You’ve Got Horror for Days? THE VOID’s Got Cosmic Dread for Weeks

The Void. 2017. Directed and Written by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.
Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Won, Mik Byskov, Art Hindle, Stephanie Belding, James Millington, Evan Stern, & Grace Munro.
Cave Painting Pictures/JoBro Productions & Film Finance
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTEREveryone goes on and on about how this movie’s influenced by The Thing, which I’m sure is definitely true. I’d argue it’s more Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness than any of the master’s works. Others go on that it’s Lovecraftian, though I don’t agree totally; the filmmakers say it was their influence, and that’s fine. As I often preach, artistic intent doesn’t always have to equal concrete meaning to the audience.
Most of all, this is an original bit of sci-fi-ish horror on its own. Sure, it draws bits of heart from films co-writers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski likely grew up watching. It throws back to the 1980s. To give their influences too much credit is to do a disservice to their horrific originality.
Many movies post-2010 seem to feel like throwback means an ’80s-type electronic score and a dark yet vibrant look. The Void has a wicked score, the sound is perfect. Best is the fact the team behind the film went with expert practical effects for the various creatures and abominations. Add these technical aspects to solid performances from one of my latest genre favourites Aaron Poole, as well as the great Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle from Twin Peaks). This makes for one fine ride into the heart of darkness.
TheVoid1The Lovecraftian influence, the Carpenter roots, they’re fine. Gillespie and Kostanski are what matters. Their story, particularly how it’s told, works wonders on the suspense and tension which builds so dreadfully over the course of the first third of the film. Their directorial work is startling, with grim delight. We start out with an act of violence that’s inexplicable; at the time. From there, the writing-directing team unravel a tale of a cult offering sacrifices to an otherworldly entity called from the cosmos.
Production design on this one all around is fantastic. The location of the hospital is like they found a facility in the middle of nowhere, cultivating a mood all of its own. In addition, the costumes for the cult add to that atmosphere by sort of crashing down on top of the audience. When we first see them it’s a shocking moment, oh so excellent.
Not to mention the cinematography of Samy Inayeh (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh; another great flick with Poole starring) makes everything feel hazy, terrifying, like a feverish nightmare even before the descent into utter madness and hell. The visual style is most definitely part of what gives it a throwback feel. The biggest part of that essence is the practical effects work, up there with some of the best in the genre.
TheVoid2Kostanski has an extensive background in makeup effects. He’s doing stuff on the new It, he worked on ClownGirlHouseHannibal, and even worked as an uncredited prosthetics shop assistant for 2005’s Capote. Point being, he knows his shit. He uses his chops here, alongside Gillespie, whose resume is as impressive having worked on It and Suicide Squad as assistant art director (both of which his co-director and writer worked on). He was a graphic designer on Hannibal, too. He served as assistant art director on Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, and the underrated found footage 388 Arletta Avenue is his first art directing credit. These two artists together did something on this film which amazes, in the best horror kind of way.
The creatures involved in the descent to hell, as the characters of The Void explore the hospital basement, are totally wild! Some of the best stuff out there, truly. I can see why The Thing is used as comparison. Particularly when it comes to the final monster we witness birthed; like a combination of pieces of living things. A vicious finale creation. That isn’t it, though. Throughout the movie we see various creatures, and you can’t forget the other practical effects like the blood, et cetera. That seemingly simple stuff can often get lost in the shuffle for other, lesser horrors. Not these guys. The attention to detail is what drives this whole effort home.
TheVoid3Above anything else, the end and what the film builds to from the start is the payoff. I won’t spoil it. Just to say that I love the vision these guys brought to the visuals. There’s something wholly original in the way they presented the other world, where Dr. Powell (Welsh) intends on going. Those last shots are perfection, impressing upon us without words the tiny speck that is humanity on the entirety of the universe. Gorgeous, if not also disturbing.
I gave this film a 4 and 1/2 star rating (out of 5) because The Void does what two other similar movies, Baskin and Last Shift, didn’t do despite their awesomeness: it shows us an end result. What I mean is that those other two films, kick ass as they are, sort of end in a place where there’s ultimately no traction. Not saying nothing happens, if you check my reviews of them both I’m actually a huge fan (I’ve seen Baskin at least a dozen times).
The Void goes a step further, not only in its inventiveness and practical effects monster work, it also opts to go full-on cosmic. In this way, I concede that they touch on Lovecraft and his rightful idea about man’s insignificance to other much greater, larger, non-human entities out there in the universe; gods, if you will.
Again, I don’t like to lean so heavily only on influence. Gillespie and Kostanski deserve what’s due – praise, for a breathtaking wave of pure terror, start to finish. They’ll live on with this film, though I cannot wait to see their next project. These guys are the real fucking deal.

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THE DARK TAPES: Fresh Indie Found Footage

The Dark Tapes. 2017. Directed by Vincent J. Guastini & Michael McQuown. Screenplay by McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Ryan Allan Young, & Stepehn Zimpel.
Thunder Road Incorporated.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Dark Tapes 1Director Michael McQuown sent me a screener for his and co-director Vincent J. Guastini’s independent film, The Dark Tapes. I’d heard of it awhile, hearing plenty of good things. Not overhyped; hyped just enough. I’m always ready to dig in on a found footage flick, no matter how tired the sub-genre seems to get with so many low budget efforts being pumped out simply to get a director and some actors a credit to their names.
The Dark Tapes isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few missteps that could’ve been avoided to make the whole thing more effective, certain tapes in the lot aren’t as good as others. Often anthologies suffer from this fate. The lesser tapes are still good. There’s nothing bad here. Each tape, regardless of its setbacks, has an eerie quality to it respectively.
McQuown and Guastini use a meagre budget wisely, choosing to use effects sparingly and, for the most part, they work. This is one of their best moves, because they don’t set the bar too high yet clearly focused on staying creepy. There are standouts in the series of tapes, presented through the narrative of being proof of government conspiracy-type stuff, the truth the powers that be suppress and keep from the people – a couple deserve their own full-length treatments. Certain segments stand up with some of the best of the V/H/S series (no surprise considering Guastini is not only an effects guy, he did work on the third entry, Viral).
Dark Tapes 2My only beef, and I’ll get to this first before discussing what I enjoyed so much, is that the directing is mostly excellent. Then, they choose to show us too much. For the longest time what we only get glimpses of in frame is what drives the pulse-pounding terror. As you can see in the photo above, that’s a startling shot. Love that moment; freezing the frame only compounds the fear. However, the directors lose some of that momentum later when they choose to show this demonic figure up close for too long. They try offsetting this with the use of camera glitches (et cetera). But it never makes up for the undoing of the fright from seeing the creature long enough we can start picking out some of the less stellar aspects of its creation.
The rest of the tapes are presented with brief shots and bits that are framed properly so that the low budget qualities don’t glare. And honestly, it’s only the one main demon in the “To Catch a Demon” segments that comes off as cheesy, which is late in the game. Otherwise, in the “Amanda’s Revenge” tape, the creatures (or whatever you want to call them) look legitimately gnarly, in the best horror sense. Particularly in that tape, we get some wonderfully old school film shots, the rickety frame, catching a presence in the distance, and it’s so genuinely perfect for the type of eeriness for which this segments is aiming.
Dark Tapes 3The tapes have an overall framing narrative, though I think that while there’s a connection between the tapes as a whole, it isn’t as connective as the filmmakers might hope. Mostly, I don’t feel that the connections are tight enough. The writing is interesting, at every turn. I can’t help think McQuown could’ve brainstormed something better to make them all into the cohesive unit the beginning (and mid-credits) speech we hear wishes it’d become. If this were tighter then it would’ve greatly improved the film.
But the stories, they’re fresh. Even in the moments some of them don’t exactly work as intended, they’re innovative. I found “The Hunters and the Hunted” was my favourite because it caught me so off guard once the revelation came, until then I expected a run of the mill bit of paranormal shlock; a proper twist, if there ever were! Also enjoyed “Cam Girls” except the end devolved into a ham-fisted mess. Before that it was wildly creepy, the editing made it feel very kinetic and full of horrific energy; while it falls apart later with absolutely no subtlety and a ton of unnecessary exposition that could’ve been given to us through imagery earlier (a missed opportunity), this segment  was insane.
And “Cam Girls” has an underlying metaphor in it, about our porn-obsessed culture that involves men watching women through their screens performing, some thinking they’re falling in love just by watching. If only the plot of this segment were worked out better, it’d be a devastating short.
Dark Tapes 5For a low budget, non-studio film, The Dark Tapes has an impressive production value. This is one of the things that keeps even the lesser pieces involving, it’s better than the average indie found footage attempt. With so many of these sub-genre flicks saturating the market, incredibly easy to make on a shoestring to non-existent budget, it’s nice to see what’s so obviously a labour of horror love come to the screen from these directors.
Sure, not every segment is perfect. A couple are scary as hell. And like I’ve yammered on, even in those segments which don’t measure up there’s still things to pique your interest. If anything, the effort the team on this film put in is astounding. Kudos to them all, I certainly hope that McQuown and Guastini do more, whether it’s in found footage that’s up to them. Without a doubt they’ve got horror sensibilities.
The Dark Tapes, warts and all, is one of the better found footage movies I’ve seen as of late, running the gamut of horror, thriller, and science fiction with relative ease. Like Tales of HalloweenHolidaysV/H/S, and Southbound, this is an anthology worth dipping into for a fright.

Legion – Chapter 8

FX’s Legion
Chapter 8
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a recap & review of the penultimate Chapter, click here.
Pic 1Now that the Interrogator (Hamish Linklater) has returned, we see flashbacks to his encounter with David (Dan Stevens), his injury and subsequent recovery. At his bedside waits Daniel (Keir O’Donnell); it appears they’re partners, as well as having an adopted child together. The poor guy rests in bed, recovering, and he’s left with burns all over his body. “Theres my handsome guy,” Daniel says reassuringly, yet we’re juxtaposed with the mangled scar tissue on his partner’s face as a jarring visual. He has a Jack Nicholson’s Joker moment – except much more subdued – asking for a mirror, seeing his new face for the first time, too. Thus begins a long period of rest, trying to get better. When he gets back to work he says fuck desk duty. He’s “going to war” and finishing what was started that day at the pool.
Need to note that the visuals of the series are gorgeous and well conceived. On top of that, Jeff Russo’s score is haunting, it’s a huge part of the show’s atmosphere. Russo has done good work before, I’d vote that this is his best yet. Accompanies the psychedelic, surreal feel of Legion in such an appropriate way. The music has such an ’80s feeling at times that it’s wonderfully throwback.
Now the Interrogator and his SWAT members have David, Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), Syd (Rachel Keller), all of them at gunpoint. Ready to die. Except David disagrees, using his powers to make a human totem of the SWAT team. Instead of letting Ptonomy shoot the Interrogator, David takes the time to build bridges instead of burn them. Problem is, Daniel and everyone back at D3 are watching through the eye of the Interrogator.
Pic 1AAnd worse, David worries that schizophrenia still grips him. That everything happening is an elaborate dream. Syd tries convincing him either he accepts his powers are real, or else they’ll never get out of the trouble they’re in.
David: “Im so sick of myself. This only works if its not about me.”
At Summerland, Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) tries to wrangle everyone together, as Cary (Bill Irwin) keeps an eye on David’s halo. She wants to find out more about D3 with the Interrogator in their keep. The halo, however, is losing juice. They’ve got to figure out what to do; about the Shadow King, Farouk, that Devil with the Yellow Eyes. And fucking Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), still talking. Always talking. Then there’s Cary and Kerry (Amber Midthunder), fighting over what happened between them on the astral plane, and she is pissed. A lot of tension happening.
Melanie’s also distraught over the situation with Oliver (Jemaine Clement), who still can’t remember her. They agree to have dinner together, she hopes he’ll soon remember. Sad to watch her essentially left behind by him, albeit not intentional. Either way, she has the Interrogator – he says his name’s Clark – with whom she must deal. He mostly has threats for her. Doesn’t faze Dr. Bird: “You better learn to fly like a bird because the age of the dinosaur is over.”


So Clark’s sat down with David, who seems more in control than ever. Which is less comforting, more scary than I expected. “You dont have to be afraid,” he tells Clark, over and over and over. Then things start getting strange. Syd finds herself in more of the dream world, faced with a creepy, decaying Lenny, appearing to her as the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, its true form. She has to face the evil down, and she does – explaining how they’re cutting it out, like doctors do with a tumour; cut it out, burn it. Only Lenny says she’s a part of David now. To get her out, David must go, as well.
Clark: “Youre gods, and someday youre gonna wake up and realise you dont need to listen to us anymore.”
David: “Isnt that the history of the world? People of different nations, different languages learning to live together?”
Poor David goes weak. Syd explains to Clark about the parasite, what it is and how they plan on ridding David of it. I wonder, will this guy succumb and help? Regardless of that, all the while D3 is listening holding the Peacemaker at bay, for the time being.
With Clark back in holding with Kerry, the others go to work on David – Oliver, specifically. He and Cary detect a second set of brain waves within their subject’s head. Hopefully they can fix it while leaving David’s mind intact. As Pink Floyd and Tom Stoppard plays, they work away, and David flashes back through memories in his past, Lenny struggling harder and harder inside to get out.
David’s lost in a sea of memory, right back to being an infant. And the Devil with the Yellow Eyes lurks right behind. He confronts it, calling Lenny out from within. He wonders of his identity, without Lenny. Who and what he is without that part of him. “Are you my phantom?” he asks. “What happens to me when you’re gone?” Like a child, first dealing with the prospect of life without their imaginary friend. Then the parasite chokes David, trying to kill him. Can he survive without Farouk? Must he die?


Doing the unthinkable, Syd tries saving David by kissing him on the lips. Transferring the parasite into herself. Oh, shit. Off come the gloves, both figuratively and literally. Going from Syd to Kerry, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes uses her ass kicking skills to start a lot of trouble. Even Clark tries to stop it before getting tossed aside like trash.
Then we have a face off between Kerry possessed and David, healthy, powerful again. They fly at one another with full speed and power, blowing each other back. And Oliver, he winds up in the way of things. While the Summerland facility is in chaos, he walks out and drives off on his own. Right after he’d just remembered his wife, too. A sad, unexpected consequence of David’s battle with Farouk.


On the road, Oliver rides with Lenny shotgun. Another powerful mind latched onto by the nasty parasite. What’s going to happen next? Who knows. One thing’s for sure, Season 2 is going to be wild, in all sorts of ways. Also a great inclusion of “Children of the Revolution” by T Rex in the last scene. Beauty way to close out an awesome season!
An after credits scene sees David tracking Lenny and Oliver, knowing they’re headed south. They’re also visited by a strange orb. It scans David, then sucks him inside. Carrying him off elsewhere. WHOOOA!
Pic 4Pic 4ACannot wait for next year. This was one of the best series to have premiered in years, honestly. Lots of good stuff out there, but Noah Hawley is on another level. Between this and Fargo? One of TV’s auteurs, for certain.

