Thursday, January 31, 2013

Man on Film: Warm Bodies

If ever there were a high-concept film that could be made in the here and now that would be a nearly sure-fire hit, it would be Warm Bodies, which could be aptly pitched with just the following five words:
Romeo and Juliet with zombies.
That movie, especially when you cast Nicholas Hoult of Skins* and X-Men: First Class as Zombie Romeo (or R, as he's named in the film), will find its ravenous fans in the teenage girl demographic regardless of how well the film is realized. It is whether it is executed well and intelligently that would determine whether or not it will find a following outside of that demographic.

*The original British version and the first two awesome seasons. 

One could easily posit the query is it actually necessary to make another zombie movie with the logical corollary question as to whether or not another clever zombie movie is necessary. After all, there is a glut of all things zombie, especially since The Walking Dead is out there--a show I stopped watching part way through the turgid second season, but that is neither here nor there. There is also a glut of young-adult romance set in and around the supernatural playground, but I'm sure I do not need to call your attention to that.

Thankfully, Warm Bodies brings more to the table than similarly targeted supernatural teen schlock. In the form of R, the audience gets a protagonist zombie mired existential tumult and post-human malaise. He is discontent with his state of being, wracked with insecurity and sadness stemming from his desire to recapture his humanity, as the zombie lifestyle is unfulfilling to him.

This post-human depression is played to mostly comedic effect, and for the most part it works. It is clever. It doesn't really cross over the line of being clever to the point of cloying. It owes a lot of this to the fact that in Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies has an extremely capable lead. To many, the knowledge of his body of work is limited to just his small role as young Henry McCoy in X-Men: First Class and the vague recollection upon prompting that he was titular "boy" in About a Boy. Anyone who has seen him in Skins would assume he is capable of virtually anything*. Here, he has the weight of the film on his shoulders, and he carries it with ease.

*I've also heard nothing but glowing accolades for his small role in A Single Man, but I've not seen it.

To talk so much of just Hoult's performance would be to do a disservice to director/screenwriter Jonathan Levine, who has struck the right chords on his second straight outing following the wonderful 50/50 in which he also managed to avoid all the pitfalls that cancer dramedies. Levine seems to be showing an ability to walk that fine line on projects that could easily veer into schlocky crapfests with a single misstep. Obviously he's working from Isaac Marion's source material, the 2010 novel by the same name, but a lesser director--I'm thinking of Peter Care, who dismally adapted the brilliant novel The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys in 2002--likely blows it, and when it doesn't work, it is usually an unmitigated disaster.

Now I've talked for quite some time about the film without getting to the biggest potential problem, at least for the demographic that I belong to. This is a zombie/human Romeo and Juliet story. I didn't really know that going in. If I had, it's quite possible that I would have passed on the free screening. Superficially, this sounds an awful lot like Twilight without the triangle (and overt Mormon subtexts). Where Warm Bodies differs is that it is actually clever. Where Twilight lost any potential to be even remotely appealing past the teen girl and ignored housewife demographics was in its ridiculous earnestness with which it treated its abusive relationship. There is nothing that actually happens that would lead anyone other than the already faithful followers to believe that the two romantic leads (I'll not deign to mention them by name) actually love each other. They are preposterously serious all the time.

For starters, one can actually believe that R and Julie (Teresa Palmer previously of I Am Number Four, Take Me Home Tonight, and The Sorcerer's Apprentice) grew to love each other, rather than just telling us that they did. Everything feels earned. The audience are not treated like they are fools. Rather, they are treated with a modicum of respect.

Probably most importantly, Warm Bodies is funny. Between the soundtrack choices, R's hoarding, every fractured line that comes out of M's (Rob Corddry) mouth, and R's neurotic and endearing voice-over, Warm Bodies has a surprising amount of good working in its favor. It is by no means a perfect film (its message is more than a little hokey), but it's quite good for the genre in which it chooses to exist. It didn't take any more than about five minutes to get its hooks in with its employment of John Waite's "Missing You," but from then on, it kept bringing a healthy dose of fun which is what sets it apart. Warm Bodies is fun.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Three, Episode Four

Once again, we wordiest of old men (Wordy Ginters and Old Man Duggan) weigh in on this week's installment of your favorite soapy British melodrama, Downton Abbey. For those who watched these episodes as they aired in the U.K., I'll remind you that this was the fifth episode that aired there, as PBS aired the first two episodes in one jumbo premiere.

Old Man Duggan: So this was a big one. We'll save the bigness for the end, though.

Wordy Ginters: Should have known trouble was afoot when the opening scenes occurred at night. Downton After Dark is a bad omen.

OMD: It's obvious from Jump Street that something is amiss as Sybil goes into labor. Frankly she looks like hell.

WG: They telegraphed OB/GYN trouble many times, setting up the Dr. Clarkson/Sir Phillip conflict. To listen to Lord Grantham, you'd think Clarkson was the basis for Dr. Nick on The Simpsons. I didn't know if the Dr. versus Dr. set-up was a drumming up drama head fake, or if Fellowes had the balls to do something drastic.

OMD: It would seem evident that Fellowes had the balls to do something drastic.

It appears as though we now have evidence (circumstantial as it may be) that Vera did, in fact, kill herself to spite Bates and Anna. Death by pastry. If only we were all that lucky. I'd probably choose an apple fritter for my last baked good were it the delivery system for deadly poison. Either that or a Maple-Bacon Long John.

WG: Given the choice, I'd launch into eternal blackness with a cruller.

OMD: With all that pastry talk, it occurs to me that I jumped straight past the insane logical leap that one has to take to buy Vera going so far as to kill herself just to exact her revenge. I've let Fellowes slide on these things for quite a while, but this construction of an obstruction to the Anna and Bates's happiness is a little ridiculous, especially when it has taken so long to resolve itself. If the story line had been a little more compelling, then I'd surely be more forgiving. Unfortunately, the Bates in prison arc has resulted in little more than dead space in the show's narrative structure with the presumed payoff of a nice reunion moment between Anna and Bates when he gets to the other side.

WG: Have you've forgotten what a unrepentant Grade-A bitch the former Mrs. Bates was? She definitely struck me as the type who would kill herself to exact revenge. Crazy. Cutting off nose to spite face. That being said, the Anna/Bates jailhouse scenes have been prime eye-rolling territory for several episodes. You should see me eye roll. It's hilarious. The presumed payoff seems paltry by set-up comparison. Maybe. I look forward to seeing Bates shirtless again. Curious if that jailhouse exercise regimen has firmed him up a little.

OMD: I sure hope a more sinewy Bates makes an appearance in Anna's bed forthwith.

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: This whole guard and cellmate out to get Bates thing just makes no sense. There was no groundwork lain for their animosity toward him that I can remember. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I highly doubt that. What, they resent that he thinks he's innocent? It's just so nonsensical to me.

