Sunday, June 15, 2008

moving on

this blog is retiring and being replaced by

come join me there!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weekend of DEATH!

Ok, so I’m relaxing on Saturday night, catching up with some episodes of my favorites shows (That would be Torchwood and Battlestar Galactica for those of you who haven’t been paying attention) when I realize that someone appointed this the weekend of mass slaughter in American Sci-fi television. Yes, I know Torchwood is British but it was on BBC America, so I’m still counting it.
So, first Torchwood. Ihave to say, after the flashback episode, I saw this one coming. I knew people were going to die, and at the moment Jack’s lost brother Grey showed up I knew he would be evil. Not that they teased that much. The who reunion went hug-stabby-stabby. So, you know, evil from the start.

But why did it have to be Tosh? Watching her pull herself down into the medlab and administer a painkiller even though she knew she was a goner, just so she’d be cogent enough to talk Owen through shutting down the reactor, in hopes of saving his life … way to go, Tosh. Owen was not worthy of you. Owen’s own death … well, he’d died already and I’ve never really liked the character, but I did get a little lump in my throat during that last conversation, when he’s raging against death and Tosh asks him to stop because he was breaking her heart. Made more poignant by the fact that Tosh never told him she was dying too. And they did find the one way of killing Owen that would actually work, being dissolved in radioactive goo. (side note: would this work on Jack too, or would he still be alive even though he was in molecular-dispersal form). Can’t say I’m not really sorry to see Owen go (sorry, Burn Gorman, but you just never rang true for me in a rare case of me liking the writing but not the performance. See also: Tracy Scoggins in Babylon 5), but Tosh’s exit really hurt. It was made even more bittersweet by the attempted palliative of her last message, found by the surviving members of the team as they cleaned up her station. “It’s all right.”

And so from there I went to Battlestar Galactica. Now, this is not a show you go to when you want to feel good about life. This episode, though … Oh my holy frakking god.

We knew it was going to go bad when Cally found out her husband, chief Tyrol, was a cylon. This is the girl who shot Boomer, remember. And her conflicted, victim-abuser relationship with the chief would come into play in some sickening ways. So, when she found out and went totally bugshit crazy, it made sense, especially since we’d spent a lot of the episode dealing with her already burgeoning stress-induced breakdown. This quite rightfully tipped her over the edge.
Now, Cally’s been one of those important characters that haven’t necessarily had starring roles on the series. She bit the ear off a revolutionairy on the prison ship when he tried to rape her. She got trapped on Kobol with Hotshot, where she was the first to use the term “Motherfrakker,” which was since become a show staple. She was beaten by Tyrol when he was going crazy after finding out his last girlfriend was a cylon. She later married Tyrol and moved with him to New Caprica, whereupon it was her arrest and planned execution that drove a lot of the plot.

And now this. She knocks Tyrol unconscious, takes her baby, and goes to the airlock. At this point I was prepared for that. The direction of these scenes really showed us how Cally’s world had shrunk to encompass only that which she could experience inside her own head. Her husband is a cyclon. That means her baby is a cylon. Her world is over.

She sets the airlock so that it will space both her and little Nicky, who is of course, crying his little curly head off.

This was going to be brutal. And usually I would turn off a show that did something like this and never watch again (I have a thing about little kids dying because of my own family’s history. It’s why I can’t watch a lot of horror. Yes, I know about the Mist and will never forgive Stephen King) but this show earned it. It was supposed to be brutal.

And then Tory shows up, talks Cally down, takes the baby.

Throws Cally across the airlock and spaces her, while the confused child watches. We see Cally’s astounded, frozen face, as she floats away in the dark.

It could have been so much worse, but … whoa.

This is the first time that we have seen one of the final five cylons, those who are fundamentally different than the rest, do something despicable. But even so … Cally had just tried to murder her own child. And Tory is afraid of being exposed. So, there’s the argument that this was a strange kind of self-defense. Well, I could make that argument if Tory had not done it so coolly, so dispassionately. So, probably not self defense.

And since I brought up the women if refrigerators concept in the post about Bonnie Richmond, I should mention it here. Yes, we have two dead women. But for it to be a true fridging, two factors must be in evidence. The characters cannot die heroically. And they must be killed as part of someone else’s storyline, not in a culmination of their own. It helps if they’re killed by men, but that’s not necessary.

Tosh dies a hero. No question. She saves the world. She tries to save the man she loves (but does not deserve her!). So, no fridging here.

