Agents of SHIELD: Oh, the Irony!

I’m sorry, did anyone thing I would stop talking about the current Whedon TV project just because it’s between seasons? Before season 2 hits (which will have Lucy Lawless--it’s like my childhood dream come true), I do want to spend a post talking about some of the things in the first season that are changed by the knowledge of what has actually been going on the whole time.

So now that the late-in-the-season reveals on the show have put a new spin on most of the entire first season, what kind of things do I see in a different light?

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1. Ward’s anti-interrogating skills: The first episode, when Skye is brought in for questioning. Coulson and Ward handle the interrogation. Coulson takes Ward aside at one point, and asks him if Skye’s getting to him or if he’s so unhappy at being assigned to a team that he’s deliberately trying to blow the interrogation. He is deliberately trying to blow the interrogation, because Skye is revealing information about Centipede that SHIELD doesn’t know, essentially putting SHIELD on Garrett’s trail.


2. Spies need to be convinced to join the team: When Ward explains to Raina how he gained Team Coulson’s trust, he tells her that he acted like he didn’t want to be part of the team: “You’d be surprised how often you’re invited to the party when you don’t want to go,” he said.

It was a nice touch that May ended up on the team exactly the same way. Coulson not only had to convince her to join the team, but to participate in the field work, and he spent several episodes putting his new team in danger to do it. And of course, May was the one who put the team together in the first place, and had every intention of being on it. Having both of the trained spies on the team use the same tactic to secure their position makes both May’s and Ward’s plans seem stronger in-story, and it makes them look pre-arranged.

(Oddly, even Skye the untrained snoop used this method to get on the team–Coulson may want to reconsider his recruitment strategy.)

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3. Ward lies remorselessly: Watching that early first season scene where Skye decides to take her training with Ward seriously.

Skye: Hoping for something and losing it is worse than not having it at all.
Ward: We won’t turn our backs.
Skye: It doesn’t matter. I want this. Bad.

In retrospect, that’s just painful.

4. Ward’s stoic faces: Specifically designed to inscrutable. Gah! It’s so frustrating, when I want to see a reaction from him, but he’s just so well trained he refuses to oblige. Even in the diner in “Nothing Personal”, where Skye’s not-subtly calling him out–even when she outright states that she sent the cops after him because she knows he’s HYDRA–he gives away very little with his facial expressions.He does react, but subtly. It’s still near-impossible to get a sense of what he’s really thinking. Only when Skye’s going for the getaway car does his professional exterior falter.

Of course, we get plenty more reaction from the “real” Ward when he’s out of the field and on that plane with Mike and Skye. Now, there he let himself go. Much more satisfying. Still, I want to see more of Brett Dalton’s acting as “bad Ward”, not just “stoic covering-everything-up Ward.” There’s a distinct different personality there, and it’s hard to pin it down when he shows it so rarely. But of course, it does make sense that he defaults to being unreadable while on assignment, especially when taken by surprise.

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5. Ward keeps trying to kill May: When I first saw “Yes Men” (an uncommonly bad episode for that stage of the series), I remember something odd about the May/Ward fight scene with respect to the Lorelei scenes–if we were getting the events in the right order, Lorelei’s powers should have been nullified by the time Ward had the gun at May’s head. It was shot in a way that made it look like Ward had come to his senses while aiming the gun at May, and I was expecting them to use this to say ‘whew, that was close, he almost shot her’.

And then he pulls the trigger, and I was like–wait, what? He’s still under Lorelei’s control?! I chalked it up to a weird editing decision at the time, but it wasn’t, was it? Ward did come back to himself holding a gun at May’s head, and he decided to use the opportunity. Then when it didn’t work, he conveniently was himself again, just as May went in for the attack.

6. Self-deprecating Ward: Ward and Skye’s first “romantic” interaction, just before we the audience found out the truth in “Turn, Turn, Turn.” When Ward tells Skye how he feels, he says “I know I’m boring”–and I thought it was odd, since most people don’t think of themselves as their negative traits. Or they wouldn’t be that way to start with. But of course, the real Ward thought that his cover personality was boring because that’s how he was playing fake Ward. As someone he himself would consider boring and predictable.

Anyone caught anything else?

