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Blogging Harper’s Island (Because Someone Has To)–Episode 5: Thwack!

To mix things up a bit today, I am launching right into the Harper’s Island stuff. I have no tomato reports and the flu bores me now, especially since I am all better and the people I made sick are recovered or diagnosed with different diseases.

As usual, I will spoil the entire episode, but nothing further. I haven’t seen any promos and I’m not reading articles about the show elsewhere.

I probably shouldn’t have laughed out loud at the end of this episode, but I did. I also engaged in a few moments of maybe Abby’s Dad Did It, and many more than a few moments of Abby Needs to Get Over It Already. I know her mother died, but her dad lost a wife and his family lost a member, and him getting obsessive wasn’t exactly harmful to her, although perhaps it prevented her from coping with her own grief. I understand why she would flee to another state and why she’d have trouble coming home for seven years without an external reason, but we’re either not getting the full story about something icky that her father did to her that Jimmy (Old Flame) alluded to, or she’s a drama queen, or the writers are sloppy, or all three. I so enjoyed watching Abby and her father sit down to breakfast, and the happiness she experienced wandering through her old house. I presume that was her mother’s armchair in the living room, and a quilt made by her mother at the foot of the bed. That was a normal scene with a normal person reacting like a human being. I think the show needs more of those.

Watching Madison and JD play around was nice, too. He appreciated, I think, being approached as just another person by a girl who really just wanted to find a companion. And here was a loner, all dressed up already as a child! Perfect! The fireworks were the sort of prank that anyone else would have gotten off the hook for, especially if it had been one of the buddies. JD just travels with everyone else’s baggage, and they sort of resent him for it. I think it shows a lot that he went to the wedding at all, even if he didn’t want to be in it (a decision he clearly regretted for a minute). It’s a real shame that Henry made all his assumptions known (ie, raccoon) without asking JD first, and that was unnecessarily prickish. JD is a creep and has maybe done creepy things, but it’s weird to me that people have no compunctions about assuming he would torture animals. I don’t think the deer head and the raccoon are his handiwork. I can’t remember if any specific details have already been provided that would shoot my theory about JD to hell, but the only rumors I can come up with are that he might have attempted suicide and that he took his parents’ deaths hard. I did miss a lot of information that day I was watching the show while outside potting plants. But it really does seem like the kind of plot-necessary miscommunication that throws the suspicious minded off the track of the real villain by distracting him with trifles. Not that anyone is worried about the raccoon anymore, though–the cleaving of Dad’s skull bumped that off the List of Things to Worry About.

Goodbye, Thomas! You could kill a German Shepard with a broken beer bottle, but you couldn't see the chandelier coming! Of course, nobody could.

Goodbye, Thomas! You could kill a German Shepard with a broken beer bottle, but you couldn't see the chandelier coming! Of course, nobody could.

Poor Thomas Wellington! It was pretty despicable to try to break up his daughter’s wedding by inviting the ex to woo her, and it was equally despicable to woo him with a fat paycheck, too. It was a shame that he had to open the tired argument about Henry, but I don’t know that I would trust him (as a dad) based on his having a best girlfriend. It is suspicious from the outside, especially considering how much Abby looks like Trish. Henry clearly has a type. It’s an iffy situation, although I’m sure that’s not what the show creators are hinting at. I do think it was completely obnoxious, however, for Trish to throw the real affair between Katherine and Richard in his face, and it makes me like her a lot less. That was so not in the same league as Dad’s vague misgivings, and it makes her look like a brat. Nothing like a tree-colored battering ram knocking you off your bicycles to clear the air, however, and I thought Dad did a great job playing the action hero in the woods. I was apprehensive about the pickup truck canopy they climbed into to get away from the dog, but it turned out OK. Why he didn’t have his cell phone I don’t know. That seemed very out of character.

So I’m sorry for thinking a few weeks ago that the Reverend was some kind of innkeeper. Anyway, it’s about time they found a body. I liked the fishing the body out of the water scene a lot, especially how it was cut with the wedding rehearsal scenes. It was cheesy and dramatic and just what summer series TV should be. And I really shouldn’t have laughed aloud at the chandelier thing, but that was some good imagery, especially since the whole wedding vows thing instructs people not to set asunder what God is putting together, and the whole business about brides leaving fathers to cleave unto husbands. Cleave! Asunder! It’s like they were making fun of the traditional wedding verses! I found all of that very cleaver. I mean, clever. I mean, really. Even if you’ve seen Phantom of the Opera, you probably didn’t see expect the butcher knife blade attached to the bottom of the chandelier.

As for Beermonger and Joel’s body… that’s just too bad. It was a very neatly dug hastily dug grave, but going back to the scene of the crime is asking for trouble. His I’m Sorry Speech was probably quite heartfelt, but I don’t really believe that he would have gone out there to make it in person. Seems more like the kind of thing you’d say to a photograph of the two of you or some other personal artifact that would be easily seen and immediately encountered upon returning to the hotel room shared by both of you.

Final Musings:
So who turned on the shower?
So who are all the friends that Madison referred to in her conversation with JD?
Will Trish take out her grief about her father on Katherine?
Will Trish and Henry go through with the ceremony?
Is the German Shepard actually dead?

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Blogging Harper’s Island (Because Someone Has To)–Episode 1: Whap

I was told by Stepfather that I should watch Harper’s Island. He didn’t tell me that very emphatically, and he probably isn’t watching it himself, but we’d been talking about Lost and how he stopped watching it this season, and because I don’t watch any of his shows (American Idol and Survivor spring to mind) and because so many of my shows are off the air, right now (Ugly Betty) and probably for good (Kyle XY, Battlestar Galactica, Life, Sarah Connor), and because I am a huge fan of the “maxi-series,” or deliberately short seasoned of planned programs, I figured why not? Besides, blogging about TV brings in what few ratings I have, and I bet not that many people are bothering to analyze the program, so it might give me an edge. It will all be over by Independence Day, so why not? Plus there’s a certain satisfaction in overthinking, and this is a show that allows me to overthink it without having to expend a lot of effort. Look at how easily I’ve overjustified this blog post! The words flow through me like a river through a drain conduit during the rainy season.

So I watched the first episode from my kitchen, on my laptop, like I’ve seen so many programs in the past. I picked it up at CBS.com, which is a pretty good website for keeping lots of episodes around for its programs although it is not so good at putting lots of programs online for people to watch in the first place. The first thing that struck me was at how short the show was–that’s a very big clue. Now that the networks are putting up old programs online for people to wax nostalgic over, you can see just how flagrantly content has been supplanted by commercials. A typical hour-long show is usually about 42 minutes; Harper’s Island is only 40. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer used to be about 48 minutes long. 8 minutes is a lot of story!) That’s clue #1 that the network doesn’t really think this show is very important. Clue #2 is that the online version was totally plugging an iPhone App where you could keep up with other viewers and make predictions as a group about which characters were going to be offed next. Ha ha! If I had an iPhone, and if the App was free, and if I had some sort of usage package that didn’t charge me by the megabyte or however they do it, I would totally participate! There is a lot one can forgive bad TV for if one has a group to bag on it with. I’ve said many times in the past few years how we are in a golden age of television, and the programming has been startlingly good (despite all the reality TV), but I think what makes it golden is that the Internet has really made it possible for everyone to get together and talk about the damn thing. We’re all living our own Mystery Science Theater 3000! The content provided by the industry is really only part of the entertainment. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets antsy when I have to view a show later than broadcast, not because I care what’s in it but because I care so much about what everyone is SAYING about it. I want to chime in, too, but I don’t want to be left out of inside jokes. I wouldn’t be watching Dollhouse if people that I talked Sarah Connor with online weren’t also watching Dollhouse and chatting it up. It doesn’t look like any of those people are going to be watching Harper’s, though, so I’ll do that bold thing where I build it to see if anyone comes.

I am a little too lazy, however, to constantly keep checking IMDb for everyone’s names. I know the episode’s name only because I could look at the CBS website in a tab already open so I could link to it above. I’ll be as descriptive as I can and use names if I can remember them. Try to keep up… and let’s get started!

