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?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

My Name Is Nikki Stafford . . . And I Am an Addict

My friends have always ribbed me as the girl with no vices.

I don't drink. I don't drink coffee. I've never even taken a puff from a cigarette. I've never done recreational drugs of any kind. (Seriously, I'm that boring kid at parties.) I don't particularly like ice cream or desserts. I love chocolate, but rarely crave it. I've never bought expensive shoes, and typically find one pair — whether it's a pair of Docs or Clark's — and wear them until the soles are worn off. I don't buy expensive clothes, and prefer jeans and t-shirts. I don't buy expensive handbags: I own a single Coach purse that I bought on sale, and have had it for four years and will no doubt wear it for another 10. Until I got that, I'd used the same $10 Old Navy purse for over a decade. I don't wear jewelry, though occasionally I'll find something really unique and I'll buy it, but it's never more than $50. And we're talking one of those a year. Maybe. I'm constantly joking with my husband that he doesn't know how good he's got it: those credit card bills of ours contain zero extravagances for me.

Well, except for one itty bitty thing...

Back in December, I announced here that I would stop buying books for one year. I acknowledged I had a problem, and I was going to stop buying them by the dozen (no really, I buy armloads at a time) and actually read the hundreds — hundreds — of unread books that surround me on my dozen bookshelves. My house is a library, where there isn't a single room without a book in it. My kitchen is full of cookbooks (which I actually read like novels), as is the pantry in my dining room. My side table beside the bed has so many stacks of books on it that, as I joked to a friend last week, I knock a book off every morning when I try to hit the alarm's Snooze button — because of spending five years taking English lit at university, I got so used to reading several books at once that I still do it. My kids have several bookshelves in each of their rooms. The bathrooms are filled with magazines. The family room and living room have shelves of books. Even the guest bedroom, music room, exercise room and storage spaces have books shoved into every free space. And my office has so many books that every shelf is filled, more books are shoved into the free space on top of the books, the tops of the shelves have books, they're stacked on the floors, and that one shelf where I have put all my Buffy figures? I now eye it daily and think, "OK, Spike, you've fallen off that stand so many times that I should just sweep all of you guys into a bag and use this shelf for BOOKS." But I haven't gotten there yet.

I've read a ton of them. Every shelf probably has 10-15 books on it that I've actually read. But that leaves another 10-15 that I haven't. And that is A LOT.

And so, I decided I wouldn't buy books this year. Nor would I take any out of the library. I was going to make a concerted effort to read what was on my shelves, and see if I could match the 55 books I managed to read last year.

Then I started making exceptions, and that's where addictions always fall apart. I belong to two book clubs (sometimes three), and I said whatever books they chose, I'd buy/get from the library so I could keep up. But that's 24 books right there. Already I'd put a major dent in my Year of Reading From My Own Shelves.

Then, on December 31, I placed an order for 10 books, books that I'd wanted for some time, but now that I'd put a one-year moratorium on my book-buying, I needed them NOW. So after deciding I needed to read some of the hundreds of books on my shelf, I was already up to 10 new ones, and 24 other ones that I'd have to buy/borrow. That left only about 20 that I could read from my own collection. Not even one shelf's worth.

And then, in February, my children's school had a book sale to raise money for their library. The kids begged me to take them there after school, and they looked over the books and I told them they could take what they wanted (I've never put a limit on books). $1 for a paperback, $2 for a hardcover. And that's when I saw JK Rowling's Cuckoo's Calling on a table in mint condition. Wait, $2 for a brand new book? That's amazing! Without even thinking, I put it into the stack of books the kids had chosen and went up to pay for them. It's only as I handed over my money my heart suddenly jolted and I realized, Wait... I can't buy any books!! Oh no... oh no... So I decided I will give this one to my husband. Yes, that's the ticket! I can still give books as gifts, yes? And if it just happens to still be on my shelf next year, why then yes, I can read it. Whew. Crisis averted.

Then my birthday happened. And someone gave me an Indigo bookstore gift card. They were barely out the door before I raced to my computer, heart pounding with excitement, and began filling up my cart. Ooh... I went over the amount. Ah well, it's my birthday, right? I felt my heart beat faster, and my stomach was doing flip-flops of excitement. Two days later the books arrived and I grabbed them excitedly from the mailbox, ripped open the box and smelled them. They smelled WONDERFUL. (This is why I've yet to switch to a Kobo...)

Two weeks later two of the books that I'd worked on as an editor arrived in the mail: Wanna Cook, the Breaking Bad companion guide by Dale Guffey and Ensley Guffey, and Elephant in the Sky by Heather Clark (both astoundingly good books, by the way!) Just seeing a book-shaped package gave me shivers of excitement, and I could barely contain myself as I ripped the package open and handled them for the first time. Shortly after, one of my book clubs had their monthly meeting in a bookstore. I saw books that I wanted so desperately — OMG, so-and-so has a new book?! — but knew I couldn't have them.

And on the way home, I realized no, I can't do this. In fact, I'd more than proven already that I hadn't done this at all. I'd failed miserably. My moratorium on books had lasted all of six weeks before I'd fallen off the wagon, and then when someone gave me a gift I was like an addict.

And that was when I realized something even bigger: I'd always joked that I was addicted to buying books, but I really was. The way alcohol or caffeine or drugs give people a high that they can't get from anything else, that's how I feel when I buy books. There's so much possibility between those covers, so many worlds and new people to meet and adventures to be had. If I choose my books wisely, I'll be introduced to new ways of thinking and new ideas that I'll be mulling over for weeks, months, even years.

So I gave up. I decided no, I'm not wasting a year of my life not doing one of the things I love most. I have friends who are in serious credit card debts over shoe purchases or expensive clothes-buying binges, and that's not me. Books are relatively cheap, and they are WONDERFUL.

I love reading books. But I discovered that I might enjoy discovering and buying them even more. I literally have physical changes when I'm in the midst of purchasing a book: my heart really does race, my stomach gets fluttery. I have a buzz and feel overwhelmed with joy. The smell and look of a bookstore makes me so happy. A couple of weeks ago I was in an independent bookstore in San Francisco with my best friend Sue (who also tried the year-long moratorium and failed equally spectacularly) and it made me realize how much I love and long for independent bookstores. I'll go to a Chapters/Indigo long before I'll buy something on Amazon, but the fluorescent lights and overwhelming smell of Starbucks and warehouse-like look of the place is no match for the soft lighting, smell of old paper, occasional creaky floors, and hand-selling that happens at an independent. The one I found in SF was called Booksmith's, in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district, and I spent SO much time in there reading the dozens and dozens of cards they'd carefully placed under all their favourite books (not just New Releases but everywhere throughout the store) and was madly writing down titles of books that intrigued me, knowing I couldn't carry every single one of them back to the hotel. I went up to the owner of the store and told him how much I adored his place, and he seemed genuinely thrilled to hear it. I chose a single book by Maud Casey as my prize (based on the card that recommended it), and felt that rise in pulse as I handed over my money for it. After I got home I looked up the store online and discovered there was a whole wealth of bookstores in SF, and maybe I need to make a trip there where I do nothing but shop in bookstores the entire time. Hm... I might actually go into cardiac arrest if I did that...

