Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

It's been ages since I reviewed a supernatural YA book - y'all have just been pining away for another one, I can tell.  Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead fits the bill.  This first volume in the series is about two teenaged girls: Lissa, a mortal, magic-wielding vampire; and Rose, a half-human/half-vampire Dhampir, Lissa's BFF and sworn guardian.  Lissa is a Moroi (a type of vampire) princess, the last of her line, beautiful, fragile, haunted, and in need of protection from the nasty Strogoi, who are vampires in the universal sense - living dead bloodsucking killers.  Rose, who narrates the book, has known Lissa since they were little.  She is Lissa's opposite: curvy, earthy, passionate, short-tempered and ferocious.

In an attempt to protect Lissa, Rose took her friend and ran away from the Vampire Academy.  They lived on the run for two years, using Lissa's talent for compulsion to avoid scrutiny and using Rose's blood to feed Lissa.  But the Academy's administrative powers that be finally tracked down their truants and returned them to the school in the wilds of Montana, and now they face new challenges.  Lissa must needs reclaim her rightful place as a royal in the students' social hierarchy and Rose has a lot of catching up to do if she wants to graduate as Lissa's official guardian.

Complicating matters are Lissa's ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend, a tiny harpy (not literally - she's another vamp) hell-bent on destroying her perceived competition; and wierd Christian, a moody outcast royal who may or may not have insidious designs on Lissa.  Rose has her own problems to deal with - a badly tarnished reputation, a way-hot but distant tutor and the strange and powerful empathic bond she shares with Lissa, which allows Rose to know everything her friend is feeling.

Vampire Academy is not fabulous literature by any means, and is not nearly as good as the Mortal Instruments series.  But it's entertaining, and quickly-read; the characters have equal parts supernatural and normal teenagery issues; it's a little bit violent and a little bit sexy, but remains firmly PG-13; and while things get wrapped up pretty tidily at the end, you can pick out the themes that will continue in the next books (Frostbite, Shadow KissBlood Promise, Spirit Bound and Last Sacrifice, to date).  I liked this first volume well enough that I'll take another stab at the series and see where it leads me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand S1E7 and 8

Episode 7, "Great and Unfortunate Things" - [Quibble: I find it slightly unfortunate that E6 was titled "Delicate Things" and this one "Great and Unfortunate Things" ... the writers don't have a thesaurus?]  Moving on: Batiatus generously allows Spartacus to honor his poor dead wife with a funeral pyre.  Spartacus is very sad and not really in the mood for training.  The dotore (?) knows Spartacus was thinking about escaping with Sora and warns that next time the Thracian had better kill him instead of just drugging him, and then he pounds on the new widower for a while.  Crixus isn't doing that well either: he's got a fever what with his horrific wounds having gotten infected.  Later on, Spartacus learns that one of the other gladiators has been taking advantage of Barca's absence and is abusing little Petros, raping and beating him.  Our hero is SO not in the mood for this and simply throws the abusive gladiator off the cliff during practice.  Everyone thinks that was a shitty thing to do: sure, that guy shouldn't have been hurting Petros, but he was a gladiator and deserved to die in the ring, not tossed away like trash.

The next games in Capua are a celebration of some old Roman soldier and are to be a reenactment of his victory over a bunch of Thracians.  Batiatus wants Spartacus to play the part of the Roman hero; the tricky bit is that the Thracians he will be fighting are actually Thracian prisoners.  Spartacus is really not keen on fighting his countrymen until he realizes that this might be his out: he agrees, but only if the fight will be six Thracians to his one "Roman."  You know, gladiator-assisted suicide.  The fight goes badly at first, as one might suspect in a 6 v. 1 battle.  But then something awakens in Spartacus and he kills the hell out of all six Thracians, to the delight of the crowd - and Batiatus.  At the end, he renounces his old life, raising his arms and screaming, "I AM SPARTACUS!"

