August 16, 2019

So, as already stated I put “War and Peace” aside because I was interested in reading some logic puzzle books that I had bought. I also noted that I was pausing playing “Elsinore” because I was incredibly busy at work and didn’t have time to play it. My work is very intellectually and logically intensive. So how in the world would I be able to get into doing logic puzzles after I came home from puzzling out things with logic all day?

I’ve started reading them, and it does seem to be working. I find the puzzles enjoyable, but it’s allowed me to decide just how much effort I want to put into solving them. If the reasoning and logic seems too complex, I ditch it and go read the solution, which I often enjoy reading for its own sake anyway. If I was less busy and less tired, I’d almost certainly try some of the more complex ones, but for now for the most part I enjoy taking on the ones that are reasonably simple and reading about the solutions to the ones that are far more complex. For example, one chapter in the book I’m currently reading — “The Lady or the Tiger” — has a section just for those specific sorts of puzzles, and I tried to and did figure out all of them except the last one, where there were nine doors instead of the typical two or three. I was tired enough — that was the last chapter I wanted to read that evening — that I didn’t even feel like attempting it. And, to be honest, I wasn’t even interested enough in the solution to really read it either.

The only bad thing about this is that you have to wait a significant amount of time before re-reading logic puzzle books, because you’ll remember the solutions which will make it less fun. So for the ones I’ve skipped, I’m not going to be able to go back to them in a month or so when I’m not so busy and try them then. But since I’m still enjoying it, I really don’t think I mind that that much.

On Whose Hands Should the Blood Be Spilled?

August 15, 2019

This week, I watched Chuck Sonnenberg’s review of “Superman vs The Elite”. The movie examines if Superman is still relevant by asking the age-old comics question, as examined in “Why Doesn’t Batman Kill the Joker?”, as in the movie The Elite are perfectly willing to kill the supervillains that they stop while Superman is not, and the question is whether Superman’s ideals on that matter are wrong or are the Elite right that at least some villains really should be killed instead of captured and turned into the authorities.

It’s educational to look at the details of this argument. The general idea is that there are many villains who, if free in society, will always directly cause lots of destruction and death. Atom Smasher is the one in the movie while for Batman the ur-example of this is the Joker. The hero always stops them — usually after they have caused massive destruction and death — and invariably they escape again to cause more destruction and death. At some point, society and/or its representatives asks the question: instead of turning them back over to the authorities to escape again at a later date, why doesn’t the superhero simply kill them and prevent them from escaping to kill again?

As I was pondering the movie, I came up with the answer, as Raiden gave to Liu Kang in the “Mortal Kombat” movie: Why don’t you?

The idea is that these heroes turn their villains over to society to let the society decide what is the appropriate response. Society decides that the appropriate response is to lock them up in a prison or an insane asylum, which they eventually escape from to cause problems again, which the superhero then has to stop. If the society and its members really thought that the villains needed to be killed, they could easily do so. This is particularly true for Batman’s villains, as it wouldn’t take much for them to kill the Joker (in fact, Shamus Young once, reasonably, opined that the only reason that Joker isn’t shot multiple times “trying to escape” is because of the meta reason that Batman needs to keep his main villains alive for the concept to work) if they decided that was best. A lot of Superman’s villains aren’t ones that they could execute as easily, but in general they could find a way. So if society really thought that they were too insane or evil to be rehabilitated but were powerful or intelligent enough that they were going to escape and cause death and destruction at a later date, they could institute laws and mechanisms to actually execute them and prevent that instead of relying on their heroes to do that.

So why don’t they? Well, the answer likely cycles back to the post title: they don’t want the villain’s blood on their hands. They want to be able to pretend that they wouldn’t ever actually countenance such a barbaric practice as capital punishment and stand on the idea that criminals should be rehabilitated. But the hero is outside of society. The hero is not them. The hero can do it and leave their hands remarkably blood-free, even if they call out for the hero to do so and deride the hero when the villain is instead turned over to them. When the villain escapes from them to kill again, they can blame the hero for not ensuring that the villain’s reign of terror was not ended permanently, conveniently ignoring that it was they who failed to do that.

And this adds to the tragedy, as while the villains do terrible things to society at large they also tend to do as bad if not worse things to the heroes themselves. Taunting and targeting them to ensure that if they don’t stop them the hero will feel a failure. Killing, torturing and maiming loved ones. And let us not forget all that the heroes have to sacrifice, their bodies, a normal life, and at times even their souls. It shouldn’t be society that blames the heroes for what the villains do when they escape, but the heroes that blame society for what the villains do when society fails to keep them contained, and by extension forces the heroes to put their lives, bodies and souls on the line to rectify their failure.

Society calling for the hero to kill the villain and take the law into their own hands should not trigger them to search their souls to see if not doing so is indeed a failure on their part. No, at most it should trigger them to search their souls to see if they should take the law into their own hands because such a call is proof positive that society has relinquished their responsibility to do so themselves. They want the hero to be judge, jury and executioner because they don’t want the responsibility for doing it themselves, and so want to pass that on to someone that they can hold responsible for doing that and all the consequences and decisions they don’t want to face up to themselves … whether the hero is willing to accept that responsibility or not.

And, at the end of the day, that in and of itself is precisely the reason why the hero shouldn’t do that, and instead insist that society take up the responsibilities that are, in fact, its responsibilities.

Additional Thoughts on “Elsinore” … and a Pause

August 14, 2019

I’m still incredibly busy right now. In fact, I seem to be on, as my manager put it, the feature that never ends. This means that I haven’t really had the time or interest to play any video games at all. I’m even behind on my TOR Smuggler run, which you will recall I’m using for my latest TOR Diary entries. So I haven’t really made any progress on “Elsinore”. But, as I said in a comment on my first post about the game, I’ve played a couple more loops and so think it might be worthwhile to post my additional thoughts on that before pausing it until I get less busy.

