Ursula Le Guin: We are left behind


I was about to close up my laptop and retire for the night, but I cannot shut my mind to the report of the death of Ursula Le Guin, one of the greatest writers of science fiction and fantasy, one of the greatest writers of this last century, at the age of 88.

Like so many of my generation, the first Le Guin I read was the Earthsea Trilogy, a series of magic and wizards of great brilliance and influence. I was young, barely into my teens, when the books first began appearing, with those magical Pauline Baynes covers. Ursula Le Guin and Alan Garner, two vastly different writers of different worlds but both, in their ways, writers who depicted a world that could not exist in great reality.

From there, I grew towards such classics as The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, books like The Lathe of Heaven and, an astonishing work of imagination, the world of Always Coming Home.

I have nearly all Le Guin’s books, including those that consist of essays about writing. I will return to them and re-read them. She was one of the most clear-headed writers I have ever read.

Ironically, my favourite of her works is not SF or Fantasy, or anything that might be said to concern itself with a future, but the collection of historical stories set in an imaginary Eastern European country, Orsinian Tales. My favourite of them is the last story of the book, not really a story but a depiction of life before the Second World War, among an aristocracy already long gone. It’s last line always resounds with loss.

‘But that was a long time ago, and I do not know whether it still happens in that way, even in imaginary countries.’

From now onwards we will have to imagine a country in which Ursula Le Guin still lives. Our own has become unbearably small for the lack of her.

P.S.

The quote above, from the short story, ‘Imaginary Countries’, was written from memory last night. Before going to bed, I located the book and read it. My memory was sadly imprecise: the actual words are:

‘But all of this happened a long time ago, nearly forty years ago; I do not know if it happens now, even in imaginary countries.’

So much better written than my recollection, more elegant, more fragile.

Deep Space Nine: s06 e04 – Behind the Lines


Traitor

Whether it be me or Deep Space Nine, things were back on track this week, and I personally felt this to be the best episode so far of season 6.

As has bee the pattern thus far, it’s divided between the war and the station, but for a change of pace, it was the latter that formed the A story, and quite rightly so. The nature of the B story changed substantially in the writing, with several deep and complex ideas being rejected because they would have made this strand too complex to exist as the B story.

Whilst I agree with this approach, it did have the unfortunate effect of neutering that side of the episode, pushing the actual story so far out of sight, literally, as to be unimportant.

Basically, Admiral Ross orders Sisko and the Defiant on a mission to destroy a well-protected Sensor array that’s plotting the movement of all Federation ships and handing the Dominion a massive technological advantage. Then Ross promotes Sisko to become his Adjutant, putting direct command of the mission and the ship in the hands of Dax. The mission is a spectacular success, entirely offscreen: what we see is Sisko’s concerns at his crew going into danger without him.

I’m informed that Dax’s success in command is going to lead to changes in her character, but Sisko’s elevation to a position of increased authority and responsibility, and his introduction to that aspect of command that involves sending men to war whilst you remain in a position of physical safety is going to be a hard one to row back upon when the War is over: especially in so increasingly military an organisation as Starfleet.

But let’s pass on that. It’s not intended to go too deep, though it might have made a strong episode in itself if the show had been willing to go deeper into the Dominion War than they’re doing. Of far greater importance is the A story, showing the Resistance in action on DS9/Terak Nor.

I’ve got to be honest and say that this story was introduced with some astonishingly clunky writing in the open. Kira and Rom have stolen and strategically passed on Dumar’s ‘iPad’ containing his secret plan to poison the last ration of ketracel White and kill the Jem’Hadar, if the blockade of the Wormholeisn’t relieved before supplies run out. The Jem’Hadar don’t like it. A bar brawl breaks out in Quark’s, with much damage to property and person, and glee for Kira and Rom. The odea’s good, but what kills it is that we see all the action from a silent distance with Kira talking us through everything, as a virtual voiceover. It’s horribly amateurish, it’s wooden, it’s an unattractive Tell imposed on a reduced to insignificant Show.

All the more creditable that the strand should go on to develop so strong a story. The plan was very effective in the eyes of Kira, Rom and Jake, who form three-quarters of the now-established Resistance Committee, but not Odo, the fourth. Odo thought it a bad idea, for disrupting the order on the station, and had walked out without staying to learn that Kira had persuaded everyone otherwise. It makes things uncomfortable for the pair – and Odo remains passionately in love with Kira – with the Major not questioning Odo’s loyalty but coming very close to where she will start to be concerned.

This theme unfortunately gets developed much more after the arrival on the station of the Female Changeling to see Odo. She’s been trapped in the Alpha Quadrant and desires the company of a fellow shapeshifter, or so she says. She persuades Odo into entering the Link with her.

This terrifies Kira as much as it angers her. She extracts a promise from Odo not to Link again until after the war is over. He is a crucial part of the Resistance and discipline is necessary, discipline and a subsuming of personal interest to the primary task.

