Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review: Lost 3.11: Enter 77
Sayid begs for his life in Paris. From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Eleven - Enter 77
Written 9/3/14

One of Lost's most important recurring themes is guilt and redemption. Sawyer, Kate, Eko, Ana-Lucia, Michael - they all had a big storyline surround their quest for forgiveness for the things they'd done. But in the show as a whole, there is none so thorough a quest as that of Sayid Jarrah - a man whose crimes under the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein make him a particularly sensitive figure in a show made during the US' post-911 paranoia. While his story has been addressed many times on the show already (and would be ruined a bit in the next few seasons,) it still has enough emotional mileage to make this centric episode absolutely brilliant. Combine that with a new DHARMA station and an amazing villain, and you have Lost at its absolute finest.
     Following a bearing that he found on Eko's Prayer Stick, Locke leads Kate, Sayid and Rousseau in what he hopes is the direction of The Others' base. Sayid discovered a building in their path occupied by the same one-eyed man he and Locke saw in The Cost of Living, and together they incapacitate. The man is Mikail Bakunin, who claims to be the last member of the Dharma Initiative, left after The Others killed them all in a great Purge. Sayid soon realises that Mikail is an Other - and a dangerous one, at that. He finds a map which will lead them to the Baracks, The Others' base - meanwhile, Locke plays a chess game and inadvertantly sets off a timed explosion, rendering The Flame and all of its communications equipment useless. In an amusing sideplot, Hurley bests Sawyer at Ping-pong and prevents him from using any of his trademark nicknames for a week.
     In Sayid's flashback, we saw him working under another name in Paris a few years after the end of the Gulf War. He is approached by another restaurant owner who offers him twice the salary, before eventually revealing that his wife was one of Sayid's victims. Sayid continually denies torturing the man's wife, until she comes to him alone and tells him a story of how she saved a cat from being attacked on the streets. Sayid admits everything, and the man's wife lets him go, telling him that she is not willing to sink to his level of cruelty. Even though I don't feel like the episode covered any new ground for Sayid's arc, I did like the way the storyline was handled and Naveen Andrews played the storyline with the appropriate raw emotion that it deserved.
"In Soviet Russia..." Hehe. Like I'd actually make a Soviet
Russia joke. Suckers.
      The arrival of yet another DHARMA station, however brief it was, injected a lot of life into the episode, especially as Mikhail is an awesome narrator to be delivering its mythos. Mikhail's awesomeness throughout the episode crosses the line twice in just how brilliantly silly his badassery gets, from the epic yarn he spins about being the last DHARMA member to when he sees completely through Sayid's attempts at fact-finding and throws a tray of ice-tea at him. The fact that next episode will star both him and Danielle Rousseau makes me wonder if the show can withstand the sheer level of awesomeness that they bring to the show.
      Long story short, Enter 77 was a fantastic episode full of mythos, character development and a badass russian guy who is seriously channelling Rasputin. After my initial misgivings about the season's first arc and the transition into the season proper, I'm relieved to see that the season has gained its full momentum. Of course, most early-season Sayid episodes are great without having to try very hard, but it was the fact that this came after two episodes of varying quality that made the episode's conciseness hit with full force. It is a signal, perhaps, that this season is going to become more consistant.


NEXT WEEK: We reach Lost's half-way mark, with Par Avion.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who 8.5: Time Heist

