TV Episodes For That Kick of Persistance

coyote looks at Sarah Connor, from "Some Must Watch"It’s been a long week and I’ve been thinking about the TV episodes in which a central character hits bottom and rises to fight the good fight again. Here are three episodes of television in which characters persist. I’ll be spoiling the endings so beware!


Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Chain of Command Pt. II”

This episode (Episode 11, Season 6) focuses on Captain Picard, who has been captured by the Cardassians. Picard finds himself at the mercy of an interrogator, Gul Madrid. As part of the process of breaking Picard, Gul Madrid tries to force Picard to state that there are five lights shining in the interrogation room. Picard (and the audience) can see that there are actually four lights. The mental and physical battle between these men is harrowing. Few moments are as kickass as Picard’s final words to Gul Madrid:



Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Anne”

Buffy was full of moments in which a wide variety of sentient beings, including but not limited to humans, tried to make Buffy feel worthless and then got their asses kicked by her. However, I’ve always thought that “Anne” (Episode 1, Season 3) is underrated. Buffy runs away from home and tries to avoid any heroics but naturally she ends up fighting to free homeless teens from monsters who enslave them. In the process, Buffy gets back on her feet and gives the chance of a new life to another girl, who shows up as a hero on Angel. “Can I be Anne?” is, in context, one of my favorite moments from the show.

Buffy in her waitress uniform from "Anne"

The true terror lies in customer service.


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: “Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep”

Sometimes you just need to accept your ferocious side and roll with it. The Sarah Connor Chronicles stars Lena Headey (pre-Game of Thrones) as Sarah Connor and Thomas Dekker as her teenage son, John, who is destined to save humanity in the future. For the purposes of this episode, you need to know that Sarah’s life is devoted to protecting John and training him to be a leader, and she has been joined by a benevolent Terminator played by Summer Glau.


This is a weird episode that tricks the viewer and the characters multiple times. Sarah begins by doubting herself. She regrets a recent act of violence. She is stuck on this violent act, which she dreams about again and again. Here’s the opening voiceover:


Midnight is the witching hour, if you believe that kind of thing, and most people won’t admit it if they do. Midnight is the time when a door opens from our world into the next and we are visited by dark spirits of the shadow lands. The incubus, the succubus, the old hag. Visitors are known by many names but each story bears the same marks. The demons come after midnight in the first three hours of the new day when we are alone and vulnerable, deep asleep and hopeless. When we cannot move. They lay on us, press on us, suffocate us, take from us what is most precious. Our lives, our love, our sanity. Our sleep. If you believe in that kind of thing.


As the episode progresses, Sarah moves beyond despair and inaction and embraces the side of her that will stop at nothing to protect humanity and protect her son. She’s not nice. She’s powerful. The episode is dark and violent and when you consider that Sarah has to let a softer side of herself die in order to become an agent of violence, it’s tragic. Still, if you need to gather some serious resolve, and you need to be a bad bitch for a while, consider these closing lines, played over the image of a coyote:

A spirit sits on a man’s chest. She is strong, beautiful. She is here to steal his children. She is here to steal his future. He is paralyzed. The terror in him will burst his heart if he cannot control it. She is a Night-Mare, a demon-woman, the oldest and most enduring story told by man. The witching hour is controlled by witches. She is a bad dream. She is a bad bitch.

Sarah, in her hospital PJs, looking annoyed

For heaven’s sake let this poor woman take a nap!

You can find great commentary on this episode at


Next month we’ll look at three episodes in which, as The Doctor says, “Everybody lives” – episodes of hope and our beleaguered characters getting a freaking break for once. Persist!

Movie Review: Colossal

MV5BMTY2NTExOTA2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMwMjE2MTI@._V1_UY268_CR1,0,182,268_AL_Colossal, an indie movie that is out on iTunes, must have been a hell of a movie to market. It’s billed as a dark comedy, but it’s mostly a drama, and it involves alcoholism, abuse, misogyny, and kaiju. It’s not a romance (IT’S SO NOT A ROMANCE!) but it may be of interest to some of our readers who like good acting and stories about prickly female characters who develop a sense of serious fucking agency. Also there are kaiju.


At the start of the film we meet Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway. Since losing her job she’s embraced alcoholism and her boyfriend, Tim, kicks her out of their apartment. For the record, in my opinion, having lived with and alcoholic, Tim is 100% correct in booting her out and he even thoughtfully packs up her stuff and says she can keep the luggage. Alas, we will hear more from Tim, who, like any codependent, is addicted to the very same drama that he hates just as Gloria is addicted to alcohol.


Gloria moves back to her hometown where her parents own a conveniently empty house. The house is not only empty of people but also of furniture and some of the funniest moments come from Gloria’s ongoing war with an evil air mattress. Gloria quickly meets a childhood friend, Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. Oscar gives her a job at the bar he owns and every night after work Oscar, his two buddies, and Gloria drink all night. Gloria staggers home through the same park in the mornings, a point with become significant when a kaiju appears in Seoul. It always appears at the same time of day, but it doesn’t appear every day. It doesn’t stay long. Eventually, Gloria realizes that the kaiju does the same movements she does – it essentially IS her. This dramatically changes her own behavior and her relationships to the men in her life.


So let’s sum up – there are kaiju (no spoilers, but the plural is not a typo) but it’s not really a kaiju movie. The kaiju don’t get a lot of screentime and the explanation for their existence is pretty sketchy. It’s magical realism, not science fiction. There’s comedy (that air mattress is a gift that just keeps giving) but the movie isn’t a comedy. The longer the movie goes on, the more it become like a thriller. Oscar is a terrifically terrifying character, the “I’m such a nice guy” misogynist who gaslights and abuses Gloria at every turn until SPOILER she gains the upper hand in a way that seems totally obvious in retrospect but which I did not see coming at all.


One of the interesting things about this movie is that it doesn’t try to make Gloria “likeable.” She drinks to the point of blackouts regularly. She lies so often it’s alike a reflex – she lies even when she doesn’t have to lie. She’s manipulative. When Tim the Codependent describes her as “a mess” he’s not wrong. Meanwhile, Tim keeps putting her down in ways that have nothing to do with her drinking, her bar friends enable her, and Oscar wants to control her. Gloria is surrounded by douchebags but she still has to take responsibility for her own behavior.


