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AKA: I will live vicariously through you one way or another

Warm up your cold open with some fire

Witch starts off with some heavy emotional labor.  Buffy and Giles are helping Willow and Xander move through the grieving process for their good pal Jesse.

JUST KIDDING.  We’re only on episode three, baby.  There’ll be plenty of time for that feelings nonsense later (I’m looking at you, seasons 5 and 6). No, today we’re going to listen to Giles liken cheerleading to a cult.  He attempts to forbid it, but Buffy forbids his forbiddance.  She says she just needs something safe and normal in her life.  The quick cut to a bubbling cauldron clues us into the irony.

Willow and Xander accompany Buffy to tryouts, where the latter gives her a bracelet.  It says “Yours Always,” which Xander insists was pre-engraved on all of them.  Yuck.  Cordelia tries talking shit to Willow and Buffy, but Willow is more interested in catching up with Amy.  Amy and Willow used to have brownie-eating sleepovers, but more recently Amy lost a bunch of weight training several hours a day with her mom.  That’s enough backstory for the cold open, though, because would-be cheerleader Amber is on fire and Buffy has to put it out.

Dreams

The gang reconvenes in the library to speculate about spontaneous combustion, which is often tied to rage. Willow offers to hack school records to see if Amber has a history of outbursts while Xander asks around.  Buffy says they don’t need to help, but they’ve decided they’re the Slayerettes. These leads end up going nowhere.

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Back at the Summers house Joyce is muttering dismissively as Buffy describes her day.  She doesn’t actually know what Buffy was auditioning for.  Buffy not-so-subtly remarks that Amy and her mom train together, but Joyce points out that she has a gallery to run.  Single-parenting in SoCal ain’t cheap.

At the next day of tryouts, Amy runs into Cordelia.  Literally – she knocks her over.  Cordy gives Amy this long spiel about her dreams of being a cheerleader and what that would entail.  She makes vague threats about what will happen if she didn’t make the team.

To make the team you need to be a) peppy, and b) a witch
“You’ll tell me about more of your dreams?” Image: IMDb

Amy is unsurprisingly bummed, and because you can’t spell “Buffy Summers” without “Bummer” our favorite Slayer is here to commiserate.  It turns out they each find themselves living with single mothers as the result of divorce.  Amy feels like she needs to live up to her mom’s cheerleading legacy and the pressure has been mounting since her parents’ split.

Meanwhile Xander is going on and on about Buffy to Willow and I am already so sick of this subplot.  He is asking Willow for advice on how to ask Buffy out and calling her “one of the guys” all in one breath.

If you’re not first…

The results have been posted:  Cordelia is on the team, Buffy is first alternate, and Amy is third alternate.  Despite the term “alternate” Xander assumes this means they made it-made it and is a bit too cheery when delivering the news.

We see the bubbling cauldron again, this time with a voice cursing Cordelia.  (Amazon’s closed captions completely ruined the mystery of who the titular witch is.)

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Joyce has been briefed on this episode’s theme, so upon hearing Buffy didn’t make the squad she encourages her daughter to join Yearbook like she did in high school.  Joyce just wants Buffy to stay out of trouble, and Buffy just wants her mom’s support.

Xander tries to ask Buffy out, but THANK GOD Cordy is acting weird enough for Buffy to need to cut him off and follow her.  At her driver’s ed course, the instructor insists Cordelia drive – even though Cordelia says she isn’t feeling well and has apparently failed three times.  Seriously, dude, you’re going to have her drive you and two other students when she is vocally expressing her inability to drive safely?

We get a blurry PoV shot and, shock of shocks, Cordelia crashes the car.  She winds up standing in the street, completely blind.  She is only saved from being hit by an oncoming truck (whose driver was all too willing to hit a pedestrian) by Buffy.

Witchunt

Back in the library Giles theorizes witchcraft is the source of the trouble.  The Scoobies deduce it must be Amy since the prior two victims – and Amy’s mom –  were cheerleaders.  Buffy doesn’t blame her since she knows the pressure Amy’s mom is putting on her.  This is especially nice of her considering she is no longer an alternate due to Cordelia’s untimely blinding. Buffy is officially in the target pool.

