Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Kids Review TV: Doctor Who 8.1 — Deep Breath



This past Saturday was the much-anticipated return of Doctor Who, which, if you watch the show, you know it comes with much more than "what will the new season be like?" This premiere brought with it a new Doctor, new relationships, new personalities, and even a new TARDIS. As the fifth Doctor would have said, "You've changed the desktop theme again!"

That's not the only theme that changed.

Right from the beginning of the episode, we get a new song, and new opening credits. I actually quite liked them, even though if I had to choose my absolute favourite DW opening theme song it would be the 10th Doctor's one, midway through his run, all violins and heavy guitar. It was manic and pulsating and determined. This new opening is more retro, harkening back to earlier Doctors and earlier opening themes from the Classic Series, with more synth (I half-expected the episode to open with Ace) and clocks flying by. But I liked it, and I think it'll grow on me even more with time. It was such a shift, rather than the slight change they usually make. And, best of all, it was created by a fan, and the producers liked it so much they took it, tweaked it slightly, and made it the opening. How amazing is that?

And just as that fan's dream came true, so did Peter Capaldi's. A Doctor Who megafan since he was a kid, now he IS the Doctor, and gets to come in when the show is finally hot in the U.S. in a way it's never been before, and has a renewed and reinvigorated audience. Personally, I thought Capaldi was fantastic, and I know we're heading in a darker direction, but this first episode was hilarious on so many levels, not least of all in the acknowledgement that Capaldi is best known as the always-enraged Malcolm Tucker on In the Thick of It (that show my kids always want me to show them, to which I answer unequivocally: NO). Much was made of Capaldi being an older Doctor, and that is brought up again and again in this premiere episode, more as if the writers are answering the fans than anything else. The companions have always stood in for the fans and our responses, and this episode made Clara one of us in abundance.

The 9th Doctor emerged from a place of war, having just destroyed his home planet and everyone on it. He's broken and sad, but young and smiling and there to have adventures with Rose. The 10th Doctor was also a young man, going through a particularly difficult regeneration, but one where Rose stuck by him, knowing this might not look like her Doctor, but he's in there somewhere. The 11th Doctor regenerated and then crashed his ship, and awoke to a new face and a little girl standing by his side, someone who'd never seen him before but would pledge the rest of her life to him. Of the three, only one of them carried the companion from one body to the next, and that companion accepted him pretty quickly. And none of those men looked like they were older than 35.

But everything is different now. This companion, Clara, is the Impossible Girl, the one who isn't just a companion, but has actively saved the Doctor in every body he's ever been in. If there's one companion who should be OK with seeing a new face on the Doctor, it should be this one, since she's encountered every single one of them firsthand.

Only... she hasn't. It's rather confusing, but she split herself into many selves, each one of them assigned to a different spot on the Doctor's timeline, and the Clara that we see in this season 8 premiere has only ever been with the 11th Doctor.

And here is where we step outside of the show for a second, and look around at all the young faces now watching the show. Many of them began with the 11th Doctor. This is THEIR Doctor, the one they first encountered when their parents said, "Hey, wanna watch Doctor Who with me?" In the case of my then-5-year-old son (now almost 7), it was love at first sight. He carries the 11th Doctor's sonic screwdriver around with him everywhere. He thinks bow ties are cool. And he cried for 45 minutes straight when his Doctor regenerated late last year.

But he's had eight months to get used to Capaldi's face, seeing it everywhere, knowing his Doctor is gone but a new one is on the horizon. He knows it's still Doctor Who, but he still misses his Doctor.

My 10-year-old daughter first joined us when I was going back to the beginning of the New Series with my son during the hiatus, and so her first Doctor is the 9th. She adored him, and loved the 10th, and thinks the 11th is wonderful. She seems pretty amenable to the regenerations and the new faces, so I was interested in what she would think.

So last Saturday, we all gathered in front of our televisions to watch the premiere of season 8 live. It was me, my daughter Sydney, son Liam, and Liam's friend Christian. Christian is 7 and has never seen Doctor Who before, so I was interested to see what he would think of this. Liam tried his best to prep him, with his beloved and tattered copy of the 50th Anniversary book, pointing out each villain and each Doctor and explaining what all of this meant.

I worried that the 10pm end time would mean my kids wouldn't last, but they were on the edges of their seats, wide-eyed and mired in the suspense, right until the end. (Except for Christian; we lost him shortly after 9pm when he just leaned against the arm of the couch and went right to sleep.)

The next day at lunch, I asked each of them for their thoughts:

What did you think of the new theme song? 
Liam: I liked it.
Sydney: I LOVED it.
Liam: And all those clocks swirling around were cool.

