Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Let's talk about True Detective season four.

This weekend I finished up True Detective: Night Country. In this post, I'm going to talk about the five episode season, and in reviewing it, I don't think I can effectively avoid spoilers for it. So here's your spoiler warning.

If you haven't watched any True Detective yet, then the thing that you should know is that it is wildly inconsistent from season to season (season one was great and seasons two and three were terrible). Each season (also) is a tale unto itself with some very minor attempts to tie it all together with recurring imagery. But each season has new actors who don't know any of the other actors, and they are usually immersed into some kind of plot that seems supernatural at first, but that is ultimately explained by the end of the show. However, they take great leaps and bounds with suspension of disbelief.

For example, if there's a one in a million chance that something actually could happen, you get to see that 1 in a million thing in True Detective. And because it is so kind of buy into the idea that something supernatural may be occurring. But by season's end, that balloon has been popped, and you are once again grounded in the reality of what actually happened. Anything supernatural gets explained away by schizo-affective disorder, pollutants that cause hallucinations, severe abuse that causes dementia-like imaginings and etc. And usually there is some utterly corrupt and terrible person(s) behind it all that get exposed for the terrible things that they have done and the manipulations they have initiated.

There is inevitably a character who is so wrapped up in their faith, that they speak of the unknown in terms of vengeful spirits rather than do the hard work to figure out what is happening. There are also plenty of unreliable narrators who are walking vessels of their trauma that they just can't let go. This too makes the deciphering of clues really hard, because they are dealing with their own shit which is probably being triggered by the crime being investigated in the show. Having people like this around the main detectives serves to muddy the waters and provide plenty of opportunities to just say, "ghosts did it" or something like that and call it a day. But the "True Detectives" of the show never fall for this, which is why the show exists. They persistently go after clues and the truth up to the point that it completely endangers their lives.

The "True Detectives" of season four, called "Night Country" stars Jodie Foster as Liz Danvers and Kali Reis as Evangeline Navarro. The story is called "Night Country" because it takes place in a small town named Ennis that experiences more than a month of night every winter, and because the native Americans who live there refer to the ice caves under the permafrost as the "night country" and use these rocks with swirls on them to indicate where the ice is dangerous so that you don't go there and fall through. My favorite of the True Detectives was Jodie Foster's character, Liz Danvers. And this is simply because she was the more reliable narrator of the two.

The other one, Kali Reis (Evangeline Navarro), was a walking bag of trauma both from the unsolved murder of a native American girl (stabbed 37 times and having her tongue cut out) and from her deeply disturbed sister who commits suicide halfway through the show by walking into the freezing ocean (she had obvious schizo-affective disorder among other things). Additionally, Evangeline was unreliable because she was "deeply spiritual" and felt a "connection" to the land and the spirit guides and so on and so forth. Whatever. The point of all this was that she became deeply unreliable in the episodes because every time the story was told from her point of view, she saw things that simply couldn't be there or made no sense that they were there at all. Yet, as a viewer of the show, you have no choice but to buy into the "there's something supernatural going on here" narrative. Ultimately, she's a good person, but still it's aggravating to try and suss out all of these things on your own when so many things you are shown aren't real.

There are also clearly scripted plot points that stand out to me as a writer. They probably wouldn't be so obvious if I wasn't familiar with the fact that to tell a story, you need to kind of loop things back around again. One of these is that Danver's invites Prior (a character played by a Finn Bennett that I really liked) to stay over in her freezing shed purely so that he can be there for when his dad shoots his gun. It also makes me realize that his wife was there purely for plot point reasons. She needed to get upset at Prior to drive him out of the house so that he'd move in with his dad and find that to be toxic so that he would end up staying with Danvers. It seems really contrived, and I don't like when I can see behind the curtain so easily.

Anyway, that's my analysis of season 4 of True Detective. Overall, I did like it, but I don't think I'd rewatch it. Once is enough. So...maybe 3 stars out of 5. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Foundation season two was really good.

I'm not an abject fan of Asimov's Foundation trilogy, as it is rather dry and boring in ways that The Silmarillion by Tolkien is also dry and boring. It takes place over huge swaths of time. Characters rarely last more than three chapters. So you're switching out constantly with new characters who are following the decline of a galactic empire and trying to make sure that instead of 30,000 years of darkness and lack of knowledge, that it only lasts for 1,000 years. But one of the things that the Appl plus series did to correct this was to make concessions for the story that really rile up the "Die Hards" of Asimov's fanbase. I think these changes are a huge bonus to the story. But (I think) people will always be divided between what works in storytelling and what is sacred and should not be altered in any way. My thoughts on this are simple: sometimes big stories are two big for one mind. I think this is the case with Game of Thrones, which functions much better when there's a small village of people providing input than it does with one person's brain who tires and quickly reaches the limits of their imagination and falls short of filling in all the blanks. So what are these changes exactly? There are spoilers ahead in case you intend to watch Foundation, which I hope you do. It's an incredible science fiction series...maybe one of the best in modern times. Okay, now to answer that question.

The first of these is that Hari Seldon gets to die and yet through computer programs and cloning and what all else, he's a continuous character that not only gets to exist to establish the Foundation, but he continues onward as a primary protagonist throughout the narrative. He doesn't just "appear" in the vault as a pre-recorded message every fifty years or so like he seems to do in the book. 

The second thing that Apple's staff of writers did was establish a genetic dynasty of emperors named "Cleon" that continues on and on and on, and is in fact one of the main reasons the whole thing is collapsing.

