Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Avengers - Comics vs Movie

How does The Avengers treat its characters?

A conventional review would be pretty blasé. We all know that Joss Whedon is an incomparably popular and capable writer with a fetish for creating strong women and then ruining their lives. We all know that this film was designed as an insane summer blockbuster, with explosions occurring probably at an average of one every five minutes or less. Of course it's going to be entertaining as hell. It's hard not to be when you're talking about a power fantasy where you watch incredibly powerful people (and gods) rip the hell out of aliens so generic that you can't even remember their names.

Anyways, all of that aside, what really caught my interest were the characters. Unlike the average movie-goer who witnessed the multicolored super-powered clusterf**k, I've read the comics behind every single one of these characters. To say that I've read all of their comics would be ridiculous, but I've read enough to get a sense of what these characters were meant to look like and act, as well as their failures that may or may not have been improved upon by the movie. So, without further adieu, here goes. Comics versus movie in an epic face-off.

Clint Barton – Hawkeye

In the comics, Hawkeye is frankly one of the least interesting characters in The Avengers roster. What he basically boils down to is a badass with a bow who can hit anything without trying. … That pretty much sums him up, which means the movie honored his character precisely. On a power level, the only difference is that, in most of the comics, Barton is downright dangerous with anything. If there's a shard of glass nearby, he can stick it in your eye without effort. If he's got a pen in his pocket, he's dangerous. In one memorable moment from The Ultimates comic series, he manages to break himself out of prison single handedly by ripping his own fingernails out and flicking them into the guards' throats so hard that it kills them. It would have been interesting to see the movie Hawkeye do anything other than play around with his bow like he did but, in the end, it isn't a huge issue.

What movie Hawkeye improves upon however, is making his character less of an asshole. In the comics, Barton is legendary for being a prick and hard to work with, a hothead far more likely to disobey orders and act independently instead of work as a team. Thankfully, the movie avoided this. Though you definitely get a sense of Jeremy Renner's self-confident streak, we see that, with regard to the Black Widow, he's got a heart behind it. Their scene where he is struggling to free himself from Loki's mind control is indicative of this, along with the knowledge that, once upon a time, Hawkeye was sent to assassinate the Black Widow but chose instead to bring her in and rehabilitate her. Though these are pretty much the only gems of his character that I remember, it is worth considering him a success since I came out of the movie wanting to know more about him.

Natasha Romanoff – The Black Widow

The Black Widow is a character who really deviated hard from what I know of her in the comics. In the comics, she genuinely lives up to her name. She is hand picked by SHIELD to do the dirty work that they want off the record. She's completely fine with sleeping with her targets and then killing them without remorse. Black Widow is easily the darkest of the characters (in the comics) because she almost never allows her badass amoral side to crumble. Whenever it does appear to, it is often a ruse.

Scarlett Johansson's (or, should I say, Joss Whedon's) Black Widow acts more like she's reformed. She makes constant hints to a darker character within her that existed in the past. Whenever she does, you can pretty much gather from those descriptions exactly what the comic Black Widow was. However, unlike the comics where she generally gets as much 'screentime' as Hawkeye (which is, not very much), in The Avengers it almost felt like Black Widow could be considered a main character, if not the main character. A great deal of focus is put on her and, to my surprise, on her vulnerabilities. Some of the tensest moments of the movie are when her facade seems to crack and we see a scared little girl. Her scenes with Hulk and Loki are incredible and Scarlett Johansson manages to give the character significantly more heart than I've ever seen her have. You have to keep in mind that, in the comics, it is constantly up in the air whether Black Widow will actually betray the team or not, she's that opportunistic. In the movie, we see a Black Widow that, while not precisely loyal to her comic book origins, still manages to achieve that perfect blend of sexiness and sensitivity. It's a change, but it's a good change.


Though his power level is one of the strongest, it's remarkable how uninteresting they made Thor's character. The problem with Thor in The Avengers is that they took away anyone with who he might meaningfully connect. Odin is back in the prequel, as is his love interest, Natalie Portman. Everyone else either seems deliberately out to get under his skin (Tony Stark. Nick Fury, to some extent) or simply amusing or incomprehensible to him (“You humans are all so strange”). His interactions with Loki, while a trifle sad, are rather hard to believe or get invested in. It is just too painfully obvious that Loki just isn't going to listen. Thus Thor is left surrounded by colorful characters but with nothing to do but twiddle his beardy hairs.

However, they still do a great job of balancing his power level and that's perhaps the most important thing of all. Thor is a god. Not only that, but he's a martial god, meaning his powers and skills derive from kicking ass. For those of you who saw the prequel, we know he's single handedly capable of destroying an entire world by himself if he wants to. This is like putting a pro football player on a team with fairly skilled teenagers and expecting it to play evenly. This was probably my number one concern with this movie: that Thor would render the rest of the team meaningless.

But that's pretty well avoided. Sure, those lower down the power food chain have to do less glamorous things like rescue civilians a lot, but they still get their time in the limelight. Despite the total power discrepancy, both Iron Man and Captain America manage to prove to the audience that they aren't total pushovers. And the Hulk spends a good amount of time using the Thor like we might use a pinata. Altogether, though, Thor was disappointing, felt like he got the least screentime, and almost came off feeling like a minor character.

Steve Rogers – Captain America

Captain America is one of my favorite comic book characters. He's a man who embodies everything idealized from an older generation. He's polite, calm, commanding, thoughtful, capable, deadly, and stands for the idyllic America that is within our cultural memory. Steve Rogers is a character who is less powerful than most everyone around him and yet, through sheer determination, grit, and training, is arguably the most dangerous of them all. He is the leader of The Avengers, and is able to keep all of the dysfunctional personalities in line through a combination of standing up for what he believes is right and by serving as that team dad who you know will never fail you. He has a gravitas that makes people watch in awe as he shows up to save the world just one more time, and he doesn't even require thanks.

Sadly, Chris Evans is no Captain America.

To be fair, part of this is Joss Whedon's fault. And we have to acknowledge that it is devilishly hard to write a good Captain America story. The man is near faultless and represents everything good in this world. To be frank, like Superman, he is an impossible character because nobody like this exists or has ever existed. Characters like Superman and Captain America are the essence of what we aspire to be, it isn't what we are. Consequently, to write a good Captain America story you have to give him an existential problem with which we can empathize.

