Sunday, November 22, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x10)

Sometimes I wonder which is more difficult, losing a Doctor or losing a companion. There is no denying that losing a Doctor is gut-wrenching. For myself, even as someone who is familiar with and loves both Classic and New Who, I almost stopped watching the show altogether when David Tennant hunt up his trench coat and red shoes. But I soldiered on, loving Matt Smith and now being enamored of Peter Capaldi. While losing a Doctor is hard, I think we recover more quickly because, as Steven Moffat once said, "he's the same man. Always." It's true that the Doctor's face, wardrobe, and certain personality traits change from regeneration to regeneration, but he's still the Doctor. He doesn't stop being that. In all his mythical glory, the Doctor remains the idiot with the box, traveling around, helping out, learning as he goes. But losing a companion can be quite hard because, unlike the Doctor, they do not simply morph into another version of themselves. Martha was not Rose; Donna was neither Martha nor Rose and Amy and Clara are not the same woman. When the show changes companions, it changes companions. I had a wide array of issues concerning Clara over the years, from her weepy, wide-eyed, quasi-romantic interest in the Doctor in her earliest days, to the show tending to make her the star of the show instead of our favorite Time Lord; but there is no denying that in this week's episode, "Face the Raven," it was hard--very much so--to say goodbye to Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl. Check yourself for tattoos and are counting down and let's go!

"I know where I'm going. Where I've always been going: home. The long way 'round." Remember those words? Remember when the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who aired and showrunner Steven Moffat promised us that, eventually, someday, we'd go home to Gallifrey? Well, I criticize the man a lot, but he keeps his promises. If I had a bank account full of money, I'd go ahead and lay odds that the Doctor was just wooshed home to a certain planet in the constellation of Kasterborous with certain not-so-dead-Time Lords. It's about time (pun not intended!) Now, if only the cost of going home wasn't so steep. I have talked quite a bit, over the last two seasons, about Clara's thesis being one of addiction and abuse. Ms. Oswald is addicted to the high the TARDIS, the adventures, the running, and the Doctor can give her. The more of those things she gets, the more she craves, and the more reckless she becomes in order to secure that wonderful drug-like high of running around all of time and space with a mad man and his box. Clara's thesis very much continues this week when her attempt to play Doctor leads to her own death. Clara's plan isn't exactly a bad one; in fact, it's one the Doctor probably would have thought up in a moment of magical cleverness had he not been concerned with sussing out the mystery that Ashildr had laid before him. The Doctor loves the mystery and Clara wants to save her friend; it's the same endgame but working in a different manner, which is probably why the Doctor doesn't think about transferring the tattoo; he has another agenda. The Doctor can be as equally reckless as Clara, something she knows and voices back to him when she demands to know why she can't be like him in her final moments. Clara is simply following in the Doctor's footsteps this week. Why bring back Risgy (from season 8's wonderful 'Flatline')--an episode where Clara first took on the moniker Doctor and pretended to see through his eyes--if not to remind us all that the more addicted Clara becomes, the more like the Doctor she is. The Doctor has several thesis' and archetypes that he operates under--the savior and his savior complex, the warrior, the judge and jury of the universe, the healer, the sage, the wounded man--but one of those is his strong addiction to the TARDIS, the adventures, the running, and his companions. In other words, the exact same things Clara is addicted to. The Doctor cannot give all those things up at any time; he'd be bored silly and his wanderlust would get the better of him. This is, of, course to say nothing of the pain he would feel if he stopped for a moment and let the weight of all the souls he's changed--for better and for ill--really settle on him. From the monsters he's fought to the children he has rescued, the Doctor was born to save the universe but in doing so he's become addicted to all of it. The Doctor and Clara are one and the same; one is just less breakable.

So, who is responsible for Clara's death? Clara herself for a certainty. She was reckless in taking on Rigsy's tattoo that counted down to the moment of the wearer's death, never thinking through all the ramifications of what the refugees were telling her. Ashildr, for sure, as well. Peace the streets means a lot of back door dealings with shadowy organizations and entrapment of a certain Time Lord who is both friend and enemy. Those sorts of machinations always have unforeseen consequences and collateral damage. But the Doctor is also to blame. There is one more thesis for the Doctor that I'd like to touch on: the enabler. The Doctor is livid by the end of this episode. As he remarks to Mayor Me in the coldest and lowest voice I think I've ever heard from Capaldi in the past two years, "I was lost a long time's a very small universe when I am angry with you." But why is the Doctor so upset, we might wonder? Clara died with dignity, with honor, and with bravery. The Doctor has also lost companions before, be it because they chose to walk away (Martha) or because they moved on (Amy) or because they got lost in a parallel universe (Rose). And yes, because they died (RIP Adric). So why was the Doctor threatening to reign down Hell on Ashildr/Mayor Me over this particular companion's death? Because of the overwhelming guilt he is feeling.

The Doctor was Clara's enabler, her drug supplier. The Doctor never once stopped picking Clara up for adventures; he never voiced overt concern concerning her reckless nature to the person in question, only ever as asides to the audience or other people. He never stopped letting her come along. The Doctor never wants to be alone (it’s his greatest fear) so he enabled the addict. He saw what was happening to Clara and he never put the kibosh on it because, in a lot of ways, the Doctor is selfish. He didn’t want to be alone; he wants to experience the joys and wonders of the universe with someone who’s never seen it (the mayflies of the world, like he and Ashildr said back in “The Woman Who Lived”). The Doctor watches his closest friend die and knows, without a doubt, he is partly to blame. Think back to Amy's decision at the end of 'Angels Take Manhattan.' Yes, we should mourn the loss of Amy but it was her choice to go live with Rory, to settle in the mundane world and be with the man she loved. There was no other life for Amy if Rory wasn't with her. And while we know that Amy died eventually, it was after a good long life with her beloved husband. Clara never got that. She didn't choose to go die; she chose to die bravely at the end of all things, but until that final moment, Clara believed she (and the Doctor) could subvert the death that her new tattoo was ticking down toward. Clara believed that she could dance around death by acting how the Doctor has always acted. Even up until the last few minutes, Clara believes "we always fix it." How could Clara not become reckless and addicted when the Doctor proves time and time again that there are few consequences to traveling with him? The day is always saved, the wrongs are mostly righted, and very seldom do people die. Even losing Danny wasn't enough to end Clara's belief that the Doctor can save people--remember how she dragged him to "heaven" to save her boyfriend? For Clara, it's okay to be reckless and to move through these adventures like the proverbial bull in the china shop because the Doctor is a magical, wonderful and fairy tale-like being who can fix said shattered pottery. When the Doctor gets a new companion (because of course he will. Clara is right; he can't be alone) he has to remember that the life he chooses to show these mayflies has consequences and often times they are dire ones. It does not do to be a God if you cannot protect those who follow you.

Miscellaneous Notes on Face the Raven

--Another incredible performance from Peter Capaldi this week. He does icy demeanor as well as he does passionate and as well as he does loony. Jenna Coleman also deserves a round of applause for her final moments in the show.

