Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Big Sky 1.10-11: Rocky Mountain High, Somewhat Twisted

Big Sky was back last night after its long break with a double episode, and what felt a lot like a new season, not just the second part of the first.  That's because Legarski is gone and Pergman looks like a bit like a demented John Denver, or a Denver holding in his homicidal urges and instincts.  He has a girlfriend who seems to love or at least really care about him, with a child that Pergman seems to be a good father to.  He tells his girlfriend he's sorry every time he blurts out something from his twisted, angry inner self.

But there's no shortage of bad guys who are evil and dangerous both inside and out.  In fact, a whole new family, with  Horst Kleinsasser (played by Monk's Ted Levine as the patriarch) who are up to no good and worse.   The net effect is a tableau of dangers Cassie and Jenny have to face, even with Pergman out of that picture.  But I have a feeling he won't be out of it too long.

The dialogue, as in the first part of the season, is snappy, sarcastic, and refreshing.  And peril lurks at every turn.   Cassie doesn't like a young cop, and remarks to Jenny that he's an "asshole".  That's a good call -- he kidnaps Cassie at the end of the second episode, to do who knows what to and/or with her.

My guess is this cop is Legarski's successor, or connected to the same young women trafficking ring as the departed bald guy.  That part of the first part of the season's story -- the full extent of the trafficking ring -- was never addressed last season.  In addition to Cassie's fate, the big question now about that ring is when Pergman will reconnect with it.

All in all, Big Sky remains an attractively quirky show, with those wide Montana vistas still being so well welcome to look at as we slowly come out of our lockdown.

See also Big Sky 1.1: A Pretty Big Deal ... Big Sky 1.2: The "Goods" and the Ruined Plan ... Big Sky 1.3: "You Kidnapped the Wrong Girl" ... Big Sky 1.4: Controls on Psychos ... Big Sky 1.5: Winter Finale Indeed! ... Big Sky 1.6: "Sweet Psycho" ... Big Sky 1.7: The Montana State Trooper ... Big Sky 1.9: Crafty Ronald

New Summer Session Online Course at Fordham: "Science Fiction from Page to Screen"

Hey, I'll be teaching a brand new course at Fordham University this summer that I proposed, created, and developed over the past few months: "Science Fiction from Page to Screen".  I'll be teaching the course entirely remotely, via live Zoom lectures and interviews, and group and individual email discussions, so you don't need to be in New York City to take it -- you can be anywhere in the world.  And you don't need to be a student at Fordham.  The course carries four undergraduate credits, and you can take the course as a visiting student from another university, or if you're a college graduate, or, if approved, if you're a high school senior (and in exceptional cases, a high school junior).

The focus of the course this summer will be Philip K. Dick's iconic award-winning 1962 novel, The Man in the High Castle, made into the Emmy-winning four-season series (2015-2019) on Amazon Prime Video, starring Rufus Sewell -- who will be be making a special Zoom appearance in our course for a live interview by me in July!

For those you who may not know me, I'm a tenured professor (former Chair of the Department of Communication and Media Studies) at Fordham University, author of seven science fiction novels (including The Plot to Save Socrates and my Locus Award winning first novel, The Silk Code) and more than forty stories, former President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (1998-2001), and a lifelong admirer of Philip K. Dick's work.   More about me here.

I'm really looking forward to teaching this course and welcoming Rufus Sewell to Fordham!

Here is the course description:

FITV 3635 PW1 - Science Fiction From Page to Screen
Session III, June 1 - August 5, 2021
Online: TTh, 3-5 p.m.

This course examines the unique, dynamic relationship between written words published as novels and short stories and their adaptation in TV series and motion pictures, in the genre of science fiction. Issues include the reader’s expectations about screen adaptations, the challenge of visualizing the impossible in science fiction, multiple movies from a single source, and books within books as a literary and cinematic device. The course will focus on a single iconic novel adapted into a multi-season TV series.

CRN: 12993
Instructor: Levinson
4 credits

Registration details for visiting students are here.   Tuition details are here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Debris 1.7: Ferry Cross The Moebius

An interesting Debris 1.7 last night, that served up another example of what the debris can do, mixing horror and humanity in the now signature way that Debris does this, but not moving the ball of understanding very much forward.

Speaking of signatures, the story had a lot of nice mythological touches, beginning with the mention of the ferry, and moving on to the sweet little girl with supernatural i.e. debris-endowed  powers.  These interludes have a scrapbook-like quality.  If only Bryan and Finola could see the whole scrapbook, rather than just these weekly pages.  I feel the same way as a member of the audience.

