Bardic Impulses (formerly Marie Erving) is Moving

My new blog is here.

When I first started this blog, it was for a school project, three years ago. The point was to create a blog that we would continue to use even after the end of the class, and I always figured I would need a blog sooner or later anyway–because I wrote, and because I would eventually do something with that writing.

Obviously, three years makes a difference, and some of my ideas have changed in the meantime. For one, I came up with a pen name I would want to use in the future and used that as a title and URL. Now, I think I’m better off with a different title–and possibly a different pen name. I’ve thought about it, and while I can’t imagine using my full name like a brand, I want at least my first name to be accurate. Of course, that leaves me with a URL that isn’t indicative of any name I want to use, and no certainty that I won’t get any other new ideas for how to use my name in the future.

So I’m going to restart where I should have started in the first place (if I’d known better)–with a blog titled Bardic Impulses and a URL to match, and writing the content that still comes most easily to me–my thoughts and reviews of SFF media. Sprinkled with a little bit of complaining about portrayal of science in the media and information about the biomedical science field.

I’m sorry for any inconvenience this might cause–given that I’m not putting any more pen names in the URL of a site, this shouldn’t ever happen again. I figured I might as well make changes like this sooner, rather than later.

I’m going to leave this blog up, so the content stays up. And continue as I was from the new Bardic Impulses.

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Nancy Drew Adventure Games: Varying Plot Quality, but When It’s Fun, It’s Fun

Nancy Drew Adventure Games

Genre: Adventure, point-and-click, puzzle

Series: There are about thirty games out there now, made over the last decade plus–but they all stand alone.

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I’ve been playing the Nancy Drew adventure games since I was a kid–I’ve always loved the exploration, the puzzles, and the beautiful settings. It’s got colorful characters, esoteric topics, far-off locations. It was definitely a fun series for a sense of adventure, and I still play some of the newer games as they come out. I’ve become progressively more disillusioned with the recent ones, but I definitely still have a sense of nostalgia for a lot of them.

It can be great for developing an interest in something, as it usually gives enough introductory information to pique my curiosity on a completely new topic. And some of the phone conversations Nancy has with her friends and contacts (many of which are optional) are pretty entertaining.

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Nancy herself is an odd investigator. She doesn’t seem to have a sense of basic human propriety. Every other character in the game does, so they react in a way that’s totally normal to a totally not-normal line of inquiry. Her investigative strategy seems to consist mostly of stealing random things she can’t possibly know she’ll need, and telling everyone what she’s up to and what all of her suspicions are. She solves most of her crimes by causing a big enough mess that someone tries to kill her. It’s simultaneously frustrating and hilarious.

Actually, she’s been knocked unconscious so often that she probably has some kind of brain damage, which could explain the whole thing. Although it still doesn’t explain why no one in the story considers attempting to murder Nancy as an actual crime.

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A nice bonus is that every game has at least one secret passageway. Even the ones you totally wouldn’t expect it from. It’s a Nancy Drew staple.

Note I have yet to complete a single game without needing hints or a walkthrough, even on Junior mode–not once from when I started playing as a twelve year old to today. The games can be fairly complicated. I think that might be the price to pay for such an involved game, though. Not every step is going to be intuitive for everyone. And sometimes, you’re missing just one little thing that you need to do to progress the story.

The games have always had an in-game hint feature, but it’s vastly improved in later games. There was even a joke at the end of one, where you get a trophy called “Spoiler Free” if you don’t use the in-game hint feature at all–the game congratulates you for looking up all of your hints online.

Anyway, I wanted to round up a few of the latest games (two good, two bad) and highlight some of the things that stand out about them.

Shadow at the Water’s Edge

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Premise: Nancy is staying at a traditional ryokan in Japan for a vacation. What she didn’t know when she booked the ryokan is that the place is haunted. Of course, Nancy doesn’t believe in ghosts and sets out to expose what she is sure is a fake haunting.

Favorite aspects: Atmosphere–this installment is genuinely spooky. Puzzles–there are a lot of puzzles in this game, and I loved all of them. I’ve even been introduced to one of my favorite type of puzzles by this game (nonograms).

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Characters: While we never get to meet her, in this game or in any other as of yet, former paranormal investigator Savannah Woodham is introduced as a consultant we can call on this case. She has a charm to her personality, her relationship with her assistant, Logan, is fun, and she’ll explain how any of the weird things Nancy sees at the ryokan could have been faked if asked.

Nancy’s friends, Bess and George, also feature in this game, and their dialogue is a lot of fun. These two have to be my favorite regular phone contacts in the game. I also like the main characters–the suspects–for this game. Their personalities range from different kinds of eccentric to reserved, and I enjoyed the interaction with them.

The Ghost of Thorton’s Hall

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Premise: Savannah Woodham hinted in Shadow at the Water’s Edge that something scared her off of ghost hunting forever–and now that haunting is connected to the disappearance of a woman right before her wedding. Savannah was called in as an expert on the haunting, but she referred the case to Nancy instead. She says Thorton Hall is no place for anyone who believes.

