Concert Review: Richard Marx at the Bankhead Theater

Last night I finally got to see Richard Marx play live. It only took 21 years.

Marx was my first musician crush. (Proof that I was never cool.) His Rush Street got me through the worst heartache of my life. And "Don't Mean Nothin'" prepared me for my current work as a screenwriter. (People always ask why I'm not more excited when someone says they want to make a movie from one of my scripts. I say, "Because it doesn't mean anything until it's in writing and signed.")

I was the nerd who cited Marx lyrics in a school newspaper debate. I used "Hazard" as the jumping off point for a soap opera-like story I used to write in a red notebook. My main character was named Mark Aaron Bradford, and he'd had to flee his hometown after being accused of murder, so he went into the city and had to take questionable jobs, and he was sexually harassed by a woman named Carole, and then moved in with a suburban family . . . At least, that's how I remember it going. It was a big hit in certain circles; I would write an "episode" (or chapter, I guess), and the notebook would get handed round so everyone could read it, and then it would come back to me and I'd write the next part. Good times.

This is just meant to show how influenced I was by Marx and his music. In the summer of 1993, I really wanted to see him in concert, but the week he was going to be in town was the week my parents had planned for us to visit my grandparents in Alaska. I begged to be allowed to stay home, but no. I thought it was unimaginably cruel of my parents to make me fly halfway across the U.S. (and part of Canada!) when my crush was going to be so close.

And now, 21 years later . . . Finally! I was able to see Richard Marx play. Not in some big concert venue, but in an intimate little setting. Just Marx, no band. He had his acoustic guitar and his piano, and he stripped down a number of his songs—they lend themselves to that; Marx said he was playing them more or less as they'd been written, rather than the "after" studio version. It was lovely and unique and a worthwhile experience.

So often I go to concerts and think, considering the songs are played pretty much exactly as they sound on the radio, I might as well have saved my money. There's nothing special in that experience, at least not to me. Some say it's the crowd and the fans that make it special, but . . . The crowd and the fans really mean you're going to have to stand all evening if you want to be able to see the stage. And they mean that you'll be listening to the guy next to you sing when you really just want to hear the musicians. So unless there's a big show, a spectacle of some kind (like, you know, Pink Floyd) . . .

OR. Every now and then an artist goes smaller instead of bigger, and that's nice too. In Marx's case, it worked very well. He's good with a crowd, has a good sense of humor. He played a number of his biggest hits, and some songs he'd written for other artists (Luther Vandross, Keith Urban, NSYNC). He played some new stuff, too, and that was exciting to hear.

When you consider the length and breadth of his career, Marx has done well in an industry that typically chews up and spits out the "latest thing." He's been smart and savvy enough to write for others, to produce others' work. He's worked the system quite well, and it was really nice to see that he still has such core fans willing to come out and see him play.

As for me, I was just so glad to finally, finally check this one off my list. I'd have been happy no matter what, but Marx put on a great little show. So I thank him for making my teenage dream come true, even if it was 20+ years later than planned.

Books: The Likeness by Tana French

Some years ago one of the publicity agencies sent me Tana French's In the Woods, and I loved it. So then they sent me The Likeness. I started to read it, but when I realized French had ditched Rob [as narrator] for Cassie, I tossed it aside. I felt that betrayed by the switch.

But recent favorite television series—Broadchurch, True Detective—reminded me of French's writing. Because while I had only the vaguest recollection of the story of In the Woods, I very much recall the tone of the writing, the feeling. And it was very like these shows. So I went and picked up The Likeness once more.

Getting past the extreme coincidence that is the core plot of the book—that Detective Cassie Maddox looks almost exactly like a murder victim, enough like her to fool those closest to her—the story is, like In the Woods, incredibly well written and absorbing. I'll admit it was a slow start, but once the train pulled out of the station so to speak, I found it very difficult to put the book down.

Cassie goes undercover as Lexie Madison, moving into the house she lived in with four housemates, trying to discern who stabbed and killed the girl. Was it one of the housemates? Someone from the village? But as Cassie immerses herself in the role, she is drawn to these four others and almost loses herself in the comfort of their shared lives.

There is power in French's storytelling. The reader feels the pull as much as Cassie. Each character is so neatly and distinctly drawn that the absurd situation no longer matters; one can put it aside and relish the writing, the characters, and yes, even the almost ridiculous story.

This series, which I think is called "Dublin Murder Squad," has a few more books in it, and my guess is they all have different narrators. I won't hold that against French this time. But these books are also like a heavy meal; you can't eat (read) two in a row. You need time between them. I hope it won't take me quite as many years before I pick up the next one, but in the meantime I need to find a light snack of something to read . . .


Television: Revolution, "Fear and Loathing"

Where were we? Oh, right, Monroe & Son had been caught trying to steal diamonds in New Vegas; Charlie had helped them but escaped. Neville & Son were hitting up Miles and Rachel in hopes of bagging Monroe and dragging him back to the Patriot President so as to save Julia. And Aaron and Priscilla were being held hostage by their old friend Peter. All three of them were suffering from the nanos appearing to them, but while Peter was using this as some kind of pseudo religion, Aaron and Priscilla were less enthusiastic. Hence the Peter locking them into a hotel room part.

Truly, the situations in this show only get increasingly ridiculous. While, at the same time, the characters find themselves in the same kinds of predicaments over and over again. So that there's never any real sense of progress. And it's starting to get dull as well as dumb.