The third thing they did was bring in the character of Demerzel, who is the real power behind the throne...her story comes to full bloom in season two. Demerzel is the most fascinating character in the show, full stop. Demerzel is the last survivor of this event called "The Robot Wars," which occurred between man and machine thousands of years ago. And her story is extremely sad, having been sliced up and imprisoned for countless centuries within a room, fully conscious of who she was, and just having to stay there without company only to then be freed by a morally ambiguous Emperor who had romantic designs that had to do with her, would force her to love him through programming, and would force her to be a caretaker of his clones for even more centuries to come. How awful would that be?

And the fourth thing they did was invent Gaal Dornick, who is Hari's protege and who they've managed to figure out how to hurl through the centuries as a living person (they use hybernation pods for this to slow down metabolic processes). She's the tape measure by which Hari's plan can be measured. You see, Hari has got this timeline of events that need to be overcome due to what he's learned from his mathematically-based psycho-history. With Gaal Dornick, she's a living person, and thus she can have children. If (for example) a child dies outside of when it is supposed to (as predicted by psychic dreams and prophecies), it means that the future can be changed. I really liked Gaal's kid named Salvor, and I was sad when Salvor died at the end of season two. But this is exactly what shouldn't have happened but did, and because of that they know that the next big bad that they will face, called "The Mule" will be overcome because Salvor wasn't supposed to die when she did (if that makes any sense).

Anyway, I get why some of the "die hards" are upset at all of these changes. But they make for some really good storytelling if you can let go of a stoic adherence to Asimov's actual writing. We have gotten quite a few good things from the books. The Hober Mallow/High Cleric-Brother offshoot of the Foundation arc was fantastic. We also got the Riose-Mallow-Constant arc that was a genuinely interesting adaptation of the books. That arc emphasized the Foundation from Terminus using their soft power. Season 2 also gave us the necessary Second Foundation introduced into the story via the mentalics arc, and we now have Gaal becoming the single most important person in the universe because she has nigh on "magical" powers that are probably aimed at an upcoming boss fight with "The Mule." Even though the writers have had to do a lot of hand wavy, science magic to keep characters from aging out of the story, I think the sacrifice has paid off in spades. And the nothing but spectacular destruction of the planet of Terminus left me awe struck. The way the show has been doing the ships "faster than light" travel is to have each of them use a micro black hole that serves as the engine. Well, they crashed one of the big ones into the planet Terminus, and I never really put together that the singularity in those ships could in fact tear apart a planet, but it totally did. One of the best pieces of special effects I've seen in sci-fi shows.

Anyway, thanks for visiting. On Wednesday I plan to talk about HBO's fourth season of True Detective called Night Country.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Invincible season 2 comes back in March and I have a few thoughts on the first half of the season.

season 2 is coming back for its second half in March. I'm not sure why Amazon decided to split the season, but it is nice that there are more episodes that I haven't watched that I can look forward to viewing. It's a good series with a very strong comic-book vibe that live action usually misses (and which cartoons seem to miss as well). When I watch it, I feel like I'm reading a comic book, and that (I think) is the true magic of Invincible. I think that overall, the storyline does feel a bit weaker than it did in season one. Season 1 set up Omni Man as the ominous threat waiting to destroy the Earth. Each episode drove us a little bit closer to that final confrontation of him versus everything that Earth could throw at him with little chance of success. Season 2 on the other hand is a lot different.

We got introduced to Angstrom Levy who I thought was supposed to be this season's bad guy, but then we hardly see him and hardly understand how much of a threat he is supposed to be. And then in a move that surprised me, we got introduced back to Omni-man living in exile on another planet (and he's fathered a baby with an alien being) and he wants his Earthling son Mark to join him in a fight against the Viltrumites who have come to extinguish Omni-man and his progeny. This was a kind of crazy thing that I absolutely didn't see coming. 

This also does seem to be the season where many of the characters are trying to figure out what their place is in the crazy world of superheroes. For example, Atom Eve has this tug of war where she doesn't want to be a superhero, but then she changes her mind and gets angsty. Omni-man too seems to be going through some soul-searching. In season 1 he practically demolished his own son. Now in season 2, his cruelty has been really toned down, and he somehow now has empathy for at least the bug people that he rules over. 

Anyway, it's a lot to process. But here's my predictions of things that will need to be addressed when the show returns in March:

1) Will Mark return with Nolan's second son, forcing Debbie (his mother) to come to terms with how fast Nolan moved on from his previous life on Earth?

2) Will Angstrom Levy become more of a villain?

3) Will Mark and his girlfriend, Amber, break up? He kinda did just up and leave and go to another planet to fight alongside his dad.

If you have anything to add regarding Invincible, I look forward to reading your comments. 

On Monday, I'm going to blog about the spectacular season 2 that Foundation put in on Apple Plus. I finished it up last night, and I've got oh so many thoughts regarding the events that played out. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

My spoiler-filled review of He-Man Revolution on Netflix.

Kevin Smith's reboot of Masters of the Universe landed first with "Revelations," and it continued with "Revolution." It seems weird to market it that way, but "Revolution", which landed on January 25th, was basically just season 2 of the show. This "second" season is much shorter, being only five episodes long. But there is still some good lore nuggets that got dropped, and (with it) the "Prince Adam" character has finally become an adult with his father's death.

