Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Television: 'The Mentalist: Red Sky In The Morning' (2010) (Episode 2x23)

In a few short minutes, everything changes. 'Red Sky In The Morning' is in many ways a culmination of the whole series to date, and a high point of the whole show, if only because they would back off from some of the most fundamental issues of the show in future seasons in order to wrap it up. Here, however, those issues are on full display. Is it possible that Red John is even more than he appears, and could Kristina Frye be the real kind of psychic that the ultra-cynical Patrick Jane denies at every turn? Can there be a life other than the one of vengeance, and what if he makes a mistake? The arcs that restart from here will go round in circles in future seasons, but here... Here, they all work.

There is a lot to like in this second season closer. For one thing, we get the return of the angelic Leslie Hope, a lesser known Canadian treasure, as the possibly true psychic Kristina Frye, never to be properly seen again as she is taken away by the series villain Red John after repeating Jane's original pre-series mistake. In fact, Simon Baker displays true acting chops here, going from charismatic charmer, to affable hopelessness, to a nervous mess, and then to a peculiar place beyond fear. Jane is a great character.

'Red Sky In The Morning' closes the second season and goes from wonderful, to weird, and then back to wonderful again. The closing experience with Red John is just a little shocking, and you do wonder what will happen next.

The problems with this episode are contextual, and not really anything to do with the hour itself. The problems lie in how themes won't be addressed in the future. Yes, Jane's vengeance finally will happen, but it will be in an unsatisfying way. The underlying tension between Jane's assertions that there are no psychics and the difficultly explained abilities of Red John (and Kristina Frye) is thrown away. The tension between Lisbon's dedication to the law and Jane's quest is ultimately reconciled by circumstances. However, for now, we are forced to wait and wonder what will unfold next. What does that calm and determined look mean?

On the other hand, we could all think about triceratops moulds instead. It's our choice.

O.

Monday, 22 May 2017

No, Not The Spoons!

It's time to do some wibbly wobbly tapping of the keys, on whatever springs to mind. It could be anything. The predicted heat wave, which may not materialise at all, the potential of a router in woodwork, the principles of tricking people into doing algebra without even knowing it, 'The Rockford Files', the world being just like a great big onion, and the lovely old Moon spinning around the Earth while slowly slowing down our own rotation. Mutter mutter satellites...

Or it could not be about any of those things. Venice Classic Radio has been playing an amazing amount of Hummel recently, and it can be utterly enchanting. He was a complete unknown to me until a couple of weeks ago, and now is fast approaching favourite status. Hummel may save this last French assignment from complete doom, which would be remarkable. Thank you, Mr Hummel, whoever you may have been.

Piano music has a power all its own, making it the very top of the pile when it comes to classical music, or even jazz and blues. There is nothing as nice as the tinkling of those keys. I wonder how it all began? Did it begin with some primitive form of xylophone, and then somehow evolve into keys attached to strings? However it happened, it was a primal act of genius:

"Excuse me, Son of Torg, but I was just playing the rocks when I fell across the loom, and it made this horrendous noise!"

"Really, Brother of Boof? What happened then?"

"I was chased away by Mother of Snab, who chastised me for messing with her fabric production."

"Sounds like a bad idea. Don't do that again. Here, try this rock. It's got a hollow end."

"Neat! Hang on, I've got an idea..."

"What?"

"What if..."

"What?! What?!"

"I play the rock with the spoons! Huzzah!"

And then the universe sighed, and we all went back to sleep. Oh, and to trick people into doing algebra, you need to begin with number machines, but that's another story entirely...

O.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Television: 'Star Trek: This Side Of Paradise' (Episode 1x24) (1967)

This is the one where Spock climbs a tree. Did other things happen? Yes, I suppose so, but really it's about Spock climbing a tree and smiling. Everything else is a bit redundant. McCoy talks about mint juleps a lot, if that counts?

'This Side Of Paradise' (TSOP) is a classic example of the anti-paradise strain of 'Star Trek'. Yes, there are evil alien flowers, which shoot out spores and brainwash host humanoids, but it's really all about people being too healthy, contented and stagnant. Paradise is bad in 'Star Trek' land, and maybe that's an interesting thing to think about. On the other hand, it's much less interesting than the tree climbing, or Kirk being the only one out of the whole crew who can cure himself of the spores' influence. He does a similar thing two seasons later, in 'Elaan of Troyius'. Apparently, the Enterprise is more important than anything else in his life, and he will even get Vulcan-pummelled if it means saving the day. Burn, spores, burn!