Many addictions are bad. Whether it's hard drugs or alcohol that have destroyed lives and families, or shopping sprees or gambling addictions that have crippled people financially, or eating disorders that threaten the lives of their victims, we tend to look at the nature of addiction as something uncontrollable and evil, filled with hurt and pain. I've had many friends fight addictions for years, and while not all of them were able to overcome their demons, I'm happy to say many of them have recovered and are leading extraordinary lives now.

I saw my book-buying addiction (and the physical changes, sense of compulsion, and overwhelming high that accompanies it would suggest it is, in fact, an addiction) as something that I needed to curb, that I needed to stop so I could focus on the glorious worlds that currently exist on my bookshelves. But I've come to terms with the fact that I'll never live long enough to read many of the books I currently own, and that I can't stop buying new ones. I can let go, though — when we moved the last time, I probably got rid of 100 books (which I offered up to friends first) — so it's not like a person would come to my house and be tripping over books wherever they go. There is an order to my chaos.

But I love bringing new books home. I love discovering the worlds that exist within them, even if I never actually get to live in those worlds. And when I'm in the midst of a good book — like the one I'm reading right now, actually — it's hard to concentrate on doing much else because all I want to do is read that book. I've always been that person watching prison dramas and thinking, "You know, if I was put into solitary confinement for a year, imagine all the reading I could get done!!!"

So I don't need to curb my addiction. I don't need to curb that thrill of buying new books. I don't need to stop discovering new books. I've never gotten a credit card bill with a book-buying charge on it that was so high my husband's eyes bugged out of his head. He spent more money fixing and rewiring his guitars last month than I've spent all year on books. In fact, the one good thing that came out of the moratorium was that I gained a whole new appreciation for how much I love buying and reading books. I always said I loved it, but now I truly know that it's an essential part of who I am.

In fact, for the first time, yesterday I popped into Chapters online and ordered Rainbow Rowell's new book on the day of its release. (And then had that very 21st-century impatient feeling of, "Geez, I wish they could ship it to arrive RIGHT NOW" about two minutes later...)

And it was so damned exciting.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Leftovers 1.02: Penguin One, Us Zero

There was some discussion in the comments after last week’s episode of whether Damon Lindelof has no more originality in him and just keeps writing stories where mysterious things happen with no explanation, or whether Damon Lindelof is a humanist who explores how people react in dire situations, and I loved reading the back and forth from everyone, both positive and negative. As I always said with Lost and every show, the comments are a place for everyone.  

I’ll be perfectly honest: for four years, I’ve felt like an apologist for Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, and I’m not. Sure, Lost had its flaws and faults, but for me, it was a fantastic show, and I adored that finale. Many people didn’t, but many people did, and I’m tired of people who cannot wait to meet me just to say, “That finale SUCKED” just to see if it’s going to get a rise out of me. It won’t. I enjoyed it; I don’t know why I have to apologize for having loved it, or why people feel it’s necessary to point out all the flaws as if they’re trying to take away this thing that I love. Trust me: I’ve studied every frame of that finale and wrote a 22,000-word piece on why it works: you’re not going to convince me otherwise.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was introduced to someone, only to discover that the only reason I was being introduced to her was because she thought the Lost finale sucked. Once I realized why she’d been told she needed to meet me, I was already standing in front of her and had no way to excuse myself from the conversation without looking rude, so I looked at her and joked, “Well, maybe give me 15 minutes and see if I can change your mind!”

“No, you won’t,” she replied, without a smile. “Because you would be wrong. Damon Lindelof is the devil.” And that’s when I just excused myself from the conversation, not really caring if it was polite or not. The devil? Really? Wow. No wonder the poor guy left Twitter; with fan thought processes that simplistic, I’m thinking he’s better off leaving social media altogether and actually doing something productive with his time.

I’m not an apologist for Lindelof; I simply love the way he thinks, and his constant examination of human nature — he does not believe we’re inherently evil, but inherently good, as he showed for six years on Lost. Despite comments to the contrary, I respectfully think he’s not presenting some overly Christian viewpoint, but quite the opposite, saying that our connections with each other are more important than our connections to some big bearded deity in the sky. As I’ve said for four years, he doesn’t write to the end game, but instead his writing reflects the lives we live. When you wake up tomorrow morning, are you going to know exactly how that day is going to end, and just live your day working to that ending? Or is it just possible that things might happen that you don’t see coming? At some point in your life has something mysterious happened that had no explanation whatsoever? Or can you explain away absolutely every single moment of your life and the lives of those around you?

I don’t know Lindelof personally, but I would bet that’s what he’s working towards: looking at things that happen to us on a daily basis and how we respond to the unexpected. In real life, it’s someone who cuts us off and then shouts obscenities out their car windows at us. What the hell is that guy’s problem, and isn’t he the one who just drove like a maniac? Shouldn’t I be shouting obscenities at him? It’s a mystery.

Now, would I write a show around that incident?

Of course not. Boring.

So to explore these ideas of human nature, Lindelof goes bigger: what would happen to a bunch of people trapped on an island with no explanation of how they got there or why? What would happen if 2% of the population just suddenly disappeared?

In both cases, these fantastical events are simply the catalysts that he uses as a metaphor to explore real-life responses to it. That guy who cut you off in traffic? In the big picture, a menial thing that you’ll never remember on your deathbed, but when it happens you think it’s the WORST THING EVER, you’ll tweet and Facebook about it, you’ll rant about it at work all day, and it’ll entirely affect everything.

And then something truly terrible happens in your life, and you forget every stupid thing you’ve complained about for the past year.

On Lost, those people were trapped on an island, but we identified with it because they responded and dealt with things just like people who are lost in their everyday lives, not tethered to anything in particular, questioning the decisions that got them this far, wondering why. In The Leftovers these people are reacting to people who literally disappeared, but we can watch it as an examination of people who suddenly lose someone with no explanation. Ever had someone break up with you without offering any valid explanation? Or a loved one die quite suddenly with no obvious medical problems? What does it feel like to be suddenly left alone? How could they do that to you? Why is this happening to you?

That is what this show is about. Lost was about the people who disappeared. The Leftovers is about the people who have been left behind by the people who disappeared.

