The Elder Mr. Loch recently alerted me to The Final Sacrament by James Forrester. Set in Elizabethan England, the premise of the book is that Queen Elizabeth I is not the legitimate Queen of England because of Anne Boleyn’s previous relationship with the Earl of Northumberland. William Harley, who holds the office of Clarenceux King of Arms, has proof of Boleyn’s precontract, which makes him a wanted man.
Clarenceux King of Arms. Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons.
My first reaction upon hearing of the plot was to roll my eyes. The idea that Anne Boleyn might have been precontracted to the Earl of Northumberland was not exactly a secret. In fact, the Countess of Northumberland even tried to use it as grounds for annulling her marriage to the Earl. But Lord Northumberland swore on two separate occasions that there had been no such precontract. He even stuck to his story when agents of Henry VIII wanted him to say the opposite. If there had been a precontract between Boleyn and Northumberland, it would have arguably given Henry grounds for seeking an annulment of his marriage. As we all know, Henry found another way of getting rid of his queen.
While it’s true that a precontract might have rendered Elizabeth illegitimate, she was declared illegitimate anyway by Act of Parliament after her mother’s execution. A few years later, she was legitimized and returned to the line of succession. Since her legitimacy was ultimately determined by Parliament, I’m not sure the document that forms the book’s MacGuffin would really be as explosive as it might seem as first glance. I’m sorely tempted to pick up the book just to see how he deals with the succession legislation!
Although the historian in me took a dim view of the way Forrester seemed to approach his subject, I had a change of heart when I checked out his website. “James Forrester” is actually the pen name of of Dr. Ian J. F. Mortimer, who is a rather well-known historian. On his James Forrester website, he explains why he felt the need to adopt a separate persona for writing fiction. He’s quite upfront about the fact that he’s willing to change the details if it suits the story:
In Sacred Treason I changed the name of Henry Machyn’s wife from Dorothy to Rebecca because one of the early readers of the manuscript said ‘I couldn’t help thinking of the Yellow Brick Road every time she was mentioned’. I also changed the name of my main protagonist from Harvey to Harley. It’s close enough to show I know who the real Clarenceux King of Arms was in 1563; but I deliberately wanted to be inaccurate so people could be sure he is fictional. This is very different from most historical novelists’ way of working, many of whom have a strict rule about not contradicting the ‘known facts’.
You might think that this would have me frothing at the mouth, but it doesn’t. I’m willing to tell my inner pedant to STFU if it’s clear that the author did their homework and took the trouble to get things right whenever possible. But if you can’t even get the big things right, you’re not going to get any slack at all.
I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about season 3 of Once Upon a Time. The Neverland plot has been plodding along at a glacial pace, and the persistent relegation of Regina to the background is rather annoying (seriously, taking one of the most interesting characters in the show and giving her one or two lines an episode doesn’t make for compelling TV). But in last Sunday’s episode, “Save Henry,” Regina finally gets to do something beyond occasional snark AND we finally get to leave Neverland behind. That’s definitely a win-win situation.
The flashback portion of the episode seems to answer one of the core mysteries of the show: why the hell did Regina decide to adopt Henry in the first place? To some extent, it’s always felt like something of an ass pull since the Regina we saw in the Enchanted Forest wasn’t exactly agonizing over the ticking of her biological clock, though season 2′s “Welcome to Storybrooke” helped lay the groundwork for the explanation by showing us how Regina bonded with Owen.
Photo credit: ABC/Jack Rowland.
In “Save Henry,” we learn that Regina’s desire for a child is shown to be a side-effect of her decision to commit patricide in order to cast the Curse. That left her with a hole in her own heart, though it can’t be too vexing since she waits 18 years before deciding that a child might help fill the void. Rather than jump through the hoops of the standard adoption process, Regina decides to ask Mr. Gold for help (I have to admit that I snickered when he thought that Regina was asking him for some, ahem, biological help with obtaining a baby). Since this is Mr. Gold, he has no problem sourcing a baby in Boston.
After agreeing to a closed adoption, Regina now has her very own bouncing bundle of pain-in-the-ass, but it isn’t long until little Henry’s incessant crying is driving her up the fucking wall. She takes Henry to Dr. Whale, who suggests that it’s vaguely possible that Henry has some sort of genetic problem, which seems like a naked plot contrivance designed to give Regina a reason to send her lackey Sydney (remember him?) on a hunt for the identity of Henry’s birth mother.
When Regina finds out that Henry’s mother was discovered outside Storybrooke just after the Curse struck, she yells at Mr. Gold, accusing him of playing his own game. Although he feigns confusion, the show definitely gives the impression that he knows more than he lets on. If that is indeed the case, the writers have a problem on their hands. Previously, they said in an interview that Mr. Gold didn’t remember that he was Rumpelstiltskin until Emma came to Storybrooke. Although this has never been explicitly stated in the show itself, it’s been heavily implied.1 At this point, it’s hard to say whether this is a retcon or just careless writing.
Speaking of retcons, there’s an unambiguous one later on in this episode. After flirting with the idea of handing Henry back to the adoption agency, Regina decides that the best thing for her to do is take a magic roofie potion that will make her forget about Henry’s birth mother as well as Mr. Gold’s shady baby-procurement methods. But this causes all sorts of plot problems, since in the first season it’s clear that Regina remembers how she got Henry, and it’s also strongly implied that she knew who Emma was the moment she showed up in Storybrooke. So what happened to the magic roofie? Did it wear off? Did Emma’s arrival nullify it? It’s not at all clear, and the writers appear have created a rather nasty plot hole.
