Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lost 6.15: "Across the Sea"

“Every question I answer will simply lead to another question. You should rest. Just be grateful you’re alive.”


“Across the Sea” is probably my least favorite episode of “Lost” since the debacle that was “Eggtown,” but I dislike it for much different reasons. I appreciated the episode a bit more on rewatch, since I was able to approach it from a more intellectual perspective, but I still resent that an entire episode so late in the game was devoted to characters we only just met at the end of last season. I wanted to spend these final hours with the characters I had grown to know and (for the most part) enjoy over the past five-and-a-half seasons. Add to that the fact that the dialogue is unimaginative and most of the performances are stilted, and you have a really rather unpleasant viewing experience overall.

Part of what made this episode so unsatisfying overall was that it was essentially nothing more than a massive mythology info dump. None of the regular characters were present in the episode (unless you consider some archival footage from season 1 at the very end). The only faces that were at all familiar were Mark Pellegrino and Titus Welliver as Jacob and the original Man in Black, and even they didn’t show up until half-way through the episode. I think the episode, and the series overall, would have been better served had the information we learned in this episode been delivered in a more organic way over the course of one or several seasons in smaller pieces. That would have given us more time to invest in these characters and this more fantastical aspect of the story.

The episode begins with a woman emerging from the water in the midst of wreckage. We soon see that she is pregnant. On the beach, she is met by another woman, played by Alison Janney, who clearly didn’t arrive on the Island in the same way. Predictably, the woman, whose name is Claudia, soon goes into labor, and Alison Janney’s character is there to help. As a baby boy is born, Claudia says “His name is Jacob,” much like Emily Locke said “His name is John” in “Cabin Fever.” Claudia doesn’t have an opportunity to say anything more right then, though, because she’s hit with another contraction. That’s right, folks, we’ve got a case of surprise twins on our hands. And Claudia doesn’t have a name picked out for baby number two. And she never will, because Alison Janney’s character bashes her head in before she has a chance to really think about it. The whole set-up made me wonder why Aaron wasn’t ultimately more important to the Lost mythology, considering the circumstances of his birth were similar to that of Jacob and his brother.

We next see flashes of the childhood of Jacob and his brother. There are really only two mildly interesting things about this. One is that these kids are the kids we’ve seen appearing around the Island and freaking Locke out. Second is just how crazy “Mother” (what they’re calling Alison Janney’s character) really is. She’s extremely manipulative. Jacob and his brother are playing a game that the Brother found. The Brother doesn’t want the Mother (yeah, Darlton are a little obsessed with not naming things, and it’s kind of ridiculous when you see it all written out like that) to know about the game, but as the Mother says, Jacob can’t lie. He tells her all about it. The Mother then goes to have a chat with the Brother. She tells him that she left the game for him to find. I don’t believe that, though. I’m betting she’s trying to hid the existence of Others on the Island (see what I mean by this not naming things getting out of hand?).

The Mother doesn’t put of this discovery for long, though. Jacob and his brother are hunting boar when someone else kills the boar right in front of them as they hide. The boys run back to the Mother, frightened by the fact that there are other people on the Island. The Mother doesn’t seem thrilled by the idea, either. She blindfolds the boys and hurries them towards a secret location on the Island. She wants the boys to see what’s so important about the Island and why it needs to be protected. The big secret of the Island is…a glowing cave. I can fanwank why the cave might be important (could that be the healing energy Isaac of Uluru told Rose about in “SOS?”), but the in-episode explanation wasn’t especially clear. We were pretty much just told that the light from the cave is everything good in the world.

Learning of the existence of the Others makes the Brother restless, and he becomes even more restless when he sees a vision of Claudia. Claudia takes him to see a whole village of Others, and she tells him the truth about how the Mother murdered her. The Brother tries to get Jacob to run away with him to the Others village, but Jacob remains loyal to the Mother. The boys get into a knock-down-drag-out fight, and the Brother leaves the camp. When we flash forward to the brothers in their 30’s, it turns out that the Brother has been living with the Others all these years, and Jacob visits him regularly. They discuss whether or not they think the Others are bad. The Brother thinks they are- he’s lived with them for decades, and he sees how selfish they can be. Jacob thinks there might be hope for them yet. I guess this is the origins of the game Jacob mentions to Richard in “Ab Aeterno.” More importantly, the Brother has been using the Others to find a way off the Island. They’ve been digging wells wherever there is magnetic weirdness. At the bottom of one of these wells is a way off the Island.

