Be Careful Whom You Call Good

season6titleONCE UPON A TIME
Season 6, Episodes 3 & 4 (The Other Shoe)(Strange Case)

Since the writers of the show wanted to change things up a bit this season (and I think that it has been better so far) and tell smaller, more complete stories, these two episodes both focused primarily on peripheral characters. The Other Shoe focused on Cinderella, while Strange Case seems to conclude the Jekyll/Hyde arc. Our main characters are still in the picture, but we learn more about them through learning more about the secondary characters. Thus, as an audience, we don’t get bored by constantly rehashing the same character plotlines and we don’t get confused by the introduction of lots of new storylines.

6-3So far in this show, we have seen Cinderella in the present Storybrooke as well as a flashback to after her successful marriage to her prince – with only a brief glimpse of her life before, namely when Rumplestiltskin usurps the role of her fairy godmother (er, godfather). We never saw what came between her going to the ball and her marrying the prince. This was a gap waiting to be filled in and it did not seem too contrived. On one hand, it felt like a throwback to the first season of the show – down to Cinderella wearing the same dress – and we got to see poor Gus alive again. (One nice thing about this show is that it can kill off characters and still bring them back in flashback scenes to develop them further. It rarely comes across as contrived. After all, one would expect scenes set in the past to occasionally have dearly departed characters in them. One only has to think back to one’s own past to find similar examples.)

On the other hand, the storyline felt like a filler episode in that it did not really move the plot along. The only significant development was the Evil Queen breaking Mr. Hyde out of prison at the end, as Regina realises that her other self is a strong opponent for her indeed. Meanwhile, Emma and the Evil Queen confront each other as the latter threatens to destroy all that Emma has accomplished. Since Cinderella’s happy ending was one of the first things that Emma did when she first arrived in Storybrooke, it was fitting that it was one of the first stories threatened. But of course, the heroes saved the day. Not only did Cinderella survive, but her relationship with one of her stepsisters was restored and her stepmother was defeated.

As portrayed on the show, Cinderella is an ingénue character – not nearly as savvy as the main characters. She is sweet and innocent – a good person caught up in bad situations. However, in her first appearance, she was willing to go along and trick Rumplestiltskin, and in this episode, she is so desperate to keep her own happy ending of marrying the prince that she deprives her stepsister of her own happiness. She feels very guilty about that, even though her sister mistreated her (saying it was an act for her mother, but really, that was a cowardly excuse) and Cinderella’s actions were understandable. They were not in keeping with her sweet nature, though.  But then, everyone acts against their nature sometimes.

6-4In keeping with the theme of acting against or with their nature, Strange Case gives us the backstory for Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. It is an abbreviated version of the original story, with some help from Rumplestiltskin. (He really is the glue that ties all realms together, it seems.) As it turns out, neither Jekyll nor Hyde is pure good or pure evil, but merely aspects of the same man’s personality. They even look different – not quite sure why, although it works well. One would think that they would at least be the same height, but I digress.

Hyde is the personality that everyone likes – the academy of sciences, high society, and most importantly Jekyll’s love interest. Whereas Jekyll is ruled by his mind, Hyde is ruled by his heart. Instead of exploiting this, Jekyll grows insanely jealous of Hyde and kills his love interest (perhaps accidentally, perhaps not…), putting the blame on his alter ego. Naturally, his alter ego decides to embrace being evil after spending time in anguish. And Jekyll blames all of this on Rumplestiltskin.

Throughout the episode, some other subplots are touched on. Snow White returns to teaching, weirded out slightly by Henry now being in high school, and we are introduced to the next plot-relevant character, whom we will learn more about in the next episode. Hook bonds awkwardly with Belle and ends up coming to her rescue while her estranged husband can only watch. Regina realises that the only way to destroy the Evil Queen is for herself to die…

What she actually realises is that it is not as simple as splitting away her evil self. Ridding herself of the Evil Queen did not rid her of the capacity for villainy.

