Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Buffy Rewatch: Week 48

7.10 Bring on the Night
7.11 Showtime
7.12 Potential

Follow along in Bite Me!, pp.

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

4.10 Awakening
4.11 Soulless
4.12 Calvary

Follow along in Once Bitten, pp.

We move to the middle of the season this week with the arrival of new Potentials (who range from okay to positively GRATING), the return of Giles, Buffy’s showdown with the ubervamp (even knowing the real name, I never got used to calling it the Turok’han), Drusilla (!!!), Andrew finally being untied, our Slayer’s new post as General Buffy, and, of course, that speech.

I remember the first time I saw each season, when it aired on TV. Xander was that character who was goofy and loving, but he had moments where you just wanted to hit him. Hard. As I’ve said countless times, he’s the heart of the group, and he wears that heart on his sleeve, so it’s always there when people need him, but he’s going to express himself even when you wish he’d just shut up. He was always there to remind Buffy that she was dating soulless creatures, and he never said these things kindly. Xander always knew how to go right for the gut, and to say the thing you didn’t want to hear.

In “The Zeppo,” we saw him as the group’s outsider, the guy looking in who wasn’t actually a part of the group (Willow could do magic, Buffy was the Slayer, Giles was the research, Oz was the muscle, and Xander was… the other guy). Throughout this rewatch there have been moments where once again I could feel my blood boil and I just shouted, “Shut UP Xander!” but I’ve always defended him. Even when he was telling Buffy to kick Angel’s ass. Even when he was confronting her in front of everyone in “Dead Man’s Party.” Even when he left Anya at the altar. Because Xander did all of those things for love. And there’s always been a small part of him that’s been a little bit jealous and upset that he would never step up. He can drywall them into oblivion, as he put it once, but he’ll never save the world.

Of course, in saying that, he seems to forget a certain yellow crayon speech at the end of season 6.

Seven years, Dawn. Working with the slayer. Seeing my friends get more and more powerful. A witch. A demon. Hell, I could fit Oz in my shaving kit, but come a full moon, he had a wolfy mojo not to be messed with. Powerful. All of them. And I'm the guy who fixes the windows.

I always forgive Xander because I know this speech is coming. Oh, how I love it. We’ve all been there, watching someone else in the spotlight while we stand in the shadows. And you can respond with jealousy or hostility, or you can be proud of them while knowing that you were a part of it, and that you were still essential. Watching it this time, I began crying when he wandered over to Dawn and began talking to her, and I continued throughout the scene.

They'll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn't chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody's watching me. I saw you last night. I see you working here today. You're not special. You're extraordinary.

So are you, Xander. So are you.

Now, once again, to shed some light on what it was like watching these episodes the first time they aired (for all of you who watched it on DVD or are watching it for the first time now), there was one thing that was beginning to overshadow everything at this point: Giles. You all saw that axe about to come down on his neck, right? And then… he just… shows up here in Sunnydale? All hands in pockets and not giving Buffy giant bear hugs and acting kinda distant? Sound anything like a certain First that he himself describes to Buffy?

It can change form. It only appears in the guise of someone who's passed away… 
Also it's not corporeal. It can't touch or fight on its own. It only works through those it manipulates.


This week we are once again joined by Jennifer K. Stuller, author of Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors, a look at the modern-day superwoman. Take it away, Jennifer!

Bring on the Night, Showtime, Potential
“It’s almost like this metaphor for womanhood, isn’t it?”

I have to admit I’ve fallen behind in the rewatch. Like, way behind. As many of you know, I’ve been involved with GeekGirlCon – an all-volunteer, grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating female fandom as well as creating networking and mentorship opportunities for girls and women in pop culture industries and STEM professions. We recently successfully orchestrated our inaugural annual convention – an event that featured many fabulous guests and panelists including Whedonistas Jane Espenson and Nancy Holder. We also hosted an evening performance of Whedonesque Burlesque .

All in all, the programming was diverse with sessions on crafting, coding, creating community, comics and more. But I wanted to share with you all one complaint we received – a complaint that was self-conscious enough to note it was from an attendee most likely in the minority.

We were too Joss Whedon-focused in our programming.

I thought that’d make you laugh. As programming director for the con, I found this particularly amusing (especially as conversations about Star Wars were much more prevalent – nerds). But a staff member pointed out you really can’t have a conversation about genre that doesn’t include Whedon. From horror to science fiction to superheroes, film, television, webisodes, and comics – Our Mr. Whedon is there.

But back to the girl who saves the world a lot – and the people she’s going to save it with.

I was glad when Nikki reminded me of my commitment to this week’s entry – though this is more of an emotional recap than a smarty-pants one. When I sat down to rewatch the episodes I was surprised by just how much I liked them. No . . . that’s not quite it. I’ve always felt that season seven had narrative ups and downs – leading to one helluva major up. But it was only in this particular rewatch that I found myself moved to tears. During each episode. Repeatedly.

One could claim my weeping was merely a symptom of some fluctuating hormones and that perhaps said hormones intensified the feelings. (Also, I am naturally the type of person who cries at Kodak commercials. Yep.) But in this rewatch of “Bring on the Night,” “Showtime”, and “Potential”, I could really feel that these episodes were both the beginning stages of this television series’ final glorious embodiment of Whedon’s proclaimed mission statement, “the joy of female power: having it, sharing it, using it,” – as well as a nod back to the beginning of the show and what it means to be a female hero. The addition of the potential slayers and the destruction of the Watcher’s Council show that Whedon not only rewrote the hero myth, but through Buffy, continually evolves the Slayer myth itself.

And I think it’s only in having written my book about the journey of the female hero, and in talking with audiences over the past few years about women and heroism, specifically, about women mentoring women, women creating community – and sharing our power – that these episodes could be so resonant for me.

In particular, Buffy’s lessons and motivational speeches – which I remembered as being increasingly tedious (and are commented on as such in one or two future episodes) – were especially poignant, moving and meaningful.

“I'm beyond tired. I'm beyond scared. I'm standing on the mouth of hell, and it's going to swallow me whole. And it'll choke on me. We're not ready? They're not ready. They think we're gonna wait for the end to come, like we always do. I'm done waiting. They want an apocalypse? Oh, we'll give 'em one. Anyone else who wants to run... do it now. Because we just became an army. [Cue sobs - JKS] We just declared war. From now on we won't just face our worst fears, we will seek them out. We will find them and cut out their hearts one by one until the First shows itself for what it really is. And I'll kill it myself. There's only one thing on this earth more powerful than evil. And that's us.”

It’s a theme that’s been revisited throughout the series, and as Beth Rambo cited in her recent recap the mission statement intentionally came full circle in the final season. We see this particularly in “Showtime.” Buffy welcomes Rona to the Hellmouth, alluding to Buffy’s own beginnings in Sunnydale and the title of the series premiere. She instills confidence in the girls by example – and proves to them that the Turok-Han is indeed just ash.

I can’t wait for rewatch newbies to get to the end – but a warning, if you’re anything like me, keep a box of tissues close.

Personal highlights from these three episodes include:

Dawn and Anya enabling each other’s torture-lite of Andrew; the uber-nerdiness of Andrew (and Xander); pretty much everything Anya says; Giles’ brown corduroy coat; ethnic diversity – finally; watching the Potentials watch Buffy get the shit kicked out of her, fight back – with skill – and prevail (it’s what we’ve been watching her do for 7 years); the super-hot spark between Buffy and Spike; the juxtaposition of Buffy’s speech to the Potentials in the crypt and Dawn’s own skill in fighting a vamp in the school lab – Dawn has learned more from Buffy than she realizes; and yes, Xander’s speech.

Thank you, Jennifer!

Next week: Beth Rambo, our resident season 7 expert, returns to cover the next three episodes for us:
7.13 The Killer in Me
7.14 First Date
7.15 Get It Done

And if you’re watching Angel, it’s time for a Buffy crossover episode!!
4.13 Salvage
4.14 Release
4.15 Orpheus

Be sure to check out Alexis Denisof checking her out. ;)

Buffy Rewatch Week 48: Spoiler Forum

And once again here we are to discuss spoilers on Buffy and Angel. Not that there are many left in either one! (Though we do have another full season of Angel left.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Walking Dead Ep 7: Pretty Much Dead Already

Before we start this week’s entry, my Walking Dead writing partner has been looking up some great zombie-themed Christmas ideas for the walker lover in all of you. Next week we’ll be posting some of those little treats for y’all. Until then, it’s time for the last episode until February…

Nikki: I can’t help it. I have to begin with the end of this episode. How can I begin to describe my reaction? After listening to Shane’s big speech about no longer seeing these zombies as people, but things – dangerous things that can kill you – he throws open the doors to the barn and begins shooting at them as they wander out into the daylight. Hershel looks on, horrified, but in most shows there would be a specifically big moment where his wife wandered out, he’d yell, “NOOO!” and Shane would turn, have a moment of looking him in the eye, and then turn back to finish the job. But that didn’t happen. Each walker was like the last, and each “kill” was as painful as the one before it. So for me, I kept thinking how awful it must be for Hershel to watch this, because he knew these people (he knew the ones down by the river, and no doubt knew many of the others in the barn, too). But I couldn’t imagine how he must have felt, because to me, they were just things, too. Just like they were to Shane.

