Bates Motel Finale

Spoilers for Bates Motel

I started the fifth and final season of Bates Motel soon after its premiere in February but just finished the last episode this weekend. The delay was not due to a lack of interest in the series itself, but more of a lack of interest in Kodi. I used the streaming service for any show that either wasn’t available on Netflix or didn’t have its latest season there. After dealing with the crash of one Kodi add-on after another, I grew sick of Kodi and then retreated exclusively to Netflix offerings for a long time.

Since I finished watching the first season of Hemlock Grove and Big Mouth, I finally made time to wrap up one of my favourite shows. This piece isn’t necessarily a review, it’s just an offering of some of the things on my mind after finally finishing.

Bates Motel was marketed as a “contemporary prequel” to 1960’s Psycho, and like some intended prequels I didn’t expect the events to line up exactly. The original film doesn’t give us too much about Norman Bates’s background, except the fact that he killed his mom and her lover out of jealousy. Seasons 1-3 were untouched territory in terms of Norman Bates’s development, and his relationship with his mother and other women.

While I detested some of the subplots in these seasons, mainly due to the terrible acting on display from the high school girls, especially Nicola Peltz as Bradley Martin. This woman has the ability to ruin anything she touches, whether it’s bringing down Bates Motel or adding to the misery of The Last Airbender.

Pictured above: One great actor, along with a black hole of charisma and screen presence.

I digressed.

While Peltz’s acting was awful, Norman’s relationship with her actually explained why he would grow even closer to his mother. After pursuing a girl he liked, he was rejected and used. Then Norma was quick to take advantage of that and reinforce all of the negative ideas swirling in Norman’s head about other women. While Norman had a good relationship with Emma Decody, she became his “good girl” in a sense: The sweeter girl who he ignored. By the time Norman moved on from Bradley, Emma was moving on from him.

Seasons 3, 4 and 5 got us closer to the formation of the Norman Bates we see in Psycho. While it was always implied that Norman’s blackouts were another personality taking over, season 4 gave us our first real glimpse of Mother taking over Norman. When Bradley dies, Norma isn’t represented as a figure alongside him. She literally embodies him. This is similar to a moment where Norman confronts his uncle, Caleb, in season 2, but Bradley’s death actually shows us Vera on camera in Freddie’s place.

Followed by Bradley’s death:

With Bradley’s death at the end of season 3, one of the worst actors in the show is removed and more importantly, we get closer to Psycho. Norma and Romero get married in season 4, starting off for financial purposes and then developing into real love. At this point, I wondered if Romero would be the lover that drives Norman to commit a double homicide.

Later in the season we find out that Norman doesn’t kill Romero and Norma at the same time, but mother dearest does meet death at her son’s hands. This was a change from the movie mythos but one change I did not expect was Norman’s death at the hands of his brother.

From the beginning I assumed that any character not referenced in Pyscho would be dead by the time the show ended. I imagined that Norman would remain the only main cast member alive, managing the motel by himself as the show ended. This theory got thrown out when a character from the original film, Marion Crane was introduced. Crane, the infamous 1960 shower victim, was the series’s biggest callback to the film. While Crane didn’t serve as the victim in the show, she still played a part in events that sent Norman into full on Psycho territory.

Crane is replaced by Sam Loomis, another person that I was very happy to be rid of.

As I mentioned in a previous post about Bates Motel,  I was happy the show didn’t use the iconic score from the film (good quality uploads are hard to find online). Episode 5.6 became one of my favourites simply for how it handled this scene and for all the possibilities it gave us in future episodes.

Like the movie, Norman has unearthed his mother’s body and brought it back home. He is starting to wear his mother’s clothes and wig when her personality takes over, and for a part of the season it looks like he might avoid punishment for any of his crimes. Norma’s downfall is all tied to a moment of self-awareness and empathy that allows him to confess to his crimes, forcing the police to look into the whereabouts of his victims. By the time Norma takes the reins again it is too late.

Romero dies, mainly because his grief causes him to turn his back on Norman. One of the toughest characters on the show ends up bludgeoned and shot by a kid who’s neck he should have snapped when he had the chance. It is actually my favourite character, Dylan, who ends up being the hero and delivers the biggest shock of the show.

Bates Motel branches off, carving its own path and killing off Norman Bates. Norman gets to be reunited with his mother, while Dylan is reunited with his family. While it was still sad to see Norman die, it was the only way to end his pain and to stop him from harming anyone else. If he was constrained to a mental institution away from his mother for the rest of his life, he would have been miserable. If he remained free, with periodic killings of any woman that “Mother” viewed as a threat, then other people would end up suffering.

The relationship between Dylan and Emma was strained following the confirmation that Norman killed Emma’s mom, but I was happy to see that they remained a couple. Perhaps it would be more realistic that Norman’s actions drove a wedge between them. Then again, it is not like Emma met Norman due to Dylan. It was the other way around. Dylan can’t be blamed for bringing Norman into their lives and he can’t be blamed for what Norman did. Norma is more to blame for refusing to get help for her son, but Emma’s visit to Norma’s grave shows that she still loves and respects Mother.

It’s been a long time coming but I am happy to wrap up one of the few shows that actually continued to get better with each season.