--I do fear that somehow Moffat will bring Clara back, thus reversing her brave death. He's done it before. I hope this does not turn out to be the case. Death has meaning in narrative if the writers let it. You can have the hero(ine) remain dead so long as the weight of their loss carries into the new storyline. Don't erase her final moments, Moff!

--Some truly spectacular music this episode, in particular Clara's death scene. 

--"Don't bring the new human; I'll just get distracted."

--There was a very strong whiff of Neverwhere in this episode, right? I'm not the only one who thought of Neil Gaiman's wonderful novel?

--"Our rules keep us safe." More political overtones in this episode, though I prefer when it's subtle like this as opposed to in your face, ie: the Zygon two-parter.

--"Did you ever read about anyone who ever stopped me?" Sometimes we, the audience, see the warm and fuzzy Doctor--the man who saves the universe with his charming quirks and characteristics--and forget that he's essentially an immortal God with unimaginable power over time, space, and life and who could destroy us just as easily as he saves us. Lines like this remind us of that.

--"Don't be a warrior. Be a doctor..."

Friday, November 20, 2015

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x8)

And so the old passed away and the new was brought forth. In this week's episode, "Novum Ordo Seclorum" the Hidden One, a living breathing god, attempted to bring his world, the world he remembers and longs for, back to Sleepy Hollow. It's the fall finale of my favorite spaghetti-to-the-wall show and, as expected, we were left with quite a cliffhanger. I, for one, refuse to believe that Abbie Mills just blew up inside of a tree. I refuse to believe that Team Witnesses are down one Witness. Let's, instead, ponder the actions of said Witnesses. What lengths would you go to in order to save a loved one? Would you rob? Would you defy authority? Would you murder? Would you go against god himself? Would you die? Those are the questions Team Witnesses must ask themselves as they face down the most powerful force yet. Moloch was a demon from hell, but the Hidden One is an actual god and even with a veritable litnay of supernatural victories, Ichabod and Abbie are facing a force that is far more dangerous than anything that has come before. Grab something mystical, powerful, and magical, try not to die, and let's go!

As one might expect, in hindsight, this episode was heavily focused on Abigail Mills--our wonderful, hard, pragmatic, loyal Leftenant. Guilt is following Abbie around in the wake of Jenny's disappearing act; we had a spectacular episode a few weeks back that really focused on the relationship between Abbie and Jenny and all the history and weight between the Sisters Mills. When they were younger, Abbie let the world believe that Jenny was crazy, the younger claiming that a monster sprang up from the ground, next to four white trees. Abbie refused to corroborate and went on to lead a vastly different life than her sister. And now, Jenny is having the essence of a magical shard (yes, sometimes Sleepy Hollow gets a bit Magical McGuffin-y too) get sucked out of her by a real god. You have to wonder what Jenny and Abbie's life would have been like if Abbie had stuck by her sister all those years ago. Would they have been locked up together? Would Abbie have become a cop, ignoring all the magical goings-on in Sleepy Hollow, living in a black and white world, while Jenny traveled the world, looking for magical artifacts? It does little to no good to dwell on these questions, but I think all those types of questions are floating around Abbie's head this week. Once again, Jenny Mills is in danger and it falls to Abbie to save her--and save her she will, doing anything she can to rescue Jenny. Last week, I noted that Abbie was facing a choice between the FBI and Team Witnesses; while we could say that Abbie chose Team Witnesses, it's more that she chose Jenny and Jenny alone. Abbie would undoubtedly choose Ichabod over the FBI, but when it comes to Jenny, it's not even a question. That's her sister and that's all there is to it; even if Abbie did have a romantic relationship with Danny at one point, it's nothing compared to the relationship with Jenny. That's how you write strong, independent women, folks. Romance can always be a factor, but you need not be defined by it and your entire storyline does not revolve around your romantic partner.

This, of course, brings us to the big moment of the episode: Abigail Mills and her apparent death. Now, I don't think she's dead--I think Abbie is in the Underworld (seriously, what is with my shows and the Underworld this year?) and that she'll survive this just like she survived Purgatory. But Abbie's sacrifice came from a place of pure heroism and sisterly love. There were only a few options open to Abbie--the death of Jenny (unacceptable and goes against Abbie's very being), the death of the entire town of Sleepy Hollow (unacceptable and goes against everything Team Witnesses stand for), or her own death. Like heroes are wont to do, the lives of others matter more than their own. I talk a lot about gender reversals on Sleepy Hollow and this was a great example of how Sleepy Hollow plays with such ideas. Ichabod is (one of) the heroes of this show and in other narratives, the big heroic moment would fall on his white, male shoulders. But the narrative weight is so much more heavy because it's Abbie dying for the love of her sister. This is just Abbie's hero journey; she must pass through this stage before she can come back and defeat evil alongside her other cohorts. Ichabod's own story is going to be in wrestling with losing his Leftenant, his Abbie. I guess I should have seen it coming all along, especially when the super heavy line, "don't get too close to anyone. When you lose them, it will break you" was dropped. Ichabod could survive losing Katrina because their lives no longer made sense together in this new age, but Abbie is his root, that which tethers him to this new world. It's a new age in the life of the Witnesses, but can the team survive the loss of one of its most important assets? While I do not believe that Abbie is dead and gone for good, I think we're going to see our little band of heroes deal with the (supposed) loss of their friend and sister and co-Witness for awhile. Hold on to your heads, Sleepyheads. Things are about to get angsty. But, hey. I have faith. Come what may---Team Witnesses represent!

Miscellaneous Notes on Novos Ordo Seclorum

--I guess the show is just going to call Mr. Creepy Man "The Hidden One" without naming him after any particular God? That's a shame. I still think he's Amun-Ra.

--Pandora and Hidden One are a couple? "For you, I would break eternity." That's almost sweet, if they weren't trying to wipe out humanity.

--Ichabod basically started a riot at a fraternity toga party because of course he did.

--The Witnesses have a long lineage, which we knew after last year, but I wonder if we'll ever hear anything about them. Are Ichabod and Abbie "reborn" in different lifetimes as Witnesses to battle evil?

--No Betsy Ross. Praise the Lord.

--I love that Abbie's voicemail has a specific portion of it devoted to Crane needing to wait for a beep.

--"You ready to fight some monsters?" "Indeed." "My man!" 

--"Your spirit and mine are made of far heartier stuff....come what may." See everyone in February!

Monday, November 16, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x8 and 5x9)

On this week's episode of Once Upon a Time, the writers discovered lesbians! Oh, and Emma's plan was finally laid bare, but honestly, who care about that?! We had two hours (groan) of OUAT this week, mostly because ABC randomly ordered a second episode for inexplicable reasons and while neither episode fit together into one cohesive narrative (as opposed to, say, Smash the Mirror or the two part season finales) OUAT did attempt to and try to make inroads into exploring diversity and the many types of people there are, not only in their fictional world but in the real one as well. I say try because it was a mess (as was to be expected) and somewhat insulting that the tacked on second episode was given to planting the seeds for a LGBT relationship with the least amount of effort as possible, but hey--they did try. In the first half of the two hour extravaganza, "Birth," we finally got some much needed answers about what on God's (Merlin's?) green earth Emma Swan is even doing this season and why we were supposed to be worried about she of the dark leather and spray painted hair (seriously, I worry for the state of Jennifer Morrison's hair with all this white frosting-in-a-can. Her roots must be tragic!). And in the second half of the night, "The Bear King," not a single soul was shocked that Arthur killed King Fergus and the aforementioned lesbians were discovered, or at least teased, or alluded to. Sort of. We are almost--blessedly--at the end of this season and now we get one week off. So, everyone grab their favorite Magical McGuffin of the season (got my rape sand at the ready! But magical ale will do in a pinch) and let's trek down the path of Camelot meets Brave meets Heroes Journey meets who-the-hell-knows. 

