Poldark Season Four: In Which Some Things Come To A Head

I finally got to finish Season 4 of Poldark—I got distracted with writing a book, rewriting it, and then this thing. Season 4 felt short—some things were very satisfying while others didn’t quite work for me.

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Let’s start with the weirdest and most moderately-warm-dishrag: Justice for Morwenna. 98% of Morwenna’s scenes have involved her suffering horrifyingly—if not by Ossie assaulting her then by him or his mother threatening to take away the one thing that seems to bring her any joy in life, her son.

Happy to see Ossie finally bite the dust, but his manner of death was pretty unsatisfying. I was hoping it would involve Morwenna breaking a wine bottle and going wild on him, or even just some good of fashioned poison; it’s been difficult to just sit back and watch Morwenna get shit on over and over. So ultimately Ossie’s undoing is self-made—the creepy affair he has with Morwenna’s sister results in the sister’s husband going Clue on his ass with a candlestick. A very nice candlestick. The fact that Morwenna doesn’t have a lot of agency in her situation felt reasonably fair at first— lots of girls were forced to marry whoever and were then unhappy—but the fact that she never ends up having agency is ultimately frightening. It just felt like her situation kept going from bad to worse with no end in sight. We do get a more-or-less happy ending with her tentative marriage to Drake—the one drop of sugar in a season finale filled with intense negative emotions.

The politics in the show aren’t really nuanced to be intriguing in and of themselves. Ross is always heroically arguing for something obviously right, like the idea that poor people who make terrible wages shouldn’t starve to death in abject poverty while rich dudes with monocles laugh heartily over bowls of caviar. The show always wants to give Ross the moral high ground on everything but Elizabeth. Wealth disparity, in this world, is due to men’s insatiable greed, but it doesn’t really get into, say, what was going on with colonialism at the time, and about where a lot of those men in London probably got their wealth. Oh well.

London also plays host to a wife swap: Ross heads off to the big city without Demelza and ends up spending a lot of time with Caroline, who has fled there in the wake of her losing her baby. Meanwhile Demelza and and Dwight do the same back home. Happily this didn’t devolve into another infidelity plot. I’ve always found Caroline and Dwight’s relationship to be cute but reasonably complicated enough to be interesting. They’re clearly different people from different walks of life, but I like how they make it work. In a red-herring subplot, Demelza accompanies Ross back to London, where she attracts the attention of high-“class” Monk Adderly aka #metoo in a tricorner hat. This plotline wasn’t particularly shocking (of course Ross responds withe righteous anger tinged with dudely violence), but the fish-out-of-water elements of London for Demelza were interesting. We’re used to seeing Demelza be fiercely competent and independent—she manages the land back at Cornwall entirely by herself in her husband’s absence, and this burden only gets bigger once Ross gets elected into office. But in the eyes of the London elite, she will always be the scullery maid Ross married. Some of this is legitimately how people look at her, but some of it is the differences in class between her and Ross that she doesn’t have to feel in Cornwall, or at least not that often. Back home, she’s afforded a lot more freedom as someone from the lower classes she’s able to do more and say whatever she wants.

But the main course of this season is really various explosions happening within the main conflict triangle of Ross, Elizabeth, and George Warleggan. Finally we get some really satisfying fireworks: mainly Ross explicitly saying what we’ve all been wondering—he confronts Warleggan directly (with Elizabeth in the room, no less) and says WHAT do you WANT exactly? You have wealth, you have Elizabeth, you have everything (including an impending knighthood). George doesn’t have a good answer to that question. He is weirdly obsessed with Ross, and it’s too easy to assume that assumption is based entirely on Elizabeth. (Or at least, the above statement has to be true if the show is to survive without Elizabeth.)

Oh Elizabeth. I was literally shocked when she died. When Ross stress-horsebackrides to the Warleggan home when he hears Elizabeth is ill, and walks into that room and George says, “Oh Elizabeth, she’s dead” I actually thought he was playing a terribly cruel trick on Ross. Because her character arc didn’t feel finished to me. There could have been another entire season or more of her moving toward something, or doing something. There was some satisfying confrontation between Elizabeth and her husband- when Geoffrey Charles points out that Valentine is “the spitting image of Uncle Ross” George flies off the deep end. He stone cold turns on Elizabeth (fair) and Valentine (not fair—and really heartbreaking to see). Particularly seeing how overjoyed he had been when he found out that Elizabeth was pregnant once again (and I thought it was nice that he specifically wanted a girl). Ah, what a way to manipulate us with that turn.

