Saturday, January 2, 2016

In Which I Review Sherlock (New Year's Day 2016)

Well. Okay then. You know, I had absolutely no idea what to expect going into this one-off New Year's Day Sherlock special entitled "The Abominable Bride." None at all. Yes, I had seen the trailers and the photos and knew that somehow, inexplicably, we, and our two leading men, were cast into the late 1800s and looked far more like Holmes and Watson that they typically do; but aside from those obvious (and very confusing) spoilers, I had virtually no idea what this episode of Sherlock was even going to be about. What I got was one of the very best episodes of Sherlock we've ever seen. This is the sort of smart, witty, snappy writing I've come to expect from Moffat/Gatiss on this, their other BBC show. Sometimes Sherlock gets bogged down in the tricks and the trappings of a detective story (to be fair, it *is* a detective story) and often becomes a bit too gadget and direction-happy and won't let the audience breathe and enjoy, but this trip back to 1895 was exactly what the good doctor ordered. Grab a pipe, a funny hat, and a cup of good cheer: the boys are back in town! 

My review is going to be rather brief because while the plot is vast in scope, the themes of the episode really boil down to one important question. The question we, the fans, have been asking for a little over a year: is Moriarty alive and how did he survive the modern day Reichenbach Fall? To answer this question, Sherlock (as he is wont to do) go deep into his mind palace and tries to solve another famous crime: that of Emelia Ricoletti, the Abominable Bride. That is the bare bones summation of this plot line. Everything you see back in 1895 is a (sadly drug fueled) trip into the famous mind palace in order to reflect into the present and answer that all important question. But that doesn't mean that our trip to the past isn't incredibly fun. It feels as though Moffat and Gatiss sat for weeks at a computer, scouring through the best of and AO3 in order to come up with a sensible plot line that was true to Doyle's writing and true to the characters as they have conceived of them in modern day London. They knew that they had a hard task before them, to whet the appetites of the admittedly rabid Sherlock fanbase while admitting that it was going to take at least another year before we get season 4 (damn Cumberbatch and Freeman and their rising-star careers). In order to do that, the writing duo decided to have a little bit of fun. An alternative universe, if you will. It's common enough in fanfiction. Setting the story back in the Doyle era of the original Holmes, we are given a little New Years Day treat but all the while not expecting any of this to be canonized. A romp in the garden, then. We get some fun with our favorite detective boys and are pacified until 2017. Instead, Moffat and Gatiss pulled the rug out from under our feet and made everything about this episode relate to the present tense. And it was insanely well executed.

Right off the bat, the death of Emelia Ricoletti feels familiar. A deranged and macabre woman blows her brains out in front of an audience and then somehow rises from the grave to terrorize all of England. It's Moriarty in a fancy wedding dress. Could Moriarty have survived his death blow? Well, sure; why not? Sherlock survived his fall, after all, and every hero needs a villain in their story. The hero need that element against which they fight in order to prove that they are the hero in the tale being told (this all sounds very Doctor Who-ish, does it not?) The case of the Abominable Bride is not really about Ricoletti, then. Yes, Sherlock in the modern day, having taken an entire lists worth of illegal drugs, is trying to solve the case as his plane lands from whence it too off only moments prior, but in reality, Sherlock is trying to solve Moriarty's case viz a viz Mrs. Ricoletti. It's a great one-two punch because while the Ricolleti 1895 case is clearly a parallel to the 2014 Moriarty one, the audience does not grasp the supreme twist that it's all happening inside Sherlock's head until more than halfway through the tale. Honestly, you have to give some props to the writers for this clever about-face and deception. So is Moriarty alive? Well, yes and no. Is the physical being known as Moriarty alive and well? According to Sherlock, in the end, no. That creature who threatened to burn the heart out of Sherlock is dead. But the memory of Moriarty, what he represents, is. And just as Sherlock often represents logic, order, control, and systematic deduction, Moriarty is a force of chaos. He is a destructive maelstrom who tries to topple Sherlock by playing a long game with the boy genius; his modus operandi is to distract Sherlock and his work by plaguing the detective's thoughts. Sherlock Holmes will never be free of Moriarty. That voice--that chaotic malevolent force--will always be there whispering evil nothings in Sherlock's ear. It's like the 1895 vision of Moriarty says at the Reichenbach Falls, "this is how we end--always together." Moriarty and Sherlock are our very own Satan and God, tangled in a web. Remember who is locked up, deep inside Sherlock's mind palace? It's Moriarty. They are two sides of what it means to be a super genius: the hero who tries to save victims and the villain who creates them. Sherlock stands at a precipice and tries not to fall over, to become Moriarty. But, unlike his arch nemesis, Sherlock has one thing that Moriarty can never hope to have: John.

"There's always two of us!" Fake 1895 John yells before he kicks Moriarty over a cliff. It doesn't matter what the case is, or what time period they happen to be in, Sherlock would be lost without his blogger. John saves Sherlock, just as Sherlock confesses during John's wedding day. As is always the case, there are a lot of Sherlock and Watson moments that feel highly significant but once the curtain rises and we realize that the 1895 drama is, in fact, not really happening outside of Sherlock's wild mind palace, we have to understand that this mustached John is how Sherlock (our modern Sherlock, that is) conceives of his best friend. It's never been hard to deduce what John is for Sherlock--John is really Sherlock's conscience. In a world that threatens to consume the detective, Sherlock turns off all his emotions and focuses on the work and on solving the case. John is there to humanize him. When 1895 John asks his best friend "what made you like this?" it's really Sherlock wanting to know why he is the way he is. His answer is that nothing made him, Sherlock made himself. And isn't that a trifle sad? Sure, he's a brilliant detective and a world class mind, but recall the season three opener in which Sherlock all but admits that he is lonely and sad without John. Sherlock may have made himself this way, but there's always a reason. The ghost of Mrs. Ricoletti causes Sherlock to extemporize on the nature of the past and how we all have ghosts, the ones of our own making. John, as always, is there to lean on, to keep the ghosts at bay, should Sherlock need it. The question we might pause to consider, then, is what are Sherlock's ghosts. Might the mysterious Redbeard that Mycroft has written in his pocket have anything to do with why Sherlock closed himself off? Or the allusion to another Holmes brother?

There were a few other themes that were parceled out to us over the hour and a half but the one that is the strongest is women's agency (something ever so near and dear to my heart). In the 1895 drama, we get a fairly accurate (and sad) depiction of what life was like for women in the world. Either they are ignored by their husbands (Emelia Ricoletti and Mary Watson); they are mute plot devices (Mrs. Hudson with maybe some of the best lines of the night); they are objects meant to serve men but have little meaningful interaction with them (the Watson's maid); and while they might be clever and just as capable as a man, they are forced to hide their gender to get ahead in the world (Molly Hooper with the best mustache in the series. Sorry, John). The invisible amry is a reference to Moriarty's network, which I assume is going to play a significant role in season 4, but it's also a statement by the two chief writers about empowering women; that they could move mountains (or plot and plan the murder of several bad men) if we let them. For a writer (Mofatt) who has been given quite a bit of grief over his misogony on his other BBC show (looking at you, Clara kid) it's refreshing to see him (and Gatiss) make a mostly-strong statement (even if I cringe a bit that the main impetus for this women's army is all about being ill treated by men). A wee bit of speculation but I do wonder if that mission statement will carry through to Season 4. Might we see the return of Irene Adler? Guess we'll have to wait (slightly less than) an eternity to find out!

Miscellaneous Notes on The Abominable Bride

--"I'm glad you liked my potato." I laughed for five minutes solid.

