TWD Season 7: When Negan Comes Around

the-walking-dead-season-5-trailerRecently, I read TWD viewing is somehow associated with political party, with the prevailing thought being that Republicans like the show and Democrats don’t. Then, I read an article about how the show is actually an embodiment of fascism. I don’t agree with this at all.

First, this article is one of many; others go down different paths, assigning political values and mores to TWD.  This assigning of a particular value system to the TV show is limiting. For instance, I am a democrat and prior to season 7 (and with the exception of Live Bait, the episode where Phillip Blake wanders around for what seemed like ten, boring years), I thought the show was pretty good. I know plenty of folks who watch TWD AND Game of Thrones.  I definitely don’t agree that Talking Dead exists only to “teach [me] how to praise the show“. Talking patronizing, Sean Collins, should be everyone’s response to that bit of nonsense in your article. My beef with Sean Collins’s article, beyond his condescension, is that calling everyone, every TV character or movie show that you don’t like, “fascist” undermines when there is a real fascist to worry about.  That type of criticism also doesn’t make sense because we can’t really apply our own ideas about governance, in relatively peaceful times, to this situation. I mean, Negan is awful (not Jeffrey Dean Morgan — I like him and he’s doing the best he can with what is arguably a terrible character and not just because Negan’s a murderous asshole). But, Negan is still trying to survive in an actual crisis, not just a “crisis” in the way in which we use the word (My hair is flat! It’s a CRISIS! It took me four hours to get home from the gym! It’s a CRISIS!). So, calling the actions of these survivors fascist or republican or any modern conception of politics doesn’t fit into the circumstances of the show.

Just because I don’t think that the show is some vehicle for fascism doesn’t mean that I don’t have a critique of the show. I do. But my critique has to do with the show based on its own set of rules, keeping with some level of verisimilitude. I’m currently reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, and this book has a much more sensible approach to presenting how society will react to the end of the world, and, like TWD, it doesn’t stray away from violence. Stephenson makes a key point in this book that is really proving to be a fatal flaw of TWD– when the end of the world comes, we will protect women, not out of chivalry, but out of the need for survival. After all, it takes men 2 minutes to create more life, and one man can create many lives. It takes women at minimum 40 weeks, and they typically create one life at a time. And, real survival comes not from having a cool horse painting, but from having CHILDREN.

giphyWhich is where Negan comes in. TWD has set up one strongman, badman antagonist after another. Each of them has had a reckless disregard for human life (Shane included here, but progressing to the ultimate in Negan).  During this time, though, society has begun to rebuild. There are communities. The communities have begun to set up rudimentary trade routes. Judith provides us with some level of a timeline, so we know that Season 7 is set about 3 years post-apocalypse. Negan is evidence that the zombies are no longer the problem; re-building society is. Negan acts as though he is the zombie police, but all the communities found a way to fight the zombies just fine before he makes it to the show. And, Negan is the ONLY antagonist so far who seemingly does not care about sustaining life.

forget-sasha-checks-out-a-gun-olivia-asks-her-about-bringing-back-a-boars-legThis leads me to my critique. There are too many men on this show. I mean, I get it. We are following the lives of the most active, aggressive characters because they are the most interesting in terms of storytelling. And, because of my above point about the relative expendability of men (not all men, just that humanity will survive with less men rather than less women), we will naturally follow along with the more aggressive characters, than the ones who are re-building society by gardening or sewing, who would most likely be more women. This is not sexist; it’s math (2 min vs 40 weeks).  The focus on mostly male characters or mostly aggressive  female characters (Carol, Andrea, Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Sasha, etc…) makes sense within the rules that TWD has set up for itself.  But, Negan breaks the rules of the show and make us question what is really going on in TWD.  The best example of this is that Negan allows Arat to kill Olivia. Olivia represents a less interesting character, but not a less important one.

Negan is aware of the importance of society — he names his men “the saviors” because he sees himself as the savior of society.

But you can’t save society without women. Women like Olivia. For every Michonne, Rosita, Carol, Sasha, and even Maggie, there need to be 10 Olivias who are, literally, taking stock and keeping the pantry full. People like Olivia, who is willing to put herself into danger in order to protect the one child we’ve seen born post-apocalypse (Judith), represents an absolutely necessary part of re-building society.

