Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Outlander: The Garrison Commander (1x06)

Well damn. Damn. Pretty much incredible. Let's talk about this, shall we?

Picking up on the cliffhanger from last week, we see Claire assure the British Soldiers that she's a willing guest of Clan Mackenzie. Even so, the British man takes her to talk to his commanding officer. Dougal comes with, to protect her.

At first, things seem to go alright. Claire has dinner with a group of British officers, while Dougal waits downstairs in a tavern. They agree to help her get to Inverness, from which she can then make her way, hopefully, back home to Frank. However, her hopes are momentarily dashed by Jack Randall entering the room all of a sudden. He and Claire see and recognize each other.

At this point, another person enters the room and declares that a man has been injured in a brawl down below. As the surgeon cannot be located, Claire agrees to help the man. She does so, participating in an awful amputation. She then goes back upstairs, horrified to find that the only soldier left to talk to her is Jack Randall. Jack insists on questioning Claire, because during dinner she betrayed some questionable sympathies towards the Scottish.

Claire makes up a story about following a man to Scotland, and then discovering that he was a bad person and running away from him. She says that this is why she was dressed only in her shift when Jack Randall first saw her. Jack doesn't believe her. He tells her the story of when he whipped Jamie nearly to death. Claire says that she still believes that there is good in him. For a moment, it looks like Claire has won Jack over, and that he will indeed help her to Inverness. However, he suddenly strikes her, knocking her to the ground and ordering one of the younger soldiers to kick her.

Dougal enters and puts a stop to it. Jack concedes, but says that Claire must be delivered to him at the end of the following day, or Dougal will be accused of harboring a traitor. Dougal brings Claire to a special spot with an apparently magical river. Claire drinks from it, and then assures Dougal once more that she is not a spy. Since nobody can lie after having drunk from this spring, Dougal finally believes her. He says that he can save her from Jack Randall - If Claire becomes a Scottish citizen, the British can't take her unless she's being accused of a specific crime, and there's evidence. The only way for her to become a Scottish citizen? Marriage. Dougal nominates Jamie to be the groom.

Claire is horrified, but she recognizes that it might be the only way. When Jamie comes to talk to her about their impending nuptials, Claire is worried that Jamie might be promised to someone else. Jamie points out that he's got a price on his head, so no father would really want his daughter to marry him. Claire has another qualm: doesn't it bother Jamie that Claire is not a virgin? Jamie says no, as long as it doesn't bother her, that he is a virgin. As the episode ends, Claire takes a large swig of her drink and stalks off, fortifying herself for her second wedding.

The good parts of this episode so overshadow the bad ones, that I feel a bit silly even marking them down, but I will admit that there were a few little issues.

The main one was the amputation scene. It seemed to come completely out of nowhere, didn't tell us anything new about Claire as a character or about her situation, and then ceased to be mentioned for the rest of the episode. Its only service to the plot was to get her away from the other soldiers for a moment, so when she came back to them, she and Jack would suddenly be alone. However, the same thing could have been achieved by a trip downstairs to tell Dougal that the British were taking her to Inverness, or something of the sort. The amputation was unnecessary in its entirety.

Then there's the character of Brigadier General Oliver Thomas. He's the main soldier who hosts the dinner, before Jack Randall shows up. He was perhaps a bit too campy, a bit too bumbling. The way he spoke to Dougal was just ridiculous - he was insulting to the extreme, and not in a way that made me feel threatened by him, but more in the eye-rolling sort of way. I think the character could have been slightly more effective if I had felt as if he had true power. It might be a nitpick, but I simply think there was a stronger direction this character could have taken.

As I said before, however, this episode had so much going for it that I hesitate to even waste time on the problems.

First of all, you have the centerpiece of the episode: Jack and Claire's scene. For such a simple scenario, these two actors really pulled out all of the stops. Tobias Menzies really deserves particular praise for these scenes. He was extraordinarily creepy, and I was really, really drawn in by his story of whipping Jamie. God, that scene was horrific. One of the smartest things about it was that we didn't see Claire's reaction to it until the end. We were completely in the head-space of Jack Randall and his sick fantasies. We are already starting to see the horrifying way his mind seems to work.

The other major component of the episode I want to praise is Dougal's characterization. I was actually touched by Dougal's protective nature over Claire. When Claire came downstairs to help with the amputation, Dougal seemed panicked: "Claire! Are ye alright, lassie?" That was so sweet. And Dougal is the one to save Claire in the end. It was a nice subversion of what we might have expected - instead of Jamie, the dashing hero, rushing in to Claire's rescue, we have Dougal, who is this morally ambiguous man who is sort of Claire's protector, and sort of her captor. That's much more interesting.

Of course, the other important scene to talk about is the one at the end, between Jamie and Claire. How. Adorable. It all ties in to what I've been saying about Claire and Jamie's relationship. They really do feel like equals. I love that Jamie refers to Claire as a "friend." After Claire has heard the horrific story about Jamie's whipping - both from Jamie and from Jack - you could see Claire showing Jamie pity and nothing more. But that's not the case. Claire's views on Jamie are really complex - and her pity for him is only one small aspect of it. And you could also see Jamie being condescending to Claire, holding it over her head that he's her only chance for safety. But no. Jamie is friendly to Claire. He tries to put her at ease. The two of them already feel like partners, in a certain sense.

Also, of course... Jamie's a virgin. Oh boy. I remember thinking that was one of the funniest, most endearing things about him from the books. It shouldn't be such a big deal, but I think it's really refreshing to reverse that annoying cliche of the virginal young bride, and instead take a look at the fact that Jamie's sense of honor and righteousness has actually kept him out of a woman's bed thus far. (For those that might feel a bit mixed about this, I'll assure you in vague terms that there are a lot of different attitudes about sex portrayed in the books. Sexual freedom and repression are both explored, and nobody's choices about sex before or after marriage are really shamed by the narrative - although of course the characters are products of their time).

A few other small things I must mention...

Jack's entrance! I love that it wasn't all dramatic, slow motion, or made to be all important. It was the work of an instant. Claire thought she had finally found solace, and then bam, the door slams open and Jack is standing there, ready to ruin everything.

