Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

April 18, 2016

Back to the Island 3.7 – Not in Portland

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:58 pm

Quote: “You haven’t thought this through, Jack. Your plan’s not going to work.” – Juliet Burke

Summary: Everyone argues about the dangling plot threads from the previous episode: Will Jack let Ben die in surgery (and will it be deliberate or another screw-up)? Will Kate and Sawyer escape and or will Danny finally get to kill someone in revenge for Sun shooting Colleen? Drama!

The Best Bit: The reckless desperation of Kate and Sawyer’s escape is exciting and features a very unexpected diversion down one of the series’ weirder rabbit holes. But nothing quite tops the fact that Ben wakes up during his own surgery and successfully negotiates for his own life despite the fact that virtually everyone involved would be happier with him dead.

The Worst Bit: Jack does a lot of treading water in this episode, loudly and angrily restating his previous positions while other things happen. He manages to outdo himself in the final scene by arrogantly browbeating Juliet into telling him what Ben said to convince her to save him. It’s aggressive and arguably bullying, though Juliet’s weary but calculated response – “I’ve been on this Island for three years, Jack. Three years, two months and twenty-eight days. He said that if I let him live and helped you that he would finally let me go home” – is delivered with real emotional punch.

The Literature: There’s no time for anyone to pick up a book in this classic run-through-the-jungle shoutfest. The closest thing to a literary allusion is the A Clockwork Orange scene, about which more in a moment.

The Mythology: Well. Doesn’t “Not in Portland” open up a can of worms? First of all, in the Juliet flashback we get our first introduction to Richard Alpert, played with slightly-goofy-terribly-sinister charm by the wonderful Nestor Carbonell. He’s pretending to be a recruiter for a Portland biotech startup, but he’s really one of the Others and also a bus murderer. It’s not everyone who gets to write that on their resume. Oh, and Ethan’s there too, but more or less only so that we know straight away that Alpert’s up to no good.

The other key new element is Room 23, where Alex’s boyfriend whatsisnamewhocares (aka Karl) is being torture-programmed by weird visual images and a genuinely unendurable industrial metal soundtrack. This is apparently where recruits go to get indoctrinated into the gun-toting jungle fetishist cult of the Others. The blipverts on Carl’s giant TV screen announce “God loves you as he loved Jacob”. They also make pronouncements like “Everything changes!” and “We are the causes of our own suffering”, which sounds like the take-home messages from a particularly vacuous TED talk.

The Episode: So. This is the first episode of Lost after a long hiatus caused by the infamous 2007 Hollywood writers’ strike. During their down-tools, the senior writer-producers of the show are alleged to have got together to map out the rest of the series. Everything after this point, we are told, is driving the series towards its climactic episode. I’ll have stuff to say about that when we get to Season Six, but for the moment it’s fair enough to take it at face value.

In terms of moving forward, they come off the blocks pretty hard with “Not in Portland”, laying plenty of pipe for the rest of the series in between the gun fights, tense negotiations and sudden betrayals. Juliette’s back story is sad – Elizabeth Mitchell performs crushing, unbearable sadness as well as anyone in the business – but feels artificially manipulative to me. It’s mainly constructed to make the Others looks ruthless (we knew that) and to establish that she has good reason to hate Ben.

It’s good, but except for the bit where Juliet’s ex is bus-murdered, it’s not that memorable. Call it seven botched spinal surgeries out of ten.

March 17, 2016

Back to the Island 3.6 – I Do

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:06 pm

Quote: “Tell you what. If you can really stay put, really settle down, then I’ll stop chasing you. But you and I both know that’s not going to happen.” – Agent Edward Mars

Summary: After initially telling Ben he’s going to let his spinal tumour kill him, Jack finally agrees to perform the surgery when he discovers that Kate and Sawyer have slept together (and if there was ever any doubt that, at its heart, Lost is a soap opera, then I trust that sentence killed it off).

The Best Bit: The final scene cuts between the surgical ward where Jack and Juliette are operating to remove Ben’s tumour and the polar bear cages where Sawyer and Kate profess their kind-of-mutual love before Danny arrives to kill Sawyer. It’s one of the most effective dramatic scenes in the entire series to date. Everything works – the direction, the editing, the score and the performances all crank the tension up until it’s basically impossible to watch the scene without being 100% convinced that Sawyer is going to get shot in the head and dumped in the mud at Kate’s feet. And *then* Jack pulls his own murderous power-move and turns the whole scene around. Everything feels completely earned and completely convincing. It’s a great piece of television drama.

