Movies: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay) from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
New Line/MGM, 2014
PG-13; 144 minutes
1.5 stars (out of 5)


Well, it is what it says: mostly a movie about a big battle. There are four armies through a big chunk of it, which had me riffing on that line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "That's four armies, I said five armies, can't you count?!" But then the fifth army shows up and the quota is met. Not that it makes any difference because the movie is one big yawn.

Smaug is dead before the title card comes up, and one is kind of glad because his dialogue is trite and ridiculous. He's also a lousy strategist when it comes to destroying things. He burns the town . . . Except not the bell tower. He leaves that standing for a while before deciding to give it a good thwack instead. And he stops to taunt the person who has arrows rather than just frying him on the spot. So by the time Bard does manage to bring him down, you more or less feel the stupid dragon deserves it.

The plot devolves for a while into petty politics. Lake-town is flattened, so Bard brings everyone to the ruins of Dale for shelter and applies to Thorin et al. for aid (and that money he promised them if they helped him). But Thorin has "dragon sickness" which is a really roundabout way of saying "greed." Might as well call it "Scrooge McDuckitis." Thorin refuses to honor his word and is additionally wound up about not being able to find the Arkenstone, which (if you didn't fall asleep in the last movie) you'll recall Bilbo has. He hasn't offered it to Thorin because Thorin is already acting crazy, and there's a fear that possession of the Arkenstone might only make him more power mad.

Elves show up wanting some diamonds they know are in the late Smaug's stash. Bilbo sneaks out and gives them the Arkenstone with which to barter. Thorin still won't negotiate, so the Elvish army and a rag-tag team of Lake-town men prepare to assail the mountain stronghold.

Oh, but then there's Gandalf. Remember how he was locked in that cage? Galadriel and Elrond and Sarumon come bust him out. It's probably the best scene, but in such a weak movie that's not saying much. Gandalf goes off to the mountain while the others go do . . . other stuff . . . We don't see them again.

So then we get Billy Connolly as leader of a dwarf army, and we get the orc army, and off we go. Some of the CGI work wasn't anything better than I'd expect to find in a video game, and there were lots of places where I felt like they'd forgotten to put blood on the swords, but whatever. It was the kind of movie where I wished I was wearing my watch so I could see how much more I had to endure. So little of it had anything to do with the novel; the film is largely an extension of the puffed up and padded story lines added to the previous movies. Bard and his family, which I suppose we're supposed to care about. And that slug of a person Alfred (this trilogy's version of Wormtongue), who is meant to be comic relief, I think? Tauriel and Kili and Legolas, with Legolas leaving at the end because he realizes he will never have Tauriel's heart, so his dad sends him north to look for "a young ranger" known as Strider. Sigh.

The desperation to attach these movies to the Rings trilogy is palpable and pathetic.

As for the titular Hobbit, we don't get all that much of him. Sure, he spends a lot of time worried about the fact he's got the Arkenstone (which is not so different from him worrying about the fact he has a Ring of Power), and Freeman makes pretty much the exact same faces as when John does like or understand something Sherlock has said or done. Then he gets knocked out for a big chunk of the battle, awakening just in time to see the eagles arrive to save the day. He gets to hear Thorin's last words, and then he gets to go home, where again that need to tie these films to the Rings arises in the final scene. Ugh.

In short, the whole film felt boring and pointless and extraneous. Every beat was easy to foretell; there were no surprises, no delights. There was, as advertised, a battle that (eventually) included five armies. That's the only reason I give it 1.5 stars.

ETA: I forgot the war bats. And the fabulous dialogue that goes something like:

"Those bats are bred for only one thing."



Then after all that, we hardly see them. But we do discover Elven arrows defy gravity.


Movies: Magic in the Moonlight

If Blue Jasmine = A Streetcar Named Desire, then Magic in the Moonlight = Pygmalion My Fair Lady. So much so that I was dying for Colin Firth to say, "I've grown accustomed to her face" at the end.

The film is set in 1928 and stars Firth as Stanley, a stage magician whose best friend Howard hits him up to come visit friends in the south of France. Howard is also a magician, though not as successful as Stanley, and he wants Stanley's help in debunking a young American medium named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone). Sophie is leeching off Howard's rich friends, and now the heir to the family fortune—a would-be Freddy dimwit named Bryce in this incarnation—is set on marrying her.

Okay, so it's not exactly My Fair Lady, but the characters are there. Allen has turned it on its head somewhat, so that [spoilers] Howard (who would be Pickering) is putting one over on his old friend. But the end result is the same: Stanley first discards Sophie then realizes he loves her, even as she is engaged to Freddy Bryce.

Thematically, this one hearkens back to You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger in that it explores the idea that anything (specifically, the spiritual and/or metaphysical) that makes a person happy, however seemingly absurd, may not be all bad. And yet the lens certainly is designed for the viewer to shake his or her head and think how stupid such people must be to believe these things. Good for them, we're supposed to say, that they are so simple-minded they can take comfort in these dumb things.

