Television: Elementary, "Rip Off"

Sorry to be so late with this, but with family visiting, I was unable to watch.

Here is an episode devoid of Watson, which might have been a bad thing, but they actually put Kitty to good use and showcase her relationship with Holmes. The fact that Clyde (the tortoise) opts to electrocute Kitty in tests is funny/interesting. And the ghost of Watson rises as Holmes discovers Watson has written a book titled The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, giving rise to a kind of paranoia in him so that he demands Kitty sign an NDA. And he hasn't even read Watson's manuscript!

All that aside, the core mystery of the episode is the murder of an Orthodox Jewish man who, as it turns out, is helping run black market diamond from South Africa through Tel Aviv and into the States. Without going into the minutia, it's sufficient to say it was pretty clear early on who the actual culprit was. And yet it was a decent plot barring the fact that we're supposed to believe a dead body got stuck under a car so securely that it remained there through a towing and parking process. I mean, even if it did, it would have been in a lot worse shape than what was shown. But I could just be being nitpicky.

Unevenly shoved into all this was another story line in which Gregson deals with the fact his daughter Hannah, also a police officer, is angry with him for having slugged her partner . . . In front of all the other officers. It's not clear whether she might've been fine with it if no one else had seen? This partner had been a love interest for Hannah, but there had been a couple of domestic violence incidents (at least that's what is hinted), and Gregson understandably did not take this well. While it's nice to see Gregson get more attention, this plot was not neatly tied in with the others and felt awkward and ungainly, like an afterthought. Even when Kitty talks with Gregson about it and gives a "victim's perspective" angle . . . It's strange, actually, to see Kitty so at ease with Gregson when thus far she's been rather standoffish to everyone. Are we supposed to believe she's more relaxed without Watson around? I know Gregson knows Kitty's history, and she suggests that this is the reason she's willing to chat with him about Hannah (shared secrets), but . . . It still seems strange.

The chief problem that I see arising is that Kitty—at least in this episode—is a little too much like Watson. All the things Kitty says and does in this episode could have just as easily been said and done by Watson. If Kitty is going to be her own character, and a good one, the writers will have to take care to differentiate. Holmes's companions should not be plug-and-play.

On the whole, however, a decent episode. Holmes is fun when he's paranoid, and it's fair to guess he would be somewhat put out by the idea that Watson wrote about him and, by extension, passed judgements on him and his work. While on the one hand he might be expected to be flattered, Holmes's private nature and the idea that someone who is close to him might share what she knows . . . Yes, paranoia is a possible response. Of course, Doyle's Holmes was flattered and dismissive of his Watson's literary efforts. It's nice to see a bit of a different reaction here.

Movies: Pitch Perfect

This was the kind of movie I had to be in exactly the right mood to watch, which is why I waited so long to see it. I'm glad I did. Both wait and see it, that is. I'm glad I waited because being in the right frame of mind was key to my enjoyment. And I'm glad I saw it because it's a cute movie.

For those of you even more behind than I am, Pitch Perfect is about rival acapella (yes, I'm using that rather than "a capella") groups at the fictitious Barden University, supposedly in Atlanta, Georgia, but filmed in Louisiana. The male group is the Treble Makers, and the female group is the Barden Bellas. There are actually two other acapella groups at the school, but they're mere blips in the story. And doesn't four seem like a lot?

Anyway, central to the story is Beca, who is going to Barden free because her dad is a professor there. But what she really wants to do is jet off to L.A. and try her hand at becoming a professional DJ. Her love is mixing music. Beca's dad tells her that, if he sees her really put in an effort to join in the college life and she still doesn't love it after freshman year, he'll help settle her in L.A. So, after being accosted in the communal shower, Beca tries out for and joins the Bellas.

Whoever wrote this—and I believe it's based on a book?—really liked the letter "B."

Beca also strikes up a friendship with Jesse, who in turn becomes a member of the Treble Makers. Bellas are forbidden from fraternizing with Trebles. You'd think this would cause a bunch more tension in the film, but surprisingly it doesn't really add much to the story at all.

A couple things stuck out to me while watching. One, Jesse is a bit of an asshole for dropping Beca when she won't take it to the next level with him. Okay, yes, she gets bitchy. But when she apologizes, he won't accept it. If he at least valued her as a friend, he would relent. But there's a definite sense that he doesn't forgive her basically because she won't be his girlfriend and kiss him or sleep with him or whatever. Like, he was her friend for as long as he felt he had a shot. Once it was clear he didn't, he dropped her.

On the flip side, though, turning the trope on its head is Beca having to win Jesse over rather than the boy winning the girl. And that's kind of fun.

The core story is of the groups competing through various levels of regional/state/whatever singing competitions. Very standard for the genre. And I do think competition films are their own genre of sorts. Dodgeball, for example. Bring It On and Step Up and all those types of films. They're basically underdog movies, right? Pretty formulaic. But because I actually love to sing (did a bit of it as an undergrad myself), I was more engaged in Pitch Perfect than I might have been in other such films. I found Beca refreshingly unaffected and the supporting cast of characters charming and funny. I could do without the vomit (yech), but other than that, I found it to be a cut movie overall.

A second film is due out next May. I don't know if I'd make it a point to see it in the cinema, but . . . Maybe if the mood strikes me just right . . .


Television: Scorpion, "Talismans"

In which Walter leaves his sister Megan, who has MS, at the garage with Sylvester for two days because he doesn't have time to drop her off at her care facility before leaving on a mission to Bosnia. (And yes, Bosnia is "still a thing." Though it's a fair question; geniuses tend to lose track of current events if they aren't actively engaged in them. In fact, they lose track of pretty much everything unless they're actively engaged in them. I suspect, however, that the "Bosnia is still a thing" line was designed to inform/remind the viewers that it is, in fact, still a thing.)

Um, so, yeah . . . Walter, Toby, Happy, Paige (why Paige?), and Cabe go with three soldiers to Bosnia to get some data/technology from a fallen aircraft. And also to bring home the dead pilot's dog tags for his son. Except when they find the aircraft, there is no dead pilot, nor is there a computer. So off they go to rescue the pilot and get the computer. Pretty straight forward, really.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch garage, Sylvester uses his fabulous people skills to give Megan a pack of cards for solitaire while he does geek stuff. She does some decorating, then ekes Sylvester's story out of him: His parents found him difficult, so he hacked a bank and stole some money and ran away at age 16, but then Walter found him and "saved" him, so to speak. The important kernel of information was that the bank/government never found him or made him pay for his crime. This will be important later, I'm sure, though how Sylvester is on the payroll now . . . Well, no, never mind. That's actually not too difficult to believe when thinking about the government and the way it operates.

Obligatory happy reunion of the pilot with his family (especially since they thought he was dead). Also obligatory moment of Walter being awkward when someone is nice to him. But at least he makes the effort to be nice in return. I guess we're supposed to take that as progress.

A rather sedate episode overall. Megan is, I think, supposed to give us yet another facet to Walter; he's the center around which all the spokes spin, and Megan is just such a spoke. Each person in the show connects to Walter, and that's fine, but what's needed is more of the characters connecting outside of Walter. He can't be everyone's reason for existing. No matter how great he is or how much they owe him. Else the Walter worship on this show is going to get old quickly.

