, the latter is more grammatically correct, but the world complex and complicated have two different connotations and the show is playing with complexity over complicated, so I want to follow suit. Onwards! The two ideas--being real and being complex--feed into one another but not in any sort of direct cause and effect clear line. For example, you might say that you can be real but be uncomplex–a newborn baby is certainly real and perhaps physically complex, but he is not complex in an emotional, internal way. He has no self awareness, no complex language or ideas to be able to express who he is, how he feels, how he interacts with the world around him and how it in turn interacts with him. The baby has no ability to create metaphors, discuss or even think about higher order concepts like art, life, religion, politics, aesthetics. We wouldn’t say the baby is un-real, merely new and untrained in the ways of complex thinking. He must be introduced to complexity through growth and interaction. But is our realness dependent on our complexity?What if this newborn baby grows up and still doesn’t have the ability to think and discuss complexity, either because of a biological reason or because he was untrained or kept in seclusion. Is he any less real because he doesn’t posses metaphorical language which leads to introspection which leads to self awareness? Can you be real and uncomplex or does your lack of emotional and internal complexity mean you aren’t real? Teddy isn’t real in the same way a birthed human is real, but he was also really uncomplex for the first two episodes–in fact his character was pretty cliche and flat. But then he’s given complexity by Dr. Ford and suddenly his character has more stakes in the game (the game of life, not just the Westworld game). He’s given a backstory which “anchors” his character and gives him depth to perceive right from wrong and good from evil not only with those around him (his hatred for Wyatt is more than just some vague past encounter). But, can you really be complex if complexity is GIVEN to you? It wasn’t learned. It wasn’t born upon years of interacting with his world, developing a better code by way of life. This better code which leads to complexity was literally uploaded to him! So is he still uncomplex because his complexity exists only at the whims of another?! What happens if Ford decides to take away his complexity?

And then there’s Dolores! While she was obviously having some memory flashes in episode 1 and 2, her responses to Bernard at the beginning of the current hour demonstrate a LACK of complexity. “It’s about change. It seems to be a common theme” is about as uncomplex an answer as one can give when discussing narrative. All stories are, at the end of the day, about change. The story of humanity? About change. The story of Earth? About change. Any story you've literally ever read? About change. That statement–that stories are about change–is as commonplace as it gets and any English teacher worth their salt wouldn’t accept it as a response. Dolores gives the appearance of complexity, hence why Bernard keeps pushing her, but she’s not actually complex until she fires that gun, seemingly coming into some self-awareness that she can control her own story and do that which she was previously unable to do. So, her complexity isn’t manufactured in the same way Teddy's was, so is she more real than Teddy? Can you be more real than another person. A problem that is compounded when we remember that Teddy is not a "person" but a Host---or is he now a person because of his newfound complexity that isn't even natural complexity but designed and manufactured! See. This show is giving me fits; the good kind though.

I’m not overly familiar with the concept of the bicameral mind so I had to do some reading up, but it doesn’t actually sound like it’s been debunked but rather ignored and forgotten and I think this is where Westworld is headed, into the of idea of not only can technology mimic people but it can become consciousness to the point of there being no distinction between a birthed human and a engineered one. The pyramid Ford draws is the basis for distinguishing complex from uncomplex and we have to question if the Hosts of Westworld exhibit these traits? Memory: the hosts have memories but they are buried and deleted during each reset. But these things DID happen and they ARE starting to remember. Improvisation: Bernard commands Dolores to turn off scripted answers and instead use improvisation during their conversations because Bernard is hoping he’ll find consciousness inside Dolores. But is improvisation in the Hosts already? I think it is. Look at the titular “Stray” host Elsie and Ashley went after. Elsie even says it best: “it’s like he had an idea!” Yes, he had an idea that wasn’t part of his script and he went to follow it. I mean it ended badly for him, but that’s part of being a real complex individual. Self interest: Aren’t all the Hosts self-interested? They all want to stay alive, to eat, to drink, to sleep with someone, to go about their day. It’s manufactured self-interest though. So is it…real? Also, there is a running theme throughout all the Hosts so far: the self-interest of freedom. The desire to move past their current circumstance (circumstances of which they aren't even really aware!) and see the world, escape their lives and find themselves "out there" wherever that may be. Finally the bicameral mind; I think what Ford is getting at, and what Arnold died trying to find, was metaphorical language. That you are sophisticated enough to speak complexly and become an introspective self aware individual. And I think that’s what happening to Dolores. But that raises the question of how did this happen? It’s not a glitch or a virus. I thought it came from Dr. Ford’s reveries, but in this episode he seems pretty emphatic that the Hosts are NOT real–he even slices up a face of one to prove his point. But is he lying to himself? Ford also spends a lot of time looking at his creation and marveling at it. He seems sad when one has to be taken out of the park and put into cold storage; he’s the one trying to build an overly complex, brand new narrative instead of letting the head writer create his overly cliche tropes! Complex stories and interactions lead to complexity. How could they not! Whatever Ford is planning in his narrative, isn’t it going to exacerbate the problem his Hosts are having? Isn’t he also chasing consciousness? Is this, to quote another science fiction classic, his final frontier? What's at the center of his Maze? Is it the answer to creating consciousness or harnessing it? Maybe the answer is too complex for me to see right now; but that doesn't mean I'm any less real, right?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Stray

