Thursday, February 14, 2019

This Is Us 3.12: “Songbird Road: Part Two”

“You jump at the chance to save everyone else on the planet. He’s our uncle. He’s family and suddenly you have to be home for dinner?”
- Kevin

If you thought this week’s half of “Songbird Road” was going to be uplifting like Randall finding and welcoming William into his life and home, you, like Kevin, were going to be sorely mistaken. The Big Three manage to convince Nicky to go with them back to their hotel but he’s clearly not comfortable in the strange surroundings. He pulls the shades, checks all the closet ands and bathroom and locks the door. Kevin insists that they have to help their uncle get help for his alcoholism and PTSD and very quickly he’s left with telling Rebecca the latest. It turns out Kevin stays up all night trying to find veteran’s programs for Nicky. Nicky doesn’t seem overly interested and then things take a turn when Rebecca shows up. She needs answers from her brother-in-law and it isn’t going to be what she’s hoping for. After Kate and Randall head out and Kevin’s attempt to get Nicky into a program fails, Rebecca has a conversation with Nicky. She admits she was scared to meet him because she didn’t want to unravel Jack’s narrative. She tries to connect with Nicky, pointing out that Jack had been newly sober just prior to his death and that he would have found his way back to making amends with his brother at some point if it hadn’t been for that damn fire. And she points out Kevin, too, has been struggling with sobriety. Nicky rightfully points out he’s not going to be treated like a pet project. Not everyone can be fixed or is willing to accept the help.

As Kate and Randall head to the airport so Kate can get home for a doctor’s appointment, she recalls the weekend when Jack went to see Nicky in 1992. It’s interesting to see how all of the family members recall this weekend differently. For Kate, she remembers creating a ridiculous pizza and having a sequin fight with her dad and Randall (while making Valentine’s Day cards for her class. Randall recalls the angst that Jack was going through. We see Jack unable to sleep and Rebecca offer to take Kevin to the mall to get one of his rookie baseball cards signed, leaving Jack home with the other two kids. He’s not really paying much attention to what they are doing and instead goes to sit by himself outside and then work out to try and relieve some stress. When he gets back inside to see the mess the kids have made with the pizza and the cards, he kind of snaps and ends up throwing a plate against the wall. Randall recalls the darker side of that weekend, while Kate only remembers the good times. Randall points out that Jack did his job by making her remember the good stuff. They do decide to go swing by where the old house used to be and meet the new family who lives there (who has their own issues) but I don’t think they are particularly relevant.

Speaking of Kevin and Rebecca in the past, we see that Kevin—for all his whining about being ignored—isn’t thrilled to spend time with just his mom. He pitches a fit when she wants to get out of line and get food. And when Rebecca spot shim chatting with the player from a far, he refuses to tell her what they talked about. So, she resorts to asking the player and we see that Kevin has the capacity to be caring and thoughtful to others (and he knew how libraries worked). It’s hat desire to help people that is going to Kevin in trouble in the present. He’s devastated when Nicky turns down his help. He goes back to Nicky’s place to try and clean it up and he leaves a frustrated voicemail for Zoe before sitting down and taking a huge step backwards. He ends up downing most of the bourbon sitting on the table. The look on his face as he’s doing it and after just breaks your heart. He knows he’s faltered but we also know that he doesn’t handle that sort of slip well. He isn’t one to seek support from others even when he needs it most. I just hope he’s able to recognize that he needs help and it is okay to lean on other people. I suspect that things with Zoe are going to take a nosedive as well once she finds out what’s he done. I half expected him to admit what he’d done to Rebecca at the end of the episode; he looked so despondent and ashamed.

