Fear the Walking Dead finishes Better than it Started

Now with spoilers.

Now that the season four finale has concluded, I’ve got a few things to say. I last wrote about Fear the Walking Dead back in April, and didn’t expect to revisit it.  After all, my review was mostly negative, and I didn’t actually expect the show to get better did I?  I’m not alone in that assessment. The website CBR has a pretty good take on what went wrong with FTWD and it matches up roughly with my own thoughts. And with the season four premiere up through the mid-season finale, it seemed like the same old crappy Fear.

It starts off with some time having passed since the season three finale, with Madison and her surviving crew is now occupying a baseball stadium somewhere in Texas.  However Madison is acting totally out of character. Very differently than the way she has previously been portrayed; less Negan and more Rick and she’s not wrecking every situation she stumbles into.  That of course makes no sense since we’re never shown the character arc that took her from a selfish piece of garbage to a savior. But that’s less important than the fact that the entire story, from episode one to the midseason finale in episode 8, makes no sense because of, you guessed it, erratic time jumps, the entire story was played out of order, for what assumedly are “artistic” reasons, but story wise are just a distraction, since you never know from one scene to the next where in the timeline the story sits.  This made this story arc more or less unintelligible.

Long story short, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Madison (Kim Dickens) both wind up dead; with Madison’s pointless death somehow appearing to be heroic.  At that point, I just didn’t care because it seemed so out of character that I really didn’t find anything self-sacrificing about it at all; particularly when their foe was probably the stupidest concept for a roving band ever.  The “Vultures” methodology was to set up outside of an encampment and just tailgate until the people in the camp got so bored with them they would voluntarily open the gates and let the Vultures loot.

Seriously.

Luckily for the show, the second half of the season took a totally different path.  The only surviving member of the Clark family and from the pilot episode was Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey).  The survivors of both the Vultures “attack” and Madison’s immolation of their baseball field compound are scattered with a Hurricane bearing down on them.  The lack of any sort of early warning for the hurricane plays a role in the desperate situation the group finds itself in.

Having a liner timeline, instead of weird artsy time jumps across the story, definitely was an improvement on what came previously.  Killing Madison, as unlikable a lead character as any I’ve come across helped as well. This allowed the producers to rebuild the show with a new, much improved cast.  Basically they’ve fire blasted what came before, and rebuilt a totally new show in its place. That was the sort of major restructuring that was needed if this show was going to survive.  How much that is due to new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg is anyone’s guess, but they’ll be sure to get the credit if Fear’s ratings improve.

The show was so much improved that I was actually entertained by some of the episodes, particularly episode 10 “Close Your Eyes,” which had Alicia and pre-teen Charlie (the killer of Alicia’s brother Nick) trapped in a house together during the hurricane, while the house is under siege by the dead.  That’s probably the best episode of the entire series.  If Fear can keep cranking out a few episodes like that every season, it might finally shrug off its poor history and become a worthy member of the Walking Dead Universe.

Observations

The Walking Dead Universe used to be more observant of the fact that at this point, approximately 2 years after the Zombie Apocalypse, every car battery that’s actually connected would be dead.  That’s not even counting that the fuel would be going bad, but hopping in a Paramedic vehicle that’s been sitting for two years and just taking off seems like a big ole story telling gap.  That’s not even counting Morgan’s stunt of throwing a body off the roof of a building onto a car and the car alarm starts blaring…come on.

Weirdly, the Walking Dead Universe regards middle aged women as the incredible bad asses who are both greatest asset and greatest danger.  On the Walking Dead, Carol goes from abused housewife to commando killer.   On Fear, new character “Martha,” a former English teacher in her 50’s is the thorn in the side of the group.  Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

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Screw Puerto Rico

I barely noticed the imbroglio over the Harvard and George Washington studies that contradict the official Hurricane Maria death toll for Puerto Rico by raising the deaths to several thousand, 4,645 for the Harvard Study and over 3,000 for the George Washington University study.  I figured that they were in some way phony, and were just a grab for federal cash, and my checking the methodology of the George Washington University Study showed I was right:

