Saturday, October 27, 2018

Supernatural, Season 14, Episode 3: The Scar

Dean is back, free from possession and ready to rejoin the party. He dives right in, mocking the horrific abomination of his brother’s beard, reeling a little at the crowds that now fill the Winchester Cave - who call Sam Chief.

We have reunions with Cas and Jack - but not Bobby, alas. What we don’t have is Dean talking about his possession. He claims to not remember anything about being possessed and insists he’s fine

Everyone gives him duly dubious looks

But when he goes to shower he finds a weird scar on his arm - they realise something managed to hurt him while possessed by Michael -perhaps enough to drive Michael from his host explaining why Dean was freed at all. This is exciting for everyone because it points to a weakness in the super dangerous Archangel

And they have a lead. Cas does his angel mind reading trick on Dean (hey, remember that one?) and remembers a figure with a spear stabbing Michael/Dean in the arm… a figure that looks exactly like the one who killed Kaia.

They call Jody about the attacker (oh why why why did they not get a spin off? Whyyyy?) they learn she has three bodies with very similar marks to the scars Dean had. Time for them to set off - without Jack because Dean crushes his little spirit by pointing out how weak and fragile he is with classic Dean diplomacy. Jack goes to his room with heart all in tatters…. Awwwww

And Castiel stays behind because one of the Winchester crowd, Jules, brings in Laura, a victim of a witches curse who needs woo-woo. I think this is a convenient way of keeping Castiel off the front like, just like last week because, even if they keep forgetting it, angels are supposed to be portable nukes and break the story

It does mean we get to see Jody again - and why oh why oh why wasn’t Wayward Sisters a thing?! WHYYYYY?! She talks about how hard it is raising three huinters, how she and Claire continue to have a difficult relationship with them finding a level with Jody agreeing to bring her in on monster cases but human cases are off limit. Which makes sense since with humans she has to be involved with things like evidence etc

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Walking Dead, Season 9, Episode 3: Warning Signs

The Friday Discussion: The Marginalised Swan Song

There is a myth that a swan sings just once, beautifully, before it dies.

After watching and reading numerous Urban Fantasy shows and books we have found another, more plaintive herald of impending death: The Marginalised Swansong

All too often we see a marginalised character relegated to their standard roles - standing in the background to add diversity points, disappearing into the plot box for several episodes, existing only to serve the main character, devoid of their own plot lines and, quite possibly not even having any lines - and then suddenly they start talking! People notice them! They even pretend to care!!! They have sudden relationships (being LGBTQ and in a relationship is especially dangerous) and maybe even a storyline!!!

And then they die.

It’s reached a level of almost comedy that we can predict this happening so often. Of course it comes down to classic tokenism: they’ve decided to add some marginalised characters but that’s about all the effort they’re willing to spend on them. Look, they’ve given you some dark skin and the token gay, give them the damn cookies already! But when it comes down to killing off their disposable characters (and marginalised characters are so very very disposable) they have a dilemma.

No-one cares about them. And it’s a waste of good drama to kill someone no-one cares about

A classic example for this is T-Dog from The Walking Dead. T-Dog was such an utter background character that sometimes he went entire episodes being nothing but set dressing - fandom was actually more concerned with the fate and eventual death of Merle who not only appeared in three episodes less than T-Dog, but was objectively a terrible person. T-Dog was pretty much non-existent. No-one cared about T-Dog. There was reasonable chance half the audience didn’t even remember he existed. How do you kill off a character like that when the likely reaction of most the viewers will be “who?”

This is not the emotional reaction most writers aim for when they kill off a cast member

So they desperately try to big him up, slap some characterisation on him before he finally falls off his perch and joins the choir invisible. Which is exactly what we saw with T-Dog a couple of episodes before he actually died, he suddenly started talking, he had lines, he even build an almost friendship with Carol. Then he died.

He’s not an isolated incident. The Walking Dead alone did similar things with Noah, Denise and Sasha (and likely more). The Vampire Diaries belatedly remembered Luke existed and was involved in a life and death decision a couple of episodes before he died. The Last Ship finally pulled Aleisha out of the set dressing to suddenly focus on her relationships (after seasons of blink-and-you-miss-it-portrayal and a general disinterest in family life for any character) so we could remember her name before she died. Bitten tried with Jorge. And Penny Dreadful desperately tried to slap some characterisation on Sembene before killing him off. Supernatural took Charlie from being a briefly appearly one off whacky adventure character to finally involving her in the main plot. She was involved! She was important! She was a real character! And she was dead. And it’s no consolation that I predicted it three episodes before BECAUSE of this trope.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Charmed: Season 1, Episode 2: Let This Mother Out

