Siren: Season One Review

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Siren is an interesting show, but its not necessarily a great one. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about this show, and parts of it are very compelling, but it does have a couple of  issues, that become  obvious over time.

When I first saw the trailers for the show, I had the idea that it would be a typically cheesy series. Maybe a little darkness. A little horror. I wasn’t sure what the lead actress was trying to convey in the ads. Without any context, it just looks like bad acting. It turns out there’s a reason the actress looks the way she does, and a lot of that has to do with the attitude of the character she’s trying to depict, and can mostly only show through her body language, which is very distinctive. Rynn is a predator, and her behavior reflects  the catlike, prickly, attitude of a creature you don’t want to mess, with because it has no qualms about hurting you, as one poor human predator learns when he tries to molest Rynn, after picking her up on the road.

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Eline Powell plays Rynn, who comes to land in search of her sister Donna, who has been captured by the US military and is being experimented on, (for Gob knows what reasons), by a man named Decker. During Rynn’s  search for Donna, she meets Ben and Maddie,  oceanographic researchers at some small local institute.

Ben  is the eldest son of one of the founding families of the town, whose foundation was built on  the slaughter of some mermaids in the 1800s, something that will come back to haunt its inhabitants. Maddie is the girlfriend Ben’s mother disapproves of, and the adopted daughter of the town sheriff, Dale Bishop. Ben has three close friends (Xander, Calvin, Chris, and Xander’s father), who work on a fishing trawler, a goody- two- shoes brother, and  a mother who was hurt in some kind of accident, and uses a wheelchair.

One night, the trawler captures Donna but she is stolen away them by the Navy, along with Ben’s  friend and co-worker Chris, who was scratched or bitten by Donna. He and Donna eventually escape imprisonment but not before Donna is horribly traumatized, and has a chance to bespell Decker with her siren song.

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Rynn’s presence in the town of Bristol Cove opens up a history’s worth of secrets, most of these secrets are smugly alluded to by a local shop owner named Helen. She has secrets. The town has secrets. Everybody’s got secrets. Its just secrets all the way down. Later, we find out that Helen used to be one of the mermaids, but gave up her life in the sea, to become human.

Donna is understandably angry at being mistreated by humans, and wants to destroy as many of them as possible. She is eventually aided in this endeavor, not by Rynn, who is fascinated with humans, but by two other mermaids, who are angry at humans for over fishing their cove, while the mermaids starve. Eventually tensions reach a high, and a mini-war begins, between the mermaids who have been so traumatized by humans that they want them all dead, and the humans who are suffering losses because of the mermaid’s retaliations.

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The show has some well done action scenes, with some nice stunt work, and the cinematography is well done. There are times when people’s actions, and motivations are unclear, and as I said earlier, some of the acting is not the best, especially the actress who plays Maddie, but that might be because, in the first episodes, she isn’t given very much to do, beyond  looking  pleasant or worried.

We watch  Rynn’s English get better, and she starts to act more human, but still retains just enough of her natural mermaid behavior, to seem thoroughly alien. You can tell the creators put some real thought into how a water based, highly intelligent, predatory being would behave if it found itself in human culture. Pay close attention to the mermaid’s body language, not just when interacting with humans, but with each other as well.

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But this show may be  most well  known for its sheer diversity in front of the cameras. Almost every culture is represented by at least one character, along with several characters of mixed race, like Xander. Helen is played by Rena Owen who is of Maori descent. So it seems fitting she’d play a mermaid. There are Black mermaids, like Donna, which is a first in a network TV show, and the show’s creators manage to make her look thoroughly convincing.

It is not until you see Donna in her natural form that you remember that most fantasy creatures are depicted by White people, unless the plot calls for them to be villains, and despite the fact the Europe isn’t the only place in the world where the mythology of mermaids exist.  Donna does some questionable things (so does Rynn) but the writers are careful never to code her as bad or evil. She is traumatized, and justifiably angry, and the writers allow her to express this without apology, refusing to give in to the stereotype of making her an irrationally angry Black woman, and it is clear that the writers took some time to research the African legends of Mami-Wata, which is what they seemed to have based her character on.

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http://blog.swaliafrica.com/mami-wata-the-mermaids-in-african-mythology/

There’s an Asian mermaid, a Black merman, an Indigenous sheriff, and numerous individuals of various races randomly dropped into the background.

A lot of these actors are not well known, (Rena Owen is the only one  know) and a few of them are first timers, and it shows in the degree of their acting skills. Its not quite as bad as the “schmacting” in some of the  CW shows, but every now and then, you get taken out of the story by someone hitting a wrong note. But that’s okay because the show makes up for it, with its depiction of the mermaids and their culture. If you’re expecting Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid then this ain’t the show for you.

And yes, the mermaids do sing, but not in a recognizably human way. The creators seemed to have put some thought into that as well. The mermaid’s singing sounds like a low, deep-throated humming sound ,with no especially discernible melody, and no rhythm, and actually does  sound like something you’d hear under water. At any rate ,it seems very compelling to the characters who are subjected to it.

Photo: Freeform/Sergei Bachlakov

Despite all of the diversity on display, the characters don’t pay much attention to it. At first, I was concerned that Ben’s mother simply didn’t want Ben in a relationship with a Black girlfriend, but the real tension seems to  be something personal between her and Maddie, that Ben knows about, but has nothing to do with. We witness Maddie, and Ben’s mother, tiptoeing around each other, before reaching some type of accord.

The mermaids don’t pay any attention to the different skin tones, either. I’m mot inclined to refer to them as different races, because from my point of view, the mermaids are all one race, and have a very distinctive culture. I do occasionally cringe because the mermaids are coded as very animalistic, they sometimes get called animals by the humans around them (including Ben) and so many of them are portrayed by PoC. This cringiness is slightly offset by Rynn calling Ben out on his descriptions of her people, and shaming him for it.

The mermaids are the real intrigue on this show, although there is plenty of drama and mystery. They are shown as being  predators who will kill humans when given the opportunity to do so, (if you come into the water with them, for example). They are capable of coming out of the water, shedding their tails, and putting on a human disguise. The society they come from is matriarchal, and Rynn eventually becomes the alpha female of the particular group that resides in Bristol Cove.

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One of the more interesting things is Rynn’s relationship to Maddie. Because the mermaid’s talk more with their bodies, than their voices, we get a lot of scenes of Rynn standing unnervingly close to people, unexpectedly touching people in an intimate manner, and a general lack of boundaries from her, and this includes Maddie, as well. Ben is sort of compelled to be near her because of the singing, but not Maddie, who hasn’t heard her siren song, but seems just as gobsmacked by Rynn’s  presence as Ben does.

Rynn is starting to think of Ben and Maddie as a kind of family, (possibly as her mates, or something similar), and in her roundabout way, has told Maddie that she loves her (since English is not Rynn’s first language, I suspect something got lost in the translation). She clearly does not think of Maddie as a sister. She has a sister,  and doesn’t treat Maddie anything at all the way she treats Donna, to whom she is, at times, deferential, sisterly, angry, or devoted. To give you some idea: Rynn spends the night at Ben and Maddie’s apartment. They settle her on the sofa with a blanket, and go to their bed. Rynn, unhappy with this arrangement, gets in their bed, and contentedly falls asleep between the two of them.

It’s not a bad show. I’m going to give it a nice, solid, B/B+, but it does need just a bit more polish, and  I am cautiously intrigued by it, despite its  misses. I do wish the acting was a little bit  better, and I do hope we get to see other supernatural beings on the show, as has been hinted at by Maddie. I will be back for a second season if it gets renewed. And you should probably check it out, at least once,  for the novelty of seeing a Black merman.

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“Am I Black Enough For You?” The Respectability of CW’s Black Lightning

The CW’s Black Lighting represents the split between Black respectability and radical politics in a singular figure.

via “Am I Black Enough For You?” The Respectability of CW’s Black Lightning — The Middle Spaces

 

This is an absolutely gorgeous analysis of Black Lightning. I haven’t written much about the show, not because I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it, but because  of the density of the text. This series is every bit as rich with meaning as Black Lightning and Luke Cage, and is pertinent to many of the discussions Black Americans are having about social justice, existing, as it does, in a space somewhere between those two sources.

The show isn’t perfect, of course. It certainly has its issues in pacing, dialogue, and occasionally the acting, but these problems are not consistent enough to make me dislike the show, and it gets more right, than it does wrong.  This review, and analysis, contains a lot of what I was thinking about, when it was on the air.

Later, after I’ve re-watched a few episodes i might do a post squeeing about everything I thought the show got right, and the handful of things that annoyed me.

Black Lightning is currently available on Netflix, and has already been renewed, for a second season on the CW, this Fall.

 

Star Trek Discovery: Review of Season One

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The Plot:

When we last discussed this show, the Discovery was stranded in the Mirror Universe, where our characters encountered their worst selves, and had to touch base with the darkest part of their natures to survive. many of them worried that they might not recover from the ordeal, and some didn’t. Ash  discovered he was the surgically altered Klingon Voq, and attacked  Michael.  Captain Lorca originated from the Mirrorverse, and more than likely, the original Gabriel Lorca is dead.

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Michael Burnham encounters a dark version of Philippa Gheorgiou, who is the Emperor of the Terran Empire. Captain Lorca, and the Burnham of that universe, became lovers, and betrayed her, teaming together to form a coup against her. When Dark/Philippa discovers that this Michael is not her adopted daughter, the two of them team up to defeat Lorca, and he is killed. The Discovery makes it back to its own universe, but the mushroom spores they used to travel there, are all destroyed, and they overshoot their mark, and land nine months in the future, where they find that the Klingons are winning the war.

Because of the death of their leader, the Klingon clans never united and are now contesting among themselves to see how many humans they can kill. Earth is about to be attacked, as well. Having kidnapped Philippa from the Mirrorverse, Michael enlists her aid in defeating the Klingons. Philippa’s solution is to destroy the Klingon homeworld, but Michael talks her out of the idea by giving the power to destroy the Klingons to L’Rel, who uses her new weapon to unite the Klingons, which brings about the end of the war.

Realizing he has no future in Starfleet, Ash Tyler accompanies L’Rel on her mission. Philippa is free to go her way,rather than remain a prisoner of Starfleet, and Michael is reinstated as a Commander on the Discovery, having been the architect of the end of the war, and she and Sarek reconcile.

In the last few minutes of the episode, the Discovery is on its way to pick up its new captain from a nearby starbase, when it receives a distress call from Captain Pike of the  USS Enterprise, the ship on which Spock is the First Officer.

 

Themes:

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One of the things I know I’m good at, is seeing the bigger picture, yet being a visual artist, is what taught me to pay attention to the tiny details that make up that picture. The ability to see the “macro” from a micro level is a mindset that not many people cultivate, but if the viewer is to understand this season, they will have to. Michael’s story and her future is all in the details.

There are a lot of plot details during the course of the season, so this show is much more complex than some previous series of Trek. Because it’s so complex, a lot of fans haven’t been able to grasp exactly what this season was about, and have had difficulty wondering what the writers are trying to do. A lot of fans have complained that the show isn’t very Trekky, but that’s the point.We haven’t got there yet.

Every character has an arc, and so does the crew and ship. but the overall point of all these arcs, appears to be getting to know Michael Burnham, not just through the things we see her do, and the situations she responds to,  but  through her relationships on Discovery, and how other characters respond to her. Through Michael we are also witnessing the origin story of this crew. By the end of the season, we are on our way to seeing the ideals of Starfleet reflected in Michael, the crew, and the  plot.

All of the plot points, and all of the characters, revolve around, and are informed by, the existence of Michael Burnham. We are watching a show chronicling the growth and maturity of a StarFleet officer, and its crew. We visited the Mirrorverse to learn what type of crew, what type of people, they are not, and cannot be, to contrast with who they should, and can be. The writers wanted to show us negatives before showing the positives.

The flavor is different from the other Trek shows, but then they all felt different, so this means little to me. The colors are brighter, the lighting is dimmer, the humor is a little different. There’s sex, nudity and a little cussing, but over the course of the season the show begins to lighten and there’s a little more humor between the characters.

The Bridge crew is very intriguing, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them next season, with stories being told about them, and narratives involving them, as we didn’t get to see or hear much from any of them. In fact, we know nothing about any of them beyond how they look, so I’m excited to get to know them. (Interesting Note: There’s not a single White man in the regular Bridge crew of the Discovery. Actually, the only White, straight man, in the entire speaking crew, was Lorca and he turned out to be evil. The present cast consists almost entirely of PoC, and mostly women. Make of that what you will.)

http://trekcore.com/blog/2017/12/meet-the-star-trek-discovery-bridge-crew-cast/

 

Michael Burnham

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Michael is introduced to us as a rather reserved, and somewhat rude, Vulcan wannabe, in the premiere episodes, but during the course of the season we watch her become more human, discovering and dealing with the faults of her character. As the audience, we travel with her on her path to self discovery. Essentially, we are watching Star Trek: The Making of a Starfleet Officer, or The Fall and Rise of Michael Burnham.

We see her fall from grace in the first couple of episodes, as she mutinies against, and then presides over the death of, her Captain, a woman with whom she had established a mother/daughter relationship. Michael’s hubris begins a war with the Klingons, and she will have to live with the repercussions of this for the remainder of the season. This is why the very first minute of the first episode is a shot of Michael and Philippa together. Their relationship is going to be the center around which almost all of Michael’s decisions will revolve for the next 14 episodes, and the loss and betrayal of her mother figure, and commanding officer, will be the impetus behind many of Michael’s decisions later in the season, just as the death of her parents informs her decisions in the show’s premiere. I think,had that particular trauma been dealt with, by the Vulcans, Michael would not have made those decisions.

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Everything that happens, for the rest of the season, can be traced back to Michael’s betrayal and mutiny of Philippa, and that can be traced back to unresolved trauma, after the deaths of Michael’s parents, at the hands of the Klingons.. The war she inadvertently started with the Klingons, killed her captain, and made it possible for Capt. Lorca to be present in the Prime universe, which puts him in  place to make certain decisions that affect her  development, and the lives of the Discovery crew. For Michael to become the person she will be, her old life needs to be destroyed, but she cannot move forward until she deals with all of its loose ends.

Her introduction to the crew of the Discovery is a bit rocky at first, but she eventually establishes herself as a reliable and intelligent officer, and even develops a positive relationship with her roommate, Silvia Tilly, that echoes her relationship with her late Captain, with Michael in the role of mentor. The first part of the season finds her making peace with Lt. Saru, her former Science Officer from the Shen Zhou, and developing a romantic relationship with Ash Tyler, a former prisoner of war.

By the middle of the season, Michael experiences another setback as she visits the Mirror Universe, and discovers the worst possible versions of the people she knew, including Phillipa, Capt. Lorca,  and Ash Tyler. Since coming on board the Discovery, Michael has had a  decision to make, about the kind of human she would like to become, and in the MirrorVerse, she is presented with the contrast, and the temptation, to be the worst kind of human she could be, which she roundly rejects. In every episode Michael gets a chance to redeem herself and reflect the ideals of StarFleet.

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Just because Michael knows what kind of person she wants to be, doesn’t mean she is done. She  must still deal with the emotional fallout of Philippa’s death, which is also tied into the emotional trauma of her parents death, that she has never dealt with either.  Given the choice between allowing the Mirrorverse version of Philippa to die, or saving her life, Michael saves her life, and takes her to the Prime universe. Michael’s, guilt and regret, at causing Prime-Phillipa’s death, informs her decision, and even though this version of Phillipa isn’t hers, Michael hopes to atone, by saving the soul of this less worthy version of her former mentor.

Michael  cannot do anything with her life, until all the issues in her past have been properly acknowledged and dealt with. We are really seeing an origin story for Michael Burnham.

 

Captain/Emperor:  Philippa Georghiou

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Philippa adopted Michael as a surrogate daughter by the time we saw her in the season premiere, and had done a lot of work to introduce Michael to her human side by that time. Michael’s attack on her,  and that betrayal, was really hard on her ,and the situation was never resolved between them because she died.

Later in the season, we meet the Mirrorverse version of Phiippa, who also had a mother/daughter relationship with the Mirrorverse version of Michael. That version of Philippa is also the autocratic, despotic, Emperor of the Terran Empire (So when Michelle Yeoh said we would see her character again, she really wasn’t lying.). Her version of Michael had also betrayed her, and she feels some type of way about that. When she discovers that the Michael she is talking to is not the one who betrayed her, she teams up with her to defeat her rival, Gabriel Lorca.

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When her life is endangered, she makes it clear she wishes to go down with her ship , but Michael decides to save her life instead, and spirits her away to the Prime universe. The two of them have many feelings to work out between them. Mirroverse people claim not to love, considering it a weakness of character, but it is clear they have feelings for one another, and Philippa  has feelings for this version of Michael, whom she refers to as Not Her Daughter. Mirrorverse Philippa needs to reconcile with the “ghost” of her version of Michael, and Michael needs to finally lay Philippa’s ghost to rest through this version of her.

This Philippa’s presence will give Michael an opportunity to work out issues that she had with the Prime universe version. This is yet another opportunity for growth, to lay to rest the demons in her past, and move forward. To become the person she is meant to be. Because she was raised on Vulcan, Michael did not mature in the way that most humans did, and a lot of what we see is Michael experiencing these emotional life events for the first time. Through letting go of Philippe, she is dealing with the trauma of losing parental figures.

In a sense, Michael is still a teenager, albeit a teenager with a formidable intellect. She makes the kind of mistakes that only a human, who has not reached emotional maturity, would make. There’s nothing wrong with her intellect, but she is interacting with humans, and with issues that, had she been raised with humans, she would long ago have dealt with, like the deaths of her parents by the Klingons. Vulcans simply don’t handle emotions the way humans do, and Michael had been taught to act like a Vulcan by suppressing them, not working through them, which brings us to:

 

 Silvia Tilly

https://io9.gizmodo.com/my-favorite-character-on-star-trek-discovery-is-the-on-1822646454

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One of the first people Michael meets is one of the most important people on the ship for her, and that’s Lt. Silvia Tilly, Michael’s  irrepressibly bubbly roommate. It’s important that Michael meet Tilly first because Tilly will be her very first human “friend”, and that s important in the development of Michael’s personality. Tilly also turns out to be one of my all-time favorite characters in Star Trek, right next to Spock and Data,and a great embodiment of StarFleet ideals. Tilly is also one of the youngest members of the crew, and one of the greatest things is  watching her grow and mature, along side Michael.

When we first meet Tilly, she pulls one of those mean girl stunts towards Michael that immediately causes me to dislike her, but later she redeems herself by becoming  Michael’s biggest supporter and cheerleader. Michael develops a relationship with Tilly that has deep echoes of her relationship with Philippa, as a mentor and mentee, as she encourages Tilly to fulfill her dream of becoming a starship captain. Tilly’s acceptance is the first step in Michael’s long journey to find herself.

It is Tilly that gently encourages Michael to open herself up to her feelings. Later, she encourages Michael to pursue a relationship with Ash, and when that falls though, she is the one who puts forth the idea of closure, telling Michael she needs to speak to Ash and resolve the issue between them, when Michael would rather run from it. Every time Michael tries to ignore,  run away from, or suppress her emotions, it is  Tilly who encourages her to fully engage, and  experience  the human condition, and does so without judgement. In return Tilly receives Michael’s full trust before anyone else does. It is Michael’s relationship with Tilly that paves the way for her relationship with Ash.

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Tilly experiences her own character arc as she becomes more confident in her ability to solve problems, and in the Mirrorverse, she gets an opportunity to sit in the Captain’s chair, encouraged by Michael’s words of support. In fact, Tilly’s time in the Mirrorverse results in a positive outcome for her. Getting in touch with her worst self allows her to channel that energy into the self confidence that will get her that captain’s chair. After her adventures in the Mirrorverse, we can see the seeds of the captain she will eventually become.

