Sunday, April 30, 2017

In Which I Review Doctor Who (10x3)

It's inevitable. At some point during their time together, the companion must lose the rose tinted glasses they don when looking at the Doctor. Their favorite time traveling mad man with a box goes from quirky and amazing to terrifying. I touched on this in my opening seasonal review but it's worth mentioning here again in this week's episode, "Thin Ice." The Doctor is not all fuzzy feelings and warm; he can be (pardon the pun) ice cold, a god among mortals. He may serve at the pleasure of the human race but when it comes down to it, he's less manservant and more magical and powerful wizard who finds himself, more often than not, at a crossroads where hard decisions about life, death, and the universe must be made. And, sadly, there are times when those decisions mean lives are lost. Bill discovers this first hand this week when she's confronted with the Doctor's own godhood; but with every live lost, Bill also learns that the Doctor values human (and giant sea serpent) life. Grab your meat pie and let's go!

Of the three episodes aired so far, this week's installment is my favorite because of how timely it feels. Yes, this is a point of irony given that the entire episode takes place in 1814 but what's Doctor Who if not cheeky and winky in its irony. This episode is really about Bill discovering three different kinds of monsters: the one that is not really a monster at all, the one that tries his best to not be a monster, and the one who is the definitive monster in spite of (or perhaps because of) his privileged place in society. The first one, a giant fish that lives beneath the Thames, is no more a monster than a grizzly bear in the woods is. It's a predator and predators are going to eat their food source whether we want them to or not. Yes, it's eating children but it's also being held captive in chains and while the consuming of children is not a good thing, what else can the poor creature do to survive? The second monster is the Doctor, a god trying to not be godlike. There comes a moment when Bill realizes that the Doctor has seen people die; in fact when questioned the Doctor doesn't know how many people he has seen die; too many faces spread out over too many years. If that were not bad enough, the Doctor has also killed others, again too many to remember, too many to count and all he can do is move on. He does not have time to dwell on the outrage or the injustice because if he stops for one he can never do good elsewhere. It's a hard lesson for Bill to learn. In her mind, the Doctor is a wizard, complete with a magic wand and a flying carpet and thus in her fantasy the Doctor zips around time and space, saving innocent lives and brokering peace between warning factions. She never stops to consider that sometimes the Doctor is faced with an impossible choice and that his best possible solution is to let others die. We place heroes on pedestals but, as I said above, it's inevitable that they will fall down. What's matter more than the fall, however, is watching those heroes right the wrongs and rise in our eyes once more which brings us to the true monster of this week's episode, the rich and privileged Sutcliff.

A villain like Sutcliff on a TV show like Doctor Who is born from the outcomes of several key political movements of 2016. Make no mistake, Doctor Who and this episode join a long list of shows--both in America and abroad--which have found a way to cast a Trump-esque (or, I suppose, Farage-esque) villain at the center of their narrative to take a stand against what those two figures represent: white privilege. Like both the American president and the leader of the Brexit movement, Sutcliff is a white male who sees himself above all other manner of men and women. To him, Bill--a black woman--is not a person at all, but a lesser creature who does not deserve even a chair to sit upon. His status as a man, as rich, and as part of the upper class grant him leave to act as he sees fit, even if it means feeding children and other innocent souls to his great beast below. The idea of a character like Sutcliff isn't new in the TV landscape, especially lately, but what does feel fresh is who is standing in the cross-hairs and who fires back on all cylinders: Bill. She, unlike the companions who directly proceeded her, is set apart by gender, by race, and by sexual orientation. Bill is one of the "other;" if not exactly an outcast in 2017, for sure one in 1814 who is trampled upon by those who believe themselves to be her betters. The Londoners of 1814, like Sutcliff, might not know that Bill is gay but the color of her skin and gender are enough. Where the show really nails down this week's thesis is in the Doctor's wonderfully impassioned speech about how human progress is not measured by industry and the titans who control it, but by the importance placed on a seemingly unimportant life. In other words how those born into privilege treat those who are not. The speech itself is wonderful and of course Peter Capaldi gives it his all, but had this moving sentiment been given with any other companion--like Amy or Clara, two white, heterosexual women--it would have fallen short because how can a show like Doctor Who state such a position while it's still maintaining the status quo in companions. Having it be Bill--in all her queer and black glory--standing next to the Doctor, refusing to be kowtowed and treated as an inferior, makes it all the more special and poignant. This week's episode wants us to remember that monsters are real; they are not of the giant sea monster kind, but exist when we let titans of industry, the rich, and the privileged make themselves the standard bearers of what it means to be human.

Miscellaneous Notes on Thin Ice

--"You don't steer the TARDIS. You reason with it." "How?" "Unsuccessfully most of the time."

--I like how Bill vocalizes to the audience her own fears over entering London 1814 because of her black skin and the fact that, at this point, slavery is a very real factor. Often times, Doctor Who eschews those very real world issues.

--"It's not really wrestling unless it's in zero gravity. With tentacles."

--Whatever is behind the vault is alive and, at the very least, has the ability to knock. I suspect we all know where this is going (hint: knocking has been used to foreshadow someone before! Though I hesitate since the figure only knocked 3 times and not 4)

--I'm still very unsure what to make of Nardole and his role on the show. So far, he's gone on no adventures and only served as a scold. Hopefully the writers step up to the plate with him soon.

--R.I.P Pete and the Butterfly

--"He's got your magic wand." "Sonic screwdriver." "How is that a screwdriver?" "In a broad sense." "How is it sonic?" " makes noise."

