Sunday, October 30, 2011

Once Upon a Time 1.2: "The Thing You Love the Most"

I've been looking for a show that's excited me as much as Lost, in a similar way that Lost did. While there have been several shows that I've adored since the end of Lost -- Fringe, Breaking Bad -- they've done so in different ways. But finally, a show in the hands of Kitsis and Horowitz has me once again watching the walls in the backgrounds, looking for clues on signs and in the treetops, and in only its second week, this show somehow feels like home. So, I'm gonna do some old-fashioned Lost-like blogging with it.

In this week's episode, Emma still doesn't believe in the curse, but she believes in Henry, and it's keeping her in Storybrooke. Regina is stepping up her efforts to get this biological mom out of her way so she can keep her son to herself, and when you watch it from her point of view, she doesn't come off as being as soulless as Emma suggests she is. In last week's episode, she told Emma that while she'd dumped her son off at a hospital, Regina had changed every diaper, soothed every fever, and dealt with every tantrum. While she has the Evil Queen inside her, she doesn't actually remember BEING her, so none of her actions have been with any particularly evil motivation behind it. Turns out, by the end of the episode, it's good old Rumpelstiltskin -- he of the name obsession -- who seems to have retained some memory of things and is masterminding Henry coming to their town. After all, if he's the guy who created the curse in the first place, doesn't it make sense that it wouldn't have the same memory-wipe effect on him as it does everyone else?

Speaking of Rumpelstiltskin's obsession with names, let's look at some of the names in both universes:

Rumpelstiltskin = Mr. Gold
As the guy who became famous for spinning straw into gold, this seems very fitting.

Snow White = Mary Blanchard
In French, "white" is "blanc," so that's where we're getting that from. Perhaps Mary comes from the Virgin Mary, and since Snow White was seen as pure in every way, the name seems apt.

Evil queen = Regina
"Regina" means queen; Queen Victoria was often known as "Victoria Regina"

Jiminy Cricket = Archie Hopper
That just cracks me up. ;)

Granny and Little Red Riding Hood = Granny and Ruby

Mirror = Gus Fring The editor of The Storybrooke Daily Mirror

Sheriff Graham is presumably also a fairytale character, but I think we've yet to see him in that world. It'll be fun to see who he ultimately turns out to be. We've seen Geppetto in Storybrooke, but I don't know if they said what his name was there.

As with Lost, time and memory become essential pieces. In Lost, characters flashed back to earlier points in their lives to reveal to the audience what their motivations were. But in Once Upon a Time, those flashbacks are presented as dramatic irony, in the sense that WE know what their pasts are, but none of them can remember it. If they could, it would give them a lot more power than they now have. Now, they're powerless pawns trapped in a town without realizing they're actually trapped. The clock hasn't moved in 28 years, and no one seems to have noticed they haven't aged one bit. Mary tells Emma in this episode that Regina has been mayor for as long as she can remember, but it never occurs to her that she herself has been perpetually 25 for the last 30 years; when time stood still, it prevented them from aging, but also prevented them from noticing that. With time COMES power, and now that the clock is moving forward, some of these people will move forward as well. Memories will now be retained, they will age, and they can vanquish the thing that has been keeping them trapped: the timeless curse.

The very nature of fairytales themselves will no doubt take centre stage as this series continues. As Mary tells Emma in the previous episodes, fairytales are a way for people to make sense of the cruel world they live in; a way to compartmentalize their own lack of happy endings and give them hope that those endings may exist somewhere. In Once Upon a Time, the writers explore this idea through Henry's therapy sessions. Just as many fairytales are parables that explore the human psyche, so are therapy sessions a way of getting into a person's mind by asking them to tell stories to the doctor. Only by telling these stories can the patient actually begin to see their troubles in the context of a larger picture, while allowing the doctor to get to the heart of the matter and attempt to help them through a particularly troublesome time.

I love the idea in this show that the world of fairytales could actually be a hell if you were the bad guy; baddies don’t get happy endings, they’re the ones being pushed off cliffs or dying or just slinking off into the dark while the good, pure people “live happily ever after.” What a great idea to turn that on its head and have the bad guys want to live in our world, where “happily ever after” simply doesn’t exist.

• Henry. I love the actor playing this kid. While there are times where he looks a little uncomfortable, glancing off-camera and not really looking at the person he’s acting against, he’s adorable, charming, and you just want to pick him up and hug him every time he’s on screen.
• Malificent on Snow White never being in pain: “It’s her wedding night. I bet she’s suffering right now.” Ack!
• The reason we have lawn gnomes! HAHAHA!!

Did You Notice?
• The episode opened with Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy”:

Don't be shy just let your feelings roll on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
Just lift your head, and let your feelings out instead
And don't be shy, just let your feeling roll on by
On by

You know love is better than a song
Love is where all of us belong
So don't be shy just let your feelings roll on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
You're there

Don't be shy just let your feelings roll on by
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there
Just lift your head, and let your feelings out instead
And don't be shy, just let your feeling roll on by

• Jane Espenson is a Consulting Producer! How did I not notice that before? Even MORE reason to love this show. ;)
• My mouth was literally watering every time we saw those apple trees. Poison be damned: I don’t think I would have been able to avoid the temptation to bite into each of those apples? Have you ever eaten a Honeycrisp apple? It’s exactly what the name says it is: one of the sweetest things you’ll ever taste. Damn, now I have a major craving for apples. Excuse me for a minute…
• The Mirror is Gus Fring!!!! Oh. My. God. Shivers went down my spine when I saw him.
• Malificent is Pam! I am loving the guest casting this week!
• I was so sad when Archie/Jiminy Cricket tricked Emma, because I really wanted to see these two join forces, so I was much happier at the end when he seemed sincerely sorry for having done that. After all, in the first episode, just before Henry appeared on her doorstep, Emma was blowing out a candle in the shape of a star on a cupcake and wishing that she wouldn’t be alone on her birthday. And it was Jiminy Cricket who sang that if you wished upon a star your dreams would come true.
• The queen throws a horse heart into the cauldron: was anyone else suddenly flashing to Game of Thrones in their heads?
• In Archie’s therapy office, the wallpaper border at the top is a forest at sunset. In Regina’s office, the wallpaper everywhere is covered in black and white trees that are rather frightening. Everything in her office is black and white, just as good and evil is always painted in polar opposition in fairytales.
• Archie’s office also had several toadstools and mushrooms around it.
• Emma and Regina keep saying, “Your move,” as if they’re playing a game of chess, which made me think of Through the Looking Glass (the Alice books also feature a queen who has trees with red objects hanging from them, though where Regina keeps possibly poisoned apples, the Red Queen has white roses that her pages paint red).
• Speaking of which, Regina has white roses in a vase that appear to be sitting in blood, not water (same paint that’s being used on the Red Queen’s roses, perhaps?)

Fairytale Allusions:
• The clock chiming and everyone looking up at it reminded me of the clock striking midnight for Cinderella.
• How wonderful to put two queens together in a room who both concocted a sleeping potion (on Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, respectively) and who both failed when their curse was broken by a curse by Prince Charming. (These “Charming” guys sure do get around!)
• When the Guild of Baddies gets together around the fire, there’s a blind witch whose eyes have been sewn together. I was thinking maybe it was one of the witches from Macbeth? The witch in Hansel and Gretel is blind, but when I did a quick search on “Hansel and Gretel blind witch” I saw a casting note that Emma Caulfield (aka the glorious Anya on Buffy) has been cast as that witch, to appear later in the season!! SO excited. So maybe the blind witch at the fire was just a token blind witch, just as the ogre and gnome were probably standing in for all ogres and gnomes in fairytales.
• The Evil Queen says that Snow White took everything from her. This could create a mystery for us if we didn’t already know the story, and know that what Snow White took from her was her certainty that she was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. When Snow turned seven, the mirror finally told the queen that she was no longer the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, and that it was Snow White. After that the queen did everything she could to kill Snow White, and finally almost succeeded with the poisoned apple. But when she says it in the episode, she says it with such pathos we believe she’s lost so much more than just her sense of beauty.
• Jiminy Cricket was assigned to stick with Pinocchio and make sure the boy always had good morals; similarly, in Storybrooke, Archie is assigned to be Henry’s therapist, and watch this boy’s mind as closely as he had Pinocchio’s.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Retro Music Thursdays: Ride

I've been totally remiss on my Retro Music Thursdays! I might just start posting music with no comment at all, just songs I want to listen to, despite the stories I could connect to all of them. But this week is Ride. And I have to brag on this one; it's because of Ride I can officially say I was hit on by a famous person. ;)

Ride were the leaders of the shoegazer movement in the UK at the time: loud guitars, long hair that hung into their faces, staring at the ground as they played (hence the name of the movement) and they were loud. FREAKIN' loud. They were headed up by two young guys, Andy Bell (the one on the far right in the pic) and Mark Gardner, the Mick Jaggeresque guy on the left. They were the songwriters, guitarists, and singers. Their harmonies and the wall of sound they produced on album were extraordinary.

The first time they played Toronto I was too young to go see them, and my boyfriend at the time (now husband) went anyway. Bastard. They were playing with Lush, Ride's female equivalent (I'm sure I'll play them on here one of these days), and Rob came home with a t-shirt for me that I wore until it was just a bunch of loose threads. He also came home with what we thought at the time was serious hearing damage. You know that ringing in your ears you have after a loud show? It lasts a day or two... but after five days it was STILL happening and we thought oh crap, he's done it now. To this day I worry that his Pete Townshendesque hearing is a result of that show, and not all the gigs he played himself at the time.