Gloria has a lot of flaws but she does draw the line at killing hundreds of people by passing out on them, and her desire to keep Seoul safe forces her to take responsibility for her own life. She stops drinking, she figures out how to make amends to the people of Seoul, and then fucking Oscar has to fuck everything the fuck up and she has to figure out how to deal with his incredibly terrifying and debasing shit.


The end of the movie is ambiguous, but I interpret it is saying that some battles can be neatly wrapped up and others are going to be a life-long effort. Sure Gloria kicks patriarchy’s ass in the most amazing and satisfying way, but she’s still an alcoholic who has just begun the process of recovery.


I have not seen much online discussion about the fact that in this movie, Koreans are essentially props in Gloria’s story. I cannot emphasize enough that there is a long history of white media placing white people in the forefront of stories that involve people of color, and of using the people of color to further the character development of the white characters. For some examples of this pattern, check out TV tropes’ pages on “mighty whitey,” “magical negro,” and “white man’s burden.”


You’d think the Internet would be aflame with rage about using an entire Asian city to help a white woman fight patriarchy, but it’s been fairly quiet as far as I can tell. I think this is because the kaiju element works so well thematically in a variety of ways. Here’s why I think it works thematically, keeping in mind that my perspective is that of a white viewer:


  • The general tone of the movie is one of magical realism, which suggests that we are not intended to view Koreans as props in the real world just as we are not supposed to worry about how the kaiju can exist.
  • The sight of the kaiju and robot duking it out in Seoul sits perfectly with the tradition of kaiju films.
  • The kaiju battles taking place far away reinforces Gloria’s sense of isolation.
  • Alcoholics have a hard time accepting the ways that their drinking affects other people. A turning point for Gloria is the realization that her drinking is hurting others. The fact that Gloria can feel empathy and responsibility towards people she does not know is a crucial difference between her and Oscar, who embraces the idea of using the residents of Seoul as his toys and his hostages. Gloria is essentially refusing to participate in the concept of the disposable other. Although she desperately wants to save Seoul, her actions are less about being a white savior and more about confronting the consequences of her own behavior and fighting her own oppressor.


I also think it’s significant that Gloria’s first contact after the climactic battle is with a woman. It’s the first time that we see Gloria interact with a woman in a significant and empathetic way. I like to think that this is a sign that the sisterhood is powerful and that, as they say, “friendship is magic.”


This was a painful and anxiety-producing moment to watch. Strong trigger warnings for alcoholism, misogyny, emotional abuse and manipulation, and physical violence. There’s a moment when Oscar tries to bully Gloria into drinking a beer when I truly thought I might have to turn the movie off and walk away (I have baggage on this topic).


However, ultimately this movie was incredibly satisfying. I was so proud of Gloria for smashing the patriarchy and facing her own issues. I was delighted by her solution to the Oscar problem. I liked the loopy, weird way that the movie was constructed and I loved the acting. The horror around the ‘nice guy’ who is a misogynist predator was truly terrifying and Gloria’s victory was a true fist-pumping moment. Bitches who like genre-busting narratives with ‘unlikeable’ female heroines and “FEMINISM HELL YEA” messages will love this movie – just know that it’s neither a comedy nor a romance.

Revisiting an Old Flame: Lost Season One

lost15Lately I’ve been re-watching that groundbreaking TV show Lost. Lost was one of the earlier shows to have a long-reaching arc combined with an internet fanbase. It had an international cast, which was unheard of at the time. It had multiple roles for women. It was thrilling until it went horribly off the rails, which took about five minutes.

Lost is famous for having promised us that everything would make sense despite the fact that ultimately one must assume that the writers used an increasing amount of pharmaceuticals. But you know what, Season One is still amazing – and it’s tightly constructed. Everything from Season Two to the ending seems to have been constructed by a blindfolded monkey playing scrabble, but Season One is TIGHT. Examples:

  • Sayid never figures out how much English Sun understands, but as an interrogator he can tell when she’s trying to dodge a question.
  • Sawyer is supposed to be just awful but early hints of his inner good-guy are all over the place. The only thing we actually see him bartering is a tube of sunscreen to Shannon (and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like to see Shannon miserable). When Boone gets hurt Sawyer not only doesn’t barter but he also asks Kate if she needs anything else right after loading her up with alcohol for Boone.
  • Jack focuses on the needs of the community from the first frames of the show. Locke focuses on his own interests. Sometimes these interests coincide with the needs of the group and sometimes they don’t – an early sign that Locke will always follow his own agenda.
  • Despite the bickering in the group, there’s an incredible amount of kindness. Michael and Jin fight in one scene and a few scenes later set that aside long enough to try to free Jack from a cave-in. Sayid makes a pair of glasses for Sawyer even though Sawyer and Sayid hate each other. Jack’s “Live together or die alone” speech from Season One defines the series and keeps it from being nihilistic.Everyone fights to the point of sometimes actually trying to kill each other until a more serious problem arises, at which point they co-operate.



The Angsty Island of Perfect Abs

On re-watching the show, I realize that one of the show’ porblems was that over time the male characters tended to expand while the female characters tended to shrink. No one gave a shit about Kate’s love triangle or Sun’s affair that may or made not have gotten her pregnant. We all got tired of Claire looking for her baby. What a waste of fantastic women who kept being defined by their love interests and their babies.

The question isn’t “Why did we start watching Lost.” The question is “Why on earth did we keep watching it even when as early as Season Two it was clearly not going to pan out? Lost never lost (sorry) the core principles it started with – beautiful scenery, compelling characters, a lot of humor, and moments of kindness and joy. So even when Lost kind of sucked, it gave us episodes like “The Constant” and moments like this one from Season Five:


Or this one:


Remember when it wasn’t Penny’s boat? And when Hurley beat up Sawyer? And when Sayid killed a guy with a dishwasher? And when Claire was wearing Libby’s shirt? And how about that time when Nestor Carbonell joined the cast the only mystery we cared about was whether or not he wore eyeliner? Good times.

Yesterday I stared Season Two and thought, “Dude, this is all going to go downhill, I can’t even with this.” Today I’m back at it. Lost, like my imaginary TV boyfriend Sayid, is that messed up boyfriend that I just can’t quit.