Episode 8, "Mark of the Brotherhood" - This new Spartacus has become quite the killing machine in the ring, laying waste to all comers.  The rich twit Ilythia is becoming bored and annoyed with her husband's nemesis's many victories and to keep her attention and patronage, Batiatus invites her to come see the newest crop of slaves he's buying, to check out the next generation of gladiators.  While Batiatus is at the slave market, Lucretia brings the recovering Crixus to her bed for some sexual healing.  Later, Ilythia reviews the new recruits - who include a couple of German brothers and a big Gaul with dreadlocks - she has them drops their loincloths and, unable to contain her leering, picks the Gaul (with the HUGE penis) to be "her" gladiator.  As Batiatus explains it, she'll pay for his food and training and he'll bring her glory in the ring - eventually.

When Crixus returns to the gladiators' quarters, he finds that the balance of power has changed; he is no longer the boss - Spartacus is.  Crixus can scarcely stand it and, faced with his venomous hatred of the Thracian (which is in part because Spartacus will not revel in the brotherhood of the gladiators as Crixus thinks he should), Batiatus considers selling the former champion off to some hick ludus in Damascus.  Lucretia gets very upset at the thought of losing her favorite.  To try to prove his worth, Crixus challenges Spartacus in the practice yard, but he has not nearly regained his strength and Spartacus handily kicks his ass and shames him further.  However, when Ilythia's Gaul, under orders from his new mistress, tries to strangle Spartacus in the bathing chamber, Crixus hears the struggle and saves Spartacus's life - saying that he is merely saving the life of a brother in arms, who deserves to die in the ring, not drowned in the bath.  As punishment, the Gaul recruit is castrated and strung up on a crucifix.  To his credit, he never sells out his scheming mistress, even as he dies up there on the wall.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand S1E5 and 6

Episode 5, "Shadow Games" - In an attempt to please the gods and put an end to the drought, Capua's magistrate is putting on some games, thinking that the human sacrifices (dead gladiators) might make it rain.  The magistrate wants some big guns for the primus (main fight): hiring Crixus AND Spartacus to fight against Theokoles, some undefeated monster of a man who goes by the charming nickname, the Shadow of Death.  Realizing that the odds are against them, Spartacus tries to get Crixus to work with him, to fight as a team against their common enemy.  But Crixus doesn't trust the Thracian, saying that he doesn't believe in the way of the gladiator, of glory - it's each man for himself.  In the less-testosterony portion of the plot, Batiatus starts an investigation into who tried to have him killed down in the Pits.  He learns that Solonius, a rival ludus owner, hired Whatsisname, to whom Batiatus owed a lot of money, to take care of it; instead, Batiatus takes Barca, one of his pet gladiators with him to Whatsisname's house to slaughter Whatsisname's entire family - Barca does it, but is unhappy about killing the little boy. 

Meanwhile, snooty little Ilythia condescends to arrange for a priestess of Juno to examine Lucretia to discover why she and Batiatus have been unable to have children.  The ritual demands that Lucretia have sex within the hour, but Batiatus is off investigating his would-be assassins, and when she summons Crixus to her bedchamber, the big lug pleads off, saying sex would drain him before the big fight.  Poor Lucretia.  Finally, at the primus, we see Theokoles: a scarred, misshapen giant, scarcely human, wielding two swords and no shields.  In no time at all, Spartacus and Crixus lay him out ... but it's a trick, and the monster comes at them while Crixus is celebrating, and wounds him badly.  Spartacus is left to press the attack alone, which he does mightily, at last decapitating the legend.  As the slaves drag the bleeding Crixus out of the arena, the skies darken and rain pours down, drenching our Spartacus, the new champion of Capua.

Nudity alert: to prove how much Spartacus and Crixus don't like each other, they do some nekkid wrestling in the gladiators' bathing chamber - yay! 