But ultimately, Elizabeth’s death doesn’t make sense to me. The show weirdly has a flashback (which I don’t think it has done before?) to show her getting a tincture that will cause early labor back before she had Valentine. So when George finally comes to once again question Valentine’s paternity, Elizabeth’s solution is to convince him by having another “premature” baby. . . ? So he’d think that she just has a tendency to have premature babies? I know she dies in childbirth in the books, but I always had the thought that Elizabeth could be more fleshed out. Now that this is her final demise, it just feels like her entire story is about her being the bone that two dogs are fighting over. I don’t know if she ever grows as a person—her plotline for several seasons revolved around her hiding Valentine’s paternity. All of the other major and minor characters in the show are capable of plotlines independent of Ross except for her. When I said I wanted her to more actively do things, I didn’t mean take a tincture and die (the plot equivalent of “go jump in a lake.”) She gets the short end of the stick—to be a plot device for Ross and George. Although it does provide the opportunity for Ross to point out that they (he and George) are the ones who have done this to her.

With the somewhat tiresome love triangle disposed of, maybe there is somewhere more interesting for the conflict between George and Ross to go. It’s a fair guess that George will go off the deep end, even though Elizabeth wasn’t exactly holding him back from being evil. The last shot of him this season is of him with his children, newly widowed, holding the newborn baby—I couldn’t help but feel for him, despite him being an awful person. Elizabeth was the only thing in his life that seemed to bring him any joy—will it now be nothing, or maybe will the focus move to the baby? Is poor Valentine about to be shipped off to boarding school? (On second thought, given the duels and fires and Dwight’s incapability to keep anyone alive, maybe Valentine would be better off . . . ?)

See you next season.

Here’s another Poldark post about the first half of Season 4.

Review of Midsommar (spoilers abound)

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On a scale of 1 to What in Sam Hill, with 10 being Mother! and 1 being Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog, Midsommar probably ranks at about a 9. I wish I could say I recommend it, but I can’t.

My expectations were super high because it came from the same Writer/ Director as Hereditary, possibly the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but also one I have enormous respect for for its writing, acting, and thematic content—I didn’t even care that the plot actually isn’t that interesting.

The first thing I heard about this movie was that it occurs almost entirely in daylight (this isn’t exactly true—only the Sweden parts are) which was certainly intriguing. The movie has the same slow pace as Hereditary and The Witch—it takes its time to unfurl, focusing a lot of attention on atmosphere. In the first twenty minutes, I definitely felt like I was heading toward something like Hereditary—I felt like something equally horrifying was around the corner and was cringing in preparation for it. The film opens with Dani (Florence Pugh) dealing with her douchcanoe boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor, who eerily looks like a young Chris Pratt). I liked that the movie was willing to spend the time to show their relationship dynamic: he’s already checked out of the relationship but is the sort that stays in it because he’s too cowardly to break up. Dani is in exactly the sort of relationship you are in during your twenties: trying to cajole emotional support about of someone with low emotional intelligence who is fundamentally selfish but unwilling to admit it. She tries to get comfort about a disturbing email she received from her sister who has a history of bipolar. Just as Douchcanoe is talking to his friends about how he has to break up with her, he gets a phone call from Dani.

I thought this was handled well— filmed in a way that was disturbing, tense, and well choreographed—Dani’s sister has killed both their parents and herself with carbon monoxide from their car. Although this is not the most violent way to die, its filmed in a way that is visually disturbing. You get the sense that you are seeing it from Dani’s imagined perspective. This makes the phone call to Christian appropriately disturbing: Dani is just screaming. Cut to him trying to comfort her as she is just primally screaming—this reminded me of the epic mourning wails of Toni Collette in Hereditary (for which she should have won an award). So … awkward.. not the best time to break up after all.

Rather than displaying any sense of emotional honesty, Christian lets Dani tag along on his bro-trip to Sweden, led by his so-nice-he-must-be-creepy Swedish friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). Pelle is the only one who is actually nice to her, which immediately makes you think he is three steps away from putting them in an industrial-sized Vitamix. They are accompanied by Christian’s anthropologist grad school friend/ rival Josh (William Jackson Harper) (who, other than the floral arrangements, provides the movie’s only color), and Mark (William Poulter), the comic relief.

At this point, the movie moves away from a lot of the super atmospherey stuff that made Hereditary and The Witch so great and turns into the standard cult movie I’ve seen dozens of iterations of. You get to the isolated cult location. Everyone’s super nice. Something mildly disturbing happens, but because it’s a horror movie nobody Nopes the fuck out of there. Then people start to disappear one by one, and then it all comes to a head. I was kind of hoping for more than this, and ultimately the film doesn’t deliver more than this. It definitely makes its time to move through the trope though. We get to see a lot about how the commune that Pelle grew up in functions—more than we need to, because I’m not sure if it matters how they function, or that their holy book is written by a deliberately inbred prophet (who ultimately has some Chainsaw Massacre tendencies). The nope moment occurs when the outsiders are viewing a cultural ceremony which results in a man and a woman jump off a cliff to their deaths. Some of the outsiders are horrified, although more interestingly Christian and Josh really aren’t—they see the anthropology grad student equivalent of dollars signs in their eyes.