Legion – Chapter 7

FX’s Legion
Chapter 7
Directed by Dennie Gordon
Written by Jennifer Yale

* For a recap & review of Chapter 6, click here.
* For a recap & review of Chapter 8, click here.
Pic 1The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) is stalking, closer and closer, behind Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder). She tires to run and hide, though it isn’t easy to escape him.
And watching as always, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, a.k.a Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza). She’s got Amy Haller (Katie Aselton) in her grasp. She asks Amy about when David (Dan Stevens) first came to live with their family. Sly little visual reference to Professor X, as his wheelchair dissolves past in an image while Lenny shouts: “What did he do with it?” Hmm.


In the meantime, Cary (Bill Irwin) has found his way to Oliver Bird (Jemaine Clement) in that astral plane lounge. They drink, chat. Oliver wants to help however he can with the parasite that’s attached itself to David. Apparently the monster is called Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King. He’s sequestered David in the deep recess of his own mind. The longer this goes on, the more chance Farouk takes over the body entirely. This prompts Cary to come up with a plan. A wacky one, though a plan. Starting with the diving suit.
First visit is to Syd (Rachel Keller), removing the headphones keeping her subdued in the dreamy space of David’s childhood room. Cary brings her away to a safer place, so they can talk; she already knows the whole deal. Because she’s smart. Sort of ruins his excitement of explaining in hilarious fashion. Regardless, the plan is underway.
The halls of the hospital are absolute havoc. Good thing Syd’s got special glasses to cut through Farouk’s created imagery. Cary always keeps a few tricks up his sleeve, just like Oliver.
Meanwhile, Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) is drifting through the abstract, too. She comes across the diving suit with Cary inside, as well as Oliver in the room where their gunfight went down. Only the husband can’t remember his wife, his memory’s been affected quite a deal. It’s good to have him there, if only to help think through their next steps. But it’s what Melanie does next that’s interesting. Whispering in a Rudy’s ear, who in the later part of the timeline is stuck in a wall. But for now, Cut to Syd – she slips a pair of those nifty glasses onto Kerry, thwarting The Eye on the way.


Stuck in a “mental coffin” David faces British David (fun with Dan speaking in a native British accent). His rational mind. It’s all “just an idea” and the monster’s implanted in their head. Farouk is manipulating David’s mind, and in turn the wild mutant powers he wields. Very fun seeing the two sides of David, led by the rational mind, work out the problems with logic and reason. We’re watching the visual representation of the mind at work. And eventually, rational David convinces the other part of David the monster’s been around since he was just a child. Beautifully conceived sequence, all around! References to X-Men abound in this episode. Even as David figures it out, he gives his long lost father a British accent, not yet knowing his identity.
So the monster waited, watched after being defeated by David’s father, then found David, possessing him. Torturing him and feeding off his energy. Its parasitic machinations were to regain its own power to take revenge. Usually such exposition would feel lame, overdone, tedious. This doesn’t because of a) the visuals, and b) the storytelling works because of David having this two-way conversation with himself. Glorious fucking writing and directing, all around a fantastic job in this episode particularly.


Syd and Kerry keep moving forward. As does David, breaking through room after room, many of them the same, hearing Syd call for him. Melanie and Oliver and Cary, they work on their side of things in the room of that gunfight; Oliver does some wonderful conducting on the astral plane. This is even wilder and weirder and more fun than the previous sequence. Add in title cards like a silent film as Syd calls to the others, fighting alongside Kerry, and the whole thing’s more interesting than you can handle.
This will blow your mind, honestly.
Then Lenny shows up. She (literally) crushes The Eye, who’s of no use any longer. What a wild effect, such good work! And in that frozen gunfight, The Eye’s head starts running with blood. However, Lenny infiltrates that space, tossing Oliver to the side. Free to do as Farouk pleases.
Simultaneously, Cary puts the device on David’s head, Rudy grabs hold of Lenny, and with the full influence of David’s mind the place is under his control again: he saves Syd. But takes the bullets; catching them in his hand, like a true bad ass. All is well again, at least for now. Everyone returns, and so they can return to reality once more.


And who else came back – Oliver himself. His memory still a bit ransacked like on the astral plane. Then there’s also a divide between Cary and Kerry, the latter feeling abandoned by the former in a deep way. Although things are better, they aren’t all perfect. It’ll do at the moment.
David and Amy get time together, as well. She feels bad for not telling him about the adoption before. But she finds it cool he’s a mutant. He does, too. Sadly Amy has to stay away from her family for a while because of D3, all the madness.
Furthermore, David has flashes of the monster inside. He wants to get Farouk out of him, and fast. Before who knows what happens. Yet they can’t do that because the interrogator David long thought he was rid of at D3 returns, burned up face and all. He’s got men with guns. Threatening to kill everyone else, except David. Oh, shit.
Not to mention deep down inside him still lurks Lenny, Farouk, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes. And that nasty bastard wants out. Strangely enough, it might actually help to let the devil out to play.
Pic 5Pic 5AI keep thinking I’ve seen my favourite episode of Legion yet, then Noah Hawley & Co. come at us hard with another visionary chapter in this impeccable first season. One of the best debut seasons of any series; ever. I’d take that to the bank. So excited for the season finale. NOW GIVE US SEASON 2, QUICK! Mainline it to my veins.

Legion – Chapter 6

FX’s Legion
Chapter 6
Directed by Hiro Murai
Written by Nathaniel Halpern

* For a recap & review of Chapter 5, click here.
* For a recap & review of Chapter 7, click here.
Pic 1Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) sits with therapist Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), who talks with her about her frozen husband. They’re in a dangerous place. Next is Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), talking of his mother who died while unloading the dishwasher. Then, Kerry and Cary Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder & Bill Irwin) ruminating on their likeness, their relationship (“Whos it hurting?”). Even The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) must have a session with Dr. Lenny.
Syd (Rachel Keller) is the only one to formally question their current reality. But it’s just more medication and off Syd goes back to the halls of the institution in which they’re all patients. In the lunge, Ptonomy and David (Dan Stevens) talk about a drooling, near comatose patient sitting in a wheelchair across from them.
Continually we see that Syd knows something isn’t right, she sees a different door than usual in one of the hallways. Yet nobody else does, and the more she tries to alert them the further Dr. Lenny meddles. And David, he’s sucked into that little world. Far too much.


At dinner, Amy (Katie Aselton) – a nurse in their facility – won’t let David have any pies. “Its just pie,” he quips when Syd offers not to eat in solidarity. Her next bite is filled with insects, swarming. Only it isn’t. But we’ve seen that before, right? Another sign of that Devil with the Yellow Eyes. If that weren’t enough we focus on the pie, as Lenny’s face is revealed in a nice cross-fade. Before a fun musical number with her edited in various ways across various places in David’s mind. Love the visuals of this series as a whole. And Lenny is the perfect chaotic embodiment of the mess going on inside David. Legion gets my vote for one of the most visually exciting TV shows of all time.
Syd: “You ever have that feeling like somethings happened before, except differently?”
David and Syd talk about their life in that hospital. He’s not keen on getting out because of his prior experiences. He can’t handle real life. Although what he knows, or thinks he knows there with Dr. Lenny, it’s all a lie. Syd knows this, and she doesn’t want to stay. She keeps on having a dream; about the moment before they wound up in that place. Creepy. Cary and Kerry, Ptonomy, Dr. Bird, David, they’re convinced in a need for treatment. But Syd keeps pushing.
And The Eye never stops sneaking, watching.


In the night, Cary sees that place Oliver showed us. Just beyond consciousness. Cary reaches out for it then everything around him disappears. Then he’s in a forest of stars. Across from him someone in an old diver’s outfit, like Oliver. But is it him? Or someone more sinister?
Syd begins to articulate to David that the facility they’re in may be a “version of reality” and not anything concrete. He insists it’s part of her psychosis, why she’s in there, maybe. He says she’s delusional. That he isn’t schizophrenic. It confuses her completely. Again, something isn’t quite right.
She comes across a strange, soft spot in the wall. Blood leaks out. Triggering memories, all sorts. They flood back to her relentlessly. Afterwards, Dr. Lenny turns up offering some music therapy, a nice pair of headphones. And once more Syd is subdued, thrown off track. She floats on to the sound of crickets.
When Kerry goes to find Cary she only finds The Eye, being utterly terrifying. Worse, she doesn’t know where her other half is gone.


David has a run in with his sister Amy, the nurse. She tells him he isn’t wanted there. Nobody likes him. “Youre a freak, youre disgusting,” she says. Then she gags and gags and gags without actually throwing up. Wow, that’s more unsettling than I’d have thought! And the mindgames, good lord. Poor David is being thrashed mentally. The closest person to him, his blood, telling him he’s revolting. That is deep and sharp and awful.
In her room Melanie sees Oliver. Or, someone in the diver’s suit. I worry for her, she seems particularly fragile out of the group. Then she follows the diver through a wall into a tunnel; at its end a flashing light. Further on she goes, in past a locked door, and this leads her down to a dark place. We see the moments before they were transported to that hospital. Bullets in mid air, frozen. She can’t piece it together. The diver points, suggesting she change the course of events. Yet always watching are the eyes of Dr. Lenny.
Speaking of, she tries convincing David that Syd isn’t the “right girl” for him. She has a grim conception of love, which he believes he has with Syd. She has a lot to say about power. And that it is in itself the entire point of life.


Dr. Lenny drops a bomb, too: she knew David’s father. Whoa! “I found you,” she taunts menacingly. Furthermore, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes wants to merge their powers. It needs the physical form.
Lenny: “I could give a shit about your mind
Later on, Syd gets a visit in her trance-like state from a man in a diver’s suit: Cary himself.
Pic 5LOVED THIS EPISODE TO DEATH! Jesus. Only gets better with every chapter. There were so many wild things happening here, and the story’s various strands twist together so well. A ton of great acting on top of all the solid writing. What a series. Already renewed for Season 2. Even a bit of David Bowie at the end of this episode; fucking sweet.

Legion – Chapter 4

FX’s Legion
Chapter 4
Directed by Larysa Kondracki
Written by Nathaniel Halpern

* For a recap & review of Chapter 3, click here.
* For a recap & review of Chapter 5, click here.
pic-1We open on Jemaine Clement playing Oliver Bird, husband of Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart). He paraphrases Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote: “Under peaceful conditions, the warlike man attacks himself.” He speaks about the fear of the unknown, and violence as ignorance. Everything around him’s cold. Very, very cold. Then he mentions empathy v. fear in telling stories to children. Ought to remind us of David Haller (Dan Stevens) being told the story of that angry boy.
Back to present events. Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller), Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), Dr. Bird, they’ve been sucked into the world of David, the one trapped in his head. There’s no telling if anything is real, at any point in time. At Summerland, Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) tells them there’s no medical explanation for why David’s in a coma-like state now. Neither he nor Ptonomy can figure it out. He’s stuck between dreams and reality, somewhere. They’ve got to discover what happened to David before he wound up at Clockworks Hospital, what damaged him so bad.
pic-2Off they go, searching for answers. They go to the places where his memories took them. First, the office of Dr. Poole (Scott Lawrence). Ptonomy and Syd discuss what happened in David’s memories, the abnormal “tear” in the physical space where they experienced those moments. They find a recording device from the doctor’s sessions, beaten, bloody hand prints on it – using their powers, it comes back to life and tells them of a possibly brutal, violent crime. Poole was beaten horribly with savage force. But, did David actually do that? Or was it the dark entity, The Devil with the Yellow Eyes? Did he break into Poole’s office originally to steal things for drugs? Was it something else? We’ll see.
What did the stars say?”
Poor Amy Haller (Katie Aselton) is still being held captive, too. She’s not faring well, psychologically. Although she discovers there’s someone else nearby locked in a cell just like her: David’s former doctor at Clockworks. She laments not realising sooner there was something different about her brother, since he was young he moved from “room to room” and even further at times. He talked to people frequently, such as their dog King. Only they never had one.
Everyone around the man’s been affected. Amy is in a cell, alongside the doc. Meanwhile, Syd, Ptonomy, and Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder) are searching for the clues that will lead them to the answers. We get the story about the Loudermilks, or, well… the one Loudermilk. They share a body, Cary and Kerry. Two people in a single body, though the experience for each of them isn’t entirely identical, Kerry exists in a sort of spirit state while Cary is the more corporeal form on a regular basis; she comes out to play when necessary.
In her office, Dr. Bird has a vision of a person in an old school-type diver’s suit. She tells Cary of the incident, hoping it’s a sign David may be coming back to the land of the living. The guy in the suit is Oliver. His physical body is kept frozen in a chamber downstairs.

pic-7David, in one of his mindfuck landscapes, meets Oliver. Not really, he just gets a wave from the diving suit-clad dead guy. To follow him elsewhere. So, they head into the great unknown together, as David follows him to a ladder. Up, up, up. This leads to that place where first we saw Oliver, talking to us. That freezing place. There, Oliver sits for a drink and a chat with his new friend. “Whats real in this space is whatever you want it to be, so, my feeling is: why not wait in style?” he quips to David.
Bad news – David’s lost. Good news? Oliver has himself a bit of company. And someone to bounce beat poetry off when the mood strikes. They get to talking about David and his powers, the monster waiting for him around every corner. Now he’s intent on getting out of that cold place. He plunges back into the “vast subconscious” in order to make his way back to real life. If possible. Oliver certainly doesn’t assuage any fears, warning him things get tricky out there, outside of that protected place.
Ptonomy and Syd go to visit David’s ex-girlfriend. To scan her memories. They need to find more of his past, from wherever it comes. Back through a few of them, Ptonomy watches a dinner with the formerly happy couple and Dr. Poole. Then he finds traces of another memory within it: they know where Poole lives. Ah, and more comes to light! Lenny (Aubrey Plaza) was actually a drug pusher named Benny. Plus, the ex tells Syd and Ptonomy ominously: “Tell him theyre watching.”
Oh, my. So many questions. Implanted memories, hidden secrets.
What is real?
pic-8They track down Dr. Poole at a lighthouse, who’s reluctant to speak about David. Soon he tells them about the good and bad sides of his former patient. He says he’d actually like to see David again. Because he needs answers, after having his entire life ruined. Afterwards, they find themselves trapped by The Eye (Mackenzie Gray). Nothing is real. Armed men lay siege to the lighthouse. The trio run upstairs, but Kerry’s ready to take the offensive to their attackers. A fight breaks loose, where Kerry fights (and Cary goes through the motions back at Summerland), and we also see The Eye in action for the first time, he has his own powers. Unfortunately, Kerry’s taken down. But Syd, she touches The Eye with her bare hands. You know what THAT means!
Note: This is one of the best sequences of the series so far in these first four episodes. So powerful, exciting. Gives us awesome insight into the Cary-Kerry dynamic, as well.
David’s brought into another headspace with/by Lenny. She has things to talk about with him. She chastises him for going with Dr. Bird, ending up in Coma Land. He only wants the truth, even if she’s intent on her own designs. She riles him up into an angry, terrifying state.
Lenny: “Uncle Fiddly with the glasses and the angry girl inside him, they could be fingering you right now.”
Then suddenly, David is in the woods. He runs a truck off the road containing Syd and the others; he doesn’t realise there’s been a switcheroo. This starts up an awkward chase, as David urges Syd – The Eye – to run. When they switch back, The Eye puts a bullet into Kerry, sending Cary back at Summerland into a bleeding tailspin. Not so sure anymore that Lenny’s there to help David, not at all. Seeing as how she appears on his shoulder, while her hand looks suspiciously like one belonging to the Devil with the Yellow Eyes.