But anyway, a couple of years later I was FINALLY 19, and I was off to see them. Andy and Mark had an obsession with the book, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and the themes of that book permeated their first full-length album. Like on this song, "Seagull."

Rob and I were working at the student newspaper at the university (well, OK, HE was, and I always tagged along as the photographer because I was still in high school... back then you had grade 13 so you were much older by the time you went to university). I'd gotten backstage at a lot of shows as "the photographer" and no one ever seemed to notice that I didn't take a single shot (I had no idea how to use the fancy camera the paper had given me). So instead, I went into this glaringly bright back room and sat in the very soft couch, sinking almost all the way to the floor, and Rob set up at a table with Andy and the two began talking. Mark Gardner was in the far corner tuning a guitar, and I just listened to the interview. At one point Andy began asking Rob if he'd read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Rob said no. I had actually just written a long paper on JLS for a World Religions course I was taking, and I retold the story as a metaphor of Zen buddhism and achieving nirvana. So I piped up and said something, and Andy turned and began talking to me. Mark jumped up from the corner and rushed over to the couch, where he sat down next to me and we sank even further into the ground. He began asking me what I thought of it, and the three of us were talking about the book and poor Rob was sitting there wondering how the heck he was going to get his interview back on track. Finally I said something like, "But anyway, I don't think we have much more time here, so..." and looked at Rob as the cue for him to keep going, and he did (he was actually really good at steering people back over). Andy continued talking to him, and Mark lowered his voice and kept talking to me. And then he asked me what I was doing after the show and could he meet me for a coffee or something.

Now, I was 19 and he was supercute but I loved Ride for their music, and not them. Oh, and not to mention my BOYFRIEND was sitting right there, now engrossed in a conversation about guitars with Andy Bell and not hearing this. I smiled and shyly said I lived two hours away and we'd have to get going after the show, and he said oh come on, we could find a way to get you home, and I said no, no that was OK.

During the show we were up near the stage and Mark blew a kiss at me. Melt. But just for the record, I have zero regrets about that. It makes a great story this way, and if it had happened any other way, I could have NEVER MENTIONED IT. ;) (Side note: when the Manchester dance scene band The Inspiral Carpets played Toronto, two of my friends went and the same thing happened with them, but they said yes, and became the band's in-town "groupies" for over a year. Weird. I heard things about those guys I really didn't want to know.)

While Nowhere is a fantastic album, I think this song is probably my favourite. Unfortunately you actually need the album and headphones (or a super-loud stereo and understanding neighbours) to truly appreciate the awesome sound these guys created.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Walking Dead S2: Bloodletting

Welcome to our second post on season 2 of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Once again I’m joined by Joshua Winstead, who will be chatting with me about the week’s episode. Speaking of whom, I was very bad last week in not mentioning that he blogs here, and tweets here. Check out both spots for some really, REALLY great writing.

But before we get to the analysis, I have two zombie stories this week. First, we have this new amazing intern at work, and she got married last weekend. She was sitting in the lunchroom with me and one of our typesetters the other day and telling us about this zombie wedding cake she saw at a wedding show that had the bride and groom at the top with all of these creepy zombies climbing the cake to get to them. We both stopped eating in mid-forkful, and Troy said, “And you didn’t immediately stop and order this cake because…??!!”

Seriously. As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth getting married again just for the zombie wedding cake.

Secondly, my daughter, who is seven, plays with a neighbour girl all the time, who is five. The other day I was driving my daughter somewhere and she was talking about playing with her friend the other day, and said, “She was telling me about this show she was watching with her parents on the weekend. First, there were these two zombies chasing a little girl in the woods, and she had to go and hide near a stream by a tree so they wouldn’t find her!” I’m driving, staring straight ahead and thinking, “No. No, she can’t possibly be referring to…”

“And THEN, she said there was this part where these two guys killed a zombie and they ripped open his stomach and were pulling all of his insides out!!! EW!!!”

Oh. My. Lord.

Now, I’m not usually a judgmental person when it comes to other parents. Trust me, parents get enough judgment and “advice” from people who don’t have children to be inflicting it upon each other, but really? You’re letting your kid watch The Walking Dead at the age of FIVE?! Just in case you’re reading this blog and you’re not watching the show, but considering doing so, I should probably mention this is NOT a family show. The network has a warning on this show that people ages 18 and under need parental guidance. Please don’t show it to your kid if he/she is in kindergarten (or middle school, for that matter). It’s really not something that should be watched alongside Toopy & Binoo. (Not to mention it airs really late at night… for a REASON.)

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming. I’m going to let Josh have the mic on this one first. Take it away, Josh!

Joshua: Nikki, I wholeheartedly second your public service announcement about age-appropriate viewing: The Walking Dead may contain children, but as most of these characters are either dead or moving rapidly in that direction, they do not seem to be the target audience for this material. Please use accordingly.

That being said, this was a fairly low-key episode in terms of gore, but what it lacked in splatter it more than compensated for in matter. We also got a brief pre-plague flashback, a bunch of new character introductions, a change of venue, and a huge complication in the matter of Carl Being Shot To Hell. As if that wasn’t already complicated enough.

But since we have to start somewhere, I want to give a special shout-out to reader Tim Alan, whose comment last week about Daryl-as-Sawyer was dead right (excuse the pun) and proven so over and over in this episode. The first time I noticed it was when Daryl gives his Sophia pep talk to Carol and Andrea in the woods (“Am I the only one Zen around here? Good Lord.”), and then it pops up again when he scores the night’s first (and only?) zombie kill with a “shut up” ka-thwang of the awesome crossbow. But then the scene came along toward the end of the ep when he busts out the stash bag full of drugs, and the comparison was suddenly so obvious that I laughed out loud. In fact, I pledge hereafter to yell FRECKLES! at the screen every time Daryl does something Sawyery. This show could use the levity, anyway.

Nikki: Haha! We should start our own Lost meets Walking Dead drinking game. And, well, you started it, so I’m going to keep going. When Rick was giving blood to Carl, I couldn’t help but think of Jack giving the blood to Boone.

And then we’ve got Dale, the older wise man who says the things other people don’t want to hear, but is usually right. Do you think his dad threw him out a window, too?

Okay, enough of that. ;) (The Monty Python general is walking into the room and I need to stop that right now.)

I’m reading this post-apocalyptic novel right now where a group of people goes to a farm and suddenly in the midst of everyone in the city starving and unable to fend for themselves, here are people who seem to be largely unaffected. And we saw it again in this episode – in a house that was around pre-electricity, they seem to be doing just fine, thank you very much. I loved that the doctor turned out to be a vet (my husband called that just before it happened). I should know this, because I read The Stand very closely for one of my Finding Lost books, but I’m pretty sure the town doctor in that book is a former veterinarian as well, so that felt like a tip of that hat to Stephen King.

Given the horror factor of the show, though, when the doctor was talking about how he might have to do a surgery without anaesthetic, I thought oh my GOD that’s what they’re going to do. I’m not sure I’d be able to watch that, especially with it being a little boy. On an adult, maybe. But when Lori shows up and curls up in the bed next to him saying, “Baby boy, baby boy,” my heart was breaking. What a gorgeous piece of humanity in an inhumane world.

Joshua: At least they don't have to go anywhere near his dural sac.

They don't, right?

Seriously, though – the amazing work by Chandler Riggs as piece #1 of the slug was being pried out of his belly made that scene so very difficult to watch. Riggs was a local Atlantan cast without a lot of other acting credits to his name, and that kid has been terrific. I'm with you in that I don't know how much more Carl abuse I can handle.

We aren't alone in that, either, as Rick is fed through the ringer this episode, wearing naught but that agonized expression for most of its runtime; I even referred to him as 'Cramps' Lincoln in my notes at one point, so regularly contorted are his features. Rick's character on the show is not quite the cursed Fate's Whipping Boy that he is in the comics, but the poor guy isn't far off, and Lincoln does a great job of conveying just how unmoored Rick is becoming as circumstances spiral beyond anything he can hope to control.

And, as counterpoint to Rick's desperation, we now have Hershel and his wonderfully infuriating matter-of-factness. Doc Greene is another of my favorite characters from the comics. What I always found so compelling about him is how dead-set he is on the accuracy of his worldview, regardless of the circumstances. It's like he thinks if he can maintain order within his own mind, then somehow that harmony will translate to the world around him. (Wait... pragmatism vs. spiritualism? Everybody drink!) I know a lot of people who would be this guy post-plague, and I think the writers did a lovely job of porting his attitude here.

Nikki: Dural sac, hahaha!! Oh god, let’s hope not. Maybe he’ll put the kid under, cut something and then start making demands. “Yeah, you crazy kids think I haven’t watched episodes of Lost?! How do you think I learned how to do surgery?”

I think my favourite line of the episode – for its irony – is “This has turned into a very strange day.” Um… is there such thing as a normal day anymore?!