I’m here for you, sweetie!

In Honor of Labor Day

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

What with all the special events and sales, the people who are most supposed to be honored on Labor Day are least likely to get the day off. Here are some people I’d like to recognize. They add joy and luxury to my suburban life. May they all be thanked often and paid well, and may we all vote in favor of a higher minimum wage, increased maternity and paternity leave, paid sick leave, and health care for all!

Janitors, streetsweepers, and trash collectors.

They move about almost unnoticed and without them city life would be unbearable. I’ve spent the year in and out of hotels and convention rooms and public attractions and schools and movie theaters and I owe all the men and women who keep these places liveable, and in many case actually spotless, a huge debt.

People who grow coffee and cocoa and tea (and all my other food, of course).

You know why I can have my hot cocoa every morning, and an occasional mocha or frappachino, and five or more cups of tea a day? Because someone somewhere worked their ass off to grow it and pick it and process it and sell it. From the farmer to the barista to the guy who gave me a free iced tea today, thank you.

The people at the grocery store who always say hello.

If I were a grocery store cashier, I would never make eye contact, EVER. But the people at my store always say hello to me, and let little kids help them fill the bags. I’ve seen them cheer up babies and chat patiently with older custormers who pay entirely in change. When my daughter started riding her bike to the store sometimes by herself, they said, “Don’t worry, it’s good to give kids some independance! We all know her! We’ll keep an eye on her!” That’s above and beyond. That’s community.

Daycare workers and preschool teachers.

I have done daycare at the Salem, Oregon YWCA where we took care of any baby over ten weeks old. I ran my own daycare. I’ve worked in preschools. And I’ve been incredibly fortunate in that my daughter was able to attend two wonderful preschools herself. Taking care of other people’s children is hard work. It involves shit and piss and vomit and tears. It involves memorizing 15 different recipies for playdough and an ability to hear the word “lice” without screaming. to the kids I’ve taken care of – I miss you all. And to the people who took care of my kid – THANK YOU!



Capsule Reviews: Heather Watches TV!

Guest blogger Heather Thayer has been checking out the new batch of science fiction and fantasy shows. Here’s her mini-revues for Lucifer, Colony, The Magicians, You Me and The Apocalypse, and The X-Files.


Lucifer, Fox, Monday Nights

This show is a hoot. Lucifer, yes THAT Lucifer, has gotten bored of hanging out in Hell, so he decides to take a vacation in LA, masquerading as a nightclub owner. He makes no effort to conceal who he is – a cop asks him how he could get shot and not be hurt he looks quizzically at the cop and says, “Did you not understand who I am? I’m immortal.” Later when she sees him get shot point blank, she asks again, and he’s all like, “what about IM-MORT-TAL don’t you get?” In the first episode a friend of his gets killed and Lucifer decides to help investigate. If this seems incongruous, remember that part of the Devil’s job is to punish sinners, and since he isn’t in Hell to do it after the guilty person dies, he figures he can do the job early while they are still alive. The character is funny and charming and naughty and is helpful in interrogations since people feel compelled to tell him their deepest desires. Then, in the blink of an eye, he is all scary avenging angel BECAUSE HE IS. It isn’t a deep show, but it is a fun romp.



Colony, USA Network, Thursday Nights


This is my new favorite show. Set in Los Angeles in a near future in which the Earth (or at least California) has been invaded by aliens. Many people died or were separated when the Visitors arrived. The human survivors of the Arrival live in smallish enclaves separated by enormous walls and policed by collaborators and drones. Our main characters, Will and Katie Bowman and their family, are trying to keep their heads down, struggling to survive. The show deals with issues of survival under unimaginable circumstances. Is it better to collaborate if it means survival of your family, or is it better to resist, even if resistance is futile? I’m not going to say more, because watching these issues unfold is what makes this show great.

Colony - Pilot


The Magicians, SyFy, Monday Nights


Based on books by Lev Grossman, this series focuses on Brakebills University, an institute of higher learning for magicians. I’ve read one of the books – a later one that takes place after Brakebills — and I recall it as an enjoyable light fantasy. Unfortunately, the show is not capturing that spirit. The fundamental problem with the show is that this is a character-driven show, but none of the characters is particularly likeable. The show seems determined to portray the worst of each of the characters, with the result that they all come across as pouty whiners, with the exception of Quentin, one of our main characters, who comes across as an incompetent boob AND a pouty whiner. And why is everyone smoking? I wanted to like this show, but I can’t stand any of these people and want to slap them all.

Carrie’s note: I haven’t watched the show, but my recollection of the books is that all of them were very cynical and all of them very intentionally feature incredibly unlikeable characters – the series is a subversion of stories like Narnia and Harry Potter, right down to all of the characters being incredibly dysfunctional. The books are well-written, sharp, imaginative, and fresh, but ugh those people!


You, Me and the Apocalypse, NBC, Thursday Nights


This is a comedy about the end of the world. The show opens with the end – an asteroid hurtling into the atmosphere (covered by CNN, of course) – and centers on some people huddled in a bunker, watching it all on tv. The show follows these folks in the last days, after the end of the world was announced. I want to like this show, I really do. The problem is that it just isn’t that funny. The tone keeps slipping into deadly earnestness and attempted heartwarming vignettes, interspersed with one-liners that could have been funny if the tone were lighter, but as it is they fall flat. The show can’t seems to decide whether it is a touching tale of people doing their best as Judgment Day approaches or whether it is a broad comedy about the ridiculousness of the End Times. It clearly wants to be the latter, but it keeps injecting the former, which throws the whole thing off. Maybe it will improve, more likely it will get cancelled.


X-Files, Fox, Monday Nights


Oh Chris Carter, what are we to do with you? What a waste of an eagerly anticipated reboot. I was hoping for six tightly constructed episodes with a compelling story arc that would bring us up to date with these characters that we love. I haven’t seen the final episode yet, but so far, the three earlier episodes written and directed by Mr. Carter are nonsensical mysticism with a heavy-handed dose of “the corporations are all out to get us” conspiracy theory mushed in. There is no defining thread that links the episodes – giving us stand alone episodes that sink or swim based on their own strengths or weaknesses. So far, all the episodes written by Mr. Carter sink like stone, and we’re glad to see them go.


