Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E15 "East" 3/27/16

The cold open gives us an Impressionistic view of a roadside showdown in which Carol ran into trouble.  We know it was Carol because of the rosary sitting in a puddle of blood.  We don't know what happened or who survived.  Backing up a little, the next scene shows Carol packing up food and gear in anticipation of her departure from Alexandria.  Tobin comes in and it's literally blah-blah-blah as the sound fades out during his talking to her, showing her displacement.  Later that night, she slips from their bed, grabs her pack and leaves.

Here's what I'm not recapping: Rick and Michonne snuggling together in bed because ick.  Except that they both seem happy and they both are all, we're not losing this.  So of course they will.

Things get a little confusing for a bit because Daryl hops on his motorcycle and leaves, apparently to revenge Denise's murder, around the same time that it's discovered that Carol is gone.  Glen, Michonne and Rosita take off after Daryl and Rick and Morgan take off after Carol.  Because when two of your best fighters leave, it's a REALLY good idea for five of your other best fighters to leave too.  People are making extremely bad decisions here and, quite frankly, not acting the way they should be acting, given what we know about these people.

Carol drives down a stretch of road in one of the cars that had been placed outside Alexandria's gates (it's covered in spikes as an anti-zombie precaution).  She comes up to a pickup truck carrying five men, well-armed with guns and spears.  They shoot out her tires and the stand-off begins.  They know she's from Alexandria.  She figures that they are Saviors.  They are menacing and Carol starts to shake and tremble, on the verge of another panic attack.  She begs them not to let this devolve into violence - no one needs to die today - but the men sense weakness and move towards her, menacing.  And then she shoots them all with the semi-automatic she has hidden inside the sleeve of her oversized barn coat.  She doesn't get them all, however, and the driver lunges out of the truck, shooting back at her.  She hides behind her car and when he gets close enough, impales him on one of the spikes.  Then she takes his gun and goes to check on the others.  One man is hiding and when she gets closer, he lunges at her with a knife.  Their struggle is offscreen and there's a gunshot.

Back in Alexandria, Maggie looks tired but she is working on getting the town prepped for when the Saviors attack.  She hides guns and other stuff.  Enid tells her to sit and rest, "put your feet up and eat some pickles," and she'll take Maggie's guard shift on the wall.

Rick and Morgan drive and talk, looking for Carol.  Blah blah blah.

Back at the aftermath of the roadside massacre, the passenger in the truck is still alive, although shot in the shoulder.  He gets out to survey the damage.  The man who attacked Carol with the gun is lying on the road, bleeding from a massive stomach wound.  The passenger tells him to shush and then walks off.  In the distance, on the road, there's a figure but it's too far away to tell whether it's Carol or just some wandering zombie.

Rick and Morgan get to the roadside massacre.  When that gutshot man can't tell them anything useful, Rick just puts his knife through his skull.  They put down a zombie who is feeding on the man Carol impaled.  Rick shakes his head, admiringly.  "I'm proud of her.  She took four of them down.  That woman, she's a force of nature."  Morgan just looks weary at all the humans killing other humans.  Bless his heart but he sure does seem naive to think that this world is going to get any better.  He and Rick find a trail leading off through the fields.  There's some blood and they decide to follow it, just in case it's a wounded Carol.  Or a zombie Carol who needs to be put down.  Rick notes that these dead Saviors are awfully close to Alexandria: "We didn't end it."  No, notes Morgan, "we started something."  Unbeknownst to them, the shoulder-shot passenger comes out of his hiding place and follows them.

In the other storyline, Glen, Michonne and Rosita have gone back to the train tracks where Denise died.  They find Daryl's motorcycle, hidden in the underbrush.  Rosita thinks that maybe they should just let him do what they want but Glen's not having any of it, saying that Daryl's going to get himself killed.  They catch up with him after a while.  He's furious, with himself: for not having killed Dwight out in the burned forest.  Glen pleads with him to return to Alexandria so they can figure things out. "It's gonna go wrong out here."  Michonne also asks him to go back but Daryl can't/won't.  He continues off along into the woods, Rosita trailing after him.  Glen and Michonne don't follow, but decide to head back, regroup.  But instead of moving swiftly and with purpose, they stop in a clearing for a heart-to-heart and before long, they are captured by Dwight and a group of Saviors.  Why has everyone decided to not use their brains today?

Rick and Morgan find a female zombie who looks a little like Carol.  It's isn't her though and they put it down without incident.  They continue on through pastureland to a barn.  There's a small swarm of zombies there, and a man who seems to be fighting them.  He hides from Rick and Morgan, though, telling them that he's just out here looking for his horse, but there's a bunch of walkers.  While Rick and Morgan tangle with the zombies, the man runs off.  It kind of looks like he's wearing body armor.  Rick takes a shot at the man but Morgan gives him a shove and the bullet goes wide.  It is my completely unfounded opinion that this is Negan and he has drawn the walkers here as an impediment to Rick and Morgan.  Morgan's all, you didn't know who he was.  Rick: I don't take chances anymore.  Except that he's out here, looking for a woman who doesn't want to be found.  Then Morgan tells Rick the story about how he saved that Wolf and the whole Carol/Denise/Wolf thing.  "All life is precious ... [because I saved him, he saved Denise and then Denise] was there to save Carl.  It's all a circle.  Everything gets a return."  He tells Rick to take the car and go home where he is needed.  He says that he will keep looking for Carol and he will find her.  Rick: "You're coming back."  A statement, not a question.  Morgan: "Yeah.  But if I don't, don't come lookin'."  He turns to go but first, Rick insists that he take a pistol.  Morgan doesn't want to but he does.