The Worst Bit: It’s just a shame that the rest of the episode is pretty dull. The flashback scene shows us a snippet of Kate’s life from when she was briefly married to the nicest cop ever portrayed on television (played by effortlessly charming goofball Nathan Fillion, he’s conscientious, doting, and he even does all his paperwork!) Naturally Kate sabotages everything by drugging him and fleeing as soon as he suggests she gets a passport, which to be fair would be quite tricky for a federal fugitive. There’s nothing really wrong with the plot – and it does afford another chance to see the ill-fated Agents Mars, who’s great – but it doesn’t add anything new to what we already knew about Kate, which is that she runs instead of solving problems. The back story exists for no other reason but to lend ironic weight to Jack’s bellowed command in the final scene: “Kate, damn it, run!”

The Literature: The Bible gets a brief look-in, during Eko’s funeral scene. Locke, using a rock to hammer Eko’s walking stick into the grave, pauses significantly at the words carved into it: “Let up your eyes and look north.” It’s a paraphrase of Genesis 13:14 “And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward” (I just picked the King James version by the way. None of the various texts agree on the wording, so I can forgive the fake-preacher Eko for getting the quote a bit wrong). There’s also a reference to John 3.5 “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (King James again. I have no idea what denomination Eko was supposed to be). Anyway, all very significant, I’m sure.

The Mythology: Angsty teenager Alex reappears, searching for her missing boyfriend, and we learn that she is not only one of the Others but also has some connection to Ben that makes her influential (albeit rather patronised by the older Others like Juliette and Danny). To be fair, Alex appears naive and has poor planning skills, so it’s not really surprising the ultra-serious grownup Others look down on her.

Rather more mysteriously, when Danny’s murderous blood-vengeance is finally let off its leash and he storms off to execute Sawyer, he cryptically remarks that “Shepherd wasn’t even on Jacob’s list.”  This may not quite be the first direct reference to someone called Jacob; it’s certainly the first mention of his list. (Spoiler: it’s going to come up again).

The Episode: Despite my very great fondness for performances by Nathan Fillion, “I Do” is an episode that I rewatched expecting to be mostly bored. For about the first thirty-eight minutes, that’s not an unfair expectation- the scenes between Ben, Jack and Juliette are more of the same tense posturing from previous episodes, the culmination of Kate and Sawyer’s caged-heat tension is perfectly watchable but not all that thrilling, and the flashback is a collection of nice moments with no surprises.

But that last scene elevates the episode in every way, and finishes on as solid a dramatic moment as any cliffhanger in the series to date. Not enough to win me over completely, but enough to rate seven charming goofball guest stars.

March 8, 2016

Back to the Island 3.5 – The Cost of Living

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:45 pm

Quote – “What about Eko?” – Charlie Pace
“We’ll catch up. We’re all going to the same place.” – John Locke

Summary: A feverish Eko wanders into the jungle to confess his sins to the ghost of his brother, pursued by Locke and company. Ben and Juliet appeal to Jack to help them but to very different ends.

The Best Bit: The flashbacks to Eko’s Nigerian childhood and his brief, blood-soaked term as Brother Yemi’s successor is riddled with African clichés of murderous gangsters, pious villagers and poorly-managed Red Cross medical shipments, but it is beautifully crafted, acted and shot.

The Worst Bit: It seems mean to pick on Nikki and Paulo again, but for the most part there are no weak scenes here, so I’m going with the inexplicably weak gag of Paulo using a toilet when everyone else is being deadly serious.

Books: Nobody is reading, but Juliet name checks To Kill a Mockingbird in a scene where she pitches to jack that he murder Ben with surgery while ostensibly singing his praises. It’s a pretty tight scene, but it doesn’t have too much in common with Mockingbird. Neither does the rest of the plot – unlike Boo Radley, Mr Eko is neither innocent of his many crimes nor does he regret committing them.

The mythology: The Smoke Monster straight-up murders Eko here, immediately after his declaration that he does not repent his many sins. This is the first time we get a clear sense that there’s a link between the Island’s ghosts and the Smoke Monster, though the nature of their connection is not yet apparent. The killing also hints that the Smoke Monster is operating according to a moral framework – despite several opportunities, it does not kill Eko until he after asserts that he is proud of his decisions. Even the machete murder decisions. Or rather, especially those ones.

