Miss Piggy was aggressively straight, yet it took decades to acknowledge the existence of Muppets who aren’t straight
I first began following Matt Baum when he was posting regular video news reports on what was then the fight over civil unions vs full marriage equality for queer people. A few years later he branched out into other topics, and over the course of those years I came to realize that we had a bunch of mutual acquaintances. And yet I still have never met him.
One of his projects is producing videos where he analyses ways the queer people and queer issues were handled in popular media, such as situation comedies of the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond. This week, he tackles one of the pivotal people behind the Muppets, who happened to be a gay man, and how that influenced and eventually changed the Muppets.
This isn’t the first I have hear of Richard Hunt and his contribution to one of my favorite media properties, but Matt weaves in video clips and quotes from people who worked with Hunt that I have never heard before. So give it a watch.
I probably should mention that a couple parts of the story made me cry. But I am a really big softie who is very easily moved to tears:
Assuming you’ve watched it, I want to expound a little bit on the topic that I put into the headline. It isn’t just that for many years the corporations controlling the Muppets as well as important performers from the troupe would insist emphatically that, for instance, Bert and Ernie were absolutely not gay. They would (Sometimes angrily) insist that because the Muppets were puppets, they could not possiblye *have a sexual orientation.
Despite the fact the Miss Piggy wasn’t just obviously heterosexual, but she was aggressively so from the nearly her very first appearance. A Piggy wasn’t the only one. Lots of female Muppets had (usually off-screen) husbands and boyfriends. A smaller number of male Muppets had wives and girlfriends.
Yes, technically, puppets don’t have a sexual orientation. But it is exactly equally true that they don’t technically have voices, either–those are provided by the humans operating them. Just as the personalities are provided by the operators and the script writers.
I’m glad that the people currently running the Muppets have finally begun embracing the truth the queer people are everywhere and that we’ve always been here. A lot of the world still doesn’t understand that when someone identifies they are gay, it is not about sex. Just as when a conservative businessman introduces people to his wife, we aren’t "shoving out sexuality down your thoart" — we’re just telling you about ourselves and at least one of the people we love.
In late April Apple announced (along with other products) a new remote for its Apple TV set top box. I was so impressed with the redesign, and pleased with the fact that it was compatible with my older Apple TV, that I ordered the remote as soon as it came out.
That last sentence could just as truthfully been written as, "I was so tired of the inadequencies of the 3rd general Apple Remote…"
I’ve been using the 4th generation remote for about a month and a half now, and the short version of my review is: this is so much better than the previous remote!
For some background, pictured above are all four generations of Apple Remote, and yes those are all mine. The first one (the white plastic one on the left in the picture) was introduced back in 2005 and looks an awful lot like the iPad Shuffle of that time. I did not own an Apple TV back when the first generation remote came out–no one did, because the first Apple TV was introduced until two years later. This original remote was meant to control media playback on an iMac and other Mac computers the at the time. When the first Apple TV came out, this remote also worked with it.
The second generation remote was released in 2009. The aluminum body of the remote resembles the iPod Nano of the same year. The most obvious functional difference is the Pause/Resume button was moved out of the click wheel, and the center button of the click wheel became a Select button that you could click or double-click like a mouse or touchpad.
The third generation was released in 2015 and doesn’t look like it belongs in the same product line at all. Take a moment to look at all four in the picture. Three of them have as the largest control a circle control with several functions, and some other buttons below. Not the third generation. The entire area about the buttons in a single touch surface. You can swipe with a finger or thumb and you can click. And while that gives you generally speaking most of the functions of the click wheel (moving the cursor of selection indicator on the screen of the device you are control up, down, left, or right and selecting things), it’s actually a not nearly as convenient.
I admit, watching the device being demoed on screen, I thought the touch surface as a brilliant choice. In practice at home, it wasn’t. With the previous remote, if you had a long list to scroll through on your screen, you could just hold down the part of the click wheel and the list would start moving on the screen. With the third generation you had to swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, swipe, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
But the real annoying thing for both myself and my husband was that it is extremely easy to pick up the remote wrong. You can not tell be feel the difference between the touch surface above the buttons, and the non-touch surface below. You don’t know how many times one of us was swiping on the control and nothing was happening. And yes, it could be argued that if you just looked at the buttons you could tell which was the right direction, it just didn’t work out.
This latter might be about the way my husband and I both process information, but even glancing at it always took me a few seconds before I noticed that the word "Menu" was upside down when I was holding it wrong.
A few years after releasing the third generation remote, Apple released a very slightly modified version that added the raised right ring you can see on the menu button above which they thought would solve the problem. I didn’t get around to upgrading my old Apple TV to one that came with the third generation remote until after they introduced the white ring, and so I can say from experience that the white ring was not enough.
A lot of reviews I read of the third generation also complained about how easy it is, since half the surface of the remote is a touch pad, to accidentally click or swipe while you are watching something, can be annoying. I never experienced that because I only pick up the any remote when I want to change something, and I always immediately set it down again. Some people keep the remote in their hand the entire time they are watching something, and those or the folks I assume kept doing the accidental swipes and such.
The fourth generation brought back the circular control. The center bit of the control is a touch surface. You can swipe and click with it just like the larger touch surface of the third generation, but it’s a lot harder to do it inadvertently while you’re casually holding the device. The outer rim is a clever combination of touch surface and the four directional buttons of the second generation. You can click, or you can run your thumb around it to control movement of the onscreen cursor.
They added a Mute button, which is quite handy, and they replaces the Menu button’s name with a back arrow, which I think is a more intuitive representation of what the Menu button does. It doesn’t make a menu appear, it takes you back to whatever you were looking at before. They also added the little Power/Wake-up button, and they moved the Sire button off the main surface of the remote to the edge.
I should mention at this point that when Apple released the third generation remote, they renamed it Siri Remote. And I understand why they did that. The previous two generations didn’t have a microphone built in that you could use for voice controls. But it’s really just the next two generations of the Apple Remote.
