Television: Doctor Who, "The Husbands of River Song"

WHY call for a surgeon and arrange for a massive live television airing of your husband's surgery if your real goal is to cut off his head and kill him?

I'm just throwing that out there.

And why didn't this Hydroflax want the surgery to begin with? He strikes me as the type who would insist on having this problem fixed.

Also, dialogue like, "I'll just stick my head around the door" is pretty clunky in its obvious play for double meaning.

I didn't find any of the emotional stuff very moving, either, though I thought River's rant in the restaurant (say that five times fast) was pretty good. I wonder how many takes it required to get it all out. And the Doctor's response of, "Hello, Sweetie," was perfect. So that was a nice moment.

It was stiff at first, but warmed up as it went along. I found River a bit over the top, even more so than usual, and the Doctor's reactions to her "husbands" a bit much as well, but then it seemed to even out. Once they got into a groove, it was more tolerable.

But I thought the story itself was pretty weak and wobbly. Though I find it incredibly optimistic to believe humans will still exist in any form come 5343. [Insert rant about our self-destruction here; I won't take up space in this post with my feelings about it.]

Overall, I'd say it was just okay, yet I found it better than most of this past season and most recent Christmas specials, so . . . Proximity bias gives it a boost, I suppose.

I wish I could summon enthusiasm for this show any more, but I feel like my love for it has been beaten down. Here's hoping it gets better. Some day.


Victorian Steampunk Tarot

Not to be confused with the Steampunk Tarot.

This one was a Christmas gift, and it was yet another deck I hadn't heard of. But it's lovely, made of interesting composite images. The cards are somewhat large in size but flexible enough that it's not a problem to shuffle them despite their size. Comes in a great box that you can keep to store the deck and accompanying booklet, too.

Major Arcana on top, Minor Arcana below
I will say a friend of mine who is a graphic designer and very visual didn't much care for the minor arcana in this deck because there aren't visual cues to the meanings of the cards. In the Victorian Steampunk Tarot, the suits are Dragonflies (Cups), Bees (Swords), Moths (Wands), and Beetles (Pentacles). And while there are cups, swords, wands (or, really, torches), and coins on the cards along with the silhouettes of the insects, there isn't much else. So if you don't know the 2 of Cups is a card about union or attraction, then the card isn't going to help you.

But there is a handy guide, and I actually really like the layout of the manual, which is less detailed than some but also much more interesting in some ways. For one thing, it gives a list of which cards in this deck are yes, no, or neutral. And it gives instructions for a yes-or-no reading. Also instructions for a 2-card reading that I really like.

And I do like the artwork. That same graphic designer friend mentioned it was somewhere between Dave McKean and Monty Python, but that's not a bad thing. There is both weight and whimsy here, largely depending on the card. And this mostly pertains to the Major Arcana, but I also like the tone of the minor cards as well.

I got along with these cards almost immediately, so I may be biased. But it is quickly becoming one of my favorite decks to work with.


Television: Elementary, "The Cost of Doing Business"

All right, let's look at this mid-season finale (since that's a thing now).

I've written before about how Elementary consistently views wealth and capitalism (big business) as bad. Holmes himself attempts to cut his personal strings to his father's money, often not wanting to be beholden to it or associated with his father, who he views as evil. And it really was only a matter of time before the show itself revealed this to be true. Because Elementary cannot allow a wealthy businessperson to not be evil and underhanded.

Ah, wait, so let's reverse this bus for a moment. The episode itself started with a sniper opening fire on a busy street or plaza or whatever. And then Morland Holmes turns up to help his son solve the mystery.

Um, what?

Yes, Morland offers to play along as an Irregular, using his considerable power to get Sherlock into the offices of high-flying CEOs and the like. We meet these other wealthy businessmen, get sidetracked into a story about a plumber, but of course come back to the wealthy businessmen being the bad guys. One of them hired a sniper to assassinate . . . Someone for something cuz money. ::shrug:: That's pretty much how every episode of Elementary goes.

Then we get that kicker. The one where Morland meets with someone who wants money or else he'll tell Sherlock what Morland is really up to. And Morland threatens the guy, suitably frightening him into submission so that the man all but walks backward while bowing and babbling his apologies. This is so we can see that (a) Morland really is evil, and (b) he's also really powerful. Which is supposed to make us think he'll be tough to defeat or something.

But really, it all feels done before. Didn't we do the thing where it was clear Mycroft was hiding something and might be bad too? Honestly, Mycroft was a more interesting character because he was not morally black or white but gray. His motives were more interesting, his behavior and choices, his relationship with his brother—all way more nuanced than what we're getting with Morland. I think Mycroft and Sherlock should get together and form BAD: Brothers Against Dad. Or something. Anything to make this more engaging to watch.

Thing is, I've enjoyed this season more than last. But on the flip side, it's getting a bit stale. The "we hate money and capitalism" stuff is tired. Find some other bad guys. A crime ring or something. A forger. That would be fun, right? I mean anything but another CEO or whatever. Which is all Morland amounts to either. More of the same. Please. Do something different.

Books: Very British Problems by Rob Temple

This book has been on my wish list for a while (along with Very British Problems Abroad, which seems currently unavailable where I am), and my in-laws bought it for me for my birthday. It's a quick and funny little read, the kind of book you leave in the loo for guests in case they didn't bring in their phones. (Hmm. That previous sentence correctly pluralizes subjects and verbs but also makes it sound as if more than one guest is using the loo at any given time . . .)

I was tempted to go through and check off each "problem" I suffer, but most of the book would have been marked up, and I cringe at the idea of defacing a book, especially a new one. As it was, I took pains not to bend the spine.

This isn't laugh-out-loud funny. It's more gravely nodding-in-agreement funny. And that only makes sense if you suffer from VBP. There is a handy quiz in the book to self-diagnose whether you do. I scored quite high though not perfectly.

Maybe you'll laugh out loud if you don't suffer from VBP? Because then you'd be laughing at people who do, I suppose. But I can't think about that too much; that way lies madness.

Seriously, though, a cute book and a fun read. And if you like the book follow the Twitter @SoVeryBritish too.


Universal Fantasy Tarot & Fairy Lights Tarot

More lovely decks for my collection!

Both of these come from the prolific Lo Scarabeo. The Universal Fantasy deck is colorful and bold; the Fairy Lights deck is softer, with misty gray borders to the cards.

I'll come right out and admit I prefer the Universal Fantasy deck. I find the images detailed and intriguing. I feel pulled in by these cards, and I made an almost immediate connection to them.

The Fairy Lights deck feels too amorphous by comparison. Almost as if I can't grasp their meaning. And it may be that they are suffering proximity bias—that because I connected so strongly with the other deck, they just can't live up to expectations. So I'll keep working with this deck to see if we can forge a stronger bond.

Above is a sample reading. The same three cards from each deck: 4 of Wands, 7 of Pentacles, 3 of Wands. The top row is the Universal Fantasy Tarot, and the bottom row is the Fairy Lights.

The art on both is beautiful. But they have very different vibes. The Universal Fantasy deck incorporates the four wands, the seven pentacles, the three wands. The Fairy Lights deck relies on the number at the top of the card and the symbol at the bottom for you to know which card it's meant to be.

However, I will say the meanings in the booklet for the Universal Fantasy deck seem only tangentially related to the cards' images, while the booklet for the Fairy Lights deck seems more in tune with the cards themselves. Also, the Fairy Lights booklet explains that the cards are meant to be laid next to one another to form a kind of story—the images should bleed into one another to create a portrait of your answer. There is a dreamlike quality to this, and I feel this deck requires you to sort of be in a dreamlike state to use it effectively.

I'll continue to work with both decks. I've found the trick is often choosing the right deck for the right moment and question. With so many options, I often have to close my eyes and meditate before selecting. But just as often I'll feel pulled to a particular deck or oracle before I even realize I have a question. I'm curious to learn where these two will insert themselves.


Movies: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and a bunch of people from Episodes IV–VI
Directed By: J.J. Abrams, making up for what he did to Star Trek
Written By: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, from characters by George Lucas
Lucasfilm/Bad Robot, 2015
PG-13; 135 minutes
5 [Death] stars (out of 5)


First I'm going to go into the requisite personal history I have with this franchise. My best friend was (is) a huge Star Wars fan. She was four and I was eight (Return of the Jedi came out when I was seven). And while I liked Indiana Jones and all things Sherlock Holmes more, I was cool with the Star Wars thing, too. We played it a lot. I always had to be Han, but I was fine with that because I knew Han was really Indy, so it was kind of the same thing.

What I'm saying is, I was very familiar with the Star Wars universe, but I didn't have the attachment that so many fans have. I enjoyed it, and I remember Empire being my favorite of the three films, though Jedi was a close second. I didn't have much feeling for the first one at all.

And when those prequels came out? I went because, again, I have a lot of geeky friends who were very into that stuff. And I was underwhelmed and they were absolutely deflated. So I had fears going into this. Fears that the movie wouldn't be as good as the hype, fears that my friends were going to be sobbing again, and that the little bit of my childhood that is wrapped in Star Wars would be stomped on for a fourth time.

Now I say to doubters: Fear Not.

This is a terrific movie.

It really does bring back all the great things about the original trilogy. Not just Ford and Fisher and so on, but the tone and aesthetic. The fun.