Television: Gotham, "Lovecraft"

We now have something called "winter finales" in television. Shows that play over a full season (meaning 20+ episodes rather than 8 to 13) take a break for the holidays and may not come back until February sweeps. Gotham had its winter finale last night, but the only really important bit of information you need to take away from it is that Gordon is in big trouble and so is being sent to work security at Arkham Asylum.

This might make the second half of the season more interesting than the first has been. But I hope we'll still have Bullock around because he's one of the best things about the show.

Other points for last night's episode include a team of assassins trying to find and kill Cat because of her ability to identify the Waynes' murderer. Turns out Lovecraft—the guy Dent was so set on catching—was still just a low man on the totem. (The assassins kill him, too, btw, which is what gets Gordon in trouble; they use Gordon's gun.)

A large portion of the episode is devoted to Cat and Bruce stuff which doesn't work well in large pieces. But it was nice to see Alfred use his skills in new ways. Meanwhile, Penguin is tasked by Falcone to find the mole in his organization. All pretty basic stuff and nothing to be too excited about. It's the switch to Arkham that provides the springboard for fresh angles and material. I'll stick around to see how that plays out . . . Which is exactly what the writers and producers want me to do.


Food: Henry Weinhard's Vanilla Cream

Since Thanksgiving is approaching, and Thanksgiving is all about food, I thought I'd do a little post about my new favorite cream soda.

Let me start by saying I love cream soda. There are the staples: A&W and IBC. These are fine. But I grew up drinking Big Red (which tastes nothing like cream soda, despite it calling itself that), and I used to also buy this weird blue cream soda whenever we went on car trips . . . Not sure what brand that was, but I don't think I've ever seen it outside of Texas and Louisiana. (Nerd alert: I used to pretend it was Romulan ale.) I always order the draught cream soda when I eat at BJ's, too. Sure, root beer is nice now and again—and I'm way pickier about my root beer than my cream soda—but when I want something sweet and smooth, cream soda is a go-to . . . If I can't have a milkshake, anyway.

I'm always on the lookout for new and better sodas. So when I came across Henry Weinhard's Vanilla Cream Gourmet Soda, well, I had to. And now I buy myself a six-pack whenever I'm at the store.

This soda is butterscotchy in flavor (though not quite as much as BJ's) and produces what the label calls a "Draught Style Head," which translates into lots of foam. Like, Snoopy-at-the-bar foam. Despite all the bubbles, though, it's a light touch. When poured out into a clear glass, the color is very pale. I haven't tried it with vanilla ice cream yet, but this soda begs for that; I'll bet it makes for amazing floats. The down side is, because it's so drinkable, I finish one within minutes. It's not a soda one can nurse or make last. And it does leave you thirsty for more. (I only allow myself one a day and go for water or tea after.)

In any case, Henry Weinhard's is, for me, the take-home version of a BJ's cream soda, which probably stands as my favorite. Makes for a nice afternoon pick-me-up, something to reward myself with after hard work.


Books: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

So this is the fifth in the Peter Grant series, and I'll say (again) that if you haven't read them, you're really missing out.

For background, I'll explain that Peter is a PC (police constable) in London, assigned to the Folly, which is sort of a Hogwarts/X-Files hybrid where Peter both learns magic and investigates police cases that might involve the supernatural.

In Foxglove Summer, Peter is sent off his patch and out to Leominster and its environs to help in the case of two missing 11-year-old girls. Now, I have to say that the reason for sending him felt a bit flimsy—something to do with always checking on missing kids because wizards and witches sometimes like to use them? Stuff of fairy tales, I guess, but whatever. Off Peter goes, and the short answer is that it was a slow start, a great middle, and a shaky and abrupt ending, as if Aaronovitch was racing a deadline. The best metaphor might be that he was flying along and someone told him to land the craft, now, and so he set her down none too neatly in the clearest spot he could find.

At least the book answers the question of what Molly is, exactly.

But it leaves a lot of stuff hanging, too. There should have been more to the fact the food often turned people's stomachs, and did they ever figure out who took Stan's stash? Fairies? Hmm. Fairies hopped up on goofballs . . . All that setup for Hugh and his granddaughter, too, that just gets dropped, but maybe that will be revisited in later books. Peter still owes Hugh a gift, after all.

Fewer typographical errors this time, though a few things pricked me, like the "then" that should be "than" on page 38. (I have a list, Ben, if you want the rest.)

Overall, though, another fine book in what is probably my favorite current series.


Television: Elementary, "Bella"

The best episode thus far this season, though I can't tell whether I'm starting to like Kitty or if it was just that she wasn't as evident in this episode and that's what made her tolerable.

Bella, as it turns out, is a computer program designed to create true artificial intelligence—meaning the computer learns and begins to "think for itself" rather than relying on pre-programmed bits of data and/or any data it can snatch from the Internet or whatnot. Since Bella is not hooked up to the Internet, that rules out her (as Holmes would insist, its) ability to gain information that way. So the question becomes: Is Bella a real A.I. "life" form?

Turing test, yada yada, and you're wondering why Holmes is involved at all. Well, Bella's creators hit him up because they've suffered a break-in, but that ends up being the least of the issues in the episode. By the half-hour mark, Holmes has figured out a known criminal nicknamed Raffles (from the Victorian stories) went to work as head of security for some big-name company, &c. &c. Raffles, then, is the culprit.

It's when one of Bella's creators ends up dead that the mystery really begins. Did Bella think ahead and plan to kill him when he wouldn't allow her Internet access?

Well, at the risk of spoilers, no.

Turns out Bella was fed a virus that capitalized on her creator's epilepsy to kill him. All contrived by a professor who is part of a group that warns against A.I. because, if computers were ever to achieve such sentience, they would surely kill off the human race. (This sort of reminded me of the dinosaur thing from last season.)

Meanwhile, on the character development front, Watson's boyfriend Andrew is looped into the A.I. research by Holmes. Andrew has a computer programming background, after all, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that he could be useful in this case. But Watson feels certain Holmes is up to something, and that surety increases when—through the group e-mails—Andrew meets a likeminded entrepreneur named Magnus and plans to fly off to Copenhagen to further explore their ideas. Watson thinks Holmes is orchestrating Andrew's exit, and there's a nice scene of them together in the kitchen at the brownstone (was he making Yorkshire puddings again?); once convinced Holmes means no harm to her relationship, Watson threatens to hug him, and he points out that she knows him well enough to know better.

By the end of the episode, Watson is flying off to Copenhagen with Andrew. (Can I just add, I really am enjoying Raza Jaffrey in this. His role got a bit too heavy in Smash, but he fits in well here, and I hope we'll see more of him. Though, if he's playing the Mary Morstan part . . .)

Right now, Elementary's ratings are starting to slump, though one might blame the Shonda Rhimes juggernaut for that. All the old people who watch CBS aren't staying up 'til 11:00 for Elementary; they're recording it and watching it later. It's not "appointment television." And it may be that the +3 and/or +7 numbers are fine (I haven't looked). But I worry this may spell the last season for the show unless CBS decides to try a new time slot next season.