The controls on the fourth generation are much easier to use. It is noticeably larger and feels much more solid in the hand. If I do happen to grab it with the end that ought to be pointing at the TV pointing back and myself, I can immediately tell because the round click wheel/touch surface feel nothing at all like the smooth aluminum of the wrong end. It is in every way a superior design.
I learned an interesting thing about myself while reading other people’s reviews of the remote. Many of those reviews mentioned that the placement of the Siri button on the right edge of the remote meant it was less convenient for lefties, since if you are holding the remote in your right hand, it is easy to press the Siri button with your thumb, but if holding it in your left hand it’s a slightly more awkward reach with the index finger.
I’m a left-handed remoter!
I always hold any TV-type remote in my left hand, and have never thought twice about it. Technically I’m ambidextrous, and my usually joke about that is, "Which means my handwriting is equally illegible no matter which hand I’m writing with." When I draw or paint I switch the drawing instrument from one hand to the other. Sometimes it’s because the angle is better in one hand or the other, but I’ve also learned over the years the sides of the brain that control each hand are better at different art tasks.
On the other hand, I was very strongly a left-footed soccer player back in the day, while much better as a right-handed basketball player than left.
Anyway, I had never noticed that I always use remotes left-handed before this. I even experiments after realizing, and it just feels completely wrong to put the remote in the right hand. It wants to transfer the remote to the other hand right away every time!
But, back to the review: it is a nice redesign. I’m really glad I upgraded. And I just have to say to the person I read online who claimed that it’s a "$79 remote that feels like a $39 remote" — have you actually bought any remotes that sell for ~40 bucks? Because I have, and they are cheap pieces of plastic that FEEL cheap and the have a tendency to peel and crack on the underside.
This solid aluminum remote feels nothing like that.
Short review for now. I hope to post a longer one later.
The season finale of Loki, entitled "For All Times. Always." is… well, what I texted a couple of friends who are also fans was, "That… that actually worked."
Does the ending answer the questions raised at the beginning of the first episode (specifically, What is the Time Variant Authority, Who are the Time Keepers, and Why are they preventing alternate timelines?): Yes, yes it does.
Is there a fun fight scene near the end: Yes, yes there is.
Do we see bad guys get what’s coming to them: Yes. Not everyone, but yes.
Did I feel that the time spent watching the series was worth it: Oh, my f-ing goodness, YES, YES, YES!
I’ve been failing to finish blog posts for a couple of weeks now, not just my Loki reviews. There are reasons that might turn into another blog post as I try to do a bit of catch-up.
This is going to be a combination review, then, of the third, fourth, and fifth episodes of Loki: "Lamentis", "The Nexus Event", and "Journey into Mystery".
We have seen five of the six episodes of the series so far, and I think the most important observation I can make is that all five have been fun. They’ve been entertaining. We’ve had fights and hijinks. All of the actors seem to be perfectly cast for the roles. The interaction between the characters is engaging and witty.
Thus far it differs greatly from the previous two Disney+ Marvel TV shows. WandaVision was a complex and layered mysterious that was full of charm and a lot of meta. Falcon and the Winter Soldier was more straightforward and many portions were deeply flawed.
Loki has a mystery at its heart, and there is even more charm than WandaVision but the mystery is almost secondary to the emotional journey of the central characters. Yes, I do want to know what is behind the Time Variant Authority, but I’m really more concerned with what is going to happen, individually, to the characters.
I realized when I reached the end of "Journey Into Mystery" (which is a great title for several reason, not the least of which is that Marvel’s versions of Thor and Loki were first told in a comic book called "Journey Into Mystery" long before Thor got his one book), that the one story this series reminds me of are the two Douglas Adams books about Dirk Gently. The series has a similar dream-like feel. At least to me.
There are a few specific things I want to comment on, but to do that involves spoilers.
If you don’t want to be spoiled, turn back now.
Seriously! Spoilers ahead!
Okay, here we go.
Episode three involved Loki and the female variant Loki (called henceforth Sylvie) arriving at the TVA, where Sylvie tries to get to the Time Keepers themselves, but it’s not as simple as she hoped, and Loki uses the stolen TempPad to jump them to another apocalypse. The new apocalypse is a colonized planet called "Lamentis" which is able to be impacted by a moon.
They sneak onto a train taking wealthy people to an escape ark, but things go awry (because Loki can’t resist partying and having a good time on the train), and they get thrown off the train (literally).
The emotional center of the episode was Loki and Sylvie getting to know each other. It unfortunately ends with them apparently trapped on the doomed planet with no way to escape.
The next episode, "The Nexus Event" picks up right where episode three ended. The two of them realize they are trapped, and Sylvie finally tells our Loki that she had been a child playing with some toys in Asgard when the TVA agents had taken her away. The hunter who captured her was Renslayer, who is now one of the TVA judges. They form an emotional bound, and it appears that the two Lokis are falling in love.
Back at the TVA Mobius is trying to figure out where the Lokis went, and all seems lost until suddenly a new nexus event happens, bigger than any TVA agents have seen. Mobius guesses that the event is caused by the Lokis, and the TVA agents show up to arrest them. Thus rescuing them from death.
This episode had some poignant moments. Loki (thanks to being stuck in a time loop reliving one of his painful memories over and over) seems to have an epiphany about himself. One of the TVA agents has a memory of her life before being mindwiped.
Even with Mobius and the other TVA agent deciding that Sylvie and Loki are correct, and even though Sylvie gets to behead one of the Time Keepers, nothing really goes well for any of the characters the audience is rooting for by the end of this episode. Two of them appear to get killed rather permanently, in fact.
Episode four was the first time that we got an after credits scene, and it’s a doozy.
Episode five, "Journey into Mystery" opens with our Loki, believing he was just killed, finding himself on a nightmarish planet being met by four other Loki variants. The four are Classic Loki, Kid Loki, Boastful Loki, and Alligator Loki.
