Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance episode 10

Episode 10: A Single Piece Was Lost

Obligatory Plot Summary: An explosion shakes Stone-in-the-Wood, startling Rian. Deet, it turns out, is making smoke bombs that are mostly harmless but she hopes they'll confuse and distract the Skeksis. There's another almost-romantic moment between Deet and Rian, but Deet's eyes glow, reminding the viewer that's she's got the corrupting Darkening inside of her. Various Gelfling groups begin arriving at Stone-in-the-Wood to face off against the coming Skeksis attack. Back at the Castle of the Crystal, the Chamberlain reneges on his promise to free the Gruenacks. The Gruenacks, realizing they'll never be freed, find and pocket an Arathim stinger (at least, that's what I think it is) from the Scientist's lab. The Emperor goes to the pit where the Darkening is, and draws is into his staff to use as a weapon. As the Skeksis march off to war, the Scientist is left behind. Angry at not getting a chance to win glory, the Scientist plays a game of make-believe, pretending he's the Emperor and terrorizing the Podling slaves. About this time Hunter wakes up from being mostly dead. After the Podlings flee in terror, Hunter derides the Scientist as a coward and races off to join the battle. The Gruenacks cut their bindings and rebel against the Scientist. The fight is jarringly brutal, with the Scientist throwing one into the Crystal pit and bludgeoning the other to death. At Stone-in-the-Wood, Rian challenges the Emperor to single combat. The General fights in the Emperor's place, and after briefly overwheming Rian with his superior size and strength, the General finds himself on the receiving end with nimble Rian manages to stab him with the Dual Glaive. The General's life force flows into the Glaive. The General's about to die, when Rian declares out of the blue, "I am no killer" and spared the General. War then breaks out. The female Gelflings fly in, dropping smoke bombs (which don't smoke all that much but make big explosions). The Skeksis' battle armor, however, has knife and axe catapults built into it, and Maudra Fara takes a fatal wound after pushing Seladon out of the way. Fara's fizgig wails in despair. Away from the battle, the Chamberlain finds the wounded General hiding. The General asks his friend for help, but the Chamberlain kills him instead, saying "You took my seat on the council." About this time, Hunter shows up, grabs Rian and destroys the Dual Glaive with his bare hands. About this time, on the other side of Thra at the Circle of the Suns, Archer revives, says "The hunt must end" and throws himself off the cliff to his death below, simultaneously ending Hunter's life as well. As Hunter dies, Aughra is reborn from his ashes. All the other Gelfling clans arrive then, and the Skeksis, as powerful as they are, have already lost their two strongest warriors and are doomed. The Emperor, however, unleashes the Darkening from his staff like he's impersonating the Emperor from Star Wars. He attacks the Gelflings with the nasty purple stuff, but Deet steps up and says, "I've seen that movie, too. Here's my Yoda impression!" She catches the Darkening Lightning, takes it into herself then throws it back at the Skeksis. The Collector's head explodes in a gooey, gross mess. The Skeksis flee. Gelflings celebrate. They find a single crystal shard in the pommel of the ruined Dual Glaive and realize it's from the cracked Crystal of Truth, and the shard is actually their hope against the Skeksis, not the Glaive. Deet flees Rian and the other Gleflings, the corruption of the Darkening radiating out from her as she runs. Back at the Circle of the Suns, Hup mourns the loss of Archer, but--with neither the Heretic nor the Wanderer to be seen--finds the amulet that controls the stone golem Lore. And at the Castle of the Crystal, the defeated Skeksis arrive in a state of near panic until the Scientist reveals his latest creation--the giant, insectoid Garthin, and undead construct stitched together from Arathim and Gruenack parts. The end.