The movie probably is fundamentally about the relationship between Christian and Dani. He doesn’t really see her. He doesn’t, as Pelle manipulatively but rightly points out, make her feel held. This was a super interesting thematic aspect that I wish was tied more to Dani’s trauma. We know her sister’s action has basically orphaned her, but I felt like the movie was on the verge of saying something interesting about romantic relationships that ultimately it didn’t say. Christian is selfish. He doesn’t think, wow, we just witnessed two violent suicides while my girlfriend is still suffering from PTSD after her entire family was killed— maybe we should get out of here and eat comforting Toblerone at the airport ASAP. There always has to be some compelling reason why people in horror movies stay in bad places: haunted houses, creepy asylums, communes where people smile a little too widely. The reason in this case is that Christian and Josh have decided they want to do anthropological research at the commune. (One thing that felt spot-on about Christian was that he was lagging in trying to figure out what his thesis would be—ultimately his idea is derivative of Josh’s).

A lot of the foreshadowing is so direct that it isn’t even really foreshadowing: we see historical renderings of a woman feeding a man pubic hair and menstrual blood (Josh is then fed such a . . . meat pie. . . by a witchy ginger who wants his sperms); we see a bear being set on fire (Josh eventually goes out tauntaun style in a bear). This made things less tense. We know that people are going to get up in the middle of the night and do unwise things and get caught. I was more interested in Dani’s nightmares, which connected to the horror of her family’s death. Lately I’ve been thinking about how all horror, fundamentally at its core, is about the fear of death. We’re terrified of monsters, but we’re never going to encounter them—the only real terror is the very probable terror of having the deal with the death of loved ones (and ourselves, eventually).

As expected, both Christian and Dani are made to succumb to the cult. Dani feels some terror and confusion and gets drugged out of her mind, but in an interesting scene (that brought to mind the remake of Suspira) she connects with them emotionally as they mirror back her screams in a moment of emotional distress. She dances in an endurance contest, losing sense of reality and her identity. Ultimately, and as you suspect, she is named queen of the festivities and is given a choice to pick the last of the human sacrifices. Shall she pick Jorgen-or-whatever-blond-anonymous-dude, or Christian, whom she has just discovered having sex with the ginger witch? (to be fair the sex was bizarre and not exactly consensual—on the other hand, Christian is a douchecanoe, and you get the sense that her decision to select him isn’t entirely about that particular act, but her disappointment with him in general).

So . . there’s the movie. For all its flaws and ridiculousness, I liked Suspira for the thematic content about women, about power, and maybe even about dance. Midsommar felt like it started to kind of be about something (Dani’s orphaning) while also being about something else (her relationship with Christian), but then veered into something else (a LOT of showing things about the cult which ultimately don’t matter) without dipping its toes back into the first two things enough. What, then, is the movie saying — that douchcanoes are disappointing—? they are, but is the cult just a vehicle for demonstrating this? Texas Chain is not a movie about the relationships between the kids who eventually run into Leatherface—it’s a story about a family. Hereditary is a story about mourning; The Witch is a story about the control and repression of women. I think Midsommar is missing the final stitch or two that would have tied the whole thing together.

Review of HBO's Euphoria, episodes 1 -3

File this under “mildly chagrined, but would still watch.” Euphoria is not a high-brow drama about teens. It’s a well-filmed horror show for parents where you’re supposed to eat popcorn and think about the good ol’ days. Hear me out:

Rue (Zendaya, 23) is back from rehab with no intent on getting better. Parents in this show are easily fooled, absent, or are predators hunting teens. She forms a friendship with the new girl in town, Jules (Hunter Schafer, 20). I guess Rue is tapped in enough with the cool kids to get invited to the parties, but not enough to have any actual friends other than Jules. In this sense, she’s floating in the middle of no where without anyone sensible to ground her, and has no interests other than drugs. We get the sense that this is tied to her father’s slow death from something probably like cancer.

