Tales of the Gold Monkey: e16 – Cooked Goose


Since she plays a big role this week…

Just when I was thinking that Tales of the Gold Monkey was struggling to maintain its verve, along comes an episode like that to refute that notion. There was a neat little adventure story involving Princess Koji and Todo again, not to mention a hell of a lot of Marta DuBois’s cleavage, and a twist that I suspected only a minute or two before it was revealed, and parts to play for all seven members of the cast, which was a nice change.

But most of all what impressed was a separate strand to the episode, born of the adventure saga but not properly of it, which concerned itself with an emotional point that ignored the usual Saturday Morning shallowness in favour of a very deep look into someone’s psyche, and it was brilliantly enacted by a central character usually known for playing comic relief.

The set-up is conventional enough: newlyweds Alan and Phyllis Shoemate are enjoying her fantasy of spending a honeymoon on a desert island, Petit Bijou, south of Bora Gora. She comes from a rich Hong Kong family, he’s an ex-co-pilot friend of Jake Cutter, who’s flying them in and out. Except that on their final night, they’re attacked by Malay mercenaries, who kidnap Phyllis, badly beat Alan, and leave behind a malay kris that suggests the mastermind to be everybody’s favourite Dragon Lady.

Bon Chance Louie takes a very dim view of such things going on in the French Mandate, he being the local Magistrate de Justice, and arranges to be flown to Tagatiya by Jake. The Goose needs an overhaul, which means the disgruntled Corky has to work on things overnight to make it flyable.

Instead, he gets blind drunk, falls asleep and is still out when the Goose catches fire. Jake has to pile in with the fire extinguisher to prevent it burning out, but it’s not going to Tagatiya any time soon. He’s simultaneously furious and bitterly disappointed with Corky, yet trying to give his friend the fairest treatment he can, given that his drinking has been responsible for this disaster. Sarah tries to plead for the distraught Corky, but Jake lays out the circumstances and has to admit that he can’t think otherwise.

Louie is still determined to get to Tagatiya, and demands Jake go with him, since he’s the Princess’s favourite, which means leaving Corky behind. But not to work on the Goose. This disaster has gone to Corky’s heart, and to what remains of his pride behind the clouded memories and the alcoholism. Corky has seen himself in all too clear a light, and he doesn’t like what he sees. He’s let Jake support him for many years, let him cajole and console him, build him up, cover for too many things, but this is too big and too fundamental for more of that. Corky’s self-loathing drives him to taking full responsibility for what he is and what he’s done. He cannot stand to be around people he’s let down, and he’s packing up and leaving, on the next clipper. He’s going to disappear.

It’s a wonderful performance from Jeff MacKay, demonstrating a range and depth about a thousand miles on every side from what he’s usually asked to do as the bumbling mechanic, and it changes the story by turning what is essentially a cartoon figure, whose genuine illness is usually treated as a near-joke, into a real person, whose life has been undercut by booze.

What’s doubly effective is that, at the one moment Jake wants to devote himself to his self-appointed guardianship, he’s forced away. Corky won’t budge, no-one can change his mind, yet a subdued and genuinely worried Sarah promises Jake that Corky will still be on Bora Gora when Jake returns.

Which she achieves in splendidly comic fashion, with the aid of the Reverend Tenbaum and Gushie, the wheelchair bound waiter. As last call is made for the Clipper, Sarah dramatically denounces Corky for seducing her and running away, leaving her – gasp! – with child. In comes Willie, offering the Church’s ministrations and a fast-track to the altar (whilst copping a swift feel). Corky’s fellow-passengers are looking at him askance when suddenly the generator goes out, requiring Corky to repair it, thanks to Gushie yanking something vital out: Corky’s not leaving Bora Gora yet.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, Alan’s intemperate accusations of the proud Princess on her own island get Jake, Louie and the deprived husband into hot water: literally. Koji threatens to make them pay, but a hot bath with geishas shaving their faces seems to be an unusual punishment. Until, that is, Todo turns up with a goldfish bowl full of piranhas which he starts slowly pouring into the bath…

But between Louie’s determination to make the French Mandate too hot for Koji if she allows innocents to die and the site of Jake’s bare chest, the Princess decides to take charge in her own way. However, before she leads her troops to Petit Bijou to exterminate the mercenaries who have forged her symbol, she’s just going to strip off and climb into Jake’s tub with him where, cornered at long last, he’s just going to have to submit to her fucking his brains out. Still, Pat Ryan never complained…

And so to the island, where the forces split up, and I had the first inkling that I knew exactly why things weren’t entirely kosher. Though for a moment I wavered towards the possibility of the mastermind being the red-headed Phyllis herself, out to screw her family for a cool half-billion bucks, my first suspicion was right: this was all set-up by Alan himself, out to trouser the cheque, and not for the first time either, the lothario.

