Two Approaches to Filming the Un-Filmable

Warning: spoilers for The Sound and the Fury

It is a rarity for a movie adaptation to be more acclaimed or cherished than the novel from which it was made, but that hasn’t stopped people from making and enjoying (or hating) these movies. Part of the trouble is that, since film is a different medium than a novel, a certain level of translation is required, which opens up the door to multiple modes of interpretation of a work. When a friend of mine bought me an English translation of Les Miserables, she researched various versions and decided to buy the one that was less faithful to the direct translation of the original French and more invested in conveying the poetic and metaphoric intent of Victor Hugo, as perceived by the interpreter. Similarly, with the two movie adaptations of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, we receive a movie intent on distilling and displaying the plot points and the message that the director believed should be learned from it (Martin Ritt’s adaptation) and an experimental, film student style piece that above all else tries to replicate the emotion that is felt while reading the novel (James Franco’s adaptation). It is impossible to translate The Sound and the Fury perfectly into movie format, but both attempts that have been made have captured parts of what make the book so compelling.

Martin Ritt’s 1959 adaptation of the novel is, aesthetically and structurally, very much a 50s movie. It abandoned Faulkner’s shifting narrative style and instead employed the more traditional chronological strategy, relying on the consolidation of character’s roles and synoptic or quote-worthy monologues to establish the same themes. In fact, the only actual narration that is included in the movie is a short voice-over near the beginning of the film and at the end; When we first see miss Quentin, she tells the audience all that they need to know about her current standing in the world. We know that she is dealing with some type of conflict because she says “it oughta be wonderful to be alive on a day like this. It oughta be.” Without providing time for speculation, she explains that she’s never felt loved in her own house, and that her step-uncle Jason has been her enemy “as long as I can remember”. This is bookended by narration at the very end where she muses over her evolving relationship with her step-uncle and smiles. This limited usage implies that narration for this film is simply to introduce the main characters (miss Quentin and Jason in this version) and to serve as a marker for the progression of the film: At the beginning, miss Quentin and Jason were mortal enemies, but by the end, Quentin realizes that she has learned a valuable lesson from him (not to trust random carnival men, apparently, because all they’re after is your money) and, perhaps, he’s learning from her as well. It’s a nice sentiment in that two people who originally hated each other are discovering that they aren’t so evil after all, but this destroys the tension that the book builds and refuses to resolve. Faulkner’s writing style becomes the most erratic and stream-of-consciousness when the narrator is at his most vulnerable and emotionally tumultuous, so Ritt’s decision to change the narrative style breaks down this chaos and turns the story instead into a digestible narrative that places all of its emotional punch into specific scenes instead of one fluid journey.

When Ritt’s film hits these moments, it hits them hard. Unlike many of the other scenes, the moment where Caddy almost gets her wish of seeing her daughter only to have Jason take it away remains true to the book. Jason has Quentin in his car and pulls over to where Caddy stands at the side of the road, only to speed up again and leave his (step)-sister behind. The movie adds a moment where Quentin frantically asks Jason who the lady was, and when he doesn’t answer she exclaims, “my God! Jason, that’s my mother!”. Despite pleading with him, Jason continues driving, and Quentin doesn’t get to meet her mother that night. The movie relies on the buffering of these heavy moments with more mundane and plot-filled scenes so that the moments are more impactful; watching Jason drive away with Quentin while Caddy watches helplessly evokes a stronger emotional response than reading it in the novel because the narrative style in the novel is constantly creating tension and manipulating the reader’s emotions in a way that leaves them exhausted by the end, whereas the movie gives the viewer time to relax between moments so that they can experience their full range of emotions each time there is a scene like this. Both techniques work, but they create two different stories. The movie has to cut the tension it has built somehow, and so the next scene shows Jason and Caddy coming to an agreement where Caddy can return to the house for a short period of time and see her daughter. The book, on the other hand, does not allow Caddy to return to see Quentin, and so this narrative thread like so many others is left hanging. Nowhere in Faulkner’s story does he promise an ending or an answer. Each section builds tension and refuses to resolve it. It takes a risk by pulling the reader to the edge of their tolerance and their subconscious; the movie plays it safe and lets the viewer down easy.

The part of the book that is the most emotionally-driven and unforgiving in its relentlessness isn’t even in the movie. When miss Quentin is first speaking with the carnival man, who in this version is named Charlie, she briefly mentions the man she was named after, explains that he “killed himself for love”, and then never speaks of him again. None of the other characters even reference the elder Quentin. Instead of getting his own space to explore what it means to grow up and to let go, Quentin gets shoehorned in as a quick tragic backstory for miss Quentin and as a part of the motif of making poor decisions for love. In the context of the movie, where miss Quentin is giving this information to Charlie, it seems as if Quentin’s death had something to do with romantic love, instead of the familial love in the book and his inability to disengage himself from the past, a much more complex and interesting motivation. In keeping with traditional storytelling, the film seems to want to keep the focus on one protagonist (miss Quentin) and one antagonist (Jason, though his role changes throughout the film), and so the 1910 Quentin section of the book had to be cut for the movie. This section of the book is my favorite because of Faulkner’s ability to enter his character’s subconscious so completely that reading this passage is like injecting Quentin’s raw emotion straight into my own subconscious. Even though it can be difficult to follow at times, and even though this section doesn’t give the reader as much information as Benjy’s section or as much plot development as Jason’s, Quentin’s story conveys the heart of the novel and the meaning towards which Faulkner is striving.