Dumar, Dukat’s number two, is on the lookout for favour. He’s promoted to Gul, he’s come up with a plan to clear the mines off, he’s drinking way too much at Quark’s. This latter leads him to spill the beans to Quark, who’s beginning to realise that there are more things to life that mere profits and he’d really rather like to have the Federation back, please. So Quark passes this on to the Resistance, om works out how it can be done and how that can be protected, a plan is devised whereby Odo will disable security at a specified time to enable Rom’s act of sabotage…

And Odo, desperate for more understanding of himself and the Changelings, goes into Link with the Female at exactly the wrong moment. The sabotage fails, Rom is arrested, the War is now almost certainly lost. Kira loses her rag with Odo, but the horrifying thing is that Odo hasn’t merely been derelict in his duty, he has become completely indifferent. Only the Link matters. Not even Kira.

It’s a chilling development. Odo has defected. There’s no other way of describing it. He’s done the unforgivable. It’s going to be one hell of a journey back to the side of the goodies, and in the eyes of at least one member of the audience, it’s a case of You Can’t Get There From Here.

The Labyrinth of Spirits – an update


How long ago was it that I posted about Carlos Ruiz Zafon finally completing the fourth and final book in the Cemetery of Lost Books quartet? Long ago enough for the post to become one of my fifteen most visited ever. And tonight, I have finally been able to pre-order the book (now titled ‘The Labyrinth of the Spirits) in paperback through Amazon. The publication date is 18 September.

Twelve months ago I discovered and heralded it. In eight months time I will finally get to read it.

In seven months time, Iwill re-read the first three books. Got to be ready…

Film 2018: Fantasia 2000


The Film Year’s only three Sundays old and I’ve already abandoned the random selection idea. I’m going to try to keep up a fresh mixture, from week to week, except when I get to Terry Gilliam month (about which you’ll learn more when I get there).

I had a favourite film planned for today, a choice which seemed to be destined as it was also mentioned in the latest Big Bang Theory episode I’d seen. But today is a working Sunday, and I’ve a lot I want to say about my original choice, so if time were limited I wanted something that didn’t require too much engagement.

Walt Disney’s Fantasia is a classic to my eyes, but it was a controversial one. It was Walt Disney’s third full-length animation and its theme was creating animations to accompany eight pieces of classical music. Released in 1940, it was attacked by critics as vulgarising the music it animated, and largely went over the heads of the audience. Commercially, it was a flop, putting paid to Disney’s ambition of a perpetually renewed film: Fantasia would be on permanent release, but over time each sequence would be replaced, one at a time, by new pieces, so that the film would never be the same twice.

For decades, it was more known by its reputation than by its actuality. Occasionally, a piece would crop up in the regular Disney Time compilation TV programmes. My first extended exposure to it came in the mid-Eighties, via a bootleg tape of its soundtrack.Not long after, the film was reissued with a completely re-recorded soundtrack (which has now been abandoned).

However, in 1991, the film was released on video for the first time, with the original soundtrack restored, for an exclusive, 90 days then never again limited period. I bought it, loved it, played it several times. Fantasia became a major commercial success, the 90 day limit was dropped. And Disney vice-chairman Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, successfully pushed for a revival of the original idea of renewal, which was accepted (with reservations), to be funded from the video profits.

I have no memory of the new film being released, in 2000 (I had other, better things on my mind, though we’d have probably taken the kids to see it). The first I knew of it was when the DVD turned up cheap inĀ Tescos several years ago. I bought it out of curiosity, watched it, found it reasonably enjoyable, and haven’t looked at it again before today.

Fantasia 2000 starts with one basic problem: more than any ordinary sequel, it cannot be seen independently of the original. The film’s concept, its format, even the concert structure in its emotional and dramatic sequence echoes the original. There are, of course, updatings: the equivalent to musicologist DeemsTaylor’s slightly stilted explanations is more comedic introductions by a variety of entertainment stars. They allow a few moments of separation between the pieces, to ‘cleanse the palate’, and that’s all they’re good for (Steve Martin’s is an embarrassment).

But what of the film itself? It starts with an abstract piece, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, First Movement, set to a host fluttering triangles, resembling butterflies in their movements, light against dark, the light ultimately triumphant. Ultimately is not really the best word here, since the whole sequence lasts just under three minutes: Beethoven’s Fifth in three minutes, sorta condensed really.

It’s followed by a piece set to Respighi’s ‘Pines of Rome’ I’m not familiar with the work, which is pleasant without ever being distinctive in terms of a memorable theme or melody. It’s animated to a small family of humpback whales, in early and slightly pallid CGI, who leave the arctic water to fly. The baby gets involved with a flock of birds, gets trapped inside an iceberg, gets free, and all the whales learn to fly and rise up through the sky before breaking into another world. It’s enjoyable, but somewhat lightweight.

This is followed by Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, the only American composer in either film, and the animation is deliberately archaic and cartoony, based on the style of Gershwin’s contemporary, Al Hirschfield. Both music and animation are vastly different from the rest of the film. The storyline is set in the hustlin’, bustlin’ New York of Gershwin’s time (the composer gets a cameo, playing the piano) as four different people make their frustrated way through the day, their lives criss-crossing but never meeting, until they reach their epiphany at night. At twelve minutes, this is the longest piece in the film, and like the Respighi, it feels as if it’s been given time to breathe, which isn’t always the case. Each time I hear ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, I enjoy it a little more, though Jazz is not my bag, man, but it’s out of place here among ‘traditional’ classical music.