Episode 6, "Delicate Things" - It's still raining as Batiatus gives a victory speech back at the ludus - he's very pleased with ol' Spartacus.  And so he is also pleased to give our hero some good news: he, Batiatus, has found Spartacus's wife and she'll be brought to the ludus to serve as a slave until her husband wins enough coin to free them both.  I guess that is good news.  Downstairs, Crixus is in wicked bad shape as the medicus closes his wounds with a hot poker.  Spartacus does not intend to rescue his wife only to condemn her to another life of slavery and begins to plot to escape the ludus once Sora is delivered.   There is more conniving in the ludus and Barca, who is genuinely a nice fellow (recent murders notwithstanding) and only wants to gain freedom for himself and his little honeyboy Petros, is betrayed: Batiatus is led to believe that Barca did not in fact kill Whatsisname's little boy, who might be able to identify his family's killer, and so has poor Barca killed for disobedience.  They tell poor Petros that Barca was able to only buy his own freedom and left his little lover behind.

Spartacus's plan to escape with his wife is in place ... but when the cart bringing her arrives, she is terribly wounded, the cart purportedly having been attack whilst on route.  Sora dies in her husband's arms and it's all very sad.  Of course, this was Batiatus's doing: he only promised to reunite the two - he had no intention of letting his prize gladiator get away from him.  Lucretia is first horrified by then impressed with her husband's ruthlessness. 

Nudity alert: Lucy Lawless fully topless in the bath halfway through the episode!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Max Headroom episode recaps 5-7

Editor's NoteThese are pretty teensy for recaps, I know, more like mini-mini-recaps.  But (1) nobody is reading them anyway because nobody cares about poor ol' Max Headroom and (2) if you are by the grace of dog reading them, I don't want to give away too much because poor ol' Max Headroom deserves to be seen in all his lame '80s splendor.  So these are teaserecaps, if you will.

Episode 5: "War"  - Best line goes to Murray:  Edison asks, sincerely, "Since when has news been entertainment?"  Murray replies, "Since it was invented?"  In this episode, in the midst of global ratings sweeps, a terrorist group contracts with the television networks for exclusive rights to their upcoming bombings.  Edison gets involved when one of Network 23's own reporters gets caught in the crossfire.  It's like Wag the Dog writ small.

Episode 6: "The Blanks" - "You don't have any rights - you're a Blank!"  As a response to the government's rounding up all the unregistered, off-the-grid folks known colloquially as "Blanks," a Blank rights/extremist group threatens to wipe out the city's computers and televisions.  In a world where television off-switches are illegal, and the networks and/or government supplies free television sets to everyone to help keep them under control, shutting down the system would be disastrous.  Panic sets in throughout the general populace during short black-outs with no television, and Edison and Max work with the Blanks to affect a release of their imprisoned compatriots.

Episode 7: "Academy" - When a high-level computer hack hijacks the Network 23 signal, Bryce is asked to trace the hack.  He does, but lies about its origin, instead sending the Metrocops to arrest Blank Reg.  It appears that the gifted hackers are young students at Bryce's alma mater, the Academy of Computer Sciences.  Bryce suffers his very first crisis of conscience for protecting his fellow brainiacs at Reg's expense.

These three episodes were much more overtly political than the first group.  Issues like profiling, inadequacy of the justice system, the persecution of the Other and the manipulation of news for ratings are at the forefront, and the show is none too subtle about where it stands.  I do find it fascinating to watch this all now, with the 20+ intervening years.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Comic mini-review: Eternals by Neil Gaiman

I have made it my mission - a low-key, as-I-get-around-to-it mission, but still - to absorb in some form or another all of Neil Gaiman's works.  I love his writing, his worlds both familiar and oh-so strange, his embracing of old stories and gods, his creation of new beings and universes.  So far I have managed to watch Neverwhere, Mirrormask, Beowulf and Stardust, and read M is for Magic, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Fragile Things, Coraline, Black Orchid, The Graveyard Book, the Sandman series (click on the Gaiman tag over there on the right and it'll bring up all the reviews) and now, most recently*, Eternals

Eternals is a Marvel comic book written by Gaiman, illustrated by John Romita Jr. (who signs his art JRJR, which I rather like), a resurrection of an old and forgotten comic by Jack Kirby back in the 1970s.  The Eternals are not superheroes, although they have superpowers like superspeed, flight, transmogrification, mental telepathy, mad fighting skillz, etc.  They are not gods, although they have been around for a gajillion years and are ageless immortals.  They are another race entirely, set by their makers to keep and protect the Earth ... and most of them don't know who they are. 

