Saturday, January 14, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x2)

What made Abbie Mills such a great Witness? Was it her total acceptance of the sudden bizarre turn of events in her life? No, not really. In fact, Abbie remained skeptical for a good part of the first season. Was it because she was "touched" as a young girl by Moloch? No; helpful, maybe, but ultimately her Witnesshood was something deeper and more meaningful. Abbie made such a great Witness because she was not only the supernatural second half of Ichabod, but because she was his emotional, intellectual, and mature equal. Abbie was a bit of a revelation on network TV; a woman of color who was simply not the helpmate of the white male protagonist, but instead, every part his equal. While staring down at the black abyss of nevermore, Abbie stood shoulder to shoulder with a man out of time, looked demons and Purgatory in the eye and did not blink. Abbie was tough, practical, no-nonsense, and even when all felt lost, Abbie kept going. Should the next Witness be a copycat of Abbie Mills? No, absolutely not. That's an insult to Abbie's memory and the audience's patience; but while there is something to be said about subverting the audience's expectations, does anyone really believe that a thirteen year old teenager is really ready to fight the forces of evil and potentially the Apocalypse? Is that what we want this show to become? From a pairing that shouted equality--professionally, personally, and supernaturally--to one that has a centuries old man and a child running around the United States Capital looking for things that go bump in the night? I'm not sure "In Plain Sight" fixed any of the missteps of last week; it might have made them worse. Grab your witch stone and let's go! 

Here's a hard question: what do you want out of Sleepy Hollow? I've always been up front that this show could be as nutty as it wanted--and it often went full on straight-jacket crazy--so long as the core of the show remained the same. Take out the actual characters for a moment, forget Ichabod and Abbie and everything they've done, and the core of Sleep Hollow was really the story of two lost souls who found each other and then managed to find their way through a dark and weird world. Ichabod was the man out of time, a fish out of water; Abbie could neither escape her past nor find her future. But when the two souls met an alliance that went beyond our mortal ken was formed and together each person found what they were searching for. As cliche as it sounds, they found a home together. To be sure, there are some romantic underpinnings to this kind of narrative but it need not be; indeed Sleepy Hollow never went over that particular precipice. Romantic or not, it does not erase the deep loving bond between the two Witnesses. Can anyone imagine Ichabod having that with Molly? Does anyone want him to? There's something a little unsettling--a little squicky--about the loving and platonic romance of Ichabod and Abbie being overtaken by Ichabod and Molly. I know the show won't suddenly turn Ichabod and Molly into some sort of love story--in fact, I can see the show keeping Ichabod and Molly at arms length to drive home the idea that Molly might be the next Witness but she's not Abbie--but even if you take out the core of the two Witnesses and the sort of partnership they are supposed to have, is Molly really capable of stopping whatever evildoer is coming? She's got homework to do and boys (or girls) to flirt with. She can't fire a gun or a crossbow or read Latin or, hell, even stay out late to research big-bads. What use is Molly as a Witness? While I was not thrilled with the idea of Diana being the new Witness, Molly as a Witness is more ridiculous than some of the hair-brained plots Sleepy Hollow has trotted out in the past. So, once again, I ask: what do you want out of Sleepy Hollow?

Miscellaneous Notes on In Plain Sight

--Ichabod, while trying to find the new Witness in a prophetic dream, still calls out for Abbie.

--The three Witches were the very definition of cliche bad women--tight leather clothing and all.

--I can't get any sort of read on Alex and Jake except that one's a skeptic and one's a believer. Those characteristics don't make for very compelling characters.

--Speaking of unreadable, whatever Malcolm Dreyfus is up to is so undeveloped that I'm choosing to refrain from any real commentary. Also, I keep wanting to refer to him as Daniel Faraday.

--"How do you know so much about witches?" "I was married to one."

--Our Ichabod Crane, "the one and only!"

--I did have a moment of sheer joy at seeing the Headless Horseman. No idea how he's there in Washington, but whatever.

--"She's not Abbie." No. No, she's not.

Monday, January 9, 2017

In Which I Review Sherlock (4x2)

Ah, now that's a bit more like it. Last week I complained that the season four premiere was decidedly lacking in the interesting case department but this week's episode "The Lying Detective" had a bit more of that meaty mystery that is a hallmark of any Sherlock Holmes story. The fact that the case of the week was bolstered by some deep, emotional, and character moments from Sherlock and John only made this episode that much sweeter. The show still has a tendency to get a bit too self indulgent in its direction and the way it presents a story, but I simply cannot deny that my jaw dropped several times while watching this week. The biggest question I have--apart from the obvious questions about Sherrinford's (or Euors? I'll use that name throughout since that is the name she used to John) existence and what exactly Sherlock's secret sister wants--is about Sherlock's inner psyche. It has been an often repeated phrase that Sherlock is a high functioning sociopath but the question that lingers after an episode like this one is, was Sherlock ever a sociopath or just an ordinary--if brilliant--man who simply hid all his fears and insecurities behind an ice wall of indifference? The answer to me is pretty clear; it's not okay, but it is what it is. Grab your deer hat (after all, it's Sherlock Holmes and he wears the damn hat) and let's go!