--Tons of call backs and references to earlier modern day cases, which really should have been the big clue that all was not what it seemed: John and Sherlock meeting almost the same way in 1895 (complete with Mike Stamford); the dialogue and Holmes deducing that Watson was in war; the (orange) pips as a harbinger of death; the creepy moors and the supernatural creature that is really just a trick of the mind (ghost, dog); Sherlock playing John and Mary's waltz.

--Fat! Mycroft is one of the best things I've ever seen. "Did you summon me here just to humiliate me?" "Yes."

--Speaking of Mycroft, the modern day gent really does get the short end of the stick with Sherlock. He might be smarter than his little brother, but loves him deeply, as evidenced by the emotion wraught on his face both in the season three finale and in a few tender moments Mycroft tries to have in the modern world. The "I'll always be there for you" was heartbreaking given that Sherlock rejects his brother.

--"I'm your land lady, not a plot device." I want that on a t-shirt.

--"Elementary, my dear Watson." #Nerdgasam

--Men out of time, the pair of them. Bless. See everyone for season 4!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

In Which I Review the Doctor Who Christmas Special (2015)

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope my dear readers are having a lovely holiday and are ready for another round of great storytelling in this the final chapter of our favorite fairy tale (that we're going to get until next Fall, at least). This year's Christmas installment, "The Husbands of River Song," is the sort of genre bending I expect from my beloved Who. On the one hand, it's a fairy tale full of chance encounters, mistaken identities, a compelling love story, a super villain, a cheeky hero, and with a good moral lesson at the end. On the other hand, the story accepts the limitations of reality and knows that there is always an ending. I must admit that I experienced some trepidation with this years Christmas offering. While season nine of Doctor Who was mostly very good, Moffat's Christmas episode are usually hit or miss. Last year's episode entitled "Last Christmas" was decent enough as was the one three years ago (Clara's first Christmas episode); the ones in between were lackluster and dull and, frankly, the less I say about Matt Smith's final episode (also a Christmas special) the better. So it was with some strong hesitation that I tuned in to watch as the twelfth Doctor met his wife, River Song, first the first time wearing this particular (Scottish) face. And, dear readers, I was blown away. This episode was jovial and happy instead of feeling maudlin (as sometimes Moffat tends to get). It was the perfect mix of witty charm, heartfelt sadness, and epic adventure. In short: everything you want out of Doctor Who. Grab a disembodied head, prepare to commit some murder (it is Christmas after all), and let's go! 

River Song has never been a favorite of mine. I know that might be blasphemous to some, but while her story is passably interesting, I've never found it to be anything more than a riff on "The Time Traveler's Wife" novel but with a more (Moffat trademarked) timey-wimey complexity than I have neither have time nor energy for. Her relationship with the Doctor (any of them) is sweet, but I was rather shocked when Moffat had the pair get married several seasons ago. I think, like River professes in this episode, I never really expected the Doctor to love her back. Yes, he loves all his companions because, as the Doctor says to Ashildr in this season past, they are his mayflies and they remind him of the wonders of the universe, the selfsame wonders he's forgotten how to see. River is a horse of a different color from your Roses, your Marthas, your Amys, and your Claras because River is more like the Doctor in that she's got the Time Vortex spinning in her blood. She has the same time traveling, adventure seeking, shock and awe predilections that the Doctor has and in the past that's the reason why they can't stay together too long; like Ashildr, two immortals (semi-immortal in River's case) seeing the Universe would most likely end badly. But mixed in with those (admittedly complicated) feelings, I've never imagined that the Doctor loved River the same way she clearly loves him. River is Amy's daughter and the Doctor cares for her by that virtue alone. The Doctor married River as a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy and felt responsible for her after Amy was taken and River was raised the way she was. He respects her independence and her own unique lifestyle (apparently she married Stephen Fry AND two other women? You go, River Song!) The Doctor would never want harm to befall River, naturally, but he wouldn't go around putting labels on River like "love of my life" or "soul mate." To her credit, River understood that the Doctor is an ageless god and never made any demands of loving affection on him; that, more than their actual story, made the pair enjoyable to watch. However, after this episode, I get the sense that the Doctor does love River quite a bit, but it took him a long time to really accept that. He had to lose the people he loved most (remember, he's hot off the story of knowing that he's lost Clara but not remembering her at all) and face the knowledge that he's going to lose River for good, no loopholes, in order to understand that while he might be a sunset, he can admire and love her back.

This understanding from the Doctor brings me back to the fairy tale aspect of this year's Christmas story. I've always been fairly critical of Moffat and his inability to let go of some of the most high fantasy fairy tale aspects in his years on the show. He tends to play the "true love saves the day" card a bit too much and he rarely has consequences to some of the bigger thematic issues he's addressing with his characters (Clara's addiction thesis, anyone?) because it will ruin the fairy tale aspect. However, Christmas episodes are a bit special in that this is a time when it's okay to whip out some fairy tale magic and have that "happily ever after" ending because of the nature of the season. Christmas episodes in Doctor Who tend to focus on something treacly be it family, second chances, hope, unity, and so on and so forth. This isn't to say that Doctor Who doesn't often focus on those themes, but at Christmas they do come out in full force; in other words, a dead father can come back to life in a Christmas episode. It can be a bit too saccharine and sweet for anyone who wants science-fiction or meta cosmic storytelling, but it works for the show since it's only once a year. This year the theme hammered home is all about how stories end, they must end; the twist here is exploring that it's okay because you can live happily until the end which is maybe the most un-treacly sweet thing Moffat's version of Doctor Who has ever done. For example, the past season dealt with the Doctor refusing to let his and Clara's story end to the point where he became "an enemy of time and space." In this episode, River assures him that the ending doesn't matter, only the story. I do believe we are looking at the final chapter of River and the Doctor. The Singing Tower of Darillium, the Doctor giving River her Sonic Screwdriver, and the almost full diary all led to one thought: the Library is coming. River Song is going to get a message asking her to come to the universe's largest library and there she will meet the 10th Doctor and Donna Noble, and there she will die. It's how we met River and, after many years and several backwards adventures, it's time for her to go. Not everything can be avoided. The ending doesn't matter though; it's how the life is lived before the ending. The final moment of the episode show a title card that reads "and they lived happily ever after" with snow wiping away "ever after." The point, the message, our Christmas lesson this 2015 year is that it's more important that River and her Doctor lived happily for their final night together, even if it is not ever after. There is no loophole, there is no clever plan concocted at the last second to save River from her fate. Time is going to march on and River is going to go to the Library and die but our takeaway is that the life she led was a happy one; she had a final moment with the Doctor. For everyone on this Christmas, Moffat wants to remind us that endings happen; they must. Companions leave or die; Doctors regenerate; and, yes, showrunners move on. But until the ending comes, we should live happily with our memories and with those we love for as long as we can. And isn't that really the message of all fairy tales? Not to live happily ever after; no one can do that unless you're truly mythic. But, simply, to live. You can't expect a monolith to love you back, but normal, everyday humans (and Time Lords) do, can, and will. It's a sappy message, but that doesn't make it any less relevant. So, as they say in all the best fairy tales: the end.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Husbands of River Song

--How about a really big round of applause for Peter Capaldi and Alex Kingston? Their chemistry was off the charts. Simply wonderful considering that they've never been together on this show until this one episode while Alex had two episodes with David Tennant and many more with Matt Smith.

--This episode was hilarious. Moffat always knows how to write a funny line, but this year it felt like every line was a funny one:
"You don't look much like your pictures." "That's an ongoing problem for me."
"I'll kill the lights. You kill the patient."
"Stop holding my hand. People don't do that to me!"
"I'm an archaeologist from the future. I dug you up!"

