Friday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 4 – episode 8


Thank you all so much

At long last, after a week of fears both named and nameless and in full consideration of the darkness in which The Bridge has been swathed since that first week of series 1, the time came for it all to be over, and when it was over it was that one thing that not one in a million of us ever dreamed it might be: a happy ending.

And a happy, and deserved, and so comprehensive and completely pitch-perfect an ending, one that you cannot imagine coming back from. There are many, so many over at the Guardian BTL plotting and guessing and hoping for a Bridge 5, but in their heart or hearts they should know that this has come to an end in the only way truly possible. It’s like The Last Temptation of Christ: the final enemy is happiness, against which nothing can prevail.

Yet there was a flirtation with the fear I saw coming at the end of last week. Saga saw it herself: she was no longer in danger, she was no longer the most important person in Henrik’s life.

It was an abyss, belatedly opened, for us to fall into after we had started to comprehend that this was going to be a happy ending. For the case was finished incredibly quickly. Suzanne, who was indeed Tommy Petersen’s girlfriend, though Stephanie was only ever a codename, went hunting for our two red herring street girls, Julia and Ida, and correctly worked out they’d go to Henrik’s house. She tasered them, stuffed them in the boot of her car and, when Saga arrived, shot her twice in the chest. Twice in the bulletproof vest. And Saga struggled through one almighty winding and managed to get off a bunch of shots, blowing out a tyre.

Suzanne was captured and she couldn’t roll over fast enough. After that, everything started falling into place, with almost absurd rapidity, details like dominoes clicking one after another, one by one.

Henrik missed all this, missed the case being wrapped up, and didn’t really care. He still has a relationship to build with Astrid, who is still speaking Swedish. She wants to go ‘home’, but it’s to collect her things, and to take Henrik to Anna’s grave. It hits Henrik like a fist between the eyes, but he tries to hold it in, but back at the car, it breaks through and he cries for his other daughter. In a way, that’s the turning point for Astrid: from then on, she truly sees him as her father, and her old life completely washed away. Though my ignorance of the languages blurred it, I knew that at some point, and it was the last possible moment before the bottom fell through the world, she spoke to him in Danish: you’re my father.

Everything is turning inwards towards a contentment. Jonas wants to take credit for the win since it was achieved under his command, but his leaking has been caught and it is Lillian alone who takes the Press Conference. And she’s happy now to go to dinner with her Prosecutor admirer.

John and Barbara are blissfully loved up, and having the time of their lives. They even look pleased when Saga – Saga! – tells them they’ve been weird since they started having sex.

And Saga. The case has been carried off, Jonas is making a move towards trying to tempt her to transfer to Copenhagen before he’s so crestfallenly interrupted. But things are beginning to fall into place for her. Her gentle and so wonderful psychologist reminds her of her previous life, studying microbiology for two years before abruptly wanting to become Police: two months after her sister’s suicide. The key is guilt. Guilt that if she had been more like other people, she would have seen her sister’s deterioration before she killed herself. But Saga is not guilty. She never was, she never was. She was not responsible.

I cannot say this often enough, Sofia Helin’s face, the subtlety of her acting. In it, despite Saga’s disconnection from her  emotions, Sofia Helin has so many time been utterly naked to us in her eyes, but never before have we seen hope. And retrieving her mother’s diaries, taking them to her wonderful gravel-voiced pathologist friend and having him confirm that yes, the doses tallied with the drugs that put her sister in hospital, that yes, Mama Noren did have Muchausen’s by Proxy. The release from guilt is almost shattering, for when Saga got her sister away from their parents by having them imprisoned for harming the girl, she did it by forging evidence and the evidence was true, it was real all along, it was real all along.

Everything upon which Saga’s life has been built is turning into smoke in her hands, every cage she has built around herself is becoming unbarred. But she is still, for one more time, Sago Noren, Landskrim Malmo. Something’s wrong. There’s a discrepancy in the evidence. Suzanne didn’t put forward an alibi for Margrethe Thormod. But she had one. An unbreakable alibi. And Saga’s prison chum, who stabbed her with the broken bat in episode 1, that weird, unexplained melodrama, she calls Saga back to prison. She recognised Suzanne, she came to the prison, she threatened to hurt the woman’s daughter. She was supposed to not just stab Saga, but decapitate her…

Suzanne had an accomplice. And it’s pretty obvious who it is. Wheelchair bound Kevin, Tommy’s son Brian, turning up at Henrik’s house with non-alcoholic champagne, then rising to his feet from the wheelchair, like a sleeper coming out of hiding. Knocking out Henrik. Binding him. Tying Astrid to a chair. Producing a gun. Henrik fights with the only weapon he has, time and a pair of shut eyes. Brian insists he watch Astrid be executed. Refusing to see prolongs things. Even after Brian shoots Astrid through the thigh. We know Saga’s outside, that she’s heard the shot, but this is The Bridge and we have come too close to a happy ending and the abyss is gaping wide open and Henrik changes his tack, promising Astrid that he will always be there, he will never leave her again, and the gunshot as his eyes shut…

But not even The Bridge can do that to us. The fear in Henrik’s eyes as he opens them. And Brian sliding down the french windows, his right eye a bloody ruined mess. Saga with her gun held in that fixed position.

And if I wasn’t already pouring with tears, then I was from here to the end and well beyond, moved beyond measure. Astrid will be ok, Henrik will be ok, and yes, he and Saga will be ok. She’s going away for a while, to find out what she’s going to do. She’s taken the boxes of her old life the diaries, the photos out of which she was long ago cut, and burned them, burned up the past. She’s admitted to Henrik that she does need him. They’ve even kissed, Saga who never kisses. He’ll be there when she gets back. He wants her to meet Astrid. Things have worked out. There’s an immense air of peace settling.

