Look, folks, do you really think the V remake is anti-Obama propaganda? Does it not seem slightly more likely that the idea of lovely alien visitors who promise universal healthcare is just, well, the result of a heavy hand on the part of the show's creators, who are beating the audience about the head with Timely and Important Commentary on Life, the Universe and Everything?
But wait â€” I'm getting ahead of myself. There's one thing the new V definitely is, and that's getting off on a slightly wobbly foot. The premiere didn't waste any time: By the end of the hour, we know for sure that the aliens are reptilian under their borrowed human skin, and that they're not the nice, giving, slightly creepy but generally harmless visitors their leader, the gorgeous Anna (Firefly's Morena Baccarin), claims they are. They've got sleeper cells all over the world! They're making passports and torturing humans and violently breaking up meetings of those who disagree with them!
V really wants to be relevant. Like, really, really relevant. So relevant they went a few steps too far, at least for me. Right away, a plane falls out of the sky in New York City, its pilot limply parachuting down behind. And did I miss a caption, or did the visitors arrive on a Tuesday â€” a gorgeous, warm fall Tuesday? Thanks, guys. Your 9/11 references weren't obvious enough already. Like virtually everyone has pointed out, Battlestar Galactica had a lot of post-9/11 relevance. It also had a reasonable degree of elegance, and sometimes a dollop of subtlety. V is opting to take the broader route, the more familiar route, the simplified route. It's a little weird how straightforward and simple this show seems, coming from the same network that gives us the puzzle that is Lost.
But all isn't aggravating or lost. Sure, the harsh camera angles are disconcerting (though I've got a bit of a theory about the sharp, strange angles, which often result in eerie eye-lights that glimmer narrowly in characters' otherwise impenetrable eyes: Lizard Cam!), and some of the dialogue is downright leaden. Did they actually make Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost's fantastic Juliet), as suspicious FBI agent Erica, deliver a clichÃ©-riddled few lines about how her son must be running off to hang out with the Vs because his father left? Yes. Yes, they did.
But Mitchell rises above (as does the eerily calm Baccarin, and Morris Chestnut as Ryan Nichols, a man whose past is rapidly catching up to him). Mitchell can deliver even the tiniest line with wit and humor; listen to the many layers she gives to the word "No" when her partner (Alan Tudyk) asks if he can drive. In one word, she illuminates the relationship between them, the power structure, the familiarity. Even with the clunky, exposition-heavy lines, she gives Erica a down-to-earth quality that contrasts nicely with Baccarin's alien beauty, the boyish greed of Scott Wolf's hungry reporter, Chad Decker, and the bland blandness of her son, Tyler (Logan Huffman), who meets a hot V and is totally sold on their message of love and giving and connection and, y'know, taking over the world and such. Like io9's commenter, I would like the show to hurriedly throw Tyler under a bus, but I doubt we're going to get that wish: He's got to stick around to add some extra drama to Erica's newfound role as a V resister, and to court the youth vote â€” er, I mean, the younger viewers.
I think there's enough here to make V worth watching, but it feels like watered-down sci-fi, layered with familiar images as if the creators hope that will make it more palatable to a non-genre viewer. The speed with which the pilot zipped through the introductory material was interesting â€” there's no uncertainty as to whether these aliens are in fact reptilian and murderous â€”Â and it means we can dive right into the resistance and, hopefully, some character-building. More badass space technology, less whiny teenagers, OK?
The number of things I haven't found time to blog about in the last few months â€” hey, it's Best of Eugene, and a girl only has so many hours in the week! â€” is nearing moderately frightful but not yet epic proportions. I think it's time for a Catch-All Catch-Up Post. It's cleansing for one and all! And when it's over, I can feel free to write about Wordstock and the men's basketball team without guilt!
Three days of music and debauchery! OK, mostly music. The last night of the fest, we loved The Brunettes, with their delicate and quirky percussion â€” at one point in a song, there was a sort of round of percussion that involved more tiny clicking and clacking instruments than I can remember â€” sweet harmonies and generally grand use of the kind of expansive instrumentation that makes the stage look like a third-grade music classroom exploded in the general vicinity. The levels of sheer charm were through the roof.