In my review of last week's episode (1.6), I objected to the assumption of Bryan, Finola, and their superiors that says governments are the proper custodians and regulators of the debris and all their effects.  No one in any country ran on a platform in which they asked the voters to give them sole or any power to represent humanity and human interests in the event that we are visited by extraterrestrials and their debris.

Someone on Twitter (maybe Scroobius Pip under a pseudonym) commented that that's what Anson Ash is saying and working against (he's played by an actor with a perfect name for a narrative like this, Scroobius Pip -- a combination, in my head at least, of Ebenezer Scrooge and moebius strip).  In last night's episode, he's unceremoniously tortured by Maddox for information.  And that of course brings home the point, doesn't it?  What is our government doing torturing this guy?

Back in the days of 24, Jack Bauer would regularly torture anyone who had valuable information about a terrorist plot and didn't want to share it.  But Ash is not quite a terrorist.  He's fighting for something which might take innocent lives, for sure, but the philosophy of his cause has an angelic element.  Fighting about a boat which, so far in this story on the screen, doesn't have a name.

See also Debris 1.1 Some Probability of Gems Among the Pieces ... Debris 1.2: Clones ... Debris 1.3: Trapped Out of Time ... Debris 1.4: Suspentia Belief ... Debris 1.5: Fine Tuning ... Debris 1.6: Fountain of Youth and Its Complications

Podcast: Review of Q: Into the Storm

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 170, in which I review Q: Into the Storm.

Blog post review of Q: Into the Storm.

Check out this episode!

City on a Hill 2.3: Seismic Shift

I'm watching but not reviewing every episode of City on a Hill these days -- too much other writing to be done -- but episode 2.3 was impossible not to review, because [Spoilers follow ... ]

Well, the episode blurb on Showtime's page concludes with "Jimmy Ryan, meanwhile, faces problems far worse than a guilty conscience."  Yes, he does.  Problems from Cathy Ryan.  She has every reason to hold Jimmy responsible for what happened to Jimmy's brother, her husband Frankie.  And, now she has a monetary reason to shoot Jimmy to death.  Which she does.

And this signals a bigger shift in this series than just the killing of one man.  It signals something which was already beginning to happen last season, something which has been implicit in this narrative all along: women climbing right up there to the top of the hill with the men in this town.   Women claiming power.

Now, I'm no expert on the power allocations in Boston in the 1990s.  But I suspect that the ascendance of women in this narrative may be more fictional than truly historic.   Someone correct me if I'm wrong.  But would the real-life equivalent of Cathy Ryan have done what she did last night?

Meanwhile, it was good to see Jackie last night begin to tell at least a little of his family history to his daughter.  That brought home an important point, too.  As corrupt as Jackie is, he's still much better than his father and his grandfather and who knows how far back.  He's working, still working.  And maybe even doing some good, even if accidentally,

And, to conclude on a happy note, it's good to see DeCourcy's (great name) wife pregnant.  Will this make DeCourcy a little more willing to constructively compromise on important issues?  Certainly with his wife.  But I'm guessing in his professional relentlessness too.

See also City on a Hill 2.1: Big Dig

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror ... City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos ... City on a Hill 1.4: Enjoyable Derivative ... City on a Hill 1.6: Tony's Mother, Mayhem, and Family ... City on a Hill 1.7: The Bodies ... City on a Hill 1.8: Personal Business and Its Accompaniment ... City on a Hill 1.9: Changes ... City on a Hill season finale: "You Ain't the Good, and I Ain't that Bad"


Monday, April 12, 2021

Q: Into the Storm: Riveting, Breathtaking, But Not Completely Persuasive

I just binge-watched Q: Into the Storm, a six-part documentary on HBO Max.  It's about as breathtaking, daring, and informative a documentary, episode for episode, as ever I've seen.   [Spoilers follow....]

That's in large part because it's extraordinarily current, ending a day or two after the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.  But it's also because Cullen Hoback, who made the series as well as stars in it as its investigator, managed to present a life-and-death true story, with real people you gradually come to know surprisingly well, and a grade-A real mystery all in one series.

The mystery is at the heart and soul of this documentary: who is the Q in QAnon?   We think Q's a he.  We know Trump was (and maybe today still is) the mythical arch hero in Q's and the QAnons' mythology, and that the real Trump began to retweet and maybe truly believe some of their ideas.   We know that the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol was at least in part inspired by their beliefs.   We know that, although conspiracy theories have likely been with humanity since Neanderthals were the most prevalent form of our species, that QAnon is to date the quintessential creation of social media.  What we don't know is: who was or is Q?