Monday, April 24, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x18)

What makes a person special? Is it their innate magical abilities or is it what they choose to do with magic? I know this isn't exactly a hard question. If Einstein was still Einstein but he never did anything with this genius brain, then he wouldn't be remembered or cherished by those who came after. If you have gifts and choose not to use them for good and the benefit of all, then it's a lot like you don't have gifts or abilities at all. This is a moral we all learn fairly early on in our lives; it might actually be a Kindergarten lesson, right after sharing is caring and the ABCs. "Help others when you can" is plastered on schoolrooms across the world. Of course, we know nothing of the Oz education system so I guess Zelena missed out on that life lesson. The rudimentary lessons found in this week's episode "Where Bluebirds Fly" make for a boring flashback and doubly so when the character in question is one who's never managed to get a proper foothold in the series outside of the one year she was the Big Bad. But, hey. There were no earth shatter retcons, so I'll take it. Grab your baby pink heart and let's go!

Green Is The Loneliest Number

I honestly don't have a lot this week. There is a definite throughline with Zelena in this episode; much like all the other villains on the show, such as Rumple and Cora, Zelena sees magic as a way to set her apart from others around her. It makes her special when before all she felt was alone. This serves as a piece of irony because it's this magical ability and superiority complex that really causes Zelena to be alone. It doesn't hurt the parallel that also like Rumple and Cora, Zelena's two closest links to magical "parents," she was a poor and under privileged child of misfortune. There's a bit of nasty classism that runs through OUAT if you look for it. When it comes to anyone who serves as a villain, either for an arc or just an episode or even series long, there's a pretty good chance they were once poor and downtrodden. Rumple, Cora,, Zelena, Arthur, Jafar, and even Jekyll all start off life as part of the working class. They use magic (or science in one case) to set themselves apart believing the actual having of talents makes them special, but it's also more than that. Magic and science are also used to gain control of one's life. Zelena might tell Stanum that using magic for wickedness is more fun but it also allows her control over her life, something she dearly lacked when she was in rags and living in a hovel. It's the same for Rumple and Cora. Both of them were dirt (literally) poor and at the mercy of a rich and powerful overlord, either a Duke or a King. Neither of them were able to rise above their station and were constantly fearful that this overlord could end their existence with a flick of his tiny finger. Thus their villainy is linked to their desire to control their own destines and lives. It's hard to tell if the writers making their villains originally deprived financially is a lack of creativity or if there is a classist argument at play that being poor breeds resentment and hostility. At any rate, Zelena's attempt to seize control of her life and set herself apart magically also made her life a lonely one. Few people are blessed with magic and when you believe that your gift makes you better than those who are ungifted, you're naturally going to find yourself eating at an empty table. Thank heavens for random friends who were once a passerby to make you realize your misfortune and that abilities don't make you special, what you do with them does!

This, of course, leads us into the present day storyline where Zelena once again takes control of her life but this time uses that control to give up the one thing she has felt always defined her. I won't lie Zelena sacrificing her magic is a pretty big move, though--as one of my readers, I'm sure, would like me to point out--it doesn't put her in the column of redeemed because giving up something doesn't fix the problems Zelena has caused for people. For example, I'm pretty sure Stanum is still a tin man in the woods and Oz is still without a wizard and goodness who knows how many munchkins died when Zelena got restless and bored. However, the idea of a villain trying to make atonement by giving up a vital part of themselves is a long standing tradition on OUAT. Rumple gave up his life in season three; Regina gave up Henry; Hook gave up his ship and now Zelena has given up her magic. All of these things are tokens or talismans that are vital to the psychological makeup of these characters and bit by bit they break down their former selves and become someone else. It'll be quite interesting to see just how Zelena manages to navigate motherhood and Storybrooke as just Zelena and no longer the Wicked Witch of the West.

Miscellaneous Notes on Where Bluebirds Fly

--The flashbacks this week felt very incomplete. Did Zelena and Stanum hang out more than just for a few moments on the Yellow Brick Road as kids? Cause if not, it's really strange that he'd go to the Wicked Witch of the West for help after having only met her once.

--Also, we can add the Crimson Heart to the list of idiotic MacGuffins in season 6B.

--I understand the writers wanted to wrap up the Regina and Zelena hostility but, man, Regina was downright nasty to Zelena in this episode. So, Regina would be totally fine with Zelena taking her and Robin Hood's daughter to Oz forever?

--"Your mother has a key. Good to know.”

--Emma’s coat is obnoxiously ugly.

--Hey it's Belle! Oh, she's a babysitter again.

--The visual of the Black Fairy standing up, laughing, and walking against Zelena’s magic was very effective.

--"You really want to pick out centerpieces on the eve of the final battle?”

--“Why is it that even when your sister isn’t the villain we’re fighting…she's the villain we're fighting?”

Sunday, April 23, 2017

In Which I Review Doctor Who (10x2)

It's a bit of a tradition on Doctor Who that one of the new companions of a Doctor will, not only go into the future for their first real adventure, but will somehow encounter the human race in a transitory point in time. This serves two purposes; first it's a way to let the companion in on the secret of what happens to humanity in the far flung future and, secondly, it gives the show a chance to telegraph what kind of man (erm, Time Lord) this current incarnation of the Doctor is. For example, the Ninth Doctor took Rose to the end of the planet and she watched it blow up. It was thoroughly depressing for Rose but given the state of the Ninth's Doctor's psyche--war damaged and in pain--it made sense. The Tenth Doctor, newly reborn and having been healed by his time and experience with Rose took her to the city of New New (New New New New New New New New, ect) York on New New Earth where actual hugs and physical contact save the day. The Eleventh Doctor, who had lost so much and wanted to keep running so the pain wouldn't touch him, took Amy to a spaceship full of humans still on the move, but using the heart and soul of an ancient and alone beast to do so. Subtly has never been Doctor Who's strong point. In this week's episode, "Smile," Bill gets her first official journey out into the future and we land smack dab in the middle of how the Twelfth Doctor would like to be seen: The Peacemaker. Grab your favorite poop emoji and let's go! 

