Friday, December 2, 2016

Mars 1 and 2 on National Geographic: New Kind of Helping Hand Into Space

Just caught the first two episodes of Mars on National Geographic, and wanted to post this review before I see and review more.

First, this series is a great amalgam of documentary - up to and including events in 2016 - and a drama about the first expedition to Mars with humans in 2033.   That's a great idea for a story, and it works very well on screen.

The main of the part of the documentary, so far, is Scott Kelly's year in space mission, which ended successfully in March 2016.  This is counterpoint to the 2033 mission to Mars, in which team leader Ben Sawyer is badly injured right before landing and ... well, I won't tell you how that works out, because that's the main personal drama in the first two episodes.

But the point of this new kind of docudrama is that the personal stories are part of the bigger story, the yearning and necessity of human beings getting off this planet, and successfully settling on another planet - in this case, Mars.  Not a complete migration by any means, but establishing enough of  a continuing existence to insure our survival if and when something catastrophic happens to Earth. As Elon Musk of Space X and other worthy fame says in the first episode, this is the only way to insure our survival - since catastrophes happening to both Earth and Mars at the same time are extraordinarily unlikely.

The cinematography in both 2016 and 2033 is stunning.   We've seen all kinds of fictional accounts of space travel - ranging from The Martian to Star Trek - and all kinds of docudramas, such as Apollo 13. I've loved all of them, both as riveting stories in their own right, and as vehicles to getting our imaginations in better gear to actually get further off this planet and out into space.

We'll need all the help we can get, and its good to see Mars now lending a big, bold, imaginative helping hand.




Case on Netflix: The Seamy Side of Iceland

Back with another review of another series I just streamed on Netflix - hey, that's an indication of how many good series Netflix is making available. This one is a police and lawyer story that takes place in Iceland - in Icelandic, with subtitles.   But I actually enjoy a subtitled television series every once in a while.

Now, I've never been to Iceland - I certainly hope to someday - but I tended to think Iceland was an idyllic community, with a life as clean and good as the virgin snow.  Well, not quite - but I certainly wouldn't have expected to find a realm of hard drug use, prostitution, and child porn to rival that found in many big American cities.

Case is all about that, and more.  It's actually the third season of a story of police and lawyers (though it's billed as the first season), which consisted of standalone episodes (like, say, Law and Order), but in the third season went for one continuous, seamless story (which I guess is why it's identified as the first season).  And a seamy, often brutally hard-hitting story it was.

Many of the major characters are in the earlier seasons, but you can pick up their back stories quickly enough in the one season (the third season) now on Netflix.  The story ultimately is a whodunit - the "it" being the drugging and sexual abusing including rape of high school girls in Iceland.  The cast consists of actors and actresses completely unknown to me, and all did a very good job.

I won't tell you who the villain is, because that's a pretty good twist.  But I will say Case will keep you on the edge of your seat, and is well worth your viewing on a snowy evening or otherwise.

The Fall Season 3: Delving into Homicide

I binge-watched The Fall Season 3 on Netflix this week, and found it superbly disturbing and brilliant, the best of the three seasons.  [Big spoilers follow.]

The story in all three seasons pits Stella Gibson, brought into Belfast to investigate serial killings done by Paul Spector, who seems like the sweetest guy in the world. Both parts are played to perfection - by Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan - and Anderson's performance is one of the most powerful I've ever seen on any television or movie screen.

There's plenty of action, but what makes this series special are the deeper moments of contemplation and reflection.  Gibson nails her suspects, at last, at the end of the second season, but the match of wits continues and escalates in the third season, as Spector evinces amnesia, presumably brought on by the trauma of his capture, which nearly kills him.

Is he feigning or really suffering a memory loss, which would make his prosecution in court much more difficult.   Gibson is sure he's feigning, the medical and psychology staff - and we the audience - are not so sure.

The doctors in intensive care, Spector's nurse in particular, are correctly devoted to bringing this monster back to full health.  The head of psychiatric facility to he's brought wants only to find the truth of what's going on now in Spector's brain.

This of course is connected to what went on in his brain before.  I've seen many examinations of the homicidal mind on television and in cinema over the decades, but never as breathtakingly chilling as in this third season of The Fall.   It's a trip that Joseph Conrad, who explored insanity in a different context in Heart of Darkness, would have enjoyed, if that's the right word.