I will admit that the one thing I’m finding a little difficult to come to terms with is Sophie’s mother, Carol. Maybe it’s the shock of the situation that’s keeping her eerily calm. Or maybe the writers have so much else going on they don’t have time to factor in a hysterical mother. But if my daughter had gone missing, I wouldn’t just be quietly wandering through the woods as part of a search team, having conversations and listening to the drama around me as if MY DAUGHTER HASN’T JUST GONE MISSING AND MIGHT HAVE BEEN EATEN BY WALKERS!!! The horse comes galloping in, tells Lori her boy has been shot, and Lori jumps up on the horse and they gallop away. The search party says, “OMG, we need to rush back to the highway and tell everyone what just happened,” and Carol is all, “Oh, okay, sure, no problem. Since there’s another kid in peril I guess mine doesn’t matter much anymore, so tally ho!” Off she wanders to the roadside like it’s nothing.

I’m really starting to think it’s shock (part of her believes her daughter is dead, or the situation itself hasn’t fully sunk in) or serenity (she believes God will take care of her, the way she prayed to him in the church asking Him to). But I think many moms would have been out of their mind with grief and frustration at this point, me included. No one is treating Sophie’s disappearance like it’s the end of the world, not even her mom. And I remember in last week’s episode, I said to my husband that when Sophie first went missing and they all headed back up to the highway because it was getting dark, I was imagining that the next part of the episode would be that night – the worry of the walkers coming back at night to the motorhome, and the hell that Carol would go through lying there doing nothing, knowing she can’t go out there but that her little girl is alone. But nope, none of that happened. Instead, it was dusk, and then we skipped the nighttime and we were at dawn again, with everyone – including Carol – looking refreshed and well rested. I thought it was a little lazy. But that said, I really think with the length of the seasons they can’t focus on one character in particular. Perhaps that’s why Lori’s “Baby boy” reaction to Carl was so welcome to me – finally a mother who looked like she might lose it because her child was in peril.

Joshua: Absolutely – why we couldn't have sacrificed a scene (there were several) of Shane & Rick having “Southern Man Talk” in favor of some token hysterics from Carol on the first night that Sophia was missing, I don't know. Instead, beyond cursory group discussion (and Daryl's previously referenced pep talk of sorts), we saw no real consequence of another day without finding so much as the smallest sign of her. It wasn't enough to irritate me, but agreed that it was certainly noticeable. From a narrative standpoint, this kind of dismissiveness is usually indicative of a storyline that will go nowhere, and my suspicion is that we don't have long before Sophia turns up again. Whether she turns up alive or dead (or somewhere in between) remains to be seen.

[Noting that “Remains To Be Seen” would be a nice punny name for a TWD blog.]

But who knows? Maybe half of next week's episode is about Carol and Sophia. I am hesitant to be overly critical just yet. My hope is simply that this kind of shortcut stays the exception rather than becoming the rule.

While we're on the subject of shortsightedness, let's talk about that last sequence leading up to the cliffhanger.

I grew up on shows like The A-Team and MacGuyver and Airwolf, so the idea of A SUPPLY RUN ON WHICH SOMEONE'S LIFE DEPENDS got me hopping up and down on the sofa. And I love the way the show took that premise and turned it into YOU ARE SO VERY SCREWED so very quickly, all as a result of one of the worst tactical plans I have ever seen. Really, who thinks that “let's throw road flares” is a sufficient course of action in this situation? The police academy where Shane did his training needs to be immediately discredited.

And as a result, they're now trapped – correct me if I'm wrong – in something like 8 square feet of space? Protected by nothing but a folding gate? Damn, dude. I really like Pruitt Taylor Vince, and I hope Otis lasts longer than this.

Nikki: You know, at the end of my previous entry I was about to write, “So what about that FEMA trailer scene?” but then I thought nah, Josh will totally go there on his own. ;) I agree, that scene was terrifyingly awesome. But I thought the flares were rather genius! Of course, only if you plan to just run by them and then not have to run BACK at all. Because in that sense, you’re completely correct – stupid, stupid, stupid.

Pruitt Taylor Vince – I thought exactly the same thing. If they’re using Vince, he must be here for a long time!! I hope so, too. I like him in everything he’s been in (especially Deadwood and Murder One).

Here’s hoping you’re right about there being an upcoming scene with Carol, but honestly, I still think she’s way too calm for what the situation demands and I OH MY GOD MAYBE CAROL IS A ZOMBIE!!!!! No? She’s not? Oh. Okay, back to me saying it’s not realistic. ;)

But for that to be my only kvetch so far this season is saying something. Oh, and I can’t end this without mentioning Daryl’s brother’s stash of antibiotics because he sometimes got the clap. Oh man, I loves me some apocalypse humour!! That was seriously hilarious.

Thanks again, Joshua, and I’ll see you again next Sunday!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Week 43

6.17 Normal Again
6.18 Entropy
6.19 Seeing Red

Read along in Bite Me!, pp. 301-306.

If you’re watching Angel, this week’s episodes are:

3.17 Forgiving
3.18 Double or Nothing
3.19 The Price

Read along in Once Bitten, pp. 229-237.

This is the week I’ve been looking forward to, for the audience reaction, and dreading… for the audience reaction. I’ve got two brilliant essays below that are covering off the episodes, and there is SO much I want to say about them, but I don’t want to talk over the upcoming contributors, so I’ll focus on what I’ve been doing all along: offering the perspective of what it was like seeing these episodes live and discussing them on the fan forums. And just like that pesky Lost finale, no episode of Buffy was more divisive among the fandom than “Seeing Red.”

I’ll never forget jumping online after the episode aired, and people were arguing about whether or not what Spike did was attempted rape. People were making excuses for him – “she was asking for it” “he didn’t frickin’ RAPE her, for god’s sakes! Really, guys, CALM DOWN” “she has been SO MEAN to him all season and she’s a tease” – while others were condemning Spike and saying they either always hated him, or they didn’t before but now they did. Part of it was a stimulating discussion, while the other part was disturbing indeed. These arguments went on for days, weeks, months… I’m sure they’re still continuing. And while the bathroom scene is a pivotal one for the series, I just wanted to shout, “DID NO ONE NOTICE THAT TARA WAS SHOT AT THE END?!” My GOD. That final scene was one of the most heartbreaking moments in all of Buffydom.

Of course, as I’ve often told the story over the years, it was also the subject of the worst spoilage I’ve ever had. A friend of mine was over about a week before the episode aired, and she was a serious spoilerphile and I hated them. She said, “Did you hear what they have in store for the finale?” “NO I DID NOT AND I DO NOT WANT TO” was pretty much my instantaneous response, followed by me sticking my fingers in my ears and singing the Flintstones theme song. (It’s my fallback security mechanism.) The song ended, and she smiled and said, “Okay, okay! No spoilers.” Pause. Pause. Pause. “But you did hear that Tara is going to be shot and killed and as a result ____________ will happen?!”




And yes, this person is still very much my friend, but that was a whopper of a moment. I’ve never had a spoiler like that happen before or since, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have watched that scene NOT knowing what was going to happen. But I was dreading it all episode long.

And when the smoke cleared (sort of) on the “was it or wasn’t it rape?!” argument, people began arguing over the Tara death.

Now, I don’t want to offend anyone with what I have to say. We’ve kept this a happy place until now, and I try to keep my comments fair and balanced. But in the context of this episode, I have to mention a rather vocal group that rose up called the “Tara Kittens.” I mentioned them offhand in a comment earlier this year and said unfortunately I’d get to them later. These were the people who said that the death of Tara was a homophobic move on the part of the writers, perpetuating the stereotype that the only good lesbian was a dead one. There’s something to be said for Tara’s death falling into a clichéd stereotype, and a certain frustration as the viewer thinking, “Really? You had to kill HER off over everyone else?!” I’ve heard some brilliantly argued discussions on the topic. But the Kittens became vicious, rampaging onto message boards and name-calling and turning the discussions into hatred-filled forums, killing a lot of the message boards in the process (a few of them were able to reconvene for season 7).

I, too, came under attack by them. In fall 2002, when Buffy was entering its final season, an update of my 1998 book, Bite Me!, was released. The book had originally been released with this odd cover of SMG in a black feather boa and it covered the first two seasons of the episode. We decided to rerelease an updated version of it, complete to the end of season 6, in 2002. (The one that’s now available, “The Chosen Edition,” was released in 2007 with season 7 added into it; until then, season 7 had been available in the back of my Angel guide.) One day I was working at home and I suddenly got a vicious message in my inbox. A Tara Kitten had picked up a copy of my book, and jumped straight to my analysis of “Seeing Red.” In it I bemoaned the death of Tara, talked about how loving and wonderful she was, and analyzed the rest of the episode. What I did not do was vilify Joss Whedon and the other writers. I did not call them a bunch of homophobic heterosexist assholes who created a lesbian character simply to kill her off. And there, apparently, is where I went horribly wrong.

This person went onto the Tara Kitten forums and gave out my personal email address, telling people to attack me en masse and explain that because I am a homophobe myself who is in Joss Whedon’s back pocket (huh?) they needed to write me letters to tell me they most definitely WOULD NOT be buying my book.