The present-time storyline is focused, as the title of the episode suggests, on saving Henry, who is now comatose after giving his heart to Peter Pan (literally) in the previous episode. They can’t revive him, so Regina casts a preservation spell on him to keep him fresh while they go after Pan. For some reason, this preservation spell will only last an hour even though Regina used a similar spell to keep her dead boyfriend on ice for years.
Although Regina wants to extract Pan’s whereabouts from the Lost Boys through torture, Emma manages to get them to spill the beans with nothing more than a liberal application of maternal love. Apparently, he’s at the “Thinking Tree” (which sounds like it’s the Giving Tree‘s more intellectual sibling). Emma, Regina, and Snow White go hunting for Pan and find Pandora’s Box waiting for them in a clearing. Because Snow is kind of an idiot, she immediately grabs it. Obviously, it’s a trap, and the three ladies are tied to the tree by CGI vines. Pan comes down to snark at them, telling them that the tree will feed off their regrets. At this point, I was afraid the show would give us a long, angsty scene where the three of them come to terms with their regrets, but instead, Regina points out that she doesn’t regret anything she’s done and bursts through the vines. She rips Henry’s heart out of Pan’s chest without further ado, and I rejoice at the welcome acceleration of the plot.
After Henry gets his heart back, everyone piles on board the Jolly Roger to go home. Rumpelstiltskin is reunited with his son (aww!) and good vibes abound. Regina is somehow able to tether the Evil Shadow that serves as the genus loci of Neverland to the Jolly Roger‘s sail (they trapped it in Neal’s coconut nightlight earlier in the season), which allows them to fly away. However, they inexplicably left Henry unguarded down below, and he’s attacked by Peter Pan. Pan can’t re-take Henry’s heart since Regina at least had the foresight to put the magical version of The Club on it, so he tries to tear Henry’s shadow away instead.
Up above, Rumpelstiltskin realizes that something’s wrong and runs downstairs to trap Pan in Pandora’s Box (turnabout is fair play, after all). But while Pan is struggling against the pull of the box, Henry’s eyes flash, which kind of telegraphs the last-minute plot twist. Pan and Henry have done a Freaky Friday, so Henry’s now trapped in the box and Pan is free to cause more mischief. The episode ends with Pan!Henry telling chief Lost Boy Felix that it’s “time to play.” Dun dun duuuuun…
Despite the retconning and some shaky aspects of the Henry Adoption Plot,2 I liked this episode. I’m so glad to be out of Neverland at last. This season’s episodes have crawled along at a snail’s pace, and having everyone team up to search for Henry has really thrown the show’s dynamic off.
The Demonology Project has come up with a cool way to promote themselves over the festive season: the Demon Advent Calendar. Each day, they’ll post a different Egyptian demon, and they’re certainly drawing from eclectic sources. Day 1 featured “He Who Drives Off Those Who Would Demolish” from the Book of Two Ways, while Day 2 featured an unnamed man-eating hippo demon from a magician’s wand in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This is a great example of how academic projects can engage with the public in a fun and interesting manner. One of my big gripes about the Academy is its tendency to ignore the little people outside the ivory tower, so I’m always happy when I see academics bucking that trend. I also like that the Demonology Project hasn’t felt the need to dumb things down. They provide just the right amount of info to get the point across without burying non-specialists in a bunch of extraneous details.
Now if only the Demon Advent Calendar came with chocolate…
The Physicist and I finally got around to finishing Book 2 of The Legend of Korra, and I was underwhelmed, to say the least. Warning: spoilers ahead.
First of all, what the hell is up with Jinora? Her last-minute-save-the-world intervention seemed like a total ass-pull, and it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. If you’re going to have a tertiary character save your protagonist’s ass, you need to do a much better job of foreshadowing it–a propensity for cuddling cute spirit animals isn’t enough.
Korra’s duel with UberUnalaq was also unsatisfying. It didn’t really have any emotion–it was just two giant beings slugging it out like they’re in a Godzilla movie. I would have liked to have seen more of an emotional conflict between the two of them. Unalaq is Korra’s uncle and he had her father thrown in jail on trumped up charges, but Korra basically reacts to him like he’s a random Monster of the Week.
The other problem with Unalaq is that his character development was incredibly uneven. At first he starts out as a well-intentioned extremist, but he abruptly becomes a garden-variety villain in the last few episodes. I would have liked to have had a better idea of why he thinks that unleashing Vaatu is going to make the world a better place. Even if he thinks that the spirits have gotten a raw deal, releasing the spirit of chaos and darkness isn’t exactly the next logical step. Now it seems that he just did it for the Evulz, and that’s unsatisfying.
Compare that with Zuko and Azula from the first series: we had a much better idea of what made them tick and why they acted the way they did. Because the audience actually got to bond with them, they were much more satisfying as villains.
The lack of character development isn’t confined to Unalaq. Korra suffers from it, too. The problem is that she doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes. At the end of Book 1, she supposedly learned that it’s okay to rely on others, yet when Book 2 began, she was back to being a lone wolf. It also doesn’t help that she remains a flat and uninteresting protagonist. She needs to have more depth beyond a kick-ass-and-take-names attitude. And I wish the writers would lay off the Korra/Mako relationship drama. It’s tepid at the best of times since the two characters don’t really have any chemistry.