Spector's outburst - in which he physically beats Gibson after an interrogation which puts him in a corner and strips his soul bare (the police have linked him to a killing which took place before his amnesia-blanked years) - is both shocking and instantly totally believable in retrospect, a winning combination in a narrative moment.   Not so believable is why Spector would not have been put in a padded cell somewhere after that, rather than back to the psychiatric unit where he does even more damage, and that's the biggest flaw in in this otherwise flawless story.   But that story is so riveting and convincing and horrifying that it easily survives as a masterpiece despite the flaw.

Word on the web is that Stella Gibson may well return in a 4th series created, written, and directed by Allan Cubitt.  The supporting characters - such as Spector's attorney Aidan McCardle (Loxley on Mr. Selfridge) - are excellent.  I'll be watching for sure.





Thursday, December 1, 2016

Frequency 1.8: Interferences

Frequency 1.8 was entitled "Interference," and that's an apt title for this episode, and now for the series in general.

The basic structure of the story - a father connected to his daughter in the future via a ham-radio that works through time, and both determined to stop the murder of the father's former wife and the daughter's mother - remains brilliant, as it was in slightly different form in the movie.   But the series is taking too long to get there - to get to the nitty-gritty of the Nightingale Killer - and is too tied up in scenes and stories that don't really contribute to this pursuit.   In other words, interference.

It was nice, for example, to see Raimy begin to reunite with her fiance from an alternate reality - the reality which existed before Raimy saved her father Frank in the past, via their ham-radio across time, which not only resulted in her mother's murder but her fiance having no knowledge of her and their relationship.  When he tells her in last night's episode that he can't get her out of his mind, this is a nice touch, which speaks to a depth of feelings that transcend alternate realities.   But, otherwise, their reunion is cluttered with all sorts of almost slapstick missteps.

And their reunion, as far as we know, has nothing to with the Nightingale.  There was a big thread about that last night, featuring a woman barely in possession of her full senses, but that went nowhere, and was too reminiscent, and not done as well, as Jennifer Goines in 12 Monkeys.

I know - this story will be picked up against next week.   But I'd like to see a faster, tighter pace, in a series which still has a lot of promise.

See also Frequency 1.1: Closely Spun Gem ... Frequency 1.2: All About the Changes  ... Frequency 1.3: Chess Game Across Time ...  Frequency 1.4: Glimpsing the Serial Killer ... Frequency 1.5: Two Sets of Memories ... Frequency 1.6: Another Time Traveler? ... Frequency 1.7: Snags



                       more time travel

Designated Survivor 1.8: Kitchen Sink

Good to see Designated Survivor back in action with episode 1.8 last night, with Kirkman have everything and the kitchen sink thrown against him in his effort to rebuild the political structure of our country after the devastating State of the Union attack.

Top of the list is a germ warfare attack - biological terrorism - designed to stop the election of a new House of Representatives.  Talk about elections being rigged!  As in everything it does, Designated Survivor takes this scenario one big step over the top, in true riveting 24 fashion.

Meanwhile, Kirkman's paternity of his son comes to a head, and I was glad to see this story wrapped up.  It was a soap-opera move, not really necessary in the high stakes of everything else, in which the nation itself is at risk.

The continuing story here is who was responsible for the Capitol bombing?   We learned last night that it's not the likely next VP, who is now seen being run by the villains, rather than being one of them.  All signs point to the group being domestic, but with Designator Survivor's ear clearly attuned to what's actually going on in our world, in real news, there still may be a foreign power yet to be revealed that's behind this ... such as the Russians.

Jack Bauer in 24 of course had plenty of dealings with hostile foreign powers, including the Chinese and the Russians.  If the Russians play a bigger role in Designator Survivor - we've already seen them as a problem for Kirkman a few episodes ago - will Putin's name be specifically mentioned?   Probably not - but here's a vote to bring John Noble back as Anatoly Markov in some Russian spy role, if Kiefer Sutherland has to tangle with him in Designated Survivor.