What did you think of the new Doctor? 
Liam: I liked him, but I still miss my Doctor.
Sydney: Loved him. But I like darker Doctors.
Liam: But I didn't like when he just left Clara alone in the basement with the robots.
Sydney: Yeah, that wasn't very nice at ALL.
Me: But he had a reason for doing that, right?
Sydney: I still like him.

Did you find the episode easy to understand? 
Liam: Um... yeah. But I never like the clockwork guys, they're creepy.
Sydney: I didn't get the ending, where he said he was in Heaven. What was that about, were we supposed to understand that?
Liam: Yeah, I didn't like the Heaven part.
Me: I think they're setting that up as something we're going to come back to.
Sydney: Why did that woman refer to the Doctor as her boyfriend?
Me: That's a very good question, and one I wondered about, too.
Liam: I thought it was the woman from Time of the Doctor at first, the woman in the church.
Me: Me too!
Sydney: You know what, I think we're going to find out that the woman is actually River Song! That she regenerated, and that's why she's in that place now, and looks different.
Me: Ooh, that's an interesting theory.
Sydney: And THAT is why she called him her boyfriend!
Liam: No, didn't she use up all her regenerations?
Sydney: When?
Liam: In that one episode when she was with the Doctor, the Hitler one? She says she used up all her regenerations!
Sydney: Yeah, well the Doctor said HE used up all of his, too, and then it turns out he has a whole bunch more. So... bam. It's River.
Me: Heeeheeeeee!!!!

Christian, did you like the episode? 
Christian: Yes!
Me: Would you watch it again?
Christian: Yes, I thought it was very funny.

What was your favourite part of the episode? 
Christian: I liked the dinosaur at the beginning a lot.
Liam: Yeah, I liked that, too, but I think they made it too big.
Me: I thought so, too! That was the biggest T-rex ever.
Liam: A T-rex would be a little taller than our house.
Sydney: Haha! Yeah, and this one was as tall as Big Ben!
Me: I think they need some 6-year-old boys on staff as dinosaur consultants.
Liam: My favourite part was when Madame Vastra and Jenny dropped to the floor and then suddenly Strax came flying down behind them!
Sydney: Yeah, that was my favourite part, too. I also like the Strax kept calling Clara a boy.
Christian: Who's Strax?
Liam: The one that looks like a potato!
Christian: Oh, haha! He's funny. I liked when he threw the newspaper at the woman and hit her in the face.
Liam: HAHA! Oh yeah!!

What do you think of Madame Vastra and Jenny? 
Sydney: I like them a lot, but she was mean to Clara.
Me: Yes, I agree; that was a little over-the-top. But Clara got to stick up for herself in a big way and I loved that scene.
Liam: Madame Vastra and Jenny are cool, but how can a lizard and a person be married?
Me: Well, she's like a human, right? And she's still quite beautiful even as a lizard.
Liam: True. I like Strax when he's with them.
Sydney: I liked when they kissed, that was sweet.

Did you find it scary at all? 
Christian: [nods furiously, wide-eyed]
Liam: I thought the part in the basement with the robots was scary.
Sydney: Ooh, when they made Clara hold her breath! Yeah, I didn't like that. But you know what, you haven't asked us if anything made us sad.
Me: I haven't gotten there yet.
Sydney: Can you ask that now?

Did anything make you sad in the episode? 
Sydney: Yes, when the dinosaur died. That was so sad, Mommy, why did they do that?
Me: The Doctor could understand what the dinosaur was thinking and feeling, so he was translating. The dinosaur doesn't know what these things are surrounding her, she's a stranger in a strange land, and she's scared and frightened. She just wants her world to come back and be the way it used to be. They were trying to draw a parallel between the dinosaur and the Doctor, who doesn't know who he is anymore, but also Clara, suddenly surrounded by a new and frightening world. Everything she knew seems to be gone.
Christian: I didn't like when the dinosaur died, either. I didn't like him on fire.
Liam: No, I didn't like that at all.

Did you guys like Clara in this episode? 
Sydney: I LOVE Clara.
Liam: Yeah, I thought she was awesome. But I miss Amy.
Sydney: I miss Rose.

And... what did you think when the 11th Doctor suddenly appeared at the end of the episode? Did you think that was going to happen? I had a feeling we'd have a cameo by him at some point, and so I half-expected that to happen, but it still made me so happy when it did. 
Liam: I did a gasp.
Me: [laughing and laughing]
Syd: [laughing and laughing]
Liam: But it made me miss him more again.
Me: But did you think that we needed him to be there?
Sydney: Clara needed to know that the older man was still her Doctor. And that phone call reminded her of that.
Liam: I do like the new Doctor, but I want mine to come back more. Will we see him again?
Me: Probably not; I think that was him officially passing the torch. Now we're on to the new Doctor.
Sydney: And I think Clara likes him now.
Liam: And next week there are DALEKS!! Christian, you HAVE to watch the Daleks!!
Christian: Are they scary?
Liam: A little, but they're awesome.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: So much pain brought so much joy




Sometimes, when celebrities die, we mourn them as if we actually knew them. But we didn't. When someone tells me that their grandfather just died, I'm sad for the person dealing with the loss, but I won't be in tears over the actual death because I didn't know him. (If the person I love is in tears, then I might end up crying, but it won't be for the loss of the grandfather as much as the pain his loss has left my friend in.)