Having stepped out into the open, Alan does a deal for Princess Koji’s co-operation, half the ransom in return for letting him get away, and kill all the witnesses. Unfortunately, this was where the plot slipped. I mean, it was all pull-the-wool-over-your-eyes, with Jake and Louie having their heads chopped off by Todo in one of those not-quite-in-plain-sight set-ups that’s a dead giveaway that you’re not seeing what you’re supposed to think you’re seeing leading up to a surprise attack from Jake and the cliched grapple-for-the-gun-which goes-off-and-kills-the-baddie, and all because Koji wasn’t going to jeopardise her French Mandate holdings for a measly quarter-million, but the logic was non-existent, since the moment Alan took his knife away from Phyllis’s throat, she could have had Todo stitch him up in a instant without going through this purposeless charade. Take three ticks off your homework there.

Then it’s back to Bora Gora where the still despondent Corky has worked miracles in  restoring, and repainting the Goose. Not even Jake’s pointing out that Corky has, not once but at least twice, built the Goose up from salvaged scrap to a beautiful flying machine, and that it would be wrong to even think of letting another mechanic touch her: Jake is only her pilot, but she’s Corky’s plane: no, none of this will shift him. Come the next Clipper, he’s going. He’s gad enough of being babied and will not burden his friends a moment longer than he has to.

But we all know that things will be reset, and the fact we never saw Corky get boozed up will be the key to it. And Jake now has the explanation that lets Corky off the hut: Alan put him out, with ether stolen from Louie’s medical kit. Let’s face it, there isn’t enough booze in the whole Monkey Bar to get Corky that blitzed!

It’s a decidedly dodgy joke that’s a sign that normal comic relief service is being resumed and that this will never come up again in what remains of the series, but that scene where Corky rejects any more help, and determines to be responsible for what he’s done was still performed, and will stick in the mind as a moment that showed that even the most deliberately shallow of shoes can go into deep water and can swim.

 

Deep Space Nine: s05 e12: The Begotten


Three ‘generations’

In the immediate wake of Twin Peaks‘s conclusion, and especially my Bingewatch, I was concerned about what effect this might have upon watching ‘conventional’ television programmes. It recalled something I’d long forgotten, from the late Eighties, when for a time I drifted away from my usual love of mainstream superhero comics.

That was the time of my post-Watchmen trauma. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal series had so re-wired my expectations that, literally for years, I found the mainstream comic book series thin, and unengaging. What I did own of that era – Flash, Justice League International – was almost exclusively collected as back-issues of things that hadn’t come anywhere near satisfying me when I’d first tried them, and only started to affect me when, the best part of half a decade later, I’d moved on far enough that simple enjoyment could once again interest me.

So it’s fortunate that this was a strong, if somewhat obvious in some of its beats, episode of DS9, though I had my fears in the essentially comic open, what with Odo’s bad back and hypochondria and Quark trying to sell Odo something he rejects on principle (yes, ‘The Ascent’, a few episodes back, taught the Constable nothing). Until Quark’s find tuned out to be not a sick Changeling but instead a baby Changeling.

(Actually, it was both, which was the point of things in broader terms, but we’ll get to that.)

The whole episode was about babies, since the B story was about Major Kira finally going into labour with the O’Brien baby. Though I hadn’t noticed it, since I don’t take breaks between seasons, this was five months after this story was first seeded to accommodate Nana Visitor’s pregnancy, exactly corresponding with Bajoran pregnancy. This story was mainly played for laughs, with Chief O’Brien clearly uncomfortable with traditional Bajoran labour rituals, and something of a rivalry going on between him and Kira’s boyfriend, First Minister Shakaar. I was on the Chief’s side since the whole thing was clearly a bad case of threatened masculinity on Shakaar’s side, but of course the Chief got dumped on.