As promised, let me go into more detail about how the game works. It uses a fairly standard adventure/RPG game set-up. Ophelia has to wander around the various environs of Elsinore in an attempt to learn things and influence things so that the story works out differently than it did the first time. She does this by talking to various people and dropping pieces of information on them through various dialogs. The things Ophelia knows are all listed in a kind of journal, and when she’s talking to someone the player can choose to share something with them, which triggers a conversation. This means that the person now comes to believe certain things, which is tracked in the journal type things as well. Different actions can cause different beliefs in the person, which again is tracked. So, for example, saying that you fear for your life can cause Polonious to believe that you are in danger and, if other events are in place, that you might be losing your sanity. These beliefs have consequences, so if Polonious and enough people think that Ophelia is mad or going mad they might decide to, in fact, send her off to a nunnery/asylum (I did indeed get that ending once). As I noted in the original post, the system can be a bit awkward because you also have to “share information” to ask questions, which doesn’t quite fit.

The other two main mechanisms are the timeline and the map. The map is relatively self-explanatory, as it’s a map that shows where people are so that you can navigate to them easily. This is represented as a general, multi-level/area map of everywhere you can go, with small avatar/portraits of the characters showing where they currently are. The timeline is more important, as it lists all of the events and a set of timelines that you can access. As it constantly reminds you every time you open up an event, any event that can still occur in the timeline you’re in is represented on the timeline, and as there are multiple events listed it, again, definitely has to represent multiple timelines. This is important for ensuring that you remember to attend any event that it is important for you to attend, and there might be more clues in that as well (given that there seem to be multiple timelines, I’m going to guess that if you are able to identify some of them you might be able to identify the ones that end badly and look for divergence points, but haven’t done so yet).

The key to the game is indeed making sure to only share the right information with the right people. Sharing too much will lead to bad ends and, in fact, my two worst ends: killed by the King and sent to the asylum — did come from telling people too much. Also, you can tell people things that “break” them, which means that you can’t interact with them anymore and so have to leave them to whatever end follows from that. So it seems that there’s a delicate balance between making sure everyone knows things and making sure they don’t know things they shouldn’t.

At times, there seem to be difficulties with the multiple timeline aspect. I’ve seen at least a couple of occasions where I seemed to have triggered an event where the people reacted as if I had done something that I hadn’t, which is the downfall of games like this, as that tends to break immersion. There are ways to work around most of them, but it did seem odd at times. Especially odd was a case with an otherwise great scene with Guildenstern where she commented on being an unimportant character but that she was going to live with that, which spawned Ophelia saying that she needed to make sure that she saved her life then … except that I had never lived long enough to get to that part, and so Ophelia shouldn’t have known it. Which somewhat damaged the scene.

Every time you end a loop, the game ends with a portrait identifying an ending before telling you to try again. As I played it, I actually wanted them to give you an option to end the game there instead of forcing you to try again. The reason was that Ophelia had managed to prove that fate could be bested — another odd scene since she hadn’t asked the question beforehand — and things changed by saving her father, and so I thought that it might be consistent with her personality to say that having done so she was willing to take the asylum/nunnery route. This could have been achieved by having the person choose that option and having the game then say, based on each plot, what happened based on that timeline, since it would have to know this to run the timeline or timelines to completion. Heck, even simply outlining that in detail might have been nice as it would allow the player to decide if this was a timeline they wanted to end at. As it is, the game implies that there’s one or a small number of acceptable timelines, limiting player choice.

It wasn’t a bad game and might be interesting if I can sit down and get into it more. But right now I think that it was overly ambitious. There are a number of different characters and plots and and all of them can be resolved in different ways or even ignored, which then causes some of the issues with things triggering that don’t make sense because it’s really hard to account for all cases, and also leads there to be many, many potential endings which some players might want to take when the game won’t let them. The game has not yet told me if there’s only one acceptable ending or not, but while I hope there isn’t the structure makes me believe that there probably is.

Anyway, I’m putting it off for a bit until I can free up some time, which right now looks to be sometime in October.

Thoughts on “Happy Death Day 2 U”

August 13, 2019

The original “Happy Death Day” was a rare entry in my ongoing series of commentary on horror movies: it was actually a good movie. But while the quality of that movie did pretty much mean that I’d make sure to watch any sequel to it, when I first saw the trailers for the sequel I was filled with trepidation. The trailer focused on the impacts on everyone and commentary on it claimed that they were going to reveal the force behind the time loops, and there are so many ways that that can go wrong.

A big part of the issue is that the “Groundhog Day” looping concept is not one that lends itself to sequels, which is probably why there wasn’t one — or, at least, wasn’t one that I had ever heard about — to Bill Murray’s version. The time looping itself was only a framework around which we could follow Bill Murray’s character development, which was what made that movie so great. The same thing was true for “Happy Death Day”, where the entertainment was in watching Tre develop from a character who had too many people who might want to kill her to list to someone who was genuinely nice and sympathetic. The only difference was that “Groundhog Day” used a romantic comedy framing while “Happy Death Day” used a slasher parody framing.

The problem is that after doing that it’s hard to get a decent sequel hook from that. You can’t use the same gimmick with the same character again because it will look like it’s retreading the same ground that it already did, risks derailing the character and will seem repetitive. Imagine making a sequel to “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge either has to relearn the true meaning of Christmas (again?) or instead learn the true meaning of Easter and you should be able to see how bad an idea that is. So this leaves two basic plot ideas. One is to have someone else learn that lesson, but if done poorly that can end up feeling repetitive. The other is to focus on the looping mechanism and explain why the person looped in the first place, which ultimately is going to end up focusing on the precise parts that the first movie ignored meaning that it will have to end up being a completely different movie from the one that was successful enough to get a sequel made.

The trailers for “Happy Death Day 2 U” suggested that they were actually going to try both, focusing on the involvement of a larger group and promising an explanation for the looping. However, in the actual movie itself it ends up redoing the first movie with Tree having to learn about and develop her character all over again, with a different premise (directly involving the loss of her mother this time). While the movie starts with the nerdy roommate being the one who is looping, an accident very quickly has Tre doing the looping of the original day again, although this time it’s in a alternate timeline where her mother never died. And the explanation for the looping is a trite one, where it’s an accidental side effect from a strange physics experiment that the nerdy roommate was working on (they lampshade that this isn’t very dramatic). So, very quickly, we return to pretty much what happened in the original “Happy Death Day”.