I liked how this week’s episode showed the same weekend from various perspectives as the characters reflected on it in the present. It was a different approach from last season’s Big Three individual-centric episodes leading up to Jack’s death. I also like that it showed how people remember the same situation differently, colored by perception and what was going on in their own lives. I’m disappointed to see that Kevin has taken that step backwards in his journey but it also quite clear that he didn’t know what he was expecting to get out of the whole journey looking into Jack’s past. I get that he’s mad at his father for keeping all of this from them. It hurts to know the people you looked up to as a kid aren’t perfect. But it will be interesting to see where the show goes from here. I know we have a Beth-centric episode coming up and I am very much looking forward to seeing the life experiences that shaped Beth. I also suspect we haven’t seen the last of Nicky. Now that he’s out there in the world and the Pearsons know about him, there is a chance to revisit him, although unlike with some of the other characters, I’m not sure we are going to need to get that added backstory and information. We explored him pretty in-depth.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Good Place 2.11: “The Burrito"

“If this isn’t a test, then it’s something way worse: a choice that we have to make.”
- Chidi

You can definitely tell that we are getting to the end of the season with the characters reaching what we’ve been led to believe is an endpoint (and again, I’m not sure where they are going to go after this). When last we saw, the core four were being sent through the portal to the Judge and Michael sacrificed himself to let Eleanor get away. Admittedly, I thought this episode showed the most character growth for the most characters (albeit not all because lets be real, I don’t think Jason is ever going to be more than the dumb stoner kid).

Michael gets berated by Shawn and Bad Janet (which is such a minor part of the storyline that it doesn’t need more than a few sentences dedicated to it). In fact, it turns out Bad Janet is actually Good Janet in disguise and she and Michael abscond to the Judge’s chamber by the end of the episode. The real meat of the episode revolves around the core four humans trying to plead their case to the Judge.

At first, the gang thinks the Judge is a burrito (just because the Bad Place can do weird things) only to find out the Judge is a real being. She’s kind of quirky and a mix between what we’ve seen in the fake Good Place and the real Bad Place. She is more neutral than the demons and everything and not as nice as Janet. I like her. She says she has to deny their case because they just showed up and didn’t file the proper paperwork but the moment Tahani opens her mouth, the Judge is enthralled with her accent and agrees to hear the case. She ends up issuing them each a test to see if they can make it into the Good Place. Eleanor negotiates that the decision will be all or nothing. The Judge thinks this is a ridiculous idea but I happen to think it shows Eleanor’s growth. She’s thinking about more than just herself for once. So, they each get tested.

Jason and Chidi’s tests are kind of ridiculous, but they do fit their personalities and the flaws that landed them in the Bad Place initially. Chidi is tasked with picking a hat (It takes him over an hour to choose one…thus failing) and Jason is supposed to try and exercise control with a videogame where he’s told if he plays, he has to play against his favorite team and win. He doesn’t realize that he could have opted not to play the game at all. Something tells me Jason would never have gotten that possibility at all. He’s just not that bright. Thus, he loses as well. So things aren’t looking good for our gang.

Tahani’s task is to walk down a hallway to a door and along the way she’ll pass closed rooms where various people (from Winston Churchill and Steven Hawking to her parents) are sharing how they truly feel about Tahani. She makes it almost to the end without going inside but she then comes to the door with her parents and she can’t resist. They are pretty terrible people, too. Something tells me when they kick the bucket; they’ll end up in the Bad Place, too. They basically say that she’s never been as good as her sister and she never will be. But in the end, Tahani realizes that she has accepted that she’d never be good enough for them and she’s actually found happiness in the afterlife, including eating a Cheeto. But, because she went into one of the rooms, she too fails her test. I was honestly proud of her for confronting her parents and being self-aware enough to accept the things she couldn’t change and move forward with her existence.

This leaves us with Eleanor. At first it seems like she and Chidi are given the same test in that they are given tokens granting them entrance to the Good Place but they can only go just the two of them. They’d have to leave Tahani and Jason behind. At first it seems like Chidi is doing his usual thing and waffling back and forth but then he says they should forget ethics for a second and consider their own happiness together. This is the clue Eleanor needs to realize this is a fake Chidi because he’d never toss ethics aside or put his friends’ welfare behind his own satisfaction. She says she isn’t going to the Good Place (even though she realized that she wasn’t going there in the test already). She won’t leave her friends behind. This is a huge step for Eleanor and I’m glad to see she is actually becoming a better person. She does lie about her test (and cuts off the Judge when she is about to applaud Eleanor for passing her test). Eleanor didn’t want to hurt her friends by letting them know she’d passed and they all failed. It seems they are on their way to the Bad Place when Janet and Michael up, teeing us up for the season finale.