I also love the complication of Claire's so-called "politics" in these scenes. She expresses sympathy for the Scots, even being English herself. And yet, she knows how it all turns out. She knows that the English prevail, and she knows how horrific the slaughter of the Scots is. She has been living among these people and has made real friends, and yet her main desire is still to get back to her own time. It's a delicious set of circumstances, and Claire is such an interesting character, too.

I think I'll leave it there. I'm so, so, so, excited for next week's episode. For obvious reasons. But this one was better than I could have expected, given that not much happened other than two people having a conversation in a room.

9/10

Friday, September 12, 2014

Doctor Who: Robot of Sherwood (8x03)

The best episode yet... which unfortunately isn't really saying much. I did have fun watching this, though. Onward! To the plot!

The Doctor asks Clara where she would like to go, and Clara admits that she's always wanted to meet Robin Hood. The Doctor declares there's no such thing, but when he programs the TARDIS to take them to Sherwood Forest, they immediately meet Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

The Doctor and Robin fight, the Doctor using a spoon. They prove fairly evenly matched, although Robin does get the last laugh. Robin, his men, the Doctor, and Clara go to an archery contest thrown by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin appears to win, but then the Doctor takes his shot and wins. The two participate in a silly back-and-forth, continually shooting their arrows and splitting each other's on the target. Then, the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to blow up the target. The Sheriff orders his guards to capture the Doctor - and we then see that the guards are robots!

The Doctor, Robin, and Clara are all captured. The two men argue continually about how they will escape. Clara tells them to shut up and gets a handle on the situation. Unfortunately, her commanding tone makes the guard think that she's the real mastermind behind the operation, and Clara is taken to the Sheriff. Although the Doctor and Robin continue to bicker, they eventually manage to escape and explore parts of the castle. There, the Doctor finds a database including the myths of Robin Hood. He is convinced that Robin is also a robot, there to placate the common folk while the Sheriff goes about his evil business. He also realizes that this ship, and these robots, wish to go to the "promised land," just like the cyborgs from "Deep Breath."

Meanwhile, Clara has managed to extract information from the Sheriff along this same vein, However, when the Sheriff realizes that Clara is not flirting with him but rather getting information, he takes her with him to confront the Doctor and Robin. Robin and Clara manage to escape, while the Doctor remains a captive. The Doctor then realizes that the robots are making a gold matrix to get their ship off the ground, but he fears there won't be enough gold, and instead the ship will explode, killing everyone in the area. He also realizes that Robin isn't part of the robot's group, and that in fact he is a real man.

The Doctor, along with a captive woman, manages to escape from his prison, inciting the other prisoners to revolt and escape. Robin, Clara, and the Merry Men show up, and Robin is able to defeat the Sheriff, using the same trick that the Doctor had earlier used against him in their duel. The ship takes off, and Robin, whose arm is injured, needs the help of the Doctor and Clara to help shoot a golden arrow (the prize of the earlier archery tournament) to give the ship the last blast it needs to make it out of the atmosphere, where it then explodes.

The Doctor and Robin have a conversation about heroism, wherein neither of them believe that they are heroes, but they decide to keep acting like heroes so as to inspire others. As Clara and the Doctor take off in the TARDIS, we learn that the girl who helped the Doctor was in fact Maid Marian, who is then reunited happily with Robin Hood.

So... problems.

Clara had a few cool moments in here, but she was for the most part relegated to a damsel in distress. She was able to manipulate the Sheriff briefly, but then she had to be rescued by Robin, who carried her heroically to safety in his arms. She was going to help fight off the robots, but the Doctor stopped her. She didn't figure out anything important or contribute much to the plans of escape or of defeating the robots. In most instances, she was... a pretty face. And then we have Marian, who was just there to give Robin a prize at the end. Wouldn't it have been so awesome if we had reversed the Doctor and Clara for the last section of the episode? Imagine if Robin had had to save the Doctor, and Clara had been captured again. She and Marian had escaped from the prison. The Doctor and Robin had met back up with them at the end. Clara had put the truth together (or at least helped to do so). Those changes would have made this episode so much stronger. As it is, the only two ladies in the entire story didn't even share screen time. Very irritating.

I also thought that the Sheriff of Nottingham was a completely one-note and boring villain. He was a mustache-twirling cliche, right down to literally saying that he plans to conquer "the world!" Mwa hahahahaha. I was rolling my eyes at him quite a bit.

It's hard to say "even though this episode was sexist, it was still good!" But I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. There's a part of me that wouldn't have minded if Clara weren't there at all - not that she wasn't fun, or whatever, but I would almost rather have an episode where the companion is sidelined intentionally (like "Midnight," in Series Four) than an episode where it seems as if the writer is unaware that he is sidelining the companion quite a lot.

Some good elements to discuss:

The Doctor and Robin's bickering. We've seen a lot of the dark and brooding Doctor over the past two episodes, so I was happy to see some humor here. Sometimes the Doctor needs to be silly and child-like. This was our first look at Capaldi fulfilling that role, and I think it worked quite nicely.

(Of course, it was brilliant that the guard thought that Clara was the mastermind - that guard ain't got time for society's sexist bullshit, thank you very much!)

As a big fan of Robin Hood myself, it was quite a thrill to see a lot of the canonical characters. I was annoyed about the lack of Guy of Gisborne, and about how silly the Sheriff was, but I was delighted to see Little John, Friar Tuck, Allan-a-Dell, Robin, etc. What a treat! I particularly love the idea of Robin Hood being a real figure who became a legend later. That was an interesting twist on the story, particularly since a lot of the other things going on were so artificial in nature - the robots putting on a pretense, and whatnot.

Going along with the Doctor's childish behavior, I love that he cheated with the arrow. I was annoyed that he randomly had expert skill with a weapon, so I was glad that it turned out to be a hoax. The little teamwork moment at the end, when the Doctor, Robin, and Clara all had to join together to shoot the arrow was a bit cheesy, but it hit the spot.

Although I complained about Clara being sidelined, I did genuinely enjoy her enthusiasm for Robin Hood. I loved it when she got to swing down to the ground in his arms: he asks her if she's alright, and she responds "hell yeah." That was so cute. I liked the idea that she got to pick where they went, and even though things went wrong (as they always do) her childhood hero remained intact and good to the core. It was an odd moment of triumph for Clara as an individual.

