Television: Fargo, "A Muddy Road"

In which Molly tightens the noose a bit by sneakily showing Lester a picture of Malvo to see what kind of reaction she gets. But it looks like the hangmen (Adam Goldberg & Russell Harvard, whose characters are listed on IMDb as "Mr. Numbers" and "Mr. Wrench") will probably get Les first.

Meanwhile, we get a bit of backstory on the guy in the car trunk at the start of the premiere episode: an accountant that Malvo had kidnapped from his office. It's a testament to the bystander effect that all the accountant's coworkers merely watched and no one did anything or called anyone. Only when the police turn up do they happily relive the incident.

Security video gives Molly a look at Malvo. Meanwhile, on a hunch Gus runs the plates of the car he stopped Malvo in and discovers it's stolen and belongs to Lester Nygaard. His daughter encourages him to drive to Bemidji and deliver the news in person: that he unwittingly let a murder suspect go. Molly takes it well, all things considered, and invites Gus and his daughter for burgers at her dad's diner.

So where is Malvo? He's found the dope who was attempting to blackmail Milos but instead of taking the blackmailer to task, Malvo decides to take over the blackmailing. He kills Milos' dog, replaces his heart meds with Adderall, and puts pig's blood into the water system so that Milos showers in it. And he ups the blackmail demand to a cool million. And gets Milos to let him stay in the in-law apartment. Man knows how to work a situation.

It's a good show that so far has managed at least one good tension spike per episode. Not sure how much more I can take of Molly dickering around Les, but it appears Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench now have Les in their sights, so it may not matter for much longer anyway. (These guys came to visit Les at work but were interrupted by Molly stopping by. For once Les had reason to be happy to see her.)

Billy Bob Thornton as Malvo continues to be the highlight of the show. Does Malvo get paid for any of this? Or does he just like fucking people over? Well, if the blackmail pays off . . . Best of both worlds, I suppose.

Next week it's Lester's turn for a ride in the trunk and Malvo will do his best impersonation of a bumbling idiot. Should be fun.

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Nothing Personal"

Ward plays the creepy, bad boyfriend that won't let Skye out of his sight. But Skye plays clever by forcing him to take her to a public place—the diner where the series began.

Meanwhile, Maria Hill (from the Marvel movies) has ankled S.H.I.E.L.D. to join Stark. But first she has a few loose ends to tie up in the name of, er, the Department of Justice? I guess this is all to do with the official government cleanup in the wake of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s collapse.

Anyway, May approaches Maria and asks her to help Coulson, since Coulson refuses to allow May to help. So Maria takes a troop of soldiers down to the secret bunker. Where, btw, Coulson and crew have discovered a note left for them by Skye: Ward Is Hydra. (At least she did leave a message.)

Fitz is not handling the rapid changes to his world well. Not an adaptable type, that one.

Coulson and the team have just figured out the bus was back in L.A. when Maria busts in. Possibly one of the best moments in the show was the subtle way Coulson unbuttoned his jacket in readiness for the fight. Nice touch.

And in L.A., in that diner where Ward is playing horror thriller boyfriend, Skye has alerted the police to their location. Though Skye tries to warn the police that Ward is armed, he handily takes care of them. Skye actively tries to get herself arrested but there are no takers.

At some point in all this I kind of was only half watching. The Ward/Skye stuff was going on for a while, and I really just wanted them to get on with it. So next thing when I looked up, Ward has Skye on the bus with Deathlok, and Coulson turns up to save her, and they have to fly out in Lola. Fun!

And May digs up Coulson's false gravesite and finds . . . Something. Data of some kind, I guess?

Sum total of the episode was that Garrett and Hydra have the files Skye had been trying to keep safe from them. There is no more S.H.I.E.L.D. so Coulson is really pursuing a personal vendetta at this point, desperate to continue the institution that gives his life meaning and purpose. He also finds out he was the one running T.A.H.I.T.I.(?) And the team is now living in a motel.

Well, when you reach bottom, there's only one direction to go . . . Unless you plan to start digging yourself a hole, that is.

A to Z Challenge: Links

In case you need a handy way to catch up with this year's A to Z, here is an index:



Bath & Body: Nectar U.S.A. and Lush

So on a trip to Vegas a couple months ago, I stumbled upon Nectar U.S.A. They make bath and body products, and as the name implies, the products are made here in the States. (They also have candles! Yay!) I really enjoyed the couple of bath bombs I got from them, but I have to say they left a kind of waxy residue on my person and in my tub. Maybe this was to hold in the moisture or keep my skin soft, not sure, but that was the one drawback to those. However, I had no problems with the foaming bath salts, which I loved and ran out of far too quickly. (I used the scent called "Love.") Also had a Love candle that was fantastic.

Nectar U.S.A. is located in the Grand Canal Shops attached to the Venetian. They don't have a working Web site yet, but you can call and place phone orders. In the shop they have an actual scent station that allows you to mix up your favorite combo!

Next best thing is Lush. Nice thing about this chain is that you can probably find them in a local mall and they do have a Web site as well. I made "mermaid water" from one of their bath bombs + soaps and it was amazing. No waxy residue, either, so I give Lush a slightly higher rating in bath bombs . . . Though, on the flip side, the Lush bomb had little flakes of something in it that required washing out the tub. So . . .

I'm enjoying Lush's Ocean Salt scrub as well, and the Mint Julips lip scrub too. What I especially like about Lush (and I'm not sure how Nectar U.S.A. is on this): no animal testing.

It's not an entirely fair comparison since I only bought the Nectar stuff on a whim and haven't had a chance to explore their entire line. If I were to call in an order, I'd definitely be getting more Love foaming bath salts and another Love candle, but I wouldn't know what else. As for Lush, I could make those bath bombs a habit. I won't know about the scrubs until I've used them a while, though so far they're working well.

As regular readers know, I don't "do" stuff that smells like food, so it limits my options in a lot of these places. Lush's lip scrubs are edible, but the trick for me was to find one I wouldn't actively want to chew off my own lips! That meant Bubble Gum and Popcorn were both right out.

In short, I like both places though for different products and reasons. It might seem like kind of a pain to have to go to more than one place, but I'm the type that's willing to differentiate to get what I really want and what works best for me.


