Not Picture Perfect Endings

Two of the ‘drama’ series on TV that I enjoyed this fall have come to an end for this season. American Horror Story: 1984; Castle Rock: Season Two. I’m pretty sure AHS will return for another season but am not sure about Castle Rock. I enjoyed being immersed in the bloody, gooey worlds that each of them created but while AHS paid brilliant homage to summer camp slasher mayhem, Castle Rock failed to deliver much more than atmosphere.

 

 

The only tease that AHS failed to deliver was an appearance by Billy Idol – the season was an interesting mash up of summer camp & Groundhog Day. Killed ‘campers’ returned to life very time they were killed – each resurrection slowly taught them important life lessons: accepting that you are dead eases the pain of being dead etc. Revenge is a distraction not a solution. 

Castle Rock: Season Two turned out to be all window-dressing for an essentially empty store. The premise of Annie Wilkes (Misery) backstory was promising but got lost & nearly drowned in the goo. Lizzie Caplan’s Annie was so clearly unbalanced from the get go that her drug addled journey was more boring that revelatory. She spent so much of the time covered in blood or mud I felt sorry for make up & continuity. If she ever forgot a line all she had to say is ‘Where is my daughter’ or “I’m protecting you from the dirty-bird world’ & it would have been fine.

 

The window dressing included Somali immigrants, most of whom disappeared after a few camera shots established them. Not even the goo people were interested in them. Joy & Chance flirt – sweet teen-age lesbians but nothing develops. Chance sure does handle a gun well though but we were spared her backstory in favour of the goo people. The window dressing of racial conflict, sexual diversity are dangled then given no substance.

 

Pop’s redemption story as ho-hum, Annie’s descent into madness was a forgone conclusion. Many episodes were so uneven they felt like different writers, directors were working on different shows with the same setting & then the show runners stitched the parts together. They gave us an ending that didn’t make up for the mess of missed opportunities that preceded it. The best part of the show was Fan Critical’s Castle Rock podcast commentary, they were much kinder to the show than I was. Season Two gets two blueberries. Fan Critical gets five.

Watching how the narrative elements in each series are structured is a great lesson though. They make me aware of maintaining enough logic that one’s readers/viewers understand what is going on even if they don’t know why. Don’t make backstory more compelling than the main story: Joy’s birth story & how it played out was the most interesting part of Castle Rock.

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Horror Rock

I have been thoroughly enjoying American Horror Story: 1984. It features great work by regulars Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd & stellar work by John Carroll Lynch (he was also amazing in Chanel Zero’s No-End House – 2017). A season without stunt casting, unless one considers the 80’s look stunt casting. And what a look it has, from the workout gear, music, even bands (will Billy Idol do a guest spot in the finale?)

The plot is ‘Friday the 13th’ summer camp massacre with a handful of horny camp councillors, who one knows from the get go, that are all going to die. Throat cutting is very popular. Identities, loyalties, motivations constantly shift. Everyone is given a juicy back story while the series has time to explore the random coincidences that link them. Every trope of the genre is explored with respect & humour. Each week another one comes to the surface. Ah now it’s the spirit of the mother of the boy who drowned in 1948 whose brother grew up to a …. that is behind all the mayhem. For once I’ll be sad to see the season wrap up. 

I’m now four episodes into the new season of Castle Rock. With Lizzy Caplan as a seriously disturbed Annie Wilkes the show has a real backbone to build on. Add Tim Robbins as Pops Merrill, this promises to be a great mash up of Misery and Salem’s Lot, plus we’ve already had a good helping of Stand By Me & Gerald’s Game. But one doesn’t need to know anything about those King works I just named checked, to get pulled into this multi-layered story. So many layers I’m still not sure who the ‘bad’ guys are or where the plot is going. 

Each episodes has added a new layer or direction in the many plots that are already in the air. Who is Annie running from, is Joy her child, what about Joy’s friends – can they be trusted, what’s with this growing army of reanimated corpses, will Barkhad Abdi be able to keep the Somali community safe? Yes, that’s right there is a large community of Somali’s living in Jerusalem’s Lot. Steven King often uses ‘the other’ in his novels & here they are clearly present.

The race issue, which I don’t think King ever really uses in his writing, plays a big role in the superficial conflicts – but perhaps not in the supernatural conflict that the show seems to be building up to. The budding romance between the two teen girls brings yet another sense of ‘other’ in to the mix & I’m interesting seeing how that is developed. Of course, as is often the case, girl-on-girl romance is more acceptable as a plot device. 

I’ve also been enjoying Fan Critical’s Castle Rock podcast as they discuss each episode in some detail. They also talk about which of the King works are being infused in each episode from plot details, character names or even locations merely mentioned. I look forward to their comments almost as much as I do each episode.

Mugged

there are objects in my home

that haven’t change position since 

they were first placed there

silent sentinels of memory on shelves

coffee mugs from places visited

tea cups & saucers 

from the estate of the dearly departed

some rarely even moved to dust

they sit indifferent 

to what they are imbued with

 

was it a yard sale 

where that collector plate came from

who cares about those hours 

spent scouring second shops in Montreal

for just the right knick knack

I don’t remember where I bought 

many of these things

yet I hold on to them

ornamental diversions

for guests I suppose

to demonstrate my sense of humour

how eclectic I am

 

I am reluctant to let go 

repurpose or regift

I do resist now 

adding to the accumulated debris

maybe this is the day 

I’ll force myself to let go of one thing

one dusty treasure

 

o let there be a blank space to savour

can I clear the field

resist the call 

of what are now fragmented 

nostalgic moments

in an unmoved unused 

coffee mug

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every Tuesday 2019

October

15 – Stratford Festival – The Crucible

November
Thursday 7 – Hot Damn It’s Queer Slam! – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre – 7 pm – featuring Wes Ryan.

