Can You “Win” Black Mirror: Bandersnatch?

 

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Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

Author’s note: I’m going to be referring to Bandersnatch as a game in this article, because it makes more sense to use this word within this context.

Since its release, Black Mirror‘s interactive nightmare Bandersnatch has drawn people into its labyrinth in search of secrets. While it seems that all possible endings have, at this point, been discovered, it is still up for debate which ending is the “true” ending. While, cinematically, the “5-Star” ending might seem the most in-keeping with Black Mirror‘s usual vibe, there’s something about it that seems too obvious. It doesn’t subvert our expectations, it just plays into them. We expect Stefan to end up like Jerome F. Davies, descending into a rabbit hole of paranoia and violence. Nothing about this ending is surprising.

As a gamer, I went into Bandersnatch with the mindset that I needed to get the “true” ending, and I knew well that the “true” ending isn’t always the most obvious. Silent Hill 2 and Bloodborne are prime examples of the true endings being the more depressing and unsettling. In my mind, the true ending to this unconventional story wouldn’t be the easiest to get, it wouldn’t be found at the end of the most conspicuous path, and it wouldn’t be one of the copy-paste endings with a review at the end. Seeking the highest rating for Stefan’s game was only playing into expectations, and going for the easiest answers. Notice how the first REAL choice we are given in Bandersnatch is whether or not to work at Tuckersoft, and making the more obvious choice of accepting the offer leads us to an unsatisfying ending, for both Stefan and ourself, the player. It’s only when you make the risky choice that you can progress. This fact, to me, is very telling of what the true ending of Bandersnatch is meant to be.

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There are many ways to lose a game. There’s far fewer ways to win. You can finish the game, get a review, and be fooled into thinking that you’ve successfully gotten the high score, but you’ve only done what the game expected you to. Only what it wanted you to. You played into the programming, and were controlled just as much as Stefan was. Bandersnatch expects you to go mad, kill your father, and finish making the game. To really beat the game, you have to get Stefan away from the dark fate Bandersnatch has planned for him.

There is only one ending that has you diverge from the path of slavishly completing the game. Only one that fulfills the Stefan’s wants and needs, not those of the player. Only one that actually frees Stefan from the endlessly cycling maze.

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The “TOY” ending, where Stefan goes back in time, finds Rabbit, and embarks on the fateful train ride with his mother, resulting in his spontaneous death in the current time line.

Changing the events surrounding his mother’s death is the only way to truly break Stefan out of the endless cycle of madness, murder, and imprisonment. While the result of changing history is bleak, it is the only ending that does not result in Stefan’s imprisonment, and is (arguably) more merciful. In his death, he is actually freed from the maze. It is the only way he can escape the confines of Program and Control.

Think about it: Throughout the course of Bandersnatch, we’re told over and over again that we need to break free. We’re challenged to escape the limitations of the programming, as impossible as that seemingly is. While we are still controlling Stefan no matter what path we go down, it is possible for us to choose a path for him that gives him closure, and allows him to rest in peace rather than driving him down a path that destroys him and everyone around him. No matter how you slice it, the “TOY” ending is the one that causes Stefan to suffer the least. It also allows him to confront his personal demons, rather than him being driven mad by them.

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We are constantly being told, don’t give in. Don’t make the easy choices. Don’t go for the obvious paths. In a sense, we are playing against the game Bandersnatch itself. The premise of the game tricks us, suggesting that the only goal we have is to complete Stefan’s video game. But doing that only causes him suffering, and surrenders to the trappings of obvious and easy answers. It’s easy to give in. It’s easy to let Stefan become single-minded and only care about the game, letting his own life fall to shambles as a result. What’s harder to do is to look for the deeper, more obscure path, and release our Pac-Man from his programming.

 

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5 Easter Eggs in ‘Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’

Warning: Contains spoilers for the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is just what it claims to be. It’s a throwback to the supernatural television shows marketed to teens that were proliferate in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed, which could revel in the kitschy and absurd, but also tackle dark subject matter and serious issues. It’s already stirred up controversy for multiple reasons, and not for the reasons you’d probably expect. However, those heavier themes are to be tackled here at a later time. For now, let’s set those topics aside, and get into the things every true nerd hungers for — EASTER EGGS!

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1- The Names

There are many names with significance in Sabrina. Besides more obvious ones like “Spellman” and “Salem,” here are some names with more remarkable meanings:

  • “Puttnam” and “Hawthorne” were the names of families involved in the Salem Witch Trials.
  • Ironically, the name “Wardwell” is probably a reference to warding spells, which are used to repel evil spirits.
  • “Faustus” is taken from the play Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wherein the main character sells his soul to the Devil.
  • “Scratch,” as in “Old Scratch” or “Mr. Scratch,” is a nickname for the Devil.
  • The mentioned-but-never-seen “Doc Phibes” gets his name from the titular character of the 1971 horror flick The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

 

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2- “Criminal”

Of course you noticed the inclusion of Fiona Apple’s 90’s hit “Criminal” in Chapter 7: Feast of Feasts. However, if you’ve never seen the music video for the song, you might not get the connection. The video portrays the then-18-year-old Apple in her underwear, and lounging around with other teens on the floor, in what looks to be the aftermath of a party. The images are highly suggestive of some risque stuff going on, a lot like what’s taking place in Prudence’s room at the time.

