Lou Grant: s04 e03 – Pack


Frat buddies

To begin with a minor point, this episode was clearly shown out of production order as it’s the second of two for which Robert Wa;lden was missing, on strike, in a failed attempt at more pay. In his absence, Kinda Kelsey as Billie Newman takes the lead in what’s virtually a solo story for her.

It’s 1980. There’s a Presidential Election going on in which, in real life, Ronald Reagan will defeat the well-meaning but ineffectual Jimmy Carter, who will only go on to fulfil his abilities after his Presidential term is over. We’re not covering that, oh goodness me, no: too many vote-losing traps in that, vote here being a word meaning audience share-points.

Instead, the show is covering the Senatorial election, and the campaign of challenger ‘Gentleman Jim’ Carlisle (Ed Nelson), which is running at high momentum. The Trib’s veteran political reporter, whose work has gone stale, is dragged back to the office and Billie is thrown to the dogs, in the form of the Press Pack, principally nationally famous reporters like Avery Stephens (James Callahan), Sturbridge (John Hillerman) and Flo Meredith (Eileen Eckhardt).

(I didn’t know this until I checked imdb but Eckhardt is the only instance in the entire series of Lou Grant of a crossover with his original series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show: she was Mary Richards’ Aunt Flo, and obviously knw Lou, but the episode doesn’t mention Mary at all, nor does Flo feature with Lou at any time.)

Until it’s end, I foumd the episode to be flat and unengaging. Billie, as the new girl, undergoes some fairly obvious runarounds from both the veteran reporters – a college initiation-style rite but withut the paddles – and the campaign manager. At first her stuff is identical to both their’s but also, disastrously, her poredecessors. Then she files a story they don’t, with a potential campaign-damaging effect, which gets her squelched by the veterans who simply saw it differently (cue reference to the failed Presidential election campaign of Ed Muskie).

But Billie’s right and they’re wrong, giving her the chance to castigate them for their smug complacency, to the point where, shamed by her naive enthusiasm for the basics of their job that they’ve forgotten (cliche drawer alert!), they back her up on the awkward point she pursues, about Carlisle’s attitude to gun control that he’s been avoiding defining.

It’s an irony that a cheap scene like that should play into the episode’s one genuinely strong moment, as Carlisle bruhes off political mangement, visibly relaxes and, in a beautifully played moment by Nelson, explains his beliefs by reference to an evidently painful experience (it helps that I’m on his side: I’d like to hear the reaction of a gun ownership proponent, out of curiosity).

Thats the end of the story, basically. There’s a coda in which the campaign continues, clearly downhill, and the veterans pull out but Billie sticks with it until the (unseen) end. Carlisle’s going back up in the polls, his latest rally’s a big, booming affair, who knows, maybe honesty works?

A mixed bag, with not enough of the good stuff for 49 minutes, but the good stuff, when it came, was worth waiting for.

Once Upon a Time in Amber: Prince of Chaos


A word first about the title. Thus far, Zelazny has been using a (something) of (something) formula, four titles, eight different terms: Trumps, Blood, Prince, Knight, Doom, Amber, Chaos, Shadow. For the last book, we get a repeat of Chaos, coupled this time with Prince. It’s apt, for both Merlin and the final book, but the reuse of Chaos makes it automatically sound weak, as if Zelazny had run out of new ideas and could only revert to something already applied.
We pick up directly from the end of book 4, explaining that Coral is indeed Luke’s wife, by reason of an infant bethrothal years earlier, that the two are entirely amenable to an annulment, once the coronation is over, and then we hurry off to rush through said coronation and Merlin and Coral end up spending the night together, though Zelazny doesn’t mention whether they make love (which in most countries would be regarded as an act of High Treason, and probably not covered by diplomatic immunity) as well as talking and sleeping.
Then Merlin gets summoned to the Court of Chaos, and Coral gets dropped on the spot. Why is Merlin so urgently needed at home? Because he’s under Black Watch. Behind his back, people have been dropping like flies and now King Swayvill has finally died. Merlin is now third in line in the succession. He and the two ahead of him are being guarded.
Merlin doesn’t want to be anywhere in line for the throne of Chaos, or the throne of anything. Unlike his still-missing Dad – and Zelazny drops a substantial hint to the readers but not his narrator, as to where Corwin has been all this time – Merlin has no interest in ruling anything except himself. Unfortunately, his mother, Dara, and his elder step-brother Mandor have a different idea on that subject.
We’re here in the Courts properly for the first time, and credit Zelazny for the portrait he paints of how different the place is. Old friends, servants and serpents come out of the woodwork, pieces of Merlin’s childhood that he’s never talked about, and who arrive with relationships of a sort established that are not explained for us. And the Courts itself, with its non-Euclidean geometry, it’s concealed and twisted geography, is a place where homes and houses are known as Ways and hide behind plain sight.
As well as Mandor and Dara, Merlin’s main contact in the Courts is his Uncle Suhuy, Master of the Logrus. Suhuy at least is a neutral figure, with a regard for Merlin, who is not out to influence him, rather inform him. He provides a small spell to open Merlin’s mind to possibilities via a dream visit to the Corridor of Mirrors, which adds yet more layers of uncertainty, but who are we to object to this now, after four books of avoiding concrete answers?
Merlin objects to becoming King of Chaos, despite being told he is the choice of the Logrus, a thing that makes him only more determined to avoid the job. Indeed, later on Dara will effectively advise that Corwin was the choice of the Pattern as King of Amber, and that Merlin’s birth involved nothing of love or even desire, merely the selection of the appropriate genetic material to create the new King of Chaos.
Because what underlies the whole of the Merlin Cycle, and which is now extended retrospectively to underpin the Corwin Cycle is the struggle for balance between the two Powers, the Pattern and the Logrus, the Unicorn and the Serpent, Order and Chaos.
Without both, Shadow cannot exist. Both sides pay lip service to balance, both retaliate in turn to steps tilting the balance one way or another but both sides ultimately seek to establish an overwhelming dominance, rolling the other back indefinitely. They demand Merlin choose between them but that’s the one thing he refuses to do.

