Monday, September 30, 2013

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (3x1)

Welcome to Neverland! I'm a total ONCE fangirl. I mean the scary kind--the ones who try to incorporate it into their daily lives. I spend a slightly insane amount of time talking, thinking, and writing about ONCE (I'm the forum moderator over at OncePodcast, feel free to come say hello). I've been counting down the days until ONCE came back and finally, at long last, it arrived. This is the start of the third season for ABC's fairytale show and when we last left off Henry, the son of Savior Emma Swan and adopted son of the Evil Queen Regina, had been kidnapped and taken to Neverland. Emma, Regina, Snow White and Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin and Captain Hook set sail on the Jolly Roger to track him down; meanwhile, Belle was left in Storybrooke to protect it from outsiders and Neal, Rumple's son, is presumed dead by all but really found his way back to the Enchanted Forest.

This is our first real look at Neverland and Peter Pan and it begs the question: do you believe in magic?

"The Heart of the Truest Believer" sets up many of the conflicts for the first half of the season--Neverland, Peter Pan, the Lost Ones, Rumple's vendetta, Neal trapped in the Enchanted Forest, and the tension that surrounds our characters as they try to work together. Overall it was an incredible, fast paced, action packed episode with which I only have a few nitpicky items. Let's do a couple breakdowns.

The Mother Load

Poor Emma Swan. My heart broke for her in the opening scene. Major props to Jennifer Morrison who played Emma's devastation perfectly. "I can't be a mother" she says; since season 1, Emma has been trying her hardest to figure out how to be a mother to Henry. At first she's openly hesitant about wanting any kind of relationship with the boy she gave up for adoption. When he shows up at her door in Boston all she can think about is taking him back to Storybrooke, Maine and Regina, his adopted mother. Season two found Emma trying on motherhood for real and still being really unsure about how she was supposed to take care of a boy she's barely knows. This season Emma's whole arc will be about believing that she can be a mother. Rumple, in his slightly devious way, challengers her to believe that. Rumple doesn't give out hugs and lollipops but instead informs her that Emma can't save Henry because she has no belief in magic, in her parents or in herself. Emma is the kind of person who must see something in order to believe it and even then it's only after much poking and prodding. She couldn't see August's wooden leg until after she believed in the Curse, and she couldn't believe in the Curse until Henry lay dying in front of her. When confronted with a dragon, Emma relies on a gun instead of her father's sword until the last possible second. Emma continuously doubts herself as being the Savior, True Love Incarnate, and possibly the most magical being in existence because it frightens her.  In order to find Henry she is going to need to get over those fears, face them and beat them. By the end of this episode it looks like she has at least taken the first step: she declares herself leader and mother, though you can tell Regina is only going along with it for the moment.

Ain't Nothing But A Family Thing

You think your family dynamic is bad? Try being a part of this one. Despite being united in a common goal--finding Henry--we knew it couldn't be long until the incredible amount of history between these characters came to a head. How could it not? The (hysterical) cat fight between Snow and Regina was a long time coming. These two will always have a different way of seeing the world: Snow's heart may have turned a little dark last season, but she's still the purest and most noble hearted of them all. She's still Snow White when all is said and done and she could never justify turning as evil as Regina. Charming is the consummate White Knight--he couldn't be devious or evil or cunning if he tried. He lives by the Knights code and believes above all else that good wins. Snow and Regina blame the other for their miserable lives; Regina will never forgive Snow for Daniel's death and all Snow sees when she looks at Regina is the woman who has tried to kill her time and time again and then cost her 28 years with her child. Not that things are necessairly happy with Snow and Charming's child at the moment.
I applauded Emma's rant to her parents. Snow and Charming have felt that they could just step right in and be the parents Emma's needs but they forget that Emma is the same age as them, and that for 28 years she was on her own. Snow and Charming have no wisdom or life experiences that Emma will find valuable because her own wisdom and life experiences are radically different. The fight between Emma and her parents felt wholly real. That was also a long time coming. Snow and Charming need to figure out how to be parents to who Emma really is--closed off and suspicious and a little hostile--not the Emma they want her to be--believer in hope and magic and being true to yourself. I suspect Mama Snow and Papa Charming will be at odds over Emma's plan of attack against Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons doesn't sit well with them, but Emma is determined to succeed, not worry about moral quandaries. 

One is the Loneliest Number 

Rumple is not exactly a team player. I don't think this comes as a surprise to anyone, really. Heartbroken over the death of Neal/Baelfire, Rumple sets out on his own to deal with Peter Pan and those responsible for killing his son. I gotta say, I loved his wardrobe change (give me Rumple in his leather anytime). He is going to be the Dark One in Neverland because the Dark One can do what he likes without having to worry about right and wrong. I expect Rumple to become darker with each passing episode as he continues his suicide mission. When someone decides that they are going to die, everything becomes clear. Rumple's objective is straight forward--save Henry from Peter Pan, even though it means his undoing. The prophecy of Rumple's undoing is still quite unclear. Does undoing mean death? Not likely, but what matters is what Rumple thinks it means. He "knows" he is going off to die and if he can take some Lost Boys with him, then so be it. However there is obviously some deep pain in Rumple when it comes to Neverland and Peter--he's been here before. And more to the point, Peter Pan scares the living daylights out of Rumple. Why? What is their history and what is the doll?
My own theory stems from a part of the traditional Peter Pan stories that is often forgotten or overlooked: Peter Pan has a younger brother. Could this sibling be Rumple? Rumple is welcome on the island so long as he doesn't interfere with Peter's plans for Henry. Peter has no issue with Rumple except in his mission. I suspect that Rumple has been to Neverland at least twice before: once as a young boy with his older brother Peter and once years later after he became the Dark One in order to get squid ink to write out the Dark Curse. As far the doll goes, I think it's Rumple's happy thought. When he went to Neverland originally he took the doll, something his mother made for him. But Neverland was not what he thought it would be and his brother Peter became cruel and evil. The doll no longer held any happy thoughts but instead represented the way his family changed over time. Peter let Rumple go, unable to hurt his own brother, but Rumple left he doll behind, unable to look at anymore.

Not Sure This is What Disney Had In Mind

Raise your hand if you're really freaked out by Peter Pan. Talk about one creepy demented twisted little kid. I've known for awhile that Robbie Kay was playing Peter Pan, but I was super worried about the idea of a 18 yr old going toe to toe against someone like Robert Carlyle. Turns out I didn't need to be. The casting for Peter was spot on. He even looks like Peter! So why does Peter Pan want Henry? It's not even Henry per se, but rather his heart. Henry has the heart of the truest believer. This should come as a surprise to NO ONE. Our entire introduction to Henry was as the only person in Stroybrooke who believed in the Curse and that Emma was the Savior. Through everything Henry has had incredible faith in magic and goodness. Henry ate a poisoned apple turn over just to get Emma to believe! In Neverland, his meeting with Peter was quite entertaining to watch--from two bandits on the run, to flying (seriously cool) to the revelation that the new friend Henry thought he made is actually the boy who wants to take his heart. Why does Peter want Henry's heart? My own theory is that because Neverland run on belief, it needs a fuel source. Magic in Neverland is running out, the belief is trickling away and only the heart of the truest believer can put a stop gap on it. And so Peter Pan plans to carve out Henry's heart and use it to save his own people. Evil..isn't born, it's made.