Since Ritt’s movie cuts all of this out, he has to make his characters tell us what this meaning is instead of showing us. This is most evident through Caddy’s relationship with Jason and with miss Quentin. In the novel, Caddy is a lingering presence because she is missing from the main character’s lives, and because their relationships with her are cut short. In the movie, Caddy’s presence is felt because she is physically there, and is able to directly affect the plot. One of Ritt’s uses for the character of Caddy is to advance miss Quentin’s growth. Through their initial conversation, Quentin transitions from anxious girl meeting her mother for the first time to loving daughter happy to finally have her mother in her life to a girl disappointed in the flawed woman whom she had placed on a pedestal. This all takes place during one scene, and is conveyed through their dialogue. After Caddy refuses to save Quentin from Jason, whom she considers “the devil”, Quentin tells her, “all these years I never hated you. I just held on and held on, waiting for the day when you were gonna come back and you were gonna make it all up to me”. Quentin wishes that, above all else, her mother would stand up for her and fix her situation with Jason. Caddy tries to be motherly and explains that she has already make her choices (albeit poor ones) and it is too late for her—“my chances are all used up, there ain’t gonna be any more”—, but Quentin can still make the right choices in her life.

This sentiment is echoed in the closing remarks of the movie, where Jason recognizes for the first time that miss Quentin is now a woman, and tells her “you’re the first Compson in fifty years who has gotten up off her knees, and now you can stand up to anybody. Even me”. Quentin acknowledges that Jason was the one who raised her, and while she still harbors some feelings of rivalry towards him, it’s in a playful and mischievous way, as displayed by her smirk as he turns away from her at the end of the film. Essentially, the movie claims that because Quentin was able to escape getting stuck with the money-grubbing Charlie (thanks to Jason uncovering this truth about the man), she has become the woman that her mother was never able to, and this somewhat reconciles the relationship between Quentin and her step-uncle Jason. If a person ignores the canon of the novel, this is a quaint and hopeful ending to a somewhat melodramatic movie about one woman’s mistakes and her daughter’s subsequent struggle in life. Not only does this ignore main points of the book, but it also negates much of what is learned about the Compson family and what they strive towards. Instead of an ending that neatly wraps up the story and leaves the protagonist in a better place to continue her path through life, the novel ends on the image of Benjy with a broken flower becoming calm again because everything returns to the way it was, with “window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place” (Faulkner 321). Jason doesn’t save Quentin from making the same mistakes her mother did; he fails to keep her trapped in the family, and while she runs off to begin a new adventure the rest of the Compsons return to their broken way of life, an existence that traps them in its refusal to adapt to the changing times.

This sentiment is much better portrayed in Franco’s adaptation of the book. Like the rest of the movie, the ending stays faithful to the book with only minor changes, the last shot being that of the broken flower in Benjy’s hand. Many of the scenes that were cut or changed in the Ritt version are present in Franco’s. While Quentin’s entire existence is condensed into one piece of throw-away dialogue in the older film, Franco includes the majority of Quentin’s section from the novel. This means that the elder Jason is also present in this movie, while he is barely mentioned in Ritt’s. While the addition of these two characters would be superfluous in Ritt’s rather straight-forward narrative of a girl growing into a woman in spite of Jason’s protestations, the emotional drive of Quentin’s narrative is integral to any adaptation seeking to stay true to the novel.

Franco’s film is sectioned into three sections, labeled “Benjy”, “Quentin”, and “Jason”, after the three characters from whom we get narratives in the novel. Benjy’s section ends with him remembering when he shared a bed with Caddy and staring at the space where she used to be, his “she smelled like the trees” line whispered in the background. There is soft music that is carried over as a title card appears, announcing the start of Quentin’s storyline, and then the camera pans up to find Quentin lying in his bed staring into the middle distance. Immediately this association makes the viewer aware that Quentin also has strong feelings about his sister. This, in turn, is followed by a flash of Quentin committing suicide via jumping off of a bridge, and then the ticking of a clock, then back to Quentin lying in the bed. No words have been spoken, yet the viewer feels the effect that time has on Quentin. This is important to establish because, like in the novel, the first section of the movie treats time like a fixed line on which one can move back and forth, switching between past and present with little to no warning. In fact, there is no sense of a future, no sense of where this is going, only a sense of where the characters have been and where the characters are no longer. Caddy was there, now she isn’t, but Benjy still remembers her and plays through his memories of her all the way back to when they were children, with little distinction between what is a memory and what is occurring in the present. So, when we reach Quentin’s section and see this opening sequence, with him lying in bed, the jump off the bridge that ends his narrative, the ticking of the clock, and then back to him lying in bed, we get a sense of the inevitable, of a future that is painful and final and which draws nearer with every ticking of the clock, with no hope of evading it. On the one hand, Quentin is contemplating his own death and how he feels that it is the only logical progression for him. On the other, he is thinking about Caddy and how he was unable to prevent her from growing up and losing her innocence. Those unfamiliar with the book don’t know this explicitly yet, but the juxtaposition of Benjy’s memories with this seemingly unrelated shot of Quentin conveys this Caddy connection, which is reinforced when we see flashbacks of Quentin agonizing over Caddy’s relationship with Dalton Ames and her subsequent marriage to Herbert. Ironically, the watch from which we hear the ticking is given to Quentin by his father, who tells him “I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then and not waste all your breath trying to conquer it.” This quote, like many others in the movie, is taken almost verbatim from the book, and we see a pained and tired expression on Quentin’s face as we hear his father tell him that “victory is just an illusion of philosophers and fools. Christ was not crucified. He was worn down by the minute ticking of little wheels.” Despite his father’s warning, we see that this is exactly what Quentin has fallen prey to. Franco ends this section masterfully with more direct quotes from the book, the elder Jason telling Quentin that “It’s not even time until ‘is’ is ‘was’”, Quentin repeating “Caddy Caddy Caddy” to himself (a sign of his inability to let go), and finally Quentin stepping onto the ledge of the bridge. We don’t see him jump, but we know from the beginning of the section that it doesn’t matter that we don’t see it here, as his suicide is as inevitable as everything else that we see from Quentin’s point of view.

