Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Good Place 2.08: "Leap to Faith"

“You’re bad, Eleanor. This is exactly the place you should be.”
-Michael

“Leap to Faith” was one of the twistier episodes of “The Good Place,” I think, and “The Good Place” is a pretty twisty show overall. Throughout the episode, we have no idea if we can trust Michael, and the other characters all have various different opinions on the topic throughout the episode. Things changed so quickly and so often that I didn’t know who to believe. Even at the end of the episode, I still wasn’t 100% sure about Michael. He seems to still be on the side of the humans for now, at least, but when the going gets rough and he doesn’t have a plan like he had this time around, I’m not sure if his loyalty will remain. Even this time, his plan to help the humans, while successful, was pretty darn cruel. It was cruel enough that the humans temporarily doubted him, which could have been a major liability.

We pick up with Michael being very surprised to see his boss, Shawn, sitting in his office. At first, Michael thinks that all his failed attempts at creating what I’m going to call a Huis Clos neighborhood (read your Sartre if you don’t get the reference) have been found out and that he’s in big trouble. That isn’t quite the case, though. Shawn says he’s been reading the reports on the latest reboot, and he’s trilled that our four humans are more tortured than anybody in a traditional Bad Place scenario. Shawn thinks this is just the second, reboot, though, not hundreds of attempts in. Due to the resounding success of Michael’s neighborhood, Shawn has been promoted, and he’s sharing the wealth by promoting Michael, too. He’s got a senior staff pin to give out and everything. When Vicky finds out about this, she is not at all amused. She wants a promotion, too. Michael thinks he has her under control, reminding Vicky that if Shawn learns about Vicky’s latest successful neighborhood, he’ll also learn about all the failed versions, and they’ll all be in trouble.

The four humans are called into Michael’s office, where Michael gives the “you’re actually in the Bad Place” speech and the humans try and act surprised. Shawn says that they’re going to shut the neighborhood down and send the four to a more traditional Bad Place neighborhood to be tested then tortured. Back at the house, the four debate what to do next. Chidi toys with the idea of ratting out Michael to Shawn. Tahani and Jason vote for taking the train to the Medium Place, which has been complicated by the fact that Shawn has shackled Janet, and she’s acting like she’s drunk, so she can’t call the train. Eleanor, however, thinks Michael is actually still on their side. She points out that a reference Michael made to Kierkegaard was too specific to be random. She thinks Michael was trying to tell them to take a leap of faith and trust him to work things out.

To send off the neighborhood in true Bad Place style, Michael hosts a comedy roast followed by an all night rager. The comedy roast is especially cruel, with Michael saying the exact right thing to really hurt each human. He even insults the Jacksonville Jaguars (that’s the final straw for Jason)! The roast is hurtful enough to make Eleanor doubt Michael. She thinks he is indeed in league with Shawn. Meanwhile, the demons are all partying like crazy to a Puddle of Mudd song and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” on repeat thanks to DJ Bad Janet. Michael kind of conspicuously mysteriously talks to Janet a couple times, and this draws the attention of Vicky. Vicky starts trying to ingratiate herself with Shawn, but then the train suddenly pulls out of the station. Since things are going south, she automatically wants to give Michael credit for everything about the neighborhood.

I’m going to take a little pause here for a second to recognize a pretty cool guest star (or maybe she’s been recurring and I just didn’t notice?). Amy Okuda, who I know from Felicia Day’s groundbreaking web series “The Guild” plays a demon named Gail. On “The Guild,” Okuda played a bratty but endearing gamer named Tink. I’ll admit, there’s not much to the character of Gail, but she kind of hits some of the same notes (she’s a major tattletale). It’s nice to see Okuda working on television, though. I like when people from my nerdy, small-time fandoms get a chance to make some bank. Plus “The Good Place” is a pretty great show to get to appear on, even if it is pretty brief.

Anyway, thanks to Gail being a tattletale, Shawn thinks that Vicky is responsibly for the humans escaping on the train. He calls up another train to follow them and encases Vicky is a very oozy cocoon. Once the second train pulls out of the station with all the demons on it, we see that the humans have been lying on the track the whole time. They sit up to see Michael staring at them. He is so happy to see them safe that he starts crying uncontrollably, and soon the whole group is crying.


We get a nice little mystery-style recap of exactly how the gang followed Michael’s clues to (relative) safety. Each of Michael’s insults at the comedy roast provided one of the pieces to the puzzle. They needed to get Derek (who I still think of as Pimento from Brooklyn Nine-Nine) back from Janet’s void and have him call the train. Then they needed to hide on the train tracks so that they couldn’t be detected when Bad Janet was asked to scan for human life signs. The final terrifying wait while the train traveled over them was the last piece of the puzzle. Michael, of course, has to mention that he actually left them 1,200 clues since their brains are so underdeveloped.