When Rick gets back to Alexandria, he is a little concerned that Michonne, Glen, Rosita and Daryl are still out there.  Nothing to panic about yet.  Enid goes to check on Maggie and Maggie asks her to give her a haircut.  She wants it short because she's got a lot to do and doesn't want anything getting in her way.  Of course, right after she says that, she screams and drops to the floor, clutching her belly in pain.

Meanwhile, Glen and Michonne are bound and gagged at the Saviors' campfire.  Daryl and Rosita sneak up, intending to save them.  Glen spots them and struggles, trying to wave them off.  That's because Dwight and another couple of Saviors are sneaking up behind them.  "Hi, Daryl," says Dwight, as Rosita puts her hands up.  As Daryl turns to face him, Dwight shoots him (from the way the gun was pointing, it looks like he shot Daryl in the shoulder and not the head, which is why I am not FREAKING OUT right now) and the screen goes black.  Then Dwight says, "You'll be all right."

This fucking show.  Does EVERYONE have to make really stupid decisions all at once?  Carol: whose character has been painstakingly built over five seasons to make her into a total "force of nature" has completely flipflopped from out of nowhere, with no warning.  All the best fighters rush off half-cocked, with no plan - what if Carol didn't want to come back, Rick and Morgan? what then? - leaving Alexandria to be defended only by Abraham, Maggie, Sasha and Carl.  Glen and Michonne: yes, let's stand here in the middle of an unfamiliar forest and just TALK, instead of hightailing it back to the car.  I know I'm echoing other reviewers when I say that with these last couple of episodes, it really seemed like the characters were doing things just because the show's writers wanted them to, and not acting from a place of character.  Everything is being moved into place for next Sunday's season finale - in which we'll finally get to meet Negan, and it'll all be horrible.  I shall have to start steeling myself now in order to get through 90 minutes of this mess.

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

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E14 "Twice as Far" 3/20/16

Life goes on as usual in Alexandria: whatshername checks the food pantry; people take turns on their guard watches; Morgan practices his moves and builds a solid cell ("It'll give you some choices next time," he tells a skeptical Rick); Carol sits on her porch and smokes, running through the rosary she picked up in the last episode.  We learn that Rosita has hooked up with Spencer.  And Darryl works on his recovered motorcycle.  Carol stops by to see him, sharing her cigarettes.  They talk a little about how he lost the 'cycle - to the people in the burned forest after he saved them.  She says she's sorry but that's how he is and we're all stuck with that.  Darryl grunts: "No, we ain't.  Shoulda killed 'em."  He asks her what the Saviors did to her and Maggie.  Carol, who is soul-searching after her latest bout of killing 'em, says: "To us?  They didn't do anything."

Dr. Denise watches as Abraham and Eugene head out, ostensibly on a scouting mission.  She consults a map and then finds Darryl and Rosita: she knows where there is an apothecary nearby and thinks they might be able to scavenge some usable drugs from there.  The catch?  She wants to go with them.  Both Darryl and Rosita think this is a VERY BAD idea but they don't really have anything else to do and she convinces them to take her with them.

En route, Denise tries to give Darryl some pointers about driving a stick-shift beater truck since he's grinding the gears like crazy; she grew up driving trucks like that, her brother taught her.  [I call shenanigans:  there is NO WAY Darryl doesn't know how to drive a standard.]  When they come to a downed tree, they get out and walk.  Rosita suggested going along the train tracks - as it is twice as far by the road - but Darryl's all, no way, I ain't takin' no tracks (perhaps remembering the good old Terminus days).  He walks off down the road, Denise trailing behind; Rosita rolls her eyes and stomps off down the tracks.

Meanwhile, somewhere else, Abraham and Eugene have made their way to an industrial area.  Eugene has designs on a smelter, thinking that they should start making their own bullets, seeing how ammunition is very important and a finite commodity - Abraham is quite impressed with this thinking.  But Eugene also insists that he's "changed, adapted, become a survivor."  Abraham rolls his eyes a bit and when a lone zombie staggers out of a back room, moves to put it down.  Eugene insists that he can do it himself and Abraham lets him, wary.  When Eugene doesn't seem to be able to get the job done, Abraham steps in.  Eugene is furious, telling the larger man that he doesn't need him any longer, and Abraham get frustrated and takes off, leaving Eugene to find his way home alone.