So, back to me working at home that afternoon, when I got this email. I opened it, my eyes widened at the cruel invectives being thrown at me, and then two more pieces of mail came in, worse than the first. Then another… and another… and another. I was being attacked, and what shocked me was that these fans were not actually checking out what I’d written; they were going by the misguided statements of someone who told them write me – someone who, by the way, actually told them that in my book I applauded the decision to kill off Tara as something that was much-needed (I implore you to check out that page of my book to see I most certainly did NOT write that). I should have just deleted the messages, but one person seemed more reasonable than the others, and I began a conversation with him (yes, him… the Tara kittens were a diverse group of people that traversed all demographics). We began talking about why they were so upset about what had happened at the end of “Seeing Red.” Of course I was upset – who wouldn’t be? – but how could they charge the writers with homophobia when it was these very same writers who made us love Tara as much as we did? Who had created these two incredible characters who happened to be lesbians (I loved that that was just one part of who they were and not the focal point of who they were) and who made us love them? Who had taken the single biggest fan favourite of the series – Willow – and turned her into a gay character, which was not the plan from the beginning? Why not just grab a side character who didn’t matter as much? Because to Joss and the writers, it was important that they create this relationship from someone we could all identify with, someone we all loved.

And [spoilers for S6 finale: highlight to see what’s ahead]: they showed that Willow loved more intensely than anyone else on the show, that she was so closely tied to Tara that she could almost lose her mind as a result. She would fall so deeply into the abyss without her most precious love, something that not even Buffy, Anya, Spike, or Xander did. The Tara kittens said that was suggesting that lesbians are unstable and mentally ill, that lesbian love is something that is maniacal. I didn’t see that at all; I saw it as a suggestion that this relationship is something that ran so deep and was so attached to the cosmos around them that it could literally crack the world apart if it was torn asunder.

What bothers me about the Tara kitten argument (and they’re free to believe what they want, I don’t want to come off as undermining them) is that they’re saying what the writers did was present that if you’re a lesbian, you’re gonna die. “Tara was the LESBIAN, and she DIED,” they said to me over and over. Funny… I saw Tara as so much more than “The Lesbian.” What people loved about this character and the relationship between her and Willow is that it was normalized: Buffy didn’t introduce the two of them to friends and say, “This is Willow and, um… her, uh… FRIEND… uh… Tara,” before whisper-screaming, “They’re lesbians!!” They sat at the Scooby table with the books the same way Anya and Xander did. They helped raise Dawn like two parents, and Dawn never talked about how awesome it was that her big sister had lesbian friends. Their love just was. LGBT groups praised the show for that very same thing – that their love wasn’t seen as something that was seedy or weird, it was as normal as anything else. They hung out at the Bronze, not at gay bars. Why, in her death, is Tara reduced to just one aspect of her person?

They weren’t just the show’s lesbians. They were Tara and Willow, and all of the Tara-ness and Willow-ness that accompanied that.

Even with the spoiler, I cried and cried about Tara. When I look back on the series and remember Tara and Willow, I remember their love story, I remember their relationship, and I remember Tara’s death. I remember what happened next, and the legacy that is left behind by it all. But I don’t look at her as that “big lesbo” (to quote Cordelia) that was introduced to the series just to be killed off by Warren. That’s not the memory that she left with me or most viewers, I would argue. I remember Tara and Willow as having one of the most beautiful relationships I’ve ever seen on television. Not one of the best gay relationships I’ve ever seen, but the best relationship. And I think what happened at the end of “Seeing Red” shouldn’t wash away everything these characters were before it happened.

I really hope I didn’t offend anyone, and our second contributor will point to an excellent article that argues a different angle of what I just said and does actually take issue with the death, but does so in a very well-thought-out way (if only the discussions post-“Seeing Red” had been along the lines of what she said and not what actually occurred, our chats could have actually gone somewhere).

Now, one last thing before I move on. At the end of season 7, I had the privilege of interviewing David Fury, one of the head writers on the show (who later ended up being a head writer on Lost, penning the stunning “Walkabout” episode). You might remember him as the “They got the mustard out!” guy. He has always been known for his outspokenness, and while I admire him for it, I can also see why a lot of fans were pissed off by comments he made. When he spoke to me over the phone, his comments were completely unbridled. He was funny, opinionated, and when I’d challenge him with various fan responses to things that had happened on Buffy and Angel, he always had a response ready (despite being the guy who created Spike and was the one brought in to write all of Spike’s dialogue for each episode, he still believed people were CRAZY to think Spike and Buffy should have ended up together… I know a lot of Spuffies who would strongly disagree).

I asked him about the death of Tara, and he didn’t tread carefully around the topic at all, but instead talked about why he didn’t regret their decision for an instant:

I think that some of us… see, it’s actually kind of cool to be the one to kill off a character because there’s a real feeling of power, this godlike omnipotence when you can end the life of a character that you’ve lived with for a couple of years who you’ve written and filled in the voice for and know the actors or actresses, and then to be able to end their life and do it in a shocking or moving way, I don’t think anybody resists it, I think we’re often naïve in terms of how it’ll be responded to; you know Joss had decided to kill Tara because he thought it was a story that was right for the story. We knew she was going to die really early on in that season if not before, because we knew that [spoiler] Willow was going to become evil and we knew that was how it would happen would be the death of Tara and yet shortly before we were breaking the story Joss said, “You know, should we really kill her? I don’t know if we should kill her” and began to second-guess himself. And I said, “No! Kill her! We’re all prepared to kill her and so let’s kill her” and that resulted in the backlash and we were all like, “Whoops, sorry.” I mean, we don’t regret having done it; it’s the way things unfold. We don’t sit there going, who does everybody like, who do they not like… if you wanted us to cater to the community at large the show would never have been interesting, it never would have gotten the response it did. The thing is, it served the story well, it was tragic from a story point of view, it was sort of necessary for the time.

I just realized I’ve got tons of this stuff in my old Buffy files. I should have been quoting from it sooner! D’oh. I promise to do more of it in season 7.

But now let’s move on to our other contributors. First up we’re going to discuss “Normal Again,” which is that game-changing episode that still makes some Buffy fans think, “Wait… what if that was actually the only REAL episode of the entire series?!” One of my friends was SO upset by it when it first aired he almost stopped watching, because he was gutted to think that could actually have been real. I, on the other hand, thought that episode was glorious.

So, to discuss it with you is Alyson Buckman, and this is her first time with us for the Rewatch! (A fact that surprised me, and after reading her excellent essay, I wish I could have lured her here sooner!) Alyson is a professor of Humanities at California State University, Sacramento, where she teaches courses in film and American Studies. She is the winner of the Mr. Pointy Award for best published essay of 2010 and has published on Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog as well as The Gilmore Girls, Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, and Octavia Butler. Her most recent essay was in Sexual Rhetoric in the Works of Joss Whedon.

Normal Again
Alyson Buckman

“Who am I kidding? Dates are things normal girls have, girls who have time to think about nail polish and facials. You know what I think about? Ambush tactics. Beheading. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of.” “Halloween,” 2.6

I remember my jaw dropping during “Normal Again.” It was and still is a painful episode to watch. Though, in some hands, the “it was all a dream” maneuver feels cheap (I’m thinking of you, Dallas!) and a betrayal of viewer attachment to the show, here the questioning of the Buffy narrative serves the plot as part of the larger theme of Buffy’s insecurity about her own identity and purpose. By season 6, Buffy had more than earned viewer loyalty and attachment, and, as usual, Joss Whedon sticks a knife into the viewer. Though not the director or writer of this episode, Whedon was, by this time, working on another show that featured a young woman with precarious sanity who eventually would wind up becoming River the Reaver Slayer. Here, the trajectory is reversed: Buffy becomes a hero and dies to save the world – twice! – and then has her sanity questioned. Such questioning, though, is doubly painful for an audience anxious to see a sane, competent, powerful woman in a media landscape that has far too few of these.

Buffy’s been feeling alienated from her reality for a while by the time of “Normal Again,” especially so since she returned from the dead. Buffy’s inability to be just a normal girl has been part of the series from the beginning, however. In season 1, we start with Buffy trying to deny her calling as the chosen one. She rejects Giles’ offer of a book entitled Vampyr and runs away, only to return once a student is killed. The desire to be a “normal girl” is expressed repeatedly and to no avail. One might even see her choice of Riley Finn as a boyfriend as another expression of her desire to be “normal”: other than being one of Maggie Walsh’s super soldier experiment subjects, Riley is about as cornfed Middle American farmboy as one can get.

After her mother’s death, though, Buffy is forced to deal with the “normal” world more and more. She learns how hard it was for her mother to keep the house together in the midst of each monster of the week (or season) and to pay the bills. With her mother gone, it’s up to Buffy to take care of Dawn, the house, and the bills. Even dying – something every “normal” person must do – doesn’t get Buffy a normal (non)existence, and she’s forced to return. In “Once More With Feeling,” she trots out the clichés of the quotidian world, clichés that no longer apply to her: “every day’s a gift; whistle while you work so hard all day to be like other girls, to fit in in this glittering world” though she concludes that “when you vowed you leave the crowd.” Her friends, she complains, don’t understand this. Buffy is left cold after her return, and she desperately needs “something to sing about.” Sleeping with Spike, once her nemesis, is the only way she can feel alive.

