Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Pop Culture Archive

Monday

20

November 2017

0

COMMENTS

Good Riddance, Transparent

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Criticizing Transparent has always been weird for me as a transgender woman, knowing that the very existence of the show was a step in the right direction for a marginalized and underrepresented community. The show has served as a great source of employment for the transgender community. The recent sexual misconduct allegations made against Jeffrey Tambor by two of the show’s transgender staff, which lead to his departure from the series, is upsetting for many reasons. The fact that Transparent is likely finished as a series is not one of them.

Transparent is not a show about transgender people. There is a transgender character in the lead role, played by the decidedly non-transgender Tambor, but the show is mostly about Maura’s angst riddled family, the upperclass Pfeffermans from Los Angeles. Stylistically, the show has strong roots with the mumblecore genre, seen in Girls, Togetherness, and Looking,  complete with the presence of mumblecore legend Jay Duplass (also non-transgender) in the main cast. For those unfamiliar with the mumblecore movement, it is a genre defined by seemingly aimless narratives and characters who are often derided as “adult children,” usually quite accurately.

Transparent was always about that, the melancholy trials and tribulations of being wealthy and sad in 21st Century America. As a fan of mumblecore, I’ve always been apprehensive about disliking the show for being a part of that movement, but the experiences that mumblecore often depicts are far removed from the issues that affect transgender people in every day life. Transgender people face immense discrimination at work, which is fundamentally linked to our ability to afford medical treatments as simple as HRT, where the difference between $10 prescription and one costing $300 is mostly a matter of employment (due to our healthcare system), at a time when elected politicians fight to allow companies the ability to fire us at will. It would have been nice if Transparent could have focused more on those issues and less on all the orchestra of whining done by the adult Pfefferman children. The show hasn’t been cancelled yet, but it wouldn’t lose much of a beat if it kept going. The lack of a transgender lead hardly changes the show, which has been its problem all along.

The mumblecore comparisons do help in one key regard. Transparent represents the transgender community about as well as Girls accurately depicts Brooklyn millennials. To be fair, It is hard to say what kind of television show could ever represent such a diverse group as the transgender community, but a whiny affluent family from Los Angeles does not immediately come to mind as the model I would use. HBO’s Looking serves a great contrast as a mumblecore style show that depicted San Francisco’s gay community. It wasn’t necessarily a show strictly about being gay, but its use of a predominantly gay cast & crew gave the aura of authenticity that eluded Transparent. Being trans was never firmly rooted in Transparent’s zeitgeist. How could it have been?

In The Transgender Manifesto, I make the fairly simple observation that transgender people are fully capable of playing any character, cisgender or otherwise. Fictional narratives rarely dive into the subject of transgender identity, and the presence of a transgender character does not require one to do so. We are in fact, people. Representation in film and television is still to this day a huge issue for people who are not white and male. The idea of a black Othello was once seen as an outrage, despite the character’s own background. We’ve come a long way since then, but we couldn’t have a transgender lead in a show that traded off transgender people to diversify itself in a crowded field.

And yet, we had Transparent, the transgender show that wasn’t about transgender people. Yes, it increased our visibility (what that actually means, I’m not quite sure) and it certainly employed transgender people. I guess that counts for something. It is a poor depiction of transgender life. It didn’t need to be. The transgender community deserves better.

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Tuesday

14

November 2017

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Remembering Chuck Mosley

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

The news that Chuck Mosley, the original singer of Faith No More, had passed away last week is sad on many levels. As an artist, Chuck changed the landscape of rock music with the albums We Care a Lot and Introduce Yourself, blending rap and hard rock, starting a movement that defined much of the 90s. But Chuck the legend wasn’t really the Chuck that I knew.

I was fortunate to have a chance to meet Chuck this past August, when his band came through Los Angeles, as his longtime percussionist/manager Doug Esper and I are both signed to the same publisher. It was through Doug’s frequent Facebook posts documenting their touring adventures that I got a sense of Chuck, the person. Knowing that the world lost that Chuck is what’s truly heartbreaking about this news.

Chuck treated me like an old friend from the moment I walked up to him outside the Viper Room, immediately including my friend and me in a conversation about some music he’d recorded earlier that day as if he’d known us for twenty years. He was extremely kind and gracious whenever fans came up for a picture or an autograph. After learning of his affection for silver sharpies from his band, I gave him the one I’d brought so he could sign my vinyl sleeve of We Care a Lot, prompting Chuck to insist I take the pen he’d been using in exchange. It seems like a silly story, but that kind of genuine warmth can be pretty hard to come by in this world.

When Chuck took the stage at The Viper Room, he proclaimed to the audience that he was so nervous he had to do a couple shots to calm his nerves. That kind of openness and vulnerability is rare, especially to see from someone in front of a crowd. With Chuck, what you saw was what you got. His nerves certainly didn’t stop him from putting on one hell of a show.

You could tell Chuck was one of the good ones by the way his band spoke of him, full of affection for his various quirks and warm personality. I’ve seen countless stories on social media over the past few days of people with similar stories of Chuck’s kindness and heart. He shared a friendship with Doug in particular that transcended bandmates or business partners. They cared about each other. Perhaps that notion was so apparent because we think of show business as such a cutthroat industry.

Chuck never tried to hide his struggles or the demons he battled throughout his life. The statement put out by his family, “After a long period of sobriety, Charles Henry Mosley III lost his life, on November 9th, 2017, due to the disease of addiction. We’re sharing the manner in which he passed, in the hopes that it might serve as a warning or wake-up call or beacon to anyone else struggling to fight for sobriety” further demonstrates his giving spirit, the kind of openness that is inspiring through its unrelenting grounding in reality.