The truth is, if one thinks past the immediate gratification of the happily ever after, Sophie is going to spend her life living down that trick. Given his character, it's difficult to believe Stanley will ever let her forget it. He's claimed to have forgiven her, but . . . The chances of her being any more happy with Stanley than Bryce are questionable. And the fact that Stanley throws over a woman his own age in order to be with someone half that is a little disturbing, too (not least because it's Woody Allen). I mean, the quality of Bryce's love is that of infatuation, whereas Stanley offers more of a fatherly mentor figure. Bryce's infatuation might eventually wear off, but at least he and Sophie have things in common: they're of an age, like the same music. Life with Stanley promises to be stricter, more like a tutelage, and with fewer fun travel options.

Of course, one could say the same of My Fair Lady. Eliza stays with the much older Professor Higgins rather than accepting Freddy. But there's something about the way My Fair Lady is constructed that leads us to believe she will be happier with Higgins. I didn't find that in this film.

I also found the turning point abrupt—the moment in which Stanley begins to believe Sophie really is a medium. It felt like a slap, and I almost hoped he was putting something over on her.

In truth, I never once questioned that it was a scam, and it was pretty easy to trace the thread back to Howard. But that did not prevent me from liking the movie. I didn't love it (and I do love My Fair Lady and Pygmalion), but I enjoyed it. Then again, I'll watch Colin Firth in just about anything. Bonus points for his dapper wardrobe, but deducting a few for his inability to dance.

Infinite Visions Tarot & Color Intuitive Oracle

I've just received the most expensive tarot deck I've ever bought: the Infinite Visions Tarot. I wouldn't have bought it, but then I received some money for my birthday and Christmas, and what's birthday money for if not to buy yourself something you otherwise wouldn't?

Thing is, I'm a sucker for art decks. I love my Tarot of Delphi, which is similar in that it uses fine art. But while that deck uses the artwork as is, Infinite Visions has combined art to create new images.

The deck itself is printed on an unusual, slippery material, but it is not difficult to hold or shuffle. And Lisa Frideborg would be glad to know there are no borders on these cards, either! There are some places where the images appear a bit blurry, but overall the artwork is quite lovely. The deck comes with a certificate of authenticity and each is numbered, too.

Sample Relationship Reading

Sample Reading re a project

An interesting addition to the Infinite Visions deck is a Dark Magician and Dark Priestess card, basically the shadow sides of the Magician and High Priestess. While on the whole I have to say the booklet that comes with this deck is not very helpful (and I would say you would probably want to already have working knowledge of the tarot before using this deck), the descriptions for these two additional cards are illuminating and I like having them.

Magician, Dark Magician
High Priestess, Dark Priestess
You'll see that the Magician is almost biblical in form while his shadow side is Nazgul-like. And while the High Priestess works by purifying moonlight, the Dark Priestess has the same image as from the Devil card hanging over her shoulder.

Because I sometimes have trouble reading the High Priestess in spreads, splitting her into two personas actually works better for me.

With my birthday money, I also treated myself to Meg Hill's Color Intuitive oracle. I'd seen them used on Facebook and just had to give them a try. I'm loving them!

A Past–Present–Future Reading

The stack of cards is deceptively thin because they are printed on lighter weight stock, but they are also easy to shuffle, which is impressive given they are a fairly large size. Each card has a color and keywords printed on it, but the booklet that accompanies the deck offers greater insight to each color. I got the bonus deck, which has 54 cards + 9 bonus cards, and I'm having a great time with them. I'm enjoying expanding beyond just tarot and Lenormand, too.


Television: The Wrong Mans (Season Two)

Only four episodes this time, so really it amounts to a movie if you sit down and watch them all at once.

In this season, Sam and Phil have been put in witness protection (or the British equivalent) in South Texas. Sam hates it and lobbies to go home, but it isn't until Phil's mother goes in for heart surgery that he agrees. The absurdity begins when they hit up a drug lord for fake passports.

I really like this show; it's incredibly well written, with exactly the right balance of action and comedy. Even though the situations are outrageous, they pull it off with the straight man acting.

I don't want to say too much more about the plot for the season because I wouldn't want to give anything away. Let's just say, as usual Sam and Phil bounce around from one bizarre dilemma to the next, using false bravado on Phil's part and some amount of reasoning on Sam's, along with a dollop of dumb luck to bounce them out again.

The Wrong Mans is well worth watching and available on hulu.

Tarot Mucha

I've long loved the art of Alfons Mucha, and this tarot deck certainly reflects his work. Also, while staying true to the traditional themes of tarot, Tarot Mucha makes some interesting choices to set it apart.