Jason Isaacs and Free Speech

I have previously discussed the phenomenon of people who don’t believe that celebrities are allowed to have opinions. Any political comment, whether it is in an interview or on social media, is derided as inappropriate and a breach of some supposed social contract.

I don’t despite this mindset simply because it has resulted in some actors I like being vehemently criticized. I despise this mindset because of the inherent hypocrisy in it.

The most recent example I will use is a tweet I came across from Jason Isaacs, who expertly called out a Star Trek fan who said his political views are alienating the Star Trek Fan base.

 

So here we see a fan who feels like Jason Isaac’s political views are affecting “the fan base”, which we can translate to “me”. This fan is not speaking out on behalf of others, he is speaking out on behalf of himself. Isaacs previously criticized Trump via tweets and retweets of anti-Trump videos, so this *whitegenocide believer felt the need to call Isaacs out. It is obvious that someone who repeatedly uses the hashtag #whitegenocide doesn’t believe in the value of diversity and is likely to support the President who said Mexico “doesn’t send its best” to America and who also wants to keep Muslims out. So, instead of saying that he disagrees with Isaac’s political views, this twitter user simply tries to say that entertainers as a whole are not allowed to express political opinions.

It looks like @Eye_of_Empire has deleted some of the tweets in the thread since, but his original response to Isaacs appealed to the principle of free speech. So after criticizing someone for exercising their free speech, this user says his comment is appropriate because it was his legal right. Isaacs has that legal right too. Fine, maybe you want to argue that Isaacs is an actor so it is different. It shouldn’t be. Actors are real people too, with their own fears, values and political beliefs.

The real question here is if @Eye_of_Empire would be as upset with Jason Isaacs if Isaacs repeatedly proclaimed his love for Trump and his belief in White Genocide. I doubt that would bother @Eye_of_Empire as much. The idea that actors shouldn’t have opinions is a smokescreen for “actors shouldn’t express views different from mine”. If I disagree with an actor’s political views I say that I disagree, I don’t pretend like my anger is about the principle of actors discussing politics.

I was tempted to pursue another topic for this post but I decided to continue with this one because the irony is a godsend. Diversity and acceptance have always been themes of Star Trek, where people of different races (human and alien) look past their differences and work together. Star Trek even has the distinction of having tv’s first interracial kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk in 1968. So we have this apparent longtime fan of the show who is disgusted by an actor who speaks out against the bigot in Chief. Welcome to America.

The Punisher Review

After introducing the character in season 2 of Daredevil, Netflix was kind enough to give us a series dedicated to war veteran Frank Castle. The Punisher was my favourite part of Daredevil‘s second season, with the script and Jon Bernthal’s performance helping to humanize the character while also showing how deadly he is.

Before I can review the series itself I have to mention one aspect of this Punisher’s origin that I had a problem with when it was first explained in season 2 of Daredevil. Depending on the line of comics, Frank Castle’s family is either murdered by the mob because they happened to witness a mob hit (e.g. Year One) or because they were collateral damage from a shootout between rival gangs in Central Park (e.g 2004 Punisher Max).

Daredevil reimagined their deaths as collateral damage that was due to a shootout, but a shootout that was the result of a failed sting by District Attorney Samantha Reyes. Frank’s story then became tied to a government cover-up that dominated the plot.

This season continues with more government cover ups, making the plot line seem somewhat stale in comparison to all the material that myself and other comic readers were hoping to see on screen. There are references or nods to characters and arcs from the Max and Year One comics, and we even get a version of Agent William Rawlins from the comics as well. However, anyone hoping for more than that may be disappointed. This is another rendition of The Punisher where the villains are tied intimately to his past, instead of offering a new threat. Now, on with the show.

After killing all of the gang members tied to the Central Park Massacre, Castle fashions a simple new life as construction worker, Pete Castiglione. Frank burns his Punisher vest early in the first episode, symbolizing the end of his war, but it is obvious something will drag him back in. The Punisher’s re-emergence is a short, but bloody and glorious fight that is enhanced with the accompanying music. Speaking of music, Tyler Bates did a masterful job for the show’s soundtrack and the show’s opening is narrowly beaten out by Daredevil’s in my opinion.

Like the first season, this season further explores Frank’s mental state and his view on the world. Like the comics, I am happy to see the show didn’t shy away from being political at times. Some people on YouTube, the bastion of online intellectual discourse, are complaining that the show should “stick to entertainment”. Firstly, these people don’t realize that all shows aren’t obligated to be mindless entertainment. Secondly, the “stay away from politics” talk is usually code for “don’t express views I disagree with”. Final point, people who complain about The Punisher being too political have clearly not read any of the comics.

Frank was a former soldier and the military does play a part in many of the 2004 Max comics. While Frank respects veterans as a whole for their service and sacrifice, he does not respect the institution of the military.

“Fighting for the people who run the world gets you stabbed in the back. You fight the wars they start and feed. You kill the monsters they create…. I’m not going back to war so colt can sell another million M-16s.”

Frank Castle- Punisher Max, Issue #4.

If you think this is a “liberal talking point” as someone else put it, then the character isn’t for you.