UK paperback

Right now, the Pattern has a distinct advantage: not only has the balance been tipped to it by Merlin repairing the First Broken Pattern, there is the matter of Corwin’s Pattern. Currently it’s remaining inactive, but not for much longer. It was drawn when the Pattern was being repaired, the only time this could possibly happen: in any other circumstances, the Pattern would have absorbed it and it’s tried to do so since but failed. Still, two Patterns, one Logrus, the maths are simple.
A pattern-ghost of Luke comes to Merlin in the Courts to deliver a message. Merlin sustains it with his blood. Corwin helps the pair escape the Courts, to ‘his’ Pattern, but this is another Pattern-Ghost, only produced by Corwin’s Pattern. As the only one ever to walk it, it is more durable as it has all his Pattern’s energy behind it. This is the Corwin who’s turned up here and there. The original is still missing.
All three walk the Pattern, en masse, which enables this one to sustain Luke. Luke-Ghost stays to guard it, Merlin trumps back to the Courts to meet Dara, but is diverted by another old playmate to discover a hidden shrine to Corwin. The meal with his mother does not go well. He probes her over what happened to Corwin but gets nowhere. He reveals that his father’s Pattern is becoming active, which disturbs her.
Returning to explore hidden parts of the Courts, Merlin is approached by Jurt, who he’s decided to kill on sight. But Jurt has undergone a total change of heart, apparently. The game is getting too big and too dangerous, he no longer wants the throne: not only does he think he wouldn’t be competent, but if he got there he’d only be a puppet of Dara and Mandor. As would Merlin be. So, reluctantly, they team up.
Jurt reveals that Dara plans to kidnap Coral, bring her to the Courts to become Merlin’s Queen, and bring the Jewel of Judgement, the Serpent’s Left Eye, the however many names you give it back to the Logrus. Merlin and Jurt decide to foil this, though their efforts are hampered by the need to attend Swayvill’s funeral, where they are to play prominent and visible roles.
During the funeral, the two candidates above Merlin in the succession both die. This places Merlin in pole position but gives him and Jurt the chance to sneak out to save Coral. They’re too late. A posse forms of this pair, Luke (who’s already fed up with being King) and the ty’iga possessed Nayda, who’s now gloriously happy since she’s shagging Luke, who she always fancied most. It also includes the mercenary Dalt.
For reasons left unexplained, Merlin wants the Luke-Ghost to do this, so he persuades Luke to swap places with the Ghost, who Merlin now renames Rinaldo for convenience, whilst Luke guards Corwin’s Pattern.
While they travel, Merlin reveals his spikard to Luke. The spikard is the ring of multiple magical powers and sources that Merlin’s been sporting since the last book, which caused him to tie faithful Frakir to a bedpost, never to be seen again. Luke, naturally, knows a bit more about spikards, that they are ancient and not to be trusted: he wonders if the spikard has been driving some of Merlin’s decisions since he donned it. Certainly, he feels weak and diminished without it on his finger, so it is, blatantly, something addictive, if not parasitical, or symbiotic if you want to be pleasant about it.
The pursuers catch the kidnappers at a tower being beseiged by two quartets of ghosts: four from Amber and the Pattern (including Eric and Caine), four from the Courts and the Logrus. The Amberites win. The pursuers surround a drugged Coral and defend her. The two Powers demand that she must go to one or other of them but Merlin is fighting to preserve Coral’s independence like his own. The pursuers are dragged to the Primal Pattern, where Luke negotiates their release by slashing his arm, cupping his blood in his hand and holding it over the Pattern.
Once back in Kashfa, Merlin goes off to sleep and have another of those dreams in which he’s addressed by various relatives. One of them is Delwin: you know, of Delwin and Sand, the mysterious Uncle and Aunt introduced into Corwin’s generation books ago for no apparent reason. Delwin’s here to tell Merlin that a spikard formerly belonging to Swayvill was introduced into Amber for him to find, bound with compulsion spells that would force him to claim Chaos’s throne and accept the orders off Mandor and Dara. Delwin bears a spikard of his own. He has the portentous line that they may never meet unless certain ancient powers are unleashed (a hint towards a putative Third Chronicles?), invites Merlin to touch his spikard to Delwin’s so they may meet but instead he’s blasted back to the Courts and another old playmate who delivers the other half of Delwin’s message, that the problem spikard left by Mandor was switched for the one Merlin bears, this by Bleys who makes a cameo to hand over the difficult spikard. Is Bleys a pattern-ghost? Was Delwin? God knows, this is getting so flimsy.