When comparing and contrasting both film adaptations, it is most useful to consider the third and final section of Franco’s movie as this is the story and these are the characters that make up the vast majority of Ritt’s narrative. Especially telling are the scenes that are almost identical in terms of dialogue or plot point but vastly different in tone. In both movies, Jason (the younger), miss Quentin, and Mrs. Compson sit down to eat together. Jason asks Quentin if she would like more food. In the Ritt version, he asks her in an overbearing but fatherly tone, and when she declines he also asks his mother if she would like some more rice. He is antagonistic, but not cruel. In Franco’s version and in the novel, Jason insists on giving her more food even though she tells him she doesn’t want any, and by his tone and mannerisms in the movie it is clear that Jason is feigning a sense of caring as a prelude to his later passive-aggressive jab at Quentin for her earlier antics and to rile her up so that she explodes at the table in front of the others present. All versions of the scene have Quentin leave after exclaiming a version of “I wish I was dead” (Faulkner 260). In the Ritt movie, Jason acts as that same strict but caring father figure, lecturing her by saying “don’t ever let me hear you say that again”. In stark contrast, the novel and the Franco movie show a satisfied Jason telling his mother “that’s the first sensible thing she’s ever said” (Faulkner 260). Where Ritt’s narrative requires an antagonistic force that is still likeable and capable of reconciliation with the protagonist, the novel uses Jason as just one part of its development of the theme of the disintegrating family stuck in its old ways, a theme that Franco’s movie is faithful to.

Neither of these movies were received particularly well, especially James Franco’s version. The first attempt at translating The Sound and the Fury to film was recognized as a less-than-stellar adaptation, missing parts of the book and instead containing a “formless, spongy script” that “lacks texture” (Crowther); even the director himself acknowledged that it failed to convey everything that was in the novel, saying of this and another attempt at a Faulkner film, “I shouldn’t do Faulkner again. There’s something in the language that’s too rich” (Ritt 116). Where this movie does somewhat succeed is in a classic 1950s movie, as it has the moving monologues, the dramatic staring off into the middle distance, and the exploration of the relationship between a girl coming of age and her parental figures. Part of the reason Franco’s film was received even more negatively is because it doesn’t sacrifice integrity of its translation for the modern formula for “good” movies. Reviews of the movie fault it for not being “inventive” enough or being too much of an “amateur-hour” “film-student” type project (Barker, Kiang). This assumes, of course, that a movie has to be a certain type of “inventive” or “professional” to be good. Unlike Ritt’s film, Franco’s version portrays the emotions that are felt while reading the book and manages to convey the same motif of the relentlessness of time and how it affects each character differently, as well as the inescapable nature of the Compson’s decline. In an interview, Franco says that in The Sound and the Fury, “the story’s not much, but the way it’s told is the thing”, and so he tries to “not only adapt the story but adapt the style” (Lincoln). In this, he succeeds, and in so doing makes an enjoyable and moving film that captures the essence of what Faulkner’s novel is about and what it is striving towards. As an adaptation, Franco’s film cannot be faulted for not reaching some satisfactory climax or message because that is what happens with the novel as well. That is what makes the novel so fascinating; Faulkner makes a novel in four parts that seemingly signifies nothing, at least concretely, and yet its presentation and its manipulation of themes like the treatment of time and the haunting presence of the absent Caddy manages to tug on the reader’s emotions and leave them with questions to contemplate, a state of unrest that causes the reader to want to make an attempt at translating these thoughts to film, and putting us in this position in the first place.

Works Cited

Barker, Andrew. “‘The Sound and the Fury’ Review: Franco Wrestles Faulkner Again.” Chicagotribune.com. N.p., 22 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Crowther, Bosley. “Screen: Down South; Sound and the Fury’ Opens at Paramount.” The New York Times 28 Mar. 1959: n. pag. Print.

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.

Kiang, Jessica. “Review: James Franco’s Self-Indulgent ‘The Sound And The Fury’.” IndieWire. Penske Business Media, 22 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.

Lincoln, Kevin. “Adapting The Sound and the Fury As a Film Is an Insane Undertaking, So of Course James Franco Did It.” Vulture. New York Media LLC, 29 Oct. 2015. Web.

Ritt, Martin, and Gabriel Miller. Martin Ritt: Interviews. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2003. Print.

The Sound and the Fury. Dir. James Franco. New Films International, 2014.

The Sound and the Fury. Dir. Martin Ritt. 20th Century Fox, 1959.

 

 

Arrowverse Review ~ “You Don’t Know the Kind of Man I Am”

Warning: spoilers for Supergirl episode 2×17, The Flash episode 3×18, Legends of Tomorrow episodes 2×16 and 2×17, and Arrow episode 5×18.

With the seasons of all four Arrowverse shows coming to a close (with Legends‘ finale a couple of weeks ago), the tension between characters is high and the stakes for our heroes even higher. And each show is knee deep in my favorite kind of conflict: internal struggle, the “man versus self” battle that can sometimes be the best catalyst for character development. This last batch of episodes from the CW DCTV provided so many examples of personal struggles and identity crises that it’s crazy simple to draw parallels between them.

Descent into Darkness

By far my favorite superhero trope (even more than unmasking scenes, which I adore) is the exploration of that fine line between being a superhero and being a vigilante or, worse, a dangerous criminal. Netflix’s Daredevil explored this with Punisher’s highly quotable “you’re one bad day away from being me” scene, and I think Batman v. Superman was attempting to address the problems that arise when a God-like being takes justice into his own hands. How they thought that making Batman a reckless killer would underscore his moral beef with Superman’s apparent God complex is beyond me. But that is not the point. The point is that this good-guy-gone-bad/hero-fights-hero story is intriguing to audiences and can be done very successfully, as seen in the Injustice video game (or in any alternate reality in which Superman becomes a tyrant) and in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (in which Superman somewhat reluctantly fights Batman at the orders of the government).