I'm not going to go into details because I don't want to be a spoiler. I will say Adam Driver plays angry and sullen very well. (I was going to write "rebellious teen" but he's, like, in his thirties. Yet his tantrums in this movie were worthy of my six-year-old, and that's saying something.) And while this story feels like it's been told before, well, there's a reason myths and legends have lasted as long as they have, and a reason we go back to certain archetypes again and again. Check in with Joseph Campbell on that.

One might argue the writers went back to this well because it's what worked in IV–VI. And that could be true, too. But if moderate plot repetition is all I can hold against this movie, well . . . Honestly, it's entertaining enough that I'm willing to overlook that. In Rey (Ridley) and Finn (Boyega), we have worthy successors to the Star Wars mantel. And in the cast as a whole, we have solid performances and good chemistry.

In short, they did this well. They did it right.

In fact, they did it so well that I've gone back to that place in my childhood that makes me want to buy toys and t-shirts. Which I'm sure was part of the plan. Those of us old enough to remember the first three movies, the good ones, we're also now old enough to buy ourselves things. And those of us with kids to boot, well, we can buy them things, too. We're being prompted to shower ourselves and our offspring with nostalgic glee, to share that bit of happy memory with those younger than us so they can build happy memories, too.

Well, there are worse things.

Okay, one spoiler. If you haven't seen the movie yet, don't read beyond this line.

During the last scene of the movie, my daughter leaned over and asked, "Momma, who is that?"

And I whispered, "That's Luke Skywalker, baby."

And you know, I'm notoriously difficult to make cry. It's nearly impossible unless there's an animal or small child involved. But when Rey held out that lightsaber? I teared up. I'll admit it.

It's that good a movie.

Or, at least, it's that good a movie for someone bringing a little bit of history into the cinema with them.

But I do think it's also good enough to capture a fresh generation, too. My kids came home and were ready to play Star Wars, each of them shouting out who they were going to be. My youngest son: "I'm BB-8!" My daughter: "I wanna be Chewie!" And my 10-year-old: "I'm Luke Skywalker."

Which leaves me as Han. As usual.


The Raven's Prophecy Tarot

Every year around this time I'm inundated with new tarot and oracle decks. This is because we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, and my birthday is also the week before Christmas, so . . . Once a year I basically am showered with presents. (And I don't mind admitting I love it!)

So here's a deck that was given to me for my birthday: The Raven's Prophecy Tarot. I love ravens and crows and blackbirds in general, so this is a great deck for me. There aren't ravens on every card, though. At first I found that kind of confusing. I was like, Where are the ravens? There are several, of course, but they aren't pervasive. It makes sense if you think about it. Too many ravens would feel forced, like the cards were a slave to the theme. Instead, this deck feels very natural and organic.

And I really love the artwork. My guess is it's done with pastels, but I don't really know. It's colorful and contrasts beautifully with the black backgrounds on the cards. Vivid.

Each suit has a motif. The Cups feature the ravens and/or feathers. The Coins (Pentacles) are roses, which speaks to that suit being the Earth suit, all about nurturing and growing things. The Sword cards have hands on them. The Wands are naturally lights and fires, being that Wands represent the element of Fire. And the Major Arcana use various of all these images. It's quite beautifully done.

The corresponding book gives nice 1–2 page descriptions for each card including 3–4 keywords for each as well. I will say I don't always entirely comprehend the written "stories" for each of these cards (they're a tad flowery and artistic, and I sometimes just want something plain and direct), but my working understanding of tarot + the keywords is enough for me. And I overall like the way these cards feel in my hands. They're a good size and weight, easy to shuffle. I also like the way they read. They aren't stark—there is depth to the readings—but they are also not vague or obscure, which was my fear with something so artistic. Again, that might be because I'm bringing a few years' worth of understanding of tarot to the table with me; I don't know how these cards might work for a beginner. But for an intermediate reader like me, they're just different enough from the traditional to keep things interesting. I would certainly choose them for situations in which I need depth of insight but also want some kind of answer rather than just a signpost, because I think this deck is capable of both.


Chakra Wisdom Oracle & Osho Zen Tarot

More birthday goodies!

I like that my dear friend sent these, and though they aren't necessarily the kinds of decks I normally go for, I'm enjoying playing with some new and different energies.

The Chakra Wisdom Oracle has 49 cards separated into (you guessed it) seven sets of seven, color coded by chakra. Now I don't know a whole lot about chakras. I know there are seven of them and they have different colors. That's about it. So lucky for me there's a really nice, full-color guide that comes with these cards to explain things.

When I first looked through the deck—I always go through a new deck and familiarize myself with it, get to know it a bit—I was a little confused by the images. They didn't seem to always match the name of the card. And when I read the descriptions of the cards in the book, they were sometimes not what I would immediately expect either. Which is to say this is not a quickie oracle. This is one you have to take time to get to know, and you do better if you go with intuition over trying to reason things out logically.

sample Chakra Wisdom Oracle reading
I mean, look at that Recovery card up there. It's like, "What now?" But that's because each card has a story. So reading about the card in the guidebook is a must.

I do like these cards. It will take me a while to get the hang of them, perhaps, but so far I've enjoyed the bit of work I've done with them. They've been consistent and direct but also gentle.

The same dear friend also sent the Osho Zen Tarot. (This friend is a Buddhist Reiki master.) What struck me when I opened these cards was that the cards were not pre-sorted in a natural order. Normally when I receive a deck, the cards are packaged by suit. These were just . . . random. And I feel like that says something about this deck in general.

sample 3-card Osho Zen Tarot reading

The tarot suits are all there. Kind of. They're different in that the court cards are not people, per se, and the four suits are Fire: Action, Water: Emotions, Clouds: The Mind, and Rainbows: The Physical. I'm not sure how I feel about the somewhat cutesy "Ice-Olation" (what we would think of as the 3 of Swords), but on the whole I do find the changes to the traditional deck interesting. There's a different feel to these cards; they answer less directly because they want you to work for it. They want you to go deeper and really examine the situation—what you're asking, why you're asking, and so on. There's a sense these cards want to say, "You know the answer if you just stop and think about it. So we're going to throw some signposts up but it's on you to follow through to the destination."

In short, if you want a quick answer, something surface, don't ask Osho Zen. But if there's something you need to get to the root of, these cards are going to be great for that. I look forward to exploring further with them.

I Wrote a Book!

As if you didn't know.

But you can listen to me talk about my Sherlock Holmes stories, and my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, and even a little bit about the YA novel I'm working on here. It's Lena Anani's "She Wrote a Book" podcast. Check it out!


More About Peter

I'm featured on author Suz Korb's blog today, talking more about where my ideas for The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller came from. Is it possible I was a gay British spy in a previous life? Click here to find out more.


Television: Elementary, "The Games Underfoot"

Remember when Atari buried all those ET cartridges in the 80s? Whoever wrote this episode sure does! A year or so ago those game cartridges were unearthed and went for big money, thus spurring this episode of Elementary.

An archaeologist named Eddie is murdered and his apartment set on fire. The winding path of investigation leads to the fact Eddie had a secret dig—namely in search of buried cartridges of the game Nottingham Knights. He hoped to find them and sell them.

Instead he found hazardous waste.

Without going too far into the details, Elementary stays true to form in that the culprit in this case is the rich guy. That's the show's favorite kind of bad guy. And I'm not saying capitalism and corporations can't be bad, or that rich people can't be self-interested bullies, I'm just saying Elementary falls on that pretty regularly. I'd like to see them do something different.

B plot involves Alfredo trying to reconnect with Holmes and Holmes seemingly avoiding him. But Holmes has valid reasons for attending new meeting sites. Like most achievers, he shies from the haunts that remind him of failure. Progress, for him, means moving on to new pastures. It's a flaw—being unable, unwilling to face people and admit you're less than perfect—but an understandable one. And in this case he's praised for being selfish when it comes to his rehabilitation.

The only truly amusing moment in this episode is when Watson bests Holmes at a video game. I feel like the episode could have used more of that.

I also wasn't sure I fully bought into Alfredo and Holmes "hanging out." But maybe that's a guy thing that I just don't get. In fact, there was sufficient awkwardness that maybe it's a guy thing Holmes doesn't get either but feels obligated to try or do. If that's the case, it was actually quite well done.

I wanted more from this episode. I thought Holmes + video games could have been really fun, but it ended up not really being about the games and therefore not being as much fun. It was a solid episode but failed to live up to my hopes and expectations.


Books: Secrets & Lies: Military Intelligence by Jeremy Harwood

So I was roaming around a Barnes & Noble because I had time to kill before going to a movie, and I found this book in the bargain section. It was published by Metro Books in New York. I picked it up at first because I thought it might be the kind of thing my 10-year-old son would like, and then I kept it because I thought it might have interesting info to help me plan my next Peter Stoller novel.

Now when picking up a remaindered book, one hardly has high expectations. I planned to flip through this and then hand it off to my son. But I've found myself surprisingly engaged.

That's kind of sad. No publisher (at least none that I know of) puts out a book with the idea that they just want it to be a bargain leftover. I mean, there are so many authors out there trying to get published, and publishers are ostensibly selective, choosing only the best. But there are no guarantees. And maybe this book was just too niche. But the fact I'm surprised it's any good—that's what's sad. Because I'm sure the author and publisher put some real effort behind it.