By the time we hit episode 17 of season 6, “Normal Again,” poor Buffy has been through the ringer, not only dealing with the trials and tribulations of being the Slayer but also more and more with the pain of real adult living. Although the show always has been metaphorically about fighting the real demons of contemporary life, everyday life is proving tremendously difficult for Buffy at this point: Buffy’s mother is dead, Giles has left to push Buffy towards independence (I know Anthony Stewart Head wanted more time with his family, but it just feels cruel for Giles to abandon Buffy at this point), Willow has hit rock bottom with addiction, Tara has left Willow and moved out, and Xander has left Anya at the altar. Additionally, Buffy’s sister, Dawn, is a kleptomaniac who recently got them all sealed in the house with a demon who wants to kill them. Meanwhile, the Trio keeps getting under Buffy’s skin with their attempts to get the Slayer out of their way.

After a series of comical attempts to get a job, Buffy finally lands one at the Double Meat Palace: one which looks suspiciously like a stint in zombieland. Alas, it is very much a part of the “normal” world. Though a monster does gobble down the occasional employee, the chain itself resists Buffy’s attempt to make it supernatural. Soylent green – or, in this case, the doublemeat patty – is not people but vegetable product with meat flavoring. It is, as Spike states, “a normal job for a normal girl,” but Buffy isn’t normal … yet.

Fighting with a demon called by Andrew, she is injected with a poison that makes her hallucinate. The director, Rick Rosenthal, jump cuts from Buffy being injected with a supernatural stinger to her being injected with a needle in a psychiatric ward: a jarring surprise for both Buffy and for the audience. After the credits, Buffy awakens in Sunnydale. For the rest of the episode, Buffy – and the audience – will cut between these two realities: Sunnydale reality and hospital reality. Often using subjective camera during these jumps, Rosenthal puts the audience into Buffy’s head to experience the conflict that Buffy is feeling. However, we wind up on the opposite side of the conflict from Buffy.

For Buffy, the hospital reality offers some comforting elements unavailable in her reality. Although Willow and Xander are figments of her imagination there, so are the losses she’s felt and the troubles she’s experiencing. Her mother and father are both present and still married in the hospital reality. She is their only child, and they miss her and want her back home. In the hospital reality, Buffy doesn’t have to be strong and save the world. All she has to do is turn her back on Sunnydale – and on the audience. It’s a tempting offer (and it’s so wonderful to see Joyce again!).

The bitter pill of “Normal Again” is its assertion that Buffy has been institutionalized for six years and is not really the “hot chick with superpowers” that we’ve been cheering for all that time (well, now it’s more like fourteen years, but…). By the way, we’re all insane for having believed in her delusion with her. We must ask, “Which reality is an escapist fantasy? The one we escaped into each Tuesday night while Buffy fought her demons or the one in which Buffy is institutionalized and offered a healthy, whole family again?” The doctor asks Buffy, regarding her delusions, “They aren’t as comforting as they once were, are they?” and this is a question for the audience as well. Watching Buffy has gotten harder, too. The doctor tells her: “You used to create these grand villains to battle against, and now what is it? Just ordinary students you went to high school with. No gods or monsters – just three pathetic little men who like to play with toys.” While some have argued that the Trio is Marti Noxon’s answer to nasty fans who questioned her abilities as show runner and producer, this statement by the doctor hits home for the audience as well as for Buffy. Like Buffy, we ask: “What’s more real: a sick girl in an institution or some kind of supergirl, chosen to fight demons and save the world? That’s ridiculous.” Is it a sign of our insanity that we want to believe in the demons and not in the institution, even though the latter is far more plausible?

Buffy comes close to choosing normality over heroism, dragging Willow, Xander, and then Dawn down into the basement in a sequence that just as well might have come from a horror movie with its tight frames and ominous music. She’s about to destroy our world, and, instead of being the hero of it, she’s the villain. Tara comes in and helps the crew fight against the demon which Buffy has released on them in the basement, but Buffy knocks her down the stairs. Crouching under the stairs, Buffy is painfully crossing between institutional reality and Sunnydale reality, and a surprising source helps her to choose: Joyce. Acting every bit the loving mother, Joyce tells Buffy to believe in herself:

“Buffy, Buffy, fight it. You're too good to give in. You can beat this thing. Be strong, baby, okay? I know you're afraid, I know the world feels like a hard place sometimes, but you've got people who love you. Your dad and I -- we have all the faith in the world in you. We'll always be with you. You've got a world of strength in your heart, I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself.”

Rather than drawing Buffy out of Sunnydale and into institutional reality, this speech reaffirms Buffy’s heroism and her faith in herself and her own mind. She chooses Sunnydale and returns to help her friends battle the demon. While, according to commentary, Whedon emphasized to Rodriguez and writer Diego Gutierrez that he didn’t want any bias in narrative or cinematography to tip the balance toward one reality or the other, the cinematography here is similar to that near the end of “Anne,” when Buffy resumes her own identity and calling: the camera tracks in on Buffy at a slightly low angle for the hero shot, and she kicks some demon ass.

Pulling the rug out from under the audience yet again, though, Gutierrez and Rosenthal return to the institution after Buffy saves the day. As the episode comes to a close, Buffy is shown in the corner of the room in the hospital where she crouched during her mother’s speech. The doctor shines a light in Buffy’s eyes and states, “I'm sorry, there's no reaction at all. I'm afraid we've lost her.” By ending there, the episode leaves us uncertain, maintaining the dissonance between institutional reality and Sunnydale reality.

Dallas created an uproar when it brought Bobby Ewing out of the shower to assert that the whole story had been an odd dream. The audience felt that it had been cheated and their narrative investment cheapened. With “Nightmares,” “Hush,” “Restless,” “The Body,” and “Once More With Feeling,” Whedon had already played with the constructedness of Sunnydale and slayer identity and denied the audience a seamless temporary ‘reality.’ Still, audience investment is important to this episode of Buffy as well, and it’s painful to watch and ponder. Had this been the final episode of the series, it may well have angered many fans (more than some already were). Instead, however, the episode gives voice to Buffy’s pain and uncertainty and reverberates for the rest of the season. Though this episode makes it more difficult, we still can choose to believe in Buffy (and grrl power) – just as Buffy does – and reject the assertion that our pleasure is merely delusional escapism.

Thank you, Alyson! Next up is the wonderful Cynthea Masson, who has been with us throughout the rewatch and has written some entries that have really garnered an enthusiastic response among the readers. Just to jog some memories, Cynthea Cynthea is a professor from British Columbia who I first met at Slayage, and one of her many papers, entitled, “‘It’s a Thing We Do’: Crying with Buffy and Angel” is featured in the collection, On the Verge of Tears: Why the Movies, Television, Music, and Literature Make Us Cry. She is also the author of the novel, The Elijah Tree.

“Ain’t Love Grand”: “Entropy” and “Seeing Red”
Cynthea Masson

Tara is dead. Willow is angry. So let me start with a recommendation for supplementary reading that pertains, in particular, to Willow and Tara: Alissa Wilts’s article “Evil, Skanky, and Kinda Gay: Lesbian Images and Issues,” which offers both fan and scholar a detailed discussion of the “Dead-Evil Lesbian Cliché” in Buffy (You will find Wilts’s essay in Buffy Goes Dark: Essays on the Final Two Seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Television, edited by Lynne Y. Edwards, Elizabeth L. Rambo, and James B. South (McFarland, 2009). Though I completely agree with the argument Wilts makes in her thorough and articulate article, my agreement is rational. Yet when I first experienced Tara’s death, my response was not driven by reason or theories of lesbian representation but by raw emotion: No! Tara cannot die! No! In fact, when first watching the series on DVD in 2004 (having never watched it on television during its original run), and knowing in advance (thanks to spoilers I had come across) that Tara dies in Season Six, I had planned to stop watching Buffy at the end of Season Five. After all, I had begun watching the show because of Willow and Tara, so how could I watch it without them? Of course, the plan to stop watching promptly changed when Buffy herself died at the end of Season Five—I was at Costco the next day buying Season Six. Consequently, as I watched Season Six I was anticipating Tara’s death, but I did not expect it right then, not right after Tara and Willow had made up and made love and were standing in the bedroom exchanging small talk rather than fighting evil out in the world.

But Season Six allows little time for happiness for anyone (Scoobie or viewer), and these late Season Six episodes in particular (beginning with “Hell’s Bells” [6.16]) emphasize the breakdowns and breakups of and among various characters. Really, I should have seen Tara’s death coming as an inevitable consequence of the season’s plot progression: someone had to die, and a viable option would be Tara, a secondary character who mattered both to us and to the primary characters on the show. But Tara is vulnerable for yet another reason: at the moment of her death, she is part of a happy couple in the midst of a season where happiness is repeatedly quashed and relationships are inevitably slated for destruction by one means or another.

In “Normal Again” (6.17), Spike accuses Buffy of purposely shunning happiness when he reprimands her for refusing to tell her friends about their relationship: “You’re addicted to misery. That’s why you won’t tell your pals about us. You might actually have to be happy if you did.” In this moment we might agree with Spike’s analysis and even sympathize with him; after all, he has become a worthy ally who appears to love Buffy. Why does she treat him with such disrespect? But our sympathy is thrashed in “Seeing Red” (6.19) when Spike’s obsession for Buffy culminates in attempted rape, and we as viewers are left, even if only in the moment and perhaps subconsciously, with unsettling guilt for having sympathized with and admired a character who is, in essence (and now once again in action), evil. Our allegiance within this couple shifts back to Buffy who poignantly utters, “Ask me again why I could never love you.”