I’ll never forget Chuck, and not because of his unforgettable sound. He lived a hard life, but remained a genuinely good person right until the end. My heart goes out to his family and friends, who have lost such a kind soul. I’m grateful I had the chance to get to know him, if only for a single evening. Chuck touched a lot of people through his music, but also through his grace as a person. Thanks for caring Chuck. We care a lot too.

Donations for Chuck’s memorial service and funeral expenses can be made here.

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Monday

28

August 2017

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Game of Thrones Season 7 Recap: Episode 7

Written by , Posted in Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

Of the Seven Kingdoms in Westeros, four have unclear leadership. We don’t really know who controls The Stormlands, the Reach, Dorne, and the Riverlands. We’re not even really sure who controls the Westerlands, given that the Unsullied took Casterly Rock and it isn’t quite clear whether Jaime or Cersei sit at the head of House Lannister (Cersei as Queen technically would not, if you go by how the Baratheons handled Storm’s End, but Jaime riding off on his own suggests he’s not really head either). While Littlefinger and knights of the Vale were prominent figures this season, we haven’t seen Lord Sweetrobin on screen since season five.

I mention this because Cersei’s sole condition for agreeing to the truce was that Jon needed to stay neutral in her fight against Dany once the ice zombies are all dead. This, coupled with the hiring of the Golden Company and their 20,000 men (plus elephants), signals that Cersei is pretty worried about the size of her army. The problem is that the North has been in continuous conflict since season one. Their army is spent. Cersei should not be worried about Jon. He really isn’t that important in any context other than the one where he’s a main character. A much better strategy would be to try and placate the Vale, something that Cersei already once did successfully during the War of the Five Kings and then to try and recruit former Tyrell/Martell/Tully/Baratheon bannermen in the regions. If there’s a million people in King’s Landing alone, there must be more troops. We’ve neither seen nor heard any conflicting evidence that would suggest these armies are gone.

We saw a similar lapse in judgment on Dany/Jon’s side of the equation. We had no reason to believe that they thought Euron didn’t actually abandon Cersei. That wouldn’t even really be that important, as long as his fleet wasn’t actually in King’s Landing. Jon and Dany sat around the dragon pit worrying about their failed plan without really ever considering attacking their very vulnerable opponent.

This episode’s meeting wasn’t about logic. It was the single largest gathering of major players since Robert Baratheon and his attaché marched north to recruit Ned to become Hand in the first episode of the series. The show knew the gravity of this moment, giving it half the episode.

The idea of expectations for such a meeting is fundamentally problematic. We weren’t going to get some Red Wedding style twist, not with six episodes left in the series. Instead, we got a bunch of reunions. Tyrion/Cersei, Tyrion/Bronn/Podrick, Brienne/Jaime, Hound/Brienne, Hound/Mountain, Euron/Reek, and Varys/all the people he screwed. That was essentially the only way that scene could deliver. There was no realistic way to live up to all the years of hype.

It hit its mark. It was fun television. The unveiling of the wight was a little over the top theatrical, with the Hound carrying it in on his back and Jon/Davos performing some kind of fire trick like magicians at a children’s birthday party. The plan worked and that felt kind of odd because the plan was stupid, but that was never the point.

This season’s biggest fault is that it has focuses way too much on where it wants to go and not enough time on how to get there. The Night King needed a dragon to melt the wall. The showrunners needed to get all the major players to King’s Landing for a meeting. So that moronic plan was hatched. And yet I can’t deny I was enjoying myself, sitting there watching a television show. We don’t want that to be enough since this is the kind of show where people log onto the internet after each episode to share their thoughts. Sometimes, it is enough.

The resolution of the Littlefinger plotline functioned in very much the same way. The master planner is dead because of a half baked scheme to plot sister against sister mostly hinging on an old letter that Sansa clearly wrote under duress. This doesn’t make much sense, but Littlefinger had outstayed his welcome on the show. So he died. For some reason.

Bran ex machine is tricky. The show could have done a better job of explaining how Bran knows absolutely everything, selectively. Sam bringing up the annulment right there during the R + L = J reveal was way too convenient. Bran is a problematic character in general, but the show isn’t even trying to explain how he chooses to dump his omniscient thoughts onto the characters. It forces the viewer to do the show’s work for it, taking joy in Littlefinger’s death without wondering how exactly that “trial” came to be set up.

This episode loved keeping its characters in the dark in favor of a dramatic reveal for the audience. It was fun to watch Jon tell Cersei he had pledged to Dany much to the surprise of his advisors. Euron’s dramatic exit was great, even though Cersei didn’t tell Jaime or seemingly any other advisor that he hadn’t actually abandoned them. Bran telling Ser Piggy about Jon was fun even though it makes no sense that he hasn’t told his sisters, or Jon himself. These are fun moments, if you don’t stop to think about them.

Reek continues to be the worst part of this show. He didn’t mention freeing Yara to anyone in King’s Landing, waiting until they were back on Dragonstone before whining to Jon. There’s been a Reek redemption cycle for a few seasons now. The whole forgiveness thing for his Stark betrayal was supposed to be settled when he resucued Sansa. Apparently not. It’s boring. He’s horrible. Please kill him.

I feel obliged to mention the Jon/Dany romance. I actually kind of forgot about it. It’s pretty forgettable. Putting the incest aside, the two have horrible chemistry. I’m sure this is partially due to the fact that Khal Drogo/Ygritte/Daario all played the pursuing role in their courtship of these two, but it also just seems rushed and inevitable.

Where is Gendry? Did he collapse from his marathon sprint back to the Wall? Or did the others make him row back from Eastwatch?