For one thing, it's a nicely made book. (I know because I worked in publishing, and I remember dealing with the manufacturing people.) Good paper stock, lots of photos. This wasn't cheap to produce.

And the author did his job, too. He's written profiles of famous spies and operations, and these articles are far from dry. They're very readable and interesting while also being concise.

But now I'm going to get nitpicky. There are some editorial problems, by which I mean typos and the like, which is just a shame in an otherwise well-written book. And there is one thing about the paper I don't like. They've used a kind of image on the background to make the pages look . . . old, I guess. I'm not entirely sure what effect they were going for. But it just makes the book look beat up and scratched up, and I find it a tad distracting. I like my books to be tidy. I take care of my books, so when they come to me already looking damaged, it puts me off a bit.

These are small things. (Well, the typos and punctuation problems are a pain, but they're not on every page or anything. It's just that I've noticed more than a couple, so I do wonder about this publisher's editors and proofreaders.) They haven't prevented me from reading the book or enjoying it.

A good find.

Podcasts: Pop Culture Happy Hour

Once again, I'm really late to the party. I've only recently begun listening to podcasts at all because early on I couldn't find any I enjoyed and sort of assumed they all must suck. But I finally got around to this one, and I can say it's what's making me happy this week.

I've been jumping around from recent ones to ones from the past summer, just clicking on whichever ones sound even remotely interesting. And they've all turned out to be good, even if the topic isn't one I have strong feelings about. (Also, I'm glad to learn I'm not the only one in the world who wasn't a fan of Big. I didn't hate it, it just wasn't my thing. You and me, Glen.) The hosts are engaging and funny. They talk a bit fast, so if that bothers you, beware. But they give you good food for thought each week, too. Like this week it was about visceral reactions—what makes you cry, laugh, cringe? And I'm notoriously difficult to make cry. I'm too aware of being emotionally manipulated, and it ends up making me angry rather than having the [desired?] effect of making me cry. But if it's an animal, oh my God . . . The Fox and the Hound, Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie, Come Home, The Cat That Overcame, The Cat Who Went to Heaven . . . I'll sob over those. If there's an animal involved, you've got me by the heartstrings.

Talk radio isn't my thing, so I'm not sure why I'm cool with all these NPR podcasts. Maybe talk radio has gotten better over the years. I think in the back of my mind it's still all sports and politics, and I just can't be bothered with listening to people carry on about that stuff. That kind of radio is like a never-ending Thanksgiving gathering for all the wrong reasons.

But on PCHH we're doing books and movies and all the stuff I like, stuff I feel I know enough to participate in. I may not have seen Creed, but I did see Rocky . . . a long time ago . . . And I still didn't need to know much about the film series to enjoy listening to the podcast. Because it's not just about the film. It's about reactions and why men feel the way they do about sports and sports movies. And this is the kind of media studies stuff my undergraduate degree was all about.

So I love it. It's like having a really good conversation with smart and interesting people. Even though, yeah, I'm not actually participating in the discussion. Except in my head. I've decided I'm kind of a Glen. There's probably an online quiz for that somewhere . . .


Television: Scorpion, "The Old College Try"

. . . In which our team goes undercover at a college.

It should have been funnier.

I really wanted it to end with Happy being accepted into that sorority (as unlikely as that seems).

But it was still a pretty solid episode.

The plot was, pshaw, something about a computer program that would do something to the stock exchange I think? I wasn't even paying that much attention to that part of the show. And somehow it didn't actually matter all that much. It hardly ever does in this show because you can generally rely on the notion the team is "doing something," and whatever it is will be important in some way, and it will be dangerous and/or difficult, and whether you know exactly what the circumstances are or not, you can watch any given scene and see they are using their collective brain capacity to full measure and trying not to blow something up or . . . whatever.

So last night they went into the basement of a college building and had to "do something" to a special computer, and if they didn't do it correctly everything would blow up or catch fire or whatever. See? I didn't have to know anything more than that. Because I know they're going to either (a) succeed, or (b) fail and have to come up with another plan. But none of them is going to die, so even if they fail, they will escape before the explosion.

That pretty much sums up every episode of Scorpion, actually. Which may make one wonder what's the point in watching? I guess to see what bizarre circumstances they face, and maybe because of the interpersonal character stuff (though I find most of that annoying).

I mean, I kept watching MacGyver as a kid because (a) I had a crush on Richard Dean Anderson, and (b) I actually learned stuff. Seeing Mac find ways out was most of the fun. It's not quite as much fun watching the Scorpion team do it, but that's only because none of them have as great a personality as MacGyver did. Maybe Cabe. I do like Cabe.

Anyway, this episode gets extra credit for the Shakespeare, and for having Walter set those drama snots in their places. I've done my share of theater, and just . . . No. I could go on a complete spur about how workshops fail aspiring writers, actors, etc. by stroking their egos and giving them false hope, but I'll just say: No.

So, yeah, an okay episode that maybe could have done a bit more with the material. They tried to cram in a lot and so didn't do much with any one piece of it. But maybe that's better than lingering too long on anything either.

Television: Doctor Who, "Hell Bent"

So in the end we're supposed to believe the Doctor does it all to save Clara.

And it just . . . It doesn't work for me.

It worked with the whole Rose story line. The bond between them, his inability to save her and the universe at the same time, the great sorrow at their having to part. So why not now?

Maybe because it has been done already, in a way (and better). Maybe because it becomes ridiculous to believe every companion has this impact on the Doctor. And we did the forgetting thing with Donna, too, only the other way around. So it just doesn't feel fresh at all. In fact, it feels a bit like a messy stew of ideas that didn't get fully cooked properly.

I won't even bother with the details. There was Gallifrey and there was the American Southwest again. There was the Doctor getting shouty and some convoluted logic in taking Clara out of the moment of her death and whatever. They failed in the key point: making me care. With Rose I cared, with Donna I cared, even with Amy and Rory I cared, but this one felt sloppy from the start.

So I'm hoping, just a bit, for some kind of fresh start after all this? Can we be done? Has this been settled? I don't even care if it hasn't been settled at this point, I just want to start over and hope for something better. Like a reset button.

Moffat does small stories very well. His solo episodes like "Girl in the Fireplace" and "Blink" are solid, largely considered some of the best since the show rebooted in 2005. But when he tries to paint a bigger picture, it's just a mess. RTD did it so well, and so even if Moffat were good at it, he'd probably still suffer by comparison. But he's not good at it, so the contrast is even greater.

At the end of the day, out of this entire season (or first half of the season, or whatever it is), I only actually enjoyed the two-parter about the lake. That's a terrible batting average.

And I so want to like this show. I want it to be good again. It's starting to be painful, and if it doesn't turn around, I may have to abandon it. Which I really don't want to do. But sticking it out 'til the bitter end is devolving into hate watching, and I don't want to do that, either.

It's so difficult, watching a show you love wither on the vine. Let's get some irrigation going, stat.


Television: The Leftovers, "I Live Here Now"

This was the Season 2 finale. We may or may not get a Season 3. But that's okay, but this ended in a satisfying spot. [spoilers ahead]

I'll admit to getting a tad annoyed with the Lost-like stuff. More purgatory/afterlife. Yes, it was true to the story that had been set up (rather than being somewhat random as it was in Lost), but it felt like a re-tread. A we-did-this-once-before kind of thing. Because we'd seen Kevin die and come back, like, just a couple episodes ago. Never mind seeing all the afterlife stuff on Lost a few years back.

That aside, however, I was pleased with the way things played out. Though I did wonder about why one would bother with a countdown clock. Doesn't that just give law enforcement time to thwart your plan? If you're going to blow something up (and yeah, I know, they weren't), you just do it. You don't give people time to act against you.

Not that it seemed like anyone was doing much to stop it from happening anyway.

Overall, though, I enjoyed this season more than the first. It simply had more of a coherent story. It had the supernatural element turned up a bit, too. Some people might not enjoy that, but I felt like there was just the right amount of it. The kind of "weirdness" you might run into once or twice in life without being able to explain it. Well, except coming back to life. You don't run into that much (in my experience).

While I can hope for more, I simultaneously worry they'll ruin it if they push it too far. You know how it is when a really good show that you like tries to squeak out a couple more seasons. It sours. We don't need this to go X-Files or anything. But if they can get another great story pulled together, well, that could be something to look forward to.

The Story Behind the Story of Peter

I was given the opportunity to write an article about my inspiration for The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller for the literary magazine upcoming4.me. Click here to read it!


Books: The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller

It's now available for pre-order! At a huge discount, so don't wait.

You can pre-order for your Amazon Kindle, or on Smashwords. Apple, Nook, and Kobo coming soon.

Release is 15 January. But if you order now, you'll only pay 99c/99p and still get it on release day! It'll just pop right into your e-reader!

And when you do read it, please do me the favor of an honest review. Both pre-orders and reviews can make or break a book (and author).

Thanks again for supporting my work! I love my readers!


Games: Buffalo and Cinelinx

Our family is trying to institute a game night, or just play more games in general rather than watching television all the time. Some games are for all of us (two adults, three fairly young children). Some are just for the two grown-ups. Buffalo and Cinelinx are the latter.