It's a strange thing to see cartoons evolve with real life events like the death of a parent or some other thing. In Adam's case, the entirety of the second season was mostly about the succession. When not fighting Motherboard and Skeletor (who was a cyborg masquerading as He-Man's friendly uncle) there was always this question of "who would be king?" should the need arise. At this point I'd like to note that I was pleasantly surprised to hear William Shatner's voice as the scheming "Keldor." And it turns out that (at least as Kevin Smith sees it), Eternia's ultimate fate is to become a democracy (maybe borrowing a page from the ending of Game of Thrones?). So, no more kings. Just a democracy with powerful magically enhanced protectors to ensure that the bad players of the universe don't meddle in what the people of Eternia actually want from their government. Maybe that's the only real way a democracy can survive the strong man personalities that are out there. It's too bad that Earth doesn't have a super moral, magically enhanced protector, looking out for democracy. We could really use one.

I do have my criticisms though. Again (just like in season one), He-Man is the most boring character. Hordak as the ultimate villain was great, and Mark Hamill as Skeletor is perfect casting. That character is so absurd that the campiness of his villainy is just entertaining to watch. The second season also could have used more episodes (8 might have been just right). There were multiple storylines that needed more development, and some missed opportunities to give the characters more depth. The new "man-at-arms" could have gotten a bit more screen time, and I think I could have used more time to get used to referring to the character of "Evil Lyn" as "Good Lyn." That transition though does feel earned, even if it doesn't immediately roll off the tongue.

The final epilogue scene also drops two reveals for the next season: Horde Prime is coming and has a masked female servant named Despera. I believe that in the original series, Adora went by that name while brainwashed by the Horde. These are also part of the She-Ra intellectual property license. So I think there's probably going to be a crossover soon, and that seems fresh and exciting. All in all, I like these new cartoons, and I recommend them for anyone who also shares a love for He-Man cartoons.

Thanks for visiting. On Friday, I think I want to talk a little bit about Invincible season 2, as the second half is returning in March on Amazon Prime. Until then, may you all "have the powa!"

Friday, February 16, 2024

All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix was a poignant and moving drama that has made me want to read the book.

I watched All the Light We Cannot See on Netflix. This very moving four episode mini-series was a fictional account of several lives and how they all intersected during World War 2. The first character is Werner Pfennig, played to a tee by Louis Hofmann. This character is one I absolutely fell in love with. He's a real whiz at making and fixing and using radios, and the big hook for his character in the story is that (during the rise of Germany) he listened to illegal broadcasts from France. In particular, he learned a lot from a professor who spoke at length about science, and this professor made learning fun. The caveat then of all this learning is that Werner gets instilled with compassion and ends up with a lot of what we'd call modern liberal values at a time when everyone in his entire country is going far right, straight into fascism and brutality. There's a very uncomfortable scene in this show that is difficult to watch. It takes place in Berlin's most exclusive school of learning for radio construction. In this scene, Werner is forced to undergo a physical exam, and the racist instructor of the school (who is also clearly a pervert) is dead set on proving that Werner deserves to be there by virtue of his Aryan blood (and he's going to prove it by measuring every single thing on Werner's naked body). If he fails (of course) then Werner will just be killed. He does pass the test, but the scene feels extremely rapey, and I think its meant to be this way to illustrate how horrible these people actually were.

The second character that we end up spending a lot of time with is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who is a blind girl that takes over broadcasts from within the French city of Saint-Malo. We see her (at first) broadcasting a reading of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea over a radio (we later learn that it is the same radio that the "professor" used years earlier to broadcast his science program and where he garnered listeners like Werner Pfennig). Sometime later, we learn that the braille book she's reading from is being used as a kind of code to the allies who are listening in on the broadcast, and they are able to bomb areas of Saint-Malo (thanks to these readings) that are infested with German soldiers hiding out. Because it is a fictional story, most of us can overlook how contrived these events are that bring Werner together with Marie--he being someone whose very work is listening to the radio and she being someone who broadcasts over the radio but is at odds with the fascist German military to which Werner owes his allegiance. If you can manage to overlook this contrivance that fictional tales often need to do, then the whole thing kind of comes together in a gorgeous dance of these two beautiful souls who must endure the harsh reality of the world around them.

The last character that really plays a strong part in this show is played by Mark Ruffalo. He's basically the "dad of the year." That's what I labeled him, anyway. He's the dad of Marie-Laure, incredibly accomplished...he's entrusted with all the keys of the museum of natural history in Paris and is essentially an expert on everything. What he doesn't know is probably not worth knowing. Into this enormous walking bank of knowledge is poured a ton of empathy. He's super soft-spoken, loves his daughter immensely (and treasures her despite the blind disability that he may believe he could have caused), and will stop at nothing to be a good teacher to his daughter. When they were living in Paris, he constructed (in miniature) the section of town they were living in out of wood. This diorama was how he taught his blind daughter where they lived and how she could find her way around town. When they fled to Saint-Malo after the Nazi occupation, he built another one so that she could learn her way around this new town. Into this then is a McGuffin of sorts that is introduced into the storyline: a gigantic diamond known as the "Sea of Flames." I'm not sure what purpose the diamond serves other than to add a layer of superstition and magic to the story. Legends say that anyone who touches the "Sea of Flames" will be cured of all things and live a wonderful life. But their loved ones will be struck down by something horrible. This is the thing that Daniel LeBlanc struggles with as he wonders if he is responsible for his daughter's blindness. Thus, the phrase "all the light we cannot see" becomes a really strong metaphor for the goodness in the world that exists in places where they eyes cannot detect it, and how souls can shine even in the darkest of days.