WG: That would be interesting. Some back story. I'm guessing it all started with Bates walking out of the shitter. The curmudgeonly cellmate theatrically waving away fumes and scowling at Bates, eventually entering the stall, sliding his surprisingly fashionable jailhouse jumpsuit around his ankles, and realizing to his horror Bates had used the last scrap of toilet paper. The cellmate then had to yell and scream to get the guard to bring him a fresh roll. This is the only plausible scenario I can think of that would give birth to such a bitter feud.

OMD: I think that's how the Hatfields and McCoys started feuding in the first place.

Ethel's officially back. The only thing I have to say about that is: Fuck you, Isobel.

WG: Will Isobel be enough of a hard ass to put the run on her because she can't bake kidney soufflé or properly season tea?

OMD: If there is one thing that is clear, Matthew's vision is the only way for Downton Abbey to be able to survive going forth, especially since we know what is coming in less than a decade.

WG: Matthew is starting to sound like a Romney campaign speech. Being a businessman doesn't mean you are being mean.

OMD: Sir Philip Tapsel, The Knight Doctor, was quite the prat, eh? Can't you just smell the spin-off? This asshat doctor swoops in, boldly tells the entrenched family doctor that only Knights can properly diagnose eclampsia, and then the mother dies in childbirth. The Dr. Kevorkian of obstetrics. It would appear in his case that status superseded competence amongst the aristocracy. Heathcliff Huxtable he is not, though it is entirely possible he was just as into hoagies.

WG: Hoagies and Phylicia Rashad.

OMD: I suppose the Crawleys' trust in the aristocratic Dr. Tapsel does serve its purpose in illustrating the point that they were still beholden to the ways of old to a fault. This incident serves as a microcosmic statement to the obstacles Downton has and will continue to face as the aristocratic class tries to adjust to the ways of the rapidly changing world that will ultimately leave them behind as they sink their estates into ruin over time.

WG: I think you've found the heart of the episode. Tapsel vs. Clarkson. Jimmy vs. Thomas. Ivy vs. Daisy. Ethel vs. Mrs. Bird. Matthew vs. Lord Grantham. The variety of the conflicts set up had to do, in part, with how capable characters were at adapting to a new way of looking at things.

OMD: It's strange, and I'll give credit to Fellowes for changing the tide here, but I'm really liking Edith now. I want her to write. I feel bad for her after being jilted. He's gone and made a completely unsympathetic brat into a completely interesting and sympathetic woman. More so than perhaps any character on the show, I'm most interested to see where she ends up.

WG: Still a little too much self-pity, but understandably so by the way she's been relegated to near foster child existence at Downton. The show could use a little Molly Ivins vibe.

OMD: What sort of baffles me is how Robert can be so clueless when it comes to dealing with Edith. There are certainly times where he has disapproved of Sybil's decisions, but those instances all made sense, at least to a degree. Behind the closed door of the bedroom, he has all but etched her future as an old maid in stone. Why would he take such umbrage at her wanting to write?

WG: When you consider his contribution to his own daughter's death and losing the family fortune, it's been a rough year for Grantham. I'm assuming it was unseemly for the aristocrats to have family involved in the grubby work of journalism. That Edith is a woman (allegedly) probably makes it even more distasteful from his archaic point of view.

OMD: Has there ever been a more stodgy Protestant woman than Mrs. Bird? If you were conjuring an image of that stereotype without having seen her or Downton Abbey, it would be impossible to come up with anything other than an eerie facsimile of her. Don't you think if she just changed her protestations against the hiring on of Ethel to an assassination of character not related to her history as a prostitute, it would have saved us the pain of more Ethel? Now I'll include Mrs. Bird in my statement directed at Cousin Isobel. Fuck you.

WG: The horrible kitchen disasters that could have been averted. First, it makes me sad. And then I get mad.

OMD: Ethel's kidney soufflé looked like charred shit, didn't it? I bet it tasted worse.

WG: No one tasted that sad excuse of a soufflé. Isobel had Molesley bury it on one of the under-utilized farm fields. Like Jethro used to bury Ellie May's baked goods on The Beverly Hillbillies.

OMD: I've waited months to talk about this, but it was pretty obvious from the episode's onset that Sybil was going to die. It made too much sense for the overall narrative. The character of Sybil had nowhere to go from here, and her death actually served to better the overall story. It's sad to see her go, as she was one of my favorite characters on the show, but the character as written had already affected as much change as she was likely capable of doing. TSLF and I were sitting there watching the episode, and we were both like, "Oh, she's dead." This happened the instant her face popped on screen. Of course, just like with Lavinia Swire, Fellowes tricks us into thinking we're out of the woods, only to put the woman back on her deathbed in short time.

WG: Is Fellowes trying to say something shitty about what happens when the aristocracy mixes with the riff-raff?

OMD: Sometimes I wonder.

Really, how shitty a doctor is Sir Philip Tapsel if he's getting shown up by the consistently wrong Dr. Clarkson?

WG: What a toad. Tapsel is played with delicious arrogance though, isn't he. Tim Piggot-Smith has a future as an action movie bad guy mastermind.

OMD: This is the moment where I wish I had the photo shop skills to paste his head on over a falling Hans Gruber's face. Sorry, world.

Seeing the family losing their shit as Sybil was dying was somewhat moving, especially as Branson and Cora were crying for her not to leave, but I was far more broken up by the scene between Thomas, Anna, and then Mrs. Hughes in the hallway. I guess the 180-degree turn on Thomas is complete because it was his reaction to Sybil's death that opened up the waterworks. Touché, Mr. Fellowes. Touché.

WG: Seeing the Dowager in black, carrying the weight of the world as she entered Downton, was the part that tugged at me.

OMD: When Mary and Edith are discussing getting along better, I suppose it makes sense that Mary would think that they can't/won't, but I can isolate that moment as the time in which Edith passes Mary in the "people I shouldn't feel sympathy for but do" category. I'm not saying Mary can go to hell or anything, but if we were designating which team we were on as all those tweenage girls are wont to do, I guess I'm Team Edith now. Furthermore, Mary's bristling at the fact that Matthew and Mr. Murray would talk of the estate's future without her father only further pushes her into the circle of the unsympathetic, especially less than twelve hours after her father's impudent treatment of Clarkson's medical acumen in favor of an unknown but aristocratic quantity more than likely led to her younger sister's death.

WG: I'm definitely down with Team Edith. Looks like she's being set up to defend the old school aristocracy customs and mores. Which way Mary swings is an angle I'm interested in seeing play out. Can she get behind hubby, or is she too beholden to Mom and Dad?

OMD: While I generally agree with the Dowager Countess's sentiments that no one is to blame in these situations, I'm going to go ahead a place the blame on the two-headed beast that is Pride in The Aristocratic Male that came in the form of Lord Grantham and Sir Philip Tapsel. Fuck those guys. Fuck them in their stodgy, fancy asses. The show's sex appeal is gone (well, aside from the occasionally well-framed in profile Branson and a possible return of the ghost of Pamuk), and it's all their fault.

WG: I'm holding out a slender thread of hope that Daisy's new punching bag, Ivy, may offer a spark of sexual heat at some point. Otherwise, you are right on the money. Grantham's sex life looks to be cooled drastically. Mary is barren. Jimmy is obviously not down with Thomas's gay advances. Edith retired her vagina from the sex trade racket. Downton maybe become the most sexless soap drama in history.