Last of all, there is the bridge. Daylight, air, a drive towards Malmo. Saga pulls up, midway. For a moment, there’s the tremor of fear. She gets out, walks to the rail. They couldn’t? Surely they couldn’t? Trash everything that’s been done for the sake of a cheap twist? That would mock every part of what Saga has gone through. And no, they can’t. For there is a moment still of formal perfection, the last delicate notes that are the only notes that can now be played because none other complete the melody. Saga throws her Police ID into the Oresund Sound and walks back to her car. The phone rings. “Saga Noren,” she answers.

Though if you had asked me, at any time throughout these past seven weeks, would I jump at a The Bridge 5 if they offered it, I would have snatched your hands off, now I would spit in your eye. What was offered to us was a happy ending, out of all the unexpected possibilities. Who could possibly suggest drawing back from that? Let Saga and Henrik’s life be what it will be, free from us overlooking them, trying to make their freedom into their past, putting back on them the chains they’ve borne so long. It is over. My tears have been sorrow and joy and beauty all in one. This isn’t going to happen again. We can’t count of another The Bridge in our lifetimes. We can only hope that it rubs off, that our own TV industry stops making so much formulaic and insipid shit.

Yeah, right. Thank you, everyone, thank you.

Serendipity


The late Keith Waterhouse, like all writers, had his favourite words. Chief amongst these was ‘serendipity’: the art of making happy discoveries by chance. Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, I was serendipitous.

Watching the latest episode of Treme in order to blog it, I had the pleasing bonus of a live performance by Shawn Colvin, dueting with super-violinist Annie T., alias the superb Lucia Micarelli, on a song I thought I hadn’t heard before.

Once home from work, I looked for the song on YouTube, though there was only a 20 second long clip to be seen. At least I knew the song title now, so I googled it, and discovered it was actually from the 2006 These Four Walls album.

In typing her name into Google, the first thing that came up was ‘Uk tour. After checking on ‘I’m Good’, I went back for that. Shawn Colvin is doing a short UK tour, in July. She’s doing only three dates. Two in London. And one at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Fifteen minutes and one registration later I had me a ticket.

Serendipity. I love you.

The Boy’s World Story, or, The One Without Marcus Morris


cover by Ron Embleton

Boy’s World, a Longacre/Odhams red-top boys weekly comic, joined the stable of titles originated by the Reverend Marcus Morris as editor in 1962, it’s purpose being to replace Eagle. Instead, it lasted 89 issues and disappeared in 1963, merging into Eagle for protection. Only one of its features lasted more than three months after its death.
Many years ago, on one of my many trips to the Old Magazine Shop in Sheffield, I bought a job lot of Boy’s Worlds, 64 in total, just under three-quarters of the comic’s entire run. My collection, which is in poor condition, each issue having been stapled together in from the spine, with staples that were rusty when I bought them, basically consists of a near-complete run from Volume 1 issue 24 onwards (when the title had clearly undergone a substantial revamp) to the end, with a missing five issue run early in Volume 2, and a handful of missing single issues.
I’ve seen the covers of some of those early issues, which present a much different comic: large, full-page, domestic boy scenes, full-bleed, the red-box title forming part of the image. The effect is of a magazine cover, not a comic, something simultaneously more serious and more parent-friendly, like it’s almost exact contemporary, Look and Learn (a brainchild of Leonard Matthews, the man who was determined to destroy Eagle, its first issue came out six days before Boy’s World‘s).
Without sight of any of that first five month’s efforts, I can only speculate. Certainly, what passes for an editorial in Vol 1 issue 24 makes it explicit that one of the title’s established series, ‘Merlo the Magician’ (a prose story of which was reprinted in the 1969 Hamlyns’ published Adventure Stories for Boys) was now being translated into comics form. Of the eight stories repeated in ASOB, seven originated in Boy’s World, including a Merlo story. Three of these come from the issues I possess, meaning four prose serials of varying length across 23 issues: it’s pushing it to assume they all ran serially.
There was two or three existing comics series that survived the revamp. I remembered ‘Pike Mason’, drawn mainly by Luis Bermejo in a wash-dominated black-and-white. This was a bit of a sub-Storm Nelson affair, a sea-adventurer, but with one sidekick, the Filipino, Quarro. And ‘John Brody’, a science reporter for a London Daily who kept encountering fantastic adventures: like a Dr Thirteen who didn’t debunk the impossible.
But Boy’s World‘s most prestigious series, it’s home-grown Heros, was the highly-regarded ‘Wrath of the Gods’. This starred Arion, a kind of mortal trouble-shooter drafted in by the Greek Gods to carry out fantastic missions. Written by Jeff Hawke‘s Willie Patterson, it had been drawn in those first 23 issues by Ron Embleton, across the centrespread, but now it was knocked back to the back page and given over to a young and, initially unimpressive John Burns.