All my episode write-ups will contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Harper's Island

There’s just not a lot to the pilot episode except establishing characters’ relationships to each other, and establishing some characters. I don’t get the feeling character is going to be explored too deeply in this show, and it probably doesn’t matter. The clothes and hairstyles pretty much indicate which stock stereotype each person is, and if you are having trouble keeping some of the rich blonds apart it probably doesn’t matter. They’ll get picked off soon enough–they always do. My favorite stock characters so far are the fun-loving buddies and the creepy kid. They do a girl creepy kid this time, which is something sort of unusual, and they actually show her hurting an animal with a brain: She’s torching snails with a magnifying glass. That’s not quite as hardcore as Caprica 6 snapping a baby’s neck, but this is CBS and not a high-decade cable channel. So it suffices, and I wasn’t expecting it. Props.

Whaddya know? I got a character name! One less ambiguity for me to deal with later. \o/

The fun-loving buddies are redeemed from being ordinary stock characters when we learn that they travel nowhere without a cooler. I think that image is hysterical, and let my imagination riff on that for a moment, and didn’t mind too much when we didn’t see them again. I’m sure they’ll crop up, one way or the other. We know they are guaranteed to die, so they’ll get at least a few lines of dialogue before that happens. Maybe one will even go out a hero!

The island is sufficiently spooky–the default setting of any island in the Pacific Northwest is gloomy, and that’s what we get. Most of the scenes once we’re off the boat are indoors or at night, so I can’t tell how the sunshine is really going to factor in. Sometimes directors use that sort of light to highlight events, but if it’s a show set in regular daylight most of the time, they can’t. Needless to say, there was enough sun for enough time to kill a snail around dinnertime, so the weather has to be pretty bright. I’m sure the rich people who vacation there know enough about local weather patterns to pick the best time to have a wedding.

The locals, whose economy seems to be vacationer-based, are down-homey enough and touchy enough to be surly when rich people act up and dumpy when rich people’s clothes need to shine. The rich people and local people are dressed far enough apart from each other so that when BFF of the Groom, a local girl who has been living in LA for a while, shows up in a fancy dress but a denim jacket, you can tell instantly that she’s living in both worlds. She’s also the only one I remember with dark hair. Her mother died on the island, but although you think for most of the episode that the mother is a victim, there’s this weird newspaper clipping that appears on the mirror in her hotel room (she’s not staying with her family) that seemed to implicate her mother in some way as perpetrator. Maybe I read it wrong. Whatever it was, everyone knows that she knows that they know her mother died when the rampage was happening, but the placement of the note at the end of the episode has to indicate that someone she doesn’t know is letting her know he or she knows something about her mother that the visiting rich people don’t know.

I thought the grisly murders were darn good for network TV. They weren’t that bloody, which was fine with me, but they were set up well. Nobody wants to be chopped in half like Fun Uncle, although it seems a mercy he was drunk enough or drugged enough to not have it hurt terribly much (there was no screaming). The worst one was the one at the beginning. I don’t know who he was or how no one knows that there’s a corpse tied to the keel of their yacht (one of the rich blonds–maybe the bride–was trying to call him at the beginning, but he didn’t seem so important to the wedding party that he couldn’t be left behind). The really nice touch from a horror movie standpoint was having him breathing with scuba gear for a long time before the boat’s rotor chopped his face all up. You’d think that the pilots of the boat really would have noticed something, but boats have a lot of mass and people don’t, so whatever. I’ve never piloted a yacht. I’m rolling with it.

Because it’s just been one day, I am not accusing any characters of being stupid yet, except the girl who decides to go skinny dipping in the North Pacific at night. Idiot. It’s freezing at noon in the summer! No wonder she got so angry at Accent Boy’s hijincks… if they were Accent Boy’s hijincks. I’m never good at tracking people who are bobbing in and out of the water. I’ll bet that he had an engagement ring in his pants pocket, though… hence the promise to take her sailing earlier… it was going to be a very romantic proposal, but now she’s so mad at him that she’ll probably have sex with a local to punish him or be so angry she walks into a murderer’s trap. That happens a lot to characters with violent emotions. They never see the killer coming.

I guess episode 2 will take place during the morning of the next day. I’ll be interested to see if each episode is one day or if they break up the days by meals or something. 13 days would be a really long time to be having pre-wedding celebrations, although they could get stuck on the island with a broken boat after the wedding. If I have to make predictions about who’s next, I’m going to say that it’s Ocean Girl and one of the fun-loving buddies. I really wonder if CBS would kill off even a creepy she-kid like Maidson. I bet she ends up leading people to a body at some point.

How long can half a body hang from a footbridge before falling through the broken slats? How many times will wedding guests cross that footbridge while he lies beneath? The suspense just may kill you.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 13: Hunter, Prey

So this was a great episode to have in the middle of the season. Obviously the underlying tensions caused by Earth politics have been prevalent throughout, but it is easy to forget (read: easy for me to forget) exactly what is going on. I’d forgotten all about the explosion/assassination and the conspiracy theory about the Vice-President-Now-President helping to orchestrate it; I’d forgotten all about the mysterious Kosh and Sheridan’s dream that he’d visited; I’d forgotten about Sarah Whatsername, and her reports from the bombed-out carcass of San Diego; I’d forgotten that Garibaldi owned a fedora. I also enjoy the marketplace/bazaar scenes, and appreciate the appearances of the downtrodden, so even though we’d just seen them, they added to the richness of this episode, too.

I’d gotten halfway through this episode last week, and really couldn’t remember if I’d finished it or not, and was not particularly enthusiastic about rewatching it, but I did, and it makes a big difference with this series when I sit and watch for details instead of having it on in the background while I’m doing the dishes. The series is well crafted and the plot is well written, but I have to confess that I don’t find the scripts very inspiring. When you are just listening to silly remarks like, “And you want that with mayo, too?” or hearing the dialogue delivered stiffly because it is so flat to begin with, you get impatient. This whole show felt like a stage production during season one, and I wasn’t too excited about how it fit in the television format. The lines are still a little stilted and the conversations don’t feel very authentic most of the time, but the setting and the detail of this show has definitely made up for it in season two. When you focus on the screen, you see that red ribbon tied around the girder that alerts Sheridan that Sarah is in town. One split-second image transmits so much information about their relationship, about Sheridan’s role as a captain and as a revolutionary, about the limitations of the space these characters move through. Having the market stall owner–the seedy one who gets his eyeballs threatened by Garibaldi–close up shop by drawing curtains evokes a very non-sci-fi time and place, and brings the context of espionage and intrigue a la Indiana Jones and Casablanca into the program, which adds oomph to the scenes of desperate chase and subterfuge.

(I wonder, however, just how inconspicuous Garibaldi was in that fedora. Maybe his security people really don’t see past his uniform to his person, but he was walking around with the ship’s doctor who was wearing a purple bomber jacket.)

As for the actual content of the episode…

The title was “Hunter, Prey,” but it seems too obvious for those words to refer only to the hunt for Dr. Jacobs by Mr. Cranston. Hunting and prey, if people are involved, seems very Dangerous Game-y. I know the straits were the most dire straits of all the straits, but the politics of it undermine the animal power that the words make me think of. Sure, the sides were sort of mismatched, but considering that Sheridan’s people showed up very early on in the pursuit to assist Jacobs’s escape, it made it more complicated. All the focus on Kosh, and establishing the deliberate mystery about motive and identity, and why Kosh was following Sheridan into his dreams, and just what war against legends that Sheridan needs to train for makes this still-unnamed danger lurking in the borderlands a better candidate. People wax enthusiastic at me about how everything in this show eventually ties in to the big picture, so I am always looking for where the details actually are headed. And for all that the introduction narration before the credits has changed from season 1 to 2, they both refer to Babylon 5 station being “all alone in the night.” Anyone who has seen even a trailer for a slasher movie knows that all alone in the night never means you’re all alone. Things so bad that they are only know within legends are out there, and Sheridan–the leader of this last, best hope of galactic civilization–is ill-prepared to fight it. That’s the real hunter, I think. What I am most eager to learn right now is if this hunter is specifically after this prey or if it just attacks whatever is in its path.