Michael’s affect on Tilly is especially evident after Ash Tyler is re-introduced back into the crew rotation, after his Klingon persona killed Hugh Culber. In any other environment, he would be a pariah, as Michael was when she first came onto the Discovery. But Tilly, in an act of reconciliation , decides to put Ash’s behavior in the past. She takes the initiative to welcome him back, and the rest of the bridge crew follow her example. This is an example of Tilly’s growing confidence in her leadership skills. Her compassion, her positive experience of befriending Michael, another social pariah, informs her decision here.

 

Lt. Commander/First Officer Saru

When Michael is brought on board the Discovery by Capt.  Lorca, Saru does experience a bit of panic. I didn’t really like this character very much, at first, mostly because he didn’t like Michael, but as the season moved on, I began to understand that he had his own traumas that he was dealing with, and  he feels those traumas are Michael’s fault.

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Michael cost him his captain, a woman he respected, and had worked under for a long time, and he not only had to deal with that loss, but the loss of his position, ship and crew, and the knowledge of  Michael’s betrayal. He is understandably a bit wary of her, thinking her dangerous to him. I’ll wager, since Saru is the way he is, he probably had his entire career mapped out on  the Shen Zhou, and Michael derailed all that, so he definitely feels some type of way.

One of the first hurdles Michael has, is to get past Saru’s guard, reconcile with him, getting him to trust her once more. Over the first several episodes, she goes a long way towards getting him to trust her again, and one of the ways she does so is by acknowledging her mistakes, and bonding with him over the shared loss of Philippa. When Philippa died, she left remembrances to Michael, one of which was a family heirloom, a giant telescope. Michael gives the telescope to Saru instead, and this goes a long way towards mending fences between them.

In another episode, Saru gets possessed by alien spirits that cause him to turn on Michael and Ash during an away mission. This is a callback to Michael’s betrayal of Philippa because she believed she was doing so with the best of intentions , as  Saru believes that he is helping Ash and Michael, when he attacks them. This puts Saru in Michael’s footsteps for a short time He then has some understanding behind her thinking when she was on the Shen Zhou.

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I  want to give a shout out to Doug Jones, who turned in an exemplary performance this season, given that he can show so little facial expression under all that makeup. He has to convey everything about the character through voice and body language, and does a wonderful job of this, reminding me of his work as Abe Sapien in Hellboy.

I was a little reluctant to cozy up to Saru, at first, but he’s become one of my favorite characters. We even get to see him give a rousing  speech, and be a total badass, in the Mirrorverse, when he becomes acting Captain, after Lorca’s demise.

 

Lt. Paul Stamets

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It is through working with Stamets that we get regular doses of Michael’s fierce intelligence, and her compassion. If the first two episodes are meant to introduce us to Michael’s weaknesses, than the next two introduce us to Michael’s strengths, and stoicism, as she works closely with Stamets to develop a new kind of engine, a kind of Sporedrive that works with mushroom spores to allow the ship to travel along a plant “neural network” that connects all things.

Stamets was not a very likable character at first, but redeemed himself when he stepped in to take the place of the creature that he was torturing to get the SporeDrive to work. He also nearly sacrifices his life. I feel like he did it as a form of atonement for the harm he initially caused, and also because he’s thoroughly dedicated to his work.

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He and Michael don’t interact much, but he does exist, as an example to Michael, of self-sacrifice and  atonement. This is why I think Michael takes the attitude she does with Saru. Reconciling with Saru is one of the first steps on her journey to dealing with her past mistakes, and mature as a person, and I think Stamet’s self sacrifice may have been the inspiration for  at least part of that.

Michael isn’t just being affected by the world around her, she is also affecting the world, and people, in her orbit. I believe that it’s her act of compassion towards the creature they realized they were killing to run the SporeDrive, is the impetus behind Stamet’s decision to atone by taking the creature’s place, after Michael sets it free.

Being infected by the spores has the added benefit of mellowing Stamet’s personality because I wondered what it was that his lover, Dr. Hugh Culber, saw in him. He is goofier, and more funny when he’s possessed by the spores. As  we see  Stamets and Culber interact during the season we start to get some idea, not just of the deep love between them, but why they’re together.

Later, we are treated to a touching scene of the two of them, meeting after Culber’s death, inside the spore’s neural network. Many viewers were devastated about Culber’s death, but we have been assured by the writers (and the actor, Wilson Cruz) that this is not a Kill All Your Gays Trope, and that we will see Culber again in the future, and I’m inclined to trust all of them on this. After all, we got to see Philippa, again.

 

Voq/Ash Tyler

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In the Harry Mudd episode, we learn that Michael has never been in love, and she begins a romantic relationship with Ash Tyler. Their relationship has all of the torrid passion that you expect in a first love situation. Michael is rather emotionally immature for a human, with her emotional development having been suppressed while being raised on Vulcan. There are a host of situations that are brand new to her, that most humans have already been through by the time they reach her age, so Michael falling in love with Ash, is another step forward in her emotional journey.

So is betrayal by one’s lover and  the breakup song. It turns out that Ash isn’t just a traumatized victim of the Klingons. He actually is the Klingon, Voq, who has been surgically altered to look like the dead human, Ash Tyler, with Tyler’s personality as an overlay. When Voq’s personality begins to reassert itself, after meeting his counterpart in the Mirroverse, he tries to kill Michael. Naturally Michael is having some serious trust issues after the Ash Tyler personality is restored. She breaks up with him because she realizes that neither of them are well enough, or mature enough, to have a healthy relationship or be good for each other, which is probably one of the most mature romantic decisions I’ve ever seen in any show. Most plots are predicated on the characters making really bad romantic decisions.

A lot of the things Michael goes through in the season are the kinds of events that most humans have already dealt with by the time they are Michael’s age, like love, trust, and the  betrayal of those things, against her, and by her. She must deal with the enormous fallout of her betrayal of Philippa, and in turn with being betrayed by others like Lorca and Ash.

 

Captain Gabriel Lorca

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One of the primary themes of the season is trust and betrayal, with many episodes dealing with the the emotional fallout and events that occur when characters betray each other’s trust. In one episode Lorca betrays Harry Mudd, leaving him behind to be tortured by the Klingons after it is discovered that Harry is their spy. This is something that comes back to bite Lorca in the ass later, when Harry Mudd gets revenge by taking over his ship. Lorca also betrays Cornwell to the Klingons, in the episode where he refuses to look for her, after her capture by them, which he set up.

But most importantly Lorca betrays Starfleet and the Discovery, when it turns out that the real Captain Lorca is probably dead, and has been replaced by the Mirrorverse version, as the audience suspected. While in the Mirrorverse, there are a number of crosses, and double crosses, as Michael learns that the Mirrorverse version of Michael had also betrayed that world’s version of Philippa, and had teamed up with Lorca to dethrone her as the Emperor. It turns out that, in the Mirrorverse, Lorca started out as a kind of father figure and lover (Eww!) of that world’s version of Michael. The two of them planned to rule the Terran empire together.

We had wondered about the meaning of Lorca’s bond with Michael and why he was so protective of her. Not only was he in love with her, but knowing  Philippa’s greatest weakness was her love for Michael, he used her to gain access to the Imperial ship, to get close to Philippa. In the end Lorca dies when they both turn on him.

Now that Lorca is out of the way, we can see the bridge crew start to behave more like the Star Trek crews we’ve always known. The writers have stated that because of Lorca’s presence, the crew of the Discovery didn’t get to bond in the way they should have, and now that he is gone, they can show a level of teamwork that Lorca may have actively worked to suppress. It is the female members of the bridge crew who make the effort to welcome Ash, after his Voq personality has been destroyed. Contrast that with how they treated Michael when she first arrived.

More than anytihng else, its the regard and respect that starship crews show for one another that makes Trek, Trek,  and we get to see them really come together and start to act like a crew, ironically, enough, during their stint in the Mirrorverse. So the show isn’t just about the evolution of Michael its also about the parallel evolution of the various crew members, and the ship, in general.

Sarek

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Having grown up on Vulcan, Michael has only ever suppressed her emotions, instead of working through them. After her parent’s death by the Klingons, and then her own death, as a child, from Vulcan rebels (who hate humans), she has a lot to work through, including her feelings of betrayal from Sarek.

When Sarek is attacked and nearly killed by the same Vulcan rebels who killed her, when she was a child,  Michael has to save Sarek’s life, using the mindbond he established with her to bring her back to life. Through that  bond, Michael discovers Sarek’s deepest regret.  Sarek had an opportunity to gain her entry into the Vulcan Science Academy. he could only enter one of his children to the school, and he chose Spock over her.  In doing so, he derailed Michael’s life and career. This decision put Michael on the career track that would eventually land her on Philipa’s  ship, and Sarek feels that all that happened afterwards, Michael’s betrayal, the mutiny, and her conviction, are partially his fault. She and Sarek both have to come to terms with their feelings about what he did, and Michael needs to restructure her relationship to Sarek, before she can move forward.

We are essentially watching Michael take care of all the failures and remnants of her past. Watching her clean it all that up,, and begin to tie up loose ends, before embarking on whatever new phase in her life, which is something she cannot do, until all these issues have been acknowledged, and purged, and her relationships reconciled, including the one with her adoptive Father, and by the end of the season the two are on their way to doing so, with Sarek acknowledging her as the child of his heart, and Michael, with a better understanding of what type of person Sarek is.

Rather than the trusting and childlike relationship we saw at the beginning of the season, with Sarek admonishing Michael, like a child, to “Behave” before leaving her alone with Philippa,  the two are developing a  more equal and adult relationship, built on mutual respect, rather than obedience to his authority, a stage  most humans have undergone by her age.

 

Last Episode

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Last episode saw the death of Lorca and the return of the Discovery to their own universe. But they miscalculate and jump forward in time by nine months, where they discover that the Klingons are winning the war, in a piecemeal fashion. The Klingons, because of the disappearance of Voq and the death of their leader at Michael’s hand,  never unified under one clan, so all 24 of the clans have been carving up the Federation in a contest to see who can take the most human lives, and have been indiscriminately killing all humans, with no honor. Admiral Cornwell is still alive, but reaching her breaking point, as the Klingons make a play for Earth.

Sarek and Michael go to Mirrorverse Phillipa to request her aid in defeating the Klingons. Her suggestion is that they destroy the Klingon home-world of Quonos, a ploy that the last remnants of StarFleet have agreed to. In preventing the destruction of the Klingon homeworld,  Michael is finally putting to rest the trauma of her parents deaths, at the hands of the Klingons. Michael demonstrates the best ideals of StarFleet by  showing compassion to a race of people who affected her life course, through their actions. She has come full circle from wanting to kill them on sight, ,which set the entire Klingon war in motion, to helping to save their race, which ends it.

 

In Conclusion

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This entire season is one where we have been watching Michael essentially play catch-up to the other humans around her. Having been raised on Vulcan as a Vulcan, has built her intellect, but stunted her emotional growth. Because of how she was raised she has no emotional experience to call on when dealing with a highly emotional situations, and I think her past trauma, coupled with her desperation, is what informed her decision to attack Philippa, as there are other ways she could have handled the situation, that did not include giving her captain a Vulcan nerve pinch.

Whether  or not Michael was right, in the decision to send a Vulcan Hello to the Klingons, is beside the point.  She thought she was right, above all and everything else. Her panicked decision to have her way, and impose her will on the situation by attacking her captain, set an entire series of actions in motion, that affected two universes,  cost countless lives in both of them, and that  Michael has no hope of fixing any, or reorganizing her life, until she clears away the detritus of her old one, and that’s what this first season was all about.

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The Terror TV Series

I’ve been fascinated by Arctic environments since I first watched the 1956 verson of The Thing (with James Arness) when I was a kid. And it wasn’t just The Thing, there was another movie called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, that combined Arctic environments with dinosaurs rampaging through a city, that I got a real kick out of, too.

A few years ago, I’d never read any of Dan Simmons books, although he was on my radar because he is one of the top horror writers in the industry. I hadn’t read them, not because he’s a bad writer,he’s a most excellent writer, I just never had the time, and he writes some real doorstoppers. But I couldn’t resist the plot of The Terror, about an old school Arctic expedition that goes horribly wrong. It features a mysterious monster, some serious levels of  hardship, starvation, and  possibly some cannibalism.

I love the book.  It’s one of my top favorites of the past 20 years, so imagine my joy when I found out they were making a TV show about it, and it’s on AMC, which means the creators can remain faithful  to the plot of the book, which also involves an element of the supernatural, and some graphic deaths. It definitely classifies as horror. I hope it blows up as much as The Walking Dead did, too.

This week, the first trailer was released. The show airs right at the end of TWD’s season in March, which will be here in no time, so I’m very excited. I just want to hype this up a bit, in case you guys hadn’t heard of it yet.

 

 

It also looks very faithful to the plot of the book, and seems to have captured that feeling of dread, that seems to be a requirement of y movie set in a cold climate.It’s based on a true story in the sense that it has many events from that have actually happened in such expeditions.

For those of you worried about problematic issues, I can’t recall any from the book There is a young Indigenous woman, but in the book she comes to no harm, and if the creators keep that truthfulness to the book, she won’t on the show.

I’ll review the pilot episode when it airs.

Black Lightning The Review

So this review is going to be a little unusual because I’m going to talk about my Mom first. If you’ve been reading this blog then you know that she has had a huge influence over my tastes in pop culture and we often enjoy movies and TV shows together.

One of the things we really  didn’t enjoy together, very much, was comic books. I know she has read them, but she pretty much stuck to Archie and Peanuts, and those were the comics I was introduced to as a little girl. I went from there to Marvel, where I read Conan and Red Sonja, and then superheroes in the 80s and 90s. My Mom pretty much stopped reading comics, and moved on to paperbacks.

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So, while my Mom does know something about superheroes like Batman and Superman, whom she disdains for some reason, and I do remember watching Wonder Woman, and The Incredible Hulk with her, when I was a kid, she is not specifically a fan of superheroes, really. I couldn’t get her to watch Captain America, Daredevil, The Defenders or Spiderman, but I did get her to watch Luke Cage, which I consider a success. Apparently, if its a Black superhero, she will watch it, because she also really loved Blade, and seems to be looking forward to Black Panther. She binge-watched (for the first time) Luke Cage, the weekend after it aired.

Basically, I know my the kind of stuff she likes, so I tried to sell her on Black Lightning. I was only slightly nervous, because I wasn’t absolutely sure she would like it. I told her it was like Luke Cage, which I think she maybe watched too fast, because she only has vague memories of really enjoying it. (I did inform her there would be a season two of the show this summer.)

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I don’t know why I was so nervous though, because I should’ve remembered that she loved Blade, and yeah,  she loved Black Lightning. She mostly really got into the action scenes., which I have to admit were very exciting.  Now, anytime I can get my 67 year old Mom to watch a superhero show on the CW, it must be compelling. I have to tell you, my Mom is what you might call, an enthusiastic television viewer. She is very loud and vocal about what she is liking on the screen, and this was the case with Black Lightning. The loud whoops, and cheers I heard coming from her part of the house, was more than enough to vindicate my decision. She was even giddy enough to try to tell me about the episode afterwards, even though I told her I’d already watched it! I was getting a tiny bit worried because she was very worked up about Anissa having superpowers.

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I had already watched the episode the night it aired, and recorded it on the DVR. Wednesday nights are her dialysis evenings, and after her session is over she likes to watch a couple of hours of TV and fall asleep. So now she’s excited to watch 9-1-1 on Wednesday nights, and Black Lightning on Tuesdays.

As for Black Lightning, I did very much enjoy it. Its very possibly one of the most unapologetically Black things on TV, or at least on the CW.  From the dialogue, to the plot, and music, there’s a lot of cultural relevance in it for Black audiences, and this appears to have worked because the show got good reviews. I was not wrong in comparing it to Luke Cage, because the plot is very reminiscent of that show. The show isn’t related to any  of the other superhero shows on the CW. Meaning it doesn’t take place in the same universe as Arrow or Legends of Tomorrow. Nevertheless, I’m really glad a lot of non-Black viewers came out in support of the show, and seemed to enjoy it. too.

Jefferson Pierce is Black Lightning, a high school principal, who  has been  retired from the superhero/vigilante lifestyle for some nine years. He is separated from his wife, with whom he has joint custody of their two daughters,. One of his daughters, Anissa, is a part-time  sex education teacher at the school (so viewers will definitely be receiving some sex education this season, along with history lessons), and the other, Jennifer, is one of the top students at the school. When Jennifer falls into the company of a local gangbanger, who threatens her, and her sister’s  life, their father has to come out of retirement to rescue them both.

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As I’ve said before, I’m always here for some Black girl damseling, but that isn’t all we’re in for though, as it turns out that Anissa also has superpowers. She can change her physical density, which gives her speed and strength. In the comic books, her superhero name is Thunder, and her little sister, who has powers much like her father, is known as Lightning. (She has the ability to transform her body into lightning, which is all kinds of awesomeness). I haven’t read much about either of them in the comic books, even though I was a fan of Batman and the Outsiders in the early nineties. I first encountered Thunder in a story where she was fighting with her dad about choosing the superhero lifestyle. She is currently a member of The Outsiders. I suspect that title  is going to become very popular after this show.

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Black Lightning and Luke Cage (Misty Knight) will be only two of three shows, that I know of, which will feature Black female superheroes.  The other show is Legends of Tomorrow with Vixen. It will have the groundbreaking distinction of being the only show on television with a Black lesbian superhero (in the comic books Thunder is the partner of superhero  Grace Choi, who is being played by Chantal Thuy) This is notable for two reasons. Grace Choi will be the only Asian (Vietnamese/Canadian) lesbian superhero on TV, as part of an interracial couple, (where neither partner is White),  which is pretty rare.

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Another thing I liked about this show was the relationships.  We see a positive ex-wife/husband relationship. They act like mature adults who talk to each other about their lives, and raising their daughters. Its evident that Jefferson and his ex-wife still love each other, but for some reason feel they can’t be together.We get to see a positive family dynamic between a father and his two daughters, and we get to see a loving and supportive relationship between two sisters, which is also interesting on TV, as there are rarely more than one or two WoC in any narrative.

My Mom seemed especially interested and excited at the idea that the daughters have superpowers. She was very vocal about it at any rate. Which kind of saddens me, because sometimes a person doesn’t know they need something until they’ve seen it. She’s probably wanted to see Black women with superpowers her whole life. And it was not until we started getting Black directors and content creators, that she got the chance to see it. I read comic books as a kid, so I had Storm, but my Mom had none of this growing up.

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http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-comic-con-2017-black-lightening-won-t-avoid-social-1500782478-htmlstory.html

So I just want to give a shout-out to the Black  men content creators, who have not forgotten that their “sistahs” exist, and want to see representation for themselves. We want to see ourselves kicking  ass and having adventures too. Ryan Coogler, (The Dora Milaje), Cheo Hodari- Coker (Misty Knight), and the husband and wife directing team (Salim and Mara Brock Alil) of Black Lightning, have not forgotten to give Black women strong, positive roles in their new venture, something which White directors (especially White female directors)  always seem to forget, or only remember as an afterthought. Black content creators are doing the Lord’s work and I thank them for it. Plenty of little Black girls, including my niece, will grow up watching versions of themselves saving the world. And my Mom can finally get to see those Black female superheroes she didn’t know she needed.

This is one of my favorite scenes where Jefferson’s daughters surprise their father by joining him on his morning run.

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As for the more questionable stuff: If you’re having anxiety issues surrounding police brutality, or implications of rape, then use caution while watching this show. There are a lot of guns (mostly used by gang members),  but you don’t really see many people get shot, until the end of the show, (and those are all villains). There is a mildly graphic scene where a man gets eaten by piranha. Don’t ask!

I have to admit to feeling a good deal of tension surrounding the opening scene, when Jefferson gets pulled over by  cops for driving while Black, and he and  his daughters are threatened. It’s a very harrowing scene, even when you remember that none of these characters are going to die ,or there’d be no show. This doesn’t seem to be one of those shows where “anybody can die”, but only the marginalized characters ever seem to get killed, so you guys are safe on that front.

There are three primary villains in the show. One of them is a low status employee of the local drug dealer who stalks Jennifer after she goes out to a club with him. One of them is an associate of Jefferson named La La, played by William Catlett,  and the other is Tobias Whale played by the albino actor, Marvin Krondon Jones III. Although ,once again, we really need to examine this thing where people with albinism are cast as villains all the time. I’m pretty sure that such individuals don’t like seeing themselves as the bad guys all the time in popular media.

