Saturday SkandiKrime: Darkness: Those who Kill episodes 7 & 8

The last two episodes of Those that Kill were the best, mainly because by this point there was very little time left for bullshit if we were to have an all-out tense ending. Not completely no time, unfortunately, the series choosing to end on a waffly note that either had no bearing on anything or else related to some plot detail I couldn’t remember because I couldn’t be sufficiently arsed.

And the play-out benefited from giving Signe Edholm Olsen full rein to play the out and out psycopath Stine always was, from the I-am-a-victim denials with which she met Jan’s interrogation through to the avenging fury out to visit betrayal back on her family.

It all came down to that rape by big brother Mikkel, that he lied about to his parents and to Stine’s face, even when he knew she knew the truth. Louise got onto it, and believed Stine, which was more than anyone else ever had. She’d been a troubled child, a troubled teenager. She used to make horrible accusations against anyone she was angry with, which did lead you to think her parents may not have been wholly unjustified in automatically taking Mikkel’s story over hers.

But she’d told the truth (and he’d been trying to catch her half-naked since she was twelve) and they’d betrayed her. They’d chosen him, and even after he’d ranted at her in front of them that she’d ‘been asking for it’ (they always say that, don’t they?) you could see that belief hadn’t shifted.

Louise thought that believing would get Stine to tell them where Emma Holst was. And she gave them what they wanted, but it was a lie. And she stole a policeman’s gun and a police car, and when she found Anders prepared to release Emma, she killed him and started turning Emma into her confidante: Stockholm Syndrome in Copenhagen.

Stine went after her parents. She shot big brother Mikkel in the stomach, and father Ole in the back. Mikkel didn’t make it and I couldn’t summon up much sympathy, but Ole did, and he deserved it no better. He had never had any doubts about Stine being black to the core, denied her a psychologist when it might have mattered but the truly unforgivable thing was that when Stine offered him the chance to get out, and leave his wife behind, he got up and started to shuffle out.

In the end, Jan saves the day: despite a bullet in the shoulder from Stine, he jumps her and belts her several times across the face until she’s unconscious.

So it was all over bar the fuzzy little bits at the end. Louise is half-expecting an invite to dinner from Jan but he doesn’t offer and she walks away without a backward glance, that cliche stuck firmly back in the drawer. The rescued Emma refuses to see her parents. It’s a hint at that aforementioned Stockholm Syndrome, but it’s a red herring: Emma was brought up religious and was a virgin, and she is ashamed of what’s been done to her. But Louise persuades her that they do not blame her, and their reunion is a brief moment of tear-jerking love.

But there’s that waffly bit. The last episode started with the sixteen year old Stine being dropped off at boarding school where she’s to room with the perky, peppy, bubbly, innocent and far too nice Maja. You fair dreads it on the spot. Was Maja in the story somewhere? The last scene is Stine in prison, visiting her psychologist, who naturally enough is Louise, there being only one criminal psychologist in the whole of Copenhagen. Stine is flat and dull. But as the scene goes to black, her voice takes on an added relish as she voice overs: “Maja had a big brother. Would you like me to talk about him?”

Anyone with a clue as to what that’s supposed to mean when it’s home with its pinny on, please leave a comment.

There’s no Skandi next week, so I can take a breather. Hoping for a good one, next time.


Film 2019: The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King

Three Decembers, three parts of a story, three family trips. I’ll always remember The Lord of the Rings trilogy that way, for the moments at which the story ends for another year, and the moments of wondering how and where Peter Jackson will resume things.

As a film, The Return of the King is monumental, and that comes before the Extended Edition, which comes to almost four hours. It is not without moments at which the concentration wavers slightly, as it is bound to do on a Sunday morning, and on one on which days of perfect skies have cometo rain and thunder and greyness.

But the film gathers weight and dimension as it progresses, eliding into the High Fantasy mode, until it is not possible to resist its momentum, nor be moved by the stakes it presents. As such, I find myself less able to approach the film with any kind of critical eye. I am audience, drawn in, moved in so many directions, feeling the experience rather than responding intellectually. So many times and places in which tears gathered at the corner of my eyes.

Which does not mean that I can’t be critical, just that the film is awe-inspiring to a greater degree than its two predecessors, and that overall I do not feel it possible to do an adaptation of this part of the book that could be more faithful, and as effective, as Jackson and Co.

Changes there are, and plenty, but like The Fellowship of the Ring, these consist mainly of stream-lining, playing to the visual experience. Some things are missing, minor scenes and characters omitted. Some things are diminished: I would have liked to see more of Eowyn and Faramir’s falling in love, if only to see more of Miranda Otto, but this was downsized so as not to compete with Aragorn and Arwen, which is a bit more important.

The biggest omission is the Scouring of the Shire chapter, and like Tom Bombadil, I think on balance that Jackson was right. What works in the book won’t necessarily apply to film. By the time we get to the Hobbits’ return to the Shire, several chapters have passed, as has story time. Thus this can be thrown up as a sort of Last Battle without detracting from the true climax, the Ring going into the fire. That’s not possible in the film, even with the extended sequence of farewells Jackson employs. Instead, Frodo and Co return to an unchanged Shire, the undisturbable paradise, and this emphasises what Frodo cannot go back to.

The film started very cleverly with a flashback to Deogol and Smeagol – Andy Serkis looking and nearly sounding like Andy Serkis instead  of Gollum – which I liked very much. The Theatre version then picks up the story without reference to Saruman, Grima Wormtongue and Treebeard, all of whom disappear into complete silence, a serious omission in the case of the former.

