Quarantined

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Like a lot of people, I’m spending more time than usual inside my home. What’s extra weird is that my wife’s workplace has shut its doors until the end of the month so she is stuck here, too. Me, I like being at home. She’s currently on day two and is already a bit stir crazy.

But there are only so many evenings you can while away with board games. To that end, a self-quarantine is an excellent time to binge the TV shows you meant to watch but never got around to. And for this list, I’m only naming shows that cost only the price of a subscription. Lots of us are struggling to find work at the moment, after all.

I have suggestions:

Amazon Prime:
This isn’t the first streaming service I think of when I fire up the TV, but for quality shows of the (recent) past, it has some serious heavy hitters, such as

The Wire
The Sopranos
The Americans
Deadwood
Orphan Black

Not all their offerings are so critically acclaimed, though. Space: 1999 is a seventies cheese fest and a lot of fun. Dead Like Me captures that disaffected 90’s slacker style that is overdue for a come back. And Eerie, Indiana is pure and adorable in its low-budget earnestness. Concentrated comfort food.

Netflix:

Netflix doesn’t lean as heavily on the critical acclaim, but they have some solid gems, like

Original Twilight Zone
Mad Men
Monty Python
Twin Peaks

When people want to know if I prefer Star Trek or Star Wars, I tell them Person of Interest. The first season is fun but not promising. By the midpoint of season three, we were shouting at the screen. Also, all the Star Treks are here, too. For lighter fare, they have Pee Wee’s Playhouse, which is anarchic fun (and also my wife worked on the NYC set, building several of the props, including Conky the Robot and Chairy, which is why I have a soft spot for this weird show). If you’re feeling stir crazy, Ash vs the Evil Dead is bloody and hilarious and over the top. If you need to be soothed, Father Brown is concentrated gentility.

Hulu

If Amazon Prime is home to Big Prestige TV About Terrible Dudes, Hulu offers a wider variety of stories with a wider variety of leads.

Killing Eve
Veronica Mars
Atlanta

They also have Legion, which is BPTATD, but has a non-naturalistic flair that I thought was fascinating, even when it didn’t totally work. Also, I know lots of folks binge Law & Order as a sort of comfort view, but that’s not streaming anywhere at the moment. However, Hulu has Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Finally, if you need something gentler, you can find Steven Universe here.

Disney Plus

Then you have this channel, where you can find… all the Star Wars cartoons? Agent Carter is lots of fun, but they never really let that terrific lead character shine. And… what? The 90’s X-Men cartoon? Gargoyles? If I’d written this post about movies, D+ would have more to offer.

Anyway, I’d originally planned to only list shows that had finished their run, but then I saw Killing Eve and that went out the window. Personally, I’d love to binge a few of these myself, but my wife hates to binge shows, so I’ll have to enjoy them vicariously through you guys.

One a personal note: We’re self-quarantined until the end of the month at least, and we’re taking the time for family and art-making time. One Man was released a few months ago, so we’re expecting that money to come in at the end of the month. So, yeah, this is going to hurt long term, but in the short term we ought to be okay.

But the economy is going to take a big hit. It might be time to rethink your Patreon and Kickstarter pledges. I appreciate the support I get through Patreon, for example, but I want everyone facing hardships of their own to cancel their pledges before they come due at the end of the month.

Take care of yourselves and take care of each other.

Stop Killing the Redeemed Bad Boys: Veronica Mars and The Rise of Skywalker

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Spoilers for Star Wars and of Veronica Mars. FYI.

Before we get into the meat of this post, I want to point out that, four years ago, I made this awful prediction:

Along with a few ten thousand other people, but the important thing to point out is that this was supposed to be a joke. Seriously, I thought making Rey a Palpatine was a ridiculous idea, and it turned out that I was right.

But there’s no idea so ridiculous that someone won’t rub their chin and go “hmm”. Sometimes, on Twitter, there will be huge hashtag pitch sessions where people will tweet out a log line for their screenplays, and I used to make up ludicrous story ideas for it. No matter how outlandish, there was always someone interested in something I made up.

Terrible ideas! They’re everywhere!

Let’s seque back to the new season of Veronica Mars, on Hulu. Personally, I enjoyed it, but many die-hard fans were furious at the way they killed off Logan, Veronica’s true love.

After three full seasons, the show felt unfinished. With the Kickstarter-funded movie, Rob Thomas brought things around to an ending the fans could get behind. Veronica was a PI again. Logan had his shit together. They re-started their romance as adults. Boom. Ending. They even left things open for those awful novels.

