Tag Archives: Jane Espenson

Cultural Catchup Project: “After Life” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“After Life”

May 27th, 2011

“What else is different?”

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

The term “Cultural Catchup” really has two meanings.

The first is the broad notion of catching up on television shows which have proven to be important cultural touchstones but which have escaped my gaze.

The second, however, has been the experience of witnessing the conversation on a post and then quickly “catching up” with the context that informs the conversation. This is not to say that anyone has been spoiling the show, but it’s a basic fact that those of you commenting know what’s ahead, and so as I watch through a season I often find myself rereading (or at least thinking about) previous comments and putting two and two together.

I raise this point in part because the unique nature of this viewing experience is something I like theorizing and because this sort of retroactive sense making is at the heart of “After Life,” an episode that serves as a sort of Rosetta Stone for the season premiere and the season as a whole. In many ways, this is the start of the season: whereas “Bargaining” was saddled with the task of getting from Point A to Point B, “After Life” is allowed more space to breathe and more time to explore the magical and psychological consequences of that transition.

While I don’t think the result is particularly subtle on the level of plot, coming in the form of a metaphor-turned-monster-of-the-week, the strength of that metaphor is confirmed by the unbearable weight of Buffy’s return on her friends, the audience, and more importantly Buffy herself.

And although I don’t think it retroactively solves my issues with “Bargaining,” it certainly gives the title greater meaning and establishes a tragic and poetic frame to the show’s sixth season.

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Game of Thrones – “A Golden Crown”

“A Golden Crown”

May 22nd, 2011

“That was not Kingly.”

Considering the title of the series, and the number of people who appear to be playing the eponymous game, the notion of what makes a true ruler is growing increasingly important as Game of Thrones continues its run. We’ve seen numerous conversations about what it takes to lead Westeros, as Viserys fights to reclaim his throne, Robert fights to keep it, and others on the margins consider whether it is a job they would ever truly desire (Renly, Joffrey, etc.).

We get some definitive action on this accord in “A Golden Crown,” which reveals a more deep-seated question of identity within these kingly questions. Throughout the various stories, notions of power and leadership are merged with questions of gender and sexuality while the duplicity of numerous figures is highlighted in order to further expand the series’ complexity, and further break down any single image of what it means to be the leader of Westeros.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Intervention” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Intervention”

September 4th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

Marti Noxon faced certain challenges in “Forever,” transitioning from the tragedy of “The Body” into the season’s conclusion, but Jane Espenson faces more substantial obstacles with “Intervention.” She’s given the task of bringing back the series’ sense of fun and its second of humour, qualities that seem particularly incongruous with the grieving process still unfolding. The episode is going to be awkward no matter what you do with it, which is what makes it a difficult task for any writer.

However, Jane Espenson does awkward pretty damn well: her episodes are always strong at mixing the dramatic with the comic, and here she adds the tragic into the mix with little difficulty. “Intervention” picks up the story where “I Was Made To Love You” left off, comfortably settling into the path which will lead the season to its end and delivering some meaningful laughs along the way

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Cultural Catchup Project: The Function of Mystery and the Mystery of Function (Angel)

The Function of Mystery and the Mystery of Function

July 24rd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

The second season of Angel isn’t really that different from the first.

Certainly, the show is introducing new elements (The Host and his Karaoke Bar), new characters (bringing Gunn further into the fold), and new villains (the newly resurrected Darla). However, the way each episode is structured is more or less the same as it was before, so the show hasn’t gone through some sort of radical invention or anything – in fact, the premiere was very much designed to ground the series in Angel’s day-to-day investigations rather than the overarching prophecy.

However, the following episodes of the second season indicate where the differences between the two seasons lie. The first season, as a result of the character swap with Doyle and Wesley at the mid-way point, was always building an aesthetic foundation or building a character foundation, rarely feeling as if they were taking things to that next level. The episodes which start Season Two are not that fundamentally different than those which came before, but there is (to varying degrees) a mystery and an uncertainty about their function: while there are still Wesley episodes and Gunn episodes which aspire to clear patterns, there is that added level of complexity both with the overt serialized arc as well as the sense of possibility which comes with it.

