=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lost Spoilers vs. the Passions of Curiosity: No Big Deal

Lost producers Lindelof and Cuse have been lamenting the spoilers that were released about the superb Season 3 finale, and according to some reports, Disney is vowing to track down the source and exact some form of punishment.

Maybe because I came up with predictions that were pretty accurate for the finale in my review of Charlie's Greatest Hits episode - including the flip from flashbacks to flashforwards - but I don't see the spoilers as that big a deal. And I'm not the only one who foresaw that wrenching twist - which was still breathtaking even though we saw it coming. Ron Chusid at SciFi Friday saw it, too.

In fact, the greatest damage done by the spoilers is they undermine the fun of predictions, and the clout of their being right. If a spoiler is out there, and says the same as your prediction, why should anyone believe that you came up with this all in your demented mind? Anyone who knows me knows that I never partake of spoilers - life is too short - but most people who read my posts don't really know me beyond my posts.

But this kind of price has to do with the joy and benefits of predicting, not the world's enjoyment of the show. And if anyone's enjoyment of the show is spoiled by spoilers, which I can well understand, then the simple expedient of steering clear of them seems the best response.

Given the very passions of curiosity that a great series such as Lost unleashes, we'll always have spoilers, however much Disney may try to prevent them.

Useful links:

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future? ... 2. Who's In the Coffin? ... 3. Who's Waiting for Kate? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

Spoilers for 24: Did They Lead the Producers to Change the Finale?

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rocky Balboa!

I saw Rocky Balboa last night - the movie, not the person (well, I saw the person in the movie). I really enjoyed it.

Sylvester Stallone has had a bumpy ride in the media - bumpier than he deserved. Everyone agrees that the first Rocky, back in 1977, was a superb movie, with universal heart and Philadelphia moxie. Most people think the series went downhill after that. Few critics have much good to say about Rambo, and gave mixed to pan reviews of Stallone's other movies.

In contrast, I liked Rocky II and III just fine, and Stallone's 1995 Assassins (in which he starred with Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore, and which Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman awarded a "C") is on my top-15 all-time favorite movie list (I agree that it doesn't quite have the majesty to be on my Top 10). And, while we're at it, I thought Stallone was excellent in The Specialist in 1994, too, playing with style alongside James Woods, Sharon Stone, and Eric Roberts (who, by the way, also doesn't get the kudos he deserves).

So, unlike many of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes - which gave Rocky Balboa a 76% positive rating, but laced with expressions of surprise that the movie was so good - I wasn't the least bit surprised.

Stallone from the beginning has combined a kind of street poetry and wisdom in his Rocky movies, with the action and classic underdog heart-strings. He seems the complete antithesis of what we might expect an erudite writer to look and sound like, but for my money Stallone comes through with lines every bit as good as what we get (and sometimes do not get) from David Mamet and Tom Stoppard. There were at least four or five scenes in Rocky Balboa where what came out of his mouth were pure words of the prophet written on the subway walls - not about political life, but life itself, about growing old and staying vital. I was moved.

The movie also had other winning touches - especially Milo Ventimiglia (of Heroes fame!) as Rocky's son, Geraldine Hughes (I saw her once on ER) as just the beginning of a love interest (with Adrian gone), and Burt Young as the perennial Paulie. The restaurant scenes were tasty, the fight scenes heart-in-your-mouth, and the finale both surprising and satisfying.

And the movie also had some great meta-touches - my favorite was Rocky lamenting that the good city of Philadelphia had removed his statue. (It was restored in September 2006 - probably as a result of the movie - good! - but not to universal acclaim. See Mark Vallen's "Rocky" Road for Philadelphia Art for an especially dyspeptic assessment.)

And you know what? Many of the positive reviews also said they hoped this would be the last Rocky, because Stallone had ended it so well.

I hope it's not.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lost New Questions: 6: What Constitutes Reliable Evidence?

This is really not just a question, and not a new question, but a meta-question: what can we bring to our answers about Lost questions, puzzles, and mysteries?

1. Obviously, whatever we see and hear on the series must count.

2. But there is a second category of what we see and hear, which warrants a little more discussion: screen caps, freeze frames, and the sorts of things we may see not via conventional viewing. Consider, for example, the newspaper clipping that brings Jack to the funeral home in the finale, and perhaps to the point of suicide. Nothing in that clipping was really viewable in real time. Had the producers wanted us to see (or hear) info from this clipping in real time, they could have had Jack talk about it, or given us a close-up of the clipping that stayed on the screen long enough for us to read it. Instead, they gave us a shot which, through enhancement after the broadcast, enabled us to see some information (including the April 5, 2007 date, as later verified by the Los Angeles Times). I'm not saying any of this information is unreliable or unworthy - only that we should be aware that it occupies a different niche in the narrative, if only because the producers chose to not show it to us directly.

3. But the newspaper clipping brings up another category of evidence: reports of what the clipping or anything else says, based on connections the person giving us such a report has to members of the crew, actors, etc. Although these reports might be interesting - I've seen a least one complete rendition of the newspaper clipping on Lostpedia - I don't think we can take them as decisive. Even if the reporter is telling the truth about how this info was acquired, we have no way of knowing if the crew member or actor had accurate information in the first place, was telling our reporter the truth, etc.

4. While we're on the subject of information provided by crew, actors, producers - how much weight should we give to either leaks or explicit info provided in publicly accessible interviews? I would say we should not take this information as decisive, either - although the producer is not likely to be misinformed, he and she might be deliberately misleading us - providing misdirection - so as not to spoil a surprise. Disinformation has always been alive and well in the creative arts.

So, all in all, I would go with the great literary critic I. A. Richards, who way back in the 1920s said the only reliable evidence is the text itself - or, in the case of Lost, what we see with our own eyes on the screen, or via a screen we know to be 100% reliable....

Useful links:

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future? ... 2. Who's In the Coffin? ... 3. Who's Waiting for Kate? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Ward Churchill - Professor Pinocchio

The President of the University of Colorado has recommended that tenured professor Ward Churchill be fired.

This seems like a good time to go over what I see as the reasons why and why not.
Let's start with three issues that should have nothing to do with his firing:

1. His views about 9/11, ranging from crackpot conspiracy theories to repulsive metaphoric links of victims to Nazis, should not be grounds for his firing. A professor should never be fired for his or her political views, however outrageous they may be. Of all places in our society, the university must be open to the greatest diversity of ideas.

2. The First Amendment to our Constitution does not protect him. The First Amendment prohibits the government from interfering with speech and press. Although the FCC, with Congressional support and urging, violates this Amendment almost every day, neither one of them is going after Churchill. Universities should indeed encourage and enforce a maximum openness to speech and ideas - see #1 above - but this flows from university tradition and culture, not the First Amendment.

3. Tenure does not protect him. Tenure is often wrongly portrayed in our popular culture as giving its recipients immunity from being fired for any reason whatsoever. Not true. If a professor has tenure in a department which loses all of its students, and the professor has competence to teach in no other area, that tenured professor can be fired. Also, if a tenured professor commits a crime, or more to the point here is guility of fraudulent scholarly conduct, he or she can be fired.

Let's look at that last point, which in the university's view - based on its reports and the President's statement this morning - warrants Churchill's firing. Assuming the claims about Churchill's conduct are accurate, I agree.