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Mistborn: The Final Empire, On Taking on Tyrannical Emperor-Gods

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Genre: Epic Fantasy

Synopsis: The Lord Ruler is the God of his empire–he’s immortal, he’s powerful, and he’s physically present. The nobility are descended from his friends, from people who helped him establish his rule. The mistreated skaa are descended from those who opposed him.

The skaa serve as slave labor on plantations, or live in the slums of cities. They may be killed by nobles with impunity. And half-breeds must be prevented, by order of law. Because power runs in the noble bloodlines, power said to be granted to them by the Lord Ruler himself. And any skaa with noble blood might inherit that power, which could potentially threaten the stability of the whole empire.

No rules are perfect, which is why Kelsier is a very powerful half-noble, half-ska called a Mistborn. And he isn’t planning on letting the empire stand as is any longer. He assembles a team of ska with powers and connections–including a young thief who is also a Mistborn–to take on the tyrannical rule of the immortal Lord Ruler.

Series: First book in a trilogy, self-contained.

POV: Third person, 2 main POVs (covering 99% of the book).

Romance: A very peripheral one.

Preview: The prologue, with chapters 1-3 linked to in the “Navigation” drop-down, and at the bottom.

This book is really something. As the first in a trilogy, I thought it would serve as the opening gambit for the events that are going to unfold–however, it can hold its own even without a continuation. It brings the problems set up in the beginning of the book to a conclusion, with the later chapters hinting at later story problems which can follow in the second book.

At first, we have the introduction to the story, where we meet the characters, get a sense of who they are, and an idea of their goals. This works nicely because the characters are quite likable. I love Kelsier and Vin, our point of view characters.

Kelsier has a long history behind him. He’s grown and changed and loved and lost before the story even opens. He’s got baggage, he’s got the loyalty of his people, and he’s got a goal. Of course, none of this stops him from developing as a character even through the course of this book. He’s still got room to grow, and lessons to learn.

Vin, in contrast, is a young street urchin. She’s lived a very different life from Kelsier, growing up with no one but her older brother who eventually abandoned her. She learned not to trust anyone, not to attract attention to herself, and to keep herself useful so she isn’t cut loose. Recruitment into Kelsier’s crew is an eye-opener for her, and it takes time for her to believe in a group that actually trusts each other. She grows into a different person as she gains the opportunity to strive for something other than simple survival.

The supporting cast is also interesting–my favorite has to be Hammond, the man with a brute-like power and a fondness for philosophical discourse. I also really like Marsh, former leader of the resistance, who came to believe that the enemy was made up of people, too. And Sazed, the steward who amassed knowledge of all the religions of the world against a time when people would be free to pursue them again.

After establishing the cast and their goals, the group starts to put their plans in motion. How they manipulate events to their advantage and deal with set-backs is interesting here, but this is also where a lot of the character development happens. Vin has only ever known one kind of life, and she has a lot to learn. How she reconciles these different ways of living changes her. And Kelsier finds that his actions might have unintended consequences, and finds his way to a greater sense of responsibility.

Meanwhile, we’re treated to passages at the beginning of every chapter–at first, the context is left out so we don’t know what we’re reading, but it doesn’t take long to figure out what these passages really are. And knowing what they are makes following them very interesting. Because this story isn’t even remotely a typical quest fantasy with a hero’s journey, but it does play with some of those archetypes in some cool ways.

Things really take off in the end game. And that’s when it becomes clear that one story is ending and another is beginning. There are several journeys that feeding into the main story and the backstory. There’s a ex-hero who’d fulfilled his prophecy, and now exists in the unexpected aftermath of that quest. There’s a person with no prophecy at all to fall back on, acting out of belief, need, and desperation. There’s a kind of passing of the torch to the next generation.

I really wasn’t expecting this book to get as much plot taken care of as it did. It’s fairly self-contained, with this leg of the journey neatly wrapped up. There are indications of what kind of problems will crop up in the second book, but nonetheless, I have no idea what shape the story will take in the rest of the trilogy.

But I’m planning to find out soon.

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Review Round-up: Maleficent and The Curse of Chalion


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Genre: Fairy Tale Retelling

Synopsis: A retelling of Sleeping Beauty featuring Maleficent as the main anti-hero.

Verdict: The concept is way better than the execution.

The story itself had potential, and if it were told in the same short story format that fairy tales tend to be written in (ala Brothers Grimm), it could have been great. I did like the take on “true love”, the back story for Maleficent’s vendetta and the point made with the prince.

However, most of the story was a summary of a large period of time where nothing other than character development happens. That character development doesn’t have any events to drive it–it is the plot, all by itself.

That’s a pretty big danger zone, because generally, stuff needs to be happening. The characters need to be challenged by more than babysitting. This would have been fine as a couple of paragraphs of summary in a fairy tale, but it doesn’t come across so well in a movie, and it makes the character development feel less organic. Maybe they could have treated it as a short summary with voiceovers in the movie, but then most of the movie would be voiceovers explaining the story. There just isn’t enough plot driving the character development.

It also would have been nice if building up Maleficent didn’t depend on diminishing the three fairy godmothers who raise Aurora. And if Aurora had more of a personality, though I suppose her only real purpose was to motivate Maleficent. They could have gotten a lot more use out of Maleficent and Stefan’s long history, so that felt a bit wasted by the end. Diaval the bird is a fun character, though.

In short, this is an interesting story told in a boring way.

The Curse of Chalion

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Genre: Political Fantasy

Synopsis: Cazaril makes his way to a household where he had served as a page, his life much changed, to beg a position from an old patron. He just wants a simple job that he can live on. He just wants to be forgotten in peace. However, he ends up in charge of the education of the young royina, just as she is about to head to the Roya’s court.

This puts him right in the middle of the politics of the country, standing between the royina and the corrupt forces trying to bend her to their will. To make matters worse, the entire royal line including the royina are under a curse, one that bends events towards bad outcomes for them. Cazaril must protect the royina, dodge is own old enemies, and lift the curse–feats that will require great sacrifice to achieve.

Series: Self-contained, has a sequel.

POV: Third person, single POV.

Romance: In the background, but it’s slight.

I’d recommend this book for people who like political drama, wise characters, and don’t require a lot of action.

Cazaril goes through some life-changing events just prior to the start of the story–that means that he isn’t the person he’s supposed to have been, given his station and prior life. The life he’s led in contrast to the life he should have had make him an unusual personality for his position. He acts older than his thirty-five years–I originally assumed he was much older than that. He’s self-effacing where he should be arrogant. He’s unassuming where he should be ambitious. He’s philosophical where he should be conventional.

It’s actually very fascinating, getting to see a type of personality that wouldn’t normally be in his position. And there’s something very respectable about the person he’s become.

Despite this, the book really does try to push Cazaril beyond his breaking point. Some of the imagery used to describe Cazaril’s condition was very uncomfortable, and it’s left ambiguous whether or not this psychologically disturbing possibility really happened.

Regardless, the gods use Cazaril as a kind of chosen, putting him on the path by which he might remove the curse. This is not a particularly comfortable position or a pleasant task. Cazaril wonders several times how much the gods know or care about how these tasks are accomplished.

This book focuses heavily on the politics and character drama. Very little action to be had. It’s Cazaril’s character that anchors the work. Everyone else flavors it, but Cazaril is the core of what makes the book so interesting.

There is a sequel that sounds promising, following a peripheral character from this book: Ista, who had failed spectacularly to lift the curse from her family once before, which makes for an interesting backstory for a hero–someone who had already failed.

I’m definitely happy with this book, and look forward to the next one.

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Orphan Black S2: Character Development and Motherhood

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Premise: In S1, Sarah Manning found out that there were people who looked just like her, and that they being monitored unknowingly as part of some experiment–except that she had someone fallen through the cracks. Unfortunately, coming across these women exposed her to the Dyad Institute. And exposed the existence of her daughter.

In S2, Sarah knows why there are other women running around with her face, but now the Dyad Institute wants her and her daughter in their custody. Sarah has to protect her daughter, figure out whose side her foster mother is on, and hit Dyad where it hurts.

Genre: Sci-fi/thriller

Tatiana Maslany is so good that the only reason I know all these characters are played by her is facial recognition. My facial recognition is spottier than that of some, so I frequently forget that it’s the same actress, the characters are so different.

They all dance differently, too!

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This series is still kicking ass, with absolutely fantastic characters, and plotting that always moves forward–and always has room to move forward, because there’s so much too the story. As always, my least favorite bits are the ones with Allison, since her part of the story always somehow devolves into ridiculousness. That said, towards the end of the season, even her arc got better.

The characters are varied and complex, with growth that makes sense. Helena is going through quite a transition–she’s still a psycho, but she elicits sympathy with how she came into it. She’s certainly a brutal character. Cal is a new arrival, and seems to be a great father figure despite a few less than legit skills. Rachel is also a brutal character, though in a different direction than Helena (sociopathic rather than psychopathic, maybe?). She’s controlled and rigid, but repressing emotions too much means sometimes she just explodes. I can’t say it isn’t interesting to watch her unravel.

And Kira is coming into her own. This is a good way to write an interesting kid. Instead of just existing to cause problems for the other characters, she manages to be clever and compassionate in her own right. Not often, since it’s mostly the adults handling the situation. But she doesn’t do stupid things just to mess up their plans. She understands some things that the people around her don’t expect her to know, and she even manages to be resourceful when need and opportunity arise.

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This show doesn’t throw away characters, which is something that I tend to be fond off. Even after a character has fulfilled the role the show had for them, they keep existing, and they might fit into new roles. Even after their lowest points, their lives continue. It’s nice, because we get to see them as people instead of archetypes. Love them or hate them, forgive them or don’t, they still exist and this is how they go on with life.

This season also portrays several very different kinds of mothers, all of whom love their children. There’s Sarah, who makes for a terribly unstable parent, with long absences during Kira’s childhood. Even now, when she’s improved drastically, circumstances are dire enough that Sarah frequently disappears, ostensibly to protect Kira. But despite that lack of stability, Sarah is arguably the most emotionally available mother on the show (when she’s available at all, that is), and is willing to go to great lengths for her child.

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There’s Mrs. S. In contrast to Sarah, she is very stable, taking care of Kira when Sarah disappears. She genuinely cares about her kids, but she’s also a hard person. She’s more emotionally closed off, and more calculating. Allison is very uptight, and follows the idea of what she should do as a mother to the letter. Helena and Rachel, of all people, both want to be mothers, as terrifying as that concept is. I have no idea how differently the normally repressed Rachel would act with a child. And Helena’s just mentally unstable, though she does seem oddly good with kids even so. What kind of mother Marion makes remains to be seen.

They all care about their children, but they all go about it in radically different ways, some better than others–I don’t usually see a spectrum of different kinds of parenting portrayed. Here, the parent is a person first, and that affects how they deal with raising a child. It’s kinda refreshing.

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It’s hard to talk about the great things in this series without sounding repetitive, so I’ll just say that it’s as awesome as ever, then talk about a few caveats.

I thought that what Rachel did to Paul should at least have been acknowledged somehow–maybe that’s coming in the next season, when Sarah and Paul finally have a chance to talk. But if so, it needs to be more than a point of contention between Paul and Sarah. It happened, and it’s kind of a big deal.

The last episode, with the result of the force = mass*acceleration gimmick, was just plain silly. Counting on Rachel to deliver that picture at exactly the right time? How on earth did no one notice a very inappropriately positioned fire extinguisher in an operating room? It’s the only red thing in there. And having Rachel stand in the exact right position? No. Just, no. There was absolutely no way that could have been planned. It counts on way too many uncontrolled variables that could have easily been off.

Otherwise, great show. I’ll be waiting for the next season.

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Article Discussing Scientist Comments on Use of Terminology

10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing

An article came out on i09 featuring quotes from scientists, explaining often misunderstood concepts. Some of these explanations are a little technical–which makes sense, since technical terminology is very familiar to the scientists using it. And some concepts are hard to explain without technical language, which exists to address these particular concepts.

The most accessible explanations to a lay audience are numbers 4 (Learned vs. Innate), 5 (Natural), and 9 (Geologic Timescales).

And it’s nice to see the topic of “natural” on this list, because I’m often confused about what “unnatural” really means. Everything that exists occurs in the natural world. Or it wouldn’t exist.

The explanation for #1 (Proof) is a little convoluted, but the last sentence gets the point across nicely. I’d also like to emphasize the point of this section: There are no facts in science. Facts are unscientific.

Anyway, just wanted to take a moment to highlight this article. Yay for communication of any kind.


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The Immortal Rules: Humanity versus Survival

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Genre: Post-apoc/urban fantasy

Synopsis: Allie is an Unregistered–this means she isn’t on the list to give blood regularly to the vampires ruling her city, but it also means she isn’t approved for the rights of the Registered. Like having jobs. She and her gang have to get by through scavenging, and hold on to what they have, usually by staying under the radar.

Allie hates vampires for creating this kind of world, which makes it all the more ironic when, on one tragic night, she becomes one herself.

With little guidance or support available to her, Allie sets out to discover how she can reconcile the kind of person she wants to be with the kind she needs to be to hold on to her survival. How long will she be able to hold onto her humanity?

Series: First book in a trilogy.

POV: First person, single viewpoint

Romance: Kind of, eventually.

Preview: Here.

All three books for this trilogy is out–that said, do not read the blurbs for the later books without finishing the previous one. I know, that should be obvious, but it’s hard when looking up the books is so easy. I’m waiting a little while before continuing with the second and third book, in the vain hope that I’ll forget the spoilers with time (which won’t happen).

Julie Kagawa has my trust since her fantastic and tragic ending for The Iron Knight, which is why I was willing to venture into the dreaded vampire genre for her.

And of course, she takes it from an interesting perspective. This book is really about Allie deciding who she’s going to be in her new existence. The road ahead of her is unpaved, and she has no real guidance for what to do. There is a vampire society with a status quo, but not only is that the opposite of how Allie wants to go, she never gets any input from it whatsoever.

In figuring out what rules for morality, if any, she will follow, she’s on her own. There are no examples to follow–she barely knows any other vampires at all. The vampire who turns her expects her to make these decisions on her own. And the only other vampire she has a conversation with in her earliest days of vampirehood doesn’t exactly leave an inspiring impression. It’s kind of cool how few influences Allie has going into this.

And of course, there’s her internal struggle, which is the point of the book. She’s always hated vampires, but when given the choice to become one or die, she didn’t want to die. And now she has to prey on people regularly, or risk killing someone once starvation kicks in.

The idea of feeding off of a hypothetical person is easier than of feeding off of one someone she knows, someone who trusts her–someone who doesn’t know what she is.

The book lets her get to know people, then asks her what she’d do when all of her choices suck.

Ultimately, Allie has to decide how she’s going to treat the people who hate and fear vampires as monsters, like she used to do herself. Will she take their blood while they’re sleeping, so that they never know what she’s done? Will she stop caring about what they think if they won’t spare any regard for her, thereby turning onto a darker path? Or will she keep trying, no matter how often she’s rebuffed, to prove to them–and to herself–that she can still be a good person?

I can’t even say how sure or unsure I am about which path Allie will take, after accidentally spoiling myself with the blurbs–which I do not recommend! Don’t be me!

But I’ve only gotten through the first book so far, so I don’t really have any idea where this story is going to end. But I want to find out.

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Geek and Sundry’s new ‘Spooked’, and Dystopia

A new web series by Geek and Sundry, this supernatural comedy follows a paranormal investigations team as they investigate hauntings in possibly the most unprofessional manner ever.

I liked the pilot, posted above. The guest stars were fantastic, and they’re our introduction into the series.

It’s cute, and funny. The characters have potential (although almost every single one of them needs to be sat down and explained to the basics of personal space and consent). They veery heavily towards immaturity, but that just means there’s plenty of room for character growth.

I’m enjoying it, and I’m definitely going to keep watching.

Another thing I wanted to highlight this week was this take on the realism the dystopian system in The Hunger Games:

I don’t think the parallel to gladiatorial games in Rome is quite as strong as suggested here–the missing factor is that the Games were meant to mean something to the districts, to be a way of reminding them to keep their heads down and be grateful it’s happening to someone else. I don’t think anyone cared what the gladiators thought, outside of the slave population (which was, admittedly, huge).

Still, a lot of interesting thoughts, though I stand by my earlier assertion that realism isn’t necessarily the point of dystopia.

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