Rosita rejoins Darryl and Denise without incident, and they make their way into the apothecary.  The outside windows are covered with gory handprints but inside, there's nothing but a bad smell.  As Darryl and Rosita load up their packs with every bottle on the shelves, Denise decides to explore, particularly since she hears a thudding coming from a storeroom.  I will confess to being a little nervous at this point since Denise is the obvious one to get wounded and/or killed, and it's dark and I was sure that something was going to jump out and fasten its teeth on her.  But instead she just finds one broken down, emaciated zombie with a cast on its skeletal foot.  Above this zombie, written on the wall: HUSH   HUSH   HUSH  HUSH   HUSH.  And in the sink, submerged in disgusting, murky water, is a toddler's sneaker ... on a toddler's foot, connected to, one presumes, the remains of a toddler.  Denise gasps and runs out of the shop as Darryl and Rosita look on, all WTF?  After they're done packing up the medicines, they find her outside, huddled against the wall.  It's a little more horrible outside the Alexandrian walls than she had hoped.  But Darryl tells her that she did good, finding this place, and they head for home.

When they get to the railroad tracks, Darryl walks down them, saying, "This way's faster, right?" and Rosita and Denise grin at each other.  They pass some cars as they walk and Denise can't help but check them out, looking for stuff to scavenge.  She finds a car with a cooler - and a zombie - in it.  Both Darryl and Rosita are all, never mind about that, but Denise is not to be put off.  They don't see her open the car door and pull out the cooler, the zombie tumbling out afterwards.  Denise struggles with the zombie and the other two hear that, and come running.  But she waves them off - like Eugene tried to wave off Abraham - and manages to stick her knife into the zombie's head.  Then she throws up.  But there was a six pack of soda in the cooler, so she seems to think it was worth it.  Darryl and Rosita are pretty pissed at her but she had a point to make.  She has been scared and sheltered and she needed to be brave, to get outside the walls and prove herself.  She was too afraid to tell Tara she loved her and that was stupid and she wishes that ... and right in the middle of her impassioned rant, she gets a motherfucking arrow through the back of her head, through her eye.

It's a group of Saviors, led by Dwight - the guy from the burned forest who stole Darryl's crossbow and motorcycle (so now we know how the motorcycle ended up at the Savior compound) - who still has the crossbow.  He's the one who just shot Denise.  They also have Eugene, hands tied and on his knees.  There's some speechifying by Dwight and both he and Darryl are all, I should have killed you, to each other.  Eugene spies Abraham hiding behind some oil barrels at the side of the tracks and helps escalate things by saying if the Saviors want to shoot somebody, they could start with the "first class a-hole who deserves it so much more than us three."  Heh.  Things erupt pretty quickly at this point: everyone shooting at everyone else and, awesomely, Eugene lunges forward, fastening onto Dwight's crotch WITH HIS TEETH.  Dwight screams and screams [I'm also going to call shenanigans here too: Eugene would have to have awfully strong jaws to successfully bite through jeans enough to hurt].  Dwight finally breaks away and he and his remaining Saviors take off through the woods.  Darryl snatches up his crossbox - REUNITED AT LAST - but Rosita calls him off.  Eugene has been shot and she and the other two men pick him up and carry him off.

Back in Alexandria, Eugene is okay.  The bullet just grazed him and the antibiotics that they got from the apothecary Denise found have saved him from infection.  He and Abraham make up:  "I apologize for doubting your skills.  You know how to bite a dick, Eugene, and I mean that with the utmost respect."  Some time later, Darryl buries Denise in the town's graveyard.  [I may have moaned a little, seeing his bare arms.]  Carol finds him there:  "You were right.  I knew it when you said it." I think she means that she now agrees that he should have killed Dwight in the burned forest.

And then we get a Carol voice-over, as Tobin reads the note she left over a similar montage of daily life to what opened the episode.  Basically, Carol has come around to Morgan's way of thinking.  She doesn't want to kill people anymore.  But instead of staying in Alexandria and building a life there, she has decided that she doesn't want to be involved in having to defend the town because it would mean fighting other humans:  "I love you all here.  I do.  And I'd have to kill for you.  I can't.  I won't."  Instead, she's leaving, going out on her own, and asks that no one come after.  "I can't love anyone because I can't kill for anyone.  So I'm going, like I always should have."  Which is total crap because out there, on her own, she's most likely going to have to fight and kill other people to survive.  I call shenanigans, writers.

Seriously - WTF are they doing with Carol's character?  I guess I'm okay with her questioning herself but this running away is crap.  I'm guessing she's going to get caught up by the Saviors and come into play when we finally have to deal with Negan, so this is all just a plot device, not actually being true to the character.  Stupid show.

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

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mini movie review: Never Let Me Go

Adapted from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go is a sadly quiet science fiction movie with ruminations about genetic engineering and the meaning of life.  And there's a love triangle.  Although the novel apparently holds onto its secrets for much longer (and I've just requested the book from the library to see how it compares to the movie), the movie does not SO SPOILERS AHEAD EVEN THOUGH THE MOVIE COMES RIGHT OUT WITH IT: we open with title cards telling us that in the late 1950s, a scientific breakthrough meant that most diseases that were previously unsurvivable were now curable and that by the mid-1960s, human life expectancy was in the 100s.  This progress comes at a price and we are first introduced to Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightly) when they are pre-teens in 1978, at an English boarding school, Hailsham.  These children have no parents: they are human clones, formed in a lab to provide clean and healthy organs for sick, natural humans.  From their childhood, they are kept safe and sheltered and are told what an honor it is to be Donors.  The film follows Kathy, Ruth and Tommy to 1985, when they move to a group home, meet other Donors from other places and learn a little about the world before their required donations begin when they are in their mid-20s.