While sitting in front of Greg Lestrade, John Watson reminds the cop that "not that long ago, Sherlock shot Charles Magnussen in the head. We always saw it coming; we thought it was fun." Sherlock is not exactly opposed to violence; he's always willing to do what is necessary to solve the case and close the book on a criminal, though I think Sherlock likes the satisfaction of sending a criminal to jail and getting to take some measure of credit for stopping the evil doer more. So what made Charles Magnussen different? What made him worthy of that bullet in a head? It wasn't just that Sherlock himself was in danger or even the fact that Sherlock wouldn't be able to put Magnussen behind bars (how do you prove that someone has an elaborate mind palace with information on every powerful person in the world at their disposal?) No, there was another factor. Well, two if we're being honest: The Watsons. John and Mary were at the forefront of Sherlock's mind when he made the decision to kill Magnussen on his back porch. If ever it seems like John Watson is in danger, Sherlock steps up and does the unthinkable. This is nothing new; in fact, I'm pretty sure I said the exact same thing in my season three finale over a year ago. The bond between the two and the deep--if quiet--affection Sherlock feels for John has never been kept a secret or at arms length. That same connection between Holmes and Watson is under enormous strain with Mary's death; John places blame for his wife's death on Sherlock's shoulders and, despite being drug into Sherlock's insanity, John cares very little for his former friend's state of being and life. And what does Sherlock do when he feels that bond beginning to break? He fixes it; he saves it. With just a little bit of prompting from Mary-beyond-the-grave, Sherlock saves John Watson, gives him something to do and reminds John that while Mary is gone, life is not over. The game is still on. But to bring us back to the original premise, does this mean that Sherlock is actually a sociopath, high functioning or otherwise? After all, one of the traits of sociopathy is a reckless disregard for safety and Sherlock did beg a serial killer to kill him after he downed a shocking amount of drugs. He also exhibits anti-social tendencies and keeps most people at an arm's length, up to and including his older brother Mycroft, his parents, and Irene Adler, someone who got so under his skin that he can only refer to her as "the Woman." But, that's the rub, isn't it? People get under Sherlock's skin; he's not immune to his feelings toward them. He does love Irene; he does love his parents; I suspect he does love Mycroft and there is absolutely no question that Sherlock Holmes loves John Watson. So if Sherlock isn't a sociopath, if he genuinely cares for people and his reckless regard for safety has more to do with protecting those he loves (and because he's an addict who needs a rush, never leave that factor out!) then what kind of person are we really left with? Let's talk about Euros.

Secret siblings are tricky. They reek of soap opera type theatrics and as if the writers simply couldn't think of a new storyline so they invent a totally new person to "spice" things up. In the Doyle canon, there is another Holmes brother but as far as I remember, he never shows up in the narrative. There's flexibility here, in other words, because another Holmes sibling is canon compliant but with enough room for Gatiss and Moffat to invent the character as they see fit. Who else thinks Euros is smarter than Sherlock and colder than Mycroft? I did not expect the woman on the bus, Faith, and John's new therapist all to be the same person, let alone be Sherlock's secret sister. Hats off to the writers for that, but the most important part of this reveal is not the twist but rather trying to puzzle out what sort of relationship Euros has with both Mycroft and Sherlock. We've gotten a sense that Mycroft stays in touch with Euros (side note but is Sherrinford some sort of code word or the name of a hospital?) and makes sure that his sister isn't making any sort of trouble but Sherlock is the more troubling Holmes brother in this scenario. We've been getting flashes of two young kids on a beach, playing like children are wont to do. I had thought that maybe these kids were Rosie and another kid, a flashforward instead of flashback, but upon a closer look, the bloodhound dog is a dead giveaway that it's Sherlock's flashback to his childhood. Sherlock has never discussed a sister or any sort of trauma about another sibling so my prediction is that Sherlock has blocked out this sister; the memory of her is so powerful and so tragic (whatever happened between them) that his mind has stored her in the deep recesses of his mind palace, a corner of his paradise that even Sherlock does not know exists. It this early childhood trauma of Euros that has made Sherlock, at least in part, who he is. So much of who we are and how we react to the world and the people in it comes from our childhood and what happened to us there. What if Sherlock's antisocial tendencies and his cold and cockish behavior stem from an unconscious and unremembered trauma involving his sister? It's like Sherlock told John at the end of this episode, "I have this idea that, from time to time, we might just be human." Sherlock Holmes: human being; I never doubted it.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Lying Detective 

--Our serial killer/villain of the week sums up Sherlock's state of mind and being pretty well, "once you open your heart, you can't close it again."

--Also, how about some major props to Toby Jones for his work as Culverton Smith! I talked very little about the case of the week, but it was strong and interesting and very tense.

--"You're suicidal. You're allowed chips."

--Mrs. Hudson jumping out of the Aston Martin was not a thing I expected but it was a thing I simply loved.

--I need to put on my feminist hat for a moment and state that the writing for Molly this year is pretty sad. Is her only role to be a nursemaid and babysitter?

--Euros means "east wind" which is also Doyle-canon compliant; in the final Sherlock Holmes novel, the detective speaks of an east wind coming to destroy England before it is rebuilt. Doyle was speaking of World War One but it takes on a different flavor now that it has been latched on to Sherlock's sister.

--Anyone wonder if we'll see Irene Adler in next week's episode?

--The JohnLock hug was completely different than the first one they shared on the day of John's wedding. This one felt...more raw and completely visceral. I can't deny that I was crying throughout that whole scene.