“We implemented the project as three studies, each with specific yet complementary methodologies. Our excess mortality study analyzed past mortality patterns (mortality registration and population census data from 2010 to 2017) in order to predict the expected mortality if Hurricane María had not occurred (predicted mortality) and compare this figure to the actual deaths that occurred (observed mortality).The difference between those two numbers is the estimate of excess mortality due to the hurricane. “

In other words, the studies were simply statistical analyses, with no examination of the actual causes or mortality.  Living in a hurricane zone, I’m well familiar as to how hurricane deaths are actually counted, and that’s through death certificates; the actual causes of death.  Imagine its three days after a hurricane and a family runs their generator inside their home and die of carbon monoxide poisoning (it happens after every hurricane):  That’s a hurricane death.  Choke on a peanut?  Not a hurricane death.   It’s not difficult and doesn’t add up to a requirement to run a statistical analysis of any sort.  Just look at the death certificates.

So in spite of the running around by Puerto Rican officials shopping around these fake reports as a way to say screw Trump and Trump please send us more money, I ignored the issue until I happened to catch this interview with Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Morning Joe last week.

Most of the interview is Rosselló making the case for the studies, and the various needs of the island for disaster preparation but there was a point in which I found myself, as the kids say, triggered, by Rosselló’s comments.  Starting around 6:28, “legendary” journalist Mike Barnicle asked Rosselló to make his case for statehood. Rosselló went on to blabber that the only reason that Puerto Rico’s recovery was different from other areas was because Puerto Ricans are treated as second class citizens and Puerto Rico is a colonial possession of the United States, and the “root cause” of the problem is colonialism. He phrased it thusly, “Do you want the United States to be the standard bearer of democracy while carrying colonial territories in the 21st Century? How can you go to Cuba or Venezuela and preach democracy while you have over 3 million US citizens disenfranchised?”

This is his case for statehood?  That the United States is an oppressive colonial power, therefore let us join it?

Throughout history, there has been one solution to imperialism for a colonial territory, independence.  If Rosselló really has a vision of the United States as an imperial boot on the necks of freedom loving Puerto Ricans, that actually really isn’t different from the views of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments toward the United States, and it’s not that different from the view the old Soviet Union for that matter. Why the hell is he serving as governor of a territory that’s, in his view, is an occupied territory?  That makes him no better than a Quisling.

If Rosselló and Puerto Rico feel so damn oppressed by the imperialist colonial running dogs of the United States, I feel the only and correct solution to such an injustice is for Congress to act and grant immediate independence to the “colonial’ territory of Puerto Rico.

Good luck with your next hurricane.

Amazon Prime Video-Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

When I heard that Amazon was coming out with a Jack Ryan series, I was a bit surprised, because I figured that was a character, and a universe, that had run its course.  Don’t get me wrong, I had been a Tom Clancy reader since the 1980’s, and had watched most of the film iterations of Jack Ryan.  But that was a character created in the Cold War and the world now is so different from the one where a young Jack Ryan was on the chase for the Soviet submarine Red October.

But…after seeing a devastating review in Vanity Fair:

How could I say no? So I decided to give the show a chance.

Color me pleasantly surprised.

First off, John Krasinski really pulls it off as Ryan.  I’ve heard some people argue that they just can’t get past his goofy Jim from The Office persona.  However having already seen him take on a tough guy roll in 13 Hours I had no problem suspending my disbelief. In fact, if anything it helps the role of someone who is primarily an academic but is reluctantly thrust into the action role.  Of course, an academic being thrust in action roles does strain the bounds of credulity. That was one of the weaker parts of the show in my opinion, Ryan’s boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce) does have an operator background, yet constantly drags Ryan into dangerous situations, totally out of his skillset.

The other notable on the show is Ali Suliman as the terrorist mastermind, Mousa Bin Suleiman.  As noted in another review of the show, this actor really sells it as a complicated villain.  He could have simply played this as a simple, evil, religious fanatic, but he has a backstory that gives his actions, if not exactly justification, at least reasonable within his mindset, and it shows.  If anything, he has the most difficult role in the series and manages to pull it off beautifully.