Never Let Me Go is calm and measured, much like these Donors' lives, and chooses to focus on the relationships among the three main characters, their hopes and dreams, and just touches on the moral issues surrounding their lives (are these cloned Donors humans? is it right to give these young people life, only to take it away from them?).  One of the saddest scenes, I thought, takes place when Kathy, Tommy and Ruth are still little, living at Hailsham.  The students collect tokens and every so often, a delivery van will bring boxes of treats and toys for them to purchase with their tokens.  A small group of students waits eagerly at the door, asking the deliverymen if it is "a bumper crop" this time.  The men say, yes, it is, but when the contents of the boxes are spilled out onto the tables, it's nothing but old dolls, broken toys, decks of dog-eared playing cards and other castoff bits of rubbish that the real people have donated.  The little donor children don't know that this is rubbish and it is heartbreaking to see how happy they are to have new things to play with.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Walking dead S6E13 "The Same Boat" 3/13/16

It's a slow burn of an episode here, focusing on Carol and Maggie, with a lot of talking, until it all kicks into gear at the very end.  Let's get down to it.

As the klaxon sounds in the distance, Maggie wants to go help Rick et als. and Carol is all, no, you're staying here.  A man ("Donny") comes out of the woods and Carol shoots him in the upper arm.  Before Maggie can put him down, three women also come out of the woods, guns drawn, capturing Carol and Maggie.  The redhead (played by Alicia Witt), Paula, is the leader; it is she who speaks to Rick over the walkie.  They tourniquet Donny's arm and speak with Rick, trying to broker a trade.  The Saviors would like to get back the man Rick has captured ("Primo") because he's got some medical training, but Rick's group outnumbers theirs more than two to one.  Paula tells Rick she'll think about his deal and get back to him.  Then the Saviors hood Carol and Maggie and march them off through the woods.

After quite a bit of walking and some driving, they arrive at a Savior "safe house."  It's not clear what this place is - an old slaughterhouse, maybe - but there are a few zombies lurching around that need to be cleared out.  Paula gags Carol and Maggie and tapes up their hands and feet.  As she drags out a now-dead zombie, a rosary falls out of its pocket; Carol snatches it up.  When the Saviors go to kill off the zombies, Maggie immediately starts trying to get her hands loose.  Carol, however, looks like she's about to freak out instead.  The Saviors return and Carol starts hyperventilating.  Maggie stares at her, all WTF is going on with you.  She can't tell - I can't tell - if Carol is faking or if the panic attack is for real.  Finally Paula takes the gags out of Maggie and Carol's mouths.  Carol calms down a bit, but she's a mess.  Young Savior Woman: "Look at you.  Bitch, how did you make it this far?"  Old Savior woman ("Molly"):  "Honey, you need to take some yoga breaths and calm down."  There's a lot of talking about fear and dying and the apocalypse and Carol is all meek and scared, asking the Saviors just not to hurt Maggie or the baby.  Then there's a lot of talking about WTF Maggie was thinking, getting pregnant at a time like this.

Paula talks to a Savior scout crew, telling them to come to the safe house to pick them up.  They should get there in about thirty minutes.  Maggie observes Donny, saying that he may not have thirty minutes as the tourniquet on his arm is killing the nerves.  He staggers to his feet and starts ranting about Carol having shot him.  He wants to kill Carol and Maggie or at least shoot them a little and when Paula refuses, he hits her.  Maggie strikes out at him, despite being bound, and after he knocks her away, he kicks Carol for a bit.  She doesn't fight back at all.  Then Paula stands up and clocks him on the head with her gun, dropping him.  She tells Young Savior Woman to take Maggie out and question her, which she does, completely ineffectually, giving more information to Maggie than she gets from her.  In the other room, there's quite a bit more talking as Paula scoffs at the rosary Carol is clutching.  "Faith got me through the death of my daughter," says Carol (really? I don't at all remember that - is this a put on?).  Paula tells her captive about her zombie apocalypse backstory: she was a secretary, stuck at work in D.C. when the shit went down; she never got home to see her husband or her four daughters (really?  four?  she looks young to have had four kids if she isn't a Mormon); she started killing people in addition to the walkers and she stopped counting when she got to double digits.  Yeah, yeah, you're a tough guy.  Like no one else has gone through anything like that in this world.  Carol watches her closely, however.  There's more talking and Carol even cries a little.  If she's faking, she's selling it awfully well.

Rick comes over the walkie again, saying he's ready to make a trade.  Paula tells him about a field and they arrange to meet up and trade captives.  When she hangs up the walkie, however, she points out that there hadn't been any static on the transmission so that means Rick and his group are close, have crept up and are getting ready to take them out.  She calls the scout Saviors: they're ten minutes out.  Paula and Molly go to collect Young Savior Woman and get ready for what's next.  As soon as they're gone, Carol sharpens the crucifix on the rosary, using it to cut through the tape on her hands and ankles.  She finds Maggie and cuts her loose.  Carol wants to sneak out but Maggie is all, we can't leave them alive - we have to finish this.  They go back to the room where Donny is and find him dead, bled out or dead from the blow to the head Paula gave him.  Maggie takes his gun and then, noticing that he's about to turn, ties him up.  Carol is all but useless; Maggie is the one in charge.  Molly comes back for Carol, gets bitten by the now-zombie Donny and then Maggie kills her brutally, coming up behind her, stabbing her in the stomach and then beating her head in.  A little while later, Paula comes in, sees the mess and gets her game face on.

