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Erin Watches: Scandal’s final season, episodes 1-7 January 7, 2018

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I got caught up on the currently-airing Season 7 of Scandal while working on comics. (Previous reaction posts: on Dreamwidth, on WordPress.)

Everyone is still terrible. With the possible exception of…uh…I guess Marcus. (President Mellie’s ex-affair, currently Ex-President Fitz’s minder.)

High points of terribleness:

  • Cyrus is Mellie’s VP, because heaven forbid we have new characters be important on this show.
  • In the first episode, B613!Olivia is told she’ll need to have someone (a captured spy) murdered for the sake of national security, and her reaction is “hOW could you think I would DO such a thing??!?” At the start of the episode, we recap how she murdered Luna Vargas. Over the course of it, she sends a sniper to threaten a foreign leader’s elementary-age children. Yes, Olivia, how can we suggest murder to you, that’s such an insult to your stainless honor.
  • A couple episodes later, she firebombs a plane carrying a Muslim foreign leader and his teenage lesbian niece. That’s our Olivia!
  • Republicans are championing a free-college-for-all bill. Democrats are secretly scheming to block it, even though they like the idea, because they wouldn’t be able to claim the win. Because Scandal takes place in Bizarro America.
  • When an obnoxious billionaire businessman says he might “drop a couple mill” and run for President, Cyrus gives him an impassioned speech about how the office is sacred and belongs to the people. This is the same Cyrus who got the last POTUS into office by voter fraud, and the current POTUS (and himself) into office by double-murder. Much sacred, very respect.
  • Olivia keeps giving Mellie these intense, passionate speeches about “you are not alone, I always have your back, I am the only one who’s with you, I will make you a monument.” Why it doesn’t immediately segue into them making out, I do not know.
  • Quinn puts together the pieces about Olivia’s secret firebombing, then goes missing on her wedding day. Olivia assumes Quinn went into hiding to plot her downfall…and pretends to lead the team on a fast-paced search, while secretly waging an even faster-paced campaign to plant false leads and erase evidence before they get to it. Turns out Quinn was kidnapped! All Olivia’s machinations only slowed them down from rescuing her! Our hero.
  • One of those false leads prompts Quinn’s not-yet-husband to kidnap and torture an innocent man. Goody.
  • Jake (who is now B16’s #2, remember) insists that the only villains here are the kidnappers, and urges Olivia not to blame herself. Really? Because I will totally blame Olivia.
  • Oh, almost forgot to mention — Ex-President Fitz is moping around his mansion in Vermont (Marcus describes both the state and the guy as “Cold. White.”), wallowing in how lonely and powerless he is. Go join Habitat for Humanity and build some houses, you whiny moron.
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For anyone who wants an AO3 invite… December 28, 2017

Posted by Erin Ptah in Fandom.
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…comment with an email address and I’ll have one sent to you. All the wranglers got a stack of new invites for Christmas, so I have plenty to spare.

(I’d put them directly in this post, but it would suck if they got nabbed by spambots. So, emails it is.)

Review: The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage December 18, 2017

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Finally got to La Belle Sauvage!

(Not to be confused with La Belle Sauvage, or a Progress Through the Beau-Monde, a pair of books published in 1803. Coincidence or inspiration?)

For people who liked HDM: would recommend.

It might or might not be a good jumping-in point for people who haven’t read any of the other books. Even though it’s the first in a series, it has a really hard case of “middle installment in the trilogy” syndrome — sets a bunch of things up, then abruptly stops. As a standalone work I’m sure the end would be pretty unsatisfying.

On the other hand…it does a lot of over-explaining. Every time there’s a new plot point (e.g. “the witches have some kind of prophecy about Lyra”), we get multiple scenes of it being repeated, in full, to characters who didn’t know it already. For me that was annoying, but now that I think about it, it’s a sharp contrast to the way The Golden Compass is pretty impenetrable on first go-through, and might make this book an easier way in.