This Is Us 3.04: “Vietnam”

“He’s there now and he’s struggling. I just need to be where he is even if I can’t get to him, even if I can’t do anything for him. I just need to be there. He’s my little brother, Doc. It’s my job to take care of him.”
- Jack

Everyone’s been waiting to see the story of Jack’s time in Vietnam. And this episode introduced us to the start of the journey. The story was told in backwards fashion, using consecutive farther back flashbacks but I’m going to present it in a more linear fashion so we can see how Jack and Nicky ended up where they did (even if Nicky would prefer to look back and try to figure out how he got where he was).

We begin with Nicky’s birth. The nurse tells Jack’s mom that October 18th is a lucky day and Nicky just misses sharing a birthday with his alcoholic grandfather. It’s interesting to see that at this point, Papa Pearson isn’t a drunk or abusive. I want to know what causes him to snap and become so violent and such a horrible person. At this point, he seems like a decent guy. Next we find Jack and Nicky as young kids. They are tossing a football in the front yard and Nicky breaks his glasses. He’s terrified he’ll get a beating from their father but Jack swears he’ll never let that happen. He even fixes Nicky’s glasses for him with some tape. Later that night, both boys stand up to their dad and he ends up leaving their mother alone. I like that Jack tries to encourage Nicky to be brave and strong, even with glasses (he calls him Clark Kent).

It’s clear that Jack spends most of his life looking out for his baby brother. Even as adults, Jack has a plan in the event Nicky gets drafted to the war. I found it fascinating that Jack was more of a hard working type (he was a mechanic before the war) while Nicky is a bit more of a long-haired hippie. But, the worst comes to pass and Nicky gets drafted. To be honest, I didn’t realize they just called people’s birthdays out and everyone with that birthdate had to go to war. I will admit that not having an active draft is a blessing. I applaud the show for addressing this time period and this particular conflict since not many shows or films ever venture into the territory. I also appreciate that they filmed quite a bit of this storyline (even what we haven’t seen yet) on location. That’s some serious dedication! Jack plans to get Nicky to Canada to avoid the draft but in the end, Nicky decides it’s his turn to be the super hero and defend people for once.

When next we see Jack, he and his mother have gotten news from Nicky overseas that he’s not doing well. Despite a heart condition, Jack begs his doctor to let him enlist to look after his brother. The doctor isn’t thrilled but given that the government doesn’t have people lining up to voluntarily enlist, he gives Jack a few tricks to get him past the physical. It seems that even back then, Jack was a good leader and quickly becomes a Staff Sergeant leading his own unit. Unfortunately, they had to show the brutality of war and one night his unit is ambushed and he loses one man and another, Robinson, loses a foot. I liked that they tied in that he was the one Kevin reached out to in the previous episode. I also loved (and totally got a little misty-eyed) when Robinson was about to be sent home and he told Jack to breathe and put his hands on his face. Like Jack does with Randall as a kid. I just love getting to see where all these little gestures and mannerisms come from. It makes them all feel that much more real.

Following the ambush, Jack and his unit get sent to what’s considered a “cushy” job. They have to monitor a small village which is suspected to harbor Viet Cong and sympathizers. It’s mostly a village of women and children. It was also authentic to see some of Jack’s unit show prejudice against the people in the village, especially the little boys who would grow up to be teenage boys who could be drafted to fight against them. But, Jack, using some bribery gets his men in order before command shows up and uses it to buy himself a day to go see Nicky. Whether he intends to straighten out his brother or just be there, we aren’t sure. But it was kind of jarring to see Nicky with a close shaved head and beard when last we saw him he was a hippie. Nicky also doesn’t look pleased to see his big brother there. Then again, it’s been about a year and a couple months since Nicky got drafted. He’s no doubt seen some horrors of his own by this point. And he hasn’t had Jack to look out for him.

This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when they touted that we would learn how Jack became Jack. I guess I was expecting more storyline with Jack and Nicky in the war. But we have the rest of the season (and beyond as I can’t imagine the network not renewing the show for at least a fourth season) to explore their relationship at this point in their lives and what leads to Nicky’s death. I find it fascinating that Jack lied to everyone about his war experience. I’m sure it had something to do with Nicky’s death. While it would have been interesting to tie this episode’s content in with Kevin’s search for Jack’s past, I think it served us well to give some necessary backstory and spotlight on Jack. I’m glad that even though we solved the mystery of his death, we have so much yet to explore about who Jack Pearson was. I love seeing little pieces of his experience from this era bleeding into how he operates as a husband and father. To me, it speaks to how strong a person Jack was to be able to take all of these experiences and still come out of it a decent and loving man. Yes, he had his own demons but he was willing to face them and do better for the people he loved.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

This Is Us 3.03: “Katie Girls”

“You deserve more than what’s in that house.”
- Jack

This episode took us back to the aftermath of Jack and Rebecca’s disastrous first date. We quickly learn that the man who showed up with flowers on Rebecca’s doorstep was her ex-boyfriend, Alan whom she met in shop class in high school. I was kind of surprised that she would have been allowed into the class in the 1960s and 1970s given that it was seen as a masculine endeavor. But, she and Alan had three years together before he jetted off to London for a job and she decided she didn’t want to follow a guy around the world. Well, at least at that point she didn’t. Now, he convinces her to move to New York with him. She goes out to grab some celebratory champagne and runs into Jack in the grocery store. He’s a bit dejected from seeing Rebecca with another guy and then gets plain angry at his abusive father for throwing the sandwich his mother made on the floor and demanding another because it had too much pickle. Jack gives his mom an ultimatum: pack her bags and stay with a friend or stay and Jack will kill his dad. I don’t see Jack Pearson as the kind of guy who normally results to violence, but to defend someone he loves, especially against her piece of garbage father, he wasn’t kidding. Ultimately, after Jack and Rebecca have their grocery store run-in, Rebecca realizes she wants to give Jack a try and she’s more than pleasantly surprised when she sees him doing dishes—a task she always saw her mother do. By the end, they agree to go on a road trip to LA together. I just love seeing the fact that this great relationship we entered into in the pilot wasn’t as effortless as a lot of us believed. They have so much to get through to where they end up and it’s exciting.

In the present, we get a quick reaction to Kevin’s film (everyone thinks it’s pretty great and Kate is so proud of her brother) but things take a turn when Randall confronts Kate about her “piece of Dad” comment. They end up in quite the argument where he mentions adopting and she throws back that he had two biological kids before adopting Deja. A week later, Randall still hasn’t apologized and in typical Randall fashion (which he totally got from Jack), he flies across the country to be there for Kate for her egg retrieval surgery to make it up to her. As sweet a gesture as it was, he probably should have stayed home because he’s got fires to put out on the home front. Beth has been putting together a fun kitchen co-op proposal but instead of approving it, her boss ends up firing her allegedly for budgetary reasons (okay there’s the day job bleeding through). It’s unclear if she took the severance pay or not but this offshoot of the Pearson clan now has zero breadwinners. So someone is gonna have to step it up. If you believe William (thank you flashback), it needs to be Randall who puts Beth front and center. But given he now wants to run for city council to try and improve things in William’s old neighborhood, I get the feeling there is going to be some discord in this marriage.

Speaking of Kate and Toby, they are both nervous about the procedure and we get to see Toby and Randall share some time together while Kate is under the knife, bonding over their “hidden” conditions. I like that they are starting to get close. I’m honestly hoping that continues. Kate, meanwhile, is under anesthesia and she sort of hallucinates the two younger versions of herself. Young Kate is just carefree and wants to know if she maries Zach from Saved by the Bell and Teen Kate is bitter and angry following Jack’s death and keeps pushing that Kate can’t have a baby or take care of another person. Things finally settle down when Jack—sporting the look from the pre-teen Big Three era—shows up and brings ice cream. Getting to see her dad one last time give our Kate the permission she needs to wake up. She’s allayed her own fears represented by her younger selves and it turns out the procedure was a success so she and Toby are one step closer to parenthood hopefully. I’m still waiting for Toby’s downward spiral to kick in. I have a feeling the embryos may not take or something else will go wrong that will prolong him being off his medication.

And then there was Kevin. He’s doing some wrap up press stuff following the movie premiere and he invites Zoe along for an NPR interview with one of her favorite reporters. It irritated me later on the way Zoe quoted the reporter as to why she was suddenly taking an interest in what was going on with Kevin. I mean it’s good he has someone to go on the journey with him but the way she framed it made it seem very self-serving. In the NPR interview, Kevin gets asked a bunch of questions about Jack’s time in Vietnam and Kevin realizes he knows next to nothing about his father’s military service. It’s a wakeup call for him to go digging into his dad’s past. He also has a memory of being a young kid, wanting to get a toy grenade (instead of plane) and Jack kind of freaking out and yelling at him. Jack later explained to young Kevin that he was in a war and a lot of people got hurt and war isn’t a game. He gives young Kevin the opportunity to ask him questions and of course he doesn’t ask anything. But this gives us a nice springboard into Jack’s past before he met Rebecca and his time in the war. I’m very excited by the fact the show is tackling this time period as not many shows really address this era.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Doctor Who 11.01: “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

