Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Which I Review Extant (1x3)

The truth will out. It always does. However, before you get to the truth, there certainly is an awful lot of lying. This weeks episode of Extant, "Wish You Were Here," is all about the lies we tell ourselves (my child is perfectly normal) and the lies others tell us (surprise! We impregnated you!) The show continues to struggle with trying to have all the science fiction elements, instead of fine tuning one storyline into a cohesive narrative. Why should I care about robot-boy's maybe sociopathy while I'm also caring about alien lifeforms manifesting here on Earth to propagate, or something. I honestly want to see what would happen if they put one storyline aside for a single episode (take your pick, robot-boy or alien pregnancy) and just focused on the other. At any rate, lots of truths and lies are told and now it's up to the characters to figure out what is what. 

It's Ethan's first day at school. After spending most of his life either as a body-less computer or a machine with body, the robot-boy is off to interact with other children. It's an important part of his own evolution into humanity; he needs other children for his development. I think one of the problems I'm having overall with the show is its lack of world building. This is obviously a world that is relying heavily on technology as evidenced by all the fancy high-tech equipment everyone seems to have, but there still seems to be some sort of lingering fear about that technology. The other parents at Ethan's school are nervous about having an artificial intelligence with their children, fearing that Ethan something crazy? It's not made explicit, except that I'm supposed to believe that these men and woman are exposed to machines everyday and find them dangerous. Why do these people find machines dangerous? What sort of machines are they interacting with on a daily basis that leads them to this conclusion? Based on what we've seen so far, the machines, while advanced, are pretty typical: high tech phones, computers. I haven't seen any Judy from the Jettson's type maids roaming the city with their human masters. Outside of Ethan, we haven't been exposed to any other walking/talking/interacting with humans on a social level machines. So the fear seems really unfounded and just a way to create drama. It also creates dramatic irony because while John and Molly insist that Ethan is just another little boy who needs peers, we (the audience) are coming to realize that there is something off about Ethan. He might have been given many ethical tests in a sterile environment but in the real messy world, he's trapping pigeons in boxes to play with them later. And this is something I find interesting (more so than than the on-going alien baby drama). Can a machine who has been given electrical inputs to mimic humanity but is also being raised by humans, turn into a sociopath? And if so, who do you blame? Was it the electrical inputs (human error) or is it the nature of the machine; and if it's the latter what does that mean about artificial intelligence?

The main thrust of the episodes revolves around Molly's birthday party. After being gone for a year, she never got to celebrate so her husband decides to throw her a bash. It's sweet. John is actually very sweet (also, shirtless 3 our out of 3 episodes. I approve). There are lot of people and friends who show up, but Molly seems a bit on edge. This is for a few reasons. Last week, Molly told her boss, Sparks, the news that she's inexplicably pregnant. Sparks now needs to come up with a lie that is good enough to keep Molly's trust. Remember: Molly had been infertile and undergoing extensive fertility treatments with John before leaving for her mission into space. So, the big lie! Sparks and Molly have a meeting at the beginning of the episode in which Sparks tells her that the space program had a covert mission in place in which they were experimenting on astronauts who undertook these year long missions. Using an old sample from Molly's days in the infertility treatments, they implanted her with an embryo and gave it some sort of time-release scientific thing (I don't really get that part). In other words, the baby is John and Molly's and the space program is at fault. It's a clever lie; it allows Molly to believe that she is carrying a perfectly normal child that is also her husband's while at the same time placing all the blame on her work, leaving alien coverups in the dust. There is just one problem, as pointed out by her doctor friend, Sam. In short: paperwork. This space program is a beaurcratic nightmare and there's no way a secret program like this got through. Obviously Sam doesn't watch enough TV; there's always a way for it to get through. Instead Sam wants to do her own blood work on Molly to see if the DNA of the baby is really John's. Yeah, I'm sure the space program will be 100% a-ok with that.

Molly goes to see Harmon to discuss the situation but the resident-crazy has up and vanished. However, Molly does find a clue, a set of intricately woven circular symbols on Harmon's wall. These symbols just so happen to be the same ones that were "burned" (for wont of a better term) on to Molly's stomach in the last episode. In short: there is no way this baby isn't some sort of alien life force. It also seems to be playing havoc on Molly's mind. At the aforementioned party, Molly runs into an old friend, Tim. Tim was Marcus's (the ex who died and who Molly sees in space) brother and has been out of town for a long while. The two spend time catching up and even take a picture together. The problem? He's not really there. Molly looks for him at the party only to be told repeatedly that Tim's not there, and never was. The photo they took together doesn't show Tim at all. The aliens are playing tricks on her mind now! Oh boy! Now Molly makes the some-what-stupid-decision to call Sparks and have him take her into quarantine. Don't worry, deus-ex-Sam-and-Texting saves the day, though how Molly got away from Sparks and managed to vanish with Ethan and John is a mystery (no seriously, how did John and Molly drive back to their house, get their son and vanish without a trace before the men with guns showed up?)

Miscellaneous Notes on Wish You Were Here

--It's obvious from the flashback of John and Molly deciding to raise Ethan as their own that Molly has never been 100% okay with her robot-son.

--"He's a toaster with hair!" Obvious Battlestar Galactica reference is obvious

--"He's not dangerous. He's different, and you don't have to be afraid of different." Good to know that in the future we still have issues of bigotry.

--Julia obviously thinks she's a better mom than Molly. Her bond with Ethan is stronger and I think she really wants to replace Molly in both Ethan and John's life.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

In Which I Review Under the Dome (2x4)

Revelation. From the Greek apokalypsis meaning to be revealed or uncovered. In other words: when you need a whole bunch of information but the writers want to make it sound extraordinary and otherworldly. This weeks episode of Under the Dome was your basic Religion 101 of Science Fiction. I don't have an issue when science fiction takes on religion; it's actually fairly common and it can be done well (see: Star Trek). But there are times when the writers don't understand that using religion and religious archetypes don't need to be cheesy. You can have your savior figure without beating your audience over the head that they are, in fact, the savior figure. What does this have to do with Under the Dome? It is as if the writers took the traditional Jesus story--from magical and strange appearance to persecution to death--subverted some of it to make it more science-y and then just handed it back to the audience. Raise your hand if you are surprised that the girl with the last name of "Cross" is Jesus. Or that there is a woman name PAULine who happens to have visions (is there a female version of Peter? I guess not so we went with the other big gun). What this leads to is me trying to fit everyone into the mold because the writers are telling me that I should know this story already. Is Big Jim Caiaphas or Pilate? Is Rebecca Satan or Judas? Is Junior supposed to be the Savior 2.0? Is Joey Matthew?! Do you see where I'm going here. The problem with handing me a story that has been told ad nauseum is that if the pieces don't fit together then your story falls apart. 

