Monday, August 24, 2015

Doing the Stupid Thing - On Moving, Big Choices, and Sacrifice

All the photos today are pictures I took of my hometown when I was back a few years ago for Christmas. FYI.
This is going to be a teensy bit entirely personal today, so if you're just here for the pop culture commentary bits, then feel free to skip this and check back later. For the rest of you, buckle your seatbelts because feelings are happening here. DUN DUN DUNNNN.

I've felt pretty out of it lately, and I think it's been coming through on this blog. My heart hasn't been in this, guys, and that totally sucks. It's hard for me to get pumped to write when it's like that, and it's not fair for you to be presented with material I'm just cranking out without thinking about it. Not that every article has been horrible, but that I don't think I've been reaching the level of depth I want to in the past few months. I've not been sharing my heart like I should. I haven't been real with all of you, because I've been keeping some pretty big stuff back. So, here's what's going on:

About a year ago on the blog, I shared a really weird conversation that I had with God. It was about remembering that the best thing to do doesn't always look like it and that a lot of times, doing the right thing is virtually indistinguishable from "losing". God told me all this in the context of, of course, my life and how at some point in the near future he was going to ask me to "give up my life."

At the time, being an incredibly melodramatic person inside - seriously, I am the melodramaticest - I interpreted this as "die". Like as in, God was going to ask me to die in some tragic and notable way. Because, well, that fits with my ideas of what self-sacrifice means and that fits really easily into our culture's understanding of sacrifice. Sacrifice is losing your life, right? Well, sort of.

As it happens, I was asked recently to "give up my life", but it didn't end up looking anything like what I was expecting. Six months ago or so, my mother started to feel a bit strange. She said that she felt like her legs were unstable and they were worried she might have a neurological problem. All spring she went to doctor after doctor, getting tests after test and progressively worse. Soon it turned into a full blown motor control problem and the doctors still had no clue what was going on. So if you've wondered at all over the past six months why my mood seemed a little...unstable, now you know.

The upshot of all of this is that in June I offered to move home and help out. In August, a few weeks ago, my parents accepted. And in just under two weeks, I'm going to be flying out to Massachusetts to live in my childhood home and hang out with my parents full time for the next year. It's no terrible thing that I'm being asked to do. I mean, I'm mostly going to be spending time with my mother (who I love). Not exactly what I would have called a massive self-sacrifice.

And yet, it kind of is? What I'm going off to do is good and actually pretty fun, but it still means giving up the life I've made for myself in Washington. It means saying goodbye, at least for now, to the people I love here and losing out on a lot of things I expected I'd get to experience this year. It means no more GeekGirlCon, no more living with the hilarious and wonderful Kyla Furey and her fantastic husband, no more late night anime marathons, and no more living within driving distance of my sister.

It means quitting a job that I adore taking care of kids that I've gotten super attached to. It means looking into a less than sure financial future. It means putting plans on hold and trying really hard not to think about the future. It means packing all of my earthly possessions in boxes and mailing them across the country, selling my beloved terrible car, and shutting the door on this season of my life.

It's a lot.

But it's also good. I know that I'm going off to do the right thing. I know that the life that's waiting for me in Massachusetts is a good one and I know that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn't do this. So this is me sacrificing myself. This is me doing the stupid thing. Because, let's be real, by the world's standards this is the stupid thing to do.

I'm not exactly going to Massachusetts to build connections or to further my career. I will keep doing the blog, don't worry, but I'm going to have other things to do as well. I'm giving up my life and I'm not going to be doing anything that the world would judge as worthwhile, but I think I'm okay with that. It's just...this is me. Doing the stupid thing.

There you go. Now you're all caught up on my life. 

The thing is, I didn't share this with you as I was going along because it didn't feel momentous or interesting enough to bring up. It felt like I would have been unnecessarily involving you in my personal life, and since this isn't a personal blog, by and large, that would have been weird. Right? 

Only what I've actually found is that by keeping this huge part of my life away from all of you. The nights I didn't write an article because I was busy praying and crying. The nights recently when I've said "screw it" because I wanted to spend a few last nights hanging out with the amazing people I have here. The important moments of my life - I haven't been honest about any of it, and that actually sucks.

I think a huge part of it was that I didn't feel like my life was sticking to the script. I'm a story person, I understand myself in terms of stories, and this didn't feel like the kind of movie I would watch. It's very Lifetime Movie, and I'm not a big Lifetime person, if you know what I mean.

In the past few weeks, then, I've had to seriously reconsider how I think about self-sacrifice and what makes a good story in someone's life. And the truth is, just because it's been gradual doesn't mean it's been any less important. Just because it's a small story doesn't mean it's not radically important. I always say that I want to change the world, to make it a kinder and more inclusive place. Well now I have to put my money where my mouth is in this very specific, very personal way.

Three years ago, when this blog was still new-er and I was just coming to Washington to stay for good, I don't think I would have been able to make the choice I just made. Or it wouldn't have meant as much if I did. I'm a deeper person now than I was then, partly because three years of life is apt to change you no matter what, but largely because I've spent three years in an amazing community realizing how deep my heart actually goes. I'm very happy now to be the kind of person who can give up the life I have here, joyfully and well, without devaluing it or denying its importance to me.

I want to finish out well. Not finish out the blog, since I have every intention of keeping that going for a good long time, but finishing out well in this phase of my life in Washington. It's been an amazing three years (and change), and I'm so grateful I got to have it. And all of you were a big part of that. You, my online community, have been amazing and have taught me so much. I'm really grateful to you.

So. I'm coming home and I'm giving up. But I'm not sad about it because it's absolutely the best thing to do.Thank you all for helping me become the kind of person who can do this, and I hope you stick with me for the messy stuff, the heart hard stuff, and the general realness of life. I promise, from here on out, to be honest with you about what's going on in me, and I hope you'll promise the same.

Deal? Deal.

Friday, August 21, 2015

RECAP: Hannibal 3x11 - That Nightmare I Keep Having

Quick reminder that we have Kyla Furey of Feedback Force doing weekly Hannibal recaps for us right now because she is awesome.

Hannibal, it seems, has gotten vicious. The character, that is, although the show has as well.

The primary dramatic incident for this episode centers around the long-awaited next victims of the Red Dragon - in this case, Will’s family.

As Will and Jack and Alana scramble around trying to figure out where he’ll strike next and how to catch the man, Hannibal himself is catching up with the killer, whispering in his troubled ear as Hannibal is wont to do. Dolarhyde wants to quit, wants to stop himself for Reba’s sake, but Hannibal is doing his best to quash those softer instincts. 

