Sit Down and Watch Some WandaVision: WandaVision Review

I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as is most of the globe at this point. (Is that an overgeneralization? Maybe. But I’m making it anyways!)

So no matter what the MCU elects to churn out to the masses, I’m going to watch it. I’m going to immerse myself in the trailers and the lore discussions and the review videos afterwards. It’s a whole process.

When I first saw the trailers for WandaVision, I was mightily intrigued. The show appeared to be doing something it had never tried before. Both Wanda Maximoff and the Vision were seen in these sitcom roles from various eras of television. This would be mystifying enough if it weren’t for the fact that the character of Vision was considered dead at this point.

What follows is going to be a spoiler-free review on the off chance you haven’t seen the show yet. (Though given that it’s been about a month since the last episode released, you really should have checked it out by now.) And yeah, I know I’m covering the show way later than I should. But, I mean, I am a Below Average person. It’s part of my descriptor. Might as well cover shows in a Below Average fashion, right?

WandaVision uses perhaps the most interesting vehicle I’ve yet seen to tell a Marvel Cinematic Universe story. It follows the familiar structure of sitcoms to tell its tale, so much so that you might not understand what’s going on at first.

Any fan of the MCU will enjoy this show as it offers a unique perspective into certain events that were never really explained in the films, and the sitcom angle is really quite fascinating. Newcomers to the MCU should definitely not start here, as the appeal of many moments in WandaVision rely heavily on past occurrences in the movies.

However, the people who will truly appreciate WandaVision are those who both love the MCU and have a deep-seated affection for a good sitcom. WandaVision is an homage to the art of the sitcom, and even though I’m not overly familiar with every sitcom on the block, even I could recognize the trends and stereotypes it was poking fun at.

Character development in WandaVision could have been something that was washed over thanks to the shiny appeal of the sitcom trappings, but several fan-favorite MCU characters get to display how the events of both Infinity War and Endgame have affected them. I’m just going to go right out and say it: Wanda in particular is the one to watch.

Unfortunately, and this is perhaps one of the most prevalent MCU weaknesses across the board, the “villain” suffers from rather unclear motivations and power mechanics. You are introduced to their story in a single episode, and no big explanations are provided.

The most intriguing aspect of WandaVision is how it sets up Wanda’s future in the MCU. The implications are major, and if you’re a fan of the universe, you will feel the potential ramifications of the show’s ending ripple throughout your mind more quickly than a snap of Thanos’ fingers.

Personally, I enjoyed the show, but it’s not my favorite outing into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not something I will go out of my way to rewatch. That said, I heartily appreciate what the show set out to accomplish. It went for something new, and I think it largely succeeded.

Besides, I love campiness and I love super heroes, and WandaVision has both in spades.

I rate WandaVision a bewitching-good-time-that-spells-an-interesting-future-for-the-MCU.

Who Watched the Watchmen?

I schedule my posts in advance, so I get a nice overview of what my published pieces will look like as they roll out. And I’ve got to say, I’ve been focusing a lot on the Movie/TV category lately. Sorry about that if you stick around for the book stuff or the video game stuff. People told me I should have the blog revolve around a specific thing instead of just going all over the place, but can I help it that I like movies, books, and video games almost equally?!

Anyways, today I thought I’d talk about Watchmen.

It is by far my all-time favorite graphic novel. I first read it when I was way too young for the content, and I remember purchasing the copy almost clandestinely. I don’t think my parents realized how mature comic books could be. I was around seven or eight years old when my dad handed The Sandman to me (which he had received from a friend who did not know my dad wasn’t into comics). And that graphic novel contains some of the most rated-R scenes I’ve ever seen. People stabbed their own eyes out, engaged in a sexual romp with more than four people participating, and admitted to necrophilia, all in one issue.

Anyways, Watchmen appealed to me for multiple reasons, not just because it felt like forbidden fruit. Even at a young age, I could tell that this story was game-changing. It deconstructed super hero tropes while simultaneously telling a gripping tale about the kinds of psyches that would have to participate in such caped crusades.

Side note: I wrote my college thesis on Watchmen’s deconstruction of these tropes and how it features multiple binary oppositions to do so.

When the Zack Snyder film came out in 2009, it was me and six other guys in the theater for the midnight premiere. It was the least-packed premiere I’ve ever particpated in, but you’ve got to appreciate the one man who came into the theater with a “The End Is Nigh” sign.

I enjoyed the movie, but my enjoyment largely came from the fact that the film was practically a frame-by-frame reconstruction of the graphic novel (with a few massive changes due to moviegoer considerations). This movie tiptoed around the original source material, a copy too afraid to alter what wasn’t broken.

In 2019, HBO released a TV series based on the graphic novel as well. It was not a recreation of the story like the 2009 film, but instead would be a continuation of the story, set in the same universe as the events of the comic. When I first heard about it, I was steeped in doubt, yet excitement still brewed within me.

And I’m happy to report that the HBO series exceeded my expectations, doing Watchmen, and what it set out to accomplish, proud.

Written by Damon Lindelof, this new series clearly grasps what Alan Moore did with the original work. Lindelof understands the spirit of Watchmen, perhaps more fully than Snyder. Lindelof took bold risks with the direction of the story, but these risks paid off because instead of telling yet another kick-ass superhero tale, he used the plot to deconstruct these tropes, along with several societal evils.

The original Watchmen spent just as much time pulling the curtain down on superheroes as it did exposing societal mores that are no longer relevant (or are too widely accepted despite being an ill that plagues human connection). Alan Moore focused on the terrors of Reaganism and the fallacies of that era. The HBO series centralizes on a more current cultural context, focusing on racial violence. It exposes this societal evil that still plagues the world today, and leaves viewers with a message that is not easily forgotten by the time the final episode concludes.

Now, this isn’t going to be a show I summarize or spoil. I’ve noticed a pattern in my posts; if I truly love a movie beyond just a normal appreciation, I’m more reluctant to detail the plot as I want you to watch it with fresh eyes.

