Tuesday, September 29, 2015

In Which I Review Masters of Sex (Season 3)

This is a bit of a new tactic on my part--a seasonal review instead of a episode by episode one. Often times, the real world (curse it!) doesn't allow for weekly TV reviews unless it's a show I'm already committed to reviewing each and every week. Sadly, Masters of Sex wasn't one of those shows because I typically have to watch it the next day or even a few days after and my anal retentiveness is such that leaving a review more than a day late would annoy me to no end. But, unlike in past seasons of MoS, I felt compelled to sit down and do a review for the whole season. You can take that as a good thing or a bad thing. I take it as a bit of a bad one. Don't get me wrong; MoS is still better than 75% of the other stuff that filters across my screen on a daily basis; the issue is that two seasons ago that percentage would have been much higher. MoS is different from my favorite time period piece, Mad Men, because MoS is, while dramatized, ultimately grounded in the historical reality of Bill Masters and Virgina Johnson. The writers can play fast and loose with names of kids or certain events since literary license does, in fact, exist, but everyone who watches MoS and has a basic and rudimentary understanding of the Masters and Johnson legacy know the ultimate endgame. This isn't Mad Men where I was never fully sure where Don Draper would end up because he wasn't a historical figure; everyone knows that Masters and Johnson married and continued to do their groundbreaking work together, even after their divorce some 22 years later. My point is that in a show in which your audience knows the endgame because of said historical reality, is it fair or right to keep them on tenterhooks while you play the "will they or won't they" dance that is, at the end of the day, incredibly unnecessary? Is it fair or right to keep bringing in new or reoccurring guest actors and characters in order to keep the endgame from happening when the entire point of your narrative is a dramatized look at a historical record? My answer is the reason for the review. 

Masters of Sex is a show that is, for me, largely defined by well written--often times brilliant and inspired--scripts that are so successful because of the performances of their two leads actors, Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Masters of Sex has the subtle and high drama quality of Mad Men, though lacking, I think, in some of Matthew Weiner's more successful subtleties, often choosing to be a bit more on the nose with their multi-layered storytelling. In the past, this approach hasn't bothered me since I knew that the writers would get to Bill and Gini's marriage and relationship, in spite of roadblocks in the work, conventions of the time (we do begin in the 1950s after all, earlier even than Mad Men) and even taking the focus to minor characters like the always enjoyable Betty and less enjoyable Betty Francis..shoot, I mean Libby Masters. For example, the season two episode "Fight" is regarded as the best of the show (and I agree, though "Asterion" gets a close second for a genius direction style) and an episode that might parallel "The Suitcase" on Mad Men (hands down, the best episode of that show). But where Mad Men only had the fight in the background, something that was going on in the minds of the characters but pretty much never explicitly shown or talked about because it was serving as a metaphor for what was going on for Don and Peggy, MoS made the fight enter the limelight a bit too much, with its playing in the background, the episode ending with Gini watching it, everyone talking about this big fight, and even Bill's clumsy attempt to teach Gini how to fight. So, even though MoS was doing the same thing of having a world class fight parallel the interactions between Bill and Gini, it's a bit more heavy handed than Mad Men (another example here would be the differences in opening credits; MoS's opening score being one of the most decidedly unsubtle opening credits, maybe ever). However, in spite of the often heavy handed nature of paralleling stories, MoS was still a great show that explored the nature of Bill and Gini, two groundbreaking individuals who approached their groundbreaking work in different ways. Bill, the pragmatist who is concerned with the hard science and who is, more often than not, an egotistical asshole who can't quite reach some sort of human level, and Gini, the super dedicated secretary-cum-researcher who understands people and their interactions and gives Bill and good dose of humanity and class. It's the interactions between these two characters that made MoS so very intriguing and so very fun to watch. I didn't need to guess at whether Bill and Gini would actually be together because it was always clear from their unstoppable dynamic on the show that nothing would ever really keep them apart. They are each others balance.

So imagine my surprise when MoS spent an entire episode this season trying to give a monkey a boner while Bill and Gini fought over the issue of sexual surrogacy. Talk about heavy handed! This episode, "Monkey Business" (ugh that title), the worst of the season and even the entire show, lacked even the smallest hint of subtlety as Gini stood in for a sexual partner for a giant gorilla who wanted to touch her breasts first in order to mate. Meanwhile, back in the office, Bill gets excited about a new surrogacy program that Gini has reservations about because she thinks there needs to be a level of established intimacy between sexual partners before any sort of sexual healing can begin. Poor monkey, in other words. He needs Gini's help to get aroused just like Bill's archetypal "long suffering male" who needs a female to stand in and help the process along. Any female will do, just so long as she is capable of getting the man's junk to play along. Last season, when it was Bill who was suffering and Gini helped him achieve lift off (as it were), the idea of sexual surrogacy made a world of sense since, once again, the story revolves around Bill and Gini and their relationship that has grown from partners in medicinal crime to friends to lovers to people who are intimately married if not legally so. Bill and Gini's surrogacy also proved Gini's point that there needs to be a connection between sexual partners when one of them is suffering from some sort of dysfunction. In the massive time jump from season 2 to season 3, it's like Bill forgot about Gini's well reasoned point and decided to embark, rather Helter Skelter, into a project about which his partner has no interest. But this surrogacy subject is only a symptom of the largest problem season three of MoS had: keeping Bill and Gini apart through any means necessary. Enter, ladies and gentleman, Dan Logan.