And then… there was one more. I said to my husband, “It must be Hershel’s wife. This is where he’s going to fight Shane.” “No, it’s a little girl, I think,” said my husband. “Ah, it must be the stepson, remember he mentioned the stepson?” And then the camera panned out.

I literally dropped my pen into my lap and slapped my hand over my mouth and whisper-screamed, “Oh my god it’s Sophia!” and without any warning, I began crying. It was such an instant and unexpected reaction to this scene, but with everything Shane had just said about these walkers being things and not people, coupled with Carol’s scream (which echoed mine), and Sophia walking out slowly, quietly, yet with purpose, I couldn’t help it. The little girl was dead. I had flashes in my head of what she must have gone through, how she would have been alone in the woods, scared for her life as the walkers descended on her and mangled her little body. How she’s been trapped in that barn for days, with people continuing to risk their lives for her.

But mostly, I screamed because I still had hope. Unlike Carol, unlike Shane, I was like Carl and Daryl – I had hope. I really wanted her to be alive. SO much. And you know how the other walkers have those blank, evil, nasty stares? Her eyes looked beautiful. They weren’t just white and milky, but ethereal and shining. She was still a lovely little girl, even as a walker. Was I just seeing her the way Carol was?

And of course it was Rick who would pull that trigger. After all his talk and bluster, after getting everyone else on board, Shane just stood there, numb and in shock. Rick was the one who had to shake himself out of his stupor, walk down that path, grab the gun and kill the creature that was once Sophia. He still feels responsible for having left her by that tree, and he feels like he has to be the one to end things for her. Just as Andrea killed the walker that used to be her sister, Rick takes out Sophia. And with that bullet, so much hope died.

It was extraordinary storytelling, putting us in Hershel’s shoes, then in Shane’s, where no matter what side you were on before, you were probably in agreement with him when you saw those things walk out of the barn… and then putting you right back in the shoes of the person who still sees them as people. Devastating, heartbreaking, and extraordinary television.

Josh: Well, because I missed watching live last night, I finished the episode mere moments before sitting down to type these words, and I'm typing clumsily because my hands are still shaking. The entire final act, from the moment Shane first strode up to the farmhouse porch, was spectacularly intense and a perfect example of why my wife won't watch this show with me. And also why, despite its faults, I so enjoy it.

When I wrote that something big was needed to wrap up the story of the search for Sophia, this was not at all what I had in mind. Fortunately, it's much better than anything I had in mind. And when I say 'better,' of course, what I mean is better for the show. For our cast of survivors? Worse. Much, much worse. I'm with you, Nikki, in that I did not see that coming at all. ['THE WALKING DEAD' COMIC SPOILER ALERT] And perhaps I should have done so, but this is another of those cases when my having read the source material serves to heighten my experience rather than hinder it, since the comics are at ninety issues and counting now, and Sophia is alive and well. Bless their hearts for confounding my expectations, too, because it gutted me when she shuffled out of that barn.[END SPOILER]

Now that Sophia's story has ended, my mind reels with possibilities for what happens next. The issue of whether or not the group stays at Hershel's farm would hold a lot more significance for me if I thought they were half as sheltered as they all seem to believe. And after firing roughly two hundred rounds in the barnyard (what happened to quiet weapons? ammo conservation?), every walker in a fifty mile radius is bound to be headed their way. Is this the end of their safe haven? What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: The discussion my husband and I had immediately following the episode was, did Hershel and his family KNOW that little girl was Sophia? How many little girls could there have been within those woods? They knew that Daryl and Shane and Andrea were out there day after day risking life and limb for that little girl, and they didn’t think to mention, “Oh, she MIGHT actually be undead.” My husband thinks they knew, and I’m desperately trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, there was a clip of the next episode (coming in FEBRUARY… wah) shown during Hell on Wheels that raised that very issue. At this point, the survivors will be lucky if Hershel doesn’t walk into that house, throw his bible in the garbage and turn on all of them with a gun.

My worry is, he’s going to walk in that house and turn a gun on himself.

I’m really hoping that the events of the end of the episode will actually force them off the farm and back into the world, because then the story will pick up again. I was chatting with a work colleague at lunch today about it and he said he’d been ready to give up, and said, “That episode where Daryl was walking through the woods… how long was that script? A page?! ‘Man walks through forest for 20 minutes. Sees spectre of dead brother. Walks back.’” I know a lot of fans were feeling that way, and while this season seemed to be an extended version of My Dinner with Andre and featured more existentialist conversation than zombie-stompin’, I think the end of it was (thankfully) a pay-off. The conversation mostly revolved around the idea of should we stay or should we go? Is Sophia alive or is she dead? You had those who were insisting on staying – Rick, Lori, Carl, Glenn, Carol, Daryl (how have I never noticed their names rhyme before now?) – and those who were insisting on going – namely Shane, with Andrea backing him. T-Dog's been mostly a background character with no dialogue all season; Dale’s always against Shane but it’s not clear he wants to stay on the farm, either.

So after all that talk, it all came down to that moment, and felt worth it. But they really, REALLY need to move on and make things interesting again, or I’m not sure how many people will be sticking around for S3.

Josh: Sadly true. And gee, that's almost all there is to talk about, isn't it? We're concise today, dude! High five!

There were two more quick things I wanted to mention. First, if it turns out Hershel knew that the girl they were searching for was likely the same one he had in the barn, then he's a dead man – Daryl will slit his throat while he sleeps, and that will be that. Second, I really hope they don't kill Shane at the end of this season like I think they will, because this loose cannon stuff is awesome. He's so unhinged at this point that whatever happens moving forward will just feel like marking time until he snaps.

Any final words, Nikki, as we move into the midseason break?

Nikki: Good final thoughts! I kind of agree on Shane… I can’t stand the guy, but he certainly adds a lot of tension in every scene he’s in. Part of me really wants Zombie Otis to come back and feed on him, though. Walker karma.

Speaking of karma, I did have one last thing I wanted to talk about, and it was regarding the use of religion on this show, especially in Hershel and earlier in the season when they were in the church. I was recently having a discussion with a friend of mine. I identify as Christian (I know that makes me a minority in the community of reasonable-thinking people) and this person used to be, but is now a devout atheist. He said he thought the church scene was the most ridiculous thing in the world. “Seriously,” he said, “if people honestly still think there’s a God after the world has turned to shit and their friends and family have become zombies, then they’re more fucked up than they were to begin with.” (Okay, so this person wasn't exactly sympathetic to anyone's faith in the room at the time... hahaha!) He thought it was bad storytelling. I, on the other hand, said I thought they’d handled that scene beautifully (and I think I commented on it at the time): In a time when nothing makes sense, people turn to faith and God often in desperation. They pray because it’s the one thing they know. They believe that if nothing else will get them out of this, maybe God will. I don’t go to church or talk about my beliefs (since most of the people I know are atheists or agnostics anyway) but I know that when something happens to one of my kids, I’m sitting in the emergency room thinking, “Please please please let them be OK…” I’ll pray to just about anything at that point. And so will a lot of other people. But also in that scene you had the atheists who just didn't give the cross a second thought. And you had those like Rick who hadn't really thought about it in a long time, but now began to pray.

And, as my friend suggested, I think there would also be a lot of people who had faith before the apocalypse, and would think exactly what he suggested -- I don't believe there could be a God if He allowed this to happen.

As this episode implies, when you have time to stop running from the walkers and think things through, maybe the Bible just isn’t effective anymore. It was written in a time when walkers weren’t in the world, when you weren’t running for your life from demons. New religions will no doubt crop up to take the place of whatever religion doesn’t work anymore. That said, I found it interesting that Hershel was reading Luke 8, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly what section he was reading, Luke 8:26. When you see what it is, you realize the faint hope he was holding onto so desperately, praying to God that maybe this one story just might be true…

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Once Upon a Time Ep 5: That Still Small Voice

Or should this episode be called… the return of the Apollo bar! Oh, how I love these little nods to Lost. ;)

“You are who you are and there’s no changing it, right?”

This week’s episode was written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Jane Espenson, and there was some dialogue that was so typical of her brilliance. Tonight we focus on Jiminy Cricket, and finding out how he became a cricket, and a conscience. From the time he was a young lad, Jiminy – who was raised as a pickpocket and a thief by his two uncouth gypsy parents – longed to be good. We see him stealing for them, while asking repeatedly why they can’t try to go another way. Despite being the voice of reason in their small group, his pleas simply don’t reach his parents. Where he was a good conscience for Pinocchio, he failed miserably as a conscience for his parents. But that’s because he felt helpless under their control. As he grew, his misery grew also as he continued to do bad things for them (and for Rumpelstiltskin, to whom they were clearly “pawning” their things for gold thread). He longed for his freedom, and was willing to destroy them as his final bad act before becoming good. But when something terrible happens, Jiminy finds another way to escape: he becomes a cricket.

Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Mary continues to get to know John Doe, Emma becomes Deputy, and when there’s a sinkhole near an abandoned mine, the town goes nuts. The Mayor decides she’s sick of being the bad guy, and she threatens Archie Hopper that if he doesn’t convince her son once and for all that the fairytale theory is just a theory, she’ll ruin him. “I will cut you down to size until you’re a tiny shrunken creature and THIS [holds up umbrella] will be the only roof over your damn head… You take that delusion out of my son’s head and you will CRUSH it…” Archie goes against his conscience (for the second time – recall back in episode 2 he called the cops and said Emma stole his files because the Mayor asked him to) and tells Henry that he’s crazy and if he doesn’t stop this foolishness, he’ll end up in a psych ward. Henry, devastated that Archie would say this to him, decides to prove himself and heads down into the mine, putting his life (and Archie’s, when Archie follows him) in danger. Henry is convinced something is important down in those mines, and the reason they collapsed is because Emma showed up and the mines are trying to alert them to something.

In several scenes reminiscent of Jack and Charlie being trapped in the cave in “The Moth,” Archie talks to Henry while they sit in the mineshaft, and realizes that maybe Henry’s not completely crazy, and Henry realizes Archie is sympathetic to him. Archie doesn’t believe that he was Jiminy Cricket, but he’s like Jiminy in that he really wanted to be a certain person, and needs to work hard to stay on that path.

In the lovely ending to this episode, Archie and Henry are saved by Emma (I seriously thought Archie was going down with the mineshaft and was SO happy when he was holding on by his umbrella!), while we see how Jiminy was turned into a cricket so he could become the conscience to the little boy whose parents Jiminy had wronged: Geppetto. Tears!!

Highlight: The parents telling Jiminy he needs to stay with him by convincing him how old and infirm they are. Dad: “I’ve got lumps in strange places.” Mom: “I’ve got burning sensations.” Hahaha…

Did You Notice?:
• In the little puppet show at the beginning, the woman says, “I wish… I wish… but nothing changes. I wish I was better at wishing!” The puppet show not only anticipates Jiminy’s wish at the end, but that Geppetto’s parents will be turned into wooden marionettes themselves.
• The Mayor!! I was so glad to see Harry Groener as Jiminy’s parents.
• The first time Geppetto shows up at the traveling show and talks to Jiminy, he says, “Puppets! What a great job you have!” We can already see why he would grow up to make little wooden creatures.
• John Doe and Mary play Hangman… the first time they had a conversation, Snow White was hanging from a tree in a net.
• The floor of Rumpelstiltskin’s place is an outline of a spinning wheel.
• The moment Rumpelstiltskin gave Jiminy the potion, I wrote in my notes, “Are his parents the two little dolls in Mr. Gold’s pawn shop?” I KNEW those dolls would turn out to be something, as I mentioned in my previous post!
• I love the special effects on this show. It’s everything Lost didn’t have.

Ruby Red:
I’m noticing there is a LOT of red in this show. I noticed it in the very first episode, but it was only because of the distinct lack of red on Snow’s lips (which in the fairytale were described as blood-red) and I realized that despite Snow’s lips not being red, the colour is certainly prevalent everywhere else. In this episode:
• Emma dissuades the sheriff from making her take off her rust-red coat
• Kathryn makes cranberry muffins (and the towel on top is red).
• At the rescue scene, both the fire truck and the tow truck are red.
• Ruby. She’s always dressed in scarlet red.
• The Mayor’s lipstick is always a burgundy colour.
• Jiminy’s vest.
• The blood on his forehead.

When You Wish Upon a Star:
I’ve said in the past that there are star references in every episode, and this one was no exception:
• Obviously, Jiminy wishes upon a star at the very end.
• Emma, the person who the star is usually associated with, is handed a star badge to designate her as deputy.

Any Questions?:
• If Rumpelstiltskin can spin straw into gold, why does he need people to steal things for him?
• Was Pinocchio really a wooden marionette that Geppetto made, or did Rumpelstiltskin turn a little boy into a marionette, and Geppetto loved him enough to turn him back into a little boy?
• How did Rumpelstiltskin become Rumpelstiltskin? That’s the story I’m looking forward to. And word on the street has it, we’ll see it soon.
• What’s with the flask party at the mineshaft? Does everyone in Storybrooke carry a flask of alcohol with them? (Except for Ruby, of course, who just has a beer bottle handy.)
• What is at the bottom of that mineshaft? Was it the Queen’s Mirror? Was it part of Snow’s castle? Is it possible there are remnants of the fairy-tale world under Storybrooke?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Walking Dead S2 Ep 6: Secrets

Welcome to another week of zombie talk! I’m your host, Nikki “Zombie” Stafford, here with my co-host, Josh “Walker” Winstead. Before we go further, I wanted to recommend a Twitter feed a friend of mine started; it’s @SheldonFunk, and he’s a recently-made zombie who tweets about his new experiences inside an undead body.

But on to the episode. I’d like to focus on Dale for a minute. I’ve liked his relationship with Andrea from the beginning – he’s very much a father figure to her and has always treated her like his daughter (he treated her sister like one, too, before she died). In this week’s episode he opens up to Lori that he and his wife tried to have kids, but she miscarried and it wasn’t to be. Andrea seems to be filling that void for him. But this week when he realized (instantly) that Andrea had been fooling around with Shane (it’s about time – THAT was a pairing that seemed inevitable) he immediately threatened Shane and suggested he high-tail his ass outta there. For a moment it felt like Dale was actually in love with Andrea, and jealous of Shane, but upon further thought I think he was just acting like a domineering dad again. You’re no good for my girl, so get away from her. Is that how you took it, Josh?

Meanwhile, Glenn spills the beans to Dale (“The boy has no guile,” says Dale later) and Dale immediately goes to Hershel to confront him on the undead family reunion happening inside the barn. It takes a lot of guts to do that, given the fact that Hershel’s farm has given everyone a safe haven and Dale risks losing that by ticking Hershel off, but Dale handles the moment very responsibly, asking Hersh if he’s really thought about what those people have become. The revelation that I anticipated last week – that they’re not zombies to Hershel, but his wife and stepson – explains why there’s a hue of sadness around Hershel all the time. Dale tries to reason with him, but backs away when he knows it’s time. I wonder who Hershel is going to tell, and when.

Joshua: Well, it's the week of our national day of Thanksgiving here in the States, the time when we all gather together with family and friends to reflect on the year's many blessings and gorge ourselves on hobbled chicken and barn mice. Or turkey and stuffing, if you prefer. And speaking of stuffing, this week's episode of The Walking Dead was likewise packed solid with content as all sorts of pieces slide into position for whatever deadly conflict our survivors will find themselves combating in this Sunday's mid-season finale.

These poor bastards, man. Have you noticed how no one gets to have a casual conversation on this show? There was a lot of big consequential discussion happening this week, most of which centered around Dale turning into Perry Mason and either knowing, learning or figuring out most everything that's going on with everyone. Honestly, I half expected him to pop his head into Daryl's recovery tent at some point and say, “Did I ever tell you I used to hear voices in my head?”

I agree with you, Nikki, in that Dale's intent with his harsh comments to Shane was more fatherly than anything, but I also think he's a bit conflicted about his feelings towards Andrea, too. It will certainly be interesting to see how it resolves itself, but one thing's absolute: for a pretty insightful guy, Dale can be really dumb, dude. I don't know a lot about bears, but I know better than to poke my fingers through the bars of the cage, you know?

Nikki: Perhaps the walkers in the barn will be having Thanksgiving dinner, too. And it’ll taste remarkably like DALE.

And now for my weekly nitpick. Isn’t ammo a little precious at this point? Too precious to be shooting wildly at absolutely everything and wasting dozens and dozens of bullets? I know everyone has to practice, but it seemed like they were just shootin’ for the sake of shootin’ at some points. And speaking of which, WHERE are the walkers? Before, they couldn’t even whisper-scream, “Sophia!” in the woods without fear of walkers showing up, and yet here they are shooting and shooting and SHOOTING rather loudly… and nothing comes. In previous scenes, someone drops a thumbtack and hundreds of walkers descend on them, so I couldn’t figure out how exactly there isn’t a single one for miles around (the sound of gunshots can travel for miles). No wonder everyone is desperate to stay on the property. It’s like there an invisible bubble surrounding it.

So what did you make of Lori finally (FINALLY) telling Rick the truth, and his reaction to it?

Josh: Lori's confession to Rick went exactly as I thought it would, with Rick obviously uncomfortable but totally reasonable about the matter. We found out from Dale that her indiscretions with Shane weren't the common knowledge in quarry camp that we believed them to be. Good on Lori, though, for coughing it up regardless. Too bad it took a botched secret abortion attempt to wring it out of her, but at least it's out in the open. And now we can get down to the really interesting part – Rick vs. Shane, mano y mano. I'm thinking a cage match suspended hayloft-high over the barn floor would be perfect. But Otis' wife gets to break one of Shane's legs first, just to be fair.