John Burns’ first page

Three new series entered at this point, a revamp intended to mirror the still more successful Eagle. The longest-lasting of these was naturally ‘The Iron Man’, initially drawn by Embleton’s younger brother Gerry, who gave the robot a much more naturalistic look. This squarer-faced stockier version could well be mistaken for human, though Embleton didn’t last too long before Martin Salvador replaced him – Spanish artists were so much cheaper – and before long, the robot’s features became much more, well, robotic.
The second of these was ‘Billy Binns and his Wonderful Specs’. Apparently, this was a continuation from the initial strip, ‘The Boys of Castleford School’, focussing on just the one pupil. I mean, apart from Billy accidentally getting his miraculous spare glasses in the first episode preparatory to his discovering their wonderful powers in the second (at which point, the supposedly highly-intelligent swot utterly failed, then or later, to make the slightest connection between his radically differing states of confidence and athleticism depending on whether he wore glasses A or glasses B), it was undistinguished fare that never developed from one week to another. It’s neatly drawn – far better than the unspeakable ‘Cornelius Dimworthy’ – whilst the stories are generally unexceptionable but I can’t for the life of me understand how it’s supposed to be an utterly hilarious, laugh-a-panel comedy, which was how the comic kept billing it.
And third was ‘Brett Millions’. Though it’s not credited as such, both ‘Brett Millions’ stories are written by the SF writer, Harry Harrison, the first, ‘The Angry Planet’, adapted from one of Harrison’s own novels. This strip pushed ‘Wrath of the Gods’ out of the centrespread, though amusingly, once they’d finished the stories begun in issue 24, the same week, the strips swapped back! The second ‘Brett Millions’, ‘Ghost World’, was actually drawn by Frank Bellamy, and is probably the least known of all his Fifties and Sixties work. Aside from a couple of his ‘Great Adventurers’ stories from Eagle, it’s the only strip that hasn’t been reprinted, and it’s rarely mentioned.
Which is hardly surprising, since, apologies to Harry Harrison fans, the whole series was pretty poor. Millions, who starts off as a professional gambler but winds up an interplanetary troubleshooter, hasn’t an ounce of character, and Bellamy still has no more instinct for SF than he had on ‘Dan Dare’.

Which leaves us ‘Merlo’. Merlo was both a highly-skilled, internationally famous stage magician and a highly-secret Interpol agent, tackling high power, fantastic crimes and criminals, usually backed by secret organisations. It was a very cleanly drawn strip, all black lines and white space and no shading, good but not outstanding. He’d actually been created by Harry Harrison but his last two adventures, in Vol 2, were written by Ken Bulmer.
What else went into this new Boy’s World mark 2? There was mild comedy from ‘Private Proon – the Barrack ‘Square”, the extremely short prose ‘Mini-Mystery’ starring Detective Inspector Nixon on page 2, in which the villain was almost always the only other person in the story, especially if the crime was murder, and a weekly prose feature called ‘Ticket to Adventure’, an historical feature homing in on famous events, written in such away as to place the reader in the middle of the action, all because he’d received his Ticket to Adventure. Week-in, week-out, this was consistently Boy’s World‘s best feature.
Vol 2 saw some changes to features. ‘Brett Million’ was replaced by ‘Raff Regan’, a WW2 RAF strip, which didn’t amount to much, whilst ‘Pike Mason’ went back to sea for good after issue 21, being replaced by a weird little series, ‘What is my Name?’, in which RAF Flight Lieutenant Jimmy Pierce is saved by a Scottish shepherd known only as the Nameless One, and in repayment has to find out the Nameless One’s name. The story soon started to get involved with supernatural stuff, drawings forecasting doom appearing in a blank book, and ultimately an ancient curse, little of which made any great sense, but which lasted until the somewhat abrupt decision to merge Boy’s World into Eagle.

Pike Mason original art

Let me not forget the other new series to start alongside ‘What’s in a Name?’. This was ‘Dr What and his Time Clock’, which was, as you’ve probably already guessed, a parody of Dr Who. In fact, it was the first ever parody of Dr Who, which is the only distinction it holds.
So, after only 89 issues the comic that was to replace Eagle was swallowed up by it. This was an unpopular decision in one boy’s household because at some unguessable point, I’d started getting Boy’s World, and I was not best pleased that two of my weekly comics were merging to one, especially as I (selfish) didn’t get a new title to replace it. As we already know, only ‘The Iron Man’ lasted, though oddly enough Boy’s World continued in Annual form, running parallel with the Eagle Annual, for far more years than the comic lasted, ending only in 1972.
I had a few of those Boy’s World Annuals too, and kept one longer than I would normally have done for some Frank Bellamy art, illustrating a short story about an ageing Matador. Browsing it, I happened to notice that writers of these short stories were credited, and one of them happened to be credited to Michael Moorcock! When I met him for the only time, going to a signing session for his novel, Mother London, I took the Annual along, asked if he minded signing the story. I didn’t actually write that, he told me: he’d been commissioned but hadn’t the time, so he’d passed it to Barrington J. Bailey, who needed the money. He still signed it, mind you, but with a proviso that Barry Bailey had written it!
Moorcock is reputed to have written a lot of small features for Boy’s World, including the ‘What’s in a Name?’ snippets, etymologising surnames: here was one instance when his name was taken in vain. Not that the editor knew…
I’d venture to suggest that the reason Boy’s World failed to make the mark it was expected to make was a combination of things: it was the wrong type of comic for an increasingly anarchic time, it was launching in a declining market and most of all it just wasn’t good enough. It lacked a strong editorial figure who could, perhaps, have imposed a greater vision on something that was largely conceived as a copycat. In short, it was the only one not to benefit from the editing of the Reverend John Marcus Morris.
I’ll just leave that one there.

Harlan Ellison R.I.P.


It’s a long time since I’ve read any Harlan Ellison, though in the years of my obsession with SF and things associated therewith, he was one of the authors whose work I assiduously collected. Now, at the age of 84, and after a decade (I understand) of illness, he has passed away. As with so many others, the world is diminished today.

Ellison was one of those few writers whose life was often as important as, or even more important, than his works. After growing up under the pressure of anti-semitism as a Jewish child in a protestant Ohio town (aptly named Painesville), Ellison ran away in his teens, taking the classic variety of oddball menial jobs, before reaching New York in the early Fifties.

By dint of sheer force, he made himself into a prolific writer of short stories (Ellison only wrote one novel), and into a very successful and award-winning writer for TV, with two classic Outer Limits episodes and one of Star Trek‘s best episodes, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’.

This latter won a Writer’s Guild Award, based on the original screenplay, which was hacked around for the finished episode. Ellison loathed this, spoke of it often, even published the screenplay many years later. He was a man who glorified writing, who was fiercely protective of his work and who fought tenaciously against those, especially in TV, who thought it could be taken to pieces without understanding it.