The season deals with issues ranging from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the US involvement in Afghanistan, just like some of the comics do. While Frank re-emerges as the Punisher, Homeland Agent Dinah Madani also begins digging into Frank Castle’s past as a way to investigate the death of a policeman she worked with while stationed in Afghanistan. “Agent Orange” also develops an interest in Castle since Castle was involved in an illegal military operation that a mysterious hacker named “Micro” has video evidence of.

Jon Bernthal joins the Marvel stable of actors who excel in their character’s skin. He is joined by a capable cast, with Micro (Ebon-Moss-Bachrach) being the standout since the relationship between the two forms the backbone of the story. In this continuity, Micro’s family is still alive but Micro was forced to fake his own death after being framed by Homeland Security. When Micro attempts to reach out to Frank, Frank finds Micro’s family as a way to gain leverage on him. The interactions between Frank and Micro’s wife, Sarah (Jaime Ray Newman) were interesting at first, since they both lost loved ones and bonded over that. Then the interactions continued, and included more screen-time from Sarah’s bratty son who is also one of the weakest actors in the show. A love triangle quickly developed and this entire subplot was one of my biggest gripes about the show. The chemistry on display between Frank and Karen Page was far better and didn’t leave me wanting to skip certain scenes.

Fortunately, this season also gives us some more memorable villians such as Billy Russo (Ben Barnes) and Lewis Wilson (Daniel Webber). Barnes’s role in Westworld showed that he can play a smug douche pretty well but he gets to do more with the script here, playing a friend turned foe who has profited off his evils.

The action itself integrates good hand-to-hand choreography (looking at you Iron Fist), gunfights and stealth kills that would make Batman proud. The fights weren’t actually that plentiful but the show does a great job of building the tension between the bursts of action (minus the Lieberman house visits).

Overall, I will rank the punisher third among all the Marvel Netfix seasons, behind Jessica Jones and Daredevil Season 1.

Current Ranking.

  1. Daredevil
  2. Jessica Jones
  3. The Punisher
  4. Daredevil Season 2
  5. The Defenders
  6. Luke Cage
  7. Iron Fist

Stranger Things Season 2 Review

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Following up on my YouTube review, it’s time to share a more in depth review of Stranger Things‘s second season.

Season 2 picks up almost a year after the first. The lab and the upside down are still active. The gang (almost called them the Losers Club) are moving on in the absence of Eleven, although Mike is still struggling with the concept. Will is still haunted by visions of the Upside Down and it soon becomes clear that his visions aren’t all in his head. Meanwhile, Eleven has returned but is confined to one of Hopper’s cabins, for her own safety.

As with season one, the performances are one of the show’s most consistent and powerful redeeming qualities. Winona Ryder and our new Hellboy, David Harbour, return stronger than ever but the kids (or teenagers) continue to shine here. Millie Bobby Brown deservedly gets a lot of attention for her role as Eleven in season 1. Although her lines were limited she was still able to convey great emotion.

In season 2, Hopper has been teaching Eleven more english so the character gets to be more verbally expressive. We still have the facial expressions and other cues from season 1 combined with a character arc that sees Eleven acting on her desire to be free. She has gone from a system with no freedom (the lab), to more freedom with friends, and now she must try to adjust to Hopper as a parental figure who is trying to protect her from men who still want to find her. The relationship between Hopper and Eleven is actually one of my favourite parts of this season and their fight in episode four is one of my favourite moments. It is a conflict where you can empathize with both characters. Eleven understands why she must be kept hidden but after almost a year she is wondering when she will finally be free, and vague declarations of “soon” start to wear thin. Meanwhile, Hopper realizes the danger she places them in by leaving the cabin. His attempts to discipline her are met with pushback that makes you realize how dangerous Eleven could be without a conscience.

 

Despite my love for Eleven, Noah Schapp steals the show here as Will. Although the first season revolved around Will’s disappearance, Will had few lines and relatively little screen time. Here, Will is truly part of the group. For lack of a better term, Will is possessed and his conflict with the monster inside him is a lynchpin of the plot but also allows him to shine. I don’t think people are exaggerating when they say he deserves an Emmy nomination.

Let’s move on to some of the show’s weaker points.

Episode seven, which focuses on Eight and her gang, gets a lot of hate and I can understand why. The episode comes after a cliffhanger in the previous episode, serving as a full 40 minute cutaway that takes us away from Hawkins and the approaching demo-dogs. Due to its timing, the episode can almost come across as filler. Filler is exactly what made me stop watching The Walking Dead. 

I don’t consider episode seven filler, but I must say that it would likely have been better received if Eight was mentioned or referenced a few more times before episodes six and seven. We see Eight in episode one and then she is pretty much MIA until episode seven. I liked the episode itself since it offered a great view of what Eleven could have become. Eight never found the same type of friends and family Eleven did. Eight found other outcasts who stay on the fringes of society, sticking to a limited circle either out of choice or necessity. Eight is guided purely by vengeance, while Eleven’s search was about finding family and getting closure.

Aside from the lesson of the episode I found the episode itself entertaining. I will say that Eight’s gang wasn’t as interesting as Eleven’s. Of course I could be biased since we don’t get as much time with them, but even for an episode the characterization seemed paper thin e.g. the big one, the crazy one etc.