In a strange way, this is almost not 'Star Trek'. Yes, the familiar characters are all around, but it's much more like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', with the eerie smiles and odd behaviour multiplying exponentially as the episode wears on. It's very much of the 1950s or 1970s, but not 'Star Trek'. The only unifying aspect with the series as a whole is the great William Shatner, who pulls off confusion with the whole scenario with great elegance. He seems to be the all-purpose actor, pulling off practically anything with ease, except perhaps musicals. (All lovers of 'Rocket Man' or 'The Transformed Man' are free to disagree.)

Paradises get a very bad reputation from works of fiction. There are almost none which remain intact or aren't abandoned out of sheer boredom. 'Star Trek' pummels them repeatedly: 'This Side Of Paradise', 'The Apple', 'I, Mudd', 'The Paradise Syndrome' and 'The Way To Eden' all involve renunciations of the ideal, with other more tangential examples left unsaid. It's one of the great human ideas, that we're happier when we're attaining, rather than when we've attained.

So, 'TSOP' is a good episode about alien spores infecting a colony and the crew of the Enterprise, Spock jumping ship, and Kirk finally bringing a resolution to the whole misadventure. Sulu gets brainwashed, not an uncommon occurrence, and we end on a bittersweet note. We can call it a classic oddity. Oh, and Spock hangs off a tree.

O.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Random Thoughts

These are curious days. The quest for a new dog continues, with no clear consensus of what a new dog would look like, or what anyone really wants. As you can imagine, that's a bit stressful! The student roster continues to temporarily inflate, as a changing of the guard approaches with the end of the GCSE exams. The nine hundredth Quirky Muffin is now not very far away, nor is the end of the first year of Open University studies. Yes, it's definitely a curious time. Please send remedial cookies.

Selecting a dog seems to be far more fraught than it ever used to be, and more expensive and far less organised. Hopefully, something will work out. Tangentially, beagles really don't look at all like Snoopy, do they? Not even the Snoopy from the very beginning of 'Peanuts'. It's odd. I don't remember when the breed 'beagle' was attached to him, nor whether it was earlier or later in the first few years. Ah well, he's a lovable dog anyway. Mental note: Watch 'The Peanuts Movie' again. My, that's an underrated movie.

What else is going on? Apart from student prep and studies of my own, there is also the endless reading and 'Project Watch Every DVD', which is now into the final seasons of 'The Six Million Dollar Man' and 'The Bionic Woman' and has recently cracked open the first season of '30 Rock'. '30 Rock' is surprisingly good, a great show. It may even have rewatchability, by gad! 'Gilligan's Island' has proven to be amazing, by the way, a gigantic success which never made it to Britain. What a shame that is, as they really are an iconic set of characters, and it's obvious why they have remained popular references for all these years.

The reading stretches on, as endless short story collections continue, and continue, and continue... The complete 'Father Brown' is a dense brick of entertainment especially, whose remaining pages never seem to become fewer despite the fun of what's going on. 'Journey to the West', definitely not a short story, is continuing well, but at over two thousand pages it may consume the rest of my life...

'Journey To The West' may never actually finish? Is that some kind of Buddhist or Taoist exercise?

O.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Television: 'Supergirl: Stronger Together' (2015) (Episode 1x02)

We won't cover every episode of 'Supergirl' here on the Quirky Muffin, and may not even venture into the second season at all. 'Stronger Together' is the first episode of the regular run, though, so it's a good place to pick up on the progress. This is a great improvement on the pilot episode, which ditches some of the melodrama and picks up on new threads, but still disappointingly jumps into meaningless fight scenes for very little reason indeed. That, more than anything else is disappointing. It's cheap and unimaginative to do brawls. Any show, and any series, can do fights. However, it takes an imaginative one to have Supergirl pulling an oil tanker out of its dock to avoid a fire, and then accidentally pulling off the end of the ship and having a spill. That's a massive plus, with not a fist thrown.

This season first season could potentially be the best season of a superhero show I've ever seen. Melissa Benoist is perfect as Kara Zor-El, Mehcad Brooks is great as James (Jimmy Olsen), and the rest of the cast is running between wooden to average as of 'Stronger Together'. It's nice to see a novitiate period, where someone actually learns how to use their powers on the job, which of course fits thematically in with the series do the same thing.

This series seems to be pulling its building blocks from interesting places. It has a hologrammatic parent, as in the Richard Donner 'Superman' movies, solving of ordinary day to day and work problems much as in the first season of 'Lois and Clark', some unnecessarily thumping landings a la 'Iron Man', and the aforementioned boring violence as seen in practically every modern superhero movie, whether they be DC or Marvel. (I'm still thanking the stars that 'Man of Steel' and 'Batman vs Superman' went by unseen.)

