Jessica Jones: Marvel’s Darkest Side

It’s no secret (or perhaps it is since I never got around to doing a review,) that I love Daredevil. It was the first Marvel franchise where I was actually on the edge of my seat during the fight sequences because, unlike the immortal demigods of the Avengers, Daredevil could be injured. Horribly, horribly injured. I think half of the show’s budget was used on practical effects to simulate all the compound fractures they kept showing on screen. It was brutal and visceral, and featured a hallway fight sequence that may be one of the greatest martial arts fighting scenes I’ve ever seen.

More than that, Daredevil understood the gravity of the situations he was in. Gone was the sarcastic quipping of the Avengers as collateral damage and civilian casualties are occurring all around them.  Daredevil painstakingly prevented civilian casualties, and when civilians were killed by his enemies, he was genuinely enraged. This was a Marvel franchise that actually got me emotionally involved in the characters, it told a story that fascinated me, rather than just distracted me on a hot summer day.

Jessica Jones is not Daredevil. Jessica Jones isn’t even Marvel, at least not in the way we’ve come to know it. This is a different, darker Marvel. Jessica Jones is far less physically violent than Daredevil, but that violence is replaced by a far more disturbing kind of mental and emotional violence. It’s a story that shows us an abusive relationship in excruciating detail, it will make you uncomfortable and it will make you want to take a shower at some point. But if you’re ready to explore the darkest depths of human depravity, Jessica Jones is all too ready to take you there.

Netflix’s Jessica Jones

A Storytelling Review


Jessica Jones is easily Marvel’s most powerful and darkest installment in its cinematic universe. And while I’d love to recommend it to everyone, the simple fact of the matter is that not everyone is going to like it. It’s a great show, but if you come in expecting a typical superhero show, you will be bitterly disappointed.

For one, this isn’t a superhero show. This is a personal revenge story and gender-reversed noir detective story that just happens to have superheroes in it. Unlike every other franchise in the Marvel Universe, New York City isn’t in mortal peril. No one wants to destroy the world. No one is looking for infinity stones or the secret of immortality. It’s just Jessica Jones trying to survive after an unthinkable trauma, and her quest to hunt down the man responsible.

This bastard right here.

When I said this is a gender-reversed noir detective story, I fucking meant it. The hard-boiled private detective is Jessica Jones, the reporter looking for a scoop is Trish Walker, and the unscrupulous defense attorney cheating on their spouse is Jeri Hogarth. Fifty years ago, all those roles would have been male. And as for the “Femme Fatal,” the alluring seductress who is either involved with or is in herself the inciting incident that puts the story in motion?

That’s played by none other than David Tennant (pictured above.)

A standard femme fatal uses her sex appeal to lure the protagonist into his own downfall, much like the Sirens of Greek myth. Kilgrave’s power isn’t sex appeal, though he does have that in spades, but instead he’s a superpowered um… Menne Matal? No… that can’t be right. Anyway, he controls people’s thoughts. But not just their thoughts, their desires. How Jessica describes her experience with Kilgrave is absolutely chilling. Unlike say, Borg mind control, you’re not simply compelled to do something against your will.

You’re compelled to want to do whatever Kilgrave wants. His desire becomes your desire. I can’t think of an idea more repugnant than that.

Well, except for the real world equivalent. Speaking of which, everyone should watch The Hunting Grounds because it’s fucking horrifying and we need to do better as a society. 

So now not only are you acting against your will, but when you’re finally free of Kilgrave’s influence, you’re left to deal with the horrific guilt. Because you wanted it. He compelled you to want it, but the desire was still there.

That’s the villain Jessica Jones is up against and with the power to command whomever he chooses, he’s not easy to take down. Again though, Jessica Jones doesn’t follow the usual superhero structure. There is no escalating sequence of battles culminating in a climactic fight here, instead the entire season is a game of cat and mouse. Or perhaps cat and cat might be a better analogy since Jessica Jones and Kilgrave circle each other, probing each other’s weaknesses and waiting for the right moment to strike.

If you’ve ever seen any old detective movies you’ll feel right at home. First there’s the investigation, painstakingly hunting for clues and last known whereabouts of Kilgrave. This is by far the best part of the show, and takes up a fair amount of the show’s run time. I found Kilgrave to completely and utterly terrifying. His calm but cold voice, the manner in which he held himself, the calculating and meticulous planning he relied on. You barely even see him at first, just in the flashes of memory that Jessica suffers from.

Bitch slapped by a bus
Watching Kilgrave get repeatedly bitch slapped by a bus is pretty satisfying.

Though just as brilliant as his ominous introduction, is his clever deconstruction as we get to know the character. Kilgrave seems to be so powerful at first and so incredibly intelligent, the kind of cold calculating sociopath you’d expect. But when Jessica is forced to move in with Kilgrave, you get a glimpse at just how insecure and immature this man is. It’s a credit to David Tennant’s acting ability that he can go from confident and utterly terrifying mind-controlling pyschopath, to a cringe worthy man-child that throws a tantrum when things don’t go his way. Which is exactly what he is.

Kilgrave is revealed to be nothing more than a twelve-year-old boy who never had to grow up because his ability to command people meant he could do whatever he wanted. He’s also the stereotypical abusive boyfriend/spouse, if something bad happens to his partner (in this case Jessica) well she secretly wanted it! Or she did something to deserve it! Or she doesn’t know what she wants! Any excuse will do, as long as he doesn’t have to admit that he’s brutalizing people.

But the fact of the matter is that Kilgrave is just a troubled human being. I began to pity the man after a while, despite his horrible actions, because he was just so overwhelmingly insecure and afraid. As Jessica continues to press him and defy his control, Kilgrave’s suave, confident facade cracks and falls away to reveal the trembling, scared little boy he’s always been.

Kilgrave loves his Mum
Kilgrave just wants his mommy!

It’s the exploration of Kilgrave’s character, the ramifications of his actions, that truly separates this show from typical superhero stories. Unlike Tony Stark’s crises of faith he has in every Marvel film he’s in, all of the traumatized characters in Jessica Jones experience their trauma in a realistic and authentic ways. The violation they feel and the different ways they deal with it all feel real; guilt, shame, rage, insecurity, fear. Well, they feel real aside from one stupid part at the end when they all form a lynch mob for a horribly contrived reason.

As much as I love this show, it’s not without its problems. One problem is when the show tries to use Simpson as some kind of alternate villain. It’s not that I mind that Simpson ends up being a superhero/villain, this is the Marvel Universe, every other person you meet probably has some kind of weird ability.

Unluckiest Nurse
Even if that ability is being the world’s unluckiest nurse. 

No the problem wasn’t so much that he was revealed to be a superhero so much as he was boring and contributed nothing to the story. His power is dull; he’s like an even less interesting version of Bane, his only ability is getting ramped up on a super steroid. He takes a few too many of Underdog’s pills and goes berserk. It’s boring. Combined with the fact that Simpson’s character was so two-dimensional he was basically just a line segment in some scenes, and this new threat just fell utterly flat.

Compared to the incredibly complex character of Kilgrave (and the incredible gravitas of David Tennant), Simpson was utterly anemic as a threat. I didn’t feel an ounce of tension during his fight with Jessica and Trish, instead I just got extremely impatient waiting for them to deal with this incredibly dull diversion so we could get back to the actual story of the show: stopping Kilgrave.

Simpson needed a much more realized backstory.
I’m sorry, but no amount of “slowly walking away from a cool fire without looking” can make him interesting.

And I know, he’ll be back in the next season of either Jessica Jones or Daredevil, and then they’ll probably give us a proper background on him, give him actual motivations beyond ‘roid rage, and he’ll probably make a cool bad guy. But Marvel, you don’t have to shoehorn upcoming characters into every franchise you own, we all know you have a cool cinematic universe where everything is connected. We don’t need to be constantly reminded of that by forcing future villains into shows and movies at the expense of pacing and story. I thought he was properly foreshadowed as a future villain even before he started popping pills.

There was an intensity to him that seemed off even at the start, he revealed he had been a black-ops interrogator at some point, and he had both the expertise and the recklessness disregard for human life to want to use a bomb in a residential neighborhood to kill one man. That was all he needed, his eventual return as a villain was already foreshadowed. But instead of stopping there, they introduced the mystery doctor and his red/white/blue pills (real subtle with the imagery there guys.) And he mucked up the first season by needlessly slowing it down for a completely needless and drawn out fight sequence.

Now when he inevitably returns, I won’t be thinking “yes, I fucking called it!” and be excited to see how his character evolves. When I see him again I’ll just groan and say “oh god, not this douchebag again.” Which is a shame because he does have the potential to be interesting, but you ruined it by awkwardly forcing him into a story where he didn’t belong. He can probably be used again at some point, but when he reappears he’ll have to work twice as hard to make the audience think of him as anything other than that annoying guy from the first season of Jessica Jones.

Disappear him here.png
They should have just disappeared Simpson into a black van at the end of this scene and left his disappearance a mystery.

The other main problem was that, as much as I enjoyed how dark Jessica Jones was, it may have been a bit too dark. Daredevil had both an incredibly endearing romance plot between his law partner and secretary, plus several incredibly funny scenes, to counterbalance the ultraviolent tone. Jessica Jones doesn’t have that, Jessica’s life is ripped apart so utterly and so completely, that by the end you’re just kind of numb to it. Hope killing herself should have been an emotional climax, a heart-wrenching death that should have put fury in my heart, but honestly I barely blinked an eye. By that point Kilgrave had amassed such a body count and Jessica Jones had been through so much trauma, Hope’s death barely even registered with me.

