His Dark Materials trailer polar bearnalysis

I've written before about how I'm a big (but not uncritical) fan of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. If I were to have a pop cultural "thing" akin to Star Wars or Harry Potter like lots of other people have, this would be it. It was hugely formative for me and has massively influenced everything I've ever written.

I also run the premier trailer analysis website on the internet. Since HBO just put out a longer teaser for the first season of the BBC's big-budget TV adaptation, these two interests are now dovetailing nicely. Let's get out our alethiometers and dive in!

 

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And now, my Game of Thrones predictions

Over the last few years, I've featured a variety of content on this blog. We've covered political thriller, zombies, Star Wars, even Harry Potter! But I know my loyal fans have had one burning question in thier hearts: Ronan, how is Game of Thrones going to end?

 Now that there are three episodes left in the entire series, I'm here to tell you. No, I don't have insider knowledge*, but these 100% accurate predictions are guarenteed to come true. Trust me.

(Spoilers for the entire series up to the third episode of the last season, and I guess the last three in the extremely unlikely even that I'm actually right) 

*Fun fact: I did actually have insider knowledge of a major spoiler from a previous season, almost a full year before it leaked online through other sources, but I never spilled the beans in order to maintain my flawless record of journalistic integrity, and also to avoid getting someone fired,

So season eight, episode three ended with the Night King getting mega-stabbed by Arya Stark, ending the long-awaited White Walker invasion of the Seven Kingdoms at Winterfell about a day and a half after it started. A lot of people aren't pleased with this. Given how fucking long it took for the Walkers to finally breach the wall and march north, I can sort of understand the ire, although I personally liked the episode.  There are only three episodes left in the entire series, the White Walkers were always going to end up in a big climactic showdown with the heroes, which the heroes were always going to win (come on, yes they were), I don't get what the point of delaying it by another episode or two would have been.

 I have a feeling that nothing could have satisfied the die-hard fans. Almost no long-running sequential stories wrap up in a way that satisfies their most ardent followers; partially this is because bringing a big, unwieldy story to a satisfying climax is difficult, but it's also because the writers are busy actually writing the story (and working within a multitude of constraints) whereas the fans have a basically infinite amount of time to pick over previous installments for "clues" that may or may not have been intentional, make theories, and come up with directions the plot could go in. What the writers eventually deliver is almost never going to live up to the fanfiction penned by a thousand fans at a thousand internet message boards.

But I digress. The point is, the White Walker threat has been dealt with and now the show can get back to the only thing it's good at: pulpy Shocking Twists and soap-opera-with-blood-and-tits antics where people backstab and betray each other.

With the White Walkers out of the picture, Dany's alliance with the North no longer makes any sense from the North's perspective. They've defeated their common enemy, and Dany has made it repeatedly clear that she won't consider giving the North independance once she's in power. She's now asking them to fight solely to put her on the throne. 

Sansa is going to be like "actually no" and will work out a plan to pull the North out of the war by making a sneaky non-aggression pact with Cersei, thus leaving Dany and her greatly-reduced forces high and dry against Cersei's Golden Company. Dany will catch wind of a plot against her (let's say due to Varys), but her growing paranoia over Jon's claim to the throne will cause her to suspect him and not Sansa.  

At the same time, Cersei fully intends to break her pact with Sansa as soon as Dany is taken out, and Sansa knows that Cersei is going to do this, so she sends Arya to assassinate Cersei once Dany has been defeated, thus tying up all loose ends. Maybe Arya kills Jamie and steals his face to do it. 

Also, Sansa will ask Tyrion to make the deal with Cersei. This will let Tyrion do something important for the first time in three seasons, as he'll be forced to choose between Dany, who he's becoming increasingly alienated from due to her browbeating him and her willingness to burn people alive, and Sansa, who this season has been really heavy-ended on Tyrion reconnecting with. 

So, we get a fun situation where everyone is furiously fucking everyone else over, just like in the old days. A bunch of our favourite characters turn on each other due to suspicion and paranoia, it'll be a grand old time. I am almost certain that some version of what I've outlined above will happen in the next episode. 