--There is a very popular theory a floating around the internet that my friend sent my way. The Gunslinger/Man in Black is really William, the White Hat. When we see William and Logan, we are seeing the park many years ago when the Future Man in Black was introduced to this park. I think it makes a lot of sense, except that I’m wondering how Dolores stumbling into their campsite fits because if it’s long ago, she shouldn’t be running away from the bandits at her house, right? Unless this same story (Dolores running away after the bandits kill her mother and father) has happened before?

--Bernard is chasing consciousness because his son died.

-- Soooo…who’s voice was that at the end? Who told Dolores to kill the bandit? Was it “God” (Arnold, who I’m gonna go ahead and say is NOT dead); was it Ford; was it Dolores’s own internal self (but why imagine the voice as male? Is it because of her interactions with Bernard? Did her mind make Bernard into God because of their conversations?)

--Something to keep on the back burner, but where does religion come into play with complexity? Are you less complex if you believe in a higher power and think you can hear God's voice? Or are you more complex if you're willing to have faith in something that you can't see and touch?

Monday, October 17, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x4)

What makes a man a man? Or, perhaps even more on the nose after this week's episode, "Strange Case," what makes a man real? If you read my review of Westworld, published last week, then you know that show is also currently grappling with the notion of real and identity. There were a few markers I set forth as dictating "real." Memory, senses, biological responses, emotional responses, cognitive ability; all of these make up part of our identity and let us know that we are real. We have conscience thought, have the ability to reason and make decisions; likewise, we fear the end of this moral coil and thus count ourselves as part of the "real" and not part of the imaginary or "fake." Is Hyde any less real than Jekyll? Is his being hinged only on the existence of Jekyll? If Jekyll would cease to be, to evaporate into nothing more than ephemera, would Hyde cease to exist? The answer is yes, but the reverse should also be true. If Hyde were to die or be destroyed by any sort of force, Jekyll likewise should die. Why? Because they are two sides of the same coin. Jekyll is Hyde and Hyde is Jekyll. This, obviously, causes a bit of problem when we look at how certain plot points play out this week. Oh, and just for kicks, women are wanton whores! Fun, right? Grab yours tails and your top hat and let's go!

Not Truly One But Truly Two?

One of the cruxes of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, is Dr. Jekyll's revelation that man is not truly one being but rather truly two diametrically opposed foes (Hamilton lyric? Yes; yes it is). Lurking inside the heart of every good, upright, noble, and generous man is a beast; an evil, shady, self absorbed, and selfish animal who has more in common with the ancestors of the past than with the enlightened and forward thinking gentleman of today. In OUAT, Jekyll's own desire to squash his inner Hyde (as Rumple clumsily names him) is his haphazard attempt to quell his own self-loathing and the fact that Hyde represents a side to Jekyll he'd rather not share with the world for fear of being ostracized, laughed at, or maligned. His solution, however is fairly problematic. Hyde is Jekyll, never forget. They share the same memories, the same biological responses. They even love the same woman. They are both equally real--in the way that we define real--but they are opposite sides of a coin. Jekyll is all poise and propriety. Hyde gives the appearance of elegance but under his fancy dress lies a cunning, passionate, and resourceful heart. Super-ego and Id. The issue comes not in the show's depiction of each individual half---Jekyll is staunchly repressed, going so far as to harangue his fiancee for not conforming to societies expectations about proper femininity (oh, more on that in a bit...) and refusing to indulge or give in to his own desires; Hyde is all lust and power and potency. No, the issue comes with the notion that because Jekyll is the original, he is more real than his inner "beast." This rings as wholly antithetical to what the show has been setting up if not just this season then all series long. You cannot escape who you are. You are both proper and not; you are strong and weak; you are potent and impotent. Jekyll isn't the original anything; he's the face presented to the world because his world and its views dictate that a man must be a certain thing; you cannot be both, even though we have ample evidence that men in his world are leading double lives, hence the little tangent about Dr. Lydgate and the pretty assistant. Men (and women as with Mary, torn between her desire to be a good daughter in a Victorian society and her desire to be a sexually fulfilled being) are both; neither is original, neither is more real and neither has claim to being over the other.