So that’s the complaining out of the way. On to…

The Good Bits (spoiler-free summary)

The new characters are well-rounded and likeable. Mal in particular is a good combination of “impressive competence” and “eleven-year-old fancies.”

Hannah Relf is amazing in all ways and I would have read an entire book about just her.

Baby Lyra is precious and perfect. She and Pan are a nonverbal infant for the entire book, but she’s written with so much personality, and is so clearly the tiny version of the character we know and love in later books.

The prose in general is great. Not in the sense of Terry Pratchett, where you actively notice the cleverness, but great in the sense that it’s clear and fluid and gets everything across without getting in the way. (I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t read so many badly-written books lately.)

La Belle Sauvage is the name of Mal’s canoe. One of his friends pranked him by painting an “s” over the “v”.

New information about daemons!

New Daemon Lore (vaguely spoilery)

Unsettled daemons can take combination forms. When Mal is hanging out in a swamp, his Asta turns into an owl with duck feathers, so she can keep a distant lookout but still be waterproof.

Alice doesn’t seem stressed that her daemon Ben is unsettled at age 16, though she’s actively curious what he’ll settle as.

Daemons can be physically injured — there’s one that has a missing leg. (It’s implied that the injury was caused by its physically-abusive human, and that they are collectively pretty unhinged.)

Daemons can urinate. (It’s not described as a physical need, just an expression of contempt.)

There’s an ambiguously-magical woman whose daemon is a flock of butterflies. (!!)

Before they learn language, babies and their daemons will babble to each other. It’s suggested that this can turn into a rudimentary language of its own if you don’t teach them English (or whatever), similar to the way our-world infants will come up with proto-language if a group are neglected together.

At one point baby!Pan turns into a kitten and kneads Mal’s bare hand. He interprets it as “the taboo on daemon/human touching is learned,” but I think it’s more “Lyra really likes this kid.” Either way, it’s adorable.

A Proper Summary (here be spoilers)

Malcolm Polstead is a 10-11-year-old boy who works at his parents’ tavern/inn, where he hears all the local gossip. (One of his co-workers is 16-year-old Alice Parslow, a cousin of Roger.) He also helps out at the priory across the river. When the nuns take in baby Lyra, he gets completely starry-eyed.

Mal gets recruited by Hannah Relf as a junior informant, for a government anti-Magisterium spy organization code-named Oakley Street. (Coram van Texel, aka Farder Coram, is another of their informants.) They’re passing around secret messages about Lyra and alethiometers and the mysterious “Rusakov field.”

When they’re first introduced, Oakley Street is fascinating. The last trilogy was mostly through a kid’s POV — now here are the adults of the Resistance that had her back! Subterfuge, secret codes, undercover research, spying!

Hannah is doing research with the Oxford alethiometer, which means she gets short limited sessions with it, and uses some of that time for spy research. Later there’s a sequence where a branch of the Magisterium steals a different alethiometer, killing someone in the process, and Oakley Street retrieves it…but instead of returning it to its owners, they sneak it off and deliver it to Hannah, asking her to use it on their behalf full-time.

Did I mention I would read a whole book about her? Because I would.

But the group gets really worn-down by the book’s problem with over-explanation. For one thing, Mal gets let in on way more detail than he needs to know. (Seriously, why would you tell the kid you have a stolen alethiometer? His loyalty is still untested, not to mention, he’s a child.) On top of that, any time Oakley Street leaves top-secret information at dead-drops, that same info is also getting happily gossiped about at the tavern, and at the priory, and by random people in town.

We r serious spy team, this iz super sekrit.

The book’s recurring villain isn’t a Magisterium agent anyway. It’s Gerard Bonneville, a creepy disgraced physicist with a hyena daemon who thinks kidnapping Lyra will give him leverage to get the Church to fund his research again.

Partway through the book (I want to say halfway?), everything gets derailed by a massive flood. Buildings are flooded to the second story, that level of massive. Mal has a canoe, which got souped-up earlier by Coram to be extra-seaworthy, so he, Lyra, and Alice end up using it to escape.

