Into the Badlands: Sunny’s absence lets the show shine some light on other characters in “Palm of the Iron Fox”

After last week’s relatively slow episode and its extremely frustrating ending, “Palm of the Iron Fox” provides quite a lot of payoff, though it’s not without its own frustrations. I’m glad that we finally get to see the Barons’ conclave, but there’s a major plot event that feels somewhat abrupt, especially this early in the season. Veil finally gets a plot that’s just hers, which might be my favorite thing about the episode, but I missed Sunny and Bajie this week, even if their absence works well to give the other plots, especially Veil’s, more space to breathe. As always, the fight scenes are well done, and the showpiece of the episode—the fight at the Barons’ conclave—is worth the wait.

**Spoilers below.**

Rather than just a pre-credits scene, this week there’s a rather long pre-credits sequence at Quinn’s underground compound, where Quinn’s making the final preparations to make his move against the other Barons. Veil, on the other hand, is clearly angling to get him to leave her alone in the compound with baby Henry because she wants to escape. Unfortunately, though Quinn doesn’t seem wise to Veil’s desire to leave, he is also too canny to leave her alone. He informs her that he’ll be leaving Edgar with her to be sure she’s “safe” and then goes to give a gloriously unhinged speech to his men. I know many reviewers like to criticize Marton Csokas’ accent as Quinn because it’s bizarre, but I genuinely love the over-the-top campy flair that Csokas brings to the role and it’s turned up to eleven here in an atmosphere that’s nothing short of cult-like.

Veil’s first escape attempt, once Quinn and the rest of the men leave, is to climb out through the roof of the ventilation room where she takes Henry for his daily dose of sunshine. Unfortunately, climbing up a rope while wearing an infant is harder than she seems to have anticipated and Edgar gets suspicious and comes to check on her before she’s out, putting an end to that plan. Later, Veil decides to drug Edgar and just go out the front door of the compound, but this too proves difficult. The gate to the outdoors is locked, and before Veil can break the lock Edgar wakes up and attacks her. He’s angry at being drugged and furious at what he sees as Veil’s betrayal of Quinn and the men, and he nearly strangles her to death before she’s able to fight him off and eventually kill him. Unluckily, a key that Veil managed to get away from Edgar has broken off in the gate’s lock, and when we see her last she seems to be still trapped underground, but now also traumatized, injured, and with Edgar’s dead body to explain if Quinn and company get back before she figures out another way to get away.

After spending the last couple episodes quietly making it clear that Veil wasn’t staying with Quinn of her own volition, it was nice to see Veil finally make her move to leave, but neither of her plans were fully thought out or explained very well. This ends up leading to some mixed messaging. On the one hand, Veil is explicitly portrayed as patient and methodical, willing to endure indignity and frustration to keep her child and herself safe. We’re also shown that she’s smart and resourceful and able to think quickly to avert disaster. On the other hand, she’s apparently not smart, resourceful or quick-thinking enough to make a success of either of her plans in this episode, and neither of those plans are particularly indicative of patience or of methodical planning. That said, Veil’s story this week ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger, with her collapsed and sobbing after fighting Edgar, so it’s still entirely likely that she’ll come up with some smart, resourceful, quickly-thought-up plan between now and the time Quinn gets home. Things are just uncertain enough that whatever happens next could shift the narrative and clarify the messaging we’re supposed to be getting about this character.

I’m also unsure how I feel about Veil killing Edgar. While, no doubt, even the gentlest person can probably kill in a fight for their life, Veil is the second woman this season (after Lydia) who has killed in self-defense after being characterized clearly as not a killer. Veil, for most of the show so far—and especially this season—has been a Penelope to Sunny’s Odysseus, not a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued (fortunately), but still a largely passive character whose agency in the story has been compellingly subtle up until now. In a show that has the ethics of murder as a major thematic concern, it has felt significant that Veil was so clearly not a killer. Even her refusal to treat Quinn’s tumor and her decision to keep his condition secret from him aren’t particularly murderous actions; it’s likely that Veil is simply without the means to cure the cancer, and it’s obvious how she benefits from using her status as his doctor to manipulate Quinn and ensure at least something akin to safety for herself and her child. At the same time, it also makes sense that Veil would want to escape; her situation with Quinn is tenuous at best. He might discover her ruse, he might go completely insane, he may die and leave her alone with a group of trained killers, at least some of whom still retain some hero worship of Sunny that may put her in a weird situation during any kind of power struggle.

Still, Veil killing Edgar feels out of character and unnecessarily tragic. Edgar seemed kind—though that is shown to be highly conditional—and seems to be one of Veil’s few friends and potential allies in this place. It’s possible that this is what is meant to be the real tragedy here—that a man who seemed so caring could so quickly turn on Veil and try to kill her, but if that was the case it’s muddled by the fact that he only turns on Veil after she poisons him (and does it knowing that he could be killed if Quinn returned to find Veil missing). While this, too, may all become less confused once we find out what Veil does next, it all just amounts to a failure of the fantasy morality of the show. It’s a show in which violence and killing are common—and commonly depicted with artful blood splatter as scores of nameless extras are slaughtered in battles between named antiheroes of various stripes—and life is decidedly cheap. Veil’s killing of Edgar is different, more personal and more ethically acceptable by real world standards, but it’s nonetheless hard to feel the full impact of it when ten minutes later we’re watching a gleefully wet bloodbath.

Finally, Veil’s purity, primarily expressed as nonviolence (even in resistance), and her penchant for healing rather than harming have been so essential to her character and to her dynamic with Sunny that her killing of Edgar feels like a despoiling event, complete with the lingering shot of baby Henry with Edgar’s blood splashed across his little face. There’s a sense here that, whatever happens next, Veil has been tainted by her experiences, and that it touches her baby as well. Considering the degree to which Veil’s resolute purity has always stood in contrast to Sunny’s corruption, it’s surely significant that Veil would find herself damaged just as Sunny has gotten well and truly started on his redemption arc (highlighted last week in his refusal to kill Nathaniel Moon).