I'm glad you brought up gun training. It has been well over a year since I read the earliest issues of the comic, but if I am remembering correctly, gun training was the reason the group had to leave the quarry in the first place, as the sounds of their gunfire attracted so many walkers that they could no longer stay. Surely ammo must be a concern as well, but in the grand scheme of things, a few extra rounds is worth how many more will be saved with accurate shooting in the long run, not to mention how many lives it might save. It would be hard to overestimate the value of something that stands so firmly between life and death for these folks.

So the downside to gun training is that it's very noisy and somewhat wasteful of a valuable resource. The upside, particularly for the audience, is watching everyone turn into badasses. I can't deny the vicarious action-movie thrill I felt when Andrea finally mellowed out, settled into the groove, and started wailing on dead guys' noggins. And I'd say that Andrea couldn't deny the thrill she felt, either, the little minx. That package-grabbing Come Hither in the car with Shane? That's post-apocalypse forward, right there. [And would also have been the perfect moment to cue up The Pretenders' “Middle of the Road,” but alas, no.]

Watching the suburban story of Shane and Andrea play out over the course of this episode, I couldn't help but think how complex it was beneath the surface, how many different psychological dynamics were at play, how multilayered each piece of the conversation seemed to be. This kind of deep, well-informed meditation is one of my favorite parts of the show, and I think the writers do a good job of bringing these issues into play without overdoing it.

Another good example from this episode was the conversation between Glenn and Lori after he returned from his eventful drugstore run. The group as a whole feels very fractured right now to me, with even the continued search for Sophia not much of a team effort. Last week's dinner scene may have been the first time all season that everyone's been in the same place at once, and we saw how lighthearted and comfortable that turned out. The only way to pull the group back together into something resembling a team is to stop thinking of themselves as individuals. Glenn's entreaty that Lori not make her decision alone was as honest and unselfish as anything I've seen anyone say on this show and a great example of the kind of attitude that will save their lives on a daily basis.

Nikki: Agreed. Glenn might have no guile, according to Dale, but he’s got a lot of heart. The abortion issue is interesting because it seems to be something that everyone has an opinion on. I’m sure people at home got fired up watching this, whether they agreed with what Lori is doing (it’s her body, after all, and the rest of them don’t have to carry a baby to full term while outrunning walkers, getting no sleep, and being constantly hungry and/or nauseous) or disagreed with it (shouldn’t Rick or Shane get a say in the matter? What about the group morale, the fact that they’re all in this together? Haven’t they proven to her that they’d work this all out together?) The writers certainly dig up enough fodder for both sides, with Lori confused and scared, Maggie self-righteous and angry, Rick baffled and worried, Dale reassuring and anecdotal, and Glenn trying to be the unsure voice of reason.

Glenn has really come a long way. I know we talked about him last week, but this week, as you say, he delivers that great line to Lori. When we first saw him in season 1, he was the voice on the other end of the walkie calling Rick an asshole or something (if I recall correctly) and quickly racing through the streets of Atlanta, saving Rick’s butt. He draped decomposing body parts on himself and shuffled through the streets, and in that scene he looked absolutely terrified, a big difference from that first appearance. There has always been fear in Glenn, but there’s usually some pretty quick-thinking in there, too. The zombie attack in the pharmacy this week showed us more of that first-season Glenn again. He’s scared, yes – he was probably frightened out of his mind when he was talking in the walkie to Rick, to be honest – but he’s quick to the draw, immediately pulling one of the boards off the shelf, running at the walker, and beating the undead crap out of it to save Maggie’s life. (There was much cheering on our couch in that scene. Well, between the, “Ugh… oh, EWWW… gaaahhh… okay, tell me when he’s stopped crunching its face in…”) It was a poignant scene, actually, because maybe when faced with a walker that’s about to eat her, Maggie might be forced to stop thinking of the creatures in the barn as “Mom” and “Big brother.”

Josh: You bet – or else, right? I also thought Glenn's stuff this week was awesome. (In fact, at one point in my notes I may have written, “Can I be in love with Glenn, too?” Maybe.) He comes across as such an unlikely survivor and serves as a great everyman for the audience, sort of an embodiment of the idea that we never truly know what we are capable of until extenuating circumstances bring our limits to the fore. The relationship with Maggie has been so sweet and well-handled so far, and I hate to think how he'd take it should anything happen to her. Here's hoping we don't ever have to find out.

Bits & Bobs:

• “You're pregnant. You need vitamins, medicine, a nice pillow...”

• LOVE Carl in the hat. Really hope that lasts.

• Rick's new non-cop shirt looks exactly like his old uniform shirt this week, only with stripes.

• For whatever reason, when Lori approached Hershel at the fence, I was sure she was going to tell him about the pregnancy until he completely threw her off balance by telling her he expected them to leave when Carl had recovered. Anyone else?

• Using that raggedy axe with the duct-taped handle is the most dangerous thing I've seen Glenn do yet. Looks slightly safer than streaking through the barn smothered in fresh brains.

• “What do you call 'em?” “Mom.” Ooh, burn!

• I know it's just an aesthetic thing, but a post-apocalyptic landscape and a Hyundai are a lousy match. So thanks, product placement, for ruining my suspension of disbelief. (Also, I hope we aren't expected to believe that car's back seat is big enough to accommodate sex, even if it is just the angry, cursory been-capping-zombies-and-kinda-need-to-hump-now variety.)

Well, folks, that's all I have for this week. The holiday special we promised you guys will have to wait for next week's big midseason finale edition, as familial obligations have us both stretched too thin this week to get it together. I've found some awesome stuff, though, so as you begin your shopping blitzkrieg this weekend, be sure to save out a few bucks for jerky and gigantic knives, and come join us then!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 47

7.7 Conversations with Dead People
7.8 Sleeper
7.9 Never Leave Me

Follow along in Bite Me!, 326-334.

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

4.7 Apocalypse, Nowish
4.8 Habeas Corpses
4.9 Long Day’s Journey

Follow along in Once Bitten, pp. 259-265.

Or maybe you won’t be able to read the pages in Once Bitten because your eyes are bleeding from the sight of Connor and Cordelia together. (I STILL don’t think I’ve gotten over that. Blecccchhhh.) We’ve finally seen The Beast on Angel and, funny story (only in retrospect), I met the Beast, Vladimir Kulich, in 2003, I think it was. I was at some fan gathering and he was wandering around, and I was back in another section and suddenly he came up behind me and said, “Well, hello there, would you like to take a picture with me?” completely out of the blue. And his voice sounds EXACTLY like The Beast. I think I first peed my pants, then turned around to see him, and looked up, up, WAY up (my first Friendly Giant reference!) and saw him. We took the picture (my scanner isn’t working and I only have it in print – remember the days before digital cameras?!) and I think I look like I’m going to cry in the photo. Scariest celeb picture ever. Then I had to go change my pants. (But seriously, he was actually a very nice guy.)

But now over to S7 of Buffy, where the Big Bad has been revealed to us finally, and… it’s one we encountered before. Buffy says she knows who the Bringers are, and who the First is, and we saw all of this back in the season 3 episode, “Amends.” If you’ll recall, back then Angel was visited by ghosts of people he’d killed, and he went up on the hill to kill himself when the daylight would come, but Buffy talked him out of it before a miracle occurred and the sun didn’t show its face. That was the First playing with Angel’s head, and it’s waited four long years to return and play with Buffy’s. And Spike’s. And Andrew’s, Willow’s, and Dawn’s.

Now, let’s look at Dawn first. In “Conversations with Dead People” (one of my all-time favourite episodes) we see a new side to Dawn, a backbone and bravery and fierce courage in the face of blinding terror. That flash of white-eyed Joyce reaching out her arm to Dawn while being held down on the couch by a crazy-scary human-sized charred Gollum-type figure sends a chill down my spine worse than just about anything in the series. I think it’s actually scarier than the Gentleman going by the window just as Olivia’s looking outside in “Hush.” But Dawn doesn’t flinch. She develops a communication system with Joyce (knock once for yes, twice for no, another scene that freaks me out completely), does a magic spell, and doesn’t stop even when she’s being slashed to bits, like a little version of Willow from “Bargaining.” Was the final image of Joyce the real Joyce shining through the darkness, or was it the First playing with Dawnie’s head?

The big problem people have with this episode is that Cassie appears to Willow instead of Tara. Just like the death of Tara, it truly divided fans who said it wouldn’t have worked if Tara had shown up because that would have been far too painful vs. those who said they wished Amber had been available to have shot this episode. And even that matter has fans divided among those who declare that Amber says she refused to play the part and turned down the opportunity to those who said she was actually in a play in London at the time and was unavailable. I tried to track down the truth and David Fury, one of the writers on the show, told me point blank she was unavailable, as did Jane Espenson, another writer on the show (read my episode guide entry for this episode to see her explanation of how Marti Noxon had to entirely rewrite the scene for Cassie and taking out Tara). I also spoke to someone representing Amber at the time, who confirmed that Amber had been busy at the time and unavailable and she would have loved to have returned to Buffy. But others say they’ve seen Amber at conventions and she’s said she simply refused. Maybe she’s just being swept up in the fan fervor, or maybe she’s telling the truth. Goodness knows, and in the end, it doesn’t much matter. Personally, I think it would have been more effective to have had Tara there. I find it baffling when people say it would have been too painful – right, and having young Dawn see her dead mother being strangled on the couch was all sunshine and puppy dogs? No, it was horrifying, and that’s why it worked.