--I approve wholeheartedly of the TARDIS making the Doctor wear Wilf's antlers.

--I didn't really mention it, but also in the realm of fairy tales, the Doctor is a bit of a Grinch at the start with his "carol singers will be criticized" sign. An adventure with River helps his heart grow three sizes. And because it's Christmas after all!

--The Doctor's moment to shine comes when he has to pretend to be amazed at the TARDIS being bigger on the inside.

--"I'm an archaeologist! Look! I've got a trowel!" The Sonic Trowel is 100% better than the Sonic Glasses.

--The plot of the actual episode was overall very good. The villain was presented as being bad enough that I didn't care about the moral implications of River wanting to kill Hydroflax. Unlike a lot of Moffat penned episodes, this one wasn't overly convoluted but still clever. I didn't feel like I needed a road map to understand how we got from point A to point B.

--Fun reversal of fortune with River being unable to recognize the Doctor. I did love how this exasperated the Doctor every time he tried to drop hints that he was, in fact, her Time Lord husband.

--It's hard to say where we're going from here--new adventures and a new companion certainly. Most likely, this is the last episode until well into 2016. Everyone enjoy their 24 year-night with the Singing Towers of Darillium!  

Monday, December 7, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x11)

Here we are again. Eleven episodes later and we've reached the end of another arc and with three months off ahead of us, it's time for me to sit down once more and ponder how effective the storytelling on OUAT has been for the past 3ish months. I suspect we all know where I'm going to come down on that question. As I normally do, when faced with the end of an arc, I went back and read my review of the season opener in preparation for this week's midseason finale, "Swan Song." The thing that struck me most on my re-read was how I wanted to take each episode one at a time, that my judgement of the show and its narrative would and could only be looked at as it was presented to me live every week. However, now that we've reached the end of our Dark Swan/Camelot arc, it seems easy to say that while episode 501 was mostly successful and the best of this season, the episodes following were mostly disastrous. This entire season was messy, sloppy, careless with little regard for established mythology and, maybe worst of all, really boring. I'm going to be honest: I don't know if I have the energy for this. This episode was a wasteland in poor morals and poorer storytelling. I don't know how much longer I can watch this. I swore to stick to it until the end, but we're so far from the glory of season one that it's getting harder and harder to keep my promises. Ah well. Grab...I don't entire bottle of wine and down it quickly because, dear readers, here we go. 

Meet PapaJones   

Captain Hook has father issues. I am awash in shock. Really, this was really the most surprising part of the entire episode (sarcasm). The entire point of this (badly shoehorned) flashback is that Hook, after abandonment, became like his father and that the man he chose to be was not a good one (again, shocking. News at 11). In present day, he remembers this and chooses to be something that is perceived as a good man. If you're a Hook fan, then it's sure to give you warm squishy feelings, but I'm not so it doesn't. Honestly, this entire flashback was so flat and uninteresting that you could have boiled it down to the following and not missed a beat: Hook's father left; Hook later kills his father after *mumble mumble* magic sleeping curse saved PapaJones long ago. See, that's really the crux of it all. Hook's a villain who committed patricide in a heated moment when he is re-traumatized by memories of his father leaving in contrast to his father refusing to leave his new son (whom PapaJones stupidly named Liam, like Hook's brother. Dude, you were almost asking for a hook through the heart.) This is supposed to give Hook's character more color except it doesn't. It stretches the narrative so that you now know the entire story and history of Hook and his Papa, but it doesn't add any emotional depth to the main character of Hook. We knew he had father issues. We knew his hook "had tasted the blood of dozens" and that he was hell-bent (unintentional pun!) on revenge against Rumple. All of this we have known since season two and Hook's introduction. And I could almost forgive the boring backstory that adds nothing to the character in question--because that's how all flashbacks go nowadays--if it wasn't for the awful shoehorned in feeling. When was this supposed to take place? In "Queen of Hearts" Hook and Regina meet for the first time and it's followed by Regina explaining her plan to Hook about Cora; it's moments after said first meeting (you remember... the one where Hook beats Belle unconscious and almost kills her). There's no costume change, no change of scenery but suddenly, in this week's episode, Hook is outside in a field with a goblet of wine (for reasons!) waiting for Regina, who appears in a totally different outfit. This is one of those cases when the writers make their lives so much more difficult than it needs to be. You don't need to set this new information in the moments before the original Dark Curse. You could set it 100 years ago when Hook is running an errand for Peter Pan and meets his father inexplicably in a bar. Logistics: solved! At any rate, that's all I have to this flashback. Nothing was gleaned for Hook's character by this flashback. It was repetitious and tedious. But, one question, what happened to the kid? Did Hook just leave baby Liam 2.0? Has Hook ever tried to find him? Is the Kid on the Forgotten Character Island Orphanage along with the season three Lost Boys?

Just Die Already (I Mean The Show)

I want to start off this part of the analysis with something that has nothing to do with OUAT. At least, not directly. I want to talk about emotional truths. This is not something I came up with on my own but is the result of reading a lot of Hulk Critic, in particular one of his posts about rape culture and its intersection with media and pop culture. For me, emotional truths are why having any sort of meaningful discussion in fandoms never goes anywhere. It's why the OUAT fandom has become a cesspool of stupid, full of infighting, anger, rage, and some truly appalling logic and rationalization. To be fair, it's from all sides, all ships, and a majority of fans. When fans debate characters or ships or storytelling, it is not an objective facts-and-just-the-facts debate (it's a lot like politics, really). It's a subjective emotional debate that begins to feel incredibly personal, like you and your very self are under attack if you are "canon-warping" how you read a text (as if there is any such thing as a strict right or wrong way to read a text). What is emotional truth? It's my interpretation of a text that I will argue to be true, in spite of any evidence that someone else might present as part of their emotional truth. It boils down to my emotional truth vs your emotional truth and how when all people do is argue their emotional truths, the debate will never go anywhere because we aren’t arguing facts. We’re arguing feelings and you can’t know my emotional truth and I can’t know yours. But because it’s YOUR emotional truth, it’s real. And because it’s MY emotional truth, it’s real. In other words, we aren’t even speaking the same language anymore. This entire fandom stopped speaking the same language some time ago. Yes, this is some little silly show but this is how people digest media. And we go in circles–over EVERYTHING–because we’re arguing emotional truth instead of anything that might be factual–and my emotional truth and your emotional truth might be far from the factual truth, but it doesn’t matter. Our emotional truths are real and true to us. And this, essentially, is why debating in fandom is so…tiring. We’re never going to get anywhere. We “agree to disagree” and pat ourselves on the back and continue to believe our own emotional truths.

I am bringing this up for a very specific reason. Last week, my review focused quite a bit on the similarities I see between Killian Jones and Kilgrave from "Jessica Jones" and the parallels between CaptainSwan and Kilgrave/Jessica. My review was found by someone who is (probably) a CSer and they really (really) went to town on me. I chose, at that time not to respond because, you guessed it, emotional truths. I respectfully left up their comments because I believe strongly in freedom of speech and in being able to argue emotional truths, but I want to stress something to readers, just in case it hasn't been made apparent: I am not a Captain Hook fan nor a CS shipper. I have heard every argument under the sun for why CS is shippable and why Hook is redeemed. I have argued against both of those ideas for years, here and elsewhere. No matter what evidence you present, you are not going to persuade me otherwise. I respect your emotional truth, but mine is not yours and it never will be. Why am I saying this now? Because Hook is dead and Emma's going to Hell for her boyfriend because "not fair!" and I weep for the end of feminism, logic, and good storytelling on this show. If that particular CSer is reading (or any CSer in general), I hope you enjoyed the show; I hope you continue to enjoy the show; but I'm not going to buy into any other argument. My emotional ain't changing just as sure as yours isn't going to change.