The Villain Explains It All

Because this week we were treated (lolz) to a two hour session of OUAT, I'm really only going to pick up a few narrative themes and salient points for this review. Don't worry; I'll turn my critical eye to the LGBT exploration in a bit. But up first, have you ever seen a James Bond film? I'm using that as my launch point because I figure that everyone has seen at least one James Bond film in their life, be it a Connery or a Moore or a Bronson. The reason I bring this up is because in every Bond film there is a moment when the villain inexplicably explains all his diabolical schemes to Mr. Bond--usually while the MI-6 spy is chained, gagged, and in danger of losing his life, a limb, or both. It's the explanation portion of the movie. Up until now, the villain has talked in coded language (even though the villain is clearly in on the whole plot and plan) because we need to keep the audience in suspense. For the past seven episodes we've essentially had Emma Swan acting as a Bond villain in present day Storybrooke, talking in coded and secretive language in order to keep the audience in suspense (and, to be honest, tuning in) and to make the other characters--Snow, Charming, Regina, Robin, and Hook--run in circles trying to figure out what in the world the Dark One is playing at. This episode, then, is akin to Goldfinger tying Sean Connery to a slab and prattling on about Fort Knox and the Grand Slam (no, seriously, if you haven't seen a James Bond film, start with Goldfinger. Classic). I wonder if this makes Hook our Pussy Galore. Yeah, there's a really horrible joke in there somewhere, but I'll be polite and pass it over. All of this really boils down to one question: what is Emma Swan's plan? What has she been doing all season and why? Well, much like Rumple 200 years ago, Emma is atoning for a sin but unlike Rumple, who's sin was grounded in something human and sympathetic and deep and meaningful (you know, searching for his son), Emma is all about her main squeeze, the boy she's been dating for a hot second. That's right. Everything she's doing, the sin Ms. Swan is atoning for, is all about Hook. You see, Emma is really scared of commitment and she's afraid of what a future with Hook would look like until she is suddenly face to face with no future with him. I mean, I'm terrified of a future with Hook as well but that's because he is a patronizing, egotistical murderer who likes his eyeliner more than morals. But I suspect that Emma has something different in mind. Let's talk about how offensive this is. Yes, Emma's plan becomes to vanquish the darkness once and for all (by putting it in Zelena and then killing the Witch which is just straight up cold blooded murder, but the Dark Swan justifies this by reminding us that Zelena killed Neal because, all of sudden, Emma cares about that pesky detail) but in Camelot, Emma wanted to hold on to the darkness not because of some larger mythological plan but because of a boy. Her entire story was just downgraded from Savior/Dark One/Heroes Journey to "woman afraid of commitment with lover so does everything possible to run away" including turning her love interest into another Dark One.

I can promise you that I am trying--trying--not to turn this portion of my blog into a rant against CaptainSwan or Hook or even just the show but I am legitimately 100% confused and baffled by this turn of events. Emma cannot let Hook die, but she's willing to multiply the darkness and let there be two Dark Ones in existence (which is something that has never happened and something we are told cannot happen, but let's bypass that, I guess) in order not to lose her boyfriend. The father of her child, Emma will lose and let stay dead even when she goes back in time; but the guy she's been seeing for all of a few months, well him we have to save. I am going to try and frame my argument in a rational manner and not come across as someone who, under no circumstances, would ever ship CaptainSwan. I know that any criticisms against me and what I am about to say would be couched thus, but I shall endeavor to try and head those off at the pass. There is something so insulting about making Emma's hero journey, her path from darkness back to the light, all about her love interest. Now, would I say the same thing if it had been Nealfire? Maybe, but with a caveat that if it had been Neal, the narrative would have been weightier and more poetic. Nealfire turning into a Dark One at the hands of his true love, another father having to deal with being a Dark One to his son? Emma and Neal trying to work together to save each other? Henry and Rumple working to save both of them, their father/son and mother/Savior? That's poetry. That's storytelling that touches on so many of the themes this show began with, like family and sacrifice. But like so much this season, it felt as though the story was given to Hook only because the real character it was meant for is six feet underground. Now, I would have had issues with Emma's journey centering around a love interest and a man, even if it was Neal, because Emma is her own woman and her decision to go villain should rest on her own impetus, not born out of her role as a lover (as opposed to a independent woman, daughter, mother, savior or really any combination of those elements). But this is nothing new for OUAT is it? Regina lost Daniel; Cora was used by Jonathan and Leo; Zelena was rejected by Rumple; Ingrid was made to feel like a monster by the Random Kidnapper in the Woods and the Duke of Wesselton; Ursula had her voice taken by Hook; and Mal had her baby stolen by Snow and Charming. If you're an evil woman on this show, it's because of a man. It always comes back to the fact that men have control and power over women and when the guys hurt the gals or when women suddenly find themselves without their man, the natural course is to go evil.

If Emma's story was just about wanting to end the darkness by becoming darkness and defeating it from the inside, then it's a story worth telling. But that's not what is happening. Emma's desire to conquer the darkness stems, first and foremost, from the desire to save Hook. Emma was fine bringing Prometheus's flame to life and forging the sword with the dagger and then driving out her own darkness, with no thought of what to do with said darkness afterwards. But the second her boyfriend is in trouble, then she has to destroy the darkness once and for all--even going so far as to make Zelena to go into super early labor, kidnap the formerly green Witch, put the Darkness inside Zelena and then kill her. Emma's reactions are extreme in a way that makes her look beyond all rationality, almost akin to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (bunnies of the world, look out!) And it's all for a man. Not her son, not her mother or father or even the world or cosmos at large: it's all for Hook. Suddenly Emma Swan's main story goes from being a Mother-Savior to being Captain Hook's girlfriend. You realize, I hope, that Emma hasn't even talked to her parents one-on-one in quite awhile? Like I said, insulting. At one point Emma asks Regina what wouldn't the former Evil Queen do to save Robin and I was reminded that Regina, 6 episodes back, decided to sacrifice herself to a Fury for Robin Hood--leaving her 13 year old son alone in the world. So it appears that romance is all that matters all around. I remember a time when the love from a parent was touted as the most important love on this show. Emma refusing to let Henry die? Fine. That works. But refusing to let Hook die? No. This is to say nothing of the ill conceived logic and yet another crack in the world building of the already flimsy world structure of OUAT. So suddenly there can be two Dark Ones? And if Hook is a Dark One then why hasn't he been hearing the Dark Ones voices? Why hasn't he felt the Darkness inside? Why hasn't he exhibited any powers? Why hasn't he been acting evil or even slightly out of control? Remember how fragile Emma was in Camelot when the Darkness was taunting her? She was treated like a patient with a terminal illness. There is a thing in stories called foreshadowing. I think Adam and Eddy used to know what that meant. Now, they clearly don't. For an episode that was supposed to answer all the questions, I am left confused, befuddled, frustrated and frankly disappointed that what started off as a strong season opener so quickly devolved into the cliche soap opera trappings that OUAT is ever so fond of. What does this mean now? Most likely that Hook will make the ultimate sacrifice and absorb all the Darkness and be taken to the Underworld and then it's Emma's turn to save him, like Hook tried to save her at the beginning of this season. Adam and Eddy will call it circular and poetic. I call it nonsense.

