The Rest of the Books from 2019

had been planning to go season by season, but last year was a carnival ride stuck on fast forward, or a better metaphor for the fact that way too much happened in way too short a time span. Also I barely read any books apparently, so there’s that.

Here is a brief look at each of the other books I read until the end of the year, or, at least, the ones I remember. And I barely remember anything.

Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

puddin'

I liked it! A worthy sequel to Dumplin’. It humanized that one girl. The one on the right on the cover. Can’t remember her name, but whatever – the main kinds of sequels I want are where, in the first one, there’s some inexplicable villainous girl/woman, and in the sequel, she learns to not be so villainous by making a bunch of female friends. Big recommend for this one if that’s also your thing.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

her body and other parties

Loooooooved this. It was very disturbing. I love feminist fantasy short stories and this one was very very good. The one retelling of the girl with the black ribbon around her neck was the standout for me.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

columbine

Here’s where things get depressing. There are no words to describe this book adequately, but I think that if you’re alive in the twenty-first century you should read it. It injects a lot of nuance and spends most of its time correcting mistruths about the Columbine shooting that have become cultural myths. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a long time afterwards.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

god help the child

This is only the second Morrison book I’ve read. I’ve also read The Bluest Eye, which was horrifying and unforgettable, and her first novel. This one is her final novel. It’s amazing. She was amazing. I’m still unsure how I never encountered her books in school. I took “Contemporary Literature,” I took “American Literature,” I read a whole bunch of Arthur Miller in high school which, in retrospect, is ridiculous. Come on, now, English curricula-makers.

The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

suffragette scandal

This one closed out The Brothers Sinister series. It may have been my least favourite. I think the love interest was a little too self-hating for my tastes – but just a little bit. And still, being my least favourite of the series doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It’s great. I do wish that the covers of these books featured more era-appropriate dresses but WHATEVER.

Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee

lucky few

I really, really, really loved the first book I read by Ormsbee (Tash Hearts Tolstoy). This one was enjoyable, and I remember everything that happened in the first 2/3s of it, but I have no idea how it ended. And it has kind of annoyed me, because I can’t figure it out still. I’ll have to check.

She just ripped a door off its hinges, doesn’t that tell you something?

Let’s hop back into Merlin, shall we?

Lancelot and Guinevere

relationship goals

Uhhhhhhh… relationship… goals?

Morgana and Gwen go off on a pilgrimage and immediately get attacked and kidnapped by bandits. There is some gross leering. Morgana escapes, but Gwen gets injured and can’t escape with her. The bandits decide to pass Gwen off as Morgana, and Uther is not interested at all in using Camelot soldiers to save Gwen, because she’s just a servant.

It’s OK though, because Arthur and Merlin go after her. Perhaps my favourite part is when Morgana is yelling at Arthur about what a horrible person he is and that he should go save Gwen, and Arthur is sighing and packing for his rescue mission and he’s eventually like, “Morgana, can you not see that I’m packing?” Just like that part with Sokka while Katara yells at him about saving Aang, also a favourite of mine.

Merlin teases Arthur the whole way there for being in love with Gwen. Arthur actually admits it too, which is unexpected and kind of nice.

BUT! Lancelot is there with Gwen, literally in the next cell. He is depressed and doesn’t think his life matters because his ideals have led to nothing, but Gwen telling him she has feelings for him makes him be like “Oh never mind then,” which is stupid. Later, he gets her out of her cell, tells her to run and he’ll buy her time, she’s like “I’m not leaving you here to die” and he says “I would die for you 100 times over” so I guess he still doesn’t think his life has enough value to try to preserve it. He just wanted a valiant purpose to die. This is potentially fine – it’s the chivalrous ideal that the King Arthur mythos is all about, but maybe it needed to be a two-parter or something, to flesh out the chivalrous ideal and all their tangled romantic feelings and Merlin’s messy gossip-houndness and such.

Anyway Arthur and Merlin save them both. Then Arthur is JELLY. He doesn’t handle it well. But Lancelot is like “I gotta give up on this dream for the good of the realm” and he fades into the night, leaving poor Gwen brokenhearted. K.

Annoyingly, there is another giant animal antagonist in this episode, but at least they look cool. Also none of them die, which is good.

Beauty and the Beast – Part 1

I vividly remember this two parter – I believe this may be a highlight of the series. It is so funny. It has it all: Uther being humiliated, Uther being humiliated, and Uther being humiliated.

There’s probably something to unpack about… conventional… attractiveness… but I’m not even sure. Mostly, I’m just happy that a lovely, regal actress gets to do double duty as a lovely, regal charade, and also the troll. It is SO FUN to watch. The only time women get to act even halfway like this on screen is if they’re fat, and even especially then, it’s not nearly this much fun.

The premise is that a highborn acquaintance of Uther’s is actually dead, but a random troll uses magic to take on her image and seduce and marry Uther so that she can have all his money. Sarah Parish is a lot of fun in these episodes, but to be fully immersed in the delight. you do need to know how terrible Uther is, so you have to watch everything else first. Them’s just the rules.

Beauty and the Beast – Part 2

The best part of this very, very good two parter is that Uther and the troll have sex.

So.

That happens here.

That’s the episode.

Also later Uther and Arthur have an awkward conversation about it, LMFAO.

In all seriousness, Merlin, Arthur, and Gaius all have to work together to save Camelot, and Arthur’s stomping around going “the people are poor, they can’t afford higher taxes, give them their money back” while Gwen smiles, and Uther is a dope the whole time and gets punched in the face by the troll, and Merlin tries to hug Arthur, so this is excellent content.

The Witchfinder

Merlin does a nifty trick, alerting the kingdom to there being sorcery within. Uther sends for the title of this episode and Gaius yells at Merlin for being stupid.