In tonight's foray, Charlie managed to save Monroe and Colin by first saving the life of Duncan, thus meaning she owed Charlie. (Sure, I could go into the whole dog fight story, but God, who really cares?) The sum total of the story line was that Duncan gave Charlie five of those big, brawny types that Monroe had been hoping to purchase with the diamonds he tried to steal. The big twist being that these guys will only take orders from Charlie, not Monroe Dum or Monroe Dee. Not much of a twist at all, really. More like a cute tweak.

And the Miles/Rachel/Neville/Jason thing? The only progress we managed to make there was that Neville finally came clean and admitted he was only there to get Monroe so he could save Julia. He offered to come back and help Miles and Rachel clean out some Patriots once Julia was safe, but . . . Miles wasn't for it. Instead of simply saying, "Well too bad because Monroe isn't here," he inexplicably decided to go with, "Monroe is with us now, so you can't have him." Uh . . . Now we're just creating drama for the sake of it, and never mind that Miles has enough other problems not to have to make more for himself. This is me rolling my eyes.

Finally, in the Aaron story, the nanos begin begging Aaron, Priscilla, and Peter to save them. Priscilla insists they should let the nanotech die out. Peter of course feels quite the opposite. Aaron asks how they can possibly find whatever glitch in the computer code is causing the problem without, you know, a computer. But duh, the nanos can fire one of those up for them, no prob. So then we went through the very vogue let's-have-writing-all-over-every-wall thing until Aaron announced he'd found the flaw in the code. Now I could tell right away what he was doing, and Priscilla's reaction only confirmed it. So it was no big surprise when whatever "fix" Aaron was inputing into the computer began to actually kill off the nanotech. Derp. Made me wonder how this Peter guy had ever been useful at all if he couldn't spot the issue the moment Aaron had pointed out the "problem" on the wall—that is, Peter literally couldn't read the writing on the wall, or at least not make any sense of it. "You always were the smart one," was Peter's throwaway line, but then what the fuck did Peter do to help create this nanotech?

My other issue with this was: Why did the nanos let Aaron input this kill code? If they were the ones running the computer, why not shut it down the moment they realized what Aaron was doing? Instead they just kept saying, "You're killing us . . ."

The final scene of the episode had Aaron waking up in 2014 to a world as we know it: electricity, cars, etc. Apparently we're going the Lost alternate timeline route now. Sigh.

What we need more of—what we've had precious little of this season—is Miles + Monroe + Neville. These three play off one another so well, their little bitchy exchanges . . . That's worth watching. The rest of it has become something of a repetitive, derivative drag. I wonder whether Revolution will even see another season, and whether I'd miss it at all if it didn't.


Television: Almost Human and Intelligence

Normally I would do separate posts for each of these shows. But last night, though I watched them, I found I wasn't particularly interested in either.

Almost Human's episode "Beholder" has a pseudo Twilight Zone thing going on. A man was killing exceptionally good-looking people by stealing their DNA and taking it to an underground doctor to have it implanted in himself. He was doing it all for a woman he'd met online, but of course the twist was, when they finally did meet, she was blind. Is it a bad joke to say I "saw" it coming? The episode also furthered a bit of the whole Chrome thing . . . One of the murder victims was a Chrome, and that was the point where the police got involved. They'd managed to miss the fact these victims hadn't just died of natural causes, but since Chromes don't die young, this one's "heart attack" was suspicious. The heart failures were a side effect of having the DNA taken by nanotech. Geez, we sure do love nanotechnology in our television shows these days. But anyway, the plot let us know that Chromes generally have superiority complexes and, because they are intelligent and tend to rise high in the world, a lot of power. Not sure how I feel about Minka Kelly being held up quite literally as an example of perfection, though.

The sum total of the episode's theme was that we all fall short of our own personal expectations. We are our own worst critics. "Flaws make you human," Dorian tells Kennex. I don't know about human, per se, but I know that flaws make people interesting, and that's always been more important to me than looks.

As for Intelligence's "Delta Force," meh. It was even less interesting than Almost Human. Something to do with a Bolivian political candidate that needed protection from an assassin. Turned out the assassin was Gabriel's old Delta Force compatriot, and that this guy was also acting on government orders. Again we're left with that whole, "Right Hand, I'd like to introduce you to Left Hand. Why don't you two catch up?" thing. But whatever. I just couldn't find it in me to care about what was happening.

I see-saw on both these shows. Each is just very uneven, with some good, engaging episodes and some that fall flat. Look, I know not every episode will be a winner, but let's at least try for some consistency. I'm not ready to drop either show yet (and it may be the networks make that decision for me in a few weeks), but I'm not particularly attached either. The whole Monday night lineup could disappear (including Sleepy Hollow) and I wouldn't cry for it. That's a bad sign because it means if someone has something better come fall, I'm willing to jump ship. I might still DVR the shows, but if my schedule fills up—and it has been pretty solid lately—I won't bother. Not exactly the place these shows want to be, which is, in short, "on the bubble." As Methos once told Caspian: "If I have to lose one, it will be you."


Television: The Women of True Detective

Cross posted from PepperWords.

So I was sent this link and asked whether I agree with the article. To summarize, for those not interested in jumping over there, the question is whether True Detective is trying to make a point in the way it portrays women.

Honestly, I don't think so. Not intentionally. But the text can be read that way, if you're looking for a reason to justify loving the show despite the fact that it treats female characters badly.

We've got Maggie, the long-suffering wife (now ex) of Marty. She nags and is angry a lot, though with good reason. And she's the closest the show comes to a fully fleshed-out, realized female character. But even then she's not really whole; she's only seen through her connections to Marty and Rust. She is not her own person with her own story line.

