This was one of those productive weekends when I cleared several things off my desk. And off the floor around my desk, where pressing but oft-ignored things sometimes end up. The two major items were a 1200-word essay for FEARNet, which should appear in a day or three, and a 1500-word essay that I can’t talk about yet, which should be published in June. The two articles were vastly different in tone and intent, but I really enjoyed working on them and was quite pleased with the final result. One conclusion I arrived at, though, is that first drafts of essays can be relatively easy. It’s the polishing process that takes most of the time. I probably created 20 different drafts of each, and I was changing around words and sentences right up until the time I decided it was time to let them go.
I had fun on Twitter last night. I was watching The Amazing Race and following Phil Keoghan’s live commentary when Owen King tweeted a contest where the prize was a chapbook of material related to his debut novel, Double Feature. I got the right answer a few seconds behind the winner, but he decided to declare me a winner, too. Contests are cool. Then, on The Amazing Race, contestants struggled with left-hand stick-shift driving and I tweeted that I had never ever driven a stick. Doing it with my left hand would be a challenge, to which Phil Keoghan responded: I challenge you. So there. I’ve been challenged. After that, it was The Walking Dead and Brian Keene’s commentary on this deeply flawed series, so that was fun, too.
I was surprised that the father-and-son team did as well as they did on The Amazing Race. Despite the fact that the father has a torn muscle and tendon, they managed to finish first, thanks to the Express Pass. Wise decision on the part of the team that gave it to them. This was the least amount of harm it could do to their chances of winning. Then we got a cliffhanger ending: will they continue or not? I wonder if they’d already planned to do that or if it was a decision based on the situation that arose. I’d love to visit New Zealand some day. I’ve been to Australia, but never to NZ, although my parents were there once. Reminds me a bit of Ireland. And the guy running the fishing challenge was a dead ringer for Prince Charles.
The Walking Dead was interesting if not all that eventful. Rick returned to his home town with Carl and Michonne to discover that it has turned into The Omega Man’s sanctuary, with traps everywhere. Some good dialog featuring the always solid Lennie James (Jericho). It’s nice to see Michonne stepping out of the background and doing more than stabbing zombies in the head (though she did her fair share of that here, too). Good talk between her and Rick at the end, where she reveals that she knows he’s seeing things and admits that she has talked to her dead boyfriend. I especially liked the way Rick then asked her if she wanted to drive. “Good,” he said. “Because I see things.” The hitchhiker gag had a pessimistic payoff. When he first appeared, Brian Keene said he should run in the opposite direction instead of trying to join up with this woebegone group, but they weren’t having any part of him, perhaps because he wasn’t smart enough to have figured out after more than a year that yelling at the top of your lungs in zombie country isn’t recommended.
I think this week’s The Mentalist was one of the best plotted mysteries in a long time. I should have been suspicious of the body burnt to a crisp (an old Ross Macdonald lesson—never accept the unrecognizable body). Still, they painted the victim as such a wonderful woman, a philanthropist, and her nephew was a money-grubber who was trying to have her declared incompetent so he could take over her fortune. When Lisbon arrested him, I doubted his guilt, but I was sure he was being set up by the other woman (his sister? his wife?) who rushed to create an alibi for him. I thought she was, instead, alibiing herself. Then comes the Agatha Christie twist, and I was caught flatfooted. Well done.
I’ve come to believe that Kimble Cho is the most interesting character on the show. He seems so grim, focused and and smart. He’s the kind of cop that I’d want on the case if I were the victim of a crime. He doesn’t get distracted by a lot of the folderol that consumes the others. When he gets addicted to pain killers, he figures it out and gets himself straight. Sure, he falls for the hooker with the heart of gold, but he survives that, too. I especially liked the near-final scene of him with the girl who stood to inherit the boat. Both actors were on top of their games. Cho tells the girl, played by Vanessa Ray, that she probably wouldn’t have survived the boat trip and she responds with disbelief that manifests itself in the word “what.” But she doesn’t say the word (or scream it, like some might). Instead, she mouths the word without making a sound. It was one of those delicate, underplayed reactions that strike me as particularly inspired.
We watched Beasts of the Southern Wild on Saturday. It’s a fascinating film about a community of people who live on an isolated and barely above sea-level patch of ground in the Gulf of Mexico. They seem to have little contact with the outside world and live in abject poverty. It’s told from the point of view of a six-year-old girl who lives in a trailer next to her father. Her mother is long gone, though where she went and whether she is alive is never explained. There’s a big storm coming (Katrina? It doesn’t matter.) that threatens to destroy this place (called “the bathtub”) and force the residents to evacuate. Though it seems like it might be a metaphorical film, it really works as simply a tale about these people at this place and time. The director’s parents are folklorists, which seems to have influenced his work. The little girl is played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar. She’s intense. She carries on a continual dialog via voice-over but she conveys her emotions through every fiber of her being. She’s very much a little girl and sees things in little girl ways. The worst thing that she can think of to say to her father is that she wants to sit on his grave and eat birthday cake. It’s a fantastic viewing experience, and the film doesn’t have to be about anything. Was that her mother in the floating brothel? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone held her.
I thought I’d check out Red Widow last night, especially since Zero Hour, as predicted, was canceled. The new series is Breaking Bad meets Weeds. A mother of three whose husband was involved in the drug business has to figure out how to placate a Russian mobster after she is widowed. Her debt to the man—via her late husband—is to be paid off by facilitating a one-time drug importation scheme. Of course, there won’t be much of a story if she does this and the debt is absolved, so there will probably be more to it than that. The first hour was pretty good, but I got a little creeped out when she tried to seduce a dock worker to get him to take part in their scheme. The show had a “soft debut,” which doesn’t bode well for its longevity.