The character exploration comes from Tre finding herself in a world where her mother is still alive, and deciding that she wants to stay in that world rather than return to her own where her mother is dead. However, her boyfriend from the first movie is dating the sorority head alpha bitch from the first movie. So Tre is forced into choosing between her mother — whose death devastated her — and the man that she might love, and the entire dilemma and character development is based on her deciding that the chance for love is more important than staying with her mother.

This falls flat, for a number of reasons. First, the movie shoots its own foot here by later showing that the sorority head is cheating on her boyfriend, which is a minor scene played entirely for humour. Except we find this out when Tre finds it out … which makes the choice pointless since she’d have a chance with him as soon as he finds out that his girlfriend is cheating on him. Second, there are much, much better reasons for her to have to make the choice. First, as the movie itself hints, this isn’t actually her world. There are a lot of differences in it, and some of them are worse. Tre actually finds herself in a world where her mother exists, but a world that she doesn’t really know and so that is unfamiliar to her, where her other self had great times and memories that she didn’t have and doesn’t know about. At a minimum, this would weaken her connection to other people — including her mother — as they have that connection based on shared experiences that she didn’t have. This unfamiliarity, then, could itself be sufficient for her to decide that, even though she’ll lose her mother again, this isn’t her world and she really, really needs to be in her own world. Second, they never really established how this alternate dimension thing worked, specifically what happened to the Tre that was indeed in this world before Tre arrived. I think they imply the perspective approach to the “Many Worlds” theory where what we end up doing is picking the path we follow and so the other ones are in some way pruned, which would mean that there’s only one Tre. But that would be odd given the lack of memories, and if there was another Tre that was shuffled into her world, then this would give Tre another reason to go back: that Tre would now, suddenly, have to face the loss of her mother. Tre knows how devastating that would be, and would know that, right now, she has actually faced and come to terms with that while her counterpart hasn’t. She could willingly give up her mother again to avoid devastating her counterpart, following on from her character development in the first movie.

Instead, the movie uses the trite and inaccurate “I have to choose love!” line.

Additionally, the actual explanation of the accident is trite and ends up messing things up again. Tre brings in the people working on the device, and the movie ends up having them have to try multiple angles but there are so many of them that they can’t go through all of them in a day. So Tre has to try to memorize what they’ve learned and bring it across to the next day. While there’s still a killer wandering around, Tre decides to instead kill herself to avoid that, which she does in a multitude of more-or-less creative ways. However, we know from the first movie that every death leaves a physical remnant on her, which means that she has a limited number of tries before she’ll die for real (likely). This is completely ignored … up until near the end where she gets frustrated and blurts it out and has a major physical reaction to one of her deaths when she revives. So, they remembered this but completely ignored it to generate another slightly humourous sequence of deaths for Tre, like they had in the first movie. One of the big flaws of this movie is, indeed, copying elements from the first one even when they don’t make sense in this one.

At the end of the movie, they all get taken to a government facility who are exploring the possibilities and want them to build another machine like that. Tre, of course, has all of the theory of it in her head, and they suggest testing it on … the head of the sorority because she “deserves it”. Except in the other world she actually went far out of her way to help them recover the machine so that they could send Tre back, and so generated some sympathy, and since each loop involves dying — and potentially each loop/dimension involves someone getting killed by or at least risking being killed by psychopaths — it’s hard to imagine that she in any way deserves that. Plus, we have no idea what will happen if she fails to break the loop before her body can’t take the strain anymore, and she doesn’t seem to be as smart as Tre. You don’t want to end a movie or pair of movies about character development by making the character who developed a jerk.

And for all its explanations, it never explains why dying or being killed is the only way to trigger the loop. For all we know, it would have looped at midnight no matter what Tre did, like it did in “Groundhog Day”, but then this would have given her infinite loops as long as she avoided being killed in each one.

Ultimately, this movie is a disappointment. It really adds nothing to Tre or the world and isn’t that great a movie on its own. I can’t imagine watching this movie again because it isn’t necessary to understand “Happy Death Day” and Tre’s arc is better if you ignore the existence of this movie. This is probably an example, not of sequels being worse than the originals, but instead of a sequel that shouldn’t have been made because the idea of the sequel itself really wasn’t a good one.

I have a plan …

August 12, 2019

So, a while ago I talked about how I’ve been running out of half-hour shows to watch, and didn’t really have half-hour shows to rewatch. Well, I’m over half-way through “Soap”, and so have to decide what to watch after that really soon. The problem is that I have hour-long shows that I haven’t watched or completely watched to watch as part of my accomplishment kick, and hour-long shows that I definitely want to rewatch for fun, but half-hour long shows fit incredibly well into a number of time slots where hour-long shows and movies — another category that I’d like to get into — don’t. If I try to rewatch an hour-long series, it seems like it will take up time that I could use for an hour-long show that I want to get through and wouldn’t fit nicely into any gap that half-hours shows might vacate. I’m going to want to have a half-hour show on tap when I don’t really have the time to watch an hour-long show or the freedom to extend things later if I want to. That’s the thing with half-hour shows: I can watch pretty much as long as I want because they don’t run as long, so if I’m tired and want to stop early or not tired and want to run a little longer adding on or subtracting 20 minutes is a lot easier to do than 40 or 45 minutes.

One of the keys to my plan, though, is that I’m supposed to be going on vacation soon, where I’ll have more time to fit in some shows, and that also happens to align with the time that’s right around where I should be finishing up Discovery and Doom Patrol, my next two hour-long shows. This means that when I’m on vacation I’ll have some time to try to rewatch one of my hour-long shows.