And then there are all the others: prostitutes and baby killers and Marty's deranged mistresses. They are all cogs in the writing machinery designed to move the plot along or else to give deeper development to Marty's and Rust's characters. I would and should howl about this, but when I look at my Peter Stoller stories I have to admit my women are—though in at least one instance more developed—equally marginal. My Miranda, like True Detective's Maggie, is seen only in relation to Peter and the others around her. But then again (in my defense), my stories are all told from Peter's limited point of view, so how else can she be portrayed? This is not true of True Detective, the writers of which could easily have chosen to give Maggie or any other woman her own story arc. (And I, one supposes, could always go back and write a story from Miranda's point of view. Hmm.)

Still, I won't try to make excuses for myself or True Detective. I think it's a fabulous show, even though it falls down on the gender front. For one thing, I've come to expect HBO shows will have a lot of naked, objectified women. (No, I don't watch Girls.) I don't like it, but the predominately male audience they're out to capture does. The Slate article talks about perspective, and this is it: HBO and True Detective are told from the male perspective. And it's shameful and sickening that this is how so many men see and treat women. But there it is.

But do I think the show's writers are trying to say something about female power? Do I believe they're being quietly subversive by giving us these flawed men and showing us "strong" women (if "strong" means: an angry, nagging wife willing to walk out; prostitutes that lecture cops; mistresses who go after men in one way or another)? Nah. That's more incidental than intentional. When a young girl waits for a woman to nod before doing what a man's told her to do . . . It won't be impressive until a man is the one waiting for a woman's permission.


Movies: Winter's Tale

Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe
Directed By: Akiva Goldsman
Written By: Akiva Goldsman from the novel by Mark Helprin
Warner Bros., 2014
PG-13; 118 mins
2 stars (out of 5)


There is a nice idea, maybe even a good story in here somewhere, but the Hollywood machine has mangled it.

I haven't read the book, so I can only give you the plot as put forth by the movie: In the early 1900s Peter Lake was an orphan raised by Pearly Soames and trained to be a fantastic thief. But Peter and Pearly fall out when Peter's kind heart keeps him from harming people. We don't see any of this bit, mind; it's all exposition through dialogue, and truly awful at that. What we do see is Pearly and his henchmen chasing Peter, and Peter finding a fantastical horse, and that horse leading him to the Penn house where Peter thinks to do one final steal before leaving town and letting the Pearly thing blow over.

But the Penn house isn't entirely empty. Lovely and consumptive young Beverly is home, and it is love at first sight for both. Peter rescues Beverly from Pearly & Co. and gets to go with her up to the family's country manor and the whole thing goes a bit Titanic in flavor (rich young lady in love with boy who has nothing) . . . And then Beverly dies.

Fast forward to 2014 and Peter is still alive but has forgotten his own name much less Beverly or anything else. He spends his days drawing chalk art of a red-headed woman, the same picture again and again. God only knows how he lives. Does he still steal stuff? The movie doesn't bother to tell us because the moviemakers don't seem to think it's important. But seriously, how did he get through the past century (give or take a decade)?

We're supposed to assume, of course, that the red-haired woman Peter keeps drawing is Beverly, but then Peter meets a red-haired little girl dying of cancer and things click into place. And at the same moment he remembers who he is and why he's still alive, Pearly Soames (also still alive, since he's actually a demon) becomes aware that Peter is still around too.

It's not clear to me whether we're supposed to think the little girl is a reincarnation of Beverly. The IMDb description mentions reincarnation, so maybe that was the intent, but it's not blatantly obvious from the movie itself. The stuff that is made blatant . . . It's all the wrong stuff. The expositional dialogue that I previously mentioned, and the somewhat too on-the-nose themes. The movie begins and ends with Beverly narrating, and that just puts it all over the top.

I found that I really wanted it to be about the teapot. That Peter's destiny got railroaded when Beverly was home that day, and that he was really just meant to steal the china. Ridiculous maybe, but that would have been a wily twist and far less soppy than all that does happen in the film.

The best thing about the movie was Will Smith turning up as Lucifer. And that's less than five minutes of screen time.

Thing is, I love stories about destiny and soul mates and love that comes back around in wonderful and interesting ways. But this just see-sawed between flat and outright ridiculous. Some of the themes were laid on so heavy as to hang like wet velvet, and other stuff was skipped over entirely. It left me wondering who made these choices and why? Who wrote the tacky dialogue? Was it lifted directly from the book or crafted to tell the story because they couldn't think of a better way to communicate it otherwise? (If that's the case—if you have a book that needs that kind of dialogue to become a movie, a book that can't be acted—don't let them turn your book into a movie.)

At the end of it all, my only thought was, What a shame. What a shame that what might have been a grand story, if only it had been told differently, was reduced to this.


SFWC: Catalogue of Posts

Couldn't make it to San Francisco for the San Francisco Writers Conference? Well, I've brought the conference (or parts of it) to you!

The Fiction Agents - their answers to questions about the industry
Writing with Abandon - getting rid of that inner editor that stops you from making progress
Chitra Divakaruni's Keynote
"Hybrid" Authors - what are they and can you become one?
Pitching to Agents - a few things I learned (and how I did better than last time)
Blogging Your Book
Jumpstarting Your Publishing Dreams - things you can do to maximize chances of success
The Fiction Editors - their answers to questions
Working with Agents
Barry Eisler - controversial keynote opened discussion regarding whether publishers need authors more than authors need publishers
Building a Web Presence - using social media
New Adult - defining the category
Meeting the Editors - and asking about "upmarket" fiction
Mark Coker - the founder of Smashwords gives his take on self-publishing
How to Get Published Successfully - short answer: write something people want to read
E-book Publishing Success - Mark Coker's list of "best practices" to help you become a bestseller


Television: Intelligence, "Size Matters"

Long story short: They made it so obvious it was Bryce from the very beginning that this episode had zero tension. Yes, even when it looked like Dr. Cassidy was going to die, we were not at all worried.

