Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Faithful Companions

Rose Tyler ends her story with a version of the Doctor, with a mission to heal his battle scars. But a Companion’s job is greater than healing her Doctor and keeping him grounded, or even saving his life on occasion. In fact, the Companion must have perfect faith in the Doctor, one that transcends all obstacles. This belief gives him the responsibility to stay ethical in all situations. Donna Noble insists he acknowledge his daughter Jenny, and she demands that he save a single family from the fires of Pompeii. The Doctor asks Martha to watch over him when he turns human but her greatest task comes during the year that never was. She travels the world, inspiring everyone, person by person, to believe wholly in the Doctor, as she does. As she insists he can save the world, the belief makes it happen.

Even traveling with the Doctor takes a tremendous amount of faith, as a stranded passenger would never make it home. In fact, when Adam Mitchell (with a zipper in his head) breaks the rules, the Doctor honorably returns him to his old life. Even returning Sarah Jane to Scotland instead of her old home is a minor inconvenience.

Katarina, who worships the First Doctor as the god Zeus, is an unfortunate example, who was quickly written out.  But the other Companions show faith in not just the Doctor but all of humanity: Barbara Wright believes the Aztecs can change (“The Aztecs”). As Amy Pond sits, eyes closed, resisting the weeping angels, she exemplifies the perfect faith and belief required of a Companion. She shows faith in others as well, trusting the Star Whale, and invoking the humanity in a World War II android.

Faith leads to faith and trust to trust, inspiring the Doctor in his quest to exemplify the best of humanity, with the best of humanity by his side.

 

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Baycon 2012 Wrap Up

Baycon is always lovely—it’s my home convention, and it was wonderful having so many people call me by name and ask about my books. (I have several new ones this year). It’s a friendly, all-inclusive con, happy to encourage new authors and welcome discussions on the most re-hashed of topics. On the other hand, it felt a bit more scattered than usual.

This year’s panels had some serious organizational problems—some people complained that they were on eleven panels, while others complained they were only on two (I had the latter problem). One fairytale talk, overloaded with about eight panelists, clearly should have been split in half (Hey, fairytales are popular this year—they would have gotten attendance!). I didn’t make it to the Birds of a Feather Talk but I heard the Whedon one wasn’t well attended. I had to explain that my heroine’s journey panel opposite had slurped up half the Buffy fans, in one of many awkward scheduling conflicts. Speaking of that heroine’s journey panel, it oddly went forward with my book’s title and description on it, despite the fact that no one else on it had read anything on my version of the heroine’s journey. One panelist kept telling me she had nothing to contribute, and another quite literally discussed nothing beyond her own novel. The third panelist (other than myself) had a strong background in myth and girl-power fantasy, and in the end, we mostly opened the talk to the audience and had a lively panel. My other panel on fairytales had many knowledgeable panelists, all of whom had plenty to say.

There were some new and different things—Cliff Winnig played sitar and there was an impressive armor and weapons demo. There was a “remembering Anne McCaffrey” track, hosted by her son and a few others who had known her. As usual, the evenings offered Rocky Horror, boffers, Regency dancing, a ball, concerts, gaming, and many parties. Chris Garcia’s Hugo Award made the rounds—I heard it was being used to power a steampunk gun, among other fascinating uses. The Consuite seemed to be the only example of the cruise theme, with lovely decorations and a staff daring people to put odd syrups in the free sodas (there was one ribbon for mixing in three, and another for anyone brave enough to try the “bacon flavor.”) Though Unwoman went to Clockwork Alchemy this year, she returned the last day for an impromptu concert. Toastmaster brothers Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin were quite funny, from their Karaoke-basedintroductions at Meet the Guests through the “A Shot Rang Out” impromptu storytelling at con end. I also went to a number of Brandon Sanderson’s talks—he’s fun, and was quite good natured at a Monday talk at which none of the other panelists showed up.

The hotel itself featured crowded elevators, a broken escalator, and a fire alarm that went off during Avalon Rising’s rendition of Disco Inferno…ah, timing. People went light on costumes though there was a small Masquerade contest and as always, a few special offerings. A baby in a mistcloak (from Sanderson’s Mistborn) was particularly precious. As always, my dad and I dressed very elaborately each day and never managed to meet the hall-costume awards…maybe if the awarders got around more, more people would dress up. I got an all-time high of 47 badge ribbons, all from making friendly chitchat at parties and in the hallways. Saturday night’s parties were literally too crowded to get into most of the rooms, though Sunday night’s were much saner. I loved Westercon 66’s drink-making robot, which was generating a substantial line. My own book sales were low, though I found some pretty Victorian accessories in the dealer’s room. The Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society was there, aggressively scooping up members and selling many new writer’s books.