At first their vague plan is to get to Jordan College. When the racing water takes them well past it, Mal decides they’ll deliver Lyra to Lord Asriel in London. They know he’s her father, and they also happen to know Mrs. Coulter is her mother, because literally nothing is secret in this book.

Up to this point everything has been well-grounded in reality. The canoe repair and navigation is expertly described, the locations around Oxford are developed in rich detail, the characters talk about practical issues of supplies and weather.

Three-quarters of the way through the book, we do a sudden genre shift, and now it’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Our heroes have a stopover on an enchanted island, where we meet Diannia, the possibly-faerie and definitely-unstable woman whose daemon is a whole flock of butterflies. Then another with a grand mansion in the distance, surrounded by an Alice-in-Wonderland garden that won’t let them get any closer to it. The place is full of partygoers who can’t see the children, but whose food they can get away with stealing — and then eating, because that sure sounds like a safe idea. They sail through an enchanted river-gate after Mal bluffs its guardian with news that Lyra is a princess, and they’re delivering her on the orders of the King of Albion.

Bonneville chases them the whole time. He murders at least one person along the way, so they end up killing him in self-defense, but then on one of the enchanted islands he’s back? And it’s not like they sailed into the afterlife, because we know what the afterlife looks like in the HDM multiverse. Lyra hasn’t even fixed it yet.

This whole arc had a lot of cool imagery, but felt really disjointed from the rest of the book. It would’ve made more sense if the fairytale elements had been integrated earlier, maybe foreshadowed by Hannah’s research.

Or if it didn’t get so fantastical at all. When Diannia was introduced, with her creepy demeanor and impression of being older than her youthful appearance, my first assumption was that she was a witch, who had taken off from her clan in grief after losing a daughter and was now fixating on Lyra for the same reason. That would’ve made more sense than “by the way, in Lyra’s world, faeries are suddenly a thing maybe.”

Finally the kids make it back to reality, re-kill Bonneville, and manage to rendezvous with Lord Asriel. He takes them to Jordan College, where he leaves Lyra for safekeeping.

This is the sudden cutoff point. Asriel takes off to do research in the North, though it’s not clear why thinks Lyra is safer at Jordan than she was at the priory in the first place. We don’t see Mal and Alice return home. It’s not like Mal’s parents were much of a presence, but it would’ve been nice to see them find out their kid was okay.

And we don’t hear anything at all from the Oakley Street crew. They were mentioned a couple of times in the back half of the book — Hannah tries to help the others work out where Mal would be taking Lyra — but got no resolution. The book really needed a bonding/reconnecting/debriefing scene with Mal and Hannah, and we didn’t get it.

(We do get Asriel warning Mal and Alice to keep the whole thing hush-hush, for the sake of protecting Lyra. Which, okay, but Mal should be able to trust Hannah with at least as much top-secret information as she entrusted to him. And both kids deserve an adult to help them decompress.)

Hopefully some of that will get retroactively dealt with in books 2 and 3. We know Mal grows up to be a scholar, and he and Hannah both tutor Lyra at points, so they’re still going to be connected.

And I’m looking forward to the next books in general. This one could be exasperating, but it wasn’t actively upsetting, and there were more than enough good and fun parts to make up the difference. If the rest of the trilogy is at least this good, it’ll be a satisfying read.

Burns & Allen Transcript: Getting A Movie Contract (1950-01-11) December 17, 2017

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It’s the first show of 1950. The country is well into recovery from World War II, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons are the queens of Hollywood gossip, Joe Pasternak is producing films for MGM, and the future looks bright.

So Gracie has plans to get a friend’s daughter into the movies, and she’s going to turn the rest of Hollywood upside-down to do it.

Download the episode here, or listen on YouTube, and read the transcript below.