Do you know what season three should have been about? The launch and publication of Bill and Gini's book about human sexual response. You may have heard of it; it was (is) kind of a big deal. The story of the book, which has been what Masters and Johnson were striving towards since we met them back in the series premiere and Gini was still just a secretary, petered out soon after the season three premiere and feels all but forgotten in light of new characters and the back and forth dance of Bill and Gini. The effects of the book were marginalized--Gini's teenage daughter Tessa reading it and making herself sound more experienced than she was leading to a traumatic event at homecoming; the religious missionary who hounded Bill on his way to work preaching about sin and the devil and Bill's corruption of mankind. Instead, the launch of one of the most important books in the 20th century got turned into a story about Bill's jealousy and Gini's desires. It's not to say that those two factors aren't important but it's not as if MoS hasn't played with them before. Bill was jealous of Gini having several boyfriends back in season 2 because it meant that Gini wasn't with him--something we see play out once again this season, like in episode 9 in which Bill tearfully begs Gini to be with him sexually because he needs her and she gives in but is almost cold and cruel afterwards, snarling and condescendingly asking "all better?" Gini has had to find outlets for her desires to be with Bill in ways that are not just sexual before--like the aforementioned multiple boyfriends in season two that culminated in her asking Bill to let her have someone to hold on to because she isn't allowed to hold on to him. I had thought we were past the point where the jealousy and the need would rear its ugly head, especially since early on in season three Bill, Gini and the new baby Lisa were forming a little family of their own (with big sister "Sexual Human Response" entering the world almost on cue with the little human-tyke). There was a real sense that the book was going to be a sort of baby for Bill and Gini and their own unique and burgeoning family. I would have enjoyed that story line since the book, in a way, really was the force that pushed Masters and Johnson out of the lab and into America's face (dildos and all). What happened instead was not a book as baby story line, but instead a story about needing money to continue to do the research and bringing in perfume magnate Dan Logan who's good looks, soft side, and charm instantly swept Gini off her feet and they began an affair (and yes, it's an affair not only because Gini is still married to George and Dan to his wife, but also because Gini is essentially cheating on Bill, something even she knows when she begins to lie to Bill about her nightly romps with Mr. Logan). Once again we have Gini's desires to be with someone totally being coupled with Bill's jealousy and not having his "saving grace" in Gini

This is the first season in which I truly began to question whether or not the show writers would keep with the big historical force that was a united (legally) Masters and Johnson. This was, honestly, the first season in which I questioned if Bill and Gini would end up together. The show kept them apart more than together (at least that's how it felt; I haven't broken down the numbers by any means). There is a difference between enjoying the buildup up to the climax of Bill and Gini, but never questioning whether or not the climax would occur, and becoming convinced that you're in some sort of delay-hell and that you'll never hit the big bang (too many sexual jokes in the blog, amiright?). Because the writers wanted to delay the inevitable (one would hope it's still inevitable), every character under the sun had to be given a surrogacy story line in order to fill time until the end of the season. Nora becomes a surrogate for Bill in the wake of Gini's distance. The Scully's return, each with their own surrogate for each other and the hole in their hearts at the dissolution of their (very rocky) marriage. Austen becomes a surrogate for Betty and Helen who want a baby but live in a world where two lesbians can't adopt a child. Next door neighbor Paul becomes a surrogate for Robert as Libby tries to hold on to an emotional connection with a man dead for 5 years. Libby Masters has one of the most frustrating story lines on the show and it stems from her uselessness as a character. She suffers from what I'm going to call the Betty Draper effect. Libby's character narrative is simple: she is the long suffering housewife of a myopically focused man who loves the image of her, but does not love Libby herself. He needs to maintain the "happy family" image in order to be successful in his line of work, but finds the suburban life of a wife and kids to be a drag on what he's really passionate about, his work (and another woman). Sound familiar? It's Don and Betty from Mad Men, circa season 1-3. Because of this, Libby is essentially one note; her story is about being lonely and put upon and then striking out against the life she no longer wants in the only way she can, covert affairs in which she tries desperately to forge a connection. The problem rapidly becomes that once you play that story out (in season 2 with Libby and Robert's affair) then doing it all over again is boring and remedial. There's nothing left to say about Libby Masters; the writers appear to find her more fascinating that the audience because I simply don't care about her unhappy life or her attempt to find sexual satisfaction and emotional connection in the arms of another man. With nothing left to say about Libby, it's time to give her character the heave-ho, as historical Masters will do before long, and have her fade into the background, something that the show can easily do because unlike Don and Sally Draper, Bill has zero connection to his children with Libby.

This is now becoming a very long review, which is never my intention, so let's wrap this one up. My larger point is this: while Dan Logan might be based on a real life person, as is the affair conducted between him and the real life Gini Johnson, this narrative purpose has only ever felt like a means to keep Bill and Gini apart, not something that was organic and made sense. Virginia Johnson falling for the smooth talking, ladies man? In what universe? Instead the romance between the two was simply a plot device to keep Bill and Gini apart, the one thing that makes MoS interesting and (well) worth the watch. Season Four needs to step up, remember the basic paradigm and really focus, once more, on Bill, Gini, and their astounding work.

Miscellaneous Notes on Season Three of Masters of Sex

--While the Bill and Gini story line suffered immensely this season, there are two that surpass it just out of sheer stupidity and silliness. Nora  being an impostor working for the Bible Thumpers was cheap and too hi-jinks filled to be taken seriously. The same can be said for Betty and Helen and the baby story line. While it's natural for Helen to want a baby, it was (shock) repetitive of past story lines with these two in which Helen and Betty lament that they, as lesbians in the 1960s, cannot have a normal life.

--Alison Janney as Margaret Scully is always a welcome sight, but her counterpart, Beau Bridges, not so much. Again this goes back to subtly. Mad Men knew how to do closeted homosexuals in Sal Romano and the fear that he felt everyday that someone would learn his secret. But it also wasn't in your face. Everyone watching knew Sal was gay but it was not absurdly pushed so that every scene he was in was somehow reminding the audience that Sal was, in fact, gay. With Dr. Scully in MoS, everything somehow comes back to his closeted homosexuality, and maybe never more so than this season when his reappearance had nothing to do with the bigger narrative, but just more examinations of homosexual life in America, 1960.

--I still have no idea why Austen Langham is on this show. But thankfully, he's zooming over to The Flash, one of the best shows on Network TV right now (unnecessary plug, I know).