Television: Elementary, "The Man With the Twisted Lip"

Only a passing relation to the Doyle story.

A fellow recovering addict named Tess solicits Holmes and Watson to help find her missing sister Paige. It seems Paige was also trying to get clean, but a search of her apartment turns up the phone number of a drug delivery service. Which doesn't seem to get them anywhere; it takes some lyrics from one of Paige's songs (she was an indie musician) to lead them to a place Paige may have gone to compose or busk. Paige's body is discovered not too far from the site, along with the body of Zach. Based on the scenes, Holmes determines Zach had been the target and Paige an unfortunate witness the killer then felt the need to eliminate.

So then the question becomes: Who killed Zach? And to answer that, one must naturally ask: Why kill Zach?

A couple of things about Zach's murder. (1) Odd pattern of shotgun blast. (2) Strange buzzing noises? When it's too cold for mosquitos?

Our B Plot this week comes courtesy of Sherlock's brother Mycroft, who is back in New York and proposes to have a real, grown-up relationship with Watson. (Note that Mycroft calls her "Joan" while Sherlock still calls her "Watson." Sherlock resists closeness by maintaining formalities.) This story line gives us much fun in watching Sherlock squirm and glower at the idea. His talk of "shared custody" was quite amusing.

Additionally, Sherlock notices a French criminal has begun hanging around Mycroft's restaurant Diogenes. The question here is: Is Mycroft bad or just stupid? Since we know Mycroft isn't stupid, and since we've previously seen him be devious, it's a relatively safe bet that he's bad.

Now back to the main plot. The buzzing noise returns, this time in the brownstone. Once caught beneath a glass, Holmes and Watson discover it's actually a tiny machine, probably with a camera and "ears."

This is where the show lost me. It was just a tad too far fetched for my taste. But whatever. Zach had worked for a robotics company that made drones (unmanned craft). He'd recently moved to New York from Las Vegas, and he had started seeing a psychiatrist. Notes on some newspaper clippings Zach had kept suggested he'd felt guilty about something. But of course the psychiatrist refuses to elaborate on Zach's problems. Until he's caught burying some illegal Italian candy in his community garden plot. Then he tells the police Zach had been piloting a drone remotely—the craft was in Afghanistan, and when Zach reported what looked like Taliban movements, the Army decided to strike. Turned out the "Taliban" were Americans. The whole incident was hushed up but Zach felt the need to go public with what had happened. Hence him being killed. Not all that interesting a story, really.

More interesting would be the fact that Watson tells Mycroft she plans to move out of the brownstone. Maybe then she and he could consider exploring their relationship. She goes to meet Mycroft for dinner but when he doesn't show up at the Diogenes, she decides to follow the French guy and see what he's up to. Of course he catches her and tosses her in a van. Next week we'll get to see Sherlock get all worked up about it as he tries to get her back. It was only a matter of time, really, until we got to this point. Sherlock will be forced to confront just how much Watson means to him. And Mycroft will play a central role in prodding his brother toward the brink.

This episode began with Sherlock telling the support group that he is "without peer" and that that is what threatens his sobriety. The hubris in such a statement is astounding, but one can't be surprised when it's Sherlock doing the talking. Truth is, he's speaking from a deep-seated inferiority complex. He knows at least two people who are as smart if not smarter than he: Moriarty and his own brother Mycroft. But Sherlock has made himself believe he's the smartest man in the room, because he so often is. That's complacency, and it's also that he's arranged to be the smartest man in any given room because it soothes his fear of not being smart enough—this is why he avoids Mycroft at all costs, and it's why he and Moriarty would ultimately never have worked as a couple. Unfortunately for Sherlock, there are many more ways of being brilliant than just his, and he fails at most other forms.

Final point of interest for the episode is that Sherlock hides the phone number of the drug delivery service and what appears to be a small baggie of drugs in a hollowed out book.

Does the episode have anything in common with the original Doyle story by the same name? Well, I did expect to discover Paige was busking or pretending to be some kind of bum, but . . . Nope. And instead of a drug den, we began with a sobriety meeting. So aside from a woman looking for someone who is missing . . . Not a lot of overlap there.

"The Man With the Twisted Lip" was more remarkable for its secondary plot than its primary one. We all know Sherlock would be a disaster living on his own, though I suppose if Ms. Hudson at least checked on him regularly (nice to see her back this week, btw) . . .


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Only Light in the Darkness"

Amy Acker returns to yet another Joss Whedon show to play the loved-and-lost interest of Agent Coulson. He'd once saved her from an obsessed man named Marcus Daniels, a guy who just happens to have the ability to absorb power? Light? Something like that. Anyway, with the Fridge blown open, those who were once prisoners of S.H.I.E.L.D. are now walking free again as stories-of-the-week.
Daniels makes a beeline for Audrey (Acker) and Coulson, Fitz, Simmons, and Triplett step in to, uh, S.H.I.E.L.D. her.

Except Audrey thinks Coulson is dead, so . . . He has to do his work behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, Ward is hanging out in the secret bunker, trying to get the password or some other form of access to the secured database from Skye. There's this whole bit in which Koenig (Patton Oswalt) subjects everyone to a mega lie detector and we're supposed to be worried—or hopeful—that Ward will be caught, but of course he isn't. So with everyone else gone, Koenig, Skye and Ward are the only ones left in the bunker. And Ward "crosses off" Koenig pretty quickly, so . . . Then there were two.

Skye finds Koenig's body and figures out Ward is, after all, not such a good guy. And here's where I think she's really, really stupid: Why doesn't she at least text someone on the team and tell them? "Ward is Hydra." That's all it would take. That way, even if she doesn't make it out alive, they all know the truth. Right?

But she doesn't; instead she allows Ward to take her out in the bus, so that when Coulson et al. return they find they've missed the bus. So to speak.

And if you're wondering where May is in all this, she went home to her mommy.

I think one of the nicest developments is the growing camaraderie between Simmons and Triplett and how it's affecting Fitz. That's something worth exploring. The rest of it? Eh. Pretty standard and in some places utterly overwrought. So, you know, business as usual.

Television: Fargo, "The Rooster Prince"

Are all the episode titles going to be animal + noun?

I'm also wondering why the show is called Fargo when most of the action takes place in other towns.

