Black Mirror: Season Five Thoughts

SPOILER ALERT FOR SEASON FIVE OF BLACK MIRROR

I consider Black Mirror to be one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever made. Its portrayal of the effect technology has on the human psyche has made for some one of the most insightful and realistic stories I have ever come across.

It has the ability to both haunt and inspire in equal measure, doling out some harsh truths about the fallibility of man all while creating interesting storylines and environments that will have you reeling for days.

That being said, this season was some serious meh.

While other episodes have shaken me to the core and left me soaking in the bathtub for hours in contemplation, this seasons helpings of dystopian doom lacked some serious flavor.

Let’s start with Striking Vipers. 

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When I heard this episode was going to be about virtual reality, I wasn’t impressed. Yes, the thought of virtual reality escalating in quality to the point of being on-par with reality is an intriguing concept in theory, however, it’s one that has been played out in most forms of media. I wasn’t sure what else they could possibly add to the conversation given the bevy of other stories that have explored this very topic.

Then the two heterosexual males started boning each other.

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As the story unfolded I experienced that familiar sense of foreboding that pervades all episodes of Black Mirror, the burdensome knowledge that shit is about to hit the fan and there will be nothing but wreck and ruin that awaits all involved.

Dany was going to lose his marriage. Karl might be experiencing  gender dysphoria (this wasn’t explored in as much depth as I was hoping). I had to pause and consider what the writer was trying to convey. Are we who we are only if we are in a certain body? If we existed in another body would we truly be ourselves, or do our souls merely adapt to the vessel that they are placed in?

At first, it’s merely a means of achieving a sexual high, that is until Karl accidentally says the “l-word” which presents them with an ultimate question. Are their virtual reality feelings real?

They seek a resolution to this conundrum, yet the answer isn’t as clean-cut as they think.

I don’t take issue with the ambiguity of Karl and Dany’s feelings for each other. The problem I have with this episode is that they get away with their adulterous acts completely unscathed.

Karl and Dany have a love affair that goes on for ages and there are essentially no consequences. Dany stays married to his beautiful wife with a baby on the way and Karl is still living the bachelor life without a care in the world

I’m not opposed to a happy ending (especially in a show with such a dark, nihilistic tone), but the ending doesn’t feel deserved. There should be at least some negative repercussions to emerge from this.

Dany’s wife should have left him or he should have left her. Maybe Karl could have gone to Dany’s house on a whim and confessed his undying love to Dany only for Dany reject him out of principle, thus ending their friendship and leaving both of them feeling hollow and miserable.

Either one of these would have better than just letting them have their cake and eat it too.

A story devoid of consequences is one devoid of meaning.

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The next episode Smithereens was the best in the bunch, in my opinion. It was fast-paced, topical, and  provided the sort of thought-provoking commentary on social media I have come to expect from this show.

This episode’s greatest strength is there is no villain. The alleged antagonist is just a broken man; a victim of his own careless mistakes.

It’s so easy for the audience to put themselves in his position and acknowledge that at any moment we could become like him. How many of us have looked at our phones while on the road whether it was to like a tweet or send a text?

What makes it all so terrible is how relatable his situation is. He lost the person he loved most in the world because he was addicted to his phone. Like he tearfully explains to the founder of Smithereens, he killed his fiance over a cat photo.

These sorts of tragedies occur all the time and will continue to happen as long as social media is there to distract us.

It looks at social media companies and their drive to make their wares all the more addictive, subconsciously persuading us to risk our own lives and the lives of those we care about just so we don’t have to be bored for a few minutes.

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My thoughts on this episode summarized

As a side-note, the use of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Franki Valli playing over b-footage of pedestrians habitually looking at their phones was genius. Black Mirror has always been clever with their choice of easter-eggs and foreshadowing and this inclusion was just superb.

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I liked Rachel, Jack and Ashely Too the least as it started with a fascinating premise only to degenerate into a mad-cap after-school special.

In the first act, we are introduced to Rachel, a lonely high school girl that is developing a quasi-obsessive relationship with her Ashley O doll, depending on it for self-validation and friendship. Meanwhile the real Ashley O is spiraling into an existential crisis that is leading her down a path of self-destruction. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition between the flowery fiction that is the Ashley sprite and the genuine article which is much bleaker and provides inspiring commentary on the entertainment industry.

For some reason I can’t possible understand, the second half completely drops this and becomes incompatible with the pre-existing message. It was like this episode was written by two different people who couldn’t agree on what the point of the story was supposed to be. 

Why build up the episode to be about a lonely, teenager girl who is developing an unhealthy dependency on a piece of tech if you’re just going to bench her in the end? The issue they introduced in the beginning of the episode never gets resolved. Does Rachel ever find the confidence to stand on her own? Does she find a way to believe in herself enough to overcome her loneliness? We don’t know. But here’s Miley Cyrus crowd surfing!

I didn’t care if Ashley O regained consciousness (they never explained how that happened btw), I wasn’t invested in her. I wanted to know what would become of Rachel if this dependency continued and the implications this would have on her developing mind.

Lonely people seeking companionship in technology is a real issue that should be talked about and makes an interesting story.

This was just predictable and, frankly, stupid.

If I was a creative writing teacher, I would give this a C. It’s watchable but it could have been so much more than it was.