It doesn’t truly change the show, but it ratchets things up a notch in a subtle and effective fashion.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “The Harsh Light of Day”/”In The Dark” (Buffy and Angel)

“The Harsh Light of Day”/”In the Dark”

June 22nd, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

I don’t think the crossovers were really a huge part of my decision to watch Buffy and Angel simultaneously at the end of the day, but they certainly helped justify the decision. The idea of doing crossovers is logical for the two series, airing back-to-back as they were, but I’ll admit that watching “The Harsh Light of Day” and “In the Dark” makes me wonder just how crucial watching this particular crossover together really is. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it highly unnecessary, although I’ll admit that there’s some interesting storytelling within the connection.

I want to talk a bit about how the Gem of Amara serves as a crossover element, but I also want to discuss how each show’s respective seasons are shaping up a few episodes in. At this point, Whedon needs to be careful about crossovers, as Angel needs to be establishing its own identity rather than relying on its connections with Buffy. As a result, “In the Dark” is less a continuation of “The Harsh Light of Day” and more a spin-off of its central plot element in order to tell a different story with more weight for Angel and the future of his series. The result is two episodes that are connected, yes, but are primarily continuations and introductions of key themes moving forward into independent, rather than connected seasons.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no value in watching them together, but it does mean that I don’t consider it a necessity.

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Review: Battlestar Galactica – “The Plan”

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“The Plan”

October 27th, 2009

There has been an odd lack of excitement surrounding “The Plan,” which isn’t exactly surprising. On the one hand, the show’s finale proved somewhat divisive, which could have turned some fans away from revisiting the series. On the other, there is more long term interest in a project like Caprica which could run for multiple seasons than a one-off movie, which might have fans focusing more on its impending premiere. However, I really shouldn’t fit into either of these camps, as I’ve yet to get truly excited about Caprica (although I am certainly intrigued) and I quite loved the finale. And yet, nonetheless, the DVD release of The Plan (in stores today, October 27th) snuck up on me in a way I had not anticipated, and its release seems to lack the fanfare one would expect for what will be our last time spent with this universe (or this time period in this universe).

Perhaps it is best that one goes into this one with low expectations, however. As someone who loves this show, having written an undergraduate thesis about it and spending four hours writing about the series finale into the middle of the night with no regard for my personal health, the purpose of this film should excite me. Promising to explain the Cylon plan to destroy humanity, and to detail how the individual Cylon models came to play their roles in the first two seasons of the series, one feels as if there is some really compelling material to be had here, the kind of stuff that would have me wishing I could go back and rewrite my chapter on the Cylon/Human binary all over again.

And yet, “The Plan” is a qualified failure, raising some intriguing issues but in an indulgent fashion that in its relentless need to fill in the gaps of where this is happening relative to the show’s narrative proves more distracting than informative, more confusing than enlightening. I feel as if there is an intriguing narrative waiting to be found somewhere in this mess of a two-hour television movie, but that narrative is lost when it is so clearly segmented to fit into the series’ existing structure. While we’re busy playing the game of “spot which footage was from the show and which was shot new for the movie,” there’s something interesting going on here that’s just not coming through as clearly as it needed to.

In individual moments, this feels like Battlestar Galactica – as a whole, it feels like a DVD extra where you can click a button and see what the Cylons are busy plotting at that particular time, something which would be more interesting if they hadn’t tried to turn it into a motion picture event.

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“Caprica” DVD Review

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“Pilot”

A Special DVD “Review

There is no hiding the fact that the end of Battlestar Galactica was, for me, a cathartic experience, a chance to say goodbye to something that has been a fairly large part of both my critical and academic investigations into the world of television. However, there was always that lingering sense that the journey wasn’t really over: TV Movie “The Plan” is airing this fall, and on April 20th “Caprica,” the backdoor pilot for the upcoming series of the same name, released online and on DVD.

The former project is designed to give more time to characters shafted by the main narrative, and to answer/address some questions that have been lingering but may have proved too tangential for the show’s fourth and final season. In that sense, we know what to anticipate: we know that it will address the Cylon plan to attack Caprica, and that’s pretty well enough to create expectation.

But Caprica is an entirely different monster, primarily because it sits in that odd position somewhere between prequel and spinoff, the communication between it and its predecessor minor in most ways. The decision to release the pilot, always planned as a stand-alone project which could be turned into a series should executives be pleased with the final product, eight months before we have any chance of seeing the series is a calculated risk, and one that feels like a concerted effort to link Galactica and this new series more than may actually be logical, or beneficial.