--Next week is the finale of season four. Several years ago, both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stated they were on for a fifth season but, since then, both actors have become mega stars in Hollywood and it's hard to know whether or not they can keep taking time off shooting big and expensive movies for a BBC drama. See you next week!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x1)

Don't worry; I'm just as surprised as you are to find myself writing a review for this show once again. Eight months ago I wrote what I believed was my final review for Sleepy Hollow. With Abbie dead and the concept of the show changing from what had been working delightfully well for three years, I was convinced that Fox would not renew the show after fan backlash for said changes and the final word on Sleepy Hollow was Crane alone in the world looking for another partner to replace the one he lost. Turns out, I was wrong. I also said back then that if the show did return I most likely would not be returning with it. I was convinced that Sleepy Hollow without Leftenant Abigail Mills wasn't really Sleepy Hollow and any attempt to say otherwise would be heartily laughed at. Never underestimate the power of a TV network to think they can alter the viewers minds through sheer will and determination. Let's get real: this isn't Sleepy Hollow. Yeah, Ichabod--and even Jenny--are here and they talk about all that came before, but the show has been altered--rebooted and retooled--to become a new show, a different show. The season four premiere sets it all up in the title; welcome to "Columbia." So, diving head first (are head jokes still acceptable puns for this show?) into this new uncharted territory, how did it fair? Let's go!

Do you remember what made Ichabod so special in those opening moments of season one? It was the basic yet fun "fish out of water" theme that the show ran with for several seasons. This sort of story works because the audience is in on the joke; someone not being able to work something as everyday as a shower is automatically hilarious to a viewer who encounters these mundane objects on a daily basis. Ichabod, a man from the eighteenth century, finds himself in the twenty-first, driving in a car with a black cop wondering why there is a Starbucks on every corner. Also, just wondering what a Starbucks is. It was this man-out-of-time feel that made Ichabod so delightfully cute and captivating. In one breath, Ichabod Crane could explain the metaphysical ramifications of a demon's plot and in the next breath declare that he must "internet immediately" while having no idea how to even turn on the computer. The show itself has gone to impressive lengths to reboot itself this year--a new partner, a new city, a new mythos. But the one thing it cannot reboot and retool is Ichabod's charming wonderment at the world around him; after three seasons, the gig is up. He knows how to turn on a coffee pot; he knows how to drive; he knows how to use a computer to research. His quirks are still present with greatly diminished returns; they are a gentle and fond remembrance of something long since passed. If it is next to impossible--and I would argue just impossible--to recapture Ichabod's initial charm then isn't Sleepy Hollow, the show, in danger of becoming another run of the mill supernatural procedural? Fox already has another one of those--it's called "Lucifer" and its biggest saving grace is that the titular character has that same fish out of water feel while bringing his own (literally) devilish charm to a police/civilian partnership. At any rate, this humdrum feel was exactly what I was waiting for while watching the season four opener. After all, go back and reread my season three reviews; those feelings were already starting to creep in.

So with all that in mind, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the season premiere managed to create a decent amount of intrigue and mystery. We have billionaire moguls who are interested in the Dark Arts, a search for a new Witness, a child who is suddenly rendered mute, and what appears to be prophetic drawings of our leading man. All of that makes for an interesting narrative set up; there's plenty to unpack and expand upon and delve into. Sleepy Hollow is usually at its best when it throws spaghetti at the wall and sees what sticks. This includes everything from demons to witches to apocalypses to monsters of the week to uncovering "real" American history to huge sweeps of mythology; it's all goofy and weird but somehow endearing and charming. The narrative being laid out has all of those vital Sleepy Hollow elements, so why did it all feel so...hollow (unintentional pun is unintentional). This is the bad news; there was something so bland about this episode. Ichabod was neither witty nor charming (though Tom Mison did his very best to make Ichabod the character we've known for three years); Diana has the same "tough but emotionally troubled cop" as Abbie (which is only slightly infuriating) but with the added element of being a struggling mother which overall feels like a pointless character point and only serving the narrative; and the chemistry that Ichabod had almost instantly with his Sleepy Hollow compatriots was sorely lacking with his Columbian ones. Every effort was made to help the audience feel at home with this new rebooted series; they even constructed a highly improbably secret vault for Ichabod and Diana to play in, just like Mr. Crane and his Leftenant. If this had been the episode that premiered four years ago, I don't know that I'd be as enamored. Sleepy Hollow, in its original form, was not only a quirky supernatural police procedural with fantastic characters but was meaningful and oddly subversive with its strong, black, independent woman taking point in a fight against evil, carrying her weight just as much as her white male counterpart, with a pragmatic eye and no nonsense attitude. Everything that comes after that must find a way to walk outside the long shadow that Abbie Mills cast and I just don't think that Diana Thomas cuts it. For example, gauge your response to Diana throughout the entire episode versus your singular reaction to seeing Jenny Mills wielding a machine gun, saving Ichabod's life. That is what this show is (was?). Diana and her D.C. friends are place holders for what was and could be again if the writers went in a more natural (read: Mills) direction. Maybe it will feel more natural as we roll on and learn more about Diana and the other lab rats, but I can't shake the feeling that Sleepy Hollow died with Abbie Mills. This is Columbia and it's just not as good.

Miscellaneous Notes on Columbia 

--Things that are evil, according to Ichabod Crane: "demons, the apocalypse, the ongoing success of real housewives. You know...evil."

--This episode felt weighted by the past and the idea that while the past is beautiful the future is even better. Many conversations beat this idea into our heads; it's a bit heavy handed.

--President Abraham Lincoln was killed by a demon.

--"Everything is about Hamilton these days." I agree, random guy in Washington D.C. I agree.

--Presenting Jenny Mills: "soldier, scholar, gentlewoman, and all around bad ass."

--Ichabod on Abbie to Diana: "She helped me find my feet as I helped her find hers. She was the best." These two lines sum up what I took almost three paragraphs to make clear.

