Premiere 3 – Murdoch Mysteries – Season 9

Premiere 3 – This Is How to Reset the Status Quo!


Season 9, Episode 1 (Nolo Contendere)

Like a good police procedural, Murdoch Mysteries reset the status quo by the end of the season premiere. This was crucial, since one of the most prominent and beloved main characters was in jail for murder following the end of last year’s finale. One plot thread was left hanging – namely whether or not one of the other characters would move away – but the episode even neatly tied that up loosely. The standard rule applies – the character has not left yet, so do not worry about it. Until someone actually gets on a boat and their name disappears from the opening credits, they are not going anywhere.

The season began several months after the finale, with ex-Constable Crabtree in prison and the rest of the station somewhat subdued at his absence, even after so much time having passed. Murdoch and Ogden are still enjoying their married life, but they do what they do best together, which is solve cases. We are treated to refreshing, humourous snippets of their domestic bliss while they discuss clues that might exonerate Crabtree. The writers are so far maintaining the delicate balance of romance and mystery. After all, the viewers are not tuning in for the romance alone.

Unsurprisingly, Crabtree is innocent, having plead “no contest” to the murder charge. He is trying to protect his ex-fiancee Edna, whom he thinks killed her abusive husband; when she is finally found by Inspector Brackenreid, it turns out she thinks that Crabtree killed him to protect her. Thanks to shrewd detective work by Murdoch, Ogden, Brackenreid, & Dr. Grace on the outside, and by Crabtree and former Chief-Constable Giles on the inside, Crabtree is exonerated and set free. In true procedural fashion, the status quo is restored with him returning to the station as a constable on probation, his promotion to detective possibly forever out of reach. That ensures that he will be Murdoch’s sidekick for a long time! Both he and Murdoch are trapped in their positions – him because of his rash romantic actions and Murdoch because of his faith. This is fortunate for both the viewers, who appreciate their dynamic as a team as much as we appreciate the dynamic between Murdoch and Ogden, and for the writers, who have ready excuses for why these top-rate cops never advance despite all of the important cases that they solve.

Oddly enough, the case itself is layered and keeps the audience guessing. At first, it seems like a simple case of a battered wife shooting her husband in self-defense. However, a missing soldier from the Boer War and an expensive diamond soon reveal a conspiracy and nearly gets Murdoch killed. And yet, the murder itself doesn’t have anything to do with the conspiracy after all.

Crabtree gets his freedom but loses Edna and Simon. I do not know if we have seen the last of them – it would be great to have some closure on that storyline sometime in the near future. Perhaps they could still reconcile. On the other hand, it looks like the writers might be trying to get Crabtree and Dr. Grace back together, despite the latter being a lesbian. I would prefer that they not do this. Yes, they have chemistry together. However, I do not think it sends the right message to flip-flop a character’s sexuality. It would not be in keeping with the themes of the show. Besides, showing Dr. Grace and Crabtree as friends would be just as meaningful. Crabtree, for all his wild ideas, is a somewhat traditional fellow who would do well with an ordinary woman, not an educated doctor with an interest in the suffragette movement and in bedding women. Edna was perfect for him.

Instead, the final scene with Dr. Grace and Crabtree bonding over their respective problems was sweet and a beautiful illustration of friendship between them. They respect each other. They listen to each other. Crabtree does not judge Dr. Grace’s sexuality and choices, and arguably thinks that her moving to London would be a positive thing for her. While I do not think that Dr. Grace will end up moving, I am inclined to agree with Crabtree. Dr. Grace needs to be true to herself.

Back to work, everyone!


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Premiere 2 – Once Upon a Time – Season 5

Dark-Swan-PosterPremiere 2 – Saviour Swap


Season 5, Episodes 1 & 2 (The Dark Swan)(The Price)


In contrast to Castle, Once Upon a Time has never really been about the status quo. As an adventure-drama, the appeal is about what will happen next. Nonetheless, the season premiere is as much about tying up the rather large loose end from last season and bringing us back up to speed on the story as much as it is about moving forward. We have to catch up with Emma, the new Dark One, and the rest of the characters have to figure out a way to find her before they can truly embark on the adventure of saving her…if they can. In the next episode, the main adventure starts. We get to see Camelot, meet King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and find out exactly what Dark Emma is up to.