The show does split heavily into two pieces, though. There is the half that deals with Kara and her job at CatCo, which is pretty good, and the other half at the alien investigating DEO, which is often problematic. It makes for a very difficult contrast. Perhaps that will work out in the end. For now, it's nice to have daring rescues, character interaction, and not to have to worry about network meddling. The 'Super' projects have always had network meddling of the worst kind. 'The Adventures Of Superman' was nobbled and converted into colour and a kiddies show a decade before colour hit television officially, the 'Superman' movies were destroyed by avaricious producers, 'Lois and Clark' was ruined by network meddling, 'Superman Returns' was denied sequels due to idiocy, and then we have the modern 'Superman' movies... You're lucky to even get one good example in any given iteration! Even the Fleischer animated shorts were disrupted by Fleischer Studios going out of business and having the remaining cartoons converted into propaganda pieces. The Big S doesn't get any luck.

'Stronger Together' is a good building episode. We get some back history on 'S' symbol, some confidence building for Kara, some soul searching for James, and some other stuff that doesn't matter. Let's see how it goes.

O.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Monday Monday

Monday, continuing day-long rain, a giant piece of writer's block, and no end in sight. There's got to be something to pull out of the last couple of days? Politics is happily embargoed for the moment, and my mind is still being made up on the first season of 'Supergirl', so what else is going on? The GCSEs are finally in full swing, and causing their usual stress-related problems. I honestly don't know how my students are coping. My own memories of GCSEs are extremely hazy, but they didn't seem to be so numerous or so stress-inducing. Of course, I was never in danger of failing (such modesty!), so maybe it's just a case of different perspectives.

Ah, at the end of a not particularly long or busy day, it's good to think about going to sleep. People really need to sleep more. As a member of the nine to ten hour club, it's really one of the best things to do to stay healthy. If anyone other than llamas or mythical unicorns were reading this, I would tell them to stop drinking coffee and go to sleep instead. That's the top tip for the insane people of the modern day, and one only barely ahead of ditching sugar. Ah, health tips from the bizarrely tired might not be the best things to accept.

It's very difficult to write today. Nothing seems to be gelling. Even the last OU assignment was a wearisome and extended task, and it should have been a doddle given the constraints. On the flip side, 'Wordspace' has been a genuine pleasure to return to. Is it psychological? Is it hair cut time? It must be that! It's the old 'Inverse Sansom' syndrome, an old curse that persists from ancient times. It's always seemed miraculous to me that people with longer hair ever get anything done at all...

That's Monday for you, a mixed up bunch of words. Some posts on 'Supergirl' and the continuing 'Wordspace' will follow in the next few days. Now it's time to do the healthy thing and go to sleep. At last.

O.



Saturday, 13 May 2017

Story: 'Wordspace' Phase II, Part VII

( Part VI , VIII )

Club's grasp of history wasn't comprehensive, but he had heard of the Ordinals. Near the beginning of their time, a group of words had formed, as part of the fundamental order of things. According to Truth, they had reflected the order of things somehow, but Club was more interested in practicalities than philosophies or history. He really needed his old friend Mystery for things of this nature.

"We will go and see?" Repeated First. "What is wrong, good fellow?"

"I am not used to interesting times." Club admitted. "This is all... very new to me."

"New to you, sir?" A second word interjected. "We haven't seen a non-Ordinal in numberless days!"

"And I have only heard stories about you."

"But they were good stories, I trust?" The second word persisted.

"Yes. Yes, they were good stories. You're right. We should go." Club turned with alacrity. (But not with Alacrity, who had been out running when this latest disaster had descended upon them.)

He led them back toward the Zone.

*    *    *

Dream and Surprise headed down the unexpected tunnel to parts unknown to her. Every so often, they would reach another side corridor or trapdoor in the floor, and descend further into the depths.

"This can't be possible. There's no way through the foundation of the Wordspace." Dream muttered disbelievingly.

"That's what we thought, but a chance experiment by that idiot Alchemy revealed the existence of these tunnels. He suspected a connection to the Well, but privately I thought that we were still above the foundation, that perhaps the super-fundamental layer was extra thick in these regions." Surprise couldn't help showing off his vocabulary. It was a little vanity of his.

"But..."

"Neither of us was exactly right." Surprise uncharacteristically stopped Dream before turning the next corner, and asked this question: "Are you sure you're okay, Dream? To be away - vanished - for so long. I think I'm trying to ask whether you can stand, and I know I'm spoiling something here, a surprise?" He looked very uncomfortable.

"Is there a choice? I'm still shaky, so stay close." Dream did her best to look brave.

"Very well." Surprise led his still recovering friend around the corner and stayed close as they came up against the guard rail forming the boundary of a small platform. The platform projected out from the side of mass of foundation, and before them... Well, Surprise summed it up best. "Voila, the great question. The world underneath our world!"

To be continued.