Hannibal knows where the Dragon will strike next (he should, given that he’s the one who goaded Dolarhyde into going after Will’s family), but he refuses to tell Will, taunting him with a bitterness that really brings home the change in Hannibal since his incarceration. Hannibal’s always been devious, but it always left the impression that somehow, in Hannibal’s own mind at least, Hannibal was trying to help him, trying to mold Will into what he thought of as the “best” version of himself. 

But now it’s personal - now his machinations feel merely destructive, vengeful. Scorned, perhaps. He is upset with Will, and it shows. He outright tells Will that he knows who the next family will be, but refuses to say who.

Dolarhyde plots his approach, watching covert video of Will’s family while Reba rests on his knee unable to see the true nature of his film reel.* He even goes so far as to poison Will’s dogs, leading to a panicked (and somewhat hilarious) moment with Molly and her son Walter at the vet’s.**

Then comes a scene that is legitimately straight out of one of my nightmares. Have you ever had those dreams where you’re being chased? The ones where you hold your breath, knowing your pursuer is right around the corner? The ones where you bound down the stairs a flight at a time, knowing that you’re only one step ahead of the danger, knowing that maybe if you can just get out the door, you’ll be okay. Maybe if you can just get a ways down the road without them realizing, maybe if they don’t know which way you’re heading, maybe you can get away, if you could only manage to run just a little faster, just a little further...

Dolarhyde stalks Molly and Walter intending them to be the next victims of his massacre, but Molly is awake and hears him. She knows what’s coming. She goes straight to Walter’s room and gets him out of the house. Then she waits until Dolarhyde is in the boy’s room and sneaks out through the hall, mere feet away from where he stalks. Through the night she desperately taunts and distracts him, making a sound in one direction before quietly scurrying off in the other.

She gets Walter out to the main road, their pursuer just behind them, and flags down a car. Amid gunfire that kills the car’s original driver and significantly injures Molly, she peels away from the killer and high-tails it to the nearest hospital.***

Molly is a freaking badass in this sequence. Which is not to say that she’s powerful, or fearless. She’s in epic, intense danger that you can feel palpably in the air every single second of the pursuit. 

And she’s terrified, chock full of desperation at every moment. But she is a capable, competent woman. She rises to the occasion and gets them out of there, outsmarting a killer where two families before her failed. I was on the edge of my seat every second of this sequence, desperately worried for her, praying she would make it. A fantastically well-done scene. Just perfect.

Then comes a scene straight out of Will’s nightmares, where he rushes to the hospital to see what a killer has left of his family. Walter is alright, although he’s withdrawn and clearly angry. He doesn’t quite take it out on Will, but things are definitely awkward between them. It appears Walter has found one of Freddie Lounds’s articles, and has read about Will’s complicated past with death and mental illness. Walter, with the simplicity of a child, thinks that Will should kill Dolarhyde. Will clearly knows what that would do to his own mental health, but he’s also well-aware of how dangerous Dolarhyde is.

Given that Hannibal clearly had something to do with Dolarhyde coming after Will, Alana and Jack attempt to use his connections for insight. They decide to tap Hannibal’s phone lines, convince him to keep Dolarhyde on the line so they can trace the call and get some insight into the killer. Hannibal agrees, but only because they’re obviously on to him.

For his part, Dolarhyde, clearly distraught at his lack of a kill on the most recent full moon, lashes out at himself, flailing away with punches until he’s a bleeding mess, too weak to continue. He also breaks up with Reba, convinced he will harm her. She doesn’t take it lightly, clearly angry at what she thinks is a cop-out reason on his part. “I’m afraid I’ll hurt you” sounds like one of those things you say, one of those generic excuses. She doesn’t seem to realize that he means it quite literally - he could easily destroy her if he’s not careful.

Dolarhyde also tries to reach out to Hannibal for advice regarding his failure. Hannibal talks to him just as long as it takes for Dolarhyde to start mentioning specifics about his life and his problems - Reba’s name, in particular - before warning him that the authorities are listening in. In retribution, Alana takes away all of Hannibal’s luxuries from his cell, toilet included. But it’s too late; Dolarhyde’s been warned.

Although Molly is, thankfully, still alive, Will’s first stop after being there at her side when she wakes up at the hospital is to confront Hannibal. Will is pissed as hell, but Hannibal seems to take it in his own, angry stride. They’re a pair of quarreling exes, snapping at each other over old wounds. Hannibal is trying to do something, trying to instigate something, trying to bring something out in Will, but what exactly that is is unclear. He’s clearly stoking Will’s anger, feeding on it.**** There seems to be some hint of the Dragon’s presence, of its relationship to and affinity with Will. But the end of this path is as yet shrouded in uncertain darkness.

* How did he even get that footage? I’m a little fuzzy on the geography here, but I’m thinking Will’s house is a little too far away for simple day-trips back and forth to take creepy voyeur home movies. But then, I’m not sure where exactly it is that either Will or Dolarhyde lives, so. Whatever. The excellent podcast Digesting Hannibal (which I highly recommend) theorized that maybe Hannibal is teaching him his mystical time-and-space-bending Murder Powers over the phone. That’s probably accurate.

** Molly fretting over whether she accidentally poisoned Will’s dogs and trying to figure out how to avoid telling Will is one of the first times I felt genuine affection for the character, so that’s a good sign.

*** Presumably. We don’t actually see her get there, but that’s the next place she shows up, so.

**** And quoting Faust because, you know, it’s Hannibal.

Kyla Furey is an independent game designer and writer. She is also one of the hosts of the game-analysis podcast, Feedback Force, and hosts a weekly Saturday night game livestream on Twitch TV. She enjoys the surreal and the moody in her media, hence her great love of NBC’s Hannibal. You can follow her on Twitter @Kyla_Go where she livetweets Hannibal on Saturdays at 10pm Pacific, following which, she posts delirious stream-of-consciousness reaction videos on YouTube.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

'Man from U.N.C.L.E.' Is Fun, Witty, Clever, and Never Boring

Instead of your regularly scheduled kids' content today, we're going to keep talking about recent movie releases because I saw two movies on Saturday and I don't really have anything pressing to talk about in terms of children's media. Good? Good.

In contrast with the suffocating misery I felt upon watching Fantastic Four, the second film of my double feature was actually really awesome. Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a witty, wry and genuinely enjoyable film, a worthy successor to the television show of the same name on which it was based. It's not particularly deep and it never tries to be anything more than a fun movie about silly spies, but it does everything it sets out to do very well, and I can appreciate that. In other words, it's exactly the movie that Fantastic Four isn't, and you'd probably like it.

If you're not familiar, Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a very popular television show in the early 1960s, a sort of spy thriller show with an interesting buddy cop element. Done in the vein of the Bond films and exactly the show that Get Smart was riffing on, Man from U.N.C.L.E. is clever but silly and always self-aware enough to keep the audience guessing and engaged.