Favorite aspects: Atmosphere–this installment is even spookier than Shadow at the Water’s Edge.

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Characters: Savannah, again a phone contact, is as fun as ever. Bess is back, and she’s kidnapped Ned, Nancy’s boyfriend. Ned by himself is usually not that interesting of a contact, but his dialogue with Bess in this game is entertaining As for the suspects, there’s a wide range of characterizations. The distraught, stern mother. The fiance who’s unsure of what he wants. The gruff ex-convict. And saying any more about any other characters is a spoiler. But their entanglements are interesting, and they’ve got all kinds of history to dig up.

The Shattered Medallion

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Premise: Nancy and one of her friends have been selected as contestants in a Survivor-like show. Then something happens that Nancy needs to investigate, but the plot doesn’t make sense, so I have no idea what’s actually going on.

Least favorite aspects: I had no idea what the game was about during or after my play-through. That’s sufficient criticism in and of itself.

Characters: Maybe the lack of connection to the story made it hard to connect to the characters as well. None of them stood out for me, not even the ones we’d already known before. And this story introduced in person a character that had been built up in previous games…it didn’t really deliver on the anticipation.

Labyrinth of Lies

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Premise: Nancy is working as an assistant in a museum in Greece, when she discovers that the artwork on display is being replaced with fakes–and suspects someone from the theater group performing for the museum is involved.

Least favorite aspects: I was really looking forward to this one, as I had a childhood fascination with Greek mythology. At least the overall plot made sense, but too many other aspects didn’t. For instance, there was a theme park construction of the Underworld under the stage, complete with an actual river–things that couldn’t possibly be simply raised onstage for the viewers. There was a whole atmospheric set-up which made no sense because no one would ever be able to see it. And the actors just hung out down there like it was no big deal and totally not weird that it existed. It just made everything about the world hard to believe. It didn’t help that I felt trapped in a small space by the setting. There have been plenty of games which at least felt bigger and more open than this one.

There was also puzzle saturation–I felt like I was being sheparded from one puzzle to another without any real reason behind it, or story to go along with it. The mystery aspects were pretty neglected. There wasn’t a sense of slowly figuring things out. I’m not one of those people who try to piece together clues during a mystery to make theories about whodunnit–I tend to let the story take me there at it’s own pace–but even I knew, without trying, which of the characters were involved in the nefarious activities in this one. Most of them pretty much admit it, very early on.

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Characters: There were actually interesting characters here. I just wish that they were in a story which made me appreciate that more. And didn’t use terrible metaphors about Persephone.

Considering that the last two games on this list (the ones I didn’t like) are the two most recent releases, I’ll probably be fairly skeptical of future releases…but there are still plenty of games in this series’ history that are fun and worthwhile.

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Season Two of The 100: Hard Choices, Survival, and Living with it Afterwards

The 100

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Genre: Post-apocalyptic, sci-fi


S1: A nuclear war has left Earth uninhabitable, and the air on a spaceship containing remnants of the human race is running out. Out of desperation, those governing the spaceship decide to send 100 criminals under the age of 18–as an criminals over 18 are immediately executed, and only children are incarcerated–to Earth, to find out if conditions on the planet have become survivable.

Clarke was a member of the elite class on the spaceship before she was imprisoned, and now she finds herself surrounded by rowdy delinquents, who she’ll need to depend on to survive. If that wasn’t enough, it turns out the Earth wasn’t as uninhabitable as they’d imagined. Because there are people already there, warlike people who take exception to strangers showing up on their turf.

S2: A third party is introduced into the conflict between Clarke’s people and the grounders. These people have survived underground, and as such haven’t developed the resilience to radiation that either of the other groups have. Outmanned by the grounders and outmaneuvered by third group, Clarke and her people need to forge an alliance with one to stop the other. But forming an alliance with a people they have so much adversity with is dangerous in and of itself.

Series: Two seasons.

I’ve Watched: Early and late S1 (missed the middle), and all of S2.

Verdict: S2 – Excellent.

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The second season has turned into a treatise on violence and the cycle of violence and how different groups of people view conflict differently. I’d only watched part of the first season–there were interesting things about it, but there were also annoying things about it. I picked it up again in the last episode or two of the first season, and it was much better.

The core cast has formed a group that works together, that utilizes their differences to their advantage. They’re resourceful, they’re clever, and they’re committed to each other. Their combat skills and resources don’t match up to their enemies, so they have to find other ways to survive. And they don’t always quite know what to do–should they try for peace with the people trying to kill them? Should they push the conflict further? But they stick through it, even when they make mistakes. Nonetheless, the story still forces them to pay for those mistakes.

There are things from the first season that I’m never going to forget, and that won’t ever sit right with me. Killing off Wells, a character with so much potential–who also happened to be black, and died first. The relationship with Octavia and Lincoln will always make me uncomfortable, due to its creepy Stockholm Syndrome beginnings. But I can put up with these things to watch Clarke, Bellamy, and co. desperately try to keep their people alive, while searching for peace with people who still remember all the blood that’s already been spilt.

