Books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Chapters 25–32)

And so Edmund and Miss Crawford can come to no agreement, though there is love on each side. Or whatever passed for love in Regency society. It's so strange, when you think about it. Interactions were limited by propriety, and I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but it's very little to go on when one is thinking about spending the rest of one's life with a person.

There is a ball at Mansfield, too, before William is scheduled to leave. And then Mr Crawford is kind enough to take William to London so that William won't have to go by post chaise or whatever. (To us it's the difference between taking a private car instead of having to ride a public coach.) It turns out Mr Crawford's big plan is to introduce William to his uncle, who is an admiral, and thus promote William's seafaring career. All, it would seem, so as to win Fanny over.

In fact, when Mr Crawford returns from London and is able to bring Fanny the great good news of William having been made a lieutenant, he wastes no time declaring himself and his intentions on the coattails of Fanny's joy and gratitude. But of course Fanny does not love Mr Crawford. She doesn't even trust him because she's seen the way he played with her cousins' affections. And she can hardly believe someone as low as she can have ignited any kind of passion or change in such a man as Mr Crawford appears to be.

When Fanny's uncle, Sir Thomas, hears Fanny's refusal of Crawford, he thinks her willful and ungrateful for such a chance as might never come her way again. And looking at it from Sir Thomas' POV, one could see it must appear really strange. Most girls would jump at such a chance, wouldn't they? But Sir Thomas is logical while Fanny ruled at least in majority by her heart—she has intellect, too, to be sure, but her mind tends to run along her heart lines. And she is not "most girls."

Meanwhile, Edmund has gone off to take orders and Miss Crawford has decided in his absence that she does love him, even if he is a clergyman. She only hopes he hasn't fallen in love with someone else while he's been away. Though, if a man's love is so easily removed and re-fixed based on whomever is nearest him, you probably don't want to marry that guy anyway.


My iPod Is Trying to Tell Me a Story

Stuck in traffic and here is the story my iPod chose to tell via shuffle:
  1. "Hands All Over" - Maroon 5
  2. "Shiver" - Maroon 5
  3. "Do You Love Me?" - Guster
  4. "Parachute" - Ingrid Michaelson
  5. "Every Morning" - Sugar Ray
  6. "Still Ain't Over You" - Rob Thomas
  7. "Warmer Place To Sleep" - John [Cougar] Mellencamp
  8. "Keep Coming Back" - Richard Marx
  9. "Misery" - Maroon 5
  10. "Don't Let Me Get Me" - P!nk
  11. "Notbroken" - Goo Goo Dolls
  12. "Just Say Yes" - Snow Patrol
  13. "Best Day of My Life" - American Authors
Yeah, I know, there's a huge dollop of Maroon 5 in there, which is interesting since I don't have any more Maroon 5 on my iPod than I do, say, Matchbox Twenty or Rob Thomas. And I have a lot of The Script, too, but they didn't turn up to this party.

I'm a lyrics person, and I also take into account songs' moods and such. As a writer, how could I not? And so when I listen to music, each song tells a kind of story. And when you have a lot of songs telling stories, you kind of start to weave them together into one big story. Or I do, anyway.

I found this particular plot, so to speak, very clear and satisfying (thanks largely to the last song which started as I turned on to my street). It's a love story—most songs are love stories—and it's a story told mostly from His perspective but She interjects a couple times. I like the way She answers his question (Guster & Michaelson) and He works to soothe her after her crisis of confidence (P!nk & Goo Goo Dolls).

Really, it's quite a good story. We start with the power of attraction, move into a deeper phase of the relationship, then go back and forth for a bit until the love in question matures and finds its joy again.

Does you iPod (or other music player) ever tell you sweeping, epic stories? I like it when mine does.

Books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Chapters 17–24)

We're now roughly halfway through the book (there are 48 chapters; I checked, not because I was bored and wanting to be done, only because I was curious and wondering whether 8-chapter increments would come out even).

The amateur theatricals had to be given up because Sir Thomas came home. The personal dramas continue.

Maria went ahead and married Rushworth out of a kind of spite when Mr Crawford decamped. Julia went with the Rushworths on their honeymoon. That sounds weird to modern-day readers, but based on what I've read from that era, it wasn't so uncommon. An older, well-situated sister might be able to give a younger sibling a hand up in society, help her find a suitable marriage. Not that Julia couldn't have done—the Bertrams are not low—but it must be nice for her to have a wider field to hunt. So to speak.

Tom has gone off, too, which leaves Fanny and Edmund at home. Fanny accidentally becomes a sort of friend to Miss Crawford, thus facilitating that young lady's and Edmund's connection. Poor Fanny! Caught between enjoying society (even in small scope) for the first time and having to watch Edmund and Miss Crawford work at one another! But I think Fanny would say it's better to know than not know. She'd rather see for herself and judge what their feelings might be than sit at home and wonder what Edmund and Miss Crawford might be saying to or doing with one another.

As for Edmund and Miss Crawford, well, as Edmund comes closer to taking orders (he means to be a clergyman), Miss Crawford becomes increasingly irritated with him. She does not want to marry a clergyman, but she does want to marry Edmund. It cannot be much of a love that can be dictated to by something like income and profession, can it?

And then Mr Crawford returns and decides to take a run at Fanny. Just for a lark. Because she's such a hard nut to crack and unlike her cousins seems indifferent if not averse to him entirely.

But! All Fanny's attention is soon taken up with the fact her beloved brother William, a midshipman, has returned to England and been given leave to visit at Mansfield. And her animation, her show of feeling, captivates Mr Crawford. Now he's sure he must win Fanny over, and he uses kindnesses toward William to do it.

And there's where things stand for the moment.


Television: Fargo, "Who Shaves the Barber?"

Solverson survived the shooting, though she's out a spleen.

Malvo goes to Fargo to find the guys trying to gun him down. After all, the best defense is a good offense. (It helps to have utterly useless FBI and police people on the scene.)

Chaz is successfully framed and Lester spins a story for Bill that Bill is all too eager to eat up. He just wants his quiet little town back.

Lester also bangs the Widow Hess.

And Molly [Solverson] returns to find the Bemidji police, with help from Lester, have put the puzzle together all wrong. She's right, of course, but there's something about her that makes me unable to cheer her on. Can't quite put my finger on it.

I also wish Grimly would man up in some way.

I don't feel at all sorry for Chaz, either.

Three episodes left.


Books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Chapters 9–16)

In which amateur theatrics are occluded by personal dramas.

I have to say, reading this bit felt very familiar, and now I'm wondering if I haven't read this book before after all, or at least part of it.

Anyway, Fanny continues to be a wallflower, the sympathetic and moral entré for readers to use as a spyglass into the doings of Mansfield Park, its inhabitants and environs. I can't like Edmund as much now due to suspect motives. Either he is being blatantly untruthful about his reasons for finally joining the play or he lacks self-awareness, and neither of those is appealing in a person's character. Though he is kind to Fanny . . . He is no kinder to her than he would be to anyone, I don't think? At first I was going to say he wouldn't go out of his way for her, but he has done . . . And yet, I think he would have done for anyone. Edmund acts on his convictions in that way. If Fanny were a family pet (and she is kind of like one), he'd do the same.

It is not surprising that Fanny is so fond of Edmund anyway. I had a cousin who was nice to me, too, and felt very attached to him throughout childhood. Idolized him, really. As an only child, my cousins were the closest I had to siblings, and this cousin was a definite favorite. Because like Fanny I was bookish and quiet and shy, and this cousin—though like Edmund he never went too far out of his way—was always really nice to me. Made sure when his parents bought him a teddy bear that I got one too. That kind of thing.

But, that said, I could almost prefer someone like Tom who, even if his character is not especially savory, he is never anyone other than he asserts himself to be. There is something to be said for honest dealings. Tom is, I suppose, all surface, which would make for bad company in the long term (that is, he'd be useless for intellectual conversation), but if you just want to go out and have fun and not have to think too hard, Tom is your man.

Then there are types like Mr Crawford who toys with the people around him (particularly the women), tiptoeing along the borders of propriety. Hmm. And his sister is the antithesis of Fanny.