We’d heard that Jackson had filmed an ending for Saruman that he’d left out of The Two Towers for length, and then left out of The Return of the King because it belonged to The Two Towers, causing a serious rift with Christopher Lee. It’s in the Extended Edition and Jackson’s right. It looks an feels wrong, it’s an unwanted appendage, a hindrance to the third film getting going. and it’s a pretty naff write-off of Saruman, switching his actual death in the Shire forward to a point where it has so much less context and inevitability.

The other major change, so far as I am concerned, is to the climax in Mount Doom. Jackson is utterly faithful, to a point, though I regret the loss of the line about ‘I do not choose to do what I came here to do’ in favour of the cheap and blunt ‘The Ring is mine.’ But once Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger and gets the ring, it all goes wrong. Gollum capers and dances. He does it silently, which is a mistake immediately. And he’s so oblivious to his whereabouts, to anything but his Precious, that he capers over the edge, taking the Ring to its destruction, doing the one thing Frodo, at the very last, did not have the strength to do.

It’s a magnificent ending, a game-changer, The Frodo Principle, the hero who does everything he can, but who succeeds by getting the burden to somewhere where another can step in. But it’s not Hollywood. It’s not all-action, not the leading man’s triumph, and as William Goldman pointed oout, you go to protect the star. There must be nothing to diminish him, to make him complex. So Frodo gets up, wrestles with Gollum and both of thenm go over the edge, robbing Gollum of his last shred of responibility, undermining Gandalf’s foresight and Bilbo’s pity, and requiring a literal and entirely cheap cliffhanger to rescue Frodo.

I understand why they did it but, like Faramir in The Two Towers, I profoundly disagree.

Yet I am overwhelmed, every time I see the film. And this Sunday has been no exception. There won’t be a Film 2020, except maybe for a few holdovers, DVDs I’ve acquired since, but I’m going to organise myself a couple of Binge days, each trilogy, start to finish. And I would still love to see Jackson do something with The Silmarillion…

A Spot of Adventure: The Golden Age

This third post about a Golden Age comic featuring characters who were members of the Justice Society of America will sadly be different to those I wrote about Flash Comics and All-American Comics. It’s nothing to do with Adventure Comics being published by Detective Comics Inc., rather than All-American Publications, and therefore falling under Harry Donenfeld’s purview instead of Charley Gaines. Rather it’s a fundamental difference in both the comic and the DVD.
This time, I’m not working from a complete run: Adventure was not cancelled nor turned into a Western title. Instead, it continued uninterrupted through the Fifties and well beyond, to 1983 before its first cancellation after 490 issues. The period I’m seriously interested in is the Golden Age era of characters like The Sandman, Hourman and Starman, beginning with issue 40 and continuing to issue 102, after which there was a radical change of content, with Adventure becoming a vehicle for Superboy, at first as a solo star and from 1959 as part of the Legion of Superheroes.
The DVD starts with issue 40 and its run over those sixty two issues is far from complete, neither in numbers nor complete issues. I confess to little interest in the post 1946 Superboy era. But I’ll run my eye over it and comment.
As a prelude to the first issue on the DVD, and cribbing shamelessly from Wikipedia, I’ll quickly summarise the pre-history. The comic started as New Comics in 1938, a humour comic. It was re-named New Adventure Comics with issue 12, before adopting Adventure from issue 32 onwards. It evolved into an adventure series, including stories about futuristic scientist-detective Jor-L, a year before Superman debuted, and arrived at a superhero series with the introduction of The Sandman in issue 40.
Which is where I come in.
The Sandman went straight onto the cover of Adventure 40, the pulp detective figure in business suit, cape and gasmask, exactly as we know him now… except that the suit is orange, not green, and the fedora green, not orange. The story, which I’ve seen before in reprint, is credited to Larry Dean but it’s actually by Gardner Fox and Bert Christman. Apart from a surprisingly slow and atmospheric sequence where Wesley Dodd (not Dodds) mooches round his house and leaves a doll in his bed before cracking open the secret tunnel to The Sandman’s lab, it’s not a good story, naïve simple, uninterestingly drawn. It’s just a start.
The rest of the issue is undistinguished. Tiny is a one-page cartoon about a tough-talking, tough-acting bulldog, Barry O’Neill an ongoing serial about some kind of crime buster and Federal Men an FBI story about G-Man Steve Carson that’s interesting only for being by Siegel and Shuster. These are all in full colour, but Jack Woods, a cowboy serial, offered two pages of monocolour, all red shades, like Victor and Hornet used to, before dropping to B&W, and Captain Deesmo, an aviator series, was B&W throughout. Don Coyote, a cartoon two-pager set in some vague and implausible Sixteenth Century Britain that looks like Camelot, was full colour, and dreadfully silly, but it was back to B&W for Bulldog Martin, a broad-shouldered amateur troubleshooter, and Socko Strong, a boxer. Back to colour for Skip Schuyler, Government Agent, and the rather more Terry and the Pirates-esque Rusty and his Pals, which was credited to Bob Kane. Last up was Anchors Aweigh!, starring Don and Red, two Navy adventurers.
In short, the line-up, as might be expected, was a bunch of adventurers in various genres, with art and stories crudely ripped off from newspaper strips. Nothing stands out as more than enthusiastic, or crudely energetic and, The Sandman aside, nothing is interesting except to see the likes of Siegel and Shuster and Kane on series that didn’t make them famous. Adventure 40 was cover dated July 1939, making it contemporaneous with Action 14, and two months after Batman’s debut in Detective 27. The next complete issue available is Adventure 70: long before then, I’m pretty sure neither Federal Men nor Rusty continued.

