Can You Pass?

I was listening to the latest Cracked podcast, which is about social class. We're not talking socioeconomic class, mind you, though money certainly informs the class system. But here it's more about your values system—the things you consider important, the ways you behave, etc.

What interested me is a discussion of transitioning from one class to another. In order to do so, you have to "pass" as the class you want to join. And their customs are different, their behaviors are different. This is where we get the whole, "Dress for the job you want" thing. Or "fake it 'til you make it."

Now, I come from a place where "to pass" means something else. It's about the color of your skin. But I guess this is not so different, really. It's taking into account more than your skin color, or maybe that doesn't matter at all. (The Cracked podcast goes into that pretty extensively as well, so go listen if you want to delve.)

It's the stuff of stories—movies—some kid from the bad part of town making good for himself. Horatio Alger. But what is interesting, per Cracked, is that not everyone is looking to change their social class. They look down on those of a lower class than them, but they're equally distrusting and dismissive of anyone above them. To them, they are in the perfect spot. Not everyone is an ambitious climber of the social ladder.

And then, of course, come the discussions of how difficult it can be to change class even if you want to. You need certain opportunities, which usually comes through networking or money, etc.

All this caused me to reflect on my own life journey. I grew up middle class, at least for where we lived (and that makes a difference, too). We had enough but not a lot of extras. My parents had both served in the military and gone on to community college but nothing more than that. They were bizarrely surprised when I announced I expected to go to university. As if it hadn't occurred to them I would, yet to me it had always seemed like a given.

Maybe I should ask them what they thought I was going to do. They never actually said. Though we were a tight clan (it was just the three of us), my parents were pretty hands off. They weren't into guiding or influencing me (outside of religion, which is another topic entirely). My parents were kind of like: ::shrug:: "Whatever."

Which isn't to say they didn't care! They just weren't energetic about it. They had faith in my ability to figure stuff out.

And then I went to grad school, and that put me on another tier entirely. I mean, it was different enough that I had a 4-year degree, but then a Master's too?

So I'm wondering: Did I change classes? If so, when? How? Why?

Are my values different from those I grew up with? Yes, in many ways. Moving away from home was probably the big game changer. Dealing with the day-to-day realities of being a grown-up, navigating and negotiating the world . . . And my world became very different from the one I'd lived in before. For one thing, I moved away from the conservative, Republican roots and grew more liberal. That alone is a completely different perspective and set of values. And yes, I also grew away from the religious aspect of my upbringing, which I know makes my parents very sad. But I couldn't reconcile some of my newly acquired values with those being preached by the religious right. I had to make a decision there, though I don't know if it was a conscious one. I do clearly recall my knee-jerk reaction when Massachusetts granted marriage equality. I was living in MA at the time, and at first that deep-seated belief from my childhood rose up and I thought, "Oh no! That can't be right! Marriage is a man and a woman." But then I literally stopped myself—I was walking through Boston Common on the way home from work, and I stopped in my tracks—and I made myself look at that thought. I parsed it. And realized I was conflating a religious view with a social justice view. So I separated church and state in my mind and after reflecting on it decided it was right that there be marriage equality. Churches aside, from a social values point of view, equality made complete sense to me.

But there was a time and place in my life where I wouldn't have stopped to ask myself those questions. So yes, my values have changed. And whether that moves me into a different class, I don't know. It's funny because we talk about "upper" and "lower" class (and again, the Cracked podcast talks about the use of these terms too), but is it possible to make a lateral move? And is there something adaptive about some people that allows them to change versus people who stubbornly cling to their class and values and beliefs? Is there a gene for open-mindedness?

Socially, "passing" means wearing the right labels or whatever. Or pointedly not buying in if you think people who wear designer clothes are schmucks. In media, you can tell what class a film is aimed at based on who they make fun of. So maybe what you find funny says something about your class and values.

I don't know if there's a point to this post. I'm not drawing any conclusions. I just find it an interesting topic, one I was able to directly identify with.


Movies: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Written By: Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer from characters by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
Warner Bros., 2016
PG-13; 151 minutes
2 stars (out of 5)


I've said it before, loudly and repeatedly, but here it is again: I really am sick to death of all the superhero movies. They were fun for a while, but now they all look and sound the same. Every f***ing movie is a group of heroes trying to stop some bad thing from destroying a city or a country or the world. The X-Men, the Avengers, and now the Justice League. I can't be excited for any of it any more. I'm worn out.

Oh, but this year is the twist. Bro fights. Batman versus Superman, Captain America versus Iron Man. And it's induction year too! Because Wonder Woman and Spider-Man get to join the clubs.


I could have forgiven this movie if it had entertained me more. But from the first frame I was groaning. We were going to do the young Bruce Wayne thing again. No one needs that any more. We all know it already. Stop trying to find new ways to tell the same goddamn story.

And because I was not suitably diverted, I began to nitpick. Like, why do the bad guys shoot at the Batmobile? They must know it doesn't do anything to shoot at it. In fact, it only puts them at risk for ricocheted bullets. Superheroes must really rely on bad guys being idiots.


And why does Batman set up guns to shoot at Superman? Just like with the Batmobile, he must know the bullets won't do anything. Slow him down? Nope. Give him a false sense of superiority? Maybe, but there's no point in not just going right in with the Kryptonite. Unless Batman was hoping to get shoved through a few brick walls first. Just for the fun of it.

I found the hallucinations/dreams utterly ridiculous and unnecessary (except, obviously, to plant seeds for future movies). And I remarked early on that Batman and Superman's parents had the same names only to discover that a major plot point hinged on that. Which is just flimsy and dumb. Why would Superman say, "Save Martha" instead of, "Save my mom" anyway? (Okay, okay, because no one is supposed to know Martha Kent is his foster mother. But still. So, so flimsy.)

Also, leftover Lord of the Rings animations used to create Doomsday. If not, then a total ripoff of LotR animations to create Doomsday. Either way, really, really bad.

Okay, so all that (and so many more little things that would take me ages to type) aside. I'll say I think all the acting was actually pretty good. But Ben Affleck is looking chunky. Not muscular, but chunky. Round in the face and all that. Puffy. Yeah, that's right—if guys can objectify women, then right back attcha. Still, he did a good job, and Jeremy Irons was great as Alfred, and Jesse Eisenberg did well as Lex (though I'm not really convinced he's pretending so much as wandering onto the set and babbling while the cameras roll), and I even liked Gal Gadot. Even if I'm not thrilled about more superhero movies, she's a good Wonder Woman.

And Henry Cavill, well, I just love him anyway. And this was so, so much better than Man of Steel, so at least there's that. I still see zero actual chemistry between him and Amy Adams, though. His best scenes were against Affleck, but as Clark Kent v Bruce Wayne more than their alter egos. Could've used more of that in this movie.

For the record, I've always been a Superman girl. Chris Reeve all the way, baby, but I like Henry as runner-up. And I'll take Superman over Batman any day.

I won't go into the plot; the title says it all, more or less. But God, I'm so very weary of these dark, gritty, "realistic" (but not really) takes on all these characters. And it's the same story over and over and over. It's time to get some new ones. And no, making them fight each other doesn't count. Because we all know in the end they'll just band together to fight something else instead. Like for box office domination.

It's time to start fighting back a little by demanding more from our movies.


Television: Elementary, "Ready or Not"

Synchronicity? Or a deliberate poke? Either way, I was much amused when the name Stoller came up in this episode.

As for the story itself, it wasn't half shabby. For one thing, it taught me there's something called "Preppers," which is evidently different from a Preppie. I like it when I learn new things.

The episode begins with a man hiring Sherlock and Watson to find out where a missing doctor is because the man's son is otherwise implicated in the doctor's disappearance. We never see these people again, which is nice because this means the episode does not do the typical circling-around-to-someone-you-forgot thing. Except, well, it kind of does. It just doesn't circle around to these particular people.

Missing doctor turns out to be selling drugs to dealers on the side. Uh-oh.

Missing doctor also turns out to be an aforementioned Prepper. These are people who are intent on being prepared for the apocalypse or whatever other terrible crash our modern world is headed for. When the grid goes down and/or the zombies rise, these people will be ready. They probably all took Revolution as gospel or something. Re-read The Stand regularly. Stuff like that. I don't know if this is a real thing, but it seems plausible. I mean, it's just taking disaster preparedness that much further, right?

So. Missing doctor turns out to be a member of The Keep, which is an exclusive bunker for if and when the apocalypse comes. Stockpiles of food and medicine, generators, etc. Except when Sherlock and Watson check it out, they discover it's all a façade. It also turns out to be the place where the doctor was likely killed, though the body (eventually discovered) was moved.

They chase that lead a bit. Maybe the doctor found out The Keep wasn't legit and the guys running it killed him to keep him quiet. But eventually we circle back to one of the doctor's partners. The selling of drug supplies has destabilized the office and jeopardized an audit. The Keep supposedly has a stockpile of drugs. Two plus two equals two doctors hitting up The Keep to take the drugs (thinking they had plenty of time to restore them later) only to discover there are no drugs. Doctor #2 kills Doctor #1 out of anger and whatever else.

All told, not a bad weave of a story.

B plot involves Sherlock and Fiona—you know, the neuro-atypical girlfriend. (Sounds like an SNL sketch.) They've been dating all this while, though we haven't seen any of that. Haven't consummated the relationship yet because they're taking it slow, which is difficult for Sherlock. He generally does sex separate from emotional entanglement, but he hasn't been doing that because he's exclusive with Fiona and believes she's worth the wait. (Good for him. I mean that honestly and sincerely.) But then Fiona breaks up with Sherlock because she feels like he's handling her with kid gloves and treating her like one of his puzzles. And Sherlock comes back with a very astute observation: that he's the one who is different—atypical—because his relationship experience is very, very limited. That Fiona is one of only two people he's ever found to be worth that kind of effort. Without turning this into a personal essay, I can say that this is a very realistic view.

In all this is one of the better episodes of the season, yet somehow not one of the most enthralling or entertaining. It's like a solidly built house with little to no decoration on it. Foundationally, very sound. But not a lot of curb appeal. Take that for what you will.

But I do have to wonder if the writers ever read this. Because Clyde Stoller? Really? SMH . . .


Television: Limitless, "A Dog's Breakfast"

A case of the title giving it away. And I had the culprit fingered first thing. Not that the story of the week was the big draw in this particular episode anyway.

So Brian is back from Russia, and the FBI clamps down on him by giving him 24/7 babysitters and moving him to a desk on the open floor where he can be watched at all times. No more HQ! either.

Then a case rolls in. A wealthy man who'd recently undergone a kidney transplant has been murdered, and said kidney removed.

Look at the title of the episode. Got it? Now, the dead man's wife has a dog. It's not difficult to connect the two, right?

So let's just scrub the whole bio-printed kidney story, the black market organ donor tangent. Because we all know where this is going.

Meanwhile, Piper makes contact with Brian via a weird code message on his phone. (I also had that figured out before Brian did, and I don't even take genius drugs, so I do feel like the writers were falling down on the job here.) And then we find out Mr. Y, which is one of Brian's new babysitters, actually works for Sands and/or Morra. He takes Brian to Sands for an immunity shot, and Sands tells Brian that he's been reassigned or some such. Which is weird and interesting considering we last saw Sands staring at a photo of Brian and Piper together. So shouldn't Sands be putting a bullet in Brian or something?

And then somewhere in all this, Brian finds blood and one of Piper's bracelets in his apartment and he realizes Sands and/or Morra has found out Piper is alive and, if not killed her, at least taken her into custody. Brian goes to Morra and begs for mercy on Piper's behalf, but Morra had no idea Piper was alive. And now it becomes clear Sands is setting up his own NZT team because, with the immunity drug Piper has developed, he can do that.

Of course, we're all assuming Piper's drug works . . .

And Rebecca is getting tight with Mike and Ike regarding whatever Brian is up to. Is he in league with Sands and Morra? Boyle gets suspicious and demands to know what Rebecca is holding back, so she finally spills it to him, too. I can't help thinking this is a mistake, but I guess we'll see.

Limitless continues to be one of the best shows I'm currently watching, though I do sometimes worry it won't be able to live up to everything it's building toward. We're sliding toward the end of the season, so . . . We'll see how things shake out. I just hope they have a plan, else this is going to get dotty pretty quickly.

Books: Brynnde Cover Reveal

The cover for my Regency romance novel Brynnde has been finalized!

Isn't it gorgeous? I'm so excited!


Brynnde Archambault has no interest in ever leaving her childhood home of Aux Arbres. But when her father gives her an ultimatum—find a husband at the London season or else be married off the the avuncular Mr. Dallweather—Brynnde must face facts. She can't live at home forever.

When angelic-looking Lord Burbridge offers Brynnde a solution, she gratefully accepts. After all, he travels widely and will almost never be home. Brynnde anticipates a quiet life on his estate of Ridgemow. It's not Aux Arbres, but she'll have her favorite horse, and that's all that really matters.

But then scandal breaks . . .


The Power of Amazon

There has been a lot of chatter lately on the discussion group run by the publisher of Peter about the need for Amazon reviews, and how and why reviews get removed. The publisher was even prompted to email Amazon and ask for clarification regarding the rules for reviews and what is and isn't allowed.

The reason for this consternation is that many marketing outlets require a book to have a minimum number of Amazon reviews and/or a certain number of stars [Amazon uses a star rating of 1 to 5] before they will consider promoting a book. To make this even more narrow, these outlets really only consider Amazon US, meaning if your book has more reviews and stars on Amazon UK you're SOL.

And so there is this uproar now about how some book bloggers don't post their reviews to Amazon. Because apparently the only useful review is one that is on Amazon.

Therein lies the problem.

We've given Amazon all the power.

I know that the marketing outlets and promoters are swamped. They use Amazon as a shorthand for deciding whether to accept a book because otherwise there's just too much stuff out there to swim through. But allowing Amazon to be the metric, the gatekeeper . . . All these indie authors, all these small publishers who were trying to get away from the heavy-handedness of bigger publishers and corporations are now caught in the net of one of the biggest businesses in the world.

Amazon cut our royalties when it began selling books dirt cheap to the point that readers all but refuse to pay for books any more. Now Amazon is cutting our ability to market our books either.

Any and every review should be a star in the crown of a writer. Even the bad ones mean someone is at least reading the book. The fact that it has come down to agonizing over whether or not a review gets posted to Amazon—whether or not you're going to hit that minimum—just shows how much power Amazon has grabbed. Not only from writers but from book bloggers and other literary sources.

If it's not on Amazon, it doesn't count? Really? Is that the world we want to live in?

I keep thinking of that megastore in Wall-E. That's going to be Amazon before long. If it's not on Amazon, it might as well not exist. That's where we're headed.

Every review counts. Or should. No matter where it's posted.


Podcasts: She Wrote A Book

I'm plugging this one today because I'm the guest!

In this podcast I talk about my novel The K-Pro. Give it a listen!


Television: Elementary, "You've Got Me, Who's Got You?"

The episode title is familiar to people of a certain age (or perhaps even younger people of a certain bent) who remember Superman. Christopher Reeves' Superman, that is. Which maybe says something about viewership of CBS, but anyway.

A would-be hero (aka vigilante) is found murdered, and Holmes and Watson search for his true identity. The guy dressed as a known [in the world of this show] comic book character called the Midnight Ranger. The [fictitious] comic book company was not happy about this guy's antics, considering them a breach of their copyright or intellectual property or whatever, but they hadn't succeeded in figuring out the guy's real name either. Shelve that for later . . . which in procedurals means we'll come back to it in the end because the killer is connected to the comic book company.

Then we go through the dummy suspects (the ones thrown at viewers to make them temporarily forget the place we've just been where the real villain works or lives): the fellow vigilante who all too eagerly takes on the mantel of Midnight Ranger, the drug dealer the dead man was known to hassle regularly. But of course nothing comes of these leads except a few more clues leading back to the truth.

Sure enough, we loop back around the comic book people, and in particular a friend of the dead guy (now identified as Mike) who had reason to hate the comic book company he worked for. Turns out they didn't like him either and had a big dinner out with studio execs that this guy wasn't invited to. So when the guy headed out to that restaurant with a small arsenal . . . the Midnight Ranger stepped in to save the day . . . and lost his life in the process.

Pretty basic stuff, but this episode held my interest a lot more than some others this season, even though the culprit was easy to spot early on.

Meanwhile Dracula Morland Holmes attempts to coerce Watson into helping him ferret out a potential mole in his company by donating a shit ton of money to a charity she helps run. She's annoyed, but she does it anyway. Then she tells Morland he has no mole, only to confront said mole herself and ask him to be a mole for her so she can see what Morland is really up to. After all, Morland apparently did get an assassin out of prison—the man who supposedly attempted to kill him but ended up killing his girlfriend instead. Why?

So Watson steps here into the gray, which is interesting given she pushed back against such a thing when Detective Cortes used Watson to a similar end. (You may remember she asked Watson to consult on a case, and when Watson helped, Cortes used the information to act outside the law. After that, Watson refused to consult with her again.) Overall, we're dealing with questions of where the law fails to meet its goals and what counts as justice being served. Who gets to decide? And do the ends justify the means? These aren't new debates, so it's all in how they're presented. We'll see if Elementary does so in entertaining fashion—so long as they also remain true to the characters they've created.


Books: Help Choose a Cover for Brynnde

I've narrowed down the cover options for the Regency romance novel I'm writing to six finalists. Check them out here and vote for your favorite(s). Several are variations on a theme, so look them over carefully and decide which of them you like best. Which book would you click on while browsing Amazon? Or which would you pick up in the bookstore?

Brynnde is the name of the main character, btw. The story starts on a country estate then moves to London for the Season. I don't know if that matters to you when choosing a cover, but you'll see some have a more country feel while others feature more urban designs. To me, a cover should not make a promise the book doesn't keep. So if you think you'd feel cheated by picking up a book with a garden on the cover only to discover the garden is only a brief part of the book, well . . . Let me know.

Thanks for your help!


Movies: Begin Again

It's really difficult to successfully construct a film around music, a soundtrack. But Begin Again does it. Not just well but in stellar fashion.

The film itself is cute. The acting manages to elevate the story line so that the movie is thoroughly enjoyable despite it being firmly predictable.

What's it about? Mark Ruffalo (and I'll admit that I'd watch him in just about anything) plays Dan Mulligan, a down-and-out indie record label exec who discovers Gretta (Keira Knightly) and helps her record an album. Pretty basic. Oh, there are other threads: Gretta's disintegrated relationship with rising star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), Dan's struggle to stay relevant to his teenage daughter and estranged wife. But this is mostly about the music.

I don't often miss being on set, but films like this sometimes make me wish I could have been there. It's the kind of movie where it looks like they're having a good time as they go along.

In short, I was pleasantly surprised, not so much by the movie but by how much I enjoyed it. And yes, the soundtrack is really good too.


Television: Limitless, "Bezgranichnyy"

Ah, Limitless. You've joined the ranks of television shows trying to force a relationship. One of my peeves. But this program is so good I can almost overlook it. Depending on how badly they attempt to shoehorn this in the future.

You'll recall (maybe) that Brian took off at the end of the last episode. He's on the hunt for fellow NZT guinea pig Piper, and he tracks her to Russia. She's trying to synthesize her own version of the immunity shots Morra's team used to give her, but she needs a final ingredient and convinces Brian to help her steal it.

There's a lot I could openly wonder about. Like, if they have enough info to blackmail a higher-up into releasing them from prison, why can't they also use that to leverage the ingredient they need rather than coming up with some convoluted burglary plan? But hey, taking NZT probably means you need constant stimulation, so maybe the plan thing is just more fun.

And this is where the relationship thing comes in, too. Brian and Piper of course end up in . . . something. But while the writing on this show is on the whole really, really good, they didn't sell me on this. A show that's done so well building every other relationship, and this was just thrown together. (Right up there with the undercover cop a few episodes ago, though that bothered me less.) It's like the network gave the show a blanket note: "More Sex."

I'm no prude, and there are plenty shows that have a lot of sex and it totally fits the characters, the writing, the plots, etc. Here it just feels off.

Meanwhile, the FBI is frantically search for Brian, who at least sends periodic texts to Rebecca to let her know he's fine. She tries to tap his family but gets bawled out by Papa Finch. Yet later Rachel arrives at the FBI office to "help" by confirming the agent Brian helped that night in his apartment was Sands.

And Sands, well, he's sent a photo of Brian and Piper together with instructions to, more or less, sic 'em.

The noose tightens.

It's such a good show, which is why I'm being nitpicky. I wouldn't bother if it weren't otherwise so fabulous. That's the problem with something really good; the flaws stand out all the more. And you can argue the sex thing isn't a flaw. I'm sure for plenty of people it's fine. But for me, there's just something about it that doesn't sit right. (And no, I don't think Brian and Rebecca should be a couple, either; that would ruin things too.) I can't quite put my finger on it, but sometimes you just have to trust your gut.

I do wonder, too, if Piper isn't up to something else. At least if that were the case I might could retroactively give the relationship thing a pass . . .


Movies: Screening Room

No, Screening Room isn't a movie. It would be a different way to watch first-run movies. Except not really a different way, since people watch movies in their homes all the time. So . . .

Okay, so here's the proposal: Screening Room would allow people to pay $50 to watch movies at home the same day they are released in cinemas.

Understandably, the cinemas aren't keen on the idea. Some movie makers aren't either, stating that films should be seen in cinemas, that the cinema experience is key.

Yeah, okay. But I see more films at home than I do in a cinema. So are you telling me I'm somehow missing the point on those home-viewed films because I didn't go see them at the local 'plex?

The cinema experience may be key for some movies, but I don't think it's true for all. Big screen FX movies? Sure. Little indie films? Not necessarily. (And that, btw, is the reason we get more and more of these tentpole movies—they're the ones that make box office because they're the ones people feel the need to watch on the big screen. We've done it to ourselves.)

Nor do I believe that everyone enjoys the cinema experience. I don't particularly like being in a crowd of smelly strangers who don't have the basic, common courtesy of turning off their mobile phones or the sense not to bring a wailing baby to an R-rated movie. Which is one of the reasons I don't go to the movies more often.

With the leaps and bounds in home theatre systems, too, a "cinema" experience can be fairly replicated in the comfort of home. I have a big-screen TV and a fab sound system. I can make popcorn and buy candy. (Okay, it still won't be as good as movie theatre popcorn, no matter what the bag says, but one must make compromises.) And I won't have to deal with all the people mentioned in the previous paragraph. That's worth something to me.

So. IF Screening Room were to roll out, would I use it? Almost certainly. Would I stop going to the cinema? No. I'd probably still go for the big-screen movies. I'd still take my kids to the latest Disney thing. I would still, every now and then, need to go and remind myself why I don't do it more often.

My general recommendation on the whole thing would be to be very selective about which movies were offered via Screening Room. Those indies that otherwise won't get screens? Absolutely. The blockbusters that will take up half the theatre? Nah. There is potential here, but it needs to be used wisely.

*Please note that I haven't read anything in depth about Screening Room, only that there is a bit of an argument over it. These are my extremely generalized thoughts regarding that argument.

Television: Scorpion, "Ticker"

Last night I officially took Scorpion off life support, by which I mean I deleted my series recording form the DVR.

I thought I'd battle through to the end of the season at least, but I just couldn't care any more. I didn't even finish watching "Ticker" because the show is so predictable . . . Look, I know it should be that the fun comes from watching them be smart and it's not that they do fix it, it's how they fix it. "It" being the problem of the week. But there was a point last night in which the stakes were ridiculously upped, and in such a ham-handed way—like, a doctor calls Walter and tells him flat out, "If you can't get this done in forty minutes, it's all over"—that I just couldn't any more. I don't want my television spoon fed to me.

Honestly, if the whole episode had been the Genius Olympics thing, I'd have been totally on board.

So I will no longer be covering Scorpion on this site. Life's just too short for mediocre television.


Television: Elementary

Still catching up, but I have now watched all of Elementary through last Thursday only to learn it's moving to Sunday? This worries me for the show, as the industry generally considers Sunday a dumping ground.

Here are the episodes I am to cover, albeit briefly, here:

"Down Where the Dead Delight"
"A View with a Room"
"A Study in Charlotte"
"Who Is That Masked Man?"
"Up to Heaven and Down to Hell"

So "Down Where the Dead Delight" was interesting enough in that it explored, kinda sorta, the issues with jurisdiction—namely what happens when a murderer strikes in two separate ones so that it's not immediately clear the two cases intersect. My chief complaint with the episode was that it began with Eugene (the medical examiner guy we sometimes see) bantering with and then getting up the courage to ask out a co-worker only to have it all end in an abrupt explosion because a body had a bomb in it. While we know Eugene as a character somewhat, I'm not sure it's fair to try and make us sympathize with him on this when this girl who dies in the first few minutes is not someone we know. What I mean is, some forethought into character development would have gone a long way here. This woman should have been planted many episodes ago so that we had the "aww" of them finally getting together before blowing it apart. Literally. And btw, in immediate subsequent episodes the morgue is just fine. Um, excuse me? Takes a while to fix that kind of shit, amiright?

I don't even remember anything else about the episode, which tells you something right there. Oh, I think this was the one where that female cop comes back to bug Watson again and maybe try to get her to do some vigilante stuff? Whatever.

In "A View with a Room," Holmes and Watson are asked to help infiltrate a drug-dealing motorcycle gang. Meanwhile, the B plot ends up being about Fiona, the "neuro-atypical" woman from a previous episode, asking Watson to do a background check on her new boss because, after her old boss turned out to be a villain, Fiona just can't even. I have mixed feelings about the Fiona thing, but that's for personal reasons. The plot goes on to be about Watson figuring out that Sherlock likes Fiona. Likes her likes her, I mean. Which makes the whole thing even more awkward. Stranger still is the fact that Fiona has since disappeared, not so much as a mention, so . . . ::shrug:: Maybe he didn't like her like her after all? Or she didn't like him?

"A Study in Charlotte" is about people dying from bad 'shrooms. The whole thing gets traced through a woman named Charlotte who provided said mushrooms and also ended up dead. Points for use of the Doyle story's "Rache." But those are immediately deducted again for the very obvious answer to the whole thing, which I had pegged early on. This show is never any fun when you're just waiting for them to get around to what you already know.

We go into the Chinese underworld—okay, we really just dabble—in "Who Is That Masked Man?" Another one in which the answers were very obvious. But the use of mortician's putty and masks was interesting at least.

Then for some reason we segue into Gregson's private life in "Up to Heaven and Down to Hell." I'll be honest; I didn't pay much attention to this episode. It was about a wealthy woman who was murdered and had something to do with a building project that was 20 stories too tall. Meanwhile, Gregson has a hidden girlfriend named Paige (played by Virginia Madsen) who dumps him when Watson accidentally runs into them. The ostensible reason is that Paige worries she could tarnish Gregson's career as she left the force herself after being implicated in some underhanded doings. But the real reason is she has M.S. and doesn't want to put Gregson through that. Their relationship is relatively new, after all, and Paige doesn't think it's fair to saddle Gregson with what's coming. I have to wonder, though, if someone at CBS has a particular interest in M.S. or the name Paige because both have also been prominently featured on Scorpion.

Truth is, much as we love Aidan Quinn, none of us care that much about Gregson's personal life. In the words of Cinema Sins: "Skip!"

Finally! "Hounded" is Elementary's take on Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. Charles Baskerville is chased while out for a jog in the middle of the night and he ends up falling in front of an oncoming truck. Then an attempt is made on his brother Henry. What was thought to be a huge dog turns out to be a weird engineering project created by Stapleton Industries. (If you're familiar with the original story, you'll remember Stapleton.) The whole thing boils out in a way that is pretty plain, and the "Gus" robot thing is underwhelming. The B plot brings Eugene back to the center of things as Sherlock confronts him over recent errors in his work and the fact Eugene doesn't seem to be playing chess very well. Eugene is still suffering from that morgue explosion (even though the morgue is incomprehensibly fine, see above), and by the end of the episode he has decided to take a leave. Um . . . Bye, Eugene, we hardly knew you.

Somewhere in all this, too, Sherlock continues to investigate the attempt on his father's life. Although IIRC he did at least figure out the assassin? I don't know, this show hasn't done a great job of holding onto all its threads lately. Or it hasn't done a great job of holding onto my attention. Maybe both. I really do wonder about its being booted to Sunday. That Thursday time slot has become a bruiser, so maybe Elementary will do better after having relocated.


Movies: Macbeth

I really wanted to love this movie. I was so excited when the first trailers came out. And then I watched it and was just kind of, "Meh."

This take on the Scottish play is somewhere between gritty realism and stylistic. Hyper-realism perhaps. But the whole thing is so . . . grave . . . and slow . . . It made me sleepy. Everyone seemed to talk with the exact same monotonous inflection. A lot of the dialogue was half mumbled. The images were monochromatic.

Let's just say I was underwhelmed.

It probably didn't help that I saw a fantastic version of Macbeth at the Globe a few years ago. The best I'd ever seen, and I see (and perform, and teach) a lot of Shakespeare. So . . . Yeah.

By the end of this movie I was half asleep and didn't care what happened or to whom. (Not that I didn't know how it ended anyway.) There was no investment in character here, just a lot of people speaking Shakespeare's words in very boring ways and with nothing much to look at. Except their faces. So many extreme close ups. Yow.

I'm sorry this wasn't better.


Television: American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson

I don't even know where I left off with this; it all just blurs together. As I've mentioned before, there's something so . . . It's like a mashup of daytime television and Cops. One big re-enactment done with all the earnest, over-the-top-ness of the re-enactments you see on those crime shows.

The trial is taking place now, and it's taking a toll on everyone's personal lives. Marcia's ex-husband is lobbying to take custody of the kids because she's never home. She's being attacked in the media for her looks. Johnny [Cochran] is likewise trying to keep his personal life out of the media spotlight. Meanwhile, he and F. Lee Bailey continue to snipe with Bob Shapiro as well.

I'm not even sure what is compelling me to watch this. The trial itself isn't terribly interesting; they haven't gotten meaty with it. Instead the focus seems to be more on the characters than the story. O.J. himself is hardly there at all.

Well, whatever. Despite the heavy tone, this is light fare that does not require me to spend a lot of energy on watching it. Sometimes that's all I'm looking for.

Television: Limitless, "Close Encounters"

This show is so good.

A biological agent causes a blackout in New York that has the government wondering if they're dealing with something extraterrestrial. Brian and Rebecca end up in quarantine together, where Rebecca takes Brian to task for his hidden stash of NTZ. They fight and, upon release, Rebecca arranges for Brian to work with Boyle until a new handler can be assigned to him.

As for that secret stash, some of it is missing courtesy of Brian's sister. She previously saw him take it and took a few of the pills to show Mom and Dad because she's worried. Mom flies off the handle and more or less disowns Brian.

So the upshot is: Brian has been abandoned on all sides.

Oh, and one of Brian's bodyguards (the one that likes the sister) asks the sister for a description of Sands ("an undercover agent who visited Brian"). The plot thickens . . .

At the end of the episode, Brian leaves Rebecca a note saying he's off to do . . . stuff. That will help and/or make things better.

This episode had such great tension. Something not a lot of shows can manage these days. As my husband pointed out, Limitless is "first season of Alias good." Rapidly becoming my favorite show.


Television: Limitless

Still trying to catch up with, well, everything. So let's look at "Undercover!" and "Sands, Agent of Morra."

In "Undercover!" Brian goes, uh, undercover. He's supposed to bring the agent in from the field but instead ends up helping her end a women-trafficking ring. Meanwhile, Sands offers Harris a job with Morra, but she declines.  Overall, Brian's romp is fun, and certainly leaves the door open for the undercover agent (whose name I forget) to return, but . . . Eh. In a show that's consistently good, this solid entry didn't shine brighter than any other episode.

Meanwhile, "Sands, Agent of Morra" did twinkle a bit. This episode explores a bit of Sands' past as part of an elite team, members of which Sands is now being forced to eliminate in order to save his son. During all this we also get a shoehorned birthday story from Harris about how, after attempting reconciliation, her dad missed her birthday, how she'd thought he'd flaked out on her only to discover later he was already dead by the time her birthday rolled around. On the whole, it's a highly entertaining episode (loved that Sands' team members' codenames were taken from famous film directors, and that Sands is Peckinpah), but my chief complaint is how cliché a lot of it was, from Harris' "I hate my birthday" thing to Sands' backstory. I'm hoping against hope it's not his real backstory, just something he fabricated because he knew Brian would eat it up and comply with what Sands needed at the time. In a show like this one, it feels very possible that things can change and nothing is set in stone. And I mean that in a good way, a way that keeps the viewer engaged and guessing. Though taken too far, that kind of vibe is just frustrating because it means there are no stakes. (Looking at you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If there's always a chance someone will return from the dead, why do we care whether they die? Answer: we don't.) At least Limitless has not crossed that particular line. It remains one of my favorite shows to unwind with.


Books: The Secret Place by Tana French

This is the fifth in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, and I've enjoyed each book in different ways. Though I wish she'd start varying the titles; they're starting to sound alike:

  • In the Woods
  • The Likeness
  • Faithful Place
  • Broken Harbor
  • The Secret Place

Okay, maybe it's just that Faithful Place and The Secret Place sound alike. But still. If they were farther apart in the series, it might be fine, but . . .

The titular Secret Place in this book is a bulletin board in a girls' school. A year before, a boy from the neighboring boys' school was found murdered on the girls' school grounds. Then a postcard appears on the Secret Place board—a board the girls at the school use to anonymously air their thoughts—stating someone knows who did it.

It boils down to two sets of girls, kind of rival gangs. But we only see through the eyes of, and are meant to sympathize with, one set of girls: Becca, Julia, Holly, and Selena. (And that Holly is the Holly Mackey we see in Faithful Place, only now she's much older.)

The result is a strange see-saw between a murder mystery and a YA novel. French alternate chapters between the current investigation and the past as described by Holly and her friends. And while French does both sides deftly, I found myself often wishing in the "YA" parts to get back to the main mystery.

There was also a touch of the supernatural in this book that felt out of place. It eventually boils away to nothing, and I was left wondering if we're meant to believe it was real or . . . ??? I suspect this is a commentary on the magic of adolescence, how maybe we all have a time in our lives when we can do amazing things, but then we cap ourselves off and make ourselves live solely in the "real" world. Or maybe there's just a time in our lives when we believe in ourselves and our abilities, but then the world crashes in and boxes us up and tells us, no, we can only do [insert assessment results here].

Anyway. It was a good book. They're all good. This one was just a tad weirder, a little off the track. Which isn't a bad thing, but it might not be what you're after when picking up one of these.


Movies: Spotlight

I lived in Boston from 1999 to 2006, then in the Greater Boston area until 2012. So I remember when this was happening. I remember the names and the headlines. Though it's funny, you know, how quickly you forget when it doesn't directly impact you. Watching Spotlight and hearing those names again only served to show me how I'd shelved it all in the back of my head once the headlines stopped.