Musings: Holy hell, this episode pissed me off so much. Not because it's terrible. No, there were parts that were great. But the parts that sucked, ye gods, they sucked so badly they undermined everything that was good. The core problem is that the show lost its nerve. I don't know if it was producer Lisa Henson or director Louis Leterrier or screenwriters Jeffrey Addiss & Will Matthews, but the worst moments came when the show jarringly pulled back from being a serious show about a people facing genocide to being a safe, kid-friendly puppet show. When Rian, abruptly announces his refusal to kill the General, it defied all logic. The Skeksis had slaughtered hundreds of Gelflings, and had boldly announced they would continue to do so. They'd lied. They'd corrupted Gelfling society. They'd betrayed everyone and everything who'd ever trusted them. They killed his father, Ordon, and his lover, Mira. They freaking drained Aughra, essentially the avatar of Thra itself. Rian had challenged the Skeksis to war, then the Emperor to single combat. For him to suddenly decide killing is beneath him is a weird morality lesson that may be okay for comic book super-heroes but not Gelfling when the alternative is genocide and extinction. It. Makes. Zero. Sense. What does he think will happen next? The Skeksis say "My bad" and play nice from here on out? Another example of the Gelflings playing at war but not fighting to survive were the embarrasing "smoke bombs." They neither exploded enough to injure Skeksis nor smoked enough to have any appreciable impact on the battle. After setting up the Gelflings to be in a fight for survival the previous nine episodes--where Seladon has been shown as ready and willing to kill and sacrifice innocent Gelflings just to hang on to her illusion of power--the sudden shift to the idea that Gelflings are kind and gentle and do not kill is utter bullshit. They've shown themselves more than willing to slaughter Arathim, for crying out loud! That's not just bad writing, it's insulting writing. The Skeksis lost three of their number during the battle with the Gelfings, and up to that point had been viewed as godlike and immortal. Instead of celebrating, the Gelflings and their Arathim allies should've swarmed the Emperor and his party and strung them all up, then marched on the Castle of the Crystal, killed the Scientist and his single Garthim, then restored the Crystal. In any sane, logical universe this would've happened. Oh, sure for the sake of continuing the series such an action needs to fail--I understand that. But right now, it's happening because the Gelflings are being idiots, and the narrative only progresses because it's an idiot plot. Also, from a dramatic point of view, bringing Aughra back the episode immediately following her apparent death just diminishes that earlier sacrifice. You've got to sell the death, and make the viewer believe this timeline really is diverging from that of the movie, so when Aughra returns, it's a dramatic, mind-blowing moment. You don't hit the reset button at the end of Infinity War. You hit it to start the finale of Endgame, the payoff to an epic amount of struggle and sacrifice to reach that point. That's a worthy payoff, not Aughra coming back through no action of her's or the Gelflings', but rather a character who's been offstage for 95 percent of this series.

You know, I really like this series in many ways, but I hate it just as passionately because the lazy, bad, poorly-thought-out moments betray those good ones. The plot relies on coincidence and deus ex machina way too much, and for all the creativity and imagination on display, there are equal measures of Hollywood cliche at work as well. I sincerely hope this series gets renewed by Netflix for a second season, but for the love of Pete, I hope they invest as much effort in the scripts as they have in the amazing puppetry on display. The Henson Company is better than this--the showed that much with Farscape back in the day. I'm just ready for them to prove their storytelling chops can match their ability to produce glorious eye candy.

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Monday, February 17, 2020

What's Jayme drinking?

It may not seem like it, but I am a relatively latecomer to mixed drinks. Seriously. From college on, I mostly drank beer. Then I got into homebrew. When The Wife and I got married, we started exploring wine, because that's what grown-up do, right? Until I discovered tiki a few years back, I thought rum and Coke was a pretty swanky cocktail. That just shows how backward my thinking was.

That said, I did have a close encounter with mixed drinks way back in 1988, the fall of my freshman year at college. My roommate at the time was really into motorsports. He was in the car club at Texas A&M, and at some point that year, he participated in a road rally from College Station to Conroe, and invited me along to serve as his navigator. Needless to say, we ended up lost and arrived at the lakehouse hours after we were supposed to arrive. But that's neither here nor there. The important thing is, we did not miss the party. During the party, one of the upperclassmen was passing out shooters. But not just any shooter--it was this amazing, layered thing he called a "Jellyfish" that simply blew my young mind. It was a layered drink, not unlike the pousse cafe (although it'd be decades before I knew what a pousse cafe was) and my callow self was amazed that such a thing was even possible. It made an impression, obviously. With the dawn of the internet era, I would go online looking for the recipe every few years only to come up empty. Empty, that is, until a few months ago. Bingo! The Jellyfish shooter had made its way onto the interwebz!

Last year, I discovered the Home Bar Awards on Instagram, and have had a bit of fun entering ever since. The first challenge of 2020 was "What The G*rnish?" Absurd cocktail garnishes were the rule, the more outlandish, the better. Naturally, my cocktail had to match, so I set the Wayback Machine to the 1980s to recreate that first layered cocktail I ever experienced. The only trouble was, it was an 80s drink. Much like that decade, it emphasized style over substance. The ingredients list is grim: the Jellyfish is cloyingly sweet, making this one equal parts amazing and awful. But mostly awful.

Here's the thing about layered cocktails that demystifies them--it's all about density. The densest of the liquors goes in first, then lighter ones are added, finishing up with the lightest. In practice, "density" equates to sugar content, so the sweetest goes in first. Maddeningly, the creme de cacao I had is one of the lest sweet versions of this liqueur available (although it was still pretty sweet) so my initial attempts ended in a murky mess. I actually had to add sugar to the first layer before I was able to make it layer properly. By the time I finally got a decent photo, I was thoroughly sick of this one!