But I think the writers did a good job of convincing us Cassie was the person to appear, and Alyson Hannigan is downright extraordinary in the scenes with her. When she looks up, with tears tumbling down her cheeks and tries talking to “Tara,” who she believes is in the room with her, my heart is breaking. I love Alyson Hannigan on How I Met Your Mother but I truly hope she finds a great dramatic acting gig after that show is done. She’s astounding.

Bibs and Bobs:
• The guy playing Holden will appear on Angel next season as a scientist.
• Do the Summers women really like Spanish music? In S5, Buffy is washing dishes in “Listening to Fear” and she flips on some sort of salsa music really loudly, and the moment she turns on the radio it’s on that station. In this episode, Dawnie turns on the radio and it’s on that station. An interesting choice.
• Buffy: “I commit! I’m committed. I’m a committee.” Hahaha!

“Conversations with Dead People” is the ultimate “going back to the beginning episode. Through the First’s manipulations, we revisit the deaths of Cassie, Tara, and Joyce, as well as Jonathan’s experiences in high school (the guy who took a rifle into the clock tower to commit suicide misses high school?!), Spike’s previous bad boy persona, and Buffy’s entire psychological trajectory throughout the season. It’s a shame that Xander is absent from the episode, but it would have been one too many people.

Pay close attention to the opening song of the episode, which is sung by Angie Hart of Frente! fame, and was written by Hart and Joss Whedon for the ep. One of the best scholarly papers I’ve ever heard was delivered in Arkansas in 2008 by Rhonda Wilcox, where she deconstructed the song line by line and talked about how perfect it was in light of season 7. Unfortunately I couldn’t find that paper published anywhere, but Rhonda, if you’re reading this and you did get it published, please let us know where we can find it! It was brilliant. The last word of the song is “alone,” and the idea of doing things alone versus being part of a group will become a key factor in S7.

Speaking of music, how awesome is Aimee Mann at the Bronze? Totally unfazed in a dazzling striped suit. It reminded me of a friend of mine, who is the lead singer of a prominent band who had a big Billboard hit (and they appeared on SNL) and she and her husband are HUGE fans of Buffy, and I remember the time she was telling me all about how she practically begged to be on the show, but her band was simply too big and Joss wanted to promote independent talent. Dammit. (Her band’s album became a focal point of an episode of True Blood instead.)

Sleeper looks at Spike’s personal hell and how he’s being driven mad by one particular song:
Early one morning, just as the sun was rising,
I heard a young maid sing in the valley below.
Oh, don't deceive me, Oh never leave me.
How could you use a poor maiden so?

Why that song? Maybe the First is Canadian (Canadians know that song as the theme song for the children's show, "The Friendly Giant" -- second reference!!) which would be consistent with the Lost idea that Canadians are evil. But as for the song, stay tuned… you’ll find out. Needless to say, the song is enough to trigger the big bad in him, and turn him into the soulless demon he once was, pre-chip, pre–Buffy lust. Can he fight the anger within? Angel loses his soul when he gets a big happy, and he can’t be easily turned back. Spike’s evil turns on and off, and they need to get to the bottom of that switch.

But someone who WANTS to be evil and isn’t is Andrew. As the member of the Troika whose name NO ONE can remember (“whatshisname” makes me laugh every time), he’s now back and will be funnier in every episode he’s in. The death of Jonathan was really sad for me, as we see how far he’d come from the scared unhappy nerd in the clock tower, but now Andrew (“THAT’LL DO PIG!!!!” hahahahahaha) is the last one of his gang. Will the others let him survive?

All I can say is, I hope Anya and Xander are heading up all future interrogations.

Meanwhile, over in merry olde England, the Watcher’s Council got blowed up real good. But can I just take this moment to mention once again how useless I’ve always thought the WC was? There’s one girl in all the world, and her name is Buffy. Well, and Faith. And the WC seems to know absolutely nothing about either of them. They’re not in contact with Buffy, nor have they done a thing to get Faith out of prison. So… if their job is to watch the Slayer, and they have no contact with them, what exactly are they doing? Researching apocalyptic events? That’s all well and good, but if they don’t pass their findings on TO THE SLAYER it’s not a lot of good, now, is it? Frankly, I remember watching them go boom at the time and thinking, “Oh well…” And I still feel that way.

But… Giles…

This week’s guest is my coworker (our desks are right next to each other) and fellow companion guide writer, and we’ve edited each other’s writing before. It’s the lovely Crissy Calhoun! Her first book was on Gossip Girl but she’s since moved into the vampiric realm with me and has written books on The Vampire Diaries. Her book, Love You To Death was a hit with fans, so much so that she released a book on the second season a couple of months ago. If you are a TVD fan (and I will be soon… no really, Crissy, I WILL get those season 1 DVDs back to you soon!) you can follow her weekly recaps at Vampire-Diaries.net, and follow her on Twitter here.

Take it away, Crissy!

Here we go.

Rather unintentionally, I’ve landed on a trio of episodes that form a turning point in the final season of Buffy: the Big Bad makes its presence known and Buffy figures out that it’s in fact the Biggest Bad, Spike comes to realize just how many layers there are in the blooming onion of his identity crisis (in large part brought on by the First), and thanks to an impromptu therapy session in a cemetery, Buffy takes one step closer to understanding the complex complexities that drive her — and ultimately guide her as she takes on the First.

To begin at the beginning, “Conversations with Dead People” opens with a montage set to “Blue” (a song so perfect for the episode you’d think it was written just for it . . . oh wait, it was) and we see Buffy on patrol, like we’ve seen her a hundred times before, alone in the cemetery — alone among the dead and undead. It’s the perfect visual to set up the coming dissection of her personality with Holden: as the slayer she is isolated, there’s only one of her (“pretty much”), and in some ways she is superior to her friends. She has superhuman strength and a calling; just watch her slay those two Bringers in “Never Leave Me” and it’s doubtless than Buffy is far better than your average badass, she’s an epic heroine. But coupled with that superiority complex is her feeling that she’s much, much worse — not only for believing that she’s better than her loved ones but for, as Buffy says, “what I’ve let myself become,” the darkness and pain that fuel her (as Spike figures out). The disconnect between her identity as slayer and as human being, between being moral and needing to kill and inflict pain on a daily basis has been part of Buffy’s struggle since the beginning, but post–death and resurrection, the darkness has amped up. It means that now more than ever Buffy is alone.

“Conversations…” features all of our characters in isolation, and for Dawnie, the fun and freedom of being a teenager home alone — pizza, dance parties, trying on your sister’s clothes, playing with her crossbow… — twists into the absolute horror of having no one there for you. The haunting absence of her mother, which the Summers girls live with daily, becomes nightmarish as Joyce reappears on the couch where she died (and with the creepiest creeper creeping on her). Just as “Blue” is used to create mood and set up the theme in the opening and close of the episode, we hear the most menacing salsa in the history of television, as the First haunts Dawn. In fact, all three of these episodes have great Buffy music moments: Spike’s trigger is the lilting song “Early One Morning” that takes on a sinister edge, and in what is my favorite Bronze performance scene ever, Aimee Mann’s “Pavlov’s Bell” is interrupted as the vampire Spike sired falls from the balcony and dusts on the ground. “I hate playing vampire towns.”

As with the music, so with the comedy: it all comes together to create that quintessential Buffy tone that’s often imitated, never duplicated. Part of that comes with the strength of six seasons and trust that the audience gets it. Andrew (Tyler’s brother) is a prime example of that, giving us the lightest comic touches with a dark edge. He adopts Spike’s look after killing Jonathan but can’t kill the little piggie. The butcher mocks his “Neo” look. And in a classic scene, Willow and Andrew have a standoff in the alley, threatening each other; it’s hilarious, but actually they are both murderers.

And there we come back around to the difference between “bad people” and “people who do bad things.” Why doesn’t Buffy kill Spike like any other murderous vampire? Why don’t the Scoobies judge Buffy for violence she’s perpetrated? Why is Willow allowed to go unpunished?

Penance. As Buffy tells Spike in that brilliant scene in the basement in “Never Leave Me,” she saw his penance, she saw him face the monster inside and fight back. Between the chip, the soul, and the song, Spike’s been having a rough go of it, unable to sort out how much of a baddie he is. He’s been controlled by the First, made into a murderous puppet, but even as he seems to be breaking free of that by the end of “Never Leave Me” he knows what he, alone, is capable of. He chillingly reminds Buffy of what kind of a vampire he’s been, taking pleasure in violence and in his victims’ pain. But she won’t stop him: she believes in him, and he can stop himself. Wresting control away from the First, breaking free from the psychological manipulation and influence, and becoming more man than monster is the battle Buffy wants Spike to fight and win. In a lot of ways, it’s exactly what she needs to do herself.