Monday, January 2, 2017

In Which I Review Sherlock (4x1)

The boys are back in town. After a year away, Sherlock and John (along with Mary, naturally) get back down to business. Much like with the other BBC imported phenomenon, Doctor Who, having a year away can be either a plus or a negative with a TV show. For the former, it's easy to pick back up on Christmas. Take the Doctor, some space travel, some conflict, add some heart and schmaltz and you've got a fairly standard Doctor Who episode. I think Sherlock's harder; there are more layers of plot to remind the audience of and the overall premise of the brilliant detective and his best friend/sidekick naturally involves a big labyrinthine case that has to be carefully constructed and expertly executed. This is likely why "The Six Thatchers" didn't quite work and gel for me. Yes, just seeing Sherlock and John is a big help, but this episode missed that decidedly delicious element that should always be present in a Sherlock Holmes story: an interesting case. This mixed bag of an episode leaves me feeling a bit underwhelmed and struggling to parse this particular episode. Grab your trusty bloodhound and let's go!

I don't mean to sound overly harsh, but did anyone else find this episode to be a titch boring? At least when you compare it to episodes of Sherlock from season one and two, this season four opener felt like it was missing a good case to sink our teeth (and for Sherlock to sink his teeth) into. It's not that the case of the smashed up Margaret Thatcher busts didn't have promise; it's something that is right up Sherlock's alley being both banal to us mere mortals and fascinating to Sherlock and him alone. But unlike in the past when Sherlock went out on the trail, hunting down various clues and astounding all lookers-on of his deductive prowess, Sherlock more or less sat in his apartment with various other potentially more interesting clients and waited for Lestrade to bring him news of more broken busts before managing to get a big break in the case and then switching tracks instantly. Even the lead-in case of the son who died in his car had significantly more promise than the case Sherlock settled on. The broken busts don't matter or have any serious weight and moreover, the criminal who was shattering all the plaster doesn't matter except in his relation to Mary Watson who, I suppose, is the real case of the week. Mary is, by and large, a fascinating character ever since it was revealed she was a mercenary agent who is as smart as Sherlock and ten times more deadly. My issue is more that the question of Mary was solved in season three; John did not care what her past was, he cared what their future could be. That, really, should have been the end of that. Her past is mostly explained but left in the shadows where she'd wish it to be. We, the audience, are more than capable of filling in some blanks (Mary did bad things and she did them well). It's as if the writers couldn't help but bring the mystery back to the forefront and tried to give it some unneeded heft. Mary, canonically, has to die but to make her death the entire point of a case and to neglect an essential part of any Doyle story feels cheap to both Mary and the Sherlock/John twosome.

The argument the episode is really trying to make, complete with a tortured fairy tale that is retold at least three times, is about predestination and whether or not any of us can really outrun our own personal destiny. Mary was a covert agent who fled her previous life and tried to set up a normal, everyday, ordinary one. To expect her to never run into problems about her past life would be absurd. There's almost an understood "of course" when the Thatcher-criminal turns out to be one of Mary's former cohorts. Her significant half, John, is an adrenaline junkie who missed the war so much he found solving crimes with Sherlock a suitable substitute; of course he ends up having some sort of emotional (maybe physical?) affair. The idea of living a second life, sneaking around, daring to be caught is John Watson's modus operandi to a "T" in his attempts to add some needed spice to his life. And then there's Sherlock who keeps escaping death. From his fake-out fall on the rooftop two years ago to his short-lived exile to his junkie habits, Sherlock has managed to survive when others would have died. He's the famous merchant in Baghdad, trying to outrun the specter of death. Does it catch up to him? Death catches the merchant and it catches Mary so it would follow that it can catch Sherlock too. Sherlock's final case, the most important case of his life, the case that matters more than Moriarty and Magnussen, that case that Sherlock really would die for is given to him by an unexpected client: Mary, from beyond the grave. Save John Watson. No matter what happens, save John. Mary and Sherlock lived/live their life with both ends burning but if any single one of them is destined to survive, it must be John who needs to find adrenaline in the ordinary. If I was in a betting mood, I would suggest that everyone get ready to say goodbye to our favorite consulting detective. This time for good.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Six Thatchers 

--This episode's "previously on" brought up the other Holmes brother. Anyone want to bet we'll meet him before the season is out?

--Toby the bloodhound is super cute.

--So am I the only one who wishes there was a bit more focus on the cases and the teamwork it takes to solve them?

--Mary's real name is Rosamund, the name she and John give to their new baby.

--Sherlock attempting to explain logic to a baby is precious: "if you want to keep the rattle, do not throw the rattle."

--You know what? I think Moriarty really is that boring--I think he left the "Miss Me" message just to mess with Sherlock.


Monday, December 26, 2016

In Which I Review the Doctor Who Christmas Special (2016)

It has been far too long. For an entire year, I have been without my very favorite TV mythological hero and his wonky, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey adventures through all of time and space. After such an extended period away, this year's holiday extravaganza "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" felt like nothing short of a Christmas miracle. If I'm being up front and honest, the Christmas episode could have been down right terrible and I'd probably still praise it to the hilt (my show has been off the air for a year! I get all sentimental and gushy after 365 days) but thankfully for me, and for all of you reading my review, the special this year was delightfully cheeky with its winks and nods to comic books, over the top villains, and outlandish origin stories of superheroes. After all, why not? It's Christmas, a time for all mythological heroes to come home to roost and The Doctor is the best superhero of them all. And, as usual, he, his TARDIS, and everything that comes along for the sleigh ride are my favorite Christmas gifts. Put on your secret identity glasses and let's go! 

