Saturday, June 23, 2018

Dawn in the Damnation by Clark Casey

Damnation is the afterlife… not quite Hell but possibly in the same neighbourhood. Many a not-quite-as-bad-as-he-thought man ends up there to spend eternity drinking, gambling and not doing much else. Not out of choice - there simply isn’t all that much to do

Though eternity ends quickly for some - there’s a theory that if you go a year without killing someone then you’re redeemed for Heaven. No-one has succeeded so far; though Thomas, the town chronicler, is trying.

The men eke out their existence in the saloon, trying not to antagonise the werewolves or annoy the town’s vampire; and trying to not get into any gunfights they might lose.

But things are changing - there’s a new gunslinger in town, better than any before. And following him is rarest of all, a woman.

This book is, in many ways, pointless. It’s full of unknowables, with virtually no world building, no set motivations, little understanding, conflict without foundation, characters without purpose and no real conclusion

Which is excellent.

Which is the whole point.

The cast is in an afterlife… an old west afterlife - people die and appear in this old west town which was the original era for most of the people there. But time is clearly moving on - so we don’t know if, as the years pass, this town will evolve especially as new characters are descending down to the town of Damnation where they spend their days eating pork, drinking whiskey, gambling and having various gun battles.

But the core foundation of Damnation is even “Damnation” is an assumption. No-one really understands the nature of it’s town, why they’re there, where they go when they die, what its purpose is. What’s really fascinating is us being presented with a lot of really interesting rules and theories but ultimately it all rests on no-one knowing: of people living every day without real purpose except to live another day

I think beyond anything else that is the underpinning foundation of this book. We get conflict and more structured purpose later on and we definitely have individual character arcs. But the first half, maybe even third, of this book does an excellent job of world building - or theme building rather. We have all these people in this afterlife eeking and existence and struggling for… well… nothing? Anything?

This is an excellent foundation to underpin the feeling of almost desperate hopelessness with the place, in some ways even the desperate pointlessness of it - and of that thing thread of survival they cling to. It underpins all the characters as people come and go, new leaders, new gun slingers who leave their stamp on the town before fading when the next threat comes. And people die, even people who have been central for so long and it fades and changes

Friday, June 22, 2018

Westworld, Season Two, Episode Nine: Vanishing Point

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Vanishing Point is the penultimate episode of this season and the characters are getting into place for what is clearly an epic showdown but first, we get to take a look at William's life away from the park. When we first met William in season one, it was before he became the MIB. He saw himself as a good person and so chose the white hat as a marker of identity and purpose but over the years, the freedom to be as cruel as he could possibly be morphed William from the moral optimist we first met into a very dark man who is haunted with the swathe of pain he has cut through this world.

When we last left William, Emily had arrived and secured his freedom from the tribe by promising to punish her father for his misdeeds. Now that the two are alone together, it's time to talk. Emily has called for an evacuation team certain that her father needs help because he can no longer separate himself from the game. William talks about the darkness within him that he tried to hide to protect his family. William blames the growing dark spot on his soul on Westworld. Emily claims that she wants in on the Delos project and William believes that her desire stems from wanting to bring her mother back but as it turns out, Emily wants to know why her mother killed herself. Emily admits that for awhile she blamed herself and talks about the music box that she was given by Juliet, which she threw in the garbage.

In flashback, we see William being honoured for his philanthropy. Just as Ford accused him of in an earlier episode, doing one good act in the hope to erase a myriad of bad acts. Juliet plays the role of dutiful wife supporting her husband, even as she loses herself in drink from the horror that is her husband. William meets up with Ford, who sarcastically claims that he's there to show his respect for William. William warns Ford not to mess with the Valley and that he will stay out of his stories, causing Ford to give him a gold card which contains his Westworld profile, in the process revealing that he knows exactly what Delos is up to.  This is exactly the kind of self reflection that William is not interested in doing. William makes his exit when a drunk Juliet ends up breaking some wine glasses. It's clear that it's time to get her home.