I think I'll wrap things up there. This was the best episode we've yet had this season, but it still had quite a few problems. Hopefully things will get better!

8/10

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Outlander: Rent (1x05)

A great episode. No major missteps, and it pushed the plot forward in a number of ways. We're getting closer and closer to the legendary romance between Jamie and Claire, which I'm very excited about. Even if this is primarily Claire's story, their story is definitely the centerpiece of the books. Given how much I like the chemistry between the actors, I'm excited to see how the romance plays out on screen. But before I get ahead of myself, let's talk about what happened in this one.

Claire becomes friends with Ned Gowan, a lawyer, while traveling with the Mackenzie men. They stop in many villages and collect rent from the people. When Claire ends up spending time with the women in one town, she gets into trouble with the men for disappearing - Claire, who had been drinking, angrily attempts to return a goat to a family with a hungry child. An English man appears and asks if Claire is alright, but the Mackenzies all gang up and scare him away. We then see him don a red coat, revealing himself to be a British soldier.

By day, Dougal collects rent from the people. By night, as everyone drinks at the taverns, he makes impassioned speeches against the English. He uses Jamie's scarred back to incite the people to donate more money. At first, Claire is entirely apalled that Dougal would try to scare these people and basically steal their money. Later, she realized that it's not thievery - it's politics. Dougal is raising money for a Jacobite army, to fight under the banner of Bonny Prince Charlie.

She tries to warn Ned Gowan that the Scottish will lose this fight, but to no avail. One night at a tavern, Claire finds Jamie sleeping outside of her room in an effort to protect her from any unwanted advances from the drunk men upstairs. Later, several of the Mackenzie men get into a fight with some villagers. As Claire patches them up, she learns that they were fighting to defend her honor - they had called her a whore.

By the end of the episode, Dougal manages to get more funding for the Jacobite uprising without using Jamie's scars to get attention. As Claire goes down to the river to wash, Dougal follows her and demands to know who she really is - and why she was talking politics about the Jacobites with Ned. As Claire and Dougal argue, the British Soldier returns, with several reinforcements. Again, he asks Claire if she is in need of assistance. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, as we are not sure if Claire will stay with the Mackenzies, or place her trust in the British.

If I were to nitpick a bit, I suppose there were one or two moments that were slightly confusing. For example, at one point we see some men beating up on someone for being a British sympathizer, and Dougal seems to be taking a cut from the plunder. But where does this fall under Dougal's purview? Is it part of his duty as Colum's representative of Clan Mackenzie, or is it Jacobite business? Maybe someone else can clear this up for me, but I felt that it should have been given a bit more weight here.

And then I have sort of the opposite complaint - some of these themes and ideas were a bit too heavy-handed. Did we really need to see the crying baby, hungry because the goat was gone? Did we really need to see Dougal make his speech about the tyranny of the British so many times? Maybe this all goes back to my wish for some more subtlety. The creators of this show have given us something really beautiful, but now they have to learn to trust us to see it without so much prodding.

But onto the good stuff!

John Donne! I have a professor who would freak out if she were watching the show. When the Donne poem showed up, I was seriously so thrilled. He's an amazing poet. Even though this show is about the past, it does an amazing job of connecting to so many places and times at once, that it feels sort of timeless. Claire is talking to us - the audience - in the 21st Century, yet she's hailing from the 1940's, and speaking in the 1740's. She quotes Renaissance poets, and then turns around and says "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ." There's something so interesting about the way that time and place are mixed together in the story.

Ned Gowan - a great character introduction. The show is doing a consistently excellent job of letting us know who's important to pay attention to - Ned got a fair amount of time dedicated to him in this episode, so we know to keep an eye on him. Great acting, great chemistry with Claire - their friendship is an interesting one.

We're continuing to complicated Dougal's character, which I love. It seems like an irredeemably dick move to use Jamie the way he does in this episode, and maybe it is. But at the same time, we do learn that he's doing it because of his ideals and his desire for freedom, and not just for personal greed or anything like that. Dougal's relationship to Claire is interesting, too. As she says in one of her voice-overs, Dougal now respects her as a healer - but that doesn't necessarily come with trust.

Great music - again - in this episode. I particularly liked the women's song. I was proud of myself for recognizing bits of the Gaelic, in particular the phrase "mo nighean donn" which is basically a term of endearment specifically for brunettes, oddly enough, meaning something like "my brown-haired lass." I'm always reminded of the song "Brown-Eyed Girl" when I hear it. (My apologies for the really random aside).

Claire's journey in this episode is probably the most complex one yet. Not only does she go through several changes of opinion about Dougal and his men (from common thieves to brave yet doomed revolutionaries) she also has a moment or two with other characters that seem very significant. She is still yearning for escape, and yet she's inevitably getting to know these people, and getting to feel a certain affinity for them - or at least for Jamie, and now Ned.

The scene between Jamie and Claire outside of Claire's room was the most adorable so far - they had a moment where they shared a deep and silent look. But it wasn't a cheesy romance look... it was cute, like two young people who are mutually attracted to each other. It was a moment of total sweetness, where we were allowed to forget, for just a moment, the full peril of Claire's situation. Jamie is just so adorably innocent about some things. We also see some heavier moments between them, as Jamie warns Claire to stay out of things she doesn't understand, and Claire consoles Jamie about Dougal's treatment of him. I think the most endearing thing about their relationship is that it feels very balanced. Both of them have saved the other. Both of them have seen moments of embarrassment, of weakness, in the other. And they seem to respect each other as relatively equal beings - despite the inherent sexism of the period.

I think I'll wrap it up there - I'm excited about the cliffhanger, and about the promo for next week, and about so many things! I'm loving this show so much. This was my favorite episode yet.

9/10

Friday, September 5, 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Dalek (8x02)

Okay... so this episode does better than the last one in some respects, and worst than the last one in others. I think honestly I like it overall better than the opening, though. Let's start with the plot. I'll try not to get too caught up in my distaste over the Moffat-isms of the episode. I can't blame the man for all the world's problems, after all.