Speaking of things that aren't normally evil: hello mermaids! Also, wow you're kinda terrifying. This is just a small taste of the Ariel storyline to come but these mermaids act nothing like the Little Mermaid we all know and love. They seem to relish trouble and stirring up strife. How quickly did everyone turn against each other when the Mermaid began making suggestions? But the question is: are they dark or are the just a product of what is happening in Neverland? If Peter is defeated, do the merfolk return to being happy creatures? And how does Ariel fit in? WHERE is Ariel might be a better question.

Oh Ship

Welcome to the great CaptainSwanFire debate. If you're a fan of Once Upon A Time, chances are you've come down on one side of this. Who should Emma be with: Neal or Captain Hook? Before anyone asks: SwanFire!

Neal spent this episode trying to find a way back to Emma, with the help of our old friends Mulan, Aurora and Prince Philip. And then Robin Hood who is apparently living all comfy and cozy in Rumple's old castle. Neal needs to let Emma know he's alive. And the sooner the better. I really enjoyed the conversation between Mulan and Nealfire; much of the vitriol aimed at Neal has to do with the "Tallahassee incident" in
which Neal was forced into letting Emma go to jail in order for her to fulfill her destiny someday. But then, being human and therefore somewhat cowardly like his father, when the time came to go and find Emma he took the easy way out and got involved with someone else. It was the greatest regret of his life. I really hope the intense hatred for Neal stops soon and I think moments like this show that Neal has never stopped loving Emma and is going to be fighting like hell to get back to her: even if it means going to Neverland, the last place he'd ever want to go.
Meanwhile, Captain Hook does the decent thing and allows Emma a moment to grieve for Neal and even presents her with Bae's old sword. I am dying to know how long Bae was on that ship with Hook, because Hook made it seem like it was more than a few days which is what many people assume. There is a lot of undeniable chemistry between Captain Hook and Emma and I have no doubt that the triangle that is CaptainSwanFire is only getting started. But I'm not worried. Lots of things last night confirmed to me that Neal and Emma are true love.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Heart of the Truest Believer 

--So many funny one liners from this episode! My favorites:
"Filet the bitch"
"That's an excellent use of our time. A wardrobe change."
"I will not be capsized by fish!"
"I'm all out of fish food!"
"Are you going to make it better with rainbow kisses and unicorn stickers?'
(Regina had a lot of great ones)

--"Let's Play" Peter Pan is seriously creepy.

--Anyone who makes my Rumple cry deserves what they get!

--The fact that Rumple used his cane to mark Bae's growth gave me all kind of feelings. 

--Magical family: Bae was taken out of London at 8:15 at night; Henry was born at 8:15; Emma arrived in Storybrooke and set the clock moving forward to 8:15; magic came to Storybrooke at the end of season 1 at 8:15. When something magical has happened, sometimes involving true love, for the Emma-Henry-Bae clan, it's been 8:15.

--No Belle this episode but I've been assured that some really great Rumbelle moments are coming up next week!

Friday, September 27, 2013

In Which I Return to Literature Again

As the year (more quickly than I would wish) draws to a close I finally reached my goal of reading 50 novels this year. I started in December of 2012 and as of last night I closed the cover of book number 50. Doesn't mean I'll stop reading of course; I actually plan to see how long I can keep this trend of intense novel reading up. But I take a moment to pause and review a few of the books I've read since my last literature posting. 

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

This book caught my eye as I was hurriedly walking through my local library. My mother was waiting in the car and my only goal was to pick up a few things that had come in.  The words "gameboard" and "gods" are like triggers for me: they caused my fast paced walk to slow to a crawl as my head turned and I literally went, "oooooh." The inside cover only fueled my desire to read: post apocalyptic future, somewhat of a dystopia, and a land where all religion has been banned or is under careful scrutiny from government officials. This is the first book in the "Age of X" series and while it has some pitfalls, the over all story is decent enough to warrant my investment in future books.
Mae Koskinen is part of the elite supersoilders who guard and protect the Republic of North America, a technologically similar, near future, utopia. The Republic is set up like a beacon to the rest of the world, the so-called provinces where religion is in decline but has neither been outlawed nor strictly regulated. The novel opens with Mae being reassigned as "guard dog" of an exiled "religious hunter" (for lack of a better phrase). Justin March was sent to Panama several years ago when he began to question the job he was doing. He was always the best at enforcing the Republic's anti-religious laws but after an odd experience he begins to wonder if the universe is really totally devoid of mythic beings. If Mae is the world's best solider, then Justin is the world's best scholar. He can see solutions to puzzles; he has an excellent memory (except for one tiny very annoying thing that I'll get to) and despite being a gambler, a womanizer and a drunk, has a caring if slightly rouge-ish side. He also has two ravens inside his head that talk to him at all times. Mae and Justin are forced to work together when a string of ritualistic murders show signs of mysticism and magic that require Justin's trained eye. Mae is sent to get him out of exile, bring him home, and make sure nothing happens to him while he's investigating. That is the general plot but underneath all that is prophecy and interference from gods who bide their time on the fringes of the world. The murders take the whole book to solve but you can tell they have little bearing on the series except as proof of the gods work in our world. The writing is easy enough that you don't have to focus solely on each word and parse out its meaning. It flows nicely, with some humor, some sex, and some intrigue. I really enjoyed the scenes where Justin and Mae went to religious temples and spoke to the priests. The book is far from perfect, however. First, while Mead keeps her excess characters to a minimum, the ones that are highlighted are presented as very important but actually contribute little to the overall plot. Tessa, for example, is Justin's protegee from Panama. A provincial who is supposed to be--in many ways-- the reader and demonstrate the kinda of awesome wonder and fear of this new Republic world, Tessa's given very little to do except go to school and show how bigoted the children of the Republic are and occasionally provide plot changing information through happenstance. Her role is somewhere between child deus ex machina and to show that Justin has compassion and love in him, just hidden under a lot of alcohol. My second problem was world building. For the most part, Mead's world is believable but it is as if she gives you a taste of the whole world and then sticks you in only one part of it. I want to know more about the barbarian places and provinces. And come to think of it, more about the wealthy places that seem to be their own duchy or kingdom. The way the world is set up was never fully explained to my satisfaction. And finally, Justin "conveniently" forgets something no die hard religious scholar would. I may only have a masters in religion but even I could figure out who was controlling Justin from the start. Justin has two ravens inside his head with modernized versions of their Nordic names. Of course he owes allegiance to Odin. That is billed as the greater mystery but honestly it wasn't and Justin should have known that. Instead it gets written off as Justin learned about Odin and his ravens somewhere along the line in his studies but just forgot. But this whole book has billed him as someone with an excellent memory and the world's greatest religion scholar.
Overall Grade: B