Everything about this show is mega-angsty with no levity whatsoever—that doesn’t make it unwatchable, but it creates this very specific category of watchable that I find compelling while at the same time significantly depressing. I felt the same way about Skins and 13 Reasons Why. It’s independent of whether or not these shows are actually well written, but for me it does throw a glare of nonreality to them. There is tons of angst in being a teenager, but these shows tend to show the most extreme version of this—I don’t think this is because it’s supposed to echo reality, but because older people—particularly people with kids—are drawn to it the way we slow down on the highway when we see an accident. If you were to make a list of things that make parents clutch at their pearls, this show is a grab bag of them.

THE INTERNETS! Kids use it to share sex tapes of other students as a form of shaming or humiliation. To use anonymous sex apps to meet up with strange S&M dudes in hotels. To buy fake urine to pass drug tests that oblivious moms force you to take. They definitely don’t use it to watch people play games on Twitch, to make funny videos on TikTok, or to do anything of substance related to an interest or hobby.

THE DRUGS! Peak pearl-clutching: your daughter may be in a drug-dealers house and somehow be forced into a situation where she will literally have to lick fentanyl off the knife of a brown drug dealer with facial tattoos. Rue is apparently isolated enough that none of her friends are willing or able to say, so . . . maybe this is self-destructive? (Edit, I wrote the above after episodes 1 and 2— episode 3 is a little bit better at indicating that Rue is friends with Jules and Kat, although on the whole, I don’t think these friendships are three dimensional, which kind of makes the first person narration from Rue telling her friends’ stories not quite work for me. We’re supposed to see Rue-Jules as one of these hyperintimate female friendships you have when you’re young—episode three has a drop of this— Jules saying, “I can’t watch you kill yourself” and some of Rue being jealous, but not too much of their actual bond, which is mostly shown by them riding bikes).

BOYS AND SEX! Pretty much every male on this show is a horrorshow nightmare dumpsterfire. The only halfway decent one is the drug dealer (not the fentanyl one—the white one that Rue is friends with). There’s the one who sort of shames/ manipulates Kat (Barbie Ferreira, 22) into having sex with him in a roomful of other boys, only to post a video of it online. When she discovers this no one (even other girls) seems to have any empathy for her, even though one must imagine these other girls are dealing with the same horrorshow nightmare dumpsterfire boys. There’s Nate (Jacob Elordi, 22) whose sociopathic tendencies are starting to evolve into controlling behavior centered around his girlfriend (who in an act of revenge, has sex with an older boy [played by a 24 year old] in a pool in front of him, then lies about it later saying she blacked out.) Girls are either hypersexualized or being raped—nowhere in between. Jules has been talking to someone online and meets up with him at a hotel for a disturbing sexual encounter she does not seem to enjoy—the man involved turns out to be Nate’s father.

This show feels like a dark fantasy—I can’t use the word idealized because that has a positive connotation, but in this world, everyone is beautiful and makes terrible mistakes. There’s no compassion, no friendship, no awkwardly fumbling toward sexuality with a boyfriend who actually has a soul. No one’s laughing at anything except ironically. Recently I talked to one of my friends who’s a child therapist and she said high school has radically different tracks— if you were on the nerdy honor roll track, the notion of a party where someone might legitimately die of anything other than a peanut allergy seems outlandish. So maybe my own high school experience was just vastly different than licking fentanyl off a knife. It was closer to Freaks and Geeks except I really didn’t have friends to play D&D with.

It made me think about why we like these hyperdramatic shows about teens that take themselves super seriously in their negativity. Consider Skins where there is, I swear to god, a situation where Tony (high school student) is in some sort of dangerous situation in a warehouse where a scary dangerous guy demands that he (Tony) have sex with his (Tony’s) own sister (Effy) in order to placate the scary guy. Compare to Friday Night Lights where Julie feels pressured to just get sex “over with,” arranges alonetime with her boyfriend Matt (insert heart emoji), only to have him discover that she isn’t really ready and to suggest that they could just, like, hang out, which they do, making fun of each other’s feet and goofing around.

Think about how these shows mix sex and lurid things in a bid to be “real” or at least this is what they say they’re doing. But notice how they tend to cast actors that are a lot older; they want to show good looking people having sexy times, or maybe even really being in peril, but then there’s the conundrum about feeling weird about casting people ages 14 to 18, the actual age of most high school students. If they were actually working with actors that young, there’s a variety of things they’d have to more seriously consider, and we as viewers would have to ask ourselves some difficult questions. This isn’t a “real” show any more than Skins was. There’s actually a scene where Nate buys his girlfriend lingerie. I’m sorry, but when in the history of the world has a high school boy 1) bought his girlfriend lingerie and 2) it fit perfectly even though men who have been married for 10 years are still mystified by the whole bra/band/cupsize thing and also even if you know the size that doesn’t mean that any particular thing will fit you?

