Showing posts with label X-Files. Show all posts
Showing posts with label X-Files. Show all posts

Friday, April 12, 2013

Downton Abbey and Mayhem

Word 201 is...

mayhem

Mayhem, as you may have surmised from the Allstate commercials featuring the ironic personification of mayhem ("I'm a branch about to fall on your car", etc), is a willful and permanent crippling, mutilation or disfigurement of any part of the body - especially involving the loss of a limb or a digit. In other words, needless, willful damage or violence.  Which brings us to Downton Abbey...

Several months have passed and I believe most of us Downton fans (or addicts, as the case may be) are aware of how the third series ended.  Matthew Crawley, happily married and new, proud father, dies in a car crash.  The final image is of lifeless Matthew, lying in a growing pool of blood, his eyes opened.  Not moments before, he'd been holding his baby son.  Naturally, this has sparked a wide range of outbursts from fans of the show.  My father exclaimed, "he was the only one in that family who made sense!" 

Dramatic death is the plot-mover and shaker in Downton.  The show opened with the death of the then-heir Patrick on the Titanic.  A few episodes later a young Turkish nobleman died suddenly in bed (whose bed being the compelling secret of the series).  Series Two saw the first world war, bringing on the death of a beloved footman and Matthew's apparent paralysis (which he later miraculously overcame) and the Spanish flu which killed off Matthew's fiancee, Lavinia.  Series Three saw Lady Sibyl die in childbirth, leaving behind her husband (the former chauffeur) and her baby daughter.  Mayhem is unavoidable here, the life blood of the show.

Matthew Crawley's final moments with Mary and son

It does seem remarkably unfair to have killed off Sibyl and Matthew in the same series, and neither instance was very pleasant.  Yet, on a more pragmatic note, Jessica Brown-Findlay and Dan Stevens both wanted to move onto other projects once their contracts had expired.  The story lines had to shift to accommodate them, even if devastating those of us who finally FINALLY saw joy come to their respective characters.  If an actor feels the call of Broadway, as Mr. Stevens certainly has, he should be free to follow that call wherever it leads him.  We've seen this before: in The X-Files, Agent Mulder is abducted by aliens so that David Duchovny can focus on a film career; in Doctor Who, the Doctor has regenerated many times now*, a death loophole that frees the actor but lets us keep the character in a brand new incarnation; Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation; Charlie in Lost; Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1... the list goes on...

The Tenth Doctor regenerates.
The ordinary mayhem of non-renewed contracts brings opportunities for the creative minds behind these shows.  Interesting opportunities.  Story, in whatever form, has the unique ability to shift direction, flexible and resilient against such challenges.  It shows me that any obstacle I may encounter with a plot line in my own fiction is not The End of All Things, but a chance to bend the story onto a new vector I had not considered.  It's a matter of realizing - hey, there's a dead-end here, but I can 1.) build a door right here, or 2.) find that secret passageway I know is hidden around here somewhere... what a thrill to find the solution right there, waiting.

For Downton, rumor has it that the fourth series will focus on the grief and recovery of Lady Mary, Matthew's widow.  As an aside, I have a soft spot for haughty, stern, self-righteous Mary; as a character she has grown through her mistakes and her sorrows.  And the question now can be about her ability as a character to grow stronger from this tragedy... remaking her, revitalizing her and revivifying her as her story continues on.

Matthew's exit is unavoidable but may contain blessings in disguise. The creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, remarked that the happy Matthew had to go, because happiness is next to impossible to write. And to this end, killing Matthew when he was at the peak of happiness seems to have been the best option.  He died happy and a success, instead of fading away out of monotony or boredom into a shadow of himself.  Explaining Matthew away in a divorce would be cruel judging from the richness of the story he and Mary have shared for the last three years.   

If the spirit of the story is preserved, if other characters are allowed to grow in new ways to become better versions of themselves, then I look forward to the fourth series of Downton Abbey.  Even if more mayhem awaits us in the form of stock market crashes and love affairs.