Then, sailing into more speculative waters, there are two routes the show could take, depending on precisely how hacky the writers decide to be.

It's hard to remember now, but Game of Thrones was initially famous for subverting expectations with its red weddings and its beheading Sean Beans. The message was clear: this ain't your grand-daddy's fantasy, with heroic good guys defeating black-hearted villains. The bad guys win. Anyone can die.

Then all the important characters got plot immortality and the show decided that it was going to be about a Special Destiny Lad who bones hot women and gets cool swords and discovers his secret royal lineage, just like every generic fantasy brick published since The Lord of The Rings came out. In its final three episodes, Game of Thrones has two options: keep on this course, or pull one last, glorious subversion of expectations. 

In option one Dany and Jon manage to patch things up, they defeat Cersei and Pirate Guy and get married and rule peacefully over the Seven Kingdoms.

In option two, Dany's paranoia and lust for the throne get the better of her and she fucking kills Jon. 

I badly want option two to happen. Partially because I hate Jon Snow down to my bone marrow and I want him to die like a total chump, but I also think it would make for a genuinely more interesting and impactful story. 

And I actually think it might happen. The story has been teasing Jon with death over and over again for half its runtime, up to actually killing him and bringing him back with spooky dark magic. This all feels like that bit in Mars Attacks where the alien ambassador keeps pulling something out of his pocket and the government representatives get  increasingly more relaxed each time, only for the martian to whip out a laser gun and vaporize them all once they've let down their guard.

You all remember that specific scene from Mars Attacks, right? 

My point is, the show has been lulling us into a false sense of security that all of our favourite characters are going to make it out okay, just to make it hurt that much more when it finally kills them (and also Jon). Think of the social media reactions. It would be glorious. 

As for the actual ending: Tyrion gets the throne and rules over Six Kingdoms with Sansa as queen of an independant north. Tyrion being king has been foreshadowed to hell and back ever since the beginning of the series, usually in a "pffft there's no way this guy could ever come out on top, give me a break" tone, which in fiction usually means that the thing being discussed is definitely going to happen.   If Game of Thrones was actually the subversive masterpiece people claim it is then this would all be a red herring, but the show has been playing fantasy tropes straight for so long that going the obvious route now feels like a surprise. 

 

  

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Crime Police, doing Police Crimes


(Note: I intended to post the next Oscar Debate this week (it's about BlackKklansman!), but I've been a bit under the weather and haven't been able to get that post together. Instead, I pulled up something that's been sitting on my hard drive since early last year and polished it off. Enjoy!)

Living in Ireland, I watch a lot of British TV shows. Because what am I going to do, watch stuff made here? PFFFT.

I also, like a large proportion of the world's population, regularly unhinge my media-jaw and consume vast quantities of American entertainment. The differences between the two are deeply-baked and striking; for example, serious “prestige” TV series (as opposed to soap operas, sitcoms and things like Doctor Who) in Britain tend to be extremely short, running four to six episodes per season and frequently having no more than two or three seasons at most. Often they don't even get that, being conceived from the beginning as a discrete story with no intention of continuation once the initial batch of episodes is over.

This makes Line of Duty something of an anomaly. A relatively big-budget police drama produced by the BBC, it feels very much like something that was intended to be short-lived, with the first season telling a stand-alone story and the next two forming a distinct arc with a definitive climax and end-point. But the show was unexpectedly, wildly popular and was renewed multiple times; a fifth season is currently airing, with a sixth expected some time in 2021.

Unfortunately, it might have been better if the show had stuck to the British formula and ended early. Today we're going to look at each of the first four seasons seperately and pin-point where it all went wrong.

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Trash TV: Suits

I've been hopped up on Brain Drugs for the last week and unable to concentrate on anything remotely complex or engaging. In situations like this, there's only one thing to do: find the shallowest, trashiest television imaginable and imbibe it like a deep-sea jellyfish sucking up marine snow.