I remember watching season 1’s sensory deprivation scene and thinking that Barb’s death was somewhat glossed over, “gone”. It was great to see the impact her death continues to have on Nancy and Barb’s parents. Barb’s death also provides the plot lynchpin for the group to attack the lab publicly, without having to mention the upside down or anything else that might make them look insane.

For the people who hated that Nancy and Steve stayed together at the end of season one, your prayers were answered this season. I was actually happy that Nancy and Steve were still together at the start of this season. It would have been far too cliched for Nancy to switch that quickly from the jock to the quiet, nerdy guy the jock picked on. Steve was a tool at times in season 1 but he proved himself to be a good person by the end of it. Season 2 gives Steve more heartbreak but also lets his character develop more. Like Will, he is one of the biggest benefactors of this season.

An even weaker point of this season?

Now, the Duffer Bros. said they wanted to introduce a new human villain who wasn’t connected to the lab. Okay, but I think this kind of conflict works best if it also drives the plot forward. For example, perhaps Eleven could have come across someone who begins to threaten her anonymity. Max and Billy’s actors are competent enough, but their impact on the plot is miniscule. The love triangle that started early on in the season between Max, Dustin and Lucas fizzled out pretty early. Billy’s conflict with Steve culminates in the fight at the house, and the ultimate outcome of that fight is that Steve is forced to escort the kids into the tunnels. Steve could have been forced into this some other way. Originally I thought that Max and Billy may be Soviet spies, since Cold War conflict was hinted at throughout the season. If season 3 offers no further revelations about their characters then it seems like their characters were truly random editions.

Their screen time also detracts from more screen time for other characters. Lucas was defined by his relationship with Max this season and it would have been nice to see more of the group together helping Will.

The climax wasn’t boring but I would actually argue that it wasn’t the season’s most exciting point. No main characters died throughout the show’s run so it was clear that Sean Astin’s Bob would likely be a red shirt. Sorry superhero.

Thankfully, Barb’s death was enough to get the lab shut down.

Although Joyce Byers has her boys back, looks like she still needs some luck with men.

Watching Hopper mow down demo-dogs was pretty awesome and Eleven’s brief moment of “flying” made me wonder if she’ll go full Neo in season 3.

We’ll see I guess.

While Max and Billy are proof that more is not always better, season 2 delivers for the most part. It builds on threads from the previous season, develops characters more, answers more questions, raises more questions, and offers more thrills.

Binge Missions

As I start my weekend I was sitting in front of my tv, with Netflix up, wondering what show to watch. In a way, I felt like Don Jon: so many choices making it hard or near impossible to pick something.

Pictured above: Me, but with clothes, I guess.

I have been meaning to finish season seven of Suits for months now, along with season five of Bates Motel. Then I got sidetracked by season (or series) 3 of Luther, which I finished watching this week. Now the question is do I move onto four or try to find more time for all the other shows I have already started, such as season 2 of Attack on Titan.

Not to mention the ones I have been meaning to start for a while now, such as Rick and Morty, because all my friends talk about it. Or Hemlock Grove because of Bill Skarsgard, who nailed his role as Pennywise the Clown in It. 

Let’s not forget all the movies I want to watch as well. My appetite for horror has increased after It and I now want to see Sinister and The Strangers.

All of these shows and movies only scratch the surface. I accept that this is a first world problem at it’s finest. I also accept that I simply can’t, or shouldn’t, make enough time to see all of them.

Who’s Triggered Here? The Jellies and Tyler, The Creator

A few days ago a friend tagged me in the below video.

The Jellies! SDCC Panel

She asked. Tyler the Creator answered. The Jellies! coming soon to Adult Swim.

Posted by Adult Swim on Tuesday, July 25, 2017

 

This video is from a Comic-Con panel for “The Jellies”, an upcoming adult swim show that Tyler, The Creator is producing and starring in as Cornell, a human adopted by jellyfish. “The Jellies” was previously featured on Tyler’s “Golf Media” app, but will now see its debut on television later this year. The original app version of the show featured a white Cornell, and a fan asks (on behalf of her boyfriend) why Cornell is black in the adult swim show.

 

I do have some of Tyler’s songs on my phone, but can’t say that I am a huge fan by any means. These words aren’t the words of a fanboy. These are the words of someone surprised by how calm and articulate Tyler The Creator was in his response. He first challenges the fan to provide him with the names of five main black cartoon characters from shows that are currently airing. No sidekicks, no comic relief. Just black main characters on mainstream television. The fan can’t do it, and I am pretty sure her boyfriend wouldn’t be able to either. From what I understand, Cornell being white was not an important part of his identity in the show. As long as he is human, Cornell’s story, personality and struggles will be the same. The character is not ruined by changing his race. In Cornell, Tyler saw a chance to create a black main character who was not an athlete, a sidekick or comic relief.

Tyler’s response is perfect and also helps to illustrate the double standard concerning race-change that I have talked about repeatedly in my Youtube videos and on this blog. If a character is white-washed, regardless of how important their ethnicity was in the source material, then people argue that we should focus on talent or story, and not race. Anyone who disagrees is labelled a “libtard,” “race-baiter” or the more popular term, “social justice warrior”. If a character is “blackwashed”, then people are no longer “colour-blind”.  The real issue is that people just have a problem seeing more colour on screen. In America, white is considered universal. It often becomes the default.