It’s Charles Dance! Instantly, I am scared. He does tend to play (mostly) competent evil dudes.

Here is no exception. He figures out Merlin is a sorcerer 10 minutes into the episode. But Gaius takes the heat, and it turns out Aredian (that’s the Witchfinder’s name) is just a grifter. Merlin has to prove this and as usual does so by sneaking around other peoples’ bedchambers.

Merlin sneaks around people’s bedchambers A LOT on this show. It’s kind of bizarre, but I suppose it’s a good way to both build tension and fill time.

Refreshingly, in this episode, Gwen helps Merlin solve the crime. Also, was Arthur really going to stand there and watch Gaius get burnt at the stake if Gwen didn’t yell at him?

Uther barely apologizes to Gaius for almost burning him at the stake and Gaius throws him a lot of shade before and after he finally gets to it. Gaius is the man.

This is a great episode.

Snowflakes

Because the phrase “special snowflake” and sometimes just “snowflake” is so tired and overused and usually lobbed at people who are often just reminding everyone in a tired voice that it doesn’t matter that they’re different, they should still have human rights like everyone else, it had slipped my mind that snowflakes are actually pretty special and amazing.

Someone tweeted something like that recently, and who it was slips my mind as well. But here’s a link to a photographer who has some macro images of snowflakes and a store.

 

Holiday Busy Work with Jack and Sally

After a post about intrusive dark thoughts during this season, and then Netflix deciding to autoplay a trailer for something I extremely don’t want to watch as soon as I opened it, (CW: animal cruelty: not You or something stupid, I mean a trailer which includes footage of an animal snuff film, which is not something you’re supposed to show people out of nowhere, or at all), maybe it’s time to do a coping mechanism.

I like to watch fictional people do things carefully and log what they’re doing. Usually that just means I pay attention to what I’m watching, but this time, I’ll make an actual list of all the things they do.

nightmare1

Here’s Jack Skellington trying to figure out Christmas via science experiments.

He gets all of his equipment together. He starts with the microscope, looking at a holly berry. He cooks/electocutes (?) a candy cane, which loses its red stripes and becomes spaghetti. Cool trick.

Then he does a Nailed It challenge with cutting out a snowflake, but it turns out to be a spider. He incises a teddy, and looks at some fluff with a microscope. He crumbles up a red and gold striped ornament, places it in a thing of boiling water (?) and it flashes green.

This teaches him nothing.

nightmare2

Next is Sally:

She funnels some sort of liquid into a bottle. Then scoops a powder in as well, and corks it. She places the bottle in a gift basket with… I’m not sure what. Then she uses her sewing machine to drop the basket out the window safely.

She follows it by just jumping. To put herself back together, she pulls out needle and thread from behind her ear and pocket, then starts with her arm, and then her leg. Then she heads over to Jack’s.

It’s annoying that the part where he opens the bottle and there’s a smoke butterfly isn’t here, but that’s what happens.

nightmare4

This is a really menial thing, but it manages to focus the mind on something else. It’s not “just” a distraction – it’s a, “look, the thing you’re thinking about is self-destructive. There’s nothing constructive about it. Focus on something else and move on.”

Also, this task is helpful because Youtube will probably one day remove those videos, but there’s a full description of them there anyway, even if the videos are just grey space.

Maybe in the spring I’ll do this again with the cake and dress scene in Sleeping Beauty.

Dark Thoughts at the Holidays

*the cat is just Missy, she’s fine

Happy holidays. Let me define “dark thoughts” for my purpose here – I’m not talking about suicide ideation or anything closing in on that. These aren’t depression-related, either. If anything, it’s a mixture of anxiety, compassion fatigue, and maybe some vicarious trauma thrown in there. 

Dark thoughts, for me, are “intrusive imagery,” or maybe “unbidden thoughts.” Things in your head that you didn’t try to put there, and – at least for this little blog post – things that really suck. I think everyone gets them from time to time, but I’m only in my one head so I don’t know.

I use the word “fun” a few times in this post, entirely sarcastically. I’m also trying not to put in the details of my thoughts, even though they would certainly add colour. Horrific details, even details of things that are just thoughts and never happened, have the potential to hurt others, and writing them would definitely hurt me. The most specific I get is with thoughts about fire.

I thought I would do this now, in mid-December, because this time of the year is all happy and bright, and having dark thoughts these days is particularly awful. But what better time to write about it if that’s what I want to do – pretending like everything is perfect is destructive, after all.

So here’s what my brain does, against my will:

Sometimes without wanting to I remember a particularly terribly news story or real-life anecdote – more likely a particularly terrible detail from it, and can’t really stop my entire mood from darkening, no matter how many times I’ve thought about that detail before.

Worse are the thoughts of what might happen – I think about awful things happening to my family, my friends, my cats, my foster cats. I don’t just mean ordinary awful things – I do get some of those, like car accidents; injury; illness; escape, and getting, and staying lost (in the case of my cats) – but most of the intrusive imagery I get are truly deranged things, like if the cruelest person ever got a hold of any of them. Why? How is this useful to me? Those thoughts are often also coupled with details of where I am while it’s happening and why I can’t do anything to save them.

These, and the others that follow, are worse than the news stories or anecdotes not because I’m imagining things happening to my people (although that’s part of it), but really because they’re things that aren’t happening, that haven’t happened, that probably won’t happen – what a waste of time and emotion, then, thinking about them.

Ever since I started working at the shelter, I periodically can’t help but think about the entire shelter burning down. When I was a kid, I thought frequently about our house burning down, and I still do that. How fun. Now I get to imagine the horrors of trying to find my very timid cats should such a thing happen. Even though it probably won’t. When I think about the shelter burning down, a fun thing that happens is that I think about the different sections of the shelter that a fire could be contained in, and the faces and names of each animal currently housed there run through my mind in a horrific little roll-call of who would die.