Classic Loki is based on Jack Kirby’s original drawing of the character Marvel’s Journey Into Mystery comics, and is played by Richard E. Grant. In the series, Classic Loki managed to survive the confrontation with Thanos instead of dying like he is supposed to, and eventually was arrested by the TVA, tried, and prunes. Kid Loki is based on a more recent Marvel comic series. In the comics Kid Loki is a clone of Loki that eventually gets possessed by the soul of the original Loki. In this series Kid Loki managed to kill his brother, Thor, while they were both young, and was promptly arrested by the TVA, tried, and pruned.
We never get a full explanation of either Alligator Loki or Boastful Loki.
They are all trapped on the Void, which is supposedly the end of time. Everything that the TVA prunes from the time line winds up here and is eventually devoured by this smoke monster called Alioth.
We meet one other alternate Loki from the comics: President Loki, who in the comics ran for President of the U.S. and caused various troubles.
While our Loki is learning about the Void (which is populated by a lot of Loki because in addition to frequently causing new timelines Lokis are extremely good at surviving), Sylvie is also learning about the Void.
Sylvie becomes convinced that the real creators of the TVA are hiding in a spot beyond the end of time, and prunes herself to get there. She almost immediately teams up the Mobius, who she convinces to help her try to confront Alioth to try to get to the place beyond the Void.
Out Loki, meanwhile, has convinced Classic Loki, Kid Loki, and Alligator Loki that Alioth can be destroyed and they also go off to confront it.
Which means all our principals get together again, and a plan is hatched.
I really want to know what happens in the finale!
I mentioned above that I’m not as invested in exactly what the answer that Loki and Sylvie find. And that’s mostly true. I’m less invested in what the specific answer is than whether the answer we get feels like a fitting ending to the journey.
I’m going to go out on a limb here… there are two main possibilities I’ve been able to imagine.
First theory: it turns out that the being who set up the TVA and is trying to control reality to preserve the Sacred Timeline is Kang the Conqueror (or one of his incarnations). From the point of view of the comics, this makes sense, because Kang is a villain in the comics who runs up and down the timeline trying to keep history on track for his future where he’s emperor of the universe. Kang has already been announced as a character appearing in the third Ant Man movie, and in the comics he has had multiple connections to the TVA. The character of Rennslayer in this series is named after one of Kang’s lovers.
The problem with this ending is that it only makes sense to dyed in wool comic nerds such as myself. There has been no mention of Kang in any previous MCU property that I can recall, and certainly none in this series. I’m not sure how the writers could make him the answer to the mystery and at the same time give us a satisfying ending.
Second theory: it turns out the being who set up the TVA and is trying to control reality to preserve the Sacred Timeline is another Loki variant. Exactly why a Loki variant would be so intent on preserving a timeline in which he dies without ever achieving his glorious purpose, but that ending does have an emotional resonance with the rest of the series. In the first episode Mobius told Loki that the TVA has had to arrest a lot of Lokis, so you could say it was foreshadowed.
What I’m hoping is that the writers have something completely different than either of my theories up their sleeves.
We’ll know in just six days!
Edited to add:
You might find these reviews informative:
Cora Buhlert: Loki goes on a “Journey Into Mystery” Cora’s review made me realize I was remiss in my own review. I really should have mentioned what a stupendous job Richard E. Grant did in the role of Classic Loki. I’ll quote her review:
"Richard E. Grant’s Loki is awesome. Not only does Grant wander around in one of the most ridiculous costumes Jack Kirby ever designed and manages to look dignified, he also brilliantly portrays an aged Loki who’s disgusted both with himself and the universe. Honestly, give Richard E. Grant an Emmy/Bafta/Golden Globe/whatever."
Grant is incredibly funny when called on in this episode, and yet he also has the most poignant scene in the episode near the end. Just an all-around fantastic choice for the character.
The second episode of Loki dropped last week and I quite enjoyed it again. The first episode spent so much time setting up the premise of the Time Variant Authority and establishing where in the sequence of the existing Marvel movies and series this story sits on the timeline.
The dialogue was fun. Owen Wilson is a good foil for Hiddleston’s Loki. The other Time Agents remain entertaining in their lack of being impressed or awed by Loki. And Loki is his tricksy self.
If they can keep this chemistry going, I think the series will be just fine even if it turns out to be a typical kind of timey-wimey battle of wits adventure. I can’t say much more without spoilers, so…
There Be Spoilers Hereafter!
Turn back now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
I noticed that several reviews of the first episode of Loki called it a “clip show”which is slang for one of the cheap episodes that television series sometimes do where they film only a small amount of framing material and spend most of the episode showing scenes from previous episodes.
I think that’s an oversimplification.
To be fair, the reviews that I saw make this claim have also said that it makes sense to do that since the Disney+ shows have (thus far) attracted an audience that includes lots of people who have seen either none of the MCU movies, or very few.
There was a substantial amount of episode one that was new material. Some of it quite well-done, such as the Miss Minutes narrated orientation cartoon. One bit of it looked like it was a clip from something else (the DB Cooper Escape bit), but wasn’t. And also, the number of clips they picked were not focused on recapping Loki’s entire life, but rather to set the stage (and allow the audience to see how devastated Loki is to learn that not only does his mother die, but he is somewhat to blame).
That said, by episode two they are done with the set-up. Loki knows his only hope for any kind of continued existence is to keep being useful to the TVA. And right now the TVA is trying to capture another Variant of Loki that not only broke the timeline, but is out to do something else—we just don’t know what. There is a lot of fun back and forth as Agent Mobius tries to manipulate Loki, and Loki literally replies to one such attempt, “It’s so adorable you think you can manipulate me.” And Mobius demonstrates that he is good at sniffing out Loki’s lies.
Loki figures out that the other Variant Loki has been impossible to track down because they’re hiding inside Apocalypses. Not full-on end an entire world Apocalypses, but moments in history when no one in a particular region survives. The reasoning being that the presence of the time-hopping variant can’t leave any ripples in the time line, because none of the people the Variant interacts with has any impact on the future.
