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May 27 Renewal of the Expanse and can we talk about Charmed? Please!

First off, I’m stunned, amazed and completely happified! Yes, I’m so excited, I made up a new word. The strangest and most poignant show on television escaped the black hole of cancellation death. It, like the wonderful, wonderful Brooklyn 99, share very similar stories. Two amazing shows absolutely chock filled with talent (if they were a balloons we’d have to be pushing on their sides to keep them from exploding all over the room), that do best what they’re supposed to. In B99’s case, that’s make you laugh (and it is side-splitting hilarious) and the Expanse make you think deeply about the socio-political trends of the current day.

I think in B99’s cases it’s incredibly unfair that it got set against its sister show The Good Place – also an unusual comedy, also a feel good Michael Schur property. I love cop shows and this one decided to make its comedy capers – silly as they are – feel like real capers. It doesn’t turn out that nobody was really stealing anything, or the cops can’t actually figure anything out. We like cop capers because the good guys get the bad guys and that’s what they do in this show. And the bad guys aren’t misunderstood guys (except for Craig Robinson – but his episodes are so delightful that I hope they NEVER catch him and he keeps on stealing…and lovin’!), they’re bad guys doing bad things. Weird things, but bad things. The capers are always odd, or rather, eccentric in that New York way – stuff that could only really happen there. In its latest season it did feel like it got less thoughtful or more mindlessly silly. Characters started doing stuff that didn’t make sense simply and only for comedic effect (sounds like a certain show runner got a little preoccupied with a good place), but still retained its overall fun.

The Expanse on the other hand was a genre breaking, scifi drama. It’s hard to categorize it as straight up scifi even though it would fit perfectly along side Asmov’s Foundation series. It’s more thoughtful than that. Not only does it extrapolate human technological progress and show how we’ll eventually and inevitably expand out into the solar system, it shows how we’ll eventually fragment as a species. In this case, its the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We’ll still be fighting among each other, even as a hostile alien force starts moving in. We still won’t be able to agree on anything even as race, gender and religious boundaries start to no longer make sense. (It kind of makes you stop for a moment and ask “why exactly are we fighting anyways?”) But because it’s so prescient, so good at entertaining (some episodes are nail biting) and at the same time nailing humanity on the head (it’s a little more cynical than my take on humanity, but still it says pretty accurately what we really are), it definitely deserved to stay on television and continue further into the future!

I’m just proud that it’s my city, Seattle, that helped it stay afloat. L.A. I’m certain is wonderful, but I feel as though they’ve become inured in an old way of viewing entertainment. What saved Brooklyn 99 was someone over at NBC willing to take a chance – instead of take the old hard line of, “well, if the numbers were down, then it must deserve to be cancelled.” Someone was forward thinking enough (and NBC has been a big risk taker ever since it noticed its overall viewship decline – and that’s a good thing now-a-days), to recognize what was obvious to rest of us: it’s a Michael Schur production that’s really good, but being put against another Schur production that’s new and shiny – it would do better if it didn’t have to compete. The thing that saved the Expanse? Amazon streaming service. A future tech saving something that shows us an accurate representation of the future (or as accurate as most shows get – I still stand by the thought that the future is impossible to predict).

The one thing that I applaud both shows for is diversity. Neither hesitate to show a world as it actually is: filled with every type of person. New York is as diverse as any city in the USA, so much so that the whole conservative “we don’t want immigrants here” doesn’t make any sense to them. As to the world of the Expanse: Yes, Asians will exist in the future. There will be black people in outer space. And Polynesians. Women soldiers. Women in all fields and there’s nothing that any hate group (both real and virtual) can do about it. That’s where things are going, you can pull the reins on this locomotive, but that’s not going to stop it…because it’s not a horse, it’s a locomotive.

Now that I’ve mixed my metaphor to make a point, I need to make a radically different point. The Charmed reboot. WHY??? No, what I mean to say is, why are people getting so hot and bothered about it? Nobody threw up arms about the Will and Grace reboot. In fact, those of us who were giant fans in the first place were ecstatic (if a little filled with leeriness – didn’t want to see it ruined). The Rosanne reboot? Meh. Oh, now she’s a Trump supporter? Why? Rosanne was a hard core feminist, now she’s someone who would use the term Femi-nazi. What the hell’s that all about? I watched a few episodes of both and enjoyed Will and Grace (it was a little less fun, felt a little more tired, but, hey, that’s what age does to a body) and Rosanne (boring and formulaic, so the same). But the one thing that both shows always encompassed was a particular viewpoint. They both said, “this is our America, at least, how we see it.” They were pretty casual about it, but they never backed down in stating that this was a point of view.

That’s not what Charmed was. Anybody who states otherwise is fooling themselves. It was a fantasy series about three young women being magical and falling in love. Some even allowed themselves to be taken advantage by men. Feminist? That’s a no. I didn’t find the women to be strong. Certainly not Buffy strong (who turned out to be someone to reckon with emotionally and physically). But where I found Buffy to be a real conversation about a woman’s world, or the tangles that she has to navigate, I found Charmed to be empty headed, empty entertainment. Some of the girl talk was so cringe-worthy that I often had to turn the tv to mute. The plots were pretty much the same every week: we have to keep the magical book from falling into some evil demon’s hands, interspersed with new loves, boyfriends, marriages and the sisters’ long drawn-out conversations about men. Once again, Feminist? Not so much.