5-1I really enjoy the character development in this show, and I was impressed that the writers spent the first episode delving into Emma’s psyche and her struggle with darkness. We never got to see Rumplestiltskin descend into the depths of darkness – only brief snippets of before and after. We get to see Emma turn from frightened to frightening. We also get to see the rest of the characters dealing realistically with the aftermath of Emma’s disappearance. They each do so differently and we are treated to scenes displaying this, rather than heading straight on into the adventure.

Meanwhile, Emma meets Merida (of Brave fame) and once again, the writers incorporate a new character so well into the mythology of the show that one would think that Merida, like Elsa and Anna, had always existed in the fairy tale world – as though her story were as well-known as anything from Grimm or Perreault. Had I never seen or heard of Brave, I might have thought that Merida was from an obscure Celtic myth or folktale. I am interested to see what the writers do with her character, but I am glad that they only used her for a one-off plot in the premiere. Undoubtedly she will be back again, but she has served her purpose for now and does not need to follow along with the main characters to Camelot.

Before we can really get to Camelot, the characters abruptly return to Storybrooke, six weeks after they left and with no memory past arriving at the gates of King Arthur’s magical kingdom. At first, I was disappointed that they were using memory loss again. Would the story not have worked just as well that they remembered the missing time, but we as an audience had to figure it out? Perhaps, but the mystery worked much better further into the second episode. Like the first season, and the second half of the third season, the missing memories made it more fun and more suspenseful for the audience as we try to figure out who knows what, who is related to whom, who did what to whom where how with what, etc. The characters are trying to figure that out too. We also get to see the parallels between events in the past and present. By telling the story in this fashion, we are treated to the Camelot adventure slowly, rather than all at once in a manner that might seem over-the-top. The writers have brought back the mix of “fairy tale” and “real world” that worked so well in the first season.

As for the characters and the actual plot, I am intrigued by Dark Emma’s plans. Does she plan to turn the whole world dark? Does she plan to kill everyone that she loves? Eliminate all light magic? Does she even realise it herself?

Turning Regina into the New Saviour is mostly working: however, she faces an uphill battle both with herself and with Storybrooke residents. Her past never prepared her for being a good leader – she was coddled and abused by her mother and then ignored by her husband. She never even got to dance, much to Snow’s surprise. As an adult, Snow is slowly realising that her father and mother were not the saints that she had built them up to be. How humiliating it must have been to sit at a ball while your husband danced with his daughter all night! Of course, Regina did not handle it well at the time and might have acted differently now in hindsight.

5-2Even as she mastered dancing, Regina was soon faced with two more ghosts from her past: Sir Percival, who remembered her as the Evil Queen who slaughtered his village, and Daniel, who she was undoubtedly picturing as Robin was stabbed and lay dying. No wonder she acted as she did and desperately asked Emma to save him! And had Emma not done so and Robin died, the audience would have been outraged.

Nonetheless, Dark Emma prevailed after Camelot. For once, Emma is confident and seems happy. She has her own house in Storybrooke. She tries to appeal to Hook’s pirate nature and get him to come over to the dark side with her. She wants to maintain a relationship with Henry and certainly still cares for him.

And yet, she is lost. Power and darkness may give us short-term happiness and security, but they are also lonely. Even her family does not want her around. Hook does not want to be with Dark Emma, even just physically; Henry does not want to spend time with her and has turned into a mirror-image of himself in the first season. Now he sees Regina as his mother and Dark Emma as the interloper that is not his mom. Even her parents are more intent on saving her than spending time with her. It is no wonder, then, that Emma wants to destroy them. She feels happy and secure now – probably moreso than she has ever felt in her life – and why can they not be happy for her?