Giles explains how they can determine if Amy recently cast a spell.  The ingredients will all be conveniently located in their combo chemistry-biology class.  Buffy spills the potion on Amy during a chaotic sequence where another cheerleader is also being cursed (her mouth just disappears.  It’s just gone.  I’d say this is one of the more disturbing shots of the episode.).  The potion turns blue, which means Amy is the witch.  Unfortunately, Amy realizes what is happening and steals Buffy’s bracelet for her next concoction.  Back at her house, she takes out a lot of her pent up aggression on her mom and makes her mom do her homework.

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The next morning Buffy is beyond peppy.  She breaks her alarm, half apologizes/half argues with Joyce, says something about being the Slayer to Joyce, and sings “Macho Man” a lot.  This translates to her literally throwing another cheerleader across the gym during pre-game practice.  Of course, this means her stint as leader of Sunnydale cheers is over before it really began.

Willow and Xander carry Buffy to the library, and she’s basically the drunk friend on the precipice between very happy and very sad.  In a nice callback to Xander and Willow’s earlier conversation, Buffy says Xander is like one of the girls.

Giles diagnoses Buffy with a nasty case of Bloodstone Vengeance.  They’ve got about 3 hours to either reverse the spell or cut off Amy’s head.  Buffy votes for the former, because she still doesn’t blame Amy for all of this.

Which witch is which?

Buffy and Giles go to Amy’s house.  They find Amy’s mom.  Giles gives her this really intense dressing down before Buffy sees… a plate of half-eaten brownies?!!  That’s right:  the single characteristic we know about Amy is how we know she and her mom have swapped bodies.  Amy’s mom told her she was wasting her youth which is just sad.  I’m sad that all we know about Amy is that she likes brownies and her mom doesn’t like her.

They grab her mom’s spellbooks and head back to the school.  Willow and Xander are at the game keeping an eye on who they still think is Amy.  We get some more PoV shots from her perspective: flashes of Giles, Buffy, and the real Amy in the chemistry lab attempting to reverse the spells.  She runs out of the game to stop them, and Willow and Xander follow her.  There is a brief fight in the hall, which includes Amy(‘s mom) doing a Darth Vader choke out to Xander and a Jack Torrence to the chem lab door.

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Giles has finished reversing the spell in time, but Amy’s mom is still crazed.  She and Buffy throw each other around a bit. It’s witch versus slayer. Buffy deflects a spell meant for her with the reflective surface of a dissection plate.  Amy’s mom is magicked away to live in her old cheerleading trophy forever.  Amy gets to live with her dad now.  And guess what:  they’re making brownies this Saturday.  Buffy and Joyce get a nice reconciliation as well.

Trav’s single sentence review of Witch:  No wonder Amy’s dad left.

I really like this episode.  It’s our first true monster of the week, but we also get some real-world storylines to parallel the supernatural ones.  It also introduced us to Amy, the first of several recurring minor characters.  (Don’t worry, we won’t talk about brownies anymore.) We also get a better sense of Buffy’s moral compass and how she differentiates good and evil at this point in time. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Movies n TV

Fallout, The Beginning

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We’ve now reached the end of Fallout, season one. As I mentioned during the last review, I was heartily concerned that this show, like so many others, was going to drop the ball at the finale and ruin an entire season.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. This episode was everything it needed to be and more.

Let’s discuss.

The story

We begin our story with Maximus returning to the Brotherhood of Steel compound. He has a head, which he is claiming is the real head of Wilzig.

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I don’t know why he thought that was going to work.

Of course, it doesn’t. The elder cleric is about to kill Maximus until Dane says that they hurt their foot.

Because of this, the Brotherhood is sent out to get the head. Or rather, what’s inside of it. They head to the city run by Moldaver. This happens to be the same place Lucy and The Ghoul are headed.

Still from Amazon Prime's Fallout.

There, Lucy does manage to find her father. What she ends up finding is so much more than she wanted to find.

What worked

The first thing I have to discuss is how seamlessly the storylines of the series combined.

Each of our four main characters has been on their own journey. Lucy is trying to save her father. Maximus wants to become a knight. The Ghoul wants to find his family. Norm wants to know what’s going on in Vault 31.

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I sure wasn’t expecting all of these stories to come together in the way that they did. And to preserve the ending, I don’t dare say more. I will only say that yes, all four stories tie in perfectly with one another. By the end, two characters end up having the very same goal.

As I hinted before, I did not see the twist ending coming.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Yes, we might have guessed some things from the last episode. We of course guessed that Lucy’s dad was involved in some nefarious and probably sci-fi way. But the way this story twists at the end is nothing short of serpent-like. Which is why I cannot go into too much detail here. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to experience it blind.