On to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no 2, which is used to set the tone for Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’, a story Disney had wanted to animate going all the way back to the era of the original. The story is simple but unavoidably twee, and the film perverts it by changing the ending. A tin soldier with only one leg falls in love with a toy ballerina, but the evil Jack-in-the-Box wants her for himself. The animation is almost entirely CGI but in a style that heavily apes the traditional drawn art of Disney. In the story, the lovers end up in the fire, melting together, but this time round the Jack-in-the-Box burns, because the music was too upbeat to fit. It’s a change that furthers Disney’s not always deserved reputation for cute, fluffy-bunny, don’t-disturb-the-kiddies films.

There isn’t the same, formal ‘interval’ as in the original, but we start the back half with some brief jokiness. Instead of bringing the Soundtrack onscreen, we get a very short piece set to the finale of Saint-Saens’ ‘Carnival of the Animals’. It’s also meant to echo the dancing ostriches and such of ‘Dance of the Hours’ in the original, only this one uses flamingos: six pink, one purple and goofy looking and more interested in playing with a yo-yo than formation dancing.

It’s light, silly and doesn’t last a second too long because the imagination isn’t there to draw this one out any longer. But its brevity only amplifies the feeling that’s growing that the film as a whole is too compressed. Ideas are thrown in, not properly worked through, and we’re hustled on to the next piece.

Which is immediately made manifest by sequence six, which is ‘The Sorceror’s Apprentice’. Yes, the Sorceror’s Apprentice, from the original, with Mickey mouse and Stokowski, and for nine and a half minutes we can feel sound and picture breathe. This sequence, originally third in Fantasia itself, was left in tribute to both the first film and Walt Disney’s vision of an ever-renewing project, but its skill, its wit and the jaunty, perfectly choreographed music rather telegraphs the inability of the latterday creators to live up to the original. It shouldn’t be the highlight, it should be a loving bonus, a nostalgia-fest before we return to what new highlights the animators have for us.

Which is Donald Duck.

I don’t mean that pejoratively. I like Donald Duck, I always have, I still do. Fantasia 2000 retains the bit where Mickey bounces up on stage to Leopold Stokovski to congratulate him, but that’s not Walt Disney’s voice in Mickey’s throat, and that’s not Stokovski in Stokovski’s, but the problem is that the joke’s compounded way beyond its significance by adding Mickey to conductor James Levine and getting him to stall whilst Mickey hunts for Donald and finds him in the shower.

Because Donald, and Daisy, star in Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstances Marches, set to the story of Noah’s Ark. With the possible exception of the Cello Concerto, I’ve never been able to get into Elgar, or any British composer, come to that. Pomp and Circumstance is too familiar (especially the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ bit, which sets my teeth on edge), so its association with Noah’s Ark just doesn’t work for me. The cartoon is decently comic, though it feels rushed throughout, but it robs Donald of his voice, which is an essential component, and the tale is cheaply sentimental: Donald is Noah’s assistant in getting everyone onto the Ark, he and Daisy are separated, each thinks the other hasn’t made it, until they get to Mount Ararat and learn better, cue cheap tears, you wish.

This bit’s definitely for the kids.

Fantasia‘s conclusion, the awkward, in some eyes distasteful fusion of Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria, is my favourite part, and 2000 tries to ape this with Stravinsky’s The Firebird (The Rite of Spring, in Fantasia, was abominated in music and animation by Uncle Igor). It comes the closest to working for me of all the new pieces, in both halves of the sequence, but especially the animation, and if it falls short, it does so honourably.

Having said all that, I still found Fantasia 2000 to be a decently enjoyable film and I’ve no intention of letting it go. It’s faults are manifest: it takes its ideas from something else, it is not created out of the passion to do something new but the urge to repeat something, it does not spring from genius, it is too short and too cramped: the entire film is only 71 minutes long, including five minutes of credits.

Commercially, the film was an even bigger failure that original Fantasia was originally, barely making back its budget. It’s a nice try, an honest endeavour, and perfectly pleasant, but if you want a true successor to Fantasia, you want the 1976 Italian film, Allegro non Troppo, a cheerfully cynical anti-Fantasia, but a parody that gets closer to the heart of Disney’s ideals than 2000.

Both Fantasias have apparently been locked into Disney purdah since 2011.

 

Peter Wyngarde RIP


I remember Peter Wyngarde. Only in later life, much later life, did I see him in the ‘Hellfire club’ episode of The Avengers, with Diana Rigg in her fetish outfit (I would definitely have been regarded as too young for that episode), and though I would have seen him in his role as Number 2, in the ‘Checkmate’ episode of The Prisoner, I only remember him in that austere role from later watchings of the series.

No, like the rest of us who were around for any part of the late Sixties, early Seventies, Peter Wyngarde is only and ever could be Jason King.

I only ever watched him in the role in Department S, in which he co-starred with smooth-suited, sleek-haired Joel Fabiani and bubbly-permed Rosemary Nicholls. Wyngarde was one of three equal stars, attached to a specialist Interpol department.