The Vorlon obviously have more information than humans. That is some background I am looking forward to getting, too. You could consider for a little while if the Vorlon are so secretive because they are casing the joint before attacking–like a hostile force helping its victim become a worthy adversary–but they were positively maternal in this episode. Part Patience, Young Grasshoppa and part Cradling Womb, the Vorlon prodded Sheridan to find his true self and sang lullabies to Dr. Jacobs until the danger passed. It’s obvious to me that the Vorlon have access to information that the ordinary sentient beings on the station do not (can they tap into extra dimensions? are they a race of ancients?), so I am interpreting that Kosh’s decision to help Sheridan hide his fugitive confirms (in case there was any doubt at all) that Earth People are bad and the revolutionaries are good. Compared to how reticent the Minbari and Earth governments were about interceding to help masses of Narn refugees even without getting involved in the war, this is very personal, intense intervention in another species’s problem. Of course, if it has to do with the dark forces gathering in space, it may be that it is a matter of such great importance that personal, intense intervention is required. In the grand scheme of things, the latest Narn/Centauri conflicts could be meaningless (although I predict they are very ill-timed and will get in the way of finding solutions to the bigger problems).

That’s it for the episode. I ended up watching on YouTube a video compilation of all the opening credits of the pilot and the five seasons of the show, or at least the pilot and seasons 1 and 2 (I don’t want spoilers!). It was a nice little trip down memory lane to see what was emphasized in each of the different seasons. Londo narrating the pilot was a big surprise; of course when I watched it I didn’t know who anyone was, but now I actively wonder just who he becomes to have such status and authority as to be able to announce that he was there before it all the hit the fan, that he lived to tell the tale, and that he was given the platform to do so. I also wonder who the audience of this story will be, and how much I ought to be suspect of now that I know who is ultimately in charge of the telling. That technomage shows up in the credits of the first seaons–I had totally forgotten about him. I remember analyzing him in one of my write-ups (although I can’t remember right now what I said). That’s a group of people I’d really like to see again.

But Londo as the final storyteller is making me think. I figured he would be redeemed in some way, because they’ve already got Vir sitting in judgment on him and he already feels sorry about his villainous lot, but to be entrusted by the show’s creators with the history of all the people involved with Babylon 5? Wow. No narrator can be totally objective. I wonder what it will mean to the story to have it told through Londo’s filter. It’s positively literary! I feel very good right now that I can use my MA to watch TV. Lord knows I have so few occasions to use it.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 9: The Coming of Shadows

Well, I finally worked myself to exhaustion last week, and so I’ve been anti-computer and pro-housework lately. Plus I’ve been sleeping. There were so many things I wanted to write about, too, that I’m afraid I’ll never get to now: a bad recipe to slam, a book that turned out to be interesting and the periodical lesson I learned again about reading reviews on Amazon before finishing, my adventures with lavender and Gold Bond medicated anti-itch cream, and HOA drama and gossip. But I can’t talk about those things right now. I have to blog about the most recent episode of Babylon 5, because I am itching–ha!–itching to see the next one and I have a pile of laundry to do and if I move ahead with the show before processing the last one–a good one!–I’ll get myself all out of sorts.

The Coming of Shadows
My Gentle Reader, nevermore, told me a very long time ago that this one was a very good episode. Pretty much once I make up my mind to like a show, I like everything, but because we agreed on the weakness that was the Spiderweb episode I was especially eager to get into Shadows. Yes, it was very, very good. I don’t want to say that it was thin on plot, because the plot was amazing, but it was definitely streamlined with minimal extra story arcs. Everyone’s side story–they didn’t drop the side stories–tied directly into the Centauri/Narn politics. These were separate characters with very different goals, but nothing detracted from the drama. And drama it was! We learned a lot about the show’s mythology, too. I guess I’ll start with Londo and move to G’Kar.

Talking about Londo means talking about the emperor first. That business with the perfectly matched telepaths was something else. I don’t want to call it startlingly original, but their ability did come as something as a surprise to me. Centauri culture seems to be built along the lines of medieval feudalism, but this veiled group of women evoked a very Far Eastern vibe. But just when you think the Emperor has surrounded himself with some young lovelies in purdah, you find out that they are performing this amazing service for him. I am horrified, of course, to think of how those women have been completely denied a life of their own, and have no will or voice of their own, and are totally under the control of the men and the politicians who have placed them in that role, but it was way cool to learn that they communicate with each other from so far away. I suppose it’s worse than what the PsiCorps does to people who manifest psychic powers, because those psychics are at least acknowledged as individuals and given some autonomy over their own lives, but it’s really a matter of scale and not of principle. I also don’t know if those women would be happier in some kind of sexual servitude to the emperor, either. At least they’d be acknowledged as people and partners (to some degree) instead of cogs in a machine. Regardless, revealing that the Emperor was traveling with what amounts to a very large and hungry Blackberry and not some party to go made me appreciate his character more at the end. It’s a shame about the veils, but I suppose that does become a matter of function rather than control. If these women can transmit everything they see and hear, the veils probably act as a filter. I like to think that they won’t be honor killed if a man glimpsed their hair or faces. I also like to think that they’ll be allowed to retire a la Minority Report if one of them dies or loses her ability or something. I know they come as a set and they can’t be replaced within the group, but I hate to think of them being harmed when they lose a member. I guess in medieval feudalism they’d go to a convent. Based on what I’ve pieced together about women from Centauri, I guess that wouldn’t be so bad…

Londo.
If I hadn’t already read a long time ago by accident that Londo would turn into an “uber-villain” I might still have hope that he could come back from this episode, but his fate has pretty much been sealed for me. I would like to remind you folks that in my post for “The Geometry of Shadows” I warned everyone that the skinny man in black robes was up to no good. Lord Refa, I’m onto you.

(And now that I go back to look up that post so I can link to it, I see that “Shadows” has been a key part of the title. I am expecting a future episode named “The ____ of Shadows,” and will pay attention to the themes in it against this decision.)

I also applauded Vir for being the voice of courage and reason, if not exactly goodness. He remains so. I like to think of him as much nicer than Londo, with fewer ambitions and a firmer conscience even if the glamour of the whole ambassador thing affects him a little. He goes along with Londo’s games to a large degree (because when Londo advances, he advances), but he knows that genocide is bad. And not just because it’s bad morally–he anticipates the galactic consequences of such an aggressive, hostile act and takes them seriously. He doesn’t know what they will be, and he probably couldn’t predict any specifics, but he is not blinded by racial pride and power-hunger to the point that he thinks the Centauri can get away with it in the long term. I suppose Vir represents the voice of Joe Centauri, with little to personally gain and much to lose, and Londo is the man who can risk everything in hopes of great rewards. I am not surprised at all that Vir spoke up to Londo, but I was somewhat disappointed that he made no protest larger than a verbal “you’ll regret this someday.” I have a feeling that we’re not done with him. He protests, but then does Londo’s dirty work without a fight. Still, he knows this is wrong. At some point, he’ll go down with Londo–morally and in actuality–if he stays in alliance with Londo. I am still fully expecting him to hit his breaking point and walk away. I hope he walks away soon enough to escape more than damnation, if not soon enough to be redeemed. That is, I’d like him to act against Londo and be redeemed, but I don’t know if he will.

Londo’s actions don’t surprise me. What surprises me is that he is absolutely convinced he has to do this thing against the Narn while absolutely being convinced that it is wrong. He doesn’t want to be Emperor, and he is having nightmares, so I wonder what he hopes to gain or thinks will happen by participating in this plot? I don’t get the impression that he personally hates or even thinks about the Narn as people; he is certainly jovial enough with G’Kar when they are together. Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention to the show, but Londo’s behaviors hint at some deeper motivation than restoring the good name of his people or respecting and restoring Centauri tradition. He is not a man who has shown a great deal of respect for Centauri tradition to this point. There’s got to be some personal demon he hopes to kill or some personal slight he hopes to revenge behind this. Perhaps he’s mad at Lord Refa and cares more about this personal matter than the big picture. Totally selfish and tunnel-visioned I already see.

And I am allowing myself to believe that this episode proves the Centauri–as I predicted–have formed an unholy alliance with the creatures at the border, the ones foretold in G’Kar’s holy book and the ones spotted by that ship in hyperspace. They have short-term gains in mind and the arrogance to believe they can control this unknown force. They’ll be the ones opening the back door on the galactic peoples to let the evil in, without thinking about how that will hurt them, too. What will be interesting to find out is if everyone turns against the Centauri, if everyone takes pity and rescues the Centauri, or if it’s the Centauri that will be driven to the brink of (or beyond) extinction, in kind of a cosmic justice. Of course we’ll see the Narn act with grace when it comes down to it. The pastoral people always have an ancient and natural wisdom that achieves glory and teaches the city people about the true spirit of living. It’s country mouse and city mouse to the tenth power, with space ships.

