Person of Interest: s01 e15 – Blue Code


It shouldn’t be forgotten that, beneath the surface of two lone heroes saving lives with the aid of a magic machine, Person of Interest deals with some very dirty things. If it had been forgotten, the episode15, ‘Blue Code’, was a comprehensive reminder of that.

Michael Aranov guest-starred as Michael Cahill, real name Daniel Tully. As Michael, he appeared to have no redeeming character, acrook, a thief, a smuggler, involved in a drugs gang run by Vargas who, in turn, deals with a mysterious figure known as L.O.S.

But Cahill is NYPD, working under cover, husband and father, looking to bring everyone down. He has a handler, who is straight, but there is a Police source working with Vargas, looking to identify him, and once identified, Cahill will be killed, as will all his family.

Of itself, it’s a story, a PoI story, a story that could be used as the basis of any police/vigilante oriented procedural. But in this series, it’s the superficial, the symbol, and it’s what lies beneath that truly sickens.

For the first time in some weeks, we have a flashback, to 2008, to Kara Stanton and John Reese. They’re behind enemy lines, dealing with the extraction of someone, who will go into a black hole from which there is no re-emerging. In the meantime, there’s time: John Reese goes for a drink. He’s in a country where they’re no supposed to operate, they being the CIA, as represented by Mark Stone. It’s America.

John goes for a drink in a dark, busy bar, sits down next to a guy waiting for his wife. They get into conversation.  Kara turns up, having very much suspected John, back in country for the first time. Is it just a coincidence that he’s sat next to Peter, the man who married John’s love, Jessica? No, of course it’s not. We’re left to wonder exactly why John’s sought him out, with Jessica about to arrive, because Kara gets John to go, just before Jessica appears. It’s a foretaste, a foreshadowing. What did John want? Just to see her again? What might have happened if Kara hadn’t have intervened? That throws a long shadow.

Then there’s the mysterious L.O.S. He turns out to be Company as well, CIA, no longer fighting the War on Drugs, the unwinnable War, instead using it to fund the War on Terror, another unwinnable War. Cahill gets his moment, he gets to arrest L.O.S., he gets to go home, even over Reese’s warning that it will do no good, over L.O.S.’s warning of comeback.

And the guy means it. He’ll get both Cahill and Carter… until, that is, Mark Snow escorts him from the Police Station, into a big black car and into a big black bag, from where he will probably go into a black hole…

But the dirtiest part of the episode, the one that does leave a sick feeling about what we’re watching, is Detective Fusco. Kevin Chapman’s been the low guy on the totem pole for the series so far, not even been in some episodes. Fusco’s changed. He’s not the dirty cop he started out to be. He’s gone clean. He’s growing in reputation, respect and most of all, self-respect.

But John needs him to go contact his dirty buddies, H.R. (the first time this force-within-a-force are named). H.R. are represented by a uniform, Officer Patrick Simmons (John Robert Burke). Fusco wants to steer clear, and Simmons isn’t too happy with him, and how he’s gone clean.

John needs Fusco to do something seriously risky, to break into the security rooms at One Police Plaza, find and shred Cahill’s file, before Vargas’s informant can get to it. Fusco gets caught, by the security officer, who turns out to be the informant. He takes Fusco out into the woods, prepares to execute him, but the shot comes from another direction, John saving Fusco. But only to manipulate furrther. Fusco can’t tell, can’t report this, can’t come clean. He’s too useful. He has to bury the body, and ask for help in ‘making it go away’. That help’s from H.R. Fusco’s on the inside now, where John wants him to be.

Being used.

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Saturday SkandiKrime: Trapped 2 – episode 10


The news that a Trapped 3 is in consideration, and that it would not wait three years in going into production is the only piece of news that reconciles me to the end of the second series. A month is too short a time for drama of this quality, and the time to wait for another Skandi series that matches it will always be too long.

The posts are coming thick and fast this morning, because I’m off to work in a couple of hours, and between Film 2019 and the final two episodes of Trapped, things have to give somewhere.