This led to many controversies. Ellison was a controversialist who espoused many many causes, most of them noble and great, but some of them more akin to feuds in which it seemed that the controversy was more important than the cause. There was the infamous Michael Fleisher libel case against the Comics Journal over what was clearly praise from Ellison, in an unorthodox fashion, that Fleisher chose to interpret as insult, where Ellison defended himself vigorously.

But he was like that. His writing was fierce, concentrated, aggressive, out to shock, disturb, unsettle. He papered his stories with forewords and afterwords in which he could at times be explicit about what most people would regard as personal and private. He would experiment with form and approach, would insist that writing could be done anywhere, under any circumstances.

There was a lot to like and dislike with Ellison and a lot of people did one or the other or even both. There was no such thing as fence-sitting around Harlan.

Now he’s gone. It’s years and years since I moved all my Ellison books out. I don’t and won’t miss his writing, and I’ve long since ceased interest in the air of chaos that he perpetuated. But Harlan Ellison was grit in the works, sandpaper to the soul, someone who would never let himself and that which he believed in be worn down, co-opted or compromised. Right or wrong, we have too few of those already and now we have one less. Notice must be taken of his passing.

Treme: s02 e03 – On Your Way Down


Her episode

Objectively, there was little about episode 3 that was any different from episode 2, but my response to this was completely different. In part this was due to the elements in this episode, the individual storylines, starting to firm up, to take more distinctive shapes, but a larger part of it was me: the place I’m in in my head right now isn’t a good place to be, and I was grateful for the chance to be in another place, to immerse myself in the culture and milieu of a completely different place and time.

There was another of those brilliantly effective opens, the genius of which you don’t really understand until it’s done. A sweet, low-key violin theme, underpinned by piano, meanders like the images do, silent snippets of early in the day, people being the people they are. This leads us to a Gallery, an exhibition of photos of Katrina, of New Orleans under water. A piano/violin duet are playing for the visitors, and of course the violinist is Annie.

Thhere’s not much more of her this week. She leaves her pianist to improvise whilst she looks at the pictures, and she finds one of Sonny (I was ahead of the camera there), on a roof, helping get a baby handed out. A weird moment for Annie.

But that was it for her, and there was a theme among the stories this week, and it wasn’t a very nice one. Davis has been checking Janette’s house for mail and discovers its been robbed, very thoroughly indeed. Janette flies back from New York to try to resolve everything in one day, having been lectured very patronisingly and demeaningly by Chef Broulard about commitment, and character.

Sonny’s slide continues. He’s getting nowhere and the rate accelerated when his pad was raided by the cops and he got away by not having gotten home quite early enough. But the cops left the door open and when he did venture back, the place had been robbed and trashed. His guitar had been taken, his keyboard just smashed, like everything else, because those who don’t give no shit don’t give no shit.

But worse, far worse, was LaDonna. She was closing up the bar, on her own, but there’s some mumbling guy outside, seeking directions hedoesn’t seem that eager to follow. The Police won’t come out: it’s not an emergency, at least not yet. But when LaDonna figures it’s finally safe to go outside, it ain’t safe at all, and there’s two of them, and they’re inside…

The ‘R’ word is never mentioned but enough is done, in terms of examination, treatment and medication at the hospital to exclude any doubts, without any sense of hedging round things. All there was was the determination not to be melodramatic, to be human. But above all, there was Khandi Alexander. Anybody who knows her only for CSI: Miami saw her operating on maybe one-tenth of her ability. Here, in the complete change in personality that follows the assault, the utter brokenness of the woman, she told us everything we needed to know just in who she became.

The ever-growing lawlessness of New Orleans was also a theme of Toni Bernette’s part of the mix. Pursuing the issue of the dead Arbea boy, with a degree of help from the ever-sympathetic Colson, Toni learns that the circumstances of his death were radically different from those few, empty words told to his father: his body was found inside a looted bar/hall, shoot through the head, with bullet casings on site. The evidence was memorable: lacking paper, the officer wrote his report on a paper plate he found within.

But that evidence went only so far and then vanished. Toni’s still pursuing, though Colson’s backed off this one. Toni’s also concerned about Sofia. Her YouTube rants are still channeling Crey, but she’s even more unresponsive to her mother. The best option seems to be an unpaid internship at City Hall, get into politics. Toni’s got an in with Councilman Thomas.

Which is more than Nelson Hidalgo has. It’s the first set-back to Nelson’s sweeping plans, and it’s everything to do with Thomas correctly identifying him as a carpetbagger, an out-of-stater here to siphon off large chunks of the money meant to aid New Orleans. There’s also an ambiguous scene where Nelson offers to take on his best demolisher – the builder guy LaDonna was trying to get fix his roof in season 1 – to work for him as Vice-President in charge of Demolition. The money was 5% plus any of the work the guy allots to himself. The man’s suspicious and I couldn’t work out whether he’d said yay or nay to it.

Who else? Antoine Batiste and his Soul Twisters were in rehearsal much of the episode, and real fun we had with them. Desiree is less impressed: if they want to get a mortgage, they have to have two incomes, which means Antoine’s got to get a Job. She’s got him an interview at a school so he’s got to wear a suit. Unfortunately, the appointment’s at going home time. Antoine emerges from his taxi, looks in horror at the dear little boys and girls enthusiastically milling around, and gets straight back into it.

Delmond’s on the road, playing to acclaim, but not to audiences that show wild enthusiasm for him. His CD’s sold 2,300 copies, but he’s not even aware of the internet, of Facebook, MySpace, web-pages, and when his manager (good old Jim True-Frost) shows no enthusiasm either, Del sacks him.

And to round things of and draw a ring, Big Chief Albert’s finally got his appointment at the insurers and all his paperwork is in order. He’s sat next to Janette… who hasn’t got an appointment, is due back in New York tomorrow, and who I predict will shortly have all the time in the world on her hands.