US Paperback

Anyway, the subtlety of the treacherous spikard turns out to be simple, crude chants of take the throne, listen to Mandor, do what Dara says and the like: easily resistible now.
Suddenly we’re rushing at the end. Merlin has finally woken up to where Corwin is. He and the Ghost invade the Courts. After the defeat by Amber, many prominent Chaosites started worshipping certain Amberites, setting up shrines to them: Mandor’s is of Fiona, someone else has Benedict, Dara has one of Corwin. Which is where Corwin is prisoner, in a locked cell in total darkness. Merlin releases him, his ghost replaces him. None of this is in the least characteristic of the Corwin of his Cycle but do we care by now? Corwin’s free.
And Merlin has one last task to do: he sets up a spot where he can work his spikard to the max, knowing it will attract Mandor and Dara. They challenge him, fight and lose. Merlin has Ghostwheel on his side. He faces down the Logrus. He will become King of Chaos but he will rule, not reign. He will be in charge. And nobody has any option but to accept it. Mandor and Dara don’t get the chance to ‘advise’ behind the scenes, unless Merlin proves to be crap at his new job and gets deposed.
So, offstage, Merlin tells Corwin his long story, to provide a final symmetry to events, and Corwin heads of back to Amber. End of story.
What do I say? What do I even begin to say? The Merlin Cycle is a mess, its infrequent good moments overwhelmed by its sheer incompetence? This is the point at which to begin an analysis, but to be honest it will have to be displaced to an unintended additional post. For that, you’ll have to wait another week.

Person of Interest: s04 e05 – Prophets


Kill me if you can

The early episodes of season 4 have been about accustoming us to the new reality of playing the Numbers game in a world ruled by Samaritan, but this is the point at which our beleaguered cast are drawn back into the higher but more basic conundrum of having to unpick the lock that Samaritan has upon our lives. From every angle, this was a storming episode, tight, taut, thoughtful and full of more developments than the average show could handle in less than three episodes. And fully coherent too.

Funny to go back and see that all this develops from a PoI-style comedy opening. ‘Riley’ and Fusco chase a crook up six flights of stairs to a rooftop where he leaps onto the parapet and threatens to jump. ‘Riley’ talks him into an attempt to grab a gun and shoot him, which leads to the traditional busted kneecap: ‘Hey, I saved his life’ is the detective’s plaint.

Less foreseeable is the two-part aftermath, a mountain of paperwork which keeps him off the job for the next Number, and a mandatory referral to Internal Affairs for counselling and surveillance over his propensity for shooting people.

So Reese is mainly peripheral to the Number, wizard pollster Simon Lee (Jason Ritter), spectacularly successful with ten winning campaigns already, an unbroken record and on the case of New York Governor, James Murray, all his figures pointing to a 52-48 majority ensuring re-election.

The race is won by challenger Michelle Perez (Caris Vucjec). By 52-48.

Simon can’t believe it. The numbers were right, they were locked down, he couldn’t have been wrong. Some of it is ego, but some of it is being right. Simon was correct: they couldn’t lose, but they did. Ergo, the Election was rigged. And it was. Simon’s big problem, which becomes a massive problem for the three people directly involved with trying to keep him alive, is the identity of the rigger. Which is Samaritan.

Samaritan has a plan for humanity’s appropriate governance. It’s not for Michelle Perez, who dies of a ‘medical complication’ in the middle of her victory spech, but for her successor, running mate Nick Dawson (Kevin Kilner), an eager-to-please, lacking-in-principle junior whose gubernatorial reign will benefit from advice from Liaison officer John Greer. Dawson’s one of 58 across the United States. Careful, thoughtful, controlled leadership. Power. Absolute Power. No need to remind us what that leads to.

And we’re given evidence of that in the form of flashbacks, of a kind we’ve not enjoyed for some time. These are all to between October and December 2001: an uncrippled Harold Finch is developing the early versions of the Machine, alongside Nathan Ingram (ah, Brett Cullen one more time). But these early iterations of the Machine are dangerous and uncontrollable except by killing. They write their own code, they try to escape, they are ruthless, they try to kill Harold over and over and over again. We can see the very good reason Finch has to fear Artificial Intelligence, and not merely Samaritan.

These flashbacks tie us to the extremely important middle of the episode. Root turns up in the Batcave, stripping out of one persona and becoming another. Reese, Finch, Shaw, they all have one life but the Machine has designed obsolescence into Miss Groves’ cover. Every 48 hours she changes, name, identity, occupation, chameleon-like, for purposes of which she knows nothing, but which she sustains from her absolute faith in the Machine.

Harold takes a step into the dark, welcoming her as an ally, as a comrade, but most of all as a friend. She has become a part of the team, in his eyes, and he is as concerned for her welfare as he is for Reese, Shaw and Fusco. And he’s acute enough to know that her contact with the Machine, the voice in her artificial ear is now non-existant, a severed line disguised by static and indirection, to save two lives: Root’s, and the Machine’s.

This is a war that can’t be won but mustn’t be lost. Root is coldly aware that there will be casualties, and that those casualties will encompass their little group. The Machine has changed her, but she remembers her old life: after that, a good death will be a privilege. Things can happen at any time – Root will in fact be wounded in a gloriously funny but brief shootout between her and Martine Rousseau, two hot women directed by two AI’s, firing two guns through floors and ceilings to keep each other busy – and if anything happens to her, Root want something said to Shaw. That teasing, flirtatious approach Root takes to Sameen is built upon something more, a subtext that a high proportion of the PoI audience started obsessing over, to the disgust of the neanderthal element that didn’t want girls playing in their boy’s game to begin with.