TLDR: Euphoria= listening to a superhip soundtrack while being stuck in the passenger seat of a car driving very quickly towards a brick wall with stylized graffiti on it.

"Guava Summer" is here!

Click to purchase!

Click to purchase!

Guava Summer is is one of my longer short stories, now available from Radix Media, in the form of a chapbook.

In an authoritarian world where nearly everything is illegal, rules are bound to be broken. But with the summer heat comes the unexpected.

That’s about as detailed as the copy can get without giving too much away..

The story does have a strange origin: before I wrote it, I wrote a different story which was very much intended to be scifi noir. Specifically, I was trying to do something I had seen on an episode of The Simpsons where Lisa tells a story that has a story embedded in it which has a story embedded in it, etc etc. Anyhow, I did a story that sorta-not-really did this called Terrorcry, about a private detective living in a totalitarian world. He gets hired (almost not by choice) by a sketchy mobster-turned-politician to find out what happened to his missing girlfriend. The detective finds the politician—Sebastian Black—sort of frightening, but has a grudging respect for him.

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I have no idea how I went from that story to Guava Summer, which is essentially a sequel that stands alone. It’s not noir—just straight scifi. I won’t say much more other than I had been reading a lot about the USSR, specifically Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. (Just a little light reading—actually, research for a related project.) I absolutely love reading this story out loud because of the ending, and unfortunately, I will probably never get to read it at a reading in its entirety because of its length.

After I wrote it, I did do a lot of thinking about if Guava could stand on its own without having read the first story. It helped to have some time away, and readers who never read the first story—I definitely didn’t want to give up on it, change the characters into fake new ones, or try to squish two really different stories into one. I do have a sense in the back of my mind that there will be a third story down the line in the same world.

Guava Summer was also a different experience for me because with all of my other publications there’s acceptance, then some editing, then the story disappears into a void until you get a magazine in the mail. Radix Media invited me to stop by their shop in the spring to check out their operation and make a wide variety of decisions. The above video is the printing of the chapbook. We discussed cardstock, paper, the overall design, colors—pretty much everything. Because the title “Guava Summer” could possibly bring to mind completely the wrong idea (a woman in the Caribbean having a How Stella Got Her Groove Back summer vacation?) I definitely wanted the cover to convey that this was not that type of story. I wanted it to bring to mind a combination of Soviet-era propaganda and something almost occult-like. And I liked the green because it brought to mind the Sage little green statistics books that got me through grad school.

Number of submissions: 5.  Ratio of positive feedback to number of submissions: 0%! Time from completing story until publication: 2 years.

Direct Comparison of Trunk Club and Allume (from a regular person who is not a fashion blogger)

In short: I’m a lazy person who would like it if someone else could magically pick out my clothes and send them to me. As you can clearly tell from looking at this blog, I am not a fashion blogger, youtuber or whatever, just a normal professional person writing a review of two different services for anyone who might be curious but is a little dubious of fashion bloggers because of whatever financial ties they may or may not have to the services. I tried Stitch Fix for quite a while— I liked it at first (my stylist was very good), but I felt that some of the items I purchased turned out to not be good quality, and my stylist changed and then never seemed to get me. (I also think Stitch Fix is moving closer to computer modeling, which is fine, but computers sometimes don’t get the weird quirks that only humans can pick up.) I heard about Allume while I was sort of thinking I might stop doing Trunk Club.

Review of I Am The Night/ Root of Evil

I don’t have cable, so didn’t have access to I Am the Night until well after it had initially aired on TNT— but as a true crime fan, it was definitely on my radar. I fell upon the Root of Evil podcast first and was blown away. I knew it had something to do with the Black Dahlia murder, but the Black Dahlia part of it was in now way shape or form the wildest, or most fucked up part of that story.

Wish choux were here..

I 100% am writing this blog post so I can repeat the above joke, which I texted to a friend who could not make Thanksgiving.

I took a class at Sur la Table on making choux pastry, something I have only tried one other time while resulted in gougeres were bled butter as they baked and ended up looking like alien dung. I’ve managed to successfully make creme puffs at home since taking the class, which was totally worth taking. The hands-on nature was the best way to learn, and the chef was right there to answer “does this look right” questions.

Making the choux dough itself isn’t hard—you just have to get all these minute things right. The hard/ annoying part is dealing with pastry bags. They are annoying and sticky to fill—I do recommend not overfilling and using a rubber band to secure the open part. Also I had to figure out by trial and error what the appropriate size for the opening should be for piping.

These were traditionally piped with a pastry bag. I learned that the dough is pretty sensitive and will somewhat hold the shape of any irregularities when piping. The ripples and nubs you see came from the raw dough not being smooth and my not patting down the little bits that get left when you pull the tip of the piping bag away. They take longer than you think to bake, and you CAN’T open the oven to check on them. (I mean, you kind of can after they have done the majority of their puffing.)

