he’s got a road map of jupiter, a radar fix on the stars all along the highway

District 9: I have nothing to add to the chorus of critical acclaim already showered on this movie. An amazingly inventive flick. See it in the theaters.

That out of the way, I have a broader question: will the recent string of smart, successful action movies finally put that trope of the “dumb popcorn flick” to rest? Iron Man, The Dark Knight, The Hurt Locker, and now District 9. Even Inglourious Basterds (which I’m not sure I’ll get over my distaste for Tarantino to see): you can call it a lot of things, like “tasteless,” “derivative,” “unfocused,” etc., but you can’t say it’s dumb.

The successes above aren’t just action movies with a veneer of philosophy smeared across the top. Any movie can try at that (oh, Four Brothers is about staying true to your roots, etc). These movies explore interesting themes, using action as their language. District 9 is about the conflict between newcomers and civilization, portrayed as a literal conflict. In The Dark Knight, the war between Order and Chaos comes down to a brawl on a scaffolded building.

I suspect that Hollywood has not finished with dumb popcorn flicks yet. They’re too easy to write: dream up some action set-pieces, write a script that pastes them together, start shooting next week. And the growing trend to merchandise every aspect of a film, which started with Star Wars action figures and continues to the Transformers 2 toys available in your Burger King Kids’ Meal, guarantees that corporate sponsors won’t settle for anything too challenging.

But if the industry isn’t done with it, I am. You will never get me into a theater again to see G.I. Joe or The Faster and the Furiousest or the equivalent. Having seen what movies are capable of – stimulating depictions of interesting ideas that still have the power to pump my adrenaline – I won’t settle for less. Don’t ask me to “leave my brain at the door.” It’s in my skull. I can’t do that.

come on, baby don’t you wanna go

He Ain’t Here, But He Sure Went By
Yelp recommended Fontano’s Subs near DePaul University, so I suggested to Liz C. and Stephanie J. that we meet there for lunch on Sunday. But Yelp did not tell us that Fontano’s, like a lot of downtown eateries, is closed on Sundays. I waited for the ladies to arrive so we could make new plans.

“We have our choice of Chicago chain eateries,” I offered. “Potbellies around the corner there, or Jimmy John’s the opposite way.”

“I’ve been wanting to try Jimmy John’s,” Steph insisted. “I’ve never heard of this place,” Liz said.

“They advertise it all over!” I replied. “I’ve been in town two days and I know about it.”

“I dunno …”

“You’re right, it’s a ruse. I called Steph this morning and said, ‘Now play along – this is going to be hysterical …’ ”

Jimmy John’s was open and vacant on Sunday. They prepare sandwiches with lightning speed; I had just finished paying for my roast beef when it was waiting for me at the other end of the counter. The ladies got Italian cold cuts.

I Have Always Depended On The Kindness of Transients
Steph wanted a futon or an air mattress to put up some visiting family. I had taken an unintended tour of the South Side of Chicago on Saturday, by simply walking west from Grant Park*. I vaguely remembered passing a Target … or was it a Best Buy? Giant CVS, maybe?

The three of us stood in front of a You Are Here map on the side of a bus depot, puzzling it out. I texted Google for directions. While I had my phone up, a portly man in a stained sweatshirt, ill-fitting corduroy and a Discman lumbered up next to us. “Who you callin’?” he asked.

Even if I’d really been calling a human, was this guy likely to know him? The sheer oddness of the question stymied me until Liz interjected. “We’re trying to find a Target,” she explained.

“Oh, there one on South Clark,” he said. “You just take the Red Line to Roosevelt, walk two blocks.” He trundled off.

Which was right where I’d suspected it was. “Thanks!”

We combed every inch of the Target, but could only find a sectional sofa whose arms and back folded down. It looked neat, but it was a bit more than Steph wanted to pay. The trip paid for itself, though, when we got to see the cart escalator. It’s a conveyor belt that runs parallel to the escalator that snugly grips the wheels of your shopping cart and guides it down gently. We stared like the slack-jawed tourists that only one of us were.

We found an air mattress at the Bed, Bath and What-not a block away.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Since MT was getting in on a late flight from Florida, I had a half-time dinner before meeting her later. Mother Hubbard’s seemed far enough off the beaten path that I wouldn’t have to deal with too many tourists. Plus they advertised genuine Chicago-style hot dogs, which I had been exhorted to try.

