Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Westerosi Transporter

Standard warning. If you have not watched episode 4 of the seventh season of Game of Thrones, move on. There be spoilers ahead.

The Spoils of War was a thrilling episode, and certainly ended on quite the cliff hanger. I don't think Jamie Lannister is dead, as otherwise, why would we bother with Olenna Tyrell's confession that she killed Joffrey? But I digress.

Who would have thought that Westeros would be set up with a transporter? I mean, there are dragons, white walkers and wargs. But these kind of fit the medieval fantasy setting of Game of Thrones. A transporter seems a little more science fictiony.

But I can find no other explanation for some of events that have occurred on the show. It started at the end of Season 6. Varys meets with Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand in Dorne at the beginning of the finale, only to be present with Daenerys and Missandei as they sail from Mereen, finally headed to Westeros.

How did he do that? Clearly, his transporter.

This season, Euron Greyjoy sure found his niece and nephew awfully fast on the high seas, but perhaps that's just good sailing. On the other hand, Jamie Lannister and his forces had to use the transporter to make it from King's Landing and Casterly Rock to Highgarden in next to no time. After all, at the beginning of The Queen's Justice, he was in King's Landing, having an incredibly uncomfortable conversation with Euron about Cersei's sexual proclivities, but he still managed make it to Highgarden to rout the Tyrell forces and poison Olenna Tyrell (and learn that she poisoned Joffrey). 

Euron just gives me the creeps.
Where in King's Landing is the transporter? And who dusted off the transporter at Dragonstone? I could have believed that Dany and Drogon caught up with the Lannister forces, but I don't see Drogon agreeing to carry the entire Dothraki army. Nor do I believe that they rode their horses that quickly. They must have used their transporter.

So, there's probably no transporter on Westeros. Maybe Highgarden, King's Landing, Casterly Rock and Dragonstone are all so close to each other that these events are not as unlikely as they seem. It's not like I would look at a map of Westeros to study the issue. I guess that the show runners have a plan, and it involves specific things happening at a specific time in a specific way. But considering it took six seasons for Daenerys to even head to Westeros, it seems like we're now moving at warp speed. Oh, wait. That's science fictiony again.

I did warn you that I would have a post on Game of Thrones. I believe that anyone who comments on television is contractually obligated to write at least one post on Game of Thrones. Today alone, I have seen the following articles:

The important details you missed from Arya and Brienne's intense fight. (Do you want a blow-by-blow description of their sparring? This is the article for you!)

Game of Thrones: The Tiny Detail that Makes the Arya/Brienne Duel Even More Impressive. (Maisie Williams is right-handed, but Arya Stark is left-handed. She's also a head and a half shorter than Gwendoline Christie).

Jaime's Death on "Game of Thrones" Would Be Even Sadder Thanks To This One Detail (not being able to tell Cersei that Olenna murdered their son).

There's a dark hidden meaning in Sansa Stark's newest "Game of Thrones" costume (belt tightly wound around her to protect her from Littlefinger's advances). 

Game of Thrones fan theory suggests Daenerys could be betrayed by a close ally (I'll save you the trouble - Missandei. I don't buy it). 

I don't know if all these articles were posted today, but they were all written and posted following an episode that aired two nights ago. They are not recaps. They don't discuss the hacking HBO is currently dealing with. No. Just article after article going over every single detail, every single theory, every single possibilihty from what turns out to be the shortest Game of Thrones episode. Quite the rabbit hole. And now I've proud to add this post about the transporter in Westeros.

Here is the obligatory picture of Jon Snow.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Catching Up With...The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

When I first heard that O.J. Simpson was suspected in the deaths of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, I was shocked. Not O.J.! He had been the fun-loving, charismatic football player from my youth, who did commercials and movies. He seemed like such a nice guy. Surely not he.

But then the 911 recording was released, and it was quite clear that Nicole was a battered wife, and O.J. her batterer. It made me sad, but as a social worker, I was more than aware that a battered wife's life is never more in danger than after she leaves her abuser. I had made up my mind that O.J. was more than likely guilty, and moved on with my life.

So I was more than a little bemused when I discovered that America did not move on. All the channels switched to the helicopter following the white Bronco as Simpson pondered suicide (I presumed). I was extremely annoyed. They had interrupted Raymond Burr's last performance as Perry Mason for this (granted, the television movie was not very good, but still!)! I turned the television off in disgust.

I watched from afar, not because I was more than passively interested in the case, as eventually O.J. was brought to trial, but because there was no avoiding it. The news was consumed with the case, talking heads pontificated about it, people gossiped about it. And I couldn't figure out why. I didn't like football, I knew none of the parties involved, and I lived no where near California. Why would anyone care so much? The verdict came and I was again disgusted, because, obviously I thought he was guilty, I was again bemused, because Americans responded along color lines, whites were disappointed, blacks were jubilant (the only exception I observed were the mentally ill adults I worked with as a social worker - almost all of them, regardless of color, were happy he was exonerated).

Decades passed. I moved across the country, met the love of my life and entered a new profession. O.J. and his trial were millions of miles and years away. Except, suddenly, he was back. And not just Simpson, but the trial. What was going on? There was O.J.: Made in America, a documentary about race and celebrity, and Ryan Murphy's limited series, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. I refused to watch either.

I was bemused at all the critical attention that arose from the series, and the number of Emmy nominations and wins it earned. Critics I respect loved the series. Finally, my husband said, we should watch it. So we did.