Our DCTV heroes currently having crises of their own include Oliver Queen, Felicity Smoak, and Mick Rory (yes, I know that the Legends don’t consider themselves heroes, but they are all heroes in my heart and nothing they say will make me change my mind gosh dang it). Though Mick started out as a villain on The Flash and seemed to cling to his pillaging roots even when Leonard Snart began to grow “soft”, the untimely death of his best friend and the growing support of his shipmates (at least for the first part of season 2) pushes him towards a more mindful way of participating on the team and fixing time aberrations. Unfortunately, the camaraderie that we saw between Mick and Ray in previous episodes and the respect that Sara granted Mick was either forgotten by the writers or purposefully dropped in the latter half of this season, with jokes at Mick’s expense in their place. Their disrespect of a fellow Legend grew so obnoxious that when the team assembled the Spear of Destiny, I practically screamed at my television for Mick to grab it, yell “peace out!” and hop off of the Waverider and back to a life with his best bud Snart. At least Snart appreciated him as an equal and as a friend, right? Right?

Meanwhile, Felicity Smoak is returning to her own less-than-heroic roots. Unlike Mick, she got into illegal activities in an attempt to change the world as a “hacktivist”. The difference between then and now is that Felicity realizes the shadiness of Helix and the consequences of the jobs they’ve given her and yet still decides to work for them quid pro quo. It’s that exchange of services that makes Felicity believe that what she is doing is justified; it’s what Oliver did with the Bratva, after all. Unfortunately, while Oliver was lectured at by Diggle and never felt comfortable working with the Bratva in Star City in the first place, Felicity feels at home at Helix, even moreso than in the “Arrow Cave”. She’s ceased to see Helix as a necessary evil and started seeing it as the one place where she truly belongs. From the preview for next episode, it seems this clash of morals is going to be addressed head on, with Felicity defending her choices to Oliver. With Curtis (and occasionally Wild Dog and others) as comedic relief in the show, Felicity’s turn to the dark side is a welcome character development. It gives her character something to do other than making quips or gazing longingly at Oliver on the salmon ladder. Plus, I was a huge fan of emo Felicity (that black hair and eyeliner though!) so I’m just patiently waiting for her to get the hair dye out. Probably won’t happen, though. What will definitely happen is yet another change in Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. I’ve always believed that the show runs the most smoothly when Felicity and Oliver aren’t arguing, but since this is about Felicity’s hacking and not the on-again-off-again romantic relationship that has been Olicity these past few seasons, I’m excited to see where the writers take this.

The other half of that relationship has had perhaps the most screen time devoted to his own dealings with darkness. Oliver has always struggled with the monster that he “controls” via the hood (there are multiple YouTube videos chronicling every time Oliver says something like “this is all my fault” or “everyone around me gets hurt”), but this was the sole message of the Arrow episode “Kapiushon”. I loved the internal turmoil experienced by Ollie in this episode so much that I wrote a separate review on that episode. His broken spirit was somewhat mended in the following episode, but we’re still going to be seeing the fallout of his revelation — that he killed in season 1 because he enjoyed it, not simply to honor his father’s wishes — for the rest of the season, if not into season 6.

At this moment in each show, Mick Rory is back on the Waverider as a Legend, Felicity Smoak hasn’t yet gone past the point of no return in Helix, and Oliver Queen will always be the Green Arrow, no matter what he tells anyone. Caitlin Snow is probably not going to be so lucky, having gone full-on Killer Frost after dying at the very end of the last Flash episode. Honestly, I almost forgot about the post-credit scene (or whatever you call that thing) and was about to shut off my television. But no, we get one more scene with Caitlin and Cisco being all buddy-buddy like old times! I was almost disappointed that we weren’t getting a small glimpse into next episode (maybe a short scene with future Barry or something), but I was content to enjoy the two nerds enjoying some jello together, even if Cisco did eat the last of the good stuff. And then Caitlin went into shock (blood clot, probably?) and died almost immediately. I screamed at Cisco to take off the necklace, though he was respectful enough of Caitlin to refuse to let her turn into something worse than death (at this point, Caitlin fulfills all of Savitar’s prophecy by herself: betrayal, death, and a fate worse than death). So, of course, it’s up to Julian to save her life and turn her into Killer Frost in the process. Does this mean that Caitlin Snow is dead? Did any part of her besides Killer Frost come back to life when her powers healed her body? We probably won’t find out for sure until next season, where she’s sure to be a major villain for at least the first half of the season.

Ascent into Goodness

There’s probably something to be said about how I have chosen “goodness” as the antithesis to “darkness”, rather than “light”. I suppose “Ascent into Light” sounds like the following characters have died and are going to Heaven, or maybe they’re in The Poltergeist and they’re not listening to their mother screaming “DON’T GO INTO THE LIGHT”.

I don’t find these kind of character arcs as interesting, mostly because I am a glutton for emotional punishment. Still, they are the natural succession to a “descent into darkness” arc for a character meant to be the hero or protagonist, and can be satisfying to watch when it isn’t rushed.

Despite his relationship with Kara (a gripe for another post, perhaps), Mon-El‘s gradual change over the season from stuck-up slave-owning arrogant brat to free-thinking sincerely apologetic man has been fairly well-written by the Supergirl staff. This was most exemplified by “Star-Crossed” and the following “Distant Sun”, in which Mon-El confronts his parents and firmly aligns himself with Kara and her ideals. It’s obviously painful for Mon-El to defy the family that he loves and to recognize their deep flaws, but he’s able to do it and even begins to win over his father to his side. Unfortunately, we don’t get a happy resolution to that arc, as Mon-El’s mother straight-up murders his father because he’s gone soft. Yikes.

Two of our heroes from the previous list, Mick and Oliver, have an upturn in their character arcs in the most recent episode of their respective shows. Oliver is forcibly shaken out of his toxic, negative path of thinking by Diggle knocking some sense into him (though it is Oliver who actually punches Diggle in the episode). Luckily for the Green Arrow, his teammates and friends never really lost faith in him (though they were a bit shaken), so he has them as support for however many episodes it takes him to get back to the mindset he needs to be in to don the hood again. It’s this kind support that Mick Rory secretly craves, and that he doesn’t get when he reunites with his previously dead partner. Mick realizes pretty quickly that the version of Leonard Snart that he’s running around robbing banks with is not the one who saw Mick as an equal and cared for his crew mates but rather the cold-hearted (pun intended) man who had to spend years as a villain before realizing his potential as a hero. At the end of the season, Mick drops Snart off right where he was picked up by the Legion and reveals to Snart, and to the audience, that he prefers the “soft” version of himself, contrary to what his fellow Legends believe(d) of him. Despite his “friends” joking about and underestimating Mick’s skills and intelligence, Mick is able to avoid returning to the “mindless” destructive villain he was in The Flash. And, of course, we get the start of Snart‘s path to heroism in this episode as well, even if he doesn’t realize it yet.