--A few other story line notes: Tessa could have been a very interesting and sympathetic story had the writers not simultaneously chosen to make her a mustache twirling villain of the highest order. I had immense sympathy for her early on as the teenager girl obviously struggling to find a connection with anyone, especially her mother. Her rape was horrifying to watch and could have been a narrative point between her and Gini given that it was Gini's book and the knowledge contained inside that prompted the rape. However, directly following the rape, the writers took every chance they could to make Tessa out to be "bad girl" to the point of cliche deviousness. It got old really fast.

--Let's end this on a positive, shall we? While I had issues with the season overall, obviously, there were two truly spectacular moments. First, the moment between Bill and Dan in which Bill declares, "Masters and Johnson. That's how people see us. It's how we see ourselves" is the entire thesis of the show and the fact that the writers are emphasizing that gives me hope that the stalled third season was just a misstep. Second, Bill declaring his love to Virginia reminded me how much l loved the Masters and Johnson dynamic since the start.

Monday, September 28, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (5x1)

In my last OUAT review, for the season four finale, there was a question of how I approach the show. The first half of the finale episode was so utterly magical and spectacular that for a brief wonderful moment, it felt like the show I had loved for so long. Of course, it all went to hell in a hand basket for the second half, but the point remains that when last we visited this show, I was torn about how I felt. I had all summer to think and...I came to zero conclusions. Absolutely none. OUAT is now an episode by episode experience for me. Some episodes will be less frustrating than others, though I'll always find flaws (it's what I do). That's going to be my approach. I still anger-watch OUAT but occasionally there might be a spark of brilliance. In the fifth season premiere, with the too-on-the-nose title, "The Dark Swan," the fight for Emma's soul begins. Straight off the bat, this season could be really great. No, I mean that seriously. It could be. This is hugely mythic and cosmic, two things that I adore in TV narrative. The show is taking the heroes journey and playing it out with Emma's "descent" into darkness and the question of whether or not Luke Skywalker the Savior can resist the Dark Side. If OUAT can get past the trappings of needing to insert shipping drama and create big Tweetable moments that are simultaneously buzzworthy and somehow squicky (Robin and Zelena, for example) and focus, instead, on crafting a heartfelt narrative about the perils of being a savior, then this season could really be something. Or...you know, not, because OUAT refuses to give up the ghost of loud tweetable moments. So, with all that in mind, grab another Disney/Pixar Princess (hello Merida) and let's go! 

Temptation, Thy Name Is Bobby Carlyle 

Normally, for OUAT, I break my reviews down into two parts: the past and the present. But this episode took a hard left and decided to eschew the normal narrative set up (for the most part) so I'm going to follow suit and only discuss what is going on in the present day. If there is one narrative point from start to finish, it's the idea of temptation. Darkness and evil are not slimy, disgusting things that lurk and hide in the shadows. It's one of my pet peeves when pieces of media present evil or the incarnations of evil as being somehow disfigured and deformed, revolting to behold. Evil is supposed to tempt you. It wants you to give in and in order to do that, it has to present itself as a very enticing offer. That apple in the Garden was probably the most delicious looking piece of fruit in the history of fruit. Temptation is seduction; it's about reaching out to some baser level and flashing you with all the shiny and pretty. Temptation is lust and wealth and power and and greed and it is supposed to feel good. It is at this crossroads of desire and abject horror that Emma Swan finds herself after the "vortex of evil" sucked her back into the Enchanted Forest and into the Pit of Eternal Goo, last seen in the episode where Neal sacrificed himself to resurrect Rumple. So, you know, happy memories for me! Right off the bat, Emma--our Jesus figure--is met by her own Devil--the Darkness who chooses to take on Rumple's appearance--out in the wilderness and is told and shown just how wonderful succumbing to the Darkness could be. The idea of tempting the hero is an old one, and one that almost every hero is going to encounter as they walk down Monomyth Road. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness; Harry is tempted by Voldemort and the Sorcerer's Stone and later the Deathly Hallows; Luke is tempted by the Dark Side; Buffy becomes a Dark! Slayer in season 6. All of this is on point and in line with what we expect with the heroes journey. It's Hero Writing 101 and it's older than you or I which is why I enjoy it. If you read my reviews, then you know I'm a sucker for a good archetype or a good old fashioned cosmic story. That's what this season is or at least needs to be. It's OUAT finally getting back to their roots and instead of introducing another new villain who has yet another connection to the CharMillStiltskin clan who has some horrendously cliche sob story, we have our capital "S"avior being tempted by a Cosmic Evil. It feels far more in line and organic to the show than anything they've done in the past two years. Wow, look at this. I'm complementing OUAT again, guys. It's a brave new world.

It's not just Emma Swan who is facing temptation, though. Back in Storybrooke, our delightful cast of characters are tempted in every direction for how to solve the Missing Swan problem. And by cast of characters, I really mean Hook and Regina because to hell with those other people, amiright? Oh, dear. I've gone back to criticism. Bound to happen, y'all. Actually, let's focus on this for a second. This is a major problem for me. Now, given that TV is a business and that TV writers often play to their strongest fanbases, I do understand that it's natural for Hook and Regina to get a bigger part simply because their characters are among the most popular. I can't tell you the last time I saw fans wanting to discuss Snowing except in how boring, one note, or frustrating they've become. And then last year they went and stole a baby, so they've got that going for them. Since Regina and Hook are incredibly popular with fans, they take center stage in the search for Emma, but this feels disingenuous to Snow and Charming who get little to do except say a few lines here and there and simply wait for Regina and Hook to act. Every action in this episode to aide in the search for Emma is done by either Regina or Hook while Snow and Charming simply stand around. It's...super frustrating because I remember back in season 2 when Snow jumped into a spinning top hat (this show, y'all) in order to find her daughter, Charming trying to follow behind. There is a line Hook utters at the end of the episode about heroes and villains coming together to save and find Emma and while that is a nice enough thought, it's not something we see on screen. It's just the mostly-reformed villains doing all the leg work while the heroes are sidelined. It's an issue OUAT has had for several seasons now because the writers find the villains more enticing, more interesting, and either easier or more fulfilling to write. As such, while I really loved Snow's line "we are going to put our nonsense aside and find my daughter" it also rang hollow because she's literally doing nothing but standing around with a baby, watching her step mother (Regina) who has, shall we say, anger issues, and Hook, someone who once left Snow for dead in a cell, work to find Emma while she does nothing. Charming, as always, is basically wallpaper.