Lindelof isn’t a writer who keeps writing the same material, but a man looking to explore all facets of human nature in its darkest, lowest moments. And that’s why I love what he does. I appreciate and respect comments to the contrary, and welcome them as long as they actually have something backing them. You want to point out that The Leftovers has a number of flaws, can drag at times, and frankly, is a little too damn dark and could use some humour? Hey, I’m right there with you. I wish there was some humour in this aside from joking about the celebrities who were taken, and that we could see a bit of a lighter side at times, but I’m willing to give him more time. I’m intrigued by Christopher Eccleston’s minister character, and the fact that, despite the girls understandably thinking she’s going to punch him in the nose, she gives him a hug on the way past him. What’s the story there?

So now, onto the second episode. We go from a gory and violent ambush against a man who might be a charlatan, might be the real deal, but generally surrounds himself with Asian girls while purporting to heal bigwigs with deep pockets. And Tom Garvey steps up to save Christine, the one girl Holy Wayne thinks is the most important above all the others. Tom becomes a killer in order to obey Wayne’s orders to protect Christine at all costs, making Wayne an even slipperier character. Who the hell is this guy? Can he be trusted at all? And why is Christine so damned important?

Meanwhile, Kevin is dealing with people thinking he just might be a dog-killing crackpot, and by the time the dog killer’s pickup truck shows up in Kevin’s driveway, I started to think he just might be one, too. But when Jill and her friend show up in the doorway and take the beer from the guy, and then Jill asks who he was, I was relieved. Thank goodness this wasn’t just a figment of Kevin’s imagination. Kevin is drawn to this guy because he acknowledges something that Kevin’s been feeling all along: that the world is no longer the place it once was, and that “these are not our dogs, not anymore.” Other people think Kevin’s going crazy, but this guy suggests Kevin might be the only sane one around. At least he’s not burning his brother’s clothes (and dentures) in the front yard.

One of the reasons people are waiting for Kevin to lose his shit is because his father (despite his protestations to the contrary) has already lost his. We see him in the mental institution — kissing Mayor Lucy — and he seems to be pretty together, until he begins talking to the voices around him. And when he does, he tells Kevin that they will try to contact him with a message. Earlier that day, Kevin put a bagel in the conveyer-belt toaster oven and it never came out, as if things just disappearing into thin air will just become a way of life. But when his father tells him this he decides he needs to go and find out if that bagel did, indeed, disappear. Maybe he’ll reach in and there will be a note from beyond? Or he’ll find a croissant? But no... it’s just a burnt bagel. I thought this moment was a bit of humour (which, I must say again: there NEEDS TO BE SOME HUMOUR IN THIS SHOW), in its rendering of Occam’s razor: sometimes the easiest explanation isn’t that the bagel got sucked up into some Holy Bagel Rapture, but that it goes stuck in the gears — like every friggin’ bagel I’ve ever stuck in one of those stupid conveyer-belt toaster ovens — and is burnt. From now on, Kevin, just use the damn push-down toaster.

Meanwhile, over at the GR house, we find Meg Abbott finding out the hard way that it’s not as easy as she thought it might be to become a Guilty Remnant, as she’s stuck in the Pledge House for weeks. Laurie is assigned to her and has her cutting wood and keeps taking her things, but she doesn’t seem to be getting to her. It’s only when she finally reveals that, like Meg, she was escaping a life that seemed to others to be ideal, that Meg finally realizes she’s not alone.

The saddest part of the episode (and the one that makes Aimee and Jill even more annoying than they’ve already been) is the section focusing on Nora Durst. The woman who lost her husband and two children on October 14th still drives around in the SUV with the little stick-people stickers on the back showing a happy million-dollar family, plays The Chipmunks CDs while she drives so her imaginary children will enjoy travelling in the car, and keeps a bag of jellybeans in the glove compartment as a treat for them. The girls cruelly follow her around after she purposefully pushes a coffee mug off a table in the cafĂ© as if she gets off on people letting her get away with things out of pity, and they follow her to the house of an elderly couple looking to collect benefits for losing their son. She asks them questions that are hurtful, and they stop her after she asks if their son knew more than one language: “Charlie had Down’s Syndrome,” they tell her bluntly. She apologizes, and tells them that she has to continue asking. “To your knowledge,” she says, with a pained expression on her face, “Did your son have more than 20 sexual partners?”

Why does Nora do this job in particular? Is it a Norm Peterson thing, where the company figures others will allow her to ask these questions because she carries around even more pain than they do? Or is there some catharsis in it? By inflicting these questions on others, could she be perhaps alleviating some of her own suffering from having to answer them herself? Is it a form of group grieving? Or passive-aggression?

The title of the episode is “Penguin One, Us Zero,” and it refers to the blow-up penguin in the psychiatrist’s office. He tells Kevin that he uses it for his children’s therapy sessions when they need to work out aggression. Everyone in this episode is working out some sort of aggression in one way or the other, whether it’s shooting dogs, stealing jellybeans, knocking mugs off tables, chopping wood, or slaughtering the people at Wayne’s compound. But no matter how much aggression they take out on others, it’s not removing any of their own pain. That penguin just keeps popping right back up again, but everyone else is unable to move much of the time. “She’s gone,” Patti writes on her paper at the end of the episode, and she’s wrong: Meg isn’t gone, but has chosen to stay with the cult. However, she’s chosen to leave the real world and join a world of silence and chain smoking. Not exactly a penguin who bounces back from the blows that come at her.

Once again Max Richter’s music is ace. However, it would be nice to hear some original music from Richter: hearing music that I know really well playing throughout every scene is becoming a distraction for me. (However, I was thrilled to hear Ty Segall’s “Thank God for the Sinners” playing on the radio in the twins’ Prius.)

While I’m happy to be back in the world of Damon Lindelof, I can understand and appreciate the skeptics out there who feel like they were burned once, and just want to disappear like Kevin’s bagel. And it’s for that reason that, despite enjoying these first two episodes, I do hope the pace picks up soon, and we find some humour embedded in there very soon, or else Lindelof’s audience might just disappear in the same fashion as that 2%.

But then again, one of those departed was Balki Bartokomous. And I remember that while Lost was good in the beginning, it didn’t become stunning until the fourth episode. So I’m actually quite happy knowing that I’ll be one of the leftovers still watching, no matter what.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Leftovers: 1.01 "Pilot"

"The pope, I get the pope. But Gary fuckin' Busey? How did he make the cut?!"

It boasts the same executive producers as Lost and Friday Night Lights. You must have known I was going to write about this puppy. (Spoilers ahead for the pilot episode.)