Click to enlarge

Above, left to right, top row: Knave of Cups, 6 of Pentacles, 3 of Swords, Devil, 8 of Wands
Bottom row: Knight of Cups, Judgement, Queen of Cups, Lovers, 10 of Swords

You'll see in the sample that the court cards (particularly for the Cups, which is why I featured them here) are somewhat dour, at the very least serious, and the Knave and Knight of Cups actually appear a bit angry.

In addition, the image for the 6 of Pentacles carries an air of haughtiness on the part of the man giving charity.

The change to the Devil makes good sense to me, however, in that in this deck she is shown as something beautiful, something that entices, yet those wings and that tail show she has another side that may be less pleasant.

In the case of the Lovers and Judgement, the looming angel figures are thematically dark, harkening perhaps to the original idea of angels as fearsome creatures.

In the sample you'll also see figures have been added to the 3 of Swords, the 8 of Wands, and an additional figure to the 10 of Swords. In the 3 of Swords, the somewhat gender neutral person has a visage that shows a mixture of sorrow and anger as s/he displays the traditional heart with three swords running through it. The image fits the emotion of the card beautifully. But the 8 of Wands—a card I've always had a happy association with—shows a woman seemingly under barrage of the flying staffs. She appears shocked and afraid. I know the 8 of Wands can mean something unexpected and sudden, but I've usually thought of it as pleasant; here it seems almost related to the Tower. As for the 10 of Swords, which traditionally shows a man on a beach having been run stabbed ten times by the swords, in this deck there is a second figure either actively assaulting the defeated man or (depending on how you look at it) removing the blades from his body. Either way, the result is the same, and still fits with the usual meaning: It's all over.

These are not the only differences from more traditional decks (by which I suppose I mean the RW and its myriad spawn; certainly these days there are so many variations that one can hardly say any deck is "traditional" any more), just some key ones that jumped out at me and I found interesting.

The little booklet that comes with the cards includes not only good descriptions of each card's meanings but a few new twists on spreads. I tried the Seasons spread:

Spring: What needs creative expression? 6 of Cups
Summer: What needs to slow down? Queen of Swords
Autumn: What is ready for harvesting? 6 of Wands
Winter: What needs shelter and care? 10 of Cups

I leave the interpretations to you!

I do like this deck, which comes in a lovely little box. I'm going to enjoy getting to know the cards a bit better. But while I was expecting something light, there is a seriousness to Tarot Mucha. It is not frivolous, nor does it try to put a positive spin on bad news. This is a matter-of-fact deck. If you want something frothier, try Doreen Virtue's Guardian Angel tarot instead.


Television: Doctor Who, "Last Christmas"

In a nutshell, it was Inception meets Alien meets Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. And it was one of those obnoxious stories where nothing that happens actually matters because it's all a dream anyway.

Also, it doesn't look like we're rid of Clara after all.

I would try to recap it for you, but there's really no point. I will admit a brilliant bit of stunt casting in Nick Frost as Santa—he was a fantastically jolly counterpoint to the dour Doctor.

The upshot: the episode was designed to have the Doctor and Clara reaffirm their relationship and spark a new sense of adventure that will ostensibly boost whatever comes next. Sort of a new blasting off point. But the fact it took them 85 minutes to do it . . . Made the whole thing a bit underwhelming. I mean, by the time we get to the third or fourth, "This is still a dream!" one starts to lose the sense that anything is actually at stake. If they don't wake up they'll die, okay, but in the meantime I'm yawning and nodding off.

And why didn't they have wounds at their temples where the dream crabs (seriously? not "hypnocancer" or something, you know, better than "dream crab"?) inserted their "straws" or whatever? That would have been the fastest and easiest way to determine whether one was actually in a dream or not, I think. "I kind of have a headache" versus "holy shit, there's a hole in my head!" seems like a giveaway. But then there didn't seem to be any holes when they woke up, so . . . That's some bad writing right there.

I get most irritated when things that are meant to be subtle are not. Four sleepers and four people in the lab seemed like an obvious correlation. Everyone saying "long story" was obvious, too, well before it was called out.

Then there are general flaws like, if all it took to wake up was to begin remembering who you really are, Clara and the Doctor should have been well awake since they never forgot who they were. And if the polar station where the dream crabs were found wasn't real, where did they actually come from? The UK, apparently, since all the victims were British. Or do British brains just taste better? (That's quite possible, actually.) But seriously, is this an ongoing infestation? Didn't anyone come check on Grandma while she was napping and see she had a giant whatever on her face? Or did these crabs purposefully select victims that were (in the crabs' extremely well-developed understanding of human social dynamics) likely to remain alone for long enough?