Next available issue, no. 48 is represented only by the six-page debut of Hour-Man, and not even from Adventure but its reprint in a 1974 Giant-Size Justice League of America comic I once had. Issue 51 is represented only by the ten-page Sandman adventure, by which time art is by Craig Fleishman and it’s all running, jumping and leaping. And issue 57 offers only an eight-page Hour-Man adventure, featuring his buddies the Minute-Men of America and introducing his recurring enemy, Dr Togg.
From Adventure 61 onwards, the DVD offers a solid run of consecutive issues, but these are no more complete. This issue was Starman’s debut, catapulted onto the cover to displace The Sandman, and of course expected to be Detective Comics’ next break-out star, to stand alongside Superman and Batman. Jack Burnley’s art distinguished the feature, being by one of the best Golden Age artists there was. The run consists of no more than the Starman series, not of itself a hardship, until issue 70.
Unfortunately, apart from all these Sandman and Hour-Man adventures we’re missing, the debut of The Shining Knight in issue 67 also goes by offstage.
From various reprints down the years, I was already familiar with a couple of the stories in this initial eight-issue run, so this was my first chance to really see Starman in solo action. The highlight is Jack Burnley’s art, intelligent, well-rounded and anatomically superior to everyone else around him. It’s too simplistic overall to be termed photorealism but it goes closer to that than any other comics artist of the era in its avoidance of exaggeration. The stories? I can be quite as enthusiastic about them. As short adventures, they’re usually competent at worst, and Starman’s wise-cracking is a foretaste of the likes of Spider-Man.
On the other hand, Ted Knight’s self-portrayal as a hypochondriac weakling is laid on with a fourteen foot trowel. That’s not so bad in itself, but it begs the question why his fiancee, Doris Lee, an attractive, forthright, intelligent young woman, puts up with him for more than one story, given that most people faced with such a weak wuss, convinced he’s got every malady under the sun whilst actually being physically hale, would have concluded that the only thing wrong with him was the absence of a spine and given him the very elegant pointed-toe sandal in the unmentionables.
Either that or concluded that he’s a hopeless addict forever racing off for his fix.
In contrast, issue 70 is a complete comic, with The Shining Knight appearing next after Starman. It’s my first solo story with the Knight, and interesting for that, but it’s a slapdash effort with a bits and pieces story, and I found it weird that Justin, museum assistant, talks natural American English when he’s in street clobber but slips back into ‘Forsooth’ language the moment he gets his armour on, and comments on it!

Though he’d been bounced out of the Justice Society by Starman, Tick-Tock Tyler is still around as The Hour Man, minus the hyphen. Bernard Bailey’s art is a bit more sophisticated when it comes to faces, and he’s drawing Hour Man’s hood as a tight-fitting cowl and eye-mask, which I’ve certainly never seen before, but the story’s a joke, with the villain a dwarf on a flying carpet who looks like a visitor from outer space, though he’s not. Maybe I’m not missing much?
The Adventurer theme of issue 40 hasn’t been abandoned completely, as the next strip is Steve Conrad, Adventurer, an ocean diver hired to find buried treasure who’s up against modern pirates. This was the last episode of a story, if not the story, I don’t know. It’s all very early Terry and The Pirates wannabe (as an irrelevant aside, has there ever been a more exciting title for an adventure strip?)
After a brief prose story with a twist ending, next up was… ok, I was wrong… Federal Men, though judged on its art, it certainly wasn’t Joe Schuster any more. And judged by the way the story didn’t throb with frenetic energy, it wasn’t Jerry Siegel either. It certainly wasn’t good.
I was surprised to see Paul Kirk – Manhunter as the next strip, especially as it’s nothing like the series as I have always known it. I discovered Manhunter as that classic back-up story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson in Detective way back in 1974 – I had the privilege of reading it month-by-month – and later in a handful of Simon-Kirby reprints of the costumed hero original, but this Paul Kirk is by Ed Moore who, if he’s the artist, was the worst so far in this issue. Who and what Kirk is is never explained but he never gets out of street clothes and comes over as more of a private detective than anything else, certainly not a big-game Hunter.
Bringing up the back of the book is, thankfully, still the Sandman, but this is that brief period between the adoption of the yellow and purple costume, plus Sandy the Golden Boy, both accoutred with capes, and the arrival of Simon and Kirby. The dream theme is absent, the art crude and ill-proportioned – this guy can’t get legs right – and the story nondescript, lacking the manic energy of the business-suited Sandman stories.
It was interesting to see a complete issue, but the next eight issues on the DVD, not all consecutive, were back to single stories, Starman once more.
Interestingly, Manhunter replaced Starman for the cover of issue 73 (though we only get to see Starman’s story) and this is the costumed Manhunter, and what’s more it’s Simon and Kirby at their excellent best. And they cover feature again next issue before Sandman and Sandy take back the cover on a full-time basis, from which I take it that the determined push to build Starman into a Superman/Batman level star was already showing itself to be doomed.
Issue 78 switched things up with a Manhunter story, though it was taken from a reprint edition, not Adventure itself. This was vintage Simon/Kirby, all-out action, distorted figures, a truly ugly villain and a pretty girl. I’m not sure I’d want to read too many Manhunter stories all at once, but it was good fun.
It was back to Starman for issue 81, the last of the single story issues, and a change of artists with the story, a reprint from the Seventies, credited to Mort Morton Jr and Jerry Roussos. Given that it features a blind boy getting shot in the head and discovering he can now see, the new firm are clearly not an improvement.
There’s a gap next to issue 87, but that represented a sea change, as from hereon, with only a couple of exceptions, we get complete issues. Sandman kicked off the issue with a story I’d already seen in reprint, but next up was the oddball and little-considered Genius Jones, by Stan Kaye. It’s a crackpot cartoon about a boy genius who knows everything and gives answers at a dime a time. This was my first known exposure to the original and it had me goggling, unable to tell if it were genius or madness.