So the most I want to tell you guys about the HBO Watchmen series is that there was nothing I didn’t like about it. I am almost inexpressibly pleased with it.

I think it’s a shame (an understandable one, but a shame nonetheless) that Alan Moore no longer expresses an interest in adaptations of his work. He has been burned many times by people butchering his graphic novels, turning complex and challenging stories into flashy pop fiction. But Lindelof has shown that he knows what made the original Watchmen tick.

I rate HBO’s Watchmen a jaw-dropping-series-that-captured-everything-I-loved-about-the-original-graphic-novel-and-turned-it-into-a-telling-deconstruction-of-our-times-that-will-stay-with-me-forever.

Madoka Magica Madness

My Dungeons & Dragons group has movie nights on occasion. It started as a way to just hang out during the pandemic. We’d hop onto Discord, pick a bad movie, and just press play at the same time. We’ve gone through Kung Fu Hustle, Mortal Kombat, and Spaceballs.

One day, I don’t recall how, but the subject of anime was brought up, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica was mentioned in the conversation.

Side note: From here on out, whenever I reference this anime, I’m just going to call it Madoka Magica.

I had never heard of it before, and neither had the majority of our party. Only two had seen it, one of them being our usual Dungeon Master, Sidney. He immediately volunteered the series as our next watch on movie night. In its favor was the fact that it was only twelve episodes long, and it was on Netflix.

Honestly, I’m not a big anime person. Often, anime series are huge time investments because the good ones have massive amounts of manga chapters to follow. I have bought a few manga volumes, notably Death Note, Fruits Basket, and Naruto. But I haven’t even made the leap to watching their anime all the way through to their conclusions.

As such, I had no idea what to expect from Madoka Magica.

Let me tell you, while it is not the most disturbing anime out there, it is definitely shocking for the genre it is commenting upon.

The “magical girl” genre is a popular one, and it basically involves a select group of girls who are granted magical powers, transform into their badass selves, and then whup evil’s ass. Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura are perfect examples of this.

Madoka Magica seeks to dismantle the tropes you commonly see in a magical girl anime. The toll the girls must accept for gaining powers is insane. The monsters they face are deadly, and, as it turns out, their transformations come at a heinous cost.

So what started as a lighthearted, girlish adventure turned into this universe-ending shock-fest. Sidney, who had already seen the series, spent half his time watching our faces on the computer screen so he could see our reactions. And we were totally engrossed. We stayed up well after midnight guzzling each episode with our eyes.

I won’t necessarily recommend Madoka Magica to you, my Above Average Readers, because I’m not sure what you’d think of it. To prove my point, two of our D&D party members just refused to watch the series (Mia and Dalton). One because she had seen it already and been disturbed by the plot twists, and the other because he refuses to watch anime that deconstruct themselves.

I will, however, say that if you want one hell of a hellish time and you enjoy a bite-sized anime every so often, then Madoka Magica should be perfect for you.

I Was a Soundtrack Kid: How Music Defined My Movies

Growing up, I always felt a step behind other kids when it came to being “hip” and “cool.” When portable CD players were coming out, I had nothing. When MP3 players came out, I had just gotten a CD player. When iPods came out, I was showing off my brand-new MP3 player.

You get the idea.

To make the stark contrast between me and other kids even starker, I did not hold any of the latest pop songs within my music devices. Instead, I had a love for movie soundtracks.

I swear, I listened to soundtracks all the time as a kid.

And while my taste in musical genres has expanded, to this day, I adore a good movie score.

Side note: That sick rhyme was totally unintentional.

My all-time favorite soundtrack composers were/are John Williams, Howard Shore, and Danny Elfman.

John Williams is one of the most prolific movie soundtrack composers ever, responsible for classic movie themes that everyone recognizes. He’s done Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, and Jaws. If you think about it, he’s probably composed the background music to a lot of your movie fantasies. You know, when you picture yourself as a Jedi or a student at Hogwarts? That’s John Williams’ song playing as your imagination runs wild.

Howard Shore did the soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I may not have a bead on his other work, but by god, I know his talent from those three films alone. Elves, Rohan, Gondor, hobbits, and the Mines of Moria all had their own unique themes thanks to Shore.

Danny Elfman is most often associated with director Tim Burton since he composed a lot of the soundtracks to some of Burton’s most iconic films. He did Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare before Christmas. Elfman’s devious melodies often accompanied me on long car drives.

I made it a mission in life to try and collect albums of their work so that my everyday life could feel ten times more awesome as I hummed along to their tunes.

When I first started listening to soundtracks, I enjoyed them for the reminders they gave me of my favorite parts in movies. I’d listen to “Love Pledge and the Arena” from Attack of the Clones over and over again because I liked it when all the clone troopers came to rescue the Jedi on Geonosis.

I got crazy good at recognizing the times a track would play in a film. I would astonish and bemuse my parents by reenacting scenes from movies while playing the movie’s soundtrack on our communal CD player.

But then my love for these tracks branched away from just fond memories of the time they appeared in the film. I grew to enjoy the emotional beats I could find in the melodies, separate from the moments they accompanied in the movie. I had a love of playing with toys and creating epics sagas with my action figures back then, so I started playing movie soundtracks in the background while I played with them, applying the songs to my own stories.

Side note: You would not believe the depth of my toy Diplodocus’ sense of betrayal when Spider-Man refused to save his village. I had “Duel of the Fates” playing when this happened.

These days, video game soundtracks have joined my collection of music source material. I’m not as fond of television themes in general, but Game of Thrones is a huge exception to that.

I still use soundtracks to accompany my “stories,” but not with my dramatic toy playtime. Whenever I’m writing, whether for work or for my own fiction, soundtracks are one of the major sources of inspiration I use when crafting emotional moments.

I also have a more discerning ear when it comes to finding tracks I like when watching a film. It’s far rarer for me to find something I prefer these days, but I make do.