And thankfully, Jekyll and Hyde come to defeat as the former is killed. Just as Hyde cannot die as long as Jekyll is alive, he cannot live without him. They are, after all, the same man in two bodies.

I do wonder if the writers have painted themselves into a corner with this. Are they planning to kill off arguably their most popular character? Are they going to find another way to defeat the Evil Queen – perhaps by re-integrating her into Regina? Or is the Evil Queen going to decide to forgo her revenge and go off to explore the world?

Posted in Katy Pontificates, Once Upon a Time, Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Premiere 2 – Getting Back to the Story

murdochseason10titleMURDOCH MYSTERIES
Season 10, Episode 1 (Great Balls of Fire Pt. 1)

Since last season did not end on a cliffhanger and no one was left in direct mortal peril, nor was any murder left unsolved, the premiere of Murdoch Mysteries’ tenth season started a few months later and opened with a new case. Initially, it seems that everyone has moved on from the events of the previous episode, as our main characters are happily attending a society ball.

Until, true to form, a dead body falls out of the ceiling, and the story turns into a deadly game of “murder the debutante in order to marry the millionaire”. Murdoch and Dr. Ogden even joke that they cannot go out without something going wrong.

The case itself is quite interesting and slow-paced, since this is the first of a two-part episode, so as a viewer, it is easier to piece together clues. Two women are killed and there is an attempt on another’s life, and as the episode ended, I can come to the tentative conclusion that someone is trying to frame one of the young women – namely, the slightly mentally unstable childhood friend of the bachelor. But that is only a theory – I will have to wait until the next episode to find out.

I have not been a fan of The Bachelor and such shows, but this episode works as a parody of them as well as being a straight-up murder mystery. While the bachelor is initially distraught at the first death, he grits his teeth and carries on with the task of finding a bride, and romances another. Both he and his new love interest are equally determined to go along with the show and subsequent relationship for the sake of their families, but they are savvy enough to play along. Meanwhile, the other potential brides try their hardest to get the bachelor’s attention by sniping at each other (and then his new favourite) and generally being as catty as possible. Our main characters are amused – the world of the rich and famous was far removed from theirs.

Another thing that I find myself forgetting is that in the Edwardian era, policemen were considered tradesmen who were there to serve the citizens, so they are treated as such in the conduct of their investigations. Det. Murdoch has gained a good reputation (and has married Dr. Ogden, who came from a wealthy family) and as such, is accorded respect. Inspector Brackenreid has respect due his higher position of authority. But even they get treated rudely by the people they interview, whether or not said people are suspects, witnesses, bystanders, or others. After nine seasons, it is easy to identify with Murdoch as our hero and harder to remember just how annoying his persistence at solving a case would be to those involved.

This year, while it seems that all is back to normal, we soon realise that Dr. Ogden has been severely affected by her experience in the last episode. She is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and often sees visions of Eva Pearce – especially in the hotel where much of the case is taking place, as Eva disguised herself as a maid to shoot Dr. Ogden. But it is not the fear of Eva – she knows that she is dead and gone – but the guilt that she suffers for having killed her point blank. Dr. Ogden was entirely justified in her actions, but it is quite different to kill someone as it is to autopsy them. A strong part of her feels that she is wrong for killing Eva. She has taken leave of the morgue – leaving it in the capable hands of Miss James for now – and is withdrawing from spending time with her husband. Perhaps this is because so much of their relationship has hitherto been built upon solving murders together. She is tired of death. She is also afraid that Murdoch will not understand. Brackenreid tries to help, but she pushes him away too.

The episode ends with the start of the Great Fire of Toronto of 1904, in which Dr. Ogden is trapped in a burning kitchen – and in her own mind with the ghost of Eva Pearce…

10-1 10-1b

Posted in Links, Murdoch Mysteries, Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Premiere 1 – As Usual, A Promising Start

season5titleONCE UPON A TIME
Season 6, Episodes 1 & 2 (The Savior)(A Bitter Draught)

The sixth season of Once Upon A Time, true to form, started immediately after the end of last season’s finale. Mr. Hyde has brought hundreds of characters from the Land of Untold Stories that our main characters will now have to deal with. Belle is under a sleeping curse. Regina and the Evil Queen are two separate entities. Emma and Hook want to have a bit of time to themselves…

Well, to start with, Belle is woken from the curse, but the kiss of true love is from a very unexpected source. She proceeds to leave Rumplestiltskin for her child’s good, rather than falling for his charms again. Rumplestiltskin accepts defeat – at least for now.