I may have had my issues with the plot and pacing of this season but I have to admit this penultimate episode was pretty strong. We almost didn’t even need the Michael subplot. It really didn’t add much. But, I was pleased to see how far most of the core group has come. I mean, Chidi was actually able to make a decision and Tahani was able to accept that people didn’t like her and realize who her real friends are. And Eleanor has finally found her tribe and is willing to fight for it. For all the bumps in the road to get here, I’m pleased we did and I am genuinely intrigued to see what happens in the finale and where the show goes in season 3.

The Good Place 2.10: "Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent"

Principles aren’t principles when you pick and choose when you’re going to follow them.”

This particular episode of “The Good Place” moved the plot along nicely while also providing some more insight into a few of the characters The gang find themselves in Bad Place HQ, and they face a series of challenges as they try to escape. I especially liked the focus on Chidi in this episode. We really dive a bit more into his neuroses, and we see him work to help the group in spite of them. We also get to learn some more about how the Bad Place operates. I always appreciate some good worldbuilding, and this one’s got some creative elements, like pin-activated portals to judges. Also a museum dedicated to human torture (well, that’s not so cool, but you can’t say it’s not creative). Overall, it was a great blend of plot, worldbuilding, and character work, which is really what television at its best should be.

The episode picks up with our human crew (and Michael) on the train. Michael reveals his plan to the humans. He wants to take them to the Judge, who can decide if they have enough points to escape the Bad Place. To get to the Judge, though, they’ve got to take a portal from Bad Place HQ, activated by a thumbs-down lapel pin. Michael is going to have to find enough lapel pins for the whole crew, though, which is going to take some time. He decides to stash the humans in the Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness at the Museum of Human Misery. The Museum is pretty clever. There are exhibits exhibiting the first time humans did all sorts of stupid things that just annoy others, like the first guy to send a dick pic.

Unfortunately, Sean has other plans that are going to make life significantly more difficult for Michael and the humans. He has planned a raid on Mindy St. Claire’s house, even though that’s technically illegal. He’s going to bring the humans back by force. Of course, the jig is going to be up when the raid happens and Sean learns that our crew actually isn’t in the Medium Place right now after all. When Michael learns of the plan, he does his best to play it cool, but he’s really panicking on the inside and trying to get those thumbs down pins as fast as possible so they can all be out of Bad Place HQ when the raid goes down.

To make matters worse, the usually sparsely attended Hall of Low-Grade Crappiness is going to be filled with demons on this particular day. The Bad Place Powers that Be have decided to launch a new museum exhibit dedicated to Michael’s experiment and its inhabitants, and they’re having a party to celebrate the opening. Our humans try to pretend to be fellow Bad Place torturer demons, and they each have very specific characters they are playing. Tahani is especially enthusiastic about this, considering she’s a wannabe actress. She’s very excited to put all that training to work. Chidi is the least enthusiastic. He thinks lying is completely unacceptable from a moral perspective, so he won’t lie under any circumstances. He won’t even tell white lies. It’s all truth all the time with Chidi. This gets even more difficult when a demon named Chet (played by Kristen Bell’s real life husband Dax Shepard) is convinced that Chidi is a demon he used to work with named Trent. Trent always had the best torture ideas, and Chet and his buddies are in need of some help with an especially difficult torture subject. Chidi just barely holds it together through these interactions.

Interestingly, it’s Eleanor who finally figures out a way to get through to Chidi. She mentions a philosophy called “moral particularism,” which holds that specific moral principles aren’t necessary for moral action. Basically, she tells Chidi that one can decide what to do in a situation on a case by case basis. Chidi wants to help his friends, so he sucks it up and really tries to be “Trent.” He suggests to Chet that he and his buddies torture the especially difficult human by forcing them to read philosophy books, of course. This was amusing, but I think it also showed some serious character growth for Chidi. Chidi has always been so indecisive about important things and so wedded to specific moral principles that it was often hard for him to function. This is the first time I can really recall seeing him try to fight through all that, and I enjoyed watching it.

