Supernatural Season 8: The Road So Far

Eight verse, same as the first.

Author’s Note: I decided to split this into two posts, as it quickly became longer than I expected. I was always taught to open with criticisms and finish on a positive note, so today I’ll be doing my best bad cop routine.

Supernatural’s eighth season is a vast improvement over the seventh, but it’s still falling short of its glory days. This series has taken the word ‘repetitive’ to previously unimagined heights.

The ‘return to its roots’ mantra that has been tossed about by both the writers and fans since season 7 began puts an overly optimistic spin on things. The preferred method to return the show to its roots after the universally lambasted sixth season appears to be reliance on a rigid formula.

It goes as follows (don’t worry, it’s not really a spoiler, as this actually happens on many seasons of Supernatural): After a season spent fighting The Big Bad, one of the Winchesters makes a big sacrifice and gets sent to a hellish dimension of some sort in the season finale, then miraculously reappears on the next season’s premiere. The remainder of the season will be consumed by flashbacks of the hellish place, hints that the time spent in the hellish dimension was even more horrible than you’d imagine (hampered slightly by the fact that viewers could imagine a far more horrific place than the show’s budget can create), examples of how the hellish place changed the person who went there in some fundamental way, and finally the big reveal of how the brother escaped.

Heck, you were probably getting bored reading about the generic hellish place, and it only took you a few seconds to skim that paragraph; imagine reading it for a whole year, or even several years.

This season’s plot is as strong as the advertizing department’s Photoshop skills.

The other brother will have countless flashbacks of what life was like while his sibling was in the hellish place, and he’ll express both guilt for allowing himself to enjoy it and his feeling that something was missing without the life of a hunter. As the season progresses, his flashbacks will take on a bittersweet dichotomy: Increasingly cloying scenes where the viewer sees just how much he wants to hang on to the life he had while the brother was gone, and a growing certainty that the old life must be forever abandoned now that the brother is back. Finally some big event will happen that makes the decision for him; it will most likely involve violence against the woman he wants to stay with.

Flashbacks are best when used very sparingly, regardless of the medium. The problem with Supernatural is that the writers don’t seem to see any problem with basing entire seasons on them, and season eight seems to be ratcheting up this tendency to extreme proportions. This is doubly problematic because shows like Supernatural, by design, also rely heavily on foreshadowing and premonitions of the evil to come, played out over massive story arcs. That means that a huge swath of screen time is taken away from the here and now.  The episodes that do focus entirely on the present often end up being fluff and filler episodes, only tenuously connected to the rest of the show.

What is lacking is a significant amount of episodes that progress the plot in the present time. That type of episode should be the rule, not the exception.

The Winchesters’ relationship also seems to have stagnated. Here’s the thing with tension: It is always ruled by pacing, uncertainty, and exposure. There is rarely enough time given between the brothers’ spats and tantrums, so there is no longer any tension in the fights.

If the viewer knows for a fact that the brothers will quickly be at each other’s throats again, even if they resolve their current argument, there is no tension. There needs to be the possibility for a happy, friendly relationship if we are expected to have an emotional investment in their arguments. As it stands, Sam and Dean feeling angry/betrayed/undervalued/ignored/whatever at one another is just background noise. It is always there. They need to have some story arcs where the brothers are getting along very well in order to sell the drama when they are fighting.

George Lucas Sells Lucasfilm to Disney for 4 Billion

George Lucas sold off the Star Wars universe to Disney to the tune of 4 billion dollars. If that announcement isn’t shocking enough, Disney has already set a very approximate date for the next Star Wars film: 2015. (Also, I vote Nathan Fillion for Han Solo) . Disney has a trilogy planned, with more possibly to come after that.  There have been hints that we can expect a much bigger Star Wars presence in the Disney parks as well.

Am I terrible, disloyal fan if my very first thought was, “Well, it’s not like they could do a worse job than Lucas?” I love Star Wars. I respect and admire George Lucas for creating it. But I hated the new trilogy. Maybe if the filmmakers are held accountable to someone, rather than being surrounded by hired yes-men, we can expect a modicum of improvement. It won’t be anything like the original Star Wars, but neither were the prequels.

Perhaps the biggest question for the comic book community: Will this impact Dark Horse’s relationship with Star Wars? Can we expect a new comic series from Marvel?

National Novel Writing Month: Is This Your Year?