The Wall crumbles. I guess that capturing that wight was worth it… I hope Beric and Tormund survived. I imagine they did. Looks like show is going to deal with the ice zombies before the game of thrones is fully settled. Or maybe they’ll wrap up at same time.

Overall this was a good episode despite its shortcomings. It had to set the table for season seven. It accomplished that goal.

That’s it for this week, but we’re not quite done with the season just yet. I’ll post the season in review with the return of character letter grades sometime next week. Thanks for reading.

 

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Sunday

20

August 2017

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COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 7 Recap: Episode 6

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

I want to first address the sheer stupidity of the magnificent seven’s journey beyond the Wall and the extreme, because I don’t want to focus on it for the entire recap. The idea that the sole purpose for this adventure was to convince Cersei that the White Walkers were real is beyond the pale preposterous. Jon even admitted as much on the boat, after the fact. Everyone should have known before. Absolutely everyone, except maybe Jorah.

Going beyond the wall in general is a very bad idea. We learned that in the opening few moments of the show and then again in the first season when Benjen Stark went missing. If that wasn’t enough, we had Joer Mormont’s “great ranging” in season two that completely decimated the already severely depleted forces of the Night’s Watch. Not smart! Not worth a dragon and poor Thoros of Myr, who everyone knew was a goner the second Jorah brought up the Siege at Pyke.

This show has been making ridiculous decisions all season just to protect Cersei as a major player. She is a great character, one of the show’s best. That doesn’t really explain why she’s queen or why Dany’s significantly larger forces have to suffer strange and unrealistic losses. The show offered very weak excuses for why the entire armies for both the Reach and Dorne are all gone due to losing single battles against weaker foes, especially when this very episode made a big deal out of the 20,000 Vale soldiers (the Tyrell should have had at least double that, even without the Tarly’s). An easier solution would have been to have Dany sail into Westeros with a fleet that didn’t outnumber everyone else by a 3 to 1 margin. The show likes its big moments. It just often doesn’t care how it gets them.

This episode was probably the best of the season. The narratives were expertly paced, benefitting from a narrower focus. The trouble with a seven episode season is that sidelining major characters for even an episode matters, but Game of Thrones is usually at its best when it isn’t trying to juggle the entire cast.

The trouble with even saying it was probably the best is that it forces us to put aside the utter stupidity of the events that put all these fun characters beyond the wall, as well as the equally absurd notion that Dany would be in any position to save them all the way in Dragonstone. I’d prefer if we didn’t have to do that. Part of the reason I’m such a big book fan is that George R.R. Martin respects the intelligence of his audience. His writing is some of the richest and most complex I’ve ever read. This show does win a lot of Emmys including for its writing, so I could just be full of hot wind. Suspension of disbelief allows us to accept that there are dragons and ice zombies in the show. It isn’t meant to explain how Jon could have Gendry run back to the Wall to have Davos send a raven to Dragonstone that somehow gets to Dany in enough time for her to climb aboard her dragons and journey up beyond the Wall.

Jorah’s conversation with Jon has me thinking he’ll take the black again, following through on his father’s dying (book only) wish to Sam. I’d care more about this if it didn’t mean that he’d have to depart from Dany yet again. Why couldn’t he have died instead of Thoros?

Why would Jon wait until they were beyond the Wall to try and give Longclaw to Jorah? Was he planning to throw snowballs at the wildlings?

Were they using obsidian? Kind of just looked like normal weapons. So much for all that mining!

Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion have the odd distinction among tertiary characters of having been treated both better and worse by the show than their book counterparts. Their show reputation suffered in season three when they sold Gendry to Melisandre, which didn’t happen in the books. Show Gendry is essentially a composite of two of Robert’s bastards. Book Gendry stayed with the Brotherhood Without Banners, while Edric Storm was Robert’s bastard who Davos saved from Melisandre. Beric and Thoros did try to ransom Arya for profit, but they intended to bring her to her mother at Riverrun. Not quite the same thing.

Why did they only bring major characters on the journey? The overhead shots all show additional characters that aren’t seen in the closeups. Don’t they know redshirt characters are always the ones who die? Poor Thoros.

Beric is also the one who dies in the books, though he sacrifices himself to allow Thoros to resurrect Catelyn Stark in the form of Lady Stoneheart. Thoros eventually regrets this decision as Lady Stoneheart spends most of her time in command hunting down Freys, which wasn’t really the purpose of the BWB. Between their fun times with The Hound and Beric’s scenes with Jon, the two have certainly been more fun in the show.

Does The Hound also have a crush on Brienne? I’d normally approve of a love triangles, but Tormund and Brienne need to get married ASAP. The show is almost over!

How does Eastwatch have a maester but Castle Black does not? Did one of the wildlings go to the citadel? Were those brothers of the Night’s Watch with Davos? Who is in charge of things!?!

Tyrion’s scene with Dany regarding succession demonstrated the messy nature of war and politics. He’s right to note that a clear line of succession is important and that Dany can’t have kids. Dany is right to note that Tyrion is the brother of her sworn enemies and doesn’t have the best track record as of late. Tyrion probably shouldn’t have brought up that topic when they were alone either. His position is a rational one, but that was not the best time to discuss it.

The separate mentions of children in conversations involving Jon and Dany suggests they’ll almost certainly have kids. Biological ones, not dragons. I don’t think the final season of Game of Thrones would be complete without more incest!

Sansa and Arya’s fight also demonstrates the complexity of the mess. We can say that Arya was being irrational and shouldn’t have been so suspicious of her sister, but how rational should we really expect Arya to be? Playing the game of “who’s suffered most” is a risky proposition, but Arya was all by herself for a lot longer than the rest of the characters and only recently returned. She’s also killed a lot of people. It is completely normal that she’s actually completely irrational and paranoid.

