Friday, January 20, 2017

Frequency 1.12: Good Inter-temporal Police Work, But...

Good inter-temporal police work between Raimy and Frank in last night's Frequency 1.12, but ...

Somewhat predictably - because it's the next-to-last, not last, show of the season - Julie is still in mortal danger.  Because the Nightingale, having been eliminated as Julie's killer, thanks to being put behind bars in Frank's time, is replaced by his son as Julie's (likely) killer).,

This is a good touch - the stubbornness of the Julie-gets-killed timeline defeats, at least for now, Raimy and Frank's relentless efforts to change it.  Except - well, it's even more complicated than that, which is also more intriguing and different than just Julie still being killed.

This is an interesting decision on the part of the writers.  Why not have Julie still dead, even after the Nightingale can't kill her, and make that the mystery to be solved (or not) next week?  The answer, I'd say, is because giving Raimy - and we, the audience - a taste of what it's like if Julie had survived is even better.  It tells us, reminds in case we needed reminding, just how much Raimy now has to loose.

Also of interest is where Frank is in the 2016 in which Julie is alive?  And, come to think of it, when will the son of the Nightingale try to satisfy his inherited obsession and try to kill Julie?

These questions are moving Frequency into a first-rate time-travel story, which makes me hope more than ever that it lives beyond next week.


See also Frequency 1.1: Closely Spun Gem ... Frequency 1.2: All About the Changes  ... Frequency 1.3: Chess Game Across Time ...  Frequency 1.4: Glimpsing the Serial Killer ... Frequency 1.5: Two Sets of Memories ... Frequency 1.6: Another Time Traveler? ... Frequency 1.7: Snags ... Frequency 1.8: Interferences ... Frequency 1.9: The Wife and the Fiancee ... Frequency 1.10: The Clarinet of Time ... Frequency 1.11: The Unkilling



                       more time travel

Thursday, January 19, 2017

No Second Chance: First Place Whodunnit

I'm continuing to feast on the international television and movies Netflix has been bringing us, ranging from Nordic Noir (Dicte and many more) to Cuban cop (Four Seasons in Havana) to Israeli undercover (Fauda).   France is well represented in this, too, with the superb Spiral, which I'll review after I've seen the 5th season on Netflix for free (cheapskate that I am), and Marseilles, which was quite good.

No Second Chance is another French winner, which arrived in France via New Jersey, where Harlan Corben, the American renowned mystery writer, lives and works.   Corben not only wrote No Second Chance, but has a nice cameo at the end, along with Dana Delaney, the only actor American audiences will recognize in this series.

The rest are French, and all excellent.  So is the narrative, which unlike a lot of high-octane kidnap stories, comes packaged with a first-class, whodunnit puzzler.  A father is shot to death, a mother shot and left for dead, and their six-month baby is kidnapped.   The mother, a medical doctor, recovers and sets out to find her baby.

But that won't happen until she or someone else solves the puzzle of what happened in the first place. Suffice to say it's not what it seems to be, as the main detective is just on edge of realizing.   There's a gap of time in the narrative - which was somewhat necessary for one of the crucial developments in the ending - but I think the story would have been even stronger and tighter without it.

But that's a small quibble about a compelling six-episode series,  crème de la crème for international and indeed all television.


silk noir

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On Leaving Power

I read an article years ago about the pain of leaving power.   Possibly the fact that I can't recall the author's name is indicative of the author losing power, but the ideas seem especially relevant this week, as Barack Obama concludes his eight years as President.

The gist of the article was how starkly different, to the point of seeming unresponsive and even barren, the world around you can seem when you leave a position of power.  Obviously, the more powerful you are, the more you feel this literal draining and recession of the world.

The President of the United States is probably the most prominent example.   In addition to having a channel and megaphone for any and every idea you have, if you want to communicate it, you also have ways of getting these ideas implemented, that you never had before and never will again.

