2018: A Noisy Year, and Time for Changes

I’ve been writing the same, tired “Year in Review” article for a few years now. With the exception of one particularly creative dive into Boethius, admittedly a deep track reference if there ever was one, these write ups have been unremarkable and, I confess, lazy.

I’ve been doing this blog for almost seven years now. I don’t think our pop culture discourse has ever been noisier. It also, has never been less creative.

I read the same article about the same movie probably four or five times, every time. The assessment of film has become of an inescapable groupthink, which more often than not settles on analysis that is an inch deep and a mile wide. This problem isn’t unique to film, it’s in writing about television, sports, politics, basically all of journalism. We’re drawn to the hot take, the short article, the snarky humor, the bland repetitive analysis.

So what does this have to do with the state of popular culture in 2018? After all, 2018 was the year that brought us the best superhero movie (Black Panther), the best series finale of a television show (The Americans), Spike Lee’s return to form (Blackkklansman), and Steven Spielberg’s return to blockbusters (Ready Player One). The year’s biggest movie, globally, was the culmination of a massive series of films the likes of which we haven’t seen before (Avengers: Infinity War). These are real achievements, but something about them feels hollow. That isn’t right.

Film is about images. Roger Ebert understood this and repeated it often. What is lacking from the conversation is how those images make us feel. What they mean. In the moment, and more importantly, in the next moment.

Everything isn’t meant to be compared to everything else before it. With so many legacy movies, series, and filmmakers out there, we’ve been obsessed with just that – legacy. Legacy before the ink of history is even dry. This constant comparison makes art disposable. The art isn’t appreciated for what it is, but for how it measures up to other art. This, in case I’m not being clear, is a bad thing.

You could write about Blackkklansman and compare it to Lee’s earlier work, or you can talk about how Lee uses the film as a sledgehammer to shake the audience out of complacency. You could knock Spielberg as overly nostalgic, or you could point out how he uses nostalgia as a tool to reveal the humanity of an artificial world in Ready Player One. Black Panther is many things to many people, but instead of writing about what everyone is talking about, you can look deeper and see how and why Ryan Coogler’s best shot is when Killmonger walks into the throne-room. Ignore the noise – what does art mean to YOU? That is what I’m to endeavor to answer in the future.

That brings me to what’s changing on this page going forward:

1) I’m not writing traditional reviews anymore. See a movie or show, or don’t. I’m going to be writing about my impressions beyond simply answering whether art is good or bad.

2) Historical context needs time to develop. A new rule: a film or series needs to be at least five years old to have its influence discussed, ten to be understood, thirty to be fully appreciated.

3) I’m changing up the format a bit and working on a few other changes. It’s time.

4) I’ll still do Game of Thrones and maybe other Power Rankings, but I’ll be more thoughtful about a character or group’s story in the broader context.

5) I’m going to write about more random topics. I like to do that.

Thanks for sticking with this experiment that I started in 2012. I’ll do my best to continue making it worthwhile.

D.G. McCabe

December 21, 2018

(C) 2018

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Four

A day late, but here is your weekly Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings!

1. Elsie

She’s alive!  Why, how, or for how long, we don’t know.  But she’s alive!

2. Maeve

Bring on Samurai World dammit!

3. Dolores

Dolores got the week off, but the murderous robot queen can’t fall past third right now in my opinion.

4. William

Why did William bother trying to keep James Delos alive?  We may never know.

5. Robert Ford

However, I’ll bet the end of Ford’s “game” involves Ford still being alive in a robot, then shooting William in the head.

6. Bernard

Bernard’s journey was far too confusing to comment on this week.

Also receiving votes: Teddy, William’s Daughter, Charlotte Hale, Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Arnold,  Young William, Clementine, Ser Pounce, Roxy Music, giving the devil an offering, and shots of nitroglycerine.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Three

I was impressed with the third episode of Season 2.  The introduction of the other parks gives the show a new lease on life so to speak.  That said, here is your weekly Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings!