OMD: I, for one, hope Thomas wears Jimmy down.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Three, Episode Three

Thanks to PBS's dumb airing and alterations, I get to start off every entry with the disclaimer that if you watched these as they aired on ITV, then this is actually the fourth episode that aired. As aired on PBS, this is the "third." As always, Wordy Ginters and myself will be your spirit guides. Come get some.

Old Man Duggan: I got seven-plus minutes into rewatching this episode before I was first struck with a moment that stood out on its own merits to write about. That's not a good sign. "Edith, dear, you're a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do." The dichotomous nature of The Dowager Countess is endlessly fascinating to me. Violet seems so beholden to the old ways almost all the time, but she'll make these small yet extremely important gestures and statements that encapsulate everything that works about the show so well, and those are often coming from a surprisingly feminist point of view, ultimately.

Wordy Ginters: In general, I'm a big fan of anti-whining advice. It's not easy to hear, but it's almost always excellent counsel. And you are exactly right, for all of the over the top "can you believe she said that" lines of dialogue that The Dowager gets to gnaw on in Downton Abbey, she is also typically the most pragmatic. That her pragmatism overlaps with pro-fem views on occasion is welcome ballast to some of the standard anti-fem shenanigans. Some of those tired old views are a reflection of the era, but also reflective of mass entertainment today.

OMD: There's also a little moment previously in that scene where Violet makes a little comment wherein she expresses surprise at the price of the sedate(?) that Edith brings which led me to believe that perhaps Fellowes was making a sly comment about inflation. He was not. Upon further investigation, I don't think that could have been the case as in 1920 the UK was actually in the midst of its first year of post-war deflation. I suppose it's possible that Violet hadn't purchased her medicine since 1914, but I highly doubt that. From 1920 through 1935, there was only one year in which the UK experience anything other than deflation, some of which was due to the astronomical rates of Great War inflation that was simply unsustainable which was then likely stretched out because of the wider effects of the Depression. That's a significant tangent, but I left it in here to illustrate that sometimes I give too much credit to a deft storyteller like Fellowes only to find out that I read way too much into something.

WG: Where else can you go for that kind of research and piercing insight? Nice hustle. I assumed it was an echo of the precarious financial situation from the previous episode. Regardless, what the hell is a sedate? Could a narcotics jones be the real reason behind the Dowager's unflappable demeanor?

OMD: The Bates Lettergate of 1920 was fairly tedious, reeking of invention of conflict for the mere sake of adding tension to an otherwise static situation. Having said that, it still provided the nicest moment of the episode: Anna getting the veritable fuckload of letters. Despite irritating me for the greater part of the episode, it was still hard not to hold back a few tears for Anna's happiness. More often than not, it is the random moment of unbridled happiness that gets me on this show. I guess that shows I'm a bitch to character. That said, the shitstorm that follows Bates does become truly unbelievable at times.

WG: The orgiastic letter reading scenes were excellent TV. I read lots of criticism of Downton. It's PBS. It's a soap. It's predictable. It's saccharine melodrama. It is all these things, and it still manages to pull of scenes like that and make them feel authentic.

OMD: Speaking of tedious and irritating, Ethel's back. Fuck my life. She's not just back. She's. Back. In the fore. Mucking up the works. Holy shit, do I want that character out of this show. Nothing good can come of that randy ginger being involved. I truly give zero shits about her, and her presence and Isobel's responsibility for it make me grow to dislike Isobel. Ethel is a cancer, a pox on this house. At least the charisma-less sack of potatoes finally did the right thing and got rid of her kid.

WG: She does have a charisma deficiency. Fellowes may be getting his feminist on with this plot thread as well. Her baby daddy is dead and happy. Ethel is the one left with a shit stain where her life used to be. I did get a kick at how vile the idea of "prostitution" apparently was in those august circles. Many of the characters couldn't bare to utter the word.

OMD: In her youth, the actress who played Mrs. Bryant had to have been Olive Oyl in something, right?

WG: I was thinking J Crew's Jenna Lyons.

OMD: How about that weird Lord Grantham anti-Catholic line that came without warning? Obviously it sets up something, but sometimes he'll do or say something that seems so out of character with the rest of the traits that Fellowes has laid out for Robert. Then when he takes umbrage that Lady Edith for having penned an op-ed about women's suffrage, you can't help but wonder what happened to the Lord Grantham of old? Sure, he'd be slow to accept what his daughters wanted to do, but it doesn't seem like he would get all up in arms about something so sensible as having his daughters want to be granted some semblance of equality. At the very least

WG: The anti-Catholic jab was out of nowhere. Not that I didn't get a kick out of it. Speaking of Manti Te'o, I kind of liked this.

OMD: As for what the line sets up, there's the same old tension between Robert and Branson. As one of the elite, Fellowes takes his opportunity to once again show that the idealistic revolutionary is too naive to understand the error of his beliefs. Granted, revolutionaries are typically naively idealistic, but sometimes it comes across as condescending when the point is being made by one of the elite. Fellowes might want to consider that before approaching any more revolutionary story arcs. I did like Branson telling Robert, "We all live in a harsh world, but at least I know I do." Want another go around with the paper man, Robert?

WG: I wish Fellowes cared as much about class-consciousness as he apparently does about Feminism. Branson fucked up though. Leaving Sybil behind was too self-serving. Can he redeem himself from that? I don't know. Perhaps more details will come about, but I don't blame Grantham for being chapped that his daughter was left to twist in the wind. Wait, is that an anti-fem point of view? Of course Sybil can take care of herself... Whatever. Which spoon is for the custard? Speaking of spoons, when Carson was schooling Alfred in the art of spoons, were you instantly taken away, like I was, to the scene from Pretty Woman when Hector Elizondo taught Julia Roberts about cutlery etiquette?

OMD: Can't say that I did, as I try to block Julia Roberts from my mind.

Carson's equation of a dangerous revolutionary to an electric toaster was priceless yet totally in character.

WG: He shit white for a solid week after Grantham had phones installed several episodes back. I shudder to think of how he'll handle the toaster. I think someone will be ordering some sedates. The look on his face when the devil toaster was revealed is worth a second look. Acting.

OMD: Jimmy Kent. The world stops when a pretty face enters the room. It's strange, but there are very few characters who have been introduced into the mix part way through the series who are engaging. Other than knowing that Jimmy is the belle of the servants' ball, early returns are not promising for him reversing the course. And I'd say that it's hardly shocking that Mary was championing the cause of rewarding good looks. All I can say is, bring back Gwen

WG: Ah yes, sweet, silly, Gwen. Sexy ginger housemaid with aspirations to be an admin assistant. James will be lucky to stay out of Thomas's clutches. And if James' female counterpart, Ivy, somehow gets between Daisy, the carrot in her mouth, and Alfred, all the better. Daisy sucks.