Baycon was in trouble this year, with a new Steampunk con funneling away many of their fans—already often leaving for Fanime and Wiscon. Programming jumbles and panelists not bothering to put in the effort only made things worse. So where is Baycon heading? I’m not certain. To be fair, next year’s chair seems determined to fix the flaws, and is actively seeking fannish suggestions to make that happen.

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Glee Finale–Goodbye Seniors!

At last the Glee students (mostly in their twenties but whatever) are graduating. Moving on, leaving us with touching goodbyes.

In the prom episode, Rachel was cast as the underdog who has nothing while Quinn has everything. Rachel, prima donna, has never really fit well as the underdog, and this year’s final few episodes emphasize how badly that role fits. Rachel’s “president of fourteen clubs,” spoiled daughter of doting parents, the girl who gets a second chance after she blows her audition—really, what doesn’t she have? Then with her arrival as prom queen, and a big send-off scream at graduation, she gets even more.

Tina makes a fair point with her disgust at being the real underdog, and this protest echoes one the audience might have—all the stars are leaving! Every character we truly adore is moving on, leaving us with the dreadlocks guy, Irish guy, and mean girl who started her own singing group. But take heart—Tina, with almost no personality, will be the lead singer, the new Rachel-Quinn-Santana-Mercedes character. I’m not excited. All right, we still get Blaine (who should be in college by now if the “Original Song” Sectionals episode is to make any sense) and the fascinating Unique. But they’re graduating all the strong characters and leaving hardly anyone who’s had any storyline at all. Sure the new kids can sing, but that’s less than half of each episode.

In the finale itself, the flashbacks to the very early episodes were fun and delightful, reminding us how far the characters have come. Likewise, having the students sing their goodbyes was a sweet way to have them exit. Kurt’s “I’ll Remember” was quite touching, especially as the other students sang back to him. And “Forever Young” was Will’s perfect goodbye to them all.

All the “surprises” of the students’ futures weren’t all that surprising, truth be told. Three acceptances would have been too pat. Nonetheless, Rachel’s perfect future and final soliloquy song were a bit much.

All the parents’ unconditional acceptance of their children’s singing careers is idealistic of course. They’re leaving their small midwestern high school to try to become famous singers and actors in the top cities of the US—a reasonable plot point given that the show is trying to inspire hopeful teens to reach for the top. But some parents wouldn’t want their kids gambling everything on such a slim chance. In the sudden ending, one detects preachiness—that teens are too young to get married, that if teens don’t get into their dream schools they should try again. It may not be perfect, but the ending is consistent with the rest of the storyline—every single character spends their final moments boosting Rachel to the top. One wonders what Glee will be like without her driving the plot.

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Is Buffy Summers Totally Racist?

Principal Wood: Talk like that is taken pretty seriously where I come from-

Buffy: The hood?

Principal Wood:Beverly Hills. (“Help”)

Buffy is our beloved Slayer, champion of helpless girls everywhere. And yet, her speech patterns reveal a disturbing trend. She mocks Kendra’s language skills several times, imitating her accent, speaking to her in mangled Spanish, and otherwise treating her as inferior or a clichéd foreigner. She acts as if she has nothing to learn from Kendra, while she more eagerly adopts Faith’s lifestyle.

Around demons (the metaphorical “other” of Sunnydale) she’s likewise flip, even toward the proven “good” demons. “I don’t trust you. You’re a vampire,” she tells Angel. “Oh, I’m sorry, was that an offensive term? Should I say ‘undead American’?” (“When She Was Bad”). At this point Angel has proven himself an ally and saved her life. He’s certainly trustworthy, and taunting him about eying her neck as Buffy (along with Xander) does seems as cruel as taunting a recovering alcoholic. But Angel never feels he can drink animal blood in front of her, and Buffy acts disgusted whenever Spike tries. Even ensouled, they will always be “other.”

Buffy calls Riley a racist for his view of all demons as bad, but Buffy is much the same. We only ever see one token “trusted” demon aside from Angel, Spike, and Anya (who all become part of the Scoobies and therefore insiders). This is Clem, foisted on Buffy by Spike in several Season Six episodes before she has conversations with him. All other demons must automatically be killed—there are no innocents in Buffy’s endless battles. While most vampires eventually turn on Buffy, Spike’s trustworthiness in seasons five and six suggests vampires can rehabilitate. An Angel has shown us many nonviolent demons. Ironically, the Initiative does more to explore this question than Buffy ever does.