New additions to my roster of favorite composers include Ramin Djawadi, Michael Giacchino, and Mick Gordon.

Djawadi did the music for Game of Thrones so you have him to thank for getting that opening credits theme song stuck in your head. He’s also done the soundtrack for Westworld, which has its own collection of fantastic melodies.

Giacchino is the man behind a shit-ton of Pixar film soundtracks. The Incredibles? That was him. Up? That was also him. Giacchino crafted some heckin’ awesome tracks for the Speed Racer movie too, and as anyone who knows me should know by now, that’s one of my favorite movies.

Mick Gordon is the understated genius behind the Doom soundtrack. Though there is currently a controversy going on regarding his music for Doom Eternal, that does not change the fact that I adore his work, and I think Bethesda and id Software did him dirty.

Side note: I am totally not biased.

Soundtracks capture emotion in a way that few songs can. See, soundtracks are meant to accompany a story; that’s what they were created for. So they can follow along with a plot’s ups and downs. They’re perhaps the most transporting type of music you can listen to.

For me, they are a mild form of escapism for my day-to-day life, especially during stressful times.

And given the state the world is in, I think we could all benefit from taking a breath and listening to a good soundtrack.

Top 5 Favorite TV Shows

I’m not a television person. Growing up, we didn’t have cable in my house, so my sister and I would only watch shows and stuff on weekends when we would go and visit my tias (aunts) and tata (grandpa).

As such, I’ve seen bits and pieces of a ton of shows, but I haven’t actually committed to finishing most of them. Practically none of them at all. Even to this day, I’ll watch a bit of a show on Netflix, and then just lose interest.

That said, there are a few television shows that shot their way into my heart despite my initial inclination to ditch the medium.

So let’s get into them, shall we?

5) Rick and Morty

Yeah, I like Rick and Morty. As does the rest of the world. I jumped on this hype train when I was visiting a friend of mine, Irma. She’s one of my friends from elementary/middle/high school. Her boyfriend was showing a bunch of us his favorite episodes, and I was just so taken with the style of humor and the zany premise of an interdimensional scientist with severe alcoholism taking his grandson on adventures. The show captured me, and I consume every episode whenever the latest season comes out.

4) Avatar: The Last Airbender

I promise, this list won’t be just cartoons. But yeah, the majority of them will be. Don’t dismiss Avatar: The Last Airbender just because it is an animated kids show though. Quality storytelling leaped from episode to episode, beyond the typical formula you normally see in a cartoon. The characters grow and develop (Zuko’s character arc is one of the best in television history), and the world they inhabit is marvelous. Inspiration was clearly taken from real cultures, but they were combined with a universe in which bending elements is possible and fantastical creatures exist.

3) Stranger Things

Granted, this show isn’t complete yet, so the fourth season could come along and ruin the whole series. But even with only the three seasons Stranger Things has given me, I’m confident in calling it one of my favorite shows. I saw the first episode at my sister’s house before I had to travel 500 miles and return home. That very day, I literally exited the car, got inside my living room, turned on the TV, and resumed watching. I was that hooked. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, so the mystery and horror of Stranger Things appealed to every cell in my body. It was simply “my type” of show, and I’d never really felt that with any other show prior to that. (By the way, this is the part where you guys recommend shows to me that are similar that will catch my interest!)

2) Game of Thrones

Even with the way the series ended, I still say Game of Thrones is my second favorite show of all time. I think people have too easily forgotten the years of quality television the show provided to its viewers before the series finale came out. No matter how it ended, those top-notch moments we all know and love still exist. Ned Stark’s beheading, Daenerys emerging from the fire, the Red Wedding, Arya’s transformation, Theon’s character development, the revelation of Hodor’s name. Game of Thrones still gave us all of that. Just because the last season left me feeling less than satisfied doesn’t take away the fond memories I have for the series. Plus, I’ve always felt that television shows, more than movies, are a case of it’s-the-journey-not-the-destination.

1) SpongeBob SquarePants (Seasons 1-3)

Laugh all you want, but SpongeBob SquarePants is my all-time, favorite comfort show. I caught every episode I could whenever I visited my tias’ house, bought the DVDs for my house, and can quote the best lines to this day. I even know most episode names. Of course, this mostly applies to those first three seasons. Those are the heyday of SpongeBob’s time on television, and I’ll stand by that. Some might call the series childish and stupid, but by golly, the humor in SpongeBob always felt to me like FUN. If you ever wanted to win me over, you either have to know some quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or SpongeBob SquarePants. Nothing more and nothing less.

Lose a Coin to Your Witcher: The Witcher Season 1 Review

I wanted to like The Witcher.

I really did.

I swear, I was the stereotypical PTSD Game of Thrones viewer who was looking for something to fill the massive hole in my life since Daenerys burned down King’s Landing. I expected Netflix’s latest series, The Witcher, to fill that gap.

It did not, to say the least.

I had to force myself to watch the entire season because with each passing episode I became more and more dissatisfied with it. I found myself actively waiting for good moments, suffering through endless parts that made me grit my teeth in annoyance.

I mean, I thought the 3rd and 7th episodes were great, but the rest…

I’m a huge fantasy fan, but The Witcher did not tick me off because it was a fantasy story. It was just a terribly-told story, in my below average opinion.

That’s where the blame for my irritation with the show lies, the storytelling/writing aspect. The acting was as good as it could be, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fight scenes.

If you haven’t seen the show, by all means, watch it for yourself and form your own opinion. As for me, I’m about to rail against the four things that brought my esteem for The Witcher so low.

The Confusing Timeline of the Narrative

Normally, I adore time jumps. Flashbacks, flashforwards. Bring ’em on, I say! Christopher Nolan, do your worst.

But The Witcher’s gaggle of timelines left me reeling.

These disparate storylines set in varying times were confusing and unclear. Unless you had a prior understanding for how the story was going to be told, the jumps from one narrative to the next were not intuitive at all.

