Saturday, May 5, 2007

Passing Sentences: May 5

Heroes, Five Years Gone: As I expected, this episode comes off as a much-improved take on the classic X-Men story, "Days of Future Past". The primary difference is the process of discovery - in DFP, Claremont lays it all out in the first few pages, as Kate Rasputin traipses through the barren ruins of Manhattan and then walks across a cemetery full of superheroes. But when Ando and Hiro materialize on the roof of the Deveaux building, the first thing they see is reconstruction, a deceptive image suggesting that things aren't as bad as you think. The truth, of course, is that this future is much closer to dystopia than it appears, at least for the Heroes. Likewise, there's a significant body count attached to this episode, the full scope of which isn't immediately apparent (or, for that matter, spelled out in its entirety - DL's fate, for example, is revealed only by the fact that Sylar can phase). Excellent episode overall, containing what I believe to be the single most spectacular twist in the series thus far. I'd also like to take a moment to note that Milo Ventimiglia has really filled out lately - he was never scrawny, but now...


My only complaint is with regards to Hana Gitelman, whose existence I continue to protest. Here's the thing: every week NBC puts out a tie-in minicomic that details some aspect of the series that hasn't seen screen time (ie: Eden's backstory). Of course, this potentially interesting avenue is negated by the fact that most, if not all, of the supplementary material is not only useless but often contradicts the series itself - for example, the comic that saw light before "Five Years Gone" depicts Future Hiro fighting a Sylar who's on the verge of exploding, needlessly confusing a plot point that's addressed quite neatly in the episode itself.

And then you have Hana Gitelman, a character who appeared in a grand total of one episode, whose storyline began and continues exclusively in the comics. So if you want to know more... hell, if you want to know anything about her, you're forced to read the tie-ins despite their extraneous nature. And, of course, because her story takes place off-screen, she only ever turns up on the show itself as a plot device, utterly interchangable with any generic character.


Veronica Mars returns from its break with Un-American Graffiti, the first in a sequence of stand-alone episodes wrapping up the third season. Unfortunately, it hasn't quite bypassed the hurdles plaguing the season thus far: we're treated to yet more tiresome Parker/Logan/Veronica/Piz soap while the primary mystery is steeped in anvilisms - I appreciate the message behind the story, but not so much the mallet-to-the-face method of delivery. And worst of all, Enrico Colantoni came off as completely tired and lifeless, which is very much not the Keith Mars I've come to know and love. As much as I've adored this show, if this is the best they can do at the moment, it might be best to take a bow and leave the stage before things really go south.


Meanwhile, Supernatural continues its "average-to-good" curve in What Is and What Never Should Be. On the one hand, it's the standard "utopia/wish fulfillment" stock plot, but on the other hand it avoids the usual pitfall of having the protagonist's every desire materialize. Dean gets something he wants, but not everything he wants, and that's important when it comes to the inevitable moment of choosing betwen illusion and reality (because it's a choice between two flawed and therefore similar worlds rather than perfection versus the truth). That, along with some solid character beats from Dean and the two Sams, pushes this episode past the usual "above-average" to "good".

This week also saw the release of Supernatural: Origins #1, a Wildstorm comic tie-in detailing the backstory of John Winchester. As with most tie-ins, there's a lack of correlation between the story being told here and the story as it was related to us on the show: in the first-season episode "Home", psychic Missouri Mosely tells Dean and Sam that when their father exhausted every rational option in investigating their mother's murder, he turned to the occult, whereas this issue depicts Missouri seeking John out. Of the two versions, I prefer the former, as it implicitly shows John gradually picking at his blindfold until he pulls it off, but... whatever. The highlight, IMO, is the touching backup strip (by Geoff Johns, of all people!) depicting Sam and Dean when they were kids, as Dean tries to reroute his brother's curiosity about Mary's demise so as to prevent Sam from entering the world of the supernatural. That's the sort of thing I wish the show emphasized more often: Dean's most basic contradiction is that he wanted Sam to have a normal life but couldn't help resenting his brother for leaving in pursuit of that life.


Strings is a very charming Danish/Norwegian film that presents a typical fantasy tale in a revolutionary way: the cast is made up entirely of puppets whose strings are not only visible, but acknowledged as part of the fictional world. For example, in the opening moments of the movie, a character commits suicide by severing the string that holds his head up. In one of the most memorable scenes, a woman gives birth by unwrapping threads from her own strings and attaching those threads to the inert form of the baby, which promptly springs to life.

These are just two examples of how cleverly the technique is used. Unfortunately, the plot's nothing to write home about - good king usurped by his evil brother, noble prince sheds his classist ways to see the truth about his kingdom, big battle of good vs. evil, etc. It makes for a bizarre combination of a story you've probably seen a hundred times before, delivered in a way I doubt you've ever seen. Worth a casual viewing, for sure.