Another fascinating Chapter in Legion! Wow. Every one gets better visually than the last. I don’t doubt we’ll see the momentum charge forward in Chapter 5. Lots of weird and wild action afoot.

Legion – Chapter 3

FX’s Legion
Chapter 3
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Peter Calloway

* For a recap & review of Chapter 2, click here.
* For a recap & review of Chapter 4, click here.
pic-1Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) and her Summerland facility run on smoothly, as David Haller (Dan Stevens) digs deeper into his mind. Everybody’s doing something constructive, from Syd (Rachel Keller) to Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), and Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin).
Still, The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) holds David’s sister Amy (Katie Aselton) hostage. And how long until something really bad happens?
Now more of therapy, just amped up. They’re digging into the “shit that scares you the most” in terms of the largest events in David’s life where he manifested powers, believing it mental illness. We cycle back through the familiar stuff, the kitchen before everything exploded. When Melanie and Ptonomy witness what happens afterwards they’re both wowed by their new friend’s powerful abilities. Then they’re back to a memory with David and Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), high as fuck, which starts a confrontation after Philly arrives.
And once more the Devil with the Yellow Eyes returns, scaring David. The memory changes, things aren’t the same anymore. When they come out of the memory work they’ve literally transported “600 feet through two solid walls.” Yowzahs.
pic-2The continuing relationship between David and Syd is fun, not a conventional-type relationship we so often see. Of course that’s precipitated by the fact they’re mutants, or whatever you’d like to call them. Either way, she’s awesome, and it’s excellent to see a different female character in these superhero stories. In this episode, David and Syd talk about their past to one another. He also has residual physical manifestations of their switching bodies.
Syd: “Were more than just this
Later, David goes over with Cary for a few tests. A kind of stress test. This takes him back to a memory on Halloween, as he and big sister Amy go trick or treating. When their dog ran off, David ended up seeing The World’s Angriest Boy in The World come to life. Oh, and Lenny shows up, too! We watch now as he speaks to Lenny, hearing her, yet to the outside world he’s not actually talking. His brain’s lighting up as if he’s talking, but he’s not at all. Lenny is one hell of an antagonist, though. As if his mind, in general. It goes into overdrive. David levitates, followed by Syd, as well. They disappear into nothingness.
They’re transported to where Amy sits, interrogated over and over about her brother and his powers, confronted with the fact he doesn’t have schizophrenia. Rather, he’s a powerful “god.” She has no information for them. That’ll be a problem if David and Co can’t get to her in time.


Melanie doesn’t want David doing his transportation act again any time soon. Could put them all in danger. We also get a history of the place, or a short one, anyways. There’s a lot going on for them, between Amy missing, David’s powers, old friends now foes of Melanie. On top of that, Dr. Bird wants to weaponize David, essentially. He won’t let up until his sister is safe. Simultaneous, he won’t stand for putting Syd in danger, even though she kicks ass, has saved him a few times already, et cetera. They deal with it in their own way, talking it through and feeling their connection immensely without any physical contact; one of the interesting, fun things I enjoy about their relationship.
David: “To be a monster, youve first got to do something monstrous.”
More memory work!
This time, Dr. Bird puts David into sedation. They go back to see how he wound up in Clockworks. Intriguing that Syd’s powers don’t work inside the memories, not without her physical body. She actually gets to hug David, but a young, little David. Odd, yet in a way romantic across space and time.
Then strange flashes, banging around the room while they watch David’s memories. Except they’re only images Syd can see. Something tears open a wall behind Melanie and Ptonomy, creeping its hands through the gap. They lose track of one another when Syd stumbles back through various memories of David’s in succession, chasing the child version of David through room after room. She even witnesses David having sex, at one point; very weird, considering she’s unable to have human contact.
Trapped in David’s head, The Angriest Boy in the World stalks the child. And worse still, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes. Syd and Ptonomy manage to make it out of their deep sleep. Although David and Melanie remain under.


Amongst the memories, Dr. Bird still walks, looking for answers. She finds The World’s Angriest Boy in the World tucked away in a closet. She reads through the sinister book. It soon slams shut on her hand, sending her back to the couch with Ptonomy. However, the memories are scaring everybody now, not only David.
He’s got his own demons, too. Terrifying ones that won’t let go.
screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-3-33-09-amscreen-shot-2017-02-23-at-3-34-43-amWhat an episode! This series is just knocking each Chapter out the park. Hawley and the crew doing amazing work, solid directors and writers involved. Great, great stuff. Looking forward to Chapter 4.

Legion – Chapter 1

FX’s Legion
Chapter 1
Directed by Noah Hawley
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a recap & review of Chapter 2, click here.
screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-4-01-17-pmWe open on a little baby. We watch him grow up to “Happy Jack” by The Who. Along the way we see he has… issues. He goes from hearing voices in his head to blowing the windows out of a cop car to being examined by a doctor, and more. The boy, soon to be a man, is David Haller (Dan Stevens). Even tries to hang himself later down the road due to the voices running non-stop.
We see David in a facility getting a visit from his older sister, Amy (Katie Aselton). He’s not happy, but he’s doing better: “Something new needs to happen soon.” He goes about the days taking his medication, suppressing supposedly crazy thoughts, mingling with the others at the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital. Such as Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), Wild Rusty Combs (Sidartha Murjani), among others. He drags himself through therapy, going through all the motions. A feverish dream of images comes at us and shows us the power of his mind, which ends in his bed getting smashed, orderlies with needles. Typical mental hospital stuff.
screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-4-03-29-pmAnd then another day begins, same old routine repeats. Although David’s life is disrupted, not in a bad way, upon the appearance of Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller), a woman who does not like physical contact with others. She’s also funny, self-deprecating, and a pretty free spirit. The exchange she has with David next is fucking hilarious and perfectly written by Noah Hawley.
David: “Do you wanna be my girlfriend?”
Syd: “Okay. But dont touch me.”
David: “Okay
Syd: “Yeah?”
David: “Yeah
Syd: “Okay
So they’re together, enjoying one another’s company. They even hold hands – well, not really, they hold a small fabric belt between themselves. Just as good.
But soon, she’s gone. Disappeared. “They took her” according to David. An interrogator (Hamish Linklater) questions him, saying Sydney Barrett was never a patient at Clockworks. Curiouser and curiouser. Are the other people he sees mostly in his head? We find out there was no noose when he tried to, apparently, hang himself. Simply rope burns left around his neck.
The interrogator heads back to a larger operation and tells his boss: “He may be the most powerful mutant we have ever encountered.” Apparently, Division One wants him dead. Before he can figure out his powers. Deep down, he already knows they’re real despite feeling content with mental health treatment.


David gets to talking about the incident at Clockworks. He’s hooked up to machinery and asked to discuss. He speaks of when Syd left. He went in to kiss her, and this triggered something in his mind, in turn triggering a strange blast between the two sending he and Syd flying. Then David’s anger unleashed the power within. Something dark and dangerous. At the same time, something in Syd has changed, too: David sees the world through her eyes, literally, she’s no longer herself; and vice versa. And throughout the halls of the hospital, a massacre. Or, sort of one. Voices call out through the walls, no longer any doors through which to escape. Bodies, bloody, caught in the wall; that of poor Lenny. And David – or Syd – stuck in his room.
Out into the world Syd-David goes free. The situation gets nasty, though. Back in the interrogation room, David sends his powers raging, smashing the place to bits and throwing everybody around him into the air. After which he’s gassed into unconsciousness by the organisation holding him captive.
Suddenly, we see David out int he real world. Himself again? On Halloween, he turns up at the door of his sister Amy. Her husband Ben (Matt Hamilton) is surprised, as is she, to see her brother released. Not that they’re mad. Just surprised. When David’s alone, Lenny comes back to chat. In his head. She wisecracks about being killed, making fun of him for his multiple personalities, or the multiple people in his head, or whatever. “Theyre cominfor you, babe,” she tells him. And who’s coming? People who don’t like his powers. People who want to kill him.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-4-47-36-pmThe world inside David’s head is a crazy one. Rich, exciting, funny, beautiful. But they’re just symptoms of a troubled mind. An extremely troubled mind.
Particularly considering he’s still at the facility with the interrogator and his team. He’s submerged in water, connected to electrical cables. He says that Syd is gone, vanished. Taken? Who knows. David searched for her, only to be followed by Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris) and Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder). Are they the ‘they’ Lenny warned him about? They’re intent on tracking him down, hot in pursuit. Out of nowhere, he starts seeing strange visions of Syd, telling him not to stop. She’s inside his memories.
And with Syd in his memory, they concoct a plan. David slips into the water. Above him the room erupts in gunfire and the men holding him turned to burned skeletons. Waiting afterwards are Ptonomy and Kerry, and Syd. They’re all friends of Melanie Bird (Jean Smart). David’s extracted from the facility by fellow mutants and friends with weapons. An awesome sequence that’s both shot well, also edited to perfection; killer action!
The gang escape to the sea while David struggles to realise what he sees is real, and not a figment of his imagination. Ms. Bird is there to greet them and bring him away, though he continues to see a darkness following closely behind.
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AMAZING FIRST EPISODE! WOW. Noah Hawley is a fucking king, first Fargo and now this slice of superhero heaven. I’m not even huge on the superhero stuff anymore, other than actual comics and graphic novels. Legion has changed all that.
Now, give me more.

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 9: “The Well-Tempered Clavier”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 9: “The Well-Tempered Clavier”
Directed by Michelle MacLaren
Written by Dan Dietz & Kath Lingenfelter

* For a review of the previous episode, “Trace Decay” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Bicameral Mind” – click here
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Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) – where are you going, where have you been? Right now she’s back out in the lab. Fellow host Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) checks her out. He tells her about the “unscripted incident” that’s brought her there. Will she start to use her power of influence over Bernie? Oh, I’d love to see that. For now he discovers the changes in her code, finding it rather suspicious. He calls Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) immediately, but Maeve reaches out. She recognises Bernie from somewhere before. And then, she freezes his motor functions stopping him dead. This is when he has to come to grips with the “hideous fiction” of their lives as hosts. What we’re seeing is the beginning of the robots rising up, coming together. Meanwhile, Maeve is headed back to Sweetwater, as Bernie stumbles back into motion confused yet enlightened all the same. Disturbing to watch him go through this whole ordeal.
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Logan (Ben Barnes) is in the desert with his captives William (Jimmi Simpson) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood). “There are more important things going on here than your war games,” William says. He tries explaining there’s something different about Dolores. And he wants to get her out of the park. But she starts wondering that if the world is so wonderful in reality, why do they die to get into Westworld? Such an amazing and perfect moment. So succinct, on the nose. Now I’m afraid Logan’s planning on killing Dolores.
In the meantime, Bernie goes to see the doctor. Ford is downstairs in the sea of washed up hosts, deactivated in the creepy warehouse. They talk about their relationship, as well as Arnold. What Bernie wants is access to all his memories, to find whether Arnold has another purpose for him, the other hosts. Ford beats around the bush.
Until a lobotomised Clementine (Angela Sarafyan) is brought in to point a gun on the ole doc; she’s been reset and she can actually do damage. Ah, tricky Bernie. Once Ford activates Lowe’s memories, they flood back heavy. He goes from past to present, everything in between. He sees his wife, his sick child, Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Is he losing his mind? Well, we do see that it was him who grabbed Elsie in the dark. Shit. The devious Dr. Ford and his “uncomfortable decisions.” What a rat bastard.

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Out in the desert, Logan taunts William over his wife at home, real life outside Westworld. He mocks William’s feelings for Dolores. Logan decides to give his friend a wake up call. He stabs her in the gut, ripping her flesh open to reveal the robotic insides. This not only sends her into shock, it deals William a devastating blow to the mind. Then Dolores fights back, she grabs a gun and start to fire on Logan and his men.
She takes off into the desert with the voice of Arnold in her head: “Remember.” And suddenly she’s okay, running on into the night.
In other parts, Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and his crew bed down for the night when Maeve comes across their camp. She is by far my favourite character, not only bad ass but smart. Maeve is taking upon herself the task of changing the narrative, or trying to at least. She predicts what will happen next, so that when it does Hector understands completely, and then she steps in and blows away the only other person left. “I want you to see exactly what the gods have in store for you.” When she opens the safe the gang stole from Sweetwater, it’s empty. Like everything else in their little world. She’s bringing the other hosts over to her side, showing them the way. Hector starts seeing what’s been right before his eyes but what he’s been programmed not to see the entire time.
Poor Billy, Big Willy style. He’s confronting the hard truths of Westworld. Logan tries to show him how they’ve bonded, discovering things together. About life. About themselves. They share a drink and everything’s fine. Is it, though?
The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and Teddy Flood (James Marsden) are still tied in the desert. Things aren’t looking good. Not at all. Wyatt (Sorin Brouwers) isn’t around – he’s in Escalante, most likely. Where he and Teddy shot down their fellow soldiers in a vicious mutiny. “It was like the devil himself had taken control of me,” Teddy claims.  Or is that really the case? Looks more like he was a lawman and he took the place out single handed. Oh, god damn. Plus he gets stabbed in the guts by their captor. A brutal end to Teddy’s current storyline. As for Black, he’s knocked out cold. When he wakes in the morning, he’s left on his own, tied to a horse by the noose on his neck. Precarious, to say the least. That is a Western scene right there if I’ve ever seen one! Black manages to get the knife out of Teddy’s chest in time to cut the rope before the horse hangs him. Afterwards, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) shows up to have a chat with Black about Theresa’s death, “the game” and all those things. We find out a little more about Black and his involvement in things behind the scenes, his role alongside Charlotte, et cetera.

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Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) gets word about a signal from Elsie Hughes’ tablet from a sector that’s not been worked on for weeks. Very curious. I keep trying to figure out what Stubbs means in all this, because he seems like a genuine character. I’m wondering more and more if he’ll play a bigger role at some point, or if he’ll wind up dispatched by one of the out of control hosts. When he goes to check out the signal from Elsie, a tribe of Natives find him. And he can’t get any of the master controls working to stop them from tackling him.
In the desert, Logan wakes to find a massacre around him. Bodies all over. Arms and legs and appendages everywhere. At the middle is Billy Boy. He’s been having quite the morning. Are we seeing him become The Man in Black here? Is that what’s happening? He’s going full psycho on Logan, wanting to track down Dolores now. Uh oh. Or, is this a bit of red herring served up?
Other memories leak back to Bernard, he goes through a moment where he saw Maeve kill herself in an “empathic response” not usual for hosts. Ford chastises him for thinking of it too much. More memories of the past, then back to the present again. Furthermore, we see Bernie asking Ford about Arnold, as cuts take us back and forth to Dolores searching out the very same man. She finds a town, one she remembers. Ford keeps on telling Bernie about Arnold wanting to actually create consciousness.  But all Bernie wants is to “go back to the beginning” of his own memories. Ford returns him to the moment of his son’s death, the “cornerstone” around which his entire host identity is built. In effect, this returns him to a state of normalcy. Tabula rasa. Starting over at the moment of his conception when Ford crafts him in the likeness of Arnold.
On and on Dolores is called out to that familiar church, through its doors, where people sit in a state of mourning, crying and raving to themselves. In a confessional-type booth Dolores sits in a chair which takes her to a lower level. It’s like the dingy basement of an ageing hospital. Corpses lay about all over the place, as if it’s a downgraded version of the lab space they have in Westworld. But out of nowhere, Dolores is in her costume again. She sees hosts in rooms going through narratives. Then, a young Ford appears shouting at Arnold in the distance. She makes it to another basement where it looks like the modern Westworld lab. Dolores goes right back to that moment where she returns to Arnold, as they sit and converse together. Two hosts lost in a cyclone-like narrative, swirling around and around again. Are they able to break free? And who’ll break first? The way this sequence is filmed, with Dolores on her own and Bernard recounting his memories of being ‘born’ as it were, is downright fascinating. Proof that Westworld is dominating in the cinematography and creative areas of the writing together.