I want to note that as Loki explained this I had a flashback to Connie Willis’ 1992 science fiction novel, Dooms Day Book, as that bit about a time traveler’s presence at a point just before everyone dies can’t change history is an important plot point. I’m sure Willis wasn’t the first person to do this, but I was thinking about the time traveler who was trying to figure out why she landed an English Medieval village just weeks before the entire village will be wiped out by the Plague when the time machine was supposed to take her to a different period.
Anyway, there is a hilarious scene where Loki proves his theory by getting Mobius to take him to Pompeii moments before the volcano erupts, and he jumps up on a cart and shouts out in Latin that he’s from the future and they’re all going to die. And his actions don’t cause Mobius timey-wimey tricorder like thing to register anything.
They next pick a spot based on the pack of bubblegum that The Variant had given a little girl in the scene from episode one, and they find themselves a few decades in our future in a kind Walmart with a hurricane bearing down about to kill everyone.
Loki finds The Variant, has a bit of a fight and some banter. The big reveal here is that this Loki is female. Our Loki doesn’t bat an eye, but anyone really familiar with Norse Mythology knows that Loki as swapped genders a few times as part of a scheme in some of the old legends (in one of them he even gets pregnant, and gives birth to a magical horse). So this isn’t some newfangled woke thing that SJWs are forcing onto Marvel. (I’m sure somewhere out there people are writing angry tweet about it).
The Variant escapes and Loki leaps through the time portal after here, apparently leaving Mobius and the other Time Agents behind. Oh! And The Variant has built a bombs or bombs out of all those Reset Charges earlier, and may have just broken the Sacred Timeline altogether.
And I’ve been on the edge of my seat for days waiting for episode three!
So I’m watching Disney+ series, Loki and the second episode is about to become available any minute, yet I haven’t posted a review.
The series, what it seems to be tackling, and what if delivered in the first episode gave me a lot of things to write about, and I’ve started, scrapped, and re-started this review several times.
It’s too much.
So, first, let me sum up: Fun! Funny!
Some more details would be nice, and I’ll try to do that in a reasonable word count below. I must warn you: *After this there be SPOILER!
So turn back now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
First, want to say that I’ve enjoyed the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has handled the elements of Norse Mythology they’ve used for the Thor and the Avengers movies. Often when American producers delve into mythology they go the cookie cutter route of portraying the leader of the gods as the Good Guy, kind and wise and so forth, one of the other gods as the Bad Guy (usually a take on the Devil), and the other gods are mostly sorted into the two camps of the good gods and the bad gods.
Therefore, Odin is the leader of the good gods, Loki is the equivalent of the devil, and Thor is the loyal son of the leader of the good gods.
If you’ve actually read Norse mythology, you know that this isn’t how things are. Odin in wily and is not above cheating another supernatural being out of an agreed upon payment for a large job, just to get one example.
Some of the most interesting of the Norse stories involve Loki very cleverly getting Thor or the other Asgardians out of trouble that their carelessness or arrogance get them into.
Particularly in the move Thor: Ragnarok we saw that Odin has definitely not always be a "good guy" and that when push came to shove, Loki will do the right thing.
It is true that Loki is often portrayed as a master of deception, and clearly he’s never going to be a Knight in Shining Armor, but the way he’s been portrayed in the movies by Tom Hiddleston over the last decade or so has always given us moments where you feel for the guy.
In Avengers: Infinity War Loki died trying to kill Thanos and save the remnant of Asgard’s population. In the next Avengers movie, End Game the surviving heroes pull of a series of Time Heists to get the Infinity Stones (which Thanos destroyed after using them to kill half the population of the universe). And during one part of that heist they jumped into a portion of the very first Avengers movie, but things don’t go according to play, and the Loki of that time period (who had been captured and was in restraints) grabs the Space Stone (aka the Tesseract) and escapes.
Thus messing up both the plans of the heroes (who later in the movie put all the stolen stones back into the place and time they had come from).
The series picks up moments after that Loki vanished. He finds himself in the Gobi desert. Some kind of portals open up and heavily armed people come out, incapacitate him, make some comments about the broken timeline, then set something called a "reset charge" and take the captures Loki through the portal.
Loki has been arrested by the Time Variance Authority (TVA). The TVA appeared in a lot of Marvel comic books over the years. They are, essentially, an extra-dimensional time police. And look for events that break what they call "the sacred timeline," they find the person who caused the change in history, (who they call "variants") they prone the branching timeline, and bring the Variant back to their extradimension city/giant burueacracy to be tried and then erased from reality.
Most of this is explained in a very cute orientation video that Loki is forced to watch early in the first episode.
Pruning the branches from the timeline isn’t always as easy as the opening scene of the episode makes it appear. And the viewers learn that there is someone who is ambushing the crews of heavily armed time agents, killing them, and stealing the reset charge.
But much of this episode involved Loki trying to figure out how to get out of this predicament. One of the best recurring bits is he keeps making his grand eloquent speeches about how he is the God of Mischief and to be feared, and absolutely none of the bored looking pencil pushers he keeps meeting even bats an eye.
One time agent, Agent Mobius, wants to spare Loki from immediate erasure because he thinks Loki might be able to help them with the new problem. Mobius is played by Owen Wilson, and he seems to be the perfect foil to Hiddleston’s Loki in this episode.
Mobius tries to explain how in the main timeline, Loki did not escape, and he is destined to go on to inadvertently cause his mothers death (Thor: The Dark World), and die by Thanos’ hand without ever achieving the glory he’s always believed was his. The title of the first episdoe, "Glorious Purpose" is a phrase Loki used in the first Avengers movie when he began his attempt to conquer the world.
Hiddleston isn’t limited to generating laughs. There’s a point in the episode where he tries to escape, and winds up hiding out in the room Mobius had been briefing him in earlier. He watches those parts of his future Mobius told him about that he didn’t want to believe. The look on his face when he sees his mother’s death, and then later is own was just heart wrenching.
Loki realizes that he is powerless in that place, that the infinity stones are also powerless, and that the glorious purpose he always believed was is is just a pile of bitter ashes.
Before the episode ends, we see one of the groups of time agents get ambushed and killed, and we see a mysterious cloaked figure take the reset charge.