Some of the best Captain America stories are written about how, though he now lives in the present day, Steve Rogers is still a man from a different time. The discrepancy between what he knows as right and normal and how the world has changed is an interesting one. The Avengers tries to put some focus on this issue but ultimately fails. Having everyone make fun of him for being an old man unable to understand the present day just doesn't do it. By the end of the movie, he takes charge, but I didn't feel like he deserved it. It felt almost like Tony Stark was only letting Rogers lead so as to humor him. It didn't help that, in the final battle, what he does feels the least epic of anyone there.

Joss Whedon tries to give him that sort of legendary feeling among the people that he saves, but it just doesn't quite do it. Casting the old 'Human Torch' from the Fantastic Four movies as Captain America also just wasn't quite good enough. Chris Evans gave it his all, but it's arguable that an older man would've given the role the proper weight. Instead, Chris Evans just looked insignificant when compared to the personality of Robert Downey Jr and the size of Chris Hemsworth. I think Joss Whedon knows what it takes to write a good Captain America (the seeds are there, but just weren't planted right), so we can just hope that the sequel gives Captain America the time he needs to be taken more seriously as a character.

Bruce Banner – The Hulk

The Hulk was an unexpected and interesting deviation. To put it frankly, Edward Norton's Hulk is closer to the comics than Mark Ruffalo's. In the comics, they tend to focus majorly on the personality conflicts that come from having a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde thing going on. Edward Norton managed to capture that brooding nature spot on, as well as the yearning for a normal life that comes with it. That Hulk movie also captured perfectly the blend of Banner's incredible intellect and the Hulk's savagery. It is an interesting dichotomy and, given the nature of the comics and Banner's huge issue in controlling his alter-ego, I half expected the Hulk to turn out to be the real antagonist.

Despite all of this, though, Joss Whedon seemed to want to go with a Hulk who was... funny. And I'm still not sure what to think of that. Mark Ruffalo's Hulk seemed to make constant light of his uncontrollable power and, even though Black Widow freaked out all the time about it, nobody else seemed too worried. Part of what threw me off was what must have been a plot hole: why on earth was Hulk uncontrollable on the aircraft carrier but suddenly subject to Banner's will in the final battle? It didn't make any sense where that transition came from, and so just got me confused.

All in all, though, the Hulk obviously wasn't a main character and so the issues of depth aren't that important in the scheme of things. He also got some of the best scenes, what with arbitrarily beating the crap out of things to slinging Loki around like a sack of potatoes. Puny man, indeed. I suppose time will tell as to which depiction of the Hulk (Norton's or Ruffalo's) is better. I can't decide.

Tony Stark – Iron Man

Really, I can't do much else but say what everyone else has said. Robert Downey Jr. is the real life incarnation of Tony Stark. He inhabits the character completely and improves upon his comic book original, whose main difference is that he's far more of a self-righteous, navel-gazing prick. By contrast, Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark is self-aware, impetuous, and just completely awesome in every way.


All in all, The Avengers was a great movie with a plethora of characters that ran the gamut from meh to average to exceptional. Though Thor and Captain America were personally disappointing for me, everyone else fit the bill or even exceeded expectations. And I didn't even mention Tom Hiddleston's Loki, who absolutely rose to the challenge of being a terrifying, powerful, and yet flawed villain.

I'm not sure how the sequel can meet up to this one's standards, though, without getting incomprehensible. For those not in the know, the scene at the end pretty much indicates flat out that Thanos the Mad Titan will be next movie's villain. There's nothing inherently wrong with that; the comics that I've read with Thanos in them are pretty damn interesting and good. But the problem is that, to face Thanos, the Avengers will have to leave Earth. We've already had an extraterrestrial invasion in the form of the Chitauri. For Thanos, things will go into a cosmic scale, and I highly doubt that they'll be able to retain the average movie-goer's attention as well on that level. And that isn't even going into how much it'll cost to CGI everything.

In the end, though, I have hope that The Avengers will continue to be awesome, especially if Joss Whedon comes back for the sequel. It's definitely worth seeing, particularly in theaters, and its success tells us that comic book movies will still be made for a long time to come.

The Avengers

Written by Joe the Revelator

I can't say I much enjoyed the many individual superhero movies that make up the Avengers team. I thought Edward Norton's Hulk was good, while Eric Bana's Hulk was cartoony, and now the Avengers' Hulk is played by Mark Ruffalo (Brothers Bloom, Shutter Island). Thor was a joke, though after seeing him in a hero lineup, I've started to wonder if it wasn't the character I found hard to sympathize with. Captain America was amusing but failed to spark any real interest. And watching Robert Downey Jr. play a rich, narcissistic playboy with a suit of power armor was the height of entertainment.

The crew is brought together by Nick Fury, played by Samuel L Jackson, with the addition of Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Appearances and mention of other notable characters from prior movies are brief, but serve to sustain a level of depth which could only be improved by reading hundreds of hours of comic-book back-story.

Hulk's big scene

There's a .gif floating on the internet of Hulk slinging Loki (the demi-god villain of the Avengers movie) around Stark Tower like a wet sack of veal. If you've seen this 3-second clip, then you've seen what the Avengers has to offer. The entirety of the movie is a lead-up to this moment; from the scene of Black Window attempting to recruit Dr. Banner, to the moment Hulk reveals his big green melon-sized face. Everyone treats Dr. Banner with kid gloves except Stark, who seems intent on making Banner face his demons, poking at him mentally and physically, until the rage monster pops.

While Hulk dominates every action scene he's in, it's Tony Stark who steals the show when nobody's throwing punches. His non-stop wit is like a prize fighter sucker-punching anyone who comes near him. Captain America is the first Avenger and team leader under Fury, ostensibly the heart of the group, but Stark outstripes him at every turn.

And true to comic-book logic, the heroes find reasons to brawl with each other in ultra-destructive pissing contests. Hulk tears through Fury's flying fortress like it's his job, crumpling jets like beer cans while going toe-to-toe with Thor. A stretch of pine barrens are leveled when Thor steals Loki away from the Avengers, and an Iron Man-Thor-captain America rumble ensues. One could argue for the necessity of physical contest between men to assert dominance or pack-order. The power to topple a skyscraper doesn't seem to have tempered their aggressive urges.