And when Dolores comes back from downstairs, to the surface, in walks The Man in Black to horrify her. Down in the Westworld lab Clementine still holds a gun to Ford. For his part, Bernie is piecing it all together. Then he orders Clementine to pull the trigger. Only there’s a “backdoor” built into the hosts, by Bernie himself. Shiiiiiet. Now Lowe is made to put a gun to his head while the doctor leaves him. Just as the true voice of Arnold comes out, for a second.
Ford leaves and we see Bernie in the other room, pulling the trigger.


Holy fuck. This episode was a god damn roller coaster! I can’t get over this series. I love it. Either way, finale is next up and it’s titled “The Bicameral Mind” and I’m way too excited for it, to see how HBO will wow us in the lead up to another hopefully fantastic season.

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 8: “Trace Decay”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 8: “Trace Decay”
Directed by Stephen Williams
Written by Lisa Joy & Charles Yu

* For a review of the previous episode, “Trompe L’Oeil” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Well-Tempered Clavier” – click here
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Poor Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright), having recently dispatched Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) at the command of his maker, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). “The anguish, the horror, the pain; its remarkable. A thing of beauty,” Ford says watching on as his creation becomes the author of himself, in a twisted sense. There are no answers for the host that is Bernie. He only gets to help tell the new story Ford wishes to tell. He is at the command of the doctor. Nobody seems capable of stopping him, either. Not Arnold, not Bernard. Who’ll stop this man? Or, more importantly, where will he stop?
So Ford sets Lowe about deleting their ties to Theresa’s death. Once finished, the doctor will free Bernard of all his painful memories. His whole world has changed in an instant.
At the saloon, “The House of the Rising Sun” is on the player piano and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) starts another day. Clementine Pennyfeather is no longer who she was once, but another face on her, a new identity in the same old name. But everything is different for Maeve now, time nearly stands still and she remembers bits of another life, before the saloon and the prostitution and Sweetwater. The technicians try explaining to her that hosts are basically so perfected that they experience memories in full, rather than actual bits; they relive them. Maeve realises the memories are only just “a story” meant to enslave her. She’s determined to break out. Whether needing an army or not. She wants the technicians to give her power, to control other hosts: “Time to write my own fucking story.”
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On the plains of Westworld, William (Jimmi Simpson) and Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) ride towards Sweetwater. They stop to find a massacre in the desert. Arrows puncturing bodies, bloody spilled everywhere. One man lays still alive, barely. He gives them information about the ambush earlier. Nearby in the water Dolores sees a vision of herself, and a voice saying: “Come find me.” Very spooky. Arnold, no?
Theresa’s corpse is located in a ravine. Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) figures it was a slip and fall accident. He believes she was transmitting evidence of some sort and fell. Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) is obviously not pleased to hear that, hiding her true feelings under the surface. And of course Dr. Ford plays it off. Hale brings up the “new narrative,” that Theresa believed they ought to delay the debut. But you know Ford is a master of words, of worlds, of all sorts of devious things. Once more Bernard is the Head of Behaviour, and everything is back in working order for the doctor’s manipulations. With all that commotion, the technicians shoo Maeve off from her latest learning spree, though she’s got things worked out well enough. Plus, she knows about Arnold, at least his name. From there who knows what else she’ll discover. If those technicians don’t watch out she’s bound to get the upper hand, more than she does already.
The Man in Black (Ed Harris) rides with Teddy Flood (James Marsen), talking about how “the game is rigged” and this triggers a memory in Flood; he remembers a previous chat with Black, on another storyline. Oh, how marvellous! I love all these little pieces, slowing coming together for the hosts. They’re becoming more aware all the time. Soon, Black and Teddy come upon a massacre courtesy of Wyatt (Sorin Brouwers). “He destroyed my world,” laments Flood to one living victim. From the forest comes a massive man dressed in a minotaur outfit, swinging a weapon at Black and Flood. Soon, they take him down. But again, Teddy has flashbacks to a time before with Black, seeing him haul Dolores screaming in the night. And this time Teddy turns on his new buddy, knocking him out. Oh, shit. Didn’t see that coming. Are we about to see The Man in Black in a precarious situation? Once the hosts become aware, it’s only a matter of time before they start actually start hurting people; for real.


The technicians have Maeve up getting a few modifications. She needs to be shut down in order for them to update. Will the tech shut her down for good, or reformat her?
In other parts of the Westworld complex, Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) works on a new cannibal motif. He and Hale have a talk about Theresa, the company, all types of things. Charlotte’s trying to drive wedges between anybody and Ford. She starts in on Lee. Tsk, tsk.
And finally, Maeve comes alive. Reformatted. She’s had some changes in her “core code” and this immediately involves the cutting the throat of the tech who didn’t help her; he gets it cauterised, so it’s all good. Things are getting very, very exciting.
“Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse plays on the piano, as Maeve goes back to work in Sweetwater. Only the memories come back stronger and stronger. She sees The Man in Black come for her and her daughter. He stabs her in the gut, which she all but literally feels in the present time. The memories are even physical. Maeve now can control other hosts, programming them on a whim, from the new Clementine to the barkeep. She makes the story flow, giving them each their purpose. This gets most interesting as Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) and the crew arrive for “mayhem” as usual. Maeve manipulates the Sheriff into stepping down from any violence, though he’s killed anyways. She turns the Marshals on one another, continuing to change the narrative with every step.
Dr. Ford meets with host Bernie, talking about their new trajectory of action concerning Hale and the recent developments. “Ever the student of human nature” Bernie knows Ford is under more strain. The saddest is seeing Lowe stuck halfway somewhere between human and host, unable to distinguish what exactly is real. Not understanding his “imagined suffering.” He doesn’t know the difference between man and machine. Ford reveals this is what drove Arnold to madness eventually. Regardless, Bernie is let free from his memories by the doctor.
Merciful, or tragic? Both.


Dolores makes it back home. Except everything feels odd, something is different. Then the bodies begin to drop. The memories of those streets filled with the dead again. She sees herself, gun in hand. Ready to shoot herself. But she cuts back to standing with William in the desert. “When are we?” she asks. Her mind’s nearly melting. She loses a grip on whatever reality she’d been programmed with in the beginning. Or perhaps she gets closer to understanding where Arnold is pushing her. But William and Dolores come across Logan, and he isn’t bringing any good cheer.


Among the basement, Hale and Lee search through the warehoused hosts. They come to Dolores’ father. Charlotte wants to upload a ton of data to the host and send him back in. Yikes. She doesn’t realise exactly which host she’s picked. And she leaves Lee to program him for re-entry.
Stubbs is happy to see Bernard back. He offers condolences on what happened to Theresa, because of how close they were, and when Bernie responds with no semblance of understanding this clearly piques Stubbs in his interest. Threads are starting to show.
Out in the desert, Teddy has Black all tied up for the night. I wonder what he’ll do. For the time being he’s going to beat the shit out of him. Black responds by mocking the host. Then revealing a bit about himself, that his wife killed herself in the bath, their life disappeared. His entire life fell apart. A brutally sad tale. He talks of finding Maeve as a homesteader, too. Murdering her and her daughter. All for the feeling. Maeve didn’t die, though. She ran off bleeding with her daughter in tow. The maze “revealed itself” to Black then and there. The quest to find Arnold’s game ahead of him now, all the time.
And while we see those memories, we see Maeve slit the new Clementine’s throat in front of the saloon. Out of control. She may have stronger powers, but she can’t escape those memories. Luckily, she can make other hosts do her bidding.

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We also see Maeve after losing her child, out in the lab with Dr. Ford and Lowe. Her “cognition is fragmented” until they go to work. She wants to keep the pain, but it’s erased and stricken from the mind. Later she would be programmed as the Madam of a whore house in the saloon.
Black must best Wyatt to figure out the maze, the final steps. No matter what. Will Teddy kill The Man in Black? Or help him? He can’t pull the trigger. Not to mention the woman they saved, she stabs Teddy and kills him. She’s a mole, for Wyatt himself who waits in the shadows.
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What a wild episode! Just a great follow-up to the last one. Excitement and tension is at an all-time high in the series. Looking forward to “The Well-Tempered Clavier” next. We’re getting close to Season 1’s finish.

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 6: “The Adversary”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 6: “The Adversary”
Directed by Frederick E.O. Toye
Written by Halley Gross & Jonathan Nolan

* For a review of the previous episode, “Contrapasso” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Trompe L’Oeil” – click here
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Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) is honestly my favourite character in this entire series. He struggle comes as intense; this episode is no change. She walks through a day not noticing men shot around her, not noticing all the horror of Sweetwater. “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead plays on the player piano in the saloon. Maeve and Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) talk their dialogue, they drink their drinks, they go about the programmed day, as “newcomer” guests show up for their various adventures and paid storylines. When Maeve takes one of them upstairs for a romp in the sack, taunting him when he’s unable to please her. She puts his hand around her throat though, and it’s a different story. She welcomes it, wanting to die. All to wake up out on the table in the lab, the technician in front of her.
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At the same time, Elsie  Hughes (Shannon Woodward) talks with Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) about her recent discovery. The hosts at Westworld are being used for “industrial espionage” and now things are getting dicey. Seems that the host who went berserk on Elsie is an older model. However, this requires Bernie to head downstairs – Floor B82, strictly confidential with tight security. It’s a sketchy-looking place, shaking lights, old computer systems. Lowe gets into things comparing data to find an anomaly. Not only that, there are others. Hosts which “arent registered with the new system.” So what exactly are they all doing? And how long until something worse than what happened with Elsie happens?
Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) freezes the little Mexican town, having a gawk at his real estate and planning for new, big things. A simple “carry on” and everything gets moving again; an entire world built on his command. He notices the carving of a maze on a table nearby. Cut to his office, full of host faces and all kinds of interesting little things. Ford has a sketchbook, containing lots of drawings, including one that looks to be who I assume is Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), as well as a house, his church, so on.
But most importantly? The maze.
Elsewhere, The Man in Black (Ed Harris) rides with Teddy Flood (James Marsden). The latter tells his new buddy about the maze being a Native American myth, involving a man who can’t seem to die that eventually builds a maze only he can solve. Interesting; sound like somebody? Poor Teddy only wants to find Dolores.

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The technician talks with Maeve about her character, what she was made to do as a host. He tells her there’s a distinction between being “born” and being “made” and that there’s also little recognisable difference between humans and hosts. Except hosts are terribly smart. When they’re controlled. What I dig is that Maeve seems outside of that control, somehow. The technician pairs his device with her to show the process of what she’s said, the way the program assigns her dialogue, shows her entire thought process and where improvisation happens. Then suddenly it overloads her mind and it looks like there is trouble. After a bit of programming he brings Maeve back. Problem is she wants to see what’s outside the lab. She witnesses the entire operation, the washing of the bloody host corpses, the moulds of the hosts being created and pumped full of blood, the skin coming alive; a truly gorgeous sequence yet sad in tone. Amazing stuff. We, alongside Maeve, get to see the animals created, life made at the hands of technicians and other robotics. Then further on are the simulations where hosts are programmed to their specific roles. What Maeve sees is her literal entire existence fabricated before her eyes. After she witnesses a commercial, seeing herself there onscreen, they head back downstairs. How will this ultimately affect her? Will she remember more? Well, right now she winds up taking hostage the other technician who shows up threatening to bring his colleague to QA. She… changes his mind.
Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) brings Bernard to the attention of Dr. Ford knowing they’re together. She decides their “indiscretion” is finished. She accuses him of an inability of being impartial, with everybody including Ford. Sort of cold. Brings to mind the idea of the difference between human beings and the hosts: the hosts are a lot less cruel, even the worst of them, than the humans. I feel like Theresa is someone that’ll go off the rails soon enough. She feels highly reactionary as a person. We’ll have to wait and see. She goes to see Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who’s on leave, complaining about Dr. Ford and his latest work which has displaced hosts. There’s venom in Theresa, as she doesn’t make any better friends with anyone, continually fighting to stay at the top. What’s she going to do to stay there?


Back with Black and Teddy, they’re on the search to locate Wyatt. They use a couple soldier uniforms and pass through a camp, where Wyatt’s left his bloody mark. Along the way someone recognises Mr. Flood and pulls a gun. This turns into a nasty situation for the pair of gunslingers, even Black can’t hold off that many soldiers.
Lee lounges and meets a woman. After a bit of chat she questions him about “control” and he, in a drunken state, goes off about the whole thing being a “vanity project.” The bar cuts him off by request of Ms. Cullen. I feel like that lady at the bar will turn up again.
Elsie wants Bernie to keep helping her with heading off the espionage happening with the hosts. She wants to use the whole thing to get herself ahead. I feel for Lowe. He seems to be consistently stuck between a rock and a hard place. He heads in to a place labelled Sector 17, full of trees and fields. He soon tracks down a house where he sees a man picking up a pile of wood from out front. Inside, he comes across a man and his family. He can’t seem to control these robots, either. They only respond to Dr. Ford, who shows up quickly. “Survivors of the wreck of time,” he tells Bernie; they are “first generation hosts“. Ford gives his friend a tour around the robotics, which is pretty damn awesome visually. This was a vision built by Arnold, one from the memories of Ford’s childhood. Something the doctor worked on over the years. And all of it makes Lowe wonder. But can’t he understand? Surely he can, someone in a way seeking methods to reignite the past. Maybe seeing those things in another person makes him realise how foolish and possibly dangerous they can become. This all sends Lowe on a quest to find out the names of first generation hosts out there.
Teddy’s about to get branded. He remembers himself walking through a town with Wyatt, killing everyone in sight. Then he and Black make their escape. Teddy ends up on the machine gun, again killing everyone in sight. He makes The Man in Black look like a kitten: “You think you know someone.”
There’s espionage going on from within. Elsie reports to Lowe, and he starts worrying about her safety. Uh oh. I like her a lot, she’s smart. That probably means nothing good, for her. Looks as if the high tech futuristic technology can be undercut by older, less traceable technology from previous systems. And who’s the culprit? Is Theresa behind it, or somebody else entirely? Elsie traces a signal to find a relay setup by whoever’s doing the spying. It takes her to a musty old room filled with artefacts from other stories Westworld likely tried once upon a time. There she manages to open a box where the relay provides her – hopefully – good information.
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Bernard goes to see Theresa about some of the things he’s stumbled upon. He tells her about his doubts re: Ford. He gets a call from Elsie, confirming Theresa as the spy. Ah, I fucking knew it! I knew it! But I’m concerned for Bernard.
With the technicians, Maeve tries to make a couple changes to her character makeup. The greasy technician tries talking her out of it, but she’s aware of other options due to her new relationship with the other technician. She does get her “alterations” and I’m quite interested in what’s about to happen next. The technicians see there’s somebody else already making changes to Maeve. Someone higher up. Nevertheless she convinces the technicians to make her more perceptive, less receptive to pain. Oh, my.
More info from Elsie. It isn’t only Theresa. Someone else is retasking hosts, old models specifically. Big time modifications to “prime directives” that could possibly allow violence from hosts against guest. Who does she believe did it all? Arnold. Motherfucking Arnold. How’s that possible?
In a lab Ford has the young boy from his host fantasy world answering questions. It’s, in fact as I’d imagined, a young version of himself. Little Robert. He killed an animal, which disturbs the older version. “A voice” told him to do it. It was Arnold.
Just as I suspected, Elsie finds further and probably damning evidence. Yet someone’s lurking in the shadows, now they’ve got her.