The two episodes not written by Mr Carter swim. The stunning third episode “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” had me laughing and smiling and thinking and laughing and smiling again. It is an exuberant deconstruction of every monster story ever told and a delightful revisiting of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. The fourth episode, “Home Again” is a touching exploration of loss. Go ahead and watch those episodes and skip the others.


Carrie’s note: You can see more of my X-Files thoughts on Smart Bitches, Trashy BooksCan’t someone lock Chris Carter and George Lucas in a room somewhere and say, “Look guys, thanks for creating this thing, now NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN?

Further Thoughts:


Carrie has written on The Shannara Chronicles. I agree with her completely. Other than Manu Bennett the actors were chosen for their ability to be pretty, not for their ability to act. Painful.


I wrote an earlier review of The Expanse. Having now watched the entire first season I have to give it a grudging thumbs up. The story became quite compelling as it went on. However, I recommend binge-watching as it is very difficult to follow week to week. If you haven’t read the books, expect to be lost from time to time, but it started drawing me in at the end.


I can’t wait for April and the return of 12 Monkeys (SyFy) and Orphan Black (BBC America). Squee!


The Expanse: A Guest Review by Heather Thayer

The_Expanse_TV.pngOur intrepid reviewer, Heather Thayer, is back with a review of The Expanse. This show opened to a lot off hype, but Heather has not been feeling the love 100%. Here’s her review!

The Expanse – Old Fashionedy Space Opera, But Read the Books First


I’ve rewritten this review from scratch several times now – poor Carrie keeps asking me when I’ll be done and my answer is always “I have to rewrite it again.” Here’s the overview — I’ve watched the first six episodes of The Expanse, and it could be pretty good stuff, but it is confusing. Not mind-blowingly great, but still definitely worth a watch – if you can figure out what is going on. It has been compared to Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones in space. I suppose its “gritty realism in space” could be compared to BSG, although BSG was much, much better, but I am not seeing the Game of Thrones comparison — perhaps that might make more sense as the series goes on.


The show is based on books by James S.A. Corey, which I have not read. The basic premise is this – it is the future and mankind is divided into essentially three factions – Earth (run by the UN), Mars, and the people who mine the Kuiper Belt for ice and other resources – these folks are called “Belters.” Earth and Mars have been locked in a cold war for many years. Life is not good for the Belters: they work hard at monotonous manual labor only to send the products of their hard work to Earth and Mars, they live on cramped space stations where water is strictly rationed and clear air can be a luxury, and they are starting to adapt to life in low gravity to the point where some of them can no longer live on a planet with normal gravity.


Our story follows two primary point of view characters and a third character who is mostly there to provide context for the primary stories. The first point of view character is a hat-wearing detective on Ceres Station, the home of the Belters. He is a walking cliché, after six episodes I still have no idea what his name is. It isn’t important. Detective Cliché is a hard-bitten veteran, maybe a little on the take but with a heart of gold and a desire to do what is right. Yawn. In between trying to calm Belter tensions, he is given the task of finding a rich girl who has disappeared — the viewers know that something strange and bad has happened to her because a scene with her encountering the Weird and Unpleasant is a prologue to the first episode. Our second point of view character, and the one whose story is most interesting, is Holden. He’s the second officer on an ice-mining ship that receives a distress call. Holden and four colleagues are dispatched to investigate and Bad Things Happen. We follow this group for our primary action. The third point of view character is a woman who is high up in the UN, maybe the head of UN Intelligence or something. She’s boring and one dimensional. We only come back to her when the show finds it necessary to explain something about what is going on politically between the Earth, Mars and Belters – hers is not a separate story but merely serves as an expositional frame for the real story being told through Detective Cliché and Holden.



The special effects, particularly the space ships, are spectacular – exceptional for television. The acting, particularly the group with Holden, is quite good and many of the characters are interesting. There is something mysterious going on and I am invested in the story of Holden and his team. So far, so good.


However, I have to call this show out for its inexcusable gender inequity. To double-check my initial perception that this show is a complete sausage fest, as I watched the first three episodes I counted every speaking part for a female and every speaking part for a male. After three episodes the male speaking roles outnumbered the female 3 to 1. The story is largely told from the point of view of two male characters. I note that there is nothing in their stories requiring either of them to be male – either one of these characters could have been female and it would have worked great – probably even better because then the characters wouldn’t be so familiar and uninteresting. As I’ve noted, Detective Cliché and his investigation are not compelling – I suspect that if they had changed the actor to being a woman so that the character wasn’t such a complete trope, the character and the investigation might hold my attention more.   In this day and age, post-Mad Max, there is no excuse for this. I don’t care that the source material has gender inequity – there is no reason for SyFy to have adhered to the source material in that way – after all, is there anyone who would argue that it wasn’t brilliant to have Starbuck be a woman in the rebooted BSG? Every time I try to watch this show the lack of interesting and crucial female characters sets my teeth on edge.


The other issue is that it is seeming more and more like it is necessary to have read the books to understand what is happening. For the first four or so episodes I was willing to give the show a pass even though I didn’t know what was going on, because I assumed that my confusion would be cleared up as I got to know the characters and story better. Instead, the opposite has happened. In every episode more new characters are introduced that I have to keep track of, and I don’t have enough context or backstory to be able to figure out who is important and who is not. After six episodes, I’m pretty lost.


Will I keep watching? Maybe. The effects and production values are great. But it is clear that this is a show for the people who have read and enjoyed the books. Apparently, the rest of us gals aren’t invited.

Five Things I Love About Merlin

merlinMy tween daughter begged me to watch the BBC show Merlin (now streaming on Netflix and Hulu). I was busy. I had things to do. And Season One was, I’m sorry, AWFUL. But when your tween says, “Mom please participate directly in my life” you realize that this is a limited time offer. So I soldiered on, and while I still can’t say that Merlin is a “good” show in the sense of, you know, making any sense, I can say that I’m helplessly addicted to it as of about halfway through Season Three.

I’m planning to write more about Merlin after I finish the show, so this will be short and, frankly, extremely shallow. Let’s be honest here – most of the things I like about the show are things I like for shallow reasons (Arthur, Gwaine, Lancelot). I’m not also not going to list all the reasons this show is not actually very good except to say that it’s as dumb as a bag of hair. But here are five ways the show got me hooked:

1. Those clothes

The clothes are anachronistic and ridiculous but DAMN they are pretty, and ever since Morgana turned evil her hair jewelry has been AMAZING.