Since moving in on my own, my dark thoughts about what might happen to me specifically have gotten… darker. It’s weird because I sometimes go for walks, even in the evening, completely alone, and I’m not scared. But when my mind is idling, every so often, my brain likes to show me all of the horrible things that, again, some ridiculously cruel person might do.

I have had these since I was a child. I frequently cried myself to sleep, imagining that my cat would be stolen and harmed. I was around 10 the first time I can remember having this happen. Over the last couple of years, it has gotten more frequent – but I’ve figured out how to not dwell on the thoughts, at least, so no more crying myself to sleep. Usually.

These days, if I get a long one, I respond by physically tossing my head, and mentally deciding that, actually, no, we’re not doing this today, brain. Most times, the thoughts and imagery are too quick for me to decide to stop them by focusing on something else. No matter what, they darken my mood and then I feel guilty enjoying myself for a little while – even laughing at something funny on TV seems wrong, as if it’s somehow disrespectful to the people and animals who my brain decided I needed to randomly consider terrible things happening to.

It’s particularly jarring if I get images of my cat being hurt and she’s right next to me, so in my mind she’s suffering, and in real life she’ll yawn or stretch or something and is clearly fine.

When I’m alone (among cats), it’s one thing. I hate it the most now that it sometimes happens when I’m around people. I was recently in the middle of a conversation with my mom and she was driving us somewhere, and I got one of them and it threw me off. Now I can’t even remember what that thought was, I just remember it was awful and it affected my mood for a few minutes. I was talking to my mom! There was scenery as we drove to wherever we were going! I had other things to think about! Come on, now, brain.

At this point, I have nothing else to say about these. I don’t know what to do about them. They’ve been a reality for so long, that I think the only way I’ll go to a therapist about them is if they keep getting worse.

For now, I’m doing a couple of things that so far have seemed to help at least a little bit: I read at night, as often as I can, and I listen to more ASMR at night. Both are helpfully soporific, and since bedtime is the major time for the worst of the worst thoughts, both books and ASMR have been helping keep the night thoughts at bay, though not stopping the random day thoughts.

Here’s one I listened to a while ago. It’s relevant and well-done, and it was really nice to listen to.

A very brief Maleficent: Mistress of Evil thought

**spoilers**

 

 

 

One: If you’re trying to make an anti-war movie, it probably helps if it isn’t very fun to watch the title character straight up kill people with magic.

Two: Remember the rule of Shakespeare: a marriage only solves everything if “everything” has been harmless shenanigans*, not if it’s been a tragedy up until this point – family deceit and betrayal and massacre of the innocent included.

*except for the multiple instances of slut-shaming that end in pretend or real death, or both, but, “exception that proves the rule” or whatever.

(Just watch the first one again.)

Don’t even think about the leech tank

And now is season 2.

The Curse of Cornelius Sigan

Half of this episode is Ragetti’s overly elaborate plan to ruin Merlin’s career for a day so that he can steal a key to grave rob. Arthur pretends not to enjoy the two men fighting over him.

Then Merlin makes a deal with the dragon reluctantly and saves Camelot. Arthur and Gwen share a few awkward moments.

Morgana has sweet moments with Gwen and Gaius, except I’m pretty sure that for all his good intentions, Gaius is legit gaslighting Morgana, which is not great.

It’s action-packed and character driven. Both at once. Difficult to explain. I liked it.

The Once and Future Queen

This is the episode I am most familiar with. Arthur is sad because his knights are letting him win. Gwen has to sleep on sacks of what I imagine are potatoes. Arthur is a terrible house guest. Those two previous statements are related. There is some comedy with a dead chicken which I do not appreciate.

Also, there’s an assassin after Arthur. But Gwen is the real Arthur-murderer in this episode, when she finally snaps and tells him how rude he is, and he listens to her.

Perhaps this is a major turning point in his character. I can’t remember if at least some of his arrogance really does dissipate from this point on, but if so, I’ll catch it, and will be highly impressed.

I also like when Merlin snaps.

The Nightmare Begins

This is an apt title for the nonsense of Morgana’s turning to evil subplot, which supposedly begins in this episode.

There are giant scorpions in the woods for some reason. Mordred saves Morgana. Well gee, aren’t we glad we saved him from a child-executioner and general tyrant a little while ago?

Merlin and Gaius acknowledge that being a sorcerer with zero guidance in an intolerant house and community is extremely difficult, and then seem to commit to continuing to allow Morgana to be a sorcerer without any support. At least, it isn’t brought up again. Cool, guys.

She gets support with the Druids. She tries to abscond with them but is captured while Mordred escapes again.

Meh.

Kitbull, or, Why Are You Trying to Kill Me, Pixar?

It was only just this past February when Pixar released a new short (SparkShort?) called Kitbull. But it feels like it has already been feeding away on my soul for decades.

This features some of the best cat animation I’ve ever seen. The dog is very well-done, too, though I’m less impressed by that because dogs are simpler. They just are – it’s not a put-down, just a fact. Once you have studied the musculoskeletal systems of dogs and cats side-by-side, you can never be the same.

The story is what you expect. A kitten and a pitbull? Well, they have to become friends. The kitten is a shy goofball. And the pitbull is being exploited.

I didn’t expect it to be as dark as it was, though. I thought he would just be a typical backyard pitbull, wanting to be included, but never allowed inside. But, alas, he’s being used in fights, which is horrifying. The fighting itself isn’t what got to me (you don’t actually see it, anyway). It was the discarding afterwards, the complete disregard for feelings and for suffering.

