Saturday, June 30, 2012

The 4400: Carrier

Carrier (Episode 2.7)
Directed by Leslie Libman
Written by Douglas Petrie
Co-starring Sherilyn Fenn
First aired 24 July 2004
Rating: 5/10

Preceding episode: "Life Interrupted"
Following episode: "Rebirth"


Following last week's divergent episode, we have returned to the returnee of the week formula. Jean DeLynn Baker (Sherilyn Fenn) is a manic depressive woman who has the power to wipe out countless people via a virus that is emitted like spores from nasty blisters in her hands. After wiping out her small town community in Oregon, Baker is on the run, leaving bodies in her path, while NTAC do-it-alls Diane and Tom are in hot pursuit. This sub-plot plays out like the X-Files episode "F. Emasculata," with its near-bursting blisters ending in a gunshot. Tom mumbles something about the ripple effect but I doubt we'll hear much of this incident in future episodes. With Baker's death the 4400 has fallen to 4396 (or 4397 once JC returns, which I still believe to be imminent).

Elsewhere in the lives of the 4400... Maia's Aunt is using the poor little predictor in order to win easy cash from sure thing bets, and Maia suspects that her aunt only likes her for her talent. Meanwhile, Diane delivers a fake Maia diary to the people at NTAC, which was forged by that goofy guy that likes her, Marco.

At the 4400 Centre, Shawn is lost. Without Collier the centre is struggling as is its young healer. Enter Matthew Ross (Garrett Dillahunt) to save the day. Yes, more Jesus references are brought in with a replacement named "Matthew," but this dude's more of a businessman than a cult leader, sporting striped shirts and colourful matching ties. Matthew steps in to advise Shawn, but really he appears to be taking control. The man is not unknown to Shawn since apparently Collier had mentioned him as a go-to guy. At first Shawn is grateful for the man's involvement, but soon feels Matthew is another Collier, and makes it clear that he is unwilling to be manipulated by him the way he was by Collier. First he is determined to leave, but later, with Lily's help, decides to set up a foundation to help needy people.

Patrick is apparently travelling, leaving Lily to commit terrible atrocities. It turns out that she is in collusion with Matthew in keeping Shawn at the centre, since the foundation idea was actually Matthew's. Turns out neither Lily nor Matthew believe in the 4400 cause, and Lily only wants daycare for her daughter (which is odd since Lily, prior to this episode, isn't working). Lily's worst atrocity, however, is her poor English, as she delivers  a laugh-out-loud phrase, and I'm surprised no one on the set caught this. Referring to the letters Shawn receives daily, begging for him to cure them, Lily says: "Each one is sadder than the next." It should be "...sadder than the last," in that each new letter gets sadder and sadder. But what Lily is actually saying is that while the first letter is very sad, tragic even, the next one is still sad but not as much, and the next even less so, and so forth until the letters eventually start becoming quite happy and eventually ecstatic.

Meanwhile, in the land of Kyle, there is much bonding between him and Alana. He is troubled by the alternate self that existed in Tom and Alana's eight years together, feeling as though he can never accomplish what the other Kyle has. The episode ends with him experiencing partial recall of his involvement in Collier's murder, and it turns out a building janitor actually got a good look at his face.

Overall the episode lacks originality, and despite that one surprise concerning Lily, falls quite flat. While I like Kyle and find his thread the most interesting at this stage, the bonding was awkward and the insecurities fabricated. I put this down to weak writing. The episode suffers not only from weak writing, but also from a sub-plot that is just not very good, with artificial tensions that are never truly achieved.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The 4400: Life Interrupted

Life Interrupted (Episode 2.6)
Directed by Michael W. Watkins
Written by Ira Steven Behr
Co-starring Karina Lombard, Maureen Thomas
First aired 17 July 2005
Rating 8/10

Previous episode: "As Fate Would Have It"
Following episode: "Carrier"

Tom Baldwin awakens one grey morning to discover that his life is suddenly and unexpectedly altered. His son Kyle is strangely affectionate, cultist Jordan Collier is Washington governor, and the 4400 phenomenon doesn't exist. While Kyle is preparing for med school, Shawn is a rising musician and his younger brother Danny is engaged to Nikki (you know, that chick who inexplicably disappeared after season one). The clincher occurs when Tom discovers he remarried two years ago to hottie Alana Mareva (Karina Lombard).

The back story in this new reality is that Tom suffered three weeks imprisonment by some bad people, would have died had he not managed to escape, and has spent the last two months rehabilitating. Those around him, including Diana, believe he is not ready to return, and that these stories of four thousand four hundred missing people is a concoction resulting from physical and mental stress. Yet Tom knows this reality isn't his, and helping spur that belief is a mysterious black door only he can see at the former 4400 Centre, which, in this reality, is the Jordan Collier Museum of Contemporary Art.

It turns out that this reality is also new for Alana. She is a member of the 4400 whose previous life has been completely washed away. She was an art buyer and gallery owner, disappeared fours years ago, and lost her husband and son in a car accident a few years back. At first neither Tom nor the audience knows if Alana is telling the truth, and though we grow to trust her it is obvious she is somehow linked to the mystery. Yet time goes by, eight years and counting, during which Tom and Alana get married, or in this reality renew their vows. Meanwhile Kyle becomes a resident aiming to be a surgeon, Shawn is on tour with some band, and Diana gets a really nice new hairdo with some colouring as though she's discovered Dana Scully's hairdresser.

But Tom keeps seeing that door.

Spoiler. The idea is that the people of the future, in their seemingly limitless wisdom, planned all this in advance, and sent Alana back with the ability to create false realities. Being good and truly in love with Tom, Alana is unaware that she is the architect of this reality, having been pre-programmed to unleash the structure. The reason behind this plot is to give Tom strength in the form of Alana and their eight years of bliss together so that he can manage to successfully get through a period of serious crisis that is looming ahead. The viewer suspects that this crisis has to do with Kyle's assassination of Jordan Collier.

This idea is not a new one. The various Star Trek series have produced their own variations, yet the show that comes prominently to mind is that excellent Odyssey 5 episode, "The Choices We Make" (episode 1.6), which first aired July 27th, 2002, almost exactly three years prior to "Life Interrupted" and likely an inspiration. The idea itself is a great one to explore character, and while in Odyssey 5 we were offered the opportunity to observe different sides of five characters, here we get a variation of Tom Baldwin, an introspection of his character outside of the immediate 4400 scenario. We see him struggling with his duties toward family and career, his love of family and dedication to truth that threatens to tear apart the ideal family Alana has constructed in this world. We even get to see him cry.