Unlike in previous seasons, Mr. Hyde is easily defeated and imprisoned (although it remains to be seen if he stays there). He has served his purpose to bring a whole load of new characters to Storybrooke (many of whom do not want to be there) and to generally be creepy and sow the seeds of doubt in Emma’s mind.

The Savior focuses on Emma, who begins having strange, paralyzing visions. These visions herald her own demise at the hand of a hooded figure, and both Mr. Hyde and an Oracle confirm that she will die this way, unable to save her family. There is a bit of realism to this plot, since all of the trauma that Emma has been through would undoubtedly take a mental toll on her, particularly when she is stressed. It is also the case that eventually, you cannot save everyone. Emma has been called a savior, and we learn that others have been called such before her, but one of the unfortunate side effects of being a savior is that one is constantly drawn to saving others. Emma is mortal – it is inevitable that she will die, and likely by a particularly strong villain. It is even likely that her family will be present and they will be in Storybrooke. While they are their current ages in her visions, that is not a guarantee that this vision will come to pass anytime soon – although Emma thinks it is. Perhaps the writers want us to think so too?

A Bitter Draught has the Evil Queen revealing her continued existence to Regina and focuses on the evolving relationship between Regina and Snow White. The Count of Monte Cristo shows up in the present, controlled by the Evil Queen and still determined to kill Snow; in the past, we learn that he was contracted to do so by the Evil Queen, but was prevented from doing so by Rumplestiltskin and fled to the Land of Untold Stories to prevent his love interest from dying. Thanks to Mr. Hyde, the love interest is now gone, and the Count is an empty shell. Regina is unable to help him and ends up having to kill him to save her stepdaughter. The Evil Queen taunts her about this, leading Regina to question her heroism.

Unfortunately, to be the hero is exactly what Regina did, because she used killing as the last resort. Just because it is the last resort does not mean it is unwarranted. She tried to take another course of action, but that did not work.

These first two episodes set up the main storylines for the season and we are apparently in for a run of episodes featuring one-off stories, similar to the first season. This should be a refreshing change and hopefully there will be more development for the main characters. We can also meet many new characters and see more stories without getting too bogged down in them.


Posted in Links, Once Upon a Time, Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coffee With Jesus


If only prayer could be more of a dialogue…

The popular comic strip Coffee With Jesus by David Wilkie is just that: recurring characters having conversations with Jesus over coffee, ostensibly in a normal café. Occasionally, the Devil shows up as well, and it can be noted that even though Jesus rebukes him, He allows him to sit at the table with Him.

All of the characters besides Jesus are made from stock 1950s advertising cartoons. Despite being relatively static, they are portrayed as multidimensional and never as caricatures. They depict different facets of Christianity and the more you read it, the more you identify with some aspects of all of them.

Despite the fact that American Protestant culture and theology permeate the strip, although the latter not to a strong degree, Coffee With Jesus is accessible to all Christians. From the perspective of Christian character, it really does not matter the denomination. We are all called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and we are all called to love our neighbour as ourselves. We read the same Gospels and New Testament. Yes, theology has diverged, but this is not about theological debate. This is about what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

The characters sit down with Jesus, either together or one-on-one, to discuss matters of faith and issues in their lives and society. Most often, they are asking His advice about a problem. Like in the Gospels, He usually turns the question back on them. He repeats His message in a way that resonates with them, whether they like it or not.

Yet He is not their buddy, as He often has to remind at least one of the characters. He is a friend, yes, but He is also Creator Lord and Saviour. He is God.