Sansa’s forced letter to Robb was inaccurate. Ned only conspired with Renly, not Stannis. If you’re going to be coerced into writing something, at least get the facts straight!

It’d be nice if Bran could step in and stop the fight. He doesn’t have to know everything to know when to be a good brother.

Littlefinger lives to die another episode. This season has played up his creepiness, but it hasn’t really addressed his love of Sansa. Some might say he’s not actually in love with her given what happened with Ramsey, but Book Littlefinger does show “true” affection for Catelyn/Sansa. I put true in quotation marks because it’s pretty impossible to know what Littlefinger really feels.

Why hasn’t Jon sent Sansa any letters? He seemed to be able to communicate with Dany quite easily. Is Littlefinger hiding the letters? Or is Jon just only interested in sending ravens to his aunt/future wife?

Poor Viserion. If only he could have traveled a little slower. The timeframe of the battle is quite a mystery. Jon sent Gendry to get help when they were in trouble, but managed to hold out for the weeks it would have taken the raven to get to Dragonstone. The show’s CGI budget is probably more important than logic.

Obligatory Coldhands/Benjen mention. Did Bran send him? Does the show care enough about logic to specify? I doubt it.

This episode sure felt like a typical penultimate one in the vein of “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall,” “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards,” but this season is three episodes shorter than usual. GOT finales tend to either wrap up old plotlines or table set for the following season. I imagine next episode with focus more on the latter, though a former Master of Coin might find his time in Winterfell coming to an end at the hands of a familiar dagger. Maybe Jorah will depart again too! One can only hope. See you next week.

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Thursday

17

August 2017

1

COMMENTS

Halt and Catch Fire is the Best Show on Television

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

There was a fair degree of love at first sight for me with Halt and Catch Fire, having been a big fan of Lee Pace since Pushing Daisies aired in 2007. Oddly enough, season two established the technology driven period piece as the best show on television, after Pace’s Joe McMillan had been relegated to supporting status. Reshuffling the deck has grown to be one of HaCF’s defining traits, practically rebooting the plot each year.

Many shows succeed through the risks their characters take, endearing them to the audience along the way. Halt and Catch Fire has always upped the ante, fearlessly blowing up the show whenever it best suits the plot. Television shows inevitably leave a lot on the table. The medium only allows for so much ground to be covered in ten or thirteen episode increments over a few years’ time. Having spent its entire life suffering from low ratings and an uncertain future, HaCF has always understood this better than most.

The character development of the five lead characters over the course of the first three seasons demonstrates Halt and Catch Fire’s masterful deployment of its assets. The time period is fun to explore, but just with Mad Men, the actors and the writing are the true defining features. These characters endear themselves to the audience in a unique way because they’re not held back. They all have extremely messy relationships with each other. The show never tries to hide that or superficially fix it for the sake of the plot. It wears its emotions on its sleeve, allowing the audience an intimate look at what these people are going through as they try to make their mark on the world.

The show has mastered the art of the emotional payoff. There have been times throughout the first three seasons where I’ve thought the plot is dragging on a bit, only to be blown away by the story’s progression. It understands pacing like few other shows on TV.

Season four will be the last round of adventures for Joe, Gordon, Cameron, Donna, and Boz. I say that with sadness because I’ll miss them terribly, but there is comfort in the fact that this show gets to go out on its own terms after spending four seasons holding nothing back. Too many shows, including the one that originally endeared me to Pace, haven’t been afforded that chance.

Halt and Catch Fire was never a ratings success. It’s been ignored at the Emmys. Its final season will start in two days, on a Saturday, the insulting, irrelevant graveyard slot. I could write that this is somehow poetic, or that The Wire received a similar cold shoulder throughout its initial run, but it bothers me. There are a lot of scripted TV shows currently airing. Hundreds. Probably too many, but I still say with certainty that this one is the best of the best. I don’t really believe in the concept of “peak TV,” as I imagine this is a label the present era will always want to hold, but HaCF is the best example contradicting that notion.

I urge you to watch this show. The first three seasons are on Netflix. I know everyone has shows they’re meaning to get to. Take my advice and put those aside in favor of this one. You won’t regret it. No one I’ve recommended the show to has.

AMC deserves credit for recognizing what a special show it has, even if it dared to air it on Saturdays. It probably would have been a smarter business decision to cancel it and spend the money on another battle sequence for The Walking Dead. As Halt and Catch Fire has demonstrated time and time again, the economic bottom line shouldn’t be the only consideration. There’s also the matter of the heart. These characters have more heart and more than any on television.

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Tuesday

15

August 2017

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 7 Recap: Episode 5

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

Bronn’s upper body strength is pretty incredible, managing to lift Jaime and all his armor from the bottom of that river. Both of them must have pretty good lungs too since everyone was gone by the time they resurfaced. Jon could have sailed to Eastwatch and back in that amount of time!

Randyll Tarly was responsible for the only Targaryen victory in Robert’s Rebellion. I don’t mention that as a book fanatic nitpicking at a detail casual fans wouldn’t remember (like Littlefinger’s old scroll), since this fact was brought up this very season, when Randyll met with Jaime in King’s Landing. The idea that he would let himself and his son be burned to death in the name of Queen Cersei of all people, who he didn’t even support at the beginning of the season, is laughable. His excuse that Dany was foreigner with no ties to Westeros is one of the worst things the show has ever tried to pass off as logic. I guess Dickon Tarly won’t be the new Lyanna Mormont. Tragic.