For me, the Spike/Buffy “I believe in you” dynamic is an interesting one to watch in light of this season of The Vampire Diaries, where we have a bad/gone good/gone bad again vampire that will at some point have to wrestle with an existence post–killing rampage and a heroine whose belief in him as someone innately good could easily fall into the realm of lady-writing-love-letters-to-a-jailed-serial-killer. But Buffy’s belief in Spike isn’t reckless (she chains him up, after all); it’s believable. How do you give up on someone when you know their potential?

The fight to be “masters of our fate, captains of our souls” — as Quentin Travers so sagely quotes to Lydia before being blown to smithereens — is hard enough without the First Evil’s diabolical plans, but it’s the struggle at the heart of this trio of episodes and, arguably, season 7 as a whole.

Thank you, Crissy!

Next week: Jennifer K. Stuller is back to guest host, and you’ll find out the reason why I ♥♥♥ Xander so much.

7.10 Bring on the Night
7.11 Showtime
7.12 Potential

And if you’re watching Angel, enjoy the return of one of my favourite Whedonverse characters!

4.10 Awakening
4.11 Soulless
4.12 Calvary

See you next week!

Buffy Rewatch Week 47: Spoiler Forum

And here's the place where we can talk spoiler-free about what the implications were of the First's hauntings in "Conversations with Dead People" and what Spike will ultimately mean to Buffy (and everyone) in the finale. Sigh. No fear of spoilage here, so talk away!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fringe: The Season So Far…

So, here’s what I don’t like about Fringe being on Friday nights: it’s on Friday nights. And apparently I always seem to be busy/out/going away for the weekend and I never watch it on Friday night, but days later, sometimes weeks later, and therefore it’s not worth blogging about by the time I get to it. (Yet when I look back, I can’t name one place I’ve been to on a Friday night so I have no idea why I never seem to be in. Maybe I’m just going to sleep at 8 or something.)

But it’s really worth talking about, because Fringe has been truly fantastic this season. The best sci-fi is the stuff that has heart. You can have plots that revolve around fringe science or transporter beams or experiments gone awry and you can get as technical and scientific as you want, but if the show doesn’t contain real characters with real emotions, it’s not going to truly pull in the audience.

This season on Fringe, Peter was missing for the first part of it, since he’d been erased from the memories and lives of the characters we thought we knew. The writers cheated a bit, having the Observers say he never existed at the end of season 3 (leading to a unanimous chorus of “WHAAAAA?!” from the audience) and having them alter that at the beginning of season 4, saying instead that they don’t remember him having been there. In a poignant scene, Broyles comments that people can leave imprints on the souls of others, suggesting that the universe can try to remove Peter from everyone’s lives, but he’s made such an imprint on them they can never truly forget him. Olivia begins having dreams about him, and Walter covers every reflective surface in his house, convinced he is seeing a strange man who’s trying to talk to him. He’s part of them, and can’t completely disappear.

But now Peter’s back, and he’s convinced these aren’t actually the people he knew and loved. These aren’t just those people with different lives; this is an alternate universe. Going back to Hugh Everett III’s Many Worlds theory, in this case these people chose to live a life without Peter (or had that choice taken from them) and a new universe opened where they would live their lives without him, while the other one – the one Peter knows and remembers – was happening simultaneously. Peter is now trying to figure out a way to get over to THAT world and leave this broken one behind. In this world we’re starting to root for Lincoln and Olivia to get together. In this world Nina was a surrogate mom for Olivia (but seems to still be evil by the end of this week’s episode!) In this world Walter is an agoraphobic who never had Peter with him to bring him out of his shell.

In this world, they have a link to the other world. But even IT is different than the alternate world we know from the other timeline. In this world, Walternate hates Walter because he took his son and caused his death, not because he knows Walter has Peter out there somewhere. Alt-Olivia is still pretty much the same as the one we know, with the same swagger and attitude, but we’ve only seen her once or twice in the season. Most of the action’s been over on this side.

In this week’s episode, Peter smiles as Lincoln tells him what Olivia means to him. Peter is happy for them, not jealous that this woman doesn’t remember him, because he’s convinced this is a different woman than the one he knows. Is he right? Or is this the same world, where things ended up different? Does he have a place in any universe at the moment?

The weekly stories, too, have shown a lot of heart. I've been brought to tears several times this season, including this week's "Wallflower" episode. We see “Eugene” (named coldly after the unique genetic code he possessed, hence the u-gene moniker), a man who was born so sensitive to light that he was invisible, and who was raised in labs where scientists tried to harness what was wrong with him. (An invisible man?! Just THINK what the military would give for THIS technology!) But as he says to Olivia, “I’ve spent my life watching other people live theirs.” His life has been robbed, and all he wanted was so simple – to be seen. In a world where so many people hang their heads or put on sunglasses and hats and wear blacks and greys to blend in, this one man realized the importance of being seen, of being noticed (see Buffy S1 episode, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”). He longed for the woman in the elevator to notice him, and was killing people just to get the pigmentation from them that would allow him to be seen for a few moments every morning, by her. When she finally turns around and tells him that she noticed him all along, and introduces herself to him, he calls it the most beautiful day. And then she leaves, and he dies. Happy.

The second episode of the season featured the two worlds, where a serial killer in one world was eluding the police, so they pulled in his alt-world counterpart, a professor who was fascinated with serial killers. They pulled him over to look at the man’s house, but when he saw one of his own childhood photos hanging there, he went completely mental. He eventually came face to face with his counterpart, and saw where a few different choices in his life could have led him. It was a terrific episode, and once again made us look into ourselves. What moments in our lives – possibly ones that seemed insignificant to us at the time – were the ones that truly shaped who we are? (See Doctor Who S4 episode, “Turn Left.”)

These characters have been through hell, have been used and abused, don’t know who to trust, and are trying to change a world that constantly seems against them. But they find joy in that world, and do the best they can with it, and look for the colour and beauty that’s out there. In previous seasons we’ve seen many sunny days, but this season tends to be dark and colourless, as if suggesting that without Peter, that’s what the world has become.

This season has seen superb performances from its cast. Joshua Jackson is as good as he’s ever been, and Seth Gabel is amazing. I’ve loved him since Dirty Sexy Money, and even I’m rooting for him and Olivia to get together. Jasika Nicole continues to be one of my favourite characters as the sweet-natured Astrid, putting up with Walter with a kind-hearted affection yet professionalism.

However, the true tour de force performances have been from John Noble and Anna Torv. As Walter, Noble has played him as a crazy genius with a penchant for sweets and an immense love for his son. As this season’s Walter, he still loves his sweets, still taunts Astrid (he doesn’t have the closeness to her that seasons 2 & 3 Walter did), but he’s afraid of the man claiming to be his son, and is forever haunted by the fact that he didn’t just lose one, but two Peters. He’s played Walternate as haughty and conniving, and he’s played him as utterly broken. Anna Torv has played Olivia, Alt-Olivia, Alt-Olivia pretending to be Olivia, Olivia pretending to be Alt-Olivia, Olivia channeling Leonard Nimoy, and now this universe’s Olivia (and even this universe’s Alt-Olivia, which had subtle differences from the other). She’s extraordinary, and I wish more people were watching the show just so they could see her.

Yes, Fringe is better than ever. Are you watching?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hell on Wheels Ep 2: Immortal Mathematics

Well, I don’t know about you, but I thought this episode took the threads from the first episode and really wove them into something compelling. And I don’t know what it is about me these days, but I felt like I was seeing Lost references all over the place. From Bohannon digging the nail out of the wood with his fingers (Richard Alpert doing it in the brig of the ship in “Ab Aeterno”) to Lily giving herself stitches (making Jack look like a complete wuss when Kate gave him the stitches in the pilot), I really felt like I was having a tough time “letting go.” ;)

But I’ll let you have the first go this time, Chris!

Chris: I must be losing it. During the scene where Bohannon pries the nail loose from the floorboards, I was thinking “now, what does this put me in mind of?” I completely missed the “Ab Aeterno” reference! Watching Lily stitch herself up reminded me immediately of Sylvester Stallone doing the same in the initial Rambo film, First Blood. That scene stays with me to this day. Speaking of Lily, whom I barely mentioned last week, Dominique McElligott is quietly creating a credible and engaging character — this week with little or no dialogue at all. Her fever dream sequence was absolutely beautiful to watch and I felt that her scenes by the river did more to invest us in Lily than the dialogue from brief exchanges with her late husband last week.

In fact, I feel that the second installment of Hell On Wheels does an excellent job overall in drawing us into this world. The opening sequence with the photographer at the massacre site is vivid and realistic. Colm Meaney’s darkly comedic pragmatism contrasted well with the mortification of the photographer. Of course Meaney’s opportunistic Doc Durant would view the grisly scene as an excellent way to garner more government support for his investment by proving the need for federal troops to protect settlers and laborers from Indian hordes. All this as he never loses sight of the most important element of this unfortunate incident — the missing surveyors’ maps. Human lives, even that of a missing and presumed kidnapped Lily, pale by comparison to the value of those maps to Durant’s entire mission.

As we see, Bohannon and Durant have more than a little in common; a cold-blooded pursuit of their objectives, consequences be damned. Bohannon, lured in for questioning about the murdered foreman Daniel Johnson, spends much of the episode showing us just how resourceful he can be when his survival is at stake. Under threat of hanging, he desperately plots his escape from imprisonment in the railroad boxcar. We feel that his honor, however tarnished, will keep him from turning Common’s freed slave Elam in to save his own skin. We’re not sure, however, and Bohannon is quick to point out to Elam that he’ll take his chances should the two be cast in opposition to one another. Once escaped, his brief scene with Tom Noonan’s Reverend Cole tells us what drives him relentlessly forward — a belief that he is beyond redemption. This makes him a dangerous man to reckon with, and more than a match for Durant’s ruthless tyrant.

But all is not grim in this installment! ”How do you put on your trousers, son?” Can I tell you how many times I’ve used this line in the last three days?? Meaney finds a wonderful balance in this episode between Durant’s villainous and humorous sides and rebounds well from the more two-dimensional presentation in the pilot. I’m warming quickly to these characters the more I see — and that’s to say nothing of the series’ newest addition, The Swede! I’ll let you have first crack at HIM, Nikki. What did you think of Christopher Hyerdahl’s introduction this week?

Nikki: The Swede might be my favourite character on any show this season. From the moment we’re introduced to him – “They call me the Swede. I’m Norwegian” – to his sneer as Bohannon smugly walks by him, the Swede is a character who is there as an absolute danger to everyone around him. In a land of lawlessness, he’s the one trying to invoke some iron-fisted order. We see in him the beginning of organized crime in America (the way he demands cash of the Irishmen in return for “protecting” them… against himself, of course). His tall body, gaunt face and jet black hair that encircles his face create the look of a menacing enemy, one who at once terrified me and thrilled me every time he was on screen. About three-quarters of the way through the episode, I found myself almost rooting for this guy. I certainly didn’t want him to die, but I figured if they were going to go to such lengths to create such a formidable foe, he was going to be sticking around. ;)

But he’s not a one-note character, either. We get his complete backstory as he sits and taunts Bohannon by eating in front of him (a big mistake, turns out) and tells him about his time in a prison camp and the monster it turned him into. He, too, was once held against his will, was someone who was just an accountant, but he adapted to his situation, and through Darwinian law, has found himself at the top by changing his ways and placing himself there. It’s a great story arc already, and we’ve only known the guy for a single episode.

The Swede is a reminder that America was a cultural melting pot right from the beginning. Aside from the Native Americans we’ve seen Irish, British, Scottish, Scandinavian, Mexican, and African. Some of these people were brought to America against their will, but they’re American now and that’s how they’ll stay.

I definitely echo your sentiments about how much better this episode was than last week. They took the threads that we discovered last week and wove them into a much richer story than we started with. I love Lily’s character – the woman STITCHED HER OWN CHEST for god’s sakes – and I think she will be the one forced to become a very strong, tough, independent woman in the face of what’s happened to her. I very much look forward to her arc. Bohannon has aligned himself with Elam by keeping his mouth shut when the Swede was looking for a scapegoat, and it’ll be interesting to see what develops between them.

What did you think of the minister? Last week he was portrayed as being more shallow – someone who Christianized a native-American without a second thought, who sets up camp in the “red light district” last week in order to save everyone, who just looked like an annoying preacher that could be used to show the evils of orthodox religion. But this week they made him far more sympathetic as he keeps the Swede at bay, helping Bohannon and even begging with him to repent. (Ah, there’s the other Lost reference! I knew there were three: he asks Bohannon what he’ll say to God on Judgment Day, and Bohannon says something like, “I’ll say I did the best I could in a bad time,” which reminded me of Mr. Eko saying he did the best he could with the life he was given.) Did you think the preacher was more developed this week than last?

Chris: Oh, absolutely. I don’t know how much may have transpired between the time the pilot was written and shot and when the series was green-lit and in production for this and subsequent episodes, but there is marked development in almost every facet of the show since the very interesting but slightly disjointed first installment. Tom Noonan’s Reverend Cole did initially come across as a standard righteous missionary but here shows us a very different side. His response to Bohannon’s “best I could in a bad time” line hints at his own past: “Now see, I understand that … better than you know. But, it won’t be good enough for Him.” We see how deeply he feels his calling to bring others to salvation as he understands it. But, he may have found his own repentance after living a lifestyle he is all too eager to renounce. I look forward to learning more of his backstory and seeing him connect with Bohannon in weeks to come.

I completely agree with you that The Swede is one of the more interesting characters to come on the scene in quite some time. He is iron-willed yet not above true sentimentality at seeing the Magic Lantern Show. His history at Andersonville, the most notorious of Civil War prison camps, reveals itself in the haunted look he gives Bohannon during their scene in the boxcar. Most of the characters we meet in this series are scarred by their past in some way, and it shows in the desperate way they seem to fling themselves headlong down this iron road towards the prospect of a brighter future. Elam, Bohannon, Lily, Reverend Cole and even Durant are urgently moving forward, fleeing their old lives and reinventing themselves on the way to a new one. This is potent stuff for a primetime cable drama and I’m eager to see how the episodes to come deliver on this promising beginning.

I can’t wrap up without a nod to the production values in this episode. The camera work, lighting effects, sets, costumes and props are all stellar and contribute mightily to our ability to enter this world fully. The bodies on the wagon at the massacre site, the shot of the boxcar at early dawn as Elam steals away, the mud-splattered tents, the camera shots from under and between the railroad cars, Lily’s blood-streaked clothes, the long sweeping shots of the landscape … together make a rich tableau and are a feast for the imagination.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. Can’t wait for the next installment, Nik!

Nikki: Agreed. As usual, AMC has pulled out all the stops for this one. And by creating these rich backstories for the characters, there’s a possibility we may see some flashbacks, and be taken back to the moments where their lives changed. As you mentioned at the top, Lily’s hallucination was beautifully done, and really put us in her state of mind, longing for the beloved husband she’s just lost. But she’s refusing to give up, as are all of these people. These are strong-willed people with purpose and determination.

I shall see you next week!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Walking Dead Ep 5: Chupacabra

Welcome back to another week of The Walking Dead. I talked to some friends who thought this season was ho-hum (and I will admit, it feels a little more stagnant than last season, where we were all over the place) but this episode had an ending that shocked both my husband and I!

But first, I feel like being nitpicky again. (Tis my nature with this show, it seems!) I was unhappy with the depiction of women in this episode. I didn’t really notice how unhappy I was until the scene where Andrea is standing on top of the RV holding a gun. Dale asks her what’s up with the Annie Oakley look, and she says she got tired of doing laundry and decided to do this for a change. Good for her… except the writers apparently want the women doing laundry or, if they’re Lori and Carol, cooking dinner for the men in the kitchen. Because the moment Andrea needs to step up to the plate, she makes a stupid move to try to impress everyone and almost gets Daryl killed. Moral of the story? Women belong in the kitchen, where they can cook meals (oh, and clean up afterwards… did you notice any men cleaning up? Neither did I…). On top of that, you’ve got Glenn saying to Dale that he thinks all the women are having their periods lately (well, except for the one who’s gotten knocked up, natch) because of how testy they are. Right. Because the men have been models of sensibility and calm. And if that weren’t enough, you’ve got Rick and Shane walking through the woods comparing sexual conquests.

It’s like the script was written by a 16-year-old boy. Who’s never talked to a female. And it’s 1952.

So yeah. I was annoyed. I expect better writing than this. It’s one thing to write this sort of stuff as a commentary, but it was written as if it’s the way things should be. Heaven forbid you put a gun in the hands of a stupid possibly menstruating lady. God knows WHAT she’ll do with that!

Josh: Wow, Nikki. Were you on your period while you were watching this? Because it sort of sounds like oh I can't even keep a straight face, never mind.

The degree to which this week's episode set feminism back was less clear to this male viewer, but I can certainly see your point. The script is credited to David Leslie Johnson, who also wrote screenplays for the movies 'Orphan' and 'Red Riding Hood' in the last couple of years, so maybe he thinks of all women as either sexually warped homicidal dwarves or werewolf bait. At any rate, I am definitely ready for a tough, capable female character on this show. And I promise she's coming. With pets.

In the meantime, we get Andrea swinging like a saloon door (I said 'saloon,' not 'salon,' so stop throwing things at me), Carol fluctuating between quiet misery and quiet judgment, and Lori doing... whatever it is Lori does. Being inspiring? Holding hands? I don't know. (Oh, wait – cooking and laundry! Now I remember.)

Not that anyone but Daryl did much of anything in this episode, anyway. But what Daryl did was electrifying yet again as this continues to be very much his season, to the degree that I am beginning to wonder if the writing staff shouldn't just lump the entirety of the comic's characters and plot lines and go completely off on their own. It seems that those are the only stories that have been getting them excited, anyway, and I can't deny that Daryl Being Daryl and What Shane Did have far and away been the most compelling parts of this season to watch. Everything else is beginning to feel like clumsy padding.