But let's get back to temptation and how it plays into our other characters. For both Regina and Hook, temptation look a lot like a certain nasty green witch. Or, rather, a former green witch. Is there something to be said about the devil you know being better than the devil you don't? Zelena is powerful enough, and evil enough, to create a portal (plot device!) using the Apprentice's wand (plot device!) in order to take everyone to Emma. But Regina is loathe to unleash Zelena's chains and allow her sister to come out and play. For Regina, Emma's dilemma is stressful but not tempting enough to turn to her wicked sister, even though it is reemphasized time and time again that Emma sacrificed herself for Regina (something that continues to baffle fans given that Adam and Eddy insist that Emma did it for the town, not for Regina specifically. But hey, they gotta get in their standard amount of Queer Baiting, right?). Regina shows a level of restraint that is admirable because while it is important for the team to go and save Emma, there are other considerations, like having a hand chopping rapist witch on the loose! Hook, on the other hand--hook?--only cares about saving Emma and will play with anyone who can get him back to his main squeeze. I suppose, if I'm being generous with CaptainSwan (wut?), there is something in here about love knowing no boundaries and knowing no limitation but when was the last time I was generous to CaptainSwan? The fact is that love should have limitations. Love run rampant is neither healthy nor positive. It's dangerous and once again this 'ship is all about the ends justifying the means. I'm annoyed with the very heavy romance in this episode, be it CaptainSwan, OutlawQueen or even the always baited SwanQueen, because I really want Emma to save herself this year instead of it being a man who comes along and True Love Kisses the Darkness out of her, but my hope in that regard is very slim. I know where this is going, at least I think I do--a TLK that breaks the Dark One's curse and ends Darkness once and for all. I'll just wait and see; that's all I can do, right?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Dark Swan

--"....your turn." I laughed so hard and for a very long time. Temptation plays a role with the Camelot crew of some indeterminate point in history as well. Excalibur feels a bit "The One Ring" like in that it calls to people and only the worthy one can bear it. The Camelot cast is only briefly seen so there's not much to say about them right now.

--I love that the Dark One's dagger is the missing piece of Excalibur. I think that's a very interesting narrative point and sets up a thesis for the show as a whole. The sword is supposed to be a weapon of good, only working in the hands of a divinely appointed Messiah King. The fact that the missing bit of it is a weapon of evil and corruption speaks to the fact that there is very little that separates lights and dark and how in order to be complete you need both. I wonder if Merlin forged the blade and it broke into the dagger when he tethered the Darkness to a human.

--Speaking of Merlin, dude is a creeper in a movie theater, no? Also, super obvious that he's Merlin since "The Sword and the Stone" is playing on the big screen. Not subtle, OUAT.

--Hook is a horrible influence on Henry. Did the Pirate stop and think, even for one second, about the fact that Zelena killed Henry's father? 

--For the moment, Merida felt slightly out of place and was inserted rather sloppily. But I doubt we've seen the last of her. The fact that she actually explained why she's running around the woods means there is another story we're getting on top of the Camelot one.

--Zelena cut off her own hand and then reattached it. The woman is obviously insane and should not have possession of a child. But did the show go ahead and admit that Zelena raped Robin? Did I mishear that? Zelena called him an unwilling pawn and Robin emphasizes that he was quite unwilling. So...that's a rape admission right?

--"Do you like knitting?"

--"I like her spunk. Break her neck!"

--The ending. Oh ye gods, the ending. I hated this ending. I am fine with Emma being the Dark One. The season would be pointless if she wasn't, but again with the amnesia, OUAT? Really? Because you haven't done it to death!? It's an old trope and it's one that is past its expiration date. I might have ranked the episode higher if not for this horribly cliche and over wrought ending.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x2)

If you are a god and you find yourself at the end of your very long and very tiring life, what do you do? You go home, of course. While this week's episode "The Witch's Familiar" was a bit funnier and less fast paced than last weeks first part, particularly with Clara and Missy, the conversation and interaction between the Doctor and Davros were well worth the somewhat bizarre ending of poo-Daleks (no, really, what was that?). Last week I spoke quite a bit about the cycle of history with villains and heroes and how each character creates the other to the point where the existence of the other is necessary to survive as a cosmic good or cosmic evil. I must have been on the money, because all those themes were emphasized this week yet again. Around and around Davros and the Doctor go; they will always wind up back at square one: enemies, friends, and two lonely gods who want to go home. Grab some old, dying, and decaying Dalek bodies (ew) and let's go! 