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The show tackles several topics. like the generation gap in activism, gangs, gun control in schools, and it also presents interesting ideas of how Black men handle oppression. There’s Jefferson’s manner, which is to try to lift up as many people as possible. There’s La La’s way of handling it, which seems to be just giving in, and the Kingpin-like Tobias Whale approach, which is to take advantage of the system to get ahead, and  attempt respectability.

After Jennifer and Anissa are kidnapped,  Black Lightning has to come out of retirement to rescue them. It seems the stress of being kidnapped, and nearly killed has unleashed Anissa’s abilities, so while we come into Black Lightning’s story in the middle, we will get to see the origins of Thunder and Lightning, and how they navigate the world with powers. We’ll also get to see how Jefferson deals with his children having abilities, and his daughter’s coming out,as a lesbian.

The show-runners have said that for the first season their focus is going to be on Black Lightning’s origins, and his beef with Tobias Whale. Most of his adventures will remain at the street/vigilante level, as with the first season of Daredevil ,and they’ll explore how Jennifer and Anissa deal with their new powers.

I also want to give a shout-out to the soundtrack director. Every form of  modern Black music gets represented , and I spent more than a little amount of my time not paying attention to the plot, as I sang along to some oldies, and even got introduced to a few new artists.

As with most pop culture  aimed at Black audiences, I’m mostly reading and signal boosting reviews from PoC , because I feel like these are the reviewers who can best understand  what they’ve just seen, and be able to speak to the authenticity of the show, as regards Black culture, although most reviewers, of all races, seemed to have enjoyed it.

Be here for further updates. I wont be doing a week by week review but I will keep abreast of events,  and come back to discuss some of the highlight episodes.

Star Trek Discovery :The Mirror Universe

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https://screenrant.com/star-trek-discovery-mirror-universe-explained/

— The midseason premiere of Star Trek: Discovery – the Jonathan Frakes-directed “Despite Yourself” – confirmed one of the show’s longest brewing rumors, revealing that the titular Federation starship has unexpectedly found itself in the Mirror Universe following a malfunction of its experimental spore drive.

So, Star Trek Discovery came back for the second half of the first season, and it’s a doozy. The show has turned itself a full 90 degrees from the first half of the season. At the end of episode nine, the crew of the USS Discovery found itself stranded in some unknown place among the war relics of old Klingon ships, and their transportation system (LT. Stametz) was incapacitated.

 

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Captain Michael Burnham

It turns out that they’re in the Mirror Universe first encountered in the original Star Trek series. If you remember, Scotty, Uhura, and Kirk, and McCoy got trapped in that universe after a transporter incident, and had to try to find a way to get back home. They also encountered a goateed Spock in that universe, and discovered that every human in that universe was evil. The Mirrorverse is an alternate reality that contains copies of most of humanity from the Prime universe ,except everyone is their worse possible self.

Out of the entire franchise, The Next Generation crew  is the only one that never visited that universe, and the episode “Through a Mirror Darkly”, from the show Enterprise, was the last time we visited. So getting to see Lorca, Tilly, and Michael navigate this universe is  especially fun and interesting, but still really intense, and I was totally captured.

I’ve been fascinated by the Mirrorverse since that very first episode. It was so well written ,and the backstory on that universe, and its characters was deeply intriguing. (For the record, the original universe episode occurs about a hundred years after Discovery.) Not only is there a great backstory, but it has a well chronicled future, as well.

In the Mirrorverse there is no Federation. There’s something called the Terran Empire, and humans are complete and utter despots. They are paranoid, xenophobic, vicious, and untrustworthy, and that’s just towards other human beings. Imagine if the Nazis had taken over Starfleet, only worse. Humans are so evil that they make the  Klingons look like good guys, and they, the Vulcans, and every  other non-human race with access to spaceship technology,  have formed an alliance to destroy them.

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The original dynamic duo!

Imagine a universe in which the only way to get ahead, in any venture, is to kill one’s predecessor, any emotion outside of anger and rage is considered a weakness, everyone carries knives on them at all times because they are required to do so, people are tortured for the slightest mistake, or infraction, and there are special pain booths built just for the purpose.

All the human women of this ‘verse (and the men too) use sexual wiles to get ahead, as well,, and the men expect those favors, and hope they survive the encounter, because the women of this universe are not to be trifled with, or underestimated.  They are just as vicious and mean as rabid dogs themselves. From time to time, alliances and loyalties are formed, but only until one’s goals are reached, and if the other person’s goals happen to align with yours. The only reason humans have formed alliances among themselves, is so they can conquer everyone who isn’t them.

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Uhura being a total badass! with abs!

There’s been a lot of Nazi allegories happening in the genre lately, most of it is horrible and badly written claptrap, written by men who do not understand any of the psychology behind such beings. But This! This is how you write a Nazi allegory, (in such a way that you don’t realize its an allegory, until you are well involved in the episode), and with the understanding that such a regime is scary as fuck. There’s is nothing about this universe that inspires a person to want to live in it, except the morbid curiosity of what kind of person you would become. (Probably dead.)

There is nothing about these humans that’s at all admirable, beyond their sheer ruthlessness. The ones who aren’t  mean and vicious, are fawning, bootlicking sycphants. There’s no way to woobify these characters, (although fans came pretty close with Spock, but he’s a special case.) These people are not meant to be liked. They are deeply unlikable.

Now pair all this information with images of the likable, sweet, bumbling Tilly, the logical practicality of Michael, and the brave timidity of Lt Saru, and you’ve got some seriously juicy drama about to happen. What’s going to happen to them and  How far will they have to go to fit into this universe?

https://www.inverse.com/article/40109-star-trek-discovery-costumes-mirror-universe-uniforms

The first test of the Discovery is to convince another ship, The Cooper, that it is indeed the Mirrorverse version of the Discovery. (The Discovery that was once in the Mirrorverse has switched places with them and is now in what I like to call the Prime universe.) To do that they need to speak to the Captain, and guess who that is…

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“I’d cut out your tongue and use it to lick my boots.”

Watching Tilly put on her gameface is one of the great joys of this episode, and hilarious (also, watching that actress play Captain Tilly is kinda scary.) It really is kinda like seeing a cute little bunny viciously bite someone. She also gets one of the best lines in the entire episode. Earlier in the season, Stamets, while caught in a mycelium fugue state, called her Captain, and their time in this universe may have been what he glimpsed. This episode, he spends most of his time yelling senselessly about a palace, and imminent danger. What that means for future episodes is anyone’s guess.

Captain Lorca gets to be unexpectedly funny when he has to coach Tilly through her first conversation as a Captain. Somewhere, somehow he has met Scotty, because when he is finally asked to speak, he puts on a flawless Scotty  accent. Lorca is totally hard core. His counterpart in the Mirrorverse is in the wind, so he pretends he’s been caught by Michael, who is presumed to have died in pursuit of him. To lend authenticity to Michael’s story, this guy head- butts himself against a bulkhead. So yeah, this universe is definitely gritty enough to make him happy.

Michael’s first act, as the Captain of The Shenzhou, is to kill the current acting Captain, a man she saw die in the Prime universe, and wonders if this is what all of this will be like for them, constantly running into dead people. To find their way back home, she and Tilly need to be their worse selves, and they both rightfully worry about how this will change them in the future. Lorca tells all of them that their focus needs to be on returning home, and to do, and say, whatever is required to get back there alive. For his part, he willingly walks into a situation that will require him to be tortured in a pain booth.

Michael’s relationship with Ash Tyler has progressed to love making, and I got a bad feeling about this drop, because  Ash has some problems, and may in fact be a brainwashed Klingon, named Voq, who has since disappeared since we saw him the first two episodes. I think Ash has been genetically, and surgically, altered to look human, which I really hope not. Lorca assigns him to be Michael’s personal guard, because that’s how this universe rolls, and Ash has totally dedicated himself to this job ,which was kind of nice to see, but this is tempered by the fact that he is slowly unraveling.

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There has been some speculation, from fans, that Lorca himself is actually from this universe. If so, it would certainly answer a whole hell of a lot of questions about his character, including why he is so unperturbed to be in the Mirrorverse. In the Mirrorverse, he was presumed in flight, after killing that Universe’s version of Michael, who was sent to assassinate him.  If he had a previous relationship with the Mirrorverse Michael, that might explain his strong attachment to this Michael.

http://comicbook.com/tv-shows/2017/10/29/star-trek-discovery-lorca-mirror-universe/

This theory would certainly explain Lorca’s  shifty behavior, if his ultimate goal, from the time we met him, was to try to get back to the Mirrorverse, so he can assassinate the Terran Emperor. (Yep, I got theories! And I’m not the only one, either.)) It would explain his behavior with Cornwell, like the fact that he keeps a phaser under his pillow, which is exactly the sort of shit captains have to do in the Mirrorverse, if they want to stay alive. Cornwell also tells him that after the event that damaged  his eyes, he changed, and became a different person, and he makes love differently than before, too. Now, watching that scene, without any of these suspicions, it is very obvious that he is trying to manipulate her into doing something he wants, which is keep his ship from being taken from him.

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I strongly suspect that in the episode Lethe, when Sarek is injured, and unable to meet with the Klingons, and their mediators, to stop the war, that he is the one who gave the Klingons the secret location of the meeting. After all, he is the one that suggested she take Sarek’s place. It would certainly explain his not even trying to rescue her, after she’d been captured. It very conveniently gets her out of the way, and he can continue his mission, without her interference.

Cornwell came into that conversation to discuss how he is running his ship, and he turned it into a seduction, and sexual manipulation is, once again,  the kind of shit that captains in the Mirroverse do. She had chalked up these differences to PTSD, or some other psychological issue, but its possible Lorca just isn’t who she thinks he is. This is par for the course on this show. Everybody else has a horrible secret, so why not him. Stamets  spends a lot of time yelling to Culber about how the danger is  present, and I did not think he was talking about Ash Tyler.

One of the most shocking moments is the death of Doctor Culber, Lt Stamets Space -Boo, (as he is referred to by the fans), by Ash Tyler, when  Ash experiences a bout of PTSD, after visiting L’Rel in prison. A lot of fans were very wound up about this, but the writers and the actor have assured us that they understand the importance of Culber and Stamets relationship, this is not a “Kill Your Gays” moment, and that we WILL see more of Culber in the future. Wilson Cruz, who plays Culber, says that some of his best work is yet to be seen on the show. And keep in mind that Star Trek has a long tradition of finding ways to bring characters back from the dead. (Spock has died twice. Once on the show, and once in the movies.)

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I did enjoy the scene between Culber and Lorca. Culber is bold enough to confront Lorca on his behavior. In fact, outside of Michael, he’s the only other person I’ve ever seen call Lorca out on his bullshit.

The writers also assured viewers that there will be no evil version of Culber in this show. (If he does exist in this universe, then he is probably on the Mirrorverse version of Discovery, now trapped in the Prime universe.) And that’s if these particular human beings aren’t homophobic as well. If they are, then Culber and Stamets may not even exist as a couple, in the Mirrorverse.

Now you see why I was mad about not being able to binge this show. On the other hand, I would have finished it in a day and then I would’ve been angry I’d finished it so fast.

Should I give a review of next week’s show? I don’t know. I got other stuff to write, but I’m pretty caught up in this thing now. leave me comment, and let me know if I should keep going. I know some of you don’t get this show, and don’t want to pay for it, so hopefully my reviews will be entertaining.

Til’ next week, here’s to reckless eyeballing:

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Star Trek Discovery Review

 

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Before we get started on the second half of the new season, let’s talk about what I liked and disliked about this new show, and do some quick character reviews. I know some of you had some doubts about this show and you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth your time, based on my observations. I’m gonna try to be as fair as I can considering I’m biased.

Let me lay out my credentials: I’m an OG Star Trek fan, since about ten or so. I’ve been around since the replays of the Original series back in the 80s, and have watched every episode, multiple times, over the last 35 years. I’ve seen every movie multiple times, can quote dialogue, know most characters backstories, from having read almost all the books , and vowed I would marry Mr. Spock when I was twelve years old. I was a Trek fan before I was a fan of Star Wars,and that’s where the bulk of my nerd-love went.

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I have to admit, I’m kinda addicted to this show, which surprised me, after my initial reserve of those first two episodes. I got into it about six episodes in,when CBS All Access offered a special subscription. As I’ve said, there’s nothing else on the network worth looking at, but I’ve heard there are some promising shows for the future, and I think this is one of them. It’s tackled a couple of sensitive issues with Star Trek’s usual care, and lack of hysteria, and it has some intriguing characters.

The major plot consists of Captain Lorca’s efforts to create a weapon that will help Starfleet win in the war against the Klingons. To that end, he has Michael’s transport shuttle waylaid, so he can use her big brain to help him to do this. Over time, we learn that he has Carte Blanche to do whatever he pleases, as long as it accomplishes his goal. When they find another ship whose crew wiped out by a hostile alien, called a tardigrade, they capture the alien, and use it, (and it’s parasitic relationship with some sentient mushroom spores) to create a new form of trans warp drive, that allows their ship to movie itself anywhere instantly.

When Michael and Stamets find out that their use of the creature is killing it, Michael, in her compassion, sets it free, and prepares to use her own body in place of the alien, to communicate with the spores, but Stamets sacrifices himself instead, and by the end of the season, they have accomplished their goal of creating a new weapon in the war, to spectacular fashion, in an episode rivaling the TNG two parter, The Best of Both Worlds. But Stamets is so changed in personality by what he has done, as to be unrecognizable from when we first met him,and there will be repercussions from that, as biological experimental weapons are outlawed in Starfleet.

 

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In the meantime, most of Michael’s actions, on the ship,revolve around her navigating  new, and old,  relationships, and occasionally saving the ship. She is usually the one person who thinks differently enough from any of the other characters (due to her dual heritage) that she is able to come up with solutions to their problems.

 

Up first:

I like the relationships and characters most of all. ST has never shied away from relationship stories. In fact, I’d argue those were some of the best episodes of any of the series. But Star Trek has always been very plot driven, too, and Discovery does not skimp on that end. I find everything except the  Klingons to be compelling. The special effects are good, and the writing is well done, often involving a primary plot, a B plot, and a couple of smaller subplots, all of them elegantly intertwined, such that what you think is a B or subplot could have an effect on the main one, at any moment, or come into play later in the season.

A word of warning:

 

This is a very dark show. If you liked DS9, then you’ll probably like this one. I was not a huge DS9 fan until after the series ended. But I like how dark this show is. The characters aren’t as blandly pleasant as they were in TNG, which I also liked a lot, or as polarizing as in the Original series. The show has dealt with war, ptsd, rape trauma, spiritual possession, revenge, and treason, and that’s just in the first half of the season.

If you’re used to thinking of Star Trek as light and fluffy, then just remember the Original series had some occasionally very dark episodes too, that addressed serious social issues, like Toxic Masculinity, in Charlie X, and The Enemy Within. It dealt with sexism in Turnabout Intruder, and frequently dealt with issues of population control, slavery, conflicted identity, and the nature of violence. One of my all time favorite episodes of Voyager was the introduction of a member of the immortal Q Continuum who wanted to commit suicide, but was prevented from doing so by the others, in Death Wish. I think that’s probably the only episode, of any of the series, to ever bring me to tears.

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If you’re looking for fun and fluffy, this has very little of it to go around. There are occasionally beautiful moments, (you can see this show costs money), and some lighthearted banter, but that’s not the focus of the show.

Now let’s talk about the six primary characters:

Michael Burnham:

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Its hard to get a grasp on this character. She really is the main focus of the show. She has most of the onscreen time,and many of the episodes revolve around how she thinks and feels, but she is not an especially demonstrative character, due to her Vulcan upbringing, and it’s takes time, and lots of viewing, to get some idea of what she’s thinking and feeling. She is brave, idealistic, and earnest. And at least is not as stiffly formal as when we first met her. She is learning to act more human, I’m going to argue that she either suppressed or ignored her emotions as being irrelevant, because that’s how so many Vulcans operate.

We need to keep in mind that the third episode and the subsequent episodes take place immediately after her court martial, so I’m guessing all within the space of a year, or a few months. Her entrance to Lorca’s ship gets off to a rocky start, as she is rebuffed by Tilley, and tested by Stamets, and rebuked by Saru, who is terrified of her. But over time, these individuals start to understand her worth, as she regularly saves their lives, and they warm to her.

Everyone questions her purpose on the ship, but Lorca knows why he wants her. She’s smart as fuck, and has no qualms about kicking Klingon ass. And I think he just admires her, for her. She has been a great asset to his ship, but no matter how useful she is to him, she has to always keep in mind that she is under a life imprisonment sentence with Starfleet, and is, basically, a convict, whose sentence has been briefly commuted. When Lorca’s mission is over she believes she will go back to prison, so that’s the sword that is hanging over her head throughout all her missions,and informs some of her decision making.

 

Tilly:

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Tilly is Michael’s roommate, and I immediately disliked Tilly, at first, because of the way she treated Michael when they first met. But, I’ve grown to really, really like her. Sometimes more than Michael, but Michael is a very heavy character, who is hard to cozy up to, because she’s so closed with her emotions. Tilly’s emotions are wide open, which makes her more easily accessible, and one of the most likable people on the show. If Michael is the intellect, then Tilly is the heart of the show, and in their friendship, we can see a reflection of the relationships of the Original series, (Kirk, Spock ,and McCoy, who often acted as Kirks intellect and conscience). The only word that can truly describe Tilly, is ” bubbly”.

She is often the comedy relief, for whom Michael plays the straight man, and has sort of appointed herself to be Michael’s emotional liaison, helping her navigate a human social system, without any rank to smooth the way, and I would argue that they are great friends, or getting there. Michael has none, so has to work out each individual relationship, as she encounters them. Tilley has also appointed Michael to be her mentor, and I can’t tell you how heartening it is to watch Michael develop the same relationship with Tilley that she had with Gheorgiu, and fulfilling Gheorgius wishes for her.

Another thing I have to applaud the show for is Tilly’s relationship with Michael is  treated as a priority for both of them, and the writers show that by not creating a trite love triangle between Tilly, Ash, and Michael. It is Tilly who shows initial interest in Ash, but when she can see that Ash and Michael have a connection, she steps aside, and encourages Michael to pursue a relationship with him. In the hands of lesser writers, Tilly and Michael would have competed for Ash’s attention, and I appreciate that these writers were more mature.

Bryan Fuller is known for having positive female relationships in his shows and I am here for it, and I love seeing it.

 

Ash Tyler:

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Ash is played by the exceptionally handsome Shazad Latif, he of the big round eyes! When Captain Lorca gets kidnapped by the Klingons, he gets trapped in a cell with Ash, who had been a prisoner for some time, and was only alive because L’Rel, a female Klingon, took a romantic fancy to him. He later talks about his time with her, to Michael, and we come to understand that he was in fact raped repeatedly by L’Rel, as he slept with her to keep from being tortured and killed, like all the other prisoners who were captured before him. When L’Rel surrenders to Lorca, she gets sent to brig and we see Ash have his first panic attack, as he suffers from ptsd. The writers handle the issues of rape, and post traumatic stress, delicately, and with respect.

After a successful mission with Michael, that saves the ship, Ash gets appointed to Head of Security, as he and Michael form a strong emotional bond. It’s not exactly a romance yet, but there is an implied intimacy of feeling between the two, and they do discuss having a future romantic relationship. Later, during a time travel episode, they share their first kiss. Star Trek has portrayed many different types of romances, but this is one of the few interracial relationships, on any of its shows, that do not involve a White partner, (most interracial relationships on TV involve a White partner), or an alien, and I think it’s handled very well, with care and sensitivity for both their issues, although I suspect it will turn out to be tragic, as the future doesn’t look good for an ex-con, whose only free on sufferance, and a Head of Security in Starfleet.

