Thursday, November 24, 2022

'The Walking Dead' Series Finale: "Rest in Peace" – One Door Closes and Another Opens








 The Walking Dead series finale: "Rest in Peace" – one door closes and another opens in this episode. After 11 seasons/12 years of the zombie apocalypse that featured many characters that we came to know and love, it is the end but not really. Is it the perfect series finale? Far from it, but it seems much more grounded and acceptable than the series finale of Game of Thrones. While I watched every episode of both series over the years, I felt this finish was more satisfying overall.   

Spoilers

A grizzled Rick returns

Of course, in these days after the series finale broadcast, spoilers are all over the place. It is kind of hard to get around spoilers. So let's get them out of the way first. If you are wondering if Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) do show up, the answer is yes. We get a brief glimpse of them both in different places facing rather difficult situations. Rick's slight grin when staring down his opponents kind of reminded me of when the gang was stuck in the railcar in Terminus and Rick said they didn't know who they were dealing with. Got to love Rick's determination even when the chips are down. 

The Lost

Teddy Bear Girl was the first zombie

Over the years the reality is that you don't move through a zombie apocalypse without losing people. Remember Teddy Bear Girl? Played by Addy Miller, Rick sadly has to kill her once he sees that she is a zombie. One of the hardest ones was Carol's (Melissa McBride) daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz), and I still find seeing her as a zombie very disturbing. I knew then that TWD would go there. Not even kids are safe.  When Carl (Chandler Riggs) died they did it again, and that was a gut punch for sure. You have to give credit to TWD that absolutely no one was safe.

In the finale we lose Luke (Dan Fogler) in one of the most heartbreaking deaths of all as he has been torn apart, and bleeds out as his friends comfort him in a futile effort to keep him alive. We also get another gut punch when Rosita (Christian Serratos) dies peacefully with Eugene (Josh McDermitt) at her side. We can only imagine that Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) is waiting for her on the other side.

The Battle

The conflict basically turned around at the end of the previous episode. Tyrannical and corrupt Governor Milton (Laila Robins) shot Rick's daughter Judith (a terrific Cailey Fleming), in yet another case of a child endangered. This enabled everyone to see just how evil Milton was, giving her general Mercer (Michael James Shaw) the opening to get the troops to see the reality they needed to see. 

With a horde of walkers heading toward the Commonwealth, Milton ordered the civilian population to be expelled from the city. Putting them in between the walkers and locked gates.  Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) opens the gates to let the civilians back into the city despite the threat of being shot by the Commonwealth troopers. Milton orders the troops to shoot innocent people. When the troops actually realize what is happening, they are convinced finally by Daryl's (Norman Reedus) moving speech, and they stand down.

Maggie and Negan

Maggie and Negan talk it out.

While all this is going on, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) finally have that conversation. It seems a little awkward and Negan makes every effort to be totally honest about how he brutally killed Maggie's husband Glenn (Steven Yeun), and how sorry he is about what he did. It doesn't completely feel acceptable to us because the weight of that scene never goes away. For those who don't know what happened, Negan bashed Glenn's head in with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. You can't help but understand why Maggie  (who witnessed Glenn's death) can't completely get over what happened. She can't forgive Negan for what he did, but she realizes she has to stop hating him or they won't survive.

Survivors

Truthfully, I thought we were going to lose more people than we did. Judith survives her gunshot wound, and various stories get tied up, perhaps a little too neatly. One of the survivors I am happiest about is fan favorite Jerry (Cooper Andrews) who I always felt had been put in danger too many times. Even Eugene and Max (Margot Bingham) got their happy ending including a little baby. Eugene's arc went from sniveling coward to brave freedom fighter. 

Daryl and Carol say goodbye.

Daryl and Carol happily survive. Their goodbye scene is the best moment of the finale. It's honest, quiet, and true. There have been so many Carol and Daryl moments during this series, but this one marked the strongest one because they both admit their love for one another, but that love isn't keeping them together.