The episode: Another one bites the dust. Literally, this time, with Eko face-planted to death by the Smoke Monster. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje decided he didn’t like living in Hawaii, which is a way better reason to get killed off from a TV show than being busted for DUI like some actors we could mention.

The A plot of “The Cost of Living” is thin, with Eko wandering about until he meets his brother, and the flashbacks to his violent past are arresting. But it’s Ben and Juliet’s silent war to control the Others through Jack that is the episode’s best material in retrospect, showing both Others to their best effect. Ben manipulates by telling the truth, while Juliet plots bloody treachery with fierce declarations of loyalty. It’s kind of beautiful, in a pre-Game of Thrones kind of way.

I give it eight daggers in Caesar’s back.

February 6, 2016

Back to the Island 3.4 – Every Man for Himself

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 7:00 am

Bless me Internet, for I have committed the sin of allowing a blogging project to stall. It has been (nearly) a year since my last episode of Lost, and it was the better part of a half a year before that one.

By now you’ve all finished watching it, right?

Well, whatever, I think we’re beyond all understanding of why I’m doing these recaps, but it is still fun to go back once in a while and see what’s going on. I plan to persevere with the Back to the Island project, however intermittently I update it, if for no other reason than I have only ever watched the final season once. I really want to address my mixed feelings about it, but by now I think I can only really engage with it in terms of the rest of the series. Hence this painfully slow rewatch process.

But hooray, today we have one of my favourite episodes of Season Three, which is delightful even if nothing much actually happens.

* * *

Back to the Island 3.4 – Every Man for Himself

Quote: “Congratulations Ford. You just lied and cheated your way out of prison. You’re a free man.” – Warden Harris

Summary: Desmond begins to discover he has the ability to see impending disasters before they happen. The Others coerce Jack into committing acts of emergency surgery, and trick Sawyer into not escaping by telling him he’s got a bomb where his heart was. They say it more convincingly than that.

Best Part: Ben and the Others convince Sawyer that they have put a booby-trapped pacemaker in his chest so that if he gets too excitable his heart will explode. It’s plausibly implausible in exactly the same way that the best episodes of Leverage – another show about conman hijinks – always are.

Worst Part: Oh, and there it is – the first appearance of fucking Paulo. I mean, at this point he’s just another scruffy hunk playing golf on the beach, but soon he’ll be a hateful waste of half a season’s plot lines. Welcome to the party, Paulo! Here his scene is rescued by being mercifully brief and containing generous portions of dishy, mysteriously Scottish Desmond.

Books: Sawyer, imprisoned in the flashback, is reading Of Mice and Men. The bookage is not subtle in this one. In the terrific final scene, Sawyer thinks he’s being marched to his execution and quotes the rabbit-obsessed OM&M character Lennie. Ben reveals they conned him into cooperating: “Your heart’s not going to blow up James. The only thing we put inside you was doubt.” He twists the knife in, psychoanalysing Sawyer’s relationship with Kate with a two-fisted counter-quote from Of Mice and Men. Sawyer cops it right on his secret hidden sensitive side.

The mythology: Ben’s white rabbit has a number 8 stencilled on its back, which as a callback to prior Island mythology is only slightly more ostentatious than the fact that it is a white rabbit.

Summary: Plot-wise, this episode takes the tiniest step forward imaginable. In essence, Colleen dies of the gunshot wound that Sun gave her back on the boat (Jack, incidentally, loses another patient on the table, and if that’s not a prompt for a drinking game I don’t know what is) and her husband Danny is angry about it. Meanwhile, Desmond tries to be nonchalant about discovering hitherto-unmentioned psychic – or should I say “clairvoyant”? – powers. He saves Claire despite her crushing inability to take a hint.

Despite the miniscule forward momentum, this is one of my favourite episodes of the season. Nearly everyone gets at least one great scene, though Jack and Juliet downplay theirs so hard they might as well be acting in a trench. But Sawyer, Kate and Ben are all in fine form, scheming and emoting at each other. It’s a fine character piece that begins to shows us some of the more enduring chinks in hard-bitten-softie Sawyer’s considerable emotional armour. Some of Lost‘s main characters suffer badly from the show’s gimmick of regularly going back and expanding their back-story, but I don’t count Sawyer among them.

Also, Bill Duke as a menacing, emotionless prison Warden is just superb casting and a credit to everyone involved in the decision. I give this nine out of ten rabbits with an infinity symbol ominously painted on their backs.