William and his wife and daughter return home and the conversation quickly becomes about re-institutionalising Juilet.  At this point in their relationship, Emily is firmly on her father's side. Because Juliet is so upset, William takes his wife upstairs and puts her to bed. Juliet is sober enough to make a request, "tell me one true thing," she says, before seemingly drifting off to sleep. This is the first time we hear William admit to his cruelty and his knowledge of the cost of it.
"I built a wall and I tried to protect you in it and Emily. But you saw right through it didn't you? ...For that I am truly sorry because everything you feel is true. I don't belong to you or this world. I belong to another world. I always have."
On his way out, William slips the card that Ford gave him into a book. Downstairs, William sits with Emily to discuss what to do about Juliet's alcoholism.  Emily wants to involuntarily commit her mother. Unbeknownst to the father and daughter, Juliet has gotten out of bed and viewed William's Westworld profile and for the first time sees that man she married without any kind of filter; the wall William built is officially down. Juliet not only sees all of the violence she learns that William is delusion, extraordinarily violent and paranoid.  It's an extremely toxic mix. Juliet tucks the card away into the music box that she retrieved from the garbage before drawing a bath and taking a bottle full of pills.  William and Emily are alerted to the trouble when water starts to drip from the chandelier.  By the time William races upstairs, Emily is already dead and turning blue.

Requiem: Once Upon a Time

So after six seasons, Once Upon a Time desperately tried to fend off the inevitable with a seven season reboot. Sadly for the show, it wasn't enough and ABC finally gave up on the show. After following this from the beginning there's always a bitter sweet element to letting it go - even when there are several elements we certainly don't miss - there's still a lot there that still could have been

Which, of course, means it's time for a Requiem


I think it’s hard to remember how original and interesting this show was when it first started all those many years ago. I think we need to give praise to that even as it has become more normalised in the years the show run. The whole concept of taking these fairy tales and mixing and mashing them up was really fun for me to see. Simple things like Rumplestiltskin being, obviously, the titular deal-giving monster, but also the Crocodile from Peter Pan and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast is the kind of mash up that I really really love.

The show has also brought some really iconic characters - Regina first and foremost, of course, but Emma, Maleficient, Cruella De Ville were some of my favourites. Throw in some really nice plot twists - the weirdness of how King Arthur fit into the show, Peter Pan as Rumple’s father, the complicated Cora/Regina/Zelena family tree. It had some gems.

Also Killian’s eye-shadow.


The Charmings. The problem with the Charmings is they’re probably the characters that have most held onto the fairy tale origins of the show. So while everything else is bring a sometimes-gritty but often more eye-open reality take to the world, the Charmings are there being kind of flabby and soggy and grossly PASSIVE. These two are repeatedly held up as heroes but, despite occasional past flashbacks of action, they generally did nothing to earn that. They only ever react to what the bad guys do - and then not often. In fact, even their claim to heroism seems to be far less because they champion the little guy or help people or hunt down evil - they’re heroes because EVIL COMES FOR THEM. If Regina didn’t devote so much effort to actually squishing Snow then she’d probably not do anything at all, no matter what kind of reign of terror was unleashed on the actual kingdom.

And this pervasive passivity followed through to everything they did. They never planned anything - just rested on this soppy “good will find a way” “love will find a way” “good is rewarded” “evil never prospers” twee philosophy which ruled out them actually having to do ANYTHING. If they are “good” then good never succeeded or triumphed -good twiddled its thumbs ineptly until evil collapses under its own evilness. And they’re central characters, they’re heroes, they’re leaders of their people for crying out loud! Words can’t express how frustrating I found their smug, pointless, passive, purity.

Good and Bad: The Season 7 Reboot

I know I’m almost a broken record on the final season of Once Upon a Time but it’s because I’m so twisted up about it as being both a perfect example of why we need Reboots while similarly being a text book example of how reboots can be badly done

I praise season 7 being a reboot - because after 6 seasons, Once Upon a Time was done. The fairy tale ouvre just doesn’t have enough big bads to both match up to the last big bads AND to be able to assail the amazing force that Team Good Guy had finally mustered. The core characters had hashed out every single last emotional family drama possible at this point. Emma had love and family and it’d be ridiculous to sunder this AGAIN. The Charmings after 8,000 plots keeping them apart were now together. Everyone believed, Henry was the author and if Rumple turned evil just One More Damn Time or Regina had ANOTHER tragic love affair I was just going to scream. It was done. Stick a fork in it.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Into the Badlands, Season 3, Episode 8: Chapter XXIV: Leopard Catches Cloud

The Abbot is back - remember her? She’s meditating when she declares “it has begun”

That is never ever ever good.