Carol and Maggie walk down the hall and find a bunch of zombies, still alive but impaled on metal poles, cluttering the hallway.  They're a trap to keep Carol and Maggie in and to keep Rick and his group out.  Our women start to make their way through, killing zombies as they go until Paula shows up.  Carol points her gun at the Savior but tells her to just run away.  Maggie, aghast: "Carol! Shoot her!"  Paula is all, "You are such bitches! You killed Donny, you killed Molly, you killed all my people and ruined my home."  Carol: "Paula, run away."  Maggie: WTF, Carol, shoot her!  A zombie breaks loose and Carol and Paula tangle with it.  Young Savior Woman hears the gun shots and Maggie closes with her.  Carol comes up but doesn't get involved until YSW almost guts Maggie and then she shoots YSW in the head.  Paula watches and is all, you tricked me.  "If you could do all this, what were you so afraid of, Carol?"  Carol: "I was afraid of this."  And then she and Paula fight, until Paula gets impaled on one of the pieces of rebar, snug up against a living zombie.  The zombie takes a chunk out of her face and, as Paula screams and screams, it buries its jaws in her neck.  In the midst of all the screaming and eating, the walkie goes off: it's the Savior scout team, wondering where Paula wants them.  Carol picks up the walkie, hesitates just a bit and then tells the scout team that they'll meet them on the "kill floor."

As Carol and Maggie wait for the scout team, Carol goes over some of what has been bothering her.  She tells Maggie that she's killed eighteen or twenty people, but she should have killed Donny out there in the woods - that none of this would have happened if she had just done that.  Maggie: Don't think about it, we're almost done.  The scout team shows up, goes into the kill floor.  Carol lights a cigarette and, as she and Maggie slam shut the door to the kill floor, she tosses the lit cigarette inside the room, where it ignites the gasoline they have poured out.  They stand there a moment as the men inside scream, burning to death.  Then they walk out, through the gauntlet of impaled zombies, killing them as they go.  Maggie stomps on a couple of heads.  They get to the exterior door and pull it open, just as Rick et als. arrive.  For a moment, everyone points guns at each other until they realize who it is.  Carol staggers a little and Daryl goes to her, asking "Did you start a fire? Are you good?"  She answers yes and then no, and he pulls her into a hug.  Glen embraces Maggie who also says she isn't okay either: "I can't anymore."

Rick turns to Primo, asking about Negan.  Primo turns to him and gives a sassy answer.  But Rick is not having any of that and just shoots him in the head.  Carol watches, a little stunned looking, and clutches her rosary so hard that the crucifix digs into her hand.  Blood drips to the floor.

So Carol sees herself in Paula: a ruthless killer who has lost her humanity in the wake of all she has had to do to survive.  In the few calm weeks at Alexandria, Carol has allowed herself to relax, to let go of the killing instincts that had sustained her for so long.  When she went out on the Saviors raid, Carol was conflicted, having enjoyed not being a killer in the interim.  And when she and Maggie were captured, I think some of the trembling and fear was real - despite how much I hoping that it was ALL an act - some of her old self creeping back in around the edges.  When it came down to it, Carol was once again able to tap into her bad-assery, but her toughness is fraying.  It's understandable that the character would feel conflicted, and it's wonderful for Melissa McBride to have been given so much to play with - but Carol the bad ass is a much better, more interesting character than early-season Carol.  Sending the character backwards after the painstaking, seasons-long development that brought her from mouse to lion would be a mistake.  Heed my words, TWD writers.

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

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Mini book review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

In Depression Era Chicago, a not very nice man named Harper Curtis stumbles into a derelict-seeming house.  The House (for it is a House, not just a house) is different on the inside: in a room upstairs, there are trophies taken from women that Harper will kill.  The House has a listing of these "shining girls," and whenever Harper opens the front door, the House delivers him to a different time between 1929 and 1993 so he can locate these girls and snuff out their light.  Although he starts awkwardly, he quickly becomes quite good at these vicious, seemingly untraceable murders as he bounces back and forth through time.  But in 1989, Kirby Mizrachi manages to escape Harper's knife, despite her belly and throat being slashed.  And because she manages to escape, she systematically begins to track down her would-be murderer.

Time travel stories are always tough but despite a couple of passages that I had to read and re-read to figure out who was sticking what knife into whom, The Shining Girls is pretty successful.  It's very violent - the descriptions of Harper's attacks are detailed and extremely bloody - but also very convincing.  The amount of research Lauren Beukes did to create the Chicagos of the various times must have been staggering.  The characters, including all of the victims, are fleshed out and real, interesting, sympathetic; the only one who gets short shrift is Harper but he's such a horrible person that I really didn't want to get to know him better.  I recently had a rare rainy Sunday when I didn't have to do anything, so I sat down and read The Shining Girls all in one go.  If that's not a recommendation for a book, I don't know what is.

