Sunday, December 30, 2012

This Is... Finding Lost!

I went to see This Is 40 today and for Lost fans, as I just mentioned excitedly on my Facebook page, there's a very funny onrunning joke about the teenage daughter getting caught up on six seasons of Lost in five weeks (and the mental breakdown she almost has when her iPad is taken away from her). During one scene, everyone's in the teenage girl's room and dancing around, and you can see her bookshelf. I immediately spotted a Lost book that I knew, and my husband saw it at the same time and leaned over and joked that my books should have been there, too, "... and then maybe the teenager wouldn't be so confused about the show."


When I posted on Facebook that I'd seen this book, a friend of mine posted a screencap to show everyone. And that's when I saw that my book WAS there!! The season 4 book, in fact! (See below; season 5 is there, too!)

I have put a black arrow to point out the spine of my
book, because Paintbrush won't change my paint
colour to white to make it more obvious!
Ah. My little season 4 book got its cameo in a Judd Apatow film! Does that mean I'm only one degree of separation from Paul Rudd? (Please say yes.)

UPDATE: David Lavery just posted something about how his book was in this picture (his was the one that I saw in the theatre because it's in the very front) and I realized in his bigger version of the photo that my season 5 book is there, too! It's sitting two away from the Lost Encyclopedia, which is right in the back. ;)

Friday, December 21, 2012

More Last-Minute Christmas Gift Ideas!

OK, so the world hasn't yet come to an end (and here I went and spent my life savings this week... NOW WHAT?!) so I can continue with some more book ideas. Of course, more books that I worked on this year and think are amazing and fabulous and that you should own. On Tuesday I listed all of the fiction books I've worked on this year. Now I'll move on to the non-fiction.

I already mentioned Who Is the Doctor, which came out in April, and I mention it again because it's an amazing book you should own.

Next up, Richard Crouse is the film critic for Canada AM, and I've been his editor for many years. About a year and a half ago he came to me with some ideas for his next book, and the moment he began talking about what he called "the most banned film of all time," all his other ideas just went out the window for me. The resulting book — Raising Hell: Ken Russell and The Unmaking of The Devils — is a fascinating and shocking account of the making of this film, which starred Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, why it was so controversial and hated at the time, and how it's undergone a renaissance 40 years later, where critics are now hailing it as a masterpiece. (Such is hindsight...) In the summer, anyone who follows me on Facebook probably saw me posting things like, "OMG I just got an email from Terry Gilliam!" or "Guillermo del Toro just totally emailed me, so..." as I became more smug about it. And that's because of the back cover endorsements we were collecting for the book. See them for yourself here (click to enlarge):

And then go buy this book for yourself (here in Canada, here in the U.S.). It's an amazing account of filmmaking in the early '70s and how censorship rulings can entirely change the fate of one film. And it'll make you reflect on whether or not we've actually changed much as a society since then.

This next book is another fantastic book I've had the pleasure of working on. My First Guitar is a decade-long labour of love by NY-based guitarist Julia Crowe. Crowe, a columnist for Classical Guitar magazine, began collecting stories of famous guitarists talking about their very first guitar when she discovered that the simple plea, "Tell me about your first guitar," unleashed stories not just about the guitar but guitar lessons, parents encouraging/discouraging the playing, losing the first guitar, second and subsequent guitars, recordings and bands, and pretty much everything else. So she began asking that question, and the answers were revelatory. And when Mr. Jimmy Page not only agreed to the interview but took her to his mansion outside of London to show her some of his guitars, suddenly many other musicians began stepping up to talk to this diminutive powerhouse of a writer. The resulting book is extraordinary, and although I'm not a guitarist (my husband is the guitarist in our family), I am a pianist, and if you ever had a first instrument that you loved so much, or had a true passion for something at a young age, you will identify with the stories in this book. It features stories from guitarists as diverse as Joey Santiago from The Pixies or Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth; Melissa Etheridge; Joe Satriani; Alex Lifeson from Rush; the late Les Paul, in one of his final interviews; Roger McGuinn; Peter Frampton; Michael McKean and Christopher Guest; and many, many more. From blues to jazz to classical, alternative and hard rock, she covers the gamut of musicians in this tome. And throughout, she intersperses her own story of becoming a guitarist, which honestly is one of the highlights of the entire book. This is the book for every musician in your life. Get it here in the U.S. and here in Canada.

Next up is the other book you should buy for the musicians in your life. Know any Beach Boys fans? If you do, there's only one book they should own, and it's 50 Sides of the Beach Boys by Mark Dillon. Like Crowe's book, it features interviews from 50 people involved with or influenced by the Beach Boys in one way or the other. In a truly unique format, Dillon chose the 50 songs he believed were the defining moments of the Beach Boys oeuvre, and then found 50 people to talk about the importance of each of those tracks. Not only did he manage to get every living member of the Beach Boys to choose a track (including Mr. Brian Wilson) but he got Zooey Deschanel to talk about "Wouldn't It Be Nice"; Lyle Lovett on "God Only Knows"; Jace Lasek (from Besnard Lakes, one of my favourite singers!) on "Good Vibrations"; Cameron Crowe on "Feel Flows"; Matthew Sweet on "Wonderful"; Alice Cooper on "In My Room"; John Sebastian on "Surfer Girl"; and many more. Ordered chronologically, the explanations of the songs are interspersed with biographical material of the band, so you get both the story along with the 50 voices talking about how this monumental band became much more than a bunch of surfer dudes, writing some of the most incredible music of the 20th century. You can get it here in Canada and here in the U.S.