The basic format of the show was this: while the United States and Soviet Union are locked in a battle for global supremacy, they're not the only threats to world peace. There are always extra-governmental organizations, extremists, and what we would now call terrorists threatening the globe. In order to keep us safe, the world formed U.N.C.L.E., a united covert task force that utilizes both American and Soviet agents to go after threats. Basically like if Interpol were for the whole world and had a lot of really cool gadgets and secret hideouts.

In the show we follow our two main characters, an American and a Soviet, obviously. The American, Napoleon Solo, is a womanizing cad who just so happens to be completely brilliant and a great fighter, while the Soviet, Illya Kuryakin, is a quiet killer who really likes science. Together they save the world a lot and bond in the process. Awww.

The film takes this basis and goes off script a little, but manages to stay very close to the source material in tone and spirit. Plus, it's honestly just a really good movie. It combines the best aspects of Kingsman and the recent Casino Royale to make a movie that's not as earnest as either of those films, but just as fun and very well made. It's like a bespoke suit made out of really nice fabric but with shoddy lining. It's still a great suit, but there's not much inside. At the end, though, we have a team of super spies ready to take on the world and some fantastic fun getting there. There are worse things in life.

So, instead of dropping us into a world where U.N.C.L.E. is already a thing, the film takes us on a more circuitous route. We meet our heroes in East Berlin as Napoleon Solo (here played by Henry Cavill) is going about his CIA spy business. He's there to contact a girl, Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), about her father and to help her get out of Soviet controlled East Berlin. Meanwhile, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is there to stop him. Hilarity and really good set pieces ensue.

While Napoleon is ultimately successful in rescuing Gaby, in the end it doesn't matter. It turns out that the CIA and KGB are teaming up forces for this case - Gaby's father is a much bigger deal than any of them anticipated. 

Gaby's father, a brilliant rocket scientist, has been kidnapped by neo-Nazis who want him to build them a new kind of targeted and guided nuclear bomb. They need Gaby's help to get close to her uncle who in turn has gotten close to the people they think are holding her father. And they also need Illya to come along too. Oh joy.

This means that our intrepid heroes for this film are an oddball bunch of weirdos from all over Europe (and America). Gaby was a car mechanic before they uprooted her and possesses the general social graces of a very angry badger, while Napoleon is an art thief working off his sentence by becoming a spy for the CIA*, and Illya is a mass of staggering rage issues and mild psychosis. Obviously they all get along just great.

Actually, they do get along just great, or at least their not getting along is absolutely hilarious. I could explain what actually happens in the movie, but it turns out that this film is not one defined by its plot. I mean, it has a plot. It has a pretty decent plot, all things considered. But that's not why I liked it. I liked it because the characters are amazing and they interact in such lifelike and compelling ways, even when they're being nuts.

Like, one of the best scenes in the whole film is where Napoleon and Illya, having just learned about their assignment, are trying to buy Gaby some clothes. She doesn't have anything with her, after all, since she was hustled out of East Germany in the middle of the night and besides she needs fancy clothes for spying stuff. Illya has just broken the news about how for this mission he and Gaby will be pretending to be engaged, and Gaby has not taken it well. Which is reasonable since she just left the Iron Curtain and now she has to pretend to be in love with a KGB agent.

What ensues is a part dick-measuring contest between two spies who have battled each other to a draw so far, part intense debate over who will get to woo Gaby, but mostly a literal argument over who knows more about women's fashion. I'm not kidding. It's a five minute scene of Napoleon and Illya getting more and more angry with each other about who can match a belt with a dress in the right manner and what fashion laws should be broken and what ones shouldn't and it's great. Meanwhile, Gaby is in the background actually getting stuff she likes, because that's what really matters, and the whole dynamic of the film is laid out right there. It's phenomenal.

Even better, this is not the only amazing character sequence like that. There's a hilarious scene where they all realize that Illya and Gaby are about to be mugged. The mugging is a test so that Gaby's uncle, a very supsicious character, can see that his niece's new fiance is not actually a Soviet spy. Because what kind of self-respecting Soviet spy lets himself get mugged? And that means that Illya, he of the staggering rage issues and violent impulses, has to actually let himself be threatened by incompetent muggers. He does, and it's a really compelling scene both because it's funny and because it tells us a lot about who Illya actually is.

There's a scene where Illya and Gaby are trapped in a hotel room together and have to work out their differences. Which they do, if by "work out their differences" you mean "Gaby tricks Illya into slapping himself multiple times". And I do mean that.

There's another scene where Illya and Napoleon have to make a quick getaway by boat but get trapped in a small harbor and Napoleon falls overboard. While in the background we see Illya's powerboat being chased in circles by the bad guys' boat, gunfire spraying everywhere, in the foreground we watch Napoleon swim to shore, find a truck with the keys in it, find a lunch, eat the lunch, and generally laze around until he figures, yeah, he should probably save his partner now.

I could keep going, which is a great feeling, but I won't. I just need you to know that this movie gets it. It understands how to walk that fine line between an action movie with a lot of really great set pieces and a lot of interesting character development. All of our leads have a strong character arc throughout the piece, and while most of it is basically "loner learns to work with team", that's okay. That's a good story arc in itself.

My one complaint is that it feels like the writers didn't quite know what to do with Gaby in the third act. I mean, she's an amazing character throughout the film, but the third act found her sort of shoved to the side and rather damseled. And that's annoying because up until then she was definitely holding her own in the story. It's also frustrating because the climax of the film is a car chase, and Gaby is a car mechanic, but somehow they find nothing for her to do but sit in a car and be scared. Lame.

Plus, the romance they put in the film for her feels a little disingenuous. It's not that I doubt that Gaby is attracted to Illya - no one is confused about that, and Illya isn't hard on the eyes - it's that it's hard to swallow her being just into him. The plot claims she's very much into Illya, but she also seems to be into Napoleon as well. And he and Illya make a lot of eyes at each other. Since the heart of the film revolves around the three of them as a unit, it felt kind of irritating for the writers to pull us back into this staged romance. Like they were worried we'd get confused and stop caring about romance if the two pretty white people didn't look like they wanted to kiss.

And I do have another complaint: this movie is exceptionally white. Not just a little white, I would classify this film as hella white. I don't remember seeing a single person of color in the whole film, which is ridiculous. It's set in Europe in the 1960s. I'm pretty sure that black people had been invented.