Because she really does not want a connection to them – she just wants to use them for her own ends. However, she does not seem to be so far agone that she realises this yet.

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Premiere 1 – Castle – Season 8

Premiere 1 – Not Exactly Resetting the Status Quo


castleseason8Season 8, Episodes 1 & 2 (XY)(XX)

Usually, by the third episode of the season, the status quo has been relatively restored to a series, particularly when a show is a detective procedural. By episode three, the audience is interested in getting back to having fun and solving mysteries.

Often, in fact, two-part season premieres are frowned upon if they are not shown together, much like a two-part season finale. It is expected that the stakes are high for the finale and the premiere, but a procedural show has a formula that is has to emulate weekly. Still, we can excuse a show for wanting to start off with a bang, making the premiere exciting and longer than an hour. By the end of the second episode, things should be relatively be back to normal. Plot threads from the finale are resolved, the main characters are no longer in mortal peril, the case is solved, and the supporting cast has fallen into place.

Castle appeared to do this, but then twisted the knife slightly in the final scene of the second episode. Instead of getting our status quo, Castle and Beckett’s relationship appears to be rocky while the conspiracy is getting more complicated. In fact, Beckett is even called out on her actions by another character, basically being told that any deviation from the status quo is her fault herein.

I am all for portraying a romantic relationship realistically with rough patches. In fact, I am not concerned that Castle and Beckett are going through a rough patch. They have a very passionate but ultimately rough relationship that has never been smooth sailing. As much as both of them would like to settle into domestic bliss, neither of them are really ready for it – but particularly Beckett.

Beckett is younger than Castle and has never been properly married before, unlike him, who is hoping that third time is the charm. She has always been a lone wolf and a warrior for justice. For her to “settle down”, so to speak, is extremely difficult. It is entirely understandable that she might need some time away, but why couldn’t she just go to a spa or retreat for a week? Honestly, do they have to make it look like she is breaking up with her husband? Couldn’t she have talked with Castle about her fears and decision first, rather than springing it on him when he thought that everything was fine?

Despite the change of showrunners this year, I do trust that the writers have a plan. Whether or not their plan is believable or not remains to be seen. Television is not real life, so if their story stretches the bounds of incredulity even more than they already do, I am fine with that. However, it does not do well to alienate a large portion of the audience by tricking them. This is a procedural show – the writers ought to follow procedure. It is also a dramedy, not a drama. Still, it is not my show.

The opening episodes themselves were very well-written! A conspiracy within the CIA, Beckett on the run, Castle and Alexis as private investigators following her footsteps, and cuts between their search and Beckett’s adventure all made for riveting television. Having the two episodes separated by a week was not preferable, but that was obviously a network decision. They would have done better together. It also would have worked better as a dramatic arc halfway through the season. Either way, it was a well-done story and would have been fine except for the very last scene.

Then again, back to the status quo might be a bit boring! Why watch a happily married couple be all cute and cuddly? Bring on the reality.


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Making the World a Better Place

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)


The 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel centred on a group of assorted British late-middle-aged/senior citizens who, for varying reasons, ended up moving to India to live out the rest of their days. They found themselves at a hotel that was less than advertised, although not for the lack of effort and enthusiasm from their young proprietor. Most of them chose to stay at the hotel and one of them, the former lifelong housekeeper/nanny Muriel, even decides to help manage it. That film is primarily about each of the elders and how they adapt (or not) to living in India, and it is about how they view their lives. It is hilarious and poignant. While most films of late to have an ensemble cast focus on younger characters, both Marigold Hotel films offer a large ensemble of late middle-aged to elderly characters, with one token younger character (the hotel proprietor Sonny). The films also cast veteran actors who bring life and vitality to their roles. They are films that show the audience that older characters, while funny, are complex and not simply one-joke decorations.

The 2015 sequel, aptly titled The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, focuses on the band of characters now that they have already formed a cohesive family of sorts. While the first film brought them together and explored the varying life paths that had brought them to India, this film takes them and has them continuing to explore these paths while also rallying around Sonny for his upcoming wedding as well as his attempt to purchase a second hotel to expand his business.