Presumably Mobius is about to try to pit Loki’s wiles and scheming against the mysterious cloaked figure. How will that work?
I’m really looking forward to finding out!
Some reviews you may find useful:
So, there’s a blog post about writing and plotting that I keep not finishing in no small part because I keep going on digressions that quickly turn into fractal rabbit holes and the next thing I know I’m writing about something so unrelated to the original subject that even when I stop and re-read the string of digressions I have a hard time understanding how I got there.
I decided that this particular digression was worth it’s own post. And maybe if I get the rant out of my system I’ll have one less digression to avoid in the other post.
I have mentioned many times how my mom, who is a both a science fiction and murder mystery fan, would read aloud to me from whatever book she had checked out of the library for herself and picked up at the used bookstore when I was a small child. From a very early age, therefore, I heard a lot of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, and a lot of Andre Norton sci fi and fantasy, and so forth.
Because of the Christies, I have always had a great fondness for murder mysteries, police procedurals, and the like. Which means that I usually watch at least the first episode of any new series in that vein, to see if it might become my new obsession.
But I also have a few pet peeves, and one of them is the serial killer. Some series seem to decide to throw in a serial killer when other plotlines in the series are fizzling out. Some series can’t seem to go a month without throwing in a serial killer plot.
Why do I almost always dislike serial killers in these shows? First of all, fictional serial killers are almost always portrayed as super geniuses who have been getting away with it because no one can keep up with the blazing brilliance. That doesn’t match reality, at all. Most serial killers range from borderline intellectual functioning /(well below average intelligence/) to just a bit above average intelligence.
The reasons that most serial killers manage to rack up sometimes mind-boggling numbers of murders before they get caught are much more mundane. According to FBI statistics, on average only 58% of murder investigations result in an identification of a perpetrator. In a number of cities, that percentage is lower, less that 50%. So the odds are already pretty good that a serial killer will get away with it for a while.
Another big reason is that a lot of serial killers target strangers. There is no social connection between the killer and their victims. Police investigations always focus at the beginning on people who knew the victim. One reason they do this is because it’s easy, once you know who the victim is, to compile a list of neighbors, relatives, and co-workers. Then you got investigate all of them.
The second reason that police investigations always focus on people who knew the victim well first is a kind of confirmation bias. To explain in, I’m going to go on a planned digression.
Several years ago the place I was employed at at the time experienced a number of workplace thefts. Thousands of dollars in hard drives alone was walking out the door somehow. They brought in a consultant to give us all pointers in how to secure our work areas and so forth. This consultant turned out to be one of these guys who is really good at sounding like an expert but not really that bright. And he had apparently never given his presentation to a room full of computer engineers and other kinds of math nerds before. Early in the presentation he had a slide that included a statistic that at most 5% of the perpetrators of workplace theft are ever caught. Sometime later in the presentation he said, "Nine times out of ten the workplace thief turns out to be an employee."
A zillion hands shot up. "But you just said that only 5% are caught, that means the 95 times out of 100 we don’t know who the thief is. At best, you can only so that 4 times out of 100 the perpetrator turns out to be an employee."
It became really painful to watch, because the guy didn’t understand the flaw in the statistics. At all.
That example applies to the cliches that a number of police believe about murders. "It’s also the boyfriend!" or "It’s almost always someone who knew the victim well." Those beliefs are the a result at looking at that 58% or less of the murders that are "solved." I put solved in quotes because the FBI statistics don’t require an actual conviction to designate a murder case as having been cleared, and they don’t take into account the growing number of wrongful convictions that are being discovered through testing of DNA evidence that wasn’t tested at the time.
The important thing is that if we accept the 58% number as a rough estimate of how many murders get solved, that means we have absolutely no idea how many of the unsolved murders were committed by someone the victim knew. At best, it seems that a little over half time someone is charged, it’s usually someone the victim knew. That that’s 51% of the 58% solved, which is less than 30% of all the murders.
Meanwhile the serial killer has gone back to their normal life and never gets looked at by the cops.
A third reason that a lot of serial killers get away with it a lot is not just that thereis no prior known social connection between the killer and the victim, is that a significant number of serial killers target people in various marginalized communities. It’s not just that a number of police don’t think the victims are worth the time and effort (though that is a factor), but that other prejudices and facts of systemic bigotry makes a lot of potential evidence essentially invisible.
The most famous example of this is one of Jeffery Dahmer’s victim. The young man was clearly injured, had escaped the clutches of the cannibal Dahmer, and was begging for help. Except he spoke almost no english. The police who found him handed him back over to the cannibal, because Dahmer was a white guy who spoke well, and he convinced the cops that the young asian man was simply his boyfriend and they had had a lovers spat.
Another example are some of the known victims of Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur. They were closeted gay men, several of them either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. They led double-lives which meant that for those that were reported missing, the families simply didn’t know a lot about their lives. At least one victim was never reported missing because his family feared deportation.
There are a lot of other myths about serial killers that almost always are used in these shows, but this evil genius myth is particularly irritating to me. Now, I get it. If the writers’ wrote a serial killer case truthfully, the cops wouldn’t arrest anyone and not get to be shown as heroes. That’s not as fun a story to write.
One easy solution to that problem, in my opinion, is not to write about serial killers at all. Find other ways to put your characters into difficult situations. There are millions of other possibilities. Give them a try.
The finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a lot of fun. This is a superhero story, so there was a lot of superheroics. They did a much better job wrapping up most of the problematic plotlines than I had feared in the middle.
I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s reviews of the earlier episodes, and someone made an observation that echoed something I had been thinking about, but I can’t find the review where I read it so I can credit them. Marvel had a plan for this phase of their cinematic universe, which was to be kicked off by the Black Widow movie last summer, and then we were supposed to get The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series and then after that we were supposed to see WandaVision.
Instead, that part of the schedule was reversed. WandaVision was a very out-of-the-box story and didn’t follow typical superhero combat outlines. Because we saw it first, it raised the bar. So when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more of a typical superhero story, we keep expecting something more because WandaVision was so different.