Whatever. I'm trying to apply logic where there is none, and that probably takes all the fun out of the show, but while I can suspend disbelief to a point, sometimes I simply cannot overlook the big potholes in the plot. I might make an exception if the story felt fresh and new, but it mostly felt like a hash of all the aforementioned movies, plus Moffat has a terrible habit of repeating himself; he thinks he's being cute and clever when calling out "mind palace" (a term used on Sherlock), but it really comes off as stale and unoriginal.

So why am I still watching Doctor Who? I don't even know any more except that maybe, deep down, I'm hoping it will get good again. Though the longer it goes on being mediocre at best and awful at worst, it seems less and less likely to ever get back to good. Then again, by lowering the bar so far, it means there's less distance to jump in order to clear it. At this point I'd settle for well constructed and plain over anything ornate and lovely. Moffat gilds a few pieces of particle board and tries to sell them as works of art, but they crumble before you get them home.


Movies: Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb

Starring: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan
Directed By: Shawn Levy
Written By: David Guion & Michael Handelman
20th Century Fox, 2014
PG; 97 minutes
3.75 stars (out of 5)


Let's be clear going in: I saw the first Night at the Museum but not the second. I doubt it makes much difference either way, but I believe in full disclosure.

This installment finds an excuse to send Stiller and Co. to the British Museum in search of Ahkmenrah's parents. You see, the magical tablet that brings all the museum exhibits to life each night is corroding. But Ahkmenrah tells Larry his father knows how to fix it. Thing is, Akhmenrah's parents are in the British Museum.

Obstacle? Not really. In fact, fun as this film is, there aren't enough challenges involved. Larry asks Dr. McPhee to arrange a transfer of Ahkmenrah and his tablet to the British Museum for "conservation work." Done. That easy.

And there's not much of a villain, either. Dan Stevens joins the cast as a waxwork Lancelot that comes to life when the British Museum is exposed to the tablet's power. When Lancelot realizes the tablet is a step up from the Holy Grail he'd been seeking, he steals it and sets off in search of Camelot and his lovely Guinevere.

As for the tablet's power drain, turns out all it needs is a little moonlight. Not much of an obstacle at all.

It's mostly a shame that what might have been a strong story was made so weak. All that aside, however, the film itself is cute and entertaining, pretty much exactly what one would expect. My five-year-old laughed the entire time. (And this is probably still way better than whatever latest terrible thing they've done to The Hobbit.)

These films have also begun to merit cameos, it seems, since we get a look at Hugh Jackman as King Arthur in a production of Camelot. Lancelot storms the stage, only to be confused when he's told Camelot isn't real. And Ben Kingsley does all of a day's work (if that much) as Ahkmenrah's father the pharaoh Merenkahre.

Fathers and sons are the running theme of the movie. The film starts with a flashback in which a young Cecil aids his father on an exhibition in Egypt, where they find Ahkmenrah's family tomb. Later, Larry discovers they've added a new caveman to the exhibit, and it's been made to look exactly like him. This caveman takes to calling Larry "Da-da" and imitating him. Meanwhile, Larry's actual son Nick is trying to convince his dad to let him take a gap year between high school and college. And then there's Ahkmenrah's reunion with his parents as well. All in all, a pretty thick layer of father-son dynamic.

One can't help but be aware of Robin Williams in this film, too. Some of his dialogue hits quite hard in the wake of his suicide. "Let us go," he tells Larry when it's decided the British Museum should keep the tablet, meaning the exhibits in New York will remain still. Ah, Mr. Williams, you will live forever, though, won't you? In our hearts and on film.

Many minor things had me thinking the Cinema Sins "Everything Wrong With" entry for this one will be quite good, but it's a kids' movie, so one can't really be all that strict about it. (But, yes, okay—in all that running around the tablet's toggles didn't get flipped? Really? Also, Dexter Ex Machina.)

We learn at the end of the film that Larry has left his work at the museum and gone on to become a teacher. History, I'm guessing. And I'm also guessing the next big museum the franchise will hit will be . . . the Louvre?

P.S. Can we please find something other than "London Calling" when people go to London?


Television: Elementary, "End of Watch"

Well, it wasn't at all as I expected after last week's previews. The emotional aspect of the show had to do with Holmes being upset that someone at his recovery meetings had started an anonymous blog (or Tumblr) featuring things he'd said. "You're very quotable," Kitty tells Holmes. But rather than being flattered, Holmes feels betrayed, exposed. It's a similar reaction as to his having discovered Watson's manuscript. The idea that others might take his words, his work, and recast them really bothers him. Probably goes to his desire for control, and also to his singularity—this proof that he has touched and connected with others shakes his ability to see himself as autonomous and completely free of attachment. Even if he doesn't attach to others (and that's debatable, but it's how he sees it), others clearly connect with him.