PS - I have also read Beukes's Broken Monsters and liked that too, but it's a weirder book and didn't connect with me quite so well.  Don't know why I didn't review that here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E12 "Not Tomorrow Yet" 3/6/16

This is what we learn about Carol: even though she has become a stone-cold killer, a badass who does what has to be done, when she has enough time to relax, she's still a mom who likes to wear cardigans and make cookies for everyone.  In this case, it's acorn and beet cookies (the acorns gathered outside Alexandria's walls; and she brought her machete so she could decapitate zombies when necessary) because of the food shortages.  But still.  She likes to take care of people without having to shoot.

Rick et als return in the RV with enough food to last them a month.  Rick tells Sasha to spread the word: everyone meet in the church in an hour to talk.  Carol wants to know what's going on.  He tells her, "We're going to have to fight."  Before the meeting, Morgan finds Carol, asking her why she - and Rosita, Eugene and Tara - didn't tell anyone about what happened with that Wolf he wouldn't kill.  He tells her that she doesn't have to carry that alone but she brushes him off, saying that they just need to forget it and move on.  This conversation?  Takes place in the small Alexandria graveyard.  Carol leaves the last cookie on Sam's grave.  (Because she has guilty feelings about her treatment of Sam, obvs.)

At the meeting in the church, Rick lays it out for everyone: the deal they made with Hilltop to take out Negan's Saviors.  He says that sooner or later, the Saviors will find Alexandria and, low on food, the Alexandrians might not prevail.  But if they go after the Saviors first, they'll have the upper hand.  He says that it needs to be a group decision and asks for dissenting opinions.  Morgan stands up and says they should approach the other group first, give them an opportunity to coexist peaceably.  Rick disagrees, saying that will give away their advantage.  He asks if anyone else agrees with Morgan.  No one does.  "It looks like it's settled ... We don't shy from this, we live.  We kill them all." Rick adds that not everyone in Alexandria will be expected to kill, but everyone will have to accept it.  Morgan sits down, sad-faced.

That night, Carol can't sleep.  She gets a notebook out of the bedside table: in it, she's been keeping track of the people she has killed.  Her death count is up to 18 now.  Later, she goes walking and finds Tobin (one of the Alexandrian guys) up too, sitting on his porch.  They talk about tomorrow.  He likes her.  He tells her that she is able to do things that just terrify him but the reason she is able to do them is because she's a mom, then and now.  Then, for the hell of it, she leans in and he kisses her.  Nice! Carol getting some before heading off to battle!  (Seems a little out of character but Melissa McBride sells it with a "oh, what the hell" look on her face.)

In other parts of town:  Maggie tells Glen that she's going on the raid because it was she who brokered the deal (which is BULLSHIT because she is pregnant and should be thinking about that); Abraham leaves Rosita by telling her that when they met, he thought she was the last woman on earth, but now he knows she's not (which is a BULLSHIT way to break up with her and mean and terribly bad timing); Tara is nervous about going and tells Denise that she loves her but Denise won't say it back, instead saying that she'll say it when Tara gets back from the two-week supply run she's going on with Heath directly after the raid (which is kind of bullshit and I don't understand why Denise does this) (also, is the actress who plays Tara pregnant? because she looks like she's gained weight and they're dressing her in sweatshirts and placing her behind dish racks).   Also, Eddie, the non-Jesus Hilltop guy, draws maps of the Saviors' compound, telling Rick, Daryl, Glen, Michonne and Maggie as much as he can about the compound.  His information is pretty vague - he only went there to deliver food - but our gang seems confident they can figure it out.  And the way they're going to get in without busting down the front door?  Rick: "They're going to let us in.  They want Gregory's head and we're gonna give it to them."

The next day, the raiding party drives out a ways and parks on the road, honking their horns.  They all pile out of the cars and start combing the woods for zombies: they're looking for ones who look kind of like Gregory, of course, because they need a head.  Rosita, still smarting from Abraham's abandonment, bitches to Carol about Morgan being such a pussy.  Carol is feeling understanding - he doesn't want to kill - and when she can't get a rise out of the older woman, Rosita gives up, pouting a bit.  Glen and Heath search together and Heath asks Glen if he's nervous, especially since they'll be killing people instead of zombies.  Glen's like, yeah, it's going to be basically the worst thing ever and yeah, he's nervous.  When everyone regroups, Rick goes over the plan (Carol is mad that Maggie is even out there with them and says that she's going to stay out on the perimeter with her; Rick wishes she would come inside but doesn't press the issue) and examines the potential heads.  One of them is close but the nose is not quite right, according to the Hilltoppers.  Rick picks up the head and punches it in the nose a few times.  Eddie stares at Rick, who's all, what?  Eddie:  "The Saviors, they're scary, but those pricks got nothin' on you."  Rick: *...*

At midnight, our gang makes their move.  Eddie drives up with the purported Gregory-head and after a couple of tense moments, the two Saviors on guard buy it, bringing out the Hilltopper they've had captive.  As soon as that captive is handed over, the two guards are promptly killed by Michonne and Daryl.  Their bodies are dragged into the tall weeds and then the show totally morphs into an action flick.  Our gang infiltrates the compound, silently, opening doors, looking for the armory.  It gets VERY tense, especially when first Rick, then Glen find sleeping Saviors and run their knives into the sleeping men's heads.  It doesn't matter that these Saviors are obviously horrible people - one has Polaroids of bodies with bashed-in heads tacked to the wall over his bed - our people are murdering other humans while they sleep.  It's grim and feels like there's a line being crossed.  Glen struggles with it but does it (including killing one that Heath is supposed to do, so Heath doesn't have to); Rick pauses for a moment before his first but seems to deal with it more easily than Glen.