“Where you from?” the bartender asked after taking my order. Apparently I looked like that much of a tourist, though I’m sure asking what time the liquor stores close didn’t help. Talking about Boston sparked a conversation with the guy sitting two stools down – a New Jersey expatriate who’d lived in Colorado for a decade, then moved to Chicago to continue working for Hyatt Hotels. I chatted with him until the food arrived.

Against every instinct in my body, I let the ketchup lie, instead loading the dog with onions, sweet relish and mustard. And it was so good.

Not So Fast, Shredder
After several scheduling complications, MT, her boy Adam and I settled on Heaven on Seven on North Michigan. Having already eaten, I tucked into a turtle soup, though MT insisted I try the pulled pork she ordered. All very good. I walked in with low expectations of what Chicago could manage for Cajun cuisine, but the freshness of the meat definitely helped.

MT doesn’t use Facebook, so I got her up to speed on gossip among our old friends. She was delighted at weddings, astounded at pregnancies and happy that folks had jobs and apartments.

President Gas is President Gas Again
I took the Red Line to the Blue Line, then to the temporary Blue Line shuttle, to get to the Green Eye Lounge. The bartender never charged me for my Bell’s Amber. When I waved a five at him, he blinked. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, “but thanks for being honest.”

So Hawver and I retreated to a corner, took turns ordering rounds of domestic beer, and did what we always do in bars: debate the future of energy policy.

“Everything in this country depends on petroleum,” he said. “And when the existing reserves get too expensive for Venezuela or Mexico to export, what is the U.S. going to do?”

“Pay more,” I replied. “Or invade.”

“No, but these countries need oil too! Do you think that these South and Central American governments are going to keep selling to the U.S. while their own citizens starve?”

“Oh, God! I’d hate to live in a world where that happened!”

We ended the discussion at the same stalemate we always have: Hawver insisting that the collapse of oil would lead to a new Dark Age, whereas I insisted it would be a mere global depression that ended U.S. hegemony.

Hot Dog, Part II: The Wrath of Foie
Hawver and I planned better for our trip to Hot Doug’s on Monday morning, getting there at 10:30 on the dot. We had to wait through the line of people similarly desperate for hot dogs, but this took no more than 20 minutes. Afterward the line vanished. Hawver’s suggestion is probably best: show up at ten minutes before 11:00, so you miss the desperate people but beat the lunch rush.

Hot Doug’s only serves duck-fat fries on Fridays and Saturdays, so I missed out. But I got the sauternes duck sausage topped with foie gras and aioli – the legendary foie gras dog. It was sweet and hearty and tender, everything you’d expect. But some fries would have complemented it very well.

* Okay, the nicest possible part of the South Side.

90 east toward chicago, on my way to cincinnati

The Hunt Is On
While wandering downtown Chicago early on a Saturday morning, taking amateur pictures of the architecture, I passed the occasional pair of fit twenty-somethings in identical T-shirts, consulting a map or a clipboard. The collisions grew more frequent until I found a horde of them in Chicago’s government center, participating in something called City Chase. I wanted to explore on my own, and lacked a scavenger hunt partner besides, but it looked like fun.

Between doing some voice-over work for Urban Interactive and the lead-up to an Internet Inc. outdoor chase at our new office, I’ve been thinking a lot about scavenger hunts of late. The one time I had an opportunity to plan one – for my acting troupe in college – led to a lot of frustrating puzzle entries, excessive distances and yelling. But the variables involved fascinate me. You want entries a good distance from each other, but not so far that they exhaust the players. Clues that hinge on insider knowledge without being too obscure. Lots of different factors at play; that’s why they call scavenger hunts the “sweet science” on ESPN.

… Ladies
A man on a street corner in the Jewelry District asked if I was in the market for jewelry. If I’d said “yes” (it takes a lot of effort for me to lie), that’d have to be one hell of a pitch. Jewelry stores, with telephones and burglar alarms and everything, surrounded me at all points of the compass. That’s a lot of credibility to overcome.

“I invented diamonds.”

“The jewelry?”

“No, the stone itself.”

“… go on.”