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Goodbye House–Thoughts on the House Finale

Like House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart, House undergoes a long night of the soul and makes a choice whther he wants to live or die. Once again, a medical mystery is tied to his decision.

The writers brilliantly broughtt in so many characters House would hallucinate in his final moments–Kutner, his guilt; Amber. his abrasive competitiveness; Stacy, his love and possibility of a decent relationship. All of them offer him reasons to live–his fear of a wasteful pointless death, his enjoyment of puzzles, possibilities of finding love again. During House’s long night of the soul, all these aspects of his personality urge him to fight the dying of the light, to live. Cameron by contrast offers him a balm which she counches as a reward of gift, an end to the pain. As she offers him the suicide he’s contemplating on a silver platter, he faces the ugly truths about himelf–he’s arrogant and self-destructive. “You’re a better person dying than you were living,” House realizes of his patient. and this makes him realize that he too needs to face death. HIs hallucinations tell him that without Wilson he can grow a conscience, and after facing death, he discovers that’s true.

His hallucinations challenge all the pronouncements he’s always made–that he doesn’t believe in God, that he’s happy alone, that there’s nothing after death, that he does’t care about his patients. His final case on the show was treating an injured drug adict who’s dying–a perfect reflection of himself. All these force him to confront the sides of himself he’s repressed–his enjoyment of puzzles, his conscience, his fear of and longing for death. Facing these suppressed shadow selves is a perfect hero’s journey or Jungian moment. And as with the hero’s journey, he follows these realizations with a descent into death.

All of House’s team, past and present, unite to bid him and the audience goodbye–Cameron’s look at the original team’s photo was a fun glance back at the past, as she and other team members establish futures: she has a baby, Chase leads the team, and so forth. At the funeral, Wilson, of course, breaks through everyone’s feeble praise to speak the truth, as House likely would have at Wilson’s funeral.

House’s surprise return wasn’t a great surprise for any fans of Tom Sawyer or Sherlock Holmes for that matter. Holmes’s famous death devastated his best friend Watson, but Holmes returned a short time later, explaining that while “dead” he could accomplish more than alive. Holmes and Watson are last seen driving off together having foiled the Germans in WWII, and heading off to another adventure–retirement can’t stop them! In the US, The Reichenbach Fall episode of Sherlock aired a day before this one, underscoring House’s faked death with Sherlock’s almost identical scene–another fun moment for fans. And indeed, a resurrected House is a House unconfined by the job that once defined him, a House prepared to grow a conscience on his own, find love, or at least find adventure and develop a new identity for himself. With of course, more puzzles and more excitement on his everlasting motorcycle. Drive on, House!

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The Companions and the Heroine’s Journey

Captain Jack grows from his adventures with the Doctor, from a lighthearted playboy into a serious leader of Torchwood. But what of the female companions?

The heroine’s journey involves facing one’s hidden side (as Romana does in “The Androids of Tara,” or Nyssa does in “Black Orchid” for instance). Romana and Princess Astra are strangely linked in this way, each reflecting and needing the other. The heroine also dies and returns to life with new wisdom, the guardian and protector of the next generation. However, she must do all this as more than a helpless damsel. As shown through the alternate time episode “Turn Left,” Donna actually is the most important person in existence, as her one choice makes her the savior of earth. Amy Pond, too, is presented as the most important, as she must restart the universe with the Pandorica.

Essential to the heroine’s journey arc is an existence and story ending independent of the Doctor. The Doctor’s daughter Jenny (“The Doctor’s Daughter”) achieves this sort of liberated wisdom, as she rises from death to become a great traveler like her father. Melanie Bush, leaves the Seventh Doctor to likewise continue her adventures. Dr. Grace Holloway of the 1996 movie has an equally interesting twist. Called a “doctor,” she dies and returns to life. She also refuses to be a companion, inviting the Doctor to stay on earth instead. Martha Jones, like Sarah Jane Smith, becomes a defender of earth.

Though River Song’s identity is tied to the Doctor’s, she overcomes her origins to become far more than the child of Companions or the Doctor’s perfect mate. She goes on adventures and challenges the Doctor at every turn. She also battles her programming, determined to become an agent of good in the world. This is the heroine’s true test.