I hate it when I'm watching a show that features supposedly brilliant people and they all miss the obvious. The nanotech (flavor of the month, these things) clearly only goes for the one target. I mean, they're airborne but don't accidentally kill anyone else who is around, right? So why would they have killed the assistant unless they were meant to? Bryce was an idiot to have programmed them that way. End of story.

And if that hadn't been a giveaway, all the lingering camera shots on Bryce should have been.

Plus lines of dialogue from him like, "Until he got scared."

This was just a hamfisted episode all around, really, which is a shame because if there had been any actual question of who had done it, or if they'd been racing against the clock to find and save other scientists, the story might have been a good one.

I also just want to say that the cutesy phone calls that have become the staple of most episodes' opens and/or closes are getting redundant and dull. The dialogue is not clever or witty. It's more like that moment when Mr. Rogers used to switch his shoes and jacket; it's how we know the show is going to begin or end.

Thing is, I have really enjoyed Intelligence on the whole. I like Gabriel, and I think he and Riley have good chemistry. But there wasn't much for them to do this time. Feels to me like the writers are having trouble coming up with plots. And they're desperate to make sure other characters (Lillian, Cassidy) get fair time, which is fine, but they shouldn't do it at the expense of the two main protagonists. It's like they want this to be ensemble, but this isn't Bones with everyone working together in one place. Gabriel and Riley need to be out there, getting stuff done. Otherwise we're bored.

Maybe all the characters should go out for a pitcher of margaritas some night. I mean, if the writers are so set on it being an ensemble, you need to put them together in a way that shows camaraderie. Gabriel should have people over for barbecue or something. That's all I'm saying.

I will say having Almost Human and Intelligence air on the same night is nice. They're a good fit and set a nice tone for the evening.


Television: Almost Human, "Disrupt"

Rudy is up to something fishy in Dorian's head while Dorian is in stasis. Hmm. Meanwhile, a man named Michael and his wife Linda are receiving death threats on the one-year anniversary of the death of a boy named Aaron who was killed when he trespassed on their property and the house security system killed him. The house is run by a holographic projection named Sam. He malfunctions—or is hacked—and drowns Linda by sealing her under the swimming pool's protective cover. Michael tries to save her but is shot by the security system.

So this episode is all about betrayals of trust of one kind or another.

Sam tells Dorian that he was aware of being remotely programmed the night before, being switched from auto to manual. He doesn't know who did it and security footage has been erased. And there are all those death threats to consider.

While Minka Kelly Valerie talks to Aaron's mom and confirms her alibi (she was at a church vigil held in Aaron's memory), the woman who runs the security company tells Kennex and Dorian that a group called Disrupt was the one that made the most threats.

Dorian begins having childhood memories—these are the "files" that Rudy had been accessing while Dorian was unconscious. Of course the question is: How can an android have childhood memories?

A hacker named Crispin X takes responsibility for the hack that killed Michael and Linda. Kennex and Valerie get Rudy to get invited to a big post-hack party so they can go in using Rudy's handle ("Aphid" . . . and nice to hear Karl Urban use a more natural accent). They manage to arrest Crispin (real name Nico) with little trouble. But Crispin insists Disrupt only hired him to take the grid offline in Aaron's memory, and that Disrupt is not a murderous organization.

Turns out Dorian and Rudy used to have fun conversations together back when Dorian was decommissioned. That seems like a pointless bit of trivia but I'm sure it's meant to add depth.

A lawyer for the security company is found dead. Kennex figures out (from a photograph) the murders are being done by someone who knew Aaron personally. They ask Crispin for help and figure out a girl named Emily is the likely culprit.

Why not just ask Rudy to check Aaron's iPad thingy? Instead of offering Crispin immunity for his help? And how do they know Crispin isn't just planting all this info?

Anyway, they figure Emily's next target is the woman who runs the security company. And that Emily is tapped into the main server, meaning she must be on site at the company's building. So this becomes Crispin versus Emily in a hack fight while Kennex and Dorian head down to find and grab Emily.

People hide under desks a lot in this show. Just sayin'.

And now the fire suppression system has been activated, meaning the oxygen will be sucked out of the building in five minutes. (Doesn't this mean Emily would die too if she's in the building?)

I think the oxygen countdown thing was supposed to be tense, but were we ever really worried? Um, no.

Emily tells Dorian the reason Aaron was in Michael's and Linda's yard the night the house killed him was because he was cutting through to go see her. Aaron didn't have many friends in life, but he had a ton of online friends, people he helped.

Rudy figures out that someone implanted those memories into Dorian. He cleanses Dorian of the files and closes the "access point" so whoever planted the memories won't be able to get in that way again. But the lingering question is: Why would anyone do such a thing? And though Kennex wants to tell Dorian, Rudy advises against it, saying people will think Dorian is malfunctioning, that the DRN is going crazy. Is this a valid concern? Or is Rudy hiding something?

An overall okay episode that is attempting to insert more conspiracy story arc . . . And again, I find it decidedly uninteresting. Someone gave Dorian memories? Uh . . . okay. Whatever. Hardly compelling stuff. If they don't step this up a bit, and quickly . . . But then again, it seems ever more unlikely Almost Human is going to see a second season anyway. So I hope they at least find a way to wrap all this up satisfactorily, just in case.