In any case, still being a bachelor, my answer was a resigned “No.”

And We Are Here As On A Coordinate Plane
“Where are you?” Hawver asked via cell phone. “I’m at … 800 South, 300 West,” I told him. “Oh, wow,” he replied. “I’m at 800 North, 100 East.”

I love that about Chicago. I could navigate myself, or someone else, to any point in the city, and I’ve only visited there four times. All I need are coordinates. I couldn’t do that in Boston, and I’ve lived here longer than any one city. I only just realized, two years ago, that the streets crossing Commonwealth Avenue (Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield) ascend in alphabetical order. Until they don’t. And that’s only if you stay west of the Common. Past that, it’s a swirling toilet drain into Cthulhu’s eye (i.e., Government Center)

We arranged to meet near to 0,0, via some combination of walking and subways. Once there, we took the Red Line north to Addison. The Red Line sits on mostly a straight north shot outside the city, so the N values increased but the E/W values stayed relatively constant. I did some quick math and consulted my encyclopedic knowledge of Blues Brothers dialogue in my head. “Are we getting off near Wrigley?” I asked.

Hawver, verifying that I had indeed taken the pebble from his hand, nodded.

Hot Dog … The Failed Movie
We’d come all the way to Wrigleyville to visit Hot Doug’s, the world-renowned hot dog shop. “Sometimes there’s a bit of a line,” Hawver cautioned. “But usually no more than …”

We slowed our walk as we approached the cafe, opposite the Williams and Midway pinball factories. Over one hundred and fifty people stretched in a line out the door, past the end of the building, and into the residential neighborhoods surrounding it. We got to the end of the line and waited for twenty minutes. It never moved.

Admitting a temporary defeat, we retreated to a taquerista near Logan Park. I had some chorizo and chicken tacos. “That’s probably the one thing I’d miss about moving out here,” I said between bites. “Fish.”

It Takes A Lot Of Money To Look This Cheap
Hawver’s band, The Lovers, played at Quenchers‘ 30th anniversary bash. They’re a five-man set: guitar (Hawver), keyboards, bass, drums and the lead singer (who also doubles on guitar or keys for some songs). They blend some electro New-Wave sensibilities with garage rock attitude – just fun, foot-tapping rock. They also managed to pack out the back room – somewhere between 30 and 40 people.

Hawver introduced me to their keyboardist Kevin and their manager Ashleigh that evening. “You manage these fools?” I asked her.

We The Living
I suffered a few minutes of confusion when I saw T-shirts for “The Livers” in the merch pile before the show started. Had I been mishearing Hawver’s band’s name all these months? Not so, as it turns out; The Livers followed The Lovers on the playlist. My second guess, equally incorrect: they weren’t a punk band. Because a band named “The Livers,” if they mean the organ, has to be punk.

No, The Livers are two guys who record themselves playing bass and drums. They then project this on a screen behind them while playing guitar live. The (recorded) drummer counts them in and they use a DVD remote to skip between songs. It’s furiously awesome.

goin’ to chicago (sorry, but I can’t take you)

Twenty-seven B-stroke-6
American Express lets you book flights online with Membership Rewards points instead of cash. The site even duplicates the functionality of Travelocity, allowing you to search a range of dates or a couple adjacent airports. Neat. But they’re not always great on follow-up.

Case in point: I wanted to check-in for my flight to Chicago early, so I needed a confirmation number from AirTran. Never got it from AmEx. So I called AirTran customer service. Waiting for the list of options to end didn’t help; the recording, instead, cycled through broader and broader questions (“I’m sorry; I didn’t understand your response. Are you even getting on a fucking airplane?”). I hung up and tried a different number, but this time ended in some bizarre menu where a recording read a list of check-in procedures off at me. “Fees may be accrued for additional bags checked. Carry-on bags must be eighteen inches deep by twenty-seven inches …”

Finally, I tried the second number once more, punching “0” repeatedly until I got a human. She found my confirmation number with all speed, wasting very little time on courtesies.

No Touching
I had an afternoon to kill before I needed to be at Logan, so I met Misch at Downtown Crossing for lunch. She took me to a place in the food court that served up tasty chicken teriyaki. The upstairs was packed, so we ate in the food court basement.

