Thursday, July 17, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8 Trailer

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Leftovers 1.03: Two Boats and a Helicopter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An excellent episode! What did you think?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

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

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

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

Well, except for one itty bitty thing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it was so damned exciting.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Leftovers 1.02: Penguin One, Us Zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, would I write a show around that incident?

Of course not. Boring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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