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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bosch 4: Delivering and Transcending the Genre

I binged Bosch 4 on Amazon Prime the past few days.   I've enjoyed every season so far, but I enjoyed this fourth one the most (come to think of it, I said the same last year about the third).  Herewith some highlights with minimal spoilers:

This season has Bosch enmeshed in two major, unrelated cases (well, in a sense three, in that one of the cases is connected to the murder of his mother - a call-girl - many decades ago).  There are at least two shocking surprises, one at the very beginning, the other in the middle of an early-to-mid episode. All of this is played out in the vivid LA cinematography to which we and our eyes have become accustomed in this series.

Even the view of his apartment is stunning, as always.  It's a pleasure to see Bosch in it, whatever the demons that plague him and the darkness that more than impinges on his life.   He continues to struggle to have a relationship with his daughter, endeavoring to walk the fine line between being an understanding father and stepping between her and the evil that's all around.   He continues to struggle to have an effective relationship with his colleagues in the Homicide Division of the LAPD.

That last part is one reason I liked this season the best.  The nuances of the major detectives in the unit, most of whom we've seen before, are more clearly, or at least more satisfyingly, drawn.  In previous years, jealousy, arrogance, competitiveness, disrespect real and imagined, shutting people out, deserved or not, ran rampant in the squad.  Season 4 smartly builds on the premise that everyone knows each other at least a little better.  This permits the friction to slip at least a little into the background, which frees the characters to be more compelling, smoother and sharper, rather than the scratchy record we've heard many times before.

The top levels of police and city government are also done well.  This is an LA not just beset by crime, but streets on the verge of erupting and airports that service international espionage.  We've seen this before, but never in a mix quite like this.

Bosch started as a worthy member of the neo-crime syndicate of TV series and movies like LA Confidential.  In its fourth season, it's begun to transcend that.  Slickly but deeply written, with an ear as always for the latest apps.  Brilliantly acted, again, by everyone, but especially Titus Welliver in the title role, with a character who's not only memorable but who, when you consider myriad the facets of his life and persona, is not like any other we've seen on the screen.

See also  Bosch: First Half: Highly Recommended ... Bosch: Second Half as Fine as the First ...  Bosch Season 2: Dragnet with Uber ... Bosch 3: Best Season So Far

                   another kind of police story 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Americans 6.4: Stark Truths

The Americans 6.4 tonight was about as stark as this series gets - which is to say, dire, for everyone concerned.

It's hard not to feel at least a little bad even for Elizabeth - hard because she surely deserves all that befalls her, given all the people she's played and murdered for her cause. But in the bed there with Philip, telling him she's tired all the time - it's hard not feel something for her.

Philip doesn't have it easy, either.  He's trying to make it as a real American, with a business, and he's failing.  The conversation he had with Henry, telling him that he may have to be pulled out the expensive school he's enjoying, was one of the most quietly effective of the season and series.

And even Paige, who looks good and seems well on the way to becoming another version of her mother - maybe not as lethal, we'll see - can't be happy inside.  She knows that things are not right with her parents.  She's losing confidence in what her mother is advising her, and going her own way.

And the collision courses are continuing.  Philip has still not told Elizabeth that he's been tasked with stopping her.  Elizabeth's work is running into snags, and the coming attractions show her asking him to help her.   Philip still loves her, but he's come a long way in a relatively short time - a long way from being her partner.  As he says, he's been here a long time, and, unlike Elizabeth, it's changed him in all kinds of ways.

Even Stan is heading towards the vortex.  The episodes ahead promise to be even more powerful and tragic, like a great Russian novel of inexorably moving pieces on a course of self-destruction.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Crossing 1.3: The Missing Inventor

With episode 1.3, it's clear that The Crossing not only has some elements of Lost and FlashForward, but also of Stephen King's The Dome - probably why King, on Twitter, said the first five minutes of The Crossing were "jaw-dropping".  Which it was.