* On terms of Doctor Who - a totally different animal - there were similar reactions when David Tennant left the show.  The Doctor, having been fatally dosed with radiation to save a companion, regenerated dramatically into Matt Smith's Doctor.  While at the very core he is the same man, alive, well and frenetic as ever, something very real died in his explosive regeneration. His is a death: a chapter closed and forever cut off from new adventures. (... unless they involve the fiftieth anniversary special, that is.  Doctor Who is infamous for its loopholes.)  But, as we are reminded by the watchful Ood Sigma, the story itself does not end.  Doctor Who simply experienced a changing of the guards: new Doctor, new head writer and producer (Stephen Moffat).  It was the same and not the same, and that is okay. 






Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Smokescreen

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 194:

smokescreen

A smokescreen is a cloud of smoke created to conceal military operations from others, or a ruse designed to hide someone's real intentions or activities.  In one of the earlier episodes of The X-Files, Mulder's insider contact "Deep Throat" describes the alien crash landing at Roswell to be a smokescreen to conceal what the government really has been doing with alien technology.  There is something spooky about this.

Smokescreen

World War Two destroyers putting up a smokescreen against the enemy (Jim Phillips)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Unctuous (j)

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 147:

unctuous (adj)

Greasy, oily, smug.  Falsely earnest.  The cigarette-smoking man (The X-Files).  Thomas Barrow (Downton Abbey). The Master (Doctor Who). 


Monday, December 24, 2012

Dreams, Visions & Reality (Jillian)

Dreams and visions are part of the ineffable human experience - the voice of our subconscious working through problems, presenting us with improbable but not impossible challenges, worst-case scenarios.  They reveal our anxieties, force us to confront them in our waking lives.  A life line.  The red cord we follow through the Minotaur's labyrinth. Naturally, they find their way into our stories as that nebulous, unexplained but felt stuff.  Scientists still cannot fully explain the function of these workings of the subconscious, but deep down we already know what dreams are saying to us, how they're guiding us, and that we'll follow. 

It can be argued that dreams and visions are an overused device in writing and films - a short cut out of a plot tangle or tacked onto the end of a story as a sort of apology for the improbably of a scenario.  Dorothy wakes up in her own bed surrounded by her family, as if they'd been there the entire time, as if Oz didn't exist.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2

 

Twilight Breaking Dawn: worse case scenario.


You've heard my opinion that films and stories as a general rule are different animals.  They have to show things in different ways: images versus words.  The narrative of the book is no longer first person but completely, intimately and cosmically omniscient.

The last film of the Twilight series deviated from the book one particular note. Bella is newly a vampire, and Bella and Edward's daughter has caught the attention of the malignant Volturi coven who have come to destroy their family.  In the book, the confrontation between the Cullens and their friends and the Volturi is little more than a trial and testimonials in the snow, wrought with tensions that are eased only by frank discussions, and Bella's preparedness to protect everyone she can.  The book preps us for a battle that never comes.  The film, on the other hand, shows us the battle that would have been: a battle begins with the beheading of Carlisle Cullen. 

Gasps in the theatre.  The battle sequence was intense, the body count high with Carlisle, Jasper and others among them.  Only at the end, when Edward and Bella successfully tear Volturi leader Aro's head from his shoulders do we realize that this entire battle has taken place in Alice Cullen's head and Aro has seen it all.  Of course! Perfect sense! I thought; Alice has the ability to see the future, and Aro is a mind reader.  We breathe out our relief as we realize that Carlisle and Jasper are still alive, that Edward and Bella's daughter is safe and that the Volturi have no reason to stay.  For now.
I can see why there would be skepticism about this vision.  It does seem to lean toward a cheap gag, a way to fill in the action-vacuum left by the novel, and play Gotcha! with the filmgoers.  The temptation is to say "that entire sequence was a LIE!" But... it worked for me... because this dream-battle was already a possibility, and most certainly experienced.  Sometimes you need to see the train wreck in order to prevent it from happening.  Did it happen?  No.  Does it matter?  Yes: it's all the better for having not happened.  Is it a lie?  Nope.


Doctor Who

 

Worse case scenario: the Doctor in the Master's birdcage.