We open with the Doctor saving a young soldier, Journey Blue, from an exploding space craft. Journey's brother, however, perishes in the crash. The Doctor seems remarkably nonchalant about this, as he drops Journey off back at her command ship, the Aristotle. There, it appears that the humans on board are at war with Daleks. One Dalek is on board the vessel, but it is behaving oddly, declaring that all Daleks must be destroyed. The crew of the Aristotle, mistaking the Doctor for a medical doctor, ask him to examine the patient, by shrinking down and entering inside of it. The Doctor is horrified to realize that they wish him to go inside the Dalek.

We then cut to Clara, who is introduced to a new teacher at her school, a war veteran named Danny Pink. Clara hints for him to ask her out, but he's awkward and shy. Eventually, she tells him to take her out for a drink. Clara then goes into a supply closet to find the Doctor, whom she hasn't seen for three weeks. The Doctor asks Clara if he's a good man, and Clara finds that she doesn't know.

Back aboard the Aristotle, the Doctor, Clara, Journey Blue, and two other soldiers (Ross and Gretchen) are shrunk down and put inside the Dalek to find out what's wrong with it. While in there, Ross shoots a grip-hook in order to try and get to a certain area, and Dalek "antibodies" come along to eliminate him.

The Dalek, nicknamed Rusty, reveals that he saw the birth of a star, and it has made him damaged, and therefore "good." The Doctor is able to fix the problem within Rusty, but unfortunately this makes Rusty evil once more. The soldiers outside of the Dalek are helpless, as the Dalek tries to kill them, and even manages to contact the Dalek ship to send reinforcements.

The Doctor seems pleased to discover that Daleks can't be good, but Clara slaps him and tells him he's missing the point - they've learned that Daleks can be good. Clara goes to try to restore the Dalek's memories of the star being born while the Doctor tries to make the Dalek see the goodness in the world. In order to accomplish these goals, Gretchen sacrifices herself to the antibodies. She awakens in "Heaven" and is greeted by Missy, whom we saw briefly at the end of the last episode.

The Dalek remembers how to be "good," but he sees inside the Doctor a deep hatred of the Daleks. Instead of becoming all the way good, the Dalek simply changes his goal: he now wants to "exterminate" his fellow Daleks, instead of humans.

Journey wants to come with the Doctor and Clara at the end of the episode, but the Doctor doesn't let her, because she's a soldier.

Back at the school, Clara assures Danny Pink that she has no such prejudices against soldiers, and they make plans to go out.

I have a lot of problems, but most of them are sort of... complicated.

Firstly, didn't some of this feel like a re-hash? In "Asylum of the Daleks," the first episode of Series Seven, we saw the Doctor and his companions travel into a planet of Daleks, going somewhat "into the Daleks" in a sense. And the same themes of the Doctor's deep hatred were explored. That affinity between the Doctor and Daleks as a species is a really interesting tension, but it was too blatant and silly here, as Rusty said "you are a good Dalek" to the Doctor. Also, I was disappointed that there was no reference to Oswin Oswold here, as the Doctor's very first encounter with Clara was actually when she was, quite literally, inside a Dalek. The thematic resonances between that episode and this one did not feel intentional or clever, but rather like a lazy do-over.

The Doctor's prejudices against soldiers is very sloppy, here. I get it, he doesn't like violence. But at the same time... haven't we seen more complex attitudes about this in the past? What about Rory taking on the role of a Roman soldier as the Last Centurion? The Doctor didn't seem to judge him for that! Or what about Captain Jack Harkness? What about Martha and Mickey's decision to work for UNIT? These things are certainly not cut-and-dry, but I felt like it was really uncool of the Doctor to reject Journey out of hand, simply because she's a soldier.

As we get to know this new Doctor, I find I'm perfectly okay with a lot of the choices that are being made, but occasionally things go too far. For example, when he rescues Journey, he is flat-out rude and unpleasant to her regarding her brother's demise, and you get the sense that part of this is because he doesn't like soldiers. Now, it would interesting if we saw the Doctor treat her callously by accident, and then later realize how he was behaving. It would be interesting to see him struggling to be kind even though he doesn't really like Journey. Instead, he comes across as just unpleasant. Not very interesting, beyond the obvious attempt to subvert our expectations of how the Doctor should behave.

When Clara tells the Doctor that she doesn't know if he's a good man, but he's trying... well, I don't know that he is trying. I haven't seen much evidence of that. I think that might be over-all my biggest problem so far with this new Doctor's characterization. It's fine that he's mean, and harsh, and unfeeling. It's not fine if we're expected to accept this at face value, with no exploration of how he might try to combat these tendencies within him,

I did like quite a bit about this episode, though.

First of all, I enjoyed the fact that Clara seems to be getting something of a life outside of the Doctor. That was always one of the more interesting things about Amy and Rory, the way they traveled with the Doctor, but had their own established life as well. While many things about this idea weren't done very well, I'm cautiously optimistic about Clara's role as a teacher, and her burgeoning new romance with Danny Pink. (It doesn't hurt that Samuel Anderson is easy on the eyes).

I also enjoy the Doctor's friendship towards Clara. He might be unfeeling and cold to most people, but he sees real value and goodness within Clara. And even if he gets it wrong sometimes, he tries to use positive reinforcement to make sure Clara knows that she matters to him. I also enjoyed the line where Clara said that the Doctor was one of her "hobbies." It distances us from the uncomfortable idea that Clara should throw her entire life into being with the Doctor, or with any man for that matter. Although she is starting a new romance arc with Danny Pink, I still think Clara stands out better as an individual than Amy ever did.

Clara's identity as a teacher is coming out very well. She's particularly good at this. She knows how to help people come to the right answer. She does this not only with the children she teaches, but with the Doctor as well. I hope we can continue to play with this dynamic.

We had people of color, and lots of women in this episode! When the Doctor, Clara, and the soldiers go inside the Dalek, the one other male member of their team is the first to die, and it becomes a team of three women (one of color) and the Doctor. Yay! And Clara's love interest is also of color. After being subjected to an entirely white main cast for much of Moffat's run, I'm glad that at least we have Danny now.

I guess I'll leave it at that. I had an okay time watching this episode. Doctor Who never gives me that feeling of joy and excitement that it used to, which is too bad. But I can't write it off entirely, either.