Surprising depth

My biggest shock when I sat down for this two-and-a-half hour hero mashup was how deep the characters went. Black Widow's fear of Banner's Mr. Hyde routine was palpable, while Stark treated Hulk like a neglected alter-ego, and Banner himself spoke of Hulk as a dangerous disability. Thor was instantly more likeable when he lamented that every time he comes to Earth, the place gets wrecked up. And Captain America's hesitance to step into the Hero role was both touching and irritating.

Though summer has just begun, I can say this is the best movie I've seen so far. And with the possible exception of Iron Man, the Avengers are more than the sum of their parts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Diablo III

Written by Joe the Revelator

Sometimes reviewing a Blizzard game feels like talking about a dental checkup. Getting one costly and ubiquitous. It's something that once you've experienced before, you probably won't be shocked by it again, and everybody's done it. Diablo 3 is exactly like this. From the install music which has been dusted off from old Diablo, to the final cut-scene, it all feels too familiar to really strike a nerve.

And although the acts are set up in the same format as the previous game, I will give D3 credit for its beautiful cinimatics and amazingly visual levels. The top-down dungeon crawler is one of the best I've ever seen. Playing through the first act by myself, even as a burly, over-the-hill barbarian, it had genuinely eerie moments. Good ambient music combined with a few monsters stolen from Resident Evil (lickers) and giant demons with nipple rings, puts D3's creepy quotient fairly high, which is important for a game that will swiftly turn into boring level-grinding and boss-running for loot.

Stay a while and listen...

For those who played Diablo II, here are a few key differences. As I mentioned, the game is prettier, and the PC specs required to run it are considerably higher than its predecessor. Diablo I and II are small enough to fit on a thumb drive, which comes with the over-priced special edition of Diablo III. The character customization has been beefed up, allowing you to create your own battle standard and dyed armor, though you're stuck with same-face characters with the choice of male or female versions of each class.

Class selection has been made leaner, limiting the player to Barbarian, Monk, Demon-Hunter, Wizard, or Witch-Doctor. Old classes and class skills have been divied up between them. A few of the old Paladin skills were given over to the monk and Demon Hunter. Demon Hunter is a mashup of Amazon and Assassin. Wizard is the old Sorcerer class, except now she's on LSD. And the Witch-Doctor was given all the weird skills that used to belong to the Necromancer and Druid.

As a 4-man multiplayer group, which is the limit for party size, the team must find a balance between damage and survivability. After you've slogged through the dungeons alone, I highly recommend joining a group, which will net more experienced points and goodies.

Streamlining Hell

The breakdown for a party works like so: Effectively, the Barbarian tanks for the group until he's killed outright by suicidal exploding demons. The Demon Hunter (aka glass cannon) will do somersaults around the map and look creepy, ostensibly doing damage until she's breathed on by a zombie and dies. The Monk will run ahead of the party and open all the chests alone, and will refuse to die, healing himself faster than the bosses can damage him. The Shaman will summon an army that looks exactly like the demons you're trying to fight, confusing the party. And the Wizard will turn the map into a rave with flashy spells.

The loot system has seen vast improvements since the days of D2. Loot from dead monsters and chests, magical or otherwise, now drop individually for players. In fact, the game doesn't even display other people's goodies so there's no confusion, or begging, since the neckbeards in your game can't see the sparkly items you dug out of a demon's entrails. Gold pickup has been streamlined too, automatically (probably by magnets) leaping into your inventory when you run over it. This eliminates the issue of having one team member who spends all his time clicking on gold piles instead of fending off the hoard of ravenous monsters.

To D3, or not to D3?

I find the little touches matter most in roleplaying games. Which, at heart, is what Diablo is trying to be. While playing the single-player campaign, there's time to read the lore, and listen to the monologues given by the main characters as you pilfer through their journals like a stalker after prom night. You feel more vulnerable wandering through the catacombs with only the chatty NPC henchman to keep you company. At any moment you could be swarmed by zombies or swallowed up by sandworms from Dune.

In multiplayer there isn't time to stop and soak in the environment. The stronger, more experienced players will push the fight from one act to the next, and the game gets a little rushed. It's hard to feel threatened by dark forces of hell when they're being bombarded by wizard napalm and machine-gunned by the hunter's duel crossbows.

I recommend playing Diablo III alone at least once, a few times with your friends, and quitting before you end up buying in-game weapons with real money, or spending 24-hours on a RedBull-fueled 'Meph Run'.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran

by DionysusPsyche

Rob Sheffield's first book Love is a Mixed Tape reels you in with his superhero type love for one woman and their adventures falling for each other and road tripping around the Appalachian mountains in search of epic, almost-famous bands. In his second book, Rob takes us year by year in his life and the songwriters and lyricists who meant the most to him throughout the 80's, starting and ending with Duran Duran. For those of you who are too young or not savvy on music from that era, Duran Duran sing "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Rio" to name a few.

The great thing about Sheffield as an essayist is that while he's a rock critic at heart (and always has been), he's adept at capturing his viewer's attention and weaving each artist's work to his own personal life. For those that love the 80's, but aren't as familiarized with the works of Morrissey, The Smiths, and the Psychedelic Furs, Sheffield also incorporates his beloved main stream pop like Madonna, Bonnie Tyler ("Total Eclipse of the Heart," "I Need a Hero"), Prince, and Hall and Oates. And of course, no book would be complete without an ode, however brief, to John Hughes and what he did for teenage cinema to someone who was a teenager in the 80's--how it continues to define teenagers throughout the decades and how Judd Nelson's fist pump is every kid who's ever scored a kiss with that special someone.

Sheffield delves into his relationship with girls and how he went from full on hermit and exasperated with love to learning what love was all about through the music."I had pretty strict ideas about how I thought the world should be, and my plan for getting a girlfriend was to make the world rearrange itself...Madonna kept reminding me over, over and over, how full of shit I was."

He talks a lot about his family in his second book, and since he's the only son, he naturally compares his musical differences to that of his sisters. One of Sheffield's strengths is relativity and accessibility."Rhythym was girl code, which is why I was obsessed with the claps, but I never got it right. Handclaps were the difference between boy music and girl music...the real action was going on down below, where only girls could hear it."

