Ad men, vampires, and wizards

November 2, 2009 at 3:37 am (AMC, Geekery, TV) (, , , )

Mad Men’s season 3 penultimate episode was on tonight… I knew the assassination of Kennedy would be coming up any time, as the timeline of the show had reached November 1963 … What an episode. Living here and now I know what living through a national tragedy is like; in some ways the killing of the president had to be easier because it was a finite event, the death of the president being the only goal of the (arguably) lone gunman – the country came to a standstill out of grief and fear, but not the fear that terrorists might strike anywhere at any time. It had to be harder because of the fear that did exist: what now? I think it was Pete who said it in this episode: it seemed like they might be about to finally achieve some change, and now, under Johnson, they felt like they were back to the beginning. Then Ruby killed Oswald, on national television, and it must have seemed that the apparently nice, neat, ordered world had gone insane. Mad Men, as usual, does a beautiful job of taking its characters through the events: Betty “can’t stop crying”. In the office Harry just kept plugging along. Cosgrove made some kind of a joke – and Pete is furious and disillusioned. And Roger turns to Joan. “I heard the church was packed.” “Those weren’t our guests.” Perfect. And the storyboard for the Aquanet commercial, shown at the end, gave me chills…

The season started very slowly… it was never less than good, but except for the, er, hotel fire alarm, for the first several episodes it seemed very little happened. Then came the John Deere incident, and it’s been non-stop ever since. I’ve said before that I can’t figure out just why I love this show so much. I hate a storyline in which not a single person is actually happy. I can’t say I like a single character here – well, I liked and felt sorry for Salvatore Romano, and he is apparently gone for good; I can only hope they give us some semblance of an update on him one of these days. Otherwise, every time I start feeling sympathy for someone he does something horrible. Betty should be a very sympathetic character, but she’s a bitca, and I tend to wish for her to be thrown by her horse (although she did have one of the Best Lines Ever: In response to “You’re so profoundly sad” from a young idiot who either foolishly crushed on her or merely wanted to sleep with her, she said “It’s just that my people are Nordic”). I pity the kids, but don’t like them much (especially new Bobby – wonder what happened to old Bobby). I despised Pete for two and a half seasons solid, and then started to like him – and then he raped his neighbor’s au pair. Harry’s okay – his one major sin was a drunken mistake; he’s actually a tolerable human being. Paul I’ve gone back and forth on, pretty much settling on wanting to smack him. Roger is extremely charming pond scum. Joan is sympathetic – tough as nails, stand-by-your-man, almost emancipated but not quite… but she can be quite the bitca herself; she was evil to Peggy. But I worry what’s going to happen to her when her useless failure of a husband goes off to Vietnam. I just don’t know how to feel about Peggy… And what can possibly be said about Don? He’s horrible. He’s terrific. He’s cold. He’s caring. You never know what you’ll get – except when you do.

I have to say, the previous episode was one of the most suspenseful things I’ve ever seen. More edge-of-my-seat than any spy drama or horror show (not that I’ve seen so many of those) was watching as Don leaves his newest mistress in his car outside his house, having stopped to pick up luggage, I guess, on the way to a long weekend in Connecticut – only to find his wife and kids are home early from their out-of-town trip. And there follows a lengthy and emotional scene as Betty angrily reveals that she knows about Don’s past, and he, fairly rocked himself, either completely forgets or simply cannot break away to go deal with the other secret he’s keeping: you never quite know which. As time continues to pass, I was practically chewing on my nails: how long would Suzanne wait? And when she got tired of waiting, what would she do? A perfectly natural course of action would have been for her to go into the house and call out, to check to see if he needed help or had fallen down the stairs (again). Particularly when Don and Betty were upstairs in the bedroom I kept expecting to hear the front door open and close and then “Don?”

I believe the show has been renewed for a fourth season. Unfortunately, it follows the British pattern of 13 episodes, then a hiatus of eight or nine months before the next season of 13 episodes. Still, I’m expecting great things from the finale.

I also mentioned a little while back, on the flip side of the blog, that I planned to Netflix The Dresden Files and True Blood, and I have. The books the former is based on are favorites of mine; I’ve only read one book by the originator of the latter, but I loved it, and for once I’m watching the adaptation before reading the books they’re based on.

The latter first: True Blood. Love Anna Paquin. Love Sookie Stackhouse (hate the name). Love Gram. Like Bill. Love Sam, and find it fairly obvious that he’s the dog; I wonder how open that is in the books. Adore Tara. Want to beat Justin (Jason? The brother) with a shovel. Lots (AND lots) of sex, more violence than I remember ever seeing outside of Saving Private Ryan, and that wasn’t mano a mano…Good lord, that was one hell of a beating at the end of the episode. There’s quite a lot of hey-this-is-HBO language… But overall, good. There were only two episodes on the disc; I might hang on to them to listen to the commentaries. I’m looking forward (with some trepidation) to more, but I really want the books.