The four leads stand outside the Bank (although I can't
remember this shot from the episode...)
From The BBC
This script had everything. Well-developed side characters, an interesting sci-fi twist, and a Doctor who is an asshole, but in a fairly enjoyable way. For the final time this series, the leaked script was far better than the episode as it appeared, although due to shoddy editing more than anything else. Time Heist attempted to take a Hustle-style story and drop it into a futuristic, sci-fi setting, but the result was less Oceans Eleven and more Bottle Rocket. This particular brand of good-idea-poor-execution is a particular favourite of writer Steve Thompson; it's a perfect descriptor for all three of his episodes thus far. Spoilers, as always, follow.
     The Doctor, Clara, and two unknowns awaken in the Bank of something-or-other, with no memory of how they got there other than a blurry message from "The Architect"(resulting in the episode feeling a little Paradise Towers) telling them that this is the most inpenetrable bank in the Universe, and that they have to rob it. Over time we discover that the two unknowns, Psi and Saibra, are respectively a cyborg who wiped his own memory to save his family, and a mutant with the power to replicate anyone whose DNA she's come into contact with. The four are stalked by The Teller, an alien who telepathically senses guilt, who is itself a creature controlled forcibly by Ms Delphox (guest star Keeley Hawes, of Ashes To Ashes fame). After several escapades, we discover the establishment's owner set up this heist in the future, using The Doctor to break into the bank for one last good deed - releasing The Teller, and its mate, the last two of their species.
     On paper everything worked - the idea of a heist orchestrated using Time Travel and amnesia is an interesting one, and on most counts the episode makes it work, bringing in some character development for the four main leads. The problem with that development is that the script (and the episode) rushes by too quickly to allow any of it to mean anything, and thus the attempt at depth is lost. We learn about Psi and Saibra, and their story is resolved five minutes later. Ms. Delphox literally repeats a scene and says exactly the same thing, and then is killed off by the real villain, who then spends a minute or so on screen through very rushed exposition and leaves. The episode is so busy explaining its concept that we never get any chance to soak it all in. Now, this is an accusation that can be thrown at many of the stories in the New Series, but this episode was longer than usual. Making a longer episode feel rushed takes effort.
Twelve finds Psi's memories, and then Psi stops being
a character for his remaining runtime.
From The BBC
     And that effort is in the editing of the episode. Fast cuts and blurry shots are combined with a strangely colour-based cinematography, leading to often confusing sequences in which it's either hard to process what's going on or just hard to take it seriously. The design for the mind-scrambling Teller is quite good and I liked the fact we had an alien-looking-alien for once, but it wasn't a very scary design and it just looked goofy at the end when it walked off into the sunset, casually chatting with its mate (who the episode was quick to identify as a female, because of course the episode had to turn a completely alien being into a damsel in distress.) The cheesiness of that ending, and the fact we saw it happen only last season, led to the episode's impotence - it ran at the mouth with exposition and then did nothing to give us any closure.
     Favourite line of the episode? "Unbreakable lock - the atoms have been scrambled." The pure silliness of that line by itself sums up how much wasted potential this episode delivered. It had some really good ideas under its belt, and a lot of them worked, but like Into The Dalek the script chose to tell us what was going on instead of showing it, leading to an episode which is confusing as it is frustrating. The amnesia subplot, instead of making things intriguing, seems to be there as a gimmick and gets discarded because The Doctor "works it out" and then waits 10 minutes to tell us. A good idea is not just a pile of exposition - it must be woven into the narrative, and that was not done here.


NEXT WEEK: "Quirky" shenanigans in the most-likely cringe-worthy The Caretaker. (Cue Voyager references...)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Review: Lost 3.10: Tricia Tanaka Is Dead
Enid Blyton's newest adventure, "Five Find A Volkswagen"
From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Ten - Tricia Tanaka Is Dead
Written between 4th and 8th March 2014