7.5/10

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Outlander: The Gathering (1x04)

Another solid episode. The more of this show that I see, the happier I am with the decisions they're making. However, I do think there was one rather large flaw here, which I'll have to talk a bit about. Let's start with a plot summary.

Castle Leoch prepares itself for a Gathering of the Clansmen, where everyone will pledge their loyalty to Colum as their Laird. Claire thinks that this meeting will be a good opportunity to attempt her escape, as it will be easier to dodge the men following her, and the distraction of the festivities will make the guards less vigilant.

Claire has been scoping out possible escape routes, gathering food, and even picking out a horse with which to make her escape. Geillis Duncan seems to suspect her, but doesn't try and stop her.

On the night of the Gathering, Mrs. Fitz insists that Claire go to the event. She dresses up and attends, staying only long enough to watch Dougal swear his fealty to his brother Colum. The other men line up to do the same. Claire ditches her constant guards and makes to escape. Laoghaire finds her and asks her for a potion to make a man fall in love with her. Claire gives her something, figuring that it couldn't hurt to give Laoghaire hope. Along the way, she comes across a group of men who try to sexually assault her. Dougal stops them and sends them away, but then tries to assault her himself. Claire slaps him, and then hits him over the head with a stool.

In the stables, as Claire tries to escape, she trips over Jamie in the dark. Jamie tells Claire that her escape attempt is foolish, since Colum posts extra guards during the Gathering. Jamie decides to escort Claire back to the castle. Along the way, the two are spotted. Now, Jamie is forced into going to the hall and swearing loyalty to Colum.

Only one problem: if he does that, he will be the next Laird of Leoch, which is a position Dougal holds at the moment. If Jamie swears himself to Colum, Dougal will have him killed so his position won't be threatened. If Jamie publicly declines to swear the oath, Colum will kill him for insulting the clan. If Jamie had kept out of the way during the Gathering, both brothers would have let their nephew get away with saying nothing. Now, because of Claire, he has to make his choice.

He goes up to Colum, and says that he can't swear the oath of the Clan Mackenzie, but that he will swear fealty to Colum as kinsman, for as long as Jamie might remain on Mackenzie land. It's good enough for Colum and Dougal, and Jamie manages to get away without either brother hating him.

Claire is now resigned to staying in the castle until she can come up with another escape plan. She goes on a hunting trip with a group of men, and is nearly killed by a boar. Dougal shoots the beast before it can harm her. Another of the hunters is not so lucky - Claire and Dougal stay with the man as he dies. Later, Dougal remarks that Claire has obviously seen men die by violence in the past. He tells her that he is going out among the Mackenzie lands to collect taxes and survey the moods of the people, and he tells Claire that she's coming along.

As the episode ends, we see Claire ride away from Castle Leoch with a group of men, including Dougal and Jamie.

My biggest problem with this episode was in the narrative arc of the individual story. As far as this episode advancing the larger plot of the season, it did a fine job. However, within this episode, I felt like we were lacking a climax. Jamie's pronouncement to Colum should have been the pinnacle of the episode, with a small tag at the end describing how Claire would wait for another opportunity to escape. The entire boar hunt was like an extra awkwardly tagged-on scene, and I don't think it flows very well with the rest of the episode.

The very end of the episode, with Claire leaving Leoch under the power of Dougal, rather than under her own, was a great scene. I would be find with ending the episode that way... maybe if the boar hunt had come earlier in the episode, before the Gathering? Something about the structure felt strange to me.

Another small flaw, although this might just be my personal tastes: I didn't feel the grandiosity of the Gathering like I think I was meant to. The earlier scenes in the season of the musician singing while everyone listened, or even just the dinner scene where Claire gets questioned by Colum, both felt bigger and more important than this Gathering. Not sure what went wrong, but the ceremony fell a bit flat for me.

But this was in fact a very solid episode, and it had a lot of important things in it.

First of all, we again see a subversion of Claire's expectations, reinforcing the idea that she has no control over her own situation, and that the world is working against her in certain ways. She plans to escape, and is thwarted, and yet by the end of the episode, she is leaving Castle Leoch, which is exactly what she wanted in the first place. However, the circumstances are wholly different from anything she could have planned for or expected. This keeps Claire on her toes - and it keeps the audience guessing, as well.

Geillis is very well developed - the more we see of her, the less friendly and the more sinister she seems, but there's no moment where she's suddenly shifted. It's a gradual sort of move, and the end result is still murky and unclear (I should say, unless you've read the book...).

One of the most brilliant scenes in the episode was when Laoghaire came to ask Claire for a love potion. I'll be honest, I can't remember at all if this scene is in the book or not. Regardless, knowing what I know about future events, I'll just say that this scene is the perfect set-up for something that comes later. It enforces the idea of Laoghaire as an innocent young waif, and also sets up Claire as a kind-hearted individual, who helps those around her, often at the expense of her own safety.

The hunting scene, while I think misplaced within the episode, was still excellently done. Claire faces the threat of imminent violent death, and I think it causes her to realize anew the full horror of her present situation. As earlier in the episode she had a moment where she seemed to regret the necessity of her escape, this moment served to reinforce the true danger of this place.

As Dougal and Claire sit with the dying man, we start to see a side of Dougal at odds with the man we've known so far. In the first episode, I remember questioning the casting choice for Dougal, but now I see that this actor is capable of pulling off the brutal and gentle sides of Dougal, and even juxtaposing them within a single episode. His attempted assault of Claire is a product of his drunkenness, his suspicion of Claire as an outsider, and the general attitude of men towards women in this time. However, we aren't led to believe that Dougal is necessarily a rapist - after all, once Claire has made her distaste for him abundantly clear by slapping him, Dougal does not attempt to overpower her again. (That is not to say that his behavior is not dangerous and despicable). But we see that unlike some other men in this world, Dougal does not discount Claire simply because she is a woman. He sees real human worth within her, and plans to use her skill as a healer to his own advantage. We also see that above all else, Dougal is a man loyal to his people. He cares deeply for them. The death scene in the woods is the perfect example of this, and I felt real sympathy for the dying man and also for Dougal as I watched from the outside, much like Claire was doing.