The pigs are dying. Well, the baby pigs at least. Here's my first question: how much does Science Teacher Pine know? She seems to be very well versed in magnetic, genetics, geology, other earth science-y things, and also apparently medicine. That's quite impressive for a high school teacher. I mean no disrespect to high school teachers, but when I was in school the science department was divided into biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics. The biology teacher did not teach chemistry and the chemistry teacher did not teach earth science. Pretty sure this is still how it works. So why in heaven's name is Rebecca Pine an expert on everything and working as a local science teacher in Chester's Mill? If she is smarter than the average bear, then shouldn't she be putting those skills to really good use? Not wasting them on high schoolers who are, by and large, horrible? At any rate, Rebecca is called out to inspect the dead pigs and takes some blood from one. The pigs have come down with swine flu which is just perfect for her plan with Big Jim to weed out those who are not healthy, with practical skills and who give more than they take. It's not playing God, though. It's Darwin. It's survival of the fittest. I'm not sure this is what Darwin had in mind, Science Teacher Pine. I'm not sure he advocated speeding this process along with murder. Maybe I'm wrong. Never could get through "On the Origins of Species." When Big Jim catches Rebecca doing some sort of science experiment he is angry that she is moving on ahead with him but Science Teacher Pine manages to convince Jim that this is the right course of action. The Dome sent the virus, or incubated it, and now it's ready for him to use. By combining swine flue and influenza, those strongest enough to live will and the weak ones will die. Okay Science Teacher Pine, do you plan on partaking in this eugenics free for all? What happens if you're not among the chosen? Oh, but you're not playing God? Alright then. You keep telling yourself that.

Julia and Sam catch on to Science Teacher Pine's plan because they have nothing better to do. Seriously, aren't you supposed to be the monarch or something, Julia? Shouldn't you be doing something magical? What is your purpose!? I guess it's to create unresolved sexual tension because Julia is still on the outs with her man, Barbie. Thankfully she has Sam's arms to fall into. You sure can choose 'em, Red. First there was your husband who gambled away all your money. Then there was Barbie who killed your husband. And now there is Sam, who is not in the least bit suspicious. These two wonders spend the entire episode trying to chase down Rebecca and take the magical potion (influenza secret formula) away from her before she can put it in the town's water. Rebecca's grand plan? Put the virus in the water people are using to "cross" themselves with in the church. This doesn't scream "agenda" at all! If you're really so concerned about weeding out the weak, then you do not discriminate by starting with people who have faith. That's bad science! You give it to everyone, at once, so that the religious and non-religious alike either live or die. By signaling out one specific group of people you are showing your own biases. Science Teacher Pine is really grating on my nerves. She apparently knows all the things, but can't conduct an experiment without her own subjective interpretation coming into play? Now in the end none of this really matters because Rebecca can't go through with it; so this entire storyline was for nothing. I doubt Science Teacher Pine has given up so easily but she and Julia are now officially at war; Rebecca tells Julia that Barbie signed off on the plan and now Julia has even more reason to fall into not-even-remotely-suspicious Sams' arms.

Meanwhile in the story that actually matters on this show: Melanie is Jesus. Sort of. Having learned that Melanie comes from the year 1988, Joey and Norrie (well, more Joey than Norrie) debate whether or not to tell Barbie. This should not be a debate. Tell Barbie. Secrets come out under the Dome, you idiots. When Barbie does arrive on scene, the three kids and he set off to try and find the wifi signal coming from the school to make contact with the outside world; you know the thing Joey and the rest should have done last week instead of checking Twitter. Barbie learns the truth about Melanie and surprise surprise! They are from the same town. Melanie moved to Chester's Mill in 1988, only a few months before she vanished, from the city where Barbie grew up, hence why he looks familiar to her. Cue the dramatic music. Having acquired the address to Mel's home in Chester's Mill the foursome set out to uncover clues! It's like they are the Scooby Gang (either the cartoon version or the Buffy version). But at least they care about the actual mystery of the Dome still (looking at you, Julia). At Mel's house they find drawings of pinks stars and Mel remembers seeing them fall 25 years ago; the place where they fell? The same spot where Norrie and Joey found the mini-dome last season! Time for exploring in the woods and warning, this is where we get exposition explosion. When Mel steps on to the spot where the mini-dome was, she suddenly "remembers everything" and we get flashbacks of the night she vanished. Melanie was dating Sam (um. what) and Pauline, Junior's mother, was dating Lyle. They saw the pink stars falling and went to investigate. They found a meteor that had crash landed on earth and was glowing. For some unknown and idiotic reason, the four of them decide to TOUCH THE PIECE OF GLOWING SPACE ROCK. Geniuses. Absolute geniuses. The meteor opens and there is an egg inside. Melanie feels a special connection to this egg and picks it up. The other three begin freaking out and telling her to put it down and Melanie, being the bright girl that she is, tries to run. When suddenly out of nowhere, she is shoved! Oh no! Melanie tumbles down into the ravine and hits her head on the glowing space rock and that's the story of how Melanie Cross died. I cannot stop rolling my eyes.

So let me get all this straight. Sam knows exactly who Melanie is; in fact he used to make out with her--again, ew. But Melanie died the night the mini dome fell to earth (or something) and no one knows who killed her and no one reported her dead and these three geniuses covered up the murder? What is this, Pretty Little Liars? Did Melanie's death (read: sacrifice) open a time portal and she was transported across time to the present day? But what about the egg? She came from the egg right? Except she was holding it when she died. And is she still "dead dead" or only mostly dead? Is she Jesus or a zombie?! Are those two mutually exclusive? Add to this Junior's little escapade this week into another aspect of the mystery: his mother Pauline. Turns out, Lyle and Pauline have been in communication since Pauline left town. Thinking that the Dome would follow her instead of her son, she decided to fake her death. That's logical. Lyle has been keeping Pauline's secrets for her, but he needs the journal she kept. Pauline is a prophet. Don't be surprised. Please tell me she lived on Damascus Road as a kid (Acts or 1 Cor, go look it up). Apparently all the secrets of the universe are in this journal. To bad Lyle beats Junior with a tire iron and takes it; mostly I chalk this up to Lyle being a crazy bastard who has a whole new agenda outside of bringing Pauline home. This episode was so disjointed. On the one had, you have Big Jim, Rebecca, Julia and Sam doing magical science religious things (cause nobody can make up their mind). On the other hand, you have the magical and mystical science fiction happy meal that is living under the Dome. I have no idea what this story is trying to say anymore.