You know it can't go entirely smoothly, however, and as Sasha and Abraham are trying to open a locked door, a Savior finds them.  They try to kill him quietly but he is able to pull an alarm and soon the whole compound is awake.  Lots and lots of gunfire.  Lots and lots.  When the alarm sounds, Tara, Gabriel, Jesus and Eddie (plus the rescued captive) hear it.  Tara sends Eddie and the captive back to Hilltop, thinking that if he is returned, then Hilltop will have to keep their end of the bargain with Alexandria, not matter what the outcome here at the compound.  She, Gabriel and Jesus pick off Saviors coming out the front door, then Jesus slips inside.  Out on the perimeter, Maggie and Carol also hear the alarm.  Maggie wants to go help but Carol is like, goddamn it, Maggie, you're going to be a mother and you are staying here!

Inside the compound, it is a madhouse.  SO MUCH SHOOTING.  Amazingly, none of our gang gets hurt badly, much less killed.  As the sun comes up, they make their way outside, dully congratulating themselves on the victory.  Tara and Heath - who can't meet Glen's eyes - take off on their supply run.  Michonne goes up to Rick and says that she wonders which one was Negan.  [And of course, the audience is all HE WASN'T THERE YOU DIDN'T GET HIM YOU HAVE NO IDEA THE SHITSTORM THAT'S ABOUT TO RAIN DOWN ON YOU POOR FOOLS.]

They hear an engine and look up to see a Savior making a run for it on a motorcycle - Daryl's motorcycle.  They shoot him down - Daryl punching his face for a bit for good measure.  He sneers at them but before they can shoot him, a woman's voice comes over the walkie-talkie he was carrying: "Lower your gun, prick.  You with the Colt Python.  All of you lower your weapons.  We've got a Carol and a Maggie - we're thinking that's something you want to chat about."  Everyone gives each other OH SHIT looks.

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

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Catching up a bit

I finally made it back to the library after some months away and stocked up on some books, trying to catch up on my Neil Gaiman/Stephen King backlog.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King.  Sort of a sequel to Mr. Mercedes since it includes some of the same characters, Finders Keepers is equal parts literary musings and thriller, with nary a whiff of the supernatural.  A superfan murders a reclusive author, getting away with not only cash but scores of notebooks in the author's own handwriting.  He hides the cash and the notebooks, only to get put away for a totally different crime.  The stash goes unfound for almost forty years until a young boy finds it, uses the cash to help his failing family and covets the notebooks for his own.  But when the superfan is finally released from prison, he wants back what he thinks is his.  I give Finders Keepers a solid meh.  I think I liked Mr. Mercedes better; FK seems to go along at a leisurely pace for most of the novel and then hurryupfinishitallatonceinarush.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman.  A short story collection but not, I think, Gaiman's strongest.  I liked some of the stories - "Black Dog," "The Sleeper and the Spindle," the creepy "Feminine Endings," "Orange" - but I think my favorite bit was the introduction, when Gaiman gave some context/framework as to how each story came about.  I love these little practical insights into writers' brains.  Stephen King does this too with his short story collections.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King.  A short story collection, made up of stories that have either been published in other places or never been published.  With some of these tales, you can understand why they've been languishing in a drawer for decades.  Others succeed better and I think the quality of the stories improve the deeper into the book you go.  I particularly liked "Blockade Billy," "Obits" and "Under the Weather."

Edited to add:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.  This one I enjoyed quite a lot, a short fantasy novel with new kinds of creatures and very old magic.  Things start to get very scary for a young boy when a man steals his family's car and commits suicide in it, at the bottom of the hill near their house.  Cracks in the very fabric of reality start to open up, issuing in terrifying things.  But young Lettie Hempstock, who lives with her mother and grandmother at the farm at the end of the lane, finds the little boy and promises to take care of him, through whatever may come.  Both sweet and scary, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a lovely treat for fantasy and faerie tale lovers.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Walking Dead S6E11 "Knots Untie" 2/28/16

Abraham and Sasha come back from a patrol, shooting the shit companionably.  He's into her.  But when he says he'll see her for the next patrol, Sasha tells him that she's changed her shift and Eugene, who wants to take a more active role, will be patrolling with him instead.  Abraham is slightly taken aback.  I'm guessing this is because he hasn't broken up with Rosita yet.  Which we are reminded of in the very next scene, as they are chitchatting post-coitus.  Abraham, you can't have your cake and eat it too.  Figure it out.

When everyone else in Rick's house gets up, finally, it's time to talk with Jesus.  He's tricky - easily getting out of the ropes and slipping out of the house - and has done his homework, reconnoitering Alexandria and noting that while they've got a good weapons stash, they are running dangerously low on food.  He says that he comes from a place kind of like this one and they have more food - maybe his community and Alexandria can do some trading.  Maggie asks if he is already trading with other groups and Jesus smiles, saying that their world is about to get a whole lot bigger.  Which can't be that surprising, really - surely other settlements have cropped up.