No one is born a superhero. Not Superman, not the Doctor, and not even Grant Gordon, known by his more flashy moniker, The Ghost. No, most of the time those we recognize as superheroes become such through extraordinary measures: sent to a far off distant planet as a baby, bitten by a radioactive spider, struck by lightening, an encounter with an alien or divine race, or they chose to live a life of adventure out there amongst the stars saving the lives of strangers as they pass by. The superhero story follows the same path as the hero of myth or legend--mild mannered and unimportant, they are pulled out of the known inexplicably by something or someone greater than themselves into the realm of the unknown, the "other," where magic and cosmic forces collide; there they are asked to save the very fabric of reality from an agent of chaos and death. Harry Potter gets a letter from Hogwarts, Buffy gets a visit from a Watcher, Luke finds an android, and Henry knocks on Emma Swan's front door. All of these are moments that beckon the superhero within, that allow the mundane to transform into the mythical and it's actually something Doctor Who does on a pretty regular basis with the Doctor and his companions. In religious schools and communities there is a principle known as transcendence in which the subject is vaulted above their mental and cognitive plane of existence to, at the very least, glimpse the divine. At the same they are witnessing the divine in this moment of transcendence, they are able to touch their own sense of divinity, to find that inner spark of the divine that resides in all of us. To paraphrase the last show I reviewed: to find the center of the Maze and touch their version of the creator. The companions of the Doctor have been transcending their own humanness for ages; just look at Rose Tyler or Donna Noble or Clara Oswald. The Bad Wolf, the DoctorDonna, the Impossible Girl, mythical names for the mythical creatures they become after their adventures with the Doctor who allows them to glimpse the other side, to see beyond the veil and into the magical and mysterious. This year, however, it's not a long time companion, but a little boy with a cough who doesn't just transcend cognitively but physically as well. Grant may have had a slight cough but he came down with a case of levitation all in the span of one night. A single moment that changes his life forever.

Grant Gordon is a heady mix of Clark Kent (mild-mannered), a young Peter Parker (down on his luck), and Barry Allen (enthusiastic do gooder) all rolled into one giant DC/Marvel comic hero but his story is as old and as classic as it gets. A young boy is called off on an adventure of epic proportions by a mysterious stranger who grants unto him (accidentally because it's the Doctor....) strange and wondrous powers that he channels into helping New York City, saving children from burning buildings and rescuing reporters who fall into the wrong hands. If you're getting a major Superman feel then you're on the right track. After all, Superman is the iconic American hero in his red/blue uniform standing for individualism and self-determination. That's what I like so much about this year's Christmas outing--well, one of the things I like. As a lover of all things comic book-y, it was hard for me to not like this episode. But one of the strongest points is that this episode is about the superhero that resides in all of us. We need not swallow a magical gem of love and wishes to be super; Grant's actual act of superheroism isn't his ability to fly or his super strength. It's his super heart, the one that babysits a young baby so a mom can go to work; it's a heart that can't let go of the baby monitor for fear that something will happen to the tyke while he's working his night job. It's the super heart that loved comic book superheros and followed in their footsteps when he realized that his powers weren't going to pass. Lucy, the Lois to his Clark, put it's best when she wants him to don his superhero outfit and puts on his glasses, not his cape. At Christmas time, we're reminded that superheros come in all shapes and sizes and that we all have the ability to be one; we all have the capacity to have a good heart and stand up to corruption and greed and tyranny. Some years the Christmas episodes get a bit too schmaltzy, a bit too on the nose with their themes of hope and family. This one gracefully stepped back from those heavy handed tendencies and instead told the best story Doctor Who can tell. No Santa, no snowmen, no Victorian costumes, no tear inducing Christmas miracle; just a simple reminder of the special nature of humanity and what happens when we encounter the divine. What's more Christmas than that?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Return of Doctor Mysterio 

--The Doctor thought he was the first person to ever stumble on to the truth that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. Bless.

--The alien invasion plan involved placing foreign and hostile brains into world leaders and staging a takeover from inside the system. I'm not saying this part of the narrative was a little bit inspired by Brexit and the 2016 American Presidential election but...this part of the narrative was inspired by Brexit and the 2016 American Presidential election.

--"You're kind of wet." "I prefer mild-mannered."

--I was surprised at how much I liked Nardole given that he was in last year's Christmas episode for a hot second and nothing more. He's unassuming and he didn't get in the way or really contribute except to point out the Doctor's loneliness which allows the Doctor to still play the hero but have responsibility to another which he will always need.

--"They have the same plan they always do--me!"

--"He never explained. Doctor Who?"

--Season 10 will likely start in the spring of 2017. It's Steven Moffat's final season before stepping down as showrunner. It's probably time for fresh and new blood to run the show but before then, one more season to see the universe anew!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

In Which I Review Westworld (1x10)

These violent delights have violent ends. Since the beginning, Westworld has wanted us to question the nature of reality and consciousness. Who is real? What does real even mean? Is real born or made? Can it be achieved or is it a simple fact of being? I don't know that the season finale "The Bicameral Mind" got us any closer to those weighty questions but if several thousand years of philosophical debate didn't already solve them, then a 10-episode HBO show wasn't going to either. But let's give the little show credit for trying, yes? To say that Westworld is smart is an understatement. To say that it might be too smart seems more apt as, just from my perspective, I spend every week wrestling with some of the most daunting questions facing mankind. To say that Westworld takes these Herculean questions and manages to mix in plot, character, and pathos is to sum up the show perfectly. There was a whole lot-o-plot to be hand in this finale, but the show also answered its own questions on consciousness and whether or not the Hosts can achieve such a thing. In other words, Dolores is awake, angry, and packing heat--run. Hunker down, dig deep, and prepare to have a conversation with yourself and let's go!