Miscellaneous Notes on Revelation

--I wonder if Barbie and Melanie knew each other in their old home town.

--"All I feel is sad." Oh gods, what a line!

--Junior, as someone who is certifiable yourself, learn to see the crazy and leave the crazy in a jail cell. 

--Julia and Sam are going to kiss next week. I am totally calling it.

--Sam killed Melanie and Angie. I'm totally calling it.

--The season will end with Melanie bringing down the Dome through the power of her mind and/or lips.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

In Which I Review Extant (1x2)

The hardest thing about being in space? The coffee. Goodness know I can't start my day without a cup (or three) of coffee either. Why am I talking about coffee? Because the main thrust of this episode is the attempt at normalcy while a whole lot of not-so-normal things are happening around you. You've come back from a year long mission in space but there is still coffee to be made, kids to dress, eggs to cook, parties to go to, business meetings to attend, friends to see. Of course in the midst of all this, you have a robotic son, a mysterious pregnancy, and a conspiracy in which you've become a lab rat in a space-maze. So, drink the coffee because things get weird. I think I've discovered a fatal flaw in the paradigm of the show. It is trying to be all the things. When it comes to science fiction, there are slews upon slews of topics from which to choose: good old faith vs science, the ethics of humanity in relation to their scientific achievements and development, the nature of humanity as it relates to each other in overwhelming progress, straight up Jungian archetypes existing in a scientific world, the unceasing scientific progress that doesn't care about humanity morality or culture, eugenics. Take your pick. However, do limit yourself to just a few, especially on a 13 episode summer show. Unless you have Gene Roddenberry somewhere in your title, you may want to pull back on the throttle. Extant is trying to have its cake and eat it too. The pregnancy storyline, which was what the show was pitched as, isn't as compelling as the philosophical musings about human connectivity in the face of the new robotics. Why have a character who is creating life from un-life and a robot who is trying to be more child than machine if your main storyline is actually this alien pregnancy meets government and wealthy business coverup? They may all connect, but for the moment I am far more interested in the storyline that is probably supposed to be second tier. 

This weeks episode, "Extinct," (creative title, no?) is basically a-day-in-the-life of. It is book-ended by a family over meals, keeping secrets from each other but putting on their "we are totally normal" face. Molly is having a bit of a hard day. She's with Ethan and having some mommy-robotic son bonding time over games and conversation. However, Molly seems to be troubled by a constant drumming sound; at first it's the washing machine thudding (the sound of normalcy that invokes a supernatural fear) but later, the thudding continues and this time the washer cannot be blamed. The freaky-ex-alien guy from the space ship is in her kitchen telling her "it's okay." Yes, everything is normal here in this bizarre trippy world where your ex has come back to life only as, most likely, an alien that has impregnated you. I'm convinced the aliens don't know human language but instead are mimicking human language. Molly ends up fainting and some bizarre symbols are burned into her skin. I'm sure those are totally normal (lies). Ethan and Molly go to the natural history museum and there is some very heavy handed evolution/extinction/survival of the fittest motifs going on. I get that the pregnancy storyline is probably leading to the inevitable "race to save a dying species" trope mixed in with "aliens are friends not enemies" but this was a bit too on the nose. I find that I'm also confused about Ethan's level of intelligence. Is he smarter than the average bear? And if yes, shouldn't he have a basic understanding of extinction? He is self aware to the point where he knows he's not a homo sapien and "not real" but basic evolution concepts are unfamiliar to him? It's possible, but let's just say that this was obvious exposition for the audience.

Molly and Sam, the doctor who is currently keeping Molly's secrets, meet to discuss the situation. Previously the missing astronaut, Harmon, told Molly not to trust anyone but like many protagonists on TV, Molly didn't listen. She tells Sam that Harmon is alive, to which Sam reveals that Molly and Harmon have identical brain abnormalities. We get a flashback of Harmon's time on the space station and his encounter with his dead mother--which was all sorts of horror show creepy. Harmon flushed his mom out into space, but not before creepy mom touched him. I'm guessing touch is a key factor here, which again relates back to the human connectivity question when it comes to something inhuman. With the information that Harmon and Molly share a brain abnormality, Molly attempts to dig up the mission reports from Harmon's time in space only to be denied access by her workplace. Bells should be going off in your head, Molly. Now super paranoid about the coverup, Molly and Harmon meet and discuss what is going on. Harmon seems to think that while he and Molly went into space to do their own experiments, they themselves were being experimented upon. Rats in a maze, dancing and running for cheese. This is backed up later when Alan, Molly's boss, and Hideki, John's new boss, meet and do the whole "vague lines that will tantalize the audience so they keep watching while simultaneously revealing that we are in the know and have all the answers." The dialogue exchange fits perfect with this "You found them" "They're already here." And then you add in that this whole thing began with another woman, a daughter, and that Hideki has only 102 days to live before, I assume, he must go back into the macaroni-and-cheese colored pod of goo and be "healed" and we've got more plot lines than I know what to do with. I said this last week, but everything right now is rather nebulous. There's a pregnancy mystery, a larger mystery with various high powered individuals, debates on science and life, oh and it looks like we've got a potential love triangle/affair going on. Gotta have one of those. There is a lot to unpack still but I hope they stop adding layers.

Miscellaneous Notes on Extinct

--Looking sharp is looking like Goran Visnjic. I agree.

--Julia, John's assistant, is so clearly in love with him and obviously got to used to being his "wife" while Molly was away. Is John aware of this? Nope.

--Molly appears to be carrying a perfectly normal human child. 

--Hideki and and our resident religion-still-matters board member are a couple. I wonder if she knows that her lover is dying in 102 days.