When you read a novel, what race do you assume the character is? Obviously the author’s race might give you a preconception, especially if the author is known for writing characters of a certain race, or if the publishing house focuses on characters of a certain demographic etc.

Let’s pretend the author is unknown. You don’t know their name or race, and have no indication of what these things could be. The book uses generic descriptions for the character. It does not tell you the character’s name, doesn’t describe their hairstyle, skin tone, nationality, etc. You know the protagonist lives in a multicultural city, that is mostly white, but that is the closest indicator you get to race. You know the protagonist is tall and thin, that is it. What race do you assume?

For many people in America (or Canada in my case), the default is white. In China, the default would likely be to assume the character is Chinese. Even though I am black, I have found myself assuming the character is white unless there is some hint provided they are likely not, such as a description of dark skin or the reveal that they are of Chinese descent. My most recent example was “American Gods”, where I assumed the main character, Shadow, was white until a prison guard asked him if he “had nigger blood in him”. Shadow’s skin is also described as “brown” later in the book.  This made it clear the character might not be black, but likely wasn’t white either.

Like me, many other people do this as well. My point? When white becomes a default, it is easier to view anything else as subversive, “forced” or “politically correct”.

If the Facebook comments are any indication, people will be quick to rattle off a list of black characters and actors in an attempt to shut down Tyler’s argument. Many of these examples will list characters that are not main characters, or list shows that are cancelled or currently not on the air. This makes it clear that people’s comprehension skills are poor or that they likely rushed to the comments before finishing the video.

Even if people manage to list five characters they don’t realize the larger point Tyler is making. They don’t realize what a small percentage all these figures account for. Blacks are over 10% of the population in America, and their representation (especially positive representation) in American film and tv comes nowhere close to reflecting this. As I’ve discussed before, this is also not due to a shortage of talented or aspiring black actors.  More obscure actors aren’t coming out of nowhere for productions like Luke Cage, Black Panther, Straight Outta Compton and The Get Down. They have been waiting for their chance to get a good role. They have been waiting for their chance for the representation that triggers the people who preach about being colour-blind.

Black Mirror: Men Against Fire

Note: I was out of the country for the past week, with limited wi-fi. I am back in Canada now but my schedule will still be busier than normal, likely until the end of August. With that said, I will still do my best to post three times a week.

Also, this piece has spoilers for “Men Against Fire”.

When I started watching “Men Against Fire” I thought it would end up on the bottom half of Black Mirror. The acting was some of the weakest the show’s given us in a while and I initially didn’t find the characters or the world as enthralling as the ones in preceding episodes. Initially, the story was about marines with hi-tech equipment killing zombies. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi and zombie stories but the plot was a sharp contrast to the previous episodes. However, I figured that if I can watch an episode about a man being blackmailed to have sex with a pig, I can give this episode a chance.

The end of some episodes were disappointing, such as “Playtest”, which was dulled by numerous fake-outs throughout the episode. Other preceding episodes also have great ending, especially “White Christmas” and “Shut Up and Dance”. However, those endings were paired with episodes that I found enthralling and entertaining from start to finish. The endings were brilliant, but they only helped to immortalize amazing episodes. “Men Against Fire” might rank as my favourite ending (last 20 minutes) simply due to its ability to elevate what came before it.

“Roaches”, the pale, humanoid monsters that the soldiers eliminate turn out to be humans. Their MASS implants limit their sense of smell and hearing, drowning out the smells and sounds of war. Michael Kelly is a stand out on House of Cards as Doug Stamper, and is also a stand out here as Arquette, the psychologist who shares the twisted truth with “Stripe”. As always with Black Mirror the technology itself isn’t the most interesting part of the story; the most interesting part is the human behaviour it highlights.

Arquette uses the statistic that only 15-20% of men fired their rifles at the enemy in World War II, even when under the threat of immediate danger. Although this statistic is hotly debated, a comment on this page did add that most deaths in the world wars came from artillery fire: long-range, impersonal attacks that avoided the Rambo-esque hacking and shooting of close quarters combat.  Scholarly books such as Denis Winter’s Death Men also assert that most military deaths came from artillery fire, especially during advances.

“Men Against Fire” gets more interesting after a roach shines a laser into Stripe’s eyes. It was obvious that the laser must have some impact on the plot, when Stripe’s senses were affected after being exposed to it. When Hunter and Stripe raid an apartment building there is also a blueprint of the laser in the roach nest. Some online discussion shows that plenty of people say they saw the twist coming, and then also argue that the episode is poor because of that. I have to say that a predictable twist doesn’t have to bring down an episode if it is executed well. I thought I saw a twist coming, but I actually misinterpreted what it was.

Although the roaches appearance is terrifying, you realize that they didn’t initiate an attack in the first raid. Their first instinct is to run, and the sniper who kills squad leader Medina is an exception, probably because the soldiers are closing in on their refuge. The roaches weren’t depicted as the mindless predators we’re familiar with from zombie films. They seemed like mutants trying to live peacefully. The characters frequently mention a global war that passed, and I thought the roaches were the offspring of radiation from that war. For that reason, I thought the laser was a device that was meant to make them only appear normal to others, before they were mutated.  I had an inverse understanding of the twist until it was revealed. The roaches weren’t trying to make Stripe see them as they used to be, they wanted Stripe to see him as they are.