Elsewhere, Detective ‘Riley’ sits down with his counsellor, Dr Iris Campbell (Wrenn Schmidt). The Doctor’s too good looking to be taken seriously (ah, that red hair!) but the woman knows her stuff. Reese is under the handicap of having to lie about everything, but Iris is well aware of how ‘Riley’ is handling things, manipulating and concealing, and she has a grip like a steel trap. She even gets our split man to open up to something real, that he doesn’t like shooting people (you could have fooled us), in fact he hates it. It’s extremely odd from the John Reese we’ve loved these 72 episodes we’ve already watched, but Jim Caviezel sells it. He’s good at it, but most importantly, he gives his philosophy, that there are too many bad people in the world and not enough good ones, and if he doesn’t save these, who else will?

In the end, Finch saves Simon, but to do so he has to break him. Simon’s numbers change, showing his analysis to be wrong rather than there be any rigging. He’s destroyed either way but this way he gets to keep on breathing, and whilst in the PoI universe, that is seen as the greatest good, at least one member of the audience wondered if allowing his death might not have been the kinder end.

The episode ended on twin tracks. Samaritan wants to find the Machine. And Harold Finch confronts a camera and tells his creation that it’s time for them to talk. There are now thirty episodes left.

The Infinite Jukebox: Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ ‘The Tracks of my Tears’


Everybody has their maudlin song and ‘Tracks of my Tears’ is mine. It was the first single by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles to make the British chart, back in 1965 when it reached no 9, though needless to say I didn’t hear it then. But in the wake of ‘Tears of a clown’ reaching no. 1 in 1970 (the group’s only other UK top ten hit), a couple of re-issues made the top twenty and gradually I started to hear more classic Sixties Motown.
There was the wonderful ‘I Second That Emotion, an unusual song in that it’s about a relationship in which one party wants love and commitment and the other no more than the thrill of the kiss, but it’s the man who’s asking for more than just the chance of a one night stand.
And there was ‘The Tracks of my Tears’.
Musically, this and ‘Tears of a Clown’ are total opposites. The latter is a jaunty jolly tune, uptempo, hyperactive, full of carnival rhythm and buoyancy, whereas ‘Tracks of my Tears’ is slow, contemplative, blue. But lyrically they stand upon the same ground, the concealment of pain and loss by a cheerful countenance that is enforced by the singer’s desire not to publicly admit humiliation and hurt.
People say I’m the life of a party, cos I tell a joke or two. Although I might be laughing loud and hearty, deep inside I’m blue.
Why does that mean so much to me? Because it is me. The shy, nervous, inexperienced boy who had no idea how to talk to girls, least of all girls that I found attractive. The boy who kept falling in love with girls who never reciprocated, as much because they never noticed, were never told, than out of a lack of interest.
The one I did declare my feelings to, after she had gone away to University in London, sealed it for me, writing back in some confusion and surprise to effectively let me down gently. Her exact words, which I can remember 46 years later, talked of me ‘exchanging the mask of the clown for that of the lover’.
Smokey Robinson put it all into two lines when I couldn’t have summed it up in half a page, and singing it as well, with a cruel sweetness backed up by some of the softest do-dos ever laid down on vinyl.
Maybe I didn’t cry but I was in depression for twelve months, almost to the day. I have one abiding memory of that year, from March 1974 to March 1975, and that’s of sitting at the front on a 169/170 bus, returning from Droylsden or thereabouts, and rain pouring all down a window through which all I can see are sodium yellow smears. More often than not I’m writing a song-lyric. I haven’t kept many from that time.
Of course, the rest of the song doesn’t fit me at all. If you see me with another girl, seeming like I’m having fun: hah, that’s a laugh. There were no substitutes, cute or otherwise, just one lonely teenager heading into his twenties and still playing the clown to get people to look nicely at him.
And whenever I got to more than three drinks, this would always come into my mind and you might find me singing it, softly. My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you.
That was Then, and Then was a long time ago. It’s only as I read what I am writing that I have realised for the first time that I was exposing myself even as I hid. Just by a tiny crack, but in describing ‘Tracks of my Tears’ as my maudlin song, I was trying to escape from my self-imposed strictures. I was admitting, obliquely, that there was something else deep inside, that I wasn’t as happy and bouncy and boisterous as I presented myself.
Sadly, there was no-one there to pick up that message. No girl quietly looking on, wondering how to get me to look in her direction. That would have required a love song of an entirely different kind. And it would have required me to have the nous to see. A very slim chance.
Maybe if it wasn’t so soft and beautiful a song, built on a melody that tried to suggest that it was almost worth being broken-hearted to come up with a song as good as this, but even so long after and those days a distant but still undisplaced memory, you can’t get me to subscribe to that theory.
This kind of lyric was a bit of a running theme with Smokey. It was the same idea that ran through ‘Tears of a Clown’, though the carnival beat further emphasised the discrepancy between the surface and the heartbreak, and the lesser known ‘My Smile is Just a Frown (Turned Upside Down)’ (which also uses the line abut Pagliacci, in identical words, hoed the same row.
But it’s in ‘The Tracks of my Tears’ that William ‘Smokey’ Robinson took this idea to its apex, for me at any rate. I don’t get drunk any more, I don’t get maudlin. But this is my maudlin song and it always will be. People say I’m the life of the party cause I tell a joke or two.
Or three, or four…

Film 2020: Blazing Saddles


I first saw Blazing Saddles in the Burnage Odeon, forty-six years ago, in the year of its release, and I found it hilarious. The only film I found funnier in the whole of the Seventies came the following year, with Mel Brooks’ sequel, Young Frankenstein, which I had the advantage of seeing just after Granada TV had rebroadcast the first two Frankenstein films, giving me the advantage of a very fresh recollection of everything it parodied.