I was also kind of annoyed by the whole Varrick subplot. It felt like little more than a series of plot contrivances, and in the end, it didn’t really go anywhere. Varrick certainly isn’t punished for his crimes: the last we see of him, he’s escaping with his loyal assistant on his back (trust me, it makes sense in context).
I think a lot of Korra’s problems ultimately stem from the decision to have these truncated seasons. Filler episodes are not bad. Done right, they can help the characters grow and advance the meta plot. I think the best example of this is probably “The Beach” from Book 3 of The Last Airbender. That episode really had nothing to do with the main plot, but it did a great job of giving us background info about Zuko and Azula. There’s nothing like that in Korra, which is why everyone seems so damn flat.
On a more positive note, I liked that the writers actually did something risky by having Korra’s connection to her past lives severed permanently (?), though the impact of this change was somewhat reduced by the fact that Korra never really had much of a relationship with the past Avatars. That could set the stage for some truly interesting plot developments in Book 3, provided they don’t go and hit the reset button within the first few episodes.
I enjoyed watching the interactions between Tenzin, Bumi, and Kya. We don’t really know what Aang was like as an adult, so it’s interesting to hear what his kids thought of him. It seems that he wasn’t exactly a model father, and he played favorites with Tenzin since Tenzin was the only airbender among his progeny. One thing I’ve always liked about Aang is that he’s generally not a Gary Stu. He’s always had flaws, and that made him a lot more interesting.
Finally, I really liked the art of Book 2, particularly the glimpses of the Spirit World and the flashbacks that made up “Beginnings” parts 1 and 2. Avatar has always been exceptionally well animated, and Book 2 has some of the most stunning episodes of the entire series.
Despite my disillusionment with Korra, I’ll still watch Books 3 and 4. I just hope it gets better….
I read an interesting article in the Telegraph about the practice of ‘pinkwashing,’ which in this context refers to parents surreptitiously editing books that they read to their children. Apparently, this became a source of heated debate in the comment section of the New York Times‘ parenting blog, with one shrill commenter blurbling on about how “Censorship of the written word should never be an option.”
That might be true if we were talking about the government, but we’re talking about parents reading to their kids, and frankly, I don’t understand why people are getting their panties in a twist over this (though I suppose “this is the Internet” is probably enough of an explanation).
Many years ago, my aunt gave me a copy of Anne Rice’s The Mummy or Ramses the Damned. I don’t remember exactly how old I was at the time, but I was waaaaay too young for a book like that (I was probably younger than 10; I was definitely still in elementary school). I really wanted to read it, but my mother insisted on reading it to me. This let her make a large number of strategic edits in the process. Instead of reading a particularly explicit love scene, she simply said that Ramses and Julie went into the pyramid and “became very good friends.” I didn’t give it a second thought at the time, and it wasn’t until many years later that she ‘fessed up.
Was she right to “censor” Anne Rice like that? Absolutely. As a parent, it was her job to decide what was or was not appropriate for me until I reached the point where I could figure that out for myself. I think the same principles apply even if a parent is reading a book that’s ostensibly for children. Parents presumably know what their kid can or cannot handle, an author doesn’t.
The House of Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is currently in the midst of an inquiry into one of the more arcane facets of parliamentary practice: Crown Consent.
Crown Consent is distinct from Royal Assent, which is what transforms a bill into an Act of Parliament. Crown Consent is basically an announcement on behalf of the Queen that she has consented to place her prerogative or interest (or both) at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of a given bill. Similarly, if a bill affects the interests of the Prince of Wales in one of his many capacities, he has to give consent, too. The method of signifying consent and the timing of the announcement varies between the Lords and the Commons, though in both Houses, it must be signified by a Privy Counsellor. If it is not signified, the bill cannot be passed and, in some cases, it cannot even be debated.
The exact test for determining whether or not a bill requires Queen’s or Prince’s Consent is rather murky, though the Cabinet Office has published the internal guidance used by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (they’re the ones who draft bills). While some cases are fairly obvious (e.g. the Succession to the Crown Act 2013), others are more obscure (the Animal Welfare Act 2006)
Crown Consent has caused some sturm und drang lately, with some of the more excitable segments of the British press calling it a “secret royal veto.” Of course, like most of the Crown’s powers, the power to grant or withholds consent is exercised on the advice of ministers. Obviously, the government is going to advise the Queen to grant consent for all of its own legislation, and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel’s guidance makes it clear that the government will recommend that consent be granted even if it opposes a bill (see section 7.4). That being said, there have been times where a government has refused to recommend that consent has been granted because ministers disagreed with a bill, such as the Peerage (Ireland) Bill in 1868 and the Titles (Abolition) Bill in 1964.
One of the most notable cases where Crown Consent was not signified was Tam Dalyell’s Military Action Against Iraq (Parliamentary Approval) Bill in 1999. This has generated a great deal of rather ill-informed commentary from the likes of the Guardian and the Huffington Post (the latter actually went so far as to headline an article “Queen Vetoed the Passing of War Powers to Parliament, Whitehall Documents Reveal”). But while it is true that the Crown Consent was not signified for that particular bill, contemporary press reports indicate that Tam Dalyell deliberately refused to seek consent. The BBC quoted him as saying “I am not going crawling to the Queen. This has nothing to do with her.” Now one might sympathize with his point of view, but the blame for the bill’s failure rests with him, not Buckingham Palace.