 

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3- The Weird Sisters

The term “Weird Sisters” has its origins in the Norns of Norse mythology. They were three prophetic witches who were the daughters of a seer named “Wyrd.” The term was later anglicized to “Weird” and used in Shakespeare’s MacBeth. It just goes to show, trios have always been powerful in witchcraft. The number can represent past, present, and future; the maiden, the mother, and the crone; the Rule of 3; father, mother, and child; the Furies; the Fates; and too many other examples of the power of the number three to recite here.

 

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4- Other horror references

Besides names of characters, Sabrina contains some homages to the horror genre. Some include:

  • On a couple of occasions, characters refer to the blessings of Satan as “delicious.” This most likely is pulled from a famous line in the 2015 horror film The Witch, in which (SPOILERS – highlight to read) the Devil asks the protagonist, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” The scene in Chapter 10 where the Devil coaxes Sabrina to sign the Book of the Beast, he whispers in a way reminiscent of the Devil in The Witch.
  • Chapter Five is titled “Dreams in a Witch House,” a slight variant on the title of the H. P. Lovecraft story Dreams in the Witch House.
  • Chapter Six shows Harvey wearing the same outfit as Johnny Depp’s character during his death scene in Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • The Spellman house has the same stained glass skylight as the ballet school in 1977’s witchsploitation film Suspiria.

 

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5- The exorcism

The incantation for the exorcism in Chapter Six contains references to many significant figures in Witch/Wiccan culture. Apart from the mythological characters, there are several historical figures, including:

  • Anne Boleyn, the wife of Henry VIII, who was accused of bewitching Henry to make him marry her. Her being a witch was also said to be the reason for her later miscarriage.
  • Hildegard of Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess, but became respected by modern Pagans as a healer and mystic.
  • Mary Bradbury and Tituba, both women who were accused during the Salem Witch Trials, but manage to avoid execution.
  • Moll Dyer, a witch said to have lived in Maryland in the 1600s. Her spirit is still said to haunt the area where she was killed.
  • Sybil Leek, one of the most prolific writers on the subject of modern Witchcraft.

 

That’s it for now, but I will certainly, in the future, dive deeper into the themes of Sabrina and possibly put a couple theories out there. So stay tuned!

 

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The Problematic Treatment of Titans’ Heroines [Spoilers]

In lieu of a standard review of Episode 2 and 3, I’d like to address a trend that has been bothering me in the new Titans thus far: The problematic portrayal of the female heroes. Many bloggers have already covered the disturbing behavior of Dick Grayson, and with Beast Boy so far barely getting any screen time (which needs to change ASAP, I’m stoked to see him more), there’s not much to say about the male heroes at this point. Hopefully, once they are more fleshed out, I will be able to discuss their portrayals, whether good or mad or neutral. For now, I’m going to focus on our heroines, Raven, Kory, and Dove.

Before delving in, I’d like to make a few distinctions. There will be spoilers for the first three episodes of Titans, so if you’re not caught up, I recommend stopping now. Secondly, my references to the comic book materials will be drawn solely from the Marv Wolfman and George Perez run on The New Teen Titans from the 1980s. As I am not as familiar with their iteration in the more recent New 52, I will not be talking about it. Furthermore, as a Progressive Feminist, this article will be written with that mindset. If you don’t care for that, you may wish to click away from this, rather than sending us hate mail. Much appreciated.

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I will first address Raven’s loss of agency. In the comics, Raven is the one who brings the Titans together. Knowing the arrival of her father, the dreaded devil Trigon, is imminent, she takes action, finding heroes with specific characteristics that will be able to take down the fiend. At first, she is portrayed as a woman with unshakeable willpower who is in control of her emotions. It was only later that we discovered that she was someone who needed help. She could be vulnerable and tender, and she truly loves her friends, despite her icy demeanor.

In Titans, the writers have opted for the inverse. Raven is, straight away, a damaged individual who needs protection. She’s basically helpless on her own. Even when she does “save herself” from dangerous situations, it is actually the dark spirit inhabiting her that takes action. Yes, Raven is much younger than she is in the comics. But I feel it would have behooved the show to show her as an old soul, with wisdom remarkable for her age. No, she doesn’t need to be perfect. It would make sense that she is less disciplined and more flawed. But, I would have liked to see Raven possess more agency, and more able to defend herself.

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Our next subject is Kory. Volumes have been written on the unfortunate wardrobe, and I fully agree it was a poor decision to dress her in such a way. It’s an odd choice, and led to a lot of PR problems that sadly dissuaded many from watching the show. It wasn’t worth it. Kory is vastly different from her comic book portrayal, showing almost no relation to the endearing but powerful alien girl we came to love. Don’t get me wrong, Kory is a compelling character in her own right, but if you’re going to do an adaptation of Starfire, you need to retain some of the traits that have made her such a classic character. Kory is all toughness, no heart. And that was what made us love Starfire: She beautifully juxtaposed a warrior identity with compassion. She could be filled with fury, she could luxuriate in a pool party with her friends, she could be tender with Dick, and merciless with her enemies. She was naïve, but she had convictions. This complexity is what made her beloved by fans.