The Shades of London (books 1 and 2) by Maureen Johnson

I've known about Maureen Johnson for a few years now. She is one of John Green's best friends and writing buddies and she'd subbed for him on the Vlogbrothers channel a few times. Also, I follow her on Twitter mostly for the photos of her dog Zelda and because she's pretty hysterical. But until recently I never bothered to pick up any of her books. Honestly, nothing stood out to me as particularly interesting. Then I read a brief synopsis of this first book of the "Shades of London" series titled The Name of the Star and it finally piqued my interest enough. Before an actual review, however, I want to clarify a few things about how I perceive Johnson's writings. Johnson has been a writer for 10 years and has published 11 books. While I'm not questioning her work ethic, it does show that she's the sort of writer who can churn out stories, one after the other without needing much time to put them together. It's not bad per se but it's also not conducive to really thought out detailed literature. Reading her was a breath of fresh air as the book I was previously engrossed in was almost 1000 pages in length and required most of my mental faculties to get through. There is certainly a market for Johnson's style of writing. While we might call Green and Cassandra Clare "young adult" I would put Johnson into just the "young" category. Less developed, less compelling, it may be, but it can be fun reading. In my head, you read Johnson when it's a dreary rainy day outside and you just want to cuddle up on the couch with a book. Her characters are more cardboard cutouts that don't endear themselves to me, for the most part and are simply there to provide narration, or because the central character needs them for other purposes. For example, at this point I couldn't even tell you the name or any sort of characterization of the supposed love interest for the first book and half of the second. It's not because that character alone was that unmemorable, the same is true for the roommate and most of the others. Johnson's writing has its place to be sure but it's also not the greatest most life changing book you'll ever read.
To begin, The Name of the Star follows Aurora (Rory) as she and her parents move to England. Rory will be starting a private school--getting the full London experience as it were. The first half of the novel is mostly about Rory finding her way around, her classes, the cultural divides that separate Americans from the British. Her roommate and her get on smashingly but again I couldn't tell you anything about the roommate other than she's British and seems to be laced with stereotypical upper class British traits--polite to a fault, never shouts, cordial, likes tea. With her lead character Rory, it's also obvious that she piled on as many types of stereotypes as she could. Rory's from the south so she a lot of quirks--she loves food, she talks super fast, she's a little zany (you can see Johnson's own sense of humor here which was nice) and she has a host of odd family members and neighbors though I have to wonder how people in the south react to this sort of stereotypical treatment. The meat of the book begins as a string of murders happen around London. Unlike other murders, these seem to be copycats of the famous Jack the Ripper murders a few centuries ago. The history of Jack the Ripper is really nicely laid out, rather piecemeal, by the supposed love interest (still can't remember his name). Along the way, Rory (as we might expect) gets caught up in these murders because it turns out that she can see ghosts. It's important to note that Rory was not born with this ability--at least not really. Rory's ability is rather sheer dumb luck: she won the genetic lottery by having the right genes that lead to this but then she also chocked on a piece of food at dinner one night, almost died, and thus her superpower abilities came into their own. That's it. It's never rationally explained and is almost too comical to take seriously. Because of her new ability she meets the ghost squad, a group of top secret police officers whose job it is to track down the Jack the Ripper ghost and destroy him. The last 50 pages are as intense as I think Johnson is capable of writing and it has a nice cliffhanger.
This leads to the second book The Madness Underneath. This book is less than 300 pages which should probably tell you something already. Nothing really happens. Or maybe that's not totally accurate. Stuff happens, basic plot driven things: more murders, a sort of conspiracy, some school stuff. But a lot of the book is devoted to the internal struggles and feelings of Rory post trauma of book one. Rory is the most developed character, as she should be, but we spent way too much inside her head in this book. I suspect it was to make up for the lack of development in every other person. Rory has returned to Wexford, her school, and is trying to get on with her life and deal with new pressures as the ghost squad wants to use her and the abilities she gained at the end of the first book. Rory goes to therapy, she hunts down clues, she talks to ghosts, she doesn't do her homework. It's a typical middle book that only serves as a bridge to the third book--which isn't out yet. As harsh as I may be coming across, this series is perfectly fine and does have some positives. Johnson is pretty funny. I laughed out loud quite a bit during the first book. She makes some fun popular culture references to the Spice Girls and Doctor Who. Rory is a fun character even if she's more a caricature than a character. Johnson spends a lot of time in London and it shows; her love and knowledge of the city it totally palpable and as someone who has been to London, it made me want to go back. Absolute easy reading that you won't remember a few weeks after you've read it, but still perfect rainy day material.
Overall Grade: C+

The Golem and Jinni   By Helene Wecker

This is a beautifully written debut novel from Wecker. It's part mythological fantasy and part historical fiction. The amount of historical research she had to do must have been staggering and for that alone I take off my proverbial cap. The books presents the idea of two mythical figures--a golem (a Jewish clay person who is ruled by a master) and a jinni (a nomadic fire spirit most closely aligned with the Arab world)--in New York city the height of the second wave of immigration. During this wave, millions upon millions of culturally diverse immigrants flooded America, mostly coming from areas such as Poland, Eastern Europe, Italy and the Near East. They set up little neighborhoods in big cities, coalescing as a people, maintaining their own cultural autonomy while trying to integrate into American society. In a great many ways that is what this book is really about. Yes, there is myth and mysticism and magic, but I think (for the most part) it's more of a metaphor for life in the Americas for the immigrants who were really looked down upon by the natural born. Chava is a golem--her only desire is to serve her master, protect him at all costs and be the perfect wife. But on their crossing to America her master dies only a few hours after she awakes. Masterless she may be but this does not prevent her from picking up the desires of every other person with which she comes into contact. Ahmad is a jinni trapped for several hundred years in a flask until one day he is released by a workman. He is a hot blooded spirit who resents having to be cooped up in buildings and longs for the life when he could come and go as he pleases. Along the way both creatures try to fit into their new lives, one in the Jewish neighborhood and one in the Syrian. What I really admired in the book was how natural it felt for the two creatures to have the struggles they would be having trying to fit in. Chava, by her nature, is steadfast and at times unyielding. Her whole nature is to cater to the whims of others, but because of the danger of anyone finding out what she is, she must hide it. She is restless and bored and is only content when given tasks to do. She is stoic and solid but has no idea how she is supposed to adapt--she works too fast and too well; she doesn't sleep; she doesn't know how to mourn or what the customs are; she anticipates peoples needs before they can speak them. Like many immigrants she tries very hard to become one with her surroundings but somehow always manages to stick out. Ahmad, by contrast cares little for convention or custom or tradition and only wants to be able to live the way he chooses. He is rash and headstrong and rarely thinks of others. Like fire, his temper can burn you if you get too close. One fated night they meet and from there attempt a very uncertain friendship, trying to understand the others point of view on life. There are other characters that fill out the narrative quite nicely--the rabbi who has compassion on Chava, the tinsmith who offers Ahmad a home and work, the social worker who has socialist sympathies, the coffee shop owner who lends a sympathetic ear and then tucks away all the information until it can be shared, the former doctor reduced to living as an ice cream seller, and the mad magician who seeks life eternal. One of the most endearing aspects of the book is the way that the American life is shown and lived with very few appearances from the WASP New York set. The story of America isn't just of the white Anglo-Saxon male rising to the top of his heap, but it's the story of those who crossed oceans and were humiliated at Ellis Island and then still tried to make a living in America where they were treated as second class citizens. The book reads well and is both fun and philosophical. The last third, however, is where I had issues. Suddenly the book gives way to its mythic undertones and forgets the realness that Wecker set up. Magic formulas, past lives, incantations, it all gets to be a bit hectic when so much of the book has felt real. Much of the final action needed to be simplified and reduced as it started to drag. The ending itself was a little too "happily ever after" but maybe that can be forgiven since it is a fantasy mythic type. The characters are colorful and well written and even if minor, Wecker brings them to life with very interesting and diverse backstories.
Overall Grade: A-

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.

