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.

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?

 

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

Why I Won’t Watch”Bird Box” On Netflix

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR “BIRD BOX” AHEAD. 

So….it looks like Netflix has adapted Josh Malerman’s Bird Box into a movie…..

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And as you can see, I’m not excited about it.

It’s not that I think all book-to-movie adaptations are bad, in fact some of them are quite good (ex: Holes, Stand By Me, Carrie, Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, etc).

It’s just that some books are not meant to be made into a visual medium for a variety of reasons.

“Bird Box” is one such book.

What makes “Bird Box” so effective as a horror novel is that Marlerman understands people fear the most what they don’t understand. We never see what these creatures look like, nor are we ever given a conclusive explanation as to what they are.

Theories are bounced around–they are us from another dimension, they are angels, etc–but the only way to find out what they are is to look at them.

And once you gaze upon them, you don’t live to tell the tale.

Throughout the novel, the protagonists must rely on their senses (sight excluded) to avoid falling prey to these terrifying beings.

We as readers are wearing metaphorical blindfolds of our own because we only “see” what the characters do. We hear a rustling of leaves, feel a drop in temperature. But we don’t know what’s coming and that makes the experience more visceral.

So whose bright idea was it to turn this story into a movie?

If you made it an audio-drama or podcast series, that would make sense but a movie? A form of entertainment predicated on sight?!

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I also have a feeling our monsters in question will fall prey to the movie industry’s vitriolic hatred of ambiguity.

Over the past decade or so the visual arts have developed this strange fetish with over-explaining everything. Hollywood’s releasing of prequel movie after prequel movie is evidence enough of this, answering questions we didn’t want answered. Sometimes the results are good (Rogue One) but most of the time they are not (Solo).

Not to mention, in today’s climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to hammer in some “humans bad” message into the mix just for the hell of it.

Book explanation of Creatures: 

Well, they could be inter-dimensional beings that transcend our conventional understanding of the universe and our mortal brains simply can’t comprehend them, and thus fall back on a primordial instinct to self-terminate. Unfortunately, we will probably never know.

Move Explanation of Creatures (probably): 

They are creatures we created with global warming and heteronormativity and they are taking back the earth in an attempt to restore the balance we destroyed with our hubris. WHEN WILL BE LEARN?!?!

Regardless, I have zero interest in giving this flick a watch.

If the premise draws you in, I recommend reading the book instead. It’s a pretty quick read and will give you hours of enjoyment.

Unlike..this thing.

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Unpopular Opinion: “Death Note” The Netflix Film Wasn’t THAT Bad

I know everyone is in shock about this but Netflix created a live-action film adaptation of beloved anime series and manga Death Note….and it was not well received.

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It was weird, it was convoluted, and it completely fell apart at the seams.

…….but….

I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as people think it is.

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Okay! Okay! Calm down! I never said it was good. It was far from good. It was a colossal disaster as a film as well as an adaptation. Things were unnecessarily added, the crux of the story was taken away, and characters were butchered for the sake of “plot” *coughLcough*

But here’s the weird thing….

I actually think this film could have been salvageable if they had done but one thing:

Get as far away as the original source material as possible.

Yeah. Okay, so that seems like it defeats the purpose of making an adaptation doesn’t it? Well, here’s the thing.

Any attempt at making an anime is going to be dead on arrival as the expectations for anime and live-action film are completely different.

Anime works based on its own convoluted logic and the translation of that to screen is…not a smooth one. Most movie watchers go into film with a certain level of expectation. They want what they are seeing to make sense.

Anime has it’s own rules in that it has no rules. Very often times certain plot points, physics, and general progression do not make sense. Anime is like a fever dream and, generally, it tries to appeal more to a person’s emotions rather than their intellect. Or, at least that’s been my experience.

Going back to adapting Death Note, I noticed something rather peculiar about this film. That being the farther they got from the original source material, the better the movie became.

Not good. Just…better.

I’m not talking about Light being your stereotypical bullied kid or the weird stylistic feel this film has, or whatever the hell happened to L.

I mean when they focused more on the psychology of the person wielding the Death Note. As someone who really enjoyed Death Note when it first came out and spent hours in bookstores reading the manga, what held my interest wasn’t Light’s character, it was the game of cat-and-mouse between him and L.

I don’t dislike Light as a character there just…isn’t much to him outside of being Kira. He was never your average kid. He was a super genius that was bored with his life because he was so much better than everyone at everything.