 

Lt. Saru:

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Saru is played by the inimitable Doug Jones, from Hellboy, and The Shape of Water. If you’re interested in some interesting tidbits and updates on his career (along with some great philosophical analysis of mythology in pop culture) then check out, and follow, his brothers website:

For smart, philisophocal reading on superheroes, follow my oldest brother Bobby and scroll down his WordPress entries!

Saru is another character that is hard to warm up to, but only because he’s so bluntly, and directly suspicious of Michael. I have to keep in mind that Saru is traumatized by the loss of his captain,which really wasn’t that long ago, and blames Michael, and in many ways, himself. Saru is an alien from a member of what he calls, “a prey species”, and so has developed a keen ability to detect danger. He often talks about being risk avoidant, but I’ve seen this character be brave and fearless in a couple of episodes, so I’m taking what he says about himself with a grain of salt.

Over time he does begin to warm up to and trust mIchael, but he never loses his initial suspicion of her. He’s still very wary, but the two of them reached a moment of ,if not friendship, then at least detente,when Michael is delivered Gheorgius last will and testament in the form of a giant telescope, that was her family heirloom. Gheorgius last words to Michael is the first really tearjerker moment in the series, which is only equaled by the scene in which Michael offers the telescope to Saru. In fact we learn about what Saru thinks and feels in that episode,so we reach a fuller understanding of him, even if he is difficult to warm to. He’s not a bad character. He’s not even especially dark. He’s just afraid, but I’m very protective when it comes to Michael’s character, and tend to give the side eye to anyone on the show, who doesn’t like her.

Saru is too traumatized to ever trust Michael. He is always going to be afraid of her, and what she might do, but he makes it clear that he has the utmost respect for her, and I’ll accept that.

 

Lt. Stamets:

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I think all of these characters start out as inherently unlikable, but over time you grow to like them,and none more so than Stamets. He is also a lot like Lorca, in that he is focused and needs to work on his social skills, as he is very blunt and direct, and I initially hated him. When he first meets Michael, he tests her scientific knowledge, but once she has proven she is capable, he simply doesn’t care about her past. She is a member of his crew and the only person he considers smarter than her, is himself. As a character, he is every bit as idealistic and brave as any of the other characters from previous series, and becomes much more likable after he forms an intimate relationship with some sentient mushroom spores. (Don’t ask!) Although, without the influence of the mushrooms, Stamets is the kind of person you’re either terrified of, or just want to slap the living shit out of.

Stamets is married to the ships doctor, Hugh Culber. I liked how their relationship was portrayed in the show, as just like any other. The audience is gradually introduced to them as a romantic couple, living together as partners, over time. Culber doesn’t have a huge role in the show as of this time, but we’ll see more of him as the series progresses. There’s also another one of the first (and few) gay kisses on a Star Trek show, (DS9 had a couple of them), and it is given the full romantic treatment, with swelling music, and swooping camera angles, that it should be given, as Stamets prepares to risk his life to save the ship. Earlier in the season Michael got her own romantic moment with Ash.

Culber is focused and dedicated in his work, and is an absolute cinnamon roll compared to Stamets. Nevertheless, you can see in their interactions with each other, why Culber loves him,and Culber is one of the few people who can call Stamets on his bullshit, and get away with it.

Anthony Rapp, and Wilson Cruz, are both openly gay actors who play openly gay characters, which is how it should be.

 

Captain Lorca:

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Let’s get this out of the way. You will not like Lorca. He isn’t meant to be liked, and he isn’t likable. If you’re expecting someone like Picard or Kirk, then you need to go home, cuz he ain’t the one. Picard, Kirk, and the others were captains of exploratory, diplomatic ships. They were chosen specifically for their positions because of their charm, idealism, diplomacy, candor, and all those other fine qualities. Lorca is the captain of a ship of war. He is mysterious, shifty, shady, unreliable, ruthless, conniving, and morally gray, but he is not evil. At least not actively so. He was appointed to his position for the specific purpose of puttin’ a whoopin’ on some Klingon asses, and that’s his top priority. His job, and his ship are focused on creating new weapons for Starfleet. He is focused and blunt (I can identify with that to a degree), and will sacrifice anyone or anything to meet his ends.

He likes to collect things, and his dimly lit office, (he has some kind of eye disorder that makes him allergic to bright lights) is full of all manner of alien curios, including a live tribble, and some Gorn armor. He’s intriguing and I ljust know he’s getting shipped with somebody on this show even though he isn’t close to any of his crew. He’s generally respectful but he’s not a warm man. The only time we ever see him be warm is with his lover, and oldest friend, Admiral Cornwell.

He is the kind of man that makes no effort to be the bigger person. He saves Ash from the Klingons but when he finds out that Harry Mudd is a spy for them, he leaves him behind to be tortured by them, which is something that comes back to bite him in the ass later, When his lover, Admiral Cornwell , gets captured by the Klingons, he makes no effort to rescue, her because she called into question his ability to command,and planned to report him to Starfleet. And although there are no details, the loss of his light vision is directly attributable to some dust-up he had with Klingons.

It’s interesting that no mention of him is made in any of the other series, which take place long after his death. So I do wonder what happened to him and the technology he created in this show. I very much suspect that he and his ship are destroyed, or are lost somehow. Although we need to keep in mind which universe this show takes place in. Is it the 2009 Star Trek Verse, or the Original series/movie Verse?

 

Favorite episodes:

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Episode 6: Lethe – This one is about Michael’s relationship with Sarek, her decision to join Starfleet, and a mystery she needs to resolve between the two of them to save Sareks life. Some great character work from Sonequa, and Frain.

Episode 7: Magic To Make the Sanest Man Go Mad – This was my all time favorite episode, which surprised me because I’m familiar with the old Harry Mudd episodes from the Original series,and those were not my favorites. So when I heard that the new series would re-introduce this character, I automatically dismissed him. But this episode proved extremely likable.  And Rainn Wilson makes a very compelling Harry Mudd.The events of this episode are directly brought about by Lorca’s previous actions in an earlier episode.

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*There’s a scene where the crew is having a party and the music you hear playing in the background is definitely Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”, and Wycliffe Jean’s “We Tryin’ to Stay Alive” and  Tilley refers to this as Classical music. (All you gotta do is put some of my favorite music in your show to make me a fan for life, apparently. ) Michael dances with Stamets, and Ash and Michael share their first kiss. This episode sets up Michael as being qualifying romantic potential.

Episode 8: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum – I actually think this is one of the weakest episodes of this season, because the plot is rather typical, what sets it apart is Doug Jones awesome performance, as an exceptionally dangerous being, possessed by another alien species. This episode belongs entirely to Lt. Saru.

Episode 9: Into The Forest I Go – The last episode before the hiatus is just some great plotting,as far as I’m concerned. Outside of the Harry Mudd episode is the second best of the season, and a great setup for the major changes to come in the second half.

 

The show picks up the second half of its season on January 9th. And while I’m looking forward to new episodes, I’m kinda pissed that I have to wait a week between them as CBS has string the episodes out to keep people subscribing to their channel. They seem pretty aware that the only reason any of us signed up for it is to watch this show,and that as soon as it’s over, we’ll drop this channel. Hopefully, they’ll release some new shows before we all feel an urge to cancel it.

Mindhunter Review

*Amanda DobbinsWe need more expensive, mediocre, highly watchable television!

https://www.theringer.com/tv/2017/10/18/16495494/mindhunter-exit-survey

*Fennessey: One of the things I like about this show is that its pleasure is not derived from murder sequences, scenes that depict or dissect murder, or even the hunt for a killer. They’re process-driven, sure. But they are also skeptical of their heroes, unafraid to undermine their intelligence. This show isn’t about watching serial killers. It’s about watching watchers.

                                   ———-Excerpted from the Mindhunter Exit Survey

I’m just going to showcase this review of Mindhunter from Bitch Media. It highlights all the good and bad, from the perspective of a fan of Forensic Science shows.

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I’m also a fan of Forensic Science shows, in general, and I did like this show a lot, but it does have some real issues. Those particular issues didnt stop me from bingewatching it though, mostly because, on the issues of racism and misogyny, I expect only the absolute bare minimum, from a White male Hollywood director like Fincher, who has never addressed those specific issues in any of  his movies. (Now if this were Bryan Fuller, I’d be more upset. I expect more social awareness from Fuller, than I do from Fincher.)

Hollywood’s writers, who tend to be White and male, have a blind spot when it comes to certain issues and most of them are highlighted in this show. Not wanting to address those particular issues, (like  racial corruption in the FBI and COINTELPRO) doesn’t make those issues go away, and this is something that made me increasingly uncomfortable as I watched, as  I know something of the FBI’s sordid history.

I would have found this a far more interesting show had its focus been on one of the much smarter women, like the lesbian psychologist who gives the lead character all the correct answers, or the girlfriend with an actual sociology degree. I would have liked to have seen whatever dynamic played out with the killers being interviewed by someone they would normally consider one of their victims.

One thing that the article doesn’t mention is the latent homosexuality, in this all male environment, which is tinged with just a hint of violence between the main character and his interviewees. This is noticeable especially in the scene with Edmund Kemper, who makes a habit of invading the character’s personal space ,and touching him in an almost intimate manner, when they first meet. I think this is entirely unintentional on the part of the writer, but probably not on the actor’s part.

Cameron Britton and Jonathan Groff in Mindhunter

 

On the other hand, I do realize that’s not the show’s focus, (as its not a critique of the FBI,) and I do know more than I should about some of  the serial killers being interviewed in the show, having read John Douglas’ seminal book of the same name (and all his other books). Edmund Kemper, Jerome Brudos, and Dennis Rader (known as BTK) are all featured, and I can see that much more attention was paid to getting their details correct than in approaching social issues. Also, Douglas doesn’t address any of these issues in his book, so the writers may have been performing their idea of faithfulness to the source material.

PROFILING 101

THE WHITE MEDIOCRITY OF “MINDHUNTER”

https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/mindhunter-white-male-problem

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‘Ford is a mediocre white cishet male hostage negotiator for the FBI, who we are introduced to during a hostage situation. While the hostage was not harmed, the perpetrator–who was suffering from mental illness–committed suicide. We learn, though, that Ford already exhibits some of the character traits that will lead him to criminal psychology; that is, exploring not just what killers do, but why they do it. Post-hostage scene, Ford’s mediocrity is increasingly apparent to everyone except, perhaps, the writer and director, who clearly envision him as a determined and dedicated individual hellbent on finding answers, but who the audience might peg as a white guy to whom white-guy things happen.’

 

Mindhunter is available on Netflix, and despite its problems, is actually is worth watching, although it’s a much better show if you know nothing about the history of the FBI. Hopefully, the writer will become a little more daring with his characters and plot, in the second season.

Note: This is a vert talky show. There are no car chases, gore, or scenes of women screaming and running. The horror doesn’t derive from watching the killers take lives, but talking about why they did it, and how, and the focus, and casualness, with which they approach the concept of killing other human beings, as a hobby. 

Star Trek Discovery

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So I did watch the first and second episodes of this show, but I won’t be watching any more of them, I guess, because the show sits behind a paywall. In order to watch Discovery in the US you have to subscribe to a streaming channel called CBS All Access, the first week of which is free. Also, I can’t watch this on my TV, because I can’t add any channels to it.  The streaming channels are preset on my DVD player too, so I can only watch it on my Ipad, or at my computer, which is inconvenient for me.

Now, I generally don’t watch network television anyway, that is the top four networks of  Fox, CBS, ABC, and NBC. I don’t watch them because their programming isn’t particularly interesting to me, and I’m extremely wary of liking a show, only to see it get canceled after one season. I’ve been burned waay too many times by  network TV.

I subscribed to CBS All Access, but after scrolling through the shows available on the streaming network, I figured out that I was really just paying for each episode of Star Trek, (like about 2 or 3 bucks an episode, which isn’t bad, but still) and decided to unsubscribe. It’s not a bad price per episode, as the six dollar fee is only once a month, and there are three or four episodes per month, but there is literally nothing else I watch on that network. Maybe later I’ll change my mind, so I can binge watch all eight of them during the hiatus in December.

Star Trek Discovery is a very different show for CBS. They have no track record for diversity, either. In fact most of their lineup seems to consist of  mediocre detective style shows, of which the only interesting one is Elementary (Lucy Liu is a goddess!), which I can watch reruns of anywhere else, including at my library. So basically, Discovery is like nothing else on that network.

After watching the first two episodes, I decided that I did indeed like the show, but I’m going to have to forgo this  pleasure until later. I’m also to understand that the rest of the season will be a whole new animal from the pilot, although from the trailers it still looks  pretty good.

 

 

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What I Liked:

Soniqua Martin-Green (Michael Rainsford) naturally  gets a lot of screen time, as the show’s lead. A lot of the episode rests on her shoulders and I feel confident that she is  up to the job. She turned in a very strong performance. I had a few quibbles about some of her character’s decisions during the episode, but the show was suspenseful and compelling, only requiring a little tweaking, for consistency.

I loved everything about Michael and it was a real joy watching her and the captain banter with each other. We don’t get to meet any of the rest of the crew really, and there’s a reason for that. We won’t be seeing any more of them beyond Saru (the alien scientist played by Doug Jones.) Another thing I like is that there is quite a contingent of White women who seem to really like Michael too, and are coming to bat for her.

The only people who seemingly hate the show, and nitpick every single tiny detail, so as to do so, appear to be White men, and I expected as much from the ones online, because they stay disappointing me on the regular. (Its funny! The real life White guys are know are some of the nicest, most considerate people. Are they even the same species  as the ones online?)

The plot of the first two episodes is basically background stuff for Michael’s character for the rest of the season. We’re introduced to the person she was so we can get to know and understand the person she will be. Michael is orphaned during a Klingon attack on an outpost and is adopted by James Frain’s Sarek. (You may remember Frain as the vampire who was obsessed Tara Thornton in the show True Blood.) I like Frain’s version of Sarek. I liked the other versions too, but Frain’s version seems less stiff and formal. He seems like the type of man who is just very used to being comfortable around humans, while still remaining uncompromisingly Vulcan. My favorite moment is him whispering “Behave!” to his young charge just before he leaves her alone with Gheorghiu, because that’s such a ‘parent- type’ thing to do, (This is the kind of behavior he might well have learned from raising his spirited, half human son.)

I liked that the show isn’t filmed in quite the same way as other Trek shows. For one thing, we get flashbacks to Michael’s upbringing on Vulcan, and I wish we’d had more of those, rather than showcasing the Klingons. In one of the first flashbacks we see her as a child having a moment of PTSD in one of the learning pods, and witness Sarek’s reaction to her.

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I have to admit I have never been a fan of the Klingons. I’m simply not now, nor ever have been, impressed by their existence, language, culture, any of it. So I didn’t particularly enjoy having to look at the Klingons for half the episode. What made them even more annoying was that their makeup was hard to look at, and they were difficult to understand, and not just because they were speaking their native tongue. They sounded like  people speaking through masks, and quite frankly,  a Klingon with a lisp is not scary. (Plus, they all spoke very slowly, as if they had all suffered  recent head injuries.)

Klingons have always been “coded”as Black people and I don’t really have a problem with that. My problem is with their depiction as one of the more violent races on Star Trek. On the other hand, the show does have a very good track record for giving them depth and making them likable, and sympathetic characters, the most notable one being Worf from STNG. Now there is an element of colorism involved in their depiction, as there is a Klingon with albinism, who seems to have to prove himself to be more Klingon then all the others, after being kicked out of his family. I’m reminded of the discrimination of albinos in certain parts of Africa, but I don’t know that this calls back to that or not.

I liked the Klingon  costumes, though. The costumes had this beautiful Elizabethan look that just kinda suited them. I liked all the costumes in the show really, and I liked all the tech stuff that Trek is famous for. This is an extremely pretty show, that’s just nice to look at. The color scheme and design reminds me of DS9, and the Federation outfits seem almost Bajoran. Well, Bajoran with lots of bling, and I like bling, so that didn’t bother me. That’s probably  due to Fuller’s influence since DS9 was the last Trek show he worked on.

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Michael joins the crew of the Shenzhou with Michelle Yeoh’s  Captain Phillipa Gheorghiu. I loved the relationship between these two women and hope to see that replicated in later episodes, because showing that type of rapport and mentorship between women is important. After Michael encounters and kills a Klingon (a race of people that the federation had not had contact with in some 100 years), on Sarek’s advice, she argues that the Shenzhou should fire on the Klingon ship, to show greater strength, hence the name of the episode, The Vulcan Hello. Gheorghiu disagrees with her and Michael gives her the Vulcan Sleeper Pinch, and takes over the bridge.

When Gheorghiu gets back on the bridge, her Federation backup has arrived, but because she still refuses to fire on the Klingons, even though their backup arrived first, this starts a skirmish in which the Federation loses. Michael, who has been stashed in the brig during this fight, manages to escape just before her imminent death, by logicking at the computer. She goes back to the bridge and proposes the idea of capturing the Klingon leader, so as not to make him a martyr. Michael and Gheorghiu board the Klingon ship,  but their attempt to capture the Klingon leader (T’Kuvma) is unsuccessful, and Gheorghiu is killed.

At the end of episode two, Michael is convicted of assaulting her captain, mutiny,  (and exacerbating an already tense  situation). The rest of the season is her (and Jason Isaac’s Captain Lorca) dealing with the aftermath of her conviction.

During the standoff between the two women, Michael makes a bunch of emotional decisions, but she’s been raised on Vulcan and has never dealt with the PTSD of what happened to her as a child, so she has not learned how to handle her emotions in an environment with a lot of other emotional issues. Well, she doesnt seem to have learned, and this incident is a direct callback to a highly personal event that she’s never had to think about while safe on Vulcan.

She seems to be having difficulty telling the difference between decisions she makes through logic, and ones made through emotions, which makes her a wonderfully complex character. I’m interested to see how she grows and changes throughout the season, and I hope the writers don’t pull a Sleepy Hollow, and sideline her in favor of Captain Lorca. This first season should be all about Michael and her journey. Later, we can get more  into the stories of the other characters.

I loved the special effects, even if I didn’t like the makeup on the Klingons. The transporter effect looks a little different and Gheorghiu explains that it’s because the Shenzhou is using older technology.

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Doug Jones (you may remember him as Hellboy’s Abe Sapien) has great makeup, but those stilt things he has to walk around on look deeply uncomfortable, and I worried that his feet hurt, even though surely, he must be used to that sort of thing. I liked the character too and enjoyed the rapport between him and Michael. It reminded me of the threesome from the original show.

 

Things I Could’ve Done Without

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As I said, I hated the Klingon makeup, not because I thought it was especially bad, but because they all look like they’re trying to talk through Kabuki masks. I’m used to Klingons looking expressive, and their faces (the makeup) makes that impossible. Another thing I don’t particularly care for with Klingons is all the group yelling. I’ve always found that annoying.

I wish they would’ve shown more of Michael’s background, as I could’ve used a lot less of the Klingons, and I also get the impression that the people who wrote this show don’t understand Klingons very well. I understood their reasons for attacking the federation but those reasons still were not well articulated for me.

I think they could have ditched the ten minute prologue  of Michael and Gheorghiu on the desert planet. It was a cute scene, that introduces the two characters and the nature of their relationship, but ultimately it was unnecessary. That was made clear when the two of them first met, and I would’ve liked to have seen more of that first meeting. Or they could have done away with the first two episodes altogether and just jumped right into Michael’s new life, and new captain, for the rest of the season. The plot feels like a bait and switch and I didn’t like that, although I understand that Gheorghiu will be making plenty of cameos in the form of flashbacks, so the show began as it means to go on. Its flashbacks all the way in.

There wasn’t a lot I disliked  about the show itself, and I think the show is really worth watching. Part of me hopes it succeeds but as I said i’m probably not going to be watching it because I don’t want to pay for it. Apparently a lot of other people feel the same way because I heard it’s one of the most pirated shows online. I’m not going to pirate the show, but maybe I’ll sign up later.

You’re probably going to see a lot of comparisons between this show, and another one called The Orville, led by Seth MCFarlane from Family Guy. If you’re lookng for something like Star Trek, but a little lighter, than the Orville is your show. In the last episode I saw, things got just a bit heavy, dealing with the issue of gender change, in an interesting way, and I think it was handled well, (but it would be up to transgender people to say whether or not it was actually handled well).