Yet there is another important purpose to this episode, and that is the introduction to a new major player. Alana is now among the 4400 that we will be following during our search for the truth. She is not a replacement for Collier since the cult leader will surely return, yet I wouldn't be surprised to see another character untethered from the show's moors, namely Lily Moore Tyler who is, unlike hubby Richard, not even referenced in this episode. I say this because her character has lost her edge since giving birth to Isabelle, though I can't imagine her being sent off while Richard, still a strong character due his powerful conscience, is still around.

But I digress.

"Life Interrupted" was written by notable science fiction television writer Ira Steven Behr (oddly not credited on IMDb, so I had to fix that). Behr has written for a number of different series and faithfully for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and The 4400. It is well made in several respects, and not just in a strong plot. The point of view is almost consistently with Tom, the audience following along as though by his side, and never is information withheld from the viewer; Tom learns just as we learn. Of course we are not in his shoes, but somewhat removed, and watch as he makes his own decisions, struggling to accept this new wonderful life with Alana, or to walk through that dark door and go back to the complications of a world that is on the verge of collapse. Notice I write "almost consistently." There are a few brief moments when we glimpse Tom through the eyes of others, most notably through Diana's eyes earlier on in the episode. When Tom first tells her of the returnees she is making faces, her back to him, so that her concerned scepticism is clear to the viewer but kept from Tom. This might have been the director's decision in order to confound the viewer, or to let us know that Diana is truly unaware of the 4400.

The only thing I am left to wonder at is that the people of the future have taken a great risk here. Sure Tom has a hot new wife by his side with a remarkable ability that essentially gives Tom his own personal holodeck, but spending eight years watching loving son Kyle grow and develop, along with the other people around him, and every aspect of that life, would lead to quite a bit of confusion. Though it all played out in only minutes, Tom did experience eight years, which is a helluva long time. This was not addressed in the episode and I doubt it will come up later, which is unfortunate, since not acknowledging this reality somewhat weakens the concept.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Blogging: keyword searches

Casual Debris has recently surpassed twenty-five thousand page views (though I suspect only three of those people actually read a full article), and I thought in light of this milestone I'll share some of the most interesting searches that brought readers to the site over the past two years.

The most common searches so far have been, in order:

night gallery
tales from the darkside
night gallery paintings
hitchcock anthologies contents

And of course there are the variant spellings, word order and the surprising number of people who can't spell HITCHCOCK, or ANTHOLOGIES, or even CONTENTS. It's a sad world we blog in, my friends.

Yet the most interesting searches are the uncommon ones, and I'm sharing eight word combinations that have directed innocent, unwary web travellers to the mire of Casual Debris.

furniture covered in white sheets

Oddly enough, this and several variations come up regularly, and I doubt my site was helpful to the searcher(s). I'd be curious to know if one person regularly conducts this search, or if it's an actual common search item on various engines. I've conducted the search and Casual Debris appears nowhere near the top of Google's list, so I suspect the searcher(s) are serious about the subject matter, trudging deep through Google's dregs. I'm quite certain that the article they land on is the Tales from the Darkside article featuring episode "Florence Bravo," as I mention that the episode opens up with quite a few, the sheets invoking images of ghosts.

young boy hand job

I can't even begin to wonder which article this one landed on, but clearly another disappointment to the seeker. Someone searching for technique, perhaps, or wanting to help out a young friend?

brent spiner's dick

No comment, but I do mention Brent Spiner who appears in the Tales from the Darkside adaptation of Robert Bloch's "A Case of the Stubborns."

sexy extraterrestrial

Of course I think of Species, and can't imaging many examples on this site. True, a few appear in Tales from the Darkside such as Kim Greist, but I wouldn't ever over-feature that particular aspect of any alien.

rat attack 1974

I'm curious if the person was searching for a particular attack. Curiosity egging me on, I followed suit and found that Google lists my article on James Herbert's The Rats at the top. I couldn't find any particular attacks with my fairly limited searching, though articles ranged from Nova to academic papers. Perhaps the seeker in this case tries adding a few more words to refine the search.

angry demon spirit

Without additional context this search opens vast possibilities. I just hope the seeker found a solution to his/her problem.

conformist society

I'm proud that I could be so socio-politically relevant, but probably disappointed the searcher when s/he landed on my review of the Twilight Zone episode "Evergreen," featuring Evergreen Estates.

sexy redhead with teddy bear

I'm not sure why, but this one cracks me up. I don't think I'd ever open the site up to advertising, but with so many odd sexual hits I wouldn't be surprised if Google insisted the ads be pornographic.

What are the oddest keyword searches bringing people to your site?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Aside: The Fiction Desk 100

An appeal from The Fiction Desk: The Fiction Desk 100

For a review of The Fiction Desk 1: Various authors.
For a review of The Fiction Desk 2: All These Little Worlds.
For a review of The Fiction Desk 3: The Maginot Line.

I am posting an appeal on behalf of The Fiction Desk. I was not asked to do this, and it is certainly a first for Casual Debris, but I feel that the anthologies produced by The Fiction Desk have made it among the strongest journals in 2011/2012, and my personal favourite.

The aim of The Fiction Desk 100 is to acquire a hundred new subscribers over the summer. Editor Rob Redman makes it clear that the journal is not in jeopardy, but that he wishes to publish more frequently, making it a solid quarterly printed on a three-month schedule.

I try to encourage new journals with subscriptions. As a writer I understand the importance of such publications, and it's thanks to these publications that I too was able to sell my first stories. As a reader I also understand the importance of such journals as they often bring strong contemporary fiction to a wider audience. It is often a challenge for strong fiction to find a niche. Newer publications have advantages in offering that niche to more daring work by less recognizable authors as they are not restricted by an established readership, massive subscriptions and advertisers, and so far The Fiction Desk has managed to grant an audience to great quality work.

Visit their site to view their rates and read Redman's appeal. It's not my place to publish rates but I will mention that worldwide shipping is included, which allows someone like myself, living way out here in a place called Canada, to afford the journal and not face bankruptcy due to the exchange rate.