Television: Gracepoint 1.8

Things continue to narrow, though the whole Tom missing/Tom found thing felt kind of needless. And I can't decide if the police are really bad at reading kids, or if the kid who plays Tom is just not a very good actor [yet—he's young, after all]. The way he says everything in monotone . . . He's either lying or lacks appropriate coaching and directing.

Well, but we know Tom is lying about something. He wants to rid his computer of evidence of some kind, right?

Tom also doesn't appear to be very bright. I know his mom isn't around a lot, and she probably shields him from her work besides, but to be so excited that some strange lady gave him Danny's skateboard? Shows a definite lack of sense.

But then Susan Wright gets brought in for questioning but won't say anything because her dog is missing. (Vince took him, but no one knows that yet.)

The reverend continues to be a sanctimonious drip. And creepy.

Meanwhile, someone has returned to the hut where the murder possibly took place, but when Ellie and Emmett go to check it out and a pursuit ensues, Emmett . . . Has a heart attack?

My chief problem at this point is that so much of these situations—like the Solanos' day out, and Tom and the skateboard—were better handled in Broadchurch. What seemed neatly carved there (characters and their reactions, motivations) feels like a hatchet job here. I have a difficult time trying to decide what I would think of Gracepoint if I hadn't seen Broadchurch first. I'd certainly be watching it (because David Tennant), but would it feel as ham fisted if I had nothing to compare it to? Actually, I think I'd still have it pegged as a Brit's idea of what Americans watch. Except, based on the ratings, maybe not that may Americans are watching Gracepoint. So . . . Americanizing it actually didn't help it.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Things We Bury"

I'll admit up front I wasn't really paying much attention.

There was Coulson and the team looking for the city the alien(?) map indicated.

And there was Ward kidnapping and eventually killing his brother the senator. (I have to say it was pretty obvious to me that Ward was wired and looking to get his brother to say very specific things. Gah. So predictable.)

Also really predictable: that the woman in the flashbacks (Sierra from Dollhouse) was Skye's mother. I mean, seriously, there are some things about this show that have become too paint-by-number. But that's the whole Marvel series/universe, I guess. Formulaic.

There was probably some other stuff, too, that I'm forgetting. Like Hunter and his ex getting it on. Oh, right, because she'd been interrogating Bakshi and then he had a suicide capsule in his jawbone or whatever.

Mostly there was an obvious effort to link the upcoming Agent Carter series to this one in the hopes of garnering ratings for it.

Whatever. Sadly, I kind of didn't care.


Television: Scorpion, "Rogue Element"

The episode title makes it sound like some kind of car commercial, but the episode itself was about Cabe's ex-wife Rebecca becoming a target when she stumbles across incriminating evidence against a farming corporation.

The whys are kind of irrelevant. Politician refusing to sign a bill that hurts smaller farms, yada yada, they blow him up to get a more sympathetic person in office, yada yada, ex-wife mistakenly accesses a secret computer file, yada yada. The plotting is relatively plug-and-play.

What the episode is really about is Cabe's past and (as so many episodes have been) his fatherlike relationship to Walter. We see that Cabe and Rebecca are still friendly and learn that it was the death of their daughter Amanda that tore them apart. For Walter it's especially awkward; Cabe is like a father to him, and he doesn't know how to treat Rebecca because he's never met her. She's some weird, absent stepmother. Toss in the fact that Walter doesn't do emotions well to begin with and the situation is ripe for floundering.

Other floundering occurs when Drew tells Walter that he has a tryout with the Portland Sea Dogs, and if all goes well he hopes to convince Paige and Ralph to move to Maine with him. To his credit, Walter appears to be doing his best to remain neutral, or at least to primarily consider Ralph and his needs. But what does Ralph need more: a dad or people who understand how he thinks?

Definitely, the emotional elements and character interplay were the more interesting aspect of the episode. A procedural is a procedural is a procedural, so it's going to take character to make a show stand out, and Scorpion does that pretty nicely. But we do need to stretch a little away from so much Walter. And the persistent vagueness about what happened to Cabe's daughter is somewhat annoying. (Also, her name was Amanda. I'll try not to take it personally.)

Television: Gotham, "Harvey Dent"

Despite the title, the episode didn't really revolve around Dent in any serious way. It merely established his character, which is a bit pathological (gee, surprise).

The story of the week was of a mentally ill prisoner with a thing for bombs being abducted by the bad guys so that he could help them blow their way into a bank. The prisoner tries to do the right thing and ends up in Arkham for his troubles. I know the show is called Gotham, but they sure are laying it on thick, just how screwed up the city is. It breeds all these villains and, eventually, heroes . . . But I don't know, I can't quite get behind this level of maladministration. Rather than being compelling, I just find it really annoying.

Meanwhile, Gordon has the fab idea of having Selina go live at Wayne Manor for a while so as to protect her as a witness to the Wayne murders. Selina gives a description of the killer to a sketch artist, and Dent tries to strong arm some bigwig into believing they have him directly linked to the crime. Of course the bigwig doesn't buy it; he outright laughs in Dent's face, which sends Dent a bit over the edge. Then Dent goes back to Gordon and assures him that they've got the bigwig on the run. Liar. But we already knew that, didn't we? We already know a lot of this stuff.

Oh, and Penguin makes a token appearance by figuring out Liza works for Fish. Ta-da!

I mostly enjoy the little bits of Nigma we get and look forward to his story blooming. The stuff between Bruce and Selina was kind of cute, if somewhat heavy handed. I do enjoy Alfred and Bruce's interactions.

Still, I sometimes ask myself why I'm still watching. And I keep hoping something will pay off and make my devotion worth it. So far I continue to find the show middling.


Television: Elementary, "Just a Regular Irregular"

There is, apparently, a code in Hollywood that says mathematicians/computer geeks must be rotund and wear glasses. Morris in Cloak and Dagger, Aaron on Revolution, Sylvester on Scorpion, and Harlan on Elementary all spring to mind, and I know there are many more of which I'm not immediately thinking.

These, I should point out, are the "lead" mathematician/geek roles. Subsidiary geeks can be pinched and thin (especially if they're women!), and all must be some level of disheveled. Even the rich ones in the suits must have unruly hair or something.

Anyway, this week's episode of Elementary brought Harlan back for another pass (he first appeared in "Solve for X"). While playing a math game that involves solving clues that lead to a location and another clue, all in the pursuit of a large cash prize (geocaching for geeks), Harlan stumbles across a dead body. Dead people do have a great sense of timing; they always seem to know just when to fall out of a cabinet or whatever.

Meanwhile, Watson has asked Kitty for help with a surveillance job. Kitty politely declines, but later Holmes puts Kitty on the job anyway. We don't see that conversation, but I do wonder how it went: "Do as your mother says!"

And, yes, this episode acknowledges that Holmes and Watson are parental figures for Kitty. Though Watson says flat out, "I am not Kitty's mother." But Kitty is smart enough to realize if she wants to be successful in this work, she's going to need nurturing from both sides, Holmes and Watson. The trade-off is Kitty agreeing to begin attending recovery meetings for rape victims.