. . . . .

Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow all return next week, starting on April 24th. In the meantime, I’ve been satiating my need for identity-driven stories through the return of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.

Things I’m looking forward to in the DCTV shows next week:

  • Lena Luthor backstory (every scene with her is amazing let’s be honest)
  • Supergirl “secret” identity revealed to Lena? Or someone else?
  • Rahul Kohli playing a villain on Supergirl (he’s amazing in iZombie)
  • Basically the entirety of the Flash episode, especially FINDING OUT WHO SAVITAR IS (maybe). Hoping it’s Barry (told ya I’m a sucker for self-versus-self conflict), but it’s most likely someone else.
  • Felicity finally seeing the consequences of her most recent illegal endeavors
  • Having these three shows airing the same week as Agents of SHIELD so I can do a proper post comparing and contrasting the DC and Marvel shows

Arrow 5×17 Kapiushon ~ Review

Warning: spoilers for Arrow up through episode 5×17

Despite the myriad of cliche lines in the preview for Arrow’s “Kapiushon” (a symptom of CW shows as well as their marketing strategy), this episode delivered some of the best performances of any DCTV show to date. Practically the entire episode hinged on Stephen Amell, as flashback figured prominently and we didn’t even get a glimpse at the rest of Team Arrow until the last act of the episode. This is sometimes a risky move with superhero shows that have evolved to rely on team dynamics and running gags; we didn’t have any Felicity hacking moments, Mr. Terrific T-sphere jokes, Diggle witticisms, et al. Thankfully, the fearless writing, smart scene cuts and transitions, and stellar acting by Stephen Amell, Josh Segarra, and David Nykl cement this episode as arguably Arrow’s best of season 5.

The main premise of the present-day portion of the episode consists of Prometheus torturing Oliver by pushing him to reveal his greatest secret – something that Oliver hasn’t even admitted to himself yet. At the onset of the episode, I considered the possibility that his secret would be that he ruins everything he touches (cue the Charlie Brown scene) and that he never should have donned the hood, but he has already stated his regrets about his time as a vigilante and his effect on those around him, so this couldn’t be the thing that he lied to even himself about. No, that secret was much darker, if somewhat cliche; season 1 Oliver Queen killed because he liked it.

This reveal is the climax of an intense episode, mainly due to the flashbacks. Prometheus’ torture of Oliver is horrific, especially the emotional turmoil he puts him through via Evelyn Sharp’s reappearance. Oliver forgives Evelyn immediately and refuses to kill her, an action in line with his season 5 reformed version of Oliver Queen, the man who is Mayor of Star City because he cares about its people, the man who has lost so many people close to him and yet still has hope that there is good in everyone. The climax is made all the more potent by the tension between this present-day Oliver and the Kapiushon (i.e. “The Hood”) that Oliver is turning into in the flashbacks. We knew from season 1 that Oliver would need to continue to be desensitized to killing by the end of the season 5 flashbacks. What we didn’t know was the extent to which the writers and Stephen Amell would take this. While his threat of skinning the Russian alive was horrific in and of itself, even more terrifying was the scene after where Anatoli finds that not only has Oliver gone through with his threat, but also continued to skin the dead man – for “practice”.

I’m pretty sure the episode went directly to commercial after that, which is great because that’s when I started screeching and therefore would have missed the entire next scene. This is the monster who returned to Starling City five years ago. While we know this is not the case for present-day Ollie, this is still a harsh revelation, and a reminder that Oliver could have turned out much worse if he hadn’t made the oath he did to Tommy at the end of season 1 and tried to turn himself around. At the end of this episode, the two Olivers are in opposite states; Bratva Oliver has been forged into steel, while present-day Ollie has shattered like glass.

Flash Fiction #3 ~ The Dance

Jaime couldn’t wait to get home and go to sleep. She wasn’t tired, unfortunately, but that didn’t stop her from hearing things. She could have sworn a voice had cussed someone out quietly during her math lecture, but Rebecca claimed she didn’t hear anything. At lunch she’d heard oldie’s music clash with the contemporary pop that the dining hall was blasting through the speakers. Then on her way to women’s glee club she heard a man’s voice urgently pleading with someone named Lily, though no matter how many times she looked behind her she saw no one close enough to hear them as clearly as she did.

Things were a bit hazy in glee rehearsal. She was able to follow along and sing the right words and notes, but she had a weird feeling of déjà vu. Well, something a bit different, like she was remembering a rehearsal that was so similar to this one yet was dissonant enough to leave her with a headache, like the pitches of the memory and reality were a half step away from each other.

She was aware of Natalie asking if she was sick. Nearly half of glee club was, this time of year. Jaime shrugged.

When the choir turned to the piece Les Sirénes, Jaime stared at the first page. They’d sung it multiple times already, but the page seemed to be colored differently. Or, maybe the ink was a little lighter. Whatever it was, she was seeing it differently. Not like she was seeing it for the first time, more like she was finally seeing it the way it was meant to be seen.

When she and the other soprano two’s came in on their line, Jaime sang with renewed energy. The song had always grated against her ears, the strange chords and seemingly nonsensical melodic lines frustrating her, but this time the song really fell into place. Instead of air, she breathed in the music, and breathed out the siren’s call. When it came to the solo in the center of the piece, she felt the rest of the choir slip away and leave room for her to fill the room with her song. It wasn’t until she was shaken back into reality that she realized the entire choir had stopped singing and was staring at her.

