We’re All Gone Now

copyright 2018

We’re all gone now.

When we left, it was for many reasons.
Some wanted adventure,
Some wanted a steady job,
Some wanted glory,
Some wanted the chance to go home to the Old Country,
Some wanted to see somewhere new,
Some wanted to prove their honour – or redeem it,
Some wanted to get away,
Some simply saw it as a duty.

Thousands never returned,
Thousands more returned in pieces,
But it doesn’t matter anymore.

Some had families, some never had the chance,
Some are lovingly remembered,
Many more are forgotten.
Some are forgotten because they were in the wrong place,
On the wrong side,
Or they switched sides,
Or never signed up, just getting caught in the middle.

But it has been many, many years,
Many more wars, many more changes,
Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
So much has happened and the world is not the same.

Real people should never be forgotten,
But even beloved ancestors become little more than images,
Names, occasional stories, trivia facts,
No longer a memory, but legend.

We’re all gone now, reunited with our parents,
Our comrades, our lovers, even our children,
We changed the world, not necessarily for the better,
But our turn is done.

We’re all gone now.

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Special Hallowe’en Episode!

Special Hallowe’en Episode!

Season 12, Episode 6 (Sir. Sir? Sir!)

(I will eventually get to the first five Season 12 episodes.)

For the first time, Murdoch Mysteries decided to produce a special, standalone Hallowe’en episode. This naturally confused some viewers who had not evidently been following articles about the show throughout the summer and early fall. I guess some people do that! As someone who does not watch too many shows, I follow all the tidbits that I can, so I was really excited about the episode.

The one suggestion that I would have had for the producers would have been to have ended the episode with a spooky title card with a message such as: HAPPY HALLOWE’EN! We hope you enjoyed our special standalone episode. That would have likely reassured some viewers who were puzzled by what felt like a lack of resolution to the story.

I am glad that the writers chose not to end the episode with a tongue-in-cheek “it was all a dream” or the plot of Crabtree’s latest novel. Rather, this episode – with its spooky, otherworldly take on the opening theme music – exists in an alternate dimension of some kind. Perhaps next week, there will be an offhand line about a book or a dream or whatnot. To have put this at the end of this episode would have broken the spell, as it were.

I admit that it will be confusing when aired in syndication, though! Hopefully viewers will recognise it as a tribute to classic sci-fi horror. Does anyone get confused when a rerun of a Simpsons Hallowe’en episode airs?

As for the episode itself, it certainly was not my favourite – that would have to still be Season 3’s Love and Human Remains – and I prefer normal mysteries. However, I enjoyed the science fiction storyline and especially how much fun everyone seemed to be having with it. The actors clearly enjoyed themselves (I can only imagine the outtakes!) and the props were amazing. Let’s face it, historical drama does not normally leave much room for creativity in the prop design department! The episode featured an ensemble cast, with Higgins, Miss Hart, Watts, and Mrs. Brackenreid all getting a lot of screentime along with the leads. The actors had plenty of opportunity to use their comedic talents.

What impressed me the most is that the episode was still able to bring up philosophical questions, the most important of which being: Is there something intrinsically human about being unpleasant to each other and to other creatures? Followed closely by: Would it be better to die as humans or live as something else? Of course, these questions do not actually get answered, leaving us all to make up our own minds or gloss over the questions in favour of enjoying the story for its own sake.

Part of me wishes that this show had been able to establish a tradition of a Hallowe’en episode earlier in its run. This would not only mean that viewers would be less surprised by it, but also that we would have had more opportunities to explore some fun “what-ifs”: time travel, ghosts, technology run amok, etc. We have had some similar episodes in the past, but they have still been grounded in reality. I am not entirely sure which type that I prefer.

Let’s face it, this show normally delves into some serious topics, even if they approach it in a lighthearted way. Last season ended with the Murdochs’ marriage on the brink; the premiere was much brighter but still brought up the topic that the couple was not completely on the same page about their new house; the second episode discussed wrongful death in hospitals; the third, while campy in tone, did not shy away from Edwardian class issues and relationship dynamics; the fourth brought up immigration; the fifth introduced world politics that we all should know led to the tragedy that was the First World War; and next week’s looks to be quite dark.