Shapes. Patterns. A little more focused. A little more kinetic. An hour in New Orleans with other people’s lives. Just what I needed.

Deep Space Nine: s07 e01/02 – Image in the Sand/Shadows and Symbols


Enter Ezri

The cynic in me says that this was always going to be about getting Sisko back and, given that I’m feeling overtired and unwell at the moment, I’m not in the mood for being manipulated in the fashion laid down by the end of season 6. Nor am I in sympathy with the big reveal that was made over the course of this two-parter, which I knew to be coming but which seemed ultimately to be too cheap an explanation for why Sisko is the Emissary.

Fortunately for all concerned, there were three stories over the course of the introduction to the last season, an A and two B’s, both of substantial proportion, and giving a substantial part to everyone in the cast. This included newcomer Nicole de Boer, replacing Terry Farrell as Dax, Ezri Dax to be specific, in a pretty blatant move to be about as different a Dax as can be.

Three months have gone by and Sisko has gone nowhere. Kira, newly promoted to Colonel and celebrating by adopting a new and hideous hair-style, is still acting Commander of DS9, her latest headache being the Federation’s decision to grant the Romulans a military HQ on DS9, even though they’ve got no right to. Though Senator Cretak at first presents as pretty amenable for a Romulan, enlisting the Colonel to put in for a Romulan med-base on a deserted Bajoran moon, it’s just your pretty standard Romulan treachery since they immediately set-up 7,000 missile launchers about it, provoking a Cuban Missile Crisis knock-off when Kira decides to blockade the place.

Meanwhile, Worf is mourning Jardzia for rather longer than Klingons do, forcing Vic Fontaine to continually sing ‘All the Way’ (oh dear God) and smashing up the holosuite. Chief O’Brien nobly goes three bottles of bloodwine with him to learn that it’s because Jardzia didn’t die fighting, she won’t go to Sto’Vo’Kor. The only way to secure this is to win a glorious victory against overwhelming odds in her name. Bashir, O’Brien and Quark (oh dear God) go with him.

As for Sisko, he’s playing the piano and peeling potatoes (for three months?). Finally, the baseball rolls off the piano and when he stoops to pick it up he has a vision from the Prophets, of uncovering a face in the sand on Tyree, a desert planet. Mission on. By indirect means, Sisko discovers that the face is that of his mother, his real mother, Sarah, not the one he’s always thought of as his mother until now. Sarah was his Dad’s first wife, his real, true love, who ran off inexplicably as soon as Ben was born. She’s dead now.

Having fanatically hidden her existence from her son all this long, Joseph Sisko cracks and gives Ben a locket she left behind. A locket with an inscription in Old Bajoran (my, we’re just piling on the cliches here, aren’t we?). The inscription translates as Orb of the Emissary, a lost Orb, so hey ho and the three generations of Siskos head off to Tyree where it’s obviously buried, though not before a Pah-Wraith worshiping Bajoran cuts Sisko’s stomach open to no lasting effect.

And just as they’re closing the restaurant to head for the spaceport, there’s a knock on the door, and it’s a cute little, fresh-faced Starfleet Ensign, whose cute black hair-style conceals most of her Trill spots: enter Ezri Dax.

Thee new Dax is obviously going to be comic relief to begin with, though there’s a serious explanation for her goofy gabble. Ezri never wanted to be joined, but when the Dax symbiont took a turn for the worse, post-Jardzia, she was the only Trill in town so, fifteen minutes of pep-talk later and everything changes. Ezri’s confused as hell, and looking to her two-lifetimes friend Benjamin to help her get her completely new feet on the ground. Off to Tyree? Bring it on!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Worf’s mission is not going well, though ultimately it’s a winner, and whilst I’m tired and being sarcastic because of it, Worf’s dedication to his lost wife is genuinely moving, despite all of Quark’s efforts to fuck up the tone. And Colonel Kira’s trying to bluff Senator Cretak into backing down, only, Romulans being smart buggers, she knows that and doesn’t intend to.

So Sisko’s party tramps unmercifully across the desert in pursuit of the buried Orb, Sisko’s only idea of where it may be being that he’ll know when he finds it. Or when Ezri throws his baseball away (another twist we couldn’t see coming). Did did dig dig dig, and there it is.

And another twist that I was very much not in sympathy with, as Sisko suddenly turns back into the half-mad Fifties SF writer, Benny Russell, the creator of ‘Deep Space Nine’. Benny’s in what the times would call the looney bin, his doctor trying to cure him by getting him to stop writing these stories. He’s writing in pencil on the walls (that actually was every single synopsis of very episode so far, written out on the walls of his cell, with Dr Wykoff – Casey (Demar) Biggs – trying to get Benny to whitewash over them.

That this had a perfectly logical explanation, that the Pah-Wraith was trying to get Sisko to rebury and smash the Orb, didn’t occur to me, which shows what a state I’m currently in: it just seemed like an unnecessarily clever-clever throwback to a story I’d been very dubious about to begin with. But Sisko holds out and opens the Orb.

A presence streaks from it, crosses space, roars past DS9 and re-opens the Wormhole, expelling the Pah-Wraith from it. We’re back in business. For Sisko, there’s a vision, a vision of the Prophet that was his mother Sarah, or rather which occupied her to ensure Sisko was born, at what cost to Sarah, Joseph, Benjamin himself. He’s the Emissary because he’s half-Prophet. Oh, really. How cheap.

And the re-opening of the Wormhole inspires Kira to carry out her bluff and win, because the Federation makes the Romulans back down.

So everyone returns to DS9, happily,including the new Dax in Town, whose day will of course come next week, when I hope to feel much more receptive to the next episode, or maybe have that be a bit less – ok, a lot less – clumsy and blatant in some of its ideas. Sorry about this. At long last, we’re on the home straight. I am starting to want the finish line to arrive.