So this is an origin story of sorts, as one of the Eternals, Ike Harris/Ikaris, sets about to gather the Eternals together, restoring their powers and their memories of who and what they are.  He finds the speedster, Makkari, who thinks he is "Mark Curry," ER doctor; Sersi, who can change matter's form and who is currently a party planner; Sprite, a puckish male Hannah Montana; and Thena the Warrior, married with a child and a job as head researcher for Stark Industries.

Yeah, that Stark Industries.  Iron Man has more than a cameo here, as do Yellowjacket and the Wasp (whoever they are).  The Marvel universe has a big presence in this book, which dampened my enthusiasm a bit - I'm just not that interested in superhero comics.  Another dampener for me is that there was just so much going on, it was overwhelming at times: a big cast and a twisty plot are fine, but the loads of exposition weighed things down.  Wave upon wave of giant alien robots, mutant demony critters, one Eternal thinking to take over the world one country at a time, another Eternal sabotaging his fellows, the Avengers trying to get the Eternals to sign on with them, dating throughout the millennia, how many ways can an Eternal not be killed ... I realize that all this is there to lay the groundwork for future stories, but it felt a little rushed. And not nearly Gaiman-y enough for my taste.

I didn't find the Eternals artwork to be anything special - although apparently Romita kept a number of the original Kirby elements in the characters' drawings while updating them out of the Seventies.  I just couldn't get excited about this book, and a couple of times caught myself turning pages quickly - never a good sign.  I'm sure it's a solid enough comic but I have come to expect more out of Neil Gaiman.  And, I'm afraid to say, that it's made me a little leery of all the other comics of his I have to read to accomplish my mission.  I do hope the others are more Sandman and less superhero.

* I'm halfway through Good Omens too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Christmas Cookie Recipe

It's been ages since I posted a Christmas cookie recipe (over three years, to be precise), so I'm thrilled to have found a new one to share with you.  I don't know where I got it - looks like somewhere online, either the Portland Press Herald or the Salt Lake Tribune or some food blog/site that I visit occasionally - but I love it because it's easy and very tasty and gorgeously colored and Mr. Mouse doesn't like them* so I don't have to share.  So if this is your recipe, THANK YOU!  I've made three batches thus far (it makes small batches, btw) and we still have a week to go for Christmas.

Pistachio-Cranberry Cookie Sticks

3/4 cup whole pistachios (shelled)
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract (optional)
1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries (or dried cherries)

Combine the pistachios, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until it is a fine meal.  Add the butter and pulse until the dough looks crumbly.  Combine the water, vanilla and almond extract and add it to the food processor, pulsing until it just looks damp.  Add the dried cranberries and pulse until evenly distributed.

On a piece of parchment paper, roll out the dough into a 6x9 inch rectangle that's a 1/2-inch thick.  Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat over to 350.  Using a pizza cutter or long knife, cut 3/8-inch thick slices and place them on parchment-lined cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart.  Bake 12-14 minutes, until golden at the edges.  Don't overbake as they will continue to firm as they cool.

* Mr. Mouse is not being deprived.  Just today I made him a whole batch of Giant Ginger Cookies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Comics review: Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III

I've said quite often that I'm not very familiar with comics and graphic novels.  Multiply that times about a zillion when it comes to superhero comics - I'm mostly just not that interested.  I was reading some Swamp Thing for a while, but that's not your typical cape and tights comic; I quite like Watchmen but, again, that's not your stereotypical superhero story.  Somehow this Batwoman: Elegy collection book made it onto my to-read list, however, and the library actually had it.

The Batman gave her the inspiration.  Her father gave her the discipline.  Years of training gave her the skills.  But only Kate Kane herself knows what gave her the unbreakable drive to serve in the war on crime.

