AKA: How to know when you’ve found The (Anointed) One
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Anointed One
We open with Buffy fighting a vampire (no, not the titular Anointed One). She’s quippy, cute, and living her best life. Oh, and kicking undead butt. That doesn’t stop Giles – who has been sitting on the sidelines and NOT HELPING – from critiquing her.
They find a ring in the pile of vamp dust. Oooh, a mystery!
Underground, the Master provides CliffsNotes for this week’s episode: there’s an Anointed One who will rise from the ashes of five. The Slayer will not know him and he will lead her into hell.
Sir, this is a library
In the library Giles has already deciphered the runes on the ring. They symbolize the Order of Aurelius. The Scoobies don’t get to talk about this for too long, though, because a student comes into the library. That’s right folks: the Sunnydale High library is open to the rest of the student body. Meet Owen: he loves Emily Dickinson and flirts by telling girls he didn’t think they could read. Negging is evidently in this week, because Buffy is smitten.
At lunch, our trio discuss Owen and slaying – I mean laying (good recovery, Xander). Buffy and Cordelia simultaneously spot Owen sitting alone and go for it. Hot take: they’re both too good for him. He’s only got eyes for Buffy, though. He invites her to The Bronze that night – right in front of Cordy. Surely she won’t use that information to her advantage.
Best laid plans
Giles has intel regarding the Order of Aurelius. There’s an Anointed One who, according to Giles’s research, is rising tonight. Buffy is forced to cancel her plans with Owen and sit in a more-dead-than-usual graveyard with Giles as he lectures her about her duty as Slayer. Since the rising of the Anointed One didn’t pan out, Buffy is free to head to the Bronze. When she gets there she sees Owen and Cordy dancing together. She promptly turns around and leaves.
Meanwhile, we see a typical Greyhound ride unfolding. A guy is pacing up and down the aisle monologuing as the rest of passengers stare ahead, eyes glazed over. One of the Master’s minions stands in the road and causes a crash. Once the bus stops he hops aboard and presumably does some vampirin’.
In the hall the next day, Buffy and Xander talk about Buffy’s insecurity over her singleness. Attuned to her self-consciousness Owen walks over. Buffy gives an obvious yet cute story about missing their date due to a broken watch, so he gives her his. Then teaches her how to tell time. He’s seriously making me wish we got more Xander this episode.
Buffy informs Giles of her plans that night and leaves before he can say boo.
Willow and Xander help Buffy pick out an outfit for her makeup date, and Xander is already making me eat my words. He calls her lipstick slutty and actually peaks at her getting dressed in the mirror. What is it with the men in this episode?
Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
Giles shows up with a newspaper article that absurdly refers to the bus crash as a van crash. Five people died in the wreck, one of whom being the preachy Andrew Borba, a wanted killer. Andrew seems to be a good fit as Anointed One. Giles wants to investigate the funeral home and lecture Buffy about her social life some more. Owen shows up during their back and forth, amazed and frightened at Giles’s supposed dedication to his job. Buffy departs with Owen and the advice that, “if the apocalypse comes beep me.”
Giles decides he still wants to investigate, and Willow and Xander, fully aware of how many times he’s been knocked out already this season, opt to follow. This is a good call because he is immediately accosted by some vampires. He gets away, but ends up stuck in one of the funeral home rooms. Willow and Xander peak through a window and offer to go get Buffy,
At The Bronze, Owen confesses that it seems like there’s two Buffys. He isn’t entirely wrong. In addition to having to fend off a crimp-haired Cordelia, she is now having to explain Angel, Willow, and Xander’s appearances. As far as Owen knows Buffy and Angel are coworkers and Willow and Xander are a couple looking to double. (In reality, Angel is warning Buffy about the Anointed One and Willow and Xander are trying to get her to the funeral home.) Owen takes it like a champ when Buffy says she is going to duck out real quick. It doesn’t hurt that she also plants one right on him to tide him over.
Going from finding “the one” to finding the Anointed One
When the trio arrives to the funeral home they discover Owen has followed them. Buffy puts Willow and Xander on Owen duty while she goes to rescue Giles. Giles, of course, reprimands Buffy for bringing Owen there (dude, give her the benefit of doubt once in a while). Buffy says the two of them are free to search for the Anointed One because Willow, Xander, and Owen are safely tucked away in an office.
Little does she know, Andrew’s body is in the office her friends and date have barricaded themselves in. To make matters worse, he is going all Re-Animator. Even worse: he is singing and shouting such nonsense as “pork and beans.” Buffy and Giles break in so those three can get out. However, Owen decides to white knight the situation and comes back to “protect” Buffy. He immediately gets knocked out.
Buffy fights Vampdrew and uses the setting to her advantage by shoving him into the incinerator. Willow and Xander walk a very concussed Owen home.
The next day Buffy is bemoaning the social damage caused by their date. Owen, however, wants to go out again. But not out-out. He wants to live on the edge with Buffy as his personal bodyguard. Buffy realizes he’ll end up getting himself killed and lets him down gently.
It’s never the end
Giles finally shows some compassion to the 16 year old and tell her he learned of his Watcher destiny at ten years old. They commiserate then celebrate the sunny side of the situation: the Anointed One is taken care of.
The Master repeats his opening monologue as we see the face of one very, very young newly Anointed child.
Trav’s one sentence review: Angel wasn’t cryptic, which was surprising, and I couldn’t figure out Owen.
I really like this episode. It’s a fun episode with a bit of farce. The storyline is self-contained but still pushes the seasonal arc and character progression forward. It’s promising for the rest of the first season. (5 / 5)
Where to watch Never Kill a Boy on the First Date (sponsored links)
Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die
Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.
With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.
So, how was the first episode?
We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.
We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.
The teens end up not being thrilled either.
Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.
While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.
All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.
For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.
It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.
That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.
More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.
This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.
What didn’t work
All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”
Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.
It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.
But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.
(4 / 5)
If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem
“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey
The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.
In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.
The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.
Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.
The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.
One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.
Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!
I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology.
Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek
The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.
We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.
She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.
Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.
Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.
She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.
Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.
Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.
While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.
One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.
Then she killed it and started crying.
I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.
What didn’t work
Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.
In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.
Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.
All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.(3.5 / 5)
By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.