In any case, it's a vivid mixture of personalities. I find, the more I read, I can't entirely like anyone. But that's life. We have friends, people we like, and yet there are always things we don't like, even about the people we like . . . If that makes any sense. I suppose good friends are the ones with the least to dislike and it goes out from there. It's all relative. If, for example, Fanny had her brother William with her, would Edmund pale in comparison? Fanny is only attached to Edmund because, relatively speaking, he is the kindest to her and the one nearest in temperament. If there had been anyone else kinder or quieter, she'd have gravitated in that direction. Ha! Maybe people are planets, pulling one another in and turning in orbits around one another.


Television: 24: Live Another Day, "3:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m."

In which Jack spends yet another hour locked in a small room. Honestly, this "season" is rather lackluster. Action and intensity are decidedly absent. There's a chance Jack will finally go do some stuff next week, but it feels like too little too late.

Chloe and Kate work together to upload the flight key of the military officer whose drone went wacko. By examining the data closely—more closely than the military itself had, it seems—they are able to find evidence that the drone had been highjacked. This is supposed to prove, yet again, Chloe's superior hacking skills, I guess. She beats the military and the government at their own games. But as viewers we've come to expect this and are no longer impressed by it.

President William Devane orders all the drones grounded. But Terrorist Catelyn Stark has override codes or something, so six drones fail to respond to the grounding command. Uh-oh. (At least, we hope uh-oh, because we're dying for something to actually happen.)

Mummy Stark has also put a false location or something in the uploaded flight key data. So the CTU or CIA or whatever they are now send a team out. Only to have a drone bomb them. I guess we're lucky the location was out in the middle of nowhere and all.

Mummy is demanding that the president meet her at a time and place of her choosing, else she'll unleash the rest of the drones on London. Turns out the stealth technology is so good that even the military can't track their own drones, even if and when they've been highjacked by the enemy. I wish I could say this was plot contrivance, but it's probably pretty true to life.

Other minor moments: Jack and Mole Rat Audrey meet again. Mummy kills Wannabe Sansa's husband.

Overall, the show has been rather static. Not a lot of movement. Previews of next week show that Jack's request to be sent out into the field—he has a line on an associate of Mummy's—are granted, and he takes Kate with him so he can impress her with his stoic heroism. What a first date, eh? But we're almost halfway through this half day, and there's not a lot to show for it. Even Dave Barry has sat out the last couple episodes, and that's saying something. If even Dave can't find something to poke at in this . . . It's pretty dull indeed.


Books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Chapters 1–8)

I went to Half Price Books the other day and picked up a couple of used copies of Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. You see, I've read Pride & Prejudice, and Emma, and Sense & Sensibility. And I've subsequently seen various film and/or television adaptations of these. But I have not read nor seen Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, or Persuasion. And while Persuasion was the one I was most interested in, HPB did not have a copy. Surprising! But I bought the other two.

I'm now eight chapters into Mansfield Park. I like it. But then I've liked everything by Jane Austen so far, so it's not surprising that I like this one too. I do feel sorry for Fanny. She's a bit of a ninny, but I think it's only the situation that makes her thus; I get the strong feeling she was quite capable in her life before being remanded to Mansfield, and it's only in the uprooting and transplanting that she's become stunted, a bit wilted. She's a sensitive thing, and I'm glad for Edmund who, though not quite as attentive as he could be, is more so than most.

I do not quite follow Fanny's health issues, the need to horseback ride and the difficulties with too much walking? I have to take Austen at her word there. Maybe it is because I walk quite a bit and suffer ill health when I don't walk . . . I can walk all day quite heartily, have been known to wear my companions out with walking. Jogging I can't suffer, but walking pleases me no end. And of course riding, too, when I get the chance. Though what I really enjoy is swimming. Don't get to do that nearly enough.

Anyway, all that aside, poor Fanny is so often neglected and overlooked and undervalued, I do feel bad for her. And Austen is so good at drawing characters. One knows exactly what type of person each of these characters is, all the little subtleties of personality show so clearly through Austen's prose. They've just made a party to Sotherton, and Fanny is of course delighted to be invited, but one wonders how she will do in company when so far she has always been left out? Don't ruin it for me, mind. I'm so enjoying reading it.

Fanny's fallback position seems to be to keep to herself, and she's often enough left to herself that this seems to be preferable on all fronts. But surely something must come along to prompt or motivate her? The whole book cannot be about Fanny sitting back and watching everything happening around her. Can it?

Or maybe I'm bringing too modern a sensibility to the story. Maybe Fanny watching all the goings-on is exactly what this book is. I guess I'll find out.

Television: Halt and Catch Fire, "I/O"

Okay, so I grew up in the Austin area in the 80s. My dad worked for Texas Instruments and brought home that TI-99 he'd helped create, along with Speak & Spell and Speak & Math and all that stuff. So this show should be right up my alley . . . Or maybe not? Admittedly, I wasn't paying a lot of attention to any of that stuff as a kid. Though my dad did force me to learn to type, saying, "This is going to be important in the future." And he was right. 80wpm with no errors, bitches!

Anyway, the ads for this show made it seem really intense and possibly fun. So we found the pilot as an On Demand preview and gave it a try. And . . . I don't know. It wasn't fun. And though it seems lots of people (women) like Lee Pace, I find him a tad creepy. But maybe that's what he's going for here; his character Joe is kind of a psychopath. Well, it takes a psychopathic streak to have the kind of vision this guy has, maybe, but . . . Seriously, though. American Psycho on Broadway? Get yourself Lee Pace as the lead.

The flip side of Joe is Scott McNairy's Gordon, a work-a-day type who feels beat down by the system. His wife is constantly reminding him that his duty is to make money so they can, you know, pay bills. But Gordon is feeling stymied. He wants to create, to build new machines. He and his wife tried once and failed miserably, hence their straitened circumstances. But Joe turns up and drags Gordon into his net, his web of ideas, to semi-disastrous results. Like, IBM suing your company kind of results.

But that was all part of Joe's master plan. And here is where it gets a bit confusing. Cardiff Electric, for whom Gordon and Joe work, can't just fire them because IBM's suit—that Joe and Gordon brought on by reverse engineering an IBM machine, which is intellectual property theft—is against Cardiff due to the fact that it was their employees who did the work and so Cardiff may benefit from it? I think? And somehow the loophole here is that Cardiff must now create its own PC. But they need a new programmer, one that hasn't been tainted by the stolen information. So they get a college student named Cameron (Mackenzie Davis).

My chief problems with the show are (a) it's really dark. There's very little humor. And it's shot darkly, too. And (b) the exposition is clunky. The way characters' backstories are dealt with? Via dialogue and stilted conversations? Ugh. Finally, (c) the women characters are harridans. The wife is a nag and Cameron has a huge chip on her shoulder. The women in this show are shrill and angry and obnoxious. I find that a real turn-off.

In fact, I found it difficult to sympathize with any of the characters. Gordon came closest; as a writer and creator myself, I understood his frustration. But I didn't have to love the way he dealt with it (drinking). Every other character just makes me want to back away. So far, really, there's no one to root for.

In whole, I felt like AMC really wants another Mad Men. And that would be great. But this isn't it. The tone is just too far off.

Still, I'll give the show another couple episodes. Maybe it will come into its own. Lighten up a bit, literally and figuratively. Because right now the characters are in crisis mode, but . . . I've been given no reason to care about any of them at all. So their crisis means nothing to me. Make me care, writers. That's your #1 job.


Movies: Her

In Spike Jonze's version of the  near future, society is even more wrapped up in technology. People walk around and ride public transit, all the while muttering to themselves and their . . . I dunno. Mobile phones? Mini computers? PDAs of whatever kind? And they hire people to write their love letters for them.

At the same time, everyone dresses like 70s throwbacks, including high-waisted pants for the gents, and moustaches are "in" again. Yick.

So Her ends up being an interesting play in contrasts. Theo (Joaquin Phoenix) is separated from his wife, and his loneliness draws him into video games and late-night porn chats. And then he learns of a new operating system that acts and interacts like a real person. So he gives that a shot.

Anyone who has seen the trailers knows what happens next, and even if you haven't seen the trailers you can take a pretty good guess. Theo's OS names itself Samantha and speaks with Scarlett Johansson's voice. And as she learns and adapts, she and Theo fall in love.