Churchill is accused, among other things, of plagiarism (passing someone else's research and work off as his own) and its reverse, sock puppetry (passing your own voice off as someone else's). Either charge, if justified, would be ample grounds for Churchill's dismissal. Most people understand why plagiarism is wrong. What's up with sock puppetry?

I first became aware of the term almost a year ago on Wikipedia - where articles are edited, and can be removed, by group consensus. In this environment, an editor A logging on to Wikipedia under a false identity B, and arguing that A's point is brilliant, is clearly destructive to the system. Digg is beset by sock puppetry, too, but since Diggs and Buries are more the result of raw votes than protracted discussion, it takes a big number of sock puppets to do any real damage. (Meat puppets are real people who create accounts on an online system solely to support another person. Although they can distort online consensus-building too, the ethical violations of meat puppetry are far less clear than those of sock puppetry, since you can't know for sure what the meat puppet really believes.)

Back in the analog world, a scholar employing a sock puppet identity to support his or her work is the most damaging of all. At least on Wikipedia, a wrong decision made under the baneful influence of sock puppets can be easily reversed. A scholarly reputation in the real world and all that comes with it - including tenure at a university - can take much longer to undo, if necessary, because sock puppetry was part of its basis.

I am not directly privy to the facts in the Churchill case. But if it is indeed true that he even once wrote under a false identity to support his scholarly work, the University of Colorado should cut its ties to him and throw him out the door faster than a broken Pinocchio.

YouTube Bollywood

YouTube has revolutionized the world. The ease of uploading, sorting, and downloading videoclips has given permanence and ubiquity to anything on television. Video capabilities in cell phones have made everyone a producer, and everything in the world good material for a clip on YouTube.

Unsurprisingly, although YouTube is world-wide, the culture it projects does not reflect every part of the world, and certainly not equally. But the technologies that make it work are available to everyone, and we are beginning to see the emergence of local YouTubes - or operations like YouTube which offer specific cultures to the whole world.

AapkaVideo in India is a cultural anthropologist's dream. This site not only has free Indian movies in the Bollywood tradition, but user-generated content ranging from music videos to coverage of cricket matches to scenes of Indian cities and the countryside.

As an author, I'm always on the look-out for online sites that can provide authentic information about places I might want to include in a story, but might not be able to visit immediately. AapkaVideo certainly does that beautifully for India. I hope it is the start of many more localized YouTubes for other cultures around the world.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Special Lost Podcast!

A special 15-minute episode of Light On Light Through ... in which I talk a little further about five questions that arise from the breathtaking Season 3 finale of Lost ... 1. how far in the future was the action in Los Angeles? ... 2. who's in the coffin? ... 3. who's waiting for Kate? ... 4. who is Naomi's boss? ... 5. is Mikhail immortal? ... and more...

Light On Light Throughdriving your car, going for a walk? ... listen to the podcast on your phone: 415-223-4122 ... all free!

Lost New Questions: 5: Is Mikhail Immortal?

Desmond killed him with a dart to the chest - or badly wounded him - right before our very eyes in the Season 3 finale. This about a few weeks or whatever after Locke shoved him through the perimeter fence, and Mikhail received a massive jolt that left him smokin', literally, not in a good way.

And yet Mikhail came back from that, almost as good as new, with a story about the voltage not being set on kill. And in the finale he's out there leering in front of Charlie's hatch window, grenade in hand, as if the dart that had just been in his chest were no more than a sticky paper star.

What's up with Mikhail, assuming he's not immortally invulnerable? (This would make him even more powerful than the Elves in Lord of the Rings, who didn't die on their own but could be killed.)

Let's look at three possibilities:

1. The island's recuperative properties: (a) Rose's cancer went into remission. This is the weakest example, becauses cancers can go into remission elsewhere in the world, but it's still worth noting. (b) Locke regains his feet after the crash, again after Ben shoots him, and in addition comes back almost 100% after that shot to the body. A lot more extraordinary than Rose, but it's not completely clear if Locke was shot in a vital organ (some fans have suggested that he might been shot right where his donated kidney had been).

On the subject of the island's healing powers, we'd need to note that they didn't work for Boone and Shannon, not for Mr. Eko either, not for Nikki and Paulo, not for Libby and Ana Lucia, not for any of The Others killed by Ben years ago and not for Ben's father and not for Tom and The Others killed in the Season 3 finale and not for The Others killed by Ana Lucia. Not presumably for pregnant women in The Others, not for Rousseau's crew, etc., etc.

So if the island's recuperative powers are responsible for Mikhail's many lives, this is not just a straightforward function of the island (of course not, nothing is straightforward on Lost, and that's part of its charm). Mikhail (and Locke and perhaps Rose) also bring something to this healing equation.

2. Time travel: I doubt it as the mechanism in this case, but with Desmond around, we can't completely ignore it. Here's how it would work: an earlier version of Mikhail, who is able to keep an eye on his future self's fate, travels to the future every time Mikhail is killed, and picks up where the slain Mikhail left off. This would have the effect of making Mikhail impossible to kill.

3. Send in the clones: Weakest choice of all, since we have no other evidence of clones on Lost, but someone generating clones of Mikhail, or a bank of clones all set to go, could replace him each time he's killed. This would also require some kind of rapid education technology - getting info into the clone's head so the new Mikhail knows just what the old was up to. I wouldn't at all put Dharma past this, but, again, since we've seen no other clones on the island - as far as we know - this would be the least likely of our three explanations.

My choice: The island's recuperative powers work for some, select people.

This is one of my favorite story lines ... intimations of immortality on Lost ... it will be interesting to see where it goes in Season 4 - for example, will Mikhail survive the grenade in the water?....

Useful links:

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future? ... 2. Who's In the Coffin? ... 3. Who's Waiting for Kate? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lost New Questions: 4: Who Is Naomi's Boss?

This is another way of asking, where did Naomi get that picture of Desmond and Penny? It may not be as fundamental as some of the other questions, but it's still fun and important to consider.

Let's begin by assuming that Penny is not playing some kind of game and lying to Charlie when she tells him she doesn't know Naomi ... (although I wouldn't rule that out completely).

But if Penny is telling the truth, how did Naomi get that photo?

1. From Penny herself: Naomi hired someone to infiltrate Penny's search team, or bribed someone already on the team, or broke into Penny's premise, for information about Desmond.


2. From Penny's father (Charles): We know he dislikes Desmond, and wants to keep him and Penny apart. Penny's father would certainly have access to the photograph. He sponsored the boating race that ultimately got Desmond stranded on the island - was that his specific intention? - and as a very wealthy man, could be a funder of the Hanso Foundation (Dharma project), and may have some other connection to it.

My take: #1 could easily be subset of #2: If Charles did not already have the photograph in his possession, he could easily have hired anyone to get a copy of it from Penny, under whatever false pretences. Further: I think (a) the people on the boat are Dharma, (b) which is why Ben is so apocalyptic about them (after all, he killed 40 of them), and (c) Charles Widmore - Penny's father - is indeed some sort of silent partner with the Hanso Foundation.

We shall see in Season 4....

Useful links:

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future? ... 2. Who's In the Coffin? ... 3. Who's Waiting for Kate? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Derriere and Bosom on The Tudors: What the FCC Doesn't Want Us To See

The Tudors
The Tudors concludes its lusty inaugural season on Showtime next week. This was a time - the dawning of the Renaissance - that is perfect for exposition in the almost no-holds-barred television that HBO pioneered with The Sopranos, and Showtime is now pursuing with series such as Dexter and The Tudors.