I've saved Jamie for last - this episode was enormously important for him. It's our first real glimpse of Jamie's intelligence and knack for political maneuvering. He is able to circumvent what seems to be an impossible tangle of loyalties and dangers. The fact that he is forced into an undesirable situation because he wanted to make sure Claire was safe just makes him all the more endearing. Jamie is both highly intelligent and exceedingly sweet - it is the sweetness that sets him apart from Dougal and Colum, the two other male characters that Claire has gotten to know. However, Jamie's sweetness is not innocence. He has been through a lot in his life already, and will go through a lot more.

His relationship with Dougal is a complex one, and will become even more complex as the story continues. We see a hint of that here, as he and Dougal play a violent game together, beating up on one another more than anything else. Dougal reminds Jamie that he taught him the game, and Jamie responds, "Aye, you did!" At first, Dougal seems to have the upper hand, but Jamie overpowers him in the end. However, the viewer is left with the sense that Dougal is not one to forgive and forget, and that he's also not one to let his guard down, even if Jamie didn't usurp his place in line for the throne at Leoch.

All in all, a very impressive episode that allowed us to dive deeper into Dougal and Jamie's characters. However, a structural misstep does force me to mark it down a bit.

7.5/10

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Outlander: The Way Out (1x03)

Jamie you are adorable and I love you.

The End.

Okay, no. Here's the plot of this one.

Unless I'm much mistaken, the main plot of this episode is actually not in the book at all. Claire is starting her job as a physician at Castle Leoch, while Dougal's men continue to follow her and watch her. When Claire finds out that a young boy has died, and the villagers suspect demonic possession, she is concerned. When Mrs. Fitz's nephew later falls victim to the same symptoms, she wants to help. However, everyone is convinced that the boy's ailments are spiritual in nature. He went up to the black kirk, which is known among the people as a place haunted with demons.

Claire tries to help Laoghaire flirt with Jamie, but at first it seems Jamie is much more interested in Claire. Later, however, Claire sees the two of them kissing. When she teases Jamie about it at dinner, Murtagh tells Claire to back off of Jamie, because things would go badly wrong if anyone were to find out.

Claire visits Geillis Duncan, and witnesses a young boy being nailed to the pillory by the ear in punishment for stealing. When Jamie comes to get Claire, she pretends to swoon to distract the crowd, so that Jamie can help the young boy pull his ear loose. The two of them go to the black kirk together, where Claire finds a plant that she believes is poisoning these young boys. She makes a remedy and saves the boy. This cure, along with her assistance for Colum's pain, makes her all the more valuable to the people of Leoch. It seems as if her release is further from her than ever.

Claire listens to a Gaelic song, while Jamie translates. It tells the story of a woman coming through a circle of standing stones, and then returning home again. Claire hopes that she will be able to get back home, and plans on escaping from Castle Leoch as soon as she can.

Let's start with the problems...

It might just be me, but the translation of the song at the end felt a little too spot-on to me. The lyrics were describing Claire's situation so perfectly that it made me roll my eyes a bit. I can't remember how it happens in the book, but in any case, I felt it could have been a tad more subtle here.

Same complaint about subtlety for the scene with Laoghaire, Jamie, and Claire. It was like watching a bad teen movie for some parts - Laoghaire pitifully tries to get Jamie's attention, while Jamie stares, love struck, at Claire.

This show is doing a superb job of conveying tone and messages, but sometimes I think they need to put a bit more trust in the viewers. We can grasp these things without their being shoved in our faces quite as much.

But now onto the good stuff.

This new little detour plot was actually quite excellent! It served as a vehicle for Claire to explore her setting, meet new people, and prove her prowess as a physician. More importantly, perhaps, it gave Jamie and Claire some room to spend even more time with one another. Their scenes alone in the kirk and in Claire's surgery were quite lovely, and gave us time to get to know the two of them together. You can already tell that Jamie's beginning to be smitten with Claire, and Claire seems to enjoy his company more than almost anyone else's.

Because of the setting, and the high-born status of some of these characters, everyone is fairly reserved when it comes to expressing romantic interest. More than that, Claire is still trying to get back to Frank, and hasn't let herself truly notice the man in front of her yet. Both of these things mean that Claire and Jamie can get to know each other as people first, before the real possibility of a romantic relationship becomes clear to them. It's endearing to watch their friendship grow, and I'm happy to see that these actors have great onscreen chemistry.

I'm also still greatly enjoying Geillis Duncan's character. The scene where she and Claire talk was one of the most intense of the show, in some ways, as the audience begins to be suspicious of Geillis, and her strange interest in Claire. Jamie's interruption comes at just the right moment to frustrate Geillis, and, in a way, the audience as well.

One more thing to praise - I really enjoyed the fake-out, where Claire tells Mrs. Fitz the truth, and she panics. It was odd, because I didn't really believe they'd change the plot so drastically from the books, but I was genuinely startled all the same. It was a nice look at what people might think of Claire if she were to be honest. Even so, with the truth concealed, people are starting to view her as an oddity, with her miracle cures and sassenach accent.

This is a lot more brief than I was planning on being, but I've said what I wanted to say. Another great episode - the best so far, in my opinion. I'm happy to see how successful this show can be when it deviates slightly from its source.

9/10

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Doctor Who: Deep Breath (8x01)

I think I have a problem, and that problem is this: it's impossible for me to attain objectivity. I see everything that Moffat writes through this veil of dislike now, and it's like even when he does something good, I can't stop nitpicking at it. But I'm going to try and be fair in this review. As fair as I possibly can be.

Let's start with the plot.

In Victorian London, a giant dinosaur is walking around. Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax all see this, and then they see the dinosaur spit up the TARDIS. When the Doctor emerges, they immediately notice that he is volatile and not doing so well.

While he rests, Clara tearfully asks how they can put him back to how he was, and laments the lines on his face, since it's brand new. Vastra does not take kindly to Clara, thinking she's being shallow. However, Clara is simply struggling with all of this change. The Doctor wakes up and goes looking for the dinosaur. He finds that it has been killed. Clara and the others catch up with him, and he notices a suspicious man walking away from the spectacle of the dead dinosaur. He also learns that there have been other cases of mysterious deaths recently. He leaves, and Clara goes back with the Paternoster Gang.