So did the writers figure they'd run the addiction gamut with Holmes but needed to extend the whole Watson-as-counselor theme? (And Holmes-as-sponsor theme as well, in a way.) It shows a bit of a lack of originality to go over the same ground, even in a different way.

As for Harlan and the math game, another mathematician is found dead at the next site/clue. Someone is hunting mathematicians. But this killer is also clearly looking for something because he shoots them in the foot and knee before the fatal shot to the head. Considering the killer can't know which mathematician will solve the clue, and because disposal of the bodies shows lack of planning . . . Well, whatever. We eventually conclude the killer is looking for Mo Shellshocker, a math blogger who exposes things like lottery fraud. It's a pseudonym, of course, and by miraculous coincidence it turns out to be Harlan. (As Mo, not as the killer.)

Possibly one of the best moments of the episode comes when Harlan confronts Holmes for having "fired" or "replaced" him with a Berkeley mathematician. Holmes tells Harlan that he has found Harlan a bit too clingy, inviting Holmes to parties and discussing his personal life, and here we see the difference in the way two people can regard one another: Holmes sees Harlan merely as a consultant while Harlan has thought of Holmes as a friend. The expression on Holmes's face as he comprehends he's hurt Harlan's feelings is priceless. There's bafflement and realization all in one.

And the truth to Elementary is, there's no such thing as a simple relationship with Holmes. Yet Holmes is the only one who doesn't understand that. In his mind it's all very cut and dry. But for everyone else, interaction with Holmes is complicated and often exasperating.

I feel that way about the show sometimes, too. So much potential, and it does some things extremely well. But there are times the writers seem utterly unaware of the way the show is interacting with its viewers, and that can lead to problems down the line.

Television: Gracepoint 1.7

Only three more episodes to go after this one.

Here we have: Jack's funeral, Tom going missing, the missing hiker Pierson returning, and also the return of the psychic guy. Oh, and Carver's daughter turns up, hangs around just long enough to find out her dad has a heart condition, and leaves again.

I don't know if they felt they needed to up the stakes by having another child in [presumed] jeopardy? It's pretty clear Pierson isn't all there; his cabin is filled with anti-psychotic drugs that he doesn't take because he'd rather just "walk." His story is that he met Danny, briefly, and when Danny said he'd like to go far away, Pierson gave Danny his telephone number in case he ever wanted or needed to talk. It's a weird thing to do, but not criminal. And Pierson is weird, even creepy in some ways, but . . . I think the reverend is creepier, really.

Actually, Gracepoint appears to be well stocked with weirdos. The reverend, Pierson, and that psychic guy wandering around. Jack was also pretty strange. And Vince, and Susan. For a small town, it has more than its share of messed-up people.

I suppose we could go into a discussion of what constitutes "messed up," and say that everyone is "messed up" in one way or another, some in several ways. But I'm thinking more along the lines of what is socially acceptable and what isn't. It's socially acceptable to be stressed out, overworked, overscheduled. It is not socially acceptable to threaten people, lurk, or stalk. There's a line. Maybe because those overscheduled people are connected to others while those lurkers are not. We trust people who have friends and family. We don't trust people who are alone in the world. We sense there's a reason they are alone, and our herd instinct shies away from them.

Well, there's your sociology lesson for the day. As for the episode, Joe allows Tom to ride the last three blocks to school alone (though, Joe insists, there were plenty of other people around; it was drop-off time, after all). But Tom never makes it to school. So now we must mount a search. Which is where psychic guy steps in, just in time to feed Beth another nugget of information: Tom is hurt, he's bleeding.

A tip leads the search party out toward the woods, and Tom's bike is found. But where is Tom?

Three more episodes to find out that, and (in case anyone had forgotten) who killed Danny.


Movies: Interstellar

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Legendary, 2014
PG-13; 169 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


Lots of people talk about going into space these days. You know, even being able to take vacations in space or whatever. Like that's the wave of the future.

I don't have any desire to go into space. Even movies about space make me feel like I can't breathe. (And then movies with big dust storms make me want to cough, so . . .)

What we all know about Interstellar going in is that it's about Matthew McConaughey going into space. From the trailers, we have the sense that things are very bad on Earth and a new terra firma needs to be found. Beyond that, assuming you haven't read any articles that give anything away, we don't know a whole lot.

And, yes, this is what the movie is about. Matt plays Cooper, a pilot/engineer reduced to farming when worldwide famine hits. Crops are being wiped out by blight. Life on earth is becoming unsustainable.

Cooper has two kids, Tom (a boy) and Murphy (a girl). His dad Donald (Lithgow) lives with them, too. And there's a ghost sending messages to Murphy.

I pretty much had the ghost/bookcase thing worked out right away. I mean, I knew what was going on, but not how it had happened, which is what the movie is for.

Anyway, the ghost leads Cooper, and Murphy as a stowaway, to NASA, where Dr. Brand (Caine) is developing a couple plans to save the human race. Both plans involve shooting Cooper and some other people into space to explore potential habitable planets found on the other side of a wormhole.

For all its length, Interstellar is well paced. Things move along relatively quickly (and as they remind us throughout the movie, time is relative). There are some drag coefficients, like when Hathaway's character Amelia (also Brand) gives a long speech about love being another dimension, like time or gravity, that humans just don't fully understand yet. And there are some things that don't fully stand up to scrutiny, like why Dr. Mann wants to kill everybody rather than just, I dunno, all go home together? Is he just simply to cover up his big lie? Or has he just gone that crazy? It's not really clear.

The story starts to fall apart a bit once we get to all the black hole stuff. Also, once we get that look on Cooper's face when he's reaching into the ship to take Amelia's hand. It's a total Matthew McConaughey face, but maybe not the right one for the moment. But on the whole, the movie is entertaining.

I think anything this big, with this much hype and this much science behind it, asks for people to target it. They see it as a challenge. People are going to list everything wrong with it simply because they want to take it down a few notches; they think that somehow proves they're smarter than . . . The movie? The writer? The director? Whatever. That's fine. There are flaws. But I feel got my money's worth, which is no little feat these days ($20 to see it in IMAX 70mm).

And let me just say, it was strange to see something on film again. There was dust on the print at times . . . I'd forgotten what that was like. Digital makes things so clear, and yet it also puts a kind of barrier between a movie and an audience. Digital makes it more unreal because the images are so sharp. Film brings us back to life, and closer to what's happening on the screen. Because life really isn't that clear. Life is blurry and dirty and makes us squint.

I walked away with mixed feelings. I kind want to think it over more, but at the same time that just seems like I'm looking for trouble. Maybe the feeling one walks away with from a movie is the "true" feeling. Whenever you try to rationalize something, again, that's putting distance between you and that thing, or person, or feeling. But movies should make you feel first and think second. Interstellar made me both feel and think. But the more I think about the movie, the less I feel. And I'm not sure that's a good thing. I'm not sure that's what I want from my viewing experience.