(more…)

Multifandom Recommendations 12/4/17 December 4, 2017

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  • The Avengers | Bruce, Tony, Steve, Pepper, Natasha | T | The Kids Weren’t Alright
    Tony accidentally turns himself into a twelve-year-old using alien tech. Steve is stuck as bodyguard, Bruce is stuck trying to fix him, and Pepper is stuck trying to ward off a twelve-year old’s attempts at flirtation. And then things go from bad to worse.
    series:marvel comics,trope:hurt-comfort,fic:chaptered,trope:kidfic,genfic,trope:trauma

  • WebGL Water lll
    Water simulator. Click to make ripples, change the angle, and/or move the ball around.
    resources:drawing,resources:time wasters

  • Medieval Fantasy City Generator
    This application generates a random medieval city layout of a requested size. The generation method is rather arbitrary, the goal is to produce a nice looking map, not an accurate model of a city.
    resources:writing,resources:drawing

  • Alphas, Betas, Omegas: A Primer
    A brief primer on the concept of Alpha/Beta/Omega Universes: Also known as that trope suddenly showing up in your fandom that doesn’t make any sense.
    resources:writing,kink:omegaverse

  • Four memories returning
    The Good Place ficlet prompt: Everyone gets back ALL their memories from ALL the loops.
    fic:five times,series:the good place,pairing:eleanor_tahani,yuri

Multifandom Recommendations 11/27/2017 November 27, 2017

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  • Sailor Moon | Rei/Usagi, Mina/Ami/Mako, Haru/Michi | T | Walk The Plank
    Rei is in denial about a certain someone. Minako, who notices this, decides to help her dear friend accept her feelings and act upon them! However, Rei is really…really in denial. With help of the Senshi, they’ll guide her the right way! Well… drag her kicking and screaming in the right way..
    series:sailor moon,fic:chaptered,pairing:usagi_rei,pairing:haruka_michiru,yuri,amazing

  • Hellsing | Integra, Alucard | M | Starved
    Alucard and Integra are stranded on an island together, and Integra is Alucard’s only source of sustenance.
    series:hellsing,fic:chaptered,trope:trauma,genfic,!work.in.progress

  • Sherlock | John/Sherlock, ensemble | M | The World On His Wrist
    First, he is shot in Afghanistan. Second, he wakes to a phone call in Chelmsford, Essex. Third is pain, fourth is normalcy, fifth is agony and sixth is confusion. By the eighth, he’s lost track. (John lives in multiple realities AU.)
    fic:chaptered,series:sherlock,pairing:holmes_watson,trope:timetravel

  • Doctor Who | Twelve, Bill/OC | G | The Great Masquerade
    After the events of Oxygen, Bill and the Doctor go to an alien flea market and find a teapot that isn’t really a teapot. (Blindness for Twelve, girlfriend for Bill.)
    series:doctor who,fic:one-shot,pairing:bill_other,yuri

Multifandom Recommendations 11/20/2017 November 20, 2017

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  • Hellsing | Integra/Alucard M | His Reward
    While Alucard loves a good hunt, sometimes it’s not quite enough to scratch the eternal itch that immortality gives you. And Integra is more than willing to reward her favorite vampire for a job well done.
    series:hellsing,fic:one-shot,pairing:integra_alucard,kink:bdsm

Multifandom Recommendations 11/13/17 November 13, 2017

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  • Doctor Who | Eight/Master | T | Any Time At All
    “There honestly needs to be an AU in which Roberts!Master kidnaps Eight and convinces him that he is his husband.”
    series:doctor who,fic:one-shot,pairing:doctor_master,trope:marriage,trope:hurt-comfort

  • Red Dwarf, Doctor Who | Ten, Martha, Dwarfers | T | Don’t Smeg The Reapers
    “That’s the craziest thing I have ever heard. Everything always exists somewhere in time- that’s what makes time travel possible in the first place,” The Doctor said.
    “Well… it seemed like a good idea at the time,” Lister finished, lamely.
    fic:one-shot,crossover,genfic,series:red dwarf,series:doctor who

  • PaintsChainer
    Automatically colors your sketches/lineart.
    resources:drawing