But these are minor things. For the most part, I really enjoy the show.

Molly—she's the Not Frances McDormand one—is onto something with Les and keeps peppering him with questions about what happened the night his wife and the late sheriff died (in his house, so I suppose it's fair she'd want to ask). Still, even though she's right, I find her a tad obnoxious. I don't necessarily want Les to get away with anything, but I wish Molly were smart enough to use a bit more finesse. I kind of don't want either of them to "win" simply because neither of them deserves to. I know they're trying to make it look like Molly should, but . . . I don't like her enough for it.

Still, the interactions between Molly and Les were just tense enough. Perfect modulation there in the writing and acting.

In any case, newly minted Sheriff Oswalt (played with just the right amount of bumbling by Bob Odenkirk) yanks Molly from the case after Les complains she's been harassing him.

Not as much Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) this week, which was kind of sad. He was off trying to find whomever was blackmailing a supermarket founder named Stavros Milos (played by Oliver Platt). I think it was the head of security? Maybe the important thing here, though, is that Malvo has a recording of the call Les made to him asking for help with disposal of his wife's body.

Meanwhile, back in Bemidji, a couple of thugs wrongly identify a notoriously obnoxious strip club patron as Sam Hess' murderer and mete out justice by dropping him head first into a hole cut into a frozen lake. Body count is rising . . . (The subplot here seems to be that Hess was mixed up in some mob-like organization? I'll admit, though I like the show, I was busy baking cookies and therefore somewhat preoccupied.)

And at some point one guesses they'll rope Gus Grimly into the bigger picture. (Boy does he look like his daddy. He probably hears that all the time.)

I like the show but wonder how sustainable it will be over the long term. I'll keep watching, though, just to find out.


Books: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

They say there is a "moment" for bibliophiles and authors . . . Something—a book, usually—sparks something within them, and it is a moment they always remember, a kind of literary turning point, I suppose. What it accomplishes is a personal matter; some say, "That was when I knew I wanted to be a writer" and some say, "That was when my world view changed" or something of that ilk. For me, it's very difficult to articulate—and that's saying something given my job is to articulate. I'm not sure what exactly shifted, but something did.

I've been reading and writing since I was three. I taught myself out of sheer boredom. My parents are both avid readers themselves, and I'm an only child; there simply wasn't much to do besides read or write and draw. Well, and listen to the stereo. I did a lot of that, too.

And I loved to read, and I loved to write. I don't know that I thought I would be "a writer," but I was pretty sure I would always write, even just for my own amusement or to share stories with my friends.

But anyway, my sophomore year of high school I got very, very ill. This was right before the mid-term break. And I was home in bed, drifting in and out of drug-induced delirium. Seriously, I was pretty damn sick. (That's me; I'm healthy as a horse until I'm not, but when I'm sick, I'm really sick.)

I was determined to try and keep up with some of my schoolwork though. Exams were coming and I didn't want to have to make up a bunch of stuff. And for Lit class we had a reading list; we could choose books from it and then we'd take a test on whichever book we'd chosen to read. Rebecca was on that list.

I'd enjoyed a lot of Victoria Holt's gothic stuff, and reading the description of Rebecca, I thought it was much the same kind of thing. I'm not even sure where I got the copy of the book I ended up reading; it was a yellowed paperback with a pinkish cover. It might have come from the used bookstore my mother and I frequented, or maybe from the library—they had a section in the back corner filled with donated old paperbacks that were free for people to just take, no need to return them. A kind of lending library or swap or something. Many of my paperbacks came from there.

If you don't know the story of Rebecca, well, there are lots of sites that can summarize it for you. In short, it's a gothic novel about a woman who becomes Maxim de Winter's second wife and is haunted by his first wife, the titular Rebecca, who died tragically. It's a fantastic book in its own right, but read it while very ill and hopped up on goofballs, and it's amazing.

So while I can't say Rebecca made me want to become a writer or anything . . . It left a definite impression on me. Maybe because of my age at the time (I was 15), maybe because I was semi-delusional and living on crackers and Sprite (toast when I was feeling adventurous), maybe just the weird cycle of reading a bit, falling asleep, waking up and reading some more . . . The fog in my head matched the fog in the protagonist's mind, and in some strange way it was like living in the book.

I now own a really nice hardbound copy of Rebecca, but I do still wonder where that tattered old paperback ever got to. And I never did read it again, either. I've wanted to, but something in me refuses to taint my original experience. So when in a Gothic Lit class at uni we were required to read Rebecca, I did not. I simply worked to remember what I could of the story and that served.

It's a great book, though. For anyone who hasn't read it, I highly recommend it.


Books: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

This sequel to Grave Mercy—or really, companion book, since it focuses on a different protagonist entirely—took much longer than the first in the series to really get moving. The first 100 pages were kind of a slog. And while I understand why the book is set up and written the way it is, the short answer here is the second book simply isn't as good as the first.

But of course, that's a subjective statement.

Sybella's situation is interesting: She is the nominal daughter of d'Albret, a ruthless man without a conscience. She has watched her "father" kill innocents, including six wives. And Sybella has also suffered at the hands of her brothers—incest is implied, but LaFevers dances around the subject quite a bit, which is part of the problem with the writing here. One can understand that perhaps this is too much for a YA novel, but the story is really impaired for lack of specificity. It's hard to feel for Sybella without knowing exactly what she's personally endured.

Also, Sybella's inner dialogue that argues she has no options is weak. She's a trained assassin, but she waffles about killing pretty much the worst person in the world. The fact that d'Albret isn't marked by Mortain—particularly after Sybella decides maybe she doesn't believe in Mortain anyway—shouldn't really stop her.

In fact, Sybella's whole belief system (or lack thereof) is nebulous and not fully explored. She doesn't believe, then she does. She doesn't trust, but she follows orders anyway. There were so many places in the book where it was clear if she'd just be decisive, she could have saved herself and others a lot of trouble.

But I guess there's not much of a story in that.