If you do decide to subscribe, please let me know by either commenting or, if you'd rather keep anonymous, sending me an email. Furthermore, let me know of other lesser-known journals I may not be aware of, and I'll try to hunt down a copy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The 4400: As Fate Would Have It

As Fate Would Have It (Episode 2.5)
Directed by Nick Gomez
Written by Craig Sweeny
Co-starring Robert Clarke
First aired 10 July 2005
Rating: 8/10

Preceding episode: "Suffer the Children"
Following episode: "Life Interrupted"


As fate would have it, this is the first truly impressive episode of The 4400. Plot points converge, shocking details are revealed, and we're knocked over by a surprising cliffhanger. A few questions are answered, yet additional mysteries are generated. More surprising is that the episode is not a season closer, but only number five in a set of twelve. Also notable is that there is no episode subplot; the entire forty-five or so minutes are devoted to our returnee regulars. This helps to focus the episode as we don't need to waste minutes getting to know new characters or establishing new scenarios.

The episode centres primarily around Jordan Collier and exploits the Jesus Christ analogies. It opens with Maia's tearful claim that JC will die at the upcoming 4400 reunion. Though NTAC is willing to give Collier ample security, he shrugs it off, claiming he must continue with his purpose, and besides, he has his own security. The episode features a couple of red herrings, such as Miles Quinlan (Robert Clarke, who had a bit part in episode two of Harper's Island), a disgruntled former recipient of the 4400 centre key. We learn through Quinlan that the centre operated kind of like the Church of Scientology, which also sells different levels of information, making big bucks by telling members of their extraterrestrial roots. Another red herring is a professional assassin who has just flown into town, but unlike Quinlan this plot line reveals nothing of interest and is a mere distraction. This assassin herring does, however, contribute to plot in that it makes HC aware that the threat is real, and allows Tom and Diane to be in the climactic scene.

Meanwhile Lily, Richard and Isabelle are doing well at the centre. Their story line finally became interesting in the previous episode, and here becomes even more so with the drama of Lily's daughter Heidi (Genevieve Buechner) figuring out that Lily is her true biological mother. (Perhaps I'm just a soap opera lover at heart.) Heidi gets to meet Richard as well as Isabelle, who seems not to like the competition, bawling at the site of daughter number one. We later learn that Heidi is deathly ill, and Lily and the viewers wonder if demon baby Isabelle is up to no good.

Kyle is still losing time, yet now has hazy images of digging and getting his hands dirty. Is he burying a body? Digging one up? He is zapped at a concert (some band called The Killers) and awakens after at professor Wendy Paulson's apartment, on the carpeted hallway outside her door. Paulson is understandably freaked out. Who is Kyle's secret sharer? What is the purpose of Paulson's role? Surely she must play into the main plot somewhere down the line.

Finally, in the episode's least interesting scenario, Shawn and cute homeless girl Liv are still a potential item, as Shawn "saves" her by taking her into the fold of the 4400 centre. Though she's certainly nice to look at, Liv is preachy and can be annoying, and it'll be interesting to see if this new life within the centre will change her. Does she have a larger part in the main plot? Are she and Paulson merely requisite love interests to bring in female viewers?

Despite the presence of Tom and Diane, Collier is assassinated. Baby Isabelle is no help; consulting her by touch, Collier earlier receives a vision that he must go on with the reunion. Even Shawn can't bring him back to life him. Briefly reviving Collier, Shawn has revealed his healing powers to the public, and Collier gives a great death line, speaking of Isabelle he says: "She lies." It's not Quinlan (who is at the reunion) nor the assassin (who has already been caught); it's a shady figure all in black who manages to get away from Tom's pursuit. At his funeral Collier's body goes missing, just as Christ's body went missing after his death. Will there be a second coming? Probably. Collier is too interesting a character to drop from the show. Finally, in a shocking finish, the assassin is revealed as Kyle, which I must admit I did not see coming. What a fantastic twist. So the people of the future sent Kyle back to kill Collier so the latter can have that second coming. One reason the writers managed to keep this from me (and possibly others) is that of all the characters in season two, Kyle does not mix with the others, so we don't immediately thing of him when thinking of Collier.

The episode finishes on a clear rip-off/homage to the ending of The Godfather, with Shawn in the role of Al Pacino and Liv in the role of Diane Keaton, the door shutting in her face. Like Michael Corleone, Shawn must take over from the family head to ensure the success of the business.

"As Fate Would Have It" is by far not a perfect episode; there are a few weak points. Aside from the less-than-interesting Liv scenes, the out-of-town assassin subplot was pointless and not very exciting. He can't be a very good assassin if everyone immediately knows he's just flown in and within minutes break into his motel. He could have flown into another city and taken a train or bus over. When Tom and Diane break into his motel room Diane discovers his identity too quickly by simply tossing an armchair over and finding some fake passports strapped underneath. Now we have a face. Moreover, when they first barge in a painting is knocked onto one nail so that it acts like a pendulum, but a minute later the painting is back on two nails, acting as a painting. (A small detail, I know, but sometimes these details are distracting.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ellery Queen: Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1941)

Queen, Ellery, Ellery Queen, Master Detective, Grosset & Dunlap, 1941 (right)
___________, The Vanishing Corpse, Pyramid, 1968
___________, The Vanishing Corpse, Pyramid, (third printing) January 1976 (my edition, pictured below)

Rating: 6/10

For more Friday's Forgotten Books, please visit Patti Abbott's blog.

Because it was published in 1941, I assumed this novel was written by Ellery Queen (Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee), and that it is actually a novel. Wrong on both counts, which leads me to claim this adage: Never judge a book by its date. The book is in fact a novelization  of the film Ellery Queen, Master Detective (1940), which in turn was based loosely on an earlier Ellery Queen novel, The Door Between (1937). This novelization was among the first books (perhaps even the first) published under the name Ellery Queen but written by a ghost writer. The identity of this ghostly writer appears to be unknown. The book was reprinted in 1968 under a new title, The Vanishing Corpse.