...

THE JELLYFISH (shooter)
1 oz. White creme de cacao
.5 oz. Amaretto
.5 oz. Irish cream
Grenadine

Pour creme de cacao into a tall shooter glass. Carefully layer amaretto, then Irish cream over the creme de cacao by slowly pouring over an inverted spoon. Finally, add 5-6 drops of grenadine. The grenadine will rapidly sink to the bottom, pulling "tendrils" along behind it. Garnish with aquarium plants, fake stone shrines, aquarium gravel and a life-sized silicone jellyfish.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

It's fashionable in tiki circles to hate on Jimmy Buffett, and I can sympathize. His "brand" has gotten way too commercial, and the few times I've visited a Margaritaville location, I found them to be crass and noisy and couldn't leave fast enough. To make matters worse, they present a bastardized interpretation of tiki that begins and ends with thatch and drunkeness. That said, I'm a fan of Jimmy Buffett. I don't count myself as a Parrothead, however, but am rather more of a Church of Buffett, Orthodox type. I find his early songwriting fascinating, before he started writing every album specifically for that group of fans who demand to hear "Margaritaville" on constant replay. Case in point: "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season" which is a masterful vignette that is a deft exercise in evocative scene-setting that conveys character, emotion and environment through the use of spare, precise language. The detail puts me there, on that beach. I smell, see, hear and feel everything that's happening, even though much of the detail in the song is merely implied. Amazingly, nothing much happens in this song--it's an interstitial, taking place between the bender the night before, and the storm yet to come. That he could so effectively make something out of nothing is a testament to his songwriting skills of the era.

So yeah, I'm sick of winter already. Bring on summer!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Huey Lewis and the News.

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Friday, February 07, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I recently read an article about Huey Lewis' struggle with the poorly-understood Meniere's Disease, and it got me thinking about how Huey Lewis & the News so dominated the airwaves in the mid- to late-80s. They were so popular, they could do the strangest concept videos and nobody blinked an eye. Case in point: "Doing It All For My Baby" off the album Fore! I didn't like this one as much as Sports, although it was a massive hit. Still, there are a handful of songs on this album I like, and "All For My Baby" is one of them.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2020

The Dark Crystal: Age of Restistance episode 9

Episode 9: The Crystal Calls

Obligatory Plot Summary: Having escaped the Darkening-tainted caves of Grot, Rian is about to go back in to search for the Dual Glaive when the Grottan Maudra Fara reveals that she's had half of it all along, disguised as a walking stick. Maudra Fara then mind melds... er, Dreamfasts with Rian, showing him that his father, Ordon, took up the Dual Glaive during the Arathim during the battle of Stone-In-The-Wood years before. After emerging victorious, Ordon separated the glaive into its parts, giving one to Maudra Fara for safekeeping, and hiding the other in the weapons forge at Stone-In-The-Wood. Rian and Deet head off on a landstrider to retrieve the other half of the magic sword. Back at the Castle of the Crystal, the Skeksis have Seladon and Brea and other Gelflings are prepped to be drained of their essence when Aughra arrives. After squabbling with the Skeksis, she makes a deal with the Emperor--if the Gelflings are freed, she will allow herself to be drained so that Hunter may be brought back from the bring of death. The Emperor agrees, but orders the General to kill the freed Gelflings before they can escape the castle. As the Gelflings are leaving, Arathim-possessed Tavra confides in her sisters that the Arathim and Gelflings have allied against the Skeksis, and the trade is Aughra's plan. The General and Collector ambush the Gelflings, but Tavra stabs him with her sword, giving him a grave wound as a Spitter surprises the Collector with a burst of venom to her face. Tavra pursues the General as the other Gelfling escape, but is attacked by the Chamberlain before she can finish the General off. The General expects Chamberlain to kill him, but instead the Chamberlain gives him Gelfling essence, healing his wound and saving his life. Aughra mocks the Skeksis as she is drained, saying she will return to Thra when she dies, but they will be nothing but dust. Aughra dissipates in a burst of light as she is drained, and the Skeksis give her essence to Hunter. Hunter trembles but does not revive and is given up for dead. Brea and Seladon find Tavra just as she dies, and reconcile. The General, Chamberlain and Collector return to the Emperor, warning of the Gelfling/Arathim alliance. The General advocates they pursue the Chamberlain's plan of having the Scientist build an army out of reanimated Arathim carcasses. The Emperor, emboldened, declares that Skeksis cannot die, and has Hunter's corpse propped up at the court table like a marionette, El Cid-style. Across Thra, Rian and Deet reach Stone-In-The-Wood and Rian retrieves the second part of the glaive. Magic happens when it's joined together, Rian experiences a cascade of visions, including Jen returning the jamming the shard back into the Crystal in the movie. All Gelfling fires on Thra turn blue, and allowing Rian to speak to all Gelflings across the world. The Crystal also responds, attracting the Skeksis, and the Emperor threatens all the Gelfling through the burning Facetime app, but Rian faces him down and announces that he'll meet the Skeksis in battle at Stone-In-The-Wood, calling on all the Gelfling clans to join him against their treacherous overlords. As the Skeksis prepare for battle, nobody notices Hunter's hand twitching.