Both are card games. Buffalo has two stacks of cards with random nouns and modifiers, and you have name someone who fits both categories. If you can't think of anyone, two more cards get set out and you have to name someone who fits at least two of the cards, if not more. You get to take the cards you "use," and the person with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner. One rule is, though, that you can't use the same person twice.

I'll admit, this game stumped us a few times. But what made it especially tricky is the subjectivity of a lot of it. For example, two cards were: "Secret Society Member" and "Skinny." I said, "George Bush?" Then came the debate over whether he counts as skinny. "He's not fat," I reasoned. And so I was allowed to take the cards, but there's this sort of uneasy feeling that permeates the game. A lot of, "I guess so . . ." and shrugging.

Buffalo was okay, but I enjoyed Cinelinx a lot more. To be fair, I'm a movie buff and have a film degree, so this game might not be for everyone. There are a variety of cards with genres, actors, directors, quotes, and movie titles on them. Each person gets ten cards, and a genre is laid in the center of the table. Then you have to connect your cards, kind of like dominos. Like, if the genre is Drama, and you have A Few Good Men, you can connect the two. Or you can put Steven Soderbergh down as someone who directs dramas. Or a quote from Rain Man or whatever.

The game requires a fairly extensive working knowledge of movies. The quote cards don't say which movies they're from, so if it's something you don't recognize . . . Or if you have a movie card for something you've never seen . . . Luckily, there's an option to swap out cards, but it means losing a couple turns.

Ultimately, the goal is to have no cards left.

Both are good games. I think I'll come to enjoy Buffalo more with practice; it requires quick thinking. With Cinelinx, I feel more adept, plus you're taking turns, so you don't feel as rushed. It's not a matter of "who shouts first" like with Buffalo.

In any case, I would recommend either game as an addition to anyone's collection.


Romantic Tarot & Energy Oracle Cards

Received a couple new decks in advance of Hanukkah/Christmas/my birthday!

The first is the Romantic Tarot by Lo Scarabeo. So far I'm really enjoying it. I love the artwork and the conceit of having each suit set in a different romantic city. The little book has great descriptions for each card, too, which usually I find Lo Scarabeo's card descriptions (or the translations of them) a tad weak, so this one is a nice surprise. It gives each card a sort of name—for example, the 3 of Cups is "The House of Love." Then it gives a short explanation. Continuing with the current example: "The body is happy when it has what it wants." Finally there is a single keyword, in this case: "Happiness."

3 of Cups, Knight of Wands, Judgement, Strength

The cards cleverly include symbols that show the suit and number, but they are also clearly marked with the number at the top and the suit depicted at the bottom. For the Major Arcana, only the Roman numeral is used, so you may want to have a passing knowledge of the cards, though the book will also clearly tell you what each card is.

NOTE, however, that though the VIII card depicts Strength, in the booklet VIII is listed as Justice (similarly, card XI is clearly Justice though the booklet names it as Strength). A minor mixup, but one that might be a problem for those not better versed in the cards.

In short, I enjoy the stories these cards suggest and very much like the art and, well, romanticism of them. Verdict is still out on how well they read; we're still getting to know one another. But I did feel almost immediately friendly with them.

Now the Energy Oracle is a fairly well-known deck, I think. I see it around a lot online, and I've wanted it for ages. So I'm very excited to have it.

These are 53 cards that cover a number of situations, including the seven chakras. Unlike some oracles, I feel like this one is pretty clear and plain-spoken. I appreciate that when I draw a card the answer makes sense rather than feeling obscure.

The guidebook also expounds on whatever message the card(s) you draw might be trying to give. It is, in short, a fabulous deck, and I can see why so many like it.

One tiny beef I have is in its production values. The laminate on the deck I received is streaky, and in some cases damaged and peeling away from the backs of the cards. So points deducted for poor manufacturing.

Television: Limitless, "Arm-aggedon"

This show is just so . . . It amuses me no end. Sock puppets? Sure, I think in sock puppets. Actually, I think in stuffed animals, which I keep strategically situated throughout the house so that I can pretend I'm talking to someone other than myself. But whatever.

Whoever writes this . . . It's so tight, and funny, with just the right amount of pathos. For example, in this episode Brian must (a) figure out how and who is hacking prosthetic arms and causing their users to do things they don't want to do, and (b) admit to his dad that he doesn't want to sue the FBI and quit working for them because, hey, he likes it!

Also, sock puppets. And kittens. I mean, how can you say no to that?

Limitless is a well-made show in a very different way from something like Fargo or The Leftovers, not least because it's a network show. These days, being held to network standards can feel like something of a handicap—you can't swear as much, you can't be as graphically violent. At a time when cable shows get all the attention and accolades, doing network television can feel like a losing battle. But Limitless manages to entertain me as much as those other shows, and in a very novel way. Plus it's great when I don't feel like watching something heavy. So in my book it wins.


Television: Elementary, "All My Exes Live in Essex"

This episode touches on, then shies from, marriages involving multiple partners. By which I mean two men married to the same woman, or two couples married to each other, or so on.

In this case, the central mystery is the death of an infertility/IVF doctor whose skeletal remains are discovered in the organ donor part of the hospital. Whoever killed the woman (Abby Campbell) knew how to strip and reassemble a skeleton.

And then it turns out Abby is married to two men in a triangular relationship. But she'd previously been part of a six-way relationship, and there was some bad blood regarding Abby having put the down payment on the house they all shared.

Then other tidbits crop up, including the fact Abby was giving embryos to a friend doing stem cell research. And was collecting blood from members of her cancer support group.

Truth is, though, it's pretty clear from early on whodunit. So despite all the herrings, I wasn't surprised by the reveal.

A secondary plot involved a police officer named Cortes making inquiries about Watson. When Watson confronts her, Cortes first blows her off then admits she doesn't like consultants. The police should do their own jobs in Cortes' opinion. (Watson also discovers Cortes didn't get a promotion because Gregson didn't take the job he was offered last season, and Cortes may blame Watson's research for that.) Cortes hints she may look into the reason Holmes and Watson were suddenly allowed to start consulting again. Holmes tells Watson to settle the feud the old-fashioned way, and so Watson boxes Cortes. We don't see the fight, but Watson returns pretty beat up yet tells Holmes she landed the last punch.

I can admire the desire to up the tension by throwing in a new adversary, but I wasn't wowed by the Cortes thing. Her fixation on Watson in particular is a bit off-putting, which it's meant to be, but . . . I don't know. Something about it didn't flow for me.

Also, Jonny Lee Miller has been making a lot of strange faces lately. I feel like he's exaggerating his expressions more than usual. It's distracting.

Still, a fair episode overall. I'm enjoying this season a bit more than the last.


Television: Doctor Who, "Heaven Sent"


Okay, so at the end of "Face The Raven," the Doctor was sent via a teleportation bracelet to . . . Basically this place designed to force him to confess stuff? It's a place filled with his worst fears, and in order to get them to stop, even temporarily, he has to confess something each time. And the whole thing is related to this idea of a Dalek-Time Lord hybrid or something? A creature that can either save or destroy the world (or universe or whatever)? And the whole thing also involves the Doctor looping continually through this scenario, though he goes a bit further into the future each time.

Make sense?

Does it even matter whether it makes sense?

Throughout all this, too, the Doctor has a kind of projected Clara writing on a chalkboard. He calls her "Teacher," and she's really just the other side of himself as he tries to reason out what's happening. But he projects her as his conversation partner, yet apparently cannot remember her voice, so she's forced to write on the board. We don't see her face either.

The end result of all this, which was incredibly belabored and not at all interesting, is that the Doctor finally gets free of this place/loop (and the viewer finally gets free of this awful episode) and realizes, or declares, or however you want to think of it, that there IS no hybrid because Daleks don't, er, do that. Hybrid, that is. And so this thing that has the power to either save or destroy is him.

Of course it is.

It's hardly a revelation. How much more interesting would it have been if it had been Missy or something? (I do wonder if she had anything to do with the bracelet and loop—she'd surely know what the Doctor most fears, right?)

There have been episodes that don't hold my interest. There have been episodes with glaring holes in the logic. But this one had to be one of the worst episodes of Doctor Who I've ever seen. My husband put it this way: "I think Steven Moffat has crawled up his own ass and come out the other end." I'm not 100% sure what the "other end" is, but yeah, that about sums up how I feel about the whole thing.

I'll concede that, had I watched more closely, maybe it would have made a more favorable impression? But try as I might, I simply could not devote all my energy and attention to this episode. It was so . . . bad. I started out watching and then felt myself curling into a fetal position as a form of self-preservation against it. I was forced to resort to games on my iPhone to distract my brain from being bombarded by the awfulness of it all.

Next week the Doctor is home on Gallifrey. Will he save it or destroy it? How much do we really care either way? Under other circumstances, I'd think it was super cool to have Gallifrey in the mix. Now I'm just worried it'll be another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad episode. Kick a dog a few times, the dog gets boot shy. Just sayin'.


Television: Scorpion, "Arrivals and Departures"

Must be set in an airport, right?

What if I told you it was set in a hospital?


Like that song by Live, you know, where the one person dies as the other is born? Yeah, this is that episode.

(Is that what the song is about? I don't actually listen to Live.)

ANYway. Everyone has gathered at the hospital because Megan is nearing her end. This includes Walter and Megan's parents, and we discover Walter naturally comes by being kind of a jerk because his dad is one, too. The big difference being Walter is a genius jerk, I guess.

Meanwhile, the hospital then gets locked down because of a quarantine situation. Happy and Toby end up trapped in a cafeteria area with rapidly spreading fungus and a woman in labor. Walter and Paige also end up separated from Megan, the O'Brien parents, and Sylvester. So then we must go through the cliché concern that Walter won't make it to Megan's bedside in time to say goodbye.

And Toby helps deliver a baby.

The one thing that rings really true to me in this episode is Walter's response to his perceived failure in saving his sister. He goes back to the Scorpion office and begins unplugging things, just reducing it to nothing. It's exactly the reaction I have when I also feel I've failed at something. I want to just toss it out a window. People with high IQs tend to be all-or-nothing, somewhat extreme. And we're used to succeeding, so we don't deal well with even a little resistance. In any case, when I saw that scene, I thought, "Ah. I know that feeling."

I was sorry to see Megan go. She was a good character, and she and Sylvester were a nice element to the show. The show itself is pretty solid, though not appointment viewing. I find I don't need to give it all of my attention, but that it's good for "background entertainment" where I listen to what's going on more than watch. If there were more things on television at the moment that engaged me fully, Scorpion would probably eventually fall off my list, if only because I feel like they beat me over the head with Walter and his "emotional development." The show lacks subtlety and nuance, two things I very much enjoy. But it does tell a few good stories.

Television: Limitless, "Headquarters!"

Another great, funny, entertaining episode.

Brian wants his own "headquarters!", or really, his own office with "Headquarters!" on the door. Naz consistently tells him no, but then Brian makes a deal with her: If he can locate the FBI's Ten Most Wanted . . . then can he have his HQ?

He assembles a crack team of Boyle, Ike, Mike, Harris, and Rooks, and they get to work. I won't go into the details, but it was a fun and fast-moving episode with a good heart. Brian finds that one of the men on the list is likely innocent and applies himself to proving it.

The post-episode tags made the show. Honestly, the people who make Limitless must be a lively bunch, the kinds of folks you want at your holiday party.

Because a lot of what I watch is heavier dramas, I find Limitless to be a welcome change to my viewing diet. (I use Scream Queens to the same end.) It's difficult to find something well-written, well-acted and funny. This is why I watch so few sitcoms. But if we could get a few more of these dramedies on the air, I'd be plenty happy.

Television: Fargo & The Leftovers (Second Seasons So Far)

These are two of the best shows on television at the moment. Fargo is a small story told incredibly well; its consistency in high quality from episode to episode is unparalleled. The Leftovers is more ambitious in scope, which means it does have "off" episodes. But it's still mostly well done.

Both are dark and heavy dramas. After watching either of them, I feel the need for a palate cleanser—a lighter show. I can't watch either of these right before bed because they weigh me down too much. This is why I often save Fargo, which comes on rather late on Mondays, for another night.

Fargo is committed to all the good writing and cinematic style those of us who love Cohen brothers' movies expect and love. The Leftovers sometimes feels a lot like Lost thanks to Lindelof. That means there are times when it's convoluted, and that the mystery of what's going on sometimes trumps the story. But if you enjoyed Lost, and if you can forgive some of those issues that show had—if you can let go of the need for definite answers—you'll probably like The Leftovers.

I call these shows "the best" because they exhibit fine writing, fine acting, and fine directing. They are engaging as well as beautiful to look at. Fargo has already been given a third season, but it's questionable whether we'll get any more of The Leftovers. I'll have to make the most of the current serving.


Television: Elementary, "Tag, You're Me"

After being away on vacation I'm behind on my DVR viewing and don't even know where to start, so I'll start here.

This episode of Elementary had Holmes and Watson back on familiar turf as they helped the NYPD figure out the double homicide of two men who looked remarkably alike but were not related. Clearly someone was out to kill one of these men, but when confronted with two the murderer decided to hedge his bets and kill both. It all traces back to a website that specializes in helping people find doppelgangers. (I'm still not clear why anyone would want to do that, except if and when you needed an alibi to a crime, so . . .)

In truth, the story had a lot of holes that left me sputtering and raging at the telly. Once you know someone has a lookalike, why would you believe their alibi? And sure enough, it all looped back to that. So while it was an interesting plot, it was easily unraveled. And I can't really enjoy this show if I'm ahead of the dynamic duo. They're supposed to be brilliant, right? Or at least one of them is? When they overlook the obvious, I have problems with it.

The B story involved Holmes helping his dad with a work issue, the idea being that the sooner the issue was resolved, the sooner Holmes Sr. would leave town. Having Daddy in New York makes Holmes feel cramped. But at the end of the day, Morland declares his intention to stay in New York for the time being. He's quite suddenly feeling paternal it seems. Has losing Mycroft done something to him? Or is Morland suffering a terminal illness that will be revealed later? Sigh. I hope not. It would be so clich&eacute.

It was an okay episode. Not stellar but not the worst. The season is off to a steady and solid if not amazing start.


Television: Doctor Who, "Face The Raven"


I really, really tried to watch this episode, like just sit and watch it. But my mind kept wandering. I just couldn't concentrate on it. And it's not like I was thinking about anything in particular—I wasn't preoccupied—I just wasn't engaged.

Spoilers ahead, btw.

We all know this as the episode in which Clara dies. She sacrifices herself for Rigsy. Remember him? Street artist guy? Now he has a baby girl because we have to pile on all that stuff in order for Clara's sacrifice to make sense and have more weight. Anyway, Rigsy calls the TARDIS (Clara has been handing out the number) when a weird tattoo appears on the back of his neck—and it appears to be counting down.

Countdowns are, as a rule, a bad thing. Except maybe at New Year's.

Through some convoluted logic, the Doctor, Clara, and Rigsy find a hidden street. All very Harry Potter, really. Turns out Maisie Williams (again, sigh, and I can't be bothered with her character name) is "mayor" of this street. She's branded Rigsy with the countdown because he's been charged with murder of a resident of her street.

Now I'm not sure what the point of a countdown is if you're then going to wipe someone's memory. I mean seriously. Rigsy is told she was giving him time to say goodbye, but he makes the very valid point that he couldn't remember anything so how could he know to say goodbye? This system is fatally flawed. Then again, I suppose the countdown is usually used on residents of the street, and they don't get their memories wiped. So under normal circumstances I guess it works.

In fact, we're given a demonstration of the titular raven coming to claim someone's soul. Just so we know what's coming. I think it would have been scarier and more dramatic not to know, but whatever. Does make you wonder—two in one day? What's the crime rate on this supposedly safe haven street?

Convinced that Rigsy did not kill this woman he's accused of murdering, the Doctor, Clara and Rigsy use Rigsy remaining time to try to ferret out the actual killer. As a stopgap measure, Clara also takes the countdown from Rigsy. Because conveniently, that's allowed so long as the person taking it is willing to sacrifice themselves for the condemned. Clara's reasoning is that she's been given absolute protection by Mayor Maisie, so they can't kill her anyway, right?

And as it turns out, the supposed murder victim? Isn't dead.


In fact, when they find the murdered woman's body, the Doctor reaches in to unlock the stasis chamber it's in and gets slapped with a metal cuff that turns out to be a teleportation device. This whole thing has been a setup from the start.

Geez, talk about unnecessarily complicated plans.

Now here is where things get . . . I dunno. It's like I didn't buy in to this logic. Mayor Maisie goes to take the countdown off Rigsy only to discover it's on Clara. But for some convoluted reason, she can't take it off Clara. She says it's because she made a deal with the Quantum Shade (aka Raven) that only she could break, but Clara had cut her out of the loop by taking on the countdown. Huh? Maisie could break the contract if the countdown was on Rigsy but not if it's on Clara? The contract was for a soul. How could it matter which soul? If Maisie was going to void or break the contract anyway, the raven wasn't going to get a soul, was it? In short, I just don't believe she couldn't save Clara.

So then there's a lot of Clara and the Doctor saying goodbye and a somewhat overwrought death scene. (Three shots of the screaming? This is me rolling my eyes.)

The Doctor is, of course, very angry about all this and warns Maisie that . . . he's very angry with her for this trick that resulted in his companion's death. Then his transporter bracelet takes him away to whatever we're going to see next week.

It was not a terrible episode despite the circular logic that I didn't quite buy and the fact that I wasn't entirely invested. If they use Clara's death the right way in terms of the Doctor's motivation and character development, then this may be a good jumping off point for future episodes. The show as a whole may improve for it. We'll see.


Television: Jessica Jones, "AKA Ladies Night"

When someone told me this was another Marvel-universe show, I was like, "Jesus, no, I'm so sick of Marvel."

Then when they told me David Tennant was in it, I was like, "Holy f***, turn it on RIGHT NOW!"

But I only had enough time to watch the first episode, and there was hardly any David Tennant at all. So I'm a bit bummed.

Still, I did like the show. I mean, I think I'd like it even without the promise of David Tennant dangling in front of my nose like a juicy carrot? It's difficult to be sure.

