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From the Heart

8 May, 2017 (23:39) | Sense8 | By: Ian Burdon

Sense8 season 2 poster

Sense8 Season 2

This is my second attempt at thoughts on Sense8 season 2. My first was written after I binge-watched the new season on 5 May; this is (re-)written after a second viewing of the complete season.

I make no attempt to avoid spoilers, so if you haven’t yet watched season 2, but plan to, go and make up your own mind first.

You can find my earlier posts via the Sense8 tag above or in the right hand column.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, I put on my 3d-specs and went into the cinema with mental fingers crossed, a voice in my head saying Please, please don’t fuck this up. And they didn’t. So, knowing that, I could watch it again and soak in the detail.

It was the same with Sense8; I connected with season 1 so much (and increasingly after repeated watching) that I was nervous season 2 would go haywire. I’m delighted to dispel that immediately; season 2 is fantastic. I liked it on my first watch, I really liked it on my second watch.

We are straight into both the characters’ stories and the overall arc. The techno-babble hand waving about the underlying McGuffin move forward, without ever dominating.The characters are now more comfortable with the link they share and with visiting each other, and are beginning to let their significant non-sensate others know what’s going on.

And it looks gorgeous: it seems redundant to draw attention to it, but I appreciate that every scene is beautifully framed, properly lit and exposed, and dynamic. Likewise the soundscape. I watched on my laptop with headphones and it all slotted together beautifully.

Reflecting, one of the things I most like about season 1, and why I think the show hit such a sweet spot with me, was that the underlying metaphor was played out in the character interactions in a pure ‘show, don’t tell’ way. There was relatively little direct exposition and most of that came from Jonas who, we now know, is a less-than-reliable narrator. When you add in the McGuffin–homo sensorium, epigenetic factors triggering a latent pre-disposition, etc–what one is dealing with is definitely science fiction, but closer to literary SF in its treatment of the material, notwithstanding the (excellent) action sequences.

Also, and this is a relatively recent understanding that made me slap my forehead with my palm that it hadn’t crystalised for me before, at the core of the show is a set of very powerful love stories–Riley and Will, Nomi and Amanita (can’t wait to see when Nomi and Amanita’s parents meet at the wedding…), Lito, Hernando and Dani, and Kala and Wolfgang. What just crystalised for me is that the love is never put in peril. There is a tired, lazy trope, that introduces the peril into a drama by undermining the roots of love; in Sense8 the characters are tested, severely, but it is more often than not the bonds of love that sustain them through the trials.

So Sense8 season 2: fantastic, and about the only thing on TV that puts pressure behind these old eyes one second and a great big grin on my face the next.

Some random thoughts I jotted down on my second viewing. A couple are niggles, but not important ones.