What I appreciate about this comic strip is that it does not hesitate to cut its readers with important reminders about our faith. The human characters have backstories, but they stand in for all Christians. We are left with questions that do answer our initial questions, but only make us realise how we need to change our minds. Being a Christian is a constant work in progress.

coffeewithjesus733There are some negatives about the strip too: it works with short quips and it relies on the heavily Protestant focus on personal religion. There is little about the Church as a community or a society, especially compared with how focused Jesus is on the individuals at the table. But the lessons/reminders can also be applied to these situations. This is about being a Christian, not being a specific denomination of Christian.

Christ of the Gospels is also funny, because we learn well when we are entertained. Just as many of his parables shocked their initial audiences, they also made them laugh. A lot of this is now lost in translation or cultural dissonance: a good example is the story of the Good Samaritan. The whole parable sounds a lot like the set-up to a joke. The Good Samaritan is a walking punchline, but after the joke was done, Jesus pointedly asked who the neighbour of the man beset by robbers proved to be. To be a Christian, one has to be humble enough to accept that one will get ridiculed sometimes.

It is a fantasy to think that sitting at a table with Jesus, on a seemingly equal footing, would be anything but humbling. Coffee With Jesus is about accepting one’s flaws with humility and trying to be more God-like. We cannot actually sit and talk with Jesus Christ over coffee (or tea, or a pint), but we can pray and we can try our best to listen.


Posted in Books, Katy Pontificates, Links, Recommended Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Well, It’s Not a Documentary…

oakgroveSomething that I have written about often is historical fiction and, in particular, how history is portrayed in film.

But something that has bothered me is the attitude that, when confronted with a film (or book or play, for that matter) that is grossly exaggerated or blatantly wrong, historically-speaking, the filmmakers are excused because well, it’s not a documentary.

Putting aside the fact that documentaries can be just as biased as fictional accounts, this attitude is problematic in some cases. It is a worthwhile attitude to have regarding small changes, such as compressing the timeline of events, making a composite character, or dramatizing an incident to make it more exciting. Depending on the event in question, there might be no historical evidence about what exactly happened, and thus the writers can tell their own version of the story and invent some details to fill in the gaps. We may not know what exactly was said between two historical figures, but we know they met and had a conversation that had consequences. Inventing dialogue for the film for this scene, drawing on the known facts, is perfectly fine.

While some changes and inventions can be annoying to those who know what would be historically accurate, and especially frustrating when the change seems pointless, they are understandable and indeed vital for good storytelling.

However, historical fiction is indeed how most of the audience learns about a person or event. Films are especially powerful, being that they are realistic, visual, and designed to appeal to visceral emotions. Even if we read non-fiction accounts or watch documentaries about a topic, we are far more likely to identify with the film.

Thus, a good historical film should aim to entertain and tell a compelling story while not misrepresenting its subject and being true to history as much as possible. (Unless it is specifically meant to be alternate history, fantasy, or satire.)  Viewers are not stupid, but the impression left by a film will be felt long into the future, no matter how accurate it was. Even when told otherwise, we feel that what we saw in the film was more real than the facts that we read in a book or on Wikipedia.

History is about real people who did real things. Those real people deserve respect, as do their families. Real villains are not one-dimensional, but usually men and women who cared deeply about their cause or felt that they had been wronged in life. Real heroes had bad habits. Both “heroes” and “villains” very likely just thought that they were doing their job, or just doing what they thought was right at the time. Attitudes change and what was normal and even laudable in the past is considered downright horrible now.

No, a film may not be a documentary, but it should not portray a historical character as a pure villain merely to fill a hole in the plot. It should not make a whole group of people out to be monsters just to make the hero seem stronger. The more recent an event, the more accurate the film should be, as there should be more evidence to work with. A writer can plead ignorance regarding the private lives and thoughts of medieval kings and peasants, but not of twentieth- or twenty-first century people.