Film 2018: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen


When it came to going to the cinema when on holiday in the Lakes, Zeffirelli’s in Ambleside constantly disappointed. But I would always divide my week away between Ambleside and Keswick, and I didn’t even know there was a cinema in Keswick until the day I climbed Blueberry Fell and Walla Crag, walking out of the town down a street I’d never ventured so far along before, discovering a little but proud cinema. And by an ironic coincidence, what was it showing? Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Incidentally, though I didn’t learn this until this decade, I also walked down the street where Robert Neill had lived until his death in 1981.

I went that evening, an old-fashioned picture house with a big screen, ideal for the expansive nature of this film, of Terry Gilliam. I drank everything in with great enjoyment, and rolled back to my guesthouse in the quiet evening air, well satisfied.

That said, Munchausen is certainly the most problematic of Gilliam’s Trilogy of Imagination. It’s long, with a tendency to ramble a bit, it blurs the line between fantasy and reality and it tends to go for spectacle rather than structure. Of it’s two predecessors, Time Bandits is clearly the greater influence: both films are primarily episodic, and Gilliam repeats the trick of the first film, in which Kevin’s toys all appear, in mutated form, throughout the film, whereas in Munchausen, the members of a cast of players become most of the characters in the Baron’s story. And there are some memorable guest stars having some self-indulgent fun.

What Gilliam does is to put onto the screen (not for the first time) some of the incredible and unbelievable tales of the real-life Baron, a teller of tall tales, who remains popular on the continent even to this day. Gilliam puts this into the context of a siege by the Grand Turk, battering an unnamed coastal city whose ‘mayor’, Horatio Jackson (Jonathan Pryce), is a man of reason and rationality.

Gilliam signals where his loyalties lie by having Jackson demonstrate rationality to the absurd point of ordering an unusually heroic officer to be executed for demoralising the ordinary ones! To the extent that the film is an opposition between Imagination and Reality, one side’s clearly not going to get an even break.

In the midst of bombardment, a troupe of players under Henry Salt (Bill Patterson) are putting on a surprisingly lavish ‘Adventures of Baron Munchausen’ stageshow when it is denounced and interrupted by an elderly gentleman claiming to be the real Baron (John Neville), and the show being a pack of lies.

The Baron claims to be the cause of the Grand Turk’s attack and relates an absurd story of a bet with the Turk, his near-execution and his subsequent stripping of the entire Treasury – all perfectly legitimately but not taken well – leading to the present attack in an attempt to recapture him. The tale features the Baron’s legendary servants, Bertholt (a perpetually sarcastic Eric Idle), who can run at incredible speeds, Albrecht, of super-strength, Gustavus, of incredibly hearing and lungpower, and Adolphus, of incredible eyesight and accuracy.

Of course, everyone denounces it as rubbish, especially 9 year old Sally Salt, daughter of Henry (a wonderfully written and determined performance by 9 year old Sarah Polley). But when Sally loses her head at the latest attack, which has brought the Angel of Death to take Munchausen’s soul, she runs out to the ramparts, screaming at them to stop, only to witness the Baron fly towards the Turks riding on a mortar shell, and fly back riding on a cannonball!

No-one believes her, of course.

However, the Baron undertakes to lift the siege by leaving the city (in a hot air sailing ship whose balloon is constructed out of ladies’ silk knickers – thankfully, this is not set in the modern day or he’d need the entire city’s worth) to find and bring back his amazing servants. Unsurprisingly, Sally has stowed away.

It’s taken a long while to get here, and though it’s been fun to date, those who criticise Gilliam for a slow start are not without a point, because this is where the story really begins, and here is where Gilliam can gleefully abandon the fetters upon his imagination that a ‘real’ setting imposes. The only representative of rationality present is young Sally, who brings every bit of a 9 year old’s unimpressedness into trying to keep the Baron on point, and the object of the quest – saving everybody from being killed – as an objective. Never has the familiar line, ‘Can we go now?’ been so aptly repeated, and Polley brings everything to it.

We go by the Moon, via the King and Queen of the Moon – the King is Robin Williams, credited as ‘Ray D. Tutto’ (King of Everything) – and their entirely separable Heads and Bodies. Williams hams it up something rotten, Valentina Cortese does the same with a greater degree of subtlety, and there’s this hilarious gag where, the Queen’s head having come to save the Baron and his party whilst her body is in bed with the King. Sally is deeply puzzled by the Queen’s gasps, and sighs and ‘ooh’s until the Baron delicately explains that the King is tickling her feet. We nod to ourselves, wisely, and then there’s a cut to the bedchamber where the King is tickling her feet…

Then it’s off to Hell, and my favourite part of the film. Hell is the realm of Vulcan, who’s being played by Oliver Reed in a manner that I can only describe as delicately and subtly completely OTT! Reed’s roaring, for which he employs a well-good Lancashire accent is tempered by his massively overplayed attempts to be a good host and the whole thing just has me rolling on the floor every time. And this is coupled with Uma Thurman as Venus, Vulcan’s wife, first appearing on the half-shell, immediately smitten with the Baron, and taking him into the ballroom for a dance. Through the air.

The romance of the scene is busted by Reed’s hysterically funny jealousy, all accusations of ‘Strumpet!’ and ‘Floozy’ and similar epithets. Of course, the Baron gets thrown out, with Sally, Berthold and Albrecht, into the South Seas, where they’re swallowed by a massive sea-monster.

No guest roles here, just Gustavus, Adolphus and another grab by the Angel of Death, beaten off by Sally’s one-track-mindedness, and once the Monster is forced to sneeze them out, courtesy of a modicum of snuff, we’re back at the Town and the siege.