This was very much the junior branch, since the main story was about Odo, about Odo the parent. Remember that, at the end of season 4, Odo was changed into a humanoid, a solid. Though it’s been referred to, here and there, in passing, mainly to remind the audience that it happened, this move has been an almost complete bust. Nothing’s been done with it, it’s made no change to Odo’s grumpy character, nobody seems to have had any idea what to do with Odo the Solid. Thisepisode becomes the vehicle for the inevitable changing back of things.

First though, Odo becomes consumed by his amorphous blob of a charge. He’s going to teach the Little Changeling how to be a Changeling, and he’s going to do it without Dr Mora and especially without Doctor Mora’s invasive procedures. Inevitably, Mora turns up, offering help that is rudely rejected, that, when Odo’s methods seem to be getting nowhere and Starfleet is turning the screw about getting what can be got from the Little Changeling, have to be used.

All this is the foreground for the clashes between Odo and Mora about their relationship. At one point, I was struck by the generational aspect. The notion of Odo as father was openly put forward, and, with great cleverness, the parallel to Mora as father to Odo, and thus grandfather to the Little Changeling, was left entirely for the audience to make.

When not fending off Odo’s resentment, Mora was slowly able to make Odo see how alike their respective situations are. He openly admits that Odo’s patient and comforting methods have made the Little Changeling more receptive when he finally starts to change shape, and he is able to show Odo that the latter’s feelings towards his charge are no different for Mora’s to his ‘son’, a recognition Odo’s hatred has denied him.

It’s a moving experience, though not to Quark’s liking. A happy Odo is, to him, a thing against nature, and has him quoting Yeats. But this is the peak from which drama demands a fall: the Little Changeling is sick, indeed dying. Kira’s baby is coming into the world, Odo’s is leaving it, but it’s final act is to merge with the Constable, and restore his Changeling structure.

Very well, a reset it is. No-one but the Special Effects Budget ever expected it to be any different, but it’s as Odo says, it’s a pity it had to come this way.

So we come to a poignant ending. Odo sees Mora off, finally accepting the ties between them, and that these are ties of love. And Kira sees Shakaar off, back to Bajor, but despite having believed all along that she never wanted babies, the Major has found herself tied to her ‘own’ child, and deeply regretting that she cannot simply hold him. This latter was at Nana Visitor’s suggestion: as written, Kira was only too glad to get rid of ‘her’ child, but after having had a baby of her own, the actress knew far more of the complex emotions ingrained in motherhood.

Ironically, both farewells were final ones. Neither Duncan Regher nor James Sloyan would return to their roles. And for Rosalind Chao there was very little left: the dramatic impracticality of a woman with two children, one a baby, and the cost implications of having to work round two child actors, effectively ended her ongoing involvement. According to Memory Alpha (which I consult after watching each episode), Keiko O’Brien will be seen in only two further episodes, one of these fleetingly.

And since we’re mentioning such things, this was the first episode in which Terry Farrell does not appear, not even for a throwaway line.

Brief update 3


Chapter 2 has now been tackled but, despite my reservations, there was very little that could be done. So the revised version has been pasted in to the ready-to-upload version, a short foreword has been added (now I’ve remembered which notepad it was scribbled into)and it’s done.

How do I know it’s done, given what I said about giving it a further run-through? Because it’s done. There comes a moment when you know it’s the end, because everything about the characters becomes fixed. They step outside your head and you can’t change anything about them any more.

Next step: uploading to Lulu.com.

Saturday SkandiKrime: Black Lake Parts 1 & 2


Hanne

It’s been such a long time since there’s been any BBC SkandiKrime on which to comment, though on the strength of this week’s opening two parts (of eight), I am not at all sure whether Crime is the right category into which to put Black Lake (a pretty much literal translation of Swartsjon).

The last couple of efforts, Modus and Follow the Money 2, have not really been up to the standard I’d like, and on the evidence of the first week’s pairing, I’m not sure how Black Lake will pan out. Then again, now that the BBC i-Player demands registration to use, I have to get my episodes from other sources, which led to me watching a Part 2 whose English sub-titles were a mess to say the least, so that I’m not certain I’ve grasped all the subtleties.

But the series has three primary assets going for it on first acquaintance: more of the gloriously white Scandinavian forest, lake and mountain snowscapes, a leading character player by Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, a young lady of fair and delicately fine features and form, and a complete absence of total and utter idiots in any leading roles.