The Leftovers is based on a novel by Tom Perotta (who also wrote Little Children, a similarly unhappy book) about a world event where 2% of the population (140 million people) just suddenly disappears, leaving the other 98% behind. Bewildered, overwhelmed, and questioning everything they ever knew, those who are left behind can't mourn their loved ones because they don't know what the hell just happened to them. The Religion vs. Science debate heats up, and people become embroiled in arguments and fights over what really happened on October 14th. 

Of course, the most obvious response is that it was The Rapture, that God chose his most beloved people to rise up into Heaven, leaving the rest behind. This, of course, wouldn't explain why there are so many questionable people who disappeared, or babies and children who were left behind. But it doesn't stop people from suggesting that was it. 

And the ones who are left behind are obviously the point of this story. Recently my aunt was telling me how every year she would put a notice in the paper memorializing my grandmother on the day she died. After a few years of doing this, her husband gently said to her, "You know, your mom can't see you doing this." And she said, "It's not for her. It's for those of us left behind." Funerals are never for the ones who are deceased, nor are the grave sites and tombstones: they're for the rest of us, those who have to go on living without those people, giving us something solid and concrete to remember them by. 

And after whatever the hell it was that took those people on October 14, it left behind people who are confused and broken, and don't know how to go on. This isn't a universe like in Brian K. Vaughan's brilliant graphic novel series Y: The Last Man, where every man but one dies, with planes falling out of the skies, governments toppling, and armies becoming obsolete. Or like the one in Flashforward, where everyone sleeps for two minutes and once again planes fall out of the sky and cars crash and trains derail and many people die. Or the one in Revolution, where the electricity suddenly shuts down and planes fall out of the sky (Christ, I never realized how many apocalypses begin with planes crashing down) and the world goes dark and many people die. This is a relatively small percentage of the population, and there's no real answer as to why

But we're human beings: asking why is the key to our existence, and what sets us apart from the animals. Without that question, we don't seem to have any motivation to go forward. And this opening episode of the series is a perfect illustration of what the world would look like if random people just suddenly... disappeared. The main focus is the Garvey family, revealed to us beautifully one by one as actually being connected, right to the very last (and most shocking) one of all. This is a family where the mother disappeared, where the father became police chief after his own father — the former police chief — lost his mind. Where the son is working for some sort of therapist/mystic named Wayne who brings people peace, and "unburdens" them for serious wads of cash. Where the daughter is in such deep emotional pain she barely talks, is going through normal adolescent heartbreak, but must do so with the added burden of a mother who isn't there. Where the mother... didn't actually disappear, but is a member of a strange cult of smokers who dress in nothing but white clothes, and don't speak, but believe that smoking proclaims their faith, and that anyone who is talking about the Disappearance, theorizing about it, or continuing to breathe clean air is simply wasting their breath. (OK, their "platform" isn't exactly clear, but presumably will become so in the coming episodes.) We see how hard it is to just go on when you don't have any answers, when the entire world has changed around you, when religious nuts are running rampant, and when the Ninth Doctor turns out NOT to be a Gallifreyan time traveller but an American reverend who has abandoned his religion and spends his time trying to convince people this is NOT the Rapture, people, listen up! 

The episode opens beautifully, with a harried mom at a laundromat trying to do a million things at once as her baby screams and screams, but she's multitasking and giving instructions over the phone and getting her laundry done and absolutely nothing is going right, and then... poof, her baby is gone. We don't see him disappear (did he just pop out of existence? float up into the air? disappear slowly?) and that's far more effective than if the writers had chosen to give us one scenario. Instead we only see the aftermath: a crying child whose father has disappeared, a car crashing because the driver is presumably no longer driving, and a mother distraught that the child she was too busy to comfort is suddenly gone. The opening scene comes full circle when Kevin Garvey, getting drunk at the bar, runs into the woman from the laundromat, who is similarly drinking her own problems away. 

Garvey tries to get his wife Laurie to come home, but she's entrenched in the new group. Liv Tyler's character, Meg, can't smile even though she's planning a wedding, and we wonder who she lost. Was it a husband? A previous fiancĂ©? We get one very quick, brief flashback to what Kevin Garvey was doing at the moment of the Disappearance, and it's clear he was having an affair of some kind. At the "Heroes Day" gathering, a woman named Norah Durst gets up to talk about how she lost both children and a husband. Not only is she alone, but she still believes they're out there somewhere, and she tries with some difficulty to refer to them in the present tense. But she also has to deal with the looks she gets every day: if it was the Rapture, they seem to be thinking, then why did the rest of your family go but not you? 

This seems to be haunting those who are left behind more than anything. It's a new world where, as the dog killer at the end says, things are no longer the same. "They are not our dogs, not anymore," he tells Chief Garvey, and he could just as easily be referring to everyone. They are not the same, they've been changed by this. Kevin has nightmares of killing a deer, and seems to see the deer everywhere he goes. A stag would typically represent peace, stability, love, and gentleness, and all those things are gone, ripped apart by the Disappearance that just took 140 million people away like a pack of wild dogs. 

This is a show written by Damon Lindelof (Lost) and directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) and the influence of the two shows can be spotted throughout:
*Congressman Whitten, who goes to see Wayne to become unburdened, is Buddy Garrity
*the security guy who meets the truck is Peter Berg himself, who always makes a cameo in his shows
*Tom asks Whitten, "So you're from Texas, huh?" and Whitten says, "How did you know?" like a little in-joke to FNL fans.
*there are clearly Daddy Issues going on throughout the show, whether it's Kevin dealing with his own father or Tom dealing with Kevin.
*Tom is seen reading Albert Camus's The Stranger, which, if I were writing a book on this show, I'd know what one of the chapters was going to be
*the flashbacks are quick, but Lindelof specializes in showing how the present has been shaped by the past, and that is one of the cornerstones of this series
*the constant science vs. faith arguments
*the biblical Easter eggs (when Kevin is flipping the radio you hear someone proclaim "Corinthians 15!!" which is the chapter in the Bible in which Christ's resurrection is retold by Paul)

And of course, there are the trademark Lindelof questions here:
*what exactly is the cult in white supposed to represent, how did they form, and what do they hope to achieve? why cigarettes?!
*why does Tom have slash marks on his back?
*why did Laurie leave her family behind?
*what is up with Wayne? Why does he have a bunch of bikini-clad Asian women hanging around his pool? What does he do in the room to "unburden" people?
*what was happening in everyone's life before the Disappearance?
*what the hell happened on October 14th?

I wasn't sure what I thought of the show at the halfway point, but by the end I was really enjoying it. From the super-scary sculpture in the park to the fact that in a crisis, we tend to divide and argue rather than connect and heal, the tone of the pilot episode was almost pitch-perfect, introducing us to a dark world that looks like our own, but with even more grief and heartbreak. And the music, by one of my absolute favourite musicians Max Richter (the piano music playing throughout much of it is from his sublime record The Blue Notebooks, which I highly recommend and probably listen to three times a week), sets an atmosphere and tone much like Michael Giacchino did on Lost and Explosions in the Sky did on Friday Night Lights.

So, at least for the first episode, I'm hooked. Are you? 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Game of Thrones 4.10: The Children

Hello and welcome to the final week (sob) of our season 4 Game of Thrones posts. As always, I'm joined by Christopher Lockett, who, if faced with a crossbow pointed at his head, wouldn't give a shit (snort). And you can expect many more of those high-brow toilet jokes as we run down this epic episode of Game of Thrones. Chris, start us off!!

Christopher: Well, as finales go, this one was pretty sweet. One of the first responses I read claimed to have found it “underwhelming,” and all I could think was “were you watching the same episode as me?” SO MUCH happened, and with the exception of the fight between Brienne and the Hound, it was all more or less faithful to the novels. Brienne and Sandor’s confrontation is nowhere to be found in the books, but I thought it was a brilliant invention. And one awesome, knock-down, drag-out fight.

My notes have a lot of all-caps and exclamation points.

But more on that later. Before I start by talking about the opening sequence at the Wall, it occurs to me that it might be useful to take stock of where we are in the books. While watching the episode, I realized that Bran’s storyline has just about reached the limit of what has been written, almost to the end of his thread in A Dance With Dragons (book five). Which raises an interesting question: does this mean we don’t get any Bran next season? Or will the series race ahead of the novel? Will the series end up being a spoiler for the novel? I say this on the entirely reasonable assumption that GRRM won’t have produced The Winds of Winter before next April. But I invite George, nay, beg him to prove me wrong on that point …

Jon Snow isn’t anywhere near the end of his story yet—there’s room left in A Storm of Swords (book three) and quite a lot to get through in Dragons. Ditto for Stannis, as his storyline is now basically interlaced with Jon’s. Brienne’s case is a bit harder to discern, as her encounter with the Hound is invented; but I’d say she’s about halfway through A Feast for Crows (book four), which is actually quite far along, as she only features in Dragons for about a nanosecond.

The King’s Landing crew have a lot of story to go, as we’ve basically come to the end of Swords. There’s a lot of Jaime and Cersei to get through in Crows, and Tyrion still has all of his story in Dragons yet to come. Daenerys et al are now about a quarter of the way into Dragons; and Arya has just finished Swords, so she has all of Crows still to go. Theon is about halfway through Dragons; and … I think that’s all? Dear gods, but there are a lot of characters in this series.

All right, enough accounting! to the Wall! Turns out I was dead wrong in predicting that Jon Snow disappearing through the gate would be the last we’d see of him this season (though as one of your commenters pointed out, that much was made clear in this episode’s preview. Oops). And we FINALLY see Mance Rayder again. Ciaran Hinds is so good in the role, it’s a shame they’ve used him so sparingly: his entire parley with Jon Snow was understated but powerful. I seem to recall repeatedly using the term “gravitas” to describe him last season, and that is still the case. He’s got Morgan Freeman levels of gravitas.

The scene between Jon and Mance unfolds more or less the way it does in the novel, with Mance being surprisingly calm when he sees the man who betrayed him. He does not behave peremptorily or rashly, but sits down to the parley as if with a guest, and drinks to the memory of Ygritte. We soon learn the reason for his calm: he knows now just how weak the Watch are, and is confident in his eventual victory. But he also raises a terrifying truth that has been lost in the buildup to this battle: that the wildlings do not seek conquest, but “to hide behind your Wall.” Mance was able to unite his factious army because they are all terrified of what is coming. And he makes Jon an offer that is at once reasonable and impossible: let his people come through the gate, and he promises peace.

Of course, it isn’t long before Mance gleans Jon Snow’s true intent, just in time for the deus ex machina to descend. Stannis! I didn’t mention it last week, but the simulated crane shots have been extraordinary: last week we were treated to a god’s-eye view of the Wall on both sides of the battles; this week, a beautiful shot of Stannis’ forces trapping Mance in a pincer maneuver.

I’m curious: how much of a surprise was this for people who haven’t read the novels? It’s a surprise in the book, but one where you remember an earlier scene and think “Oh, right …” While Davos is learning to read, he reads one of the pleas for help the Night’s Watch sent out to the Seven Kingdoms, and so we know he brought it to Stannis. Was there a similar moment I missed in the series? Or was there no hint that Stannis et al would be heading north?

Thoughts, Nikki?

Nikki: It was a COMPLETE surprise to me. I’d like to preface my part here by saying I’m on vacation in San Francisco right now, and ended up having to watch the episode on my laptop at an airport gate in Detroit, gasping and clapping my hand over my mouth and trying to cover the screen because my travelling companion has only seen to the end of season 3 and I didn’t want to reveal anything. So my bits this week might be unfortunately short because I’m trying to fit them in between sightseeing, but I do hope we’re able to spark some interesting conversation amongst all of you, and I hope to get involved in that with you!

Anyway! Back to the episode. YES it was a complete surprise and thank you for mentioning the overhead shots, Chris; I actually paused to write in my notes: “overhead view of the army’s approach is GORGEOUS.” I’ve really enjoyed the CGI overhead views, even if they are a wee bit sped up (if you consider the actual speed of the movement from the air, they should be moving a little slower than they are, but they have them moving at about 300 miles per hour. As they approached the Wall last week they were going about 100 metres per second) but otherwise it’s just amazing.

Ciaran Hinds is amazing, as you say. He tells Jon Snow that his people have bled enough, and when Stannis’s army comes barrelling into the forest, he screams it and demands his men stand down: “I said my people have bled enough, and I meant it.” Davos does his usual bow before the one true king of the Seven Kingdoms spiel, but Mance will have none of it, telling them in no uncertain terms, “We do not kneel.” But then Stannis sees Jon Snow, and when he discovers exactly who this man of the Night’s Watch is, he speaks to him with respect; a respect that is returned by Jon.

And from there we move to the Lannisters. Cersei demands once and for all that she not be betrothed to Loras, because she needs to stay with Tommen. For everything we’ve thought and said about Cersei all along, for everything she has done and all of the misled actions she’s taken (not the least of which is her hatred for Tyrion and the utterly ridiculous origin of it), her impassioned speech about her children and what they mean to her, and how she will NOT have Tommen taken from her really made me sympathize with her. She might be a terrible sister and a complicated lover and a terrible wife, but she is a devoted mother, and always has been. In that, she has never wavered.