Soon we're hearing of others who are dating their operating systems. Or even others' operating systems. And while the focus remains on Theo and Samantha, the story itself opens up a host of questions about A.I. and its potential versus its limitations. Her is definitely the kind of movie you can discuss and debate after viewing. If you like that sort of thing. (For added fun, drink some wine while watching and then discuss the movie. That's what I did.)

Theo goes on a blind date that starts well but ends badly. He struggles to sign the divorce papers his wife and attorney keep thrusting on him. All these things emphasize the lack of human connection in this future.

I won't say how it ends; I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone who might want to see the movie. But it does seem that films about A.I. lean one of two ways: We fall in love with it and are obliged to redefine what it means to be "human" or what a "relationship" is, or . . . It rises up against us and dominates or tries to kill us. You can probably make an educated guess as to which category Her falls under.

I'll just say I have my doubts about A.I. being able to feel. Mimicry, sure. I think A.I. could learn to fake it, so to speak. But without actual organs, the chemicals that cause feelings and reactions, I would have to lean toward A.I. not having valid "feelings."

Lastly, my lingering question from the movie: How long does the battery last on that thing? I mean, Theo leaves her on all the time. And she doesn't appear to be plugged in. So . . . I guess we've solved battery life problems in the near future?


Books: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Kate Morton has a definite formula when she writes. The first time I read one of her books, I was charmed. The second time, I felt a bit let down. But this time I was able to take it for what it was and enjoy it all the same.

Morton likes to write nesting-box style, with one story wrapped around another and that one encased in yet another plot. In this particular novel, we follow Edith Burchill in 1992, whose mother Meredith receives a letter some 50 years after it was posted. This takes us back to WWII and Meredith's evacuation from London to a castle Kent. So we get Meredith's story, and then we also get the story of the Blythe sisters and their famous author father. An odd collection of characters to be sure, each one exceptionally well drawn. Then we're back to Edie as she teases bits of the history free.

Having read a couple of Morton's books before, I easily identified every coming plot twist well before the reveals were made. Still, most of the fun is in getting there, and Morton has a particularly lovely way with words. So I enjoyed the book despite having figured the mysteries out. And anyway, it's always nice to feel vindicated in the end, to be able to say to yourself, "I knew it!"

In any case, The Distant Hours ties The House at Riverton for me; I like them equally and a bit more than The Secret Keeper. Haven't tried The Forgotten Garden yet, mostly because when I read the back of that one I found the story less interesting. But Morton's writing is so good, it may be worth reading even the less intriguing stories just to savor her turns of phrase.

Movies: Dear Mr. Watterson

My parents used to get the newspaper. Between that and Peter Jennings, they knew all they felt they needed about what was happening in the world. Sunday mornings meant the kitchen table would be strewn with sections of the Dallas Morning News while Dad sat either at the table or, if it was warm enough, outside on the patio, with his coffee and whatever part of the paper he was on. He was methodical about working his way through it. And my goal was to grab the comics and Parade before he could miss them.

So, yes, like many my age I grew up with Calvin & Hobbes. While Garfield had been my first comics love, and I'd also had many Peanuts books (the really old ones, where the characters looked very different from the more modern form), I read the adventures of Calvin and his stuffed tiger regularly and was often oddly touched by the insights provided. Calvin & Hobbes was not like other comic strips. It was funny, sure, but it often went deeper than that too.

Dear Mr. Watterson touches on this—it talks not to Bill Watterson (of course not) but to other cartoonists and to fans of the strip and sort of skims the reasons why Calvin & Hobbes has such a following. It bumps against Watterson's open criticism of the artist vs. syndicate system, his refusal to monetize his work through marketing and so forth. But ultimately there is not a lot of depth to this documentary. How can there be when Watterson himself is such a recluse? And so, though I can share Schroeder's love of Watterson's work, the final result is a fannish gloss of what makes Calvin & Hobbes special to Schroeder and readers worldwide.

What the documentary did bring home to me is that I live with a Calvin. His name is Robert, and he carries around a beat-up, much-loved stuffed white tiger. And he makes a lot of trouble, but he also has bizarrely logical and philosophical moments and is largely unimpressed by grown-ups, especially when their answers to his questions fall short of expectations. And now I realize that I can sit down with Robert and show him Calvin, and he'll see that there are others out there like him. Kindred spirits. And it's going to be wonderful to see that world through Robert's eyes.

So, you see, a documentary—a kind of love letter is what it is, really—about how great Calvin & Hobbes is was never needed. Nor was marketing. Because the readers, generations of them down through the ages, are the real reward for Watterson's magnificent work.


Books: A Single Breath by Lucy Clarke

I was at a writing conference not so long ago and during one of the talks it was mentioned by some literary agents that it has become common for novels to be written in present tense. Particularly YA and New Adult novels, but it appears that trend is spreading. Apparently, even books written as if the action has already happened (that is, in past tense) are already too passé for hip young readers. They need to feel like it's happening now. Because that's how they live, with every thought and moment posted on Twitter and captured for Instagram. Then immediately forgotten as they move on to the next thing.

While I wouldn't necessarily classify A Single Breath as NA—it's dealing with bigger issues than is typical for that genre—it is written in the present tense. And though I've read books where present tense works (His Fair Assassins series—it took some getting used to, but ultimately worked in the stories' favor), in this book there isn't enough action to merit a need for immediacy. Nothing is so exciting that the reader needs to feel a part of it, or "in the moment."

I agreed to review A Single Breath because I found the premise intriguing: A young wife loses her husband in an accident and then discovers his hidden past. Unfortunately, the main characters lack much color. Eva (the widow) trips from one crisis to the next (spoiler alert): her husband Jackson's death, a miscarriage, a fishing hook in her heel, discovering the truth about Jackson . . . She spends much of the book alternately moping and angry, which is reasonable under the circumstances, but not terribly interesting to read about. Even the big secrets were somewhat underwhelming. They had the potential to be huge, but the way they are treated turn them from potential mountains to speed bumps.

And then there is Saul, Jackson's estranged brother. And of course the love interest. He's set up as Jackson only better, of course, because his sins are merely of omission. Except he's very staid and pretty boring, too, and the attraction between him and Eva is rote and lacks fire. He spends a lot of the book dithering and keeping his thoughts to himself, which is also not all that interesting to read about.

Truthfully, the character with the most, well, character is Eva's friend Callie, but she doesn't appear in much of the book. Interchapters featuring Jackson's thoughts are also a nice touch; his voice comes through loud and clear and one almost wishes he were there for more of the book as well.

Something about the prose is so perfunctory . . . If you've ever watched a movie that went from plot point to plot point and then sagged between those points, this book is the equivalent. There isn't a lot of drive in it. Nothing that really compelled me to keep turning pages. I skimmed the second half of the book, only slowing near the end when the big (but predictable) twist of events came into play. And they are over so quickly, they are merely a blip when they could have made the bulk of a very intense story.

A Single Breath, then, is a tale of wasted potential.

Television: Fargo, "Buridan's Ass"

The only reason to show a man in bandages is because you'll somehow be using that man and/or his bandages. Which is what Lester does in order to escape the hospital after he realizes a deputy is sitting outside his door and his brother comes and disowns him. Chaz tells Lester that, if he really didn't kill anyone, he'd better give the police someone—a name, anything. With no love lost between the brothers, Lester goes to Chaz's place and frames him by putting the hammer that killed Pearl, a photo of Pearl, and some of Pearl's underwear in the gun cabinet. He also puts an unloaded revolver in his nephew's backpack. The nephew sees Les coming down the stairs but doesn't say anything, despite the fact that Uncle Lester is still in a hospital gown. ::shrug::

Meanwhile, Malvo double-crosses Don (is anyone surprised? except Don himself that is?) and sets it up so that the police come in shooting while Don is duct taped to an exercise machine. He never stood a chance.

Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench go after Malvo in a snowstorm . . . Worst possible time to be able to aim at and shoot somebody, don't you think? Malvo cuts Mr. Numbers' throat, and when Grimly and Solverson respond to the call, it seems Solverson is also killed. Poor Grimly. He was really starting to rely on her superior intellect in sorting out all this.

And Milos' son does indeed die. In a car accident. After it rains fish.