“We are all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honor who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”
- The Doctor

I have now watched this episode twice through and I have to say, it feels good to have the Doctor back on my screen. I know I spent a lot of the previous series complaining about a lot of things but when the new showrunner said this series was going to be fresh and accessible to new fans, they meant it. But, they also made sure to keep hints of the past for those of us who have stayed with the series. Jodie’s Doctor is vibrant and fun and in control and I love it all. I also feel more connected to the three companions (or friends as I believe they are being called now) than I ever di to Bill or Clara. I am properly excited again to go on adventures with the Time Lord with two hearts! v While the plot of this episode wasn’t anything spectacular or new, it served the purpose of introducing us to our new cast of characters. We begin with Ryan and his nan, Grace and her second husband Graham. Ryan has a coordination disorder that makes it really hard for him to do things like riding a bike. He gets so fed up with his failure, he chucks his bike off a cliff, only to be sent down after it while Nan and Graham hop the train home. Thanks to some poor choices (maybe don’t touch the weird glowing shapes in the air), a weird alien pod shows up, prompting a call to the police. Enter Yaz, a young female officer still in training. She’s bored of breaking up stupid squabbles over parking spaces and she jumps at the chance for something a bit odd. It also appears she and Ryan went to primary school together. I like that they aren’t just total strangers. They have a history we can explore.

We jump to Nan and Graham on the train that has a massive power outage and is being attached by a tentacle, electricity-shooting alien. Enter the Doctor. Or rather, she falls through the roof of the train. She’s a bit discombobulated as to who she is but she does fend off the creature for now. And then, in typical Doctor fashion, she starts trying to solve problems. She’s still regenerating so she’s having some memory gaps. I quite appreciated the fact she acknowledged that not long ago she used to be a white-haired Scotsman. I also enjoyed the fact that she was able to explain certain things about what she was going through while still taking charge of the situation. She motivated the gang around her to reach out to their contacts to figure out if anything else odd had happened.

As I mentioned, the story of the episode wasn’t anything new, although the alien certainly was. In a way, it almost reminded me of the Hirogen from Star Trek: Voyager. Not in how they looked (the Hirogen were way better looking) but in how they treated humanity as prey to be hunted for honor and glory. Even if she’s not quite sure who she is, the Doctor is clear she doesn’t like that one bit. She’s still working on a plan to get to the bottom of things, but regeneration energy knocks her out for a bit, reminding me of The Christmas Invasion (one of my all-time favorite Christmas specials and overall episodes of Doctor Who).

It turns out, the alien race has been to Earth before and took a young man’s sister. He’s intent on finding out what happened to her but he’s never going to get those answers because the alien kills him. Oh, and did I mention his name is Tim Shaw? How scary! Tim orders our motley crew to stay out of his way as he hunts his randomly selected human and he thinks he’s got a solid deterrent: DNA bombs that have been placed in everyone. Well he clearly has never met the Doctor before. She’s clever and resourceful. She built her own freaking sonic screwdriver! We haven’t seen any other iteration of the Doctor (at least in modern Who) do that!

Just when the situation seems the direst, the Doctor finally remembers who she is and gives quite the speech. It reminded me a little of Ten and Nine in her delivery. She stops the bad guy but unfortunately, we lose of the companions we’ve started to cling to: Nan. It wasn’t that unexpected given that we knew Graham, Ryan and Yaz were the ones she’d be travelling with. Still, it was sad to see Nan go. Following her funeral, the Doctor acknowledges that there are ways to keep the ones we lose with us by remembering what they would say and do. It makes me wonder who specifically she’s referencing. Her granddaughter Susan? “daughter” Jenny? Wife River? (Don’t get me started on how much I want a Thirteen and River adventure). But, it’s now time for her to move on. Except of course she hasn’t got her TARDIS. And she needs a wardrobe change. I still don’t love the new costume but I like the story behind it. She thinks she’s gotten the leftover alien tech to do what she wants and send her to the planet her TARDIS has landed but as she herself admits, seven layers of the tech made no sense and she zaps herself along with the other three into the vacuum of space. How are they going to get out of this pickle? I can’t wait to find out next week!