That is the best part of this show (at least for me) – that it is unpredictably predictable. It follows a formula as a detective drama, but takes as much wiggle room as it can to provide variety for its audience.

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The Red Necklaces

copyright 2018

She picked up the ancient beads delicately in her gloves. The red colour that they had been painted was still vaguely visible over the polished stones. She tried to imagine what the full necklace might have looked like when it was new: sparkling blood red. It certainly would have stood out among the wearer’s clothing.

There were two separate necklaces that she was studying. One was a simple strand of red beads. The other was technically one piece of jewellery, but was actually two beaded strands that fit so tightly together that they were worn as one. The ends might have once been knotted together, but the beads were so well-fitted that the knots would have only been an added measure to hold the necklace in place. The beads were so tight to each other that even though most of the cord had rotted away, they did not move apart.

One necklace had been found in an ancient tomb, complete with several skeletons and resplendent grave goods. The other had been found in a cave hundreds of kilometres to the southeast. The cave might have been a tomb as well, but was not a typical burial for the period. It seemed more that four people had been caught in a storm and buried in a rockslide, or that they had been left there to be quarantined for disease, or that they had fled there from attack.

The single-strand necklace had been found amid the bones of a middle-aged woman in the cave. The double necklace had been found with an elderly woman in the tomb.

It was fairly mundane that such similar necklaces had been found so far apart geographically, she thought. Ancient trade networks never failed to surprise laypeople, but she had long told herself never to doubt the ingenuity of her ancestors. The same artisan might have sold beads or whole necklaces to many merchants who travelled in different directions.

And yet…something caught her eye about these beads. Some of them seemed to have grooves worn into them – as though they had been forcefully pulled apart. Beads from both necklaces had these markings.

She was not sure what possessed her to try it, but she put one of the beads from the cave necklace between two of the beads from the tomb necklace.

They fit together.

As though she had been given a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas, she went to work fitting the other beads together. Wear and tear meant that they all did not fit together perfectly, especially with some of the beads from the cave necklace missing, but there was no doubt in her mind that this was one necklace. Once, it had been triple-stranded.

Why had it been divided? Given to two sisters? A mother to a daughter? A trade item? Had it been ripped apart violently in an attack?

Both skeletons were from approximately the same era and were genetically related – that much, her team knew. So little was left of them that there was little else to know about them for certain.

They had come into possession of parts of the same triple-stranded necklace.


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Reflections on 17 Years Since 9-11

This past week was the seventeenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on New York City and Washington DC. Like most Canadians, I didn’t really make much of a deal out of it – it was an ordinary Tuesday this year. (It started out like an ordinary Tuesday seventeen years ago as well…)

But I did reflect on how I can officially say that I have lived over half my life now in a post-9-11 world. I travelled a lot within Canada as a child (with a few forays abroad), but most of my travel memories have been since 2001. I associate the days of not meticulously packing liquids separately, keeping my shoes on, and breezing on through security as being part of childhood – ever increasing security measures have become second nature to me. I almost forget what it would be like to visit the captain, have a metal knife and fork, and have my relatives see me off from the gate. (I don’t think that last bit ever happened to me personally, although I had heard of it happening.)

Travel issues aside, I mostly reflected on how much has changed in the past seventeen years. By contrast, 2001 was only ten years removed from the end of the Cold War. Nearly an entire generation has grown up with 9-11 being a mere historical event rather than an actual memory. (Indeed, children born after the event now qualify for the U.S. Army reserves.)

The day of the attacks, our history teacher reminded us that this was history as it unfolded. This was what “real history” was like – scary, unknown, hard to analyse, and subject to a lot of change. On Sept. 11, 2001, we didn’t know what had really happened. Who was responsible? Why? What would be the response? What would happen? Would we end up in World War III? There was just a lot of “oh my God, wow!”

I can still remember what I was doing when I heard that a second plane had hit the Twin Towers, thereby confirming that this was no freak accident. I was standing in front of my wooden chest of drawers, holding a hairbrush in one hand and deodorant in the other. (I can’t remember which one I was picking up and which one I was putting down.) I was getting ready for school like I did on any other September morning. I don’t remember thinking that it was momentous at the time.

Not until I got to school and realised that the towers had collapsed, one shortly after I had left my house, the other as I walked into my first class of the day, did I think something truly horrible and world-ending might be happening.