The show itself follows a private investigator named, er, Jessica Jones. She gets hired to find a couple's missing college-student daughter only to discover the girl has been taken by the same man (Tennant!) who'd taken Jessica 6+ months before. A man who should be dead.

And by "taken" we mean this man has powers of persuasion that convince people to do whatever he wants them to do, often including Very Bad Things.

Jessica, meanwhile, is apparently an Inhuman? We get a taste of her having super strength, and the man calls her "one of them," so I'm extrapolating here.

I haven't read the comics and probably won't read anything about the characters and how they tie in with every other thing. It's just too much, and I'm feeling bombarded by Marvel these days. I've given up Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. already. But if I can enjoy Jessica Jones on its own, without having to cloud things with all this excess "universe" knowledge, that will be worth something.


Television: Scorpion, "US vs. UN vs. UK"

Members of MI6 turn up just in time to capitalize on the new Bond film and demand that Scorpion help them assassinate a UN member who also happens to be an arms dealer.

In truth, it was a pretty good episode. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into details, but I found the whole of it satisfying, even if the ending (which consists of an Ocean's 11-style flashback) seems a tad cliché. The fun is in seeing how it's done.

For the B plot, we discover Walter has gotten a court order that allows him to dictate Megan's treatment, including intubating her when she doesn't want it. When Megan awakens and begs Sylvester to do something to stop her having to be intubated again, Sylvester takes a big step and marries Megan so that his say will trump Walter's. (The court order was predicated on Megan having no spouse or other closer relative than Walter.)

And I'm starting to wonder if Ray is going to add up to something bigger later on. Otherwise he's the world's most convenient character, always "knowing a guy" or happening to speak Polish when the team needs it. There has to be a story there, right? Something beyond the firefighter thing? I could maybe come to like Ray if there's a big reveal somewhere down the line.

Television: Doctor Who, "Sleep No More"

So let me just . . . This was a story about how the crud from your eyes when you sleep becomes sentient and tries to kill you? Am I understanding this correctly?

This episode felt like something I'd seen before. Repeatedly. People stuck on a space station with something bad trying to kill them. It's really just the nature of the bad thing that changes, and in this case . . . Again, really? Sleep crud?

The ending was pretty lame, too. It felt like a cheesy story my 10-year-old might come up with. It also felt like this episode should have aired closer to Hallowe'en, which is when you can more get away with that kind of thing.

So I don't know. The episode didn't much hold my interest and felt like a throwaway. Passing bonus points for use of Shakespeare, but that's about it.


Television: Elementary, "Evidence of Things Not Seen"

Holmes' father offers to get Holmes and Watson back in the good graces of the NYPD. Holmes doubts his father's sincerity, wondering what his father will eventually want in return. "There's always a cost," he tells Watson when he puts the offer to her. But eventually Holmes decides he'd be happier if he could work with the NYPD again and that it might be worth risking eventually owing his father.

Watson is harder to convince. She does some digging and notes that Morland Holmes' way of getting what he wants is not always, shall we say, above board. Questionable at best, possibly illegal at times. Still, she's willing to go along with what Holmes wants.

Part of their desire to go back to working with the NYPD is their current case as consultants with the FBI is far too restrictive. Their FBI handler is a helicopter parent and Holmes and Watson must revert to sneaking in order to get the info they need to solve the case. Note the parallel, though: Holmes and Watson do something illegal in order to get what they want, all the while claiming it's for the greater good. Just as Holmes Sr. claims he's clearing his son's path for the good of his son.

The case itself is moderately interesting: in a secure lab, two researchers, a test patient and a lab rat are murdered. The researchers were working on some government stuff, namely how to change people's minds through propaganda (aka brainwashing). Initial evidence points to a Chinese diplomat, but we all know the first suspect is seldom the last, and the episode goes through the usual rounds before landing in a somewhat interesting spot.

On the whole I found it better than the season premiere. I still don't feel the whatever I'm supposed to feel between John Noble and Jonny Lee Miller. Like there should be tension but there's kind of nothing. Which is maybe the point? But I feel like there should be something. The Watson-Holmes Sr. dynamic was only slightly better. Then again, when you start from a negative number, odds of improvement are greater. Right? So here's hoping, assuming Noble sticks around (he's in the credits but could always drop out again, I guess), it only gets better from here.

Podcasts: Mystery Show

There are only six of these at the moment, and they vary in quality, but on the whole I find them interesting enough for my morning walks.

The gist of the podcast is Starlee Kine gets involved in people's lingering questions and attempts to answer them. By which I mean, one episode is all about a belt buckle a guy's friend found when they were young. It's a unique belt buckle and has a couple different names on it, so . . . Can Starlee find the original owner? The podcast then follows Starlee's progress as she tries various avenues to solve the mystery.

Again, some episodes are stronger than others. The first one about a missing video store is, in fact, possibly the weakest. But all of them are worth a listen, and I hope there may be more in the future.


Books: Broken Harbor by Tana French

This is the fourth in the Dublin Murder Squad series, and French's writing is as good as ever. Yet while the book pulled me along, and the mystery was a good one, I still felt a few things were lacking.

The story is of Mike "Scorcher" Kennedy, paired with newbie Richie on a high-profile murder investigation. A family in the suburbs has been killed, and of course the goal is to figure out whodunit and lock them up.

I like Kennedy as a narrator, though I don't find him as compelling as some of the others in previous books in the series. (This series has a different central character for each novel.) It feels a bit as though French was reaching for unhappy circumstances for him—a mother that committed suicide and a sister who's flat-out insane. And the sister thing sort of falls to nothing in the end. Which is maybe meant to be poignant; there's a lot of that in this book too. Maybe the point is, things just are and there isn't always a way to fix them, you just have to learn to live with them.

And then again, the flip side of that is not to try and live with things that you shouldn't. That lesson is the heart of the murder case.

Meanwhile, without giving anything away, I'll say the turn with Richie is unfortunate, and though I can see where at a stretch it's not entirely out of the character French built, I still feel it doesn't quite fit.

Still, it's a solid book. Immersive and atmospheric. I enjoyed it.


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

I think I'm just about done with this show.

Andrew is Lash. They subdue him and store him for later. Coulson does the dirty with Rosalind. Then we find out she's the bad guy we pretty much figured she was from the start.

Really, my problem is that almost no one ever stays dead. There's nothing at stake, no real risk. There's always a chance someone will be resurrected. Which means if a character dies, so what? And that means I have no reason to care.

Sure, half the fun is in getting there. But lately I haven't found this show to be very fun. In the world of road trips, this would be the long, boring stretch across the plains. Every now and then you might see a tree, or a dilapidated barn, but there's not anything to get excited about. S.H.I.E.L.D. makes me want to whine, "Are we there yet?" every five minutes.

So I don't know. I may give it one or two more episodes, but if something amazing doesn't happen, this one may be falling off my DVR.

Television: Scorpion, "Area 51"

So not long after watching the CIA poach Brian from Limitless, I was seeing them offer Scorpion a big job as well, and though it was meant to appear above board, it was clearly not. The CIA is coming off poorly these days.

Megan is very ill, and Walter is enticed by the big payout the CIA is promising (he wants to fund research that will save his sister—specifically he wants to download her consciousness), so he takes the job. I sort of lost interest after that. There were planes and secrets and lots of fussing about how Walter was handling Megan's illness. None of it had me very riveted except . . . I did enjoy seeing Sylvester and Megan. It'll be a shame if/when she dies because they're becoming one of the best parts of the show.

No Ray this week either. Hmm. (Or did I just miss him when I wasn't paying attention?)

In short, it wasn't a very compelling episode. The ones that focus too much on Walter rarely are. We get it, he's emotionally stunted. Fine, whatever. Use that however it works for plot points, but stop harping on it. I'm tired of being beat over the head with Walter's inability to express his feelings. *gag*

More Cabe would be nice. Walter is certainly more tolerable when diluted by Cabe. I've had my fill of Happy and Toby, but focusing on other characters now and then wouldn't hurt the show.


Movies: Spectre

Featuring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Written By: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth from the characters created by Ian Fleming
Columbia/MGM, 2015
PG-13; 148 minutes
1.75 stars (out of 5)

Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond. Or really, I prefer the semi-realistic style of the Craig movies to the camp of previous incarnations. But when I look at the three previous films, I have to admit I only liked two of the three. Really enjoyed Casino Royale, yawned through Quantum of Solace (and even on attempts to re-watch it, I can't enjoy it), and despite all its flaws I loved Skyfall. So maybe we were due for a down.

Which isn't to say Spectre is a bad movie. It's . . . okay. It seems largely pasted together from known Fleming novels and characters. Here a little Live and Let Die, there a bunch of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, all repackaged for a modern audience.

And yet the modernity may be the problem. In today's world, spying is more a game of information—who knows what and when—versus the romantic idea of having a man "behind the lines." And that's central to the plot of Spectre: Is the 00 program antiquated? Is it necessary now that we can gather intelligence in so many other ways? In Spectre, Bond and his cohorts face dismantling as shiny new initiatives are put into place. And the writers wrestle with having to make intelligence gathering exciting.

Here is my chief beef with the film: It wasn't fun. Barring perhaps the opening scene (there's a reason I don't like helicopters), the action in this movie is subpar to what I've come to expect from the Craig-as-Bond franchise. The car chase was (dare I say it?) boring. The fight on the train was so edited that I couldn't feel any tension for it. There is no real fight in the baddie's HQ. And as Bond races through a building set to implode, again . . . I just didn't feel the tension I wanted and needed to feel.

