Friday, February 24, 2017

The Magicians, Season 2, Episode 5: Cheat Day

Oh my god that rabbit

I can’t even begin this review, I’m just crying with laughter. I don’t even know why but the creepy pregnancy test rabbit?

Ok I can focus


*snerk* I don’t even know why this is funny to me.

Since I’ve mentioned pregnancy rabbit, let’s start with Elliot in Fillory who is reigning over the wrecked kingdom and completely obsessed over alcohol. Because of course he is. Then Fenn, his wife, arrives to announce she’s pregnant with his child (told by said rabbit). He pretends to be thrilled before someone tries to assassinate him. He’s part of a rebellion group, the Foo-Fighters who want Fillorian people on the throne and no more people from Earth. He kind of… has a point, to be honest. The country has been completely wrecked and is always ruled by clueless foreigners? Yup, vive la resistance!

It’s a terrible assassination attempt and Margot is quick to intervene. His courtiers decide that the assassin absolutely must be executed – including a psychotic sloth who is quite creative. Margot also notes their contempt for the peasantry with an awesome “if we’re the least snobby people in the room, there’s something wrong with the room”. So they hit the books and decide to do some research on how to deal with rebellions, eventually coming up with execution. Elliot decides to be all dramatic and insist on doing it himself – which Margot duly rocks in perfect Margot style

Y’know, every ruler needs a Margot to deflate their heads, stop them getting up themselves and occasionally advocate brutal practicality

Elliot changes his mind and instead decides to ask the Foo Fighter exactly how he would fix Fillory. A mature, compassionate choice, albeit rather na├»ve, since it acknowledges he doesn’t know a damn thing about the country or ruling and these people may actually have a clue. Of course this also means overruling Margot revealing that she may be High Queen but he’s still boss because of bullshit patriarchy. Which Margot also points out and hopefully she will point out more and more.

I also need to skewer the homophobic nonsense of Elliot’s “growth”. Left to his own devices? He obsesses about wine and ignores his kingdom. This is gay/immature/useless Elliot. Elliot + straight wife and new baby, Elliot in his forced straight life and straight family, MATURE Elliot is making hard choices and worrying about the kingdom and trying to make a better world – and this continues constantly through every episode and it’s toxic for all the reasons I’ve mentioned before

This may get more complex because it turns out Fenn knows the assassin and used to be a member – they assumed she was just trying to get close to the king but she’s thoroughly on team Elliot, father of her child now and has plenty of threats should he act up. But he threatens to tell Elliot of her former loyalties – especially since it’s well known the king is emotional and sensitive.

Because Magicans is subtle about its stereotypes guys.

Anyway, let’s move to Penny – his hands are still not producing magic and Henry, despite healing his own hands, can’t really do anything for Penny. But he knows someone who may help: Mayakovsky: our drunken, world hating Russian teacher who I always kind of loved.

The Walking Dead: Rick and his Fan Club

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There's never been any doubt that Rick is the protagonist of this show.  There are times that for whatever reason, the writers seem determined to drive home the White, cis, het able bodied male will save the world narrative and Hostiles and Calamities is just one such occasion. The white man will save us was laid on so heavily and enforced by one of the four black male characters that I found myself wanting to simply turn off this episode.  The racial dynamics at play seem lost on the writers who are determined at all cost to set Rick up for victory.

The Walking Dead has essentially erased race from the conversation as though a dystopian setting would suddenly bring up about the equality that is so sadly missing in our civilised world. In seven seasons, there have been two conversations about race. The first occurred between T Dog and Dale in the second season.  T Dog expressed his concern about travelling with two white police officers only to be quickly shut down by an incredulous Dale as though police officers abusing their authority to actively harm Black men isn’t a historical fact. This conversation only existed to affirm the goodness of Rick and, at the time, Shane.  T Dog’s legitimate fears were deemed meaningless because the purpose of shows like The Walking Dead is to have power coalesce into the hands of white men as though their leadership guarantees success for all. This is an abject negation of the fact that men like Rick have been the primary cause of violence, rape, starvation, physical brutality of communities of colour since First Contact.  