As a novel, The Vanishing Corpse is highly entertaining. It's short, straightforwardly written and manages to sustain a good mystery. In brief, the case involves the death of John Braun, the founder of a health centre who is found dead in a locked room. His throat was cut yet there is no weapon around and no way to access the room other than through the locked door. It is a genuine locked-room mystery. Before becoming a corpse, John Braun discovered that he was dying of cancer, and cut everyone but his wife from his will. Moreover, he gave instructions to close down his lucrative health resort, upsetting his various business partners. Before the actual murder, when Inspector Queen is considering taking up the case of the estranged and missing Braun daughter, Ellery Queen wanders in looking for a good plot for his next novel. Pursuing a lead in locating Barbara Braun, he encounters love interest Nikki Porter, friend of Barbara's. Nikki doesn't remain just a friend, since soon after Braun;s death she is upgraded to primary murder suspect.

The screenplay for the film was written by Eric Taylor, so he should receive much of the credit, even if just for the dialogue. The story was evidently conceived by Dannay and Lee, the prose transposed by a ghostwriter, yet the dialogue belongs to Taylor, who had a busy two decades as a screenwriter until his unfortunately early death. While the comedy does slow the pacing of the mystery, particularly in the early portion of the novella, the bantering is quite good, particularly between Ellery Queen and Nikki Porter. There are comedic gags as well, such as the burnt steak, but though familiar nonetheless well rendered on paper. With Nikki we have another 1940s gal who is less than an ideal housewife, not necessarily marriage material for that reason alone, but is nonetheless good looking despite being also a bad fiction writer. Yet while she can't cook she is neat and organized, so I guess we can't sway too far from 1941 social norms, and when we do it's supposed to be funny, which it often is. Kudos to Taylor for keeping it funny for seventy years later.

It's odd that the reprint title selected was The Vanishing Corpse. Yes it sounds interesting, and the disappearing body makes for good suspense in the text, but the vanishing occurs more than half-way through and is, because of the title, expected, hence removing a possible surprise. "The body... it's... it's... it's gone!" Well of course it is, officer, just look at the title.

The mystery itself is quite good, and though I figured out the murderer's identity early on, most elements of the crime evaded me, such as how the weapon went missing, which really I should have figured out. For a locked room mystery it's clever enough as well as believable.

I do have a few other early Ellery Queen's lying around, including some older attractive hardcover editions (which are actually shelved away, unlike most of the paperbacks), and I'll likely feature another at some point down the line.

Thanks for visiting, and please feel free to recommend a good Ellery Queen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 4400: Suffer the Children

Suffer the Children (Episode 2.4)
Directed by Vincent Misiano
Written by Frederick Rappaport
Co-starring Kathryn Gordon and Genevieve Buechner
First aired 26 June 2005
Rating: 6/10

The preceding episode: "Weight of the World"
The following episode: "As Fate Would Have It"

In an unusual and effective opening sequence, Jordan Collier is having one of those fits generated by Lily's bulging belly at the end of season one. This particular fit is occurring over an energetic violin solo, in the lobby of the 4400 centre with healer Shawn zapping Collier with life. The scene is effective partly because of the great music, but mostly because it's a distinctive contrast with the series conventions. More violin music accompanies the next scene, and I'm actually wondering if the music is coming from outside (you hear anything at all hours where I live) or if the dvd busted. It turns out that the music is (obviously) intentional, and it comes from this episode's subplot, featuring all manner of something I enjoy: art.

Junior high school teacher Heather Tobey (Kathryn Gordon) disappeared in 1973, and was lucky to get her job back at Van Buren Junior High School in Fairview, Washington, in 2005. In return she is bringing gifts to her new class, as she's able to channel the "light" in their eyes and bring out the inner artist. She's helped create violinists, painters and sculptors in a matter of weeks, and not the barrel bottom kind, but those potentially striking stardom. In fact I'd like to meet Ms. Tobey so she can help me bekome a gooder writter. In the meantime... The problem with this method of creating beauty is that, with all this 4400 hating, parents want Tobey removed from the school, and have gone as far as claiming she has abused their children. Exciting certainly, but unfortunately late in the episode the subplot moves away from the potentially interesting to the conventionally dramatic, dropping ideas for weapons as one boy who did not gain any special talents pulls a gun on Tobey and demands that she change him so he doesn't end up like his deadbeat dad. Sentimental, predictable, and not that touching.

To balance this weaker subplot, the Richard/Lily scenario just got interesting with Richard's arrest at a gas station. Who comes to the rescue? None other than Jordan Collier. It appears that JC has changed for the good, and is even willing to have a little reunion with baby Isabelle, risking death to prove himself worthy. These moments are genuinely tense as JC's intentions are nonetheless ambiguous, and Billy Campbell shows that he can do well in portraying the fearful and anxious just as well as he does with the stolid and arrogant.

Meanwhile, Collier's right hand Shawn falls for pretty homeless girl Liv (Lindy Booth, below, who you just might recognize from the 2004 remake of Mall of the Dead). Unfortunately this provides us with a less than interesting scenario. The overarching idea is that healer Shawn, as Collier warned earlier, cannot expect to help everyone. Shawn is being naive, boyish, yet necessarily secretive of his powers. He tries to "save" Liv, helping her and by association her homeless homies, buying them food, jackets and a guitar for Liv. Things are getting nice and cozy but soon become complicated when his power is revealed. It appears that Shawn is not just Collier's successor, but also taking over the allegorical role of Jesus Christ. How far will the series take the analogy? I only hope they improve Shawn's story lines.

Finally, someone seems to be sharing Kyle's body, and I suppose that is the earlier reference to Joseph Conrad's novella The Secret Sharer. Kyle/Sharer is obviously doing something sinister during his lost time episodes. I do wonder if the writers are keeping in mind that Kyle was supposed to be Shawn, in that cousin Shawn was accidentally abducted in place of Kyle, so that the lost time kid was the one supposed to be healing others. Would he have joined up with Collier and saved him from Isabella's fits? Possibly, since Tom is less than a responsible father.

This final shot of Diana and Tom at the high school watching the violinist is reminiscent of American Idol. While Diana looks utterly impressed, Tom is looking at someone behind the camera, perhaps at us, wondering when those strings will break.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The 4400: Weight of the World

Weight of the World (Episode 2.4)
Directed by Oz Scott
Written by series co-creator Scott Peters
Co-starring Robert Picardo, Rhonda Dent and Michael Rogers
First aired 19 June 2005
Rating: 6/10

The preceding episode: "Voices Carry"
The following episode: "Suffer the Children"

"I am the product."