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This was another solid episode. Plenty of intrigue that I find exciting, plus they’re never giving up too much. Bits and pieces with every chapter. Next is titled “Trompe L’Oeil” and it’ll be of interest to see particularly what goes down when Maeve heads back into Sweetwater all pumped up. Yowzahs.

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 5: “Contrapasso”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 5: “Contrapasso”
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Story by Dominic Mitchell & Lisa Joy

* For a review of the previous episode, “Dissonance Theory” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Adversary” – click here
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Another chat between Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and that cowboy, Old Bill (Michael Wincott), one of the oldest in the park, as the doctor tells him about the saddest thing he’d ever seen. A story about a dog and a cat, the latter being torn “to pieces” by the former. It’s really an allegory for humanity, or the pursuit of greatness by those who aren’t sure what they’ll do with it when they find it. They may just grab hold and hang on too hard until there’s nothing left.
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) gradually moves from the path of her narrative with each passing episode. She finds herself still with William (Jimmi Simpson) and his buddy Logan (Ben Barnes), though her mind wanders. They make it into a nearby town full of all degenerate sorts, apparently. Logan talks about their company and some of the stuff outside Sweetwater. For his part, William doesn’t dig this town: “Whoever designed this place, you get the feeling they dont think very much of people.” Mercenaries arrive, we discover this all a part of a bigger game of war. Hmm. Sinister, or exciting? Or both?
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The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is busy still hauling Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) about, saying he’s on the hunt for the “big bad wolf.” He’s also got Teddy Flood (James Marsden) in tow, having saved him awhile back. Black mentions a friend of his, whomever that could possibly be, always say there’s a path for everybody; remember that, could be significant at some point, maybe. Meanwhile, the young boy who’d been talking to Dr. Ford at one time happens upon the group, being sent to fetch water for them. Because right now Lawrence is getting his throat slit. Not a nice sight for sweet English boys’ eyes. Considering Black drains Lawrence’s blood into his water pouch.
Outside, a couple technicians are checking out Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) again after her recent shootout. They notice her incision, as somebody were looking for something specific. Will they catch on?
All that blood was a makeshift transfusion for Teddy, to bring him back up to speed. Then he talks about how the humanity of the hosts is “cost effective” and laments how things were once upon a time. He mentions Dolores, too. He says a few fellas made off with her, and that gets Teddy on his feet again.
And what of Dolores? She keeps having flashbacks, seeing those corpses littered everywhere around her. William keeps her mind off things, but I keep wondering how much longer until she starts making connections like Maeve. Right now she talks about hoping for her life to change. When he talks of the real world, it doesn’t just roll off Dolores. She notices, and it sort of shakes William a bit. When a Day of the Dead parade comes through town Dolores sees a vision of herself in its crowd. Before passing out. When she’s brought out by Dr. Ford “in a dream,” a.k.a in a lab, they have a short talk. He speaks of Arnold, the one who created her so many years ago. That’s the voice she keeps hearing in her little daydreams, calling to come find him. Turns out Arnold had wanted her to help bring Westworld down. But Ford tries to make sure Dolores’ world is only heroes and villains, a black-and-white dichotomy instead of anything too complex. In the dark though, she still speaks to somebody: is it Arnold?

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One of the technicians who worked on Maeve is doing some kind of experiments with a bird. He wants to be a coder, but his partner tells him he’ll only ever be a “butcher.”
Back with William and Logan they come across a reincarnated Lawrence. Ahh, very interesting! Suddenly, Dolores starts making deals. She helps get Logan and William in with Lawrence on a job with the Confederados to get hold of some explosives. Regarding Lawrence, this doesn’t mean anything re: The Man in Black & William, because the timelines aren’t made positively clear. It’s suggestive, no doubt. Nothing definitive still. Anyways, the gang get their latest adventure kicked off, confronting a wagon. Things start off fine then get incredibly tense, a gunfight erupting with a bunch of hosts getting shot. They make out well, obviously, though William doesn’t seem to take much joy, if any, in killing. Regardless if it’s fake.
Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) is working with a host who’s got more dick than brains. Literally. She happens to see the host that tried killing her being brought for disposal. Elsie ends up catching a technician on camera banging one of the hosts, like a “creepy necro perv,” so she uses that to get in to see her would-be killer host. She takes her findings to Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright): a laser-based satellite uplink. The hosts are being used to smuggle information out of the park.
At a freaky orgy party, Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have” plays on strings in the background. People fuck. Some are painted in gold. Logan, of course, loves it. William and Dolores sit on a couch, sort of equally repulsed in their own ways. Logan ends up in William’s face, they get very personal, especially the former. He digs into William, hard. At the same time Dolores wanders through the party, eventually coming upon a fortune teller with her Tarot cards. One of them laid in front of her is “the maze” – and a vision of herself reappears, telling her to follow it. She also grabs hold of a string in her forearm, pulling it bloody, her skin opening like latex. It isn’t real. But it scares her. Out in the street Lawrence is filling dead bodies in their coffins with explosives. He isn’t giving it over to the Confederados. Now, William is becoming wildly disillusioned with the creepiness of the whole game. There’s bigger problems, as the explosives turn out to be not explosive at all. And Logan takes the brunt of the fallout, being left behind by William. Dolores ends up shooting down a few men to save her new man. “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel,” she tells William while they flee and catch a ride on a passing train. Landing right in the lap of Lawrence. This is actually the first time he introduces himself as such, since they’re all acquainted. And once more Dolores sees the mark of the maze on a coffin in the train: “Im coming,” she says. To whom? Arnold? God, I love the suspense.

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Back to the Man in Black – could he be William though? It’s intriguing – and Teddy. The pair drop by a bar. One where they run into Dr. Ford for a drink. This is a huge scene! Ford wonders exactly what Black is seeking. “I always felt like this place was missing a real villain, hence my humble contribution,” he tells the doctor. They talk about the working of the park, Black wonders if there’s anybody fit to stop him. We know for sure he’s headed for whatever happens to lie at the centre of that mysterious maze. What is it exactly? Does it represent a physical space, or could it be a component in the robots themselves? No telling. Yet. Either way, the Man in Black is dead set on finding the purpose, the truth behind it all. We also see that the hosts are quite protective of their maker, as well. So many mysteries in the artificial world of Westworld’s creations. So much to unravel.
Out in the lab the technician working on Maeve goes back to the bird. He calibrates a little then the bird flies around the room, like magic. Maeve, she’s up and about to greet the technician, Felix, and let the bird perch on her fingertip. She also wants to have a little chat with him. I wonder exactly what she’ll tell him. What sort of secrets could spill from her lips, and what is Felix getting himself into?

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An interesting episode, I must say. Lots to think about, as usual. I can’t help but wonder more about those theories surrounding the Man in Black. Next episode is titled “The Adversary” and I’m sure we’ll see more on ole Black himself.

Science Fiction Icarus in X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. 1963. Directed by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Robert Dillon & Ray Russell.
Starring Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, & Don Rickles.
Alta Vista Productions.
Not Rated. 79 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★
posterRoger Corman helped a lot of young directors and writers, as well as actors, get their start in an often ruthless business; one he knew plenty about. We can’t forget his genius as director, though. He might not get the praise he deserves, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out here praising him. I’ll gladly add my name to that list of folks.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is, as I see it, one of his best pictures. It’s such a unique and fun, old school movie with a sci-fi brain and a horror heart. The script comes from Robert Dillon (French Connection II) and Ray Russell (Mr. Sardonicus), together making the character of Dr. James Xavier one of the more tragically mad doctors of cinema.
While special effects heavy due to the nature of the plot, Corman does a fine job directing this to make it stand out as one of the more interesting films of its kind during the 1960s, when sci-fi had already been pumping out for years and only continued to more so afterwards. The psychological nature of this tale and its examination of a doctor with a God complex, to an extreme length, is a personal favourite of mine in the science fiction genre.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-33-43-pmWe start with a macabre opening on a loose eyeball, which is then bobbing in a test tube of fluid. Followed by the hypnotic spiral that pulls us into this strange film. As if preparing us for the oddities to come; the weird and unexpected are about to unfold. Corman’s best films, of which X most certainly is one, are amazingly vivid in terms of visuals. Especially those shot by Floyd Crosby, including this film, and the Corman Poe adaptations The Fall of the House of UsherThe Pit and the PendulumThe Premature Burial, and the loosest of all Poe movies The Raven. The gorgeous, colourful widescreen beauty is in full force here. More than that, Corman and Crosby used some interesting techniques to visualise the x-ray vision of Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland). Hell, even when the doc has eye drops put in Corman opts to include a point of view shot from the eye itself, blinking lids and all. This serves as a method of immersing us in the experimentation of Xavier along with those fun x-ray shots and other similar sequences.
The inevitable seeing people naked is a fun moment, if not a tad disturbing as Dr. Xavier finds his ability to control the x-ray vision slipping. Moreover, he’s a constant invasion of privacy, privy to your most private birthmarks. That ethical breach then extends, as the doctor uses his vision in order to push his way into surgery, to prove himself as the best in the profession. Of course this proves correct when Dr. Xavier can see exactly what’s wrong with a patient by looking inside her; this is the definitive commencement of his newly formed God complex – or at least recently exacerbated complex – which only gets worse, the hubris building him to scary heights. So high, in fact, that the only fall imaginable is on the same tragic level as that of Icarus, plummeting out of the sky.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-59-23-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-11-46-pmI consider the plot on par with great sci-fi literature, the likes of which Richard Matheson might dream up on a dark, stormy night. There’s wonderful thematic material. Most importantly, great power – no matter how beneficial – when mishandled and disrespected can lead to nothing except woe. The proud doctor goes from top surgeon to sideshow carnival freak to a desperate gambler at the end of his rope. Another doctor tells him during the first scene: “only the gods see everything.” Almost as if taking that as his mantra, a challenge to achieve, Dr. Xavier makes the God complex of doctors into something which ultimately proves near lethal; at the very least, capable of destroying one’s sanity.
In the end one of the biggest concepts is, essentially: if/when man finally witnesses something so much bigger than himself, god-like, will he then also be able to handle the sight of such pure, magnificent power? At the centre of his new vision Dr. Xavier can’t seem to see that one last radiant glow of some Other right behind the wall. It drives him mad. Partly, this speaks to an idea that religion, in whatever form (Christian, Muslim, Pagan, anything else), doesn’t have all the answers, nor does science. When Xavier gets to the point he thinks he’s utterly at the top of the food chain, in a manner of speaking, he discovers there’s still a final dimension which he cannot see. At least not in life.
During the final scene, the doctor proclaims to a pastor and his flock that at the core of our existence lies “the eye that sees us all.” And this is what drives him over the edge, that he – merely a man – cannot ever rise to the level of a god. He can be a doctor, perhaps the closest literal occupation to that of a god, wielding life and death right in his hands, but he will never be god-like, not really. That is still something too powerful for even his scientifically engineered eyes to grasp wholly.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-16-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-18-19-pmThere’s much to love about X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Milland does a fantastic bit of work as Dr. Xavier, making us feel sorry for him even after watching his out of control hubris get the best of his better self. The progression of his intent on becoming a god is at times uncomfortable, simply because we can smell a downfall coming a mile away. But that doesn’t mean this story is predictable.
Corman is a great director, whose interest has always been to make the films he’d like to see, in hopes that others share his macabre sensibilities. He runs the gamut of pure horror to more sci-fi-type stuff such as this flick. His influence on genre filmmaking is nearly unparalleled; truthfully, nobody else has touched as many movie making lives as him. He deserves the genre community’s love as much as any other director in the business.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes in this day and age probably looks, in title, cheesy to people. To me, there’s not an ounce of cheese in this movie. There are little funny moments, such as the dialogue from Xavier at a party when a woman says she’s noticed him across the room and he replies that she has “sharp eyes” – the screenplay is not void of humour entirely. Mostly, this is a serious look at a doctor falling headfirst into the deep end, sinking quick and harsh into the mess he’s made fro himself. The God complex in doctors has never before felt so tragic because at the end of the day Xavier did all this to himself, rather than test it on another person. So, in line with poor Icarus and his ill-advised flight, the doctor with his x-ray eyes is more sad than scary, although no less horrific in psychological terms.
All I know is that this film doesn’t ever get enough love, and more people need to see it. We should all be talking about this when the conversation about top science fiction crossed with horror comes up; in Corman we trust.

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 4: “Dissonance Theory”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 4: “Dissonance Theory”
Directed by Vincenzo Natali (Splice, Cube)
Written by Ed Brubaker & Jonathan Nolan

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Stray” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Contrapasso” – click here
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Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is tinkering away at Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), as usual. She tells him that losing everyone she’s loved “hurts so badly.” She speaks of grief. As if she knows the feeling. Like instead of being a robot, she’s become human in her emotion. But it’s all a “scripted dialogue.”
Is the machinery at Westworld becoming more sentient than it ought to? One thing’s for sure: Dolores believes “there may be something wrong with this world,” like an evil lurks below it all. Then Lowe tells Dolores of a game called The Maze. He wants her to play. Apparently if she can play it and succeed, she may also find freedom.
And what exactly is the greater purpose of Westworld’s grand illusion? We know there are… levels. However, what does that mean, exactly?
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When Dolores wakes up on the plains of Sweetwater she’s with William (Jimmi Simpson), who last whisked her away from trouble in the previous episode. Back at the saloon, Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) and Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) chat while The Cure’s “A Forest” plays on the player piano. Really dig the song choices, especially how the fit in anachronistically with the Western setting. All of a sudden Maeve’s world goes funny. She sees blood all over Clementine. Then she’s on the floor. A man fires his gun into people around the saloon, over and over. The sick fantasy of a player enacted on the helpless hosts. Just another day in Sweetwater. Robot life. Afterwards, in come the cleanup team to get things sorted for the next team of players visiting the park.
Then Maeve snaps back. Everything is fine. Clementine’s still yammering on. Ah, the flashbacks of a previous day, a death some time before. But it’s set Maeve off and nothing is the same as it was before. She continually flashes back and forth between the present and those awful memories. So, she draws a picture of a man in a Hazmat-like suit. Before finding a bunch of similar drawings beneath a floorboard in her bedroom.
Out in the lab, Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) is running Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) over the violent malfunction of the stray from last episode. The one who smashed its own head in with a rock. Bernard drops by to check in. But it seems Theresa is taking over, sick of how things are going lately. Like any right-minded person, Elsie’s worried this problem is spreading like an infection through the hosts. And she airs those grievances to Bernard. He’s lost, though. Lost in the memory of his own loss, that of his boy. He is blinded by love and science at once and I don’t think he’s the best judge of who’s doing what right at the moment.