The real meat of this episode lies in the conversation and almost interview like tet-a-tet between the Doctor and Davros. The conversation moves seamlessly from one topic to the next, mostly on the differences between the Doctor and Davors's world view and their long history. This shouldn't surprise us; it's the same conversation they've been having for centuries. We know by episode's end that Davros is tricking the Doctor into giving up some of his regeneration energy to fuel a new Dalek race, but I can't help but wonder if some of what Davros says in these tender and oddly heartwarming conversation moments is true. Davros might be a maniac but he's still as world and time weary as the Doctor. Look at how much Davros has gone through in his life; granted, he chose to become the grand evil we know today, but he got there not because he was born a flawed and hateful man, but because of the circumstances of his life. Had he been born on any other planet, with any other story, would he have turned out this way? While Davros is a master manipulator (much like his Hero counterpart in the Doctor) I do think he's having some genuine heartfelt feelings while waxing poetic about "how far we have come to go home again." I think Davros does want to see the sunlight and be a "father" to his children; the issue lies in that not being enough; Contrast with the Doctor who knows going home might actually be enough, but he knows that for his people, it's better if he does not. The Doctor knows these things about Davros; he's willing to play Davros's game because he knows it's not totally a trick. There is a measure of truth there. How do we know? Because the Doctor feels the same. He might still be running from Gallifrey and keeping it safe from both he and Davros, but that does not mean that he doesn't long to go home. Of course he does. How could he not? There's no place like home and it is because the Doctor knows this that he's willing to play Davros's game as far as he does. The Doctor knows he will win--he always assume he'll win--but he'll sit with his old friend and enemy and watch a sunrise because at the end of the day, they get each other. Missy drops a very vital truth bomb on this whole scenario when the Dalek-Clara is trying to convince the Doctor it's really her: "the friend inside the enemy. The enemy inside the friend. Everyone is a bit of both." Missy, have you been reading my blog? But that's the heart of this episode: friend and enemies don't really matter as long as there is mercy. The Doctor can be merciful to Davros because he empathizes with the mad man. The Doctor can be merciful to Missy and let her saunter away because it's the right thing to do and moreover, is the merciful thing to do. As long as there is mercy, I don't know that friends and enemies matter.

Briefly, on the flip side of all this, we have Missy and Clara, the miner and the canary, trying to rescue the Doctor and being forced to work together. While I would have preferred that the plot stay on Davros and the Doctor, I must admit to this having some good laughs. Also, Missy is far and away becoming one of the best parts of the current Who season. I was annoyed with her early on in season 8 when the "heaven" theme was taking forever to go anyplace, but it turns out that she's delightful. Bananas, but delightful. Missy and the Doctor are a lot like Davros and the Doctor. Because these two enemies are created alongside the Doctor, they all get each other. Missy knows just how the Doctor thinks (just like Davros). She can read his actions and his mental status instantly because while they might be enemies, they are also friends. Best friends. Soul mates in a truly weird and bizarre manner. It's not love; it's something deeper. It's knowledge of a person on a level that no one else will ever have. Clara's coming close; she gets the Doctor and how he acts and responds in situations, but with her it's a process. With Davros and Missy, it's a given. Missy might have scampered off into the night, but we'll see her again. The "bitch" will be back, make no mistake. The real question is not even how the Doctor will react. He'll roll his eyes and think "oh here we go again" but those two will tangle with each other until the end of all things. Just like the Doctor and Davros. Friends. Enemies. It doesn't matter. Everyone is a bit of both.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Witch's Familiar

--Sorry this one is rather brief but I covered so much of these themes last week that I feared being redundant.

--"Doesn't matter which face. They are all the Doctor to me."

--Seeing Tom Baker, no matter how briefly, will always get a round of applause from me. 

--"We, on the other hand, have a pointy stick." That is going down as one of the best lines on Doctor Who ever. Don't attempt to change my mind.

--"Are you ready to be a god?" Just like Tom Baker back in "Genesis" the answer is no.

--"I'm just a bloke, in a box, telling stories."

--Um. Davros is blind. That's just...how it goes. I did not need his eyes to open one more time. Also, please tell me that the Sonic Screwdriver isn't gone for good. I'm not going to enjoy that.

--Will the prophecy about a hybrid Time Lord and Dalek come back into play this season? I rather hope not. Let's stick to the search for Gallifrey, please. And speaking of that, why do I get the impression the Doctor isn't going to go look for it at all?? This displeases me.

--Dalek poo.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

In Which I Review Doctor Who (9x1)

And 'lo, another summer slowly crawled to a close and with the ending of one season came the beginnings of the man who fights the monsters; screwdriver in hand he lands, carefree, in your front room every week for one hour with the promise of transcendence. And an awful lot of running. Yes, Doctor Who is finally back after nine long, TARDIS-less months off the air. Can you tell I'm excited? How could I not be? Doctor Who, with its pulpy, fantastical, science fiction, and fairy tale like mentality is a welcome relief to blogging less than stellar quality TV. In our the first episode of the new season, "The Magician's Apprentice," showrunner Moffat pulls out millions of stops and surprises and has you looking left, right, up, and down all at once. The crazy, fast paced, blockbuster type approach is Moffat's forte (at least as of late) and when he's concentrating on simply giving you loud and whiz-bang with little time to breathe in between, he does know how to shine. Perhaps most importantly, the premiere felt like a season premiere of Doctor Who; while I might often quibble over the explosions-galore type of approach to modern day science fiction TV and movies (because where there are explosions, there is usually very little heart), for the first episode in nine months, it was well executed; the kind of blood thrumming, heart racing episode I've been anticipating for weeks. The Doctor is a rockstar; old enemies come back to play, and no time is wasted while the audience is zipping here and zooming there (as one is wont to do in a time and space machine). Grab a guitar and let's go!