The first couple of episodes are an odd blend of seriousness and humor. Now, I don’t watch Family Guy, because I don’t find the  show not particularly funny. McFarlane’s dudebro humor doesn’t mesh well with mine, but The Orville is a different side of McFarlane. He wants to be taken seriously as both a comedian and a showrunner and it shows. The show still doesn’t know whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama, but once it figures that out, it can be a really good show, and I actually enjoyed watching it. The humor is scattered all over the place, but its not raunchy or especially offensive, if that’s your worry.

The closest comparison would be Galaxy Quest, (although it’s less funny), as the show is very obviously a love letter to Star Trek, if a somewhat irreverant one. The show still needs some  degree of tweaking, but it’s not a bad show. And I hate to say it, but it’s a lot more fun than Discovery. Discovery is a heavy show with very little humor, and although I enjoyed it, it’s a very different type of show than The Orville. The two don’t really compare, inasmuch as they are both offshoots of Star Trek.

So for those of you who can’t get your Trek fix, I think The Orville is a good enough substitute, and this is coming from an OG Trekkie, who also loves Galaxy Quest.

Stuff I’ve Been Watching

 

Midnight Texas (NBC)

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So, I’ve watched maybe two episodes of this show and I’m really liking it so far. I’m willing to date this show for a while, because it’s good fun and makes me laugh. Midnight Texas isn’t a deep show. It’s not a Bryan Fuller Joint, or Westworld, but it’s a fun little interlude before going to bed, since it airs at ten, Monday nights, and I gotta go to work in the morning.

The main character, Manfred Bernardo, can see ghosts. His Auntie comes from the town of Midnight, and after she dies suddenly, leaving him in debt to some type of criminal, her ghost tells him the town can be a safe place for him, where his skills will be appreciated.

Midnight Texas happens to be the home of various supernatural beings, and Manfred fits right in. Upon his  arrival, Manfred meets a local girl named Creek, and while her father is deeply suspicious of him, the young lady is intrigued, and the two of them develop a relationship very quickly. A lot of things happen quickly in the show, and many of the plot points happen in a kind of throwaway manner that takes some getting used to. I understand the idea is to keep it light, and not get too bogged down in philosophy, meta- physics, and whatnot. The show is supposed to just be fun, and I’ll watch it in that spirit.

I have a lot of favorite characters on the show, most of which are supers. There’s some good representation on the show, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the various characters. I missed the second episode, but managed to watch the third. The creators are trying to keep things light without being ha-ha funny, which is a fine line. It doesn’t look like they’re trying so much to reproduce True Blood, as reproduce the mood of True Blood. Some of these characters are mentioned in the True Blood books though.

Manfred, for example, is the psychic that Sookie met when she visited Dallas.  Midnight Texas is based on source material from the same writer, Charlaine Harris. I have not read the books. I opted not to, because I didn’t want my brain focusing on the side issues of the books, while watching the show. I may read them at some point in the future, because they seem like fun, but not right now.

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We have a full complement of creatures on the show, so you’d think my favorite would be the Reverend Emilio Sheehan, who happens to be a Were-Tiger, which is kinda awesome. He seems rather morose, which is appropriate as I consider actual tigers to be the “crabby old men” of the giant cat world. There are WoC in the cast. One of them owns the local bar/diner, and I don’t think she has any superpowers, but I could be wrong, and it’s something that could be revealed later. The other is the local witch. The town does have some mundane people inhabiting it, and some of them are aware of the supernatural qualities of the others.

You’d think my next favorite would be the Angel, Joe because he’s really, really hot. I’m not into blondes, as a rule, but I’m willing to acknowledge the occasional hotness of some of them. He happens to be living with a Hispanic man named Chuy, who also happens to be an Angel, and I wonder if the two of them being a couple is the reason they’ve been exiled to Earth.

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Lemuel

Well, you know who my favorite is. Lemuel, the rather unique vampire who feeds off human energy, and eats other vampires. We get to see his backstory in the third episode. He used to be a slave and there’s a scene of Lemuel being whipped for trying to escape, which I didn’t appreciate having to look at. That scene is pretty graphic and you may want to skip it if watching Black people being tortured is not your thing. The point of all that is to show how far Lemuel will go to be free, I guess.  After a couple of escape attempts, Lem encounters a Native American vampire, who transforms him. Lem’s immediate course of action is to avenge himself on the slave owner, who had him beaten, and that guy’s entire family. That’s pretty graphic too.

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Olivia

 

Later, Lem and the other vampires in his clan, have a falling out, because Lem thinks he’s become just another slave to his thirst. In the third episode, Len’s Maker returns looking to take over Midnight for himself. The townspeople rally together to kill the vampires.

This seems to be the main theme this season, as we’ve  had three/four episodes, in which the townspeople need to band together to defeat some outside force. In the middle of all this plot, we learn that Lem started off as an ordinary vampire, but after encountering Manfred’s aunt when she was a child, she transformed him into something else, a vampire that can feed on other vampires.

The characters often have some deep philosophical insights, but like I said, it’s in a blink and you’ll miss it manner. (Joe and the Reverend do this too.) Lem is played by Peter Mensah, who is extremely handsome, in his bold blue contacts. You may remember him as a gladiator from the show Spartacus.

I  like Lem’s girlfriend, Olivia, who is some type of international assassin. She’s a total badass, and she and Lem are the town’s heavy hitters, when it comes to defense. I don’t normally pay a whole lot of attention to White television actresses, unless they’ve firmly established themselves with a good track record, but I like this actress. She’s blunt spoken, clear-headed, and pragmatic, all qualities I admire, and I see why Lem likes her. She has some secrets from her past, that she’s trying to bury, while dealing with  anger issues.  I could do with a lot fewer scenes of Olivia and Lem gettin’ it on, though. It doesnt need to be shown in every episode.

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Fiji

Fiji is another one of my favorites, and I like her, not because she’s the town witch, although that’s kinda cool, but because she has a talking cat. I don’t know much about the cat’s backstory but he’s snarky, and dismissive, just the way you’d think a cat would be. How it happened that her cat talks, we don’t know yet. Fiji is very young, but she’s also extremely powerful, and well-respected in the town. Most of the mundanes know what she is, and rely on her to protect them.

Fiji is also really cute, and kind of adorkably nerdy. She has a mad crush on one of the townies, a guy with the unfortunate name of Bobo, and her feelings seems to be reciprocated. One of the more powerful images I have of her, is from the first episode, where she crushes a police vehicle, with little more than her bare hands, and a strong will. Fiji looks sweet and vulnerable, but she ain’t the one to mess with. She’s  refreshingly different, as Black women rarely get to be emotionally fragile, but powerful love interests, and/or witches either.

I’m going to try to enjoy this show while it lasts. It’s on network television, which has a nasty habit of cancelling the shows I like, so I don’t hold out much hope that Midnight Texas. will be around next year. This is the same station that just canceled Still Star Crossed. But then I was trying really hard not to get attached to that show. (That didn’t work). I’m not gonna try that with this show and it still might get canceled. I might as well get attached. There’s always the books, which I’m told, Charlaine intends to keep writing.

 

Mr. Mercedes (Audience Network)

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I liked this show, too. I was expecting it to be a deeply serious dramatic type  show, but it turned out to have a quirky sense of humor, not because the writing is funny, or people are telling jokes, but because certain characters and situations are just odd. It’s not like the show Psych, which was a deliberate comedy. This is not a comedy. It’s just some of the characters are weird.

The show is based on a trilogy of books by Stephen King, the first title of which is Mr. Mercedes, named after the killer in the book. Brendan Gleason plays Bill Hodges, a retired cop who is trying to figure out what to do with himself, now that he’s no longer working. until he is taunted out of retirement by Mr. Mercedes, so-named after he drove a Mercedes into a crowd of job seekers outside a job fair, killing several. I like Gleason’s character. One of the funniest recurring issues is when he can’t believe various women find him attractive. (It’s definitely the beard.)

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The show begins with  a very graphic scene, and I was heavily reminded of the events in Charlottesville Virginia. There’s no mystery about the killer for the audience, just as in the book. We’re introduced to Brady Hartsfield early in the story. The book remains very faithful to the books, except in tiny details like the wacky neighbor lady who lives next door, and Bill feeding a massive tortoise passing through his yard one morning. I’m not sure if this is a pet or what.

Bill is assisted in his sleuthing, by the kid he hired to mow his lawn, and who happens to be a computer wiz. Jerome is played by Jharrel Jerome, and I like him already. His character is a refreshing change from the Black Male Sportsplayer/Jock, we see so often on TV. Black men are rarely cast as hardware nerds. Brady is also a tech-nerd, and works at one of those big box technical stores, which is something like Best Buy, and I like that Jerome seems to be every bit his equal when it comes to the esoteric workings of computers.

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I think Bill’s quirky neighbor is meant to represent a woman with which Bill has a brief, but satisfying relationship, in the books. Or at least I hope so. I don’t know if this will happen on the show, but in the book, Janey is murdered by Brady. This is not a catalyst to make Bill chase after him, because Bill was already unofficially working the Mr. Mercedes case. This is Brady’s attmept to make Bill commit suicide. The neighbor, Ida Silver, is played by Holland Taylor, and if she looks familiar, that you may have seen her in every funny show of the 90s.

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The villain is played by one of the alumni of the cable show, Penny Dreadful . Harry Treadaway, who played Victor Frankenstein, is as disgusting character here, as he was on the other show. Apparently, this is how he’s going to make his career, playing unlikable people in perfectly good shows. The show remains very faithful to the books with him too. He has an incestuous relationship with his mother, whom he later poisons, and it looks like the writers are sticking to this plot, although in the book, the mother  initiates sexual activity. In the show, it appears she doesn’t know that her son regularly masturbates with her as his subject. (I know! Ewww!)

Their relationship does have a very Bates Motel feel. Brady works at a Big Box store, with other quirky characters, and a deeply stupid boss, who is constantly shit-talking Brady’s dreams of life beyond the store. This goes a long way towards humanizing this incredibly shitty character, who mowed down dozens of people with his car, just for shits and giggles. This is not something that happens  in the books, so I wasn’t expecting that.

I’m going to keep watching this because the pilot certainly captured me. The show airs on the Audience Network which may be difficult for some of you to access. I have access to it through DirectTV, and its possible you may need that, to watch this show.

 

 

The Void (Netflix)

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I love a good creature feature, and I was attracted to this movie because of its use of tentacles in its promotional material. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot when I sat down to watch it. I was sort of expecting a little Cthulhu type stuff, and there’s certainly a little of that in it, but there was also a lot of it I couldn’t make hide, nor hair, of.

It seems to be about a group of cultists attempting to call some dark being to Earth, to inhabit the bodies of humans, and the cultists are partially successful. They’re doing this in collusion with a doctor at the local hospital, where they’ve trapped several people.  Daniel Carter, Maggie, James, and inexplicably, an Asian woman, named Kim, who I lost track of by the end of the movie.

These people have to fight off monsters inhabiting the bodies of their friends, and a couple of trigger happy locals, while working their way through the maze of the hospital, to find and stop the doctor from unleashing Hell on Earth, through the body of his pregnant daughter.

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I have to give fair warning. The movie is very gory, with lots of blood and other fluids gushing all over the place. People get skewered with knives and/or shot, and sometimes they get torn apart by creatures. The cult members wear white hooded cloaks and look a little like KKK members, but there is no equivocating in this case. They are definitely villains ,whose job it is to keep the hapless victims trapped in the hospital to be fodder for the monsters. There’s also an element of the movie The Thing, as the monster is a conglomeration of various body parts and live people.

The movie doesn’t have the happiest ending either. At the end Daniel, and I guess her name is Maggie, get trapped in an alternate universe featuring a giant black pyramid. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not an A+ movie either. A lot of the plot seems to have been borrowed from  other Lovecraftian pastiche movies, like Hellraiser, and Re-animator ,and the acting is sometimes a bit dodgy. But I think the key words here are “not bad”. It’s a good workmanlike plot where bad things happen to bad, and sometimes not so bad,people, who sometimes act like cowards, and occasionally act like heroes.

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Daniel isn’t the most charismatic guy in the film, although he is set up as our hero, who has the most sense,  and who  is gonna save the world. None of the other characters stand out as especially interesting either, really. Basically, if you’re watching this movie, it’s just  for the monsters, and gore.

American Gods: Of Gods and Shadow Moon (Come To Jesus – Pt. 2)

 

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                   SPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERSSPOILERS

 

 

I’m  going to maybe do a little spoiling ,so if you didn’t read the book….best check out now, although just because it’s in the book, doesn’t  mean it will play out on the show. However, the show is following the spirit of the book, and some of the major plot points  of the book have been struck.

At the end of this first season, it’s difficult to say where we are in the book because the series is showing events out of order. A significant middle portion of the book is taken up with Shadow, alone in a small town, waiting for Wednesday to contact him, as he goes about gathering together the various gods.

One of the major changes from the book is Shadow is with Wednesday, as he attempts to round up the various gods for his war. The end result of this decision by the show’s writers,  is that the focus is now on Shadow’s relationship with Wednesday. Their relationship was not something that was elaborated upon in the book, so by focusing on the closeness of Shadow’s friendship with Wednesday, we can better understand  at least one of the key decisions that Shadow will make in the next season.

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In the Bone Orchard, we’re introduced to Shadow while he’s in prison. The way we see him there, is how we’ll see him for most of the season, reacting to something that’s being done to him. He essentially moves from one kind of prison to another, where he is not in control of any of the events that are happening to him, from his wife’s death, to his early release from prison, to his meeting with Wednesday, and he spends almost all of his time being fought over by various gods, and  reacting, or not reacting, to someone, or something. From the disrespectful airport lady, to Audrey’s attempted rape, to Wednesday roping him into his deal as a bodyguard, to fighting with Mad Sweeney., Shadow spends the entire season reacting to things others are doing to him. (The most decisive things he did all season was to accept Wednesday’s job offer, and Believe.)

How Shadow reacts to the world around him in those first 30 minutes is key to realizing how shaken he is by the events of this season, and what a huge turnaround it is for him to say those words to Wednesday in the season finale. From his early reactions, we understand that Shadow is not a stupid man. He thinks about what’s happening to him, and how he should feel, or respond to it.

For example the airport scene where he thinks back on Lowkey’s warning not to piss off airport ladies, despite that woman’s blatant disrespect of him. He understands that the survival behavior he developed in prison is not going to work outside of it, and adapts his behavior accordingly. You can almost see the exact moment when he backs down from going off on the woman, realizing that more than a few ex-cons ended up right back in jail because they were unable to adapt their prison behavior to their new situations. It is his intelligence and adaptability that will stand him in good stead on his journey into the realm of the gods.

When Sweeney tries to provoke him in the bar, Shadow tries to stand down, because he wants to learn Sweeney’s coin trick, but after a moment, he figures out that Wednesday is testing him, and steps up. When Technical Boy threatens him, he remains calm and  unruffled by TB’s threats, mouthing off to TB as he would to any other convict who tried to scare him. Once again reading the situation correctly, and then adapting his behavior to suit it.

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I said in an earlier post that Shadow Moon is the show’s Everyman. Every fantastic, supernatural show, must have one. They function as a lens through which the fantastic is experienced by the audience. We’re meant to identify, and empathize with this character. Shadow is  remarkable  because the vast majority of such characters are often Average White Guys. It’s  extraordinary for us that a Black man has been cast in such a role because the audience is supposed to project themselves onto his character, and identify with him, and the decisions he makes.

This is only the first season, so much of our time has been spent establishing the world that Shadow has joined. A a result,  Shadow is often a passive, rather than a dynamic character, which I know sometimes frustrated some viewers, but this is quite common.  He’s done very little to move the plot forward, which is in keeping within the tenets of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Think of Luke Skywalker, who starts off Star Wars as a somewhat passive character, who is mostly reacting to things being done to him.

This season has been a journey to get Shadow to do one thing. Make one big decision of his own volition. Believe! After this, much like Luke, in The Empire Strikes Back, Shadow should become a much more active participant in the proceedings, and Bryan Fuller promises that he will.

Like Luke Skywalker, Shadow receives the call to adventure (from Wednesday). As soon as he agrees to it, he’s given supernatural aid, in the form of a magical coin by Sweeney, after his first challenge, which is besting Sweeney in a fight. (Giving the coin away is what actually aids him, at the end of The Bone Orchard. Had that coin never resurrected Laura, Shadow would have died on the tree.)

His second challenge is his checkers game with Czernobog, which he loses. He is then given a second gift in the form of a silver coin, that helps him best Czernobog, when he challenges him to another game. Technical Boy is the Guardian of the first threshold. Shadow has  fully committed to the adventure by the time they meet.  His lynching is his entrance into the Belly of the Whale. He couldn’t back out of the adventure now, even if he wanted to, because the new gods are aware of his presence. Shadow has to keep moving forward now, just like Luke had no choice but to keep moving forward after his first encounter with Darth Vader. Once you become known to the major players, its impossible to back out of  events, as they will keep drawing you back into the game, by coercion, or force, if necessary.

As Shadow moves forward, he is beset by  temptations and challenges, which occur in threes. The first temptation is in the cemetery with Audrey, while one of the challenges is his game of checkers with Czernobog.   Along the way, there are two other temptations: Laura’s return, and Media’s seduction to the dark side, both of which Shadow successfully withstands. Another of his three challenges is the  bank heist, which is successful, and Mr World makes, yet another, offering to him, of flesh and blood,  in the form of Technical Boy’s teeth. So Shadow withstands three temptations, overcomes three challenges, and receives three gifts. Along the way, he is aided by his assistant (Helper), Laura, and mentored by Wednesday.

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Shadow is also shown to have gifts of his own, an ability to prophecy, control of the weather, the ability to do coin tricks, to heal quickly, and to See. One of the  first things we know about Shadow is that he has prophetic/mystical dreams. He dreams about Laura’s death, telling her on the phone, and in his dream that he has a feeling of dread, that something bad is about to happen. The Bone Orchard is his dream about impending danger, of being attacked by Technical Boy’s white clad droogs, in a meadow, next to a tree. In the dream, Shadow stands in a blood covered orchard with bones, while he is attacked by white, bone-like hands reaching out of the trees. Shadow doesn’t know it, but the Bone Orchard represents the deaths of TB’s drones, at Laura’s hands. Later, he dreams about the same Buffalo God that denied entry into America to Nunyunnini, the forgotten god of Lemon Scented You. In his dreams this  god tells Shadow to “Believe.”

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During the scenes where Laura visited her family, Wednesday asks Shadow if he can see her, and Shadow, through glowing  eyelids, perfectly describes Laura, looking through her family’s front window, and deciding that she can’t join them. . So far, he has been shown as having the powers of many of the beings he has seen or met. His ability to prophesy mimics the Zorya Sisters powers. The coin tricks mimic Sweeney’s abilities with coins. Laura’s one heartbeat, when he kisses her, implies he has the powers of Anubis, or Easter, to resurrect the dead. (It is definitely Shadow who resurrects her because the power of  Sweeney’s  coin does not entail resurrection. )The trick with the snow is an echo of the powers of a certain storm god we all know, but who has, conspicuously,  never been mentioned.

We’ve also seen that Shadow is able to heal very quickly. When he was attacked by TB’s henchmen he suffered a stab wound in his side that needed to be stapled shut, but by the time we see Wednesday healing him in Murder of Gods, he only has the tree wound, which is healed by the time of Come to Jesus. Shadow doesn’t act, or move as if he’s in pain, or wounded, shortly after these events.

Not only do we know Shadow through his actions, but we also know him through his emotions. Ricky Whittle gives a beautiful performance  of a man who is hanging on to his sanity by his fingernails. Whittle’s portrayal is remarkable for the depth and breadth of emotions he brings to his character. He’s allowed to be tough and snarky, just like your typical hero character, but he’s also allowed to express vulnerability, without coming across as weak.