Minor gripe: When Kory meets Dick, sparks should have flown. They’re one of the best couples in the DCU, and the show needs to do justice to that.

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Finally, we come to Dove. And my goodness, despite a good performance by Minka Kelly, and a comics-accurate costume, I have a lot of problems with Dove’s characterization. I’d like to first call your attention to the Women in Refrigerators trope, a term coined by veteran comics writer Gail Simone. I suggest perusing the page linked above, but the basic idea is that there are countless female comic characters who are mistreated in various abhorrent ways, often of a sexual nature, solely to provide motivation for the male characters. In Titans, Dove is not only weaker than she is in the comics (though her male compatriot Hawk is depowered as well), she is given a previously nonexistent sexual history with Dick Grayson, and is swiftly put into a coma before we can really get to know and care about her.

Why? What does this do to service the plot, other than to give emotional motivation to our brooding male heroes. It actually robs the story of an intriguing character. Okay, sure, she’s in a coma, which is TV code for “She’ll definitely positively absolutely be back soon,” but in the meantime, her absence is just a testament to the fact that writers often don’t care about their heroines, viewing them more as plot points than as active protagonists in their own right. I’m not saying writers don’t create complex, amazing female characters. I’m not saying such unfortunate treatment doesn’t befall male characters. I’m saying, by and large, these kinds of tropes are imposed upon female characters.

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Within her first episode, Dove gets refrigerated. Raven’s adopted mother, Angela, is also refrigerated in her first episode. Rather than develop her into Raven’s biological mother, Arella, whose actual name is Angela, they kill her off to motivate Raven. Arella, also a fascinating and powerful character, who stands against Trigon and leads the forces of Azarath, seems to be inconsequential in the context of the show.

I would like to sum this up by saying, I don’t hate everything about the heroines in Titans. I honestly think the show is worth checking out. As I mentioned earlier, Kory is an intriguing character, and, while she’s not our Starfire, she could go to some very interesting places. Raven could grow into a stronger, solid character in her own right. And Dove is comics accurate and likable. As I said, the show has potential.

All that said, my biggest complaint is the way Raven drinks her coffee. There’s a handle there for a reason: So you don’t burn your hand holding the ceramic cup. Because coffee is hot. Drink your coffee like a normal person, Raven! Jeez. Also, Raven likes pineapple on her pizza. It’s canon. Get it together, people.

(I have no life, help me.)

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Iron Fist: Is Danny Rand on the Autism Spectrum? [No Spoilers]

With the recent news of Iron Fist‘s cancellation, it’s sad to look back at the two seasons we were given and think about what might have been. While it was certainly the weakest of the Netflix-Marvel collaborations, the nonetheless holds the potential to be as amazing as the others, should he be taken down the right path. The time seems ripe for speculating where the character could go from here, if this iteration is kept alive within the Marvel-Netflix universe, or even brought into the larger scale of the MCU. How could Iron Fist find his footing again?

One of the first things that struck me, when I first watched Iron Fist Season 1, was how different Danny Rand was from the other heroes he shared his universe with, and not really in a good way. He was a typical straight white male from a wealthy family, like so many superheroes, including but not limited to Batman, Iron Man, Green Arrow, Reed Richards, and Ted Kord. Compare this with the other three members of The Defenders: Matt Murdock, a blind man, Jessica Jones, a woman who suffered sexual abuse and PTSD, and Luke Cage, a black man living in the impoverished Harlem. It would make a lot more sense if Danny was also a minority of some kind.

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YES. I know what you’re going to say. “The SJWs have to shoehorn in minorities in everything.” Look: If a tactic is working, DON’T CHANGE IT. The Defenders work GREAT as a group of minorities. It’s just part of the cocktail that makes these characters all so compelling. Furthermore, Marvel Comics made their name by publishing comics that catered to subcultures, minorities, and the disenfranchised. Perhaps the most famous example of this are the X-Men, who themselves are metaphors for racial minorities, LGBT+, and anyone else rejected by mainstream society. So, if you want the SJWs to get out of Marvel Comics, you’re decades too late.

The Netflix version of Iron Fist was not well-received by fans, who criticized the writing and performances. Danny Rand comes off as an oblivious, disconnected, inconsiderate jerk. But, what if there was a reason that Danny has issues with his social interactions? What if there was a reason Danny doesn’t understand the way he acts comes off as rude? What if there was a reason Danny can’t communicate properly?

What if Danny Rand is on the autism spectrum?

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Danny shows a lot of behaviors associated with Asperger’s, a condition on the autism spectrum. Symptoms of Asperger’s include difficulty with social interactions, trouble empathizing with others, and a need for calmness and routine. Even Danny’s constant word-vomiting about K’un Lun and his defeat of the dragon Shou Lao, despite peoples’ reactions, mirrors the way people with Asperger’s can be hyper-obsessive over one particular subject. He tells anyone he meets that he’s “the immortal Iron Fist,” unable to understand that no one knows what that is.