"Davros made the Daleks. But who made Davros?" Or so the Doctor asks Clara and (a not so dead) Missy on the final night of his life as he takes a space ship to see one of his oldest and deadliest enemies. It's a good question because anyone familiar with the history of the Doctor and the madman inventor we know as Davros is well versed that the two beings have a long and sordid story about what is right, what is wrong, and whether or not powerful men can or should play God. The question, though, is better if we rephrase and ask in broad generalities and not specifics: can you be an hero without an enemy to fight? No one is going to deny the Doctor's heroic tendencies; he's trapped in that classical hero archetype; a bit of a solider, a bit of a trickster, a bit of a sage, but all hero. He's the man who fights the monsters and defends planets and people. The Doctor faces death every moment of his very long life and conquers it when everyone else would fall before it. The Doctor's a hero but also an "H"ero, capital, cosmic, universal H, if you please. It means that he's more than just an ordinary hero; he's mythic. And, as such, The Doctor needs an equally mythic villain to fight, for how can we really know what a hero is if we don't have his contrast with whom we can compare. Harry Potter needs Voldemort. Luke Skywalker needs Darth Vader/the Emperor. God needs his Lucifer. The delicate dance between hero and their villain rival is often one of necessity, thus complicating the relationship to a cyclical one. Back and forth; fight and flight; around and around and back home again. That is why, in this season premiere, it is so interesting that we have both of the Doctor's greatest arch-enemies come back to play, both of whom spend quite a bit of time remembering their long history with the Doctor, and the cosmic chess game the universal figures have been playing. First, we have Davros, younger and still standing on two legs. A young boy in the middle of a very bad war (Kaled and Thal for those of you who aren't familiar with the classical era) who is scared and alone and in very real danger. In other words, just the sort of situation that would have the Doctor putting on his white hat and saving the day with some cunning and a grin. Except, that in this case, the Doctor's compassion is, like a dying Davros will tell him at the end, an indulgence. What would have happened had the Doctor never shown up on Skaro to assist a little boy out of the Hand Mine field? If his compassion hadn't gotten the better of him? Would Davros be so traumatized by this stranger's help and then refusal to help (going so far as to flee) that he would still create the Daleks? Is the Doctor, then, responsible for not only his arch enemy but his most dangerous adversaries, the Daleks? I don't know that we have an answer, in all honesty. History and time are tricky as are people and morality. Surely young Davros would have been broken enough, just from the war alone, to want to save his people by (to quote the Doctor) putting them in tanks. But then again, maybe it was that "compassion" that really pushed him over the edge. At any rate, the Doctor made his own arch-enemy but just like Davros might not be Davros without the Doctor, would the Doctor still be the Doctor without Davros? Can you be a proper hero without a proper enemy? And if the answer is no, as I've been suggesting, then is your enemy really your friend?

Missy certainly seems to think so, eh? Also, hello Missy. I'm not sure how you're back (but then again, I was never sure how you came back last season, so we'll quibble over that later). Missy spends much of this episode being exasperated that Clara would question the friendship between herself and the Doctor because all they do is try to attack, harm, and generally kill each other. To Missy, that's what friendship is. For Clara, friendship is simple. It can be put into a box of correct and right actions and anything that does not fit into that box is equated to being, simply, not a friend. Missy constantly trying to kill the Doctor? Not friendship. But for Missy, and it turns out to the Doctor as well, friendship is infinitely more complex than a set of correct and right actions. This goes back to what I was stressing above; the relationship between hero and enemy is born out of necessity; you cannot have one without the other in this cosmic chess game. There might be hatred and ill will toward the other party, but there is an understanding that you need each other. The hero creates the villain just as the villain creates the hero. It's not love, really, but something higher, something that Clara (and perhaps, really, humanity) cannot grasp because we see heroes and villains, light and dark, right and wrong as two separate, binary entities. But those concepts, especially in modern media and fiction, are far more complicated and it's our inability to see those complexities that lead to hostility, racism, sexism, and prejudices. Missy is "evil" because she opposes the Doctor, right? Then why is she trying to save The Doctor, especially under the headline that she's his best friend? Because they need each other; but that doesn't mean she's crossed into the light--she'll still kill the guards standing 'round. We are complex creatures and the threads between us and the rest of our kind are infinitely more complex than we could ever hope to conceive.

So what are we doing this season? It's hard to accurately pinpoint where we're going this season but I'd say that the idea of heroes and villains and the complexities behind them is Moffat's working thesis. First, I doubt Missy just died again on Skaro. That would be fast and ridiculous, even for Moffat who is known to do flash-in-a-pan and never properly explain things. Given that the Doctor recognizes that Missy is his best friend and one of his own people, I'd lay some odds that we're going to see the "totally bananas" Missy travel with Clara and the Doctor through all of time and space. Is Davros going to die next week? Again, I doubt it. Something tells me he'll be sticking around, plaguing the Doctor, just like old times. Enemies and friends; they need each other. Secondly, given that Skaro (and the Daleks) came back, and that the Doctor still has not found Gallifrey yet, I can't help but wonder if this is the season when we finally go out in search of the Doctor's home world and the rest of the Time Lords. After all, with every classic villain returning, a veritable who's who of the Doctor Who universe, why not bring back the Time Lords in their funny hats? I do so enjoy the funny hats. The search for Gallifrey is best conducted as if it's a race between the Doctor (and Missy) and Davros (and his Daleks). Which leaves Clara out in the cold, the human who knows too much but is forever on the outside, looking in. Jenna Coleman is leaving the TARDIS before the end of the season and I'm going to bet that Clara will be minimized in the search for the Time Lord home planet, if that is what season nine is. I must say, Clara was far less annoying this episode than she has been in the past. She's not broken or sad or lying. She's smart; she's keen; she can tangle with Missy and hold her own. It's a nice change from weepy, wide-eyed Clara and, more importantly, from Clara who was placed at the center of everything last season, in her attempt to become the Doctor. All in all, this was a strong start to the season and I can only hope that Moffat continues to deliver these fun, intriguing, and somehow heavy and light episodes for the next 11.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Magician's Apprentice

--If the Doctor is the Magician, then is Davros his apprentice?

--"Survival is just a choice."

--There were a ton of callbacks to the classical era (hi, Tom Baker and Genesis of the Daleks!) and the pre-Moffat regenerated era, including the Ood, the Jadoon, and the Shadow Proclamation (they've redecorated. I don't like it...)

--Clara should give up teaching and go work for UNIT. It gives her the rush she craves without having to leave her home or time period.

--"Not dead. Back. Big surprise. Never mind."

--The Doctor. In Essex. In 1138. On a tank. With a guitar. I have missed you, Doctor Who.

--"I am a dragon slaying...." "DUUUUUUUUUDE"

--Speaking of classic heroes, I got a strong whiff of Norse mythology when the Snake Alien was tying up the Doctor with one of his slithering friends. Very Thor and Jormungandr, the latter of whom often represents the idea of cyclical history and birth/death/rebirth, an ouroboros, a theme we're seeing play out.