OMD: The brief addendum to the Jimmy conversation was great. Carson praising Alfred only to say, "...Even if he is Miss O'Brien's nephew," which is met with laughs and Matthew saying, "Clearly nothing worse could be said of any man." I'd say that's true. At least pre-Hitler/-Stalin. Great. Another flimsy conflict that will surely fail to engage because it involves two characters who we barely know and about whom we care very little. Who might be so lucky as to be deemed first footman? Will it be Alfred? Will it be James/Jimmy? Will anyone care? And then Ivy comes in, and it would seem that Fellowes is going to set up some sort of love shape. A love triangle? A love quadrilateral? A love pentagon? Daisy gets what she wants only to have it immediately complicated, recalling a certain Stones tune. I'm speaking, of course, about "Brown Sugar."

WG: "House boy knows that he's doin' alright."

OMD: When Sybil re-enters through the doors of Downton Abbey, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, holy shit, how bad is that hair? What the hell were they thinking?

WG: Another Stones' song to the rescue: "Paint it Black."

OMD: And it takes forty minutes, but finally we have a simmering conflict that seems to matter for the overall narrative. Matthew and Robert with differing views about how to run Downton. New school versus old school. The moded versus the outmoded. Youth versus the aged. The competent versus the incompetent. Here is some fertile ground for meaningful tension. Please breathe fresh air into this world Mr. Fellowes.

WG: Agreed. Limpid pools of blue-eyed Matthew is just the sort of principled and persnickety sonuvabitch to show Grantham the error of his ways. Grantham hasn't been as grateful or deferential as he should be. He was this close to spending the rest of his days shuffling around the race track, sorting through cigarette butts and looking for coins. With ONLY eight servants to wait on him back at Downton Lite.

OMD: This episode had plenty of eye candy for the ladies. The arguably attractive Jimmy Kent with his shirt agape was the obvious one, but I'll say this: Branson's ass looked mighty well-formed in those pajama bottoms while he stood at the desk/dressing table/whatever the fuck that thing was. I'd take a bite out of that sumptuous rump roast.

WG: Dude is like the Irish 50 Cent.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Man on Film: Every Time You Go Away, A Stewart Parker Film

Every once in a while, I like to use this platform to highlight the works of some of my most deserving friends. Budding filmmaker--and I intend that tag to be read in the most lascivious and lecherous way--Stewart Parker toiled over this project for months, pouring nearly every imaginable bodily fluid into the making of this short film.

With the seed first setting whilst aboard a boat with co-story by guy, Anthony Maranca, Stewart set off to make his and your wildest dreams come true. This is the tasty culmination--the fruit that aforementioned seed eventually bore out--the mini-masterpiece, a calculated meditation on masculinity and its fading place in society, Every Time You Go Away.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Three, Episode Two

For those who watched the episodes as they aired in The U.K., the "second" U.S. episode is actually the third one. PBS is crazy. As always Wordy Ginters and I will take you by the hand guide you through the Downton Abbey corn maze, where we'll dry-hump the scarecrow from a place of love and curse when we stumble over errant stalks. 

Old Man Duggan: A lot of things to cover here. Edith. Thomas versus O'Brien. The future of Downton being threatened by financial ruin. Matthew's deliberation over the acceptance of Reggie Swire's fortune. Mrs. Hughes's bosom and Carson's concern for it. The horrendous Ethel's return to the fore. Anna's continued quest to free Bates. All of that is important to the episode, but I'd like to start somewhere else. What the fuck was with the tiny little circle the prisoners were walking in? Was that not the tiniest prison yard ever? Just once I'd like to see Bates hop down on the bench and pop off a set of twelve reps of 225 wearing just a wife beater and then posture up at his slimy cell mate.

Wordy Ginters: I'd like to see a Bates exercise show. Slap a pair of Bodies in Motion with Gilad Janklowicz exercise pants on him. Shirtless on a beach. Elevator music in the background. 30 minutes of slow, sensuous bench press reps with Bates's head cocked at the camera, a sly grin on his face, and a smoldering carnal stare in his eyes. Might be just the boost this country needs to close in on New Year's resolutions.

OMD: Seriously, what the fuck is up with his cell mate? I love how within the context of the Downton Universe all Bates has to do is walk into a room and someone is going to loathe him with every ounce of their being. Are we to believe that the Brits hated cripples that much? Were veterans of the Second Boer War treated like Vietnam Vets when they returned? Oh shit. You know what that means, right? It means we need to team up on some time-travel fan-fic in which John Rambo and John Bates team up, fighting the good fight and blowing away pederast junta generals, presumably set on the Côte d'Ivoire. Clearly Bates's cane will be weaponized, though in a much more interesting way than to simply have it double as a sword.

WG: Why couldn't Bates have a supportive cellmate like Tim Robbins from Shawshank? I'm in on the fan fiction. Cote d'Ivoire is an inspired setting. The cane. So many possibilities. Maybe it doubles as a woodwind, upon which Bates plays such haunting and soul stirring music that it causes pederast junta generals to fall into a state of catatonic weeping, thus rendering them particularly vulnerable to hot lead from Sly. But hey, I'm just spitballing.

OMD: That marks two straight weeks that we brought a Stallone franchise into the mix here. Bets on next week? Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot? Oscar? F.I.S.T.?

WG: Rhinestone.

OMD: Since we're already on the subject of Bates, I like that Anna is fighting for her man and all, but I think I'm ready for this story line to run its course. We're a mere three episodes in, and I'm feeling the tedium. Perhaps that's why PBS chose to air the first two together. Having watched these episodes as they were airing in the fall, this arc felt like it would never end. I love that Mrs. Bartlett painted a picture in which the dearly departed Vera Bates was back-lit like an angel through the mist and the fog lamps. How apropos.

WG: Agreed. How long can they drag it out? At this point, I'm pulling for Bates as the murderer.

OMD: Same here. Much better for the story.

"Edith's a speed fiend. She likes to go at a terrific lick." I bet Strallan. I bet. That statement certainly holds true as she races toward the altar. By my count, Edith had about forty-five minutes of screen-time in which she was engaged to be wed to Lord Anthony. Two seasons of dancing around for Mary and Matthew. Somewhere in the neighborhood of a season-and-a-half for Sybil and Branson's courtship to transpire. Maybe four episodes dedicated to Edith and Anthony. Not only is she the forgotten daughter within the Downtonverse, but she gets very little in the way of screen time.

WG: Her character is defiled almost as much as Bates. I was hoping that Strallan would show up for the wedding with his hair painted jet black and his trousers rolled up. Are the kids doing that these days? Rolling up their pants? Maybe a pair of topsiders or some TOMS on his feet. It would take 25 years off him immediately. Did you notice the bit where he acted like he wasn't quite comfortable with the upstart Branson being in the family. They've been telegraphing his altar walk since the Titanic sank.

OMD:  "All of us married, all of us happy, and the first baby on the way." It took one second shy of two minutes for that statement to be rendered null and void. Julian Fellowes wastes no time in teaching his characters not to put the cart before the horse. The show has its shortcomings, but taking the piss out of the cocksure with expediency is not one of them. The sad thing is that I actually wanted something good to happen to Edith. I suppose to an extent this is desirable to having her nurse Strallan for the duration of the show. If ever there were a trap door in terms of narrative growth for her character to fall through, he was it.