In theend, the secrets behind Trapped 2 were dirty, and sordid, and mean on every level, almost enough to make you quesion whether the revelations are worth the losses, the casualties that the story sustains. But in the end, that is what crime is about: dirt and death and the horror that people visit on one another. The final episode was laced with flashbacks as secrets finally came out, the underlying irony being that all of this came about because secrets finally came out.

Stefan had got the job of waste disposal from theplant, but in order to cut corners and increase his profits, he paid Finnur to hire foreign workers like Ebo to dump the barrels on the heath. But Finnur, bastard to the last, decided to keep the money for himself, use it to try to buy out Gisli for the profits to be had from the geothermal sink on his land. Stupid, mean, selfish, sordid.

But that might not have been enough, if it hadn’t prompted Gisli to spill the beans to Stefan about his true patronage. Oh yes, old Thoris, the man who disappeared thirty years ago, father to Gisli and Halla, and little Erin. And also Stefan.

It wasn’t quite as I anticipated, when Elin said those dangerous words, “I know.” Thoris was a violent sadist who had raped his sixteen year old daughter, Halla. Gisli had killed him when hetried it again, crushing his skull with a monkey-wrench. His body was never found because the twins left it in the pigsty, and pigs will eat anything, a blackly comic line that did indeed make me laugh. You were not left with the opinion that justice had been denied, nor that the world was diminished by Thoris’ passing, let alone the peculiar circumstances of his interment. But Halla left for Raykjavik, abandoning Gisli to the sole responsibility that he was never able to shoulder. And she was pregnant. Confessing this, she wondered why she hadn’t got an abortion, and that’s a question impossible of answer. She gave the baby up for adoption immediately, kept everything concealed.

Secrets are at their most dangerous when they’re spilled. Gisli spilled the beans and Stefan broke. It was almost possible to feel sorry for him, to learn in one moment that you are not merely adopted but that you are the son of your rapist grandfather. Had it come at another moment, it might have been manageable, even if Stefan’ first reaction was to think of himself as a freak. Therapy, perhaps, might have unravelled that for him.

But here he was, son and grandson of a bastard thug, facing another bastard in Finnur, threatening him, with the means of killing him and throwing the frame onto Ketill’s sons. And from there it became a game of running to catch up, until there’s nothing left that can be done except to bargain for something you don’t understand yourself, life’s starkest survival instincts even in the face of knowing there is absolutely nothing that you can do to deflect the future bearing down upon you, but as long as you are the only one who knows where you’ve dumped Thorhildur, alive, in a narrow ravine, in a freezing beck, there is a card in your hand, and Andri on his knees begging for his daughter, Halla making a final attempt to acknowledge the son she rejected in the womb, and Hinrika, still splendid little Hinrika, the inveterate professional, to spirit out the scarf that the dogs can scent.

And Thorhildur is found, leaving Stefan with nothing but the final option, the shotgun under the jaw, the blast through the top of the head, the symbolic splash of blood on Halla’s face, where it has been all along.

The coda was brief. Vikingur loses Ebo who returns to Ghana, but he reconciles with his mother. Hinrika turns down Bardur’s almost apologetic attempt to rekindle something, sits in an empty Police Station, bereft of the Reykjavik cops, bereft of Asgeir, utterly alone, studies those ultrasound scans of her miscarried child.

And Andri visits his estranged daughter in her hospital bed. The extremes have, at least for a moment, brought them closer. Relieved, he lays his head on her pillow: it is Thorhildur who reassures him that it will be alright, Daddy.

If you ask me to make a judgement as to which of Trapped‘s two series is better, for the moment I would still select the first. The claustrophobia that the snowed-in towm brought to things, Andri’s pent-up bitterness at his exile and his family problems, the more convoluted and wider-ranging secrets exposed, and above all the overhelming white mountains impressed themselves more upon me. We were warned that the Trapped in series 2 was psychological rather than physical, and so it was, in every character, trapped by history and circumstance and need, a mesh that drove everyone to do the exact things they did. The greens and browns were not so impressive, though the countryside was still awesome. Another watch, of both series, may change my thinking.