No, seriously…

The Shining Knight was still running, though his art was disappointingly poor. Starman was back as fourth feature, with only three pages to his name. Manhunter got a full share but with terrible art that was trying desperately to ape Jack Kirby with none of the weight of line or detail.
A terribly unfunny one-page cartoon, Jack Potts, gave way to Mike Gibbs, Guerilla, an all-purpose freedom fighter in Nazi-occupied Europe and the one last story to represent the pre-superhero Adventure. Apart from the independent female French resistance Agent, Captain Hwarti (what kind of French name is that?), turning up in Holland, the episode was little better than mediocre and of course it featured a dyke being breached, why would you think it wouldn’t?
Four issues later, paper rationing was cutting a bit deeper. Adventure was down to a bi-monthly status, plus a cut in pages, the cut being Mike Gibbs. The next issue available was no. 100, cover dated October/November 1945, making its actual publication date somewhere round the end of the War in the Pacific. Guerilla was back, in a story with a powerful anti-racism message all the stronger for being set in a War context, but Manhunter was gone now. I wish there were more issues to track these changes more accurately.
At least issue 101 was available, with a dreadful Sandman cover. The previous issue looked like Jack Kirby but wasn’t credited as such, but this story was just plug-ugly, an attempt to copy Kirby by someone with no capability whatsoever. Starman’s story suffered from weak art and dumb writing. We were a long way from the days of Woodley Allen, Doris Lee and Ted Knight’s hypochondria, leaving the stories perfunctory in the extreme and full of incidents like Starman escaping noticing by standing against a poster and ‘blending into’ a background composed of completely different colours from his costume.

Superboy as drawn then

And then, with a jump to issue 109, everything had changed, and I mean everything. In fact, it had happened with issue 103: Sandman and Starman cancelled, Genius Jones shipped out to Detective’s More Fun Comics and a complete line-up switched from that title to take over Adventure. It’s still the Golden Age, for a few years yet, but this is not the stuff I wanted the DVD for.
Because Adventure had become the home of Superboy, from now until 1969. Coming with the Boy of Steel were Aquaman (technically, the Earth-2 version, as would later be defined, with the yellow gauntlets), Johnny Quick, the formula-reciting super-speedster (also featuring in Action Comics) and the Green Arrow (who was also appearing in World’s Finest). The Shining Knight was the only surviving feature. Johnny’s adventure had a bit of vigour to it, but the new watchword was bland.
Frankly, Superboy doesn’t interest me at all, especially knowing how Jerry Siegel wanted to write the character, as a prank-player. The first few stories feature Clark and his schoolfriends, in little do-good stories, and young Kent is nothing like the klutz we expect. But I have to credit the Xmas story in issue 113 (cover-dated February!) as a touching little tale, involving neither crime nor villain, just the response of a community to the terrible misfortunes of a man who, for 32 years, has played a secret Santa to the town’s kids, and who needs the good offices of a Santa himself. It managed to be sweet without being sentimental: just a small-town America story that rang true.

Yellow gauntlets

Twenty issues or so onwards, not all of them available, enables me to give a bit of a reasoned assessment of Adventure in this form. Superboy’s series is definitely not what I expected from my exposure to the character in the early Sixties. There’s no Ma and Pa Kent, no Smallville and precious little villains. Instead, Superboy uses his powers to help his friends, sometimes in the face of rich boy cheating from Orville Orville, or just genuinely to help against misfortune. There’s not even any melodramatic disasters going on. It’s decidedly low-key and, except as a change of pace, undramatic.
The Green Arrow is just bland. He’s definitely The Green Arrow at this point, and as far as Oliver Queen is concerned, there’s a near total absence. Neither Oliver nor Roy have any personality, and we practically only see them out of costume when they’re just about to change into it. And the era of the trick arrow hasn’t started yet: there’s the occasional use of the boomerang arrow and little else. You really couldn’t imagine this guy becoming the Ollie Queen we’ve know since 1969.
Aquaman is similarly drab, but what do you expect from two characters created by Mort Weisinger to be knock-offs. Again, though the blond stiff is described as the Monarch of the Sea, we’ve a decade to wait for the introduction of Atlantis, and this Aquaman just fights sea-style menaces, most often the pirate Black Jack. Between them, Aquaman and The Green Arrow don’t have enough personality to fill a thimble. Oh for the relative depth of the All-American characters.

The Green Arrow: never on Adventure’s cover

Johnny Quick, however, is head and shoulders above the rest, though his slot at the back of the comic suggests he wasn’t as popular as he deserved to be. The very idea of speed automatically makes the series more vigorous, even if some of the science is more than dodgy, and the stories are jam-packed with incidents. And to that some Kubert-influenced art from Mort Meskin and Johnny Quick makes continued reading worthwhile.
Though the Shining Knight would go on until issue 166, he disappeared from Adventure after issue132 due to a profusion of ad pages, which even started appearing in the middle of stories as opposed to between the various features. I hate to say it, but a lot of those ad pages featured art better than Sir Justin was getting! The chivalrous hero was back in 137, after two missing issues, with his occasional sidekick, the Bronx boy, Sir Butch of Beeler’s Alley. And by issue 143, he was enjoying the best art of his career, though not yet from the young Frank Frazetta, but rather Ruben Moreira.
To be honest, the is-he-or-isn’t-he? of whether there’ll be a Shining Knight story is the most interesting thing in this phase of the title, no disrespect to the still-entertaining Johnny Q. For instance, in issue 149, he’s bumped for a five-page tale of the life of author Jack London.
Adventure hit issue 150 with a cover date of March 1950 and no fanfare or special features, although I couldn’t help but be amused to discover Johnny Quick’s villain – a man who hypnotised people into believing that he could walk through walls – being named The Spectre. Nah, buddy. And Frank Frazetta made his debut (?) on The Shining Knight: nice art, and the first to make a flying horse’s wings look realistic.