Even at the end, with Kilgrave finally dead and her free of him, the show doesn’t let up in its dark, gritty tone for even a single moment. The final shot is of her back to drinking alone in her office while she desperately tries to ignore the people calling her for help. She could have at least cracked a smile at some point, or ended it with her moving back in with Trish for some semblance of human connection. Anything but a return to the status quo that left her just as miserable as she was to begin with.

Visual Metaphor
Though I did like the visual metaphor of the broken window.

Of course another significant part of why the emotional impact fell off towards the end is that there just wasn’t enough story to stretch out over 13 hours. Jessica almost catches Kilgrave about a half-dozen times over 13 episodes and while some of these near misses are great at building the tension, after a while it becomes clear it’s just needless padding. The worst example of this is when Kilgrave manages to escape again when a lynch mob tries to kill Jessica thanks to the deranged ravings of a crazy woman. It felt contrived and unnecessary.

Despite these problems, Jessica Jones is still an amazing show and it’s worth a watch for David Tennant’s amazing performance if nothing else. Still, this is not a Marvel series for everybody. If you like the cartoony, lighthearted action of the movies and want more of that, this is not the series for you. If you find implied rape, mental and physical torture, and gruesome deaths too horrifying to contemplate – DO NOT WATCH THIS SHOW! 

Marvel’s Jessica Jones takes us into the very darkest corners of the human psyche; mankind’s predatory instinct to conquer and dominate everything around it. It explores in detail what happens when people are able to bend others to their will, the trauma caused when people are mentally and physically violated, and the sick motivations of the people willing to inflict that on their victims.


They Can’t Win

So everyone must know by now about the terrible attack that took place in Paris last night. First of all I’d like to express my sympathies for the people of France, and hope that all my readers there are safe. I know I’ve had a few French people comment here on my blog, so if you’re reading this, drop me another comment and let me know you’re okay.

As always happens during a tragedy, people start to lose hope in humanity. But I’m here to tell you that yesterday’s attack only gave me more hope for humanity. Not because of the attack itself obviously, but because of what the attack represents and how humanity has chosen to respond to it.

The perfect response to terrorism.
The perfect response to terrorism.

The attacks in Paris is the last desperate flailing of a dying monster. What ISIS wants is to make us as violent, savage, and xenophobic as they are. They see a city like Paris, filled with people from all over the world come to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world and welcomed with open arms, and it frightens them. They’re terrified of a world where we no longer divide each other by race, nationality, or gender. But that day is coming, sooner than they’d like, and it scares them.

We’re living in the most peaceful era in human history.  There has literally never been a time where there has been less wars, less violence, or more equality, and more peace. There has never been a happier, more peaceful time to be a human being living on Earth. A scant seventy and some odd years ago, Germany was invading France. Today they’re pledging their support. That’s how much as changed in such a short time.

Yes, you can look around the world on any given day and see horrors beyond imagining. Extreme poverty, starvation, civil wars. But we’re getting better at solving each of those problems with every passing day.

A graph of the incredible progress humanity has made.
This is humanity getting better-

And yes, people like the members of ISIS will continue planting bombs in shadows and shooting at unarmed civilians. But again, those are the last desperate actions from people who can see a world of unified global peace approaching, and are utterly terrified by it. Their time is quickly running out and they know it.

And you know what frightens them the most? What they’re afraid everyone is going to do?

They’re afraid everyone is going to go out there and do exactly what they did yesterday.

And that’s exactly what most of you did today without even thinking about it. I myself went to go eat some delicious pancakes this morning and didn’t think twice about it.

And this frightens ISIS because it means their most desperate acts, their most powerful blows… ultimately amount to nothing. It reminds them of a single, inescapable truth that frightens them to their very core:

They can’t win.

Barring a third world war that blasts us back to the stone age, ISIS simply can’t win. Humanity has evolved beyond them. Whereas they desperately try to hold onto a past world that ran on violence and cruelty, the rest of us are marching toward a world of unprecedented peace and prosperity, where everyone is equal. We’re getting so close to Star Trek levels of utopia that you can practically hear the Warp Engines powering up.

This is how I know in my heart that ISIS, and others like them, can’t possibly win:

New York
New York, The United States
Mexico City, Mexico
Shanghai, China
Sydney, Australia
New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand
My home city of Seattle
My home city of Seattle

That’s just a fraction of the world’s monuments that have been lit up to show support for France. Across the world, millions of people have taken to social media to voice their support. An entire planet’s worth of people have stood up and said that the death of 129 civilians is unacceptable.

That’s how I know that national, racial, religious and every other flavor of extremism, whether it be from terrorists like ISIS or blustering fear mongering politicians, can’t win.

Because against an entire planet determined to make a better future for itself…

They simply can’t.

The Star Wars Episode VII Trailer: A New Hope

When the sneak peak, or teaser, or whatever they call the shorter version of a trailer now, aired last December I was understandably cynical; it had a weird soccer ball droid which seemed to be trying way too hard to be cute, and I was terrified this was going to end up being the new Jar-Jar Binks; most of the trailer was set on Tatooine (or at least a similar desert planet) one of the most objectively boring locations in the Star Wars universe; there was a goofy looking lightsaber that used other, smaller lightsabers as a cross guard; and finally there was overwrought dialogue from a voice-modulated villain. To me this seemed like the movie was trying to copy the prequel films and not the much better originals. To me, it seemed like doom.

My's boring...It's nothing but boring for as far as the eye can see!
My face upon seeing the original teaser.

But then last night, I saw the new trailer.

And guys…

I think this is going to be amazing!

Now let me give you a long, verbose, overly complicated list of reasons why:

4. The Battles Make Sense

The prequel trilogy featured several huge battles, and I mean huge, with thousands of combatants on screen at once. The problem was that they were all mind numbingly  boring to watch. Bigger does not mean better. Thousands of combatants who we don’t know shooting at other combatants we don’t know was utterly pointless. Worse yet, even visually these scenes weren’t interesting. Yes the graphics were impressive, but that was it. There was so much going on that you couldn’t tell who was winning or losing, there was no ebb and flow to the battle. It was all just lights and explosions that amounted to nothing.

Look at this noise. What the fuck is even happening?
Look at this noise. What the fuck is even happening?

Even the Battle of Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi suffered from this (though to smaller extent than the prequels did), until the actual run on the Death Star, most of the time you can’t tell what’s actually happening in terms of who is winning or losing.

Now obviously this is all speculation considering we only see like fifteen seconds of actual fighting, but just based on those few seconds, it’s clear that the battles are not only gorgeous, but we’ll also be able to see who’s winning and care about what’s happening.

Star Wars Battle

Look at how clean that battle looks: X-Wings on one side, Tie Fighters on the other. Two sides, two distinct ship designs and a clear, but interesting backdrop to frame it. They’re not lost amid a clutter of thousands of X-Wings and Tie Fighters with giant cruisers in the sky shooting at each other while below them a thousand nameless CGI clones shoot at a thousand nameless droids. The shot attracts your attention to the battle at hand, framing it beautifully so that it remains visually interesting but also comprehensible. It’s a scene that looks like it will actually serve the story and move it forward, rather than make the story wait in the corner until the battle is finished like what the Prequels tended to do.

3. Lightsaber Fights have Emotion Again

Revenge of the Sith ended with a 45-minute lightsaber waltz that succeeded in turning one of the coolest and most iconic sci-fi weapons in history into one of the most boring things imaginable. What the Prequels failed to understand about the original trilogy was that lightsaber fights were never really about the lightsabers themselves, they were a way to explore the characters and highlight the emotional duel that was taking place. From Obi-wan’s calm acceptance of his death at the hands of his former student to Luke’s final rage-filled confrontation with Darth Vader, what made those moments amazing was watching the emotional interplay both between the characters and within the characters themselves.

The Prequels on the other hand, were so devoid of emotion that the only really interesting thing about them was how over-choreographed they were. Here’s what Darth Maul looked like:


And here’s Qui-Gon Jinn:


Both calm, cool and collected. And utterly fucking boring. If everyone is just a badass with a lightsaber then there’s no real point in watching it, real fights are all about emotion whether it’s a brawl at a bar or a boxing match. Without that, we’re basically just waiting to see who makes the first technical fault. We’re just a bunch of Olympic judges waiting to see which of the amazing, world-class performers makes a near imperceptible mistake we can grade them on. It can be interesting from a technical point of view, but utterly fails as a storytelling method.

Now here’s the look on Finn’s face when confronted by the villain’s lightsaber:


Thanks to one of my readers, Gabbendi, you can see why this scene is so much better than all the prequel lightsaber fights. The villain activates his lightsaber and Finn visibly flinches and steps back. He’s feeling an actual, genuine human emotion: fear. Look at how his eyes are locked onto the blade of the enemy’s lightsaber, you can almost feel the dread washing over him.

Finn is  afraid of his opponent, and that’s an emotion I can actually relate to. And I think the lightsaber fights have emotion again because…

2. People Have Emotion Again

What the hell do I mean by that? I mean they don’t look or act like this atrocity:


They don’t act like the unemotional drones of the Prequel trilogy where everyone (including Academy Award winning actors) delivered every line with a completely flat affect.