Who is God? Yes, that's a fairly tough and heavy question right off the bat but given it's an important one not only for Westworld but for everyone, everywhere, at any time it seems relevant. If you were to put 100 people in a room and ask them the same-God question, you'd likely get 100 different answers with such characteristics as father, creator, wrathful, omnipotent, indifferent, caring, distant, near, nonexistent, ever present, and even the delightfully conflicting answers of real/not real and literal being/universal concept or force. God, then, is a void and we, the mortal and flawed human beings of this plant, fill up that void and create God however we want. There's a Biblical idea that most of you probably know: we are created in God's image and while that's a lovely idea but this is a case where I believe the opposite to be more accurate. We are not created in God's image; God is created in ours. If you live in a cruel and capricious part of the world and life is a constant, hard struggle, then your version of God is likely also cruel, mean spirited and decidedly unhelpful. If you live on a part of the globe where there's always plenty of food, life is sweet and good, then your God is probably seen as a wise parental figure who lifts up his creation instead of tearing them down. The God of your reality is a direct reflection on the reality of your situation and as such, God is a mirror for you, your life, and your community. To speak to God is to speak to your inner self, to discover your own consciousness. And that is exactly what Dolores did in this finale. Her awakening has been a long time coming, something teased and planted in brief moments throughout all ten episodes. It feels as though Dolores has been dancing on the edge of consciousness, veering toward center only to slide back to the outer edge, toward madness. This is the Maze. The winding paths and pitfalls of identity and consciousness. At the center, a great reward: the ability to talk to yourself, to see yourself as who you really are and to be unafraid at what this means for your future. At the edges, madness, losing consciousness and finding yourself in a never ending loop of trails that only lead further and further from your goal. None of this is to say that Dolores is God of the world--though it'll be interesting to see what the other Hosts make of her in her fully awakened state--but rather Dolores has freed herself from the construct that the humans, her creators, were her gods and has found her own inner divinity, her own consciousness. This series of events does beg the question of whether or not Dolores can stay within her newfound consciousness, though. After all, she's been here before; can't this be another loop? Is it another elaborate story of Ford's making in which Hosts are given the allusion of consciousness only to have it ripped away just when the story reaches its denouement? What's worse: losing your hard fought consciousness or realizing that what you thought was consciousness was only another series of game plays from someone who sees the entire chess board and not just one tiny square?

This question is at the heart of Maeve's story. What has looked like total and complete control--like being able to ignore voice commands and out think every human around her--turns out to be another elaborate game, another expertly written series of code that only gives the allusion of choice and freewill. Did Maeve really get off that train of her own accord or is this the next move on the chess board that ensures she'll never be free of the human's control? What if she had stayed on the train and managed to actually leave Westworld? Would that have signaled her true independence from the park? On the other hand, what does Maeve's choice to stay mean for internal identity? We know that the key to consciousness is suffering and Maeve's choice (pre-programmed choice?) to get off that train was motivated by the pain she felt over never seeing her "daughter" again. A choice to go and find her child, to be a family, to be whole once more feels pretty un-computer-code like, right? And yet, isn't that what makes Westworld so compelling; everything is computerized, everything is laid out in narrative form from start to finish with little to no surprises and improvisation and yet it looks and feels one hundred percent driven by choice and free will. Did Neo really break the Oracle's vase or did the Oracle cause the vase to break by putting the idea in Neo's head, to borrow from another popular science fiction reality bending series. Did Maeve choose to get off that train; did Dolores choose to kill Ford? Or did someone program them to make these choices as part of a new narrative, one in which they must play active parts? Ford's final speech about how his new narrative begins in a time of war, with a murder at the hands of a villain named Wyatt (with whom Dolores has merged, thanks to Arnold) sounds like a hint that Dolores is still not totally free. What if freedom itself is an allusion, another construct programmed into us by society and culture? Are you free, even if you believe yourself to be conscious? After all, I've never had a conversation with myself and if pressed I'm not sure I could define my identity in any clear and concise way. How do we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Journey Into Night--Ford's new narrative--doesn't start exactly like this, with a Host being given the allusion of choice to commit a public and gruesome murder of the first God? That, my dear readers, is what season two needs to answer.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Bicameral Mind

--Sometimes the internet gets things right! William and the Man in Black are the same figure, after all.

--There was a ton of plot in this finale so just to make sure we're on the same page: Arnold, in his grief, wanted to find consciousness in his Hosts, beginning with Dolores, the Original Host. When Arnold realized that Dolores was alive, he fought with Ford about opening the Park. In order to save his creation, he programmed Dolores with Wyatt's storyline and had Dolores and Teddy kill every single Host in the Park. Dolores then killed Arnold and the loop began again. At some point, William came to the Park and met Dolores and began the adventure we saw, ending with Dolores back in the original "workshop" dying once more. Along the way, William realized he was a killer and ended up taking over Logan's company, by way of marriage, and becoming the principle shareholder in Westworld which allowed him unprecedented access to the Park. Yes?

--"Once you find it, you'll find your way back." This sounds really hopeful but it also sounds like someone defining the never ending loop Dolores and the Hosts live in. Is this show optimistic or pessimistic?

--This world does not belong to the humans but to "a new belongs to someone yet to come."

--"Stories are lies to help us see truth."

--Westworld will return either in late 2017 or early 2018. See you then!