Look, straight up, Charmed was NOT feminist. It was about three women with magical powers who became helpless when some powerful guy came along – usually some hot, powerful guy who they fell for. Let’s stop pretending that this falls into that category, it doesn’t! It doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Maude, One Day at a Time, the Mary Tyler Moore show, or, hell, even 2 Broke Girls – or even Buffy for that matter!! But the reboot has a chance to correct that.

When I originally watched the show, I saw that it had potential but it always wasted it (I watched, I admit, for the hot guys – and the always futile hope that they’d do something cool with their magic – nope!). It always went for making the girls appear empty-headed, scattered and never able to fend for themselves – powers always had to intervene. Some spell would save them at the last minute.

It could have been really cool and powerful, so I, for one, am stoked to see if the current producers can overcome that and turn it into something that really does represent. So, let’s not bitch at them, instead, send in our hopes of what we would like to see it be. For instance, I want to see the women’s powers be an extension of their own power as women (is she physically strong? then her power is to endow herself with more physical strength). If they defeat a male enemy (or a female one), I want to see them do it with strategy – use their magic strategically – not with some deus ex machina that comes swooping down from the heavens to save them. I want to see them use Girl Power to be powerful girls!

Let’s cheer on a Charmed reboot! Let’s guide it as fans and see what it has to offer before shooing it away – like many a suffragette was in her time when she first proposed the preposterous idea that women, in fact, do have the capacity to vote.

January 14: Jeff Vandermeer, Annihilation: from page to stage, filming the book

I admit that I am a bit of a video-phile. They (whoever the esteemed and opinionated they might be) say that if you want to be an author that you should not be wasting your time on watching films, videos, dvds, television, or streaming content or however you get your visual entertainment. (Do note, that the esteemed and snobby “they” always leave out live entertainment. Somehow going to the theater, symphony, ballet, doesn’t count. Okay, I like to go to those as well.) For those people I like to share this anecdote.

I saw a Charley Rose interview with both Elmore Leonard and a literature critic (whose name has left me – all I know was that he was from New York and extremely well read). Keep in mind, the critic was hailing Leonard as a genius whose writing was an indelible contribution to late 20th Century/early 21st Century literature. He compared Leonard with authors who are already acknowledged literary greats (I believe at one point Hemingway came up). He then turned to Leonard and asked what his literary influences were. Leonard said, “None. I watch t.v.” The shock on the critic’s face seemed to be also a question that was never spoken, so Leonard answered it. “I watch nature shows, they tell me all I need to know about human nature.” And that was that.

And why can’t filmed content be educational? And why can’t visual entertainment, even if it’s pop cultural, be good? Yes, I’ll admit most commercial entertainment is junk (especially Reality Television which is no where near reality). I feel perfectly justified in reading a book because I liked the movie or vice versa. I’m not as interested in seeing the book created into film as I am curious about what the director will choose to leave in and leave out or how to translate what is on the page to the very visual medium of film.

There are times when directors make poor choices or don’t really understand what actually works in the book – the magic that makes the book so wonderful – and does a poor translation of the page, and then there are books that just don’t translate very well. Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House simply can’t be filmed (and there are two not very good films and one somewhat adequate one to prove it). All of the action in the prose is implied. The ghosts haunting the mansion that the characters are trapped in move in such an ephemeral manner that their action can only be implied. They can be felt, but not measured in any physical manner, physical descriptions won’t work (would make them feel fake and contrived). You have a scene where the characters feel the “famous cold spot” of the mansion, but when they put thermometers out (one in the cold spot and one at the room temperature end of the hall) they don’t measure anything but room temperature. I pity the poor director who has to find a way to film that. Film depends on physical action to tell its story. Drama, after all, does translate to conflict – which on the stage is shown (not told) as physical action – mostly.

Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, a book that is going to come out on film this year, looks to be almost as challenging. It the first book in a trilogy and is not quite 200 pages. Not a whole lot happens action-wise, so I’m hard pressed to figure out where most of the film’s action will take place.

Due to the magic of the internet, it has already been leak to be one of the weirdest films of 2018. Motivation enough for me to read it. But when I read it, I realized that not only does very little happen, but the strangeness is…not quite easy to explain.

It’s a story of an expedition team that go to the mysterious Area X that nobody knows how to explain – only that weird stuff happens there. The main character (a woman with no name only a job title: biologist) speaks of feeling different while knowing that the people who have been to Area X come back different. Sometimes we the audience know that she is changing, but she doesn’t, because the voice of the prose changes. She goes from halting, apologizing and describing her surroundings objectively and without emotion to brave, confident and describing her surroundings with strong emotions and feeling as if she has become a part of them or as if she is no different from the place that she is in, whatever it feels she feels too. How do you show that? Any visual device the director chooses has to ultimately feel contrived and clunky. Show her transforming? That doesn’t tell us how she feels. Voice over? How does that work if she doesn’t know it’s happening? Acting? Yeah, that should cover some of it, but even Meryl Streep has her limits.