Carol has finally found her place. Instead of baking cookies as a smokescreen of domesticity to hide her warrior dark side, now Carol is all in on making a community work. She finds her bliss and that is the best way we can leave the character. 

Daryl is a rebel with a definite cause. After all, he's not just riding off into the sunset but has a spin-off waiting for him. Still, as Daryl gets on the motorcycle with the road stretching off behind him, I got serious Witness vibes. In that film Harrison Ford's Detective John Book stands in an Amish doorway to not just say goodbye to the woman he loves but a culture he cannot stay in. The road stretches out behind him, the path back to civilization. In many ways Daryl has similar objectives. 

The End?

Daryl on the road to his spin-off

Daryl's road leads to possible answers as to why the zombie apocalypse happened and if something can be done to stop it. As the screen fades to black it feels over, and then we get the scenes with Rick and Michonne. TWD is done, but the stories are still there and will go on. One door closes, and another one opens. 

There is nothing to say that any of the survivors won't pop into the Rick and Michonne spin-off or the Maggie and Negan spin-off. Let's not forget Fear the Walking Dead where the amazing Lennie James (Morgan) leads another group of survivors who have a connection with TWD. The possibilities are endless for crossovers of characters in those pending series and even other spin-offs. Anyone game for a Father Gabriel and Aaron (Ross Marquand) spin-off? I know I am.  

Verdict

The series finale could have been much worse than it was. I think some loose ends were tied up. There were a few people lost, Milton gets justice, and there are a number of happy endings, but Carol and Daryl didn't walk off into the sunset together. I wasn't expecting that because that would have been too perfect, giving many fans what they always wanted. 

It feels right having Daryl going off on his own, leaving Carol to find her peace. It feels more like real life. We don't always get what we want and, as Mick Jagger famously sang, "We get what we need." Sometimes that is all we can hope for. 

I'm going to miss this show and its many characters that I've been  following longer than I'd like to admit. Saying farewell wasn't so difficult here with those spin-offs coming, but it is certain that it will never be the same. 

TWD was a cultural juggernaut, made many actors famous, and gave us a story about what humans do when faced with the most dire circumstances. While it showed the worst of human nature like Milton, who proved the living were far more dangerous than the dead, it also showed how humanity can shine and care for one another. In the end, the resounding message TWD leaves us with is that humanity's intrinsic nature is good, giving hope to us all. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Is There Anybody Out There? NASA Says "No!" With a Caveat

 




Is there anybody out there? NASA says "No!" with a caveat: the so called extraterrestrials that we have thought about and sometimes worried about over the years probably destroyed themselves. The warning NASA is giving has resonance for the human race. We too may be on a path that will make it impossible to one day be the aliens visiting other worlds, and will have to look in the mirror for who caused it.

EXISTENTIAL DISASTER

In "Avoiding the 'Great Filter': Extraterrestrial Life and Humanity’s Future in the Universe," a paper written by NASA scientists, we are warned "that an existential disaster may lay in wait as our society advances exponentially towards space exploration, acting as the Great Filter: a phenomenon that wipes out civilizations before they can encounter each other, which may explain the cosmic silence." In other words, advanced societies on other worlds probably destroyed themselves before they could reach the stage of developing the ability to travel to other solar systems.

TELLING STORIES

As long humans have lived, they have told stories. Sitting around campfires in caves, ancient humans shared details about the day's hunt or food found through foraging. They probably added details to spice things up, making the lion or tiger twice as big as it really was (the start of creative non-fiction?). As civilizations advanced, they turned their imaginations to the skies, and they invented tales of gods and goddesses connected to the heavenly bodies they could see. 

Once words were on a page, writers started telling more complex tales about space, and the strange new worlds inhabited by creatures of all sorts. My father's generation grew up watching Flash Gordon, and my generation has to thank Gene Roddenberry for Star Trek and George Lucas for Star Wars, stoking our imaginations with fantastic creatures of all kinds that could be found far from home and even a galaxy far, far away. How truly sad if real versions of our fictitious alien friends snuffed themselves out before their time came to visit us.