But those are really my only issues with the movie. Otherwise I found it to be honestly like a breath of fresh air. Which is a weird way to describe a remake of a Cold War property, I know. But it's true. For all that Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn't a new story, it feels new. Maybe it's Guy Ritchie's really good directing. Maybe it's the actors clearly having a ball. Maybe it's just that it's a movie that's not taking itself seriously or seeming to try to build a massive franchise. It's just a fun movie that you'd probably like. I could do with more of those.

It's a little hard to figure out what else there is to say, actually. Like I said above, this is not a deep movie. There is a plot but it's a very basic, very retro "bad guys want to end the world because they're Nazis" kind of deal. No one we're supposed to like ends up having a particularly complex motivation, the plot really only has one twist and that one is cool but not revolutionary, and for the most part you just get to enjoy a fun movie. 

Like, there's this other scene where Napoleon has been drugged by the villain and knows it, so while the villain is monologuing he just wanders around their office gathering pillows and lies down because as he explains, last time he was drugged he fell down and got a cut and ruined his suit, so he's taking preventative measures. It's crap like that. 

The acting is phenomenal, with the leads all clearly giving it their all** and the supporting actors not leaving any slack either. Elizabeth Debicki is in full Bond villain form and I love it, Hugh Grant gets an excellent turn as a spy master undercover as a businessman. Admittedly, Jared Harris' American accent is kind of absolutely horrible to listen to, but it's pretty brief. It really feels like everyone involved in this brought their A-game, which is an awesome feeling.

It's a weird situation to find myself in, but I have to say that the complete lack of any agenda behind Man from U.N.C.L.E. is really quite refreshing. Normally I'm all on board the "movies must have a deep meaning" bus, but I also don't require my films to push it. If the deepest meaning in this movie is that we need to see past people's outer ideologies and circumstances so that we can know them as human beings, then that's not bad at all. By the end of the movie, (barest of spoilers), Illya and Napoleon and Gaby are real and true friends. Friends who argue a lot and try to kill each other, but friends. And I'll take that. I really will.

*And, yes, the comparisons between Napoleon Solo and Neal Caffrey are hard to miss. I mean, it's complicated by the fact that Napoleon Solo was a pre-existing character, but the physical resemblance between Henry Cavill and Matt Bomber is startling. 

**Yes, even Armie Hammer, he of the really questionable film history, does an excellent job. I feel like his problem is not that he's a good actor - he clearly is - but that casting directors have no idea what to do with him. Besides, it's not his fault that The Lone Ranger was so insultingly terrible.

Monday, August 17, 2015

'Fantastic Four's Superpower Is Being So Dull It's Offensive

So, this was a new experience. I kind of figured that by now, having been reviewing movies semi-professionally for over a decade now (I mean, four years on this website alone), I had experienced every possible reaction to a film. I was wrong. I learned some new and important things about myself on Saturday as I sat in the empty theater watching Fantastic Four. I learned that it is, in fact, possible to be so bored that you are actually filled with hate.

Good to know?

I mean, I'm not really dissenting from anyone's expectations here when I say that Fantastic Four isn't just the worst superhero movie of the summer, it might actually be the worst movie of the year full stop. I don't know. It's up there with Pixels at least. But where Pixels reportedly managed to scrape together at least enough visual information to keep your brain paying attention, Fantastic Four was the kind of summer movie that feels like it's trying to murder you with boredom. It felt deliberate and evil how bad this movie was. It was like being forced to eat an entire block of cold tofu, except without the nutritional content. It was like eating an entire head of boiled cabbage: pointless and nauseating.

In case you can't tell then, I didn't like the movie. But not for any obvious flaw. That's what's so incredibly confounding and irritating about this film. There's nothing exactly wrong with it. It's not offensive or cheesy or relying on hackneyed stereotypes or even that badly plotted. 

Don't get me wrong, the plot wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn't "write hatemail to the screenwriters" bad. The acting was okay. The directing was clearly devoted to using lots of grays and blues, but otherwise inoffensive. And yet somehow all of this nothingness added up to become the movie I have hated the most in years.

I'm really not kidding. There was a point in the film, about halfway through, when I realized that I wasn't just bored - I was definitely bored as well, but that was clear already - but I was actively infuriated by the movie. I wanted to hurt this film. I wanted to end it. I don't have any particular love for the Fantastic Four franchise, so it wasn't nerd rage at a property being mishandled, it was just like my soul rose up in protest at being forced to watch this garbage. It made me very angry.

But I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't tell you about it anyway, so here we go.

Fantastic Four is a classic reboot of the source material, and as such we are forced to pretend that the campy and hilarious 2005 Fantastic Four never happened. Here we are presented with an origin story for their superpowers and world-saving intentions, but this movie takes the whole origin story way further than most. They don't even get their superpowers until easily act two and they don't team up until most of the way through act three. 

The story starts in the past, with a ten year old Reed Richards announcing to his class one day that he's going to be the first person to teleport himself through space. This gets baby Ben Grimm's ears perked up because somehow this seems interesting to him and whoa, he's never noticed that this Reed kid was in his very small class before. Later that night, Ben catches Reed sneaking into his family's scrapyard to steal parts for the teleporter, and a friendship is born.

It's not a friendship that makes all that much sense, to be fair, but it is a friendship. We know that because they tell us so. And, seven years in the future, now seniors in high school Reed Richards (Miles Teller) and Ben Grimm (Jamie freaking Bell) have finished the teleporter and mostly gotten it to work. They're disqualified from their school science fair because their teachers don't believe them, but luckily Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathy) and his daughter Sue (Kate Mara) just happen to be there. 

Franklin and Sue recognize that Ben and Reed haven't built a teleporter but an interdimensional portal device and are very impressed. They immediately offer Reed a scholarship to join them at the Baxter Institute I think? It's some kind of prestigious program and it's also made eminently clear that this invitation is only for Reed and Ben can go suck it.

At the Baxter Institute, Reed and Sue and the always sulking Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbel) work to make their interdimensional portal dreams a reality. Victor hates Reed because Reed is smarter than he is and Victor has some staggering self-esteem issues, and also because Reed and Sue have "chemistry". If by chemistry you mean that they react to each other much the way that two inert gases react to each other. They don't.

Oh, and lest I forget, they also work with Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), a brilliant but unmotivated mechanic who has a whole issue with his dad and sister being such nerds and angst angst angst. Eventually the four of them get the machine working, test it, succeed, and quickly find that the project will now be sold to NASA and they won't get any credit for it because it was a school project and they're like high school students. Or college students. It was not clear.

Clearly unhappy about this, the boys react by getting spectacularly drunk and deciding to go off and test the device themselves before NASA takes over. Which leads to a drunk Reed demanding that Ben come downtown so they can teleport themselves to another dimension at four in the morning. Obviously this is a terrible idea.