“You see me.”: The words of a refugee on the run from a genocidal society, relieved someone finally sees her as human. The military might be the ones killing the roaches, but the general public are brainwashed to see the roaches as literal monsters. Civilians don’t have MASS implants, the roaches are just other humans to them. However, they are humans that threaten the strength and purity of humanity’s bloodline. Arquette lists a range of defects present in the roaches, from higher susceptibility to diseases, to sexual deviancy and criminal tendencies. Arquette’s speech has all the cornerstones of eugenics and racism, and Trump’s comments on hispanics sadly mirror some of the ideas that criminality is ingrained in certain people.

In the aftermath of the war, one side went through great trouble to dehumanize the other. Cockroaches or “roaches” is what the Hutus called the Tutsis leading up to the Rwandan genocide, and even more recently used by a British politician to refer to refugees. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same term is used here. Dehumanization is a key part of genocide, birthed from propaganda that makes it easier for law-abiding civilians to engage in or support violence against the other. Civilians won’t even touch the food the roaches touched simply because they don’t want to get contaminated by a lesser breed.

“Men Against Fire” transitions from a war movie, to a piece that delves into the dark corner of the human psyche where prejudice reins supreme. As Stripe stands alone outside a dilapidated, graffiti-stained house, he sees a beautiful woman waiting to welcome him to their home. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many other soldiers in this army had their memories wiped after they found out the truth.

Black Mirror: White Christmas

Picking a favourite episode of Black Mirror is a challenge. “The Waldo Moment” and “The National Anthem” aren’t contenders but there are plenty others, ranging from “Shut Up and Dance”, “Be Right Back”, to “The Entire History of You”. Among this list is “White Christmas”, which after careful consideration, I will have to say edges out the competition.

Like my post on “The Entire History of You“, I don’t want to focus on the plot itself. Black Mirror‘s central thesis is that technology can have corrosive effects on how humans interact with one another and I want to focus on how that is displayed here.

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) is undoubtedly a highlight of the episode, a character who is both charming and repulsive at the same time. The more vile aspects of his character emerge as his story unfolds. His past-life as a wannabe dating guru seems somewhat harmless at first. As a lanky film geek, I’d probably be an easy target for his services. However, it only takes a few seconds to realize that his real-time coaching is a grave invasion of privacy. Aside from the simple act of watching, Trent’s technology (referred to as the Z-Eye) also provides him with face recognition software he can use to research anyone his clients come in contact with, allowing him to feed any pertinent information to a party crasher. It gets only worse when we realize all of the members of his class share in their peers’ experiences, including any luck they get with unsuspecting women. The date that lands Trent in legal trouble also reminds me of the few I’ve had: promising starts with catastrophic endings.

It was great to see Oona Chaplin in another role, after seeing her for the first time in Taboo. She was undoubtedly a weak link on Taboo but does a better job here, portraying Greta, a wealthy woman about to undergo surgery. Prior to her surgery, a digital copy or “cookie” of Greta is created.

This cookie is intended to control Greta’s smart house, serving the rest of its “life” performing functions such as regulating heat and displaying Greta’s schedule. As expected the cookie is reluctant to spend its life this way, but Matt’s job is to make it compliant. By manipulating the time settings in the cookie’s digital world, he is able to make the cookie “live” for months at a time, stuck in a white room with nothing but a control panel. The room itself is only a projection within the cookie, but it is Greta’s prison now.

One of the characters, “Joe” remarks that this is slavery, but Trent believes it isn’t since the cookie isn’t a real being. I have to agree with Joe on this. Any sci-fi story that deals with the issue of consciousness, with Ex-Machina being a recent example, raises the question of what makes a being conscious and the morality of keeping a conscious being captive.

Is Greta’s cookie a conscious being? Matt doesn’t think so, because she’s just a string of code. However, if we analyze consciousness the way it is analyzed in Ex-Machina, then we understand that the components of a being don’t define its eligibility for consciousness. In Ex-Machina, Caleb argues that one of the central tests for consciousness is the “chess” question. A chess computer knows the game of chess and can make good plays, but can it describe what chess is? Does it even know what chess is? Simulation vs consciousness.

This cookie, from what we understand, is mentally no different than the person it was spawned from. We see it panicking as it is extracted from Greta and Matt has to explain the nature of its creation and its assigned purpose. Essentially, a copy of Greta’s mind was grafted and planted into a different environment. Until Matt explained what she was, she thought she was a conscious human being. She may be just code, but consciousness isn’t about matter, it’s about thought.

Although the cookie is the most advanced technology we see in the episode, it is actually not what interests me most. We are probably all familiar with ghosting, the act of ending a relationship with someone by cutting off all communication without explanation. Ghosting is usually discussed in the context of romantic relationships, but can apply to anyone. Someone decides to end the relationship, but decides that they want to avoid the difficult decision, call or text required for that. Instead, they simply cut off the other person. Ghosting preceded technology such as phones and computers, and some may see it is just a new name for something old. However, I believe technology makes it easier to become disconnected from other people. We don’t have to move or  shred letters, we can unfollow, delete or block with a click. Ghosting is convenient for people who have become accustomed to hiding behind screens when they interact. It is spineless and immature, and technology only makes it easier.