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The Reichenbach Fall Wrap Up

If you’re arrogant and nasty for long enough, the world will turn on you. That’s a theme of “The Reichenbach Fall,” the final episode of the second season of Sherlock, and it’s a theme addressed more realistically here than in the short stories. In those, the police come to rely on Holmes more and more, trusting him implicitly. Even Holmes’ comments that anyone with an ounce of brains and imagination shouldn’t be taken in doesn’t stop the police from coming to Holmes each time. But in Sherlock, all his rude, dismissive comments come back to haunt him.

This episode, like many other mysteries, hinges on the fact that a lie is often easier to believe than the truth. And a lie with a little truth coating it—well, that’s easiest of all. What’s more likely, that Holmes can honestly read people in an instant, find missing children from brick dust in a footprint, outsmart the well-funded police each time? Or that he’s been going behind their backs, searching on the internet, hiring actors, and fooling them all? People don’t like feeling stupid and they don’t like someone like Sherlock, who ignores so many of society’s rules.

However, in the end, Sherlock proves he truly is a part of society. Putting aside his new connection with Molly (some of us likely suspect the favor he asked of her), Sherlock offers his life to protect Watson and his other loved ones, proving that he isn’t nearly so isolated as he wants others to believe. It’s Moriarty who has no one, who knows his life is worth nothing, money is worth nothing, nothing  matters except (like Sherlock) finding a relief from his boredom. The only other thing I can say about him is that he’s definitely wholeheartedly bonkers. Still, in this episode, he’s so classicly, unabashedly Moriarty as he tries on the Crown Jewels and boredly undergoes the trial of the century.  This epiosde is fun and silly, dark and distrubing, emotional and honest. In short, all the things that make a show truly great.

The producers promise a third season at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16573066. As fans wonder about Sherlock’s “fall,” producer and writer Steven Moffet teasingly tells that “There is a clue everybody’s missed.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/jan/20/steven-moffat-sherlock-doctor-who?newsfeed=true). What could it be? That Moriarty likes Grimms fairytales? Or has been hanging out with actors? (I’m wagering on the latter). Of course, all Moffet’s comment does is build the suspense…

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You Can’t Say that in School! Glee Issues

The episode “Funk” shows Vocal Adrenaline TPing Glee’s classroom. All right, Sue lets them in. But when high schoolers in my neighborhood TPed the outside of someone’s house they were marched off to jail. And doing it to the competition screams bad sportsmanship. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them disqualified from Regionals for their attitude. But instead, Will leads his students in planning a retaliatory escalation. The Glee kids steal the mascot and they are threatened with jail time. There’s no permanent censure for Will, their mentor and teacher, who pushed them into this mess. School stories have rules and consequences. But not always on Glee.

One day, Rachel walks into school dressed in the Brittany Spears naughty schoolgirl outfit. A list from high school orientation echoed through my head: no bare midriffs, no cleavage, no miniskirts. Even without uniforms, there’s still a dress code forbidding spaghetti straps and short-shorts. All right, television will have more provocative outfits than real life. But the next scene should have involved her being ordered to wear borrowed clothes or brown paper to cover all her bare skin.

In a more realistic scene, the students aren’t allowed to perform Rocky Horror, even when they skip the cross-dresser. But why does Will insist on pushing for it and wasting all the students’ work? And what about Cabaret as the school musical in “Preggers”? My own school banned that one because it contains an abortion with ambiguous judgment on it. To say nothing of prostitution. Sue doesn’t seem to have thought that one through.

Parent protests are often the cause of censorship. (Though there are plenty of rules about what can be taught or performed on school property). Holly the substitute’s risqué material would likely not be allowed, for instance. And the other teachers are problematic as well. “Sue the bully is out of control. No teacher can speak to students like that. She calls students freaks, bullies them and abuses them. I understand she is supposed to be the bad guy, but no one can get away with that kind of behavior,” one commentator protests (“Watching Glee”). And imagine how Rachel’s doting dads would feel upon hearing her school counselor tell her the lack of a gag reflex will be a blessing.

The parents’ complaints about the grinding, thrusting dance of “Showmance” seem quite justified. Will, however, doesn’t make the “inappropriate for high school” speech he does in “Grilled Cheesus.” He only tells Rachel she shouldn’t have been sneaky about it. And speaking of “Grilled Cheesus,” it seems unlikely the principal would ask his pastor for songs to sing with Jesus in the titles. What about church and state? Wouldn’t the parents of those kids who celebrate Hannukah andKwanza complain?