These shows are intellectually daring - The Tudors has Thomas More talking about what to do about Martin Luther and his Protestant Reformation. Presumably the FCC would have no problem with that.

But the shows also have lots of sex and nudity. Precisely what would be lopped off if the FCC and Congress get their way, and extend their unconstitutional regulation of network television to cable. Until now, cable has gotten something a free ride, because it's not broadcast over the hallowed "public airways".

The sex on The Tudors has been passionate and frisky, if not as multi-faceted as on HBO's Rome, which still holds the record for the best sex in a sophisticated television drama (someone should come up with an Emmy for that).

But The Tudors has had at least one very prime shot of a derriere, and enough bosoms in various states of dress and undress to open a department store.

All of that would be gone if the FCC and Congress have their way with us and our cable.

The feisty, delightful Renaissance drama would be turned into a show about a monastery, or just another bloodless, political chess game.

It's time to stop playing games with Congress and the FCC, and let them know how we feel about their depriving us of our right to enjoy television, like Rome or The Tudors.

If you like these shows, bear that in mind the next time you hear what the FCC and Congress are trying to do with their new legislation. If they have their druthers, that's precisely what you will no longer be able to see on your television screen.

Useful links:

History So Colorful You Can Taste It ... History So Real You Can Feel It ... Penalty of Royalty ... Madrigal Musical Chairs ... Tectonic Chess ... Henry's Imperfect Apothecary ... Limits of Power ... Wolsey Falls in a Soaring Performance ... my reviews of The Tudors

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article

Good Sex on HBO's Rome, Bad FCC in Washington like it says...

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Preview ... Intriguingly Miasmic Meadowlands on Showtime

Showtime's Meadowlands
From Ancient Greece until late in the 19th century, it was thought that the swamps gave rise to poisonous vapors - miasmas - which tainted the air and caused all manner of illness and disorientation. The main alternate theory blamed human maladies on demons and devils. When you were sad, you were said to have the blue devils ... the origin of what we today call the blues.

Showtime's new 8-episode series Meadowlands premieres Sunday, June 17. I just saw the first four episodes. And while a doctor and music play important roles, this highly original darkling series is much more than that. In fact, it is so original - in pacing and story - that it almost defies categories.

For starters, think The Prisoner meets Twin Peaks meets Dexter meets any story about witness protection programs. The Brogans come to Meadowlands. We don't know why. But we do know that they better not leave. And we do know that not only the Brogans but everyone else in Meadowlands has some kind of story that maybe any well adjusted person is better off not knowing. Although it's not quite "The Monsters Are Due On Maplestreet," that Twilight Zone classic, there is a flavor of something ghostly, possibly supernatural or maybe just dreamlike, that is also just below the surface of Meadowlands.

The series has fine, attractive acting. David Morrissey - seen most memorably in Derailed with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen - plays Danny Brogan with just the right combination of power and vulnerability. Indeed, that combination of emotions is at play in every member of this family, and simmers in surprising ways in Danny's wife Evelyn (Lucy Cohu) and their two teenage kids - fraternal twins - Zoe (Felicity Jones) and Mark (Harry Treadaway). Felicity Jones, in particular, brings a real freshness to her role. And the background characters, the neighbors, are just what you would expect in a British series of this sort - each an exquisite nutter, some dangerous, some funny, some just strange, and each played to the hilt.

I put Dexter in the list of comparisons, not just because Meadowlands and Dexter are both Showtime series, but because both share a little gore. And maybe a touch of Arrested Development, too. But you'll know that these Meadowlands when zany are never light and breezy ... if you keep watching, you'll see blood and hear screams and get caught up in a compelling puzzle of a story....

Special sneak preview of the first episodes of Meadowlands ... password: secret

Look here for reviews of specific episodes of Meadowlands in June... ... Meadowlands Opens ... with Tongues and Groves ... Episode 2 ... Episode 3 ... Episode 4 ... Episode 5 ... Episode 6 ... Episode 7 ... Episode 8

Friday, May 25, 2007

Lost New Questions: 3. Who's Waiting for Kate?

One of Infinite Regress's readers - muneeb - brought this up in a comment he made to Question 2, and it's certainly something I - and I'm sure most of you - have been thinking about:

Who is Kate talking about, when she tells Jack that "he's gonna be wondering where I am," in the very last, heart-rending scene of the finale?

(What a scene - I've watched it a bunch of times now, and it's even more powerful each time...)

Let's do the Holmes, and eliminate the impossible: "he's" no woman, and not Jack (again, assuming we're not in alternate universes with two Jacks).

What's left? Well, first, "he" is either someone we know now, or do not know.

It certainly could be either, but from our standpoint, someone we already know is the more fun direction....

The number-one choice for that would of course be Sawyer. We know Kate already loves him, or feels something for him. It may not be as much as she feels for Jack, but it's real enough. And she could be carrying Sawyer's baby...

Who else could it be from the island? Not Ben, not Hurley, or Bernard. Not likely Locke, either. Possibly Sayid - but that would be a long shot. Sayid loved Shannon and still loves Nadia. And we've seen no chemistry between Kate and Sayid so far... Desmond would be the same kind of long shot as Sayid - Desmond presumably still loves Penny.... Not Jin, either, unless Sun were dead - and even then, Jin would be grieving for her.

But here's another possible factor: The assumption that we're making, so far, is that the "he" is romantically connected to Kate, in some way. Let's say it's a "he" that's not? Let's say Rose died, and Kate is taking care of Bernard - he might be wondering where she is.

Here's an even wilder possibilty - this one is not mine, I came across it somewhere on the web (I think on Lostwiki) - the "he" is Kate's baby. By which man? Sawyer - that would be the most likely. But the baby could be Jack's, and he doesn't know it's his ....

For that matter, the "he" could be someone else's baby or toddler - Claire's (Aaron) or Sun and Jin's ....

All interesting possibilities. Sawyer is clearly the best, most obvious choice.

But as we've seen many times, Lost doesn't go for the obvious....

Useful links:

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future? ... 2. Who's In the Coffin? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Lost and Alias: Now Something Else in Common

J. J. Abrams was of course the creative force of Alias, and he got Lost off to its superb start in Season One. He still is listed as Executive Producer of Lost, but the series was clearly taken over by other creative hands.

I have no idea how much, if any, input Abrams had in the extraordinary season finale of Lost this week, but that finale - in particular, the brilliant flip from flashbacks to flashforwards as the prime mechanism of the show - has something strikingly in common with Alias:

Both Alias and Lost have now reinvented themselves in mid-series. Alias did that in the middle of its second season. As I discussed in my Night That Alias Reinvented Itself, this was a daring, dangerous, and thrilling move. In one evening, just about everything that Sydney Bristow had been doing reversed itself. She was suddenly no longer a CIA agent working undercover for a rogue unit pretending to be part of the CIA, because, against all odds and expectations, she destroyed that unit.

Lost's course-changing reinvention is both in the storyline and in the very structure of how the series will be presented. Jack and Kate are now off the island. Up until now, the driving force of Lost was how to get off the island. Now that's reversed - in the last scene of the finale, Jack talks about needing to get back to the island. And rather than the primary location of the story being on the island, with flashbacks to life off and before the island, we may well see the primary location of the story from now on in Los Angeles (our present, or the future from the perspective of that last scene on the island), with flashbacks to what happened back on the island after that last scene in which Jack makes contact with the ship....