The Shining Knight’s last adventure in Adventure would be in issue 166 but that’s yet another issue that isn’t included on the DVD. Since I bought it for the Golden Age issues, for those up to and including 102, and since issue 164, the nearest to that point, is cover-dated May 1951, three months after All Star 57, the generally acknowledged end of the Golden Age, I’m treating this as the terminus point for this post. It’s same as ever, no Shining Knight to go out on, Superboy, Johnny Quick, Aquaman, The Green Arrow.
There’s the best part of 330 other issues on the rest of the DVD, extending to the final issue of the run in the early Eighties. When I get round to those, it’ll be a whole other story.

Lou Grant: s02 e19 – Home

The watchword for this blog is ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’, which means that an episode-by-episode blog of a tv series has to go on, even if I’m not really enjoying it as much as I would like. Only extreme cases (remember Fortitude? I wish I didn’t) justify dropping it.

I used to love Lou Grant. It was a staple of the week’s viewing forty years ago, and my memories  of it are all fond. I still like the cast and their interplay, their intensity and integrity sitting alongside their plain human sensibilities. And the show’s virtues and passions aligned with mine, and I’ve not changed that much in the decades that have passed.

Perhaps its because of my age, ironically, that episodes like this one leave me cold ad, worst of all, bored. This is another of the crusading episodes, the exposure of a disturbing situation, alerting its audience to the injustices in society, whilst contriving a happy ending: two of them, in fact.

The theme was the aged in Society, care of the elderly. I’m not disparaging that, it’s clearly an important topic, in fact it’s Worthy within the show’s parameters. Unfortunately, this is another case where the approach is overly didactic. You could have replaced every member of the cast with someone else and the episode would have been the same, and that’s a problem.

The episode started melodramatically as a man wheels an elderly lady in a wheelchair, who’s obviously confused and frightened, into an office. He, John Bertram, owns a Home, she’s one of his patients, the Government hasn’t paid for her for six months and she’s now their problem.

That’s the cue for the Trib’s investigation of Homes in general and Bertram’s in particular. Billie goes undercover as an aide to see how horrific and uncaring the standard of care is. Bertram’s clearly only in it for the money, and out to maximise profits by minimising standards, though the show undermines itself by establishing twice that Bertram could get his money for Mrs Ford if he filled in certain forms: it was a major, logical inconsistency that was yet more lazy scripting, wanting the shock effect of the stark opening that should never have been happening.

At the same time, Lou’s morning jog in the park sees him palling up with Fred Horton (Jack Gilford), an active retiree, humourous, lively, optimistic, whose continually looking for a job in the face of  society that’s pushed him out. Fred’s a product of an age when the good guys worked and the ones that didn’t were bums: pychologically, he cannot shift his thoughts away from thinking he’s become a bum.

The problem with this episode, like others, is that the story can’t develop organically from the people: they are cyphers in the face of a series of moments that drop seamlessly into place, not with the remorseless inevitability of human existence but with the remorseless inevitability of a cheap script, hitting its numbers. Of course Mrs Ford dies from the shock of being used. Of course the Doctor doesn’t give a damn about Mrs Keaton’s serious pain at night.

And, of course, Lou finds a job for Fred as a surrogate grandad supervising kids in a playground, and of course Billie finds away for Mrs Keaton’s hassled daughter to give her mother a better standard of life, between Daycare in the day and Home care in the evenings. And equally of course, Bertram gets hit with multiple charges from the D.A.

All’s well that ends well.

I still like the series, but my enthusiasm is being severely drained by episodes like this. There are five episodes left in season 2 and I’m currently contemplating taking a break, if I can find something suitable to do on Thursday mornings. Just for a change of pace. We’ll see.