“Why Chicago?” she asked.

“I have friends there,” I explained. “But more than that, I really like the city. It’s modern, it’s cheaper than Boston. And I’ve been in Boston ten years now. It might be time for me to move. Lately I’ve been feeling something needs to change, though ‘moving eight hundred miles’ is probably the most expensive change possible. So I guess this is–

“I’m sorry,” I interrupted myself. “Could we continue this conversation somewhere that doesn’t feel like a prison cafeteria?”

Paranoia Rewarded
No sooner had I settled into my spacious second-row seat (I sprung for the business-class upgrade) than I felt something missing. Running through the pocket-patting ritual common to all adult males, I found a vacancy on my left side. iPod, yes, but no cell phone.

I darted to the front of the plane. “Sir, you’re gonna have to -”

“I left my cell phone up there.”

“Okay,” the attendant soothed. “We’ll send someone up the jetway to get it. We can’t let you back into the terminal for security reasons.”

Vindicating as it was to hear that AirTran personnel don’t think any more of TSA screeners than I do, I didn’t think sending a third party would help much. My initial conversation with the tiny man who came down the jetway bore this true. “Where was your cell phone?”

“Back there. At the gate.”

“At the gate?”

“Where I was sitting.” Not literally AT the gate; I took it out of my pocket to shut it off before boarding, so I know I had it in my hand while I was waiting for boarding to be called; this is ridiculous …

“Do you know where you were sitting?”

“At the … one of the seats? Near the middle?” A couple rows back from the gate? Near these two college students; you could tell by the baby cheeks and the sweatpants; are you really going to send me to a strange city without a cell phone?

“Okay, come with me.” The tiny man escorted me back up the ramp, nattering the whole while about a time that he’d left something at the gate and the plane had already pulled away. I chimed in to be polite (“wow, really?”) rather than gargling in panic until we got back to the gate. Once there, I shouldered past him and ran to the row I was sitting in. I tried not to wring my hands as I searched, until the crew member himself found it, its dark blue frame camouflaging it perfectly among the seats.

I’d write AirTran a thank-you e-mail, but we probably broke some federal regulations in letting me back off the plane. I’ll check with my lawyer first.

In Wicker Park Did Kublai Khan
Hawver told me to take the Orange Line from Midway into the Loop, then the Blue Line out of the city (toward O’Hare, ironically), getting off at Damen. I found him outside, reading a fat tome on energy policy. We flagged a cab, a light drizzle having started to fall since I landed.

Hawver lives in an old but well-maintained neighborhood, in a second story gut-rehabbed apartment. Wide rooms, hardwood floors and spacious ceilings. He and Dea each have their own private offices, as well as large swaths of the living room they have laid out as they see fit (Hawver: Niall Ferguson and Stephen Baxter books; Dea: Buffy and Angel DVDs)*.

All this, plus a shared garageway in the back and a third of a mile from the Blue Line. “How much does this run you?” I asked. He quoted a figure, a mere 30% more than what I pay for a studio (!) in a similar neighborhood in Boston. If I wanted to live in a similar studio, at a similar distance from a nicer downtown, I could pay half what Hawver and Dea pay for a rehabbed 3BR. I choked on my beer.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Gelato
Hawver and Dea took me to a party a short cab ride away, where some grad school friends of Dea’s were wrapping up a barbecue. The host graciously brought out some raw tuna steaks, which I ate with my hands before I even thought to offer someone else (sorry). There was also a hearty cake shaped like a robot. I didn’t eat all of that. Quit staring at me.

Though I didn’t smoke, I followed the smokers out to the porch while the grad students played Asshole indoors. Kyle, lead vocalist in Hawver’s new band, talked about his last trip to Boston. “After stumbling out of this bar called, whassit, The Field? We’re looking for the train. Can’t find it**. So we keep walking until we hit a bridge going over the river.” He went on listing the bars he and his girl Diana hit in their trip around Boston. Hawver and I, functioning alcoholics both, chimed in whenever he struggled for an establishment’s name.

“Did you come to Chicago to see Hawver play tomorrow?” his friend Tony asked.

I thought for a moment. “Yes, I did,” I said.

“Shit,” Kyle said, pitching his cigarette. “Now I’m’a have to be good.”