This is an origin story (I'm a sucker for origin stories), picking up sometime after the Batwoman was nearly killed by being stabbed through the heart.  She's mostly healed and is ready to pick up the fight again, especially since the crazy cult, the Religion of Crime, has an insane new mistress in town.  The A story is the Batwoman's battle with crazy Madame Alice, and it's a little confusing what with all the turncoat shapeshifters and all.  The B story, Kate Kane's backstory flashbacks, is where all the good stuff is: Kate's mother and identical twin sister were brutally murdered when she was a child.  Kate joins the Army, then has a wild-child period before running into the Batman.  After that encounter, she realizes that she too can take up the fight against crime and, aided by her father, a retired Army colonel, assumes the mantle of the Batwoman.

Much of the art in this book is amazing - kaleidoscopic, multi-faceted and vibrant.  The story is unexpectedly poignant in places too, particularly in these days of "don't ask, don't tell:" Cadet Kate is a lesbian and her final confrontation with her brigade commander is gut-wrenching and honest.  Apparently Batwoman's sexual orientation has caused somewhat of a stir in the comic's fandom.  I found it compelling from a motivational (for the character) standpoint but non-intrusive otherwise.

I liked that the Batwoman character is attractive but not a knockout, strong and curvy but not ridiculously voluptuous.  Her costume is tight but doesn't particularly sexualize her (i.e., no cleavage).  Her gorgeous long red hair is a wig - Kate Kane's hair is cut in a practical bob.  She's fairly smart, stubborn, vulnerable ... a pretty modern superhero.  I don't imagine that I'll follow the comics any further, but I'm definitely happy that I read Batwoman: Elegy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Max Headroom episode recaps 1-4

I have been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting for Max Headroom to come out on DVD.  I remember loving it back in 1987 - back then, it seemed like one of the most subversive things on television and I was drawn to its cynical, punk-lite sensibilities.  Looking back now, I realize that I ended up being drawn to similar motifs: Brazil, Time Bandits, The Road Warrior, Neverwhere, etc., ... all post-apocalyptical or just-prior-to-the-apocalyptic scenarios with burned out buildings, widely separate social strata, punks, bad teeth and underdogs fighting against the Man, whosoever the Man might be at the time. 

Before I sat down to watch this series again, I figured there's no way MH can stand up to my remembrances.  To be honest, it's pretty dated with the clothing (shoulder pads!), big hair (and I'm not even counting the mohawks) and synthesizer music.  But I'm finding it very interesting to watch in 2010 a show made in the late 1980s about the insidiousness of network television - how the networks control what people watch and how they'll do anything to keep people watching.  It's rather more prescient than one might have expected.

Episode 1: "Blipverts" - During the pursuit of a mysterious death story - in which a new kind of television ad, a "blipvert" which compresses 30 seconds' worth of advertising into a 3-second spot, which can overload a lethargic human's nervous system and cause them to explode - investigative reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) sustains a massive head injuiry.  His employer, Network 23, who is running these blipverts for their major advertiser, Zik Zak Corporation, wants to know just what Edison knows and has their resident boy-genius/mad scientist Bryce, download Edison's memories into his computer using his cutting-edge artificial intelligence program (which uses fabulous "Money for Nothing" era CGI).  The AI takes on a life of its own, becoming the charming and distractable Max Headroom, and Max helps Edison, his controller Theora (Amanda Pays) and his producer Murray (Jeffrey Tambor) break the blipvert story.  As it turns out, the viewing audience loves Max Headroom and Network 23's ratings skyrocket regardless.

Episode 2:  "Rakers" - Theora's estranged brother has become tangled in the illegal underground game of raking to try to make some money for his wife and baby.  Originally conceived of by young punks as a way to blow off steam, rakers ride motorized skateboards and try to knock each other off.  Local gangsters have seized on this game as a way to make some money and up the ante, making the players wear razor-sharp knives on their gloves and spectators bet on the survivors, rather than the winners.  Edison, Max and Theora track down the illegal games and broadcast the story just before Network 23 signs an exclusive contract to air the exciting new "sport."

