250 reviews of time travel TV, movies, books right here

Saturday, December 14, 2019

DNA Nation (Part 3, Chapters 14-17): Two-Edged Swords

I've long held the obvious view that technology is a two-edged sword, ethically speaking: a knife can be used to cut food (good) or cut people (bad, unless the person wielding the knife is a surgeon) (see my "Guns, Knives, and Pillows" in On Behalf of Humanity: The Technological Edge for more).  In Part 3 of the excellent DNA Nation: How the Internet of Genes is Changing Your Lives, Sergio Pistoi looks at some of the dark sides of the revolution in genomics, while keeping his eyes on the astonishing benefits of opening the documents of our DNA that are beginning to come into play.

Pistoi explains that, in contrast to the relatively few deadly diseases (such as Huntington's) which are monogenic or caused by a single harmful mutation, most (including cancers) are multifactorial, "with thick and elaborate plots, where a criminal network of genetic and non-genetic factors conspire to develop the pathology. Think of Breaking Bad, Narcos and The Wire combined – but way more complicated" (p. 121).  Although I and no doubt Pistoi loved those series, the upshot for prevention and control of such illnesses is that identification of a complicit gene tells far less than the whole story.   Pistoi reports on a man who had what was mostly likely unnecessary extensive prostate surgery, after a suspect genetic mutation was flagged in his DNA.

But Pistoi goes on to detail some of the treasure-trove of benefits of DNA testing that are becoming available so fast that Pistoi may need to update his book on at least a yearly basis.  Via "a technique called Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnostic ... embryos are obtained in vitro from the egg and sperm of the couple, and DNA tested to select the ones without the mutation” (pp. 123-4).  I still have a book on our shelves called A Fortune in the Junk Pile - about finding valuable antiques in tag sales and flea markets - and Pistoi delves into the value of what was labeled "junk DNA" because it seemed to have no connection to somatic traits.   In fact, this DNA is now known to have the crucial "epigenetic" function of regulating the performance of genes, which allows the "reprogramming" of normal adult cells into stem cells (p. 147).  (As a science fiction author, I was especially glad to see this redemption of junk DNA - my April 1996 novelette in Analog, "The Copyright Notice Case," situated an ancient copyright in our DNA in the junk DNA we all carry; the story is in my 1999 Bestseller anthology).

And, just for good measure, Pistoi tells us that “Our bodies host ten times more microorganisms than our own cells" and "there is evidence that gut bacteria can protect or predispose us to pathologies ranging from inflammation to diabetes and obesity" (p. 149).   I was especially glad to see this, just as with the junk DNA, since my novel The Consciousness Plague hypothesizes that our very consciousness is made possible by communicative bacteria that live in our brains.  Outside of the realm of science fiction, Pistoi notes that bacteria and fungi in our biome add an important dimension to our DNA unveiling.

And I'll be back soon with my concluding review of this book which has updated my knowledge of DNA more than anything else I've read in the past twenty years.  Its overarching message: no food, no medication, can be deemed to be good or right for you, until it's matched to your DNA, a process which is still in its toddlership.

See also: DNA Nation (Part 1, Chapters 1-5): Reconfiguring Your Human Family ... DNA Nation (Part 2, Chapters 6-13): The Extraordinary Revolution and Its Intrinsic Limitations

Friday, December 13, 2019

Evil 1.10: The Influencer

A powerful, frightening Evil 1.10 - befitting the Fall finale of the new series - and an episode that really lifted Evil into a higher, more harrowing level of story, which of course also befits a series with this name.

Two members of our team - Kristen and David - are afflicted with different, but likely related perils.  Likely, because I'd say Leland the neo-devil is probably behind both of them, though at this point we know that for sure only with Kristen.

The episode begins with an ear-worm of a Christmas song, so annoying that I was thinking of turning off the sound and reading just the transcript on the screen, lest I be affected, too.  But annoyance is not the real danger or the worst possible effect of the initial conveyor of the song, a young woman influencer who makes a make-up (as in powder) video for young teenagers.  The danger is a male voice talking on a frequency that only teenagers hear, urging them to commit suicide.  (I'm wondering if there is such a frequency. Yahoo says there is.  But I don't have time to further research this, and, anyway, I'm in television-drama review, not research, mood.)

But the frequency makes a good evil plot point, and the real kicker is that Leland gave the influencer the video souped up with the sub-rosa male voice.  And it worked - the video increased her followers from two thousand to two million.  Leland, as I noted in an earlier review, is turning out to be a real devil in Evil.  And, in this episode, he also, somehow, influences Kristen's mother Sheryl to influence granddaughter Lexi to hit another girl with a rock in Lexi's fist, after said girl pushes Lexi down and she scrapped her knee.  It's becoming more clear, with every episode, that Leland deserves the title of The Influencer, with the capital "I". and this Influencer is the Devil.

Meanwhile, David is also experiencing some problems, mostly connected to the sister of his late beloved, whom he slept with last week (that is, the sister).  In the last scene, these weirdnesses culminate with David being badly stabbed. Here, I'll offer again my principle that if we don't see someone's head chopped off or blown up, and he or she is the star of the show, chances are he or she will survive.

We don't know, though, exactly how Leland is connected with this.  If he isn't, what else is going on?  We'll no doubt find out when the show returns in 2020.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

DNA Nation (Part 2, Chapters 6-13): The Extraordinary Revolution and Its Intrinsic Limitations

In the April 1, 1993 issue of Wired, in my little article The Extinction of Extinction, I mused that, someday, "Heaven may well be a huge directory of DNA codes".  Although that date was April Fool's Day in many parts of the world, I wasn't kidding.  In Part 2 of the pathbreaking DNA Nation: How the Internet of Genes is Changing Your Life, Sergio Pistoi details exactly how that could come to be.

His tour, engagingly written and socially astute, just like Part 1 of this book, takes us from the mechanics of gene harvesting and analysis to the replacement of laboratories with crowdsourcing as the locus of DNA subjects.  As I pointed out in New New Media back in 2009, the same level of error in the expert-driven Encyclopedia Brittanica and the crowd-sourced Wikipedia demonstrated as far back as 2005 that crowdsourcing was at least as effective as experts in the accumulation of knowledge.  Pistoi explains that, in the ongoing linking of genes to crucial and trivial aspects of our lives, the "democratization" of genetic research is already becoming far more effective than studies in labs. “I’m sitting on the couch, barefoot, holding a laptop and watching TV and someone tells me I am contributing to a genetic study," Pistoi notes. "Is that a joke?” (p. 104).  In his savvy, entertaining style, Pistoi shows us why it most certainly is not.

But Pistoi also repeatedly cautions and explains how so much our lives, at present, defy any genetic explication. He notes that "Predicting multigenic characteristics from DNA is like watching a party of people and guessing where they will choose to go for dinner" (p. 72), adding, as just one of many examples, that "sexual preferences are multifactorial traits involving many genetic and non-genetic factors, most of which are still unknown" (p. 99).  We, accordingly, need to beware of companies "selling digital snake oil" (p. 91).  The upshot, ranging from choice of sexual partners to food preferences, is that genetic causes, though now discoverable in ways totally unavailable for most of our history, are still poorly mapped, if known at all, for huge swaths of our daily lives. Including, for better or worse, frequency of "orgasms" in a typical sexual session.

And, speaking of sex, Pistoi brings a commendable moral gauge to his book.  He concludes his debunking of the "gay gene" - that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition - with an insistence that "people should not have to justify their sexual preferences for other consenting adults" (p. 102).  In addition to being a molecular biologist, science reporter, and chronicler of how genomic sites like 23andMe are "similar to social media like Facebook, Instagram and Google, which offer free services in exchange for the user’s data" (p. 107), Pistoi applies a keen moral sense, which enhances the pleasure of reading his book.

And I'll be back soon with one or two concluding reviews of the rest of this eye-opening new book.

See also DNA Nation (Part 1, Chapters 1-5): Reconfiguring the Human Family ... DNA Nation (Part 3, Chapters 14-17): Two-Edged Swords

                      "DNA was the ultimate dossier"

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Emergence 1.9: Benny!

Well, in my review of the most recent episode of Emergence - 1.8 - I said that "An important character could be an AI - like Officer Chris."  I was wrong about Chris.  But not about an important character being an AI.  It turns out in episode 1.9, on earlier this evening, that the hidden AI is Benny.  A good choice, since it explains some of his unusual characters, like being so quick to recover from injury.

This means that AIs are a lot more prevalent than just Piper.  There are adults, ensconced for who knows how long in society, who are AIs.  And in the last scene, we learn that they're not just Benny.  The woman who's offering Ed a cure for his cancer is an AI, too.

Chances are Emily didn't make all of them.  So, who did?  And many other questions arise: when were they made?  And how many AIs are there at large?   Assuming the makers aren't aliens or people from the future - both of which would be a little trite - we're left with the possibility that there's some group who've been working under the radar for years with this advanced technology.

I also guessed earlier this year that Piper would be the one to cure Ed's cancer.  She suggested that tonight.  But that's going to have to wait a while, until Jo is able to retrieve Piper.  Suddenly, the FBI guy joins Jo's husband and Ed and Chris as being Piper's best - and only - hope.

This is a pretty good way to wrap up the Fall part of the season.  Emergence will be back January 7, 2020.  I'm looking forward to its return.  At this point, though, the only episode listed for 2020 is #10 on January 7.   I'm hoping there are more.

See also: Emergence: May Just Make It ... Emergence 1.2: Cleaning Up ... Emergence 1.3: Robots and Androids ... Emergence 1.4: Android Child ... Emergence 1.5: Supergirl ... Emergence 1.6: The People Who Are Kindred ... Emergence 1.7: Piper's Real Mom ... Emergence 1.8: Spinning

The androids are coming out into the open, for the first time in centuries ....

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

DNA Nation (Part 1, Chapters 1-5): Reconfiguring Your Human Family

I enjoy binge-watching television series.  I think it's a real break-through in our popular culture.  I occasionally run into myopic critics of technology in academia, who see bingeing as somehow a debasement of our culture.  I always reply that binge-watching a television series brings to the audio-visual screen the same options we have with the venerable medium of the book, which we can read as fast or slowly as we like.  And every once in while, I come across a book which indeed demands to be savored, not binge-read. DNA Nation: How the Internet of Genes Is Changing Your Life by Sergio Pistoi is such a book.  Accordingly, having read the first part (chapters 1-5) today, I'm going to post this review.  And I'll be back, likely more than once, with one or more reviews when I've read the succeeding four parts, like in the next few days  (See my reviews of Dreaming the Beatles and The Perversity of Things for two other sequential, much longer, book reviews.)

Pistoi is a molecular biologist, with a philosopher's understanding of human nature and a media theorist's instinct for understanding the evolution and impact of social media.  He brings these talents to be bear in a package at turns both sagely and delightfully written, a handbook as much as a book, explaining how the scientific revolution of analyzing our DNA - which can be done for $100 or less, by sending a sample of your saliva - is pulling the rug out from under many of our preconceptions, ranging from where in the world our ancestors came from to who really are our closest and not-so-close relatives?  Along the way, DNA Nation eradicates whatever shred of scientific support the 21st racist may cling to, pointing out that DNA mapping shows more differences within racial groups than between them: "you may be more similar genetically to someone you identify as belonging to a different 'race' than your neighbor who looks very much like you" (p. 44).

And Pistoi leavens such weighty lessons with continuous wit and humor. “A genetic profile is not just a biological test," he advises, "it’s a selfie taken from inside our cells” (p. 50).  And, "I could couch-surf for decades around the world visiting all my cousins. And if only half of them invited me to family celebrations, I could spend an entire, terrifying life attending marriages, baptisms, first communions, Thanksgiving days and graduations" (p. 18).

Sex, always a good thing to write about, of course figures prominently in this book.   Indeed, it's the reason all of us humans are so genetically alike.  And it may even extend across species, or does extend across disparate groups of our own species.  Did our ancestors actually sleep with Neanderthals?  Our current DNA proves it, Pistoi notes, and helpfully adds, "If you have seen a diorama of a Neanderthal you may doubt it, but DNA doesn’t lie, and humans have never been too choosy with sex anyway” (p. 36).

But the thrust of the first part of this essential book is not the several percentages of Neanderthal DNA that some of us carry, but the way knowledge of our genetic profile, combined with the ubiquity of the Internet, has created a new world in which everything from family and friends to ethnic identities are starting to radically change.   I'll be back soon with more reviews of this book as I read further about this upheaval in preconceptions in daily progress.

See also DNA Nation (Part 2, Chapters 6-13) The Extraordinary Revolution and Its Intrinsic Limitations ...  DNA Nation (Part 3, Chapters 14-17): Two-Edged Swords

                   "DNA was the ultimate dossier"

His Dark Materials 1.6: His Fast Materials

I'm not sure who the "His" is in His Dark Materials (I haven't read the books).  I'm not even clear what the "Materials" are (the Dust?  but I don't know yet exactly what that is, either).  I do get the "Dark".  And I also thought that last night's action-packed episode 1.6 moved preternaturally quickly.

In this one episode, we find out just what they're doing in that Nazi-like facility that now holds not only Roger but Lyra.  We learn from Mrs. Coulter - who we find out is indeed definitely Lyra's mother - that the facility's goal is to produce adults who no longer need, and are freed from, their daemons.  Coulter tells Lyra that daemons are fine for children, but cause problems when the kids become adults, and these problems leave the adults wanting or being vulnerable to Dust (whatever that is, some kind of drug? a DNA-altering substance?)

We have only Coulter's word for this.  She seems to genuinely love Lyra, but she could be lying or mistaken or some combination about everything else she tells Lyra.  So far, I don't think we the audience have seen any ill-effects of daemons on their adults.   (Coulter doesn't seem to much like hers, but that's neither here nor there.)  And, as I said, I have little idea what Dust is or does.

The battle scenes were great last night, including that ninja or whatever exactly she is who swoops in and saves the day.  She also seems to have some kind of relationship with Scoresby, but it's too soon to tell if it's just friendship, or more.  Now that Lyra's out of that sicko lab, we'll presumable be seeing much more of Scoresby (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda) in the story, which is good.

But, typically - you talk about cliff-hanging endings of episodes - Lyra is barely out of the lab, when she falls into some kind of vortex in the sky to who knows where.   That's part of what I mean by fast, and I look forward to seeing where Lyra lands next week.

See also His Dark Materials 1.1: Radiation Punk ...  His Dark Materials 1.3: Coulter's Daemons ... His Dark Materials 1.4: The Bears ... His Dark Materials 1.5:  Sleepers and Questions

more alternate reality - "flat-out fantastic" - Scifi and Scary

Monday, December 9, 2019

Ray Donovan 7.4: Claudette and Bridget

I thought Claudette was the most important character in tonight's Ray Donovan 7.4.

Why do I say that?  Well, Mickey manages not to go the Maldives but to someplace much closer - Long Island? - and, with Sandy, manages to set in motion yet another scheme to make a lot of money.  That's real resilience, right?  And we'll likely never know if that plan would have come to fruition because Claudette, wanting to protect Daryll, calls the cops on Mickey!  He could've finally made it.  The cops think he's dead.  And Claudette tells them he isn't.  So much for true love!

But I still have some hope for Ray.  It was good to see him at the end with Molly Sullivan.  That relationship has a lot of promise, given that Ray's sister babysat for Molly, so she brings into play the love that Ray has for his late sister.  I'll be very unhappy if the Mayor or some other enemy of Ray manages to kill her.

As for the rest, as I said last week, I'm tired of seeing Terry go through all this suffering.  I liked him much better when his Parkinson's was under control.  And likewise, Bunch.  Wouldn't it be great to have a season when both of them, in their own inimitable ways, were in better shape?

But Bridget (very well acted this year by Kerris Dorsey) is having a very good season, so far.  Tonight, in effect, she's beginning to take over for Lena.  Which makes me wonder: is this coming about because Katherine Moennig was leaving the show, or did Katherine Moennig exit the show because someone decided to give Bridget a more decisive role in the action?   I mean, she could've continued on Ray Donovan and been on The L-Word Generation Q at the same time, right?

Bridget may make a better character, come to think of it, since she has a mind of her own, and her father can't order her around the way he did Lena, though Lena from time to time refused an order, too.

See also Ray Donovan 7.1: Getting Ahead of the Game ... Ray Donovan 7.2: Good Luck ... Ray Donovan 7.3: "The Air that I Breathe"

See also Ray Donovan 6.1: The New Friend ... Ray Donovan 6.2: Father and Sons ... Ray Donovan 6.4: Politics in the Ray Style ... Ray Donovan 6.6: The Mayor Strikes Back ... Ray Donovan 6.7: Switching Sides ... Ray Donovan 6.8: Down ... Ray Donovan 6.9: Violence and Storyline ... Ray Donovan 6.10: Working Together ... Ray Donovan 6.11: Settled Scores and Open Questions ... Ray Donovan Season 6 Finale: Snowfall and Mick

See also Ray Donovan 5.1: Big Change  ... Ray Donovan 5.4: How To Sell A Script ... Ray Donovan 5.7: Reckonings ... Ray Donovan 5.8: Paging John Stuart Mill ... Ray Donovan 5.9: Congas ... Ray Donovan 5.10: Bunchy's Money ... Ray Donovan 5.11: I'm With Mickey ... Ray Donovan 5.12: New York

See also Ray Donovan 4.1: Good to Be Back ... Ray Donovan 4.2: Settling In ... Ray Donovan 4.4: Bob Seger ... Ray Donovan 4.7: Easybeats ... Ray Donovan 4.9: The Ultimate Fix ... Ray Donovan Season 4 Finale: Roses

And see also Ray Donovan 3.1: New, Cloudy Ray ... Ray Donovan 3.2: Beat-downs ... Ray Donovan 3.7: Excommunication!

And see also Ray Donovan 2.1: Back in Business ... Ray Donovan 2.4: The Bad Guy ... Ray Donovan 2.5: Wool Over Eyes ... Ray Donovan 2.7: The Party from Hell ... Ray Donovan 2.10: Scorching ... Ray Donovan 2.11: Out of Control ... Ray Donovan Season 2 Finale: Most Happy Ending

And see also Ray Donovan Debuts with Originality and Flair ... Ray Donovan 1.2: His Assistants and his Family ... Ray Donovan 1.3: Mickey ... Ray Donovan 1.7 and Whitey Bulger ... Ray Donovan 1.8: Poetry and Death ... Ray Donovan Season 1 Finale: The Beginning of Redemption


It started in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn Monroe walked off the set of The Misfits and began to hear a haunting song in her head, "Goodbye Norma Jean" ...

Watchmen 1.8: The Fault

Well, tonight's episode 1.8 of Watchmen was my favorite so far.  All the pieces came together, not easy in a time-travel story, especially when the time traveler is some kind of god, Dr. Manhattan, who, among his many impressive powers is the ability to live and act in all times that he exists, at the same time, all of the time.

This, for example, at last provides the explanation for why Angela's grandfather killed her boss in the first episode.  We already knew it was because he thought Judd Crawford was a racist, with a Klan outfit hidden in his home.  It turns out that that was because Angela, having been told that by her grandfather, then told it Dr. Manhattan, who in turn told it to her grandfather at an earlier date.  It's the kind of neat time travel snake-swallowing-its-own tale routine that shows like Lost were so good at, at their best.  Which makes sense, given that Damon Lindelof, the creator of this Watchmen, was one of the co-creators of Lost, and Jeff Jensen, one of the critics who most sagely reviewed Lost, co-wrote this episode with Lindelof.  There may be a meta-story there in which Lindelof read one of Jensen's reviews of Lost, and got the idea for this treatment of Watchmen. Or, Jensen is himself a time traveler, and was able to review Lost so well because he saw tonight's episode of Watchmen back when he was reviewing Lost.  Nah, only kidding.  For the most part.

What is certain is that tonight's episode also had one of the all-time best titles, "A God Walks Into a Bar," which was exactly the way the episode began.  And we also learned why Angela "killed" her beloved husband Cal last week, and whom she was talking to, right after she did that.  But back to how her grandfather, Will Reeves, got the idea that Crawford was a racist.  It wasn't really Angela's fault - as she ruefully thought she was - even though she was the conduit.  The fault lies much deeper than that.  It's like how did the universe come into being?  The Big Bang?  Well, then, what caused the Big Bang to happen?  Ok, then, God?  Well, what brought God into being?  To say that God brought her/him/itself into being is no answer, it's a tautology.

Which is to say, it's at the profoundest, mostly unknowable, level of our existence.  And good for tonight's Watchmen for stripping a little of that bare.

See also Watchmen 1.1: Promising Alternate History ... [Watchmen 1.2: don't look for my review, I didn't feel like reviewing it] ... Watchmen 1.3: The Falling Car ... Watchmen 1.4: What We Learned ... Watchmen 1.5: Some Enchanted Evening ... Watchmen 1.6-7: Deaths and Liberations

more alternate reality - "flat-out fantastic" - Scifi and Scary

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Evil 1.9: The Deposition

As is well known, the creators of Evil - Robert King and Michelle King - achieved their greatest previous success with The Good Wife, which would be up there on any all-time Top 20 network television series list, maybe higher.  For that matter, Mike Colter, who plays the leading role of David in Evil, played a leading role in The Good Wife, too.  In episode 1.9 of Evil, we get the most explicitly legal episode.  It had the least amount of logically inexplicable demons and supernatural about it - little more than a cat, and even that is debatable.  That was one reason I liked it the best of any episode of Evil so far (though, actually, I admit to liking the supernatural at least a little).

David and the Church are being sued by the woman that David, against Kristen's best advice, performed an exorcism on a few episodes back. In 1.9, she must figure out a way to outwit the sharp attorney - Ms. Lemonhead - played by Jennifer Ferrin, a fine actress who had a great role in Hell on Wheels, in case you remember.   (By the way, giving characters crazy but suitable names was another characteristic of The Good Wife.)  Kristen succeeds (always well played by Katja Herbers, but I don't think she was in The Good Wife), with the help of the Church's attorney, Renée (played by Renée Elise Goldsberry, who also was in The Good Wife), who, guess what, has the hots for David (another characteristic of The Good Wife, but I'll stop doing this).  But most of these scenes do take place in a series of legal depositions.

And, then, in a very nice wrap-up, Renée not only gets David and the Church off the hook, but her desire for David would have kept him from being killed.  She seduces him when he has a meeting at his church.  That meeting would've been shot up by the sicko that Leland has been training to do this.  Fortunately for everyone - except Leland, who's infuriated by this result - the sicko kills himself rather than opening fire in the church.

This leaves open the question of who, exactly, is Leland?  He has some connection to the 60 daemons - he gets one of them, apparently, to train the kid to kill.   So this makes Leland, what?  The Devil?

We'll just have to see.  And now that I'm all caught up, I'll try to review each new episode of Evil on a more timely basis.

Evil 1.7-8: Sigils and Weight

Continuing with catching up on episodes of Evil, which I have to say is getting better, now up to 1.7 and 1.8.

Sigils aka symbols of daemons propel both episodes.  First, in episode 1.7, our team and we discover that they're not only enclosed in the 1550-AD codex we saw in the previous episode.  Everyone from Leland to David's father use them, or rather, it, the one sigil David is beginning to see everywhere.  Are all of these people somehow adherents or vassals to this evil daemon?   Certainly Leland could be, now fomenting hatred of women in an impressionable teenage boy.   But David's father?

We meet him in episode 1.8 - Leon, played by Vondie Curtis-Hall, a great actor that I first noticed on television in Chicago Hope in the mid-1990s, and we don't see enough of these days.   He's a painter in Evil, with two wives, one of whom is very pregnant, and that's the sanest part of the story.

Because before this hour over, the pregnant wife gives birth to a ghoul in the field before Kristen's horrified eyes.  While this is happening, David gets to dance with someone, one of his and therefore his father's ancestors, who came to America on a slave ship in the 1850s, but seems alive and well and smiling today.  David and Kristen are both slightly hallucinating on some drug slipped into their sangria, and that's the only explanation we (or at least, I) can find for these bizarre events.

On the bright side, Leon explains that he knew the sigil was evil, but he appropriated it as symbol in his paintings, so he cold be in control.  He did this as his way of "carrying the weight" of slavery.  All that was missing was Paul McCartney singing "Carry that Weight".   But speaking of recording, Ben almost has a good romp in bed with the woman from the TV show.  But it doesn't happen when Ben learns about her belief that her dead sister is embedded in her arm.  Crazy or possessed?  The point is that, in Evil, you just never know.

Just one more episode to catch up, so I'll be back here with another review soon.

Evil 1.5-6: Seeing Red

I've been remiss in watching and reviewing Evil because, how much evil can anyone take?  But I've resolved to start making up for that, so here's a review of Evils 1.5 and 1.6 (the last one I reviewed was 1.4), with reviews of the rest of to follow soon.

The two episodes have completely different but always related stories.  Episode 1.5 was about an exorcism and 1.6 about a prophetess.  The series continues to carefully balance supernatural which may be real, and pseudo-supernatural which turns out to explicable by science.  And due to Leland's continued presence, which escalates in these two episodes in a, well, romantic way, there's also a suitably unsettling psychopathic element throughout.

Kristen doesn't believe that Caroline's ills can't be helped or cured by exorcism in episode 1.5 - she and a psychiatrist are sure they're ills of the mind not the soul - and she substitutes tap water for holy water to prove it.  When the tap water has the same effect, when presumed to be holy water, it seems that she has proved her case.  But at the end of the episode, David's exorcism does the job.  Score one for religion.

But, in other matters, Ben demonstrates the very real-world tricks that a psychic-investigating TV show is up to, and Kristen's daughters are frightened by a girl with a really-burned burned face that they but we never see.   Score two for the non-supernatural.

In episode 1.6, our team investigates a woman whose prophecies are identical to a codex from 1550 that, according to the Church, very few people have seen.  ICE deports her before David's investigation is complete - another justified shot at the unacceptable state of our immigration policies in the Trump regime.  Ben's explanation that, for all we know, many more people saw the codex, seems as good as any.  But the woman also tells Kristen to beware of red and ....

Back to Leland and Kristen's mother Sheryl - she winds up sleeping with Leland even after Kristen tells her he's a psycho, and in the last scene, Sheryl gets up in the morning, looks at Leland asleep in her bed, and picks out something nice to wear in her closet - which is red.   (And, just for good measure in this Evil conundrum, she earlier foresaw a woman's house being destroyed.)

So there you have it, this continuing, razor-sharp balance of natural and supernatural.  And I'll be back soon with more reviews on the edge.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Fiddler on the Roof - In Yiddish, Off-Broadway, Outstanding

My wife and I just got back from Fiddler on the Roof - at the Stage 42 theater, appropriately enough, on 42nd Street, just a few blocks from Broadway.  In Yiddish - only appropriate, since the play (written in English by Joe Stein in the 1960s, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) is based on stories written by Sholem Aleichem in Yiddish at the end of the 19th century.

I've had a long relationship with this wonderful play and the stories it is based upon.  I read Sholem Aleichem as part of my Yiddish studies in shuleh at the end of the 1950s.  I saw the play in the mid-60s on Broadway with my entire family, including my grandmother, who had escaped Kiev with her brothers around the same time as Tevye struggles to make sense of the world that is coming into being in Fiddler someplace not too far from Kiev.  My wife played Yente in Fiddler in her summer camp, also in the mid-1960s.  And we saw the movie with Topol as Tevye in the early 1970s.

And, what can I say, this marvelous play has special relevance to our own times because, well, it's about life in Russia and Ukraine, and on one level is about the intolerance of the ruling class (Russians) to people viewed as irrevocably others (in this case, people like my maternal grandmother and her brothers, and, by descent, people like my family and me).  That's the political subtext and sometimes text of this story.

But the continuing forefront of the play is how Tevye, father of five daughters and seeming defender of tradition, finds his beliefs severely tested as his three oldest daughters each break way from tradition in the mates they choose to marry in successively more drastic ways.  These stories are conveyed in wonderfully memorable songs, brought into motion by some astonishing dancing. In one case, of four men with bottles balanced precariously on their heads as they danced,  I couldn't tell if the bottles were in some way attached to their hats (via velcro or whatever), they danced so well without disturbing the bottles [Note added 13 December 2019: But see comment below from Fiddler choreographer: Amazing! The bottles in this breathtaking performance were actually balanced on the dancers’ heads!].   If only Tevye were able to balance the vicissitudes of his life so effectively.  If only everyone else was, then and today.

Steven Skybell as Tevye was just superb, as was every single other person in the cast.  Hearing it in Yiddish, which I can understand just a little better than a bissel, was a joy. The story and the acting brought tears of every kind to my eyes.  It's rare that I say this about any play, movie, or television show, but seeing that play was a truly life-affirming experience. Fiddler is supposed to close in early January 2020.  See it if you can!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Interviewed by Bob Mann on Inaugural Episode of Hot Media: We Talked about Donald Trump's Threat to a Free Press

I was interviewed 52 times on Bob Mann's Let's Consider the Source radio show on Sirius/XM Radio from 2007 through 2019 (see here for a list of all shows and topics), including his final show in January 2017.  I was thus especially pleased and honored to be his very first guest on his new podcast Hot Media earlier this week.  Our topic was the threat Donald Trump poses to freedom of expression.

Vikings 6.1-2: Russia!

With Russia and Ukraine so much in the news these days, the sixth (and final) season of Vikings, which debuted on the History Channel on Wednesday with a double-episode that takes place in the 800s, couldn't be more timely with a story about the "Rus" part of the Vikings, that even takes place in Kiev, no less.

The narrative, as always, a colorful and intricate weave.  Ivar's on the The Silk Road, trying to get as far away from Kattegat as he can after last season's bloody defeat.  He ends up in Kiev, and meets a Russian Prince, Oleg - "The Prophet" - who proves to as cunning and deadly as any of the Vikings.  Before the two hours conclude,  Ivar is drawn into Oleg's plot to re-take Kattegat - or maybe it was Ivar who drew in Oleg.

Back home, it's good to see Bjorn as King.  He was always pretty high up on the decency chart, and his decision to support King Harald makes sense.  (Bjorn will certainly need Harald's help when Oleg and Ivar arrive.) Ubbe is a fine second-in-command, in effect, and it will also be fun to see him re-united with Floki, who, with any luck, is on his way to America, or at least Greenland.  Hvitserk's a mess, but we the audience know he is right, and way ahead of his brothers, in being obsessed with the danger Ivar still poses.

Lagertha's arc is enjoyable - she's always been a great character - but more predictable than usual at the beginning of this sixth season.  The hero who wants to retire, and find some years in peace and quiet, but gets drawn back into the conflict to fight a final battle, is a trope as common as swordplay in epics of the past and future.  The difference is that usually this character is a man.  In any case, logic and the coming attractions tell us will be seeing the shield maiden in action before too long this season.  Violence for better and worse has always been an integral part of this story.

And I'll be back here next week with another review.

See also Vikings 5.1-2: Floki in Iceland ... Vikings 5.3: Laughing Ivar ...Vikings 5.4: Four of More Good Stories ... Vikings 5.5: Meet Lawrence of Arabia ... Vikings 5.6: Meanwhile, Back Home ... Vikings 5.7: A Looming Trojan-War Battle, Vikings Style, and Two Beautiful Stories ...Vikings 5.8: Only Heahmund? ... Vikings 5.9: Rollo ... Vikings 5.10: New and Old Worlds ... Vikings 5.11: Rollo's Son ... Vikings 5.12: "The Beast with Two Backs" ... Vikings 5.13: The Sacrifice ... Vikings 5.14: Fake News in Kattegat ... Vikings 5.15: Battle ... Vikings 5.16: Peace and War ... Vikings 5.17: No Harmony in Iceland ... Vikings 5.18: Demented Ivar ... Vikings 5.19-20: Endings and Beginnings

And see also Vikings 4.1: I'll Still Take Paris ... Vikings 4.2: Sacred Texts ...Vikings 4.4: Speaking the Language ... Vikings 4.5: Knives ... Vikings 4.8: Ships Up Cliff ... Vikings 4.10: "God Bless Paris" ... Vikings 4.11: Ragnar's Sons ... Vikings 4.12: Two Expeditions ... Vikings 4.13: Family ... Vikings 4.14: Penultimate Ragnar? ... Vikings 4.15: Close of an Era ... Vikings 1.16: Musselman ... Vikings 1.17: Ivar's Wheels ...Vikings 1.18: The Beginning of Revenge ... Vikings 4.19: On the Verge of History ... Vikings 4.20: Ends and Starts

And see also Vikings 3.1. Fighting and Farming ... Vikings 3.2: Leonard Nimoy ...Vikings 3.3: We'll Always Have Paris ... Vikings 3.4: They Call Me the Wanderer ... Vikings 3.5: Massacre ... Vikings 3.6: Athelstan and Floki ...Vikings 3.7: At the Gates ... Vikings 3.8: Battle for Paris ... Vikings 3.9: The Conquered ... Vikings Season 3 Finale: Normandy

lots about The Silk Road here too...