During their testimony before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, the clerks of both Houses of Parliament said that the requirement to seek Crown Consent is a matter of parliamentary practice, not law, so it can be abolished whenever Parliament wants. Although Crown Consent isn’t as sinister as the Guardianistas would like you to believe, it’s admittedly hard to see why it should continue. Unlike Royal Assent, which at least has a symbolic purpose, Crown Consent is little more than a fussy bit of parliamentary arcana. And although modern convention favors granting Crown Consent whenever necessary, it could still theoretically be used to stifle debate on a measure that the government didn’t like. It will be interesting to see what the committee ultimately recommends.
The Physicist and I finished watching Merlin this evening, and I have to say, I wasn’t a fan of the series finale.
My biggest gripe is that so many people spent the finale holding the Idiot Ball. Why was Gwaine stupid enough to spill state secrets to some cheap doxy he’d just met? Why the hell didn’t Merlin ask the Dragon for help earlier? Why did Percival and Gwaine think that they had any hope of bringing down a powerful sorceress on their own? The answer, of course, is that they had to set up Arthur’s death, but they still made the characters seem woefully stupid.
I think it also sucks that we never got to see the promised golden age of Albion. Throughout the entire series, we’ve been told that Merlin is destined to help Arthur unite the kingdoms and bring about an age of wonder, but it never happens. All we get are some passing references to a few years of prosperity occur in between seasons 4 and 5, and the show ends with Merlin being consigned to a rather lonely existence as he waits for his boyfriend to come back from the dead. This makes the whole series seem futile.
It also doesn’t help that season 5 as a whole was rather lackluster. While it was nice that they finally moved away from the rigidly episodic format of the earlier seasons, they frittered away too much time on inane side plots like Evil!Gwen. I also missed the lighthearted tone of the earlier seasons. What is it with campy, fluffy shows going all dark and gritty as they go on? Xena and Buffy did the same thing, and I think it usually hurts the show.
I did appreciate the fact that Arthur’s character finally got to develop in season 5. In the early seasons, they had a nasty habit of hitting the Reset Button every time he learned a lesson, but towards the end he finally got to grow and mature. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Merlin. I suppose one could argue that he’s a bit harsher in season 5, but I would’ve liked to have seen more pronounced development. It was particularly annoying that, even at the very end, he was still blurbling about how his destiny was to serve Arthur. I think it would have been much cooler if Merlin had outed himself as a sorcerer before the final episode. It would have been neat to see Arthur come to grips with that in normal circumstances instead of the deathbed acceptance we got.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of season 5, I thought the way they handled Mordred’s betrayal sucked. Having him ragequit Camelot over some chick who’s never been seen or mentioned before was just stupid. In the episode, he kept claiming that they were besties from way back, but it would have been nice if they’d done a better job of working that particular relationship into the plot.
Despite my complaints about the end, I have to say that I enjoyed Merlin overall. It’s not going to go down as one of my all-time favorite shows, but it was fun to watch. Colin Morgan and Bradley James are both fine actors (Morgan did a particularly nice job in the finale—those were some heavy scenes, yet he never seemed overwrought or melodramatic) and they had great chemistry together. With any luck, they’ll collaborate again at some point.
Like many children of the 90s, GI Joe was a huge part of my childhood. Watching the cartoon was an integral part of my after-school ritual, and I owned most of the action figures (well, most of the Cobra ones). Ironically, I never cared much for the Joes themselves. Cobra always seemed to have more interesting characters and cooler equipment (Destro’s Dominator was a particular favorite—I still remember how happy I was when I unwrapped that on Christmas morning!).
As I got older, GI Joe faded from my consciousness, and I haven’t paid much attention to the franchise in the intervening years. I didn’t even see the live-action movies that were released recently. But I’ve been on a nostalgia kick recently, and when I noticed that I could stream the Sunbow version of the cartoon on Netflix, I decided to take a trip down memory lane. Since I’m sure I’m not the only one with fond memories of GI Joe, I thought I’d try my hand at recapping. So without further ado, let’s dive in. Yo Joe!
We open with several fighter jets flying over sandy terrain. They land at an airbase, and Token Black Joe (aka Stalker), Token Ninja (aka Snake Eyes), and the Idiot-in-Chief (aka Duke) are standing around chatting about the new planes, which are apparently called Sky-Strikers. Snake Eyes ducks as Stalker and Duke are nearly flattened as a Sky-Striker nearly lands on top of them! Holy shit! I’ve never flown a plane in my life, but even I know that you’re generally supposed to limit takeoffs and landings to designated runways. You can’t just plop the plane down wherever the hell you choose. Don’t the Joes teach their pilots anything? Or maybe Duke & Co. were kvetching out on the runway, in which case they deserve to win the Darwin Award.
Duke is understandably annoyed that someone just tried to flatten him with a jet, and he expresses his exasperation in a very kid-friendly manner by threatening to “kick the mustard out of that hot dog.” When the rogue Sky-Striker finally lands, he calls the pilot a “bacteria brain” and invites them to come down “so we can discuss your future as a mental patient.” Sorry, Duke; your clever repartee needs work.
When the cockpit opens, we see that the plane was piloted by none other than Scarlett, who laughingly asks Duke where his sense of adventure went. Lady, you almost crushed them with your plane. That’s not really a cute oopsie. In fact, it’s a miracle that they’re still alive. Even if Scarlett was just skimming over them without actually touching down, I’m pretty sure that the heat from the Sky-Striker’s engines should have turned them into crispy critters. I guess when you’re a Joe, you don’t have to worry about pesky things like convection.