Aliens that we never met because they may have been lost in The Great Filter

STARK REALITY

These NASA guys are really party poopers. They warn that this "Great Filter has the potential to eradicate life as we know it, especially as our rate of progress correlates directly to the severity of our fall." So is someone like Elon Musk, with his Space X ships and Martian dreams, only hastening us to our doom? Will our advancing technology be what eradicates us in a way that will send us back to the Stone Age or even worse?

GREATEST THREATS

There are great threats to our survival at this point in time. If pollution, overpopulation, and global warming don't wipe us out, there is always the threat of nuclear annihilation looming over us. Those kids who were taught to hide under their desks and find fallout shelters in the 1950s and 60s are now grandparents who are worried about the truth that they were never told.

Wars where the sides are using conventional weaponry are bad enough for the human race, but when one side ups the ante and suggests the use of nuclear weapons of any kind (as if tactical nukes are supposed to make us breathe a sigh of relief), there is the threat of the end of times. This is what NASA means by the Great Filter; we get too big for our britches and think we're indestructible, thus causing our destruction. 

We are a Type 0 Civilization as we approach The Great Filter. One possible Type II Civilization is depicted ahead of us.

HOPE

Thankfully, the paper is not all doom and gloom. The writers suggest that we have reached a time that "indicates a necessary period of introspection, followed by appropriate refinements to properly approach our predicament." If we all forget showing off how big our big britches are and sit our butts down and work something out to avoid catastrophe, "we may be able to mitigate risk to mankind and the nearly 9 million other species on Earth." 

WE HAVE TO WANT IT

John Lennon famously sang, "War is over, if you want it." Enough of us have to want it; we need to fight for peace, or things are not going to go well for us. We have other battles too, fighting hunger, pollution, and other threats to our environment. This should encourage every human being to be concerned enough to do something about it.

Humankind has to rise to the challenge and save ourselves; otherwise, we are going to get sucked into that Great Filter like particles of dust into a vacuum cleaner. Everything we ever were: all our accomplishments in science, in medicine; all of our music and literature and art; all our history from the cave to moon to the grave, will be erased from time. In the nothingness and vastness of space, it will be as if we never existed, just like our alien friends that we never got a chance to meet because of their own ignorance and stupidity.

WE CAN SURVIVE

I'd like to think we will "give peace a chance," as John Lennon sang, or utter "May the Force be with you," as the Star Wars Jedi used to say, but even that didn't save most of them. Perhaps, we can invoke Star Trek's Mr. Spock's words, "Live long and prosper." Our children, grandchildren, and all future generations are depending on us. Now let's want to survive; let's do more than enough; let's do something to save ourselves; if we do nothing, we will only have ourselves to blame.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Book Review: 'In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All' Is a Self-help Book for the Soul

 




In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All is a self-help book for the soul. Author Eckhart Aurelius Hughes has achieved something here that reminds me of the great philosophers, yet there is a spiritual side of it that is not exactly religious but still feels sacred. As I continued reading, I kept thinking that I wish I found and read this book 30 years ago. Alas, it was not yet written, but my younger self would have greatly benefited from reading it. 


Author Eckhart Aurelius Hughes


SELF-HEAL BOOK

Perhaps calling this a self-help book does it a disservice in a sense. It is much more than that. I found it to be more of a self-heal book. All the people in the world, including those who know and love you, cannot make you whole. Hughes brings the reader along – gently by the hand – and gets us to look in the mirror. Only what he calls the real you can make you whole.

THE TWO YOUS

Many of us have different sides to our lives, personas that come forth in time of need. We certainly don't talk to the boss the way we talk with our friends, and we don't talk with our children the way we talk with our colleagues. This is all a given, but Hughes is having none of that. Instead, he proposes that there are two of you - the two yous. He writes, "One you is your consciousness, or soul. The other is your false self, your ego, or your body." He calls this "the primitive self."