This is not to say that I’m not excited to see this film. I am. Very much. The way in which the landscape is described will lend itself really well to film, in fact more so. All the book gives is some physical descriptions and implies that things are weird. Here the author is limited to only words and at the mercy of the reader’s imagination. The biologist does her best, but since she’s a scientist and only prone to describe things coldly and objectively Vandermeer is limited in his ability to bring the beauty of the scenery to life in the reader’s imagination. All he can do is have his point of view character give the insufficient description of a simple adjective: beautiful. This is where the film will be a better experience the director has all of his skill as a visual story teller, the skill of his cinematographer and the power Hollywood CGI to make the beauty and strangeness of the scenery come to life. We’ll see the “tower” made of plaster and ground up sea shells, the bizarrely transformed plant life and the devastated little towns being subsumed by the landscape.

So, will the film be better than the book? I predict that whether it is good or bad, it will be new. I guess that really why we go to films or read books to experience that new. My greatest hope is that it is as well translated as the director can make it – or at the very least a great adventure.

The Lake by Jenn Hopkins

It shined like a star in the sky, an unblinking eye thrust heavenward. It had a quiet, poetic grace. Even now robins flit about her shore and willows dip tendrils into her waters. It’s reminiscent of a picture of yesteryear: family get-a-ways, carefree summer vacations wild and free when her shores weren’t so crowded with houses, streets and strip malls, but I did not see it then. When I first saw her, there were parts where she started to droop, mud-traps and sinking bogs, but to the full, transfixed eyes of Belinda Jenkins she was eternally young.

“The lake,” Belinda whispered it when I had asked her how she was. Her eyes fixed upon it.

The bed that she lay in faced the French windows. She sat propped up by pillows to give the lake its full attention. The bed was large in the tiny room cluttered with mementos drudged up from the lake bottom. The bed occupied an awkward space partially blocking the door between the bedroom and the rest of the house.

“Maybe we should…” I started to scoot the bed aside to give door some access. She flapped her arms, beat at me, howled and screamed.

“No, no, no, no, no, no!” and I froze up in response.

“It’s all right,” whispered a voice into my ear. Belinda’s daughter, Tonya, tapped my shoulder, “we should leave it be. Come see the rest of the house.”

“But why can’t I move the bed?” I asked.

She held her hands at her stomach, composed her best grin, “She thinks her daughter is in there.”

“But you’re her daughter,” I pointed out.

She sighed, the grin melted and her head shook, “Yes…” The words failed her, “let’s just see the rest of the house.”

Later, we sat in the living room our cups of tea steaming on the coffee table. The drapes on the lakeside windows were all drawn.

“My mother is… old,” it was the best explanation that Belinda’s daughter could give. “She really won’t be any bother. She just lies in bed and… She won’t eat, you’ll have to feed her and clean her bed pan, sponge bath. Change her clothes. Bed sheets if you can.”

“But what has she got?”

“We think she has,” the daughter’s eye switched up to the ceiling,”she’s got some sort of senility.”

As incredulous as it sounded, I went along with it. “Is there a reason why she can’t be moved?”

“Look,” her voice grew hot, “I’m paying you well above a nurse’s wage. Your instructions are simple.” She cleared her throat; her gaze sank to the floor. “I don’t know. Please, take the job, you’re my last hope.”

Hope of what she would not say, but I also could not turn her down. “I’ll take it,” I told her.

“Good,” she said. A prim smile drew across her face. “Just two things, promise me you won’t stay here after dark and above all, promise me, you won’t open the drapes.”

The job seemed easy enough and the pay was good. I couldn’t figure out why they were having such a hard time finding someone. The house was very quiet. Belinda actually seemed fairly lucid and fit for a bedridden woman. I suspected that there had been a car accident that had rendered her mentally unfit, but when I had inquired about this, Tonya became evasive. I did my work feeding and cleaning and went home for the night after that.

Guilt tugged at me the second week, other than Belinda’s room, the rest of the house did not need any tending.

Against her daughter’s suggestion, I opened the drapes and felt a mild shock when I saw the thick layer of dust covering the entire room. Every book, figurine, table, chair and nook was obscured. Large cobwebs drooped over bookshelves and paintings. I decided to clean to earn the exorbitant pay. I thought that it would take no time since dusting almost never did, but there was more than usual and it seemed to cling heavily to every surface.

When I looked up it was black. The house felt bleak as if I was in the center of a mausoleum. The furniture in the pale moonlight reflected light with a marble shine. It was cold and colorless. A screech echoed across the lake. And in the dark it glowed. The lake was beautiful beyond description, bright and shining as emeralds, nothing else mattered. Someone moaned in the distance.

I awoke from the trance, it was morning and I had been sitting on the couch completely still the entire night. I eased out of my position. My back screamed with pain. There was soft sobbing coming from the bedroom.

“Belinda?” I called out. The sobbing went on. I rose from my seat and went over to the bedroom to find out what was the matter. As I approached, the sound raised slightly in pitch, a nasal whine. I hadn’t heard Belinda’s voice often, except soft sighs, but the more it went on the less it sounded like her. I stepped forward, and as I moved the sound shifted from the bedroom to the closet.

“Belinda?” Why I called out her name, I’ll never know. I reached for the closet. My feet felt wet. I looked down, pond water was leaking from it. It was black and slimy and thick like blood. The smell was rancid; something was rotting in the closet. I stepped back.