Why do we react differently for celebrity deaths, then, when we didn't know that person at all? Because the way they made us feel through their art made us believe that we knew them in some way. That line from a song they wrote spoke directly to me. That character they played was someone I identified with. They make us feel deeply, whether it be through their music or acting or writing or art, and their death means we won't experience that again.

I cried when Kurt Cobain died. Not devastating sobs like I did when I lost my uncle, but I still cried and was deeply affected by it. The morning I grabbed the Globe and Mail newspaper and opened it to the giant headline that Timothy Findley (a Canadian writer whose work I adored) had died, I threw the paper like it was on fire, and I cried. Elliott Smith's death was a complete shock, as was Philip Seymour Hoffmann's, and both of them affected me deeply.

But Robin Williams is different.

Unlike all of those people I just mentioned, he made me laugh. And cry. And laugh again. And then laugh until my sides hurt so much I needed him to stop, but he was relentless. He had those warm eyes that would nearly close when he smiled a big smile, that lipless smile that always turned into a smirk, that nose that made me think he looked a lot like Bono, and I'm not sure I've ever heard him complete a sentence without switching to another accent.



And then that clown who was so manic and beloved on Mork and Mindy suddenly showed that clowns are the ones who can also reach the deepest levels of pathos. It's why the image of the sad clown has become iconic in our society. In Good Morning Vietnam we laughed and laughed at the antics of the DJ, and then cried when we saw the war through his eyes.

Good Will Hunting. 
Good Morning, Vietnam. 
Mrs. Doubtfire. 
Aladdin. 
Insomnia.
Awakenings. 
Night at the Museum.
The Birdcage. 
Dead Poets Society. 
The Fisher King.
Jakob the Liar. 
One Hour Photo.
Happy Feet. 

These are the movies I can think of off the top of my head. And what a cv that is (it's probably a quarter of his output, but even the first four would have been a stellar career). Most people will probably forget Jakob the Liar, and it's certainly not among his best, but I saw it at a gala at the Toronto Film Festival and he was there, manic and crazy and hilarious on stage. We all went away thinking the movie was better than it was, simply because we were In His Presence.

But in almost every one of these films (One Hour Photo and The Birdcage possibly being the only exceptions), he played a similar character: someone in deep pain bringing so much joy to others. The trapped genie of Aladdin sees no end to his imprisonment, but it doesn't stop him from being the most joyful and exuberant genie you could imagine. In Mrs Doubtfire, a father who would do anything for his kids dons a ridiculous get-up and makes all of us (including his kids) laugh, simply because he can't imagine his life without them. In Night at the Museum, he plays the Teddy Roosevelt statue, who's the only one in the museum who actually knows he's made of wax and isn't the real man, but it doesn't stop him from teaching Larry his way around the museum and how to find love; he'll simply love the Sacajawea statue from afar, because he knows he's not really Roosevelt.

The list goes on and on. I don't think a celebrity death has upset me more than this one, because I grew up with Robin Williams. He was Mork. I loved Mork as a kid. As a teenager and into my 20s I discovered a new side of him in the movies listed above. And in the next decade, when I had children, I rediscovered him through my kids' love of Happy Feet and Night at the Museum and Aladdin. When I saw the news last night on my computer and gasped loudly, my daughter looked at the screen and said, "That's Teddy Roosevelt! Has something happened to him?!"

I once saw him live, and my sides hurt from laughter for days afterwards. I couldn't breathe during several points of the show.

But anyone who was a fan of Williams knew about the mania. That he couldn't be contained, and when he at the height of his drug use, his shows are barely watchable. I heard with some trepidation that he was coming to television and thought, "Oh god, this will be out of control." And then I watched the premiere of The Crazy Ones, and thought it was great. I continued watching that show all season long and he never failed to make me laugh right out loud at least once in every episode. Even Modern Family, a show I love, simply makes me chuckle throughout. But Williams was different. And what was so great is that his mania wasn't out of control; they really seemed to have figured out the perfect balance for him.

But behind the scenes, clearly it was a different story. I'm already seeing outpourings of people on social media talking about their own battles with depression, seeing as Williams' death appears to have been a suicide brought on by severe depression. Depression is everywhere in my family — in the direct family blood line, and also in the family that married in. I've lost two uncles to suicide, and my own grandfather. There is no death that isn't painful and horrible for the people left behind, but a death by suicide leaves different scars. How do you escape the "couldn't you have done something?!" thoughts from the people who simply don't understand how complicated a disease this is?