Things are heating up with the Widow’s camp. She’s been brought back to her roots by the whole execution rebellion last week; Gaius of the cheekbones points out that executing rebels is kind of what a Baron should do but she remembers that the whole point of these shenanigans was to stop maintaining the status quo - not to create a status quo empire.

Which means she’s also having doubts about the whole army surge thing because throwing away the lives of your soldiers is a very baronish thing to do. Instead she’s decided that she, Gaius-of-the-Cheekbones and Tilda-remember-her? Will lead a raid on Castle Whitebone and assassinate Baron Chau

While the rest of her army is fights to distract led by Nathaniel. Still lots of death but probably not as much.

Since it’s the eve of battle we have the necessary sexy romance and pledges of devotion because this is what one does before war. Gaius pledges his sexy loyalty to the Widow forever and ever and they kiss

And Nathaniel and Lydia have a thing too, talking about the future, kissing, sex and Lydia deciding she is coming to the war as well because a) she’s good at strategy and b) if the Widow should unfortunately get stabbed or something they may need an inspiring leader to take over

At this point Lydia is just following the Widow around waiting to jump into her shoes before they’re even cold. I imagine scenes like the following happen a dozen times a day

People: the Widow has fallen from her horse!
Lydia: Good people, fear not; though the noble Widow has fallen, I, your new Baro-
People: She’s getting up! She’s fine!

So it’s off to the wars and a really pretty fight scene with lots and lots of conveniently placed pieces of burning wood for people to fall on and be all dramatic. Also they have artillery because we need explosions despite the general sword aesthetic. Also also, absolutely no-one fought wars like this. Except for a few Big Damn Heroes everyone else is literally pairing off. It’s like a gazillion neat little duels. Also also also, I’m going to introduce pole-arms and fighting in rank and file and own this whole damn Badland.

Nathaniel, before going into battle with the vanguard tells Lydia that she must hold the line with the rear guard as they’re literally the only troops between Chau’s forces and the sanctuary and everything else. No matter what she must hold the line

Time for some Epic

Nathaniel charges through on horseback slicing and dicing as he does - and is hit by a crossbow bolt

Lydia holds the line

Nathaniel, injured and off his horse continues to fight several times his own number of men in obviously dazzling style. Several times he is severely outnumbers and nearly overwhelmed

Lydia holds the line

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Frankenstein Chronicles: Season 2, Episode 1: Prodigal Son

So you watch a show and then it’s like 2 years before the next season. Which is unnecessary, television, very unnecessary

And then you forget about it so wait like 6 months to watch it. And then you’ve got to remind yourself who these characters actually are, what’s happening and why is there syphilis.

So with a hearty “I have no idea what I’m doing,” I’m diving in! Hey why change a habit of a lifetime?

John Merlotte was a policeman in King George’s new police force in London. He died and then Lord Hervey the very very nefarious brought him back to life all Frankenstein-y just 10 minutes before I gave up on this show ever having any supernatural elements

Now back from the dead, we’re focusing a lot on ATMOSPHERE. So it’s all a bit vague and emotive - and it’s extremely good at that. There’s definitely an incredibly powerful sense of Merlot’s confusion, his being out of place, and his confused and painful memories along with his extremely painful memories and experiences. It’s jarring and full of despair and bleakness

Yes, Sean Bean is delivering bleakness and despair. You’re shocked, folks, I’m sure.

He has been detained in Bethlem and has been there for 3 years. He’s near catatonic, hallucinating about the beach and his past and trying to find some sense in his confused and broken mind. The one person who visits him in all this time is Reverend Ambrose, who knew John before he was hanged, but even he can only get a brief reaction.

Until he finally breaks through to sanity - or something resembling it - and manages to yanks his chains from the wall and slit the throat of one of his guards.

I don’t know if undead Merlot is super strong or whether the chains are just poorly maintained.

He escapes and makes his way to Lord Hervey’s old home which is abandoned. At least I think he does. It’s also possible he’s hallucinating this - again atmosphere and theme and ominousness as he pieces together his memories about how Lord Hervey tried to make him into his protege/project and it didn’t go that well (hence Bethlem).

There’s also Lady Hervey as well, Lord Herving’s highly religious wife who was already highly conflicted about her husband’s experiments. The quote is “if he succeeds then we have a world without god”. And he just succeeded - and he’s likely to do more of these experiments: Merlot won’t be the last. She feels guilty and damned: and is pretty much convinced god has forsaken her and Merlot. And she needs him to hunt Hervey down (with a hint that since he’s damned anyway he might as well do a lot of fun murdering).