Jacob tells the Mother that his brother is leaving, of course. The Mother, who is not exactly stable to say the least, goes on quite the rampage when she hears the news. She finds the Brother at the bottom of the well and knocks him out. When he wakes up, he’s above ground, the well has been filled in, and the Others village has been burnt to the ground. She also takes Jacob back to the Cave of Specialness and Light where she tells him to drink from a cup of wine. Drinking that cup makes Jacob the next official protector of the Island. Jacob is reluctant to take the cup, whining about how the Brother was always the Mother’s favorite. He does eventually drink, though.

The ending of the episode is rather like a Shakespearian tragedy, only without emotional resonance. The Brother wakes up horrified to see what the Mother has done, and he stabs her to death. Jacob finds the Brother holding the bloody dagger over their Mother, and he goes nuts. He grabs the Brother and takes him to the Cave. Jacob tosses the Brother in the stream that flows into the cave, and when the Brother enters the cave, the Smokemonster is released. Jacob eventually finds the Brother’s body, so the original Man in Black is not the same entity as the Brother- the Smokemonster has just taken the Brother’s form. At the end of the episode, Jacob buries the Mother and his brother in a cave. This is intercut with footage of the discovery of the “Adam and Eve” skeletons from season 1, and we can now cross that off as another mystery solved in boring fashion.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Glee 1.18: "Laryngitis"

“I’m not a box. There are more than four sides to me.”


"Laryngitis" is probably my least favorite episode of “Glee” this season, but for the sake of completion (and being all the closer to recapping the amazing “Dream On), I’m taking one for the team and -finally- getting this recap posted. This episode was about characters losing their identity or actively trying to change their identity. Of course, with the title of “Laryngitis” the concept of “identity” had to be referred to as “voice” throughout the episode, because it was as close to repeating the title ad nauseam as the writers could get. Puck gets his head shaved and loses his mojo, Rachel gets sick and loses her voice, and Kurt gets jealous when his dad continues to try and reach out to Finn. Normally, such coherence around a theme would lead to me praising an episode, but it just wasn’t enough this time around. The storylines and performance were just too earnest. I like my “Glee” to have an edge. It should be dark comedy, not half-step above the Disney Channel.

Puck’s Mohawk is shaved off during a trip to the dermatologist that turned out to be unnecessary. Losing the hair leads to puck Posing his mojo. The other McKinley kids don’t cower in fear when he walks by anymore, and Noah Puckerman just can’t have that. As some nerds are tossing him in the dumpster, Puck sees Mercedes hanging out with some other Cheerios, and he gets an idea. He wants to date Mercedes and use her new-found popularity to boost his own. Which sounds like a pretty crappy thing to do. Mercedes is not thrilled about the idea when Puck first asks her out.

Meanwhile, Rachel has a sore throat, and she blames it on the fact that several of the other glee club members aren’t pulling their weight at rehearsal. She asks a girl from the AV Club (who was rather annoyingly stereotypical) to bug the choir room to prove her point. When Will finds out the results of Rachel’s experiment, he doesn’t punish the slacker glee kids with detention or kick them out of the group. He gives the entire club an assignment where they each have to perform a song that exemplifies their voice and who they are. Rachel kicks it off by attempting to sing “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus. If her song choice wasn’t bad enough to begin with (believe me, it is), it is made worse by the fact that Rachel has now come down with full-blown laryngitis. What bugged me about this particular scene was that Rachel kept singing her awful, out-of-tune song for so long. I don’t really find it plausible that as a trained musician, she wouldn’t have picked up on being pitchy immediately and put a stop to the whole thing. Maybe a few starts and stops out of denial that she’s sick, but not a whole verse and chorus before stopping.

Finn and Puck employ similar tactics with their Glee Club assignments for the week. They both want to impress a girl. Finn is fed up with Rachel remaining loyal to Jesse, even as Finn supports Rachel during the laryngitis drama while Jesse is off on a spring break trip with some friends from his former school and hasn’t spoken to her since the “Run, Joey, Run” debacle. Finn’s song of choice, is, naturally, “Jesse’s Girl,” and I think it’s one of Corey Monteith’s better musical performances of the series. It definitely had a lot of energy. Puck is still on a mission to mooch off of Mercedes’ popularity, so his song choice is “The Lady Is a Tramp.” Mercedes joins in half way through, and she thinks they have great musical chemistry. I don’t think this was one of Mark Salling’s better performances, although it certainly wasn’t bad. I just think his voice is more suited to rock. Puck’s move and Mercedes’ acceptance has an unintended consequence. Santana, who is still extremely possessive of Puck (I don’t quite understand why) is on the warpath. She and Mercedes duel it out diva-off style, and they almost come to blows.