Not only is Shadow allowed to be tired, upset, angry, happy, hopeful, and even fearful, he is allowed to express these emotions without censure from the other characters. And even when he’s not openly expressing his emotions, in some of the first episodes we have some idea of what he’s feeling through the weather around him. Whenever we see Shadow trying to keep control of his emotions, the scene transitions indicate his inner turmoil, with shots of heavy clouds and storms. This is also indicated by followup shots that move from Shadows facial expressions to shots of the sky just above him.

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In one of the first scenes in The Bone Orchard, Shadow gives full vent to his emotions on a hilltop, which is followed by a shot of clouds clearing from a blue sky. When he vents, skies tend to be clear. When he tries to suppress or control his emotions, the weather is often an indicator of his inner turmoil. When he first meets Wednesday, their plane is flying through a storm, as he deals with the aftermath of Laura’s death, and this annoying stranger he’s trying not to snap at.

In Secret of the Spoons, we see clouds form, and a storm occurs, just after he is kissed by The Midnight Star, from a sky that was  clear a moment before. He must be feeling a great deal of fear, dread, and grief and guilt, after his wife dies, being threatened by Czernobog and his bleeding hammer, and having some strange girl kiss him. And there are other scenes where we are meant to directly attach the weather conditions to whatever Shadow is feeling at that moment.

In A Murder of Gods,  and The Bone Orchard, we get to see Shadow be scared, and apprehensive. We get to see him react in a realistic manner to the craziness, and potential danger around him. This is a man who, while always acutely aware of his Blackness, doesn’t let that define him, or limit his actions. Shadow is secure in who he is as a Black man, and doesn’t seem to care to engage in fake posturing, or in trying to convince everyone that he’s not weak. This is a man who simply knows he can handle himself. He is not at all intimidated by TB’s bluster, or Sweeney’s rants, and it’s that self-assurance that makes his vulnerable moments all the more touching.

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From  his guarded response to Czernobog’s questioning of his race in Secret of the Spoons, to his naked fear at being in a town with so many White people fondling guns, in A Murder of Gods, he doesn’t hold back from showing what he really feels when in Wednesday’s company. This emotional openness is part of the reason Wednesday likes him. Wednesday is almost never perturbed by Shadow’s feelings about anything. He often steps back and just lets Shadow handle his own business.

One of the highlights, and a subject of some concern to the fans, is Shadow’s relationship to Wednesday. I really want to like it. Actually, I do like it, sort of, but I also  keep in mind the Wednesday is a con man. A user, who is grooming Shadow for some dark purpose. Nevertheless, you can see the genuine affection he has towards Shadow. You know Shadow needs to separate himself from this man who orchestrated, not just his sojourn in a prison cell, but the deaths of his entire family while he was away. It’s easy to forget that when watching the two of them together though. I have to keep in mind that Wednesday thinks like a god,  and is not held to  human morality. He did what gods have always done, which is manipulating humans to suit their needs. I dislike Wednesday because he’s a manipulative narcissist.  He cares about Shadow because it’s in his best interests to care, and yet all of that doesn’t make me actually hate him, probably because there is  a genuine liking for Shadow in his demeanor.

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Shadow’s relationship with Wednesday is complicated. He knows what kind of person he’s with, which is the reason he’s so often angry with him. He knows Wednesday is a con man, a liar, a thief, and a user, but seems unable, or unwilling, to pull himself from Wednesday’s orbit. This isn’t because Shadow is stupid. It’s the opposite. It’s because Shadow is curious about the larger, weirder world, he’s been glimpsing over Wednesday’s shoulder, and he’s drawn to it, even if he resists believing in it. How many of us, if given a glimpse of such a world, could resist becoming a part of it? Of wanting to?

It’s the reason people worship gods in the first place, for a glimpse of something bigger than themselves. Shadow was mostly godless before he met Wednesday. The closest thing to a god he believed in was Laura, and that was smashed by learning of her infidelity. (See how Wednesday needed to squash that belief before recruiting Shadow to his cause? And how Wednesday warns Shadow about getting close too close to Ostara? He is a jealous god, who does not want Shadow setting any other gods before him.)

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Now for some speculation.

My speculations are entirely based on the book, and are subject to total reinterpretation next season. So this will contain spoilers from the book, and maybe, or maybe not, spoilers for the future of the show.

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One of the reasons Wednesday needs Shadow to believe is Shadow agreed to perform Wednesday’s Vigil should anything happen to him. Its part of the bargain Wednesday quietly slips  in,  at the beginning of Shadow’s employment, in The Bone Orchard. A Vigil, at least in Norse culture, is done over the body of a  dead relative. And yes, Shadow is Wednesday’s son.

I have speculated if the writers will make Bilquis Shadow’s mother, as we keep being given subtle hints that the she may well be. That Disco scene in the finale with Bilquis, with the huge Afro, morphing out of a lunar eclipse (which is another term for a shadow moon) is one such hint, and Wednesday speculating about Shadows mother having an Afro, in The Bone Orchard, is another. And having a son is something that could have happened to Bilquis during her fall from power, in the late eighties/early nineties, which would put Shadow at just the right age to be her son. But this is just me speculating. (If this is so, Shadow would be a true-God, not a Demi-god.)


Fuller has promised that Bilquis has an important part to play in the narrative, so everything we’ve seen of her so far, is all setup for a later reveal. Notice how women are instantly sexually attracted to Shadow (outside of Shadow looking like the extremely hot Ricky Whittle). I think this is  deliberate on the part of the writers. From the waitress at the Crocodile Bar who openly flirts with him,  to Audrey’s attempted rape, to Ostara being instantly smitten with him, and Laura’s new obsession ( Is the reason she sees him as an eclipse a sign of his godhood?) women have had strong sexual reactions to him, which could be a sing of Bilquis’ influence, as she is a Love Goddess.

Let me be more specific here: white women all have strong sexual reactions to him, as he hasn’t had any interactions with WoC, yet. If Bilquis is his mother that would explain much of the behavior we’ve seen, and could also be a deliberate statement on the  white supremacy which sees Black men as hypersexual stereotypes. We’ll see!

In the book, Wednesday is killed by the new gods,  to be used by Loki as a martyr, to help facilitate their war. Shadow is the one who performs this Vigil, by being hung on a tree for nine days, just like in Odin’s mythological backstory. Odin hung on the World Tree, for nine days, to receive wisdom, and the price paid, was the loss of his eye.

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In the book, Shadow hangs on an Ash tree for nine days. During that time, he receives wisdom about who and what he is, while traveling through the underworld. Shadow dies, but is resurrected by Ostara, and her fondness for Shadow, in Come to Jesus, is a nice setup for why she would decide to do that.

This also ties into the lynching imagery throughout the series, because that is foreshadowing for when Shadow will choose to hang on a tree for Wednesday, despite the naked fear we see in him. This lynching imagery is used throughout the series as a dreadful reminder of Shadows future. It is literally hanging over his head in his scenes in the jail courtyard, and Vulcan’s front yard. You are meant to be afraid for him. He is being manipulated to sacrifice himself for Wednesday, and cannot do so, if he doesn’t fully understand who Wednesday is, which is why Wednesday’s reveal, and Shadows statement are so awful. Wednesday is that much closer to realizing his plans for Shadow.


All season long Shadow has been admonished to Believe. So yes, even though believing is his downfall, it’s also the only way he can be saved. He has to believe in something, not necessarily Wednesday, but something, or he will never get through any of this intact.

Through the efforts of the other gods, Shadow survives the Vigil. Earlier in the series, Wednesday mentioned that there’s no King of America, which is why the philosophical discussions that happen between Wednesday and Shadow need to be attended closely. They offer clues to Shadows future. Shadow ends the book as a kind of Demi-god, a new King of America, who can see lies, and expose the truth. And this  is also the reason Shadow had to be a Black man. It’s a statement on how Black men are one of the few marginalized groups that have most often spoken truth to power. A black man who can see Truth is just keeping it real.

In the next few seasons we may or may not get to see the war, (in the book, there’s no war), but I’m not very concerned about that, because I don’t think that’s really the series end game either. I’m speculating that Shadow’s  birth as a kind of God of all gods, (sort of like Odin) is what’s at stake on the show. At least that’s where I’d like to see the future of this series turn.

American Gods Season One : Come to Jesus (Part One)

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This  took some time to write because so many delicious things happened in the finale. I’ve been pretty busy and tired this week, but I’m determined to get this post out, doggonit! I’m also  going to have to do this in installments, because its already long enough. The next post is about the series as a whole, including its future incarnations, and an entire post devoted to speculation about the show’s lead, Shadow Moon, and his relationship with Wednesday.

Fuller and Green pulled out every stop in Come to Jesus. This episode was funny, cute, and awesome, in ways I wasn’t expecting. And that ending? Wow! This episode was also just gorgeous. The cinematography was  incredible, from Bilquis backstory, to the final scenes featuring Ostara,  tonight’s episode belonged to the women.

We open with Shadow and Wednesday, looking bored, while Nancy crafts new suits for them from spider silk, of course. Why am I not even surprised that he’s a tailor? It’s Easter holiday, and the two men plan to visit the goddess for which the holiday is named. For that, they need to look presentable. Nancy’s  house is an arachnophobic nightmare, though. All of his tailoring scenes, and even the clothing, is crawling with tiny spiders. (I think the spider’s are making the fabric, and there’s a giant loom in the background. How do I know this? I used to have  that kind of loom when I was a child.) I was a little squicked out by the spiders, though. If you have severe anxiety about spiders, then skip this scene. What’s interesting is that all of these gods have animals associated with them, and that they communicate with. Wednesday has his ravens, and the wolf we saw in A Murder of Gods, Nancy has his spiders, Ostara has bunnies.

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Afterward, we get another gorgeous scene of Nancy telling a story, despite Wednesday’s protestations, and Nancy’s  signature catchphrase, “Angry gets shit done!” is aimed, this time, at Shadow, who is pissed at Wednesday for killing Vulcan. This episode has so many favorite moments, this is simply the best episode of the season. Mr. Nancy generating his own spotlight is hilarious! (I just love this character!) At first I thought Nancy was going to tell the story he told in the book, about how the monkey got the lion’s balls, but no, he tells Bilquis’ tragic backstory, which is a very neat way to tie her to the other characters we’ve met this season, and tie her presence in this episode to Easter. How he knows her backstory is anyone’s guess, unless he’s making it up (in the book, he and Bilquis never meet) but it’s fitting that he be the one to tell her story here. I think Nancy is probably a little in love with her too, and it makes sense, in this series universe, they would’ve met.

Note: Once again, only the barest bones of this comes from the book. This series follows the foundation, and spirit, of the books, but is very heavily embellished with lots of extra stuff.

http://nerdist.com/american-gods-history-primer-bilquis-a-k-a-queen-of-sheba/

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Bilquis  is a very, very old Queen, (Sheba) with her own temple, and congregation. We’re talking about 3,000 years ago, in ancient Iran, where she was incredibly powerful, and openly worshiped. Of course, you could visit her temple, and worship her if you wanted, but you would very probably be eaten. It’s a beautiful, sensual scene that doesn’t feel gratuitous. Fuller has an unerring talent for crafting sex scenes that are titillating, without being raunchy. Bilquis was so powerful then, like a spider, she just liquefied her companions (whole groups of people), before sucking them into her vagina. Where, according to Technical Boy, they spend an eternity worshiping her in the Vagina Nebula, as she feeds off their energy.

Nancy narrates how various patriarchies went out of their way to destroy her, and failed. That handsome young man with the crown, I believe just represents royalty in general, and no God in particular. At the height of her powers, she devoured kings too. Later, as men became more and more desperate to control and contain her and her followers, out of fear and hatred, they resorted to violence, which seemed to work. As the centuries passed she fell on harder and harder times and, like Nunyunnini, was slowly forgotten, even by herself. Unlike him, she was still potent enough to be revived. As long as people wanted what she had to give she could still take sustenance. Bilquis’ story is a perfect metaphor  of the suppression of female sexual agency and  power by patriarchy, which is why it was important to Fuller that she be a  dark skinned Black woman. In the history of America, Black women have had little sexual agency, they’re bodies often exploited by men for labor and reproductive purposes. We’ve all been taught that woman’s sexuality needs to be carefully harnessed, and are only just now moving away from this concept in the US.

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Also, women who look like the gorgeous Yetide Badaki, are rarely shown as sexual icons in  media, or  as women who own their sexuality, serving no one but themselves. Women  who use their sexuality for their own ends, often have their sexuality heavily policed by men and women of all races. Witness how black women like Beyoncé, and Serena Williams have been vilified by social media for expressing themselves, slut shamed by respectability politics, and made to seem less than white women who have engaged in the exact same behavior, but are considered empowered when they do it. The true irony,  in this scenario, are white women who think the freedom to express their sexuality is something only reserved for them, and who seek to suppress and castigate WoC for expressing theirs.  Bilquis story is all the more tragic because, as Bilquis’ power diminishes, she comes to accept this shame and self hatred, along with her lowly status. She isn’t just forgotten by the world. She forgets her power.

The  passing eras, and her rise to power again, are beautifully rendered by the changes in costume and makeup. We see her in her original jewelry, at the temple. There’s a scene of her in a disco, with a huge Afro,  reminding me of Wednesday’s first statements to Shadow about his mother. (I do wonder if the show will go that route with her. It would be a nice touch, and explain a number of odd things about Shadow, who we still have no backstory for.) She even takes another WoC ,as her lover and I’m sure there are fans who loved this representation of WoC pansexuality. In 1979, during the Iranian Revolt,  she is exiled from her homeland, along with many of her followers, and years later, watches in despair, as ISIL destroys her last temple. Later, she finds her lover again, but she is dying from AIDS, which has been seen a punishment for people  who are considered too free with their sexuality.

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Bilquis is, once again, visiting her display at the museum. She is so ancient, that almost no one now alive knows what any of the  objects representing her were for. She is visited by Technical Boy, (who is wearing yet another shitty, ridiculous hairstyle) to whom she owes a huge favor, as he was the one who found her when she was at her absolute lowest ebb, homeless, and sleeping in the gutter. He offers her tribute in the form of a modern dating app, which is where we find her in episode one. What he has tasked her to do, we’re not sure, but she’s meant to meet everyone at the House on the Rock, a place of major importance in the book.

Nancy says Bilquis is reluctantly on the side of the new gods, and that Wednesday needs to collect another ancient goddess as her counterpoint.  During all Bilquis’ scenes, we get some idea of what her powers are, and while she’s not at her height, she possesses the ability to charm, beguile, or seduce any human being. Who she is meant to turn this power to at House on the Rock, is unclear. Wednesday, or Shadow? Nevertheless, it’s clear she’s not entirely willing to do Technical Boy’s bidding, and there is hope for her breaking her deal with TB, because we notice she is not carrying her phone, or using her app, when she seduces one of her travel companions.

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On the way to Easter, Shadow dreams about climbing a mountain of skulls. This is his prophecy about the war, hanging  over his subconscious like Wednesday’s storms. On some level, he knows and believes in what’s happening, but refuses to commit, and Wednesday calls him out on this. No matter how angry he gets at Wednesday, or pretends to, he still likes the old con, and I think Wednesday is counting on that fondness to keep him by his side.  Shadow also sees the White Buffalo again, and the World tree, Yggdrasil, which is also a representation of the War of the Gods (Ragnarok) spoken of in Norse mythology.

**Ragnarok (Old Norse Ragnarök, “The Doom of the Gods”) is the name the pre-Christian Norse gave to the end of their mythical cycle, during which the cosmos is destroyed and is subsequently re-created.

—– http://norse-mythology.org/tales/ragnarok/

When Shadow wakes up, he finds that he and Wednesday are being chased by bunnies. It turns out that the bunny that overturned Laura’s truck was not sent by Easter, although it is her animal to call, and they report to her. I thought that was one of the cutest things ever. The bunnies try to stop Wednesday  from reaching his destination too, but unlike Laura, he is unimpressed. He just runs them over, which makes Shadow give him the side eye. So the bunny’s job seems to be stopping uninvited  people from reaching Easter’s home, I guess.

Obstructionist Bunnies!

Easter is, naturally, celebrating Easter, but she’s celebrating it with all the various Jesuses, which I thought was hilarious. This is notable because Jesus is treated just like any of the other gods in the narrative, and most of the current versions are present at the party. The whole damn thing was just deeply, deeply funny to me, including the scenes where, whenever any of the Jesuses got near a light source, a halo would appear, and Shadow’s meeting with Jeremy Davis’ regular white guy Jesus, AKA Jesus Prime, for some reason. I did see Hippie Jesus, Black Jesus, and even a baby Jesus. Some of the Jesuses I couldn’t pinpoint, although I am told Mexican Jesus managed to resurrect long enough to show up.

Your basic guide to Jesus:

 

What do you call them? A flock? A gaggle? A Halo of Jesi?  But it’s the details that really fetched me up, and made me laugh out loud. From the flock of sheep that follow Ostara in all her outdoor background shots, to the tiny halo on the infant Jesus, being nursed by a woman dressed like old-school Mary, to  the jellybean stigmata of the Russian Orthodox Jesus, and the bunnies that poop jellybeans, it’s an incredibly rich, and thoroughly charming backdrop. And if I was a bit dubious about Ostara, at first, I was totally in love with her by the end of the episode.

 

On Ostara:

https://www.thoughtco.com/eostre-spring-goddess-or-neopagan-fancy-2562488

https://www.themonastery.org/blog/2013/03/easter-and-ostara-converging-traditions/

Easter receives several uninvited guests, along with Shadow and Wednesday. Laura and Mad Sweeney, Media and Technical Boy also arrive. The meeting of Shadow and Easter is just cute in the books but they’re shown here as being much more smitten with each other, which is a good foundation for Easter’s actions towards Shadow later in the series. In the book, she is delighted to meet Shadow and flirts shamelessly, in that way that only Southern Belles can get away with. The two of them are just the most darling thing I’ve ever seen on this show. Shadow blushes like a shy teenager with his first crush, and while she offensively refers to him as pink chocolate! she gets a pass, because I wholeheartedly agree.

That boy is foine!

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Kristen Chenoweth is wonderful in this role. I was prepared to be annoyed by her because of the trailer, (and because Chenoweth has a sordid past as a Broadway singer),  but she turned out to be a delightful character who, like a lot of southern women, is warm, gracious, and mushy, on the surface, but has a backbone of pure steel underneath. Easter is not happy that Wednesday is crashing her party, and upsetting the Jesuses, who are very nice men.

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Laura and Sweeney also arrive, but unfortunately, Easter is unable to resurrect Laura, as Sweeney requests. Looking deeply into Laura’s eyes, Ostara sees the shadow of a raven, and the face of Mad Sweeney, and determines  that Laura was killed by a god. Since Laura was killed through Wednesday’s machinations, Ostara cannot interfere in  another god’s plans. Laura figures that Sweeney knows more than he’s been telling her and tortures the truth out of him. It turns out, Wednesday isn’t just responsible for Laura’s death, but just as I suspected, is also responsible for that perfect casino heist that went horribly wrong, that landed Shadow in prison, being guarded over by Loki. You need to ask yourself why Wednesday would go through so much trouble, to procure a nobody, from nowhere. Easter also admits that the other gods have been talking about Shadow too, speculating who he is, and why he’s with Wednesday.

I like how they’ve kept Laura’s decomposition consistent. She’s definitely getting to the liquid stage, as her eyes have become milky, and she coughs up maggots. She can’t even begin to hide her smell now, (in the books she covered it up with perfume), and she has her own halo of flies. In the meantime, Shadow has a conversation with one of the Jesuses about the nature of belief. I laughed too hard at Jesus setting his drink down, and losing it in the pool he was floating on top of,  because Drunk Jesus!