Unfortunately, for this episode, I can't avoid talking about Hook. It was all about him, after all. In fact, most of the season was about Hook, was it not? This season was sold as part of Emma's hero journey. Season 5A had potential and I was prepared to see it out and accept it had it stuck to its original intent to be Emma focused and all about her individual heroes journey. Sadly, this did not happen. It turned on its head about 7 episodes in and became all about Hook. Sure, he's a character and a leading one but so much of this season and arc were supposed to be focused on Emma's self actualization. Her war against the darkness wasn't because she's the Savior and inherently light and therefore at odds with said darkness, but it was because of her boyfriend. Emma even went so far as to speed up a pregnancy (and who knows how that will affect baby GreenHood) but also then to plan and almost execute (pun!) an attempted murder of Zelena--granted, a low character who revels in her villainy with no hope of redemption, but premeditated murder nonetheless. And all of it was for her boyfriend. Not her son; not her mother nor father; not even the town of Storybrooke that Emma is honor bound by cosmic reality to defend. Just Hook. Sure, if you're a shipper then I guess it speaks to you about love and overcoming the odds--even cosmic forces--but to me it's taking Emma Swan--strong feminist, independent but still vulnerable Emma Swan, who's story was about her family and her home and her son--and making her into a Mary-Sue Magical Vagina who heels poor sob story boys with the power of her...womanhood. There is such a level of emotional manipulation with Emma and Hook, who are being touted as an epic love story, that it is truly sickening for me. Hook can only be good if Emma loves him and is with him. When the Darkness infects him, he becomes one of the worst examples of the Dark One that we've seen (though major props to Colin for really going to town with this role). He's a true black-hearted villain who says and does some truly appalling things. But it can all be forgiven because at the last second he saw the light? Emma should kill Hook. Not because of the Darkness or the various Jawas Dark Ones in Storybrooke with whom Hook is cavorting, but because he was a villain who terrorized her, her family, and her town. The same with Cora and Pan, both of whom Emma knew she had to stop without getting all wishy washy. Hook asking Emma to let him die as a hero bothers me so very much because he doesn't get to be the one to dictate the manner upon which he is received after death. Seeing the errors of his ways at the last second and deciding to take on the cost of Darkness himself does not a hero make! It means he realizes how badly he messed up, but it doesn't mean he's a hero!

As for the ending and the journey to Hell, yeah yeah yeah, it's a katabasis and we all know I love those. Honestly, they are some of my favorite things in literature. But for Emma to say that she has to go and save Hook (and resurrect him by giving him half her heart) because it's not fair to Killian that he remain dead just brings up all the bile in my throat. You want to talk about fair? How about Henry who misses his dad and wishes Neal was around to talk to but whom you insisted, Miss Swan, had to stay dead because he died a hero? You couldn't go to the Underworld then? You couldn't let Rumple change history? I don't care about the ships anymore; I don't want Nealfire with this version of Emma Swan, but this show used to be about family and having Neal be alive, with his son and father, breaking the cycle of abandonment, is good enough for me. Also, Emma, did you fall down and hit your head on something hard? Did you forget how Hook spoke to you last episode? Did you forget his cold blooded murder of Merlin? Did you forget how Hook used the love you bear for your child against you in this episode in order to get the shiny sword? Did you forget how, thanks to him, your entire family was almost sucked to Hell? Emma thinks Hook's death is not fair but I call it comeuppance. Hook doesn't have to pay for any of his crimes, does he? Not killing his father; not working with Cora to destroy the heroes; not taking Aurora's heart; not beating and shooting Belle; not speaking to Emma in such a vile and abusive manner. Nope. He doesn't have to pay for any of it. In fact, Hook's going to get rewarded with some Emma Swan lovin' because this show is officially morally bankrupt. Where is your self-worth Emma? Where is your respect? Remember back in season one when Emma issued a laudable creed to Ashley that, "People are gonna tell you who you are your whole life. You just gotta punch back and say, 'No, this is who I am.'" Instead of living by that code this season, Emma lets herself be Hook's emotional punching bag. Her response to Hook telling her that she'll always be an orphan should have been claws-out defense of her family, her son, and her town, all of whom love her so much that they traveled realms to find her. And then to have the audacity to say that precious Killian needs to be saved from the Underworld and brought back to life...I need to move on now, don't I? Fine one more thought. Domestic abuse in narrative, in TV storytelling, can work. It really can. When the writers are consciously aware of what they are writing and making a commentary on the effects of abuse, the signs of abuse, and how to handle it, it works well enough on TV. The writers on OUAT are not self-aware that this domestic and emotional abuse. They are romanticizing it. And it's appalling.

Repetition, Thy Name Is Rumplestiltskin

I thought about leaving this for the notes, but I really need to speak my mind on this low blow. There is something to be said about circular storytelling. When we conceive of the heroes journey, it's often depicted as a circle. The hero sets out, they encounter a strange new world that they are somehow destined to save, they conquer death and rise again, the master of both worlds, fully realized and then they arrive back home, at the end of their journey, the hero and not their former archetype (farmer, lost boy, son, or more often than not, orphan). That's a example of good circular storytelling. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending that feels earned and organic. Rumplestiltskin being the Dark One again (by some weird mechanics that I don't fully get) is neither earned nor organic. Last season, the writers went as dark as they could with Rumple. He was full on villain, trying to destroy everyone's happy ending. It cost him everything, having already lost Baelfire, his heart darkening to a lump of coal, and losing Belle in the process. What happened after that was a bit of a transformation--granted at the hands of a plot device, but a transformation nonetheless. Rumple's darkness was sucked out of him and he became, against all odds, brave and a hero. A hero worthy enough to pull Excalibur from the stone. He faced off against Dark One Hook. He even tried to give Belle the life she deserved by granting her the means to leave Storybrooke forever and go have adventures in the great wide somewhere. And in the end, it turns out that none of those lessons--the losses, the transformation, the bout of heroism--stick. Not even a little bit. This is not circular storytelling. This is repetition at its most egregious. What the writers should write is Rumple trying to be a good man, live the rest of his life, without magic holding him up. But no, instead, we revert back to Rumple as the Dark One. Literally, back to square one. To add insult to injury, Rumple's new-but-not-really-new status as the Dark One, was revealed after Belle came back to him, believing that he had changed, and they had wild sex in the shop. Rumple has gone to the lowest low there is; he's joined the ranks of characters on OUAT who participate in wonky consent. Rumple lets Belle believe that there is hope for him and their new life together, that he's a hero, and then undoes his fly and proceeds to make the beast with two backs. It's so...disgusting. It's so...disheartening. This used to be my favorite character. This used to be the character I wanted to see redeemed. Rumple wasn't the great Cosmic Evil; he wasn't the Trickster archetype. He was the Father, looking for his lost little boy and doing highly questionable things in the process. It was deep and complicated and complex and both sympathetic and not and it made this show so fresh and interesting. And now? Now Rumple is just straight up villain, no redeeming qualities, no hope, and nothing more than a black hat with no depth. This show was once so complex and nuanced. Now, it's drudgery and as insulting as it gets. Long gone are the strong women, the morals, and the poetry. Now, we're left with parents who leave their kids with fairies to be raised while these so-called heroes go to Hell to break "dead is dead" one more time for Captain Guyliner and all his rape culture values.