ETA: One thing that did occur to me a bit after the movie: If the world is in such dire straits, why not at least build space stations to offload people onto? Or hydroponics labs in space to grow the food? Something like that?

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Writing on the Wall"

I'm kind of tired of Ward's one-note character. He went from having a smidgen of depth (and really, just a smidge) to being utterly flat once he became "evil." Like, I think they're trying to make the character complex with the whole Garrett back story, but as he is now, he's monotonous. A plot device more than a person.

Meanwhile, the main story of the night revolved around figuring out what all those carvings Coulson has been making really mean. Geez, they've been going on about that for long enough, so it was about time they got somewhere with it. As previously predicted, it was tied to S.H.I.E.L.D. members who have had that alien blood or whatever transfused into them—basically, agents who have been brought back to life (á la "Tahiti"). They seem to then go on to be plagued by these images, the ones Coulson has been carving. One woman painted them over and over again as a form of modern art. Another guy—a welder—created a three-dimensional version. He, of all the survivors, was the most balanced, possibly because he'd gotten it out of his system in the "right" way: three-dimensionally. It was never meant to be a flat image.

Anyway, the hoopla was over one of these survivor agents (who'd tattooed the image across his chest) going around to others and killing them in attempts to get them to remember and give up whatever they knew about the "map" (as Skye had called it). Possibly the most cliché opener ever: the guy coming over to the woman's apartment while sinister music plays. Yech. It would have been more interesting if she'd been the aggressor. Still clich&eacute, but . . .

Sufficient to say, once Coulson and the bad guy (whose name I didn't even bother to learn) converge on the welder, there's a fight and then the 3D model is found and we can finally move on with this particular plot. Thank God.

The question is now: "What is it?" or maybe "Where is it?" If it's a map, what's it a map for or to? I'm wondering if it's connected to Skye in some way.

And Ward is still off being evil, promising Whitehall that he can get Coulson for him, and probably planning to do something bad to his brother the senator. Whatever.

Overall, a necessary episode that they tried to make interesting, but it was really only middling.


Television: Scorpion, "Risky Business"

It was really just a matter of time before Katharine McPhee sang, right?

The central plot of this episode involved the murder of a music blogger, leading to the understanding that his fellow musical friend was in imminent danger. Here is where it becomes clear that older writers are attempting to write younger characters. The 25-year-old's music blog was called something like Sweet Town Express. I don't remember the exact name, but it clearly was not ANY kind of name a 25-year-old music blogger would use.

Anyway, it turned out this music blogger and his friend had created a software program called The Hit Wizard that had analyzed every top pop song over the past 50 years and created an algorithm that ensured any song that fit its criteria would be a hit. This software had been stolen some 10 months prior, and now hit songs were, er, popping up. Walter and his crew take on protecting the living music guy and attempt to figure out who stole his software (and therefore, who is likely to be doing the killing).

While the guest character was quite engaging, to the point I would almost hope to see more of him in the show, the main plot was not the most interesting thing happening this episode. A subplot involving Drew trying to connect with Ralph (and vice versa), necessitating Walter's intervention as a kind of translator between the two, was nicely nuanced. And though we all saw it coming, Toby trying to find the right moment to ask Happy out to a Monster Truck rally only to be eclipsed by Happy flirting with the musician, was bittersweet. (You're overthinking it, Toby. But then, that's what geniuses do, and especially psychological geniuses.)

Less entertaining was the thread in which Walter has started gambling by racing Lamborghini; winner keeps the cars. Walter can't afford a Lambo, so he really can't afford to lose (but he does). Oops. Toby characterizes the behavior as displacement—by focusing all his attention on racing Lambo, he avoids having to think about other things (left unsaid: "other things" = Paige and Drew). True enough that people with higher IQs tend to seek out tasks that require all their focus and brain power. I do it with LEGOs and puzzles, even with my painting or writing when I'm able to really concentrate. I don't seek the adrenaline rush, though; I'd rather be lost in a book. Or writing one.

Though we've seen that Walter can get lost down "the rabbit hole," something about the Lamborghini racing felt false to his character. I realize they're setting up potential for greater complications down the road, and it's good to plant seeds early, but . . . I'm not sure this is the crop they should be growing.

On the whole, though, a solid episode.

Television: Gotham, "The Mask"

What would have made an interesting, if thin, plot is subsumed by other goings-on.

Case of the week: a dead man with a finger in his throat leads Gordon, Bullock, et al to a financial institution where the boss forces men to fight. Like, literally. The men are taken to an abandoned (yet fully stocked) office and told to fight until there is only one man standing. That man gets the job, the bonus, the promotion, what-have-you.

Yeah, there's not a lot to it, and you know if an episode starts with men forced to fight to the death, it's going to end with your main character in that exact situation. Which "The Mask" did. Gordon ends up forced to fight four masked guys, and then the boss himself. The cavalry comes too late, but it's the thought that counts, since Gordon is still feeling slighted by the fact the entire police force abandoned him last week.

Since the episodic stuff was watery, the episode plugged the gaps with B and C plots that featured Bruce getting bullied at his new school and Fish Mooney shoving her protégée into increasingly uncomfortable dealings. Oh, and Barbara is coming even more undone, to the point that she leaves Gordon at the end of the episode. Penguin keeps doing his thing, too. ::shrug::

Actually, I liked that there were a few different things going on; that made the episode more interesting than most. I know a lot of people get annoyed with the Bruce stuff, but I like watching his character develop. And I'm very fond of Sean Pertwee as Alfred. Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish is also pretty stellar; though the character is a bit one-note, Pinkett Smith is making the most of the material.

I'm still not 100% into Gotham. I know this because I'm not to the point where I'd be sad if it were cancelled. I wouldn't sit and wonder what had happened to any of these characters. But maybe that's because their futures have already been mapped in comics and movies. Sure, the fun is in getting there, but so far this ride has had a mix of scenery: some interesting, some not. I hope we find a stretch of highway that is smooth and has consistent views.


Salmon Cannon

Mr. Oliver's show is one of the only things I'm willing to stay up late for. So I'm really sad he's on break. But glad to get more sleep?


Television: Doctor Who, "Death in Heaven"

What Moffat has proven this season (so far) is that he can't write more than one thing. Doctor Who and Sherlock have become the same show with different characters.

The Doctor = Sherlock — snarky and brilliant, grudgingly helping people and having one particular companion though reluctantly willing to widen his circle to include a handful of others; on some level he craves recognition while simultaneously shunning it

Clara = John — trusted companion, the only one able and willing to stand up to the title character's snark, the person most important to that character

Danny Pink = Mary — the one stealing the companion away from the title character

Missy = Moriarty — bat-shit insane shadow version of the title character, desperate to prove to the title character that they are alike; there is a constant battle of wits involved between this character and title character

(And one supposes Kate would be Mycroft.)

Same fucking show. Seriously.

As for the episode itself . . . We left off with Danny trying to decide whether to delete himself. So . . . He didn't, I guess? Way to drop the ball there, guys. Then we get the whole story of how all the dead people's personalities have been "uploaded" into a "cloud." So now I want to know if Missy went back in time and collected every person ever to upload. Cuz . . . Really?