Let's not over analyze this one too much. At its heart, "Smile" a good old fashioned space romp with robots and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. The episode does good work in presenting humanity's current problems in broad strokes (the book Bill finds shows war and conflict on a massive scale) and it's really no surprise that, like all good science fiction, those problems call back to the current situations we, the 21st century audience, are experiencing presently. To wit: a bunch of humans fleeing from an evacuated Earth awake to find that they are in danger of being massacred by a hostile force that, at the end of the day, isn't evil but rather just thinks differently than they do. These erstwhile humans have two choices: war or smile and let the the Peacemaker go to work. The current human race might not be fleeing into outer space but there is something to be said about awaking from a deep slumber (read: complacency) to find an enemy combatant that you truly do no understand. This episode used emojis quite effectively but those emojis should have been used in tandem with slang or some common parlance. For example, in this day and age people talk about being "woke" to problems; they stay "woke." I don't think it's a stretch to say the writers of this episode had that lingering in the back of their minds given the socio-political climates of both the UK and America. This fictional human race is decidedly not woke, both literally but also metaphorically when they cannot heed the Doctor's good sense that the robots are not evil but simply understand emotions differently; they are not out to kill humans senselessly but honestly believe they are serving human kind by destroying the enemy of happiness--grief. The Doctor, here, plays the roll of peacemaker he also played last season between two rival factions; obviously the Doctor has always been a peacemaker, able to bring different sides to a table and make them talk but this the second time in two years that the Twelfth Doctor has taken on that roll so obviously. It's a remarkable change from his first season out when he constantly questioned if he was a good man and even Clara wasn't able to answer truthfully. The Twelfth Doctor has settled into who he is: he may not be a good man all the time, but he tries and that's what matters. This week finds him as our archetypal hero who is smart enough to figure out the problem and the solution before any more serious and permanent damage can befall his ward or the innocents that live on the ship. It's equally nice that this is the version Bill sees. Her wonder at the universe is only matched by her relentless need to understand it all on a practical level. Her first questions inside the TARDIS are about steering wheels and the seats! Bill is flabbergasted at the idea that the Doctor has two hearts--a time machine and an ability to chase down monsters almost unfaze her at this stage, at least more so than the idea that the Doctor has two hearts or never installed seat belts into the TARDIS. Bill is a charming individual who manages to bring an extra sparkle to the Doctor's journey because of how...ordinary she is. She is not a puzzle to solve--in fact the Doctor becomes the puzzle once more with his mysterious oath not to travel--and her desire to normalize her experience while loving the abnormality of it all makes her wonderfully, perfectly, and altogether human and a fantastic way to cast her as the audience's surrogate. After several years of "special" companions, it really is a delightful change of pace.

Miscellaneous Notes on Smile 

--"You never thought to bring the seats closer?"

--So what is going on with the Doctor, Nardole and this suspicious oath not to travel? We have virtually no information outside of that so it's really anyone's guess.

--Is it a bit depressing that of all the languages on planet Earth it's emoji that survives? Or do we take it like a universal language, meaning that particular barrier is gone?

--"Don't sentimentalize me. I don't just fly by helping people out."

--The Doctor is really just a "scary, handsome, genius from outer space."

--So there's an elephant on the Thames. Cool.

--"Between here and my office, before the kettle even boils, is everything that ever happened or ever will."

Monday, April 17, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x17)

I have been thinking a lot about the DNA of this show. I know I've done this before--broken down the basic premise of Once Upon a Time to get at what the core really is. It's a simple show, at its heart, and I have no desire to repeat myself, though if it's at all possible that the writers read my blog maybe I need to. There are a few DNA links that are important to understand about season one of OUAT. Mainly it involves an Evil Queen, a cursed realm, and an orphan girl named Emma Swan who just so happens to be the Savior and will save everyone. If that is all I told you about season one of OUAT, you would have the bare bones but a good enough understanding of the premise of the show. Except, then, this week's episode, "Awake," happened and now I have to reexplain that while, yes, there was a Curse that caused everyone to forget their memories, Snow White and Prince Charming actually accidentally woke up this one random time because of a flower on the side of the road but then they took magical memory potions to go back to the way they were so they could hold off on being saved for another eighteen years. I just complicated everything and now the show looks haphazard which, let's fact it, it is. Grab your true love flower and let's go!

The Writers Are Really Hoping You Burned Your Season 1 DVDs

In the broadest sense, I get what the writers are hoping to elicit from their audience with this episode. The notion that Snow and Charming gave up their only child, sent her into a strange land, and sacrificed their chance to be a family has always been powerful and emotionally resonate. It's why those last few moments of the Pilot are so strong; you see the hope in Snow's eyes as she realizes that Emma got away; the new hope, the Savior went into the wardrobe and because of that the kingdom has a sliver of belief that someday they will be rid of the Evil Queen's curse. The writers are hoping to cash in on those feelings by setting up a roughly similar scenario once more, only this time ten years into the future and not in the Enchanted Forest. It's a sort of emotional manipulation in which they hope you don't notice that while they tug at your feelings of nostalgia they are, at the same time, destroying the very basic DNA of the show and replacing it with a watered down, convoluted, overly complicated piece of narrative that simply doesn't work because of how powerful the original story was. Think about this way: what's more powerful? Snow and Charming meeting on the Storybrooke streets as Snow and Charming for the first time in twenty-eight years because their daughter shared a true love's kiss with her child or Snow and Charming meeting in a cold and isolated hospital room, having been woke up because of a random heretofore unmentioned flower that has some vague magical properties and not because of Emma at all? Take Snow and Charming out of the equation totally and look at Rumple. Which scene works more--the one where Emma gives her name and a light goes off in Rumple's head or the one where Charming mutters Emma's name as he turns to leave the shop and suddenly Mr. Gold is Rumple again only until he takes a memory potion to erase his memories of having woken up? I would argue that in both cases the original moment far outstrips the first. Is the moment in front of the door where Snow and Charming decide that they have to let Emma grow up without them, believe that she's strong enough to grow up alone and find them, a powerful one? A bit,  yes, especially on Snow's end since it's the most in character she's felt for a long time. But it's a rehash of an already powerful moment, the one where Snow, having just given birth, lies in bed with her husband and begs Charming to take their daughter and get her to the wardrobe before it's too late. That moment I'll remember long after I've forgotten this paltry new one. The first question any writer should ask themselves before they put pen to paper is, "why should I write this? Is this really something that the world needs?" If your answer is no then scrap it and come up with something else. I get that from a seasonal standpoint this episode needs to resolve the curse upon Snow White and Prince Charming but there are other ways to do that without having to likewise show this tortured flashback that undoes so much of what made the first season so great. The entire town drinking a part of the sleeping curse and diluting it enough to wake up Snow and Charming? Yes, all sorts of illogical but a sweet enough moment that keeps with the idea that Snow and Charming are heroes and the people of the Enchanted Forest/Storybrooke love them and respect them. At this point I am beginning to conclude that the writers simply don't care about any sort of consistency. They just want to turn in 22 episodes, get renewed and start all over. Snow and Charming, season one, and even we deserve better than this.