This episode's subplot is, as implied by its title, quite weighty. Salesman Trent Appelbaum (Robert Picardo, best known as the holographic doctor in Star Trek: Voyager) isn't performing well as a telemarketer. This is problematic because before his abduction he borrowed money from some tough guys. Being tough guys, they want their money back, and are applying pressure on Appelbaum. Chief thug Dmitri Kazar downs Appelbaum's beer (this, I suppose, is a threatening tactic), and before you know it he's lost a tonne of weight. Knowing something of the returnees, tough guy proves to be smart guy and through deductive reasoning figures he picked up some calorie-burning magic from Appelbaum's saliva. ("I lost lots of weight, before which I had some of your beer. Hey! You must have magical saliva! Ahhh, TV logic.) Moreover, being a guy, he wants Appelbaum to work the magic on his wife (but rather than having him smooch her they bring along a bottle of water). It's a neat little touch that this dieting comes about when we are introduced to Appelbaum while his face is in a plate of food (see top screen shot). If only they named him something more fatty, like Porcbaum or Butterbaum or Cookiebaum.

A variety of companies vie for the magic saliva, and the once deadbeat salesman sells his juices for a comfortable forty million bucks. Stupid company doesn't even bother doing tests first. ("Magic spit! It must be true; let's offer 40 big ones!") Unfortunately, television life is not so easy, and it turns out that the protein in Appelbaum's saliva hyper-accelerates one's metabolism, destroying fat, yada yada yada. In other words, the saliva consumers are essentially starving to death, and tough guy Kazar is now dead skinny corpse. Additional complications are thrown in, as the purchasing company has already fed the product on a hundred test subjects, and because this is television, those hundred people's lives aren't worth as much as one, since the race for a cure is elevated when it turns out Appelbaum's daughter Elise also tasted some of the toxic spit.

The subplot, though innovative, well cast and generally interesting, finishes a little too easily. Moreover, the ripple effect we're discussing is that perhaps we can harness this toxin, ameliorate it and eventually use it for the good of humanity's future. A truly lame tie-in. I'd be impressed if the spit comes back later on in the series, but highly doubt it.

Picardo does well as morally burdened Appelbaum. Weight-loss victim Dmitri Kazar is played by actor Michael Rogers, who has a bit part as shot-in-the-back deputy Darryl Riggens in the Harper's Island episode "Snap," as well as some bit parts in The X-Files and other shows filmed in Canada.

Elsewhere in the episode...

Pop star Chloe Granger (Noa Tishby), unsubtly modelled after Madonna, gives lot of money to earn a key to the 4400 Centre (meanwhile boffing its founder JC); JC and Sean are at odds; Richard and Lily are in Montana visiting/hiding out with another returnee; Maia is becoming friends with her aunt April and making premonitions along the way; and Kyle is losing time.

So far this season I'm bored to tears with the Richard/Lily/Isabelle storyline. The demon baby isn't working for me, and while I really like Richard, there is something about Lily, some indifference or ambivalence. Perhaps actress Laura Allen is as bored as I am, and like me can't decide whether to laugh at killer baby Isabelle. Also, the writers can't seem to develop interesting situations for them. I like the idea of having them face challenges that involve the prospect of new home, settling down and no longer running, but this episode's tensions with that bickering couple is just too contrived and bland. In fact, while I have taken a couple of screen shots of their scenarios, they always end up on the Casual Debris cutting room floor. Kyle, on the other hand, is the most interesting thing going for the series.

I've admitted already to liking the Diana and Maia drama. The actors have great chemistry, fine facial acting, and their circumstances, despite premonitions, are realistic and hence inherently taught. I like a little girl learning about people and the broken world we live in, realizing that her gift is best kept from them. I also like the addition of April to the mix. Moreover, the way the premonitions are playing out, infrequently and quite simply, like warning someone to wear a helmet while on his motorcycle, are nice additions, and well done because they're not being overplayed. The creepiness and suspense factors, meanwhile, have been usurped by Kyle, and Victoria native Chad Faust is doing a fine job with the character. At the start of the season I wondered at the purpose of the character, but with these time loss sequences he's certainly going to play an important role in the game. Or at least I hope.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The 4400: Voices Carry

Voices Carry (Episode 2.2)
Directed by Vincent Misiano
Written by Lisa Melamed
Co-Starring Sharif Atkins and Stephen McHattie
First aired 12 June 2005
Rating: 7/10

Previous episode: Wake-Up Call.
Next episode: Weight of the World.

[Minor spoilers.]

Promising young baseball player Gary Navarro (Sharif Atkins) can read minds. This helps in knowing what the pitcher is about to throw, making him the perfect hitter, and an excellentprospect for the major league. Yes, he is a returnee, and his prospects go sour while, on the field in front of recruits, the thoughts of everyone around him pound into his head, sending him into a violent rampage. At first my cynical self grinned and thought, But how come his mind-reading never troubled him before? Well, the episode later explains that at first he could read only select thoughts, while on that fateful day he was unexpectedly able to read every thought in the park. The debilitating part of Navarro's ability struck during such an important moment in his career, and might lead some to label the scene as "pure coincidence," whereas I label it as "drama," which to be honest often is born of pure coincidence.

(Ah, the ability to read minds. I know what you're thinking... that it's the best possible ability next to flight. But in reality we're human, each of us with his or her nasty thoughts, so it's best to keep away from the minds of others. Besides, I have enough trouble figuring out what's on my own mind.)

Homeland Security wants to borrow this ability to penetrate JC's lair and figure out what's up with the cult dude. I won't detail the events, but will mention gun-running and JC's need to make money. Lots of money. There is a great twist at the end as poor Navarro, a nice enough guy, is ultimately being used by the nation, as the FBI now want to recruit his abilities. Tom is guilt-struck since he's the one who promised that after the JC stint he'd be left alone. This twist places the government on par with Jordan Collier, so that the nation itself becomes an implicit cult centre, with leaders using its best citizen members for its own benefits. Like Collier the leaders will surely defend themselves by arguing that it's for the greater good.

(Gun-runner Dravitt is played by character actor Stephen McHattie who I praised in the excellent Tales from the Darkside episode "Family Reunion.")

Meanwhile, back in somewhere, USA (appropriately filmed in western Canada), Lily and Richard are still on the run. Demon child Isabelle has toned down from murder to petty theft as she opens a cash register at the grimy motel and Lily snatches up the twenties. If she continues along this path, by the end of the season she'll be an angel. Richard is deeply pained by this life, while Lily just appears to be out to lunch.

Along more interesting lines, Kyle blanks out at school, leading me to suspect he might be harbouring other abilities, or partially-formed abilities. While blanking out he meets hot chick Wendy Paulson (Torontonian Lexa Doig) who turns out to be his professor for Survey of Nineteenth Century Novellas (sounds like a great course). First on the list is Joseph Conrad's excellent The Secret Sharer, and of course my conditioned brain tries to make links between Kyle and the doubled boatman. Curious to see where this leads.

In other news... Diana reads Maia's journal and learns that the little girl can still premonition, and Diana's tattoo artist sister April comes for self-invited visit. Still my favourite thread; there's something natural between the actors that it makes the drama a pleasure to follow. Just look at those smiles.

The 4400: Wake-Up Call

Wake-Up Call (Episode 2.1)
Directed by Leslie Libman
Written by Ira Steven Behr and Craig Sweeny
Co-starring Jeffrey Combs, Summer Glau and Rob Labelle
First aired 5 June 2005
Rating: 7/10

The next episode: Voices Carry.
Season One begins here: The Pilot.

"Maybe crazy is catching."

Season two begins six months after the end of season one. We're told this in a clear subtitled narrative, even though at some point Shaun, and at another point Jordan Collier, seem to think it all happened a year ago. Perhaps the writers thought the show would be airing in the fall? Perhaps that little baby is warping our reality.

Much has happened this past year/six months/season and the effect is a slow-paced, extended length season opener in order to establish the present. Tom Baldwin has been taken off the 4400 investigation for putting a gun to another agent's head, but he's re-instated this episode thanks to Diana Skouris, though with conditions that he now screw up again. These conditions are put in place by Dennis Ryland's replacement Nina Jarvis (Samantha Ferris), who doesn't seem to get along with anyone. Meanwhile Diana has adopted Maia; Kyle has moved in with irresponsible dad Tom; Shawn has moved in with Jordan Collier, who has set up a cult building to house the returnees; and Lily, Richard and six month-old demon baby Isabelle are on the run.

The relationship and building trust between Diana and Tom has its consequences in that Diana helps her former partner become her new partner by having him re-instated. There is a sparring sequence between Fiana and new section head Jarvis which is a little awkward as it's quite forced (the writing I mean, not the acting). There's a nice contrast generating some fine irony as we learn that Tom is a bit of a negligent father to his biological son, while Diana is a terrific mom to her adopted girl Maia. In fact, I genuinely enjoy their relationship and actor dynamics, and there's some fine drama with Maia's wanting to fit in, so much so that she's lied about no longer having premonitions.

Shawn continues to be gullible, enjoying the high life at Jordan Collier's 4400 cult centre while healing people of their terminal illnesses, but only those willing to donate big bucks to JC's centre. Kyle is tossed out while trying to visit, as JC is keeping close watch on his prize returnee. Meanwhile, JC has written and published a book on the 4400, revealing all the truths about how the returnees have been burped up from the future to yada yada yada, and the unfortunate 4400 are still being persecuted, as some view this book as heresy.

What saves this episode is the subplot. Schizophrenic patient Tess Doerner (Summer Glau, River Tam of Firefly) is compulsively sketching out some kind of tower, while the other asylum patients, and even the staff, are beginning to build it. Reminded me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (you know, with the product placement for mashed potatoes). The purpose of the tower is a mystery, and there's some humour thrown in when a couple of agents are touched by the strange compulsive fever and join in the building. What I don't get is why Homeland Security is trying to prevent the erection of this tower since we've learned that the 4400 have been returned in order to help save humanity. Perhaps Homeland Security have other things in mind for us.

The episode features the nice addition of Jeffrey Combs, the Re-Animator himself, as patient Kevin Burkhoff who is taking good care of returnee Tess Doerner.

Meanwhile, back in the middle of nowhere, Lily and Richard along with devil spawn Isabelle are wreaking havoc across somewhere USA. Baby Isabelle can generate storms, open cash tills and get people to shoot each other and even themselves (a scene which recalls that disturbing sequence in John Carpenter's Village of the Damned). Tensions are generated as Lily is in tune with Isabelle while Richard seems to be getting a little creeped out, not to mention that his conscience is being affected while Lily's okay with all the baby weirdness. Moreover, Lily might be pregnant again, leaving us with the impression that if this continues she could end up mothering a brood of powerful and creepy baby soldiers for the future cause of mankind.

There's also a brief appearance by actor Hiro Kanagawa, who after appearing so effectively in Best in Show I'd recognize anywhere.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Aside: Inaugural Cinefessions Summer Screams Challenge

[Update: I've added the thirty challenge items below.]
[Update 14 June: A little behind in updating the list. I'll be out of town until Monday with a little time off afterwards, and some movies lined up specifically for this challenge.]
[Update 26 June: I've started adding my films. Can Sunset Boulevard be considered horror?]

My email box has been unusually busy these past two weeks, and though I normally check my email regularly I've fallen behind due to that age-old excuse "I've just been too busy." I opened my mail a half hour ago to find a hundred new messages. Before my ego could blossom I saw that ninety of these bolded messages were alerts to a silly forum I've recently joined (and just spent me ten minutes figuring out how to shut down those annoying auto-emails).

Among the more interesting epistles was one by Psymin from over at Cinefessions: Confessions of a Cinefile, inviting me to a horror/scif- movie challenge for June. I was sincerely touched to have been considered for this event over the often impersonal world of the internet. (Sadly, many emails I receive are along the lines of "Please visit my blog" or "I'll follow you if you follow me!" This wreaks havoc on the ego; is this why I am being "followed"? Is being followed not the same as being read? Why is this following even important? It's just as nonsensical as Facebook's "Like" feature. But I digress.)

Even though I won't have too much time to watch too many films, and even though the first week of June has already passed us by, I've decided to take up that challenge despite my reliable prediction of a comfortable last-place finish. I'll skip the Weekly Themes part of the challenge since I won't have time for it, but will see if I can be creative with any other topic. So far all I've been able to watch in June is three episodes of Harper's Island (though I have season two of Rod Serling's Night Gallery and some The 4400 waiting in the wings).

(I'm also intimidated by Branden's already expansive list; how can anyone have that much free time?)

For now I'll begin my list in this post which I'll update as I watch (if I become more active than expected I'll create a separate page).

The 2012 Summer Screams Challenge List:

Harper's Island: Episode 11
Harper's Island: Episode 12
Harper's Island: Episode 13
The 4400: "Wake-Up Call" (Episode 2.1)
The 4400: "Voices Carry" (Episode 2.2)
The 4400: "Weight of the World" (Episode 2.3)
The 4400: "Suffer the Children" (Episode 2.4)
The 4400: "As Fate Would Have It" (Episode 2.5)
The 4400: "Life Interrupted" (Episode 2.6)
The 4400: "Carrier" (Episode 2.7)
The 4400: "Rebirth" (Episode 2.8)
Nosferatu (1922)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Murder Party (2007)
Djinns (2011)
A Horrible Way to Die (2010)

Watch a sci-fi or horror film from each specific sub-genre:
X Comedic Horror (Murder Party, 2007)

— Comedic Sci-Fi (Film, Year)
— Cyberpunk Film (Film, Year)
— Dystopian Film (Film, Year)
— Giallo Film (Film, Year)
X Psychological Horror (Sunset Boulevard, 1950)
— Space Opera (Film, Year)
X Splatter Film (A Horrible Way to Die, 2010)
— Supernatural Horror/Ghost Film (Film, Year)
— Time Travel Film (Film, Year)
Watch a sci-fi or horror film that falls into each of the following years:
X 1900 – 1939 (Nosferatu, 1922)
— 1940 – 1959 (Film, Year)
— 1960 – 1979 (Film, Year)
X 1980 – 1999 (Soldier, 1998)
X 2000 – 2012 (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011)

Watch a sci-fi or horror film that fits into the following categories:
— Watch a Documentary (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film Based on a Novel (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film Based on a Video Game (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that Appears on the Video Nasties List (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that Contains an Evil Animal (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that Contains an Evil Child (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that Contains an Evil Doll/Puppet (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that is Currently in the Criterion Collection (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that is “Not Rated” or “Unrated” (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that is Rated “X” or “NC-17” (Film, Year)
— Watch a Film that was Nominated for an Academy Award (Film, Year)
X Watch a Foreign Film with Subtitles (Djinns, 2011)
— Watch an Animated Film (Film, Year)
—Watch an Anthology Film (Film, Year)
— Watch a Remake or a Reboot (Film, Year)

[If only we were doing this in July during the awesome Fantasia festival here in Montreal.]

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Maginot Line: Stories from the Fiction Desk 3 (2012)

The Maginot Line: Stories from the Fiction Desk 3, edited by Rob Redman, The Fiction Desk, 2012. 143 pages

Overall Rating: 7/10

The Fiction Desk website
The Maginot Line at Goodreads.

In the third installment of The Fiction Desk anthologies, editor Rob Redman tells us that there is, as there were in the previous two volumes, a theme running throughout the stories. Only this time he refuses to tell us what that theme is. This is fine, except that when searching for any kind of link, a reader can easily spot unintentional themes. Perhaps Redman is challenging us not with a puzzle, but with an exercise for our imaginations. And since I do like a good challenge, I'll do a little theme-searching, which I'll add following the story reviews.

I like the bits about the cover selection process. As with the introduction to the first issue of Shock Totem, I enjoy learning about the publishing process of young journals. I hope this theme will be revisited. Check out Redman's article "Cover Stories" on the Fiction Desk blog for even more detail.

The Maginot Line by Matt Plass. 7/10

"Last time it was a wild man in the woods. This time it might be the murmurs from the cellar. Or a UFO over Friar's Hill. Or the Chinese."

After receiving a disturbing call from his father, a man drives out to the woods to the secluded family house. His isolated and aging father is becoming a little unstable, and tonight he might be having another episode. "The woods are behaving very strangely," he tells his son.

This is a genuinely touching story, particularly if you can relate. (I too have an aging, lonely isolated father.) The story is a character sketch that goes beyond character and character relationships. It incorporates notions of the world growing smaller as we age and the necessity of purpose in one's life. There is a near sinister event reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows," as the narrative borders on the supernatural, yet the supernatural flavour quickly dissipates and reveals something all too human.

My review is vague because the story is short and I don't wish to weaken its effect. I will add that the story's title is significant, and I encourage readers to look up its meaning.

The Man of the House by Mandy Taggart. 7/10

An elderly man sits in his chair protecting the house and its occupants from a danger he believes to exist. The protagonist's identity and purpose are clear early on, and yet they are supposed to be clear, as there is something else in the story lurking nearby to surprise the reader and even chill the room a little. Another short sketch-like piece, "The Man of the House" manages to surprise (at least it did me) and elevate the simple narrative with a strong emotional element.

Automatic Pilot by Justin D. Anderson. 7/10

"Carl knew his wife Martha had been fired when he saw her car already parked in the driveway." That opening line is indicative of some pre-existing tension. Martha's car could be in the driveway for a myriad of reasons, but Carl knows that it's because his wife has been fired.

There is a slightly ominous quality to the story. Though the narrative is subdued, like its fairly passive and peace-keeping Carl, the neighbourhood trees are blighted, one household already stricken by a destructive branch. Another metaphorical branch looms over Carl and Martha's relationship, with their innocent daughter caught in between. Carl even wonders "what he and Martha would be if they didn't have Lucy. It horrified him to imagine it." This thought, along with the final scene, is a clue to their blighted and destructive relationship.

A very well written story, and quite effective. An alternative possibility for the story would be to not have had the dead branch strike the neighbours' home, so that the ones looming over Carl and Martha would appear more weighty. By giving the destructive element a physical manifestation, the greater emotional threat seems to lose some of its power.

(So far the first three stories are very good. If only they weren't so similar.)

The Rocket Man by Benjamin Johncock. 7/10

This story is seven minutes long. I'm tempted to leave it at that, for any more information will mar this unique little fiction. The prose is straightforward, practically descriptive (as opposed to poetically). Fatalistic even. Like the story itself.

[Spoilers of a sort.] Apocalyptic, and though we are in the future we are so much in the present. With the lack of detail aside from the hundred and fifty year-olds that are put to rest, this story is timeless. I do wonder at the patience amid looming disaster, the lack of chaos; have we changed so much in this far future? I don't think we can. Scientifically the sun will burn its fuel, use up its helium and hydrogen, eventually becoming a red giant (though I recently listened to a radio program during which a scientist theorized that it'll instead become a white dwarf). This should happen in about four billion years, and I doubt we'll be at all recognizable then. Despite this loose point, it's an excellent and disturbing story. Just that image of the birds falling from the sky.