One other point: Alias went downhill after it's astonishing reinvention. But I don't think that will happen to Lost - because Lost has already been there. I'm looking forward to three extraordinary seasons.

Useful links:

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future? ... 2. Who's In the Coffin? ... 3. Who's Waiting for Kate? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

Lost New Questions: 2. Who's In the Coffin?

Well, in true Sherlock Holmes fashion, let's start with the obvious which can't be the answer. And once we remove it, we'll see what's left.

It can't be Jack or Kate in the box, unless we're dealing with time travel or alternate intersecting (not parallel) universes. But let's assume for the sake of this post we're not.

The crumpled newspaper clipping in Jack's hand may say "J... ....tham" - according to a screen shot all over the Web. Jeremy Bentham was one of the founders of the Utilitarian philosophy in the 19th century - the path to goodness consists of finding or doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Bentham developed this philosophy with James Mill, whose son, John Stuart Mill, refined it (JS Mill argued, correctly I think, that there are qualitative differences between goods - saving someone's life is worth much more than giving someone $100 as charity). This philosophy is certainly not irrelevant to the castaways, and the whole story of Lost.... Bentham is also known for devising the Panopticon prison - a design which allows the prison guard to observe all prisoners, who are unaware that they're being observed - a state also not exactly alien to Lost.... In any case: if the name in the article is indeed Jeremy Bentham, this would be consistent with major characters in Lost having the complete or partial names of great philosophers - John Locke, Hume, Rousseau.

But this of course wouldn't tell us who the person in the coffin is - that corpse could either be of a new character, to be introduced after the last scene we saw on the island, or an alias being used by a character we know.

Intriguing possibilities, both. But let's look at some other alternatives:

Michael: This is supported by the funeral home being in an African-American neighborhood. That's about it for evidence.

Locke: The "J" in the newspaper clipping could as easily be the first letter of John as Jeremy.

Juliet: Same logic as above. But the crumpled article indicates that a man died - which would rule out Juliet, as well as Claire, Rose, and Sun ....

Here's another factor: Kate seems to care less about this person than does Jack ... who from the island would Kate dislike and Jack not? Almost impossible to say at this point, because of the time that has passed since we last saw the two on the island.

So, I'd say we need to know much more to constructively guess who's in the box ... which of course is what the producers intend .... Anything I've overlooked?

*Note added 27 May 2007: Some people think they see an "a" as the second letter of the last name. If that's indeed what it is, maybe it's a typo...:)

**Note added 29 May 2008: And the body in the coffin was revealed in the Season 4 finale ... here's my review and analysis ...

Useful links:

Lost New Questions1. How Far in the Future? ... 3. Who's Waiting for Kate? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

Utilitarianism and Other Essays John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham

Special Discount Coupons for Angie's List, Avis, Budget Rent-a-Car, eBags, eHarmony, eMusic, Nutrisystem

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future?

So many great new questions were raised in Lost's finale last night, I thought I'd start a series of blog posts about them.

Let's begin with this - how far in the future was the action with Jack and Kate in Los Angeles?

It's clear that it's at very least not just a few days or even weeks since Jack and Kate (and whoever else) got off the island. Kate had a lot of make-up on, which did make her look older than her fresh-faced frecked self on the island, and in the flashbacks.

Jack looked a little older, too.

His words to Kate in that great last scene tell us he's been flying around, week after week, on that golden pass - but that could have been for months, or years.

Just on the strength of that scene, I would say the time is less than years and more than months - maybe 15 months?

There was nothing in the Los Angeles environment that gave us a date-stamp - nothing obvious like Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani or Ron Paul on the television as President. We do know from earlier in the series that the castaways were aware of the Red Sox winning the series (Ben showed Jack a clip) (a baseball event as amazing as the electrical event on the island), so we know that the time on the island is roughly in the present.

A complicating factor is that people seem to age differently on the island - Richard seems to have aged very slowly in comparison to Ben. So, possibly, Jack and Kate have been off the island not that long, but have aged more quickly off the island...

And my last thought, for now ... babies. If Claire got off the island, too, it would be very helpful to see how old her baby is - is Aaron a toddler, or just a few months old....

Whatever the answers to these questions, Lost has broken out of the pod of the island, and made the whole world its centerpiece. The possibilities are intoxicating...

Useful links:

Lost New Questions 2. Who's In the Coffin? ... 3. Who's Waiting for Kate? ... 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss? ... 5. Is Mikhail Immortal? ... 6. What Constitutes Reliable Evidence? ... 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

Lost Season 3 Finale ... Flashforwards

Lost: Keys to What's Really Going On

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lost Season 3 Finale: The Flashforwards

Well, I sorta called it, in last week's review -

I think we've seen the last of the flashbacks, or close to it. I predict some of our castaways will get off the island - certainly Claire and her baby - and others (like Charlie) will remain. And next year, rather than the flashbacks (which were getting a little boring, anyway), we'll see the adventures of the remaining castaways and The Others and who knows who else on the island, and the attempt of those off the island to save them. The off-island story, in the present, will replace the flashbacks.

But it was still a shocker, a satisfying shocker, to see it tonight. I realized as soon as I saw Jack in the first "flashback" that this wasn't a flashback - there was something in the way Jack looked, something in the lack of ties to the past, especially as the "flashbacks" progressed on the show, that made me think this wasn't in the past but in the future. And Jack's anguish in this near-future Los Angeles was clearly about something that had happened in the past - on the accursed island, which he was now clear of, physically, but certainly not emotionally....

References to Jack's father were nice touches to throw us off, but it was also clear that Jack's father was no longer alive. And Jack was a fish out of water - or a man off the island - which, for some reason, he felt guilty about - to the point of wanting to take his own life.

There were other superb touches on tonight's Season 3 finale. Locke coming back - we all knew he wasn't dead - and almost killing Jack, but not being able to. Walt appeared (not Michael, as I had predicted) - but was he really on the island, or just one of its visions, which came at a crucial time to Locke?

Ben had a really crucial, excellent role tonight, too - the inveterate liar indeed was lying when he claimed to have ordered Sayid, Jin, and Bernard's deaths - and indicating, when Jack and Ben heard the shots on the phone that the three had been killed - but Ben seemed to be telling the truth about Naomi. The ancient paradox of the liar - if everything he says is a lie, what does it mean when he admits that he lies? You can never believe what he says, and sometimes that leads to dangerous, deadly results.

Were the people Naomi was bringing to island bad, as Ben insisted to Jack, and Jack rejected? Well, she was certainly lying about working for Penny.... And Jack does feel horribly guilty about something that happened when he left the island...

Penny ... Charlie talks to her on the television screen, before he drowns in that chamber. I was wrong about that, too. I'm still hoping that somehow, Charlie can live - maybe time travel can save him. He was one of my favorite characters on Lost.

Which will indeed be different, from now on. No more just trying to get off the island, fighting with The Others and whoever else. No more flashbacks - though I don't see them stopping completely - we still need to sort out those inexplicable coincidences*.

But the series will clearly have a new fulcrum point from now on: A pivotal switch from seeing what the castaways were like, what made them tick, before they got to the island ... to seeing the impact of their decisions made on the island, to leave the island, for at least some of the castaways. A daringly refreshing resetting of the stage....

How can Jack get back and save who ever is left on the island? And though Kate, also off the island now, doesn't seem inclined to help him, there's little doubt that sooner or later she will.

A superb finale - which also had a nice spot for Hurley as hero - and opens up as many new questions as it answers. I'm as happy and intrigued with Lost now as I was at the end of the first season.

*I still think the inexplicable coincidences in the flashbacks hold the key to what's happening on Lost - Keys To What's Really Going On. It will be interesting to see how these coincidences in the past play out in the flashforwards of some of the characters.

Useful links:

Lost New Questions: 1. How Far in the Future?

Lost New Questions: 2. Who's In the Coffin?

Lost New Questions: 3. Who's Waiting for Kate?

Lost New Questions: 4. Who Is Naomi's Boss?

Lost New Questions: 5. Is Mikhail Immortal?

Lost New Questions: 6: What Constitutes Reliable Evidence?

Lost New Questions: 7. Are the Flashforwards Desmond's Flashes?

And see also Lost's Back Full Paradoxical Blast: Season 4 Episode 1

Lost and Alias: Now Something Else in Common

Lost, Heroes, and The Sopranos: A Comparison of Real and Future Endings

The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell for more on the paradox of the liar...

8-minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

John McCain's Indecent Double Standard

Well, the Republicans are at it again - cursing out Senators in the halls of government. At least this time, it was a Republican cursing out a Republican.

You may recall that, a few years ago, the Senate hallway featured VP Dick Cheney advising Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), "Go fuck yourself!"

And now, the other day, John McCain, a leading Republican Presidential candidate in polls not taken via texting on cell phones, said "Fuck you!" to Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), over a disagreement about immigration policy.

Now, as I've made clear numerous times - see my Of Asterisks, Black Swans, Thom Yorke, and D*ck - I have no problem at all with such language. Whether in private or in public, vulgarity and profanity serve a social purpose. They allow us to express anger without resorting to violence.

What I do have is a very serious problem with Senators cursing each other out like this a day or a month or a year after voting to increase fines for broadcasting of such very language. Actually, it's worse than that: last year the Senate approved an increase in fines from $32,500 to $325,000 for objectionable incidents on the airwaves, which, although (of course) not specifically defined, in practice include words that are a lot milder than "fuck". Infinity Broadcasting had already been socked for millions of dollars for Howard Stern's non-profane language under the old, lower fine system.

And - here's the kicker - John McCain was one of the co-sponsors of that Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act of 2005 - the Act that raised the fines - which was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on May 18, 2006. The bill was introduced by Senator Brownback (one of the three Republicans now running for President who doesn't believe in evolution), and had many co-sponsors, including Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic Senator from Connecticut. Trampling the First Amendment has broad bipartisan support. The bill had fared only slightly worse in the House, where Representatives Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich - both now running for President in their respective parties - had the constitutional decency to vote against it (but it passed 389 Aye, 38 No, 6 not voting). Ron Paul was the only Republican voting no.

So, this is the country in which we now live. Hypocritical Senators can use the F-bomb - what a stupid construction, they can say Fuck You or Go Fuck Yourself - whenever they please. But a comedian on radio such as Howard Stern can get fined into oblivion for making fart jokes and the like. And, with the latest round of Federal treachery against the First Amendment, Congress is moving to extend its system of fines for objectionable broadcasting to cable....

Fucking outrageous.

Following comments made on original PaulLevinson.net post - feel free to add yours here, any time.

One of the nice things about Canadian TV is the fact that things are a little more free... especially about swearing.
Posted by: MC at May 21, 2007 01:42 AM
Nice ending! HA!
Your country is "land of the free" if I'm correct but there seems to be a lot of arbitrary restrictions on art yet a group of "Christians" can protest outside of funerals of dead soldiers.
Don't get me wrong, I think they SHOULD be allowed to protest but only if you're allowed to swear on air. Equal is equal is equal.
Posted by: rizzo at May 21, 2007 05:15 AM

I love that there are 3 ads paid for by McCain on this page!
Posted by: Brian at May 21, 2007 01:54 PM

So, we draw no distinction between swearing in the course of private conversations, and swearing over public airwaves?
Where does that slippery slope end?
If little Jimmy with the telescope next door peeks in on one of my daughters changing, does that mean it's OK to air girls undressing on public TV as well?
Lame argument, people!
Posted by: pronouncedlimp at May 21, 2007 01:58 PM

I fucking agree.
The one thing I find amusing is that google is serving three John McCain ads on this page right now (plus a you tube ad for John McCain videos...one of them a big red white and blue banner at the top of the page. Hmmm.
Posted by: Joel at May 21, 2007 02:28 PM

pronounced: Of course there are distinctions in all of these situations. But, via McCain's logic, the media can't even report, literally, what he said to the other Senator. If he wants the media not to use those words, then he, as a public figure, shouldn't use them in either, in a public place.
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 21, 2007 02:34 PM

So, what do we have: the morally ambiguous, the sexually repressed, the jesus freaks and the president/vice president [they're in a league all of their own. If you can strangle the constitution and get applause for doing so, you deserve some kudos along with your impeachment papers].
What all these double standards and blatant abuses are doing is that they serve to ridicule the United States. I don't know if anybody noticed, but Kuwait has disconnected its currency from the Dollar. Other countries will follow. The lack of fiscal responsibility is going to start biting you. While the US is wasting endless amounts of time and effort debating evolution/creationism [another comedy caper] and gay marriage, the world is getting on with the serious business that we are going to have to face as a collective.
The US might like to believe it is above the mere unwashed masses but that chicken is going to come home to roost far sooner than comfortable.
Aside from that, I sincerely wish for all those who read this: peace, love, happiness and harmony. No amount of any of these is ever enough.
Posted by: Anonymous at May 21, 2007 02:58 PM

The hole in your criticism of McCain lies in the significant difference between FCC regulations and regulations regarding office communications. The FCC fines for indecency, however arbitrary, are designed to maintain standards on television above disgusting. I'm sure McCain's outburst was a slip up, and one that should be dealt with with regard to decency standards in Washington, however linking FCC communications and office conduct in my opinion does not qualify as a sound argument.
Posted by: Max at May 21, 2007 03:14 PM

I have to agree with pronounced limp on this one... What McCain says to another individual in a private conversation is a wholly-different situation to that of a shock-jock spouting profanity on the public airwaves.
Any child in any city CANNOT, whilst flipping through their radio dial, listen in on McCain's conversations. They can, however, inadvertently tune their radio to a station where a shock jock is broadcasting and therefore be exposed to language of which their parents may disapprove.
Not so with satellite radio where Stern now resides, but it was entirely the case with respect to the multi-million dollar lawsuit regarding his statements at his previous *public* radio station gig.
You are creating a semblance here, and a perception of a senator's personal opinion that does not exist. Senator McCain is not any more opposed to profanity than you are. He is instead opposed to the broadcasting of profanity. There is a very big difference.
Posted by: Patrick McGonegal at May 21, 2007 03:57 PM

Patrick: I understand the distinction - but see my above comment. What's your response to the fact that, under McCain's system, the public would never have any direct knowledge of one Senator cursing out another - because McCain would fine any stations that broadcast McCain's words. You don't see any problem with that?
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 21, 2007 04:05 PM

"The FCC fines for indecency, however arbitrary, are designed to maintain standards on television above disgusting."
Cable/satellite television is not subject to FCC regulations (under my understanding), so what keeps its standards up? Advertising. The free market is self regulating.
Posted by: AbsurdParadox at May 21, 2007 04:23 PM

Brian - yeah, about the McCain (and all the political) ads on this page ... Welcome to automated "smart" ad placement! :)
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 21, 2007 04:59 PM

Sadly, a lot of individuals will read this piece and add it to their list of other non-arguments they haven't applied simple critical thinking to themselves.
Posted by: DM at May 21, 2007 05:16 PM

Excellent commentary
So, on one side you have a hypocritical typical politician who cares about big money and big government and doesn't care about principled positions or the truth.
On the other, you have Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, who take principled positions on everything yet are called crazed lunatics for doing so and made fun of at every opportunity.
What's the problem here, America?
Posted by: Lloyd at May 21, 2007 07:07 PM

Paul -
I won't comment on the hypocrisy or inconsistency of a politician, particularly McCain, who'd sell his children for the top office.
The suggestion, however - subtle as it may be, and perhaps unintentional or subconsciously woven into the piece - that this is a GOP phenomenon, is misplaced. The attacks on our freedom of speech are bipartisan, and the blame lies with us.
A fat swath of the dim middle of this country is obsessed with "morals" and "values" we flog as queer totems of some fictional Pure American Dream that never existed. The Left and Right get together and, as a wonderful essay in this month's Vanity Fair notes, ensure we export our greatest resource - hypocrisy.
But we're alright in the end. The marketplace wants the honesty and the dirt, and no matter how many Senators grandstand for bigger fines, or how many scalps the Sharptons of the world collect, somebody will Give the People What They Want because it's profitable.
Posted by: philalawyer at May 22, 2007 12:17 AM

When it comes to the rude and the crude I wouldn't shrivel up in disappointment if we would give it a rest. Hmmm....maybe we should go back to the days when if you called someone a liar you had better have your hand on your pistol. Probably made for a politer society.... grins.
Posted by: George at May 22, 2007 12:21 AM

Hypocrisy and politics are all-american bedfellows. A vote for the Hillary Clinton camp or a vote for the John McCain camp is the nearly the same thing. The only difference is that the Clinton camp might wear a condon when they anally rape you and your constitutional rights.
It was a Democrat, KS Senator Exon, that proposed the Communications Decency Act in the Telecommunications Reform Act. It was the Clinton administration that signed it into law over ten years ago.
Now, a Republican-led FCC, is doing what it feels like doing. It's no big revelation that they would act to limit individual rights in favor of corporate interests. The Bush administration does what it does because it can.
The corporate media in the U.S. makes billions on political activity in the little squabbles between Democrats and Republicans. You get to watch it every night as they form the questions in any debate.
We, as citizens, either eat our scraps of bread and watch the circus or we can change it with our vote. If enough people simply voted for any third party candidate, it could change the system. Complaining is no longer sufficient. You must vote.
Posted by: John Furie Zacharias at May 22, 2007 08:19 AM

Phila Lawyer:
me: "Trampling the First Amendment has broad bipartisan support."
you: "The suggestion, however - subtle as it may be, and perhaps unintentional or subconsciously woven into the piece - that this is a GOP phenomenon, is misplaced."
Yeah, it was so subtle, that I expressly denied it, in plain English...:)
Posted by: Paul Levinson at May 22, 2007 01:56 PM

The fact that hasn't really come up yet and is so interesting in this case is that generally something is only obscene in the eyes of the FCC if someone complains. That's why a few years ago 1/3 of the ABC affiliates refused to show Saving Private Ryan uncut on Memorial Day, despite the fact that they had done so the two years prior... because the FCC basically told these stations that they couldn't tell them if such a showing would result in fines or not, so in essence, the FCC is using an arbitrary standard for what is and is not broadcast worthy.
Posted by: MC at May 22, 2007 03:14 PM

Heroes Volume One Finale...

I think the best part of the Heroes finale tonight is that just about every one of our heroes had a role in stopping the exploding man .... Niki's strength, Hiro's sword, Claire's recuperative powers (which enabled her to jump out the window and get to the right place), Molly's locational abilities, Micah's way with machines ... and of course Peter and Nathan's ultimate sacrifice, and how Nathan's power of flight, which he himself had belittled as not that great, saved the day (more on Peter and Nathan below)....

And there were some really fine scenes - my favorite was Molly and Micah going into the elevator, signifying the next generation of heroes (the third, as far as we now know)...

Heroes accounted very well for itself in this debut season. It carved out a universe, in a provocative, ever-expanding, but consistent way. And left us a lot for the next and subsequent "volumes". (Interesting how television seasons have taken on new names of demarcation in the past few years ... 24 deals in Days, Heroes gives us Volumes...)

Among the interesting hints of what the future holds in store for us and the heroes is Molly's mention of someone "worse than the Boogeyman" (the Boogeyman was Sylar) - someone who could see her when she was locating him.... Goosebumps kind of thing.

And let us not forget about the infinite possibilities of time travel. We see Hiro land centuries in the past in the peek we got of Volume Two.

And if Hiro can get to the past ... who knows, maybe he can figure out a way to save Nathan and Peter. Optimism can spring eternal in a universe in which time travel's afoot.

Star Trek, Star Wars, Superman, - Hiro feels as if he's one of those heroes in those classic stories, he tells Ando.

Is Heroes the series (the volumes) yet in that category? It's off to a good start...

Useful links:

Lost, Heroes, and The Sopranos: A Comparison of Real and Future Endings

How Star Trek Liberated Television

Ten Reasons to Like the Clones

Why the Man of Steel Did So Little to Stop Hitler and Tojo

Monday, May 21, 2007

24 Season 6: Hrs 23-24 Finale: Life...

Season 6 of Fox's 24 concluded tonight as it had played all season - a very different kind of pace, with a different kind of surprise ending.

In a word: life. Rather than beloved characters dying, as they have been doing since Season 1, and especially in Season 5, everyone lived tonight. Even the main bad guy - though that's more of a hunch than a fact.

Jack lived. Of course, he did. In spite of some rumors here and there, there was no way he could die and 24 continue. Doyle lived - though he may have been blinded by the bogus circuit-board that blew up in his face. Buchanan lived - and put in a great swan song in the field - which I hope will not be his last appearance on the show, even though he and Karen are supposed to be retiring to Vermont.

Chloe collapsed, but she'll live - maybe even happily ever after. She learned she's having a baby with Morris. Life ... Josh survived, and Phillip--

Well, Jack refrained from shooting him - that's always a mistake if you really want someone dead - and Phillip was on the rig that was rocket-attacked ... but, my philosophy is, if you don't see the character shot point blank in the head, we may see him on another season.

Audrey put in a good performance - unconscious. Ok, that was a cheap shot, but as I've said here before, I'm glad to think that she and Jack are finished.

And Jack looks out at the sunrise in the end, in what may be the most quiet ending of 24 in his history. (And one of the best performances, ever, by Kiefer Sutherland. From his telling off Secretary Heller, to his looking out at the dawn, reminiscent of the best of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.)

We learned a lot about Jack and his family this year. There is something that feels very clean-slate now, which means just about anything is possible next year.

And so, without meaning to sound too clever about this, I think 24 did indeed manage to surprise us again. With a central story that ended well before Hour 20. With a second story that ended with 30 minutes still ticking tonight. And with a low-key last scene that greets the new day.

I'm satisfied. It was a good 24 hours. The only thing I wish I could see is Day 7 beginning right now ... tick, tick, tick....

(And I'll be back here next year, with my reviews of Day 7, hour by hour.)

See also 24 Redemption: a 24 Even Keith Olbermann Might Like

Useful links:

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold John Le Carre's classic novel

The Ten Gadgets Jack Bauer Can't Live Without funny, well researched, and useful list from Free Geekery

Listen to 4-minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips

The Tudors Continues: And Wolsey Falls in a Soaring Performance

The TudorsFirst, my favorite scene in the next-to-last episode of The Tudors's first season: the testimony, at the very beginning of show, at the convocation to consider whether Katherine was a virgin - a "true maid," in Catherine's words (great phrase and great delivery) - when she married Henry. The "gentleman" who brought Henry's brother Arthur to Catherine's bedroom testifies about Arthur being "inserted" into her chamber, and exulting the next morning how had been in "the midst of Spain" the night before. And the crowd loves this, laughing uproariously at every sexual innuendo and double entendre. These folk weren't yet Shakespeare's Elizabetheans, but we can certainly see how they were their great grandparents, and I love the way The Tudors captures this vivid, lust-for-life, bawdy sense of these times.

But back in the main story line, the testimony doesn't win the day for Henry. Campeggio gets orders from the Pope to postpone the decision about whether Henry's marriage was valid, and Wolsey is ruined.

Once again, a sterling performance by Sam Neill in what should at very least nominate him for an Emmy. Whatever Wolsey may have been in history, Neill's rendition swings Wolsey from the heights of power to the pits of pathetic disgrace, and I couldn't help feeling sorry for him. In one of the best scenes in Episode 9, Campeggio and Wosley are summoned to see Henry, but no changing room is provided for Wolsey. "I need to change out of my riding clothes," he says plaintivelly to one of the squires. He's left in the cold, until a kindly priest lets Wolsey use his room. It was one of the most effective scenes in the series, and one of Neill's best deliveries.

Other fine scenes ... the death of Henry's sister Margaret and its impact on Charles ... and Henry asking Thomas More to be his Chancellor...

One more episode to go. It's clear now that the first season is only giving us the very beginning of The Tudors story. And that's good news for everyone who loves this series, including me...

Useful links:

Derriere and Bosom on The Tudors: More of What the FCC Would Deprive Us Of

The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church G. W. Bernard's 2005 book

The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution my 1998 book

The Tudors Michael Hirst's brand new book!

my latest novel: The Plot to Save Socrates

my reviews of other episodes of The Tudors: Episodes 1 and 2: History So Colorful You Can Taste It, Episode 3: History So Real You Can Feel It, Episode 4: The Penalty of Royalty, Episode 5: Madrigal, Musical Chairs, Episode 6: Tectonic Chess, Episode 7: Henry's Imperfect Apothecary, Episode 8: The Limits of Power, Episode 10: A Suicide, A Burning, and a Roll in the Forest

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Sopranos: Seventh of Nine: What Rough Beasts

AJ reads from W. B. Yeats' "The Second Coming" ...

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world ...
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats' Collected Poems
This poem pushes AJ to almost committing suicide, and Tony saves him. The poem of course perfectly captures just what is happening to Tony and his family and business as we reach the end of their story in this series.

But the thread of tonight’s episode that struck me as an even clearer picture of Tony’s situation concerned Meadow.

With tension dangerously increasingly between Tony and Phil, one of Phil’s guys comes over to Meadow’s table at a restaurant in Little Italy. He makes sexually harassing remarks to her. Meadow tells Tony.

Tony comes close to killing the guy – he admits later that he “lost it,” over his daughter, but managed to exercise some restrain by not killing this guy.

But this means little to Phil, who ups the insults another big ante…

What else could Tony have done? It would have been understandable as a father had Tony put Phil’s goon completely out his misery – Tony did show remarkable control. But yet he’s paying the price for it, anyway. He did the right thing – the best he could have done under the circumstances – and he is still being drawn, ever deeper, into a pit with no escape.

This has been Tony’s story, and the story of The Sopranos, all along. On the one hand, upper-middle class, even rich, suburban parents, who love their children and want what’s best for them. On the other hand, in a business which, however hard Tony and others may try, inevitably bleeds into their personal lives, as Tony aptly put it in his conversation tonight with Phil.

There’s no getting beyond or away from or out of this. The only question now will be whether Tony and his family can survive. . . .

Useful links:

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article, published in David Lavery's This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos

reviews of other episodes this final season: The Sopranos: First of Nine, Second of Nine, Third of Nine, Fourth of Nine, Fifth of Nine, Sixth of Nine, Eighth of Nine, Ninth of Nine

listen to free podcast of this review, and reviews of all the other final nine episodes

Exclusive Predictions for this week's TV season finales!

Hey, I decided to stick my neck out and offer some exclusive predictions for the three great season season finales we'll be seeing on television this week - 24, Heroes, and Lost.

You'll find them on a special episode of my Light On Light Through podcast, which I just posted (the predictions take about 10 minutes, and then I have a little political commentary...)

If you have some ideas about what we'll be seeing on TV this week, and you would like your name mentioned on my podcast - just e-mail your predictions to me at PaulLevinson@LightonLightThrough.com - if I receive them before the shows air, and you're right, you'll have the pleasure of hearing me say your name on the next episode of Light On Light Through, next week - and I may even put in a round of pre-recorded applause....

For those of you new to Infinite Regress, you'll find my weekly reviews of these shows, plus The Sopranos and The Tudors, below - along with some great comments from readers...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bug Coming

this is a sponsored post

Bugs seem to hold a strange fascination for us. Maybe because they do a lot of good for us - like bees and honey. Maybe because they also do us damage - like bees and stinging. Maybe because, like all living things, we share some DNA.

Bugs have great history in the movies - Vincent Price's 1958 The Fly is one of my all-time favorites. Talk about sharing DNA! After Price's performance about his mad-scientist brother slowly becoming a fly, I could never look at a fly again without seeing Price's moustache....

But as much as I love Vincent Price on the screen, I'd much rather look at Ashley Judd. Her new bug movie opens next week. Take a look at those two posters for Bug. The one on the top blends curly hair and insect tendrils into a flowing, turn-of-the-last century art nouveau form. The one below, with its subtle interplay of light and perspective, is an Impressionist's dream.

Horror movies at their best work like dreams - we can allow ourselves to be scared out of our wits about them, because we know they are fantasy ... though perhaps not completely. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge said about poetic faith, we willingly suspend our disbelief....

I have a feeling this bug movie will make it hard for us to scamper back to reality. Here's a trailer...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lost: Charlie, Underwater Babes, and Predictions for Next Week

A real heart-in-your mouth Lost tonight, which I really enjoyed. First, I'll talk a little about tonight's show. And then, I'm going to give my predictions about what we'll see next week....

I just knew Charlie wasn't going to die. Would've been too obvious, with the build-up to that all season, and especially tonight. But it was a great Charlie show, anyway. Any time I can hear a few bars of "You All Everybody," I figure I'm coming out ahead. And the list that Charlie wrote of the greatest moments of his life, and tying that into the flashbacks, worked great tonight, too. More about flashbacks in a bit...

But I also figured that Desmond would try to dive down to the Looking Glass, and swap his life for Charlie's. Actually, if Desmond can really time travel, an earlier version of his self might have even been able to get to the Looking Glass, and save Desmond's future, heroic self from drowning....

But tonight's resolution worked just fine for me - and it will be fun to see just who those blonde underwater babes are - what their relationship is to Ben, Richard, and who knows what else on the island....

Which brings us to next week. I have no knowledge of anything that will be on next week's show, so consider the following just a theory:

I think we've seen the last of the flashbacks, or close to it. I predict some of our castaways will get off the island - certainly Claire and her baby - and others (like Charlie) will remain. And next year, rather than the flashbacks (which were getting a little boring, anyway), we'll see the adventures of the remaining castaways and The Others and who knows who else on the island, and the attempt of those off the island to save them. The off-island story, in the present, will replace the flashbacks*. Maybe next week we'll even see Michael, and find out what happened to him, off the island....

Should be a superb two-hour finale next week, even if my predictions don't pan out....

*I've already said that I think the inexplicable coincidences in the flashbacks hold the key to what's really happening in Lost - see my Keys to What's Really Going On. If I'm right about the flashbacks mostly ending, this means that we'll likely have a flashback or two in the remaining future seasons to explain the inexplicable flashbacks of the first three seasons...

Useful links:

Listen to 5-minute podcast of this review - with me singing a little of "You All Everybody"- at Levinson news clips

The Plot to Save Socrates

"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

The Thinking Blogger Award

The Thinking Blogger Award Hey, Matthew Caverhill at Culture Kills has tagged me with The Thinking Blogger Award - thank you, Matthew, I'm pleased and honored.

Here's the deal:

I now select "5 Blogs That Make Me Think":

The Egalitarian Bookworm (Chick?)... also known as fellow-ette's blog, "High Culture, Low Culture. Bridged by Shakespeare, Austen" ... most recent post (this morning): "Bad Things That Happened on TV Last Night"

Fevered Mutterings also known as Mike Achim's blog, "At some point, it'll all start to make sense. But not today" ... most recent post (yesterday): "Insidious. Allegedly"

Kathryn Cramer also known as Kathryn Cramer's blog, "Overt Intelligence Operations & Wildcat Cartography: Mystery, Adventure, Intrigue!" ... most recent post (27 April): "The Chappaqua Orchestra presents The Red Violin"

A Model Media Ecologist also known as Bob Blechman's blog, "Musings on technology and culture by a disciple of Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and Claude Lévi-Strauss" ... most recent post (yesterday): "Look What’s Happened to Me! (I Can’t Believe Myself) For super heroes, evolution is not a theory."

Time Passing also known as Lance Strate's blog, "A blog for passing time, and passing messages about media, about media ecology which is the study of media environments, about language and symbols, about technology, about communication, about consciousness, about culture, about life and the universe, about everything and nothing, about time..." ... most recent post (yesterday): "A Man in Time: James W. Carey"

I enjoy them all, and you will, too...

Next - each of these bloggers, if they choose to participate, is asked to do the following: (1) choose five other bloggers, as worthy as you (notify them, as I have notified you, and write up a nifty little post like this), (2) include in your post this link to the origin of the Thinking Blogger Awards, (3) (optional) happily display the "Thinking Blogger Award" in some permanent spot on your sidebar or wherever with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternate silver version if the gold doesn't fit the sophisticated color-scheme your of blog).

And that's it!

(I was going to put up an Applause mp3, because the above blogs deserve it - I'll do that soon... ) (I know, famous, last words...)

Thank you again, Matt, for inviting me into this meme chain. (Matt has a great blog, too, by the way...)

And I'll be back tonight with my review of the penultimate (for this season) Lost...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Heroes Landslide: Winnowing and Convergence

What a perfect, next-to-final episode tonight! Heroes just gets better and better.

Loose ends continue to come together. Sylar is armed and ready to blow up the city. Hiro is armed and ready to stop it if he can - his father (it was good to see George Takei aka Mr. Sulu again) has trained him. But he also must get to Ando along the way, who has gone off in pursuit of Sylar on his own - in pursuit of his death, according to the future we've seen.

Hiro is as ever a well-spring of time-travelling optimism. He tries to convince Nathan to help him, so he doesn't become the "bad person" Hiro has seen in the future - a "villain" - and when Nathan refuses, Hiro concludes that Nathan is a villain, already. But that doesn't stop Hiro.

Nathan may not totally be a villain, as yet. He's elected to Congress. He knows Linderman had something to do with it. He doesn't know Micah's way with machines was able to register enough votes on the computers to give Nathan a landslide. (Yet another argument, if we want to apply Heroes to real life, not to be so quick to rely totally on computers in counting election returns - they're a lot easier to manipulate than paper ballots, even if you don't have Micah's powers....)

But back in the New York City of Heroes and television-land, there's a lot more going on than a hero-fixed election. Some of the movers and shakers were killed tonight - not just Ted by Sylar, but Linderman and D. L. Hawkins, who kill each other, and Thompson (fine performance by the always memorable Eric Roberts) by Mr. Bennett, who now has a gun trained on Molly. Bennett will do anything to protect Claire, but will he kill a little girl just to stop her tracking powers? Not if Mohinder has anything to do with it - but I don't think Mr. Bennett will pull that trigger anyway....

But tonight's killings and plot lines and remaining characters have all converged for the finale next week. The winnowing has made it simpler, clearer, more searing, more powerful.

If the finale continues on this course, Heroes could wind up in our future not only the best new show on network television this season, but the best show on network television this year, period.

Monday, May 14, 2007

24 Season 6 Hr 22: Jack Against All Governments

So we're up to the two-hour finale of this season - which, contrary to a lot of unimaginative critics, has been excellent. That's of course just my opinion, but I, understandably, put a lot of stock in it...

But back to tonight's episode:

Jack's nephew (at least, as far we know now - he could be more) has become the prime football of the show. Cheng's commandos broke into CTU last week to grab Josh, and killed Milo in the process. I was happy to see them mostly wiped out this week, in a good scene with Jack breaking loose, Nadia and Morris grappling with bad guys, and Doyle arriving just in time to save at least that part of the day.

But Cheng has made off with Josh - for delivery to Phillip Bauer. Jack gets Josh back, but-

The Lisa Miller ploy doesn't work. Lennox and company do get to see her have sex with Michael Bishop on camera (Invasion + Stargate), and Lennox does get to make Bishop send the Russians false information that the U.S. has recovered the circuit board - but the Russians know the info is bogus, and their President Suvarov squeezes our VP Daniels (who somehow doesn't seem as fearsome as he did a few hours ago), threatening things that could lead to global war.... And one last weighty piece falls into place that will pit Jack against not one, but three governments: the Chinese, the Russian, and our own!

That last piece is Phillip Bauer, who tells Daniels that he'll turn the dangerous circuit board over to the U.S. if Daniels gives him Josh.

And in a fine scene to end tonight's hour: Doyle gets a call from Nadia, just as Jack and Josh arrive back at CTU. And Doyle proceeds to take Josh away in a copter, over Jack's strenuous objections (he's restrained). A helicopter presumably going to Phillip.

But here are some things to bear in mind as we think about the next week's two-hour finale: Is Doyle really that much of a company man that he will just turn Josh over to Phillip? I'm not so sure. Will Jack really have no other allies at all in this? What about Karen and Buchanan (there was a glimpse of him in the coming attractions)?

And most of all, what does Phillip Bauer really want? His motives have been unclear all season, and are really no more clear now.

As I've said before, I think the pacing of this season has been very different and appealing - not least because so much of Jack's family is involved.

Whatever happens next week, I predict the result will be a Jack Bauer who will never completely go back to the way he was before...

4-minute podcast of this review at Levinson news clips