All in all, I really enjoyed this mini-series. I wish it had been longer. Four episodes did not seem like enough. It's definitely got me invested in reading the book, which I discovered won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014. If there's anything to complain about, it's maybe that the Nazi characters did come across as a bit cartoonish. However, the banality of evil is one of the most terrifying aspects of Nazi Germany, and that may be difficult to show on screen when you are given only four episodes. In some could be a Hallmark film since it has a happy ending (does that sound bad?). I've been told that the ending isn't happy in the book, and since I'm going to be reading that after Shogun, I'll be able to see all the changes. In the end, I love Louis Hofmann who is the actor that brought me to this show and it was the first time for me to see him speaking in English (he's basically the Timothee Chalamet of Germany). If you have a few hours to kill, I highly recommend you give this one a watch.

I won't be blogging on Monday, as it is a holiday (President's Day). So I'll see you back next Wednesday. This brings me to the end of the backlog of things that I wanted to talk about that I watched over the holidays. So, now I'll have to work on new material.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Our Flag Means Death may be canceled but it's still a wonderful show about the potential of community love and queer life.

So, Our Flag Means Death, which is a show that I liked, got itself canceled on Max. However, it did have a rather good ending with Stede and Ed (Blackbeard) shacking up together in what I presume will be that Inn/hotel that they've been floating as an idea they would pursue in the entirety of the last two seasons. Rumor is that Waititi may be shopping the series around, and that it "may" get picked up. But, it also is just fine with the episode count that it has. Our Flag Means Death was always just super ridiculous, which is what made it fun, and I wondered how long the writers could keep the gags coming. However, they never dropped the ball and just when I thought something was played out, they found a way to continue playing it out some more.

If you happen to be queer, there's a lot to love in Our Flag Means Death. It's the show that tried to take bloodthirsty, murderous, and thieving pirates and then inject into them the modern liberal values of respect, gender equality, reasonableness, creating safe places to express emotions, and treating each other with dignity. It was that utter contrast that got me invested in it in the first place. It was full of comedians who are very good at comedic timing. You had Leslie Jones as a murderous polygmist who runs a bar and has over a dozen husbands. She literally has a jar of noses she cuts off men that displease her, and it sits on her bar. Yet, she had this fun soft side where she got to act like a girl and just be treated to massages by her husband of the night. 

There was the actor who played Stede Bonnet, a rich aristocrat from England, who was bored with his life of silver spoons and who had a lovely wife, but what he really craved was a life at sea while getting shagged by a man. But you could never take the "aristocrat" out of Stede, so he hosted tea parties on his ship, which was meticulously clean, and was the captain of a pirate crew who were free to be who they really are with no judgment. So, you had gays loving on each other, baking cakes, and others crying out their traumas in emotional support groups on deck.

Most of these people were based on real-life folks who actually lived. And I was surprised to learn that there is evidence to suggest that Blackbeard and Stede actually did have a romance together. This is where life gets stranger than fiction. But for its lovely queer moments, Our Flag Means Death was also a freakshow of violence and death, albeit carried out in over-the-top performances that managed to stay charismatic to the very end. One such moment came when Izzy Hands died. This was a character I liked a lot that had a grotesque amputation earlier in season two (due to professing love for Blackbeard and Blackbeard being in a dark place due to breaking up with Stede). In the end, Our Flag Means Death was always a bittersweet show committed to portraying the full scope of queer life and identity. As a result, it attracted a fanbase that wasn't ashamed to let its freak flag fly. This show had an enormous amount of queer expression and characters of all stripes and flavors of queer. The fanbase which is mostly made of Gen Z peeps was not happy with Izzy's death due to many people identifying with that character really hard. 

Some of the comments made online that attacked this fanbase circled around the idea that LitRPG and isekai are both effectively centered around reassuring readers/viewers that their inability to cope with reality isn't a failing. Rather, you're just meant to live in the world of your favorite video game where everything is numbers, and you can control everything with your elite skills. Like seriously...these are comments from haters of Our Flag Means Death lobbed at the "modern snowflakes." It's dismissive in the sense that there are other generations of people who watched the show (I'm a Gen Xer) got invested in the characters, and many of us aren't afraid of conflict. Rather, it's just nice that there's a show about processing grief and finding community, which is at the heart of what made Our Flag Means Death a special thing. However, the first few episodes of Our Flag Means Death did not telegraph this well. It started as a black comedy similar to how The Orville got its start. Early on, people got killed, they made jokes about doing horrible crimes, and the romance side didn't really start until the last couple of episodes of the first season.

In the end, I loved Our Flag Means Death and while my favorites have always been Ed (Blackbeard) and Stede and their romantic arc, I came to appreciate the strong underlying through-line of the power of community, especially queer community, to save lives and give hope. Ed and Stede were comic protagonists in the most archetypal sense. They were flawed people who are facing a flawed world, who nevertheless will (ultimately) be able to create something better through the power of their love, because love is transformative. But Our Flag Means Death showed us so much about the transformative potential of "community" love, which the crew embraced, but which Ed and Stede weren't quite ready for. The character of Izzy (who fully embraced that transformative community love) ends up being the one that suffers. I understand why the story played out as it did, but it would have been nice if they had found a way to reconcile those powerful themes a little better than just killing off Izzy's character.

On Friday, I plan to write about All the Light We Cannot See. Until then, godspeed. 

Monday, February 12, 2024

James Clavell's Shōgun has been rebooted and it arrives on February 27th.

Happy after Super Bowl day. I hope your team won, and it left you fulfilled. In my town, a Komodo dragon at the Living Planet Aquarium picked San Francisco to be the winning team. My friend Jake responded to me (when I told him that): "I don't listen to what that lizard has to say." 

Over the past week, I've been reading the book Shōgun by James Clavell. This is because I'm excited to watch the ten episode mini-series that will be airing on FX and Hulu starting February 27th, 2024. On that date we get two episodes (I think), although it may be just one for me since I'll start watching it on the FX cable channel. New episodes will drop at the rate of once a week.

