ON WANDAVISION: THE FIRST TWO EPISODES

…meh?

We watched the first two episodes of WandaVision last night. To be clear, this is all that’s been released so far, and I’m still not clear (and I’m not looking it up) how many episodes are planned for this season or what the release schedule is. The real short version of this post is that right now after two episodes I’m not sure why this show exists or what it’s for, and I’m kind of bewildered by the super-positive reception it seems to be receiving so far.

Minor spoilers, but if you’re familiar with the concept of the show there’s really not a lot to spoil.

The thing is, this is a Season 5 mystery, not a first-episode-of-the-series mystery. When last we saw these characters, Wanda was at the big fight at the end of Endgame and Vision was still dead, having had the Mind Stone ripped out of his head by Thanos before the Snap– and because he died before the Snap, as far as we know he stayed dead. Did Tony bring him back? Maybe, but we’ve not been shown that prior to now.

So I guess we’re supposed to be wondering why Vision isn’t dead any longer, and probably wondering why this series is, so far, mimicking crappy TV sitcoms from the fifties and sixties and abruptly bouncing into Technicolor at the end of the second episode to enter the seventies. There have been a couple of hints that something else is going on; the color red, and a weird dude in a beekeeper’s suit, and a couple of moments where Wanda sort of freaks out and takes control of what’s going on around her.

The problem is I don’t care. Here’s what I mean by a Season 5 mystery: if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, imagine that Dawn’s first episode was the series premiere. The viewers knew that something weird was going on from the jump, because we’d had several seasons to get used to Buffy and her family and we knew ferdamnsure that she didn’t have a little sister, and she’d never had a little sister, and so Dawn’s first appearance sparked curiosity. This, on the other hand, comes off to me as more of an okay, this is what we’re doing, I guess sort of thing, and the fact that they’re leaning so hard into the fifties and sixties tropes when those shows were bad is, at least to me, not a smart move. I spent all of both episodes waiting for the minute of footage where Something Untoward Happens, because of course this isn’t how things are supposed to be and can we move on to getting some answers, please, because the A-plot where Vision is having his boss over for dinner is insanely not interesting. Like, that sort of boring-ass plot worked in the 1950s, or at least I guess it did, but in 2021 it’s all wasted time, because there’s no earthly reason to care.

Is there something about Wanda’s personality or hobbies or something that makes reverting to old sitcoms make sense? Dunno; we don’t really know anything about her. I know, because I follow these sorts of things, that the actress calling herself Geraldine in the second episode is actually Monica Rambeau, who is low-key the main reason I’m watching the series in the first place– but that’s not in the episode at all. In a Season 5 mystery, we know that the dude playing Vision’s boss is actually Mr. Frumblegumph from his actual job and the neighbor lady who’s being so nice is actually the villain from Season 2, so we should keep a close eye on her, or whatever. This? If I hadn’t known that Monica Rambeau was in this show, noted the name of the actress playing her, and then seen that name in the credits, I’d have no reason to think anything at all about that side character.

I mean, I don’t hate it, don’t get me wrong, and I’ll watch more of it because 1) what the hell else do I have to do right now and 2) Monica Rambeau, but this wasn’t the home run to me that a lot of people seem to think it is, and I really don’t know where those folks are coming from. Hopefully a few more episodes in will have moved onto something real and not this contrived-ass mystery.


A quick moment, though, while I argue with something that I’ve, uh, not actually seen anyone say so far: one thing I do like about the show is that so far this program has been aping the 1950s and 1960s but there are Black and Asian people in the cast and they have not felt the need to be Historically Accurate and made all these white folks racist as hell. I feel like if I look hard enough I’m going to find someone complaining that “Geraldine” was just treated like another member of the cast when in the real 1950s show she’d be blah blah blah blah and I’m glad they decided to just ignore that.

#Review: Attack on Titan, Season 1

I have now watched the entire first season of this … show. This program. This anime. And while I’m neither in love with the program itself nor the format, there are some interesting things going on here.

The premise of Attack on Titan is that the human race, under assault of giant man-eating humanoids called Titans, has withdrawn behind three concentric walls that, for hundreds of years, have protected them from Titan attacks, but also prevented humanity from going anywhere outside the safety of their walls. In the very first episode, a Colossal Titan, one larger than any ever seen before, shows up and basically wrecks the outer wall, allowing the Titans inside. A full 20% of humanity perishes in the events that take place over the next several months, as the Titans have feasts and the humans try to fight back.

Good stuff:

  • This show does action really well. All of the Titan fights were really cool, and the Spider-Man-esque way the characters get around, via waist-mounted cable guns, never looks anything short of amazing.
  • The designs for the Titans are uniformly awesome. None of them look like any others, but they all really skate up to the uncanny valley and they are all really creepy. None of them move quite right, although some of them move much more strangely than others, and the way some of them have faces that would look perfectly normal on a banker or a grocer when they’re actually man-eating monsters is really something.
  • The actual story itself is pretty cool; I want to know more about these things and more about the world.

Bad stuff:

  • This may be a manga thing or an artifact of how Japanese translates into English– and I should point out that I watched about 80% of the season dubbed, not subtitled– but my God, the dialogue was terrible, and the melodrama off the charts. There was no set of circumstances perilous enough (or exciting enough) that they could not be interrupted for a lengthy philosophical conversation, even if the characters were, say, on horseback and fleeing from a giant, when you wouldn’t expect them to be able to talk. The voice acting in both languages has one volume: screaming. And any individual sentence would always be 20 times as long as it needed to be, with lots of recursive clauses. Even if this is how Japanese sounds to an English speaker when translated literally, you solve that problem by not translating it literally. If you’re going to do a dub, try and make the dialogue sound natural to an English speaker.(*)
  • Character design for the human characters could be better, especially since they tend to be wearing uniforms and thus dressed the same all the time. I had trouble differentiating between a lot of the characters.
  • The flashbacks. My God, the flashbacks. Again, nothing is too exciting that you can’t interrupt it with a five-minute flashback to people talking.
  • Pacing. The episodes are short, at about 22 minutes each, but there’s a couple of minutes of recap and credits at either end of that, so the actual episode length is maybe sixteen to eighteen minutes? I am not exaggerating when I say that most episodes are 14 minutes of talking about what is happening right in front of the characters and carping about philosophy and then four minutes of something actually happening, then a cliffhanger.

So, it sounds like I hated this, but the positive stuff is actually interesting enough to me that I’m probably still in for the second season– especially since the things that are crappy about it lend well to making fun of the show while watching it, which … is a way to enjoy TV, I suppose. I may try out a season of My Hero Academia before I go into S2 of Attack on Titan just to see what things are in common across the two shows and maybe recalibrate my expectations a little bit.

Also, my wife brought home the first two volumes of the manga from the library, and I read the first one, and the anime really does appear to be a scene-for-scene translation of the manga. I have not read the second volume yet and really am not feeling much of an itch to do it, so I think I’ll stick with the series for now.

(*) This may be a good time to remind people that my academic background is in Biblical Studies, and the Hebrew Bible in particular, so I have a lot of Opinions about how to translate things. My lack of facility with Japanese hurts me a bit, but I can go on for a while about this sort of thing.

On Anime

First things first: the power was back on before bedtime last night; technically we ended up not having to stay at the hotel but decided to do so anyway, mostly because the boy was having a ball. As of right now we’re home and everything appears to be fine. Both my school and our son’s school both appear to have the power back on as well; there was some speculation that this might cut into school starting back up tomorrow but that no longer looks like it’s going to happen.

I have been, for some time now, casting about for some new Thing to become a Fan of, and for some reason(*) just before the power went out I’d decided to watch a few episodes of Attack on Titan on Netflix and Hulu(**). I was on the sixth episode of Season One, right at the end of a damn cliffhanger, when the lights went out, and as I’m typing this I just finished the 10th episode. And there are bits about it that are ridiculous, and I’m not sure if they’re manga tropes or something specific to this show (my God, the melodrama; everyone is always screaming) but so far I’m really enjoying it, to the point that I’m considering dipping my toe into…

(shivers)

… the manga.

I mean, there’s 33 volumes. Surely just buying one won’t hurt anything, right?

God help me.

(I’ve got Full Metal Alchemist and My Hero Academia on tap to check out next. Let me know which rabbit holes you think I need to fall into, if there are any.)

(*) a bunch of my current students are major weebs, and I still like to check stuff out whenever I notice a bunch of my kids are into something. It’s not like I’ve never had kids who liked anime before, but this year seems to feature a particularly high concentration of them for some reason. Why Attack on Titan in particular? I dunno, I’ve just always liked the look of the monsters for some reason.

(**) Started on Netflix, but Hulu has all four seasons of the show and appears to have better subtitles as well.

A Christmas abortion story

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this terrible show. If not, well, it’s fuckin’ terrible, and it’s on Hulu, and you should probably watch an episode or two because it is terrible in a uniquely addictive way, like, I hate it but I can’t get enough of it.

Anyway.

The wife and I have started season 3. She has somehow already watched all five (Five? Sure. It could be as many as twelve; I have no idea) seasons already and is rewatching them with me. At the end of Season 2, one character found out a woman he’d recently had sex with was pregnant. I believe his entire reaction to this news was the single word “Fuck.” And then the season ended.

And do you know what happened at the beginning of Season 3?

She told him she’d had an abortion, and he was cool with that, and that was the end of the storyline. It was barely a three-minute conversation, with not a trace of remorse on either one of their parts. It has not been mentioned since.

And I gotta be honest: it was fucking refreshing. Because with any other show this would have been a half-season fucking ordeal, and there would have been endless conversations about it, and then it probably wouldn’t have happened.

But this one? Yeah. Season 2 cliffhanger, done and dusted four minutes into Season 3.

I approve.

Star Wars and stuff

This post is going to be kind of grab-baggy, so be prepared for that, and there will probably be various and sundry spoilers for various and sundry things, so be prepared to potentially be spoiled somehow on basically anything I mention.

The Mandalorian continues to be … a thing, that I watch. The show annoys me as often as it entertains me, to be honest, and reintroducing Boba fucking Fett back into continuity got directly on my damn nerves no matter how much of a badass Temuera Morrison is in the role. The show’s structure is kind of aggravating, too; I’ve talked before about how video games seem to be imposing their structure on serial storytelling, and this show is really big on episodes that feel exactly like side quests in video games. Plus, for a bounty hunter, Din Djarin sure doesn’t hunt a whole lot of bounties. Baby Yoda (Grogu, whatever; I’m actually fine with the name) has basically eaten the show. That said, I thought the show’s most recent episode did some really interesting narrative stuff, including shortcutting past what I thought was going to be an entire episode about breaking a character out of prison ended up dispensing with the entire “breakout” by basically having one character pull some strings and dealing with it in two minutes.

The show’s budget is also completely out of control, in a good way. It looks gorgeous, and it doesn’t skimp on … really, anything at all. But I feel like I spend at least half of each episode sighing.

While I’m talking about Star Wars, I may as well point out that I’m working my way through The Clone Wars, and … well, that’s a thing I watch too. I’m mostly interested in filling in my knowledge of Ahsoka Tano’s backstory, so sooner or later I’ll move on to Rebels. I’m not loving the show, though, so it’ll probably take a minute. Also, the more time I spend watching Stormtroopers shoot at people and miss or droids shoot at people and miss, the more it starts to actually get on my nerves. Turns out there’s a limit for this stuff after all.

Then again, this has happened:

… and, damn, I am so back in. I didn’t know how much I needed a Patty Jenkins Rogue Squadron movie until seeing this teaser, which blew my damn mind. I spent the whole thing thinking she was either talking about Captain Marvel 2 or, for some reason, Green Lantern, which seems kind of an unlikely announcement for a Disney production. So when she pulls that X-Wing pilot helmet out … damn.

Let’s see, what else? There was a teaser for Ms. Marvel, too:

I have kind of checked out of the MCU since Endgame and especially Far from Home, which is easy for me to say when the global pandemic has seriously curtailed any actual chance I might have to watch any new programming. But this? This is what I want, and Iman Vellani seems like the perfect actress for this role. I also continue to be hugely psyched about WandaVision, mostly because of Monica Rambeau’s presence in the program.


I have reread R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic in the last couple of weeks, and I finally, finally got to start reading The Burning God, book III of that trilogy, today. It was the right call to reread the first two books again, which 1) reminded me of just how phenomenally good the first book was, and 2) made me realize that the second really is just as good as the first one. This series really isn’t for everyone, I still stand by that, but my God is it an amazing piece of work. I can’t wait to see how Kuang wraps up the trilogy with this final book. The rest of my unread shelf can wait.