See also Designated Survivor: Jack Bauer Back in the White House ... Designated Survivor 1.2: Unflinching and Excellent ...  Designated Survivor 1.4: "Michigan's on the Verge of Anarchy" ... Designated Survivor 1.5: The Plot Thickens ... Designated Survivor 1.6: The Governors ... Designated Survivor 1.7: Reassuring Fiction


  terrorist squirrels and bombs in NYC

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Rectify 4.6: Shedding the Straw Man

A beautifully powerful episode 4.6 of Rectify tonight, easily the best of this final season so far.

It was so good, that it almost convinced me that the most important story is not whether Daniel was guilty or innocent of Hanna's rape and murder, but whether he can find himself enough to survive and live in this world today, out of prison.

Chloe puts this well when she challenges Daniel to find out whether he can shed the persona of shame via which he survived in prison and since his release.   I don't agree that seeing a therapist is the only way to do this - which was Chloe's point - but her underlying motive of wanting Daniel to shed his shame is profound and sums up his life now beautifully.

Jon's story was powerful tonight, too.  He's convinced that Daniel is innocent and Jon has committed himself to doing all he can to make sure that Daniel is cleared forever, and never threatened again for a crime he didn't commit.   Note that this, also, is a story different from whether Daniel is guilty or innocent - Jon assumes he's innocent - but that's nonetheless a strong and worthy story, too.

Also in that story, I do hope Jon and Amantha can get back together, but there's not much motion on that score as yet.  Ted Sr and Daniel's mother, though, seem to be on the verge of pulling closer, after they've come this close to falling apart.

In a way, the ending, with Teddy Jr. shooting himself in the leg as he tries to bring down the balloon man, is a good template for the whole story of Rectify, too:  everyone shooting themselves in the foot as they try to bring down straw men, largely of their own creation.  This applies most to Daniel, as he struggles with the straw man of shame, though that of course is by no means all of his own creation.

I'll be sorry to see this great series conclude, as it promises to do, in the two final episodes.

See also Rectify 4.1: Rummy  ... Rectify 4.4: Slow Motion ... Rectify 4.5: Temper

And see also Rectify 3.1: Stroke of Luck ... Rectify 3.2: Daniel and Amantha ... Rectify 3.5: Finally!

And see also Rectify 2.1: Indelible ... Rectify 2.2: True Real Time ... Rectify 2.3: Daniel's Motives ... Rectify 2.4: Jekyll and Hyde ... Rectify 2.6: Rare Education ... Rectify 2.7: The Plot Thickens ... Rectify 2.8: The Plea Bargain and the Smart Phone ... Rectify 2.9: Dancing in the Dark ... Rectify Season 2 Finale: Talk about Cliffhangers!

And see also Rectify: Sheer and Shattering Poetry ... Rectify 1.5: Balloon Man ... Rectify Season 1 Finale: Searingly Anti-Climactic

 
another kind of capital punishment

#SFWApro

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vikings 4.11: Ragnar's Sons

Vikings returned tonight with the second half of its 4th season - 4.11 - with a powerful story, mostly about Ragnar and his sons.

We last saw Ragnar's sons, briefly, at the end of 4.10 long ago - that is, earlier this year - with all of them grown into young manhood.  Tonight, Ragnar returns with a request of his sons to accompany him to England, to reclaim his lost stronghold near Wessex.

His sons have different ideas.  Bjorn wants to go to the rich cities of the Mediterranean - much to plunder and enjoy - and all but one of his other sons agree.   Ivar the Boneless - so named because his legs are useless - wants to go with his father, and this provides a satisfying ending to the episode.

Ivar is the most interesting of the sons, because of his disability and his attempts to overcome it. Here's the best marksman of his brothers, by arrow and axe.  He apparently can't satisfying a woman - at least, not in a way that can bring her children - but I have a feeling the story on this is not yet complete.   Most impressively, he has a burning intellect, which will make a great strategist - eventually.

Floki has built ships for Bjorn's planned trip, and his not wanting to join Ragnar, much as he loves him, is the one of the things that pushes Ragnar to test the gods, by attempting suicide.  The fact that the crows or whatever causes the rope to give way offers some kind of proof to Ragnar that he still has some of their favor.

So the stage and scene is set for Ragnar's return to England, with Ivar, and his other sons going with Bjorn to warmer water to the South.   History has all kinds of stories about what happens with Ragnar's sons, and it will be fun to see what the History Channel will tell of them, and spin in new directions.