The A plot was about a police officer named Alec Flynn who'd been shot and killed while on duty, though no one is sure whether it was a targeted attack or just someone out to pop a cop. But Holmes finds Flynn's firearm is a fake, and after a few meandering threads they discover Flynn had, after being injured in the line of duty, become addicted to painkillers and, while assigned to the armory, had begun selling the weapons and replacing them with fakes. So much for his honorable funeral. And that, it turns out, is what the murder hinged on. When Flynn's big police funeral is cancelled, another cop is killed—more specifically, another cop from the armory. Because the killer is someone who wants to raid the armory while all the cops are away at the funeral. With Flynn's funeral cancelled, the baddie needed another dead cop for another big send off to ensure the armory would be on skeleton crew.

An interesting enough story, and the episode was solid if not astounding. As for Holmes and the Tumblr, it's an interesting and somewhat different take that he would go to great lengths to protect what he considers his privacy (rather than preen and be flattered, or even start his own blog). This was the winter finale; we'll see what they come up with for spring.


This picture makes me ridiculously happy.

Thanks, as ever, Rob, for lifting my spirits!


The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

I was given these cards for my birthday. It's actually a bit strange I didn't already own them; I had considered buying them on several occasions, but something always stopped me. But they say the right things come to you at the right time, yes?

The moment I opened the box, my hands began to tremble. At first I thought it was just the fact the box is so big and heavy, but no, it's happened every time I've picked up this deck. These cards radiate something strong.

Crossroads Spread (sorry for the glare)

Now, I come from the New Orleans area myself, and my great-grandmother taught me a thing or two about Voodoo, so it's probably no surprise I connected almost immediately with these cards. I could feel it, the roots rising up through the floorboards and up through my feet into my core. Much as I love many of my bazillion Tarot decks, none of them have ever done that.

Usually when I get a new deck, I dive right in, but this one makes me feel the need to take it slow. Just a completely different kind of relationship here. Even though I know and understand all these aspects depicted on the cards . . . And though I like to think I treat all my decks with respect . . . These cards demand more from me. More respect and more energy.

Those unfamiliar with Voodoo might have quite a learning curve, but the deck comes with a massive book (which is why the box is so heavy). Very nice write-ups detail each card, and there is also a short list of divination meanings in the back, along with more traditional Tarot correspondences. Fine for quick work, but I recommend getting to know each of the cards on its own terms. Voodoo is temperamental, and these cards reflect that. They are not to be taken lightly, and they will lash out at you if you disrespect them.

For all that, I find I really enjoy these cards. Their gravity. The chord they strike within me is a bass note, low and clear. I'm a little afraid of them, but maybe I should be of all my decks. The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot reminds me they are not a game, and that if I want answers, I must approach with the proper deference.


Television: Scorpion, "Dominoes"

An intense holiday episode (and no, I'm not being sarcastic) in which the team struggles to save a 10-year-old boy from drowning on Christmas Eve after he is caught in a beach cave rockslide while the tide is rising.

Of course, before all this, we have the obligatory moment of Paige trying to get everyone holiday ready. So then we must go through everyone's holiday history/memories. Toby's dad would take him gambling and his mother would get drunk. Happy's foster families would ship her off right before Christmas so they wouldn't have to buy her anything. The usual stuff.

Meanwhile, Walter and his sister are having Fat Burger on the beach. Walter helps a kid named Owen with his kite, and Owen impresses Walter with facts about Benjamin Franklin. So when a little while later Owen is caught in that rockslide, Walter is extra motivated to help him.

I'm kidding. Walter would help no matter what because Walter loves a challenge. His brain functions best under extreme conditions.

Seriously, though, I'm trying to make light of what was actually a fairly intense episode. Sylvester first calculates that Owen will have 1 hour and 22 minutes then realizes with the tide coming in it is more like 56 minutes. Oops. When calculations go bad . . . Sylvester takes it hard and goes off to mope, giving Megan more chances to spend time with him and buck him up.

While that's going on, Happy and Toby are trying to create a jack to help free Owen's leg, which is pinned under a boulder. And Walter is working on a way to keep Owen breathing even after he's submerged. He uses the same oxygen system hospitals use to keep oxygen flowing through the body when patients are in surgery. The trick is Owen has to stop himself from trying to breathe normally because that will be his instinct. (Keep in mind this is not usually an issue for surgery patients since they are unconscious.)

Nothing I write would accurately convey the sense of urgency the episode created. They did a good job with it, and this is one of the best episodes thus far because of it. Of course Owen is saved—that's a given in a show like this. But they managed to maintain the tension regardless.

The theme of the episode seems to be science versus faith and the questioning of miracles. And then we get our happy ending with everyone having Christmas dinner together. Even Happy and her dad—it turns out he's known all along she was his daughter, and their acknowledgement of their relationship was actually really touching. Nicely done.

Overall a solid end to this half of the season.