March 9, 2015

Back to the Island 3.3 – Further Instructions

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , , , , — lexifab @ 11:32 pm

Well, I nearly made it six months without a single entry in the world’s least essential recap of history’s most-recapped television program, but here we find ourselves once again. There are various reasons why I’ve not been more regular in maintaining this series, but if I’m honest one of the big ones is that we have come to one of the least-rewatchable parts of the series. That is, the sequence leading up to the infamous 2006 Hollywood writers’ strike, during which, according to legend, the producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff actually sat down and figured out where the hell they were going with the series, which was by this point among the most popular forms of entertainment on the planet.

On the one hand, I sympathise with them having to make the tough transition from discovery writers, working out what the story is through the process of telling it, to being architects who have to plot out the story in minute detail. I’ve been there, albeit not with a production employing hundreds of people, watched by many millions more and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The strike came along at more or less the last possible minute to save the show from collapsing under the weight of its own unaddressed mythology (though there are plenty of critics out there who would argue that it sailed well past that point somewhere around the third act of ‘Pilot’). Unfortunately it came too late to save the first half of Season Three from being a hopeless dog’s breakfast of new characters (some better-judged than others), new manifestations of Island-magic craziness and some very bad character decisions made for plot-advancement purposes.

This is one of those episodes, and as you’ll see, I didn’t care for it so much.

 

Back to the Island 3.3 – Further Instructions

“Yeah, I know, I get it, you’re going to go into your little magic hut and I’m going to stay out here in case you devolve into a monkey.” – Charlie Pace

Summary: Locke, inexplicably struck dumb by the explosion of the Swan Station, goes on a vision quest to rescue Mr Eko from a polar bear.

The Best Bit: This episode marks the first appearance of third-season-rescuing new characters Nikki and Paolo, who are – wait, no, that’s not the best bit at all. Well, instead we’ll celebrate the return to the polar bears in a stunning bit of visual effects that – oh, no. No they’re not.

Huh. Well, look, Desmond gets around naked for most of the episode, so I imagine there must be someone who’s happy about it.

The Worst Bit: In expanding the character of Locke, this episode massively diminishes him. “Psych profile said you’d be amenable to coercion,” undercover cop Eddie tells him in the flashback. Pretty sure they meant “deception” or “transparent lies”, but the incorrect word is a script editing problem. The problem for the show is that it’s one thing to have Locke doubt his interpretation of events and the decisions he makes, but it’s another to hang the character trait of “gullible nitwit” on him.

There have been cases on inconsistent characterisation on the show before, but this one finally marks the point at which Locke is basically no longer a viable protagonist. In establishing his vulnerability to being conned by anyone with a convincing-sounding story, it’s at this point that we can give up the concept of reliable narration for any scene in which Locke is the POV character. From now until the end of the show, the only times we know Locke understands the situation correctly is when he is screaming about being cheated or tricked or taken advantage of yet again.

On the other hand, drugging up and going on a sweat-lodge hallucinogenic dream-quest is *totally* consistent with Locke’s character. What a pity it’s such a tedious (and cheaply-filmed) dream sequence back in the airport. (Hi Boone! Nice to see you again! Still nobody cares that you’re dead).

The Mythology: The Island plays its regular trick of appearing as a dead character in order to impart wisdom or guidance to the living, albeit in this case Boone’s appearance gets a non-magical makeover as a heatstroke-induced hallucination. More interesting is the first hint that something is up with Desmond’s perception of time, with his precognition about Locke’s speech. Like everything else in the episode, though, this revelation is slathered with so much significance that it sacrifices any subtlety or meaning.

The Episode: Some episodes are about moving the plot along, and some episodes are about setting things up for later. This one is almost the latter, but it’s treading water so hard it’s practically levitating. This episode is so obvious and plodding that it borders on the crass – Ghost-Boone’s narky, timewasting name-check of each of the Oceanic survivors in the airport dream sequence is an insult to the clever, layered uses of dreams that have gone before in the series.

Locke’s usefulness as a character is thrown under the bus in order to reposition him as a useful stooge for whichever bad guy next pops his head up out of the Island, and a potential antagonist for anyone with any sense. If Locke is the avatar of faith in Lost’s central philosophical debate, this this episode looks remarkably like it was a fix on behalf the “rationalism” side.

Basically, it’s garbage, even if they did let Dominic Monaghan get in sly references to Altered States and The Lord of the Rings. Two out of ten fingers smeared with trippy homemade peyote.