WG: An "Old man's drudge" is no way to spend your married life. I'm with you. I was glad to see Edith on the cusp of happiness anyway. I'm not sure what is worse, getting spurned at the altar or changing Strallan's diapers? They tied up Hughes's cancer scare pretty quick. What's next, Edith's suicide watch?

Should've been Cora. Havisham instead.
OMD: We talked of Lady Edith becoming Miss Havisham in jest after the first episode (or first half of last week's double-episode). That was without the gift of hindsight. Now it would appear that perhaps she will become Miss Havisham. If you ever hoped for a better a rendering of Miss Havisham's origin story, look no further. Here it is.

WG: Spot on. She'll have enough hate in her to kill an army.

OMD: If it served no other purpose, the conflict between O'Brien and Thomas brought us this exchange: O'Brien: "Jilted at the altar. I don't think I could stand the shame." Thomas: "Then it's lucky no one's ever asked you, isn't it?" How fucking great was that? It's weird, but I sort of have Thomas's back on this front. O'Brien feels like Thomas was in the right as he toiled away in footman obscurity, trying to work his way up, but when it's her kinfolk, they should get every advantage despite not being capable of the work? I can't blame Thomas for taking umbrage at her finagling.

WG: "I wouldn't be in her bad books for a gold clock." The both of them are double-dealing shit heels. Seeing them trying to get over on each other with such deadly venom is one of the reasons I love the show. Rooting for either of them makes me feel unwholesome.

OMD: If only all of us were so lucky as to have Downton Place be the fallback if our current manors proved to be too unwieldy a financial burden. If I lose my apartment, I'm couch-surfing or hoping my boss doesn't figure out that I'm sleeping on one of the boats. I sure as shit don't have to worry about how I'll run a house with only eight servants.

WG: I wish they would have further explored possible names for Eryholme. Downton Place. Downton Downsized. Downton Valley. Downton End. Downton Isles. Downton Light. Financial ruin must have meant something different back in the 1920s. Eight servants. Who gets downsized? You know they take Carson and Hughes. That leaves Patmore, Thomas, and O'Brien. Daisy. Hell, they don't have eight servants now, what the hell were they talking about?

OMD: Carson, Hughes, Patmore, *shudder* O'Brien, Anna, *shudder* Thomas, maybe Molesley if Matthew needs a valet and then Daisy to do all the Charlie work.

If I thought that Matthew's refusal to take the Swire inheritance was tedious in the first hour of the season, then holy shit was I ready for that horseshit to be done with by the end of this one. I suppose it means that we'll get a nice view of what the future of Downton in the control of its next heir could be with Matthew coming on as co-caretaker. The big question, of course, is how will he keep Lord Grantham from squandering another fortune by way of a foolish investment? How do you think Robert loses this money? Pouring all of his resources into bootlegging just as the Volstead Act is about to get taken out when FDR takes office? Investing heavily in the U.S. stock market the day before the crash?

WG: My hope is that a future episode begins with Grantham walking out of a race track at dusk, a look of abject horror on his face as he examines a betting slip, and then wads it up and pitches it towards a trash can. He misses. Badly. The camera circles in from on high to reveal a crumpled $3 Million show bet on a horse called Isis. A black swan waddles by and squats over the betting slip.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reading Rainbow: A Feast of Snakes by Harry Crews

There is some dark shit afoot in Harry Crews's 1976 Southern Gothic/horror novel A Feast of Snakes. Set against the harsh backdrop of the rural white-trash wasteland Mystic, Georgia as the town heads into its annual Rattlesnake Roundup, A Feast of Snakes primarily follows the troubled and psychotic protagonist Joe Lon Mackey, former High School All-American running back whose illiteracy kept him from chasing the dream of the star athlete, from following his sexpot high school sweetheart to college, and from escaping from the pit that Mystic is. Joe Lon beats his wife, sells booze illegally, helps his bastard of a father run his dog-fighting empire, and tries to stifle the rage seething within himself.

While Joe Lon is a dark and often scary character, the landscape of Mystic is littered with vividly drawn but deeply disturbed characters as they work their way through what has to be the most archaic, backwater local celebration imaginable. To get too far into describing the lay of the land, however, would be to do Crews a disservice. The world he creates is rich and fascinating and is best discovered for yourself. It should be noted, though, that A Feast of Snakes is not for those with a weak stomach.

Crews draws up the world with confidence and a natural feel for the dialectical intricacies of the region. While it certainly lends an air credibility to the proceedings, the reliance upon writing so heavily in a dialect can often work in ways equal parts complimentary and detrimental. While Crews's incorporation of the rural Southern dialect in dialogue adds an element of veracity to the novel, it also makes the book (intentional or otherwise) a much more laborious read. This is nothing new, I suppose. The same can be said for works by Joyce, Faulkner, Hemingway, and Pynchon. Some of the literary greats have employed this stylistic choice with varying degrees of success*, but it is not an unreasonable assertion to state that such a choice has its costs.

*I would argue that it is mostly distracting and ineffective in Mason & Dixon and For Whom The Bell Tolls at the very least. I'll refrain from bitching about James Joyce for the time being.

Crews's choices make for some uncomfortable reading, as a result of both subject matter and style. I feel it is my duty to reiterate that there is some dark shit within these pages. A Feast of Snakes is a fairly engaging read, but be prepared to read a book in which you may not empathize with any character.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey: Series Three, Episode One

As we have already covered the first two episodes as they aired in England, I'll attempt to piece together the appropriate content for re-edited-for-America first episode. The Crawleys prepare for Matthew and Mary's wedding. The future of Downton is in dire financial straits. 

With this smirk, I thee wed
OMD: Despite the fact that Matthew and Lady Mary are to wed, the meat and potatoes of the conflict in the episode lie elsewhere. On one front--the decidedly more dire situation--it would appear as though Robert has squandered the bulk of the Crawley fortune by investing nearly all of it on surefire Canadian railway stocks. Given the circumstances surrounding his marrying Cora in the first place, I can hardly say this came as a surprise. Frankly, I was expecting this to happen. For the most part, Lord Grantham is a good man, but not all good men are good businessmen. It would seem as though that applies here. It is at times puzzling as to why Fellowes tears down so many of the stand-up gents while letting the snakes advance, but I suppose c'est la vie.

WG: In the end, I respect Fellowes more the morning after precisely because of these kinds of moves. When you are playing within the confines of a traditional melodrama, it's a refreshing twist to see the heels get over, and the hero's heaped with woe.

OMD: As a corollary to this central point of conflict in the episode, Matthew gets news that good ol' Reggie Swire put Matthew in his will as the third in line of succession for his massive fortune. Of course, the guilt-ridden, honor-bound Matthew will not accept the inheritance if good Mr. Pumpkin/Pillbox/Pulbrook did in fact bite the bullet, as he still believes himself to have broken Lavinia's heart and thusly her will to live. If only Anna would tell them about the message from the Gods of Ouija at the end of the Christmas Special, all might be good.