After the first episode I was more than a little disappointed and my hopes have been thoroughly dashed - yet after this episode things are looking a little better again - this show is going to get my hopes yo-yoing

It improves a lot by exploring the sister’s relationships a lot more and generally slowing down the pacing. The main conflict they face is that the Spirit Board they found starts moving, claiming to be the spirit of their dead mother and tells them not to trust Henry

There is quickly a conflict primarily between Mel - who tends to be very emotionally focused, was the closest to their dead mother and isn’t a great fan of Henry anyway - who desperately WANTS to believe the Spirit Board is their mother.

While Macy, the scientist who believes in objective reasoning (who also doesn’t especially want to talk to their mother because the question of why she abandoned her is bound to come up and since Macy can’t think of a good answer to that she knows it’s not going to be fun. So she kind of DOESN’T want the spirit board to be mother) points out they have no proof that the spirit moving the planchette is their mother and writing off Henry as a resource.

While Maggie finds herself in the middle - supporting Macy’s logic but feeling Mel’s emotion as well. As they argue what to do, the book helpfully flips to a spell for a truth serum and Macy opts to use the spell to test Henry’s sincerity… Mel doesn’t like it but Maggie says yes and they insist “majority rules”.

They also worry about using Henry’s name because he comes when called so end up calling him Megan Markle thanks to Maggie

There’s another conflict in how Macy is feeling… last week I commented how it felt weird how quickly Macy became a sister to the other two, joined the family and moved in freakishly quickly. Now Macy is feeling like an outsider - as the other two discuss their mother and their connection and love for her, it makes Macy uncomfortable because, of course, she only knows her mother as the woman who abandoned her and it’s hard to hear the unreserved praise lavished on her and is equally painful to hear all these beautiful memories which she cannot share. They’ve also moved her into their mother’s bedroom which makes sense - but they’re not willing to let go and also try to keep the room as a shrine to her mother. Including the Mom Bong which is kind of awesome

This spills over into her life -while she has made up with colleague Galvin after she accidentally threw things at him with her telekinesis, she then has another argument when she hears that he has covered for her and helped at work… she is feeling left out at home and fears feeling left out at work as well.

While this is happening Henry is busy seeking evil demons - and warning them to look out for signs of demonic evil like presidential tweets (ok I have to applaud that one). And there is a demon on the loose - some black goo has attacked a janitor at Macy’s work place. Macy manages to get a sample - but even when she runs into Henry doing some memory wiping (I am so glad he has this power and all the terrible “magic is revealed” plot lines of old Charmed will end).

Maggie has her own conflict - her ability to read minds feels completely lacklustre next to the awesome freezing and telekinesis power. Her mind reading power is not giving her useful conflict powers and she can’t turn it off -which is really making it hard for her to join her sorority (which is still something she wants because just because she’s a witch doesn’t mean she doesn’t want a normal life). Every time she touches someone she hears their thoughts

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Last Ship, Season 5, Episode 3: El Puente

A Discovery of Witches: Season 1, Episode 6

Diana has been captured by Satu. Who can fly - this is apparently a witch thing. And she has been delivered to Gerbert the evil vampire

Honestly, Satu, you’ve got Gerbert the evil vampire and Knoxx the evil witch - you need better friends.

When she arrives Gerbert starts getting all gropy but Satu steps in - she’s her’s first before Gerbert

She then tries to convince Diana she’s a friendly kidnapper, appeal to her witch solidarity (though she seems shaken when Diana reveals her parents were killed by witches before falling back on the witches must have had a good reason) before getting to the core - she wants to see Diana’s power.

And Diana throws some witchwind about but it’s not all that impressive and Satu isn’t going to be moved by it. She tries to frame it as a chance to help - if she teaches Diana magic she can then protect herself from Gerbert and Matthew. Of course Diana objects to the idea she needs protecting from Matthew and Satu’s attempts to convince her that a) Matthew is using her for the book and b) that Matthew killed Gillian are also not exactly convincing

It’s not like Diana even likes Gillian and disparages her as just another puppet of Knoxx’s - just like Satu. Well… she’s not wrong Satu.