Yes, all of these things could have alternate explanations. After all, Danny did leave the typical world and spent the majority of his life in K’un Lun. And he did fight the dragon Shao Lao, which is definitely something to be proud of. Why wouldn’t he want to talk about it often? This crystallization could account for Danny’s childlike demeanor, but it also doesn’t really explain everything. After all, it’s not like people don’t mature in K’un Lun. Why wouldn’t Danny be a more disciplined person, able to speak politely, be patient, and empathize with others?

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Iron Fist makes a lot more sense if you believe Danny is on the autism spectrum. All the other Defenders and their supporting cast are either disabled, mentally ill, or minorities. If Danny was revealed to be on the autism spectrum it would make his character more sympathetic, and give representation to people on the spectrum.

So, Marvel, if you want to hire me, I’m great at revamping problematic characters…

(Editor’s note: I also came across someone on Reddit who had similar thoughts. The thread is worth reading, in my opinion.)

 

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‘Titans’ Episode 1 Review [Minor Spoilers]

As someone who’s read DC comics since she was 8 years old, I have been following the development of the new Titans series since it was announced. As the train wreck progressed, it became more and more cringey and painful as a fan to see some of my favorite characters ever being mutilated beyond recognition. The horror. It got to the point where, after hearing the first reviews, I had decided I was no longer going to give it a chance.

After a couple of beers, I changed my mind.

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I can say many terrible things about the first episode. My main takeaway, however, was that it was surprisingly not as agonizing to watch as it appeared from the trailers. Mind you, this is just the first episode. There is plenty of time for it to go downhill, especially with the DCEU’s track record. But for the first episode, I was prepared for the worst and was surprised that it wasn’t entirely loathsome. Like I said, there are a lot of terrible aspects to the show that I can bemoan all day (and I will do so in a minute), but, overall, Titans’ first episode isn’t as bad as the CW superhero shows like Supergirl and The Flash, but is nowhere near the lofty level of the Marvel-Netflix series that it aspires to match.

The first thing we must get out of the way is this: These are not the Titans you grew up with. And I don’t mean that in the cool, edgy way. I mean it in the “they made no effort to retain the aspects of these characters that make them who they are” way. The characters visually barely resemble their counterparts, and the same goes in terms of personality. Let’s go character by character and pick them apart.

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Dick Grayson straight up mutilates and, from the looks of it, potentially murders some thugs, which will no doubt add fuel to the “Batman and family don’t kill” controversy. Yes, in the comics, Dick has a lot of resentment towards Bruce. He can be dark, obsessive, and driven, like his mentor. But Dick will never be Bruce. He retains his humanity, whereas Bruce will purposefully discard it in order to reach his objective. The difference between the characters is the prioritization of their feelings and empathy.

Raven, as far as the first episode goes, has exclusively been called “Rachel.” I don’t care, I’m calling her Raven in this article. My main complaint about Raven is that she seems to have been aged down considerably, after having started out her existence as one of the older Titans. I feel that this naive, overly-emotional take on her doesn’t suit the character. For those that don’t know, there is an actual story-related reason that Raven doesn’t express emotions and it’s very, very freaking important. I don’t hate Teagan Croft as Raven, but I feel she is too young for the role. Raven, in Titans, comes off as a Goth Tumblr blogger who writes about how nobody understands her and does Photoshop portraits of herself with her eyes oozing blackness. The portrayal is juvenile and one-dimensional.

Starfire, who so far has been referred to by the alias “Kory Anders,” is just … not Starfire. Anna Diop looks beautiful, despite the terrible things the wardrobe department did to her, and she does fairly well in her role in the episode. But the character is not Starfire. Instead of the strong but naive and free-spirited girl we know from the comic books, Kory Anders is a femme fatale with amnesia, embroiled in a plot more easily likened to a spy thriller than to a sci-fi superhero story.

Beast Boy appears for maybe a minute out of the entire first episode, so I can’t do much analysis on him, which is a shame, because out of the entire cast, I’d say I’m happiest with their choice for Beast Boy, and I think he will be the closest to his comic book counterpart, which will be a welcome change of pace.

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The writers for the show don’t seem to understand what makes these characters great. Raven’s Soul Self makes an appearance in the show, but its nature is completely inverse from its nature in the comics. In the show, it is a representation of Raven’s inner demon, whereas in the comics, it’s the opposite: The Soul Self is the pure part of Raven, whereas her body is evil. Dick Grayson is portrayed as a gloomy, disillusioned brute, which is a shame, because he’s the only one who got a good costume. Starfire just isn’t Starfire.

So now that we’ve established the characters we are dealing with, we can delve into the plot and script, and the pros and cons therein.

The central conflict so far is: Everyone is looking for Raven, while Dick is trying to protect her. This is almost like an inversion of the 1980’s Titans’ origin story, wherein Starfire arrives on Earth, pursued by the Gordanians, and Raven brings the team together to help her. The shifting of the power dynamic, changing Raven from the authoritative position, to the victim in need of protection, to me, diminishes her. And for clarification, in the 1980’s comics origin, Starfire is not diminished by needing help, as she is still an active participant in the fight against her attackers. Raven in the 2018 TV show, is mostly running away and looking for help.