This book is 1000 pages long. I think when I finished, I took two Tylenol and went to bed. This is the follow up to Rothfuss's first "Kingkiller Chronicles" book The Name of the Wind, which I've reviewed already and really loved. I honestly don't even know where to start with this one. First off, Mr. Rothfuss, you have some brilliant ideas. Your use of myth and storytelling and the idea of how stories change over time and adapt to the people who are telling them is compelling and interesting and speaks to me on a scholarly level. But oh man, do you need a better editor who is capable of telling you "no." The first 400 pages of this book is almost an exact retelling of the your entire first book. I don't mean that Kvothe reminds the reader of what happens--I mean it happens all over again. Kvothe is poor, Kvothe goes to school, Kvothe plays music, Kvothe is clever, Kvothe and Ambrose do not see eye to eye, Kvothe shows how smart he is, Kvothe spends time with Deena, Kvothe narrowly escapes punishment. It's the exact same structure and plot of something I've already read. Instead of focusing on developing the mystery that is the central focus of this book, it is bogged down in repetition--even if it is well written repetition. When Kvothe finally leaves school to set out on his own for a bit, the story becomes even more weighted. First there is the time he spends proving how clever he is to some major lordling. Then there is the time he spends proving how clever he is walking with bandits. Seriously, an awful amount of walking to nowhere with a lot of pointless moments of learning to interact with people--or something. And then they capture the bandits (I guess that was the point of the walking) with some really cool magic and then Kvothe gets sucked into the land of the Fae and has sex for 64 pages. I'm not kidding. There are some cool bits of Fae magic and a lot of intrigue but most of the time he's just having sex. And then he goes on another tangent to become a super ninja, where he maybe picks up ONE valuable piece of information and then goes on ANOTHER tangent involving more bandits and THEN finally go home. The mystery of who the Chandrian are and why they killed his parents is what is supposed to be driving this. But instead Kvothe goes on a huge circular journey where we learn really nothing more, and then he ends up back at school as if the whole thing never happened and now we wait for the final book. Which I fear will be closer to 2000 pages. And still I can't outright hate this book. The writing is spectacular. And the mystery and levels of symbols and interpretation and how stories change over time is really phenomenal, but Rothfuss has got to edit himself.
Overall Grade: B-

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In Which I Review Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (1x1)

Like many deeply nerdy people, my relationship with Joss Whedon is a long and beautiful one. It began when I was quite young--early junior high--one night, in my room, flipping through the six channels on my newly gifted television. I came the WB (the CW now) and had to pause when a girl, not much older than I was, ran across my screen in some perposterous outfit and began wailing on a guy with some sort of skin condition. She then proceded to stab in him in the heart with a wooden stick and he exploded into dust. The only thing I remember thinking was, "Cooooooool."
And that's how I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer. From that point, there was Angel and Firefly and Dollhouse. And then Whedon put out The Avengers, probably the greatest superhero movie of all time (well, at least in my estimation). When it was announced that Whedon was bringing the big screen to the small with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D I was instantly on board. But translating superhero movies to TV is rough; money is tighter which puts a strain on the big blockbuster effects and big names that now make up the Marvel Movie universe. And when the show doesn't actually feature superheros--except those ordinary day to day ones who are just trying to protect the rest of the world--can it actually succeed? 

In case you missed it, though I'm not sure how you could, The Avengers brought in a crazy amount of money a few summers back. And with that in mind, ABC gleefully picked up this pilot, dollar signs in their eyes. Almost as soon as it was announced, the marketing team over at ABC went to overdrive. Posters, Comic Con appearances, promos, photo shoots, and media pole dancing (as Tom and Lorenzo call it) all made their way into the public eye. Twitter accounts for the fictional characters are already up and running and it paid off--biggest drama debut for ABC in four years. And with good reason; this show already has a built in fanbase, and not just comic book nerds. The nerd movement, in the more recent years, has moved out of the basement and into the limelight. People who could never classically be called nerdy (never read a comic book in their life, never watched one Star Trek episode, has no idea what a Death Star is) flock in crazy numbers to these new superhero movies. Look at Tumblr. After the opening of the Avengers, it was like Loki had taken over the entire internet. The fanbase for this show is no longer the skinny kid in glasses who has a mint condition of The Wolverine in a plastic bag, lovingly stored in a glass case. And it turns out, they were right to flock to the show. It hit a lot of high notes. Let's do a first episode breakdown.

The Crew
Agent Phil Coulson: It takes impeccable writing and acting to become a fan favorite when going toe to toe with superheroes like The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, who have stood the test time for so long now. When Coulson "died" in the Avengers the screams of many could be heard. He's witty, charming, determined, passionate and let's face--hella cute. He is responsible for putting together our team of operatives and overseeing them. He also gets some pretty cool toys (someone find me Lola!) But there is an air of mystery about him, something about his supposed "death" doesn't ring true. While he is under the impression that he only faked his death under Fury's orders and then spent a few weeks in Tahiti recovering, a secretive conversation between Agent Hill and Shepherd Book the SHIELD doctor reveals that he really has no idea what happened to him. Might Agent Coulson have been resurrected using some sort of superhero technology? Might he be super himself?

Agent Grant Ward: A black ops specialist formally with level 6 clearance but now promoted to level 7. He has the boyish charm that makes him easy on the eyes but doesn't use it to get ahead; he is obviously very good at his job. He gets some of the funnier lines in the pilot and you can tell that he'll be a fan favorite before long. For the sake of the show, Ward accepted his new position with SHIELD faster than one might like; I was expecting a little more resistance on his part, or at least some dissatisfaction that he is now surrounded by science and computer whiz's, who talk a mile a minute but never appear to actually say anything. I suspect that is character will become more fleshed out as the show moves on (there is only so much you can do in a pilot) and I look forward to seeing him developed.

Agent Melinda May: I can't say much here sadly. May's character is obviously a bit of  legend at SHIELD, Grant knows who she is and expresses surprise that she's "just the pilot" for this episode. Something obviously happened to her in the past that made her give up field work because we first find her behind a desk, in a very dimly lit office (SHIELD can't afford light bulbs or something) monotonously stapling away, refusing to take part in whatever game Coulson is playing. But there is clearly more to her; she manages to disarm men and has superior fighting abilities. Right now she's a bit of a blank slate. Her chemistry with Coulson is apparent--I expect many jabs and barbs to be thrown between them.

Agents Fitz and Simmons (FitzSimmons): These two are either going to be absolutely hysterical or are very quickly going to annoy me with their fast paced techno-babble. On some level it works; the genius's shouldn't have to stop and explain everything to the audience. We need to accept that they know what they're talking about and we don't. But between the fast talking mixed with the Scottish accent, my eyes went rather wide trying to keep up. They come as a pair but I expect their dynamic to be more friendly contentious and competitive. They can praise each other's brilliant ideas but secretly hate that they didn't think of it first. But hey! At least they already come with a ready made 'ship name.

Skye: A tech and computer genius who is a new civilian recruit to SHIELD. Also a bit paranoid and conspiracy theorist. She's responsible for the "rising tide" videos, a red herring for the first half of the episode masking the true "bad guys" (more on that in a bit.)  She has a mysterious past that I'm sure will be uncovered as we go along. Skye isn't her real name and she's hiding from someone or something. She has an obsession with superheros and, from my point of view, obviously longs to be part of their elite team. I see her as being psychologically damaged as a kid, unable to protect herself and thus became enamored of the idea of someone rescuing her. She's quick witted and has some truly excellent lines.

The Plot
It took some sifting through my notes to make sure I really had a handle on the story but: SHIELD is "the line between this world and a much weirder world. We protect people from news they aren't ready for." Think MIB for superheros. After the Battle of New York in the Avengers, SHIELD has gone into overdrive trying to protect everyone from the new dangers. A special elite team has been put together to find unregistered superheros and take down baddies. These new superheros are emerging rapidly, without cause. Someone is engineering regular humans with powers of strength and stamina. The implant gives the operation its code name: Centipede. The first episode really revolves around setting all this up: SHIELD must take down the Operation Centipede and find these new human hybrids and protect them. 