In real life, I wouldn’t trust a dog who was trained to fight with any animal other than human beings – at least, not without a lot of good, positive training, and supervision. But in this Pixar short, you’d better believe I bought their friendship right away, which ultimately was about much more than lonely neglected animals being lonely and neglected.

The kitten is a typical semi-feral street kitten, but she is more than that. She is afraid of others and retreats to the solitary comfort of what she knows, and this lends itself to an allegory for human viewers about opening yourself up, relaxing out of your shell a little bit, and being brave enough to reach out to connect, and to help, even when it’s scary.

A fighting dog is a good allegory for human viewers for when everyone wants to fit you into a specific, limiting, and also bad box which is damaging to you, and potentially to others, and it blocks you from making connections that you might want to make.

Luckily they both transcend their figurative and literal boxes and escape the stupid backyard, and then get adopted in a really funny and yet also extremely wrenching scene.

Everyone who made this almost succeeded in murdering me – death by drowning in tears, like Alice that one time.* Thanks.

*I do want to talk briefly about that: the fact that Kitbull got to me, and still gets to me, months later, is nice. It’s very annoying, too, because I hate crying in front of people but I also wanted to make everyone I know watch it, so I had to contort my face into weird expressions to stop myself from crying, and it didn’t really work, but I still think it’s nice.

The daily slog is sometimes not great. Today, in particular (2019/08/02, you can burn right out of the history books) was pretty bad. People neglect their animals, who do nothing to deserve their bland, everyday apathy. And then we, who chose to work in a field that takes a huge emotional toll, have to step in and act as the caregivers, making difficult decisions and being unable to help. Even if the animals don’t feel their own abandonment, we feel it for them. When the animals are going to be euthanized, they don’t know it, but we know it for them. It becomes, as time goes on, harder and harder to care as fully as we used to. The sadness for the animals, the empathy, is too rich and takes too much time to unravel, so instead we just feel quick bursts of anger at people and their apathy, and let that anger fuel us for a day, or an hour, or fifteen minutes. But why do the job when it doesn’t pay and it just makes us angry?

Shorts like Kitbull and Gift, that one awful sequence in Fox and the Hound, the whole opening of Oliver and Company – it’s kind of stupid, but, after a day like today when all I wanted to do when I got home was numb everything with a drink and something boring on Netflix – these are actually what I need. What we do matters. These stories remind me.

Xena Rediscovered II

The Path Not Taken

In this sad episode, Xena pretends to be her previous warlady self. Gabrielle gets herself and some Romeo-type guy locked in jail. There are a bunch of rape threats that are “softened” by this show never using the word “rape.” I know it was a different time, but maybe it would be better to have at least one person refer to is as “rape” and not just have everyone use innuendo all the time. Also it might be better to refer to consensual sex as just “sex” instead of using a bunch of similar innuendos for that.

Having said that, Game of Thrones exists, and proves that using the blunt words for things doesn’t automatically make an anti-sexual violence fantasy TV show. And so far, Xena: Warrior Princess is actually, textually, even without using the real word, anti-rape. Groundbreaking. Brave, even.

Xena’s friend dies doing one good thing, and she sings a sad song.

The Reckoning

Whoever cinematographied this episode liked Lawless’s and O’Connor’s legs. Also, bondage. No judgement here, just observation.

Aries shows up and is a huge jerk. Why is every guy like “Xeeeena, don’t you want my dick and also to join me in killing indiscriminately?” And Xena says no, and they don’t listen, so she outsmarts them, they smirk and go on with their lives… it’s a pattern, is all.

Themes of violence still being discussed.

The Titans

Gabrielle recites a poem and causes the entire plot. She gets called a virgin a whole bunch of times and is awkward. There’s a love triangle between titans that ends in tragedy. Xena saves some kids.

Prometheus

Hercules and Iolaus show up. The show tries to imply that the four of them are soul mates and it’s like, sure, Xena and Gabrielle, and Hercules and Iolaus, those are pairs I’d believe. Anyway. They save the day and no one has to die.

Death in Chains

There has been a lot of bondage lately, actually. Last episode was Prometheus, and him being in shackles meant humans could no longer heal themselves. This time Death is in chains and people can’t die.

I like that a show about a reformed warrior woman takes an episode to talk poetically about death and how death is OK and sometimes a release, and necessary.

I didn’t like that they had a bunch of rats in this episode. I’ve noticed a lot of the credits have little jokes about this or that being harmed or not being harmed in each episode – for this one it says “No Giant Cocktail Rats harmed in the making of this episode” and it’s like… can we please define “harm?”

There is footage of rats falling. Maaaaaaaaybe they used convincing fake rats for that, and if so, I take it all back… but it looked like it was real rats. “Oooooh, it’s the 90s, we can drop five or six rats onto the actors or into a tunnel, it’s fine.” And yes, the rats, if they were real rats and I think they were, would likely survive that fall, but just because they’d survive it doesn’t justify dropping the little guys. At best they were scared and bruised, and in my opinion that’s harm.

Also, according to the credit statement, which is really just there to be a joke, no one was actually monitoring animal action. This doesn’t mean much, because when someone is monitoring animal action, it’s still not great. Like that time in Life of Pi where the tiger playing RP for no reason since the CGI was good almost drowned.

There are so, so many other examples of animal “actors” being harmed (almost drowning counts as harm) (he saved himself, so, like, they had no contingency plan for the tiger they dropped into the water; he had to rescue himself) (=HARM). But I’m always just going to reference that one, mostly because they used a CGI tiger for so much of the film.

Of course the episode where they dropped rats got me to rant. Otherwise, it was another very good episode. The rats didn’t even need to be there. They were not relevant to the plot.