Miscellaneous Notes on Awake

--It’s really nice seeing Granny, Archie, the dwarves and Marco. It reminds me of when SB felt like a real lived-in town.

--“We were destined to clash since the dawn of time.”

--I didn't make any mention of it in the review proper but apparently Tiger Lily used to be a fairy and feels responsible for not stopping the Black Fairy when she had a chance.

--Neverland is looking rather Vancover-y.

--Not only is there a potion to remove the darkness in one's heart but a curse is now akin to darkness in a heart!

--Why did it take ten years for the flower that reunites true loves to grow in Storybrooke? And why didn't it pop up when other big baddies (Cora, Pan, Zelena, The Queens of Darkness, Dark Swan, Hades, all the Dark Ones ever, the Evil Queen) come to town?

--Emma was always the Savior. She didn’t need to be 28; that’s just when she came to town. She was born the Savior because she was born of Snow White and Prince Charming and because of Rumple’s machinations. It was not because she was “of age.” That is nonsense.

--Snow is willing to risk a forever-coma and leaving her second child an orphan if it means Emma can have her boyfriend back. While I know that parental sacrifices for their children is a major theme of the show, I honestly think the writers have forgotten that Snow and Charming have a second child. We also really need a scene of Emma's internal angst here to make her look less callous and cold in choosing Hook over her parents as easily as it appears.

--Hook's shadow had a little shadow hook. That is hilarious and little bit adorable.

--Pongo is in a bad mood because he’s off gluten.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

In Which I Review Doctor Who (10x1)

Let's get down to the basics of what Doctor Who, as a TV show, is. At its heart, it's a campy, pulpy, highly stylized fairy tale, with a rich half-century mythology, mixed with a science fiction beat that likes to examine the relationship between the divine and the human throughout the cosmos. Nothing reminds us of this more than when a new companion enters the scene and meets the Doctor for the first time. It's always an eye opening experience, whether it's running from Autons, ridding the Judoon of the Moon, fighting fat aliens, or saving London from giant eyeball monsters. The companion serves as the everyman who is called off on an adventure by the grand old wizard (our blessed Doctor, he plays so many archetypes) to slay dragons and stop malevolent villains. In the season ten opener, "The Pilot" (clever title for a show trying to get back to basics) we meet Bill, the newest wide-eyed human to stumble into her own fairy tale and be offered the chance of a lifetime. This episode's purpose is twofold: to introduce new viewers to this crazy and zany show and to begin the not-so-long goodbye to two old friends. Grab your sonic and let's got!

Do you remember your first episode of Doctor Who? I do. I was a freshman in college, bored and avoiding homework (probably German given my loathing of it); the TV was on and I was mindlessly flipping through it. I hit the SyFy channel--which might have still been called the Sci-Fi channel at that point--and saw some strange man in a black jacket running through a child orphanage with a blonde woman. Suddenly there were kids in gas masks and the scene had an obvious sense of drama and tension. I had no idea what was going on, but there I sat, brows furrowed, remote control frozen in hand unable to change the channel. I had just caught the end of "The Empty Child" from the first season of a newly rebooted fifty year old show. I knew none of the Doctor Who mythology or its legendary status in England; my science fiction experience was firmly American based with Star Treks and Stargates. So imagine my surprise when, just a few episodes later, there was a totally different man running around with the same blonde woman also claiming to be some sort of medical professional. It was at this point that I set the remote down, curiosity long since peaked, and picked up my laptop. I typed "Doctor Who" into the search engine (probably Internet Explorer, heavens forbid) and...well, the rest is history. Any time the show was on--marathon form or singular episode--I made a point to watch until I had managed to see most of the Ninth Doctor's one season run and the beginnings of the Tenth. Why am I telling you all this, readers? Because I am one hundred percent positive that someone out there in the wide world just watched their very first episode of Doctor Who. This idea is the main thrust of the season ten premiere. The villain of the week is not all that compelling nor interesting but everything here serves to enchant a new viewer into watching more. For all the bombastic tendencies of show runner Steven Moffat, his swansong season opens as a sort of love letter to the most bare bones version of Doctor Who, the kind that probably fascinated him as a child when all that mattered was a madman, a blue box, some sort of horribly costumed monster, and a companion who stood side by side with a mythic hero on a grand adventure.