Here’s a range of emotions we never saw in the prequels:









Each and every one of those faces is telling us a story. We have no context for what’s specifically going on in any of these scenes, but those faces tell us everything we need to know about what’s happening. Leia’s face in particular really drives home how utterly helpless and sad she’s feeling. Why is she feeling that way? What’s going on?

I have no fucking idea, but I want to know. Which leads me to the best part of the trailer:

1. I Have No Idea What the Story Is

It’s true, I’ve seen every trailer they’ve released so far and I don’t know any more about the story than I did before I saw them. And that’s the best kind of trialer. They didn’t ruin their story in the promotional material like so many movies tend to do. I have no idea what the guy with the weird lightsaber wants, I don’t know how Finn goes from being a Stormtrooper to a lightsaber wielding Jedi, I don’t know who the girl is or why she thinks she’s no one.

A girl is not ready to be no one...
“A girl is not ready to be no one…”

That has me more excited than anything else, so much so that I’m almost afraid that the actual movie won’t be able to live up to the amazing story I’m starting to imagine in my head. But I’m still excited because this 2-minute trailer told a greater story than the entire prequel trilogy combined. If the movie is even a fraction as good as the trailer, it will blow my mind.

So yes, my original thoughts on the initial teaser was totally off-base. Never let it be said that I’m not big enough to admit my mistakes.

That said if the movie still somehow turns out to be awful, I’m deleting this entire post and taking credit for totally calling it way back in December.

And hey, look on the brightside, if it does turn out to be awful we all get to call this guy Jar Jar Abrams for the rest of his life.
And hey, look on the bright side, if it does turn out to be awful we all get to call this guy Jar Jar Abrams for the rest of his life.

The Walking Dead: Burying the Lead

So today I had a piece of toast and went outside for a bit. I talked with some friends. Went shopping. Had another piece of toast. Played some video games. Went dancing. And then I came home.

And then I had another piece of toast.

SHUT UP! (By the way if any of you get this obscure Futurama reference, I love you.)

That, what I just did up there, is called burying the lead. How many of you gave even the slightest inkling of a care about anything I wrote up there? None of it is relevant to this blog post (most of it isn’t even true, I hate toast), and you didn’t need to read it to get anything out of this post. That’s what “burying the lead” means, slowing down the pacing of your story beneath a bunch of pointless irrelevancies. It was originally a phrase in journalism; if you were a reporter that had a juicy story about a president eating his vice president alive, you don’t start your article with a history about the president’s childhood or how he got elected. Do that later, if you have to, but for God’s sake your opening sentence better start off with:


The Walking Dead is a show that I hate-watch. Every week it does something to infuriate me, makes rookie mistakes in its writing, and every episode I swear is the last one. And yet I’m always back for the next one. It’s strangely compelling, and unlike it’s spin-off, there’s still enough interesting about the show to make it worth watching. Even if I hate it.

Last week Rick made the mindbogglingly stupid decision to unleash a horde of thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of zombies and herd them away from their town like the world’s most boring parade. The episode ended with a horn going off from their town, sending the entire zombie horde slowly shambling towards the noise. For those who saw the Hardhome episode of Game of Thrones, it was basically that (only not nearly as exciting or well made), it was sudden spike in the stakes of the show and a great lead-in for the next episode.

So how did last night’s episode start? With an army of walkers pounding on the gates of their city? With a panicked Rick and company desperately weaving through the horde, trying to get home before the zombies do and warn their loved ones?

No, it started with this.


A girl we don’t know and don’t care about lost in the woods. Jesus Christ, AMC you buried the lead so deep I’m surprised ExxonMobile didn’t try drilling for oil.

Context for those who haven’t seen the show: the girl in the picture is the love interest for Carl.


Carl: the kid on the show who, for the first three or four seasons, everyone wanted to see eaten alive because at least that would shut him up.

Carl: the kid who is literally so god damn annoying he managed to annoy a zombie into eating one of his costars.

Mother. Fucking. Carl. 

And for the first five minutes of this episode, the episode I remind you that is the follow-up to an impending zombie invasion, we watch Carl’s future girlfriend’s backstory. It’s not even a good backstory, all they show is her wandering around looking sad and afraid. And then she eats a turtle.

Turtle, if I were you, I'd have a long, hard talk with your agent about this...
Turtle, if I were you, I’d have a long, hard talk with your agent about this. You deserve better.

You want to waste five minutes of my time watching a girl whose name I can’t even remember eat a turtle? Okay.

You want to waste the momentum (which by the way, you badly needed) from your last episode on setting up the girl’s J.S.S. initials as some kind of future plot contrivance? Fine. You could have stuck that backstory anywhere, but hey, you’ve been doing this for six seasons, you must know what you’re doing.

You want to establish that this girl is traumatized in a world populated by flesh-eating monsters where that fact is already safely assumed by every audience member about every character we meet? Terrific.

Just promise me that now we get to see the zombie invasion! Keep me interested, Walking Dead. I’m rooting for you!

Oh, for fuck's sake...
Oh for fuck’s sake.

Creamed celery.




Is…is this real? Is AMC’s Walking Dead just trolling me now? There’s no way anyone actually thought this was a good idea right? Right?


I think we made a wrong turn. We were supposed to hit zombies about five minutes back.
I think we made a wrong turn. We were supposed to hit zombies about five minutes back.

For five molasses covered minutes, we watch as Carol and a group of housewives that, again, we don’t know and don’t care about, giggle over recipes. First of all, this is incredibly sexist. Like, just incredibly. That’s usually not a problem for the Walking Dead, with Carol being it’s resident badass, but, really? All the men-folk are out on a cattle/zombie-drive and the ladies are back home cooking supper? Really? 

Okay maybe the Desperate Housewives of Zombie Village aren’t ready for zombie murdering, and Carol is staying an undercover badass for reasons I still don’t understand, but what about Maggie? She can handle herself, but is she out there? Nope. She’s back home too, getting ready for planting season.

I’m sorry, I thought this was The Walking Dead but somehow I started watching Little Home on the Prairie instead.

Only after fifteen solid minutes of watching the citizens of Alexandria milling around, and talking about their personal problems that we don’t care about,  does something actually happen.

Oh shit, did they start the episode without us?
Oh shit, did they start the episode without us?

Alexandria is attacked by…yet another gang of mindless, bloodthirsty humans because people in this show only have 2 settings: helpless or cannibal rapist. What I found odd is how different “The Wolves”, their name apparently, are compared to last season. Last season Morgan and Daryl almost got eaten when they fell into an elaborate trap set by the wolves. They seemed organized and intelligent. But here they’re just a pack of wild animals.

But that’s another blog post altogether.

Overall once the episode actually starts, it’s not bad television. Too bad it doesn’t start until 15 minutes in. That, combined with the 18 minutes of commercials mean we really only had a 27 minute episode.

So keep this in mind for your next episode AMC, you have something interesting going on in your story now, don’t bury it under useless backstories and unneeded characterization for people who die five minutes later. Next episode I better see that zombie horde.

Stop burying the lead.

Fear the Walking Dead

Fear the Walking Dead came to an end on Sunday and quite frankly I’ve never seen a show destroy it’s own premise quite so quickly. It’s clear that this spinoff of The Walking Dead isn’t an attempt to do anything creative or fun with the Walking Dead series. Rather, it’s an attempt to make a carbon copy of the original and hope that it makes just as much money while at the same time using cheaper actors and effects. It’s the Law and Order: SVU or CSI: Miami of The Walking Dead franchise.

I’ve reviewed the first season below and [spoiler alert]: I won’t be tuning in for Zombies on a Boat next season.

Fear the Walking Dead:

A Storytelling Review


I was genuinely excited for Fear the Walking Dead specifically because I’ve always thought the collapse of human society is the most interesting part of zombie apocalypse stories. What I was hoping for was a prolonged look at how society tried to deal with the zombie crisis before succumbing to utter anarchy. Instead what I got was…well I don’t know actually, but it sure wasn’t what I was hoping for.

The first episode was awful. It wasted ninety minutes setting up a lot of pointless relationship problems that even a soap opera would have cut from its script, the characters were bland and uninteresting, and it schizophrenically jumped from boring family drama to zombie horror with no regard for pacing. And yet… I loved it. 

Because at least it was trying to do something new and interesting with the setting. It wasn’t succeeding at it, but I appreciated the effort, and the first episode did have some redeeming moments. One of the best scenes was when the characters come to the traffic jam at the freeway off-ramp. You can’t see anything and until the gunshots ring out, you can’t even hear anything. Yet there was this palpable sense of dread, because they didn’t know what was happening, and there’s nothing we fear more than the unknown.

It did such a great job capturing that creeping uneasiness that the hairs the back of my neck were standing straight up, and I knew it was a zombie causing the ruckus. Thanks to that scene, for a few precious moments I thought that Fear the Walking Dead could turn into something truly great.

Then I saw the second episode.

And *poof*, just like that, it was gone.
And *poof*, just like that, it was gone.

To be fair, the second episode added several plot elements that I thought had the potential to really make this show great. There was a mysterious Spanish Flu-like illness sweeping across the city, and possibly the world, which would explain how so many people became zombies so quickly. Civil unrest was mounting as people interpreted police attempts to contain the outbreak as police brutality, and given the police’s record with reckless shooting I thought this was perfectly realistic response. And finally zombie footage was beginning to flood social media, probably completely drowning out any official responses from government agencies, and spurring massive panic mongering and conspiracy theories. It was a perfect stage for creating the panic, death toll and chaos that could lead to a zombie apocalypse.