The second conversation was between Daryl and his older brother Meryl. After leaving the group for a time to be with brother, Daryl decides to return. Meryl makes it clear that he cannot go with Daryl because he “damn could have killed that black bitch and damn near killed the Chinese kid”.  Daryl simply replies to Meryl, “he’s Korean”, in reference to Glenn, before walking away. This moment is meant to stand out because it represents Daryl’s redemption train. By turning his back on Meryl and going back to Rick and the group he is signalling that he is choosing to live in a community rather than relying upon comradery based solely on a homogenous identity of whiteness. Darryl’s redemption train is short  because it is assumed that his racist beliefs are a victimless crime and that having seen the light that he should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. That this approach simply doubles down on the white supremacist attitude that the writers are trying to divorce Darryl from seems lost in the desire to offer a redemption to allow a popular character to not only rise in the ranks but to fully integrate as a trusted member of the group. It is a subtle dismissal of white supremacist beliefs by having them dismissed and ignored so easily

Darryl has made no apologies for his former belief system, there was barely even a nod towards them. It has simply been erased as though it didn’t permeate his formative years thus greatly affect his sense of self. Darryl’s moment of epiphany isn’t based on the morality as much as it is based in a need to survive in this new dystopian world. That it comes with a reward of increased status and the ability to be seen as valued is simply glossed over. It’s a convenient change of ideology that is both self serving and disturbing in its ability to erase the harm of white supremacy on communities of colour. Glenn is a friend and coupled with a need to survive, it now costs Darryl nothing to admit his humanity.

At very least it’s a rather waste of a storyline - actually having Darryl grow, change, confront his beliefs and understand the full impact of how terrible they were and trying to move on from that would have been an interesting, developed, character building and respectful way of not just adding flesh to some rather dull seasons AND respectfully addressing racism.

Race as an issue on The Walking Dead is either silenced or simply a part of the elevation of White supremacy.  The Walking Dead routinely divorces its characters of colour from any distinct cultural markers.  They don’t congregate at anytime to discuss how their experiences or situation might well differ from that of the white characters; there is no closeness based in difference, they barely interact at all. Surviving the threat that zombies pose along with the threat from out group individuals is used to tie people together.  Whatever disagreements may occur between individuals never come down to racial disharmony, they are always about something else.

Most recently, we’ve seen tension between Sasha and Rosita who represent fifty percent of the women of colour on this show.  It’s telling that the source of the antagonism between these two women is the very white and now dead Abraham. In Rock in the Road, Rosita makes it clear that she and Sasha aren’t friends and only slept with the same dead man.  Keep in mind that there are several men of colour on The Walking dead currently and yet 50% of the female cast of colour are grieving the death of a White man.  That these men weren’t even considered to be viable love interest goes a long way in The Walking Dead’s narrative purpose of setting up White men as the epitome of masculinity and desirability. Masculinity in The Walking Dead’s work is always hyper aggressive and is continually rewarded.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The 100, Season Four, Episode Four: A Lie Guarded

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So much happened in this episode.  For me what stood out a lot are the parallel stories told about leadership. On one hand, we have Clarke, who is acting Counselor in Kane's absence and while Clarke is doing what she believes is best for her people, she's clearly conflicted about her decisions. On the Ark, Clarke hated everything about Jaha, but now placed in a similar situation, she finds herself seeing a sort of kinship with the man.  Then there's Luna, who has abdicated leadership in the past and now finds herself in the position to save all of humanity by virtue of the blood she actively seeks to reject.  Luna could be a leader but she clearly wants no part in it.  Roan, clearly believes that he was meant to lead his people and enjoys his power but is all too aware of exactly tenuous his position is.  Kane, is desperate to hold the shaky alliance together but is also desperate to hold onto his new found morality. Finally, we have Abby, who depends on science to save the day.  The 100, is offering us several different types of leadership styles and they are all to some degree sympathetic.  At the end of the day, what really matters is humanity being able to survive the coming storm. 

Let's begin with the return to ALLIE's little island.  It seems that Jaha informed everyone that there's a lab there where Nightblood was originally made.  Abby, Raven, Nyko, Luna, Murphy, Emori and a few soldiers head out with the hope of turning everyone into a Nightblood.  As they reach the markers, Emori stops, having never passed it before because to do was to break ALLIE's rule about mutants on the island.  It's Murphy who crosses first and extends his hand in support to Emori.  I really like these two as a couple, even if they are always scheming for the best advantage for themselves. 