You also have people waiting on your every need.   Although Presidents including Obama frequently say how much they value their downtime and privacy, and that's true, the flip side is that when all you have is privacy, you miss being in the public light.

Possibly our world has changed to the point where a former President like Obama can continue to have some residual power, at least as far as people paying special attention to his ideas, if that's what he wants.

But my guess is Barack Obama will sorely miss even the onerous responsibilities of the Presidency, in ways the rest of us who have never been President or anything close to it can barely imagine.  For that reason, in addition to all the extraordinary good he has done and tried to do for the country, I wish Barack Obama all the luck in the world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Young Pope 1.2: The Supreme Cool

A superb second episode of The Young Pope on HBO tonight, with a cardinal McLuhanesque lesson in media presentation: the more unseen, the more powerful, or, the supremely cool.

The episode doesn't tell us if Pius XIII read McLuhan, and his notion that the less presented, the more the viewer is attracted and involved, but Pius understands it, as well as if he had read the relevant chapter in Understanding Media, or sat in any of McLuhan's classes in the Coach House at the University of Toronto when McLuhan held forth there through the 1970s.  (I was there several times in the late 1970s, and again just this past year.)

McLuhan was a devout Catholic, and likely would have been offended by a lot of what the young Pope says and does.  But McLuhan couldn't deny that Pius knows his McLuhan, whether he explicitly acknowledges it or not.

The other important theme in tonight's episode is the power of Sister Mary.  She is the closest to the Pope, and some even think that she thinks she and the Pope are co-Pontiffs.  At this point, it's difficult to say what she's really thinking, but she may have in mind that's she's in effect the first female Pope, working through Lenny aka Pius.

The young Pope of course wouldn't want that.  He loves his power, at least as and maybe more than God.  And I await to see how the story unfolds next Sunday.

See also: The Young Pope 1.1: Beyond Iconclast

Monday, January 16, 2017

Timeless 1.11: Edison, Ford, Morgan, Houdini, and Holmes (No, Not Sherlock)!

A crackerjack return of Timeless with episode 1.11 tonight, featuring our team at work at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and running into (in one way or another) Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, and serial killer (though as is made clear several times, not known by that label then) H. H. Holmes.  And just for good measure there's a famous women from MIT, but I didn't catch her name.

Houdini has the most screen time, and it's put to good use, as he uses his budding talents to unlock a door to a room where two of our heroes are in peril, and lift a gun from the pocket of Flynn, now thoroughly a bad guy again, but at least consistent in his reasons.

There are lots of good scenes and glances, including the slight look from Lucy when Wyatt says goodbye to the MIT woman, with whom there is definitely a touch a chemistry.   The famous characters all look as they should, including Henry Ford, who looks much younger than we think of him, because he was indeed much younger back then, when he was working for Edison, and hadn't yet invented his first Ford.   (I'd show you some photos, but I have more television to watch tonight, and don't have the time to find and insert them.)

So our team, rent asunder back in ancient 2016, is now back together in 2017, though the ever-resourceful Flynn is tempting Wyatt to leave the fold.  And as we're just days away from Inauguration Day here in the United States, I can't help thinking, where is a time-travel team from the future when we need them?  Or who knows, maybe they were already here, and we're seeing the result...

See you here next week!

See also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse ... Timeless 1.7: Stranded! ... Timeless 1.8: Time and Space ... Timeless 1.9: The Kiss and The Key ... Timeless 1.10: The End in the Middle



Edison, Ford, and J. P Morgan play big roles in Chronica,
third novel in this time-travel trilogy

The Young Pope 1.1: Beyond Iconoclast

Quite a show on The Young Pope, which debuted on HBO last night, and stars Jude Law as Pope Pius XIII.  He's Jude Law's age and looks like Jude Law - of course - and just for good measure is an American, and a New Yorker, at that.