See also Vikings 4.1: I'll Still Take Paris ... Vikings 4.2: Sacred Texts ...Vikings 4.4: Speaking the Language ... Vikings 4.5: Knives ... Vikings 4.8: Ships Up Cliff ... Vikings 4.10: "God Bless Paris"

And see also Vikings 3.1. Fighting and Farming ... Vikings 3.2: Leonard Nimoy ...Vikings 3.3: We'll Always Have Paris ... Vikings 3.4: They Call Me the Wanderer ... Vikings 3.5: Massacre ... Vikings 3.6: Athelstan and Floki ...Vikings 3.7: At the Gates ... Vikings 3.8: Battle for Paris ... Vikings 3.9: The Conquered ... Vikings Season 3 Finale: Normandy

And see also Vikings 2.1-2: Upping the Ante of Conquest ... Vikings 2.4: Wise King ... Vikings 2.5: Caught in the Middle ... Vikings 2.6: The Guardians ...Vikings 2.7: Volatile Mix ... Vikings 2.8: Great Post-Apocalyptic Narrative ... Vikings Season 2 Finale: Satisfying, Surprising, Superb

And see also Vikings ... Vikings 1.2: Lindisfarne ... Vikings 1.3: The Priest ... Vikings 1.4:  Twist and Testudo ... Vikings 1.5: Freud and Family ... Vikings 1.7: Religion and Battle ... Vikings 1.8: Sacrifice
... Vikings Season 1 Finale: Below the Ash

 
historical science fiction - a little further back in time


Donovan Concert Cancelled Tonight - with Strange Coda

Hey, I'm not even sure this warrants a blog post, but -

Tina and I were looking to forward to seeing Donovan tonight at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey - part of his Sunshine Superman 50th Anniversary Tour.  Actually, that's about my least favorite of his songs, but "Jennifer Juniper" and "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" and its recitation of gorgeously unusual colors are among my all-time favorite songs, period.

So we were really looking forward to this concert.  I even passed up a dinner with some Fordham University colleagues - which I actually enjoy - to go see Donovan.  We even arrived uncharacteristically early, and had a delicious dinner at the nearby Pintxo y Tapas restaurant.

Then we walked over to the concert hall.  The place was deserted.   We found out why: Donovan had cancelled.  He's ill.  Email had gone out, while we were sipping some scrumptious soup in the restaurant.

But here's the coda.   We walk back to our car, are just about to pull out, when another car parks in a little in front of us.  A couple emerges, and I could just tell that they're on the way to the Donovan concert.  Whether they had been sipping soup somewhere, too, or for whatever reason, they hadn't seen the email. So I tell them the concert had been cancelled - to save them a walk in the rain - because Donovan had taken ill.

"Oh my God!" the woman said.   "The last time I was at this theater, the concert was suddenly cancelled, too!   It was for Lou Reed.  He was ill - and you know what happened to him!"

Oi!  I certainly do.   I'm hoping that this woman and the Bergen Performing Arts Center aren't locked into some kind of jinx.  It's a good diabolical story - "The Dybbuk of Bergen County" - but I'd rather hear Donovan sing.   I hope he's soon back in the best of health.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Timeless 1.8: Time and Space

An outstanding Timeless 1.8 tonight, in which our team goes back to July 1969 to save the first men on the Moon.

The mission is jeopardized - with Armstrong and Aldrin's lives at risk - due to a virus put into the NASA computer operation by Flynn.   Rufus is the only one with sufficient knowledge to fix it - put in a cure - but he actually doesn't have quite enough know-how to do this, after all.  He needs the help of Katherine Johnson, a real person who was given the Medal of Freedom by President Obama last year. Back in 1969, she has the knowledge to program Rufus's cure into the paper-punched NASA computer system.

Given that Obama presided over the Medal of Freedom ceremony for this year just a days ago, Katherine Johnson was a really nice touch, and a pleasure to see.  And just for good measure, Lucy throws in a timely lecture to the male chauvinists in Mission Control about not treating the secretaries like mere carriers of coffee.

There's also a nice Flynn story wrapped into this tonight, as he meets another secretary, with a talent for rocket design, who turns out to be his mother.   Wyatt (who is an FBI agent - with the name "Mulder," another nice touch) witnesses part of this, and there's an implicit question raised at the end - should Wyatt have done something to stop Flynn's mother, so that Flynn would never be born?