Duke helps Scarlett down from the aircraft, and we get some tame romantic banter. This show was aimed young boys, after all. But the romance is swiftly interrupted by an air-raid siren as several black jet-fighters come into view. Given their coloration, they obviously belong to Cobra, and although they’re never identified in the episode, they look a lot like the Cobra Liquidator that I used to own. Fun fact: when I bought the Liquidator, my dad said it sounded like something diarrhea-related. Now whenever I hear the word ‘liquidator,’ I think of an aircraft that shoots ass-chowder. Thanks, Dad!
The Liquidator squadron is led by Major Bludd, an Australian mercenary in Cobra’s employ who has a Snidely Whiplash-mustache and an eye patch. Like all good Cobra mooks, he rallies his troops with the traditional Cobra battle cry: “Reeeetrrrrreeaaaat!” “Cobraaaaaaaaaaa!”
Because this is the very beginning of the episode, Cobra actually gets to have a modicum of success. Don’t worry, it won’t last long. Duke tackles Scarlett to save her from being strafed even though both Joe and Cobra lasers appear to be incapable of damaging human flesh. I think he just wanted to cop a feel.
After fondling saving Scarlett, Duke puts on his Captain Obvious hat and announces that Cobra is after the Sky-Strikers. No shit, Sherlock. Half the planes on the tarmac are smoldering wrecks, and you’ve just now realized that Cobra might be after them? This, ladies and gentlemen, is the man in charge of America’s ‘elite fighting force.’ Thankfully for the Free World, Cobra is led by someone equally stupid.
Now that the Joes finally realize what Cobra is after, the Liquidators seem to lose the ability to target the Sky-Strikers. Their missiles explode harmlessly around the remaining craft, allowing the Joes to get them airborne without too much difficulty. Major Bludd orders the Liquidators to keep the Sky-Strikers pinned down, but the Idiot Ball is firmly in Cobra’s hands now. Two Liquidators dive to intercept Duke’s Sky-Striker, but thanks to his fancy throttle work, they crash into the ground instead. I’m not quite sure why they felt the need to dive down like that when they could have easily attacked the plane with missiles or lasers. Were the Cobra pilots planning to hold down Duke’s plane with their wings or something?
The moment the Liquidators start taking damage, Major Bludd wusses out and orders a retreat. Back on the ground, Duke shrewdly deduces that Cobra is “up to something big.”
The scene shifts to someplace dark and stormy. We see a tortuous path up the side of a mountain, and vaguely ‘oriental’ music plays as the camera reveals a giant cobra-themed castle. As small party makes its way up the path, they are being watched from the balcony by a man in a blue uniform (I could pretend I don’t know who he is, but it’s Cobra Commander). I wonder how the hell he can see them since it’s quite dark out and they’re still rather far away from Castle Greyskull Cobra. But since this is Cobra Commander, it’s entirely possible that his chrome faceplate thingy gives him super vision or something.
At the door of Castle Cobra, a hooded figure who looks like one of the wizards from Magicka makes a grandiloquent speech that scares the shit out of his Generic Native Porters. The four cobras near the door start undulating, and the natives decide that it’s time to get the fuck out of there. Hooded Guy asks for admittance, and one of the undulating cobras opens its mouth so Hooded Guy can get his palm scanned. When I saw this episode as a kid, I remember thinking that was a cool touch. It seemed so wild and futuristic in the early 90s.
Once the door opens, Hooded Guy walks inside, totally ignoring the large packages that the porters abandoned when they fled. I guess he figures that’s not his problem. Inside, he finds Cobra Commander waiting for him in the throne room. The throne is mounted on a rotating platform, and when Hooded Guy first enters, Cobra Commander is staring at the wall for some reason. I get that it’s more dramatic to have him suddenly swivel into view, but it’s one of those things that just seems stupid when you actually think about it. Unless, of course, Cobra Commander was doing something private like watching Xtube while he waited for Hooded Guy to arrive….
Cobra Commander immediately starts bitching at Hooded Guy (who we soon learn is actually Destro) for being late. Destro has one of the few genuinely amusing lines in the episode when he snarks about how it was difficult to reach this “ridiculously melodramatic location.” Cobra Commander blathers on about how he designed the ‘Cobra Temple’ to guarantee secrecy and security, and I roll my eyes. If secrecy is a top priority, maybe setting up shop in a building festooned with cobras isn’t the best idea. Just sayin’. Sure, it’s on top of a ginormous mountain, but surely the Joes have satellites….
Meanwhile, some mooks have been unpacking the swag that Destro brought with him, revealing glass tanks filled with red crystals, dark-blue water, and what looks like gold dust. We don’t actually learn what these three things are, though Cobra Commander refers to them as “exotic substances.” He then yells for his mooks to raise the MASS device from its convenient storage location under the floor. The MASS device looks like a chunky fountain pen with a giant diamond for a nib, and its control panel has lots and lots of colorful buttons. Cobra Commander is worried that it won’t be able to reach its target, but Destro whips out a silver-dollar-sized microchip emblazoned with the Cobra logo, complete with glowing LCD eyes. Apparently, it’s a homing device that will ensure accurate targeting.