This child, Judith, and this emphasis on protecting children is why it makes sense that Rick would protect his home and family from Negan. After all, isn’t that an essential part of society? But that means that Negan DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. I mean, he’s got a harem of wives… but no babies? Negan puts himself and his society in danger and wastes other men who could be capable of providing (Glenn and Abraham) for society just to prove a point? He thinks violence and mayhem is a sustainable plan, even as it is clear that others, like Rick, will fight back and will fight well? We’re supposed to think that Negan is just evil; he’s not given a backstory on the TV series so far (the comics present him as a kind of teacher/coach/philosopher with a fucked up sense of ethics). Negan is presented by the TV show as a soulless visionary. A ruthless, merciless visionary, but a visionary nonetheless.

His vision, though, just plain DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. There are too many men who have memories of a just society, and too many opportunities to take out the tyrant. This whole “we are all Negan” is supposed to explain their behavior away. It doesn’t. For example, Dwight, an obviously caring protector with many survival skills, would find a way to kill Negan in order to get back his wife and his chance to have children and, therefore, advance society. That is a basic, common instinct of humanity.

Basically, Negan is killing TWD because he killed one father, Glenn, and subjugated another, Rick,  at the beginning of the season and reminded us all that fathers and mothers are what society is about. Not just survival for yourself, but survival for your children. Each episode makes that clearer and clearer, but Negan does not fit into this ethos, which makes his violence not just abhorrent, but aberrant. As Stephenson points out, “Fighting isn’t about knowing how. It’s about deciding to.”

And, at this point in the story, who would still be deciding to fight, other than those fighting against Negan? But, my argument is that Negan choosing to fight doesn’t make sense. You could, perhaps, convince me that Negan kills Abraham to stop Rick from fighting him and to force Rick and the Alexandrians to submit to his societal rule. That flies. Until he kills Glenn for a brief moment of rebellion from Daryl. Until he threatens Maggie, pregnant Maggie, while she is potentially losing a precious, in the absolute meaning of that word, post-apocalypse child. Until we learn that Dwight allows his wife to be taken from him. Until Olivia is shot for no real reason.

If we’re supposed to see politics in TWD and make sense of it, Negan just doesn’t fit with the rest of the show and its viewpoint.  Now, I’m giving the rest of Season 7 a chance because there is SOME indication that Rick and crew have finally realized that Negan represents chaos on a level that is unacceptable. Maybe they will realize that Negan is just a man “going ’round taking names” (“Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash). TWD has a chance to keep me watching. But only if they keep their cornerstone viewpoint — that humanity can survive, that Rick and his crew can keep their hearts beating, and that chaos will not take over the world. If not, then really, and I mean this, what’s the point of watching? If Negan doesn’t make sense and he continues to take over the narrative of the show, as he has thus far, then the show is riding that pale horse to its own end.

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Gilmore Girls (A Year in the Life): Love and Letting Go

rs_600x600-160912121013-600-gilmore-girls-funeralWhere you lead, I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, you need me to be with you
I will follow where you lead

~~ Carole King, “Where You Lead”

SPOILER ALERT: So, per usual, I’ll write this review for those who have already watched the show. However, since you might just want a little peak at the show, but you may not want to have those mysterious four words ruined for you, I won’t discuss them.

If you’re reading this, you probably have some strong feelings about Emily (Kelly Bishop), Lorelai (Lauren Graham), and Rory (Alexis Bledel). In the past weeks, I’ve read reviews of the Netflix 4-episode series that ranged from complete lambasts to absolute raves from folks who were not just in love with these episodes, they were already planning to watch the next 4 and gearing up for a complete re-watch of the first seven seasons.

I’m somewhere between those two extremes and am probably closer to the lambast than the rave. I should admit, first, that I am no GG superfan. I watched the show on and off as it was released. And, this past winter, I watched all the seasons again from start to finish because you know, Netflix. I was excited about the new season because I did feel like we left the GG world at an awkward place when the show ended the first time.

Overall, I thought that year-in-the-life approach was a good one. We weren’t overwhelmed with being submerged back in a cast and a setting that has moved on. Well, I guess mostly Melissa McCarthy moved on in the big way, but other actors, like Lauren Graham, have stayed busy too. I am a big fan of series that are more interested in telling a narrative, rather than providing a plot point for a neverending sequense of episodes that all seem kind of the same (Ahem… like Law & Order. I think I’m the only person I know who actively dislikes that show. DUN DUN).