  1. There isn’t a lot of sex in season 2. Despite received wisdom, there isn’t that much sex in Sense8 as a whole, it’s just that it’s memorable when it does happen. More often than not, Wolfie’s hook-ups excepted, the sex is relationship driven; it’s erotic and celebratory rather than pornographic and exploitative.
  2. Professor Kolovi talks in his lecture about Homo Sapiens wiping out neanderthal and denisovian man. AFAIK, the most recent genetic evidence is of extensive interbreeding.
  3. An organisation with BPO’s resources not tracking Riley’s dad when he leaves Iceland? Not entirely plausible.
  4. What’s so special about Sarah Patrell?
  5. “Dr Mathieson” and the Chicago Group: dodgy photoshop on the group pic.!
  6. Global interconnectedness of finance/money-laundering: season 1 theme ticking along and an echo of the sensate state.
  7. McGuffin: genetic disposition triggered by as yet unspecified epigenetic factors.
  8. “Hope is undiscovered disappointment”. That’s bleak.
  9. Neat tip of the hat to V for Vendetta and Jupiter Ascending.
  10. Use of 4-Non-Blondes links to a defining and iconic moment in S01E04 when the cluster first realises its potential. It’s reappearance here is no accident.
  11. Sylvester McCoy chugging blockers with Irn Bru! When I heard he’d been cast, I hoped Sylvester might dial back the brogue a bit, but he dialled it up to 11 and risked being a caricature in service of the plot rather than a rounded character. I thought it worked better the second time I watched it. However, while I accept the possibilities of stovies, mushy peas aren’t that common in Scotland being more of an English thing (alas). Deep-fried Mars Bars are a joke for tourists that’s gone too far 🙂
  12. Croome said everything began to go out of control after 9/11; Hoy says he’s been hiding for 30 years, ie since the mid-eighties.
  13. The ‘immigrant food’ conversation could as easily have been overheard on the Babylon 5 Zocolo.
  14. Croome’s death follows the cluster giving his name to Jonas.
  15. Ajay Kapoor’s business in Seoul–with the Baks?
  16. Visit on flight from Bhodi; who is she? what is being set up here for later seasons?
  17. Bug “pregnant pause-y”; this formulation (adjectival? adverbial?) could be lifted straight from Buffy-speak (You’re all bad-mood-y)
  18. Burt Lancaster, described by Hernando as ‘heteronormative’; er…
  19. Rajan’s call to ‘old client in America’; Who?
  20. “Lito, you’re crying snot.”
  21. Who is it who manifests to warn Puck? And why is he so startled to see her?
  22. Any sensate can give birth to a new cluster at any time. Hmmm.
  23. Jonas has no scar on his forehead at the end of the final episode; therefore the earlier scene of the start of his operation was a deliberate and elaborate fake designed specifically to mislead. What deeper game is Jonas playing by enabling Whispers? Yrsa aluded to this in S01
  24. What to do with Whispers and Jonas? Ethical dilemma. Other clusters will want to kill/rescue them.
  25. Kala’s night of mental passion with Wolfie apparently coincided with physical passion with Rajan; it would complicate matters were she to find herself pregnant with Rajan’s child.
  26. I didn’t think the appearance then disappearance of Dani’s parents and Joaquim was well handled; it seemed perfunctory.
  27. I know the show is an ensemble piece dealing with multiple story lines, and I enjoyed the Nairobi storyline, but I also think the excellent Kenyan cast have more depth to offer than they were given this season.
  28. I’m surprised Capheus didn’t follow up on the outdated pharmaceuticals dumped by Rajan.
  29. Kala’s analysis of the trading records where she discovers they’ve been falsified: Kala is a scientist and well capable of analysing complex data in her own right, but this does echo Sun’s analysis of Bak accounts early in season 1. It was unstated, but I wonder if there is an implied sensate interaction there. Sun is a lot more than just a bad-ass kick boxer.
  30. All SF depends on the willing suspension of disbelief. I’m prepared to go with the set up of this show so long as it follows the logic it has set up for itself. However a Matatu driver from Kibera obtaining a passport, and a UK Visa, which he would need, and getting through the UK Border Force at Heathrow all within 24 hours strains credulity too far 🙂

Two final things:

I noticed in season 1 that Riley’s birth as a sensate coincided with her trying DMT which seemed to accelerate her connection. I mentioned it at point 2 here. Buried in season 2 is the offhand line that ‘blockers’ inhibit entactogens and thus act as a ‘reverse DMT.’ It follows that if all the sensates everywhere, or even just the cluster, took a DMT trip at the same time, then weirdness would ensue. Goody 🙂

Secondly, this may be wishful thinking, but it seems to me that the final couple of episodes only really make sense if the writers assume, or know, the threads will be picked up in an as yet unannounced Season 3. If the fate of the show was uncertain, I’m sure this season would have had a much neater, more structured, ending than it did, rather like Babylon 5 season 4 before season 5 was confirmed..

A third binge-watch? Undoubtedly, but I’ll give it a bit of time before diving in again. Meantime, this is from the soundtrack:

Respectable Horror

21 March, 2017 (18:30) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

C7Q9VBWXUAA88gU

Available now via amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

The Book of the Faces again

20 March, 2017 (15:02) | Facebook | By: Ian Burdon

I went back on FaceBook last week; as I said there, it was purely for self-promotion because of Respectable Horror.