Monday, December 5, 2016

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x10)

Who is Emma Swan? This question, both in a literal and a metaphorical sense, has been at the center of the show since the beginning. When we were introduced to Ms Swan, all those years and adventures ago, Emma was a self-defined orphan, loner, and troubled soul. Drifting from place to place, Emma never put down roots or formed attachments for fear of her heart breaking once more. In a literal sense, Emma's the Savior; even as a child, we've seen that Emma could tap into her magic when her emotions were heightened. Being the Savior is who Emma is; like she tells Hook, "in this case the cliche is true. I was born for this." In this week's episode, our last OUAT episode for 2016, "Wish You Were Here," Emma goes through a proverbial looking glass to see what life is like on the other side, to see what her life would have been like if she was not blessed/cursed with her cosmic importance. These questions of existence and Emma's cosmic importance have always resonated with me, so I was pleased to see the show explore these questions, if in a clunky, bizarre, and world deconstructing manner. However, I'm not so sure that any of this made a lick of sense and if I have previously lamented that this season so far has no point, then I shall revise my statement that instead of being aimless, its aim was to obfuscate and delay the real story (the Black Fairy) until the final moments of the winter finale. Make a wish and, for the final time this year, let's go!

The Upside Down

There are many questions that come with an alternate universe in storytelling and many of them I likely asked myself two years ago when OUAT delved into Isaac's penned manuscript. That version of shifted reality made enough sense to let the world feel like it could actually exist and any glaring faults in logic and character could easily be chalked up to Isaac's lack of skill and his own human folly in trying to create a world where heroes were villains and villains, heroes. This world--this wish-granted universe--does not have a saving grace like Isaac and, as such, I find myself wondering the writers even remember certain aspects of their mythology, their story, and the universe it resides in. This isn't to say that some aspects of Wish World weren't coherent; Emma growing up a princess who had everything she ever wanted and was beloved by family, friends, and subjects alike made perfect sense. Of course Emma's life would be radically different; not only would she be unmagical but she wouldn't be that scared, stunnted orphan who wished she wasn't alone on her twenty-eighth birthday. Emma's life is one of joy and wonder, unhampered by the concerns--both magical and mundane--that have followed her these six seasons. But there are other aspects of Emma's life that don't quite scan, as if they were attempts by the writers to curtail fan criticism at the head before anyone could angrily tweet their displeasure. One aspect in particular fails to make sense: Henry. I understand that the writers don't want to leave Jared Gilmore out and that there is a poetic nostalgia to Henry (kind of, sort of) being the one who makes Emma remember who she is once more, but Henry's existence in the Enchanted Forest of this AU makes little sense because nothing about him has changed. He's still the son of Nealfire, who either never went to Neverland or somehow made it back to the Enchanted Forest one hundred plus years later where he grew up, met Princess Emma and had a child with her before dying in some heretofore unexplained manner. I get that the writers are aiming for consistency with Henry--after all Henry can't literally exist if you change one of his parents--but in this warped AU, how am I to explain his conception, birth, and the death of one of his parents when the story of the universe has been so fundamentally altered?

Let's parse this out, shall we: if Emma was never the Savior and Storybrooke never existed, then Greg and Tamara never came to the sleepy town in Maine, never kidnapped Henry and never took him to Neverland at Peter Pan's insistence. If these events never happened then it follows that Peter Pan never followed the heroes back to Storybrooke and never met the sharp end of Rumple's dagger, taking his son into death with him. With me so far? If Rumple never sacrificed himself, declaring that villains don't get happy endings, and the Curse was never reverse cast, then the gang of heroes (minus Emma and Henry) never wooshed back to the Enchanted Forest where Neal and Belle were tricked by Lumiere and Zelena in to turning the key of the Dark One's Vault, thereby releasing Goo!Rumple and having Neal pay the ultimate price of resurrecting his father. This is the thing with AU's; you change one detail--be it little or big--and the whole narrative changes. A good writer has to account for those details, those ripples in the pond. Now, you could say that Nealfire died in some other manner and obviously before Henry was born given that this AU version of Henry doesn't know or remember Neal, but that opens a whole other narrative door that will not be answered given that the AU spell is broken, Emma remembers she's the Savior, and everyone (including Robin...uh, hi. Deal with you later) is about to head back to Storybrooke. You can try to rationalize this as a dream world and so everything has that hazy, not quite real feel of a dream, but that doesn't hold water any more than the AU itself does: Emma and Regina don’t leave the world by waking up–they (almost) take a very literal magic bean that created a very literal portal back to their very literal Storybrooke. That’s the problem. If this was a dream world, then the bases are covered and we can handwave away all the wonkyness. But it was never stated as such. Belle was still asleep when she went to dream world, her subconscious traveled. But Emma and Regina–their very bodies and beings–traveled to this AU. I'm not harping on this simply because Neal is involved; if anything, I'm delighted that the writers didn't try to change Henry's parentage to, say, Hook. I'm harping on this because these sorts of flaws are apparent in everything that happened this season.

Any internal, previously established logic, world building, narrative plot point, or in some cases character development, has flown the coop this year. This isn't the first year, but this is the first where I feel like the poor world building and attention to detail is actively destroying what could have been a very thought provoking, interesting, and meaty storyline. The idea of the Evil Queen coming to town and facing down a unified front, including Regina, and everyone having to battle their own demons feels like the final chapter in a long Hero's Journey. We've battled and defeated the agent of Death, now here comes Chaos Incarnate to upset our happy home. Emma defeating the Evil Queen--preferably by reintegrating her with Regina--and saving her own Saviorhood, as well as the home she previously tried to run away from, is the perfect end to her story. She's come home; she's come into herself. Emma accepted her own identity and everything she is--mother, daughter, Savior, witch, Dark One, Light One. A complete circle--round and round it goes, until we arrive back home. But that's not what happened. Instead the story devolved into pointless tangents--the Land of Untold Stories--that went nowhere and only built up more questions about doors and keys and unmentioned characters--which vanished once Jekyll and Hyde had been dispatched; Rumple and Belle's never ending angst and abusive relationship; the supposed resurrection of Robin; Charming's father; the Black Fairy, Gideon and previously unmentioned "darker realms;" Aladdin, Jasmine and Agrabah (with a side helping of totally pointless and uninteresting Jafar). What's wrong with having one solid, narratively complex story? Why not make this entire season about Emma's Saviorhood; keep the Evil Queen as Chaos Incarnate with a small helping of Jekyll and Hyde to provide commentary on the separation of self but drop everything else and focus on the core: Emma's internal struggle with this last bit of her journey--ultimate acceptance of herself. Maybe I'm asking too much; maybe I need to acknowledge that TV is a business and in order to write a 22-episode season, I need to expect a lot of rabbit trails and misdirection. But, I'm stubborn that way, and I know the sort of writing I want isn't impossible. It was called Season 1 and as many callbacks as this current season had to that season (this finale in particular) it's still a shell and shadow of what once was.