--How old is Hideki? He seems to have a fondness for history. Not unusual, but with shows like this there might be something more to it. Something, dare I say, very-old-super-human-looking-for-a-way-to-live-forever sort of deal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In Which I Review Under The Dome (2x3)

This week's episode of Under the Dome, "Force Majeure," is like an ice cream sundae. If that ice cream sundae was made out of heavy religious overtones, silly science fiction explanations, bizarre fights amongst couples, and time travel. Ok, so maybe it's not like an ice cream sundae. It's more like ice cream soup, in which everything has melted down and the chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry have become indistinguishable from each other. You eat it because it's ice cream, but it doesn't really satisfy your ice cream desire. That's Under the Dome. This episode was Under the Dome silliness at its finest. Not since Max No-Last-Name last season have we seen something so hilariously bizarre as a religious nut job, bloody rain, and time-traveling-worm-hole-exploring international girl of mystery! Oh and singing. Don't forget the singing! A "force majeure" is something so huge that it frees individuals from a previously agreed upon contract. I guess that's important to know going in. Here we go. Let's go dance in the rain. 

Our cast of intrepid little heroes gets broken into two this week, so let's start with the adults. Big Jim and Science Teacher Pine have come up with a way to register every citizen still living in Chester's Mill. Everyone is required to show up at the diner (which I am now convinced is the only one in town) and fill out a form as to their health and needs. This is not suspicious at all, I'm sure. Especially since last week, Science Teacher Pine began her "we must kill humans" campaign. Barbie and Julia are still on the outs because Julia implicitly trusts Mysterious Lake Girl. Because Julia is an idiot. You used to be an newspaper investigator! Dig or research or do something! A man you've never met shows you a picture of the Mysterious Lake Girl who is now living in your house and your first instinct is to have faith that the Magical Dome needs her to be safe and protected and you're not going to question anything? That is dumb. I'm not saying that she shouldn't have faith--the show is obviously going full steam ahead with the faith vs science debate--but to have absolute blind faith in the girl who mysteriously appeared drowning in a lake, who doesn't know her own name, or where she came from, and who was, apparently, around 25 years ago-- is not even remotely smart. Maybe we take some time to think this out, Julia!

 Oh look. A new person. Cause we haven't had an abundance of new people already? This is Lyle. He's a barber. Lyle likes to sing. Lyle only likes to sing because he's really Dwight Yokam and so of course Lyle likes to sing. Lyle is also a creepy bastard. When your introduction to the guy is a razor and him shaving Jim while a sense of foreboding hangs over the scene, you should go ahead and assume we've met the villain of the week. Lyle and Jim's wife used to date back in the day, but Lyle is totally okay with the fact that she chose Jim over him (sure). Lyle is also a religious fanatic. So crazy ex and a religious nutter. These are all good things. So, for some reason it begins to rain red. Science Teacher Pine gives some sort of explanation but honestly I have no idea what it is. Something science-y. Because in case you missed it, Science Teacher Pine is the science in the faith vs science debate that is being forced on us in such a heavy handed manner. Jim and Science Teacher Pine set out to rescue some people caught in the red rain because, it the words of Mysterious Lake Girl who stuck her hand out into it, "IT BURRRRRRNNNSSSSSSS." Please watch that scene without laughing hysterically. You won't be able to do it, I promise. Anyway, as Jim and Science Teacher Pine go on their rescue mission--all the while discussing the nature of faith and science and if the Dome is testing Big Jim's resolve again--Lyle appears out of nowhere and abducts Science Teacher Pine. Lyle does not enjoy the fact that Science Teacher Pine was putting down his faith. You see, Lyle believes this is the ten plagues of Egypt visiting Chester's Mill. First there was fire and then insects and now blood. It's a sign of the end times! Run for your life!

Having captured Science Teacher Pine, Lyle begins trying to convert her to his faith. You see, Science Teacher Pine is standing in the way of Yahweh's plan. And no one stands in the way of Yahweh's plan! Oh right, what is the plan? End of days, rapture, accession to heaven. Same old, same old. Science Teacher Pine wants to stop the rain, but not Lyle. Oh no, Lyle does not want to stop the rain. Obvious famous Dwight Yokam song is obvious. Don't worry, there is only a brief amount of torture before Barbie and Julia show up and rescue Science Teacher Pine. Julia and Lyle discuss the nature of the Dome and how Julia also believes it was sent for a reason; she has FAITH. While Lyle only has a feeling about the Dome, the Dome itself speaks to Julia. Of course it does. Please tell me it doesn't have anything pretentious and off putting and over the top silly to say. "If you want the darkness to abate you must earn the light." Of for fu---. Really? That's what the Dome is saying to you, Julia? Are you sure it's not calling for blood and fire? And the Dome is such a learned Dome. Abate! Earn the light! Faith is better than science! Feed me the souls of virgins!

So Lyle is carted off to jail and because we apparently haven't had enough of the science vs faith thing, we need one more showdown between the two. In the right corner we have Science Teacher Pine who believes that she singlehandedly stopped the rain! (Do not ask me how; there was a hose and a lake and something). In the left corner, we have Julia who is having deep spiritual conversations with the Dome! And it's telling her to EARN the light. And in the middle you have Barbie who thinks that in times of crisis, people's true nature comes out and it's almost always bad. This makes Julia sad. He killed your husband, you....special snowflake, you. Anyway, the fight between Science Teacher Pine and Julia goes like this
Pine: I stopped the rain! Now we must kill people!
Julia: What?
Pine: Kill! Death! Food! Supplies! Thin the herd
Jim: I agree
Barbie: Julia, sugar pie honey buns, you know I totes love you but the Pine lady has a point. People are bad.
Julia: I thought I knew you!!
Me: For the love of everything, you met him two weeks ago and he killed your husband!
However, I would like to point out that if you want people on board with the whole "survival of the fittest Hunger Games-esque" parade, maybe we don't refer to them as livestock being taken to slaughter. Just a thought. 