And so we get to G’Kar.

Now his character never fails to surprise me. I haven’t seen him as just a Narn in a long time; he has been firmly established as a character for me, in a way that none of the other aliens (save Vir, maybe) have yet to become. When he felt so strongly about the Emperor’s visit that he vowed to take him out, it hurt to watch. He didn’t want to have to be the one to kill the Emperor, but it was necessary in his mind and he preferred the oblivion of death, the shame of imprisonment, and the possible agony of failure over the comfort of passivity. When he stands there and announces that the whole of his life will resolve in one of three ways, you have to admire his courage. I honestly thought we’d see something bad happen to G’Kar worse than facing this choice, that is). I was floored when the Emperor had a heart attack (or the Centauri equivalent) before G’Kar could get to him. I went into shock. He went into shock. I was so grateful that G’Kar was spared that awful destiny. Whether he had killed the Emperor or not, he would have triggered another attack from the Centauri and his people would have cursed his name forever. He was acting in their name, but since clearly the Centauri (or some of them) has this attack planned, he would have turned into a scapegoat. The second war would have been spun around G’Kar’s name. Now–thank god!–the Narn still have the moral high ground. How tragic would that have been?

Even though of course everyone watching the show knew that something bad was coming, it was exhilarating to learn that the Emperor came to apologize, that G’Kar was spared the awfulness of being an assassin, and his happiness that he lived to see a new day of intergalactic relations. He was ready to leave the unhappiness of the old G’Kar and the old Narn tragedies behind. Kudos to Londo, if such things can be given to him, for not ruining the moment when G’Kar shared the drink. Londo is a Prick Extraordinaire, but he isn’t heartless. He respects G’Kar and the plight of his people even if–to put it crudely–he wouldn’t give two shits for it. Londo hopes no one takes it personally, of course.

I don’t know what I expect from subsequent episodes. I can’t see how anyone could allow Londo to remain on the station, although I am sure they will. I know they will. I suppose Londo will deny all knowledge, and the Centauri are being what everyone has decided will pass for cooperative, and the two percent of the survivors of the attack are being allowed to leave (I think that’s what’s happening; I can’t remember). G’Kar will manage to not kill Londo. I hope G’Kar’s feisty assistant comes back. I know she got sent on or left for some mission, but I miss her. What I am really waiting for, as is everyone else at the exact same point of the season as I am, is to learn what the dark, shadowy forces hiding in hyperspace and written about in holy books are going to be. But we’re not even halfway through the season yet! Something else is bound to develop, and I don’t even feel like guessing what that might be.

I think I have to go put calamine lotion on my back now. That’s part of the adventures with lavender I haven’t been writing about. I also decided that I am going to combine two gift certificates I got for a spa (it was literally years apart that I got these gift certificates) for a “Taste of Spa” experience that includes two hours of massage and lunch. I just have to figure out when I want to go. I think I want this rash to clear up first.

Mad Men–Season 2, Episode 12: The Mountain King

Peggy was radiant. Anna looked an awful lot like Betty. Joan’s turbulent inner life is breaking my heart, and I never ever thought about her inner life before. The mystery of the poetry package has been solved. Betty has broken the cycle and talked honestly to her daughter about problems in a way that her parents and family never bothered to talk to her (although I think she was overly defensive with Mary Beth). I was glad the piano player was not Don Draper’s (either #1 or #2) biological child. I hope Betty was just having her period and not some kind of dramatic miscarriage. I was pleased by the mutual directness and familiarity and professional respect during the conversation between Peggy and Pete. (See? He does know what social niceties are and how to use them!) Boo hoo hoo hoo to Ken Cosgrove for not getting Rumsen’s office, and thank you Roger for listening to Peggy despite being in a hurry and granting her perfectly reasonable and, yes, ballsy request. Most of all, zing! to Sister Cooper (Alice Cooper? Really?) for commenting about all of Roger’s children. I think she was referring to the lovely Jane herself.

I guess I’ll start with Peggy. I don’t know what other business there is to bringing in new clients, because all we saw was her presentation to Popsicle, and I’m not sure what else she did besides think up the idea to say that she brought them in herself.  Surely there are other points of negotiation that she has conduct with the client. Maybe it’s assumed that she spearheaded the operation, which is not something I’d think of a copywriter doing now. (Of course, I come out of editing and not advertising, so job descriptions could be different). I guess my lack of understanding about the industry in general impedes my ability to analyze, but I am assuming that while Don’s away Peggy and the other copywriters are doing his work. He was overseeing their department and, well, now he isn’t. We are obviously watching Peggy’s rise at Sterling Cooper, and Don’s reassessment of his role there, so it seems logical to me to assume that she’s going to end up in his job eventually, or its equivalent, or some parallel position of responsibility. She’s definitely management track. Her joke about sleeping with Don was really funny and really meaningful. It does sort of establish her as the second half of a ruling pair. (Plus it revealed that she knows what people think and how comfortable she is with Pete, and how they both know how she ended up with Rumsen’s office.)
I wonder if merging with a British company is going to be advantageous to her or not. Like, are they used to women advancing professionally? Is it so novel to them that they don’t know what to make of it? Or is her plausible rise going to cause more friction because they are defensive? I wish we’d seen some of Duck.

Peggy’s artwork was pretty funny, and I liked how she did work the Christ imagery in; I thought the comments about whether or not it looked familiar were a little gratuitous, but of course not everyone watching will be familiar with the Benefactor pose. I do have a Catholic background, so I saw it, but perhaps that is precisely the kind of idolatration that all the Protestants abhor and thus remove from their churches. To skip ahead to Don, the repeat of the scene with the arms was a little much, especially with the Christian-themed folk song playing over it. I get that he’s been baptized and is choosing a new life for himself, but for a minute there I really, really wasn’t sure he wasn’t going to swim out to sea a la Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Well, no. I was sure that he wouldn’d drown himself, but I wondered if he’d dabble in it… swim a ways out, let himself go under before emerging… that kind of thing. I wondered, too, how likely it is that Don would know how to swim. Like confident strokes in the ocean swim, if at all. Was this an act of primal bravery? Was he really in actual danger? I’ve been knocked over in waves like that and I know how to swim and I still get a little frightened beneath the turbulence. It looked scary to me watching it. I suppose in either case, Don being unaware of the risk or Don ignoring the risk is heavily symbolic of Don facing his life despite the consequences.

Yeah, yeah. I know the sea wasn’t that stormy. I’m just sayin’. It’s a dangerous place and it’s a welcoming place and the Pacific Ocean is the largest keeper of secrets on our planet. And maybe it’s just me, but seeing Don on the beach reminded me of the last scene in The Shawshank Redemption. Or Robinson Crusoe. It’s a sneaky little trope!

I enjoyed watching Don with Anna, and looked for wistful longings in her face regarding their relationship but I really do think it has been mostly platonic. I mean, she was married to someone else and is probably a significant number of years older than him. I really didn’t see any “if only” in their interactions, although the thought of just staying together probably did cross their minds. I definitely can see why he was attracted to being around her. Forgeting the fact that he needed a mother, she is remarkably open-minded and non-judgmental, and he was a person who needed to be heard and not judged for a while. The joy of living a normal life was so bright in his face it almost brought tears to my eyes. And seeing Anna made me understand what he saw in Betty. She looks just like her, but whole. It is of course no accident that Don befriends a woman who is damaged on the outside; it helps him externalize the damage he personally has on the inside and because it’s Anna’s problem he can ignore his own. So although she has found ways to live with and defy her damage, his is an untreated hindrance. That’s what the previous two seasons of the show have been about.
Where I think things went bad for Don was the ease with which he was able to assume Don Draper’s identity, and the tolerance and welcome Mrs. Anna Draper gave to him. Clearly Betty is from a different social world, and I don’t get the impression that it’s an easy world to bust into. It requires a complete overhaul of Don’s history. What worked once, right? But this time he has to hide everything forever, because he can’t admit the deception later. It’s too risky. So he does manage to build the family he wants but he’s so busy protecting his part in it from scrutiny that he can’t take time to sit in it. It’s only just now hitting me what the detour into the hot rod conversation was really about. Yes, Don, that’s a 1934 sedan but the wheels attach in a totally different way. Yes, Don, that is a beautiful color. Gives a man ideas. And it is a shame that he can’t stay to work on cars because the job market for hot rod building isn’t there yet. Makes me wonder if he partly got into advertising because it was a way to create markets for things he really wanted to do instead. Hell, if it worked for the space program…

Don wasn’t born in 1934, was he? I don’t think so, but it’s close enough.