When “Joe” confronts his wife about her pregnancy, she is quick to block him. She doesn’t do this on her phone or some app, she blocks his entire body using the technology her world has to offer. She sees nothing but a grey silhouette where he stands and can only hear muffled static when he speaks. When Matt’s wife is confronted with the truth of his actions, she elects to do the same thing. The people who would have previously gone for a walk or tried to avoid their spouse, instead of contronting an issue, can now feel free to block someone’s entire body. The current level of cowardice that we see doesn’t prove effective if you’re likely to see someone again at work, school etc. With the capability to block someone as we see in “White Christmas”, the ghosted may be able to see you but they can’t interact with you. When Joe confronts his wife, after she blocks him, she only walks away and then proceeds to file a restraining order. Blocking becomes legally binding and the argument that you simply wanted to be able to confront someone directly doesn’t protect you. The authorities take the side of someone who decided to block her husband because he insisted on discussing their baby with her.

I have no doubt that authorities would defend this behaviour. Ghosting is already on the rise. Find any article online that discusses it, and allows comments. You will find plenty of people criticizing the practice, but you will also find many supporting it for one reason or another. All of the positive reasons boil down to “It’s easier for me (or both of us)”. Article after article will tell you that people who get ghosted may be able to deal with a relationship ending, but hate the way that their partner decided to do it. Blocking takes ghosting to an almost sadistic level.

Speaking of sadism, “White Christmas” gives us another twisted ending. Once Joe confesses that he murdered his ex-wife’s father, the authorities decide to tamper with the time settings. Each minute becomes 1000 years to Joe’s cookie, leaving him trapped in a projection of the cabin where he committed murder. We’re already living in a society where policemen have killed civilians for a thrill, I can definitely believe law enforcement officials would take a little glee in messing with someone they view as a lowly criminal. Even better, I can believe they would punish a sex offender with not being able to interact with anyone for the rest of his life.

13 Reasons Why (Spoiler Free) Review

As I’ve said on my Instagram, I normally avoid high school shows like the plague.

  1. The acting is normally terrible
  2. The plots are normally very formulaic and focus far too much on love stories.

For those reasons I was hesitant to watch 13 Reasons Why. Aside from its constant promotion on Netflix I was actually most motivated to watch it due to Dylan Minnette, who was one of the highlights of Don’t Breathe. I figured that if he was in it, there would at least be one good actor in the film. Additionally, the subject matter is of personal interest to me.

I have not read the book that the series is based on so I can’t compare it to the source material, although the show follows the book pretty closely from what I understand. The story revolves around Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a high school sophomore who commits suicide. After her death, a friend begins distributing 13 tapes (recorded on 7 cassettes) Each tape contains Hannah’s perception of one high school colleague, who each serve as one of her reasons for committing suicide. The story is told from the point of view of Hannah’s  friend, Clay Jensen (Minnette).

Firstly, the acting was a pleasant surprise from all parties. I expected Minnette to be great, but every major cast member delivers. Some are stronger than others, but none of the actors came across as weak in my opinion, which was a pleasant surprise. Perhaps my standards were set too low since I didn’t expect much from the show, only rewatching will tell.

Another thing I loved about the show is that it does not shy away from all the rationalizations that are normally used to defend or downplay bullying and the suicide that sometimes results from it. Throughout the series different characters say that Hannah was far too emotional, too dramatic, or that the bullying she faced was no different than what other high school kids go through. Even Clay, who is portrayed as Hannah’s best friend at the time of her death, calls her out on her dramatic tendencies at one point.

The act of suicide and the tapes are clear signs that Hannah had some mental issues, but we also see Hannah’s behaviour through flashbacks. Some of her classmates deserve to be on the tapes far more than others. There are cases where she takes things too personally, where she lashes out. While some of the acts committed against Hannah are unquestionably cruel, some people may still argue that someone mentally stronger wouldn’t have committed suicide. Hannah isn’t portrayed as perfect or right in what she did, and I think that makes her character better. We see a conflicted person whose high school experience was tainted with numerous bad experiences, and let those experiences get the best of them.

The show has received some criticism for its portrayal of mental illness, specifically targeting the idea that more kindness can help someone who may have serious mental issues. To be fair, some of the acts Hannah experienced could not have been counteracted by a little more kindness. However, it is also true that many people who seemingly have numerous reasons to be happy still commit suicide. With that said, this criticism isn’t enough to ruin or diminish the show.

The show has also led to controversy over its graphic depiction of sexual assault and Hannah’s suicide.People who have contemplated suicide have been advised to avoid the show since it may encourage them to pursue suicide. It is true that Hannah does get more attention and sympathy after her death, but 13 Reasons Why isn’t afraid to call out the disingenuous attention someone’s suicide bestows on them. Clay Jensen does that masterfully below.