“Help me!” she screamed through the door. “Help me please! Help! Help!” the voice stopped and turned to gurgles. I dashed for the closet door and ripped it open. A pale girl crouched on the floor wet from head to toe. She looked up, but there was no face only white skin.

I leaped away from the monster slamming the door shut. I rushed back to the living room and collapsed on the couch. I was uncertain what I had just witnessed. I dug my cell phone out of my purse and dialed.

“H-hello?” I said into the receiver. “Tonya?”

“You saw her, didn’t you,” she said.

“How did you know?”

“Close the drapes and don’t open them again.”

“But your mother, her room is…”

“It won’t bother you if it has her.”

“But don’t you think your mother should be…”

“Are you going to quit?” She interrupted me.

“No, why should I…” There was a click, Tonya hung up.

As uneasy as I felt, I did as instructed and shoved the curtains closed. I felt empty when the sight had left my eyes, but then a bit silly. The closet was empty and I was tired. I attributed the whole thing to sleep deprivation (I hadn’t slept a full night since I’d started working there – strange dreams). I had a job to attend to and put the thought out of my head.

Every time I saw Belinda starring out at the lake, I felt a little twist in my heart. As I left for the evening, I wondered what I could do for the poor woman. I also wondered what “it won’t bother you” meant. I knew that I had experienced something supernatural, but couldn’t explain what it was.

The next few days I had made inquires of the neighbors. Most said that they were new to the area and knew little about the lake. One woman, an older woman, gave me a frown and slammed her door shut. The name on the mailbox read “A. Fenton”.

“Please, Mrs. Fenton,” I pleaded through the closed door, but to no avail. The next day, I arrived at Belinda’s house to find an old scrap book placed on the doormat. The name that was inside the cover was Amelia Fenton.

It seemed to be a normal scrapbook filled with vacation photos and post-cards. There were some clippings of newspaper articles, pets disappearing, then children drowning. Up above one of the photos were the words, “it steals.” The next page, the last page, was an obituary for a ten month old that had accidentally drowned near her house, but the child went unnamed.

I heard a scream echo across the lake, an owl or a far away woman. It was dark and I had once again forgotten to leave. Something was scratching at the window just beyond one of the drapes. I looked down at the book and there was a black and white photo of a little girl wearing the same dress that I saw on the faceless girl in the closet, she had two dark braids like little girls from the Old West. There was an article next to the picture. It was titled: Bitter Lake’s First Family and their tragic end. The thing scratched at the window faster, digging at its frame. A young voice cried out, “Mommy? Mommy, are you in there? Mommy? Please help me. Please! Please! Please! Please!”

She cried out relentlessly. I covered my ears, but the cries became louder and more urgent. I couldn’t stand it any more. I ripped the curtain away and there was the lake, silent and beautiful. It seemed a precious and rare resource more perfect than anything I had ever seen. I wanted to immerse myself in her waters and feel her all around me. The wind rippled across her surface, it sparkled and I thought that it smiled at me and winked.

Far in the distance, I made out through the water’s shimmers and ripples the faint shape of a person. She stood ankle deep in the middle of the lake. A sandbar perhaps? The waters burbled and cooed, then giggled. A little girl’s giggle. She stepped forward her arms outstretched towards me. Was the little dress dripping? Was the face wrinkled and covered with moss? As she neared, a smile stretched across her face, dimples appeared in those smooth apple cheeks. I was sure I had seen her in a dream.

“Mommy?” she said.

The waters of the lake were closing in around my head. “I’m coming, baby!” I tried to scream out, but my lungs faltered. They spasmed in cough riots.

“We’ve got you,” a voice in the distance said.

The pain flooded my lungs, I was spitting and choking, the ground gave way beneath my feet and I was sinking. Hands wrapped firmly around my body. I felt my body rising, waking.

“Hold still!” said the voice as I slipped onto the bow of a boat with a splatter and crash. I could not breathe only gasp jaggedly, fluid clogging my lungs. All I saw was a blue haze and white round clouds, then a face descending down from them like a bright angel.

A man’s face, gentle and generous. He smiled at me. “You okay?” he said his voice still so far away. His brows wrinkled when I did not answer. He bent further down and touched his lips to mine and breathed. I felt pressure on my chest compressing up and down, up and down until my lips burst with fluid. I coughed and spasmed and felt life surge back into my veins and I came back to the moment. He turned me on my side and I fell limp. The deep dark liquid oozed from my mouth.

“Thought we lost you there for a moment,” he quipped. “We should go inside.” He touched my shoulder and my body tingled.

Inside the house was quiet. I didn’t recognize it at first, but a glance at a shelf revealed a picture of the man and an older woman, Amelia. I said as much when he returned from the kitchen with some coffee.

“Yeah, my mom’s been here a long time,” he said as he handed me a cup. “It’s as if she’s been glued here. Even as late as two years ago, after dad died she wouldn’t be moved.”

“She acted as if she was afraid of me.”

“She’s afraid of her own shadow.” And then he stopped. His face froze with a quizzical expression, he seemed to be at war with himself weighing whether or not he should say it. His eyes fell to the floor. He chuckled. “Nah,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“Some people think that there’s something wrong with this place. They say it’s cursed.”

“Cursed how?”

He stifled a laugh, “There are stories, scary stories,” he made his voice a mock melodramatic and waved his fingers in the air as if conjuring a ghost, “The first family to move out here were warned by the Natives that there was something living in the lake. Something evil.”