Clara receives a message to "the impossible girl" in a newspaper and shows up for lunch at a restaurant. While there, the Doctor reveals that he thought Clara was the one to send the message. Since neither of them did, something fishy is going on. They then notice that all of the other patrons of the restaurant are not eating - or breathing. They learn that their waiter is wearing someone else's face, and that his other body parts are recycled from humans, too. Turns out, Clara and the Doctor are what's on the menu.

They're dropped down through a chute into an ancient space craft below the restaurant, where they find more of the cyborgs. The Doctor appears to abandon Clara, and she tries to get away, but is caught by the main cyborg guy. She refuses to tell him where the Doctor has gone, correctly assuming that her life will be useless to them without that information. Turns out, the Doctor was there the whole time, disguised as a cyborg. Clara uses a code word, "Geronimo" to summon the Paternosters, who come in to save the day.

As Clara and the others fight their way out, the Doctor goes to talk to the main cyborg, lamenting that he has to die. Apparently, this ancient space craft is the sister ship to the SS Madame de Pompadour from "The Girl in the Fireplace." They are trying to rebuild themselves again and again to reach the promised land. As the leader seems to be in despair, the Doctor tells him he needs to end his life. The cyborg says that self destruction is against his basic programming, and the Doctor tells him that murder is against his. We never get to see if the Cyborg jumps or is pushed, but he falls to his death, impaled atop a tower.

The Doctor vanishes again, and Clara isn't sure if he'll come back. Vastra seems convinced that he will, and tells Clara to be there for him. Later, when in the TARDIS, Clara says she's not sure if she knows who the Doctor is anymore, and doesn't know if she can stay with him. At this point, Clara's phone rings. She goes outside to answer, and it's... the Doctor! (Matt Smith's version, anyway.) He says goodbye to Clara and asks her to please help him - him in the here and now, because he's scared. Clara still isn't sure, and the Doctor laments that she can't see him, even though he's right in front of her. Clara takes a good long look, and then hugs him. The Doctor and Clara go off to get some chips and coffee.

In an odd epilogue, we see the cyborg leader talking to a mysterious woman named Missy who claims that she knows the Doctor. She tells the cyborg that he has reached Heaven!

This episode was good. It had a lot of interesting things to say about the Doctor, about who he is over-all, about his relationship with Clara, and about the direction this show will be taking. It had some moments of real strength. Some great suspense. Great dialogue in some moments. A creative premise. A surprising link to a previous Doctor Who episode. Great, great acting from Capaldi in his debut, and from Coleman in an interesting new challenge for her character.

This episode was annoying. It was all about the Doctor and his psyche. It was all about what he needed, and about what Clara can offer him. Jenny and Vastra's relationship was played for laughs on numerous occasions, and the dinosaur was there just to make things look grand. Moffat clearly has an ego-trip problem - bringing back an episode from the Russel T. Davis era that Moffat himself wrote (an episode, incidentally, that involves a girl sitting around and waiting for the Doctor to return to her, even though Madame de Pompadour kicks ass in real life. Seriously, in Moffat's eyes, every girl just wants the Doctor. I think de Pompadour was the prototypical Amy Pond: the Girl Who Waited).

Do you see what I mean? There were great things, but also a lot of annoying things that I can't seem to look past, no matter how hard I try. Let's try and separate these out and talk about them a bit more clearly. Starting with the negative.

Madame Vastra and Jenny's relationship. Not all bad, and I'll get to that in a second, but did anyone else feel like this was just extra, extra exploitative, like: woo look at me, I'm inclusive, here are some lesbians! They brought up the fact that they were married like ten times more often than was necessary to remind the audience, made jokes about how "men are monkeys," had scenes where Jenny (admittedly looking very smokin' hot) posed for Vastra, and made lots of references to checking Clara out. It's like... yep, they're lesbians! Good job! Now let them be more than that. I also get really uncomfortable about Jenny's subservient position to Vastra. I know they say it's to cover up the truth, but doesn't it look like Jenny's always the one being pushed around? And one other thing - did they have some sort of weird telepathic link when being attacked by the cyborgs? And how is the two of them kissing and "sharing breath" supposed to trick the cyborgs? They're clearly not behaving in a normal cyborg fashion, so wouldn't that blow their cover anyway?

The Doctor shot someone with a sonic screwdriver. NO. Excuse me, but NO. That made me want to cry and throw my computer across the room. I know it didn't kill him or whatever, but still. That was... just annoying.

Throughout the episode, Vastra keeps talking about the Doctor as if he were this mystical, impossible to understand entity. It reminded me of River Song's line back in... oh, Season Six, I think? She describes the job of the companions as: "We do as we're told." That made me livid at the time, and although it wasn't done quite so blatantly here, I still got the same vibe from some of Vastra's conversations. She kept going on and on about how the Doctor works in mysterious ways, and how if they ever wanted to see him again, they had to do this, or how in order to be there for him, they had to do that. Despite Vastra being interested in women, this episode still barely passed the Beschdel test, in that practically every line of dialogue out of Vastra's mouth was about the Doctor, and Clara's entire arc in the episode was entirely about the Doctor.

And let's talk about that, shall we? I want to make it clear that I have no problem with focusing this episode most specifically on the Doctor's character. It makes sense - we're introducing Peter Capaldi, and his new version of this beloved character. But did you notice Clara's arc throughout this episode? She's upset because the Doctor is different, and then Madame Vastra and the Matt-Smith-Doctor convince her to help the Doctor, and so she decides to accept him. Because he's the Doctor, and she likes him. There's no other real reason, here. It's not like the story suddenly becomes unreasonable because of this, but I'm thinking about Rose's first episode with David Tennant, and how she was surrounded with her family, and how we learned more about her as a character, than we've ever known about Clara. She nannies some kids, there's some weird unexplained hallucination about teaching in a classroom, but what does it all lead up to? A devoted companion of the Doctor, and nothing more.

While Capaldi's performance was amazing, I was still annoyed by his calling Vastra and Jenny "the green one" and the "not green one," because it seemed to cement that he really does only see people for their superficiality. Obviously, the joke was that he was in a disturbed and unstable state, but you can almost look at it as if he were extremely drunk: he was revealing true yet unpleasant things about himself, including the fact that he really can't tell Jenny and Vastra apart as people, beyond their skin differences. It's irritating.