That scene didn’t even really serve its function as a way to set up Dany as an unpolished ruler with potential anger management issues. Sure, Varys and Tyrion had a cute little chat about the need to curtail her death by dragon fire desires, but we were also later treated to a scene building up a potential romance with Jon, a reunion with Ser Jorah of House Greyscale, and to both of these men’s departures. Are we really supposed to be “that” worried that Dany likes to burn people when she’s busy giving this many hugs?

This episode marked the fourth time that Jorah has left Dany’s company since season four. Why is he still on this show? It is honestly beyond ridiculous at this point. He has had the most ridiculous storyline of any character on this show by far. We occasionally forget that rooted in his inability to die of incurable diseases, or to simply go away, is his creepy love of Dany, who will never reciprocate his affection. Please kill him. No more reunions. He should contract a new strain of greyscale from the ice zombies.

Let’s talk about this plan to get Jon back beyond the wall to have another battle with the White Walkers. Oops, I meant to write the plan to convince Cersei that the ice zombies are real, because that’s the reason the show has given us. Because apparently, that’s a smarter idea than just sending Davos and a team of assasins into King’s Landing like season two. Or you know, dragons.

This plan is absurd for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most ridiculous of them all is the likelihood that Cersei would still not care if they existed, even if she actually believed them. It seems like quite a gamble to send Jon on a suicide mission that probably wouldn’t work even if everything went according to plan. There are many ways to get rid of Cersei. The problem is that none of these plans take eight episodes and none include a battle with ice zombies featuring several popular characters. Alas.

Joer Mormont actually tried a similar plan to prove to King’s Landing that the White Walkers were real back in A Clash of Kings. He sent Ser Alliser Thorne with the zombified hand of the wight that tried to kill him in the first book/season to convince Tyrion, then Acting Hand. The wight died on the way there. Tyrion was not convinced.

The whole plan to go capture a White Walker seems designed strictly to get Jon off Dragonstone and to reunite Tyrion with Jaime. The reunion was fun from a fan perspective, especially seeing Jaime’s conflicted guilt over his role in Tywin’s death. This is actually a case where casting logic aside made sense. Tyrion could sit down and explain why he had to shoot their father with a crossbow and it could all be rational, but it wouldn’t change the fact that Jaime’s guilt is hardly misplaced. After all, Tywin was their father, even if he was willing to let Tyrion die for a crime he knew he didn’t commit.

The show did do two things I’ve been whining about all season. Davos finally brought up that Tyrion’s wildfire killed his son in the Battle of the Blackwater and we finally heard from the knights of the Vale! I’m glad D&D read these recaps.

Gendry is back! Davos even paid homage to the long running “still rowing” fan joke. Amazing. As if we needed another reason to love Davos.

The Arya/Sansa feud was kind of strange to watch, mostly because it felt like something out of season one. Arya has spent years training at the House of the Undying to become a deadly assassin. Sansa is governing Winterfell and all the political complexities that come with it. Seeing them bicker like that ignored the immense growth these two have undergone since they last shared the screen together.

Sansa was right to not take a firm stance defending Jon against the Vale lords. They owe him nothing. They didn’t come for Jon. They came for Sansa, who is still their liege lord’s cousin even if he never makes another appearance on the show. Jon is not. He is an illegitimate Night’s Watch deserter turned king, although probably not their king. I don’t say to belittle Jon, only to describe the current situation up North.

The messy political landscape is a big part of why Littlefinger is such a great character. We, the audience, hate him because of all the terrible things he’s done to characters we like. This doesn’t change the fact that he’s also the only reason any of them are in Winterfell, saving Jon at the Battle of the Bastards. I know a lot of people want Arya to kill him and I suspect that will happen sooner rather than later, but I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

For those wondering about the scroll, she found, it appears to be the letter Sansa was coerced into sending to Winterfell back in season one, calling her father a traitor and claiming that the Lannisters were nice hosts down in King’s Landing. This appears to be an effort to turn Arya against Sansa. If only there was an omniscient character at Winterfell who could foil this plan…

Why aren’t there any brothers of the Night’s Watch at Eastwatch-by-the-sea? Davos mentioned that Jon isn’t Lord Commander and can’t just wander around wherever he wants, except that seems to be exactly what he could do. I think I might have laughed if you told me a few years ago that Jon, Gendry, Jorah, Davos, Tormund, The Hound, Beric Dondarrion, and Thoros of Myr would all be headed beyond the Wall together. Now I guess it makes perfect sense, for some reason. Logic!

Finally, we get to that bombsell that Gilly casually mentioned to Sam, only to be ignored. Apparently, Rhaegar Targaryen received an annulment freeing him of his marriage to Elia Martell, allowing him to marry Lyanna Stark. This likely means that Jon is not a bastard and also now has the best claim to the Iron Throne under Westerosi law. This is also probably a major spoiler for the books, if George R.R. Martin ever finishes writing them.

Will Gilly ever mention this again? Maybe. She doesn’t necessarily need to, with Bran ex machina presumably also knowing that, and everything else. A marriage between Dany and Jon would render this point moot as well. It was a fun revelation for the fans, even if it is a big spoiler.

That’s it for this week. A lot happened. None of it involved Theon. Hopefully that continues next week. See you then.

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Monday

24

July 2017

0

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Game of Thrones Season 7 Recap: Episode 2

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

This episode was a strange one. Sam picked pus riddled greyscale off of Ser Jorah and Grey Worm had sex with Missandei, two things I hardly expected season seven to deliver. As if that wasn’t enough fun for one episode, Reek abandoned ship to board a piece of driftwood, presumably to find Gendry after an action sequence that came out of nowhere at the tail end of the episode.