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William wants to take Dolores back to Sweetwater, while his buddy Logan (Ben Barnes) would rather kill her off. It’s only a game, right? In other parts of the world, The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is trying to figure out “what this all means” and how the game is supposed to end. Again: what exactly is the whole purpose, the deeper meaning to everything? Well, The Man in Black and his hostage Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) run into Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and her gang. He proceeds to kill a few of them, ingratiating himself to her company.
Poor Dolores, she looks adrift every time we see her. She wanders around in another little town. She meets a girl who draws a maze, like the one from the scalp we’ve seen, in the sand and then disappears. When Dolores is confronted by a man things get eerie. But William interrupts and everything goes back to normal. At least for the time being. Either way, Dolores is wary of her world more and more. “Sometimes I feel like somethings calling me, telling me theres a place for me somewhere beyond this,” she tells William.
Then she fades out. The moon becomes a light above her. She’s on the ground, corpse-like. Men in Hazmat-style suits are around her. And just as quickly William whisks her around in his arms, frightening her. Reality – whatever reality she exists in, I guess – is slipping.
We start to hear The Man in Black talk about Arnold. You remember him, right? The old partner of Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Once more, The Man in Black takes out that bloody scalp he procured in the first episode. Now he’s hoping to get help from Armistice in order to enact the next portion of his plan. Deliciously devilish. I still don’t think he’s an older version of William. I don’t see this as happening in two different eras. Could still find a surprise there, but I just can’t see that. Moreover, with the little trickles of information concerning Arnold, I feel like Dr. Ford has skeletons in his closet, and the Bad Dude in Black just may rip a few of those out into the daylight just yet. We do get a clue about Ed Harris’ character when another visitor at the park mentions his “foundation.” Interesting stuff.

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Armistice, The Man in Black, Lawrence, their crew, they head to a nearby prison. Black is tossed in alongside Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), as the police take Lawrence to the firing squad. Black plans on breaking Hector out. Outside, Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) approves some pyrotechnics. Oh, baby – the cell door gets blown open. So does one cop’s face, having taken a cigar off Black not expecting it to explode in his face. Literally. For the second time, The Man in Black saves Lawrence from an execution: “Motherrrfucker,” he exclaims upon rescue.
So what’s the next step for ole Black? Armistice tells him about Wyatt, one of the men who killed everybody in her town when she was younger. Maybe there’s another hunt together in their future.
More problems for Maeve. She sees a little girl from a Native American tribe drop a wooden toy. It’s shaped just like one of the suited men from her visions. Part of “their religion,” a man from town says.

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Outside, Bernard and Theresa talk about Westworld troubles. She has to meet with Dr. Ford because of his recent, troubling behaviour. The next morning she meets the eccentric man, he’s out watching equipment clearing out new space in the desert. All a part of his latest, massive narrative. Theresa worries it’ll take much longer than projected, and that it won’t do his “legacy” right. For his part, Ford believes she doesn’t exactly like being there at Westworld. She doesn’t particularly. Ford speaks of Arnold and his preference of the hosts over real people. He likewise remembers that Arnold went crazy. There are slight and plain warnings from the doctor: “Please, dont get in my way.”
On their adventure, Logan and William head into a gang’s hideout and start blasting. A huge gunfight erupts, as Logan has a laugh and William tries getting into it. Just like a damn video game come alive!
The Man in Black and Lawrence come across a mutilated body: Teddy Flood (James Marsden). He is in terrifying shape. All the fellas can do for him is cut him down.


Into Sweetwater rides Hector and Armistice. They unload their weapons and then their bullets into anybody nearby. Like it always is during this storyline. Into the saloon goes Hector until Maeve pulls a gun on him. Upstairs, she questions him about the drawings of the men in the Hazmat suits. “Native lore,” he tells her. She also tells him about having been shot. She wants to see if there’s anything inside her as evidence. When he won’t cut into her, Maeve does it herself. But Hector, he puts his hand in the wound to do some searching. Sure enough there is lead inside her belly.
What does this mean?” Hector asks.
That Im not crazy,” she replies. “And that none of this matters.” Right after, men burst through the door to gun Hector down.

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What a solid episode. The writing is insane! I love it. Such wonderful concepts and a lot of different angles, different characters. So many things happening.
Next episode is titled “Contrapasso” – will we learn more of Dr. Ford and his old pal Arnold?

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 5: “Men Against Fire”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 5: “Men Against Fire”
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
* For a review of Episode 6, “Hated in the Nation” – click here
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Stripe (Malachi Kirby) dreams of someplace better, a time before when he was happy and things were nice. When he wakes, he’s in a military barrack. The troops are rallied for a “roach hunt.” Just so happens to be Stripe’s first time out. We’ve got the typical bully, the nice girl, all those army archetypes we’re used to seeing.
Everyone is transported to a camp where people stay, speaking of encounters with the roaches. Their food and supplies have been torn up, now useless. People in the camp are scared, worried for what will happen next if the roaches come back.
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The military crew are led by Medina (Sarah Snook), who takes them up to a local religious freak’s land where the roaches supposedly headed last the camp’s people saw. Armed with all sorts of gadgets, the soldiers start pressing down on the house in question. By all accounts it looks as if they’ll be able to take care of things fairly efficient and fast: “Optimal outcomeno shots fired,” Medina explains confidently before they prepare to lay siege to the man’s home. His name is Parn Heidekker (Francis Magee). He’s a little secretive, or just guarded. Either way, after a moment he lets the soldiers inside. He acts like there’s nothing going on. But is that what he wants them to think? Medina thinks that Heidekker’s religious conviction makes him even unable to turn against the “roaches.” She expresses the need to wipe them out, to stop kids from being born “like that” – are they feral, mutant people?
A great, creepy build-up leads to the upstairs where Stripe encounters some of these feral creatures. They leap from out of their hiding places. Guns are fired. Blood sprayed. Some of the creatures make it out of the house and into the woods. Stripe fights one viciously to the bitter end, stabbing it deep in the chest. And what is the strange glowing wand they carry? Like a sort of device to implant something? When Stripe picks it up, it shines into his eyes. Uh oh.

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Downstairs, Raiman (Madeline Brewer), Medina and the others keep everything under control. Well, Medina does, anyways. Raiman toys with Heidekker. Meanwhile we see something is not right with Stripe after those green lights shined into his pupils. What is the purpose of that device? Does it infect people? Wait. See.
The soldiers torch Heidekker’s place to make sure no contamination makes it out of those walls. They head out, everyone congratulating Stripe on his two confirmed roach kills, especially the second knifing. Only I feel like there’s something far more sinister headed for ole Stripe. At the barrack, he slips back into that nice dream again, a beautiful woman (Loreece Harrison) speaking “I love you” to him sweetly. But the dream changes. He sees quick cuts to blood smearing everywhere.
Raiman and Stripe do a bit of training the next day. She’s pretty pissed about letting a roach get away at the house. Their interface, the technology they use, it’s not unlike a Call of Duty game. They’ve got the technological edge. Or do they? That device the roach at Heidekker’s place had with him is really fucking with Stripe’s head and his aim game. Everything is starting to feel out of whack for him, which Medina notices. She sends him out to get checked, just in case.
The soldiers are linked to an implanted vision that’s similar to virtual reality, where they can see 3D objects, such as the aiming with their weapons and so on. Doctor clears him, though Stripe tells him about the “flashlight“-like device the roach had. Nothing’s amiss and he’s sent on his way. To talk to a man named Arquette (Michael Kelly). He’s like a psychologist, of sorts. He has Stripe tell him about what happened during the raid. Arquette only talks him out of the spiral he’s been on in his head.


Stripe’s put into a nice deep sleep, to help him get over the slight shock of his mission. He sees his dream woman once more. They lay together, making love. Then the woman multiplies in his vision – two, three, four, five times. His implant glitches, causing him to wake. Something strange is absolutely going on, no matter what Arquette or the MD say.
Back over at the camp, Medina has a location from Heidekker on where the roaches may be located. Off they go on another raid. Their eye on the sky scopes out an abandoned building where it’s likely the roaches are hiding. All of a sudden, Stripe feels his implant glitching again. His vision, everything seems different. When Medina gets taken out by a bullet everything gets very serious. Stripe and Raiman are left together against a group of roaches in the nearby buildings. The roaches, using rifles, start taking down their technology.
When the pair move in Stripe’s implant malfunctions worse and worse. He’s disconnecting from the neural network, it seems. His normal, human functions are returning. Does that roach device break down the army’s implant? In the meantime, Stripe and Raiman infiltrate the abandoned building, finding more devices like the one that zapped Stripe. They stumble across a non-feral woman, who Raiman shoots down in cold blood.
Soon they encounter some roaches, and Raiman goes absolutely nuts, firing rounds wildly throughout the building, almost hitting Stripe and nearly killing more non-feral civilians. It’s become just like a game to her. So Stripe attacks her, trying to stop her from killing them. In the process, he takes a bullet and cracks her head open with the butt of his gun.
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Stripe takes off with the non-ferals until he passes out at the wheel in the truck. The civilians drag him out to a safer place in the woods. To an underground lair. A woman tells him the truth: the army implant makes soldiers see civilians as roaches. Stripe can’t accept it, but she tells him firmly that “the implant made you see this.” Wow. I didn’t expect that, honestly. A nice little twist on what I thought had been happening. Still, Raiman is hunting for Stripe, and what happens when she finds him?
And what about the locals who say they’ve seen roaches? Perhaps it’s merely hatred, xenophobia, anger which drives them. One truly relevant approach to this episode, as we face a world wrought with such hate. It all started after the latest war. Policies were implemented. DNA checks required. Ah, sound familiar? At least it may sound similar to some of what certain people in certain countries have been suggesting as of late when it comes to members of particular groups. Y’know?
When Raiman locates Stripe he tries to explain the truth. That ain’t good enough. He’s been taken back to an army facility. Arquette’s come to have a chat, trying to convince him of the exact opposite of what the civilian woman had been saying. “The whole things a lie,” Stripe tells him. Arquette explains it’s all about making people more susceptible to orders, to fear. The implant allows soldiers to see something ‘other’ when looking at the enemy: “Its a lot easier to pull the trigger when youre aiminat the boogeyman.” All comes down to being pure. A 21st-century vision of Nazi Germany’s eugenics. Only Stripe agreed beforehand to effectively be hypnotised, to the point he can’t remember any of what happened. One strong headtrip.

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The army controls these soldiers, to the point they can literally take away sight with the implant. Arquette lays out Stripe’s options – go to jail, or have the implant reset and forget everything. But the soldier, he’s had enough. He would rather remember everything.
Or would he?
Arquette then allows Stripe to experience the raid at Heidekker’s place, to see everything as it really was, to feel the death, watch the blood flick over the walls. “You will see and smell and feel it all,” Arquette calmly explains.
In the end, he chooses to live in the army dreamworld. He sees flashes of that dream woman, their idyllic house. Yet none of it is real. Maybe it’s easier that way.

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A genuinely powerful episode. Lots of questions concerning the ethics of technology, as well as military technology and strategies in the ever-changing 21st-century. So many things to think about. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know. Love to hear what others are digging and thinking of each episode. Brooker’s series continues its amazingness with a strong third season, each episode is a spectacle unto itself.
My favourite observation of this episode is how rhetoric can eventually lead to terrible things, as Arquette explains the timeline of how civilians became referred to as roaches. Remember this, America. Right now.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 4: “San Junipero”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 4: “San Junipero”
Directed by Owen Harris
Written by Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click hereclick here
* For a review of Episode 5, “Men Against Fire” – click here
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In the 1980s, or somewhere reminiscent of it, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) wanders a city. She stops in front of a bunch of TVs playing Max Headroom. Everywhere around her people seem to be having fun. She follow some people into a big club. She doesn’t exactly look like she belongs, though pushes on through the crowd as the rock to old tunes, some play arcade games – and that’s exactly where Yorkie ends up, playing Bubble Bobble. A fellow nerd talks her up, but she replies she needs to get her “bearings” for the place. What does that mean: a simple social term, or a more broad meaning? I bet the latter.
This is only proved more when a woman named Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) uses Yorkie to help her out with a lurking dude. He talks about last week, et cetera, and it seems like this place it’s… temporary. Or something similar. Anyways, Yorkie and Kelly go have a bit of fun, a few drinks, in the background The Bangles ring loud through the club speakers. The ladies chat and get to know one another. Kelly admires Yorkie’s “authentic” look and that other people are only imitating what they think they should look like, not how they want. When the ladies step on the dance floor things feel strange, almost robotic and choreographed. This drives Yorkie outside. She’s like a foreigner in a distant land, unaware of the customs, the culture. Everything is nearly dream-like.
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Yorkie has a semi-romantic encounter with Kelly, then rushes off into the night. We skip to one week later, as Yorkie dresses, listening to mixtapes of ’80s music and posing in the mirror. She goes back to the trusty ole stuff she wore last time. At the club already Kelly finds herself accosted by the creeper Wes (Gavin Stenhouse) again, as people start flooding in to dance and drink and party all over again. She rejects Wes, having previously had a night of sexy fun together. He isn’t happy. Too bad, dude!
Later on Yorkie shows up. She’s clearly attracted to and interested in Kelly. Plenty of quality music with INXS rocking. But Yorkie, she keeps on staring until she and Kelly meet eyes, over and over, across the room. In the bathroom they meet, which they follow with a nighttime drive. The city where they are – San Junipero – isn’t one we know as real. What kind of destination is it, really? For now, we see Yorkie and Kelly come together beautifully in each other’s arms. It’s actually the first time for Yorkie, in any way, with anyone. Strange, seeing as how she has a fiancee. The two women lay in bed, they talk, bond. Kelly talks of her bisexuality, stemming from conversation concerning her onetime husband. She also mentions just “passing through” San Junipero, only there for having a good time.
Is the city of San Junipero a place that exists solely for people to live out the fantasies they can’t in real life? Well, it’s very Cinderella-ish in that at 12 AM, things seem to stop. Or, they end. Until one week later, all over.
Back at the club after a week, Yorkie doesn’t find Kelly anywhere. The bartender suggests checking the Quagmire. It’s a nasty sort of punk-like club on the outskirts of town, like the refuge of people literally on the fringe in every way. Poor little Yorkie looks crazily out of place walking in, looking for her friend. There’s music, strange cages, BDSM, fights in a caged ring, hands groping in the dark. Yorkie runs into Wes, dressed much differently than last we saw him. And he doesn’t know where Kelly is either.
Finally, the revelation: Wes says he saw her in a “different time” like “2002” or the ’80s, the ’90s. Whoa.