“Is there something you want to tell us?” Natalie asked, arms crossed. Jaime studied the faces around the room. They seemed out of focus, but from what she could see they were not happy.

“What?” Jaime clutched her music.

“Why are you singing Nikita’s solo?”

Jaime frowned at her. “Her solo? You mean, my solo?”

No, not my solo. Nikita’s solo. She remembered that now, but it still seemed wrong. The director had picked Nikita for the part, she remembered this, but somehow she knew that the part was meant for her. She realized that she should be more frustrated, or upset, or something like that, but all she felt was confusion.

Natalie was speaking again (she knew this because her lips were moving) but all Jaime heard was a fit of giggles that erupted around her. She looked at the other girls standing next to her but they were still staring at her silently. As she watched, though, she thought she could see their faces change, replaced by completely different people, but still familiar somehow, maybe even more familiar. They were the ones who were giggling, and not at her. With her.

“Excuse me,” Jaime sighed to no one in particular before floating down the aisle towards the doors. She felt like muscle memory was taking over, carrying her through the doors and into the hallway. She turned to see a girl (Deborah, her name is Deborah, of course!) smiling and waving goodbye. “Good luck!” Deborah called before walking away, her footsteps making no sound, her figure fading into the shadows.

As she walked down the hall, Jaime began to feel giddy. She was anxious about something, but was sure it would end well. When she pushed open the doors to the outside and took a step out, she looked to her left, where she knew he would be.

“Bobby.”

The young man stood by the clock tower, wearing his stupid grin and his leather jacket. As she watched, he started towards her and took the jacket off, throwing it over one shoulder.

“How was practice tonight?”

She bit her bottom lip and smirked at him. “Fantastic. I did wonderfully on my solo, wish you could have been there to hear it.”

Bobby put a hand on the side of her face and stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I’m coming to the concert, babe, I’ll hear it then.”

Strange, all he was wearing was a plain T-shirt now. How could he stand to be out in the middle of winter without his jacket on? “Aren’t you cold?” she asked.

He let out a breathy laugh in response. “Cold? It’s the warmest day of the year, Lily. Even for April.”

“April?” She looked around. It was December, there were snow banks around her. At least, there should be. She’d jumped into one earlier that day. But now, there were none to be found. In fact, as she watched, the trees sprouted leaves and the entire block looked more alive. She became uncomfortably aware of the coat on her shoulders, its warmth causing her to break out into a sweat.

“Lily?”

Lily looked back at Bobby. “Yes. I’m here.” She dropped the coat, and the sweater underneath that, until she was wearing only her short-sleeved shirt and jeans. Even the jeans seemed too warm now. Without a second thought, she removed her shoes, socks, and jeans until she stood on the cement in her shirt and underwear. Smirking, she asked, “Wanna dance?”

Sizing her up, Bobby laughed. “Here?”

“No, in the plaza, right in the middle.” Lily grabbed his hand and, laughing, dragged him down the sidewalk and across the street. As she ran, she saw the grass on the lawns wriggle and grow, fireflies dancing in the dark. She stopped in the dead center of the crisscross network of sidewalks and turned to face her boyfriend.

Bobby hesitated. “You’re not still upset at me? For earlier, I mean.”

“Why should I be?” Lily placed her hands on Bobby’s chest and let her fingers walk up his body until she was cupping his face. “That was last week. The past should stay in the past, don’t you think?”

He slowly broke into a grin. “Yes. I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

Lily slowly pressed her lips to his. They were soft, familiar. She could feel his quickening heartbeat against her chest. Or was that her own?

They began swaying to a slow rhythm. Lily thought she heard music whispering through the trees, but even if she was just imagining it, she knew that she and Bobby both slow-danced to the same song, completely in sync. She rested her head against Bobby’s chest and sighed. “I could dance with you forever.”

Bobby gently kissed the top of her head. “I know.”

. . . . .

A student found Jaime’s body early the next morning. She was lying in the middle of the sidewalk covered with the inches of snow that had fallen the night before. That section of campus was quickly cordoned off, and when the police came, they suspected that cause of death was hypothermia. The poor girl wasn’t even wearing any winter clothes, stripped down to a short-sleeved shirt and her underwear. One police officer suspected drugs were involved, and the others concurred, but nothing would be proven until the body was examined.

An unfortunate accident. That’s what this death was. It most certainly didn’t have anything to do with the deaths of Lily and Bobby decades ago. That didn’t even cross anyone’s mind. Sure, Jaime had the same color hair, same eyes, similar weight and build as Lily. In women’s glee club she sat only a few seats over from where Lily had sat when she was a part of the club. Of course, no one made that connection. And no one thought that an unfortunate accident could have anything to do with a murder-suicide. That was an open and shut case from years ago. Lily had suspected that Bobby had cheated on her, though he actually hadn’t, and never would. During a heat wave near the end of April, Lily had taken him to the middle of the plaza, pretending to want to dance, then shot and killed him before shooting herself. Both were dead before anyone found them.

It was a shame that Bobby never did get his dance with the love of his life. And, of course, the presence of a small, wilting lily next to Jaime’s body was a pure coincidence.

Flash Fiction #2 ~ Crystal Calamities Tech Support

Martha Riggins started the day with burnt toast, a dead phone, and a surprise downpour without an umbrella, so when her crystal ball decided to freeze mid-vision, she was hardly shocked. It was unfortunate, as she had a high-paying customer at the time, but she had lots of practice in bull-crap and was able to use what she’d already seen to give the man a satisfactory answer. One worth 100 dollars, at least.

The only other readings she had that day were Tarot readings, so she stuffed her crystal ball into the corner of her room and put it out of her mind temporarily. After she closed shop, she took it back out and laid it on her table, sighing.

“User BX4503. Give me tech support.”

The ball was still frozen on a scene of a fence and a dog mid-run, but thankfully it responded predictably. It clouded over, glowing a dim green before revealing a smiling face and solid green uniform. “Welcome to the Crystal Calamities tech support center. My name is Kimberly. How may I assist you today?” She flashed her teeth at Martha, revealing her slightly crooked bottom tooth and distracting Martha for a second.