I feel as though this is going to become Monster of the Week very quickly (except here I suppose it would be superhero of the week). Each week, the SHIELD team finds a new hero, protects them and gets ever closer to the Project Centipede ring leaders.
The lack of "real" superheros might also be an issue. I don't expect Tony Stark to Thor to suddenly come whizzing in, but man would that be awesome. People want to see real superheros--fluttering capes, speedos and all--and if you don't somehow give them the real McCoy, the hybrid storyline might get stale. I'm also not sure if it's conducive to weekly blogging, but I guess I'll have to wait and see on that front.
Everyone on screen is far too good at what they do: Ward is the best bomb and black-ops specialist. Skye is THE computer girl; Fitz and Simmons are scary science wunderkinds; May has many tricks up her sleeve. I want to see the human side of these guys too. Let me know that they're just like me--these aren't superheros. They're the one protecting the superheroes.

Miscellaneous Notes from the Pilot 

--I lost track of the number of times I wrote "total Whedon moment" during the watch. Here are a few of my favorites:
------First fight action sequence includes a romantic aria in the background while a pissed off French woman looks more concerned about her ruined breakfast than the three men fighting.
------"With great power comes...a lot of weird crap" BLESS YOU JOSS WHEDON.
------Skye sitting in her van making a "Rising Tide" video when suddenly Coulson and the gang opens the door and just snatches her out of it and then Coulson injecting Ward with truth serum for Skye's benefit. 

--"Don't touch Lola." And with that line, Coulson cements himself a treasure trove of fangirls

--Coulson and his bullhorn. BFFLs.

--So many awesome cool tech toys.

Final Verdict:  Watch it. Even if you haven't seen the Avengers (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?), it's entertaining and fun for all.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (1x2)

The first episode after a pilot is tricky, especially for a mythological show. Only one episode to set up arc and character narratives but also manage to entice your viewers to come back. You can't just hit them over the head with a complex mythology in one episode. You build it, brick by abstract brick, laying your hints and clues over your framework. For instance, LOST did not give you a vision of the Smoke Monster, Jacob, or even the Others in their pilot. Fringe did not show you the Observers or the Mirror Universe in theirs. Sleepy Hollow is a fantasy show with a mythology but as I said last week, it's obviously going to be a lot of Monster of the Week. 

The problem is balance. This weeks episode, "Blood Moon," starts off with what promises to be a mythic centered episode but quickly falls into MotW when Ichabod reminds Abbie that the Horseman has vanished and is nowhere to be found. Sentiments like this are a giant red pointing arrow that you're not going to get a great deal about the mythic arc of the show. So, in our first non-overarching story of the week, how did Sleepy Hollow do?

Dreamscape moments are hit or miss for me. Too often, writers will put in clues that what you're watching isn't real but is happening inside the subconscious of the dreamer--discordant noises, odd jump cuts, high pitched whispers, people vanishing and then coming into frame--these are all points of reference that the person is dreaming.  It's meant to build anxiety in the viewer because most of the time the dreams are trying to be billed as realistic. So when Ichabod Crane is running through the woods from four horsemen, one of which is headless, it's supposed to feel real given the narrative of the show. And then he gets sucked into the ground by vines and you go--ah. Dream.
Dreams are also problematic if they are over utilized or overly convenient. The former I'm open to thus far but for the latter this is the second time a dream has held important episodic and mythic information that otherwise our main characters would have been without. If Katrina were not popping into Ichabod's mind to give him frustratingly vague clues, would he and Abbie have ever figured out this week's mystery? And when Katrina does pop into his head why can't she just say, "you're looking for a witch who is trying to resurrect herself using the ashes of the family of those who burned her at the stake?" See the frustration? On the one hand, I--as a viewer--have to suspend my disbelief that Katrina can't just outright tell Ichabod what he needs to know for the sake of a 42 minute long episode, but on the other hand the circuitous speaking is annoying.

So thus, this week's MotW: a Dark Magic witch by the name of Serilda of Abaddon who was burned as a witch many centuries ago but promised to come back to life is burning people alive and taking their ashes. Also apparently her power were bound by Katrina. Or something. I'm not actually sure because if her powers were bound how did she manage to cast this spell in order to bring herself back? Either I missed something or we needed a way to tie Serilda and Katrina together. (Head theory: I get the feeling Katrina is not an agent of the "good coven" and the light because she wears way too many black diaphanous dresses. Black diaphanous robes are a trigger for "there is evil afoot.")

Along the way we have an extraordinary amount of secret places and secret information that have somehow been kept from the public knowledge, despite Sleepy Hollow now being a bustling town with several Starbucks. Secret labyrinthine tunnels with the bones of witches who were not allowed to be buried on consecrated grounds. A room full of old books and police files, stashed away out of the precinct (I'm fairly confident this doesn't happen in real life).  Chambers inside of chambers that hold gunpowder left over from the American Revolution. It's all a structured. Overall, I had to keep telling myself that in TVLand the characters need access to this type of stuff in order to "win" the day but it was slightly hard to remember that when there's an entire room full of old helpful books (in Romani Greek) stashed away somewhere.

The monster herself had moments of being scary and moments of me just wishing they'd kill her already. Brava to the SFX and makeup teams on the show for making Serilda look burnt to a crisp and then like she was glowing embers within. But she had very little to do besides move creepily, spout threats in Romani Greek and then die. But she is only the first of the dark spirits that are said to arise. In Ichabod's opening dream, Katrina did say that it was "an army of evil" that must get sent before the Four Horseman and the Apocalypse. So, in other words, about 12-13 different types of evil, maybe 21 if Sleepy Hollow gets a full season contract.

Of course, Abbie had to have her own more emotionally charged dream at the end to bring the episode full circle. Instead of dreaming of the Horseman (which Ichabod fears), Abbie dreams of the Sheriff who recently died (thus showing us her fear of being without her father figure). They exchange heartfelt words before he gives her a cryptic message: "don't be afraid of number 49." We then flash to Room Number 49 which is in an obvious psych ward to see a woman doing push up, fooling the medical staff into thinking she's taking her pills, and overall looking like she's preparing for battle. We learn her name is Jenny. I suppose this is supposed to be some sort of denouement but unless you've been extra close attention, you'll forget that this is Abbie's sister. The crazy one. The one that has been in and out of asylums for years. She's refusing to the take the meds and the mirror demon (the horned one) is apparently watching her. I can only assume Abbie and Ichabod will find themselves needing Jenny's help sometime in the near future.

Miscellaneous Notes from Blood Moon
--I sound overly critical this episode but I'm not meaning to. This show is still good fun, but I can't see myself becoming an active member of the fandom or trying to suss out all the evidence. It's a bit too "black and white" for me. Black and white is child's play. The fact is, evil for the sake of evil is dull. This is why two of my favorite characters of other mythic shows (LOST and Once Upon a Time) are the grey anti-heros, Ben Linus and Rumple. Deliberately setting up a binary of "good" and "evil" is predictable and dull. Good will always win in TV. They may take a few hits along the way, but do you honestly see this TV show ending with Hell on Earth? When you make your villains more of a delicate grey, then you give them room to grow, to achieve development. But you can't do that when you've set up your main enemy to be Death and the other Horseman of the Apocalypse, now can you?