I'm only 300 pages into this 1300 page novel. However, I do have some insights. The first was that the book is really taking a deep dive into the characters and who they are as people. I really appreciate this. Even though I'm decades removed from a watch of the original six-episode miniseries that aired on broadcast television starring Richard Chamberlain as Blackthorne, the English pilot of the ship named The Erasmus, there are certain things that were in that miniseries that burned into my memory. One of them was the first beheading. The scene takes place in the village of Anjiro, and Omi (a samurai) beheads one of the local peasants for not bowing/offering him the respect he deserves. That's a scene that doesn't get a lot of explanation in the show, and I don't think the show ever explains why that peasant would have done that knowing full well that it would cost him the life and possibly place hardship on his family.

The reason for the beheading is in the book. The samurai named Omi is very anti-Christian, and there's a Jesuit priest in the village that sometimes interprets (he's not very good) between those who speak Portuguese and those who speak Japanese. The samurai tolerates the Jesuit priest's presence but he insults him all of the time. The peasant was a Christian convert, and he was deeply troubled by Omi insulting a messenger of his god to the point that he couldn't tolerate it anymore. So, he decided that if Omi was going to be this way, then Omi deserved no respect either. And he knew what would likely happen to him (and it did). So yeah...he was willing to die for his faith.

Another thing that is explained in the book is why Japan (the tale of Shōgun takes place in 1600) allows Christians to convert people within its borders at all. This isn't connected well in that decades old miniseries. It turns out that Japan needs/desires Chinese silks a lot, but the country of China hates Japan for various reasons that go back thousands of years. Silk is so desired because of the hot oppressive summer heat, which makes wearing other kinds of fabrics basically intolerable. When the Portuguese showed up, they got permission from the Chinese to basically run their operations out of Macau. Well, the Portuguese showed up on Japan's shores loaded with these Chinese silks they greatly desired. Japan traded silver for them and a trade was established that could only exist through the Portuguese (again because the two nations hated each other). Japan even gave the port of Nagasaki to the Portuguese so that they would be able to import as much of the Chinese silks as they possibly could. The ship that brought these goods into Japan was known as "The Black Ship," and it was worth just an astronomical sum of money. Anyway, having this explained in the book (for me) was fantastic, because suddenly I had this framework for why Jesuits and Christians had wormed their way into the power structures of feudal Japan, and how they were basically given wide berths by the leadership of the country. It turns out, they needed them there.

I also got an explanation of why the "ronin" were such a problem in Japan. If you don't know, a ronin is essentially a "samurai" who no longer has a lord, usually because the lord was killed or died and had no heirs. The caste structure of medieval Japan was very strict. Samurai were not allowed to own any land. Instead, they received a fief that was a designated area over which they managed. They could live in a house on that land, and they were entitled to 100% of anything that was produced on that land. The peasants could own land in that fief, but all that they produced on it could be taken by the local samurai. A relationship often developed in which the samurai took a reasonable portion and left the peasant with the rest to feed his family and to continue to produce. It's kind of like how people shear sheep for their wool and then let the sheep go back to feeding in the pasture. So, when a samurai lost his lord and became ronin, they went from being able to live on the produce of this land they managed to absolutely nothing. They didn't even have a house, and because of their caste, they could not switch to something else like "become a peasant" or "become a fisherman." There also was no social safety net in Japan, so a ronin literally was a homeless bum overnight with nothing but his sword. Many of these people had no other choice to live but to become bandits and take what they needed from others by stealing. And this put them at odds with actual samurai who hunted them down to kill them like pests. For a peasant, it wasn't that bad. When the lord died, you still owned the land your house was on. Just who you paid taxes to and what samurai you gave produce to would at some point change. I found that to be a fascinating detail on why ronin were such a scourge in the countryside. Nothing I've ever read explained it quite like the book Shōgun does.

Lord Yabu is also explained in great detail in the book. In the old miniseries, he was a pretty bad guy who boiled one of Blackthorne's crew alive, treated them all pretty terribly, and eventually became a traitor to Lord Toranaga who is trying to become Shōgun of the entire country. But the book explains what he is: a sadist. It turns out that torturing people is how he essentially gets an erection (not kidding). Blackthorne and his crew have the misfortune of landing in this guy's village, and Lord Yabu is incredibly excited to get the opportunity to torture someone without consequences so that he can get the erection he's apparently been missing out on for quite some time. James Clavell uses some beautiful language to describe Lord Yabu when he eventually gets down to some business with a couple of whores from the village (one is a boy and another is a girl--the bisexuality also omitted form the miniseries). Clavell says that "Lord Yabu reached the clouds and the rain." I was like...oh...okay...that's good. I like that, and I'm stealing that. I wonder how much of this they are going to keep in this new miniseries, because I do think it is important to understand Yabu's motivations.

And then there's a moment in the book when Blackthorne reaches Osaka, because he's been summoned by Lord Toranaga, who is essentially one of five super daimyo's (lords) who wield true power in Japan. He has hundreds of thousands of soldiers at his disposal, and he's a political prisoner in Osaka castle which is controlled by Lord Ishido (his equal and opposite on the regent council). These five regents were appointed by a Taiko who died (Taiko being the title of a person of modest birth who rose to the power of a Shogun but could never hold the title of Shōgun because they were a peasant). Their sole responsibility is to safeguard the young boy who will grow up to be the new "Taiko." Until that day happens, they are "supposed" to confer among each other and make decisions regarding the rulership of Japan. But it's really a nest of vipers who all hate each other, and who plot to assassinate the young heir and then engage in a civil war until one of them comes out on top and can march on Kyoto (where the emperor lives) to demand the title of "Shōgun." It is unto this situation that Blackthorne arrives, and he describes Osaka as being a huge and beautiful city, twice the size of London at the time. I'm going to be looking forward to that (as it is completely missing from the old miniseries), but it is in the new one as it is clearly seen in one of the trailers for the new show. As soon as I watched the trailer I was like, "Oh, that's Osaka. It has to be."