And just to show that not all of my non-fiction titles this year were music/TV/film oriented (and only now am I realizing that all of them — including the Doctor Who book — featured orange covers! What is THAT all about?!) my last offering is Moe & Me, a book by Globe and Mail golf writer Lorne Rubenstein. As many of you know, I'm married to the other prominent Canadian golf writer, so I've edited a lot of golf writing and know a hell of a lot about golf. (I always joke with my husband that I'm the president of KWOGA: Knowledgeable Wives Of Golfers Association.) But I'd never worked with Lorne until now, and the two of us hit it off pretty immediately. This is a labour of love he'd worked on for years about the 40 years in which he knew Moe Norman, one of the most fascinating and least-understood players in golf. Moe was either autistic, or suffered from Asperger's, or had been traumatized by a serious head wound he incurred when he was five and had a tobogganing accident. While no doctor can agree on what was wrong with him, what was undeniable was that he could point to a spot on the golf course, and hit the ball EXACTLY there. You tell him how high, he'd hit it that high. You say hit that telephone wire, he'll hit that telephone wire. So why wasn't he the greatest player on the PGA Tour? Because socially he couldn't look people in the eye, and he used double-speak — "OK, OK, where should I hit the ball, where should I hit the ball?" — and when he would hit the most incredible shot anyone had ever seen, the audience would laugh in shock and amazement. But Moe thought they were laughing at him (at his sweaters that he wore in July, or the loud brightly coloured striped pants that went with it) and it would throw off his mental game completely. He fell apart during games, but was so astounding at a driving range that the top players in the PGA would cease practice just to come and watch him hit balls. His story is a sad one, but he wouldn't have wanted anyone to think that: instead, Lorne remembers him as a funny, warm, and delightful person who, according to Tiger Woods, was one of only two people in the game of golf who truly owned his swing (Ben Hogan being the other). Moe Norman died eight years ago, but his memory lives on in this great book. Buy it for the sports fan in your family, here in Canada, and here in the U.S.

And that just about sums up the books I've been working on this year! I hope you enjoy reading some of them as much as I did editing them. :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Feelin' pretty psyched...

I love this so much.

All I know is this Friday I'm inviting over Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Breshnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs, and we're having a birthday party with cheesecake and jelly beans. 


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Last-Minute Christmas Ideas, Part 2

In the "yes, these are books I worked on and love to bits so I want you to love them, too" category, I'm going to talk about books I've worked on as an editor. I've often mentioned that I work at ECW Press as an editor, which is my day job when I'm not writing books (which, considering I haven't written one since 2010, means I MUST be doing something else!). What sort of wonders do I get to work on? Well, let me show you! I work on both fiction and non-fiction. These are some of the fiction books I had the pleasure of working on in 2012.

I've already talked about this book at length, but I'll mention it again. Husk is the Great Canadian Zombie Novel by Canadian Corey Redekop. It's a book told from the point of view of the zombie, and it's laugh-out-loud hilarious and deeply poignant and sad at other points. While being completely bizarro in the middle. It's one of my favourite books of the year, and I can't recommend it enough. If you love the horror and humanity of The Walking Dead, but the bizarre humour of Community or Parks and Recreation, then this is the book for you. Order here in Canada, or here in the U.S.

Last year I had the pleasure of publishing Allison Baggio's debut novel, Girl in Shades (set in 1985, about a pre-teen obsessed with Corey Hart who deals with some really serious issues in her home life) and this year she immediately followed that beautiful book with a follow-up collection of short stories, In the Body. I love working with Allison, and these stories run the gamut from strange to heartbreaking to funny, all about our personal hang-ups with our body, both physical and mental. Some of these stories will punch you in the gut, others will leave you satisfied, and all are hopeful. In a world where people tend to lean to novels over short stories, I urge you to try out this collection. You won't be disappointed. You can order here in Canada, or here in the U.S.

A year ago, as I was threatening to be buried under a looming pile of manuscripts, someone brought one of them to my attention and I opened it and began reading. About 60 pages in, I had to leave the office because I was about to burst into tears. "How is she going to continue the story after THAT?!" I thought to myself. But I composed myself (I wasn't the only editor who thought we needed a designated crying room in that office!) and came back and finished it. I invited the author in, loved her immediately, and signed up the book. This could best be described as "women's fiction" (I still haven't figured out if that term is derogatory, but it's the label slapped on it) about a woman named Nicky who at first has problems conceiving a child, then miraculously does so, only for tragedy to strike. When she and her husband deal with the consequences in very different ways, Nicky must learn to find new meaning in her life by travelling far away — to Kenya — where she discovers a world that makes her own look almost insignificant. A raw, powerful debut novel, author Heather A. Clark is a true talent (and a marketing powerhouse!) who has driven this book to the bestseller lists and continues to promote it. I've actually attended two different book clubs who read this book (one of those was with Heather) and it was so much fun listening to the women react to this book. It's a beautiful book, and that scene still makes me cry, seven readthroughs later. Order it here in the US, and here in Canada.

And last, another of my absolute favourite reads in the past five years is Christopher Meades' The Last Hiccup. His previous book, his debut novel The Three Fates of Henrik Nordmark, had me laughing right from the opening chapter, and The Last Hiccup is even better. Set in 1930s Russia, this is the story of Vlad, who, on his eighth birthday, leans forward to blow out his candles, and begins hiccuping. And... doesn't stop. We follow the weird and wonderful life of this strange boy whose hiccups at first plague him, and then, as one by one the people around him abandon him because of his affliction, become his only true friends. I love this book. The reviews have been phenomenal, and I hope you check it out. (Oh, and Chris? I Googled the book and a pic of Ryan Gosling popped up. So... I'm going to need you to start every email from this point on with "Hey girl...".) ;) Order the book here in the U.S. and here in Canada.

And those are my fiction books for the year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Last-Minute Christmas Ideas! Part 1

Are you stuck for Christmas ideas, and don't know what to get that TV-lovin' friend or family member for Christmas? It's getting pretty close to the 25th, and you know, those malls are overrun with shoppers and you will NEVER find parking. So... maybe it's time to hit the Internets.