If you're wondering about the episode title, Buridan's Ass (or Donkey, if you prefer) is a philosophical paradox. Supposedly a donkey that is equally hungry and thirsty is put equidistant between a bale of hay and some water. Nature would suggest the donkey will go for whatever is closer. Since neither is closer, the donkey is unable to decide and dies of hunger and thirst. (Thirst first, one supposes, since living creatures can go longer without food than water.) From a real-world perspective, it's rather silly. I'm not sure it's possible to be equally hungry and thirsty; one will always take precedence. Probably thirst, since that's the body's greater need. And even if one were equally hungry and thirsty, if set between two options, survival dictates one choose regardless of being equidistant. Would you really dither? No. But whatever.

Perhaps this works better when survival is not, in fact, on the line. You're at the grocery store standing between to check-out lanes of equal length (that is, with an equal number of people in each line). Which do you choose? You might dither then. You might try to determine whether one group has more items than another, you might wait to see if anyone else comes along and joins the queue so as to force your hand.

Or if you're given the option between two jobs, each with equal pay and the same commute . . .

Or even if you're entertaining two ideas—for me, it might be that I have two story ideas, and because I like them equally, neither of them gets written because I can't decide where to start or which to work on.

There it is. That's Buridan's Ass at work.

Of course in Fargo survival is always on the line. It is the great motivator. Malvo, you notice, doesn't dither either. Which is why he keeps coming out on top.


Television: 24: Live Another Day, "2:00 p.m–3:00 p.m."

In which Jack spends most of the episode locked in a room at the U.S. Embassy with hostages we all know he doesn't intend to actually harm. He's just trying to get data from Drone Boy's key so he [Jack] and Chloe can prove it was an outside attack and that the drone program is vulnerable.

Meanwhile, President William Devane finishes his ultimately successful speech at Parliament and is given a polite round of applause. At which point he's informed of Jack's return and the hostage situation. The president wants to talk to Jack directly, at which point anyone familiar with the show goes, "Duh!" even though the people on the show are like, "What?!"

Jack explains the situation to the president. Problem solved, right? Jack and the prez go way back, so the president knows Jack is no liar. Except everyone else is telling the president that Jack is in with Chloe, who in turn is in with a hacker organization, and therefore Jack is untrustworthy by association. So the president gives the military the go-ahead to break into the room where Jack is holed up.

Collective groan from the viewing audience.

And Kate is still running around, and she believes Jack. For all the good it does either her or him. (Sum total = none.)

Catelyn Stark, meanwhile, continues her tiny reign of terror over her household. After Wannabe Sansa's husband tries to convince Wannabe to run away with him—he has a car waiting and everything—she tattles to Mummy and ends up losing a finger for her troubles. (Mummy had to threaten something the husband loved in order to keep him in line, so . . . Daughter/Wife wins that particular prize. Or loses, depending on your perspective.)

So now Catelyn is targeting heavily armed drones near London. And it looks as if Jack will be asking the president for permission to return to service. Let's hope next week steps things up a bit. Maybe it's just been too long since I watched and enjoyed 24, but so far I feel this mini-season has been a tad weak.

Television: Penny Dreadful, "Night Work"

Decided to give this one a shot because it has a fabulous cast, and I must say the production quality is quite high. Unfortunately, the show also takes itself far too seriously to be much fun. On top of that comes a disjointed, purposefully obtuse form of storytelling that the writers seem to think makes them look clever. I've noticed this practice before. Basically, it happens when, if a story were to be told forthrightly and directly it would be considered dull, instead of fixing the story the writers cut it into little pieces and toss it like confetti in the hopes whatever pattern it makes when it lands will intrigue people enough that they'll stick around to see it reassembled.


Timothy Dalton plays Sir Malcolm Murray, whose daughter Mina (yes, that Mina Murray) has been taken (presumably by Dracula) and he seeks to get her back. If only we had Liam Neeson, but Dalton does a solid job here, and is perhaps—at least as far as this first episode is concerned—the most coherent part of the show.

Murray is assisted (or something) by Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), and they also hire American showman and sharp-shooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) for the titular night work as they go to clean out a nest of vampires and try to trace their way to Dracula and Mina.

We've also got Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) wandering around . . . Might as well, I suppose. Murray tries to loop him in (to use a modern phrase) to his would-be Torchwood or whatever this is, but Frankenstein is primarily dismissive of Murray's "amateurishness."

Some other story involved dismembered bodies. I suppose Frankenstein will get "looped in" to that as well at some point. Seems right up his alley.

An atmospheric drama, to be sure, but as I mentioned previously, a bit heavy-handed in execution and not all that fun to watch. It's almost trying too hard to be deep and dark and lacks any contrast—how much more effective it would be if it had bright spots or a shiny surface disguising much darker depths? Instead it is homogenous, and that makes it far less interesting.


Movies: I, Frankenstein

Every now and then a movie will remind me of all the other movies I hate. Having considered this list, I have come to realize most of these are of the action fantasy genre. I think this is because these kinds of movies are really difficult to make well and really easy to do badly.

Here is a list of some of the movies I most dislike. In no particular order because I can't really say which is worst.

  • Queen of the Damned
  • R.I.P.D.
  • Daredevil
  • Vampire's Kiss
  • Van Helsing

There are others . . . I'd say Underworld (yes, I know to many of you that's sacrilege) except I walked out before it was even finished, so I can't honestly say I've seen it. And (going outside the genre) I really disliked The Master and Jackie Brown, too.

Let's just say these movies are ones that, when I'm sitting and watching a truly terrible film, I ask myself, "Is this worse than . . . ?" And fill in the blank with the above titles.

And now I can add I, Frankenstein to the list. Though, admittedly, I was prepared for the level of bad just based on the premise, the reviews, and the trailers. So I can't say this movie disappointed me. It was exactly as awful as I anticipated.

We pick up where Shelley leaves off, with The Creature carrying Frankenstein's frozen corpse out of the Arctic and all the way back to . . . Where? England? France? Where the fuck are they? And why did The Creature even bother, if he hated Frankenstein so much? (I apologize if I'm supposed to know the answers to these questions, but already I was bored and distracted by Bookworm on my iPhone.)

As he buries Frankenstein—again, why?—The Creature is attacked by demons. And then some living gargoyles turn up to give us a bunch of exposition. Gargoyles fight demons and protect humans. If demons die they descend into Hell; if gargoyles die they ascend. This brought up a lot of questions in my mind. For one, if all the gargoyles from the huge cathedral eventually ascend, will there be no more gargoyles on the building? Hasn't anyone noticed that gargoyles are going missing? What about gargoyles on other buildings? Or is it just the one cathedral? Demons don't have souls, but do gargoyles? (They must if they can ascend, right?) If so, did they get them from immurement? Because that's awful.

I would have been up for exploring this bizarre system a little further, but instead the movie went from action scene to action scene, loosely connected by something that was meant to be a plot. The gargoyles name The Creature "Adam," since he was the first of his kind. They give Adam some demon-fighting weapons and send him on his way, but then decide (after 200 years?) to protect him (that is, chain him up) from the demons hunting him. They figure if the demons want him, it can be for no good reason, so better to keep him safe. At least, I think that was the logic involved. If there was any. The gargoyles also lock up Frankenstein's diary so no one else can replicate Adam.

It turns out the demons want Adam because they do want to make more like him—they're keeping a lot of dead bodies ready to reanimate so they can bring demons back from the depths of hell to possess said bodies. More questions arise. Does a body actually need to be breathing and functioning for a demon to possess it? If so, why? Or is it just a matter of the body lasting long enough to be useful? And the big facility the demons have for keeping the bodies—seems like they went to a lot of work to build it. Surely there was an easier system? And where are the bodies from? Do demons go dig them up after funerals or something? A whole team of gravedigging demons . . .

Anyway, the chief demon is disguised as a businessman played by Bill Nighy, who is funding research on reanimating dead bodies. And in the meantime is also sending teams of demon underlings out to find Adam. And there's lots of fighting, and then the scientists get involved, and it all goes pretty much as one might expect, right down to Adam's voice over with the big finish as he states the movie's title: "I, Frankenstein." Because he's decided to embrace his identity and take his "father's" name. Or something.

It's based on a comic, and for all I know the comic is awesome. But the movie really is not. It cost an estimated $65 million to make, and I can't figure out where that money went because the special effects aren't all that special and even the costumes and makeup are kind of crap. I would have been angry if I'd sat through this movie in a cinema because it would have felt like I'd really wasted a chunk of my life there, but since I was at home, I at least got a good game of Bookworm out of it.