And finally, what the hell was up with that epilogue? Who's Missy? Is she supposed to be the "girl from the shop?" Or is that something else? I know I might be overreacting, but to me it seems like this sort of thing is exactly the problem with Moffat's Doctor Who. Here we have this epic episode with a lot of good stuff in it, that works as a jumping off point for Clara and the Doctor's new relationship parameters, and then you have to throw in some weird little mystery at the end. Why can't we just have a stand-alone adventure? It drives me nuts! When we were in Davis' hands, the seasons always led up to something bigger, but we didn't need anyone holding our hands and screaming at us: "notice this! It's important!" Yikes.

But as I said earlier, this was a good episode in terms of the Doctor's character. It was delicately and subtlety wrought, and it did place a lot of emphasis on the utter enormity of the Doctor's life, and his struggles. His pain, and his principles. Let's talk about that.

The humor was pretty fantastic. "An independent state of eyebrows" was probably my favorite bit. I loved it when Matt Smith's Doctor made fun of his own chin, and I love that Capaldi seems to have a hangup about the eyebrows. The disoriented way that Capaldi was talking throughout the episode really helped us to understand his state of unease. He couldn't keep names straight, he couldn't find the word for "cold," and he couldn't get out the questions he wanted to ask.

I loved that scene, where he said that the question wasn't "who did this," or "how did they do this," about the dinosaur being dead. I was worried that the punch line would be: "The question is, why?" But instead, the question was a very logical "have there been any similar murders?" I loved that!

And while Vastra and Jenny may have annoyed me a bit, I still like the way that the two of them and Strax are playing up the Sherlock Holmes comparisons. Strax is like their Mrs. Hudson! We see them solving crimes, contacting detectives and even using a network of boys to spy for them, just like Holmes does in ACD's stories.

My other favorite humorous scene was the lunch scene with the Doctor and Clara, where they both misunderstand each other and think that the other person placed the ad. The Doctor taking Clara's hand and telling her to never change... hahaha. And "it's a face!" "Yes, it's very convincing," "No, it's a face!" "Ahh!"

The dinosaur may have been a bit... in your face, but I still thought it worked as a good comparison to the Doctor. Old, alone, confused, in a place he doesn't belong... and the Doctor watches this creature die, knowing he cannot save it. It seems like maybe he can't save himself, either. By the end of the episode, we see the Doctor admit to that - he can't be alone. He doesn't know how.

I just thought of something: this is the first time ever in this show that I really felt the Doctor's sense of fear at the idea of a companion leaving him. I'm not talking about 10's grief over losing Rose or Donna, or even Matt Smith's panic over losing Amy. See, this Doctor doesn't think he's going to be able to find anyone else to rely on. He's depending on Clara helping him, for the sake of what he used to be, not what he is now. I think he's truly scared that he's not worth anyone's time, and that his previous versions command more love and respect than he can. Very interesting.

Oh, and speaking of comparisons to the Doctor - not only do we have the dinosaur, we also have the cyborgs. These creatures have been replacing bits of themselves until there's nothing original left - and where did the cyborg get that face? Where did the Doctor get his face? He feels like he recognizes it, ostensibly from the Pompeii episode back in Series Four. I like the idea that the Doctor has been borrowing bits and pieces from the world around him until he can't really recognize who he is anymore. Hopefully, throughout the season we see him start to find who he is at his core.

That's what makes it all the more tragic that the Doctor is convincing this cyborg that he has nothing left to live for - that it's time for him to give up and die. If the Doctor is noticing the parallels between himself and this robot, and he most certainly is, then he's noticing that his own usefulness might be running out, too. And while I hate the thought of the Doctor doing violence, I absolutely ADORE the fact that we don't know if the Doctor pushed the cyborg, or if the cyborg jumped. Yikes. How brutal. (Although, again, we didn't need it shoved in our faces by that weird little epilogue where Missy asks the cyborg if the Doctor pushed him or not. Thanks, lady. I wouldn't have caught the tension of the moment if you hadn't explicitly stated it for me. Gosh.)

Another thing to praise is the pacing and the buildup in this episode. The scene where Clara is abandoned by the Doctor and has to walk through the ship holding her breath was actually very creepy. And when Clara places her life in the hands of the Doctor, depending on her faith in him and she reaches her hand out backwards... "please let me be right!" And the Doctor grabs her hand and spins her around. That scene had my heart pumping. (Although I do have to point out that it's another example of how Clara's entire being is centered around the Doctor. She may have been smart enough to survive down there without him, but her plan for escaping was simply to hope that she could still trust the Doctor. If that had been Rose, Martha, or Donna, I'm convinced that they would have called for Vastra and the gang a lot sooner.)

The suspense before the cyborg fell to his death was also perfectly executed. I really didn't know what was going to happen, or what I wanted to happen. So that was nicely done. The Doctor even looks into the camera briefly, after we see the cyborg impaled. Creepy.

I'll end with a discussion of the last scene. Although, once again, this was all about the Doctor and not really about Clara, I still really loved it. We see the Doctor's hope and then despair, as Clara says she doesn't know him anymore. The best line was when Clara told the Doctor he shouldn't have been listening to her phone call, and the Doctor points out that he didn't have to, because he was the one who made the call. "I'm not on the phone, I'm right here. Standing in front of you. Please, just... just see me." In that moment, both Clara and the watching audience had to try and squish Matt Smith's character together with Capaldi's. The pieces don't quite fit, but they're not really supposed to. Clara is willing to risk the Doctor that is, for the sake of the Doctor that was. Hopefully we continue to see that tension play out.

I also have to praise this little moment: "Clara, I'm not your boyfriend." "I never thought you were." "I never said it was your mistake." This was so perfect. Matt Smith's Doctor was clearly smitten by Clara, but it was always just part of the illusion - the veil of the Doctor's young face, the performance he was putting on for her. This new version of the Doctor is older, lined, grim, and maybe a lot more true to who he has been inside for quite a long time.

Okay, I should probably wrap this up. I have complicated feelings about this episode and about this show in general, but Capaldi's performance was great, and I want to explore his dynamic with Clara further. And who is the woman in the shop?

7/10