I found the perfect example in Suits, a lawyer show that features approximately five different sets and episodic stories that rarely get anywhere near as complicated as a CSI: Miami episode. More importantly, it's on Netflix and there's six seasons of it. But while staring slack-jawed at my tablet, my brain occasionally managed to engage a neuron or two correctly, and I found that I actually had opinions about the show. Most of them are negative, so I want to emphasise up front that I am in fact enjoying it so far.

The main character of the show is Mike Ross, a genius college dropout who's managed to achieve approximately nothing with his life despite an eidetic memory and other skills that smart people in TV shows have. Through a series of improbable shenanigans, he crosses paths with Harvey Spector, a partner at a high-powered law firm that recruits exclusively from recent Harvard graduates. Mike impresses Harvey with his intellect and quick thinking, and Harvey decides to hire Mike as the firm's newest associate...despite the small wrinkle that he's never set foot in Harvard (he has actually passed the New York bar exam though, as before their meeting he was making a living taking tests for people). 

The show kind of pulls a bait and switch with that premise. I assumed--and the pilot would lead you to believe--that this is going to be a House style affair about an insufferable genius impressing everyone with his brain powers. I assumed that Mike would swan into Harvey's firm and show everyone that all their fancy book-learnin' is meaningless compared to his inherent intelligence.  

But actually, no. Mike's lack of formal law education is a huge disadvantage: he has all the laws and statutes and trove of theoretical knowledge memorized better than even senior judges, but he doesn't actually know how to use any of it effectively. At least over the course of the first season, he repeatedly either makes mistakes or gets taken advantage of in ways that his non-genius colleagues never would, simply because he doesn't know any better. To really drive the point home, the show pairs him up in a will-they-won't-they relationship with a paralegal (played by Meghan Merkel, who according to the tabloids is due to become God-Queen of Brittania any day now) who has years of experience and is probably all-around better lawyer material, but who can't manage to pass the entrance exams to law school and actually become one. 

Rather than being about a genius doing genius things (Mike's genius superpowers are actually fairly believable by TV standards, and they don't really come up all that often), the show is much more about an experienced lawyer taking a younger newbie under his wing, and that's where we get to Harvey Spector. 

While Suits doesn't fawn over Mike's intelligence, it absolutely fawns over Harvey's awesome rich-guy masculinity. He dates hot women! And he lives in a big fancy apartment that looks like a glass cube! And he drives cool cars! In the first season alone, there are multiple scenes where Harvey engages in impromptu trivia contests with other men over classic cars, rock music and sports. They're about five nanoseconds away from whipping their dicks out to compare sizes.

Harvey's character arc revolves around the fact that his bosses at the firm are reluctant to promote him to the upper echelons of lawyer-dom because he lacks compassion and only cares about his work (at least, theoretically; it seems like the actual reason he isn't promoted is because he keeps doing shady things like hiring Mike behind his managing partner's back and refuses to co-operate with people). This leads to endless, repetitive scenes where Harvey does something that clearly shows he actually cares about his clients after all, then insists he was only doing it for the good of the firm. And then he gets in a cool car, delivers a pithy quip, and drives away while 90s-era cheese-rock plays. 

Oh yeah, the quips. The show's writers apparently attended the Joss Whedon School of Dialogue, with the result that a good third of every episode consists of characters making Sick Burns or literally stopping in their tracks to trade acidic barbs. Sometimes they do movie quotes. This show really likes movie quotes.

I'm not sure if I'm actually going to watch all six seasons of Suits. Watching it is kind of like eating fast food--it seems like a good idea up until you actually do it, and then you really need to let some time pass so you can trick yourself into doing it again. But if you're in the mood for a breezy, un-challenging dramedy that isn't completely stupid, there's worse things you could put on. 

Next up is another Kvothe post, y'all! Please be patient with me while I slowly adjust to my new medication.  

 

Game of Thrones season 7 (contd)

It's time for some Very Important opinions on Game of Thrones' just-concluded seventh season, with full spoilers.

In my last GoT post, I talked about how the show was gradually moving away from being the dark, gritty deconstruction of epic fantasy is started as and toward just being plain epic fantasy. With this most recent episode, that transformation is fully complete.