Burt takes Finn to a Reds game, and Kurt is once again feeling like an outsider in his own family. He decides that he’s going to use the week’s assignment to try and turn himself into the son he thinks his father really wanted. He starts wearing flannel and trucker hats, and instead of singing the Broadway tunes that he usually rocks, he sings Mellencamp. Oh, and most bizarrely of all, he starts dating Brittany. I’m not quite sure why I found this particular subplot so irritating, but I did. The one good thing about it was its conclusion. Despite all the changes Kurt has made, Burt tells him he’s taking Finn on yet another outing. Kurt is outraged and finally starts acting like himself again. He breaks into a personalized version of “Rose’s Turn” from “Gypsy,” and it’s spectacular. I think it’s Chris Colfer’s best performance to date. Burt actually sees the performance, and he decides to start spending more time with Kurt.

Rachel’s plot resolved in a way that I think sounded better on paper than it actually turned out. Finn takes her to see a friend of his from football camp who was paralyzed in a big game. Basically, Finn is trying to get Rachel out of her “I’m losing my voice and that’s all I have!” funk. Rachel realizes that sometimes life deals you a rough hand and you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got left. It’s a nice sentiment, but I think the whole thing is played a bit too earnest. Rachel offers to give Finn’s friend singing lessons to show her thanks for the lesson learned.

The conclusion to Mercedes’ plot was a bit too earnest for my taste as well. Now that Puck has his mojo back, he’s dumpstering nerds with a vengeance. Mercedes sees this happening and is not happy at all. In fact she feels so bad about the whole thing that she quits the Cheerios, much to Sue’s chagrin. She tries getting Puck to change his ways and pay more attention to her, but by the end of the episode they’ve broken up. Guess that made Santana happy, at least. One thing I did like about the Mercedes/Puck plot, as random as it might have been, was that Mercedes asked Quinn’s permission before dating Puck. I do like the budding friendship between Mercedes and Quinn.

Monday, June 28, 2010

(Sometimes) Rude and (Still) Not Ginger: The Three Faces of the Doctor

Admittedly, I’ve been pretty obsessed with Doctor Who for the past month or so since I watched pretty much the entire first series (of the Russell T. Davies era) while sick over a long weekend. So I’ve decided to devote some space on this blog to Doctor Who content, as you can already see from yesterday’s post. Our faithful guest blogger Sarah also recently discovered the fun of Doctor Who, so I’ve asked her to contribute a guest blog on the subject of the three modern Doctors. We were talking about this subject recently, and I thought she had some interesting analysis. I personally think I would rank the Doctors in the same order she would (from favorite to least, Ten, Nine, Eleven), although I think I liked the Ninth Doctor a bit more. Anyway, enough babbling from me- here’s Sarah.


Hey all. So I am dropping by today for a special Doctor Who post. I’m going to be comparing the three modern Doctors (9th, 10th and 11th) for your reading pleasure. For those who don’t follow the Who-verse very closely, I’ll give a very brief rundown of how there can be three Doctors in the span of 5 series (seasons). Every time the Doctor is near death, he can regenerate, changing every cell in his body and in essence becoming a new person. It’s a handy Time Lord trick but it only allows for a total of thirteen lives (twelve regenerations). So without further adieu, here are the three Doctors of the modern era.

Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)

The Ninth Doctor is the first one we see after the sixteen-year hiatus in Doctor Who. So you would think he would be around longer than one series. But such is the nature of TV and actors and directors/producers having differences of opinion. But really, that’s neither here nor there in terms of the character.

As a character, the Ninth Doctor was rather morbid. It’s clear the Time War still really eats at him. It’s quite raw. You see just how badly it hurts in “Dalek,” in which Rose resurrects a Dalek, the enemy of the Time Lords. Clearly, the Doctor is horrified to see it. He thought he’d left the Daleks all destroyed after the Time War. No such luck. The Daleks just keep coming back (and coming back…and coming back). And his horror shows by the end of the episode when he is entirely prepared to kill the Dalek. Rose stops him, which is what he really needs. He needs someone to keep him in check and help mellow him out.

While he did have a rather morbid time of it, there were times he would be smiling like a loon and deliver his lines like he was the most chipper thing in the world…or he was stuffed up with Botox. He didn’t really flip-flop emotions at any sort of quick speed. It wasn’t at the drop of a hat but he was at least capable of opposite emotions.