Ok, I've had enough of these adults for now. Let's move on to the kids. Science Teacher Pine sends Joey, Norrie, and Mysterious Lake Girl to the school to look at schematics for a windmill. I know Joey is smart and all, but seriously, where are your engineers? Doesn't this town have anyone more in-the-know besides a kid? Are we really resting all our hopes and dreams on this guy? Mysterious Lake Girl goes along even though Norrie is clearly in the bandwagon that doesn't trust her. And why would you? She's obviously a little unhinged. While in the school, somehow, an internet single comes through. Huzzah! Connection to the outside world! What's the first thing we should do? CHECK TWITTER OF COURSE. BECAUSE WHY WOULD WE SEND OUT SOME SORT OF MESSAGE TO AUTHORITIES INFORMING THEM OF WHAT IS GOING ON INSIDE THE MAGICAL GOLD FISH BOWL. WE'LL DO THAT NEXT BUT FIRST LET ME CHECK MY TWITTER FEED.

While the kids enjoy their connectivity to the internet, Mysterious Lake Girl and Joey enjoy their connectivity to each other. Much to Norrie's dismay. When Joey begins to cry over Angie's death and wondering if he should tell his parents, Mysterious Lake Girl says, "we'll figure it out, sweetie." Erm. 'Kay. You've known him for five seconds and already with the touching and the terms of endearment. Norrie, just take her out. You'll be better for it. Joey will be better for it. The show will be better for it. Joey postulates that there is a crack in the Dome--a wormhole to be precise. And that's how they are getting a connection. I don't even understand what that means but I guess I'm supposed to just accept that Joey knows what he's talking about since he's our wunderkind and whatever the wunderkind says, goes. The signal goes out and Joey, Norrie and Mysterious Lake Girl go in search of its source, and of course, end up in front of Angie's locker where she came down with a sudden case of axe-to-head. The locker is locked but not for long! Mysterious Lake Girl sees the combination in her head and opens it. It's empty. Another mystery for another day. For now, Norrie has had it. How did Mysterious Lake Girl know how to open the safe? Who are you?! Joey says, "I think I know!" Of course you do. Because wormholes, right?

Joey gets the bright idea to look at a list of all the people who have had the locker over the past 50 years, in an effort to jog Mysterious Lake Girl's memory. And BOOM! It happens. We get a name. I can finally stop calling her Mysterious Lake Girl. She is Melanie Cross. Yay! Oh wait, she had this mysterious locker in 1988? How is that possible? Wormholes, right? This is about to be get really science fiction-y with time travel and alternate dimensions. My favorite part of this scene? Joey finds a yearbook from 1988 and find Melanie Cross. Showing the picture to Mysterious Lake Girl, she utters, "That's me!" No kidding, Sherlock. Thanks for that. Just in case I wasn't sure you were Melanie Cross after you recognized the name, knew the locker combo, and Joey had his "omg guys! We're on to something" face.

One more piece that needs to fit into this already bizarre puzzle. Junior. Or..James, as I guess he's calling himself now. Junior, while at the school with the other three kids, manages to connect to his email and get a message from the mysterious HoundsofDiana. It's a video of his mother, who is supposed to be dead, revealing that she is in fact alive. The only thing she tells Junior: go talk to Lyle. Trust no one but Lyle. Lyle will explain everything. Luckily, Junior is just in time to see Sam and Lyle have a heart to heart about Lyle keeping his mouth shut about whatever they buried 25 years ago and there's a lot of "this will all be explained in due time, grasshoppers, so long as you keep turning in!" When Junior confronts Lyle, Lyle offers to help so long as Junior lets him out of the cell. So to recap the more important aspect of this show: Junior mom is not-so-dead; Lyle, Sam and Junior's mom buried something and promised to keep it buried; Mysterious Lake Girl is Melanie Cross and from the year 1988. And on next weeks episode of The Twilight Zone, it turns out that we're all living in a marble on the edges of space! (Please don't actually do this, Under the Dome).

Miscellaneous Notes on Force Majeure

--"We don't even know her name!" Thank you for pointing that out Barbie. Julia, take notice. Barbie is acting like a sensible guy.

--Jim has the hots for Science Teacher Pine.

--"I won't let you die...yet." Geez Sam. Calm down already. Openly telling someone that you want them dead might not be the best plan. Especially the guy with the God Complex.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Which I Review Extant (1x1)

Space. The final frontier. These are the....

Oh. Wait. It's not that sort of space show? Okay, cool. When I first saw the previews for Extant, I was both befuddled and intrigued. Science fiction mission in space meets Alien-esque pregnancy conspiracy meets a whodunit. None of that is to say that it didn't look cool, but rather I was confused as to what the show was supposed to be. Still, Halle Berry. Can't go wrong with her. I was genuinely surprised by how good the first episode, "Re-Entry," was. It kept me on the edge of my seat; it had a lot of thought provoking ideas woven in between an actual mystery. I am hoping this summer show doesn't go the way of Under the Done with its science fiction silliness. The basic premise is of a woman who returns from a year long solo mission in outer space to find that she's pregnant and all sorts of mysteries unfold. I know it sounds trite, but what saves the show, at least from the pilot, is that it's not simply a "who is the baby daddy!" type scenario; there is an actual philosophical bent the series. It's about more than just alien pregnancy.

Let's just get this out of the way: there are a lot of characters in this show. And I don't remember all their names or why they are important. That was the one weakness so far. They introduced characters off stage and then, when they were brought in, I couldn't quite remember who they were. At the center of the show is the basic family unit of mom, dad, child. Some time in the future, Molly and John Woods are raising their son, Ethan. I don't know how far into the future, but technology has come quite a way yet people are still driving cars and fashion remains very 2014. So, I'd guess it's at least 50 years into the future, maybe 60-80. Both Molly and John are scientists but of a different variety. I'm not scientifically inclined enough to understand what Molly was doing in space, but apparently it was important enough to warrant a year long solo mission. The pilot is set after her re-entry. John works with robots, but, interestingly enough, seems to strive for the all essential human connection that artificial intelligence lack. You would think these might be reversed, and not because of gender. People who work in space, at least on TV, tend to have a more positive outlook on life and humankind, having seen Earth from afar and understood that the things that divide humans--religion, money, culture--don't exist except through human agency; we make those things divide us, but in reality, out there in space, Earth is just a big blue marble with no such divisions. So it's refreshing to see Molly be the one who is more skeptical about life. Which leads us to their son: Ethan. First "omg--what!" moment of the show; Ethan is a robot powered by batteries.