The first thing that impressed me was the quality of the acting. Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, and Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey were all excellent (and how depressing that I knew the names of the characters they played so well). I had no issues with Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s performance. Granted, he didn't look a thing like Simpson, but he carried himself with the swagger and narcissism that I associated with O.J. And I did think that David Schwimmer's Robert Kardashian had a lot of Ross Gellar in him, but I thought that was as much due to the character he was playing as to Schwimmer's skill (or lack thereof) as an actor.

What also impressed me was what a human story it was. Clark and Cochran were both extremely confident and cocky about their trial skills and the rightness of their cause. Darden and Kardashian were outsiders, who served as the moral center of the piece. Shapiro quickly realized he was out of his league, so he quickly brought Cochran on, only to lose control of his big case. And the air went out of me as I watched Marcia Marcia Marcia, in which Clark was humiliated from beginning to end. None of these characters were left unscathed by the trial, with perhaps only Cochran and some of the minor characters (lawyers) coming out better than they started. Even Simpson, the man who was exonerated, found himself a pariah following the verdict.

It was worth revisiting this trial, both from an artistic perspective, but also from a personal one. The show made clear the animosity that existed between the L.A. police force and the African American community. For many African Americans, the trial represented more than just the trial of a man accused of brutally murdering his ex-wife and her friend. I feel like I understand that now, even though I still feel that Simpson was guilty and should not have been exonerated. What I still don't understand is why white Americans care so much. Even today, people are still litigating in comments sections both the murder trial and his subsequent imprisonment for another crime. And not just in an academic way, but in a personal, passionate way, much the way we now argue about politics. At least politics are actually related to our lives. Whether Simpson gets out on parole really doesn't affect me at all (though I guess you could get into a philosophical argument about how the unjust imprisonment of a person diminishes our society and makes us all a little less free from abusive police power, but I'm not going to with O.J. Simpson. Just ain't gonna happen).

It took me longer to decide what to write about for this week. I have not kept up with Orphan Black, and I've one episode to go to finish Orange is the New Black. And Game of Thrones has just started, and I'm not sure I want to contribute to the apparently thousands of articles about the show (though we all know I will). I'm including a picture of Kit Harrington however, because I suspect that just about every blog post would be improved by his image.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip fan alert: Sarah Paulson starred as Harriet Hayes, Aaron Sorkin's conservative voice for the show. I really wanted to like this show, but the episodes following the premiere were slogs, partially because Sorkin decided that Harriet would be more interesting as a conservative scold than as a fully fledged character. She was not.

Army Wives and Person of Interest fan alert: I'm so happy that Sterling K. Brown is doing so well for himself. He was one of the main characters in this Lifetime drama. Yes, I watched it. Get over it. He also played a love interest to Carter on Person of Interest, only to be tragically murdered. He can now be seen in This is Us.

Law and Order: Criminal Intent fan alert: Courtney B. Vance's role as the prosecutor left him sorely underused.

Friends fan alert: David Schwimmer was Ross. I never watched the show consistently, but he was in it. I preferred Matthew Perry's character.

I could add Welcome Back Kotter fan alert for John Travolta, but I think he's more famous for other things now.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No One Expected Them to Be Nominated, But They Should Have Been

It's that time of year, when the Emmy Nominations are announced. And while everyone agrees that the voting process is better than it was, it still results in some very foolish choices (how did Michael McKean not get nominated? And The Americans should be nominated for best series every.single.year. And Shannon Purser's Barb was nominated?).

Each year there is a list of surprises, a list of people and shows who you thought would be nominated but were not and a list of people and shows who were nominated but really don't deserve it.

Well, this list doesn't truck with that. No, I want to look at the people no one thought would be nominated. The people who provide finely tuned performances, who make it all look easy, who let the "stars" shine. This is for them.

Adrienne C. Moore, Black Cindy on Orange is the New Black, Supporting Role in a Drama

A lot of actors have been awarded through the years for their performances on Orange is the New Black. Danielle Brooks and Adrienne C. Moore have both been nominated by the NAACP Image Awards. If Brooks had been nominated for an Emmy, it would be a pleasant surprise, but not nearly as surprising as it would be had Moore been nominated.

Why would I nominate Moore? Because Black Cindy kills it, every single time she's on the screen. Black Cindy has lived her life as essentially one big joke, and is probably in federal prison for her constant stealing while a TSA officer in an airport. But as with most of the characters on this show, there's more to her than that. When she first declared she was Jewish, it was because she heard the kosher meals were better than the slop the prison was forced to serve. Kosher meals were more expensive than slop, so Cindy had to prove she was Jewish to continue receiving them. At first it was all for laughs, but it soon turned out her conversion was sincere, much to the surprise of the rabbi and the Jewish inmate who was helping her. Moore has managed to make all these changes organic and a natural part of who Black Cindy is, all with wit and as much grace as Cindy can muster.

Oh, and if you are ever in Litchfield and need some truth, Black Cindy's the one to see. While it won't be sugar coated, it will be on target and hilarious.

Ms. Moore, thanks for your work.

Jordan Gavaris, Felix Dawkins on Orphan Black, Best Supporting Actor in a Drama

Tatiana Maslany sucks out all of the energy awards-wise from Orphan Black, which, while she deserves all the accolades she has received (and more), is a shame, because Jordan Gavaris is doing excellent work as her foster brother who loves his family but just wants to live his life too.