In the show's first two seasons, I was always a little uncertain as to what the theme of Hurley's episodes was supposed to be. They were silly and over the top for comic relief but at the same time they were quite deep and depressing. Hurley's life-story is what happens if you try and cartoonise Locke's, essentially, but I don't think the balance between those two elements fit quite as they needed to until this week, which gives us a mix of fluffy on-island story and depressing flashbacks as some light relief after last week's debacle.
       The main island plot was a fun diversion wherein Hurley discovered an overturned DHARMA van and strives to get it going again as an attempt to bring up the spirits of the camp. He recruits Jin and a newly-arrived Sawyer to his cause, and despite Jin's reservations about the van's engine quality, Hurley and Charlie manage to get it going in a joyous event. In Hurley's flashbacks, we see his father David abandon the family home, accidentally getting Hurley hooked on sugar in the process. Returning to the flashback events seen in Everybody Hates Hugo, we find that David returns in order to mooch off of Hurley's fortune. This only spurs Hurley on to visit Australia, as in Numbers, which becomes final when David takes him to a fake psychic and he sees through her fairly easily.
     Hurley's flashbacks and their uneasy attempt at tragedy comedy are always a little odd for me, especially as that combination and the way that each individual scene is played can skew everything in one direction or the other. Casting US comedy star Cheech Marin as David Reyes is a move which both inspires and puzzles, as he's both a very hateable figure and a very funny one. The same for the opening scene where one of Hurley's restaurants gets destroyed by a meteor when the titular reporter walks inside, the scene where Hurley visits the fake psychic (and slaps down a casual $10k to get her to talk), and the scene where Hurley confronts his father about the reason for his belated return. Although I suppose it was probably the episode's intention, I didn't know what to feel.
Yes, because obesity must only be due to childhood trauma
and is in no way related to the increased sugar consumption
forced upon consumers by corporations, the mass avaliability
of cheap food with little to no nutritional content, or the genetic
predisposition to produce excess adipose tissue or to become
immune to the effects of the hunger satisfaction hormone.
Obviously, us fat people are just screwed up by our daddies.
From Wikia
      Not a problem in the Island storyline, which was a bastion of unadulterated joy - for as long as it was there, that is. In a strange move, most of the episode was told in flashbacks, and the cuts to the present were frustratingly short, despite being a great deal more interesting to me. We haven't really had a chance to feel a "normal" beach camp feel since half-way through last season, and every time there was a fun moment with Hurley, Jin and Sawyer, we cut back to the icky ficky doom/slapstick/wtf of his flashbacks. And that was a shame, because the moment that Hurley starts the van, giving both him and Charlie the faith to carry on, is one of the series' most infectiously joyous. It did however give us one delicious development which excited me greatly - Kate has recruited Danielle Rousseau to help take back Jack from The Others.
     It took me three days to write this article. Not in a "I've been slaving over this masterpiece" kinda way, but more in a way which me reflects the fact that this season has finally shifted into its midsection in a very relaxed kinda way. Hurley's final flashback episode (before his flashforwards, flash-sideways and flashwtfs in the succeeding seasons) shone a light on his family life which took the more outlandish events of previous episodes and gave them a more heartfelt context, but the comedy and drama were so thickly intertwined that it was often hard to tell what the mood was or even what we were supposed to take from it, resulting in an atmosphere of lazy melancholy lit - one only relieved by the main island storyline and its beacons of hope both in-universe and for the rest of the season.


NEXT WEEK: A badass Sayid episode with a one-eyed Russian and a Dharma station with an explosive... chess set. See if Locke will have the nerve to Enter 77.
P.S. I get very pissed off when the writers use Hurley's obesity as a plot point. They avoided it more than they did in Dave, but the fact they blamed his weight on childhood abandonment is just cruel and stupid. Shame on you guys.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who 8.4: Listen