What Hughes proposes rings true for me in my life. I understand the consciousness as an almost separate entity from the self that hungers, wanders, and is like the monster that mocks the meat it feeds upon as Shakespeare noted. The conscious you is on a higher plane, but seemingly at odds with its primitive self down on the lower plane.

THE HORROR SHOW

What is happening in today's world seems like a great many people are on that lower plane. With wars, people starving, leaders taking us toward chaos, climate change, the nuclear threat, horrific storms, and earthquakes, there is no way to feel at ease or to be truly at peace. Hughes notes this saliently. He asks us to imagine ourselves as an alien "orbiting the Earth watching this horror show." It's not hard to imagine any reason why no aliens have made themselves known to us. As soon as they see what's going on down here, they quickly zip away back into cold, silent tranquility of space.

GLUTTONY THAT KILLS

Hughes reminds us of more horror on this third rock from the sun. He notes, "Nearly 3 million people die every year of obesity" which means "800 human beings per day" while "thousands of innocent children starving to death is considered a preventable problem." The dichotomy is stunning, and I don't know if finding a way to help people not become obese will mean anything to finding a way to feed starving children, but it would certainly prevent consumption of excess food that could be used elsewhere. In this equation not caring for one group doesn't do anything to help the group that we supposedly care about but who are still dying. 

HUMPTY DUMPTY

Even just saying the words "Humpty Dumpty" usually conjures an image in the mind. We see a nattily dressed egg lounging on a wall before his great fall. Hughes doesn't care about that fall the way we did as children hearing the nursery rhyme. We were quite upset with all the king's horses and men for their inability to fix Humpty, but Hughes claims that is unnecessary. He writes, "The trick to putting Humpty together again is to realize he never was his shell." The essence of Humpty, his real you if you will, didn't die in that fall, just as our real you will not die when our earthly "meatsuits" perish. It's not religion here, but something sacred all the same. Scott believes, "To accept death as much as birth is liberating." After reading this book, I totally agree.

LOVE

Hughes' concept of love is beautiful, even poetic, one akin to Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 in a way. With the beautiful lover being compared to a summer's day, the speaker tells his love that she will never be in Death's shade because of this poem. "So long lives this, and this give life to thee." While the lover is forever known due to the poet, Hughes concept of love is similar in that the real you is not dependent on the "primitive self" or body. Just like Humpty not being his shell, we are free from our bodies as well. 

I think his version of love, true love, is fascinatingly hopeful. "True love is not sacrificing your happiness for another; true love is being happy to sacrifice." When you think about it, we all sacrifice for others. Parents most notably sacrifice for their children on a daily basis, not thinking twice about it. Sacrifice is a part of true love we rarely think about, but when I discovered this as a truth about love, I felt I understood it better. 

Hughes writes, "Love others as they are, unconditionally." Another truth worth living by, following the path as it occurs rather than trying to change it as we go. Accepting a person as they are and not as we want them to be is probably the greatest love of all. 

A NEW OUTLOOK

If you want a new outlook on life, read this book. If you want to forget the past or fear the future, Hughes will have you forgetting those things and concentrating on yourself in the present. This is a healing philosophy espoused lovingly by an author who ends his book by telling his readers "I love you." Love is everything and without it there is nothing. Hughes' words transcend the pages they appear on, rise through your eyes into your mind, and you can't help but view the world differently after reading this book. I highly recommend adding it to your reading list. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

9-11 Memorial Ceremony at Ground Zero – It Must Continue to Be Held Every Year






The 9-11 Memorial Ceremony at Ground Zero must continue to be held every year. As I watched the ceremony this morning, the reason was more salient than ever. This year there were increasing numbers of young people reading the names of those lost. They are so young – many of whom were not even born when the terrorist attacks took place – and are heartbreaking reminders that the ceremony remains a solemn and sacred link connecting those who died to their families and to the world.

We are unable to forget those lost.

There is something about saying the names of those who died for all to hear that confirms that those lost existed and had lives that mattered to those who loved and knew them. It also reminds the world of their devastating loss as it takes hours to read all of them, emphasizing the enormity of the number of those murdered on that horrific day.