Until we are returned, sooner I hope than later, for series 3.

Film 2019: Things to Come (L’Avenir)


Though you won’t read this until the usual Sunday slot, a collision of demands and a working Sunday meant that this weeks Film 2019 had to be watch on a grey, wet, windy Saturday morning. It didn’t feel quite right.

Things to Come (L’Avenir) is a 2016 film, written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love, inspired by the experiences of her mother, and written with Isabelle Huppert in mind for the central role of Nathalie Chevaux, a middle-aged Philosophy teacher whos husband of twenty-five years chooses to leave her. It’s the third of those three Huppert films that I collected as presents for myself at the end of last year, and another film I hadn’t seen before.

Frankly, if the film starred anyone other than Huppert, I doubt I would be retaining it. Though it’s not disappointing, especially not in the sequences that see Nathalie staying with her favoured student, Fabien (Roman Kalinka), on an anarchist collective farm ‘in the mountains’, which are beautiful, the film for me suffers from two major absences: the first is a story, the second emotion.

Things to Come (a misleading title, given the near-absence of forward progression) starts with the Chevaux family – Nathalie, husband Heinz (Andre Marcon) and children Chloe and Johann – on a ferry of sorts, visiting an island to stand at the tomb of the writer Chateaubriand, who appears to have greater significance for Heinz than Nathalie.

What this symbolises is beyond me: I am not familiar with Chateaubriand other than as a name (I learn from Wikipedia that he was also a prominent statesman, anti-Napoleonist, Royalist). Indeed, I am generally ignorant of philosophy, save for what scraps of it I have determined from experience, so the point sails over my head by the width of the orbit of Jupiter.

From there, we jump several years into the future. The children are grown, Nathalie and Heinz are established, settled, in all respects. Their lives are comfortable, intellectual, busy. Both teach, different disciplnes, different establishments. The strikes then current in France are of no matter to Nathalie, who refuses to acknowledge pickets and politics, insisting on her right to teach, and her students’ right to learn.

The main cloud on their horizon is Nathalie’s mother, Yvette (Edith Scob), hypochondriac, neurotic, needy, with a penchant for calling out the fire brigade for no practical reason. Nathalie has a second issue: she is a published author and editor whose publishers are starting to hassle her about modernistic layouts, designs, covers etc., to update and increase her ‘marketability’: a case of the medium bent on obscuring the message.

And there’s Fabien himself, a former student, turned writer and teacher and radical. Nathalie is blind to any faults in Fabien – she was a communist herself, back in 1968, though the conservative Heinz wasn’t – and in another film this woyuld be where the sexual tension would be inserted. But that’s not what their relationship is about, not even impliedly. They greet and separate with the French double air-kiss, but that’s all. Nathalie, though still attractive for her age (she is Isabelle Huppert, remember), appears to have no physical urges of any kind.

What we have is a portrait, almost a still-life. It’s a courageously long introduction, because it’s over 21 minutes into the 98 minute film, long past any point an American or British film would tolerate, before Chloe intercepts her father as he leaves his school? college? to tell him she knows he is seeing someone else, and that he must choose, and soon.

We know how he will choose – if he chooses Nathalie there is no film – but it’s not until the 29th minute that he tells his wife.

The rest of the film is the fall-out from that, except that things never seem to go any further. Nathalie and Heinz’s separation is placid and civilised. Yes, she has some waspish comments for him, but rather fewer than might be expecyed from a woman spurned after twenty-five years of expecting her husband to love her forever. We’ve see the comfortable relationship they’ve had, in which the only differences are philosophical, which is why we can believe that this pair were once in love, but over the course of the uncoupling, Nathalie’s main emotional responses are frustrated annoyance at Heinz taking books she wanted to keep, and the thought of no longer being able to visit his family holiday home in Brittany, where she has worked for so many years on the garden. The marriage itself? No.