When you first start watching Battlestar Galactica, one of the things that strikes you is that which wasn’t explained, or wasn’t exposited in some sort of speech. The polytheism of humanity was less a topic of discussion and more a stated fact, and it was less a selling point of the series than it was a sign that this show was going to go beyond the boundaries of traditional science fiction to offer something more nuanced.

In Caprica, however, this is front and center; in many ways, it feels like some of the themes that Galactica took for granted or didn’t often highlight put on display in an effort to provoke the viewer more than actually engaging with the show’s characters…at least on a conceptual level. As executed, I think there’s a lot to like about this project, and in particular there are some really intriguing ideas surrounding the main pairing of Joseph Adama and Daniel Greystone which elevate the show above its lack of subtlety and into a place where I am, more than before, looking forward to seeing what happens when this goes to series.

As for what that series will look like, however, is a question that I don’t know if we can really answer – in the meantime, let’s delve into the series in what I really can’t call a review, since it isn’t particularly objective in its tone, but more of an analysis of sorts. A long one (big surprise, eh?).

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Dollhouse – “Briar Rose”

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“Briar Rose”

May 1st, 2009

Dollhouse, as a series, is a bit of a chameleon by design: it is capable of being just about any show you want it to be when it comes to the Actives, and as a result it can switch between an action thriller, a procedural kidnapping drama, or even a small-scale social work investigation. However, the biggest challenge that Joss Whedon has faced with the series thus far is the fact that there needs to be some sort of consistent property that is unique to Dollhouse, that gives it an identity which is, if not wholly unique, at least something that defines the series’ place within the current television landscape.

“Briar Rose,” as an episode of television, stands out amongst the series thus far because it manages to do two separate things that the show has been struggling with. Entirely independent of the Actives (well, somewhat), they manage to co-opt the buddy comedy archetype and give it some very strong new life in the hands of Tahmoh Penikett and guest star Alan Tudyk (Firefly), while also providing an honest to goodness thriller within the confines of the Dollhouse.

What makes it work, ultimately, is that neither of these engagements were dependent on someone being programmed, or a new imprint being developed: the show has evolved, slowly but surely, into a series where we know enough about these characters and their motivations that the show doesn’t need to change itself into being one thing or another in an artificial manner. “Briar Rose” may not be the most stimulating episode in terms of its philosophical and ethical ideas (which is an arguable point), but it manages to string together and give purpose to all of the ideas which came before it, making the previous ten episodes seem more naturally paced than perhaps they initially seemed.

It doesn’t solve the show’s identity problems entirely, but “Briar Rose” represents a huge step in cementing the series’ viability if it moves forward into next season.

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Battlestar Galactica – “The Hub”

“The Hub”

June 6th, 2008

[I’m filling in for fellow blogger Todd VanDerWerff over at The House Next Door this week (Thanks to Todd, and Keith, for making that happen!), so here’s an excerpt of this week’s episode review and a link to the site. Enjoy!]

Say what you will about “Sine Qua Non,” nearly unanimously considered the fourth season’s worst episode yet, but the dramatic undercurrent that has propelled the rest of this season was present in certain aspects of the episode. The episode was too blatant with its plot movements, no question, but there was also tantalizing hints of the story we weren’t seeing.

While there was dramatic purpose in keeping us in the dark to reflect the fleet’s confusion in the wake of the “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?” cliffhanger, we were really waiting for “The Hub.” Written by Jane Espenson and directed by Paul Edwards, this story of the basestar’s quest to destroy the Cylon Resurrection hub and unbox D’Anna (Lucy Lawless) is the one that we wanted to see last week, which made those brief hints more frustrating than intriguing.

This is not the first time the season has done this – Espenson’s last episode, “Escape Velocity,” was coincidentally itself a divergence from the Cylon Civil War and the Demetrius’ search for Earth in favour of building Tyrol and Baltar’s interesting, but less pressing, storylines. Here, however, Espenson trades off, drawing the gig of writing the payoff for a change.

For the most part, she succeeds – it’s hard to screw up what the show does best, an intersection of human and Cylon combined with meaningful action sequences and a spiritual journey for humanity’s dying leader. There’s a certain diversity in the episode’s tone that could turn some off, with some strangely humorous or laid back sequences, but when much of it was given to Mary McDonnell and James Callis it was at least in good hands. By grounding itself in both the ongoing plot and the series’ central characters and themes, the episode can’t help but provide momentum into the final episode of the year.

Continue reading @ The House Next Door.

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