So, what I’m going to do is finish “Soap”, and then pick a half-hour show to rewatch. Right now I’m leaning towards “Teen Titans” or “Justice League”, but the key is that it’s going to be something reasonably short. I’m going to push that as the end of my weekday watching, fitting into the slot for half-hour shows now. The difference is that the time for that is going to be strictly limited, from at least 3 – 4 a day to 2 – 3 at most. In the extra time, I’m going to try to slip in 1 – 2 episodes of an hour-long show that I want to rewatch, which is going to be “Charmed”. This will extend up to my vacation, where I’ll pretty much put everything else aside and finish “Charmed”, before likely returning to this sort of schedule until my Christmas vacation, where I’m going to try to watch “Babylon 5” (returning to an old tradition of mine). I’m doing it this way because “Charmed” is longer and so would be more difficult to fit into a shorter vacation — which is what my earlier vacation will be — but watching some episodes ahead of time will help with that, but as a rewatch if I happen to work late or need to do other things it won’t interfere as it’s easy for me to just skip it for a night or two.

Which isn’t the case for the ones I’m striving to finish, which is why they stay where they are for now. This has been working for me with “Enterprise” — I plan on talking about that series soon — and so it’s a good idea not to change something that’s working.

Anyway, that’s the plan. Let’s see how it works, until I reassess everything on New Year’s Day.

I’m feeling sorry for “War and Peace”

August 9, 2019

Right up front, let me say something: I am indeed enjoying “War and Peace”. It’s a very well-done book. It’s dense, which means it goes slowly, but the writing and the characters work and are entertaining, and the French sections aren’t even all that annoying (my French is nowhere near good enough to actually read them so I’m stuck reading the footnotes, but I’m not minding it). I definitely want to finish reading it and the other works on my list of classic literature at some point.

Unfortunately, I’m somehow managing to keep distracting myself from it on a regular basis.

First, it was graphic novels. Two bursts of them, to be precise. And then “The Escape Room”. And a new “Aliens” book. Neither of which were anywhere near as good as “War and Peace”, but were also shorter and less dense. I also had a Stan Lee biography that I just managed to put aside for later and return to “War and Peace” …

… and then I was looking through the “Conviction by Contradiction” TV Tropes page and was reminded of all of those logic puzzle books that I used to and still like and decided to buy a bunch of them, which I’m going to want to read as soon as they come in (supposedly sometime next week). Pushing “War and Peace” aside again.

I swear, I like the book. I just can’t stop distracting myself from reading it, and it — and the list of classic literature itself — are so long that waiting until I finish them simply isn’t going to work.

Thoughts on “The Escape Room”

August 8, 2019

Soon after I picked up “Escape Room”, I was wandering through Chapters and saw a prominently displayed book called “The Escape Room” by Megan Goldin, purportedly about an escape room with four important financiers where a number of secrets would come out as part of the game. Well, the coincidence was too delicious to ignore, and so I bought the book. The book turned out to be a huge disappointment, though, because it seems that

she doesn’t mind
Telling lies to me
Lies to me
I don’t want to know
What she really sees

I’m going to get into the details of the plot later, so if you think you might want to read this book at some point in the future you might want to stop now. Well, after this paragraph. See, the lies she is willing to tell the reader is that this book is about an escape room situation. It isn’t. In general, there are very brief “escape room” sessions with the four financiers that rarely have any actual puzzles or escape room activities at all and that don’t actually really reveal any secrets at all interspersed with first-person commentary from Sara Hall who is stated early — in one of the few puzzles that say anything — to be dead where she recounts her life joining the financial firm and the corruption in the firm and that she herself develops, before pivoting to a bit of a murder mystery and then to Sara’s life going off-the-rails because of it, ending in a revenge scheme. The first-person segments tell the entire story and contain the best writing. They’re also as long if not longer than the escape room parts, which are the things mentioned on the cover, in the blurbs, and in the title. The escape room segments do little and are, again, utterly uninteresting as escape room segments. So in a book that says it’s about the escape room, the escape room segments are, in fact, pretty much superfluous to the work. Which is both sad and surprising, because the first-person segments, at least at first, are generally interesting and well-written. So the book advertises the superfluous and uninteresting at the expense of the parts that are actually better.

I have two theories about how this happened. You can decide for yourself which of the two is more cynical.

My early impression — and the one that I still think best fits my overall impressions while reading the book — is that Goldin really wanted to write a standard “Woman enters male-dominated field and faces massive hardships and wins out in the end” type of novel, but felt that those sorts of books were a dime-a-dozen and so thought that hers wouldn’t stand out, so she needed a gimmick. Obviously, escape rooms still counted as a gimmick, so she wrapped her story around an escape room knowing that she would draw some interest. Unfortunately, doing this means that people like me who like the escape room concept will be more likely to buy it, but would end up disappointed and even angered by the bait-and-switch. Meanwhile, people who would be interested in those types of stories would look at the cover and blurb and decide that it’s more of a horror novel and likely avoid it.

The other theory is that Goldin really did set out to write an escape room novel and pitched it to publishers that way — she’d have contacts there since she’s published under non-fiction — but discovered that she couldn’t pull off the escape room idea, and so had to rewrite it to make the secrets part the main story, but it was too late to change the original pitch.

Either way, the presentation of the book and what it actually contains are very much at odds. If you buy the book based on its cover, you will be surprised and likely disappointed by what it’s actually about.

Also, there are some major flaws in the actual main plot as well. Sara is a woman who got an MBA when things exploded, and so is having a hard time getting a job. So much so that she ends up accepting an interview where it’s quickly made clear that the interviewer already has a candidate in mind and so is only interviewing people for show, so he sets things up mostly so that he can ogle her breasts and torment her in the interview. As she’s leaving, though, she runs into Vincent who she impresses, so he takes her CV and eventually gets her a real interview — the differences between the two are highlighted — which leads to her being hired into his team, working with Sam, who is the second-in-command whose wife is spending him out of house and home, at least in part because he’s never home, Jules who is the legal expert who’ll sleep with anything he can convince to sleep with him, and former model Sylvie who is cold and competitive and was in an accident where her brother died while she lived. They all work together long, long hours, but the rewards are amazing. Sara makes a big dent in her student loans and has a very nice apartment that she shares with a roommate who’s never home, and she makes a lot of money. This is important to her, because her parents need a lot of medical care and her salary really helps with that. She also meets a man through her roommate and they start talking and thinking about getting married.

And then it all starts to fall apart. Lucy, another member of the team who is a mathematical genius but socially inept (Goldin sets her up as being autistic) ends up dying. Information left behind establishes that there was a disturbing incident beforehand and Sara eventually discovers that it was a murder. At one point, she confronts Vincent about it and tries to use Sylvie, who had talked to Lucy about it at one point, as confirmation, but Sylvie denies it ever happened, which angers Vincent. After that, Sara keeps getting work that she can’t complete, criticized for even the slightest mistake — and sometimes for things that aren’t — and even seemingly has her work sabotaged, eventually getting fired for poor performance. She hides this for a while from her fiance, but he eventually finds out and dumps her. She can’t get any kind of job in the finance industry because she can’t get a reference from her last company, but finally she finds something that Lucy left for her that reveals that they were essentially squirreling away money from shady dealings and gives her the ability to steal it. She sets up a lackluster escape room in an elevator to keep the others busy while she steals it, and they all end up killing each other over suspicion over these events, except for Vincent who is left barely alive at the end of the work, while Sara ends up running away to a Caribbean country with all of their money.

Before talking about how the plot comes apart, I have to outline the actual murder. At one meeting, a man who is a relative of the top execs and who is an utter jerk gets corrected by Lucy. Ultimately, he makes a mistake, Lucy catches it, and as Sam is the one there because Vincent was away he doesn’t manage to stop her from openly challenging the jerk in the meeting. The jerk doesn’t take it well, and plans a revenge. He gets the other team members to go along with him in part by revealing that her bonus is huge compared to theirs, and bonuses are the main way of establishing the pecking order in the firm. So they drug her and the jerk convinces some interns to sexually assault her. This devastates her, and she calls on Sylvie to help, which Sylvie doesn’t do. She also threatens to reveal their scheme, so Sam goes to try to talk her out of it, fails, sets her up in the bath to drown and, when that doesn’t work, leaves her tablet in her hands so she’ll end up electrocuted, and then hires a shady operative to find any records of it who ends up killing Lucy’s mother when she gets suspicious. Vincent had nothing to do with that, and is enraged when he finds out what they’ve done.

The main problem with the plot is that there are two major planks of it that Goldin contradicts in the resolution. First, it is a constant theme in the work that there is a lot of sexism and racism at the firm, but this gets contradicted later. Both Sara and Sylvie opine that they were getting lower bonuses because they were women, but Vincent was giving Lucy the highest bonus (that’s what the jerk used to get them to turn against her, remember). He seemed to be doing nothing worse than hiring people who he thought would benefit him regardless of their other properties. Lucy is explicitly stated to not fit in at the firm, but Vincent is still very defensive of her and so defensive that, again, he’s enraged when he finds out what they did. In fact, Vincent seems to be an example of the free market fixing racism and sexism, as while he didn’t hire any black employees, say, he was perfectly willing to pluck women who were talented but might not be taken seriously elsewhere. This also applies to Sylvie, as since Vincent was willing to give Lucy a huge bonus it calls into question her claims that she contributes more and only gets less because she’s a woman. And since we don’t really see her doing anything special except for one or two incidents that Sylvie brings up, it’s entirely likely, then, that her contributions are not as impressive as she would like. This is especially true since one of the things that she gripes about is that Sam and Jules only do the schmoozing while she does the real work, except that since Sylvie is an extraordinarily attractive woman you’d think that she be the one sent to do that, and that she isn’t suggests that she’s not good at the one thing she has a huge advantage with. So at the end of the day, it seems that Sara is at least wrong about Vincent wrt sexism.

And this is important, because the main injustice that Sara suffers is getting fired and blacklisted after talking about Lucy’s death. The book in Sara’s portions puts the blame on Vincent first and the others later, but as is made clear he had no idea it happened. From his perspective, Sara came in with a paranoid story about Lucy to slander her teammates that she couldn’t or wouldn’t actually back up, and did so with a person that he liked and was legitimately upset at her death. It’s entirely reasonable for that to sour him on her and thus not support her in that, and thus to fire her and not be willing to give any kind of reference. She was treated unfairly, but not to the extent that she thinks and not by Vincent, whose reward is to barely survive and to have lost his retirement fund (although he is wealthy enough to not particularly need it if he manages to survive). This, then, makes it hard to be happy for her getting away with it all.

The murder also derails some of the characters in ways that are puzzling to me. Sam was probably the most normal out of all of them, and so his suddenly being willing to kill Lucy intentionally seems to come out of nowhere. It’s even more puzzling since with how she died it makes far more sense for Sylvie to do it given her backstory and the fact that Lucy didn’t let anyone except Sara know where she lived until she was desperate and needed to talk to Sylvie (which gave her the opportunity). In Sylvie’s backstory, she essentially let her brother die instead of taking the risk of getting killed trying to rescue him, although she believes that she could have if she had tried. Setting a drugged Lucy up in the bathtub to drown or to electrocute herself fits perfectly into that backstory: Sylvie is unwilling to directly kill people but is perfectly willing to set them up to die through other means. It’s only a short step from simply letting someone die to arranging something where they are likely to die but might survive. Without this, there is really no reason to have that in her backstory at all, as the only time her potentially having killed someone becomes relevant is at the end, but then she kills people because she was holding a gun and was rushed/attacked, which only requires the reactions of most normal people.

The better way to do this would have been to use the backstories. Sam was already established to be using drugs, so have him provide the drugs for Lucy’s initial drugging. Jules could stay as is, someone who wanted to go along and watch and didn’t help. Then Sylvie could have had some drugs from Sam and took it upon herself to quiet Lucy. When she couldn’t find the evidence, Sam could have hired the shady character, and that character could have pushed him into eliminating the witness instead of simply looking for the evidence. And then they all could covered it up, even from Vincent. This still wouldn’t have made Sara’s revenge about Sara, but she was only trying to steal the money anyway and didn’t want them to die, so it would have been more tragic and more a case of their own vices leading to an inevitable conclusion. Instead, the plot all falls apart at the end.

I’m not going to read this book again. Even if I could put aside how deceptive the book is and how it ultimately is not the sort of book I’d normally read, the book falls apart at the end due to poor plotting and characterization and a seeming aim at Social Justice points that it contradicts. The early Sara Hall parts are interesting and relatively well-written, but the last half is a mess. I regret purchasing it.

Ranathawn Diary: Treasure

August 7, 2019

So, with the hyperdrive installed, it was time to finally find that treasure. Well, almost. First, we had to go rescue some friends of Risha’s who were targeted because … someone wanted to kill her. Why? Because, as it turns out, she was nobility herself. I guess her distaste for the Alderaanian nobles was more disappointment that, deep-down, they weren’t really any better than anyone else, and so that world that she was hoping to potentially rejoin someday wasn’t actually any better than the one she had now. Her father likely regaled her with stories of her noble birthright in an attempt to motivate her to seek it out, and having her illusions shattered like that had to be devastating.

After freeing them — and having Risha be blamed for something that happened because she existed and some people were upset about that — it was finally time to unthaw the carbonite frozen person and see who it was. It turned out to be Risha’s father, the notorious Nok Drayen. Which makes sense. He disappeared without a trace, there were multiple conflicting stories about his death, and Risha when asked about how she thought this person that she had researched and had intimate knowledge of died wouldn’t speculate, since she couldn’t actually tell any true story about his death (and knew I’d figure out this mystery). Still, he was actually dying of some kind of disease and only had a little time left to tell me where the treasure was, which was a treasure ship from an old ruler of their planet. He wanted a crown that Risha could use to stake her claim as the ruler of her world, and offered me everything else if I took it.

I wasn’t that interested in the treasure, but was curious about the whole story and so went along.

Anyway, it turns out that the ruler had decided to flee the planet with the treasures and took along all of his crew, and then had them killed by his droid guards. He did this, of course, instead of simply only taking a droid crew in the first place. Nobles do often tend to think of their servants as disposable.

At any rate, I managed to get the treasure and the crown, but then discovered that Skavak had stowed away on the ship somehow and was waiting for us, to try to kill us. I then promptly killed him and went on my way.

Funny, I would have thought he’d’ve been a bigger antagonist than that. Oh, well.

Anyway, when we got back to Drayven he proved that he was a noble of the sort mentioned above, as he ordered Risha to kill me so that she could keep all the treasure for herself, as a test of her ability to lead. Because clearly a good leader and ruler couldn’t think of doing something like oh, say, asking me if I’d help her out with becoming ruler and putting the treasure on hold until then? Which, in my case, would have been completely safe because getting involved in the politics served my mission better than picking up a bunch of treasure, and she could have always tried to kill me later if I said no. But Risha refused, Drayen died, and Risha then joined the crew. I expect that her quest to rule is going to come up later.

But now we needed to find something else to do, and we then received a message …

Thoughts on “Mork & Mindy”

August 6, 2019

So, one time when I was browsing for DVDs as is my wont, I came across the entire series — four seasons — of “Mork & Mindy” for a reasonable price. I had remembered watching the show when I was young and knew that I liked Robin Williams and Pam Dawber, and so thought I’d buy it and give it a shot at some point. Now that I’ve watched the entire series, I have to say that … I found it disappointing.

The thing that made the character of Mork at least so initially popular was that Robin Williams was extremely good at rapid-fire goofiness and comedy in general. So he’d come in and pretty much steal the show as he moved flawlessly from joke to joke and goofiness to goofiness without ever taking a break, And, of course, that’s funny. However, the problem with that is that it also, even with fresh material, gets old. Essentially, it’s like doing nothing else but watching a stand-up comedian every day, or perhaps like eating your favourite dessert every day. Eventually you get tired of the antics and note that there’s really nothing else to keep the show going. That’s why in the later episodes I found Pam Dawber’s reactions to the insanity much more funny than Robin Williams’ Mork character because all he’d be doing is the same sort of rapid-fire jokes that I had come to expect. I suspect that when the series was on TV things were different because you’d only get that once a week and could contrast it with other comedies that weren’t as madcap, while here I was easily watching 3 – 4 or more episodes a day, most days. It’s much easier to notice that it’s the same thing over and over again when you do that. That being said, the show started out with high ratings and dropped off season over season, and while some of that might have been due to show changes I suspect that a significant part of that was due to the audience getting tired of having nothing more than Mork’s goofy humour to play with.

The show also had what can be called an “expiring premise”. Like “The Greatest American Hero”, a big part of what drives the humour in the show is a concept that’s going to get harder to justify as the show goes along. For “The Greatest American Hero”, the concept was that Ralph was using a supersuit that he didn’t know how to use, and so the humour was driven by his attempts to act as a superhero while not having any idea how to actually use the suit. Obviously, as time went by and he learned more about how to use the suit this would fade or seem implausible. For “Mork & Mindy”, the concept was Mork not being used to how things work on Earth and so both acting strangely and also not interpreting or understanding what others were doing correctly. Again, as time went by he’d learn more about Earth and so that couldn’t be as dominant a factor as it was in the earlier seasons, meaning that the show would need to transition to something else. They decided to transition to the romance/childbirth angle in the last season, which was a decent idea but ended up repeating similar ideas from the earlier seasons. It didn’t help that Mearth joined with Mork to dominate the season and Mindy was derailed into being far more ditzy and goofy than she had been portrayed before.

Meath, to me, wasn’t a very interesting move. The idea of people who age backwards had potential, but it’s a lot harder to sideline an adult baby than a baby baby, so Mearth ended up being a dominant character, sidelining almost every other character, often even including Mindy. Another problem was that a lot of his humour relied on him talking excessively adult, but the problem with that is that a young child doing that is funny, but an adult doing that is expected. The contrast can work, but it had to be handled very carefully, and for the most part the show really only focused on Mearth and Mork doing the goofy improv humour, which by season 4 I was sick of.

Another issue with the show is that it completely sidelined its secondary characters, to its detriment. I have never seen a show where so often it had characters that were explicitly shown in the opening credits that didn’t appear in episodes. One character showed up in the opening credits before being introduced, and other characters appeared in hardly any episodes despite, again, being in the opening credits. Even when they did appear, often they were relegated to short establishing scenes where nothing interesting happened with them at all. For the most part, the secondary characters were treated as characters that were just there but never really got any development or lines of their own, which made us care less about them and also meant that a chance to break up the “Mork is goofy” line with something else to better establish those oddities was lost.

And those secondary characters weren’t all that interested besides. The breakout character, Amador, was an arrogant jerk which made it hard to feel any sympathy for him or like him at all, especially when we got the subplot of his getting married to a very nice woman which made me wonder what in the world she saw in him, not due to his strangeness — which drove his humour — but due to his being a jerk. Mr. Bickley was another character that was, for the most part, annoying and a jerk whenever we saw him, but did get his “Pet the Dog” moments — literally, at least once — but really had nothing going for him outside of that. Mindy’s father was a decent character but other than feuding with Mork there was really nothing to his character, and feuding with Mork was something that really should have gone away by the fourth season. I liked Jeannie and could tolerate her brother, but she and they really only worked as friends for Mindy and Mindy’s role was small enough that it never really became relevant.

They also tried to introduce some shallow characters to act as potential foils to Mindy, starting with her “friend” Susan in season 1 (played by Morgan Fairchild) and followed up on later with Glenda Faye. Susan didn’t really work because her main role was to be romantic competition for Mindy, but it was clear that there was no way that Mork would be more interested in her than in Mindy. It also meant that the romantic relationship was started or at least hinted at quite early, when it would have worked better if it developed over time. As it was, it was hinted at strongly and then dropped for the most part until season 3 when they had to ramp it up quickly to get to the marriage to get to the child for season 4, which seemed rushed. Anyway, Susan wasn’t real romantic competition for Mindy but was so unpleasant most of the time that it was clear that no one wanted to be around her, making her presence in the show implausible. There were attempts to build sympathy for her, but they never really worked.
Glenda Faye worked a lot better, because she was in general a pretty nice person but someone who was mostly care-free and so could make selfish seeming lines while still being sympathetic since she didn’t really mean it that way.

If they had really wanted to go with the “unpleasant romantic competition”, the character played by Raquel Welch at the end of season 1 was perfect. She was an alien from a nasty planet who captures Mork as part of an invasion plan but is swayed by his niceness, to her and to everyone else. Having her come to Earth to try to learn to be nice would have worked because she was clearly and aggressively interested in Mork, as an alien would have things in common with Mork that Mindy wouldn’t, and as someone working on changing could easily shift from being nice to be selfish without losing sympathy. I’m not sure doing that would have made the show better, but it was better than what we actually had most of the time.

One of the draws of the Mork character was his general naive niceness, which makes it unfortunate that the character was often pretty mean. He insults Orson in pretty much every report while Orson tends to be a pretty reasonable boss most of the time. Also, when they introduced the day care job and had some of the kids come over later, one of them was a “fat chick” who played that stereotype to the nines, which was a bit excessive — the jokes weren’t original and so weren’t funny — and worse the only semi-original jokes were Mork’s excessive snarking at her weight. I generally don’t really upset at fat jokes, but Mork being so very mean about it was out-of-character for him, or at least out-of-character for a character that I was supposed to like as being a nice character. That was a major misstep.

So, now, what did I think of the show? While I struggled a bit with it at the end, I think the show was worth watching once. Robin Williams does do goofy well and Pam Dawber is good in her role, and there are good moments, especially early on. However, I can’t imagine ever watching the show again. This is one show where I not only don’t really care to watch it again because I have far better things to watch, but that I feel no interest in watching it again at all. It was tolerable once, but it’s hard to imagine when I’d get the urge to watch it again.

The next show up is “Soap”, so we’ll see if that one works better.

Not Really Helping …

August 5, 2019

So, last week I talked about how I wasn’t really interested in the MCU Phase 4. A couple of articles on them have added some more details, but they haven’t really done much to stir up excitement in me.

Let’s start with the new showrunner for WandaVision and the writer on the Black Widow movie. The headline and start of her article is this:

Black Widow film writer Jac Schaeffer recently stated she is “not interested in adhering to comic canon that is discriminatory in any way or that violates my values system.”

She made the comments in an interview with Inverse, where she expects to receive a negative reaction. She added, “When people react with hate, it saddens me. I think it’s a shame. But that’s not where I want to put my energy. I’m not interested in the loud, sour-grapes voices.”

So, she’s going to avoid or completely rework comics canon to align with her value system, is well-aware that it clashes with the values of a number of people who would be the intended audience for the work, and so will justify ignoring them on the basis that they will be reacting simply with hate and will be loud, sour-grapes voices. To do this shows supreme arrogance in assuming that anything she ignores or changes to align with her own values won’t end up missing the actual point and what was good about the work itself or that her values may, you know, actually be wrong. It’s not really a problem to say that if you’re writing something you don’t want it to be sending messages that you don’t agree with, but this is more than that, especially when combined with what she says at the end of the piece:

“I choose to be a part of projects that are about positive representation. We need to see women, we need to see people of color, we need to see nuanced experiences, and we need to see different perspectives on screen. I choose to work with people who are interested in changing perspectives for the better, and putting a world on screen that is something we can aspire to and have conversations about, and moving in a direction that will create a world I hope will be better for my children.”

So she’s not merely trying to avoid things that clash with her own values, but instead to push her own values through the work itself. I tend to hate that sort of thing — from anyone — and so that’s not likely to get me interested in watching what she’s doing. Especially since WandaVision was something that I had some mild interest in and she’s the showrunner on that, but:

Schaeffer would go into detail about her ongoing experience with WandaVision and what it’s like to be showrunning a TV series without previous TV writing credits. Schaeffer states, “It’s highly unusual. It’s kind of ridiculous.” However, she adds that showrunning is “the most satisfying role that I’ve had. It combines almost everything. While I think I will get back to directing at some point, right now running a show – I feel like the luckiest person in the world. It’s a really phenomenal gig.”

She’s a first-time showrunner and has no TV writing credits. This could turn out well if she ends up having a talent for it but had never had the opportunity before, but given her Social Justice bent and lack of experience with how TV has to work it really seems like it’s going to turn out like Agent Carter did: a work that doesn’t grasp what it has to do to work as a television series that’s also cluttered up by ham-handed attempts to make Social Justice points.

And the announcement about the new Thor movie fills me with apathy:

A new report suggests Marvel Studios will cast a transgender female character in one of their upcoming Phase 4 projects.

The report comes from Geeks World Wide, who indicate the character is currently using the codename “Jessica.” They go on to indicate that they are looking for a “transwoman actress of any ethnicity in her 20s to 30s.”

Geeks World Wide speculates that the character will appear in Thor: Love and Thunder as they state “the casting breakdown calls for ‘transgender actresses only.’” They go on to indicate the character will be Sera.

I don’t care at all about there being a transgender character in the Thor movie. This doesn’t motivate me at all to go out and watch that movie. In fact, there are only two ways it can go, neither of which are good. Either they simply namedrop the transgender status and ignore it — which will anger those who do actually care about there being a transgender character and for everyone else will provide at least one scene where something out-of-place and meaningless gets brought up in the movie which is never good — or else they’ll build a ton of things around their transgender status which will take up time that could be better used to further the actual plot and action of the movie. Unless you’re someone who’s going to feel a great connection to them because they are transgender and so that will make you more attached to the character, it’s going to seem like a waste unless it’s done really, really well. By which I mean, done in such a way that the transgender aspect is examined in detail in a way that’s dramatically interesting. Which is not going to happen in a popcorn superhero flick, even if I believed that the writers were capable of pulling that off.

So, this might appeal to 1% of the population or so (as the highest estimates I’ve seen of the number of transgender people is about there and you might pick up a few more people who are very close friends of a transgender people). That’s not a large market, relatively speaking. They’re also going to try to focus, in some sense, on a lesbian character:

The film, which will be directed by Taika Waititi will also feature a LGBTQ Valkyrie. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige told io9, “As new king, she needs to find her queen.” He added, “That will be her first order of business. She has some ideas. Keep you posted.

That might be about 10% more … if you can pull off both at the same time without ticking one group or the other off. Knowing them — and having read about the recent TERF debates around this — what they’re likely to do is make their trans woman character the queen love interest here and actually manage to make the controversy around the movie not come mainly from the purportedly traditional “cis white male racist transphobic homophobic Gamergater Trump supporting” crowd. Of course, they could also make Portman’s Thor that, which would actually explain the title.

At any rate, the problem with trying to expand for diverse audiences is that from a business angle — which, being fair, as we’ve seen, most of the people pushing for this don’t actually care about — this can be risky. There isn’t a huge audience out there that will find this so compelling to start watching the work if they aren’t already interested in it, and you potentially run the risk of alienating the existing audience you do have. It won’t take too many of the existing audience to decide that they aren’t interested in it and avoiding it to undo any of the gains you might make by drawing in that audience. And the only business reason to aim for more diversity is the oft-cited attempt to increase your audience by appealing to people who might have been turned away by the lack of diversity, primarily because they don’t see people like themselves as the heroes of the story and only as secondary and so potentially second-class citizens, which they can argue that they experience enough in their everyday lives that they don’t really need to see it in their fiction as well.

The least risky market to appeal to is, of course, women. Since women are a bit over 50% population, if you can make big gains with that market then you can actually do better financially even if it turns off a small percentage of the existing audience. Black people are about 18% of the American population, which makes trying to appeal to them riskier. As we get into more and more marginalized — in terms of percentages, at least — groups the risk increases … just as these are the very groups that, increasingly, the Social Justice side want to appeal most to.

So, in order to do this and remain financially viable, you have to be very careful how you do it, ensuring that you don’t alienate too much of the existing audience while trying to be maximally appealing to the audiences you’re trying to attract. One way to do this is the ur-example of diversity and what Thor is kinda aiming for: appeal to as many groups as you possibly can. This is behind the alt-right jokes of having a main character that’s black, female, lesbian, trans and handicapped: the character then should appeal to as much of that audience as possible, right? The problem is that it’s hard to say what might turn off parts of a specific audience. You might find white lesbians finding a black lead unappealing, while black men and women might not care for a trans character, and so on. My joke about the TERF argument above highlights that: making the trans woman the lesbian love interest will irritate a number of the audience that might find the female or lesbian characters appealing. It’s monumentally difficult to appeal to everyone at the same time.

And there is an issue raised here: if trying to appeal to a wider market is the main goal here — and, well, it isn’t for most of them — then why don’t we see similar appeals to expand, say, female-dominated genres to be more inclusive of men? We have had works that appeal to multiple demographics, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. So why don’t we see female-dominated works trying to expand their audience without losing what makes them appeal to women, like the romance field? Putting aside the whole “oppression” angle — doing so would immediately spawn arguments that men were “invading” women’s spaces — a big part of it, it seems to me, is about the inferiority complex that those areas and groups have. In general, the Social Justice movement defines the majority and privileged groups as having all the good things, and so the works that appeal to the oppressed groups are seen even by those groups as being inferior. They want in on the better stuff, and can’t really conceive of why anyone would want to take the inferior stuff … even if some if their stuff is better for some interests than the existing mainstream or privileged works would be.

(And then they insist that works created by their groups based on the perspective of their groups is just as good as that from the privileged groups. Subconscious impressions can really be messed up.)

Anyway, financially speaking, what the MCU is going to have to do is try to appeal to “diversity” without alienating too much of the existing audience. It … doesn’t seem likely that they will, especially considering how the comics have already tried that and it hasn’t worked. Since I tend to avoid works that try to make a point and it really sounds like at least some of the creative staff really want to make a point, it doesn’t seem like I’ll be watching much in the MCU Phase 4 and perhaps beyond.