This came completely out of left field. I was not expecting John to open his son's back and insert a new power source. But once you see that Ethan is not human life, you can't stop noticing how inhuman he is. He has a quiet demeanor, he stares a lot, there is a certain "Daemon, son of Satan" vibe about him. He's prone to anger and rage, but also seems to love his father very much. The show definitely has a philosophical slant to it: what is life? how do we define what is human? Is a little boy who runs and plays soccer and like ice cream and sleeps with a night light any less human because he happens to be machine? I like that Ethan is self-aware; he is under no delusions about his state of being; he tells his father, "I'm not real" despite John's protests. John and Molly both love their son but have a different view on him. Molly is obviously more scientific when it comes to Ethan--the love he displays is not "love" but a series of electrical impulses hardwired into him to mimic love; John thinks Ethan is fully conscious of emotions and how to display them because he was raised, from the start, by humans. Despite claiming that Ethan is their son, Molly is wary around him. She seems awkward and unsure; John is the one who ties Ethan's shoes and tucks him in at night. John created Ethan as part of his work, but whatever his original purpose was behind AI creation, it has changed since raising Ethan. The best scene of the episode was John talking to share holders of a major company, looking for funding to continue his research and development into robotics.

During this presentation, John sums up what is probably the over arching theme of the show: life--whatever that may be--will out. The title of the show, Extant, refers to that which is still in existence. It's the opposite of extinct. The machines John is creating are a new form of life, but that doesn't mean that they can't be "human." If you raise the machines, from their conception and birth, with the all important "human connection," then they are just like you and me. They know good from bad and have free will. When asked what is to stop the machines from rising up in rebellion over fleshy humankind, John simply replies "nothing." But there is nothing to stop fleshy human beings from uprising against each other either. Because John sees these AI's as just as human as himself and his wife, he doesn't think any precaution needs to be taken against the dangers of AI. It all centers around, what is life? At the same time that John is trying to persuade businessmen, and the audience, that machine life in the form of Ethan is just as real as flesh, Molly receives some startling news about another form of life.

We're given just a glimpse into Molly's past. Before she married John, she was involved with Marcus, who I think we can say is "dead." Yes, note the quotation marks. Molly clearly still loves him and misses him, but we aren't given any insight into how he died. Keep this in mind. Her solo mission in space, so far as we can tell from the small glimpse we got, was fairly normal. Until, suddenly, it wasn't. The event in question must have happened only very recently, within the final month of her mission. A solar flare took out the power (or something, I'm not an expert on space stations, I'm just going with what I saw) of Molly's "home." When she went to investigate the outage, a man appeared to her. Now, bear in mind, Molly is supposed to be 100% alone on this station. For a man to suddenly appear behind a closed door, having written "help me" on the glass is enough to make anyone freak out a bit. But when you add in the ex-factor, it's gets even freakier. Yes, the "man" on the outside of the door is Marcus, the dead lover. Or at least, someone wearing a Marcus suit. Alien? Most likely. But we don't know from where he came or what he wants. All we know is that he and Molly share a moment before Molly blacks out. When Molly comes to, the footage taken by the space station shows her totally alone. No dead-alien-ghost-ex to be seen. Molly makes the hasty decision to erase all evidence of this encounter. Back on earth, during her first medical exam, it is discovered that she is pregnant. Cue the dramatic music.

There are some other mysteries going on outside of sudden alien pregnancy. The agency Molly works for obviously knows a bit more than they are letting on. Working in tandem with the owner of a multimillion dollar company who refuses to fund John's research into AI, they are keeping close tabs on Molly and whatever happened to her up in space. We get the impression that this is not the first time something mysterious has happened to a returning scientist. Before Molly went up, there was another. But upon his re-entry, his readjustment did not go well and he committed suicide. Except, he's apparently alive as well--appearing in the final moments of the episode. I assume he is the one who sent Molly the note about knowing what happened to her in space. How he faked his death and what he knows and whatever happened to him on his own mission is part of the mystery. And finally, Mr. Yasumoto, the owner to the company who is privately funding John, has a whole aura of suspicion about him. Whenever someone is "hatched" some a substance, you should probably keep an eye on them. I don't know what is up with him. Is he looking for new life? He is just really rich and bored? Is dying a slow death and looking for way to subvert it? Is he an alien himself?

Overall: check it out! There are a lot of threads being dangled in front of the audience and right now the connection between all of them is incredibly nebulous. However, unless the show goes cheesy, I think it's going to be a very good summer mystery.

Miscellaneous Notes on Re-Entry

--"We always end up where we're supposed to."

--Molly was infertile before her run in with the alien. I wonder if that played a factor in the alien "choosing" her.

--Ethan is a creepy kid, but I think that's part of the overall themes presented in the show: what is life. Is Ethan creepy because he's not "human" or is he creepy because that's part of his personality and development?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Which I Review Under the Dome (2x2)

When I was younger, there was a book I enjoyed reading called The Very Hungry Caterpillar. As the title might suggest, it revolved around a...well, very hungry caterpillar who proceeded to eat and eat and eat his way through the book until at last he transformed into a beautiful butterfly. It was a fun story. However, the very hungry caterpillar was not about to destroy a town with its insatiable appetite. In this weeks episode, "Infestation," the caterpillars decide that their needs outweigh the needs of Chester's Mill and with bloodthirsty vengeance they strike out against the townsfolk! No, I'm just kidding. Caterpillar's don't have any sort of higher thinking or free will that would make them mortal enemies to the town of Chester's Mill. They're just hungry, is all. So we must kill them! This episode was basically straight up Under the Dome silliness: fire! life and death! teen vigilantes! hungry insects! population control! messianic logic and god complexes! love triangles! Goodness, that's a lot for one hour of TV, is it not?