The episode begins with Pius addressing the adoring masses in Rome, and saying he wants the Church to be a spearhead of freedom, for everything from abortions to priests openly marrying.  This extraordinary scene turns out to be a dream - which we should have guessed when the heavens cleared of rain right before Pius began to talk.  But the scene at the end, when Pius tells a priest that he doesn't believe in God, was no dream at all.

So the young Pope is not only young and a New Yorker, but an iconoclast that goes eons beyond anything we've seen or heard even from the real current Pope Francis.   But part of the power of The Young Pope is that he's an extension of what Francis has wisely started.

Where The Young Pope will go from here is anyone's guess.   We don't know how and why Lenny Belardo was selected.  We don't how much support he'll get for his reforms - which seem far too light a word for what he's thinking - and how long that will last.   Most of all, we don't yet know exactly what Pius XIII ultimately wants, if he knows that himself.

But we can expect a searing, provocative examination of the current basis of a religion of 1.27 billion adherents, which daily has profound influence on many more in the world.


The Investigator: Running an Investigator

Caught The Investigator on Netflix yesterday, a 4-hour true-crime documentary (with actor reenactment of some scenes) that details the investigation that Mark Williams-Thomas (an investigative reporter and former police officer) made last year into the disappearance of Carole Packman in England in 1985.

Her body was never discovered, but her his husband, Russell Causley was convicted of her murder and is now serving a life prison sentence for it in England. Their daughter Samantha, 16 years old at the time of her mother's vanishing, and now in her forties and a mother herself, got Williams-Thomas involved, in the hope that he would provide some answers or closure to questions that understandably haunt and torment to her to this very day.  Causley has maintained his innocence, but Sam is not so sure.

Dealing as it does with the likely murder of a woman, and the protestation of innocence by the man convicted of it, The Investigator has some resemblances to Making a Murderer, but the two are very different.   The body was found in Making a Murderer, so there's no doubt at all that a murder was committed.   And while Steven Avery, in Making a Murderer, may be brighter than he looks, he's clearly not some criminal mastermind.

Russell Causley is - or at very least, masterful in how to run Mark Williams-Thomas rather than vice versa in this investigation.   Williams-Thomas knows to be wary of everything Causley says, but he can't help responding to them, anyway.

In the end ... well, I don't want to give anything more away, except to say that someone who may also have had a role in the murder may still be at large - if indeed there was a murder.




Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Affair 3.8: The "Miserable Hero"

Well, Cole fans are gong to be happy - or mostly happy - about tonight's episode 3.8, because it was mostly about him and Alison.  Needles to say, big spoilers follow, but I'll say it anyway,

First, on the who stabbed Noah front: we can now take Cole off the list of suspects. In a nice touch, the police have him in the system going to New Jersey - but it turns out it was not to attack Noah.  It was to talk to Alison's doctor in New Jersey.

Now why would Cole keep that a secret, including from Luisa?  He could easily have said he wanted to check up on Alison's mental health, given her interest in getting some visiting rights with Joanie. But the real reason was much deeper and more disruptive - he still loves Alison, deeply.

That's a big reveal.  And just as big is that Alison feels the same way about Cole.   That explains why she's so ok with getting a divorce from Noah - it was more than just her needing that for Joanie.  The scene near the end where they both tell each other that they still love each other - and not in just a nostalgic way - was real Affair magic.

Not so magical, though, was the very ending, with Cole pulling back, and back to Luisa.   In the best line of the night, Alison tells Cole he has to decide between being a "happy asshole" or a "miserable hero".   Cole goes with the miserable hero - but I don't think this is the end of Cole and Alison, by any means.

And we're back, with just two episodes left, to the question of who stabbed poor Noah in the neck? The choices now are (a) Noah stabbed himself, (b) it is Gunther after all, (c) the French teacher, who's a psycho, or (d) one of the students at the dinner, also a psycho.

I'm now going with (d).   See you next week.