Department S debuted on a Saturday night in 1969. There was a single series of 28 episodes, filmed as cheaply as possible (to save costs, the series was shot back to back with its contemporary, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)). It was a typical, shoestring ATV production, aimed at the American market (hence the American lead).

Fabiani was ex-FBI agent Stewart Sullevan, a pragmatic agent whose background was never filled in, the vivacious Nicholls played Annabelle Hurst, a computer expert and analyst. He was the straight man, she did the glamour (in episode 1, trapped in a suspect’s apartment, she escaped by stripping down to bra and knickers, donning a long blonde wig and sashaying out: I faithfully watched every other episode without her ever doing anything like that again).

Wyngarde was the break-out star, though, the one the public loved. He was an adventure novelist by trade, the ideas man, the comic relief. Wyngarde played him in hip three piece suits, with a Zapata moustache and a flamboyant manner that sent himself up.

The series was dirt cheap. None of the cast ever left the studio. Outdoor scenes were filmed with extras, body-doubles and anonymous locations. But it was fun, in the way so many of that type of series was in the middle to late-Sixties, and the combination of the straight performances of Fabiani and Nicholls with the high camp of Wyngarde made it stand out.

The show wasn’t renewed. Instead, Wyngarde was asked to star in a spin-off as Jason King. This ran for a single, 26 episode series, concentrating on trying to write his fictional self-image agent, Mark Caine. I didn’t watch this, though I’ve occasionally caught scenes on afternoon TV: King worked as relief in the trio but for me was far too over the top as a solo star.

In later life, commenting about The Prisoner, Wyngarde claimed that Patrick McGoohan had originally wanted him to play Number 2 every week, but that he couldn’t fit that into his schedule. I’ve never seen any comment from McGoohan about this claim, but it couldn’t have worked, and that’s not criticising Wyngarde: a ‘ecurring Number 2, same opponent week in week out would have been a disaster.

As times and tastes changed, Wyngarde’s theatrical style got further and further out of fashion. But at that time and for that time, he was the toast of the town, the King of his own particular hill, and we who watched the ATV thrillers of that time took great delight in them, and in Jason King, Wyngarde achieved his own little slice of immortality.

How I began falling out of love with Superhero TV


One…

As long term readers of this blog will know, I have been a long-term comics reader, with a lifelong allegiance to DC Comics, going back over fifty years. I’ve even had a soft spot for Green Arrow, going back to the days when he was still a non-entity with a Robin Hood costume and nothing but elaborate trick arrows to his name.

To see these characters being put on screen, these past few years, starting with none other than Green Arrow, has been delightful. The kid in me, still lying on his bed in the back bedroom of the long-demolished 41 Brigham Street, Openshaw, Manchester, is forever awed by the fact he’s watching these colourful characters ‘for real’, without having to turn the pages.

Since those early days of Arrow, which maintained a substantial distance from the actual comics to portray a gritty, urban outlaw drama, the cast has expanded, and the palate has broadened. First off was The Flash, given a backdoor pilot in Arrow series 2 then unleashed to its own brand of goody, good-time fun, showing the underlying excitement and fun of having such crazy, more-than-human powers.

Then the hodge-podge that is Legends of Tomorrow, a ragbag, shambling assemblage of characters, none of them massive successful but most of them dating to the years of my youth and adolescence when my enjoyment for this genre was at its most pure. And Supergirl, initially kept separate, with the delightful Melissa Benoist and that short-skirted costume.

…two…

And off to one side, because it derives from Marvel, I have from the first enjoyed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and over its first four seasons I have particularly relished the performance of Ian de Caesteker as Fitz: he has been knocking it out of the park on a regular basis for years now.

So during the main American TV season, I have regularly been watching five superhero shows. And enjoying myself immensely, especially when I spot an Easter Egg, designed for us long-term knowledgeable fans, planted in such a manner as to not interrupt the enjoyment of those not in the know. Two of the finest of these have come in The Flash.

None of the series have been perfect, nor have they fallen exactly into line with my own, longstanding impressions of the characters, even where I understand the imperatives the series are working under. I don’t like the way Mr Terrific is being handled in Arrow, because the character is a long-term favourite of mine, but he’s also an obscure figure and I’m weird.

And like all series, there are good and bad episodes. Supergirl had a lot of the latter in season 1, mostly in relation to the Girl Power side of things, but it upped its game in season 2, at least to start with.

…three…

The first real problem started with Arrow season 3. One of Green Arrow’s problems is that the character doesn’t have an impressive Rogue’s Gallery. The show has compensated by ripping off a lot of Batman’s mythos to cope, which is irritating yet somehow approriate, given that Oliver Queen originated as a knock-off of Bruce Wayne. Season 3 used R’as al-Ghul and the League of Assassins for its arc.

Not many people liked Matt Nagel’s portrayal of R’as, but I was an exception. Nagel played the character very low-key, with an air of world-weariness. This is someone who has lived long enough to have seen everything, done everything and worked everything out. He can’t be surprised any more, he is completely in control and whilst slightly bored with his absolute command of everything, has no intention of relinquishing that control.