The same could be said for most of the season. It had good ideas but it was not nearly as good as its predecessor.

Dammit, are there no British based programs that haven’t let me down?

 

The Tragic Tale of My Reading Slump

The other day I went to Barnes and Noble and the unthinkable happened…

I didn’t buy a book.

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No, really.

I went to the bookstore and I didn’t purchase any books. Not even one that I thought looked cool but knew deep in my soul I would never read….a.k.a a quarter of the books currently in my possession.

I went home with nothing.

Nada.

Zilch.

Once or twice my attention was stolen by an intriguing premise but ultimately I would place them back on the shelf, forgotten.

I couldn’t figure it out.

I have been a reader my whole life. Why was I suddenly feeling so indifferent to literature. Why couldn’t I experience the same level of excitement that I normally feel while lurking around a bookstore? Why did I feel so apathetic about the whole enterprise?

I’ve given it some thought and I think I have come up with a semi-rational explanation for my sudden reading slump.

This will seem like a shallow and potentially absurd complaint but…it felt like every book I came across was trying too hard to change my life.

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When I read the dust jacket of all these lovingly crafted tales, most of them were imploring me to let them teach me about the human condition or understanding life and love and….I wasn’t interested.

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That was it. That was the problem.

I didn’t want to be molded into a better human being.

I didn’t want to have my world-view reshaped. I didn’t want to have all the ills of the world revealed to me or have some nihilistic hippies wax poetic about the futility of existence.

I wanted to have fun reading.

That’s not to say I never like a transformative reading experience or that books with poignant messages don’t have their place, but every so often I just want to read. 

I want to retreat into a fictional world for a couple of hours and have it not mean anything. 

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I want to laugh and cheer and get excited purely for the sake of it and not because it “starts a conversation” or “it’s bringing awareness to something” but because it brings me joy. Maybe I will forget about it later on in life since it gave me no permanent message to cling to, but it will have brightened my day, or week, or even month.

Is that so wrong?

Am I a pleb for having a desire to escape from the intellectual questions of our time in favor of placing a metaphorical ice-pack upon my throbbing nerves?

If it is, maybe I don’t want to be right.

Hell, I didn’t become a reader because I was interested in changing the world. I did it because it allowed me access to worlds I would otherwise have no entrance to, meet people I normally couldn’t or see un-seeable sights.

Not every reading experience has to be meaningful.

Sometimes all I need is a vacation from reality.

If any of you have recommendations for a good read I am all ears.

 

 

The “Batwoman” Trailer is Kind of Awful

I would be lying if I said I had high hopes for Batwoman, but if this trailer is any indication as to what we should expect from this show…wow.

Wow.

Not only did it lower my expectations, but it buried them in the Earth’s crust.

To start, I have no problem with the main character being a woman. Nor do I mind her being an out-of-the-closet lesbian in an inter-racial relationship.

This whole project, however, looks like a giant cringe-fest from start to finish.

The most obvious problem is that they are using the same technique Marvel did to cultivate interest in the Captain Marvel movie, i.e obsess over the main character’s gender.

Sadly, it makes even those trailers look subtle in comparison.

Don’t believe me? Take a shot for every time the word “woman” is uttered in this three minute trailer. If you aren’t currently having your chest pumped, you cheated.

Literally the first time we see her in full Batman regalia the music screams at us “I’M A WOMAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

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But the cringe doesn’t end there. I had to pause the video after this “snappy” little exchange between Batwoman and a nameless character in the Batcave because I was so gob-smacked by its awfulness.

Batwoman: I need you to fix this suit.

Not-Alfred: The suit is literal perfection.

Batwoman: It will be. When it fits a woman.

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What does that even mean?

She just found out her cousin is Batman (yeah, we’re doing that shit again) and she already thinks she can do a better job of being the Dark Knight than him because…why exactly?

Oh right.

She’s a woman.

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Then, of course, there is the most aneurysm-inducing line in the whole trailer. While she’s kicking ass on the rooftops a little girl spies her from below and cries “it’s Batman!”

Batwoman says, “They think I’m him. I’m not about to let a man take credit for a woman’s work.”

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Uh…excuse me ma’am, but didn’t you steal Batman’s hideout, his costume, his equipment, his man-servant, and basically his whole identity?

Batman might have had stupid amounts of money at his disposal but he still had to learn to fight, maintain pique physical condition, become ridiculously knowledgeable in every field known to man, and make sacrifice after sacrifice to get where he was. Bat-hoe swooped down, stole all his shit, and then flew off into the night.

If anyone is getting credit for shit they didn’t do, it’s her.

I don’t have an issue with a woman taking up Batman’s mantle, but it would seem to me she has zero respect for the cowl. She basically just stepped into his shoes to show “a man” how it’s done. Because that’s all she sees him as, an evil ciss male.

Nevermind that he was cracking supervillain skulls before she was in her cradle, he’s male, therefore he isn’t nearly as good as her.

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The trailer in a nutshell

TL;DR as a woman, I like seeing women in lead roles. But you cannot carry an entire show based on what is between a character’s legs.

I don’t care.

Most audiences don’t care.

We want a good story with interesting characters.

It’s that simple.

The sad thing is, if you cut out the anti-male garbage, I could see this being a watchable action show. It’s an interesting concept that opens up possibilities for a lot of story-lines. How would a woman handle being the Dark Knight? Would she face the same struggles that Bruce Wayne experienced? Would the public react differently?