See also The Affair 3.1: Sneak Preview Review ... The Affair 3.2: Sneak Preview Review: Right Minds ... The Affair 3.3: Who Attached Noah? ... The Affair 3.4: The Same Endings in Montauk ... The Affair 3.5: Blocked Love ... The Affair 3.6: The Wound ... The Affair 3.7: The White Shirt

And see also The Affair 2.1: Advances ... The Affair 2.2: Loving a Writer ... The Affair 2.3: The Half-Wolf ... The Affair 2.4: Helen at Distraction ... The Affair 2.5: Golden Cole ... The Affair 2.6: The End (of Noah's Novel) ... The Affair 2.7: Stunner ... The Affair 2.8: The Reading, the Review, the Prize ...The Affair 2.9: Nameless Hurricane ... The Affair 2.10: Meets In Treatment ... The Affair 2.11: Alison and Cole in Business ... The Affair Season 2 Finale: No One's Fault



podcast review of every 2nd season episode


podcast review of every 1st season episode



the Sierra Waters time-travel trilogy

Four Seasons in Havana: Five Stars

As the new year gets underway, Netflix continues to revolutionize television in many ways, one of the most important being the way it makes available to American viewers (and viewers around the world) television series from other countries and cultures.  In the past months, I've reviewed outstanding examples from Israel (Fauda), France (Marseilles), and Nordic Noir narratives from Denmark and Iceland.   The stories are not only riveting, but when you watch them subtitled (not dubbed) in their original language, you get a chance to increase your international vocabulary over what you learned in high school and college when you weren't paying that much attention.

So I had high expectations when I started watching Four Seasons in Havana - four 90-minute detective stories, rendered in Spanish, made in Cuba and Spain, following the exploits of Lt. Conde - and they were not only met but exceeded. Conde (well played by Cuban actor Jorge Perugorría) is a philosophically minded, hard-bitten but full of heart, existential mid-level detective, wise-cracking one minute, challenging Cuban authority the next, doggedly pursuing the murderer, and always with an eye for a beautiful woman.  He usually succeeds in both quests, but not usually in a way that brings him any lasting satisfaction.

We've seen hard-boiled detectives like Conde - actually, I'd say he was medium-boiled - many times before, but what makes Four Season in Havana different and memorable is that it takes place in Havana.  As is well known, a lot of the culture of Cuba was frozen in the late 1950s, with American cars from that era carefully maintained for decades.  One of the best things Barack Obama did as President was finally lift the American embargo on Cuba, so that snapshot in time is likely to catch up to the present pretty quickly.  This means that Four Seasons in Havana gives us a fascinating glimpse of a Cuba that may soon be gone - and with it, not only antique cars, but old telephones, big desktop computers, more radio than television, and a love of music (such as Creedence Clearwater Revival) that, while still admired in America, has long been old hat.

So in addition to the crime stories being appealing in their own right, we get in Four Seasons in Havana the dividend of the next best thing to an actual visit to Havana, which I now hope more than ever to do myself one day.   Whether you feel that way or not, see the series.


silk noir

The Difference Between Fantasy and Science Fiction


If you click your heels together three times and say there's no place like home, and that gets you across the universe, that's fantasy. If you click your heels together three times, and the spark that results touches a vulnerable spot in the space-time continuum that causes a wormhole to open, and you travel across the universe that way, that's science fiction.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Colony 2.1: Prelude

Colony was back tonight with the debut of its second season, with an episode that was mostly prelude, and, like the first season, pretty good.

A couple of general impressions:  Colony now feels a little like FlashForward (cars suddenly stopping when the aliens arrive), Lost (prelude flashback), and even Fear the Walking Dead (the dawn of apocalypse).   All of that of course makes sense - especially given that star power from Lost (Josh Holloway) and The Walking Dead (Sarah Wayne Callies, not Fear the Walking Dead, buy close enough) are in Colony.