None of this is to say that this is a perfect episode; far from it. As I mentioned the villain is fairly mundane and forgettable. The Daleks make only a cursory appearance; they serve as a way to introduce a new viewer to the most famous of the Doctor's enemies as opposed to being a real threat or to set up a long storyline. Also, I'm also still not sure what purpose Nardole serves as a secondary companion apart from keeping the Doctor from being alone in between Clara and Bill. Nardole's companionship is sweet and endearing and he does the most magical thing all companions need to do, namely not get in the way of letting the Doctor carry the weight of the story. This was something Amy and Clara never quite learned, both former companions being set up as having a magical destiny or being somehow more important than just normal humans swept off on an adventure through time and space. It's hard to relate to a character with a pre-ordained destiny like "The Impossible Girl;" Rose may have become the Bad Wolf but that was by her choice after her experiences with the Ninth Doctor not because she was always supposed to become godlike. To bring this back to Nardole, his presence grounds the Doctor; he's obviously unimpressed by the flying magician and has a unique ability to telegraph what the Doctor needs to hear (like being kind or not being alone) without it being preachy. Still, the more characters you have in a show, the more development and importance I expect them to play. Nardole needs to not get in the way, but I don't need him to be a vessel making subtext into text. The Doctor's problems with loneliness are well document and having a spouting head literally calling him out on it--as he did at Christmas--would be, frankly, tedious. Speaking of, the Doctor is in fine form, here. When you're introducing the Doctor to an audience for the first time, there are some sweet spots one must hit. He almost always comes across as slightly insane--seriously, think about the the first time all the companions met their Doctor. He's most likely talking gibberish but with an air of incredible intelligence, Einstein on an acid trip, so to say.  The Doctor must also radiate a certain kind of power, an otherworldly quality that sets him apart from the humans caught up in the frenzy. Peter Capaldi has never failed in either of these endeavors and in meeting Bill, he is full of spunk and charm coupled with an edge that suggests he is not a being to be messed with. So, if we have a back-to-basics set up and a rudimentary Doctor, where does the episode really shine? It shines in Bill Potts.

The past two companions have not been my cup of tea. Amy Pond was too abrasive and Clara's school girl crush on the Eleventh Doctor as well as her "Impossible Girl" shtick, making her out to be the most important companion of all time, was hard to stomach. But in Bill I think we may have finally come back down to Earth; a normal, everyday, average, mundane human being. An extraordinary person because of their ordinaryness. It's where Doctor Who began, either with a schoolteacher or a shop worker, and it's fitting that in this stripped down season opener, Bill makes her first appearance as a relatable companion swept off into the divine without any hint that she is "more" than what she appears. Along with being a fresh take from past companions, making Bill an ordinary girl is a smart move on the part of the show because there is something that makes Bill--not different--but a change from the past ladies (and gents) who have flown in the TARDIS. Bill is gay; she is the first openly gay modern human companion (Captain Jack being more of a pansexual and not modern and not a full time companion) on the show. Now, I want to pause here before I discuss if the show was successful in depicting Bill's homosexuality because it's important to note that while I think Bill is a positive example of the homosexual community, it's also not really for me to say because I do not belong to that community. I identity as heterosexual and therefore any attempt to read a homosexual character as "right" or "wrong" in terms of depiction rather misses the point altogether. It's up to the community to tell me if they think Bill is a positive creation. However, I shall muddle through this as best I can. What I like best about Bill's homosexuality is how understated it is; this is not an episode where Bill needs to come out, be reassured by some heterosexual that she is "okay" and have the hour turn into a Very Special Episode. Instead, Bill casually mentions, within the first 10 minutes, how she fancied a girl she met while working in the University cantina and then a big part of the episode is spent chasing Bill's crush from a night in the bar. At no point does the Doctor--or the show--make Bill's homosexuality a big deal. It's simply part of her, as is her quick wit, her cheeky comebacks and her sadness over the loss of her mother. Too often in TV, a homosexual character has to justify their sexual orientation, explain to the audience that this is who they are and then patiently describe, to those not in the know, wanting to be treated as normal. Doctor Who carefully and cleverly eschews this treatment of Bill and simply lets her be. And what she is, is fun! There are bits of other companions in Bill; she's got a hefty bit of Rose with her family loss and her working girl attitude; she's got Donna's banter ability and if the constant shots of Susan's photograph are any indication, she's got a small bit of the Doctor's granddaughter in her as well. I found myself smiling at Bill's first time out in the TARDIS and her slow realization that the blue box really was quite magical and not just a single room. I think she'll be a worthy companion, someone who can match barbs with the Doctor but never lose sight of the wonder of it all, just like all of us be we old or new companions setting out to see the universe anew.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Pilot 

--"I am very particular about time."

--Has the Doctor already met Bill's mother or is this one of Steven Moffat's famous wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey plot lines?

--"That's my face, yeah?" Bit flexible about that are you?" "You have no idea."

--Why is the Doctor in disguise and why can't anyone know he's hanging out in Bristol as a professor? Also, what election is he speaking of?

--Any guesses what is behind Checkov's Vault?

--I'm not sure how I feel about the Doctor only having Susan and River's photos on his desk. I get that those two are "family" in the tradition sense (granddaughter and wife) but all the Doctor's companions are family to him, after a fashion.

--The one revelation missing from Bill's encounter with the Doctor is that he's called a Time Lord, he has two hearts, and he regenerates into a new person when his death is at hand. But given that this is Peter Capaldi's final run as the Doctor, I guess she'll find that out soon enough.

--"I can't just call you the Doctor. Doctor What?" Yeah, Bill's gonna be just fine.

Monday, April 10, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x16)

Everyone wants tickets to Hamilton, even when the hit Broadway musical won't have come out in your corner of the universe for another two years or so. But hey, everyone's gotta have a dream, right Isaac? In all seriousness, though, having a dream isn't too far off the mark in terms of themes for this week's episode, "Mother's Little Helper." Emma dreams of a normal life with her fiancee, her son, her family and not having to stare down some impossible evil every few months months. Gideon and the Black Fairy have their own dreams that, despite outward appearances, are thematically linked to Emma's. In fact, if we were to pinpoint a theme that is looming large over this arc as a whole, I would say freedom and normalcy are at the heart of this backhalf. From Charming wanting his family to be whole again and to be free from the weight of his father's death to Regina reuniting via shared evil and love with her other half to Emma trying to grasp her life by both hand and control it instead of having it controlled, the idea of wanting this particular story to come to an end and hoping the chaos will settle keeps poking its head around the corner and grinning, Cheshire cat like. Grab a can of Raid and let's go!

No More Wire Hangers!