Let's start out with some shameless ideas. There's this FANTASTIC series of books (I've been told) by this amazing writer in Canada — Canada, of all places! — about the fascinating and complex TV show Lost. It's called Finding Lost, and the first book covers off seasons 1 and 2, and then there are separate books for each of seasons 3 through 6. You can find all of them online, and most places offer free shipping. Let's just fan them out like a (winning) poker hand, shall we?:

Beautiful, ain't they?
Finding Lost Seasons 1&2
Finding Lost Season 3
Finding Lost Season 4
Finding Lost Season 5
Finding Lost Season 6

And don't take my word for it, check out some of these endorsements!

"Wow, great book! I'll put it here on my shelf and never read it. It'll look pretty."
— pretty much everyone in my family

"You know that show Lost? My daughter writes it."
— my mom

"Meoooooowwwwww..." [translation: Sorry, if I'd known you'd actually written that book, I would have puked on the one next to it]
— my cat

"Reading this series of books on Lost will explain the show in a way you never imagined. You MUST own these books."
— me

Seriously, can you argue with these endorsements?? Just go buy them now. And if you own them, you MUST know someone who doesn't and who is just starting to watch the series. THEY MUST HAVE THEM (see above quotes).

From Lost we move to one of my other favourite shows of the moment, Doctor Who. I'll post soon on my current experience of working through the Classic Series (I'm watching some episodes, not all, and I'm up to Pertwee now). And if you're interested in reading more about the Classic Series yourself, look no further than Robert Smith?'s (the question mark is part of his name) excellent new collection, Outside In. From his vast network of friends and fellow geeks, Robert? somehow cobbled together people who were willing and able to write on one of the 160 stories from Classic Who. (I'm in there as well, writing as a New Series fan watching Classic Who for the very first time, reviewing the Peter Davison story, "The Caves of Androzani.") It's a fantastic collection, with entries written in various formats, featuring 160 different voices. It's as diverse and wonderful as the series itself. And, by getting this book, you help support a small press. The book was officially launched at Chicago TARDIS at the end of November, so it's brand new, and it's the first publication by ATB Publishing. You can only order it directly from their website. The book is $24.95 (well worth the price) and shipping is free within the US, $12 to Canada, and $15 anywhere else.

And keeping to the Doctor Who theme, if you still find Classic Who daunting (and who wouldn't: when they say 160 stories, they're referring to 160 arcs, each containing between 4 and 10 individual episodes, so that's a LOT of viewing), never fear: there's a book devoted to New Series Doctor Who, written by the aforementioned Robert Smith? and his partner in time, Graeme Burk. I was the editor of the book, and I'm very, very proud of the incredible job these two did. (Graeme is the one, by the way, who is currently plying me with the Classic Series DVDs.) This companion (get it?) guide covers each episode from Eccleston to season 6 Matt Smith, with the lovely, lovely, lovely David Tennant in between. Released by ECW Press in April of this year, it's gotten rave reviews, including one from Neil Gaiman (there was much rejoicing on THAT day). For over 400 pages, it's SUPER cheap, and well worth every penny, and then some. You can order it here, among many other places.

And armed with these two books, you'll be a little better versed than my mother, who, when I told her what I really wanted for Christmas was the Doctor Who salt and pepper shaker set, looked it up in her British magazine and said, "Oh yes, it's here! There's a TURDISS and a Day-lick!"


So here are today's suggestions. More tomorrow!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fringe Does Python

Last night I watched the previous evening's episode of Fringe (seeing a show only one day later is like a personal triumph for me these days!), "Black Blotter," wherein Olivia receives an encoded message on the transmitter she'd picked up a few episodes ago, and Walter has dropped a form of acid called "Black Blotter," so he's tripping the entire episode and is unable to be a functioning help to any of them. Peter's just unObservered himself by removing the tech from his brain in the previous episode, and now they're sent on a wild goose chase. This was one of those episodes that rewarded the long-time viewer with references to Sam Weiss, the little boy Observer, Walter's old lab assistant, and several other allusions to previous seasons, where even some longtime viewers must have been scratching their heads trying to remember what the heck had just happened.

However, for me, the highlight of the episode was a distinctly Terry Gilliamesque Monty Python animated bit, where the gang follows a signal to an island (to find the child Observer) and the man who's keeping the boy as his son tells them to tell him what the password is. Earlier in the episode, Walter says he keeps thinking of the phrase "black umbrella" but he doesn't understand the significance of it. Faced with an ultimatum — you guys had better remember the password, or I'm firing this gun into you —Walter reaches into the recesses of his acid-tripping brain to find it. And we get to watch as it happens. This is a brilliant homage to the Terry Gilliam animations on Flying Circus, complete with arm trees, the actual photographs of men with white, menacing eyes, the comically large animals, the factories, and grumbling and humming of the character, and the crazy music in the background. Oh, and there's even a Holy Grail "kaniggit." I adored it, and have watched it several times now (notice that of the three animals on the conveyer belt, two of them — the frog and the seahorse — are actually the glyphs used in the commercial break exits). Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Walking Dead: Made to Suffer

Whew. Where last week’s episode felt like the first of a two-parter, this was definitely the second-part-of-a-two-parter-perfect-cliffhanger-for-a-mid-season-finale episode. A child lost his mother, a father lost his daughter, a wayward group entered the scene, a man lost an eye… AND we got a humorous case of mistaken lesbianism. All the elements I look for in a show. ;)

For a few weeks now we’ve been speculating on the awesomeness of the impending meeting between Daryl and Merle. On opposite sides, who would sway the other to his cause? Would they run into each other unwittingly? Would Daryl find out ahead of time?

And yet, for all the build-up to that meeting, for me the highlight of the episode wasn’t their meeting at all, but the brutal showdown between Michonne and the Governor. We are reminded again at the beginning of the episode that he’s keeping his zombie daughter in a cage, and despite her being a mindless walker acting on instinct alone, he loves her so much he truly believes there’s something of his daughter still trapped in there, and that he can bring that little bit of her out. That scene between the two of them was heartbreaking once again. (Incidentally, a friend of mine was over on the weekend and was telling me all about the graphic novel portrayal of the Governor. He said he’s far more brutal, more sadistic, and yes he has the walker daughter still, but he’s much less likable than this guy… and he wears an eyepatch, she added. I guess we know where that’ll come in now.) But for all the bad the Governor has done — last week’s scene with Maggie was a pretty solid indication that he’s a sadist — I just keep remembering he has this daughter of his. Somewhere deep in that deranged shell of a man that used to be a loving father and husband is a heart that’s entirely devoted to that daughter. Or, at least, the memory or who she once was.