Many of the speakers reading the names are young, and while it makes me cry it also makes me smile because a new generation of people are being reminded about what happened that day. This "reading of the names" is crucial for them because it connects loved ones they never met but know about because of accounts told as part of family history. It makes it all real for them in a way that stories, pictures, and videos cannot.

So many of the younger readers say something like: "Although I've never met you...." or "I was only a baby when you died..." In their youthful voices there is a sense that the tragedy of the day will never be forgotten, that because of them generations to come will still know about what happened on September 11, 2001, and how it impacted not only the families and friends of those lost but our city, our country, and the world.

This is why the Ground Zero Memorial Ceremony must be held every year for perpetuity. It cannot slip into the ether like December 7, 1941, when the United States was forced to confront what was happening in the world with the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Sadly, each year I rarely hear a word about that "day of infamy" as President Franklin D. Roosevelt labeled it. How could it be that the day when so many Americans were slaughtered in an unprovoked attack is not even mentioned? Now it seems to be an event that is mostly forgotten. 

The grief is everlasting.


 My children always talk about Uncle Steve, a firefighter who died when the South Tower came down. We have kept his memory alive all these years by talking about him, sharing photos, seeing him in the video at our wedding, and watching the ceremony every year. They always say that they never met their uncle but feel like they know him. For my kids and all the friends and relatives of all those innocent victims who died that day, they need this day more each year not less. My sister goes over to the ceremony every year, and it never gets easier, but in a way that's the whole point.

Every one of those names read are connected to people who had careers, hobbies, and friends and family that still miss them. The 911 Memorial Ceremony at Ground Zero gives a tangible way to honor those lost, many of whom don't have graves to visit. They can come at other times to grieve, but on this day we grieve with the world. By passing on this aching loss to the next generation and then on to the next and the next will not only honor those lost but also keep the flame of their memory alive forevermore.  

   

Monday, September 5, 2022

Labor Day – A Time to Pause and Reflect

 



Labor Day is a time to pause and reflect. Ah, Labor Day! At the confluence of summer and fall, it comes at a time when the baseball season is winding down and the football season is beginning. School is starting (for some it started last week) and summer vacations are ending. It is a day kids dread and teachers love (it makes the first week back to school a shorter one). But it is also a day to honor workers of all kinds: those who do the heavy lifting, those who do the heavy thinking, and those first responders who have to work this day and all holidays because they are needed at all times.

REMEMBERING LABOR DAYS OF MY YOUTH

I recall Labor Days of my youth with dread. Mom would have it circled on the calendar and a line drawn across the days after it that week with the words "Back to School" in big letters written across them. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound! Yet, she always said that she hated when we went back to school because she missed us being home. I have to say that I feel the same way about my kids going back to school. 

THE WORST OF TIMES AND THE BEST OF TIMES

Yes, Labor Day comes at the worst of times and the best times. While our endless summer turns out to indeed have an ending, the beautiful fall season is coming to us with its wondrous colors and aromas of wood burning fireplaces in the brisk air. As leaves and acorns fall and squirrels dash madly to prepare their stock for the winter, we weave in and out of swirling leaves and and make our way to school or work with a little extra zip to our steps.

THE QUIET SIBLING

Labor Day is the quiet one compared to its more celebrated siblings Memorial Day with its big parades (and also seen as the unofficial start of summer) and the rambunctious Fourth of July. But, as the quiet sibling (and unofficial last day of summer), Labor Day has resonance in that we celebrate workers who make our world run. If someone is working today and you encounter them, give them an extra smile (or a better tip if the situations applies) that will show you appreciate their working on a day that many people have off.

ALL WORK IS VALUABLE

All work is valuable and should be respected. Sometimes I don't see that in stores and restaurants. Some customers disregard the importance of the workers making their coffee, handing them their sandwiches, or mopping the floor at the mall. All jobs add to society in positive ways, and that is why workers are celebrated this Labor Day and every year on this day. But we should remember that workers should be honored and respected everyday of the year. 