And on that note, see everyone in March.

Miscellaneous Notes on Swan Song

--It's a truly bizarre world when Zelena is my favorite character in an episode. She got in some great lines, though. Robin will now be "Robbie!" I suspect we'll see her again, right around the middle of S5B.

--Adam and Eddy: try all you want, but you'll never be Joss Whedon. So, maybe stop trying. This episode was an insult to the amazing "Becoming" (BtVS season 2). 

--Words cannot even begin to describe how scared I am for what this show will do to Greek mythology.

--The Snow and Emma conversation in the vault was really good, but it was also the one and only meaningful conversation they've had all season and it really is too little, too late.

--Um. Where's the Camelot Crew? Did the heroes really just leave their town with Arthur and MindRaped! Guinevere are still out there? With Merida?

--PapaJones was in a sleeping curse and fell in love with his nurse. Mmmmkay. Oh, she died because of the plague. That’s convenient. And seriously, what happened to Liam 2.0?

--The Lake…is Purgatory? I don’t…understand.

--Emma doesn’t break her own darkness. Hook does. Sure, not by TLK, but Hook nonetheless. It would have been *such* a strong message if Emma had done it herself

--How about some thoughts on S5A overall? s5A had potential when it was going to be Emma focused, but it wasn't. It was all about Hook. Even the Camelot Crew, in the end, didn't matter at all. They mattered so little that the show didn't even bother seeing them home. This is to say nothing of all the horrible Magical McGuffins, the continued disregard for the LGBT community, the ongoing racial and class problems, MORE rape and wonky consent story telling, clunky dialogue in which the characters stood around rationalizing and explaining the plot instead of having anything resembling human emotions, horrible timing in which the story either slowed down to a crawl or sped up so fast as to be confusing, and the disregard for previous established mythology. It was sloppy and ill conceived. It feels very much like the writers got bored halfway through and began planning for 5B instead of focusing on 5A. Also, I have never denied that romance is an important part of OUAT (and fairy tales in general) but there is a point when you need to put the brakes on all the romance! And s5A really needed to learn that. Emma had next to no important or significant conversation with her parents but heaven forbid she be separated from Hook (or Regina) for more than an episode. Remember when this show was actually about the power of familial love?

Overall Grade for Season 5A: C-/ D+

Final Episode Ranking for Season 5A:

11. The Broken Kingdom (504)
10. Swan Song (511)
9. Birth (508)
8. The Bear King (509)
7. The Bear and the Bow (506)
6. The Price (502)
5. Broken Heart (510)
4. Siege Perilous (503)
3. Nimue (507)
2. Dreamcatcher (505)
1. The Dark Swan (501)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x12)

At the end of everything, we should expect a couple of immortals. Wise words and some heavy prophecy in that line here in this week's episode and season nine finale, "Hell Bent." When it comes to the Doctor, there is never any real danger, even if you know the actor is about to leave and regenerate (don't worry, Peter's still got another year, at least, with us). The show has--often and very cleverly--gotten out of killing its main character many times. What isn't so safeguarded, however, is his emotional state. It's the end of the season which means the Doctor has to pick up the pieces of the life that he has lived over the course of twelve episodes (and in this case, about 4 billion years apparently). Like I did at the end of season eight, I'll start with a question, the most basic question: did I like the episode? It's really hard to say. I know; that's cheating, but it's true. The first 45 minutes or so were cold and bloodless and without heart for something as momentous as the Doctor coming home after so long. It wasn't the homecoming I wanted, but then again are homecomings ever what we expect? Probably not. But, on the other hand, the last 15 minutes--once Ashildr entered the picture--were really spectacular and I found myself gaping in awe at what was happening. We've seen the Doctor take away people's memories of him and their time together before (Donna Noble, I'll never forget your heroism) but this time the tables really were turned. It's a brand new day for the Doctor in this the continuation and end of his katabasis and while there is a sense of being made whole once again, with his velvety Doctor coat and his new sonic screwdriver (praise god), there is definitely a feeling of loss as we finally say goodbye to the Impossible Girl. Grab a sad story for the road and let's go! 

Let's talk the katabasis. I do so love a good katabasis. A lot of this episode, once we get past the issue of Rassilon being alive and a menace to society (maybe his hat was too tight), focuses on the Doctor working his way through a spooky labyrinth like maze full of ghosts and creatures who have been captured by said maze and are forced to spend eternity in pain and misery. It is called, by the Time Lords themselves, Hell. Not to put too fine a point on it or anything. Subtle it is not, but that's fine, I'll work with it. When the hero embarks on his journey and finds himself facing the Underworld, Hell, Hades, the realm of the dead or whatever you want to call it--"including a giant computer guarded by ghosts in a big crypt"--it is really for one sole purpose: to conquer death itself. Harry descends below the trapdoor and faces Voldemort (the embodiment of death and chaos) once more; later Harry finds himself at a certain railway station making a choice between life and death; Hercules goes down into Hades and comes out the other side; Aeneas crosses over the threshold and sees what is to come before rising up, more fully realized, and sets out on his journey to create a lasting empire; Emma Swan enters the Vault of Eternal Goo and must battle the Darkness within and stop its plan to snuff out the light. And, lest we forget, at this point in the calendar year, Jesus had a little something called the Harrowing of Hell. All of this is to make one point; whether it be a literal descent into a literal underworld or whether it be metaphorical, the hero can only be seen as a true hero if he can conquer death and/or the villain who embodies death. By facing down death (the one true entity that every creature in the universe is subject to) and coming out the other side, the Hero has shown that he is special; he is set apart, branded, by the Universe as being something more. For the Doctor this week, his mission is not so much about saving Gallifrey or saving his people, but it's about saving Clara from death. He punched through a diamond wall to save her, after all. Here's the question that the show really wants us to ask, though: did he succeed? Is he the Cosmic Hero? Well, yes and no. In many ways, Clara is alive; the Doctor did save her. She's out there, right now, with another immortal flying around in a TARDIS all her own (that looks like a 1950s diner?) having adventures and living the life that she became so addicted to. But at the same time, the answer to that question is no. Clara is going to die. Maybe not today; maybe not tomorrow. It might take lifetimes; eons upon eons until Clara is ready to go back to that moment, but at some point, the Impossible Girl will face the raven and die on that Neverwhere-like street. The Doctor conquers death, but only temporarily. I suppose that actually lives up to some of those Christian influences that are replete throughout the show. Yes, Jesus conquered death for you, but that doesn't mean that you aren't still subject to death. One of the positive aspects here with Clara is that she keeps her agency intact. Clara chose to go and face the raven two episodes back and now she'll get to decide when she wants to face the raven once more. The Doctor doesn't decide her fate nor does he get to rob her of her past; Clara decides her fate and advocates for her past. Moffat often gets into hot water for some misogynistic overtones, but I think we can say he subverted that criticism this time.