The problem was with the overall arc, Oliver Queen’s actions, and the feeling that Arrow‘s characteristic grim’n’gritty approach was getting a bit too heavy. Having such a superficially passive villain contributed to the general downbeat tone. Much the same could be said about season 4, though Neal McDonough’s vigorous performance as Damien Dhark was a much-needed uplift.

Frankly, the series was getting boring. I decided to stick with it through season 5, just to get to the end of the flashbacks, though these had dipped into the ridiculous with the revelations that Oliver’s five years of exile on Lian Yu had been interrupted by a year in Hong Kong, and another in Russia. Oi!

Back at The Flash, I thought season 2 was excellent. This had a lot to do with it featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, which is going back to my roots with a vengeance: the scene where the two Flashes both respond to a call of ‘Flash!’ and run either side of a wall, was Easter Egg number one, a glorious chocolate extravaganza with its deliberate echo of Jay Garrick’s first Golden Age appearance in The Flash 123, unveiling the DC Multiverse and starting a revival I lapped up avidly.

But even this season had problems. Barry’s romance with Patty and its abrupt cut-off, the increasing angst being developed in Barry himself, moving the show’s tone closer to that of Arrow when it’s ethos should have remained the opposite. But it was still fun and I still looked forward to it avidly.

Supergirl‘s first series was a bit damp, though the revelation that Hank Henshaw – a villain in Superman’s continuity, especially prominent in the Death/Rebirth of Superman sequence in the early Nineties – was actually J’Onn J’Onzz, the Martian Manhunter, was a trick I didn’t foresee and a lovely touch.

Season 2 started more strongly, except for the loss of Callista Flockhart after production and filming moved from LA to Vancouver. It got about halfway and then started to sag, badly. The Mon-El storyline was tedious, and the threat posed by his Daxamite origins and his possessive parents got less and less interesting as Teri Hatcher camped it up as the Queen, and Kara Zor-El/Danvers constantly refused to wise up as to what needed to be done and kept putting a brave ‘we can work it all out’ face on things that manifestly could never be worked out.

Back to that in a moment. Let’s switch to Legends of Tomorrow. This show has problems. It’s clunky, crowded, awkward and silly. And I love it. You can criticise Brandon Routh’s portrayal of Ray Palmer as a socially awkward, shallow and ineffectual person when the comicbook Atom s routinely treated as the scientific expert in the Justice League, and you’d be correct to do so, but I still love every minute of it and my old The Atom comics haven’t been affected.

The thing is, Legends is throwing in kitchen sinks worth of people who I would never have even dreamed I’d see on screen. I mean, Jonah Hex, people! And B’wana Beast! The acting is OTT, especially when Wentworth Miller drops in, but I am having the time of my life with this show and wish it a very long future.

I haven’t mentioned Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. thus far, because it’s the outlier. It’s Marvel, it doesn’t connect in any way to the other shows, it’s perennially in danger of cancellation, but I’ve enjoyed it all along.

Until season 5. I’ve always admored the show’s ability to re-invent itself every season, and indeed every half-season. Season 4, which basically consisted of three different mini-seasons, ended with the gang captured by the authorities. Season 5 started with them in prison. In space. In the future. Orbiting a half-destroyed Earth. Without Fitz.

I really don’t know quite what happened, but I watched the season-opening two-parter with no feeling whatsoever. I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t in the least bit intrigued. I haven’t even looked up what has happened from episode 3 onwards, because I simply have no interest in what happens to the programme. It’s as if it’s under gone a mental cancellation in my head and is no longer there.

…four…

I’ve given up Supergirl too. I said I’d get back to the season finale. To be honest, I was struggling to stay with the show during its second half, but the final episode was the killer. Supergirl and Superman battle it out to see who’s strongest and who will challenge the Daxamites. Supergirl wins. That’s right, Supergirl is stronger than Superman.

Now, I’m not stupid. The show’s name is Supergirl, not Superman, so she’s got to go up against the Daxamites. But in no universe that I can recognise is Supergirl stronger than Superman. This is one of those baseline conditions on which existence is based. So that was that series crossed off the list and no longer of the least concern to me.

So that was already five down to three. I had already made plans to exit Arrow at the end of season five. Though this was much better than the previous two seasons, the show was stuck on a downwards trend. There was little to distinguish one season from the next. Oliver had long since turned into a bore, with his self-obsessed demeanour and his constant gloominess, and whilst I still fancy Emily Bett Rickards more than somewhat, her scatty performance as Felicity is starting to get repetitious.

With the flashbacks finally curling back in on themselves to meet season 1 episode 1, I planned to drop out. But the cliffhanger, threatening to wipe out potentially all the cast, dragged me back in to see who survived (answer: everybody). I decided to give the show a TV.com four-episode test. And was promptly screwed in episode 4 when Michael Emerson turned up as Caden James, the new big bad.

Now, I love Michael Emerson and have done since he first emerged as Ben Linus in Lost season 2, so that committed me.

Meanwhile, back at The Flash. This lost a certain amount of lustre for me in season 3, where the big bad, Savitar, was cleverly but ultimately wrong-headedly revealed to be a twisted future version of Barry Allen himself. Adding to this Barry’s ongoing and ever-increasing insistence on blaming himself for everything that goes on, his slow merging with Oliver was the wrong path for the series to take.