The episode's writing is perfectly matched by a dynamic
direction that uses colour instead of using "cool" washed
out filters!
I know it's not a particularly subtle set of opinions that I hold about Steven Moffat - I don't like him as a person, or as a writer, for various reasons that I've mentioned over the past year and elsewhere probably too. A lot of his scripts fail for me because of a mixture of poor narrative structure (leading to umpteen plot holes and retcons) and his abominable politics which too often stereotypes women and minorities, as well as turning The Doctor into an outlet for his own prejudices. Why mention this here? Because, for the first time in a long time, I am walking away from a Moffat episode with the feeling that I watched something well put-together. Miracles do happen. Spoilers below, btw.
     It's very difficult to discuss this episode without spoiling it, although seeing as I was spoiled from the outset and liked it anyway might be somewhat telling. The episode goes out of its way to play on the "nothing is scarier" trope of the unseen, the evil hidden in the dark, the thing in the corner of your eye - common Moffat themes/repetitions, except this time the whole thing feels a little half-assed, and more effort is put toward's Moffat's strange blend of attempted character development and using Time Travel to stalk people, this time focussed on Clara's beau Danny Pink, his distance decendant and, for a brief moment at the end of the episode, The Doctor himself. The twist, as lame as it sounds in text form, is that the monster simply doesn't exist. It really all is paranoia, and all of the rational explanations for the various phenomena that they've experienced are the real deal. The villian was fear itself.
      Now, I think the episode was most definitely better when I knew the twist all the way through, even if it did lead to some hilarious moments of hindsight where what originally looks like genuine concern becomes hysteric melodrama. I liked the way that the themes and motifs of the episode were self-consistant and actually built up around a fairly (and I say fairly in the most generous sense) realistic set of character interactions. In this vein, it became less about the whole background suspicious evil thing and more about the development of each of those characters - explaining why Danny is a soldier, why The Doctor is afraid of the dark, and giving us hints to Clara's future. As annoyed as I am with the fact that Clara has effectively no control over her future now (she's gonna settle and have kids with Danny, because Moffat's eventual "happy ending" for all female characters is a life of domesticity), the fact that she actually had a consistent characterisation was quite surprising.
I liked this week but seriously, can we stop stalking our
companions as kids already? It's weird, Moffat.
      Of course there are always nitpicks, and most of the few complaints I have about this story come from the same direction as some of Moffat's bigger sins in other episodes - yet another Moffat episode goes by with The Doctor making constant comments about Clara's appearance, time travel and lazy predestiny is used as a stand-in for actual development of relationships and we muzzle in on The Doctor's childhood and inject a Moffat-original into the series' mythos. Luckily this injection wasn't as egregious as The Name of the Doctor, with Clara's influence on The Doctor's history being limited to a single psychological issue which only cropped up 11 regenerations after it started. (And no, I'm still not accepting Hurt or TenToo as regens. Fuck that noise.) Oh, and a few points of contention regarding Moffat's originality - Moffat uses the end-of-the-universe "we're not supposed to go this far/last planet in the universe" bit from Utopia and the knocking on the door stuff straight out of Midnight.
     While its message and its character focus was a little garbled, I can say that Moffat is making some small progress, and I didn't come away from the episode feeling outrageously offended by anything in particular. The episode's way of building up its threat and then tearing it down for a mixture of fun character moments meant that something was actually different at the end of it, characters got developed, there was CHANGE! And I know that shouldn't be much to ask from TV, but the fact I left this episode smiling has to give me some hope that Doctor Who's redemption is in sight. Even if it's just a star through a telescope.


Next Week: We rob a bank... or do we? It's Time Heist.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Lost 3.9: Stranger In A Stranger Land
This just in - the writers of this episode are using outdated
race tropes from 1950s war films. From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Nine - Stranger In A Stranger Land
Written between 3/3/14

Here we are. This is the bigg'un, the one I've been waiting for. A Lost episode with such a bad reputation that it did quite literally end the show, albeit with some very fancy padding. (About 64 episodes' worth, in fact). Even after some of the worst recesses of the final season, Stranger In A Stranger Land ticks so many boxes on the "why did you do this?" sheet that its reputation is assured. At the same time, the episode didn't strike in me the kind of inspired fanboy rage that plagues me in the later seasons - I can see why the writers might have thought that any part of this episode was a good idea. But, coming after two absolute crackers, that just doesn't cut it.
     The worst aspect of the episode for me is the flashback which takes up a fair chunk of the running time and is a shockingly backwards instance of Yellow Fever, in which Jack is the handsome white male travelling in the mysterious orient, before being seduced by a skimpy-clothed asian woman whom he uses and abuses in order to manipulate her magic power of "seeing people", before she gives him a tattoo in Chinese despite living her whole life in Thailand. Given this show's slightly more sensitive looks at Korea and Iraq, the fact that the writers of this episode see Thailand as fair-game for horrendously rascist stereotypes is just weird to me - as is the fact that Jack's an abusive Mighty Whitey dickbag who stalks and then assaults someone, and whom we're meant to feel sorry for when that comes back to bite him in the ass.
     Not that the main story was much better, and given that it signalled a major change for Jack's storyline that was difficult to reconcile. We see that Ben's stitches are infected, and at the same time Juliet is being tried by The Others for killing Danny Pickett. Her judge is Isabel, a swarthy woman played by Diana Scarwid, and who is never seen or mentioned again after this episode. Jack is forced to promise to be Ben's carer (seeing as Ethan was the only qualified surgeon The Others had) in exchange for leniency in Juliet's sentence, which apparently means that The Others instead brand her with a funny symbol. (Which again, is never mentioned again.) In one of the episode's few good developments, we saw that The Others were returning to their base on The Island, which makes me happy because The Barracks is one of my favourite Island locations. And then there was a third storyline running along with Kate, Sawyer and Alex's boyfriend Karl, where they rowed back to The Island, moaned, had a nice chat about stars, moaned, and argued incessantly.
Isabel is an Other bigshot - but she's never seen again.
From Wikia
      Ignoring that stupid fucking flashback story, the main problem I had with the story in the present was that it felt as though a lot of undevelopped ideas were being thrown around - and that's not really what Lost is supposed to do. After eight weeks of hearing nothing about The Others' justice system, suddenly this group of advanced, enlightened people becomes a savage society that practices capital punishment. Not to mention Isabel, who you think we'd have met at some point in the last eight weeks if she was that important. Nopt helping matters is the fact that Michael Emerson and Elizabeth Mitchell are acting their little hearts out to try and make this material work. And the guy that plays Karl clearly isn't aware that he needs to do anything like that. Even though he does. He really, really does.
     Stranger In A Stranger Land finishes this segment of The Others' plot, and gets us away from that tiresome Hydra Island set and one step closer to 1970s Dharma architecture. But it's main plotlines were segmented and when they weren't boring, they were contradictory to everything that came before and after. And the killing blow to the whole mess is Jack's flashback, which not only fits exactly nowhere in his flashback timeline, but which is some of the most horrendously offensive TV that Lost would produce until what they did with Sayid in Season Six. It's just not on, and it's the antithesis of what Lost should be representing.