The first disc of “Dresden” included the first four episodes of the single season: Birds of a Feather; The Boone Identity; Hair of the Dog; Rules of Engagement. Strange stuff. If I’d never read the books, I think I’d love every minute. But … I have read the books. And … I guess Jim Butcher is publicly okay with the alterations: “Jim Butcher released the following statement on his website bulletin board in response to fan criticism of the changes: ‘The show is not the books. It is not meant to follow the same story. It is meant as an alternate world, where the overall background and story-world is similar, but not all the same things happen. The show is not attempting to recreate the books on a chapter-by-chapter or even story-by-story basis.'” All I can say, though, is – why bother calling it “The Dresden Files” if all you feel for the books is contempt? And that’s what I saw in the show, and, much moreso, what I heard in the commentary on “Rules of Engagement”.

I like the cast well enough. I like Paul Blackthorne (my mind keeps trying to substitute “Blackstone”, which would have been a lot like the actress who changed her name to Anne Shirley), though my jaw dropped when I heard his accent in the commentary. He looks pretty good in the role; he does a pretty fine Harry Dresden imitation. But it does feel like an imitation. On the other hand, I had no idea Terrence Mann was American… He’s wonderful. Valerie Cruz is, if this were just a series and not a series based on books, fine; I like her delivery, though she’s kind of a stock character so far. Good actress. But. Conrad Coates, who plays Morgan … I’ll come back to Morgan.

I understand the need to make changes when a book is turned into a film. (Not so much when it’s the other way ’round, but that’s another post.) I understood why Glorfindel was excised and his role was given to Arwen. One of the only things I didn’t mind about the second Anne of Green Gables movie was the combination of the Little Elizabeth and the Pringle diary storylines; it made sense, and it worked. It was most of the rest of the thing that reeked. So I do understand why the tv series based on The Dresden Files isn’t entirely true to the books: there are time considerations, there are judgement calls based on what will be more or less intelligible to a television viewer, there are consolidations that need to be made. For example, I’m not perturbed by the fact that Harry’s office is apparently in his home. I don’t mind that Bob is not simply an elemental represented by a carved skull with orange lights in the eye sockets, but a ghost who is imprisoned in a carved skull and is played by Terrence Mann when he comes out. The fact that I love Terrence Mann may have something to do with that, but it still stands that as a change from the books it makes sense. Butcher is always saying things about Bob having expressions that should be impossible for a faceless skull with two lights in the empty eyeholes; I’ve thought of the tv series now and then while reading those bits. It was actually a smart move to give Bob a physical form, and it’s useful in the show. Not canon, but smart and useful.

Oh, Butters shows up in the very first episode; that was fun, partly because he wasn’t named, but was just a coroner wearing an “I love polka” t-shirt. Given everything else, I didn’t expect that.

And … I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got in terms of praise. Because I truly can’t understand the rest of the changes made.

Here Harry drives a Jeep. Why? They wouldn’t have had to go into a song and dance about the Blue Beetle; all they had to do was find an old Beetle and paint it several colors and they would have appeased a lot of fans. Slightly.

The only indication of Mister is in a deleted scene from the first episode shot, the fourth shown, Rules of Engagement. Again, it would have been very helpful to appease fandom a little; you don’t have to go into subplots about the cat, and I wouldn’t expect them to be able to train a cat to tackle Harry like Mister does, but simply having a cat about would have made a difference.

Instead of the black duster, which is almost another character in the books, Harry wears … a bomber jacket with a hoodie underneath. And he generally looks like he’s been sleeping in the gutter. Actually, that last is not so much of a departure, but the loss of the duster galls me. In the commentary they rave about the costume designer, and talk about how she went out and bought seven jackets in Blackthorne’s size and aged them… I understand the show has a tight budget, but for something as important as the Duster, they couldn’t splurge a little? Buy four instead of seven, maybe, or make them? I mean, come on – it’s as important to the character in its way as Legolas’s bow.

Murphy. I could go on for pages about Murphy. First, they apparently changed her name from Karrin Murphy to Connie (Constanza) Murphy because there’s a real Chicago cop named Karyn Murphy. And all I can think is, who cares? There may be a real Boston barowner named Sam Malone, but I doubt he’d be too perturbed by Cheers… They gave Murphy a nine-year-old daughter. I’m not sure why, other than to have childish drawings hung up in her cubicle (which, by the way, looks as crappy as my cubicle from my customer service days at Blue Cross. If I were a police lieutenant I’d expect a little more than a crap cubicle, I think). Maybe one of the later episodes puts the kid at risk… which is a ridiculous reason to give a character an extraneous child. But … my main problem with the character in the show is something one of the PTB in the commentary actually alluded to – which is one of the main problems I have with the show’s PTB: they talk about how they decided to cast a Cubana in the role, and seemed to find the fact that the book character is a five-foot-nothing Irish blonde risible. Okay; you didn’t think you were talented enough to make a five-foot-nothing Irish blonde believable, or you couldn’t find a five-foot-nothing Irish-looking blonde to play the role… But pardon me if I think it’s even more risible to have a Latina actress playing a character named Murphy.