The current season made a smart move by switching to The Thinker as big bad: a super-intelligent villain instead of the usual super-speedster. And Clifford Devoe, even though he bears no resemblance to either of the comics Thinkers, is certainly way ahead of everybody, although we still have no idea what his big, bad overall plan is.

But he’s run rings around Team Flash for the first half of the season, and he certainly has a mad on for Barry Allen. The midseason finale had Devoe transferring his consciousness out of his physically failing body into that of a thought-reading metahuman. His dead, stabbed body was planted in Barry and Iris’s flat and Barry has been framed for Devoe’s murder and arrested.

…five

This week, the superhero shows started to filter back from the Xmas break, or at least The Flash and Arrow did. It’s Barry Allen’s trial. And, like it did when The Flash was tried for murder in the mid-Eighties, immediately prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, he’s found guilty. And it was pure crap.

As a former Solicitor, I am always sensitised to the presentation of trials on TV. I’m also aware that dramatic licence will be flourished and that I can’t expect pure realism, but there are degrees and there are degrees, and this was ridiculous.

The Prosecution has substantial, indeed convincing evidence. Not a single attempt was made to challenge that evidence in any respect. The Defence’s case throughout the Prosecution was literally no more than ‘Barry Allen is a good guy’. Even when this was challenged, by pointing out 72 instances of lateness on his personnel record and his recent unexplained six months absence, the Defence is not prepared for this and has no explanation.

The Defence is being conducted by the DA, by the way, acting as a private lawyer. This is not a novice.

The Defence case is no case. Barry won’t testify. He won’t admit to being the Flash (which everybody assumes will get him off the hook, the Prosecution evidence notwithstanding, because nobody will convict the Flash, gee, the respect for Justice), he won’t perjure himself, he won’t lift a finger. This is beyond stupid. No lawyer with the least amount of self-respect would fight this case in this way. No lawyer who expected to be taken seriously as a lawyer ever again would fight this case in this way. It’s a joke, a complete failing of the writer’s imagination, interest or willingness to demonstrate any plausibility – and in a show based on superhuman powers, everything else has to retain plausibility so as to underpin it.

No, the name of the game is to get Barry Allen into prison (choke, sob, irony, into his Dad’s old cell) with no delay. Now, one assumes Barry has some cunning plan, despite the absence of the least evidence of this. Or is he just indulging his Oliver Queen-esque guilt trip to the nth degree? Where is this going?

I will find out because I intend to stick with The Flash, because it can’t possibly be as bad as this again, or if it is I will bail out.

But what this episode has done has killed me on Arrow.

Now that’s obviously unfair. Why should Arrow suffer for the failings of The Flash? To which the answer is because my enthusiasm for the universe of DC on television has been badly disrupted. I have given up one of their shows because I lost belief in it, and I have been suffering from diminished expectations for this show for several years, and this cord is easy to cut. I cannot recover interest in Oliver Queen, and Team arrow, and their latest horribly convoluted mess. It’s getting harder to access these shows after their original broadcast, and frankly, if I’m going to have to struggle, I’ll do it for shoes that I still have some connect to.

I mean, DC series number five, Black Lightning has started this week, and I’m not even interested in checking it out.

So, from five series, I’m down to two, one of which is limping along on residual goodwill, in the space of half a TV season. What happened to the lifelong DC fan, relishing the fun like a pig in clover?

Some of it is the issues I am dealing with personally. I am growing less and less interested continually on the entertainment of the current day and more and more attracted to what I used to enjoy. The juice is going out of new things for me, and this is part of it. But the shows themselves, and perhaps the fact that there are so many of them, with their inherent limitations, their imperfect representation of my individual interpretations, and the law of diminishing returns are all combining to reduce my interest overall.

But the common factor between The Flash and Legends is that they are the most fun. I’m not too enamoured of the deep angsty stuff. I want the thrill I got out of these gaudy mountebanks. The Flash has been sliding away from fun for a couple of years: Arrow never had any.

I’m slowly falling out of love with Superhero TV. The problem is mutual.

 

American Gothic e12: Ring of Fire


Watch out, there’s a ‘Carrie’ moment coming

This is the second of the two ‘lost’ episodes not broadcast in America, at least, not on first showing, and which, according to imdb, should have preceded episodes I’ve already seen in this re-watch. Strictly speaking, ‘Ring of Fire’ should have been seen immediately before the ‘Resurrector/Inhumanitas’ double. But, then again, in imdb’s episode list there are two ‘not-lost’ episodes I’ve not yet seen before even getting to ‘Ring of Fire’. To quote the late, great Spike Milligna (the world-famous typing error), “it’s all rather confusing really”.

After ‘Potato Boy’, which I watched last week, I was hoping to find some sort of common factor which would explain why these episodes had been left out. But whilst ‘Potato Boy’ was almost completely detachable from the overall narrative, ‘Ring of Fire’ is intrinsic to it.