NEXT WEEK: Hey! Did you know that Hurley is unlucky? No? Well, we find out some more when the news comes in that Tricia Tanaka Is Dead

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who 8.3: Robot of Sherwood

No disrespect to Tom Riley's performance. But I think I
actually preferred that terrible BBC version.
I had originally decided that in script form, this was my favourite of those five episodes leaked - the script had some really nice ideas to do with robots and stuff, which I usually think are amazing. There was something a little too silly about Robot, however, and I think it ultimately ended up feeling more like an average episode of Merlin. (And, as much as I loved that show, that's not a compliment for Doctor Who.) It wasn't that the episode didn't have any good ideas up its sleeves, but that they were left to be rushed out at the climax and the rest of the episode filled with incessant, annoying bickering between our inconsistent Doctor and Tom Riley's Robin Hood.
     Following on from the tradition of the RTD years, this week is a celebrity historical, delivered by Mark Gatiss in the way that only he seems to do. (Seriously, it took me till this year to realise he's only ever written Historicals). Instead of following someone who actually existed, this episode calls back to stories like Battlefield, giving physical reality to an element of British folklore. Unlike that story, however, which added a well-developed new take on that folklore, Robot played into all of the Robin Hood cliches and gave it only one, underdeveloped and confusingly explained sci-fi element.
     In terms of The Doctor's characterisation, this episode was bizarre, both on its own and in comparison to the previous two episodes. However badly developed Moffat's idea of the new, darker Doctor, this episode played his grumpiness for laughs in a way which did not sit well, coming off as overly forced and turning The Doctor into something of a farcical figure. Capaldi is a great actor, but in this episode he was given no chance to carry the authority and presence that the character needs to bring to the screen, instead bickering in a way more typical of his predecessor's more irritating moments. Adding to that was the episode's insistence that The Doctor was a noble hero - even when this season has been keen to establish (albeit somewhat shoddily) that The Doctor is a straight-up ass in this incarnation.
Who are the Robots? What is their culture? Why are they
on Earth? Who created them? WHAT IS GOING ON?
     It seems to be a pattern with this and last week - a lot of faffing about takes the place of effective worldbuilding and character development. We got a few pivotal scenes to work with Robin and the Sheriff, but both of them had such cardboard characters that the episode itself was pointing out how unoriginal their motivations were. The result was a story we weren't invested in and didn't care about, soaked in an atmosphere which, while fairly well constructed, added nothing to the viewing experience. It was cliched, rubbish gibberish, and it wasn't even interesting about it. And for the story I was looking forward to, that's a crying shame.