And now she will do anything to keep them, including coming clean with Tywin and finally telling him what he did not want to hear: that she and Jaime are lovers, that the children all belong to him, that not a one of them is a Baratheon, and “YOUR LEGACY IS A LIE.” A brilliant scene that was a long time coming, that even had some humour in it when Tywin begins one of his fables and Cersei cuts him off, sying, “I’m not interested in hearing another one of your smug stories about the time you won.” Ha!! A lot has been done this season to make us sympathize with her in the face of her demonizing her brother and putting him on trial, and this scene was the best.

However, it’s sandwiched between two other scenes: a mysterious scene where they seem to be Frankensteining The Mountain back to health, where Pycelle is begging them to stop and Cersei and her medic kick Pycelle out of his own laboratory.

And then after Cersei has done her bit to reanimate The Creature, and does her best to give Tywin a stroke (and, in the moment, put a nail in her own coffin, I thought) she goes to visit Jaime to tell him what she’s just done. As he tries to push her away she tells him that she loves him, that she wants to stay in King’s Landing with him, that she will not marry Loras and the two of them will raise Tommen. And Jaime melts before her, immediately throwing her down upon a table and having her the way he once did. Is she manipulating him? At this point she’s pissed off Tywin epically, and needs someone on her side, and who better than the Kingslayer, even if he only has one hand? The Lannister stories this week were obviously the biggest game changers, consisting of the Cersei arc contained in these three scenes, followed by... well, we’ll get to those ones.

Just as things are shifting in King’s Landing, Daenerys has more people complaining in her court, realizing she’s brought more destruction and hardships to the people through her “freedom” than they perhaps lived with before. What did you think of these scenes? And is it just me who watches these dragons and thinks they act like my cat? ;)

Christopher: Oh, I’ve always thought the dragons are catlike—which makes them all the more terrifying. I’m totally a cat person, have loved cats all my life, but have few illusions about the fact that the only thing that prevents my cat from eating me is that he’s too small (which isn’t to say he doesn’t try). It was a bitter finale for Daenerys: confronted with her failings as a leader and compelled to chain up her children. I actually threatened to tear up a bit as she walked out of the catacombs: she knows exactly what she’s doing, what she has to do, but that isn’t exactly something that’s going to be clear to the two dragons she’s just put iron collars on and left in the dark. It’s a lot like that confused look your cat gives you through the cage door of his carrier when you leave him at the vet (yes, almost exactly like that).

But the problem of dragons rampant—which, after all, was not exactly unpredictable—is actually the lesser of Daenerys’ problems this episode. She’s learning a hard lesson that any casual student of history could have told her, namely that revolutions have a bad habit of turning into their opposites, and the more radical the revolution the more violent the regression. She has upended a way of life centuries old—it’s not going to conform to her idea of how it should be just because she demands it.

 This is one of the places where George R.R. Martin is at his most discomfiting: in making Daenerys the champion of freedom and scourge of slavers, he gives us what appears at first blush to be an unequivocal good. We are so primed by popular culture to reflexively celebrate any and all chain-breaking—and how can we not?—that it’s an easy narrative trick. It’s why Django Unchained is so viscerally satisfying but, on reflection, so deeply problematic; and it’s why so many narratives of this sort, from Glory to Mississippi Burning function more as symbolic salves to white guilt than any sort of substantive discourse on race and the unhealed wound of slavery. Both GRRM and Game of Thrones have come in for criticism on this front, as last season seemed to leave us in an all-too-typical white saviour story, with silver-haired Daenerys literally afloat on a sea of adoring brown bodies.

It was a cringeworthy moment. But to GRRM’s credit, he doesn’t end there, as so many of these narratives do—Daenerys has her triumphs, but now has to face the uncomfortable fact that simply saying “you’re free!” doesn’t automatically make everyone’s lives better, but opens up a whole bunch of new cans of worms. The plight of the elderly tutor speaks directly to this: what is he to do now? Daenerys’ new order, he laments, is the domain of the young. And even if she is able to better police her city, what use is freedom to a man who has never known anything but bondage? It is a quandary more fully described in A Dance With Dragons—the fact that, while many slaves have labored in pain and monotonous torment, many others have led relatively privileged lives as tutors, servants, and concubines and courtesans. Still others are the Mereen equivalent of gladiators, and have known fame and glory in the fighting pits. All of which is further confused by the simple fact of a culture-wide version of Stockholm syndrome: the elderly tutor, he avows, has grown to love the children he teaches and the family that owned him.

And Daenerys is also learning one of the other cruel lessons of leadership: soul-destroying compromise. She allows the man to effectively sell himself back to his former owners, with the proviso that it is only for a year—an entirely symbolic gesture, as Barristan is quick to point out, saying that “the men will be slaves in all but name.” The sequence of her locking up her dragons bitterly echoes her compromise with the old tutor, with its long, lingering shot of the chains she’ll use to imprison her children—the breaker of chains resorting to chains.

Meanwhile, north of the Wall, Bran and company finally arrive at their long (long!) sought-after destination … and in the process give us some truly thrilling moments as a small army of really dessicated ice zombies burst from the snow. This is where caps and exclamation points really start peppering my notes: “Ice zombies! SKELETAL ice zombies! HODOR! FIREBALLS! WTF?” (as you can see, my measured and thoughtful responses to any given episode only come when I’ve had a lot of time to reflect). What did you think of Bran’s “arrival”?

Nikki: Jeebus Creebus. My notes are: “Bran – Hodor – WTF moment!!” I have no idea what the hell any of that was, and it was clear this will be the new thing that will be explained more next season (they always drop one of those babies in there for us in the finale). I thought the image of the tree was breathtaking, with the leaves moving in an almost unearthly way, with the sun hitting them just right.

And then, of course, the path to that tree was fraught with Skeletor’s outcasts. What. The. Hell. Was anyone else thinking Ray Harryhausen in that moment?

I thought the scene itself was spectacular; the fight scenes were extraordinary (my GOD they’ve kept all their big-budget stuff til the end of the season, haven’t they?! As you pointed out, we also got the tabby dragons). As Jojen gets mortally attacked and Bran transfers his soul into Hodor to fight the baddies, we suddenly get Firestarter standing in the mouth of the cave, shooting fire bombs at the skeletons and ending them.

Who the heck is she?

Why did she wait so long to fight back?

How does she know who they are?

Are the children a group of supernaturals who remain perpetually young like little fire-throwing vampires? I’m really looking forward to finding out.