Now I’ve written too much to be able to muse upon Pete and Trudy and Trudy’s dad, or Hildy, but I can say that I found the scenes between Bertram Cooper and his sister remarkable. Their relationship, their conversation, the fact that she’s their partner, their relationship to Roger (who probably has contributed his share to the business even if he’s also the resident playboy), their views about life, work, the end of life, and the end of work… the passing of the torch. It really is traumatic, especially for men. I’m not surprised that men die so soon after retirement (or used to). Alice seems quite settled into her life, and ready to let go of work (although one doubts that she’ll really have any less involvement that she currently does), but I sympathize with Bertram’s reluctance to give away his business. Sharing isn’t the same. But the cows were tempting. And it’s good to see that he doesn’t die when someone steps with shoes on his carpet. I guess Cleveland was serving at the table shoeless? That’s kinda funny.

With one episode left for the season, all we have to do now is list what will be resolved now and what questions will be left open. I’m sure Don is going home, although I wonder what he’ll do when he learns he’s just made $500,000. I’m not sure if Joan will break off her engagement. I’d like to see Joan confide to Peggy, or the two of them have some kind of subtext that gives Joan some hope or resolution, but I don’t think we will. I don’t think Pete will learn about his baby, but I wonder if in Season 3 he’ll be divorced from Trudy. (Is her family the type to tolerate childlessness over a divorce?) I don’t think we’ll see much of Anna again, and I think the points to be made by Roger’s elopement with Jane have all been made.

Favorite scene: Peggy in the dark, rifling through people’s drawers for a cigarette, sparking it up, and wandering around the office like she owns the place.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 5: The Long Dark

Talk about playing catch up! I did watch this a while ago, then got distracted by some stuff (like a remodeling project that’s still not quite finished and work for money that’s not quite finished to pay for said remodeling project), but I was appropriately skeeved out by the doctor. A few weeks later, after rewatching it, I was even more skeeved out by him. Which doctor? you ask. This doctor.

I’ve liked him in every episode so far, but this one has wrecked his image for me for a while. He was downright predatory, and pushy, and totally out of line. I don’t know if he was supposed to be some kind of foil for the beast that preys and feeds on its victims, but Dr. Franklin went after Mariah almost instant. If not exactly harassing her, he paid her way too much professional attention and totally exploited their relationship. It was unpleasant to watch. I was relieved when Captain Sheridan got all pissy with him about someone else being on trail duty when they weren’t sure if Mariah was the predator sucking people’s organs.

It doesn’t help that Mariah was cast from the beginning as an abandoned princess in peril who needed rescuing. The first we see of her is from inside her head, where she is being attacked by what is basically a dragon. The next we see of her she is being lifted out of her glass coffin a la Snow White, wearing a long white dress that stands in either for a bridal gown or a night gown, but is definitely no power garment. She’s a widow. She’s from an earlier era. She’s far away from everyone she knows, a victim of a scary monster and a failed quest, and she’s a little unhinged. Maybe she was a little unhinged before she went into cryo (you’d sort of have to be, although she wasn’t expecting to be asleep for a century), but–temporal displacement shell shock aside—she’s kind of simpery and damsel in distressy. Blame her mother, blame the authors, blame a director–it doesn’t matter. What matters is how the doctor swoops on her in an instant to consume her. He’s there holding her hand… he’s the one that tells her she’s lost her husband… he’s the one consoling her… he’s the one who catches her when she swoons… he’s the one who escorts her back to his quarters… he’s the one making googly eyes at her… She is definitely at a disadvantage here, and he is making the most of it. The best part is when she is finally broken down by his advances and has convinced herself that she has feelings for him, and he chides her–HE chides HER–for moving too fast. She’s on the defensive with him and he has restored the imbalance of power. It’s disgusting. I frankly don’t mind at all that she’s running away from the station on the next ship Earth-bound.

I hope to god this is an unfortunate anomaly in his character, because there is something very insidious about having a doctor you can’t trust. Sure, he’s got lots of aides and other medical staff, and they could call him out before he got away with too much. The captain certainly isn’t afraid to speak up once he’s aware of what’s going on, but if there hadn’t been a scary monster on the loose no one would be paying attention to any doctor-patient relationships. But I’m guessing it’s an anomaly. Thirteen years of Lifetime movies about men who abuse their positions of power to exploit women have basically undermined this kind of plot point, but when it first aired the undertones were probably not even thought about. It probably read charmingly in 1995. Besides, they need the doctor to balance out the military/security/political triumvirate action they’ve got with Sheridan/Garibaldi/Ivanova. Dr. Franklin is the disinterested scientific guy who nonetheless is high-enoughed ranked to have real input in the management of the station. Unless I am predicting this wrong again, but I know from other means that Dr. Franklin appeared on a spin-off, and it would be hard to reveal him as a villain now and still have a reason to put him on another show in the same universe.

But I suck at predictions, as I have already well demonstrated. Who knows?

So we’ve got Mariah now third on the list of women who are not on the B5 station but who have a compelling male reason to maybe return someday, who we might see again. There’s Londo’s little dancer, there’s Garibaldi’s ex, and now the doctor’s infatuation. All of them have reasons to show and reasons to stay away. Makes it interesting to watch what happens.

Garibaldi and Amis, now–their story was interesting. It ties directly into that ancient texts speak of current dangers shit that I love so much on shows and in books (most recently like in Battlestar Galactica), and I like how his version of going crazy is turning on Soapbox Preacher. I guess the battle as he describes it is like hell fire and armageddon, and the battalion as he describes it is the height of hubris, but his ranting preacher is comical. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t think his character is comical at all. Dwight Schultz is a great guest star. I don’t know if he was famous first and it was some kind of coup to have him on the show (as I am sure Winnie Cooper was), but the acting we get out of him is natural and believable and so, so sad. Putting him against the backdrop of the stilted roles and stiff dialogue we get from the other actors makes him look like a character from a much better movie. (I first encountered that phrase on IMDb regarding the Child Snatcher from the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang discussion boards, and I’ll never be able to find it again, but I do want to give what credit is due to whoever coined it. It’s such a useful concept, and it describes perfectly both the Child Snatcher and Amis.) I believed every line he spoke. I knew him. I was so glad he got the chance to fight his inner demons (while fighting them externally) and I was very happy that he wasn’t sacrificed to the demon before it could be conquered. I’d like to see him again. I don’t really expect to. One assumes that he’ll be able to pull his life together now and I can’t see what there is on Babylon 5 for him to stick around for. He’d certainly have to overturn a lot of potential friend and employers’ preconceived notions of him, and I’m figuring he’s got actual friends and family waiting for him somewhere that he has been too sick to reunite with.

So, yeah. Dwight Schultz. After looking him up online I guess I do recognize him from Star Trek: Voyager, but he has officially moved into my consciousness. Now if I’m cruising the channels (broadcast or cyberspace) and see his name affiliated with something, I’ll probably watch it. Yay, Amis!

RANDOM THOUGHTS
Best line of the episode goes to G’Kar, though: “The future is not what it once was.” G’Kar may be my favorite character now, partly for what he knows, what he can tell us, and how he is handling it.

Interesting portrayal of the homeless on the station. One gets so much from Star Trek about stations being places in which every person is guaranteed a role or a purpose. Battlestar Galactica has addressed the ugliness of displacement, but it is a catastrophe situation… most of those people are transients because they were actually in transit when they lost their homes. B5 mostly glosses over the station’s underclass, but it scores points by broaching the subject, and in a sympathetic way.