NEXT WEEK: The Doctor is afraid of the dark... or is he? Plus some creepy "lets see a companion as a child" shit from the Moffat himself. It's Listen.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Review: Lost 3.8: Flashes Before Your Eyes
Desmond does this face a lot in this episode. It's
Henry Ian Cuisick's "future!" face. From Wikia
Lost - Season Three, Episode Eight - Flashes Before Your Eyes
Written 2/3/14

If there's one aspect of science fiction that I can't get enough of, it's Time Travel. It's what got me into the genre with Doctor Who, and it's been something that I've been fascinated with ever since I was a kid. I even wrote an article about it last year. (That link contains some spoilers to the rest of the show, as will most of this article.) Time Travel on Lost has always been pretty interesting, as it provides a bona fide example of an immutable timeline - which, of course, the writers will always twist into destiny and fate etc. . Although it wasn't that apparent at the time, Flashes Before Your Eyes sets down Lost's time-travel philosophy in a way that, while not that important now, would shape the mechanics of the next two seasons in ridiculously amazing ways.
     This episode is the first of a few in the show to present its flashback as a continuous stream in the middle of the ep. instead of cutting back and forth between the two plotlines, and this was very appropriate, as we saw Desmond reliving a short segment of his life before the Island as a direct consequence of turning the Hatch Failsafe Key. Back in 1996, Desmond is living with girlfriend Penny when he suddenly starts getting flash-forwards to the Island. After he is dismissed entirely by Penny's father Charles Widmore, his flashes start troubling him and, on the way to buying Penny's engagement ring, he meets Eloise Hawking. (Mother of Daniel Faraday from Seasons 4-6, who is quite knowledgable about Time Travel due to her son's self-paradox.) She tells him that all of his visions are true, and that while he may avoid breaking Penny's heart, he will always end up at the Island, as even with knowledge of his future he cannot change his path.
     This fits in very well with the show's later use of immutable timelines, except this time was slightly more flexibility between fixed events and quibbleable details. I assume that certain aspects of Desmond's knowledge were forgotten by the time he set off on his adventures, as they might have affected things quite considerably. It also fell into one of the episode's biggest quibbles for me - the fact that there was a quite easy way to work around Desmond's problem, but Hawking's pushing of the immutable timeline model as "fate" and "your true path" made him fuck up. That would later happen in Season Five and if you've ever read those reviews, you know how much it pissed me off. In this case, the convoluted path of "Desmond breaks Penny's heart, joins the army, joins a sailing race and then makes it to the Island to save the world" could have just as easily been turned into "Desmond spends five lovely years with Penny and then tells her that he's going away for three years, travelling to the Island and saving the world."
Luckily, Eloise doesn't appear again until Season 5. So no
more of this destiny bs until then, eh? From Wikia
      This episode also revealed that Desmond's recent premonitions all concern Charlie's inevitable death, setting up his story for this season. We were let to believe that Desmond was trying to save Claire, and I kinda ship Desmond/Claire so I was giggling there. But Charlie's stories really took a tumble last season what with all the outrageous jealousy (or Neelix moments as I might as well call them) for Locke of all people, the dip back into drug-hoarding and the assault on Sun on Sawyer's behalf. Don't worry, that'll get addressed this season. Ultimately I don't know whether knowing about Charlie's death this early in the season made it easier or harder to handle when it actually did happen - although I'd probably argue for the latter, as in the end it became Charlie's decision.
     Charlie's inevitable death at the end of the season marks a quite pivotal point in Lost history - the end of the long seasons, the beginning of more time-travel and sci-fi themes and a series of format changes that would re-define what Lost meant. It's somewhat appropriate to this episode's themes that it manages to predict all of those changes in a way which still manages to feel right in the context of the present goings on. Desmond centrics are always brilliant, and this introduction of a time-travel theme (continued in Season Four's The Constant) just makes it that much better for me. Last week I said I didn't like Flashes Before Your Eyes - and quite frankly, with an episode as perfect as this, I'm not sure why.


NEXT WEEK: We return to Jack and Juliet shenanigans in what is the worst episode of the show - the episode that drove the show's producers to set a limit to the number of episodes they had left to produce. Asking the burning questions that no-body wanted to know about, it's Stranger In A Strange Land.