And so, when he begins singing to her and she instantly calms down, there’s this look of excitement, of a slight eureka moment, a “YES I KNEW IT SHE’S STILL IN THERE SOMEWHERE” glance across his face… that’s instantly erased the moment he realizes she’s looking at a bowl of raw meat (or whatever that was…) His faith shattered, he orders that she look at him, and then chucks her back in his prison, devastated that he’s failed her once again.

Enter Michonne. Hellbent on revenge, she enters his apartment and lies in wait, before hearing a noise in the other room. And there she finds his various aquariums (aquaria?) of zombie heads, and a cage. She hears a noise, and opens the cage, only to spot a little girl inside. Michonne immediately leaps into action, saying soothing words and trying to calm the little girl. She’s horrified, and thinks she’s finally discovered just how depraved the Governor is. As the audience gasps at the dramatic irony of what’s about to happen, she unhooks the girl’s chain. And then… she pulls off the hood, revealing a tiny walker. Her sympathy goes away (unlike the Governor, she can separate the living from the undead) and she stands up, turns the creature around, draws her sword…

And he’s there, yelling at her to leave his daughter alone. We see the Governor at his most vulnerable yet. That creature standing in front of Michonne isn’t a walker to him: it’s his little girl, and Michonne is the bad guy threatening her. She’s not undead, it’s just a… a momentary infection, yes, that’s it, and she’ll be OK just as soon as he finds that cure that he knows is out there, so please please please back away from her, because she’s innocent. “Please don’t hurt my little girl. She doesn’t need to suffer,” he pleads with Michonne. But his daughter is gone. And the creature before him is suffering. Suffering from endless hunger, and if there is a part of his daughter stuck in there, that would be even worse. For she might have some knowledge of what she’s become, and be horrified by it.

But we know there’s no remnant of her left, and so does Michonne, and with a hard look at the Governor, she swiftly impales the little girl’s head on her sword, ending all of the Governor’s hopes in one quick movement. And he goes apeshit.

The battle that follows, and the subsequent losing of an eye, are all just the fallout of that brutal scene, which to me was sad beyond words. My husband and I just sat there, gasping over and over, as my hand kept slapping itself over my mouth in shock. At one point I felt my own motherly tendencies kick in, and saw Michonne the same way the Governor regarded her: as a cold-blooded killer. But she’s not. She was doing what she had to do, just as Carl did to Lori. It’s the humane thing to let them go.

But if that happened to your child, wouldn’t something inside you snap, too? And wouldn’t you do anything — anything — to convince yourself that you could save her? I don't know about you, but seeing that little white bow in the girl's hair breaks my heart every time. 

What a scene.

Josh: No kidding. It's testament to how well-written and well-acted the whole sequence was that neither of us could help but empathize with the guy, the same beast who only a short while earlier had condemned Glenn and Maggie to death via 'The Screaming Pits,' whatever the awful hell that might be. I particularly loved that welcome-to-the-sideshow look on Michonne's face as she realized just how far around the bend he'd gone. Still, I thought it was a huge tactical error on her part choosing to enrage the guy before their fight, as opposed to doing something sensible like shoving Penny toward him and then handily decapitating the both of them as soon as he caught her.

But then the back half of the season would have no nemesis, I suppose. Unless Andrea decided to step up and avenge her lover. Because somehow, even with all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – like, you know, the hidden undead aquatic pet shop den with the zombie daughter closet – Andrea still hasn't realized that she's been humping the mayor of crazytown. I mean, even I felt sympathetic for a moment, and I know a lot more details of his brutality than Andrea. But c'mon, man. I really think her obtuseness has reached beyond reasonable proportions now.

That might all be about to change, however. Because the Governor, as it turns out, isn't as smart as he thought he was. He's taken Daryl captive, and he's doublecrossed Merle(who logically appears a turncoat, with both Michonne and his brother turning up as part of the same attack at the same time). If both of them somehow survive the lynch mob, then it's inevitable Andrea will get the full story from Daryl, learn of Glenn and Maggie's incarceration and torture, and undoubtedly put two and two together on why the Governor tried to keep her off the streets during the attack... No, wait; sorry. I forgot I was talking about Andrea for a second there. And if there's one thing I've learned about this show, it's never to assume that Andrea will put two and two together.

Regardless of what part Andrea plays in the ensuing clash, it is without question that there will be a reckoning. The Governor was already nuts, but Michonne has pushed him past the far edge of humanity now. You could see it in his eyes (sorry – 'eye') in that last scene, glowing brighter than the firelight. He has officially evolved into a full-blown maniac. And there will be no hiding from his vengeance.

Luckily for Rick and his ever-shrinking band of merry misfits, a new group of fighters has arrived. Tyreese is another character import from the comics, and I really liked the way his cluster of survivors was introduced, giving Carl a chance to shine in his father's absence. What did you think?

Nikki: First, Andrea (your comments just made me laugh out loud!) Oh, poor Andrea. I tried to stick up for you earlier this season, I really did. I tried to stick up for you last season, even after you were saying and doing dumbass things then (but see, you redeemed yourself when you stood up to Lori and reminded the ladies that they don’t have to act like they’re living in the 19th century, for god’s sakes). But now? Ugh. When she showed up with the gun on Michonne, she’s already walked into a terribly complicated situation, and she doesn’t immediately see the child on the floor or the smashed glass or the floating moving heads. All she sees is her lover, wounded, and the woman she thought she could trust holding the weapon that inflicted the damage. “What have you done?!” she hisses at her. There’s a standoff (where, for a moment, I thought Michonne was history) and then Michonne slips away.