Cally … she’s not a hero, she is definitely a victim. But while she is reacting to events in her husband’s story, this is very much a part of her own. Cally has always struggled with living in this new world. This … this is Cally’s story, this is Cally’s end, not just an adjunct to Tyrol’s. So … no fridging here either.

But this was definitely the weekend of death. I have not watched the new Doctor Who yet, so please … no one tell me Martha got blasted into the sun or something (I know it’s impossible, since she was on Torchwood already). Still, at this rate, I’m expecting the Coen brothers to guest-direct a very special episode of 30 Rock where Kenneth the page is put through a wood chipper. Actually, if any show could pull that off, it would probably be 30 Rock. And Kenneth would probably survive it by the force of his sheer, plucky optimism.

Carry on ….

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mere Mortals

I've been working on a new fiction project. I guess you'd call it a ficblog (I probably didn't make up that word, but I like it anyway). It combines my love of super-heroes, sci-fi, weird science, romance, adventure serials and, of course, the Apocalypse. And zombies.

Here's a snippet:

I decided that no matter what happened, I wasn’t going to close my eyes. There was a theory that at the moment of death, the retinas recorded the last image that slammed against the back of the eyeballs, and I wasn’t going to have that image be the dark insides of my eyelids. I mean, I know that whole theory is just debunked bullshit, but I liked the thought. And I was sure that if it did turn out to be actually true, one of Dan’s friends would be able to find some way to develop the film.
So I looked at Dr. Dillard, I stared at her face as she snarled and spit, animated by that green fire inside her eyes, the fire, I knew, that had burned out her soul.
I couple of low, shattering crunches exploded in from the side—gunshots?—and the hands that had held me released their pressure on my shoulders even as I felt a burst of heat at the back of my head.
I took the opportunity to fall back, but as I had been kicking out anyway, I ended up doing some awkward back-roll that was only barely more survivable than it was dignified, and the zombie doctor was on top of me.
I heard the shot again as the top of her head came off and erupted, a green supernova consuming her head. The rest of her body fell on top of me, splattering me with blood and other, pulpier, fluids.
What. The. Hell.

So, there it is. That's the opening of ep 2. I hope you'll check it out. Its updated twice a month, by the 1st and the 15th, but I've worked a little bit ahead. You can check it out by going to

Saturday, April 05, 2008

C.S.A. : The Confederate States of America

The North loses the battle of Antietam, which denies Lincoln the victory he needs to make the abolition of slavery a central goal of the war between the states. This allows the south to keep the moral authority enough to swing Britain and France in on the confederate side. Gettysberg is lost. The South wins the war, destroys the north, and the United States of America ceases to exist, transforming into The Confederate States of America.

This is the plotline of the film C.S.A: The Confederate States of America. The film is a fictional documentary, purported to be a British film at first not allowed to be shown in the C.S.A. The film is presented as if it is being shown on CSA television, complete with fake advertisements aimed at a Confederate, slave-owning, audience. Products (some of which actually existed at one time) like “Sambo Oil,” “Darkie Toothpaste”, a COPS-like show about Runaway slaves called, appropriately enough, Runaway.

In this disturbing alternate history, Harriet Tubman attempted to sneak Abraham Lincoln into Canada and was hung for her trouble, as Lincoln was at first imprisoned, and then eventually exiled. Dying in 1905. Jefferson Davis ignores Robert E. Lee’s pleas for emancipation, and returns the practice of slavery to the north (at the supposed suggestion of his own slave), Frederick Douglass flees to Canada and leads the “Red Canadian” protest against slavery in the former U.S. Chinese immigrants are wrapped into the slavery program as they come to mine gold and build railroads. The CSA becomes involved in a decades-long war as they try to subjugate south America, instituting Jim Crow laws against Hispanics even if they do not enslave them. The CSA even enters WW2 on the side of Nazi Germany, though they do try to persuade Hitler just to make slaves of the Jews instead of exterminating them.

In short, this is a ghastly vision of a history in which U.S. Cultural development is stunted and Canada takes the US’s place in world popular culture. Slavery still exists in the modern day. It is all presented as if it’s a Ken Burns documentary. Some of this works really well, especially the parts that are interviews with history scholars and archived footage. The parts that are reproductions of supposed cultural works, such as plays and 1940’s movies, are the real weaknesses, so poorly written and performed as to breakbelievability a little. This is a forgivable sin, however, as it may be part of the point.

This film is fascinating, revealing a world that might have been. I’m not sure if all parts of the history hold up, but it certainly seems plausible. It’s also a helpful reminder of how some attitudes can become ingrained in a culture. Any history buff, anyone interested in how diversity issues can play out in a culture, should see this film, and shudder at a world that could have existed.