A TIME TO REFLECT

So, at this time, let's pause and reflect about what workers have done for us in the past year. We should also think about our own work this year. How do we contribute to society? If it applies, how can we do an even better job in the next year? If you are retired, think back on your career and remember how you did your part by going to work every day.

Happy Labor Day to you all! If you are indeed working today, I hope that at some point that you will be able to enjoy the fruit of your labor! You deserve it!

 

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

TV Review: 'Stranger Things Season 4 Part 2 – The Stakes Have Never Been Higher!





Stranger Things season 4 part 2 feels like the stakes have never been higher. Netflix has given Ross and Matt Duffer creative license and proper budget to deliver an amazingly well crafted piece of horror. The Duffer brothers also have given the fans respect in terms of not just giving them what they want to see but what they need to experience. 


What follows is an attempt to give an overview without revealing any major spoilers, but there will be a few mild ones along the way.


The Higher Stakes


If you’ve been around for the ride since 2016, you know that in the beginning the drama and conflict centered on the tiny fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. Antagonists came into the town, and the action took place there. 


This season split the narrative, finding some of our protagonists in different states and even on a different continent. It expands the ST world in a variety of ways, but also makes us understand that what happens in, around, and under Hawkins is not an isolated threat – it will affect the entire world. 


Who is the Real Monster: Vecna or Papa?


(Mild spoiler number one) Papa/Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) survived season one somehow (hey, it makes more sense than Palpatine in ROS, but that’s another story) and is back to zap and test and push Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown) to find her full potential. Along with Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser), they understand the threat of Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) and that El is probably the only one able to stop him.


The question that El asks is who is actually the real monster (reminiscent of the Quasimodo/Frollo dynamic in Disney’s animated classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame). In the cartoon the answer was very clear who the monster was, but here the lines are blurred. Papa claims to love El and all his young charges, but also pushes them far beyond acceptable limits and punishes them physically when they fail him.


Vecna (mild spoiler number two) is a monster created in the lab where Papa does his work. Do you blame the monster for its crimes or its creator? Especially in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece Frankenstein, it seems pretty much understood what the answer is, but there are more complications here including El’s part in Vecna’s rise.


The Plot Indeed Thickens


The battle against evil that resides in the Upsidedown – an exact replica of Hawkins in a world below it – becomes one that is far flung. On the west coast Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Jonathan’s bud Argyle (the hilarious Eduardo Franco) are trying to find El, who has been taken by government agents. 


In Hawkins our core group of Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), Max (Sadie Sink), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and his sister Erica (Priha Ferguson) are taking the battle against Vecna in Hawkins. 

At first it seems odd not to have the whole gang working together as always, but when you get to the end of the series all the pieces come into place and make sense. 


Across the ocean in the snowy landscape of a brutal Russian prison, (mild spoiler number three) Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is about to come face to face with a Demogorgon (the monster from season one) and realizes that the threat is not just contained to Hawkins. 


Joyce (Winona Ryder) and Murray (Brett Gelman) are coming to try to rescue Hopp from the prison, but they are sidetracked by a double crossing contact named Yuri (Nikola Djuriko), so their plans to save Hopp must first involve saving themselves. 


Powerful Performances


Millie Bobby Brown has always been convincing as El, but this season she has blossomed into a powerhouse presence. Her range of emotions and ability to inhabit her character are most impressive. The series revolves around El, and Brown just hits a homer in every scene.



Sadie Sink’s Max Mayfield has had a rough season, and Sink’s seemingly innate intuition on how to play Max’s as hardened to the cruelties of the world yet at the same time being completely vulnerable is astounding. Sink is able to be convincing when confronting Vecna’s evil face-to face, pulling off scenes where she is enveloped in fear but reverts to her inner strength to somehow fight back.   