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Originals, Season 5, Episode 8: The Kindness of Strangers

The Mikkaelson family has all been trapped in a magical fascilime of their house. It’s full of memories because Klaus goes the extra mile with a super super super angsty voice over

And it is the whole family because Kol beams in (naked. Alas he doesn’t stay that way) and so does Rebekkah. They’re quickly joined by Freya and Marcel so it’s a whole angsty reunion

This could be one hell of a reality show.

They know a witch is messing with them and originally think it’s Vincent since he’s the only witch who has been around their home long enough to be able to recreate it this way. Except Marcel reveals it’s actually Hope who did this - and she dumped him in there as well when he tried to stop her. Her plan is to put all her family into comas and then pull out the magical darkness that keeps them separate

Flashback: remember the last season with a weird Native American demon girl who was trying to possess Hope for all the evil power. They solved this problem by splitting the Darkness between the whole Mikkaelson family so they could all go their separate ways.

Well last week Hope was determined to make “Always and Forever” (family drama, always and forever”) real again. Despite it being such a very very very bad idea. So she’s taking all that darkness back, which is a really really really really, oh dear gods, really bad idea. The whole of the last season was about stopping this bad idea.

Kol also realises that Hope had help -because one of the rooms in the dream house didn’t actually exist for the last 100 years so Hope couldn’t have seen it. He accuses Freya because he remembers once taking her to that room (wait, wasn’t Freya a prisoner of their evil aunt and the rest basically forgot she existed until about 3 years ago?)

Anyway turns out Freya is helping Hope because she promised and also because she doesn’t think the whole “you lot need to stay apart” thing is ever actually going to happen. Ever. Because they’re all just so completely co-dependent that they’re absolutely incapable of staying apart even if they will literally kill every first born in the city. And finally, since Hope has just lost her mother she can’t possibly lose her dad as well with this enforced magical separation and become an orphan and possibly super emotional and likely to burn the city down because she’s just that powerful and the Mikkaelsons just don’t deal with grief or, well, emotions, in a sane and mature fashion. Ever.

Freya also savagely points out she knows what’s best for Hope, not Klaus, despite his angry demands that his father-ness gives him the power, because he hasn’t been around due to a) curse and b) that time Hope saw him murder people and he decided it was best to freeze her out of his life because he’s just too much of depraved monster angst angst cry angst murder angst cry murder.

Freya leaves him to that and zaps out

So, back to the mystical prison: there’s a door for them to leave but all of them have to find a key to open it. Each of those keys is hidden somewhere significant to Hope and the respective dad, uncle or aunt and will allow lots and lots and lots and lots and oh my gods lots of angst from the most over-emotional family in the world.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Siren, Season 1, Episode 10: Aftermath

It is now time for the… rather disappointing finale to what I have to say is a rather disappointing series

As a season finale, it’s especially odd because all the action happened last episode. We’re now left clearing up a lot of storylines… which isn’t a problem if we actually had storylines that were hanging. Or if we cared about any of them. So the whole last episode feels like an afterthought of belatedly remembered characters doing stuff that doesn’t matter a whole lot - or is shoe-horned in for desperate plot hooks for the next season

So, Donna is injured and they call in Decker to help. Decker does his medical know how but it becomes increasingly obvious he’s utterly obsessed with Donna because of her song. Helen has no time for his nonsense and Ryn doesn’t mince words in making it clear that Donna only sang to him to help her escape, not because she even remotely liked him.

Decker tries to appeal to Ben - but that doesn’t win him any sympathy either. Unshockingly. He heads to the water for a suicidal swim: so that’s the power of siren song.

Maddie arrives to confront Ben and she’s duly furious with Ben. Ryn tries to defend Ben’s actions because he tried to help - except Maddie has an awesome come back that the didn’t help. And it may be worth putting up with this whole series for that line alone. Yes he tried to help - but he failed dismally, he didn’t help, he put them at risk and all the while completely ignoring Maddie while he ran off doing his own random thing. She further confronts Ben about his change of behaviour - because he’s changed, he’s freezing her out, he doesn’t consult her and he won’t talk to her

Obviously the effect of Siren song, because the suicidal Decker isn’t the only one who has heard their music.