We tried to watch Youth Group next, but after the Brunettes, they felt a little plain, and the delicious cocktails at Clyde Common were calling to us. Intermission, with French fries!
And then there was The Get Up Kids' show. I'm not sure there are many other people still willing to admit their love for the Get Up Kids, but I'm one of 'em, even if the band did play "Mass Pike" like it was the musical equivalent of an ex who shows up at a party and who you're supposed to be "friends" with â€” but you really just don't want to be in the same room with the person, out of some squirrelly blend of residual love and maybe embarrassment that you once felt like you did.
It's an emo band, OK? I can use tangled relationship metaphors. I should use tangled relationship metaphors.
After that show, we watched Frank Blank for a minute, but there'd been some confusion in the program about whether the show would be Frank Black or Grand Duchy, and the hopes were for Grand Duchy. Sorry, Frank. And sorry, Beach House, whose gorgeous compositions, while swoony â€” the way "Gila" goes from a moody "Oh, oh, oh" into an uplifting and unintelligible wash of vocals nearly gives me goosebumps â€” had a weirdly hollow feeling. Or maybe that was just us, tired and sore-footed. We'll try again next time.
MusicfestNW is awesome.
Earlier in the fall â€” which is, at the moment, pretending to be summer, but I'm not fooled â€” I read two very different books by Oregon authors, but never had the chance to review them in the paper:
Tattoo Machine by Jeff Johnson (Speigel & Grau, $25) is subtitled Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life In Ink. Are there actually any tall tales here? Hard to say. Johnson, as the Mercury put it, "writes like he isn't afraid of being arrested." His stories of life in a Portland tattoo shop are bawdy, speckled liberally with horrifically colorful images (and equally colorful language) and, despite his tendency to front like a certain kind of badass, keenly observed and funny as shit. Things I learned from Johnson include the meaning of the word "flash," which tattoos are best for covering other tattoos, and various bits of tattoo-world slang that's so specific, I kind of felt like Johnson was telling secrets. His anecdotes are sometimes about customers (the more batshit, the better) and sometimes about himself (ditto), but there's a gruffness to his voice that seems built of equal parts pragmatism, genuine warmth and a particular kind of storytelling that's part one-upsmanship and part enjoyment of the weird forms life takes. Johnson does tend to write about women like we're actually some strange other species, but if you just take that as part of his schtick, it gets less distracting.
The Bell at Sealey Head is by Oregonian fantasy writer extraordinaire Patricia A. McKillip, whose books I've been reading since I was pretty small. Her stories often feel familiar, like I've heard them before, dressed up in other trappings or wrapped in a careful disguise. This one takes place in a seaside town, Sealey Head, where a bell tolls with the sunset each night. To Gwyneth, a merchant's daughter, the bell is a source of endless inspiration for stories, which she shares with her siblings and with Judd Cauley, who's taken over his family's inn since his father lost his sight. Their town is small, and most everyone knows everyone else, from the horse-obsessed suitor who's after Gwyneth's hand to the old lady in Aislinn House, a decaying place on the edge of town that has a pretty interesting secret.
And then a stranger comes to town: Ridley Dow, a scholar who wants to solve the mystery of the tolling bell. Naturally, his presence stirs all kinds of things up; naturally, McKillip winds his tale in with the strands of Judd's life in the inn, Gwyneth's life as a writer and the life of a maid in Aislinn House who's more familiar with the building's secrets than most. Sealey Head is a lovely read, written with McKillip's reliably graceful, gentle and image-laden prose, but it feels a bit slight and a bit familiar. The layers of story, and Gwyneth's variations on the story of the bell, are nicely pieced together, but at the end, when story becomes more important than ever, the book seems to simply settle into a quiet finale without binding all the pieces together into a satisfying whole. It's a bit of a trifle, this one, not as touching or as deep as McKillip can be when she's at her enticing, engrossing best.