The issue I'm facing is that Clara is actually sort of alive but not because I wanted her to die out of spite, but rather that it robs Clara's death of any emotional weight. Clara's new found status as immortal is problematic for a great many reasons, not the least of which is that it means the lesson that was learned in "Face the Raven," that sometimes you do lose and not everything can last, was unlearned and Clara continues her reckless behavior unphased. I have said this a great many times over the course of two seasons, but Moffat's working thesis for Clara Oswald was addiction and the dangers of staying in the TARDIS too long. Clara got reckless; she believed that any danger--no matter how great or how small--could be undone by the Doctor. He was magic; he was a fairy tale and nothing bad can possibly happen in fairy tales, right? The princess wakes up; the kingdom is saved and everyone lives happily ever after. That's the problem with a lot of Moffat's Whoverse. He wants the fairy tale. This isn't to say that Doctor Who isn't a fairy tale because, by and large, I'd classify it as one as much as it is also science-fiction. But Moffat isn't prepared to actually take some of his stories to their natural conclusion meaning that for stories to have resonance, they must have consequences and weight. Some things shouldn't be undone. Doctor Who has weight, and this episode certainly does, but it is also a bit flippant about the matter of death. Clara's lesson that sometimes the Doctor cannot fix everything because, despite his magical and cosmic status, sometimes he does lose, is ultimately erased by episode's end. She doesn't have to face the raven until she's good and ready. She gets to continue on being Clara, being the Impossible Girl, forever if she so chose. Moffat doesn't have (I hate to say this) the guts to kill a character (an important one) and leave them dead. Amy, Rory, Osgood, Clara. All dead. All came back to life or, maybe more accurately, at least got to live out their lives peacefully after a supposed death. Russel T Davies' time as showrunner wasn't exactly littered with bodies, but the tragedies that befell his characters stayed tragedies. Donna Noble still has no idea who the Doctor is or that she was once the DoctorDonna and a reminder of that means her head would (literally) explode. Maybe I sound like I was secretly thrilled at Clara's death, but it's more that her death was handled beautifully and brilliantly and this feels a bit cheap. And, honestly, am I really supposed to believe that the Doctor is never going to realize that there's another TARDIS out there flying around all of time and space and not put two and two together?

What kind of Doctor are we looking at now? I never thought that Moffat would erase Clara from the Doctor. I thought it'd be the other way around. That ending--Clara having no idea who the Doctor is--seems perfectly up Moffat's alley and absolutely something he'd do (though, I'd accuse him of stealing Donna's story). But I admit that Moffat got me with this one. There is something so heartbreaking about the Doctor not knowing about Clara, the person who is really his best friend. The first face this face saw. He can sit right in front of her, look her in the eye, talk to her, and not know it's his best friend; the man who runs to forget really did forget. The Doctor knows that eventually he'll lose his companions; it's part of his ongoing reality, but at least he always knows that they are out there in time and space, living their life. The one adventure he can never have, as he said to Rose Tyler in "Doomsday." But what happens in this episode is the real tragedy of the story: the Doctor doesn't even have the luxury of knowing that Clara is mostly okay. He can't even remember anything about her. The Doctor came out the other side of hell and is reborn (not literally since no regeneration) but with fragments of himself gone. It's tragic and it's a nice twist on the heroes journey. Normally, I'd expect the hero to come out the other side more fully realized, whole and ready to face whatever comes next. To an extent, that's all here in the final moments of this episode. The coat is back on and the Doctor has a new Sonic but there's something missing; a piece of him is gone and one that he can never get back. This hero's tale is a sad one. His ballad is not a joyful paean but a broken melody that carries on because that's all it can do. Memories become stories when we forget, and sometimes they become songs. The Doctor's song isn't over (it never really is), but it did just get a bit sadder.

Miscellaneous Notes on Hell Bent

--Moffat still knows how to write some funny one-liners. A smattering of good ones:
"You've been traveling?" "Yeah from time to time."
"How about lunch and then breakfast because we're time travelers and that's how we roll." 

--This regeneration of Rassilon is not a good one. However, this regeneration is also Maester Luwin from Game of Thrones so I can't hate on him entirely. 

--"You lot? No. You cramp my style. Look at your hats!" Doctor Who have you been reading my blog??

--Loved seeing the retro TARDIS interior from the Classic Era.

--During his conversation with Ashidlr, the Doctor insists that things can last forever and that's why he stole a time machine. I got quite a whiff of "The Great Gatsby" and Jay Gatsby insisting that you can repeat the past, as he reaches out toward that green light and Daisy Buchanan. Is Clara the Doctor's green light? Or is it more the idea of being free from fear and loneliness that is his great dream? I'd say the latter, personally.

--When the Doctor grabbed his new Sonic from the air and held it aloft, I got very teary eyed. It is an iconic moment of the cosmic hero with his magical sword. Stay self-aware, Doctor Who. 

--Who is the Hybrid? I suppose it's the Doctor but it's left pretty vague. I guess Ashildr is right; it doesn't actually matter. It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

--"Look how far I went for fear of losing you. It has to stop. One of us has to go." I will say that this is a nice ending to Clara's addiction thesis. While Clara might not have learned all the lessons of addiction and abuse, she did learn (and finally understand) one thing: she and the Doctor are bad together when they both go to extraordinary and absolutely mental lengths to avoid losing one another. It's not good for the universe. So, they must fly apart.

--How about some thoughts on the season over all? I thought this was the strongest season since season 5, really. Most of the episodes are very, very good and moreover focused on what mattered, the Doctor. I don't mind the companions playing a significant role (they are supposed to) but they should never overshadow and take over the Doctor's role. That was the largest issue with season eight. Season nine did a nice job of course correcting that. I still think Moffat has a way to go in telling a tighter story from beginning to end, but this was a step in the right direction. My hope for future seasons is that Moffat stops with the time wimey overly convoluted feel and gets into the core of the Doctor's emotional storyline. It crops up every now and then but I feel as though Moffat cuts it off at the knees. If we never see Gallifrey again, I'm going to be very upset. There needs to be a more proper homecoming than what we got this week. As usual, Peter Capaldi is wonderful and I truly love him as the Doctor. Here's hoping the next companion brings something new to the table (please don't be another modern Earth female...)

Final Rating for Season 9 : A-

Final Episode Ranking
12. Sleep No More (9x09) (bottom of the list. I know we were all wondering where I would put it)
11. The Zygon Invasion (9x07)
10. Under the Lake (9x03)
9. The Zygon Inversion (9x08)
8. Before the Flood (9x04)
7. Heaven Sent (9x11)
6. The Witch's Familiar (9x02)
5. Hell Bent (9x12)
4. The Magician's Assistant (9x01)
3. Face the Raven (9x10)
2. The Woman Who Lived (9x06)
1. The Girl Who Died (9x05)

Monday, November 30, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (5x10)

I spent the day watching Jessica Jones; in fact, I became so enthralled with the Netflix Original Series that I almost missed the 8pm start time of this week's OUAT, "Broken Heart." I know; that would have been a shame. But the reason I am bringing this up is that Killian Jones/Captain Hook and Kilgrave--the antagonist in Jessica Jones--share something in common: they are both vile, horrible, sociopathic monsters who think the world is there's for the taking and that they are owed anything and everything they want. The are both vessels of white male privilege who cannot fathom a world where they do not get whatever they desire. The object of their affection--Emma Swan and Jessica Jones--are just that, objects that the two villains believe belong to them, without brokering any argument. Their charms, good looks, and general prowess (not to mention the aforementioned privilege) should be enough to woo the pants off (oh, I mean that literally) any woman. With Jessica Jones, it does not work and Kilgrave is shown, time and time again, to be nothing more than a damaged man who leaves a trail of bodies in his wake simply because he can. He is an embodiment of white heterosexual male privilege who can even dictate your emotional state ("smile") and the story belongs to his victims and not an attempt to, in internet parlance, woobify said monster. Hook is a different story. In OUAT, the writers believe they are writing a sympathetic character who, yes, has killed and maimed and even kept trophies of all his victims, but not a real monster; rather, a hurt man whom women fall for because of some sort of half-hearted redemption he has supposedly undertaken. Emma falls into the trap of (as Kilgrave tells Jessica) "we're inevitable." Why am I bringing this up? Because so much of this week's OUAT episode is about the writers knowing and remembering that Hook is a monster but without the logical follow through that the heroine (damaged though she may be) does not end up with him, that the stalking, obsessive nature of your villain does not grant him the prize of said object of affection in the end. It's a bit of a mixed bag for me this week, but grab the blood of a man who has been to hell and back (sweet Christmas, what fresh hellish Magical Mcguffin is that?) and let's go!