As heinous as Spike’s action is in “Seeing Red,” he does have an excuse: he’s a demon—“an evil soulless thing,” as he tells Anya (“Entropy” 6.18). Moreover, he is a demon constrained by a high-tech leash: “It’s the chip—steel and wires and silicon! It won’t let me be a monster. And I can’t be a man. I’m nothing” (“Seeing Red”). But Xander and Warren do not have such excuses for their behaviour: they are men, not demons. Most notably, however, they are both accused of being boys instead of men. At the end of “Entropy,” Anya rebukes Xander for being “just a scared, insecure little boy!” Similarly, in “Seeing Red,” Buffy chastises Warren: “You’re nothing but a sad little boy.” Arguably Season Six repeatedly focuses on the need to grow up (in relationships and otherwise), to make difficult decisions, and to deal responsibly with the consequences both of one’s own choices and those of others—something at which several of the characters in these two episodes fail tragically.

For example, neither Anya nor Warren make mature choices or deal effectively with consequences—instead, both seek vengeance. (Of course, Willow follows suit in the upcoming episodes.) Anya’s humorous attempt at vengeance is juxtaposed with Warren’s deadly triumph. As is typical in the Whedonverses, we are made to laugh before we are made to cry. In “Entropy,” when Xander (albeit indirectly) admits to Anya that he does not want (and never did want) to get married, she attempts to exact vengeance by wishing his “intestines were tied in knots.” “They are!” claims Xander. When Anya realizes he is speaking figuratively, she utters one of my favourite lines of the series: “Those are metaphor intestines. You’re not in any real pain.” Anya does not cause physical pain with her attempts at vengeance, but Warren certainly does when he shoots both Buffy and, inadvertently, Tara. The Vengeance Demon has failed, but one of the “boys” has succeeded. In Season Six, human vengeance is metaphorically demonic.

Of course Warren’s behaviour causes not only physical trauma but also emotional pain. In particular, like so many others in these relationship-centred episodes, Andrew is left abandoned and, arguably, heartbroken. When speaking of Warren to Jonathan, Andrew laments, “He left me. . . . How could he do this to me? He promised we’d be together, but he was just using me. He never really loved—” (“Seeing Red”). Given his audience, the implied “me” is replaced with “hanging out with us.” But the intent is clear—Andrew feels betrayed emotionally by someone he thought (or hoped) loved him. Anya expresses similar sentiments in her conversation with a stranger about men and relationships: “They say ‘I love you,’ and you think it’s true. . . . You believe they feel the same way about you because that’s the way love’s supposed to be, right?” (“Seeing Red”). Yes, that’s the way love is supposed to be. But love can instead play a number on your metaphor intestines. “Ain’t love grand,” Spike utters cynically (“Seeing Red”). Not here. Not now. Not when actions are vengeful and consequences are tragic. So on the rare occasion when a relationship does work, when (as Tara does at the end of “Entropy”) a person says to another “Can you just be kissing me now?” and the other person responds with a kiss, we need to be aware that such gestures of love are grand and beautiful and, above all, fleeting.

Thank you, Cynthea!

Next week: I finally get my husband to help out with something and he’ll join me to discuss the three-part season 6 ender. Now, if only I could get him to help me with the dishes and vacuuming…

Buffy Rewatch Week 43: Spoiler Forum

As always, here is the place where you can talk about spoilers and not worry about any new viewer seeing them by accident... unlike the spoiler I got about Tara. Sniff.

And MAN was it difficult to talk about the death of Tara without giving away what's about to happen next. I hope I didn't spoil anything (although it was kind of obvious it was coming...)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Once Upon a Time: Pilot

When I was in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago (seriously, I know, I know, I PROMISE I’ll write something about that soon!) I had the fortune of having lunch with the wonderful and amazing Jo Garfein, aka JOpinionated. We were talking about fall shows and what was working for us and what wasn’t, and she said to me, “Wait til you see Once Upon a Time.” It was her favourite show of the season.

I remember when the listings first came out for the fall and I saw not one but TWO new fairytale shows. I’m a sucker for anything fairytale – whether it’s academic discourse on the topic (I took children’s lit courses in university and they were among my favourite courses) or the fairytales themselves (I’ll never forget my daughter’s face the first time we read the end of Rumpelstiltskin) or reading revisionist versions of them (whether dark or parodic), or reading the original dark versions, I LOVE fairytales.

So wow, TWO of them in one season. Last night was the pilot episode of Once Upon a Time, the first of the two (I’m not sure if Grimm started in the U.S. already; it will air on Space and begins this Sunday). And I ADORED IT.

As you know, Chris Doran and I were blogging about Person of Interest. While the show seems to be getting nominally better week after week, it still feels like I’m trying too hard to find something I like about it. Watching a show shouldn’t be work. But I stuck with it because it was JJ Abrams, and aren’t we all out there searching for the next Lost?

Well, this might be closer to it than POI is. And not just because the exec producers are Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, two of the best writers on Lost. On POI, the Lost references were mostly by accident, something we’re forcing onto it (“Oh look, Michael Emerson just pulled a Benry RIGHT THERE!”) But when the clock in Storybrooke was stopped at 8:15, I knew there would be a few nods! Now, I haven’t gone back to the beginning of the episode, so perhaps there were more there that I missed, but here were the three others that I caught:

• The adopted mother’s house number is 108. You’d have to have been blind to have missed that one, since the camera holds on it.
• When Emma wakes up in jail, we have a closeup of her eye opening. If they’d opened the show like that, it would have been cheeseball, but having it happen here – and with the key character – made it a lovely homage.
• And this is my favourite catch, but I was staring at Emma’s license plate, certain that I’d see an 842 or something in there (1516?) that would be an immediate tip-off to Lost. Instead, imagine my delight when I noticed… the Geronimo Jackson bumper sticker! I’m sure someone’s got a screen cap up today, but I was squealing. SO. AWESOME.

But enough about Lost. (Pfft. Like that’ll happen.) The show on its own, minus all Lost legacies, was awesome. I’m a huge fan of Ginnifer Goodwin, and she’s the perfect person to play a storybook character. The episode opened with the story of Snow White, complete with the seven dwarfs all gathered around her glass coffin and Prince Charming swooping in on a horse to awaken her with a kiss and save the day. The story is supposed to end with a wedding, and they’re all supposed to live happily ever after.

Nope. Because the Evil Queen can’t be stopped THAT easily, and she puts a curse on them. Won’t say when it’ll hit, won’t say where, because the fun is in watching them suffer.

Meanwhile, in the “real” world, Emma Swan is a bailbondsperson who is celebrating her birthday, alone (which is how it would seem she spends every birthday) and a little boy shows up on her doorstep and proclaims himself to be the son she abandoned a decade earlier. He says his adopted mother doesn’t love him, that she just wants to have him but doesn’t care about him, and he carries a large storybook with him. He comes from the town of Storybrook Main and begs her to keep him because she’s vitally important. She doesn’t need this, and drives the kid back home. And that’s when the door opens and we see his mother is a modern-day version of the Evil Queen herself.

Back to the storybook, where Snow White is preggers and worried that the curse is going to happen at any minute, and she goes to visit Rumpelstiltskin, who demands to know the name of the child. She tells him it’s Emma – interestingly, the name of our bailbondswoman… could there be a connection?! – and he smiles his devilish smile. For Rumpelstiltskin, names are crucially important.

In the modern story we finally begin to see the equivalents of the fairytale creatures, and Henry (the little boy) tells Emma that the fairytale creatures were sent to live in our world, in Storybrooke, Maine, and that they can’t actually leave the town, but don’t remember they were ever fairytale creatures. He explains that Emma is Snow White’s daughter and that only she can break the curse, and they need her there. She thinks the boy is bonkers (it doesn’t help when his therapist walks up to talk to him in the street – the therapist is a human version of Jiminy Cricket). The fun begins for the viewer, trying to match the modern-day equivalents to the storybook alternate. Snow White is Henry’s kind schoolteacher, and volunteers at a hospital where Prince Charming is on life support in a bed. Little Red Riding Hood and her Granny run a B&B (ha!!) and Rumpelstiltskin is the guy who walks around collecting taxes on everyone in town. He apparently owns all of them – he must have gathered all their names in the other world. Geppetto is a deputy at the sheriff’s office where he laments that he always wanted a son, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Back in fairytale land, Snow White gives birth to Emma and the curse begins to fly quickly across the land, hurtling towards them in a plume of black smoke (I won’t go there on the unintentional Lost reference!) in a beautiful display of special effects. Geppetto and Pinocchio build a wooden wardrobe that will keep one person safe, and as Snow White lies in pain in bed, Prince Charming whisks the baby away and puts her into the wardrobe before he’s seemingly killed by the Evil Queen’s guardsmen. When he opens the wardrobe the baby is gone. The curse is imposed on all of them – that they will be forced to live in the worse place imaginable: our reality.

It’s a brilliant premise, filled with so many possibilities. And how excited was I to see the Tenniel drawing of Alice and the Caterpillar whoosh by as the boy was flipping the pages of his storybook. Will we discover Alice in this world? I certainly hope so.

I’m so excited about this show I can’t wait until next week. What did you think?

"Based on a Play..."

I just saw this a few minutes ago, and thought, "Wait, what?!"