Even before films, Shakespeare’s portrayal of King Richard III of England influenced how everyone thought of that king, and to this day, historians have had a hard time changing Richard III’s popular image. Shakespeare’s play involved an actor in a minimal costume on a relatively bare stage in a theatre full of people. Modern films involve actors in realistic costumes (some more painstakingly researched for accuracy than others) in the purported setting of the story with no audience. Still, people “remembered” Richard III as a weak, scheming, hunchback. We likewise remember historical persons as they appeared onscreen in our “memories”, not in the still photograph or the portrait/drawing that accompanied their Wikipedia article.

Whole populations have likewise been maligned due to being primarily understood from fiction. Cultural groups are seen as jokes, terrorists, sexual objects, or combinations thereof. This does not promote respect. This does not promote cooperation. It is not worth the lasting consequences to demean a whole ethnicity merely for the sake of one dominant group’s enjoyment. Sure, our predecessors were not all angels. But they are all deserving of human dignity.

No, historical fiction films do not have to be documentaries, but they need to be respectful.

Posted in Films, Katy Pontificates, Katy Rants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016)


With seven books and eight films, the Harry Potter series took up a decade of my life. I really enjoyed the story, the characters, and the fantastical world that J.K. Rowling created. Thoroughly enjoyed, in fact. The series took Harry from eleven to eighteen (not counting the epilogue), and it took me from 15 to 25.

However, with the release of the last film in 2011, I felt that it was done. That is, I could live without Harry Potter in my life, barring the occasional reference and reread. Harry Potter became just one of the many series in existence and the characters just some of the many pantheon of fictional characters. One might say that the magic had faded somewhat. I moved on to other stories.

So I admit that I was initially sceptical when I heard that there was going to be a sequel story – albeit in play format. As far as I was concerned, while Rowling had left a lot of dangling threads, she had nonetheless finished a beautiful tapestry that didn’t need another panel.

But I decided to get the book from the library, unable to resist the curiosity.

That the story is not entirely written by Rowling is just fine. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not a novel like its predecessors, but a play. It is filled with a lot of descriptions of sets, stage directions, and dialogue, only the latter of which recalls Rowling’s vivid prose. There isn’t really room for prose is theatre, but there is enough in the book for the reader to visualise the stage and the action. I love plays (having written some and read quite a few) and thus I had no problems taking the script and imagining it playing out on the stage, although I admit to having had some trouble with some special effects.

I am glad that they decided to tell a further story after the epilogue of the seventh book. While finding out what happened in the intervening 19 years between the end of the action and the epilogue would have been nice, the fact that we already know about the epilogue lessens the suspense. Better to let that missing time be told through occasional short stories from Rowling!

But this isn’t just a school story redone, focusing entirely on the new generation of Hogwarts students. Harry Potter is still the title character and truly the story is about him, even if his son takes centre stage for a large part of it.

Instead, we have a story that focuses both on teenage characters and on our favourite characters as forty-year-olds. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco are not much older than the original fans of the books, seeing as the first book came out in 1997. Quite a few thirty-somethings started reading the books as preteens or teenagers, after all, and have now moved on from school stories to books where the main characters are juggling careers and parenthood. We can still see ourselves in Harry and his compatriots, while reminiscing of school days watching the Hogwarts scenes.

The story (which I won’t spoil much of) turns on its head the idea that everything is fine for Harry after the defeat of Voldemort, even if it appears to be so at the end of Deathly Hallows. (After all, that book ends with “All was well” – which is just crying out for something to happen!) Yes, when we last see him, he seems to have his life together: he is happily married, he has three lovely children, and he seems successful and well-adjusted in his career and home-life. He is an adult, which is especially jarring for us readers when on only the previous page, he was just shy of eighteen.

The central conflict of the story is between Harry and his second son, Albus. While Harry is an adult, there are many things he wishes that he had done differently. He is still grappling with his identity and his past, just as most adults do. He is also coming to terms with his children, who are growing up in a safer world with their parents alive. Harry never had his father in his life and is thus at a disadvantage when it comes to fatherhood. While it is not dwelt upon in the play, it is clear that Harry relates better to his elder son, James, because they have similar interests and James adjusts better to school than his younger brother. James is everything that Harry wanted to be as a teenager – popular, athletic, and decent academically. Albus really only has one good friend, hates Quidditch, and is all right at his subjects, but does not really apply himself. Except for Quidditch, Albus is actually a lot more like Harry was, but not how Harry wants to remember himself.