October 15, 2014

Back to the Island 3.2 – The Glass Ballerina

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 2:21 pm

Back to the Island 3.2 – The Glass Ballerina

“You said this dock was abandoned” – Sun-Hwa Kwon

“That would be part of the lying you mentioned” – Sayyid Jarrah

Summary: Sayyid, Jin and Sun try to ambush the Others but lose their boat instead

The Best Bit: While the focus of the episode is on Sun, and particularly exploring the fractures that have always existed in her relationship with Jin because of his willingness to use violence, which is a rich, rich vein to mine, that’s not the best bit of this episode. The best bit would be a shirtless, grubby Sawyer attempting an impromptu breakout from the Others’ chain gang, getting thwarted because Juliette pulls a gun on Kate, and then using the resultant brutal kicking to assess which of the Others represents a real threat when the time comes for a *real* breakout. It’s a classic Sawyer moment, combining his charming, sleazy opportunism – he instigates his half-hearted getaway by planting a showy, unsolicited kiss on Kate – and his cunning eye for the long game. Oh and something new is revealed for the first time: “Why did she call you James?” asks Kate. “Because that’s my name,” he replies casually.

The Worst Bit: Nothing about the episode is bad at all, though it feels more like a loosely-connected set of scenes than usual. Sun’s backstory is a clean through-line: she has an affair with her English tutor, her father finds out about it and orders Jin to kill him without mentioning why, Jin baulks at murder but Jae the translator kills himself anyway, and Sun’s dishonour has now made mutual the ill-feeling between herself and her father. None of the rest of it quite clicks into that narrative. Crucially though, Sun officially joins the list of killers among the Oceanic survivors, after she shoots Colleen (one of the Others). Admittedly it’s pretty much self-defense, but still – that doesn’t leave too many characters who have yet to murder someone. Maybe just Hurley and Claire.

The Mythology: The final scene, in which Benjamin Linus introduces himself and reveals to Jack that the Others are in contact with the outside world by showing him the winning hit of the baseball World Series, is purely there to touch base with the mystery. Who are the Others and why are they on the Island? “If you could leave this island, why would you still be here?”, asks Jack, to which Ben replies “Yes Jack, why would we stay?” It’s shameless place-marking, but thanks to the way Michael Emerson plays his fish-eyed delivery off Matthew Fox’s exasperated intensity, it’s a compelling scene to watch.

One question that occurs in this episode that is never clearly resolved is – who are all the other slaves on the Others’ work gang? Since an explicit answer is never provided, I choose to assume that they are other passengers from the plane crash or other castaways who have arrived at the Island over time and have declined to join in the Others’ as-yet-unspecified cause.

The Literature: Pretty sure nobody touches a book in this episode. In lieu of that, I will note that subtitles translating Jin and Sun’s Korean dialogue makes unambiguous that Jarrah’s first name is spelled “Sayid” with one Y. I note that only because I intend to keep defiantly spelling it Sayyid because I like how it looks. So there.

“The Glass Ballerina” doesn’t establish much that’s new, but it’s a showcase for Jin and Sun, whose relationship is one of the most compelling of the pre-crash storylines for my money. Sun’s willingness to use people is clearly shown as a weakness of character – she knows that she puts people in harm’s way for her own advantage or to avoid the consequences of her own actions, and she feels acutely guilty for it, but she does it anyway. The fact that she crosses a rubicon in this period of the story by killing someone feels like a significant milestone, either it’s the crash before her first steps towards redemption or it’s a point of no return on the road to self-destruction. At this point in the show that is absolutely one of the most interesting questions being asked: now that we are starting to get a handle on where these characters came from, where are they heading?

Eight out of ten shards of shame and dishonour for “The Glass Ballerina”.

September 4, 2014

Review – Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Reading Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘Annihilation’ (first volume in the The Southern Reach trilogy from FSG Originals) reminded me of the experience of watching the first season of Lost, when the sense that something terrifying was just out of sight and the atmosphere of uncanny threat was almost smothering at times. There are some other surface similarities – both have a group of anonymous strangers working together in a mysteriously threatening wilderness. At a little under two hundred pages, though, ‘Annihilation’ makes its point at a much snappier pace.