When Sheridan is storming out of the court room or whatever place it is that they are hearing complaints, the pockets on his pants really break up his silhouette. Too bad. It’s easy to make fun of Picard’s jumpsuit when you see some guy wearing a costume at a convention, but the lines are sleek and smooth when Patrick Stewart wears them. It’s just not the same effect when you’ve got Bruce Boxleitner in Dockers. Sorry. Made me smirk. (Because my fashion silhouette, you know, is always flawless.)

Interesting to hear the humans discuss the “alien community” instead of just “the community.” Everyone on the station is afraid of an organ-sucking monster; the us and them prejudices are still there, though. I know this human/alien camaraderie thing is new. I’m not blaming the characters for still feeling like humans first and then members of the community second. I get the impression that the aliens have all known about each other for a while, and thing of themselves and then the humans, too.

I’ve been sort of stoked to see Babylon 5 mentioned on a blog about Mad Men that I read, and to see Bruce Boxleitner on Heroes. It’s like everything lately has been conspiring to make me feel bad for getting behind here. And to feel bad about getting behind here when I am so far behind my work for money reveals quite a bit about my character, I guess.

So those are my thoughts. Now that I’ve written about this episodes, I can let all the ugliness slip away. I’ve been really motivated to watch the next episode, but I didn’t let myself until I reported here. I don’t want to get out of the habit! I really have been busy. But I have a lot of dishes to wash tonight, even if I’m not cooking. They sort of snowball on you when you least expect it. God bless laptops, wireless technology, high-speed internet, and Hulu.com!

Mad Men–Season 2, Episode 10: The Inheritance

Yeah, so I’ve been busy. I’m still busy, and I even fell asleep last night while watching the episode, but caught up just now and once more I am compelled to write about it immediately. I wish I’d written something last week, and maybe I’ll pick it up on the other side, but here we are.

With Pete.

Pete was not such a jerk in this episode. He was annoyed with Trudy, yes, but we haven’t seen enough of them lately and we didn’t see enough of them here to know if she was being annoying or not. And maybe she always dresses for bed in frilly nothings, but it struck me this time that she was dolling herself up to get his attention and to influence him. I do not blame her for wanting to go to the convention (and I can’t say if Pete is being unreasonable or not) and I do not blame her for wanting to adopt. I don’t think she was playing her cards very well to bring up that her parents were into the idea, too, however. Pete’s comment to her about how they must always think he always says no was interesting; it seems like Trudy usually gets her way, but Pete’s always portrayed as the bad guy. And Trudy doesn’t seem particularly upset about not getting to go to California, either, so I’m not worrying about why Pete isn’t bringing her. I am more piqued by the idea that Trudy can’t stay at home while Pete is gone. Can’t? Or doesn’t want to? Is she the kind of person who is easily bored? Who easily falls into funks? Or is this just a social thing? It’s just that I haven’t seen any particular stigma attached to even married women living without men, so it can’t be a chaperone/decency thing.

Regarding Trudy’s explanation of getting a good baby: Seems business-like, but not unduly harsh. Even today adoptive parents have to do a lot of self-promotion, whether or not it’s an agency or a birth mother doing the choosing. Pete’s mother calling them discards was pretty funny to me, which probably reveals more about me than I know, but I still liked it. And mentioning it gets me to the Big Question of the episode:

Is Pete a bastard child? A step-child? A foundling? Probably not a foundling, because he didn’t call into question his mother’s parent status, but the “your father/your husband” thing wasn’t fast enough to get by my notice. And now I have to worry again that Peggy’s baby is going to be ripped out of a home somewhere after living for two years with the only parents he’s ever known. Of course, Trudy might not be so keen to adopt his bastard, either, despite her insistence that one can love another without sharing blood. And a two-year-old isn’t a cuddly infant; he’s a cuddly toddler, who can probably talk already and ask for mama and he won’t mean her. I wonder if something like this is likely to be a season cliffhanger, or if Don/Betty will trump it. I hope Don/Betty will trump it, because it’s too stressful to think about what might happen to babies. Peggy and Pete talking about the baby and it getting back to Trudy would be fine with me. But perhaps I suffer from a lack of imagination but I can’t think of how Peggy and Pete would ever have this conversation. Obviously Don knows Peggy has had a baby, but I wonder how much he knows or cares about his parents. I hope Peggy’s sister keeps her mouth shut, too. Anita clearly knows who the father is, or can guess, or can stir up enough trouble so that everyone at work could guess.

Peggy and Pete’s little conversation was a nice callback to their earlier relationship. I like how she handled him, and looking back at season one I think she’s always handled him the same except that she had no authority to him because she was just a secretary. I appreciated, too, how classy it was for her to say merely that everyone has it hard and not to dump on him or blame him for her choices or vent about unfairness. I don’t know that Peggy was being dignified on purpose (if one ever is) or holding back on purpose or just being cold and suspicious, but she was magnificent in her austerity. I am choosing not to read anything into the costume choice for her–the blacks and whites all mixed up together but clearly still distinct–but she looked great and it reminded me of some outfit that Scarlett O’Hara wore in <i>Gone with the Wind</i>. I am absolutely positive that is a coincidence.

I suppose it is worth pointing out that sending Peggy on a business trip almost seems normal to Don, and so she’s come a long way, baby.

Now onto Don and Betty. I am pretty sure that Betty actually came out of bed to come onto Don, to put it crudely, and I am not surprised that she did so but it’s extremely telling that she did not invite him into the bed. I wasn’t sure for a while if it would turn out to be a Don Dream like at the end of the first season, but I’m convinced that it happened because of the conversation Don and Betty had after coming home. That was the “pretend” she was referring to. The unified front for the family was just keeping secrets–they weren’t pretending to themselves that they were on good terms, and Don jumping to her defense when her father groped her was just normal and him being closest and being the least affected by the father’s sickness. I wonder, too, if we are supposed to see the ugly head of incest rearing up in these scenes, but I think the father just is lapsing and Betty looks like her mother and the impropriety and embarrassment of it is bad enough. It’s bad enough, too, that her brother and father treat her like a child with no sense, or like a fragile thing that needs protecting. If Betty wants to hate on her stepmother, that’s fine with me. Whatever. I don’t think her stepmother is patronizing Betty, though–I think her stepmother is avoiding the issue of her husband being sick because she doesn’t want to face what will happen to her if he dies.

So speaking of <i>Gone with the Wind</i>, I wish I’d caught the name of the character I really don’t want to call Mammy, but will until someone corrects me. Betty was so relieved to see her, and I really can’t tell if it was for following reason A or following reason B. Reason A: She was more like a mother to Betty than her own mother was. Reason B: She is the only adult in Betty’s family who does not treat her like a child or tell her lies. I’m leaning toward Reason B. I know Betty, Don, Roger, and Mona talked about nannies and childhood at dinner many episodes ago, but I don’t remember what Betty said. I’m running with Betty’s remark to Don this season about how Carla (her own household employee) wasn’t there to raise the Draper children (which she isn’t). At the time I found that more of a statement about Don than about Carla, but Betty’s been so wrapped up in what her mother was or wasn’t and she is very interested in what other mothers do that I think Carla really is there to help with the house (not the family) and that Betty’s relationship with Mammy is not one of her being a Mammy at all–she’s just a person who knows Betty very well and has always respected her mind.

Interesting, though, to have Mammy and Sheila in the same episode, with two interracial physical expressions of affection. And all the baby stuff. And Kinsey telling Sheila he loves her (the likelihood of which is completely out of the scope of this blog). The foreshadowing of someone getting hurt in Mississippi was pretty blunt, and I don’t know enough about the details of the real incident to guess at whether there’s room to write our characters into that story, but I hope to god Kinsey comes back less pompous. How could he not? I know he didn’t really want to go, but he went, and I know nobody but Sheila was listening to him on the bus, but there he was… something is going to wake him up. He’s sort of living an image of a life instead of a life. And the idea that he and Sheila, really, form a family hangs on my memory of the program. Like if they don’t it’s because of him and Sheila, not because of the races. It’s sort of cool to put it against the backdrop of nannies and baby showers.