When, in Storybrooke, Jekyll is impaled and Hyde also dies as a result, it's hard not to feel like the show is missing its own themes in favor of drumming up some manufactured drama and tension for the much beloved Mayor Regina Mills. In order to kill the Evil Queen, Regina must die! But, like with Jekyll and Hyde, that fails to take into consideration the fact that Regina is the Evil Queen, will always be the Evil Queen, and she--the person she is now--does not have primacy on identity. This is doubly true when you consider that the Regina we know now isn't even really "original Regina" who was a stable princess, scared of her mother, a passive agent under a tyrant who simply wanted to be free. The Regina we see now, the one claiming she has to die, has been through a life time's worth of heartache, drama, and conflict--most of which happened during her tenure as the Evil Queen! Sticking with Regina, she's a multi-facited, multi-personality person. She is a mother and a queen and a step mother and a witch and a mayor and a daughter and a sister. Regina is all of these things and neither of them take the lead over the other. For example: if Henry were in danger and Regina had to use magic to save him, is that her mother side or her witch side? Or is she both while being all the other aspects in my list? The real solution to Jekyll and Hyde, and likewise to Regina and the Evil Queen, is not that one is more real and thus capable of destruction; it's integration. It's about temperament and finding the courage within yourself to be all your aspects, not just one over the other. I have no doubt that the writers will find some not-so-clever way to save Regina from death but by going this route they are really missing out on the opportunity to delve into the inner psyche of their characters while they learn to accept who they all, warts (and occasional murders) and all!

Whores, The Lot Of Ya!

This show has a problem with women. My saying this likely comes as no shock given how I've discussed Emma Swan in the recent past but this week's excursion to (Fictional) Victorian England and Mary's plight of whore vs Madonna makes it all the more apparent that there are some truly old school thoughts about the "fairer sex" going on here. If you were to take pause and consider evil women on OUAT--whether through a curse or through their own making--what sort of characteristics and deeds come to mind? Regina, when she was in full Evil Queen mode, raped Graham both in the Enchanted Forest and for 28 years in Storybrooke under the guise of cursed feelings inflicted on an unwilling participant. Lacey (Belle) wore even shorter skirts, drank, swore and lusted after the dark side of Mr. Gold; Zelena raped Robin; Alternate Universe Snow was heavily sexualized in the same manner as Regina; Dark One Emma Swan all but jumped Hook's bones the first chance she got. Do you see a common theme here? Fallen women are loose women. When women go "bad" their villainy or evil is seen in their aggressive sexual desires and open displays of sexual conquering. Now this isn't to say that those acts weren't evil and they didn't do their job of demonstrating villainy; of course they did. The issue is that when the writers need to demonstrate women as villains or, in Mary's case, give the woman a reason to be turned upon and die, they turn to the old trick of making them aggressively sexual beings. Let's look at Mary, who is not a villain but who's actions are in the same vein and, because of which, meets much the same fate as the villain personalities of our core characters (ie: they all get resolved in favor of a more passive, less sexual type). The basic sum is that Mary wanted a man who would show her passion and desire and overthrow societies conventions. For these thoughts and her acting upon them, Mary died. She was, essentially, punished for her sexual feelings; Hyde even makes pretty clear that he is displeased to have discovered that Mary is a creature of desire. While it's equally clear that Jekyll hates this aspect in Mary because he also hates it in himself, and while I guess you can argue that Jekyll (and Hyde) were punished in the long run, it was not for expressing their sexual feelings–Hyde is basically a walking talking id–but instead punished for Jekyll repressing these same desires. Double standards, anyone? There were a lot of sexual overtones this episode with a binary that men should be virile and women passive. Jekyll is the real villain because he’s weak and, basically, impotent. Hyde isn't exactly a hero but his take change, lust driven mindset is presented as far more sympathetic than Jekyll's impotent weakness. After the past two weeks in America and the current alarming election cycle, these sorts of backwards old school gender dynamics really rubbed me the wrong way. You can say I am biased and skewed because I've always been heavily bent toward reading texts through a feminist and rape culture lens, but there is something so squicky about the fact that as soon as Mary takes agency and, more importantly, sexual agency, she dies. Food for thought, as always.