--I came for the mythic storytelling, but I'm staying because of Ichabod and Abbie. These two work so well together as partners, it's great. Ichabod is hysterical. Perfectly dry British humor. Watching him try to figure out his hotel room with the help of Post-Its was the highlight of the episode. I also really enjoyed his incredulity over the amount of money it costs for a bag of doughnut holes.

--Sulu Brooke's head snapping back into place was icky but again, well done makeup and SFX.

--Let's hope the Headless Horseman comes back next week. MotW is fine but you gotta give me what I came for if you want me to stick around forever.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (1x1)

Anyone out there remember Wishbone? Adorable dog, big imagination, plays out famous storybooks in his head when his adolescent owners and friends get into trouble? It's super cute. Anyway, one of my childhood memories is of watching Wishbone's take on the Sleepy Hollow myth. That was my first introduction to Washington Irving's classic 1820 short story. Since its inception in 1820, the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" has become of the most popular and enduring American mythologies. The headless horseman and Ichabod Crane are well known characters and Hollywood has done well by them. The original story is fairly well known but it deserves mild attention here: Ichabod Crane is a schoolteacher in early America and vying for the hand of Katrina, who is also pursued by "Brom Bones". After a party, Crane fails to secure Katrina's hand in marriage and on his walk home is overtaken by the mysterious Headless Horseman and spirited away. This horseman is a Hessian spy from the American Revolution who lost his head via cannonball.

Fox's newest foray into this well known story takes a different approach, an updated revisionist piece of alternative reality where Crane and the Horseman are real (and apparently Irving never wrote the story). Set in the town of Sleepy Hollow in 2013, it explores the origin of the Headless Horseman and why it and Crane are so linked. Fair bit of warning: there is some headchopping. The show is done by the same people who brought us Fringe (a personal favorite) so you can expect a huge over arching mythology coupled with monster of week weirdness. Let's just dive right in with our characters and attempts at fleshing out the narrative.

Ichabod Crane
The episode begins with Crane on the battlefield in the Hudson Valley in 1781. He is clearly fighting for the colonists (no red coat). During the battle he sees an approaching figure, a man riding a horse whose face is obscured. Crane notices a mark on his hand and there is a sudden dawning realization on his face. He and this nameless figure engage in hand to hand combat, Crane first trying to shoot him and then eventually beheading him. This is when Ichabod passes out and the next time we see him, he is rising from an underground cave, emerging in Sleepy Hollow in 2013. Over the course of the episode we are given a ton of exposition to help us establish who this man is. Basic run down: former member of the British army who grew dissatisfied with the tyranny and switched sides becoming a spy for one George Washington. While in the short story, Crane looses the hand of Katrina, in our version he is married to her. Through some magic hocus-pocus, Crane is kept alive but sleeping and buried deep within the earth for his own protection.

Abbie Mills 
Abbie Mills is our young police officer in training. At the start she is the partner of the soon-to-be-dead Sheriff and has also decided to leave Sleepy Hollow for greener pastures, namely Quantico. We later learn that Abbie has a troubled past; as a young girl she and her sister were walking through the woods when suddenly four white trees sprang into existence before them and they heard a voice. A creature rose from the ground and then they inexplicably woke up on the side of the road. No one believed them and while Abbie's sister went crazy, Abbie joined the police force but never forgot what happened to her. She is among the first to see the headless horseman after it reappears on the earth. She is also the first to believe Crane's story when he says he is from the past and that the Horseman is Death (yeah, Death. We'll get there). During the course of the episode, she uncovers what is to be--I assume--the driving narrative of each episode, namely that there have been a lot of occult/magical happenings in Sleepy Hollow over a few hundred years and the event of her young life is tied to that.

The Headless Horseman
In the original tale, it is alluded that the Horseman is Crane's rival for Katrina: Brom Bones, however it is left deliberately vague as ghost stories often are. This is where Kurtzman and Orci (the creators) stray from the original by leaps and bounds. This is not some random Hessian soldier. It is Death. With a capital DEATH. And being Death, he is one of the four horseman of the Apocalypse. He sits on a pale horse and he has a bow and arrow brand on his hand (Revelations DEATH carries a bow). In losing his head, he's been asleep and his body buried in a lake. He was awoken and is now on the prowl for his missing body part.

Katrina Crane
 Ichabod's wife who also worked as a civilian nurse during the War. We are led to believe that she was burnt at the stake as a witch and buried in the local Church courtyard. We also learn that she is a member of a "coven"or as she calls it a secret order bent on keeping the darkness at bay (don't care what you call it, you're a witch). She and her coven are responsible for keeping Ichabod Crane alive through some magical spell. Since her death she has been trapped in some sort of nether world though it is strongly implied that she can manifest herself as a bird to help out and lead Crane to what he is supposed to be doing.

Those are our major players, though there are a few more, including the head of Abbie's police force, Detective Irving (get it?) and her fellow officer Sulu Andy Brooks who appears to be fighting for the wrong side and in league with (maybe) the Devil. Let's run through the story and various pitfalls I'm already sensing.

The Story
Mortally wounded in battle versus the soon-to-be Headless Horseman, Ichabod is saved by his wife Katrina and fellow coven member, a Christian priest. As he lay dying, Crane's blood mixed with that of the now headless horseman and they were linked together. If the Horseman is awake, so is Crane. The head of the Horseman was buried where it says Katrina's body is (she was never buried) and if body and head are reunited, the Horseman becomes whole and will be reunited with the other three Horseman of the apocalypse and the End will come upon us all. It is unclear who woke up the Horseman, but let's face it: it's probably Satan. Ichabod Crane is also the "first witness" as foretold in the Book of Revelations; Abbie is the second. Various mysterious things have happened in and around Sleepy Hollow for years. These instances have been carefully documented by the former Sheriff (Abbie's partner) including the idea there are two covens: one for the good/light and one for the bad/darkness. Together Ichabod and Abbie must keep the head from the Horseman and probably try to solve the mysteries that will pop up in Sleepy Hollow.

The Pitfalls
 Let's start with one that is probably most obvious: Death as the villain. I'm fine with Death being a character but I am tired of Death being portrayed as some end all be all evil. Death has no moral judgement. Death is neither evil nor good, it simply is. We ascribe morality to Death because of our fear of it, but it itself is absolutely neutral. I understand the rather romantic notion of casting Death as a bad guy, one that we can fight and even conqueror but it's supercilious. Along with that, I have issues with the fact that "Death flees from the light." Why? Is it impossible for someone to die in the daytime? Is Death a vampire? This has less to do with any solid understanding of reality and more to do with storytelling.  I also have issues with a few logistical things: how did Death sleep for 250 years? Did no one die in that time? How can Death bleed? Death is not an actual living being, with flesh and blood and musculature. It's not enough to deter me, but it is enough to give me pause. These are classic mistakes.
Secondly, monster-of-the-week problems. MotW can be done well. Fringe is a great example of this. It may be a different case each week but it kept the overarching myth and storyline in mind with each case. If not done correctly, the show can quickly fall into boring procedural cop show that only remembers it has an actual arc when prodded. I don't expect to see the Horseman every episode, but we can't go too long without seeing him or we lose what makes the show what it is (it is Sleepy Hollow after all).

Miscellaneous Notes on the Pilot 

--The casting of Crane is spot on, even if he deviates wildly from the original story. He's quirky and funny without being obnoxious. His banter with Abbie was exactly what it needed to be, lighthearted and fun but very real for someone who just woke up after 250 years. I'm sensing some Peter Bishop like qualities in him. There might be some Olivia Dunham in Abbie, but I sort of hope not. Olivia was very special and I'd hate to see Kurtzman and Orci try to replicate her.