* Not to suggest that Dea doesn’t read; rather, as a grad student, reading is business for her.
** To pre-empt the question, yes, you have to be pretty drunk to miss the Red Line coming out of The Field in Central Square. That’s what made it such a good story.

like a lover’s voice toward the mountainside

No new content on Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday through Friday will be a recap of my trip to Chicago. If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you can see photos I took of various buildings. If not, you can’t.

Well, okay, you get three.

chicago courthouse

north michigan ave

roosevelt subway

don’t bring tomorrow to justify tonight

I haven’t forgot Buffy, don’t worry. But with the mid-season finale of Burn Notice and the season premiere of Mad Men and the final days of Kings and discovering old episodes of I Spy on Hulu, well, I had a lot more interesting TV to watch.

Whedon never misses an opportunity to indulge in fan service, so why not bend the fabric of reality to put Allyson Hannigan in a corset again? I shouldn’t complain, though, as this episode turns a minor villain – Anya – into a recurring character with interesting motivations. And aside from the usual first-act meandering, this is a really good episode! Every character does what they’d reasonably do; we have some fun chase scenes and vampire brawls; Faith barely shows up. Almost perfect.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • The evil lair where Anya petitions her demon master for her powers back is clearly some guy’s basement with a few Hot Topic throws. Clearly. You can see light coming through the ground-level window.
  • Nothing highlights how superb an actor Harry Groener is, and how poor of one Eliza Duskhu is, then putting them in a scene together (“this place is the kick”- ugh). To be fair, maybe Whedon’s deliberately writing Faith as dumb.
  • … y’know, other than that I’ve got nothing.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • I like Anya. She acts emotionally invested in her situation, rather than with the witty remove that Whedon tries (and fails) to inject in all his dialogue. I’m given to understand that she becomes a recurring character; if so, I approve.
  • “I swear, I’m just trying to find my necklace.” “Well, did you try looking in the sofa in Hell?” I chuckled.
  • After the sluggish first act, the presence of two Willows in Sunnydale proceeds at a reasonable clip. Evil Willow immediately begins consolidating her power, bullying vampires into submission and turning them into a goon squad. Meanwhile, Buffy and crew realize that their Willow isn’t a vampire after thirty seconds – which is good, because a 45-minute comedy of errors would have been appalling.
  • Willow acting as evil Willow. I think Hannigan’s a better actor than Whedon’s dialogue and coaching give her the opportunity to be. She delivers every line with the same perky cadence, punctuating them with a smile and some chin movement, regardless of their content. Here, though (and in “Earshot”), Hannigan portrays a wide range of emotions. The scene in the Bronze, where she must simultaneously keep up a vampiric facade, send as many bad guys outside as she can, allay Oz’s fears and still act tough was very entertaining.

Overall Grade: Lots of fun. A high point of the season.

And then, well. I remember this being the first Buffy episode I ever watched, not long after it originally aired. I formed my first low opinions of Whedon from this one. When it came up again in the queue, I hoped that time had exaggerated its flaws.

Nope. This episode starts with Buffy and Faith running into a demon who wants to sell them the Books of Ascension (why should they care? how does he have them? if the Mayor’s been planning this for over a century, why doesn’t the Mayor have them already?). Faith jacks the demon, steals the books for her new boss, and tricks Angel into standing still long enough for an undead wizard to yank his soul out (that easy, huh?). Angel and Faith go on a tear, screwing and bludgeoning their way across Sunnydale until they lure Buffy back to Angel’s mansion. He ties her up until Faith reveals the Mayor’s master plan, at which point – ah-ha! It was a trick all along! Also, Cordelia’s seducing Wesley.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?
Deep breath. Here we go:

  • Why is Buffy interested in the Books of Ascension, which she hadn’t heard of until 10 seconds ago? The demon trying to sell them drops the Mayor’s name; does that constitute any sort of bona fides? If I showed up at the Pentagon tomorrow claiming to have Osama bin Laden’s address in a Hello Kitty diary, would that obligate the DoD to take me seriously?
  • I’m glad Wesley suggests beating the rather feeble demon up and stealing the books from him. But nobody considers that this might be a trap to lure the Slayer out? Then again, if it were a trap, it’d be a rather poor one. So I suppose Giles and Wesley’s ignorance gets saved by the demon’s stupidity.
  • If it’s that easy to separate Angel from his soul, why hasn’t anyone tried it before? The Mayor makes some throwaway reference to the effort and sacrifice of getting the wizard to show up, but we never see it cost him anything. And the actual ritual involves throwing some alchemical goop on Angel, then the wizard showing up and chanting for a few seconds.
  • The entire episode hinges on Buffy and Angel deciding, off-camera, to run a sting on Faith. When do they do that? Here’s how the sequence of events has to go: the Mayor summons the wizard and makes his request. The wizard, that same day, grabs Giles and tells him, “Hey, you owe me, so I’m telling you: the Mayor wants me to go corrupt a friend of yours.” Giles, having forgiven Angel for murdering his girlfriend and torturing him, tells Buffy, who was on her way to go ask Angel what Faith was doing visiting. Buffy and Giles hurry over to Angel’s mansion, telling him what’s about to go down. In record time, they come up with a plan to make it look like Faith has turned Angelus back. Giles calls the wizard back (which apparently takes him zero effort, compared to the Mayor) and briefs him on the plan. The wizard agrees. Faith shows up with a vial of goop, etc, the episode proceeds as recorded.

    That’s an awful fucking lot of stuff to happen off-camera.

  • Buffy’s rather tolerant of Angel sleeping with Faith. We never see that happen, of course, but we have to presume it did. Because if a ravenous amoral creature like Angelus got his hands on a nubile young sexpot like Faith, made out with her hot ‘n heavy, and then said, “Hold up, let’s not take things too fast here”? The ruse would fall apart in a second. So, Angel screws Faith without turning back into a demon (I never saw Season 2, but I presume the “true moment of happiness” that did him in was the consumnation of his love for Buffy, not the moment of climax) and Buffy forgives him.
  • Every line of dialogue Xander has in this episode makes me hate his character more. I did not think it possible.
  • And Willow’s isn’t much better.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • Angel relishing his released status as a vampire. Boreanaz is a much better actor than Whedon’s dialogue and coaching, oh wait, I’ve already given this note.
  • Angel punching Xander in the face. I know technically it’s part of the first bullet, but it deserves a call-out.

Overall Grade: Not the worst episode of the season, but it’s fighting “Anne” and “Dead Man’s Party” for that title.

Interesting. I figured this for a daring choice by Whedon, since I knew S3 originally aired in 1999. Then I saw that this episode aired, out of continuity, in September 1999. Probably pushed back several months in the wake of the Columbine shootings. Regardless, it takes an interesting concept – what would you do if you could read minds? – and plays it out to its natural conclusion. I respect Whedon for following the episode’s conceit logically, as well as giving us a few twists to keep us from guessing the real killer until the very end.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • Once again, the first act angst that foreshadows the episode’s supernatural bent is tacked on. Buffy feels left out of the gang’s social life? Why now? Why more so than usual? She’s ducked out of their events without hesitation before – and even when she and Angel were on the rocks.
  • Who tries to shoot themselves with a hunting rifle?

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • The mind reading. Whedon was good enough not to skimp on the way teenagers actually think about sex, within the limits of PG-13 television (“I’d like to shove her up against a locker and …”). I liked the introduction of mind reading as a power that seemed useful at first but proved twisted.
  • The thoughts of her friends when she reveals her new power to them. Specifically Oz (“I am my thoughts. If they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me and she becomes me …”) and Cordelia, thinking what she was about to say just before she said it. Plus, though I haven’t been on board with the Wesley character yet, he did a fine job with comic timing here.
  • Willow’s questionnaire. Her interrogation of Jonathan was, again, one of the few times I’ve seen her act this season: inflecting words, using body language, etc. But I laughed out loud at every character in this sequence, from Xander interviewing Larry (“what secret? that I’m gay?”), to Oz interviewing Hogan (” ‘Moderate strain.’ Is that a good answer?”), to Cordelia interviewing a teacher (“were you planning on killing a bunch of people tomorrow? It’s for the yearbook”).
  • “You had sex with Giles?”
  • Whedon pulls off an excellent double reversal on who the real killer is. I spent so much time cringing in anticipation of the dark, pseudo-intellectual loner being the murderer that I didn’t mind when it turned out the pudgy, frustrated loser was. And then it wasn’t even him! I don’t always think much of Whedon’s plot twists, but they were well used here.
  • ” ‘Dingoes Ate My Baby play their instruments as if they have plump polish sausages taped to their fingers.’
    “Sorry, man.”
    “No, it’s fair.”
  • A few shots of students watching Buffy vault to the bell tower to disarm Jonathan help set up the shifting tide of popular opinion that culminates in “The Prom.” Nicely done.
  • “We can work out after school. You know, if you’re not too busy having sex with my mother!”