Television: Elementary, "The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction"

So . . . A woman comes to Watson in hopes of new leads regarding her long-lost sister. It turns out the FBI is involved in the investigation because they believe the disappearance is related to a serial murderer they call "Pumpkin" because of the smell of nutmeg found at each crime scene. Holmes quickly dismisses the FBI's file on Pumpkin, stating this murderer does not exist. After a convoluted bit of maneuvering, it becomes clear they are not dealing with a serial killer so much as someone who cleans up after murderers.

It's not a bad plot, actually. If the police use crime scene killers—one can actually become certified in these things—why wouldn't there be a black market in which criminals call on someone to clean up their messes? I only wish the story here had been made more interesting.

The episode devolves into criminal politics: they find Mr. Woodbine, their criminal janitor. He has a lot of information about a lot of criminals given his line of work. And when Woodbine refuses to cut a deal, Holmes and company attack from the other side, asking known criminals to turn on Woodbine. But one criminal cleans up Woodbine first.

As a story it is pleasingly twisted. For television, it's a little dull.

Per the usual MO of procedural plotting, the solution is one part going back to someone we were meant to forget and one part, "Oh, look, we just happen to have a photograph that gives us a clue we somehow missed!" Sigh. Would have been way more interesting if Holmes had been wrong and the FBI agent had made it all up to cover his own serial murders or something.

Next week is the winter finale in which they apparently turn up the heat by getting Holmes worked up emotionally. Another favorite tactic. A lack of Kitty in the previews makes me wonder if she's the emotional thorn in this go-round. Double sigh.

But I have to say, having Gracepoint and Elementary as back-to-back shows has made for nice, cozy Thursday nights. Thematically, they pair nicely.

Television: Gracepoint 1.10

They said it would be different from Broadchurch's ending and . . . It kind of was. Sort of.

The real question is whether we'll see a second season of Gracepoint. (A second season of Broadchurch is coming in February, btw.) Gracepoint's ratings have been middling at best, and the show didn't seem to spark the furor that FOX probably hoped for. I'll admit, from my own perspective, while I found Broadchurch to be appointment television, I felt lackluster about Gracepoint. I don't know if it's because I'd seen it before? People who are interested in something like Gracepoint are also interested in something like Broadchurch, so remaking the show for what amounts to the same audience probably didn't win them very many new viewers and possibly lost them a few who didn't feel the need to see it again from an American perspective.

Still, they've left Gracepoint open for another season if they choose to do it. If you're wondering about the whodunit aspect [spoilers], it was partially the same answer as Broadchurch: Joe, Ellie's husband confesses to Danny's murder. He tells Carver that he and Danny had been meeting in secret, etc. The American twist is the presence of Tom at the scene. He was actually the one to hit and kill Danny—an accident, as he was trying to defend Danny from Joe.

Maybe they were thinking this would be more palatable to American viewers, to make Joe more sympathetic by taking the fall for his son. It certainly complicates things. Joe is still kind of awful—what weirdo hangs out with underage boys? Oh, except Jack and athletic coaches and scout leaders . . . Okay, I guess a lot of people. Our culture actually fosters this in some ways. But that's another topic for another time.

I think if they'd played up the idea that Danny and Joe had more in common, and Tom and Mark too, it might have made a bit more sense. Like, I used to hang out with my best friend's mother. She was artsy, like me, and my mother wasn't. Funny about the gender lines, though. Moms are expected to nurture their kids, others' kids, whomever. If a dad wants to nurture and hang out with boys other than his own, it's . . . weird. Creepy. Something in our evolutionary history balks at it.

The episode ended with Carver realizing Tom's involvement. He doesn't know exactly how Tom was involved, but he's pulled together the evidence and seen the clear picture it paints: Tom was there. (After all, if it had been a rock, they'd have found the blood and hair, if not the rock itself.) He calls Ellie to confront her with this, but she won't answer. We're left hanging: What will she do? Go on the run with her sons? Try to cut a deal with Carver to leave Tom out of it? We don't know and might never know if there isn't another season.

But to make you feel better, here's a trailer for Broadchurch Season 2:


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

So Skye (neé Daisy, we discover) is in the clutches of Hydra and gets to meet her dad. Then we get his whole big expositional speech about how he was a doctor in a clinic in China, and met and married her mom, and then Whitehall took her mom, etc. etc. Nothing we hadn't seen or inferred already.

In the midst of all this, Whitehall figures out—quite possibly from Doctor Daddy's shouting—who Skye is, and her dad, and also that Ward isn't 100% reliable and may need to be taught some compliance.

But as Whitehall is planning to do all sorts of bad things, Coulson, May, Hunter, and Bobbi arrive to rescue Skye.

Here's what I don't understand, though. Whitehall had Raina, so why didn't he just experiment on her and/or take her down into the alien city instead of bothering with Skye? You can't expect me to believe he cares about Raina at all and "wouldn't do that to her."