Everything goes wrong, the planet they land on is apparently sentient and decides to destroy them but also gives them superpowers, and Victor falls in a hole only to be left there. When they all get back the shuttle explodes and we see that everyone has gotten their superpowers. Even Sue, who didn't go with them, has gotten her superpowers by being caught in the explosion. Yay.

And then the military show up and do experiments on the kids and Reed runs away leaving everyone feeling very betrayed, then there's a time jump, and actually, recounting this plot is making me mad again, so here's the basic deal: Ben and Johnny and Sue become test subjects for the government while Reed runs away and tries to cure them in the jungle using car parts. Eventually they go back to the other dimension and find Victor still alive and pissed. Victor tries to end the world, they stop him, suddenly they can blackmail the US government, the end.

That's it, that's the movie.

As I'm sure you can tell, it's not a satisfying film. Reportedly a lot of it was scrubbed over and reshot and rewritten and it's not hard to see that. Sometimes Sue's hair will change dramatically from scene to scene, sometimes the plot makes almost no sense, and generally the emotional resonance of the film is just gone. I didn't care about a single character. I tried really hard and I just couldn't.

What makes this worse is that I can actually see a good movie buried in here somewhere. Buried very very deep. See, one of the issues this movie has is that it's extremely low on action set pieces for a superhero film, but it's also really low on character development. Really interesting character revelations are brushed aside. 

Like, for example, Sue and Johnny's family dynamic. At one point Reed asks the obvious question to Sue: "Are you adopted?" And she explains that yes, she is, Dr. Storm adopted her from Kosovo. She's a war orphan of the Bosnian conflict.

You know when this is mentioned again? Literally never. And that's weird because they explain that Victor is clearly from Latveria and seems to have had some kind of traumatic experience in his home country that made him hate everyone and thing. But he and Sue never talk about their pasts or at all.

Johnny makes it clear a few times that he resents how close Sue is with their father. It seems possible that he feels like she's "stolen" his dad away from him. She's adopted and has become the perfect child he always wanted, while Johnny, his "real" son, is a screwup and a disappointment. There was room for some really complex emotional scenes and the movie just didn't go there at all.

Hell, they even had room for some really compelling drama when Johnny and Sue are arguing about whether or not they should let the US government use them as weapons. Sue is against it and Johnny feels like for once he's found his purpose. How much better would it have been to have them actually talk about how Sue still has nightmares about the war and Johnny resents Sue for ever coming into their life? That would have been character development you can build on.

Reed and Ben are supposed to have this epic friendship since childhood, but they have barely one or two scenes together. Ben's honestly barely in the movie, and it's like he's only there to remind us of Reed's failures as a human being. Ben clearly comes from an abusive home, is canonically Jewish and lower income, and probably had some bigger plans for himself than managing the family scrapyard. Hell, why not talk about how pissed Ben ought to be that Reed got a scholarship based on a machine that Ben helped build?

And Reed? Reed is so bland it's like watching paint dry. I know that Miles Teller is a good actor, but in this movie it feels like he's wading through quicksand. He's just terrible. Or rather, what he's given to work with is terrible. He's supposed to be this out of touch genius with an intellect far beyond his years, but mostly he just seems kind of dull and irritating. He abandons his best friend for a year without explanation, has the kind of "TV smart" characterization that bothers me so much, and just is so freaking boring.

In other words, it feels like every time this movie edged close to talking about something interesting, it changed the subject instead, leaving the end result to feel like a mush of half-thoughts and unsatisfied development. Nothing is planted or paid off, the characters really don't change at all, and no one seems to have any emotional connection whatsoever.

Obviously this movie suffered from the behind the scenes drama and the reshoot. There's no question that literally any other version of this film would have been better. The trailers themselves feature a lot of footage not found in the final cut of the film. We all knew this would be a bomb, it's just impressive how bomb-like the bomb turned out to be.

I could keep complaining - the actors are all in their late twenties and early thirties making them downright confusing as high school students, the whole film is shot through the grim-dark filter of your average Christopher Nolan movie for no clear reason, Victor Von Doom has absolutely no motivation as a villain - but I'll stop here. 

My main grievance with this film is that it didn't even risk enough to be bad in an interesting way. And it feels like a waste. All of these actors are actually amazing and it seems like it should have been a no-brainer to throw them together. 

Having Michael B. Jordan as your Johnny Storm and then sucking the humor out of the character? Feels bafflingly stupid. Casting Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm then requiring no physicality from him is weird. Making Miles Teller your Reed Richards and then not allowing him that glimmer of viciousness that makes him a good actor is bad directing. And putting Kate Mara in your movie at all and then giving her nothing to do is insulting.

It didn't have to be this bad. The movie actually feels deliberately, offensively terrible. Like someone tried to make the most dull and bland film of all time. Fantastic Four didn't have to be like this, and I am kind of disgusted that I watched it.

So, you know, probably don't see it in theaters?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

RECAP: Hannibal 3x10 - Not For Eating

Quick reminder that we have Kyla Furey of Feedback Force doing weekly Hannibal recaps for us right now because she is awesome.

It is with a sigh of relief that I can tell you all that I honestly enjoyed this past week’s episode. It’s something of a return to form, despite the fact that an overly-heavy reliance on the book material is still dogging the show’s footsteps. I do think it seriously helped them that they chose some of the weirdest, most surreal sequences from the book for this episode, which gels much better with the tone of the show than the usual thriller cop-chase stuff.

Let’s start with Dolarhyde. He had a lot to do this episode, both on his own and with new love interest Reba McClane. After calling Hannibal in prison (from Hannibal’s old office, no less) and hallucinating a therapy session with his favorite psychopath*, Dolarhyde returns to his attempts to woo Reba, this time by bringing her to the zoo.

Reba, being blind, has never really had a chance to see a lot of animals. She experiences things primarily through touch, and the petting zoo selection is presumably pretty limited, so Francis offers her the chance to pet a tiger while it’s sedated for some dental work. (I don’t know what connections Francis has at the zoo that he can just invite her into a medical procedure, but whatever.)

The scene where Reba pets the tiger is pretty fantastic. The over-saturation of the color in the scene really emphasizes the texture of the fur, and Reba’s experience of feeling rather than seeing the animal. At the same time, Francis’s apparent emotional cocktail of lust and fear at the sight of her experience is a wonderful, wordless performance that gels well with the general impression Dolarhyde leaves of being totally overwhelmed by and out of control of his own emotions.

After the tiger experience, they return to Francis’s place for drinks and sex. The sex scene is up to the show’s usual standard of evocative without being too pulpy, and features a great shot of Francis’s impression of Reba as a literal painting, clothed in the flowing golden dress that is this episode’s namesake. It’s weird how this show manages to make me really interested in Dolarhyde without actually feeling at all emotionally invested in him (at least not the way I’ve become invested in Will, Hannibal, and the other characters). Not sure if that’s intentional, but it is what it is.