The Baron’s full of plans of attack but Sally, despairing at last, points out that his servants are all old, and can’t do it any more. Very well, the Baron insists, I said I’d relieve the siege and I will, and he marches off to the Grand Turk to offer himself up for beheading. Jackson’s there, efficiently and scientifically negotiating the date on which the Turks will surrender (we surrendered last time, it’s your turn).

For the first time in the film, something doesn’t ring true, and there will be another such moment along soon, but for now let us relish that the Baron’s willingness to sacrifice himself galvanises everyone into showing off their strengths, resulting in the complete routing of the Turk and the saving of the town.

Everyone pours out and celebrates the Baron as their saviour. Everyone except Jackson, of course, who lurks with a sniper’s rifle in a high tower, determined to have his way, and shooting the Baron through the back. The Baron dies, amidst much mourning, and is buried in state.

At which point, we’re back on stage, the Baron’s concluding his story by explaining that’s just one of the many times he’s died, and how refreshing it can be. It’s all been a story (of course it has, but whose?) Jackson confronts him, arresting him for spreading fantasies when everyone’s in such danger, but Munchausen claims the Turks are gone. His confidence inspires the crowd to open the gates, against every attempt by Jackson to enforce reality, and true enough, the besiegers are gone and all is the devastation of the Baron’s story.

So, was it all true after all? Sally, the junior representative of reality has come over to the Baron’s side, and the audience is willing to go along for the ride, having had a great deal of fun, but we really do have to put our feet down here and admit that Gilliam has, in the end, let the film get away from him. I’m all for Imagination and Reality being thoroughly mixed together, without a point-by-point explanation as to which bit is supposed to be which, and Time Bandits‘s ending is a superb example of that.

But Gilliam in the end lets his visceral loathing for order and restriction overrule his sense of decent storytelling. Let’s go back to those three moments I’ve picked out with Jackson (Pryce is, of course, absolutely brilliant in the role). Having the heroic officer executed is a great black joke, and the fact that it’s Sting makes it delicious for the non-Police fans among us. But it’s a logical idea, albeit a twist version of logic.

But Gilliam loses it with Jackson at the end. If the man is supposed to be emblematic of Reason, then to have him negotiating not just the continuation of battle, and the ensuing death, destruction and mayhem, as a properly scientific approach to war is breaching your own internal logic. It isn’t twisted, it’s beyond logic.  It’s hating your ‘opponent’ and putting words in his mouth to make him even more despicable.

And the same goes for the assassination bit. By now, Gilliam isn’t working to any kind of logic at all. He’s obsessed, fanatically stamping his feet like any baby demanding his way, and it comes close to blowing the film completely because it shows he’s lost control.

Which is a shame because in every other respect, I love this film, and it’s tremendous fun to watch, but it is flawed, and whilst the flaws are minor, they go to the heart of Gilliam’s themes in not just this movie, but also its two predecessors.

That’s now four fantasy films in four weeks, and next Sunday marks the halfway point of this project. Time for something a little more serious, I think, to celebrate.

Friday SkandiKrime: The Bridge 4 – episode 7


With only one episode left, everything is converging, and everything is leading up to that one inevitable moment that all of us have feared since it was stated that there would not – not merely would not but could not – be any more series of The Bridge after this one. Yes, admit it, the instinctive jump to the conclusion that Saga will be killed.

And now that there is only one method of execution outstanding, and Henrik is the only one left to be punished, and only one episode left, all things are pointing to the one place.

But we should bear in mind that since it began in 2014, the one thing The Bridge has never done is the inevitable. And as this enormous emotional bubble of an episode neared its end, something happened that gave me another, more horrific fear.

Episode 7 started with Cristoffer having been imprisoned by no-longer-Friendly Frank and making an ingenious escape to head for the Police and turn himself in. Saga immediately had her computer genius colleague John (interrupting his cozy little love-nest with his Danish equivalent Barbara) age Henrik’s photo of his missing elder daughter by eight years, which made her a dead ringer for Astrid.

The pieces fell into place with incredible rapidity. Frank goes off the deep end, his sense of entitlement going OTT, tries to kill Astrid, tries to kill himself but the Swedish SWAT team beat him to it.

And there was the moment, the moment that broke all of us down. After last week’s cliffhanger, Henrik is not dead, only shot in the thigh. It’s a bit of a cop-out, but it’s a cop-out that’s completely in line with the case: the killer doesn’t want to kill those responsible for Tommy’s death, but to make them live with the sorrow and grief of losing someone dear to them, which puts things squarely in the family for me.

So Saga goes to Henrik, in the face of the totality of his rejection of her last week, because she has found his daughter for him, has solved the mystery. But most of all so that Astrid and he can look at each other, can recognise each other, can be reunited against all odds and probabilities. Case closed, and an audience reduced to tears.

But that wasn’t all of the emotional bombs for this week. Henrik may have Astrid back, and something of a story about the missing years, but his daughter is still, in more ways, Frank’s rather than his, and there is an uphill road to climb. But the look of relief in Henrik’s eyes, the look in Saga’s eyes when she sees the two together, the tentative manner in which she asked if everything was alright between them now, and Henrik’s warmth when he agreed – even more so when he told Astrid that Saga was his best friend – played on us like a virtuoso.

There was yet more. Henrik wanted to interview Frank, not as a Police officer but as the father. Linn the Troll is reluctant. Henrik asks her if she has any children. Emotionlessly of voice, Linn just says, “I did.” but Maria Kulle puts something into her eyes. She’s mainly been an arsehole, a figure of contempt, but in that moment Linn became a human being, with an unimaginable pain, and her eyes were a warning not to go there, because there be horrors, and it was like falling into a deep, black place with no bottom.

And Lillian is yet a target. She’s gone out for a meal with her prosecutor friend but won’t go on with him because she’s not taking the risk of giving the idea that anyone matters to her. But someone does matter to her. There’s a delivery of a flower basket that I first feared was a bomb, and it was, but not a physical one: it’s the decapitated head of dear old Hans, stolen from his grave.