Doesn't matter, though, because Coulson shoots and [ostensibly] kills Whitehall. Really, though? Whitehall has lived all those years and now he's dead? The Marvel universe has too much of a history of bringing back the dead for me to ever fully believe it.

Losing Whitehall sends Agent 33 into a tailspin; she is now a compass without a North. So Ward—whom Skye shot several times as she escaped—takes the helm and Agent 33 latches onto him.

Meanwhile, Fitz, Simmons, and Tripp have gone back down into the alien city to try and find Mac.

Skye saves Coulson from her father's anger (he's mad that Coulson beat him to the kill where Whitehall is concerned), then goes after the obelisk to hopefully destroy it or something. Long story short, Skye doesn't want anyone to be able to use it or go into the alien city or whatever. But Raina has other ideas. She wants to go down and experience whatever transformation the obelisk will instigate. And for whatever reason, Skye goes with her. I guess to try and stop her, but if Skye had any brain at all, she would have put distance between herself and the obelisk and city.

Whatever. The sum total of all this is that Raina, Skye, and an unfortunate Tripp end up in the special chamber in the alien city. And when the obelisk is set on its pedestal and breaks open to reveal something that looks like it came from Krypton (sorry, that's DC), the three of them get . . . Carbonized? But while Skye, and presumably Raina, survive this—they "hatch" and are "reborn" from this—Tripp does not.

And a quake is triggered, threatening everyone as the alien city begins to implode, taking the Ponce de Leon Hotel (har, very cute and clever, guys) with it.

Finally, we also discover there are more obelisks and more . . . Mutants? (sorry, that's X-Men) . . . Whatevers out there.

And now we all break for Agent Carter.


Television: Scorpion, "Revenge"

Unfortunately, Scorpion is starting to become very by-the-numbers. It does not require nor command my full attention.

This episode was about stopping a group of high-end thieves called The Ghosts, headed by a man named Javier. There is probably an interesting story or interaction that could have happened, but instead it all comes secondhand through Cabe's old Fed friend Simone. Her partner was killed by Javier and his men some seven years before, and she has been after him ever since. When Sylvester is harmed by an IED left behind at a crime scene, Walter is also determined to get—wait for it—revenge.

Except not really. Walter spends most of the episode the same way he spends most every other episode, which is to say he spends it denying his feelings.

I get it. I do. I have a high IQ and could do an entire series of posts on how I handle feelings and respond to situations. The portrayal of Walter in Scorpion is actually pretty spot on based on my personal experience, but it's not all that exciting to watch. We all know Walter will say, "Fine. I'm fine," any time anyone asks if he's all right. This response is what we've learned is the accepted, "correct" answer (and geniuses generally want to give the correct answer), but it's probably almost never the true one. Still, all the viewers know Walter is not okay. We're all waiting for the breakdown. If every episode is Walter giving the stiff upper lip, the show is going to become very wooden very quickly.

I'll credit Scorpion with trying to do the subtle stuff. The Megan/Sylvester relationship that is developing is nice. Walter's awkward response to an invitation for drinks was, again, pretty accurate; the show could punch that up a bit, in fact. Remember that, outside of our usefulness, we don't usually understand why anyone would want to spend time with us. It confuses us, and often makes us a bit suspicious, when someone proposes to "hang out."

But some stuff is almost too over the top. After all that concern, Sylvester comes out just fine. So either the doctors were exaggerating the injuries or . . . This is near miraculous? I'm not sure what to believe there. While it was a given, based on convention, that Sylvester would survive, I feel there should have been more struggle; maybe it should have gone on for a few episodes, them not knowing for sure how damaged Sylvester would be. Oh, yes, they decided to punch up his anxiety instead, but that really just translates to "more of the same."

And the manufactured moment of Walter's hesitation leading to Javier's death. Sigh. So cliché.

The triangle of Paige/Walter/Drew is being handled pretty well, though. Not that there should be more of it. There's just the right amount now; more would be overkill.

It's a good show. I like it. And I understand the need to make development a slow process, else one runs out of things to do. And/or the show becomes something completely different, which will turn the audience off. Like, you can't have it suddenly be all soapy and relationshipy. That would be awful. But we're already tired of Walter's withholding, and Toby's longing for Happy, and Sylvester's neurotics. These things are established and yet every episode seems to be mostly about these things again, some more. We need these characters to stretch a bit. And I think the writers have been trying to do that, at least with Walter, but honestly, it's not enough. He just keeps snapping back into his mold. Time to bend him out of shape a bit more. Get him out of his comfort zone.


Television: Elementary, "Terra Pericolosa"

Which means, if you're wondering, "dangerous land" (or territory, perhaps).

To be honest, it wasn't a very interesting episode. There was a map stolen, but then it wasn't the real map, oh but yes it was . . . I knew the moment I saw Mamie Gummer that she'd done it, so the rest was more or less a wash for me. I just couldn't care. Casino this, river that. Whatever.