“Living?” I wasn’t sure what to take of that, but the tone in his voice didn’t imply fish or algae, but something else.

“They ignored them of course and then one night their youngest, a little girl, wandered off into the night. The next morning they found her floating in the lake.”

I remembered the picture in the scrapbook, the old tin one. A farm couple, the man with large mustache and big hat, the woman plain with hair pulled back. There were two boys in front of them and just in the corner was a dark haired little girl in braids. The same girl I’d seen stepping out of the lake.

“What do you believe?”

He shrugged, “it’s a lake. What more do you want?”

“Do you think that your mother is hiding something?”

“Yeah, there’s always something buried in that head of hers. Sometimes when she got really mad at me when I was a kid she’d tell me that I wasn’t her first. You know, as if I was adopted or something.”

“What do you think she meant?”

“I think that it’s hard being a single mom.”

“I thought you said your father died recently.”

“She married when I was ten, never knew my real dad. Some people think it was the milk man or something.”

“The milk man?” I laughed. He certainly seemed unmoved by the idea. It sounded like something out of a bad romance novel.

“Hey,” he smiled, “that’s my dad you’re laughing at.”

“Apologies, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

He kissed me, “Apology accepted.” And an afternoon turned into evening and evening turned into morning. He brought me my cup of coffee that morning and we sat and watched the lake as it steamed in the cool morning air. It seemed quiet and still as if inert, all life dissolved away from it. As the tendrils of steam wisped into the forest around its edges, I realized that I had little to fear.

#

I returned to the house to a scene of chaos. There was a large van into which muscled men hefted furniture. They scooted aside from the police and the emergency workers who were just wrapping up their day. I saw Belinda’s daughter, face pale and gray.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

She gave a prolonged blink, her eyelids were tired, “here’s your check.” She handed me a rumpled piece of paper.

“I don’t understand,” I notice splotches of blood on some of the EMTs. “Did something happen to Belinda? Oh my god! It’s all my fault, I’m so sorry!!”

“No,” the daughter waved my drama away, “No, it was inevitable. You were there in case… in case it let her go. But…” she sighed, “Just get your stuff and lock up when you’re done.”

She slumped away from me.

I called after her, “There’s nothing here,” I told her in an honest effort to give comfort. “Those stories about the lake, they’re just stories.”

She stopped and squinting her eyes at me she asked, “What do you mean, nothing.”

“I thought there was something, but I was sleep deprived and probably took some subliminal suggestion from one of the superstitious neighbors. But look at it. It’s so peaceful and so… domesticated.”

“You think so?” her lips screwed into anger, then calmed, “you want to know why I had to leave?” she lifted her shirt and showed me her round belly, she was at least four months out, “Because it craves.” the word sunk deep into my psyche, a low guttural tone from the pit of her stomach. “My mother thought that she knew what lived at the bottom of that lake and now…” her eyes grew wide; they sparkled from the light of the lake. She shook her head. “Think what you want.” She turned and left. Her car raced away from the scene. I was left standing, dust settling at my feet.

#

I went inside the house a few minutes after the last health care workers left. The curtains were closed, but the light of the lake still sparkled through them. I wanted greatly to part them and allow myself to bask in the glow, but the dark pools of blood all about the house served as a cautionary tale. Instead, I searched for my things that Tonya had left inside. I wondered if the movers had taken it outside along with the rest or accidentally packed it, because I couldn’t find it anywhere. I went through all of the rooms except for the one and that door was closed.

I stood in front of it, light leaked under it so very brightly. They hadn’t closed the windows. I felt this strange fear wash over me. I knew that if I walked in, I would never walk out again, my life forever altered. Then I heard raspy breath on the other side and small footsteps sliding toward the door. Something dropped with a bounce and rolled underneath the door and came to rest at my feet. It was a little wooden Easter egg that I had attached to my car key chain. I picked it up and inspecting, a small dot of dried blood on its side. The light under the door was screaming. My hand itched for the doorknob.

“Mommy?” called out a little voice. “Mommy, are you there?”

I wanted to reassure the child, but the air froze in my lungs. I knew who that was and that she no longer had a mother.

“Mommy, please help me,” the doorknob shuddered, “Mommy, please, open the door, I need you to come help me. The water, I can’t swim.”

I backed away as the door shook with hurricane force. I spun round and there stood an old woman whose face was completely dark, her figure was surrounded by a rat’s nest of white hair.

Stay away from her!” Her voice was hoarse, liquid-filled, “she’s mine!!” She swung a fist at me and I crashed to the ground. The woman bent over me and battered me with her fists screaming. I rolled away from her, grabbed a plank that a mover had left behind and swung it. It made contact and the old woman crumpled to the ground. The curtains fluttered and everything went still. Except for my heart beating in my chest, or was it the room pulsing?

The little girl stood in the hallway.

“Stay with me, Mommy,” she whispered, “I’m afraid.” Water seeped up through the floorboards and rushed in from under the doors. The windows were leaking, but the fluid was red and thick.

“Stay with me, Mommy, I’m afraid,” she sniffled. The water was now up to her little waist and I was sloshing through to her.