Of the Beatles, he writes about how they were a teen sensation. All girls at the time were crazy about them, and yet the men of the band were serial monogamists. "It is both weird and impossible not to notice that all four Beatles had absurdly long-lived marriages, seconds marriages in most of their cases--did any other rock band spawn such notoriously doting husbands?"
I like the Sheffield books, and although I recommend both of them, there are nuances that would attract readers to one over the other. In Love is a Mixed Tape, Sheffield talks about the idea of big love and how real it is and it overcomes you beyond anything you'd believe--even the saddest parts. Talking to Girls About Duran Duran focuses more on the intricacies of growing up as a teenager and dissecting pop music as a language to understand "what boys want" or "all she wants to do." I prefer the former, but I love them as separate entities. I encourage anyone who's up for a light and quick read to check out both books at your library or local bookstore.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Red Queen

Written by Joe the Revelator

 Before reading The Red Queen I must admit that my knowledge of sexual genetics was fairly limited. I knew the basics of X's and Y's. I knew that creatures who spawn sexually do so for purposes of trading defenses against parasites. And I thought I knew a few things about the "Driving-Y" and the potential degeneration of the male chromosome, which has been hyped on science sites lately. But after reading Matt Ridley's book, my thoughts on sex have become vastly more complicated.

In the book Through the Looking Glass, Alice is in a race with the Red Queen, running alongside chess pieces. The environment around them rushes past, constantly changing, and Alice must run as fast as she can just to keep pace with it, and faster still if she wants to get anywhere. This is, as Matt Ridley proposes, the essence of evolution. That nothing evolves to win the race. Evolutionary progress is made merely to keep up with changing bacteria, parasites, and the environment around us. And in the case of sexual competition, to keep up with each other.

Sex. AKA; the birds and the birds

Ever wanted to know why peacocks strut to attract peahens during a "lek" even though they contribute nothing to the pairing aside from genetic material? No? Well you're going to find out. In agonizing detail. How about the mating rituals of the swallow? Or the polygamy of voles? The manogamy of gibbons? The mating dance of the grouse?

On the back of The Red Queen there is a brief and tantalizing description of the interesting facts Ridley unlocks in this book; touting the secrets of why women are likely to cheat on their husbands, and why men propose marriage. It fails to mention that every ray of enlightenment is accompanied by several chapters of bizarre animal behavior and digression. It seems that Ridley's global conclusions are drawn from other people's research, so much so that the last twenty pages are crammed with notes crediting the author's sources. Much of the book feels like he's stringing together a necklace of pearls from the important articles and papers he's read.

Another caveat about Ridley's writing is its potential to be insensitive to the reader. He states very early on that his book is strictly about evolutionary science, and the chapters therein will be like kryptonite to fundamental creationists. He later makes backhanded apologies to the gay community, to gender-feminists, and to Freudian psychologists, while simultaneously tearing them down with pointed research and logical argument. All but creationists need not fear these chapters, as they are brief and somewhat painless.

Author Matt Ridley

My parasite brings all the boys to the yard

Those seeking a glimpse into human nature vs. learned behavior, stick with it. The final third of the book delivers on its promises, and Ridley swiftly drags old arguments about the laws of attraction onto the chopping block; why incest exists, why tyrants build harems, why the church practically outlawed sex, why men seek youthful mates and women seek mates with status- these he dispenses with the sharp cleaver of reason.

But the last third of the book can be hard to get to. If it weren't for the fascinating biological examples Ridley picks to illustrate his points, I would have put the book down after the first few chapters. I urge future readers not to delve into Red Queen thinking they're about to unlock the mysteries of attraction, but instead are in for a broad look at the mating practices of all sexual creatures. And although the subject of sex is the primary topic of discussion, the act of sex itself is hardly brought up. There is nothing vulgar about this book, just as there's nothing vulgar about watching lions on the Discovery channel.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Written by Joe the Revelator


Amidst a rash of realistic superhero movies like Kick-Ass and Super, and stories about real caped crusaders like The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones by Jon Ronson and Confessions of a Superhero, I found yet another "real" hero movie. Although this one, an independent film starring Michael Rapaport, comes closer to what I believe the path to preternatural power would be like.

All the aforementioned superhero stories have a common thread. A normal, everyday man (or boy) reads too many comics and straps on a cape, and is consequently given a hard slap in the face by reality. Because at the core of being a true crime fighter is violence, which can come as a brutal shock to the young lad, usually by having the kibbles kicked out of him by some big bad thugs.

Les, the hero in Special, receives this lesson again and again. He gets punched and kicked, chased, falls off buildings, gets beaten with a board, and is run over by a car multiple times. By the end of the movie he's so broken and bloody that it seems the only thing holding him up is his home-made armor; a white spray-painted jumper with skate pads. And this, the fact that one man can take the beating of a lifetime, seems to be the lesson of the movie.

Power in a pill

We're given to believe that Special (Rx) is an anti-depressant in its clinical trial phase. Les is an anxious meter-maid who is willing to try anything to end his ongoing slump. He's so anxious, in fact, that he asks the doctor if he can start taking the new medication right away, in the office. He begins discovering his "powers" almost immediately.

Les can hover, or he can fly like superman. He can walk through walls, teleport, read minds, and travel through time. He gains powers so rapidly while he's on Special, one might think he was making it all up...

His first real test comes in the form of a supermarket mugger, trying to hold up the checkout girl who he's been pining over from the start. Tackling the bandit gives Les his first taste of justice. From there it's a rampage of tackling criminals, often using his telepathy to discern good people from bad, until he makes the evening news in a montage of tacklings caught on security camera. It's this unfortunate exposure that alerts the investors of Special (Rx) to the potential side-effects of the drug, and to Les and his identity.

Flying Vs. Carpool

During a protracted car-ride scene, the hero laments that whenever you're trying to avoid crime it seems to find you. But if you go looking for it, criminality is nowhere in sight. For me, this scene sums up the movie. It felt like most of Special was waiting for something to happen; in the office, during car-rides, walking the streets, usually followed by abrupt fits of violence with no rewarding outcome.

But despite the seeming pointlessness of Special, it had me hooked from beginning to end. The long lulls and mundane plodding helped build a level of suspense, culminating to the one-sided beatdown.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Favorite LOST episodes, Part 2 (TV 2004-2010)

Once again, spoiler alert. Do not read the following if you intend on or are in process of watching the show.