Other Notable Performances


Ryder’s Joyce, Harbour’s Hopper, and McLaughlin’s Lucas all stood out this season in pivotal moments. Each rose to the occasion to embolden their characters with believable resonance as they had to fight back like never before. While their work has been strong in previous seasons, it seems like this was their time to shine, and they certainly gave megawatt performances. 


Comic Relief


Besides the aforementioned Argyle, we get a break from the tension from Murray and Erica. Anytime either of these characters are in a scene, you know there is an unmistakable threat of stealing it. Murray’s comedy is broad and almost slapstick, like saying he knows karate and then amusingly proving it to a character the hard way.


Erica’s comic strength is she is like 13 going on 30, a humorous bulldozer that seems unstoppable. Her sassy way is disarming even for adults, and she holds her own in a fight as well. If there ever is a spin-off (as there are rumors of it), my vote goes to Erica as being along for the ride. 


Pathos and Logos


The Duffer brothers clearly know their audience and wisely chose to write and direct episodes eight and nine. They packed these four hours with emotional moments, having enough time luckily for these already developed characters to grow. The opportunities to explore the dynamics of the relationships between Joyce/Hopp, Nancy/Steve, Nancy/Jonathan, Lucas/Max, Will/Mike, Will/Jonathan, El/Papa, and El/Mike are welcome. Even minor characters get a chance to be in the spotlight for however briefly they are around.


We logically know the series has to end in season five, but it’s how we get to that ending that is the key. The Duffers raise the stakes and allow the important players to take their shot in matching the challenge. There are so many ways season five can go, but based on this season it seems the last one will be the biggest and most eventful of them all. 


That Guitar Solo


(Mild spoiler number four) When Eddie Munson (newcomer Joseph Quinn) climbs on top of his trailer in the Upsidedown and plays Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” it is like one of the most badass moments of the series. With his long hair and a slight resemblance to guitar god Eddie Van Halen, Eddie is shredding away in an attempt to save Dustin’s and the rest of the group's lives. Members of the band say that they were honored by Eddie’s (Quinn’s) performance.   


The Verdict


Season 4 part 2 of Stranger Things reveals the journey of our heroes and the villains they take up arms against. This storytelling triptych was a thing of beauty and wonder, of despair and even (mild spoiler number five) death. We are left with a big question mark and a tantalizing final scene that will let you know that season five is going to be a roller coaster ride but one that will be an awesome ending for this series.

     






Thursday, June 23, 2022

TV Review: ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ – The Force is Strong with This One!



TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi the Force is strong with this one! The idea that Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen are back in the roles of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader gives me goosebumps. As we see in this series, their bond as Jedi brothers is stronger than either one of them would be willing to admit, but there is also the notion that there are worse things than death, and both Obi-Wan and Anakin find this out the hard way.


The Director Brings It All Together


The six episodes of this limited series are all directed by Deborah Chow, and having that same guiding hand to steer the ship all the way seems like one of the smartest choices Disney has made in a long time. Chow and the writers’ obvious reverence for the prequel trilogy and original trilogy bring huge rewards here. And while the story may not start out where you want Obi-Wan to be, the truth is he is where he has to be for everything to make sense. 


Obi-Wan Becomes “Ben”


When we witness Obi-Wan working as a laborer in a meat factory on Tatooine, it seems disappointing to say the least. While it’s not exciting, it makes sense that he now goes by the name of “Ben” and wants to be as inconspicuous as possible. After trying to leave a toy for young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely) at the moisture farm and being stopped by Luke’s Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton), Ben is then confronted in town by Owen and told to stay away from Luke. 


The Empire Is Striking Back!


At this time there is a surprise arrival of an Imperial ship, and soon the Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend), the Fifth Brother (Sung Kang) and the Third Sister/Reva (an impressive Moses Ingram) enter town looking for Jedi (most in the audience will recognize the characters from the animated series Star Wars Rebels)..When questioned if he knows of any Jedi in a fiery interrogation by Reva, Owen says that he does not. A warning is dispatched to everyone in town that Jedi must be turned in or their lives will be in jeopardy.