The scene shifts to a military facility of some sort, where some military bigwig with a ‘stache is explaining to Duke that he has a special task for the Joes. They’re joined by a stout woman in a uniform who promptly asks the general if he’s filled out the necessary paperwork to get the Joes’ services. And what the hell is up with her voice? She sounds slightly giggly, like she’s stoned or something. We see Duke’s reaction shot, and it’s one of over-the-top disgust, which makes me wonder if Bureaucrat Barbie didn’t flash him while she was nattering on about paperwork.
Apparently, Bureaucrat Barbie is actually Major Juanita Hooper from the Pentagon’s Office of Budget and Accounting. Duke salutes her and walks past, which causes Major Hooper to get on her Huffy bike for some reason. What did she want him to do? Slap her on the ass?
The general takes Duke and Major Hooper to a gigantic silo that apparently holds a satellite. Duke immediately realizes that the general wants the Joes to try to break in to test the facility’s defenses, and the general agrees. Major Hooper complains that the plan is too expensive while tugging on her earlobe like she’s Carol Burnett. Gee, I wonder if that could be significant!
Duke is asked when the Joes can take a crack at the installation, and he says they can do it right now. Damn, the Joes are crazy prepared if they can launch an attack like that on a moment’s notice. We then cut to a montage of various Joes sneaking into the compound. Snake Eyes sneaks in while clinging to the bottom of a truck, Scarlett jumps from a plane and flies in with a jetpack (did Duke order the plane to circle the facility on the off-chance the Joes would be asked to attack it?), and Stalker just barges in on a motorcycle equipped with magic lasers that can make a chainlink fence explode. All three of the Joes have these nifty little wristwatches with three little lights, and when each one of them enters the compound, they tap the watch to make one of the lights turn on (I guess all GI Joe missions have three stages).
Anyway, Stalker does an Evel Knievel-type jump over a tank, leaping from his bike before it crashes. Watching the conflagration caused by Stalker’s bike from the control room(?), the general declares that the Joes have blown it. Major Hooper dismisses the idea that the Joes could breach the compound as “totally ludicrous” while rubbing her earlobe again (subtlety was never this show’s strong suit). Of course, that’s the cue for Stalker, Scarlett, and Snake Eyes to burst through a grate in the ceiling. General Moustache promptly declares that the Joes’ success proves that the facility’s defenses are adequate. Duke is like “WTF?” and the general says that, since three highly trained commandos only made it in with difficulty, it would take an all-out assault force to actually steal the satellite.
Because she’s a condescending bitch, Major Hooper suggests that General Moustache should show the Joes the satellite because “they look like they could use an education.” The fact that the writers have dialed her bitchiness up to eleven makes it pretty obvious that she’s going to turn out to be evil. General Moustache has a brief moment of indecision as he tries to decide whether or not to show them the super-secret satellite, but in the end he’s like “Sure, why the hell not?”
The satellite looks appropriately futuristic, though Major Hooper tells everyone that it’s too expensive for what it does (because she’s an accountant, and all accountants are penny-pinching tightwads). That allows her cram in some exposition about how this is the “Ultimate Relay Star” (and I’m guessing that’s supposed to be its proper name as opposed to a generic description) and it can transmit the most powerful energy to “anywhere at any time.”
Hooper sticks one of her earrings on the satellite. Somehow, Cobra Commander is able to see this on his viewscreen. But if Cobra was able to plant a hidden surveillance camera in the silo ahead of time, why couldn’t they also plant the homing device? Also, the earring undergoes a dramatic transformation: on Hooper’s ear, it was just a dull gray sphere. When she sticks it on the satellite, it’s still dull and gray. But when Cobra Commander sees it, it’s become the microchip with the glowing-eyed Cobra sigil that we saw earlier. Note to Cobra Commander: homing devices usually work best when they’re difficult to detect. Maybe you shouldn’t emblazon them with your very distinctive logo and give them sparkly LCD eyes.
As he watches the second tracking device being put into place, Cobra Commander squeals about how ‘exquisite’ it is, like he’s just received a 10-carat engagement ring or something. Destro technobabbles about how the MASS device works. It seemed vaguely plausible when I was a kid—now it just seems absolutely fucking stupid. You know your technobabble sucks when a humanities major thinks it’s laughable.
‘Maj. Hooper’ rips off her disguise, revealing the Baroness. She then dons some weird green-tinted glasses. Is she planning to go to the Emerald City or something?
The Joes are trapped outside the silo when the emergency doors shut, but Duke decides to use the gantry elevators to life the walls off their foundations (!). Amazingly, this works, and our team of heroes race inside. Cobra has used the MASS device to teleport in a strike team, and although it consists of dozens of soldiers and two HISS tanks, they are swiftly routed by the four Joes (though at some point, some random Good Guy Infantrymen do show up to provide backup fire power).
Oddly enough, the military seems to be storing tanks and motorcycles in the silo as well. I have no idea why—they appear to be unmanned since they do jack shit during the battle. I suppose it’s possible that the Cobra strike team managed to disable them in the 30 seconds that they had the silo to themselves, but let’s face it, that would have been a smart move, and Cobra is dumber than a box of cat turds.
This battle does a nice job of introducing us to the curious properties of the Joes laser guns. Although one blast is capable of blowing up a HISS tank, humans themselves seem more or less impervious to them. And although the Joes are firing pretty indiscriminately, neither the satellite nor the silo takes damage. Ultimately, Maj. Bludd and his Cobra Cannon Fodder are forced to hide behind the satellite.