Doctor Who uses this quite frequently.  Series Three saw the world taken over by the Master who opens a paradox to the end of the universe, tortures the Doctor and imprisons him in a bird cage.  Martha turns the Master's psychic network against himself and time reverses back a year - back before the world completely fell apart.  Only those standing at the "eye of the storm", on the ship where the Master launched his evil plans, remember what they'd gone through.  The world is none the wiser.  Did it happen then if time reversed itself?  Just ask the Doctor, Martha and Captain Jack. 


Life on Mars (UK)

 

Sam Tyler: Am I mad, in a coma, or have I traveled in time?
Another example - and possible SPOILER ALERT for those of you haven't seen it and want to see experience it spoiler free - involves the UK television show Life on Mars (which ended in 2005).  The question driving the series was whether Sam Tyler, a detective inspector who wakes up inexplicably in 1973 Manchester, is dead, in a coma or has actually traveled in time.  The writers do an excellent job of keeping us guessing and speculating.  Don't read the next paragraph if you're in the midst of a first-time viewing.

We come to learn that Sam's experiences in 1973 are (supposedly) the result of a brain tumor, and that his final challenges gear him toward a successful surgery and finally waking up.  When he does, he finds the "real" world colorless and lonely.  Sam, longing for the friendships and the hirsute situations of 1973, jumps off of a building, essentially committing suicide in order to return.  He does return to 1973 as if nothing had happened, to tie up loose ends, (finally) kiss the girl and drive off into the sunset.  Is the glimpse of happiness a lie?  Well... I thought of it as Sam returning to the world that was most real to him.  Crossing the threshold does signify a death, but not of Sam.  Instead, it is the death of what he has always believed is reality.  Sam's tumor-coma-dream pointed him back to the dream itself, asking us the question: what is our reality? 


The X-Files: "Dreamland"; Harry Potter

 

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/--ZrKzhX4Unk/Ti7QAWynunI/AAAAAAAABEY/0Yt8ui2BNoM/s1600/vlcsnap-2011-07-26-15h29m49s64.jpg
Mulder as Morris Fletcher.

There's another example - neither vision nor dream, but reality gone completely upside down.  In Season 6 of The X-Files, Mulder switches bodies with the despicable lie-mongerer Morris Fletcher due to a time-displacement accident at Area 51.  Mulder, looking like Fletcher, has to convince Scully of his true identity, while Fletcher, looking like Mulder, takes over Mulder's life, desperate to escape his own.  In other words, the worst has happened (not so bad as the Master controlling the universe, but...).  Mulder is without Scully and the X-Files, and no matter what he does, he cannot set it right.  Fletcher, content in Mulder's shoes, ensures it stays that way. The situation - hilarious as it at times - is completely unsolvable until the time displacement errors (long story) reverse on their own.  Life resumes and no one remembers, but there are hints that things did change: a penny and dime stuck together and the new furniture in Mulder's apartment.  Did it happen?  Yes.  Do the characters need to know?  No, but we need to know. 

A function of dreams - particularly nightmares - is theorized to be how the brain works out worst-case scenarios, trains us and prepares us to face the anxieties that taunt and haunt us in our waking lives.  Sometimes it's hammy and glitchy. Other times it is profound... while being forever baffling.  Is it real?  Is it not?  Is it The Matrix or a different level of consciousness?  If you've seen Christopher Nolan's Inception, you know how entire films can make us think about this long after our minds have been blown away in the theatre.  We will never stop asking those questions.  And that's a good thing!

In Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows, you may remember that Harry, after facing Voldemort for the last time, finds himself in an empty train station with Dumbledore.  Dumbledore is dead but conveying his wisdom to Harry from beyond the grave, answering what until now has been an uncertain question: will Harry live or die?  Is this heaven or some sort of waiting room?  Harry asks Dumbledore if seeing him in this empty place is a dream or if it is real.  Dumbledore says that it is both.  This has become one of my greatest fantasy-writing mantras.