His wardrobe was rather blah, unfortunately. Leather jacket, black t-shirt. Who does he think he is, Angel? I mean seriously. I’m not saying the Doctor has to be super fashionable, but his signature wardrobe should have been memorable and it was rather boring. And boring wardrobe honestly, for this viewer, lead to failure to make a lasting impression in my memory.

Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)

As a casting choice, David Tennant was brilliant. He’d wanted to play the Doctor since he was a child. And I think that showed in his performance. He brought everything he had to the role. Plus, I really think Russell T. Davies enjoyed writing for him.

It may have been different if the Ninth Doctor had lasted more than one series, but the Tenth Doctor really took the role and ran with it. He took Nine’s raw pain from the Time War and amplified it. He suffered under the immense weight of losing his people, of being responsible for their demise, really. He had to accept the fact that he was indeed the last of the Time Lords (okay so the Master sort of debunked that, but it’s not the Doctor’s fault the Master had disguised himself as human). And he had to accept that he had a universe full of enemies. But he’s also got this wonderful companion who truly loves him to make it bearable.

I think the relationship and the dynamic between the Tenth Doctor and Rose was really great. They had amazing chemistry, far better than with the Ninth Doctor, and that helped to add to Ten’s character growth. I think with the Tenth Doctor, we see just how lonely he really is. He needs someone with him to keep him from feeling the weight of everything being 900+ years old brings with it. And even though at the end of “Journey’s End,” the Doctor and Rose aren’t happily ever after in the normal sense, I think on a level he is happy that she’s found a version of him that she can be with. Plus, I loved his interactions with Captain Jack. They had a much different dynamic from the Ninth Doctor and you could totally tell Jack thought the Tenth Doctor was cute (silly Jack flirting when he’s got Ianto back home).

I also found the Tenth Doctor’s other companions in general more emotionally moving, especially Donna. Losing Donna the way he did sent him over the edge. As a viewer, I felt the pain when she basically reverted back to who she was at the start of series 4 (well, okay, so who she was in “The Runaway Bride”). Having to take away everything she’d become sent the Tenth Doctor on the path that we saw him take in the Specials.

By the end of “Waters of Mars,” the Tenth Doctor was so pained and desperate that he literally didn’t care if he messed up or changed history. He was focused on the fact that he was the last of his people and that meant he was the winner. He’d beaten time and now he could do what he pleased with it, which led to the (mostly) wonderful ending in the “The End of Time” special. To see everything he thought he’d lost come back in a way really shook him back to reality. For a brief moment, he was no longer alone but he was also able to remember why he’d left his people so long ago. So many of the scenes in the four specials leading up to the Tenth Doctor’s death (and it really was) were beautifully acted by David. He had the skill to go from silly and goofy to menacing and dead serious at the drop of a hat. He made the Tenth Doctor everything he was. He brought in that undercurrent of anger and immense pain. He took the role and breathed new life into it.

For me, the Tenth Doctor is the most iconic. I mean who doesn’t love that brown pinstriped suit, chucks, glasses and coat. He looks sharp and confident. Plus, the suit and coat bring out his eyes which I think help portray the vulnerabilities of the Doctor. In this instance, the clothes really do make the man. The Tenth Doctor will always and forever be my Doctor.

Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith)

The UK has just finished airing series 5 of Doctor Who. The US still has a few more episodes to go, but we’ve met the Eleventh Doctor. He’s got a new companion, and fun tidbit; he’s the youngest person to play the Doctor ever. And I have to say, you can really tell the character has changed because you can see it so blatantly in the writing. Russell T. Davies is no longer with the show and it’s obvious.

The Eleventh Doctor has only been around for one series, but it’s very obvious that he is not David Tennant. He plays the character a completely different way. He more often than not is goofy and happy. He’s lost the manic ranting of the Tenth Doctor. He’s lost the ability to switch from silly and joking to deadly serious and almost menacing at the drop of a hat. The Eleventh Doctor seems to have forgotten about everything that has happened in his past. The Time War, the Master, losing Rose. Heck, losing Donna and Martha. All of that weight is gone. And sure, that means he’s moved on but I think having that undercurrent of darkness is essential to making the Doctor who he is. Nine had it and Ten really exemplified it. Eleven’s falling flat. Perhaps I’m just overly partial to the Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith really is doing a good job in the role. I’m just having a hard time seeing any real semblance of the old character.