But as the series is progressing, it's less jaw-dropping, and more the kind of mix of good and bad and in-between characters we encountered on The Dome.  And also, at the same time, a mix of characters who know a little to a lot of what's going on, with no one knowing everything.

Those mixes can make a series work, but in order to be truly revolutionary and mind-blowing, like Lost at its best, it needs to have more.  At this point, although the repeated demonstrations of Reece's super prowess are impressive -- especially tonight, quickly recovering from a bullet, and killing someone played by Steve Harris, meaning he could have been a major character - they're beginning to wear a little thin.

Possibly this is a problem of anything on traditional network television, which is increasingly struggling to keep up in narrative daring with cable and now Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming.   That was one reason why The Dome faded.   But I still think The Crossing has potential.

Someone invented the time travel that has twice gotten people from the future to the present.  If Apex are the super-human group in the future intent on destroying what's left of normal, i.e., our current, humanity, why would one one or a group of them try to help normal humans by giving them a way to escape to the past?  Or was the time travel invented by some normal human genius (how's that for an oxymoron?) in the future, intent on helping his/her, i.e., our own kind?

Such questions don't even need to get into the metaphysics of time travel.  They're just the makings of good espionage narrative, and I hope we start seeing more of them addressed in The Crossing.

See also The Crossing: Lost Again, But OK ... The Crossing 1.2: Calling for More Time Travel

Timeless 2.5: JFK

Well, I'll just come right out with it and say that Timeless 2.5 was easily the finest episode of the series so far - across one and a half seasons - and that's because the episode was one of the best JFK and time-travel narratives in any medium, page or screen, of any length that I've seen.

JFK in 1934 is whisked into the present (2018). Before the hour is over, every gambit of that time travel is explored, including Nixon's face on the dollar coin (before young JFK is saved in the future) and Rufus warning young JFK not to go to Dallas on November 23, 1963 - after JFK has already learned about his and his siblings' deaths, and his Presidency, courtesy of an iPad.

JFK having knowledge of the time and place of his assassination posed an interesting problem for Timeless - a problem that makes all time-travel about tragic events, or trying to change tragic events, so compelling as a narrative on page and screen.  The most daring result could have been JFK living to old age, but that would have required a major overhaul of history that could have completely derailed the series and the stories it is telling.  That's why, when Fringe showed JFK still alive in the early 21st-century, they did little more than just show this, and didn't explore any of the legion of possible consequences.

And that's no doubt why Timeless played it by having JFK, alerted to his assassination in Dallas, killed in another city in Texas - Austin - thus making this episode another expression of O'Henry's favorite moral of you can't escape your fate.  Timeless has gone this route before - indeed, as early as its second episode (1.2), "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln"- so doing this for JFK was true to the Timeless metaphysic (though, I'd someday like to see a TV series or movie in which JFK lives and we see all the consequences).

But tonight's episode of Timeless also deserves credit for being true to JFK's real history, ranging from his attraction to women to the ills of the flesh he was prone to suffer, with fine acting in the part (and great accent) by Grant Jordan, and one of the best opening scenes of any episode in the series with Flynn rescuing young JFK, guns blazing in some vice principal's office (he was about to kill the young man who would become President).

And tonight also featured some powerful development of the Lucy-Wyatt-Jessica story, which I don't think is resolved quite just yet.  And even a brief but telling debate of atheism vs. faith with Rufus and Jiya, and how it relates to time travel.

So that makes two fine shows tonight about Presidents - a real one on Timeless and a fictitious one on Homeland - and I may or may not now look at what James Comey has to say about another President, and may or may not "review" it.   These days I much prefer drama to news.