Into the Storm is the story of how Hoback struggled to answer that question, and indeed thinks he answered it.   The reason I'm putting the resolution of this documentary in those terms, though, is that ... I'm not completely convinced about Hoback's answer.  The two best choices that Hoback presents are Steve Bannon and Ron Watkins, 8Chan administrator and who knows what else.  (I assume you know who Bannon is.)  In a decisive turning point in the documentary, Watkins tries to convince Hoback that Bannon is Q, via IP address locators, and the fact that Q seemed to have access to information that only a Trump insider would have.  But Hoback doesn't think Q would be so stupid as to make his IP address available even to as savvy an Internet player as Ron Watkins, and finds that Bannon said Michael Flynn (another QAnon hero) was a disaster, and Hoback therefore concludes instead that Ron Watkins is actually Q, and was trying to throw Hoback off track by offering up Bannon.

I'm willing to say, on the basis of documentary, that I think Ron Watkins is likely Q, but I'm not totally convinced.  One of Hoback's main reasons for thinking Watkins is Q is Watkins' inconsistent statements about what he knew and didn't know about what Q was posting.  But people make inconsistent statements all the time.   Also, unless I missed it, I don't think Hoback ever provides a clear explanation of how Watkins, who wasn't a Trump insider, obtained the Trump insider info that Q displayed.  And just as Hoback thinks Ron Watkins deliberately said things to disguise his true identity, surely Bannon would have done the same (such as trashing Flynn) to get people to look elsewhere for Q.

So, I think Bannon is still in the running, as at least an outside shot.  Or Q could be someone else, or maybe a team of people, another hypothesis considered then discarded in the documentary.  But that ambiguity does not make Q: Into the Storm one bit less worthy of viewing, as an all too-frightening, all too human, astute depiction of what happened and almost happened in America and the world.

Friday, April 9, 2021

For All Mankind 2.8: Really Lost in Translation

In terms of humans going out into our solar system, the only really significant event happened at the very of For All Mankind 2.8.  But it was a significant event indeed.

[Spoilers follow]

We -- the Americans -- killed one Soviet cosmonaut, and badly wounded another, on the Moon. Our astronaut Marines thought the Soviets were reaching for a weapon, when they were reaching only for a translation card.  Brings a whole new devastating meaning to lost in translation.

Because what has now been lost in this alternate history is the thin veneer of peace in space, the For All Mankind mantra that is the very title of the series.  True, the Soviets took that little lunar base from us.  But surely there had to be a better response than bringing our violence on Earth up to the Moon.

The repudiation of peace is consistent, though, with the Ronald Reagan in our own reality. Although his anti-ballistic missile "Star Wars" initiative, which I strongly supported, undermined the Soviet Union and got it to crumble,  Reagan's militarism in South America in the Nicaragua Contra business almost led to the undoing of his administration.  We were provoked in both realities -- ours and the one in For All Mankind -- by the Soviet shooting down the civilian KAL 707 airplane.  But sending a military force to the Moon with shoot-to-kill orders if necessary was not the way to go.

The U.S. in this alternate history also wants to arm the Pathfinder flight to Mars.  This would not be to fight off Martians.  In our reality, again, Trump initiated the Space Force.  I'm all in favor of military in space if we're talking about Captain Kirk and the Federation.  But that's idealistic fiction about the future.  For All Mankind, at this point, is fiction about an alternate past.  That past looks, as of now in episode 2.8, to be leading to a far more dangerous future than Star Trek.

Although I don't like that development at all, to say the least, kudos to For All Mankind for showing it to us, or showing us to us, in the new episode up today on Apple TV+.

ee also For All Mankind, Season 1 and Episode 2.1: Alternate Space Race Reality ... For All Mankind 2.2: The Peanut Butter Sandwich ... For All Mankind 2.3: "Guns to the Moon" ... For All Mankind 2.4: Close to Reality ... For All Mankind 2.5: Johnny and the Wrath of Kahn ... For All Mankind 2.6: Couplings ... For All Mankind 2.7: Alternate History Surges

Defending Jacob: Testing Family Ties

I don't think I've ever seen a mini-series like Defending Jacob, up on AppleTV+ where it's been for nearly a year, based on a novel of the same name by William Landay which I didn't read.  It oscillates back and forth between two possible truths or endings, and manages to end without resolving that pendulum, in a way that makes you feel that you've confronted some profound mystery or reality of human life, because likely you have.

[Some spoilers follow ...]

The question is whether not Jacob, in his mid-teens, killed his schoolmate Ben.  He says he didn't, but he's a strange kid who gives off strange vibes.  He's highly intelligent and has an above-it-all ambience.  A shrink says he lacks empathy.  His father is not sure, but pretty much believes his son.  His mother is not sure, either, but believes Jacob less than does his father.