Exocet by Andrew Jury. 6/10

"Sometimes, in a moment it takes for a ball to fall or not fall, a father's life is decided one way or the other."

Narrator Jim Evanson's dad, Ernie "The Exocet" Evanson, has reappeared unexpectedly following a two-year absence. In the past he's reappeared only to borrow money and continually disappoint, so Jim is less than sympathetic when daddy's at the door. Indeed he does need money, but he's quit drinking and wants the loan so that he, a former semi-finalist, can once again compete in the world snooker championships. There's an additional twist: Ernie is going blind.

Andrew Jury's "Glenda" appeared in All These Little Worlds, and both these stories deal with a man's relationship with a parent figure. In the previous it was a mother-in-law, while here it's a father. Both narrators are rational and fairly stable average figures, both are going through separation, while the parents are both a little outlandish, a little different from what you'd expect an average man's parent/in-law would be. Otherwise the pieces are quite different. While "Glenda" was treated with a fair amount of humour, "Exotet" is more reflective, more solemn and bordering on tragedy, both in terms of a father's failure and a son's resentment for a lost childhood. A good story and certainly different in tone from the previous four in this volume, I'm thinking only that it could have been a little shorter, as the solemn tone had me getting a little restless and the ending was somewhat too subdued. The real tragedy is that the implication that the narrator too is a failed father, but this idea is only grazed and hence the tragedy not actually accomplished.

The Pest by Shari Aarlton. 6/10

In a quiet village a kennel owner lawfully disrupts the community by taking advantage of its innocent members. Ms. Boothman is skilled at using the law to her advantage, and sues anyone who crosses her, or annoys her, in any way. The story is told through the point of view of her neighbour's brother, a real estate lawyer who has a fair understanding of civil and criminal law. The title is clever as it reflects many aspects of the story, including that item which the ending hinges on. I was left a little dissatisfied with the ending but I won't write why since I don't believe in spoiling any recently-published stories. It is nonetheless a good story, and it managed to get me angry (at Ms. Boothman) as I read, thinking of how I'd take care of such a pest.

Trevor Gets Shot by Claire Blechman. 7/10

High school risk-taker Trevor, wanting to be Badass, asks geeky narrator Sean to shoot him. He wants a flesh wound, something that would leave a mean-looking scar. He's got a reputation to uphold, one for being "crazy," chasing trains on his bike and performing dangerous stunts. Yet the story is not really about Trevor, but about his faithful side-kick Sean. While Trevor is the outgoing "crazy" one, Sean is the one we suspect has craziness built into his core. The story is subtle, fun on the verge of nutty, yet with an underlying flavour of disturbing teenage behaviour.

"Blind" by Harvey Marcus. 7/10

The narrator in this one is pretending to be blind. A young man is troubled at being so anonymous on the bustling London streets, and has taken to carrying a blind man's walking stick. Observing a blind woman maneuvering at ease one afternoon, he decides on impulse to leave his job and dedicate himself to being blind. As the story is short I won't anymore plot points away. "Blind" deals with concepts of anonymity, social blindness and seeking one's place amid the chaotic urban world. Good, straightforward writing allows me to accept the story's slight leaps, such as why and how would someone carry a white walking stick, and the fact that the story-line borders on the absurd makes it more believable than works of pure realism. Though I wasn't impressed with Marcus's story "How to Fall in Love with an Air Hostess" that appeared in Various Authors last year, "Blind" gets my vote as the strongest story in The Maginot Line.

"Faith" by Ian Sales. 7/10

A series of genuinely haunting vignettes of astronauts or cosmonauts returning to Earth following early milestone missions in the 1960s and 1970s. Each little episode features a traumatic episode, the events playing out experiences in the isolation of the spaceman's mind. The vignettes are essentially psychological exaggerations of the isolation of space, humans subjected to an an environment foreign to body and mind. Space is a vast unknown, as is the human psyche (or at least was back in the 1960s). Particularly effective is the man locked in his capsule at sea, waiting to be rescued and learning that his capsule was picked up, and though NASA can see him through the interior camera, the craft is mysteriously empty. Chilling stuff.

Theme Search.

After two stories, "The Maginot Line" and "The Man of the House" I discovered several possible themes. Nutty fathers clinging to old houses. One story with leaves, the other about leaving. Memories, dangers, passing time. Creepiness. Too early to speculate.

After three stories ("Automatic Pilot") I notice, along with the cover art work, more leaves and trees. There are still more tense fathers, innocent children and family homes. More creepiness too. So far we have strictly male points of view.

Story three, "The Rocket Man," kills the male p.o.v. idea, but the creepiness is heightened. There's another tree. Frenzied and frozen parents.

"Exocet" features no trees, branches or leaves, but there are a number of pool cues. Once again an unreliable father--no, make that two in this one. No more creepiness (snooker doesn't count).

Back to trees with "The Pest," orchards this time. A semi-absent father and a family home. (I think I'm failing at this theme search.)

No trees in "Trevor Gets Shot," though we do have more semi-absent fathers. Creepiness by association through US gun availability.

"Blind" has trees and a walking stick. (I noticed the titles of the last two stories, placed together, make up "Blind Faith." Is that a clever clue?)

Last story "Faith" has no trees whatsoever. No fathers. Nothing really. It sure pushes that creepiness thing though.

So this failed theme search has helped me realise the varied nature of these stories. We do have a vast array of settings, from forest to school to home, urban and suburban, tree house and haunted house, oceans and outer space. We have quite a few deaths (no births though) and injuries, both physical and psychological.

My vote for theme is pure craziness. In "The Maginot Line" we have an older man losing his grip on reality. In "Man of the House" we have a man who lost that grip years ago. In "Automatic Pilot" the father suffers a batty breakdown, while in "Exocet" the father (the older one) has always been unstable. Ms. Boothman in "The Pest" is a sociopath, and Sean in "Trevor Gets Shot" sets out to prove he is crazier than the title character. In "Blind" the narrator does a crazy thing by trying to keep his sanity, and finally in faith a number of men get spaced out, if you will.

Let me know if you have other theme suggestions, while I wait for issue four of this wonderful quarterly to arrive.

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