This is largely because there is no real indication of when the story is set in a different time beyond what characters tell you. Geralt and Yennefer, at some point, just stop aging, so there is no real way to indicate how many years have passed since you saw them in previous episodes.

For example, after Yennefer gleefully obtains a position at Aedirn, the next episode shows her dissatisfied with her position there. And beyond what she says about having been at court for so long, you never actually saw her progress from happy with this position to unhappy with it.

I understand why it’s needed for the show. The creators clearly wanted to tell a certain story, and in order to get to it, they needed characters to have a bit of background without lingering on it for too long. Geralt and Ciri need to find each other at the end, so the whole course of events that lead to that moment have to be shown while simultaneously maintaining an audience’s interest.

But if they were focusing on story elements that they believed mattered, they sacrificed so much to get there. These narrative time jumps, while they do the trick of setting up these “shock value” moments when you realize how the plot puzzle pieces fit together, end up feeling incredibly forced.

Character Development

When Ned Stark died, you cared.

Why?

Because Game of Thrones spent nine whole episodes building up the kind of man he was, the kind of honor he carried within him, so that when you saw him executed, you felt it in your gut. You were shocked. Horrified. Bereaved even.

Did you care when Borch “died” in Episode 6 of The Witcher?

No.

Why?

Because you only met the man in that episode.

Geralt himself had only met the man in that episode, so when Borch purportedly fell to his death, Geralt’s horror-stricken expression feels completely undeserved.

True, Geralt is a good person, so that’s probably why he cares.

But as a remote viewer, there is no reason in the world for you to care what happens to Borch.

Thus lies the second problem besetting The Witcher. For all the time-jumping the narrative does, not enough time is spent in character moments. These moments could be incredibly small, but they’re needed to make you care. Geralts is who he is from the start of the show to the end of it, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a tad irksome when you’re trying to connect with a show that’s set in a fantasy world.

It’s already difficult to find something to relate to with a man who is a mutant monster hunter. You know what I mean?

The one character who gets you to care is, funnily enough, Jaskier. He shows up enough times, spreads his humor around Geralt’s surliness like flowers, and sings great catchy songs, so that when his life is imperiled by the djinn, you as a viewer have that, “Oh shit, what’s going to happen to him” moment.

But other characters fail to have their moments.

Take Yennefer as another example. On the surface, you care about her struggle to get power, to escape her past as a deformed and powerless hunchback. But absolutely no time is spent developing her desire to have children, so when she begins to act on her wish to have one, it leaves viewers a little nonplussed. It doesn’t feel like she wants one. In fact, Yennefer has to state that she does for viewers to know she does.

Which leads me to my other grievance with the show…

Show Don’t Tell

“Show don’t tell” is an age-old writing adage that illustrates the necessity of drawing in your readers to conclusions instead of just shoving it in their faces.

The Witcher fails at this completely.

More times than I can count, the show freakin’ just tells you what’s what instead of showing you.

Understandably, the show has a time limit, and it needs to get its story across as much as possible within that time. But if your story can’t be shown to viewers, it has to be told, then there is something wrong with the way you’re conveying the narrative.

The perfect example of this is when the Law of Surprise is first mentioned. The character of Duny shows up in Cintra to profess his love for (and his claim to) Pavetta.

He then embarks on telling this tale of how he saved Pavetta’s father’s life long ago, and in repayment for his actions, the King granted Duny this (stupid) Law of Surprise.

Side note: For those of you who don’t know, the Law of Surprise is this thing where you can just be “Surprise, bitch! Give me something to pay back the debt you owed me.”

When this happened, I wanted to scream.

Duny is freaking telling us very important plot points to our faces instead of, I don’t know, having us see him save Pavetta’s dad’s life?!

Before this episode, we had never met Duny. All we know about him is what is told about him and what he tells us. The episode where he is introduced is like a wormhole of show-don’t-tell mistakes that you can get lost in.

But the entire show suffers from this malady. Too many times are things explained instead of shown.

Let’s take a look at Game of Thrones one more time.

During the first part of the show, you hear the term “Valyrian steel” dropped more than once. It’s not initially told to viewers what Valyrian steel is, but you get the idea that it is very valuable. Swords made of the stuff carry extra value and seem rare.

Later, it’s dropped that Valyria is the place where dragons came from.

After that, it is revealed that Valyrian steel swords were forged using dragon fire.

Even further after that, it is shown that Valyrian steel can be used to kill White Walkers.

These revelations happened over the course of five seasons. It wasn’t just an info dump done in a single episode.

The Exact Rules of Magic

The price of using magic in the world of The Witcher is initially made very clear. During a lesson that Yennefer attends, young mages are shown trying to levitate a rock. When a girl succeeds at this, her hand withers and drys in front of them. Their instructor then reminds them that magic comes at a cost. She advises the students to pick up flowers on the desk before attempting to move the rock. Once the flower is in their hands, when the students lift the rocks, the flowers wither instead of their hands.

Simple, right? Magic uses energy, and you have to give an appropriate amount or else it will take a lot from you.

But immediately after that episode, the cost of using magic is never mentioned much again or adhered to in any fashion.

Yennefer creates portals to other countries without losing so much as a fingertip.

A sorceress is able to kill a group of men with a gesture, and all she gets is a bloody nose.

Another mage moves a fog around over a wide space, and I guess that fog came at a hefty cost, ’cause he just keeled over and died.

There is no explanation for why magic works the way it does.

Maybe I have been spoiled by the Harry Potter and Eragon series, but I very much like it when there are rules to how magic works.

I prefer the rules for spells to be spelled out.

In The Witcher, magic does what it does seemingly for the sake of the plot.

Concluding Thoughts

I feel like I’m the only one who got massively annoyed by The Witcher, and I don’t know why it’s bothered me so much. The last time I got this peeved at something I watched, I had just seen The Crimes of Grindelwald. (Huh, maybe bad stories with unexplained magic are my Achilles heel.)

But in case you liked it despite my tirade against it, don’t worry. You’re definitely not alone. I have friends ready to figuratively die to defend it.