There were also some glaringly bizarre things that distracted me from the movie. Like, does Bond just keep M's video queued up on his TV so it will play when he turns the TV on? (Okay, okay, maybe he had it all ready to go because he planned ahead to show it to Moneypenny. But still.) Why wasn't the smart blood/vital signs thing put to better use? Q et al should have been able to see Bond was being tortured, right? And why were there no drops of blood on that white shirt when we saw the needle drip? Also, why the big subterfuge with the Mexican woman—that is, why go all the way back to her hotel room when he could have just followed the bad guy directly? I know they wanted to track and reveal—I mean, I know artistically why—but my mind snags on the lack of logic.


I had issues with C being a knowing compatriot of Blofeld. I think it would have had more impact to have him just be a separate obstacle to overcome, just a symbol of "progress" taken to an extreme. I had issues with Hinx (Dave Bautista) speaking that last line when it would have been stronger to have him say it all with his expression. I had issues with Bond not killing Blofeld (even though I do understand he was fulfilling Mallory's earlier statement about "a license not to kill"). In fact, I don't quite understand why Bond didn't put a bullet in Hinx's head at the car accident, either, just to be sure. Maybe I'm cold, but I would have done.

And you can't tell me, no matter how late it is, that there are no cars on the road in Rome. It's fucking Rome. I've been there. People are out all the time. Same for Waterloo Bridge in London. I was just there, guys, and there are people out all the time. And this is, what, midnight or thereabouts? There would have been hundreds of people crowding that scene.

The stuff that was supposed to be funny, like the Italian man in the Fiat (so, yes, there was one car on the road in Rome)? Again, totally pulled me out of the movie. Wasn't funny, just made me think, Why? If they were trying to call back to the whimsy of earlier films, it didn't work. Craig's Bond doesn't do whimsy.

I also didn't buy the romance between Bond and Swann. And I'm still wondering if Estrella called Felix and got somewhere safe. I dunno, but this movie left me weirdly unfulfilled.

HOWEVER. There are some good things. I really liked the music (barring the Sam Smith song, which I think is too . . . something . . . for a Bond theme). And I like that they gave Q and Moneypenny more to do. And I like that Mallory (the new M, yes, but I didn't want to confuse him with the M video on Bond's TV) goes a bit rogue and takes Q and Moneypenny and Tanner with him. I would've loved more of that and less of Bond and Swann, truthfully. I want to see M kick ass more often.

So yeah, I don't know. I was underwhelmed. I go to a James Bond movie to be entertained—highly entertained. This one didn't quite reach that mark. I feel like the cast was brilliant but the story was thin. I also felt like Christoph Waltz needs pants that cover his ankles when he sits down, and I didn't get that either. This one fell short all around.


Television: Limitless, "Brian Finch's Black Op"

This was one of the best things I've seen in a long time. Jake McDorman does a spot-on Ferris Bueller.

In this episode, Brian (McDorman) tries to take a day off from work only to get kidnapped by the CIA. They want Brian's mad NZT skills to track a fugitive. Brian is forced to plot the death of a couple other guys to keep himself alive, a line he hasn't had to cross until now. As an FBI asset he's been largely sheltered from the dirty stuff; even the Sand/Morra grubbiness never went as far as murder.

Limitless is such a good show, not because of the episodic plots but because the main character is just so likable. We're willing to deal with the average plots in order to spend time with him. And that's what good television is—if you have characters the viewers love, they'll keep coming back no matter how weak some of the stories get.

But in this case, the plot was actually fun too because of the Ferris Bueller riff. Yeah, tracking through the woods isn't riveting, and we didn't really care a ton about the fugitive guy, but there was enough amusing stuff in the episode to keep us entertained regardless. And Limitless has become one of my favorite shows because it is consistently entertaining.

Television: Doctor Who, "The Zygon Inversion"

I know, I know, I know that everyone is posting little snippets of the Doctor's big speech from this episode and praising it and so on, but for me entertainment should not come with a lecture. If you have to beat me over the head with your message, you're not doing a good job with your writing to begin with. Add to that the fact your audience almost certainly has the same values as you—you're preaching to the choir—and it's a waste of time to even put such a message into the show.

Let me be clear. Everything the Doctor said is true, and it was well said. But I didn't tune in to be told I should believe something I already believe. Tell me a fucking story, and if that story has a point or a message that's fine, but don't knock me senseless with it, and don't bring everything to a screeching halt for it either.

Okay, but what about the episode itself (minus the lecture)? Uh . . . Clara sort of wakes up in the Matrix, I guess? Like, she's in a construct but her body is really in that Zygon pod. And she's communicating with Evil Clara, or Zygon Clara, or whatever you want to call her. She's able to throw off Evil Clara's aim just long enough to give the Doctor and Osgood time to parachute out of the doomed plane.

And then some other stuff, and the big lecture in which the Doctor insists everyone just get along, and everyone goes on their merry ways. Seriously. That's pretty much the sum total of this episode.

I have to question the efficacy of MIB'ing people's memories, though. If it's caused some 15 near wars, maybe it would be more helpful if the people could remember instead of getting this shiny new idea of starting another war? Maybe, "Oh, yeah, we tried that and it didn't work out," is worth something? I just don't see the point of lecturing someone, teaching them a lesson, and then wiping their memories of it.

Now, of course my understanding is the one Zygon that had been Evil Clara became the new Osgood #2. So I suppose she still has her memories. But what good does that do anyone really? She's not planning to travel the galaxy and preach this peace, is she? Will she at least shut down the Zygon terrorist training camp? Will the other Zygons listen to her if/when she tells them to stop? Or will they just pick a new leader? If this has happened some 15 times already, it means they keep picking new leaders, right? Is the Doctor just going to lecture them one by one every time it comes up? There has to be a better way is all I'm saying.


Movies: The Peanuts Movie

Featuring Voices By: Noah Schnapp, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Mariel Sheets
Directed By: Steve Martino
Written By: Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, Cornelius Uliano from the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz
20th Century Fox, 2015
G; 93 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


We've entered that time in our lives (or I've at least entered that time in my life) when everything old is being made new again as corporations cash in on middle-age nostalgia. The shows and toys of my childhood are up for grabs, being reconstructed for those of us eager to share the things we loved with our own children or, if we don't have children, for those of us eager to recapture our youth.

Like many my age, I have distinct memories of Charlie Brown and his gang. There were the usual things: the Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving and Christmas specials, and the eventual Saturday-morning cartoon. Sunday funnies. But there was also the fact I'd been handed down my mother's old Charlie Brown comic books, the ones that look "weird" to those of us who knew Mr. Brown in the 80s because Schulz's style had yet to evolve:

I loved those books, read them until the covers fell off. I invariably took them on long car trips, back when I could read in the car without becoming carsick. Now I wish I still had them so my kids could read the "real" Charlie Brown (I have some of the hardbound collection but won't let the kids touch those).

As a kid, I identified with Charlie Brown, not because of his failures but because he was different—not quite an outcast, yet seemingly living on the fringes. But then I also identified with Linus, who was smart and quiet, and with Lucy, who would get so fed up with everyone, and with imaginative Snoop and artistic Schroeder . . . What I mean to say is, there are bits and pieces of all of us in each Charlie Brown character. We are none of us just one.

Charlie Brown was so ingrained in my childhood that my mother often called my father her "sweet babboo" and would say, "Isn't he just the cutest thing?" Go ahead and gag. I did.

What does any of this have to do with the movie? I only want to set the stage for my bias; I tend to balk whenever anyone mines my childhood joy for fun and profit. I don't especially want Charlie Brown to be modernized. I don't want to hear him speak with a different voice than I'm used to. I don't want him to change because I don't want my memories rewritten.

At the same time, though, it was such a treat to see my two youngest children enjoy this movie. At ages six and seven they loved it. My almost-ten-year-old was suitably embarrassed on Charlie Brown's behalf, too, hiding his face in his hands whenever good ol' CB did something dumb.

There's nothing in the movie to really besmirch my fond memories, either. The whole thing is a tad flimsy, the plot hinging on the arrival of The Little Red-Haired Girl and Charlie Brown's attempts to impress her. Many throwbacks for those of us old enough to "get it." Snoopy, of course, battles the Red Baron, though this time there is a French poodle love interest and no root beer. Sigh. I guess there was no chance it would be perfect.

It was a fine movie. Any lack of enthusiasm on my part almost certainly stems from my resistance to seeing old favorites turned over for new gain. Bottom line, though, is my kids loved it and they'll probably be wearing Joe Cool sweatshirts before long—just like I did.


Movies: Back in Time

So this is a documentary about Back to the Future. And I was kind of wondering what anyone could really have to say about that movie, or rather, I was curious what the angle was, so to speak. Was this about the making of the movie? What was the point of this documentary?

It did start out with a history of getting the film made, about Gale and Zemeckis writing the script and shopping it around and so on. In truth, though, there wasn't much to this backstory; it was the story of many a script in the industry. Lots of passes and then finally a deal. Hollywood is slow, so yeah, it took some years and Zemeckis had to have a hit with Romancing the Stone before he got to make Back to the Future. In terms of Hollywood stories, this one is fairly typical.