Everything seems to come to a head all at once near the end of the episode. First, Michael finds himself in the Bad Place situation room as the raid on Mindy St. Claire’s house is happening, and the audio quickly makes it clear that all did not go as planned. The SWAT team basically just finds Mindy having sex with Derek (complete with wind chime genitals) and nobody else. Michael is immediately suspected as being up to no good, so he hightails it out of there. Around the same time, the big exhibit is revealed at the museum. The exhibit features animatronics of the four humans, and the demons who had just interacted with them recognize them right away. Before the chaos really kicks up, the humans are able to escape with the help of a Molotov cocktail courtesy of Jason. He’d been talking about Molotov cocktails all episode, so it was pretty amusing to see that throughline finally pay off. It was basically Chekhov’s gun at that point, so it had to pay off. It definitely got a good laugh out of me.

The climax of the episode happens as Michael and the humans all meet up at the portal. Michael starts handing out the pins, and everybody starts jumping through, anxious to escape before they’re caught. When Eleanor is about to jump, however, Michael realizes he’s one pin short. After some quick thought, he decides to give his own pin to Eleanor. Eleanor jumps through, and Michael is left behind, awaiting whatever punishment Sean and his crew come up with. I thought this showed a lot of character growth on the part of Michael, who hadn’t seemed especially selfless in the past. In fact, there’s still a tiny part of me that wonders if Michael doesn’t have some ulterior motive, but for now at least, I appreciate the sacrifice.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

This Is Us 3.11: “Songbird Road: Part One”

“Your father saw things in black and white, never shades of gray.”
- Nicky

After waiting, we finally know what happened to Nicky and Jack in Vietnam after that explosion. We explore that incident as Jack and the Big Three make separate trips to see Nicky in Pennsylvania. We see that after the war, Jack would get post cards from Nicky and just stash them in a drawer at his office until one day he gets home from bringing the kids in from baseball practice and gets a post card at home. He lies to Rebecca, saying he needs to take a trip the next day for work but in reality, he’s going to see Nicky in his run-down trailer. It is rather sad, given that we see them as young boys and Nicky wants to have two houses on a lake and a boat.

It is pretty clear that Jack doesn’t want anything to do with his baby brother at this point but he sticks around just long enough to let Nicky reminisce about their childhood a little. When Nicky tries to bring up the war, Jack shuts him down completely. He doesn’t want to talk about it or think about it again. I understand that the war was hard on Jack like it was for a lot of the men who served and I suppose knowing what we do now about what went down with Nicky his stance is understandable. In flashback we see Nicky wake up the morning after he was fake shooting people on the dock. The little boy whose foot he refused to bandage shows up and at first Nick is taunting him by eating a chocolate bar but then, the little boy takes Nicky’s glasses and they end up laughing and Nicky takes the boy out on a boat o catch fish. As soon as he started using grenades to stun the fish, I knew it was going to end poorly. Ultimately, he grabs one where the pin is stuck and then he wrestles with the little boy who tries to pick it up. Needless to say, the grenade goes off and the boy dies. Nicky dives overboard just beforehand. Jack obviously thinks Nicky did this on purpose and he exclaims that he’s done with Nicky. Given how shell-shocked Nicky is through this whole situation, I can see why he was sent to a psych hospital upon his return.

In the present, the Big Three head out to find their uncle, leaving Rebecca and Miguel to watch Randall and Beth’s girls (Beth has a bunch of job interviews). Rebecca is having a real hard time with the fact Jack lied about his brother. As we see throughout the episode, even when Jack got back and told her he in fact went to see someone from the war instead of work, she didn’t push for more information. Now, she regrets not pushing harder. Miguel gets rather eloquent about the whole thing saying that Rebecca and the kids were Jack’s light but she’s not buying it. I still love Jack and I think he sacrificed a lot for his family but he definitely has his faults. He isn’t the superhero we all thought him to be in season 1.