November is National Novel Writing Month, know affectionately as NaNoWriMo. In this quantity-over-quality dash to a 50,000 word finish line, tens of thousands of aspiring novelists put aside the excuses they cling to year round and just hammer out a (very short) novel.

The gist of National Novel Writing Month is that it’s an opportunity to let go of your inner critic and get your ideas onto the page. An oft-repeated NaNoWriMo axiom is that “November is for writing, December is for editing.” This has led to some backlash from the writing community at large, as detractors claim that it encourages poor writing skills and lackluster novels from amateurs.

While there’s no arguing that writing for speed rather than quality results in a lot of dreck, the point isn’t really to create a publishable draft in November.  For those who are trying to make a go as a professional novelist, it’s a way to get into the habit of writing a set amount every day, no excuses allowed, and to find other aspiring novelists to keep one another accountable. The companionship offered is an added boost that gets people inspired to do what they’ve been putting off for years or even decades. For people who have no interest in being a professional published author, it’s simply a time to get together with like minded people and encourage one another while doing something fun.

While anyone can participate in NaNoWriMo without signing up at the website, the forums provide many people with camaraderie and fun features to make the most of this yearly event. Here’s a very brief summary of what one can expect from the forums:

  • Timed writing sprints
  • Lounges dedicated to discussing genre-specific issues and methodology
  • A forum dedicated to novel research, where people ask and answer questions about everything from the gory realities of various wounds to what daily life would be like for a fisherman’s family in 16th century Scotland to the best way to dispose of a body.
  • Reviews and suggestions for writing software
  • Tips and tricks for overcoming writer’s block
  • Regional lounges for organizing meet-ups and “write ins” with other NaNo writers in your area
  • Tips for parents, busy students, and workaholics on how to carve out time for writing from hectic schedules
  • Lists of adoptable plot points

The most common method is to set a daily word goal of 1,667 words (roughly 3x the words of an average blog post)  to add up to 50,000 by the end of the month. The NaNoWriMo website calculates a user’s word count when one uploads a file (the document is neither read nor stored on the site; it simply adds up the words), and one “wins” by reaching the minimum word count by midnight on November 30th.

If you’ve been struggling for years to get past the first few chapters–or even the first few pages–of your novel, give it a go. And just remember that the point isn’t to create a publishable manuscript on the first go; it’s to create the skeleton of a book you can fix after you’ve taught yourself to sit down and just write every day.

Because John Green makes just about everything better, I’ll leave you with his video on NaNoWriMo:

While no great book can be written in a month, no great book can be written in a first draft no matter how long it takes you to write it. Books are made in revisions.

Spoiler-Free Review of Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity 4 would probably have been more satisfying as a stand-alone movie. As the fourth installment of a series, with the other films leading up to this conclusion (in the promotional poster’s own words, no less), it left a lot to be desired.Here we go again...

It didn’t seem as if the audience got the same feel for the family as in previous films. The mother and father floated in and out of the movie without making much of an impression. Only Alex and her boyfriend Ben really came across as having any personality. The acting was not at fault; everyone gave a decent performance. The parents just didn’t get much screen time, and when they did, they were given generic “parent things” to say and do. There was none of the homey warmth of Kristi’s family or the snarking of Katie and Micah.

The trademark thumps and drags were thankfully kept to a minimum, as they no longer invoke the same fear they once did. One of the film’s more brilliant moves was to explore the effect created by Xbox Kinect’s sensor dots; this led to most of the movie’s scariest moments, and it’s a safe bet that a lot of audience members rushed home to try it out with their digital cameras. And this being a ‘found footage’ movie, the new modus operandi was webcams on the family’s laptops.

There were a few odd inconsistencies. The home is equipped with a security feature that announces when the exterior doors are opened, but this is never actually used for scary effect. It makes you wonder why you spent the movie listening to that bland automated voice announcing, “Front door, opened,” if it was never going to be used for the obvious. There were several scenes where it didn’t make sense that the security system didn’t announce an arrival or exit, which begs the question: why write it into the script in the first place? It was reminiscent of the second film, where the family had a large guard dog who very rarely seemed to notice the crashing and thumping that the humans always heard, and who was never called out to by the owners when they were nervous.

The most disappointing aspect is that it seems to completely negate the events of the first two films–and by extension, the existence of the fourth movie itself. Unless there is a fifth installment planned to explain what happened between films two and four, it would seem that nobody thought out the implications of this movie. The end was also somewhat overdone; again, unless there is another film planned to explain it all, it leads to more questions than it answers, and they’re the sort of questions that suggest the creators simply figured people will sit back and appreciate the fear factor regardless of how much it seems to conflict with the previous movies. Given the cult status of the first film, it seems a shame to throw it all away for a quick scare.