The horror reverbrates. Lillian takes time off. Jonas, who has been steadily drawing respect to himself as a detective and as someone fully aware of the caricature he cuts with his offensive remarks, is appointed temporary head of the team. He’s getting protective of Saga, and the two of them are making something of a team now, albeit with awkward angles. But there’s strong circumstantial evidence that he’s been the one leaking things to the press, thanks to Barbara.

Back at the station, there’s no evidence to justify holding Nicole or Solveig any longer. The former is picked up by Tobias, who wants things to go on. The latter bats back to her flat, where grandson Brian/Kevin is waiting, and jumps straight onto his laptop, swearing revenge on the Police, and calling them idiots for thinking it’s anything to do with the family.

So what is it? Hans’ grave was desecrated by Silas Tuxen, owner of the gay bar from episode 1 and brother of one of the KC gang killed in William’s raid, but when the Police catch up with him, using Denmark’s SWAT team (equal opportunities…), Silas is dead, together with an as-yet-unidentified male passenger.

So too is Douglas, who you will remember being shot in the head last week. Douglas was  a private investigator, hired by Niels Thormod because he thought the Police were being too slow. Douglas’s computer shows he too was checking up on Silas…

But we’re at Niels now, and he’s still trying to get through to our two waifs, Julia and Ida.  They con him into taking them to the cinema. He brings along his assistant, Suzanne. Or is her real name Stephanie? Because there’s a distinctive skeleton key lock dangling from her bag, one that Julia instantly recognises as being the bag from which she nicked the mobile phone… The girls pull a stunt and run off into the night. Leaving Suzanne to realise the exact reason why.

The the moment for the Choir of Young Believers to start singing, but I’ve left something out deliberately. Henrik’s brought Astrid home, though when she talks of home it is Frank’s house she means. He’s made her her once-favourite meal, at which she picks dubiously. There’s a ring on the bell: Brian/Kevin some to take him to the meeting. And Kevin’s aware Henrik’s started pilling again, though the latter says he’s stopped again. But he has his daughter back. Kevin’s delighted for him. Kevin, who might be involved, now knows there is someone in Henrik’s life even more important to him than Saga.

They teased it in Frank’s house, the momentary fear that he’d shot her. That would have been cruel. But this would be even more cruel. I hope they’re not going to go there. But The Bridge has a history of going there. It’s why we think it’s so bloody amazing. And the next one is the very last one.

Treme: s02 e02 – Everything I do Gonh Be Funky


Older than her years

I’d hesitate a long time before calling any episode of Treme a flop, but this is the first so far which failed to convince me completely. This was an hour of rolling, following the experiences of our cast, but it was too much an extension of the season-opener, last week, in passively standing by and letting things move slowly.

Not that there wasn’t any movement at all, it just felt as if it was only in inches. On one level that’s good, it’s what David Simon (who wrote this episode) has always aimed for: real life, in all its awkward refusal to conform to dramatic presentation. On the other, it’s not always good to watch. With only eleven episodes in total in season 2 (the longest season), time has to be considered as a factor.

What did we see? Antoine’s got the bug to set up his own band. He has a vision, of the music, the clothes, he’s talking to people, getting a line-up. It’s maybe a foundation, but for now it’s just building work.

The same goes for the newly-arrived Nelson Hidalgo, already into the hustle. he’s plugged himself into a network, got his first commission, is hiring crews to do his first job. Easy and smooth, all smiles. Early days yet, but the suspicion lingers: why is it so easy, why are rich white males making it so easy for a johnny-come-lately Latino with nothing behind him to claim a share of the pot? Is the pot that damned big that everyone can dip in and there’s still more left? Or is there something waiting in the background, some hook to reel in Nelson’s money just as he thinks it’s his?

We get scenes from the life. Sonny gets robbed on the street by two enterprising young boys playing the classic dodge, one to distract and one to run off with the money jar. Annie and Davis are settled in together, and her sweetness and all-round Annie-ness (yes, I know, but I really love how Lucia Micarelli plays her) is rubbing off on him. It doesn’t stop him getting fired by his altogether shit of a station manager, but he’s no longer screaming self-entitlement and privilege. And she goes to his family for Thanksgiving and gets on with them far better than he does.

In contrast, Toni and Sofia are not doing well. There’s no talk, not from Sofia (India Ennenga makes no dialogue very effective). Toni’s taken on a new case, a guy from Massachusetts who just wants to know the name of the street on which his son died. Maybe it’s another cause, like Delmo, we’ll see. But Toni’s getting seriously worried abut her daughter, who’s now started sneaking out, dressing up to look more than her age, and drinking.

Out of town, in New York, Janette’s still having a shitty time of it. A well-respected food critic savages New Orleans, the city and its over-rated cuisine. Chef Broulard (who doesn’t care if people leave because the food preparation takes too long) singles her out for treatment that, whilst it isn’t savage, angry, full of f-bombs, is worse for being patronising. Then the guy she’s brought home to fuck empties her wallet before leaving to do this thing he gotta do. Come home, girl.

Delmond’s in town for Thanksgiving. He has a new CD out. Big Chief Albert though is going through depression. Clarke Peters has built Albert as a rock, completely certain, unwavering. But he’s lost the never-his-but-still-inhabited bar he’d made his and the Tribe’s base, the insurance check for his losses is a joke, and when Delmond calls Practice, Albert diesn’t show.

Have I missed anyone out? Only LaDonna, whose bar is slowly dying. She’s thinking of live music, Eric is(silently) thinking of shutting the place and selling.

But it’s all just building blocks, with little in it to invoke enthusiasm now, only in a future that we trust to unroll over nine more weeks. Not a flop. But not great either. In episode 3, I trust.