The Big Three make it to Nicky’s trailer and he’s an old man and just as crotchety. He lets them come in but he’s not really interested in talking to them. But then Kate refuses to leave because Kevin has been on this journey and she wants her brother to get answers. I thought he would have no clue about the Big Three but before Jack left, he showed his brother a picture of Rebecca and the kids. So at least Nicky knew he had nephews and a niece. But he didn’t know about Jack’s death. Randall drops that truth on him after Nicky explains about what happened back in Vietnam. I found it interesting his little reaction to Randall saying that Jack died of a heart attack from smoke inhalation after getting everyone else out. Because that is the Jack, he remembers I’m sure. The one who sacrifices himself for others. Nicky says he never got to tell Jack that the whole thing was an accident. So yeah, it’s understandable why Jack would think he knew what his brother did given his actions leading up to that point but he died having believed his brother was a lost cause. I went back and forth on feeling for Nicky in this episode. By episode’s end, Kevin recalls a conversation he had with Jack right before he left to go see Nicky when Jack explained that he could either repeat his father’s mistakes or correct them. Kevin has a feeling and they go back to the trailer to find Nicky sitting there with a gun. It seems that this time Kevin will be the one to bring home a long lost relative to try and save.

I thought Nicky had some good points about Jack. He is very segmented in his thinking and he compartmentalizes a lot. I also found it interesting that it seemed Jack took all of Nicky’s problems during the war as a personal failing of his. He couldn’t save his brother and so he just pretended like he was dead because it was easier than having to deal with the reality. It does make Jack more human which isn’t a bad thing but it is interesting to see the cracks in his person. He still has many great qualities as I said before but when it comes to his family especially, he acts like his past doesn’t matter and doesn’t need to be shared. Jack held onto and hid a lot of pain from his life from the people he should have been sharing it with and it has rippled through their lives for decades. I am intrigued to see how Rebecca reacts to meeting Nicky in the next episode and if Kevin is able to pull off a Randall and bring this lost member of the Pearson clan back into the fold.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

This Is Us 3.10: “The Last Seven Weeks”

“What a great life you’re gonna have. What a great man you’re gonna be.”
- Jack

It feels like it was a long time ago that we were with the Pearson clan. This episode picks up in media res on election night for Randall before jumping back to take a look at what happened for everyone over the last seven weeks. At the start of the episode, Randall has clearly stayed in the election and while he was down in the poll numbers before, at the time it was too close to call. Jumping back seven weeks, we find that Beth and Randall are not in a good place. He puts all of his focus on the campaign to the detriment of the family and Beth is clearly angry about it. From flashbacks to the trip he and Jack took the DC shortly before the fire, we see that he and Jack have a very interesting conversation about Randall’s future and that Jack knows his son is going to be a great man. Over the course of the episode, Randall struggles to live up to that belief. But, things start to look up for Randall as things get closer to the election. Sure, he and Beth right before Christmas because she did all the shopping for the girls and he’s been off being a man of the people and he accuses her of being angry that he’s got something he’s passionate about in his life while she is still struggling to find a new job. But, on New Year’s Eve, after having a conversation with the local reverend (who has historically been in his opponent’s corner), Randall goes home and apologizes to the family for not making them his priority. I have to admit, I am glad that Beth and Randall are back on good terms. It was uncomfortable to see them struggling because for most of the show we’ve known them to be this stable, supportive couple. Of course, even they can have issues and it makes it all the more real. But, yeah, I’m glad they are back to a united front.

Kate and Toby are having some issues of their own. The pregnancy is going along just fine and they are starting to put the nursery together. Kate tells Toby he has to sell all of his “toys” (girl, action figures are not toys). She accidentally sells a box of his Star Wars figures to some frat bro nerd named Gabe. He explains to Kate that he had been bringing them with him everywhere he moved in preparation to give to his child one day. Kate and Toby try to get the figures back but the frat bro isn’t having any of it. Not even when Kate breaks out the “I’m pregnant and have nothing to give my child because my house burned down and my father died” sob story. But, things aren’t that tense between her and Toby for long because she tries to replace them. He also makes a similar gesture by getting a guy who makes dollhouses to make a replica of the stadium Jack built her when she was younger. This storyline got me thinking a bit about legacies and what we give to our children. I know I have a ton of Power Rangers toys sitting in my parent’s basement that our little boy will get to play with!