It's everywhere around me, and I even have stretches where I feel like I can't deal with things. But  the biggest problem with mental illness is, we don't understand it. I can feel like I'm sinking in black tar and it's closing above my head, and the people around me tell me to pull myself up for god's sakes and stop being so dramatic. I've watched family members battle their way through manic depression and bipolar disorder, and others around them who've known them for years think they're being ridiculous and need to stop "acting" like there's something wrong with them.

I don't talk about this on here because I think it's her thing to deal with, not mine, but my own daughter was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when she was 7. In the past three years I've read everything I can get my hands on (because I've battled it myself my entire life, without any treatment because it was just a phase I was going through as a kid, it was thought). I've taken her to therapy, I've held her during the worst attacks... and I've watched people around her who should be protecting her make her worse by either rolling their eyes at her issues or yelling at her to grow up and stop being so silly. Everyone understands that it's not her fault, but it's hard not to get frustrated when she accidentally spills some milk and leaps up from the table and runs as fast as her legs can take her to hide somewhere. She's been bullied at school for the past three years because she's an easy and vulnerable target for the kids who don't understand or care what she's going through, and no amount of discussions with teachers or principals seems to change that.

I can't be there to protect her every moment of the day, so instead I'm teaching her how to understand her own brain, how to know when it's tricking her, and how to work her way out of these moments. We have lapses, but then we make major headway when she's clear again, and the next episode isn't so bad. I think she can learn to live with this and control it, but that's only because she was lucky enough to have parents willing to understand, diagnose, and treat it. Most other kids are labelled as sucks or troublemakers or going through a phase and never get the treatment they deserve. And perhaps some of those kids end up being bullied so badly that they find their way out of that terrible situation by making others laugh, and becoming the class clown. And then they grow up to be comedians, hiding their true darkness underneath a plastic exterior. They will be our clowns and make us laugh, but until we can understand the sadness that's happening underneath, this problem won't go away.

If you are suffering from depression, you can't do it alone. Talk to someone, find some help, and know that it's a very, very long road to recovery, but mental illness doesn't just affect you, it affects everyone around you and their lives. Not everyone understands my daughter, but everyone who loves her wants to help her. We might not always do it in the right way, but we try our best, and she knows that.

People loved Robin Williams; he was surrounded by love, endless amounts of money that he could have used for treatment, but he just couldn't find his way there. He no doubt tried to seek help, or thought things would get better, and figured if he could just make someone laugh one more time the pain would go away. But the demons are just that: demons. And they're not going to let up.

What makes me so sad about the death of this great man is that everyone knew he suffered from depression, and he was open about it, and he couldn't find help. What makes me sad is that he made us laugh, but couldn't bring joy to himself. I hate that feeling, that I benefitted somehow from his deep depression. I loved his work so much. I feel like I loved him, too. But I only loved the image that he wanted me to see; he didn't let us in to that other world, the one that eventually killed him.

When someone dies of a suicide, it's all we can think of. For the moment, we forget about the life he lived before, and only focus on the way he died. How could he do that to his family and friends? How could he leave that legacy? But he didn't do that; the dark side of him did. He probably wasn't himself in those final moments. Over time you begin to celebrate the life that came before that death, and I hope Robin Williams and everyone else who dies by their own hand is remembered for the beautiful people they were before such a dreadful and ugly disease took them away from us.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. I truly mean that.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Dark Side of Medicine: The Knick


After the success of a period piece like Mad Men, TV shows are turning more and more to the earlier twentieth century in which to set their series. Downton Abbey began in 1912 and is now in 1930 or something (and everyone has aged exactly three years). The Goldbergs and Halt and Catch Fire are both set in the ’80s. Boardwalk Empire plants us in the midst of Prohibition and the criminal element that arose as a result of it. Masters of Sex is set in the 1950s, at a time when the subtleties of sexual activity were still largely a mystery.

In each case, returning to a time that is in the past — but, importantly, the recent past — asks the viewer to not only marvel at all of the advancements we’ve made since the setting of the series, but to consider what hasn’t actually changed. In the case of Mad Men, which arguably does it the best, we are agog at the treatment of the women on the show, even as we watch them make leaps and bounds throughout the 1960s. And yet, we can’t help but admit that until women are paid equal to men, or offered the same opportunities everywhere, we can’t really cast any judgement.

In addition to the period pieces, we've seen a huge increase in recent years of movie stars moving to television, as if acknowledging that TV is where it's at. 