But once Hulu came knocking for S4, Thomas didn’t know what to do with Logan. He has this idea that a romantic relationship had to be about the conflict. What would they do with Logan now that his issues with Veronica were resolved? He said he didn’t want to include Logan in the mystery of the season–nevermind that he did exactly that for S4 and it worked out fine. Nevermind that Veronica has plenty of other low-conflict relationships with people she loves. Thomas wanted her to be free for upcoming seasons, which meant Logan had to go.

And when he went, the fans went too, and they weren’t quiet about it. They were furious, vowing that they were never going to watch again.

The fallout? No Current Plans for Season Five at Hulu

There was similar fan interest for sexy villain Kylo Ren/Ben Solo to be redeemed during TRoS and have the romantic relationship with Rey that almost came about in The Last Jedi.

Personally, I thought TLJ settled that plot point. They had an opening for romance. Each thought they were going to turn the other to their way of thinking. They were wrong. Ben Solo chose to be Kylo Ren, and he was not going to give up his giant fascist army. He even declared himself Supreme Leader. Kylo Ren was established as the villain.

But the fans wanted Kylo and Rey to come together, which meant Kylo had to turn into a good guy, which meant they needed a new villain for the third act, which meant they brought brought Palpatine, which is why they decided to connect him to Rey by blood and undo the very best scene of The Last Jedi (“You’re nothing… but not to me.”)

But after fighting on Rey’s side and saving her life, Kylo gets a single kiss from Rey. and then he dies.

The replies to that tweet are a catalog of misery. Fans wanted the poor, abused, handsome young guy to be redeemed and have a happy life. Preferably with Rey. They didn’t get that.

Now, I’m not sure I’ve ever shipped a pair of characters, ever. Not Sam and Diane. Not David and Maddie. It just doesn’t occur to me. But lots of fans engage with shows this way, and they do not endure disappointment quietly. And there’s something–don’t ask me what–about that reformed evil boyfriend trope. People find it wildly compelling. (And yes, a small percentage can be over-the-top about their favorite ships. I’m not interested in using outliers to represent a group as a whole.) There’s nothing wrong with that, but any really vocal segment of an audience can have an outsized effect on the future of a show.

And this new Star Wars movie is making lots of money, but reviews have been dire. The movie is pretty, it’s fast, and it’s filled with peril, but the story is a disaster, and the even the lead actors just seem done with the whole thing.

Remember the energy and excitement in The Force Awakens? Remember Rey and Finn together? How much energy they had?

Well, all that is gone, and they couldn’t even redeem their sensitive bad boy correctly. The ReyLos and the LoVes are not happy.

Randomness for 12/8

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1. Domestic abuse: Killers ‘follow eight-stage pattern’, study says.

2. The real reason hearing your own voice can make you cringe.

3. Water isn’t the most hydrating beverage according to new scientific study

4. Twenty Years Later and the Women of ANGEL Deserve More.

5. The Trajectory of Fear – or How to Use Horror Tropes Effectively in your [TTRPG]

6. What happens when you eat like the Queen of England for a week?

7. People Are Confused About the Usefulness of Buying Fancy Things

Mysteries, Ghosts, and Doubled Narratives: Why the New Nancy Drew Series Doesn’t Work

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Every whodunnit mystery has two narratives. The first is the crime at the center of the story. How the murder was planned and carried out. The history between killer and victim. The red herring clues that point to innocent parties, and the backstory that makes those parties credible suspects. And so on. All of that comprises a complex narrative that, at the beginning of the book, is hidden from the reader and the protagonist.

The second narrative is the one the reader reads, in which the protagonist investigates and uncovers the first narrative.

Many ghost stories have a similar structure. There’s a hidden narrative of a terrible crime or crimes that created the ghost(s) and the specific details of the haunting itself. The story of the people who experience the haunting often depends on the revelation of that hidden crime for its resolution.

You might think that similarity in the two structures would mean they’d combine well, but the new CW series NANCY DREW shows how difficult that can be.

A lot of folks think that the main pleasure of a whodunnit (or any kind of mystery, really) is that things are be set right at the end. Something awful happens. Someone uncovers the culprit. They’re arrested or killed. Order is restored.

I dunno. I’ve never experienced them that way. For me, the main pleasures of a mystery are the characters, because you need a lot of contrast to tell all those suspects apart, and the hard work.