It’s been interesting to dip my toes back in, and advertising the book there certainly drew a response. However the main reason I left, the pollution of my newsfeed by increasingly toxic and/or moronic political stuff, has not abated one whit; in fact it seems worse, although it may be that by being away I’m more sensitised to it on my return.

So I’ll be turning it off again soon.

I’m keeping away from Twitter at present too. I like the immediacy of Twitter, and its liveliness, but it is also a cesspool of horribleness to rival even the awfulness of BTL comments in Newspapers (and YouTube). The idiotic stirring of the pot on Scottish Independence has ramped up the stupids even more, so I’m restricting the time I spent there to dipping in every so often to get a flavour, then going and doing something more wholesome instead.

I ought to be writing, of course, and I need to refocus on that.

Like There Were Only Three Walls

17 March, 2017 (18:36) | Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dead Water, Sense8 | By: Ian Burdon

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned Once More With Feeling, the magnificent 6th season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve been asked a couple of times since then why I like the episode so much, and this is my explanation.

Soliloquies in Song

Off the top of my head, I can only think of three TV dramas in which the characters sing where it has worked: the communal singing of The Pogues’ The Body of An American at funerals in The Wire; the cast singing of 4-Non Blondes What’s Up in Sense8; and Once More With Feeling. The common factor in all three is that the singing was integral to plot and character.

Of these, Once More With Feeling is the greatest.

All the world's a stage...

All the world’s a stage…

If characters are to be more than cyphers, they must have depth and an inner life, and it is the inner life that has to be conveyed to the audience. There are many accepted ways of doing this, from “show don’t tell” techniques, to characters saying what they think out loud or into diaries or letters, to characters giving insights into each other.

In theatre a character may well break into a soliloquy, speaking directly to the audience. Life’s a show and we all play our parts, sings Buffy, echoing As You Like It (All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…)/and when the music starts, we open up our hearts… So we are dealing with theatre, and soliloquy.

In Once More With Feeling the core McGuffin is that a demon forces characters to reveal their innermost secrets and fears as soliloquies in song. The genius of the script is that it takes the undercurrents of previous episodes and, through the cathartic and involuntary revelation of painful truths, triggers the unfolding of the remaining episodes of season 6, rippling through into season 7.

Once More With Feeling is not a novelty musical interlude: it is the pivot on which season 6 turns in terms of character and plot. And it isn’t forced; within the mythos of the Buffyverse, the McGuffin makes sense. The characters realise what is happening and react against it; “That was disturbing, says Xander after I’ve Got a Feeling/Bunnies/If We’re Together.” “I’m just worried this whole session is going to turn into a training montage from an eighties movie,” says Buffy; “Well, if we hear any inspirational power chords we’ll just lie down until they go away,” replies Giles. “It’s getting eerie, what’s this cheery singing all about?” sing Willow, Tara and Anya.

Soliloquies are a device to breach the divide between character and audience, something else not lost on the script:  “And you can sing along,” sings Buffy, looking knowingly through the camera at the audience; “I felt like we were being watched, like a wall was missing from our apartment, like there were only three walls, no fourth wall,” says Anya, going all meta on us.

Songs and Characters

Of course the songs have to work, and they do. They cover a lot of styles, but lyrically and musically they are beautifully constructed, even if they use a few old tricks, such as “Walk Through The Fire” having the characters musing in a minor key (Dm) before transitioning to the relative major (F) for the power-chorus. It pulls a similar move with the bridge, hitting the major chords and a three chord trick for the emotional resolution ((C) We’ll see this through, it’s what we’re (Bb) always here to do, and we will (F) walk (C) through the (Bb) fire). “Something to Sing About” pedals from Bm to Bm(dim), a deliberately unsettling motif for Buffy’s big reveal.