“Come on,” I panted, “come with me. Let’s get you out of this,” why was I telling her this? To this day, I cannot figure it out. I don’t know why I reached for her, or swept her into my arms. I don’t know why I ran with her out of the house to the house down the street. Some instinct, some primal urge took me over. Something caused me to weep for this child when I saw her little face about to be covered over. I could not stop myself, only keep moving. I knew that I could not find my phone and the house’s phone had long been removed, so I went to Amelia’s house. I knocked on her door with the child huddled in my arms. I called out her son’s, my lover’s, name.

“Please you’ve got to help us! Please!”

The door edged open and an eye looked through. “He’s gone,” she said, “and he won’t be back.”

“Please, I need help!”

“He made his sacrifice and now he’s free to live his life.”

“But I need him! We need him!”

The woman looked at me, “It’s too late for you. Now, leave us in peace.”

“What are you…” I looked down, the child was gone, my belly outstretched. “But I’m not…”

“You’re cursed now, do yourself a favor when it comes out, drown it, or you will never leave the lake.” The door snapped shut. I pounded at it, but grew weary, my mid-section grew heavier. I heard the voices behind me, a cacophonous chorus of moans and hisses enticing me. I turned and the lake was filled with bodies. All of them turned their heads and reached for me. My water broke.

I woke up in the middle of Belinda’s room sitting on her bed. The movers had left it. Now, only a mattress with a large brown dot in the middle, but I paid little attention to that. I was watching the lake now. My stomach churned with acid. I looked to my belly.

I cried for a bit, then gathered my things and left the lake behind. I had thought for good.

#

The stick turned blue – the color of the sea on a calm day. Calm before the storm. My dream was correct, there was something growing inside me. I kept dreaming of the lake, the room. I kept seeing Belinda in that bed reaching for the lake, “my baby,” she’d say. The little girl with braids was standing on her bed holding a knife to slit her throat. Belinda was looking at her, eyes asking why.

“You’re not my mommy,” said the little girl. The room drowns me. Every night I wake up coughing. Every night I practically suffocate. I know that I will not sleep until I deliver this child. I know that I will continue to vomit every drop of food until I return. I know that every glass of water, every hint of liquid will drown me unless I go back.

So, here I sit in this bed, no longer Belinda’s bed, watching and waiting. Every night I see that little girl waving her arms in the water struggling to keep her head above it and every night I could swear that she is my little girl. All I need to do is deliver this child, give the lake what it wants and the little girl will go free.

That is when I realize what I am looking at. That is not the little girl from the old tin photo. The photo is old, but it is of me. I am drowning in that lake every night and the lake is giving me a choice. Amelia made her choice – now I understand what the obituary for the ten month old on the last page means. Tonya made hers – she gave the lake me. And Belinda made hers, she let her little girl live. Which choice will I make? Either way, the lake will have what it wants. And now when I look at it I do not see an eye thrust toward heaven, but a gapping maw waiting to receive it’s due. Now, I understand what it means. Now, I can no longer look with uncaring eyes, I can no longer look away.

 

END

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: a blast from the past

Okay, so I’m going to do something no woman ever does, I’m going to show my age. I remember the tv Movie of the Week, or the MOW (as they call them in the biz). Before there were endless re-runs of Saving Sarah Marshall or Transformers there was the MOW. This was back when it was too expensive for networks to get the rights to movies (thus a yearly showing of the Wizard of Oz was not only unique, it was a major event). This was back when there were only three networks and no basic cable and tv was done with by midnight (that’s right, they just shut the channels down, nothing but snow and you had to go to bed or go to a bar and socialize or, shudder, read a book… most people just went to bed).

The MOW was nothing like a movie. The production values were low (reeeeeally low, we’re talking bouncing paper boulders here), the acting was either the most soap operatic or with the most minimal effort (phoning it in would’ve produced a sweat) and the scripts were so cheesy and cliche that you could smell the Limburger from you living room. It was an occasion for an actor to get his name out there. If he was an up and comer, it was a way to get seen by a major audience (and hopefully a casting agent), but if it was a vet, it was a way to remind people that he still exited (oh, yeah, Eva Plumb, I like that girl wasn’t she the… the… I don’t remember).

So, why did we watch? Boredom mostly (something to do on a Wednesday night), but also because every once in a rare while an MOW would actually exceed our expectations and not only be a rare and magnificent treat, but an event that you could take with you to the water cooler the next day (or in my case, the play ground). There was Roots and… okay, so there weren’t that many that were that good, but there were many that were very memorable: The Thorn Birds and the Day After were both mini-series that no one could look away from and certainly could not stop talking about (and little known fact, Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first film, was an MOW, he probably disavows this knowledge).

It was very exciting to discover Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on tv.  Yeah, okay, so it was a little more sophisticated than someone my age could really understand (the Cold War was just a weird concept to me at the time), but I felt kind of cool participating in something my parents were interested in (and it was better than taking that big, long paperback off of my father’s shelf). So, in my memory it played on CBS, but when I look it up on the old Wikipedia, it states that it was produced by the BBC (ah, that would be the difference in the… here’s the list… acting, writing, production value, directing, etc…) and was shown on PBS, but at the time, I didn’t really differentiate the channels (nor did really any one else – it was just , “did you see this really great tv movie that was on last night?”). And for many PBS wasn’t dry educational television, there was something fun to watch.