Xena Rediscovered I

When I was little, I loved Xena: Warrior Princess. I wanted to be her. I used a frisbee as a chakram. I may have caused some damage throwing it at imaginary enemies. I also wanted to be Gabrielle, but it was harder to find something to use as a pretend staff.

Do I need a reason to watch some Xena before returning to Merlin? No. But if so, that was it.

Sins of the Past

I know Xena started as an antagonist-turned-love-interest on Hercules, kind of like Catwoman, but I don’t care. I don’t need to know the details of that to follow that she used to be a warmonger who killed and pillaged, and now she feels bad and is struggling to head down a different path in life while everyone she knows mistrusts her. I also dig Gabrielle in her humble beginnings as a surprisingly street-wise nuisance and fangirl. Warlord Draco works as a villain. He’s charming and sort of nuanced.

Xena sulks and repents. Gabrielle is spunky. Draco has a smart plan. The theme music still slaps. Some of the action is goofy, of course, but some of it is pretty great. At one point, Xena has to get up into some scaffolding. Instead of using a ladder, she hits a guy in the stomach so he doubles over then hops onto his back so that she can launch herself up the rest of the way. It made my evening.

As a pilot, it works and I like it.

Chariots of War

Xena gets injured and ruins some guy’s dead wife’s dress so that she can fight in it. Gabrielle hangs out in a bar. Some soft warlord’s son is preciously bad at being a warlord. When Xena kills the jerk warlord dad, he says his dying words to his son: “If you had done this, I would have died proud.” Which. Jesus.

Dreamworker

In this episode, a group of weirdos tries to make Gabrielle a sacrifice. She is a “blood innocent” – she hasn’t ever killed anyone before.

So obviously the whole “violence is bad, killing is bad, etc” thing permeates the whole episode and it’s great, but also, it’s pretty refreshing that Gabriel’s special sacrifice status is that she’s never killed anyone, not that she’s a virgin. Fiiiiiiinally.

Cradle of Hope

Myth mixing in this episode: Moses stuff, and Pandora’s box stuff. Xena dances in a veil. They fix everything using the obvious solution, infuriating the baby-murder enthusiast.

Welp, so far it’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of and more.

Feels really good. Swordy.

It’s time for an intense game of Egyptian Ratscrew, so let’s end Season 1. Hi-yo Silver, away!

The Moment of Truth

The… mob shows up to the outskirts of Edoras, so Merlin’s mom comes to petition Saruman-infested King Theoden.

You know what? I’ll stop.

Uther respects his neighbouring city’s sovereignty, which is bad for some reason. Morgana and Gwen defect with Merlin to protect the outlying village. And yet again, I’m trying to forget that Morgana later becomes a villain for no reason. Also, Arthur joins the defecting team. Squad’s all here!

Honestly, I would probably prefer a show in which the four of them went on a 4-season-long quest solving mysteries and fixing problems all over the four nations before coming back for season 5 so that Arthur can be king. But alas.

The main mob guy has a huge scar, reiterating my point from earlier that there are no good guys on this show (or even neutral guys) with disfigurements.

This episode has some intriguing conflicts:

Merlin: Can He or Can’t He Use Magic to Save Everyone?

Arthur: What Does Divine Right Even Mean in a Different Kingdom and also is He Even a Good Leader?

Women: Should They Be Allowed to Fight?

I think this episode really needed to be a two to three-episode arc, to fully wring all of the intrigue out of all of those questions. One episode with Arthur training farmers, with a subplot focusing on Morgana and Gwen slowly convincing Arthur to let women fight, and the other focusing on Arthur’s insecurities and Merlin’s indecision about whether to risk outing himself as a sorcerer.

Despite how rushed it was, I liked it.

The Labyrinth of Gedref

Arthur is a dummy trophy hunter and kills a unicorn, leaving everyone cursed. Then he solves it by drinking poison. In the meantime, people eat rats and cockroaches, but no one ever tries to eat grass or flowers or, like, leather boots during starvation sequences. Leave the rats and cockroaches alone, guys, you have options.

And it ends with the unicorn coming back to life, which, great, but also the rat and the cockroaches and the leather boots could have come back to life too. Seriously, what is animal rights in this show?

Only unicorns are worthy of humane treatment, I guess. I see you, Merlin.

To Kill the King

Uther est un tyran, et le père du Gwen est emprisonné et assassiné. Morgana watches and sinister music plays, then she yells at Uther about being a tyrant (she literally uses the word “tyrant”) as he chains her up for “speaking treason.”

Arthur awkwardly tries to appease Gwen. It’s kind of nice. Gwen and Morgana have a nice moment too. Also, Uther sucks? This of course isn’t new information, but, seriously.

Merlin overhears Morgana doing her very first villain scheming and he sulks about it. There is an interesting dilemna about “should I let a horrible tyrant die even though that technically makes me a murderer or should I save him so that I’m not a murderer but he gets to keep being a tyrant,” but Merlin picks the boring option. Sigh. They always find a work-around so they don’t have to get their hands dirty, these heroes.

In this case, the work-around is that Gwen thinks that killing Uther would be just as bad as everything Uther has done, which is not really true by the standards of any of the actually decent moral philosophers Chidi is always citing on The Good Place, but, OK.

Morgana and Uther mend the fence over her father’s grave, and for no reason, no reason at all, I’m reminded of this:

It doesn’t relate at all; I think Uther says something like “truth and justice” and now this dance is stuck in my head.

Morgana stabs her villainous plot-partner to save Uther, and she is conflicted about it.

Le Morte D’Arthur

The questing beast. Why. I am not a fan. Random animals wreaking havoc is so dull.

Morgana is also not a fan, as she can see all the future events caused by the questing beast in her nightmares. She tries multiple times to warn people, and no one listens to her. This, more than the Uther-is-a-tyrant thing makes me understand why she goes full villain. “You people don’t appreciate me!” she should have yelled, storming out of the castle.