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I’d say, other than character portrayals, the worst part of Titans is the dialogue. Conversations are generic, uninteresting, and unrealistic. They do not keep you engaged and tend towards the predictable. There is nothing truly clever or shocking, though it tries very hard to be both. Some of it makes no sense whatsoever, sounding very little like anything that a real person would say. (“I don’t care about your emotional problems!”) I’ve heard people praise Titans for its use of humor. In the first episode, I can say, what I did see of humor was very little and very cringeworthy. I’ll let you know if that changes, but for the meantime I’m going to put a big red “NOPE” stamp on Titans‘ use of humor.

The main villain of the first episode appears in what is probably the worst scene of the entire hour. His dialogue is pure, uncut exposition, literally explaining what the viewers are supposed to feel about him and his allies. At the same time that we’re told too much, we’re also not told or shown anything that will actually make us feel invested in him or his cause, one way or another.

The soundtrack is painfully disappointing, despite being composed by Clint Mansell, whose scores so beautifully enhanced such films as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain. His work on Titans comes off as derivative and dull.

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So, overall, what do I have to say about Titans’ debut episode? It’s bad. It’s not good. But it’s not the absolute steaming pile of garbage I expected. It’s not as bad as the DCEU’s big screen disappointments like Suicide Squad or Justice League. It’s slightly better than DC’s CW series The Flash and Supergirl, mostly thanks to its ability thus far to stay away from hackneyed romance plots and soap opera drama, both of which plague the CW series. With time, the willingness to cut out the weak parts, and temper the better aspects, Titans could potentially be good. It’s nothing to write home about. The costumes are still awful, the script is laughable, and the concepts are poorly executed.

What would it take for me to say Titans is good? The characters need to be better developed. Convince me these aren’t just some emo-tinged fan fiction versions of the complex characters created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Show me that there’s true respect for the source material. Give me a killer version of Trigon, Brother Blood, or Deathstroke. Really make me believe you know what you’re doing, show runners. Prove me wrong, that this show will slowly devolve into a dumpster fire like the rest of the DCEU.

Also, please stop with the wigs.

 

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Netflix’s ‘Maniac’ Review (No Spoilers)

With such hit series as Stranger ThingsBlack Mirror, and Ozark to live up to, Netflix is under a lot of pressure to release the next great dark horse success. With Cary Fukunaga of True Detective and Patrick Somerville of The Leftovers as the director and creator respectively, you could expect great things from their latest effort, the limited series Maniac. The only problem is, you could expect a lot of bad things, too.

I could not have been more blown away by the first three episodes of Maniac. Stylistically and thematically, it heavily draws on the works of Philip K. Dick, the mind behind Total Recall and Minority Report. Like Dick’s stories, Maniac plays on themes of paranoia, isolation, and insanity. Our story follows two characters, Annie and Owen, who are both struggling with mental illness and family conflict. Their paths lead them both to a trial for a new pharmaceutical that promises to eventually do away with therapy, by resolving peoples’ psychological issues through induced dream-like experiences. During the course of the trial, we learn about the skeletons in Annie and Owen’s closets, and attempt to resolve these issues by going over them.

Again. And again. And again. And again.

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For at least five episodes, as the trial goes into the “B pill” testing phase, they go over the same information, and the plot goes nowhere. While the first three episodes do a good job of setting a tone, constructing a world, and getting us invested in our characters, all the episodes in the middle completely undo that. Rather than making good use of the world they’ve already done an excellent job in establishing, Maniac goes off in haphazard and pointless directions for no apparent reason other than to do something ‘wacky,’ because, apparently, going on inexplicable and self-indulgent tangents is a proper substitute for actual substance these days.

While there is some tongue-in-cheek humor established early on, by the middle, the series has gone off the deep end into over-the-top goofiness. It’s a true shame, because Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are better in this series than I have ever seen them before, and really proved that they have grown as performers since they appeared together in 2007’s Superbad and can deliver grown-up, mature, and compelling performances. While they still give good performances in the episodes after, it loses much of its impact in the flood of irredeemably lame gimmicks. By the ending, the series has regained some of its form, but, overall, it’s just a completely different show by then, and I hardly care what happens to the characters.

 

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Besides the terrible excuse for humor, the episodes in the B-pill phase have another inexcusable flaw: They essentially present us with a mystery to which we already know the answer, rendering the investigation next to pointless. And, in case we somehow didn’t get the “metaphors,” we’re given a lengthy exposition scene, explaining to us in unnecessary detail exactly what it represented. For clarification, but without spoilers, here’s what we sit through: First, we witness the back story of our characters. Then, we sit through a “dream sequence” full of metaphors for the back story that we just witnessed. Finally, the character explains their back story again, and how the metaphors tied in with it. This recycling of information over the course of multiple episodes is mind-numbingly boring, and absolutely killed my interest in the characters, their struggles, their development, their resolutions, etc. As much as I had empathized with them previously, I now just wanted to get to the end of the series so I could be done with it.