First, the flawless accent. Apparently, even the European actors from Game of Thrones were surprised to learn that Gavaris was not British - he's actually Canadian. But as the linked article says, his performance is flawless as well. He's funny, he's poignant, and like Black Cindy, he's usually right. And his relationships with each clone is unique and endearing (my favorite mix is Felix and Alison). The clones would be lost without Felix, and Orphan Black would be much less of a show than it is. Gavaris bring a great deal of humor and humanity to his role, bringing nuance to what could been just a stock "gay best male friend" character.

Mr. Gavaris, please keep it up!

Finn Wolfhard, Mike Wheeler on Stranger Things, Best Actor in a Drama

Everybody knew that Millie Bobbie Brown would get nominated for her role as Eleven, and I will not begrudge her that. She was spectacular. But I would argue the harder role in Stranger Things was that of Mike Wheeler. When Will Byers disappeared after playing Dungeons and Dragons at Mike's house, Mike and his friends decide to look for him. It is their search that leads them to Eleven, requiring Mike to navigate his growing feelings for her, conflict with his friends and finding Will, all while keeping Eleven hidden from his family (which he almost achieves). He's out of his league, he knows it, but he keeps doing what he thinks is best. And Mr. Wolfhard plays it all authentically. He doesn't play Mike precociously, but as a normal boy with a big heart.

You'll note that I nominate Mr. Wolfhard for Best Actor, not Supporting Actor. That was on purpose. Yes, yes, both David Harbour and Winona Ryder are the adult leads, but I'd argue that both Mike and Eleven were the real leads.

Mr. Wolfhard, looking forward to seeing you in season two.

Yvonne Strahovski, Serena Joy Waterford on The Handmaid's Tale, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama

No one is surprised that Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley and Ann Down are all nominated for their work on The Handmaid's Tale. But I sure wish that Yvonne Strahovski had been recognized too.

It's not easy being a woman in Gilead, and while the Wives certainly have it better than say, 99.9% of the other women caught within its borders, Strahovski manages to show that Gilead is a prison for Serena Joy, too. Of course, it is partially her fault. She even wrote the book on it, a work on domestic feminism called "A Woman's Place". She helped orchestrate the revolution that allowed Gilead to take over the United States. It seems she did not anticipate that she would not be allowed to read her own book, participate in the leadership of the country or even have sex with her husband.

In this unnatural role, she has charge only over the domestic realm in her own home, forced to participate in the "ceremony" where her husband rapes a handmaid in the hopes the woman will conceive. Unfortunately for the handmaids, all named Offred after Serena Joy's husband Fred (Of-Fred), Serena Joy has not found contentment with her lot. She needs a baby and she needs it now, and knowing that her husband is probably infertile, arranges for Offred to copulate with another man. When Serena Joy learns that her husband has been taking Offred to a clandestine pleasure palace, she threatens Offred's daughter. 

While we may feel sorry for Serena Joy, her abuse of the power she has over Offred ultimately makes her unsympathetic. And Strahovski absolutely nails that dynamic, as the brittle, angry woman trapped by the society she created.

Ms. Strahovski, you absolutely scare me. Thank you for that!

Joel de la Fuente as Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido in Man in the High Castle, Best Supporting Actor in a Drama

I had actually written an entire piece on the wonderfulness of Rufus Sewell's performance in Man in the High Castle, praising it as the highlight of the show, when I realized that was wrong and that there are two highlights: the Japanese in San Francisco are riveting.  And while I love Sewell, and I love Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa's Nobusuke Tagomi, the character that holds my attention the most is Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido, played by Joel de la Fuente. 

Kido is chief of the Kenpeitai in Japanese San Francisco, and as such, he slithers throughout the action. He is a cold and calculating man who will do everything in his power to protect Japanese interests. Called upon to investigate when the Crown Prince is shot, he nearly commits seppuku for his failure to find the culprit in a specified time. Fortunately, clues are found, and Kido survived to make everyone else uncomfortable.

Season 2 ended with Kido flying to Germany to give John Smith a film showing our America (I guess) doing nuclear bomb testing. He knew what he had, and knew it was the only way to stop war. Smith offered Kido a place to stay, but Kido demurred - if he had to die, let it be on Japanese soil, or in this case, the Japanese embassy.

Kido is not a nice man. He killed Frank Frink's sister and her two children while trying to coerce Frink into turning his girlfriend in. Yet de la Fuente is so charismatic in the role that I still root for him.  He has taken what could have been a one-note character and embraced the nuances that make Kido an interesting man. 

So, Mr. de la Fuente, you are even scarier than Yvonne Strahovski. Thanks.

Aden Young as Daniel Holden in Rectify, Best Actor in a Drama

The fact that none of the actors in Rectify, especially Aden Young, and the show itself were never even nominated for an Emmy tells you everything you need to know about the awards system. It's stupid. I'm sure that all the actors that were nominated were fine, but none of them put in nearly as subtle or refined a performance as Young.

Daniel Holden was on Death Row for 19 years after confessing to raping and killing his girlfriend, Hannah Dean, during a drug-fueled night. He was released, but not exonerated, when DNA testing found someone else's DNA. Rectify covers those first few months following Daniel's release, and its effect on his family and his community. There are no easy answers; it is hard, it is slow, and it is beautiful.