6. "Solitary” Season 1 Episode 9, "Numbers" Season 1 Episode 18, and “Trisha Tanaka is Dead” Season 3, Episode 9

“A doctor playing golf! Now I've seen it all. What's next? A cop eating a donut?”
Sayid wanders into the jungle to rid himself of his guilty past. He runs into another islander who tells him of some of the island's past. She tells us some crucial information about herself, her own experience when she came to the island, and the potentially that she could be insane. As time goes on, Rosseau looks less and less crazy, but it also makes for a sweet reunion when she meets her daughter for the first time. Rosseau, unlike Sayid, feels no remorse for what she has done, because she believes it to be the right thing.

This is probably the best Sayid flashback. His love for Nadia, and a certain blonde, whiny, princess, is what fuels him. It is the part of Sayid that goes on, even when he can't go any further himself.

To relieve the mounting stress of daily life involved with dodging death and the diminishing hope of rescue, Hurley builds a golf course. In episode 4, Jack tells them that they "don't have time" to do a particular activity to which Charlie responds that they have nothing BUT time. Cue a Hurley episode!  Kate tells Sawyer “one outlaw to another” that it would be best to participate in group activities, and there's no activity like a Hurley activity. Come to think of it, Hurley is the best person at getting Sawyer to participate (with the possible exception of Kate). He does it by being the funnest person on the island, and is one of the few people that can get away with making Jack smile. Really, he's the first person on the island to remind Jack to have fun now and then. However, Jack's a doctor, so he doesn't really store that information away.

"You believe in that? Luck?"
"I believe in a lot of things."

I would love a television show that is about Hurley on the island. It could be a sitcom. I'm convinced that it would be fantastic even if it sucked, which is why I'm putting that thought into the webosphere, in hopes that someone makes it.

Why are Hurley episodes great? To begin, Lost is a great show, because it sucks you in. The other reason is because it is so powerful that it gives people both the ability to hope, suspend belief (ugh, most of the time), and also to remind viewers that there are greater things than themselves at work--regardless of what one believes.

Hurley episodes are particularly good, despite any criticism I might receive for writing the above statement because Hurley is the ultimate buddy. He chases after Charlie so he doesn't have to do a hard job, he attacks the beach when plan A fails, he yells at people when they've lost hope, and he the ultimate optimist. Jack may be the leader, Sawyer may be the bad boy, but Hurley is the ultimate friend, and probably the number one person you'd want by your side if you were on a deserted island. Not because he hunts like Locke, or tracks like Kate (or Locke), or would kill your enemies like Sayid, but because he'd make you laugh and remember that at the end of the day, you're still alive. Hurley's theme song should be "Still Standing" by Elton John.

So watching Hurley question his predicament then turn around and come back even stronger like in "Numbers," "Solitary," and especially "Trisha Tanaka," is a testament to all. In "Numbers" we learn the origin of how Hurley came to the island and how he may be the most lucky, or unlucky, person on it. We also all need one person who reminds us we're not crazy.

Also, John making Claire feel needed without telling her he's making a present for her new baby on ironically what will be her birthday is super sweet. Which just goes to show that Locke is more than the sum of HIS crazy. This episode is all about depictions and labels.

“Let's look death in the face and say, 'Whatever, man.' Let's make our own luck.”
TtiD is without a doubt one of my top 3 favorite episodes (not counting the flashback). In times of trouble, Hurley shows leadership by forcing the other survivors to have fun. In TTiD he finds an old van and makes it his personal mission to get everyone out of their slump by working on a project to get it going again. Especially Charlie, his best friend who has found out that his future looks very grim.

There's something uplifting about the way Hurley tries to get everyone involved in something that feels pointless when their lives are constantly in jeopardy. To Hurley, that's exactly why everyone needs to do something fun now and then to remember that their lives are more than a series of misfortunes. The person he needs to prove this to the most is himself.

7. “Left Behind” and “One of Us” Season 3, Episode 16

“You tricked me into being decent? That's got to be the lamest con in the history of cons! ...What if I don't want to be the leader?”
“Yeah, well, I don't think Jack wanted it either. Sucks for you, dude.”

There are action sequences galore in addition to Kate and Juliet beating each other senseless. They become better acquainted when they are thrown together against their will—not that this makes them friends as they will have an anomosity that will brew from that season forward. They both have feelings for Jack, which make them natural enemies were they not already unfriendly. Juliet calling Kate out on Jack both times, and knocking her down and telling her to enjoy her food are probably the reasons that I like that episode in a nutshell.

In Kate's flashback, there is another connection between her and another woman who love the same man. This woman helps Kate, because she would want someone to do the same to her. Kate offers her advice despite her experience of being held in her own emotional prison because of the consequences.

Hurley tricking Sawyer into being a good person just shows that Hurley believes that Sawyer could lead, just isn't very nice. Or maybe Hurley believes that Sawyer is just feared enough and strong enough to be a leader. “We wanted to look to you.” Either way, Hurley does a good thing for him, and like Locke says two seasons ago to Shannon “everyone gets a new life on this island.”

“Let's just skip the part where you two pretend to be righteous.”
In “One of Us,” Juliet's flashbacks show her coming to the island and feeling ripped away from her family and all she knows. It leads her to make the decisions she does in season 3, and with the additional backstory we see about her in season 4, we see just how Juliet became the person that she did. One day, she discovered something no one had before, the next she was drinking Dharma orange juice because she was special. She's still special.

There isn't a Juliet flash I don't like, because she's just so awesome. When we get to seasons 5 and 6, it just goes to show that she has come a long way. As Jack so aptly puts it, Juliet doesn't need to explain herself to him, because at their shared moment, he knew exactly who she was. Who knows what would've happened if they got off the island together? All we know is that Juliet makes men the best versions of themselves. As much as I like her in seasons 1-3, Kate is the opposite of Juliet in a lot of ways, that being one of them.

On the island, Juliet is pushed to being the heroine when Claire needs medical attention that Jack can't provide. Juliet reveals why the Survivor's camp was infiltrated by the Others. No one, especially not Sayid or Sawyer, trust Juliet except Jack.

Touching moment where Sawyer is reunited with Jack and Kate. Also one of my all time favorite Lost lines as delivered by Richard Alpert.

As per usual, season 3 is full of great quotations, action sequences, and good ol' Others manipulation.