It has also been revealed that at least one character who was introduced in this series is also in the Black Widow movie, and that was supposed to be our introduction to them. Not sure how, if we had been able to see Black Widow first that might have changed some of our perceptions of this series.
I think the series overall was fair, but not entirely good and certainly not great. I know opinions vary on this.
But to talk about the finale and what I thought worked, I’m going requires some spoilers. Before we jump into that, because this is a Disney owned property and for some time Disney has been refusing to pay some writers royalties owned, it is nice to note that Disney and Alan Dean Foster approaching settlement on royalties
Okay, so, let’s get into it:
Warning: Spoilers Below!
We finally see Sam in a Captain America themed costume. That favor Bucky called in really paid of, because Sam’s new flight suit is a major upgrade. This episode had lots of fights, and those were all thrilling.
The identity of the Power Broker is revealed as being Sharon Carter. I was a bit disappointed in this development since in the comics Sharon was never a villain. I’m also disappointed because all the previous clues pointed to Sharon so obviously that I was certain they were red herrings. I think this is another one I have to chalk up to WandaVision having raised my expectations too high.
The political parts of the plot don’t hang together well. Camestros Felapton opined in a previous review that this is because the writers are attempting to riff on the original Captain American’s unwavering moral compass, but the writers don’t seem to have the same moral compass. Cora Buhlert pointed out more than once that the supposed villains, the Flag-Smashers, are mostly right in objecting to the policies of the Global Repatriation Council, while the GRC’s policies amount to genocide under real world international law.
I have a really hard time believing, even when half the population of the planet disappeared five years previously, that the remainder of most of the world’s governments would cede all decisions about international travel and so forth to a single committee. If you can suspend your disbelief enough to at least see the GRC’s vote as having something other than symbolic value, you can kind of muddle through that part of the plot.
The fights play out, with Sam and Bucky each getting to be probably heroic. Captain Nationalism shows up in the middle of things and for a bit it looked like it was just going to be a repeat of him murdering one or more members of the Flag-Smashers. Instead, when Karli endangers a truck load of hostages, he breaks off from the fight and tries to save the hostages.
The Karli does get killed before everything is said and done, but it is Sharon Carter who does it, under circumstances where it appears to Sam that Sharon was just acting to save him. The viewers know that Sharon had tried to recruit Karli and the remaining super soldiers to come work for her, and then Karli refused, Sharon needed to kill her or be exposed as the villainous Power Broker.
Sam gets to have a debate with the members of the GRC, the entire thing filmed not just by news camera but by dozens or more bystanders. So the whole world heard him talk about being a Black man wearing the Stars and Stripes. The speech was moving, but we still didn’t take a very deep dive into the problems of systemic racism.
Isaiah Bradley’s stories gets a good closure. We get a scene where Isaiah sees that the story of him and the other black soldiers involuntarily experimented upon is now part of the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian. I’ve been trying to avoid reviews until I finished writing this but I did notice something on Twitter and Tumblr. Fans (as far as I can tell) are white, thought this scene wasn’t very important to the plot or was too superficial a take on the troubling relationship between the American Medical Establishment and the African American community. Whereas fans I know are people of color found the scene very moving; some declaring it the most important moment in the whole series.
I thought it was a good scene, though I would have liked a bit more of an examination of the meaning of Isaiah’s earlier declaration that no Black man should want to become Captain America. But I’m going to defer to the opinions of the PoC on how well this scene really worked.
We get to see Zemo one more time, but he isn’t talking to anyone, and that’s a shame. The rest of the super soldiers in the Flag-Smashers are killed by a bomb. The Contessa has a short scene with Captain Nationalism and his wife, where he gets a new uniform and the name USAgent. Bucky goes to the elderly man from episode one and finally confesses that he was the one who murdered the man’s son, and apparently explains about the whole Winter Solider thing. And Sharon got her pardon–which she is going to use to steal secrets from the government.’
And it seems that the powers that be are all okay with Sam declaring himself Captain America. We get a final wrap up with Bucky and Sam back in Louisiana with Sam’s sister, nephews, and all the community members we met earlier. I have to say I like that Bucky is able to smile again.
And the final title card changes the name of the show to Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
One of the jobs this series set out to accomplish was to show us that Sam could step into Steve Roger’s boots and be a great Captain America. It pulled that off, but it’s fair to say it did that in spite of the main plot of the show, rather than because of it.
The show is uneven. It worked for me, I think, because the character arcs for Bucky, Sam, and USAgent held together, again, sometimes in spite of the plot, not because of it.
At least for me, I’m left wanting to see what happens next for Sam, and Bucky, and Zemo. I want to know what kind of trouble the Contessa is going to get USAgent into. And I want to know how Sharon’s plots will be thwarted.
And I’m hoping that Loki is better.
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Episode five of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was very enjoyable. The storyline made some progress on a portion of the plot that has been muddled in previous episode. They also finally made a few specific mentions of racism, rather than relying on Hydra as a stand in for white supremacy/white nationalism. They dipped a toe in, at least. It’s still unclear whether the whole story is going to hold together, and there is only one episode after this.
I can’t be more specific without some major spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the episode and don’t want to be spoiler, don’t scroll past the warning below.
Before I get into that, this show is on Disney+, and the parent company, I should remind you that the parent company, Disney, continues to refuse to pay royalties owed to Alan Dean Foster and others for novelizations and similar work.
Okay, so, let’s get into it:
Warning: Spoilers Below!
The episode picks up apparently only minutes after the end of the previous episode. USAgent, aka the new Captain America, aka Captain Nationalism has fled the scene of his street execution of an unarmed member of the Flag-Smashers. Bucky and Sam are hot on his tail.
They try to talk him into surrendering, which of course he won’t do, so we get a fight. It’s a superhero series, there has to be a fight, but I have to say I was a bit impatient for it to be over.