But this, and the subsequent divorce, are just the first separation. Nathalie decides she has to put her mother into a rest home, only for the old lady to refuse to leave her bed, or eat until Nathalie returns from Brittany. But offstage, she suffers a fall and dies, resulting in a funeral, a service, a philosophical reading and, in a rare moment, tears in a Paris Metro carriage.

And the difficulties with her publihers escalate, to the point where her past works look like being retired. Nathalie takes refuge at Fabien’s collective, where she is comfortably the oldest there and out-of-date too. She takes her mother’s fat old cat, Pandora, which tears off into the forest at the first opportunity. Though Nathalie scorns the cat, wantsrid of it, claims to be allergic to it, she’s constantly calling for it’s return – one loss too many?

But she is free, total freedom. No husband, no children, no mother, nothing to tie her down. Nathalie can do anything she wants. Fabien believes she’ll soon find herself another man, though she pours scorn on that idea, due to her age. Though there is another moment when she cries, alone in her farm bed but for Pandora, Nathalie has no want for emotion. Alone in the cinema, a man in his thirties pursues her, a hand on her knee, changing seats, following her away from the cinema. He catches up with her, tells her she’s beautiful, forces a kiss on her, but she tells him she doesn’t feel like it and walks away, and helets her.

The film then jumps a year. Chloe has just given birth, a baby boy. Nathalie is still waspish with Heinz, producing tears in her daughter after her father leaves, but nothing else has changed. It’s just a year has gone by, and Nathalie’s freedom of action has not led her to alter her life on bit. There’s a final visit to the farm, in winter, to leave Pandora for good, a hit of grass and a night scene wih Fabien that would otherwise be pregnant with the implication that they’re finally gonna fuck, but this is not that film, and whilst on the one hand I applaud the refusal to indulge in cliche, the implication is solely in the context and none of it in the characters, and is like the rest of the film curiously still, almost inert.

In the morning, Fabien hugs Nathalie at the station as she returns to Paris – implying one final separation out of her life – and drives back to the farm along snowy roads. This is the only scene of the film that does not take place around Huppert. Nathalie returns to Paris and a Xmas Dinner, relieving Heinz of his keys to their former home after he retrieves one last book.

That leads into the ending. Endings in films like this are problematic, because there has been no real beginning. An ending implies the stopping or cessation or completion of something separable as a discrete phase or period, but the lack of any kind of progression makes an ending impossible to achieve. All you can do is you, and how and where do you do that?

Hansen-Love chooses to do this by having the baby cry, Nathalie leave the meal to comfort it whilst the young ones eat. She cradles the baby, sings to it, a romantic love song. The camera pans back into the hall so that we can see the three young ones at table eating on the left, Nathalie with the baby in another room on the right, a wide gap between them, and a final edging away so only the rooms can be seen, no people. On the soundtrack, a stilted version of ‘Unchained Melody’ sung by a woman for whom English is not her first language, leads into the credits.

I have an adage, almost an aphorism. The irreducible minimum requirement of fiction is that it must make us care about something that never happened to someone who never existed. Nathalie Chevaux interests me, but in the end I find I cannot really care. She is purely of the mind, striving to express all things as a mental exercise, a philosphical stance or point. I don’t say that she is wromg, or that Mia Hansen-Love has made a bad film in portraying someone whose thinks and acts that way, just that I need the infusion of Thought and Emotion, and Things to Come does not give me the other half of the equation.

 

 

Saturday SkandiKrime: Trapped 2 – episode 9


There was no hope. I would have loved to have seen Trapped move outside the inevitable and allow Asgeir Thorinsson to survive the end of episode 8, because I have enough confidencein the writers and cast that they would find a solution that did not reek of a sentimental wish not to have a good guy die, but I knew it wouldn’t happen, and episode 9’s open cemented that. When the bulky man in the black ski-mask dragged Asgeir’s body on a binliner into his police car, I knew, but to set a seal upon it, he drove the car out of town and set it alight. Andri and Hinrika, using the car’s GPS tracker, followed but not soon enough. There was no hope.