I also remember seeing it in North London, in 1977 after finishing my Solicitors’ Professional Exams. I originally went in to watch one of the myriad post-Sylvia Kristel Emmanuelle films that I found so dull and unarousing that I left to go to the gents and returned to a different multiplex cinema screen, showing this film.

This must be the dozenth time, minimum, that I’ve seen the film, and I think the magic is starting to finally wear off.

It’s still a hopelessly sprawling satire that lands all its jokes either on or close to the target, though the transgressive nature of its prolific use of the N-word has ceased to be particularly funny and is now growing irritating. It still spreads its wings comedically wide – the hanging scenes, with the Charles Laughton-esque Boris, and that killer line, ‘Thith one’th a doozie’, still explodes on sight – but the beans scene has finally passed the point of amusement.

The film satirises every cliche of western films it can, sometimes with a serious point, as in the inherent racism of the white West but more often for nothing but knockabout purposes, and it’s still a masterpiece in the unexpected with its multi-layered ending not so much breaking the fourth wall but ensuring there isn’t a big enough piece of it left for a mouse to stand on, but I find myself with curiously little to say about it and nothing in the least bit originally.

Perhaps it was a poor choice for today, a deep past trip too close to the one I fell down last night, or maybe at last you can have too much of a good thing. Blazing Saddles was fun again, but I am too tired to respond as I have always done before. To all those who are no longer here to watch how you entertained us, may the sunset you ride off into be chauffeur-driven, like Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder.

Oliver in the Overworld


Sometimes the memories just punch a hole right through your heart, when you see something again that you never expected to see again.

When I was young, and in that last year that my Dad was still alive, there was an ITV tea-time kids variety show called Little Big Time, hosted by Freddie Garritty, of Freddie and The Dreamers, and co-starring Pete Birrell, the Dreamers’ bassist, plus poor Graham Haberfield who was Jerry Booth on Coronation Street and Winston on The Dustbinmen. It was live every week and there was a serial on it, a musical serial, called ‘Oliver in the Overworld’.

Birrell played Oliver, a grandfather clock who woke Freddie up for school but who lost his memory and had to be taken by Freddie to the Overworld, the land of Machinery, where the Clockwork King would repair him by fitting a new undercog.

Every week I’d sit fascinated at the next stage. It was silly, it was childish, but by god it was full of life, and imagination, and each week there was a song, sometimes jumpy and bouncy, others sad and sweet, all of then pop songs of a kind that were rapidly becoming outmoded but which were right for me who was only just hearing pop for the first time.

Oh, of course it was too young for me: the studio audience, whose energy just rippled off the screen, were my sister’s age not mine, but I loved it and so did everybody who remembers it. nd wehave to remember because the tapes were wiped and none of it exists.

Some of it was preserved as a Freddie and The Dreamers LP, but not half the songs nor half the story. Long years after, long yearsago now, I bought it off eBay, digitized it onto CD. Oddly, as I’m working my way through all my self-burned CDs whilst I go through lockdown, I played it today.

So, about half an hour ago, I wondered if I could get a better version of the last song, a piercingly sweet lament, ‘I’ll come back and see you again’, a heartstring tugger. It’s not on YouTube… but nearly eight minutes of footage of ‘Oliver in the Overworld’ is, plus songs that aren’t on the album! And I have watched it with incredulity and been pulled out of my time, moved fifty years in my head and most of all my heart, stunned and crying because I have had that hole punched straight through me and for those few unbelievable minutes I have been looking at myself as a boy with so much to learn and so much shadow soon to fall, who is laughing his head off at watching the world grow in possibilities around him. A boy whose Dad isn’t, yet dead, who hasn’t got that lifetime of missing him ahead, who has not come back anywhere near 2020, and it is so real again.

Oh so real. And impossible to go back to and see again.

Lou Grant: s04 e02 – Harrassment


Secretary and Sleaze

Ladies and gentlemen, our subject for today is the sexual harrasment of women in the workplace, 1980 style. We will examine it from several angles, both by direct reportage and indirect depiction, showing it as both conscious and unconscious, we will show its effects on the two reporters dealing with the issue and along the way we will fail to bring everything together as a cohesive story. And, though a subtle conclusion will be depicted, the only actual outcome we will show is a failure. However, in not ‘solving’ the problem we will at least be true to life.

I’m not really sure how much detail I need to go into about this episode of Lou Grant: the somewhat didactic paragraph above basically says it all. The episode began with the quasi-comic scenario of a guy in a pick-up running over garbage cans to frighten the man putting his out but crashing into a car and getting badly injured.

This was Warren, over-emotional, heavily jealous, defending his wife Lorraine (who was not quite the beauty she was in his eyes), who’d been fired by her boss for ‘developing a bad attitude’, the bad attitude including resenting said boss grabbing her breast.

Rossi’s on that side of the story, taking seriously the aspect of the effect on the husband of a sexually harrassed wife, growing to hate the story because of what he’s learning about his fellow man.

Closer to home, the rest of the episode revolved around the Trib itself. The new reporter – actually an old one returning after leaving to have kids – is Catherine Marks (Lynn Carlin). At first Lou resents her for Charlie hiring her over his choice, but her no-nonsense attitude and obvious ability wins him over and they start dating, until the sexual harrassent story gets in the way and both are forced to confront the extent to which the boss-employee relationship may influence them: didacticism 101.

Then there’s Heidi. Heidi (Cassandra Foster) is the City Room hottie, whose desk must always be kept within sight, and who the men, Lou included, get up to watch leave in  her tight pants, bending over.