Cuties. I’m gonna keep you.

Gaius tries to sacrifice himself for Merlin, who in turn is trying to sacrifice himself for his mother, because he had already tried to sacrifice himself for Arthur but the old religion got it twisted (on purpose).

But Nimueh is spiteful and cruel for no reason at all (except, I suppose, because she’s a sexy lady), so Merlin murders her and Gaius gets to live. So, in the end, it was Nimueh who was sacrificed for Arthur (in a round-about way), against her will, and, OK. Keep in mind that Merlin refused to let Uther, Literal Tyrant, die, but apparently Nimueh letting Gaius sacrifice himself, which is what Gaius wanted to do, is bad enough for Merlin to actually, literally murder her with lightning.

eye roll

It’s satisfying enough without context I guess, except that Nimueh being so spiteful is never truly examined or nuanced, the old religion’s law that “only death can pay for life” seems totally fair to me, and this conclusion makes no sense since Merlin is supposedly anti-murder as of the episode right before this one.

The other thing is, I do remember that, again, Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur has Merlin attempt to date-rape Nimueh, so she puts him in a tree for eternity, and that’s why she’s a villain. Because. She stopped a man from raping her. So.

Obviously they’ve changed the entire story and everyone’s characterizations for this iteration of the King Arthur legend, but “sexy spiteful Nimueh” is a weird and boring direction to go in, and I do have to point that out. Owlmachine hates femme fatales. They never make sense and honestly, they often seem like they’re kind of sort of supposed to function as revenge porn for male writers and male audiences, which is super gross.

Nimueh isn’t done as dirty as Elle Driver or the Sand Snakes are, largely, I think, because this is a family show so she got no leering ultra violence done to her, and she never had to say the phrase “bad pussy.” However, in that her motivation is not nuanced and never fully explained, she is, in fact, just as bad as them. And soon enough, Morgana too, will be just as bad. The end.

To be clear, I do love this show. It is just flawed, like everything else in the universe.

Season 2, here we go!

Unicorn Store Suits

*spoilers, but only for some of what people wear in Unicorn Store*

Why hello.

Today three (three copy) told me (erm) that her fiance hasn’t picked a suit yet for their wedding, and happily I had just watched Unicorn Store – which is delightful, by the way – so, I had some suggestions.

sam jackson unicorn store 4

Now, this orange one is pretty great, but it could almost pass for an everyday suit.

I don’t actually know. I know nothing about suits. The tinsel in his hair really brings it together though.

sam jackson unicorn store 1

From this angle, maybe it isn’t tinsel. Some sort of artistic spider-web imitation? Silly string?

In any case, this one is also almost everyday wear. And there’s even a boutonniere, so, it’s extra perfect.

sam jackson unicorn store 2

I like this one a lot.

None of these are actually any of their colours, but that’s OK.

brie larson unicorn store 3

Kit’s suit during this part was awesome, as was the overcoat which is probably going to be the winner:

brie larson unicorn store

Everything Kit wears is a winner of course, but we need formal wear, and her tie dye pyjamas just won’t cut it for a wedding.

I think in the end, he’ll go for something more ordinary, but splashy colours and glitter sparkles should be more of a thing in men’s fashion, just generally. And generally, glittery green suits should be more of a thing in women’s fashion.

Yep, with a lump of wood

The road goes on…

A Remedy to Cure All Ills

For a show that’s all about how Uther needs to stop being a bigot because it’s causing a lot of strife, there are a heckuva lotta sorcerer villains.

In this episode, the sorcerer is gunning for Gaius’s job, and also has a disfigurement. I don’t know what to make of the disfigurement – it isn’t my lane – but will note that I can’t remember good and neutral characters with disfigurements on this show, so that sucks. The disfigurement is also part of why he’s even here to do villainy, so, that also sucks.

The Gates of Avalon

Arthur has a crush on a girl who is here to kill him. Morgana knows this is going to happen and is angsty about it. Merlin watches a guy do lake magic and sees fairies. It’s really cool; the best magic has been so far on this show.

Morgana tries to be self-sacrificing but Gaius intervenes. Merlin ends up in the pillory once again, then finds out that Morgana has the gift, possibly. And here begins Morgana’s nonsensical descent to being a villain, for reasons.

The Beginning of the End

It’s called that because this is the first appearance of Mordred.

Here’s the first real instance of this show depicting that what Uther is doing is actually bad. That said, my question is: why is it that Morgana’s tender heart – here leading her to continue to be skeptical of the way Uther treats magic and magic-doers, and to help hide an innocent child from execution – eventually leads her to the tedious character progression of “going too far” for “justice” that never even looks anything remotely like justice? Why does she have to become a villain?

Also, this doesn’t have to happen to Merlin? He just gets to be sad about Uther, and later Arthur, being bigots of varying degrees, and doesn’t ever have to become a villain?

I do think that this story, where two people are compassionate and see injustice, and then one becomes a terrorist and the other doesn’t (and does… something else? I also seem to recall Merlin doesn’t accomplish a whole lot) could be very compelling. But I don’t think this is that. I think Morgana meets a girl who sways her into villainy (and that’s also potentially compelling, but again, from what I remember, it wasn’t all that compelling) – and this just doesn’t adequately or sensitively or thoughtfully depict whatever “too far” is supposed to be, and doesn’t explain how we get there.

Currently I can’t think of a decent depiction of activism or seeking justice (actual, radical justice, not just “reluctantly stopping a killer/killer army”) that isn’t a biopic. I like biopics, but can we please have a fantasy girl whose justice isn’t written badly so that it actually turns into terrorism and genocide? Or at least, a fantasy girl who goes bad but it’s done well, is grounded in something real/historical even, and therefore makes sense and contributes to a broader cultural conversation? Bad girls need motivation, please.