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode and I am so pleased by how well Jodie portrays the Doctor. She’s kept that balance of funny, smart and intelligent that so many of her predecessors had. And they didn’t make a big deal of her being female which I think was good. Because for the character, it doesn’t really matter. For the rest of us, it is nice to see someone a little more like us at the helm. We got a lot of strong women in this episode and I look forward to seeing how they continue to grow.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This Is Us 3.02: “A Philadelphia Story”

“I’m doing the very best that I can. They’re grieving, what do you want me to do?”
- Rebecca

This episode of ‘This Is Us” had a lot packed into it and it all played into each era’s storyline beautifully. While Kevin’s premiere is the end point of the present-day storyline, everything else in the distant past and near past helps inform how our character act and react now. We see that Kevin and Zoe are still seeing each other, although there are some communication issues that need to be sorted out. Kevin kind of has an expectation that things are getting serious. He even is thinking about bringing her to the premiere as his plus one. But, she just wants to keep things casual. She’s busy making her documentary so she doesn’t have time for that. Well, at least, not until she hears an interview with him on the red carpet when he mentions he went solo (although his whole family came to support him). I am interested to see Zoe’s backstory and how that informs her relationship with Kevin.

In the far past, we find Rebecca and the teenage Big Three renting a house and trying to get their feet back under them after losing Jack. Kate and Kevin are not coping well: Kate’s overeating and Kevin is drunk. Rebecca is trying to keep it together and it seems Randall is the one having the most success. He also gets the good news that he was accepted to Howard University. As the family goes to look at a new house, we learn that Kate never sent in her audition tape to Berklee so she’s not going and obviously Kevin isn’t going to college (what with his football injury and everything). Rebecca is clearly disappointed in their decisions but it’s also clear that she’s struggling to keep it together. My heart broke as Randall realized after a confrontation with his mom, that he was needed closer to home. So, after he’d already accepted his spot at Howard, he calls and rescinds it. I was so looking forward to Randall being able to explore that part of himself. I wonder if he’d been able to do that if he would feel as if he’d found his place.

Speaking of finding his place, in the present Randall is still trying to find where he fits in terms of being Black. As we know, he lives in a predominantly white neighborhood and the girls go to school with a large non-Black population. Deja is the most out of place there. She misses her drill team from her old school. Randall has an idea. He wants to introduce her to the daughter of one of his building’s tenants. The girls hit it off and I think this will be a good experience for Deja. Unfortunately, I don’t think Randall quite does. I did really enjoy the juxtaposition between what Randall was doing in the present with seeing the girl’s mother move in years ago and meet William. Through William’s experience, we see that the building is really a community that supports one another. When the young woman, Gigi, has a screaming, unhappy baby, instead of getting mad, William offers Gig some dinner and someone to talk to. It was really lovely to see William able to connect like that. It was especially poignant that we saw the community come together to celebrate William’s fifth year of sobriety.

In the present, Randall wants to try and get the rec center where the kids from the building hang out cleaned up. An older Gigi with no time for Randall’s optimism points out they’ve tried to get the place fixed up by the city but no one cares. Randall learns that truth first-hand when he tracks down the local Councilman. In typical politician fashion, the Councilman promises Randall he’ll send some people over to at least replace the burnt out streetlights but of course he doesn’t. it really speaks to not just local politics but nation-wide politics how people, once elected, seem to forget where they come from or the fact that their job is to represent the people, not their own interests.

We also see the ramifications of Toby and Kate’s choice to go through IVF. The biggest change is obviously Toby. He’s jittery, really horny and emotionally volatile after going off his anti-depressants cold turkey. We even see him checking the symptoms online. Of course, he’s not going to tell Kate because he wants to give her what she wants: a baby all her own. They agree not to tell anyone about the treatment, but the cat is out of proverbial bag when Miguel accidentally finds the hormone shot in the fridge. Rebecca is really reluctant about Kate’s choice. At first we think it’s because of Kate’s weight but it ultimately turns out that she doesn’t want to see her daughter in harm’s way. She also regrets not doing more to help Kate get her weight under control when things really first spiraled out of control following Jack’s death. Kate makes a rather insensitive comment in front of Kevin and her mom and stepdad about how she is the only one who can carry on a piece of Jack. Kevin is hurt by her statement. Not because he wants kids, but because he feels like he’s never lived up to Jack’s expectations of who he could be. In fact, Jack never got to see him act before and Kevin is kind of bummed about that. Jack was the only person who took Kevin seriously and he wants to make his dad proud but he’s just not sure it’s going to happen. And then, Kevin relays Kate’s statement to Randall who has a wholly different reason to be upset by his sister’s words. I’m sure Kate wasn’t thinking about it that way when she said it. She’s being a bit self-centered at the moment but it still will certainly hurt her brother. As wonderful as this family is, they still have a lot of demons to conquer and they have a long way to go until they find peace.