If you watch this scene from Andrea’s point of view, you can see her focus, her mixed emotions (she’s spent a year with Michonne, but Michonne can be really intense and I could see anyone wanting a break from that), and she’s still in the wildly passionate honeymoon phase of her relationship with the Governor — that phase where you throw all common sense out the window and just see everything good about him.

But if you watch this scene from Michonne’s point of view, it’s very different. Andrea points a gun at her, and she looks at her as if to say, “Et tu, Andrea??” She’s thinking, what about all the times I’ve saved your ass over the last year? What of all the times we spent together? I know everything about you, and you know everything about me. And… dude… will you LOOK AT THE FISHTANKS OF PEOPLE??!! (Speaking of which, when the Governor put Michonne’s head through the one tank, it had her zombie pets in it… for a moment I thought we would finally find out who they were to her. But instead, it’s a potent moment where she remembers that SHE took these people who I’m presuming meant something to her, and shut down her emotions and just saw them as animals, in a way the Governor seems to be incapable of doing.)

Anyway, Andrea lets her slink out of the room and away from them, and then she notices the aquarium. And there’s this “W… T… F??!!” look on her face that goes away pretty quickly when she rushes to Philip’s aid. As you say, the wheels start turning, and then immediately stop. Oh, Andrea, you crazy gal, you! [Insert noogie to her curly hair.]

No, over to Tyreese… Without starting one of those “token character” wars in the comments section of this post, I do want to point out that while I loved seeing Tyreese — Cutty from The Wire! — I felt like this show, like far too many other shows on television, had to kill the other black man on the show (Oscar) in order to let Tyreese stay. It’s like they have a quota, and they are only allowed one black man at a time. When they introduced Oscar, they offed T-Dog. Now they introduce Tyreese, they off Oscar. It just seemed so specific. Tyreese has a partner, so… does that mean Michonne needs to watch her back, too? It’s just so ridiculous sometimes. They couldn’t have waited just one more episode to make it less obvious? Sheesh.

But anyway, yes, I loved this new band of misfits and the fact that they’re a bit of a mirror of the group we’re already invested in. You have the leader (Tyreese/Rick) and his partner, who, unlike Lori and Rick, their partnership still seems to be intact. You have the family off to the side, and way back in season 1 we watched Andrea watch her sister die, despite so many people saying it would be best to just knife her in the head right then and there. But she needed to watch her die, and then have her come back, before she could do the deed. Fastforward to now, where Carl doesn’t even wait for his mom’s body to cool before he puts a bullet in her head. Because he’s experienced, and he knows what’s coming next and that it might overpower him.

These people are in that situation now. They’ve clearly seen enough to know that if you die, you come back as a walker, so they know something has to be done to the deceased’s head. However, where Carl steps up and offers to do it for them, they stop him and say no, they have to do it themselves. They’ve gotten to the point where Carl was. No one else was going to shoot his mother: he was going to do it himself. And they had to do the same. Although, as my husband and I said, in a way wouldn’t you rather a single bullet in her forehead rather than bashing her brains in?? BUT… the conundrum even there is that Carl is being super cautious, and he’s not about to hand over that gun to them. And all they have are farm implements that are doubling as weapons: shovels, spades, and hammers.  You do what you have to do.

Carl is really quite amazing in this scene, and where my first reaction was, “why is he shutting them in there?!” that lasted about half a second before I realized he’s just doing what his dad would have done. What his dad did do with the other inmates before he could trust them. If Rick doesn’t come back, Carl’s learning how to take care of them.

Because it certainly won’t be Axel doing it. That scene of him thinking Carol was a lesbian was laugh-out-loud hilarious. The woman cuts her hair because it’s easier to maintain and he immediately assumes she’s not interested in men. The perfect way to illustrate he’s a complete jackass. “My my, this is interesting,” he says, just short of twirling his moustache, as he realizes she’s another prospect. “No, it’s not,” she answers, letting him know she is very much NOT a prospect.

Speaking of Rick possibly not coming back (which ain’t gonna happen… I don’t see this as being the sort of show that Game-of-Throneses its main character here. But what did you make of the fight scene in the houses and out in the streets?

Josh: I'm glad you brought that up, because the interaction between Rick and the unlucky sentry that sees them through the windows of the infirmary and comes to investigate was what spawned the most interesting thoughts about this episode for me. On the surface, it's a relatively pedestrian exchange, with Rick questioning the guy at gunpoint, getting nowhere, and then tying him up and knocking him out. But what that simple intercommunication brought into stark relief for me – partly because of an excellent delivery of very few lines from the actor who played the guard – is the true heart of the problem with going up against Woodbury as a whole: namely, that the population is, by and large, completely in the dark about the Governor's iniquities. They are a town of innocents run by a twisted few.

How does one even begin to approach a problem like that? If memory serves, the Governor told Andrea that there were more than ninety people living within those walls, of whom there might be a dozen that have a real idea what kind of leader they've been following, the mercenary methods that have been used to secure their supplies and sustain their lives. I'm sure there's at least a bit of willful denial going on amongst the populace, but I can't help thinking most of them are just incredibly grateful to have a safe place to walk around. Is simple guilt by association enough to justify condemning them en masse?

Overall, I think it's the most stark moral dilemma that the show has faced, and I hope the writers intend to explore it more fully in the coming episodes. It's similar to the discussion we've touched on in recent weeks, comparing Michonne's treatment in Woodbury versus her treatment by Rick and Co. but much more poignant, in my opinion, simply by virtue of the fact that so many are involved. Even if our heroes only take out the 'soldiers' in this coming war, don't they also indirectly sentence every other resident who lives there to death, or at least abandon them there, defenseless, in essence throwing them back to the innumerable wolves who now plague the earth from end to end? It's true that those are basically the same circumstances in which our heroes have always found themselves; however, in the absence of anyone to take care of them, Rick and the others have adapted to all the harsh realities of the new world. These poor souls have been insulated from all that. They've even been brainwashed not to fear the walkers through the Governor's rigged gladiatorial circus acts. How can they be expected to survive on their own?