Dolarhyde’s last sequence involves him sneaking into an art museum posing as an academic to get a behind-the-scenes view of the actual “Great Red Dragon” Blake painting that he desperately wants to emulate. This involves a scene of him knocking out a curator and literally eating the painting.** It fits very well with the show’s general metaphor of consumption being an act of love and of becoming, and for me at least it was as creepy as it was wild and ridiculous.

He’s interrupted by Will Graham, who runs into him just as Dolarhyde is making his escape. Will doesn’t catch him, but he’s seen the killer’s face now so we’ll see how that goes.

Backing up though, Will has his own subplot for the episode, primarily involving Bedelia. In this show’s great tradition of character development unfolding in the midst of a therapy office, Will visits Bedelia and they sit across from each other in big cushy armchairs and talk about the relative experiences they each had with Hannibal. 

Bedelia brings to life the fundamental difference between her and Will - she is a kindred spirit of Hannibal, whereas Will is his reflection. Bedelia sees weakness as something to destroy. In her own way she lacks empathy, even though she can manufacture the behavior and outward appearance of it much better than most, perhaps even better than Hannibal himself. Whereas Will has an overabundance of empathy, a desire to protect and nurture that which is weak. 

This is what allowed Bedelia to kill her patient,*** whereas Will could never truly have the ‘what would happen?’ coldness of calculation that truly marks Hannibal and Bedelia both. 

Will also continues to talk to Hannibal in the episode - although unbeknownst to him, Hannibal has been secretly conniving behind his back and has found out where he lives. Together they work out some of the details of Dolarhyde’s psychosis in time for Will to show up at the museum and just miss his target. Hannibal is playing a strange game here, giving Will just enough information to give the impression that he’s not keeping information back (which obviously he is). I’m a little uncertain of Hannibal’s motivations here, but that’s not exactly a new thing.

I’m waiting for the drama between Will and Hannibal to rear its face in the remaining three episodes of the season. That has always been the heart of the series, and it’s felt a bit weird to have it so abruptly left behind. But at least this episode has teased some potential stirring of it after all, and where the Dragon might fit into this eventual pattern. I suppose we’ll see!

* As part of this sequence we see how Dolarhyde pictures himself as the Great Red Dragon, and the effects were so cheesy it was a little embarrassing. (I’m pretty sure the dragon’s wings were made of glitter fabric.) I forgive them though; they’re not exactly working with a budget surplus.

** I had to ask my husband about this, since he’s actually read the books and this seemed like such a Bryan Fuller Weirdness sort of move. But nope, that’s from the book too.

*** We actually get to see Bedelia kill the patient - Zachary Quinto playing a perfectly-justified-consider-he-was-seeing-Hannibal paranoid. It’s a bit difficult to parse, but I believe what happened was that Quinto’s character starts choking on his tongue and Bedelia hesitates, then goes to help him by trying to grab his tongue and clear his airway, but then changes her mind and literally rips off his tongue and shoves it down his throat. ...Like I said, a bit tough to parse. But definitely gruesome.

Kyla Furey is an independent game designer and writer. She is also one of the hosts of the game-analysis podcast, Feedback Force, and hosts a weekly Saturday night game livestream on Twitch TV. She enjoys the surreal and the moody in her media, hence her great love of NBC’s Hannibal. You can follow her on Twitter @Kyla_Go where she livetweets Hannibal on Saturdays at 10pm Pacific, following which, she posts delirious stream-of-consciousness reaction videos on YouTube.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Strong Female Character Friday: Delphine Cormier (Orphan Black)

I've been planning on writing this article for a while, but every time I started I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to distill Delphine's presence on Orphan Black into just a few thousand words. For all that she's not one of the main clones or a direct relative, for all that she doesn't even appear until partway through the first season, for all that we still never really understand her even after the end of season three, Delphine is probably one of the hands down most interesting characters on the show. And that's saying something.

Delphine Cormier (played by Evelyne Brochu) is a mystery. We meet her part of the way through the first season when she stumbles her way into Cosima's life. Cosima, of course, is one of the main clone sisters of the story (all played by Tatiana Maslany), and she suspects from the beginning that Delphine is there to insinuate herself into Cosima's life and become her "monitor". In other words, Cosima knows pretty much from the beginning that she's being set up.

It's a good setup too. Delphine appears all weak and vulnerable and sad, but she "accidentally" drops a transcript that reveals she's a brilliant post-doctoral fellow working in evolutionary biology, just like Cosima. Despite Cosima's instincts and the warnings of her sisters, the two become fast friends. Even slightly more than friends. And all the while we're holding our breath because Delphine is absolutely definitely too good to be true.

Except she's also sort of not. I mean, she is definitely lying about herself. She really is a monitor working for the DYAD Institute. She's older than she said, though not by much, and isn't actually a student anymore. She's a fully graduated PhD working for DYAD as Cosima so easily learns just by freaking googling her. She's also engaged in some sort of physical relationship with Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer), and seems at least a little bit aware of the alternate ends of Neolution, the radical science cult infiltrating DYAD.

But she also turns out to be much more loyal to Cosima and her sisters than anyone anticipated. She holds back vital information about Sarah having a daughter and conceals a lot of details from Leekie himself. When Cosima discovers the truth, Delphine seems genuinely shattered. She even quits her job and follows Cosima to Toronto to make it all right, and helps the clones crack their own DNA sequence.

Delphine is complex.

In the second season we find her back at DYAD but this time working with Cosima. Mostly. Delphine, for all that she's in love and committed to helping the clones, is still kind of really sketchy. She goes against Cosima's wishes and uses Kira's stem cells to try to cure her. She's still willing to overstep ethical boundaries and do whatever it takes to get her results. It's just that now she's focused on those results being the safety and health of Cosima.

When Cosima figures this out, figures out that her beloved girlfriend is a whole hell of a lot more dangerous than first assumed, she turns Delphine away. But eventually she relents, on one condition: love all the clones equally. Be a psychotic, protective, intensely amoral person, but do it for all of us or none of us. It's no real surprise that this blows up in Cosima's face.

Season three sees Delphine ascendant, rising to great power in DYAD and with their parent company, Topside. She's now the head of the organization, balancing a huge number of issues and concerns. She breaks it off with Cosima, basically explaining that she can't do what she needs to do if she loves one clone more than all the rest, and Cosima takes it badly. But season three really just confirms what we knew all along: Delphine is a tiger dressed up like a lamb, and she will do whatever it takes to keep her people safe.