For Harry, Hogwarts was a wonderful place where he felt like he belonged and had a family. For Albus, Hogwarts is a boring, lonely place where he feels like he doesn’t belong. Obviously, conflict ensues. The rest of the plot is just how that conflict plays out.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t get to enjoy seeing familiar characters again or going back to Hogwarts. This story brings back the magic and makes Harry Potter relatable again. The adventure continues – not grand battles, but everyday battles. Harry Potter has indeed grown up.

Posted in Books, Katy Pontificates, Links, Recommended Reading, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Humans (2015)

humans_series_intertitleSet in an alternate reality present, Humans explores what it could be like if we had the technology perfected to create super-intelligent human-like robots. As it is an alternative reality, the show is very realistic, with the only exception being that there are robots to do menial labour, household chores, specialized tasks, and dangerous missions. That contributes to how scarily close to normal this series feels. We can easily see how useful such robots would be – they could collect garbage and answer phones; clean and cook; look after senior citizens; or determine the safety level of a crime scene, for just some of many examples. Robots are considered to be merely machines, which for the most part, they are.

Except, inevitably, inventors keep inventing and perfecting. Once we created humanoid robots, it would only be a matter of time before trying our best to make them conscious and as human as possible. That is because humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize things – and if we can do it with cars, boats, and animals, we would definitely do so with robots that look human. This is explored in the show: some owners get attached to their robot (call a synth) and refuse to replace it like a worn-out computer; others treat their synth like a pet, such as wanting to take their synth to public outings like plays and movies (although, unlike a dog or cat, I really can’t see why this is a problem, especially if the owner paid for a ticket for them); and still others feel a strong attachment to their synth that they are hurt and disappointed, even if they understand why, when their feelings are naturally not reciprocated.

Of course, the natural next step would be for a robot to be at least able to mimic human consciousness. However, what we find out is that the inventor went much further than that: he created sentient robots with full consciousness. Separate lifeforms, in other words – that naturally would compete with humans.

Because the robot characters are generally fit and lovely – idealized forms of people – the actors playing the human characters are especially normal in their appearance. The main characters really are “the family next-door”. Everyone, from the teenagers to the elderly, look rough-around-the-edges and not like they are out of a catalogue. That also lends to how scarily normal and relatable the story is. The characters act like one would expect them to, or even how one would expect oneself to act or react to a given situation.

I really enjoyed this show, not just because of its implications, but because the characters were compelling. The human characters were relatable, but also the synths were fascinating. The conscious ones were human-like, but still exhibit characteristics that would not be human: they had little regard for long-term self-preservation, for example. They also are children in adult bodies, but also wise from all of the information in their central processors. If information is not in their central processor, they can wirelessly connect with computers – perform the equivalent of an advanced Internet search simply by closing their eyes momentarily. They do not have to eat or drink – only charge, which is something like eating and sleeping at the same time. They have distinct personalities, so some of them are more human-like than others.

Of course, humans do have the right to be afraid. These robots are designed to be superior to people. If they had the ability to reproduce themselves, it would mean they were no longer under human control. Over the course of the series, they discover a computer program that could indeed give more synths consciousness. The next question: will they use it? How?

Like a good British series should, it is only eight episodes and tells a complete story, leaving open some plotlines while closing off others. There will be another season, so it remains to be seen if the computer program becomes a tool for good or evil.

And that will largely depend on your perspective – is it truly evil to want to reproduce, to give free will to others? Is it evil to enslave something that is alive, even if it is a machine? After all, saying that you built and programmed it is not much different than saying that you gave birth to and raised a child – you still do not control or own said child, so why should you control or own a sentient, conscious humanoid machine?humans_series_intertitle

Posted in Katy Pontificates, Reviews, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment