23 January 2010

The Vampire Diaries S1 E11 "Bloodlines"

Spoilers Ahead

First off, I have to apologize for the lateness of this review. I may or may not have lost my notes in my own house *cough* But I have them now so let's not dwell on what might have been...

After the previous episode of The Vampire Diaries, "Bloodlines" (nice title, by the way) could have gone anywhere. The place I did not expect it to go, however, was a road trip. I kind of have to question what the writers on this show are thinking. But let me backtrack for a second.

When we last saw Elayna, she'd hit and mangled a person with her car, only to watch as the person instantly healed and started approaching her as she sat trapped and panicking. Promising, yes? Well, kiss that promise goodbye: mystery person decides for no apparent reason to take off. Then Damon shows up, gets Elayna out of the car, checks for injuries (conveniently none worth worrying about--see, flipping your car is no big deal), hides said car (which, of course, no one will notice, despite the fact that it looks like a crushed soda can), and takes her on a jaunt to Georgia. Might I just say: WTF?

But it gets better!

After a minor debate about being taken home, Damon somehow convinces Elayna that the whole thing will be a fun day out. She's satisfied so long as he promises not to compel her (an issue now that she stupidly took off the vervain-containing necklace). And for some reason he keeps his word and doesn't compel her. I guess he suddenly has scruples. Once again something potentially interesting has been set up (Elayna making herself vulnerable to compulsion) and promptly ignored. So much for the show's big cliffhanger--it seems to have turned into one big pointless fakeout. Woo.

Once in Georgia, Damon pays a visit to his clearly bitter ex, Bree (Gina Torres), a witch who he believes can help him figure out how to overcome Emily's spell and free Katherine and the other vampires from the tomb. While he's busy with that, Elayna drinks the regulars under the table and shows everyone just how much fun she can be. Bree, meanwhile, sets Damon up for a staking--not because he did her wrong, but because she's upset that he killed her good friend Lexi. Calling in Lexi's formerly human (now vampified) boyfriend to do the job, Damon is saved by...Elayna. Not only does Elayna save him but she begs--literally begs--for his life to be spared. Why the hell would Elayna even want Damon to live? Isn't he the guy who killed a bunch of people she knew, turned Vicky, compelled and fed on Caroline, ripped open Bonnie's neck, and threatened to kill Elayna herself (more than once) before taking her across state lines against her will? Sure--why wouldn't she want to save him--makes perfect sense. And as concerned as she is about him, she disappears pretty quickly when he goes back into the bar to confront the woman who betrayed him. Doesn't even ask him what happened with Bree. (For the record, a terrified Bree tells Damon that he needs to find Emily's grimoire and reverse the spell, just in time for him to rip her heart out with his bare hands. Guess he's done with scruples.) Elayna and Damon then have a nice chat on the way home about how much they like hanging out with each other. Right.

By the time Elayna gets home, she's ready to make up with Stefan--after he grovels an acceptable amount (can't have an episode without that). He tells her that he's known she was nothing like Katherine since before he ever met her. It turns out he was watching her from way back and, oh yeah, he's the one who saved her when her parents' car went over the bridge with her in it. He tried to save her parents too, but you know, it's not like he has vampire speed or anything. When Elayna angsts about why she looks just like Katherine, Stefan drops another bombshell: Elayna was adopted! Seriously? I guess incest is big in Mystic Falls because apparently there's no way the two families could have hooked up in the last 150 years. Not only that but in a town the size of Mystic Falls is there really any way Elayna could have grown up without hearing something about being adopted? Sigh--and the melodrama continues.

In other events this episode...

*Alaric Saltzman flashes back to his wife (Mia Kirshner), ending with his discovery of Damon draining and killing her.

*Bonnie realizes her powers are gone. Gram tells her she needs to confront whatever scared them away. Stefan helps her get her mojo back.

*Stefan and Bonnie's Gram (Sheila) go way back. Bonnie's family have been loyal to Stefan--but Sheila warns him that her family comes before any other loyalty.

*Jeremy makes a nifty new friend (Anna, played by Malese Jow, Hannah Montana) and together they start realizing that vampires are real and hanging out in Mystic Falls. They're also cluing in that their ancestors knew about the vamps and made an effort to fight them.

*Aunt Jenna is useless...as usual.

Despite so much going on in every episode of The Vampire Diaries, nothing ever seems to actually happen--at least nothing that's not predictable, pointless, or just plain illogical. That's probably why I spend so much time checking the clock whenever I watch this show. Even with all the various plots, subplots and asides, there's really not much to hold my interest, and definitely nothing worth caring about. The Vampire Diaries has a lot of potential, but when it comes to a good story, potential just isn't enough.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until the vampire comes out, then red-rimmed eyes, dark facial veins, prominent fangs.

Strengths: super strength, super speed, the ability to ascertain and dismiss physical trauma.

Weaknesses: Vervain, fire, two-by-fours wielded by other vampires

Mythology: As long as vampires regularly drink blood their bodies function as though they were still alive (that's why they can eat and drink). A starving vampire will initially be in a lot of pain but eventually their bodies desiccate and they (supposedly) no longer feel pain.

Sound Bites

Damon: (after Elayna regains consciousness and insists that he pull over immediately) Oh, you were so much more fun when you were asleep.

Elayna: Can I trust you?
Damon: (shrugs and smiles) Get in the car.

Elayna: I saved your life.
Damon: I know.
Elayna: And don't you forget it.

The Vampire Diaries, S1 E11 "Bloodlines." Written by Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, and Sean Reycraft. Directed by Dave Barrett. From The CW.

21 January 2010

Dark Slayer by Christine Feehan

Spoilers Ahead

I don't like having to review bad books. I really don't like reading them, but reviewing them just adds to an already unpleasant experience, especially when the publisher (in this case Penguin) was nice enough to send me a review copy. But I just can't say something is good when it isn't. Dark Slayer is not good.

The problem isn't with the story--a fairly standard fantasy/paranormal romance. Traumatized pair Ivory and her newfound "lifemate" Razvan team up to overcome their painful pasts while fighting the ultimate evil. Good triumphs and the heroes find redemption, but evil still lurks waiting to rear its ugly head once again (in the next book, of course). Nothing earth-shattering, but it could have been a decent literary distraction.

So what's the problem? Or, I should say, problems?
  • Note to all writers of vampire fiction: There is only one Slayer and her name is Buffy Summers (Faith, Kendra, and Fray also count but, as you may have noticed, they're all from the Buffyverse). Calling any other characters "The Slayer" only brings Buffy to mind and makes you seem really unimaginative. Just accept it and use a thesaurus.
  • With all the repetition in Dark Slayer, it probably could have been cut in half with no detriment whatsoever. I blame this one on the editor. Same goes for all the typos and grammatical errors.
  • Writing 101: Show, don't tell. Exposition = bad. Endless exposition = really bad--and boring...and lazy... (The truly depressing part is that apparently Christine Feehan is a bestselling author. Why do people want to buy and read dreck when there are so many good books out there?)
  • Worse than the exposition is the poetry. Dark Slayer is full of magical chants that were just painful to read. There is no excuse for lines like this:
I call to thee, Mother, who once held me tight,
Healing me whole so that I might continue the fight.
  • Sexual Content Ahead: use your discretion. If life were fair all romance writers would have to take an extensive course in writing sex scenes. In the meantime, here's a few tips: (1) sex scenes should not gross out your readers "womb clenching," among other things mentioned, just sounds unpleasant; (2) if you must use euphemisms, at least go for ones that won't cause readers to roll their eyes-- "feminine channel"--really?; (3) lose the fetish for deflowering virgins; (4) at least have a grasp of anatomy--not only is it impossible for a man to penetrate "so deep he pierced her womb," but if that ever actually did happen it would be horrifying and excruciating. Not exactly sexy; (5) try to be consistent--how can you have flowery euphemisms next to words like clit? With all the womb clenching in her exotic feminine core as he invades her, I couldn't help alternating between laughter and revulsion, which I have to assume is not the effect the author was going for.
On a more amusing note, I was sent both these books for review at the same time (same publisher). What do you think--same cover model and designer? Both characters must be part of the union (Female Vampire Hunters and Widget Makers Local 443).

There were plenty of other problems with Dark Slayer that I didn't mention, but I think you get the idea. We've all got limited time for reading--why waste it on something less than brilliant? Although I wish it did, Dark Slayer just doesn't make the cut.

Fang Files

Carpathians vs Vampires: Although similar in a lot of ways, vampires and Carpathians are not the same.

Carpathians: Humans who are "turned" (not explained in this book). They live for centuries, are extremely difficult to kill, burned by sunlight, and need to drink blood.

Vampires: Carpathians who are turned, live forever, are extremely difficult to kill, burned by sunlight, and need to drink blood. But apparently they're foul creatures of pure evil.

Both groups heal quickly, shift forms (to animal, vapor, or simply a different appearance), can call down/control lightning, and are super strong. Carpathians also have magical abilities and are strongly connected to the earth. Vampires have acid blood, are toxic to the earth and infect with their bite. Only vampires are affected by holy objects.

Text Bite

Ivory, upon realizing that Razvan is her lifemate: She raised her face to the heavens, letting the snow cover it like a white mask. "Why now?" she asked softly. A plea. A prayer. "Why are you asking this of me now? Don't you think you've taken enough from me?" She stood waiting for an answer. Lightning to strike, maybe. Something. Anything. Her whispered entreaty was met with implacable silence.

Dark Slayer (part of the Carpathian series) by Christine Feehan. Also available as an e-book. From Penguin (Berkley).

15 January 2010

True Blood S1 E11 "To Love Is to Bury"

Spoilers Ahead

Hell hath no fury like a telepathic woman who thinks she scorned. But more on that in a bit.

There's a lot going on in the second-last episode of True Blood's first season. We're treated to an unusual opening; the first one that doesn't start off exactly where the previous one left off. Bill went from draining Jessica at the end of episode 10 to digging a mutual grave at the beginning of "To Love Is to Bury." Not to worry--the grave is merely part of the process of turning a human into one of the undead. But just in case he gets any ideas about staking Jessica before she can be planted, Pam is there to supervise (and take a peek up Jessica's dress. I knew there was a reason I liked Pam). All the empathy Jessica inspired before she was killed melts away like a vamp's skin in sunlight when she rises and quickly proves herself to be a whiny brat. An immortal whiny brat at that. In a hurry to get back to Sookie, Bill can't deal with the fruit of his fangs for long; he convinces Eric to take her off his hands in exchange for being further in his debt. Silly Bill. He of all people should know that these things have a way of coming back to bite you. But he's a desperate man, so it's all understandable.

Empathy for Sookie is also rapidly diminishing. Instead of worrying about how Bill might be punished by the Tribunal for killing Long Shadow (in defense of her!) she's too busy dismissing "vampire politics" and complaining that he isn't there for her even though he surely must have felt her fear. For a girl who wasn't too afraid to take on the Rattrays singlehandedly only a couple of weeks before, she suddenly seems unduly dependent on Bill's protection. Self-centred much? It's a good thing she has Sam to take her mind off the man she claims to love (and wasn't she mad at Sam last episode?) After hunting down a lead on the killer, which Sookie gleaned from his chaotic thoughts, she and Sam get cozy on the couch. So who could blame Bill for being upset when he bursts in on them and finds Sam with his tongue halfway down Sookie's throat? Well, apparently Sookie can. She smashes a vase over his head, screams at him, and revokes his invitation, thus breaking the heart of anyone who has one as we're forced to watch Bill miserably back out of the house before getting the door slammed in his face. Then Sookie cements her new status as chief bitch by snapping at Sam and walking out on him. No wonder post-feminist men are confused.