I personally love her in season three because while some in the audience saw her behavior as wildly out of character I saw it as the fulfillment of what was just hinted at before. Delphine always had a terrifying pragmatic streak. In season three we see how far that streak goes. She grinds her thumb into a woman's eye wound to get her to talk. She casually tells a quiet story about helping a girl at boarding school commit suicide while interrogating a prisoner. She has her ex-girlfriend followed and does background checks on everyone and just generally is the kind of terrifying person I always suspected she might be under the surface. It's amazing.

It's amazing because it all feels really natural. Delphine isn't nice or good. She's never been nice or good. She's just been more aligned with nice or good people at other points in the show. In season three she's allowed to take center stage and we see exactly how intense she really is. But we also get to see that all of this intensity is for a very good end. She really does care about Cosima and all of the clones. She really is trying to keep them safe. And everything she does is for that end.

I'm not going to spoil how the season ends, since I'm sure at least some of you don't yet know, but suffice to say that Delphine is front and center for all of it. And yet there's something fantastic in seeing how far we've come with the character and realizing that, at the end, we really know nothing about her.

I mean, seriously, nothing. We know she's French. Probably. We know she's an evolutionary biologist who worked with DYAD. We know that at some point she and Leekie started having an affair that ended when she became Cosima's lover. And we know that she owned a hair straightener. That's about it. Well, I mean we might also know that she went to boarding school? But that might have been a lie. It's honestly incredibly hard to tell.

And this fascinates me. The fact that we could go three seasons with Delphine as a main character, where she could occupy such a huge role on the show, and yet we know so incredibly little about her seems hilarious to me. It also seems like really good writing.

See, really good writing doesn't need backstory or flashbacks to get its point across. Ideally you should understand who a character is without needing to tell us where they're from or who their parents are. And if you do your job well enough, then chances are that your readers will come to want to know that stuff. You don't want to dump it on us, the audience, before we actually want it. Then it becomes like work. But you should make it so that we're curious. So we want to see how this person came to be.

I want to know how Delphine became Delphine. I want to know if she was always a budding little sociopath or if that was recent. I want to know if she had a perfectly normal nice childhood or if her parents always knew there was something a little off about their angel. I love how she looks like a puppy or a sweet young thing but that the whole time she's holding in this vengeful wrath. I just really really love Delphine.

It's something I've mentioned before, but I think that in a lot of ways, the complexity and amorality of characters like Delphine is just as important to the idea of "strong female characters" as purely heroic women or female superheroes or other examples of feminine goodness. Yes, it's important for girls to have good role models, but it's also important for us to recognize the feminine capability for murder and torture and evil. We need characters like Delphine because women aren't inherently good. We're not inherently evil either. We're people and that means we're inherently complex.

Delphine's not good or bad, she's just there. She's a person who can serve good or bad ends. I like that about her. It makes her human. She's not just a love interest or a foil or a one off female stereotype, but a rich tapestry of confusing and conflicting personality traits. And that's awesome.

I think it's worth pointing otu as well that Orphan Black is one of the best shows on right now for complex and interesting female characters. I mean, not only do I write recaps of this show, I've also done "Strong Female Character Friday" articles on like half the main characters: Helena, Alison, Mrs. S, and now Delphine. The women of this show are varied and complicated and truer reflections of real humanity than I've seen in a long time. That it's not just the clones who are given such nuanced development is just icing on the cake.

Delphine Cormier is an amazing character. Capable of great and spectacular love and yet also completely capable of shooting a man at point blank range, she reflects all the best dualities of what a woman can be. And she does all of it without us ever being subjected to a long monologue on "what made me this way". Nope. She just is. And that's honestly what I want. A woman who just is and who needs no further explanation or excuse.

I don't think that's too much to ask, do you?

I will admit that I miss this cuteness, though.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

RECAP: Outlander 1x09 - Jamie vs. Twentieth Century Marriage

Yeesh. Okay, I realize this article is coming a little late to the party. I wanted to get back into recapping the second half of Outlander's first season a while ago, but I kept butting up against a frustrating problem. Namely, I kept trying to recap this episode, then remembering what happens in this episode, and then chickening out.

The problem is that for all that Outlander has a genuinely impressive track record with how it portrays sex and sexuality, and for all that it tackles incredibly complex issues in the book and in the show, there are still some storylines that are hard to talk about. And this episode contains one of the main ones. So, you know, heads up! This episode deals pretty explicitly with differing interpretations of domestic abuse based in very different time periods and cultural contexts. A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend.

For those of you coming late to the party, Outlander is a new-ish TV show adaptation of the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series. It follows WWII nurse Claire (Caitriona Balfe) as she accidentally travels through time from her second honeymoon in 1945 to the wilds of colonial Scotland in 1743. Trapped in the past with an incredibly hostile group of Scots who hate the English and a very suspicious English government that has no idea where she came from, Claire has to use all of her wits and memory of history to survive. And, hopefully, she can manage to get herself back to the place where she traveled through time. Maybe if she does, she'll be able to get back home.

The first half of the season, which aired in the fall*, Claire was still trying to find her footing in 1743. She fell in with the MacKenzie clan who offered her some level of protection but remained incredibly suspicious of her. She also managed to make a dangerous enemy in Captain Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), the English soldier making hell for the Scottish in their home country. In order to keep her safe, Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) decides to make Claire an honorary Scottish citizen.

The only way to do that, though, is for Claire to marry a Scot. And the only Scot available just happens to be the sweet, sensitive, brash, and prone to flinging himself into the face of danger Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). So Jamie and Claire get married. At first Claire is horribly conflicted because she is actually already married in her own time period. Her husband, Frank (also Tobias Menzies), is a good man and she misses him a lot. But this is a matter of survival, so she goes with it.

And then, in the final episode of the first half of the first season, where we left off, Claire has her first opportunity to slip away from the MacKenzies and make for the hill where she traveled back through time. She finds and opening and runs for it and just when she's almost there....she's grabbed by some English soldiers and taken back to Fort William so that Captain Jack Randall can threaten her with rape. The season ends on a shot of Randall holding Claire down and Jamie coming in through the window to try to rescue his wife.

So! How does the season pick back up?

We open up on Jamie's side of the events from last episode. See, he was off doing his own thing while Claire ran away. He was meeting with an informant who might be able to prove that he didn't commit the murder he's accused of. So we come back in on Jamie's meeting with this informant, only for it to be interrupted by news of Claire's capture.

Jamie is a good man. We already know this, but it's laid out very clearly here. He's a good man who loves his wife, for all that he does not understand her. When he hears that she's been captured he quickly abandons his meeting, even if it could set him free from his dangling sentence, and goes to rescue her.