As the gang gears up to head out, Denise gives Darryl an oatcake to take with him for sustenance.  He's all, are you doing this because I tried to bring you that soda?  She says yes, plus it will be healthier than scavenging something out there that could give him rabies.  He takes it, grudgingly, saying that he hopes it tastes better than it looks because "it looks like shit."  Denise, with an arched eyebrow:  Shit's still better than roadkill ... just, just eat it.  Cute scene.  Denise is quickly growing to be a decent character.

The group taking Jesus back to his settlement is: Rick, Michonne, Glen, Maggie, Abraham and Darryl which, frankly, seems like they've taken an awful lot of the best fighters - hopefully Alexandria will fare well enough in their absence.  As they drive, Abraham, obviously working through some stuff, asks Glen:  "So, when you were pourin' the Bisquick, were you tryin' to make pancakes?"  It takes Glen a minute to figure out WTF Abraham is trying to ask - "Uh ... yes?" But he figures it out and says that he and Maggie - all of them - are trying to build something here, regardless of how tenuous the situation.  Speaking of building something, Rick and Michonne hold hands a little as Rick drives.  Ick.  Just - I don't mind if they're hooking up, or even if they're looking to turn into something real, but I do NOT need giggly, googly-eyed Rick and Michonne.

They stop in a tiny town when they see a recent car wreck.  Jesus says it's one of his but the people are nowhere to be found.  Everyone is suspicious - "This ain't more firecrackers in a barrel," growls Darryl - but they find a trail of blood leading away from the wreckage.  Our gang heads off, looking for survivors, and leaving Jesus outside with Maggie holding a gun on him.  Inside a building, they quickly dispatch whatever walkers are staggering around and rescue the four survivors.  Abraham actually nearly kills one of them, thinking he's a zombie, but he pulls back just in time.  One of the people is hurt from the crash and one of them is a doctor.  They all load back into the RV and continue on.  Maggie and Glen talk with the doctor a little and find out that he used to be an obstetrician.  The doctor grins when he learns Maggie is pregnant, saying that he owes them one for the rescue so they definitely hit the jackpot with him.

They arrive at Jesus's settlement, actually getting stuck in some mud and hoofing the last little distance.  The Hilltop is well-fenced in.  After some tense moments when the Hilltop guards wave their spears around (Hilltop is out of ammo) and our gang waves their guns around, Jesus brokers some peace and they get inside.  The Hilltop used to be a living museum, like Sturbridge Village, with farm animals, crops, a smithy, hand-pumped water, etc., so when civilization collapsed in the face of the zombie apocalypse, it was well set-up to survive.  Hilltop's leader, Gregory, comes out, immediately announcing that he's "the boss."  I immediately take a disliking to him.  He is ensconced in the main house - clean, beautiful and full of antiques - and insists that our gang get cleaned up before discussing anything with him.  As Jesus leads them off to their baths, Rick tells Maggie that it is up to her to negotiate with Gregory, with her new diplomacy skills learned from her time with Deanna.  Rick is particularly ill-suited to deal with this guy since he'd just shoot him rather than deal with his bullshit.

Maggie's first interaction with Gregory does not go all that well.  He is absolutely a tool.  But he's sharp too, deducing that they don't have much to trade with.  He says that they can work for food and pretty much says that Maggie could work on her back under him to really make it worth their while.  She shows amazing restraint in not shooting him in the head, I think.  He dismisses her, though, saying that her group doesn't have anything he needs.  "We're doing fine," he sneers.

Shortly thereafter, a small group returns to Hilltop.  They had been sent to trade with Negan and his Saviors (that thuggish group that Darryl, Sasha and Abraham blew up with the rocket launcher was part of the Saviors).  Negan has been extorting the Hilltop, demanding half their food in exchange for not killing them.  On this last drop, Negan decided that the Hilltop share was light.  He killed one or two Hilltoppers, kept one prisoner and sent the other three back home with a message for Gregory.  That message?  A knife in the gut.  Rick et als. spring into action, ending up breaking one Hilltopper's hand and cutting the throat of the one who stabbed Gregory.  The immediate threat diminished, Jesus springs up, calming everyone down.  He should be Hilltop's leader, not Gregory.  [Note: that wig he is wearing is very, very terrible.]

Jesus and our gang chat a little later, as Jesus explains the Negan situation.  Darryl's all, we'll take care of them for you for "food, medicine and one of them cows."  Jesus hadn't considered this but then our group points out that they've dealt with people like this before.  And now they're dead.  [But at what cost?  This is Michonne's concern.]  As it turns out, Gregory survives, although he is in a fair amount of pain.  Pressing the advantage, Maggie goes back to renegotiate.  This is the deal she gets: they wipe out Negan and the Saviors in exchange of half of everything they have, right now.  Plus she gets an ultrasound of her baby.

After loading up the RV, our gang - plus Jesus and the guy with the broken-hand who knows about the Saviors' compound - drives back to Alexandria to deliver the supplies and make their plan of attack.  Maggie and Glen smile at their ultrasound photo; Michonne looks at it with a wistful smile, then passes it to Darryl, who then passes it to Abraham.  Abraham gives Glen a genuine grin as he hands the photo back - looks like he has maybe changed his mind about building something in this new world.

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