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And despite the black character dying first, our main female protagonist is bi, one of the male leads isn’t white, and the rest of the cast is pretty racially diverse. One of the main characters now has a disability. So, actually, the show’s doing pretty good with diversity. And not just relative to other media.

The three factions in conflict are all fighting for survival in radically different ways. But despite the huge differences in their cultures and ways of life, they all have certain commonalities inherent to the kind of world they live in. Chiefly, none of them are strangers to brutality–the grounders have a warrior culture, the mountain men have been bleeding and killing people for their survival, and the people from the Arch have developed a capital punishment system due to the confines of the spaceship. The 100 in particular had to survive against the grounders’ aggression all on their own. And yet, the show always shows the implications of striking a balance between necessity and brutality. From both a practical and a moral standpoint.

So when characters resort to torture, they might be given false information. And for this reason, when a chance to torture another captive for information arises, two people have two different objections–one says it’s wrong (moral), and the other says it doesn’t work (practical). When people are killed–even when the killer does it out of necessity–there’s often a reckoning of some sort. Sometimes a small one, a personal moment for the character. And sometimes a big one–when the situation changes, as it does several times, people might find their past actions are a huge hindrance to their current goals. When our protagonist deems one person’s life as more important to them than others, the story has a way of reinserting reality.

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Good people do get caught in the crossfire. There are times when all the options suck. The protagonists can’t save everyone, and sometimes they have to actively sacrifice some to save others. There are moments when there’s almost a chance–if all sides had taken a moment to agree on a comprise at the same time, things might not have progressed so far. But each side is so different. Even within each faction, some individuals strive for comprise while some always resort to force. And even compromises might not last. Victories don’t come without a price, and so they’re always tinged with at least a note of tragedy.

It’s not all bleak, and it’s not all hopeful. Sometimes, people manage to be extraordinary. Sometimes, they fall short. And sometimes, they mess up. There are consequences, and there are people living with the consequences for their actions. It’s not simple. It’s not presented as simple, or as easy. All our protagonists can do is go forward, navigating the choices of what they have to lose as best they can.

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And this show knows how to follow through on a threat. Not all threats, but enough to keep the audience guessing whether or not it will really come down to the worse case scenario. When a big bad thing is looming, in another show, I would be sure that that the characters will stop it. Not so with the 100, because sometimes we get the bad thing. It might be a character death, or it might be one of our protagonists making a morally questionable choice for the greater good. But we get the bad thing, and the show doesn’t try to ameliorate it, either–in fact, it makes sure to show us just how terrible it is.

Ultimately, it’s really nice to see a complex issue being treated like a complex issue, instead of being boiled down into simplistic idealism–or equally simplistic cynicism.

Borrowed from What’s this? Characters aren’t actually pristinely clean on a post-apoc show?

Another great thing is that this YA story actually has a good reason for why teens are handling all the action. They were sent down to Earth alone, with no adults among them. They had to step up and form their own community. And the adversity that they faced meant that they became tight-knit, self-reliant, and experienced, to an extent. When the adults finally manage to come down and join them, these kids have been on their own for a long time. And it was really cool to see them chafe at the restraints placed on them by this new authority in their lives. At least until the authorities realized that these kids did actually know the terrain and locals way better than they did.

The characters and their interactions are great. Clarke has this mix of compassion and pragmatism, along with a capacity for ruthlessness she’s only just begun exploring. She struggles with the choices she’s forced to make in her leadership position, to save the lives of her people. I get the impression that some of those hard decisions, she might make differently if she had the chance to do it again. But others, she wouldn’t.

Also, Clarke manages to be a dynamic, badass hero who steers the course of the show without being a good fighter. She’s a leader, not a fighter, and we need to see more of that in media.

Bellamy, Clarke’s co-leader, goes a bit down the opposite path. He started off in the first season as more brutal, though at the time he didn’t understand so well what that would mean. Now, he’s become more responsible, more devoted to his people. More compassionate. He and Clarke manage to strike a great balance. Both in their working relationship and their personal friendship.

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There are so many other great characters.

  • Octavia, Bellamy’ s capable younger sister who gravitates towards the grounders and their culture.
  • Jasper, who steps up to defend the 100 when they’re trapped with the mountain men.
  • Maya, one of the mountain men who disagrees with the status quo and allies with Jasper.
  • Indra, a village leader for the grounders hostile to the people of the Arch–yet, who takes in Octavia and trains her as her second.
  • Raven, a smart and creative mechanic who goes through so much emotionally and through her physical injury.
  • Marcus, one of the council leaders back on the Arch who changes from a ruthless, authoritarian leader to a man who believes in peaceful solutions.
  • Monty, who…really needs a character arch. So much potential, so little of it realized.

I could go on, and I wouldn’t do the characters justice.

This has become a must-watch for me, and I’m looking forward to the third season. I wish that I had no reservations at all, but at least those reservations only stem from things that happened in the first season–the second season in isolation is amazing.

Favorite Quotes:

“Maybe there are no good guys.”

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

Jaws of Hakkon

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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.

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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?


  • 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.


  • 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.)

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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.


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

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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

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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

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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.

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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 (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).

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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 (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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