The rest of the episode played out in the wake of this loss. The shock to everyone in the town, not just Andri and Hinrika, the former locking himself in a bathroom so that he could cry, not Bardur or Gudrun, forcing herself to go through the post mortem.

But things are at last coming to a head. Andri decides it’s too dangerous to allow Thorhildur to stay where there is a murderer who knows her involvement: his rebellious daughter at last recognises the gravity of the situation and that he is desperate to protect her, and doesn’t protest. Aron will go with her, he too might be in danger.

But the flights to Reykjavik are fully booked, so Aunt Laufey will drive them there. Followed by a big, black people carrier that always stays one car back.

But now a name comes into the frame. Ketill leads the pretty girl reporter up onto the Heath, following a hunch that pans out, and finds a cave full of dumped and leaking toxic waste, the source of the pollution. Head of Waste Disposal at the Plant is Stefan Nikulsson, good old clean-cut, nice guy Stefan. Even at this late stage, I doubted, suspected one last red herring, something even more complicated.

But when Laufey stops for sweets, and Thorhildur needs to pee, Aron steps into the Ladies with her to guard her. Ineffectually. Stefan batters him into unconsciousness, chokes Thorhildur into the same state, and takes off with her. Andri takes the call from Laufey…

Lou Grant: s01 e14 – Airliner


Rossi and Aunt Rose

For me, this was the best episode of the series so far. An airliner coming into L.A. is in trouble. It’s landing gear isn’t fully functioning, the left wheel is jammed as partially retracted. There are 348 people on board. It’s late at night. And there’s a personal element to it.

What this episode did was to completely eschew the usual comic aspects of this series in favour of straight drama, showing the newspaper at work in covering a developing story. Of course the comedy wasn’t cut out all together, not least in the case of Assistant City Editor Art Donovan, frustrated in his (mutual) wish to seduce an attractive 33 year old divorcee by the entirely too chirpy presence of her ten year old son, but these were background elements, firstly as showing the characters in their leisure times, and then the usual tension-relieving jokes between colleagues facing a potential disaster.

The  episode cannily made a very slow start, with a pretty blonde getting onto a plane, introducing herself to her seat-mate as Joanie Hulme, then the end of theday shift at the Trib, all of people’s personal plans: Donovan we know, Rossi off to the airport to pick up someone called Rose who, from the way everyone else reacted, teasing a romance, was not going to be a girlfriend (correct, his Aunt, guest star Peggy Santon), Billie to wash her hair, other guest star reporters, and finally Lou to sleep after three nights disturbed by arhythmic birdsong.

All calm, all quiet, all low-key. Intercut with shots of the pilot’s instruments as the plane problem develops.

Then the story breaks. Everyone’s called back in, despite having done a full day. Loads of people don’t even need to be called. They drop what they’re doing, they don’t bitch or complain, they just get on with their jobs.

This is something I’m coming to value, as with last year’s Danish series, Below the Surface, making tense, enthralling stories out of doing things the right way, the professional way. This was the story, and everyone swung into it, putting aside their own concerns for th job at hand that was more important.

Of course, we knew, subconsciously, that everything would be all right. Oddly enough, the biggest clue to this was the young, pretty blonde, Joanie Hume. Daughter of Charlie Hume, flying home from exchange studies in France a couple of weeks early to surprise her folks. This gave us our personal element, not that the shows handling of the story needed it, and by doing so it indicated all would be well. Not this series, not those years: a principal character’s daughter would not be killed.

But that didn’t prevent the tightening of the tension when the plane was coming in on final approach, a belly-landing, a foamed runway. Naturally, the budget didn’t allow for the hiring of a plane and crashing it, but having a second-by-second commentary from Rossi at the airport relayed to the news room by Billie worked by forcing the event into our imagination. The imagination. Remember that? It was what we used before CGI.

All the groundwork was laid in effective measure along the way. You got to see the sheer breadth of the coverage, every aspect that needed explaining and didn’t notice the massive expository dump. The story was the plane, and the potential for massive death and destruction, but the story was the Trib’s handling of that possible massive news event.