But the Hildy business of sobbing over Crane was a little too heavy-handed for me. Poor Joan is in pain enough to have to remind us that Crane chose his wife over an office fling. Roger left his wife for Jane. Jane! I don’t know how badly Joan had wished he would leave his wife for her, but she loved him. She really, really did. She had to move on and find someone else, and then Roger decides to be happy. Maybe he really does love Jane (probably not), but he was so horrible to Joan when they were breaking it off, and then so flirty with her still for all of this season, that I really got the impression that (well, he was a conceited ass) that he was cheapening his relationship with Joan because he couldn’t continue it and that he was sorry to see her move on. I’m sure Joan thought that it was only Mona holding them back. I can’t imagine how she feels. I half-expect to see Jane with a baby… I really do. I’ve lost track of why this struck me as so sad in any unusual way, except that Jane is no Joan and it seems to undermine everything Joan and Roger shared, and it’s back to him being an ass, and I am sort of afraid for Jane, and all kinds of things.

I don’t know what to think of Joan asking a secretary to cut the cake when Peggy was standing right there. I guess yay, Peggy, for not having to cut cakes anymore (although she was still serving it). You graduated! But do you feel bad that you never got your own baby shower? Or were you just prominently in that scene to remind us, again, that you had a baby? And to put you at the party so that we could hope you would get to ride to California on a plane–with Pete–after all before we learn that Don is going instead?

(So Don didn’t kick Pete off the trip… I hope Pete feels better about Don now.)

And now I am rushing things because the baby is waking up. Glen in the playhouse wasn’t that creepy, and I thought Betty interacted with him in a much more productive way this time than the last. She treated him like an adult to a large extent (versus acting like a child around him), and even holding his hand was remarkably sincere. I worried for a bit that Glen was going to try to kiss her, but we were spared that. I think it’s interesting Glen was dressed in Don’s clothes, but really–whose clothes was he going to wear otherwise? You could fairly question Betty’s motives for waiting until people came home to call his mother, but the kid did need attention. It is heartbreaking and sort of scary that he’s putting his sister to bed–scary because there are two kids all alone in the world but also sort of scary because the younger sister is being tended to by a brother who is sort of creepy and kind of sexualized. Helen does need to be paying attention. I wish Betty had been more stern with her during their conversation, but I am glad she confided in her, too.

I think this afternoon will put Don back in the house. Betty does not want to turn into a woman like Helen (not that there’s evidence that she would–Don would stay involved with the children, I’m sure, and would not start a new family). I wish she had more confidence in herself, though. She talks about worrying that she’ll float away without Don to keep her focused, but Don’s the one who has gone off on an airplane and living out of a suitcase with no secretary. Betty’s the one defrosting the icebox and relining the drawers with fresh paper and playing matchmaker (even just for fun) with her friends and helping other women take care of their children.

The symbolism of Glen hiding in the playhouse has to be the last thing I write about. That is the house that Don built. It’s empty, it’s pretend, it’s a place to hide in. What’s the house that Betty builds going to be like? And why the hell does she want that jardiniere in it?

Mad Men–Season 2, Episode 8: A Night to Remember

“Chiropractors aren’t doctors.”

No, Peggy. No they are not. How glad am I to hear that on a trendy show! I was all stoked, too, that Peggy was going to make some comment to Father Gil about not believing in God at all, but they backed off of that. I’ll take what I can get, though.

So I am so moved by this past episode that I am taking a big risk and blogging about it right away. Right away, I tell ya! No rewatch, no backup on DVR to help me with lines, no time to let it gel overnight. I haven’t even rewatched the last episode, or written about it. I feel so impulsive and out of control! I just don’t want to turn into Betty or Joan here. So not like any of my other posts on this topic have been masters of organization, but this one is definitely going to be free-associative. You have been warned.

Don is unbelievable to me. He’s getting worse and worse. I mean, it’s one thing to lie, but he’s buying it. This goes way beyond “You’ll be shocked by how easy it is to forget.” What happens to an ad man who starts drinking his own Kool-Aid? Duck has been set up sort of as the guy who’s going to go, but Don’s the one on a precipice. Duck is just a drunk. Don has gone loony. Duck is not disconnected to himself; he’s just disgusted with himself. Don doesn’t even know where pretend starts anymore. So, yeah, how ironic that he’ll remember this night forever even as he is forgetting how he got there. And good for Peggy Betty for not buying into the crazy. She could have. She was sort of being presented as the one who had come unglued (and in such a fabulous dress!), and you really didn’t know what she was going to do. There was this anticipation that she was going to start believing the lies, and she really did seem to have hit rock bottom. But what I think she was doing was fortifying herself against the ultimatum she did not want to give. She even gave Don a chance to avoid it. What I find interesting is that in last week’s episode, we don’t really see her drinking that much but we see her sick. This week she drinks an untallied amount and comes out of it healthy. Sad, very sad, but clear-headed. Maybe it’s not the very next scene, or the next time we see her (because I can’t fact check) but then we see her stripped down of everything, washed free of her angst and confusion, presenting Don with a simple and straightforward choice. She spoke perfectly frankly and without artifice, and she was dressed in a plain white bathrobe with no makeup or hairdo. This is a fresh start for her. She could turn into anything now.

If she and Don get divorced, I don’t think she’ll lose her house or her lifestyle; I do think Don will keep up his family as the honorable thing to do. I could never tell if Helen Bishop, the divorcee from last season was working to keep herself busy or to supplement spousal support/child support–of course, she did get a house on a very nice street.

So Betty has to know just how close she has come to being Helen Bishop. What is an interesting parallel relationship is that Joan knows how close she has come to being Peggy. I know it would have been too much to expect Joan to be offered the job, but it made me sick that she didn’t even fight for it or ask for it. Of course, how could she? It’s not really the new guy’s fault, and she was pleasant enough, but those two men were so oblivious to her reaction that they took her bitterness as helpful participation. When Joan stepped in to read the scripts, the first thing I think she had in mind was competing with Peggy and showing her how a real woman gets ahead in a man’s world. She obviously loved reading the scripts and she was a perfect interpreter of storylines and events. She’d told Roger a few weeks back that she wasn’t going to be quitting her job, and I think she finally had found a way to advance. She was definitely not that interested in her house in the country anymore, and it was telling that she couldn’t be bothered to set the table. I guess Doctor is lucky not to know just how close he came.

What rankles me is that Harry is the one who has a wife who works! And Peggy’s around the office! So it’s not like he can’t see women doing work. Part of the problem is that Joan is an institution. It probably isn’t that unreasonable to so blanketly assume that she loves doing what she’s doing because she’s been there so long doing it. Joan said herself it’s not like she hasn’t had marriage proposals before; she could have bailed on the office a long time ago. And Joan probably had more inside information than Harry knew about the budget for his department and the likeliness of him getting a full-time position to fill. Even today people get passed up internally for jobs they are interested in because no one knows. That Joan was sideswiped by being replaced without consideration and for not explicitly expressing interest is a story that shows up in world literature across the ages. The self-help movement in general has its own business niche, so people today are more aware of the need to speak out on their own behalf than they used to be, even if they don’t ever do so. Too bad that Joan made the job too valuable too fast to work her way sideways into it. It’s probably Pollyannaish to hope that Joan’s absence is felt with dollars and she ends up in the job after all, especially because that’s a rehash of the Peggy storyline and probably not very realistic anyway, but I will. I think, however, that now that we’ve seen her flesh branded by the trappings of femininity, and her reflecting upon said trappings and said femininity, we can only expect that she’s letting this one go.

We really saw some women stripped bare tonight, though. Peggy in the bath is just too symbolic for me to take–I can’t wax philosophical on purifications and cleansing because I don’t really have time and philosophy breaks my brain, but let the record show that I caught it. More interesting is that the priest was also shown undressing. He’s been lumped with these women. There are a lot of literary portrayals of the feminization of priests, none of which I can point to right now, of course. He’s also shown pulling out his guitar and starting up with the hippy dippy folk music (which I adored), and there was that whole worry at the the time about hippy dippy androgyny, so that is more feminization, and then he sings a song with a chorus of black women behind him–not like a gospel choir but like a Motown girl group. I’m not sure what this is pointing to. It has to be relevant in some way that he is only seen on the program in conference with women, but that just could be because women were around to talk to during business hours. Of course, there’s Peggy’s assertion that if the girls go to the dance the boys will follow them. So anyway. That’s there. Provide your own follow-up.