No one with hair like that should look so cranky.

No one with hair like that should look so cranky.

Seriously, these clothes are to die for.

Seriously, these clothes are to die for.

2. Those Guys

I know. Shallow. Revel with me. Unleash the female gaze:





Gwaine, AKA My Little Smoochybear

Gwaine, AKA My Little Smoochybear

I’m not including Merlin here because the actor does a great job of making him a realistic teenager. But he’s a teenager with potential. Like whoa.

Speaking of Merlin:

3. The Subtext

Are they not the cutest???? KISS!! KISS, DAMN YOU!


Dear Arthur, please stop throwing things at Merlin’s head. The abuse makes it hard to ship you guys. And I really want to:


4. The Acting

In Season One, Anthony Stewart Head pretty much had to carry the show himself through sheer force of will. but Between Season One and Season Two everyone must have gone to acting school or made deals with the devil or something because man, these people are KILLING IT.

5. Women Fight and Men Cry (and vice versa).

This isn’t a terribly feminist show. In some ways it is exit and in some ways it’s progressive. It’s pretty standard stuff. But there are multiple main female characters who have their own lives, they pass the Bechdel Test all over the place, and there are some nice surprises. Every main male character on this show, regardless of where they fall on the “macho” spectrum, has cried, openly and unashamedly, at least once. And Morgana and Morgause are warrior women, although lately they’ve been doing more conniving and less fighting, to my great disappointment.

Is it stupid that her hair is not tied back? Yes. But it worked for drama earlier in the episode. Meanwhile, she's a badass.

Is it stupid that her hair is not tied back? Yes. But it worked for drama earlier in the episode. Meanwhile, she’s a badass.

Over at, I’ll give a full review of Merlin when I finish watching it. In the meantime, my advice is skip Season One and start with Season Two. You’ll catch up. It’s not that complicated. Oh, and did I mention THIS!

Who can resist a bad CGI dragon? NOT ME!

Who can resist a bad CGI dragon? NOT ME!

Movie Review: Primer

6955114.3Primer is one of those movies that went under the radar when it came out but has since developed a loyal following, and it shows up all the time on lists of good time travel movies. when it turned up on my Netflix feed, I figured I’d see what everyone was talking about – and it blew my mind. If you want a break from epic, blockbuster, high budget sic-fi, check out this tiny film that packs an amazing amount of suspense and concept into an otherwise small movie.

Primer is the story of four guys (Aaron, Abe, Robert, and Phillip) who are engineers. In their ‘spare time’, they try to build stuff in Aaron’s garage. These early scenes are spot on in terms of character interaction between four engineers who have known each other for a long time – the jargon, the interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences, the tensions and tangled history, the jury-rigging parts, the money problems, the complete lack of glamour both at work and in the garage – it feels like a documentary both because of how it’s shot and because the writing and acting is so accurate to the interactions I see between science/tech people in real life. These four guys feel like people who have worked and fought together for a long time. There’s very little exposition here – you have to just try to keep up, and I found it easy to get the gist of what was happening even though I don’t believe I understood a single word. They are out of money, they don’t know what to focus on next, and they are building cool stuff in hopes of a big money-making breakthrough.

In the course of trying to build a device that makes things lighter (or weightless), Abe and Aaron discover that they have accidentally built a time machine. From this point on, the movie is almost a two-person play, since Abe and Aaron don’t want the other guys to know about the machine. Abe and Aaron have to figure out what to do with the time machine and since they are engineers you can bet that “take it apart, burn the notes, melt the parts, and never speak of it again” is not an option that leaps to their minds.

Primer was made for $7000 and it lasts for 77 minutes, although it takes a lot longer to watch it because you have to pause a lot and take notes and say to your spouse, “What just happened?” and then argue about what just happened until you remember that the movie isn’t over yet. You will also have to set aside several days to google “Primer, movie, timeline.” Some movies are confusing in a frustrating way – they feel sloppy. You are pretty sure that what you are watching doesn’t make sense, and never will, and was never meant to. Primer is plenty confusing, but in a tantalizing way. It doesn’t feel sloppy – it feels tight and smart. It expects you to sit down, pay attention, and keep up.

A lot of people love this movie because SCIENCE. I’m an odd duck, because my interest in science is passionate but also superficial. I’m less interested in science than in the process of science, and how scientists think. I loved the lack of glamour in this movie. The grainy film gives it a found footage feeling without having to stick to the rules of found footage and without the curse of shaky cam. The settings are suburban garages, U-Haul storage rooms, and motel rooms. The cold room guy at the University of Texas is actually played by the cold room guy at the University of Texas. The sense of mingled tension and dread and confusion and fascination works for the audience because we are experiencing the tension, drew, and fascination that Abe and Aaron are experiencing. This is a fascinating, weird, unusual movie that does a lot with a little and will keep you googling and debating for days. A+.


Summer TV – Mini Reviews to Get You Through the Dog Days

Are you ready to do some serious binge watching? Guest reviewer Heather Thayer has you covered!  Here’s her mini-reviews of new TV this summer.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I can summarize everything wrong with this show in one word: summer. The dark, brooding mood of the show and the heavy, gloomy Victorian settings are unappealing on a bright sunny day when it is light until late at night. I did watch two episodes and they were quite well done. The actor playing Mr. Norrell is perfect. The Man with the Thistledown Hair is frightening and ominous. I wonder whether someone who has not read the books will find the show easy to follow, but the source material is so great that I would hope that people new to the story could pick it up. DVR this show and wait for a storm (or winter) to watch it. I trust it will be excellent in the right weather.

Dark Matter

The concept of this show is intriguing – six people come out of stasis on a space ship with no memory of who they are, where they are, or what they are doing. They start to realize that they have skill memories, and there is an android who can handle the basics of operating the ship and everything else, so that’s helpful. After a few episodes I am still curious about the mystery, although the show can’t seem to steer clear of tropes – for example, one character is sullenly offensive and consistently resorts to conflict and violence. So tiresome. Another character is a manic pixie dream girl who dreams other people’s dreams. Hello, River Tam. The premise is interesting and they occasionally manage to avoid cliché, but it is turning into an “only if there isn’t something better to do” show.