Episode 3: "Body Parts" - The city's rich and privileged class are stealing body parts from the young disadvantaged people living on its fringes.  When his girlfriend is taken for her pituitary gland, a young fringe-dweller enlists Edison to help him track her down and expose the body-snatching.  In the process, we're also introduced to Reg and Dominque Blank, proprietors of an indie television station, "Big Time Television," doing broadcasts whenever and wherever they can.  In the B plot, Network 23's biggest advertiser, the Zik Zak Corporation, wants Max Headroom to promote their latest products; Max is proving difficult to work with, however, until he can talk to Edison to clear up some holes in their memories - many of which apparently occur around bouts of "drinking," whatever that is.

Epsidoe 4:  "Security Systems" - Edison investigates the possibly hostile takeover of Security Systems, Inc., a global company with a monopoly on information systems.  When he gets too close, the artificial intelligence running the company, a sexily-voiced mainframe called A7, alters his file and puts him on the run - locked out of his home, his job, his bank accounts.  With Bryce and Reg Blank's help, Edison infiltrates the SSI headquarters where Max flirts with A7 and manages to save the day, and his good buddy Edison.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand S1E3 and 4

In E3, the gladiators' training begins in earnest with much grunting, sweating, bashing about with practice swords and lifting of heavy things.  Spartacus is not much getting along with Crixus the Undefeated, Batiatus's prize gladiator (and Batiatus's wife Lucretia's occasional sex toy).  But Spartacus is determined to make a go of it, especially since Batiatus told him that he'll need much money to buy his wife's freedom, once Batiatus has located her.  So when Batiatus and Lucretia organize a gladiator tournament for the city of Capua, in an attempt to curry favor with Capua's senator, both Spartacus and his new BFF Varro (who needs money to settle his gambling debts), hope to garner places in the tournament that will net them some cash.

During the pre-tournament party, the Senator's hedonistic and snobby daughter Ilithyia develops a yen for gladiators, which includes watching with rapt attention when Lucretia orders Varro to service a slave girl in front of the guests.  Lucretia's delight at Ilithyia's delight is short-lived, however when the spoiled girl's short attention span turns elsewhere.  At the party, Spartacus learns that he and Varro are to fight in the first match, which will bring neither of them any cash, so he picks a fight with Crixus, in front of all the guests, forcing Batiatus to proclaim Crixus vs. Spartacus as the headlining fight to appease his audience.

Of course, in the tournament the next day, poor Spartacus is no match for Crixus who nearly kills him before Spartacus begs for mercy.  Batiatus grants it, sparing Spartacus's life, but the Capuan crowd is displeased at the mercy and Batiatus ends up losing a lot of money on the event.  To punish Spartacus for his major mistake, he kicks him off the gladiator team, saying that he must fight in the "underworld" until he dies or wins back favor.

S4 is Spartacus's trials and tribulations in the underworld: unsanctioned, highly-dangerous and -illegal fights to the death that take place in the catacombs beneath Capua.  It's all very ugly - the crowd especially is ugly, screaming for painful death for the combatants - and Spartacus has to dig deep to find the wherewithal to keep himself alive.  But he does, winning match after match (and gaining vicious scar after scar), and winning money for Batiatus, who sorely needs the cash to pay off his impatient bookies. 

After a time, however, Spartacus can take no more and tells Batiatus that if he will promise to rescue his wife, Spartacus will throw the fight: Batiatus should bet all he has against Spartacus; the Thracian will die; and Batiatus will make a killing.  The greedy Batiatus agrees but during the fight, as Spartacus is getting brutally pummeled, assassins make a move on Batiatus.  Knowing that a dead Batiatus will not be able to save his wife, Spartacus saves his master's life, and kills his opponent in the process.  Batiatus is in a tough position now: he's lost all the money he bet against his own man, but his life has been saved.  Troubled but grateful, he reinstalls Spartacus in the ranks of his gladiators.

In the B-plot, Crixus is not just a mass of muscles as he is secretly in love with one of Lucretia's slaves.  They must keep it hidden, however, because Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) is a jealous and vindictive woman.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Walking Dead S1E6 (12/5/10)

Season finale time!  We start off with a little bit of Shane backstory, showing him in Rick's hospital room just as all hell is breaking loose.  In the hallways, soldiers are killing indiscriminately, walkers and humans alike.  Shane tries to lift Rick from his bed but the comatose man is too heavy, plus he's hooked up to all these machines and Shane just doesn't know what to do.  An explosion rocks the hospital, knocking out the power.  Shane panics, putting his head to Rick's chest, and when he doesn't hear a heartbeat - which, how could he what with all the gunfire and screaming and whatnot going on around him - he apologizes to his friend and gets the hell out of there.