I did some quick searching and it seems news sites are as surprised as I am, and still trying to suss out if this is real or not (I thought he was working on another little thing called The Avengers?). I'm guessing it is... although it just seems too good to be true. (Please be true, please be true!) Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion, AND Tom Lenk? My little Whedony fan heart just burst with happiness.

I think I may need an ambulance... ;)

UPDATE: I just checked Twitter (I mean, if it's there, it MUST be true, right??) and Nathan Fillion is saying it totally is. YAAAAAAAAAY!!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Am I Watching?

I've had so many people ask me what I'm watching this season, and I keep thinking I'll just wait and do a series of blog posts once the season is underway (I'm giving shows 4 or 5 episodes this time around before giving up). But lately, it looks like that blog post might never come. So I'll just put a list here, and something quick, and hope I don't forget anything. What's on my PVR...?

The New Girl: I love Zoe Deschanel. In anything. So of course I was going to tune into this. I've only seen the first couple of episodes, but it's really cute, and she's really cute. So far, it's a keeper (though a friend at work was saying she finds her gorgeousness so distracting that she finds she's staring at her eyes, her hair, her dresses, and realizing she has no idea what just happened in the scene. Ditto).

Person of Interest: Obvs. Still not sure if I'm continuing.

Fringe: Obvs again. I blogged on the first, and then got bogged down in life after that so I haven't had a chance to, but that second episode -- the one where they went over to the other side with the professor who was a serial killer in the alt-world -- was STUNNING. Best episode in a very long time. And the two that followed were really great as well. Anna Torv continues to be a marvel, and John Noble... well, seriously, what can I say? He's marvellous.

Walking Dead: Again with the obvs.

Dexter: This season is uber-creepy, although it's going in an odd religious direction, and I'm still not quite sure where it's going, but I like the tension between Deb and Laguerta, and the intrigue of what's up with Matsuka's intern, and watching Adama berating Tom Hanks' son. It's Dexter; of course I'm there.

Boardwalk Empire: I might soon give up on network television and just switch to anything by AMC, HBO, or Showtime. Because these shows are just leagues above everything else.

Homeland: As I mentioned on my Facebook page a day or two ago, AMAZING. Claire Danes is extraordinary, and the series is gripping from beginning to end each week. Highly, highly recommended.

The Big Bang Theory: Of course. Still love.

Modern Family: Of course. Still love.

Community: Of COURSE. Still adore.

The Office: I just watched the season opener and it was pretty funny, so I really need to catch up on this.

Doctor Who: Just finished S5 and I really need to blog on it soon. On to S6. I'll soon be caught up with all of you, imagine that!!

Terra Nova: This is one that's been building up on the PVR for a few weeks and my husband and I FINALLY sat down to watch it a few days ago, and were pleasantly surprised by it. I showed my 4-year-old son the scene with the little girl feeding the brachiosaurus and I thought his head would explode with glee. Sometimes the SFX are awesome, sometimes they're abysmal, but I've been drawn in and I'm eager to see where it goes.

Breaking Bad: OMFG. But you already knew that.

Ringer: First episode had some of the worst special effects I've seen since 1983. Seriously, that boat scene? I was laughing and laughing (and my poor husband, usually the pessimist of the two of us, kept saying, "Nah, I think it's just the lighting is off?" "No, dear, they are IN A TUB. Seriously, a TUB. That is no more an ocean than the TUB I bathed the kids in earlier tonight.") Second episode a little more intriguing. Haven't watched past that, and honestly, I think I'm only holding on for Sarah Michelle Gellar. But we'll see if it's any better.

The Secret Circle: I watched the first 7 or 8 episodes of The Vampire Diaries and it just didn't do it for me. Everyone at work tells me I was woefully wrong on that one, so I'm giving it another go (and I keep getting stalled but I will persevere...) So I thought I'd check out LJ Smith's other series. I found the first episode to be a little derivative (oh look, one kid lives with Grandma; there's a harbour, they're in high school and have shitty teachers... it's Dawson's Creek with witches!) but the adults intrigued me a lot. Second episode was downhill, and I haven't been able to watch the third. I dunno. Maybe the LJ Smith/Kevin Williamson combo just isn't working for me. Or maybe it's just Williamson; I never did like DC. (Yes, you can throw things at me now.)

The Vampire Diaries: See above.

Up All Night: OK, I lied above when I said I was giving everything 4 or 5 episodes. This one was okay, but never made me laugh out loud. I lasted a couple of episodes and that was it.

The Soup: Might be the best show on television right now. I'm consistently in stitches every time I watch it.

Once Upon a Time: I have it on good authority that this show rocks. And I'm a sucker for fairy tales of any kind.
Grimm: Oh look, another fairytale show! I'm THERE. I might blog on one or both of these. (Grimm begins next Sunday here in Canada.)

One I've missed and have already given up on ever catching:
Revenge: Friends at work tell me it's stellar. I really should have watched this one.

Now, am I really watching this much TV? Well, not really. I've seen the first episode or two of each of these and my PVR is JAMMED right now. I had the entire series of Torchwood on there and deleted ALL of it, just to make room for all of this other stuff. In fact, there may be even more shows I'm forgetting about, and I really need to cut back. So much for my idea that I was going to cut way back on my TV viewing this year and read more. I really need to just cancel the cable and stick to my word. But then... what would I blog about?!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Avengers Trailer + Parody

For everyone following the Buffy Rewatch, here is the little thing Joss Whedon's been working on for the past year. Check out the official trailer...

And THEN... check out the shot-for-shot parody that a few guys did a few days after that trailer hit theatres (then watch the original again, and it's suddenly REALLY hilarious). ;)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Walking Dead 2.1: What Lies Ahead

I’ve really been enjoying collaborating with other great writers on my blog lately, and so when I thought it would be fun to review The Walking Dead, I talked to one of my most ardent posters, Joshua Winstead (aka yourblindspot in the comments), who not only is a fan of the show, but lives in Georgia, the epicenter of the action on the show. He enthusiastically agreed, and so once again I present a back-and-forth conversation on a show! (I’m getting sick of my own viewpoints anyway, so maybe Josh and I will have some knock-down drag-em-out fights over certain scenes… but probably not.) I’ve talked about Josh on here before; he’s the guy who sent me that amazing set of Lost CDs, which became the soundtrack as I wrote my final book in the series. He’s amazing, and tried desperately to get me down to Atlanta to Dragon*Con this year (unfortunately I knew I was going to be in the hospital at the time) but one of these days I will make it there!

So without further ado, on to our discussion of the goriest show on television!!

Nikki: It REALLY is repulsive, don’t you think? I can’t remember the last time I winced or made gagging noises (in an appreciative way) or squealed or covered my eyes so many times in a single episode of television. From the screwdriver in the eye (over and over and over again) to Daryl disemboweling the walker, this episode was gloriously disgusting. What a fantastic return to the show.

The episode opened with Rick talking into his walkie to the guy back home who had lost his wife, hoping that one day he’ll respond. His narration offers a bit of backstory for newcomers to the series and brings us all back up to speed on where they are now. The first season was only six episodes, so if you haven’t seen it, you really should, because hey, it’s not much of a commitment!

When they hit the interstate pileup, my husband and I were chattering aloud at this point (we often stay pretty quiet, so that was unlike us) and he suggested they siphon off some gas from the other cars. I said why don’t they look for a newer motorhome? And we both agreed they should be ransacking the other cars for stuff. So when Lori began expressing her disgust that they were doing these very things, we were both ticked off at her. “It’s called survival, honey. Yeah, why don’t you leave those cans of food for the corpses in the cars. They can totally use them now.” God, when did I become so cold? (I think I’ve been reading too much apocalyptic fiction lately…)

So what were your initial thoughts on this first episode, Joshua?

Joshua: First and foremost, Nikki, I want to say what a great honor it is to be sharing these posts with you. As a regular perpetrator of both the unnecessary adjective and the seemingly endless run-on sentence, I am sure my prose will make the day-job Nikki cringe in terror at least as often as our subject. I can only endeavor not to embarrass you too terribly.

So down to it, then.

Put plainly, I think this was the strongest episode of the series so far. The one thing that 'The Walking Dead' does inarguably well is scare the crap out of you, and the tension in this premiere was almost ceaseless. Pretty amazing, I think, when even the sound of distant church bells carries a foreboding of some unseen horror. Job well done.

And a big vote of confidence for Robert Kirkman, as well. Kirkman is the man responsible for the ongoing comic on which the show is based, author of last season's 'Vatos' episode and one of the regular writers for this year. He is one of two people credited for the premiere, the other of whom is “Ardeth Bey,” actually a pseudonym of dismissed showrunner Frank Darabont (and a reference to Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the title character in 1932's 'The Mummy,' for the cinéastes among us). My understanding is that the 90-minute premiere consists of about fifteen minutes of the originally intended season debut as penned by Darabont, followed by the entirety of the hourlong, Kirkman-scripted second episode. Truth be told, I have little opinion on the circumstances that may or may not have led to Darabont's contentious departure. All I know is that last night was rock solid, and what they're doing is obviously still working, whomever is calling the shots.