Gideon and Emma are the same person. Maybe I should be more specific because on this show that little joke could actually turn out to be true (looking at you Zelena and Marian from season four!). The writers are going to some great lengths to draw parallels between Gideon and Emma; it's no small coincidence that Gideon returns to Storybrooke right after his twenty-eighth birthday. Emma, of course, did the same. Both Emma and Gideon had what can only be described as a rough childhood and while those specific circumstances might be different, the emotional trauma behind them is the same. Emma was shuffled around, moving from place to place, never having a proper home or a real family. These experiences left her with feelings of low self-worth, someone undeserving of love and acceptance. It took Henry, Mary Margaret and a belief in herself to really knock down those long standing beliefs. Gideon, unlike Emma, did not migrate from place to place; his stationary existence was an equally hellish one that fueled the same self-loathing. Unable to truly be the hero Gideon read about in his book, he hid behind the Black Fairy's magic and power, grasping at it to assuage his own feelings of low self-worth. The way Gideon clung to the Black Fairy, ready to do her bidding, calling her mother and swallowing lock-stock-and-barrel her lies reminded me of how Emma clung to anyone who would offer her even the any love and affection--Ingrid, Lily, Neal--until it was invariably taken away through varying circumstances. Just like Henry showed up on Emma's doorstep with a woe-begotten face and a sad story, asking Emma to face her past actions, so too did Gideon have to look someone in the eye--a childhood friend he swore to protect--whom he had wronged and own up to his life choices. All of this is nicely rounded out by the fact that Gideon wants to be a Savior, or rather to channel Emma's own unique power into ripping a hole in the fabric of realms so that Mommie Dearest can come through to town. The parallels here are tricky because this is where Gideon and Emma do diverge. While the former wants to be the Savior but it going about it all wrong the other dreams of a life not being the Savior even though she's constantly stepping up to the plate when asked. Gideon is being manipulated by the Black Fairy by way of a ripped heart, I don't think his desire to be a Savior lies solely in that manipulation. Despite turning a blind eye to the pain of the children in the mines and acting as the Black Fairy's henchman, it was obvious that these actions were distasteful to Gideon and that he could still remember the suffering of his childhood. The Black Fairy never quite broke him, even if she does hold his heart. And that is perhaps more like Emma than anything else. Think back to season one; Emma Swan might have been jaded and had a massive chip on her shoulder but some part of her still believed and had hope for things to get better, that she could find her place in this world. If Emma had truly given up all hope, she would have left town the second Henry was back with Regina; she'd have driven off even when she believed Regina did not love Henry. She wouldn't have cared; get back in the bug and forget this experience ever happened. But Emma stayed; she got to know Henry and the town and, moreover, opened herself up to love because some part of her believed it was all still possible. Despite his heartless condition, I think the conversations with Rumple and simply being around Belle are having an affect on Gideon much the same way Henry did to Emma.

At the top of the review, I spoke of dreams and what our characters are dreaming of. This is still another parallel between Emma and Gideon; a dream of normalcy. Gideon didn't hang on to the book Belle sent with him because it's such a compelling story or just because of Belle's nice note inside, but because that book was his only tether to the idea that life could get better, that it could be normal if only he could find his family. That book is Emma's blanket, and her bug, and her swan necklace. It's Gideon's totem that keeps him hoping that he won't be alone for his next birthday. The desire for normalcy and for an end to these stories of villains and heroes is all over the episode and season. Henry is going into trances because his storybook knows that it's the final chapter; Snow lamented at the very beginning of this season that her and Charming's life is one of lather, rinse, repeat and it spurred her to go back to teaching (incrementally, I have to assume, given how little we see her do it and how she's currently spending huge swaths of time asleep). I don't want to read authorial ennui or burnout into the show but never before has it truly felt like the writers were gearing up for "the end." This isn't to say that the writers are sick of their show but that even they know it's time to draw this particular story to a close. Happily ever after has to come eventually, right? Even the Black Fairy, with what little we've seen of her, wants a more normal life, free from her constraints. Yes, she's a villain and that comes with a mad grab for power--and apparently child labor--but if they don't turn her story on its head and reveal that she was made evil but something traumatic, I'll eat Emma's red leather jacket. My point is that the show is trying to tell us something and it's not the usual twaddle about hope and family; I think it's trying to tell us that this story--the one about this weird interconnected family of fairy tale characters--is coming to an end. That doesn't mean that another story can't start--the Sorcerer's House is full of books after all--but that this one in particular is ending and whatever normal means for those characters who have made up this bizarre little tale is coming, sooner than we think.

Miscellaneous Notes on Mother's Little Helper

--Along with all the parallels between Emma and Gideon, the writers are going back to some season one iconic moments like revealing that the Black Fairy created the Dark Curse and that she gave Snow White the magic powder that turns people into bugs.

--I really have no idea why the Black Fairy created the Dark Curse, however. Also are we to believe that the reason she did not cast it was because she does not love anything at all?

--The Black Fairy called Gideon “Dearie.” Nice little inside joke

–“Freedom. Sports car. Big Apple. And Hamilton tickets.” I mean, I would honestly demand the same.

--The Black Fairy has Gideon’s heart. Thank god; a logical, no-nonsense canon compliant answer to why Gideon’s plans and understanding of Saviorhood makes zero sense.

--According to Emma, portals take extreme magic and do not just pop out of thin air. I call massive lies, writers.

--Snow White's hypocrisy is unnerving. In front of Belle, a person who has never wronged her, Snow declares that she'll help Emma kill Gideon because it's mother-daughter bonding. Didn't Snow learn anything from the incident with Mal and the dragon-egg-baby?

--Emma Swan, you have magic. When a giant spider is chasing you, do not run around the house. Poof out!