In fact, real-life parents are complaining, as the Parents Television Council calls Glee the “Worst TV Show of the Week.” Their article complains of “twisted humor and raunchy sensibilities,” adding that the episode “Showmance” “should have also contained the “S” descriptor for sexual situations, given the suggestive dancing and raunchy balloon antics.” There were more protests over a few Glee stars posing in a “near-pornographic display” in GQ (Parents Television Council).

High schoolers won’t watch a few episodes and instantly break school rules to stuff tater tots in a tailpipe or dress like Brittany Spears. But there’s some irritation on the horizon at how the reality of high school is simply ignored. Censorship, always a frustrating issue in high school performances, comes out ambivalent and arbitrary. The rules and their punishments shift. And if there’s one thing high schools can be counted on for, it’s consistent firm rules about how to dress and behave, which subjects are taboo, which rules must not be broken. And so, as a mirror of high school, Glee is a bit wobbly.

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Sherlock the Show and House the Character

On House, our hero solves the medical mystery each week. We see the mysteries that are hour-long challenges and the little ten-second puzzles of the clinic cases. But none truly test House’s limits. His true challenges are the emotional puzzles–figure out how to keep his employee from leaving, discover how to have a romantic relationship. He’s an expert on people as he deduces patients’ lies, affairs, and guilty secrets. But in practice, he knows nothing about how to be part of society.

Many have heard that House was based at least slightly on Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, House is well known for “reading people,” observing by their hands and pockets what they’ve been up to. The new television show Sherlock echoes this character along with his conundrums. The main character is removed from what he considers human weakness—human emotion. Sherlock and House ignore the law when it suits them as they go on breaking and entering, taking drugs, and being rude to the people around them. Both have a friendly yet sarcastic contempt for their “co-workers”—the police and House’s team, whom they view as inferior, bound to social conventions, emotions, and lesser intellects.

Watson/Wilson is of course the enabler character. He is the hero’s only best friend and entire support system in one. Though the hero may protest that he doesn’t need anyone, he knows deep down that this one true friend is keeping him grounded and sane, connected to the world and caring for it. This most human of best friends represents the isolated hero’s humanity. Of course, he’s also a connection for us the viewers to participate in the story through, the ordinary man thrust into an impossible relationship with an impossible-to-manage genius. He’s also, though not the smartest, often a catalyst or trigger for the hero to deduce the answer. This perpetual sidekick goes through many shallow relationships, because, as all his girlfriends comment, his real, lasting relationship is with his best friend.

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Remaking Sherlock’s Pilot

“A Study in Pink” on BBC’s Sherlock is fascinatingly different from the original pilot version, as it caters to a modern audience’s need for a complex story and tortured hero. When adapting the pilot, the producer increased the mystery of the story, making viewers work harder to interpret the clues for themselves. The style, too, is different, using dramatic short cuts with text that compels the audience to pay close attention. As the text floats around people’s features, it’s as if the audience is reading the clues as Holmes does.

In the pilot, Holmes instantly deduces the murderer drives a cab, but in the first episode, he only wonders how the murderer can hide in plain sight, allowing us to make the deduction. Likewise, the serial killer’s assurance that his words cause suicides offers a puzzle Sherlock can’t resist, and offers the viewers a long interval to figure it out. The first episode casts Sherlock as his own worst enemy, deepening the character and emphasizing the struggle he will have with himself throughout the series. The killer taunts him with boredom and drug addiction. As Holmes, not drugged or at gunpoint, nearly takes the pill, Watson shoots to save Holmes from himself, not the killer as he does in the original pilot.

The pilot, with its long psychological battle between hero and villain, focuses on character rather than mystery. Even the challenge itself—is offering the pill a bluff or double bluff or triple bluff? – focuses on the killer’s character rather than any clues offered to the viewers. The killer dies, ending the threat completely for a happy ending as the camera fades out on Watson and Holmes’ budding friendship.

Episode one, by contrast, begins a story arc, like most 21st century shows. Moriarty has masterminded the episode’s crime, giving Holmes a season-long enemy to face. And Holmes’ greatest enemy is not really Moriarty; it’s himself, who risks his life to escape boredom and cannot pass up a puzzle, even the ones that might kill him. Episode one has a more complex ending as Moriarty and Mycroft are both busy scheming–though the killer is dead, the story arc is only beginning.

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