Finally, I can give the Fallout season finale the most important praise I can ever give a finale. It did its number one job, getting us excited for season two. We have answers, but now we have new and more exciting questions. And even better, we have a desire to see vengeance done.

What didn’t work

Now that the season is done, though, I can bring up something that bothered me through all eight episodes.

I don’t buy Lucy and Maximus’s relationship.

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Maybe because it’s rushed. Maybe because the two actors don’t have a lot of chemistry. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure even now either character could tell you a single thing about the other. There is just no spark between the two. So their love story feels tacked on. I honestly feel like their love story could have been removed from the show entirely and it would have no negative impact.

I also didn’t buy Dane’s confession. This is a minor spoiler, but it comes up early in the episode. Dane confesses that they hurt their foot so that they wouldn’t have to go into the wastelands.

And at first, I kept expecting Maximus to thank them later. I honestly thought that they were just lying to save Maximus’s life. But no, as it turns out, they were not.

But it just doesn’t make sense. The motivations don’t jive. I honestly think it would have been better for the story if they had lied to save Maximus’s life.

At least then there’d be one other Brother of Steel who had some nobility.

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In the end, this first season of Fallout was everything I could ask for. So far as I can tell, it was everything fans of the Fallout franchise could ask for. There wasn’t a bad episode in the bunch. Honestly, the only real complaint I had was that the season was so short.

I’ll be counting down the days to season two, and I hope you’ll be joining me then. Because war, war never changes.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Fallout, The Radio

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Episode seven of Amazon’s Fallout is the penultimate episode. This is often when a series goes off the rails and starts to mess things up. After being burned so often recently, I was apprehensive when this episode began.

Thankfully, this was a fear that did not come to pass. And so far, Fallout’s finale is doing just fine.

Lana the dog in Fallout.

The story

A lot happened in this episode, so we’re just going to skim over some of the more important storylines. We’ll start with Lucy and Maximus, in Vault 4. Lucy has discovered what she believes is a secret collection of monsters. But of course, it turns out that it’s simply people that the vault dwellers discovered and are trying to help heal. But her meddling around was enough for them to kick her out of the vault. With two weeks’ worth of food and water, of course.

But Maximus assumes they’re going to do something much worse. And so he steals their power coil to fight through the perfectly innocent people and save Lucy.

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Meanwhile, we dive further into The Ghoul’s past, when he was still Western star Cooper.

After attending a Communist meeting, he’s approached by Lee Moldaver. She suggests that Vault Tech is hiding something, something terrible. And she tells Cooper that his wife Barbara knows more about this than she’s letting on. Moldaver gets Cooper to bug Barbara’s Pip Boy, and listen in on an important meeting.

Poor Cooper hears far more than he wants to.

War, war never changes.

What worked

I would like to first point out that this was one of the funniest episodes so far. I mean, it got incredibly tragic and sad by the end. But it also had some great laugh-out-loud moments. This should be a surprise to no one, with such an array of comedians guest starring. Chris Parnell was in the last episode as well but is now joined by the incredibly funny Fred Armisen as DJ Carl. This is of course not his first foray into the funny and spooky world, as he also played Uncle Fester in Wednesday.

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Most of what makes this episode funny is the character’s understated and deadpan responses to wild situations. When Maximus returns the energy coil and is greeted by a simple thank you. When Thaddeus gets an arrow through his neck, and slowly realizes that hey, he might be a ghoul. These were hilarious because they could have been truly dark moments. But because this world is so dark, and the characters have already been through so much, they’re simply done. They take all of this in stride because of course that’s what’s happening. It’s par for the course for them.

Aaron Moten and Ella Purnell in Fallout.

On the other hand, we’ve finally seen the full extent of The Ghoul/Cooper’s past. And it’s so much worse than we could have imagined. I assumed that he’d lost his beloved wife and daughter in the atomic blasts two hundred years ago, somehow not dying with them and instead turning into a literal and figurative monster. The truth is so much worse. I’ll do my best not to spoil the ending. But I will say this. There is nothing more painful than mourning someone and hating them at the same time. And it’s easy to see how Cooper turned into The Ghoul. That sort of pain could drive anyone mad.