Of more importance is Karen (Marilyn Jones), a fresh faced, blonde girl with a hint of a young Laura Dern, newly employed in advertising under boss Lloyd Bracken (David Spielberg). Lloyd’s your basic sleazebag boss. Karen’s obviously been employed for her looks and the expectation she’ll sleep with him. He’s full of suggestiveness, touchy-feely hands on shoulders or hugs. Karen hates it, but can’t break the cycle because she’s one of the many many women who go through this thing feeling helpless: unable to protest, unwilling to fight, to create the hassle.

Billie’s on her part of the story. Billie is intially cool. Billie doesn’t stand for foolishness, she striks back immediately, and she has a lack of empathy for why other women don’t/can’t do what she does that’s surprising in a reporter. but Billie is seeing Karen’s story at close range, trying to be supportive, but not quite gettng why Karen puts up with it.

There’s no ending to a story like this, no credible way of saying we’ve won over this kind of male-domain privilege and entitlement. The Trib runs the story. Mrs Pynchon sets up a Grievance Comittee where Karen and her ilk can raise complaints. Karen won’t use it though, Karen’s quitting, in the hope (no doubt vain) that she can find a job where her looks won’t count against being allowed to get on and work.

Rossi, given the chance to quite legitimately get his hands on Heidi, passes it up and even averts his gaze from her raised-to-his-eye-level bum.

The only end we get is Billie getting exasperated at Lloyd’s win and shopping him to Lou, who, now he knows what he wanted to know no longer wants to know it. But Lloyd’s after a reporter to assist in designing an a. It’s pretty clear where his thoughts lie as he names Heidi first (I need her for something), then Susie (she’s busy). Then Lou gets that sneaky look on his face and offers Billie, who Lloyd accepts. We’re being offered the offscreen solution that Lloyd will try it on with her and wind up out on his ear as Billie will not back away from a complaint, but it’s a weak ending that hopes we’ll overlook all the reasonable objections Lloyd would be able to mount.

No, not an episode that works, for all that it bravely Shows instead of Telling. It was defeated by the complexity of the subject, even though the subject is devastatingly simple: it’s Wrong, all of it. And somehow that basic point, the wood, if you like, was not really visible for all the trees.

 

Once Upon a Time in Amber: Knight of Shadows


At long last, something of an overall story is starting to form, though we still have a long and slow start to the penultimate volume before we begin to see anything of it.
We left Merlin, Mandor and Jasra in the ruins of the Keep of the Four Worlds, after the partially enhanced Jurt, and Mask the Sorceror, finally revealed to be Merlin’s ex-girlfriend Julia, have departed, the latter with Merlin’s dagger in her kidney. Jasra binds the Keep’s former master, Sharu Garrul to the Fount of Power as it’s Invisible Guardian, and leads everyone off to a place of rest where Mandor conjures up a culinary delight for the background to yet another of those frustrating question-for-question sessions where nobody discloses anything more than they have to.
We do learn that Julia became interested in magic when Merlin showed her various glimpses of power without ever trusting her enough to explain: Julia turned out to be a powerful natural sorceress and studied under Jasra whilst concealing her wider ambitions.
Jasra’s own power derives from the way of the Broken Pattern: up to nine such Patterns exist in Shadows close to Amber, in diminishing degrees of reliability. Becoming an initiate requires walking the interstices, not the Pattern, and Jasra led Julia through this, eventually enabling her to attack and overcome Jasra and seize the Keep.
Ultimately, the talk turns to Kashfa and Begma. Jasra knows the Prime Minister and his daughters, and also the rumours about Coral’s parentage, which Merlin confirms. The trio pool their concentration to contact Coral, in a very dark place, held by a massive concentration of power, which lashes back at them through Shadow. Ghostwheel disperses all three, removing Merlin to a very obscure place in Shadow, surrounded by wards.
First Dworkin, then Oberon, try to summon Merlin to a task involving Coral. Both are pattern-ghosts, unreal representations taken of the originals when walking the Pattern. Both are dissolved by the wards but the next to appear is Corwin, who is more real, passes the barriers and knocks Merlin out. He wakes in a black and white desert without sound, his Trumps useless. When he summons the sign of the Logrus, it knocks him out.
The Logrus summoning temporarily enables his strangling cord, Frakir, to talk, and give him directions as to where he must go. It leads him to a chapel in which he must firstly guard armour overnight, then don it to progress. Merlin must choose between Chaos and Amber. He refuses to do so, even in the face of the Serpent and the Unicorn, but a Chaos dagger is sneaked onto his person, deciding for him.
Merlin travels on, interminably (we will get to the objective, I promise, but this is ninety percent filler so far). En route he meets further Pattern-ghosts of Brand and of Deirdre. Brand explains that these can be stabilised by the Blood of Amber, but when Merlin cuts his wrist it bleeds fire and consumes Brand.
Next, he meets and races Jurt. For a time they team up, putting their differences aside. Merlin sustains Jurt’s ghost with blood. The next ghost is Caine, as an antagonist, then Duke Borel. At long long last Merlin is vouchsafed access to Random and Vialle’s bedroom in Amber and required to steal the Jewel of Judgement. Borel reappears, to attack him, and Benedict, to defend him. It is slowly becoming clear that this is some form of contest between the powers, the Pattern and the Logrus.