Welcome to this landscape a new series by Cinemax, The Knick (premiering tonight on HBO Canada at 11pm). Set in New York City in 1900, it looks at the lives of the doctors, nurses, administrators, and patrons of the Knickerbocker Hospital at the turn of the century. Along with making you eternally grateful that you were born more recently, and not having to endure surgery in a hospital that is still trying to figure out how to use electricity properly (and not being flummoxed by what we would consider rather routine procedures), Steven Soderbergh’s foray into television also offers a fascinating glimpse at what it was like running a hospital in those days. At its best, the world of medicine in 1900 was gruesome; at its worst, it was downright criminal. 

Has it really changed? 

On Nurse Jackie we watch Akalitus constantly juggling funds from one section of the ER to another as she tries to keep the hospital afloat; meanwhile the doctors are vying for PR positions as they promote the hospital, trying to lure patients over to All-Saints Hospital from the others. Similarly, administrators on The Knick are competing for dollars from local rich patrons who donate money and services to the hospital in exchange for favours from the place itself. And if you’ve ever thought a trip to the hospital in an ambulance is highway robbery when you receive the bill afterwards, just imagine ambulance drivers beating each other up with billy clubs to fight for the kickbacks they’ll get from the hospital if they’re the one making the delivery.

Clive Owen stars as Doctor Thackery, a man who, for reasons that will be apparent in the first 15 minutes of the premiere, finds himself Chief Surgeon of the hospital. Thackery is portrayed as a headstrong cocaine addict who wiles away his nights in opium dens, who is harsh with the nurses and a racist, intolerant ass — but he is also a brilliant surgeon who is willing to take the very risks that save lives. Yes, he’ll lose people along the way, as did his mentor, played by Matt Frewer (most recently of Orphan Black fame) but it’s these risks that created what we now know as modern medicine. Without these people, we wouldn’t have the medical breakthroughs we have today. He’s asked to choose his deputy, and he chooses the man he believes is obvious: the guy who’s been working alongside him for years. However, the philanthropic patrons who have just contributed electricity to the hospital (which is being installed throughout the first episode) have another idea. They want him to consider Doctor Algernon Edwards, a man who comes with remarkable credentials: a graduate of Harvard, working in the top hospitals in London and Paris. Thackery agrees to the meeting, but tells them up front he’s choosing the other guy. After all, if his CV is that impressive, why does he want a position as a Deputy Surgeon and not head?

It’s when Edwards shows up that we immediately see why. He is handsome, distinguished looking... and black. And the look on Thackery’s face when he first sees him immediately betrays his disgust and overt racism.

The Knick is a fascinating show, but I must warn you: it is NOT for the faint of heart. From the graphic stomach-turning surgery that opens the episode to the horrific abject racism, viewers will be as disgusted by this show as they are enthralled. I watched the premiere with two other people, and one of them left the room within the first 20 minutes.

I will assure you, however, that if you stick with it, you will be rewarded. Clive Owen is wonderful as Thackery, as is AndrĂ© Holland, who plays Edwards, and the aspect of the series I’m looking forward to the most will be the development of the relationship between these two. HBO sent out seven episodes as screeners, which is virtually unheard of, but they must have known that this is a show that, like Boardwalk Empire, has a slow build that rewards the viewers for making it all the way through. Every character seems to be harbouring a secret, from the squirrelly superintendent (played by Wolf of Wall Street's Jeremy Bobb) to the meek and quiet nurse from West Virginia (played with dark mystery by Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter).


And, as with the best of the period TV shows, it forces us to look at ourselves and, amidst our horror at the words being flung at Edwards, admit that it’s not just on television where we’ve heard racial epithets being thrown around. Until we live in a society that treats everyone as an equal, here’s hoping that television series like these will continue to cast a spotlight on our present, by showing us the terrible injustices and mistakes of the past.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Regrets, I've Had a Few... But Would You Change Anything?

A couple of weeks ago I read two books that had just come out, by authors I’d read before and loved. The first was Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, he of Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series fame. Scott Pilgrim is a six-book series about a guy living in Toronto in his early 20s, battling the ex-boyfriends of the girl he wants to be with. Seconds is a one-off standalone novel about Katie, a girl living in what seems more like Southwestern Ontario (where O’Malley is originally from, and where I now live after moving here from Toronto a couple of years ago), in her 30s, at a certain point in her life where she’s questioning the decisions she’s made to get to this point. As anyone who is 40 or older can tell you, life seems to follow a certain expected trajectory: childhood, then choosing your future as a teenager, when you are insane and hormonal and should NEVER be making life decisions, but there it is. Your 20s are for getting a start in that life and shooting off in the direction you chose as the crazy teenager, your 30s are for moving up in whatever life direction you’ve chosen, and your 40s are to start sitting back and enjoying the ride, because you’ve made it to the top.

In theory.