It’s a tragedy to see something as amazing as Maniac‘s first three episodes lead into something as trite, dull, and uninspired as its remaining episodes. What could have been a masterpiece ended up just a lot of failed potential. I wish I could whole-heartedly recommend this series to you. As it is, I’m left warning you ahead of time, you’ll never get to see the ending to the amazing story you’re presented with. Instead, you get to watch a so-stupid-it’s-offensive sketch show with some sci-fi wraparound.

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Review: ‘American Vandal Season 2’ (No Spoilers)

Disclaimer: No spoilers, but story elements will be discussed. If you don’t want anything that might influence you before watching, you may want to turn back now.

I’d like to open by being completely honest with you. I did not want to watch American Vandal at all. I was raised a film snob and I will die a film snob and that was something well-established in my circle. I still resent that I wasted space in my brain to hold information from Season 1. That said, I have acknowledged that Season 1 is not terrible. It’s great for an audience that just doesn’t include me. There are some genuinely funny moments, impressive acting from unknowns that add much-needed realism, and excellent production values. It’s even a good premise: Take the most ridiculous crime you can think of, and make a dead-serious investigative documentary on it. That’s great. I only watched it because my boyfriend and my sister wanted to and I live with them ergo I watched it too. I acknowledge it wasn’t terrible. I just felt there were better things I would rather have spent my time watching.

(Side note: I tried to hide it from my boyfriend when Season 2 came out so I wouldn’t have to watch it.)

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Season 2 is honestly a marked improvement. Again, it’s not one of the best shows you can spend your time on this year, but it’s an enjoyable diversion. The jokes are better integrated with the script, adding to the intended realism of the series. The characters are more relatable, and while still petty and irritating, as humans tend to be, you never really end up hating anyone, ultimately. It’s interesting to note that last season’s accused was a stereotypical low IQ stoner dude-bro, who isn’t what he seems, and this season’s accused is a stereotypical pretentious white privilege intellectual, who isn’t what he seems. In both cases, the dissection of their characters is the real heart of the story.

Let’s get the criticisms out of the way first: My two main complaints this season both involve the twists. And don’t worry, it’s no spoilers, I’m not giving any specifics. However, if you got used to the formula from the first season, Season 2 is very much the same. It follows the same pattern, the same conflicts, the same implications, the same cycle, which makes it easy to figure out where many of the story arcs are going to go. My issue with the final twist, is actually that it’s not obvious enough. I feel that there should have been more foreshadowing, more suggestions of the final solution than we got — which is none, really. It more or less comes out of nowhere. While technically you could have guessed the culprit from early on, there are certain elements you could not have guessed that would make your early deduction flawed. These elements are suddenly introduced, without any precedent. It doesn’t ruin your enjoyment of the show, and it’s not a major criticism. Just an observation.

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The thing I liked best about this season is the characters. I thought they were well nuanced, and behaved more like real people, than the more stereotypical behavior seen in the characters in Season 1. This series is all about subverting peoples’ expectations and straightaway the script makes it clear that these characters aren’t what you expect; it’s just that you’ve been viewing them from a certain lens. This idea is expanded on across the course of the season, evolving and finally becoming clear in the finale, where it unites the various ideas and philosophies presented to us and makes an ultimate statement on human nature and how we interact with our own life.

As with the first season, Season 2 does a good job of building a theme. In Season 1 the overall theme was “People aren’t what they seem so don’t judge too quickly,” and it was prevalent throughout the season. The theme is virtually the same this season, but its tone is very different. It infers that social standing is just an illusion, and that behind a beautiful facade is a real, broken person in need of connection. Because of this theme, social media is a much more important aspect of the mystery this season, bringing out some commentary on the nature of our dualistic, internet-oriented lives.

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In general, I liked Season 2 much better than the first season. I liked the actors, the jokes, and the characters better. This is not to say that it is inherently superior to Season 1, as both have their charms and their pros and cons. It’s just to say that Season 1 can be hard to digest if you’re not very much into it, and Season 2 holds perhaps a more widespread appeal. And while the series has been interesting and unique so far, I think it can only last so long on this premise, and is already starting to become predictable insofar as patterns go.

To be fair, though, whereas Season 1 is like a cudgel, necessary to break audience expectations and set its own standards and precedent, Season 2 is more like a scalpel, expertly dissecting the subjects it chooses for the audience to consider and, perhaps, learn from. If Season 1 didn’t win you over, I suggest you give Season 2 a chance, and its presentation and execution is only improving.

 

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‘Disenchantment’ Review (No Spoilers)

“Entertainment is just a tool that pacifies the masses and leads to the decay and ultimate collapse of the civilization. Let’s clap along!” -Luci (Eric Andre)

Look, here’s the hard and honest truth no one wants to accept.

Disenchantment. Is. Not. As. Bad. As. People. Say. It. Is.

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Sure, if you go in with expectations that it will be a Simpsons or Futurama clone that puts gags first and story after, then you’ll probably be disappointed. But that’s on you, and not the show. The show is fairly decent as its own thing. It is 100% plot driven, with jokes worked in there. The characters are interesting and compelling enough that you want to see what happens with their stories.