Plus, I enjoyed the hell out of The Rise of Skywalker, so who am I to judge someone for liking The Witcher. This is yet another example of how diverse everyone’s tastes are.

I rate the first season of The Witcher an I’m-still-going-to-watch-it-because-I-desperately-need-another-fantasy-show-in-my-life-but-I’m-not-particularly-thrilled-about-having-to-sit-through-more-contrived-plot-devices-so-here’s-hoping-the-next-season-is-better-narratively-speaking-or-includes-enough-sword-fights-and-naked-Geralt-to-hold-me-over.

Warp Drives, Klingons, and Awkward Female Interactions: The Star Trek Franchise For Newbies

My friend Mia is the bigger Star Trek fan between the two of us. She was the one who introduced me to it first, starting with the original series. We then watched those new J.J. Abrams films, and my exploration of the Star Trek universe only expanded from there.

However, it might be hard for the average person who hasn’t gotten into Star Trek yet to try giving it a whirl. The size of the series can be daunting to newcomers. After all, it spans across television shows, movies, comics, novels, video games, etc. You name the genre, and Star Trek has probably already been there.

Plus, I will admit, it is a bit of an acquired taste. Such concentrated dosages of sci-fi nerdiness aren’t for everyone.

But for those of you straddling the fence right now, here’s just a few things you should know about getting into Star Trek, both the good and the bad!

Pros:

The main draw for me is the campiness. If you don’t like exaggerated humor or drama, then many of the main Star Trek shows of yore won’t appeal to you.

I for one happen to love the meatball monsters that teleport crew members from their starships onto planetray arenas so that they can battle with an ancient Genghis Khan with Abraham Lincoln by their side.

That music that starts blaring out whenever anybody gets into an absurd fistfight is also imprinted indelibly upon my memory. By the by, the combat is campy too. Conflict is supposed to be super dramatic in the original series, but it just ends up being an experience of futility as you try to stop yourself from snorting in derision so much.

Please be aware that this is meant to sell you on Star Trek,not deter you from it.

There’s something inherently delightful in how aged the show appears to be in all aspects. Simply by drawing you in and making you laugh, the show succeeds in some manner.

Another great thing about the franchise as a whole is its devotion to including as many futurstic devices as it can into the story. Warp engines, phasers, tricorders, holodecks, they’re all unbelievably fantastical.

It’s all so technologically unsound, it’s laughable.

Speaking of laughs, the humor is also crazy hilarious. Conversations that are supposed to be funny follow that “dad” kind of humor, to varying degrees of success. You end up laughing at their attempt to make you laugh more than at the actual joke.

But every so often, when the show is trying to shove that theme of the indomitability of the human spirit in your face, it just…works. Kirk or Picard talking about nobility and compassion just makes you feel uplifted, and you have to actually remind yourself that you’re supposed to be watching this silly sci-fi show just for kicks.

And that’s one of the main reasons why I’d recommend Star Trek. At its core, pushing aside the frivolities and inanities for the moment, it’s about exploring the depths of human nature’s capacity for good. And a show about that can’t be all bad, right?

Cons:

With space travel occurring in the series on a figurative daily basis, you would think that meeting new aliens would be the highlight of the show.

You’d be wrong.

Only a few of the aliens in the Star Trek series are what you would call classic or iconic. Klingons, Vulcans, Tribbles, and the Borg are a tiny fraction of all the aliens you encounter in the franchise. The rest are either ridiculous, forgettable, or insulting.

I get that budgets were tight back in the earlier shows, but some of these alien designs are beyond absurd. They look like toys you could buy in a dollar store glued together.

So if your story revolves around meeting new alien species and 80% of those species are terrible additions to the universe, you’ve kind of got a bit of a problem.

Another issue is plot resolution. Often, the crew of whatever starship or space station you are on will find themselves in dire circumstances. It’s only thanks to a last-minute solution that they make it out okay. But these solutions are always whatever makes the most dramatic sense. Logic goes out the window. If you need to rescue a stranded colony and your transporter is malfunctioning, god forbid you use the life boats or other smaller vessels at your disposal to pick them up. Let’s just turn the whole thing into a crisis.

And oof, its portrayal of women.

In the early shows (I’m talking the original, The Next Generation, maybe even Deep Space Nine, etc.), they’re all incredibly misogynistic. If the women aren’t background characters, they’re usually eye candy. And other characters (of the male variety) won’t let you forget that.

Attractive females in Star Trek are constantly being complimented about their looks. It’s insane. Plus, you can always tell when they’re trying to imply Kirk is having some kind of magnetic moment with a lady. The music changes, the frickin’ lighting changes, and the stares that’ll pass between the two are anything but subtle.

If you bite the bullet and watch those early shows, you’ll know what I mean.

Anyways…

As I write this, I’m sitting by a coffee table, tip-tapping away at my laptop while Next Generation plays comfortably in front of me on the television. The wind is blowing away outside, adding an extra chill to the autumn air, and I have a cup of warmth next to me in the form of green tea, lemon, and honey.

I have nothing pressing to attend to.

At this moment, Star Trek is absolutely perfect for my mood. It’s mild entertainment for a quiet time, filled with poignancy and stupidity in equal measure.

Which, now that I think about it, is kind of like real life.

I rate Star Trek a live-long-and-prosper.

Some Crazy-Ex Appreciation

Last time I wrote about a television show, it was about Game of Thrones, and we all know how that went.

After that particular roller coaster, I wasn’t sure how I felt about tackling a television show again. TV series are such a commitment. You invest a lot more time and energy when watching and reviewing a show than when you review a movie.

But after finishing up the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I knew I had to talk about it at some point. ‘Cause goddamn that show is subtly amazing. It’s like a sleeper hit show.

So this post is about giving some appreciation to a series that I think has gone underappreciated by the masses.

I got introduced to Crazy Ex by a friend of mine, one Andreya of TotesAndreya fame. A few years ago, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was all she talked about. She was avidly watching the show, claiming she felt personally attacked by the depiction of the main character, but loving every minute of it. She would play the songs from the show (it’s kind of a musical) in the car all the time. She highly recommended I watch it, and I eventually took her up on that.

Side note: Depending on the person who recommends something to me and how they recommend it determines whether or not I’ll actually give it a try. But once I decide I’m trying it, I damn well try it.

I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the title because it sounded too much like a rom-com, made-for-TV movie, but the show stuck some dynamite in the mouth of my expectations and blew me away. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is supremely self-aware, and if there’s one thing I appreciate in my shows and my friends, it’s self-awareness.

At first, Crazy Ex seems like a campy, corny comedy-romance that you catch on the CW all the time. But underneath that campiness is a scathing wit,and under the wit is heart, the willingness to bare the soul of a story.

Plus, it’s essentially a musical. And who doesn’t love musicals?

The premise of the show is wince-inducing. Main character Rebecca makes this decision to drop everything in her life to try rekindling something with an ex-boyfriend, even though he lives on the other side of the country and already has a girlfriend. What ensues is nothing short of cringe-worthy as Rebecca abases herself and puts herself in these embarassing situations all to win her ex’s favor. I’m telling you, this shit was more cringey than the Scott’s Tots episode of The Office.

But the show, by increasing degrees, starts getting real. It morphs from this cutesy romantic-comedy with a dash of zaniness to a clever and uncompromising look at mental health and character growth.

And when I say character growth, I don’t just mean that the characters on the show grow, though yes, that does happen. What I mean is that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend features a story that is all about what it means to grow as a person, what it means to develop your own character.

It’s hard work, and it’s a lifelong project, but the rewards are self-evident.

I did not expect to like Crazy Ex as much as I did. Now, I’m recommending it to my family, listening to the soundtrack as I work, and lining up to see panels about it at Comic Con.

So while Game of Thrones might have been a show that took up a great deal of my life with how much I loved it, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend changed my life. Yes, that sounds overly dramatic, but it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. It changed my outlook on certain ideas is all.

I rate it a must-watch-for-anyone-who-has-ever-felt-trapped-by-their-own-personality-and-is-looking-to-have-a-good-laugh-about-the-fact-while-simultaneously-confronting-it.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 Review: Turning the Tables on Fate

As I write this, I know that people are going to be steamed at Game of Thrones. This latest episode, “The Bells,” is an emotional wringer. Characters die, and some of their deaths spit in the face of some rampant fan theories. I checked on Twitter to see general reactions, and a lot of people seem pissed that all this character development has “gone to waste.”

That’s the phrase I keep seeing.

“Gone to waste.”

I don’t think that.

Now, I’m not saying I was thrilled to see the destruction in this episode. But I do not think that a single part of the show has “gone to waste.”

One of the things I like about Game of Thrones is the idea that fate is just a word. Sure, beings like the Red God or the Three-Eyed Raven occasionally swagger forward throwing their weight around, but at the end of the day, death is the only sure thing in this world. Magic and miracles are fickle.

Death doesn’t care whether you grew as a person, got your revenge, or met the love of your life. It just is.

So even though Episode 5 of this season wiped out a bunch of main characters, I do not feel as if the whole show has “gone to waste.”

That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

So the episode opens with Dany still mourning the loss of Missandei back on Dragonstone. She has not been eating or sleeping. She has been keeping to herself.

I felt terribly sorry for her while watching this because no one goes to her to comfort her or be with her in her hour of need. Her isolation is an awful thing, and I wish someone could have reached out to her.

Varys is taking this opportunity to write letters. Who these letters are for exactly is unknown. We do know that each letter basically contains the secret of Jon’s birth. Apparently, Varys is doing more than talking about betraying Dany. He is actually betraying her.

Tyrion decides to remain loyal to his queen. He tells her that Varys has betrayed her.

As if to underscore that point, when Jon arrives at Dragonstone, Varys approaches him and not-so-subtly tells him that he should be king. Thankfully, Jon remains his loyal self and tells Varys he is loyal to his queen.

However, when Jon goes to see Dany, she is clearly a wreck. She sits alone at a fire with a very uncommunicative Grey Worm nearby. When Jon comes in, she tells him of Varys’ betrayal and, perhaps for the last time, reaches out to Jon. Jon maintains his loyalty to her, but knowing that she is his aunt prevents him (damn) from comforting her in other ways.

Later that night, Varys is arrested by the Unsullied. He’s taken to the beach where Dany, Tyrion, and Jon are waiting.

Yes, you guessed it. Varys is put to death for treason against the queen.

It was a very sad moment because you know that Varys is acting for what he believes to be the good of the realm. When I first saw this moment, however, I couldn’t help thinking about how ardently he used to promote Dany’s cause. His betrayal felt sudden, and I couldn’t blame Dany for wanting to punish him.

Though maybe Dany should consider another form of execution instead of roasting people alive with Drogon all the time.

Just before Dany’s assault on King’s Landing begins, Tyrion begs her to keep the common people in mind, the innocents of the city. He tells her that the bells of King’s Landing will ring when Cersei’s forces have surrendered. If they do ring, Tyrion pleads for Dany to stop her attack on the city. Dany nods once.

Now, Jaime, if you recall, left Winterfell and Brienne to return to King’s Landing and Cersei. He got himself caught by Dany’s forces outside of the city. Dany tells Tyrion about this, and of course, the first thing Tyrion does when he reaches the army’s encampment is find his older brother.

What follows is one of the most emotional scenes in the whole episode. (And there are a lot of emotional scenes.)

Tyrion knows that Jaime is going back to King’s Landing to rescue Cersei or die trying. Tyrion knows that Cersei is a tyrant that Jaime can’t help loving.

But he releases him anyways.

They hug each other one last time, and Tyrion tells Jaime that he (Jaime) is the one person in his (Tyrion’s) life who has never thought of him as a monster. Then they part ways.

The day of the battle arrives, and I honestly thought things were going to go terribly for Dany’s side. Their forces were severely depleted after their fight with the Night King, only one of the original three dragons remains, and the defending army is bolstered by the Golden Company and the Iron Fleet.

But Game of Thrones got me.

Once Dany arrived with Drogon, King’s Landing was doomed.

Drogon set all the scorpions on fire. The battlements never stood a chance. He and Dany just flew by so quickly. The Iron Fleet posed no threat either. Drogon set those poor wooden ships ablaze in seconds. And the Golden Company? They were incinerated.

Eventually, the Lannister forces throw down their arms because they realize how futile it is to fight against a dragon when all you really have are swords. Cersei can only watch in displeasure as the bells of King’s Landing are rung.

Here’s the thing.

Even though the bells were rung signalling the surrender of King’s Landing, Dany decides to burn them all anyway. She starts taking Drogon on strafing runs over the entire city, over soldiers and innocents alike.

Poor Jon Snow, who was leading the Northern forces through the city, has to watch as the scene devolves into chaos. Soldiers on his side, the “good guys,” start rampaging through the streets, slaughtering women and children. Jon actually has to kill one of his own men who was trying to rape a woman.

Aside from seeing Daenerys’ face as she makes the decision to destroy everything, we don’t see her expression at all once she begins. The rest of the slaughter is seen from the perspective of the people on the streets.

However, back at the Red Keep, Cersei is finally persuaded by Qyburn to get the hell out of dodge. She, Qyburn, and the Mountain descend the stairs, hoping to reach Maegor’s Holdfast and survive the onslaught.

Two parties are trying to reach Cersei specifically at this point. Daenerys isn’t one of them. She’s just looking to set everything on fire. Jaime is trying to sneak into the Red Keep to get Cersei out of there. And Arya and the Hound are trying to get inside to murder her.

Let’s start with Jaime.

He has trouble getting into the Red Keep through the front gates, so he goes through the secret tunnel that leads from a cave on the beach to the caverns beneath the Red Keep. Unfortunately, Euron, who somehow survived Dany’s assault on the Iron Fleet has washed up to this exact spot. The two engage in a sword fight, they both get wounded, but Euron gets wounded more.

It was a lot more intense than I’m currently describing it, but all you need to know is that Euron eats it and Jaime makes it (for the most part).

Arya is as determined as Jaime to reach Cersei, but for completely different reasons. However, once they reach the Red Keep, the place is shaking and crumbling apart from Dany’s attacks on the structure. The Hound pulls Arya aside and brings her to her senses. He tells her that no one is coming out of this place alive, and she should get out while she still can. There’s no hope for him, but there’s still hope for her.

For once, Arya chooses life over death.

It was sweet to see this moment of closeness between her and the Hound. But it felt oddly out-of-character for Arya to decide to just leave him.

The Hound meets Cersei, Qyburn, and the Mountain on the stairs as they’re coming down and engages in battle with his brother. Qyburn tries to stop the Mountain from fighting the Hound and gets a skull full of rock for his trouble.

Cersei is now officially alone.

And even though she started this whole thing, I felt bad for her.

God, this episode was all about me feeling bad for people who may or may not deserve it.

The Hound and the Mountain duke it out. It’s epic as fudge. At one point, you think the Mountain is going to pull his Oberyn Martell special on his brother, you know, thumbs through the eyeholes? But the Hound stabs a dagger into his brother’s eye, then pushes him off the building for good measure. Sadly, the Hound also falls off with his brother since it was a whole-body kind of push, and the two Clegane brothers meet death together.

They either splattered on the concrete or the flames from Drogon’s fires consumed them. Either way…oof. There goes the Hound.

Cersei makes it to one of the lower floors of the Red Keep, but she’s all alone. You can see the despair on her face. And just when she needs him most, Jaime appears beside her. He’s made his way to her with two stab wounds from his fight with Euron.

Their reunion, next to Tyrion and Jaime’s hushed good-bye, was strangely the moment that choked me up the most. I never liked Cersei much. She is such a selfish woman, with no thought of kindness in her head. But I felt…moved…by her desperation.

And Jaime has changed so much since we first saw him in Season 1, but he still can’t escape his feelings for Cersei. He traveled to King’s Landing knowing he would probably die, just so he could die with his twin/lover. That whole incest thing is still weird, but now it has a sense of pure sorrow to it that feels earned.

Jaime leads Cersei back the way he came, but the tunnel he used has collapsed from the destruction Dany is wreaking up above. Together, Jaime and Cersei are crushed by the collapsing cave.

Arya’s journey through King’s Landing is the most harrowing one. Following her through the burning, crumbling avenues was exhausting just to watch. It has the same kind of chaos to it that the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan has. She has some near misses, but she makes it out of the city alive.

And that’s where the episode leaves us.

There is only one more episode to go before the season and the show ends for good.

With most of Season 8 done, I can look back at the show in its entirety.

And you know what?

I can honestly say no matter how the show ends, my time watching it has not “gone to waste.”

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 Review: That Escalated Quickly

The third episode of Game of Thrones left me with so many questions.

With the Night King dead, what did that mean for the story at large? Ever since the opening scene in the very first season, the threat of the White Walkers has loomed over the plot like a tidal wave you can’t ignore. After Arya annihilated the undead threat with a single stab of a dagger, I couldn’t help being a bit stupefied at the prospect of a show without them.

I mean, after facing the living dead, what sort of threat could our heroes possibly come up against that would pose a serious problem?

The answer? Themselves.

Let’s start at the beginning of Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks.”

The survivors of the Battle of Winterfell deal with their dead by burning them on great pyres they’ve built in front of Winterfell’s battlements. It’s heartbreaking to see Sansa give her final good-bye to Theon and to see Daenerys give hers to Jorah. We’re reminded that the death toll after last week’s episode was enormous because the smoke from these pyres clouds the entire skyline.

Afterwards, there’s a half-hearted feast in Winterfell’s Great Hall. Everyone is kind of morose after their losses. Who would have figured that Daenerys would be the one to lift everyone’s spirits?

Gendry, looking for Arya so that they can have some more alone time probably, is stopped by Dany in the middle of the feast. The whole room hushes as she speaks to him. She asks him if his father is Robert Baratheon, and at first you think she’s planning to berate him for past deeds that are not his fault. Instead, she names him Gendry Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End, lifting him up from his bastard-hood and into a lordship.

This thrills Gendry so much he decides he really needs to see Arya. He eventually finds her doing some target practice with a bow and arrow, and he asks her to be his lady when he is lord of Storm’s End. We all saw this coming, but the look on Gendry’s face when she turned him down still hurt. As Arya told him, she has not, and probably never will be, a lady.

Back at the party, things are tense as fuck for us poor viewers. Everyone is having a reasonably good time after Dany broke the somberness, except for Dany. She looks so alone in the Great Hall. Everyone else is talking and laughing in groups, except for her. Missandei, her only friend, is sitting with Grey Worm, and Dany sits alone, eyeing Jon Snow with…some troubled emotion in her eye.

Obviously, she has not forgotten her rushed convo with Jon about his heritage, and it is seriously bumming her out that not only does he have a stronger claim to the throne, he also has a greater rapport with “her” subjects.

She leaves the Hall alone, and I don’t know about you guys, but I felt a terrible sense of foreboding after that.

Brienne and Jaime, unlike Dany, have a great time at the feast, playing drinking games with Tyrion and Podrick. And afterwards, the moment we all thought about but never seriously considered would happen occurred.

Jaime and Brienne had a…romantic moment.

I won’t go into it too much, since I want to focus more on the endgame of the series. However, you should know their relationship begins and ends in this single episode. Jaime looks to start a life with Brienne at Winterfell, but he ends up leaving to return to Cersei for personal reasons. He told Brienne it’s because he loves Cersei. But something tells me it might be more complicated than that.

Anyways, back to Dany.

After the feast, she heads to Jon Snow’s room, looking to finally talk to him about the bombshell he dropped on their lives. However, the talk does not go according to anyone’s plans.

Dany clearly expects Jon to keep the fact that he is Aegon Targaryen to himself. She still loves him, so she initially pleads with him to keep this information a secret. We’ve been with Dany for a long time, so we should all know by now that she does not beg easily. She is clearly desperate to hold onto what she perceives as her destiny, her reason for living.

However, we’ve also been around Jon Snow long enough to know that he’s no liar. Telling the truth comes to Jon as naturally as a fish swims in water. Dany sees this, and you can tell it is driving her to despair. Jon is also unhappy because, for one thing, he doesn’t want the goddamned Iron Throne. For another, he hates causing Dany this kind of distress. But he can’t seem to understand how the truth of his birth imperils Dany’s claim. I think he cares more about how it is affecting their relationship.

After this gut-twisting conversation, Dany leaves the room and Jon unsatisfied.

So the plan to fight against Cersei continues after the Night King has been finished. Dany plans to return to Dragonstone with her forces by sea, while Jon Snow takes what is left of his Northmen south by land. Sansa isn’t happy about this, and she isn’t shy about letting it show. However, since Jon is King of the North and subservient to Dany, Sansa has to swallow her objections.

Well, she swallows her objections to Dany directly. Both she and Arya do not hesitate to pull Jon aside and say, “Dude-bro, what the fuck is your new queen’s problem, and why aren’t you siding with us?”

Side note: I’m paraphrasing.


This is the moment when Jon decides to tell them that he is not actually a Stark, but is instead a Stark-Targaryen hybrid. He makes them promise not to tell anyone, but Sansa breaks that promise almost instantly to tell Tyrion. I believe we’re meant to assume that she’s trying to cause strife in Daenerys’ home team.

And it fucking works. On the sea voyage back to Dragonstone, Varys and Tyrion have a godawful conversation (godawful because it hurts me to see Dany portrayed as a bad guy) about whether or not Jon would be better suited to the Iron Throne. Tyrion remains loyal to Dany, insisting she be given a chance. Varys seems to have lost all confidence in her though.

And this sea voyage only gets worse.

Tragedy strikes when, while flying in the sky, Rhaegal is struck down by scorpion bolts.

This moment sucked.

Big time.

It always hurts me when the dragons get hurt, and it was particularly hard to see Rhaegal go down for several reasons. For one thing, he was wounded in the Battle of Winterfell, during his fight against undead Viserion. While flying back to Dragonstone, it was clear that Dany was keeping a special eye on him from the back of Drogon in order to make sure he was keeping up. To see him taken down when he was already hurting hurt me.

And the worst thing about it was that it came right out of the fucking blue. At least when Viserion died, you saw the Night King aiming his spear at him. You thus had a little warning.

We as viewers did not know that Euron had brought a fleet of ships up to Dragonstone to lie in wait for them. Well, we didn’t know until Rhaegal was bleeding from his scorpion wounds and falling from the sky.

Euron, the stupid-looking, hateful, wannabe pirate, doesn’t stop with murdering Dany’s green dragon. He fires his scorpions on Dany’s small fleet of ships and sends most of them to the bottom of the ocean. He is somehow able to capture Missandei, one of Dany’s closest friends, and deliver her to King’s Landing too.

Dany, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Varys head to King’s Landing to try one final time to get Cersei to surrender. Cersei answers with executing Missandei in front of them.

This episode was a major downer. I honestly would rather watch “The Long Night” again than watch Dany, one of my favorite characters, streak down into a pile of piping hot rage. Because that’s where she’s headed, and you can’t really blame her.

Her destiny, the one thing that has kept her going all these years, is threatened by the man she loves. Her children, the dragons, are now down to one. Her armies of loyal Dothraki and freed Unsullied have been decimated. Two of her most trusted advisers, Jorah Mormont and Missandei of Naath have been taken from her.

What else is left to her but fire and blood?