Now somehow this "cloud" becomes the real thing, and when it rains (which it only does over cemeteries, and the water trickles into morgues or something), these clouds pollinate those places to make the dead into Cybermen. Like, these little "seeds" of Cybermen allow what? The dead bodies to grow Cyber shells? What about dead children? I didn't see any of those for some reason. They'd need to be smaller, right? Cyber babies? Probably not very handy for an army, but how does one determine which bodies do and don't get pollinated? And how can you be sure the same personalities will go to their original bodies? (Danny did, amazingly enough, but again, really? What are the odds?)

After the Cybermen blast off, UNIT says they can't get into St. Paul's. Why not? They should be able to go in through the roof at least, considering it's wide open.

And then, when Cyber Danny saves Clara, why does he take her to the single most dangerous place: a cemetery? Which, btw, should have been full of churned-up graves. But despite there being a lot of Cybermen just standing around, the ground appeared untouched.

Finally, why are there on-off switches for the inhibitors? And if Danny's is off, does that mean Cybermen are "born" with it off? Were they waiting for someone to come flip them all on? Once it's on, can it not be turned back off? I just don't even see why there's an inhibitor switch in the first place. Except, you know, plot. Which was clearly not thought out very well.

If you could plant a Cyber seed in every grave, why even bother uploading personalities into any of them? What's the use if you're only going to switch that bit off anyway?

Peter Capaldi is turning out to be such a great Doctor. I just wish they'd write some better stories for him.

Television: Constantine, "The Devil's Vinyl"

While marginally better than last week's episode about the miners, I think I'm more or less finished with this show.

The plot was kind of interesting, if trite, in that it dealt with a recording that drove anyone who listened to it into a fatal frenzy. The story (as it ever is) was one of a blues artist who'd sold his soul to the devil and had to pay the bill on that transaction while recording the deadly album.

My chief problem with the show, though, is that the whole tone is off. I don't know if it's the writing, the directing, the acting, or some combination therein, but it fails to jibe. (I did like the Voodoo priest, thought he could be a fun long-standing character, though I get sick of Voodoo being treated as an evil.)

At the end of the day, despite the somewhat engaging plot, I found I couldn't give the show my full attention. I can't like any of the characters enough to want to spend an hour with them each week.

Movies: Big Hero 6

Voices By: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Daniel Henney
Directed By: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Written By: Don Hall & Jordan Roberts (story); Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson & Jordan Roberts (screenplay); from the comic by Duncan Rouleau & Steven T. Seagle
Walt Disney, 2014
PG; 108 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


An absolutely cute film that my children (ages 5, 6 and not-quite-9) loved, and that I thoroughly enjoyed aside from the somewhat simplistic plot that held no real surprises. That's why I deducted half a star.

Still, Big Hero 6 is a visual feast, and the voice acting is impeccable. My two youngest are officially in love with Baymax; my oldest is science-minded and appreciated the genius inventor angle. It probably helped that the movie is set in San Fransokyo, which looks a lot like the San Francisco we live in with a bunch of Asian touches.

I can't say anything to how this movie pairs with the comics because I haven't read them. I know Disney had to tiptoe a bit because the comic is part of the Marvel X-Men universe and Fox holds rights to certain aspects of that. I definitely have the notion that Big Hero 6 as a film is washed up a bit so as to appeal to a younger audience. That is to say, the comics probably skew a bit more mature than this movie.

In any case, the movie is about young Hiro, a 14-year-old genius with no direction in life until his older brother Tadashi takes him to visit the R&D lab at his university. Hiro decides he wants to start going to uni, too, and enters a competition to get in. His development: microbots that respond to thought via a special headband.

Meanwhile, Tadashi has created Baymax, a marshmallow-like robotic nurse. When Tadashi dies in a fire, Baymax takes it upon himself to make Hiro feel better. Tadashi's lab mates also band together to help Hiro, and when they discover someone has stolen Hiro's microbot tech . . . That's when the Big Hero 6 bit comes in. Hiro, Baymax, and the four lab rats formulate a superhero team to take out the villain.

As I mentioned, the "twists" are utterly predictable, but on the whole the movie is adorable and enjoyable despite this.

Big Hero 6 also featured an animated short that ran before it, Feast, about a dog's perspective from being rescued from the streets through watching his [male] human companion love, lose, love again, and have a family. A very sweet little morsel, so to speak. The two make a fine pairing. Add popcorn and Junior Mints for maximum enjoyment.


Movies: In A World . . .

I'd heard really cute things about this movie and finally had the chance to sit down and watch it. And it's as good as they say.

Written and directed by Lake Bell, she also stars as Carol, daughter of a semi-famous voice actor (with the necessary nod to the late, great Don LaFontaine). Carol scrapes together a living as a voice coach supplemented with whatever voiceover work she can pick up. But when she subs in on a demo for the far more famous Gustav (who is also her father's protégé) and then lands the actual job, her career starts to take off.

Meanwhile, Carol's dad has kicked her out, so Carol goes to live with her sister Dani and brother-in-law Moe. Rob Corddry does a phenomenal job in the role of Moe, just the right amounts of awkward and sympathetic. Complications ensue when Carol asks Dani to get a voice recording of an Irish client at the hotel when Dani is concierge. But because this is a comedy, it all comes right in the end.

Thing is, though this is a comedy, it's not the slapstick kind. It has heart. It's a sweet movie. But if you're looking for laugh-out-loud funny, you may be disappointed.

It's interesting from a Hollywood "boys' club" perspective as well. Without hitting viewers over the head with the misogyny inherent in the biz, it does a fine job of portraying it, I'm guessing because Bell has lived it.

The climax comes when Carol, her dad, and Gustav all go after the same huge job as, more or less, official voice for the trailers for a "quadrilogy"—four movies being made from a series of dystopian YA novels. It seems to me, since the novels are about Amazonian women, they'd want a female voice for the trailers. But you'll have to watch the movie yourself to see if it happens. Or look it up on, like, Wikipedia. Since there's probably a summary that tells you.

In A World . . . is definitely worth a watch, though. And made me think Lake Bell would be awesome in the lead of the rom-com I co-wrote, but that's something else again.

Television: Elementary, "The Five Orange Pipz"

Here Elementary taps classic Doyle for a story, or at least for a device and a couple names. (It taps defunct Revolution for an actor; he'll always be Aaron now, folks. Always.)

The story itself is not so interesting: A toy manufacturer that was in hiding is murdered along with his lawyer. The device (lifted from Doyle) is that five orange beads are sent before the murder happens. Although, since the murder happens immediately after the guy opens the envelope, one wonders what the point of sending a warning was. Like, it would have made sense if the killer was hoping to antagonize the victim; there's something to be said for psychological terror. This, though . . . Why?

But the plot here isn't the goal of the episode anyway. No, "The Five Orange Pipz" seeks to further establish the new working dynamic of Watson vs. Holmes-Kitty. Watson gets called in on the case, but Holmes turns up because he finds it interesting. So they agree to work together. "Two bodies, two detectives," says Watson, though that leaves Kitty out, I guess.