There's Always A Loophole

When Emma rose from the Black Goo at the Vault of the Dark One, she tried--valiantly--to fend and fight off the darkness. It was hard and part of the flashbacks this year have been all about that internal struggle of Emma Swan to remain the Savior and person she was before and not give into the temptation of darkness. Hook, on the other hand, gets one talk from DO Head! Rumple and he's off to Darkville to kill himself a crocodile. Strength of character; this dude ain't got it. A lot of the flashbacks this week revolve around changes in character attitudes, almost at a blink-of-an-eye pace. Hook is angry with Emma but they kiss and make up in the woods, but only until Hook becomes angry with Emma once more and then they kiss and make up at the river. But then surprise! Hook was only playing Emma and still really wants his revenge so he'll cast the Dark Curse to take everyone back to Storybrooke in order to kill his enemy. It's all a giant waste of time and the back and forth of Hook's attitude is a time killer in order to delay the inevitable. We all know that the Dark Curse was cast and that somehow there was a loophole because whoever did it has to use the heart of the thing they love most and Emma, Hook, and Henry are all alive so we're back to the aforementioned loophole (twitch--but see previous blog posts about the total disregard for world building because I am not going to belabor the point once again). Because the focus this week, for me at least, will be in Storybrooke, I am only going to briefly touch on one problematic point in the flashbacks. Raise your hand if you're surprised that Merlin died. Now raise your hand if you're surprised that he died at Hook's hand. I have been predicting for sometime that Merlin was dead and that somehow there was a "all Dark Ones" loophole so that wasn't shocking. But the sad fact is that the perpetrator of the murder wasn't shocking either. That isn't a slam against Hook (though, he's killed before as demonstrated by his many baubles) but rather that I am not surprised that the Person of Color was killed to further a white character's story. When the various Arthurian members were cast for season 5A, I was actually very pleasantly surprised that the writers had cast a Latina Guinevere and an African Merlin. Sure, it was clearly because the writers were aware of the (well deserved) criticism that OUAT has a serious race problem, but at least they were trying to course correct and appease instead of letting it slide. Little did I know what they had in store for these two new PoC's. Let's take inventory, shall we? Guinevere was enslaved by her white husband and then turned into a rape object, also by her white husband, because of his man pain over her kissing a black character. That same black character, by the way, was spotted tonight before he was sent packing to his mommy because heaven forbid that Lancelot play any sort of active role in his own mythology. Merlin, the show's most powerful sorcerer, was also enslaved by a white character (Arthur) and then was killed by another white character only to fuel that white character's storyline. This show has such a major racial problem but the egregious issue is not that it has a race problem and is trying to actively make a commentary on race in fiction or in our reality, but that it's an unintentional racial problem. In other words, the writers don't actually realize that the plot they write for the people of color are always the same and always racist--they appear and then are summarily dismissed once they have served their purpose. You know, there's an actual trope called the magical negro; their main purpose is to come to the aid of the white characters and once they have fulfilled their role as a helpmate, they either die or simply vanish from the narrative. Adam and Eddy, once again, you're not part of the solution. You're part of the problem.

The Anchor Around Your Neck

I am about to break a cardinal rule of my blog: Thou Shall Not Talk About Captain Swan. Well, I guess I break it every now and then and this time it's not necessarily discussing CaptainSwan so much as it is discussing what Hook said to Emma in Storybrooke. During a particularly heated tet-a-tet between the two Dark Ones, Hook lays into Emma with some cold hard truths. In many ways, the things he is saying aren't actually false. Emma does does destroy her own happiness by refusing to let anyone in and by refusing to believe that she can have happiness. She did it with Henry, with her parents, with the town of Storybrooke, and even with all her various love interests from Neal to Walsh to Hook. The pirate calling her on those famous walls (which, honestly, should have been destroyed by now after so many people have been let into Emma's heart) shows a level of self awareness that I didn't know he had. Also in the self-aware department are the writers themselves. For a brief moment, during this heated argument, the writers of OUAT seem to actually get and understand that Hook is a problematic and vile character. Let me pause here to say that there is nothing wrong with problematic and vile characters. We need villains in storytelling or how else would we know who the heroes are (this is sounding fairly Doctor Who-ish, is it not?). We also need anti-heroes because the world is, by and large, not divided into heroes and villains. It's far more complicated than that; we need characters like Walter White and Don Draper and Tony Soprano to illustrate how gray our world is. Hook falling into the villain or ruthless antihero category is a comfortable place for him and a good, long standing narrative tradition.

The problem lies not in his villainy and vile nature but in the fact that the writers never let him stay there and actually explore that self-same villainy and vile nature because the writers spend more time turning him into a "love sick puppy dog." This version of Hook--this man who calls Emma an anchor and nothing more than a pretty blond distraction, who declares that he's happy so long as he gets what he wants and who point blank tells Emma that he wants to hurt her like she hurt him--is a fascinating character and we're back to my opening comparison to Kilgrave. The Purple Man (his comic book name) says much the same to Jessica Jones when he tells her that she's the one thing (sorry, person) who ever walked away from him and that awakened a yearning in him because he simply had to posses her; he informs Jessica that what he did--the torture he inflicted and the stalking he conducted--cannot be rape because he earned her by spending money on her or doing noble things (like, say, giving up a ship). If the writers stayed in this territory, highlighting Hook-is-a-monster nature and how much of a sociopath he is--and not going down the boring and troubling romantic lead route--then the writers could actually manage to say something of value (like Jessica Jones is) about male privilege, rape culture, and the power of victims to rise above the crimes perpetrated on them by not falling into the "we're inevitable" trap when the abuser uses love as an excuse. The problem, my dear readers, is that for all the self-aware writing on OUAT this week, I know (or at least suspect with a high degree of certainty) that Emma will forgive Hook for all the terrible things he said, waving it away as a speech created by the Darkness and not representative of who he really is and CaptainSwan will continue to be sold and promoted as some sort of love story for the ages. It's akin to claiming that Jessica should end up with Kilgrave because he said he loved her and, after all, he's working really hard for her. And that's all I really have this week. Yes, I will go into some Greek mythology next week if we're going where I think we're going (hello, Underworld) but this week I really wanted to focus on some social and cultural problems that OUAT has had and how, in theory, it could be done well if the writers were up to it. I wonder if there's a Magical McGuffin for that.

Miscellaneous Notes on Broken Heart

--Emma needs someone to tell her to have hope? She can't just have hope after 5 years? Emma is a petulant three year old who is emotionally reset every year.

--There are Dark One Chronicles? Since when? And why haven't we ever used them to...I don't know...figure things out?

--Belle's pink coat was adorable and I'd like it in my closet, thanks.

--I will admit to loving Rumple's speech to Belle outside of Regina's house. But, at the same time, I'm really proud of Belle for walking away from the problematic relationship and marriage (ex-marriage?) in order to give herself some time to figure out where she stands.

--Props where they are due; the sword fight between Hook and Rumple was very good. 

--"Baby Hood" LOL

--Redemption through motherhood for Zelena it is then! Ah, the problematic Madonna trope rears its misogynistic head.