The moment they get through the barrier, they are attacked by ALLIE's drones and have to take cover.  Nyko ends up sacrificing himself to stop Luna from being shot to death.  As the crew dives for cover, Luna takes the opportunity to disappear. Without Luna's blood -- this entire endeavor is pointless -- so they split up to find her. Abby heads off with Emori and Murphy, who discuss hiding out in the shelter that he was locked in the first time he came to the island. Murphy's only objection is that it's no longer stocked with supplies, even though it's large enough for two.  Raven is forced to stay behind because of her leg.  This is when Raven notices that the drone Jackson shot earlier is still active.  Raven tries to get to it but is chased back to the bushes. It's then Raven notices Luna making her way back to the boat.  Raven chases after Luna, and just manages to cross the barrier before being shot.  Clearly, Luna has had enough and thinks that humanity is just horrible, and therefore; believes that project save humans should just end. Raven manages to talk Luna down by reminding her of just how good Adria was and adds that there are other Adrias out there.  Luna helps Raven retrieve the drone and Raven shuts it down.  I really like that even though Raven's disability slowed her down that her skill at hacking served as a reminder of just how skilled Raven is. 

With the way no clear of drones, Abby and crew reunite and enter the lab.  It's all bright and shiny, causing amazement.  It's only then that they begin to wonder why ALLIE felt the need to have drones in the first place.  Exactly what was ALLIE protecting the lab from? Abby wisely advises Raven to get the drones back in the air as soon as possible. 

Things in Arkadia start off light and almost fun, but don't stay that way for long. Courtesy of Jasper, Jaha awakes to find himself floating on a mattress in the middle of the lake.  Jasper calls the peoples attention when Jaha awakens before calling out to Jaha that he's been floated.  It's a light take on the very real punishments Jaha inflicted when he was Counselor. It's also btw the last time that I didn't want to slap Jasper this episode. 

Softpaw (Smilodon Pride #1) by Beryll Brackhause and Osiris Brackhaus

Connor loves Paris and revels in his beautiful life in the museums of the city and the streets of Le Marais – and he’s always ready to take in waifs and strays who need shelter, good advice and a warm meal

But when these gay sex workers are targeted by a serial killer, Connor’s not going to stand aside and if he catches the serial killer they’ll find there’s another dangerous predator prowling the rooftops of Paris.

While Michel is an undercover cop, ideally placed to infiltrate the killers victims – being a former sex worker himself. But can he lure in the killer without falling into old, destructive habits?

Like many paranormal romances, I find myself a little frustrated by the fact actually hunting down the serial killer takes a very big back step to the romance. I don’t know how much Michel actually spends investigating the murder at all… I mean other than walking the streets looking sexy I can’t really point to anything Michel does to actually hunt down the serial killer. Michel does little more than move in with Connor and then repeatedly fall asleep instead of doing his job and then destroying evidence. Connor does more, but even he gets heavily distracted.

I do actually like the romance, I think it has a lot of positive elements, is nicely based, has reasonable conflicts and is generally something I appreciate – but it’s hard to be that invested in it when there are men being murdered and that’s pushed into the background.

I am somewhat bemused with the idea that the police are under so much pressure from the powers that be to solve this case right now! The dead are sex workers, homeless street walkers, gay men and, at least some of them, immigrants, possibly undocumented. The powers that be being passionately outraged about this does not match up with actual official reaction to the deaths of any of these groups, let alone men who straddle all of them. I think it would have been much better to focus on Judge d’Angers, a clearly deeply involved woman (in what we don’t know yet) who could be driven by her own moral code (or other motives we’re not yet privy to).

I really like Connor and Michel here – they’re fun characters, they have hobbies, histories and depths. I like how they grow together, I like how they come to realise more depth. I like how Michel relates back to his previous life but is happy about how far he has come and is very confident as to risk everything to prove himself. I like Connor, his life his dedication to art, his existence, community and friends.