The novel documents the exploits of the 12th expedition into a hostile wilderness known as Area X. The narrator is the unnamed biologist of a four-woman team (the others, equally anonymous, are a surveyor, an anthropologist and a psychologist) dispatched by a government agency called the Southern Reach. Nobody knows exactly what happened to the previous expeditions, though it’s apparent that it’s bad. It’s also apparent that the members of the team have been very selectively briefed about what they can expect; it’s not long before the gaps in their knowledge lead to bad decisions and inevitably to tragedy. It’s like Lovecraft without the hysterical xenophobia.

It’s short, but I found ‘Annihilation’ an absolutely riveting read. It’s a dramatic and oddly intimate perspective on a brush with unknowable, indifferent and overwhelming alienness, bolstered with healthy chunks of conspiracy, treachery and personal tragedy. Vandermeer is lavish in his descriptions, particularly of a landscape which clearly exists in the real word (though hopefully not in every respect) and his use of language is rich and loving throughout. I adored this book, and I cannot wait to read the second book in the sequel, which will apparently deal with bureaucratic nightmares.

September 3, 2014

Back to the Island 3.1 – A Tale of Two Cities

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 2:42 pm

Back to the Island 3.1 – A Tale of Two Cities

“I don’t think you’re stupid, Jack. I think you’re stubborn.” – Juliet Burke

Summary: Jack, Kate and Sawyer are prisoners of the Others, who live in a nice Dharma Initiative village

The Best Bit: In an episode centering on how much of a stubborn, obsessive arsehole Jack Shepherd is, the best bit is, as you’d expect, something Sawyer does. Specifically, Sawyer’s cranky struggle with the weird Skinner-box animal cage he’s been put in, his triumph at ingeniously solving it using lateral thinking, his disappointment that his reward is a Dharma fish biscuit, and his utter deflation when Tom Friendly tells him that “it only took the bears two hours” to solve it.

The Worst Bit: Okay, at this point, do we really need yet another insight into how Jack is a stubborn, obsessive arsehole? He single-handedly destroyed his own marriage and, for an encore, drove his recovering-alcoholic father back to the bottle that eventually killed him? Bra-fucking-vo, heroic leading man Jack!

The Mythology: This episode is all about the tease – the Others’ were all minding their own business, baking muffins, reading books and fixing plumbing when Oceanic 815 crashed. They live in a Dharma facility but “that was a long time ago”. They seem to have access to impressive resources – Juliet had Jack’s life story in her file, which they seem to have put together in just a few weeks despite being on some uncharted island in the South Pacific. Just what exactly do they do all along, and why have they been pretending to be murderous ninja-hobos all this time? Mysterious! Oh, and it turns out that “Henry Gale” is really a guy called Ben, who is probably the Others’ leader.

The Literature: Juliet’s book club is reading Stephen King’s “Carrie”, which one member dismisses as trash that, intriguingly, “Ben wouldn’t read on the toilet”. It’s Juliet’s favourite book, so the other club members must have been disappointed to be robbed of a good literary stoush by the sky turning weird and a plan exploding overhead. The other literary reference is the title, but for once I’m stumped. Is it referring to LA and Sydney? They are hardly mentioned. And there’s the Oceanic survivors on one side and the Others on the other side, but that’s kind of a long bow to draw. I hereby accuse the producers of wedging a gratuitous literary reference in for no reason whatsoever.

The Episode: It’s all setup, from the flashback of Jack being a destructive, life-ruining arse to the present where Jack is being a destructive, life-ruining arse. Juliet is introduced as a smart woman with a lot of very strong emotions she is working hard to suppress. Weaselly manipulator Henry Gale is reintroduced as Ben, a ruthless manipulator and the leader of the Others. Tom Friendly is reintroduced as, well, a friendly guy who doesn’t mind administering the odd clinical beating. And Kate, we are stunned to learn, wears a summer dress well and has a great line in upset stares when Ben tells her that “the next two weeks are going to be very unpleasant”. We also meet Carl, but it’s safe to say it will be some time, if ever, before we care about Carl.

The episode is okay. The opening scene with Juliet popping open a CD and having an unsettling emotional breakdown to the tune of Petulia Clarke’s “Downtown” is a nice callback to Season 2’s opening scene with Desmond. With only three of the principal characters present, and spending most of their time in cages of one sort or another, it’s not the most action-packed episode, but it does have some nice psychological drama elements. Juliet is presented as someone who has learned to survive in Ben’s company by controlling herself carefully and playing some of the same mindgames we’ve come to love from him. Sawyer is concerned with living in the moment and surviving, reflected by his incarceration in an animal cage. Kate is required to do nothing, literally, but to look pretty in this episode. And Jack is, as always, an arrogant, self-obsessed arse.