Back in the show's present, Edwin Jenner is the name of the doctor barricaded in the CDC building.  He lets the band of survivors in, telling him that a blood test for each of them is the price of their admission, and warning them to bring in what belongings they have, for once the blast doors close behind them, they won't open again.  A little later, the blood tests all having come back clean, Jenner treats the survivors to food, wine (much wine) and hot showers - and it's difficult to say what is enjoyed more. 

At dinner, Shane kills everyone's buzz by asking Jenner why it is that he's the only one left.  Jenner explains that the other CDC folks either left to be with their families or stayed for a while before killing themselves.  He himself stayed to do what work he could.  Afterwards, everyone is drunk in different ways: Andrea is despairing that nothing is left in the whole world; Rick is a little maudlin, thanking Jenner for saving their lives when he was losing hope; and Shane catches Lori alone, intending to plead his case but ultimately nearly raping her before she claws his face and chases him off.

The next morning everyone is hungover.  Along with the aspirin, coffee and powdered eggs they ask Jenner if the CDC has come up with any answers.  He shows them a scan of "Test Subject 19," an infected individual who volunteered to be hooked up to the CDC's computers so they could see just what happens.  What happens is the brain dies from whatever agent - viral, bacterial, microbial, fungal, who knows - is transmitted by zombie bite, and then the agent restarts the brainstem only, so the walkers are not quite alive, just moving on instinct and reflex.  The scan ends with a bullet through TS19's head.  Everyone is stunned, moreso when Jenner tells them that the epidemic is global and there is really nothing left.  Dale apologizes for asking yet another question, but wants to know what the big clock on the wall is counting down to - there's one hour left.  Jenner says that's when the generators run out of fuel and "facility-wide decontamination" occurs.

Everyone scurries around for a while, trying to confirm that the building is in fact running out of fuel.  When the clock hits 30 minutes, the laboratory doors close, locking Jenner and all the survivors in.  Jenner, calmly, resignedly and just a little crazily, explains that the building is responding to the loss of the power grid, which were this situation to have happened in the event of a terrorist attack, the building will obliterate itself and all the nasty bugs the CDC has collected (weapons-grade smallpox, Ebola, etc.).

Much panic ensues until Rick convinces Jenner to let them out, to at least give them a chance at survival, grim as it may be.  Jenner does, warning them that the topside doors are sealed and he can't do anything about that, and then he whispers something in Rick's ear.  Everyone runs topside - everyone except Jacquie, who prefers an immediate, painless death to fighting anymore, and Andrea, who has simply given up in the wake of her sister's death.  Dale tries to convince Andrea to come with him.  When she refuses, he sits down beside her and says, fine, then, he'll stay here too because he cares about her and can't face life topside without her.  She stares at him, horrified that he would give up his life for her like this.

Upstairs, nothing anyone does can break the safety glass ... until Carol hands Rick the grenade that she found in his clothes when she washed them for him.  (Remember, he pocketed it when he was trapped in the tank.)  He places it against the window and BOOM, the window shatters.  They all run for their vehicles, offing a few lurching walkers as they do so, and are about to drive away when Dale and Andrea make their way out of the CDC building.  Everyone ducks and covers as the building explodes massively; Dale and Andrea get into the RV; and they caravan away to fight zombies another day. 

Still: where's Merle?  He better show up in S2.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Friday, December 3, 2010

Spartacus: Blood and Sand - S1E1 and 2

Starz's pay-cable series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, is awesome.  Take the bloated Russell Crowe vehicle Gladiator, mix it with Gerard Butler's 300, add a TON more gratuitous nudity and even more heavily-stylized blood splashing across the screen ... and you've got Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  Seriously: the fight scenes are taken right from 300, what with the freeze-frames and the pseudo-motion capture and the gushing blood, and the revenge story is totally taken from Gladiator, except that our hero (played by yummy Welshman Andy Whitfield, now undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma and we wish him wellness) is a Thracian, not a disgraced Roman general.