And the subplot involving Holmes keeping Kitty too busy to go out with her friends bordered on bad sitcom. While it was lovely to hear him articulate the sentiment behind his reasoning, the whole Holmes and Watson functioning as pseudo parents is something that has to be done a tad more subtly if it's going to work for any length of time.

But it was nice to see that Watson had jumped to a conclusion—that Holmes was being selfish in not wanting to share Kitty—and have that turned around on her. Watson is so often given the high ground that having her find herself on (ahem) terra pericolosa in this instance was refreshing. (Okay, so it wasn't dangerous so much as unstable, but it did give way beneath her when Holmes told her why he was curbing Kitty's social life.)

Then again, whether his reasons were good or not, it's still clear he wasn't 100% in the right. The episode ends with Holmes inviting Kitty and her would-be beau to a museum. Yay, a date with dad as chaperone! You see what I mean? Kind of ridiculous. Like, just barely squeaking by here.

The past couple episodes had gotten a bit stronger, but this was a slump. Very uneven season thus far. We'll see if they can even the keel.

Television: Gracepoint 1.9

The penultimate episode in which the net tightens around Mark Solano's plumbing partner Vince . . . Which almost certainly means he didn't do it. (Especially since previews promise a big twist.)

What Gracepoint is actually about—and what Broadchurch was also about—is paying attention to all the wrong things. It's about what one knows and doesn't know and about looking to one's own house. Beth didn't know about Mark and Gemma. Neither Beth nor Mark knew what Danny was up to. Ellie doesn't seem to know anything about her own house, and especially about whatever is going on with her son Tom. Susan Wright professes not to have known her husband was molesting their daughters. Carver didn't know his wife was having an affair until it all but ended his career. On and on and on, these shows are about blindness and possibly willful ignorance.

The solution in Broadchurch, that is, the answer to the mystery of whodunit, was the ultimate in this theme. (I won't give it away in case anyone plans to go watch it.) I'm guessing Gracepoint will aim for a similar revelation. They've said the answer won't be the same as for Broadchurch, but that doesn't mean it can't be close.

Maybe it'll be about the whole town not knowing something. Like that the reverend is doing bad things to the kids or something.

As for this episode, it focused on Susan versus Vince. Susan's backstory of her husband, and how it turns out Vince is her son, taken away and put into a foster system after her husband was locked up. Susan tells Ellie she saw Vince take Danny's body from a boat and lay it on the beach. Is she lying? Is she mistaken? It was dark and there was a fair distance between them.

But Vince has a tattoo of Danny's name on his arm. And Ellie's sister tells Ellie she saw the Solano plumbing truck that night, and someone putting a heavy, tarped item into it. Vince has no alibi since his mother was knocked out on cough medicine. And he had opportunity since he's known to make skateboards for the local kids. Things look pretty bleak for him. (Though motive is questionable. Kill the boss' son because you don't make enough money? And speaking of money, where did Danny get all his again?)

Someone is using Danny's missing cell, too. Hmm.

Next week we will have the answers. Next year, we will have a second season of Broadchurch. So if you haven't watched it yet, I highly recommend you catch up. Because based on ratings, I'm not sure we'll get any more Gracepoint.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Ye Who Enter Here"

Once again, I was only half paying attention. This show doesn't seem to require a whole lot of thought or focus. I don't know if that's a good thing (popcorn entertainment) or a bad one (won't matter if I miss a few episodes).

I think the opening dream sequence turned me off right away. Ugh. Skye dream remembering something about the time she was a baby? Really?

Meanwhile, Raina is saved from Whitehall's men by one of the Patton Oswalds. We're just going to call them all that from now on; there's really little point in learning their names. He's apparently the result of some S.H.I.E.L.D. cloning experiment (no, I don't think they said that—but then again, I wasn't really listening—it's just in my head). So then Raina bonds with Skye, except then Hydra comes and takes both Raina and Skye. The episode ends with Whitehall ordering the bus to be shot down, but with so many main characters aboard, I'm willing to guess it'll all be okay.

That was one plot line. Another had to do with Coulson, Fitz, Simmons, Mac, and Bobbi going to the city they spent all that time making maps of. And of course bad things happen and Mac goes kind of crazy.

There is also some Fitz/Simmons awkward tension.

And Agent 33 is stuck with May's face after their last fight, only she has a big gouge on her left side. That's how we can tell them apart, I guess, though you'd think Hydra probably has the resources to at least do a little cosmetic surgery.

That's about all I gleaned from the episode. I probably missed a lot, but I don't feel compelled to go watch it again or anything. This "meh" feeling can't be what the show wants viewers to have. And there have been episodes I've enjoyed and been engaged in. So either I was simply not in the right frame of mind, or this episode fell a bit short.