The series itself is a fun idea: Set in 1400s Brittany and with real historical context. Each central character is a young woman who has been fathered by Mortain (Death) and so trained at his convent as assassins. But the Abbess of the convent is not entirely trustworthy . . . Her orders appear to be political rather than spiritual. Ismae, protagonist of Grave Mercy, was a fun character to spend time with and I found myself sailing through the book. Sybella not so much. Her weight—psychological, emotional—made her out to be like one of those friends who drains you every time to spend any time with them. She was repetitive in going over and over how hopeless and terrible things were. I could only take her in very small amounts. And again, that's part of the character; she's had a really, really bad life. But I think there are ways to write that without sapping your readers. Here, for me at least, it didn't work.

Don't get me wrong. Dark Triumph isn't a bad book. It's average. I just expected more after the first one was so good. And I'll still read the third when it comes out.


Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed By: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Written By: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Ed Brubaker (story), from the comic by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
Marvel, 2014
PG-13; 136 mins
4 stars (out of 5)


The more of these movies we get, a few things begin to happen: On the plus side, each movie adds a new layer to the cake that the Marvel movies have become, which means that Thor: The Dark World was better than Thor and this movie was also better than its predecessor. On the minus side, though, the movies all start to blur because they're all very much alike.

My issues with this particular movie are as follows:

  • Why was Captain America not wet when he got on the boat after jumping into the ocean?
  • Why didn't anyone simply shoot Winter Soldier boy in the head? Natasha had already shown what a good shot she was, and this guy's head is fully exposed, yet everyone kept shooting him in the armor? Why?
  • And why was the subtitle "The Winter Soldier" when that was, in actuality, a very small part of the story? In fact, that looks to be the next movie, not this one.

That's just a starter list. I'm sure if I thought about it some more, I could come up with additional items.

To summarize, without giving anything away (anything you haven't seen on the TV show, anyway): S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by Hydra, the goal being to control people by convincing them they will only be safe and secure if they live in a police state (run by Hydra, natch). Political commentary much? But anyway, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Insight program is really just a way to pick off potential enemies preemptively. An algorithm created by Zola (once a Nazi, now a computer) loads every individual's personal data and determines who is likely to become a problem, then big hovercraft can pick these people off with their guns. But of course Captain America can't stand for that, and with the help of Black Widow and his new buddy Falcon, he won't have to.

This all dovetails with what's been happening on the television series, of course. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been reduced to rubble with there being only a few loyal agents that can be trusted, and now they are forced to go underground.

At one point near the end of the film, as the climax involved getting new microchips onto the operating systems of the hovercraft, I found myself thinking that technology is both a terrible and wonderful thing. It provides so much progress and can change things so quickly . . . And yet it's really easy to fuck it up (as in hack). It's a fragile system, really. The more we rely on technology, the less safe and secure we actually are. Because it doesn't take much to bring technology down.

Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. Case in point: Captain America himself.

Anyway, things get complicated [SPOILER ALERT] when Cap realizes the Winter Soldier he's been fighting is really his old friend Bucky Barnes. Buck had his memory wiped by Hydra and has been reprogrammed to fight for them, so he doesn't remember his old buddy Captain America. Cap dons his old 40s costume in hopes of jogging Bucky's memory, but Bucky resists the flashbacks . . . The setup for Captain America #3 is Cap going after Bucky courtesy of a file Black Widow is able to get her hands on that details the project that turned Bucky into The Winter Soldier.

A solid film that meets expectations. Not quite as much fun as Thor: The Dark World; somehow Captain America just doesn't harness the humor as neatly. Not sure if that's due to his character, which is a tad stodgy, or if it's just the writing. Falcon was an awesome addition though, and Nick Fury was in good form and full of his usual attitude. On the whole an entertaining movie that falls squarely within the Marvel mold without doing much to break beyond it.


Television: Fargo, "The Crocodile's Dilemma"

Let's start by having me say that though I've read Fargo (the movie) I've never watched it. That's the thing about having a film degree with a focus on screenwriting—you read a lot of scripts. You see a lot of movies, too, but you read more of them than you see.

The television show has a very similar setup to the movie, which is to be expected, I guess. The film being the jumping off point for the show. Names have been changed (and this is acknowledged in an almost tongue-in-cheek way at the start of the episode) but the story is more or less the same only with a bigger reach. Jerry from the film is now Lester (and William H. Macy is now Martin Freeman), which is fitting if you consider the nickname is "Les" and Lester really is less than . . . He's nice, sure, but beat down and colorless, sort of letting life happen to him. Until he meets Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in the ER and "inspires" Malvo to murder Sam Hess.

Not that Malvo needs much prompting. He's a hit man who gets a kick out of causing mischief. Billy Bob Thornton does a fabulous job here; he's clearly in his element.

While one big feature of the film version is that Marge (Frances McDormand) is hugely pregnant, the show transfers that onto the police chief's wife. Oh, and Marge is now Molly Solverson (cute play on words with the last name there).

The episode leaves us with things spinning out of control; the murder of Sam Hess spirals into Lester also murdering his wife and then Malvo killing the police chief. One assumes it's only a matter of time before Lester is caught, so I suppose the fun in watching more of the show is seeing how it happens. And also seeing what else Malvo instigates.

The show was, as one would expect with anything Coen, dark with moments of humor and also moments of extreme intensity. I'll admit I much prefer their lighter works (Big Lebowski, O Brother) and I generally avoid anything I know will be very bloody, but I really did like this show. There was blood, of course, but nothing I couldn't stomach. I've set a series recording; I'm curious to see how things play out.


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

When we last left S.H.I.E.L.D. it was in tatters after an attack from the inside out by Hydra. That "Clairvoyant" guy Coulson et al. had been chasing all season turned out to be Garrett. And Ward, it appears, is actually on Garrett's side. (Though of course this could always be one of those triple-cross type situations or something.)

Ward had ostensibly set out with Agent Hand to do something with Garrett, but of course then we learned his true colors and he shot Hand instead. So this episode has Garrett and Ward freeing Raina because they need her technical expertise. (She's the bad guy version of Fitz + Simmons, I guess?) She's pretty disappointed to learn The Clairvoyant isn't actually, you know, clairvoyant. I feel like this is going to work against Garrett and Hydra at some point.

Also, Garrett and Ward and some other Hydra friends of theirs go into S.H.I.E.L.D. storage and loot all the goodies. All that stuff that supposedly got shot into space because it was too dangerous to keep on Earth? Of course it wasn't. Of course S.H.I.E.L.D. kept it. And now Hydra has it.