  • Unicode Text Converter
    Convert plain text (letters, sometimes numbers, sometimes punctuation) to obscure characters from Unicode. The output is fully cut-n-pastable text.
    resources:internets,resources:writing

  • Kim Possible | Kim, Shego, ensemble | T | Possibility Engine
    Kim is thrown into a maelstrom of possible realities and must rely on her wits, and a little help from some alternate versions of her friends, if she’s ever going to find her way home.
    pairing:kim_shego,genfic,series:kim possible,yuri,fic:chaptered,trope:timetravel

  • Sailor Moon | Kakyuu, Galaia | T | Star Dancer
    Kakyuu has always wanted to be a Star Dancer. Refused in this, she resents that her new bodyguard is the strongest Star Dancer known to the galaxy. When Kakyuu convinces Galaxia to teach her magic, she sets into motion events that cannot be stopped.
    series:sailor moon,fic:chaptered,genfic,!work.in.progress

  • Madoka Magica, tons of crossovers | ensemble | M | Offers you Just Have to Refuse
    “Make a Contract with me, Reader, and you’ll become a Magical Fanfiction Reader. You will have to fight Witches, and probably dubious grammar and lame humor as well. But it will be worth it! At least for me…”
    crossover,series:puella magi madoka magica,fic:one-shot,series:high school of the dead,series:evangelion,series:ranma 1_2,series:code geass,series:dc comics,series:bugs bunny,series:star wars,series:powerpuff girls,kink:tentacles,series:pokemon,genfic

  • Looney Tunes, crossovers | Daffy, others | T | Bounty on a Bunny
    Fed up with the Looney Tunes, Daffy Duck is looking into other universes to find a worthy foe for Bugs Bunny. What’s a rabbit to do?
    series:bugs bunny,fic:chaptered,genfic,crossover,series:star wars,series:friday the 13th,series:lord of the rings,series:pulp fiction,series:shrek,series:terminator,amazing,series:pinky and the brain,series:animaniacs

Multifandom Recommendations 11/6/17 November 6, 2017

Posted by Erin Ptah in Recommendations.
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  • Hellsing | Integra/Alucard | M | His Reward
    While Alucard loves a good hunt, sometimes it’s not quite enough to scratch the eternal itch that immortality gives you. And Integra is more than willing to reward her favorite vampire for a job well done.
    series:hellsing,fic:one-shot,pairing:integra_alucard,kink:bdsm
  • Doctor Who | Missy/Bill, 12/Missy | T | Take Control of My Whole Body
    Bill is determined to learn the choreography to Little Mix’s ‘Touch’ video, but needs somewhere to practice. Cue an afternoon of dancing in the Vault, and Missy insisting on helping Bill get it right.
    series:doctor who,fic:one-shot,yuri,pairing:bill_master,pairing:doctor_master
  • Doctor Who | Bill/Sappho, 12 | G | Love, That Loosener of Limbs
    “Like, finally here’s a poem that isn’t just some bloke whining about how a beautiful girl won’t give him sex, and it’s basically ‘sweet mother, I’m too gay to do my chores, blame Aphrodite’. Like, honestly? Most relatable thing I’ve read in years.”
    series:doctor who,fic:bite-size,pairing:bill_other,yuri,trope:timetravel

 

Erin Watches (and likes!): Madame Secretary, Rizzoli & Isles, Angie Tribeca, Lucifer November 5, 2017

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Feels like it’s been a long time since I posted about some TV that was actually good, instead of so-bad-it’s-fun (looking at you, Scandal). Which is weird, since I’ve watched a bunch of it.

Have some recs.


Madame Secretary

Adventures in diplomacy with a Secretary of State and her artist/CIA husband.

If any current show is the spiritual successor to The West Wing, it’s this one. Elizabeth McCord is devastatingly smart and has vast depths of experience, all of which shines through in the writing. The political situations are complex and layered; it doesn’t get too fluffy about ethics and principles being easy, but it also doesn’t get too grimdark about good people being inevitably destroyed by Harsh Reality.