The Man who Wrote Lafferties: Fourth Mansions

There’s always a first book. For every writer whose work captures you, there’s always a first book that grabs you and makes you want more. Sometimes, that first book turns out to be the best book, or the one that you most want to return to. After all, it’s what opened your eyes and mind to the possibilities in this writer. Sometimes it’s the one you’ve read most because it’s the one you’ve had longest and sometimes it’s because it’s the one you keep re-reading.
All of these things and more describe R.A.Lafferty’s Fourth Mansions for me. And to think I owe it all to one of the most unreliable blurb writers I ever read.
You’ve heard me say before that I first got into SF/Fantasy via The Lord of the Rings, in the back end of 1973. It wasn’t until the following January that I read the whole story, in a post-Xmas present with Xmas money. I’ve always tended to date my fascination with the genre to that moment, but it strikes me that I had probably started combing the library shelves for similar delights before the end of the year.
Whenever I started, one of my early discoveries was Roger Zelazny, and his Amber series. I was sufficiently hooked on Zelazny that, when I saw his name on the cover of an unusual book, in a Stockport back-street bookshop, praising the work, I bought it. Zelazny turned out to be an appalling guide to good books, at least so far as my tastes were concerned, except once. That very first book: Fourth Mansions.
I remember it was sunny, but whether this was late spring or early to medium summer I can’t specify. I can’t even state for certain that it was the very first Lafferty I read, only the first novel. I had already discovered Damon Knight’s Orbit series of collections, several of which were in Manchester libraries, and most of which had a Lafferty twinkling in their pages.
One thing to state, up front, about Fourth Mansions is that it is a deeply religious book, drawing heavily on Catholic Symbolism and the work The Interior Castle, written by Saint Teresa of Avila in 1577. Yet that need not be off-putting: I have never been deeply religious, was barely even shallowly religious in 1974, and am long-term atheist by now, but I respond to the book as it is, as a gambol of symbols, exchanging places, balancing forces and circling the book’s ‘hero’, Freddy Foley, newspaperman, everyman and great goof, to whom great things are given, and in whom the outcome lies.
The book takes the shape of a conspiracy theory, one to which Freddy is led by interested parties who are themselves a conspiracy. There are multiple conspiracies at work here, sometimes supplementing, more often contradicting each other, and each represents a group excluded from the Castle, that is, from the accounting of ordinary humans. These are the Pythons, the Toads, the unfledged Falcons and the Badgers, each of whom have been excluded by God.
“There is entwined seven-tentacled lightning. It is fire-masses, it is sheets, it is arms. It is seven-coloured writhing in the darkness, electric and alive. It pulsates, it sends, it sparkles, it blinds!
It explodes!
It is seven murderous thunder-snakes striking in seven directions along the ground! Blindingly fast! Under your feet! Now! At you!
And You! You who glanced in here for but a moment, you are already snake-bit!
It is too late for you to withdraw. The damage is done to you. That faintly odd taste in your mouth, that smallest of tingles which you feel, they signal the snake-death.
Die a little. There is reason for it.”
You too are snake-bit because you have read these words, here, now. Fourth Mansions begins thus, though we are then introduced to the unformed, inquisitive simpleton that is Freddy Foley, newspaper reporter. Freddy is already bit, pressed mentally by the Pythons, the Harvesters to goof and goof greatly. Which he has.
The Harvesters are a septet of rich people, three husband and wife pairs and Bedelia (Biddy) Bencher, a young, unattached girl, save that she is Freddy’s girlfriend (not that either appears the least bit sexually inclined to one another, both being suspended adolescents in different waves.) The others are Jim and Letitia Bauer, Arouet and Wing Manion and Hondo and Ensalziamenta (Salzy) Silverio. Each are described, and continually referred to by artistic characteristic or other passions – Wing Manion as a Klee fish, Biddy Bencher as a cinnamon cookie, a charcoal sketch in cinnamon-pink.
By some means, the Harvesters have created between them a brain-weave, concentrating, intensifying and amplifying their natural psychic strength exponentially. The Harvesters intend to shape the world, to take it over and direct it to their wishes. They have pushed Freddy to goof greatly, but they have pushed him at the second of these exterior creatures, the Toads, the Revenant Toads, with jewels in their heads.
Freddy has goofed on Special Advisor Carmody Overlark. Two years ago, Overlark, an overlooked bureaucrat, suddenly became a Man of the Moment, not merely in the Moment but in all his past Moments. Freddy compares him to Kar-Ibn-Mod, an Egyptian bureaucrat of centuries past, who looks like Overlark, but only in Overlark’s recent photos.
It’s the Hidden Hand conspiracy, the recurring or returning men, as old as cliché, as incredible as underwater breathing. Freddy’s editor Tankersley wants Foley off the story, in roughly equal measures because it’s absurd and because reporters who pursue such stories end up dead.
Meanwhile, the Harvesters essay another shaping push, this time on the highly-regarded intellectual, Michael Fountain. Fountain is, or could be a great man, but has never attempted to be; the Harvesters will fill him with the energy to be and become. But Fountain is defended mentally and sloughs off the attack, the power of which first kills Fountain’s sickly nephew/namesake and then takes hold (not that the Harvesters know this) in Miguel Fuentes, a loutish Mexican south of the Border.
Miguel becomes the leader of a ramshackle, absurdly small band dedicated to overthrowing the world and running it properly. You’d smile at the pretension, but Miguel is of the third order of external creatures, the Unfledged Falcons, who are force and authority and, in their dullest aspect, Fascism (the original fascism, axes or fasces, not the Nazi abhorrence). Miguel has the force.
Back in town (an unnamed Tulsa), Freddy and Biddy go to talk to Michael Fountain and learn of Miguel. Freddy goes on to meet the town’s other, less reputable and austere sage, Bartigrew Bagley (an unflattering quasi-self-portrait of the author). Bagley’s crude and raw, a newspaperman who busted over the same story as Freddy. He’s unequivocal about identifying the four exterior creatures for he is of the last of these, the Badgers, the abiding men, the only one of the exterior creatures whose attitude to man is benevolent, still waiting for God to accept them and allow them to enter into the Castle.
So these are the creatures, three of whom plan to change the world. Of these, you sense that Lafferty approves of the Falcons, is neutral about the Pythons (though if they include the delightful Biddy, even if she is the seventh and lowest of them, they cannot be wholly bad), and is set against the Toads.
For St Teresa’s book was predicated on the notion of seven mansions through which the soul progresses, three rising cycles, a fourth or transitional cycle, and after that three further rising cycles. Lafferty applies that to his book by postulating a history that shows a frustrated progression, three rising cycles followed by a fourth that fails and busts down to a beginning, starting once again in First Mansions.
This is clearly depicted by the Toads, who claim responsibility to the continuing failure of Fourth Mansions, as they continually surface to frustrate progression, breaking the world down to beginnings again. They are the Hidden Hand, working against man and for themselves, to maintain their control of affairs.
And Freddy Foley, simpleton and goof and everyman is at the centre, the representative of man upon whom all these creatures working, As the world collapses into death and danger, plague and panic, as the revenant Toads occupy so many people, including Biddy herself at the very end, the Toads will implant any ancient and mighty one of their line into Freddy, causing him to die. But Freddy has had the remnants of the destroyed brain-weave handed to him. Miguel has given command of the Falcons to him. And the Badgers, in their conclave of Patricks and Crolls and Aloysiuses have elected him to the thousand year vacated position of Emperor.
Never before has a man combined in one body all five creatures, interior and exterior. What outcome will there be in the morning? Will the world wake to First Mansions, or will it be the long-awaited Fifth?
That’s a question fated not to be answered. Lafferty ends his book on this note, a cliffhanger of immense proportions, one for each of us to answer in our own way. Mine is to side with confidence, with the hint that the unprecedented combination will be the key to that long overdue forward movement.
Should I do so? I mean, we are dealing with Lafferty’s most intense beliefs. To me, his intense and severe Catholicism comes closest to the overt herein (Lafferty is not a preachy writer), couched in this ornate and fascinating symbolism, even more so than in his Argo cycle. He and I are completely opposites in our core beliefs, for to Lafferty the world is only properly ordered if it adheres to the strictures of Mother Church. What we call liberalism is to Lafferty the very opposite. In his person as Bagley, he responds to the mention of Secular Humanism with the words, “At the name of which even buzzards gag,” and he has a left-handed form of the weave destroy Michael Fountain, introduced in such kindly and wise a form, by drawing from him the meaning of his refinement, which is to remove ‘impurities’, to reduce rather than to expand, to build a castle and take away its foundations.
But Lafferty is Lafferty, and his gift is to make the unbelievable believable. He will toss out casual ideas, such as humanity originating from a planet with a thirty-four hour not twenty-four hour cycle, to which we revert in times of stress, or that red-headed women are an alien species, and we swallow it whole and wonder if he knows stuff we don’t.
For instance, above I said that Lafferty postulates the four mansions cycle, of three rising mansions leading to a fourth of destruction, and he gives examples, but I always ending up wondering if Lafferty, an erudite and much read man, isn’t simply telling us things that the history books won’t.
Fourth Mansions belongs to my early era of discovery. Like Alfred Bester’s Extro, from the same time, it’s a kaleidoscope of ideas and imagination that overwhelms and overflows. I have left out so much that I want to admire, because there is so much that this post would have to be as long as the book itself to express things in the depth necessary. Like Extro, it was a creative explosion: a writer could mine Fourth Mansions for ideas for years without running out of possibilities. Though Roger Zelazny would steer me badly wrong several times, until I learned to avoid his recommendations, he was true enough this once and I owe him a lifetime of Lafferty as a consequence. This one is my favourite.