Oh, how this show wants to be the new Firefly. Oh, how it isn’t. The premise is bounty hunters in outer space. Fine, great. I like that the lead character is a kickass woman and I like that the two initial main characters (a straight man and woman) have been business partners for six years but aren’t romantic partners and it is no big deal. I like the feel of the show (which does feel like Firefly) and the world building (which also feels like Firefly). But it is missing the wit of Firefly, the characters aren’t very interesting, and the writing is formulaic. Watch this one if you are sick and you don’t want anything challenging to hit your eyeballs.

Mr. Robot

Full disclosure – I am a lawyer who works with banks on consumer lending issues. I am going to have an issue with a show that has as a ridiculous premise “we’ll hack the banks and everyone’s loans will go pffft, and it will be wonderful for everyone!” But I love this show, even with that nonsense going on. The main character is fascinating. The show has a bleak outlook and is heavy-handed with its depressing message. It is terrific. It is slow-moving and complicated and spends most of its time looking at computer screens. It is riveting. Deliberate, lecturing, absorbing, mesmeric, thrilling. Impossible to explain or categorize. Best show on television right now.

True Detective

First episode. Meh.

First fifty-nine and a half minutes of the second episode. Meh.

Last thirty seconds of the second episode. WTF!!! WTF!!!!!! WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sense 8: A review By Heather Thayer

Last week I posted a video (which I’m posting again at the end of this review) and said that I wasn’t totally on board with Sense 8 yet. Well, Heather Thayer sent me that video and told me to keep watching, which is why I spent thirteen hours last week glued to the screen. The show is a slow start, but once it hooked me, it REALLY hooked me. Here’s Heather’s review!

Sense8 – Watch It, Be Confused, Fall in Love

Sense8 is the new Netflix show by the Wachowskis and J Michael Straczynski — the first season was posted on Friday, June 5.  It was stormy here that weekend, so I watched the whole thing in two days. Like all Wachowski productions it is fun to look at — sometimes beautiful almost to the point of being distracting.  At its core, the first season is simply a character study — the premise is that there are certain people, “sensates” (get it?) who can share thoughts, experience, knowledge etc within their cluster of eight, even though they are scattered all over the globe.  The show begins with a new cluster being created — a group of eight people who share the same puzzling vision that they each dismiss as a dream or hallucination. How it is that these people can sense each other and share experience is confusing (an attempt to fully explain later in the season would have been best left out of the script as it reeked of woo), but I was willing to go along with it because I wanted to see more of these characters.

Many early critics complained that the show is confusing, and that criticism has merit at the beginning. Netflix goofed by only providing the first three episodes to the preview critics when this show takes at least four episodes for the viewer to get invested.  For most of the season, each character just continues with her or his own life as if nothing has happened.  Granted, many of these characters are at individual crisis points in their own lives and it takes a while for them to figure out that what has happened is real and not a strange dream, but it would seem that suddenly being part of a collective with seven other people around the world would be . . . riveting.  But no, the show just keeps following each character in their individual story rather than following a collective narrative, and much of the first season is simply following eight separate stories about eight separate people.  What makes the show more confusing is that rather than using each episode to introduce one character in depth, as is customary in multiple-character dramas, we meet all of them all at once and follow all of them all at once. This makes it hard to keep the characters straight or to invest in the outcomes until nearly the fifth episode. While there are lots of action sequences (must every one of these people get into a fight?), very little of the action propels the overall narrative arc but is simply in service of a character’s individual story.

Yep, that’s a rocket launcher.

This show is built for binge watching because with so many stories to follow with little connecting arc, it would be (even more) difficult to follow if one left too much time between episodes.  This is a show where no episode could stand on its own — with eight characters to follow, each episode takes baby steps to move each of the eight stories forward.  That also makes it difficult to get hooked. But sticking with it produces rewards. As a good friend (okay, it was Carrie) said to me, “I was not that into it but then I kept thinking about it. It kind of sank into my head.” It’s that kind of show – initially confusing and slow, but with random beautiful moments that draw the viewer in gently.

They find the plot confusing, too.

As we get to know the characters better we start caring about their individual journeys and an overall arc begins to show up (evil corporation anyone?) with villains with mysterious motives. Some of our characters start to be in a danger that threatens the whole cluster and some of them know what is actually happening while others simply accept without understanding.  The characters get better at stepping in to help each other out, and by the end of the first season the cluster starts to work as a collective team.

There is something about the show that eventually becomes compelling but it takes time to just look at the scenery along the way.  There is one sequence where one character listens to a song and they all, where ever they are, sing along.  It is a long sequence that doesn’t do anything to move the plot, but it is a joyful moment that sticks with me and I find myself singing that song.  I like a show that will take time to create interesting moments just for the sake of delight, and in the end I found that I had fallen deeply for the characters and the show. I can’t stop thinking about it. And I want more.

How Captain America: The Winter Soldier Gets It Right

Movie poster of Captain America, the Winter SoldierCaptain America: The Winter Soldier is a great comic book movie, a great action movie, a great comedy/drama, and a serviceable political thriller.  I’d argue this is the best stand alone Marvel movie yet, with Iron Man III running a close second.  Here’s what Winter Soldier did right:

This sequel is character-based.

Winter Soldier has tons of action.  But the movie isn’t about action, it’s about character.  The central problem of the movie isn’t “How will Steve (Captain America) stop that helicarrier from killing everyone?”  The central problem is, “Can Steve continue to play a heroic role in a complicated, morally ambiguous and corrupt world?”  One way Steve can play a heroic role is, in fact, by stopping a helicarrier, so there’s plenty of action, but all the action seems to come organically from the results of the character’s decisions, and all the action counts.

Marvel has been following a pattern in which they use each character’s origin story to tell us what makes this character comfortable.  Tony Stark feels powerful in his suit?  Make him fear the suit and then take it away altogether.  Steve Rogers feels comfortable with honor, teamwork, and a fight against evil?  Throw him into a situation in which morality is ambiguous and everyone lies all the time.  The approach is genius because it allows the audience to have that sense of comfort with the known (Steve still likes honor) while creating a fresh set of conflicts that are based around his character (Steve has to live in a world that is murky and corrupt).