The story centers around the hard-drinking Princess Tiabeanie (“Bean” for short), an outcast Elf named Elfo, and a demon named Luci who has been sent to manipulate her. While the characters may at first seem one dimensional, they are further explored, and reveal new mysteries about themselves, as the series progresses. What appeared to be a simple fantasy tale with a Simpsons-y twist turns out to be far from what it seems. There are some dark moments, and some satisfying character development.

I’ll admit, I, myself, was extremely skeptical. I thought it was going to be utterly forgettable. The Simpsons took a sharp dip in quality after its “Golden Age,” and I found Futurama to be spotty in quality. (I think your enjoyment of Futurama is directly proportionate to how much you like Bender, and I found him annoying at best.) Maybe because I had low expectations and thought I’d tire after the first episode, I was greatly impressed and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

Keep in mind, though, it’s not a laugh fest, and it’s honestly not meant to be. The story comes first at all times, and the jokes are just there to add some spice. The writers work on building up the mysteries, conflicts, and plot twists, which keep you wondering at all times. You feel like you’re always on the verge of discovering something in this show, and I promise you, it does reward you for paying attention and remembering plot details, as certain elements return, further developed, later on in the series.

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These ten episodes do a good job of world building, making you hope for a season two, in order to further explore the possibilities lying within each new place. There are many different creatures and races introduced that are only briefly touched upon, who could hopefully be expanded upon in the future.

Mark Mothersbaugh provides the music, which gives the series a unique feel. It captures the excitement and zaniness of Disenchantment with gusto, giving the feel of a medieval festival full of drunken knights, peasants, and jesters. Mothersbaugh has always delivered quality soundtracks for his projects, and this is no exception.

The title Disenchantment really says it all, as the epic presents you with all the tropes and stereotypes of a classic fantasy and slowly strips away the conventions, twisting them into something worth your attention. It demystifies itself and manages to ground its fantastical characters enough to make them not too outrageous.

All the voice actors do well, but Eric Andre is a standout. His performance as Luci manages to be simultaneously maniacal and endearing. Overall, though, all the actors deserve a shout-out for the amount of characters they voiced, with just 18 voice actors portraying all the characters in the series. Of course former Groening collaborators at present, such as Billy West, Tress MacNeille, John DiMaggio, and Maurice LaMarche, and all do a top notch job as always.

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Overall, Disenchantment is fun, and its something uniquely its own. It’s not The Simpsons, and it’s not Futurama, and you shouldn’t expect it to be. It builds its own intriguing world, and presents you with new characters to follow in their quest to self-discovery. Every character has a purpose and potential to grow, and even if you’re not sold on them at the beginning, by the end, you will care about what’s at stake for all of them. Even if you have low expectations, and even if you end up not liking it, I very much recommend giving it a chance.

The Simpsons: Lisa is the Villain in ‘Bart Sells His Soul’

The Golden Age of The Simpsons still holds up to this day, despite various modern controversies and some outdated stereotypes. The concepts and lessons contained within remain both compelling and hilarious. Lisa is one of my absolute favorite characters within the prodigious cast of the show. However, there is one episode I re-watched recently that made me re-think my opinions of the character.

In the Season 7 episode ‘Bart Sells His Soul,’ Bart and Milhouse get into a theological discussion (rather advanced for a pair of 10-year-olds) about the nature of the soul. Milhouse whole-heartedly believes in the concept of the soul as presented by organized religion, while Bart maintains that the soul is fake, made up by religion to manipulate the masses and make a profit off of tax-free donations. And he’s entitled to that opinion.

You know who’s not okay with that? Lisa.

While Lisa is generally portrayed as a liberal free-thinker, supporting the rights of the oppressed, her actions in this episode greatly contrast those character traits. Once she finds out that Bart sold his soul to Milhouse (it was actually just words written on a piece of paper), she is clearly disturbed by the fact that Bart doesn’t take the concept of the soul seriously. She presses her own agenda upon him repeatedly, and mocks him in front of their family for his beliefs.

Because she disagrees with Bart’s opinion, she ostracizes him, and uses a series of arbitrary coincidences to convince Bart that he has lost his soul. She even buys his soul when she finds it in the Android’s Dungeon comic book store, and then proceeds to withhold it from him. It is only after he goes through Hell, is missing all night, and comes home in a clearly broken state, that she concedes and returns his soul to him.

She takes advantage of his emotionally vulnerable state, and convinces him that all the trouble he endured was actually good, and was necessary for him to deserve his soul. She is basically using psychological torture to imprint Bart with her own beliefs, as many cults do in real life.This is very disturbing behavior for one of the most progressive characters in The Simpsons. Granted, the early days of the series have their problematic moments, and, whether or not you agree with these criticisms, it’s undeniable that society has come a long way in how we view women and minorities, putting these issues more under the microscope than ever. However, atheists and those with atheistic ideas (those who don’t believe in angels, heaven, or the soul, but may still believe in a higher power) are still one of the most distrusted groups in the United States. If this episode was made today, I’m sorry to say, I think Bart’s opinions would still be treated with scorn.