Television: True Detective, "The Secret Fate of All Life"

So. Is Cohle guilty or isn't he?

This is the question that's underlay the entire season only now being openly asked.

Did Cohle—does he—have anything to do with these ritual murders.

They've done a great job of stacking things against him. And Cohle's bizarre personality, his weird ways of thinking and talking, makes him seem like a prime candidate. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say I don't believe—and of course I could be wrong—he's the killer. I think Cohle has been investigating outside the boundaries of the law because he knows people inside the system are involved in the murders. And/or in covering up the truth. Cohle is a Mulder.

That's just my take.

And yet, it wouldn't surprise me if we found out in the final episode (there are only what? three more?) that Cohle was in it all along, or somehow became a disciple, or whatever. It's a testament to the fine writing and acting that I can see it going either way.

So. Is Cohle a patsy? Are the setting him up as a scapegoat because he's too close to the truth? Or is he really a killer?

The final scene in last night's episode was interesting (though I felt they lingered more than necessary): Cohle standing in the ruined religious school, examining one of the devil traps that have been left there. A shaft of light falls in from above and one is left to wonder: Is this just Cohle doing his job, or is this a man having an epiphany? Is he about to dedicate himself to something? And is that thing a dark belief in a Yellow King or a mission to find out the truth? The viewer doesn't know, can't tell.

It will be interesting to see how the remainder plays out.


Writing: San Francisco Writers Conference

If you're wondering where I've disappeared to, no, I've not been sucked into the Olympics spectacle (though I do enjoy watching the figure skaters and ice dancers). I'll be away this weekend at SFWC. And I'll be posting all I learn over on PepperWords. So check there if you want the scoop.

Posts will be made as I have time—I'll basically be typing up my notes from the various sessions I attend, plus anything interesting that may happen. But you should have the whole story come Monday.

And in the meantime, you can always revisit coverage from last year's SFWC here.


And Then . . .

This. As a reminder.

Because I do have a script due at the end of the month. And I'll be at a writers conference* this weekend and need to pull together a synopsis on the off chance someone might actually be interested. In, you know, my writing. Sigh.

*I feel weird not using an apostrophe after "writers" but that's how the official site reads: San Francisco Writers Conference. So . . . The conference doesn't belong to the writers? Are the writers meant to be from San Francisco? (They actually come from all over the world; it's a massive conference.) I thought the "San Francisco" only described the location, but if it describes the writers . . . And yes, I might only be procrastinating. But check up on PepperWords after this weekend as that is where I'll be posting everything I learn in the writing sessions.

Television: Almost Human, "Perception"

So this week they (a) went back to some of the things that happened in the pilot episode, and (b) gave Minka Kelly slightly more to do.

A Plot: super smart kids at a school geared toward "Chromes" are dying from drug overdoses.

B Plot: Kennex is taking drugs, too, to help him remember stuff about the night of the ambush (you know, when he lost his leg and it turns out his girlfriend was a bad guy girl).

Chromes are, as it turns out, genetically designed/enhanced human beings. I wasn't entirely clear on the level of design, if there is one. Is it done in utero? ::shrug:: In any case, it turns out Valerie (that's Minka Kelly, though really, if we're honest, we all just call her "Minka Kelly") is one of these. And that it's rare they go into law enforcement, at least at the base police detective level—one assumes if they're so smart or whatever they are more likely to work in better paying occupations, and that if they're set on law enforcement they'll aim for the higher [federal] levels.

Bottom line, though, is that this was an interesting thing to introduce. Not for Valerie particularly (though maybe it will become so later), but the idea that these individuals exist, their place in the strata of society . . . Kind of Gattica, really.

The whole teens-dying-from-designer-drugs . . . Well, at least they didn't try to turn it into "a very special episode of Almost Human." And I sympathized with the girl who committed suicide. I often feel the way she seemingly did.

As for the B plot, well . . . While it had nice parallels to the A plot, on the whole I do not find this hanging conspiracy very compelling. Not sure if it's because the episodes have been aired out of order, but the inconsistency in following this whole "Syndicate" story line makes it feel as if it is not actually all that important in the larger scheme. In short, I don't know as a viewer how much weight to give it, and they haven't made it interesting enough on its own for me to care just for the sake of caring.

Still, on the spectrum of Almost Human episodes, I found this one better than many, mostly for the whole Chromes aspect. Though it seems unlikely the show will see a second season (production costs way outstrip the ratings they're receiving), it would be interesting to see where they could take such an angle. Or maybe that should be its own show entirely.


Television: Intelligence, "Patient Zero"

At the brink of lethal injection, a death row convict in Texas promises "[his] boy Tom-Tom" he will reach up from Hell and drag Tom-Tom down for what he's done.

And then some kind of new and terrible virus surfaces at a Texas Arts and Music Festival. When Gabriel renders the scene, he finds our dead convict (name: Luther) in the images.

I still don't entirely buy this whole "rendering" thing. Here they try to cover it by saying these are partially Gabriel's imagination . . . So then how can they even consider acting on his renderings?

In any case, Gabriel wants to go to Texas to see if Luther really is out and about. Of course Cassidy and the others are against it since it means risking Gabriel catching this disease. The goal is to find "patient zero," the person who first caught this illness—Luther? They need him in order to develop a cure for whatever this is.

So Gabriel (and Riley) go anyway.

It's a sweat virus. Eww.

And then something about one of the prison guards on the phone to the Pentagon, but then the guard's car blows up. So, you know. That.