Anyway, I’m trying not to watch these early episodes through the lens of “But where did they go with any of this?” So.

There are moments here that are great. This episode is more interesting and engaging than some of the others so far with just random sorcerer bad guys. There’s a part where Merlin snaps at Gaius, “Oh, so it’s wrong to harbour a young magician?” And it really works.

The problem is that, yes, Point A over here is good enough (minus the infernal destiny thing). I’m engaged. But it ends, somehow, at Point B, in which Morgana and Mordred (who is a little kid) are capital E Evil, which is capital S Stupid.

Arthur saves Mordred today. And later… Mordred kills him. So are we supposed to think they should have executed a child? That is literally what the dragon says. This whole “destiny” thing is, therefore, limiting for the entire story. Even Gwen argues in favour of letting a child be executed, and there you go. Gwen, at least as I know her, would never advocate letting a child die, but the “destiny” theme and the plot demands it. The characters are helpless, acting in ways that don’t make sense just because the plot gods demand it, like in that Joss Whedon movie with the killer unicorn and mermen.

They could have written a different ending, is all. One that doesn’t have otherwise kind people being all like “yeah, maybe we should kill baby Hitler.” And even if the law demanded that in stories we only ever do this stupid thought experiment that believes in the possibility of time travel but not in the possibility of anything else, such as going to an even earlier time to stop WWI or, like, socialization, apparently, Mordred’s not even remotely comparable to Hitler. This isn’t compelling, it’s just frustrating.

I’m still living for the animosity between Arthur and everyone else.

Excalibur

The Black Knight/Zombie Mountain shows up and bites his thumb at the Camelot court. It’s really unsettling to watch him them kill two boys in succession, trying to be brave and valiant knights but fighting a knight that is actually a zombie and is therefore cheating in this “combat to the death.” Because of this, this is the darkest episode so far in this show. Honestly, the very fact that they don’t put the deaths or the blood onscreen makes it worse.

Then Arthur’s upset and accepts the third challenge, so a few interesting things happen. Merlin seeks to create Lightbringer out of a Valyrian steel sword Gwen’s dad made, turning it into a weapon imbued with dragon fire, so that it can kill the dead. Then Mirri Maz Duur shows up in Uther’s chambers and tells him off for starting a whole persecution war on sorcerers just because he asked her to make his “barren” wife bear a child, which caused his wife’s death, because “Only death can pay for life.”

I know the Game of Thrones references are tedious but I’m fine with my choices.

But this version is less Mirri Maz Duur anyway, because Nimueh didn’t realize that Uther’s wife would die. And Uther blaming her, and all other sorcerers, for something he is more than complicit in? Super intriguing. Also, he says he wishes he had never done it, and she asks if that means he wishes he didn’t have a son. This is obviously not true, but Uther’s feelings about Arthur are conflicted at least.

There is a cute moment where Arthur teases his dad later, which humanizes Uther, like the rest of this episode does. Still, Uther being humanized doesn’t take away from what we know watching this unfold: dude is wrong, and lashing out for bad reasons, and causing a lot of damage. Nuance, I have well and truly missed thee.

This makes “Excalibur” my favourite episode so far, even though Merlin and Arthur don’t really snark at each other.

I found a place where you can put things

It’s called a cupboard.

Onward with Merlin.

The Mark of Nimueh

I remember Nimueh from Mallory’s version. In it, Merlin tries to date-rape her so she turns him into a tree. He stays as a tree to this day, according to Mallory. How sad.

I know nothing about the historical relevance of these legends, the themes, the character motivations and such, but I do remember how much terrible sex and romance and attempted rape is in the Mallory version. I remember how the female characters make no sense, and in some cases are cartoonishly ridiculous (like Elaine fainting twice, ten minutes apart, because she sees Lancelot’s wounds, which was freaking hilarious). Also that Mallory wrote the whole thing while in prison for rape, so GO FIGURE.

In this episode, the first real depiction of Gwen and Morgana’s friendship appears. I like this friendship a lot, until eventually Morgana, who goes evil for reasons, gets jealous about Gwen inevitably becoming queen even though Morgana has never actually wanted to marry Arthur.

Anyway, I’m sure all of that will become clearer when I get there. For now, Nimueh is causing a ruckus. Arthur thinks Gwen is a sorcerer because Merlin has gotten carried away. This is awkward.

One of my favourite aspects of Gwen’s character in these early episodes is that she’ll say something, and then quickly apologizes for making assumptions when she hasn’t really made any. It’s cute and relatable.

Morgana teases Arthur into helping her and Merlin save Gwen, and that’s my favourite part.

The Poisoned Chalice

Nimueh part 2!

Merlin acts as a poison-checker and almost dies, but still manages to intervene in everything Arthur does anyway.

Uther acts like a world-class villain and throws Merlin’s antidote that Arthur just risked his life getting on the floor. But it’s worth it in the end because Arthur teams up with Gwen to secretly get the antidote to Merlin anyway.

But why Nimueh lured Arthur out there just to not kill him is definitely a question I have. She says, “It’s not your destiny to die at my hand,” and, I do wish they would have lightened up on the destiny stuff. It doesn’t even pay off well, as far as I can remember.

That said, this was an exciting episode.

Lancelot

Lancelot saves Merlin from Buckbeak. Arthur pronounces his name “Lance… a lot.” And is mean to him. They knight him, then immediately find out he’s not knight material for whatever reason. A commoner? Probably.

I wish they’d made him French, like he’s supposed to be, but prejudice about commoners is already an established issue for Uther and Arthur, whereas prejudice about different countries never is, so, whatever.