Monday, April 3, 2017

In Which I Review Once Upon a Time (6x15)

I have a confession to make before I review this week's episode "A Wondrous Place;" about thirty minutes into the hour, I stopped--full on stopped--taking notes because I was laughing too hard. Mind you, this was not because anything about this episode was side splittingly and genuinely hilarious but rather because the writing in this Aladdin and Jasmine centric was so illogical, nonsensical and straight up weird that I couldn't take anything that was happening even the tiniest bit seriously. I have disliked episodes before; usually those episodes have something morally offensive in them: a perpetuation of rape culture, a morally dubious plotline, an inconsistency in character that spoils the entire arc of an individual, ect. But, rarely, do episodes of OUAT completely and totally bomb because the writing is so atrocious. Well, congratulations Once Upon a Time; you done did it! Hold on to your sanity cause we're going into the deep end of crazytown. 

What Is Narrative? And Why Does It--What's The Word--Suck?

I'll tell you what--I'm not even going to bother to properly reviewing this episode. There is nothing to be sussed out in between these pages of fluff and filler. Sure, we could sit here and analyze the parallels the show is trying to draw between Jasmine and Hook; both feel guilty over the things they've done in the past to the point where they hide behind their guilt, afraid to jump into love's waiting arms lest it fail to catch them. I guess that's one way of looking at Hook and Jasmine's own internal dilemma but it all falls flat and borderline offensive when we consider that Jasmine's great crime was not marrying a villain, who was duping her in the first place, with aims of stealing her kingdom and ruling over her people and that's Hook's crimes (heck, scratch Hook and add your favorite villain who could have had the same silly parallels drawn--Rumple, Regina, Cora, Pan) involve actual, life ending murder. Hook isn't guilty of being played by someone bigger and stronger than him and failing to stop a conspiratorial plot! He did actual bad things and the idea that the show is trying to draw some sort of emotional parallel between him and Jasmine is frustrating but so inside the wheelhouse of OUAT that you know what? I'm not bothered! No, really. I'm not. It doesn't bother me because there are other, more pressing, horrible things to talk about. So here it is, folks. Instead of a review, which would be hard to read and even harder to write, I'm going to sit here and discuss all the things that don't make a lick of sense in this episode or are just plain dumb. Let's start with the absurd number of plot devices in this show. OUAT has always had a bad rap when it comes to these MacGuffins; every episode or so, another is introduced that is cringe worthy in the extreme. The best MacGuffins usually find a way to upset the previous established logic of the show or to be so blatantly stupid that they defy any sense. This episode we had Kraken's Blood, which can apparently take people from Storybrooke to the Enchanted Forest and back again (because season one was five years ago and nobody cares anymore!). We had a never before seen ring that was housing a lost city unbeknownst to everyone. This one might be my favorite. It does that magical thing MacGuffins often do which is to literally drop into the hands of the person it--this inanimate object--needs to be revealed as the answer to all your questions! How many times did Jasmine talk about the ring, show us the ring, reference the ring in present day and flashback? Of course it was where Agrabah city was hiding! Following this truly wonderful bauble, the show gave us a double whammy--a shellphone that can allow Hook to call (yes, call) Emma across realms. That's not the best bit, though. This shellphone can be interrupted by the Tears of Savior that Gideon just happened to gather from Emma while she was sad-crying in a bar and while he pretended to be the legendary Aesop! Other TV shows, look out! Once Upon a Time is hot on your Emmy-nabbing heels with such rich narrative twists like these.

The silly and overused plot devices may not even be the worst part. After all, OUAT has an extensive history of using a good ol' fashioned MacGuffin to fill in as an easy answer to a seasonal problem. No, there are other points in this week's episode that are equally baffling and weird such as the entirety of the Aladdin, Jasmine, Ariel, and Jafar plot. First off, what was the point of Ariel in this week's episode? Apart from the show wanting to grab all the old favorites one last time, Ariel was just there to be a funny line delivery machine, essentially taking the place of Regina with the core group. So Ariel, having rescued Prince Eric, is living in a secluded "off season tiki hut" like a wayward and homeless teenager, collecting flotsam and jetsam in her bathrobe? Even if Eric's kingdom was destroyed by the Dark Curse (any of the three versions at this point), why aren't the happy couple rebuilding it? Forgetting about Ariel, the real absurdity of this week comes from Aladdin (overbearing and demanding and self-centered) and Jasmine (completely unlikable and pathetic) and the rapid fire change of fortune they experience with Jafar. This is why I confessed to having not taken notes about anything past a certain point because I'm pretty sure Ariel gave Jasmine Jafar's lamp (continuity error: that's not his lamp!) only to have Jafar pop out like a demented jack-in-the-box with a turban the size of a small city, knock everyone but Jasmine out, somehow poof away his genie curse (because no one watched Wonderland!), engage in a bizarre conversation with Jasmine about, I don't know, heroism, before she--in turn--threw some red powder on him and turned him into a screaming staff. Y'know, right before she lip-locked Aladdin and Agrabah grew ten sizes. As far as villains go, Jafar was completely wasted on the parent show which is absolutely a crying shame given how powerful and resonate he was in Wonderland. Go back and watch these final scenes again; it's like a strange and awkward high school production where everyone misses their mark and forgets their lines so they start ab-libing a story that they think makes sense. Are we sure the well known writers in the OUAT room are still writing? Are we sure they haven't passed off responsibility to interns who are working around the clock to pump out 12 more episodes, all while mainlining coffee, Red Bull, and Xanax? Honestly, I'll accept that answer as legitimate since the alternative is that we have to endure seven more episodes like this!

Miscellaneous Notes on A Wondrous Place

--Because I spent the entire review having a bit (lol) of a rant, I'll highlight some of the more positive aspects of this episode.

--Unlike like 95% of Emma’s outfits this year, I actually like her red plaid jacket.

--This episode needed less Jasmine/Jafar/Aladdin nonsense and more drunk Snow making random bets with Vikings.

--“It's are supposedly artisinal. Which I think means STRONG!"

--“Why is this rug flying!” “It’s a carpet. A magic carpet.” “It’s clearly a rug.”

--How did Jafar know about Eric and Ariel, enough to fool Ariel at least?