Thus, the mood to this film is much more upbeat than the previous. Like most comedies where a wedding is involved, it is inevitable that the wedding will take place, so the audience is not really left wondering if things will not work out. The joy is figuring out how the story is going to recover from the nadir of drama halfway through.

But the story does not lose itself in the wedding either. We still are treated to the various storylines of the elders living at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: they are still trying to figure out the next (possibly last) chapter in their lives. Both films hammer home the point that the last chapters of our lives do not have to be boring, faded, or dismal. One can take risks, experience new things, and be open to new love.

The second-most prominent theme in the film is: what legacy do you want to leave to the world? How do you want to be remembered? Do you want others to look back on your life and say that you had a miserable existence?

Most keenly feeling this is the character of Muriel (portrayed brilliantly by Dame Maggie Smith), who remains her usual grumpy, no-nonsense self despite having softened considerably since the beginning of the first film. She has found friends and a purpose in life, even as it seems that she is close to the end of it. For her, the hotel is more than a home: she has brought it under control, taught Sonny quite a bit, and been able to prepare them to expand the business. She wants Sonny to succeed – frustrated as she is with him and his antics, she has come to see him as one of the children that she never had – and she wants other people such as herself to have the option of living out their elderhood and finding their purpose in India as she has. She takes ownership of the project of the hotel’s expansion and she finds herself in a mentorship role. Does she have anyone back in England who cares much about her? Probably not. But in her new life, she has many who are concerned about her, to the point that Sonny rushes back from his wedding reception to look for her, worried that she might have done the “ultimate check-out”. (Luckily, she simply wanted to avoid a noisy and crowded party. Plus, someone needed to mind the hotel.)

Making the world a better place inevitably means starting projects you do not expect to see finished – planting trees that you never expect to sit under, as quoted in the film. One is never too old to stop caring, to stop making a difference in the world and in the lives of others. One’s life is only meaningless if one makes it so. And there is no reason not to enjoy life either, no matter how old one is.


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Sex Distracting from Religion


Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970)

The world of Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret is the late 1960s, when religion and belief in God was a lot more ubiquitous than it is now. Even a child not raised in any religious tradition was still culturally embedded in a belief in God. This is just one of the things that first stands out to me about this book, rereading it after many years.

I really enjoy this story. It is not merely about a young girl going through puberty, even though that it often how it gets summed up, and in fact the sexual element is only a small part of what Judy Blume conveys with the character of Margaret.

Margaret is a character that I can relate to somewhat. She is an only child who just moved to a new suburb. Even prior to her move, it does not seem that she had many friends, since no one from before her move is ever mentioned again in the novel. Transportation was not so arduous in the 1960s that she would not have at least made plans to visit an old friend on a weekend, or talked to them over the phone. Margaret thus wanted to make a new start in her new neighbourhood and school and make a group of friends.

She does find friends, and they are not a bad crowd. They do seem to be in a hurry to grow up – insisting on wearing bras whether or not they needed them, anxious to get their periods (until they do…), and wanting a safe place to gossip about boys and crushes – but there is little bullying and the girls do have a genuine friendship. This book was the first place that I ever heard the word “pre-teen” – nowadays, Margaret and her friends would be described as typical pre-teen girls. For them, growing up was exciting and interesting. And yet, Margaret is not quite like them.

For sure, she is interested in her identity. She wants to fit in and is worried about her place in the world. However, for Margaret, bras and periods are just the surface – physical reassurances that she is indeed growing up right. What she is interested in is something deeper, more meaningful, and strangely not discussed much.

Margaret’s parents were raised in separate religions. In the twenty-first century, that is not highly unusual, but it was less common in the early 1950s when Margaret’s parents would have gotten married. Her father was Jewish and her mother was Christian (denomination unknown). They decided that they would not practice any religion and not raise their daughter with any religious background. Since Margaret believes in God, it is likely that her parents still do as well. However, as religion and God are not discussed in her home, Margaret is left to figure out her relationship with God on her own.