Speaking of Jack, Kevin and Zoe are still on the hunt for more information about Nicky. They get back to town and after Zoe makes mention of being happy to be “home” Kevin suggests she move in and she accepts. She even gets all of her stuff shipped from Chicago to New York. But things aren’t all that rosy. Kevin’s search for information through the VA is stymied by the fact he needs proof of his relationship to Nick or a letter on his behalf from someone with clout. Like a Congressperson whom Zoe knows because she dated them for a little while. He takes the meeting but things are super tense between them and while he agrees to send a request on Kevin’s behalf, the Congressman sort of storms off. Kevin obviously probes into what went down and Zoe explained that she and the Congressman were going to move in together but she didn’t feel like it was right so she broke up with him after two years in a brief email. Ouch. I don’t blame the guy for still being hurt. But Kevin starts to see signs that maybe Zoe is going to do something similar. She hasn’t unpacked her stuff yet. Oh, and when he does get the file on Nicky from the VA it’s very thin on detail. We do learn that Nicky was med-evaced out of Vietnam in 1971 and sent to a hospital in the US for a psych eval before being discharged and signing himself out of treatment as “Clark Kent”. So, we know that Nicky definitely didn’t die in that explosion we heard. It does still make me wonder if Nicky was attempting suicide and that’s what led to him being discharged. Kevin and Zoe have quite the blow up after getting this information and they don’t speak again until election night. Zoe gives Kevin his key back but later on, she explains that because of what happened with her father, she’s never really felt safe living with another person. But she wants to live with Kevin because she loves him. They reconcile and then start unpacking. Zoe finds a box of Jack’s war mementos which includes some post cards including one with a Pennsylvania return address from someone named CK.

So, we clearly know that Jack both knew Nicky wasn’t dead and was still corresponding with him up to a certain point. Very interesting. It presents a ton of new questions. What has Nicky been up to this whole time? Does he know that Jack died and more importantly, why would Jack lie to literally everyone about his brother being dead? It definitely seems very unlike Jack to hide. I get that war was tough on him and everything and he didn’t want to talk about that experience. But, something else must have happened to keep him from telling the truth to his family. Based on the promo for the next episode, it looks like Jack was still visiting Nicky well into the Big Three being around (based on the facial hair). Can it be next week yet?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Holiday "Classic" Recap: Black Mirror: "White Christmas"

“Buddy, look, at this point, being bored by anything other than snow would be a relief. So, come on. Chit chat. Conversate. Something.”

Up until now, the only episode of “Black Mirror” I’ve ever watched was “USS Callister.” Like that episode, “Winter Wonderland,” from the fourth season, serves as a warning against technology run amok. It weaves together three related stories into one narrative with some great twists to make everything come together at the end. If you want a shiny, fuzzy, happy holiday episode of television, this isn’t it. It’s not even a dark but meant to be heartwarming tale like “It’s a Wonderful Life” (which I don’t especially like, by the way…I know, I’m not human). It’s fully, unapologetically dark. There are no happy endings for anyone in this story. In these trying times, maybe this is the holiday story we deserve.

The episode is framed around two men, Matt and Joe, who have found themselves working in an isolated, snowy cabin for the past five years, for reasons that (intentionally) aren’t entirely clear. It’s Christmas, and Matt wants to be festive. Joe, however, just wants to wallow. Apparently he’s hardly said anything to Matt in the past five years. Matt convinces Joe to sit down and share a drink, and they start talking. It becomes apparent that people end up in this cabin for doing something horrible, and Matt starts probing Joe about what that might have been. Instead, Joe first wants to hear Matt’s story.

The first of the three stories of this longer than usual episode (it clocks in at about 73 minutes) explains the horrible thing Matt did to wind up at the cabin. He used to run an online, sort of Twitch stream type group where he would give nerdy guys advice on getting laid. Around the holidays, his go-to move was having his clients crash office parties, since in his opinion, women seem to be especially uninhibited at office holiday parties. His client, Harry, quickly zeroes in on two women, Amy and Greta. Amy is blonde and bubbly, Greta has dark hair and is withdrawn. Naturally, Harry is drawn to Greta. Matt has Harry interact with Amy to make him seem more desirable to Greta. He does eventually get to talk to Greta, though, and they develop a rapport. Greta sees him talking to Matt and the peanut gallery, though, and that makes him think he hears voices like she does. She takes him back to her apartment. Matt thinks he’s about to get lucky, but Greta thinks she’s basically found a suicide partner. She decides to free Matt from the voices by force feeding him some awful concoction that makes his mouth bleed. Greta, by the way, is played by the great Natalia Tena, aka Tonks from the Harry Potter movies. Matt is about to burn all evidence of his little peep show ring, but he steps on one of his kid’s toys and his wife hears the commotion.