CSA is available on DVD, and often replays on IFC. It was produced by Spike Lee and directed by Kevin Wilmott.

The Return of Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is back.

Life is worth living again (at least for 10 weeks).

Ok, no, that’s over-stating it, but watching the show last night, it did seem like something vital to our cultural landscape had been returned. Over the past 3 seasons, this show has just hit on so many levels. It’s probably one of the first successful revamps to overcome fanboy handwringing by saying “fuck-all” to expectations, establishing its own voice, and becoming a work superior not only to its earlier incarnation, but to almost everything else out there right now. It’s navigating a tricky, heartbreaking storyline, running full-on into narrative land-mines and somehow surviving them. The End of the World! Everything you know is wrong! Reboot character gender/ethnicity switch! Plucky band of rebels vs. an overwhelming superior force! Character returns from the dead! We are not the people we thought we were! Bob Dylan songs in space (ok, this one may not be a common trope, but it was definitely a mine in the field)! It was all there, and all handled with maturity, brutal honesty, and grace.

Season four finds our “ragtag fleet” of apocalypse survivors facing not only a fleet of enemy battleships but more dangerously, a fatal confusion as to what to do next. It begins moments after Starbuck’s return. She’s been to Earth, and wants to lead the rest of them there. By leaving Starbuck, ultimately, just as confused about how she’s returned as the rest of the cast, the writers expand this story, adding a new layer to Starbuck. They make her an oracle. She knows the way to go (she thinks) but only because she can somehow feel where they’re going wrong. But because she can’t explain what happened to her, no one trusts her. She becomes Cassandra, the prophetess of Troy, cursed to see the future but not to be believed. Of course, Starbuck is a classic screw-up character, so she’s going to take everything to the extreme, and she does go to extremes to make the leadership listen to her at the end of this ep, which leaves her face to face (well, gun to face) with a major character whom, early in the series, she saw as a mentor.

And while Starbuck becomes an unlikely Cassandra, Gauis Baltar, fresh off of his acquittal, is trying to turn himself into a false prophet. The problem is, he may actually have a connection to the one true God. And as he falls into despair, and literally offers up his life in exchange for another (the degree of his sincerity is probably up for interpretation), he may actually be transforming, Siddhartha-like, into something he has never been. An honest man. Purely by accident, of course.

And the newly revealed final four cylons? No one had more importance to the New Caprica resistance that these four. Where do they go from here? Those are the questions they are asking themselves. But for now, Tigh provides the answer. They are who they have always been. New revelations change nothing. There’s a comforting philosophy there: we are who we choose to be. Genetics, race, even experiences, are nothing compared to personal choices. And yes, we’ve seen this storyline before in Caprica-Sharon who became fell in love wit Helo, betrayed her people, and became Galactica’s Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. Who these four become is still unclear. There is a possibility for betrayal.
We’ve been promised an honest, clear-eyed, brutal end to this series. Ten episodes this spring, ten next spring, and that’s it. It’s clear the writers and producers have the end in sight, and the freedom to tell story they need to tell. Not many shows get this chance. And no matter what happens, Battlestar Galactica has earned the right to go where it’s going to go. .

Friday, March 28, 2008

When good shows go bad: Beauty and the Geek!

All right, show. I won't un-season pass you yet, but it was this close.

If they hadn't done away with Beauty vs. the Geek and paired the girls and guys up, this would have been my last episode. It was just so bad. We get the vs dynamic in real life, why did we need it on this show, who's strength is taking two people from very different worlds, pairing them up, and helping them grow together. That's the show I think we all signed up for.

Watching the girls rub up against the guys in a hot tub so they could "weaken their enemies?" Ugh. The school-yard pick they used to form the teams (the girls picking, of course, because they won the challenge.) Also, ugh.

There certainly have been some mean-spirited contestants on this show before, but the show itself has never been mean. This season, it was.

But maybe that part is over now. Of course, Jillian, my favorite Beauty is gone, because of the really dumb third-challenge twist. But so is Amber, the nastiest Beauty since Season Three's Cece (still the worst reality show contestant of all time. When your partner throws the entire competition just so you don't win? It's a sign, kiddo).

But last night did have that adorable scene of Leticia waiting for Matt to return from the hospital alone on the stairs. And Amber feeling really, genuinely guilty for having accidentally breaking his shoulder during a game of flag football.

Maybe it'll return to form from here.