During their conversation in the holding cell, Maggie says to Glenn, “All this time, running from walkers, you forget what people do.” There were lots of reminders of that in the events of this week, but this is the one that has stuck with me. I do understand the reality, harsh though it may be, that in the end, everyone has to look out for themselves. I just hope our group remembers what it was like to be alone. There are only so many people left out there.

Nikki: Great observations. And funny: I wrote out that same quote from Maggie. Great minds… ;)

From a purely production standpoint, I thought the teargas was genius, in that it obscured from Andrea the fact that it was actually Rick et al who were the “terrorists” of the group, and Daryl doesn’t see that it’s Merle holding onto Maggie and Glenn (nor does Merle see it’s his brother who’s part of the vigilante team). I loved the look on the Governor’s face when Andrea says, “I saw the terrorists.” His face instantly goes white, which was amazing. She, of course, was referring to Oscar (the only person on the rescue team she wouldn’t have known), but Guv’nah thought she meant she’d seen that it was Rick and that she’d be really angry.

Further to your point, what this episode was all about is the turning point in this ongoing war for everyone. The walkers have become the least of their worries; they’re like mosquitoes they bat out of the way on their path to fighting the true enemy: other human beings. As I mentioned in last week’s episode, Rick and Daryl completely ignore a female walker coming up the road towards them as they unload their trunk. They’re off to find Woodbury, and she’s nothing to them. Interesting: did you notice the walker they ignored is the same one lumbering through the woods who stumbles upon Tyrese and his crew? That scene is the only reminder of the episode that they’re still fighting these creatures, and when one of them bites the woman, it becomes a real danger again. But once you find shelter, and once you get away from these undead things… you go back to fighting each other once again.

In the final scene, ol’ One Eye strides out into what we’d originally seen was the battleground for the zombie cage matches, but he uses the same setting for his town hall meeting. He’s just lost his daughter for good, and he’s just lost the use of his right eye, and he’s just had a piece of glass ripped out of it (yeeeowch!!). It’s significant that it’s his right eye; biblically, the right is seen as good, and the left as evil. By his right eye being blinded, he can now only see out of the evil side. In the Book of Zechariah, God says to Zechariah, "Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!" While so far the Governor’s arm is OK, it was a sword-like piece of glass (used because Michonne couldn’t reach the sword) that took out his eye. He’s the shepherd who has abandoned his flock, and as such, he pays the price.

Now with a bloody hunk of gauze over that fateful eyeball, he stands before his people and apologizes to them for failing them. He admits he didn’t do his best, and that he’s lost his confidence. “I’m afraid of the terrorists who want what we have,” he says to all of them. And then… he points to Merle as the mastermind behind the siege (the look on Merle’s face speaks volumes) and then throws Daryl into the ring, revealing to Andrea once and for all who the “terrorists” really were. Her earlier, “What have you done?” condemnation of Michonne comes ringing back in our ears: “What have YOU done, Andrea? Who have you aligned yourself with?”

And just as Maggie tells Glenn that in the midst of this you forget what people are capable of, you see Merle and Daryl (or “Durl” as Merle calls him) standing in the arena, with the people in the stands shouting for their heads. This is the place where the people come to blow off steam, to watch the zombies standing on the edges of the stage as Merle and some poor schmuck stage-fight for them week after week. The Governor knows the zombies are harmless because of the length of the chain.

But there’s no chain holding these people back. The scariest thing that Daryl and Merle are about to come up against is their fellow human beings, who all want them dead. We’ve been speculating for weeks on what side Merle and Daryl will fall on: will they keep to their respective corners, or will Daryl be drawn into Merle’s side? Earlier in the episode, when Rick wouldn’t let Daryl go talk to Merle, I thought there was a moment where Daryl would give up on Rick’s team and join his brother, simply because he’s sick of being dictated to. But Rick saves the moment by saying, “I need you.” Now, standing in the arena with Merle, they’re not on opposite sides: they’re on the same team. And if they somehow manage to survive this public lynch mob, it’s more likely Merle’s coming with Daryl, because Daryl sure as hell ain’t coming with him.

Any final thoughts on this amazing episode, Josh?

Josh: The first half of this season has been a wild ride, and I really feel like the show has found its stride here, doing a much better job of balancing the various elements they deliver so well. It still struggles with characterization in some cases, but overall  this year has been a huge leap forward. This last episode before February was a near-perfect representation of that newfound equilibrium, even though its tenderest moments were between a bloodthirsty madman and his zombified daughter. Which, now that I think about it, sort of typifies everything I love most about this show.

Bits & Bobs:

– Somehow it had escaped my attention until his delivery of the line, “You shoot to kill, uh-huh,” to his gathered troops that David Morrissey's Southern accent as the Governor is him doing Elvis Presley. But it totally is.

– Speaking of wicked impersonations, did anyone else think Jon Bernthal's cameo as Hallucination Shane during the shootout was a dead ringer for Wolverine? All that was missing was a stub of cigar clenched in his teeth.

– Remind me not to sign up for Glenn's Improvisational Weaponry class. Because holy gross, dude.

– As Tyreese and his group entered the prison at the end of the teaser, I couldn't help but wonder how it has escaped Rick and Co.'s attention that THERE IS A GIANT FRICKIN' HOLE IN THE OUTER WALL? I know we're pretty far from grounded in reality on this show and all, but are we seriously expected to believe they have been at the prison for as long as they have and yet no one has done a full reconnoiter around the structure? Or did they know about the breach and just figured that there wasn't much that could be done about it save to block any access points in the interior via bars or whatever and hope for the best? I can't help but wonder if it will come into play once their stronghold is under attack from the Woodbury army. [Nikki here: I said EXACTLY the same thing to my husband... I thought they'd picked over every inch of this place by this point...]