--"I was right to create the Daleks." "You were very wrong." "This is the fight we've had since we met..." 

Friday, September 11, 2015

In Which I Review Under the Dome (3x13)

Raise your hand if you feel personally victimized by CBS's Under the Dome. Hey, it's tradition! Every season finale (and in this case series) I have begun by asking that question and over the course of three summers, my answer has not changed. Yes; yes I do feel personally victimized by Under the Dome.  But here we are, at the end, and while I could rant and rave against this series finale, "The Enemy Within," and discuss how this TV show was a failure, let's just be glad that the Dome is down and we get to move on (drink!) from Chester's Mill. The narrative was derivative and silly and full of nonsense, but let's have fun for this last ever blog of Dome. We can have some laughs and rejoice that Barbie, Julia, Little Crazypants, Jorrie, and Big Jim are out of our lives for good. Once more, for the Dominess of it all! 

The most Gibberish thing to ever be Gibberished in the history of this show, that speaks only in Gibberish, went thus: Norrie is the eighth note in the Amethyst Song because she's one of the four hands and was the first to see the Pink Stars. However, Joe will do in a pinch because he also saw the pink stars, so his special note when whistled, while standing in the midst of the seven amethysts, brought down the Dome. Oh my God; I wish I was making this up. But yes, at long last, after four weeks inside the upside down goldfish bowl, the Dome hath fallen. The first half hour of the show was a lot of death and mayhem, all of which was entertaining because it was so overacted and silly that you couldn't help but laugh. Joe entering an amethyst circle and telling Norrie that he loved her, only to turn into a shimmery light beam and bring down the Dome? Hilarious. Little Crazypants stabbing Sam through the side because Junior needs to get his rocks off with Dawn as her mate/Alpha and because he has some serious misogynistic control issues? Comedic gold. Big Jim stabbing Little Crazypants in the heart because Junior wouldn't give up the Borg Collective of Chester's Mill? Rib tickling good. Barbie riffing on 'Game of Thrones' by telling Dawn (Baby! Queen) that she was no daughter of his and then causing Dawn to fall to her death? Magnificent. It's what I've been saying all along--the characters living inside the Dome are all terrible, horrible human beings. The Dome didn't make them this way; they aren't victims of circumstance. They are simply bad people and the Dome only made them worse.

There is something to be said about feeling sorry for a show that got cancelled unexpectedly. Under the Dome clearly thought they were getting another season with the way things ended. How do I know? Because everything I just wrote above was negated in the last five minutes of the show. Joe? Not dead, but being held captive in a military compound. Dawn? A kindergarten teacher searching, and finding, another egg in order to create another Dome to build a new Borg Collective and start the whole Gibberish-filled fun over. That was the ending of this show.  But I don't pity Under the Dome. The writers had to know that their renewal was highly debatable and should have planned accordingly. Instead, they ended with a series of cliffhangers that we'll never get the answers to. Ever. And you know what? I don't care. I am perfectly content to never know about the Big Scary Aliens coming or why Julia was the Monarch or why Angie, Joe, Junior and Norrie were the Four Hands or why the Pixel Bugs came to our world or why the Red Door in Zenith can lead to Chester's Mill. I am fine with Barbie and Julia never getting married because their romance is one built on death and lies and circumstance. The fact that Barbie's proposal began with "what do you even know about me?" should scream that he is self-aware of their problems, but no. It's just a build up to a cliche--and interrupted--marriage proposal. Big Jim became a Congressman after bribing the military and having his records sponged clean. Hunter and Uhura are together but their romance is almost as forced and awkward as the Barlie ship. Bad people do not change and unlike other TV shows, these terrible people don't even try to exist in their own paradigms; they just get worse. And so, that's it. That's all I got for this incredibly silly series finale and show as a whole. It has been...well, I wouldn't say fun, but it has been something. Here's to you, Under the Dome. And now, I'm moving on.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Enemy Within

--Sam, the Random Guy Who Threw Eggs At Big Jim's Car, and Little Crazypants are the only ones who really died. So, RIP them I guess.

--Everyone is slowly suffocating to death inside the Dome, so naturally Barbie and Julia open the show spending an extraordinary amount of energy and air burying DNA Expert Lady. Because of course. 

--Did Dawn name herself Dawn or was that name passed to her along with the ratty blonde wig and Barbie's eyes? She also inherited Barbie's darkness? Whatever that means.

--Indy is the key to Big Jim's heart. Funny. I didn't think Big Jim had a heart.

--One year later and Julia's hair is still perfect. However, Norrie has the worst wig I've ever seen, including Dawn's blonde bob.

--"Kid, you are unfit and unstable." I feel you, Sam. I've been saying the same thing about Little Crazypants for three summers.

--Does the new egg come complete with a new Gollum?

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Which I Review Under the Dome (3x12)

For those who haven't heard (maybe you've been living under a dome this past week?) CBS officially cancelled 'Under the Dome.' So whatever plans the show runners and writers were laying in terms of Queen Bee, Baby! Queen, and the big looming threat will all come to naught as we slog our way through the final two episodes ever. I can't say that I'm terribly upset that CBS has called it quits and is going to dismantle Chester's Mill. The show took a sharp turn for the worse right around episode 2 of season one and never fully (or really ever) recovered, becoming sillier and more stupid with every passing moment. While I have enjoyed (no, really!) snarking at this show for three summers now (wow, that long?) pointing out the illogical drivel and gibberish and coming up with nicknames for everyone, it's time to move on (drink!) and find a way to go on without the Dome. This week's episode "Incandescence" was more or less par for the course here in the final run of Under the Dome: lots of meaningless talking meant to fill up time; lots of stupid drivel about umbilical cords and DNA; and a seriously stupid ending that caused my ribs to burst from laughing so hard. Folks, we've got one more to watch so grab a ratty blond wig and let's go. 