Seven fish biscuits, and we really need to cut Jack out of this diet.

What I’m working on in September

First of all, I still don’t have a day job, so the main thing I’m working on is reversing that. Much as I’d like it to be otherwise, the mortgage won’t pay itself and I have to say I’m fond of living in my own home. So, it’s not quite time to retire into full-time writing. Yeah, I’m disappointed too.

Around that, I’ve got some projects ongoing. Now that the weather is warming up, the downstairs guest room is finally getting some renovation love. Last week I painted the walls – we’ll quietly overlook the fact that I didn’t check the paint buckets I was using and so have painstakingly applied two coats of exterior paint in a room that gets barely any sun and now reeks of unusually weird fumes – and this week I’m doing door frames, cornices and cupboards. We have a guest arriving next Tuesday, so I’m on a deadline there.

I have some writing projects as well:

Lane of Unusual Traders – I got my submission in (just) to Tiny owl Workshop’s  The Lane of Unusual Traders anthology that closed on Sunday night. I’m pretty proud of how it came out, a bleak little fantasy fable about a character who believes he can hold on to his humanity in a job where a conscience is an active hindrance. That probably sounds like a thinly-veiled political critique but if so it wasn’t intentional (I only just this minute recognised that as a possible interpretation of the story). I suspect that it is really my subconscious lecturing me about the self-destructiveness of procrastination, which is a far more resonant theme with me.

Lost – On my trip to Sydney this weekend, my buddy Andrew reminded me that he was watching along with my Lost reviews, the last one of which I posted almost two years ago. I felt immediately guilty for absolutely no sane reason. As a result I have resumed my rewatch and blog project Back to the Island, starting with the Season 3 opener ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (see next blog entry!). I figure I will probably power through Season 3, which is probably my least favourite, so that a succession of pretty terrible Nikki and Paolo episodes don’t kill my enthusiasm.

Lighthouse – My still-unnamed lighthouse story is now a full draft in need of revision. I think it’s a pretty good story, so I’m doing my best to look forward to throwing myself at editing it. I still haven’t quite cracked the art of being enthusiastic about revising my work, though I am at least starting to consciously acknowledge the benefits of taking editing seriously. That’s a start.

Breakdown – What would have been my entry to the CSfG Never-Never Land anthology really never came together, but I worked on it a bit over the weekend and at least dragged it a bit closer to being a real story. This will be my “just write it and see what happens” project for the month. Because it’s always worked this way before, I expect that at some point the story will just click into place and I will know how to get from where I am to where I think I’m going, but at the moment it’s a bit of an existential talk-fest between two mildly hostile teenagers. I suspect it needs to be a little more than that. I’ve missed the deadline for the anthology though, so the pressure is off that one.

School Hall – A long-ish fantasy short story with an interesting setting and intriguing characters that either needs paring back to about half its current word count, or needs an injection of considerably more action to justify its length. Either way it’s in need of a complete revision and rewrite. With that one I will have to do a proper outline, not to mention a glossary so that I can remember the weird terminology I made up around the magic systems and the oddly-constructed character names. It’s also a story in search of a title.

Colony Ship – The outline of the novel is about three-quarters done, but there’s a space of about three chapters which is thematically similar to and not much more detailed than “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed” (only way less cool than that opening sentence to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series). I am unsure whether I need to know what happens in that bit before I start writing or if I can just jump in and expect to have to revise my outline as I go anyway. Either way I probably won’t start writing that novel for a while yet – probably not before I have an outline for the sequel at least.

Short stories – Even once I’m finished with the stories I have in draft form, I still have two stories to write to make my minimum goal of ten new stories in 2014. I’d like to get at least one of them underway in September. Most of the stuff I’ve been writing lately has come in at the 6000-8000 word mark (though my Lane story was written to a 3000-word limit) so I would like to aim these next couple at the far more manageable (and marketable) 4000 word length. We’ll see how I go – both Lighthouse and School Hall were intended to be that short, and both are nearly double that size.

Slush reading – In addition to doing a lot of critiquing of other peoples’ short stories, I’ve started working as a volunteer slush reader for an Australian speculative fantasy magazine. Basically the job involves rating stories for the benefit of editors putting together an issue of the journal, and providing a few critique comments for the author about what did and didn’t work. At some point down the line I may throw my hat into the ring to become an editor, but for the moment I’m concentrating on building my ability to read critically and pull writing apart to see how it ticks. It’s not something I’ve ever worked hard at before, but I’m interested now.