The other major plotline of the episode concerns the Barons’ conclave that Ryder called for two weeks ago. This all opens with a scene of the Widow getting dressed for the actual event, which seems a little redundant since she just got to the estate, but okay. Waldo advises her to be fearless in a pep talk that is only just this side of insufferable mansplaining. I’m starting to wonder just how the Widow ever managed to become a Baron in the first place if she is as incompetent at politicking as Waldo treats her like she is. The only new Baron we’re introduced to at any length this week is Baron Chau, the only other woman Baron and a strict traditionalist, probably because she’s the Baron who is the source of all the cogs owned by the others. Chau offers her support to the Widow in exchange for a promise not to shelter any more runaway cogs, which the Widow at first balks at before being convinced by Waldo (natch) to take Chau’s offer. Still, it’s not enough, and when it comes time all five of the other Barons, Chau included, vote to strip the Widow of her title and banish her from the Badlands all together.

Just as an all-out battle royal is about to start, Quinn and his men show up to crash the party. This sends Ryder fleeing through a window with Quinn in pursuit, but it leaves the rest of the Barons free to fight amongst themselves in a cleverly conceived and gorgeously executed battle scene in which each Baron must rely on small weapons they were able to hide on their person and whatever they can improvise from what’s close at hand. The standout here is Waldo’s weaponized wheelchair, but Chau and the Widow trying to stab each other with their stiletto heels is pretty cool as well. Sadly, this fight is over almost too quickly when Tilda shows up to help her mother and Waldo even the odds a little. The other Barons flee while these three stand over a courtyard full of dead and dying clippers. Something tells me that the Widow isn’t going to abandon her lands without a fight, vote or no.

The second major emotional climax of the episode is Quinn’s final confrontation with Ryder. First, however, Quinn comes face to face with Jade, who begs Quinn for Ryder’s life. It’s an interesting moment for Jade, who has at times seemed cold and patronizing towards Ryder and is certainly a master manipulator of her husband, but who here seems truly desperate to save him from Quinn. It smartly complicates Jade’s character to have her love for Ryder be genuine, and not a moment too soon as she seems poised by the end of this episode to become a much bigger player over the rest of the season. Quinn is almost respectful towards Jade and ends up ignoring her to chase after Ryder, who has entered an enormous hedge maze.

The race through the maze ends in front of a statue of Laocoön that Quinn mistakes for Kronos, an intriguing classical allusion that I spent far more time than I’d like to admit today trying to figure out the symbolism of. It’s obvious that Quinn sees himself as Kronos, but it’s less clear what connection we’re supposed to draw between the story of Quinn and Ryder and the story of Laocoön and his sons. Even less clear than that is where either of these guys learned classics with no formal education. In any case, Quinn wants Ryder to kill him, while Ryder still just wants his dad to love him. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen, and it does. In the end, Quinn is the one who ends up killing Ryder (or at least it looks like Ryder is dead) and immediately regretting it before running away. The final shot of the episode is Jade weeping over Ryder’s body as Quinn retreats. It’s a surprising and abrupt ending for a character who had seemed to be just at the beginning of his story.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • What’s the deal with the white streaks in so many people’s hair this week?
  • M.K. probably killed his mother himself, apparently, which would explain why he dissociated from it so much that he can’t remember what happened and it’s fractured his personality.
  • I missed Chipo Chung this week.
  • Are Tilda and Odessa getting flirty?
  • How, exactly, did Quinn get Gabriel into Ryder’s household as an inside man? When was this decision made? Quinn’s whole plan here is woefully underdeveloped.
  • I worry that we’re getting into “Strong Female Characters must be Buffy-style ass-kickers” territory with all the show’s women. Lydia having to kill in self-defense made a certain sense; Lydia was always fierce in a way that suggested that she had the potential for that, and that fierceness was at least part of why she left her father’s cult to begin with. Veil has always had other strengths, though. And with Ryder’s probable death at the end of this episode, it seems as if Jade may be being set up to become another Widow-type character. Part of what I’ve always loved about this show was that it had a decent variety of women with different types of strength. It would be a shame for that to change.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: April 9, 2017

So, the big news of this week, for me, is that SF Bluestocking is a Hugo Finalist for Best Fanzine, and I cannot even begin to express the depth of my gratitude for everyone who thought well enough of this blog to nominate it for the honor. I’m honestly still just blown away that this is a thing that has happened in the world, and I’m beyond thrilled to be in such fine company in the Best Fanzine category. Thank you, truly and with many superlatives, to those who nominated me, and welcome to new readers, which I know there are a few of this week. I’m glad you’re here.

Even better news: last year’s rules tweaks seem to have led most of the various Rabid and Sad Puppies to change their tactics and/or just lose interest in griefing the awards altogether. There’s still a smidgen of puppy influence, but it’s little enough that I feel pretty confident saying that this year’s finalist list is, overall, the strongest and most diverse one in the years that I’ve been following the awards.

If you want to get a head start on reading for the awards, File 770 has already collected links to where you can read this year’s finalists online for free.

io9 talked with Stix Hiscock, the pseudonymous author of this year’s Rabid Puppy troll pick, the Best Novelette finalist “Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By the T-Rex,” and she seems nice.

For the first time since 1971, a music album has been nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. It’s an experimental hip hop album by clipping., Splendor & Misery, and it’s brilliant. Pitchfork has the scoop on why this nomination is important.

This year’s finalist list for the Nommo Awards, given by the African Speculative Fiction Society to celebrate work by African authors, was also released this week.