The problem is it seems to be much more interested in pandering to “woke” culture than telling a captivating narrative. You can do both, you know. It is possible to show the strengths of women without constantly crapping on men. Ever heard of Wonder Woman?

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Spoiler- Free Thoughts on “11/22/63” by Stephen King

Summary: Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke…Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.

The best way I can describe this book is it’s Stephen King for people who don’t like Stephen King. Many of his tropes are in evidence (Maine, alcoholism, dumb rednecks, religious fanaticism, etc), but they are mercifully kept in the background, making their inclusion more tolerable.

I enjoyed the idea of time being like a sentient being that sets upon Jake like white blood cells on a foreign body, throwing unexpected obstacles in his way to change the future. It’s an interesting concept that I don’t think has been done in many novels. We’ve seen how changes to the past have detrimental consequences for the future, but we haven’t seen the past itself as a living organism. It raises a lot of interesting questions about destiny. If the past resists change, does that mean time itself has already been written and we’re doomed to follow one track forever?

I was genuinely on the edge of my seat wondering how King would wrap this whole thing up and, without giving anything away, I was not disappointed.

It is a long book (like many of King’s novels), but it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a big novel. The pacing is always snappy and even the more subdued scenes have a steady forward-moving momentum that makes it seem like everything is in aid of the overall plot and not just an excuse for the writer to lolly-gag.

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However….that’s not to say I had no problems with it.

In fact, there’s one issue that dogged me for a greater part of the novel: Jake’s motivation to stop the Kennedy assassination.

In all honesty, when you look at all the variables….this is actually a pretty stupid idea.

Jake’s hypothesis is that if Kennedy had lived he would have put a stop to the Vietnam War which would invariably save the lives of thousands of people.

Without getting too political,  JFK was objectively a competent leader who did more good in his tenure than harm. However, the question of whether or not Kennedy would have chosen to continue the war had he lived is an on-going debate even today. In fact, many Vietnam historians both left and right of center, believe he would have continued to keep troops overseas regardless of any personal hang-ups he had with the conflict.

Simply put, Jake is banking on a lot–and I mean a lot–when it comes to the potential outcome of saving Kennedy.

Imagine sacrificing six years of you life, virtually everyone you’ve ever met, all modern amenities including medicine, your freedom, and potentially your life, all based on a theory. 

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I might be more willing to buy his dedication if he was a public defender or former military with a checkered past he needed to atone for, but he was an English teacher with a squeaky clean record. It wasn’t as if he had become a jaded post-modern lump that wanted more fulfillment in life either. From what I could tell, he was perfectly content living as a high school teacher in a small town. He really didn’t have a reason to dump his life so quickly, family or no.

I would be lying if I said this ruined my reading experience, but these were thoughts that followed me as I read deeper and deeper and the stakes grew ever higher.

Even as someone who normally does not gravitate to King’s writing, I found this to be a very engaging and entertaining read. I recommend anyone, regardless of literary tastes, give it a try.

It’s suspenseful, dramatic, engrossing and overall good fun.

8/10

The Twilight Zone: “The Comedian” Review

Disclaimer: The following review contains spoilers. To watch the free pilot, click here

As a fan of the original Twilight Zone, I thought I would give the revival a try. I heard it would be helmed by Jordan Peele so it was in competent hands. Unlike many writers of political satire in the post-modern age, he is talented enough to take on such a project. After all,  he already has two movies under his belt, both of which have been critical and box-office hits and contain great social commentary.

The pilot for this reboot is about a failed comic, Amir, whom, after a chance encounter with a legendary comedian, is granted the ability to make people laugh. But there is a catch. Everyone he jokes about disappears.

So…what did I think?

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Okay, well, it wasn’t awful but it wasn’t good either.

To its credit, the message is very Twilight Zone-isque and the metaphor of people being “unpersoned” is effective in helping to convey it. Conceptually, it’s a thought-provoking perspective on comedy and how making oneself so available to the public takes away a person’s sense of self.

The execution, however, was a bit derivative.

For starters, the main character isn’t likable from the offset. Sure, he isn’t supposed to be funny (that’s the point), but rather than sympathize with him for his lack of talent in a craft he so clearly admires, I thought he was just a pretentious neckbeard. Not misunderstood, not flawed, but a fedora-hatted neckbeard that thinks everyone should recognize his brilliance because his comedy “means something.”

To add to the general unlikeability of this person, even after he makes his girlfriend’s nephew disappear, he doesn’t really care. It’s true that he freaks out at first, but it seems like he’s more upset that he can now break reality, rather than the fact that his girlfriend’s sister’s child is gone forever. That kid did nothing to him and he quickly shrugs it off like it never happened.

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This makes it much more difficult to feel any grief for him when he comes to his fate at the end of the episode.

Moving on, I realize that the Twilight Zone is meant to be a drama and the most important thing is that the story’s message is properly conveyed, but come on. They couldn’t have made it a little funny? This was an episode about a comedian performing at a comedy club in an episode about trying to make people laugh written by a comedy writer.  I know Amir isn’t supposed to be good initially, but hell even a broken clock works twice a day. Couldn’t the curse have made him just a bit more witty so it’s not as much of a chore to sit through?