The show begins with a flashback to twenty years ago, a handcuffed man walking through a silent ski-centre, taken into a basement, where, his handcuffs unlocked, he goes off the rails, demanding “Where are they?” Jump twenty years to Stockholm, and we have a party of eight Scandinavians in their mid to late twenties, meeting up to climb into two Volvos and head out to this same, unused centre. My instant assumption was a Freddy Kroeger type set-up, and I may not yet be totally wrong.

Anyway, this octet are equally divided between attractive girl and attractive boy, though they’re not all necessarily couples. There’s Hanne and Mette, her sister, who is some kind of doctor, her boyfriend Johan, who is considering buying this disused ski-centre. There’s Elin, a girl neither sister likes nor trusts, for good reason it would appear, and there’s Frank, Johan’s friend, who has brought his new girlfriend, Jessan, who nobody’s met before, plus Lippi and Osvald. One’s got conjunctivitis in his right eye, which is relevant, and the other’s beefy and some sort of chef.

All of these things we glean from the first part, plus the fact that Henne is on medication for something, in respect of which Mette is constantly watching over her. Of course, we know for a fact that Hanne will cease taking her pills long before half way, and indeed that’s one of the last things in part 1, though I’m not going to start doing a cliche count on that.

By then, Johan has asked her to marry him, and Hanne has accepted, though their’s is the kind of relationship where they sleep together without the slightest suggestion of sex (unlike Frank and Jessan, who are at it like bunnies almost immediately). And whilst Johan appears to sleep naked, Hanne’s the kind of girl who goes to bed in long pants, white spaghetti strap top and her bra still on underneath it.

Incidentally, the announcement of their engagement is received with great joy and warmth on the part of everybody, except Elin, who looks like someone’s just shot her pet bunny.

And almost as soon as she’s agreed to make Johan the happiest man on earth, Hanne learns that he’s lied to her, albeit by omission. He knew that the reason the ski-resort never opened was because someone dies there. Not died: was murdered.

And strange things are happening. There are rhythmic metallic thumpings from the basement half the night, and no, it isn’t Frank, Jessan and their position of the next thirty minutes. Erkki, the aged, grizzled caretaker, looks like he would refuse to even admit there was a basement if the door wasn’t there right under his nose: too dangerous, he says, besides, I haven’t got a key.

And finally, for part 1, with the orthodox subtitles, there’s Dag and Jostein, snowmobile merchants renting a shed on-site, with a sinister plan of their own, and in Dag’s case a bad case of inferiority complex towards Stockholmers that he wants to take out with a knife fight with Johan.

Things start to get a little clearer in part 2, especially as Johan quickly makes us aware that delicate Hanne lost her younger brother Jacob, 10 to her 12, through drowning and has never gotten over it. Is that why she’s obsessing about this part murder? Insistent on finding out every detail? In this, she’s assisted by the willing Jostein (can’t possibly think why he’s prepared to run around for such an attractive woman, can you? Johan certainly isn’t starting to get suspicious, no).

We learn from the retired Policeman, Broman, that the victims were a family, mother, father, two children, each one strangled. Even the two children. It’s horrible but it’s not enough for Hanne. When Broman refuses to let her watch the interrogation video, she has the helpgul Jostein steal it for her so she can obsessively watch it. Helgerson, the killer who was never tried because he drowned himself, is clearly off his head. But he strangled two children, sitting them down side by side, letting them hold hands. One member of the audience isn’t prepared to let him off for that.

Hanne’s obsession is starting to get a bit nerve-racking, and there’s weird stuff starting to go on. First Jessan gets conjunctivitis – in her right eye – after a dream of having something sit on her chest. Then she starts sleep-walking, playing with the crayons in the playroom. Then Osvald goes down into the secret basement, but claims not to remember anything, because he was sleeping, and he’s got conjunctivitis – in his right eye. And Hanne’s convinced that the ski-resort is haunted by a mythical child intent on lives being sacrificed to it, and that the voices of the two strangled children are trying to speak to them.

Because Jessan, after popping an E, starts raving, shouting ‘I killed the children’.

That sort of disturbs everyone, with the possible exception of Elin, who takes the first possible opportunity of Johan’s distraction to kiss him. Thankfully, Hanne’s too busy watching that video again, but Mette has her eyes wide open…

Let’s see how next week develops. And after seeing young Ms Boussnina in both 1864 and The Bridge, I’m more than pleased to have three more week’s opportunity to look at her.