This should have been the foundation for the entire season and the show should have spent the next four episodes exploring those elements, slowly building up to the zombie apocalypse. Something like a man dies of the flu in his home, comes back as a zombie, bites his family and turns them, they attack the neighbors, and soon half the neighborhood is zombies. The government and media begin disseminating information on the undead plague, while social media sabotages their efforts by claiming it’s a government conspiracy. This sparks riots and protests, the huge crowds making the flu spread faster and zombies infiltrating the crowds causing mass panic. You know, a logical progression of events.

Except we didn’t get a logical progression of events, we got the main character sitting in a barber’s shop while everything interesting about this show occurred outside and off-camera. When they emerge from the barber’s shop, society has collapsed and it’s basically game-over as far as civilization is concerned. For the record, nearly four million people live in Los Angeles (that’s a lot of people to turn into zombies all at once) and its had its fair share of violent riots. One riot should not have brought the entire city to its knees.

For any other city this is a major disaster. For L.A., it's Tuesday.
For any other city this is a major disaster. For L.A., it’s Tuesday.

Watching the slow decay of society as it struggles to deal with the zombie apocalypse was the entire point of the show. Here’s the official synopsis for the show:

What did the world look like as it was transforming into the horrifying apocalypse depicted in “The Walking Dead”? This spin-off set in Los Angeles, following new characters as they face the beginning of the end of the world, will answer that question.

Except you didn’t answer that question, AMC, you skipped over the entire premise of your show so you could make it into a carbon copy of The Walking Dead. Everything interesting about your show was happening while your main character was stuck in a barber shop, and he didn’t even get a nice haircut to show for it. The plot was literally the only thing keeping this show together and you utterly ruined it before the first commercial break in your second episode.  The only way to make the show interesting at this point was for interesting characters to carry the narrative. And that sure as hell wasn’t going to happen.

Not only are the characters completely boring, but worse yet, every single one of them acts like they’re in a zombie movie. And by that I mean they act on information that they shouldn’t rightly know yet. When Madison finds her daughter taking care of her sick boyfriend, she sees he’s bitten and immediately tells her daughter to get away. Now hold up, how do you know that the disease is transmitted by bite, Madison?

Did this guy tell you how his disease is transmitted?
Did this guy tell you how his disease is transmitted?

Yes, she saw the drug dealer earlier in the first episode as a zombie, but she didn’t even fully understand what he was let alone how the disease was transmitted.

Later in the show there are several instances where characters immediately aim for the zombie’s head. Now obviously we all know, as the audience, that you aim for a zombie’s head, but how the hell do the characters know this? Do zombie stories exist in the Walking Dead universe, were all the characters playing Left 4 Dead before zombies suddenly became real?

These are important details because without them, the characters lack that sense of horror and confusion that is pretty much the entire mythos surrounding zombies, and suddenly the main threat of the series is just a minor annoyance. Which is why they felt the need to introduce a new threat to the characters, and gave us a version of the U.S. Army if it were run by Cobra Commander.

Now I’m not a jingoistic patriot who refuses to see the U.S. Army as anything but a force of heroic freedom fighters, especially given their recent bombing of a fucking hospital, but even a cynic like me was a little insulted at just how evil the soldiers were. They stopped just short of using puppies for target practice.

Also, why in the hell are you using an anti-materiel rifle for killing zombies? Overkill much?
Also, why in the hell are you using an anti-materiel rifle for killing zombies? Overkill much?

At one point one of the kids sees a light in a far off house, blinking in a pattern and probably a call for help. The kid tells Travis, Travis tells the commander, and at the end of the day Travis sees gunshots going off inside the house. The implication being the soldiers killed whoever was inside.

Why? What possible advantage would that grant the soldiers? This isn’t a foreign war zone. This is their home. If anything the army would be conscripting every person who could hold a rifle in order to combat the endless legions of the dead, not killing people out of pure spite. If Fear the Walking Dead wanted to portray the army as the bad guys, that’s the route they should have gone, coercing people into serving and using other civilians as slave labor. In a cataclysmic emergency like this, I could see the army resorting to such tactics. But just slaughtering people for kicks? Not so much.

The army’s prison system was equally baffling. Just a bunch of people sitting in cages for no apparent reason. Now I get that this was some kind of quarantine facility, but what kind of moron sets up a quarantine in the same building they’re using as a headquarters? If the illness turned out to be airborne, the entire garrison could have been infected. It would have made much more sense to confine symptomatic people to their homes, far away from where they could infect your soldiers.

Also, what's up with this show and chain link fences?
Also, what’s up with this show and chain link fences?

Inside this baffling labyrinth of chain link and bad lighting, we meet a smooth talking con artist who’s so god damn suave he should have his own theme music. And that music would be Smooth Jazz. When a guard arbitrarily decides the drug addict is really just a zombie who hasn’t hit zombie puberty yet, Smooth Jazz barters with him to keep the kid. Now first of all, why is the guard even interested in his watch and fancy cuff-links? There’s no pawn shops, no jewelers, there’s not even any currency anymore. The world just fucking ended, what is he going to use them for?

But let’s assume that the guard is just a greedy moron, okay fine. Why doesn’t he just take them? The suave con-man is a prisoner and the world is ending, who exactly would he complain to? Is this the only soldier in this army of evil that has a conscience?

Finally, and the worst part of this scene, is why does Smooth Jazz even bother with the drug addict? Nick is clearly the most messed up dude in the entire series, but Smooth Jazz says Nick has skills he can use. What skills? What possible use is he? Apparently none because he contributes exactly nothing to their eventual escape at the end of the finale.

Which is weird since everyone else had no problem turning into zombie killing badasses.
Which is weird since everyone else had no problem turning into zombie killing badasses.

After the group is reunited, they make their way to the medical ward where the doctor tells them about a magical, reality-bending exit that leads to the parking garage they entered from. Then the group leaves the doctor behind. A fucking doctor. One of the most important people you could possibly have with you in a post-apocalyptic environment. Even without access to medications or proper tools, she’d know how to set broken bones, how to diagnose illnesses, and even perform surgery. She’s worth her weight in gold! No, even more valuable than that, because now gold is just useless chunks of heavy metal.

And they leave her. They don’t even attempt to reason with her. Okay, maybe they don’t have time to reason with her, fine. The woman couldn’t weigh more than 150 pounds, everyone grab a limb and let’s carry her out. We can sort out her emotional issues later.

And those emotional issues could have been resolved in thirty seconds, because that’s about how long it takes for everyone else to deal with their emotions. When Travis finds out his ex-wife has been bitten, he spends about twenty seconds trying to convince her to live, and then spatters her brains like it ain’t no thang. Seems like the woman could have taken a few seconds to say goodbye to her son, it wasn’t like she was going to turn right then and there, but whatever. At this point I no longer cared.

I’m glad this series was only six episodes now, because at least it didn’t waste too much of my time. It destroyed everything interesting about itself, and then ended. Good, at least now I know I won’t have to tune in for the premier of Zombies on a Boat.

And a terribly CGI'd boat at that.
And a terribly CGI’d boat at that.

If you thought the farm from season 2 of Walking Dead was boring, just wait until the most boring group in the world is stuck on a boat surrounded by endless water for an entire season…

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

So this is the first of my draft purgatory articles, I’ve decided to to write a brief introduction to each and give you some insight as to why I didn’t post it. I originally wrote this three months ago when I saw Mad Max in theaters, but then made the mistake of reading other people’s reviews of it and decided I wasn’t saying anything new, so what was the point? The point is, of course, that you can never have too many points of view on something. In honor of Mad Max: Fury Road’s Blu-ray release I decided to make this the first draft purgatory article to be released into the wild. 

Mad Max: Fury Road is another movie I judged by its cover, a mistake I keep making. I never saw the original Mad Max, and what I saw of the previews made it look like another mindless action movie that would emphasize big, mind-numbing CGI battles and over-the-top characters over story and character development. All of that on top of the fact it was a remake of an old movie, something that typically never ends well, and I was totally uninterested in seeing it. But again, just like Spec Ops: The Line, I heard nothing but good things about it.

So high an uncharacteristic bout of courage and confidence, I asked a girl out on a date and we went to see Mad Max. This probably wasn’t a good movie for a second date, because I never heard from her again, but who cares? This movie is awesome.

Mad Max: Fury Road

A Storytelling Review


Mad Max is a remarkable movie, and it’s not just because it’s a feature-length car chase with some of the greatest physical effects in movie history. It also has some of the tightest writing I’ve ever seen; every single sentence serves the story, there’s not a single piece of superfluous dialogue in the entire thing. Where most modern movies feature long-winded exposition and constant smart-ass quips between characters, Mad Max manages to leave all of that behind and focus entirely on its story and characters. Max himself has so few lines that he could have been played by a plank of wood, but of course that would have robbed us of Tom Hardy’s incredible performance. He manages to convey so much emotion in so few words that if he doesn’t get an Oscar nod from this, then those awards will become even more worthless than I already think they are.

The story starts after the end of the world, after thermonuclear war has destroyed most of the planet. It takes the movie about five seconds to explain this and while I’m usually not a fan of narration in film, in this case it works. Tom Hardy’s growling, guttural voice gives you the impression of a man who so rarely uses his voice that it’s become rusted from neglect. It really immerses you in the world of Mad Max because Tom Hardy’s voice, more so than the words he’s saying, let the audience know that not only is the world decaying but so are the people in it.