See also Timeless 2.1"Mein Kampf, by Philip K. Dick" ... Timeless 2.2: The Nod ... Timeless 2.3: Orson, Hedy, and Lucy ... Timeless 2.4: Striving to Avoid the 'I Made It Happen' Loop in Time Travel

And see also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse ... Timeless 1.7: Stranded! ... Timeless 1.8: Time and Space ... Timeless 1.9: The Kiss and The Key ... Timeless 1.10: The End in the Middle ... Timeless 1.11: Edison, Ford, Morgan, Houdini, and Holmes (No, Not Sherlock)! ... Timeless 1.12: Incandescent West ... Timeless 1.13: Meeting, Mating, and Predictability ... Timeless 1.14: Paris in the 20s ... Timeless 1.15: Touched! .... Timeless 1.16: A Real Grandfather Paradox Story

                    more time travel about JFK

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Homeland 7.10: President Trump and President Keane

With James Comey's book about to released, with him about to be interviewed (at 10pm on ABC) about what he wrote in the book -- all about what led up to Trump firing him as FBI Director - we get episode 7.10 of Homeland, in which President Elizabeth Keane, in a no-holds-battle to save her Presidency, fires four of her Cabinet members to stop the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which could remove her from office.

This could well be a true story in the not-too-distant future about Trump.   Except ... Well, the members of his cabinet are not the kind who would ever invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.  Nor is it likely (but of this I'm less sure) that Vice President Pence would ever in any way be part of an effort to remove Trump, as circumstances moved VP Warner into doing.  But what I am sure of is Keane is no Trump.  She's not perfect or even great, to be sure, but she's the victim of Russian attempts to impair our democracy, in contrast to Trump, who was likely the beneficiary of Russian meddling in our election.

Invoking the 25th Amendment has previously been done in 24 - by the same savvy producers of the two shows.   It has indeed been talked about, extensively, regarding Trump.  I say good for Homeland for raising this issue so effectively and dramatically - in a way that brings it to our attention, right now.

Of course, 24 had Jack Bauer and Homeland has Carrie.  And in the other part of tonight's brilliant episode, Carrie gives up parental custody of Franny to Maggie - an extraordinary decision, given that Carrie has evidence in her hand which would have shut down Maggie's attempt to get legal custody of her niece, Carrie's daughter.  But Carrie has realized that her truest devotion is to her calling - in this case, going to Russia to bring back Simone, which could be the last card that President Keane has left.

What a season.  What a world!  I'll see you back here next week.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Shout-Out to Jack Dann and Joseph F. Patrouch

This came up at Monday's conference on Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion, which I organized at Fordham University.  It arose in my answer to a question I posed to the panel on "Science Fiction Looks at Space Travel and Religion" about what was each panelist's most memorable, profound, or otherwise significant example of a science fiction story, book, movie, or TV series they read or saw, in which the subject was space travel and religion.  On the panel with me were David Walton, Alex Shvartzman, and Lance Strate.  Among others in the audience were conference participants Guy Consolmagno, Molly Vozick-Levinson, Brittany Miller, Michael Waltemathe, James Heiser, Mark Shelhamer, and Tom Klinkowstein.

It was a tough question to answer - there are so many good candidate stories on page and screen - but I figured I owed my panelists and the audience my own answer.  That was actually easy for me - it was Jack Dann's Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is just what it sounds like.  I found it in the Science Fiction Shop - a bookstore I discovered on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village one afternoon in 1974.   I had grown up on science fiction in the 1950s and early 1960s.  (I have many times told the story of how I was banned from my Junior High School Library in 1958 by Mrs. Dayson, the librarian, because I refused to read anything other than science fiction.)  But by the early 1970s, I was more into music and protesting against the Vietnam War than I was into science fiction.  Jack Dann's anthology changed all that forever - rekindled a passion for science fiction (soon as a writer as well as reader) that would never leave me.  And it also deepened my interest in Judaism - my religion - at least a little.

Isaac Asimov wrote the Introduction to Wandering Stars - come to think of it, that's likely what gave me the idea to get Asimov to write the Preface to my own anthology, not science fiction, In Pursuit of Truth: On the Philosophy of Karl Popper, nearly ten years later.  The other book that I bought in the Science Fiction Shop that day was Joseph F. Patrouch's The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov.  It was the first lengthy assessment of Asimov's work I'd ever read. I devoured it.  I still think it's the best.