Brief update 2


Yes, I’d not quite duplicated two scenes near the end. I’ve almost completely eradicated the first one, turning it into a false start, in which form it’s far more effective, as it enables me to layer yet another emotional eddy into the mix, whilst upping the ante on the second scene, into which I’ve spirited one line from the deleted first, once again adding another brush-stroke of nuance.

Which leaves me Chapter 2 to reconsider. And I’m wavering a bit over another look through generally, but then that starts bringing in the old question of when do you stop? It’s never going to be ‘perfect’: at what point does the energy that goes into further refinement cease to be worth it, and instead be better put to the next project?

Brief update 1


I’ve now got a more or less complete Third Draft text that’s had two passes through it from end to end, and have spent the evening preparing and formatting a print copy. But I’m holding back on uploading to Lulu.com just yet, because I want to have another look at Chapter 2, plus I think I’ve more or less duplicated two scenes, and want to re-read the first version, to see whether that can be sufficiently distinguished to warrant retaining, or, of not, to re-write or maybe just excise that scene.

That done, short of an exceedingly late brainwave, I’m left with little excuse but to go to print…

Grant Hart R.I.P.


For those who don’t recognise the name, Grant Hart, who has died of cancer aged 56, was the drummer and one of two singers and songwriters in Husker Du, the Minneapolis-based trio who were so amazingly influential on the punk/indie rock scene of the Eighties. If you’ve never heard of them, you’re in a sizeable majority, but without Husker Du, there would not have been a creative space for bands like The Pixies and Nirvana to develop, and turn into fame and success.

I came to the Huskers late. A giveaway 7″ vinyl EP in the New Musical Express included their version of ‘Ticket to Ride’, but it was 1987’s release as a single of Hart’s ‘Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’, combining raw power, speed and a grabbingly glorious chorus line, that inspired me to try the current album, Candy Apple Grey.

One of the great things about Husker Du was that, for an ultra-basic three-piece, they had two great songwriters. Bassist Greg Norton kept out of it, which was probably just as well, because guitarist and singer Bob Mould saw the band as his band, and was insistent on being the primary writer, always having more of his own songs on an album than Hart.

On the one hand, this kind of creative tension can be fantastic for a band, with the two writers trying to outdo each other, and for all that Bob Mould emerged from the ashes of Husker Du with the higher profile, and more conspicuous success in a solo career, Hart was no slouch, as a consideration of some of the songs he contributed to the band demonstrates.

But rivalry only goes so far. Husker’s next, and last album, in 1988, was the double LP Warehouse: Songs and Stories. It held twenty tracks, enough for any writer, but Mould insisted that Hart would never get equal credits, so the album was almost mechanically broken down as to eleven songs for Mould, and nine for Hart.

That was what basically broke things up, though Mould alibied a lot of it to Hart’s struggle with heroin addiction. He went onto popular success with both solo albums and as the band Sugar, a couple of which I used to have. Hart seemed to disappear, and it’s only from his obituary that I’ve now learned he had an extensive post-Husker Du career, both solo and with a band called The Nova Mob. I shall have to go in search.

When all’s said and done, I came to Husker Du late, and at the end of their career when they’d signed for a major label, were slowing down (literally) the speed of their songs, becoming a more orthodox and less raw band. I worked slowly backwards, only this year coming to their other double album, Zen Arcade, seeing the band become more primitive.

But in that rawness there were always songs displaying melody, an unexpected ear for a cracker of a tune. No, Husker Du don’t rank in the front line of my personal tastes, but I’m not parting with the CDs.

In away, I’m writing this out of a sense of wrongness. I’m beginning to get inured to the deaths that keep coming. There’s no other way to handle it: age is surrounding so many long term heroes, anyone who had any kind of success in the Sixties and the early Seventies, and painful though their departure might be, they don’t get to live forever.

But Grant Hart was of the Eighties. He was a part of the musical warp and weft that saw me from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties. To lose someone from that era is wring, fundamentally wrong. He was five years younger than me, he should have had another twenty years in him, it’s too bloody soon for that generation of favourites to start leaving us.

I’m going to steal a comment from BTL on the Guardian Obituary. Rest in Peace? No, set the room alight and drum the fuck out of that ever-growing jamming band up there! And sing your songs free and clear and urgent. Songs like this…