Television: Elementary, "The Grand Experiment"

So Mycroft, who as it turns out works for MI6, has been framed as a mole. After Sherlock demonstrates the danger by setting off a car bomb, Sherlock and Watson hustle Mycroft out of his apartment and to a house Ms. Hudson conveniently looks after.

Sherlock attempts to work the problem from the inside out by offering to help MI6 find Mycroft, but seeing as Sherlock is Mycroft's brother, they refuse to let him see any files. So Sherlock and Watson hit up the book store that West had been watching. The store is owned and operated by an Iranian. Sherlock and Watson break in after hours and discover a scrambler to conceal phone calls. Sherlock is then able to crack the number codes on West's arms; they are dates, times, and origins of the phone calls.

And each coincides with a date, time, and place where Mycroft was out on "official" business.

This draws a direct arrow to the only other person who always traveled with Mycroft: his handler Sherrington.

Alas, all the evidence continues to point to Mycroft.

Meanwhile, Sherlock and Watson continue to go rounds about whether she should move out. Sherlock acts out in telling Watson he wants to work alone since he needs to get used to it; Watson tells Sherlock that he has a kind of gravity, and she's been fortunate to have been pulled into his orbit, but she doesn't want to orbit him forever, she wants to shine in her own way. (I'd argue they're more of a binary star system, but whatever.)

Despite the rockiness of their current relationship situation, Sherlock and Watson still manage to function as a deductive team, and that's all that really counts. (Or is it? We later see Sherlock go fetch that little baggie of drugs he secreted away a few weeks back. Does he intend to use them, or is this a ploy to pull Watson back in? He knows she won't dare leave if she thinks there's a chance he'll relapse.)

Sherrington pays Watson a visit at the brownstone alone. She's savvy enough to realize the danger, though, and calls in Everyone (members of the hacker group) to listen in and witness the conversation. It's nice to at least see things from previous cases/episodes paying dividends, though I do worry the writers will make looping these things in a matter of convenience.

At this point there is a plot about a murdered Iranian whose killing coincides with one of the phone calls they're investigating. They figure out the guy was stoned to death in his own apartment. Also, Mycroft confronts Sherrington in a bar and attempts to make some kind of deal, but Sherrington only wants Mycroft dead. So Mycroft goes the long way around and contacts the NSA about Sherrington, the NSA tip off The Meilleure, and The Meilleure execute Sherrington. Neat, no?

The collateral damage being that The Meilleure now also know Mycroft is MI6 as well. But the NSA fake Mycroft's death and he must now well and truly disappear into some distant land where he has no chance of being recognized. (So instead of Sherlock's false demise in "The Final Problem," we get Mycroft's instead . . . Perhaps he'll go to Nepal and Tibet?)

The season ends with Sherlock going to visit Sir James Walter of MI6. He asks whether Sherrington's offer of employment was of his [Sherrington's] own making, or had it been an official offer? Walter tells Sherlock it had been his [Walter's] idea, and this time Sherlock accepts. He will now be British Intelligence.

Again, nice interactions, and I liked that they used Doyle's work—Sherlock's description of Mycroft from the original stories, in which for all intents and purposes Sherlock calls Mycroft lazy—as part of Mycroft's motivation to not just sit around and wait for Sherlock to fix things. I still didn't entirely buy Watson's tears as Mycroft said his goodbyes, though; I just don't see a spark there. I hope they give her a love interest soon so we can rattle Sherlock some more and he can rage that she's not giving enough time and attention to the work, she's being sloppy, etc. Then again, how can she be a true partner in the job if Sherlock will be doing MI6 work? Seems unlikely Watson will be given the same offer. Should be interesting to see where these things go.

Elementary is slated to return 30 October.


Television: NBC's New Shows (Fall 2014)

I don't think I even watch anything on NBC any more, not since giving up on Revolution (which NBC then gave up on as well). I used to watch The Office and 30 Rock and Smash, but those are long over, so now . . .

Here's what NBC is hoping will lure me back come fall. I have to say, the staged photos don't tell me much, nor do they particular inspire me to click through.

Let's see . . . Constantine? I remember the Keanu Reeves movie, only have a passing acquaintance with the comic book. Which is more than many people might have. Is NBC right to bet on the trend of comics becoming hot properties? Or are they more betting on the trend of snarky Brits (this one's Welsh, actually, I believe) versus more grounded and rational women (Elementary, Sleepy Hollow, the forthcoming Forever)? Looks like they're pairing this one up with Grimm. For better or worse, Fridays stand to be horrifying on NBC.

NBC also seems to be bent on recycling actresses: Katherine Heigl (formerly of Grey's Anatomy), Debra Messing (of Will & Grace, then Smash) and Kate Walsh (also of Grey's and then Private Practice) are all returning. Remember when SNL had that joke about shows called Deaf Judge and Idiot Doctor? Well, now we've got Bad Judge. I'm really starting to fear Mike Judge's Idiocracy is happening.

Not that I don't think these women deserve to keep working. It's nice to have women leads in so many dramas. I just have my doubts about these particular shows.

David Duchovny will be back at some point, too, in Aquarius, a show focusing on the Charles Manson murders of the 60s. And Craig Robinson from The Office will be headlining his own comedy.

These are just a few of the offerings; check the site for the full scoop. NBC really stocked up this season on new fare. We'll have to wait to find out if any of it sticks.

Television: CBS's New Shows (Fall 2014)

Firmly established as "the old people's network," CBS will continue to cater to them by giving them more of what they love. No, not Jell-o. CSI and NCIS. And actors old people fondly remember from about 20 to 30 years ago. (Still love you, Scott Bakula. Really, I do.)

Here's CBS's slate of new offerings.

Not as many as ABC, but then again CBS has been doing really well. They may not skew young but they catch eyes. And they'll have Thursday Night Football, too.

And in CBS's defense, they do get young viewers for their comedies and reality programs. It's the dramas that aim older. You'll note, though, that CBS has added only two new comedies, presumably since the others are doing so well. Also only four new dramas, again because their slate is already pretty solid.

So let's look at a couple of these:

Scorpion - A possible attempt to go a little younger (and still keep the old guys' interest)? Fits CBS's preference for procedurals, sets up a conservative/establishment versus "those young whippersnappers who know computers" dialectic, and has a token old guy actor: Robert Patrick.

Stalker - Dylan McDermott lost no time jumping the Hostages ship as it sank. Another procedural, this one kind of in the SVU ilk as it focuses on, hey would you lookit that, victims of stalking.

The McCarthys - Looks like it will fit right in with the Thursday comedy lineup.

There are others; go check them out for yourself if you're interested. Right now the only thing I watch on CBS is Elementary, which after tonight's finale will return October 30. Whether I try any of the new fare will largely depend on what other networks are showing at the same time(s); I have a limited amount of time for television, so I'm pretty selective.

Television: Fargo, "The Six Ungraspables"

We last left Lester in a jail cell with Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench. Under duress (in the form of a dirty sock shoved in his mouth) he gives them Lorne Malvo's name.

Oh, but before that we get the back story about Les's gun and his hand . . . How he'd gone to buy socks and ended up with the shotgun, and how it was birdshot from when Malvo shot the sheriff that lodged itself in Les's hand. So just as Molly puts the pieces together, or so she thinks, Les is sent back to the hospital due to his hand wound becoming infected.

Molly is getting bolder, but not necessarily better at her job. Trying to question a man (and asking leading questions besides) while he's ill and not competent to answer—never mind him needing his rights read and probably a lawyer present—and then searching his house without a warrant (though I guess she could make a case for having cause) . . .

Meanwhile, Malvo closes in on sealing the blackmail deal. That plot is really far less interesting than anything else going on, despite having Billy Bob Thornton's amazing acting going for it.

Grimly, though slower than Molly, continues to work things from his end. He's visited by a neighbor across the way as they share a late-night warm milk habit. The neighbor tells Grimly a parable about a rich man wanting to save the world. When giving all his money away doesn't do it, he kills himself to donate his organs. This doesn't save the world, either, but does that mean it wasn't worth it? A nice enough story—and clearly the answer here is that the world is not one; the world is made up of many individual worlds and lives, and if you save even one, you've saved a world if not the world—but I'm not sure it got Grimly anywhere. And then Malvo threatens the neighbor at the end of the episode, so . . . If you don't save a life, if you end it instead . . . That is the end of a world, too, isn't it? And possibly the end of many other worlds connected to that one. We're not a whole, we're a chain.