That relationship is quite intimate, even as Margaret feels that God is above some questions (He isn’t above any questions, she figures out by the end). God is her friend and confidante. She has one-sided conversations with Him. He is there for her. But as she matures into a young woman, her child-like relationship with God is called into question.

She delves into the topic of religion for a school project, only to see the ugly side of it. What she hears and sees people do and say in the name of God is like having her best friend and grandfather slandered. She sees discord and confusion about God – her innocent certainty about Him is called into question. She even decides that she no longer wants to talk to Him because she feels that He has abandoned her and her family.

Her search for a closer connection with God and a better understanding of religion causes rifts that had been pasted over within her family to be ripped open, as her parents and grandparents fight over her. Margaret wants to belong. Her parents, by not choosing a religious identity for her, inadvertently cut her off from all that is good about religion as well. She lacked a community. She lacked spiritual guidance. She lacked a relationship with her grandparents. When she did finally establish a relationship with her paternal grandmother, her grandmother still wanted to win her over to Judaism.

In short, this book is about how Margaret’s relationship with God changes as she matures. The physical changes in her body only mirror these spiritual changes. They are outward signs that God has not abandoned her and that she is maturing into her own identity. No one can take her relationship with God from her.

As an adult, I would like to know what happened to Margaret and her faith later in life. Did she decide to adopt either of her parents’ former religions? Did she renounce God as she undoubtedly struggled through high school, as we all do in some way or another? Did her friends or boyfriends laugh at her faith and convince her to give it up as childish foolishness? Did her parents come to realise that while they might be fine on the religious front, they needed to support their daughter on her own religious path? Did their own marriage survive?

Despite some dated references, this book is not stuck in the 1960s. It serves as a good story as well as a helpful guide for young girls in their pre-teen years. Margaret’s story is universal for all women. It strikes a chord with me in particular because I am also an only child and religious. It is also an excellent introduction to God and religion for young people who have not had much of a religious upbringing at all, or even those who have been brought up as atheists. After all, God is not going anywhere. Religion is deeply rooted in humanity. As Margaret’s case shows, you can’t just ignore God – even if anything to do with sex is a good distraction.

Blume, Judy. (1970). Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. New York : Yearling Books. 149 pgs.

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Angel Band – Dancing With Ghosts


This was how her life was going to end – crawling on a floor amid dust and debris, her only hope of salvation an open window that looked more like a gaping maw into an abyss. One misstep and that was what it would become. She had already seen on of her coworkers fall. Someone else had jumped.

That would be horrible, she had thought as the shadow of that intern who had worked next to her assistant disappeared with a shriek and sunlight returned to Christina’s place on the floor. White light mixed with smoke and ash. She caught a glimpse of her hands: her vermillion-painted fingernails gleamed even as they were surrounded by blood and grime. Falling would only bring a quicker death than suffocation. Her precious little girl did not deserve to remember her mother as someone who was either a suicide (her Catholic conscience had apparently never deserted her at all) or someone silly enough to fall out of a window by accident. She did not want to die here in the hallway, but dying as a splat on the ground outside sounded no better. Her body jerked reactively at the thought of crashing into concrete below.

It would be better if Amelia remembered her mother as someone who spent the last minutes of her life trying to breathe and thinking of her.

Christina Wilkins’s eyes ran with tears and mascara, while her nose dripped with blood and dust caked her face in an ugly, sticky mess. She was barely recognisable, gasping for fresh air and straining to see daylight. Had Jessie made it down to the coffee shop in the mall? Had she made it outside? Was she safe? And why did that matter to Christina?

Someone has got to get out of here, she reasoned to herself. And I am still responsible for her – she is my employee, and I sent her on a whimsical errand that could have trapped her in an elevator or underground or…And was that better than being trapped up here with her?