But see, often (not always, I should add), somewhere in your mid-30s, you realize maybe you’re not quite there. And a quick check into the future tells you you’re not going to get there. You’ve started changing. You’ve met new people, you’ve discovered new things, and suddenly that life trajectory that seemed perfect in your stupid teenage years isn’t so rosy anymore.

I didn’t have a single regret at age 34. At 40, I have several.

And that’s where Katie’s finding herself. She opened a fabulous restaurant with friends called Seconds, and it’s become THE hot spot in town. But she was the chef, not the owner, and over time many of the friends bailed, and the owner became distant, and she’s decided to set out on her own and buy a building downtown, near a bridge, and fix it up so it’ll become her new restaurant, called Katie’s. But the building is more decrepit than she thought it would be. And she can’t seem to stay away from hanging around Seconds. And then there’s that guy she was madly in love with whom she let go a few years ago, who keeps coming to the restaurant and making her regret her choices.

And then one night, an accident happens at the restaurant that she causes.

When she returns to her room, there’s a blonde girl sitting atop her dresser, hunched over like a little pixie, and gives her the opportunity to eat one mushroom, write down the one thing she wants to change on a pad of paper, and in the morning, poof... the accident no longer happened, and things are set aright. You can only do this once, she’s told. But... what if she did it just one more time?

Or, maybe... a few more times?

Seconds is a fabulous book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I adored the Scott Pilgrim series, but Seconds is more mature, and the illustrations are gorgeous.

The other book I picked up was Landline by Rainbow Rowell. I first discovered Rowell’s writing last year when I read Fangirl, and thought it was an excellent examination of fandom and the way fans feel around non-fans, people who think we spend too much time on the internet or blogging, and the argument about fan fic vs. original fiction. Rowell, who is one of the best fan fic writers on the interwebs, was clearly writing from experience, and I instantly felt a connection to her main character. And then I picked up Eleanor & Park, which is one of the most extraordinary YA novels I’ve ever read. Yes, I did my due diligence as a YA reader and also read The Fault in Our Stars right after, and yet E&P resonated with me so much more. It was beautiful, and real, and set around the very time I was experiencing my own first love, and we connected the same way Eleanor and Park do: through Smiths records.

Landline is the story of a woman who writes for television, and who gets her big break for the pilot she’s been shopping around with her colleague for years. The catch: she has to write the first four episodes before Christmas, which is 10 days away, and therefore she can’t go away to Omaha to see her husband’s family for Christmas. Her husband, tired of her putting work before family again, picks up the girls and takes them anyway, leaving her behind, and he refuses to answer his cellphone for days. Alone, confused, upset, regretful, and not sure what to do, she goes to her parents’ house, the same one she grew up in, and one night pulls out the old yellow rotary phone to call her husband. And... he picks up. But his father picks up first. The father who died a couple of years ago.

When she realizes this rotary phone is somehow a conduit into the past, she’s suddenly faced with a possibility: can she have discussions in the present that will affect her decisions in the past? Could she say or do something right now that will alter what happened before, and change the trajectory of her life?

I loved the book, and thought Rowell hit the emotions right on the head on every page. And I was equally surprised that the theme was so close to O’Malley’s book. Here I was picking up books from two authors I really enjoy reading, and both of them are tackling the same issue: getting to a certain point in our lives and questioning everything that came before. And, through magic realism, allowing their characters to explore the possibility of changing those decisions to see what might happen to them.

Like every reader will no doubt do, I closed both of these books wondering what I would change. I’m someone who tends to think things through five steps ahead of the present one (which is why I don’t take many risks, probably), and so every time I thought of something I might like to change, I traced the consequences of that action, and there was always a price to pay.

I wish I’d kept up this blog more, instead of letting people leave in a mass exodus because I was so exhausted when Lost ended that I just couldn’t keep up the pace after the final book came out. But if I’d kept focused on the blog, I wouldn’t have time to do the freelance work I do now, or read as many books, or spend time with my kids. I still write on here occasionally, and get a total of four comments (one of which is inevitably pointing out something big I missed in my rushed review), and that’s my new normal.

There’s the book writing opportunity I was offered four years ago that I turned down because I’d just finished the final Finding Lost book, and it turned out to be a much bigger opportunity than I would have guessed, which has devastated me. After years of working as a professional writer, this would have been the big time. And I blew it. But again, I would have spent the last four years travelling and being away from my family, and with so much upheaval here, I probably couldn’t have done that. I can deal with a missed opportunity, as hard as it’s been, but I couldn’t possibly deal with anything shaking up the strong family I have. Perhaps another opportunity will come, one that will allow me to stay put and still write. 

So much has happened to me in the past four years — both very good and very bad — and when it’s all weighed, I’m a very happy person. I’m the first to say motherhood is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but I also see so many people around me without kids who are achieving great things because they don’t have to worry about anyone else (and my husband has definitely had an upward trajectory while I've kept the home fires burning), and I gave up my job and city to move to a smaller town so I could spend more time with my kids. I love them with all my heart, and think they’ll always be more important than any blog or book or job will ever be.