--"Once you go green, you'll never go Queen" Okay, hilarious line and while I appreciate Regina saying that what Zelena did to Robin was vile and horrible, stop dancing around calling it rape. It was rape. Just say it.

--"I never abandoned you" claims Newly Dark One! Hook in Camelot to Emma. Um, you left her in a jail cell to die, with her mother and Disney Princess friends.

--Apparently Hook would have returned Milah "soiled, but returned" to Rumple all those years ago. Ye gods. The morals. The misogyny.

--A boat of Dark Ones feels like the set up to a really bad joke.

--No, but really: the blood of a man who has been to hell and back.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x11)

Benjamin Franklin once quipped that the only two sure things in this world were death and taxes. I sincerely doubt that the Doctor has ever paid taxes so, for him, the only sure thing in this universe is that someday, somewhere, somehow, he will die. The Doctor will shuffle off his mortal coil; his cells will be unable to regenerate and he will finally pass to that Great TARDIS in the sky. I know that's dramatic, but this week's episode, "Heaven Sent," was an exercise in art house indulgence, so I figured I could equally indulge in some wordplay. For an episode that is the long awaited return to Gallifrey, we (and the Doctor) spent most of the episode frustrated at the lack of moving anywhere, both intrigued and not over the mystery of the moving castle (the Doctor is now Howl) and, if you were me, a little bit bored and wondering when we'd get to the actual point of it all. I'm not trying to be overly harsh because the final shot of the Shinning City in the Bubble made my heart race (as well as the anticipation for the funny hats) but c'mon. Admit it. That episode was an hour long self indulgent ego trip for Steven Moffat. I shall, however, attempt to refrain from criticizing too much and simply talk about where I think we, and our trusty Time Lord, are going next. Grab your confession dial, revert to your previous copy, and let's go!

Every single one of you reading this blog will someday die. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's true. You're going to get old; you're going to get tired and run down and eventually the shadow that was born with you will catch up and will take you off to the next life (or just a dirt nap, whatever your beliefs may be). If you're very lucky, you can avoid this shadow friend for a good long while. And if you're very very lucky, you can avoid him forever, but in order to do that, you basically have to be a Time Lord with a TARDIS, and there can only be one of those. A lot of what fuels the Doctor's need to run is his fear; I think the fear of the ordinary un-examined life, if we get right down to it. I'm sure you can make the case that it's fear of his people, being the hybrid (erm, we'll get to that) and what that special status might entail, but for me personally I think the Doctor is driven by the fact that he wants to be extraordinary. He's always curious; no matter what face he is wearing, the Doctor wants life to be magical and full of wonder. He wants the odd and the amusing and the terrifying and the awe inspiring. I guess it's hard to find that on a planet full of self-righteous gods. So he stole and TARDIS and ran. And never looked back. However, it would be plain egotistical to assume that you can run from death forever (so naturally the Doctor thinks he can because no one is more egotistical than he is). Death will catch up to him in the end, even if it happens to be 2 billion years in the future. But before you die, you must confess your crimes and live out your eternal punishment. Have I mentioned (lately) how much I love a good katabasis? In a lot of ways, I think this is the Doctor's katabasis. It's not the Underworld, strictly speaking, but it's close enough to the idea of a repetitious underworld of punishment, fear, and nightmares that, in this case, it counts. The Doctor does compare it to hell, afterall (which, apparently, is only heaven for bad people). We all know that the Doctor embodies the hero archetype and his now 52 year show (or 2,000 year long life) has been one big heroes journey: he meets an obstacle that stands opposed to all that he--the Hero--holds dear, he vanquishes it, and moves on. He meets companions along the way who teach him lessons and to whom he imparts some cosmic wisdom; he's got his magical sword (okay, Screwdriver. We're ignoring the glasses); and he's even got a valiant steed---granted, it's a blue police box, but hey, in a pinch it'll do. My point is this: the Doctor has never not been the hero. Even when he's curmudgeonly and cross, he's still the hero operating in a universe where he is the Ultimate Good facing various evils. At some point, he was going to have to face death. It's the sign of true heroism: can you conquer death? The Doctor's done is]t 11 times before, so what's one more. Or, in this case, several thousands times over the course of 2 billion years? 

The Doctor's Underworld is about as one would expect; it's laced with a lot of Moffat-era hallmarks, like a big timey wimey reveal at the end, lots of clues that are simply odd things along the way that make no sense until the big moment when the writer pulls back the curtain. That used to make for really entertaining TV (like "Blink" back in season three) but it's becoming so complicated and overused that it's losing that emotional impact because Moffat doesn't know when to ease up off the throttle. He keeps going for longer sequences like this episode and forgets to simply tell a story. I hate to say this, but I grew quite bored about 20 minutes in. I had not figured out that the Doctor was living out this series of events over and over again over the course of several billion years, but that's because the clues didn't necessarily point us in that direction because the idea of living inside a confession dial and doing the same thing again and again is totally outside our frame of reference. It's not even a mystery; it's demanding that I sit through one man's ego trip in order to demonstrate just how smart and clever Moffat is. I more or less rolled my eyes when all was revealed because of course Moffat couldn't just deliver a straight, simple, linear storyline. He has to make it as complicated and self-indulgent as possible. It's not just in Doctor Who either; anyone else remember the overly long "Shelock just shot himself" moment in the season three finale of that show? That's essentially what this episode was, but it was lacking a lot of heart (though I admit that my breath caught in my throat at the very end, as time speeds up faster and faster.) But, for the Doctor to appear on Gallifrey after such a long time and having missed his home and people for so many years (especially thinking that he had killed them all) and to not have a single moment of joy but instead to go straight into the plot of the arc (the hybrid) with Wandering Gallifrey Boy #1, robs us and Peter Capaldi of a moment to really deliver the combined emotions of heartbreak and heartache that finally, at long last, the Doctor has come home. There needs to be a moment to breathe. You've just asked your audience to understand that the main character has been dying and rebooting himself for 2 billion (billion!!) years and instead of allowing us to catch our breath and put the pieces of our brain back together, you deliver another two whollops that the Doctor is back home and that he's the hybrid. It is okay to take a moment to digest. That's honestly what is missing from so much of Moffat's scripts lately. There's no room for us to breathe at the end. It's all blockbuster and big reveal after blockbuster and big reveal. I'm not trying to be overly harsh but this episode should have felt like a much bigger deal than it did. Gallifrey is back, afterall. Gallifrey! Time Lords! Funny hats! I have been waiting for this story for a long time and there's nothing wrong with letting your audience (and character) celebrate that victory. So, because Moffat didn't let us, let's end this review on happy note: the Time Lords are coming and that is very good news.

Miscellaneous Notes on Heaven Sent 

--Peter Capaldi nailed this episode. I might have some problems with Moffat's pacing and narrative, but Capaldi is wonderful.

--"I'm the Doctor. I am coming to find you and I will never stop."

--You cannot establish a telepathic link with a door because they are notoriously cross. Good to know.

--"I've run out of corridor. Now that's a life summed up." I laughed way too hard at this.

--So basically the Doctor landed at Hogwarts?

--The Doctor is the hybird. Okay, for what it's worth, that is part of Doctor Who canon from the movie with the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann. However, 99.5% of the fandom likes to ignore the half human/half Time Lord detail. I can't believe Moffat chose to run with that tidbit.

--Is the Doctor about to become the Valeyard? I might be okay with a lot of this self-indulgence if he was about to become the Valeyard.

--Only one episode to go!

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..."