Was her husband watching this on the news? She did not think that she had any more tears left, but more seemed to flow as she thought of Mark watching helplessly as she lay crouched in smoke and dust. If he could have, he would have flown up to the window and pulled her to safety. He would have not let her and their baby suffocate.

She had only recently grown used to the idea that she was having a second child. Despite the blood from her face, despite her gasping for air, and despite her terror at the prospect of being trapped in a poisonous inferno, the tiny creature within her still held on for dear life. For that, she was thankful. She did not want either of them to be alone.

We are not going to make it out of here, sweetheart, she whispered, trying to sound soothing. More tears managed to choke out of her. She muttered apologies to Amelia – her beautiful little girl was looking forward to seeing her after her first day of school. Christina had not even met her teacher. Amelia was not going to get the little brother or sister that she had been asking for since her third birthday. At least Christina had not told her. Losing her mother would be hard enough.

How stupidly busy her life had seemed. All that scrambling had led her to this smoke-engulfed, wavering tower.

You also could have died in a simple car accident, she told herself. You always did like to be dramatic about things.

She kept her eyes strained on the open window, which seemed to be getting further away and harder to see. Voicelessly, she sang a quiet lullaby, willing herself to focus on the faint sunlight and nothing else. Everything seemed blurry and white. Bits of clean air were fewer and farther between.

Her mother gave her a hug and kiss as she went off to school, just as she had Amelia that morning.

Her father held her tightly and squeezed her hand as he turned to walk her down the aisle.

Her husband pulled her into a deep, romantic kiss, from which neither of them ever wanted to let go.

Her little newborn daughter looked up at her with curious and adoring eyes.

Her niece screamed as holy water was poured over her head, dripping down over Christina’s arms.

Her assistant smiled at her and waved as she headed out of the office in her search for coffee and steamed milk with just the right mix of cinnamon and vanilla.

And then there was nothing but sunlight.


“Ten years ago, I was a little kindergartener whose Mommy gave me a hug and kiss, told me that she was proud of me, that she loved me, and that in honour of my first day of school, she would make me bunny pasta for dinner when she got home,” Amelia said, having finished her poem. The crowd listened attentively, many crying. “I never saw her again. I miss her very much. I love her. She never got to make me my bunny pasta, she’ll never get to take my picture in a graduation gown, and she’ll never get to cry at my wedding. But I know that she was proud of me and that she loved me. I am also blessed to have a wonderful dad, aunt, and uncle who were there for me when I was that five-year-old and have been there ever since. Dad had lost his wife in one of the worst ways, but he made sure to make me my bunny pasta and reassure me that he’d make sure things would be okay. Now, I have a stepmother who has given me two little brothers and a little sister.”

Sophia waved shyly to the crowd, prompting quite a few smiles.

“I hope that my little sister never has to go through what I did. I hope that her mommy lives for a long time and can be there for her like she was there for me. I hope that she can grow up in peace. I pray that we all can find peace in our lives now.”

Jessie KIovac-Gilchrist stared at Amelia Wilkins in awe. She was such a brave and dignified young woman! Despite having seen Facebook photos, Amelia had never grown much past five in Jessie’s mind. It was funny how that happened – how one could look at a photograph of a teenager and still imagine them to be a child, or at the image of a grade-schooler and still imagine them to speak in the halted syllables of a toddler. She supposed that the reverse was true for adults: no matter how old a person seemed to the eye, they remained the same when you encountered them in person. Her friends and family in New York had barely changed in a decade.

Her husband and daughters were further up from the memorial. Stella and Olivia were old enough to be excited about seeing the President of the United States and were undoubtedly playing with their binoculars. Their father had promised her that he would keep them occupied while she mourned alone. He could not bear to get closer to the memorial than the perimeter fencing, even after several business trips to New York in the past decade. If he ended up taking the twins for ice cream, it would likely because he needed to get away from the ceremony, not because of them. The last time that he had stood where she was, there had been fallen bodies and wreckage surrounding him. She had managed to get out of the complex shortly after the second plane had struck and was well away by the time that the towers had collapsed. She had not wanted to go initially, but police officers had prevented her from trying to return to work. Holding her small purse that contained her wallet (her large handbag having been left on her desk over ninety floors above) and a tray of four coffee cups, Jessie had followed the slowly growing crowd of people evacuating through the mall. She had tried to phone her office, but there had been no signal.