--I want to know how much Captain Irving knows about everything. He seemed very hesitant, initially, to allow Abbie to do anything.

--The Starbucks conversation was brilliant. They really are on every corner.

--Impressive visual effects. Loved the walking Horseman. However, please give him back his broadsword. A Headless Horseman packing a rifle is a touch on the silly side. 

Overall Verdict: check it out. I think it will have an interesting mythology and storyline. Abbie and Ichabod have a nice working chemistry.


In Which I Review Under the Dome (1x13)

Raise your hand if you feel personally victimized by CBS's "Under the Dome."

When CBS started promoting Under the Dome, the aspect that intrigued me most, outside of being scifi, was that it was a simple summer show. It would have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now granted all shows have that, but for an entire narrative to be told over 13 weeks was refreshing. But then, of course, the first night out, Under the Dome got close to 14million views and CBS knew they had to capitalize on that. So it was renewed, the writing got sloppy and lazy, and the story dragged on to an absurd degree.

This week's episode, "Curtains," was like a spit in the viewers eye because it was actually pretty good (still full of questionable choices and plot holes but good). This episode should have been the bridge between the first half and the second half, with the rest of the season played out to conclusion. No renewal, no second season, just one arc. 

But I digress. Tonight's episode both provided answers and gave more questions. 

The egg must be protected. At all costs. This weeks episode was egg-tastic: who's got the egg, who wants the egg, and what is the egg?

Answer: as of the final moments of the show, no one has the egg. Everyone wants it. And we have no idea what it is. Besides an egg, that is.

The episode begins where last week's ended; the butterfly is about to hatch. The poor little dear, once released from its protective shell, fights against the mini-dome, trying to escape. As it hits the walls of the mini-dome, black inky spots begin to appear, spreading across the surface. As this is happening, spots begin to form on the Big Dome and darkness settles over Chester's Mill. It's all very apocalyptic (more on that in a bit).

Linda, in her continued effort to be the saddest person ever, decides that the egg and mini-dome are police business and she is going to take command. Like Dodee a few episodes back, Linda reaches out and touches the mini-dome and is sent flying back, electrocuted and passed out. Jorrie and Junior take off with the mini-dome strapped to the back of their truck (where did they get the truck? how is there still gas in Chester's Mill?) and Angie, Julia, and a now freed Barbie (who defeated several men without using his hands) relocate to the cement factory. There, the four kids touch the now jet black mini-dome. The mini-dome crashes into a pile of dirt (why dirt?) and the butterfly, now free of its confined space, floats majestically around the room to its own sweeping orchestral movement. It finally floats near Barbie and Joey declares that Barbie must be the monarch.

Of course nothing in Under the Dome is that simple.

Someone please explain to me why Julia is the monarch. Suddenly, without warning, the egg begins to shake and glow a bright white color, as if it's about to explode. Jorrie, Junior, and Barbie all have natural preservation instincts and try to run but Julia bends down and picks up the egg for no apparent reason. Suddenly, everything stops shaking and the butterfly lands on the egg, now in Julia's hands. Barbie then declares that SHE is the monarch. Huh? Why? I can see Julia being the Queen to Barbie's King but why is she now the sole ruler? And if she is, why isn't the egg speaking to her? Why doesn't she know what to do? Why do I really doubt that she is the true monarch?

Junior, naturally being Junior, takes this opportunity to go McCrazy Pants and points his gun at Julia demanding she hand over the egg so he can deliver it to his father. Barbie distracts Junior by headbutting him and the others take off for the woods, egg still in hand. Let's pause here and check in with Big Jim Rennie.

While the egg adventure is happening, Big Jim is trying his "best" to keep the town calm and collected. The inhabits of Chester's Mill have flocked en masse to the local church, after the sky has turned as dark as night. Everyone thinks it's the end of days and they might be right.

Let's talk popular Christian belief. Ever heard of the Anti-Christ? Chances are, even if you're not a believer, you have. Hollywood loves it. It's the perfect bad guy. Historically and linguistically speaking, trying to identify a singular figure as "Anti-Christ" is hard because most often it's used for plural, not singular. For example, John 2:22 "Who is a Liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son," indicating that all liars and deniers are the Anti-Christ, not one individual. However throughout the years it's been reduced to a singular person who will stand opposed to Christ in the end days; a false prophet who will deceive the hearts of the people in the final days before Judgement. Hollywood and TVLand care very little for history, so we need to accept the more popular belief instead of the historical reality.

Is Big Jim our Anti-Christ? As the show progressed tonight, it felt more religious than science fiction (not that the two are mutually exclusive, in fact most often they go together quite nicely, but that's maybe a blog for another day). This episode was riddled with religious imagery in its most basic form: light vs dark, good vs evil. Big Jim has spent a lot of this season making grandiose speeches that somehow get people to do whatever he wants. Tonight in the church, he said he had faith, that times were hard but he promised that nothing bad would happen to the people of Chester's Mill. He manages to be so convincing that the residents agree to build a scaffold and a noose to hang Barbie, almost gleeful at the idea of killing someone. And this is to say nothing of the rather politically charged idea of a politician as the Anti-Christ, but I'll leave that one lie.
There is also the title of this episode, "Curtains." Now on its most basic level, the curtains motif is the blacking out of the Dome. However, on a higher more religiously attuned level, I couldn't help thinking about the curtains in the Christian New Testament, which hang in the Temple and in some versions of the Passion Narrative are split at the death of Jesus (cf: Mark 15:38; Matthew 27:51; and Luke 23:45). And what is happening at the end of this episode: the hanging of Barbie as a town of people look on. Perhaps very religiously charged.  Compounding all this are two things: the first is that Big Jim thinks the Dome and the Pink Stars are his Destiny (with a capital D). Apparently his tortured wife artist not only painted that painting of Junior and pink stars we saw a few episodes ago, she also painted an egg, resting in a blanket of pink stars (because it's convenient. Why didn't Junior know about this painting? Why show us the one of him and the stars but not the egg?) For our second compounding factor, we must return to our kids and Julia out in the woods.

Julia, unsure of what to do, hands the egg over to Norrie and tells her to ask the egg for assistance (side note: what a strange sentence to write). Norrie pleads with the egg and what does the egg do? Provides a vision of Alice (Norrie's dead mom, in case you've forgotten). Or rather, something takes on the form of Alice in order to communicate with the kids and would-be Monarch. The pseudo-Alice says that "they" are still learning to speak with the chosen ones. Angie demands to know why the Dome was sent as a punishment and interestingly enough, it wasn't. It was sent as a protection, though we don't know against what. But if I'm correct that Big Jim is standing in as the Anti-Christ, it could be that the Dome is protecting the outside world from his influence. Also, the kids and Julia must "earn" the light by protecting the egg. Only when the egg is protected will the light be restored. So the chosen ones have a choice: give the egg to Jim and save Barbie, or let Barbie die and save the egg. Julia, as would-be Monarch, makes the decision. She takes the egg out to the Lake and after some contemplation, drops it into the water.

As this happens, and Jim is laying down the law and about to kill Barbie, the stars begin to leave the egg and shoot upwards toward the sky in a brilliant pinkish light. Everyone in town sees it and Jim, slightly panicked, says it is proof that God approves of his plan and yells at Junior to pull the lever and kill Barbie. The stars, having reached the zenith of the dome, combine together in one giant brilliant ball of light and suddenly everything is full of light. The final view is one of the Dome from the outside where instead of darkest night there is now brightest (though obscured) day.