1. Maeve

I’m not sure where Maeve thinks she is going, but she has some clear advantages.  First, the Delos Corporation mercenaries don’t seem to be looking for her.  Second, she has a group with diverse skill sets that is, importantly, only half robot.   On the downside, the whole group might be lost in Samurai World.

2. Dolores

Westworld’s other sentient robot overlord has the most firepower, but look at her closest associates and look at Maeve’s.  I mean, c’mon, Teddy?  Really?

3. Charlotte Hale

Pros: Charlotte has unexpected survival skills.  Cons: Charlotte had her goons charge a fortification head-on with windowless cars.

4. Robert Ford

Ford’s cat and mouse game with William got a break this week, thus the drop in the Power Rankings.

5. William, the Man in Black

And William is still losing said cat and mouse game.

6. Bernard

Bernard isn’t controlling events at this point.  Rather, he seems to be pulled along by other players, especially Charlotte.

7. Teddy

We already know Teddy’s decision to have mercy on the other robots will not end well for him.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Arnold,  Young William, Clementine, Ser Pounce, brainless military maneuvers, predictive text, and fans of Rudyard Kipling and Rule Britannia.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Two

After a bit of a Dolores focused episode, there isn’t a lot of movement this week on the Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings.  But, out of force of habit, I’ll publish one anyway.

1. Robert Ford

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was hilarious when the army leader, after giving a long winded lecture to William, switches gears and delivers a personal “*#%*% You” from Ford.

2. Maeve

Dolores IS just playing Ford’s game, she just doesn’t know it.  Even though Dolores let Maeve pass freely this time, more conflict between the two, self-aware robots feels inevitable.

3. Dolores

Did Arnold design Dolores to retain memories on purpose?  That’s what I’d like to know.

4. William, the Man in Black

If the big reveal of this season is “Delos/William use Westworld to scoop up personal data and sell it to advertisers,” I’m going to be vastly disappointed.

5. Karl Strand

6. Bernard

7. Charlotte Hale

The next three stay put on the rankings, since, you know, nothing happened to them this week.

 

8. Teddy

Teddy, on the other hand, is always in last place.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore,  Young William,  Ser Pounce, robot cocktail hour, zombie robots, and splendor.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode One

I’m not above copying an idea, and what works for Game of Thrones can work for Westworld. This is assuming that Season 2 doesn’t go off the rails after three episodes only to rebound in the last five minutes of the season (cough, Season One, cough).

That said, the Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings are nigh. Repent!

1. Robert Ford

Fire me will you? How about I kill everyone (including me) with my evil robot creations! Muhahahahahaha!

2. Dolores

While Dolores is a robot, her insatiable thirst for vengeance is an entirely human reaction to a lifetime of being tortured, raped, and murdered every day. She’s become Skynet from The Terminator (1984) and the Maschinenmensch from Metropolis (1927) all rolled into one.

3. Maeve

What Lee, the buffoon writer, doesn’t get is that Maeve doesn’t care if her child isn’t really “her child.” She’s found purpose, and that purpose is recusing the one good thing she found in her entire screwed up existence.

4. William, the Man in Black

Ford respected William more than any non-Arnold human. Ford’s crescendo is murderous, suicidal, and specifically designed to give William exactly what he wants.

5. Karl Strand

New character alert! Strand is the leader of the group that Delos has charged with cleaning up Ford’s mess. He has lots of guns and soldiers! What could possibly go wrong?

6. Bernard

Things aren’t going well for our robot/clone/whatever. There’s only one reason why he’s ahead of Charlotte.

7. Charlotte Hale

Bernard is still alive in the “flash forward” scenes, helping Strand. I don’t see Charlotte.

8. Teddy

Poor Teddy. Designed to be the Ned Stark of this world.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Elsie Hughes, Arnold, Armistice the Snake Woman, Young William, Clementine, dead tigers, the Sea, Chinese island making technology, Ser Pounce, and a feast for robot vultures.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones Books vs. Show: Everyone Else

I had initially intended this post to focus on House Lannister.  Then, I thought about it some more and realized that I basically already covered Tyrion, and there was no point on spending a whole post on two characters.  Instead I’ll just wrap up this series, book-ended below with the Lannister twins.  Here’s a Lannister sigil before we get into spoilers:

Jaime Lannister

The show has taken Jaime’s story so far from the books that it’s easy todeclare that none of his story from the show past Season 4 will be in the books at all.  Some elements will probably be in the books, but only as elements, not as full plot threads.  For example, Myrcella is a goner, but Jaime is so far from Dorne right now in the books that he won’t have much to do with that plot.