It may seem strange why I have felt a strong connection to the events of 9-11. For sure, New York City is a common location for entertainment, so I likely felt some connection to the city because I had seen so many of its landmarks on television. I also have ancestral connections to New York – what is now the World Trade Cent[re] used to be the docks where my ancestors left in 1783, never to return. But I was not nearly as aware of that in the early 2000s as I am now.

And yet, I felt such an affinity for the event – the people, the place, etc. – that I even wrote a screenplay about it. In some ways, this screenplay was about my entire young adulthood and a tribute to saccharine romance rather than 9-11, but I nonetheless wrote it. The woman who is as anti-American as…(I don’t know, apple pie covered in maple syrup?) wrote a 9-11 tribute screenplay – that managed not to reference “America” once.

Because this wasn’t just about America to me. It was about the world – the confident, democratic world that I was supposed to be part of. Those of us who had grown up in the 1990s had been promised a wonderful future – we had relegated the threat of nuclear holocaust to the back burner, more states were democratising, and we had many Holocaust anniversaries to remind us not to go back down that road again. We were happy with political correctness because it was supposed to ensure a more egalitarian society.

This decade has since shattered that future even moreso than 9-11. My contemporaries thought concentration camps (or internment camps) were horribly unjust, but children and teenagers in the 2010s can argue that “it was for security!” Security has become a holy grail of some kind. I won’t bother going on a rant.

I decided that I would not think of 9-11 as a historical event in a long narrative, but as a tragedy that happened to people. Thousands died that day. Thousands more have died in related incidents since. All deaths have left families and friends bereft. Communities shattered. Lives unfinished. Society divided.

9-11 was the real end of my childhood – I started to pay much more attention to world events and my place in adult society that day. Earlier memories, particularly those associated with travel, seem almost foreign, as though they happened to someone else.

I wonder how many people born between 1983 and 1987 feel that way.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

Having finally watched How to Train Your Dragon earlier this summer, I got around to watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 this past week. It was a great story and I look forward to seeing the third film in the trilogy nest year!

Like the first film, this one had beautiful animation and music. I found it very humourous as well, but the humour did not distract from the emotion or the setting itself. As this film is a sequel, the creators were able to building upon the existing world and characters. That is arguably one of my favourite things about sequels – not having to set up and explain everything.

Unlike many sequels to films aimed at a younger audience, this story takes place about five years after the first. The main characters have grown up; at least, they have advanced from awkward and impulsive (and somewhat cruel) teenagers to awkward and slightly-less-impulsive (and more empathetic) young adults. Sure, the difference from 15 to 20 doesn’t seem that much numerically, but it does wonders for one’s maturity. Sadly, our hero gets further upgraded to head-of-household adult in this film – which most of us are not ready for at twenty.

The main theme of this film is loyalty and it further explores the relationship between our hero and his dragon, as well as the relationship between humans and dragons in general. Loyalty is earned through love and trust, not domineering behaviour and abuse. This is a bit undercut by the fact that the main focus is on the human-dragon relationship, but it is also explored as a leadership style among humans and between individuals. The conclusion? Peace and understanding work well, but sometimes violence is necessary, and it will be tolerated (and supported) when it is used sparingly.

The problem with “sometimes violence is necessary” is that it is not as obvious in reality when it is necessary, especially compared to fiction. Most of the time, we are not dealing with armies outright attacking our families and communities. We are trying to champion causes and improve our lives.

Even when faced with actual attack, a violent response is not always the best course of action. Sometimes, taking a stand means not standing at all, or simply standing as one’s enemy fires. Sometimes, letting the violence happen to you is the most powerful response – not because you condone it, but because you don’t.

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Stardust (2007)

Stardust (2007)

There is something to be said for deciding to create a ‘2.0’ version of a story when adapting a novel to film. While all films technically do this, the creators of Stardust openly opted to create new characters, change the ending, and radically alter the tone of the original story to fit into a more “family” category. The author of the novel thoroughly enjoyed it. All in all, having both read the book and seen the film, the latter keeps its adaptation respectful of the novel’s whimsy and social commentary, as well as its world and characters, while essentially telling its own version of the story.