These were traditionally piped with a pastry bag. I learned that the dough is pretty sensitive and will somewhat hold the shape of any irregularities when piping. The ripples and nubs you see came from the raw dough not being smooth and my not patting down the little bits that get left when you pull the tip of the piping bag away. They take longer than you think to bake, and you CAN’T open the oven to check on them. (I mean, you kind of can after they have done the majority of their puffing.)

These were filled with  chocolate pastry cream , which came out okay despite my messing up the recipe. (I put everything in at once, and was short an egg yolk). The cream did thicken up once it sat in the fridge long enough.

These were filled with chocolate pastry cream, which came out okay despite my messing up the recipe. (I put everything in at once, and was short an egg yolk). The cream did thicken up once it sat in the fridge long enough.

This is the exact same choux recipe, cooked on the same parchment and baking sheet. The one difference is that I experimented with using a disher instead of piping, because piping is a pain in the ass. The dough is substantially stickier than cookie dough, but a lot easier than piping. I pat them down more to soften the shape. Baked, I don’t think you can really tell the difference, and they tasted the same.

This is the exact same choux recipe, cooked on the same parchment and baking sheet. The one difference is that I experimented with using a disher instead of piping, because piping is a pain in the ass. The dough is substantially stickier than cookie dough, but a lot easier than piping. I pat them down more to soften the shape. Baked, I don’t think you can really tell the difference, and they tasted the same.


Review of HBO's Sharp Objects (has spoilers)

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I'll lead with the positive: the main reason to watch this show is not the murder mystery, but for the execution of how the story is told. (In a weird, obverse opinion of my last review of The Blackkklansman). 

Positives: the performances were incredibly strong all around, but in particular Amy Adams (Camille), Patricia Clarkson (Adora, her soft-spoken but histrionic southern belle of a mother), and Eliza Scanlen (Amma, her not-quite-right wild-child half-sister). I loved the Southern Gothic feel when Camille returns to her hometown, complete with a lovely-but-creepy house with a wraparound porch. 

The thing that kept me intrigued, and the thing I admired about it the most, is the way it was filmed to resemble human memory, as opposed to linear storytelling with breaks to make it easier for the viewer: ie, Camille sees the hingey-thing on the back of the toilet, then we stop the story for a liner flashback of that entire memory so that it's easy to digest. Even though I think they didn't do this because Camille is a damaged, fractured person, I think stylistically how they actually did it is closer to how people experience memory. A scene is interspersed with brief flashes with no explanation, sometimes so momentary we can tell that she's thinking of two things at once. Or even more than two. This felt literary to me, which is why I didn't need tons of intrigue to the storytelling aspect. I'm rewatching the first episode right now and they just showed a brief cut of Camille looking at the hingey part of the toilet--a full 6 hours before we actually see the story of why that matters. I hadn't even noticed it the first time around. 

Negatives: I never thought the show was boring like other viewers apparently did (I didn't mind the somewhat unnecessary Calhoun Day diversion), if you put the entirety of the show together, there's about 20 minutes of Camille driving, listening to music, or drinking vodka out of a water bottle. We get it--she's an alcoholic. I don't think people need to be shown more than two or three times. 

I was a wee bit frustrated with the (first) climax which occurs in the house. Ultimately, Camille is incapacitated with whatever poison her mother has given her, and is feebly trying to cry out to once-lover/cop Richard while she is prostrate on the bathroom tile. Ultimately it is Richard & co who rush in to save the day, arrest Adora, and spirit the sisters away for medical treatment. Was this not agentic enough? Just before this, Camille had made the discovery (..or rather, was given the information by Richard) that Adora had probably been poisoning Marian, Camille's younger sister who had died of a mysterious illness when she was younger. Death by munchausen by proxy so Camille rushes to the house, realizing that Amma--currently "ill" in the care of their mother--is in danger. She encounters a bizarre dinner tableau: a sickly Amma dressed in a white nightgown and a crown of flowers, her mother setting up a massive feast to her and her creepily silent husband. In an interview, Gillian Flynn mentions that she wasn't bothered by the show's decision to have Richard rescue Camille, more or less, because Camille did do something agentic: she takes her sister out of the line of fire by pretending to be sick and taking on her mother's "care" (ie, poison) herself. The action has the duel duty of both proving her suspicion, and giving Amma some time to recover. So she did do something agentic, but I realized this morning what really bothered me:

She runs into the house, thinking that her mother killed her little sister, and is possibly in the process of killing her other little sister... but she enters the house and silently sits down at the table? How about forming some distraction, grabbing your sister by the arm, and running off? What's to stop her? Her mother's in her 60s, and Camille is young. How hard would it have been to overpower her? How hard would it have been to grab that blue bottle of whatever noxious "medicine" and throw it across the room? Flush all the pills down the toilet?