See, in Captain America: the Winter Soldier Bucky, as the Winter Soldier, was able to give the real Captain America quite a run for his money in combat when Cap had Black Widow and Falcon assisting. And later when Cap had to go up against the Winter Soldier alone, he lost the fight (though he won the war). So, I’m sorry, Captain Nationalism, even with the super soldier serum, is no Steve Rogers. Bucky should have been able to take him down, by himself, in half the time that the showrunners stretched out the fight against Bucky and Sam.
Okay, that’s my fanboy nerdy moment over.
It was very poignant after the fight seeing Sam try to wipe the blood of the murdered man off Cap’s shield.
I found my suspension of disbelief stretching later in the episode when we find out that, Captain Nationalism murdered an unarmed man while literally hundreds of bystanders recorded it and uploaded to the internet, that instead of being turned over to the authorities in Latvia to face charges, he apparently got back to the U.S. only to face a disciplinary hearing. If the government whisked him away, surely they would have already known that he no longer had the shield right?
Whisking him away would be a violation of international law… but in the real world the U.S. military is notorious for violating those laws and treaties when service members commit crimes in allied countries where we have military bases. We are particularly guilty of doing it when white American G.I. commits sexual assault against a person of color. So it isn’t unbelievable that we would do it. I would just feel a whole lot better had the writers made some acknowledgement that that’s what happened.
Before I get back to Sam and Bucky, I just want to say what a wonderful surprise was the cameo of Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. That’s a character who is a bit of a deep-dive. She was original introduced in the late 60s in the super-spy version of the Nick Fury comic books. She was much later revealed to be a sleeper agent all along and became a villain. There are several possibilities for how Marvel plans to use her later, but I think it is particularly telling that she shows up right after Captain Nationalism’s trial to offer him a job.
It was a very short scene, but she was awesome in it. And I look forward to seeing her interact with other characters–dare we hope she gets significant screen time with Daniel Brühl’s Zemo in a future show?
Speaking of Brühl, we get a very satisfying scene with Bucky confronting him at the Sokovia Monument before he is arrested by the Dora Milaje and taken away to that floating super prison which I believe we last saw in Captain America_ Civil War.
Sam, meanwhile, returns to the U.S. and meet with Isaiah Bradly, the black super soldier buried from history that Bucky introduced Sam to earlier. They have a couple of moving scenes. Not surprising that it is moving because Carl Lumbly is a talented actor. This is the scene where the writer’s finally stop used code, allowing Bradley to talk about the racism inherent in how he and his former comrades were chosen to test the early attempts to duplicate the last super soldier serum. Anyone familiar with the Tuskegee Experiment will not be surprised at some of the horrible things Bradley reveals.
He makes an impassioned argument that, first, certain people will not stand by and let a black man take up the name Captain America. And second that, because of the way America treats its minorities, no black man should want to wear those stars and stripes.
The action then moves back to Louisiana. Sam calls in favors from the community and starts working to fix the family’s fishing boat so his sister can sell it to save the family home. Bucky shows up obstensibly to deliver a “favor” he cashed in with the Wakandas (perhaps a new flight suit, since Sam’s was destroyed during the fight with Captain Nationalism).
Anyway, this leads to the best parts of the episode. I have mentioned so many times how episode two was so awesome because if you just let Bucky and Sam interact, wonderful things happen. There is less snark between them in their scenes here. And the scenes do a good job of dealing with the the family legacy subplot while showing realistically Sam and Bucky bonding, and trying to move past being two guys who happened to both love the same man. Er, that is, I mean, both were extremely close friends with and worked as sidekicks to.
While it may be a bit formulaic, even the superhero trains himself montage they gave Sam felt earned and meaningful. If one of the purposes of this series is to convince fans of the Captain America and Avengers movies that Sam is ready to become the new Captain America, it seems to be accomplishing that.
The political plot still seems to be a mess. The mulit-government council the Karli and the Flag-Smashers are fighting is proposing things that are blatantly bad. So the viewer ought to be cheering for the Flag-Smashers. I can’t tell if that writers simply don’t realize this is what they are doing, or if they trying so hard to to cast what are clearly alt-right/white nationalist ideas as objectively immoral because they don’t want to offend American conservatives.
We get more clues implying the Sharon Carter is the mysterious villain known as the Power Broker. The fact that she hires the international terrorist, Batroc, who has fought both Captain America and Falcon earlier certainly doesn’t bode well for her not being a villain.
It’s still too soon to tell. In the comics the two roles that Sharon Carter played in most storylines was to be Captain America’s modern era girlfriend, or to be a spy usually working for S.H.I.E.L.D. In the latter role she often was working in what could at best be termed morally grey areas (which often caused tension between her and Cap). So it is still possible that it’s going to turn out that these clues hinting at her being the Power Broker are red herrings.
The show ends with the Flag-Smasher’s taking the members of the Global Repatriation Commission captive. Sam seems read to be a hero again. We presume he will take up Bucky’s offer to call when he needs back-up. So expect a big fight next episode.
And then, of course, there is the post-credits scene. Nothing is going to be simple.
I can’t tell, yet, if this is a series that aimed at a very difficult goal and isn’t quite pulling it off, or if it is going to completely crash and burn.
I guess we’ll find out on Friday!
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I’ve started, scrapped, and re-started my review of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode four, “The Whole World is Watching” several times. The episode is a big improvement over episode three, but the basic story still appears to have more than a few major flaws. I think the way to stop myself from digressing down a lot of rabbit holes is to focus on what I think the source of the flaws is, before talking about the plot.
Before I get into that, I have neglected to mention that this show is on Disney+, and the parent company, Disney, continues to refuse to pay royalties owed to Alan Dean Foster and others for novelizations and similar work.
I can’t really talk about the episode without spoilers, so:
Warning: Spoilers Below!
Television shows and movies and the like have always had problems when trying to incorporate the real world and real history into their narratives. Sometimes it is mostly an annoyance, such as all the times that shows are supposedly set in the City of Seattle, where I live, but are very obviously being filmed in Vancouver, Canada (which means most of the world doesn’t even notice). This particular shows shares a sin with lots of American shows in that the Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, is being used as a stand-in for several different European locations, much of which bear little resemblance to Prague.