“The first men called us The Children, but we were born long before then,” she tells Bran. When they came into the cave and the Flamethrower told them that Jojen knew all along he wasn’t going to make it, and that he was leading Bran to the thing he’d lost, I half-expected to see Ned Stark sitting in the winding tree (I’ll admit a tiny bit of regret when he wasn’t). Instead we see an ancient man who has been watching him “with a thousand eyes and one” all their lives, who tells him that he will never walk again, but he will fly. Bran’s story is at times the most boring and uneventful in both the books and the show, but it also leans to the supernatural the most (along with the Wall stories), and this twist sent it into a new realm of possibility.

As did the scene with Arya/Hound/Brienne/Podrick. I’m disappointed that the Hound and Arya were just back wandering the countryside, and as you said last week, that they weren’t actually taken up to the Eyrie. You pointed out that they never get that far in the books, so now it becomes some clumsy writing served to get Arya super close and take it away from her again.

But you know what, none of that matters, because how much did I love Arya and Brienne meeting for the first time?! FANTASTIC.

I loved last week’s battle, but frankly I think the throw-down this week between the Hound and Brienne was FAR more fun to watch. And it was tense, because I kept hoping that one of them wouldn’t die, that he’d gain respect for Brienne’s fighting skills, or that Arya would see she’s a good person or Podrick would speak to Arya or SOMETHING but it was still amazing to watch. I mean... she bloody well Holyfields him, for goodness’ sake!!

I think I could hear you cheering as I watched it, Chris. I’m sure you adored that fight scene as much as I did.

Christopher: Of all the changes the series has made to the books, this one was easily the best. And it was heartbreaking … however much the Hound has, against all odds, ended up being Arya’s protector, I doubt there is anyone who would doubt that Brienne would be better. Their initial conversation before the Hound shows up shows just how good a fit they would be—women who reject the role the world would impose on them and embrace a life of fighting and violence. Brienne’s story about her father actually brings a smile to Arya’s face … and then the Hound appears, and it becomes obvious that a fight is unavoidable.

Brienne’s moment of recognition is a wonderful bit of subtle acting by Gwendoline Christie. “You’re Arya Stark,” she says softly, and her voice and facial expression are both wondering, even a bit awestruck. However seriously she takes her oath to Catelyn, she of course recognizes what a fool’s errand this quest to find the Stark girls is. And yet, here is Arya—and she knows a moment of triumph she never has in the novels (thus far), only to have it snatched away by Arya herself.

Because of course nothing is simple. We know precisely how honourable she is (she has Stark-levels of honour), and how dedicated she would be to keeping Arya safe. Jaime Lannister himself wants her find the Stark girls and keep them far, far away from his sister and the dangers of King’s Landing. But the very name of Jaime Lannister is toxic and poisons beyond repair any hope Brienne had of winning Arya’s trust—as does the simple fact that she failed in her job to protect Catelyn.

BRIENNE: I wish I could have been there to protect her.
ARYA: You’re not a Northerner.
BRIENNE: No. But I swore a sacred vow to protect her.
ARYA: Why didn’t you?
BRIENNE: She commanded me to bring Jaime Lannister back to King’s Landing.
HOUND: You’re paid by the Lannisters. You’re here for the bounty on me.
BRIENNE: I’m not paid by the Lannisters.
HOUND: No? Fancy sword you’ve got there. Where’s you get it? I’ve been looking at Lannister gold all my life. Go on, Brienne of fucking Tarth—tell me that’s not Lannister gold.

A meta version of this scene might include Brienne cursing the name of George R.R. Martin for having made these interwoven stories so complex that there is no easy answer to the Hound’s accusation. Yes, it’s Lannister gold. But no, I’m not in their pay. Though when you get down to it, I’m out here looking for the Stark girls because Jaime Lannister urged me to. And he’s actually not so bad a guy when you get to know him. Did I mention he saved me from a bear? And he gave me this priceless Valyrian steel sword because he was pissed off at his dad? Which … oh, this is awkward … it’s actually made from your dad’s sword, Arya. Oops.

Yeah … kind of a hard thing to talk around.

And then there’s the Hound, whose motives are pretty inscrutable at this point. What precisely does he want? He’s pretty much out of ways of monetizing Arya at this point. He could sell her back to the Lannisters, but that would mean his own death; he could take her to the Wall and Jon Snow, but there’d be no payday for him. When Brienne promises to take Arya to safety, he all but laughs in her face: “Safety? Where the fuck’s that? Her aunt in the Eyrie is dead. Her mother’s dead. Her father’s dead. Her brother’s dead. Winterfell is a pile of rubble. There’s no safety, you dumb bitch. You don’t know that by now, you’re the wrong one to watch over her.” And is that what the Hound is doing, Brienne asks with an incredulous curl of her lip. “Aye, that’s what I’m doing.”

Is that what the Hound is doing? Does he honestly now see himself as her protector? Would a more caring relationship have developed? Is he genuinely protecting Arya from what he believes is a Lannister flunky? Or is he just so vindictive when it comes to the Lannisters that he can’t countenance letting them have the victory of capturing Arya? We will never know.

The fight that ensues is at once thrilling and horrifying, with none of the finesse of Oberyn’s ninja-like leaps or Syrio’s elegant water dancing. This is sheer strength and brutality, and is likely far more realistic than anything you’re likely to see in popular film and television … and when it comes down to life and death, there are no holds barred. The Hound grasping the blade of Oathkeeper while the blood runs down over his wrist was nothing if not a representation of the lengths he’ll go to win, and Brienne’s long, sustained scream as she repeatedly pounds the rock into the Hound’s face sent chills down my spine.

And the ear-biting? Yikes. I’m very glad, in hindsight, that I did not see this bit of interview with Gwendoline Christie earlier in the season, or I’d have been wondering precisely when the ear-biting would happen in this episode. I’m rather glad that came as a surprise.
And she loses Arya, who unsurprisingly doesn’t trust her … but who also seems to prefer to strike out on her own. And we see here just how cold Arya has become: calmly watching the Hound suffer, not flinching at all the terrible things he says in an effort to goad her into killing him … or possibly make her feel less guilty about killing him? He knows he’s dying, that there is no saving him “Unless there’s a maester hiding behind that rock.” But she doesn’t move, just watches him, as he passes from trying to anger her to encouraging her to end it, and finally to abject begging. But Arya chooses to let him die slowly, and I think a lot of us died a little inside to see that she has learned to be cruel.

Which is only appropriate, as the final shot of the season is her on a ship bound for Braavos, presumably to seek out Jaqen H’ghar and start her apprenticeship as an assassin …

Which brings us to the last two big scenes of the episode. Tyrion is rescued by his brother, and sent on his way to freedom in the Free Cities by Varys, who finally makes good on his promise to remember Tyrion’s heroism in saving the city. This is a slight deviation: in the novel, Varys is forced by Jaime.