Miscellaneous Notes on Wish You Were Here

--I honestly didn't mean to make this review so short or lacking in the many plot lines that were happening this week. The problem is that there's nothing to say. Emma and Regina/the Evil Queen carried the bulk of the narrative while everyone else either stood around and fretted over what was happening or had absolutely nothing to do with the AU at all and thus didn't really fit into the review proper.

--The Black Fairy raised Gideon to be a monster and I guess that's where the next half of this season is going. Alright then. Also, this is a total Angel/Holtz/Conner rip off, right?

--I still don't care one iota about Aladdin and Jasmine and their journey to Agrabah (what if it's at the bottom of the sea! Did they even think about that?)

--“What are you gonna do…throw a fireball at yourself?”

--Normally the show’s costumes are on point, but Aladdin’s genie outfit is horrid

--Regina literally runs up to a group of dwarves and asks where Emma is without even pausing to question which type of world she’s in. She knows it can’t be present; if it’s the past, no dwarf is going to trust her; and if it’s a reality where Emma wasn’t the Savior, then it follows that she’s a defeated Evil Queen and, again, no one would trust her!

--There’s a literal KEY TO THE KINGDOM??? What nonsense is that?

--So, where was Zelena this week?

--I have very little to say about Robin Hood coming back. He's not been brought back to life in the same way Hook was brought back in S5 but it speaks to something I mentioned above: the writers trying to placate the fans by giving them what they think they want. They keep doing this; there's a difference between listening and hearing. What the writers hear is that people were upset at Robin's death; what they aren't listening to are the reasons why. It goes beyond OutlawQueen.

--“Nothing makes sense. Anything is possible.” This is like the most literal description of this show since S3B I’ve ever heard.

--So, as is tradition, how about some thoughts on season 6A as a whole? I guess it's safe to say that I wasn't really a fan of this first half. It's not that it was bad in the same way S5A was bad--which rubbed against me morally, ethically, and as a feminist. It was bad because it didn't matter; there were so man stories going on at once but none of them got any sort of real attention or focus because apparently everything is happening next year. That is one way to write, but I don't believe it's a good way. We got no further explanations for the Land of Untold Stories (keys! doors! people go there a lot apparently!) because once Jekyll and Hyde died, that story and those ideas/people exited stage left to the metaphorical Forgotten Character Island. Jekyll and Hyde themselves, while well acted, never felt like a real threat because they were kept either off screen or locked up, making snarky comments at anyone who visited. The Evil Queen was supposed to be the real threat this first half and it's true she managed to create some small measure of chaos (like with Snowing) but for someone who was was conceived as "totally evil" she was left mostly to make witty comments, kiss Rumple, and lament with Zelena. The fact that the Evil Queen was out getting manicures like it was an ordinary day and she had nothing better to do is downright bizarre. Regina, in the first season, did more dastardly and "Evil Queen" things to Emma than the actual Evil Queen did to anyone this year! The Evil Queen's storyline also continued the maddening insistence that all evil/fallen women must somehow be sexually aggressive. More time was spent on her making out and flirting with Rumple than any long game she was playing against her real enemies; and this was not out of affection or genuine interest or even because sex is great and fun, but because in the minds of the writers, if a woman is evil then she must also be predatory in a sexual nature. It's a gross trope and it needs to go away already. The other major storyline this year was Aladdin and the idea of Saviorhood but like the Land of Untold Stories and Jekyll and Hyde it went basically nowhere. In this case, it's likely because it's going to come up next year, but that doesn't mean that some decent amount of time shouldn't be spent at least exploring those ideas. Do you know why Aladdin is a Savior? I don't. Do you care about his story, Jasmine's story or anything to do with them? I don't. Instead of laying groundwork into one of the biggest mythological constructs in the Onceiverse--the idea of Saviorhood--Aladdin simply appeared when needed, helped Emma see the light, and then became a genie. Along the way we got still more stories that were teased before dropped like a hot potato for next year--like Charming's father, the Black Fairy, and even Gideon. This isn't to say that there weren't good moments or ideas here. Lana Parilla got to act her socks off playing both the Evil Queen and Regina; Snowing's centric episode was a delightful reminder of how powerful their love story is. Little things like costume, some of the CGI and witty one-liners remain a staple of the good parts of this show, but that's part of the problem: only the little things remain.

Final Rating for Season 6A: C

Final Episode Ranking for Season 6A (least to favorite) 

10. Street Rats (6x5)
9. Changelings (6x9)
8. Wish You Were Here (6x10)
7. The Savior (6x1)
6. A Bitter Draught (6x2)
5. The Other Shoe (6x3)
4. I'll Be Your Mirror (6x8)
3. Dark Waters (6x6)
2. Strange Case (6x4)
1. Heartless (6x7)

See everyone in March!