This is a perennial time-travel question - if the traveler had a chance to kill Hitler's mother, or otherwise prevent her from meeting Hitler's father, should the traveler do that?  Usually, the answer is no - the morality of time travel is that you don't mess up the lives of innocents to get at the bad people in history.

Unless, you have to shoot an essentially innocent person to save someone crucial to the mission, which Rufus had to do tonight.

A nice, provocative hour of time travel indeed.


See also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse ... Timeless 1.7: Stranded!



a time-travel agency in Riverdale ....

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Westworld 1.9: Half-Truths and Old Friends

Another episode of Westworld tonight - 1.9 - just breathtaking in its philosophical insight and daring. The series, brilliant from the outset, just keeps getting better.

The agenda is set tonight with what Maeve, now in control of her android programmer, tells Bernard: truth is "like a good fuck - half is worse than none at all".

We've known less than half the truth about Bernard, until last week, when we found that he was a host aka android.   Tonight we learn that that was not the half of it.

Because, in another standout conversation between him and Ford, in which Bernard pushes Ford to tell him the truth about Bernard, and Ford presumably obliges, we find that Bernard is not just any host. Not even just any host put in charge by Ford to program and oversee the other hosts.  No, Bernard is a host programmed by Ford in Arnold's image.

Well, not just his image, but, presumably, something, maybe even a lot, of Arnold's mind.   Further, according to Ford, Arnold and Ford had two different ideas about how to build the minds of hosts - two different approaches, both of which co-exist, to some degree in each of the hosts we now encounter.   This is one iteration of Jaynes' bicameral mind,

The other iteration is that Arnold's idea of consciousness is that one voice within the mind talks to the other, and consciousness emerges as the two are in some way blended or brought into synch.  So, if this represents Arnold's idea of a host's consciousness, and it co-exists in the hosts' minds along with Ford's, we have a bicameral mind within a bicameral mind.   All that assuming, of course, that Ford was telling Bernard and us the truth - not a thoroughly reliable proposition, since Ford plays with Bernard and tells him half-truths and other-sized fragments in every conversation they have.

Hey, I told you the philosophical insight was daring.  And I'm not even 100% clear what we saw tonight means.  But I'm pretty sure that in this penultimate episode of the first season, we've received at least half the truth of what's going on.  Or maybe not, but let's go with that assumption.  It was certainly, to get back to Maeve's declaration, a movable feast for the intellect.

And the other half?  Well, I doubt we'll get all or even most of it next week, since, after all, this is only the first season.  But I'm looking forward to whatever little shred more we'll get.


See also Westworld 1.1: Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick Served Up by Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J. J. Abrams ... Westworld 1.2: Who Is the Man in Black? ... Westworld 1.3: Julian Jaynes and Arnold ... Westworld 1.4: Vacation, Connie Francis, and Kurt Vonnegut ... Westworld 1.5: The Voice Inside Dolores ... Westworld 1.6: Programmed Unprogramming ... Westworld 1.7: The Story of the Story ... Westworld 1.8: Memories


  paradoxes of AI abound

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Why the Recounts in WI, MI, and PA Make Sense

I don't think they're likely to change the results of our Presidential election - Hillary Clinton would need to win all three of these states to win the electoral vote -  but I'm glad to see that the recounts for Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have been funded and are proceeding,

In order for democracy to work, we have to have 100% confidence in the results of elections - not that we have to like them, but we need to believe in them.  And if we don't like them, we can use those results as the basis for improving our losing positions, so they won't be losing next time.

Hillary Clinton of course won the national popular vote.  She lost the electoral vote, based on the tallies before the recounts.   But that crucial difference, in itself, demands that we be super sure when it comes to the counts in crucial states.

Computer scientists say that the voting patterns reported in those three states are such that there could be some sort of irregularities in the tallies.  That doesn't mean that there are - but surely we should investigate further.

It's often said that previous candidates who lost in close Presidential elections didn't go for recounts. Nixon didn't in his close loss to JFK in 1960, and Gore didn't in his loss to Bush in 2000 (when Gore also won the national popular vote).