On Jacob's side of the story, there's child predator named Patz who is in the area, has pictures of Ben on his phone, and erases them.   But Jacob wrote a short story after Ben's murder, which gives a psychological take on the crime that seems autobiographical.  Twist after twist makes Jacob seem a victim, and then a killer, then a victim, then a killer.  It's the kind of thing that can drive his parents crazy, and almost does, especially Jacob's mother.

In the last series of twists, Patz leaves a suicide note of confession, but Jacob's father Andy learns that his father (Jacob's grandfather) had someone put a gun to Patz's head and made him write the note, right before the gunman made it look that Patz had hung himself.  Jacob's family goes to Mexico to celebrate, but Jacob and a girl go off walking on a beach, he returns with a different shirt, and the girl is missing.  Did Jacob kill her? It seems so -- until the girl shows up the next day.  She'd been drugged at a party.

So you get the picture.  There's a lot more that happens, both before and after those scenes, but the series ends without us knowing whether Jacob is a killer or just one unlucky kid.   And there's something that Adam was calling his wife Laurie (Jacob's mother) to tell her, and we don't know what that is, either (or maybe I missed it).

All of this is delivered by outstanding acting at every turn, but especially Jaeden Martell as Jacob, Michelle Dockery as Laurie, Chris Evans as Adam, J. K. Simmons as the grandfather, and Cherry Jones as Jacob's lawyer.  If you want a roller-coaster ride in an amusement park dedicated to the proposition that we don't know anything for sure in life, especially about the people who are closest to us, see Defending Jacob.  You won't forget it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Debris 1.6: Fountain of Youth and Its Complications

Debris 1.6 re-visits the ancient Fountain of Youth myth, in which you drink from some magical source of water and regain your youth.   Later on in the New World, Ponce de Leon was allegedly searching for a fountain of youth when he discovered Florida.  More recently, in 1985, Ron Howard directed Cocoon, in which alien cocoons found in a pool restore the youthful energy of elderly swimmers.   And just last night, Debris gave us a story in which interstellar debris literally makes very old people young again.

Of course, in the legends and the science fiction, there's always a problem with the fountain, a price to pay, assuming the fountain is even found.  In Debris, the price is that everyone who gets young again has to stay in proximity to the other rejuvenated oldsters.  If they don't, they'll get old again, and die.

You know what?  This doesn't seem like all that steep a price to me.  And this undermines Bryan and Finola's motive in the narrative for getting the rejuvenated back to their original old age.   What would be the problem in setting up a community of young-again people?  Perhaps that was explained and I missed it, but as it is, it seems that the main motive of Bryan and Finola is to counteract any effects of the interstellar debris on Earth, even if they are beneficial.

And this in turn brings to the fore a larger question which gets at the very heart of this series.  If all the effects of the debris were bad, or could be used for bad purposes, it would make perfect sense to track down all the debris and keep them out of reach.  But if some of the debris are beneficial, what then?  Are Bryan and Finola on the side of the angels, and just another pair of warriors in a very new kind of war?*

*Back in 2010, in an interview on Ancient Aliens on the History Channel, I questioned why governments rather than citizens should the presumptive interface between humans and extra-terrestrials who come to Earth.  See1min24secs into this video

I'll be watching to see how these questions play out.

See also Debris 1.1 Some Probability of Gems Among the Pieces ... Debris 1.2: Clones ... Debris 1.3: Trapped Out of Time ... Debris 1.4: Suspentia Belief ... Debris 1.5: Fine Tuning

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Losing Alice: Finding Gold

TV series about writers with complicated families and erotic urges who are writing something new and can't quite tell the difference between the fiction they're writing and the real relationships around them seem to be in the air these days.  A few weeks ago, I told Anke Meijer for an article she was publishing in the NRC that such similarities in genres could be an expression of what Hegel termed "the spirit of an age".   We find that spirit apparently at work in Deadly Illusions on Netflix, which I saw and reviewed here last week, and Losing Alice on Apple TV+, which I binge watched last night and enjoyed immensely.

Other than the tantalizing blurring between written fiction and real events in the creator's life which often takes center stage, and the protagonists in both cases being beautiful mothers in their 40s, the two TV series are somewhat different.   Losing Alice is about a movie director not an author of books, takes place in Israel not America, and is in Hebrew not English (you can get translations and subtitles, of course -- it's been a good month for Israeli productions, with Shtisel 3 out just last week).  Losing Alice also is a much more complex mystery than is Deadly Illusions, delves into the special challenges of directing, and succeeds on so many levels that it can properly be called a tour de force.