Does Jaime survive his encounter with Lady Stoneheart?  It seems that he probably will.  Having Stoneheart kill Jaime would be like if the show killed him during the dragon battle this season.  It would make some sense, but there just seems to be more for the character to do.  That’s about the only clue we have from the show.

The Freys

Maybe Arya kills Lord Walder, maybe Lady Stoneheart will.  One way or another the Freys are toast.

The Brotherhood without Banners

Whatever role Beric will play on the show going forward will probably be played by Lady Stoneheart in the books.  Otherwise, Gendry never fell out with the Brotherhood and Thoros is still there.  I could also see the Hound meeting up with them at some point (if he hasn’t already).

Brienne of Tarth

Brienne and Jaime are similar in that the show has moved their characters so far from their book counterparts that it becomes impossible to predict where they go from here.  It seems possible she might survive her Lady Stoneheart encounter because she’s still alive on the show, but when was the last time she actually did much of anything of importance on the show?

House Martell

Doran won’t go down so easily in the books, but he will probably go down.  His behind the scenes manipulation keeps failing.  Additionally, he’s about to throw his lot in with the Mummer’s Dragon – fake Aegon.

House Tyrell

George R.R. Martin has indicated that Loras’ two older brothers, who were written out of the show, have a big role to play in the books.  This would take the Tyrell story in a completely different direction.

Samwell Tarly

The show skipped over Sam’s long travelogue, but in the end, he got to the same destination where he’ll probably end up at in the books:  Winterfell by way of Oldtown.  I don’t see much evidence for any big differences here.

House Greyjoy

Euron is a big, scary bad guy in the books already, but the show has pretty much given him Victarion’s storyline.  The show hasn’t provided us with much evidence for how either of those stories will play out in the books.  Theon and Yara/Asha are captives of Stannis at the moment too, which would be a radical starting point for any of their show adventures since last season.

House Baratheon

Speaking of Stannis, he’s still very much alive in the books.  Ramsey probably defeats him after a time.  Beyond that, it’s hard to say what else happens since show Stannis didn’t bring his family with him to attack Winterfell.

Cersei Lannister

Finally, we have the other big Lannister character still on the board.  While some of the circumstances may be different, Cersei is in the same spot in the books currently that she was at the end of season 5.  Here’s where she goes from here, I think, with one of my bolder predictions.

First, Margaery wins her trial.  Sometime after that, Cersei convinces Tommen to pledge fealty to fake Aegon.  This sets up a coronation scene in the Sept of Baelor where Margaery and MaceTyrell, two of the three Sand Snakes, the High Sparrow, Fake Aegon, and Arianne Martell are all in the same room.  But wait, where are Cersei and Tommen?  That’s when the Sept blows up.  This will be Arianne Martell and/or Jon Connington’s last point of view chapter.

Myrcella and Tommen may die in similar ways that they do on the show, but I think the, “Cersei blows up the Sept and steals the Iron Throne” story plays out more or less the same.  The next question is how Cersei reacts to Daenerys and Jon, and there’s no evidence so far that it’s too far from the books right now.

Anyway those are my Winds of Winter/Dream of Spring predictions based on where we are on the show.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe

 

 

 

Game of Thrones Books vs. Show: House Stark

As promised, volume 2 will focus on the Starks. This will focus on four characters: Arya, Bran, Sansa, and Jon Snow. Spoilers abound below the sigil.

Arya

Arya’s Braavos storyline will probably be pretty similar in the books. The pre-release chapter describes her time with the mummers and her dispatching of Meryn Trant. It follows that the Faceless Men would then try to kill her for going rogue and she would fight them off, earning the right to quit.