UK edition

Merlin and Jurt trek on still, until they find a door that gives them access to a Pattern. Merlin realises this is the first of the Broken Patterns. Coral is at its centre and to reach her, Merlin has to walk the Pattern, using the Jewel to reconstruct it as did Oberon with the Primal Pattern. His way is blocked by a Logrus-ghost of himself, but Jurt sacrifices himself to remove him.
Once at the centre of a repaired Pattern, he finds Coral sleeping. The Pattern will not send them away until they have sex. Despite being three-quarters asleep, Coral welcomes Merlin’s attentions, and then they can return to Amber. Merlin sends her to find her father and get him off that hook whilst he recovers from his exhaustion.
Before he can sleep he has to confront the voice of the Pattern, towards which he is disrespectful, then Dworkin – the real Dworkin, fully sane – comes looking for the Jewel. He warns Merlin that to remove the Jewel now will probably kill him.
So Merlin goes off for a long sleep in the blue crystal cave, where time flows far faster than Amber, before attuning himself to the Jewel.
Back in Amber, he tries to replace the Jewel without its absence having been noted. He also tries to contact Luke, but Luke is preoccupied. Then he is distracted by Coral, who wants to see her sister. Ghostwheel summons Mandor to lift his spell, but the moment Nayda sees the Jewel, which she terms the Left Eye of the Serpent, she grabs it and runs.
Merlin pursues. The ty’iga confirms it was sent to protect Merlin by his mother, Dara (that Merlin never even considered that possibility is evidence of the level of stupidity this Cycle operates upon) but it has a higher purpose if it gets the chance: to grab the Jewel and return it to the Logrus. Within Amber Castle, the two powers confront each other, hurling accusations about actions that have tipped the balance between them. Ghostwheel stands between them, refusing to pledge to either. The signs meet, causing a massive silent explosion that blows a hole across two floors of the wing. Mandor sustains a broken arm, Coral damage to her right eye. Merlin realises with disgust that the Powers have no concern for their servants, only their rivalry.
Everybody makes shift to sort things out. Dworkin operates on Coral. Random updates Merlin on the situation in Kashfa where his nominee was supposed to be crowned today. Unfortunately, a mercenary horde under Dalt has attacked, captured the Duke and installed a new King to be crowned: Rinaldo, aka Luke, exactly as he and Dalt had cooked up. Random wants Merlin to represent Amber at the new coronation.

US edition

After a symbolic dream-diversion in the Corridor of Mirrors that stalls things for the penultimate chapter, and a search of the semi-demolished quarters of Brand during which he finds Brand’s old sword and also a ring of potent powers that he keeps for himself, Merlin gets to Kashfa and contacts Luke secretly. Dworkin and Coral have disappeared, operation outcome unknown. There’s a suggestion Corwin’s been using his quarters in Amber secretly. Merlin meets Luke in a Chapel, hands over a coronation present of Brand’s blade. They are attacked by the powered-up Jurt. He steals the sword but is injured. He takes hostage a shrouded woman in the chapel, threatens her life. She is Coral, wearing an eyepatch. She is also Luke’s wife. She thrusts Jurt away from her, torments him before he trumps out. Behind the eyepatch is the red glow of the Eye of Chaos, the Left Eye of the Serpent, the Jewel of Judgement…
The bit about being Luke’s wife? Long story…
As you may have gathered, much of my response to the Second Chronicles is exasperation. We are now four books in, yet the amount of useful, purposeful story is not yet enough to fill one. Increasingly, the books are filled with scenes that strike me strongly as filler, such as the Corridor of Mirrors chapter that does nothing but bulk the book out to its required length. And to take three and a half books to introduce your point is, I would argue, amateurish writing. All we have had to date is puzzle after puzzle and a determined effort not to solve any of these, which is an acceptable technique for a first book, provided resolutions start to appear in the second. Instead, we had yet more puzzles and the equally infuriating profusion of people having answers that they refuse to disclose, for little better reason than cussedness and a schoolyard I-know-something-that-you-don’t.
I’d also adduce the business with the powerful ring, which we’ll later learn is called a spikard. For nearly four full books, Merlin’s most reliable self-defence weapon is Frakir the strangling cord. It even gets a voice in the first half of this volume. Yet the moment he finds the spikard, Merlin ties Frakir to a bedpost and leaves it, for good.
And the spikard is a concentrated cheat. Zelazny has tied up so much in this Cycle in Merlin being a sorceror and sorcery being a thing of study, preparation, time and strength. Then he gets tired of all that and throws in a Wham Bam Thank You Mam, instant Magic-on-a-stick device that can do anything on a second’s notice. That’s what I call cheap cheating.
One book to go. I wonder if my self of the mid-Nineties was as uninvested in finding out what and why as I currently feel.

On Writing – What they don’t tell you about


Sometimes, you can get sick to death of the sight of your own work.

I spent much of 2019 working on a third novel featuring the characters of Love Goes to Building on Sand and And You May Find Yourself. The book was complete in Second Draft by January, but I was unhappy with some aspects of it so I put it away for a couple of months whilst I worked on something else. Over the Easter weekend, I pulled up the Working Draft again and started going over it.

That meant going through it chapter by chapter, a combination of proof-reading, some revising, correcting slips (I had gotten lost in the timescale at one poit and needed to push the start of the book back two months to accommodate and there were still remnants of the original dating to correct). The final chapter was where I had really let things get away from me, and the most extensive work was needed to finally put the book to bed.