Further, the writer and director of Losing Alice, Sigal Avin, is the same age as Alice, and looks a lot like her (Alice is powerfully played by Ayelet Zurer, whom I last recall seeing as Eric Banner's -- or his character's -- wife in Spielberg's Munich), and this gives Losing Alice an intriguing autobiographical flavor.  When you see Alice struggling to get just what she wants in a scene, you can't help but feel you're viewing what Sigal herself is literally going through at that moment.   Meanwhile, the resemblances of other characters in Losing Alice to each other enhance the underlying questions of who wrote what in the movie script that is the spark plug of both this television series and the movie (Room 209) within this television series.  (Yeah, a good meta-story is well met.)

Losing Alice is also one of the most erotic narratives I've seen in a while, and Avin is able to do this with a minimum of nudity.   The crucial scene between Sophia and David was evocative of Last Tango in Paris, again with a bit less revealed, and delivered by the exceptional acting of Lihi Kornowski as Sophia and Gal Toren as David.

I won't say anything more about the mystery of who wrote Room 209 -- find Losing Alice to find out -- but I don't think it's a spoiler to mention that the songs in this television series were also superb.  My favorite is the apt My Name Is Trouble by Keren Ann.   I'll also reveal that the ending leaves room for a sequel.  Which I only mention because I'd see it in a heartbeat.

          the Sierra Waters trilogy

Friday, April 2, 2021

Law & Order SVU and Organized Crime: Stabler Is Back

I rarely review Law & Order SVU, but it's one of my favorite shows, and my wife feels the same.  But I couldn't help but review the SVU crossover with the new Organized Crime Law & Order last night on NBC, given that it featured the return of Elliot Stabler, who left SVU some ten years ago, in the wake of the actor Christopher Meloni not being able to reach agreement on a new contract with NBC.

Stabler's partnership with Olivia Benson was the heart and soul of SVU, and his departure came with no explanation in the narrative.   We learned last night that he was also incommunicado with Benson these part ten years.  This creates an excellent narrative tension as the two reunite in New York after Stabler's wife is mortally wounded in a bomb blast intended for Stabler.

Benson is understandably torn between feeling protective towards her former partner and hurt, even angered, by his sudden departure and ensuing silence.  But just to be clear, and not to get too "meta" about this, that departure was not Stabler the character's fault -- it presumably was NBC's fault, for not giving Meloni the actor what he requested.  In any case, Olivia's struggle to get some bearing now on Stabler, especially since she has moved up from Detective to Captain on SVU, was played out over both SVU and Organized Crime last night, was appropriately inconclusive, and was the best part of these two episodes.  

It was also gratifying to see some kind of romantic energy between the two -- at this point, of course, unacknowledged.  Given that Stabler's wife died, and Olivia has been without romantic involvement this year, I'd say that possibility is real.   In fact, one of the best parts of the crossover event is the letter Stabler gives to Benson, who can't read it then.  At the end of the second episode, Benson shows up and wants to talk to Stabler about the letter, but he's too engrossed in the case at hand to talk to her at that moment.  So what's in the letter? It has to be something good, from a narrative point of view, and I'd guess promising for their future relationship. In fact, I'd predict that if Organized Crime stays on the air for at least a few years, we'll see the two together as a couple.  Maybe even if Organized Crime doesn't make it.

On that account, the show has been faulted by the usual Greek chorus of complaining critics.  It wasn't the most original or scintillating opening episode, true, and it lacked the usual Law & Order pacing and flourishes.  But, hey, give it a chance.  The lives of every SVU character have been both enriched and challenged by Stabler back in their picture (speaking of which, great scene between Fin aka Ice T and Stabler in SVU last night).  Meloni and  Mariska Hargitay have a crackling chemistry together as actors, and I'm eager to see where this goes.

For All Mankind 2.7: Alternate History Surges

A flat-out great episode 2.7 of For All Mankind up on Apple TV+ today, with some of the best alternate history gambits of the series, that propel it into being one of the best episodes of the overall series, in my never humble opinion.

The minor alternate history touches were fun as always, like Jimmy Carter being a Senator from Georgia.  But there were two major alternate history changes which were not only jolting, but put the narrative on a new course.