Wearing high-heeled shoes had made her trek difficult; balancing the paper tray of coffee cups had made it even moreso. Focusing on these two things had mercifully spared her from noticing the carnage until she was several blocks toward the Brooklyn Bridge. There, she stopped to take a third sip of her coffee and try to phone her office again, when she had turned around in horror to see that the top of her building was entirely invisible in smoke. She remembered vividly how she had not fully processed that information, because she had kept thinking of how she was going to apologise to her boss for not returning in a timely manner. Christina Wilkins was a patient woman, but she had badly wanted her steamed milk. She had insisted that it be from a specific shop in the mall, not from the staffroom. It was thanks to her and her odd cravings that had saved Jessie’s life, though Jessie had taken a very long time to process that. Standing in the street, leaning against a parked car, all the thoughts that had gone through her head were entirely pedantic: her other two co-workers had given her money to pick them up coffees, but she had both their money and their drinks and somehow that felt to her as though she had stolen from them; all of the drinks were getting cold; she had spilled some coffee on her hand and sleeve; her feet were killing her; she could not get through to anyone on her phone; she had left her handbag and jacket at her desk…

She was still thinking this myriad of thoughts when, halfway through a sip of coffee, her eyes caught a glimpse of the smoke cloud increasing as a dull roar got louder. The crowd around her began to shriek and many turned to start running again. It was Jessie’s last sip of coffee, for her cup splattered to the ground, and the taste of the drink would later only bring back the horrible memory of that day. If only to outrun the dust, she had started moving again, still clutching the tray with the three cold drinks. Retelling the story, she recalled that it was as though she thought that by not dropping their coffee, she could keep her boss and co-workers alive.

Eventually, she had given the cold, somewhat dusty coffees and steamed milk to others. Christina would not have minded donating her steamed milk to a woman with a toddler heading toward the bridge, Jessie had reasoned. Even a cold coffee was welcome relief. Despite wanting to go back toward her office and apartment, Jessie had soon found herself heading to Brooklyn as well, where one of her friends put her up for the night. They had sat in front of the television well into the evening, and though she was wrapped in blankets and her feet were soaking in a warm basin, her teeth had chattered incessantly.

Someone was going to be left from that office to mourn after the dust had settled, and she was still trying to figure out why that someone was Jessie Klovac. She had had nothing to live for. Christina Wilkins, meanwhile, had been married, a mother, and a successful professional.

Now that description applied to Jessie, but she still did not understand why. She had Stella and Olivia, but still had bouts of feelings as though she did not deserve them. They certainly did not deserve to have been born to her – she was so ridden with chronic depression that she had hired a nanny for her twins while she had still been on maternity leave. Even now that they were nearly seven years old, she was still calling sitters for them when she was too ill to move. Yes, she had explained more than once, she in fact did want someone to watch them while she sat virtually motionless in the garden. Her husband had built her a little gazebo in a vain attempt to keep rain off of her.

She was much better now, she reasoned, watching as Amelia stepped down from the podium into her father’s arms. Her depression was slowly coming under her control. For her daughters, their mother had always been a bit odd. As soon as they could, they had tried to help her. Their existence helped her immensely, and as children, they were excellent doctors. Stella had mastered the kettle and Olivia had mastered boiling water in a pot (having to outdo her sister), much to Jessie’s surprise. She had been so startled to receive a hot cup of tea when she knew no other adults were home that she had been instantly roused from her depression episode. Between her daughters and her husband – who was battling his own powerful demons – she was hardly spending long hours in the gazebo anymore. Thank God, she whispered.