Miscellaneous Notes on Strange Case

--If ever there was any doubt that I was done with Rumbelle and Rumple, this episode sealed the deal. This was the first time where the two felt like they loathed each other, not just that were having a marital spat. It was hard to watch, especially as Rumple is devolving into an emotionally abusive spouse.

--I enjoyed Snow teaching this episode. These lighter, character moments are a welcome relief from some of the darker, more confusing plot driven aspects. With that said, did she go from Newtonian Physics to Algebra with one breath?

--"All science needs is a little magic."

--Oh hey look. It's Princess Jasmine. More on her next week, I guess.

--Violet showed up to give Henry a smooch and then vanished into the nothingness! Character development, it needs work.

--Goodbye to Jekyll and Hyde. It turns out that they were a little more entertaining than I originally envisioned, especially Mr. Hyde. On to the next part of this arc. Aladdin and Jasmine...that's your cue.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x1 and 1x2)

Are you real? How do you know? That seems like a fairly rhetorical question, doesn't it. You are real because you are sitting at your computer or on your phone reading these words, understanding these words and having some sort of emotional and intellectual response to them. Maybe you're rolling your eyes; maybe you're intrigued and maybe you're arguing back at me already. You can also define your individual realness by virtue of your anatomy and biological responses. You are breathing (I hope) and blinking. Your eyes are moving and your synapses are firing. You can define your realness in terms of the present (you are reading this review), your past (maybe you've read my reviews in the past) and your future (you will continue to read my reviews. Thanks, by the way). In other words, your memories, your biology, your emotions, your intelligence, and your general understanding of what life is all indicate to you that you are a real person. Congratulations. Now what if I told you that you were a highly developed machine capable of near perfect human imitation with no idea that you were an artificial intelligence. Would you still be able to tell if you were real if you, the AI, had a set of memories, had biological responses to stimuli, had emotions and intelligent thought? Would you now fear for the end of you life? And if you're not real to begin with, can your existence actually end? Welcome to Westworld, a place where biological humans with enough cash and gumption can strap on a pair of spurs, a cowboy hat and mingle with robotic hosts unaware of their robotness. Here you can kill, fuck, and play to your hearts content because the objects of your desire are just that--objects not subjects. Grab a tall hat and a gun and let's go!

I had no intentions of reviewing another show this fall but that human spark inside me that wants to analyze and talk and discuss interesting aspects of media and its intersection with culture just won't let me pass this one by. I want to say up front that if you haven't caught the first two episodes of HBO's new Westworld, you absolutely should. Like the Matrix series, I suspect you'll end up questioning your entire existence and reality by the time the credits roll at the end of episode two. Because this is a two-in-one episode review, I'm going to dive right in with the analysis of both episodes, "The Original" and "Chestnut" and skip over any sort of plot set up. That's boring anyways, right? I thought the second episode was actually better than the first. The series premiere was a nice wide look at the entire structure of the show, from the theme park of Westworld and its rules, to the behind the scenes corporation and players who build said amusement park. Width is great because the entire episode could have really been cliche by pretending to be a “cowboy” show and then only panned back to let the audience in on the secret at the very end, but since this is a remake and the conceit is already heavily known, the show did the smart thing and looked at the whole picture right off the bat. What that didn’t allow for, however, was much depth at any one character or story. You get a general idea of who some people are. And who they are common science-fiction archetypes : Dolores is the girl next door and by episode end seems to be glitching; Teddy is the romantic lead who flits in and out of the heroine's life but appears to have a heart of gold; there’s a literal man in black who not only spends his days raping, murdering, and trying to “beat” the game (maybe?) but is also the most self-aware being in the fictional universe, knowing the rules and gamebook before the rest of the players even realize there's a game to be played. Behind the scenes, there’s the aging and maybe eccentric director, the programmer who is more interested in consciousness of machines than he ought to be, the temperamental writer/artist, and the cold and collected head of security. Lot of cliches, but again that’s fine for a season premiere where width is more important than depth.