The only thing rustier than the cars are the characters' souls.
The only thing rustier than the cars are the characters’ souls.

After a look at the horrifically brutal life of deprivation that plagues the people of The Citadel we’re introduced to Immortan Joe, the deified warlord and ruler of the Citadel. Immortan Joe’s speech to his people is a great example of how concise this script is and t reveals all the crucial information the audience needs to know in the span of maybe thirty seconds:

We learn that Immortan Joe controls the water supply, but that his society values gasoline (guzzoline) more highly than the most basic need humans need to survive, revealing that his society is self-destructive to the extreme. Finally it introduces Furiosa as the most trusted of Immortan Joe’s most trusted lieutenants. This is all further reinforced by the great visuals.

Whereas another, lesser movie might waste time showing her slowly gaining Immortan Joe’s trust and then pulling off a convoluted heist to save her sisters, Fury Road wisely skips all that noise and jumps right into the story. Furiosa hangs a left and drives out into the desert carrying with her Immortan Joe’s enslaved wives, and the chase scene to end all chase scenes begins.

This is basically a good overview of the whole movie.
This is basically a good overview of the whole movie.

So you might be wondering where Mad Max is and why I haven’t mentioned him yet. Well the reason is he’s been hanging around as a human blood-transfusion bag attached to one of the disease-ridden War Boys, Immortan’s fanatical soldiers. After getting chased through a hellish combination dust and electrical storm, Mad Max attempts to free himself from the shackles and tubes tying him to the knocked-out War Boy. This is one of the most important scenes in the film because it sets the tone for everything that follows. Max begins desperately trying to cut the shackles off of him, and it’s that desperation that sets the stakes of the story.

Max is afraid to die.

It’s such a basic fear, but think about how rarely you see this in stories. It reminds me of the scene from the horribly disappointing The Dark Knight Rises where the old prisoner explains to Batman that not fearing death is a weakness because a person will perform amazing feats to escape death. This applies to storytelling even more so, if you’re characters don’t possess the most basic fear that governs all life on Earth, then you’re going to lose a lot of the tension in the story. I think Marvel’s movies are the best example of this, where not only are most of the characters invincible god-creatures, but they also go out of their way to make sarcastic quips while in the middle of apocalyptic battles. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Marvel movies, I do, but they just don’t carry the same emotional weight.

The stakes are further reinforced by Furiosa’s fear of getting caught and her desire to protect her sisters at any cost. Max attempts to hijack the tanker from Furiosa and she kicks his ass pretty hard, which you might expect from a woman with a mechanical claw-hand. Max only manages to win by holding Furiosa’s sisters hostage, again emphasizing the fact that all Max wants to do is escape to live another day. Unfortunately he can’t drive the tanker without Furiosa and so for the sake of mutual survival, they team up and form the best buddy-duo since Turner and Hooch.

Given how monosyllabic Max is, that's actually a brilliant analogy.
Though I think Hooch actually had more lines in his movie.

The evolving relationship between Max and Furiosa was the best part of the movie for me. I’m a sucker for good movies about friendships and that’s essentially what this movie was, a look at how two people came to trust and protect each other in the worst of circumstances. It was especially refreshing since it was a friendship between a man and a woman that didn’t try to shoehorn in a romantic relationship. There’s no sexual tension between the characters or playful banter, which keeps the story focused on the story and characters. The monosyllabic Max has only a handful of lines in the entire movie, but the power of Tom Hardy’s performance manages to convey all of Max’s emotions without him needing to say a word. Furiosa’s sisters get very little screen time as well, but the tightly written script ensures they all feel like real, breathing human beings.

Not a single one of them falls into a stereotypically “princess in the tower” trope, they all have their own distinct personalities and all of them have been traumatized by years of sexual slavery under Immortan Joe. Angharad, heavily pregnant with Joe’s child, manages to save Max by using herself as a human shield before falling off the truck. Immortan Joe crashes his truck in a failed effort to avoid her, which is what gives Max and the others a chance to escape. Yet despite having lost one of her sisters, when Capable finds Nux on the truck, she shows him mercy.

Nux was the crazed War Boy that Max had been attached to earlier in the film, he manages to sneak aboard the tanker with plans to assassinate Furiosa. Fortunately he’s a bit of an idiot and immediately gets knocked unconscious. Nux manages to steal quite a few scenes thanks to Nicholas Hoult playing the character with such humanity. This is a movie that could easily have written off the War Boys as mindless cannibal rapists like so many post-apocalyptic stories, but Mad Max: Fury Road took the braver path and actually characterized them.

Kind of like this.
He’s not crazy, he’s just got a zest for life!

In Nux’s conversations with Capable, the girl who rescues him, he reveals that he’s just a kid terrified of the cancer eating away at his body. He joined the War Boys for the same reason a lot of kids join gangs, he wanted a sense of belonging and safety. And he followed Immortan Joe’s cult because Joe promised him a place in Valhalla, where Nux could see his friends again when he died. He was scared and alone, and he wanted some semblance of safety and belonging in a fucked up world. Not surprisingly, when confronted by compassion and understanding, Nux leaves behind his twisted beliefs and helps Max and Furiosa in their escape.

Their escape takes them through a swampland, a desolate and rotting landscape, emerging on the other side having finally put some distance between them and Immortan Joe’s army. It’s here that Furiosa reunites with her old tribe, the awesomely named Vuvalini, and a half-dozen of the most badass women in the world. When Furiosa learns that the dead swampland they’d just passed through is actually the fabled Green Land that they’d been searching for, and that most of the friends and family she’d hoped to reunite with are dead, Charlize Theron gives us one of the most heart wrenching scenes in the movie. It’s like the polar opposite of Darth Vader’s “NOOOOOO!” scene from Episode 3, a primal shriek that conveys the pain and frustration that can only come from having suffered so much to find out the paradise you hoped to find had died long ago.


Furiosa plans to take what fuel they can and drive off into the salt flats, a sun baked hellscape, hoping to find a new home on the other side. Max, however, has a bolder strategy: go back the way they came and take The Citadel from Immortan Joe. What follows is some of the best action I’ve ever seen in a movie, men throw themselves from speeding cars and use giant see-sawing poles to board the tanker. Many of the Vulvalini don’t survive the battle, unfortunately, but they all go down fighting the good fight.

At one point Furiosa takes a knife in the back and thanks to the stakes set by the movie, it’s clear that this is a life-threatening injury. Unlike tons of other action movies, Furiosa can’t just shrug off her injury, but that doesn’t mean she stops either. Bleeding out only encourages her to use her last vestiges of strength to do what she should have done years ago.

Remember me!? – Furiosa to Immortan Joe

Those are Furiosa’s words to Joe as she rips most of his face off. This is another brilliant example of both the script and the movie’s director George Miller showing instead of telling. We could have had a scene earlier in the movie where Furiosa confides in Max the horrors of her life and what Immortan might have done to her, but such a scene would have been unnecessary because all the information we need to know is already there.

Furiosa starts out terrified of Joe, she’s incredibly courageous in her bid to escape from Immortan, but actually fighting him was never part of her plan. By the end of the film Furiosa has had a chance to mourn for the home she lost so long ago and remember the proud people she came from, she’s remembered the little girl she used to be before Immortan Joe took her. So when Furiosa tells him to remember her, she’s telling him to remember the little girl he abducted from her family, the defiant girl who he tried to break and brainwash into becoming the leader of his armies. She wants him to know that nothing he ever did was enough to break her, and now nothing will save him from her.

Remember that you're not nearly as badass as you think you are.
Remember that you’re not nearly as badass as you think you are.

Furiosa returns to The Citadel and presents Immortan Joe’s body to the surviving War Boys, the people rise up and celebrate her victory, and Max disappears into the crowd.

It’s not a complicated story, but the greatest stories never are. Mad Max: Fury Road is elegant. That might seem like a strange word to use in an action movie featuring monster trucks, exploding spears and crazed killers but it absolutely fits. The script is astoundingly concise, the characters are incredible, the acting is sublime and the practical effects are simply amazing. It’s an action movie that subverts all the typical themes and tropes we associate with action movies; it’s filled with powerful female characters, it doesn’t promote hyper masculine ideals, and most importantly it’s not just a mindless vehicle for explosions. It’s about home, redemption, and humanity.

It’s a story everyone can relate to, and it’s a story you all owe it to yourselves to see.

Tortured By a Dentist: My Last Two Weeks

So I’ve been AWOL for the past two weeks, and it wasn’t by choice. First my landlady’s internet went down, a niggling little annoyance that should have been resolved quickly. Unfortunately her internet service provider is… well an ISP in the United States, which operate under the assumption that their customers should pay them while providing as little service as legally possible. Still, not a big deal, I could go the library.

About a week after the internet went down another of my teeth decided to execute order 66, attempting to assassinate me from the inside. As my long time readers might remember, my mouth is basically Europe circa 1945, a series of craters and smoking ruins at this point. I buried myself in a few thousand dollars of debt in order to repair my front teeth, but the back teeth, arguably the more important ones that allow me to actually eat are basically gone at this point. Still a starving writer, I wait until these teeth are ready to implode before actually paying to get them ripped out. So finally another of my molars collapsed in on its self like a dying star and a sucking blackhole of agony took its place.