Steve Rogers and Nick Fury

Every major side character has their own story, even if that story isn’t fully explored.

This is especially important because we still haven’t gotten a stand alone movie featuring a woman or a character of color.  This is beyond annoying.  If I don’t see a Black Widow movie in, oh say, five minutes, heads will roll.  Also I’d like a Falcon movie, please.  Lately Marvel has many triumphs and few failings, but the fact that so far all their movies feature straight, white men is a failing.

But what Marvel DOES do right is avoid having side characters be merely accessories or tools to further the hero’s story.  This is most true in the Captain America movies.  Peggy, Sharon, and Natasha have lives and dreams and missions and accomplishments that have nothing to do with Steve.   Natasha’s emotional journey in the film is so powerful that they could just as easily have flipped the credits and called it “Black Widow:  The Reckoning, also starring Captain America”.  The female characters aren’t there for decoration and they don’t revolve around men, although they are deeply influenced by the powerful men in their lives.  Meanwhile, while The Falcon and Nick Fury lack Steve’s augmented soldier abilities, they are both extremely skilled at combat and The Falcon is much better at living life than Steve is, while Nick Fury is much better than Steve at manipulation and survival.  I would LOVE a Falcon movie – I found him to be a compelling character on his own aside from being that guy who can truthfully say, “I do everything he does.  Only slower”.

Anthonly Mackie as The Falcon


The film manages to balance humor, angst, and fun.

Somehow this movie manages to combine some fiercely painful drama with truly suspenseful action, hilarious lines, and a sense that while some things about superhero life suck, having super powers can be pretty fun.  It’s hard to keep all this tonal stuff balanced.  In a lot of movies that try combining drama and comedy, either the drama feels forced or the comedy feels forced, but in this movie they meld seamlessly.  Remember how I said this movie is character based?  Part of what keeps these elements balanced is that everything everyone says feels genuine, whether they are saying something heartbreaking or funny – or in some cases , both, as in Steve Roger’s response to whether he’s doing anything Saturday night:  “Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead, so…no”.

The fact that the movie is so rooted in character is also what helps create a sense of tension and menace.  We’re all pretty sure that Captain America will survive, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll end up OK, and we care about that.  While I thought the basic premise of the film was pretty ridiculous, it’s ridiculous in a way that’s consistent with the crazy Marvel Universe, and I was truly worried about some of the characters.

Natasha Romanoff

This movie is fun, it’s painful, it’s emotionally engaging and visually exciting, and it’s fun.  I wish they had done more with the political angle – while Robert Redford tries really hard to sell the idea that what he does is morally grey, it’s quite clearly not grey at all (whether it’s black or white you’ll have to discover on your own).  But overall this movie was the kind of movie that I want to rush right back into the theater to see again.  Well played, Marvel, well played.  Now get me my Black Widow movie.

The Lego Movie: Everything Really Is Awesome!

hr_The_LEGO_Movie_10Go see the Lego Movie.  Go right now.  Here is who should go, and why:

1.  Young children.  If your kid is old enough to sit through a film without running around the theater, then they are old enough to love this movie.  I went on a rainy day with kids all over the place, and they seemed to be completely caught up in the story.  In the screening I went to, at one point a little kid in the theater loudly yelled “No!” just as the movie character did – he was that into it.  But it’s not intense or scary, and it’s squeaky clean, so even very young children can go.  Even kids too young to follow the plot will love seeing all the plastic figures flying around.

2.  Older children.  I went with two ten-year olds.  They were ecstatic.  They were old enough to get the humor and the story thrilled them.

3.  Jaded teens.  OK, I haven’t field tested this on a jaded teen yet.  But while they’ll leave the theater with you saying, “Yeah, whatever, I guess it was OK, can I go now?”  they’ll love the meta aspects of the movie – which are legion.

4.  Grown-ups.  I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie and had so much fun.  I literally shrieked with laughter.

The opening sequence in which Emmet, our Everyman/Lego gets ready for the day and goes to work has so many jokes crammed into it, both verbal and visual, that I wanted to watch it over and over again – and the movie rarely slowed down after that.  The closest thing I might compare it to is the sequence in which Mike and sully get ready for the day and head to work in Monster’s Inc.  The whole movie is visual madness but I never lost a sense of scale or physicality.  The jokes are meta and marvelous.  The end is touching in a way that truly surprised me.  I don’t think anyone I went with saw the end coming, and that’s a rare thing in a movie these days.

I thought it was somewhat rich that the movie spends a lot of time trashing the big business mentality when Lego is, of course, a big business, as is the movie studio.  But one of the things I liked about the movie is that it had a certain balance at the end.  Someone on TV Tropes pointed out that the movie praises originality, but the more inventive designs fall apart easily, like they would if you built them from pieces from different sets with no regard for symmetry or structure.  Emmet is able to combine originality with knowledge of instructions, so he brings a combination of chaos and order to the Lego world.  I thought that was an amazing insight – thank you, TV Tropes!

I try not to read reviews before I write my own, but I couldn’t resist reading some for The Lego Movie.  What I found is that all the reviewers find something else to talk about.  The movie isn’t just visually layered but also thematically layered.  So you can talk about how the movie both subverts and applauds the Hero’s Journey, or the attacks it makes on big business, or it’s treatment of imagination and skill as things to be treasured and nurtured.  You can talk about parenting, or the value of friendship, or you can talk about this movie as toy commercial, and whether maybe it’s saying that all those care flu kits Lego marketed for years were missing the entire point of what makes Legos fun all along.

Look, there’s nothing not to like about this movie except that you might have some sensory overload and you’ll spend the rest of your life humming the song “Everything is Awesome” until your head blows up.  Even the tragedy of your exploding brain is a small price to pay for the joys of this movie, which packs on such an array of mayhem that I’m pretty sure everyone on the team was really drunk on Vodka and Red Bull the whole time.  But it’s not just empty visuals.  We really care about the characters and what happens to them.  And there’s some pretty sharp (and very funny) satire in there.  This movie is smart, and emotionally involving, and subversive, and did I mention smart?  If, by any chance, you’re one of those people who can’t believe a movie about Legos could be any good, do yourself a favor and just go see it.  Trust me.