8. “Flashes Before Your Eyes” “Catch-22” “The Constant” and “Happily Ever After”

This is wrong. You don't buy the ring. You have second thoughts.”
Desmond and Penny sitting in a tree K-I-S-S-oh, hello, didn't see you there! Not only is Desmond a romantic hero and not a “coward” as Mr. Widmore so wonderfully coins it, but he is special, just like Ms. Hawking says he is. Hmm, I wonder if those two share some weird connection...

“Flashes” also leads us down different paths of what can and could be the resolution to the series. Is Desmond just crazy like Hurley? Speaking of connections, Desmond is always tied to Charlie and Penny, even when he's not. His reliving of the past shows up over and over again. It even features Charlie and pays future homage to another person from the Island as mentioned in “The Constant.” Des honorably saves Charlie repeatedly, and then he shows him a whole new world...that came out wrong. We're always rooting for Desmond.
His last episode from his point of view, we see that under different circumstances he could've been Mr. Widmore's righthand man. Love it or hate it, Desmond is always tied to the island. Clearly, Mr Widmore has always had his priorities in mind, and what's best for Penny may also be what's best for the island.

9. “Through the Looking Glass” Season 3, Episode 22 & 23
“There's No Place Like Home” Season 4, Episode 12-14

“We were not supposed to leave.”
“Yes, we were.”
“We have to go back!”

Before I start in on the episodes, I have to say that Ben has some terrific lines here. We're never really sure if Ben is a master chess player like TV tropes says or if he just improvises in addition to his master chess player self. To this day, I'm still not sure if Ben meant for Jack to see the x-rays, because it's Ben, and can we ever really trust him?
I'm good with my long distance carrier, but thanks for asking!
Shh together or be silent alone
What a difference a day and a season can make. TtLG turned me upside down! Jack at the end of season 3, or “Beardy” as I like to call him, wants everything he didn't want before, and he wants it back now. Who is dead? Who's alive? Who made it and who didn't?

You also get to see Desmond and Charlie at their most heroic. Risking their lives for the ones (or women) they love. Not to mention the sacrifices made by Bernard, Sayid, and Jin. And Hurley, can't forget about him. As usual, Hurley doesn't think like anybody else, and uses his creative ingenuity to come up with his own plan after failed attempts to tag along with everyone else.

If there were a drinking game, every time Jack breaks down and punches someone in the face, someone would take a drink, and/or every time someone beats up Benjamin Linus. In an interview, Michael Emerson was asked how many times his character had been hurt on the show, and he couldn't even count them. This episode is just proof as to why. By the time he's a prisoner (again!), he looks more like a drunk, dancing bear in a horrific circus than a man. Keep in mind that I appreciate the depths of this character, one of which is enjoying watching him tortured by various Survivors.
“How many times do I have to tell you, John? I always have a plan!”
TNPLH reveals more about the day everybody left the island, including how, and who died in the process. Ben gets revenge, and should've said “There's more where THAT came from” and looked at the camera. Well, that would've been if the show were a sitcom. Sawyer jumping out of a plane for Kate or because he's afraid of life off the island wins the unlikely hero award. Foreshadowing to the whole Kate and Jack versus another potential couple. The action sequences make every other season finale look like children sitting in a backyard kicking sand at each other. I can't say whether it trumps the finale, but I certainly enjoyed the fight scenes more. Especially the banding together of the group (that goes for season 3 finale as well).

Locke and Jack go back to arguing about the island and whether or not it should be protected. As usual, despite him thinking the opposite, it just further shows Locke shaping Jack's future even if Jack doesn't see it. Which is why these endings are further connected, in addition to the conclusion of TNPLH.

10. “Jughead” and “The Variable”

“BYL” was another fantastic season opener. It's hard to judge them against each other, because they're all so jarring. Where are we? When are we? These questions get taken to a whole new level when Season 5 starts.

When the Freighter people arrived, I was dubious. Change!? What is this, Gilligan's Island? What's next, the Harlem Globe Trotters? Their stories were originally supposed to be part of season 4, but then the writers' strike happened. Things got renegoitiated, and Lost ponied up for 2 more seasons for half the time (and sorry, writers, but a stupid amount of bullshit in between).
By the time Season 5 came around, I was so ready for it to be better than the previous season (and your mileage may vary, but I feel like it was good). Season 4 was all about action, and I was ready for Season 5 to show depth and substance vs. something I would see in a Michael Bay film. The flash forwards vs. current time left us wanting more episodes, but not reliving them. Not compared to season 5.

So when the season opened, and we are once again jolted by what we're watching, Faraday explains the what's going on with the island. Where does he come up with this stuff? Anyway, it went deeper, and by the time “Jughead” came and went, I was back into full throttle Lost mode.

When we finally get around to “The Variable,” and the backstory on Faraday, I was more than ready. I'd become attached to them although not as deeply as some of the original cast. I am surprised when people continue to say that their favorite episode was “The Constant.” Not to knock it or anything, but this episode trumps some of Desmond's as far as sacrifices to the Island go (although Desmond is definitely sacrificial in the previous episode, so I can't be too rough on him). We learn who Daniel used to be, and why he's so smart. He's not just some guy who squints and runs around the island doing random things and muttering to himself Doc Brown from Back to the Future style. Also, someone with mom issues? At last!

11. Season 5, Episode 11 “Whatever Happened, Happened” and “Some Like it Hoth” Episode 13
Miles proves he's more than just a ghostbuster, and he actually knows a thing or two about time travel. His amusing relationship with Hurley proves Hurley's original comment, “Oh great, another Sawyer.” Why he ends up on the Island just goes to show that Lost is about daddy issues.

In WHH, there's a controversy. Do they save someone that will ultimately grow up to be bad? Should they? Jack thinks not and gets yelled at by the two women on the island who care about him most. Miles explains that everything is happening for the first time, and that they can't change anything, which Jack takes to mean that Ben will be okay and no one will intervene in his place to do anything. He already believes, but he's still not quite Locke crazy about things. In a surprising turn of events, Kate (I still don't understand how she went from runaway to mommy mode) takes it upon herself to save Ben. As do Juliet (this makes more sense) and Sawyer.
The douche dad hypothesis
In addition to this, Sawyer resolves the very awkward relationship/what could have been discussion that he needed to have with Kate in an “I'm with Juliet, and she makes me a better man” type speech. He wants to do right by Juliet, because she believes in him (or came to by circumstance).