Meanwhile, Tara's got herself into some trouble. Disbelieving her story about being distracted by a naked woman standing with a pig in the middle of the road (now who wouldn't believe that?) Tara's taken into the drunk tank (almost as humiliating as the deputy telling her she's turning into Lettie Mae). As if that wasn't bad enough, Lettie Mae gets all self-righteous after a prayer session and refuses to bail Tara out "for her own good," proving that religion is no better an addiction than alcohol. Left entirely on her own (she doesn't want her friends to see her), Tara reluctantly accepts the help of "social worker" Maryann Forrester (played by Michelle Forbes, who I will always think of as Ensign Ro Laren on Star Trek: TNG, even though she's been in tons of things since then, including Battlestar). The thing about Maryann is that she's the naked lady herself, although Tara doesn't recognize her. She also seems unusually well-off for a lowly social worker, as well as a little too interested in helping Tara. I also caught something the second time I watched this episode that I didn't catch the first time around. As Detective Bellefleur is reaming Maryann out for parking where she shouldn't, she says his name and points at him: it's subtle but she's definitely working some magics there. I'm wondering if her little spell took the alcoholism out of Tara and put it onto Andy; why else did he suddenly go from not having a drink for years (mentioned in episode 9 or 10) to becoming a raging drunk? Just a thought but I believe I'm onto something. In any case, there's something up with Ms. Forrester (Sam's statement in the last episode that there are "all kinds" of other creatures out there certainly springs to mind).

Jason's kept busy dealing with the aftermath of Amy killing Eddie. A major altercation leaves him reluctant to return home, but after admitting his concerns about her V use (conveniently leaving out his own) to Hoyt and Rene, they offer him advice and convince him to go home. Amy, all sweetness when she wants to be, agrees that the V has got to go...but not until they enjoy it one last time (some pretentious nonsense about closing a circle). She applies the pressure, albeit not too hard, and Jason agrees to go along with her. Unfortunately for them, someone else decides to join them while they're passed out on the vampire blood. As Jason hallucinates/dreams frolicking with Amy, the interloper chokes her with his belt. Amy floats away and Jason wakes up to find her dead body lying next to him. He ends up turning himself in and giving a not-very convincing confession to the murders of Amy, Maudette, and Dawn. He doesn't remember doing any of it but he must have because no one else was there, right? But as everyone is distracted with Jason, no one at the Sheriff's department notices the fax that comes through: the one sent in response to Sookie and Sam's inquiries. It turns out that the girl Sookie saw in the killer's thoughts (Cindy Marshall) had a brother (Drew) who conveniently disappeared right after she was killed and before he could be investigated. The fax shows his picture; it seems Rene's got a secret and not-so-pleasant past. I was really hoping it wouldn't be him but there have been enough hints along the way. Quel dommage.

Okay, so "To Love Is to Bury" is not only moving forward the conclusion of season 1, but it's also setting things up for season 2. Whatever else happens I really hope it includes an end to the relationship drama between Sookie and Bill. With serial killers, vampires, shapeshifters, "other creatures," and nutty humans in abundance, I think we've already got all the excitement we could want. A little actual romance between the romantic leads might be a nice chance of pace.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale humans with snake-like fangs that descend at will.

Strengths: super speed, super strength.

Weaknesses: New vampires are emotionally out of control. Blood lust (the temptation to kill humans isn't helped by the unpleasant taste of Tru Blood). Vampires need invitations to enter private homes, and are compelled to leave if the invite is revoked.

Mythology: In order to complete the change, a vampire needs to drain a human's blood before spending the day buried together in the ground. If the half-changed human is staked before being buried, they won't become a vampire.

Sound Bites

Bill: You drank from me. Your blood was replaced with mine. And then I shared my essence with you when we slept together in the ground.
Jessica: Ewwww...
Bill: No, no, no--not intercourse.
Jessica: You just said intercourse.

Lafayette: (watching in shock as his State Senator lover/client goes on about "family values" on TV) Did you hear what he just said?
Terry: I can't listen to politicians no more--I get a seizure.

God Hates Fangs (poster in police station)

True Blood, Season1 Episode 11 "To Love Is to Bury." Written by Nancy Oliver and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Nancy Oliver. From HBO.

13 January 2010

Angel #25

Spoilers Ahead

Wow--when I reviewed Angel #24 way back in August, I had no idea it would take me this long to get to issue #25. Hope it was worth the wait...

When we last saw Drusilla, she was in the process of escaping the confines of a pre-Fall LA insane asylum, on her way to unleashing her psychotic self on an unsuspecting city. Well, she never quite makes it outside the asylum. After indulging in a minor massacre, interspersed with memories of Angelus killing her family and turning her, Dru is suddenly overcome with visions of LA's imminent trip to hell. For some reason she decides to start drawing everything she's seeing, which is strange as that's hardly Drusilla's M.O. I'm also not really enjoying it as a plot device, but I think that's just me more than anything. It's actually pretty brilliant in a comics context. In a Drusilla context, however, I don't think it works (part of her immense charm is her speech).