Anyway, this post is getting a bit long, so I'll cut it off here. Below, I'm posting one of the trailers for the FX miniseries. I can't tell you how excited I am to begin watching this show. This Wednesday, I'm going to talk about Our Flag Means Death, season two, which I recently finished watching. And then on Friday, I'm going to talk about the miniseries All the Light We Cannot See, which is adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same name.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Percy Jackson and the Olympians was an all right show and the Greek gods feel like bad boomer parents.

Like many people across the world, I finished watching the Disney+ adaptation of Percy Jackson made from the Rick Riordan series that stars the hero. I've never read the books, but I did see the movies that came out starring Logan Lerman. They were "one watchers" for me back then. I feel pretty much about the same with regard to the series. To clarify, I'm not saying that it isn't entertaining and good. I'm just saying that maybe my tastes lean toward older fare starring older actors and more complicated human dramas. So, I've watched season one once, and I'm looking forward to season two...which I will watch once :).

One of the things that I find so fascinating about the Percy Jackson series is how many young people are just in love with what they are seeing. Their passion is real, and to me, it kinda just looks like the Greek gods were bad boomer parents who (for the most part) were self-obsessed and just left their kids to fend for themselves no matter what happened. So all of these demigods are kind of like latchkey kids of my generation. The only difference is that they are latchkey kids with amazing quests, and magical things that make them seem critical and important. Real latchkey kids had no importance in their parent's eyes and were for the most part, just a liability to building wealth that they could spend on themselves.

But to see young people expressing a desire to actually be a latchkey kid (okay, okay...they are really saying they want to be a demigod) has my head turning a bit. But you only arrive at "latchkey kid" if you take away the obvious wealth and magic of the narrative and drop in lots of "boring" and "chores" and things like that. No one is actually asking for that. But it is still fun to think that a demigod is at least 50% something that many people really lived through, and that in today's world, kids are really coddled as opposed to "you can fend for yourself, and I don't care what you do." There were literally entire days where my mom kicked me out of the house in the summer and told me not to come back until it was dark, and I just wandered everywhere around my small town (I was driving at the age of 13). I wonder sometimes why that isn't acceptable parenting anymore. And that being said, it's obvious that the "Greek Gods" of these shows are just terrible parents and are toxic, like many of the boomers are seen these days. Yet, because of that very trait, it's good for storytelling, and not so good if you have to live through it.

The young adult I'm watching the movies with, a young woman named Moira, has declared that the series is a faithful adaptation of the books. She wants me to read the books but honestly, I don't think I could bring myself to enjoy a book where Medusa sells statuary and makes sandwiches and where Ares rides around on a Harley Davidson. It all just seems too clever to me, which is usually the gut-reaction I get whenever I explore any urban fantasy these days. Someone taking a clever take on something we see everyday like (for example) a red mustang and then relating that to the car that the Incarnation of War drives around (the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse). I've seen so many of those "types of things" that I just can't anymore. But to fresh eyes, they probably seem really clever and smart. To jaded eyes like mine, they just look like cliches.

From a person who has never read the books, here are my observations. First, the casting seems really good. Second, I was surprised at how mundane some of the scenes were. For example, the chimera in the St. Louis arch just kinda was there, and then Percy fell into the water and that was it. We didn't see that creature again. The battle with Medusa was a blink and you'll miss it moment, unlike the big buildup in the movie, The Clash of the Titans. Third, there's more Bear McCreary music scoring. This guy has done the scoring for Rings of Power, Outlander, Black Sails, Foundation, Davinci's Demons, and now Percy Jackson. That's just off the top of my head. He's obviously the modern equivalent of John Williams and by the end of his composition career, he will be recognized as the greatest living composer.

In the final episode, you do get to see Mount Olympus, and I really enjoyed that because it looks gorgeous. Think of what the Thor movies did for Asgard and Disney basically did that for Olympus. 

And that's basically my thoughts on this series. On Monday, I want to talk about Shogun by James Clavell. I'm reading the 1300 page best of a novel right now, and I have some thoughts that I want to express about it before the new miniseries lands at the end of February (it looks epic). 

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

What do you like to see when you visit an author's website?

It's Black History Month, and it's also time to take a look at the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This is a monthly blog fest that I participate in that was started over a decade ago by highly successful Alex J. Cavanaugh. You can sign-up for the blog fest if you follow this link HERE. With that out of the way, I shall now explain a little about what this blog fest is, so you can determine if you want to join (should you find your way to this blog via the internet). 

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: It is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

When does everyone post?: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. This is when you can post your thoughts on your own blog. Or if you'd like you can talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. You could discuss your struggles and triumphs or offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

How do you network with other writers?: You visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back. Think of it as leaving breadcrumbs in a maze for others to follow.

Is there a motto?: Yes! It is "Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!"

Is the IWSG on "X", the social media platform formerly known as Twitter?: Yes! The X(Twitter) handle is @TheIWSG and the hashtag one is encouraged to use is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the February 7th posting of the IWSG are Janet Alcorn, SE White, Victoria Marie Lees, and Cathrina Constantine!

Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt one to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. If you decide to answer, you should include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

But always remember, the question is optional.