12. "Do No Harm" Season 1, Episode 20,  “Because You Left” Season 5, Episode 1
"I know you made me a promise. I'm letting you off the hook."
Things Sarah should've said to Jack? On the island, Boone is seriously injured. Jack tries to save his life. In the flashbacks, it reveals Sarah, Jack's wife and their marriage.

The episode shows Jack's commitment to marrying Sarah and his doubts regarding their upcoming marriage. "Commitment is what makes you tick, Jack," Christian Shephard says, which is the problem with Jack isn't it? If he doesn't know if he should be committed to Sarah, I'd probably go with that. It also shows on the island, Jack's commitment to being a doctor. Also the pain others go through of witnessing it (anytime someone is in the process of dying, the rest of the island visibly flinches). This is first time we see Kate as a protector and a provider. Before this, she and the rest of the camp rely on Jack to help deliver Claire's baby, but when he can't be at two places at once, Kate has to step up to the bat.

Going back and reviewing season 4 and episodes regarding Kate's feasibility as a mother were something I always wrote off. One friend referred to Kate's flashbacks as "random," and others flat out hate her. I think the hard thing to understand about Kate is idea that she could go from escape artist to mommy. Yet, if one revisits earlier episodes such as this one and Season 5, Episode 1, one can see that while she's afraid of babies, it doesn't necessarily mean she couldn't be a mother. As long as she doesn't hate her kid's significant other and sets fire to their abode, I take a lesser stance on the issue. Clearly, what else did Kate have going on? Of course, she does go back to the island, but it's to look for Aaron's real mom.

When Kate helps Claire overcome her mommy issues, we know there's something up with the television universe. If Claire can be a good mom, then I suppose I will relinquish some of my annoyance/hatred at Kate's attempts at motherhood.

Also, Jack pours his OWN blood into Boone to save him. Nothing says "to the bitter end" like Jack Shephard. In fact, that should probably be his motto.

"Everybody I care about just blew up on your damn boat. I know what I can't change."
"BYL" has an incredible season opener. As always--but maybe even more awesome. Daniel Faraday to the rescue! This first episode is a total breakdown moment by Sawyer. He just can't take it. This shit is getting too real also weird. Charlotte is dying, no one is making sense, the island included, and he just lost a bunch of people he cares about--the primary being Kate. The only person that can calm him down is Juliet, who secretly tells him that his idea is stupid, but it's better than nothing. Which he appreciates--just another reason why they belong together.

The flashes plus the weird interaction between John and Richard provide us with a better understanding of the island which at the time was just more confusing.

Favorite seasons: 1, 3, and 5.
Favorite flashes: Jack, Juliet, Kate, Desmond, and Ben

Best quips: Anything said by Sawyer, any true confession by Jack, any consolation or angry rant by Hurley

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Favorite LOST episodes, Part 1 (TV 2004-2010)

by DionysusPsyche

For those of you who are tilting or shaking your heads, I know Lost is over. I used to hate Lost. I'd never seen it, but I loathed it. I couldn't fathom how a show about a group of people who end up on a deserted island could ever be popular or interesting or invoke such a strong fanbase. I can't explain why I held such a strongly opposed belief about the show, but people hold strong, angry beliefs all the time. Sometimes, even when you find out why, it still makes no sense. I had no interest in ever watching it. Ever.

Eventually, I was mildly forced into giving it a chance by a friend. By the fourth episode, I was hooked. Below are my top 5 favorite series of LOST episodes. They have been grouped together. Why? Because I don't like making choices on things I love, and there are things that tie said episodes together. Also, these for me are the most re-watchable episodes.

Disclaimer: The below information contains spoilers. If you've never seen the show Lost before, and feel even the slightest way that I did before I watched it, I would highly advise not viewing the below content. If you're going to watch the series, don't read the below episodes and only watch those. Some shows can do this—this is not one of those shows. If you're currently watching but not done with the series, don't read what's below this.

It is also pretty obvious which seasons/characters are my favorite by my list. If I list several episodes as one, I'm just stringing these together as they tie in to a character or ongoing developmental theme.
  1. “Man of Science, Man of Faith” Season 2, Episode 1 &
    “A Tale of Two Cities” Season 3, Episode 1

    “I don't believe in destiny.”
    “Yes, you do. You just don't know it yet.”

    These are both season premieres, both Jack flashbacks, and both two of the best openers.

    Jack and Locke get into disagreements consistently throughout the series on what is best for the group and who should decide what, etc. The episode MoS MoF is the two men at their most stubborn. Regardless of what people label themselves, and ultimately no one is purely one or the other, people are scared. They're scared of being wrong, of getting hurt, of everything. The episode also discusses that what Jack lacks in bedside manner, he makes up for in surgical precision.

    Jack's forte is not miracles, faith, anything he can't see. When Sarah is injured, he tries to tell her the truth, but some mixture of his father's advice and Sarah's words compel Jack to tell her that he's going to fix her, and he does.
    Rocking out to Petula Clark.
    “It doesn't matter who he is, it just matters who you're not.”
    In AToTC, we learn that in addition to his addiction to fixing things, Jack has a hard time letting go of things he can't fix and situations he has no control over (as in capture and being forced to eat sandwiches or trying to deal with divorce). He's obsessive, and we already know it's what makes him a good doctor, a bad husband (given the circumstances by which he became one), and a frequently questioned leader. We'll see an extreme version of this later on.

    From the very beginning, Juliet has a way of dealing with Jack. We see on the island that she is having a bad time, and somehow meeting him helps both of them.

    The two episodes introduce very important characters: one hero to help the Jack and Locke resolve their differences, one villain to manipulate situations, and one heroine who provides heart and strength when needed.

  2. “Confidence Man” Season 1, Episode 8 and “The Long Con” Season 2, Episode 13
    I consider this basically one episode, since they're both about Sawyer and his life before the island. They both have twist endings (but then most 
    Lost episodes have some kind of twist, don't they?).

    "Baby, I am tied to a tree in a jungle of mystery."
    “You sure know how to make a girl feel special, Sawyer.”
    “Confidence Man” shows how Sawyer became who he did. Capable of withholding information and using his charm and wits quickly to get what he wants, he's also able to withstand torture to get what he wants but doesn't think he deserves happiness. Which is why he's can get Kate to kiss him, but he doesn't feel the need to make the survivors like him.