Philosophy lesson over. What else happened? Um . . . The sheriff's widow had her baby, a girl named Bernadette. There was probably some other stuff I've already since forgotten. It's still a solid show, but I find my attention slacking now and then. The intensity level has gone down somewhat, and I find myself eager to get to the big finale and see where the chips ultimately settle.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Beginning of the End"

Season finale!

I won't go into the details. Let's just consult the checklist instead.

  1. Fitz and Simmons alive? Check. (Though Fitz is barely alive. But alive is alive, so . . . Check. Nice of Nick Fury to come pick them up in the chopper.)
  2. Garrett defeated? Check. (In a fun fake-out they made it seem like he might rise again, but Coulson took care of that.)
  3. Mike/Deathlok liberated and reunited with his son? Check. (Other Cybertek soldiers also liberated, though now they'll all have only one eye.)
  4. Ward . . . Something? Check. Ward has gone from colorless to major asshole in one fell swoop. But he's now in custody and May is ready to break him, in more ways than one.

And where does that leave us for next season? Fury has tasked Coulson with rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. Too bad Coulson is going a little crazy and carving diagrams into the walls.

We've also still got Reina out there doing her thing, and since she knows about Skye's odd origins . . . Well, actually, it turns out she knows at least one of Skye's parents! Family reunion forthcoming? We'll have to wait 'til fall to find out.


Television: ABC's New Shows (Fall 2014)

Upfronts are wrapping and the networks are unveiling their winning line-ups. Here's ABC's. (The new shows, anyway.) Let's look at a select few:

Selfie - apparently some bizarre updating of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady . . . I guess that whole Lizzie Bennet Diaries thing spurred this. My Fair Lady is one of my all-time favorite musicals. Not sure if I can stomach this reprise. (Or is it a reprisal?)

Forever - Best I can tell they're trying to marry Sleepy Hollow to . . . Elementary or Bones or something?

Galavant - Whaaaa? Is this a series? Is it set in Medieval times, or is it more like Smash and about people putting on a musical?

Agent Carter - More S.H.I.E.L.D. Look, I love The Avengers and all the Marvel movies, and I've watched S.H.I.E.L.D., but I think I'm at my saturation point with all this.

ETA: I did finally get to view some of the clips. Seems that Galavant is, indeed, set in Medieval times (not to be confused with being set at Medieval Times), and though I have reservations, I think I may still have to watch it. There are so few good comedies these days.

Forever really is Sleepy Hollow meets Elementary.

And as offensive as I find the title, Fresh Off the Boat looks passably funny. Hmm.

Television: 24: Live Another Day, "1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m."

Decidedly dull, really.

I mean, Jack tracks Yates' dead body to the pub toilet and then goes after Wannabe Sansa (these characters almost surely have names, but whatever), nearly catching her at Waterloo Station. The most interesting bit was when Wannabe cut her own thigh (no one notices?!) and smears blood on her face, then jumps off the Underground screaming that Jack is trying to kill her, thus ensuring people attempt to stop Jack while she gets away. No Transport police around, of course. And apparently TfL workmen also never notice when people slip past open barriers.

Chloe has a short-circuit moment when she thinks she sees Morris and Preston—we then get some story about how they were killed in a crash with a truck one day when Morris was driving Preston home from soccer. Chloe says it should have been her, since she was the one who usually took Preston to soccer. It sounds like a cliché until you realize she means it; she believes she'd been targeted because she knows the truth about Jack but they'd hit the car the one time she wasn't actually in it.

I suppose paranoia is something one gets used to when working for CTU or with Jack in particular, but hey Chloe, sometimes crap things just happen in life. Not everything is a conspiracy. Unless you count, you know, the Universe actively working against you. (Happens to me all the time.)

Meanwhile, Kate is out pistol whipping baddies in attempt to get them to talk about why Jack would go after Yates in the first place.

Almost too much of the episode was spent hovering around the Stark household (for lack of any other working name). Wannabe's husband is having a difficult time getting used to the idea that his wife was off sleeping with another man for three weeks as part of this "operation," and that she's now killed a man and intends to keep doing it. Mummy gives him a verbal warning . . . And also watches via surveillance camera while Wannabe and Hubby make out? Ew.

With Wannabe in the wind, Jack and Chloe go back to Adrian Cross & Crew to get Jack a fake ID that will get him into the U.S. Embassy. But Cross double-crosses (har) Jack and the ID gets flagged at security, so naturally Jack has to shoot some people. And then go grab the poor military prisoner who has been blamed for the drone attack.

And speaking of the president, he does a terrible job attempting to address Parliament. The flip side of that being that Parliament are apparently terrible people and terrible hosts. If that's how they run things—by shouting down one another and never giving a person a chance to speak—it's a wonder they ever get anything done. I'm sure the U.S. can't really sit astride a high horse here, but at least we let people talk and save our snark for after. We've learned the more you let a person go on, the bigger the hole they'll dig for themselves thus saving you the trouble.

In all, I generally expect better from Jack. More action at least. In the first three hours, things have been slow to develop. And yes, it's real time, so things don't happen instantaneously. But . . . More could happen. Or the things happening could be way more intense. Or something.

Let's see if things gather steam next week.


The Enchanted Lenormand Oracle & Under the Roses Lenormand

Okay, so I'd heard of Lenormand but hadn't given it much serious thought until a friend began to explain it a little more to me. She suggested The Enchanted Lenormand Oracle as a good starting deck, and I have to say I fell in love with it right away. The art is by Virginia Lee who has done work on Peter Jackson's The Hobbit films. And Caitlin Matthews has made a couple key changes to the traditional symbols that I like very much. For one, she's changed The Whip to The Broom, hearkening back to some older decks. And she changed The Cross to Crossing, thus removing some of the religious weight of that card.

Given that this was my first Lenormand deck and my first time learning to read such cards, I'm probably biased. But I find The Enchanted Lenormand Oracle very easy to read; we have a good connection. The cards themselves are a bit small, which makes them tricky (for me) to shuffle, but other than that I have nothing to say against them. I use them every morning for my daily draw and they've been consistently insightful (barring occasional operator error on my part).

Enchanted Lenormand
(Crossing card is top center)

Once I was pretty comfortable with my abilities to read the cards, I decided to try another deck. Of course there are decks like Blue Owl, and I like those well enough, but what caught my eye was the Under the Roses Lenormand deck. I saw some images online and was struck by them, so those are the ones I got. They arrived just a couple days ago, and though I don't find them as easy as my Enchanted deck, I feel that may just be a sort of awkward phase. If my Enchanted cards are like talking with old friends, I'm still in the getting-to-know-you stage with the Under the Roses ones. I can read them, but it takes a little more effort. I think, with time, we'll settle in. And I do really love the art.

Under the Roses Lenormand
I've been fiddling about with Tarot cards for some years now, and I still love them too, but after just a few months I find the Lenormand more intuitive. Maybe it's my French blood. Something in me is definitely predisposed to understand and interpret the Lenormand symbols more easily. It's been a fun learning experience, especially with these two lovely decks.


Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery

Yet another new Tarot deck.

This one was brought to my attention when I saw it displayed on one of many Tarot sites. I liked the clean look of it, the bold lines, and the pre-Raphaelite stylings. Something about it made me think these cards would be forthright and easy to read with.

The cards themselves are a little bit large for my hands, but they're good quality. Reading with them is going to require a bit of a learning curve, however, because these cards are somewhat different (I feel) from more traditional decks. Some of the cards have slightly different meanings to them from what I am used to. I'm sure I could just use the "regular" meanings, but that would be a disservice to this deck. It deserves to speak in its own voice.

The Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery is designed by Robert M Place and seems to hinge on Reason, Will, and Appetite as key in many of the cards. I won't go into the philosophy; the little booklet does a good job of explaining each card, plus there is an annotated set of trumps available separately which I might pick up at a later date. Being that the cards are made by a small press—best I can tell, this is Place's own little publisher?—they cost a little more than the average deck, but as I've said, they're good quality. I'm looking forward to doing more work with them.