Eleven’s wardrobe doesn’t help matters any. I know they want a unique style for each regeneration. I’m quite fine with that. But going from Tenth Doctor’s fabulous suits to suspenders and a bowtie is not the way to do it. It’s kind of obnoxious. And no matter what the Eleventh Doctor says, bowties are NOT cool. Here’s hoping series 6 sees better wardrobe and a return to some of the stuff that made the Doctor legendary.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Restaura…um…Space Station at the End of the Univer…um…World: Satire and the New Doctor Who

In the tradition of the best British genre writers who bring a humorous twist to their work, such as Douglas Adams (who actually was head writer for “classic” Doctor Who once upon a time), modern Doctor Who episodes continue to use distant future (and less frequently, near future) events to satirize and comment on current pop culture and society. I’ve put together a round-up of some of my favorite instances of this literary device, and I would probably count many of the episodes that contain these examples (yes, even “Gridlock”) among my favorites because I find them to be incredibly imaginative, even if some are, to put it kindly, less than plausible when you try to think about them logically for too long.

1. Lady Cassandra, “The Last Human”

When the Ninth Doctor and Rose first encountered Lady Cassandra in “The End of the Earth,” I think that was when I knew I would love “Doctor Who.” Of course, the fact that “Platform One,” the space station where our heroes meet Lady Cassandra in the year 5 billion, reminded me of “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” didn’t hurt the episode in my estimation, either. Lady Cassandra has had 708 cosmetic surgeries, and when the Doctor and Rose meet her, she is little more than a stretched out piece of skin with a face. She’s rather horrific-looking, but she loves how thin she is now. She also needs to be constantly moisturized. I’ll admit, I tend to watch my fair share of E! News Live when I need to decompress after work, so I found the critique of the Hollywood standard of beauty spot-on.

2. Satellite Five

When the Ninth Doctor and Rose spend some time in orbit around Earth on Satellite Five, they eventually come to realize that all of Earth’s news (and subsequently, society) is being controlled by a huge, disgusting creature called the Mighty Jagrafess. The Doctor tells Rose that the time in which they have arrived is supposed to be the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire, but something has seriously gone wrong. Obviously, that something is the Jagrafess. The concept that humans are sheep and will believe what they’re told, and the ease with which humans can be manipulated through news broadcasts is what intrigues me about Satellite Five. The fact that the humans are desperate for the power this knowledge brings (they pay through the nose for the privilege of having their body altered to connect directly in to the information stream) is fascinating as well.

3. The Gamestation

After defeating the Mighty Jagrafess, the Doctor was sure that the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire would be back on track towards greatness. Oh how wrong he was. Satellite Five was turned into the Gamestation, a satellite devoted to the filming of reality and game shows like Big Brother, The Weakest Link, and what looked like Extreme Makeover. Basically, the dregs of TV. All of these familiar shows are taken to the next, more frightening level. For instance, elimination on either Big Brother or The Weakest Link means death. Contestants also don’t have a choice about participation. They are chosen at random from the entire population. It’s great commentary on our society’s obsession with reality television. And also, who can resist laughing at the “Anne-droid!”

4. The Sanctuary Base of Krop Tor

The Sanctuary Base is a sort of impromptu mining colony on a very hazardous planet, to put it mildly. The planet of Krop Tor is dangerously close to a black hole, so close that those who know of the planet can’t figure out how it still exists. Beyond that obvious problem, it’s also the home to The Beast- Satan itself. Not a hospitable place. What was intriguing about this particular setting was that it showed the lengths to which humans will go to exploit the environment. The crew of the Sanctuary Base put their lives at extreme risk just to harvest some minerals. With the recent oil rig disaster in the Gulf, this episode has become more timely than ever.

5. The New Earth Motorway

When the Tenth Doctor and Martha make a trip to New (New, New…) Earth, they discover that it is not as the Doctor last left it. They are in the Undercity, where mood patches are bought and sold to junkies. Those in search of a better life take to the motorway and spend years in a fruitless quest to reach the planet’s surface. All it takes is one bad commute home from work to appreciate the satire here. We tolerate so much in our society for the sake of suburban sprawl. I guess it’s natural to question why these humans are content to sit in traffic for years on end, but I don’t actually find it that much of an exaggeration from reality considering how we really live.

6. The Adipose

The one example on my list that doesn’t come from the distant future, the Adipose are both disgusting and disgustingly cute. They’re squishy and they coo and wave and smile. And they’re also made out of human fat- the fat of humans that have taken a particular pill pedaled by a rather sadistic intergalactic nanny. The Adipose first appear in the UK, but I find their second appearance, in “Turn Left” even better satire. That’s when the Adipose hit the United States, where clearly, there are plenty of potential hosts. The whole thing is a thought-provoking commentary on our society’s fixation with food and weight.