Then there’s the process of putting the book through publication at Lulu.com. This meant extracting each chapter individually to create individual word documents. Then eliminating widow and orphan controls en masse for each chapter (which just doesn’t work on documents of greater size). Then setting up a Lulu template for an A5 book, with titles, copyright, publication details and dedications. Then, one chapter at a time, converting the font from the 11-point Arial I use on screen to the 11-point Palatino Linotype I use in print and pasting the result, one chapter at a time, into the template, checking after each chapter to ensure there are no widow-orphan white spaces, balancing each chapter heading centrally.

Which means that over the past ten days I have read, or skimmed, through every bloody chapter four or five times, until, as I said at the start, I am sick to death of what I have written and never want to look at it again!

But the next step is to upload the print copy to Lulu where, despite the fact I am using the specific template for the book-size I want to create, it will come out wrong and they will re-size my text for the PDF that will be created, meaning that I will have to skim-read through the whole damned thing as many times as necessary to ensure no orphan-widow issues  creep into the print-ready text (if I have done things exactly as I believe I have done, it should all work out correct first time, but I’ve published too many print volumes through Lulu to believe that will ever happen).

Then I can go on to the cover designer to complete the process and order a print copy for my own library, where I will not touch it for a minimum of twelve months because, as I may have mentioned this, I AM SICK TO DEATH OF WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN!

This is one of the aspects of writing a book that they don’t tell you about often enough.

Person of Interest: s04 e04 – Brotherhood


Not standing out

We’re far enough into seasion 4 now for me to note that PoI is concentrating all its efforts on how Team Machine is responding to the changed circumstances of their world now that Samaritan is under operation without putting them into direct opposition with Greer and his pet machine.

As such, we need an arc to keep the series from relapsing into a season 1 progression of Numbers, and this episode is where that arc is defined.

Our Numbers are two kids, Malcolm and Tracie Booker, aged 14 and 8 respectively, separated in foster homes half the city apart whilst their mother is in jail for possessing an illegal firearm. The siblings only see each other because Malcolm walks his little sister to school. Reese is watching Malcolm’s school, Shaw Tracie’s, but neither kid has turned up.

This is because, on the way, the kids have come across a drugs shoot-out, between the new and very effective gang, the Brotherhood, and the Armenians, in which only one gang member, the hulking ‘Mini’ (Winston Duke), a no-account footsoldier, is the only, wounded survivor. And they’ve walked away with a shoulderbag containing $500,000 in cash.

The Brotherhood want their money back. They also want to set an example to all others thinking of taking advantage in such windfall circumstances.

The kids are not difficult to find, buying new smart, professional clothes with which to approach a top-notch Lawyer to get their mother free. Malcolm (Amir Mitchell-Townes) has his head screwed on right, in some ways. His catchphrase is ‘If you wanna be the man, you gotta have a plan’ but Detective ‘Riley’ has to explain that any plan that starts with ripping off half a million dollars from a highly-organised street gang that will kill them as soon as look at them is not a well-founded plan.

The Brotherhood are well-organised. Their leader, Dominic, is an enigma, unknown, unseen. His right-hand man Link Cordell (Jamie Hector) has already been brought down by ‘Riley’, but been sprung thanks to the ‘willingness’ of one of the gang’s cornerboys to take the rap. Shaw kidnaps Mini to coerce information on Dominic out of him (look very closely at that name, people). And ‘Professor Whistler’ sets up a covert meeting with Elias on a subway train, only to come up short. And he has to lie to Elias’s face when the latter talks of something having changed in the world: Harold, whose first instinct is not to tell, denies any knowledge and hurries away: dead giveaway.

To protect the Booker kids, to recover the cash, to bring the Brotherhood down, ‘Riley’ teams up with DEA Agent Erica Lennox (Rosie Benton, playing grey-suited, hair-scraped-back professional). There’s a teasing flirtatiousness between the pair from the outset. Lennox warns ‘Riley’ that the Brotherhood have moles everywhere, including in the DEA. The moment she says that, everyone’s PoI radar immediately switches on to the prospect that it’s her and we are not wrong. When Malcolm reveals the whereabouts of the cash, Lennox goes for it… and doesn’t come back.

The endgame sees Malcolm take the brave decision to offer himself as a recruit to the Brotherhood, in exchange for his sister’s life being guaranteed (the whole thing is his responsibility, from the start: the illegal firearm was his and his mother went to jail covering up for him), and ‘Riley’ buying him out of this again with the fake shoulderbag that contains mostly waste paper.

Meanwhile, Shaw has let Mini escape, with a tracker on him, and follows him to a launderette where she cuffs him again, finds their stash of heroin, and buys ‘Riley’ back by threatening to torch it.

So the kids get away, and ‘Riley’ arranges for a new foster home together, and a lawyer’s appointment. Malcolm wants to be a lawyer himself, or a cop, like ‘Riley’. It’s a nice future. Maybe he’ll get it.

Because Link picks up the hapless, slow-talking Mini, who talks about the Brotherhood using him because he has a good head on him. In the back dseat is Agent Lennox and a shoulderbag. She can explain it all, she just needs to meet their boss.

And Mini turns in his seat and shoots her through the head. “You just met him,” he says. Do-Mini-c. Hide in plain sight. He knew about Shaw’s tracker, he led her to a minor stash, an unimportant sacrifice. Dominic is dangerous. He knows the score, he understands he won’t be on top forever, he’s in the game aware of only one rule: We all die in the end.

And Professor Whistler sits down next to Elias on a subway train again, to apologise for the lie Elias knew about. Things have changed, though  he can’t say more. He gives Elias a copy of The Invisible Man, including an address to start finding out about the Brotherhood. There is a new war afoot. And defeat is not tio be allowed…