Satu keeps magicing at Diana which involves some fire effects, lots of throwing her around and some glowing lines on Diana’s back while she screams and Satu demands to know her secrets. She also has an ominous box

Gerbert is interviewing his headless witch: beware the witch with the blood of the lion and the wolf which will destroy the children of the night. Can someone write this down so she can stop repeating. It. Gerbert would quite like to know whether Diana or Satu is the witch of prophecy (probably Diana I think)

More screaming and woo-woo and Satu collapses, apparently not getting what she wants, so she drags Diana to an oubliette and drops her in (they’re in Gerbert’s ruined castle). Gerbert arrives to demand he be tagged in and Satu needs to get Diana out  - but she can’t. Using woo-woo on Diana has cost her her powers.

Welp, Knox did warn you Satu.

Knox locks her up in a room with the severed witch head which duly freaks Satu out that an ancient powerful witch has been kept in such an appalling condition for so long. The witch is apparently Meridana (THE Meridana - so clearly important) - and Satu borrows some of her magic so she can escape - with the head.

While Diana dreams about her parents who take a long time to explain that to get out of a room with a hole in the ceiling one has to fly

I would say it shouldn’t take this long to explain things to her but given her decision making to date… maybe.

Of course the rest of Team Good Guy aren’t standing around. While Matthew snarls and manhandles his brother Baldwin and even bites him for the actions of the Council, Marthe investigates and discovers a flying witch must be behind the abduction (something Knoxx cannot do). They call Knoxx anyway and he lies and claims Satu is with him - it’s not a convincing lie. But a witch invading vampire lands is justification for a war...

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Nightshift (Midnight Texas #3) by Charlaine Harris

People are committing suicide at the Midnight crossroads. Once is tragic, twice unlikely and three times definitely more than a coincidence

There’s a dark presence under the crossroads. It’s been there for centuries - but it’s waking up. The inhabitants only clue to what it is and what it wants is in a book that none of them can read. They’re running out of time and the dark voice Fiji hears is growing louder

Meanwhile Olivia’s family may have finally caught up with her - with lethal repercussions and increased suspicion about the true motives of her neighbours

I really do like the concept of Midnight - a small town in rural Texas where the supernatural gathers, where people with secrets gather to build their new life. Over the last few books this has developed further as the members of the community have grown closer together. And this is something Charlaine Harris has always been very very good at: building a community, building all those little social interactions, those visits and family histories and little gossips that gives a real sense of community

This does, in some cases, slow the pacing as various characters discuss their issues with each other, then discuss those issues with other characters and all pry into each other’s business - especially since we have a lot of characters all with their own back stories and issues (which I, again, really like). But it works here because the overall story of this small town is the community that has been built here. So I don’t mind that we spend what appears to be a truly unnecessary amount of time discussing Lemuel’s human life even though it adds absolutely nothing to the plot. Or that we have Manfred’s old cronies from Las Vegas living nearby. Or the time spent gossiping around tables discussing what Chuy and Joe are (which is not known for most of this book and these are somewhat peripheral characters - which is a little weird given what they’re facing). It works because that’s what these books are.

I do think Olivia’s story is a little…. Weirdly convoluted. But hey, it’s not completely out there so I can run with it.

At times it seems the characters are somewhat distracted from the main plot, largely waiting for Lemuel to translate a convenient book he’s found - convenient in that it has all the answers and plot convenient in that it’s written in a convoluted ancient language for no good reason (and, honestly it makes little sense and really is just a method of drawing out the main plot so they can focus on the smaller side plots and relations. But it works).

The plot itself does have those convenience issues and does sort of circle slowly towards the ending rather than run for it - and it has some weird road bumps with Olivia’s story kind of running mundanely across the main supernatural - there’s something dark and evil under the crossroads plot line.

Z Nation, Season 5, Episode 3: Escape from Altura

After the bomb last episode, there is obviously the painful aftermath. The injured need treating, the Talkers need to be given Biscuits so they don’t go on a rampage and the dead and newly risen need Biscuiting as well. There’s also a whole bunch of zombies from somewhere which need killing

It’s messy - but the gang (all of which survive uninjured) are on it. George, again, really steps up and shows what an inspirational hero she is (and I have to give props to the show for just how well they’ve done this). The zombie attack is suspicious as well as the bombing as they don’t normally get large numbers of zombies around Altura

Warren rightly thinks this is an assassination attempt - either aimed at the delegates for the election, Estes or George (she continues to fail to see how important she is). But Estes steps in and reveals he has received information that a Talker was involved. He also moves to confiscate Citizen Z’s recording (which suggests Dante was in the area) so he can examine it. Not to stop anyone else from seeing it, honest. He also discovers a hole where the fence has been sabotaged

Estes is formerly from Zona and already had suspicious bodger written all over him. He’s also in an illicit relationship with Pandora the creeper Talker in the creepy mask who has Creepy views about humans - I think she’s using him because it’s blatantly obvious. She also has an ominous silent follower just in case we’d missed the fact that evil lady is evil.