Me, I wasn’t much of a Nancy Drew fan until after VERONICA MARS showed me that the whole teen detective thing could have real bite to it. Then Emma Roberts appeared in the 2007 NANCY DREW, and I thought that movie was delightful. Much lighter than VM, but it still portrayed the protagonist as intelligent and hard-working, someone who kept digging for clues long after I would have given up.

But ghosts take all that away. Characters don’t have to act on their own initiative because they are terrorized by the supernatural elements of the story to take action. Ghosts push them toward clues. Visions of the past reveal the hidden narrative.

In other words, what would be revealed through the brilliance and diligence of the main character in a whodunnit is now forced upon them.

For example, in the most recent episode, a ghost keeps breaking screens in Nancy’s house. Only after the third one, on her laptop, does Nancy realize they’re all breaking in the same pattern. Nancy, being brilliant, recognizes her small town in the edges of the pattern, calls up Google Maps, and realizes the breaks are pointing toward a specific place: her high school.

Cut to a scene where she’s breaking into the school, complete with black knit cap and flashlight. A ghostly glow directs her to the trophy case/memorial/(?) where she finds a photo tucked away that proves another character lied to her in Act 2 of the episode.

So, sure, it’s smart to recognize the pattern and it shows initiative to break out the lock picks (by my count, Nancy has done a B&E in three out of four episodes this season and she really ought to be better at it) but it still feels like the mystery is being handed to her. Check out the school. Look in the case. In the first episode, a medium tells her to look in the attic, where she finds a bloody dress locked away in a trunk. It’s just another example of “Go here. Find clue.”

Not only is this sort of plot easier on the main character, it’s easier for the show’s writers. You don’t have to brainstorm a reason for Nancy to hunt for that photo at the school. You just have to brainstorm a way for the ghost to point the way in a spoooooky manner.

See also, the movie ODD THOMAS, which is a reasonably effective thriller as long as you don’t think too hard about the way Odd’s magic powers lead him by the nose from one plot point to the next.

See also, redux, this quote: (Source)

The Force is really The Plot

I don’t object to the way the Force is used in STAR WARS any more than I object to Eleven’s powers in STRANGER THINGS. It keeps things moving and doesn’t take away from the story. But then, the heroes in those stories aren’t detectives. I’m not watching because I’m hoping to see brilliance.

Honestly, I think I’d like NANCY DREW a lot more if the main character wasn’t named Nancy Drew. I wouldn’t have come to it hoping to see a bright, energetic young person doing the work that the older generations couldn’t.

The ghosts are fun, though. Maybe in the back half of this first season or in season two, they’ll have ghosts who mislead or interfere rather than help. I hope so.

If you’ve read this far down, you should hear a few facts: Progress on THE IRON GATE continues, although not as quickly as I’d have hoped. In fact, I was all set to take part in NaNoWriMo this year for the first time ever, but then I took a close look at the actual numbers and chickened out. Still, even if I’m digging a ditch with a shovel instead of a backhoe, that ditch is going to get dug.

ONE MAN continues to be delayed. Maybe I should set a definite release date to stop myself from fussing with this and that and just releasing it.

Some Quick Reviews of S3 Stranger Things, S3 Jessica Jones, and other stuff I guess

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I’ve been meaning to do this for a while so I’m just going to throw these out there:

Stranger Things Season 3

I’ve been a vocal fan of this show (Not as strong a fan as *some*, because I don’t want to be scary, but still) since I first watched it, but season three started off very badly. Characters I’d liked and who should have grown together were now snickering and making fun of each other. Hopper had become a complete mess. He’d gone from real life hero to obnoxious buffoon.

It took me a while to realize what they were doing. Season three had become an homage to romcoms, so we get clips of Sam and Diane, and we get endless bickering between characters who are attracted to each other but can’t admit it. And a show so used to leaning on homages ought to understand that homages of old jokes is just recycling an old joke. It’s not actually funny.

So yeah, that part wasn’t fun.

Everything else about the show? Loved it.

As the kids are getting older, the horror is getting scarier, more action-oriented, and gorier, too. And being Stranger Things, they nail it.

So, yeah. Not my favorite season, except for the parts that very much are.

Jessica Jones Season 3

One of the least interesting story lines a superhero show can tell is the “What does it mean to be a hero?” thing. Usually, it involves getting up off the ground after a round of grueling physical punishment.

I’m looking at you, Spider-Man, into the Spider-verse.