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One of Easter’s bunnies whispers in her ear that Media has arrived, also without  invitation. Before I start gushing about Gillian Anderson in this role, I need to give some backstory. Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade was released in 1948, and starred Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. The plot involves an older veteran dancer, who replaces his older partner with a young dancer, he hopes to mold in his image, until he finds himself falling in love with her. The faceless drone we see Media dancing with, is dressed in a replica of his suit, from the movie, and Gillian is wearing a pink replica of Judy Garland’s dress from the movie’s title scene, at the end. The drones are even attempting to dance like Astaire. Media mostly speaks in quotes from the movie. From her opening statement about Easter’s heart beating faster, to the mention of their date, these are all quotes from the movie. Guess how I know this!😊😊😊

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Unlike Wednesday, Easter didn’t turn down Media’s offer of aid, although she never asked for it either. In exchange for making certain that Easter traditions remain popular (eggs and chocolate), Easter has gotten a significant boost in her reputation, and followers, even if she has to share her holiday with the Jesuses. In exchange, Media requests her loyalty. When Wednesday approaches, he is confronted by Media and Technical Boy, but he upsets their plans, winning Easter’s loyalty with a combination of lies and tribute. He tells  her the Shadow-unapproved story, that Vulcan was killed by the New Gods, for taking his side in the coming war, and making him a sword. He also offers her a sacrifice.

Here, we see Odin for the first time this season. In an awesome display of power,Wednesday shows Shadow his true face, and speaks his many names.

 

 Odin’s backstory:

http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-aesir-gods-and-goddesses/odin/

Now once again we come back to the idea of sacrifice. By offering Easter the  deaths of his enemies, he gives her enough power to free her from the bargain she made with Media. Throughout the series, he has outlined the basic idea of godhood, and how it works. Give a little, and get a little in return, whether it be worship, tribute, prayer, or sacrifice. It’s fairly simple. Quid pro quo! If you dedicate something precious to a god, you will receive something in return, although not necessarily what you asked for. Media, Technical Boy, and the other new gods, have corrupted this arrangement, and think this makes them more powerful than the old ones. They have never seen the old gods powers fully unleashed, and have nothing but disdain for creatures they see as old and weak, the way so many young people view the elderly.

It’s not that Media and Technology don’t affect the world in some way, but they can’t control the seasons, rainfall, or lightning. They cannot truly control anything on the physical plane, and are not grounded in the real world of human physical sensation. Bilquis can compel people to love her and eats them, Wednesday can control the weather and destroy them, Vulcan can make weapons that kill them. As I said in an earlier post, the old gods are physical in a way the the new gods are not. The new gods are virtual, ephemeral. They promise dreams and fantasies, but give little or nothing  in return, for all the attention humans give them. Or rather, what they give in return for human attention is just as ephemeral, shallow, and unreal as they are.

And this is Wednesday’s key to his argument with Easter. Media can’t really give her power. She can influence humanity and she can tug on their bargain to procure Easter’s loyalty, but with the influx of direct power from Wednesday’s sacrifice, she no longer needs Media. The new gods can aid and abet, cajole, promise and seduce, but they can’t really offer her a sacrifice. It’s not just about human attention. Power comes from being offered tribute.We saw this with Bilquis and Technical Boy earlier. If it weren’t for the bargain she made with him, she would be capable of devouring him too. He doesn’t have nearly as much control over Bilquis as he thinks he does, and he is too shallow, and ignorant, of who she is, to know what he has awakened. The same way he underestimated Wednesday,  in A Murder of Gods, Media has underestimated the degree of power she is dealing with regarding Easter.

But I also said that neither side in this war is  good or bad. There’s no right or wrong from a human perspective. Gods have their own concerns and most are only concerned with what humans  can give them. This mindset (and Wednesday’s actions towards Easter) is the key to understanding why Wednesday wants this war, and why he’s willing to kill Laura to procure Shadow for himself, and is also willing to unleash untold misery on humanity, by encouraging Easter to take away the harvest season.

Wednesday did the same thing to Shadow that TB did to Bilquis. He found her at her lowest point and offered her a chance to regain power. Wednesday orchestrates the complete destruction  of Shadow’s life, and at his lowest point, when Shadow has nothing and no one, he steps in, and offers him a way out, winning his loyalty. If you want a clue as to who Shadow is, think about why Wednesday would want to collect him, and why he needs Shadow to believe.

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We see an awesome display of power, and some truly gorgeous cinematography, as Easter, high on the sacrifices given to her by Wednesday, unleashes the full meaning of her name, as Goddess of the Dawn, and kills off all the plant life in a several mile radius of her home. Humanity can have Spring back when they pray to her for it.

 

My  favorite moments were all the wonderful details like:

Mr. Nancy’s interjections in his scenes with Shadow.

Media’s presence this entire season, which is in keeping with the fact that Fuller is an out gay man, has been a showcase of gay icons. Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, David Bowie, and Judy Garland, are all extremely popular gay icons, from the forties through the sixties.

The Security Rabbits jobs are to stop traffic on the road to Easter’s home, so they can see who is in the vehicle, and then report the occupants back to Easter. I suspect this is what the rabbit that caused Laura’s accident was trying to do. No one approaches her home without her knowing about it , except in the case where Wednesday killed them all.

The deviled eggs at Easters party. It was a tradition in our house to eat those every Spring.

Easter’s tiny halo.

The tiny polka dots on Shadow’s suit.

That poor waiter who was wearing an egg shaped helmet.

The tiny cookies shaped like hands with red centers representing the stigmata.

Wednesday connecting Spring Break raunchiness to the worship of Easter.

The diversity of Easter’s party guests.

Those ridiculous striped silk robes Nancy made Shadow and Wednesday wear while awaiting their new outfits.

Easters slightly tattered finery. If you look closely enough, the flower in her hat has just a bit of rough edging.

When Media’s hat blows off during the storm, that’s also a scene from  a Judy Garland movie.

Shadow disapproves of Wednesday’s buunycidal behavior.

*In part two, I’ll discuss my thoughts about Shadow Moon, and in part three I’ll talk about the costumes, cinematography, and visual aesthetics.

 

A Prayer For Mad Sweeney

This episode is Mad Sweeney’s elegy. He is also one of the more unlikable characters in the show., but it turns out he’s not actually a bad man, and has heart of gold. In the real world, someone like Sweeney would get their ass kicked on a regular basis, (actually he does in the show, too) but he is a great character.

Normally, I like fictionalized assholes as much as I like real world ones, which is to say not at all, but from time to time I get captured by a great depiction, and Sweeney is one of those. Pablo Schreiber plays the hell outta this guy, and I have to give him some props, especially when I had no idea who he was before this show.

One small dislike for me  is that this is another filler episode, that distracts from the greater narrative revolving around Shadow and Wednesday. I didn’t dislike this episode, it’s just that I’m less interested in what Laura and Sweeney are up to. But tonight’s episode was devastating in its implications about the relationship between Laura and Sweeney, deepening it, and explaining a lot of the dynamic between the two of them.

The episode begins at the Anubis funeral home, where Mr Ibis and Mr. Jaquel not only lay out corpses for burial, but can even predict when corpses will arrive. I thought it was interesting getting a glimpse into their relationship. Are they a couple? Are they brothers? Just friends? They’re always considerate and polite to each other, and know each other too well.  Mr. Ibis tells Sweeney’s story through the eyes of an Irish girl named Essie, who looks suspiciously like Emily Browning. Laura is not the reincarnation of Essie, though. Its  that Laura reminds Sweeney of Essie, and I think he’s starting to like her.

The episode is split between Laura’s and Sweeney’s  modern day road trip, and Sweeney’s past, when he knew Essie. This  follows the book pretty closely. Essie has a very colorful life, as a thief, an indentured servant, then a  wife and mother, and finally grandmother, where she often traded on her looks to get ahead, aided by her gifts to, and stories, about “The Good Folk”. Notice that whenever Essie stops giving to the good folk, they stop giving to her.

There’s  a scene where Essie is in Newgate prison, after having not made an offering for a time, and Mad Sweeney is in the next cell, and she tells him stories. She tells him about her wish for a good life, quiet and settled, a tree, some children. She makes an offering to the Good People using the only food she has available, a piece of rotten bread. Eventually she gets out of Newgate and gets sent back to America where her wish comes true, because she made an offering of her last bite of food.

Eventually she has to stop telling her stories about the Fair Folk, realizing that there’s no place in her current world for belief in such things. But she never stops believing, and upon her death, it is Sweeney who comes to collect her soul.

The term Good Folk is a reference to the Fay, or any Fairy creatures of Celtic folklore. The general idea in most people’s minds are the tiny, butterfly beings that frequent rings in meadows, or Tinkerbell, but the term encompasses a greater variety of creatures than just those, (some of which are pretty horrific, deadly, and not at all tiny. See any book by the painter/illustrator, Brian Froud.)  Irish folklore is pretty complicated  though,  and you could spend your entire life studying the subject.

 

*For background on Faery lore, and myth:

http://www.medbherenn.com/faerie-lore.html

http://www.medbherenn.com/faerie-lore.html

 

*And for background on the real mythology behind Mad Sweeney:

http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/history-heritage/folklore-of-ireland/carlow-folklore/the-story-of-mad-sweeney/

Sweeney, Salim, and Laura stop at the site of the White Buffalo statue.The legend of the White Buffalo is somewhere around 2,000 years old, and was originally a tradition of the Lakota Sioux, a Plains Tribe. This particular scene, like all the modern day scenes, which involve Laura and Sweeney, don’t happen in the book.

http://lightningmedicinecloud.com/legend.html

For those of you concerned that there haven’t been any Native gods depicted, I think Shadow’s dreams count. In the book, they don’t play a pivotal role until much much later, and are responsible for interfering in the war, coming in on Shadow’s behalf. I expect we may not see them until well into second season. Although I do agree they should be introduced in some greater form beyond the forgotten Nunyunnini.

 

While at their rest, Sweeney is visited by one of Odin’s birds, who he harshly chastises. He mistakenly lets Laura know that all the gods are meeting at a tourist attraction/resort called House on the Rock in Wisconsin. Now that she knows where Shadow is going, Laura decides to release Salim from his bargain to take her to a resurrectionist friend of Sweeny. She tells Salim to go get his Jinn. He happily leaves, but not without (hilariously) informing Sweeney of what a vile creature he is. (Yes, he is, but Sweeney also has a lot of secrets.)

That morning, Laura talked with Salim, asking him if he loved God, or was “in love’ with God. He answered in the affirmative. I think Laura is seeking an answer to her own questions of how she feels about Shadow. She may not have loved Shadow when she was alive, but I think she is certainly loves him now, (or is obsessed or something) and part of that may be the supernatural connection that exists between them, because I dont tihnk she is “in love” with him.

Laura hasn’t looked at peace since she was resurrected, so I just want to point out, during this episode, we often see her quietly smiling to herself when contemplating Shadow. I think she is finally at peace in a way she never  was in life. She has a goal and a purpose now, that was missing, when she was alive. Shadow is her purpose. He’s her god, now. He is literally her reason for living and not only has she realized that, she’s okay with it. She even seems happy about it. Yeah, she is stalking Shadow, but if you’ve ever read John Campbell’s Hero’s Journey books, then there’s a purpose to it.

While driving, Sweeney gives Laura some more background. He tells her about his hoard of gold, that he used to be a king in Ireland, that he was once a bird, and then a saint according to the prevailing beliefs of whatever time period in which he lived. He ran away from so long ago war in which he knew he would die. He gave up his sword and vowed not to get involved again, but he owes Wednesday a war, which explains his objections to Wednesday’s warmongering between the old and new gods, but also  his refusal to leave.

Keep in mind, Sweeney is a leprechaun, which  is a kind of  Celtic deity. Although Laura is more powerful than him, he is not without power of his own, as illustrated by him easily stomping a park bench, without breaking a sweat. His speech to Laura is a reference for how diminished the gods have become as people’s belief in them changed, and leprechauns have been demoted to cute cartoon characters on cereal boxes, something which bears almost no relation to what he actually is, or even looks like.

One of the rules of being a Fey is one can only take what’s freely given, so when we see Sweeney throw the coins out if the vehicle, its becasue he took the ice cream out of the freezer, and the owner wasn’t there. When he and Laura stole the truck, Laura gave the owner of the truck all of his money, so he doesn’t object to that. He didn’t have to leave anything behind in return for stealing Salim’s taxi because he was interrupted before he could finish.

One of the questions that is confusing to a lot of people about American Gods is if these gods can die. If all it takes is a belief in them, then can they really be killed. Vulcan is is killed in the last episode. But he is definitely a god, people actually believed in a version of him. Does that mean some other version of him will take his place? Does Wednesday’s curse prevent this from happening? Just as there are different versions of Jesus, there are different versions of ods like Wednesday and Sweeney, wherever they are believed.

 

For example, in one of the last scenes from the book, Shadow meets a more authentic version of Wednesday in his home country. He is a more original form in his country of origin, and acknowledges Wednesday as an offshoot of him. I don’t think the gods can travel to anyplace where they are not believed in. Wednesday can’t leave America, and hasn’t done so, as he says to Shadow in one of their earlier discussions. When the new gods offer to make a missile in his name, over North Korea, Wednesday refers to it as a form of exile, and it would only be that way if belief in him were transferred, from America, to the missile system over North Korea.

Another treat we get in this episode is the white rabbit. The white rabbit is a sign of the goddess Easter,  or Ostara, a pagan fertility goddess. She is also the goddess of Spring and renewal. Her imagery often involves hares and rabbits. We will meet Ostara in the season finale. When a White rabbit hops into the middle of the road, Laura swerves to avoid it, crashing their vehicle. She flies out the windshield, and loses the coin, after which there is another revelation, as Sweeney contemplates her dead body.

 

Sweeney was the one who caused Laura’s first death in a car crash, and he feels some kind of way about that. Incidentally the words he’s screaming, after the truck crash, are in Old Irish, not Gaelic. Something along the lines of, “Why is this shit happening to me? Haven’t I suffered enough? And I’m not an evil man!” Which is ironic after being told by Salim that he is an unpleasant creature.
Wednesday has been trying really hard to keep Laura and Shadow apart, and was the orchestrator of her death. He was responsible for hiring Sweeney to kill her the first time, and I’m certain he’s responsible for hiring Ostara to crash their vehicle this time, since the rabbit which caused it, is her symbol. Laura is meant to die again and she does, when the coin, that Sweeney has  made clear that’s all he’s interested in, pops out of her open chest cavity.  Sweeney retrieves his coin and he could walk away, but flashing back to the night he first killed her, he changes his mind and places the coin back in her chest. He immediately regrets it, of course, when Laura punches him out, for touching her. The two of them continue their journey.

I also want to mention the music in this episode is so  spot on, it’s hilarious. During the scene where Essie absconds with her latest husband’s money to become a market thief, the theme is Runaround Sue by Dion. Daddy’s Home by Shep and the Limelights, is the song that plays the first time she offers bread to the Good Folk in America, an unknowingly summoning Sweeney.

Next week is the season finale, titled Come to Jesus, so I guess there will be some Jesus involved.  The show has already been picked up for a second season, and if we’re lucky it will continue for many more beyond the story of the book.

 

 

American Gods Season One: A Murder of Gods

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This episode is a big fuck you to American politics, and its Ra-Ra Americana, Gun Loving, Make America Great Again, America is for White people aesthetic. That it puts a Black man right in the middle of all this is no accident. Outside of Mr. Nancy’s speech in episode three, this is one of the more politically blatant episodes this season, as Fuller usually tries to keep his social sensibilities clear, but a little more subtle.

In the opening scene, we meet the Mexican version of Jesus, as he shepherds a group of Mexican immigrants across the border. I thought this was a respectful depiction, even though I’m not a believer. Nevertheless, I know that these beliefs are important to someone, and should be treated with a certain amount of respect. One of the immigrants doesn’t know how to swim, nearly drowning while crossing a river, but is saved by Jesus. Even I had to admit to feeling a tiny bit of a thrill with the walking on water scene. That was kinda cool.

Everyone makes it to shore but they are fired upon by a group of White men wearing badges with the word Vulcan on them. This is Fuller’s open political statement of how immigrants who came here earlier like to set themselves against the immigrants who come after them. This was the primary theme of the movie Gangs of New York, with gangs of White people calling themselves Natives, fighting with the more recent Irish immigrants. The irony in this episode is that the Mexicans are the real Natives, as they were living in this country before White people got here.

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The very nature of Jesus is sacrifice, and is illustrated in this scene of him protecting his followers with his life.  Here you have two  old gods who are diametrically opposed to each other. One of them is symbolized by fire and violence, and the other by peace and water, but both of them are willing to make sacrifices. One of them does so for the benefit of others,  and the other does it only for himself. The followers of Vulcan are  older immigrants than the ones they’re killing that night, but nevertheless feel that they have staked a claim to American soil and don’t want to share it with any others, who came here later than them. They’re devoted to the idea of America, only their version bears no resemblance to what America actually is. The Mexican immigrants have a much clearer idea of what America is but their god isn’t as powerful as the one who has decided to profit from racism,  and xenophobia, and has a lot of guns. There is a reason Vulcan has to die at the end of this episode. He has been complicit in corruption the very nature of sacrifice.

Also, keep in mind that Vulcan is Roman in origin. So what you have here is also a reenactment of the Crucifixion, with the followers of a Roman god killing the followers of the Christian God.

Shadow and Wednesday are walking back to the motel, to retrieve their car, after their escape from the police station. Wednesday still has not noticed that Shadow is injured, as they discuss what happened at the station. Wednesday still refuses to tell Shadow what to think, insisting that Shadow make up his own mind about what’s happening. He insists that Shadow has to believe to understand,  but Shadow doesn’t want to go there. It’s just too much. Gods are actual real beings, and Wednesday is one of them!

Note that most of the events in tonight’s episode are made up of whole cloth by the writers. With the exception of some verbatim conversations and dialogue, none of the events, from Wednesday’s healing  session with Shadow, to the return of Salim, to Laura’s road trip with Sweeney, to Wednesday’s meeting with Vulcan, is in the book. Fuller’s general method, regarding adaptations, is to expand on the source material in ways that enhance and deepen the story. In the original narrative, almost the entire book is from Shadow’s point of view, but Fuller has changed things here to make the show, an ensemble piece, where we get to see different points of view.

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Shadow and Wednesday make it back to the motel, where Shadow confesses that he was visited by Laura. Wednesday claims to be surprised, but still gives no set answer to Shadow about her resurrection. He eventually pressures Shadow into leaving with him. When Wednesday looks in the rearview mirror, he can see Laura chasing after their car, and turns up the volume on the stereo, so Shadow can’t hear her. He is determined that the two of them stay far away from each other. Either he’s concerned that Lara would be a distraction from him, and he does not want to share Shadow’s attention, or he thinks that Laura is working for his enemies and trying to seduce Shadow to their side.

Notice that up to now, there has been no emphasis on weather phenomena during this episode. No transitioning from sky to sky, or shots of storm clouds, as in previous episodes. Instead we often get shots of sun and clear blue skies, along Laura’s road trip, and in Vulcan. I can’t help but think that must be on purpose. Whenever Shadow is holding his emotions in we often get shots of turbulent weather, but when he’s openly expressing what he’s feeling, the skies are often very calm and clear.

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Shadow isn’t your typical hyper masculine asshole, with a stiff upper lip. Nor is he weak. He won’t allow himself to be preyed upon, but fights only when he absolutely has to. I like that the show allows him to not only have feelings, but openly expresses them, and that this is never sided as a weakness. When he’s afraid, he’s allowed to say so. When he’s overwhelmed, we get to see it. We’ve spent the past two episodes watching him hanging on to reality by his fingernails, and that’s kind of refreshing. Shadow isn’t trying to be “Shaft of the Supernatural”, and I like that. He’s just some guy, thrown into extraordinary circumstances, trying to make sense of it all.

While we’re on the subject I want to address some concerns some people have shown about Shadow not interacting with any PoC in the show. I had the impression that Shadow’s lack of interaction with any other black people is meant to parallel his lack of interaction with normalcy, since he signed on to work with Wednesday.

Before Shadow met Wednesday he often operated in all white environments, so he  is used to navigating racial dynamics, while holding on to his sense of self. That’s not a problem for him. Shadow is always acutely aware of who he is,  and where his place is in American society.  Here,  he’s thrown into an environment,  where he’s the only regular human being. He has to renegotiate reality now, to encompass the idea that gods exist, the television will personally talk to you, dead people can walk, and trees can come to life, plus this entire ordeal has been incredibly violent towards him, as he has been attacked multiple times. So while he is very used  to navigating racial politics, navigating the world of gods is some brand new shit he’s got no experience with, and he’s barely holding onto what is real.