Young hails from Australia, not Georgia.  But his accent is spot on, as are his facial expressions. Holden grew up not that far from where I did, and while not many were as good looking as he is, many sounded like him and moved like him. Young showed us the childlike wonder of being free and experiencing nature, as well as the fear and uncertainty of picking up a life that has been so horribly interrupted. 

Had Aden Young an ice cube's chance in hell of being nominated, the other actor from his show I would have selected is Clayne Crawford, for his role as Teddy Jr. 

Oh, Teddy, you were such an asshole that first season. I do not use that epithet lightly. It fits. But by the end of the series, Teddy broke my heart as much as Daniel did.

Clayne Crawford's from Alabama, and is experiencing a career high right now. He's playing Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon television series that was renewed for a second season. 

But since Aden Young had no chance to get nominated, proving the Emmy system is stupid, I'll give my hat's up to him. 

I don't think Aden Young ever smiles,

Chuck Fan Alert and Dexter Fan Alert: Yvonne Strahovski will always be Sarah Walker. Do you think she ever remembered Chuck? She also played some character in Dexter, but I never watched that show. I loved her character in Chuck, but never in a million years did I think she could pull off such an unlikeable role.

What about you? Anyone you wish had been recognized?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Memorial and A Look Around

So, I'm back. I've been thinking of you for a while now, wondering what you are watching, wondering if you are watching what I'm watching. I'm wondering if now is really the time for yet another television blog. But I just spent a weekend celebrating the life of one who died too young, a writer, a man of many passions, a great husband and father, a brilliant friend. I have no idea if Tudor ever read my blog, and it's okay if he didn't. But this post is dedicated to you man. 

Scroll down for a picture of Tudor.

I don't plan to post more often than one time per week. I will eventually return to the Buffy Rewatch, but it will be revamped. I didn't enjoy writing the recaps and I don't think that people enjoyed reading them.  I'll probably still add obituaries, because when an actor I love dies, it hurts. And I'll try to be timely with my posts about shows. Oh, and I will also have to write an update on my relationship with spoilers. Spoiler alert: it's complicated.

Since I last posted regularly, a television executive declared this to be the time of peak television. And it is certainly true. How ironic for me that there is so much terrific television out there, and I get to watch about an hour a day. No binge watching for me. Unless I'm sick. It's hard to keep up, and even harder to watch shows I missed when they first aired. And streaming television makes it even harder to keep up. I just can't.

Here's a few shows what I've been watching. This list is in no particular order. Curious to see what's on you've been watching!

Orange is the New Black

Taystee Washington is one of the greatest characters ever.
This series follows women in a federal prison that was taken over by private company. The show excels in creating and portraying the many types of women who might find themselves in prison. The plots may be overstretched at times, but I don't care. There's Red, Poussey (RIP), Suzanne, Sophia, Gloria, Nicki, and most specially Taystee. I love them all dearly, and I love watching them. I'll never stop. No matter how long it airs.

Orphan Black

One actress, many roles. How does she do it?

Tatiana Maslany is the best actress of her generation. There, I've said it. No one beats her. In Orphan Black, Maslany plays a number of young women who discover they are clones. Being clones, of course, means that they all look like her. But despite that, these women all so clearly have their own personalities. I still do not see how the same actress who plays hothead Sarah Manning also plays tightly wound Alison Hendrix. And all hail to Felix, as well, the best little brother ever, although I have to fault the show for not giving him enough of his own storyline.


Capheus, Wolfgang, Nomi, Sun, Riley, Kala, Lito, and Will
Sense8 is the brainchild of the Wachowski siblings and J. Michael Straczynski, and depicts eight persons around the globe who, thanks to Daryl Hannah, are psychically connected. Yes, the orgies and the karaokes are fun, and the fight scenes are amazing, but the show wouldn't work without great characterization and acting. You would think that with eight main characters, there would be one or two that I just wouldn't love as much as others, and at first that was true. But the show didn't leave it alone, and managed to show aspects of each. I love them all. This was an extremely expensive show to produce, as they filmed in the location of each character. I was a little surprised when the show was renewed for a second season, but I was still devastated when it was canceled after the second. I wasn't alone, and after a protracted plea from fans, we were granted a two hour movie to wrap up the loose ends. I hope that Lito tells Hernando and Daniela about the sensates (they really deserve to know), and that we figure out where Jonas stands. But most importantly, #freeWolfgang.

Game of Thrones

Jon Snow and hair.
I've written about Game of Thrones prior to my disappearance from the blogging stage, but it's coming back and it dominates. If you read anything about television, you will see article upon article about the show, with teasers, pictures, and theories galore.  Apparently no one can talk about anything else these days. It is with Game of Thrones that my relationship with spoilers became even more complicated, as the Red Wedding was spoiled for me. Oops. I've never read the books, and, despite my love for fantasy, I doubt I ever will. But that's okay, because I have the series, and it is worthy of every accolade it has received. Spoiler alert - if you love a character, they'll probably die. And nothing is fair. Ever. The show has thirteen episodes left to show us who wins the Iron Throne and who's left when the Night's King crosses the Wall. I have no idea how they'll do it, but I know I'll be enjoying it. Game of Thrones returns tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll be writing a bit about it.