Overall Grade: Didn’t have the preachy impact it was aiming for, but fun in its supernatural aspects.

Once again, an idea taken to its logical conclusion: Buffy, as a high school senior, may one day be heading off to college. What does that mean for her duties as a Slayer? And the stakes get raised even higher when Buffy snags an artifact the Mayor needs for his ritual, but gets Willow kidnapped in the process.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • Snyder’s drug paranoia, thrown in as an afterthought. There’s one lame scene in the beginning where he rifles the lunch of two students we don’t know just to establish that he might have a reason to be at the school later.
  • “That won’t cut through steel.” “No, but it will cut through bone.” ARGH. Why not just finish the train of thought for anyone else who misses subtext? “Whose bone are you going to cut through?” “The guy I just shot. I’m going to sever his wrist and remove the cuffs that way.” “So then you can take the box to the Mayor?” ET FUCKING CETERA.
  • The sequence with Oz and Xander decoding Willow’s instructions (“twice-blessed sage or twice-blessed toad?”) serves no purpose in the story whatsoever. And it’s not funny.
  • For as much as I complain about 24 and its false dichotomies (“we need to light this school bus of nuns on fire, or Al-Qaeda will detonate a nuke! there’s no other way!”), it would not be fair to withhold the same judgment from this episode. The only two options are to surrender an evil artifact to the Mayor or see their friend get slaughtered? They haven’t infiltrated heavily guarded compounds against impossible odds before? None of them has the least bit of outside-the-box creativity?
  • Not much of a title.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • I didn’t think Northwestern was worth getting so excited over as a school, but U.S. News ranks it #12 in the country. Shows what I know!
  • “You killed him.” “What are you, the narrator?” That is fucking rich, considering the nature of Whedon’s dialogue. I howled.
  • Faith’s knife as a symbol of her lust for power, and her growing reservations about it. The knife appeared just often enough to be memorable, not so much as to hammer (or stab) the point home.
  • ” ‘Faith, we’re still your friends. We can help you. It’s not too late.’ ” “It’s way too late.” Again, one of the few times Hannigan’s called to really act, and she clears the fences. Unexpected and good.
  • Angel and Buffy fighting the vampires over and around the conference room.
  • I like the “great demonic power” in the box being a lot of spiders. And the terror was scripted very well – two spiders jumping out of the box, scurrying somewhere unknown, and everyone in the room freezing. Sometimes it’s the tiny threats that scare us the most.
  • “I married my Edna May in ought-three and I was with her right until the end …” Again, the Mayor carrying a scene effortlessly. And he introduces a logical complication – is the kind thing for an immortal to do to monopolize the best years of a young girl’s life?
  • Oz saying nothing in the argument over whether to rescue Willow or not, until he knocks the pot into the corner. Excellent example of commitment in a negotiation scenario; Thomas Schelling would be proud.
  • Buffy’s bargain with Wesley: if she stops the Ascension, she gets to go to college. Doesn’t work out, of course, but it represents a refreshing level of proactive effort. It shakes up the cycle of Encounter Threat, Lose Fight, Do Research, Win Rematch.

Overall Grade: I liked it very much.

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Next update will be the last: “Prom,” “Graduation” (Parts 1 and 2) and overall thoughts on the season.

it was a rainy night when he came into sight

New post on Overthinking It today, which will hopefully inaugurate a series: an in-depth look at the pop cultural legacy of Michael Mann’s The Keep. It’s a train wreck of a horror/fantasy film, starring Gabriel Byrne, Ian McKellen, Jurgen Prochnow, Alberta Watson and Scott Glenn. Music by Tangerine Dream. Oh, right, it’s the Eighties.