One thing I noticed in the pacing of the show, in deference to it appearing on a streaming service, is each episode ends leaving you wanting more.  And although I’m just not a binger, we did end up watching the last three episodes back to back.  I didn’t want to stop.  So yeah, I have to give the show a big thumbs up.

And as for the Vanity Fair reviewer?  She was totally wrong.  This wasn’t any sort of jingoistic right wing Fox News anything.  You would be hard pressed to find any sort of political bias in this show, unless you regard Islamic terrorism as a fiction created by right wing Republican Presidents.  In any case, this show has already been renewed for season 2, so the reviewer (and me) will get a second chance to reconsider when the show’s focus swings around to…Russia!

Rebooting Old TV with Diversity in Mind

In an age when Hollywood has been totally mined out of original ideas for television, but the number of platforms have expanded with room for more and more television, comes the TV answer for zero ideas but lots of airtime to fill: The reboot. But it’s not enough to simply reboot old television shows, they need to be rebooted through a social justice warrior lens to give show concepts like this:

Just before he recently departed ABC Studios to embark on a rich overall deal at Netflix, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris sold one last high-profile project to ABC: Bewitched, a single camera, interracial blended family comedy based on the popular 1960s sitcom of the same name.

In Bewitched, written by Barris and Taylor, Samantha, a hardworking black single mom who happens to be a witch, marries Darren, a white mortal who happens to be a bit of a slacker. They struggle to navigate their differences as she discovers that even when a black girl is literally magic, she’s still not as powerful as a decently tall white man with a full head of hair in America.

This description of the show sounds hilarious for all the wrong reasons.  One would almost think it’s a parody of a socially aware TV reboot but no, it’s serious.  Am I intrigued by the description?  Darn right!  I would definitely sit down and watch a show in which an immortal magician is still under the thumb of Trump’s America.  The possibilities are endless!  I’m sure we can expect to see Samantha pulled over by white cops and she turns them into actual pigs, and she teaches the slacker Darren about hard work by transforming him into a black slave in the 1850’s. Nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz will be the White Nationalist neighbor across the street, spying on the interracial couple. Uncle Arthur? Played by RuPaul of course!

Just a few weeks prior there was the announcement that Joss Whedon was rebooting Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only this time with a Black Buffy. So everything old can be new again if you diversify it up a smidge.  Never mind that they already had a Black Slayer in the original run of the show…diversity.

I’m not opposed to reboots, reimagining’s, or however you want to describe them, with diversity, but let’s don’t pretend that diversity is actually a new idea. It’s really about saying,” I don’t have any new ideas, and I want approval from twitter.”

I will seriously watch this if it gets through development hell and actually airs somewhere.  Not because I think it will be quality entertainment, but because I expect it will be an entertaining hot mess.

The Long #resist Funeral

John McCain died Saturday, August 25th.  His funeral was yesterday, September 1st, and today, the news and talking head shows are still talking about him.  I can’t think of any American politician who has this kind of death coverage, not Ronald Reagan, and not Ted Kennedy, each whom had extensive news coverage of their death and funeral, but nothing like this.

In some ways this was far worse than the Paul Wellstone funeral, which is looked on as ground zero by the right of the left politicizing the most sacred and solemn rituals in our culture.  However the leftist protest march that the Wellstone funeral became was spontaneous, or at least not planned by the family.  Of course Wellstone died in a plane crash so he probably hadn’t been thinking of the details of his funeral arrangements. John McCain, on the other hand, had been staring down the barrel of a death sentence for over a year.  He had plenty of time to think about the end, and what sort of message and legacy he wanted to leave.

And the message was revenge.

I find it hard to grasp the kind of hatred that McCain had for Trump that he dedicated his death to him.  In a similar situation, I can’t imagine I would spend my final days trying to get back at someone for some long ago insult.  And yet John McCain, a man who had been extensively tortured by the North Vietnamese for years, was able to forgive them for what they did, but couldn’t begin to put behind him the insult of man who simply said he wasn’t a hero.

That’s an interesting window into McCain’s character; make of that what you will.