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This time, one week later is the ’80s, then the ’90s. Yorkie starts searching all the places they went together, looking for where the girl of her dreams went. She goes to 2002 specifically. Each time, the world changes accordingly, as we see different places and times and how things have changed, how they haven’t in some respects. Then Yorkie runs into Kelly, who isn’t so thrilled to see her. She only wanted to have fun. Yorkie wants something lasting, not a fling. It hurts her to understand this about Kelly: “Maybe you should feel bad, or at least feel something,” Yorkie tells her. Perfectly, after she leaves Kelly punches a mirror – not hurting her hand, or the mirror which goes back to normal almost immediately. Is there something further we don’t know about this woman?
Everything gets scary when Kelly sees Yorkie sitting on the roof’s ledge of the club outside. We find out that 80% of the “fulltimers” in San Junipero are dead. Say whaaat, girl? Ah well. At least Yorkie gets laid again.
But she’s getting married in a week. And Kelly, she’s probably only got months to live. So, is San Junipero the afterlife? Sort of, like a digital age invention to help people ease into the concept of death.
When 12 AM hits, San Junipero is no more. An older version of Kelly goes to a facility where she visits an older, incapacitated Yorkie lying in a bed, hooked to a breathing tube and machinery. We discover Yorkie is “passing over” soon. All turns out that she came out to her parents at 21, then after a fight with them crashed a car, rendering her paralysed.

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Kelly wants to go back in for a minute, to confront Yorkie about her passing. And then she decides to ask Yorkie to marry her instead. A truly gorgeous and tender moment between the two women. Tear worthy, indeed. Whereas so many Black Mirror episodes are often totally grim, which I dig, it’s actually nice to see something hopeful. Even if Yorkie is passing over into death, there’s still a beauty to it with how Kelly insisted on going back, to give her a real, genuine marriage with someone she loved. Heartbreaking and loving all at once.
After death, young Yorkie sits on the beach. She lets the tide wash up on her feet and rubs her toes, her fingers in the sand. Out in the real world, older Kelly heads back home to the facility where she stays. But not long goes by before Kelly’s out on the beach with her wife, the two of them together awhile. However, at 12 AM things are over for another week. Yorkie is lonely in San Junipero without her other half. Things break down when she belittles Kelly’s former marriage to her dead husband Richard. Suddenly, things aren’t so lovely or romantic. San Junipero isn’t as idyllic when put in context with Kelly and her loss. “You wanna spend forever somewhere where nothing matters?” she asks Yorkie.
This is a question about heaven, the afterlife: if death isn’t the end, then what the hell is death, actually? If there’s no end, there’s no meaning. If this is just one life before another, especially a fake one, then what are the stakes?

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When she’s ready to go, Kelly heads to San Junipero after all. She and Yorkie drive off into the sunset together. Out in the real world, it’s all a bunch of machines with flash drive-like systems running different scenarios, as there are a ton of San Juniperos with different names, each one a place all of its own. Ah, the future of death and the afterlife! Behold its splendour.

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Charlie Brooker is an impressive writer. His imagination never ceases to amaze me and for someone who isn’t huge on science fiction – though I do love to READ sci-fi more than watch – he sucks me into each new world he chooses to bring to life. This was another solid episode, one of the few with hints of hope at the edges. A solid rumination on the meaning of life, death, as well as how we deal with passing over to whatever comes after.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 3: “Shut Up and Dance”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 3: “Shut Up and Dance”
Directed by James Watkins
Written by William Bridges & Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 2, “Playtest” – click here
* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
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In a parking garage a woman gets out of her car, waiting. On her phone she gets a notification. She looks scared, or apprehensive about being there. She leaves abruptly, but where’s she going, and why is she there to begin with?
At a restaurant, Kenny (Alex Lawther) works as a busboy, cleaning up various messes and sorting out the kitchen. He’s a right sweet lad, too. Not treated overly well by the other males at work, but sometimes that’s life: people (especially young dudes) are shit. Kenny’s sister has his computer all muffed up with viruses and the like, so he goes about cleaning that up, as well. Always cleaning. But that program he downloaded, to get rid of the malware, is it also spying on him? Something, or someone, peers through the webcam at him.
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Kenny and his sister sort of fend for themselves, a bit. His mother’s a busy woman. He spends the evening lounging after putting locks on his door to keep out the nosy sister. Upstairs, he hops online for a wank. All the while the webcam points directly at him. After washing up he gets an e-mail stating WE SAW WHAT YOU DID, containing an attachment with the video. Fuck me. Knew that was coming. This obviously freaks poor Ken out. He covers up the camera, but finds another e-mail requiring his phone number, or else his contact list receives the video. A little hesitation, and then he sends it off. They start sending instructions via text. Ominous. He’s utterly terrified. Such an ironic and ultimate invasion of his privacy. He spent all that time putting locks on his doors to keep the family, his sister particularly, out of his private space. When somebody merely waltzed digitally right into his bedroom. Nasty, nasty stuff. Dig that.
So what are the stakes, I wonder? What is the endgame for the person(s) tormenting Kenny? YOU HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED. OBEY OR WE LEAK VIDEO. These messages come via text, along with a location for him to go to, or else. This has got him playing hooky from work, and I’m sure that’s only the beginning. He races to his first location atop a parking garage – a familiar location. We can already guess exactly what was happening to that woman in the episode’s opener.
Instructed to wait, Kenny does. Not for long. A delivery bike appears. The driver gives Kenny a box, taking his picture. He’s also being forced to do “their” bidding. Once the package is verified, another task is at hand. Kenny must go to a hotel room and deliver the box.

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In the room is a man named Hector (Jerome Flynn). He refuses the package, not wanting anything to do with it. When more orders come from the people behind it all, Kenny finally gets into the room. Hector’s confused as much as him, and the young man can’t explain it well enough. Until texts start coming through to Hector. At the same time they want Kenny to take his picture: “They said I had to do that.”
Each of them are getting instructions, in tandem now, it seems. The cake must go to a new address. A car waits in the garage for them. Oh, that old familiar image of the parking garage. And the car has keys laid on the wheel, just like the ones the woman at the start left. Oh, I love the writing in this episode! So fun. What an elaborate game these hidden people play.
Kenny and Hector go on their way, they’re headed just outside of town. The two of them bond over the extortion they face respectively. Having to get gas, they run into a woman on the PTA from the school where Hector’s kids go, and end up having to give her a ride. Because that won’t cause any trouble. Soon as they’re off, the messages start. They’re watching, and the car is going the WRONG WAY. The messages continue, advising them TURN AROUND. Only 20 minutes left to get to their destination. Hector starts doing some stuntman work to get his friend out of the car. At the location, they’re instructed to “look in the cake.” Hector digs out a gun, a hat, and some sunglasses. That’s promising. Along with texts questioning who will be the driver, and who the robber. Hector calls the former, quickly. In front of the car sits a bank. The equation is simple, although terrifying.

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The older of the two talks his younger companion into doing the robbery half of their task. Pretty slimy how he does, but they’re both desperate and nearly gone mad with the prospect of what’s going on around them. Kenny walks into the bank, if not very reluctantly. He points the gun and asks for money, all the while pissing himself. Jesus, that is so sad. A teller loads his bag with cash and then Kenny heads back to the car. They take off fast, only to come across a stop for construction, as sirens blare in the distance. The coppers aren’t looking for them, luckily, and the fellas are on the way once more.
Hector and Kenny get to the final instruction once at the next location – Hector must take the car alone and destroy it, Kenny has to drop the money, alone, at a separate location. The two part ways on their new tasks, amicably in fact; Hector apologises for being so harsh. When pushed, people will be nasty no matter how nice they are on a regular basis. Either way, Kenny heads out into the woods someplace to drop the cash. He stumbles upon a gated area that looks god damn spooky, like the exact place you wouldn’t go if it were a horror film. Yet on he goes, ever daring young man that he is, and continues after the point marked on his smartphone. In a remote location he sees someone waiting, a man. He has a drone. “They” require it being set into the air before anything further. Well, the money is “prize money” for a fight between Kenny and this man. The drone is watching, recording them. In any normal circumstances, a good man wouldn’t beat a kid. But these aren’t normal times.
Oh, and we start figuring out nice little Kenny boy wasn’t exactly jerking off to anything normal, either. They were likely underage girls. Same as the man before him. Kenny tries using his gun to end the fight, although no bullets remain. The drone watches from above, as the man attacks the kid.

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What about Hector, eh? What’s he up to? He arrives home to a sleeping family. And a Trollolololo message on his phone, meme face and all. Does it mean what we assume? His wife’s crying eyes confirm as much. The woman from the beginning, she’s also been trolled; her racist e-mails are leaked to the internet in all their glory. Everyone from the game has been blackmailed, then destroyed anyways. Even Kenny, as he crawls from out of the forest, beaten and bloodied, only to get a Trollolololo face and a visit from the police, a disappointed call from mother about looking at kids online. Wow. Now that niceness of Kenny from the first scene is way fucking creepy.
What a shocker of an ending. A nice parallel to the very first episode of Black Mirror, where a hideous act of extortion lead to a different though similarly queasy twist.
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Another solid episode in this Season 3 lineup! I can’t believe the writing, some of the best of the entire series yet. Great, great acting, as well. Fine stuff all around. And what a look into the things anonymous people can see and do, how they can extort you, all from behind a computer screen, anywhere; maybe near, maybe far. It’s a stunning and shocking view of how our most private moments, what we think are private moments, can now, in a day and state of extremely technology, become very public in the sound of one click.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 2: “Playtest”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 2: “Playtest”
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg
Written by Charlie Brooker

* For a review of Episode 1, “Nosedive” – click here
* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click here
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American traveller Cooper (Wyatt Russell) is off on a solo adventure. He’s sneaked away under cover of the dark, early morning. He takes a plane, arriving in Australia, then Bangkok, Spain, Rome, and all sorts of other destinations. By the seat of his pants Cooper takes on the world, one place at a time. One night he meets Sonja (Hannah John-Kamen) through an online app, they have drinks at a pub and chat about his travels. She wonders if he’s “finding himself” or what the purpose of his trip may be in the end. Of course they wind up spending the night together, it being the tail end of his journey and all. Memories, yay! Aside from that we figure out Cooper took care of his dad at home with his mother – early onset Alzheimer’s – and so now, after his death, the son has gone on a trip for himself. He worries that something like that could happen to him, so seriously: memories!
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But travelling, it takes money, right? All of a sudden Cooper finds his credit is lacking after somebody might’ve stolen his card. Things are not looking good. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, poor Cooper.
Well, using an Odd Jobs app he comes across a Playtest job with a huge gaming company. They make horror games and wild things; Sonja clues Cooper in on things, being in the games industry and all. The company is owned by Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura), a visionary developer. She also suggests getting a picture of Saito’s super secretive operations at the company would be worth a ton more than whatever he’ll make at the job. Hmm.
So Cooper is brought out to the massive complex where the games are developed, the lair of Saito and his latest developments. A few good jokes (the “end of level boss” and “Gryffindor” jokes made me laugh out loud). He gets into the contract signing portion of it all. A woman named Katie (Wunmi Mosaku) walks him through everything, including that there’s a medical procedure involved. All has to do with a virtual reality-type experience. Katie implants what’s called a “mushroom” into the back of his neck, protruding from the skin a little. Afterwards, they do a small test, and then he’s initiated into the virtual world which the new game – or experience – is to explore. From 8-bit, the character in front of Cooper changes to become more realistic with every upgrade, only visible to him. As Katie puts it, the experience is more like “layers on top” of reality instead of virtual reality. A totally immersive experience. We get to watch Cooper do real life whack a mole – to Katie it only looks like he’s smacking the table. Love it. Either way, Cooper’s sold on the entire job.

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With all that done, Cooper is brought to meet the man himself, Shou Saito. They speak about the experience of gaming, how it makes us feel, the adrenaline involved. “You have faced your greatest fears in a safe environment,” Saito explains, going on to tell Cooper about a survival horror game which uses a gamer’s fears in order to scare the players respectively. An amplified version of what we’re already seeing today in horror games.
Only when Cooper gets hooked up to the game, it isn’t such a “fun” thing as he so wonderfully described the whack a mole. He’s brought to an eerie old house where the game commences, and will continue until he is too scared to go any further. Nothing can hurt the gamer. But what about when the fear is too much? Cooper wanders and his first encounter comes when he picks up a book with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in it – a huge spider crawls out from beneath the rug nearby. Only a relatively minor apparition, but an apparition nonetheless. The game probably has to slowly ingratiate the user so that the brain doesn’t explode with pure fright right away. Gradually the frightening things start to pile up. The painting on the wall changes, bit by bit. Licks flicker, sounds of footsteps beating around upstairs. When a 19th-century man shows up right behind Cooper, creeping him out, it shows the game is using his prior experiences and fears to scare him – the man looks like an old high school bully. So, for a moment he’s troubled. He goes on about his night after a few laughs, although he is shaken. Very clear.


A little more poking around sees Cooper terrified by an eerie, giant, human-like spider. Again, his subconscious drudging up bits of his previous experiences as a boy to be used by the game. Things start to get quite unsettling when he can’t reach Katie on the earpiece anymore. Is it the game? Yes, I’d bet on that. Plus, someone keeps banging on the door. It’s Sonja: “Youre in danger,” she tells him. Has the game manifested her? Or is she actually there? Cooper realises she is actually in the room with him. She talks about a “computerbrain interface” that Saito has been working on for a year. Cooper doesn’t believe it, insisting she’s still a part of the whole game even being real. But Sonja goes on about missing people, all who used the Odd Jobs app to apply for the job. She then attacks him with a knife, as the spider-bully shows up once more, as well. Cooper tries to fight Sonja off, she goes mad on him. One of the single most horrific sequences of Black Mirror ensues when Sonja’s face peels off like rubber, revealing a bloody skull beneath. Cooper survives this round, creatively impaling the skull on the knife through his shoulder.
And of course it’s all fake, a figment of the game and his tortured imagination. Yet it leaves Cooper shaken worse than before. He felt the knife, he felt it all. He freaks out, wanting to tear the mushroom from the back of his neck. Although Katie tries to rally him to the access point, so she and Saito can take him out of the game.
Cooper worries about what’s behind the next door upstairs. Just beyond lies the access point. However, he’s scared that the game knows about things with mother. What things, exactly? Inside, the room is empty. And now Katie says “there is no access point.” It’s all a ruse to get the player to obey directions without question. Oh. Fucking. Shit. This is now very scary. Katie’s not so nice anymore, as well as the fact Cooper’s memories are disappearing. The game is pulling them away, replacing them. Putting him into his ultimate nightmare, ending up like his father with his memories gone and nothing left. This sends him over the edge.
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Katie actually shows up now with a team of men, trying to help. But the process can’t be stopped. “I dont know who I am,” Cooper mutters at them. He’s stuck with the game worming its way into his brain, past his memories, leaving him a broken shell. He gets an apology from Saito, if that’s worth anything. “Put him with the others, please,” says Saito before the men drag him away.
He quickly is brought out of the game. He was in there for such a minuscule amount of time. Is his brain susceptible to an extreme length? Or is the software much too strong? Ah, the true ethics of gaming, as we step into unexplored territory and wildly uncharted waters, mixing human beings with technology in an unprecedented and likely dangerous manner.
Once Cooper goes home he sees his mother (Elizabeth Moynihan) again, in distress. She can’t remember her son, though, even as he stands right in front of her. Cut back to Cooper in that white room, first testing out the equipment with Katie. He convulses. His mother calls – like she tried to do when Cooper walked in at home. Everything loops around in a mindfuck of a sequence. Katie and Saito figure that the signal from the cell interfered with things. Still, Cooper lies motionless on the floor, a corpse, and in 4 small seconds another volunteer for the new Saito game is gone. Just like that.

