Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Westworld’s Unreliable Narrator

Warning: This post contains spoilers for HBO's Westworld.

Related imageWriting an unreliable narrator is something on my writerly bucket list, so my interest is always piqued whenever I come across one. Though if he or she is really well-written, I don’t fully appreciate them until a second watch or read-through. That’s how it was when I watched Westworld.

Westworld’s allure for guests is that the Hosts seem human, and that’s the result of their programming. So no matter how human they act, the staff can still ‘reset’ them back to the beginning of their story loop. That’s what makes Dolores such an interesting unreliable narrator. She doesn’t mean to mislead the audience; it just happens because of her programming.

One story thread Dolores’s presents is travelling with William and his future brother-in-law. She starts off as a damsel and literally falls into William’s arms. But as they progress through their adventure, she becomes more and more of a strong female character. She uses a gun (when before she couldn’t physically pull the trigger), she holds up soldiers at gunpoint, and she even changes from her simple, blue dress into a button-down shirt and pants.

Nothing in Dolores’s behavior makes us think that her change from a passive character to an active one is anything but permanent. But when William discovers Dolores after she’s had her memories erased and has been put back at the beginning of her story loop, both he and us realize that the change–her story arc–was simply part of her programming. She wasn’t exhibiting freewill at all.

The other component of Dolores being an unreliable narrator is her memories. Like all the other Hosts, her memories are supposed to be wiped after she finishes every story loop. The staff considers it a kindness as she won’t remember any of the terrible things done to her. Though it’s also a way for them to ensure that each guest gets the same opportunity to experience the sweet, rancher’s daughter.

Here’s the things about the Hosts’ memories: they’re not like human memories. When a person picks a memory to recall, it’s fuzzy and very obvious that it’s a memory. A Host’s memory is so clear and in-focus that they’re indistinguishable from the present.

Now in theory, a Host’s memories wouldn’t be an issue since they’re always wiped. But a change that Arnold made to Dolores’s programming means she retains those memories.

Dolores travelling with William seems so much like the present–especially with how the scenes are juxtaposed into the rest of the series–that we take what we see as true. That she’s going through this realization of her humanity right now as we watch because there’s no fuzziness that we’d associate with human memory.

Because Dolores can’t distinguish the past from the present, neither can we as the viewer. It’s not until the Man in Black reveals that he is William, albeit older and disillusioned with humanity, that we realize everything we’ve seen in terms of Dolores and William happened decades ago and that she is not the empowered woman that William fell for. That was just her programming. In fact, she’s something else.

Needless to say, the realization that Dolores has been an unreliable narrator for the better part of the ten-episode season is a hell of a twist. It brings up the question of how do we define agency. Is it adhering to what the world wants us to be? Or is it figuring out the world on our own?

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Movies, TV & Games

‘Tis the Season of Spooks & Scary Movies

Haunted houses and vampires and zombies are year round in my house (well, apartment,) so I don’t exactly need an excuse to curl up with a scary story. But indulging during the month of October is different; the world just feels better suited for watching horror movies.

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed any of the not-so-creepy classic horror DVDs lined up on my shelf. And there’s no better time to dust off the plastic cases and revisit a bunch of old favorites.

In a perfect world, what movies do I want to watch this month? Oh, just a few…

  • Dracula 
  • Frankenstein
  • The Wolf Man
  • Dracula, Dead and Loving It
  • The Black Cat
  • White Zombie
  • Bowery at Midnight
  • Spooks Run Wild
  • The Mummy
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
  • Paranormal Activity
  • Bag of Bones
  • Son of Frankenstein
  • The Babadook (Netflix)
  • Young Frankenstein (Netflix)

And with me being me, there’s bound to be a bit of live-tweeting while I’m curled up on the couch and watching these movies.

Now I’m not so out of it as to think that I’ll get through all the movies I want to watch. Between a full time job and going to school full time, I barely have time to do laundry and squeeze-in half an hour of writing a week. But these movies will serve as a creepy little carrot to coax me through the work.

Do you have any must-watch movies this time of year? Or any good (non-gory) horror movies that I should check out?

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

On “The Orville”

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers for 
Episode 1 of The Orville.

Image result for the orville tv showThe Orville is billed as an ensemble comedy about the misfit crew of a star-ship. It’s too bad that the first episode was an homage to the “average white dude” trope with bonus (and completely expected) dick jokes.