But that goes to one side because Decker doesn’t succeed in healing Donna - and she dies. Which is tragic and annoying because it’s a damn waste and manages to make the utterly terrible racial tropes that have dogged this show even worse. Not only do we have the animalistic mermaids of colour compared to the human Ryn, but now Donna dies without any real characterisation of her own beyond “victim”. Of course, this also follows Decker’s death as well.

Maddie and her dad better watch out

There’s some question about what to do with the body - and Helen offers her secret family burial ground. Ryn isn’t keen about Donna being buried with humans - so Helen reveals she’s a mermaid

Y’know this may be the most blatantly obvious shock revelation in any show I’ve seen so far.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The 100, Season Five, Episode Six: Exit Wounds

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At the end of season four, everyone had been split up in order to survive primefiyah. Now that everyone is back together again, or at least all on earth and above ground, the fissures created by a six year divide are no longer deniable.  Even Bellamy is forced to admit that Octavia is no longer his sister.  Yes, the Blake siblings have had their issues over the years but with Octavia becoming so powerful, even Bellamy is not safe from her wrath, nor does he seem to have much influence over her any longer.  There was a time when you couldn't slide a piece of paper between these two but that time is long gone.  Octavia has undeniably become a ruthless dictator under the guise of keeping her people together and safe. 

For much of The 100, Clarke has acted on behalf of Skaikru, making the hard decisions in order to save as many lives as possible.  Skaikru is long gone now and all that she has left is Madi.  Madi as we have come to see in the passing years has become family to Clarke and her top priority.  For her part, Madi has completely lost herself in all of the stories that Clarke had told her about her people and is so naive, that she doesn't really understand that these stories no longer reflect who these people are today.  Octavia is so much more than the girl under the floor, she's someone to be feared now. It all comes to a head when Niylah discovers that Maddie is a nightblood.  Niylah and Clarke may have history but Octavia has made it clear in the intervening years that one is either Wonkru or Nokru.  Niylah's allegiances lie with Octavia and she promises that if Clarke comes clean that Octavia will show mercy.  After witnessing Octavia's brutality first hand, mercy is not something Clarke trusts as something Octavia is capable of anymore.

It becomes clear just how closely Maddie has been listening to Clarke when she decides that rather than fleeing and returning to the Valley for the sake of her safety, she reveals her true identity to Octavia. Maddie is clearly way out of her element and is acting with hopeful naïveté. Maddie confesses because she knows it's not safe for Clarke in the valley. This is actually something that Clarke would have done on behalf of Skaikru in the past.  For her part, Octavia identifies with Maddie because she too was forced to hide and so she makes her part of Wonkru.  At this point, I can see how Octavia identifies the similarities between herself and Maddie but I don't know that it will be strong enough to save Maddie from the actual threat that she represents to Octavia's rule. Sure people are loyal but many are only loyal because of fear and lack of options, not because they believe in Octavia. 

Bellamy does his best to argue for Echo's safety but Octavia is having none of it. Octavia orders Echo banished but does agree that if Echo turns in people who are unloyal that she will be allowed to stay. Sure enough, as Echo begins to pack her bags, members of Wonkru show up and ask to travel with her. They are sick of Octavia's heavy handed leadership and would rather take their risks with the outside world than live another day with Wonkru.  Proving how much Echo has changed, she refuses to turn these people over to Octavia to save her own life and instead offers to infiltrate the Valley as a defector and shut down their eye in the sky.  Octavia agrees to this plan but warns Echo that if she gets caught that no one is coming to save her. 

Echo leads a few defectors away from Wonkru, taking Diyoza's offer to take in any of Wonkru who choose to come and live in the Valley.  For Diyoza's part, it makes sense to take in people because they are going to need farmers and tech people in order to make a life in the Valley workable. Echo makes her bid for freedom but Octavia does not keep up her end of the bargain and has Miller shoot at the members of Wonkru who are trying to escape, much to Bellamy and Clarke's horror.  Echo helps a young woman along and when she gets shot, she slips the chip she needs to take down the eye in the sky in the wound. Bellamy is shocked that Octavia would go as far as to kill her own people but it seems that by leaving -- as far as Octavia is concerned -- they were no longer a part of Wonkru. Octavia also tries to justify her actions by saying that this makes Echo's escape more plausible because Diyoza would never have believed that she would have just let people go. At this point, it's clear that Octavia is just used to explaining away the evil that she does in the name of Wonkru.