Back at the Cobra Temple, Cobra Commander berates Destro for being incompetent (talk about the pot calling the kettle black!), but Destro is like “bitch, please.” And for some reason, the animators felt compelled to show us Cobra Commander’s package. Apparently he dresses to the right.
Although the MASS device was incapable of sucking up the satellite a few minutes ago, Cobra can now use it to suck up both the satellite AND the attack party. Cobra must have some sweet tech support staff to have gotten it fixed so quickly.
Maj. Bludd and Baroness almost miss their ride home when they step out to surrender to Duke, but fortunately they manage to run back to the wavy blue energy field in time. Because Duke is a rampant moron, he follows them and gets spirited away to Cobra HQ. As soon as he arrives, Cobra mooks try to capture them, and he manages to evade them for a while (as dumb as Duke is, he’s still smarter than your average Cobra mook). In a rare bit of common sense, the Cobra mooks pile on Duke instead of coming at him alone or in pairs, and this lets one of the mooks tap Duke’s shoulder, which knocks him out cold. Cobra Commander has the now-unconscious Duke sent to the ‘Slave Pit’ (he really thought of everything when he built this HQ, didn’t he?) to “prepare him for sport.”
As Duke is being dragged away, Destro manages to launch the satellite into orbit within minutes of its arrival (I guess satellite technology is strictly plug and play). There’s no meticulous positioning or any of that nonsense. All Destro has to do is shout “fire” and that baby is airborne. It seems that this particular device is some sort of satellite/rocket hybrid, because although we see plenty of fire when it lifts off, nothing gets jettisoned as it goes into space. Now I would have thought that launching a satellite/rocket combo in an enclosed room wouldn’t be terribly smart, but whoever engineered this wondrous device managed to figure out a way to minimize those pesky rocket plumes.
With the satellite in orbit, Cobra is free to start their Nefarious Plan™. While the Joes ponder “Cobra’s weird fade-in, fade-out technique,” a shifty-looking character puts a sparkly homing device on the Eiffel Tower. Seriously? Cobra can’t figure out where the Eiffel Tower is without a homing device?
With the satellite in orbit, Cobra is free to start their Nefarious Plan™. While the Joes ponder “Cobra’s weird fade-in, fade-out technique,” a shifty-looking character puts a sparkly homing device on the Eiffel Tower. Seriously? Cobra can’t figure out where the Eiffel Tower is without a homing device?
Synergy The Joes’ computer helpfully suggests that they should find Nobel-prize winning scientist Dr. Lazlo Vandermeer. Like all real scientists, he’s wearing a lab coat in the official photo that the computer pulls up. The computer also says that Dr. Vandermeer was last seen in his farm in New England, which appears to be nothing more than a log cabin.
Further consideration of Dr. Vandemeer is preempted by Cobra Commander, who has taken over every TV and radio station on earth in order to broadcast a threat to the world’s leaders. Cobra Commander is at his hammiest as he shows that Cobra can make the Eiffel Tower disappear before Parisians’ very eyes. He gives the governments of the world 24 hours to surrender, ending his broadcast with an enthusiastic “COBRAAAAAAAAAAA!”
We then cut to Duke in the Slave Pit. Everyone except Duke is shuffling around in tattered rags and sporting headbands with little lights. Duke decides that the two lights are “the readout on some sort of brain scanner.” I’m not sure that would be my first reaction upon seeing a lighted headband, but whatevs. Anyway, the Baroness comes in and exposits that all the other slaves have been turned into mindless slaves by Cobra, and Duke will soon join them after he’s appeared in the Arena of Sport.
Now we see a fleet of Joe helicopters heading out to Vandermeer’s farm, which looks a lot more opulent than the Abe Lincoln-esque log cabin that the computer showed them. The good doctor is out painting in a field in his lab coat (I guess it doubles as a smock), and he waves cheerfully to the Joes as they prepare to land. But when the camera pans to the nearby woods, we see that the real doctor (who is also wearing his lab coat, incidentally) is tied to a tree and surrounded by a battalion of Cobra mooks and HISS tanks. When the Joes land, Fake!Vandermeer reveals himself to be Maj. Bludd in disguise (Cobra must have a top-notch makeup and prosthetics team at their disposal), and a firefight ensues. As usual, Cobra is totally ineffective, and Bludd and his buddies are forced to run off into the sunset with their tails between their legs.
The Joes rescue Real!Vandermeer, who reveals that Cobra “stole the secrets of MASS.” The Joes seem surprised that the doctor was working on the MASS project, which is odd considering the whole reason they went out to see him in the first place was because the computer said he was the world’s leading expert. Real!Vandermeer says that the Joes will have to build their own MASS device if they want to stop Cobra, and Scarlett cheerfully concurs. After all, what does she care? It’s just taxpayer money, after all.
Meanwhile, Duke is fitted with his own lighted headband and dragged off to the arena. As he’s led away, one of the slave girls mumbles something about how she needs to figure out a way to help him. It’s not quite clear how she managed to circumvent the headband, but okay. Whatever. She also has a weird, generically foreign accent.