Tor.com shared their lists of all (or at least a lot) of the releases to look for in April:

Fantasy Cafe’s annual Women in SF&F Month began:

You can read the schedule for week two here.

Predictably, the Ghost in the Shell movie starring Scarlett Johansson is flopping, big time and largely because of the white-washing of the lead role. The best thing I’ve read about it yet is this round table discussion about it with Keiko Agena, Tracy Kato-Kiriyama, Atsuko Okatsuka and Ai Yoshihara at The Hollywood Reporter.

Troy L. Wiggins wrote about why black characters in fantasy need backstories.

A. Merc Rustad’s So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories is at the top of my must-read list for this spring, so I was pleased to see them interviewed at Quick Sip Reviews.

It’s been a cool five years since Kristin Cashore’s last novel, but there’s finally a title, cover and excerpt for her next one, Jane, Unlimited.

George Takei is writing a graphic novel to be published sometime next year.

Sarah Gailey and Max Gladstone chatted about Gladstone’s now Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence. Also, you can now get the first five books in a digital omnibus edition for just $12.

Ruthanna Emrys (Winter Tide) wrote about the optimism of H.P. Lovecraft.

P. Djeli Clark’s review of Andre M. Carrington’s Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fiction is a reminder that I literally have a copy of the book three feet away from me and I haven’t started it yet but definitely ought to, ASAP.

Mari Ness continued her fairy tale blog series at Tor.com with a post about one of my favorite fairy tales, The Goose Girl.

The first title in the Book Smugglers’ new Novella Initiative has a title, cover and release date: Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn will be out on April 18th.

Black Girl Nerds posted on why Doctor Who‘s black gay character matters.

Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together’s Dystopian Visions series is still going strong:

Aliette de Bodard’s newest novel, House of Binding Thorns, was out on Tuesday, and she’s been making the rounds promoting it:

The second half of Uncanny #15 is now available online, and you should definitely drop everything you’re doing and go read Sarah Pinsker’s wonderful short novella “And Then There Were (N-One).” It’s the first novella ever published in Uncanny, it starts with a convention for Sarahs from thousands of alternate universes, and it’s my early favorite for best novella of 2017. Truly superb and a very fun read.

Finally, Fireside Fiction has added a new $20 tier to their Patreon. $5/month will go to support the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, and you also get a rad Antifascist Fiction Club pin.

The Expanse: In “Here There Be Dragons” lines are drawn and sides are chosen

“Here There Be Dragons” is, in general, another solid episode of The Expanse, though it’s central metaphor—relating the search for the protomolecule to historical exploration, where exploration is supposed to represent human advancement—falls a little flat and nearly obfuscates the much more impactful way in which the episode is about breaking points and choosing sides. The overall effect is sadly somewhat muddled, but there are enough smartly written, powerfully realized scenes that get their point enough that most of the episode’s flaws are forgivable in context.

It’s also starting to be very apparent that the show is diverging from the books in some significant ways. I’d planned on reading one book ahead of each season, but I’m increasingly feeling as if—if I want to continue reviewing the series as an adaptation of the source material—I’m going to have to go ahead and read the rest of what’s already been published, sooner rather than later. In the meantime, and for the foreseeable future since I don’t expect to read another four books and several novellas before the end of this season, expect less book-related commentary here. Instead, I’ll for the most part just be analyzing and commenting on what they put on screen unless there’s some very important book versus show connection to be made.

**Spoilers ahead.**

The episode starts with a flashback to Ganymede Station, before the mirrors fell, in which we see Dr. Strickland with Mei and a woman doctor or scientist walking through the station, apparently to the secret tunnels and rooms under the station. There are several of these flashbacks throughout the episode, and they don’t do much besides confirm that Mei was alive before the mirrors came down and that Dr. Strickland is an absolute monster. There’s not enough new information in these scenes about either Strickland or what he’s doing on Ganymede to really justify their existence, and as adorable as Mei and her backpack are every one of these scenes was a speedbump that distracted from actual current events in the show without being particularly entertaining. These kinds of running flashbacks have been used to great effect in the past to reinforce a thematic thread of an episode—the Epstein story was almost perfectly utilized in this way—but even Strickland’s late-in-the-hour speech to Mei about imagining themselves as explorers, a sinister echo of something Iturbi says earlier in the episode, isn’t impactful or memorable enough to feel necessary to the broader plot or message of the show or even just to this episode. This material could all have been left on the cutting room floor and the episode would have been better for it.

On Ganymede in the present, Holden, Naomi, Amos and Pax are working their way down into the depths of the station to search for Strickland and Mei. While still on their way down, Amos points out to Holden that Holden didn’t even try and stop him from killing Roma. Holden replies that he “[doesn’t] mind bashing some asshole’s head in” if it’s for a greater good, in this case finding and eliminating the protomolecule, which has clearly become Holden’s white whale at this point. Holden’s increasing tendency towards violence and amorality when it comes to achieving his, frankly, ill-defined objective continues to drive a wedge between him and Naomi. By the end of the episode, after Holden cruelly (and stupidly, from a strategic standpoint, to be honest) allows the final (barely) surviving Project Caliban scientist they’ve found to bleed to death before she can give them any useful information, Naomi has reached her breaking point.

While Holden, Pax and Alex are going to continue hunting for the Caliban creature and the protomolecule, Naomi is staying on Ganymede, where she intends to help Melissa on the Weeping Somnambulist evacuate people from the station. They can’t stop the protomolecule, she says, but she can do some good here and now for the people who need help on Ganymede. It’s probably the best thing Naomi has done for herself or anyone else all season. Holden is unhealthily obsessed with the protomolecule, and he’s dragged the rest of them along with him for more than long enough. That Holden feels the need to send Amos with Naomi as a protector is exactly the kind of sexist garbage I would expect from him, and Holden’s final kiss to Naomi is ugly and possessive enough—though I suspect it was intended to be bittersweet—that I’d be fine if she was rid of him for good. Losing Naomi may be the wake-up call Holden needs to get his act together, but he’s got a long way to go to deserve her.