February 7th question: What turns you off when visiting an author's website/blog? Lack of information? A drone of negativity? Little mention of author's books? Constant mention of books?

I think that the number one thing I like when I visit an author's website is content. So, if there's a blog, I'll read it. If there's art to look at, I'll click on those. If there's a recommended reading order for multiple books, I will definitely page through those and often bookmark them. Author websites have been places where I find all of the above. Additionally, it's a good place to go for Kickstarter information and for updates on Kickstarters that have been run in the past. I also like to check to see if authors are making an appearance near me, or if they have something going on in their lives that I feel like I want to know. I checked George R.R. Martin's blog recently and discovered on January 29th he was feeling really depressed about the current state of affairs in the United States and the world. That was worth reading, even if it was a huge debbie downer. You might ask, does anything turn you off? I think just lack of content. Some authors like to have super clean websites kinda like the Google search page. There are no links, there's no blog, there's no news, there's nothing but a list of books. I usually don't ever return to those pages. Why bother, I can find that on Amazon.

And that's about it. Thanks for visiting and participating in the Insecure Writer's Support Group, February 2024 edition. On Friday, I'll talk about Percy Jackson on Disney+ and examine how kids these days seem to want to be latchkey kids as long as all of that alone time is filled with exciting stuff to do. If only that was the reality of actually being a latchkey kid (I was one). 

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Daryl Dixon spinoff for the Walking Dead universe is actually pretty good.

I'm not exactly sure why I keep coming back to the world of The Walking Dead. I left the original series in season nine when they got rid of Rick. Soon after that Michonne left the show. But they are going to be coming back, so I may end up watching the new Rick and Michonne show, which looks a lot like what The Walking Dead looked like. I keep thinking that either through attrition or a cure, there needs to be some hope of the zombie plague ending. But now, at the time of the Daryl Dixon spinoff, it feels a lot like maybe that's not what I want. Maybe it's just more time with these characters. Or maybe it was just to see other parts of the world that were impacted by the zombie plague. France seemed so different from the commercials. So yeah...I got sucked in yet again. But it wasn't a "I've got to watch this week's episode" kinda sucked in. Rather, it was one that I just recorded and eventually got around to watching several months after they aired. I also liked them enough to want to continue to season two, especially now that Carol (also from the original series) has found her way to France. Honestly, I never would have thought people could travel the world in the post-apocalypse but here we are.

Daryl Dixon sees the title character (Daryl) end up in France having washed up on shore. That's pretty much the premise of this show. French people, lots of subtitles, nuns in old nunneries, castles with thick walls to keep out the undead, people using medieval weapons which have really come in handy in the zombie apocalypse, and a world where Europeans are experimenting on zombies. These experiments sometimes turn the zombies into other things like zombies with acidic blood! It's very "Auschwitz-esque" but a French version and not German (we've no idea at this time what horror show a post-apocalyptic Germany or for that matter, Russia, has managed to brew up. When The Walking Dead first started many, many years ago, one of the things that made the story so compelling was the group constantly scraping to survive. Now, most of these spinoffs (especially the Dead City spinoff that I also watched starring Maggie and Negan) have become good vs. evil on a zombie apocalypse backdrop. So kinda like Stephen King's The Stand but with zombies.

As far as the setting goes, it's extraordinarily pretty (I think they may be using different filters on their lenses whilst shooting the show). They've also introduced a character which does appear to bring up questions in me. I wonder if it's a red herring. But there's this boy named Laurent who was born from a mother that died and became a zombie and he was pulled out of the zombie. But Laurent is not a zombie, even though he was connected biologically to his zombie mother. I don't know what this means, or if it actually means anything. But he's special as far as anything in this world goes. A lot of the people in this world (in France) seem to be heaping a tons of hope on the shoulders of this kid because they need something to believe in. But does he actually have powers? Does his blood hold some kind of secret that might stop the zombie apocalypse? I have no idea. It is enough of a hook though that I'd kinda like to see where it is all going. I get the impression that the kid is invisible to walkers. There's a scene where he's on the Normandy Beach and walkers are all around him, and he doesn't appear concerned at all, even though he's standing on an elevated ruin of a bunker. Are the zombies just not able to reach him or is it something else?

Other questions I had by the time I reached the end of the first season of Daryl Dixon include: 1) Why are people mutating zombies? 2) Why did Quinn (a character in this season) act like he knew the outbreak was going to happen? 3) How did the boy Laurent get to the beach by himself unless he is in fact invisible to zombies? 4) How did Carol get to France? Hopefully the next season of Daryl Dixon will shed some light on these things. 

On Wednesday, we'll do our Insecure Writer's Support Group post, and on Friday, I'll put up my analysis of Percy Jackson and how the Greek Gods in that show all seem to have embraced the baby boomer way of raising children. So yeah, the demigods are all "latchkey" kids, and it's just funny to me that this is largely what makes the series entertaining for modern kids to watch.

Friday, February 2, 2024

I think that Chernobyl was a real life tale of cosmic horror.

A picture of the exposed core of Chernobyl reactor 4

The miniseries Chernobyl came out five years ago in 2019 after the finale of Game of Thrones. I didn't watch it back then, but I always had it on my watch list similar to titles like Succession (which I may start this weekend) and Squid Game. There was just so much interesting stuff that came out (and is coming out) that I didn't have the time to consume even a small portion of it. As you can see from my posts for the majority of January, I've been busy consuming programs and shows while on my blog hiatus at the end of 2023. I'm still not done, wanting to weigh in on Percy Jackson and All the Light We Cannot See and Foundation Season 2. So get the idea.