We then cut to the Cobra Arena of Sport (yes, that’s actually what Cobra Commander calls it, like Cobra is just sponsoring it a la Ford Field or Comerica Park). It looks like your typical Roman-style arena, and the stands are filled to the brim. I wonder if all Cobra mooks get free tickets as part of their compensation package? Duke once again shows his massive ineptitude by charging toward the box where Cobra Commander and Destro are seated and trying to climb a giant Cobra banner that’s hanging down in front. Dude, I know you’re the leader of GI Joe and everything, but do you really think that you can just climb up to the top of the box and beat the living shit out of Cobra Commander in front of thousands and thousands of his minions? Granted, most Cobra personnel have wallpaper paste for brains, but I think even the dumbest of them would be able to foil your idiotic plan.
Sadly, we never get to see Duke’s bullet-riddled body falling down to the arena floor because Destro whips out his joystick and begins wiggling it around. No, that’s not a euphemistic description of anything. The mind-control mojo kicks in, and Duke grimaces like he’s in one of those old Anacin commercials. Destro yammers on about how Duke’s motor reflexes are in his control, and uses the joystick to make him bow. Cobra Commander seems totally blasé about all this. He’s just sitting there resting his chin on his hand like he’s seen it all before. Maybe Destro does this routine every…damn…time, so it’s just gotten old. I also love how Destro is just moving the joystick back and forth—I’m not quite sure how that makes someone bow.
Once Duke has been sufficiently humiliated, Cobra Commander whips out his own joystick and a giant in a blue speedo and a leather-daddy harness enters the arena. He looks a bit like a cross between He-Man and Cher. Somehow, I’m not surprised that this dude is under Cobra Commander’s control. As he and Destro prepare to use Butch the Barbarian and Duke for their very own game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, the screen fades to black and the episode ends.
I had a blast writing this recap, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. I plan to make this a semi-regular feature here at The House of Life, so check back for more GI Joe-related hilarity!
A version of Reaper of Souls, the Diablo III expansion pack, has been leaked and subsequently datamined by eager fans. Now the results have to be taken with a heaping grain of salt because RoS is still a long ways from release, but there are some interesting tidbits nonetheless. If you want to experience RoS as a wide-eyed virgin, I suggest you skip this post. That being said, I’m not going to discuss anything too spoilery (I’m not going to talk about new lore or plot points).
By User:Holek (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Blizzard has already said that the existing five classes will get an overhaul in RoS, but I was a little bit surprised at some of the changes they’re contemplating. For example, the Wizard might become more of an elementalist like the Sorceress in Diablo II. The Arcane Orb runes Arcane Nova, Tap the Source, and Celestial Orb could end up being replaced by Spark, Scorch, and Frozen Orb (which do lightning, fire, and cold damage, respectively), while Magic Missile’s Penetrating Blast and Attunement runes might be replaced by Conflagrate and Glacial Spike (which, as you probably guessed, do fire and cold damage). Even the ever-popular Spectral Blade could get an elemental overhaul, with Deep Cuts being replaced by Flame Blades and Impactful Blades becoming Ice Blades.
Some of these new runes also seem to impart an elemental buff of sorts. Each enemy you kill using Flame Blades will apparently increase the damage of your fire spells by 1% over 5 seconds, while Spark does something similar for lightning spells. Right now, elemental damage in D3 is strictly cosmetic (except for cold damage, which can slow/freeze enemies), but designer Travis Day has indicated that Blizzard wants to give elemental attacks unique properties once more.
The increased emphasis on elemental attacks is interesting because, when the Wizard was first announced, the D3 team said that they wanted to move away from the whole ‘elemental magic user’ paradigm in order to differentiate her from the Sorceress. I’d be curious to know why they changed their mind. My guess is that it ultimately boils down to build diversity. By differentiating the various types of damage and offering buffs, Blizzard can theoretically give players more tactical choices. While some people will undoubtedly gripe that they are rehashing the Sorceress, I think the changes have the potential to make the Wizard an even more enjoyable character to play.
The datamining has also revealed a lot of promising-looking side quests. It looks like the followers will finally get the unique missions that were promised when they were first revealed, and there are also a number of challenges that seem reminiscent of Torchlight II’s Phase Beast portals. I’m also intrigued by the quests that are identified as “OpenWorld_Tutorial.” It would be nice if they had a mode where you could just explore instead of having to repeat the same quests time and time again, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
As I mentioned earlier, all this information is highly speculative, and it’s virtually certain that some or all of the things I’ve mentioned won’t appear in the final game. If there’s one thing that D3C’s development has taught us, it’s that Blizzard loves to change their minds!
Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters) has passed away after a long battle with cancer. Despite earning a PhD in Egyptology from one of the best programs in the entire world, the gender mores of the 1950s prevented her from finding work as an Egyptologist.
In a classic example of making lemonade out of lemons, she turned to writing fiction. Mertz was a prolific author who wrote over 50 books in genres ranging from popular Egyptology to romance. She’s probably best known for her Amelia Peabody series of mysteries, which she published under the pseudonym of ‘Elizabeth Peters.’ Although the Peabody books were set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the main character’s passion for Egyptology let Mertz put her academic background to good use.
Mertz was a first-class writer, and she will be sorely missed.
As for those learned scribes. . . it has come to pass that their names will endure forever, although they are gone, having completed their lives. . . they made heirs for themselves of the writings and books … which they made…. Their… memorial tablets (are) covered with dust, their chapels forgotten. But their names are pronounced because of these books of theirs. . . more profitable is a book than a graven tablet, than a chapel-wall well built. . . a man has perished, and his corpse has become dust. . . but writings cause him to be remembered in the mouth of the story teller.