Now, even with only four episodes, there was one that could have been entirely skipped. Yes, I mean the musical. That was AWFUL. I mean, I LOVE MUSICALS! Loooooooooovvvvveeee them. I can sing every song from The Wizard of Oz. I tear up when I hear “Edelweiss.” If you piss me off, I just might be singing “Defying Gravity” in my head to inspire me to stay focused on my own goals. But, this musical was not something to be excited about, and it wasn’t bad in a funny way. It was just bad. I get that was the point, so we could see Lorelai act as a critic and all, but we still had to suffer through WAY too much of it.

My other beef with the show has to do with Rory. I’m not quite as aghast as some folks, like Megan Burbank over at The Portland Mercury, who railed and against the show and ASP’s decisions for Rory, arguing, “Rory Gilmore deserved better than this.” But, I agree in sentiment, if not in kind, with those who were disappointed in how Rory’s ten years were presented. Really, I get that our lives don’t always follow a Hollywood arc, with everything landing neatly in our laps at just the right time to ensure absolute success. But I don’t think that it makes sense for this character to be at such a loss in all areas of her life, from her family to her love-life to her work. I also find it nearly unbelievable that the hard-working, organized, and bold Rory Gilmore would be so unorganized in her packing that she would have lost her underwear. I get that it was meant to be a running gag, but it didn’t make sense and wasn’t funny. (And, a minor irritation, the pool scenes were also not funny either).

gilmoreWhat I think the Netflix series gets perfect, though, is the healing and forward progression of Emily, Lorelai, and Rory. That’s why I started this review with an excerpt from the theme song. The show, really, isn’t about Rory. It isn’t about Lorelai. It’s about how Emily and her love, as unreasonable as it may seem throughout the original series, led to a child, Lorelai, who would love Rory as fiercely as she does, and how eventually Lorelai would return that love to her mother. Love is, after all, about making a choice to give to another. We may not understand Emily, but there are so many moments where she gives to Lorelai. And, as she gives, she asks to receive her daughter’s love in return. Now, I know that perhaps we’re meant to see this as wrong, as if Emily is being unreasonable, but I don’t think so.

This series reminded me of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, when at the end the grandmother realizes that she had taught the girls so much, but that she had never taught them to be kind to her, to love her, which leads the children to almost treat the grandmother as if she were irrelevant. Lorelai’s Wild moment changes not her view of herself, but her view of her mother. She calls her mother and can finally give her mother what is needed, what is kind, and what is loving. This allows Lorelai to more fully experience love herself and to more fully love her own daughter.

This four-episode series was a good watch and a better ending than the series had originally. I’m not certain more episodes are really needed, but I’m sure I’ll watch them if they happen.

Arrival (2016): Tell (Me) Your Story

This weekend, I saw Arrival (2016), starriarrival-1024x682ng Amy Adams, who I’ve loved since Julie & Julia (2009). Others have already written about this movie and its eerie prescience to this year’s election and global climate, so I won’t comment on that other than to say, echoing the young woman walking out of the theater ahead of us: “my mind is blown.”

I’ll start this review by discussing the end of the film rather than the beginning, which seems appropriate given the film and its approach to time. As the film draws to a close, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) saves the world by calling China and saying, in Mandarin so that the audience doesn’t understand, “In war, there are no winners, only widows.” This one phrase helps the Chinese president understand that his actions will not solve any issues, that his actions might just cause unnecessary pain and death. It’s important that the audience doesn’t understand what she said (unless you speak Mandarin), we know only that her WORDS provide the means of reconciliation that are needed and saves the planet from a completely unneeded conflict.

From the beginning of the film, words and their power are emphasized. This really is a movie that could be described as a meditation on language. When Louise first meets Ian (Jeremy Renner), he’s reading from her book and reads a quote aloud: “language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.” She seems mildly embarrassed and somewhat defensive about her own choice of words from this book; this moment, one that floats by almost unnoticed, but it provides the key to unravelling the mystery of the heptapods and their place here on Earth and, perhaps, our own purpose.