Jack Dann and I have become friends (and he has a wonderful novella in the first Touching the Face of the Cosmos volume).  I exchanged paper mail with Joseph Patrouch some decades ago.   The Science Fiction Shop has long since closed.  But those books by Dann and Patrouch will live forever.

The Americans 6.3: Stan and Oleg / Elizabeth's Fate

For some reason, the scene that most is still playing in my head in The Americans 6.3 - a moody episode, which little action until the end - is the one with Stan and Oleg.

Stan repeatedly pleads to Oleg that Stan did his very best to protect Oleg, especially when he got back in the USSR.  Oleg doesn't believe him.  We know that Stan is telling the truth - for the most part - and this makes Stan's last words to Oleg all the more touching.  You don't have diplomatic immunity, Stan reminds him, which means you can be arrested and thrown in jail and worse if you engage in any espionage here.  Stan knows that Oleg isn't telling the truth when he says he's just here for the college course.  Stan therefore knows that Oleg is vulnerable, and Stan really doesn't want to see Oleg arrested and worse.  Yet, we and Stan both know, when Stan asks Oleg what he's doing here, and Oleg lies in his answer and Stan knows he's lying, that Oleg is going to end up not very well in this final season.

Which brings us to that ending.  This is now the third week in a row in as many episodes this season that Elizabeth has killed an American, and I think that's telling us something.  She's a killer.  And what this usually means in a television series is that her own death is justified.

I actually hope I'm wrong about Elizabeth's fate.  She cold and in some strong sense deserves to die.  But I'd rather not see that happen - and I'd rather not see that happen to Philip and Paige.  Yet, of course, the first episode has already set in motion the possibility not just of Elizabeth not surviving, but Philip being the reason, having to kill her to stop her.

I still think that's not likely.  But barring some sudden change, Elizabeth is sealing her fate with every episode.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Crossing 1.2: Calling for More Time Travel

The Crossing moved into its regular season last night - or maybe it did a week ago, when its first episode was rebroadcast on ABC, having first played earlier on Hulu - but the series is anything but regular, and I mean that in pretty much a good way.

It's part time travel, part super-humans ala (I guess) Fringe, and part fast-driving FBI and local law enforcement caught up in a conspiracy and a plague from the future and all kinds of things.  Readers of Infinite Regress won't be surprised to find that the part I find most interesting is the time travel, but that part's been the least developed so far.  It's only the second episode, and there's still time to roll this out, but so far we have no idea how the time travel was created or stumbled upon, only that hundreds of "commons" came here from the future, that some number have been here for a long time already, and that at least one super-human or Apex came along for the ride, too.

Instead of the time travel, we've seen a lot of scenes with the Apex - a mother who loves her common (adopted) girl - finding the girl as a little baby in the future, and frantically looking for her in our present where (when) they both traveled.  She has a tempestuous (so far, only professional) relationship with the local sheriff, and manages to survive massive hit squads, though not unscathed.

Another Strike Force show we don't need - though the first rendition of that series was excellent, and I'm starting to watch the second.  Instead, we - meaning, I - could use a well-done time travel narrative.  (I can always use one of those.) But for this to happen, we need to see more time travel in The Crossing, and learn more - much more - about it.

In terms of other similar series, Lost was hit and miss (but mostly hit), the same for Fringe, but The Event (whose producers Jay Beattie and Dan Dworkin also are creators of The Crossing) and Alcatraz never really got off the ground or hit their stride because they lacked a clear allegiance to the time-travel genre or in fact any genre.  Will be fun to see if The Crossing is more like Lost or Alcatraz.