“Uh, hello, I’ve been a customer for a while, had the same crystal for years, and today it just pooped out on me.”

“Can you describe to me exactly what the problem may be?”

“Sure.” Martha waved her arms in front of her face. “It just froze during a vision. Like, everything was working perfectly normally and then all of a sudden it stopped on a scene and wouldn’t do anything past that. It’s a miracle it let me contact tech support, honestly.”

Kimberly smiled down at something on her desk (probably a folder of responses) and looked through it. “Does your crystal flicker?”

“No.”

The girl looked farther down her sheet. “Is it emitting a low-level humming noise?”

“No.”

“Strange and unearthly sounds?”

Martha sighed. “It’s not doing anything besides just not working. It just froze. That’s it. No flickering, no noises, nothing. Okay?”

“Hmm.” Kimberly’s smile didn’t waver. “What kind of reading were you performing at the time?”

She shrugged. “Just a normal one. Reading into their future. Easy stuff, what their married life would look like, how many kids, et cetera.”

Kimberly tapped her finger against the folder and pursed her lips, then remembered she had to keep smiling. “What was the last thing you saw before your crystal went kaput?”

There was the scene with the dog, and the fence. That was the domestic life of her client, a cute little house in a suburb with a dog, a wife, and probably a couple of kids, though she hadn’t been able to discern anything about that. She’d told him to expect a girl and a boy. That was always her go-to when she wasn’t able to actually see that aspect of their future, as it was most likely and it would be too late for them to come back and sue her if that turned out to be false.

“Just normal stuff. Their future place of residence and some aspects of that. Nothing out of the ordinary, if you’re thinking that had something to do with my crystal’s failure.”

“Well according to this…” the girl flipped through her folder and pointed to a line of text, “sudden failure of a crystal can be the result of an intense vision of magic overloading the system, or—” she looked up from the sheet quickly, “—a sign of the coming apocalypse.”

Martha snorted. “Uh huh.” She frowned when Kimberly’s facial expression didn’t change from its current emotionless state. “Wait…you actually think I just predicted the apocalypse with a mundane client reading?”

The Crystal Calamities worker looked back down at her folder. “It says here that if your crystal pauses with no other warning signs that it may mean the coming of the end times. If that is the case, the frozen vision will begin to curl in on itself until it disappears altogether. Have you noticed that?”

“Uh, no, I don’t think it’s done that. One sec, I’ll have to disconnect visual to check that.” Martha moved her hands over the crystal, and the image of the lady vanished. A swirl of green smoke cleared to show the same image that the crystal had frozen on. Except, the edges were starting to turn black. “Uhh…Kimberly? You still there?”

“Yes ma’am. What do you see?”

“The edges of the vision are turning black. That’s bad, right?”

“Umm…” Martha heard shuffling, then a clunk. She frowned and turned the visual back on with a wave of her hand. Kimberly was no longer in the picture. Probably ran off to get her manager.

As she waited, Martha whistled some elevator music. Or was it the Jeopardy! theme song? It was one of those things. Whatever. She just wanted to get done with this so she could go to dinner with her boyfriend. As it was, she was probably going to be late to picking him up, but then again she was always late. He’d understand that she was caught up because her crystal ball was displaying signs of the coming apocalypse. Hmm. That would make for interesting dinner conversation. “If the end times were coming, what would you do?” No, that was too cliché. She’d have to think of something better. Maybe—”

“Ms. Riggins?” a gruff voice cut into her thoughts. Her whistling sputtered out as the man (manager, probably) came into the image on her crystal. He was holding a red folder. They’re really taking this apocalypse thing seriously, aren’t they?

“Yes?” Martha ducked her head so she was eye level with the man’s image. “Did you figure out what’s wrong with it?”

The man thumbed the folder. “No ma’am. I have some more, specialized questions for you to answer. Firstly…” he opened it and looked at the first entry, “have you been experiencing nightmares lately?”

Martha scoffed. “Oh, sure, I have nightmares every night.”

“Do they involved…skulls, crows, wolves, rivers of blood—”

“Nah, mostly about showing up to an important event completely naked,” Martha cut in. “Oh, but there was this one time that I dreamt I was still in high school and I walked into my math class and there was a pop quiz. It was terrifying.”

Martha stifled a chuckle at the grimaces on the faces of the two tech support workers. They looked like they were decided between yelling and crying. “Ms. Riggins,” the man eventually said, “This is a serious matter. We need to make sure that what you have is just your run-of-the-mill crystal failure.”

Suddenly, the crystal ball started glowing a deep purple color in one spot. Martha watched as it spread across the screen like a virus. “Um. It’s starting to glow weird colors now. Is that part of a run-of-the-mill failure?”

“What color?” Another woman jumped into view.

Jeez, they just keep popping up. “Hi. It’s purple, and it started at the top and started spreading around. It’s actually getting a bit harder to see all of you now.”

“We need to prepare for a code black,” the new woman said, addressing the other people in view.

“Code black?” Kimberly’s eyes widened and she brought her hands up to her chest, wringing them like she was cold. The men and the new woman ran out of view, presumably to warn other people in the tech center, and Kimberly stared blankly as they left.

“Hello?” Martha waved frantically at the crystal. “What’s a code black? And why is everyone freaking out?” Her stomach rumbled, and she instantly remembered that all she’d had to eat so far was a salad and a piece of burnt toast. She checked her watch and tried to remember what time she and her boyfriend were supposed to go out to eat. “I’m kinda in a hurry here, could someone please talk to me?” Kimberly was still not responding, or even looking in her direction.

Martha banged her fist on the crystal and shouted, “HEY! Can anyone here me over there?”

Immediately, the purple fog dissipated, the image of the tech center disappeared, and the frozen vision returned. “Thank you for using Crystal Calamities tech support. Enjoy your day,” an automated voice said, and the vision unfroze. The dog ran into the house, and a man walked out and closed the door.