Colony was also a successor, from day one, to Falling Skies and its alien invasion, except we never saw the aliens per se in the first season.   Now we finally get to see ... well, not quite the aliens, but more of their ships and hardware.   We did see a big tall something, but it's not clear if that's an alien, robot, or even a tall co-opted human.

The prelude was generally satisfying, though - and, like everything else these days, like The Man in the High Castle, especially disquieting because ... you know why, look at who's set to be sworn in as President next week.  So Trump has had the unintended benefit of giving any show about a near-future or alternate history totalitarian state in the US a little more of an edge than it otherwise would have had.

But this first episode of the second has set the board nicely, and put the pieces in motion.  The first season had lots of potential, only some of which was realized.  I get the feeling that the second season will do better, and I'm looking forward to it.

See also Colony 1.1: Aliens with Potential ... 1.2: Compelling ... 1.5: Questions ... 1.6: The Provost ... Colony 1.7: Broussard ... Colony 1.8: Moon Base and Transit Zones ... Colony 1.9: Robot Arm ... Colony Season 1 Finale: Not Quite Enough


not exactly aliens, but strange enough ...  The Silk Code

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Vikings 4.17: Ivar's Wheels

A superb Vikings 4.17 last night, on more than one level.

The best scene was Ivar riding the one-horse chariot Floki made for him, at Ivar's request.  He didn't quite get the chance to dispatch Lagertha - thanks to another great scene, with Bjorn arriving just in the nick of time.  But Ivar gets to have wheels - and wings, as Floki says - after Ivar comes to Floki with his request.  It was a very satisfying, high-point conversation, not just for Ivar but Floki, who has been yearning to do something really useful, if for not Ragnar, than for the most extraordinary of his sons.

Ivar and Floki have a lot in common.  They're both outsiders, Ivar for physical reasons, Floki for well, mental reasons, and this makes the alliance between them very appropriate.   I hope it's not the last we see of Floki.

But speaking of lasts, what a wonderful farewell scene between Bjorn and Rollo, followed with Rollo back with his royal family in Paris.  The Vikings so far have not taken Paris - except, in a sense, via Rollo by marriage.  But the French beat all of the Vikings the first time, and they did the same second time, when the French had the benefit of Rollo's guidance and valor.   But the Vikings did come razor close - and we can understand fully Bjorn's statement to Rollo that Bjorn would have to kill Rollo if he stayed with his Viking people.  Or, at least, try to kill Rollo, because I'm not convinced who would win such a one-on-one battle.

I am convinced that the Vikings are set to do real damage to at least some of England's royalty.  But that's a story for next week, when I'll be back with another review.


See also Vikings 4.1: I'll Still Take Paris ... Vikings 4.2: Sacred Texts ...Vikings 4.4: Speaking the Language ... Vikings 4.5: Knives ... Vikings 4.8: Ships Up Cliff ... Vikings 4.10: "God Bless Paris" ... Vikings 4.11: Ragnar's Sons ... Vikings 4.12: Two Expeditions ... Vikings 4.13: Family ... Vikings 4.14: Penultimate Ragnar? ... Vikings 4.15: Close of an Era ... Vikings 1.16: Musselman

And see also Vikings 3.1. Fighting and Farming ... Vikings 3.2: Leonard Nimoy ...Vikings 3.3: We'll Always Have Paris ... Vikings 3.4: They Call Me the Wanderer ... Vikings 3.5: Massacre ... Vikings 3.6: Athelstan and Floki ...Vikings 3.7: At the Gates ... Vikings 3.8: Battle for Paris ... Vikings 3.9: The Conquered ... Vikings Season 3 Finale: Normandy

And see also Vikings 2.1-2: Upping the Ante of Conquest ... Vikings 2.4: Wise King ... Vikings 2.5: Caught in the Middle ... Vikings 2.6: The Guardians ...Vikings 2.7: Volatile Mix ... Vikings 2.8: Great Post-Apocalyptic Narrative ... Vikings Season 2 Finale: Satisfying, Surprising, Superb

And see also Vikings ... Vikings 1.2: Lindisfarne ... Vikings 1.3: The Priest ... Vikings 1.4:  Twist and Testudo ... Vikings 1.5: Freud and Family ... Vikings 1.7: Religion and Battle ... Vikings 1.8: Sacrifice
... Vikings Season 1 Finale: Below the Ash

 
historical science fiction - a little further back in time

Frequency 1.11: The Unkilling

Frequency is winding down to what are likely its three final episodes, and tonight's episode 1.11 kept up the pattern of the series getting better and better.