It’s about Caleb’s cousin, Gail Emory. She’s in town to help look after Caleb, and he approves of the job she’s been doing, but she has a second reason, to find out the truth about her parent’s death in a fire at the old newspaper office, twenty years ago. Not second reason, not ulterior: it is the most important thing to Gail, and she’s reached a breaking point. She’s hit nothing but dead ends, she’s out of strength, she plans to quit and go back to Charleston.

But Sheriff Lucas Buck has other ideas. He not only plans to keep her on the trail, he intends to take her along those parts of it she can’t discover without his assistance. Given that he killed the Emorys, didn’t he, it seems an odd course to take. But then we know Lucas will find a way to wriggle out of it once the truth is exposed, and he does enjoy someone knowing the exact truth about how they’ve been screwed when there’s nothing they can do about it.

So, by dreams and visions, seemingly transporting her back twenty years, to the immediate lead-up to the fire, Buck shows Gail what ‘really’ happened (I place ‘really’ in inverted commas because there’s one moment, one particular smile on our good Sheriff’s face, that leads me to think that I don’t necessarily trust him, a caution that Gail, high on emotion, has temporarily forgotten).

First there’s a dream of a little boy, with an astonishingly articulate voice, in a perambulator, urging Gail to trust her instincts, to dig deeper, otherwise he’ll be lost in limbo forever. Then, when she decides it’s all too much, and plans to go back to Charleston, taking Caleb with her, hands and faces emerge from the earth of her parents’ graves, grabbing her in Carrie-esque fashion, demanding she solve their murder. Another dream, and Sheriff Buck’s work, he hanging around at night.

The visions slowly multiple, mosaic moments. Gail’s mother, Christine, was pregnant when she died, and none too pleased about it. Gail breaks into Buck’s home and is caught at it. He’s willing to tell her the truth, if she asks. And says please. She refuses.

But this story is a seduction, on both levels. Gail’s memory of her childhood as an idyllic time, in a house of love and warmth, is undermined by a vision of her mother letting an unknown man out of the house, and kissing him on the verandah, and her father returning from work, bitter, cynical and violent, calling the little girl Gail dirty and stubbing his cigarette out on her arm, a burn that the Paige Turco Gail receives on her arm.

By now, the shape is complete. Multiple domestic violence is just a part of it. Gail asks Lucas for his help, and says please. But the Sheriff doesn’t give help, he trades it. Gail agrees to deal. Like I said, it’s a seduction.

So we reach the denouement, the revelation. Christine Emory’s finished her column, is off home to Gail, leaving Peter on his own. But he has his own ideas about where she’s going. A shove against a bookcase stuns her. He starts drinking. In the burned-out 1996 office, Gail finds the metal box containing her mother’s concealed letters, the key to which she has been carrying about her neck the season-long. Christine’s lover loved her very much and planned to give them both a life together once Peter was out of the way. All sorts of accidental fires get started on the Fourth of July. Leave Peter on his own inside the office. But Peter wasn’t on his own when the fire started.

It wasn’t Lucas Buck after all. It wasn’t power, or manipulation, or ridding oneself of an obstacle to the climb to power, but love: True Love. The fire was set by Christine’s lover, Gage Temple. Caleb’s father. The little boy was the unbron brother Gail would have loved.

So the truth was found, at the cost of destroying Gail’s memories of her parents. She’s not ready for her half of the bargain, but Lucas can be patient.

There’s not much of Caleb this week, and everybody else just plays low-key roles. Caleb’s initially happy with Gail, mentioning that he finds things out from Merly, but she’s stopped coming to him. The second time, he’s resentful that she seems to have forgotten he is family too.

So, after this, Merly is ‘resurrected’ and we get her attack on Lucas Buck with its disastrous revelation as to his escape route, which was where we had got to two weeks ago, so it’s going to be back to the DVD running order next week. The numbering of these blogs has long since lost sense, but I’m going to continue them to at least keep straight the order of watching.

What next?

Gary Speed


Some pieces of news undermine you, unexpectedly. There really has been some stuff about today that has made me query if I am actually living in a real, physical world, and not an unbelievably stupid hallucination. The Star Wars fan who has compiled an edit of The Last Jedi that removes every scene with a woman in it. The fact that Phil Neville is about to be appointed manager of the England Women’s Football Team despite having a) never managed a football team in his life and a) not even applying for the job. How can things like these take place in a sane Universe?

But the one that’s kicked me in the stomach is the one about this paedophile football coach, Barry Bennell, who’s been preying on boys for decades. I’ve learned that four of his charges have committed suicide, and that one of them was the former Leeds and Wales player, and wales manager, Gary Speed.

I remember Gary Speed. I must have watched him on Match of The Day dozens of times. I remember the shock at the news of his death at so young an age, and the mystery of it being suicide when there seemed no reason for it.

Of course, there’s nothing to say that the two facts are connected at this stage. But the heart sinks and the lines are drawn, one to another, an explanation pops into the head. It’s probably too facile, too easy, but it’s inevitable. And suddenly I am so sick of this world that I have to live in. Something that doesn’t even fall into my wheelhouse, that’s askew because why should it suddenly hit me more because one of the people who may have been driven to this end was someone I knew, someone I was aware of, someone famous?