If I had to guess, I would say that one of the best sources of on-set continuity in the wake of all that political gunfire has been Greg Nicotero, master zombie wrangler and co-founder of KNB Efx Group, the company who handles all of the makeup effects on the show. These guys are the best of the best, and you've probably seen their work over the years many more times than you realize (i.e., those incredible animatronic buffalo in 'Dances With Wolves' or Dirk Diggler's great big claim to fame in 'Boogie Nights' or – special for you, Nik – the Grindl from 'Xena' s6). Nicotero does most of the 2nd unit directing for the show now, but more important, he supervises all of the awesome gore and makes those zombies look amazing.

And they do look so amazing, don't they? About as close to beautiful as horrible can be. I thought the walker in the RV that Andrea kills with the screwdriver (a nice homage to the original 'Dawn of the Dead') and the one that Daryl and Rick take out in the woods were both particularly awesome. How about that gutting scene, too? Holy cow, man. I can't call it gratuitous, since it plays into the tracking of the little girl so perfectly, but whoa nelly, that's gnarly. Now raise your hand if the first thing you thought of was the shark autopsy in 'Jaws.' And all of you who did so are now my friends for life. (My notes for that moment read, “The shark autopsy. No. Freaking. Way. If he pulls out a license plate, my life will be complete.”)

LOL!! The zombies are truly incredible. Every time we saw a walker up close, I was so entranced by how seamless that makeup was I almost forgot I was supposed to be grossed-out by it. As the army of zombies went by on the interstate, my husband said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to be an extra on this show?” No kidding. Hey, you’re in Georgia… I need you to wrangle your way onto the set as an extra for us!

Oh, those church bells. Creepers! The moment I heard them, for the first time the church bells didn’t feel like salvation, but a gonging noise that’s far too loud and will call the other zombies back to the scene. On the sign outside the church it says, “Revelations 16:13.” So of course, in this age of Google and instant checking of information on laptops, I checked, and it read:

16:13 I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, something like frogs

And sure enough, waiting inside the church were three unclean spirits all right. What a nice touch. What was interesting to me was the way that scene was handled. When they first slaughter the walkers in the church, and then Daryl makes some snide remark to the statue of “J.C.,” I worried this scene would be used for a mocking of religion, but thankfully it didn’t take a side. We see Daryl mock the statue, Carol (the mom) pleads with him to let her baby come home to her, and Rick just talks to Him, asking him for a sign. The rest simply ignore the place, as if it has no meaning for them, and it probably doesn’t. It’s a beautiful reflection on what would happen in that instance: in dire times, some people would cling even more fervently to their religious beliefs, while others would dump them altogether, thinking if there is a God, and He allowed this to happen, He’s not worth worshipping. (And, of course, there would be the many who had no religious beliefs to begin with.) So it was very nicely handled.

Of course, the only downside to that section of the episode was HOW MANY COMMERCIALS we had to sit through! Oh my GOD, it seemed like we’d have three minutes of show, followed by five of commercials. Thank god for PVRs and delayed viewing. (Though I did enjoy that one quick cut right after Shane hotwired that Hyundai, “Brought to you by Hyundai!” I wish they’d added, “When you’re being chased by zombies on the interstate and you’ve decided to leave them all behind, we’re the easiest car to jack!”)

Have you read the graphic novels? Are you finding they’re spoilery or are they very different from the series?

Joshua: Funny you mention zombie casting... When the RV zombie first shows up, I was reminded of something I heard in the first 'Walking Dead' panel at Dragon*Con: as a rule, the Atlanta casting group that rounds up all the potential zombies for the production (, for anyone interested) looks for the skinniest people they can find. Sadly, I think I may be a bit broad-shouldered (yeah, let's say “-shouldered”) to pull off the months-rotted look.

I thought the church scenes were nicely handled also, though I'll admit that my first thought after returning from commercial break directly to Rick's prayer was, “Ok, seriously? We're gonna pray in the chapel again? Already?” As he spoke, however, I remembered how haunted he looked in that first scene when Carol was praying, and I reconsidered, thinking maybe it's really the same prayer, only continued in a different voice. Much more artful than at first glance, and also a good example of the way that premiere-heavy glut of commercials you mentioned can affect the way a broadcast comes across.

With regard to the comic vs. the show: I have read all 89 issues of the comic to date. Though there are certainly events the two variations share with one another, I would say that the differences between them are great enough that both can be enjoyed separately. For example, the surprising events of this episode's cliffhanger also take place at a similar point in the comic's narrative, but the circumstances are so different that when it happened on the show, I was completely taken off guard.

One of the most thrilling aspects of the comic for me as a reader is the idea that truly no one is safe, and I believe this notion has been carried over to the show quite well. There are major characters on the show that are already dead in the comic, others that were created just for television, and upcoming plot points that would be frankly impossible to get past the censors, cable or no. I think it's perfectly safe to read and watch too, but if you want to be left completely unspoiled, better pick one or the other.

Speaking of carry-over from the source, one of the most significant concepts in the 'Walking Dead' universe is that these zombies still possess rudimentary senses. They can see you moving, and they can hear you breathing, and they can smell that you're still alive. But the strongest and most substantial of these rebooted senses is their hearing. I noted that Rick was very careful not to fire a shot in this episode unless absolutely necessary, and that is an enormously important idea that should come into play again and again: no matter what else is happening, be quiet.

Tying into this theme was the introduction of the herd, a term lifted right from the comic and a terrifying prospect. They can number in the hundreds, even thousands. The idea is that one or two zombies start moving, for whatever the reason – maybe it's a noise, a sharp sound heard from across a distance but enough to attract their attention, and they begin walking toward it. More zombies see them, recognize the purpose in what's left of their minds, and like rotted lemmings, they follow. The larger the group gets, the more attractive it becomes to others, and before long you have this enormous mindless horde, silent and shuffling and ceaseless, striving for a goal long since forgotten. And, of course, virtually impassable to survivors. Horrid stuff.

Nikki: Indeed! In the scene where the corpses are lumbering along the interstate, we see the one, and I muttered, “Oh shit.” Then there were two. “Double shit.” And then suddenly 10, 30, 100, 300… they just exponentially grow at such a rapid pace. It’s utterly terrifying.

And SO suspenseful, as you said. So many scenes I’m barely breathing for fear I’m going to scream if I do. Whenever the music gets big, you’re prepared, but it’s in those moments of silence, when the music stops, when everything seems to be fine… and of course that’s when the little girl steps out from under the car and gets caught by a walker. I was freaking out in that scene, and not only does she run away from the interstate, but gets so deep into the woods they can’t find her. My heart went out to the mother in this one, and again, that’s what I was arguing last season in my posts — The Walking Dead is not a zombie show, it’s a very human show about what we do in times like this. How would a mother react? What would you do to save your child? The scene where Carol is being held back when the daughter is running away was so hard for me to watch. I’m sure every mother watching that was wondering if they’d be punching and kicking the person holding them to keep running and follow that girl, zombies be damned.

I also really loved the scene between Dale and Andrea, where he’s looking for gratitude for walking her away from suicide and she’s shocked that he sees it that way; she instead sees it as him taking away her choice of when to die. It could have been quick and virtually painless, or being torn apart by walkers. He’s chosen the latter for her. What a powerful scene, especially when you see how stricken Dale is.

And then, of course… THAT ENDING! Oh. My. God. As viewers, we’re so caught up in the moment of the boy coming close to the deer that you are completely off guard when a bullet suddenly tears a hole in the kid. What a shock that was. Were you shrieking as loudly as I was in that scene?

Joshua: I know! I gasped so hard, it made me lightheaded. It's another of those moments like you mentioned where the show uses silence to such great effect, lulling you into this quiet, gentle encounter with the deer only to jolt you back to reality with the sudden violence of the gunshot. What a poignant way to encapsulate the idea of the “old world” vs the “new world” too, with any instance of peace so fleeting now, if not dangerous outright.

Ditto the kudos to Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, who did a terrific job with this script that served both their characters very well throughout. I love Dale and Andrea, and these two couldn't be more perfect at bringing them to life. That scene by the RV in particular is so raw and well-played, I was having 'Battlestar' flashbacks watching it. And I can't think of a stronger endorsement of the way this season has begun.

Bits & Bobs:

• Speaking of 'Battlestar,' cheers to Bear McCreery, who is doing his usual subtly magnificent work with the score. Let's all cross our fingers they never decide to cut budget here.

• Rick's mention of the whispered CDC secret in his opening walkie monologue was quite the tease, but he's right – as much as I want to know, it really doesn't matter what the guy said.

• It certainly wasn't the biggest or the flashiest, but I thought the most effective gore moment in the episode was T-Dog's forearm gash in the traffic jam, which looked so awful that I immediately took it to be fatal and was amazed when he survived to the end of the episode.

• I think the buzzing drone of the insects of Georgia summertime deserve their own character credit. That is not heavy-handed foley work, folks – that is the real deal.

• Post-shark autopsy, did anyone else find themselves saying, “How much woodchuck upchuck would a zombie upchuck...”?

• Nice to see Rick's wife Lori finally given a little more depth in the scene between she, Andrea and Carol at the end. And I never would have thought to find Daryl one of the more compelling parts of this show, but he had me glued to the screen in this ep, and I love where we seem to be going with his character.

Well, that's all I've got, Miss Stafford. Thanks so much again for inviting me to over to play! It's been a pleasure hacking this episode into little pieces with you. With such a strong start to the season, I can't wait to see what the rest of the year will bring.