We left Raimy last week having just killed the Nightingale serial killer - something she could afford to do, in front of everyone, just for the understandable satisfaction she was giving into, because she believed her father Frank was going to kill, or was in the process of killing, the Nightingale 20 years earlier, before the Nightingale had a chance to kill Julie, Raimy's mother.

But fate intervened in the form of a drunk diver, who t-boned Frank's car, which allowed the Nightgale to escape.

The aftermath and its resolution - temporary resolution, of course, since there are still two remaining episodes - was handled very well tonight.  Raimy is on the verge of being charged with murder, until something changes - she didn't kill the Nightingale after all in 2016, because he wasn't where he was last week in 2016.  Frank did something in the past to change that.   The scene in which the new reality seeps in for Raimy had a fine mix of calm and shocking, all at once.

Unfortunately for Frank and Raimy - but fortunately for the continuing story - that didn't kill the Nightingale in 1996.   In another good scene, Julie pleads with Frank not kill the Nightingale - stressing what it would do to young Raimy, to see her father charged with murder, ironic indeed since Raimy in 2016 has been driving Frank in 1996 in this whole story to kill the Nightingale.  But Frank comes through, surprisingly well, and gets the Nightingale arrested.  Not as safe for Julie as the Nightingale dead, but it gets Frank back in the arms of Julie at home.

And there's also a satisfying rapprochement between Frank and Satch, making this episode one of the best for our people getting together.

Only two more episodes left - unless someone does something to our timeline which results in Frequency being picked up for a second season somewhere.  Hey, I love time travel, so can always hope.


See also Frequency 1.1: Closely Spun Gem ... Frequency 1.2: All About the Changes  ... Frequency 1.3: Chess Game Across Time ...  Frequency 1.4: Glimpsing the Serial Killer ... Frequency 1.5: Two Sets of Memories ... Frequency 1.6: Another Time Traveler? ... Frequency 1.7: Snags ... Frequency 1.8: Interferences ... Frequency 1.9: The Wife and the Fiancee ... Frequency 1.10: The Clarinet of Time



                       more time travel

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Perversity of Things: review #7 of X: The Invention of Invention and the Advent of Science Fiction

Continuing with my reviews (#7 of X) of The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction, edited by Grant Wythoff (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) - which will be less frequent now, given the end of the winter break, but focusing here on pages 46-51 of Wythoff's remarkable 59-page Introduction to the 359-page volume.

Wythoff in these pages focuses on Gernback's contribution to the very way in which we conceive of invention - where what we today call new media come from, and what is the best environment, or the social structure most conducive, for these seedling inventions to develop into useful technologies.

I'd make two points here.  One is that it can't be coincidental that Alfred North Whitehead, in his Science and the Modern World, observes that the most important invention of the late 19th century and the aptly-named Age of Invention was "the invention of invention" itself - or the very notion that human beings could create technologies that didn't already exist to do useful things - like talk to people who were miles away from us, move in automated vehicles, etc.  Whitehead published that book in 1925, right around the time that Gernsback was holding forth with similar ideas, which in effect proves the point: invention was in the air, not just in flying vehicles, but as a concept in everyone's minds.

Gernsback goes further, as we've seen earlier, and identifies the ideal inventor as a tinkerer not a corporate employee.   And he also goes further in considering the best circumstances for the invention to get into the mainstream - or, in terms of the Toy, Mirror, and Art schema I mentioned in my previous review, what is needed to jumpstart the new gimmick into widespread, practical use.