However, the Waif-fight sequence feels like a show contrivance. It would be out of character for the Faceless Men to kill for their own purposes, and hard for them to get the drop on Arya, who is a warg in the books. It’s more likely they just kick her out.

That’s where her plot becomes hard to predict. Maybe she finishes off Walder Frey, but the Northern Lords might take him out first. There’s no Great Northern Conspiracy on the show after all. She’s been warging Nymeria since A Clash of Kings, so a meeting probably will be unnecessary. Finally, this season’s conflict between Sansa and Arya feels like a show-only thing, although there might be some tension when they meet in the books.

Sansa

The show threw out Sansa’s story from the books and gave her Jeyne Poole’s in Season 5. That was a shortcut rightly savaged by critics at the time. Instead, except her to continue climbing the ladder in the Vale, eventually turning the Lords of the Eyrie to her side. Robin isn’t quite as gross in the books either, he’s like 6. I think she dispatches Littlefinger long before heading North too.

From there her story could match up well. She might save Jon’s hide, become Lady of Winterfell, and be there when Bran and Arya return.

She’ll be there when Davos brings Rickon to Winterfell too I’d suspect. Yeah, he’s not going to die due lack of zigzagging in the books. I predict that was a shortcut to stop paying two actors. Shaggydog might be fine too for similar reasons – no need to decrease the direwolf effects budget in a book.

Bran

Bran’s story probably matches up okay. I suspect the only show contrivance so far was the “let’s kill the mutineers” sequence from Season 4.  He’ll continue to train with the Three Eye-Raven/Brynden Rivers until something happens forcing him to flee.  Hodor will die holding a door.  Jojen will probably die somehow too.  Summer may or may not.  If he does, he’ll die doing more to protect Bran.

Otherwise, Bran hasn’t done much on the show.  It’s hard to predict how his story would play out in the books beyond the part where he’ll have to escape the tree cavern for some reason.

Jon Snow

Here’s one of the predictions you’ve probably been waiting for.  The key thing to remember about Jon Snow in the books is that he’s significantly more intelligent and less impulsive than Jon Snow on the show.  He’s been called more dull in the books too, so maybe the show made him more impulsive to liven things up.  He can also warg Ghost.  With that understanding, predicting Jon’s actions in the books becomes a bit easier.

Warging Ghost will have something to do with how Jon survives his assassination.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the a chapter or two with him inside the direwolf.  His body might still be resurrected by the Lord of Light, or it might be another kind of magic.  Also, expect Val to play the Davos role for a while.

Once he’s back, he will execute the traitors and hand off his Lord Commander role to someone else.  That’s a bit more complicated since Castle Black is  crowded at this point with Stannis’ people. Additionally, Jon has sent his closest allies to man other castles.  Jon won’t just impulsively hand over the duties to Ed, he’ll take the temperature of the remaining Night’s Watchmen first.

I think Ramsey’s letter is legit in the books.  Jon will have to gather his forces and fight the Boltons.  To make this work, the Great Northern Conspiracy would have to fail to a certain extent, and Stannis would have to lose the Battle in the Ice.  Jon’s depleted force might be on the brink of losing too, until Sansa rides in with the Lords of the Vale to turn the tide.

Don’t expect Jon to rush the Bolton lines himself or do anything dumb in planning the battle.  The books have proven him to be a competent strategist.  He just won’t have the manpower to outmatch the combined Bolton/Frey forces without the Vale coming in to save the day.

After Jon and Sansa take Winterfell, he may be summoned to Daenerys.  Some of their interaction seems Martinesque in Season 7, so it might track fairly closely.  I would not, however, expect a dumb plan to capture a wight and bring it to Cersei, that screams shortcut.

Jon will be King in the North too, but it won’t be just because everyone loves him that much.  In the books Robb wrote a will legitimizing Jon and making him heir to the North.  Robb’s wife, Jeyne Westerling, is still alive too, and might play a role in delivering said will to Winterfell.

Anyone, next up are the Lannisters.

(c) 2017 D.G. McCabe