WG: I hope that Ouija Board makes it into an episode or two in Season Three. Matthew is almost too good to be true. Honest, caring, thoughtful, fair. I imagine he's a lot like Jeff Francoeur. And as the episode concluded, I'm still not certain the issue of the partially purloined inheritance is resolved between the two. And probably a leap to assume the death of the would-be heirs breaks the way it needs to land the money in Matthew's lap. If the tumblers fall into place, does his principled refusal to partake of said funds hold water? I'm not so sure. Seems a bit persnickety to me.

OMD: Of course, Matthew's steadfast opposition to accepting the money should it come his way drives a wedge between Mary and himself the night before their wedding, leading to the typical pre-wedding tiff that leaves the viewer reclined back in their seat never wondering as to whether or not the couple will marry but going through the motions of watching as the stressed-out couple wonder if they can be together when they have such a fundamental difference only to realize they love each other thanks in large part to the source of the other conflict in the show, Tom Branson. If there was a slightly tedious element to this episode, it was the construction of a false barrier between Matthew and Mary. Yes, you could construe his actions as careless when viewed in scope of how they affect the family and Downton Abbey as a whole, but she loves Matthew precisely because of who he is and wouldn't really want him to change on such a fundamental level.

WG: Slightly tedious is correct. Some eye rolling occurred when that little pre-nup squall erupted. Too fast. Too predictable. But the more I think about it, the more I'm with Mary. Matty is being a little selfish in his righteous grind to toe his own moral code. He should think about what good that money could do. How many people it could help. Apparently, the aristocracy are the job creators. Several of the Crawley's mentioned the importance of providing employment to the peeps suckling from the sumptuous Downton teats. Fellowes has to be working political doesn't he? Job creatorz!

OMD: And then there's the aforementioned Branson. Nevermind the horrendous hairdo that the showing Lady Sybil is sporting, the real tension comes from the Fenian son-in-law without *gasp* tails for dinner or a morning coat. What. A. Dick. Obviously there was going to be some awkwardness, and Branson does himself no favors, but Lord Grantham doesn't make things easy. Of course, neither does that privileged jerk-off (Larry Gray) who slips our strapping Irish lad a mickey. There's a subtext here, of course. Rich English pricks slip mickeys on a prank, but I think we all know what that arch-browed, ill-mannered twink wanted once he wore down young Branson's defenses. F2FA. And Larry doesn't care if his Fenian mark is conscious or not. He's basically the proto-frat boy. Still, Branson might have been better served biting his tongue. I agree with him in spirit, but why exacerbate things when unnecessary. Oh, and Sir Anthony Strallan! Fucking put that ponce in his place, brother-man. And after Anthony swoops in, fucking Matthew makes Branson his best man.

Chests be swellin'
WG: I've felt that surge of emotion one other time in my life. Matthew making Branson his best man took me back to 4th grade, and a young Sylvester Stallone, playing a pugilist by the name of "Rocky Balboa," in a sporting drama called Rocky. The same emotion that swelled within my 4th grade chest, which showed a preternaturally sexy amount of smooth width and marbled girth even then, as "Rocky" triumphantly ramped up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, swelled again at Matthews generous offer to Branson. My heart soared. My spirits were set aloft. Great moment. Larry Gray was a dick, a dunce, a thing to be mocked. Nice twist that one armed Strallan dropped a dime on him. With Matthew's guidance, Branson just might find some dignified balance to his firebrand politics. He's a kid though, what do you expect? He's still in his Rage Against the Machine phase.

OMD: I can tell you this: Irish gardens are blessed with far more variety than English ones.

WG: I envy your globe trotting exploits.

OMD: I loved the scene with Isobel and Violet summoning Tom to Crawley House. Oh, Molesley will fit you for that morning jacket, sir. And how great was it that it was Violet who sent the money to Tom and Sybil? Snarkiness aside, she is exceedingly unpredictable.

WG: Playing against the stereotype is typically a winner. She could. Not. Be. Stopped. I almost felt bad for Branson, his principled anti-tails, anti-costume rhetoric crumbled like an old scone in a cup of warm tea. Lady Grantham pushed him all over the mat with nothing more than a confident demeanor. Jedi mind tricks learned carnally from Alec Guiness.

OMD: Are there two lonelier, sadder Brits that Sir Anthony Strallan and Lady Edith? If she doesn't end up with him, she'll turn batshit crazy and start writing poetry from her bedroom while never leaving the house, some unholy amalgam of Emily Dickinson and Miss Havisham.

WG: I could totally see Lady Edith going Havisham. A broken heart leads to a gift for manipulation and a candle fetish. I'm all for it if she pimps around Ethan Hawke. Strallan certainly needs some more convincing. When Edith practically car jacked his ride early in the episode, the look on his face was fucking delightful. Half what the hell are you doing, half surprise, and another 1/3 disgusted. I don't know if he's keeping her at arm's length out of kindness, a true belief that they are too far apart in age, or from flat-out disgust.

OMD: "Hobbledehoys," eh, Mr. Carson? I think it's safe to say this is getting stored away in the old archaic nouns notebook I keep for myself when wanting unfurl insults at the dullards and ne'er-do-wells I cross paths with on a nearly daily basis. For those wondering at home but lacking in the desire to crack out the dictionary department, a hobbledehoy is a gawky, awkward youth. Can we assume Alfred Nugent is Ted's father? Does that make Ted less American in our eyes? So are we to assume that Miss O'Brien comes from a long line of lanky gingers? Oh, and another red-head? If ever there were any question, there is none now: The ginger quotient on Downton Abbey is higher than on any other program[me] in the history of television.

WG: Would it be too much to ask for Beat Happening's "Red Head Walking" as theme music? No, I don't think it would.

OMD: Since it's unlikely that'll happen, will embedding it work?
Fucking Bates's new cellmate. You just know that's a ticking time-bomb, set to go off exactly when Bates is free/about to be free/or happy for the first time since his wedding day. And the second time Anna visits Bates at prison, there's a pair of lines that I initially thought were throw-aways, but they caught my ear the third time I watched the episode. Bates asks Anna, "But how long will that take?" when she presents her plan to write to all the contacts in the book, to which she replies, "Why? Are you going somewhere?" He smiles back at her, and the line floats there for two solid beats. I'm surely not insinuating that I believe Bates is going to break out of prison if this all takes too long, but there are lots of places for this storyline to go, and the ominous presence of his doucher cellmate could certainly externally propel him down an ill-fated path.

WG: You know what I thought of the doucher cellmate? The doucher cellmate was a physical manifestation of Bates' conscious. Believe it. Also, I think the old school English jail house uniforms are pretty sweet compared to the old black and white stripey numbers that were en vogue in the US back in those days. Saville Row has always had an edge on the US when it comes to fashion. The shots that establish the prison are a little incongruous as well. That place gleams with white light and windows. Even more so than the church. The holiest of holy is the relationship betwixt Anna and Bates. It is not to be sullied or torn asunder.

OMD: You're actually the second person I know to say that they thought Bates's cellmate was a figment of his imagination. Time will tell, I suppose.