Have a lovely holiday season, everybody. We'll see you all next year.

Nikki: And thanks to all of you for reading these recaps and chiming in with your thoughts! 

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Walking Dead: "When the Dead Come Knocking"

Welcome back to this week’s Walking Dead recap, as always with my co-host Joshua Winstead. I apologize for the lateness of this post. Between me having a bad head cold and Josh being buried in work deadlines, we weren't sure we'd get it out at all. But we're hoping to get this Sunday's post out either Monday or early Tuesday. 

In the last week before the “mid-season finale” (god, I’ve come to loathe that empty phrase), Rick has magically regained his sanity, Merle is starting to lose his, Glenn proves himself to be TRULY BADASS, and Maggie is forced to strip in a humiliating way.

But let’s start with Glenn, because that scene had me on edge. Merle remembers Glenn as the scared little boy who may have been the one to find Rick and bring him into the fold in the first place, but he was always scared and barely able to handle the walkers on his own. He was super smart, but figured out how to handle the zombies from a distance.

No more.

After Glenn refuses to budge one inch as Merle is torturing him to give up the location of the others, Merle first beats his face into a pulp (with Maggie listening the entire time… an admittedly brilliant tactic, since I was certain she was going to break long before she did) and then brings in a walker and sets it upon Glenn, whose arms are duct-taped to a chair. Now, at first my husband and I were watching with about the same glee as the Governor’s people watched the zombie cage match a few episodes ago (making me a total hypocrite for talking about the audience the way I did), saying, “Come on, Glenn, Buffy found herself in a situation like this once! Turn the chair around, smash the legs and then run backwards to use them as a stake, you can do it!!” Glenn looked like a goner for part of this scene, but I knew he’d make it (while he might seem like he’s on the edge of the action, I still feel like he’s pretty central to it). And when he finally smashed the chair so completely that his arms were free, he gouged the walker in the eye with the piece of wood still attached to his arm — ironically, turning his arm into the same sort of weapon that Merle’s now is.

Maggie, on the other hand, was at first handled with kid gloves by the Governor, who entered the room and was extremely polite before telling her in no uncertain terms to take her top and bra off. He is SO hard to read that even Maggie didn’t know what to do. Did he mean to rape her? Was he going to get off on it? Was he just trying to humiliate her? What the Governor ultimately seemed to want to do is strip her down to the point where she’s completely vulnerable, and as he paraded her back into Glenn’s room, Glenn took one look at her and we could tell he was thinking the worst (especially when the Governor started hugging and kissing her face to calm her down, and she reacted like she was going to be sick).

And then, surprisingly, in that moment it was Maggie who finally gave up the location, not Glenn. It would have made sense for Glenn to do it, but maybe deep down he knew if he had done it, she’d never forgive him for giving up the location of her father. Only she could do that, and in a moment she decided Hershel still has a fighting chance with the others at his side, but if they shot Glenn, that would be the end of both of them.

Whew. And that was only a small part of this week’s episode. There’s so much else to cover. Josh, where would you like to start?

Josh: I'd like to start by WATCHING NEXT WEEK'S EPISODE RIGHT NOW PLEASE. I don't know about you, but 'When the Dead Come Knocking' felt very much like the first hour of a two-part episode to me, not in the sense that it was light on content but rather maddeningly short on resolve. All the interrogation scenes with Glenn and Maggie this week were terrific, as you said, tying my stomach in knots and giving both of these characters an opportunity to shine in the worst possible circumstances. Glenn's brawl with the walker while strapped to a chair was one of the highlights of the season for me so far, and its resolution gratifying for so many reasons, not only justifying Glenn's decision to stay mum in a thrilling, visceral way but also proving both to Merle and to himself that he is far from the guy our bayonet-fisted sadist used to know, once upon a quarry.

And Maggie... poor Maggie. Her visit with the Governor fortunately fell short of being needlessly exploitative, but his actions were plenty sufficient to prove that Philip is every bit the sick twist we've suspected, and above no means of psychological torture to reach his desired goal. Maggie's response was agonizing but tough as nails, and it's no wonder she caved so quickly when she was finally reunited with Glenn, only to see a gun put to his head. The big problem with her confession in my mind is that it surrenders the biggest reason Merle and the Governor had to keep them alive. After what they've been through, they'll certainly never agree to (and probably wouldn't even be candidates for) citizenship, and considering what they know of the Governor's fallacious benevolence, their prospects are dire, to say the least. Short of trying to use them as a bargaining chip with the unknown force at the prison, the Woodburians have no more use for the prisoners. Just keeping them hostage, especially with Andrea roaming around, is a lot more dangerous than risking reprisal from Rick et al by simply disappearing them and being done with it. But maybe the rescue team will begin their assault before it's too late; I'd hate to see either of them wind up in the feed trough for those toothless arena walkers.

Now, about that rescue effort: is it just me, or does this operation seem half-baked? They've done no reconnaissance whatsoever, are undermanned and outgunned, and really have nothing on their side but the element of surprise. We know from Andrea's “training” on the wall that their soldiers aren't as capable as they might think, but their sheer numbers are enough to make me very worried. Add in the as-yet-unknown variables of Andrea's discovery and Daryl's inevitable reunion with Merle, and this fly-by-night mission begins to take on an unmistakable air of tragedy.

What do you think, Nikki?