I realize it’s a short format so there’s less time to work with, but the characters in this story suffered a noticeable lack of development, especially Amir’s girlfriend. As a result their relationship isn’t well defined, so it’s difficult to care when they end up breaking up. We learned that they were apparently on the rocks before they took a trip to Paris but we didn’t see any evidence there was anything wrong with their relationship prior to this scene. And how can an extravagant vacation cure relationship woes? Have you ever travelled to a foreign country with someone you’re at odds with? That sounds like a bleeding nightmare.

Not to mention, certain scenes with her made no sense. I initially thought it was a dream sequence when she stormed into the theatre and started shaming him in front of his audience.

“I found this book! It’s only filled with names! I don’t even know who most of these people are!”

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Okay……

…….and?

It’s a notebook not a Death Note.

It’s weird but it doesn’t warrant confronting someone in the middle of a crowded theatre  while they’re performing on stage. According to the curse’s rules, anyone he mentions will be whisked out of existence. No one else besides Amir is aware this is happening. So why such a hostile and public reaction?

Seriously, who does this?

The intended “emotional pay-off” wasn’t much of a catharsis either.

The episode tricks us into thinking he’s going to make his girlfriend go “poof” but in reality he turns his own ability inwards and unpersons himself. The reason why this doesn’t work all that well is, when you think about it, he really didn’t lose much as a result of his curse. Other people did.

His girlfriend lost her job, his girlfriend’s sister lost her child, countless other people had their sons and daughters wiped from existence. But what did he lose? A relationship. That’s it. He lost his live-in girlfriend. She didn’t die, she just left him.

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It would make sense if he showed any signs of being self-sacrificing before, but he didn’t. His ego is the size of a hot weather balloon from Day 1 and it only gets worse the more fame he achieves. So why would it make a difference to him if he had to break a few more eggs to make his fame omelette?

From a character perspective, he would have to lose a great deal more in order for him to be motivated to make that final call. Especially when taking into consideration–apart from his girlfriend working at a diner as a result of his actions– we don’t really see any truly negative consequences for him having snuffed out these people.

It would have been more effective, in my opinion, if his girlfriend actually cheated on him as he suspected she might and, in an act of self-righteousness, he unpersoned her only to regret it and effectively commit suicide to undo all the damage he had done.

Would that have been more predictable?

Maybe.

But it would have made more sense.

Overall, this was an episode with a decent premise that just flopped.

Other people seem to enjoy it, but, in my opinion, Black Mirror is a much better spiritual successor to the old Twilight Zone. It focuses more on the technological side of society, favoring the sci-fi elements over the fantastical. Nevertheless, the themes and social commentary it presents hit home much more accurately than this episode.

If nothing else, you won’t have to subscribe to yet another bs streaming site in order to watch it.

Thoughts on “You” a Netflix Series

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW “YOU”. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE SHOW AND PLAN TO DO SO, STOP READING NOW.

P.S.  I wasn’t aware it was a novel until after I started watching the series, thus, all of my opinions are based solely on the Netflix show.

Some people find stories told through a mentally-disturbed character’s perspective distasteful.

I’ve never been one of them.

I adore stories with morally dubious protagonists and their unnerving compulsions and I knew from the first moment I heard Joe talking to Beck via voiceover that I was going to get my fix.

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I’m not new to stories like this so I was expecting to see all the usual tropes: the criminal mastermind, the hard-boiled detective who is on his tail unbeknownst to him, the grisly murders, etc. However,  I was surprised with the creative choices the story took, especially in regards to Joe’s character.

Unlike in many shows of this caliber, Joe is not an evil genius a la Walter White or Hannibal Lector. He has an above average IQ, sure, but his M.O. is more impulse-based than the characters I just mentioned.

When he kidnaps Benji and places him in the glass prison downstairs, he has no idea what to do with him and doesn’t formulate a solution until later.

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Similarly when he “plans” to kill Peach, he simply runs up on her and beams her in the back of the head with a rock.

In Central Park.

In broad daylight.

And then doesn’t take two seconds to make sure she’s actually dead.

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I thought Joe’s lack of preparedness made his character more life-like and kept the story grounded in reality.

On the other hand–and this is just my personal opinion–I think they made Joe’s character a bit too affable. I know some psychopaths are able to blend in with people with reflexive ease, but I thought he was too in-the-know when it came to normal human behavior. There was the occasional slip up, like when he saw an elderly couple and he said “that will be us” to Beck even though this was only their first or second date. But, overall, he functioned just fine and was even willing to conform to most post-modern societal norms like oversensitivity to certain off-color comments.

I’m torn if I should praise or condemn the show for giving us only slivers of  Joe’s backstory. On the one hand, not giving away too much kept the plot from being bogged down by too much exposition. On the other hand, what we got was a bit lackluster in my opinion.

What Mr. Mooney did to Joe was disturbing in principle, but we didn’t get a real taste of what Joe experienced psychologically while under Mooney’s care. We basically saw him being locked in the cage, and then in the next scene he was fine with no visible signs he had undergone some disturbing metamorphosis. No vomit-stained shirt, no disheveled hair, no crazed look in his eyes. On all fronts, he seemed to be fine. Only now he was conforming to Mooney’s warped sense of love and protection.

Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t just happen. It is the mind’s last resort to keep from giving into utter despair and research has shown that it only works on about 8% of victims. I think the story could have benefited from delving just a few minutes more into this psyche in those moments.