It’s weird that the re-make, now in honorable movie form, does not update it’s timeline (it’s still stuck in the ’70s), so not only do I feel nostalgia for the thing itself, but it conjures it up by it’s very presence. It’s like the tv movie stuck in time. Though let’s face it, it’s hard to do a Cold War drama after the Cold War is no longer (a Cold War drama set in 2011 just wouldn’t make any sense to the kids who don’t even know what Nuclear Winter means). So, I am looking forward to it, if for no other reason, it is a pleasant trip down memory lane when a tv movie of the week didn’t have to suck, even though, as the film will make apparent, real life did.

AMC say it ain’t so: How CSI is going to ruin another network

So if you look in the Dictionary under the word Ubiquitous, you’ll find the definition has been replaced by a CSI episode. You can’t turn on the television now a days without seeing an episode on one of the basic cable stations – unless it’s an episode of Law and Order (or a Law an Order derivative), or NCIS (which of all the procedural clones, has at least, the most personality) or perhaps Criminal Minds. They’re all procedural dramas, dry as cracker dust with the same feel, the same look, the same plot line and they were all inspired by CSI (okay Law and Order was first, but it seems as if they tailored themselves to look CSI-like), so much so, they might as well all be CSI.

I admit, at first, I was intrigued by the hour of drama as this was a world I knew nothing about and I like mysteries, here was a whole new take on them. There were totally new ways of looking at clues, and interesting high tech ways of uncovering them. Hooray, science will save us from crime! Except that nothing in the real world resembles this drama.

I’ve since actually met forensic scientists and seen documentaries on their work. Not as glamorous as you would expect and the biggest secret that the CSI show producers don’t want you to know: forensic experts HATE that show. It’s not simply because of its inaccuracies, but the real science is completely unable to be as detailed or as accurate as the show would have you believe (you can’t fill a wound with plaster of paris and determine which weapon was used). When forensic experts go to court to give their expertise and there are jurors who are fans of the show in the jury box, they don’t believe the expert’s advice – because that’s not how it works on tv. Yup, CSI might catch a lot of criminals in the tv world, but in the real one, it’s actually working to set them free.

It would be nice if the producers would put a disclaimer at the opening of the show that states that everything you are about to witness is fiction or a fictionalized account of forensic work, but that would ruin the “realness” of the drama. How unfortunate that drama isn’t even convincing as drama. It’s become the butt of several comedians’ jokes, the opening where they find the body, the lead investigator for the forensic team stands over it chit-chats with one of his assistants and ends the scene with a really stupid pun.

Assistant: We found the body at two am behind this dumpster.

Lead Investigator: Do we know the TOD?

Assistant: Probably yesterday at noon. Looks like this victim had, himself a bad day.

Lead Investigator: Yeah, but it looks like it was a good day… for murder! (takes off sunglasses)

Roll Who song and opening credits. Okay, so mine wasn’t such a creative pun, but you get the picture. By the time I hit the pun, I’ve switched the channel (usually because of the pun). I know that the show is only going down hill from there. Why don’t I like this drama any more? It lacks all the elements of drama that I like: 3 dimensional, characters, conflict, surprises. The characters and their stories are so cookie cutter and bland, you could fit them into any drama or soap opera and they’re no more complicated than a Dick and Jane book. The bad guys are bad and do bad stuff, the good guys are good and catch the bad guys – nobody has terribly complicated lives or complicated reasons for doing what they do. The only reason that the audience stays around is to learn the interesting scientific technique on how to reveal the clues – the interesting FICTIONAL scientific technique.

This is the opposite of any drama that you would find on AMC. They win emmys and Golden Globes for dramas about complicated characters in difficult (usually) impossible situations. None of them can wear a white hat, nor a black hat, because none could be categorized as pure good or pure evil. Look at the impressive list: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Hell on Wheels. There’s nothing simple or Dick and Jane about these dramas or any of these characters even their own version of a procedural: the Killing. It couldn’t be more opposite. Not only does it not gloss the details, it painfully rakes them over the coals and none of the characters are who you think they are. If they only a bag of bones they are the most detailed and complex bags of bones I’ve ever run across.

So, for some reason, the creative execs over at AMC got a little self-conscious. Perhaps they didn’t think that their newest drama Hell on Wheels wasn’t attracting as many audience members as they thought it would or they thought it should. It hasn’t gotten the same limelight as Mad Men (and perhaps they should be patient, not every drama can hit the ground running). But it is a basic cable network that often seems a little too eager to please (unlike FX that will show stuff to offend all types of people). And can see the reason why, they’re whole schtick is old movies. Most are movies that most people have forgotten about, and some that everybody’s already seen. I like a great deal of them, but now a days with the plethora of media coming out of everybody’s ears (I used to be able to keep track of how many movies were coming out in a season, now, it’s next to impossible to do so – too many in the tidal wave of offerings!).

But it feels inexcusable to recruit what amounts to the Popular Girl of all the other basic cable networks. It seems as if once CSI lands there, it’s like termites it just infests the network. Every other day is a CSI marathon (do people really watch those??). And where one goes the rest follows. I used to like the USA channel, I used to like TBS, now you might as well rename them both the CSI network.