The running theory: A private contractor hired by the military has used Luther as a test subject for a pathogen, some kind of bioweapon.

So then it becomes Gabriel and Riley versus the military guys . . . But when two sides fight each other, doesn't that just leave their common enemy free to run? Stupid bureaucracy.

(It's not "Route" 35, btw. It's I-35. And probably actually out on FM 1325 or something. Maybe out by Hutto? I know me some Round Rock; I was raised in Georgetown, went to UT, and later my parents lived in Round Rock.)

Anyway, using Gabriel's ability to access lots of info from various sources, they find letters written to Luther while he was in prison, from a woman who has a farm house outside Round Rock. And sure enough Luther is there. But then the military guys show up and lock an infected Riley and an uninfected Gabriel in a shed. And set the shed on fire.

Geez, way to suck, military dudes.

This episode feels a tad over the top, actually, as an attempt to vilify the military/defense industry. I mean, they're laying it on a bit thick.

Of course Gabriel and Riley get out, and they find Luther (or he finds them), resulting in a fight wherein Gabriel also gets infected.

The general/defense guy gets arrested for, you know, turning prisoners into lab rats and also developing illegal weapons. Cliché dialogue includes the general saying, "The monsters are at the gate, Lillian," and Lillian replying, "The monsters are already here." Blech.

But the antibody is apparently created in record time since in the very next scene everyone's getting shots to cure them. And the episode ends in a cute phone call between Gabriel and Riley as they recover.

So . . . It was an interesting idea but the hack job of making the military the bad guys was so banal it dragged the whole thing down. While I can appreciate the attempts to create layers of plot by adding additional red tape—enemies within as well as without—in recent episodes the show has started to tip away from the core interest by focusing more on Lillian and all the government stuff. This would be fine if they were making it compelling at all, but it's just the same thing over and over again: Government guys saying they don't trust that Gabriel will follow orders, that they don't like that he has all these abilities, etc. It's repetitive and starting to get boring. So they'd better either go somewhere with it soon or lay off it, cuz we're tired of hearing it.


There was a short but interesting article in Time about how Thai psychologists believe the selfie-obsessed youth of the country are going to eventually bring the country down. These psychologists cite the fact that, when these young people post selfies and don't get enough positive feedback for them, they go into a downward spiral. They post more pictures and still do not receive the reaction they are seeking. And so it goes.

[For those of you wondering, "selfie" is the word for a photograph taken by oneself of oneself.]

It's a law of diminishing returns, isn't it? The more crap you post on your Facebook page, the less people will read or respond. They'll just start skimming and scrolling by.

And then, too, with everyone being so self- (and selfie-) centered, no one is thinking of promoting others; everyone wants to star in their own life movie. They want the kudos but don't want to offer anything in return.

I don't know if it's a stretch to say this behavior will bring down a country, but it's certainly not good for society. Look at the kids who grew up being told they were special, that they could all get a trophy just for showing up . . . Then they get into the workplace and don't understand why they're expected to actually do the work and get it right, or why they can't just get promoted because they want it. They don't understand merit.

And yes, these are the same kids that now take a ton of pictures of themselves and post them on Facebook and Tumblr and Instagram and think the whole world is watching them and taking note. It's fine so long as their hundreds or thousands of "friends" (or are they "fans"? these days it seems like that's what most people keep friends for: to make them feel like a star) keep feeding their egos, but what happens if/when no one does?

Well, if the Thai psychologists are right, as these young people's egos deflate, our society collapses with them. Hmm.

Maybe it's time to start managing these kids' expectations.

Television: True Detective, "Who Goes There"

Less of the interview frame story this week, though that appears to be coming to a head. I'm glad the writers aren't playing coy or pretending that the seeming interest in Cohle is really nothing. We're halfway through now, too, so things should begin to come together.

But first, they must fall apart. As Marty's marriage did this week after his mistress went and told Maggie everything. This serves to distract Marty, which of course will be part of the interviewers' point: that Marty was focused elsewhere, which is why he missed so much of what was really going on.

And what is going on? Well, Cohle gets a line on Ledoux, their chief suspect. But in order to get closer, he'll have to return to his old undercover persona "Crash."

The showpiece of the episode was a long tracking shot near the end that featured Cohle and his old buddies—most particularly, the guy he needs in order to get to Ledoux—as they bust their way into a stash house and then back out of the projects. Beautifully done and very intense. (Anyone remember Rope? Not actually one whole shot but made to look that way? One of my all-time favorite movies.)

This show just keeps getting better. Does make me wonder what they'll do for next season, though. I don't think they can top this—that's the downfall of doing something so well right off the bat; you've set expectations—but if they can at least do as well, that will be something.

As a personal aside, I learned the other evening that one of my aunts (by marriage, but by divorce we'd no longer be related) was murdered in an Erath cane field. Stabbed 67 times. They never found the guy. Weird, the things that get dragged out when fiction follows fact.

To lighten the mood, and to give fans something to do while waiting for the next episode: click here. (As a rule I don't much like Tumblr, but I make an exception for this one.)


Television: Elementary, "Corpse de Ballet"

We begin with the writers wanting to put Holmes's sex life in perspective for the viewers: Basically, he has it often and with numerous women. No emotional strings attached, of course. But his revolving door does require Watson to stock to-go cups so she can offer the "guests" morning coffee.

Then we get a ballerina cut in half.

But what killed her was having her throat cut with a box cutter. A personalized box cutter that belongs to Iris, the lead ballerina. The dead dancer (Nell) had been the original inspiration for the lead role but then the part went to Iris, a "more established" ballerina.