Person of Interest: s02 e18 – All In

For once, I would almost say that I was disappointed with the latest episode of Person of Interest: almost, but not quite.

The problem lay largely with myself. Since Relevance, and knowing how the season ends, I assumed the show would be going into its end game to set this up, but in that I was premature. All In was once again, in respect of its Number of the Week, a solus, with all the longer-term aspects taking place elsewhere, beyond the ken of Messrs Finch and Reese.

Once I realised that the issue of Lou Mitchell (Ron McLarty), a retiree on a fixed income who played bacccarat in an Atlantic City casino every day and who had lost over $320,000 over six months, had nothing to do with the wider issues, I found it difficult to be enthused. Yes, the story was nifty, and there was a nice scene when Finch, following Lou around all day, discovered his quarry was much less naive than he’d assumed and had not only made him from the off but confronted him in a bar, played baccarat for questions with far greater skill than he’d ever shown in the casino, and lifted his keys before dropping them in the lobster tank.

No, Lou wasn’t the loser he appeared to be. He was a card sharp from way back who’d fallen foul of the Mafia and been beaten for it, had married the woman who helped in and had forty very committed years together before her death from cancer. But to fund her treatment, Lou had sharked at a casino owned by Darren Makris (Michael Rispoli), and when Makris found out, Lou found himself on the hook, alongwith several other retirees, required to play, and lose, every day.

Why? Makris was in the drug trade and also owned a pharmacy. Lou and the others picked up ‘prescriptions’ daily, money they then lost, in a money-laundering operation. Makris’ drug profits disappear into the casino and come out as its profits.

What makes Lou stand out, and drew the Machine’s attention, was that he was using his skills to skim a bit off the top, a gesture of defiance, I’m not a loser, on the one hand, and with a sentimental purpose in mind on the other. Even when Harold sends Lou out of town, whilst he and John ‘eliminate’ Lou in Makris’ eyes, the cantankerous old bugger comes back.

And this time he’s playing to win, win back everything he’s lost. But with Finch staking him to $2,000,000 and John running interference on Makris, Lou wins over $20,000,000, negating the presence of our old friend, Leon Tau (an ever welcome cameo from Ken Leung, as shallow as ever but also as forensic with a money trail).

Reese saves the day when everyone is captured and forced to go through a Russian Roulette situation that’s actually harmless because Lou palmed the bullet. And with Finch’s help, Lou is set up to buy and preserve the diner in which he eats every day, the one he and his Marilyn practically lived in. A nice, sentimental ending.