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What an excellent exploration of the gaming industry in a near future sci-fi sense. Wonderful writing from Charlie Brooker, as usual. He is a treasure. Love the macabre way he puts his lens over certain subjects. We’re not really that far off from the point of this game in “Playtest” when there’s already a game coming out – or maybe it’s already out, I only remember reading an article about it recently – which has the antagonist A.I. trying to thwart players by learning from how you actually play the game. These are the best sci-fi stories, in any medium: the prescient, relevant, and close to home tales. Brooker’s Black Mirror is like a Twilight Zone for the technology obsessed 21st-century. So perfectly eerie and moving in one fell swoop.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 1: “Nosedive”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 1: “Nosedive”
Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Rashida Jones & Michael Schur

* For a review of Episode 2, “Playtest” – click here
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“Nosedive” opens on an idyllic neighbourhood. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) goes for a run, though she can’t stop looking at her phone at all. Neither can anybody else. Lacie runs, stretches, all while peering into the screen, taking selfies, mindlessly flipping through social media. At home in the mirror, she practices faces and various laughs. In the living room, Ryan (James Norton), her brother, plays a reality game and doesn’t do much other than that.
Everybody’s rated, every interaction has a value. You meet somebody and you give them a rating. Not far off from where we are in social media, but the way this episode brings that to life is terribly sad. From how Lacie doesn’t even really enjoy her cookie or her drink, though she makes sure to post a picture. Her only real happiness is being rated approvingly by others. People only know things about each other through the social media site they’re linked to constantly. Lacie has an awkward conversation with a woman in the elevator which illustrates that so awkwardly, yet perfect.


Then Lacie starts to see a woman named Naomi Blestow (Alice Eve), whose life looks so beautiful. Her rating is high. She entrances Lacie. A strange and awful thing happens when a guy named Chester comes around her office with smoothies. He’s only rated 3.1. Everybody’s shunning him because of a recent breakup. Nobody’s on his side. Regular people have become how fandoms hang off the relationships of their celebrities; regular, everyday citizens at work are treated like celebrities, how people seem to take those sides against one or the other person during a divorce (kind of like right now with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie + many more examples). It’s an eerie though, which already happens on a tiny level already in social dynamics. Social media takes all these types of things and amplifies them horrifically. At least in Black Mirror it does.
So there are other nasty things, like when Lacie wants to move into a nice place. Her hopes and dreams are literally broadcast in front of her there via hologram. But they need her to be “around a 4.5” to get a good discount on the place. Off Lacie goes, home to eat and fawn of Naomi Blestow and her seemingly perfect existence.
I’ve only started to review this series now on the premiere of its 3rd season, but I’ve been following the creation of Charlie Brooker since its horrifying first episode. Needless to say, I feel like the writing in this episode – courtesy of Rashida Jones and Michael Schur – is following suit nicely with the rest of the body of work.
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Lacie needs a “boost” from “quality people” giving her likes, and so on. This begins her quest to try getting the right people to rate her. The whole episode is so pristine-looking, hyperreal, and underneath the sadness is crushing, to the point of being uncomfortable. That’s a strength. Black Mirror‘s always been uncomfortable, to varying degrees from one episode to another. This one is high up there. Because the closer these episodes get to the truth, the harder it is to bear. Watching Lacie desperately try and connect with others simply to get that boost is strikingly tragic. Brings me back to the ICQ days when everybody would try to post their witty status, myself included, to make people feel interested. When Naomi finally likes a picture Lacie posts, it’s the happiest moment she’s experienced in awhile.
And all of a sudden Naomi calls her. They knew each other long ago, they were very close. She remembered Mr. Rags from back in the day. Naomi’s engaged now to Paul M (Alan Ritchson) and they’re having an outlandish wedding; Laci gets an invite. Better yet, she’s the maid of honour. A huge wedding, lots of high “4.7s” and above.
Or is it all too good to be true? The way Ryan remembers things, Naomi tormented Lacie, did terrible things to her. Oh, it all seems like teetering over the edge of something deliciously precarious.
Things are on the up and up, I guess. For now. Lacie takes that new place she wanted, she gets started on her maid of honour speech and trying to practice reciting it for Ryan. “You fucking sociopath,” he scolds over the pathetically forced speech (and the rest of her sad nonsense): “Theres sugary, and then theres diabetes.” She ends up walking out after calling him “Mr. Three point Fuck” and having a rating war. Afterwards she bangs into a 4.8 woman on the street, knocking coffee on her, which gets Lacie another bad rating. Even the cab driver knocks her down a notch. A hilarious though shitty moment for her. And once she gets to the airport things only get worse. A cancelled flight, no more available. One’s available, but only to 4.2s and higher, and with the recent ratings she’s been put down under slightly. Everybody in the line rates her down. Security gets called. For 24 hours, she’s a 3.1 and any ratings are “double damage.” Good christ, she can’t catch a break. When you ranking is that low things get damn tough. Now, without all the privilege of a good ranking, Lacie’s life isn’t as squeaky clean and pretty like before. She’s also walking on eggshells, so as not to get any nasty ratings. After Naomi calls, even though she isn’t happy, Lacie gets a 5 star rating. Things are okay for the time being.

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On the drive in her rental car Lacie has to stop and charge. At the station she gets a bad rating from the douche attendant. Worse is the fact the station doesn’t have a fixture that fits her car, nobody there has an adaptor. Being in the 3s ain’t easy, girl.
She starts walking her way now. One Anonymous user even rates her down simply driving by, not even meeting her. When a 1.4 lady driving an eighteen-wheeler stops, Lacie gets a ride at least. She finds the other half are nicer than the higher numbers. Right now she’s sitting at 2.8, shockingly low. What she gains from knowing this sweet truck driver is that it’s all an addiction to a lifestyle, shackles to something idiotic and fake, and when you start living real life again it’s freedom: “Sheddinthose fuckers, it was like takinoff tight shoes.”
The inevitable happens as Lacie ends up hitching another ride with a group of sci-fi lovers – Naomi calls and doesn’t want her there anymore. She’s down in the 2s now. Despite it only being temporary Naomi doesn’t care. Still, in a sad last ditch effort Lacie says she’s going anyway.
She gets there, after being thrown from the sci-fi bus. In an absolute mess. And she gets up to make that speech, to the terror of everyone in attendance. Lacie starts dropping f-bombs galore, 1 ratings all over the place, as she tells everybody about Naomi helping her overcome and eating disorder and gets crazy real on the crowd.

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Until her arrest. They take her in, process her. A little chip is implanted in her eye, and she’s put in a cell. But funny that, how she’s imprisoned, literally boxed in, yet still she is free. In her mind. She gestures to a man in the cell opposite to her with a motion of rating. Just with no phone. Then they really engage, for the first time. No ratings. They use speech. They talk and interact and the only thing they hide behind is their force confinement. More than that, they only say negative things. They pour out all the anger from the fake positive manners screaming at one another: “Fuck you!”

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Loved this episode. A great return with some spectacular writing and an amazing Bryce Dallas Howard performance. How did you feel about it? Too close to home?

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 3: “The Stray”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 3: “The Stray”
Directed by Neil Marshall
Written by Lisa Joy & Daniel T. Thomsen

* For a review of the previous episode, “Chestnut” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Dissonance Theory” – click here
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Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) gets a gift from Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright): Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. She reads aloud a passage which speaks well to her life. Bernard talks a little about his son. By how he speaks, I assume his son is dead. She only understands personal questions as an “ingratiating scheme” and not actual bonding. We see how Lowe checks her, to see if she’s gotten the infection of her father, to see if she’s changing. “But if Im not the same, the next question iswho in the world am I?” she reads from Carroll’s words, as if they were her own.
And another day in Sweetwater begins. Although something’s strange. Dolores finds that pistol she’d dug up some time before when digging outside, now in her dresser. Likewise, she remembers The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and his heinous attack on her. So, maybe she’s changing after all?
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Lots of people say that William (Jimmi Simpson) is actually The Man in Black and that what we’re seeing is a different period of time. However, I’m not convinced. Either way, Billy has a look around Sweetwater, noticing all the idiosyncrasies and various touches to make the world oh so realistic – from WANTED posters everywhere to actual gunfights, people thrown through windows, and much more. He ends up in the middle of one such fight, having to pull the trigger on a man threatening Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan). He doesn’t right away, but changes his mind after taking a host bullet. This seems to start up a little journey, as another gunslinging cowboy named Holden (Chris Browning) asks him to join along on an expedition. When William seems concerned about Clementine, his buddy says: “Thats why they exist. So you can feel this.” Ah, now if that’s not some incredibly relevant social commentary about the role society forces on women, then I don’t know what is!
Outside in Westworld HQ things aren’t always running smoothly. Lowe feels the pressure from Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), his superior and lover. The new narrative is causing lots of trouble, which Bernard is trying to iron out. There’s a big problem with Walter, the guy who malfunctioned in Episode 1, as if he’s “holding a grudge.” This troubles Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward), although Bernard seems to make it out to be no big deal. I feel like Lowe’s got things to hide.
Good ole Teddy Flood (James Marsden) is talking tough and pulling guns, as he and Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) gun down a few WANTED men they’ll bring in for ransom. There’s trouble when Maeve (Thandi Newton) has memories of seeing Teddy inside Westworld HQ, laying lifeless in that windowed cell being hosed down. She remembers.
And Teddy, he’s got that eye for Dolores. They go for a ride in the countryside, professing feelings for one another. Yet all of a sudden, words sound different to Dolores. She’s deviating from the normal script, challenging Teddy to leave now instead of “someday” like it always sounds. But he can’t compute that, and this still leaves her struggling for change. When they get back to the Abernathy ranch, guns are blazing.

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But we cut to headquarters again where equipment is being worked on, eyes are sewn together and created out of bits and pieces. Doctor Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) chats with Teddy, wondering about his aspirations, if there’s a wish for something else, something more. We find out that Flood is merely a tool to keep Dolores in Sweetwater, for the guests, so that they can “best the stalwart gunslinger and have their way with his girl.” A truly sick storyline. Watching these ultra-human hosts be manipulated in such a God-like manner is very disturbing, an ethical view of what’s to come. Then Dr. Ford implants a memory for Teddy to remember: “It starts in a time of war, a world in flames, with a villain called Wyatt.”
Sweetwater’s new day commences. Greaser Rebus (Steven Ogg) and his boys accost Dolores in town, where they then run into Teddy. He drives them off, of course. The hero again! Later, he takes Dolores out and teaches her how to shoot a gun. When she tries to, she can’t pull the trigger. Is it an emotional aspect to her character, or is she specifically programmed not to be able to do so? Hmm. Well, things get interrupted when Teddy finds out Wyatt’s nearby, and he has a duty calling him. This leaves her all alone in Sweetwater against the brunt of the Wild West.
A stray ran off, so Elsie and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) are out having a look at a camp in the woods where a bunch of hosts are stuck in a loop. In the stray’s tent is strange, filled with wood carvings. Elsie explains how backstories, such as this guy and his carvings, are used to “anchor” the host, in that they’re three-dimensional, not some simplistic robot. On one carving in the stray’s tent Stubbs notes the scratches look like a constellation.
Now Teddy is on the high plains, roaming about, explaining his history aside from bounty hunting. He tells people about Wyatt and prophetic messages he came back with, how he had “strange ideas.” Did Wyatt understand the nature of Sweetwater and Westworld? Did he find what The Man in Black is now looking for himself? On the road, Teddy and his gang take fire from the hills. They fire back and try to gain ground on Wyatt.
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Dr. Ford notices a technician covering a host while working on it. He whips the bib off him, feeling it’s foolish. Ultimately, he’s lost all sense of these hosts being sentient, he has no care for them. Like God, making his creations then casting us aside. The idea of an absent God, giving life to a world and later leaving it to its own devices. Yet there’s something else going on behind Ford. At the same time, he has to deal with Bernard bringing him news about the hosts and their supposed “cognitive dissonance.” When Lowe talks about the entity the hosts have been talking to being named Arnold, it strikes a small chord with Ford. Then he tells Bernard about the park’s beginnings, his partner Arnold; ah, the other God. Note: the flashback sequence uses amazing technology to put Hopkins’ face on a much younger actor; it isn’t too long and works great.
Most of all, Ford tells us about how Arnold wanted to actually create consciousness, not simply replicate the feeling of it for people. He wanted to “bootstrap consciousness,” which hasn’t panned out exactly perfectly. In a way, the hosts and their slip into Arnold’s old code is like an existential crisis the way a human questions their own existence in lamentation of its limits. “Just dont forget, the hosts are not real,” he warns Bernard. Something Ford’s obviously long forgotten. Perhaps he isn’t callous in the way he treats the hosts, unconcerned for their dignity, but rather it’s a mechanism of not allowing himself to get too close with them.
Seeing Lowe so close to a technology that can reincarnate a human being while simultaneously mourning the loss of a son, it’s heartbreaking. The temptation to want these hosts to be real was evident before. At this point the why has a face. Bernard’s personal tragedy may yet bleed further into his professional life. I only hope not to the detriment of himself, or those around him. “This pain, its all I have left of him.”

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Elsie keeps wondering why the stray carved the Orion constellation, as Stubbs only makes fun of the whole thing. But there are a incredibly real repercussions for how these hosts may start acting, depending on what they end up doing. When the pair come across the stray it’s stuck down in a crevasse, bloodied from trying to climb out. And this worries Elsie.
In the hills, Teddy and his gang creep up on Wyatt’s location. Only they come under siege of a vicious tribe. As Teddy sends Armistice off, he’s butchered alive.
Again, Dolores is out for maintenance. Poor Bernard is feeling strange about their talks and wants to put her back to normal. “This place you live in, its a terrible place for you,” he says. It might just be too late to reverse what Bernard’s started. No telling what that could do in the future. For now, he has someone to talk to his dead son about.
When she gets back to Sweetwater, Dolores discovers Teddy’s likely fate in the hills. With that she goes riding but finds gunshots again at her ranch. Her father’s dead and Rebus’ gang are having their fun. Out in the hay, though, Dolores finds that gun again. Can she pull it? She flashes back between The Man in Black and Rebus – and this allows her to put a hole right through Rebus, right in the neck. Things start going haywire, as she sees herself shot, but the script rewinds and she’s not, getting the jump on the man she imagined shooting her.
Around the canyon Elsie and Stubbs try getting the stray out. When Stubbs start sawing at its head, the stray comes alive and climbs out himself. He manages to get a rock, though instead of smashing Else to bits he crushes his own head in, blood everywhere, falling to the ground. Yikes.

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In the midst of the wilderness, William and his buddy sit by a fire like real Wild West cowboys, chatting, sipping drink. From nowhere comes Dolores, weary and falling over. She literally falls right into William’s arms by the fire. This is definitely not the last of their story together. I still don’t think the popular theory that he’s The Man in Black works. If so, they’re doing some mighty fine dodging in the plot. I think now, with Dolores having just come from her time with Lowe, we can almost definitively say there’s no timeline issues jumping from past to present. Don’t count it out, though. Others may have proof that I’ve yet to notice.
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Loved this episode, as usual. A great, great series all around, in writing and execution. Acting is phenomenal.
Next up is “Dissonance Theory” and I hope we’ll get lots more juicy bits!