GODDAMMIT, DOLLHOUSE. Let's talk about your failings, shall we?
Oh, Joss Whedon.
See, last week I was going to write a post called "Dollhouse is Not Going to Hold Your Hand Anymore." It was going to be a post about how the show's season premiere, while it didn't live up to the fantastic potential of the first season's unaired 13th episode, "Epitaph One," had a lot of promise. It pretty much threw the viewers into the river and expected that we could damn well figure out how to swim â€”Â a tactic that works for some of us, who like having to work out what's changed, what's the same and which direction we might be headed in this time. Things had clearly progressed without us, and Whedon and his team expected us to keep up.
Where we seemed to be: Echo (Eliza Dushku) is remembering things, kind of. Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is working for the 'house â€” kind of. Everyone's a little suspicious and rattled, especially Dr. Saunders, the active also/once known as Whiskey (Amy Adams), whose grasp on herself and reality was gradually turning fragile.
The episode's basic plot was a mostly throwaway thing involving an arms dealer (another Battlestar Galactica alum, Jamie Bamber), but it still mattered in that it showed us that Ballard was somehow working for the Dollhouse while being a client â€” being paid in Echo's time, maybe? Things, this episode showed, are tangled and complicated, particularly where Dr. Saunders is concerned; she's having strange conversations with Boyd (Harry Lennix) one minute, and scaring the shit out of the creepy genius Topher (Fran Kranz) the next. She's falling apart. And then she's gone.
It was the scene with Saunders and Topher that had me; she's so cracked, so lost, so trying to form her own world out of the one he, as the Dollhouse's programmer, has given her. And she's aware but not; she knows she's not Dr. Saunders, but she doesn't know, or want to know, who she is. This one dark, incredibly strong scene managed to pack all the show's weirdness about identity and malleability and power and control and half a dozen other things into precise bits of dialogue between two characters who clearly could use some more exploring.
It was so promising. It was so complicated. And then it was over, and Saunders was driving away â€” Acker on the way to Happy Town, though I think she's supposed to be back later this season. The premiere dropped in one interesting scene with a well-intentioned senator, Daniel Perrin (Alexis Denisof, from Whedon's Buffy and Angel), who wants to figure out what the deal is with the Rossum corporation, the Dollhouse's parent company, so we've got a new guy outside the house to balance out Ballard's involvement within. It all worked, in a slightly uncomfortable and appealing way.
And then there was tonight's episode, "Instinct," which put us right back at monster-of-the-week-with-a-small-side-dish-of-intrigue.
What's that saying? Oh, right: Better late than never. Listen, I've been thinking about this series' ending for a month. Solid. OK, not solid. But a lot. It's a triumph of bleakness, and that's kind of putting it lightly. Shall we talk about it, fellow BBC-watchers?
It's time to just suck it up and accept that it does not matter if I feel like the entire internet has had its say about the last two days of Torchwood: Children of Earth. I am not the entire internet! And I still have thoughts! They're just delayed, is all.
And of course there are plenty of spoilers. Click here and read further at your own risk!
I watched, I didn't weep, I got a little choked up, I have a lot to say â€”Â but I had all kinds of Things that needed doing the last few days, so I'm a bit behind. And I watched Day Four and Day Five pretty much one after the other, so they're a touch blurry. But I'm working on it.
Your Torchwood posts, they shall return. In the meantime, if anybody wants to talk about it, I'm here for you, man. We could probably all use a good heart-to-heart after that.
Well, that was kind of intense. Shall we talk about it? Let's.
It's a little funny that I was just discussing Torchwood's "adult" content levels, given that Day Two gives us entirely naked Jack. (And to think I just read a quote from John Barrowman about eventually getting his kit off.) It's not quite as hot as it might sound, though. Mostly, it's rather unpleasant. But let me tuck this all behind a spoiler cut. (For an introduction to Torchwood and my thoughts on Day One, look here.)