So newly tied together through matrimony means carrying your bride up and down the stairs naked while her dad looks on helplessly but with a smile on his face? The Brits are fucking weird.

WG: As a father of a daughter, I don't know if I would look forward to that very much, if at all.

OMD: Molesley the Essential. I loved O'Brien's initial scoffing at the thought only to see at the wedding that he actually was valued. Even when he's not trying, Matthew is our hero, putting O'Brien in her place. And is that a stirring of discontent between Thomas and O'Brien? Are the thieves not so thick anymore? Speaking of stirring, discontent, and Thomas, his prodding of Daisy causes a one-person strike in the kitchen. Mrs. Patmore's handling of the whole situation actually had me laughing.

WG: Patmore was all right in this episode. "Have you swallowed a dictionary?" O'Brien and "Mr. Barrow" are definitely on the outs. I was thinking O'Brien is one of the most powerful and aggressive players on the scene. She's a shitheel schemer, but she usually figures out a way to get what she wants. Like shoehorning in her nephew as the new footman when Lord Grantham was distracted. He's tall. And he worked at a hotel. He might as well have been a convicted child molester in Carson's eyes.

OMD: Six-foot-two? Egads! Get thee to the freak show, Nugent.

When Branson and Tom are walking off together, away from the pub in their suits, hats, and overcoats, resolved to form a unified front as brothers-in-law against their high-minded wives, I had a momentary flash of how much I wanted the two of them getting a spin-off in which they fight crime on the streets of Ripon. Holy shit would that be a great fucking show. I still want them to be Tom Branson and Matthew Crawley, but they need to beat back street toughs and ruffians while hitting the bottle hard and running from their familial duties while serving a greater good.

WG: I want to watch that show. Would they have uniforms? Superhero powers? Or are you thinking more of a straight up Sherlock Holmes kind of vibe? Maybe a bit of a Wild Wild West steam punk thing? It was another heart swelling moment. You'd have to be a cyncial ass cynic of a sonofabitch not to get a little caught up in that scene.

OMD: I was thinking darker. Maybe like Simon & Simon or Hardcastle & McCormick or Cagney & Lacey (Season Two on, of course, C&L sans Gless is not C&L) or England Dan & John Ford Coley with a heavy Luther tinge.

Is Lady Mary not the spitting image of Jackie Kennedy when modeling her "going away" outfit?

WG: For real. Had the same exact thought. When the JFK, Zombie Killer movie finally comes out, I think I know who has the inside track for Jackie O. That's a thing, right? Hollywood doing movies of all the former presidents as monster killers or monster enthusiasts of some sort? Martin Van Buren, Yeti Fetishist? Grover Cleveland, Fish Fucker?  Wilford Brimley, Moustache Haunter? Was Wilford Brimley ever elected President though?

OMD: Pretty sure he was. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the catty repartee between Shirley MacLaine and Maggie Smith. I know the ladies love this stuff almost as much as they love Cool James. That homing pigeon simile complete with the "dreadful" add-on was pretty goddamn funny.

WG: Shirley hung dong. Great scene. I hope Fellowes can keep it fresh between the two. It won't be easy

OMD: If the news of who paid Branson and Sybil's fare wasn't it, the nicest moment of the episode might have been when Lady Mary descended the staircase in her wedding gown with her glowing fathers, Carson and Lord Grantham, looking on proudly. Carson is at least as moved at the moment as her actual father. I loved Mrs. Hughes's gentle ribbing of Carson in the pews at the church. I don't know about you, but when Lord Grantham said he was "so happy [his] chest could explode," I had a terrible flashback to Roseanne, when Dan had a heart attack at Darlene's wedding. That is not how I want Lord Grantham to go down.

WG: (I'm just going to stand back and admire that one like everybody else.)

OMD: Oh, and Mary's brief glimpse at Matthew, eyes sealed shut, after they kissed and made up, was a great moment. And I really liked their little exchange before running through the rigmarole of the actual ceremony. Despite the fact that two full series and a Christmas episode built up to this moment, the actual wedding is an afterthought and therefore is not necessary. Fellowes is a crafty bastard who knows what moments actually matter.

OMD: This is where the first episode in England ended, but PBS kept things chugging, so along we go.

Matthew and Mary return from their honeymoon, Matthew's eyes opened to the splendor of Mary's man-eating nether regions. Matthew tells Robert that, despite the fact that he may likely receive a sizeable fortune in Reggie Swire's will, he is honor-bound to turn down the money with which he could save Downton. Ethel pops up at Isobel Crawley's Rehabilitation Center for Wayward Women. Mrs. Hughes finds a lump. Lord Grantham instructs Sir Anthony Strallan that it would be best if he pushed Lady Edith away, much to her chagrin, but Edith perseveres. A block in the flue of the stove forces a party to turn to a makeshift picnic on the premises. Martha rebuffs Mary and the Dowager Countess's advances.

OMD: Grantham: "How was the honeymoon?" Matthew: "My eyes have been opened." I see Fellowes is wasting no time in getting tawdry in this one. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the exchange between father- and son-in-law was Lord Grantham's response: "Don't I know it." I know it's not intended to be read the way I'm reading it, but it sure seems like Fellowes is playing fast and loose with that one, especially since one mention of a woman's nether regions sends Robert running for the hills with the first objects he can find that would serve as suitable earmuffs. Later on, whilst engaged in fully non-sexual pillow talk, Mary changes gears rapidly, instructing her new husband to "stop talking and kiss me before I get cross." Thankfully, Matthew does as he is told because we all know what happens when Mary gets cross: Turks die by way of Face-to-Face Anal.

CPS sufferers
WG: A discordant note hearing Lord Grantham get down in the mud and jostle about his daughter's sex life. Knowing his obvious affection for Matthew, he may have merely been relieved to see he survived the honeymoon. As we know now, the repetitive clenching and unclenching of F2FA can weaken tendons and damage blood vessels, leading to Carpal Penal Syndrome. How many episodes before we see Alfred tying the laces on Matthew's orthopedic penile brace? And you thought getting spots out of long dining jackets was a lost art.

OMD: Mrs. Martha Levinson's comment at the dinner table about Carson and Alfred "knowing more about life than [they] ever will" would certainly seem to ring true for Alfred, but it seems to me that Carson has likely lived just as sheltered a life as the nobles, if not more so. Carson was groomed to be a butler from the moment he dropped. Alfred, on the other hand, worked in a *gasp* hotel. The low things he must have encountered in such a public place of work would surely rattle both Lord Grantham, who despite his having seen combat has the most fragile sensibilities known to man, and his mother to their respective cores. I did like her joke about how they must keep the address of the Rehab Center from Alfred. Clearly his willingness to make out with the first lady to show him any interest (though her forward Americanness is appealing to me at the very least) shows that he should be kept away from the post-war prostitutes Isobel is counseling.

WG: I'm digging the brash stereotypical vibe that Mrs. Levinson brings to the show. I wonder how historically accurate those social tropes are? Brash American yahoos and the stodgy English. I can't imagine the swells on either side of the Atlantic being that different. Although Carson was nearly knocked off his pins by the idea of a buffet-styled meal. He'd be putty in a veteran Great War streetwalker's hands. Or vice-versa.

OMD: Cancer for the old stalwart Mrs. Hughes? Say it ain't so. If there's anyone I pull for, it's Hughes, who seems to have the firmest grip on the reality of each person in the house, upstairs and down. Hell, she takes the decidedly increased possibility of death in stride like no other. I loved her putting Patmore in her place. Hughes is a grown-ass woman; treat her as such, Mrs. Patmore. Let's just hope the spectre of cancer doesn't loom so large as to cause her to forget the glasses for the pudding wine again. The horror.

WG: She traversed the seven stages of grief over the course of one episode. Impressive. As someone who has seen loved ones wrestle the Big C, those scenes dredge up a hint of that black sky despair. Ultimately, as Hughes says to Patmore in the Hallway, we all die someday. It certainly grabs you by the scruff of your neck and forces you to recognize some cold realities that are much better left shimmering off in the periphery. Bless your heart Patmore, but shut your mincemeat hole.

OMD: Ethel. Goddammit. Seeing her face made me so fucking angry that I shat myself out of spite for her. Of course she's hooking, wayward as wayward can get. If it had been anyone other than Isobel seeing her, I'd have thought nothing of it, and it'd simply be a symbol of what happens when you roll in the hay with sons of pricks, but instead we'll surely be treated to yet another tiresome story arc for a wretched character.

WG: I hate spite-fueled pants-shitting. My sympathies. Ruined several slacks and a favorite pair of jeans from the same cause myself during the American League Divisional Series. Good point though, what the hell are they going to do here? Let's not be to quick to judge the victim. The dashing shit stain who got her preggers was wearing the black hat in my view. Still, the baby is gone with gramps and granny, right? Something is up Ethel's sleeve. Or maybe her woman's underpants.

OMD: Nah, Ethel foolishly elected to hold onto her child.

You just knew when Thomas gave Alfred a tip to fix Matthew's dinner jacket that it wouldn't end nicely. Burning a hole through the jacket was going to be the obvious outcome of Thomas's advice. And the look on Carson's face when he heard of the hole seared through the jacket. Indignation! So hot on the heels of the pudding wine faux pas, too. I keep waiting for Carson to have a heart attack, and the decorum lacking in Matthew not having a dinner jacket at the ready could just as well have been its cause. Back to Alfred, though, it's weird, but Fellowes actually has me siding with Thomas on this matter. I don't dislike the ginger beanpole, but he certainly doesn't deserve to be a valet with so little in the way of qualifications going for him. Of course, this only draws us nearer to a world in which O'Brien and Thomas have at it in metaphorical service fisticuffs. I will say I laughed heartily when the Dowager turned to Robert and asked for a drink, mistaking him for a waiter. Hi. Larious.

WG: With tradition and decorum exploding into irrelevancy all around Downton, I was hoping Lord Grantham and Matthew would hit the dinner sans shirts, with bow ties, setting the trend for the male stripper uniform popularized by The Chippendales. That Thomas was going to fuck with Alfred was telegraphed pretty hard. Off-screen he keeps taping "Thinks he's the Bee's Knee's but is really a moldy Rag-a-Muffin" signs to his back. Dips his pig tails in ink. Scares him with toads. I think the Thomas v. O'Brien fight is the big one we're all hoping for. The prelude with Alfred is training by proxy. Although the Dowager seems to befuddled by Mrs. Levinson's brass, it is funny to see her on her toes enough to get off on Grantham and his slovenly formal wear.

OMD: I liked that the Dowager Countess was unable to stick to the script and couldn't help but slam America before being corrected. The pandering to Martha was a bit tiresome, if you ask me. Honestly, her presence on the whole has sort of been a drag if you ask me. How feel you?

WG: She brings some grit to the proceedings. An interesting foil and/or ally. I don't mind her at all. I kind of enjoy her pecking and picking at the England's bloated traditions. She's like Toby Keith with a cinnamon wave.

President Cerrano
OMD: Lord Grantham's evolution is an interesting one. Ultimately he tries to hold fast to an honorable code of conduct, but as life throws him curveballs he whiffs mightly, a la [later President] Cerrano in Major League. He is a vexed man, emasculated over the course of The Great War. His worth vis-a-vis the family is mitigated by time and in the greater world by his utter lack of aptitude in business. Then he meddles with Edith's happiness, and to what end? To simply make her cry at his obvious tampering only to renege? Perhaps he should look to Jobu for help. He best load up with hats for bats. And asking Thomas, "Are you not popular downstairs?" That was the icing on the cake. Of course, he isn't. Get with the program, Lord Grantham. Hell, he can't even surmise what happens when the stove flue is clogged. The fact that he couldn't tell what Mary and his mother were up to was also absurd. How oblivious is he? That he believes himself to be unadaptable, that adaptability is some innate trait present in some but apparently not in himself is the biggest affront to my sensibilities.

WG: Spot on. An interesting recent angle in the show is the trip to flaccid town taken by two of the primary male leads, Lord Grantham and Bates. They used to righteously roar like lions. Not so much anymore. The women who prop them up provide the steel in the backbone. Downton Abbey is not so covertly running some pro-feminist game. Especially recently, the women characters are the prime movers. They have the money. They get what they want. Fellowes may be a nom de plume for Judith Butler.

OMD: Lady Edith and Sir Anthony Strallan tying the knot. I can gladly say I'm happy for the pair of them.

WG: Most definitely. But I don't want to see them cuddling post-carnal. That rictus grin/sneer/snarl that Strallan breaks out would have a hideous impact in that context.

OMD: While Lady Mary and the Dowager's advance is getting shot down, it seems like Martha Levinson gets to the heart of everything that I anticipate will happen going forward. She says, "The world has changed. These houses were built for another age." Given Robert's history of financial bungling, the dire straits Downton finds itself in, and the coming economic ruin into which the world is about to descend, the prospects of Downton Abbey are not exactly glowing.

Needles or Bust!
WG: I look forward to the episode when the Grantham clan piles all the belongings onto the old Grapes of Wrath truck, with the Dowager perched on a wooden rocking chair balanced precariously on top of everything, Mary and Matthew hanging off the back, and head for the citrus farms for honest work and honest pay.

OMD: Dark Bates is back with a vengeance. "Don't ever threaten me." Hand firmly across his dirty cellmate's throat. It is those moments right there that have me doubting Bates's actual innocence, not that my affection for the character hinges upon whether or not he killed the vile Vera Bates. Hell, I'd probably like him more. All right, I'm officially in the I-hope-Bates-did-it-and-skates camp.

WG: I've always liked a good heel. I could see Bates as the perp. He may have been kicking up a bit of bluster to keep that oaf off his ass with his big words, or to stall that simple knuckle-dragger's plotting. That face/neck hammer-lock Bates slapped on his cellmate was an advanced move. They've been watching WWE up in that piece. All in all though, for a relatively average episode, the show still shines. Downton Abbey, you are a goddamn treat to behold.

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