In my dreams, I imagine that CSI Miami comes to AMC, runs for a couple of long boring, pun-filled seasons and then disappears into the ether to be replaced by something interesting and complex (a spin-off of Breaking Bad perhaps – that would be lovely), but no, when you pinch me awake it’ll be ten years later, I’ll switch to AMC on any random day, on any random hour and there will be a CSI episode followed by another CSI episode, followed by another CSI episode and then just for variety followed by a Law and Order Episode (and just for fun followed by a Law and Order SVU episode). I think at that point I’ll simply have to cancel cable and stream Netflicks, because it’ll be the only way to get any variety in my entertainment.

American Horror Story – season finale?

So, I love that horror (real horror, not just dark fantasy dressed up as horror) is finding a place on television. It was a delight to see shows such as the Walking Dead and American Horror Story find their place even if only on basic cable.

American Horror Story was an interesting horror view point. It seemed to be a show that wanted to call itself horror and use horror troupes, but was more interested in being literary – conveying themes and ideas – than it was in engaging in horror itself. Stephen King describes horror as bringing about the actual feeling of terror and gruesomeness. It is facing that dark and unknowable force that, as intelligent beings, we must face. What, in the Ancient Greek World, was describe as facing the chasm . Perhaps the thing in the dark or under the bed, the primal urge that hides under the civilized mask. But the conclusion to the first season of American Horror story is that there is no thing in the dark, no thing under the bed and are urges are as under control as our conscious thoughts. (Hm, this isn’t what psychiatry says, nor do neurological studies. Guess, their claims of a subconscious is wrong?) But, Ben, the newly dead psychiatrist points out to a pouting also dead Tate, Psychiatry’s all bullshit. It’s just a scam to keep people in business and to keep people from taking responsibility for their actions. And, this, not the ineffable is the theme of the show. No fate is involved, but Fate and our inability to escape it is a primary theme of horror.

So, whether or not you agree with Ben’s, or rather, the writers’ assessment of psychiatry, fate or personal responsibility, you’re still left with a great deal of questions, the primary question being is this really horror? And though seems to tout a purely materialistic philosophy (as in there is no subconscious, no fate, nothing exists other than what the senses can pick up), it expects us to suspend our disbelief and center a story around ghosts and their ability to come out of a nether world and effect this one. Simply speaking, it wants to have it’s fantasy cake and eat it (or rather have us eat the purely materialistic philosophical cake). This, of course, ruins the delight of horror and begs a name change: American NonHorror Story.

I read an interview with the Executive Producer after the Season Finale (I believe it was Brad Falchuk) who claimed that the Season Finale wrapped everything up into a neat bow forgetting that his Constance character announced that she had had four children and only three of them were introduced in the first season. Is this fourth child still alive? Or is it just sloppy writing that this fourth child was missed? (Or that it was introduced in the first place.) Certainly, the Season Premier was sloppy enough: no arc, no explanations, just crazy random event after crazy random event.  I almost didn’t come back for more.

Mr. Falchuk also claimed that there was an arc worked out well in advance, but this too looks to be the product of sloppy writing, because nothing about it in the end felt intentional and that in itself is proof. It left me with a response of, “wait, that was it??” In show business you should always leave them wanting more, but the audience should leave with some level of satisfaction, or of a feeling that there was some sort of satisfactory level conclusion. A promise is made when the premise is introduced, by the end the promise should feel fulfilled and this one was far from it. In the end, there was no horror (yeah, we got scared, but there wasn’t that lingering moment of “uh oh, what have they done!”).  I can pop out of a closet and scare my sibling, that doesn’t make that a Horror Theatrical Experience. This show had a lot of popping out of closets, but almost no horror, especially since horror is dependent on the sublime or in other words the ethereal – the unknowable element  and (or at least) the capturable element that causes fear. You can’t have a horror show that says, “oh, by the way, none of those things exists.”

So, as a conclusion, I have questions, like will we ever meet this fourth child? Has Tate Sired and is Constance raising the Anti-Christ? (And if we don’t have any sort of an ethereal element in the world of American Horror story what does it matter whether or not the child is an Anti-Christ – then what was the point of having a ghost sire a child with a human??) It would be interesting if Constance knew that that was what she was creating and that her hope was to be a sort of Queen of the Damned. It would make her final monologue make sense (and I disagree with other reviewers, I thought that her final monologue was very relevant and VERY poignant).

But the biggest question of all: will there actually be a second season. Signs (or omens, bwa, ha, ha) point to no. Mr. Falchuk didn’t say it outright, but he seemed to imply that this was all there was, they wanted one season and one season only. This would make sense, after all they killed off the main characters and left them in a place in which their story could go no further. Even the house seemed as if it was done with the story and it was kind of the primary character.

So, perhaps fans will demand more. Perhaps Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy will feel like rolling out another season (though they may not), but if they do, don’t expect the next season to look anything like the last. It is highly unlikely that there will be another (un)happy family moving into the Murder House – it’s doubtful that there’ll even be a Murder House.

The next season will have to be more than a collection of already-made, Horror movie troupes thrown together into a blender and used to surround a handful of characters’ storyline. They will have to actually trek out into the wilderness of their own imagination and bring out the monsters from their own closets. They might even be forced to admit that there are things in the dark that are not detectable by the five senses (though I won’t hold my breath). The next season, if there is one, will most likely center on Constance and her Devil child.

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