Do you know what is potentially not good? Having the psychopath known as Junior (Little Crazy Pants) find the dead body of his ex-girlfriend in their high school. And by ex-girlfriend, I mean the girl he loved but who rejected him, only to wind up locked in a cellar for awhile because Junior thought the Dome was playing with her mind. Yeah, the Dome was playing with HER mind, Junior. Go take your crazy elsewhere. Now, here's a question: why in the name of everything is Angie's body covered in butterflies? Is it symbolic? Cool visual effect? Was the actress unable to appear as a corpse so they used a stunt double and decided to put the flying insects covering her face so that the audience would remain blissfully ignorant over her true identity? However, what I'm more worried about is Junior very tenuous hold on reality, especially since his violent tendencies are well known. He spends most of this episode moping about and crying and holding Dead Angie's hand but woe to the person who hurt his precious Angiekins. When Junior finds you, there will be hell to pay. Unless of course, Junior is the one who killed Angie. Last week it seemed clear that it was Mysterious Lake Girl (who still does not have a name!) who axed (literally) Angie. This week, evidence suggests otherwise. A hand print, specifically a man's hand print, was found on Angie's body. Mysterious Lake Girl is mysterious but she's not a man. Or is she? What if she can change her body? Or her hand! What if she can become one with the Dome and change her appearance? You think I'm joking but it's totally possible that this is where the show is going. Or maybe Junior killed Angie. The night before, Junior got very drunk and blacked out and doesn't remember anything; maybe he got up, in a blind drunk rage, and went and killed Angie. Evidence for this? Well, he's crazy so that helps. But Junior also finds Angie's bracelet under his cot in the jail cell (he's living there cause living with Papa Crazy Pants doesn't seem to be working for him). Do I really think it's that cut and dry? No, of course not. There's no way that Junior killed Angie and that we're being given all the hints for that right off the bat. Misdirection, folks.

In other news, Big Jim is now Jesus. Or at least in his head he's Jesus. Big Jim has always had a God Complex, but the fact that the Dome spared his life has caused him to turn over a new leaf. "I've become a believer," he tells Joey and Norrie over Most-Awkward-Breakfast-Ever. Actually, a small tangent: why do Joey and Norrie think it's a good idea to bed down in casa loco? Why aren't they staying with Barbie and Julia? Or with anyone else? I mean seriously, anyone else! Joey's a smart kid, surely he could find literally anyone else in the city of Chester's Mill who would let him and his girlfriend crash on their couch. Or heck, break into one of those empty homes and sleep there! It worked for Max-No-Last-Name. Living with Big Jim just seems like a bad idea. Back on track now, Big Jim and Science Teacher Pine have a little tet-a-tet in which she informs Big Jim (and the audience) that they have a serious problem on their hands: caterpillars. The Dome is messing with the reproductive cycle of the caterpillars; it has accelerated it in fact. The butterflies are laying eggs at an increased rate, which leads to more caterpillars, which leads to more butterflies. Why is this a problem? Because caterpillars are hungry and are going to eat the entire food supply of Chester's Mill! Right. All of it. First off, why is this just now being discovered? There are obviously farmers who live in Chester's Mill--we met a bunch of them in season one! So why are they just now discovering this issue? You'd think the people who grow and tend the food would be the first to be clued in that there is an infestation of very hungry caterpillars! But no, the writers need to give Science Teacher Pine something to do to justify bringing her into the show (and killing Linda in the process) so caterpillar infestation! Second, Science Teacher Pine's plan is...interesting. Burn them all!!

Without any approval from authorities, without help from anyone, Science Teacher Pine decides to set the food on fire! Everyone's reaction to Science Teacher Pine's plan is mild acceptance, "yes this makes perfect sense. We should destroy our crops in order to kill the things that want to eat our food. Never mind that we still need to eat. Oh, maybe Barbie has another idea? That's cool too." Big Jim thinks that this is "the first test." The Dome, having spared his life (which it did not do, Julia did that) is now presenting Jim with a series of tests to see if Jim can be the Hero and Savior Gotham Chester's Mill needs. Good LORD, Jim Rennie. Get off your high horse. You are not Jesus! Thankfully, Barbie steps in and points out that burning the food supply is probably incredibly stupid. Oh and Barbie can fly a plane. Neat-O! Barbie performs some stunning air tricks in his little plane and sprays pesticide on the crops to kill all the hungry caterpillars. However this does not solve a central problem that Science Teacher Pine brings up at the end of the episode: there are too many people living in Chester's Mill. They do not have enough food to sustain the population. Well, DUH. You didn't think of this when the Dome fell? It really has taken someone this long to figure out that without more food coming in, eventually the food that does exist will be consumed and there will be starvation. So let me guess, the caterpillars were a foreshadowing of the real infestation: man. And we're going to set them on fire (probably to appease He Who Walks Behind the Rows).

And finally, Julia proves that she is quite possibly incredibly stupid. Julia is convinced that Mysterious Lake Girl couldn't possibly have killed Angie; when Barbie points out that Mysterious Lake Girl was at the school, her shoe matches the bloody shoe print found at the scene of the crime, and that no one seems to know who she is, and in fact Mysterious Lake Girl doesn't even know who Mysterious Lake Girl is, Julia gets all huffy and declares that she feels like she is loosing Barbie. What? Because he disagreed with you? And this is a few hours after you two woke up in bed together? You know what might be the real tipping point of this relationship: dealing with the fact that Barbie killed your husband! But I guess we've moved beyond that, so instead we have to set up a really odd love triangle between Barbie, Julia, and Sam (Mystery Man in Cabin). Julia is obviously turned on by the fact that Sam has weird pictures of Mysterious Lake Girl drawn 20 years ago. Sam and Julia think Mysterious Lake Girl is special, therefore they are totally going to hook up. Hey, relationships on this show have been formed over less. See: every romantic couple on the show.

Miscellaneous Notes on Infestation

--The butterflies flock to Julia because she's the Monarch. That's her secret power.

--"She's a scared little girl, she couldn't have killed Angie!" Julia, seriously, YOU LIVE IN A GIANT GOLDFISH BOWL. And it's the fact that this is a girl who trembles a lot that is your indication that she couldn't possibly have done anything wrong?? Why are you still using logic and reasoning? You live under a Dome that is trying to send you messages. Give up the logic ghost, honey. You'll be better for it.

--"What do you have faith in?" "You, Big Jim" (insert eye roll here)

--Who killed Angie? I'm still going with Mysterious Lake Girl

--Joey, Norrie, and Junior try to take matters into their own hands and gun down Mysterious Lake Girl. These kids have basically learned nothing.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In Which I Reveiw The Leftovers (1x2)

Aggression. If kept unchecked it has a tendency to boil over and cause havoc. When you're so angry about the events in your life that you just want to hit's good to keep a plastic penguin around. In this weeks episode, "Penguin One, Us Zero" the leftover anger of loosing friends and family bubbles up in various forms of aggression--violent and non violent ones. Tiny little indicators that you are just not the picture of mental health. There were a lot of plot strings in this episode, some that had zero to do with the others but are obviously important to the overall narrative. Gun fights, robbery, tree chopping, and man vs toaster oven, all manifestations of aggression that just can't be kept under lock and key anymore. 