In the first episode, the Thracians join forces with a Roman legion ostensibly to protect their villages from marauding raiders but when the Romans change their tactics, leaving Thrace vulnerable, the Thracian soldiers desert.  The Romans don't take kindly to that and capture the deserters, ripping them from home and family and forcing them into either slavery or, if they're tough enough, the enforced servitude of gladiatorship.  In the second episode, Spartacus - not his real, Thracian name, but we don't know what that is - learns what it's like to be in a gladiator training house: ugly, brutal and bloody, with multiple glimpses of full-frontal male nudity plus lots of nekkid butts.  Our hero is not inclined to fight, even to save his life, until his new master promises to help him find/rescue his beautiful wife, raped by the Romans and sold into slavery.

Solid female full-frontal nudity, quick and distant male full-montys, lots of boobs, serious sex scenes, sweat and dirt and blood and swear words (who knew the ancient Romans dropped so many f-bombs?) ... this series is hard to take seriously but is a lot of fun to watch if you're in it for the violence and eye candy.  Lucy Lawless, she of Xena and (to a lesser extent) BSG fame, plays the wife of the owner of the gladiators.  She's 42 and flashes a lot of skin - bare boobs and butt - and good for her as she looks great.

Despite being a decent success (word is, it improves as the season continues), S:BaS is in hiatus now, due to its lead actor's cancer.  I've heard both that they may recast the lead or they'll wait and see how his treatment goes.  Frankly, I'd like to see them wait for Andy Whitfield: after two episodes, he's good but not great, but with a twinkle in his eye that promises more, and DANG I approve of the tiny leather loincloth wardrobe has him in.  I'll keep up with these mini-recaps through the season, with more detail now that I've committed to the show.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Big Love mousings: S1E9 and 10

To pick up where we left off:

E9:  The wives go round and round, trying to decide whom to name as guardians of their own children in the event they and Bill both die.  Turns out neither Barb nor Margene want Nikki to be guardian for their kids and Nikki wants her boys to be raised back on the compound. Barbara is also getting excited about her nomination for Utah’s Mother of the Year, but Nikki thinks she is being prideful – awesomely, when Nikki complains to Bill, he points out that what she really has a problem with is the fact that she’s Second Wife under Barb. Roman's child bride-to-be Rhonda comes to stay with the Henricksons while trying for a drama contest; Sara introduces her soon-to-be-step-grandmother to straight-laced LDS Heather, who is both fascinated and repelled, and wants to rescue Rhonda from the compound. During all this domestic turmoil, Bill has been asked to join a local business leaders group – he wants to do it, but ultimately turns it down because he’s worried about outing himself as a polygamist.

E10: Margene catches pregnant. Bill buys Old Whatsisname’s shares of stock and takes his seat on Roman’s board, then helps him and his elderly wives run away to Arizona. While Bill and Joey crash the board meeting, Albee pays Wanda an intimidation visit – and when he threatens her baby, she poisons him with antifreeze. Turns out she’s done this before: she’s the one who poisoned Bill and Joey’s dad with arsenic. After failing out of the drama competition (and awesomely bedazzling her jean jacket) Rhonda gets dragged back to the compound where, pouting, she tells Roman about Barb being up for Utah’s Mother of the Year.  So during the awards ceremony (which Nikki and Margene can’t attend because Barb was not allotted enough tickets), Roman calls in an anonymous tip that Barb is a polygamist. She is escorted out of the Governor’s Mansion in front of everyone, while Bill and their three kids scuttle away ashamedly. When they get home and are joined by Nikki (who is nearly hysterical, screaming that they’ll be taken away from each other until Bill tells her, “They don’t do that anymore”) and Margene who rally around their stricken sister-wife. The Henricksons’ lives are crumbling around them – who knows what the social repercussions will be? Not me, anyway: I’m not picking up S2 anytime soon.