Estes quickly rallies everyone to hunt down Dante - and quarantine all Talkers which is a bit of a leap which George finds especially off given that the election results were a landslide and very much in favour of Talker rights

I get that George is positive and inspiring but I think they need to be careful about making this excellent character naive. She still goes through Altura managing to calm violence with her presence but it’s clear hatred against Talkers is growing

The Talkers are rounded up and put in “quarantine”, large cages and Altura is put into lockdown. Sun Mei is outraged that one of her chief assistants, a Talker, is dragged into quarantine. (Which at least stops them messing with someone’s brain for science because ew ew ew ew). And in quaratine they’re not giving them Biscuits so they’re reverting to zombieness

Murphy is duly paranoid being the red guy who looks like Satan and he is out of there as soon as the alarms go off, knocking a guard out who demands to check his pulse to see whether to put him in quarantine. He then jumps in a truck with Dante and leaves, charging through the gates

Monday, October 22, 2018

Van Helsing: Season 3, Episode 2: Super Unknown

Way back in 1906 we catch up with Lily, a Van Helsing ancestor. She has herself committed to an asylum so she can then break out, kill a rapist with dazzling fighting skills and try to take down a vampire…. Which then manages to kill her with weirdness.

More weirdness, yay

So in 2020 we have the Van Helsing sisters and Axel hunting down Susan!Elder’s totem. The elder helpfully tells them repeatedly “you’ll know it when  you see it.” Like porn, apparently (why she couldn’t have said “it’s bracelet!”? I don’t know). They follow the Elder to an asylum - getting a guide along the way who the elder eats because she’s a vampire and it’s what they do

Scarlett and Axel are duly horrified by this while Vanessa is pretty indifferent. Vanessa is also becoming even surlier - which is impressive - with lots of brooding silence and snarling at Axel and her sister. Honestly this personality shift would be more notable if she weren’t already a seething ball of poorly focused rage.

Oh and her eyes keep glowing red which is sorta worrying. And Scarlett just wants to connect with her sister but finds that hard because Rage Ball.

So they explore the creepy asylum at night and Vanessa suggests splitting up because YE GODS THIS WOMAN HAS NEVER SEEN A HORROR MOVIE EVER.  Axel and Scarlett, being much more genre savvy, put a hefty fuck no on that one. They also leave the elder behind because she’s evil and unhelpful

They find a room full of a brand new kind of vampires - these vampires fight by just standing there and glowing blue at their targets. This causes the screen to vibrate and a whole lot of weird noises which seem to represent some kind of mind zapping. There’s also telekinesis. They’re kind of menacing but they kind of just stand there and zap. Scarlett pauses to scream now and then but is otherwise able to cut quite a path through them. Axel is even more debilitated but even he managed to shoot several of them while Vanessa doesn’t seem all that inconvenienced at all

I do like the contrast of Scarlett and Vanessa’s fighting style: Scarlett’s elegant skill and Vanessa’s berserker brutality

The vampires are killed pretty easily. They’re probably better off focusing on biting people. Scarlett bites one of them and lo she can change vampires into humans again. He’s Dr. Karloff and has no idea where the Totem is but he does tell them all about their ancestor. Because he reads historical files for fun? I mean, really?

So pulling out the files they study this and decide that the Elder’s totem is clearly buried with Lily…

...because she’d take it into the asylum with her when she already handed off her elder blood to her husband in case goes wrong. And this same totem would then be buried with her by the asylum and not claimed by her clearly-aware relatives or appropriated by corrupt staff. This makes no sense at all… absolutely none.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers (Accidental Demon Slayer #2) by Angie Fox

Lizzie needs an instruction book - being a demon slayer is definitely not a learn-on-the-job profession.

But she has no time to study - her uncle has fallen into the clutches of a succubus in Las Vegas. But on arrival there’s far worse than just one man’s life at stake - the entire city is under threat, none of her friends can help and Dmitri, the powerful griffin she loves, is dangerously compromised

The first book in this series has enough plot points to intrigue me - while also having a lot more elements I didn’t enjoy quite so much. I was hoping the balance reset and we saw more of the fish-out-of-water Lizzie trying to establish very normal self in the wild and whacky world of elderly biker witches and demons and griffins.

And… we didn’t really get that?