Sure, I still have that Marlon Brando moment like everyone else does at some point in their lives. I could have been somebody.

And then I became a mom. And suddenly I was no longer a somebody, and realized I never really would be. But, I’d be the most important somebody to two people. At least, for the next few years I will be. And I realize there are people out there at the top of their game, beloved and/or famous and/or extremely successful, and they have a dresser full of regrets, too. Just like in that BtVS episode "Earshot," everyone has their own problems and regrets, and no one's is more important than another's. 

But if I had a yellow rotary phone, or a pixie sitting atop a dresser with a magic mushroom... who knows what I would wish to change in my past? Would I ever take that risk? Do I really want to, or, when all is said and done, is this the happiest and best outcome there could possibly be?


Would you do it? 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8 Trailer

I was trying to describe the awesomeness of this trailer to my friend John the other day, and just couldn't do it in words. So here you go, John!

I think this is signalling the darker Doctor I was hoping we'd get this time around. I certainly hope so!! (Although... I'm wondering if that's going to put off my kids, who have REALLY enjoyed the Eleventh. Hm...)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Leftovers 1.03: Two Boats and a Helicopter


I knew that the episode that finally introduced Matt Jameson would be a good one. And it really, really was.

The episode is called “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” which I’m assuming must be a reference to the age-old Christian joke. A man is on his porch during a flood and a woman comes by in a boat and offers him a spot. He says, “No, God will save me.” The water rises and he moves to the second level of his house and another boat comes by with several people in it, and they offer him the ride as well. “No, God will save me.” Finally, he has to move to the roof and a helicopter comes by and drops a ladder. He waves it away and says, “No, God will save me.” Suddenly a rush of water comes by and the man drowns. He goes to Heaven and sees God and says, “I believed you would save me! Why did you forsake me?” And God says, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what more did you want?!” This is an episode about looking for signs, and needing to know which ones to follow, and which to ignore, and most importantly, knowing when to help yourself.

Matt Jameson is the minister we’ve seen on a number of occasions handing out pamphlets about the bad people who disappeared during the Departure. We’ve seen him on street corners with people throwing things at him (“occupational hazard,” he says in this episode), and surprisingly, getting a hug from Nora Durst in the previous episode, despite us assuming she’d sock him in the nose.

In this episode we find out that his flock has weakened: during an impassioned sermon where he tells the story of a young boy who asked God for something wicked and then suffered the consequences, we see his congregation consists of eight people who don’t even seem to be paying attention. He’s deeply in debt, unable to pay the full-time caregiver who stays with his wife during the day, and he’s about the lose his church if he can’t come up with $135,000 within 24 hours. So he retrieves a couple of money rolls he has hidden, goes to a casino, and manages to gamble the money at the roulette table to turn it into $160,000. But... he doesn’t make it to the bank on time, and loses the church anyway.

It sounds like a pretty standard plotline, but the greatness of this episode lies in its details.

Why does his wife — Donna from The West Wing — need a caregiver? Because she’s in a catatonic state and needs round-the-clock care. After answering questions about “Mary” with a curt “she’s fine” all day long, we’re led to assume that whoever this Mary person is, she’s at home and depressed and he’s staying out all day as an escape. When he first returns home to find the caregiver sitting morosely on the couch, we think that’s her. But it’s not; that’s Roxanne, the caregiver who hasn’t been paid for three weeks and is pretty pissed off about it. When he does go to see Mary, who is, for all intents and purposes, a vegetable, we see him deal with her with so much love and tenderness that you forgive him everything else he’s done in the episode. So far we’ve seen people who lost loved ones during the Departure, as well as those who are left behind in depressed states. But what about those whose current state of illness rests entirely in the events of the Departure itself? Matt and Mary were driving down a road when the driver of a car coming towards them suddenly disappeared, and the driverless car just slammed right into them. If there were ever a case of shit happens, this is the epitome of it.

But then Matt, the Episcopalian preacher, is suddenly surrounded by people who believe the Departure was actually the Rapture (same letters, just rearranged). They believe that only the good and holy went up to Heaven, and it’s the bad ones who stayed behind. How could an Episcopalian minister be left behind? How could a minister’s wife? Did they do something bad? Who’s going to come to his sermons now that they think he’s a bad person who can’t be trusted; after all, he wasn’t taken up into the sky with the holy ones.

And that’s why Matt devotes his life now to trying to break down that misconception, reminding people that pedophiles, murderers, drug dealers, rapists, and generally awful people were among the innocent, that the Departure had nothing to do with God’s Plan, and instead is an unexplained incident. “If we can no longer separate the innocent from the guilty,” he says, “all our suffering is meaningless.”