Other shows I'm sure I'll write about at some time: Person of Interest, Preacher, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Transparent, Man in the High Castle, Fargo, Stranger Things, Legion, Big Little Lies, The Americans, The Handmaid's Tale, Outlander, Search Party, Marvel's Agents of Shield, Black Mirror, The 100 and many more I'm sure I'm forgetting. And that doesn't even include the list of shows on my wish list!

Star Trek Voyager Fan Alert: Up until now, Kate Mulgrew would be best known for her role as the first female captain on Star Trek. And while that particular first will never change, I suspect she will be most famous outside of genre nerds like myself for her role as Red in Orange is the New Black.

His hair is back! 

Lost Fan Alert: I'll not lie. Naveen Andrews is one of the reasons why I started watching Sense8 in the first place. I hope that we find out if Jonas Maliki is a good guy, just because I really love Mr. Andrews.

Black Mirror Fan Alert: Tuppence Middleton plays Riley Blue in Sense8, while Jerome Flynn plays the sell-sword Bronn in Game of Thrones; both had memorable roles in different episodes of Black Mirror.

Here is a picture of Tudor.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Teacher's Pet, Season 1, Episode 4

So, we move from a really good episode to an episode that is only so-so. A giant praying mantis? Really? But, it does serve as an excellent showcase for the psyche of Xander. Let's get started.

The episode starts in the Bronze. Xander suavely saves Buffy from a vampire, then mounts the stage to play the guitar. Buffy looks on, helpless and adoring.

Suddenly, Xander is awakened from his daydream by his science teacher. None of it was real. Class ends, but Dr. Gregory asks Buffy to stay behind. He knows that she burned down the gym at her old school, but he feels she has potential, and encourages her to try hard. Buffy is touched. Sadly, right after she leaves his classroom, he is killed by an unseen something.

At the real Bronze that night, Xander's manhood is questioned by his class mate, Blayne, who is bragging about his sexual conquests. Xander asks Willow and Buffy to pretend to help him deflect Blayne's criticisms. But as Xander puts his arm around Buffy, she wanders off, having seen Angel in the background. Angel notes she is cold, and gives him his leather jacket. His arm shows the wound from what looks like a huge fork. He then gives Buffy a cryptic warning and disappears.

This is the first time that Xander and Willow see Angel. Xander is a little intimidated.

The next morning, Xander informs Buffy that Dr. Gregory is missing. As they're discussing it, Ms. Natalie French saunters up, exuding sexuality and gazing at all the boys. The boys, including Xander, are appropriately entranced. She asks Xander where Science 109 is, but Xander is tongue-tied; Blayne helpfully escorts her there.

In science glass, Buffy finds Dr. Gregory's glasses, which disturbs her. Ms. French is substituting for Dr. Gregory, and it becomes clear she is obsessed with bugs, finding them noble and beautiful. She focuses on the praying mantis.

In the lunch line, Xander focuses on how much Ms. French is obsessed with him. The gang overhear Blayne brag about his scheduled one-on-one with Ms. French. Meanwhile, Cordelia opens one of the cafeteria refrigerators, and finds the body of Dr. Gregory. His head is missing.

In the library, the gang and Giles discuss what could have happened to Dr. Gregory. Giles is able to tell the group about the mysterious vampire Angel warned Buffy about - apparently a vampire who had displeased the Master and had his hand cut off. However, Dr. Gregory's body was not drained of blood.

Buffy is patrolling in Sunnydale at night, interrupted by a homeless man who warns her about how dangerous it is. Buffy finds a small storm drain where apparently the de-armed vampire lives - he has replaced his missing hand with three sharp claws. They fight unconclusively, but are disrupted by the homeless men who are actually undercover cops. Shaking them off, the vampire finds another victim - Ms. French. But, sniffing her, he turns tail and runs, obviously terrified.

Buffy tells Giles about it the next morning. Giles suggests Buffy keep a close eye on Ms. French. But on the way to class, Buffy is waylaid by Principal Flutie, who insists that Buffy needs to speak with a counselor since she saw the body of Dr. Gregory. Buffy overhears Cordelia talking with the counselor.

Buffy runs to science class, and sees that Ms. French has given the students a pop quiz. She notes Blayne is absent, and sees Ms. French draping herself over Xander. Somehow, Ms. French turns her head around 180 degrees, which is creepy (I really wish I could have found a picture of that online!).

In the library, Buffy tells Giles and Willow what they saw. Buffy hypothesizes that Ms. French is perhaps some kind of an insect. She looks for a book on bugs.

Xander shows up for his one-on-one with Ms. French, but she reschedules for that evening at her home. Xander is understandably excited. When Xander leaves the room, she prepares her sandwich - with crickets. Yuck.

Back in the library, Buffy theorizes that Ms. French is somehow a praying mantis, since they are the only creatures that can turn their heads like that. Willow discovers that Blayne never returned home last night. Giles agrees to call a friend from Oxford who studied entomology and mythology.

Buffy runs into Xander. She tries to warn Xander that Ms. French is an insect, but Xander is incensed.

Later that evening, Xander shows up at Ms. French's home. She is wearing a low-cut dress. She serves him a martini. Xander becomes woozy, and admits to Ms. French that he loves Buffy. Ms. French turns into a praying mantis, and Xander passes out from the drug in his drink.

At the library, it turns out that a female praying mantis rips off the head of her mate while they're...mating.

Xander wakes up in a cage, and finds Blayne in a cage next to him. Blayne warns Xander about what happens when she mates - she does rip the head off the poor sap.