Emergency Guide to Thanksgiving Movies: About Time and Thor 2

THURS_003B_G_ENG-GB_70x100.inddIf you are like me, you have a few days left until you are surrounded by family.  Family everywhere!  Which is…GREAT!  Or, if you are not with family, you are either weeping into a plate of mashed potatoes or dancing a happy dance – it’s really all a matter of perspective.  Regardless, here is your quick guide to two geek-friendly movies that you can drag your bus load of relatives to, or see by yourself (no sharing popcorn, yay).

About Time


What it says it is:  A romantic comedy about time travel.

What the script says it is:  A movie about father/son relationships, and about growing up.

Action level:  Zip.  Nada.  No explosions at all.

Romance level:  High, but not as high as the ads would have you think.  Most of the romance stuff happens in the first half of the movie.

See it with:  Your parents and your grandparents.

If they can handle:  Swearing, a little bit of partial nudity (cute and comedic, not super sexy), non-explicit sex.

Avoid it if:  You have daddy issues and/or have recently lost a parent.  I bawled the whole time.  Tim’s father is the one we all wish we had or that we all hope we’ll grow up to be (those of us who identify as fathers, that is).  Quite good for a cathartic cry but unless you want your cathartic cry to be public, see it by yourself if daddy issues are your thing.

Capsule review:  This movie is funny, touching, and sweet.  I giggled like a maniac and cried like a baby.  But it is also deeply flawed.  It doesn’t work as a time travel movie, because the rules are broken at the filmmaker’s whim.  The time travel is strictly a poetical device.  It doesn’t work as a romantic comedy, because the focus is only one character, Tim, and all other characters are strictly subordinate.  Despite its flaws, it’s quite a lovely movie about learning to appreciate an “extraordinary, ordinary life”.

You can find a a full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Thor:  The Dark World


What it says it is:  A movie in which Thor has to save the universe from dark elves.

What the script says it is: A character-based comedy/drama about how Thor has to redefine his role and his relationships after the events in The Avengers.

What we (the audience) thinks it is:  Loki 3.  Let’s be honest, folks.

Action level:  Huge.

Romance level:  Medium.

See it with:  Your siblings and your cousins.  Your friends.  Yourself, if you are stranded on Thankgiving and want to escape into fun and excitement for a while.  Your grandparents  will think it’s weird.

If they can handle:  Violence, some death, minimal gore.  It’s just a smidgen more graphic than The Avengers.  There’s minimal swearing, a shirtless scene (of Chris Hemsworth), no sex.  Might be too scary for little kids.

Avoid it if:  You would have to see it with people who think superhero movies are lame.  Who needs that attitude when you want to kick back and watch Loki run amok in peace?  This is another movie about family issues, and it involves estrangement and loss although it never gets so angst that it stops being fun.

Capsule review:  This is a fun movie with both humor and pathos and some romance.  The dynamic between Thor and Loki adds emotional stakes to the visual splendor and the clever climatic fight scene.  The over-arching plot, about evil elves, is ridiculous and serves purely as a device to keep the characters we care about running around and interacting.  Loki steals the show, as usual, but praise is due to Chris Hemsworth as well who grounds the whole enterprise and has some good snark of his own.

And here’s the full-length review!

All Your Questions About Star Trek Into Darkness Answered At Last

Spock and UhuraQ.  Do we have lens flare?

A.  YES!  Yes we do.  I’d say one-third of the movie is lens flare.

Q.  Do women show up in their underwear for no apparent reason?

A.  Yep, twice.  I’m sorry to say that there is a distinct lack of corresponding male nudity.  This is unfair, people.

Q.  Does the plot make sense?

A.  No, sadly, it does not.  Never trust a movie which includes the line, “I’m initiating the cryogenic process now”.  It is also helpful to be completely ignorant of the basic laws of physics and biology.

Q.  Say!  Is that a picture of Spock and Uhura being adorable?

A.  Why yes it is!  They are wonderful.  They have a fight and they actually have a conversation about it.  With real words!  Like grown-ups!  We love them.  No one kill them or break them up!  You hear me, Hollywood?  WE LOVE THEM!

Q.  Is the movie fun?

A.  Yes.  I had a great time.

Q.  Is the movie deep?

A.  Nope.  It would like to be, but it isn’t.  It’s just fun.  Everybody gets to be a sexy badass, and a lot of things blow up.  Pure summer fun.

Q.  Who would win in a battle for world domination, Loki or He Who Shall Remain Nameless from Trek?

A.  Neither.  I’d watch out for that tribble that McCoy has been experimenting on, though.  That never ends well.  Will Star Trek 3 be about the tribble that ate Earth?  Only time will tell.

Five Reasons To Love Iron Man 3, One Reason Not To, and Tips

Iron-Man-3-IMAX-posterFive Reasons To Love Iron Man 3:

Of course I saw a preview of Iron Man 3 last night.  Like I’m gonna miss that!  Here’s the shortest review over, starting with reasons to love it:

1.  Gwyneth finally gets to kick some ass.  Say what you will about how she seems to think she farts rainbows all over the internet; she knows how to act, and it’s great to see her finally kick some butt.

2.  Actually, all of the actors are great.  We already know we like the leads, but special points for bringing fresh charisma to the franchise go to Rebecca Hall, Guy Ritchie, and Ben Kingsley.  It doesn’t feel over-stuffed with characters and those three actors look really happy to be here.

3.  It’s subversive as hell.  I find it fascinating that all of the Iron Man movies, but especially the first and third, start off as exploiting our fears of terrorism and serve as wish-fulfillment, as Iron Man races off to defeat those bad Middle Easterners…until the movie(s) start telling a different story, one about how we “create our own demons”.  Also, most of the action takes place without the armor, which makes the movie less about tech and more about psychology.  I find this to be much more interesting.

4.  The stakes feel high.  There’s a sense that anyone could die; that this could be a franchise changer.  Note that I’m not telling you that anyone does or doesn’t die – I’m simply conveying the general mood.

One Reason Not To:

It’s too long.  It comes up with plot devices and then it uses them over and over.  At some point I’m gonna have to go to the bathroom, guys, so one or two uses of each device per movie will suffice, OK?


1.  You don’t need to see it in 3D unless you really like seeing metal objects flying at your face.

2.  Stay for the stinger – it’s the best part of the movie.