Meanwhile, as S.H.I.E.L.D. has been publicly declared a terrorist organization, the military is rounding up remaining agents and interrogating them. But Coulson and his team escape in the plane bus. And when Coulson has Skye gather everyone's badges (because they aren't something anyone will want to have found on them), he notices his own badge has numbers lit up along the edge. Coordinates. Convinced Nick Fury is alive after all and is the one sending the location, Coulson orders the bus to fly to the indicated spot. Which is Middle-of-Nowhere, Canada.

Cue a big fight amongst team members as to (a) whether there is still a hierarchy and therefore whether Coulson can actually give orders and/or whether one is required to follow them, and (b) whether Coulson is fit for command. Fitz is all for following Coulson; Simmons, May, and Triplett have doubts. And Skye, as usual, is all like, "I dunno, maybe."

When they land, the team is besieged by automatic gunfire, making it seem like they've almost certainly strolled into a trap. But it turns out the guns merely protect a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base run by Patton Oswald. (Yeah, he had a name in the episode. Something like Eric Koenig? But let's face it, he's Patton Oswald.) The base is so secret it has no name, but [okay I'll call him Koenig, though it reminds me of Austin] calls it—tada!—Providence.

Back with Hydra, Raina is having trouble getting into a system Skye locked down. Time to send Ward back into the Coulson flock so he can pickpocket the password from Skye. Oh, and because of the Ward-Skye thing, Garrett and Hydra now know about Providence, too.

And in Providence, Koenig privately informs Coulson that Fury is still alive after all. But no one else is allowed to know.

The episode ends with Garrett also freeing Ian Quinn—also really angry to find out The Clairvoyant is a fraud and is the guy who locked him up in the first place—and giving him back the gravitonium. I guess we're supposed to be all, "Oooh. This can't end well." But really, it was kind of anticlimactic. And I sense the Good Ward/Bad Ward thing could get old really quickly, so I'm hoping it doesn't drag on too long one way or the other. (Based on next week's previews it may not. Let's hope.) It's a bit like the whole can we/can't we trust Skye schtick that went on at the beginning of the season.

I'd say the most interesting character here is actually Raina. She's in that grey area of at first having had a strong belief and now just having had that belief taken from her. I don't think she's inherently a bad person, and I feel like of everyone her character has the most potential and the greatest number of possibilities. I hope we explore her a bit more. (I'm sure she's in the comics or whatever, but I haven't read all those.)

One month(ish) until the finale. Let's see where this plane bus lands.

Random Stats

Every now and then I like to look at my site stats. A lot of people visit this site, 150 to 200 unique hits a day on average.

Today I decided to look at my All-Time Most Read Posts.

  1. My review of R.I.P.D. (Why? Anyone? I'm far from the only person who thought it was a bad movie.)
  2. My review of the Summerland Concert Tour.
  3. My Matchbox Twenty album art reveal for North.
  4. My recap of Elementary's "The Woman/Heroine" (Season 1 double-header finale).
  5. My coverage of the first episode/chapter/whatever-you-call-it of Parade's End. (The later posts about the doughnuts are way better, guys.)
  6. More Matchbox Twenty: "She's So Mean." (It's grown on me. But my kids still think the song is about me.)
  7. My review of Thor: The Dark World.
  8. My recap of AHS: Coven episode "The Axeman Cometh." ::shrug::
  9. My recap of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Girl in the Flower Dress."
  10. My meandering thoughts (not really a review) of Wreckers.
As you see, a kind of strange amalgam of stuff. I should do more music coverage maybe? For a while the Train concert from Berkeley was on the list; it only got bumped by Wreckers this past week.

Also this past week? Like, 20 or so hits for Oblivion. What was that about?

Seriously, people, enlighten me. What is it about these posts that draw you in? Then I can give you more of what you seem to like.


The Problem with Perfectionism

I went to make myself a waffle this morning and got annoyed. There were crumbs in the butter. I work hard not to have crumbs in my butter or cream cheese, but we had guests this weekend, and let's be honest: Crumbs in butter are a relatively common occurrence, one that is difficult, even almost impossible to avoid.

But these crumbs made me consider the nature of perfectionism. Because I am a perfectionist, and I'm not proud of it. While on the one hand, being a perfectionist does at least mean I give everything my very best effort and cannot bring myself to knowingly hand in shoddy work, the flip side is that in truth nothing is perfect and I therefore live a life of continual disappointment and dissatisfaction.

As a writer, being a perfectionist is debilitating. It takes me ages to eke out anything because I cannot bear for it to be less than perfect. It's like mining for gemstones that have already been cut and polished—these things do not occur naturally. It's agony. (Though I've found the A–Z Challenge helps me get over that, and so I thank it for introducing me to a new way of writing that may prove far more useful to me in the long run. My A–Z posts are over on PepperWords.)

And then, of course, once you think it's finally finished—and perfect—and it's all printed or published or whatever . . . You find that typo. Or you realize you wish you'd have used a different word here and there. Or you think of an even better scene. This is why I almost never go back and re-read any of my own work. And why I can't stand to watch myself on film. I'm never happy with the results.

Being a perfectionist sets one up for a lifetime of not being happy with, well, just about anything or anyone. So I'm trying to lose that. I'm trying to learn to look at the positive aspects of things instead of searching for flaws. To see beauty, no matter how small. I'm trying to teach myself to forgive mistakes—my own and others'. Life will be so much lighter and more pleasant if I can learn this lesson.

So. Crumbs in the butter? Fine, whatever. I'll admit it's going to take some adjustment, this new perspective on things, but the perfectionist in me is determined to succeed.


Television: Elementary, "No Lack of Void"

Remember when Roger Rees showed up last season as Alistair, the guy who had coached Holmes in accents and tricked Watson into dinner then told her about Irene? Apparently he's at least still helping Holmes with accents (this time specific to Derry in Northern Ireland). He records stuff for Holmes to practice imitating, and Holmes is happily anticipating meeting Alistair over breakfast.

Meanwhile, when Watson goes down to the station to give some files back to Detective Bell, she gets called in to aid a pickpocket named Apollo Mercer . . . Who has died of anthrax. Time for a quarantine!