Random sidenote: As of the time I’m writing this, there is something bizarre going on with the imdb page for PA4. There are two black cast members listed in lieu of the parents, the boy who plays Wyatt is not listed, and Ben is listed as another Alex:


The Walking Dead: Characters Still Not All That Likeable

Is it wrong that I want half of them to get eaten?

This season’s premiere of the Walking Dead opened with a lot of action, but unfortunately the characterization was not a huge improvement over last year. This seems like it’s going to remain a show I watch in order to see what happens rather than because I’m rooting for the characters (besides Daryl, naturally).

I’m torn because I love zombie properties, but I’ve always favored character-driven rather than concept-driven television. It’s a new experience for me to sit and watch people I really don’t like for 44 minutes. No matter how cool a scene is, it’s very hard for me to be invested in it if I don’t care about the characters. Even with the characters I do like, it’s more of a lukewarm appreciation rather than the passion that I normally feel towards my favorite characters. To be fair, that may also be because most of the characters I like are minor ones, and their stories have been abbreviated in order to accommodate the unending and uninspiring soap opera between Rick, Lori, and Shane. Despite all hopes the contrary, Shane’s death hasn’t put the slightest dent in the writers’ enthusiasm for this tortuous and wholly unnecessary drama.

Michonne was by far the biggest highlight of the episode; I spent most of the premiere wishing she and Andrea had more screen time. The prisoner reveal at the end brings the hope that the cast might be rounded out with a few more likeable people. If only we could count on Rick, Lori, and Carl all going the way of Dale and Shane, the show would look as if it were going to be downright good, especially with the eventual addition of the Governor. Is it wrong that I find myself rooting for him just because I know he’s going to challenge Rick?

“I wish they’d have more storylines about Carl,” said absolutely nobody.

On a more unfortunate note, it seems the writers–for reasons known only to themselves–decided to take a page from George Lucas’s handbook and set up a romance between a child and a teenage girl, to take the characters to new heights of repulsiveness, and possibly to prove that the writers just aren’t terribly fond of women. This is one trainwreck I hope gets dealt with quickly rather than be allowed to drag out over the course of the season.

The Newsflesh Trilogy

Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy is a refreshing take on the zombie novel.  These books are recommended for anyone who loves zombies but has become tired of the standard template that most of the genre’s writers seem to follow.

Feed, the first entry in Grant’s trilogy, takes place a full generation after the dead began to rise; the protagonists, both in their early 20s, were born around the time of the initial outbreak (know as The Rising), and never knew a world without the threat of zombie attacks.

While zombies are the impetus behind the plot, they don’t take center stage like the zombies of most novels, and the book is richer for it.  Any zombie novel can only have so many scenes about zombies, or else the reader would become quickly desensitized to them. The failing of most zombie stories–both books and movies–is that they fill out all the space between zombie encounters with the same tedious tasks of barricading shelters and gathering supplies, with the occasional attack from other survivors, and possibly one character dragging the other characters on an ill-fated quest to reach a child and/or spouse.

Mira Grant (pseudonym for fantasy novelist Seanan McGuire) decided to tell a story where the characters do interesting things between the zombie encounters. Though it would perhaps have less action, the books would be compelling even with the zombie scenes deleted; the characters, plot, and worldbuilding can stand on their own.

I just find it interesting that kids apparently used to cry when Bambi’s mother died. George and I both held our breaths, and then cheered when she didn’t reanimate and try to eat her son.

Feed and the subsequent books focus on a team of news bloggers who stumble upon a conspiracy revolving around the zombies that have turned most of the world’s surviving population into hermits too scared to leave the safety of their homes.

Georgia Mason, leader of the website After The End Times, blends the modern appeal of blogging with the nostalgic memory of hard hitting investigative journalists from a time when the news was about something more noble.  She’s also a strong female character that’s perhaps a bit more relatable to the nerdy chick crowd than the average urban fantasy heroine; she may be good with a gun, but there’s nary a set of leather pants or a back tattoo to be seen. Her adopted brother Shaun Mason fulfills the lovable ass-kicker role well, and the cast is rounded out with the other bloggers for After The End Times.

It’s a solid read, but as I’ve attempted to demonstrate, it’s not the traditional zombie tale. If that’s what you’re after, this is one you’d be better off skipping.

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