It’s that someone who had everything Speed had can be driven to end his life. It’s the reminder of just how much human beings, predators can fuck people’s lives up so that not even Gary Speed’s achievements were enough to make him want to continue living, that this is a world in which we do these things to each other, on top of all the crazy stupidity there already is, that there is more of every day.

Why do we do this? Why do we ever allow this? Why cannot we simply be sane?

Specious Management Bullshit


It’s been a crappy day, from sloppy, unprofessional and slipshod work from Openreach, and customers who don’t seem to be able to accept that when I say things are going to take a certain time, it’s not because I’m trying to prolong their agonies but because I can’t make things happen quicker any more than I can drag the sun back up once it’s disappeared down the horizon.

It’s bad enough with one who tells me the same things over and over, every day, who cannot let me get half a dozen words into a sentence without talking over me and whose constant recital of his woes, every single one I agree with and empathise with and can do nothing about that I am not already doing, is now come over as an attempt to wear me down and get me to suddenly say, oh, actually, I’ve got a magic wand here that I could have used all along.

It’s a protracted, dull and frustrating way of accusing me of lying.

Then I get another one, late on, and off him I get the whole story, several times, as if I’m not listening or I can’t understand and I can’t get him to realise that not only do I not have any other options available to me but that until you shut up and let me concentrate, I can’t even do that.

But once a month, we have extended training sessions, like today, and one such section of this consisted of a motivational YouTube video by a motivational guru who believes in the power of positive thinking, and that we can change ourselves into positive people, and thus change the negative things about our lives, and I am getting more and more depressed by the second because I know that it’s the shallowest and most specious type of management bullshit, because there are things in people’s lives, like mine, that you can’t change by plastering a fucking smile all over your face and not using the word ‘unfortunately’, because these things are bigger and more serious and sometimes they are quite ineradicable and instead of being positive about them to change them, you can only deal with them by denying yourself any feelings, by rolling yourself into a ball so that anything vulnerable is inside, even if it means denying yourself the ability to feel and how dare this grinning fucker make light of such things.

So, among the frustrations of the day, I have this little jollying along to put up with, and you can stick it where the monkey put the nuts, as they used to say.

Incidentally, one thing they’re currently promoting here is National Hug Day, on 21 January. That’s Sunday, and by a coincidence, it’s my working Sunday this month, so instead of observing a decent reticence about such a thing, I shall be among dozens and dozens of colleagues, many of whom are women and not a few of them attractive women, and I am already comfortable in predicting that my hug count for the day will be zero.

What was it Charlie Brown used to say about Valentine’s Day?

Deep Space Nine: s06 e03 – Sons and Daughters


A change of clothing

I don’t quite know why but this latest episode completely misfired on me and I couldn’t get into it on any level save the shallowest one of Nana Visitor looking her most seriously attractive. Some of it is perhaps a change of conditions under which I finally got to see the episode: from here until the end I will be watching DVDs and being region 2, there was a slight cut near the end of which I was not aware in advance but which I managed to sense.

Though this is part three of the six-part arc, it was filmed before last week’s ‘Rocks and Shoals’ to enable the latter to time its location filming. This made it suffer from the unfilmed scene of Sisko and Co’s rescue by General Martok and Worf, which appears in the open as a fait accompli, and an awkward one at that. And it confused the hell out of the sequence of events station-side, with the main purpose of that part of the story being to show Major Kira rejecting her softening towards Gul Dukat when she’s already rejected being a collaborator last week.

I’ll stick with that side of the story to begin with. Kira and Odo’s Resistance is already sufficiently public knowledge for Jake to want to join and Quark to warn him off it. But Dukat has managed to persuade his daughter, Ziyal, to return from Bajor, much to Kira’s joint delight and dismay.

Ziyal is displaying great artistic potential, to the joint pride of her father and her best friend. It didn’t work out on Bajor: no matter how polite everyone was, Ziyal was still Dukat’s daughter, and DS9 is still her only real home.

Using Ziyal as bait, Dukat starts drawing Kira nearer, but once again she steadies herself, refutes him entirely and, with a clear-eyed logic, throws off Ziyal too. This story also served the purpose of building up Ziyal as a holy innocent of sorts, in order to dramatise her forthcoming death.

The other side of the story took place on General Martok’s ship, on a mission escorting a convoy, with five new recruits on board, one of them Alexander Rozhenko, refusing to acknowledge himself as Worf’s son.

Perhaps because I have no recollections of Alexander from those parts of TNG I did watch, perhaps because I don’t have any kind of emotional investment in anything but DS9, I couldn’t get into this story of father and son resentments. It ought to be up my emotional alley, as a son who lost his father at eighteen, but I have no resentments towards my father; he did not abandon me as Worf did Alexander, but died of cancer: not even on the deepest subconscious level do I ‘blame’ him.

So none of this story took hold. It did not feel attached to this arc, except in the most tenuous fashion. It did not ‘work’.

As for that cut scene, Alexander ends the episode by entering the House of Martok. His sigil is bathed in blood, cut and dripped from Martok’s palm. In the original, Worf and Alexander do likewise but this was edited out so as not to encourage the mingling of blood among a teenage audience, in the era of HIV. It isn’t there, but you can tell something’s not there. It was the last thing this episode needed.