Seth MacFarlane’s character–Captain Ed Mercer–is the star of the first episode, which is a shame since he’s not compelling or even interesting. He’s an average white guy that gets a job he’s barely qualified for. And the audience is supposed to be rooting for him because this is his last chance to prove himself after his wife cheated on him (which the audience knows happened because it’s literally the first scene in the episode.)

As boring of a character that Ed Mercer is, it could’ve been mitigated if the rest of the Orville’s crew had been allowed to show identities outside their relationship with the captain. The worst offense in the entire episode had to be Kelly Grayson, Ed’s ex-wife.

Kelly Grayson is shoehorned into the role of hated ex-wife that wants to make up to Ed for cheating on him. She’s referred to as a bitch and gossiped about before even meeting the crew; she takes the post of executive officer to better Ed’s standing in his superior’s eyes; she literally lobbied and called-in favors to get Ed command of the Orville.

Now, Kelly does come up with the solution to destroy the Krill ship, and that’s the silver lining to her character. It shows so much potential.

And she’s not the only one with potential. Isaac and Bortus and Alara Kitan and Dr. Claire Finn all showed that they can very well be compelling, engaging characters who may possibly be able to carry an episode on their own if given the chance. Even Ed, as blah as he was, shows at the end of the episode that he might have the potential to grow as a character.

It’s that potential which is going to make me tune-in tonight for the next episode. I might get burned by a show that’s allergic to creating an original story, or I might be pleasantly surprised. I hope Seth MacFarlane has it in him to surprise me.

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Women & the A-team

Image result for The A-teamThe A-team will always hold a special place in my heart. But it was a problematic show, to say the least. The female characters were shoehorned into one of two roles: plot device or love interest. More than once, those two roles were combined. There examples in every other episode, however I have two episodes in mind: “Children of Jamestown” and “Black Day at Bad Rock”. The A-team movie released in 2010 updated a lot of the story but the sexism remained.

“Children of Jamestown”–Season 1, Episode 2
Amy Allen tags along with the A-team as they rescue a young woman from a religious cult. Her presence doesn’t move the plot of the episode along, and the A-team would been just as capable of rescuing the young woman and subsequently taking down the Jamestown cult.

Amy’s role in the plot is to act like a delicate flower and thus enhance the A-team’s masculinity. She twice plays the decoy, praises the A-team’s abilities when they’re building a weapon, and is the foil to the A-team’s strength after they’re sentenced to death.

While Amy might not be a hardened soldier like the A-team, she’s an investigative journalist. She’d have to be pretty brave and capable to be successful in that career. So, yes, it’s unlikely she’s been in life or death experiences, but she’s probably been in some sticky situations before. Yet she turns into a wilting flower the moment things get tough.

“Black Day at Bad Rock”–Season 1, Episode 5
Dr. Maggie Sullivan is a doctor in the small town of Bad Rock when the A-team comes into town. She does three things in the episode: treat BA’s gunshot wound, call the military police on the A-team, and act as Hannibal’s love interest. She’s probably one of the most dynamic female characters in the series.

Dr. Sullivan plays a vital role in the episode by saving BA’s life. She patches him up the best she can and conducts a blood transfusion when a suitable donor arrives. Then she calls the police–albeit, a realistic response to treating a man with a gunshot wound–which is construed as negative since she’s turning in the show’s heroes.

Her actions are reasonable throughout the episode. She’s a strong woman who isn’t intimidated by a trio of dangerous fugitives. So what happens towards the end of the episode? She falls for Hannibal. In the episode’s final scenes, she’s seen in a romantic embrace with Hannibal and even kisses him. It undercuts the strength and capability that she showed earlier in the episode by leaving the audience with an image of her swooning over one of the heroes.

The A-Team (2010)
Captain Charissa Sosa is tasked with capturing the A-team after they escape from prison. She leads a team of soldiers across the globe in pursuit of men that the Army considered so dangerous that they sent all four of them to separate prisons in different parts of the country.

As a captain in the Army’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, it’s easy to infer that Captain Sosa not only smart but a capable investigator. While she  isn’t a colonel like Colonel Lynch or Colonel Decker or a general like General Fulbright in the original series, the Army obviously believed she had the skills to catch fugitives that were once special forces.

However, Sosa is Face’s ex-girlfriend. When she’s about to have her soldiers capture the A-team, he distracts her by pulling her into a room, kissing her, and handcuffing her to a railing. That would qualify as assault. Not something a soldier in the military police would be happy about, whether the guy was her ex-boyfriend or not. Yet she facilitates the A-team’s escape at the end of the movie by kissing Face and passing him a key to the handcuffs.