Seems Apollo had swallowed a baggie of anthrax that had ruptured. So where did it come from, how did Apollo get it, and why did he swallow it?

Oh, and Alistair is dead. Of a heart attack. A week ago. So Holmes missed the funeral and is in a terrible mood.*

Surveillance video leads Holmes, Watson, and Bell to a makeshift lab by one Charles Simon . . . And Charlie's body (dead from . It's clear from the lab that it had likely been used to make a s***load of anthrax. Enough to infect half a million people. Problem? It's all gone.

But where?

Eugene Macintosh is the chief suspect in the killing of Charlie. Eugene has radical leanings, is involved with something called the Sovereign Army. Typical anarchy stuff. Eugene's brother Bart lives upstate at a dairy farm, so he's the first contact.

And Holmes goes to visit Alistair's partner Ian, who gives him a signed first edition of the first play Holmes ever saw Alistair perform.

But Holmes is on the trail of something . . . He asks Ian about Jeremy, whom Ian says had dinner with Alistair a week before. Apparently there was some bad blood there.

Bart Macintosh rails about his brother and tells Watson and Bell that he hasn't seen Eugene in a month. But he eventually gives them an address of 1313 Linden, a house where Eugene and his Sovereign Army friends might crash.

And there's Alistair. A hallucination? Are we going to start having the ghost of Roger Rees turning up from time to time?

Holmes watches men load a truck and discovers the missing anthrax, and in the brawl with the men manages to break a jar of it. (What kind of idiot puts anthrax in a jar? That can break? I guess the same kind of idiot that makes anthrax to begin with.)

So now Holmes has been exposed to anthrax.

Except Holmes insists he hasn't been exposed to anthrax, and tests bear that out—it wasn't anthrax in the jars. Questioning one of the men who'd been loading the truck, a man named Joe who'd panicked when exposed to the powder, it's clear Eugene duped the guys. So we're really back where we were before . . . What a pointless little detour.

Jeremy turns up at the brownstone. Turns out Jeremy is Alistair's son, and he tells Watson that Alistair died of a heroin overdose.

And Holmes admits to Watson that it bothers him that he's bothered by Alistair's death. The fact that Alistair had been clean for so much longer than Holmes himself had ever been . . . Holmes tries to understand what set Alistair back.

This heartfelt navel-gazing is interrupted by Gregson calling to say Eugene has been shot and killed by his brother Bart. My guess is starting to be that Bart is the bad guy here; his rant from earlier suggests he's hot-headed and holds a grudge.

Bart says Eugene was dumping anthrax into his cattle feed with the idea of the milk infecting anyone who drank it. He also handily remembers that Eugene mentioned "friends up north" and "our government not being the only one that needs to be taught a lesson."

Holmes follows up on the fact that Eugene had dermatitis where he'd been wearing a wedding ring. Married by a Justice of the Peace to a woman in Delaware. What government-hating man does that? A call to Eugene's widow confirms that Eugene was no longer an anarchist.

The story of the attempted poisoning of the dairy cows has people discarding their milk products. And here is where Bart's motive appears: His cows are insured. And Bart and Eugene owned the farm equally per their father's will. They'd planned it together, but when things got hot and the police came around asking questions, Bart sacrificed his brother.

Obligatory scene of Holmes standing over Alistair's grave, talking to his ghost/hallucination. (And obligatory Waiting for Godot quote?)

While I can appreciate Holmes's anger and all the drama surrounding Alistair's death—particularly given how he died—it felt a bit strange. But maybe that was the point. It should be uncomfortable. I think, for me, it was simply strange in the way the scenes of Holmes (and Watson) dealing with it were wedged in between scenes of the A [anthrax] story . . . It was somewhat awkwardly shoehorned and could easily have been more fully explored. But they can't make something like that its own episode, even if the content would serve, because for better or worse Elementary is at heart a procedural.

ETA: I realize what bothers me about the Alistair plot line here: The fact they brought him back as a plot point without first reintroducing him in some other form or fashion. It would have had much more impact and felt far less derived if Alistair had turned up now and then over the course of the show. But until now we'd only seen him the once (in "Flight Risk"). So . . . The viewer had very little invested in him and had to take it on faith that Holmes was as invested since we saw almost no interaction between the two.

*Truthfully, I thought this was going to be another of Alistair's pranks, but as the episode went on it seemed less likely . . . Or far more cruel than necessary. But then again, Alistair's prank on Watson had also been a bit mean.


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

So the rule of thumb in situations like these is: Never believe the first person they [the writers] throw under the bus. Because it will always change. In the course of an hour, you should never start and end in the same place (at least, not with a drama; sitcoms are the opposite). Progress must be made.

Knowing this means one knows at the start of the episode—assuming one understands the unspoken rules of television—that Agent Hand is not The Clairvoyant, nor is she Hydra. Which means a big portion of the show is then spent waiting for things to (as the title says) turn. Where is the "reveal"?

My money was on Garrett, and by extension Triplett. Well, I was half right. (Unless we just haven't seen Triplett's true colors yet. Maybe he was yelling at Garrett so as to cover his ass.)

This episode was touted as the big tie-in to the Captain America blockbuster film, but I haven't seen the movie yet (and thanks, Hand, for more or less ruining it for me—I mean, I know how these movies end, but still). So I had to reach far back into my memory to pull up Hydra and that Red Skull Hugo Weaving thing from the first film. And then I had to try and apply that to whatever was happening on my television. Which is fine except I've had a long day and that felt like a lot more work than I really wanted to do. Not that the show honestly required all the background info, but I'm the type who likes to know all that stuff.

Anyway, another rule of thumb in situations like these: Always keep them [the audience] guessing. Writers do this by throwing in a lot of suspects so that viewers must question the likelihood of any or all of them being bad guys versus good guys. Still, Coulson's belief that May might be in league with The Clairvoyant was almost laughable. It just didn't scan. And then we got into Hand? Triplett? Who else? (Garrett, and it turns out I laid my money on the right color there.) . . . And then time for the "big reveal" which was:


So now we go back and say, "Oh, so he shot the wrong Clairvoyant because he knew!" Or something like that.

But then we also say, "But which way is he facing? Did Garrett get him onto Coulson's team so Ward could then learn all about how they operate? After all, Garrett did say Coulson had been working for Hydra all along . . . Or is Ward really working for Coulson as a double agent so he can find out about Hydra?"