December

The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

January

23 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

March
March 5 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

April
April 3 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Season 6 finales Buddies andBbad Times Theatre

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Castle Rock Rocks

Hulu’s Castle Rock was satisfying & more fun to watch than I expected. It never became as bloody (or as silly) as American Horror Story, didn’t get as gloomy & relentless as Taboo or Handmaiden or as soapy as The Dome. Overall I enjoyed the writing, the cast & in particular the music.

 

Spoiler warning: there may be spoilers in this review but I’ll try not to give too much away either. Based on locations & characters out of the entire Stephen King oeuvre the writers do a great job of referencing without being slavish to King. Episode One started in Shawshank Prison and I was doubtful of enjoying the series. 

 

I have read King extensively but not recently, so this opening made me fearful that I wouldn’t understand this world without an extensive knowledge of his work – but I didn’t. The plot & subplots are quite clear without knowing a word of King. The show is full of ‘Easter eggs’ small references to some of his writing i.e. there is a Claiborne’s Cafe in the background of some shots.

The plot hinges on the discovery of Bill Skarsgård as “The Kid” in an isolated cage deep in an abandoned part Shawshank Prison. Is he evil, good or merely in the wrong dimension? He asks for Henry Deaver (André Holland) who turns out to be a lawyer. In the course of the show we meet Sissy Spacek as Henry’s adoptive mother Ruth Deaver; Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn – a character who appears in King’s novels & some short stories; & Noel Fisher as prison guard Dennis Zalewski.

The atmosphere is eerie as opposed to scary. The story telling is often done in flash-backs. The Dark Tower multiple universes concept is more a distraction than an explanation. The finale wrapped things in a tidy way – Henry gets the Kid released in the beginning & in the end Henry becomes the Kid’s new jailer. 

I loved the episode 7 “The Queen” & hated episode 8 “Past Perfect.” Episode 8 was great fun at the Dead & Breakfast in an American Horror Story way but was so deliberately clever I was disappointed. It showed that the only reason there was a Jackie Torrence character was for the punch line of her wielding an axe. One direct King reference  that didn’t advance or add to any plot line but merely existed for the witty Shining references.

What I enjoyed as much as the show was the Castle Rock Critical podcast with a fine set of hosts who explored each episode scene by scene, theorized what might be happening, pointed out the many King references & made it all fun. On their scale I’d give the season 4 out of 5 blueberries. It loses a berry for too many unresolved plot threads and for events that were only there for atmosphere i.e. the dog that takes the severed head. I’d give the podcast 5 blueberries.

The performances were all excellent. On line & on the podcast there was a lot of sexual ogling of Bill Skarsgård, who as an actor was excellent, but as a sex object I find to be a tall glass of tepid water. Give me André Holland (please), or even Noel Fisher any day (or night). Then again this Castle Rock takes place in a non-diversity dimension with no LGBTQ people.

Elbow 

1

‘They found another elbow in the park.’

My mother was doing something to eggs on the stove. The scrape of the spatula dull on the frying pan as if she wasn’t fully playing attention to anything. 

‘I said they found … ’

‘I heard you dear. I’m afraid they have to be scrambled.’

I hated scrambled eggs. I could cook my own breakfast, but when I started she would hover, then take over as if she was doing me a favour. Saying something like ‘boys shouldn’t cook’

‘Left or right’ she asked.

‘Huh?’

‘The elbow, was it left or right?’

‘I didn’t hear.’

The eggs were a yellow clump with browned edges

‘That makes the fifth elbow this month.’

‘Soon they’ll have enough for a whole body’ my mother half laughed. ‘How are the eggs?’

‘Yummy.’

‘Can they tell left from right?’ She stirred her coffee. ‘It’s just an elbow joint.’

‘Yep. The eggs are fine. Severed clean. I suppose there’s enough for them to tell from the way the joint moves.’

‘Yuk.’ My mother shuddered. ‘Gives me the creeps to think of an elbow like that – of some csi guy manipulating it with their hands.’

She manipulated an invisible elbow in the air over her coffee cup.

‘Would it squeak like a rusty door?’ she made a weird squeak with her voice. ‘Creeeeeequee.’

We both laughed till tears ran down our cheeks.

2

‘Could you pass me that book?’ Mrs. Coude gestured with the stump of her right arm.

‘This one?’ I picked up the English text that had fallen off her desk.

She’d had two complete arms yesterday. In her sleeveless dress the stump was hard to miss. A complete left arm and nothing on the other side. As if it was trick of the light. My eyes were almost seeing what was once there. I didn’t want to stare too obviously. It wasn’t a red raw. The end was smooth, healed. The nub, just before where the elbow would be, was so natural, as if there had never been a limb beyond it. It seemed impossible to me that less that twenty-four hours ago she had a flesh and blood arm there and now her forearm was gone.

She was the first person I had met who had suffered the loss of an elbow. I had so many questions. I had to know how did it happen.  Did she feel anything when it happened. Did she wake up in this morning and her elbow was gone.

She went to the board and started to write with her left hand. The letters were childlike, less controlled, as she went along. At one point she rubbed some of it out with her right shoulder. She stopped abruptly, her back to us as she sobbed into her left hand.

A couple of students went to the office to get the vice-principle. It felt like we were telling on her, but something had to be done.

Mr. De Codo took her by the shoulders and gently lead her out of the room.

‘You boys behave. Someone will be with you directly.’

We sat still, silent, looking at the scattered smudge she had put on the blackboard. Then began to copy it as exactly as we could. One never knew what was going to be on the exams.

(Elbow to be continued next week)

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every Tuesday

October scary poetry every Wednesday & Thursday

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