Episode two did a lot to begin exploring the depth aspect, especially given that episode one ends by peeling away Dolores’s good girl shtick and exploring her realness, if such a term can be applied to an AI. And that’s the point of the show, right? Episode two nicely lays out the entire thesis statement in a pretty blatantly textual way: “Are you real?” “Well if you can’t tell, does it matter?” This isn’t exactly fresh in the sci-fi world and the show seemingly has little interest in being original. And that’s not a criticism! There is so much to explore right now with robotics, the idea of reality/realities, what exactly makes a person a person and how “real” human beings are using “non real” surrogates to play out their deepest darkest fantasies. The nihilism exhibited by the Man in Black is both a cautionary tale for the audience and a red flag to a reality we're already living in. The corollary to the above mentioned thesis statement is that “suffering is when you’re most real” which I think holds up nicely for our current political, economic, cultural, and social climate and out attempts at escapism with any sort of numbing agent, even if we don't have a fully furnished theme park like Westworld (yet). It also holds up with the main character of Dolores. Her introduction sees her as almost bland–she’s the good girl next door who is prime for a big sweeping romance. Her life is the same day to day, a series of moves that have been programmed into her, along with her defining characteristics: a good daughter, a good lover, and a future good wife. Bland, flat and boring. Where she really comes alive (and major–MAJOR–props to the actress Evan Rachel Wood for her incredibly layered and nuanced portrayal during this scene) is in a scene that comes across as psychological torture–the question and answer session of episode one. She admits to being terrified and still she’s asked extremely hard questions about the nature of her world, her life, and her own identity without her AI self having any real understanding, at least yet, of what those heavy words (identity, selfhood, life, reality) even mean! Artificial intelligence and the exploration of its consciousness is certainly not revolutionary but it is interesting as hell.

Possibly the most fascinating two characters at present are the highly self aware creator, Director Ford, and the gunslinger known only as the Man in Black who has been given free reign of the park, a privilege he puts to good use by way of gruesome murders and stomach-dropping rapes. These two are playing off each other; one the creator and god, the other the destroyer and devil, at least on the surface. With regards to Director Ford, it’s interesting that he presents himself both in the park and in his business as…god-like for wont of a better word. He mentions to Bernard something about the perils of playing god and in the park with the young Host he says that everything is magic, except to the magician while, quite literally, controlling the creation around him to suit his own ends. I don’t know if this makes him a “bad” guy (whatever that might mean on this show) or not. It’s worth pointing out that the manifestation of his plans have a religious bent, the show focusing on the structure with the cross. If I had to guess, I’d he’s become disillusioned with “real” people–why else would anyone go to that amount of effort and trouble to create such realistic AI’s if not because they find the real world and its people so repugnant? Ford’s the one who has given all the updates to make the Hosts more realistic; the little human touches like caressing one’s lips that appear to cause the initial breakdown. Is he trying to set up his own human race and declare himself its god? I suspect there’s more nuance to it than that, but that’s all I got so far. As for our Randall Flagg, our very own Man in Black, he claims to have been coming to the park for 30 years so is his carte blanche simply a reward for such loyal services or does he know something that gives him all access? Why is he so bent on finding the “maze”? Has he grown bored with what Westworld can offer? He seems to know every single story; how it plays out, the characters and all the twists in the stories. Is this the ultimate thrill for him, the untold story (lord help me) that he’s never been able to crack? Also, what do we make of his behavior in regards to what it means to be alive and be human? He is obviously real in the sense that he has blood and DNA from two biological humans but is he really “human” in the non literal and abstract sense? He's more of the monster in a nightmare; he’s the dark mirror that is held up to humanity–here be dragons sort of metaphor for what happens when humans are allowed to give into their darkest and deepest desires. Is he what happens when humans can have it all and develop a pressing ennui to their good fortune? God help us all then.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Original and Chestnut 

--Visitors to Westworld are asked to choose either a white hat or a black hat which is just a bit too on the nose.