I know I’ll aggravate a lot of people by saying this but…he was essentially an Evil Gary-Stu.

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With the Light for Netflix’s Death Note, we were able to see how the Death Note could affect a normal, down-to-earth person. Rather than see him go from being a bored genius to Wrathful Death God in 2.4 seconds, we actually saw some character progression.

It isn’t until the final leg of the movie that he truly turns into the evil genius puppet master that we all know and love.

I have to say that when the focus was on the power struggle between Light and his girlfriend Mia (Misa in the manga/anime), it was actually pretty interesting.

Rather than being a total air-headed bimbo like she has been in other incarnations, Misa is the instigator. She’s the one that constantly manipulates Light and tries to make him go further and further. Considering how annoying I always found Misa, I thought this was a welcome change. They work off of each other rather than Mia just being a pawn in Light’s game.

That being said, they should have scrapped the idea of making this an adaptation of the original Death Note. What they should have done was create this in the world of Death Note following the fall of Kira. Don’t toy with the characters from the original anime. Just get a cast of all new characters. Hell, you changed them so their bordering on unrecognizable anyway. Might as well go that extra step.

We would be able to forgo the annoying white-washing aspect of this as well.

The concept of the Death Note is a fascinating one and it could work outside of Light’s story arc. Like I said, I personally find it far more interesting to see how a normal teenager, one whose sense of justice is underdeveloped due to his age, would react to being given ultimate power.

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What are the ethical implications of killing criminals? How does having that level of power effect a normal individual?

Here’s how I would have written it if I had been given the script:

A normal, albeit troubled, teenage boy stumbles across a Death Note and discovers, through the power of experimentation, that he is able to control when and how people die. The rules are self-explanatory and written down in the book so he doesn’t need a Death God explaining to him how it goes.

The police are growing a bit suspicious about the deaths, but only one detective in particular seems to believe the deaths are actually linked.

In the meantime the MC’s confidence in himself begins to grown and he is able to win the heart of one of his classmates. Through their courtship, he learns that she has been the victim of a crime and he decides to give her the option of taking the perpetrator’s life.

She uses the Death Note and she is able to witness herself how the instrument of death works. They decide from that point forward that they will work together in order to make the world a better place. They begin slow, but inevitably events snowball. The pair become bolder in their actions and the police are made aware that something is amiss and are able to link it to a series of murders that took place in Japan years ago.

The game becomes all the more intricate and the couple find themselves doing things such as killing innocents and engaging in other illegal activities in order to continue on being gods of what they hope to be their brave new world.

That’s just one idea. There’s really a ton of things you could do with the concept of a Death Note.

So..no..this was not a good movie. Not by a long shot. Nevertheless, I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to.

It’s like Kenny Rogers said “the secret is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.”

And, unfortunately, the team behind this flop didn’t seem to know either of these things.

The “13 Reasons Why” Controversy

I read the book 13 Reasons Why in high school before this Netflix series came out and it’s always stuck with me. From what I’ve read on social media, it would seem that the TV show has had the same effect and it’s become a hit amongst teens and adults alike.

However, like any good show, it would seem that it’s not without controversy.

Many have watched this and are concerned that it “glamorizes” suicide and that it’s “dangerous” and “harmful” to teenagers. To a point, I can see where they are coming from. Hannah is most definitely trying to get back at those who wronged her so there is an element of revenge-porn to this. Not to mention there’s this overarching theme that each of the students she sent a tape to are “responsible for her death.”

To me this is a problem as I am a major supporter of the concept of free will. I believe that everyone is responsible for his or her own actions and blaming one person for another person’s life choices is a slippery slope.

On the other hand, I am careful to draw the conclusion that this show is harmful and needs to be stopped. For one thing, many people seem to be arguing for the hypothetical. Someone somewhere might do something, therefore, we must stop that someone who may or may not exist from killing themselves because of what they saw on Netflix by cancelling this show! Here’s the thing: If someone kills themselves because of a show they saw on Netflix, it’s doubtful that they weren’t already considering suicide as an option. It’s not the show’s fault.

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Secondly, I like that this show has many realistic situations and feelings that come with being a teenager. It has the potential to open up a lot of dialogue about suicide, and allowing teens to relate to a character that has the same thought-process as them can have a positive impact.