A nice little tidbit is that Anita’s husband is having a career and identity crisis that is manifesting physically. First, it’s nice to see a man rebel against the workplace role he has been put in and for some reason feels like he can’t get out of. (And it’s nice to see that he is probably as ambivalent about just churning out kids and raising them as Anita seems to be.) It is interesting that he is reading books about the sea, and Moby Dick to boot. Again with the literary trope… it’s usually women who act out in sickness when they feel like they have no control in their life but that which they can exert over their physical being (take Richardson’s Clarissa as an example of this). It is interesting that he and Peggy have had a conversation about books that wasn’t superficial, too. Peggy perhaps remarked with too much satisfaction that there is no sequel to Moby Dick but you just don’t get the impression from Anita that Peggy’s family runs in the kind of circles that get into arguments over Great American Novels. Just as I was pleased to see Incidental Character Mrs. Harry Crane in the role of Wife as Business Partner I am pleased to Incidental Character Mr. Anita in the role of Man with Aspirations. Pete has ambition, but his goals are not above his station. It’s not the same.

Now I better quit before I sound more like a snob than I already am.

Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 3: The Geometry of Shadows

I really liked this episode. I missed that G’Kar wasn’t in it, because I’m all into his character after the last episodes revelations about him, but I thought there was a very good balance of wrapping up old story lines (like Garibaldi), advancing new ones (like toppling empires and malevolent presences), and character development (like Ivanova’s promotion and Sheridan’s temper). Plus the Drazi stuff with the sashes was just funny. It really was.

I’ll start with Garibaldi, because he opens the show and because it’s a straightforward conclusion to the season one cliffhanger. He gets better–fully, apparently–and resumes his post. There’s the nagging doubt and embarrassment and perhaps touch of fear that serves as suspense before he dons his uniform again, but then there’s a flash of insight and a great show of experience and competence that saves the day. Of course, that he comes to the aid of Ivanova fuels my little fantasy that they are being set up for each other. The actor also suddenly looks much thinner than he had. True, in the show he’s been in a coma for a while, but there’s also a television habit of sprucing everyone up second season. Delenn with that hair, Ivanova ditching her braid, Londo getting a personal stylist… the colors have seemed toned down, too, and in this episode I was struck suddenly by the opulence of Londo’s suite. I think the set has been overhauled. Of course, it’s timed perfectly with a new captain, kind of like how all the First Ladies get to redecorate the White House.

Ivanova’s promotion was well-deserved, and her bumbling around with unreasonable people was hilarious, especially with their stubby English, but it was mostly comic relief. We did get one important reveal about her character, though: She is not successful when she denies her own impulses and acts as she thinks others would do. It wasn’t until she caved into her temper and just grabbed the damn sash from the leader and took over their faction that she solved the problem. Garibaldi saved the day following such an impulse. If Garibaldi and Ivanova only ever become a professional alliance because they have the same style, that will still enhance Sheridan’s prestige as an innovative diplomat with a style all his own. I’ll stop predicting romance now. I don’t particularly want Ivanova and Garibaldi to end up together, but coupling off characters is sort of a cliche and it sort of happens in most shows. I just want the world to know that I saw it coming if it happens. And if it doesn’t, I’ll applaud the producers of the show for breaking with tradition.

Now, at the surface, the Londo storyline isn’t particularly insidious. If the Centauri are running a monarchy or empire or something that needs a strong leader to hold together, then it’s not immediately villainous to plot to take over power when the leader dies. It could certainly be interpreted that way, and the presence of a skinny man with an accent dressed in dark clothes broaching the idea to Londo reinforces it, plus the fact that Londo is complicit in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands (whether or not you agree that he’s blame-able). It does seem shady, and it’s obviously a dangerous idea to discuss aloud. Still, succession is spotty and a good case could be made for stepping in to prevent the toppling of a government structure, especially if you are trying to preserve a culture. The whole scene with Lord Refa actually reminded me of the part in Shogun where Toranaga and Blackthorne are discussing the mitigating circumstances that make rebellion against a liege lord acceptable: If you win. Londo is right that the winners will write the history. And he has shown himself to be a master politician. On paper he could be the very person to lead the Centauri to new and glorious heights.

That said… he lacks mad intrigue skillz. He can persuade and lead, but he cannot plot. He is either naive or unimaginative, but he is pretty easy to manipulate. Perhaps he believes in the inherent good of people (the demonized, faceless collection of Narn being the exception). His dancing girl certainly worked him over, though, as did Winnie Cooper and her boyfriend, and the guy that took him through the hedge maze and masterminded the genocide, and the technomage–twice. I’m not saying that I think Londo covets power for its own sake, although I think he appreciates and desires the material trappings of power. I do think he believes that he would make a good leader of the people and that he acknowledges the unsavory underhandedness in which he would have to engage to achieve that position. What he cannot see at all is how easily he can be played. He’s just not as smart as he thinks he is–if he even analyzes it, which I don’t think he does at all. He is not really self-reflective and he isn’t even lying to himself about his chances. He’s just oblivious. Even if he overthrows the dynasty, he’ll only ever be a puppet. He can’t even disentangle himself from this Warren Keffer business. Granted, he’s not trying very hard–even though the threat has been made aloud to him about extincting the Narn for once and for all, and even though Londo heard and reacted to it.

I wonder, suddenly, just what’s going on in Vir’s head. He plays kinda dumb and obsequious to Londo and he does his hair and his bidding, and he’s got one of those round faces that is supposed to indicate that he is innocent and trustworthy, but the mere fact that it was stated aloud by Londo to Lord Refa that “he can be trusted” seems like he cannot be. Of course, the real question is trusted by who? If Londo is entangled in a genocide and has stooped so low as to place a clumsy bug in the captain’s room (wouldn’t that bug have been spotted the minute Sheridan went to load the dishwasher?), and if he’s plotting to take over his government, if Vir betrays him does that make Vir untrustworthy or trustworthy? Vir did put on a good show of quaking and trembling in front of the technomage dragon, but he stood there long enough to get Elric’s attention and to pass along a coherent message. Plus he’s getting opening credits billing with a close-up now, too. He definitely represents the ordinary Centauri viewpoint. They can’t be a monolithic mass of Narn-hating Narn Haters. And who better to blow Londo’s insidious plans sky-high than a peon from the inside?

This man wants to save your people.

This man wants to save your people.

Elric the Technomage was more plot than character, I think. He was obviously a stand-in for a mythology, a race, a prophecy, a skill set, a conflict (between Sheridan and Londo) and a mystery. It’s good to have independent corroboration of G’Kar’s fears, and I found the conversation about advanced technologies being indistinguishable from magic intriguing, if underdeveloped. It seemed out of place to have Sheridan invoking the Wonder of God, but then you could say that Elric undermines the concept of a deity by almost claiming the position for himself and his brothers. The word “brothers” also makes me wonder if this is a league or a race of people fully committed to sexist language. No women? Are they eternal and in the shape of men for the advantage it gives them right now in a patriarchal television society?

But for all that Elric is just a plot device, he’s a great one. I’ll have to look up the symbolism of oranges later, but a great show was made about orange juice and its pulp early in the episode with a great show made about the magic orange blossom at the end. Just by saying that Sheridan should not inquire where they are going turns their destination into a place of supreme interest and importance. And you know that he only accepted Londo’s “hands of friendship” for the chance to engage in extended physical contact in order to do something. The prophecy he made about millions of people calling out Londo’s name was chilling, but I don’t know if that’s what Elric got from the arm holding or if he’s gleaned/enacted something else that will show up later. Maybe it was just a chance to distract Londo long enough to look for the recording device and blow it up. But if they can see such things and know such things and gather only to flee a place for good, I totally understand why you wouldn’t consider it lucky to see more than one at a time. I assume, too, that a prophecy made in a show like this will have to come true. The interpretation, however… that’s the real fun of drama and literature. Interpretation! Will Londo be a hero? A villain? Or will the writers surprise us with an unexpected, amazing third option? And what exactly does he mean when he says that the technomages are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers? I feel some fabric of the universe coming on. We’ve also got four things to watch for in future episodes.

So I sneaked a peek at IMDb to look up a name and saw that people consider this episode sort of filler. The Drazi stuff was the least significant, but it did give us information about Ivanova and the rest of it added to specific plot lines and introduced new developments. Like I said, I really liked it. And I hope we’ve all learned that we must never, ever trust skinny men in black.

Unless they show up wearing masks, of course. In that case, we should marry them.