Musings: This was an uneven episode, but quite strong in places. Aughra's warning that Skeksis "will only be dust" is an overt reference to the movie, and a clue that Hunter is not dead. That was heavy-handed, and a little frustrating as it telegraphs that the show really doesn't trust its audience to suss things out. Aughra's draining, however, was a shocking moment. It was unexpected and reinforces the notion that this series has shifted into a different timeline than the original movie. This, of course, is immediately undercut by Rian's vision when the Dual Glaive is joined, as Jen's appearance indicates they actually are still in the same timeline. But the loss of Aughra is still confounding. Seladon continues to be an irredeemable bitch throughout most of the episode, until she finally comes to her senses when Tavra dies. Her character is extremely problematic, as she seems to lust after power for power's sake. The previous episode, even after learning the truth about the Skeksis, she tried to bargain to keep her grip on power, offering to sacrifice seven innocent Gelflings for the Skeksis to do with as they please. Even the Skeksis were disgusted by this craven move. Yet following Tavra's death, Seladon suddenly does a 180 and is all about Team Gelfling after that. This character whiplash doesn't track, and feeds into my criticism of this series--the characters are often juvenile, acting in certain ways because the script demands it of them, not out of organic character development. Seladon, were she to stay true to character, may well turn against the Skeksis out of self-preservation, but she would still be haughty and high-handed with the other Gelflings to ensure her continued grip on power. I was troubled by the Arathim sending only one of their own to fight the General and Collector, a half-hearted move that seemed destined to fail, and it did. Finding the scattered pieces of the Dual Glaive is classic plot-coupon plotting, and left me unimpressed. The magic blue fire was a plot development of convenience. Magic only seems to exist in this world when the script writer needs it to make some narrative bridge, and this was no exception. Magic is somewhat rare in this universe, but spectacular when it manifests. Despite this, the Gelflings seem both ignorant and disinterested in it. The episode starts out fairly strong, but by the end, what is supposed to be a triumphant set-up for the season finale is thoroughly undercut by cliche and a forced sense of drama.

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Saturday, February 01, 2020

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy birthday, Aunt Jessie!

On this date in 1885, Fay Stewart was born in Waco. She would've been 135 years old today. Stewart would later adopt the alias of Jessie Williams and operate a small brothel in Austin's Guy Town district before moving to La Grange in 1913. In 1915, she bought 11 acres of land outside of city limits and opened what would eventually become known as the Chicken Ranch. Known locally as Aunt Jessie, she ran the brothel until selling it to Edna Milton in 1961.

Fay Stewart’s parents came from Georgia, moving to Waco well before she was born. The family lived for years on Franklin Street. While it is entirely possible that Stewart learned the ropes of prostitution in Waco's infamous Two Street vice district, there’s scant evidence she was successful enough to own her own brothel there.

Curiously enough, despite the fact Aunt Jessie spent nearly three decades in La Grange and was as well-known a civic benefactor as anyone in Fayette County, I have found no photographs of her. Zero. Nada. Which is strange, since I know photos of her exist somewhere. So in lieu of Aunt Jessie's photo, we'll have to settle from the 1958 edition of the La Grange phone book. Think that cover art is coincidental? Or was someone with the Yellow Pages making a not-so-subtle joke? In any event, here's to Aunt Jessie, the woman who turned a number of shoddy prostitution operations into the brothel known today as the Chicken Ranch.

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Friday, January 31, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

A conversation online reminded me that I hadn't featured The Kinks in a while, so today's song is one of the band's early Arista singles, the title track from "Misfits." It's a magnificent song, showcasing Ray Davies' brilliantly insightful, philosophical irony. It's a song that's both melancholy and uplifting. It wasn't a hit (very few of their Arista singles were) but it (and other songs from this and subsequent albums) found a home on album rock radio and helped fuel the band's revival that lasted well into the 80s. The video, unless I'm mistaken, is from their One For The Road concert film, which is well worth a watch if you've never seen it before.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jerry Harrison.

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