Where’s Harry’s blasting rod? I wondered that, and then there was the bit in “Hair of the Dog” where he opens the jail cell door using … a drumstick? And he goes into the apartment earlier in that episode holding it like a Harry Potter wand. Seriously, people? A wand? Which is actually a drumstick? Dear lord. I can’t decide whether it’s better or worse than what he picks up next: a hockeystick. *sigh*

“Justin Morningway”? Why? Just … why? His name is Justin DuMorne, and he was not Harry’s uncle. And he’s long dead. At least as of the last book… though I wouldn’t be so very surprised to see him show up… But why on earth change his name? That’s idiotic. Unless there’s a black wizard named Justin DuMorne who might have been offended or put out.

Speaking (she said perilously) of black wizards… Morgan. Really? I was a little surprised… I don’t honestly recall the description of him, apart from having grey hair (steel grey?) – and it doesn’t bother me deeply that they changed him to a black man (less than Murphy not being blonde; it’s less a part of the story)… What does bother me deeply is the lack of explanation as to why he’s there, and the change to his character – – and the reasoning behind the change to his character (this is an almost-quote): “One of the subtle changes we made from the book” – bear with me while I go and get sick – “- making Morgan have a little bit more of a sly sense of humor and making him a little more justifiable in some ways… in the book he’s more of an a-hole, a complete jerk, while we made him more of an overworked guy who’s a jerk because of that.” Where did that hockey stick go? I see a definite use for it here… I can’t even touch “subtle changes”, because I’ll become hysterical; suffice to say it was about the only thing on the whole dvd that made me laugh out loud, and mine was a bitter laugh. “Justifiable”, though… That’s really where I want to exercise – no, not the ridiculous hockey stick, the true blasting rod. The reason Morgan is, to use their childish phrasing, an “a-hole” in the books is because he has been set guard on a man whom he truly believes committed terrible acts of dark magic, and who should have been executed for them; he knows what dark magic can do to a person, knows that like a pedophile a user of the black arts can’t really be cured, and he believes truly that any good Harry does is like an elaborate smokescreen, just setting up a massive betrayal which will result in massive death and destruction. That’s why Morgan is an asshole. In the early books he hates Harry, doesn’t trust Harry as far as he could throw him, Mouse, and the Blue Beetle put together, and hates that he was put in charge of keeping an eye on him. That being said, he is most certainly keeping a very close eye on him because it is his assigned duty, and he takes his duty as Warden very, very seriously.

It troubles me that they consider what they did to the books “subtle changes”. It troubles me that they felt they had to “fix” Murphy. It troubles me that they felt they not only had to “fix” Morgan, but to justify his character.

It also troubles me that I’ve read that in another episode the vampire Baroness Bianca shows up, and not only hires Harry but turns out to have been his lover.

In fact, Harry has too much of a sex life; it doesn’t fit his character. It’s not chivalrous to have one night stands.

A couple or three more things I made note of: the show’s Harry refers to the spell he used to track down Primcoe in … oh, whichever episode it was – as scrying. I could well be wrong, but (particularly based on the books I’m reading) I thought scrying was something done in fire or water or a crystal, a spell of long-seeing that allows the caster to see what is happening elsewhere. What he did was more … dowsing. And why did “Nicky” want him to look for Primcoe anyway? It doesn’t make sense with the way the plot turned out.

Why on earth, at the end of “Rules of Engagement”, when the girl was having her fake hysterics, would Harry ever say something so stupid as “It’s not worth it”?? She has, to all intents and purposes, just seen the man she loved and risked everything for go up in flames – what’s not worth what? The loss of the man she loves is not worth sobbing over? O…kay.

From, again, “RofE”: “The High Council insists that if you don’t already know about the supernatural, you don’t get to know, which makes my relationship with Murphy a little testy.” Um – huh? This is strange, because I went into it expecting it to be like the book: Murphy being obliquely punished by being in charge of the Special Investigations unit, Harry being her go-to because he’s a wizard. So she certainly knows there is supernatural stuff out there in the books – Harry has told her more than he, by High Council law, ought to, because she needs to know and he knows he can trust her. In the show … seriously, how secret is it supposed to be? Harry is still in the Yellow Pages, and on his door it says “Harry Dresden: Wizard”. So why can’t he tell her more, and for everything else say “trust me, I can’t tell you”?

“Hair of the Dog” was odd; it was like it started out based on the book with the Feds who were werewolves, or at least skinwalkers (I can’t remember which one that was), but completely took a left turn at Albuquerque. Weird.

So… in summation, I guess, all I can really say is that as a fantasy tv show The Dresden Files is pretty good. As a television adaptation of the books called The Dresden Files, it sucks like a Hoover.

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