 Kevin is still having a rough time. In the narrative of the show, it has been a few weeks since the parade to remember the heroes who were taken. After killing many dogs and punching a member of the cult, Kevin's coworkers are a bit concerned that he's lost his marbles--a distinct possibility seeing as his father lost his own marbles. Kevin is having weird dreams, most of which revolve around violence. In the pilot, he crashes his car into a deer; this week, he is stalking through the woods, scantily dressed I might add, to watch the Mystery Man with the Gun shoot at a member of the cult (my guess is that the target was Kevin's wife). Is Kevin crazy? I'm going to go with YES. In two episodes, he's violently assaulted someone, killed a pack of dogs, had conversation with a Mystery Gun Man who no one else even sees or can find, he's dismembering a toaster oven to find a lost bagel like some crazed drug addict who simply can't rest until the problem is solved, and he seems to have a hard time distinguishing from being awake and being asleep. The worst part might be that those around Kevin keep trying to cover up his obvious psychopathy. The mayor (who apparently is/was sleeping with Kevin's equally mental father) tells Kevin to lie to the therapist about not killing any more dogs; Kevin's lieutenant is willing to cover up the evidence of Kevin's own state of mind; Kevin's own father--who is presented at first as being totally rational and then starts talking to spirits in the air--tells him to pretend to be normal. Why is it so important that we ignore his state of mind? I think the other issue is that the show is trying to present Kevin's obvious tenuous hold on reality as if there are forces greater than him that are interfering in his life--so his mental degradation isn't his fault; it's the work of some metaphysical "Other." In the opening dream, Kevin's feet are on fire (okay?) and then he wakes up to find that his neighbors have set something on fire and when he goes over to help them, he ends up burning his feet in the snow.  It has a decidedly "this was all destined to happen" feel about it, but doesn't change the fact that Kevin is having some pretty odd dreams and waking violent flashbacks.

Last week, Meg decided to up and leave her fiancee and join the Guilty Remnant Cult. Her reasons for that have yet to be explained, or even why the GR was after her in the first place. Do they just randomly choose people they think will come along? Meg is being kept in the pledge house, meaning that she's still allowed to wear color and doesn't have to smoke yet. Laurie, Kevin's estranged wife, is Meg's sponsor. In order to become a full member of the GR, a pledge must be toughened. Which apparently means giving up one worldly possession a night and chopping down trees. I'm sure the chopping down of the tree is supposed to symbolize something--as Meg points out in the show to my amusement--but I'm much more interested in the other practices of the cult, not necessarily how one becomes a cult member. Why no talking? Why smoke? What exactly do they want? Kevin says they want to remind everyone of what happened, but...why? It's only two episodes in so I'm not going to predict that the show won't answer those questions yet, but in this post-LOST age, they can't keep us waiting around forever. The Leftovers is presenting these vignettes of people poorly coping with traumatic events as if there is a deep level of symbolism behind them, but that's not what the show was based on. There are no answers, so trying to wade through the minutia of symbolic meaning feels pointless. The entire bagel sequence from start to finish was one long tortured metaphor for insanity and also the disappearance of 2% of the world's population. Kevin, the tortured hero, rescues the bagel by freeing it from the confines of the toaster reality--the toaster being hell obviously. Now, Kevin, armed with his new knowledge about the inner workings of the toaster can rescue everyone and everything and the world can live as one. Except, again, that's not what this show was supposed to be about. There is no solution, there is no greater mystery to unfold that exists outside of human understanding. People vanished and now we cope. Go with you gut, The Leftovers. Have Kevin be completely mental and killing dogs and talking to invisible friends. It makes more sense than to slowly unravel some metaphysical mystery that is supposed to teach us all a lesson.

In an unrelated side story, Kevin's son and his uh..friend?...Wayne are now on the run. Wayne's compound was overrun with cops who are incredibly bad at their job. In what universe do cops fire on people before they are fired upon, go running into a house to terrorize girls who have been brain washed, and threaten to kill them if they try and flee? The scene failed to give me any kind of context for why teenage Asian girls are suddenly a threat. Wayne himself manages to flee, and Tommy takes one of the girls--who is SUPER important according to Wayne--with him. Wayne is a creeper. He likes to "hug it out." This is how he cures people. He hugs them. I'm sure there is some underage sex going on as well, but it's really about the hugs. Does Wayne really believe he's some sort of Messiah, or is he just a manipulative warlord pimp who is good at being charismatic? He talks a good game, I'll give him that. He manages to make Tommy think that there is some higher level plan and the little Asian girl (Christine?) is a big part of it. Sure. What is Tommy's deal though? He's obviously haunted by what happened a few years ago (good, that's the premise of the show) but is he really so into Wayne's message that he can't see how full of holes it is? The problem with that is Tommy is clearly not into the message! He refuses the magical Wayne hug. There is probably some "I want my pain!" thing going on here, but until we learn more about Tommy, he's just rather a blank box who is trying very hard not to sleep with Christine.

Craziness must run in the family, cause I don't know what Jill's deal is unless she's just a time bomb waiting to explode like her dad. She and her friend, who is doing such a nice impression of American Beauty teenage femme-fatle, spent the whole episode stalking a woman who carries a gun. They seems to think that the gun-carrying woman, who lost her whole family the day of the disappearance, is going to hurt someone. I guess that's the world in which they live now--gun automatically equals a violent scenario. It couldn't just be for protection, because no one and nothing is safe anymore. It's a tortured realization but not one that is unexpected. Is this more of an effort to feel something? Is Jill hoping that she'll witness violence first hand? Yeah...she's her father's daughter.

Miscellaneous Notes on Penguin One, Us Zero

--"I like dogs"
"Then stop shooting them cause that's what crazy people do!"

--Is Mystery Man with a Gun real? He has some obviously not real moments in the show: refuses to give his name, leaves his truck with a dead dog in Kevin's driveway, claims he is doing the Lord's work. He's either real and very strange or dead-all-along and there is something other worldly going on with Mystery Man with a Gun, Kevin and Jill and their various states of mind fuckery.

--"I should never have told you to watch The Wire." Haha. Obvious HBO show reference is obvious.

--I guess Meg has overcome her past life or something. Poor tree.