Thirdly, while I don’t believe any one person is “responsible” for another’s suicide, it demonstrates how someone’s actions can greatly impact another’s life. Each time someone let her down by being selfish, or cruel, or a bully, it drove Hannah closer to the edge. None of the actions alone were enough to make her take her own life, but they all piled up which caused her to reach her breaking point. It shows that you should be kind to everyone because you have no idea what’s going on inside their head. Even if you think you’re just looking out for yourself, you can seriously hurt someone without realizing it.

Then there’s the argument that this show “glamorizes” suicide and, therefore, must be removed from Netflix. As I mentioned earlier, I will concede that there are unhealthy behaviors being exhibited in this show. But to argue that it “glamorizes” suicide? I don’t see it. Hannah is dead. She doesn’t watch the events unfolding gleefully like a vengeful wraith. She only appears in flashbacks.

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However, even if it did “glamorize” it, don’t we already expose teenagers to works that make suicide look attractive?

Like….Shakespeare?

In the schools I attended, both Romeo and Juliet as well as Hamlet were required reading. As I’m sure everyone knows, the climax of the former ends with both lovers killing themselves in a desperate attempt to be with one another after having known each other a whopping three days. That’s not exactly setting a healthy precedent.

My senior year we devoted hours analyzing Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Speech which is a monologue entirely devoted to Hamlet contemplating whether or not he should off himself.

That is the most beautiful way to describe suicide and it’s complexities that I’ve ever heard.

“To die, to sleep, perchance to dream.” 

I’m not sure you can describe death more poetically than that.

Regardless of how you may feel about 13 Reasons Why, not talking about suicide isn’t going to make it go away. If parents are genuinely concerned about the effect this show might have on their child, then they should have a conversation with them, not just insist that this show be removed.

While I recognize this story, in book form and TV form, has issues, I also believes it is a predominately good story and deserves to be told. It puts a spotlight on a delicate subject and encourages discussion about depression in teenagers; a subject that is normally ignored or poorly handled by adults.

I recommend you read/watch it for yourself. It really is worth your time.

Opinion: Comedies Are Terrible Now

A friend of mine recently introduced me to British comedy, Black Books, which stars Irish comedian Dylan Moran. It’s a show about a combative and anti-social bookstore owner in England and the strange adventures he gets into with his posse of misfits.

As a fan of English comedy, I fell head over heels in love with Black Books. How could I not? After all, it had the key ingredient that makes every comedy worthwhile: ridiculousness.

In one of my favorite episodes, “Travel Writer,” Bernard discovers his landlord has died and bequeathed her ownership of the building to her cat (Mr. Benson). Bernard then hires an exterminator to turn hitman so he can put an end to the kitty’s rein of tyranny.

I wish more comedies could be like this. Don’t get me wrong, comedy is stupid nowadays, but it’s not that special kind of stupid.

I miss the shows like Monty Python and Seinfeld. They embraced absurdity in their great hairy arms and didn’t give a crap what the critics thought.

Now it seems like comedy resides in one of three camps:

In one camp, you have the Dude-Bro-Comedy wherein the only jokes that are told apply to the lowest common denominator. These comedies include jokes about boobs, sex, weed or other drugs, and gratuitous amounts of body humor.

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A.KA. every Seth Rogen film ever

In another camp, you have the Safe-Comedy wherein you simply tell jokes and plots that have been done so many times before it’s like trying to wear a pair of 30 year-old underpants and pass them off as new.

Finally, you have Societal-Outrage-Comedy, where every joke you tell has to be a way to stick it to The Man (a.k.a old, white, conservative men) or some other sort of issue that people believe needs addressing. The problem with these sorts of comedies is the shelf-life on them is awful. In a mere three years, most of them will be become dated and forgotten.

What happened to comedy for comedy’s sake?

You know, you can be funny without being wildly offensive or resorting to 5th grade humor. It is possible. We have the technology.

You can laugh at something that has nothing to do with politics or the current state of society. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be relatable. It could be wildly ridiculous like a man paying to have an argument with someone:

While many of the jokes used in these shows and movies are ridiculous, they’re also extremely clever in their own right. Unlike some comedies which think their audience is largely comprised of lobotomized baby seals.

Am I an outlier here? Am I the only one that thinks the viewing public deserves something better? Should I just shut up and drink my diet soda?

All I can say is if Netflix removes this British gem, I may  lose my mind. Dammit, Netflix, You can take Airplane! by don’t you dare touch my Black Books.

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