And when it was all over, and everyone relieved, there was time for a bit more light comedy. Donovan tried calling on his divorcee, but her son was still awake, Billie went to sleep on the floor with her head on a cushion, Lou got hit by the bird again but still dropped off. My favourite line was Rossi, doing the ‘What did it feel like?’ interview with Joanie, her explaining that she’d spent two hours staring at the same page of her book (L’etranger) without taking in a word and Rossi responding that he could never get into Camus either.

It would all be done so differently today. We would fear the worst more seriously, we wouldsee the plane with our own eyes, Joanie Hulme would probably be at least seriously injured and Charlie affected by it for weeks. I don’t say that’s a worse way to handle the story, nor that it’s my age (or my nostalgia) that makes me prefer this take, broadcast on 3 January 1978, but the way things used to be done had its merits, and this episode sucked me in completely.

Person of Interest: s01 e14 – Wolf and Cub


To anyone of a comics-reading persuasion, such as myself, the title of this episode is a dead giveaway. It’s the English title of one of Japan’s most famous and long-running mangas, a series about a Samurai who travels with his baby son, pushing him along in a carriage. Yes, I know, not your standard premise. But here it tells us that John Reese is going to take on a kid as a partner.

The kid’s the Number, Darren McGready (Astro), 14 years old, already an orphan and now on the run: the kid’s elder brother Travis, his legal guardian, has been shot and killed by three thugs for stopping them hassling a pretty waitress. Darren’s a talented kid, a promising musician, a keen artist (kid reads comics, wouldn’y you guess?) But because he reads comics, Darren’s big on revenging and avenging for his brother. Reese needs to keep him alive, as well as taken down the thugs, and their boss, Andre.

But as always, we have not just the Number but the ongoing expansion of the show’s background, and there are three pieces of information this week that open up some unusual horizons.

Darren’s part of the story is, once again, tautly told, in  script and action. Andre owns the comic book store that Darren frequents, but it’s a front for a numbers and protection racket that, in tu rn, is paying protection itself, to some form of inner Police organisation of dirty cops,the very group Lionel Fusco was associated with when Reese selected him. In the end, Darren hasn’t got him in it to kill, which may be up there on the Cliche List but for which we’re grateful in the end. He gets his future back, Andre’s lot are taken in in an en masse that will be hard to protect, and Reese has played ronin to success.

But it’s the other pieces in the mix that bear the biggest attention this week. We begin with Reese and Finch cautiously entering the dark and silent Library, where Finch has to rebuild his system from scratch after last week’s hacking attack by Root. No assistance then in locating Darren McGready but, oh yes, the Numbers keep coming in, even with the Library dead. Point 1: where do they come from?

Point 2 is Will Ingram, Nathan’s son, dropping in to chat with Uncle Harold: Harold Wren, that is, insurance underwriter. Will’s been investigating his Dad’s papers. He’s found two things, a champagne cork wrapped in a napkin on which is scribbled a reference to ‘the machine’, and a name. ‘Uncle Harold’ has no idea what the cork symbolises, but Will has linked it to the mysterious $1 contract with the Government. Signed the very next day. And the name? Alicia Corwin, Nathan’s contact. Alicia Corwin, who resigned her Government post just after Nathan was killed, who didn’t go to the funeral, wjo has moved to a small WestVirginia town that’s the only place in America that doesn’t have… mobile phones and the internet.

Point 3 is Alicia herself. She’ll only meet Will in public, sympathises with him and his loss. It seems they have met before. She pretends to have no idea about the cork, the machine. And then Will mentions ‘Uncle Harold’. And Alicia tells Will a stream of porkies with great fluency, about how Nathan and his company were in trouble, going down the tubes, bereft of product, bailed out by the Government. Then she leaves, rapidly.

So does Will, back to the Sedan, chastened, shaken in his belief in his father, no longer a threat to the safety of the Machine. But Alicia Corwin has heard the name Harold.