Pacing was my main concern heading into the season. It doesn’t seem like there’s many more episodes left, but the characters do have to do something to pass the time before the big ice zombie battle. For Daenerys, this involves making baffling military decisions and bizarre back and forths about power with an overzealous intelligence expert, who once tried to have her killed.

Dany’s massive army creates problems for the show’s pacing. She has more troops than everyone combined, even if the Ironborn/Dorne were wiped out and Randyll Tarly ended up siding with the Lannisters. That is how powerful the Unsullied/Dothraki/Dragons are (and how much of a mess everyone else’s army is in). Tyrion telling her not to use them sort of makes sense on paper, if you don’t give it a second look. Why would the people of Westeros prefer to be conquered by siege rather than dragons? Why would care about foreign troops when Cersei is their self-appointed queen? Probably to save the show’s budget. Dragons are expensive to show on screen.

The ship battle was brief, most likely in an attempt to cut costs since the players were people we’re hardly given a reason to care about. The Sand Snakes have never made any sense and the viewer has never really been given a reason to care about them. The same sort of logic applies to Yara, whose major redeeming quality seems to be that those around her tend to be less interesting. This is kind of problematic when you factor in Euron, who’s at least charming and fun to watch. I wish they’d just kill Reek. He’s horrible.

Tyrion is married to Sansa. Just thought I’d remind everyone of that. The show appears to have forgotten, even though Melisandre had plenty of time to bring up the Prince that was Promised prophecy that’s been pretty ignored in the show (though Maester Aemon brings up the gender issue in the books). This episode had a couple throwbacks to earlier times, but seems to not care about a pretty big one.

Omitting their marriage is lazy writing, just like another Jon/Sansa debate in a public setting. Haven’t these people ever heard of a conference room? Jon even mentioned it last episode, as if anyone cares. It could have been a substantive debate too. After all, Dany is Jon’s aunt, whose father murdered Jon and Sansa’s grandfather and uncle. Dany’s Hand is also Sansa’s husband, which makes him Jon’s half brother-in-law based on information currently available to the characters. The characters may not know about Jon and Dany being related through R+L = J, but the web is still pretty tangled even without that detail. It would have been nice to see the show really try to dive into that.

Jon is an ungrateful brat. Stannis saved him back in season four and Jon repaid him by mercy killing Mance Rayder and trying to get him to leave the Wall. Littlefinger saves him from Ramsay and he tells him he can’t tour the crypts of Winterfell and attacks him. Rude.

Also, are we really supposed to believe the two most powerful people in Winterfell haven’t had a proper chat until one of them brings up his love for the other’s sister/cousin and sort of motherly figure who never really liked him? What exactly is the Vale army doing? Where is Sweetrobin? Why hasn’t he made anyone fly yet?

Why isn’t Lyanna Mormont in charge of tactical?

The show’s new pacing logic means that a raven sent from Dragonstone now reaches Winterfell in a single scene. The bird must have traveled over on Varys’ magic boat. I wonder how much money he makes from moonlighting as a mailman?

Looks like Qyburn, not Jaime, is Cersei’s hand. Neither are particularly good choices given that one is the Queen’s brother/lover and the other is a mad scientist. You know who would have been a good pick? Randyll Tarly, who was actually floated as a choice by Kevan Lannister in A Feast for Crows. Offering him that post would’ve been a brilliant tactical move, and Qyburn hardly needs the job to keep doing weird things. But that would make sense. The show doesn’t seem to be a big fan of making sense these days.

For those of you who started reading these recaps last week or have forgotten, the “why does Jorah have greyscale?” question has been a running joke since he contracted the disease back in season five. I had a few people message me about that. Jon Connington got greyscale from the stone men in the books. He isn’t in the show. I’m not sure why someone else had to contract his infectious skin disease instead. Alas.

The Samwell/Jorah plotline is clearly headed toward Jorah joining the Night’s Watch, fulfilling Joer Mormont’s dying wish to Sam back at Craster’s Keep. Unlike the Tyrion/Sansa omission, I liked how the show didn’t bring this one up yet. Something for the fans to chew on! Sure could’ve done without that gross scene. Jorah has suffered enough. Please just kill him and Reek.

Arya and Hot Pie’s reunion was fun, even though Arya is pretty scary these days. I’m glad we got some answers as to how much information Arya knew. Given the current pacing, she could have arrived in Winterfell the very next scene!

Part of the reason this episode felt kind of uneven was that all the major characters appeared, crunching down on available screen time. Arya’s brief reunion with Nymeria was a perfect place to end the episode, given the magnitude of the event. But I guess now we get to spend the week wondering where Reek will float off to. How exciting!

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Be sure to catch my live recap show on my author page that airs at 10:15 EST following the episode.

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July 2017

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Game of Thrones Season 7 Recap: Episode 1

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If Tyrion is Daenerys’ Hand and Jaime is Cersei’s, who is Jon’s? As I much as I love Davos, I hope it’s Lyanna Mormont. Way better than her greyscaled riddled uncle.

This episode was more concerned with setting the table than supplying an appetizer. No death, no resurrection. It did contain an event that some fans have been waiting for since 1996, which was given a minimalistic touch that’s perhaps fitting given how much time has passed since Viserys spoke of Westeros to Dany all those years ago. The whole scene was also overshadowed by the massive amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept the idea that Stannis Baratheon (still haven’t seen a body) would leave Dragonstone completely unguarded for anyone to visit, without even having to buy admission (or a souvenir at the gift shop). It will still be a very enjoyable scene.