The larger deviation is how Tyrion leaves things with his brother. Remember way back, when Tyrion told the story of how he impulsively married a village girl named Tysha when he was thirteen, but after a week of connubial bliss, Tywin caught them and revealed that she was a whore Jaime had paid so Tyrion would lose his virginity? And then had an entire guard-room of Lannister soldiers take turns with her for a silver a fuck? And made Tyrion go last and pay a gold piece, because Lannisters are worth more? Remember that horrifying story?

In the novel, just before they part, Jaime reveals to Tyrion that Tysha wasn’t actually a whore—she was just what Tyrion had believed her to be, a girl who had genuinely fallen in love with him. Jaime had lied to him back then at Tywin’s behest. So … well, their parting in the novel is somewhat more acrimonious.

But then, Tyrion does not go directly to Varys, but detours instead through the chambers of the Hand. Aaaaaand I think I’ll turn it over to Nikki for the wrap-up, as this is one of those moments eagerly anticipated by readers of the books when we get to see those who haven’t read them lose their shit.


Nikki: The viewers weren’t the only ones who were losing their shit. (And no, that’s not the last of the Tywin-on-the-toilet jokes I plan to make.)

WOW. What an ending. First, Tyrion ventures into Tywin’s bedroom and finds none other than Shae entwined in the sheets, which actually made me think of the Tysha story in that moment (perhaps that’s how they were trying to bring that story back into the fold but keep Jaime a sympathetic character?) Just as Tywin took Tyrion’s new bride and then had his soldiers gang-rape her, now he has brought her back to King’s Landing just to have her betray Tyrion, break his heart, and make him lose any desire for living, before taking her back to his chambers and turning her into his own whore, with her lying languorously on the bed and purring “my Lion,” thinking it was Tywin who had come back into the room.

But it’s those two words that prove her undoing. For as much as Tyrion might have been able to forgive her for what she did in the courtroom — after all, the last time he’d seen her he told her he didn’t love her and she was nothing but a common whore — seeing her turn to his father and sleep with him as willingly as she’d ever slept with Tyrion is the final blow. Not only does he kill her, but he does so with his own hands, using the very gold that Tywin had no doubt laced around her neck as a reward for betraying Tyrion.

And Tyrion’s not done. He goes to Tywin and finds him in the “privy,” in a very vulnerable position. And then his Number Two son points a crossbow at him (I told you I’d get another toilet joke in there...). Just as Cersei tried to unnerve him earlier by telling him that his legacy was dead and that his only two “honourable” children were in fact incestuous lovers who’ve given life to three children — one of them a monster — Tywin looked calm, and simply said it wasn’t true. He didn’t leap forward or grab her by the throat . . . that’s not Tywin’s style. Nah, he was just going to send some men out later and have her done away with, or poison her (unlike Mance Rayder, I could see him pulling such a “woman’s weapon” on her), or worse, find out something that gives him the upper hand, and then force her to sit by while he slowly takes over as the true king of Westeros and just uses Tommen as his puppet.

But Tyrion isn’t going to give him the chance. He finds him on the toilet and tells him that he just killed Shae with his own bare hands. Tywin practically rolls his eyes as he tries to pull up his pants, once again dismissing one of his children as being useless. Cersei never had the guts to fight back at him as he sent Myrcella away or calmly lectured Tommen on what makes a good king while standing over the corpse of her other son. She had no say when he demanded she marry Loras. Jaime takes the verbal blows from Tywin on a regular basis, begging for Tyrion’s life and banishing himself to Casterly Rock, the way his father needs him hidden away because of his physical deformity. And Tyrion has been brought down again... and again... and again... and AGAIN... by Tywin, and never fights back.

Not any more.

Tyrion: All my life, you’ve wanted me dead.
Tywin: Yes, but you refused to die. I respect that, even admire it. You fight for what’s yours. I’d never let them execute you, is that what you fear? I’d never let Ilyn Payne take your head. You’re a Lannister. You’re my son.
Tyrion: I loved her.
Tywin: Who?
Tyrion: Shae.
Tywin: Oh, Tyrion, put down that crossbow.
Tyrion: I murdered her, with my own hands.
Tywin: Doesn’t matter.
Tyrion: Doesn’t... matter?
Tywin: She was a whore.
Tyrion: Say that word again.
Tywin: And what, you’ll kill your own father in the privy? No. You’re my son. Now, let off of this nonsense—
Tyrion: I am your son, and you sentenced me to die. You knew I didn’t poison Joffrey, but you sentenced me all the same. Why?
Tywin: Enough. Go back to my chambers and speak with dignity.
Tyrion: I can’t go back there. She’s in there.
Tywin: You afraid of a dead whore—


When that first arrow zinged out of the crossbow, with Tyrion looking no more unnerved than Tywin ever does, I gasped out loud and clapped a hand over my mouth. Tywin can’t believe it. With his pants still around his ankles, he falls off the commode and onto the floor as Tyrion calmly loads his weapon a second time. “You shot me!!” Tywin says, completely shocked. Finally, one of his children has the guts to stand up to him, but it’s only to send an arrow through his heart. “You’re no son of mine,” he hisses. “I am your son. I have always been your son,” Tyrion says, then sends a second, fatal arrow into his father as the mournful strains of “The Rains of Castamere” begin to play in the background.

Sorry, I just have to say it: Tywin is having a truly shitty day. 

An absolutely astounding scene that changes everything. Who will be the Hand of the King now? Will it be Jaime? Will Cersei and Jaime be able to do something better for King’s Landing with Tommen as king? Or will it be worse?

Varys greets Tyrion with a tense, “What have you done?” before quickly leading him into a shipping crate. “Trust me, my friend. I’ve brought you this far.” He loads him onto a ship and begins to walk back to King’s Landing before hearing the alarm bells go off. And then he quickly calculates the hope he has of surviving there with all of the death throughout the castle — ie, none — and walks onto the ship to sit next to Tyrion’s crate.

Tyrion has been let go, and any outsider will take one look at Tywin’s chambers and believe Tyrion really was the monster they said he was. Cersei wanted Tyrion dead, and she’s now aligned with Jaime, but it was Jaime who broke him out. How will that go? Where is Tyrion headed? Will Brienne ever find Arya? If she does, will Arya be too far gone by that point? Will Daenerys be able to find balance in her benevolent power?

Will Hodor ever learn a second word?

A brilliant, spectacular ending to an incredible episode.

Thank you to everyone who has been following us thus far. We’ve written some pretty long posts here, and maybe next season we’ll aim to shorten these puppies a tad. I really appreciate everyone tuning in to the trials and tribulations of Westeros. We will meet again for season 5.

Valar Morghulis.