Do not adjust the color on your computer screens; yes, you are in fact looking at a purple and glowing Queen Bee. She must be a flying purple people eater as well. The penultimate episode was really designed to leave the fates of all our major characters in the balance as we prepare for the Dome to fall (literally in universe and out of universe) and so this episode was about setting up where we go from here. Joe has the proper equipment to take down the Dome (finally); Benton is dead because his Messiah Complex could not compete with Big Jim's ego trip; Uhura is still pointless and but being pointless with Hunter so that's a bonus; Jorrie are still gooey eyed teens; Barlie are still having the same damn argument they've been having about Barbie's mortality and Julia unwillingness to see sense; and Little Crazypants became even more crazy (if that's possible) by suggesting and carrying through with mass murder of the old people in the Borg Collective of Chester's Mill. As we enter the final hour of Under the Dome the question is not "is the Dome going to come down?" but rather after one month trapped inside a giant Goldfish Bowl, did the residents of Chester's Mill learn anything about themselves, each other, and the world at large in a meaningful way that will shape their destinies to come? My answer, for the most part, is no. They may have learned about themselves more, to an extent, but it was not for their own personal betterment. Barbie has a hero complex but it's still rooted in a thuggish nature that would delight in giving Queen Bee a slow and painful death and beating Junior to a pulp. Julia is still an overly hopeful and optimistic do-gooder who can't see past the end of her own nose and recognize that she has some truly bad taste in men. Big Jim is still a terrible, terrible, terrible man. While there may have been one moment of clarity for Jim (last weeks mostly overwrought conversation with Junior) he is still a self-serving, egotistical, politician who wants his crimes erased, who will commit murder, and who wants to rule his little corner (whatever corner it is) of the world with an iron fist and broken promises.

After three years on the air, countless crisis-of-the-week and the ever looming threat of a giant invisible Dome, there has been almost zero character development for anyone. It could almost be read as deliberate on the part of the writers, though that's giving them too much credit. I could take it as a metaphor that the people inside the Dome are unable to develop emotionally because they are literally trapped in one place except that is totally antithetical to the major theme of the show: what kind of naval gazing and other community based self reflection can be had when you're living in a (literal) goldfish bowl. So, no, Under the Dome. You don't get a pass on this one. Your total lack of character development comes down to one thing: Bad Writing. It's why, in order to push the characters in any direction, you have to bring in random people from the outside instead of letting it be introspective and coming from a place of self actualization. Case in point? Max No-Last-Name, Science Teacher Pine, Singer Lyle, Papa Q, and Benton. All of those random, nickname-tastic characters were designed to push our core cast to new plot points and new plot point only, but along the way development on an emotional, philosophical, or mental level came to a standstill while the major characters danced like puppets on strings whenever new people showed up. Big Jim treated Benton the same as he did Max-No-Last-Name. At no point did he stop to think that maybe murder is wrong because he has learned something from past experiences. This remains Under the Dome's biggest and most egregious problem; the writing is so concerned with its 1980s style science fiction, which was always pure gibberish and stank of mumbo jumbo hand-waving, that it never took the time to inspect its characters. For Julia to go from realizing, while drunk, that she has bad taste in men with Peter and Barbie to fighting for and kissing Barbie back to health, shows that her character didn't grow or develop but rather keeps forgetting any hint of growth and development from one episode to the next! These characters are truly terrible people and not in a tragic-feel-bad-for-them sort of way, but in a way that you don't care if they live or die. That Dome could calcify (gibberish!) in the next 24 hours and kill Barbie, Julia, Junior, Joe, Jim, and Norrie and I wouldn't care. I'd laugh and think that they got what was coming to them.

Alright, that was more or less my down and dirty rant against Under the Dome. I don't know how next week is going to go. It's possible that next week, the final episode ever, is going to be one large snark fest so let me say one final thing. I started off watching (and blogging) Under the Dome because I thought it looked and sounded interesting. I've kept up with it because it continues to be ludercrious enough to laugh at but let's call a spade a spade: this is bad TV. This isn't even TV that was good at one point and then went downhill rapid fire fast like others tend to do (no name drops here but *cough* we know what I'm talking about). This was TV that was bad from start to finish and might be a lesson in why summer shows tend not to work. If you are going to make a blockbuster style summer TV show, then make it short, snappy, concise, and to the point. The worst thing that could have happened to Under the Dome was getting a second season when the first season was successful. I know, I know. Money drives the TV-As- Business aspect, but because it got renewed, the story that was only ever a novella by Stephen King, became a three season long slog that never actually got anywhere. Will we get questions answered? Who know but more to the point...who cares? I don't anymore. By stretching the story to comical proportions, Under the Dome shot itself in the foot a long time ago. It could have been a decent summer show with a clear beginning, middle and end with some fairly decent character development because living inside confinement does things to people. Instead it became...well, it became this show that I've been blogging for three summers. This isn't a race to the finish line. This is a crawl that stops, starts, stops, starts, and then finally just stops and sits by the side of the road waiting for the finish line to come to it.

So. One more to to go. Then we move on.

Miscellaneous Notes on Incandescence

--Why on earth was this episode call 'Incandescence?'

--The new Queen is Eva in a really fake looking blonde wig, wearing tight pants, boots, and a belly shirt. Ladies and gentlemen, Under the Dome. (no really, look at that picture and try not to laugh your butt off).

--'Time is the one thing we don't have." Truer words have never been spoken, Big Jim.

--How did Benton and Uhura bring a drone inside the Dome? Did I miss that?

--Norrie runs inside the paper mill, out of breath, in a panic and explains that the Dome is calcifying and that the worst thing they could do is use up the oxygen inside faster by running around and panicking. Everyone proceeds to spend the rest of the episode running around panicking.  

--"Everyone under this Dome is innocent." Um. NO. Please go watch season 1 and 2 (or read my above three paragraphs) for why this statement is flat out false.

--RIP Benton. RIP DNA Expert Lady. RIP Queen Bee. RIP LOTS AND LOTS OF OLD PEOPLE. Man, how many geezers did Sam and Little Crazypants kill at the Lake?