On Earth, Bobbie gets a lecture from Captain Martens about duty before being informed that she’s out of the marines when they get back to Mars. When they go to leave, however, their dropship isn’t allowed to land and pick them up—something about an attempted OPA attack, straight from the desk of Undersecretary Avasarala. While they’re waiting for their next chance to leave, Bobbie goes to Martens’ quarters, where she gives him one last chance to come clean with her about what happened on Ganymede before she beats the information out of him. When she gets the story—“We were a goddamn sales demo!”—Bobbie flees (or, rather, walks quickly) through the Martian embassy before having to run the rest of the way to the Earth border, where she requests political asylum.

Everything about this sequence of scenes is done well, from Bobbie’s subtle expressions as she’s told that she’s no longer a soldier—which has been the core of her identity before now—to the restrained brutality of her attack on Martens—she wants information, not to kill him—to the tense drama of her flight from the embassy. Everything is crisply filmed and artistically composed, and I love the contrast between the artificial lighting inside the Martian embassy and the bright natural sunlight outdoors. Bobbie’s decision to go after Martens for information and her even more important choice to take what she’s learned to the U.N. represent hard-earned character development, and the beating she gives Martens is a great catharsis for both Bobbie and the viewer, especially in light of the confirmation that Mars is looking to buy Project Caliban. That we also get a nicely done scene with Bobbie, Cotyar and Chrisjen is just icing on the cake of this storyline this week.

Chrisjen herself is still dealing this week with fallout from Eros and doing her own work to find out as much as she can about the protomolecule and what’s going on in the solar system. Iturbi is still sending her regular updates from the Arboghast at Venus, where he and Janus have almost buried the hatchet and managed to get some science done. In another standout scene, Errinwright comes to Avasarala with an idea to get at Jules-Pierre Mao through his daughter, Clarissa, though Chrisjen cuts him off to break the news that he’s about to face some consequences for his role in what happened with Eros. Errinwright seems to think that he’s taking the fall just because Mao isn’t available, and he even has the balls to ask Avasarala to speak in his favor—which she, of course, won’t do—before kind of sighing and resigning himself to the fact that he’s on his own. Still, Errinwright seems at least slightly certain that he’ll get through this mess, at least to judge by his slightly ominous parting “somehow” to Chrisjen. Shohreh Aghdashloo and Shawn Doyle have a great onscreen chemistry together, and they do a wonderful job of selling the scene and making the audience really believe that these characters have a long, somewhat tumultuous, history as colleagues and political adversaries while still having a friendship (for lack of a better word) that goes quite deep.

As if a great Avasarala/Errinwright scene wasn’t enough, we’re also treated to a brilliant Avasarala and Cotyar scene late in the episode when Chrisjen receives a message from Jules-Pierre Mao himself, inviting her to parlay with him at a place of his choosing, off Earth, with a limited escort of her own. Cotyar insists that it’s a trap but then makes Avasarala’s own arguments to her, and it’s nice to see how much he’s come to care for her. His protective concern and her need for him to validate her opinions establishes an almost familial closeness between the two of them, and it’s sweet.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • While I didn’t like the flashbacks in general, I appreciated the contrast in the job done by the set dressers to transform the hallway between pre- and post-incident looks.
  • I want a Misko and Marisko backpack.
  • So, Naomi had a kid. Nice to have that confirmed, but it’s been so strongly hinted at this season that the revelation wasn’t surprising.
  • Alex scenes on the Rocinante are delightful. There’s one moment during their slingshotting path to Ganymede where they come around the turn of a moon and Alex sees Jupiter and several other moons ahead of them, and it’s beautiful. I suspect that sort of thing would never get old, no matter how common space travel gets.
  • While Alex’s slingshot maneuver has already been criticized for its science fail—which showrunner Naren Shankar has already addressed—that wasn’t the most absurd thing to happen in the episode. That honor belongs to the coffin pod thing that they find in what Holden calls an incinerator but that seems to work much more like a near-magical vaporizer. It looks ridiculous when they zap it, the sound it makes is silly, and calling it an incinerator is just plain inaccurate. There’s not even any ash or melted plastic or metal left over. Just *fwoop!* out of existence.
  • Bobbie to Cotyar: “What the fuck are you looking at?” She’s a people person.
  • The protomolecule sure has set up house on Venus.

iZombie: “Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother” establishes a new and problematic normal

**This is a pretty spoilery review from start to finish.**

iZombie’s season two finale cleared the board, killing off or otherwise getting rid of the show’s major villains while ending the season with a zombie- and energy-drink-fueled conflagration that threatened to alert the whole world to Seattle’s undead problem. The first episode of season three, “Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother,” is all about establishing a new baseline for the show and for all its characters, starting with everyone getting their stories straight about what happened at the Max Rager party, as the episode picks up 2.8 minutes after the last one ended. It’s a tense beginning, with Clive, Liv and Major coordinating their stories with new character Vivian Stoll (Andrea Savage) while on the other side of town Peyton, Ravi and Blaine are dealing with the aftermath of the shootout with Mr. Boss’s men after they’d kidnapped Peyton.

After this initial excitement, however, things slow down for a minute so we can get a slightly info-dumpy Liv voiceover that catches us up on the current state of the team—Liv, Ravi, Major, Peyton, and Clive—who are gathered together at Liv’s place to figure out what to do next. Liv suggests that they adopt a new “no secrets” policy between the five of them, and in the interest of that agreement tells them about her first meeting with Vivian and Vivian’s idea of making Seattle the capital of a zombie homeland. Interestingly, instead of jumping to conclusions and immediately labelling Vivian as a villain, Liv, Major and Clive take the time to set up a meeting with Vivian the next day to find out more about what she and her company (Fillmore Graves!) have planned.