“It works.”

Martha stared at the crystal, which was completely back to normal now. “Great. Thanks for all the help,” Martha muttered to the air, then chuckled. She wondered if the tech center was still in code black, whatever that was, then decided she didn’t care. She packed the crystal into its cushioned box, locked up her shop, and went to pick up her boyfriend for dinner.

Arrow 4×18 Eleven-Fifty-Nine ~ Review

Warning: spoilers for Arrow up through episode 4×18 and The Flash through 1×23.

It’s amazing how obvious it’s been that Laurel would be the one to kick the bucket and yet somehow the writer’s managed to keep me second-guessing myself, even during the episode itself, and made her death more emotional than everything that’s happened on this show outside of Tommy’s death in season one.

This episode was introduced as the one that would finally reveal who was in the grave, so the entire viewing of the episode was colored by this expectation. Therefore, it was imperative that the writers keep the action engaging and the storyline moving to organically lead up to the inevitable death. They largely succeeded on this front, bringing the charismatic Damian Darkh back into the spotlight after the team’s brief encounter with Merlyn. Even the flashbacks were more interesting, as they showed fourth-year Oliver killing without a second thought, even burying three men alive. This entire episode was reminiscent of the golden age of this show, somewhere between seasons one and two, where stakes were high, villains were interesting, and the tone was much darker than that of shows like The Flash.

Season four was set up to be the lightest season yet, made evident by the stark contrast between the season three finale of Arrow (a lackluster episode that ended with Olicity driving off into the sunset) and the season one finale of The Flash (in which Eddie made the ultimate sacrifice, Barry went back in time and said goodbye to his dying mother, Jay Garrick’s flash helmet came flying through the wormhole, and a giant black hole threatening to destroy the city ended the episode on a cliffhanger). I understand why the Arrow writers wanted to lighten their show, as season three’s dark mediocrity (ironically) paled in comparison to The Flash’s light (er) and campy attitude. However, they made a mistake in assuming that it was this difference in tone that lead to Arrow suffering. What they seem not to have realized at the time is that The Flash in and of itself deserves to have its campy attitude, as it’s a show that deals with metahumans, time travel, giant man sharks, guns that shoot gold, and a multitude of other wacky stuff. Arrow needed to make room for some of this, but season two proved that the darker tone works for this show, and this season’s episodes with Constantine and Vixen proved they can integrate magic into the show without compromising the feel of the show itself.

This episode also proved that. Darkh uses magic, yet is interesting and menacing enough to raise the stakes and darken (heh, pun) the mood. With Andy’s betrayal, it wasn’t crystal clear that Laurel would die as John Diggle seemed a very logical candidate in the moment. Thea’s fight with Merlyn raised questions about how far Merlyn would go to support Darkh, and if he really had broken the ties with his daughter that would stop him from killing her. It turns out he still won’t kill her directly, but nonetheless the fight was intense.

There were a number of times during the episode where Laurel as the body in the grave crossed my mind. Most obvious to me was her line “one last time”, about being the Black Canary, though I figured the writers were trying to pull the wool over our eyes with that one. It seems unlikely and uncharacteristic that Sara would come back to Star City to replace her sister as the Black Canary, which made Laurel less obvious of a choice to kill off. Even after she was badly wounded by Darkh and taken to the hospital, the doctors claimed she was in stable condition and she told the rest of the team that she changed her mind about taking off the mask forever. At this point, I was ready for a fake-out, but the kind where the team were relieved to have Laurel safe and sound only to find out another member was killed, a la that one soap opera with the cancer patient and the bicycle guy (while they’re celebrating one character becoming cancer-free, they find out that another character was hit by a car and killed while riding his bicycle).

The final scene with Laurel was more emotional than I’d expected. I still figured the writers would do a fake-out (meaning Laurel was safe), but her quiet talk with Ollie (the only person in the main cast she’d been friends with since before the island) was well-written and brilliantly acted. I haven’t thought about them as a romantic couple since season two, but Laurel’s reserved confession that while she wasn’t the love of Oliver’s life, he was hers, really brought out the tears. That should have been a blatant tip-off that she would in fact be the one in the grave, but I still held on to whatever hope I had left that that wouldn’t be the case.

This episode in and of itself was great. The stakes were high, the plot moved forward, and the acting was superb. Everyone’s reaction to Laurel’s death, especially her father’s, was heartbreaking. However, I’m wary about what this means for the rest of this season and into the next.

As much as I hate to admit it, the Olicity drama during the second half of this season has really hurt the show. Emily Bett Rickards is a great actress, her character is interesting, and I even hold the unpopular opinion that Goth Felicity tormenting wheelchair-bound Felicity earlier this season was kinda great. However, it was refreshing this episode to see team Arrow not bogged down by the Olicity drama. It is because of this that I was hoping that, somehow, the person in the grave was Felicity and the “Felicity” we saw in the car was actually a hallucination caused by Oliver’s grief. Yes, a bit unrealistic, but at least that would have some interesting implications on the rest of the season and the next. Season two was arguably the best season so far, and that came straight after Tommy’s death. There will obviously be repercussions for Laurel’s passing, but losing the love of his life would have such an interesting impact on Oliver.

We’ll just have to wait to see the repercussions of this episode, if the Olicity drama will continue to be a problem, and what tone the writers will set for the upcoming fifth season of Arrow. Fingers crossed that we return to a darker version of the character and that we get to finally see how the fifth year on the island turned Oliver into the ruthless, murdering man we know from season one.

New Section: Superhero Musings

Back in the summer, I tried to make a superhero blog. I was going to dedicate it to reviews of superhero shows and movies. Unfortunately, I made all of two posts on that blog before abandoning it.
However, after last night’s Arrow episode, I have realized that I still have a lot to say about these shows, and since this blog is (relatively) active, I might as well add that content to this blog. I’m not sure what to call this section (everything clever I can think of is already taken), so for now I’ll label them as Superhero Musings.

The first entry in this new section will be posted later today.