This balance between comedy and tragedy is one of the reasons why this episode worked so well. It’s one of the reasons why the series is working so well. It manages to combine the core tenets of theater in a way that never compromises the strengths of either. The eventual downfall of Thaddeus is a great example of this because it’s both tragic and funny. We’ve seen what happens to ghouls, and it’s a horrible end. But as he’s hardly been a sympathetic character, we can all get a good laugh at his predicament as well.

The sheer amount of good old-fashioned gore doesn’t hurt either, of course.

What didn’t work

All that being said, there was one thing that bothered me about this episode. And it was the reveal of Vault 4’s big secret.

Honestly, I was expecting the Vault 4 storyline to go way darker. I wanted it to go way darker. While I’ve never played these games myself, I know enough about the story to say that these vaults are not the bastions of safety and morality that they have so far been portrayed as. And while that has certainly been alluded to, we haven’t seen it.

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We haven’t seen the depravity in these vaults. And it’s there. But maybe we just haven’t gotten to it yet.

In the end, The Radio did exactly what it needed to do. It set us up to have most of our questions answered in the season finale. And I can’t wait to see how it all ends.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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Fallout, The Trap

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Amazon Prime’s Fallout has continued to be a suspenseful delight. And with the last episode’s dramatic cliffhanger, I was certainly looking forward to this one.

Thankfully, it did not disappoint.

The story

We start our story with Lucy and Maximus waking up in a decontamination room in Vault 4. They’re welcomed guests, once they’re done with decontamination.

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Vault 4 at first seems very much like Vault 33 to Lucy. She’s surprised, however, to find that a lot of people who live there are actually from the surface. And the people who live in this vault are, well, a bit mutated. Their overseer, named Benjamin and played by the hilarious Chris Parnell, has just one eye in the middle of his face. Some people have extra limbs or missing ones. And yet it’s clear that everyone’s living together in peace and companionship.

At least, that’s what it’s supposed to look like. There is, after all, the matter of the weird cult the surface dwellers seem to have formed. And, the small matter of the vault level no one is supposed to go to. It should come as no surprise that, of course, that’s exactly where Lucy finds herself before the episode is over.

Ella Purnell in Fallout.

Of course, this episode wouldn’t be complete without checking in with the Ghoul. And his part of the story is, honestly, more compelling.

We see him apprehended by people referring to themselves as The Government. And while he appears to be a prisoner, it’s clear soon enough that he’s the one in charge.

Far more compelling are his flashbacks to his past. While his wife, Barb, is starting to be more secretive, he learns more than he wants to about Vault Tec. He also learns that the Communist party in Hollywood might know more about what Barb does for a living than he does. And it’s clear soon that she never wanted him to know.

For good reason.

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What worked

I first want to draw attention to the excellent way we are learning about the Ghoul. As we learn more and more about his past, we can see how he’s become the monster he is today. It’s clear that once upon a time he had everything he could want. A lovely home, a family he lived for, and a successful career. And he lost all of that, even his dog. And with those losses, he lost his humanity in more ways than one.

But I also think we’re seeing signs that his humanity at least isn’t as lost as he thought it was.

On a lighter note, I loved Maximus’s response to the vault. While he’s apprehensive at first, he is swept away by the welcome basket. He’s lived his whole life hungry, barely surviving, and suddenly he has food. Good food. Caviar and oysters. He has a warm robe and TV and a safe place to exist. It must have been like stepping into a fairy tale for him. And while it wasn’t exactly helpful for Lucy, it’s completely relatable that he decided to sink into a chair and have a snack in front of the TV for a while.

What didn’t work

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While this episode was mostly good, I do have one complaint. When Lucy is first meeting with Overseer Benjamin, we see him accidentally drinking a cup of coffee that has gotten moldy.

Chris Parnell in Fallout.

Now, this makes perfect sense in our world to convey someone too busy and forgetful to clean up old mugs. But it’s hard to fathom someone living in a Vault in which every resource is carefully monitored, letting something like coffee go bad. It’s a small detail, and it was funny. Also more relatable than I’d like to admit. But in this instance, in this world, it was jarring.

So far this season has been intense. There’s a lot of intrigue and mystery. There’s a lot of high emotions. And there’s a lot on the line for everyone. Maybe, for one character, more than we’ve ever realized before.

Good thing we still have two episodes to discover what’s happening.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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If you like my work, you can check out my latest science fiction/horror novel, Nova, launching on May 17th. Pre-orders are available now on Amazon.

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