Enter The (Sort Of, Really Vaguely Alluded To, More Like New Buds) Lesbians 

The second hour of our two hour special was, without a doubt, one of the most pointless and thoughtless episodes of OUAT I have ever seen. There was zero point to this episode. It had no connection to the current arc of the Dark Swan or even, really, to Camelot, even if Arthur did appear. Outside of Zelena, none of the main characters appeared and instead the story focused on a character we've met a grand total of twice and who has never been built as a sympathetic character that I should be invested in. Oh, and the show tried to touch on an LGBT relationship in the most unimaginative way possible. And by that I mean that the chest-thumping Adam and Eddy were doing earlier this year about exploring an LGBT relationship is laughable since, in the end, Mulan and Ruby are less romantic interests and more budding friends who decide to go hunt werewolves together. There was no hint of a relationship between the warrior and wolf. There were no long looks, no hand holding and certainly no kissing. In fact, if you hadn't known that OUAT promised an LGBT relationship this season would you even have known that Mulan and Ruby were supposedly set up as one? If anything, Mulan and Merida had a greater connection and more chemistry and history between them than Mulan and Ruby. The girl-wolf didn't even enter the narrative until about thirty-five minutes in and, after that, she was a secondary character to Merida's story line. I'm not even sure why she was there helping out Merida! This is endemic of a much larger problem on OUAT: inclusion and representation. You can count on one hand the number of people of color who are still alive and not evil. Go ahead. Count. Did you get past Regina? I doubt it. She's it, folks! And even then the "not evil" iota raises certain eyebrows. How about gays or lesbians or transgendered peoples? None. Mulan is apparently bisexual but only in the most vague way possible. The writers make Mulan play the pronoun name, never explicitly stating that she was into Aurora, not Philip. They have never said nor had Mulan say, out in the open, loud and proud, that she is bisexual/pansexual/gay. It's the 21st century! It's 2015! We live in an age where gay boys and girls are being beat up, harassed, and are killing themselves for those they chose to love. Wouldn't it be great--wouldn't it be empowering--for our media to tell the LGBT people of the world that they are loved, they are equal, and that their stories deserved to be told right alongside straight peoples! But no. OUAT doesn't have it in them. They won't fight that battle, but they'll take the credit for being "bold" and pushing an LGBT narrative. Heads up, Adam and Eddy. You're part of the problem, not the solution.

Miscellaneous Notes on Birth and The Bear King

--I passed over a ton of plot points, I know. So let's try to hit some other things here in the notes, shall we? Emma sped up gestation and Zelena gave birth to a green baby girl. Let's name her. I'm going to go with Esmeralda because it's a "green" name. Also, I fully expect that motherhood will redeem Zelena, which is overly misogynistic and horrifying all at once. Looking forward to that one!

--Arthur and Guinevere casually sit around a ping pong table, drinking wine, in full regalia.

--How many Magical McGuffins were there in these two hours? Baby's tears, squid ink, the helmet, the flame, the dreamcatcher the sword, and the dagger. With special appearances by the cuff and Hook's hook. Did I miss any? Oh. Right: magical ale that lets you talk to dead people.

--Belle held a crossbow to Hook's head. Now if only she had gotten trigger happy.

--Is it mandated that people in Camelot can only wear one outfit for all of time? Shouldn't Emma's white virginal gown be filthy by now?

--Operation Light Swan can go forth and die, thanks. They got a house by the water. I want to set something on fire.

--Hook explained all his baubles. They were all taken from men he killed for petty and selfish reasons and then he kept trinkets as souvenirs. What a guy! Totally the guy we want in a love story that is being lauded and pushed in media as a love story of the ages.

--Dr. Whale's dye job! But he was acting more like Blaine on iZombie, a far superior show.

--I did like the magic fight between Merlin and Emma. It was overly short, but I'll take what I can get between the two most powerful magicians of all time, I guess.

--Speaking of, what happened to Merlin? Is he dead? 

--When in the name of sanity did the flashbacks for the Bear King take place? And why, for the love of all that is holy, was there a magical bean? Adam and Eddy swore those things off!

--I do not, for one second, believe that Ruby would go running off and leave her Granny all alone on the off chance that she might find some wolves. And neither Snow nor Granny have mentioned that Red went off exploring in the season since she magic bean'd her way out of SB?

--Why does the sword make Hook dark? I though the sword represented the light and the dagger was the darkness? Light and dark, two halves of a whole. That was actually a great narrative point back in the first episode. But this time, it made Hook...dark?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x9)

Here is what happened. When you stop to think about it, you will find that there are no words in the English language quite as scary or damning, when it comes to telling a story, as the sentence that preceded this one. Why? Because unless you are a third person omniscient narrator, there is virtually no way for you to construct and tell a story without some sort of perspective, bias, color, and prejudice. Objectivity does not exist, especially in storytelling, be it of the paperback variety or of the pixelated TV kind. We are all subjective creatures who see the world through our own eyes, our own psyche, and we color our experiences with those eyes and psyche. In other words, "here is what happened" is almost never what happened. This week's episode, "Sleep No More," tries very hard to demonstrate that rather complex thesis. We are presented with a story, shot from various first person perspectives--including that of a ship--and are asked some very basic questions: what is real? what is not? And most importantly of all, what really happened? It's a very intense exercise and experiment for the writers and directors but as an audience member there is one more question we need to ask ourselves: did this episode work? Wipe the sleep from your eyes and let's go! 

Usually, Doctor Who is told from a third person omniscient perspective. We see the Doctor as the writer and showrunner have crafted and created him, and while we get hints of how other people view him (the Companions for instance) the perspective is usually one and the same: mad man with a box who falls from the sky and, most of the time, manages to save the day with a wink, a joke, and some wonderful science-fiction-meets-magic moments. Here's a something to ponder: is this episode actually any different? Rasmussen is the creator of this little story that we are watching--though, we must always remember that Mark Gatiss is sitting in the real driver's seat. Rasmussen took what he shot and decided what he showed, what he did not show, and how he put it all together. The mad scientist tells us at the start that what we are about to see is incomplete--but in chronological order--and that there might be missing bits--though, to further complicate matters, we must stop and wonder if he's telling the truth in this regard or if these supposed missing bits are part of his larger narrative. So much of Rasmussen's story is built on the fact that he's a liar. See, this is going to get really complicated before we're all through. This episode wants us to believe that it's different. An experiment in type and form, if you will. Instead of seeing the Doctor and the plot through a third party that gets to see everything at once, we are only ever through the eyes of one character at a time; the various rescue mission members, the ship itself, and occasionally Clara, are our windows into what is happening. If we were to just stop there, then this episode might be called brilliant for the overall narrative concept. Writer Mark Gatiss is really creating a story about creating a story. The details, the different perspective, the notion that everyone has a vantage point that is somehow different from the person next to them and that no two stories are going to be the same, is an exercise in storytelling gymnastics. So for example, we see the Doctor through Clara's eyes and he's the same egotistical but lovable scamp he always is. When the perspective changes to someone who does not know him, his tendencies to speak in riddles or even quote obscure poetry come out making him more of an enigma.