And then screaming in terror when we find massive stars being devoured by huge black holes.

I make so little money that the poverty line looks like the summit of Mount Everest, which means I get free healthcare thanks to Obamacare. Fortunately that includes some basic dental care, unfortunately that basic care includes getting your teeth pulled and cleanings, none of the major repair work required. Still, I was able to get in to see a dentist who would extract the tooth without charging me (or rather charge the state rather than me).

The dentist brought me in to the room and began to explain that the state only gives him $50 bucks to extract a tooth, a procedure that usually costs between $300 and $400. He quickly gave me a few shots of that numbing agent dentists use, and left to talk to another patient while the dental assistant continued to talk to me about that $50 dollars that the state pays them.

“If you could afford to donate anything it would be a great help, because if we only saw patients like you, we’d go bankrupt.” She said.

Alarm bells should have started going off at this point, but at this point it had been four days since the pain began. It started late on a Saturday night, when I took a drink of water. I drank and the motion of swallowing set off the strangest sensation I’d ever felt, a kind of suction in my tooth as if the air had been sucked out of it. A crushing, sucking, sinking pain went shooting down the length of the tooth and burrowed deep into my jaw, tunneling outward until it felt like a carnivorous worm was eating my face from the inside out. But it was Saturday night, and no one would be open until Monday. The only reason I didn’t go screaming into the emergency room was because I was terrified of being stuck with a $10,000 medical bill over a single fucking tooth. Plus I had a bunch of hydrocodone left over from my having my wisdom teeth out, so I was able to put myself in a tiny medically-induced coma.

I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.
I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.

I came to on Monday and scheduled the appointment, but there wasn’t an opening until Tuesday. So finally, mercifully, after four of the worse days in my entire life, I finally had a dentist willing to remove my tooth. The dentist’s office could have been named Joseph Mengele Memorial and had walls splattered with blood, and I probably still wouldn’t have clued in that maybe I was in trouble. The dentist talking about “patients like me” and complaining how the state underpays them just didn’t register as possible concern, especially since I agreed with them. The state should definitely pay these people more, maybe then it wouldn’t have taken me hours of phone calls to find a dentist that would take me.

No, I was grateful to this dentist. I was sitting in a room across from the children’s waiting room, listening to Elsa from Frozen sing Let It Go and looking up at a beautiful mural of some butterflies. I was fully prepared to give this man the donation he was asking for, I would get paid in a few weeks after all and the only reason I was rushing was because I was in soul-crushing amounts of pain. Or so I thought. In actuality, I had no real understanding of what pain was. But I was about to learn.

Shut up, I'm in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.
Shut up, I’m in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.

As the dentist came in, I told him I could still feel my tooth throbbing.

“It’s okay, let me just check your tooth out.” He said, reaching into my mouth with those big ass pliers they use. The cold metal latched onto the remains of my tooth, and the sucking, gnawing pain in my tooth was suddenly accompanied by a shivering cold pressure. I grunted in that international language of pain, a grunt that meant “holy shit it hurts, stop, stop, STOP!”

I don’t know what sound I made next because I couldn’t hear anything past the crunching, snapping, and grinding of my tooth as he clamped down on it and began yanking on it. Yet the sound was nothing. It was the pain. It was beyond description, but I’ll give it my best shot.

It was electric, a shooting, twisting, burning agony that shot through my entire mouth. Every muscle in my body seized up at once, and my eyes became strangely fixated on the black butterfly in the mural above me. I could see it, but I wasn’t really seeing, it was just something my eyes became focused on while I was struggling to comprehend what was happening. My left hand shot up in the air, the universal sign to stop and I was doing my best to gurgle-drool that same sentiment with his hand in my mouth.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.

“Put your hand down. Put your hand down.” He said, his once kind voice now had a harsh edge to it as he actually got angry at my resistance. “It’s a hot tooth, very difficult to numb.”

Bullshit. I’ve had infected teeth, my wisdom teeth had become so infected that the infection actually ate away part of my jaw bone. But when I had them removed, that dentist had taken the time and effort to make sure I was totally numb before proceeding. This bastard just didn’t want to take the time to humanely remove my tooth, because in his eyes this simply wasn’t worth his time. I wasn’t a patient of his, I was “one of those patients”, the kind that couldn’t pay and he was going to remove this tooth as quickly as possible regardless of my pain. Short of becoming violent, and wrapping my hands around the dentist’s throat until he let me go, I had no options. I simply had to let it happen.

With a final, sickening snap the top half of the tooth came out. A strange cold began seeping into my hands and feet, and it felt like the cold was filling me up like water in glass, slowly rising up into my arms and legs stopping just short of my chest. I felt utterly drained.

I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.
I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.

I remember reaching into my mouth to remove a huge chunk of tooth that was just sitting on my tongue, because there wasn’t anyone suctioning away the debris like I’d had in every other tooth extraction. Then he was back in my mouth with a sharp…something, and he jammed it deep into my gum, and began twisting and rotating it back and forth. I understand now that he was loosening the roots of my tooth, but at that time I really didn’t understand what was happening.

He finally ripped out the tooth after a few minutes of this. All in all, the entire procedure might have taken five minutes at the most, the shortest I’ve ever spent in a dentist’s chair. They handed me a wad of tissues to wipe away the stream of tears that had been streaming down my face, jammed a piece of gauze in my agony-hole and sent me on my way. I barely remember the drive home, I just remember rushing up the stairs into my room and downing half a bottle of Hydrocodone, and then curling up in a ball desperately waiting for sweet relief. Unfortunately since it was pill form, it took another twenty or thirty minutes for that relief to arrive.

And thus ended the single most painful experience of my life. When my tooth began hurting at the start of the week, I’d have classified the pain as a 7 on the pain scale. When I broke my ankle as a kid, that was probably a 9. This though, this wasn’t a 10. It was a 40 or a 50. My entire perception of pain has now shifted. That broken ankle would barely register as 4 at this point. I had nightmares for days afterward.

But I survived, and soon I’ll be back to posting our regularly scheduled content. I just had to let someone, anyone, know about the strange account of being introduced to 19th century dental practices.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
On the bright side, if I ever write a story featuring dental torture, I’ll know exactly how to describe it…

Later this week I’ll finally start posting some of those poor articles condemned to Draft Purgatory, I nearly talked myself out of it. But after having a tooth ripped out without anesthetic, posting a bad article is no longer a fear worth having.

The 3 Most Pointless Scenes from True Detective

So I’ve done my main review, but I wanted to mention a few weird things that really stuck out during this season of True Detective. And in the interest of publishing smaller, more bite-sized posts, this is going to short and sweet.

3. The Bar Singer

Empty Room and Singer
Who exactly are you playing for?

Okay technically she has multiple scenes, but they’re all pretty much pointless. Now I enjoyed the music in this season, it was one of the few bright points of this season, but I just could not figure out the reason the singer was actually present in the show. Overlaying music onto film has been around since before film had voices in them, and except for ones specifically about bands and the like, most of them don’t feel the need for their soundtracks to have a physical presence in their shows. At first I was willing to let it slide because she was playing when Frank was in the bar, and I figured maybe Frank was just the kind of egomaniac who has musicians play for him.

But then there’s this scene in the finale (the screenshot above), where she’s totally alone in the bar and she’s still playing. Given the show is overflowing with symbolism in an attempt to be “deep” I’m sure this singer must represent something, but hell if I know what it is.

2. The Orphan Brother

The Blade and The Bullet

Though you wouldn’t know it from his roughly two minutes of screen time, this one of the critical players of the show’s plot. He’s Caspere’s killer. He’s the catalyst for the inciting incident that sparks this whole chain of events, and we barely even get to meet him. Detective Mustache finds him in the transit station, pokes a knife in his back and implores the kid not to do something stupid. When the brother says he’s “The Blade and the Bullet” (which by the way doesn’t make sense since the kid doesn’t have a gun), Colin Mustachell says “okay then listen closely.”

This is usually the part where a cunning and elaborate plot is devised, but is kept from the audience so we can appreciate the plan’s brilliance when we see it all come together. Unfortunately we don’t get that here. Apparently what happened in the moments between this scene and the cop’s arrival, was Detective ‘Stache McCowboy told a mentally and emotionally unstable man to keep his big ass hunting knife and listen to his parent’s killer brag about killing them.

And then act surprised when the deranged killer acts deranged.

Totally unexpected
It’s okay, no way you could have seen this coming…

1. The Vinci Shootout

Vinci Shootout

After three episodes of near incomprehensible bullshit, the Vinci Shootout scene got me excited. As one of my twitter followers put it, it was a scene right of Call of Duty.

It’s true, if this scene had occurred in real life it would be the single deadliest shootout in U.S History. Yet this scene excited me because of something Stephen King once wrote in his book On Writing (which is an excellent read by the way, even if you don’t like his work). When he was writing The Stand he came to a point where there were just too many characters and the plot had become too unwieldy. He was blocked, he couldn’t figure out a way to move forward.

So he planted a bomb and blew up half his characters, culling the cast and giving the story the impetus it needed to reach its conclusion. The Stand became one of his most well regarded works, right alongside Carrie.

I was excited because I thought the Vinci Shootout was True Detective’s bomb.

Quite literally...
Quite literally.