One was Thomas Paine in Korean Air Lines flight 007, shot down by the Soviets with no survivors in 1983.  In our reality, Paine served as NASA Administrator from March 1969 to September 1971 -- the period in which we of course landed on the Moon.  His ambitious subsequent plans for Americans in space, however, including a mission to Mars in 1981, fell on deaf ears with President Nixon, making Nixon in my view one of the worst impediments to space travel in our history.  Paine died of natural causes in Los Angeles in 1992.  In For All Mankind, Paine is reappointed to NASA by Reagan -- President Ted Kennedy went with someone else -- and he is a dynamic and important character.   His death on KAL 007, in addition to putting a real historical character into a real passenger plane that was notoriously shot down -- itself a bold move --  sets in motion all kinds of highly significant developments.  Ellen becomes acting NASA Administrator, Reagan becomes more aggressive towards the Soviets, and the Apollo-Soyez joint mission is stalled.

Which brings us to the second major alternate history development: we learn, almost off-hand, that the Challenger won't blow up!  The O-ring problem is discovered before it can do any tragic damage.  In a brilliant story development, the Soviets have stolen our plans for the space shuttle, including the defective O-ring design, before the defect was discovered.  Margo has a dilemma - she's ordered not to tell the Soviets about the O-ring flaw.  After all, they not only stole our shuttle plans, but shot down KAL 007 which killed Tom Paine. But as someone who is ultimately most devoted to humans in space, transcending national rivalries, she can't bring herself not to warn the Russians.  In effect, she embodies the series title, For All Mankind.  It's a difficult ethical dilemma, and I'd guess that Margo's decision won't receive universal acclaim from viewers.

The ending of the episode, though, in which Tracy on Reagan's order retakes the Soviet base on the Moon which they took from us, is indisputably a reason for cheering, and a good way to conclude this superb hour.

See also For All Mankind, Season 1 and Episode 2.1: Alternate Space Race Reality ... For All Mankind 2.2: The Peanut Butter Sandwich ... For All Mankind 2.3: "Guns to the Moon" ... For All Mankind 2.4: Close to Reality ... For All Mankind 2.5: Johnny and the Wrath of Kahn ... For All Mankind 2.6: Couplings

Monday, March 29, 2021

Debris 1.5: Fine Tuning

Make that two weeks in a row with strong episodes of Debris -- in fact, tonight's episode 1.5 was even better than last week's, on all kinds of levels.

The destruction was averted, and it would have been a major piece of devastation indeed: sending a piece of Manhattan to who knows where.  This evokes not only the song "I'll Take Manhattan," but John Stith's novel Manhattan Transfer.  It requires not one but two pieces of interstellar debris, posted in just the right places, fine tuned in appropriately near-distanced skyscrapers. 

And the beings doing this come not from the stars -- at least as far as we know -- but are apparently the human beings in Influx, that mysterious organization trying to marshall the powers of the debris for their own benefit.   They take pills which enable them to teleport through short, maybe longer, spaces, and the guy with the beard who is in command can join in a song playing blocks away.

Again, all of this feels like an update of Fringe, and that's just fine.   Debris has the addition of the CIA/MI6 complex relationship of incomplete allies, and this is being well developed as well, in the interactions of Finola and Bryan, both with one another and with their higher-ups in the agencies.

What I'd still like to see: how about a joint mission out into space to see exactly where the interstellar ship first appeared?   If there were no such thing as discrete networks and streaming services down here on Earth in our reality, there could be a crossover event between Debris and For All Mankind.  But I'll settle for whatever Debris can dish out.

See also Debris 1.1 Some Probability of Gems Among the Pieces ... Debris 1.2: Clones ... Debris 1.3: Trapped Out of Time ... Debris 1.4: Suspentia Belief

The Cry: Taut Thriller, with One Flaw

Checking in with a review of The Cry, a 4-episode Australian-British miniseries I saw last night on Netflix. In a word: outstanding!

First, Jenna Coleman, who was so good in Victoria in the title role, may be even better as Joanna Lyndsay in The Cry, the mother of a baby who is apparently kidnapped on a trip to Australia with her husband.  Surprises abound, especially at the end of each episode, and you just won't know what really happened until the very end.

[Spoiler ahead]

Just one quibble:  the ending of the narrative, the truth of what really happened, hinges on the husband mistakenly giving the baby his wife's medication.   He doesn't taste the medication first, to make sure it's the right medication, as his wife does, and then he blames his wife for what happened to the baby by implying/saying she was the one who administered the wrong meds.   But ...

Wouldn't a mother taking a medication very different from her baby's make sure the bottles were very clearly marked, or at least in dispensers of obviously different shapes and sizes?   There is a scene in which Joanna correctly gives Noah (the baby) the right medication, and it does appear that the bottle looks different from the one with her medication.  So, what happened with the husband?  Are we supposed to believe that he was so lackadaisical about their baby that he didn't pay any attention at all to the two different dispensers of the two medications?   Although he was not the most attentive father, that's a little hard to believe.  I suppose there's also a possibility that he did this deliberately, but if so, that should have been made clear in the end.