Well, but Coulson was making that face as Ward walked away. You know, the one where he's starting to figure something out? That one. So who knows? ::shrug::

Again, that's the point: to keep us guessing.

The nicest and most interesting scene in the episode (I thought) was the one where May admitted she was the one to assemble Coulson's team. That whole, "You mean a lot to me" scene was actually really good.

Worst scene? Well, when I look away and then look back up and ask, "Why are they still talking?" that tells you something. So that long chat between Ward and Skye (and the stupid kiss) = worst.

I do think it sets an interesting stage to have S.H.I.E.L.D. stripped down to the studs, turning them into the scrappy underdogs. After all, there's only so much satisfaction one can get from watching a really advanced and well-funded agency do its thing. Think MacGyver. It wouldn't have been nearly as interesting to watch him do stuff if he always had everything he needed right to hand. Way more entertaining to watch him stop a nuclear reactor with nothing but a chocolate bar. And it will be way more entertaining to watch S.H.I.E.L.D. fight crime with whatever they can get their hands on. Plus, it makes the victory sweeter in the end.


A New Member of Our Clan

David Tennant is a Pepper!

He's welcome to join the family any time.

Television: Silicon Valley

It's Entourage by way of Office Space, set in SF Bay-area geekdom rather than L.A. stardom.

I don't know if maybe HBO realized it had a hole in its programming, left there by Entourage's departure or what. If so, this is their plug, their finger in the leaky dam.

Richard is a would-be tech entrepreneur who is developing a program called Pied Piper. He works days at Hooli, a major tech corporation, while laboring on his passion project as a member of friend Erlich's incubation group. The group is rounded out by others whose stories I'm sure we'll get to eventually.

Pied Piper, it turns out, has a compression algorithm that is worth a lot of money. Richard is offered $10 million up front by Hooli's founder and CEO but he turns it down in favor of an offer that will allow him and his friends to develop the software and program themselves. (If it were Entourage, this would basically be Vince turning down a blockbuster in favor of starting his own production company and going indie.)

Silicon Valley comes by the Office Space vibe genetically; it's created by Mike Judge. I generally like Judge's work, but this show wasn't as funny as I hoped it would be. I wasn't looking for flat-out gags, but I did want to laugh. I didn't, but maybe that's partially due to the strange juxtaposition of going from Game of Thrones to Silicon Valley? Would I find the show any better if I waited to watch?

I live in the Bay area so am familiar with all the stereotypes portrayed here; I come into contact with them semi-regularly. (Well, and I grew up with a number of them thanks to my dad, but that's something else again.) I'd say the caricatures hit pretty close to home, and maybe that's another reason the show wasn't so funny; people aren't always funny. Fact of life.

My rule is to give things three episodes, so I'm curious to see how things progress here. It was a bland start, but that's also just so much foundation laying, and there's only so much one can do in a half hour. We'll see what the next 60 minutes bring and go from there.


A to Z

If you've stumbled over by clicking on a blog comment I've left somewhere, this is my reviews site. My official site—which is a Wordpress site—is over here. That's where you'll find my A to Z Challenge posts.


Tarot: 2 New Decks

I have a serious addiction to Tarot cards. I'm only middling at reading them (though I can read better for others than for myself), but I can't seem to stop buying decks of them. It's the artwork . . . I'm an art person, and my walls are pretty full, bookcases too (with art books among others), so Tarot decks are kind of an outlet for me. Though pretty soon I won't have any more room for those either.

Anyway, the latest additions to my growing collection are the Alchemy 1977 England Tarot and the Labyrinth Tarot. Both decks are manufactured by Fournier and are slightly smaller than most of my others, and the cards are thin and slick, so I've found shuffling them a little tricky. I'm also not a fan of Fournier's booklet style, but that's beside the point since I have so many other Tarot books and hardly ever use the booklets for reference.

I'll start with the Alchemy deck. In short, I find it difficult to read. Like, I have to squint to be able to read the writing on the cards, and the cards themselves are not particularly intuitive either. The Sun card looks more like a Devil card to me. But these things are subjective.

The Sun card in Alchemy Tarot
Also, the Alchemy deck has Black Roses instead of Wands. Which is kind of cool but I always have to stop and think whenever I pull a Rose card, and remind myself it's a Wand. More or less. (The booklet still refers to Wands, btw. So I had to use process of elimination the first time I looked through the deck to figure out what the Roses were.)

In short, I pretty much never use the Alchemy deck for readings.

As for the Labyrinth Tarot, I really like it. I was a bit disappointed when I realized the astrological images on the cards really had no bearing on anything—they just seem to be there, they don't seem to be accurate in terms of the astrological correspondences, or maybe I'm misunderstanding them in some way, which is also entirely possible, and once again the booklet is totally useless on this point—but I do really enjoy the artwork. Though all the women are topless. I don't have anything against topless women, but I do wish we could balance these things with some naked men. (Note: The Hanged Man in this deck is naked. But I'm not sure I can count that as progress when there isn't a single woman with a shirt on in all of 78 cards.)

Anyway, never minding the sexism, the artwork for this deck is lovely. Particularly for the Major Arcana. I like the Minor Arcana as well—especially the use of dedicated color for each suit—but for those who like to read the cards somewhat visually, the Minors here offer very little to work with. They are pretty plain.

2 of Cups and Wheel of Fortune in Labyrinth Tarot
I do use Labyrinth for reads every now and then when the mood strikes me. The plainness of the Minor Arcana cards at least forces me to rely more on intuition when reading, which is something I need to exercise.

Television: Elementary, "The Many Mouths of Andrew Colville"

I'm confused. Cuz they called him "Aaron Colville" in the episode but the title says "Andrew." (Well, it did on my DVR anyway. And it does on IMDb. But maybe that's wrong?)

This one was a somewhat bizarre case that hinged on the fact that a 2005 murder suspect (Colville, deceased) had bitten his victims . . . And now new murder victims were turning up with the same bite marks.

The immediate assumption is, of course, that—because no two people have identical dentistry—Colville had not committed the 2005 murders, and now that murderer was striking again.