If you sit and ponder the way it was set up, I'm not so sure it was different from other Doctor Who episodes. You still had the Doctor as a mad man in a box who fell from the sky and tried to save the day. Again, whether or not he succeeded seems up to each individual viewer. Rasmussen wants us to believe that the Doctor failed and abandoned the ship and let the Morpheus transmission go out, but the universal truth of the Doctor is that he wins and saves the day. Always. Perhaps those elements--the mad man, the box, the hero complex--are also simply universal truths wherever the Doctor goes (and my blog has largely argued that to be true over the years). At the end of the day, I think what Gatiss was really trying to do was challenge his audience. He doesn't want us to love the story and, while I'm sure he doesn't want us to hate it either, the writer in this case wants us to sit and ponder whether or not we loved it or hated it. Gatiss wants this episode to be an earworm, something we can't stop thinking about, even after the credits have rolled. He wants us--like Rasmussen--to share it with someone and see what they think. Our answer to whether we loved it or hated it comes down to individual perspective on what makes a good story. In that regard, with the concept (somewhat) firmly in place, then we might call this episode a stroke of genius at the most and something very new after fifty-years at the very least. The problem is that it's a terrible episode. In other words, Gatiss succeeds but Rasmussen fails (but does the latter mean that the former is incorrect? Or does the latter being true mean that the former is definitely correct? See! This episode is a challenge!)

Leave the high concept and storytelling somersaults alone for a moment and let's consider the story Rasmussen sets up with the help of his video cameras (that aren't really there?) and his expositional moments. If I said I was having trouble describing the plot of this episode, I would not be lying even in the slightest. From what my very jumbled notes can parse out, Morpheus is a new *mumble* science thing that is designed to eliminate a person's need for sleep; as Rasmussen intones, we spend about a third of our lives asleep and time is money. Imagine all the money making opportunities we are missing because we need at least eight hours of shut eye. Morpheus is, then, designed to help you sleep no more (roll credits!) and allow you to go months without needing sleep. The problem is that the gunk that forms in your eye builds up overtime and becomes Sandmen. It eventually consumes the person who is not sleeping and turns them into blind sand demons. Or something. This plot, this bare bones plot that I just gave, is like something out of a low budget B-level science fiction movie that you find on the SyFy channel at 3 am. Think Sharknado but with gunk (only Sharknado was surprisingly entertaining in its stupidity). Some B-level films can at least make for an entertaining two hours of TV, but this episode of Doctor Who, when we just consider the story Rasmussen created, is cliche, boring, and frankly silly. There are Doctor Who trappings by the bucket load this week--long and too dark corridors with lots of running and screaming; a team of red-shirt scientists who get picked off one by one; a silly monster with no agenda, no personality, and a truly eye-roll (pun intended!) worthy conception, who's only mission is to destroy for "reasons." There are several climaxes, long winded explanations, and, worst of all, it's deadly dull and seems to stretch on forever. The Doctor at one point yells, "none of this makes any sense!" and he's right. None of it really made any sense. Rasmussen is a poor storyteller because he fails to deliver any meaning or heart or just plain logic to his narrative; there are too many twists, too many turns, too many fast changes in what was really happening (or was it happening?) for any of his--Rasmussen's--story to be effective. However, we then come back to real life writer Mark Gatiss and whether or not in having Rasmussen lack all of those things Gatiss is succeeding in telling a story: a story about what makes a good story. Can you all tell that I'm slightly befuddled, amused, annoyed, and confused about this episode? I simply don't know if this episode works. It's experimental but also full of cliche; it might be brilliant but it's also barking mad and stupid. It's high art but also low budget horror films at their worst. With all that in mind, and admitting that I simply don't know where I really stand on this, I think it's time to go to bed. After all, sleep is essential if you don't want to become a gunk monster.

Miscellaneous Notes on Sleep No More

--I always rank the episodes of Doctor Who at the end of each season, so it'll be exciting to see where this one ends up because I honestly don't know right now.

--Not having any opening credits is a nice touch, reminding us that what we're watching isn't an episode of Doctor Who but supposed to be "found footage" of "real events" that "actually happened." The credits at the beginning would take us out of that moment. 

--"What happened?" "From the beginning of time? That's a very long story."

--"Hold my hand." "I'm fine." "I'm not." The fact that Clara will be gone soon made the Doctor wanting to hold her hand even more poignant. 

--Rasmussen's final explanation is a final break in the fourth wall that sounds almost too much like a Gatiss-insert: "I hope you enjoyed the show, I did try to make it exciting. All those scary bits, all those death-defying scrapes, and a proper climax...compelling viewing"

--Clara never gets to name things. Only the Doctor gets to name new creatures the duo stumble upon. How God-like of him. (Stay self-aware, Doctor Who!)

--One final Gatiss-insert: "I did tell you not to watch." So was that advice we should have taken? What, my dear readers, really happened?

Friday, November 13, 2015

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (3x7)

This week's episode of Sleepy Hollow, "The Art of War," does not feature John Noble. When the show trots out a title such as this week's, one expects Henry Parrish/Jeremy Crane/the Horseman of War. Sadly, we did not get to see Mr. Noble and hear his low timber of a voice. However, this does not mean that the episode was a total wash. In fact, I really rather enjoyed this round of Sleepy Hollow goodness, but I'm a sucker for Egyptian mythology so maybe I'm not exactly impartial here (don't worry, Greek mythology. You're still first in my heart). Welcome to the show, Mr. Scary Man! Joking aside, the major theme and thrust of this episode is really two-fold: teasing the agent behind the Second Tribulation and fear of the unknown; all this time, we knew Pandora was working for someone, a darker being than herself, who was pulling the strings. Turns out, the Bigwig-Behind-What-Is-To-Come, is an actual god! Well, I assume he was a god. Big loud voice and coming through a tree tends to mean something not-human. My friends and I were having a friendly debate while watching: Amun-Ra, Anubis, or Set? Turns out: we don't know yet! Yay, I love a mystery. I'll go into why I think he's Amun-Ra in the proper review but as we approach the fall finale, it's all about every player falling into place as the next wave of the Apocalypse comes to Sleepy Hollow. Go berserk because here we go! 