Anyway, The Cry is otherwise a thrilling ride that holds together very well, and I'd definitely recommend it.


Podcast Review of Shtisel 3: Cheesecake and Faith

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 169, in which I review Season 3 of Shtisel.

Blog post review of Shtisel.

the first interstellar seder in space takes place in this novel

Check out this episode!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

City on a Hill 2.1: Big Dig

City on a Hill is back with its second season on Showtime today, firing of all cylinders.  In the first minutes, we see DeCourcy denounced by a black cop in Boston as "Huxtable-looking," after DeCourcy tries to reprimand the cop for being too tough on a black kid, whose erudition reminds DeCourcy of himself.  And Jackie Rohr dumps a nearly-dead Holly Gunner at the front of a hospital after she ODs in his car.

And it gets even better from there -- or, rather, worse for the characters, which is better for the narrative. Jackie's new boss from the new Clinton administration  tells him the best thing he can for himself is retire.  DeCourcy's new case is an 11-year-old girl killed by a stray bullet in a drug gang-war.  Boston in 1993, where the Big Dig is in play, is even more edgy, more perilous, than it was in the first season of the show.

The personal relationships are tense, too.  This episode could have been titled "amends," given what Benedetta is trying to do with her parents.  Neither Jenny nor Jackie want to hear them from their daughter.  Is this something from Irish culture, or Boston culture?  I could tell you.  I'm not Irish and I'm a New Yorker.  But it makes for a good story.

The language is especially apt given the racism of our own real world in 2021.   You not only hear the N word, but anti-Asian slurs, courtesy of Jackie and his opinion of the FBI superior who tells him he would do well to resign.  All that's missing in terms of the attitudes and close-to-the-brink existences between City on a Hill and our world today is the pandemic.   I guess the lesson in that is life was rough even before the pandemic and Trump.

But it's good to see it in such gritty form on the screen, and I'll be back here with my review of the next episode next week.

See also City on a Hill: Possibilities ... City on a Hill 1.2: Politics in a Cracked Mirror ... City on a Hill 1.3: One Upping The Sopranos ... City on a Hill 1.4: Enjoyable Derivative ... City on a Hill 1.6: Tony's Mother, Mayhem, and Family ... City on a Hill 1.7: The Bodies ... City on a Hill 1.8: Personal Business and Its Accompaniment ... City on a Hill 1.9: Changes ... City on a Hill season finale: "You Ain't the Good, and I Ain't that Bad"


Shtisel 3: Cheesecake and Faith

The wife (froi) and I binge watched the third season of Shtisel on Netflix -- hey, it debuted on my birthday, March 25.  And, I was delighted to find, these nine new, long-awaited episodes also had a shout-out for me, with a fairly major family named Levinson.  Thank you, Shtisel!

And these episodes were immensely enjoyable!

[Spoilers hollow.]

Especially the ending, which had more happy endings than I've ever seen in a series before.  Kiva defies his father and goes to live with his wife Racheli.   Yosa'le defies his mother and says he will marry Shira Levi (not Shira Levinson, but I'm very happy for Yosa'le anyway).  Shulem may be able to reconcile with his brother. And, most important, Ruchama and her baby are both fine -- their faith beat the thousand-to-one odds.  With so many unhappy endings in our real world -- with Trump's defeat being a remarkable exception, a blessing! -- it was gratifying and timely indeed to see so much happiness at the end of Shtisel.

The language, the Yiddish, was also a joy to hear, as it always is.  Where else can you hear the word fakakta, as Nuchem, Shulem's brother, says his finances are.  And to stay with the same character, the same sentiment, and the same area of the body as metaphor, it was good to hear Nuchem tell his brother he's a shtick drek, as well as this being well deserved in this case.

And the food was gesmacht to the max.  That cheesecake from Brizel made my mouth water.  (Is Brizel a real place?  Hey, send me some of that cheesecake -- look at this great publicity I'm giving you.)  The lessons Shtisel so effectively conveyed, from the power of food to the power of art to the power of faith, are not only appealing but deeply memorable.

The acting was outstanding, too.   Doval'e Glickman as Shulem, Michael Aloni as Kiva, Shira Haas as Ruchama, and Sasson Gabay as Nuchem were all just perfect, and I also especially liked Daniella Kertesz as Racheli and Reef Neeman as Shira Levi.

The ending did tie up a lot of stories, but hey, there's always room for another season.  I'd drop everything else to see it, even if it doesn't debut on my birthday,

See also Unorthodox: Less and More than Shtisel

the first interstellar seder in space takes place in his novel

Friday, March 26, 2021

For All Mankind 2.6: Couplings

A really excellent episode 2.6 of For All Mankind on Apple TV+ today, I'd say the best so far of the second season.  The theme was couplings.