Wythoff then segues into another aspect of Gernsback's work, which is especially close to my heart (though actually most are), and is of course what most people associate with Gernsback: science fiction.   Wythoff's brief, and I agree, is not at all that this association is incorrect, but it is incomplete - because Gernback is far more than a pioneering publisher of short science fiction.   He's also a philosopher of technology, of considerable importance.

But Gernback's contribution to the birth and growth of that genre (short-form science fiction) was indeed enormous - and, unsurprisingly, idiosyncratic.  Wythoff observes that, in Gernsback's Amazing Stories and other science fiction publications, the process of invention was more prominent than the characters who did and reacted to the invention.   This spotlight on science over character stayed with science fiction for at least half a century, and still characterizes the leading science fiction magazine, Analog, which published 15 of my stories and 2 essays between 1995-2013 ("The Chronology Protection Case," "Loose Ends," and "The Orchard" are the best-known - see this list for details).

Indeed, Analog far more than Amazing Stories carried and still carries the mantel that Gernsback built for the science fiction magazine, and magazines in general, including an active, critiquing, tinkering readership.  But I'll leave that story for subsequent reviews of The Perversity of Things.

See alsoThe Perversity of Things: review #1 of X: Gernsback as Philosopher of Technology ... #2 of X: Learning by Doing ... #3 of X: The Evolution of Media ... #4 of X: Gernsback and the The First Amendment ... #5 of X: Amateurs vs. Corporations ... #6 of X: Thought Experiments and Toys






Monday, January 9, 2017

Fauda: Beyond Homeland

The new season of Homeland will debut next Sunday - here's my review of the first episode - but if you want to see a series that makes Homeland look like, well, not a walk in the park, but is better than Homeland in just about everything it does so well, then see Fauda.

It's posted one season so far - 12 episodes, each only a half an hour in length - from 2015 in Israel, and it's now streaming on Netflix, and those episodes pack more of a punch than anything similar I've seen on television.   It's the story of an Israeli special forces undercover team, battling terrorists in the Palestinian territory, with dialog in Hebrew and Arabic, and English subtitles.

There are all kinds of twists and turns in the plot, and I don't want to spoil any of that for you, so I'll focus on the other highlights.   Characters on both sides are complex, multi-faceted, and believable. Family life and love affairs play significant roles, with especially astute portrayal of children in both Israeli and Palestinian families.  There's room for humor, as when an agent on a crucial mission has all he can do not to kill a taxi driver droning on about why he gave up cigarettes (with a punchline of the cabbie bumming a smoke off the agent at the end). The hierarchies of political and operational command unfold with subtlety and power.

As is always the case with these kinds of dramas, which are as thoughtful as they are violent, the question is to what extent a tough undercover unit can oppose and extinguish a terrorist operation without becoming terrorists, or adopting some of the terrorists tactics, themselves.   With death literally at hand in just about every scene, the stakes couldn't be higher.

Lior Raz is both co-creator and plays a lead role, and his performance is superb.  So is every other performance in Fauda.   Strap yourself in for a six-hour ride that will open your eyes and give you new understanding of a conflict that so desperately needs resolution, yearned for by almost everyone, or indeed by everyone but in different ways.

The Affair 3.7: The White Shirt

Another powerful, somewhat inexplicable, episode - 3.7 - of The Affair tonight. The Helen and Noah episodes both conclude with slightly different but completely compatible scenes of the two making love in bed in the basement of Helen's place. That was not the inexplicable part.   First of all, Helen's ended earlier, so we don't know what Helen felt or didn't feel at the very end.  More important, it makes perfect sense that a couple making love - especially a divorced couple - could each have a different view of the love-making.  So the two different versions of that same scene are fully in accord with the narrative we've been seeing the past three years.