But it's still on probation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our Long National Nightmare is Over: Monica Seles off Dancing with the Stars

I kid, I kid. Kind of. I really felt bad about it, but watching poor Monica Seles lurch across the stage, dragged, propped up, kept in position by her unfortunate partner, Jonathan, was just not fun. I'm sorry, Monica. I know this was your chance to be a princess, but you really, really just ... and she seemed so nice, and was trying to hard, I couldn't even enjoy making fun of her.

Now that I've said that, I have to admit that if I were on Dancing with the Stars, my own experience would be much the same. I'm sure my partner, Kym (because that's my partner in the Dancing with the Stars show in my head) would have to put me on roller skates and drag me around the floor and pretend that roller disco was a ballroom category no matter what Len said about it. So I can relate. And really, I don't want to relate when I watch this show. I want celebrities to be either 1) good, or 2) a mockable train wreck. Monica certainly was a train wreck. But I felt bad mocking her.

So, hopefully, she can throw herself some princess parties and move on with her life. Penn, now, I was actually surprised to see go because he has a sizable fan base. And he was mockable. He seemed to be inviting it, so ... I guess I'm not too sad, but I was hoping it would be Cristian, fo whom I must ask the question, does anyone else think this guy is an asshole? Just me? Ok.

In our house, we're rooting for Kristi (of course), Marlbe, and Jason. Everyone else I'm meh on. Except for Marissa, who I think may be our next Monica. Right now her pep makes her entertaining (and yes, a little bit mockable) but she's showing signs of becoming pathetic in the classic sense of inviting pathos and that MUST. NOT. BE.

Priscilla scares me. She's like the botoxed bride of frankensteing, and there's something weird about her affect, like she's drugged up or something. I can't quite put my finger on it. But I am afraid.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Different Rules: Is Big Love the most moral series on television?

We don’t have HBO at our house, so I didn’t discover this series when it originally aired. I’d heard about it. At first the concept seemed like something that would appeal to me only slightly more than the cake decorating shows our local religious broadcaster would show in the early afternoons while I was growing up. Like most people, I found the whole idea of polygamy distasteful. I couldn’t imagine an entire TV series around the concept. Or, well, I could imagine it, and it was in my head like some mutant hybrid of Desperate Housewives and Last Man Standing. Not for me.

But then I started hearing about how good it was, how seriously it took the concept, how well-written and well-acted the characters. And then there was the presence of Amanda Seyfried, the late, lamented Lily Cane from late, lamented Veronica Mars. I was intrigued. So one weekend when I was home alone and looking for something to kill the boredom, I rented the first season DVD set. And then I knew exactly what they meant by the phrase Big Love.

The genius of this series is that it takes a concept most people are immediately repulsed by, and shows you the human and emotional layers underpinning it. You come to understand exactly how people can come to live this way, and in this story you find a connection with people who are in the middle of society, but are not part of that society. In its own way, and despite the immediate reaction most people have to its subject matter, Big Love may be the most moral series on television.

The concept of personal and sexual morality is not one given much real examination these days. A lot of series pay lip service to it, but that’s usually just so characters can feel bad as they’re breaking their own rules, followed usually by a bender where they feel so, so bad about what they’ve done before they go back to the way things were before. Rarely do we see a cast of characters who are so interesting because they stand up and resist, because they fight for what they believe, and fight as well to live up to it.

And that’s where the concept of polygamy becomes vital, because for that to really be examined, you have to take the story out of the realm of the familiar. These are people who live my different rules, but they are rules, and they are consistent, and seeing how they struggle can shed light on our own moral struggles. This might also be one of the best depictions of a family of faith I’ve ever seen. How many times have you seen the main characters in a modern series, when conflicted, or lost, or scared, or feeling gulty, literally getting down on their knees to pray for guidance? And receiving it. Most of the time this kind of thing is treated as a joke.

Yeah, there’s sex on this show. But it’s not casual and indiscriminate, It has consequences. And a context. And we may see our main family “living the principle” in a way that is moral, but we see the dark side of this practice as well. We see the compounds and cult leaders where young girls are made to marry 80-year-old men. We see the dichotomy that exists in this world. We see just how weird and twisted it can get. And in the second season, we feel for Bill, our main character, as he tries to have things both ways. He tries to “live the principle” but also walk in the mainstream world. And though he comes to some sort of stalemate with the forces against him, it is obviously something very temporary, and likely to have horrific consequences down the road.
I really do think this is the more moral show on TV right now. And I can’t wait to see how things work out for everyone next season, but I’m almost afraid of it too, because there’s some real badness on the horizon, I have a feeling, and I don’t want to see any of these people go down hard.