Things are complicated by the fact that Watson was in the operating room the night Colville was brought in with multiple stab wounds, and she feels Dr. Fleming, under whom she was working, did not do all he could to save Colville. She witnessed Colville whisper something to Fleming before Fleming began working on him, but Fleming refused to say what it was Colville told him.

Anyway, I'm pleased to note the writers didn't take the easy route here but added a bit of interest by making it possible that more than one person might, in fact, have the exact same dental pattern. The episode then becomes a tangle of discerning which of several suspects might be the murderer.

How, you ask? How do they all have the same bite marks? Dentures. A prison dentist had modeled the dentures he would make for inmates on Colville's teeth. Hence the many mouths.

I won't bother with the process of elimination; you can watch the episode yourself for that. It's sufficient to say that, after going through many medical records at the prison, Holmes and Watson come to realize one of the new prison dentists named Stan (the one who'd made the dentures has since died) used to be an inmate and also has Colville's teeth. Stan has a history of violence against women, and he'd been chemically castrating himself but had recently quit taking the medications. Could that have led him to begin being violent again?

When Stan disappears, it seems he's become a fugitive. But it takes very little time for Holmes and Watson to track him down through a friend to whom Stan has given his dog Max to care for. Stan is hauled in, but his fractured metacarpal tells Watson that Stan can't have been the man to kill the recent murder victims—the chemicals he'd been taking have made his bones brittle, and he would have literally been shattered by the violence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fleming finds out Watson has requested records of his old cases, and he calls her to his house. In order to lay things to rest, he finally tells Watson that Colville's final words were a confession to having killed two women.

This turns the case on its head, of course, because now they are dealing with a copycat. But who? Well, the answer lies in why. Why would anyone copy Colville's murders? Who would benefit if it came out that Colville had never been a killer after all?

His mother.

Now, I had a feeling while watching that the mother might become important later because they showed Watson watching a newscast in which Colville's mother was featured. And they usually don't do that unless it means something. But this was cleverly done because there was the chance they only did it to play up Watson's inner turmoil at having been there when Colville died, her feeling guilty that she didn't try to do more to make Fleming save the man. That feeling has been made worse for her by the idea that Colville might actually have been innocent.

Too, on the television Colville's mother is talking about suing the police. There was a lot of chatter in the episode about how the precinct was going to be fending off lawsuits over all this. So I knew that was going to be important at some point as well.

It was brought all together in the fact that Colville's mother hoped to gain financially from her son's name being cleared. Holmes, Watson, and Gregson pay her a visit under the auspices of offering a deal to drop the lawsuit, and Holmes pops off to the lavatory and finds the dentures.

Turns out Mrs. Colville knew about her son having been used as a model for prison dentures because the dead prison dentist had sent her a letter telling her to "take heart" because her son might not have been the murderer after all. But he had been. Now Watson can feel somewhat more relieved that she let Colville die, I guess.

And Mrs. Colville is a murderer too. She had dentures made from her son's dental records and she killed two women in order to make it look like the original murderer had returned, and her son was never guilty at all. Gotta love those Colvilles.

There were a lot of nice touches in this episode. The way Holmes talked Watson through her feelings was nice. The fact he was willing to drop a possible treasure hunt in order to stay and work with her on the case, too: "It's only fun in the right company." The way they went back to the Everyone group for information (though I desperately wanted to see Holmes in the dress and performing Frozen). Mentions of Ms. Hudson, with a bonus for the turtle cozies because that was brilliant. And Watson almost effortlessly picking up on things like the dog, which is such a subtle but lovely way of showing her growing abilities. This one was well written. It had an interesting main plot and all those little things besides, making it overall one of the better episodes.


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

So it's been a while, but the short answer is: They're looking for The Clairvoyant.

Not just our regular team, but a bunch of other S.H.I.E.L.D. cadres as well. Garrett and Triplett, Hand and Blake . . .

Oh, and they finally make Skye an official member of the club. Level 1, of course, but still.

Playing by Scooby-Doo rules, they split everyone up into groups. Ward and Triplett are checking out a prison in the UK and (I think this is possibly important) Triplett mentions he would kill The Clairvoyant [insert sob story about having lost a partner to The Clairvoyant's evil plan]. May and Blake hit up a nursing home type facility only to have Deathlok attack. Thing is, May is conveniently not on the scene when Deathlok jumps Blake. (This is important later.)

Blake is at least smart enough to shoot Deathlok with a tag bullet (a bullet with a tracker that can be followed via satellite) before Deathlok put him into ICU, so the teams then head out and find Deathlok . . . And Brad Dourif?

[Remember that episode of The X-Files? "Beyond the Sea"? One of the best episodes, and I do think Brad Dourif was great in it—and probably right about the agony attached to Mulder's New York Knicks shirt.]

So here is Dourif again, playing a similar role as in that X-Files episode, except now he's a quadriplegic and has to speak through a computer. And when he threatens Skye? Ward shoots him.

Now at least Coulson is kind of quick enough to realize that Brad Dourif (whose character's name was ostensibly Nash) may have only been a prop. I mean, how were they supposed to be able to tell whether it was him talking via computer? And here's where I think the Ward-Triplett conversation becomes important. Because it seems to me that Triplett planted the suggestion of killing The Clairvoyant into Ward's mind. The story about the dead partner? And Triplett even asked Ward to consider what he'd do if it had been Skye. And then "The Clairvoyant" (because I doubt Dourif was really him) threatens Skye? It's a little too on the nose, don't you think?

And speaking of Triplett, we last saw him with Simmons, and we last heard Simmons shouting at Fitz over the phone. Something about agents swarming. Hmm.

Deathlok, meanwhile, escapes while everyone is focused on Dourif.

Back at the ranch (no) bus (no) plane, Fitz discovers May's super secret telephone line and concerns that she might be the one plugged into The Clairvoyant rise. Fitz cuts the line and Coulson and Skye corner May in the cargo hold but she won't say who is on the other end of her encrypted line. Considering the way she managed to avoid being attacked by Deathlok, things look bad for her. But I'm willing to bet she's not actually the traitor.

So we've come to another X-Files tangent: Trust No One.

Television: Elementary Receives Two Spin-Off Series

All to air on Fridays come fall.

(Yes, people, it IS April Fool's Day.)