All of the surviving characters have developed inch-think plot armour, half of them have supernatural powers or near-superhuman combat abilities, there's magic destinies and secret birthrights left and right, and the bad guy is flying around on a zombie dragon that shoots nuclear Godzilla laser-breath. If you mildly toned down the amount of boobs and swearing, you could easily pass this off as an adaptation of a YA novel.

Not that all of this is necessarily a bad thing--because sometimes you've had enough pointless death and misery and just want to see attractive heroes fight scary monster villains with their magic swords--but it does mean that the entire story's priorities are now suspect. Case in point: Jon Snow.

I knew there was something up with Sir Gormsalot as far back as the second season, because he kept making decisions that should have gotten him killed if the same rules that governed everyone else were applied to him (and they did, but then he came back to life). Things got more suspect when the story kept rewarding him despite his being a total dingus: first he became commander of the Night's Watch despite looking about nineteen at the very most, then he was crowned King in the North even though he nearly got all of his friends and allies killed, and now it turns out he's the rightful heir to the Iron Throne and probably the literal Chosen One (and got to sail to the bone zone with Daenerys Targeryan).

Strip away all the surrounding grimdark, and you're left with an absolutely bog-standard fantasy yarn about a mildly downtrodden (but still extremely privileged) youth who rises from a lowly position in life, proves himself, discovers his secret destiny and saves the world while having sex with an attractive woman (who...is actually his aunt, but let's ignore that for now). Unless this is all setup for a spectacularly cruel twist where Jon gets stabbed in the forehead in the first episode of season eight, it feels like a massive betrayal of the show's core principles.

Except it's not, because it turns out all of that grittiness and deconstruction baloney was a smokescreen. This is where the story was always heading: cool, dashing heroes fighting epic battles against zombie laser-dragons. 

I for one fully embrace the cheese, and plan to plunge headfirst into the stupidity come season eight.

Game of Thrones season 7

We're four episodes into Game of Thrones' truncated penultimate season, and I'm Not Entirely Pleased.

On one hand, plot points that the show has been teasing since literally the first episode have finally happened--Dany is finally in Westeros with her dragons--which is undeniably exciting. But the episodes released so far have also been strangely flat and lifeless, featuring unusually poor dialogue and acting (I suspect the latter is a consequence of the former).

The battle scenes are a prime example of why this season isn't really doing it for me. Game of Thrones has come to be known for big, expensive battle sequences that far outstrip anything else on TV in terms of budget and production value, the standout being last season's "Battle of The Bastards". 

That scene was the culmination of a two-season-long standoff with the show's most loathsome villain, and a major turning point in the saga of the Stark family that began all the way back in episode one. Given how brutal Game of Thrones can be, you knew* there was a very real chance that the Starks would lose and we'd have to watch Ramsay Bolton butcher a bunch of our favourite characters for shock value.

*(Okay, in hindsight it's obvious that wasn't going to happen, but the show did a good job of making it seem like it might)

By contrast, the two big battles this season (and given how expensive these sequences must have been, I seriously doubt there's another one coming) have been random, fairly low-stakes clashes. One major character momentarily seemed to be in danger; the cliffhanger ending implied that another one is in mortal peril. He's probably not, since at this point the cast has been whittled down to characters who obviously have a role to play in the climax of the series and/or are walking plot triggers that have yet to go off.

That's the thing, over the last season or so Game of Thrones has quietly ceased being a dark, grounded story where there are no heroes and villains and anyone can die at any time, and has become the kind of fantasy story its source material was meant to be a refutation of: a low-stakes action-adventure romp featuring near-superhuman badasses who can't die before their story reaches a suitably dramatic moment.

At this point, I'm just left wondering what the endgame is. Do out heroes defeat the white walkers? I'm not sure how satisfying I'd actually find that. People have floated the possibility of a bleak ending where all the bickering over power finally comes back to bite Westeros in the ass, everyone dies, and our last shot is the Night's King ascending the steps to the Iron Throne. The internet would have the biggest meltdown in history, but I'm kind of hoping that's where we leave off.