Nikki: “Tragedy” could very well be the theme of next week’s episode. I agree that they seem woefully unprepared, and they had Michonne right there and didn’t even pump her for information. In fact, when she started to speak, Rick hit her in the leg, Daryl practically poked her face with the arrow coming out of the crossbow, and both of them swore at her and treated her like garbage. Even though she was opening up to them — and trusting them, despite them treating her worse than the Governor did at first (AND taking her sword to boot) — far more than she’d ever trusted anyone in Woodbury. And why was that? Michonne isn’t stupid; she knows this is Andrea’s former tribe, I’m certain of it. Andrea probably described each one of them to Michonne. If she didn’t know who they were, she would have continued on her way and patched herself up alone (she’s fiercely independent and probably didn’t need anyone’s help to fix her leg up). Or, if she thought she DID need the help, she would have hobbled to the prison and gotten it. But she wouldn’t have dragged along the baby formula, which is quite heavy. She told Rick and Daryl a few things about Woodbury, and that their friends had been captured. But because, for lack of a better word, they acted like a pair of dicks to her, she didn’t tell them, “And oh, by the way, the head of security is this redneck pig with one arm named Merle. And… funny thing… he blames YOU GUYS for losing that arm! Know anything about that?”

It’s like she decided, “OK, for Andrea’s sake, I’ll give them the basics and hand over this formula and tell them where to find their friends. But… I’ll leave out the fact that big angry brother is in that camp. Wouldn’t want to ruin that surprise.”

We thought the reveal was going to be this week, but obviously they’re building that one up until next. I really REALLY hope they don’t hold it out until the end as a cliffhanger. I want to see the fallout now. (And you’re right, it will feel like the second part of a two-parter.)

And what of Andrea? She seems to have casually fallen into a routine of, “Hey honey, I’m home!” even though the old life is still very much a part of her (see: jamming her knife into the head of Mr. Coleman). What do you think of her this week?

Josh: Andrea still feels like something of a narrative means to an end to me. I enjoyed her scenes with Milton this week as he further tested his theories on trace consciousness with the gentle, determined euthanasia of Mr. Coleman. The sequence was filled with great touches, from the singing bowl to the inclusion of Jo Stafford's “It Could Happen To You” playing throughout, providing a nice counterpoint to their true purpose (and the title of which was a clever nod to the same). In fact, I think Milton's storyline in general, and the interest in more deeply examining the scientific aspects of the plague, has been a great addition to this season.

However, it hasn't proven much beyond the notion that he and the Governor are rather deluded in their views. Obviously the Governor's feelings for his zombified daughter are influencing his interest, and I would assume there is something yet unspoken in Milton's history that affects him similarly. Andrea's previous experience waiting by Amy's side until her sister turned, though unbeknownst to the Governor, gives her special insight into the situation, and hopefully her actions to save Milton's life will bond the two of them rather than drive him away in disgust. But other than that subjective experience, she really could have been anybody with a knife.

If nothing else, Andrea's presence in Woodbury has provided the writers a good way to keep the audience involved in those aspects of the story this year, revealing the larger truth slowly, and at least somewhat through her eyes. But of course we know the ugliest bits, whereas Andrea is still largely oblivious to the Governor's dark heart. My fear is that his veiled nature will only be revealed to her after she has sided with him in some awful, immutable fashion, once she has already made some terrible mistake that she can't take back. The blindness of her actions thus far seem to be servicing just that kind of dire eventuality, and I think it may finally break her if it comes to that.

Nikki: Now that I’m trying to think of another topic, I realize we’ve covered the main points of this week’s episode. So I’ll just point out a few things that were highlights for me:

-Merle hearing of T-Dog’s death and saying, “I hope he went slow.” Ouch.
-I didn’t write down who said it, but at one point someone asks for “Water and a towel.” And I misheard it (I blame the cold) and said to my husband, “Water and Nutella?!”
-Somehow in a zombie apocalypse Andrea has a perfectly fitted thong and an absolutely white bra.
-In that scene where the guys are emptying their trunk and there’s a walker lumbering up the road behind them, they completely ignore her. And, oddly, I felt sorry for her. Here’s her big chance to be all badass and scary, and they look at her like she’s nothing. I hope she wasn’t a wallflower in her previous life, because that would suck even more.
-I loved that the Governor is really upset to hear that 10 people took the prison, and that it was his original target to set up Woodbury but he’d been advised there was no way they could take it.
-That pounding heartbeat-like music that played at the end made the situation even more tense, and it was perfect.

And you, Josh? Any final thoughts for you?

Josh: I neglected to mention that strange interlude with the crazy dead dog guy in the cabin out in the woods, which I thought played as completely needless save illustrating to Rick and his team that Michonne isn't above killing the living when necessary (and maybe that animals are unaffected by the plague, not that we wouldn't have otherwise seen a zombie squirrel or something by now). Also, I heard that the American broadcast immediately followed those nasty final shots of the zombie mob devouring the poor lunatic with an ill-timed ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is kind of hilarious. Still, I thought the whole sequence felt really off the wall and out of step with the rest of the episode.

There were also several lovely character moments scattered throughout, my favorite of which was Daryl's reveal that he'd found Carol, dehydrated but very much alive. It hadn't occurred to me that she knew nothing about Lori until it played out, and the sweet, sad, mostly wordless way they conveyed it, mostly in looks between Carol, Rick and Carl, broke my heart all over again. I was glad that Rick and Carl got a moment alone together as well before Rick headed off on the rescue mission. The father-son relationship that develops between the two of them is bound to be a significant part of the rest of the series, and I thought their conversation here, with Rick entrusting Carl to keep the others safe in his absence, then accepting Carl's thoughtful suggestion of a name for the baby, was a good next step.

The last came between Rick and Daryl on their walk to Woodbury, with Rick acknowledging “I know what you did for me” while he was working through the emotional fallout of Lori's death, and Daryl's straightforward “That's what we do” in response. It was a minor exchange in the grand scheme of things, but it spoke volumes about the way the dynamic between the two of them has developed. We discussed Daryl's position in the group at length last week in anticipation of his finding out Merle is still alive, and this was a great reminder of exactly what's at stake.

And I think we have to assume that revelation is on its way in this weekend's episode, as I can't imagine they can infiltrate Woodbury without encountering Merle at some point. Whatever happens next will likely determine the course of the rest of this season. With the deck stacked so heavily against Rick and his ragtag group of survivors, I'd say the outlook was grim at best.

Be safe out there, everyone. We'll see you next week.