Meanwhile, Blaine has headed back to his funeral home, where he’s confronted by Don E., who is convinced that Blaine is faking his amnesia. It’s an interesting and entertaining way for Blaine’s past to come back and haunt him, but even more interesting is to see a glimmer of the old Blaine when he realizes that the business is his and that Don E. and Chief were taking advantage of him when he first lost his memories. He lets Don E. quit, but before Don E. leaves, he finds Blaine’s frozen dad. It’s no surprise later in the episode to find Don E. unfreezing the old man so they can plot revenge against their mutual enemy, but it is a positive development, at least for watchers of the show. I’m encouraged that the show seems to have found a balance between Blaine having amnesia and Blaine still being Blaine, deep down.

The meeting with Vivian is delightfully unexpected. I rather thought she was going to replace Vaughn Du Clark as the show’s manically wicked corporate bad guy, and Andrea Savage would be great in that type of role, but that doesn’t seem to be the direction the show is going at all. Instead, Vivian’s preparations for “D-day” (“D” for discovery, when humans learn about the zombies in their midst) are actually mostly sensible. I mean, if she’s really concerned about humans taking military action against zombies, I’m not sure that moving every zombie man, woman and child to a tiny island is the best strategy, even if she does have her own zombie militia, but it’s not the worst idea, either. Sure, it sounds like a made-to-order target for drone strikes, but it could also work to prove that zombies are peaceable, normal people capable of existing in regular society if given the chance. If nothing else, Vivian thoroughly shows here that she’s not planning a pre-emptive strike or anything of the sort, and this gives Liv, Major and Clive quite a bit to think about regarding whether humanity is ready to know about zombies at all.

Unfortunately, after this promising start to the episode, the rest of it turns into a little bit of an overstuffed mess that all the smart, snappy dialogue in the world can’t completely make work. Here’s a list of things that happen in the final two thirds of “Heaven Just Got a Little Bit Smoother”:

  • Ravi isn’t dealing well with the news that Peyton and Blaine slept together, and he’s being a dick about it. Peyton hasn’t been entirely fair to Ravi, what with totally bailing on him without a word and all, but Ravi needs to grow the fuck up. I almost audibly cheered when Liv told him to stop it.
  • Peyton goes to see Blaine to thank him for saving her life, and he asks her straight up if they’re a couple. Whatever conversation that leads to happens off-screen, however, which makes it not really clear to anyone, viewer included, exactly where these two stand.
  • Major is looking for a job, but everyone still thinks he’s probably the Chaos Killer, which sucks. He eventually takes a job at Fillmore Graves. Because of course he does.
  • Ravi and Clive have a genuinely excellently done expository scene where they talk a lot about Ravi’s seventeen remaining doses of zombie cure and Liv and Major’s options re: getting cured and losing their memories versus just sticking this zombie thing out for a while longer. We’re also reminded that Major must make a choice sooner rather than later before the first non-working cure he took horribly kills him.
  • The security guard from the Max Rager party goes on a right-wing conspiracy theory radio show and spills about the zombies he saw tearing through the event. Liv and Clive try to stop him, but this only makes matters worse by adding fuel to the government cover-up fire.
  • Liv keeps staying on soldier brains to try and keep from feeling her feelings about having to shoot Drake, but it obviously stops working. Clive gets her extremely drunk, off-screen, which is sweet, but now it feels like the show is trying to avoid letting anyone have any feelings about this.
  • Peyton is being harassed and/or threatened on Twitter, and it frightens her. She tries to call Ravi, who petulantly refuses to answer the call, so instead she turns to Blaine for comfort. Nice going, Ravi.

What I want to talk about is the end of the episode. Early on, when Vivian is showing Liv, Major and Clive around Fillmore Graves and explaining what they do there, they meet a little boy, Wally, who knows Clive. It turns out that Wally and his parents are zombies, but they also used to be Clive’s neighbors, and Clive is happy to see Wally again so they agree to make plans to get together later. At one point in the hour, we hear a caller on the radio talking about how he thinks his neighbors are zombies, and the episode ends with Wally and his parents being murdered, each one shot in the head, presumably for being zombies. I suppose this can be interpreted, generously, as a way for the show to make the zombies’ potential plight real and to give Clive a very personal reason to care about what happens to the zombies in case his friendship with Liv isn’t enough.

Okay, sure. But there is a lot of weird coding going on here. While Malcolm Goodwin and Rahul Kohli have been regular cast members since day one, the show has otherwise struggled at times with diversity and hasn’t spent much time dwelling on race at all. However. There are some definite parallels emerging between the zombie experience and the experiences of immigrants and people of color in the US, and it’s uncomfortable, to say the least. All but one of the show’s notable zombies (good and bad) before now have been white, and it’s bad optics—at the very least—for the first black zombie family on the show, including a young child, the be murdered before we’ve even been properly introduced to them. At worst, it’s lazily racist shorthand to reiterate—in case the violent anti-zombie rhetoric that sounds very like ordinary right-wing vitriol wasn’t enough—that the show’s white zombies are, in the universe of the show, an oppressed minority. That the instigator of the anti-zombie frenzy that led to Wally and his family’s murders is also black doesn’t seem coincidental. It’s weird messaging all around, and I’m not sure that I’m willing to give it the generous interpretation when the show has failed on race in several other ways.