The rest of her trip to New York was wonderful. Robert wanted to ensure that they had a pleasant vacation and experienced as much of the city as possible. He did not want his daughters (who were thoroughly British) to think of their mother’s hometown as being nothing but a big memorial site. They went to museums and shows, Central Park (the zoo being a noteworthy stop), and went to as many of Jessie’s favourite food outlets as they could.

But seeing Amelia and her family, and later introducing them to her own little girls, reminded Jessie that there were more than ghosts who remained. For all that they were haunted, they were alive.

And there would be plenty more life ahead.

Oh come angel band,

Come and around me stand,

Oh bear me away on your snow-white wings,

To my immortal home.

copyright 2012/2015

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Love Your Lot in Life

Wreck-It-RalphWreck-It Ralph (2012)

Never much one for arcade games, I nonetheless found some nostalgia moments in this film when I finally got around to watching it. (Most of them had to with Pac-Man.) It was fun to see the evolution of the games over thirty years – and that how they are still fun after that long. Sometimes, it is not the amazing graphics, high definition resolution, or angsty character backstories that make a game fun to play, but the simple, campy fun of unrealistic destruction and rebuilding.

Our protagonist, Wreck-It Ralph, has spent three decades as a villain, day-in, day-out. His job is to wreck an apartment building not quite as fast as Fix-It Felix can put it back together. Felix gets the accolades from the simpleminded residents of the building, including pies, while Ralph is demonized and left to live in exile just offscreen on a pile of crushed bricks.

Even though he is just a punch-clock villain, with little backstory or desire to actually wreck anything, his community does not accept him. He is essential to the game – when he decides to quit, the game is considered broken and the whole cast of characters is set to be rendered homeless. Only then do they realise how much they miss and need their villain, and how badly they have treated him.

As befitting his heroic nature, Felix is the one who recognizes how integral Ralph is to the Fix-It Felix Jr. game. He considers him to be a friend, although he does not share this with Ralph until it is nearly too late.

Much has been said about the actual plot and the other main characters in the story (Vanellope von Schweetz, King Candy, Sergeant Calhoun, etc.), but the overall theme of the film is love and acceptance, both of oneself and of one’s community members.

The crux of the story is that Ralph decides to leave his game to prove to his fellow game-mates that he is capable of being a hero. He thinks being a hero is a matter of getting a medal like Felix does every winning game, but what he fails to understand is that being a hero is more than glory. It is more than being awarded a shiny trinket.

Being a hero is doing the right thing, no matter how hard or easy it is, no matter how glorious or ignoble, and doing so in love. It is being a good and loyal friend, and about being content with one’s place in the world, but open to changing it when necessary.

Ralph was in a bad place for thirty years, but it took him that long to figure out that he needed to change. He had grown so resentful that only Felix was open to accepting him – and even then only with a lot of hesitation. He set out with the right idea, namely to prove that he could be heroic, but had the wrong notion of what being heroic was. He did set out to change and accomplished that, albeit in a roundabout way.

At the end of all the battles, races, and identity crises, Ralph and Felix are back in their respective places in their game, but they are much more joyful in their roles. The apartment-dwellers gain a new respect for Ralph and all are much happier. They are practically laughing as they toss him off the top of their building for the umpteenth time per day, and Ralph is laughing along with them.

Wreck-It Ralph is a universal story, but one of its drawbacks is how unapproachable it initially seems. Being set in an arcade, with complex rules for how characters go between games and how they interact with each other, distracts from the story itself, as does the nostalgia factor. The settings are diverse and fun to look at, but make the story hard to follow, particularly for the younger members of the target audience.

Overall, this is an enjoyable Disney film that appeals to viewers of all ages, as Disney has been good at. Its themes are important for children as well as adults, because no matter where we are hoping to end up in life, we need to have a loving and joyful attitude wherever we are. We need to do the right thing no matter how much we feel wronged by others.

It ultimately does not matter whether we are the designated hero or villain – or supporting character or dead-rightaway-extra, for that matter. We will play all of those roles throughout our lives. What matters is how we live out those roles with heroism.

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