I like the unique wereanimal, some very original takes on werecreatures in general and a really interesting take on the supernatural depiction of the Council of Paris. I really really wish we could see more of the supernatural here. The hints of the supernatural are too brief, Connor’s history is too brief, his family too brief and what it means to be a weresmilodon was all pretty abruptly passed over. Which is a shame because not only did I want to see more of these unique elements, but I felt the supernatural wasn’t as big a part of this book as I like

But I really did like to see Connor stalking the houses of Paris. And how that isn’t quite as easy for a big cat as we often see depicted

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Etched in Bone (The Others #5) by Anne Bishop

Humanity has been firmly rebuked by the Others. Towns have been depopulated, bodies have piled up, communication is splintered.

Humanity tries to rebuild in the aftermath and to face the new reality they live in, under new rules and under new restrictions.

And none more so than Lakeside – Meg, Simon et al have built a whole different way for humans and Others to interact and the Elders are curious. What they learn in Lakeside may decide the fate of all humanity.

And the appearance of Cyrus, Monty’s criminal, shiftless brother, risks upending all of that.

The Meg, The Meg is back! We love the Meg. We adore the Meg. This is known!

After last book, the whole land has been mauled by the Others. Humanity has been slaughtered and the conflict that has pretty much defined the last few books has been dramatically changed. The whole Humans First and Last movement is no longer a force to be reckoned with. The Others have revealed their claws and the whole idea of humans rising up and taking the land is now well and truly gone.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of humans who hate the Others – of course there is – but the whole idea of them as an institutional powerful force has slipped. Even the position of local government et al has slipped considerably towards appeasing the Others. Humanity is on survival mode now which makes for a very different tone overall for the books and characters specifically.

This book also carries on the tone of the Others being dangerous. That was always on the cards but as we saw more and more of the Others playing with the Exploding Fluffballs of the female pack, of the crows being endearing and curious – and even, in this book, Meg scolding the Elders for being insufficiently polite (and it’s moments of humour like this that really adds the peak to this book series). But this book not only presents the threat but reminds us that even the friendly, happy Others like Simon and the Crowguard are still vicious, dangerous and willing to eat humans who break the rules. The teeth is back in the series with this book.

The ongoing conflict is how the humans exist in this new Thasia. A world with more shortages, less communication, less trade and generally everything being so much more isolated than it was. It’s interesting how it touches on things like shortages – because that means “famine” or “starvation” to the Terra Indigene, but means “lack of options” to many of the humans. Obviously, The Others are less inclined to be sympathetic towards the idea of a monotonous diet being a terrible hardship (most of them are carnivores with a relative narrow prey selections) while at the same time being indulgent of the Female Pack

And, yes I love the women of the Courtyard. Because though Meg earned her respect and position among the Others with her unique abilities and nature first of all, the other women earned their place through personality, strength, capacity, courage and compassion (and attacking enemies with a teakettle). We also have some really excellent depiction of abusive relationships – but violent and non-physically violent relationships, how words have power and how people can be beaten down so completely in these relationships (and how domestic violence isn’t always between partners). It’s a meaningful and powerful storyline with some excellent characters. I’m also hoping for other women, including the women of the new frontier town, one of which is a police office resisting the sexist assumptions of humanity with the sheer bemusement of the others.

Beyond, Season One, Episode Nine: Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness is the penultimate episode of season one. At this point, as a viewer I should feel that the show is rising to a great crescendo but it feels more like it is limping to the finish line after a long drawn out struggle in which nothing really happened and nothing was explained.

When last we left Holden, he had been kidnapped by Yellow Jacket, (who still doesn't have a freaking name) at the behest of Tess, for Frost. Out of Darkness begins with Frost waking up and making an elaborate breakfast which he delivers to Holden's room. Frost is quite pleased with himself and his new captive. 

Willa and Luke meet at a diner and Luke asks about Hollow Sky. He recognised the logo on the cuff link when he was working for the church.  Luke is determined to get answers but Willa has none to offer having not seen Holden since before he went on his little road trip with Charlie.  Willa does take the time to warn Luke to stay away from Hollow Sky.  Their conversation comes to a halt when Willa gets a call from Jeff, to inform her that Holden has been taken captive.

Holden awakes in a strange bed and is disoriented for a moment.  He spies the breakfast which Frost left for him along with a clean shirt lying on the bed.  Holden looks out the window and sees a group of kids playing ring a round the rosey which I suppose is apropos given that Hollow Sky amounts to a death cult. Holden gets dressed and makes his way downstairs and into the kitchen where he pauses long enough to grab a utensil to use as a weapon.  In the distance music can be heard and so he follows the sound to Frost's private office.  Moments later, Frost walks in carrying wood for a fire and expresses happiness to see that Holden is finally awake. 

Now that Willa knows that Holden has been kidnapped, she's desperate to get him back and to that end, she pays a visit to Arthur.  Arthur isn't pleased that Frost now has Holden but he's unwilling to help get Holden back.  Arthur claims that he's already lost his daughter and is unwilling to potentially lost Willa as well. As you might imagine, this doesn't sit will with Willa and she decides it's truth telling time. Willa is certain at this point that Arthur is only concerned with his competition with Frost and that he is only throwing in the towel now because he believes he's lost the after life race.  Willa storms out but is stopped by Daniel, who gives her the coordinates for Hollow Sky.

Frost is completely magnanimous as he tells Holden, that he only wants a little bit of his time to explain everything that has gone on. The first stop is the garden, where Frost shows Holden a genetically modified tomato to begin the discussion about how far science has taken mankind, and how much further humanity can go.  Holden is dismissive of the tomato and questions if this is why Frost brought him here.

In the stables, Tess meets with Yellow Jacket, who wants to know what his next assignment is. When Tess orders Yellow Jacket to deal with Charlie, since she a loose threat, Yellow Jacket is not pleased because he wants to be allowed to stay to work with Frost and Holden.  Tess makes it clear that Yellow Jacket fulfills a specific job at Hollow Sky and that Holden is no longer his concern. A desperate Yellow Jacket asks to speak with Frost, but is informed that Frost is meeting with Holden right now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Silent Whispers (Totem #2) by Christine Rains

Kinley Dorn, architect, werepolarbear and geek is used to being pushed to the sidelines when her more active sisters are trying to chase down the missing totem pieces.

Until Ransom, werelynx and assistant to a vampire, encourages her to leave her safety and join him on the site – though even he didn’t expect an extinct giant to be rampaging around the site.

I have to say I am generally quite happy about how the romance in this book in some ways though it is a bit odd in some says. It doesn’t dominate – it’s clear there’s chemistry between Ransom and Kinley, but it is definitely not taking over.

But it’s always present which is slightly odd. Not because it’s distracting like so many romances are in this genre – because it isn’t. The characters are clearly focused on stopping the zombie giant, helping the people around the land and finding the totem. The focus is clear. The romance is… not? It’s not so much a distraction so much as a blink and “oh, yeah… romance. Apparently? Ok”. And in some ways I find the romance far more out of place than I find it a distraction: because the focus is so clearly present that it seems weird that these cleverly focused people are instead suddenly throwing this focus to a side to muse over how hot Ransom is

I also found it somewhat detrimental to their development – we spent time on the romance when we could have spent more time on the actual characters. We have to remember this is a very short book – so needs to be careful where the focus is. What do I know about Ransom? He’s a good looking rascal. What do I know about Kinley? She’s a geek with self-esteem issues. Rather than have this little odd romance we could have explored Kinley’s abilities, her skills as an architect (hey, one thing I loved about Totem is that it did a great job of, in a brief space, showing Ametta’s skill as an interior designer and why this matters for the supernatural beings who are their customers), finding her confidence in ways other than “yes the hot guy actually thinks you’re hot despite your love of Firefly”. Even more geeky references (though there were some excellent references which was always fun).

The OA, Season One, Episode Three: Champion

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Nancy is approached by Patricia, who is a journalist interested in writing Prairie's story. At first, Nancy isn't at all interested in the publicity but when Patricia starts talking about the money this story could make for her family, suddenly Nancy isn't so resistant. Patricia suggests that given what she has been through, Prairie may never be able to work.  Rather than this being about what's best for Prairie, I really think that Nancy sees this as giving her a tool to keep Prairie dependent upon her and a chance to hear what Prairie has gone through.

The family meets with Patricia over dinner and she tells them about the last story she wrote about a boy who was abducted. Patricia stresses the healing factor of sharing your story with the world because it allows the survivor to not only claim their own story but proclaim it finished.  This is when Prairie decides that she's out because apparently her story is far from finished. I suppose this has something to do with the clandestine meetings she's holding in the unfinished subdivision in her neighbourhood.

Prairie returns to her little group and starts talking about the early days of her captivity. Prairie talks about the difficulty of not having a true sense of time. For Prairie, each morning she would awaken and feel as though she were free for the first few moments before remembering her captivity. Though she is not the only captive, it's clear that despite being in the same situation, Prairie, Scott, Homer and Rachel have nothing to say to each other.

The little crew of captives don't actually speak to each other until Prairie somehow convinces Hap that her blindness means that she needs light and fresh air more than the others.  For some reason, Hap takes Prairie upstairs and she amazes him by making him a chicken sandwich. I know that Prairie is blind but Hap is standing so damn close, why didn't she use that big ass butcher knife as a weapon? Hap, feeling all full of himself for his generosity, offers Prairie the other half of the sandwich and allows her to make one for each of the other captives when she refuses to eat. This is the catalyst which starts the group finally talking.

We learn that Homer agreed to be part of Hap's NDE (near death experience) study group to earn five hundred dollars to support his unborn child.  Homer quickly felt that something wasn't right with Hap and so stashed his championship football ring in the medicine cabinet. Homer still has the five hundred dollars and he's desperate to get the money to his kid. Now that Hap trusts Prairie, Homer wants her to steal a bill so that they can use to send out the money to his child and a note.  Homer is adamant that they use this opportunity so that his son will know that he didn't abandon him. Prairie however has another plan that she wants to work on. We learn then that Hap gasses the foursome before removing one of them for experimentation.

Perhaps its because she's blind but Hap decides to let Prairie out of her cage to prepare meals for him. It's through her work as Hap's servant that she learns that he has to take sleeping pills.  Despite Homer's plan to send for help through the mail, Prairie decides to follow her own inclinations and starts slowly stealing pills from Hap. I'm not sure why exactly why Hap is drawn to Prairie other than the fact that her blindness means that he can trust her in ways that he cannot with others. The fact that Hap seeks out Prairie's aid, suggests that Hap is truly a lonely man but then you would have to be when you have four people locked in your basement.

When Prairie has squirreled away enough pills, she decides to make a special broscht using a recipe from when she was a child. Prairie is clearly nervous as she prepares the stew but Hap remains clueless that he's about to consume a bowl of poison. Hap seeks to calm Prairie by asking her to sup with him.  Hap begins shoveling the food in his mouth and Prairie is forced to take a bite when he notices that she isn't eating.  It doesn't like long for Hap to realise something is wrong and this happens much faster than Prairie thought it would because it's not the sleeping pills in the soup that is affecting Hap but the fact that he is allergic to the kind of tomato paste she used.  Hap makes his way to a drawer and pulls out an EPI pen but its empty.  Hap then sends Prairie to get him another from the bathroom and she searches fiercely. When she finds the pen however, Prairie is slow to hand it over because she finds a dead woman in the bathtub. The woman is August, and she died before Prairie was taken captive.  Hap crawls into the bathroom and snatches the new Epi pen from Prairie and quickly injects himself. This is why at the very beginning of the meeting, Prairie told her little group that it's really hard to allow a man to die. I don't really understand this given that Prairie has proof that Hap is a murderer and she's been taken hostage by him. The only way out is for Hap to die.

Now that Prairie's plan has failed, it's time to move onto Homer's which seems even less likely to work. How exactly are they supposed to mail the letter once they write it? While in the bathroom, Prairie grabbed a Horizon bill and Homer's ring. They decide to compose a letter filled with information about who they are, who needs to know about them and to their best understanding where they are. The plan is to mix the letter in with outgoing mail and hope that the class ring does not alert Hap as to its contents. Unfortunately for the captives, they never get that far because while passing the now completed letter to Prairie, it slips out of her hand and floats along their shared little stream out of their reach.