Lancelot kills Buckbeak with Merlin’s help, and here’s another wish I have: I wish this show were less like Dungeons and Dragons, wherein usually when encountering a magical creature you have to fight and kill it. Or maybe that’s just what happens during the campaigns I play. Either way, every once in a while if Camelotians would just… be nice to the beast, stop destroying its habitat or return an object that belongs to it or what have you, this would be a better show. In this particular episode Buckbeak has zero motivation except the taste for human flesh. Which is amazing, but wouldn’t it be nicer if Merlin used magic to befriend it and teach it about plant-based substitutes?

Lancelot is way too heroic for no reason. Everyone except Merlin and Gwen treat him like garbage and he’s really nice about it, so, OK.

Here’s how King Arthur’s Disasters did it – and yeah, he’s definitely supposed to be French in this version, despite the lack of accént.

Tis all.

Daenerys and her Throne

LMAO.

They had all the ingredients right there in the pot and then… they just… threw the whole pot out the window into the sea and INSISTED they’d made us dinner.

WELL DONE.

owl machine

erm‘s feeling a bit bothered by Dany lately, probably because now that Season 6 has started and her plotline is actually moving for once, her inevitable descent on Westeros is no longer something far off in the distance.

Here’s an unsettling scene from last season:

View original post 1,692 more words

He may be an idiot, but he’s a brave idiot

(game of thrones spoilers)

(for some reason)

So there’s this fantasy show in which a young woman with incredible power eventually goes full villian, and though it is foreshadowed pretty much from the beginning, in small ways and then slowly in larger ways, it still doesn’t really make sense with respect to her characterization throughout and it seems like the biggest reason for it to have happened at all is because some authorial intent exists out there in the netherverse that hath ordained that it must needs be this way, though we are still unsure why, and maybe it’s a little bit misogynistic and maybe it’s fine, but would have been far more compelling, entertaining, and would have been material actually worthy of the actress if they’d… tried harder.

It’s called Merlin.

Thankfully, Merlin is saved from being extremely disappointing in the end because it’s mostly about the bizarre and often touching friendship between the title character and the young Prince Arthur, and that remains good throughout, even if the Morgana subplot never makes much sense.

At least, that’s how I remember it.

So now, as I have finally fallen hard out of love with A Song of Ice and Fire, and to be clear it’s not because Dany went rogue, but instead because Dany going rogue was not earned, it’s time to rewatch Merlin and recap the episodes, a few at a time, in brief, because Emrys knows, I need it.

DISCLAIMER OF ZERO IMPORTANCE: I studied the King Arthur canon or whatever in university. I took several classes on it. One was strictly Tennyson’s poems, one was Medieval Romance, most of which was different early versions of King Arthur, and one was King Arthur retellings for children. And I have no clue. Not one clue. I don’t know what the King Arthur legend is supposed to be about, or what the importance of its themes are, or why any of the characters do what they do. I don’t know. I just like Merlin.

The Dragon’s Call

We meet Uther murdering a sorcerer. Great guy. Gaius almost dies and yells at Merlin for saving him, because MAGIC IS OUTLAWED. A major theme in this show is persecution, using magical ability as a metaphor for whatever you like. It starts pretty much right here, with Merlin crying at one point and wondering why he was born this way, and if maybe he’s a monster.

The villain is a particularly scary sorcerer woman whose son is the one who was murdered. Her being scary and killing a couple of random women so that she can get her revenge is effective. We understand why Uther has the prejudices he has – which kind of makes the magical ability=real life persecuted identities thing not work, but that’s OK. We also understand that every bad thing that happens in this episode is because Uther acted out of prejudice and murdered this woman’s son at the beginning.

There’s a chained dragon. We love a chained dragon being set free – but  I think that takes a while.

The episode’s highlight is Merlin standing up to Arthur’s bullying of some random servant, and later they fight.

I especially like “How long have you been training to be a prat?” and Arthur’s chuckling “You can’t address me like that.” I think he finds it refreshing, secretly.

Gwen shows up and talks to Merlin while he’s in the pillory, which is also cute.

Merlin=Prince Arthur’s manservant in the end. Lol.

Valiant

I got distracted during the first quarter of this episode, but I think today’s villain is a Knight called “Valiant.” But maybe I made that up. His house sigil is some snakes.  I wish just once we could have nice snakes in fiction. Jeez.

Nerd alert! Gaius needs venom from the snake to make an antidote. He’ll also need a horse. You inject snake venom into horses, who then create natural immunity, which is isolated from blood samples and turned into anti-venom. It’s why anti-venom is rare and expensive, and also a good example of something I hope we soon create an alternative for because that job sucks and was not consented to by the horses, lol.

A mouse dies in this episode, fed to shield snakes. I’m not a fan. Magic shield snakes shouldn’t even need to eat.

Uther is surprisingly not trigger-happy when it comes to executing sorcerers, but in this episode his reasonableness gets in the way. But so does the toxic masculinity of the Uther/Arthur father/son relationship. Arthur’s big problem here is appearing not 100% like a perfect, idealized knight in front of his father, and the court. And appearing like a perfect, idealized knight is his duty, and he will die doing it if he has to.

That’s dumb, Art. But I get it.

Merlin conjures a rottweiler out of stone, which is very exciting for these Medieval times in which he does so and these modern ones in which I’m watching. (I looked it up and apparently Rottweilers have been around since before Medieval times, who knew – well, obviously whoever added one to this episode knew.)

This is the beginning of the lists Arthur gives Merlin all the time. These are my favourite parts of the show. It’s relaxing to know that Merlin has way more on his plate than I do at any given time.

WELP that’s it for one day! Thank you, Merlin.