Anyway, what could I say that maybe might add a little to the discussion about the miniseries Chernobyl that maybe hasn't been said yet? I have no idea, but it's a really good representation of the events that occurred when I was in Junior High (it's called Middle School now). I remember my science teacher, Mr. Roberts, talking to us about radiation. He had a Giger counter, and he stuck it out the second story window and we could hear it ticking away. He thought maybe that there was a slight bump in what it normally reads, and to be "sensational" in his own way, he declared that this might be from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. "It can reach us even so far away," he said.

The idea of something invisible like that, and that is clearly a threat is not new. But the person (I think) who captured it best was H.P. Lovecraft. So, yes, in a way I kind of think that there was something akin to "cosmic horror" regarding Chernobyl. It was a thing that the best of us...the best minds that walk among us...had difficulty wrapping their minds around. One of the characters in the show, a chemist named Valery Legasov (played expertly by Jared Harris who also stars in Foundation as Harry Seldon) explained the monster perfectly when he said that an RBMK reactor is a simple thing: either power goes up or it goes down. Controlling that power is controlling the reaction of the Uranium 235. As the Uranium reacts you insert Boron rods to absorb the bullets. This then is one failsafe. Another is water which gets boiled away, converting to steam, which then turns a turbine and out comes electricity that powers cities. And it's all done without smoke and fire and other things. The big problem then comes in keeping that water flowing and there needs to be backups for the pumps if power goes out because it's important that the reaction take place where there's plenty of water to turn into steam. And that's it.

What happened at Chernobyl (oversimplified) is that they ran a test which bottomed out the power in the reactor too long. It created this gas called Xenon which is horrible for a fission reaction. To get the power up too quickly, they pulled all of the rods out, and then the Xenon got burned off suddenly, and a full blown uncontrolled chain reaction started (like in a fission nuclear bomb) and they tried to shut it down but it was too late. All of the water vaporized due to the extreme heat and a steam explosion blew the reactor wide open, creating the radiation monster. All of this happened due to grotesque mismanagement, a toxic workplace (to say the least) with bosses demeaning and bullying other people, and then all of that combined with cheapskate building materials. You couldn't have written a more horrifying story in fiction. The fact that it really happened is the stuff of nightmares and horror.

The miniseries Chernobyl had some incredible acting and some very disturbing scenes. The radiation that slew firefighters by the dozens took its time making them decompose while still alive. They didn't even have veins left that you could use to inject morphine. Yuck. It's definitely one of those things where people (and governments) need to be okay with just allowing people to end their lives. Allowing someone to go out in that way rather than choose to take a bullet is the cruelest thing I can imagine.

Just like anything that's complex like this, I was left with questions that I probably can't find answers to. One of them is the three hundred thousand liquidators called upon to clear the three roofs before they could erect the sarcophagus. One question I had was: couldn't they have rigged up some kind of hose and water cannon thing on a crane and aimed the water cannon at the roof and knocked those pieces over into the reactor? Those water cannons that I've seen have a lot of force to them. This is just my homeowner thinking because I've used a hose to wash debris off my driveway. At least the smaller ones could have been handled that way and then the larger pieces could have been done with the soldiers who were taxed to shovel for 90 seconds (longer than that and they would just die). As it was thousands of them died anyway. The miniseries drove this home by showing one particular worker that I labeled "the clumsiest man on earth" who stumbled everywhere he went and managed to rip a hole in his suit. It was left up to the audience but you can pretty much assume that this was a death sentence to the cosmic horror radiation monster.

This is the Elephant's Foot in the basement of Chernobyl. They actually broke a piece off it using
a rifle of some kind (I believe it was an AK-47). That all seems very Russian for some reason.

After finishing Chernobyl, I thought about that situation for several hours. What a weird and otherworldly thing it ended up being, and its ruins afterwards (which have become a kind of tourist attraction) have some truly strange things in it as a result of the meltdown in reactor 4. One of the weirdest is this thing known as "The Elephant's Foot" which is made of a substance called "corium" that is a made up word (now a real word) used to describe the lava created by nuclear material when it is mixed with graphite, boron, and sand. This "Elephant's Foot" made its way into the basement of Reactor 4, melting its way down a set of pipes and through concrete. Apparently, its still melting through the concrete basement, but it hasn't moved in years. To stand near it is a death sentence as it is so radioactive that it will give you a lethal dose in mere seconds. And there's also still people who work at Chernobyl. It doesn't produce power anymore, but there will always be a need to have workers there because it needs to be watched for thousands of years. Recently they erected a new shiny steel sarcophagus over it (at least it looks like steel). It probably is made of all kinds of weird stuff to withstand radiation and earthquakes, etc. It's supposed to last a hundred years, and then it will need to be redone. It also cost $2 billion (which seems like a lot but isn't Mark Zuckerberg spending $1.7 billion on his Kuai bunker in Hawaii?). So maybe $2 billion is cheap these days. But what do I know?

Another question that pops into my head about these nuclear reactors that need to be watched is this: how exactly does this work in zombie apocalypse scenarios? For example, in The Walking Dead there is no one to watch after these nuclear reactors because a ton of people just died and became zombies. I kind of wonder if all of the nuclear reactors around the world got shut down safely before the zombie apocalypse hit. But maybe that's one of those questions that a person shouldn't ask when we are watching shows like The Walking Dead. Also, I validate you completely if you wonder why I would think of such a silly scenario. It's just how my brain works.

Have a good weekend, and on Monday I will be talking about a Walking Dead spinoff called Daryl Dixon where he ended up in France of all places. I enjoyed watching the first season...but it's really a strange twist on old characters.