And Kitty is quite put out, probably not unreasonably, but her petulance makes her almost impossible to like. Also, she can't paint worth a damn. I don't mean portraits, I mean that bookcase or whatever it was. Jesus. And her taste in music is terrible too.

Maybe we're not supposed to like Kitty, but then we get thrown her backstory of [hinted at] kidnapping and abuse of some kind. Does that make her sympathetic now? If it's supposed to, it didn't work, at least not for me. You can't tell me, "This person has had a hard life," and have me go, "Oh, well, that's all right then." All I know is what I see, and I don't like what I see of Kitty.

But I do think it's an interesting character choice that Holmes chose Kitty. In a similar fashion to how Watson saw him through, he's doing the same for Kitty.

Anyway, the episode plot goes on to be that the toy guy and his lawyer were hiding because they were wanted for having put out poisonous beads that, when swallowed, break down into GHB. Now, bad enough that beads are already a choking hazard and kids shouldn't be swallowing them anyway, but this resulted in some child deaths, and there was proof the toy manufacturer knew about the poison but was cutting corners, etc. So the obvious suspect is any parent whose child died. But that's too obvious, so we go up the food chain to an ambitious DA and finally an FBI agent who wanted to end the investigation so he could use the seized beads for street drug money. Not terribly exciting stuff, but pretty enterprising.

I'm still not loving the new dynamic, but we'll see. Elementary has done really well with character arcs and development, so I have hope that this season will see that continue.

Television: Gracepoint 1.6

In which the focus lands on Jack (Nick Nolte) and we see just how badly the media can screw up a person's life.

Word gets around Gracepoint that Jack is a pedophile, having done jail time for sex with a minor. This leads to people jumping to conclusions: Jack molests the boys in the Wildlife club, Jack killed Danny.

I do wonder at the half-assed job done by the reporters here. Surely they could have looked into the records? Gotten the truth before putting out an article on the subject? Even though Owen says the article he and Renee submitted has been rewritten to make it more sensational . . . If they'd loaded it with facts, there would have been less room to do such damage.

Almost as confusing is Jack's refusal to tell the truth about his past. "It's none of your damn business," he tells Carver, but actually it is Carver's business. It is, in fact, exactly his business.

So by the time Jack tells first the police and then Mark Solano (who saves Jack from an angry mob of townies ready to kill the beast), it's like, Gee, why didn't you just say that in the first place?

Jack's story: He had been a piano teacher and fell in love with a female student who was not quite 17. The father found out and Jack spent two years in prison for it. Then he got out and married the girl. They had a son who died in a car accident when he was nine. It tore the marriage apart. So Jack enjoys spending time with the Wildlife kids because he misses his son. In truth, it's a sad tale. Though it lost some impact for having been told twice in one episode.

Other sinister stirrings: Tom meets Susan at the post office and she offers to let him come walk her dog sometime. And cigarette butts—three of them—at the crime scene point to the idea that someone stood over Danny's body and smoked for a bit. We later see Susan smoking and are led to jump to yet another conclusion.


Television: Selfie, "Even Hell Has Two Bars" & "Don't Block Cookies"

This show continues to get better, largely due to a great supporting cast of characters. (Except Freddy. I really don't like Freddy.)  I was just wondering when they'd get around to the singing, and what happened? The boss broke into song. Perfect.

I still do take issue with the fact that Eliza is not making any progress, and that there seems to be an effort by the writers to reform Henry instead. Maybe they're kowtowing to the demographic; younger viewers won't see anything wrong with Eliza's self-centeredness and constant texting and tweeting. But I'm also not sure how many younger people are watching this show.

At least in the second episode that aired ("Don't Block Cookies") Henry proved he doesn't need Eliza to help him get a girl. While, yes, he's a tad oblivious when people flirt with him, he at least doesn't fall for Eliza and Charmonique's plan. Instead he stands up for himself and his principles, and I liked that very much. Bonus that he lands a woman much more his type at the end of the episode.

Honestly, I've come to enjoy Selfie more than I would have expected. The first two or three episodes were a little shaky, but it seems to have hit its stride.


Submission Stats

I keep a careful list of my queries and manuscript submissions. As of this moment, I've sent out 62 queries for my novel. Nine of those resulted in requests for the manuscript, either in whole (7) or part (2). I've had 18 rejections; that number includes one of the full manuscript reads. Eight agents I'm counting as non-responders, meaning I queried them a long time ago and never heard anything, possibly even after sending follow-up queries. (Note that some agencies have the policy that, if you never hear back, it's an assumed "no." I think this is a cowardly policy, but there you have it.) That leaves 28 agents I've yet to hear from (and that number does not include those I'm waiting to hear back from after having received requests for the manuscript).

In percentages it looks like this:

29% of responses have been rejections
13% are "assumed" rejections because I never received any response
13% of responses were requests to read the manuscript (meaning I'm now waiting to hear back)
45% are outstanding (waiting for an initial response)

I have no idea what is average, but I'm satisfied with these numbers. And it's all a matter of numbers. The more people who read the manuscript, the more chances there will be one who likes it well enough to take it on.

Even the rejections have been encouraging, though. I've had more than one agent tell me this novel isn't doing it for them, but that they like my writing style and would like to see future manuscripts. That's something, right?

Which means I really should get to work on that next book. (Well, I am working on it. Have about 11k words written. Completely different genre, though: YA fantasy.) It's sometimes difficult to focus when there's so much happening, but I have to try.

Television: Scorpion, "Father's Day"

A hunt for three escaped convicts coincides with the arrival of Ralph's father, a minor league baseball player named Drew who hasn't seen Ralph in seven years.

Really, the best thing about the episode, though, was the Peek Freans.

So the overarching theme, then, as given away by the episode title, is fathers and father figures. The actual plot about the convicts only tangentially intersects with this theme in that one of the convicts is a genius named Percy who is trying to play Walter, Cabe and their league of extraordinary whatevers. Walter takes this personally because it drudges up those feelings of betrayal he had back when his code was used to harm instead of aid (and Walter still blames Cabe for that, though Cabe swears he never knew that was the government's plan). Geniuses, in Walter's view, are supposed to stand together. One trying to leverage another is a betrayal of sorts.

Anyway. Walter and Toby go against Paige's wishes and dig up info about Drew. And Happy is off having more issues regarding her abandonment by her own father. I feel like they've hit that button a few too many times already, so it was nice to see the episode end with Happy finding her father and—though not identifying herself—interacting with him. As it turns out her dad is a mechanic, so they have something in common.

Still, it was kind of sudden to go from Happy always pointing out (like the Batman joke): "I never had real parents!" to her finding her dad. I know they explained it with the photos in the file and everything, but it was still a bit jarring.

The flashbacks with young Walter and Cabe (with a terrible toupée) were somewhat unnecessary as well. I think we more or less gathered all that without it being made overt. The ending shot was really all we would have needed, and it was lovely: Walter and Cabe leaning against the car and eating their Peek Freans. In that one coordinated movement one can see how the older man has shaped and influenced the younger.