Television: Elementary, "Art in the Blood"

So last week we ended with the realization that Mycroft was more than a mere restauranteur. This week it is made explicit that he works for MI6. That Sherlock takes the news so badly does no credit to his character; it's not entirely clear to me why (a) Sherlock is surprised, and/or (b) he cares at all. Aside, of course, from the recent stunt that put Watson's life at risk, of course.

We're not left with much time to ponder because Mycroft promptly takes Sherlock for a debriefing that turns into MI6 asking Sherlock to sleuth for them. They spin it as a "you owe us" deal, as if their having saved Watson was somehow their being kind. Again, I'm not sure about the logic here. It would have been easier, one supposes, to let the bad guys kill Watson but . . . Didn't MI6 want to catch the bad guys? And they did, so . . . Why is there a question of anyone owing anyone else anything?

Whatever. Sherlock takes the case, in which Arthur Cadogan West (a name poached from Doyle's "Bruce-Partington Plans") has been murdered. He was an ex-agent with a mental imbalance who'd resettled in New York with his American wife (now divorced but they still keep in contact). West would periodically approach MI6 with one of his delusions of conspiracy, but after too many cries of "wolf" they'd pretty much dropped him. Yet West's murder has occurred shortly after another of his calls, and so MI6 wants to know if West might have actually been on to something this time—something big enough to get him killed.

Sherlock gives Watson a pass if she's not feeling up to working yet, but she joins him for a visit to the morgue. West was shot in his own home; when they pull out the body they discover his arms have been cut off.

Time to hit up the wife. She'd told the police she hadn't seen West but Sherlock deduces otherwise; photos show grocery bags in West's apartment from a unique market closer to the wife's abode, so it's clear she was doing West's shopping. She admits to Sherlock and Watson that, yes, she was still in touch with West. And a number of other startling revelations spill forth: West had once been tapped to follow Sherlock and keep notes on him (he'd decided Sherlock was okay), and his arms had sported tattoos visible only under UV light—she even has a picture. And she thinks she's being watched. West had once told her Sherlock was the only one she could trust; could she stay the night? (In the guest room, folks.)

And speaking of staying—or not staying—Watson then hits Sherlock with her plan to move out and find her own place. That goes about as well as can be expected. At first Sherlock says she's just rattled and will see it's a ridiculous idea once she settles down a bit. But when Watson insists she needs more in her life than just Sherlock and their work . . . It's enough for Sherlock. It's all he wants in the world. But Watson needs more.

Anyway, on to the tattoos. They're number strings that seem to incorporate dates, but other than that Sherlock is mystified. West had believed MI6 had a mole that was passing information through a bookstore, but . . . Sherlock considers his work for MI6 to be done in any case; though they plead with him to come on board full time, he declines.

And then Sherlock learns from Gregson that there are fingerprints from the gun that killed West. Very familiar fingerprints.

Meanwhile, Watson has heretofore rejected Mycroft's attempts at apology. But she finally goes to see him to get clarification about one of Sherlock's youthful escapades, something West's wife mentioned from back when West had been keeping an eye on Sherlock. Turns out Mycroft took the job with MI6 to save his brother, who had, at the height of his drug use days, become the unwitting lackey of a terrorist. MI6 agreed to expunge Sherlock's records in return for Mycroft's aid.

After such a heartwarming story, of course Watson has to sleep with Mycroft. Again.

Only to have Sherlock burst in the following morning and tell Mycroft he'd better damn well pack and get moving. The fingerprints on the murder weapon? Mycroft's.

Interesting that Sherlock immediately assumes Mycroft is being framed. For someone who always seems willing to believe the worst about his brother, it's an odd leap.

Still, the episode is commendable for the growing complexity of the relationships as they evolve: Sherlock and Watson, Watson and Mycroft (I don't see the chemistry here, though), and Sherlock and Mycroft. While the plots aren't always great, this is one thing the show has done consistently well. Character development and arcs are nicely handled.

Next week's "Grand Experiment" finishes out the season.


Television: Fargo, "Eating the Blame"

Malvo gets himself picked up by Grimly and handily makes Grimly look bad in front of his superiors. While Grimly insists this is the droid man they're looking for, Malvo does his best bumbler impersonation and puts on the guise of Frank Peterson, a minister with a bingo alibi. I mean that literally: His alibi is that he was hosting bingo night at his church. And it checks out.

What, you ask, about the evidence? Well, that all comes down to one photograph that it decidedly too grainy to rely on. Malvo walks and moves on to the next order of business: plaguing Milos. Again, literally. After the bloodbath shower, Malvo infests Milos' grocery with locusts (or crickets at least). Can the slaying of the firstborn be far behind?

Oh, and we get the backstory of Milos' money: He found it. In 1987 while stalled in the frozen wastelands, Milos prayed to God and was led to where this suitcase of money was hidden. Which means, of course, that it belonged—belongs—to someone . . .

Meanwhile, Lester gets tossed into a car trunk by Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench. One would think they'd come up with other ways to do these things, but one sticks with what works, I suppose. Out they drive to the frozen lake but as Mr. Wrench digs the hole, Les steadfastly refuses to admit to Mr. Numbers that he murdered Hess (cuz, you know, he didn't) and tazers Numbers and gets away. A police officer refuses to give Les a lift back to town, so Les punches him to get himself arrested and safely locked away. Or so he thinks.

Cuz Numbers and Wrench have another idea. They get in a fight in a bar and get themselves arrested too.

The episode concludes with Numbers and Wrench joining Lester in holding.

It doesn't seem like a lot happened, but all of it is entertaining enough and well enough done that one doesn't mind the show taking its time with these things.

And why do humans see more shades of green than any other color? Predators. How does that answer Grimly's question? I suppose Malvo means to say it's kill or be killed out in the jungle of the world . . . He can lie like that—camouflage himself— because the alternative is to be eaten alive. And Malvo has set himself up to be the predator rather than the prey.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Ragtag"

Ah, God, a Ward episode. Sigh.

A chunk of this episode was taken up with the backstory of Ward and Garrett in an attempt to give us some kind of sympathy for Ward's situation and character. But honestly, I don't care. I've never really liked Ward, and the more they try and make me like him, the less I do. Maybe that says more about me than about the show, but there it is.

So the story goes that 15 years ago Ward was in prison, or some other similar detainment facility, when Garrett came along and offered him a way out. And when Ward agreed, Garrett's men stormed the facility and broke Ward out. I have a few basic problems with this, namely that Ward has not changed his name (that we know of, or did I miss something?) and so his record should be open to S.H.I.E.L.D. and all other law enforcement agencies. So . . . Why was he never re-arrested after being busted out? (Yes, yes, they lived out in the woods for a while, but a name is a name is a name.)

I'll admit, I could easily have missed something. The story was boring and trite so it didn't have my full attention.

Ward's crime: setting fire to the house. He insists he didn't know his brother was in there at the time. If I understand correctly, the brother survived, but still. Arson at the least. Potentially attempted murder at the worst.

Anyway, sum total of this backstory: Ward feels some kind of gratitude for Garrett "saving" him. Cliché moment that we could all see coming: When Garrett tells Ward to shoot the dog, Ward pulls a Huntsman and fires his gun into the air and sets the dog free. That's how we're supposed to know Ward's time with Garrett hasn't entirely hardened him. Whatever.

Meanwhile, Coulson and the team are focused on finding the bus and getting their revenge on Garrett and Hydra and all that. Research draws their focus to CyberTek, a company with ties to all the various elements of Hydra's interference; CyberTek has links to Quinn, to Centipede, etc. Again, not paying close attention here, but Coulson and May pretend to be S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists applying for work at CyberTek (shout out to Palo Alto) in order to get access to the building and the records they need. Triplett handily has his grandfather's (or great-grandfather's) old spy equipment. Lo-tech, but sometimes the old ways are still best, and these do the trick in getting Coulson and May out of CyberTek.

They track the bus to Havana. Fitz and Simmons go looking for the bus proper while the rest of the team goes in search of . . . other stuff . . . beneath a barber shop . . . Honestly, at this point I almost didn't care. Fitz and Simmons locate the bus but are found by Ward and Fitz's attempts to appeal to Ward's softer side go unheeded. Once the bus is up and flying, Fitz and Simmons are jettisoned inside a cargo container into the ocean.