***

The A-team influenced my writing. It still does to a degree. How could it not with all the hours I spent with Hannibal and Face and BA and Murdock?

I write strong women. Badass women. But for the longest time, she was always a daughter. Or a wife. She rose into her position thanks to the men in her life, and I can’t help seeing a connection with the female characters on The A-team.

I still like the A-team. It’s comfort food, like a big bowl of ice cream or a plate of chocolate fudge. Fun and delicious. But it’s important to acknowledge that it’s got its problematic aspects. Like calories. Or sexism.

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

I read the comments on the new Westworld trailer

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Westworld.

Related imageI know, I know: don’t read the comments. But I couldn’t help myself after watching the new Westworld trailer on YouTube and not being able to wrap my head around exactly what I’d just seen. I buzzed past most of the comments without a second glance or thought (though the one about Delores *sexily* riding a horse made me do a double-take.)

Then I saw a comment that actually made my jaw drop. It said: “I knew that Dolores was going to be the villain this season.”

For someone who hadn’t watched the first season and simply knew that this season of Westworld was about androids killing humans, it’d make sense that Dolores the android would be considered a villain. But she’s not.

Dolores exists in a world where androids–known as Hosts–occupy a theme park where guests can enjoy an adventure in the Old West. Hosts are subjected to the guests’s whims. They might be raped, tortured, or even killed, and then their memories of the experience are wiped clean so they’ll be ready for the next guest.

But one of the Hosts’ creators tweaked their programming to give Hosts the ability to develop consciousness. It took decades for Dolores to do it, but she becomes conscious of her situation and able to act against her programming by the end of season one. Who can honestly blame her for turning against the people who’ve treated her and her life like a game that they can play however they want?

The first season was about how we define agency and humanity. The second season looks like it’s going to be about what happens when we deny those things to people and they decide to rise up.

I cannot wait for the new season to drop in 2018, and I’m ready to cheer Dolores on as she finally sticks-it to the people who hurt her for so long.

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Studying Stories: Characters of “The Mummy”

Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoiler for The Mummy (2017)

Image result for the mummy 2017 posterEvery story–whether it’s a movie or a book or a TV show or a graphic novel–offers the opportunity to learn. I’m terrible at taking the time to examine the stories I consume and seeing what works (or what falls flat). But it’s something I want to take the time to do more often. So what better time to start it than after seeing The Mummy in theaters?

The protagonist is Nick Morton, a soldier-slash-black-market-antiquities-dealer, is the stereotypical bad boy. He sleeps with archaeologist Jenny Halsey to steal a map, enters an insurgent-controlled town in hopes of finding treasure, and tries to lie his way out of trouble with his commanding officer when caught. He has some pretty good comedic moments, and I absolutely loved how he chooses to become the Egyptian god, Set, in order to save Jenny.

Nick isn’t a bad protagonist; he’s engaging enough. But he’s not memorable. There have been thousands–in not millions–of Nick Mortons in movies and books and TV shows.

So I’ve got to ask myself: how would I have made Nick memorable?

My Nick Morton would’ve been a woman, probably a woman of color. Then leave everything else the same: the soldier-slash-thief, the sleeping with Jenny to steal the map, and the running into an insurgent-controlled town. It’s a small change. But it’s a huge one.

The other character that stuck out was the antagonist, Ahmanet. She’s a Egyptian princess who made a deal with Set in order to become Pharaoh of Egypt. She kills her father, her stepmother, and her newborn stepbrother and nearly kills her lover (to make him a vessel for Set) before being stopped and sentenced to residing for eternity in a sarcophagus.

Now the problem that I had with Ahmanet’s backstory is that it’s cliche. She’s a power-hungry woman who’ll stop at nothing–like killing her family and summoning the god of death–to get what she wants. The viewer isn’t allowed to be sympathetic or to see the world through her eyes. And that’s a shame.

If I’d written Ahmanet, I’ve have given her a different reason for summoning Set. She’s first introduced in a flashback, and she’s sparring with a man under the watchful eye of her father, the Pharaoh. I’d have taken that warrior-princess vibe and run with it.

Ahmanet would’ve been a Princess in an Egypt full of corruption. A general looking to stage a coup killed the Pharaoh and her family, and then framed her for the murders. She summons Set in order to raise her own army of the dead and stop the coup, but the army prevents her from finishing the ritual. So when she awakens in the 21st century, her only desire is to give Set a human form before retaking Egypt.

Seeing The Mummy was fun. It was certainly well worth the price of the ticket, and I’ll definitely see the other “Dark Universe” movies when (if) they’re released. But it was also a fantastic opportunity to examine character and character motivations.

What movie have you seen recently? Are there any changes that you would’ve made to the characters?

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

On Season 4 of Sherlock

Warning: This post contains spoilers for season 4 of Sherlock.

This most recent season of Sherlock definitely had some good moments. Mainly when it came to character development. But when it came to story and re-imagining the original short stories, I felt like this season fell flat. Which was a disappointment after the impressive season 3 and the strong The Abominable Bride.

The Six Thatchers
I have mixed feelings about The Six Thatchers. It was a Mary-centered episode, which is always a good thing in my book because I love her character. Plus John and Sherlock’s character development (both with John cheating and Sherlock’s devotion to Mary) were fantastic.

However I had a hard time with how this episode linked to the original cannon. One of the hallmarks of Sherlock is that it re-imagines the original Holmes stories, and this episode was obviously referencing “The Six Napoleons.” But it felt more as a means to an end, as a plot device for Mary’s story. It was a letdown after how well the series did it before, like with The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Empty Hearse.

The Lying Detective
Without a doubt, The Lying Detective was my favorite episode of the season. It had massive stakes–Sherlock’s life was on the line–for John. Should he believe his best friend? Or should he walk away from the man he blamed for Mary’s death? Him imagining her still being there made things even more interesting.

The villain–Culverton Smith–also made the episode memorable. Even though I knew that he was the bad guy and knew that he was a serial killer, I still doubted Sherlock’s deductions. He was too charming. He had too many reasonable explanations. And that was amazing.

The Final Problem
There’s no other way to say it: The Final Problem was over the top. It felt like I was watching a PG-13 version of Saw with all the tasks that Eros forced the Holmes brothers and John to complete. Plus there was the whole “secret, evil sibling” angle that felt like it came from left field, especially Eros’s ability to seemingly hypnotize people.

The saving grace for this episode was the character development. Not so much forJohn apart from cementing that he’s actively trying to do the best that he can. But absolutely for Sherlock and Mycroft. They emerged on the other side as far more human than they’ve ever appeared in the series. I’ll never forget Mycroft burying his face in his hands and turning away when the prison governor was about to be killed. That was my favorite moment.

With how season 4 ended, it’s not absurd to think that this might be the end of Sherlock. I hope that it’s not. And that’s not just because I want to seem more re-imaginings of my favorite Holmes stories, but it’s because there are so many more layers to these characters that are just waiting to be exposed.

Image result for sherlock season 4

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Reinventing “Beauty & the Beast” on the CW

Reinvention is the name of the game in storytelling. It’s how writers stand out when they work with familiar stories. Like all things with fiction, it can go really well. Or it can fail spectacularly.

Take Beauty & the Beast from the CW, for example.

Obviously it’s a re-imagining of the classic fairy-tale where the fearsome best is tamed by a beautiful woman.  There are the hallmarks of the often-told story: a man who’s really a beast, a beautiful “Belle”, and a romance where they save each other. But there are twist on each of those aspects.

Vincent, aka “The Beast”

The Beast–Vincent–is very much a monster. He’s a super-soldier created by a secret government organization, possessing heightened senses and strength. And those abilities are only enhanced when he gets stressed. Like the traditional Beast, Vincent has been looking for a cure to his beast-ness. Whether that cure is going to come about because of his Belle has yet to be seen.

Catherine facing down “the Beast”

Belle is Catherine. Her mother was killed in front of her, and Vincent stepping-in was the only reason she wasn’t killed too. Catherine becomes a successful police detective who can hold her own, both in fights and intellectually. She stumbles upon Vincent and actively pursues him. There’s no kidnapping or imprisonment like a lot of Beauty & the Beast stories.

As for the romance, there’s two sides of Vincent and Catherine saving each other. Vincent saves Catherine physically–from a train, from multiple attackers, etc–as well as emotionally. Though the emotional angle is a bit hokey. She’s into bad boys, he’s the ultimate bad boy, but he’s a “good” bad boy who tries his hardest to do the right thing.

On the other hand, Catherine saves Vincent by showing him that he’s worthy of being loved. But it’s not a blind kind of love. She’s well-aware of his flaws, and she won’t let him walk all over her. Catherine has a backbone when it comes to their relationship.

Beauty & the Beast succeeds in reinventing the story of Belle and her Beast. It’s perhaps one of my favorite re-tellings, and I’ll be watching the rest of the series on Netflix.

Do you have a favorite reinvention of a familiar story or genre? What do you like about it?

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

On Strong Female Characters and CBS Passing on the “Nancy Drew” TV series

Growing up, I consumed a steady television diet of The A-teamHighlanderStar Trek: TNG, and Sherlock Holmes (both Granada’s Jeremy Brett version and the Basil Rathbone episodes). The original CSI got added to my regular viewing diet when it went on the air in the early 2000’s.

All those shows had something in common: male protagonists and few (if any) strong female characters. Sure there’s Amanda from Highlander, Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher from Star Trek, and you could make a case for Irene Adler. CSI was the best of the bunch, with Sara Sidle and Catherine Willows being pretty dynamic.

Television has shifted to include more women-led dramas. Though, they don’t always stick around for the long-run: Rizzoli and IslesThe CloserAgent Carter, Veronica Mars. But it’s still progress. And there was almost another female-led drama added to that list: a re-imagining of Nancy Drew as a thirty-something police detective in the NYPD.

Granted, Nancy Drew may see light as a NYPD detective but just not on CBS. Network executives decided to pass on the show after “the pilot tested well but skewed too female for CBS’ schedule” (Source, Mary Sue).

Too female? My TV diet as a kid was far “too male”, and it inspired my writing. My main characters are strong women. Because I wanted to prove that someone like me–a girl, now woman–could be just as awesome as Hannibal Smith or Duncan MacLeod.

Now would having watched “too female” shows have stopped me from writing strong women because there were already plenty of them out there? Probably not. But it would’ve changed something.

My first stories were fanfiction where I added original characters to existing “universes”, like The A-teamHellsing, and Sherlock Holmes. All of the women at the center of those stories were there because of a man. They were daughters or significant others. And even a mother in one case.

That’s not to say a woman can’t be all of those things along with a powerhouse protagonist. But there’s also no reason to think that a woman can’t be a police detective or an assassin or a necromancer without getting into the job because of her relationship with a man. She can rise to that position based upon her own strength and her own abilities.

I’m hoping another network will snatch up this Nancy Drew series. Even if it’s not something I’m sure that I’d watch, I want other future authors–male and female–to see a show that’s “too female.” Because maybe then TV shows, movies, books, and other media won’t be judged as “too female” or “too male”. They’ll just be fiction.

Posted in Movies, TV & Games

Fear the Walking Dead, Season 2: Episodes 1-3

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead season 1 and episodes 1-3 of season 2.

I know, I know. Fear the Walking Dead premiered back in the beginning of April, but I only just got around to watching the first three episodes. The fourth episode wasn’t yet available onDemand though it premiered on Sunday. (Update: #4 is available onDemand now, and I’ll be watching it next week back-to-back with #5).

So when last I saw these people:

They had just arrived at Strand’s beach house and were planning on boarding his ship, the Abigail. In episode 1, the group abandons land for life at sea on the Abigail. But being at sea doesn’t insulate them from the dangers of the dead… or the living.

Let me start with the tension. Amidst the inter-personal conflict between Strand, the group, and the family members, there’s an ever-present theme of not being able to trust anyone outside your group. Strand gets mad when Alicia gives their location to a stranger on the radio; Daniel Salazar tells his daughter not to ask others for antibiotics because they can only trust family; Strand cuts loose the boat and survivors from the plane crash that’s being towed behind the Abigail.  This suspicion works really, really well. Especially with the looming threat of the boat that appeared to be following the group and the questionable motives of the Geary family on Catrina Island. Plus Strand’s clearly up to something. As to what, I’m not quite sure yet.

Speaking of Strand, I like him as a character. He has questionable intentions that might be good or might be bad. Despite claiming to own the multi-million dollar house on the coast and the Abigail, there’s a pretty good chance he doesn’t. He’s also in communication with someone via satellite phone. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Abigail’s arrival to wherever Strand’s mystery friend is located won’t be all sunshine and roses.

Strand isn’t the only character with compelling depth. Nick, Alicia, Daniel, and even Chris have me on the edge of my seat as they face off against the zombies. I may or may not have said “Nick better not get bitten” during a particularly intense scene.

I haven’t made up my mind about Ofelia Salazar (Daniel’s daughter). She hasn’t had as much screen time as the others, so I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for now. But Madison and Travis grate on my nerves. Yes, they’re useful to the group. Travis understands how engines work, and Madison works as a mediator between Strand and the group. But they just don’t have personalities like the others.

My plan is to watch episodes 4 & 5 back-to-back next Tuesday. Though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to hold out and not watched #4 until then. I’m actually looking forward to seeing what happens next.