Oh, but then this documentary goes into a really long bit about fans who make "time machines" (meaning they dress up DeLoreans to be like the car in BTTF). And there was one guy who'd bought some of the cars, I guess, and some guys who got together and restored the actual BTTF car that was part of the Universal tour. Truthfully, this is where the documentary lost my interest because I don't really care about fans recreating movie props. At least not in this particular context. Maybe if I had some really strong connection to BTTF—if I was a fan the way these people are fans—it would be more interesting to me. I like the movie (it came out when I was nine), and I've seen it a dozen times at least, but it doesn't evoke this crazy reaction in me. So I don't know, maybe this documentary is "by a fan, for fans" rather than for just mildly curious bystanders.

There was something about people inspired to try and create real hoverboards, too. The point being BTTF sort of predicted a lot of technology we now use, and it also inspired innovations. Like, there's a company now trying to make flying cars. (I have reasons to think that's not a great idea, but that's another argument for another time.)

Really, this documentary seemed to be a kind of melting pot of all things BTTF, semi-organized into food groups. For big fans of the movie, I'm sure it's great. For someone like me who likes and remembers the movie but hasn't the drive to be a mega-fan . . . Eh. It was okay. But everything after the story of how the movie got made—everything focused on the fans—sort of bored me.


Television: Elementary, "The Past Is Parent"

So John Noble's name appears in the opening credits, which pretty much gives the game away, and we spend most of the episode waiting for Mr. Holmes to appear. Of course he doesn't until the very end, and I can't say I like Noble for the role, but we'll see.

Everything leading up to that moment is holdover from last season. Remember how Holmes was duped by Oscar and nearly beat him to death then did that heroin? Now the DA is deciding whether to charge Holmes, and neither Holmes nor Watson can get a job consulting for any major agencies. Looks like they'll be back to the old, "Find my cat" and, "Follow my husband, tell me what he's up to" cases.

But then a case does fall in their laps: Bloom, also from last season's finale, approaches Holmes and tells him (a) he did [accidentally] kill a couple addicts he had brought home for rough sex, including where they're buried, and (b) he didn't kill his wife. With that, Bloom kills himself, leaving Holmes to sort out whether finding Bloom's missing wife is worth his time. Well, but what else has he got to do while waiting on the DA's decision?

The case ends up being a somewhat interesting one, but I won't bother with the details. What's nice about this episode is the balance of story to character arc development. The actual mystery is punctuated by Holmes and Watson each doing their best to hold things together. Holmes tries to get the NYPD to at least keep Watson as a consultant; Watson, meanwhile, confronts Mr. Holmes' lackey to complain that Mr. Holmes keeps saying he's going to turn up but never does. The short story there: Don't make promises—or threats—you don't intend to keep.

I do have one beef with it all, though. Watson tells Holmes she doesn't want to do the job unless she's working with him. "I got into this to work with you," she says, more or less. But all last season had been about how she wanted to do her own thing, and how they'd have their own cases, etc. So WTF is this utter flip in character? Yes, we all prefer Holmes and Watson as a team. And I suppose at a stretch one might conjecture she's saying this because she wants to keep an eye on Holmes post-relapse? But that subtext wasn't there, and so her protest felt wrong.

Of course the mystery gets solved, and Holmes also gets a pass from the DA (which one may suspect came from dear old Daddy). And then we get the moment of Holmes confronting his father on the roof of the brownstone. And I don't know, but it fell flat for me. It had all the repression but none of the tension.

Anyway, it seems Holmes Sr. will be around for the time being. This could be an interesting avenue to explore, but they're going to have to do it just right. For me, it's not off to a promising start.

What I'd really like is a spinoff in which Mycroft and Lestrade solve mysteries together in South America while Mycroft tries to remain incognito. Because that would be awesome.


Adverse Possession to screen in San Diego

I just received word the short film Adverse Possession, which is based on my 15-minute play "Warm Bodies," will be screened by the San Diego Film Consortium as part of their Fall Film Festival. The screening is on Friday, November 13th, as part of the horror, sci-fi and thrillers program. I really wish I could attend! But if you happen to be in or around San Diego at the time, please consider dropping in. There's going to be a Q&A with filmmakers afterward, too.

More info here.


Television: Scorpion, "Crazy Train"

Basically an entire episode devoted to trying to stop a runaway subway train.

Which isn't to say it wasn't cool or whatever, but there's not much more to say for it than that.

I mean, Paige and Ralph are on the train when it starts speeding up. It's an automated train, no driver. And of course someone has fiddled with it, so there's that whole find-out-who-did-it thing along with the stop-the-train thing. There's Walter jumping onto the train to help, and the first few things not working so they keep having to MacGyver solutions. There's Cabe yelling a lot. The usual.

Paige gets mad when, toward the end, Walter nearly sacrifices himself to save them (and everyone else on the train). This is supposed to be more of the tension between them, but honestly, I just can't even be made to care any more. I think I'd have been more angry if my son was about to see someone who meant a lot to him die violently, even if it was to save us.

Oh, and Happy goes and does really bad stand-up comedy. Which may have been the best part of the episode. (The episode started with Toby losing his first boxing fight and ended with Happy bombing as a comedienne. Interesting bookending.)

Finally, Ray tells Walter not to get too far from the people who mean the most to him. We get a story about Ray and his best fireman bud, how he lost touch with the widow and son. This is meant to give Ray depth, I guess, but his character is still so spotty I haven't been able to really connect with him yet.

Overall, an okay episode. It felt like all the right elements were there, yet somehow it didn't completely hold my interest. Like it was so rote I didn't really need to pay very close attention.


Television: Doctor Who, "The Zygon Invasion"

I'm not one of those viewers who hoards little tidbits of information and trivia so that I can expound upon it later. And really, given the quality of this show the past year or so, I've actively forgotten a lot of it. So to have Zygons sprung upon me . . . Sigh. I kind of remember them? I definitely remember the Osgood girl. I know I should do better, but I have more important things in my head these days.

It probably doesn't matter one way or another. What we really have is a story of "some are good, some are bad" using aliens instead of, say, Muslims or whatever.

A bunch of Zygons live among us. They look like us; they've assimilated. Then some bad ones turn up and start training to take over the world. They even kill the good Zygons for not embracing their heritage.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to see the parallels.

Meanwhile, I had the Truth or Consequences thing figured out the minute they showed the words on the screen. Do try to be clever, guys. Also, New Mexico doesn't look like that.

And now we have Evil Zygon Clara. Which has the potential to be interesting, but why not Missy? I mean, Evil Clara and Missy feel interchangeable as characters. There seems to be some generic version of "evil woman" that gets pulled up to fill the slot whenever they need one. Very one-dimensional.

It wasn't a bad episode. It just didn't completely hold my interest. And it was hitting me over the head with its message, which is something I don't particularly enjoy. It's harder to do subtle—it takes a lot more craft—but that's why one appreciates a delicate touch.


Television: Limitless, "Side Effects May Include..."

So Brian's immunity shot is wearing off and he's starting to suffer side effects from the NZT. Sands tells him to get his next shot he'll have to get Harris arrested and sent to prison. Of course Brian refuses, suffers for a while, and then Senator Morra (gotta milk the Bradley Cooper stuff) turns up and congratulates Brian on being a person of "character."

I think it's interesting, though, at Morra particularly notes that Brian is not like Sands, someone who follows orders without question. No integrity, really, in Sands.

So Brian is fine and Harris is fine except not really because she nearly gets fired anyway.

But let's go back a little first. Brian showed Harris the files about her dad and his NZT thing, and now Harris feels weird working for Naz because Naz has committed the sin of omission in not telling her about the file and her dad, etc. Which is just when Naz decides to pick Harris for an important FBI exercise in which they will be the "Red Team" setting up some kind of terrible event so the "Blue Team" can neutralize it. War games stuff. Naz even gets Harris a meeting with the Director of the FBI, but Harris is so busy dealing with (a) Brian being sick, and (b) hunting down info about her dad's NZT use that she blows the meeting off.


Naz isn't so easily fooled, of course; she didn't get where she is by being a dummy. And she has a great line, muttered to herself as Harris walks away at one point: "Would you tell me if he was?" She's talking about Brian, and she sounds like a mother whose daughter is hooked on a new boyfriend.

So yeah, Naz confronts Harris about having seen the file, and explains she'd been trying to push Harris up the ladder so that she'd have the clearance to read the file—legally. She's not the bad guy here; she's just trying to work within the system.

Well, whether that's good or bad is sort of a gray area, right?

Anyway, as for Harris' father, well, there was a rehab center in which it seems some addicts were being given NZT as almost a drug trial kind of thing. Brian hunts down the guy (supposedly dead, but not really!) who'd been handling said trial, and he said he'd been given a chemical formula, no idea where it came from, etc. But the NZT seemed to be helping the patients, like the way Harris' dad had gone back to his painting and was more productive than ever. And then all the NZT trial patients began disappearing, dying . . .

The episode ends with Sands disguised as a delivery truck driver dropping a bomb (literally) at the guy's house. So ends that line of inquiry.

Continues to be a good show, and so far they're doing a decent job of building the mythology and central mystery.