Let's start off with something that definitely deserves a hearty round of applause: the show is opening up its mythology to encompass more of the world's stories. Sleepy Hollow has never shied away from touching on various world mythologies; beasts and monsters of the week have come from all over but are always summarily dismissed. The Big Bads and the coming End of Days have always been rooted in the Judeo-Christian traditions. When your Headless Horseman is also the Horseman of Death, is in league with the Horseman of War, and are paling around with a demon from Purgatory, it's easy to say that Christian mythology is in the driver's seat. However, in this season, Pandora's inclusion opened up the door to greater possibilities since she very clearly comes from some time before the Christian era. Many cultures have end of the world stories. The idea of the old passing away into the new and some sort of divine battle of good versus evil isn't localized to the Christian mythos. Ragnorak, the Islamic Day of Judgement, Frashokereti, and the list can go on,  cultures tell stories about the end of the world as a way to understand their present and the broad scope of history. Everything must end; this too shall pass and other such cliche sayings. By including a Big Bad who is (I assume) not a Big Bad from the Christian tradition but instead from other sources, demonstrates that the show realizes that Apocalyptic traditions are a big deal to many people, not just the one from which the writers come. On a show that tries its hardest to celebrate diversity, it's nice to see the writers take that theme and transition them beyond just the color of their characters. So why do I think this guy in the hood is Amun-Ra? Let's look at the clues; first, clearly an Egyptian deity, not that this helps us narrow it down. Second, Jenny is being set up as a consort type figure. The fact that Jenny feels as powerful as the man in her visions suggests that there is a equal link between the two. Man and woman, the perfect balance. Amun is almost always linked to his female consort, Amunet (if you've seen the show "Penny Dreadful," think Vanessa Ives). Third, there were various sun images in Jenny's scrawlings on the wall; Amun, in various stages of Egyptian history, is grouped with sun gods, including Ra. Fourth (and I admit that this is the biggest clue) the credits on IMDB list the character as "The Hidden One." Amun roughly translates to, you guessed it, "the hidden one." It has been awhile since I did any predictions for Sleepy Hollow, but there it is: Amun-Ra is the Big Bad and he has made Jenny into his Amunet. I think that makes Pandora akin to a high priestess? Still unsure how Pandora serves Amun.

Now that I've made some predictions, let's talk about fear of the unknown, which was the other major theme of this episode. Really, we could substitute "unknown" for future and it would amount to the same. For Joe, it's fear of what life might be like without Jenny (if he lost her) and, really, what life might be like with her (if they gave in and were together). For Jenny, it's fear of what is happening to her. She admits to Abbie that during those moments of her skin glowing red and going all white-eyed, Jenny feels powerful. Again, it's fear of what life might be like with that power and what she might become. But it's also fear of what life might be like without that power and how Jenny could never have that feeling ever again. Abbie is clearly fearing what is happening to Jenny, but she's also scared about her future with the FBI. Abbie is a control freak; she knows it and she doesn't try to deny it. Abbie likes keeping her life in organized boxes. Personal life over in Box A and career in Box B, but ever since Ichabod woke up and Leftenant Mills met Mr. Crane in a jail cell, those boxes have become incredibly muddled and confused. Now, with Abbie working for the FBI, those boxes are really supposed to be clear cut, but there she is, letting Crane break into a house that the FBI are investigating. Witness or FBI agent? Chose wisely, Abbie. And, then, there is Ichabod who is facing a very dangerous foe: the 21st century. As Mr. Crane says, "sometimes it feels like the unbeatable enemy is the 21st century." Ichabod has always been defined as a man out of time and his transition into the 21st century has been a focal narrative point since the start, from exclaiming about the Starbucks on every corner to emojis to romance. At present, Ichabod is staring at a future where he might become fully acculturated to the 21st century, no longer the 18th century man who just happens to find himself in the 21st. But what happens if Ichabod loses those roots he has made in the 21st century? The archives, the job, the mission? Abbie? Losing all of those 21st century touchstones would leave him adrift and it this fear of the unknown, of the future, the constant questioning of what happens next, that leaves Ichabod off his game. Pull it together, Crane! Team Witnesses are stronger than any hurdles the 21st century--or Egyptian deities--can throw at them.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Art of War

--Ichabod nicely sums up the theme of this week's episode thus: "What we do not know may hurt us."

--Berserkers! Gotta love the Norse mythology references.

--Joe's advice to Ichabod about those things Mr. Crane is fearing? "Talk to her." Even Joe gets that Team Witnesses need each other to be complete.

--Did anyone think Sophie was FBI?? I sure as heck didn't. But, along a similar vein, Ichabod calling her "pugnacious" is really his way of saying she's a bitch.

--Awww to Joe and Jenny. Joenny?

--The flashback worked well this week because it was informative to the current plot and did not rely on Betsy Ross and her corseted boobs.

--"The idea of losing you..." Oh dear. The Ichabbie friendship is going to kill me.

--Next week is the fall finale! And, as I'm sure all the readers have heard, Sleepy Hollow is moving to Friday nights in the Spring. This is basically a death sentence for the show. Prepare yourself. The cancellation is probably forthcoming. I'll miss this show. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x7)

Here is something readers of my blog may not know: I have a Masters Degree in Comparative Religion, specifically in Early Christianity. I say this not to be a braggart but rather because I want to make something clear; I know what I'm talking about when I discuss Christian history. I spent four years in undergraduate, two years in specialty training in the classics, and two years in my Masters program to say, with absolutely certainty, that Jesus of Nazareth was not a realm jumper. I do not, for a second, believe that Jesus had a spinning top hat--a la Jefferson--and that he could zip from realm to realm, having tea with Cora and falafel with Jafar. Is it possible that Christ, the divine spirit that Christians the world over believe in, could travel to other realms? Sure, if they exist. I mean, why not. Gods will as gods will. But I'm not a theologian; I'm a scholar and again, I can state that Jesus did not travel to different realms! But, putting all that aside to say that, in short, this week's episode "Nimue" finally answered some of the shows biggest questions about the Dark One, the Dagger, and how these various green-scaled beings came into existence. As one would expect, it was because a woman did a stupid thing. Remember what I said about strong women and OUAT last week? Buzzwords, y'all. Buzzwords. Ready for some heavy mythology, a cheap love story, and a lot of Magical McGuffins? Awesome. Let's go! 

Women Always Ruin The World 

Here is something shocking: I am not going to go on a feminist rampage about how egregious it is that Nimue is the sole cause of Darkness being in the world. Pick your jaws up off the floor, y'all. I mean, yes, it is pretty offensive that a woman who watched her life and family vanish before her eyes and only wanted to ease her own suffering and pain is going to be torn down as the reason why there is suffering in the world; why so many people have died and why all our lives suck, but why would I complain about that? Why would I want to point out that, not for the first time, OUAT has shown that women are irrational, emotional, illogical, and never actually listen to good sense (usually coming from a romantic interest and always a man)? Why would I want to spend time and energy to demonstrate bit by bit that, once again, women who are "good" and "pure" are presented as light virgins but women who fall from grace are suddenly cast in dark colors, ugly skin, and as vile seducers, trying to lure the unexpected into their dens of iniquity? Why would I do that? No, instead, I am going to go another route and talk about archetypes (what. Me? Talk about archetypes? Surely you jest!) Specifically, I am going to talk about the archetype that I will call "the first woman."