Two practical things: can we please please please retire the female reporter who sleeps with people involved with her investigation thing? And did Camille really have no where where she could stay except for with Adora? No per diem from the paper? How much is a hotel in that small town? Given the high psychological price of staying in a home filled with trauma... why stay there rather than the Motel 6?

My only other problem was with the ending. It bothered some people, but I liked it. I was definitely not expecting an ending that abrupt, but stylistically it made sense to me. And I had already taken my eyes off the screen when the cut-scene appeared during the credits. If the entire story is through Camille's perspective, it wouldn't make sense for the cut scene of the murders to appear in the normal timeline of the show. My problem was that the scene itself was so fast it was sort of incomprehensible. I rewound and watched it 2 more times. While I think the images were great (particularly that really disturbing ending one of Amma) I actually misinterpreted what I had seen. The girl getting killed by the river I got, but I definitely didn't think that the image of Mae, Amma's new friend, gripping the fence was supposed to be her getting killed. I got that something violent was happening, but didn't necessarily think it was murder until I read recaps this morning. 

On the topic of Amma being the murderer (which I suspected the entire time), one plot-holey thing. They find the bloody pliers in Adora's house and it's assumed she was involved in the murders. Yeah, but fingerprints--whose fingerprints would be on those pliers? Amma's, not Adora's. (I doubt she wiped prints off if she didn't bother cleaning the blood off.) This made it a bit unrealistic to me that Camille would be the one to discover Amma, rather than physical evidence catching up with Amma. (who is arrested in the book, and her friend Mae's death is more in view.) 

And really smart to put the trailer for True Detective with Mahershala Ali right after.. It looked so good that I was sold before they even said the words "True Detective" (good advertising, considering I didn't like the first season, and skipped the second.) 

Review of Blackkklansman

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I hate to say it, but here is a thing which started with a great premise, but then failed in its execution. It had everything working in its favor: a great hook and timeliness. A black cop who pretends to be white over the phone in order to infiltrate the KKK. Even the pre-setup: he's the first black cop in this particular precinct, and they warn him that he is going to to have to "be the Jackie Robinson."

It's based on a true story, so I can't fault the story for going where it does which is to say to pretty expected places once you know the premise. Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) enlists Flip (Adam Driver) to play the part in person, Flip is conflicted, Stallworth starts a relationship with Black Power activist Patrice (Laura Harrier) only she doesn't know he's a cop (and yes, she would mind.) 

This movie was startlingly long. When I was sitting there I was thinking, crap I wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I left the theater and looked at my phone, expecting it to be 11 (the show started 7) and was surprised to see that it was only 9 pm. How on earth does a movie feel two hours longer than what it actually was?? Even while watching it I kept being pulled out of the story by thinking "this scene is much longer than it should be" and I found myself wondering about how established artists can get away stretching their arms and taking up space and making work that is too long but emerging artists have to trim their work to be beyond super-lean. 

So if it felt too long, I have to wonder if there was enough story to fill out two hours. Surely there should have been, but yet it didn't feel like it. The movie could have gone more into depth on both Stallworth's and Flip's characters. What's Stallworth's background, what did he study in college (there's a point to mentioning that he avoided Vietnam because he was in college), what is his family like, and what made him want to be a cop? For about ten seconds, the movie touches on the fact that Flip, while Jewish, grew up without really "being Jewish," and maybe an interesting conversation about identity could have been had here. We are given bonked-over-the-head examples about why Patrice might have been driven toward the Black Power movement, but this movie painfully, painfully lacks in subtlety. What, for example, distinguishes Patrice from any prototype of a young student involved in the movement? (Nothing). Maybe the heavy-handedness of the movie was intended to make it more easy to digest for people who don't know much about that time period. But I would have rather seen scenes putting everything in context than scenes that felt like 40% of them could have been cut without sacrificing anything. 

The unsubtleness of this movie is a mismatch with the sort of audience that goes to see a movie like this. The parallels to modern day America are really obvious--enough so that the obvious nods to the present day could have been written a bit more obliquely or even not at all and we still would have seen them. But if you didn't feel like everything was spelled out in enormous billboard-sized capital letters, there's the ending.. After the movie ends there's a few minutes of documentary footage ramming home the parallels today. As if it needed to be stated. This included the graphic footage of the people being murdered/injured in Charlottesville by a white nationalist plowing a car into them. We've seen that footage--everyone sitting in that theater had. It isn't news to us, and felt weirdly misplaced and jarring, like being hit over the head with a bat while hanging up anti-bat-hitting posters. 