And the songs intersect lyrically, sometimes reversing what you think the initial meaning is (the ambiguity of Under Your Spell) or commenting on inner turmoil: What can’t we do if we’re together, sings Tara in the harmonies of Walk Through The Fire, throwing Buffy’s own words back at her, as does Dawn later, repeating a line from the season 5 closing episode; Going through the motions, walking through the part, sings Buffy in the same song, repeating words from her opening number.

Because each song is in essence a soliloquy, except for the first part of I’ve Got a Theory, it must tie to and reveal aspects of the character performing it. Every single song hits the mark in this respect.

Secrets and lies

Secrets and lies

A final word on Sarah Michelle Gellar. A lot is made in commentary on this episode of the strength of, particularly, Amber Benson and Anthony Stewart Head’s voices (Emma Caulfield should be added to that list as well I think). I agree. What is less often noted is that SMG had to deliver 4 key songs (Going Through the Motions, If We’re Together, Walk Through the Fire, and Something to Sing About). She lands every one with the force and precision of Buffy kicking down a door. SMG’s performance in this episode is astonishing; she had a hard time with the episode because she never held herself out to be a singer or dancer. It doesn’t matter, because we don’t hear the voice of SMG in the songs, we hear the authentic voice of Buffy Anne Summers.

And that performance, to carry the episode, is the catalyst that raises it into the ranks of the extraordinary.

If the Apocalypse comes, beep me

15 March, 2017 (00:25) | Buffy The Vampire Slayer | By: Ian Burdon

Buffy

Buffy

After my previous post, Lindsay suggested I could probably complete a Buffy DVD collection just by visiting our local charity shops. I went for a walk at lunchtime, and whatdyaknow? Each season at £5 a pop.

I pondered long and hard, but in the end succumbed to seasons 5, 6 and 7, thinking all 7 seasons would be a time vampire, in a way that only 66 episodes won’t be…

Anyway, I had a couple of episodes playing in the office in the early afternoon in the background, resisting the temptation to dive in head first. I did watch the last ever episode over lunch though, reminding myself how neatly it tied things up (yes, I know there was a season 8 published, but I wasn’t that taken by it).

But then late tonight I thought I’d watch a couple of episodes of season 5 only to find the DVDs in that particular boxed set were Region 1, which was kinda sucky. Happily, although Windows Media player threw a hissy, VLC played the DVD without a problem. So big thanks to VLC and Lindsay.

Apocalypse: we’ve all been there

13 March, 2017 (23:54) | Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dead Water, Writing | By: Ian Burdon

Once More With Feeling

Once More With Feeling

A couple of anniversaries have been on my mind: Rumours is now 40 years old; Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit TV screens 20 years ago. I’m sort of depressed in both cases that things so fresh in my memory have acquired such a weight of years.

I have vivid memories of buying 3 copies of Rumours from Listen records in East Kilbride at Christmas 1977, one for myself and 2 for presents. For a while the album became ubiquitous to the point of cliché, and The Chain is forever associated with Formula 1 (though it may be claimed shortly by Guardians of the Galaxy 2). As often happens, its ubiquity masks its excellence and the qualities that elevated its status in the first place are overlooked: great songs and musicianship (John McVie’s bass on Go Your Own Way–wow!),  expertly put together.

And, 40 years on, I can still sing along with every song. Rumours survives because it works and connects and has weathered every change in the musical weather of the last 40 years. Lindy effect, anyone?

I want the fire back

I want the fire back

To mark the Buffy anniversary, I’ve re-watched the frankly magnificent musical episode Once More With Feeling more times than a sensible person would think reasonable. In part this is because, since I ditched a load of VHS tapes, it is the only episode I still own (on DVD); but I would watch it anyway because, in a full field, it is probably my favourite of them all.

Rewatching it has been a treat for all sorts of reasons. Distance brings perspective. The songs are all still great, but better is that it isn’t, in one sense, a standalone “musical episode”: it is a normal episode that just happens to have an oratorio and score.