But Nixon didn't lose to a Donald Trump, and Gore actually did pursue recounts in Florida, which were stopped not by him but by a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who joined the majority decision to stop the recount, later said she regretted.

The election of Trump is the most extraordinarily bad result of a Presidential election in my and I'd bet most Americans' lifetimes (well, certainly a majority).   We owe it to ourselves and the future of this country and the world to be sure of its results.

Paranoid on Netflix: Pre-Brexit

We streamed Paranoid on Netflix - we never pass up a British cop drama, and this one was uncommonly good.

First, it was good to see Indira Varma in a starring rather than supportive role.  She impressed in everything from Rome to Luther, and she's excellent as the lead detective (Nina) investigating what may be a murder by a homicidal maniac.   Even more interesting in many ways is her private life, with all kinds of unexpected alliances and vulnerabilities and twists and turns, including with the young guy on her team, Alec (played just right by Dino Fetscher).

Speaking of moving up to a more major role, Robert Glenister, who played a sometimes arch superior in MI-5, is down in the trenches as a hard-bitten, heart-on-his-sleeve detective on Nina's team, and the drugs he's taking for his anxiety may be making him a little paranoid himself.   Leslie Sharp is also sharp, definitely memorable, as his quirky love-interest Lucy.

But the villain in this story [mild spoiler], as soon becomes apparent, is big pharma, and its reach extends from England to Germany, which soon pitches the narrative into a tale of two detective units, one in a smallish town in England, the other in Dusseldorf, with all kinds of helpful and otherwise interactions.

It occurred to me, as I was watching and enjoying this, that this kind of cooperation, conducted via Skype and the occasional in-person visit, was pre-Brexit.   I suppose there's no reason it couldn't continue, but this subtle subtext of Paranoid, that the Brits and the Germans are almost just two different units of some same transnational police force, somehow seems a little more wishful thinking now than it did earlier this year.

Which makes Paranoid even more appealing as a cop show.   See it.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rectify 4.5: Temper

What did we learn about Daniel's guilt or innocence in Hanna's murder in Rectify 4.5? He has a temper.

We of course knew this before, and seeing it demonstrated, again, has the effect of keeping his possible culpability in Hanna's murder in the mix.   It doesn't matter that Daniel's anger was justified last night, and that he was only standing up for his own human dignity.  The takeaway still is that he's given to rage.

As always, though, we have no way of knowing if the rage existed before Daniel went to prison, or because of it.   Certainly what happened to him in prison contributed to his rage at someone masturbating in his presence in the bedroom.

Meanwhile, his erstwhile lawyer continues, at a snail's pace, to pursue the evidence.  And Hanna's brother has come to realize that there's a more likely murderer of his sister than Daniel.

Families and relationships have been what this series has always been about, and most have either shattered or on the edge of falling apart.  The end of Tawney and Ted Jr was especially touching this week, and the conversations between Janet and Ted Sr were a close second.   Who has the best relationship amidst all this unhappiness?

That would probably be Daniel and Chloe, which not only lends a ray of hope to the series, but makes Daniel being innocent of Hanna's murder even more important.

Looking forward to some resolution in the concluding episodes.

See also Rectify 4.1: Rummy

And see also Rectify 3.1: Stroke of Luck ... Rectify 3.2: Daniel and Amantha ... Rectify 3.5: Finally!

And see also Rectify 2.1: Indelible ... Rectify 2.2: True Real Time ... Rectify 2.3: Daniel's Motives ... Rectify 2.4: Jekyll and Hyde ... Rectify 2.6: Rare Education ... Rectify 2.7: The Plot Thickens ... Rectify 2.8: The Plea Bargain and the Smart Phone ... Rectify 2.9: Dancing in the Dark ... Rectify Season 2 Finale: Talk about Cliffhangers!

And see also Rectify: Sheer and Shattering Poetry ... Rectify 1.5: Balloon Man ... Rectify Season 1 Finale: Searingly Anti-Climactic

 
another kind of capital punishment

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Affair 3.2: Sneak Preview Review: Right Minds

Well, here I am again with a sneak preview review of The Affair 3.2, which of course I couldn't help watching on Showtime On Demand.  Spoilers abound below.