Jon’s emphasis on dragonglass points to a future alliance with Dany, as Dragonstone has large reserves of Dragonglass. Stannis had urged Dragonstone castellan Ser Rolland Storm to begin mining for it in A Dance With Dragons and I imagine we’ll see something similar in the show. There is a more pressing alliance that Jon needs to fortify before he journey south however.

A conflict between Jon and Sansa is inevitable given the power structure. Sansa is the rightful heir of Winterfell. Jon isn’t. I’m not quite sure who in the show is actually aware of this teensy little minor detail, but it’s bound to create some drama down the road, especially since Littlefinger is no fan of Jon. The whole public debate over the Karstarks and the Umbers (who don’t betray the Starks in the books) seemed odd, but set Jon apart from Ned and Robb.

It is important to remember just how bad Ned and Robb were at political strategy. Good men, yes. Good leaders, not by a long shot. Jon now finds himself with lots of enemies, including a bunch of ice zombies. Best not to forget where things previously went wrong.

Eastwatch-by-the-sea was prominently featured in this episode. As one of only three active castles manned by the Night’s Watch out of nineteen, this wouldn’t normally be surprising, except the Night’s Watch doesn’t currently include a ton of important characters. Bran and Meera are currently at Castle Black. You’d think Tormund and the Brotherhood Without Banners would head there rather than a castle with no significant characters. I suppose the new three-eyed raven could journey there as well. I doubt we’ll see any clashes with the White Walkers until the end of the season at the earliest, which allows plenty of time for characters to move around (especially if they borrow Varys’ magic boat).

The King’s Landing dynamic went about as well as you’d expect it to. Cersei has no heirs and a fairly meager army. An alliance with Euron makes sense just as one of them betraying the other also makes sense.

The problem is that Dragonstone is really close to King’s Landing. I don’t know how much the show cares about this detail, but Dany is literally right there, with by far the largest army. Cersei and Euron could be completely wiped out next episode and it would make sense from a geographical standpoint. I assume Euron is going to impede that progress somehow, maybe by attacking Tyrion, but prolonging a siege of King’s Landing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

I’ve been wondering about how much Arya knows about what’s going on in the North. If she knows Jon and Sansa are alive, it would make much more sense for her to head there rather than King’s Landing. Also, why didn’t Ed Sheeran play “Shape of You” in the opening scene? Talk about wasted opportunities…

Why does Jorah have Greyscale? Yes, we’re still asking that.

Maesters can’t have families. Brothers of the Night’s Watch can’t have families. Samwell is at the bottom of the maester trainee totem pole yet he gets a suite for Gilly and baby Sam. Utterly ridiculous. I know rules don’t matter, but it might be nice if someone at least pretended they did.

The scenes with the Hound, Thoros of Myr, and Beric Dondarrion ended up being my favorite of the episode. As someone who was against the Hound’s return last year, this surprised me. I’m glad the show isn’t doing Lady Stoneheart, which allows the BWB to actually look like it cares about the realm. I was pretty surprised that the group is still on the show, but it’s working out fairly well.

This episode probably wasn’t as exciting as many would have hoped given the long wait, but I found it to be quite satisfying. The table is set for the remaining twelve episodes and the episode covered all the necessary bases, except for why Sam gets a honeymoon suite at the Citadel or why Jorah is locked away with a contagious disease. Some may regard these as minor details, especially when there are broader concerns, like how Stannis will react when he sees people staying in his castle. Hopefully we’ll cover that next week!

Bit of a scheduling note. My live recap show airs at 10:15 EST right after the episode on my author page. Written recaps follow on Monday mornings. Thanks for reading!

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12

June 2017

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Netflix Learns the Dangers of Cliffhanger Cancellations

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ comments that Netflix should cancel more shows seemed like a bit of a humble brag by a network with more hits than stinkers. That is, until the cancellation of Sense8 days later, following the network’s decision not to move forward with a second season of Baz Lurhman’s The Get Down. Both of these cancellations deviate from current trends. Flashy period dramas like The Get Down are typically given more than a season to establish themselves while cerebral think pieces like Sense8 are usually afforded a proper finale, even if the network doesn’t want to commit for the long term, as Netflix did with Bloodline and HBO with The Leftovers (both were renewed for “third and final seasons,” giving the show-runners time to wrap things up).

Cancellations used to loom over every popular show with less than stellar ratings. The era of DVRs and streaming services has deemphasized the importance of immediate viewership. Netflix does not even release its streaming data to the public, creating a cloud of mystery that’s becoming more important as the network stops renewing absolutely everything. May Upfronts used to be an anxious time for TV fans, but ABC’s cancellation of American Crime stands out as the only notable tragedy for network TV. As cable/streaming networks tend to be more careful with their critically beloved programming, the days of losing gems like Firefly and Happy Endings before their time is pretty much behind us.

The case of Sense8 poses a unique challenge for streaming services. Its massive budget (reportedly nine million an episode) and absence from the award’s show circuit made this decision understandable under normal circumstances. Trouble is, we live in a world where Hemlock Grove was allowed a final season to wrap things up. Bloodline got to have a proper finale even if the series’ momentum died with Danny Rayburn. Sense8 itself has already aired one special. If the network can find a way to renew Flaked, it seems inconceivable that a show people actually liked would be abruptly sacked.

If you look through the list of network shows cancelled last month, you’ll largely see a bunch of programs that few people will miss. In addition to American Crime, 2 Broke Girls and Last Man Standing were just about the only shows on that list that made any amount of news. Cancellations now reflect how much people care about shows almost as much as whether or not they’re actually watched. This works for shows like Halt and Catch Fire (my favorite show on TV), that would have made for no brainer cancellations years ago, but now receive final seasons largely due to critical praise and fan support.

This reflects the changing dynamic of TV viewing in general, with more noteworthy shows out there than there is time to view them all. People are more hesitant to start new shows that don’t have additional seasons guaranteed. Streaming services have made this easy to start shows whenever you want, removing this uncertainty from the equation entirely. Halt and Catch Fire’s renewal may not make AMC any money, but it assures its viewers than quality programming won’t be crushed by a hoard of undead spinoffs either.

AMC is protected against backlash in a way that Netflix isn’t. AMC can annoy its viewers if it cancels shows people like, but there is a limit to what people can do in response. You can tweet about it, which no one is guaranteed to see or cancel your cable plan, a long and complicated process that is unlikely to ever get back to the network that cancelled your show. Obviously negative press is not a good thing, but there’s still a degree of insulation which doesn’t exist for streaming services.

You can cancel your Netflix subscription in less time than it takes to read this article without having to talk to anyone on the phone or any post office visits to ship back clunky cable boxes. That simplicity is dangerous for companies like Netflix. If Sense8 fans mobilized with an online petition, that could translate into real losses. Such a petition would also be bound to make the news, creating a template for future cancelled series. It’s hard to imagine it being successful enough to get Sense8 renewed, but it would cause a lot of problems for Netflix down the road.

Netflix seems to be taking the backlash seriously, sharing a post from Sense8’s page acknowledging the fan outrage. The effort to undo the damage lacks a basic understanding of what the issue is. There are many people out there angry that the series was cancelled at all, but more specifically that Netflix left the series with a cliffhanger. You could argue that a petition could be created regardless of how the series was cancelled, but that logic ignores the fact that Netflix did do something to create this mess. It’s understandable that Netflix’ budget doesn’t have room for an expensive drama that doesn’t make the kind of waves that a series like The Crown creates.

Netflix has garnered much praise over the years for reviving cancelled shows like Arrested Development, The Killing, and Longmire. That kind of goodwill will erode quickly if Netflix makes it a habit of pulling the plug on its programs without properly wrapping them up. Competition is fierce among streaming services nowadays, with little keeping viewers from shopping around when their favorite shows aren’t airing new episodes. Netflix would be wise to remember that it didn’t earn its viewer base by behaving like the big networks. Cliffhanger cancellations are a slap in the face to loyal viewers, who may think twice about their future subscription.

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May 2017

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13 Reasons Why is Mesmerizing, Yet Frustrating

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We’ve had a renaissance of high school dramas over the past few years. Shows like Awkward, Faking It, Pretty Little Liars, and Riverdale stand out for their individualistic portrayals of high school life, quirks and all. High school is weird. 13 Reasons Why never tries to paint high school as anything other than an angst riddled warzone, but it does so with a grace that respects the sensitivity of its source material.

The fact that 13 Reasons Why managed to make national headlines shouldn’t be too surprising, even after we consider just how many shows compete for the spotlight these days. Any show that tackles suicide with a playlist of 80s gems is bound to attract some negative attention. While parents should be cautious not to let their children get any wrong ideas about the actions of Hannah Baker, the show never glorifies suicide. In fact, it’s probably one of the most effective fictionalized advocates against it.

13 Reasons Why succeeds on the strength of its cast. The good/evil spectrum has a few outliers on either end, but for the more part these characters are deeply flawed human beings who occupy a moral grey area for most of the season. There’s a reason for this beyond the typical “TV anti-hero” trope as well. These characters are hurting.

The show addresses pain with a maturity rarely seen on television. The first season takes place over the course of a few short weeks, which is hardly enough time to address such grief. I’m glad it didn’t try.

Katherine Langford and Dylan Minnette play their roles with a frustrating sense of brilliance. Hannah and Clay Jensen frequently do things that practically force the viewer to shout at the TV. The idea that any single action might have saved Hannah lingers, not because the show wants to take you in that direction, but rather because that thought is on all the characters’ minds (except for one, who’s rightfully portrayed as a sociopath). Blame is felt and each character is forced to come to grips with his or her own role, but in the end, Hannah alone made her decision. That idea is painful and can be debated, but the show deserves a lot of credit for facing the problem that will never yield a satisfying answer.

13 Reasons Why isn’t a perfect show. It has a strange relationship with its central plot device. In the book, Clay listens to all of the tapes over the course of an evening. The show chooses to stretch this out for the entire season, creating numerous pacing problems along the way. The fact that the thirteen reasons corresponds with the typical thirteen episode cable season explains this decision, but it often remains a point of contention as the viewer is forced to watch Clay make his way through the season wondering why he doesn’t just get it over with. The show never supplies a satisfying answer.

The frustration is oddly fitting. As someone who prefers watching shows week to week, even Netflix offerings, I found myself binging for the first time in ages. It’s a world where characters always pop up at the moment of greatest convenience, where parents disappear whenever it would be easier not have to have them around, and one where everyone knows everyone else’s secrets, except for the existence of tapes explaining why a girl took her own life. Maybe it’s the amazing visual displays, using color to set the tone of the mood, but I’ve rarely seen a show so comfortable being that flawed.

13 Reasons Why is a work of beauty. It’s raw and imperfect, but it possesses a keen ability to convey emotion. I was originally annoyed to hear it was getting another season, thinking it was a cheap cash grab at the expense of its concept. I was wrong. I’m not ready to be done with these characters.

Some will want to avoid 13 Reasons Why because of its subject matter, which is certainly fair. There’s a lot to take away from the show’s handling of the subject matter, never shying away from the grim realities its characters face. To call it one of the year’s best shows may be unsettling for some, but the show could very be Netflix’ most powerful offering to date.

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