Ben goes back to the cave where he lives, and we see the desperate circumstances of his living arrangements. He has fallen away from the Force in order to totally be unknown, and has done such a good job that he has forgotten in some ways who he was. When he tries to connect with his old master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), he cannot even muster an ounce of his old power. It is disturbing to see him so low, but circumstances will soon thrust him into a situation where he must regain his powers. 


The Precocious Princess


Unexpectedly, the scene shifts to the planet Alderaan, where we encounter ten-year-old Princess Leia (a precocious but adorable Vivien Lyra Blair) who is causing trouble in her palace for family and cousins who taunt her about being adopted. Her father, Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), tries to talk sense to her and warns her about going out alone. Of course, as the daughter of headstrong Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), Leia is not going to be kept inside for too long.


Unfortunately, on one of her rebellious walks in the woods with her little pet droid Lola, Leia is abducted by Vect Nokru (Flea) and his gang. They have been hired by Reva because she discovers Kenobi’s connection with Senator Organa. Reva believes that Obi-Wan will learn of her abduction and come out of hiding to save Leia. Reva is doing this because she knows that Kenobi is the Jedi Darth Vader wants to find more than any other, and Reva will do anything to score points with him. 


Ben Is Shaken By His Failure


When going through town after work, Ben sees Nari (Benny Safdie), a young Jedi who asked for his help, hanging in the town center. Ben was afraid to help him, and now feels guilty about the young man’s death. When he gets back to his cave, Ben gets a message from old friend Bail Organa asking for his help. Leia has been kidnapped, but Ben refuses at first, saying that he cannot leave Luke to do this.


A Cry for Help from an Old Friend


When Bail comes to see him and personally asks Ben for help, the senator explains that Leia is just as important as Luke. Ben agrees to go after her and bring her back home. After Bail leaves, Ben goes out into the desert and digs up his lightsaber from Tatooine’s sands. This is the planet where Anakin was born, and he hated sand, so there seems to be some sort of resonance with the burial of a lightsaber and the end of a Jedi’s life. For all intents and purposes, Obi-Wan has been "dead" these last ten years and now, as Ben retrieves his lightsaber, Ben becomes Obi-Wan again, but that doesn’t mean the road he must travel will be an easy one. 



Anakin’s and Obi-Wan’s Fate Worse than Death 


In episode two we get to see Anakin floating in a bacta tank. As mentioned earlier, there are some things worse than death, and for Anakin it is this constant pain and suffering that fuels his anger and desire for revenge. Obi-Wan left Anakin for dead after their battle on the lava planet Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, and now these daily bacta baths are reminders of what Obi-Wan did to Anakin. Anakin has lost everything his father figure (Qui-Gon), his mother Shmi (Pernilla August), his brother Obi-Wan, his wife Padme, and their unborn child. The only thing left for him is a lust for revenge to quench the fire of pain in his life. 


Obi-Wan too has lost everything. The Jedi Order that meant everything to him is in shambles. The rising Empire is killing who is left of his kind, and he has lost his connection to the Force. He lives in a cave and has a terrible job, and he cannot even connect with the last family member he has left Luke Skywalker. His mission to go save Leia has another purpose it is probably his last chance to save himself. 


A Love Letter to Star Wars Fans


Obi Wan Kenobi is a love letter to the fans, and Deborah Chow should be worshiped by fans for her adherence to the story without all the deviations that occurred in the sequel trilogy. McGregor should be praised by his powerful, nuanced portrayal of the one of the most beloved characters. It is obvious with every word uttered, every facial reaction, and his at first choppy handling of the lightsaber to his return to slick form, that McGregor was 100% invested in this role, and the results are apparent on screen 


The music is a phenomenal combination of Natalie Holt’s original score including the theme and classic John Williams compositions that will definitely get your heart beating, especially when you see Vader sitting on his throne.    


I highly recommend Obi-Wan Kenobi. All six episodes are now streaming on Disney+. Grab a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the ride, and may the Force be with you!!