Alison's story in the second half covered a huge amount of territory - the gist of which is that Cole and Luisa now have custody of Joanie, because Alison left her with him as she was having what used to be called a nervous breakdown, brought on by Joanie having a bad flu or whatever, and Alison understandably "freaking out" that what happened to Gabriel could happen to Joanie, and it would be Alison's fault.   She compounds this by signing away her parental rights to Joanie - giving them to Cole - but now she's out and cured and back in her right mind and wanting her daughter back, and of course--

Well, Luisa doesn't even want Joanie to see her mother, and Cole certainly doesn't want to give her back to Alison.   Of course, as Oscar aptly tells Alison - I have to admit, it was good to see him back - all she needs is a good lawyer.   Cole almost does the right thing, bringing Joanie to see her mother - but only for an hour, that's why I said "almost".   Lots of ground covered indeed, and the good makings of a powerful season.

Another bad result of Alison's institutionalization is she received none of Noah's letters from prison, which brings us to the first half hour, and Helen's story.   Noah, in jail now for two years, is angry at Helen.  But what he's likely really angry about is Alison's lack of response.  Helen still loves him - especially after he took the rap for her drunk driving - and is doing the best to make a life for herself and her children with the doctor who saved her son last season.

So we have a fine kettle of fish brewing here for all of our major characters.   And one last note - Helen mentions a "dick" who voted for Trump.  Did she mean in the primaries, which would make last week current time, and this week - which began the advisory that it was a "year earlier" - taking place last year?   Or is Helen in current time in this episode - with the Trump vote in our election two weeks ago -  which would put  Noah's episode last week a year in our future?

The Affair always messes with time - as well as our minds - and that's one of its most endearing qualities.




podcast review of every 2nd season episode


podcast review of every 1st season episode



the Sierra Waters time-travel trilogy

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Crown on Netflix: Peerless

We binge-watched The Crown on Netflix the past few nights.  It was especially welcome, entertaining, instructive, and appealing in view of what's going on in our current political news in the United States, on other screens.

The protagonist in this riveting 20th-century docudrama is Queen Elizabeth II (well played by Claire Foy), but I found the Winston Churchill story - a portrait of his final years as Prime Minister, after being ousted by the British electorate at the end of World War II as reward his heroic service as PM and saving the nation during that war - to be a mini-masterpiece of politics and political philosophy in itself.   Indeed, speaking of portraits, my favorite episode was the penultimate, and the story it told of Graham Sutherland's painting of Churchill in 1954, which Churchill despised.  In this hour, we get a disquisition on the nature of art and the process of the painter and the subject - made especially compelling not only because the subject was Churchill, but because he was a painter by hobby himself.  John Lithgow gives a tour-de-force performance of Churchill in this episode, and in fact whenever he appears on the screen any time in the series.

Other than Churchill, my favorite character in the series is a tie between Elizabeth and King Edward (David), who in 1936 abdicated to be with "the woman I love," Wallis Simpson (a divorcee), which resulted in Elizabeth's father becoming King and eventually Elizabeth Queen.   Elizabeth and Edward are both bound by the monumental struggle was how to be a complete human being and wear the crown at the same time.  In a peak conversation, Edward tells Elizabeth, who is rent by a dilemma about whether to support her sister Margaret's intention to marry Peter Townsend (a divorcee), that even in abdication, Edward still feels himself to be two people, person and King, and he misses the King every day.

History repeats itself.   Edward and Margaret both want to marry divorcees, and Elizabeth is left in different ways to pick up the pieces both times.  It's easy for us in the 21st century - with Elizabeth still Queen - to congratulate ourselves on our moral superiority, which doesn't frown on divorce any more, let alone it being so unacceptable in the royal family.   That's progress, indeed.

But you know what?  When I think about who will soon be President of the United States, and I compare him not to Churchill but the worst politician depicted in The Crown, that doesn't seem like progress at all, does it.  See The Crown for an at-turns fascinating, at turns heart-breaking, narrative not only of how far we've come, but how far we've fallen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Timeless 1.7: Stranded!

A rollicking episode 1.7 of Timeless tonight, with our team stranded in 1754 in the French and Indian War.

In terms of sheer action, this almost standalone episode was one of the best of the series so far, with Rufus having to cobble together a fix for the damaged machine, as well as tell the future when and how to expect them, and the rest of the team doing what they do best - speaking French (Lucy) and fighting off the bad guys (Wyatt) as enjoyably needed.