Additionally, Hannah’s death is not portrayed as a glamorous exit from her troubles. As someone who watches and writes violent material, I still found the suicide scene very hard to watch. A big part of my discomfort is that Hannah’s actions represent the actions of numerous other people. She hesitates before she does it. She is scared to press the needle to her skin and cries in pain when she finally does. There is no music, no ambient sound to distract from her pained cries. Things only get worse when her parents find her. Selena Gomez, who serves as an executive producer, was apparently in consideration for Hannah. I am very grateful that didn’t happen. Hannah is the central focus of the show and a weak actor in this role would have brought everything else to ruin.

There are two other scenes that are also hard to watch but I am glad that the show gave us an unflinching view of the horrors that can afflict teenaged girls, and the effect it can have on one who is already coping.

Throughout the series, Hannah’s flashbacks continue to fill in temporal gaps and ultimately complete a puzzle that connects all of the main characters. Characters we hate become characters we like, and vice versa. Just like real life, people’s true colours can contrast with the image the image they present publicly, creating figures whose two-faced nature makes it easy for them to say that Hannah’s tapes are full of lies.

From what I have looked up, the show has received some criticism for its pace. Clay doesn’t listen to the tapes in one sitting, generally going piecemeal throughout the series. However, I believe that this makes sense given his character. Clay is initially reluctant to listen to the tapes at all, not wishing to relive the pain of his friend’s death. He only becomes more invested in the tapes once they reveal truths that everyone else wishes to suppress. The other people on the tapes all take an active role in ensuring that the tapes stay buried, hoping Clay doesn’t go public with them. Although the tapes have questionable legal power all of the accused realize life will be easier if they remain buried.

13 Reasons Why is one of my favourite shows of the year and I am eager to see where season 2 leads.

The OA Ending Thoughts

Note: Obviously there will be spoilers for the entire series below. 
Between catching up on Suits, and following several ongoing series I was reluctant to add another show to my list. However, a friend recommended The OA numerous times since they knew that I write science-fiction (The OA straddles sci-fi and fantasy).

I didn’t look up any reviews before I eventually decided to start watching. I was relieved to see the show only had one season, meaning the time investment wouldn’t be as detrimental as some other series that I’ve been recommended (I’m looking at you Community).

The OA did have some moments of relatively slow pacing but I didn’t notice the slower pace since the show began on an interesting note. Knowing that the main protagonist came back from a seven year disappearance with the ability to see drew me in, and made me patient for the buildup. This is in contrast to shows like True Detective (season one) where the actors and rave reviews made me willing to wait for the payoff.

Since The OA had a relatively slow build, and left a lot of questions unanswered going into the finale I hoped that the ending would give us a strong sendoff. I don’t mind ambiguous endings, with Inception being one of my favourites, but this is one ending that definitely leaves some questions. A second season is confirmed so I am sure more answers will be forthcoming, but I still wanted to share my thoughts on the ending of season 1.

Throughout the season, there is no real proof that the story Prairie is sharing is entirely true. Of course, we see the events, but we could only be seeing Khatun, the captives and the NDE’s through Prairie’s own warped perspective. Similar to how we see most of Fight Club through on character’s warped perspective. The audience and the five are likely to believe Prairie due to the miraculous nature of Prairie’s reappearance and the restoration of her eyesight. One miracle makes us willing to accept others.

Leading up the final scene, it appears Prairie fabricated most of the events she shared about her disappearance. The movements, the other captives, all appear to be figments of her imagination. Her greatest companion, Homer, appears to have been dreamed up from a copy of Homer’s Iliad. Prairie also has books on angels and near death experiences, forming the backbone of the story.

The last scene involving the school shooting was all foreshadowed with one line from the Sheriff’s wife, which Prairie and Homer helped to heal of her ALS. After giving them the fifth movement, the wife remarks it “will save their lives”. Prairie then passes this onto the five, and they all understand what must be done when the shooter traps them in the cafeteria.

Up until this point, the movements were somewhat odd to say the least. The movements themselves reminded me of a haka but the added vocalizations, such as the hissing and spitting, added an extra air of “What am I watching”? However, all of that vanishes in this scene. The tension built up to that point, and the music all make the final performance of the movements an epic moment.

Of course, the movements themselves don’t do anything. They provide a distraction and still fulfill the promise indirectly. This moment made me wonder if there was some truth to Prairie’s story, specifically her kidnapping by Hap and the existence of Homer and the other captives. This appears to be the reason why the five, Steve especially, gain new belief in The OA when she is being carted off on the ambulance. It looks like Prairie’s life may not be saved, but the lives of her new friends, the other angels were saved. Additionally, Prairie’s collision with the one stray bullet strikes me as exceptionally bad luck, or a fortuitous NDE that will allow her to leave Earth and be reunited with Homer and the others in another dimension. Hence Steve’s plea of “Take me with you”.

Prairie addresses Homer in the very last scene of the season, but yet again if her mind is warped then she will see whatever she wants to see.

The books may have been ones she collected after her incident as a means of gathering information on her new reality and a sense of kinship with her missing friends. However, given what happened before, it looks like season 2 will shed more light on the fact that Prairie is not insane and that her story truly did happen, either in part or in whole.

The ending left me staring at the screen hoping another episode would begin soon, but I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. It can be a sign of something rushed or sloppy, but in this case I think it is a sign of something intriguing that is yet to be finished.