The problem comes when he actually finds Claire and saves her and gets her out. He's now done even more things to make the English hate him while losing the only lead he had on getting a pardon, all for the sake of a wife who doesn't seem overly happy to be found. What the hell?

It's nice to give us Jamie's perspective on all of this, but it makes what happens next a bit hard to swallow. I mean, obviously, once Jamie and Claire reach an open space they're going to have a fight. He told her to stay put, so obviously she should have, right? It's 1743. Women are to do as they are told by their husbands.

But from Claire's perspective, Jamie is mildly psychotic and unreasonable. She went for a walk in the woods. She didn't ask for those British soldiers to find her. In fact that's really the opposite of what she wanted. And she hates the idea that Jamie can just tell her what to do because he's her husband. Hell no. Claire doesn't need anyone telling her what to do or who to be. She's her own damn person, thank you very much.

This doesn't go over great with Jamie.

The whole episode, as it turns out, is really an examination of this idea. How can Jamie and Claire, who really do love each other, reconcile their very complex and completely different ideas of what a marriage should be? Claire comes into this with her understanding of twentieth century advances in women's rights and the legal protections for women in marriage, but Jamie is the one whose time they are in. So should Claire's beliefs prevail or should she bow to Jamie's understanding because his fits the cultural paradigm?

The show doesn't have a good answer. The book, interestingly enough, does. The book suggests that it's Claire who should change and accept her husband for who he is. She should just let go and admit that it's a very different time than she's used to and go with it. But the show doesn't agree. It just leaves it all a mess and lets you the audience figure it out.

This is an important topic and worth discussing largely because it's one that we still face. When people marry across cultures, they have to figure out how to reconcile disparate interpretations of what marriage is and should be. Who is right? Who should win that argument? Should there be a clear winner?

This whole episode focuses very much on that issue. Once Jamie and Claire have finished hashing out the main argument between them - that she abandoned him and got him into trouble, or, alternately, that he's overreacting to a freaking accident and that he doesn't get to order her around - they still have to deal with their relationships with all of the men around them. Claire and Jamie, after all, are on a trip with a bunch of MacKenzie men. Those men risked their lives to go save her, and now they're genuinely pissed with her. She's lost all of the goodwill she'd earned from them. And so Jamie seeks to make that right.

Unfortunately, this is where the episode gets into really problematic territory. See, from Claire's perspective, she and Jamie are good. They talked through their differences, they communicated, they apologized, they fought, and now there's no problem. But from Jamie's point of view, she still needs to be punished. That's how this works, to his mind. You do something wrong, and then your superior punishes you. In Claire's case and in Jamie's mind, that means him. He's her husband. He's responsible for her. And that means he needs to punish her for getting them all in trouble.

Claire is not okay with this.

It's hardly the most brutal scene of domestic violence you'll see on television this year - that award pretty much always goes to Game of Thrones - but it's arguably more intense for how much it feels off tone for this show. Up until this point Jamie and Claire have been getting along quite amiably. They're nice people and they like each other and they have a lot of very good sex. But now Jamie finds it necessary to beat Claire with his belt, and she considers this abuse. She fights back, hard.

Again, it's the problem of dealing with issues across cultures. From Jamie's perspective, this is exactly what he should be doing. His wife disobeyed, she must be punished. From Claire's point of view, though, this is a betrayal of violence from someone she genuinely trusted. And it's hard to get past that.

Now, granted, Claire's punishment does have some immediate effects in her relationship with everyone in the group. The men are perfectly happy to accept her again now that she's been punished. They lightly rib her about it for a while, but it's clear they're cool with her now. But Claire? She's pissed. She's roiling with anger. Her husband hit her. She is going to end him.

So, in the name of all convenient timing, they come back to Castle Leoch to find all the castle's residents there to cheer for them and have a party to celebrate their marriage. Claire is not in the mood. But she's also not about to offend all these nice people. So she plays along.

There are some other plotlines that intervene her for a moment: Colum MacKenzie, Dougal's older brother and leader of the MacKenzie clan, interrogates them all about how their tour of MacKenzie lands went; Laoghaire, a girl who was definitely into Jamie, confronts him about going off and getting married to some random Englishwoman; Colum finds out that Dougal collected money for a Jacobite rebellion and is pissed; the men punish the guy they think tattled on them; and so on.

But the main bulk of feeling and plot stays with Claire and Jamie and their currently incredibly tenuous marriage. That night, when Jamie tries to get into bed with Claire, she's definitely not in the mood and banishes him to the floor. Jamie really can't understand why she's still pissed at him. Ugh.

The problem with all of this is that Jamie is a genuinely likable and kind man. He is really trying to be the best husband to Claire that he knows how to be. But he doesn't really know how to do that outside of his cultural context. It's a very limited framework and Jamie is doing the best he can. That's just not good enough.

What's brilliant, then, is how Claire comes back at him for his betrayal. When Jamie has finally come to an understanding that his marriage with Claire doesn't have to be like his parents' marriage, he comes to her and swears he'll give Claire his fealty. He swears never to raise his hand against her again. So, she tests him.

They have reconciliation sex and she's accepting of his offer to swear fealty to her. But then in the very middle of sex, when Jamie is at his most vulnerable, she grabs his knife and holds it up to his throat. Will he swear, absolutely swear, not to raise a hand to her again? Will he?!

Fortunately for Jamie he does swear.

I was hesitant to recap this episode because domestic abuse is such a hard and unpleasant topic. And the way it's dealt with here makes it even more complicated than usual. There's no obvious bad guy. Jamie might have outdated morals but he's not a terrible person. And while Claire is very understandably pissed off, we the audience can see how her actions look from the outside. How is Jamie supposed to know that Claire comes from a completely different cultural paradigm if she hasn't told him?

The episode ends well, with Claire and Jamie having finally settled all of the problems between them, but it's hard to get there. I like that it ends on Jamie coming to understand without Claire having to tell him that a marriage where the husband beats the wife when she does something wrong is bad. It's really good that he figures that out without having to be told. But that doesn't make this an easy episode to watch. It's still a story about likable, lovable Jamie becoming a monster in his marriage.

And while Claire does get her own back at the end and we finish the episode with their marriage stronger than ever before, it's still clearly going to be a problem going forward. They live in an unjust time when women do not have rights. Claire refuses to take that lying down and now she has Jamie on her side. But that doesn't make the time more just.

I don't know. This was a hard episode to come back on. I really do like that the show is confident enough in its writing and actors to leave so much feeling unresolved, but that means it all feels unresolved. Hmmph.

At any rate, we're back recapping Outlander again, for better or worse! Hopefully next week will be easier.

*And you can read the recaps starting here!