The other story here is that Garrett is actually dying. All this need for Centipede and the magical chemical that saved Coulson and later Skye—that's been Garrett's goal all along. To save himself from death. Reina has synthesized a version of the chemical and she gives it to Garrett. His reaction is rather like what happens to the Extremis trial patients: hot, glowy skin.

Oh, and beneath the barber shop in Havana, Coulson and the team (minus Fitz and Simmons) do find what they're looking for . . . Along with an army of Centipede soldiers.

Next week is the season finale. I'm going to guess Fitz and Simmons will find a way out of the cargo container, and there's a pretty good chance Coulson and his crew will get away from the small army of cyber soldiers. Also, I'd put some money on there being a lot of fighting.


Television: 24: Live Another Day, "11:06 a.m.–1:00 p.m."

Last night saw the return of the FOX television hit 24. Except this new series will only cover 12 hours. Shouldn't it be called "Half Day" or something?

The fun of watching 24 is partially the thrill of the action and, in equal part, the utter ridiculousness of the action, dialogue, situations. And if you're not watching with Dave Barry's commentary, you're really missing out on a whole other level of fun. (Admittedly it was more fun when we were on the East Coast and could follow along live with Dave's blog, but still a good time in other time zones so long as you restrain yourself from reading ahead.)

For the uninitiated, 24 has followed various, singular days in the life of Jack Bauer, once an agent for the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), now "off the grid" or "rogue" depending on which Wooden Dialogue Generator you're using. He's wanted for crimes he didn't commit, of course, falsely accused and yet still determined to stop terrorism wherever it may lurk. Which this time around is in London, where President William Devane is trying to get Prime Minister Stephen Fry and Parliament to agree to drone warfare tactics in Afghanistan.

Clear as mud?

The day starts just before midday with Jack being captured by CTU. Anyone who's watched the show knows (a) Jack, if captured, never stays captured very long, and (b) he's usually only captured because he needs to get into a place and the easiest way is to have people escort him in. Yes, even in handcuffs. For Jack, things like handcuffs are not a problem.

In this instance, Jack wants into Special Activities because they are holding Chloe, also now "off the grid" which is ironic since "the grid" is her particular strength. She's a tech analyst, once Jack's right hand gal, now working for the Assange-esque Adrian Cross in helping disseminate classified documents. She'd been picked up on a supply run, tortured, and now Jack's there to save her—not because he likes her or anything, but because he needs Chloe and the other underground techlings to help him find Derrick Yates, a man Jack believes is planning to assassinate the president while he's in London.

Got all that?

For the first 40 minutes, Jack doesn't even speak.

Meanwhile, B Story features some CTU chick named Kate who is on her way out after her husband Adam was caught selling secrets to China. Kate was cleared but she might as well be radioactive; no one wants to be tainted by having to work with her. So she's being shipped back Stateside to warm a desk chair. Except of course she's the only one who figures out what Jack is up to and talks her boss Navarro (Benjamin Bratt, still hot at age 50) into giving her a shot back in the field to find Jack and Chloe after their escape.

Other subplots: One of the drones in Afghanistan fires on U.S. and British troops, making it that much harder for the president to argue that using them should continue. Also making it difficult for the president to argue much of anything: He's in the early stages of Alzheimer's. The poor military officer who is on the chopping block for the drone incident is about to be delivered by the president to the British military so they can question him (since two of the four men killed were British). Worst. Gift of State. Ever.

What actually happened was Yates has developed a "device" that allows him to take control of the drones remotely, even though it will look like all the commands came directly from your computer. Catelyn Stark from Game of Thrones is planning to pay Yates a ton of money for this device. But when Jack nearly catches him and spooks him, Yates talks of finding another buyer, prompting Wannabe Sansa Stark to stab him in the ear and kill him. As of 1:00 p.m. she's taking the device to Mummy.

Or something like that.

Thing about 24 is, situations change and develop rapidly. Like, when a writer for the show realizes he has no way out of whatever he's just written, he just has Jack shoot some people and then we move on. There's no real need for logic; 24 is about jumping from one insane moment to the next as the seconds on the clock tick by. You don't care about where you started or the destination; you're too busy simply enjoying the ride.


Television: Elementary, "Paint It Black"

You'll recall that at the end of last week's episode, Watson had been kidnapped by evil Frenchmen. They are part of a large crime syndicate known as The Meilleure and they've been using Mycroft's restaurant The Diogenes as a hangout. (In other shows, this would be a group of troublesome teens at a local diner, but whatever.)

Mycroft, it seems, had tapped The Meilleure for some money to bolster his restaurant and fund the expansion into New York (The Meilleure's idea, according to Mycroft; they are also the ones who wanted Mycroft to get Sherlock out of New York). They're willing to trade Watson for a very valuable list of people who have socked money away in Swiss bank accounts, thus evading taxes, etc. The list had been stolen by a banker, Pierce Nelson, who had access to all that information. Find Nelson and the list, swap for Watson. Sherlock and Mycroft have 48 hours. Piece of cake, right?

Well, first we must deal with Sherlock's temper tantrums. He is understandably distressed at the loss of Watson and irate with Mycroft for having put her/them in this position. Mycroft hits things a little too squarely when he states that Watson is the person Sherlock loves more than anyone in this world. Thing is, it isn't a romantic love. Watson is Sherlock's conduit to humanity, and that's something he's come to rely on; he has difficulty functioning without her. (I won't say that Sherlock has Asperger's, but as someone who does, I know all too well that I am not equipped to deal with day-to-day life without an intermediary. I fake it, I brave it, and I go out only when I can't get away with staying in and hiding from it . . . Or when something has enough of my interest that it's worth it to me to venture out. Always so much easier if I have someone with me to focus on, take cues from; kind of like an emotional guide. I feel like Sherlock might be in a similar situation.)

We then get a new take on the standard formula: Sherlock and Mycroft investigating rather than Sherlock and Watson. It's actually rather fun, a nice change. There is maybe a Hardy Boys element here that appeals to me. Did Sherlock and Mycroft ever do these kinds of things as kids, or have they always been too belligerent? Since their falling out happened later in life, there's a chance they were once close, yes?

I'm not sure why it took Sherlock so long to zero in on the photos in Nelson's office; I saw right away they were taken from the same place in three separate seasons and had the spot pegged as important. We can chalk it up to his overwrought state of mind, I suppose, but he wasted precious time there. Once he and Mycroft figure out the spot, they also find Nelson's body and determine he's been dead longer than the list has been missing. Therefore, he did not steal the list. Someone killed him, stole the list, then framed Nelson.

It's not a long leap to loop back to the head of security at the bank. When the Holmes brothers kidnap and threaten him, he handily gives up the list. Rather anticlimactic, though I suppose the writers wanted to get in a scene in which Sherlock shows how far he's willing to go to get Watson back. It's a bit strange, since he had a far more violent reaction back when the whole Moran thing went down last season. Does Watson mean less to Sherlock than Irene did or has he simply tempered a bit? Maybe that's some of Watson's good influence.

Speaking of Watson, just to make sure she's in the show, we see her try and aid one of the French guys who has been shot in the abdomen. She does her best, but when she repeatedly insists he needs a hospital, the lead French guy (Marchef is his name, apparently, if IMDb is to be believed) shoots him.

List in hand (well, on a flash drive), Sherlock is prepared to call in the authorities to rescue Watson. He does not trust The Meilleure to keep their word and release her. But in a classic "don't taze me, bro" moment, Mycroft does taze Sherlock and takes the list. Upon waking, Sherlock goes to the NSA to beg for their help in finding Watson before she is killed. This was quite a humbling scene, to see Sherlock thus reduced. It, more so than the threats against the security guy, showed how low Sherlock is willing to go for Watson's sake.

Mycroft, meanwhile, has gone to trade the list for Watson. And as Sherlock predicted, The Meilleure plan to kill them both. This bit was rather silly; de Soto gives the order to kill Mycroft and Watson, but the guys just stand there pointing their guns. Sure, okay, maybe they want to wait until de Soto is clear of the scene. But then Mycroft asks if he can say a final few words. Um . . . Why not just say them? (Oh, wait, he's a bit of a showoff like his brother. Perhaps that explains it.)

For those who were saddened that Elementary's Mycroft was a mere restauranteur (in opposition to Doyle's original), cheer up: He's really not. Something that will surely be explored further next week.