In essence, the filmmakers took an original fairy tale and adapted it, like countless people have adapted Cinderella and Snow White.

Stardust, both Neil Gaiman’s novel and the film, is indeed best described as an original fairy tale. We have the supernatural origin story for our hero, lots of magic, and many converging quests. The characters are new, the world is new (although based on European folklore), and some of the concepts within it are outlandish and mainly serve to further the narrative. Both are inherently funny.

Personally, I enjoyed the film moreso than the book. I liked how the film neatly told the story in two hours and I appreciated the changes that the filmmakers made. Perhaps the novel could have a miniseries adaptation in the future that follows the book more closely. (I think the rise of streaming services has definitely opened up the possibility for better novel-to-screen adaptations, as one can watch multiple episodes at one’s leisure.) Stardust is meant to be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, while the book is most definitely meant for an older audience.

There are some problematic elements in the story, but some of that has to do with the fairy tale conventions that it follows. Our protagonist is hopelessly pursuing the love of a woman who rejects him and in turn, fails to see the humanity in the woman who is the embodiment of a fallen star. One could argue that the fallen star is not entirely human, but she is considered a human equivalent. Our protagonist matures and realises that he is wrong to treat her like a trophy. Is it problematic that she still falls in love with him? Perhaps, but that is a fairy tale for you. Moreover, in this film, it is a cautionary tale for men: do not overlook the right woman in pursuit of the wrong one, because it almost might cost you both of them. Perhaps it is the fallen star’s eternal nature that understands our protagonist’s inner goodness that makes her fall in love with him despite their relationship starting off very much on the wrong foot.

Every film that has problematic elements like the above needs to be evaluated on its own merit and usually makes sense within its own story. Despite it all, I enjoyed the film very much. We are being told a campfire story. It is a magical world. (As an aside, the villains are horrible and we are not supposed to cheer for them, but they are still funny because we are supposed to be entertained.)  It is weird and there are things that are supposed to disturb us, at least a little.

Overall, I am entertained more than I am disturbed by this film. It is perfect for a Friday night in or a rainy afternoon.

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Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”

Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor

As proof that breakout characters and franchise spinoffs are not unique to our current superhero era, William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedic spinoff from his history plays. He wrote this play because his character of Sir John Falstaff from Henry IV (Parts 1&2) was extremely popular. Perhaps he also liked the character and the member of his troupe who played him was fun to write for, but I highly doubt audiences would have been keen to come see a new comedy starring an existing character from the history plays if they had not been asking for it. The historical plays are quite different in tone from the comedies.

This play has arguably been enduring, but not very popular. It isn’t one that comes to mind to non-Shakespeare fans. It doesn’t have the glamourous and/or fantastical settings that most of his other comedies do.  The characters are mostly middle-class or gentry. The recurring characters are only recurring for die-hard fans, since Shakespeare’s history plays are not as memorable as his comedies or tragedies. They are otherwise somewhat interchangeable. The whole play smacks of a “jolly good time”.

In other words, The Merry Wives of Windsor is a sixteenth-century sitcom. While most of Shakespeare’s comedies could be considered situational, this one obviously pokes fun at current norms from within the same society. It uses a lot of economic and ethnic stereotypes. Everything is resolved amicably, even situations that would not be very amicable, for the sake of a good joke.

What is also notable as that what would be considered the A-plot in most stories is relegated to B-plot status, while a silly B-plot is made the foremost event in the story. The only decision of consequence in the play is who Anne Page will marry – and I think we can all agree that marriage is a life-changing event – but the antics of Falstaff, Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Page, and Mr. Ford end up taking priority. We can laugh at the misunderstandings and mishaps of Falstaff and the wives, but even Shakespeare’s audiences found arranged marriage to be uncomfortable. Those scenes are arguably more serious and great care is taken to portray Anne’s suitors as buffoons (except for the one whom she genuinely loves) so that we can still laugh at them when they get swindled. We in the audience can be comfortable at thinking “why do her parents think either of these men would be a good husband for their only daughter?” and not “Anne is being a bit unreasonable here”. We are also meant to laugh because Mr. Page and Mrs. Page favour different suitors. For once, I felt that I was watching a comedy that both me and my sixteenth-century counterpart would have enjoyed and understood – and possibly even laugh about together.

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