Which brings us to point 4. Fusco’s gotten himself shot in the ass saving Daren, he’s limping. but he’s taking the jokes well. He’s reporting back to Reese. He’s found the name Harold Wren, traced it back to MIT alongside Nathan Ingram, back as far as 1976. But before then it doesn’t exist. And there are other aliases, multiple ones. Only the paranoid survive, Reese quotes, quoting Finch himself from the start of the task of rebuilding the Library. Only slowly does the picture form. We will get there, we will see it all. In time.

TV21 – 2069


Now it’s 2069. This is TV21‘s last year in the form that we have known it. Before September ends, it will undergo another merger in which technically it will be the senior partner, but in fact the comic will die in any fashion that we’ve known it.
The other half of that merger is Joe 90, which starts in January 1969. Joe 90 is the new Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series, and it’s another step on the slide towards the end of the Anderson puppet series era. Captain Scarlet saw a dip in popularity from Thunderbirds and Joe 90 sees a big dip in quality. This series is aimed firmly downwards, to a younger audience than anything since the Andersons were still with Granada and producing Four Feather Falls.
It’s interesting that Joe becomes the lead of his own title rather than launching in TV21, as did Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. It makes me think that sales were already slipping, and that doubts as to the comic’s permanency were already in management’s minds.
So: What was TV21 and TV Tornado in issue 207 (4 January)? Captain Scarlet, 4 pages, in colour on the cover, in black & white inside, Project SWORD, 1 page including large b&w illustration, The Saint, 2 pages, Shades of Opinion, a letter’s page, The Munsters, 1 redundant page, Thunderbirds, 2 pages still in colour and still by Frank Bellamy, the last Spectrum Shades Club page, Secret Agent 21, 2 b&w pages, Zero-X, 2 brightly-coloured pages still by Mike Noble, Tarzan, 1½ b&w pages, and a big colour photo of Joe 90 on the back page.
The Shades of Opinion page was closing because Captain Scarlet and Spectrum were on the wane. It was replaced by a resumption of Contact 21, under the ‘control’ of Agent 21 again. Joe was being teased for ‘exciting’ news in issue 209 (18 January), which was the new Joe 90 comic, already out, price 8d, as opposed to TV21‘s consistent 7d.

The newbie

Frank Bellamy stopped by to do Captain Scarlet’s colour cover for issue 210 (25 January), whilst Joe’s succeeding issues kept getting plugs on the back page: there’s a certain kind of serpent’s tooth irony to that… By 212 (8 February), a bit more of TV21‘s old self was restored, with a still of the indestructible Captain on the cover, and his story now cut to three, all b&w pages. And Joe surrendered his back page plug for a hint at a forthcoming series, part of the changes advertised for issue 215 (1 March). Another couple of issues were missing from the DVD then the revamp was put back, this time to issue 218.
The retrogression continued in 216, with the real remanifestation of the newspaper cover.
When the ‘new look’ came in 218 (22 March), it was the old look, with the original TV21 masthead. Agent 21 moved back onto pages 2-3, though he was only allotted half the page, vertically, on the second of these. Captain Scarlet moved back to follow this, with The Munsters next.
The only new series was Department S, the ATV Saturday night spy thriller that introduced Peter Wyngarde as Jason King, in two single B&w pages, separated by the full colour Thunderbirds, now restored to the centre pages, but still drawn as two pages instead of the old centrespread format. The Saint survived, as did Zero-X andTarzan, whilst the ongoing series of Saturn paintings found its way to the back cover.
As revamps go, the word ‘underwhelming’ seems inevitable, the unlucky series squeezed out being the long-since meaningless Project SWORD. The daft decision to split Department S around the centre pages was rectified a week later when it got its two pages consecutive. Project ‘Shindig’, the Saturn expedition, came inside for a news page, and photos of some of the puppet crew, whilst the new Space Info page recalled the comic’s original intentions.
This was the replacement for the uninvolving Tarzan. For, of course, 1969 was the year, the year of the Moon Landings. Space Info took up that story. And TV21 would live long enough to see fiction turn into reality.
As for the new kid on the block, Department S only lasted five weeks before being reduced to one page in issue 223 (26 April). The next three issuing are amongst those missing, as is issue 228. Issue 227 (24 May) however leads with a big picture of George Best and a plug for the new feature inside, Football United, one of a series of sports features included by reader demand, though all it was in Part One was a fact sheet, down to the Old Trafford telephone number!

The big mistake

And football once again incongruously dominated the front cover of issue 229 (7 June), heralding Leeds United as the English Champions.
Sports was the new thing. Issue 231 saw the introduction of the new feature, Super League, a football strip starring up and coming strikers Vince Hammer and Bill Cullen, who are wanted by the Manchester Eagles, except that Vince’s father intends him for the Army. There were only two drawbacks to this series, the subject was completely out of place in TV21 and the artists had no idea how to draw footballers in action, neither their body movements or their physical relationships on a field. As for which Manchester club the Eagles derived from, their stadium was the Busby Bowl: as Stan Lee used to put it, ’nuff said.
Meanwhile, Agent 21 had gone from being the head of the USS to being a mere Agent again, without any warning or explanation, and, after one dead woman, one dead man and a traitor, his new assistant was a robot dog. The comic’s quality controls were going into a tail-spin.
The date of the Moon-Shot, the real Space Expedition, was now almost on us. Issue 235 (21 July) featured Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, the man who would be first to step on the Moon. I don’t believe I was still reading TV21 by now, though I do recognise the name of the Manchester Eagles, but re-running towards that moment is something I find intensely gripping. The world was changing about us in these very pages.
Only a week later, a half page black and white feature on the back page, Nature’s Flying Machines’, looked exactly like one of the old George Cansdale features from the Eagle. It was a one-off, with issue 237 (2 August) opening up the notebooks of Wilson of the Wild, big game naturalist.
TV21 was now in its dying weeks. Captain Scarlet defeated the Mysterons at last, shutting down their power of retro-metabolism, recovering Captain Black’s body and seeing then evacuate Mars. Thunderbirds wrapped up their second consecutive story pitting them against superstitious, primitive tribes fearing Devil-Gods (in 2069? What is this, Robot bloody Archie at its most colonial?) The innovative football strip had the two youngsters promoted to the First Team and arousing the enmity of an established forward who swears to destroy their careers: never seen that before. Odd little prose features started turning up. The Moon Landing, after all its build-up, went by without acknowledgement of it happening, a colossal disappointment. There was even a Kit Carter’s Clarks Commandos comic strip advert, drawn by Tom Kerr, turning up with two issues to go.
TV21 ended with issue 242 (6 September ‘2069’). Every series wound up (Zero-X got out with a week to spare). Surplus pages were filled with Thunderbirds photos of the models. And it was announced that in order that readers wouldn’t have to ask for both TV21 and Joe90, the two papers were merging. There was a gap of three weeks before the new paper, renumbering from issue 1, appeared, and when it did, not one series from TV21 remained, unless you count Kit Carter. Tarzan and The Saint returned, but both series were rejigged from their brief period in TV21.
Only Joe90 remained of the Anderson-verse.
The DVD contains just over half of the first 105 issues of the Volume 2 comic. The title reverted to just plain TV21 with issue 36, and became TV21 and Valiant with issue 105. Given the paucity of available issues, looking at this phase of the comic’s existence is not a priority with me: maybe one day when I’ve run out of other things to re-read and write about.
So, the short life and mostly decent times of TV Century 21, ending in collapse of purpose and identity. Frank Bellamy and Mike Noble lasted to the end, as did John Cooper, but by then even their efforts were being dogged by poor writing and inadequate stories (there is a case for saying that Zero-X never had an adequate story but let’s not be harsh). Not quite five years.
Personally, having breezed through those years in short order, I think the big mistake was to go so totally overboard on Captain Scarlet and Spectrum, especially to the extent of abandoning the future newspaper concept. Once this had been so thoroughly played out, the title lost its way, and blurred its own focus. But it offered some brilliant art for a good number of years, and if none of the Anderson series ever quite matched their TV originals, they had a damned good go at it. Not a bad epitaph.

One final page of glory