--"These violent delights have violent ends." So in other words, things are going to get worse?

--Every Host has had multiple lives which are resurfacing. These memories range from violence to love.

--Evan Rachel Wood is knocking it out of the park as Dolores, especially when she is questioned by her makers. The way her eyes un-focus and somehow manage to look beyond the camera and even beyond you is chilling.

--So how do we define life?

--I might do this every week or every other week. But I look forward to reviewing this really complex and thought provoking show!

Monday, October 10, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x3)

The Latin poet Horace once urged his readers to carpe diem and since then, the idea of seizing the day and living life to its fullest has been an important part of many people's lives. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow so I should try to live the life I wish to live; love over life, whatever the quotable sound bite means to you, subjectively. This theme was put forward in this week's episode "The Other Shoe" and to say I was conflicted by it would be an understatement. It's hard to live without love, no doubt. But do you know what it's also hard to live without? Life. By its very definition, life means living and I find it hard to believe that one must choose either love and living life to its fullest--and here fullest implying a romantic end for certain characters--and simply living day to day with all that implies by simple virtue of humaness. In other words, Emma you could still get hit by that bus tomorrow after asking Hook to move in; did you die happier and more fulfilled having asked Hook to live with you than you would have if you didn't ask? You won't be able to answer, Ms Swan, you'll be dead. It's a quieter episode this week, so grab a shoe and let's go! 

If The Shoe Fits...

While this episode mainly focused on Cinderella/Ashley, I find I want to talk more about Emma. It might be nice to see an old familiar face like Cinderella, this week complete with a straight-outta-Disney backstory, but she's a character we see once in blue moon and therefore it's hard to really care about her. I have little investment in her life and happiness because she's never been given room, space, and narrative to breathe and flesh out. Frankly, the sudden reversal that Ella considered herself the wicked stepsister and her step sibling was equally down trodden was pretty eye-roll worthy. Sorry, Ashley. You're iconic but rather flat. However, we should talk about Emma Swan. I'll leave aside her rather egotistical and pretty appalling intrusion into Archie's office, thereby kicking Leroy out of his paid for session as if Emma's problems are more pressing and more vital than Grumpy's, and instead focus on Emma's "problem of the week." If last week was her identity crisis, then this week is all about how her identity feeds into her happily ever after, specifically whether or not Emma gets one. I want to start off by saying that at the outset this is a good line of thought. Emma's life is in constant danger; Snow's on point commentary about "defeat and repeat" rings doubly true for Emma and it can be hard for a woman like Emma, who is constantly facing down an evil witch, a impish man-child, or even the Lord of the Underworld, to negotiate her own identity and her own happiness with so much evil and misery around. How can Emma ever be comfortable in her skin, be self aware, and achieve a modicum of peace (let alone a happily ever after) when she's constantly in danger of losing her own life. In other words, if the ending thesis for this episode is that you should choose love over life, Emma is currently wrestling with the fact that the life part is likely short and therefore unable to choose love. If I were Emma at the end of this episode, my choice of love would center on choosing self love; choosing that I am important, that my happiness means something, that I am important enough to be happy as a self aware person for however long my life might be; an hour, a day, twenty years, I deserve to be a full actualized person in charge of my own destiny and narrative.

Here's where this falls a little bit off the wagon for me. While you can argue that Emma is choosing her own destiny and choosing to be happy for however long she has, she's doing it, not solely out of consideration for herself and not even for everyone in her life and family much like Snow tried to impart to Charming by reminding him of all that his life has to offer without going down the oft trod revenge road. I bet a lot of you know where this is going, don't you? For the most part, Emma's own consideration for whether or not she should try to be happy for as long as possible is for Hook. Emma's not upset that her happiness is fleeting for herself or even for her collective community--which would include her parents, her child, her lover, her friends, the entire town of Storybrooke and even the universe she, as the Savior, inhabits--but for one single individual: Hook. There's no denying that Hook is part of her equation; I may not like it, but there's no denying that he's a part of her life. However, I have serious reservations about the fact that Emma's negotiates her own happiness and how she should live life vis a vis Hook's own future and happy ending. If Emma dies, Hook won't have a happily ever after and that's what bothers her. Not the fact that she is going to die and leave behind a thirteen (going on twenty?) year old, a brother she barely knows, parents she's making up lost time with, a community of well-wishers and admirers--just her boyfriend of roughly four months. These considerations are not about Emma's life and her own self worth but about someone else's expectations, namely her romantic partner's. Whether she's the Dark Swan or whether she's Savior Swan, Emma's identity and her own sense of self keep getting relegated to her romantic entanglements, which I find troubling when we're supposed to believe that she's the embodiment of strong females on the show. Yes, Emma. Seize the day, carpe diem. But do it for yourself, not because you want your boyfriend to get his happy ending. That's...rather missing the point, don't you think?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Other Shoe