It was a decent Number of the Week, and in another frame of mind I would probably have enjoyed it more, but I’m impatient for things to hot up, andthe only place that happened was in the B story, centred on Detective Carter.

Joss is still gathering evidence about the missing Detective Stills, using Detective Terney (Al Sapienza), when Detective Szymanski is hauled in, in handcuffs. Szymanski is due to testify todayagainst the Yogarof brothers, when he’sdirtied up by planted evidence he’s on the take. Carter starts investigating this immediately. Would-be boyfriend Cal Beecher is about but ruins his romantic hopes by admitting he provided the tip on Szymanski.

It’s all a scenario set up by H.R., Officer Simmons and Alonzo Quinn, for a cash deal with the Yogarofs: they will not go to jail. Except that Carter, following the money on the advice of Fusco, finds evidence that Szymanski has been framed. The trial goes ahead, with extra charges as to witness-tampering. Fusco warns Carter aboout making herself a target. Quinn invites the DA and Szymmanski to dinner, impressing on them how invested the Mayor is in securing a conviction. Both of them are determined to press ahead. And Quinn pulls out a gun and kills both, two shots each to the heart.

And another member of H.R. enters, Detective Raymond Terney. The killer got away through the back, leaving two dead and one wounded: Terney shoots Quinn through the right shoulder.

That’s where the heat was, where the long story took place. I sure hope the show turns its face towards the season ending next week…


Saturday SkandiKrime: Darkness: Those who Kill episodes 5 & 6

Third week for the revived Darkness: Those who Kill which, incidentally, is billed only as Dem som Draeber in the Danish credits so this ‘Darkness’ crap is just a bloody affectation.

For some of the classic series, the reduction of the standard ten-episode format to eight is a disappointment, but for the average-at-best stuff like this, it’s a blessing to know I’ll have it all over and done with next weekend. Even at a taut eight episodes, this still feels like some things have been put in to pad it out.

To be honest, I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for finishing this, not even for the $64,000 question of whether Emma, the last hostage, will be found alive (I’m guessing yes but the programme is sufficiently infatuated with its own supposed ‘darkness’ that it might kill her just to prove it).

Both the short, black and white flashbacks this week helped us to understand the fair but homicidal Stine. In the one, she’s getting raped by her overly tall and nasty brother Mikkel, the one whose birthday party her mother is so insistent on her attending (she’s  16, he’s 19). Oh well, that explains it all. In the other, the slimeball has already ‘confessed’ to Ma and Pa to pushing her over and making her bump her head but denied her other accusation, and of course Mummy and Daddy don’t believe her and think she’s just wickedly passing off what some other of her endless shags has done to her. Oh well, that explains any leftover bits of it all that we didn’t take from the first one.

I know we’re not supposed to feel sympathy for psychopathic serial killers, especially ones that get their victims to write a beautiful, heartfelt, farewell letter to their parents then burn it in front of the girl, but I did thoroughly enjoy Stine attending Mikkel’s birthday party, tinkling a glass and standing up to tell the assembled guests her story about her brother. Yes, that one. She wasn’t a sixteen year old slut, he was her first.

The rest of it was the investigation progressing in fits and starts. Louise clears announcing Anders’ name publicly in the belief he and his accomplice will go dormant. Unfortunately, he reacts by trying to snatch someone off the street. The Police do get tip-offs that lead them to where Anders is sleeping when he’s not at Stine’s and, significantly, they retrieve the dress of Natasha, his first one.

This does not go down well with Anders, who is stupidly determined to get the dress back, which he attempts by kidnapping Louise (didn’t see that coming), smacking her about and demanding she tell the cops to bring the dress to her or he’ll kill her. He really is stupid. Fortunately, he’s interrupted by a security guard before this development gets to a point where he and it get out of control and he has to kill the second lead in episode 5.

The personality sink that is lead investigator Jan is not there for Louise because, in contradiction of my prediction he’s not getting his rocks off with our dark-haired psychologist, but rather with karate instructor and volunteer unofficial civilian decoy Sisse (Malene Beltoft Olsen, looking very nice). Don’t worry, he does get to sleep with Louise in episode 6, though I can’t claim that because it’s on her couch and he’s fast asleep when she curls up beside him.

Anyway, episode 6 is all about Louise recovering from her ordeal whilst the fuzz start to make real progress. Louise’s women’s group prompts her to ask if Anders’ accomplice is a woman, not a man, and Jan finds the missing link between the slurry tank victims that gives them the name of Stine Velin.

Who has told Anders they have to stop and get out, and he’d better get rid of his little blonde girl himself. And she’s just finished packing when the doorbell goes. No, not the Police, just an extremely pissed and pissed-off Mikkel, who’s still the victim in all this, who’s come round to tell Stine that he never wants to see her again (oh the ironic comic cliche of it!) and she’d better not contact their parents again (why on Earth would she want to). Then he blows it rather by snogging her, though if I were looming drunkenly over Signe Egholm Olsen, I would probably have done the same thing. Not that she would have enjoyed it any more than her oh-so-charming brother.

With doubled irony, the intrusion of Mikkel holds Stine up just long enough for the  Police to arrive, bristling with riot gear and assault rifles. Mikkel gets arrested. Stine, quick-thinking, plays the victim card, Anders threatened to kill her. Everyone storms the basement, looking for Emma. But she’s gone. And so’s Anders…

If this were a British series, I wouldn’t have touched it with a bargepole. I’m only watching it because it’s Skandi, but not all Skandis are Skandi, if you know what I mean. End of the series next week. I can only hope that if there’s another Skandi lined up for two weeks hence, it’s one of the great ones. I’m not holding my breath.