Meanwhile, Watson gets pulled away by a schizophrenic man named Morris taken to the hospital after taking a swing at a cop. He's convinced someone has taken his friend Freebo.

When Iris's alibi falls through, she is brought in for questioning and gets snippy, resulting in her being arrested for the murder. She makes bail but cannot leave the country (which she had planned to do, a trip to Montreal to teach a master class). And, not unexpectedly given the writers having made it a point to establish Holmes's sex life, Iris ends up as yet another in his line of lovers.

This is a particular peeve of mine, the way writers and shows often don't bother with some aspect or angle of a character's life until they need it for a plot. I mean, we've been given hints of Holmes being free and loose with his physical entanglements, but one knows immediately when it's being suddenly brought to the fore that it will bear on the episode.

Holmes's conviction that Iris is innocent is somewhat bizarre. Is he star struck? He assumes her torn rotator cuff means she cannot have worked the pulley that lifted Nell's body. But what if the pulley is how she hurt herself? And with the way Iris is allying herself with Holmes, and her lawyer is giving Holmes busy work . . .

And Watson is still looking for Freebo.

Holmes is working his way through people Iris has restraining orders against, stalkers and paparazzi and the like. The idea is that someone would want to frame her to get back at her.

But then an anonymous thumb drive with a voice mail from Iris to Nell . . . About their relationship, and how if Nell tries to walk away "there will be consequences." Turns out there is spyware on Iris's cell phone; one of the paparazzi Holmes had investigated cloned Iris's phone. But he has a solid alibi for the night of Nell's murder.

Big reveal of the night: Watson's birth father is a homeless schizophrenic. (The man we've met is actually Watson's step-father.)

Holmes deduces Iris's lawyer was the one to leak the voice mail and accuses him of murdering Nell in order to create publicity for Iris.

Watson, meanwhile, figures out that Freebo's "sister" isn't really his sister and discovers the woman posing as his sister has been holding Freebo and two other homeless men hostage in order to cash their disability and welfare checks. As B plots go, this one was kind of weak but had the benefits of being (a) short, and (b) emotionally satisfying in its conclusion.

Iris is exonerated (I still feel like the episode lost something in making her innocent); the lawyer is arrested. And Holmes makes advances in empathy when he offers to take some old blankets to the park to see if anyone might need them. Watson's visible gratitude is a testament to the strengthening bond between the characters, and this really is the best thing about the series; the writers have done such a lovely job continuing to build the core relationship. Even tiny moments contribute. Sometimes—often—they contribute more than the big moments.


Books: Power Tarot by Trish MacGregor and Phyllis Vega

I've talked about my Tarot card habit, the fact that I collect these cards. I have a few books, too, "idiot's guides" and such. But I have to say, of all the random Tarot texts I've managed to collect from Half Price Books and the like, Power Tarot is by far the most useful.

The authors here do a fabulous job of covering the meaning of each card, both in general and in specific kinds of readings. For example, each card is broken down into its meanings in a "Work" reading, "Romance," "Finances," and so on. This helps immensely if you're like me and have only the most basic sense of the cards but then wonder what the hell the High Priestess means when I've asked about my most recent writing project.

I realize, of course, that good Tarot reading stems from a certain amount of intuition. It is not paint-by-number. Sometimes my logical mind struggles with this, but I'm getting better at connecting with and feeling the cards. Still, a book like Power Tarot is a nice reference for when I get stumped.

Besides the card descriptions (though they are the bulk of the book), MacGregor and Vega also offer notes on how to figure out timing of events, which cards mean yes, no, or maybe, and things of that sort. And then the back part of the book is filled with a variety of spreads, many designed to answer specific questions, others easy to adapt to whatever situation you might want to do a reading about. The spreads become increasingly complex as you go along so that you can build your abilities and grow your confidence.

Bottom line is, while a lot of my other Tarot books will continue to sit on my shelves and almost never be touched, this one will probably remain on or near my desk as a regular reference. Because even as I get better at fiddling with these cards, I like the idea of having a touchstone nearby. But I hadn't found a book that would serve. Now I have.

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "T.R.A.C.K.S."

There is, in television and film, a gimmicky way of telling the same story from the various points of view of many characters, and this episode had it: The audio marker of the P.A. announcement. So that one could discern where everyone was when that announcement was made. It's fine . . . It's nice to see the writers try to do something different and interesting with the structure . . . But it still felt a bit like a gimmick.

It was also pretty clear Russo was the bad guy long before they revealed it. But at least they didn't try to drag it out and turn it into some huge surprise. Because it wasn't. No, the "big" reveal near the end of the episode was that Michael is Deathlok. So I guess we're filling in the margins of this massive universe.

The rest of the episode . . . Meh. We spent so much time seeing where everyone was when the announcement was made that my attention wandered. By the time we got to Skye being shot, I didn't much care.

The setup was that Coulson horned in on Russo's territory in an attempt to grab Quinn and so get closer to the Clairvoyant. The team went undercover on an Italian train, and I kind of wish they'd spent more time exploring that aspect because it could have been a lot of fun. But Russo had some underhanded deals that he wanted to keep to himself and so set up an ambush on Coulson's team. And there was some technology involved that caused the train to "vanish" (cloaked it), and froze time for people . . . Whatever. Really, I just couldn't be bothered. Though I'm sure it will be important later.

Sum total: Michael is Deathlok and Skye got shot (because Quinn had orders from the Clairvoyant).

We won't see the ultimate results of all this until March 4, which is when the show returns. Maybe I'll care more then.