There are some fine new classic time-travel touches in this episode, my favorite being the time-capsule that Rufus buries deep in the ground with instructions for the future.  It will end up in a Pittsburgh suburb, no longer inhabited by the Native Americans who play a major role in this story, along with the French.   Rufus buries the capsule subject to a "protocol" which was designed to be implemented for strandings like this.

The last few minutes of the episode switch from swashbuckling to metaphysics, something that goes beyond the physics speciality in which Rufus excels.   Lucy is feeling drawn into writing the diary which Flynn has shown her and told her she will write.  The diary symbolizes everything that Lucy doesn't want - not only being connected to Flynn, but having her future prescribed to her.

Wyatt argues that nothing is ordained, and free will prevails.   Of course, this is impossible to prove. If we do something, and say it's our free expressing itself, how can we know for sure that we weren't destined to do that anyway, and free is just a comforting illusion we draw upon and wrap ourselves in to make us feel better?

This is the essence of the classic behaviorist theory devised in the first half of the 20th century by John B. Watson and expanded by B. F. Skinner - that everything we do is in response to some kind of conditioning, whether we're aware of it or not.  An issue of such complexity could never be resolved in just a few minutes of a time-travel television series, but it's great to see it raised, anyway.

See also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse



a time-travel agency in Riverdale ....

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Westworld 1.8: Memories

Much revealed in this excellent episode 1.8 of Westworld.

Probably the most important:  there are two kinds of programs afoot in Westworld, two kinds of stories (or two kinds of kinds of stories, to be more precise):  Ford's and Arnold's.  Ford's we pretty much know - though not the new story he keeps talking about - and Arnold's not much or any of it at all.

We learn from Ford that Arnold went crazy-mad over the paradox of programming beings that were sentient, yet in a way that keep them subject to programmer orders (the civil rights of robots, as I discussed in earlier reviews, and spelled out a little of in this paper).

So presumably in the minds of our major hosts, we have a war between these two types of programs - a war in each mind - which gives us a better but still not completely clear idea of the bicameral mind (ala Julian Jaynes) that we heard about some episodes back.

Whatever is actually going in each of these host's minds, we now know this:  none of them can keep those deep memories totally submerged, however much Ford or Bernard may order them to do - or just move the memories down to the bottom of the little tablet screen.  For Bernard, who we now know is a host, these unerasable memories include at least two murders of human beings, the second we saw last week, the first who knows when, presumably both at Ford's command, though we can't be sure about the first.   For Maeve, it's the awful memory of the killing of her daughter by the Man in Black (for more about, see below).  For Dolores, it's the memory of some kind of carnage in the town. Teddy may be having some of this double memory, too.

Significantly, Bernard can kill humans (presumably only at Ford's command, but who knows), and Maeve, even more profoundly, can kill in her own self protection - that, by the way, being a defining characteristic of life.  Teddy definitely can not - at least, not the Man in the Black.

Which is the other big revelation: the Man in Black tells Teddy his back story, and his life as a human tycoon (hmm....).  This sounds pretty convincing.  But earlier, Ford was even more convincing about humans and androids actually being pretty similar, in that both live in stories that are constructed (presumably the main difference being that we humans construct most of our own stories.)  Yet, I was just watching The Crown on Netflix, and struck by how much the royals are hostages to the stories that are obliged to follow.   But back to Westworld: is the Man in Black just telling Teddy a story written by a programmer, or the true story of his human life?

Ford, again, says there's not all that much difference.  My guess is the MIB is a human - but maybe it doesn't matter as much as we may think - maybe that's the message.  I do know this series is a masterpiece already - a triumph of story telling (I guess a third kind of story) - and it's good was to see Banshee's Lili Simmons back on the screen!

See also Westworld 1.1: Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick Served Up by Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J. J. Abrams ... Westworld 1.2: Who Is the Man in Black? ... Westworld 1.3: Julian Jaynes and Arnold ... Westworld 1.4: Vacation, Connie Francis, and Kurt Vonnegut ... Westworld 1.5: The Voice Inside Dolores ... Westworld 1.6: Programmed Unprogramming ... Westworld 1.7: The Story of the Story


  paradoxes of AI abound

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