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There aren’t that many “You” gifs on Google so here is a cat representing Joe being trapped in the Mooney’s bookstore basement.

As for the love interest….

I frequently vacillated between liking Beck and thinking she was terrible (even compared to Joe who is a literal serial-killer). This continued on throughout the series where she went from being a flake, to having an affair, to breaking up with him for no reason (at least none she knew of, yet). I still don’t know whether or not I like her as a person. Nevertheless, I still think she was a well-written character in spite of my own personal hang-ups with her many faults.

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All things considered, Beck is a very accurate representation of a damaged person and I have to applaud the writers for that.

People like her do sabotage their own happiness because they are afraid they are undeserving of it. They will cheat, they will lie, they will project their insecurities onto other people and go out of their way  for friends that cause them psychological harm. We see this in her blind loyalty to Peach. I think that’s what can make her character so irritating at times. I’ve known people that are exactly like her and so I want to reach through the screen and slap her.

In a truly warped way, Joe made her the best she could be. By forcibly removing all the negative people from her life, he made it so she could focus on achieving her dreams. I would like to say she would be strong enough to eventually cut all these people out of her life on her own accord, but considering how demurring she was in the face of Peach’s constant interference, it’s not clear if she ever would have become a published author.

I know it’s messed up, but I admit that I shipped Joe and Beck together.

Even when she found out the truth about him, I was still hoping for a Stockholm-isque romance between them.

They should have scrapped the ending where she died and made the whole second season about them covering up Joe’s past crimes and evading the intrusive hand of the law. It could have been like Bonnie and Clyde but with more psychological damage.

I know! I know!

It’s problematic and I bet there would be a butt-load of controversy over how this was a harmful representation of a relationship—

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–but…dammit if they aren’t cute together.

It doesn’t help that literally every other male character in this show acts reprehensibly towards her to the point where the freaking serial killer looks like the healthiest option.

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As for the ending, I thought it was a bit disappointing.

Beck was literally at the top of the stairs, screaming for her life and then…boom! He grabs her and we cut to the aftermath where her book is being sold at record rates at the bookstore following her death.

I wasn’t crossing my fingers for a torture-porn session, but come on people. If your show has an MA-rating you might as well go for broke.

Besides, Beck was a main character. To kill her off-screen feels kind of cheap. I forgave them when they didn’t show Peach’s last stand to its grisly conclusion because she was a side-character, albeit an important one.

But this was Beck!

They killed the douche-bag cop on screen, why not Beck who is way more important?

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Okay, I wasn’t that distraught about it but…still.

Also, I’m not sure what to make about Candace being alive. I’m not sure if season two is headed in a positive direction. Based on how good this season was, I’ll at least give it a shot.

8/10

Christmas Songs I Love

Wow.

Two posts in one month.

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It’s almost like I’m a responsible blog-writer that updates on a regular basis again.

Anyway, for my last entry I wrote all the Christmas songs I hate, so I’ve decided for the sake of fairness, to write a post about the Christmas songs I enjoy the most.

Carol of The Bells

It doesn’t matter if it’s played with lyrics or without, this song blows my mind every time. It’s busy without being overwhelming and so energizing it makes me want to snatch that violin right out of Lyndsey Stirlings hands and play it myself.

It just gets me pumped in a way that’s hard to explain. It’s one of the few holiday songs that would go well with a car chase or shoot-out. If they played this in the background of Die Hard, it honestly wouldn’t feel that out of place. Especially if it was this version.

Unlike other Christmas songs, I have yet to find a bad cover of this particular ballad. In fact, it was hard to find a sample of this song to use for this post because there are so many brilliant ones to chose from. It’s like it’s so phenomenal that it’s impossible to screw up.

You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch- Thurl Ravencroft. 

Even without the positive memories I have of listening to this song while watching The Grinch on VHS at the tender age of three, I would still love this song.

It starts as pretty basic, claiming The Grinch is “mean” and “a heel”, etc. But then the insults snowball into brilliantly crafted slights that they would make a middle school bully ugly-sob.

It goes from accusing him of having “garlic in [his] soul to having “termites in [his] smile” to having “all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile.

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Food for thought…

There are a few covers out there….including this one–

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But you can’t beat Thurl Ravencroft’s ocean-floor level bass in the original ballad.

I mean, come on, his name is Thurl Ravencroft.

You might as well quit now.

Oiche Chiuin- Enya

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I‘m leaving the link here because WordPress won’t let me upload it for some reason. 

I love Silent Night in general, but hearing it sung in Gaelic with Enya’s hauntingly gorgeous voice is nothing short of magical. The ethereal quality of her singing makes it seem as if the notes are being carried on a soft winter wind, winding through a snowy landscape. Every time I listen, I’m instantly awed by its majesty. At the risk of sounding corny, it genuinely feels like you’re listening to an angel.

It’s so peaceful it makes me want to curl up my the fireplace and fall into a deep Christmas sleep.

My Favorite Things

Alright….so….

Truth be told, I honestly don’t know why it’s even considered a Christmas song.

The only references that could be vaguely tied in with Christmas are the mentions of “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes“, “brown paper packages tied up with strings” and “sleigh bells.” Even then it’s a tenuous connection at best.