He must convince people that what happened wasn’t the Rapture, because he can’t live in a world where he was one of the ones who’d been left behind.

This isn’t a man who’s lost his faith, though; to the contrary, he’s watching everywhere for signs, hoping that God will show him that he’s doing the right thing. He tells his meagre congregation the story of a 10-year-old boy who has all the attention until a baby sister comes along, so he prays to get the attention back. When he is stricken with cancer, he fights it and survives, and then must face the question: was he punished or rewarded?

We can’t answer this question, just like we can’t say why these people suddenly left. Matt can’t offer a suggestion as to where anyone went, but he believes that their Departure was a test, “not for what came before, but after,” as he tells Nora Durst, who turns out to be none other than his sister. “If it’s a test,” she replies, “then you’re failing it.”

He needs to hold onto the church, because he truly believes he can lure his flock back through his pamphleteering. He needs people to believe that what happened wasn’t the Rapture, so much so that he’s willing to hurt people to do so (including Nora, when he reveals to her that her husband had been having an affair). He doesn’t care that he’s alienated most people from himself, and doesn’t see that even if he were to convince them that the Rapture took the guilty along with the innocent, no one will come back to his church because he makes them think the worst of people.

He needs to believe he’s doing the right thing, but is thwarted wherever he believes he sees a sign. He asks his congregation to pray for eight-year-old Emily, who is in a coma in the hospital. When he goes to the hospital to see her, she’s gone; she’d revived and went home. His face lights up. “My congregation prayed for her this morning!” he excitedly tells the porter. “She woke up last night,” the porter replies, reminding him of the futility of everything he does.

When two pigeons get into a casino where he’s “conducting business,” he believes it’s a sign that he needs to go to that roulette table. And on his way back to the casino to do just that, he sees pigeons sitting on a traffic light that’s flashing red. And so he throws it all on red... and wins. And does it again, and again, until he’s up to $160,000. Does that mean it really was a sign from God?

No, because he first almost kills a man who tries to steal the money from him, and then the Guilty Remnants stage an attack so he’ll get laid up in the hospital for so long that he’ll miss the payment at the bank, and his church will be turned over to none other than them, a group he sought to help but who stabbed him in the back in return.

Is there a miracle in Matt’s future? Presumably if they cast Janel Moloney as his wife, they’re doing it because they need an actress in the part with some dramatic heft, and I doubt they’d cast her just to have her lying in a bed all the time. So perhaps his miracle really will come. He’s got $140,000 in his pocket (he returned the initial $20,000 to its container), after all.

The symbols throughout the episode weren’t just for Matt’s eyes; there were several in there for the viewers as well. Let’s do this old school, shall we?:

Did You Notice?
  • The hymn numbers behind Matt during his sermon correspond to the following hymns in the Episcopalian hymnal: 518: Christ is the sure foundation; 656: Blest are the pure at heart; 602: Kneels at the feet of his friends; 376: Joyful, joyful, we adore thee. While the latter two are fairly common hymns in the Christian church, the first two seem to be directly related to the subject matter of the show.
  •  Pigeons aren’t often mentioned in the bible, but when they are, it’s usually involving a sacrifice of some kind.
  • Matt’s wife’s name is Mary, the same as the mother of Christ and Mary Magdelene. Just as Mary Magdelene washed the feet of Christ, in this episode we see Matt, who is set up as a flawed Christ figure, washing Mary.
  • I didn’t mention the opening credits last week, which is when we saw them for the first time, but I wanted to mention them now because they are spectacular. Using Christian imagery, we see the Departure as many of those left behind see it: as some sort of act of God, ripping their loved ones from them. But the violence and agony of the painting begs the question: what sort of God would do this to people?
  • Matt’s coma-induced dream is filled with imagery, from a church filled with people (many of whom are GRs, which is prescient indeed) to a murky-sounding singing as if they’re underwater, a suggestion that he’s being baptized, but into a new world that might not be a good one, to a place on fire where a little girl named Laura (a reference to Laurie?) asks why no one is doing anything, to him having sex with his wife before the accident, and her morphing into Laurie, which then causes his body to catch on fire. Did he have an affair with Laurie? Does he believe Mary’s accident is his fault and he’s going to hell?
  • During that dream, when he first passes into the vestry, you see him sitting on a table and a doctor comes in and says, “I’m sorry, Matthew, but it’s spreading,” an indication to the audience that he, in fact, was the 10-year-old boy who overcame cancer after wishing he could have more attention, and we’re seeing an eerie flashback to his parents finding out the news.
  • And just to link back to Ye Olde Lost days for a moment, did you notice that on the roulette table, the second number, which changed his 40,000 into 80,000 (before that became 160,000), was 23?

An excellent episode! What did you think?