I kept checking to see if I’d skipped a book because Lizzie has suddenly developed a weird level of self-reliance. A major side plot, perhaps the entire theme of this book, is Lizzie trying to drive everyone off and insisting she has to do all this alone… and… since when? By the time line of the book she’s been doing this for about 2 or 3 weeks? But now she’s making multiple comments on how she needs to do all this alone, she doesn’t need help and… this would work in say, book 5? But now it’s odd: where did this come from?

It doesn’t help that we don’t have any real revelations of this book - or any development of the world building that would justify this level of confidence. One of the comic relief elements of this book is the fact she’s given a provisional license. That she doesn’t know how to be a demon slayer. She comically fails the test. She has a huge, and good, epic rant about how her mother had all the training and experience and she was just winging it. She even starts writing a book - The Dangerous Book of Demon Slayers - to guide others because they’re so rare and there’s so little guidance. Her approach to other supernatural in this book is, naturally, confusion

So why the self-reliance? Why the confidence? When she was asked to levitate her response was literally “I didn’t know we could do that!!!”

What matches this confusing lack of character development is a rather equal lack of world development. The witches use magic - which basically means icky things to freak Lizzie out  - and I say again what a shame this is. These witches, all older people, were driven out of their home and away from their own traditions and had to hit the road, developing their own cobbled together magic as bikers, transients, people without herb gardens or supplies. I would loved to have seen more of magic, the witches and their cobbled together need to use floss and mouth wash and road kill etc. This is such an utterly fascinating unique concept while, ordinary-woman-who-throws-shit-at-demons-while-whining-and-has-a-cute-animal-companion is dullllll and done done done.

We had ghosts in this book. We had fae. We had people saying fae are discriminated against, we had clearly other supernaturals, a bureaucracy, licensing for practitioners, a fairy godfather and OH MY GODS SHE DOESN’T QUESTION ANY OF IT. It’s just like “hey, this exists” which is great - but we never go beyond that. Give me depth

Because without a compelling, developed main character, without a compelling, developed world we’re left with the plot which, I’m afraid, also doesn’t pull me in. Like the characterisation, it’s not actively awful, it’s just lacking anything to drag me in. They arrive in town to find and save Lizzie’s uncle and manage to find and lose him. And then we just have a whole waffly bit in the middle Dmitri is in trouble, Uncle Phil is in trouble and they don’t seem to actually do a whole lot? There’s just a lot of flabby waffle round the centre of this book, lots of fretting over Dmtri (but not fixing it), lots of worrying whether they can trust a demon hunter (but not doing anything to find an answer for this), lots of fretting over the growing number of succubuses…. And there’s a lot of “oh we have no time!!!” DO SOMETHING THEN!!!!

It’s not bad, I have to stress that, none of this is bad - but none of it is GOOD either and the stuff that could be good - the biker witches, the slayer who risks his humanity to save humanity, the time manipulating fae - just don’t get any development.

There’s also this ongoing angst because Lizzie has corrupted Dmitri’s “pure griffin blood” by bringing him back from the dead in the first book and infecting him with her essence. She’s super guilty about this and there’s a weird way she kind of forgets that it was to SAVE HIS LIFE not for funsies. And that ends up with the feeling that maybe he’d rather have died than be “corrupted” and how important “blood purity” is which… eeeehhhhhh

Speaking of - 2-3 weeks. Saying “I love you” at this stage is just kind of weird guys. I have no idea why you’re both THIS invested in your relationship.

The ending also annoyed me. After so much frustration waiting for something to happen that I was really excited that it finally did and there’s a big confrontation and it’s shiny and I’m happy and thrilled and ready - and she pulls the biggest random-power-arse-pull I’ve seen outside of an Anita Blake novel. Rando-ridiculously-over-powered-super-power-from-nowhere to the rescue!

Few things ruin a book series’s moments of dramatic tension than knowing the protagonist can pull god powers out of her arse to fit whatever situation

Also, honestly, some of these characters should have died. One in particular. Raise the stakes already!

Diversitywise it was lacking. We had some awesome older women in the biker witches but didn’t develop them. The big bad are succubuses (not even the odd incubus) so there’s all that evil sexy woman gender binary heterosexualness. We have a few bit part POC - but they are just that, bit parts. And calling the Asian instructor the “dragon lady” is a bit of racial coding no-one asked for

This book series is going to be one that torments me. It will torment me because it’s not awful enough for me to seethingly read it and then let loose in the review. Because it isn’t. It’s not BAD, it’s just blah. But nor is it boring enough for me to abandon completely and, worst of all, it has these amazing, awesome nuggets of potential awesome right there  and I think every book you could start excited because if just one of those nuggets pays off...