(This idea reminds me a quote I had hanging outside of my office door for years (from Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse): “Language is the liquid that we’re all dissolved in. / Great for solving problems, after it creates a problem.” It is this idea — that language can be messy and hard and awful but that at the same time it can be beautiful and create empathy and solve problems — that anchors Louise. She never stops believing in the power of words and story, even when alternative answers seem to present themselves. This belief is key, and one that we all need to hang on to even harder than we have before.)

maxresdefaultOne of the big questions of the film has to do with story. If we know all that will happen to us in advance, what would we change? This isn’t a new question. Think of Hamlet and his nearly endless dithering, caused not by cowardice (despite what he says) but by consciousness. It is only when he decides that predestination (knowing the story in advance) matters less than being ready for the story to come that he can finally “let be.” This is exactly the reason Louise makes a conscious decision to have a child, even though that child will die from some sort of illness at a young age. Her knowledge of the future doesn’t stop her from appreciating the moment, the present, and the potential impact that the child has on the world. This may seem a controversial decision, but to me, it wasn’t. We can’t know what the world would have been like without her daughter; what we do know is that Louise’s love for her daughter is big enough that it helps her find the courage that she needs to break through the language barrier and actually communicate with the heptapods and with the Chinese president.

The other big question of the film is the one that Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) tells Louise to ask the heptapods and one that philosophers have been asking for eons: “What is your purpose on Earth?” The scene where she explains the linguistics of that question is another that may go by unnoticed, but it shouldn’t. As Louise works through the parts of the sentence, we are there with her and we should, I hope, begin to think about this question as it applies to ourselves. What is our purpose on Earth? Are we here as a short-lived part of the Earth’s history, destroying all that is around us, burning the world down because of fear? Or, are we here to learn, to communicate, to come together, and to grow? Since the heptapods are coming back in 3,000 years, it seems the latter. And that is hopeful and optimistic (link here to NPR’s Linda Holmes’s review about the optimism of the movie).

If you think of these pieces together (language as a weapon; the importance of story; the questioning of our purpose here on Earth), we see why she chooses to reach out and communicate, even at a point where there seems no reason to do so. She’s the one who understands that communication is commonly fraught with miscommunication. So, the heptapods may use a word like “weapon” when they actually mean something closer to “tool.” Again, that scene where she first meets Ian is important here. She knows that language itself can be used as a weapon. But that weapon doesn’t always have to lead to hurt; language can be used to soothe or to clarify. She knows that through the power of story, we can connect with each other. And through that connection, we can begin to realize the importance of love and have empathy for others.

Complex, thoughtful film. I’m not ready to say it’s one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time… yet. I am ready to say that I’ll be seeing this one again. And maybe again. And again.

If you watched this movie and loved it as much as I did, you might want to check out a few more things that inform the movie:

 

 

 

 

Doctor Who: Tennant’s Second Season, AKA The Season of Martha

Well, I have finally finished the second season of Doctor Who. I was distracted by other shows, including The Great British Baking Show, The Daily Show, The Nightly Show (so sad this one is canceled), and The Night Of. The reason I was distracted is because this season of Doctor Who is a bit uneven. It’s so uneven that I had a hard time getting through the season again.

For example, The Lazarus Experiment is just awful. The plot is fine, but the monster is just ridiculous. Plus,  Professor Lazarus is actually more likeable as a monster instead of as a scientist. It was almost painful to watch.

Then, there’s Blink, which is absolutely blinkawesome. The Doctor and Martha are hardly in this one, but that hardly matters because the cast and the story is just so, so good. I don’t think I’ve ever liked a set of ancillary characters as much I like Sally Sparrow and Billy Shipton.

Overall, though, this season is much better than Tennant’s first season, and what’s best is that we see Martha grow as a character. I’ve never really bought the Martha-Is-In-Love with the Doctor bit that the character is based on, so I’m quite glad that she moves past all that silliness by the end of the season.  It’s almost like the writers tried to re-invent Rose, but that doesn’t work for a number of reasons. Most importantly, Rose was living a somewhat humdrum life, working in a shop, watching tele with Mickey, and bickering with her Mum. So, her falling in love with the Doctor and the doctor-who-martha-series-3adventurous life he offered her makes sense. Martha, though, had a lovely family and an impressive career and future, so this idea that she’d want to run away from all that, just to play second fiddle to a woman she’s never met, isn’t believable.

 

Haven (SyFy Series 2010-2015): Rocky Start, Goes On Too Long, But Great in the Middle

For an unabashed (now) Stephen King fan and Constant Reader, I am surprised that I haven’t been watching Haven all along. I say unabashed now, but I have been bashed in the past for my love for King by those who think he is not a “real writer.”  These criticisms make no sense to me now, but when I was younger and more insecure, I remember feeling that perhaps I wasn’t as smart or literary as other folks because I didn’t like the right writers. Now, though, I go with the Angus theory for literature, which is Screw’Em! Who cares what they think?