Regardless, it’s played at Christmas time (for some reason) so I’m including it.

From a writer’s perspective, it’s a veritable feast for the ears. The language is so rich and vivid you can practically taste those crisp apple strudels yourself.

For me, it’s less like listening to a song than it is rereading one of my favorite poems.

It creates such brief but impactful visuals like “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings” and “Silver-white winters that melt into springs.

Even if it’s not “technically” a Christmas song, at least it has more clever word-choices than most pop-holiday slog being excreted these days.

Hark The Harold Angels Sing

It’s hard for me to pin-point exactly why this song holds such sentimental value to me. Maybe it’s the arcane language or the chills I get from a tabernacle choir belting it out, giving the words weight and power.

Perhaps it’s the mental image it invokes of a congregation of angels spreading good news for all men.

Or maybe it’s because it’s one of the more overtly religious Christmas songs so it doesn’t suffer from being over-played on the radio as many seasonal tunes are this time of year.

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Me to the DJ that plays Last Christmas for the 30th consecutive time in one day

Regardless of the reason, it is and always has been one of my favorites.

Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairies- Tchaikovsky

This song is wonderful at telling a story without using any words. The tinkling notes at the beginning really do make it seem as if there are small, magical creatures prancing around under the nose of humans.

There’s such an element of mystery that permeates throughout the entirety of the song. Every time I listen to it, it gives me that giddy feeling of being a kid again and spying on something amazing.

Do You Hear What I Hear? 

I love songs that tell stories and this song’s story is perhaps one of the most uplifting Christmas songs out there. What makes it so wonderful in my eyes isn’t necessarily the diction or the melody, but the powerful message behind it.

It’s not just a catchy ditty to sing on the radio, it’s meant to be a harbinger of hope that transcends class division. It promises good news to everyone, not just the privileged and wealthy.

There are plenty of other cheesy songs out there that preach about peace and love and blah, blah, blah, but this songs comes across as earnest and heart-felt. There’s a weight to it that just isn’t there with most other songs.

The Little Drummer Boy

There are many songs that try to come across as heart-felt and poignant, but there are few that achieve that goal, especially Christmas songs. In most cases, they are overly sentimental or saccharine with their “Christmas is for giving, blah, blah, blah.”

Not this song.

It’s about a boy who is so dirt poor that the only item he possesses, other than the clothes on his back, is a drum. However, when he’s approached by men of great stature and fortune who tell of a newborn king and all the extravagant gifts they’re going to give them, does he shrug and go home? No. Does he go to the manger and say “Yo, Baby-J, I’m broke. Think you could hook me up?” No.

He gives Him the gift of his music. Literally the only thing he can give him, and it’s enough. He plays with his heart and soul and his efforts are appreciated by everyone.

It’s a song about giving what you can even when you feel as though you don’t have anything of value to offer.

If you don’t find that moving, you need to check yourself for a pulse.

A few others 

I didn’t want this list to be too long, so here are a few honorable mentions:

O Come, O Come Immanuel

Come All Ye Faithful

Feliz Navidad

We Three Kings

Blue Christmas

So there you go! I actually posted something positive for once!

Don’t get used to it.

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday!

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Unpopular Opinion: Peter Rabbit and the Food Allergy Controversy

Disclaimer: I have not seen, nor do I plan on seeing Peter Rabbit. My opinions are entirely based off of information I obtained from reading articles online detailing the scene and it’s execution (no pun intended). If you have seen the movie yourself and would care to share your opinion on how this particular instance was portrayed in the article I have linked in this blog post, please feel free to do so and correct any misconceptions I may have. 

I never thought I would write about Sony’s ‘Peter Rabbit’ movie simply because nothing about it intrigues me. It seems like just another paltry cash-grab from the perpetually idea-starved Hollywood. The jokes are flat, the demeanors of the rabbits are nothing like their book counterparts, and it is doubtful the production team have any interest in giving the classic story the dignity it deserves.

And yet here I am writing about it, not in order to give my opinion on the film itself as I still have no desire to watch James Corden and his ilk leave rabbit pellets on my childhood, but to give my two cents on the latest controversy.

Yep, that’s right.

A movie about Peter frigging Rabbit has a controversy. 

One revolving around a scene that transpired between the bunnies and Mr. McGregor.

“A human character named Tom McGregor is allergic to blackberries. In a quest to gain access to his garden, rabbits pelt him with fruits and vegetables before using a slingshot to send a blackberry flying into his mouth. It works. Mr. McGregor struggles to inject himself with an EpiPen and then has anaphalaxis and collapses”

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And, for once, I can sort of get behind the whole outrage machine. I should likely reserve judgement until I’ve seen the film myself,  however from what I’ve read it seems pretty clear.

Peter Rabbit is a a goddamn psychopath.

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He essentially tried to murder a man onscreen.

Of course people are angry about this. It makes complete sense why so many would want to see this pulled out of cinemas. If I was a parent, I-

“I’m pretty sure Beatrix Potter will be turning in her grave about now,” Ms. Rose, who lives outside Guildford in Surrey, England, said in an interview on Facebook Messenger. “Allergies are often not taken seriously enough anyway. To have them trivialized on the big screen by such a popular character is immensely disappointing.”

….Wait…what?

Mr. Mendez said in an open letter to the moviemakers that they should not mock food allergies, which are often life-threatening.

“Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger,” it said.

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So let me get this straight….people aren’t angry that a beloved bunny from a timeless classic tried to commit homicide to raucous applause by his peers. They are mad because it trivializes food allergies…..

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THAT is what you took from that scene? Not the fact that it grotesquely depicts a man’s air passages slowly constricting until he collapses from lack of oxygen and is presumed dead?

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The would-be murderer in question

An adorable bunny in a blue waistcoat with an English accent attempted first-degree murder in a kid’s film and it’s portrayed as a joke! Get some perspective!

Would you feel better if he’d used a garden hoe to decapitate McGregor, or would that be offensive to the children of impoverished farmers?

Seriously, it doesn’t surprise me so much what offends people so much as why it offends them.

People being white middle-class women with a “can I speak to your manager?” haircut.

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I understand food allergies should be taken seriously and to be complacent with a sufferer’s diet could have disastrous consequences. Nonetheless, the way these women carry on about people with food allergies make it sound like they’re some sort of protected class that has endured centuries of persecution.

Was there a food allergy holocaust I wasn’t aware of?

Were children with food allergies sent to do slave labor in peanut butter factories until they swelled up like Viola Beaugarde?

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I realize I’m being flippant here, but it just fascinates me that people can stray so far from the point. They have something they could be justified in having a problem with, and they focus more on the method in which the attempted murder was carried out than the fact that a murder was attempted at all.

Or at the very least they could make an argument that what he did was very mean-spirited and shouldn’t be praised as being funny. That line of thinking actually makes sense and argues that it’s teaching kids to be dicks to one another. At least that’s a somewhat reasonable claim.

But nope, it’s aaaaall about the food.

There’s even a hashtag circulating meant to bring awareness to food allergies as a result of this film.

Look, we get it. Food allergies are serious. But not everything needs an awareness campaign.

Yes, they made light of something horrible and I would argue that it may have been misplaced in a kid’s film.

However, if you’re that worried about it, I don’t know, maybe talk to your children about it instead of getting into fights with random strangers on the internet.

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At the end of the day, it’s just another pointless cog (or hashtag) in the outrage machine. We can only pray that this movie scandal, like many before it, will be quickly overlooked in favor of another overblown whine-fest courtesy of the maternal internet users of the Western World.

Article: Sony Apologizes for ‘Peter Rabbit’ Movie’s Allergy Scene by Jacey Fortin

Thoughts on “The Terror” by Dan Simmons

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD TO SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. 

The Terror and her flagship, Erebus, are stranded in the arctic.

Their food source is contaminated.

Sickness is rampant.

Their ships have been ravaged by ice.

And no rescue is expected.

…….Oh, and, also, there’s an immortal polar bear demon that can only be appeased by allowing it or someone else to play another human’s vocal cords like a flute.

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What I liked: 

The characters. I thought Simmons did a pretty stellar job distinguishing between each crew member which is saying quite a bit considering how many characters there are in this thing. As someone who often struggles with remembering who is who in most stories (another reason why I have yet to actually read the Game of Thrones series) his repetition when describing each character and their physical features and rank was very much appreciated. While many other characters could have used a bit more development, I believe he did a good job of making them come alive, especially Crozier, the Captain of The Terror and Erebus‘s Goodsir, the anatomist who remains one of my favorite characters.

The attention to detail. It’s obvious that Simmons did a lot of research with this piece from boat geography, to describing an arctic landscape without just using the word “ice” over and over again, to the ranking system. It’s impressive to read. You actually feel like you’re there, freezing along with them. Before reading this book I had no idea how awful scurvy really is, not to mention the other illnesses the crew had to suffer through. And make no mistake, this book does not skimp out on the gross details or give the dying any sort of dignity. It reports on how they crapped themselves, screamed, bled and farted. While this can be tedious to read it does a fantastic job of conveying the pure hopelessness of their situation which made this piece all the more engrossing.

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Historically accurate attitudes. While it is a bit cringy reading bits where characters go on racist or homophobic diatribes, at the very least I can say that it is historically accurate for that time period and I’m glad Simmons didn’t try to politically correct the characters in order to make them more sympathetic or likable.

Crozier’s second sight. While I didn’t think all of his visions were strictly necessary I loved the reoccurring dream he had where he is forced to partake in communion with his eccentric grandmother. It painted a perfect picture of what was to come and provided the audience with beautifully creepy imagery.

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The surprise ending. I admit I nearly quit reading this book because of the sheer hopelessness of it all. I knew that it real life none of the crewmen survived so watching them furtively cling to life in what essentially would be an exercise in futility seemed like a chore. However, I didn’t give Simmons nearly enough credit and he ended things on a note I had not expected.  Turns out my favorite character, Captain Crozier, survived after all and made a family amongst the natives.

What I didn’t like: 

It’s too damn long. I’m not opposed to slow burns, but this book went on waaaaaay longer than it needed to. I, personally, think they could have cut out maybe 100 to 200 pages or so and it would have been just fine. I actually thought about giving up on this book just because it was such an uphill climb.

Not enough monster. At a certain point in the books, after the crews decided to abandon their ships and go it alone, the monster attacks just…stop basically. And for no discernible reason. I guess it’s because the story would be over with too quickly? I’m not sure but it’s absence is sorely missed and hard to explain. In fact the monster more often than not appears as a sort of McGuffin. If you look at the story itself you wonder if the book even needs a monster at all. It’s not as if the crew didn’t have enough problems already. I mentioned the starvation, the intolerable atmosphere and the spread of illness. Then again, I did like the creature and the mythos surrounding it so I guess I can excuse it.