Television: Intelligence, "The Rescue"

Despite the addition of Peter Coyote—and yes, I did in fact say aloud as I watched, "Hey! It's Peter Coyote!" (you know him when you hear him, if not when you see him)—I found it difficult to keep my attention on this episode.

It began with the abduction of a couple college girls; as it turned out, one of the girls was the daughter of a senator, the other being her luckless roommate. Once it became clear the whole thing was about a Mexican drug lord, I sort of tuned out. I've mentioned before in my Elementary write-ups that I'm not really a mob or drug lord kind of girl; those kinds of stories just don't interest me. So maybe this was a fantastic plot, but just not my thing.

The drug lord wanted to stop the sale of a satellite from the U.S. to Mexico, something that would interfere with his operations. The plot thickened, however, once it was revealed that the U.S. actually bankrolled this guy. That is, he was on the payroll as an informant. And yes, the U.S. did know he was a drug lord. But a useful drug lord is, apparently, worth something.

Gabriel and Riley got lost in the shuffle in this episode. Their job was pretty straightforward: find and rescue the girls. Meanwhile, Lillian wrestled with her conscience and her dad Leland (that would be Peter Coyote, the one who worked with the drug lord—I missed and/or wasn't clear on his actual position in the government).

The big finish came when the girls were safe and Gabriel had a clear shot at the drug lord but Leland said no. And for once Gabriel followed orders and let the baddie go. Lillian wasn't loving that, though, and took matters into her own hands by having the drug lord killed by . . . Who? A woman Lillian had bought off? A new evil? Unclear. The debate being, of course, whether replacing an old devil with a new one does anyone any good.

BTW, I had to wonder at Gabriel using the alarm system to cause a distraction so they could rescue the girl . . . Didn't he do something very similar in the last episode? Learn some new tricks, buddy. (Or, I guess, if it works . . . Still, I'd like to see the writers be creative. It's too early in the series for them to be lazy about these things.)

Pretty standard fare overall, though the introduction of Leland and the potential friction between him and his daughter may add yet another layer of interest as things progress.


Television: Almost Human, "Unbound"

A service bot is programmed to commit a random crime so that it will be stored in police evidence, allowing it access to a specific android head—that of Danica, a homicidal droid who once perpetrated terrible violence (hence its head being in evidence).

Then we get the story of [John Larroquette], the man who had created Danica, and before that Dorian. Two failed models bankrupted him and sent him to trial besides; he now works out of a makeshift lab.

Well, we all know then that Larroquette—and he's always John Larroquette, even if they call him Nigel or Vaughn or Dan or whomever—is the one to program the bot and set her loose, right? Except no one else seems to figure this out. People get really stupid really fast in the future. Though, looking at the world today, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Danica supposedly goes to Larroquette's makeshift lab to get a new body. She gives him an unconvincing cut on the forehead to make it look like he was assaulted. Larroquette is taken to Rudy's lab, and they dig out all Larroquette's old stuff so he can track Danica.

And Danica is set to steal 500 android processors. See? How can they not figure out that she's doing it for Larroquette? She drops them for Larroquette to pick up later, then goes off on another mission to attack some councilmen that had lobbied against Larroquette back in the day. It's a wild goose chase of sorts, meant to distract Kennex and the rest from the real goal of getting the processors. So while Kennex and Dorian are out blowing Danica to bits, Larroquette slips away to fetch those processors.

Dorian is kinda pissed that his maker would do such a thing. But he also has the epiphany that Larroquette will need a lab to work in with all those androids he's planning to build. "Over the wall." Because that's the only place far enough off the grid. (And btw, as far as epiphanies go, that was was pretty weak. I mean, how much logic would that honestly take to deduce? Not a whole fucking lot. It's one big "NO DUH" from the viewers.)

We don't find out if it's true or not because the episode ends. So one supposes this is going to be an ongoing kind of thing. I'll say John Larroquette certainly livens things up a bit, when given enough to do, which he wasn't quite here. But the promise of more John Larroquette to come . . . I really think he should have been a Q on ST:TNG, up there with John de Lancie and Corbin Bernsen. Anyone who plays a convincingly nasty and underhanded lawyer, actually, would make a good Q. That seems to be the rule of thumb anyway.

Not coincidentally, I was a tough debater in high school. And also have the nickname "Q." Hmm.

Well, whatever. This episode had an interesting if predictable construct that is clearly meant to bear the weight of what comes after. Let's hope they do a better job of designing something smart and surprising though; it's not much fun to watch if you're way ahead of the heroes in figuring things out. It's more like watching someone slow do a crossword puzzle. You just want to take it away and finish it for them. That's not entertainment; that's excruciating.

More Things that Smell Good

We've (I've) talked about candles at some length, but while in Las Vegas this weekend, I discovered new and wonderful things that smell divine. Candles, yes, but also bath salts and personalized fragrances. I'm talking about Nectar USA. (Their Web site isn't up and running yet, so I've directed you to their Facebook page.) And while a lot of their products do break my rule about smelling like food—in fact, at first glance the appeared to be a pastry shop—there are some wonderful non-foodie scents as well. I'm burning a Love candle in my office at the moment and it's fantastic. The two bath bombs I bought . . . Unfortunately, they don't have labels, so I don't know the names, but aaahh . . . And they left my skin so silky and soft, too! And the bath salts (also in Love scent) bubble up quite nice and thick. This is destined to be a new favorite of mine, I think.

Television: Sherlock, "His Last Vow"

As always, my thoughts are over on PepperWords.

Initial Thoughts
Another Thing
Notes After a Second Viewing