Now, I rag on OUAT as being fairly paternalistic and condescending in their approach to women (because they are) but, to be fair, it's not as if OUAT invented the idea of paternalism and the juxtaposition between what makes a good woman and a bad woman (for references in media, women are easily divided into three groups: the virgin, the mother, and the seductress. Because that's all women are, you see). No, these views and images of women are old. Insanely old. Biblically old, we might say. For me, the "first woman" archetype really boils down to two easily recognized figures: Eve and Pandora. There are more, to be sure, but those are the ones that everyone really knows. How about a quick refresher course? Eve is straightforward and there is no nuance outside of what you learned in your standard Vacation Bible Program: she of the Garden and the Apple and a vile serpent. Pandora is an interesting one because her story is referenced tonight without actually naming her. Prometheus has an intriguing tie to her: together they are the downfall of mankind. Everyone knows Prometheus stole fire from heaven and everyone knows that Pandora opened a box (jar, really) and let out all the evil contained therein into the world, but did you know that Pandora was sent as a punishment because of Prometheus? I mean, yeah Pandora gets all the blame (and so does Eve) but it was a combined efforts of both man and woman that screwed us all. My point is this; throughout history and mythology there is typically a figure who is "the first woman"--a woman who is beautiful and lovely and a great gift to the world, but somewhere along the way, she allows darkness and evil into the world. I know that OUAT isn't necessarily trying to paint a picture of women as negative (at least not with Nimue, they do that well enough with other characters) but, instead, are playing with some very old tropes and ideas. And while I had thought at one point that OUAT would, instead, subvert those tropes and spin them in a different manner, it turns out that they can't resist millennia old story ideas. The larger issue I have, outside of Jesus the magical realm jumper, is that Merlin eschews any culpability here. He's blameless and innocent. Prometheus stole the fire (even if Zeus was a right git) and Adam ate the fruit, but Merlin was just a guy who was in love and never wanted to live without that love and who tried to battle the darkness (blah blah blah) but lost only because the darkness was stronger. He wasn't strong enough, but it's not as if Merlin wasn't good enough. And that's my problem in this narrative. If OUAT wants to walk the well trodden "first woman" trope then that's unfortunate but ultimately not something that's solely on them. But to make it seem as if there aren't multiple parties and blame to go around isn't fair. Vortigan is the worst kind of plot device, an undeveloped one. He exists literally to to give Nimue impetus. Vortigan is a prop; he has no meaning, no story, no form outside of pushing Nimue into doing the deed of crushing his heart and becoming the first Dark One. He's not too blame because he is just an evil object. What could Merlin have done? Not tell Nimue about the Grail. Not taken Nimue to the holy site. We have choices in the world. Merlin chose wrong, but he shares none of the blame. Woman, the seducer, the one who would not listen, does.

So, I covered the feminism bent to all this, how about the mythology we got? For years, people have been wondering how the Dark One and his curse came to be. Like many other big reveals in the show's history, it felt as though it was made up specifically for this arc and not a long thought out process. Henry's adoption? Given during Pan's storyline to parallel Regina doing anything and everything to save her son. The book and the author? Given during the (now in hindsight totally random) Queens of Darkness story line because, really, the writers wanted to do an alternate universe after exploring time travel the year before. And now we have the Dark One mythology and it's largely because at some point (probably during season 4 and not sooner) the writers decided that the Sorcerer was Merlin and he had helped create the first Dark One. This isn't to say that the story is not, in many ways, good (it was. I know, I'm shocking myself) but rather it feels less organic to the show than I would have hoped. Until season 4, we had never heard of a Sorcerer or even the idea of Excalibur being tied to the Dagger. Sure, you can't lay all your cards out on the table but there are clues that it wasn't always planned, like Blue being the highest in the order of magic in season one, only to slowly tick down as the seasons go on to the point where Merlin (a man!) is suddenly the Ubermensch. But, I'm going in circles, my actual point is this: a lot of this mythology reveal is handwave-y (something about a spark and an ember?) and relies on surprise and gasp worthy moments (shock! Nimue is not dead! Shock! Surprise flashback to moments earlier!) but it does feel mythological, doesn't it? The idea of the first woman and The Sorcerer/Immortal Man going off to try and get around immortality only to have one of them succumb to death and then, in a twisted way, defeat death. I'm not quite sure that I agree with the idea that the Darkness (capital D) existed but, what, was just floating around? Hanging out in space? What was the entity we know now as the Darkness doing? Are we really supposed to believe that Merlin had no darkness in him? I thought we all had darkness in us? Isn't that one of the biggest themes on this show? Okay, I'm starting to talk myself out of liking these parts of the show, but to round this out to a nice even landing, it felt mythological largely because the show was playing with some very old story ideas and while it didn't exactly feel totally organic, it still answered a great many questions about Merlin, the Dark One, and how violent acts are often done because of pain of the heart and not because of simple cruelty. Nimue, the desperate soul who loved her family, set the bar for all the Dark Ones to come.

Miscellaneous Notes on Nimue

--I know I'm passing over quite a lot of plot and narrative that happened elsewhere in this episode but that's because the main focus really was Nimue and Merlin. Also, because Zelena tethering the sword Excalibur to Merlin so that Arthur could control him was simply weird and strange. Who knew Zelena could do that?

--Let's go back to Jesus, the magical realm jumper. I'm not bothered by Christian themes: light versus dark, Savior, temptation, ect. Never have been. I expect those by the bucket load on my shows (really, have you read my Doctor Who blogs??). What I'm bothered by are the very overt Christian symbols and icons that appear in the Enchanted Forest. You know, like the Holy Grail, a chalice said to have been the cup Jesus passed to his disciples during the Last Supper and was later used to catch Jesus's blood as he was on the cross. I have no problem with there being a magical cup in OUAT and, more specifically, in Arthurian mythology, but to call it THE Holy Grail is incredibly problematic because it suggests that Jesus existed in and had the same influence on the Enchanted Forest as he did in our very real world. Christianity is not sui generis; it did not form in a vacuum completely devoid of outside forces and therefore could equally form in another universe. What outside forces you ask? Judaism, for one. Polytheism for another. History between those two forces, for a third. All of that (and so much more) led to the rise of apocalyptic Judaism and, eventually, to a preacher named Jesus (Joshua, really) who roamed around ancient Galilee, trying to tell people that times were ending. This is to say nothing of the apostle Paul who is responsible for Christianity going out to the Gentiles where it really took root (Jewish-Christianity fading away as the city of Jerusalem burned). If any of that--Judaism, Greco-Roman culture, the interaction between the two, and Paul--happened in the Enchanted Forest, then we've never seen it nor heard of it. And, like I keep saying, Jesus was not a realm jumper.

--The timeline is a disaster. So Merlin was in the tree for 1000 years; but he become immortal 1000 years ago. Rumple was the Dark One for at least 250 years, but Nimue became the Dark One 200 years before present day. this even possible?

--The show really doesn't know how to do romance anymore. The relationship between Merlin and Nimue was almost as fast and unexplored as Lance and Gwen. One conversation and suddenly Merlin can easily say that the best moments of his 1000 year life were with Nimue. Great. Maybe you could show some of them so that I find their love believable.