Anyway, she apparently missed a couple of the doctors on her killing spree and they suddenly show up and start psychoanalyzing her through her drawings. Never mind about restraining her or--better still--keeping their distance from the woman who just slaughtered an entire hospital full of people; no, no--let's stop and look at the pretty drawings instead. She does warn them to run and save themselves, but of course they think it's all part of her delusions. Somehow she then has time to create an elaborate, full-colour drawing of a group of people glaring out at her. I recognize a few people in the group: her chaos demon ex, a doctor she killed in the last issue, the Anointed One, and--although it's hard to tell for sure--the nerdy vampire minion Dalton whom she handed over to The Judge in the Buffy episode "Surprise." I guess these are all supposed to be people she's wronged. The next thing we know she's vamping out and the entire group from her drawing is in the room--which seems to have attained warehouse-like proportions--with her.

The end is left ambiguous. Is Drusilla in her own hell? Has she somehow made it to to a more pleasant afterlife? Is it all just part of her insanity? Will we see her again? If there are answers to these questions, we're not about to find out anytime soon. There's also a repeated focus on a jewelled pendant in the flashback scenes--will it end up being important in future issues? Maybe, maybe not--but it didn't seem to go anywhere in this issue.

The artwork is nice in issue #25, particularly Franco Urru's cover; I can't get over how perfectly he's captured the essence of Drusilla. Inside, colour is used to full advantage, using limited palettes for the present and past, almost lurid colour for Dru's drawings, and light-filled tones for the ambiguous ending. Very nice indeed. There's some interesting framing, as well--you won't get bored looking at this issue, that's for sure.

There's also a few bonus pages of Juliet Landau photos where she's trying on different characters (the female Tyler Durden ones are great, but the ones of her as a blonde make me want to break out the black hair dye on her behalf). There are a couple of bonus pages of artwork too.

I have to say, though, that I found this issue fairly unsatisfying overall. Although the focus was Drusilla, there didn't seem to be enough of her. It also didn't resolve anything (like how did she end up in an insane asylum in the first place?) There are a lot of advantages to storytelling in comic format--namely the ability to have anything happen--but there are disadvantages as well. In a universe as elaborate as the Buffyverse, all too often we seem to be left with gaps and loose ends. To think you can capture all the storytelling ability of an episode of Buffy or Angel in one or two issues of a comic is ludicrous. I'm really hoping we have fewer one-offs and asides and more issues to do with the overall story arc. It's tiring to always be left with unanswered questions.

Text Bite

Drusilla: I wonder how long this will last?

Angel Issue #25; art by Franco Urru. Written by Juliet Landau and Brian Lynch. From IDW Publishing.

04 January 2010

Vampire in a Box!

Who says vampires can't have a sense of humour? Obviously not Miriam Zellnik, who put together this nifty little kit. To help with your bloodsucking cred, it comes with:

Instant Blood Capsules: Haven't tried them out (nor will I), but they supposedly taste like raspberry (am I the only one a little disappointed?) Also, unlike the official photo above, I only got two capsules in my box.

Medallion: Tacky jewellery isn't just for Transylvanian Counts anymore! The environment weeps as somewhere a barrel of oil is sacrificed to make these things, but you can always use yours to dress up a Dracula costume next Halloween. Besides, true vampires care not for the natural world.

Fangs (upper and lower): Not exactly comfy to wear or remotely real looking, but a hell of a lot of fun if you're a goof. Luckily, I am.

Booklet "Vampire--Secrets of Immortality": Definitely the best part of the kit, it includes such gems as Secrets to Immortality (hint: keep up to date on pop culture); Fun Vampire Bites of Information (have you had your vampirism vaccine?); and Hey Baby, What's Your Vampire Name?

Text Bites

If Dracula can't see his reflection in a mirror, how come his hair is always so neatly combed? --Steven Wright.

Beauty tip: If your widow's peak is thinning, use jet black shoe polish to fill in bald spots.

Vampire in a Box by Miriam Zellnik. From Running Press.