This Stupid Reality TV Show Is The Perfect Demonstration of What Is Wrong with Non-Minority "Progressives."

Sorry to write a serious blog post about a stupid TV show. But in case you missed it, a white woman who identifies as a progressive and part of "the resistance," this season's Bachelorette, picked one man over another and got engaged on last night's episode. The controversy was that after the season premiere episode aired weeks ago (so after she got engaged) it emerged that he had liked alt-right "humor" posts on instagram that implied that feminists are ugly and anti-feminists are beautiful and patriotic; made a joke about throwing migrant children back over "the wall;" made fun of trans people (children, specifically); and accused Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg of being a "crisis actor" (a view promoted by extremist and all around idiot Alex Jones, who promotes conspiracies to sell protein powder and just got kicked off the internet).  

Garrett, the guy who did this, apologized a couple times for doing this, and made it seem like liking something on Instagram is just something that happens by accident. [It's not, incidentally, that I don't think his apology was good enough; it's that I think his apology is irrelevant. Apologies are often what you do when someone catches you doing what you normally do.] He said he didn't mean it, and that anyone who knows him can attest that he's a great guy. And yes, people have insisted that he's a great guy-- previous suitors who have been kicked off the show already, Becca (the bachelorette), Garrett's family, and Becca's family. Becca says, on the last episode, that the two men she has fallen in love with are "the best guys on earth." Notice that all the people involved making this assessment seem to not be noticing that this is fundamentally an issue of values--specifically values that aren't really about them

All of these people insisting that Garrett is a great person are white, and as far as I can tell, have none of these other minority identities- LGBT, migrant, PARKLAND SHOOTING SURVIVOR. Embarrassingly enough, I consume a lot of pop-commentary about the Bachelor, and on a lot of this media, white non-minority hosts dismiss the Instagram scandal as "stupid but not necessarily reflective of him as an individual." 

What is reflective of you as an individual but your actions? Doesn't the fact that you find punching down say a lot about who you are as an individual, morally? (let alone in terms of emotional maturity..) 

If you're progressive and part of the majority--straight, white, not an immigrant, able-bodied-whatever-- the true test of your progressiveness is not at the ballot box. It isn't the bumper sticker you put on your car or what candidates you donate to. Because there are far too many "progressives" who are all about all these things until it comes to anything involving them. [Or on the obverse, they don't care about anything until it involves them--which is behind the hard-to-explain annoyance that some minorities had about the Women's March). If you're white and your boyfriend is racist against blacks, it might not come to a conflict because his racism isn't directed at you--it's just an inconvenience that you'd wish would magically go away. You could confront it, but wouldn't it be easier not to? I think what some people forget is that racist people aren't necessarily all-around assholes who walk around with devil horns spouting sulphur from their mouths. They can be incredibly kind and sweet and caring to you, and to their families, and to their friends. But just because they're nice to you doesn't mean they're nice, or good people at all. You can't call yourself a progressive if you're okay with your significant other having attitudes that while not harmful to you, are harmful in general to minority groups. If you're not bothered by this, you really need to ask yourself what your values are. If you think someone who punches down would be a good father, have fun raising some really wonderful children.. 

Maybe this bothers me in particular right now because I'm not mad at people who make fun of migrants, (because I think they're a lost cause) I'm mad at their ostensibly "progressive" family members. These are the same family members that year after year complain about their "crazy" uncle, of "frustrating" parents-- you push some turkey around your plate, and then go back to their regular lives sharing shit on Facebook to make yourself seem woke. You are the problem. The gay 13 year old in rural America is forced to directly confront his family over and over because he has no choice. This is what has moved the needle in terms of America's acceptance of gays in the past few decades. They weren't doing a public service--they were forced to because their lives and wellbeing depended on it. One version of this 13 year old will somehow manage to convert his family to PFLAG waving allies. Another version will face the trauma of realizing that this family is no family of his, and that he will be forced to find his own non-biological family. Another will move his family some, but not all the way, and will continue to have to battle for years. Another might find it overwhelming--which is perfectly reasonable for a young person with no support in the one place where he needs it the most--and turn self-destructive or even suicidal. People with minority identities were forced to fight this fight with enormously high stakes, and yet some of the people who call themselves our allies are unwilling to even lift a finger in their own houses. 

Rant over. I leave you with an actual image of the couple from the show last night. (And yes, that is him pulling her deeper underwater by the foot, which I guess is supposed to be funny). 

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