But what about the scene earlier, in which the doc is wearing a white shirt in Noah's version, and a shirt of a different color in Helen's?   We've seen differences like that before in versions of our characters' accounts, and that's what doesn't make too much sense.

Again, I get completely why characters would leave this out that part out of their accounts.  I of course get why a given character would seem more flirtatious in one account - as Helen did in Noah's account - in contrast to how she appeared in Helen's.   Along with that, we've seen Alison's clothes looking sexier - the same clothes looking more provocative - in Noah's account, in contrast to Alison's, more than once in previous episodes and seasons.  All of that makes good sense in this story.

But literally different clothing?  When Noah sees the white shirt, he's seeing, what?  The doc is more formally a doctor in his account than in Helen's?  I guess so.

At the same time, Noah's hallucinations are becoming an increasingly bigger player as this season progresses.  It occurred to me that maybe even some or all of what Noah is remembering about what happened in prison happened more in his mind than to his body.

Which gets us back to who caused the wound in his neck?  We don't even know for sure that the pain he's feeling in his shoulder is real - but the wound, in contrast, is seen by everyone.

So, who caused it?  It would cool is the white shirt was some sort of metaphorical clue.   But it's probably ... just a white shirt.




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the Sierra Waters time-travel trilogy

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Perversity of Things: review #6 of X: Thought Experiments and Toys

Continuing with my review (#6 of X) of The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction, edited by Grant Wythoff (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) - focusing now on pages 37-45 of Wythoff's rich 59-page Introduction to the 359-page volume.

Thought experiments have had a long and noble history in the evolution of human knowledge, ranging from Leonardo's sketches for devices that were not quite capable of being invented in his time, to Schrödinger's cat about quantum mechanics in our macro world which could never be implemented in actual reality.   Gernsback loved all modes of thought about what technology could accomplish, but as Wythoff details, Gernsback was unsurprisingly more like Leonardo than a quantum physicist.  Indeed, he favored more than sketches, and wanted writing in his magazines about devices that actually could be built, if often not quite performing as hoped or advertised.

Wythoff, much to my delight, has a quote from Gernsback about the first expressions of new technologies functioning as "toys".  You want to know why I think this is such a great book?  My first major, published article, reprinted half a dozen times, is entitled "Toy, Mirror and Art: The Metamorphosis of Technological Culture," which first appeared in 1977. Here's a link to a penultimate version, reprinted a decade later.  (I owe it another update, and will definitely put in a mention of Gernsback, with thanks and citation of Wythoff.)

The question with the technological toy is whether it will be developed any further.  One of the fascinating tidbits of history I did discover when I was researching TMA in 1976 was William Orton, President of Western Union Telegraph in 1881, who advised his hapless friend Chauncey Depew not to invest in Bell Telephone back then, five years after the telephone was invented, because it would never be more than a "scientific toy". (How hapless was Depew?  He was encouraged to run as a Republican against incumbent Democratic President Grover Cleveland in 1888 but declined because he thought Cleveland was unbeatable.  Republican Benjamin Harrison went on to win the electoral vote that year.)

Gernsback, of course, was keenly interested in developing toys into usable, revolutionary technologies.  Wythoff shows how often Gernsback failed in his immediate future.  But the backdrop of reading The Perversity of Things is how often Gernsback succeeded in the long run. His remote-controlled wireless Telimco didn't do much in the early 20th century - but as soon as I post this review I'm going to catch up with my latest series streaming on Netflix, without leaving my chair, unless I want another cup of tea.

And at some point after that, I'll be back my the next is my series of reviews of The Perversity of Things.

See alsoThe Perversity of Things: review #1 of X: Gernsback as Philosopher of Technology ... #2 of X: Learning by Doing ... #3 of X: The Evolution of Media ... #4 of X: Gernsback and the The First Amendment ... #5 of X: Amateurs vs. Corporations ... #7 of X: The Invention of Invention, and the Advent of Science Fiction




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