 

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Review – South Park Season 19, Episode 01: “Stunning and Brave”

After the disappointment that was Season 18, South Park returns to its roots and takes on PC culture in one of the most self-aware episodes yet.

Warning: Herein are spoilers for South Park Season 19, episode 01.

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Here is the basic gist of the episode: When Principal Victoria is fired from South Park Elementary (for making a joke about date rape and Bill Cosby), P.C. Principal is hired to take her place. He is a douchebag fraternity bro who pretty much bullies everyone — children and adults — into being politically correct. Nobody is happy about it, but Cartman, the eternal bigot, is the most terrified. He changes his attitude immediately, much to the chagrin, surprisingly, of his friends. Kyle becomes P.C. Principal’s main target, since Kyle was heard saying that he doesn’t consider Caitlin Jenner a hero. Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Butters beg Cartman to go back to his old ways and take on P.C. Principal, goading him by saying he should act more like his hero, Tom Brady. Cartman gives in, and attempts to frame the principal for child molestation. The principal becomes enraged when Cartman uses the term “spokesman” instead of “spokesperson,” and beats Cartman within an inch of his life, sending him to the hospital. Cartman once again vows never to return to his old ways, but is forced to break that vow in order to save Kyle, who is suffering worse and worse at the hands of the P.C. fraternity. Cartman tries to fight the fraternity off by sending in racial stereotypes, but all this does is cause more chaos. Kyle calls a halt to the madness, and tells everyone he agrees that Caitlin Jenner is “stunning and brave,” as everyone has been saying. This sates everyone around him, and the episode ends with the P.C. fraternity starting their own P.C. police force to oversee the city. Cartman has allegedly taught the P.C. bros that sometimes stereotypes and offensive humor can be used to discuss important issues, but Kyle is still dissatisfied, and points out that it seems that the only one who really won is Cartman. “And who does that remind you of, Kyle?” Cartman asks, referencing the boys’ earlier plea that he act more like Tom Brady.

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“Right, and what does Tom Brady do after breaking the rules?!” -Stan

“Deny and subvert.” -Cartman

Politcal Correctness (shortened as “P.C.”) has been an largely discussed subject lately, particularly by comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman. It’s only natural that it should be covered by South Park, the show infamous for breaking P.C. code in order to discuss important social issues. In essence, in this episode, Kyle is representative of South Park the show, who has issues with the politically correct state of the world. It’s important to note: Kyle is not a racist, a homophobe, a sexist, or any such thing. He’s actually a very sympathetic character. This drives home the point that Parker and Stone are NOT talking about actual bigots, but average and honest people who have the right to speak their mind, which doesn’t really harm anyone.

“I didn’t like Bruce Jenner when he was and athlete and on the Kardashians, and I don’t suddenly like him now.”

-Kyle

At the end of the episode, it is Cartman using offensive imagery to battle the ultra-P.C. frat boys, but all this does is make things worse. This is to show that two wrongs don’t make a right, and you can’t win by being a bigot, or by playing word police. Kyle is the one who has to make a sacrifice in order to calm things down. He knows he has to choose his battles in this situation, and has decided that this one isn’t worth fighting. He doesn’t want either side to win, so he ends the fight the only way he can think of.

Cartman uses racist stereotypes to fight the P.C. frat boys

Cartman uses racist stereotypes to fight the P.C. frat boys

South Park acknowledges that there is a difference between being a dick and just speaking your mind. Not everyone has to agree on every issue, and disagreement isn’t fair grounds for social conflict. Kyle is stuck in an all-too-real situation where the rest of the world has come to a certain consensus, and if you do not conform to it, you are ostracized. Let’s be very clear on one point: Free speech should be untouchable. At no point should anyone be able to force you to say anything against your will. In the end, for better or worse, it IS Kyle’s choice to do what he does. No one forces him to change his statements, although they tried vehemently throughout the episode: He makes the choice because he believed, in this case, it was the right thing to do.

The dark side of anyone being able to say anything they want is that you will hear from a great number of racists, sexists and homophobes, and their opinions will be treated as valid. This is a different case than Kyle’s: Certain people are out just to be malicious and spread hate and fear. This problem won’t be solved with word policing; it can only be solved with edification. These people must be taught that such beliefs are absurd, and the best way to do that, is through the kind of satire that South Park delivers.

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On the question of where this is going: It does seem that South Park is trying out another continuing story-line that will last all through season 19, much as they did in season 18. However, now they may have had the time to work out the kinks, and figure out where exactly they want to go with this story. The final exchange in this episode between Kyle and Cartman, I feel is a hint: If I had to guess, Cartman has a plan. He’s not done breaking the rules. Something is going on beneath his calm, kind exterior. It looks like this arc will continue, which means that there is plenty more time for the children to take on P.C. culture, and eventually win a victory for freedom of speech and expression.

This season, I’m going to try to review every South Park episode, each week. What were your thoughts on this week’s episode? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Comment below. Until next time, lie, cheat, steal, and hug your cats!