Her husband’s great too — also smart with a background in a lot of fields. My favorite parts are when his knowledge of art history is legitimately what saves the day.

And it’s a textbook example of how you don’t have to shoehorn dishonesty or unsupportiveness or bad communication into a relationship to make it interesting.  These characters’ lives are so full of international conflict, the choices they make every day at work so consequential, that they need a healthy and well-adjusted marriage to get through it all. They lean on each other in these complicated and substantive ways that are great to watch.

The show does pull the wishy-washy cheat of “the president is a Republican, but a ‘moderate’ Republican, which means we don’t actually see him take any positions in common with the current Republican party.” On the plus side, it uses real countries in its diplomatic intrigue plots, China and the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan (all with their own fictional diplomats and heads of state) instead of Qumar and San Lorenzo.

I’m in the middle of season 3 right now (so if anything terrible happens later on, don’t tell me).


Rizzoli and Isles

Cop drama, starring a detective and her BFF medical examiner. The one thing I knew going in was that they’re very shippable.

Good solid background TV, like Bones or Law & Order. The plots were fun to watch, if forgettable in the aftermath. It takes place in Boston, so I got a lot of “hey, I know that place/route/reference!” moments.

There’s a bit of ship-teasing in early seasons — contrived “we must pretend to be lesbians” moments, that sort of thing. It mostly fades away later. The canon romantic tension is all focused on unconvincing m/f — I don’t even remember any background same-sex couples — although I’m sure there were one or two involved in the case-of-the-week. At least it doesn’t eat the show.

And the series finale does end with our heroines going to Paris together for a month. As fanservice goes, they could’ve done a lot worse.


Angie Tribeca

Parody cop show. Created by Steve and Nancy Carell, and the series is saturated with their kind of humor. New joke every other line. It’s great.

The directing and staging and camera work and everything, parody-wise, is spot-on. I was alternating episodes of this with Rizzoli and Isles for a while, and sometimes I would be in the middle of a scene waiting for the next joke and realize, oh wait, this is the serious one.

I think most of the humor would still translate even if you’d never watched a police procedural. But if you do watch them, it’s a total must-see.


Lucifer

Also technically a cop show. The Devil got sick of working in Hell, so he did the logical thing and moved to LA, where he ends up using his evil-punishing skills to solve crimes. As you do.

Okay, you know the character type of the guy who’s really self-centered and socially clueless, often to the point of being mean or careless? And you’re supposed to think it’s forgivable — justified, even — because of how brilliant and talented he is, but mostly it’s annoying?

Lucifer takes that archetype and exaggerates it so far over-the-top that now it’s just funny. “It makes perfect sense now! This was all about me! Thank you, detective!” “Lucifer, wait, that’s not what I–” There are scenes where he gets run emotional circles around by eight-year-olds. It’s lovely.

He has a therapist, which is an inherently entertaining idea just to start with. For a while she was going along with the “metaphor” of his family drama being about angels and demons…then she complained she couldn’t keep track of it anymore, so Lucifer busted out some demonic proof, and she had this extremely understandable BSOD. (She got better.)

There’s romantic tension between him and his detective partner, which is not the unconvincing type of m/f, although Lucifer still hasn’t shown her the literal-Devil-proof, and at this point the reasons why are starting to get strained and contrived. As a character in her own right, she’s great. She has a daughter who’s also great, a perfect kid mix of oblivious and savvy. One of Lucifer’s friends is a demon who makes a delightfully weird bond with the kid — they go trick-or-treating together!

And all the mythology is very cool. Obviously the foundation is pop-culture Christianity with a touch of Paradise Lost, and it adds other layers, like the season-long arc with Lucifer’s mom: a creation-goddess and God’s ex-wife.

I’m mostly caught-up with currently-aired episodes, and looking forward to seeing where it goes next. (I haven’t read any of the comics it was based on. So, again — no spoilers.)