Nikki: Jeez, did you not take your… um… testosterone thing with … the … OK, like seriously why isn’t there an equivalent to “Are you on your period?” that we can use with men? I guess women are just a lot classier than that. Or maybe we’re too busy putting away the laundry. Sigh.

OK, let’s move on to happier topics! Like the arrow in the eye socket or the impaling the zombie skull on the shoreline! Every week there’s a toe-curling moment, and this was it. I looked away as I’ve been doing, it was just SO gross (with sound effects) but I really did like it. The violence in this show is so cartoony that we’re always making gagging noises while laughing our heads off. Daryl, as you say, was the highlight of the episode (aside from the ending). We see Merle appear to him the way Taller Ghost Walt appeared to John Locke when he was at his low point, but where Walt urged Locke to get up, Merle practically kicks his brother off the hill. Despite the whole Andrea snafu, I did like the idea that all of them thought Daryl was a walker when he lurched into the camp. Daryl’s had a vision of Merle telling him that no one thinks he’s much of anything compared to Rick and Shane, and I really liked that scene where Carol came in and told him he was as good as either of them. It was a little pat (how could she have known that he was having a crisis of conscience based on that very thing?) but I liked it anyway.

And I’d completely forgotten that pretty much everyone knew that Lori was with Shane except for Rick, because she was, you know, WITH SHANE before Rick showed up! That was sort of a “whoops” moment. I wonder when THAT little tidbit is finally going to come out into the open?

Josh: I'm also curious as to when (or even if) Shane and Lori's indiscretions will be outed, as well. Then again, Rick is just the kind of reasonable guy to take extenuating circumstances into account and let it go. I think if anyone snaps over this sort-of triangle, it'll likely be Shane, whose “nostalgia is a drug” speech during the conversation with Rick in the woods continued his moral downward trajectory in a big way. Seriously, Shane – referring to the lost little girl as “a cat in a tree” is just the kind of talk that will get you dead on this show, and quick. Remember the last guy who went up against Rick? His dismembered hand is still chillin' on a rooftop back in Atlanta.

We came back to this discussion several times over the course of the episode, trying to determine if the time and effort being expended on the search for Sophia is truly worthwhile. I think the intention was to use that device as a way of explaining to the audience why so much time has been spent on it, perhaps even more so than the obvious highlighting of differences between Rick and Shane. And like Rick, I understand the logic in both sides of the argument.

But aside from the outright heartlessness of it, my biggest issue with Shane's brand of pragmatism is that it refuses to acknowledge the future in favor of miring itself in the present. What I mean is, where do they think they're going? Who or what do they expect to find at Fort Benning? And what's the hurry to get there? The lot of them are frankly screwed, regardless of where they go. That isn't fatalism – it's fact. The world has ended. What's done is done, and nothing will ever be remotely the same, right up until there's nothing left to “be” at all any more. And let's face it: if you can't make long-term survivors of the children, then what's the point in trying?

Even a loner like Daryl recognizes it, although I am starting to wonder how much of his dedication to the search is attributable to his own abandonment as a child. I loved pretty much everything about his story again this week, including the gross-out zombie kill. How Sayid was our Sawyer just then, anyway? One with a stick, and the other with THE DAMN ARROW FROM OUT OF YOUR OWN BODY? Now that's entertainment!

And against all odds, I even loved having Michael Rooker back. I must have missed seeing him in the previous episode's preview, as someone pointed out in the comments last week, but I sensed he'd be back soon, and I thought it was handled perfectly. In fact, keeping Merle in Daryl's head for a while would be fine by me. It's the in-body Merle that I'm worried about seeing again.

Nikki: SO agreed. I still remember an episode of Xena from season 1 where she’s shot with an arrow, and it goes into her but not through. She realizes, though, that you can’t pull an arrow OUT, that it can only go in one direction. So with that, she snaps off the tail and pushes the damn thing all the way through.

I think that’s the moment I fell in love with her. ;)

But back to THIS show. Let’s talk about the part we’re both itching to get to: that ENDING. As soon as Maggie looked at Glenn’s note and then looked up, completely terrified, I said to my husband, “OH MY GOD the WALKERS are in the barn!!!!!” And both of us were freaking out as the scene slowly crept to that horrific revelation. Herschel has said he wants to take care of the walkers on his property (we were reminded of that in this episode when Andrea was about to shoot Daryl) and Rick reminded her of Herschel’s request. But why? What the hell is he going to do with them?

Are the walkers in the barn actually people he found wandering onto his property? Or are they his family? He’s mentioned a few times that his family got bit, so it made me wonder if perhaps these are loved ones that he can’t let go. It would go a way to explaining the fact that Herschel is so quiet and filled with pain all the time. And in this episode, when he spoke to Rick, he became downright menacing, which was probably foreshadowing this revelation.

And aside from the final scene, I had another question I wanted to pose to you: what exactly are the zombie rules in The Walking Dead? I was chatting with a friend on Friday and she mentioned this is a problem she has with the show, and I have to agree. On Buffy, it’s clear what the vampire rules are. On Vampire Diaries, the rules are a little different, but they’re clear. In some zombie films, they’re super-slow and stupid. In others, they’re fast and frightening.

But on The Walking Dead, they seemed to move really quickly at times (remember when Rick first came to Atlanta in the first episode?) and at other times they’re slow and lumbering. You apparently turn into a walker if you get bit. Why? Is it the mixture of their saliva with their blood? Or is it the mixing of blood? If Daryl’s all bloody and has open wounds around his neck, and he puts a string of ears around his neck, would that zombie blood mix with his blood? Does it matter? Can they read? If they’re brain dead and only after brains, does that mean they can’t read at all? If so, why not put up signs throughout the forest for Sophia? You could say “We’re at the farm nearby” or “We’re looking for you, and we need you to go back to the highway and stay in one of the cars” or SOMETHING that would help them find her quicker.

What are your thoughts on this?

Josh: In the weeks leading up to the series premiere last fall, AMC posted ten 'Zombie Rules' to their Twitter feed as a way to build buzz. The rules were obviously intended for promotional use, but they are also legitimate within the context of the show and do a pretty good job of illuminating some of the seeming inconsistencies that you mention. As I have no permission to repost them, I will simply offer THIS LINK, sing the Jeopardy music quietly to myself while you fine folks click and read and ponder, and then assume we're all caught up.

Good? Good.

So, in essence, the rules state that whatever afflictions from which a person is suffering at the time of their death will also follow them into the dark world of the post-apocalyptic human smorgasbord. If an old or otherwise infirm person dies and is reanimated, they move much more slowly than someone who died in better shape; a guy who once had knee replacement surgery or an old war wound couldn't possibly maneuver with the speed or stamina of a former gymnast or high school quarterback. Decay does continue after reanimation, but it slows somewhat. A hungry zombie is much more dangerous than one well-fed (a fact with which Shane is already intimately acquainted). And how long it takes to turn after being infected is dependent on the nature of the injury, meaning a bite to the jugular would obviously be a faster change than something more superficial like a scratch on the leg or a drop of fluid in the eye.

All of these considerations, and more, were made by Mr. Kirkman over the course of the comic, and thank goodness they decided to bring them over into the show so faithfully. I much prefer this simple set of explanations, with its obvious real-world correlations, to anything that might come across more supernatural or science fiction cartoonish. It makes the world seem that much more authentic. Just wait 'til you guys see what happens to them when they start to starve!

But about that ending...

This is one of the first times since we started reviewing this season that my having read the source material put me at an unfair advantage, because I knew what was in the barn already. [GLENN'S NOTE: “Ever done it in a hayloft?” MY NOTES: “NONONONONOTTHEHAYLOFT!!!”] And I also know why, but I'm no tattle-tale. Of course I wouldn't dare spoil you guys on anything, ever. Besides, there's nothing that says they'll be there for the same reason(s) on the show, anyway.

And regardless of the rationale, this complication is bound to screw up the Quarry Kids' deal with Hershel's people. But will it merely put Hershel and Rick into more direct conflict with one another, or will the pet doc send them packing? And more important, will Glenn be able to perform under that kind of pressure? I can scarcely do it if the cat's watching...

Bits & Bobs:

• I continue to enjoy the flashback openings; that long shot of the darkened Atlanta skyline under attack was bone-chilling.

• My favorite moment from Daryl's story was his coming around with the zombie chewing on his toes. That is a method for cleaning mud from between the treads of one's boots that would never have occurred to me.

• Did I misunderstand, or did Head Merle say that Daryl was 'shrooming out there in the woods? So that's why he always wants to go out alone!

• Dale, to Andrea: “Don't be too hard on yourself – we've all wanted to shoot Daryl.”

• Carol, to Daryl: “You're every bit as good as them. Every bit.” Well, well, well.

That's all I have for this week, everyone. There are two more episodes before the long winter's nap of hiatus begins, so I hope you'll all come back for our holiday special next week, when we'll be exchanging our goriest-looking cranberry sauce recipes as well as some great Walking Dead-themed holiday gift ideas. See y'all then!