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Some of the character perspectives are pointless. Not many of them, you understand, but I’m still trying to figure out where Simmons was going for when he wrote the part where one of the oldest shiphand was talking to a former lover of his about the chances of rescue and Darwin and whatnot. It wasn’t a badly written scene or anything, I just don’t see why it needed to be there. Especially when neither of the characters present for that scene had that much of a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

Overall opinion: 

So, in spite of this book’s foibles, I did enjoy it quite a bit and even consider it one of my favorites now. I’m hoping to sample more of Simmons’ work in the future and hope his other pieces are just as entertaining as this one.

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Once Upon A Time: How The Dark Curse Made Everyone’s Lives Better

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR ABC’S ONCE UPON A TIME. 

Ah…Once Upon a Time….a show once so wondrous and imaginative now a collection of overused tropes and timeline retcons.

I remember back in the day when I was first introduced to this show and how much I enjoyed the colorful characters, the intriguing plot lines, and the level of heart that went into the making of this show.

However, now that I look back on it there is something that wasn’t quite right with the premise from the off.

For those of you who don’t know, Once Upon A Time is about story-book characters who are ripped from the pages of their fairytales by the Evil Queen from Snow White and placed into “our world” where they live in complete obliviousness as to whom they used to be. Only the world-weary daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming can break the curse and restore everyone’s memories.

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Now, it’s an interesting concept and, arguably, season 1 has the best plot. However, there is one issue with it that has bugged me about it for years: The curse itself.

Taking into account nobody remembers their past triumphs this seems like a good curse, right? Regina is large and in charge with everyone under her thumb and the Charmings are kept apart.

This was totally a good plan, wasn’t it?

Uh…..no…..not really.

Here’s the thing: While Regina took away a lot of things, she gave them so much more.

1. The townsfolk now have access to modern medicine. From what little we’ve seen of The Enchanted Forest, it seems like they were mostly dependent upon shamans and midwives for their healthcare. Sure, some of the higher-born characters likely had physicians to attend to them but the peasants would have appealed to someone like Rumplestiltskin to end their suffering, and, as the imp is fond of saying “magic always comes with a price.” Even if he did end their woes temporarily it is very likely it would come at the cost of something (or someone) very valuable to them.

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Without the curse many townsfolk would have died in childbirth or any other illness but now that they live in a modern world with a fully-operational hospital that likelihood has been drastically reduced. Thanks, Regina.

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2. Electricity and other modern appliances. No more chopping down firewood in the dead of winter or broiling in the summer heat. I can’t even imagine how many house fires have been avoided because of the lack of unattended candles or poorly doused furnaces.

Electricity allows for so much like communication, entertainment that doesn’t involve watching people being executed, and much faster methods of producing food.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Activities that used to take people weeks to do now take a matter of hours or even minutes. They now have machines that do the clothes washing for them. They have horseless carriages to tote them around. They have leisure time which, back in the middle ages, was considered unheard of.

Also, indoor plumbing.

Need I say more?

3. Access to supermarkets and fresh food. Hunting can result in a lot of deaths. Back in the day you often ran the risk of becoming lost, being shot by an errant arrow, or even being gored by the very creature you were hoping to make your prey. However, thanks to Regina, the townsfolk no longer have to concern themselves with this. Now they can simply go to the store and purchase it at a reasonable price. As an added bonus, they no longer have to worry about famine or plague destroying their crops which would have lead to their deaths in The Enchanted Forest.

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4. They have free public education. There’s no question that public education has it’s foibles, but just consider how much of a boon it is for society. It’s difficult for us to comprehend now, but there was a time when more than half of the population couldn’t even read and that was considered the norm. Without Regina’s curse, most of these people probably wouldn’t have had anything more than a first grade education, if that. Most of them would have been relegated to working on the farm/mill/shop until the day they dropped with no hope of bettering their circumstances without the aid of magic.

That brings us to our final point.

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5. No more magic. Emma can attest to the fact that the world is a hard and painful place even without spells or cantrips. However, once you add magic into the equation, the amount of suffering you can put someone through is limited only by your imagination. Ruby murdered her own boyfriend as a result of her magical condition that turns her into a werewolf, Geppetto’s parents were turned into puppets, Ursula had her singing voice taken away, Merlin was stuck as a tree for hundreds of years, and these are only a handful of examples. Magic seems to be the main cause of strife for many of our protagonists and Regina essentially “trapped” them in a world without it. How is that bad for anyone besides Regina?

I know some people may argue that Regina made them forget their loved ones, which is obviously a bad thing, but here’s the issue: they didn’t know they had forgotten them. It’s like torturing someone but then having them drink a memory potion to forget what they have been through. What is the point?

She didn’t curse them.

She gave them 1st world problems.

Honestly, I could go on and on about all the benefits that come with living in a modern society, nevertheless, I think I’ve made my point.

Regina is officially the unsung hero of Once Upon A Time and may have saved everyone’s lives long before she made the journey to the good side.

So bow down, peasants, before your true Savior.

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And don’t forget to eat your apples.