This series makes me wish I’d come up with a clever way to rate what I watch, like 5 bags of popcorn = excellent or three couch pillows means it was only okay. Alas, I did not. This series would definitely be a 3.5 on whatever scale of 5.

If you haven’t watched it yet either, then just know that for the first 1-5 episodes, you’re going to be doubting whether or not you will even watch the next one. The series gets off to a very rocky, very corny, and very silly start. None of the main characters (Audrey Parker, Nathan Wuornos, and Duke Crocker) seem very likeable or real; they all start as these stiff, stock characters who are hard to even pay attention to, and then they immediately become crime solvers/ saviors to unintentional X-men, which is all very peculiar.

However, at some point, the show gets much better. I tried to figure out which specific episode, but it happens over a few of them at the end of Season 1. If Haven had had a set time period and been more interested in telling a story than in having multiple seasons, this show could have been a 4.5 out of 5, even with the not-so-great start. The drawn-out-over-too-many-seasons problem means that the characters don’t grow and develop in a way that makes sense, and there are too many times when Audrey Parker says “I have to stop the troubles” and too many times where Nathan had to try to come to grips with Audrey having to stop the troubles. As a huge fan of Six Feet Under, it was great to see Eric Balfour back on the screen again, but his character was also undermined by the attempt to have too many episodes. How many times were we supposed to follow along with him coming back from the “dark side” of the troubles?

This show offers up some  funny, breaking the 4th wall quips, like Jennifer’s “You try operating a supernatural door with a vampire novel and a positive attitude.” There are also some great King Easter eggs, like one character having Dandelos cereal for breakfast and Duke wearing a Deux Ex Machina Cargo hat.

If you’re looking for a show to have on in the background while you do other things, Haven is a great choice. It would have been a show to WATCH if they’d just been okay with having a set number of episodes, but I am not sure that was even a thing back in 2010 when this show started.

Star Trek: Beyond (2016) Should Win for New Category at the Oscars — Best Use of a Beastie Boys’ Song

Okay, if you haven’t gone to see Star Trek: Beyond at the theaters yet, get yourself to theater posthaste. Get a big bucket of popcorn and get ready for a fun, wild ride.Now, I usually don’t write reviews for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m making an exception  this time since my biggest Star Trek fan friend, Joey, hasn’t seen it yet. So, this one is SPOILER FREE.

I love the Star Trek reboot and actually like them much better than the Abram’s Star Wars movies, but that’s a different review, isn’t it?

star-trek-beyond-sofia-boutellaMy favorite addition to the Star Trek cast is Jaylah. She was fun and badass, she worked well as a contrast to Chris Pine, and I hope she’s back for the next movie, this time with her own captain’s chair (Ahem!)

Speaking of Chris Pine, he did a great job as a  somewhat troubled Captain Kirk, but I can’t say the same for Zachary Quinto as Spock, who seemed not just stoic but bland in this film. I liked him in the first two, but he seemed really quite forgettable in this film, though there were some nice moments with Dr. McCoy.

It feels like Abrams, or perhaps Justin Lin deserves the credit for this, has found the right balance of philosophy with action in this film, and, seriously, I’m going to see this movie again just for the Beastie Boys moment, which was so, so fabulous.

Live long and prosper, J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek movie franchise.

 

Ghostbusters (2016): Unafraid of Ghosts

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So, somehow I missed the anti-woman hype about the new Ghostbusters until about a week before I went to see it. The very idea that people thought that this would be a bad movie just BECAUSE it starred women just seems so dumb, especially after seeing it and finding out how good it was.

In this reboot, there are some jokes that fall flat and some characters that seem a bit wooden. Plus, the giant ghost villian at the end is both creepy and comical, which is a hard combo to pull off and doesn’t really work in this movie either. However, I don’t think that means it was a bad idea or that those issues are DUE to women being the lead characters.

What does work is the women playing these characters with so much gusto and joy. This movie was absolutely fun to watch. I know a lot of praise will go to McCarthy and Wiig, as it should, but I think Leslie Jones was the stand out in this movie. She was funny, real, and dynamic (not literary, more a force of energy and ideas and positivity).

The other thing that I really liked about this movie is that it wholeheartedly embraced the original Ghostbusters and people’s love for it. Each of the original Ghostbusters had a cameo, and I clapped when Sigourney Weaver popped it during the credits. I’m glad that this Ghostbusters wasn’t afraid of the ghosts of the first movie — it made this one so, so much better.

If you’re looking for a fun movie to see one afternoon, this one is a must-see. Brava to all!