Back in the library, Giles gets off the phone with his friend. It turns out the "She-Mantis" turns herself into a beautiful woman to lure innocent virgins to her nest. Willow tries to call Xander, but finds out he left for Ms. French's home already. The best way to kill a She-Mantis is by cleaving her with a sharp blade. Buffy also suggests using a bat sonar, which she believes will immobilize the mantis. Willow finds Ms. French's address, and her birthday - she's in her nineties. Indeed, upon arriving, they find an elderly Ms. French, She used to be a teacher.

In the cellar, the She-Mantis approaches the two cages, and appears to use eenie, meenie, miney, moe to select her next mate. Xander "wins".  She binds him up and lays her eggs.

Helpless, Buffy decides to use "fork-hand" vampire to locate Ms. French, so she goes down the storm drain and finds him. Bound, the vampire finally cringes at one house, just in time to escape. But that's okay, Buffy dusts him.

The gang run into the basement to find the She-Mantis approaching Xander, ready to mate. Buffy kills the Mantis, and, while Xander and Blayne are glad to be freed, they are both horrified when Willow reveals that both are virgins. Xander takes Buffy's blade and destroys the egg sacs.

The episode ends in science class, with the new teacher droning on. In the closet, hanging from a shelf is a glistening egg sack that moves and cracks. The episode ends.

What do I think? Well, the horror movie serving as a metaphor for the predatory behavior of an older woman with children is especially prescient with the number of teachers who have affairs with their charges. Granted, this particular teacher would end up killing her virgin mates, but otherwise, I think Xander's response is spot on. Of course he'd be attracted, especially given his frustrated attempts to secure the affections of Buffy. Finding out he was destined to be bug food and the father of more bugs, the episode ends with him destroying all his progeny in rage.

A lot of people online have expressed frustration that the show ended with the egg sacs in the classroom, a menace that was never mentioned again. I don't mind. It felt very Twilight Zone to me. Maybe they took years to mature, and were destroyed when the high school blew up? That's my theory.

Best Quotes:

Xander (in response to an insult from Blayne): Something really cutting.  (to Willow) Sometimes I just go with the generic insult.
Willow: Why pay more for the brand name?

Xander (about Angel): Well, he's buff. She never said anything about him being buff.
Willow: You think he's buff?
Xander: He's a very attractive man! How come that never came up?

Ms. French (to Xander): Could you help me?
Xander: Egguh - yes.
Ms. French: I'm looking for Science 109.
Xander: Sure. It's...uh..I go there everyday - oh, god, where is it?
Xander (after Blayne takes over, walking away with Ms. French): Funny how the earth never opens up and swallows you when you want it to.

Xander: You two might be a little young to understand what an older woman sees in a younger man.
Buffy: Oh, I understand.
Xander: Good.
Buffy: A younger man is too dumb to wonder why an older woman can't find someone her own age and too desperate to care about the surgical improvements.
Xander: I'm not too dumb to....what surgical improvements?
Willow: Well, he is young.
Buffy: And so terrible innocent.
Xander: Those who can, do. Those who can't laugh at those who...can do.

Principal Flutie (escorting Buffy to the counselor): We all need help with our feelings, otherwise we bottle them up, and before you know it powerful laxatives are involved. I really believe if we all reach out to one another we can beat this thing. I'm always here is you need a hug - but not a real hug, there's no touching in this school, we're sensitive to wrong touching.

Cordelia: ...it was...let's just say I haven't been able to eat a thing since yesterday...I think I lost like seven and a half ounces - way swifter than the so-called diet that quack put me on...I'm not saying we should kill a teacher everyday just so I can lose weight, I'm just saying when tragedy strikes, we have to look on  the bright side- you know, like how even a used Mercedes still has leather seats.

Giles: I had a chum at Oxford, Carlyle, advanced degrees in entomology and mythology...
Buffy: Whosy and whatsy?
Giles: Bugs and fairy tales.
Buffy: I knew that.

Giles: This computer invasion Willow's performing on the Coroner's office...one assumes it's entirely legal?
Buffy and Willow simultaneously: Of course - entirely.
Giles: So I wasn't here, didn't see it, couldn't have stopped it.

Xander (after Buffy informs him Ms. French is a mantis): It's not weird, it's perfectly understandable. I've met someone, you're jealous.
Buffy: I'm not jealous..
Xander: Nothing I could do about it. There's just a certain chemcial thing between Ms. French and me.
Buffy: I know, I just read about it, it's called, uh, a pheromone, this chemical attractant insects give off.
Xander: SHE'S NOT AN INSECT - OK!? She's a woman. Hard as it may be for you to conceive, a human woman finds me attractive. I realzie she's no mystery guy handinhg out leather jackets - and while we're on the subject, what kinda girly-name is Angel, anyway?
Buffy: What's that got to do with...
Xander: Nothing! It just bugs me!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Kick-Ass Women: Lt. Uhura

I can't remember a time when I didn't watch Star Trek. My first memory of television was an episode (and no, I've no idea which one). One of my favorite characters was Lt. Uhura. And why wouldn't she be? Granted, she technically was the telephone operator, but otherwise, she was the epitome of the kind of woman I aspired to be. She was beautiful, good at her job, and had a full life.  She was an accomplished singer and seemed to love life. Even more importantly, unlike those two blond women, she didn't pine after any of the men on the show (I have decided that the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V in which Uhura announced to Scotty she had always loved him doesn't really exist). She was a woman who had a career and a life, and stood on her own two feet. She didn't need a man to define her. Which, if you think about it, is what we all. 