As Matt and Joe continue to converse, Joe wants to know what Matt actually did for a living. That leads into the second story. In this universe, there is a technology where you can have a “cookie” temporarily implanted in your head that takes on your personality. Once the imprinting is done, the cookie is removed, and the digital version of yourself basically becomes your slave, running all the devices in your house and keeping your calendar. It’s like the concept of a smart home taken to the nth degree. The fact that it’s imprinted with your personality is supposed to make it so it knows things like what temperature to keep your house and how you like your toast without being told. Matt’s job is to basically break the imprinted cookie so that it will do the bidding of its original. He first starts by being nice and conversating (sound familiar?), but if he gets resistance, he uses a process to make time seem to pass exponentially for the imprinted cookie, until sitting there with nothing to do breaks them. This brings up all sorts of ethical dilemmas, since the imprinted cookies are basically sentient. It’s also worth noting here that everybody in this society seems to use a technology called “Eye-Link” that is basically an implanted computer with social media and everything included. You can even “block” people so they just become an outline and can’t talk to you (and vice versa).

Anyway, Matt eventually gets Joe to tell the story of how he came to find himself at the mysterious cabin in the woods. He was dating a woman named Beth, and things seemed to be going reasonably well, even if her father didn’t especially like him and he (Joe) tended to get a bit angry when drunk. There’s a scene where Joe and Beth go to karaoke with friends where Beth seems especially pensive and gets completely sloshed. Joe later finds a positive pregnancy test in their trash can and confronts Beth. Beth says she doesn’t want to be pregnant and Joe has no say in the matter. Joe obviously thinks he should have some say in the matter, and this leads to a huge row where Beth blocks him. She never unblocks him either. And she keeps the kid. Beth eventually turns the original block into a “legal” block, so Joe can’t even see the kid. He/she is just an outline. He stalks Beth’s father’s house every Christmas so he can at least see their outlines, and sometimes he leaves a gift.

Everything changes when Beth dies in a horrible train accident. Joe goes back to Beth’s father’s house, hoping he can finally see his daughter. He’s got a present for her that says “From daddy” and everything. When he finally sees his “daughter” (the block died with Beth), he is in for a huge shock. She is clearly Asian, meaning one of Joe and Beth’s mutual friends was actually the father. Beth’s father finds Joe, and the two have an argument. Joe is just devastated by this revelation, and without realizing what he’s doing, shoves Beth’s father and kills him. He then flees the scene. Beth’s daughter goes out into the blizzard to find help and appears to not survive either. At this point, we realize that Matt and Joe weren’t in a cabin after all. Matt has been talking to Joe’s cookie, trying to get a confession out of him. He has been told by the police that if he’s successful, he’ll get some leniency for his own involvement in the peeping tom ring and related murder. Joe is sentenced, with his cookie punished by being advanced years over the course of Christmas. Matt is released, but he’s put on the “registry” where he will be permanently blocked (with a conspicuous red outline and everything) by everyone else in society forever. It’s quite the merry Christmas!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Food TV Friday: Top Chef Kentucky Season Premiere

I’m a big fan of “Top Chef.” A roommate (who just got engaged recently – congrats Brianne!) in law school introduced me to the show more than ten years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. In fact, now that I think about it, I think “Top Chef” was my entry point to becoming the foodie and avid home cook that I am now. In fact, “Top Chef” is even connected to the way I love to travel. Several years ago, I had to go to Atlanta for a work conference, and I decided that I was going to have a little fun the night before the conference was supposed to start. I was going to take a bus from the hotel and go to Flip Burger Boutique, a restaurant developed by Richard Blais, one of my all-time favorite cheftestants, who had a presence in Atlanta at the time (he’s now based out of San Diego). I’ve also been to Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s sandwich shop Smoked and Stacked in DC. I’m going to be in New Orleans in about a week and a half, and restaurants by Isaac Toups and Nina Compton are on my itinerary. All that being said, I’m excited that the new season of “Top Chef” started last night, so I decided I would write about it.