It didn’t serve the same function as Stephen King’s bomb, in that it didn’t kill any important characters, but I still thought that such a climactic scene would propel the show out the quagmire that it’s plot had become. Surely this would flush out the perpetrators of the conspiracy. I don’t care how rich or politically connected you are, there were at least a half-dozen police officers killed, at least that many drug dealers killed and dozens of civilian casualties. That’s not something that would just go away.The conspirators might control the local police and government, but I’m pretty sure the F.B.I and Homeland Security are gonna want some answers too.

Do you know what 24-hour news conglomerates would do with a story like that? Let’s put it this way, they ran a story about that missing Malaysian Airlines flight for a solid month. The Vinci Shootout would give them enough material for a year.

Yet instead of this scene giving our heroes the leverage they need to solve the case and kicking the season into high gear… nothing happens. Absolutely nothing. In fact the story skips ahead two months instead and the deadliest shooting in US history is forgotten. You could remove this entire scene from the show and not a single thing would change because of it.

It was the most pointless scene in a show made up entirely of pointless scenes. And worst of all, Detective Mustache McStacheface shaved his glorious mustache after this shootout…

I hope it was at least buried with full military honors...
I hope it was at least buried with full military honors…

True Detective Season 2: What The Hell Went Wrong

True Detective’s second season finally came to an end on Sunday, brutally killing not only several characters but also any hope we had that the show would somehow redeem itself in the finale. While I didn’t quite get the transcendental experience others seemed to get watching the original season of True Detective, I still thought it was a great show with some amazing performances by McConaughey and Harrelson. So what the hell went wrong with this season?

Well let me lay out for you the mistakes that made this season of True Detective one of the most bizarre experiences in recent memory.

[Obviously spoilers are to follow, but quite frankly if you haven’t seen it, you might save yourself 8.5 hours of your time and just read this review instead.]

4. The Dialogue Was Awful


That up there is the closed captioning for the finale of Season 2, I turned it on specifically to make sure I was hearing what I thought I heard. Those words are spoken by Generic Russian Mob Boss #3209, A.K.A. Ossip, as Frank and Velcoro sneak up on cash exchange between Catalast [that’s not a typo by the way, that’s how it was actually spelled in the show] and the Russians, and it serves as a perfect example of how messed up the dialogue is.

What does that sentence even mean? Everything you start is unfinished, that’s why you’re starting it. The strange dialogue of season two was both a blatant attempt to recapture the magic of Rust’s poetic philosophizing and a great demonstration of how the show misunderstood its own popularity. There were several reasons why Rust’s dialogue worked in the first season, reasons that are completely absent from this season.

First of all, the dialogue was appropriate to Rust’s character, he was the perpetual outsider. The pariah who had trouble connecting with people on even the most basic level. That’s why he spoke the way he did, why he waxed philosophical at every opportunity, because it was representative of his inability to communicate with other people. To put it simply, Rust earned the right to speak like he did because it was core part of his character.

The second reason Rust’s dialogue worked was that it was counterbalanced by Hart’s dialogue. Whenever Rust would get particularly insufferable in his nihilistic preaching, Hart would jump in with a well-timed “shut the fuck up.” Hart grounded the dialogue by not taking what Rust was saying seriously. Rust was using big words and complicated philosophies to cover the fact that he has utterly miserable and pretending that misery made him special.

Rust from True Detective
Shockingly, this is not a mentally stable person.

And the most important reason that Rust’s dialogue worked was this:

Rust was the only one who spoke like that. 

Everyone else in the first season of True Detective spoke like a normal human being, with the exception of The Yellow King, who was the foil of Rust’s character. The Yellow King was basically the Anti-Rust, an insufferable philosopher driven by faith rather than nihilism. So again, both their respective dialogues made sense in context.

In this season of True Detective, everyone is now talking like Rust and the people listening to it are taking it dead seriously, despite the fact this season features some of the goofiest lines ever spoken in a crime drama. I do not know how Vince Vaughn said “blue-balls of the heart” with a straight fucking face, but he deserves some kind of award for that. It’s sad that Vince Vaughn got saddled with a disproportionate amount of strange dialogue, because his character is the last person who should be speaking like that. Frank is a gangster who runs a bunch of casinos and whose primary duties are interacting with other people, and getting them to give him their money. He’s a people person, a negotiator. He’s not a loner or a reader of philosophy, there’s not a single thing about this character that justifies him talking like this:

You can see more of these gems right here.

Look at that fucking sentence up there. Herman Melville would look at that sentence and say, “Dude, no. Just no.” Even the Borg speak more organically than that. Was McConaughey adlibbing all his lines last season or did True Detective simply fire the editor in charge of proofreading this crap?

Whatever the case, the only time anyone spoke like a normal human being was when the characters sat down to spew out expository dialogue in a futile attempt to help the audience make heads or tails of the plot…

3. The Plot Was Buried in Subplots

Blue Diamonds True Detective

The main plot revolved around the blue diamonds stolen by corrupt cops in 1992, in which the jewelers were brutally executed during the heist. The orphans of those jewelers then kidnapped Caspere some twenty-odd years later, originally planning to interrogate him and find out who else was responsible, before the crazy brother ended up killing him in a fit of rage.

This is not a complicated plot. Any other police procedural would have been able to tell this story in a 42 minute episode. So why the hell did we all spend two months in a near constant state of confusion over what the fuck was happening in this show?

Stan Dead...who is he again?
I still don’t know who the fuck Stan was…

Well because the plot so was simple that an episode of Castle could have covered it, True Detective season 2 needed something else to make it interesting. There were several ways to do this:

A) They could have setup some character-driven subplots, a la the first season’s subplot about Hart’s constant infidelity and the tense relationship between Hart and Rust. 

B) Solve the main mystery quickly, but that in turn leads to the uncovering of the larger criminal conspiracy at work in Vinci, and the detectives have to protect the former orphans while collecting evidence about the conspiracy. 

C) Create a few carefully crafted subplots and use them to spice up the main storyline. :

D) Take the plot of every noir crime story ever made, make them their own dedicated subplots, and throw them all into a big bowl. Mix until plot is totally incomprehensible. 

Unfortunately for us all, they chose D.

The largest and most pointless subplot was the Railway Corridor, which ended up taking approximately all of the show’s running time. Seriously, more time and effort was spent trying to uncover the mysteries of this stupid land deal than was spent on telling the actual story of the show. The worst part is that the Railway Corridor was only ever tangentially connected with the main story, the corrupt cops were hoping to use their share of the diamond heist to buy their way into the land deal. If Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh stuck with actually investigating the diamond heist, instead of wasting their time looking into the land deal, they probably would have all lived happily ever after.

Seriously guys, you had ONE job.
Seriously guys, you had ONE job.

If the story had stuck to telling us about the diamond heist and then led us into the deeper conspiracy surrounding the rail corridor, then yes, this could have worked. But instead of doing that, True Detective apparently got bored and wandered off to tell us a dozen different stories all happening at the same time.

We had a bunch of pointless scenes with Frank attempting to retain control of his clubs, even though roughly 100% of the audience didn’t have a single fuck to give about the intricacies of Frank’s operations. We even got a pointless fist fight between Frank and a fat dude with gold teeth, for reasons I still don’t understand.

We had even more scenes with Frank trying to have a baby with his wife and complaining about how hard his life as an orphan was.

Bezzerides took more than one trip to see her father, who knew some of the older conspirators in passing but the connection is ultimately meaningless.

Essentially 99% of the subplots in this season were pointless. Not only did they not advance the story, they actively held it back. The Russian mobster taking over the underworld? Pointless. He shows up three or four times, vaguely threatens Frank and then promptly dies at the end.

Wait, I'm too vital to the plot to die! *Dies* Oh, I guess not.
Wait, I’m too inconsequential to the plot to die!

The strange Mexican duo that looked like they stepped out of the 80’s? Nothing more than ethnic Deus Ex Machinas to make sure Frank died tragically. They literally only show up to advance the story (helping Frank find the Mexican prostitute), throw up obstacles (then killing the Mexican prostitute), and then putting the main character in arbitrary danger. Their presence was never explained.

Then there was the Black Mountain security company, which was alluded to throughout the season but ultimately contributed nothing but a couple of goons for the main characters to shoot at.

There was also a really strange, creepy fixation on the character’s sex lives. I understand the main theme of this season was sex (it wasn’t exactly subtle about it), but the show also doesn’t go anywhere with this. The first time we meet Bezzerides she’s having an argument with her boyfriend over her BDSM fetish, but the scene is ultimately irrelevant to the story. In fact the BDSM thing is never mentioned again.

Okay we get it, True Detective, she's kinky. Is there any point to knowing that though?
This scene is also another example of bad dialogue. “Are you into that?” Her boyfriend asks as she stands in front of her wall of BDSM sex-toys…

So instead of using this scene to give us a glimpse at her character, the whole scene just comes across as weirdly voyeuristic. The only point of this glimpse at her collection of paddles and straps is to titillate the audience. It did nothing to characterize her to the audience.

In fact there was very little characterization at all because…

2. The Characters Were Ignored

You know, I don't think all four of these actors ever ended up on the screen together at the same time.
The main characters spend so much time apart, there’s not even a photo of them in the same room together.

The main appeal of True Detective was that it was essentially an extended buddy-cop movie where the buddies actually kind of hate each other, but not really, it’s just complicated. The incredible performances of Harrelson and McConaughey combined with the unique narrative design of the flashback sequences and taped interviews with unreliable narrators made for a compelling show. The two main characters spent the entire season together, playing off each other and revealing more about their characters with every interaction.

Now compare that to season 2 where all of the main characters spend most of their time completely isolated from one another. In the start of the second episode, the state sets up a special investigative team and throws Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh together. They meet in some crappy warehouse for a couple of minutes, and then split up, never to be in the same room again until pretty much the tail-end of the show. We get some shots of Velcoro and Bezzerides driving around together, and these scenes are good. The two definitely had some chemistry together, but then the show inexplicably separates them again.

So instead of watching these characters interact and learning who they are from those interactions, we instead get to watch each character deal with their own personal issues separately. Frank dealt with his crumbling empire and his impotent balls, Velcoro was in a custody battle for his son, and Paul was desperately trying to catch a case of the Not-Gays. Bezzerides spent the first four episodes dealing with a pair of scorned lovers at work and then the last four episodes dealing with her childhood rape.

Gee, another strong female character defined by her rape story. Yeah, that never gets old.
Gee, another strong female character defined by her rape story. Yeah, that never gets old.

Even when the characters are together, they spend so much time delivering clumsy exposition that we never get any of the incredible character interactions that made the first season so memorable. When Woodrugh dies, in a goofy assassination scene straight out of a Victorian play, Velcoro and Bezzerides spend about two minutes mourning his loss before delving right back into expository dialogue about how to find the orphaned brother.

No one’s character ever experienced any kind of dramatic arc, or changed in any way, and without strongly written characters, the performances of the actors were severely ham-stringed. If they’d had a script that allowed them to act out their characters more often, rather than idly standing around explaining the plot of their show to the audience, they might have given us performances on par with Harrelson and McConaughey.

Ultimately though, they wasted most of their time explaining the show because…

1. Nothing About Anything Made Sense

Wait, why is this guy mayor? Did he like inherit it from his father?
Wait, why is this guy mayor? Did he inherit it from his father?

When you look at most of the events that occurred in this season of True Detective, you’ll come to one inescapable conclusion.

Nothing about anything ever made sense. 

The events of this show didn’t follow any kind of logic, except maybe some kind of internal logic of the writer that is incomprehensible to mere human minds. Instead, things happened because the plot demanded they happen. It was cheap and succeeded only in wasting everybody’s time.

One the most glaring examples of this plot contrivance is the raid on the sex party about midway through the season. Bezzerides has used her sister’s porn connections to get her into one of the sex parties that Caspere was such a fan of. Masquerading as a prostitute, Bezzerides gets drugged and stumbles her way through the party, eventually finding a missing girl who knew Caspere. Meanwhile Velcoro and Woodrugh are going full Splinter Cell, sneaking around the house and taking out guards. Eventually they stumble upon the architects of the rail corridor going over some documents. They steal the documents, save the girl and flee into the night.

Stunning Police Powers
Showcasing Woodrugh’s powers of deduction…

Now let’s rewind and ask ourselves one very important question:

What was the plan here? 

Seriously, I’m asking, what was the group’s plan?

What was the reason? What were they looking for? Finding the missing girl and retrieving the documents were all purely happenstance, so what was the original objective? What was Bezzerides there to find out? Was she going to ask the other prostitutes who Caspere hung out with? Gather evidence of who was attending these parties?

Why was Woodrugh choking out guards and stealing documents? Shouldn’t he have been waiting as backup in the woods? Why risk discovery?

The answer to all the above is simple: the plot demanded that the characters be in a certain place at a certain time, and so they were. Now tons of stories rely on coincidences to drive their story forward, but most stories give their characters some reason for being at the right place at the right time. John McClane is in that building because he was attending a Christmas party at his wife’s work. Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer intercepts the Blockade Runner at Tatooine because that’s where Princess Leia was heading there to contact Obi-wan. Point is, most stories make an attempt to create a plausible reason for things to happen, even if that reason is paper thin it gives the audience a foundation for their suspended disbelief.

This season’s True Detective didn’t even bother giving us that foundation. I want you to look at something.

Dry Street

This is Velcoro getting out his car to say goodbye to his son after his successful heist of the Russian/Catalast money exchange. Notice that the street is as dry as only a never-ending California drought can make it.

This is what Velcoro finds when he comes back to the car.

“Later today there will be a highly concentrated rain storm under one man’s car.” – Plot Contrivance News, Weather Report

There’s a pool of water under Velcoro’s car. At first I thought the gas tank had been punctured and that’s what I was supposed to be seeing, but he drives away just fine. No, it’s just ordinary water and it appears spontaneously so that Velcoro can see a reflection of the red light on a tracking device in the water. This is just so lazy that I can’t even believe I’m seeing it in what must have been a multi-million dollar HBO production.

They could have put an extra out on the street watering his lawn. Boom, a reason for the water pooling under his car, see how easy and painless that was. That’s all it would have taken, it still would have been incredibly lazy but it would have been something at least.

And on that I rest my case, because if you can’t even move your plot along without a car peeing itself, then you have officially failed to tell a good story.

Confidence (Or the lack thereof) and Writing

So while I was struggling with my latest article on The Witcher 3, I got a helpful tip from a roaming robot about my blog.

Robot Taunt

First of all, it’s “too” lazy you god damn machine, if you’re going to insult me at least be grammatically correct. Second of all, how dare you impugn my honor!? Being lazy is only like 5% to %10 of my problem.

Okay, 50% at the most...
50% at the most…

To this spam bot’s favor, its comment did get me wondering… why don’t I update more? What the hell is wrong with me? That’s an excellent question. The answer is, as usual, I’m a terrible human being. 

No, not really. But that’s what my mind is always telling me, and that’s the problem.  I have no sense of self-worth I guess, all of my self-esteem is tied up in the opinions of everyone else. Last year I was staying with some friends in Portland when I got to interview for a job with Microsoft to do writing for the Halo series. When I got the initial call from the recruiter, my friend Emma described me as “glowing,” which I’m pretty sure is the only time I’ve ever been described as that. Then I didn’t get it, and I fell into a pretty black depression and didn’t write another blog post for three months.

That post about Microsoft was mostly trying to bluff myself out of falling into a depression, but obviously that didn’t work.

This is Pixar, they're better than you're annoying facebook friends.
I don’t need to say hello, we’re on a first-name basis.

So I lost a similar job opportunity with AT&T a few weeks ago. Of course my brain doesn’t focus on:

The fact that my resume managed to impress a recruiter enough to contact me.

That I got through four rounds of phone interviews with first the recruiter and then various members of AT&T team.

And then actually got an in-person interview.

No what my brain focuses on is the fact that, at the end I didn’t get the job. Sure, being sad you didn’t get a job is a probably a normal reaction, but it probably shouldn’t take my entire sense of self-worth with it. For weeks at a time. 

But then there’s not really much self-worth for these failures to take with them. Let me show you something else:

70 Drafts
Zoom and Enhance!
Yes, that says 70 drafts.
Yes, that says 70 drafts.

That’s a screenshot of my WordPress control panel, telling me I have 70 drafts. Now I’ve always assumed this was just a bunch of half-baked ideas I’d written down and just never followed up on. Spring cleaning that I’d never bothered to do, like the drafts folder of my email. I started hunting through my drafts after I thought I’d lost part of a Witcher 3 article I was working on (turns out the paragraphs that were missing were on my phone, I just hadn’t uploaded them), and about half of it was half-written ideas.

The other half though? Fully written articles that I never published. Just sitting there.

Draft Examples 2

The 5 tropes that need to die article, was just 5 sentences, a bare bones idea for an article (which I’d actually forgotten about but now I’m gonna finish it because these tropes are terrible). The other two pictured though? Total articles, both around two to three thousand words long. Pictures included.

Why did I decide to not post those?

I haven’t the slightest fucking idea. 

I didn’t take an exact count but, out of the 70 drafts I have, there are probably 20-30 fully and partially written articles. I could release one a day and have enough content for nearly a month. I could release one a week and have enough content for half a year.

Well maybe I’m just a really good editor right? I’m like J. K. Simmons in Spider-Man, I know when something is crap and I simply don’t bother my readers with it. Yeah, that’s it, I’m just a really great editor. The best.

Yeah, okay, maybe not.

Because this is another one of my drafts:

Draft Examples

These are two articles (the bottom one is only partially written) about Planescape Torment, and somehow my brain convinced me that no one wanted to read those. Even though one of my amazingly generous patrons (from my Patreon page. which you should still contribute to despite my just admitting how terrible I am) actually requested articles on this very subject, my brain still figured that no one wanted to read any of that.

My brain cannot be trusted. 

So in the interests of posting more frequently, and to stop wasting my time writing articles and then not posting it, I’m going to just post everything. I’m almost going to post everything. I’ll also start going backwards through my collected drafts and actually start posting them.  So look forward to that I guess, unless all these articles really are terrible, then… apologies in advance I guess.

The Nutter Butter Follow Up

Nutter Butter crop (1 of 1)Just wanted to give everyone who contributed to the Nutter Butter fund a HUGE thank you. The limp she had turned out to be a symptom of bone cancer, but it hadn’t metastasized beyond the the leg, so an amputation seems to have gotten most of it. Even if it does return, with your help, my parents have another year with her at least. So thanks everyone!

Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn't seem to notice her missing leg.
Newly three-legged Nutter, who doesn’t seem to notice her missing leg.

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