--I'm sorry I don't have much to say this week. Honestly, it was a perfectly fine episode. More entertaining than some, but there's not much to unpack here.

--This is the first time in a long time that the flashbacks felt relevant and needed.

--I really enjoyed Snowing this episode; they finally felt like real people and not idiotic simpletons.

--Mouse!Gus Gus was the star of this episode.

--"Some scars don't heal." This is a pretty great line from Prince Thomas to Emma and it would behoove Emma to examine her own scars and try to deal with them instead of spending her time being worried about Hook's happy ending.

--Dopey is un-treed and off getting his Masters. In no universe does that make sense.

--Anastasia from Once:Wonderland is not Cinderella's stepsister. Look, writers, OUATinWL happened whether you choose to believe it or not.

--God bless Bobby Carlyle and his Scottish accent.

--Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll are working together. "Penny Dreadful" called and they want their idea back.

--"You look like a trash can and you have the education of my cat."

Monday, October 3, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x2)

Everyone has a truth that they find hard to swallow. There are things we tell ourselves in order to live with certain personal revelations, to avoid facing that which we find stomach turning. It's part of human nature; flight has always been easier than fight. But, sometimes, your problems are standing before you in a leather dominatrix outfit with hair so high it might reach the good lord Jesus and then you really have no choice but to turn and face them head on. Fireballs ablaze. In this week's episode "A Bitter Draught" several of our heroes must deal with hard truths about themselves; they must swallow the bitter pill that their problems--be it their pasts or even their futures--aren't so easily fixed or solved or gotten rid of through revenge and plotting. So many times our characters are asked to face the firing squad of a new big bad and they manage to do it with aplomb; but when it comes to the internal--to those intangible and invisible problems, including the most basic one of all, the question of "who am I?"--the brave characters who stand up to such much strife find it more than a little difficult to make any headway. Like last week, we're still trying to explore if the characters can ever really come home again, happy, healthy and hale. Grab some poisoned wine or a long lost coin and let's go!

Who Are You? Who Who? Who Who? 

Have you ever had an identity crisis? I haven't but I'm sure it's the pits. The real focus this week is on Emma and Regina's separate but parallel identity challenges. For the former, these issues stem from her uncertain future in light of her more than a little troubled past. For the latter, it's all about the past from which she can never fully escape. Let's start with Regina and leave Emma to stew in her own troubled juices for awhile. Regina's story this week picks up where the finale left off; the Evil Queen cannot be killed because as nice a notion as killing your worse half is, it's not exactly practical or really even possible (magical serum notwithstanding). We are large and we contain multitude, to quote Walt Whitman, and to deny a part of yourself is to deny your whole wonderful, nuanced and highly complicated self. Regina, bless her, cannot actually escape the Evil Queen because while she might have split from her more malicious and nefarious persona, those feelings of anger, rage, and revenge--which can be best summed up in "passion overflowing," the main drive of the Evil Queen--still lurk inside her now mellowed out form. All it took was a simple manipulation and a test to see how far Regina would go--granted this time to protect Snow and Charming instead of doing them ill--for our Mayor to realize that she is just as capable of murder and other crimes of passion, even without her leather clad Queen inside her, egging her on. This is Regina's bitter draught (roll credits!) to swallow; she may never actually be free of the Evil Queen because she is the Evil Queen. But she's also Regina, the lonely and scared stable princess; she's Henry's mother who changed every diaper and soothed every tantrum; she's Emma's friend and Snow's confidant and Zelena's sister. Regina can be all these things and not give in to the evil inside; it's about temperament and restraint and knowing when to act and when not to. Regina as the Evil Queen was always tempestuous and hot headed, flying off the handle even if she had no plan. Regina, in control of her inner rageaholic, can make plans and discuss options calmly and rationally. Snow and Charming are not in danger from Regina anymore, and neither is anyone else. She's managed to worm herself into the Storybrooke fold. No one is going to ignore her when they have family dinners. Like Hook's own personal revelation this week, Regina has to learn to forgive herself, to accept the bad things she did in the past and continue to make amends, realizing that she'll always have the Evil Queen as a part of her, but it need not be the dominant part of her.