That kind of muddle doesn’t usually create plotholes, so those of use that do recognize the difference can still enjoy the story.
Unfortunately, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is also suffering from another kind of dissonance with the real world. For example, the villain, Zemo — who is still belng played deliciously well by Daniel Brühl — makes several references to his family’s legacy and his own childhood that just make absolutely no sense for a person who is supposed to have grown up in a fictional country which is, according to previous films in the MCU, sandwiched inbetween the real nations of the Czech Republic and Slovokia. Nor does another of his references to a childhood visit to the real world city of Riga, capital of Latvia.
At least they don’t make sense if you assume that these stories are taking place in the year 2021, which they appear to be. I should pause here to point out that Cora Buhlert goes into much more detail about these discrepancies in her reviews.
Rather than retell this information, I want to present my theory for why the writers or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and other MCU properties are making this mess. I think it comes down to two things. First, Americans (by which I means inhabitants of the U.S., not to disparage our Canadian or Mexican neighbors) or embarrassingly ignorant of both history and geography. Second, the comic book origins of the Marvel Universe have a particular time warp baked into the origins and themes of most of the classi villains and heroes.
To the first point, I want to hasten to point out the most of my fellow citizens are woefully ignorant of the geographic of Europe, Asia, Africa, and so one. But they’re also extremely ill-informed about our own country. I spent my late teens and early twenties traveling around the country in a touring choir, and do not exaggerate when I say I met thousands of people who did not know that Washington State, where we were from, is not the same as the city of Washington, D.C., and that the two Washingtons are literally on opposite sides of the continent. More recently there was that viral meme about how many millions of people were shocked and sometimes angry to learn that Alaska isn’t an island. And let’s not forget the Trumpers from the U.S. state of Georgia who were running around the capitol waving not the flag of their home state, but the flag of the Eastern European Nation of Georgia (because they search for Georgia flag on Amazon–I kid you not!)!
So, Americans, including most of the writers and show runners of any series you can name, literally do not know the difference between Albania, Austria, Latvia, Serbia, or Romania; let alone have any idea of their relative histories. Similarly, if they’ve even heard of events like the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, the Kosovo War, the First or Second Chechen Wars, the Romanian Revolution, the Hungarian Revolution, or any of the Albania Civil Wars, they have no idea what the conflicts were about nor which ones came before and which after the Dissolution of the Soviet Union.
So fictional European characters written by Americans are going to have backstories that make no sense and contradict history at every turn.
Then there is the Marvel timeline problem. Most of the classic Marvel heroes and villains have their origins in the 1960s and 1970s. Things about American culture and which parts of recent history were important to Americans during that time are baked deeply into the DNA of the fictional lives, themes, and backstories of those characters.
One of the concepts that ghosts along just under the surface of the very essence of a huge number of Marvel characters is that World War II was only 20 or 30 years ago. Trying to translate those origins into modern times means that writers wind up half-heartedly tying major turning points in the lives of both heroes and villains to a more recent conflict, which likely has little culture or economic similarities to WWII as perceived by Americas during the Viet Nam War era. This results in some very confusing elements to the personalities, motivations, and backstories of those characters in a modern setting.
Enough explanation of why most of the socio-politico motivations of any of the villains in this series makes absolutely no sense. Let’s get the the actual episode. “The Whole World Is Watching” is a significantly better entry than episode three. The action sequences (particularly the one involve the Wakandan Dora Milaje) are much more exciting, engaging, and have a lot of emotional heft.
In a completely different arena, we see Sam using his skills as a PTSD counsellor to try to get through to Karli, the leader of the flag smashers. I should note that Cora Buhlert has pointed out the Sam’s true superpower is empathy, and I have to agree that this comes through really strong in this episode.
Karli cross the line from activist to terrorist last episode, and in this episode we see that even some of her most loyal followers are uneasy with this shift. Even so, Sam does seem to reach a moment of understanding. And it is during the conversation with Sam that Karli herself acknowledges that her philosophy, goals, and tactics have some contradictions.
During Karli’s conversations with her followers and with Sam, we get a lot more details of what happened to at least some of the people who didn’t vanish in the blip, and a slightly better explanation of why Karli and her followers are doing what they’re doing. It would have really made episodes two and three make a lot more sense if the writers had found a way to include some of the information in episode one. For example, some of it could have logically been brought up during the scene where Sam and his sister try to take out a small business loan. Just sayin’.
Sam isn’t able to talk Karli down, however, because USAgent, aka Captain Nationalism aka the new Captain America, is too impatient to give Sam the ten minutes he asked for. Zemo uses the ensuing fight to shoot Karli and destroy most of her vials of super soldier serum. Unfortunately, New Cap finds what might be the last surviving vial, and later in the episode we learn he’s injected himself with it.
It is during the second fight with the Flag Smashers that we see that New Cap has super strength. When his loyal friend seems to be killed in said fight (I’m not convinced he’s dead, because the camera cut back to his motionless body at a really odd moment after all of the rest of the characters left the building, chasing the Flag-smashers), New Cap gets even more reckless, leading up to the extremely bloody and shocking final scene.
I’m going to put a stake in the ground here and say that if the rest of the series doesn’t use that final scene, where an unarmed man who is trying to surrender it brutally murdered with the entire event caught on the cameras of hundreds of smart phones as a metaphor for real live incidents of police brutality, than the whole series has missed the boat.
Despite a lot of improvements, we don’t get anything as enjoyable as the banter between Bucky and Sam in episode two. Which is a shame.
While this episode did a lot to salvage the mess of episode three, there are still a heaping pile of details to wrap-up with only two episodes to go. I suspect it’s going to be a wild ride, whether they succeed in tying everything up or not.
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Note: When I mentioned above how poorly Americans know geography and history, I am including myself. I literally used to read Encylopedias cover to cover for fun, and I love reading reference books of all kinds, but I also know I have some big and occasionally embarrassing holes in my knowledge. I can draw, from memory, a fairly accurate map or the borders of European countries circa 1914, for instance, but give me a blank modern map of Europe and tell me to fill in names and I know I’ll get several of them wrong.