And for years, the real reason I wore hoop earrings is because I wanted to be as much like Uhura as I could. 

Uhura was the only woman on Star Trek I admired. The show was produced in the 1960s, and despite its creator's progressive attitudes (Star Trek had one of the most diverse casts at the time) women were mostly seen through the prism of the men around them, caring and loving them, sex objects, and almost always scantily clad. Gene Roddenberry recognized the plight of women, however, as evidenced by the last episode ever, the horrible Turnabout Intruder.  Even in Roddenberry's utopia, women were prohibited from captaining starships. Janice Lester was a classmate of Kirk's, and just as talented, but the Federation's refusal to promote her drove her insane. The only way she could become captain was to use advanced technology to change bodies with Kirk.  But because of her gender or impaired mental health (or her lack of experience, to be fair), she was clearly incapable of leading. Spock eventually figured it out, bodies were switched, and everyone felt sorry for the poor woman whose ambitions were frustrated by her gender. It was a terrible end to a great show. 

This series comes as a result of my discovery of Starbuck on the Battlestar Galactica reboot. As I loudly pronounced at the time, Starbuck was easily one of my favorite characters ever. The fact that she was female was perhaps the best part - otherwise Starbuck would have been just another cliche. As I bought about Starbuck, I thought about all the other kick-ass female characters I've loved through the years. I decided to start with the original. 

Who are your favorite kick-ass women?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Great Buffy Rewatch: The Witch, Season 1, Episode 3

This is the first episode following the pilot, and no vampires, none. Not even Angel (boo). Indeed, the "big bad" of the episode is not a monster but a parent, the very person who is supposed to cherish and protect her children. Let's proceed.

The episode starts with a greatly agitated Giles, outraged that Buffy, chosen to vanquish vampires, choses to engage in something as banal as cheerleading. Buffy points out that Giles can't stop her, especially as she wants to do something normal and...safe. Famous last words.

Giles may not approve of Buffy trying out for the squad, but Willow and Xander willingly accompany her to the gym. Xander awkwardly offers Buffy an I.D. bracelet that's inscribed "Yours always". He quickly claims all the bracelets had the same inscription.

As the tryouts begin, Willow greets Amy, who is clearly anxious about the audition. As they watch, the first would-be cheerleader breaks out into flames. Buffy quickly douses her. The girl had been talented, but no way she would be on the squad now. By the way, the use of a body double for Amber, the girl on fire, is pretty obvious. 

The team gathers in the library to discuss what happened. Deciding vampires are not involved, Willow decides to hack the school systems and Xander will ask around about the charred cheerleader.

Buffy goes home to find her mother preoccupied with her first deliveries for the gallery she will be opening. Joyce can't even remember what Buffy is trying out for. Upon being reminded, Joyce remarks Buffy quit cheerleading right before she started getting into trouble. Buffy mentions that Amy's mother trains with Amy hours everyday. Joyce comments that Amy's mom clearly doesn't have much to do.

Back at school the next day, the auditions have resumed, and Buffy, Cordelia, and Amy are in the first group performance audition. Amy starts out strong, but eventually misses a few moves and crashes into Cordelia.

Buffy catches up to Amy in front of the trophy case. Amy tells Buffy about her mother, the former head cheerleader who took her squad to the tri-county tournament. Mom was the Homecoming Queen who married the Homecoming King. But sadly, her high school days were her best years, and the King left his family for "Miss Trailer Trash". Buffy tries to encourage Amy, but Amy clearly is under a lot of pressure by her mother.

Cordelia threatens Amy in the locker room.

The list is posted. Cordelia has made the team, but Buffy and Amy are alternatives. They explain to Xander that being an alternative means they are only on the team if one of the cheerleaders on the team drops out.

We then watch a witch intone a spell. We can see she is casting a spell on Cordelia.

Buffy's at home, and her mother is clearly trying to reconnect. When Joyce suggests Buffy join the yearbook staff, Buffy tells her its not her thing. Joyce gets angry, telling Buffy that Buffy's "thing" got her kicked out of school, requiring them to move to Sunnydale as it was the only decent school that would take her. Buffy is hurt and leaves.

As Xander tries to gather his courage to ask Buffy out, Buffy notes that Cordelia doesn't seem right. She follows Cordelia who gets in the driver's seat in driver's ed. (Why are other students in the car?) Anyway, Cordelia loses control. When she gets out of the car, she wanders into the road. Buffy saves her from an on-coming truck. But Cordelia can't see anything - her eyes are covered up by a murky film.

Giles declares witchcraft is involved. Amy is the first suspect. Giles is surprised that someone with power would be willing to use it to become a cheerleader, but Buffy points out the pressure that Amy's under from her mother to be a cheerleader. They decide to use a test to determine whether Amy really is the witch.

Xander, Willow, and Buffy decide to try the test during chemistry class. The test is positive - Amy's a witch. But at the same time, one of the other cheerleaders in class suddenly loses her mouth. Everyone is shocked, even Amy. Perhaps she doesn't know what she's doing?

Amy is walking home. Entering her surprisingly nice home, she seems to change. She mocks her mother for watching television all day. She orders her mother to write her history report, then notes that Buffy stole her hair. She dangles the bracelet that Xander had given Buffy.