(Clam – still going on the middle 99 Cities. Ssstttiiiilllllll going.)So that’s it for now (unless there’s something I’ve forgotten which is by now means impossible). What’s up in your neck of the woods?

October 22, 2013

TMoRP Day 6 – Just Cause 2

I play more video games than I should and far fewer than I would like to.

(In another life I would very much like to test the neo-Calvinist adage contending that “Nobody ever looks back on their lives and says ‘I wish I’d played more video games’.” Because, honestly, that’s bullshit. I absolutely wish I played more video games, and in a futuristic post-scarcity utopia that has dispensed with the necessities of food, shelter and providing for loved ones, I would jack myself into the X-Station 2600 Virtual Arcade before you could say “smelly otaku”.)

There are any number of things that will suck me into a game and keep me playing it, but number one on the list is a large world to explore. Open-world sandboxes are my crack cocaine, especially since I gave up crack for video games [1]. You give me a halfway decent map, some kind of firearm to see off roaming predators and enough hours in the day and I promise I won’t come up for breath for hours.

Which brings me to Just Cause 2.

JC2 is a first-person shooter by Avalanche Studios, in which you play Rico Rodriguez, a CIA operative infiltrating the vaguely-defined south-east Asian island nation of Panau in order to overthrow dictator Pandak ‘Baby’ Panay (whose towering statues hilariously adorn virtually every corner of the country). There are secret CIA plants, criminal factions and international enemy agents, not to mention an infinite supply of heavily-armed police and soldiers between you and the insane climactic showdown.

That’s the plot, but it’s breathtakingly irrelevant next to three things:

1) You can roam the entire vast map, consisting of one large and dozens of smaller islands, going anywhere you please and using any number of cars, motorbikes, planes, helicopters and boats to get there. If you have the patience, you can swim along any of the hundreds of rivers, bays and straits or climb every rambling snow-capped mountain. If you can see something on the map, you can make your way there somehow. And it might take you forever to uncover every town, village and roadside market – some of them are just not marked on the map. For intrepid explorers nursing mildly obsessive completists tendencies like myself, it’s a free-roaming paradise.

2) Related to Point 1, Rico spends a lot of time getting about with his personal transport gear, an improbably versatile parachute and a wrist-mounted grappling hook. Between them they elevate Just Cause 2 to a crazy thrill-seeker’s paradise. The parachute can be deployed and discarded at will, allowing for all sorts of ridiculous freefall stunts and lazy, sooth paragliding exploration. The grapple allows Rico to scale cliffs, yank unsuspecting enemies off roofs, hijack everything from motorbikes to helicopters to jet fighters, attach bad guys to moving cars (hilariously fatal!) and – almost best of all – safely arrest a terminal velocity skydive. The timing is tricky on that last one, but totally worth experimenting.

3) Nearly everything is susceptible to destruction by firearms, explosives or missiles, and ‘Baby’ Panay’s grip on his people can be broken if you just disrupt enough of his national infrastructure. Which means that Rico can cheerfully wander about the island blowing up everything from police cars to electrical transformers, from wind farms to oil refineries, from SAM installations to nuclear missile silos. Everything you destroy attracts the attention of Panau’s heavily-armed police force, though, so blowing up a power generator invariably leads to a crazily-escalating firefight.

I don’t know if I can adequately convey the sheer, manic glee of stumbling across some hidden Panauan army base, setting off a bunch of triggered explosives and then getting into a running firefight with a battalion of pissed-off soldiers and the helicopter gunships they call in for support. First-person shooters aren’t for everyone – and this one is both pretty violent and has some very questionable politics, not to mention its hilariously bad voice acting – but if you like to combine your touristy impulse to go everywhere and collect everything with your uncontrollable urge to commit acts of destructive mayhem, Just Cause 2 has you covered, quite possibly for the rest of your life. Just Cause 2 is the only shooter I’ve ever played that has tempted me to go back and try it on a harder setting (even though I am basically terrible at first person shooters and I have about half a dozen other games queued up on my system, unplayed).

Besides, it has a pointless and needlessly inaccessible reference to Lost, which just endeared it to me all the more.

JC2 is cheap in the Steam store. Get it, play it, and never leave the Island.

 

[1] Mum: I did not really give up crack. Not in my heart.

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