Finally, and still speaking of race, let’s talk about why this show, now in its third season and having received criticism for it for years, still can’t seem to cast a woman of color in any significant role. In addition to Vivian Stoll, the show also introduced us to Ravi’s ex-boss, Katty Kupps (*groan*), who is (surprise, surprise) also white. Listen. I love this show, and I love Liv and Peyton, and I liked Gilda or Rita or whatever her name was last season, but the most memorable woman of color that’s ever been on the show is memorable primarily for being a horrendously offensive racist stereotype of black women. No woman of color has ever had a multi-episode arc, and Liv has never been shown to be friendly with any woman of color. We couldn’t even get a woman of color as a love interest for Clive, who when he was dating dated a white woman, or Ravi, who is very hung up on Peyton.

This is bullshit. Women of color deserve better, and white women don’t deserve to always have even fictional worlds revolving around them a hundred percent of the time. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised later this season, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • Considering this show’s predilection for slightly on the nose joke-y names, I googled “Stoll” and was not disappointed: Vivian Stoll could be roughly translated to “life support.”
  • So… do zombie kids grow up? Or are they trapped as children forever? This is important.
  • “We’re trying to keep a secret here.”
  • “I don’t like thinking about that!”
  • David Anders should sing in every episode.
  • Aly Michalka has finally gotten promoted to series regular, which means we should be seeing a lot more of Peyton from here on out.

Into the Badlands: “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is fascinating and frustrating

After a great season opener and a solid episode last week, “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is something of a letdown. It’s not a bad episode, and there are a couple of excellent scenes, but the whole thing feels decidedly slow-paced. This is mostly due to a major event teased in episode two not happening this week at all. “Red Sun, Silver Moon” is a lot of exposition and set-up with a deeply frustrating ending. The exposition is interesting, but it’s not particularly exciting for a full hour when you’re waiting on something else to happen.

**Spoilers ahead.**

Sunny and Bajie are still crossing the Outlying Territories, where apparently “everything is barren and windswept,” when they arrive at a bridge where their way is being blocked by a new character. Before we get a proper introduction, a group of bounty hunters show up—down ask where they came from—to try and capture or kill Sunny for the price that’s been put on his head. It’s nice to get a good fight scene in before the opening credits, but this is the most interesting thing that happens to Sunny this week. The new character, Nathaniel Moon (Westworld’s Sherman Augustus), is cool—an ex-Clipper with even more kill tattoos than Sunny (999 to Sunny’s 404)—but his purpose in the story is fairly predictable, and he never feels like a credible threat. That’s he’s left alive and missing a hand as Sunny and Bajie move on (with Bajie taking Nathaniel’s sword), likely means that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Nathaniel. I only hope that means better use will be made of him in the future.

Nathaniel Moon serves a couple of purposes in the episode and in Sunny’s overarching hero’s journey, a questing storyline that’s sometimes (like this week) a little too conventional for its own good. First, Nathaniel a barrier in Sunny’s path back to Veil, both literally and metaphorically. Like Odysseus, Sunny is finding himself side-tracked this season by other characters and events that demand his attention, and this week that’s Nathaniel Moon, who Sunny must physically best in order to move on to the next step of his journey. Secondarily, Nathaniel represents a version of Sunny himself, but a failed version with a fridged wife and son to function as a cautionary tale for Sunny, and in this sense Nathaniel exists to instill doubt in the hero. Nathaniel, grieving and broken and cynical as he is, is Sunny’s worst fear of what he could become if he doesn’t get back to Veil. The problem with this is that it is such an archetypal externalization of internal conflict that it’s not surprising or even particularly compelling. We even saw a similar, but more visually interesting, storyline play out with M.K. just last week, so it’s repetitive as well.

Speaking of M.K., this episode finds him still dissatisfied with his lack of progress at the Temple. The Master won’t let him back in the mirror room, advising him to stop fighting himself, which suggests that, whereas last week M.K. needed to conquer his darker side (and this week, Sunny needed to physically overcome a symbol of his own darkness and doubt), the Master’s ultimate goal for M.K. isn’t for the young man to beat his darker self into submission. Rather, M.K.’s goal should be a more holistic solution to his problems; he must reintegrate the fractured part of his personality in order to find wholeness and discover the answers to his questions about his past. M.K. doesn’t have the patience for this yet, though. Instead, kept awake by his anxious desire to be finished with the Temple, M.K. snoops around until he observes something frightening: the nomad boy, Tate, being tortured, which we find out from Ava is how the monks cleanse failed initiates of the gift. Instead of taking that information, heading back to bed and rededicating himself to his studies, M.K. asks Ava to leave the Temple with him.

At Quinn’s secret villain lair, which is still one of the coolest secret villain lairs I’ve seen in ages, Quinn is reading “Rumplestiltskin” to baby Henry when Veil tells him that it’s time for his x-ray. Perhaps unsurprisingly to the viewer, given his bizarre behavior, Quinn’s brain tumor is frighteningly large. We learn, however, that Veil has told him that the tumor is cured, although she’s still treating him with some kind of unusually blue potion that apparently just keeps his headaches under control. It’s an intriguing new shade of nuance added to the power dynamic between these two characters, and adds some nice depth to Veil, who can sometimes feel a little one-note. While last week it seemed as if she was primarily Quinn’s prisoner, here we see that if he’s guarding her very closely it’s because he’s actually extremely dependent upon her, both physically and—it seems—emotionally, though the show seems to have abandoned the idea from season one of Quinn having a sort of sexual obsession with Veil. Instead, we’re now getting something much weirder and more compelling. It’s going to be interesting to see which happens first—Quinn finding the real x-rays that Veil is just keeping in an unlocked drawer or Veil making her escape as its heavily implied she’s planning.

We first heard of Ryder calling for a conclave of barons last week, and I rather expected it to happen in this episode, but it doesn’t and it’s hugely anticlimactic. Instead of the conclave, we get a pre-conclave planning session with the Widow, Tilda and Waldo, which is at least a well-conceived and nicely acted scene, even if it is a huge disappointment to not see more forward movement in this storyline. The short story here is that the Widow isn’t taking her official Regent, Tilda, with her to the conclave; she’s taking Waldo, who has advantages of experience and knowledge that Tilda doesn’t. Tilda isn’t thrilled about this, but she’s mollified when her mother leaves her in charge, though the Widow’s “if I die, destroy the oil fields” feels worrisomely like foreshadowing, and I will burn some shit down if anything happens to her. The episode ends with the Widow and Waldo arriving at Ryder’s new mansion for the conclave, and things look bad. The place is absolutely crawling with clippers, the Widow and Waldo are unarmed, and Ryder and Jade look like murder is on their minds. Unfortunately, that’s it for this week, and now I have murder on my mind because that’s no way to end an episode.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I’m still slightly unclear on some things about the setting for this show. Like, I’m sure there are some rules for the worldbuilding, but I’m not at all certain what they are. That said, the monks’ secret science rooms are fascinating.
  • Sunny finally got a shave and a change of clothes, and holy shit Daniel Wu is a beautiful man.
  • I love Jade’s red eyeliner and dark red lip, but that dress is a little too matronly for a femme fatale look. Still, I’m digging the clash between her true red look and Ryder’s almost magenta suit. I have no idea how people in this kind of bonkers post-apocalypse are getting such great clothes, but the show’s costume designers do a great job of using costume to tell a story.

State of the Blog and Weekend Links: April 2, 2017

I almost skipped this post this week because I’m worn out. My partner spent all week home sick, my kid was on spring break (and nothing is more tiresome than a “bored” teenager), the foot I broke almost two years ago has been swelling up and painful again (Thanks, changing seasons!), there’s a new WoW patch with new stuff to do, and I wrote quite a lot trying to wrap up some things from the last few months. I’m also trying to do some spring cleaning type things around the apartment, and I’m still trying to figure out how to make myself stick to some kind of reasonable food and exercise regimen for healthier living since I’m not getting any younger. And, honestly, I think I might be getting sick with whatever my partner had, which isn’t great since I’ve got tons of stuff I want to do this coming week.

I did accomplish some things this week, however. I hung up the hummingbird feeder I finally bought (though I haven’t seen any birds yet) and shopped around for some flowers for the balcony (though I haven’t found any I liked well enough to look at all spring and summer yet). I didn’t read much, but I wrote a decent amount, publishing a book review, two television episode reviews, a wrap-up post of my last three months’ reading and my Spring Reading List.

This coming week, in addition to Into the Badlands and The Expanse, I’ll also be reviewing the third season of iZombie, which comes back on Tuesday. You can catch up on my last two seasons of reviews here if you’re so inclined. There’s also a spiffy new trailer for the new season:

It’s the beginning of a new month, and that means Patreon rewards. If you aren’t supporting Kameron Hurley, you should be. $1 a month gets you a new short story. Catherynne M. Valente just joined Patreon as well, and she’s wonderful. $5 gets you recipes and essays and as much access as you could want to Valente’s general delightfulness since she’s a frequent updater. Finally, think about supporting Fireside Fiction on Patreon. For just $2, you can get an ebook version of all the fiction they publish each month, plus the satisfaction of keeping them around and publishing great stories.

There’s a new issue of Fiyah Literary Magazine available. This quarter’s theme is “Sipping Tea” and just look at that gorgeous cover art. It’s also got seven new stories for your reading pleasure as well as an excerpt from the YA fantasy novel, Coal by Constance Burris.

There’s a new Aimee Mann albumMental Illness, and I can’t stop listening to it.

Aliette de Bodard’s sequel to her 2015 novel, The House of Shattered Wings, is out this Tuesday. This week, she promoted The House of Binding Thorns and talked about her myriad influences at the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog.

The Book Smuggler’s shared a Becky Chambers essay, “The Case for Optimism” from their third Quarterly Almanac.

Jezebel took the time to remind us that Beauty and the Beast is just one in a long line of stories about women hooking up with animals. The more you know.

New Doctor Who Companion Bill (Pearl Mackie) is gay. She’ll be the first full-time openly gay Companion in the show’s history. The new series starts on April 15, and I have to admit it looks good after a couple of lackluster years:

Nnedi Okorafor is interviewed in Issue 82 of Lightspeed.

The new Ann Leckie novel has a title, Provenance, realease date, October 3, and now a cover, as revealed at Book Riot on Monday. Though it’s obviously designed to be visually compatible with the Imperial Radch covers, I think this one is an altogether sharper look with the high contrast between the dark moon, the bright red of the ship, and the blue of the vaguely Star Trek-ish font of the title. I am excite.

The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis is one of the more interesting-looking debut novels coming out this spring, and her Q&A about the book at the Tor/Forge Blog is encouraging.

Fantasy Cafe posted the schedule for week one of their 6th (!) Annual Women in SF&F Month.

At nerds of a feather, flock together, their Dystopian Visions series continued with Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, 12 Monkeys, and “Get Out/Speak Out: Dystopia, Violence, and Writing as Action.”

Also at nerds of a feather, 6 Books with Matt Wallace, whose Sin du Jour series of novellas should be on everyone’s reading list.

I’m currently reading Lilith Saintcrow’s short story-turned-novella, She-Wolf and Cub, published by Fireside Books on March 28. Saintcrow talked about the genesis and writing process of the book over at terribleminds. So far, I’m loving the book, but also look at this gorgeous cover art by Galen Dara:

The Expanse: “Cascade” is an incisively thoughtful exploration of systems failures

I suspect that “Cascade” may not end up being a fan favorite episode due to its lack of action and excitement, but it’s one of the best written episodes to date when it comes to thematic coherence and the emotional weight of its character arcs. It’s also an episode that gives us a much better look at the show’s imagined future of Earth, a deftly accomplished bit of revelatory exposition that gives us a fuller picture of the context in which the events of the show have happened. There’s not a ton of forward movement on the main plots this week, but the character work, exposition and set-up in “Cascade” seem sure to be invaluable as we move into the final three episodes of the season.