Of course, in superhero stories, the consequences of most fights are to make people feel a lot of pain, and also to make them incredibly tired. That’s why it’s such a struggle to get off the ground. To prove themselves to be heroes, protagonists need to stand up despite the pain and punch-induced exhaustion to return immediately to their pre-fight levels of physical capability, and finally make the bad guy super tired. Through punching.

Jessica Jones (the show, I mean, although the character, too) flips this on its head. When this show asks the question “What does it mean to be a hero?” they don’t mean putting on a mask and beating up “bad people.” It means finding evidence, getting confessions, capturing the criminal, and turning them over to the courts.

Based on her performance in this show, Rachel Taylor really ought to be getting a lot of high profile stuff. If you were annoyed by the way the writers portrayed Queen Whatshername’s descent into murder and darkness, check out the long, slow, tragic journey that Trish Walker makes from Beloved Celebrity Who Pulled Her Live Together into a Villain Who Thinks She’s Doing Right. Trish is all the worst instincts of the superhero genre, and because it all comes from her, and from the depths of her character, it never feels like a cheap commentary.

What I’m saying is, the last season of Jessica Jones might not have been the MCU/Netflix signoff/victory lap/low-budget Endgame remix that people expected, but it’s excellent in its own right.

C.B. Strike Series 1-3

I liked the books (I like private eye novels) and I liked the shows. Things are shortened and simplified, obviously, but these are solid PI stories.

What puts them above (and warrants mention here) is Robin’s subplot throughout. She has always wanted to be an investigator of some kind, and has everything stacked against her. But she is determined.

And I loved it. Everyone who has ever worked really hard for a dream that seemed unreachable ought to feel that pull. It’s a small part of the series, but it’s what put that show over the top.

Tolkien

Two terrific scenes, a bunch of great performances, and an otherwise dull movie.

Doctor Who Season 11

I’d given up on this show years ago, but thought I’d give it another shot with a new show runner and actress in the lead role. Verdict: I liked it. Very little frantic nonsense, a fair amount of actual drama and tension. We’ll be watching more of this.

Us

Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Wow. Loved it. I guessed the twist pretty early, but I loved it.

The Boys Season 1

I didn’t like the comic so I was planning to skip the show, but enough people liked it that I gave it a chance, and I’m glad I did. Like the comic, it was dark but not in a childish way. The characters felt real, and so did their problems. If you don’t mind stories about violence, murder, and sexual assault, The Boys was effective.

Hannah Season 1

Based on the movie, which was decidedly more ruthless and brutal than the show. It’s one of the rare spy shows where the characters did things that were better than what I’d expected. Solid stuff.

Boom.

Done.

The Kickstarter campaign for additional Twenty Palaces novels is still ongoing, but it ends Friday. You have until then to secure two books for a minimum of $4.

Til Happiness Do Us Part: Healthy Relationships and Dramatic Tension

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This post contains minor spoilers for Jessica Jones S3 and Stranger Things S3 along with huge, misery-making spoilers for Veronica Mars S4. The stuff I want to talk about in JJ or ST happen in the first episode, but with VM I’m going to talk about the Big Important Ending.

Spoiler space.

A little more spoiler space.

And a jump: Continue reading

What are the Odds? Half-assed Guesses about Stranger Things 3

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Between Christmas and New Years–right before the MS-DOS/date announcement promo was released–I kept thinking about what was in store for season three of Stranger Things. Not about who gets to live and who gets to die. The show has always been fairly gentle on the main cast, even thought it can be deadly for the supporting cast. #JusticeforBarb #JusticeforBenny #JusticeforMews #JusticeforHeather(pending) But what about the other story developments on the way?

So I made a list of predictions and bullshitted up the odds of them actually happening.

Here’s the list I came up with back at the end of December, the odds that indicate how likely I think it is, why I think it might happen, how, and a little commentary on the back end about it. Story talk! I enjoy story talk, and this one’s mainly about structure and foreshadowing.

1. Nancy discovers that Ted is not her biological father: 3:1

Basis: While shooting at cans in the woods, Nancy says she has no idea why her mother and father got married. And neither does the audience. “He was older and came from a good family” doesn’t really cut it. Why Karen and Ted?

Plot reveal: I’m thinking that, as a teenager, Karen had a shitty boyfriend who got her pregnant, then ditched her. (Who? Cary Elwes as the mayor is my current frontrunner, but if Jake Busey’s character is a long-time Hawkins resident, he’s a possibility, too).

To avoid a small-town scandal and spare their daughter a reputation that would have made her life hell, Karen’s parents paired her with Ted, who was older, had a good job, and needed a wife for “respectability”.

Foreshadowing to watch for: Any middle-aged male character who, in the first or second episode, asks Nancy how her mom is doing. Especially if they smirk when they ask.

Commentary: Obviously, I think this one is fairly likely, but I’m not sure how it would play into the season as a whole. In other words, why include it? The most obvious answer is “Billy,” as Ted (or someone) discovers Karen having an affair and is all “This again?”

Alternately, this season’s monster might be thematically related.

Finally, if this is true, I’d expect this to be common knowledge among the other parents. The kids and the teens might be shocked, but the grownups would sort of shrug and say “Well, I mean… yeah.”

2. Ted is gay and closeted: 12:1

Basis: See above. Ted acts like his home life is a bear trap he can’t escape and he shows zero affection for his extremely hot wife.

Plot reveal: Ted has a secret life, one where he’s not, you know, a great guy or anything, but he gets to be his real self. I’d expect it to connect him to another supporting character who is also in the closet. Maybe the mayor. Maybe Officer Powell or Calahan. Maybe Billy.

Foreshadowing to watch for: If anyone enters a dimly lit bar with only men in it, I’m expecting they’re going to run into Ted. Or, if he and Karen discuss their marriage as an arrangement or a deal.

Commentary: This one feels like a long shot, in part because the first two seasons set up Ted’s disinterest in his extremely hot wife, but not that he’s going out alone or spending time away from the family, which you’d expect if he was leading a double life.

Of course, Ted might be some form of gray asexual, but I honestly don’t think the show is sophisticated enough to go there.

As a character, Ted is not appealing. At all. But he could stand to be humanized. He has this great life he doesn’t seem to appreciate, and right now the show’s explanation is that he’s a drip, but it’s the work of a TV show to alter or invert its characters. It might be time to get a bit more Ted.

3. Ted becomes the major villain: 30:1

Basis: Pretty much none, except that I want it. Hashtag Fun.

Plot reveal: If this happens, it’ll happen early. He’ll be bitten by one of the infected/monster rats by the end of episode one, then will have a short descent into active evil (as opposed to “napping evil”) then full villain mode.

Foreshadowing to watch for: The first episode will have a lot of characters to re-introduce, but if Ted seems to be getting more than his share of screen time…

Hold on. Ted getting screen time? This sounds less and less likely with every word I type. Let me increase those odds to 30:1

Commentary: Given the style and tone of the show, this story choice is mutually exclusive with number 2. If one happens, the other won’t.

4. Will comes out to his friends: 3:1

Basis: Lonnie suspected that his son was “queer” and as much as I hate to admit it, psychopaths are sometimes very good at reading people. Plus, the fans seem to want it.

Plot reveal: That Will has feelings for one of the DnD Four (probably Mike) that goes beyond ordinary friendship, and that he, like Dustin, is unhappy that two of the four have coupled up. With girls.

Foreshadowing to watch for: That lingering half-second-too-long reverse shot of Will’s expressionless face as he looks off camera, if the shot right before the cut was on Mike, Billy, Lucas, Dustin, or some other appropriate male character. That’s how modern film and TV indicate unexpressed longing.

Commentary: One of the problems with the show is that it’s not as diverse as it should be. Letting Zombie Boy, the fragile, trembling prince of Hawkins, come out to his friends would help address that shortfall a bit but still feel like a natural part of his character growth.

5. Billy becomes a major villain
6. Karen and Billy hook up

LOL. These two were overtaken by later events, by which I mean: the first trailer.

The way this is edited makes it seem as if the infected bite on Billy’s arm turns him into the raw meat monster, but maybe they’re being tricksy. (It could be Ted. It could!).

Also, Karen and Billy are totally doing it.

So let’s assume those predictions turn out to be true (and no will be more shocked than me if I get something right) and create a derived prediction:

5a/6a. Karen becomes a monster/zombie. 2:1

Basis: I assumed, from the moment the first teaser featured a new mall in Hawkins, that it would be built over the site of the Hawkins lab and that the plot would involve zombies in some way. When the chapter titles were released, one of them was called “The Bite.” Suggestive, no? Also, “The Battle of Starcourt”? Please. We’re getting zombies this season. (odds: 1:12)

The trailer confirmed some of this. There’s a shot that looks like people doing the zombie-stagger, and Billy gets that bite, and (to cheat a little by referencing something said outside the show) the Duffers said they’d originally planned for Billy to be a bigger threat in season 2, but they had to pull that plot line because the show was already so full.

However! While “The Bite” is a perfect chapter title for a zombie show, it’s been given to the second to last episode. That’s really late in the season for a monster series and can’t be a reference to the _start_ of the spread of the zombies. So it must be referring to a bite on a specific person.

Why not Karen? If Billy’s infected and they’re having an affair, there would have to be a scene where she has to deal with Infected Billy. It’s unavoidable. The only reason I give it a 2:1 instead of a 1:1 is because I figure there’s a 50/50 chance the writers will arrange things so she will escape from Billy instead of getting infected.

Plot reveal: The kids realize that there’s a zombie-ish menace, and Mike returns home to regroup, only to discover that there’s a zombie already in the house! And it’s MOM! Dun dun duuuuun.

Foreshadowing to watch for: If Billy is getting it on with Karen, he’ll be getting it on with one of the other pool moms, too, and the show will establish the danger to Karen by having him bite and infect one of them. If Karen sees this zombified other woman, she’s more likely to escape from her scene with Billy without getting infected. If she does not, she’ll be less prepared and more likely to be monster-ized.

If the show establishes early that “Baby” Holly sometimes stays out of the house, it’s more likely that Karen will be infected. If Holly becomes infected herself, the infection is almost certainly curable.

Commentary: The 80’s had an awful lot of horror movies where character got themselves offed right after they had sex. It was puritanical and unwelcome, and I’m sort of hoping this plot line won’t play out that way.

7. Kali returns 1:1

Basis: Structure. Nothing else. Just structure. Linnea Berthelsen does not appear in the trailer or other promotional videos, and her name isn’t in the cast list on Wikipedia. (I can’t check imdb for the moment), but I’m still expecting her to make a surprise appearance, if only because it makes no sense to drop her.

Plot reveal: If Kali does turn up, she will either appear as a villain, just at the moment Our Heroes think they’ve escaped/defeated the monster, or she’ll ride to Jane’s rescue. Probably the latter. If neither happens, I’ll expect to see her in the last scene of the last episode, staggering wounded into Hawkins looking for Jane’s help, or else being chained and drugged in a cargo hold of a ship on its way to the Soviet Union.

Foreshadowing to watch for: In the first season, Hawkins Lab surveilled the cast with work vans. The trailer hints at Soviet agents appearing in the plot, so expect them to have some sort of nondescript vehicle that trails the characters. But if there’s an additional vehicle, one that looks more ordinary (like it’s been stolen), that’ll probably be Kali.

Commentary: The Kali episodes were not exactly fan favorites, but I liked the character and would be disappointed if she’s written out of the show. Of course, with Erica getting a bigger role, and Max and Billy and Murray making their return, plus at least four new characters, the cast is getting pretty full. I expect her to return without her crew.

8. Mike and Jane break up: 100:1

Basis: One of my flaws as a writer is that I try to make things too “realistic”, especially when the realistic choice is something readers don’t want. But still, what are the odds that Jane (I’m not using her dehumanizing lab name no matter how cool it is) would form a long-lasting relationship with the very first boy who was kind to her?

Seem like a long shot? It does to me.

But if Mike and Jane realized they weren’t compatible–she was bored by the stuff he likes, and vice versa, or she gets sick of being the one who has to do all the killing while he does nothing but tell people what to do–the show’s die-hard fans would swarm Netflix headquarters and strangle the executives with blue hairbands.

So, it probably would make sense for it to happen, but it won’t.

Plot reveal: They wouldn’t do this as a reveal. It would build in the narrative until the conflict reached a breaking point, like the Jane/Hopper conflict in season two.

Foreshadowing to watch for: Arguing, I guess?

Commentary: All I’ll say is, I’m glad they kept them apart for season two, so enough time could pass and the actors could be… what, 14 and 15 while their characters played out their big Young Love storyline. Maybe I’ve been trained by TV shows casting 20-somethings as high school kids, but Millie Bobby Brown looked awfully young for that kiss at the end of season one, when she was eleven years old.

9. Lucas and Max break up: 50:1

Basis: Neil.

Billy tried to split Max from Lucas in season two, and since Neil is a) Billy’s origin story, b) Max’s stepfather, and c) a colossal dick, he might try to split Max and Lucas, and he might apply that pressure through Max’s mother, Susan.

Plot reveal: Again, I don’t see this as a reveal. It might happen over the course of the show, with Max ending things with Lucas not because of Neil’s disapproval, but maybe because of his violence.

Foreshadowing to watch for: If Susan nervously asks whether Max is really happy with Lucas, then maybe.

Commentary: I’m not sure fans are as invested in this teen romance the way they are in the Mike/Jane paring, which makes it a better candidate for a Romantic Turmoil plotline. It also creates a way to keep Neil and Susan invested in season three, and since the title of the first chapter is “Suzie, do you copy?” and Max’s mother is the only Susan on the show, I’m guessing we’re going to be spending some time with them.

Finally, if I were only going to predict that Neil would pressure Susan and Max to ditch Lucas, I’d give it much better odds than 50:1. This is just a guess as to whether they actually split up.

10. Jane uses her powers at the wrong time/for the wrong reason/under the wrong circumstances: 2:1

Basis: Jane has been pretty good about mostly using her powers for good. Even when she’s in the wrong, she pulls back before she does real harm. During her moment of jealousy in “The Pollywog”, she could have gone all Brightburn, lifted Max above that backboard and dunked her like Dr. J. (Hello, 80s reference). She was stressed enough, but she held back.

But this is the first season where she’ll be living in ordinary society, and ordinary society is full of people who need to be flung telekinetically against brick walls.

Plot reveal: The risks are two-fold: human villains discover what she can do, or the general populace do. This prediction basically covers anything from reflexively giving Neil Hargrove an Exorcist 180 when he tries to beat Max to disarming the (presumed) Soviet agent in that funhouse mirror scene in the trailer, but doing it in front of eye witnesses. Does she get her picture in the paper? Does a squad of Soviet agents target her? Does one of the locals (Neil? Susan? Karen?) get it into their heads that’s she’s a monster who has to be put down?

Foreshadowing to watch for: Speeches from Hopper about the importance of keeping her powers a secret (which are bound to happen even if the show doesn’t hit this plot point) combined with reaction shots of a seriously stressed-out Jane as she sees assholes being assholes.

Commentary: Considering this season is going to be focused on a mall and will presumably involve zombified citizens, I think we can assume that, by the end of episode eight, the secrets that have been haunting the town of Hawkins will be significantly less secret. The big question is whether Jane’s abilities also come into the open. That would mean that season three will be the only time she gets to have that “normal life” Hopper’s been talking about.

11. We meet Steve’s parents (and they get zombified): 5:1

Basis: It’s a zombie story (presumably). Steve is one of the best-liked characters on the show. Is he going to get a scene where someone he cares about has been turned?

He’d better.

Plot reveal: Zombie Dad Harrington shuffles through the mall, arms outstretched toward his own son! And there’s Steve, with his nailed-out bat in his hands. Dun dun dunnnnn.

Foreshadowing to watch for: Dad Harrington will be unhappy that his son has taken a job at Scoops Ahoy, but otherwise has a lot of opinions about the mall, either positive or negative. Extra points if, instead, rich kid Steve is be working at the mall because it’s his dad’s project and he is “starting at the bottom”.

Commentary: In season one, we met The Wheelers, The Byers, and the Ives. In season two, we met the Hargroves, the Sinclairs, and Ms. Henderson. Time, I think, for Steve’s “asshole dad” to make an appearance.

12. The DnD Four (plus Max and Jane) have spent the time between seasons 2 and 3 preparing for another monster attack: A hundred mabillion to one

Hey, if monsters tried to eat me (twice!) and I were a young, healthy person who couldn’t move away, I’d spend at least an hour a day preparing for the next time. Running, maybe. Getting the chief to teach me to shoot. Learning to pick locks, code Basic, fix electrical wiring, and maybe how to drive. Oh, a mall has opened up? How about we buy some mall katanas and a book on kendo. With pictures.

But… yeah. I just don’t believe it.

CAVEAT: I’m the worst predictor of things in the world. If any of this actually comes true, I’ll be shocked.

More predictions that probably won’t happen:
* Brenner is captive of/collaborator with the “Soviet presence in Hawkins” that Murray is so worried about.
* Murray gets a triumphant moment when he uncovers actual Soviet agents. Which is maybe his last moment.
* This season’s monster is the speck of smoke monster that was driven out of Will but couldn’t return to the gate and was too weak to maintain a hive mind.
* The monster has been growing and rebuilding its strength, spreading from one rat to another.
* Calahan and Powell learn about the special dangers of living in Hawkins, and Powell quits.
* Hopper hires Steve to take his place.
* This is the season where we find out exactly what the Upside Down is, whether it’s an alternate dimension or a future where the smoke monster ecosystem has destroyed the world.
* The show thins out the cast with some deaths and/or characters lighting out for distant places
* Jopper, which the trailer makes clear is off to a rocky start, happens but does not last to the end of the season.

Boom. That’s all.

Season 3 is a little more than a month away. I’m looking forward to it.

The Infinity Saga: a 22-Episode “Season” of Theatrical TV Spread Over Ten Years

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Here’s a quote I haven’t forgotten from Manohla Dargis’s NYTimes review of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

[The Marvel Cinematic Universe] is vast, complicated, lucrative and ever-expanding. It’s also intrinsically uninteresting for viewers (at least one!) who just want a good movie.

Confession: I remember no one saying this about The Return of the King. Nobody wanted to skip the first two films and have the third stand on its own.

And why should they? The Lord of the Rings films were a trilogy, like the books.

I also don’t remember anyone complaining that they should have been able to walk into a screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One, and (to satisfy their desire for “a good movie”) automagically know who’s who and how they relate to each other. Did audience members suddenly blurt out, “Who’s this DumbleDude guy? Sounds like a dick.”

Well, I’m sure someone did, somewhere, but no one paid them to publish those thoughts in the NYTimes.

Sequels! There are so many of them in the MCU, and it all started with that end-credits scene where Nick Fury tells Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative. Based on that one scene–not to mention the marketing that confirmed a common setting for these films–Thor was a sequel to Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk (which included a Tony Stark cameo) mentioned super-soldier serum in 2008, three years before Captain America: The First Avenger. That means The Incredible Hulk was another sequel and CA:TFA was a prequel.

Don’t like using the word like that? Would you rather think of the Iron Man movies as one film and two sequels, and the three Thor and three Captain America movies as one film and two sequels (each) and then The Avengers as some odd crossover event that won’t be neatly characterized, but that also comes with sequels?

Let’s look at Wikipedia for a sec.

A sequel is a literature, film, theatre, television, music or video game that continues the story of, or expands upon, some earlier work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as an earlier work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.

I confess (a second time), I prefer that one to the “continuation of the story” definition that you see in online dictionaries, which is unnecessarily nebulous. The films share a setting, which means they share supporting characters and story elements: SHIELD, the infinity stones, the Kree. Also, the events of previous movies affect current ones. T’Challa becomes king in CA: Civil War and is crowned in his solo film. SHIELD conducts research into Hydra technology because Loki sends The Destroyer to New Mexico to kill Thor.

Sequels.

That’s what the MCU is. They’ve created a long story–22 episodes of the newly christened “Infinity Saga” and I’ll see the “season finale” Friday sometime–and they’ve done it as haphazardly as the creators of traditional network TV series have done it. I suffered through the first season of 24 because the premise sounded amazing, but as that show foundered, it became clear that the creators did not have a plan for the season. They were winging it, episode by episode, and it showed. The folks making the MCU were winging it, too. See my previous blog post.

Except we need better a better term for it. Marvel is working on sequels for Black Panther and Doctor Strange, and when you use the word “sequel” that way, you understand exactly what they mean: another movie with Stephen Strange or T’Challa as the protagonist. What will we call the upcoming Shang-Chi film? An episode? An “installment”?

So I understand why people would complain that these films aren’t films, but I think that’s wrong. I think they’re both films and episodes, and they’re all the more enjoyable for it.

By the way, on Sunday night I plan to watch the next episode of Game of Thrones, even though I’ve skipped every other previous episode. And I’m going to say shit like “Who’s that guy? Who’s she? Jeez, remember back in the day when you could just watch a good TV show? Mid-season, fourth season, it didn’t matter! You had Starsky and you had Hutch and once the opening theme explained the premise, you were set. Now *that* was TV! Wait. Who’s that zombie–looking guy?”

We’ve gotten used to long arcs on TV shows, thanks to so-called prestige TV and the tendency of streaming shows to make each season a miniseries. Maybe we’re looking at a genuine sea change in the film industry, too.

Everything changes.

Randomness for 1/14

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1) The Chinese government’s extensive “social credit” surveillance system rewards loyal citizens and punishes whistle blowers.

2) Relationships vs Algorithm at Netflix.

3) For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, Copyrighted Works Will Enter the Public Domain.

4) The Fall and Rise of M. Night Shyamalan

5) Forgery Experts Explain 5 Ways To Spot A Fake. Video.

6) Dating while in therapy? The advice column answer to this question is both kind and its not interested in the way we bullshit ourselves. Excellent.

7) How to take awesome food photos by Helen Rosner. (This is a terrific primer on visual composition)