It continues to be a cute show, but like all episodic television, some episodes are better than others. This one was okay. Not great, not awful, just . . . fine. It did more on the character development front than anything else, and I usually really like those kinds of episodes. But this had no amazing "pow" moments of character insight. It was all stuff we knew or suspected. So it was only middling.

Television: Gotham, "Penguin's Umbrella"

There's a fine line between enjoying watching the underdog good guy overcome the odds and win and feeling bogged down by those seemingly insurmountable odds. For me, watching Jim Gordon being hunted while the police force scatters—that was the point where I felt too bogged down. There was just too much stacked against him.

To be fair, the writers made sure to shift things in a timely fashion by having Crispus and Renee rescue Gordon and then having Bullock also return to his partner's side. It's small, but it's a start, I suppose.

Worse still than seeing Gordon up against pretty much everything and everybody was the fact that Barbara made such a boneheaded move. "I was trying to help," she tells Gordon, and I just want to groan. That's not helping, that's dumbing. Being an idiot is never helpful. Really, as her character currently stands, I cannot like Barbara in the least. The writers need to give her better definition and more purpose than being (a) stupid, and (b) Gordon's chief vulnerability. Oh, and (c) an emotional pulse point for Gordon that is barely beating because there is zero chemistry in that relationship.

There's actually more chemistry between Penguin and Gordon, and I'm sure there's already a ton of fan fiction out there about that. Seriously, does Penguin have a tiny crush on Gordon or something? That sure would make the show more interesting.

While I don't love all the mob stuff, it is impressive to watch Penguin work. I still feel as if I could take or leave this show—like, if I quit watching, I wouldn't wonder in a few weeks what ever happened. There's a lot of potential here, and I'm waiting to see if it blooms. In the meantime, I'll just sit in the garden and relax.


Books: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I could say a lot about this book, but it would require so much backstory that it's hardly worth it. Sufficient, I think, to say that I once really liked Mr. Gaiman's work, and I still do mostly like it, but there is something not quite right now. And that goes deeper, and it goes to that backstory, and I'm not willing to plumb that depth at the moment, at least not in a book post.

Some day I'll write my own book. Except that will get me caught.

As for The Ocean at the End of the Lane, it is a very visceral story that slips a little now and then. It gets a lot of things right and a few things wrong but is a good story anyway. And though it is about a child, it is not a story for children. There are too many nightmares in it for that.

Every writer writes from experience, real or imagined; every story is autobiography to a point. And writers, they tend to suspect things, and they write to test their theories. They poke at boundaries to see what gives. They poke at themselves, at their skins. Is it a bruise or a scar? It's a bruise if it still hurts, a scar if it doesn't.

That's really as much as you need to know about this book. That it's about a seven-year-old boy whose life intersects with the supernatural doesn't tell you much of anything. That's any and every child in the world, really; they intersect with the supernatural all the time and don't think much of it because it's so common. And then many grow up and forget it, but some don't. And some spend all their adult years trying to go back and find that nexus. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can't.

Don't look at the boy in the book, then. He's just a boy. He's meant to distract you from what's really happening. Reality is leaking out the page edges. Sticky, messy truth disguised as fiction. Because truth is stranger than fiction, as they say, and fiction is merely an attempt to tidy up reality. This book doesn't. It tries to contain something that can't be contained. Words are powerful, yes, but not strong enough for this.

Still, Mr. Gaiman makes a nice attempt. It's a good book, maybe better for failing to bottle things than if it had succeeded.


Television: Doctor Who, "Dark Water"

They pretty well telegraphed Danny getting hit by the car, so the scene didn't have the (ahem) impact it could have. Also, Clara should/would have heard the phone clatter when it fell, right? Yes, even though she was babbling. That's the kind of noise one doesn't not notice.

And then the Nethersphere insignia gave the rest away, so that by the time we got to the actual dark water demonstration it was really more a confirmation.

I liked Seb, though, and Dr. Chang. And Danny continues to be the best of the three central characters, even when he's dead.

Capaldi, though, is definitely finding his stride in the role. Now if only there were better plots . . . Missy being the Master feels like yet another rehash.

Clever, I suppose, of the Cybermen to quietly build an army out of dead people, though I wonder how they take the lifeless and give them life. Or do they only need the organic material? But no, Danny still exists in some form (physically as well as his personality), so . . . How? And are they digging up these bodies or what? Swapping them out in the morgue or something? Resurrectionists gone all wrong, but whatever.

No, look, a person dies and there is a funeral. And the person goes to the Nethersphere (or Promised Land or whatever you like to call it). Well, their spirit goes, anyway. Because the body is in the ground or whatever. But the two are connected. That's what Seb told Danny. So . . . The Cybermen aren't using bodies? Just "spirits"? Except they all had skeletons in them, so there were bodies of some kind in the suits. It doesn't quite add up is all I'm saying.

And why unleash the Cybermen now?

And why are they taking orders from Missy? How does she control them?

And why didn't she just let them convert Dr. Chang instead of killing him? (Or is that an act of mercy on her part? Was Chang her companion in a way?)

Well, whatever. It seems Danny is on the verge of deleting his personality (back to factory settings?). What does that leave the Cybermen? If Danny's body is buried or going to be cremated, and his personality is deleted, what use do they have for him?

I should probably stop trying to find any logic in this. I'm pretty sure there's not any. But if I'm missing something, feel free to leave a comment.

Television: Constantine, "The Darkness Beneath"

Okay, so I only read a handful of Hellblazer comics way back when. But I do recall that I didn't like Zed. And I don't much like her in this, either. You can give me all the arguments about her being a strong character or whatever, but for some reason, I just find her annoying. I think there was a time in the 80s and 90s where "strong woman" = "annoying" and that's just how these characters were written. So maybe the writers of Constantine are merely being true to the source. It's been too long since I read any of the comics for me to make a real comparison.

I'm going to assume the idea was that Zed would make for better sexual tension than Liv (who would have, should have been more of a protegée character for Constantine to guard rather than lust over). Still, it seems they're going to stick with Constantine as unwilling mentor to Zed, who refuses to leave him alone. And while I think the idea of her having dreams about him and then finding him is kind of cool, there's something about Zed's insistence that is off-putting. Again, strong =/= annoying, or it doesn't have to. One can be strong and assertive and sure of something without being obnoxious about it.

Anyway, a lot of the episode seemed devoted to setting up Constantine/Zed. There was a plot, sure, about dying miners in Pennsylvania. The mine bosses kept dying because the spirits of the men who'd died in the mine were killing them off. The spirits of the mines were supposed to be protective, so for some reason Constantine was confused by why they were making the effort to come out and kill. But it made perfect sense to me: they killed those who would put the miners in danger. Derp. No big amount of reasoning involved there. Not sure why Constantine didn't have it figured out after the first scene like I did.

Also, any time you find a guy sitting at the bar twice in a row? He'll be important later.

Constantine is an okay show, a worth pairing for Grimm and much in the same vein. Depending on how much I come to dislike Zed, or if I can learn to tolerate her, and whether the writers make her more tolerable—this will probably determine whether I keep watching. Right now I could take it or leave it.