And then there is Emma Swan. First, let's take a moment to appreciate that Emma is finally going to therapy; girlfriend has needed it for about 4 years (probably closer to 20+ years given her abandonment feelings since childhood that were compounded by Ingrid and Neal). Let's also applaud the fact that while it's hard for Emma to admit, out loud, that she's going to see Archie, she's getting support (from Hook of all people!) for seeking someone to talk to. The stigma of mental health in America is pretty poor--the idea that going to a psychologist is a sign of weakness because we should be able to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and fix our own problems;" for the show to have Emma not receive any grief from her loved one(s) about this is a lovely thing to see. Asking for help and admitting that you're not okay takes a sort of human strength that even Saviors struggle with. But, of course, because it's Emma, asking for help comes with some barriers, mainly that she wants a quick fix to her problems, not to actually face them. Emma gives the highly telling character line "I'm the Savior--if I can't help people then who am I?" Henry revealing to Emma that she's the Savior has been both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it gave Emma her family and a place to belong. On the other, it has put more responsibility and life or death situations squarely on her shoulders, a burden no one would want. Even Jesus, in the Garden, asked for this cup to be taken from Him. Saviors..they get weak, guys. But for Emma the idea that these visions and the "Savior Curse" go hand in hand with being unable to do her cosmic job has caused her to question everything, including her identity. Like Regina, Emma is seeing herself as only one part of her identity: the Savior; take that away and you're left with just Emma, the orphan who runs from her problems, never settles down, and belongs nowhere and with no one. But both of those "people" are Emma and Emma is both of those "people." I complain about Emma and her never ending Walls (and her seasonal reset) but knocking down those walls doesn't mean that Emma isn't still a scared little girl behind her Savior bravado. Regina's easy solution--that didn't work--was to remove the darker parts of herself. Emma's solution is to bury her head in the sand and figure out a work around that proves her Saviorhood instead of going to those whom she loves, and who love her, and ask them to help her thus denying her Saviorhood agency. Maybe the Savior doesn't get a day off but Emma needs to learn that they can ask the cavalry to ride in and assist. Emma's bitter pill to swallow is that she must burden other people with a task she finds too difficult to comprehend; but what Emma fails to see, so far, is that this does not undo her Saviorhood. It fact, it heightens it. I'll go ahead and predict this here and now: neither Regina nor the Evil Queen are under the hood, but it's Emma herself. It's the scared orphan who shuts people out and refused to stick around in one place. Can Emma kill her? And really, should she kill that version of herself? Take a page out of what Regina is going through, Emma: it doesn't work. Accept your Saviorhood and accept your non-Saviorhood self. You are both.

Miscellaneous Notes on A Bitter Draught

--I said nothing about the flashback this week but that's because it was super underwhelming. No one really wants to see yet another time when the Evil Queen tried to kill Snow and Charming and the Count of Monte Cristo fell flat. However, the flashbacks did feel like a classic episode of OUAT, so I'll let the dull nature slide.

--What I won't let slide is the fact that we've never seen nor heard of Charlotte ever before and her random insertion felt really off. Especially when the Charmings went and threw her a party.

--I normally give Hook next to no credit for anything, but his level headed, remorseful and non-egotistical apology to Belle for beating her, shooting her, and trying to kill her several times was a pleasant surprise and I genuinely appreciate the sentiment. I also appreciate that his only role tonight was in supporting females (Emma and Belle) and not dominating the scene.

--I need to erase all memories of the Evil Queen trying to all but hump Rumple against his curio-cabinets.

--Rumple has a key to the Land of Untold Stories? How did he come upon that?

--Who killed DaddyCharming? And does anyone really care?

--I don't care for eggy bread either, Granny.