The next morning, Buffy wakes up in an extremely good mood. She's singing and bouncy. When Joyce tries to apologize for her words yesterday, Buffy waves it away. She tells her mother that it's hard for people to understand about the whole vampire slayer thing. She somehow escapes without revealing too much more and her mother's just confused.

At cheerleading practice, Buffy is still verbose - loud and clumsy. She finally flips a girl too far. She's kicked off the team, and Amy's made a cheerleader. Xander and Willow get Buffy out of practice and take her to the library.

Giles diagnoses Buffy as afflicted with a Bloodstone Vengeance. Apparently it makes you feel exceedingly drunk, then shuts your immune system down. Whoever cast the spell wants Buffy dead. Giles and Buffy will go to Amy's house to talk to her mother, while Xander and Willow will keep an eye on Amy.

Giles's car is a piece of crap. I don't believe it's the same one he drives later. Giles confronts Catherine, Amy's mother, but Buffy, clearly dying, realizes the woman is really Amy, that Amy and her mother have switched places. This apparently occurred a couple of months ago. Amy-Catherine shows Giles the attic where her mother works her spells. He finds what he needs and the three go to school.

Catherine-Amy is cheering with the rest of the squad, very ecstatic, with Xander and Willow looking on. Giles, Amy-Catherine, and Buffy are in the chemistry lab. Giles starts spells. As the spell starts working, Catherine-Amy realizes what is going on, and, furious, heads to the lab. Xander and Willow try to delay her, but Catherine-Amy uses her magic to fend them off.

Chaos seems to ensue when Catherine-Amy arrives. The two are switched into their proper bodies, and Catherine is furous at her daughter, berating her for causing her nothing but trouble. She then starts to cast what looks like a particularly nasty spell. Buffy interferes, and somehow blocks the spell, reflecting it back on Catherine. With that, Catherine is gone.

Buffy's back at her home. Joyce acknowledges that she just doesn't understand Buffy and has no clue what she's thinking. It's a biological imperative that she can't understand her sixteen year old daughter. Buffy asks Joyce if she'd ever want to be sixteen again. Joyce says no, not even to understand Buffy. Buffy is pleased and declares she loves her mother. Who continues to be confused.

Buffy and Amy are talking in the halls. Amy is describing her life with her newly returned father; she's clearly very happy. No one has seen Catherine since the spell. They're confident they will never have to worry about her again.

We see the trophy from the cheerleading championship. It then becomes clear that Catherine is stuck inside the trophy.

My thoughts watching this: Instead of monstrous vampires outside the house, this episode focuses on the monsters inside the home. Catherine took everything from her daughter - her body, her dreams, her autonomy. Contrast her with Joyce, also disappointed in her daughter, but who struggles to understand and accept Buffy as she is.

We also get to see Xander's unrequited attraction for Buffy and his bumbling attempts to connect. In the background is Willow, the good friend, who clearly has some unrequited feelings herself. It's sweet.

The characterization of Catherine-as-Amy seems off to me. At one point, Amy describes how great her mother is to help her train for the auditions. But later she tells Buffy about the pressure she's under from her mother. And why did this great former cheerleader who's been in Amy's body for months have such a hard time with auditions? Surely she should have gotten used to Amy's body in that amount of time. 

That said, this episode builds in the promise introduced in the pilot, further developing a world where the bad guy might be a neighbor, not just a monster. The relationships building among the characters is also progressing. Already, the personalities of the characters are pretty well-established. A great chapter. 

What we learned about Buffy: Buffy's parents are divorced, something hinted at before, but now made clear.

Best quotes:

Xander: Oooh, where was I?
Willow: You were pretending that seeing scantily-clad girls in revealing postures was a spiritual experience.
Xander: What do you mean, pretending?

 Willow: That girl's on fire!
Cordelia: Enough with the hyperbole!

Giles: Well, that is the thrill of living on the hellmouth - one has a veritable cornucopia of fiends, devils and ghouls to engage...Pardon me for finding the glass half full.

Xander: I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide til it goes away.

Willow: Average student - got detention once for smoking - regular smoking, with a cigarette. Not being smoky.

Buffy: Mom, I accepted that you've had sex. I'm not ready to accept that you've had Farrah hair.
Joyce: This is Gidget hair. Don't they teach you anything in history?

Giles: Why would someone want to harm Cordelia?
Willow: Maybe because...they met her. Did I say that?

Xander [upon Willow announcing that Xander has checked out a number of books on witchcraft]: All right, all right. It's not what you think.
Willow: You like to look at the semi-nude engravings?
Xander: Oh. Well, then, it is what you think.

Giles: I think all the spells were reversed. Of course, it's my first casting. I may have got it wrong.
Buffy: You saved me. You were a god.
Giles: One doesn't want to be immodest, but I am not unsatisfied.
Buffy: Giles, stop being so proper. You're in America. Brag.

Cordelia: Hey, I'm really sorry you guys got bumped back to alternate. Hold it - wait - no, I'm not.
Amy: Well, I know I'll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling words out with my arms.
Cordelia: Ooh, these grapes are sour.

Buffyverse fan alert: Sarah Michelle Geller's comedy, The Crazy Ones, has been cancelled. Meanwhile, Alyson Hannigan has just finished her run in How I Met Your Mother and is set to co-star in More Time with Family