And it wasn’t until this rewatch I became aware of just how effortlessly Emma Caulfield (Anya) steals every scene she’s in.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, though she didn’t really want to make the episode, committed to it wholeheartedly, as did all the cast, and turns in a fabulous performance, including probably my favourite of the songs: Walk Through the Fire.

In other news: Respectable Horror is out today. My story The Estate of Edward Moorehouse leads it off. Buy it on Amazon!

And finally, Nicola Sturgeon was stirring the pot of IndyRef2 today. Idiot. As Buffy would say, a world of No!

My family, and other mysteries

10 March, 2017 (20:51) | Family Tree | By: Ian Burdon

Further to the post of 17 Feb, this map indicates nicely the spread of my antecedents, or at least the genetic markers they carried, over the past 10 generations or so. This represents the identified parts of the admixture of my autosomal DNA. It will be different for my sisters, in proportion at least, because we all inherit different bits from our parents. Also, because the company that did it doesn’t have good reference data for Ireland yet, I have reason to believe the map might change on later re-examination when that reference data becomes available.

The map was produced by LivingDNA

Autosomal Me

Autosomal Me

Just Google it

6 March, 2017 (20:02) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

Way back in the misty long ago, when the world was young and access to knowledge was mediated by either books or a 56k modem that made funny noises as it hogged the telephone line, I read about a new-fangled thing called Google search. I’m almost sure I first read of it in New Scientist, but it would also have been one of Jack Schofield’s columns in the late, lamented Guardian IT pages of the 1990s.

At the time I used AltaVista and Google was a revelation. Firstly, Google was a clean white page with a box in the middle that said “search”; there was no directory or other information filling the screen, just a search box. Secondly, there was the original Google index and search algorithm that worked much, much better than anything that preceded it.

At the time, the internet was in its infancy and still a novelty. The notion of Google indexing pages, then searching the index and ranking results based on the pages most commonly linked to, as a proxy for accuracy or helpfulness, was a good one. But that was then. Now the internet is a sprawling thing, like a ragged old duvet draped over a cesspit. And the search algorithms are increasingly unhelpful as people game the system. Yes, I know the search companies try and correct for this, but the task is too large.

This has been on my mind in two specific cases recently.

The first was when trying to track down information on Major Thomas Weir, a particularly interesting C17 citizen of Edinburgh. The difficulty is the internet is full of nonsense about him, often simply cut and pasted from other sites without attribution. For example, he always comes up as a notorious monster, executed for witchcraft. But he wasn’t: he was accused of witchcraft but the court didn’t convict him of that; he was executed for sexual offences. He was a well-known Covenanter, and the political aspects of his trial, and the subsequent blackening of his name for propaganda purposes are entirely overlooked by pretty much any site that comes up in the first few pages of the search. That propaganda is now the stuff of Edinburgh ghost tours and guide books.

The second was this evening, trying to track down informed commentary on elements of Islamic teaching in the Qu’ran; every site in the first 10 pages or so of the search results, using different search parameters, seemed to be churning out anti-Islam polemic from “Christian” sites, no doubt all expertly positioned in the ranks via diligently applied Search Engine Optimisation techniques.

It’s almost as though it would be worth going back to the pre-Google days, when search engines sat in portals hooked to directories. Other than that, I can’t see any solution.

Updates

17 February, 2017 (09:59) | Family Tree | By: Ian Burdon

I had an update from LivingDNA on my autosomal heritage. They increased the time period out from 6 generations to 10; the big 4 regions are unchanged in  % terms, but South Central England and Cornwall have appeared in the mix at 7.5% and 3.6% respectively. As I said in the original post, I’m from everywhere.

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On 25 January I posted a link to a video on big data and analytics with reference to the Trump campaign. Buzzfeed have investigated further . They take the approach I hinted at in my original post, that there is a hefty chunk of marketing in that video.

Respectable Horror

15 February, 2017 (22:54) | Writing | By: Ian Burdon

So, I saw this today for the first time. I really rather like it.

Respectable Horror cover

Respectable Horror cover