--Hook's a survivor because he spent 250+ years in Neverland hanging out on a ship in a realm where time does not pass. It's not because of some stupid bauble. But no, go ahead. Say it's because of some silly ring. Lemme guess. We're gonna get some sort of backstory to it. Goody.

--Did Arthur just invent acid?

--Zelena kicking Snow was one of the funniest things I've seen on this show in a good long while because good God, Mary Margaret. You are as dumb as a pile of rocks.

--Continuity issues? We heard that the Dark One was created at the Vault (nope) and that Merlin battled the Darkness before tethering it to a human being (not really).

--Creepy men in hoods with glowing eyes are super creepy!

--Emma forged a sword. Now what?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x8)

The wheel just keeps on turning. Are you going to be the one to break the cycle? Can you resist the easy answer of war and, instead, come to the table as enemies, trying for a peaceful solution? So much of this week's episode, "The Zygon Inversion," is dedicated to the futility of war and the importance of peace, conversation, and understanding the complexities of situations and peoples. It was also one of Peter Capaldi's best performances to date, but more on that later. Picking up where we left off last week, the Doctor attempts to subvert a war by engaging in a game type scenario. This is definitely not uncommon to science fiction. Star Trek: The Original Series toyed with the idea of war as a computer simulation and game before and, in many ways, war really is just a game with faceless toy soldiers being pushed out on to the field of battle by their overlords where they use strategy and tactic to win and get the upper hand against an enemy, one that, oftentimes, the soldiers don't fully understand why they are fighting. They are simply "the enemy." And when winning is all that matters, the fires and the screams and the dying are worth it because the cause is just. Or so we tell ourselves. Political Doctor Who is always heavy and laden with meaning, and this episode is no different. So: would you push the button? Truth...or consequences.

I covered a lot of these particular themes in last week's review and it's suffice to say that they reappear here once more. The Zygon rebels are fighting a war on two fronts, both against the humans and against the other Zygons, those members of their race who want to stay hidden and un-normalized. In fact, the splinter Zygons are so against their own race that they are willing to expose the others to the humans in hopes of beginning a war. The image of the human-Zygon melting and shifting was hard to stomach because it felt all too real. It's the science fiction version of mustard gas or radiation from an A-bomb. It's the Gaza Strip and Hiroshima. It's ISIS and the Taliban and the armies of the West Congo. I don't want to get on any sort of political soap box or start spewing rhetoric from any side--be it American, feminine, or liberal (all of which I am). Instead, it's important to understand that this is the way fundamentalist splinter cells work. Everyone who is not one of "us" is a "them" and that's wrong (for wont of a better word). Even if the "them" profess the same religions and same cultural values, even if they look the same, speak the same language, have the same ethnic backgrounds, they are 'otherized' to the point where these non splinter groups are not an "us." Often times they are grouped alongside the bigger evil (the greater "Them") as part and parcel. It's this 'otherizing' that is so damning to the human (and Zygon) race. I spoke about this at length last week, but it is our collective failure to see each other as complex beings with complex lives in complex situations that lead to scenarios like war. When you 'otherize' you remove any and all human traits from the Other. You simply make them non-human. They are not people; they are objects and objects have little complexity. Objects can be disposed of, gotten rid of, and removed from the field of battle, or game board as the case may be. And because that--the getting rid of--is the true agenda of these splinter cells, there are no thoughts to what comes after the Revolution. You know, the building anew and starting life afresh? Yeah, that's never on anyone's mind. It's just the Revolution (capital R because revolutions of this magnitude are always talked about in cosmic terms. After all, you--the Saints of the story--are playing against the Devils--the them. How else would such an apocalyptic vision be talked about?) For the Zygons and Bonnie (really, Bonnie?) this stage of "what now" is simple: they've won; they've got a new home world, all is fair and just and life will out. Except that's never how history actually goes.

As long as there are people, there will be conflict. Notice how the Doctor doesn't advocate for a total dissolution of argument and angst. No, he's not naive. He knows--all too well--that whenever people exist together, be it on a small blue marble in the backwaters of the Milky Way galaxy or in the universe at large--conflict will arise. It's the nature of the beast because we have yet to come across any one species that is without want or desire or lust or anger. The Doctor, instead, advocates for the radical idea that we might talk out our problems; to not use violence and escalated button pushing to solve the problems of the world...or universe. What happens when the splinter cell becomes the majority and some new faction feels underprivileged and left out? What will they do? They will take their cues from the previous Revolution, of course. Nobody wins for long. Troublemakers arise, even if you've managed to defeat the bad guys. The Zygons are completely ignorant of that until the Doctor begins to poke holes in their plans. This splinter cell, as it turns out, will be the first ones against the wall when the next Revolution occurs. Speaking of enemies and how they arise, we're back to that idea that good guys exist alongside their nemeses. It's been a theme all season long: friend, enemy. Who can tell anymore? There are no friends and enemies, just people in complex situations with complex history and feelings. It all comes down to whether or not we can meet at a table with those complexities and smooth them over with some honest talk. Now, speaking of honest talk, let's take a second and applaud (like mad) Peter Capaldi's performance this week, especially for that wonderful monologue he delivered to Kate and Bonnie while their fingers hovered over the buttons in the Osgood box. It was one of those rare times when I stopped taking notes and simply watched, spellbound, as an actor really committed to the scene he was doing. His portrayal was full of grief and heartache and loss. Well done, sir!

In the end, it's all a game. The boxes are empty, though telling Kate and Bonnie this upfront would not have brought about a peaceful solution, only the desire to find another violent means to an end. But I have to wonder if the Doctor did the right thing in wiping Kate's memory. He cheekily remarks that this is the 15th time the three of them--Kate, Bonnie, and the Doctor--have done this to-push-or-not-to-push situation. This sly remark and suddenly being in on the joke made the moment far too light when it had been so weighted before. I'm not sure it was the best direction to go in, though letting Bonnie keep her memories, thus breaking the cycle, was a smart move. This episode was perhaps a bit better than last weeks, though I largely think that was due to the heartfelt portrayal by Capaldi and Coleman's chilling Bonnie depiction, especially when having a one-on-one conversation with Clara inside the pod. Political theater will always have a place in Doctor Who (and science fiction at large, if we're being honest).  It would be nice if our real world situations had such an easy solution, wouldn't it? But, I think, that is the great lesson to these two episodes of Doctor Who: there is an easy solution. Talk. Converse. Share. Emote. Do not cower behind bombs and bullets and nukes. Come. Sit and the table. And talk.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Zygon Inversion 

--The adventures of Doctor Puntastic and Bonnie sounds like a new spinoff at the BBC.

--"I'm over 2000 years old. I'm old enough to be your Messiah!" Oh, Doctor Who. You stay self-aware, you wonderful little show.

--The Zygons would rather "die in the fire than live in chains." That could be the motto of any splinter cell the world over.

--I'm glad Osgood turned down the Doctor. She might be the perfect companion (as all the mega fans would be) but she has her own task ahead of her. She can't go poncing off to see all of time and space in the Totally and Radically Driving in Space.

--How will Moffat write Clara out? We keep having fake-outs of her death so I'd find it hard to believe they'd kill her for good. 

--The only way to live in peace is to forgive.