First and foremost, in terms of space travel and alternate history, would be the Apollo-Soyez joint mission, or, as of course the Soviets would have it, Soyez-Apollo.  This mission is a perfect vehicle for both of the intertwining narratives, humans in space and the alternate history of The Soviets getting to the Moon very shortly before the United States.  And as a special treat, it's Aleida who comes up with the final fix to the technological solution of the docking problem, in which both sides want to do the penetrating and neither one the passive receiving.

And there were some good human coupling stories in this episode, too.  I'm glad that Gordo told Sam he aimed to get Tracy back.  I guess the odds are against him, but, hopeless romantic that I am, I hope he succeeds. And Ellen and Pam was good to see, too.   The scene in which Ellen breaks the news to her husband was really moving -- in fact, in many ways, the best scene in this episode, in which about every scene vied for being the best.

Including that ominous last scene, in which our astronauts are now in Russia.  The two groups -- the astronauts and the cosmonauts -- learned to work together, in free America.  But the Soviet Union was totalitarian, and the question will be whether the humanity we saw in the cosmonauts in America -- including another primo scene in which we learn the truth about Laika the dog -- will survive on the other side of the world.

See also For All Mankind, Season 1 and Episode 2.1: Alternate Space Race Reality ... For All Mankind 2.2: The Peanut Butter Sandwich ... For All Mankind 2.3: "Guns to the Moon" ... For All Mankind 2.4: Close to Reality ... For All Mankind 2.5: Johnny and the Wrath of Kahn

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Deadly Illusions: Not Quite Deadly

Just saw Deadly Illusions on Netflix.  In a nutshell, it's a fairly good thriller about a writer (Mary) who may or may not be imagining scenes in her book which have her hiring a seductive, psychotic nanny who seduces her, kills her friend, and almost kills her husband.

The nub of the narrative, then, is whether or not we're witnessing a lurid imagination, or a terrible mistake in hiring.  The few reviews I've read seem to think it's the latter -- that Grace/Margaret is indeed a split personality prude/insane seductress.   They cite the final scene, in which Mary visits Grace in a psych ward.  But I'm not so sure.

Because, how do we know that the final psych ward scene is not part of Mary's new novel?  That's the problem with any kind of story in which the imagination of a character could be the essence of what we're reading or seeing on a screen.  And Deadly Illusions, having raised this possibility, does an insufficient job in resolving it in the end.

To be clear, I have nothing at all against unclear endings.  I thought the ending of The Sopranos, for example, in which we don't know if Tony lives or dies, was a sheer masterpiece.  But that's because the two possibilities, life or death, were brilliantly given almost perfectly equal weight.  Obliging viewers to make their own decisions.

Not so the ending of Deadly Illusions.   Which is why I said the movie was "fairly good".  Look, it takes a lot of work to get an ambiguous ending like this just right.  Deadly Illusions, though offering a very enjoyable ride, just didn't do this in the end.

See also The Sopranos End and the Closure Junkies

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Gloaming 1.1: Two Detectives and a Cat

All right, so here's what I can say about The Gloaming, which debuted Sunday evening on Starz:

It has a great name.  The gloam is that time between sunset and darkness.  It's a good word for writers and songwriters to know.  It rhymes with home and foam.  I may put in a new verse in my song Pictures on the Phone.

The story is pretty good, too.  Or, at least, it's starting out that way.  A teenage girl (Jenny) was murdered in Tasmania two decades ago.  The guy (Alex) standing next to her was not, and he's now a cop on the mainland (Melbourne), sent to the island to help with a new murder.  He had a relationship of some sort with the cop (Molly) in Tasmania who is already investigating the new murder, so much so that Alex named his cat after her.   There's a school of some sort that involved in some likely nefarious way, and some kind of cult is on the island, that we've just seen a hint of, so far.

So, in addition to the intriguing title, that's a promising set-up.   On the other hand, cults have been seen on the screen many times before, so The Gloaming will have pretty steep hill to climb if it seeks to be original.   The key to its success will likely be the relationship between Alex and Molly.  Why was he spared back in 1999?   Did he know the killer, the man (presumably) who pointed the rifle at Jenny and pulled the trigger twice?   

Stories with cults can tip into the supernatural.   If The Gloaming does this, it will enter into a realm which goes far beyond the detective story, and requires a very different set of conventions.   Based on the first episode, I'm thinking The Gloaming can do just well without this.  I'm hoping it will stick, as far as possible, to the world as we know it.