My parents were Catholic, but it meant something different where Dad came from; the Catholics were the upper class rather than the lower class. That's the French thing versus my mother's Scottish roots. But it didn't matter much to me because I was only Catholic until I was about seven or eight, and then my mother became a born again Christian and, well, church got a lot louder for one thing.

I have my own personal issues with religious institutions, Catholic and otherwise, but that's neither here nor there except to reinforce the idea that I was not directly invested in or impacted by the goings on in Boston at the time the story broke. But I worked with a lot of people who were.

As for Spotlight, it is a remarkable movie. Not for the subject matter, despite its heft and importance, but because they were able to keep something like investigative journalism visually interesting. Not an easy thing to do. The score was at times intrusive and over the top, but the acting was good and everything was paced well. Good editing, too. It moved right along.

My only concern might be that people who weren't already familiar with the actual events might get lost in all the names being tossed around. There are a lot of them.

I don't cry easily, but tears pricked me a bit by the end of the movie. It was amazingly well done. We need more movies like this and fewer of these tentpole flash-bang Marvel circuses. Variety recently ran a piece about how the movie industry is coming down to just a few studios and their big pictures (sorry, can't find the link), and I really hope we can put a stop to that. A broader base of a wider variety of films would be much more stable than a narrow base of one kind of movie, right? It's better for everyone if we keep making a lot of different things rather than an assembly line of more of the same.

Ah, well, that's a whole other argument. In short, I enjoyed Spotlight, and not just because I was there when it happened. Kudos to it and its entire cast and crew.


Television: The X-Files

As I continue to sum up television shows I've fallen behind on, I now turn to the last couple episodes of the X-Files revival, "Babylon" and "My Struggle II."

"Babylon" is the kind of episode that I feel probably had a message at its core, but I wasn't paying close enough attention to catch it. There were Muslim terrorists involved, and mini-Scully and mini-Mulder appear to help them solve the case, and Mulder has a weird acid trip (except it was a placebo and all in his head). Whatever.

"My Struggle II" started with Scully giving her summary of her life in X-Files, much as Mulder had done at the beginning of "My Struggle." Then a pathogen is released, spreading rapidly, and people are sick and dying, all very The Stand. Turns out Scully's alien DNA protects her, and so the goal is to create some kind of cure based on that. Meanwhile, a near-death Mulder confronts Smoking Man. In truth, the whole thing felt thrown together and fragmented at the same time, like something shattered that has been badly re-glued. Maybe the writers threw index cards with scenes in the air and then randomly assembled them into a script. I don't know. But the whole thing ends without ending, as Scully tries desperately to save Mulder and a UFO arrives to spotlight them.

To be fair, it would be impossible to write something finite for this show. Better to leave it open and ambiguous. I only wish it hadn't felt crammed into an hour. The story in "My Struggle II" feels like it could actually have been the kind of multi-episode arc one finds in the special Torchwood series. So I walked away with an ultimate feeling of a missed opportunity.

I'll always love The X-Files, though. Despite all the flaws, I was glad to have it back.

Television: Scorpion

I'm way behind on my television. Life happened and . . . Television ended up being something that could give. So in order to get back on track with these postings, I'm going to do multiple episodes in a go. In Scorpion's case, we'll talk a little about "Da Bomb," "Fractured," and "Adaptation."

Previews for "Da Bomb" promised more Walter awkwardness in the form of his trying online dating. We remember that he'd failed at speed dating, and it's really no surprise he fails at the online version, too. Scorpion has made it almost too clear that Walter and Paige belong together. And the insistence on pushing Walter's lack of personal skills to almost unbelievable proportions is starting to wear thin.

In this instance, the date goes worse than one might expect when the date shows up at the warehouse the next morning with a bomb strapped to her chest. A lot more awkwardness ensues, and the bad guy is very obvious from the start. But at least Walter then decides to stop trying to date. Sigh of relief.

"Fractured" sees Walter and Toby fighting so much they end up having to go see Penn Gillette (guised as Dr. Rizzuto) for counseling. The fighting thing seemed somewhat abrupt to me, but whatever. Then a big earthquake hits and the team scrambles as it goes into emergency mode. Sylvester is out with Ralph, Toby and Walter are doing their thing . . . It's weird, though, that in the next episode L.A. is not still recovering from all the damage. I dunno, whatever. At this point I'm barely paying attention any more.

Which takes us to "Adaptation." Walter and Toby still in counseling. Toby and Happy in a relationship that is, if possible, worse than when Toby was just yearning for Happy. I mean seriously, it's almost impossible to stomach. It's so over the top and just . . . Bad. This stuff is killing the show for me.

The episode itself is about drug cartels using drones to deliver drugs from over the border. An interesting idea but tough to make exciting. So they shoot someone none of us really cares about and make Happy and Sylvester do field surgery. And that's when we learn Toby is tracking Happy through her phone, which is so . . . Ugh. Maybe I'm overly sensitive about it. But I've had stalkers, so . . . Yeah. Yuck. Drop him now, Happy.

I just am not loving Scorpion these days. There are more things about it that annoy me than interest me, which is the real problem. I'm trying to push through to the end of the season, but my attention is waning rapidly.