    “It's a good thing you don't hate me, Freckles.”
    “The Long Con” proves that deep down inside, Sawyer wants to be a better person, but can't find a way out of the cycle. Even pulling the wool over everyone's eyes in “The Long Con,” he reveals that like Locke, he doesn't think everyone having guns is a good idea. Unlike Locke and Jack who are in a tug-of-war leadership, he's willing to make himself the bad guy to maintain order.

    Even though Kate is angry with him over tricking her, Sawyer is right, Kate will forgive him. And how!!

  3. “House of the Rising Sun” Season 1, Episode 6 and “The Moth” Episode 7
    “I'll talk to your father. I'll make him understand.”
    “You say that now, because you don't know my father.”

    The first episode is a Sun/Jin flashback about how they were once a sweet couple in love now estranged, stuck on an island together. No matter where Sun and Kin go, they can't get away from one another. This is because they are connected and supposed to be together. The series shows it again and again. They are stuck on an island together, and deep down, they both hate how bad their relationship has become. Sun even shouts the truth at him, even though he can't understand what she's saying.
    Puppies make everything better. Even killing a guy.
    Speaking of bad relationships, Jack and Kate flirt but when Jack suggests they move to the caves, Kate refuses to go. We later learn why it is—she ruins the relationships she has by running from her past. Which came first?

    “Struggle is nature's way of strengthening it.”
    In “The Moth,” we see Charlie's previous life. He's now washed up and feels useless, both on and off the island. Flashbacks reveal who Charlie started out as—a wholesome person ruined by the nefarious side of stardom. Locke sees this, and he makes a point of believing in Charlie—giving him a choice. Locke represents the island in so many ways. He isn't kidding when he says he does speak for the island. Charlie proves that he's more heroic than he knows and saves the day.

    Professor Locke giving Charlie a nature lesson
    Both episodes depict that Kate and Jack have an ongoing attraction, although they both are reticient in their own ways of showing it. In the latter, Sawyer asks Kate what she sees in Jack, and informs her that he too could be a great leader, if given the chance. Kate doesn't believe him. Turns out, he's right. Kate makes up for her rebellion against the caves by making Jack a present. Awww.

  4. “Whatever the Case May Be” Season 1 Episode 12 &
    “Outlaws” Season 1 Episode 16

    “I know you think you're doing her a favor, but however she talked you into doing this...she lied, brother.
    In WtCMb, we learn that Kate does care deeply about something—other than running off into the jungle as one of the guys. She cared about a man she used to love—and an object so precious that Kate went to devious lengths to obtain it. Sawyer tells Jack that Kate's using him.

    Although Sawyer amuses himself by reading eventually, he pitpockets the deceased crash victims before he moves on to literature. Yet, when the subject of the case arises, Sawyer wants it just so Kate has to go to great lengths to try to take it from him.

    There's also a certain intimacy between Shannon and Sayid when he asks her to help translate. For a ballet dancer and a character known for being critical of herself and others, she's very relaxed around Sayid even though they've barely been introduced. Probably because she's had a lot of experience being the center of attention. He helps her over the episode and the rest of the season by increasing her confidence. Until she feels she's going crazy, and he doesn't believe her even though the same thing has happened to him.

    What is UP with every single person knowing that the metal briefcase is a Halliburton? This is not common knowledge. This is my biggest pet peeve of the whole episode, and I think about it every time I watch it. How would Hurley and Michael even remotely know the case brand? The most logical thought is that Sawyer would know what a Halliburton is because he's a con man. If anyone knew what it was or that it was unopenable, it would be him.

    Sayid [laughing]: A Halliburton? I've seen those all the time and know exactly what it is. Those are impossible.
    Charlie: You know what we used to carry odds and ends for the band in? A Halliburton. Lockdown City.
    Locke: Speaking of me, I once made my own Halliburton with products I stole from the box company I worked at. Or maybe I made one out of twine, a rock, and my 52 knife case I bought on the Home Shopping Network.
    Boone: You did not. The only people that own Halliburtons are Shannon and I. Because we're rich and frequently travel.

    You get the idea.

    Do you know why they call it Down Under? Because it's as close to Hell as you can get without being burned.”
    In “Outlaws,” Kate and Sawyer learn they have little in common, except one thing—a questionable past. Sawyer also crosses paths with someone who ties him to Jack. Locke implies that Sawyer blames himself for things out of his control, and Sawyer forgives himself a little for some of the bad things he's done. He's got a long way to go, not that he knows that. Bonus: watching Kate and Sawyer drink together and telling it like it is.

    It's fun watching Kate and Sawyer (I always mention this, but whatever, it's called character development!) participate in an activity solo from the rest of the group. They have their own pow wow bonding experience. While Kate is right, Sawyer needs her to track, there is a part of Kate that wants to come along. Of course, Sawyer has alcohol, so that helps.

  5. “The Glass Ballerina” Season 3 Episode 2 and “I Do” Season 3, Episode 6
    “If they get past you, that means my husband is dead. And I won't care anymore.”
    In “TGB” Sun shows that she is capable of things previously unknown to her character, like shooting someone. Jack learns that the Island has access to the outside world, and Sawyer kisses Kate in an attempt to distract the Others so he can see how well trained they are at fighting in order to escape.

    This episode was just full of jaw droppers. I loved it when Kate gets irked at Sawyer for kissing her to which he just laughs at her and tells her she's cute. Typical Sawyer. Then he tells her his plan that doesn't end up working, because the Others, much like Kate in the flashback of “Whatever the Case,” are underestimated.

    “Because I wanted you to believe that we had a damn chance.”
    “I Do” reveals Kate's earlier mention of a marriage. Kate calls her Court Marshall and confesses that she's in love and she doesn't want to run. The marshall agrees to stop chasing her if she'll stay put. Kate, unable to keep her identity secret for the rest of her life, leaves Kevin so he won't lose his job when he finds out who she really is.

    On the island, Kate comes to the conclusion they have no chance of leaving the island. She gives in to temptation (after 2 seasons!), although it's Kate so it's impossible to know what she was thinking is right when Sawyer calls her on it an episode later (“Stranger in a Strangeland” is also a really good one, especially when Sawyer has a talk with Carl). It's more likely that she feels guilty in light of what happened, especially since Jack sacrifices himself for them. Jack vows to leave, whatever it takes, and to save his friends in the process. He then insures that they do leave by making a risky move.

    "I don't DO taco night!"