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Often in situations where black people are in a minority of two or three, you’ll see us touch base with each other, to reassure ourselves of our reality, to help each other emotionally navigate an all white environment. As an example of this, see the movie Get Out. Chris regularly touches base with his friend Rod, while trying to navigate an all white environment where he is questioning what’s happening to him, and his doubts are being dismissed by the White people around him, and the black people are not reliable either. Shadow is a player in two separate environments, one of them is whiteness, and the other is the supernatural. He is alone in both spheres, as there are no normal human beings for him to interact with, just as there are no PoC for him to touch base with.  I’d like to see him interact with some people of color, but Shadow doesn’t actually need to do that. He knows how to navigate the color line. He’s got that part down. It’s the world of the gods he’s having trouble with.

The only assurance he has of the reality he’s experiencing, is coming from beings he can’t trust, because none of them are human. Notice that Wednesday behaves exactly the same way about Shadow’s reactions to the supernatural as he does to all of the racial things Shadow has mentioned.  You could substitute just about any discussion they’ve had about the supernatural, with discussions that many blacks have had with whites about race. Wednesday uses deflection, derailment, defensiveness, obtuseness, and gas lighting,  to not tell Shadow what’s happening to him. Laura also does this in their brief conversation in the last episode.

Notice how the gods in Shadow’s presence all speak to one another. It’s obvious that none of them think themselves human, but absolutely none of them come right out and say to Shadow, “Hey! I’m the God of Media! Or I’m the God of Commerce! I’m the God of War!” Nobody speaks directly to him about a state of being, that they consider to be obvious. Except for Wednesday everyone makes the assumption that Shadow knows what’s going on. Its like one of those conversations where everyone knows everyone but you, and they keep referencing events you were never a part of, in  short hand, as if you had been there.

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And there are other parallels too. When Vulcan makes his remarks about the hanging,  Wednesday narcissistically makes Shadow’s pain and suffering about himself. White people will often make the pain and suffering of PoC about themselves. (Well okay, in this case, it’s actually true. Most of Shadow’s suffering is a direct consequence of knowing Wednesday, or is used to insult him.) Nevertheless,  this makes Wednesday an unreliable indicator of whether or not he is insane.

Without any normal humans to touch base with, to confirm what he’s been experiencing, Shadow begins to doubt reality, which is something that can  happen to PoC in all white environments, where there’s not another marginalized person to keep them grounded, or affirm something they just experienced. That Shadow has not interacted with any black people may be something that’s just as on purpose as his not interacting with regular humans. I think we’re supposed to see that Shadow is twice a fish out of water, navigating two, separate environments, only one of which he has mastered.

 

On the drive to their next assignment, Wednesday finally notices Shadow is bleeding profusely, and stops the car to check his wounds. It turns out that the creature that attacked Shadow at the police station is some type of forest god, named Mr. Wood, who used to be the spirit of the woods, but sacrificed his trees for greater power. Once again we have a story about a god sacrificing a part of himself for greater power, and a parallel of Vulcan’s story.  Mr. Wood  injected a tree root into Shadow’s wound when it attacked him, and Wednesday pulls it out. This scene is so touching and funny. I can’t have any idea what Wednesday is thinking in this scene, as he kisses Shadow on his forehead, and shushes him, like an indulgent uncle, but Shadow’s level of trust in him is interesting.
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Laura returns to the motel to find her car, but encounters Sweeney again. He makes all kinds of promises this evening. He tells her he knows someone who can resurrect her,  while name dropping Jesus Christ. While trying to steal an old taxi, with a toilet for a backseat, they are interrupted by Salim. I was really glad to see him again as this meeting between the three of them doesn’t happen anywhere in the book. Salim, overhearing that Sweeney is a leprechaun, asks if he knows where to find the Jinn who left him his taxi. Salim has been searching for him ever since, and Sweeny promises that he will tell Salim where to find the Jinn, if Salim drives  the three of them to Kentucky. Salim agrees, but doesn’t go to Kentucky.

 

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Meanwhile at the Vulcan weapons manufacturing plant one of the employees falls to his death in a vat of molten metal, to the incongruous tune of C’mon Get Happy, by The Partridge Family. They were like a white version of The Jackson Five, only with worse outfits. I know this because  I watched this show, religiously, when I was about 8. To say that I enjoyed it, would be too strong an expression. Most likely it was the only thing on TV in that time slot. Anyway this is a singularly horrific death, especially once you realize the guy has just been baked into the factory product: bullets.

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When Shadow and Wednesday reach Vulcan West Virginia (Yes, this is an actual place! I checked.) they find the townsfolk having a memorial for their fallen co-worker. Shadow becomes acutely aware that he is a man out-of-place, as the entire town is covered in flags, and everyone, from the smallest child to the oldest grandparent is carrying a gun. It’s so over the top ridiculous that it’s almost funny, except this is how some Americans actually believe we should all be living. I was uncomfortable on Shadow’s behalf, because this very much reminded me of Sundown Towns:

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At the memorial, which is really a celebration of the sacrifice to Vulcan, there’s a gun salute and Wednesday warns Shadow to stay in the vehicle. At first I thought he was warning Shadow to stay hidden, but unlike me, Shadow remembers what goes up, must come down, and he decides to sit it out, as Vulcan and Wednesday greet each other in the middle of the street. There’s a hailstorm of bullets, none of which ever touch either of the two gods.

On their road trip, Sweeney, Laura and Salim get to know each other. Salim figures out that Laura is dead, and takes it in stride. After all, he met a Jinn. I think Salim is very lonely, as  he never stops talking the whole time, while Sweeney snarks at the two of them from the back seat. Sweeney ending up in the back, when he insisted that Laura would be the one, is deeply hilarious to me, for some reason.

Salim proves to be a precious cinnamon roll of sweetness, while Sweeney is the exact opposite of all decency. Yes, I would love it if Laura ripped his lips off, whether he uses the “C” word or not, but we need Sweeney to be the “truth teller”. Every Bryan Fuller show has at least one of these, a character who tells the blunt-faced, unbridled truth to the other characters, no matter how much pain it causes, or who it hurts. Salim and Laura bond over their belief that their past is gone, and so are the family members  who were a part of it. When Laura has a chance to visit her family, she changes her mind. She and Salim both agree that they can, “Fuck those assholes!”

The three of them end up at the Crocodile Bar where Sweeney lost his coin. It’s like a horrible joke. A leprechaun, a zombie, and a Muslim walk into a bar…

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Wednesday and Shadow go  Vulcan’s home, where Vulcan keeps assuring Shadow that he’s safe, but Shadow ain’t buying it. He knows badness when he feels it, and insists that the two of them leave. His instincts are correct because things are not as they seem, especially when Vulcan alludes to events to which he was never a witness, like Shadow’s lynching. That was number one. Number two is when Vulcan refuses to drink the Soma that Wednesday brought as a gift, substituting his own instead. Notice that Wednesday tells Shadow that Soma is not  the drink for him. Soma is a drink only for gods.

 

Soma was a fermented juice drink which was believed to have been consumed by the Hindu gods and their ancient priests, the brahmanas, during rituals. Thought to be an elixir its consumption not only healed illness but also brought great riches. Soma is personified by the god of the same name who is also the god of sacrifices and who may, in some texts, be associated with the Moon.

Not only drunk by priests for its sacred nature it was also credited with uplifting qualities, giving the drinker a boost in energy and alertness. These effects meant that the drink has been considered divine since ancient times; a beverage which brought humans closer to the divine.

——-     http://www.ancient.eu/Soma/

Soma is also another word for “body” and may represent the physical body of humans, in a pagan parallel of the Christian Communion ritual.  Vulcan can’t drink the Soma that Wednesday brought, even though he promises to support Wednesday in his war. Vulcan  already made a deal with the new gods, who have set up this system of worship for him, in the town of the same name. He claims that every bullet fired from one of his weapons, is a sacrifice to him.

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Wednesday tasks Vulcan to make a sword for him that can kill a god, and he does so. It’s a gorgeous specimen, and I want one. (Never mind what I’d do with it! Smite my enemies! What else?) After Vulcan confesses that he betrayed Wednesday to the new gods, Wednesday, in one lightning swift move, cuts Vulcan’s  throat and tosses his body into  one of the vats. Shadow freaks the fuck out, which is an entirely appropriate response. We’ve seen Shadow unhinged from the first episode, but this is really the first time we’ve seen him totally lose his shit. It will be interesting to see how he behaves in the next two episodes.

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Wednesday expresses his complete contempt for not just Vulcan’s actions, but an entire setup that’s basically a shiny, automated, bloodless form of sacrifice, that gives nothing back to the people who worship him. Wednesday said this to Vulcan earlier, that the new gods take, and promise,  but do not give anything in return, and that the old gods at least did something for their worshipers, which makes them less corrupt.

Wednesday curses the entire enterprise by pissing into the vat. This is probably a pretty good idea of Bryan Fulelr’s sentiments, too.

Laura, Salim, and Sweeney are still heading West. They stop to see the sunrise as Salim says his morning prayers.

 

 On guns:

https://www.bustle.com/p/american-gods-statement-on-americas-gun-obsession-takes-no-prisoners-61502

http://www.refinery29.com/2017/06/157569/american-gods-vulcan-gun-culture-season-1-episode-6

http://io9.gizmodo.com/american-gods-vulcan-is-everything-that-scares-me-abou-1795761610

 

Why I’m Watching Still Star Crossed

I’ve always loved period films. From Downton Abbey, to The Remains of the Day, to The Three Musketeers, I love the costumes, and dialogue, and plots. I try to make some effort to seek out those films with prominent characters of color, like anything set in pre-reformation  Japan, or the movie Belle. So I’m cautiously excited by the airing of Shonda’s new Joint, Still Star Crossed. I’m cautious because I know there are forces working really hard to discredit this show, so I don’t know how long it will last.

This is the new show on ABC by Shonda Rimes based on the Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet, and the book by Melinda Taub. The show picks up right at the end of Romeo and Juliet, after the two teens are dead, after their forbidden affair, and to keep the peace, so that a feud doesn’t break out between the Montagues and the Capulets, Rosaline and Benvolio are forced to marry each other by their families. Neither of them wants to be married and they don’t even like each other.

Just in case some viewers are confused, because they’re not fans or readers of Shakespearean history, this is what completely colorblind casting looks like, and this is often traditional with Shakespearean plays. Both families are made up of different races of people, and so are most of the officials and citizens of Verona. So it’s perfectly normal for people to have white and black children, or parents, or East Asian cousins. As is the case nowadays, anytime women, or PoC, wander into the orbit of a genre show, you’re going to get some white people expressing dismay at the idea that the narrative isn’t centered around them, or cries about historical accuracy,  by people who don’t know a damn thing about actual history, except what they’ve seen on whitewashed television shows.

This show has nothing to do with historical accuracy. Its set in an Italian city, written by an Englishman,who never visited Italy. It’s a fictional story, there were never any Montagues and Capulets. Verona is an actual city, but it’s a port city where people from many different cultures would have mingled, and the history of Moorish colonization would have been know there. I’ve seen some people very upset that there were black people in this show, citing Historical accuracy while not complaining about any of the white English speaking, and Australian, members of the cast. Hell one member of the cast is East Asian and no one complained about her. Make of this information what thou wilt!

This is particularly galling coming from white women in fandom. Apparently, the princess narrative is meant to be the sole province of white women, and WoC who get to wear beautiful period costumes, go to the ball, fall in love with the prince, and live happily ever after, do not belong in it. There are several shows on TV with this particular type of fairy tale historical setting: Reign on the CW; Outlander on Starz; and The White Princess on, again, Starz. Whenever WoC have been prominently featured on these types of shows like Merlin for example, even though these shows are not realistic, and bear only the most shallow resemblance to actual lived historic events (and in some cases no relation to actual historic events because they’re fairy tales)  they receive pushback in the form white people arguing for historical accuracy.

The professional  critics (who are just as draped in unexamined racism as any casual viewer), are panning the series based on this one episode, criticizing it for following various fictional tropes,  tropes  that are also on prominent display in the above named shows. I personally didn’t see anything particularly wrong except for the show being rather busy, as there was a lot to digest in the pilot. Hopefully the show will slow its pace just a bit the rest of the season.

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So once again, just like with Luke Cage, and Get Out,  I’m going to ignore any reviews from white reviewers because there’s little they have to say that would be relevant to me, a Black woman. I recognize how groundbreaking this particular show is, and they can only be uncomfortable with it. It is exceptionally rare that a dark-skinned black woman gets to be featured in such a story, without being little more than an accessory to the white characters. Black women rarely get to be Shakespearean damsels, who get to fall in love with,  and  be loved by, the hero. The idea of the strong black woman who “don’t need no man” is a  black female stereotype that has made its way into countless films and TV shows. It’s a stereotype that masculinizes and de-sexualizes, black women, and is often used as a excuse to deny black female characters fragility, vulnerability, and love, which in American culture is also coded as the definition of White  womanhood. The irony is that White women have  been fighting against that particular stereotype of themselves, for over two decades now, but some of them are willing to embrace it, if it means keeping black women away from it.

White American reviewers are just as unused to seeing prominent black characters in such narratives as I am, and most of their reviews will only reflect their discomfort with it. But for WoC, its empowering to see PoC in these beautiful period costumes, speaking in such lofty language, who are more than  servants and maids. They are princesses, and rulers, and statesmen. It’s as empowering for us as it might seem to be disempowering for white women. This is the very nature of intersectional feminism, recognizing that different kinds of women are treated differently, in the narratives we’ve watched over the years.

During the show, race is not mentioned, and is largely unimportant to the narrative. Certainly we are going to view the show through the lens of race, but the actual characters do not, and race is not the motivation behind much of the character’s behavior. For example there’s the temptation to view Lady Capulet as a racist because she is mean to her nieces, but it’s not because they are black. It’s because she was jealous of their mother, who managed to marry the man she wanted for herself. She seeks to punish these very young and beautiful women, with their entire futures ahead of them, who should never, in her mind, have been born.

There are shades of Cinderella in the narrative with Rosaline, and her sister. But the most prominent reference is the singer, Brandy’s, 90s version of the fairytale Cinderella, with its color blind casting, where Whoopie Goldberg has a white husband, and an Asian American son, and Cinderella’s stepsisters are white.

Still Star Crossed is mostly based on the book of the same name by Melinda Taub. While it is a sequel to the original play, the show is  not going to strictly adhere to the events of the play, and the plot, I’m told, will be very wide ranging and include events from other Shakespearean plays. I’m not going to talk about the plot so much as I will my impression of the actors and characters.

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Rosaline Capulet is the lead female character. She is the niece of Lord and Lady Capulet, which is why they took her and her sister in after their parents died. She is interesting because she at first fits all the stereotypes of the strong black woman who doesn’t need a man, which is later turned on its head. She claims to not need a man, but this is merely a cover for her true love, Prince Escalus, with whom she is having a  forbidden affair. Their affair is forbidden, not because of race, or because he is married,  but because he is the prince of the realm, she is below his social station and he has just married her to Benvolio.

Rosaline and her sister are in a precarious situation because their evil stepmother has them working in  her house as servants, since their parents died. They have no set status, and are at the mercy of others who will decide their future.

Livia Capulet is one of my favorite characters. She’s a delightful mix of optimism and genuine bright eyed happiness, and reminds me of one of my little sisters.  She seems the opposite of her older sister, who is more likely to challenge the status quo. Rosaline wants to escape their predicament, but Livia loves Verona, and her dreams are more traditional. She wants to stay in Verona, get married to a handsome husband, live in a palace, and be a mother.

Livia later falls in love with Count Paris, who is injured in the city-wide fighting between the Montagues and the Capulets.

Benvolio Montague, along with Rosaline, were the only two witnesses to the forbidden marriage between Romeo and Juliet, aided by Friar Lawrence. The two of them have some obvious chemistry, and I’m kind of rooting for Rosaline to like him, although she has made it clear she has no use for him. Benvolio, on the other hand, seems intrigued by her, and seems to want to be friends.

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Prince Escalus inherited the role of leadership over Verona even though its his sister, Princess Isabella, who is more suited to governing the city. The city of Verona is beset  by other city-states that seek to conquer it, but if he doesn’t stop the near constant fighting between the Montagues and Capulets, Verona will be destroyed from within. To that end, he decides the best way to end the fighting, is to bring the two families together by marrying Benvolio, and Rosaline.

Lord Capulet is played by Buffy alum, Anthony Stewart Head. He is possibly the only Englishman in the  cast, although there might be more. Lord Capulet, and his wife Lady Giuliana, decided to take in their nieces Rosaline and Livia after their parents death. But Lady Capulet hates the two girls, referring to their mother as a Jade, and she treats the girls like house servants. When Rosaline confronts her about her attitude, she adds physical abuse to her repertoire of shitty behavior.

Incidentally, after this fight, and the Lady’s threats to make her life even more miserable, this is the only time we ever see Rosaline cry, and although I didn’t take pleasure in seeing it, its still remarkable because, up to that point, we’ve only ever seen Rosaline as the strong and invincible stereotype.

So yeah,  I’m going to keep watching the show as long as it remains on the air, although I might not always review it.  I liked the action, and the characters, although the plot, as I said is a bit much, and I hope it slows down a little. I have no confidence in the ABC network, though, and there are forces working really hard to kill it and/or make ABC believe that no one cares about the show or supports it. Of course, ABC might decide to cancel the show just on a whim and I’m ready for it to get yanked off the air,  or just not return for a second season.

Why Historical Accuracy Is A Shitty Cover For Your Racism

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This just in.  We have now taken a break from posturing over “racist Americans” to complain about black people being portrayed as fictional Italians. Not the other non-white members of the cast who aren’t black, no just the black people.   You know, we never actually fight to represent black Italians and have a terrible reputation on how we treat black people in general, but this backlash is totally in good faith.  It is totally racebending, which only works in America because there’s such a booming black population that’s respected and represented and…oh wait, there isn’t any of that.

We could go back to watching the majority of all media (in Italy OR America, even though the show isn’t filmed in Italy and wasn’t formed for an Italian audience) where white people are the majority and all Italian representation has pretty much been white (no matter what the ethnicity of the actor actually is)  We won’t complain about white Italians taking roles from PoC but we take issue with colorblind casting for a Shakespeare play because the very implication that we have *black people* in our culture would be culturally insensitive.  .

Black people weren’t invented till the 1960s.  You can’t adapt Shakespearean works with black people in the main cast unless they’re servants or something because black people didn’t exist in fictionalized Verona.  Clearly adapting it with white people is fine though, no matter where they come from.  Black Italians don’t exist and have never existed, we’re all light skinned until its time to justify whitewashing.  And even though this is a fictionalized story written by someone who has never lived in Italy and was never meant to be historically accurate, we now must all be armchair historians because black people are on screen.

Oh, apparently Othello was a white man all along. And don’t bring up those prominent black and mixed race Italians (because accuracy is only accurate if its supporting racism), because they don’t count anyways and just because we had black Italians doesn’t mean we had black Italians (logic!).   Please don’t steal this *valuable* representation from people who never once cared about Shakespeare as representation of any ethnic group *any* other time.

Oh this isn’t backlash against a show showing black people in prominent positions in a European fantasy, no its totally about historical accuracy (where we erase most of actual history because that’s the only way we can pretend there were were no black people where black people were…)

Its just culturally insensitive to cast black people in Still Star-Crossed.

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The Stars of Shonda Rhimes’ ‘Still Star-Crossed’ Know They’re on TV’s Most Diverse Show—But It’s Complicated

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*Speaking of fact, here’s the truth about historical accuracy: Mainstream history, for the most part, was written by old white men who only chronicled their points of view. So while conservative viewers (read: racists) might balk at a Persian princess and a black prince, guess what? Verona was a port town with plenty of diversity. Portraying everyone as white is inaccurate, not to mention irresponsible. Continue reading “Why I’m Watching Still Star Crossed”