**Spoilers below.**

On Ganymede, the Rocinante crew split up to look for news of Mei and Dr. Strickland, Holden and Naomi going one direction while Amos and Prax go another. While their search makes up their plot and accounts for most of their actions in this episode, it’s secondary to the deeper story being told here, which is about the breakdown of communications and relationships between members of the crew, a system failure that is paralleled and emphasized by the cascading system failure—helpfully explained by Prax—that is currently taking place on Ganymede Station. Prax’s line, “The station’s dead already; they just don’t know it yet,” is positively foreboding, implying a time limit on the group’s activities on Ganymede (a feeling backed up by the social and governmental breakdowns we see on the station—the place is a powder keg) as well as suggesting that the damaged relationships between the Roci crew members may also be past a point of no return.

Against the backdrop of the dying station, Naomi and Holden, unquestionably the leaders (in an almost parent-like role) of the Rocinante crew, are still and increasingly at odds over the way things have been going, primarily because of Naomi’s growing discontent over the amount of violence and damage that they bring with them wherever they go. The tragedy on the Weeping Somnambulist has exacerbated the situation, and Naomi is not dealing well with Holden’s seeming indifference to the event. For his part, Holden feels guilty, but he’s rather desperately holding to the debatable belief that they did the right thing. Meanwhile, Amos seems to be becoming both increasingly unhinged and increasingly introspective, on a necessarily self-centered, inward-looking journey as he examines and tries to understand his own violent tendencies. Perhaps paradoxically, Amos’s disconnection from his friends only seems to leave him further unmoored and more prone to acts of extreme violence, though he’s so far still been able to be reined in before actually senselessly murdering anybody.

The good news for the Roci crew this week is that they manage to find a solid lead on the whereabouts of Mei and Dr. Strickland, though they still have no idea why Strickland took the girl in the first place and there’s plenty of reason to be apprehensive about what’s going on. Though Holden and Naomi haven’t found any evidence of protomolecule infection on Ganymede, it seems likely that the off-the-beaten path unsurveilled sections of the station where Strickland took Mei would be a perfect hiding place for some secret mad scientist stuff. The bad news is that Mars has ordered a no-fly zone around Ganymede, which will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Alex to retrieve them even if they are successful in rescuing Mei and discovering what Strickland is up to.

On Earth, the “peace conference” is wrapping up. Though Admiral Nguyen thinks that Bobbie has simply cracked from the trauma and stress of her experience on Ganymede, Avasarala still has some questions she hopes Bobbie can answer. Unfortunately, Bobbie is locked in her room until the Martian delegation is prepared to leave. While Bobbie is using every sharp metal implement she can find to break out of her room so she can see the ocean, an increasingly distraught-seeming Errinwright is going through the data from Bobbie’s armor, which evidently confirms to him that the events on Ganymede were connected to whatever Jules-Pierre Mao is up to. Apparently wracked with guilt and worry about the consequences, Errinwright finally goes to Avasarala and tells her everything he knows, giving her all the information he has on the protomolecule project. This Errinwright and Avasarala scene is great, if only because of the complexity and nuance of feeling both actors are able to convey with relatively few words. It’s not a long scene, but it’s something of a watershed moment, with Errinwright essentially throwing himself on Avasarala’s mercy. While Chrisjen’s not ready to tear up the existing government of Earth just yet by outing Errinwright for his illicit activities, it’ll be interesting to see just how it plays out in the coming weeks.

The showpiece and most deeply impactful part of “Cascade,” however, is Bobbie Draper’s journey through the streets of New York to see the ocean. Once she escapes from her room, Bobbie quickly realizes that she has no idea how to get to the ocean, and she’s disoriented and kept perpetually off balance by the bright sunlight and open spaces. She also finds that Earth isn’t very much like what she thought (or was taught) it was at all. As she roams the streets of New York near the UN, she finds not a decadent world of lazy, entitled people, but a dystopian hellscape where many people are barely subsisting on basic income, at least some healthcare needs aren’t being met, the environment has been significantly poisoned and opportunities for legitimate work are scarce. I imagine that this view of The Expanse’s Earth is no more completely representative of the state of the planet than a view inside the UN or of Holden’s parents’ farm, but it’s an important counterpoint to those more sanitized images that has been completely missing up until now. So far, Earth, largely due to Chrisjen’s self-assured and hyper-competent presence on screen, has been allowed to see like one area of the solar system that more-or-less had its shit together, but it’s revealed here—to Bobbie and the viewer—to be just another broken and possibly failing system. Bobbie’s emotional journey in this episode is one of the most compelling single-episode arcs of the show to date, and it marks Bobbie’s arrival, finally, as a primary protagonist that the viewer can truly empathize and identify with.

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

  • I loved the Alex scene on the Rocinante. It was a nice bit of levity in an otherwise serious (and at times quite dark) episode. However, it was slightly overlong, especially with that obnoxious music playing.
  • “Truth and fact aren’t the same thing” might be the best evidence yet that Martens is fucking evil.
  • I loved the small but significant detail of Bobbie using her Purple Heart to finish popping out that window. Nice symbolism, if a little on the nose.
  • I want more Cotyar scenes.
  • “Every shitty thing we do makes the next one that much easier.”
  • Chrisjen tells Bobbie that Mars was testing the protomolecule as a weapon, which seems somewhat supported by the no-fly zone around Ganymede, but I didn’t think Mars had any more official connection to Mao and the protomolecule than Earth did. Interesting.
  • “Fuck you, ma’am.”
Me too, Naomi. Me, too.

Sci-fi and Fantasy books, tv, films, and feminism