Dumbledore: of course it's real.
The magic of story telling is not to ask whether or not something TRULY happened, but what said event says about the characters, their possible limits, and how they fulfill and surpass our expectations.  Dreams are real, a crucial element of the human psyche.  A dream sequence will fall flat if it fails to speak beyond "what if" and make us ask that question of our ourselves.  Did it happen?  What is reality, anyway?  What does this say about that particular character, what he's capable of, where he's going, what he could never do?  Those questions continue on, and make me want to write until my hands fall off.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 50: el chupacabra (j)

Happy Halloween!  Today's spooky word is...


El chupacabra (noun) is an animal said to exist in parts of Latin America - particularly Puero Rico - where it supposedly attacks animals, especially goats and drains them of blood.  The word literally means "goat sucker" in Spanish. This was the "monster of the week" in the 4th season of The X-Files entitled "El Mundo Gira," and became a dry joke between Mulder and Scully in later episodes.   According to Ye Olde Wiky-paedia, this legend/mystery emerged in 1995 in PR, killing goats and sheep, and has been "seen" in random locations in the US ever since: about the size of a bear with spines along its back.  Some "witnesses" describe it similiarly to an alien in the movie Species.  It's existence (like Bigfoot and his contemporaries) has never been confirmed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 44: golem (j)

Today's sort of creepy word is...


A golem is an element of Jewish folklore in which a clay figure is brought to life by magic.  According to Ye Olde Wiky-paedia, the first reference for a golem comes from Psalm 139:16 "my unshaped form."  Golems have been formed supposedly for defense or menial tasks, a creature made of mud with holy words etched into its forehead or around its neck, which once taken away will reduce the creature to dust.  I came across this term in two places: Sherlock and The X-Files.  In "Kaddish" an episode in the fourth season of The X-Files, Mulder and Scully investigate mysterious happenings in a Hasidic community, murders that can only be attributed to the golem-esque reincarnation of a dead man.    In the first series of Sherlock, "The Great Game" a serial killer - a giant of a man with laptodactylic features and superhuman strength - referred to as a "golem" is a component of Moriarty's web of crime.  Great name for a villain, huh?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stories That Still Haunt Me (Jillian)



Walking by my favorite local used-and-rare-books shop this week, I noticed a chillingly familiar title on display in the window. Timely, as All Hallows fast approacheth, the book is Scary Stories To Read In The Dark, one of three in a series by Alvin Schwartz, that I devoured as a fourth grader. These stories were read aloud in class around Halloween , and then my curiosity lead me to read them all. Though why, I can't hardly tell you... except that mine was the generation of Bonechillers (also gave me nightmares), Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. Scary Stories was by far the most frightening. And yet I did read them. And remember them. And can't forget them. Yes, I am haunted.

Among my chilling recollections of these stories are a creeping thing that rises out of the local graveyard (visible only by its glowing green eyes) to devour other bodies and attack a girl in the town, a man who eats his neighbor's liver, a ghost family, baby spiders emerging en masse from a girl's face, dead people in a church...

I'm pretty sure I had nightmares about these stories, especially the thing-with-the-green-eyes story because I lived two blocks away from a cemetery, and could see it from my bedroom window. What amazes me, especially looking on the particularly grotesque artwork (see above... althought believe me, the original image I included here was worse), is that I kept reading them. And that years later, I would get a chill down my spine when I catch a glimpse of those books in a shop window.

The power of scary words is long-lasting - it lies dormant until something awakens it, that fear of the unknown, or what should never be... or a current obsession with the X-Files. Whatever it is, I am easily ensnared by the power of words. I am the cat Curiosity didn't kill but definitely did tease.

I won't be reliving the horror of the Scary Stories, anytime soon, mind - though I wonder if they are actually as malign as I remember. I'm not willing to resurrect the bad dreams of yesteryear. Instead, I will listen to my Autumn Playlist, write about an English autumn, and become Dana Scully for one night of mayhem.

***

I heard JS Bach's Toccata in Fugue in D Minor this afternoon (the Stokowski arrangement for full orchestra), and had chills. It is such a masterpiece. It is odd how it's opening notes, duh-uh-uh-DUH-uh-nuh-nuh-uhhh, have become synonymous with Halloween, haunted houses, and a vampire playing an organ. The entirety of the piece is so transcendent and hardly sepulchral.

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