--“Come on, Princess. How many times are you almost going to kiss me?” Dude, back off. If she doesn’t want to kiss you, then she doesn’t have to kiss you. If she wants to, she will. If she’s torn over if she does or not, give her SPACE. This is not a difficult concept.

--"Didn’t you hear the Captain. We have no Kraken’s Blood!” Really, that line though.

--"Son of a fish!"

Saturday, April 1, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x13)

What is the fight against evil really about? It's about freedom. Evil is often talked about in abstracts but when you get down to the nitty gritty, evil is understood as a lack of freedom and lack of choice. Evil can be seen in tyranny and oppression. It's what the colonists fought for against King George and the English; it's what Ichabod, Abbie, Diana, and Molly are fighting for against Moloch, The Hidden One, and Dreyfus. All three major antagonists of Sleepy Hollow had dreams of not just unleashing Hell on Earth, but forcing the peoples of Earth to live under their harsh and unjust subjugation. The concept of freedom is often equally ephemeral but it certainly becomes concrete enough when it is threatened. In this week's episode, "Freedom," Crane and his partners fight to stop a mad tyrant from taking over America. Grab your soul and don't sell it to the devil and let's go! 

The real crux of the problem this week isn't the Four Horseman or even Ichabod's long standing feud with his son, Henry. It's the fact that the main villain, Malcolm Dreyfus, is immortal and cannot be killed by any means that Ichabod and his team have here on earth. The key words there, by the way, are here on earth. Enter: Hell and all its minions. Sleepy Hollow has never shied away from a good journey to the Underworld; both Ichabod and Abbie have had to escape Purgatory and--come to think of it--both had to escape the Catacombs of Death as well. The katabasis, a regular staple on the shows I review it would seem, serves a good narrative purpose in that it reveals information to the hero or heroine of which they were previously unaware and it is usually the jumping off point for the next phase in their journey, defeating the villain. All of this fits comfortably in the this week's episode as Ichabod and Lara--who very much wants to be seen as a separate individual from Molly--travel down to Hell to strike a deal with the Devil. Every TV show pictures Hell differently; some simply add a red filter to their previously established locales, some create an entire new set and feel, and some create a landscape that is equally familiar and foreign. Sleepy Hollow took this last route and I have to say it was effective; both Ichabod and Lara have experienced a very mundane sort of hell. A war zone and an orphanage are both hellish in their own ways and having Hell look differently for each person is a clever move and avoids a lot of the cliches the show could have gone with like fire and brimstone. The information revealed in the katabasis is obviously useful; the Devil is willing to strike a deal with Ichabod because while an Apocalypse would grant him more souls to torment, Dreyfus snaking his way out of a deal irks the Devil more. In return, Ichabod is given the Philosophers Stone which can magically harm Dreyfus and allows a bullet to kill him. It's all neat and orderly and, yes, rather spaghetti-to-the-wall which is in the wheelhouse of this show. The larger issue I'm having this week is not with any plot device but rather the future of the show.

Quite a few threads were left up in the air; Henry is still out there, hating his father and still the avatar of War. Lara left Columbia, officially the new Witness because of some time travel explanation that leaves Molly un-Witnessed. Jenny decides, off screen, to stay and be a part of them team permanently without telegraphing to the audience if this is satisfactory to her; Alex and Jake kiss in the heat of the moment (not that I actually care about these two) and, the biggest cliffhanger of them all, Ichabod sold his soul to the Devil to gain the Stone to kill Dreyfus. I'm not sure if the show is getting renewed--ratings are rather dismal--but if it's not, which I'm sure the writers would have suspected given that this season was a bit of a Hail Mary pass to begin with, then several of these storylines were clumsily executed. What was the point of making a Molly a Witness at all if she was going to serve no purpose as said Witness? The show could have made Lara the new Witness at the start, have her be a woman from the future to contrast Ichabod being a man out of time. What was the point of having Jake swoon over Jenny for several episodes before moving on to a new girl if he and Alex were to kiss and have stars in their eyes? What was the point of Henry coming back to life if he was going to do a rapid fire about face in character just because Ichabod drops the word "freedom" a few key times? The main point of this season of Sleepy Hollow was to prove to me--and the audience at large--that the show deserved to continue to exist. It certainly had moments where I could see its argument but overall it didn't succeed in making its case. These cliffhangers leave me with the impression that if Sleepy Hollow got a fifth season, it would be still another new show, an amalgamation of the previous seasons--a new Witness, Ichabod versus his son, a quirky love story between a tough girl and a sweet guy, and a new approach to procedural over mythology. Being charming only gets you so far; you must also have an aim and the logline "the war of good versus evil" can only be spun out here and there if each season is simply a new threat, a new evil, lather, rinse, repeat. Wars end and progress--definitive progress--must be made. Last year, after Abbie's death, I said I probably wouldn't be back but I here I am, another season finale. If the show returns, I'll be here, hoping that Sleepy Hollow can find its way back to the crazy, surprising, heartfelt, purposeful show I know it wants to be.

Miscellaneous Notes on Freedom

--All season Sleepy Hollow has been making fun of the Hamilton phenomenon. So, naturally, they open with Ichabod and Henry having a duel. I half expected a "10 Duel Commandments" reference to be made.


--The scene in which Ichabod and Lara's journey to Hell was interrupted by a cable technician was classic Sleepy Hollow. I especially enjoyed that having to reschedule his internet hookup to some vague three weeks in the future between the hours of 8am-9pm was "the torments of the damned have already begun."

--If the show does return it can benefit from trimming the excess, meaning specifically Alex and Jake. No offense to their actors but neither one of their characters offers this show anything new or interesting.

--"Is this hatred worth sacrificing your freedom?" I'm always glad when the show works in John Noble but the idea that freedom meant more to Henry than taking down his hated father seemed pretty out of character. He was, after all, more than happy to be Moloch's plaything.

--"I have traveled back from Purgatory, the Catacombs....and New Jersey."

--If this is goodbye, then thank you all for reading. If not, see you next year!