See also The Crossing: Lost Again, But OK

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Timeless 2.4: Striving to Avoid the 'I Made It Happen' Loop in Time Travel

A very thoughtful, altogether excellent episode 2.4 of Timeless tonight, in which -

  • Rufus tells Jiya not to tell him her visions of the future because his knowledge of them, and the impossibility of his then not acting upon them, causes them to come true - even though they're bad, and he's doing everything he can in the past to make sure they don't come true.  This provides a nice set piece of a time-travel classic gambit: someone goes back in the past to prevent some tragedy from happening and that very trip to the past is the thing that causes that tragedy.  It's a "can't escape fate" kind of time loop, and it's ironic and irresistible and (yeah) I've used it myself in some of my time-travel stories.  It's therefore fun to see Rufus try to opt out of it.  Just as it will be fun to see, sooner or later, that such opting out or avoidance of the paradox will be impossible, too.
  • We learn that Rittenhouse saved Jennifer, presumably to emotionally disable Wyatt so he can't be an effective time-travel warrior.  (I guess I should add "presumably" to Rittenhouse saved Jennifer, because I'm not sure if we got 100% confirmation of that - we didn't see it with our own eyes, we only heard it from Denise, and I guess that's 99% not 100% confirmation.)  But Jennifer's reappearance does change lots of things - splitting Wyatt and Lucy, and giving Flynn a chance to be a hero and maybe even at some point something more than a team-mate to Lucy.  Should be interesting. 
  • I liked the Salem story too, tonight, and the saving of Ben Franklin's young mother.  Timeless has been choosing some unusual historical gambits this season - ones you don't usually see in time-travel stories - and that makes the show more appealing.
Next week, though, young JFK will be in the story.   He of course figured in the Stephen King novel, in my Loose Ends Saga, too, and who knows how many other time travel stories.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Timeless does with this.

See also Timeless 2.1"Mein Kampf, by Philip K. Dick" ... Timeless 2.2: The Nod ... Timeless 2.3: Orson, Hedy, and Lucy

And see also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse ... Timeless 1.7: Stranded! ... Timeless 1.8: Time and Space ... Timeless 1.9: The Kiss and The Key ... Timeless 1.10: The End in the Middle ... Timeless 1.11: Edison, Ford, Morgan, Houdini, and Holmes (No, Not Sherlock)! ... Timeless 1.12: Incandescent West ... Timeless 1.13: Meeting, Mating, and Predictability ... Timeless 1.14: Paris in the 20s ... Timeless 1.15: Touched! .... Timeless 1.16: A Real Grandfather Paradox Story

Homeland 7.9: Franny vs. the Job or the U. S. Hacks Twitter

Whew, another outstanding, heart-pounding episode of Homeland just on tonight - 7.9 - about as good as it gets on Homeland (which is, remarkable indeed), and, in this case, about the best on the series so far in one of the underlying foundations of the series:  Franny vs. the job.

That dilemma of which is more important to Carrie, which should she give her best attention to, underlies just about everything in these stories since Franny was born.  But tonight the tug on Carrie's very soul was never more acute.  She leaves Dante in the hospital, under incredibly tight security, to reclaim Franny - which, Carrie soon discovers, means literally reclaiming her daughter from her (Carrie's) sister.

But the security at the hospital, though bristling and apparently air-tight, is still no match for the resourceful Yevgeny.   And, in a series of life-and-death moves with all kinds of possible outcomes, Yevgeny apparently kills Dante.  (Yeah, there are spoilers in this review.)  (And I say "apparently" because I'm not completely sure we saw Dante dead.)

And Carrie, about to leave the school with her daughter, has to rush back to the hospital.  Carrie almost hits Franny as she's quickly backing up in her car, and ... Carrie's shattered.  Worse, I would say, than once again.

And that's not the only almost one-of-a-kind development in tonight's hour.  The other is the U. S. government hacking Twitter to turn a Russian code back on the Russians to destroy their network.  I wonder how Twitter feels about that?

All I know is that this hour was one high of an adrenalin ride, and another first-rate spy story, and I'll see you back here next week.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional