Review of Dragon Age: Inquisition’s New DLC, Jaws of Hakkon

Jaws of Hakkon

Borrowed from actiontrip.com

Genre: Fantasy RPG

Synopsis: A message to the Inquisition pertaining to the history of the previous Inquisition of 800 years ago opens up a new open-world are in the main game, with some tangential though not uninteresting story sprinkled in.

Series: Additional content the the third (but standalone) installment in the Dragon Age video game series.

Verdict: Decent–even fun–but not what I wanted.

As a consequence for covering downloadable content for a video game, this post will only make sense for people familiar with Dragon Age: Inquisition. This is a better starting point.

Borrowed from dragonage.com

Everyone’s waiting for a story-based single player DLC from the Dragon Age team (especially with that ending scene tease), then this one becomes available with no warning and hardly any time to get information on it, with a $15 price tag. And it turns out to unlock another open world area, a much less exciting prospect in a Bioware game than story-based content. So that doesn’t appear to have gone over well.

Opening up a new area in the game in DLC isn’t necessarily an unreasonable idea–it’s just that I got more open world when I wanted more story. I would have vastly preferred story. Nonetheless, I played the whole thing–neither rushing nor stopping for everything, it took me about 6 hours. I will also play it again, as part of my other playthroughs. So what are the pros and cons of the story?

Pros:

  • The culture of the Avvars is an interesting counterpoint to some of the usual dynamics we see in the rest of Thedas.
  • Interesting (though limited) look at the history of Thedas–I had Cassandra along, and her personal reactions to these new revelations was a nice payoff. I imagine Vivienne and Solas might have extra dialogue too, but that’s speculation so far.
  • The DLC does address feedback on the open world areas of the game. This might be a subtle point, except to players who enjoy the open world areas for their own merits.
    • No more awful jumping puzzles! Terrain is more easily traversed. It’s much more clear where you can go, and there are more options to get there.
    • The random quests grouped together thematically. All of them centered on the big plot points of the area, ala the diplomatic relationship/conflict with the Avvars or the history of the first Inquisition.
    • All of the quests had at least some sense of relevance–I was never asking myself, ‘why am I fetching a ring for some random person?’ or ‘why am I bringing flowers to a grave? The world is ending. Shouldn’t that take priority?’ Plus, some quests brought up some interesting situations that I totally wish had been explored more thoroughly.
    • It does tie into some story, which relates to without impacting the struggle of the main game.
  • Scout Harding’s role is expanded a bit.

Cons:

  • It’s another open world area.
  • It just would have been way cooler to get story. That’s what Bioware and Dragon Age are really good at. That’s why I’m playing. I wouldn’t call the DLC a waste of time, and I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t what I really wanted. I’m assuming that that’s why so much of the community is disappointed–it’s not bad, it’s just not what we want.
  • This is nit-picky, but the rationale behind going to this new area isn’t great, especially before the end of the main game. We go to discover history about the Inquisitor of 800 years ago. Which is cool, when there isn’t a world to put back together. Then it turns out to be vitally important that we go, which we discover by accident. It would have felt much more relevant if we had a hint that there was a pressing reason to be there.
  • Still a very white DLC. It needs to be said. Dragon Age is generally ahead of the curve when it comes to diversity, but ahead less when it comes to race.

Borrowed from gameranx.com

All that said, the Dragon Age team has been known to experiment, which is actually a really good thing. This DLC is an example of that experimentation. Under different circumstances, it might have been better received. And it might still withstand the test of time, perhaps finding more appreciation after we get a story-drive DLC that expands on where the DA:I story left off.

Is it overpriced? Everyone makes their own decisions about what they are and aren’t willing to pay for. If I had known what I was getting with the DLC, I might have waited to see if it went on sale–which it might not, as a DLC. But I would have probably gotten it eventually either way, because of how much I love the main game. So I don’t really begrudge Bioware the money.

Is it worth playing? Here are my recommendations.

  • Yes: If you completed at least the main quest lines for each open world area in DA:I.
  • No: If you didn’t think unlocking all of the open world areas was worth it, or if you struggled with obtaining enough power to go on the main story missions you were actually interested in.
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The Originals: Family is Forever, for Better or for Worse

The Originals

Borrowed from hitfix.com

Genre: Supernatural

Synopsis: A family of thousand year old vampires returns to their former home, New Orleans, becoming embroiled in the power struggles between vampires, witches, and werewolves. The head of the house is the paranoid, erratic, and controlling Klaus–a force to be reckoned with for his allies as well as his enemies. And the rest of our protagonists have to navigate his moods while trying to protect their own.

Series: Second season.

I’ve Watched: Up to episode 16 of season 2.

Verdict: Really good.

Borrowed from alloyentertainment.com

The show is still centered around family, loyalty, and belonging. The protagonists have thousands of years of history to catch up with them, and it’s never been as dire an issue as it is now–Klaus and Hayley had to give up their child for her own safety. Speaking of Hayley, she actually gets to do things now. And with her new-found hybrid abilities, she’s finally powerful enough to stand alongside the main cast in ability, if not in experience. She’s still nowhere near the most interesting character in the story, but she isn’t dead weight anymore.

Borrowed from hollywoodreporter.com

Marcel (Klaus’ protege and kind-of adopted son) is more charismatic than ever, and is pretty much always in my top two for favorite character, often vying for the top spot with Rebekah. As always, he’s the good foil to Klaus’s insanity–loyal where Klaus is inconstant, supportive where Klaus is destructive. He’s the kind of leader who looks out for the wellbeing of his people, and sees it as a responsibility. Klaus is the kind of leader who expects absolute loyalty from his followers without providing them with anything in return (other than not killing him horribly for daring to defy him).

As for Klaus himself, he has to be one of the few characters who can make the sentence “Have I made you proud, father?” sound like an accusation. I actually don’t quite hate him anymore, though I do kinda despise him. Yes, he’s still a pretty awful person, if unusually aware of it. However, he’s taken some steps–not towards redemption, it’s way too early to even consider that, if it’s even possible–but towards not being quite so despicable a person. Granted, he relapses a lot. Just when you think he’s getting better, he does something else to remind you that he sucks. But that’s the fun part. He wouldn’t be as entertaining if he wasn’t so awful.

Borrowed from ew.com.

For a while, I was kind of impressed by how Hayley’s dynamic with Elijah and Jackson was not a love triangle–it’s set up like one, but it just wasn’t. Hayley and Elijah clearly had a romantic relationship either progressing or suppressed at any given time, while Hayley and Jackson never moved outside of the bounds of an (admittedly) meaningful friendship. Jackson’s feelings for Hayley were almost certainly romantic (and they both knew it), yet their relationship still never veered into romance.

Hayley and Jackson were family, they were partners, and they cared about the same thing. The show didn’t shy away from making their connection deep. A deep, platonic friendship where one party had clear romantic feelings for the other, yet never pressed on them out of respect that it wasn’t mutual. And neither of their characters were diminished by this. It was kind of an absurd level of maturity for TV.

Unfortunately, it all ended during the arranged wedding episode, where the show decided to make Elijah’s life more tragic by having Hayley actually choose Jackson. I get that people in arranged marriages can learn to love each other and all, but that’s not what the moment was about. It was about Hayley appreciating Jackson’s un-Elijah-like qualities–specifically one quality that she had never before indicated in the entire history of the show she cared about. Now all of a sudden she does? I guess this scene meant something very different for me than it did for the writers. For me, it was huge that Hayley and Jackson were friends and partners and could be that even though Hayley wasn’t attracted to him. For the writers, it appears to be more about Elijah having his flaws pointed out to him.

Borrowed from wordpress.com. This is the point where it’s obvious, by the by.

Maybe this hits me harder because the deep platonic friendship is a particularly meaningful thing for me. Friendship, irrespective of the genders involved, is insanely more significant in my life than romance. And I rarely get to see strong platonic friendships that don’t turn romantic, especially when the friends are of opposite genders.

But if they were going to make Hayley fall in love with Jackson (which wouldn’t be an unreasonable way to go, despite my personal issues), did they have to make it be about Elijah? Did they have to make Hayley care about a quality she has never expressed interest in before? Sure, Elijah never talked about his feelings. Personally, I imagined talking about it was superfluous given how much the two of them managed to say just by making eye contact, but whatever. The point is, Hayley never asked him to, either. On the plus side, though, the relationship still never became a love triangle. Hayley was always very clear about who she was interested in pursuing a relationship with at any given time.

Borrowed from tvequals.com.

Despite that, I am so happy the show went through the trouble of getting Rebekah back into the game. When she got back with the family, it hit me how much I missed her.

And I’m impressed that the show is addressing the implications of inhabiting other people’s bodies, other people’s lives. It didn’t have to–our cast is made up of a sliding scale of anti-heroes, and it would have been totally plausible and even expected for them not to care about the loss of an individual they don’t even know. Certainly, Finn and Kol never cared. And the only person prior to Rebekah’s possession to raise any concerns was Camille (the sole good character on the show).

But Rebekah’s become a much more sensitive person in her time away, and so I’m pleasantly surprised to see the show using her character to talk about the ethics involved. She’s aware that she’s in someone else’s body without that person’s consent. And she’s especially against engaging in anything remotely sexual or romantic using that body. Of course, the show conveniently made the original owner of the body a truly awful human being–and yet Rebekah still attests that this does not negate her concerns. (My personal prediction is that the original owner of that body will come back in Rebekah’s old one, thereby having them transfer ownership of their bodies, especially since Rebekah’s old body will probably die along with the other girl in it. But that’s just a theory.)

Borrowed from tvfanatic.com

We also outright get to follow one of the victims post-possession, when he gets his body back, to see the impact it has on him. I’m really pleased that these issues are being addressed, even as I hadn’t expected it.

Several major plotlines are afoot, many of them intertwined. The main cast are, as ever, at odds with each other. Alliances are always shifting as people are drawn together by their histories, but pulled apart by their loyalties–or vice versa. This is helped along by the fact that none of our protagonists are particularly nice, and they’ve done some awful things to each other. There’s never any accounting for anyone’s motivation. That’s what makes the show work so well. Things are always happening, all the characters have machinations that they’re hiding from several other parties at once, these motivations are always character based, and the show doesn’t pull it’s punches. The enemies this season are very personal and watching this plays out is fascinating. So yeah, still a great show.

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Roundup: LARP, Tabletop, and Fate/Stay Night

LARP The Series

Synopsis: The show follows (fictional) snippets of the lives of a group of LARP players–both in-game and out.

Series: First season.

I’ve Watched: Up to episode 7.

Verdict: Fun

Another web series on Geek and Sundry, told in a series of short vignettes. The characters are fun to watch–I particularly love the new and quite bloodthirsty paladin that joins the party. Apparently, paladins aren’t required to be Lawful Good in this game.

And it’s fantastic to watch things that depict geeky stuff from a place of respect and understanding, instead of the usual oh-look-at-how-weird-these-people-are I tend to see in more mainstream stuff. The latter really takes all the fun out of it.

Tabletop

Genre: Reality tabletop gaming

Synopsis: Wil Wheaton invites guests, often from geek culture or media, to play board games with him.

Series: Third season, but for obvious reasons, they don’t have to be seen in any kind of order.

I’ve Watched: A lot of it.

Verdict: So fun.

Oddly enough, I tried to watch this show when it came out in its first season (as it’s a Geek and Sundry production), and I couldn’t get into it. Cue two years later, I tried again, and I love it–even the episodes I wasn’t getting into the first time around. So I guess I changed?

There have been tons of awesome guests I was really excited about because of their work:

Felicia Day (creator/actress for The Guild, creator of Geek and Sundry),
J. August Richards (actor in Angel and Agents of SHIELD)
Amber Benson (actress on Buffy, author of the Calliope Reaper-Jones series)
Seth Green (actor on Buffy, voice actor in Mass Effect)
Allison Scagliotti (actress on Warehouse 13)
John Scalzi (SFF author)
Bobak Ferdowsi (NASA engineer)
Yuri Lowenthal (voice actor in Dragon Age, Naruto, and Sunset Overdrive)
Kelly Hu (actress in X-Men: 2 and Warehouse 13)
Pat Rothfuss (fantasy author)

And I do believe Karen Gillian (Doctor Who) and Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect, Eternal Darkness, Broken Age) are scheduled to appear this season.

The episodes can be very varied, because of how different some of the games are. So it’s a lot of fun to get exposure to these different games, and watch some pretty entertaining people demonstrate them. Some of my favorite episodes include:

Castle Panic, because of the sheer, unadulterated enthusiasm of the players. As they play a cooperative board game version of a tower defense.

Forbidden Desert, for stranding Felicia Day and Alan Tudyk in a desert. And for how the players’ characters interacted in-game. There was some fun and clever role-playing, in the midst of the strategy of actually getting out of the desert before dying.

Fiasco, for shaking things up and being mostly a storytelling game. The players create a story where their characters succeed or fail according to certain rules. Here, the game is as fun as the players make it–and the players seem to be pretty good at improv and creativity. Fair warning, there might be some mature themes.

Sheriff of Nottingham, for watching the players bluffing (either well or badly) in order to get their smuggled goods past the suspicious sheriff.

(Btw, I embedded these episodes into the post, so if your reader can’t see them and you want to watch, they should be visible on the main site. Or you can just look them up on Youtube.)

Fate/stay night

Borrowed from myanimelist.net

Genre: Supernatural/fantasy

Synopsis: High school student Shirou has been inadvertently drafted to fight in the Holy Grail War, a recurring fight-to-the-death between powerful magicians (usually from legacy families) and the spirits of historical/mythological figures. The winner gets a wish, any wish, fulfilled.

Unfortunately, Shirou doesn’t like fighting or hurting people. He’s certainly against killing people. What’s a guy to do?

Series: First season

I’ve Watched: The first few episodes? Maybe up to 5?

Verdict: Dropped. Too boring.

Shirou’s the protagonist now, which is too bad, as I was enjoying Rin taking center stage. This boy is just too innocent for this world. How did Kiritsugu raise a kid like that?

Shirou might be too naive to live, but at least he is willing to stand up for others more than he’s willing to stand up for himself–not that the bar for that is very high. He seems to fit right in with a horde of too-idealistic shounen heroes (who traditionally manage to change the world into a utopia through sheer willpower). I have no idea how Fate/stay night goes, although I’ve been given an impression it isn’t as dark as its predecessor. Still, I hope Shirou gets some character growth on this point instead of falling into the standard trope. Not that I’ll know, since I’m not watching the show anymore.

One thing I find annoying: these people are all in a fight to the death, and the show wants us to know more about them before slaughtering them. That’s a good tactic, but it manifests itself into some very jarring ways to end the early fights. Rather than finish fights, one party just up and decides to walk away from battle for some arbitrary reason. I get that this was kind of their intro so we could see what they were capable of before they really threw down with our protagonists, but come on.

There are more organic ways to introduce these people. Fate/zero did it by having one party behave in a way that threatened to expose magic to the general population, necessitating that everyone else take them down first. Here, it’s like people aren’t even taking these fights seriously, despite their lives being on the line. Press your advantage, people!

And for another, everything is just happening so slowly. The back and forth between whether or not Rin and Shirou are allies is ridiculous. And I’m just getting bored. I don’t believe this show has the same potential as Fate/Zero, and I’m not sticking around to find out.

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Agent Carter: Kicking Ass, Building Friendships, and Moving On

Agent Carter

Borrowed from ifotos.pl

Genre: Sci-fi/Superhero/Historical

Synopsis: After the war and the loss of Captain America, Peggy Carter comes home to a job at the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) where her co-workers treat her like a secretary. Then her former colleague Howard Stark is framed for selling the weapons he invented to enemies of the United States. With the SSR determined to catch him, Peggy has to tackle the case on her off-hours to clear Stark’s name and find those weapons before they fall into the wrong hands.

Series: Season 1

I’ve Watched: All of it.

Verdict: Excellent

Borrowed from superheroyou.com

Spoilers for season one.

In the first half of the season, Peggy has been living a double life–she’s an SSR agent who doesn’t get to do anything productive on the job, and so undertakes her own off-the-books investigation. Worse, she’s working with the SSR’s primary suspect because she knows he’s innocent. But all charades must come to an end, and this one has a satisfying one.

Borrowed from wordpress.com

Peggy’s found out, taken in, and questioned. I really love the scene where Daniel, Jack, and the SSR chief are interrogating her and she finally snaps and calls them all out on their bullshit–by telling them that they’ve only ever seen the image they’ve constructed about her in their heads. Even Daniel, the most progressive of the bunch (“The girl on the pedestal, transformed into some daft whore.“)

Everyone vents their emotions, then things go crazy again, and there is a smooth transition to proving Peggy’s side of the story. Peggy vacillates on how much to trust her co-workers, and Jack and Daniel put together the pieces of what they know about her versus the story she’s telling them. They all deal with it in an awesome showcase of their characters, and move on. Thus putting everyone in the SSR on the same page for the first time in, well, ever. And setting things up for the conclusion.

Peggy develops some truly sweet friendships over the course of the series. Especially with Jarvis. His respect for her and his loyalty to Howard Stark sometimes puts him in an odd position–Peggy and Howard are friends, but with very different mentalities and priorities–and Jarvis frequently ends up in the middle. Poor Jarvis, but it makes for some great scenes.

Borrowed from entertainment-escapes.com (I have no idea why they’re sitting like that–Angie and presumably others know they’re talking to each other, so doesn’t it draw more attention instead of less?)

Two of the four friendships Peggy develops with men contain not even a hint of potential romance, which is refreshing–it’s odd how unusual it is in media. In any case, Jarvis is happily married. And while Howard might be a consummate womanizer, his relationship with Peggy is strictly platonic (though other people might not always believe that).

As for the other two, Peggy isn’t looking at anyone this season–she’s still grieving for the loss of Steve Rogers. The men in question have crushes, one more obviously than the other. Men or women flocking to the protagonist on whatever show/movie usually bothers me, but here I consider it more plausible seeing as Peggy is literally the only woman in the office.

Which means that it’s really nice to have a season of a female action lead carrying the show with no love interest in sight (and right after season two of Psycho-Pass did the same thing–I’m in some kind of representation euphoria right now).

Borrowed from blogspot.com

While there aren’t any other women in the office, there are women immediately outside the office working for the telephone company that serves as a front for SSR headquarters. That’s right, there’s an entire room of under-appreciated women who are all quite aware of what’s what in the SSR. We might barely get to see them, but that much is clear. This, of course, goes right over the heads of most of the agents.

And the woman primarily responsible for discreetly guarding the door (Rose) has a hidden gun she’s ready to draw on unwelcome intruders. She’s also middle-aged, doesn’t have the traditional Hollywood body-type, and in general doesn’t look like someone who’d do covert work of any kind (naturally, that makes her a better choice for covert work). She’s sweet and competent enough to handle unexpected visitors. Seriously, I really want to see more of Rose specifically, and the women operating the agency’s cover story in general.

Borrowed from eggplante.com (How can you not love a character whose reaction to having a gun drawn on her is to smile like that?)

And the finale did something kinda cool. We’ve been watching Peggy kick ass and take names all season long–she’s pretty much carried the plot to this point on her back. Every step that was a win for her team, she made it happen. There isn’t any need to prove that Peggy can be the action hero anymore, because she’s been doing it episode after episode, for the whole season. And so the finale changed it up a bit, and made the final heroic moment that saves the day a climax of her emotional journey.

Howard Stark is the time-bomb that the villains have set up via hypnosis. Peggy needs to diffuse him by getting past the loss that she and Howard share, and dragging Howard along with her. Sometimes, you don’t win the day by punching the bad guy (though Peggy does that in the episode, too). Sometimes, you do it by talking. And not only can Peggy do both, the series let her. This was the make-it-or-break-it moment of the episode, where Peggy either saves Howard or takes him out to save countless others. And the show let her be a hero and progressed her character while doing it.

Favorite Quotes:

“You think you know me, but I’ve never been more than each of you has created. To you, I’m the stray kitten, left on your doorstep to be protected. The secretary turned damsel in distress. The girl on the pedestal, transformed into some daft whore. You’re behaving like children.”

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The Killing Moon: Fantasy Grounded in Humanity’s Flaws, Wisdom, and Vision

Borrowed from nkjemisin.com

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: Gatherers are priests who harness the power of dreams for healing and peaceful death of souls judged corrupt. They are never to use this power for selfish ends. After a tragic mishap in enacting his duty, Gather Ehiru no longer feels worthy, and can’t find the peace in his soul that he needs to carry out his tasks. But he will need to pull himself together in any way he can, when it turns out his priesthood is being used…and is partially corrupt. All things anathema to the worship of his goddess.

Series: First book, can stand alone.

POV: Third person multiple, told mostly from the perspectives of three characters: Ehiru, Nijiri, and Sunandi.

Romance: None.

Preview: Sample chapter. 

Works like this are the reason I read fantasy. This book is poignant, amazing, and reflective of the human experience.

Ehiru is a veteran at harvesting people’s deaths, and believes in the goodness of his duty with the kind of fanaticism expected of people whose perspectives have never been challenged. Even as his life starts falling apart at the seams, he doubts himself long before it ever occurs to him to doubt his assumptions.

And yet, he and his order have created this awesome blend of their expectations and wisdom–so while Ehiru is not entirely right, he isn’t entirely wrong, either. He and his brothers say a lot of intelligent things–things to do with consideration, choices, and putting the needs of others first. But Ehiru also has some odd, narrow expectations. His character journey is paramount to the resolution of the book’s conflict. So much depends on him, and so much depends on who he becomes.

Nijiri is Ehiru’s apprentice. We first meet him as a prideful, somewhat angry young man with a deep admiration for Ehiru. He’s supposed to be learning, but his mentor is not at his best, and deteriorating every day. This puts Nijiri in an odd place, where he needs to step up in situations he isn’t ready for, intellectually or emotionally.

Sunandi is a foreign ambassador, replacing a recently deceased predecessor. She stumbles upon the secrets her mentor died for, and crosses paths with Ehiru and Nijiri–members of an order she and her people consider obscene. But as much as she hates what they do and how they imagine themselves doing a good thing, she’s forced to associate with them nonetheless. To uncover the truths that others have died for, and to keep many more from following after.

There’s a lot of maturity in this book. It touches on how we can fail other people by keeping our suffering to ourselves, even if we think we’re being strong by doing so. How something that can seem so obvious and so right for one person, can be completely different and wrong for another. How good intentions combined with ruthlessness doesn’t necessarily make pragmatism, but rather something closer to tyranny. And there are these nice subtle touches throughout the story that are just so real.

The villain is interesting, especially as certain aspects of his character could easily have been a set-up for an anti-hero in another type of story. I spent the entirety of the book trying to figure out just who he was. His goals, motivations, and personality are unveiled sequentially, so that we don’t get the full picture right away.

He’s a visionary, a tyrant, a revolutionary, and a sociopath all rolled up into one package. And it makes sense.

The things he does are pretty horrific, and yet he always has a purpose for why he does them. There’s always a problem he’s solving with his actions. It’s just a terrible way to solve that problem. Actually, it might literally be the worst way.

This illustrates why the ends don’t necessarily justify the means. It’s something that comes up a lot in media, but rarely goes further than the sentiment. Here, our villain wants to change things, fix real problems he sees in the fabric of his society. Forcibly. Over the dead bodies of his enemies and even some of his allies. The type of person he has be to do the things he does…well, if he dealt with his problems differently to start with, if he was a different kind of person, he might have been a hero instead of the villain.

This book is fantastic. I love seeing the characters not just from their own perspectives, but from each others’–the differences between those views were cool. Ehiru’s personal journey was cool. And I was so busy being amazed by this awesome book–which stands amongst fantasy’s best when judged by any criteria–that I almost forgot to mention that it is another fantastic entry in the sadly too-small pool of non-Europeanesque fantasy. It’s based on ancient Egypt.

In that vein, the setting is imaginative and explores different boundaries than are typical of the genre. The philosophy behind the Gatherer’s mentality, the use of dream magic and its addictive properties, the historical interplay between the two countries in which the story is set. There’s plenty to praise in this book.

Favorite Quotes:

A Gatherer does not seek help, he had told himself at the time–and so he had not, thinking himself stronger for handling the matter on his own. Thinking of himself, when he should have held his fellow acolytes’ peace foremost in his mind. Of course Omin would do evil again; Omin was corrupt. Better to have brought the matter to the Superior and Gatherers, and damn his pride… Any action was better than complacency while corruption festered and grew.

“We are not meant to scrabble over scraps of power, pulling one another down like crabs in a barrel.”

“Suffering is part of life,” she said. “All the parts of life are jumbled up together; you can’t separate out just the one thing.”

True peace required the presence of justice, not just the absence of conflict.

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Outlander, and the Unfortunate Misstep Concluding the First Half of Season One

Genre: Historical/Drama/Romance

Synopsis: Claire, a WWII nurse, gets mysteriously transported to 18th century Scotland. And thus ends up in the middle of the conflict between the Scots and the English–which is awkward as she’s an Englishwoman who ends up becoming an unwilling houseguest to a Scottish clan.

Series: First half of first season is out, second half airing in April, second season to come.

Borrowed from venturebeat.com

I’ve Watched: Episodes 1-8

Verdict: Episodes 5-7 = Good, Episode 8 = WTF

First, let’s talk about episodes 5-7, which I wrote about prior to watching 8:

The show is definitely filling a need, and it is good. But it’s also really making me crave an epic fantasy TV series that also takes a more frank and less exploitative look at the more personal factors. (Why HBO, why?) Outlander isn’t quite my preferred kind of show, but it’s so well done, that it doesn’t much matter.

Borrowed from intimesgoneby.files.wordpress.com

The writers can have their characters sit around a table for an entire episode (and do), and still make it fascinating because of the tension and interplay between them, and the threat of what is going to happen. When our bad guy, Randall, is brought into a scene, there are these dramatic pauses where we’re holding our breath waiting to see what he’s going to do. He’s brutal, but there’s this sense of deliberateness behind this. He’s in control of himself, even when he wants to appear like he’s out of control. So when he takes those moments to wait before acting, there’s no way of telling what he’s decided to do. The threat of what he might do is almost worse than what he does do (from the safety of my screen, anyway–I’m sure Claire and Jaime feel differently).

I feel bad for poor Claire, out voyaging with the men. She seems very isolated in her current circumstances. Even when she connects with people, only Jaime really seems to regard her even remotely as an equal. It’s kinda sad, but it’s also a really nice touch. Of course, she’s isolated. She’s completely displaced from her time. And I like that we get to see that vulnerability, instead of having it glossed over.

Borrowed from ibtimes.com

The marriage episode was very interesting. I’m impressed with how Claire’s wedding to Jaime–the romantic male lead–is contrasted to her wedding with Frank, whom Claire was forced to leave via accidental time travel. Her wedding to Jaime is definitely the worse of the two–for one, she was drunk the whole time. For another, marrying Jaime was about the ceremony, while marrying Frank was very personal for the both of them. They didn’t even have a ceremony, and it was really sweet. So this is a bold move, having things be decidedly not perfect for the marriage the audience is supposed to be cheering for. And having things be perfect for the marriage Claire lost. It’s awesome.

Poor Jaime is way more head over heels for Claire than she is for him at this point. She’s still mourning the loss of the husband that’s lost to her. And he’s actually dealing pretty well with having an arranged marriage with a woman he’s completely taken with, who isn’t actually there herself. And who is not comfortable with the fact that she’s required to consummate this marriage that they’ve both been pressured into. The episode does a good job of illustrating consent, actually–you wouldn’t think so, due to the very dubious circumstances, but it does.

Borrowed from hypable.com

And as for really bold moments, Claire and Jaime’s first time isn’t that good. It’s awkward. That’s right, the romantic couple in a romance getting together for the first time is awkward. Jaime’s inexperienced, and the show isn’t covering it up–it’s actually shoving it in our faces. And it’s awesome, because despite what we’ve been taught to think, this really doesn’t detract from anything. He learns, things get better, and Jaime isn’t in the least diminished by any of it. And he’s not diminished by not diminishing Claire.

In terms of dumb protagonist moments, I have to highlight Claire’s sympathizing with the Scots over dinner with the English officers who are occupying the area. Claire really needs to stop drinking wine. She says something stupid pretty much every time she does it. There are times you don’t speak your mind (generally when speaking your mind is liable to get you killed and therefore render you ineffective in terms of actually being able to do anything). This is the kind of mistake that requires bravery to commit, but less so intelligence. Which means Claire should have realized (being a relatively intelligent person) that this was the time to keep quiet. It wouldn’t do anything other than get her in trouble–potentially a lot of it–and render her untrustworthy to yet another group of people.

Now episode 8. The lackluster episode of the season.

Borrowed from ibtimes.com

The main problem in this episode is the last scene–essentially everything with Claire and Randall. One problem (the smaller one) is that Randall loses a lot of that tension that made his other scenes so intense. The other (the huge one) is the second sexual assault Claire experiences this episode. The staging of the scene is almost Game of Thrones gratuitous when it comes to sexual violence–in contrast to the earlier assault which focuses entirely on Claire and her reactions and experiences, in a way that was much more humane.

Seriously, there’s a huge difference between staging the scene from Claire’s perspective and then showing her face the aftermath (her repeating, “I’m in shock, this is shock” was very powerful), and ignoring Claire’s perspective, then focusing the camera on Claire’s body and the men’s facial expressions. I just…what? How is it possible to frame essentially the same kind of situation in both a way that expresses understanding and sympathy and one that doesn’t in the same episode?

Personally, I would have been perfectly happy without either scene, but that’s a me thing. However, the last scene does not belong in this show.

Borrowed from wikia.nocookie.net

One thing I did really love about that episode was Jaime’s friend, Munroe, who had his tongue cut out by the English. He still managed to communicate fluently with Jaime through a mixture of lip reading and signing–though the show did illustrate the little bit of extra effort that went into using proper nouns, Not a lot of extra effort, and both Jaime and Munroe treated it as par for the course. This is cool because Outlander isn’t erasing disabilities from history (no matter the difficulty we might have discerning how disabilities were treated from historical records, of course they existed), but it’s also treating characters with disabilities like people who can still have lives.

As for Frank and the police, trying to figure out how Claire managed to vanish in thin air…it wasn’t an interesting storyline. And it wasn’t the most believable for me, either. There are plenty of other reasons why someone might go missing without a trace other than running off with another man. Even if the case is determined to be unsolvable, it makes no sense to conclude she must have disappeared without informing any relatives or friends. The scene where Claire is trying to get back to Frank, and they’re both at Craigh na Dun is good, but the rest of the story isn’t so interesting.

Favorite Quotes:

Claire: Well, doesn’t it bother you that I’m not a virgin?
Jaime: No. As long as it doesn’t bother you that, I am. I reckon one of us should know what we’re doing.
(–and after they tricked us into thinking the opposite, too. I don’t know if the Starz team or Diana Gabaldon is responsible for that one, but it was crafty either way.)

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Ascension: It’s Awkward

Short post this week, and probably next week–I’ve got a big presentation coming up, and am concentrating on finishing up some experiments for that.

Borrowed from forbes.com

Genre: Sci-fi

Synopsis: Due to fears that the Cold War could degenerate into a devastating conflict, the US launched a secret space mission in 1963, with volunteers sent up to space for a hundred years aboard the USS Ascension. Present day, the current generation is halfway into their journey, looking to spend the next 50 years (or the rest of their life) in space. Until a murder occurs–and having a killer aboard a closed, inescapable ship poses a huge threat.

Series: 6 episodes.

I’ve Watched: Episode 1.

Verdict: Awkward.

Borrowed from dmcdn.net

Syfy is back in the sci-fi game and the results are…well, I wasn’t expecting them to equal Battlestar Galactica, or anything. And that’s good, because they didn’t. There’s nothing wrong with the general outline of the story, but once we get to the actual details–dialogue, characterization, progression of logic–there’s just no life in it.

The show starts with a woman taking off her clothes. This is followed by an awkward romantic set-up, in a thankfully short scene. And then there’s forced kissing, all within the first ten minutes.

Then the plot goes to Earth. Harris is the son of the man responsible for the program, and his father is now in a mental hospital. We get awkward exposition of the Ascension’s backstory through Harris and a phd researcher who gets into the hospital (somehow) to try to see his dad. Seriously, their interaction goes from hostile to cordial out of nowhere. The actual content is fine, but the dialogue and staging just can’t sell the scene.

Back on the spaceship, a body is found. XO Aaron Gault walks in and hears the medical professional declare it was an accident. Despite having no experience with these kinds of things whatsoever, he posits that it’s likely murder. And is promptly assigned to the case. Yep. Awkward.

Then Aaron tries to question the family of the deceased, in a clunky scene which pretty much only succeeds in demonstrating his incompetence. Followed by a scene with a medical professional who tells him about the victim’s psychological evaluations–a conversation clearly meant to bring up more exposition, that both characters already knew about yet for some reason discussed anyway. As You Knows tend to be awkward, practically by definition.

I could go on, but to be honest, nearly every scene is awkward. It never quite makes sense that it’s happening the way it’s happening. It always seems a little too staged, not organic enough. It’s not so much that the ideas for the scenes themselves are a problem, it’s the execution. It’s the details that don’t quite fall in place.

There are some genuinely interesting plot points here, but the way those ideas are presented is lackluster. The characters are lackluster. So it’s a shame, because there are some intriguing concepts–and if the presentation wasn’t constantly breaking immersion or if I cared about the characters, I’d really want to know how they play out.

So far, Syfy’s attempt to go back to serious shows–whatever their definition of that might be–isn’t working for me. Neither Ascension or 12 Monkeys is impressing me, and a good chunk of that is a lack of expertise. The scientists in 12 Monkeys don’t even know their own fields, and the investigator in Ascension has no idea what he’s doing. The latter situation is better than the former, but the way it’s played out on screen makes it not work.

Let’s hope the next space-operas and “serious” shows Syfy puts out are executed better.

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