Top Chef tends to feature a different location each year, and this year is Kentucky. This is exciting to me, because for the past few years, watching Damaris Phillips’ show “Southern at Heart” has been a Saturday or Sunday morning staple for me. Phillips was a winner of “Next Food Network Star” and is based out of Kentucky. Watching her show has been a great entry point into learning about Southern food (I’m a Philly girl who has lived in Maryland for twelve years, so I know soft pretzels and Old Bay, not biscuits and bourbon) and Kentucky ingredients in particular. Thanks to learning about the ingredient from “Southern at Heart,” I make a mean batch of sorghum cookies. I’ve even been requested to make them for Christmas this year. Anyway, I’m excited to see the Kentucky ingredients I’ve learned about showcased on this season.

There were a few cheftestants who stood out to me right from the get-go. Even before the season premiere, being a Marylander and a devoted reader of the Washington Post food section, I had heard of Eric Adjepong. He is a first generation Ghanian-American who works in Washington DC. He even cooked at Top Chef veteran Kwame Onwuachi’s restaurant Kith and Kin for a while. He runs a dinner party company with his wife (who is a designer), and he’s kinda hot. He’s very into showcasing West African food, which I think is cool. I look forward to the potential of him opening a West African restaurant in DC someday so I can try it for myself! While watching the episode, Natalie Maronski also stood out to me. She’s a Philadelphia-based consultant who took a bit of a break from the restaurant world while her mother was battling Parkinson’s Disease. Now she’s ready to get back into the kitchen, and she has a heck of a first episode. My grandfather had Parkinsons, and it was hell for our family for over a year, so I have immense sympathy for her. Plus, she can cook.

My least favorite cheftestant thus far is Brandon Rosen, a Bay Area private chef. He was mansplaining all over the place throughout the episode. He was super bossy to his team during the Quick Fire. Then he spent a good portion of the main challenge warning another chef that she wouldn’t possibly be able to finish her tortellini in time (more on that in a bit). As I’ve said before on this blog, I am fed up with mansplainers. I actually know things even though I have a vagina, people! Overall, though, the cast was really likeable. There were plenty of other chefs to root for even beyond the ones I mentioned above. For instance, there was also a fun little segment with two Southern chefs, Kelsey Barnard Clark of Alabama and Sara Bradley of Kentucky (the one Kentucky chef of the season, who used to be coworkers at a restaurant in New York. They’re psyched to be together on the show.

The two competitions of this episode were appropriately Kentucky Derby themed. The Quick Fire was based on the Kentucky Derby’s reputation for being the most exciting two minutes in sports. The cheftestants were divided into teams of three, with each team producing a dish. They would only have two minutes to do their mise en place, after which they could not use a knife for the rest of the challenge. They would then have twenty minutes to cook. One team, once into the second phase of the challenge, was well into searing a big steak before they realized they wouldn’t be able to slice the steak to serve. They 86’d the steak except for a bit of the fat and used poached eggs as the protein instead. And they won the Quick Fire for it! It was the first of what seemed like many mishaps in this episode, despite having what seems like a strong group of cheftestants. The other most notable mishap happened in the main challenge where one chef was convinced she would be able to make tortellini, but she ran out of time so she just made fettuccini instead and almost got sent home for it.

In the main challenge, the cheftestants had to cook individual dishes for a big Kentucky Derby party. They were all judged against their teammates from the first round. Each group would have a “Win,” “Place,” and “Show.” The “Win” judges would have a chance at winning the challenge, and the “Show” judges would be considered for elimination. It definitely got competitive, although the cheftestants mostly seemed good natured about it. They did all their prep the first day, then they got to see where they will be living for the duration, and it’s a huge mansion. It reminds me of the kind of place they would put people up back on “The Real World” (I am so excited that show is coming back – I loved it as a teenager!). Day two was cooking and serving at the party. Natalie won with some ceviche, which was a little surprising only because I remember a past season where it felt like everyone made ceviche and it got played out. Caitlin Steininger was sent home for serving soggy biscuits over tomatoes. She did make me want to try salt and pepper biscuits, though!