So what happened? Julia protected the egg by hiding it in the river but did Barbie die? Who sent the egg?

I've been harping on aliens for quite awhile now but after this episode, I'm not so sure. What if it's not aliens but angles? What if this is the end times and instead of alien overlords it's the army of heaven come to defeat the forces of darkness?

Miscellaneous Notes from Curtains 

 --Will I continue to watch Under the Dome? Yes. It's cheesy and overwrought and some parts have been down right terrible, but with this episode, I have to know what happens next.

--Why does the military want Barbie? Why is he the key? This is why I don't think Julia is really the Monarch. I think she's more of John the Baptist type figure, she paves the way for the true Monarch, Barbie in our case. She did baptize that egg after all.

--Linda needs to get a grip. And not be so sad. She's sucking all the energy out of the scene.

--Junior and Jim had nice moments. Psychotic and dysfunctional, but nice. Also, Junior abandoned all his friends and is about to kill Barbie. Is he maybe our Judas?

So that wraps up the summer blogging of Under the Dome. What's next, you might ask (whoever YOU are). Well, I am for sure blogging Once Upon a Time and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. I want to try and blog Sleepy Hollow, Agents of SHIELD, and Dracula, not to mention all the Doctor Who specials. And then before we know it, Mad Men is back for its final season (TEARS). Hope you join me.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Which I Review Under the Dome (1x12)

In this week's installment of Under the Dome, "Exigent Circumstances," it's Team Barbie vs Team Jim. I bet you can't guess what team I'm on...

I'm on team you're-trapped-inside-a-transparent-extraterrestrial-super-dome-why-the-hell-are-we-fiddling-with-this-minor-political-nonsense?! 

Also Big Jim killed Dodee this week. I would be surprised and upset except that I've come to expect that Under The Dome takes all that is good in this world and kills it. Like plot and character development. Dodee was funny and kind and sweet without being saccharine. An added bonus, she possessed that trait the rest of the town seems to be lacking: common sense. So naturally she had to die.

Team Big Jim
Players: the town (AKA: the extras who get paid $100/day to stand around with their arms crossed looking nervous); Linda and Junior 

Fresh off alerting the town of Chester's Mill to the danger that is Dale "Barbie" Barbara, Big Jim finds himself in front of his citizens, giving a rousing speech about how the Dome will not destroy them! If you look closely, I'm sure you could see placards, American flags, and babies with freshly pinched cheeks. The citizenry of Chester's Mill, fearing for their lives, demand that Big Jim declare a state of emergency and search their homes for signs of Barbie. Big Jim puts on his best "this is still America and we still have a Constitution" face which is ironic given that a few weeks ago he made the case to Linda that America exists outside the Dome and he need not follow any law. In the end Big Jim "relents" and sends out his newly formed Gestapo to search people's homes. 
Jim gets waylaid by Dodee who has just overheard on her oh-so-convenient radio (which must be set to station Important Information 101 FM) that not only are the military looking for Barbie but that he is the only one who has the necessary expertise to handle the "egg." Dodee shows Jim the photos she snapped of the egg in the barn on her iPhone before it shocked her. Jim tucks away this valuable information but just then station Important Information 101 FM decides to inform Dodee that Jim is responsible for killing Creepy Rev and she puts two and two together. I'll give Dodee this: she faced her death with a lot of bravery telling Big Jim what an asshat he is. To make sure that no one would ever figure out that Jim is responsible for the killings inside Chester's Mill, he set the station on fire and shot all the radio equipment. Overkill is Big Jim's style (get it? It's a pun. He's killed a lot and now he shoots radio equipment that would have been destroyed in the fire. Never mind...)
 Big Jim sends Junior to the clinic to guard Julia; make no mistake, Jim doesn't care about Julia's safety but Julia is the only one who knows that Barbie didn't shoot her. His plan to keep Julia "safe" go ever so slightly awry when Team Barbie decides to step in.

Team Barbie
Players: Jorrie and Angie and by extension Carolyn who has finally left the house and is acting like a mother (a bad ass one at that)

Barbie was last seen taking off for part unknown. He didn't get far though. Because he's TRAPPED IN A DOME. Ugh. Seriously.

Barbie manages to convince Angie, through absolutely no effort, that he is innocent of all the killings and that Big Jim is really the culprit. Angie agrees to help Barbie out. Barbie's plan? Rescue the comatose Julia and drive off. I would like to repeat my incredulity: YOU ARE TRAPPED IN A DOME. Where are you going to go? Seriously. Please explain this to me.

Angie, ever willing to help, decides that she has to be the one to distract Junior while he prowls the clinic's hallways. Slipping into her hideous candy stripper uniform she pulls Junior aside by batting her eyelashes, soft whispers, and hand holding. Angie is an idiot. While psycho Junior is distracted by Angie's lips, Barbie wheels Julia out of the clinic and into the ambulance. A quick farewell to his lady love (apparently after two weeks of acquaintance and one week of intense BBQing, it's true love), and Angie drives off. I'm not even going to bother repeating myself.
Sadly, at this point Junior has becomes aware of Angie's deception and alerts Linda that Barbie is hiding at the clinic. Linda arrives just in time to arrest Barbie. Angie drives around for a bit before realizing that there is an APB out on her ambulance and it won't be long before someone finds her (BECAUSE YOU'RE TRAPPED IN A DOME, YOU SENSELESS...), so thus decides to hide Julia back in the clinic. Julia wakes up and tells Angie that Barbie didn't shoot her, Max No-Last-Name did.

Meanwhile, while Linda is busying becoming the worst sheriff ever, Jim has gone over to Angie and Joey's barn in search of the mini-dome and egg so he can destroy it. Everyone is under the impression that the mini-dome and egg are the "heart" or generator of the big Dome. Destroy the little one and the big one goes away. Jim can't have this. Jorrie and Carolyn are determined to keep Jim from the mini-dome and have taken steps to hide the precious in long-haired Asian skateboarder's house. Ben reacts like any stoner skateboarder would: "cool dude." More on the mini-dome in a second. Jim locks up Norrie and Joey and does an excellent job of threatening Norrie. Norrie, who has a knife in her boot, tries to kill Jim but only succeeds in killing his shirt sleeve.
Realizing he will get nowhere with Jorrie, Big Jim turns his threats to Barbie and makes a deal: confess to the crimes in public and I won't go after the kids and Julia. Barbie agrees. And the mini-dome gets ANGRY. Remember last week when the Big Dome went all Hulk and decided to smash everything with its weather cyclone of doom? The mini-dome starts making some god awful shrieking noise and the little butterfly cocoon (sorry, Joey has just informed me that it's a chrysalis )  begins to come apart. As this is happening and the egg lights are going crazy, Barbie stands in front of the town and announces that he is not guilty. Cue the black screen.

Miscellaneous Notes from Exigent Cirumstances

--Glad to see Carolyn up and about and really be a kick butt lawyer. Also nice to hear Norrie call her mom.

--Norrie has a knife in her boot. Then pick the lock of the jail cell, you idiot. It doesn't matter if you maybe can't do this in real life. This is TV land where such things happen with ease!

--"You taste like cigarettes." Yeah, well you taste like crazy.

--I wish Linda would get a backbone. 

--One episode left this season. Predictions? Barbie and Jim engage in all out war; the mini-dome hatches the butterfly; the kids kill Big Jim and and crown Barbie; the aliens invade.