Sunday’s Wisdom #362: Human Worth

“I was running from them, from any of them who might turn out to be a decent person, who might turn out to be just as special as the people I loved. Who might deserve to live just as much as they did.”
– Galadriel Higgins, The Last Graduate
The Scholomance Series, by Naomi Novik

In every person’s life, there come moments which challenge and change a person in their very core. For Galadriel Higgins, called El for short, that moment is when she realizes that she can no longer easily judge and dismiss people.

The exact context of this quote is long, convoluted, and full of spoilers. Suffice to say that El has grown up in a nightmarish dog-eat-dog world that encourages selfishness for the sake of survival. She has tried to remain apathetic, and it’s easier to not care about people when you can judge them. Thus, she has a particular high horse where from which she spits at the people who were born having more connections, more resources, and more support in the struggle to survive. This is partially because she never had those, and partially because most of them really, truly, genuinely are a bunch of stuck-up, entitled pricks.

But then one of those self-superior bags of hot air saves the life of someone she cares about, one of her very few friends. Despite having nothing to gain from it, the person with whom she does not get along steps up at a critical moment, risking his own life for someone else, one of her few loved ones, when El was unable to do anything herself. She almost had to watch her friend die, but someone she dismissed as selfish did the most selfless thing he could do.

It’s a shock to her, seeing how wrong she was, how there is more to this person than she ever guessed. It’s so jarring that she tries to run away from it, away from the truth that people are all just people, every one of them every bit as precious as anyone else.

There is no higher or lower, no greater or lesser worth, not in death, and not in life. We humans draw those lines ourselves, and they are absolute rubbish.

The person starving on the street and the person sleeping fat and comfortable in an ivory tower have exactly the same worth, in the end. Neither one simply “deserves” cruelty. Neither do they deserve kindness, though each should be given such in their time of need. They might be good people, or bad people, or some combination of the two, but there is no knowing such without knowing them. And even then, though they do not have the same privileges, they still deserve the same protection, and the same justice for those who harm them.

So it is with people of all walks, of every possible race, religions, political affiliation, and more, just as it is with social class.

We need to judge less and love more.

That does not mean we have to let anyone get away with anything bad, with hurting others.

But we need to love everyone, all of our fellows in humankind.

Because the stranger on the street, the entitled jerk in that limo, the teacher and lawyer and fast food worker, each of them is every bit as special and precious as our dearest loved ones.

It can be a hard lesson to learn, as it was for El, and even harder to apply.

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Tara Maclay: An Appreciation Post

I have known for some time that while I can still appreciate many of the same things which I enjoyed in my younger years, it is often in very different ways and for very different reasons. Like the Calvin and Hobbes comic: entertaining for the kids and for the parents at the same time, as each takes something very different from the same few pictures and words. Still, as much as my perspective has changed on why I enjoy something, exactly what I enjoy has, with a few exceptions, remained the same.

Thus, I was actually shocked when I realized that there was something in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of my most favorite and most re-watched series of my life, which I suddenly appreciated so much more than I ever had before.

I refer to the character of Tara Maclay.

Portrayed by Amber Benson for the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons of the show, Tara started off as a recurring guest star, then a major supporting character, and finally a central cast member. She was a witch of moderate power and skill, the girlfriend of fellow witch Willow Rosenberg, and a steadfast, beloved friend. She suffered her share of pain and then some but was easy to take for granted – especially when she was finally included in the opening credits – until her untimely demise at the murderous hands of Warren Mears, who accidentally shot her in the enraged frenzy during which he also shot and quite nearly murdered the lead character herself, Buffy Summers. The loss drove Willow so mad with her own grief that she dove headfirst into the darkest arts without ever intending to come back, just so she could end the cretins she held responsible for her beloved’s death. She wounded a god, committed gruesome murder, attacked her dearest friends, and nearly burnt the world to a crisp, all for a pain so overwhelming she actually tried not to feel it. For Tara.

I always thought I understood Willow’s grief and rage for the woman she loved, but, in complete honesty, I had never really understood what was so great about Tara herself. Not as a teenager, at least. When I first saw her on the show, she seemed like little more than an add-on to Willow. Heck, in the midst of such a loud, colorful cast, she even seemed dull and boring. She was a bit of the background that was brought out to stand just a little shy of front and center stage. That was not mended by the little distance that always seemed to be there, between her and the rest of the cast, like she was just close enough to be close but not as close as the rest of them. Thus, having dismissed her in my youth, it was easy to keep doing so even as I matured.

And then, at last, as I was watching some Buffy and Angel again, I finally noticed that, out of the entire cast, Tara is the one who I would say is the most well put together, the most mature, stable, and reasonable of them all. She never goes crazy, never goes evil, never drowns everyone in her drama, which I have come to value more and more as I have aged. She is, in her way, every bit as amazing as all the rest, and arguably even more so. She just isn’t particularly loud about it, is all, which made it easy for me to overlook at first.

To start with, Tara was told her entire life that the women in her family, most definitely including her, have a bit of demon within them. Her entire family has this whole schtick about it, and since demons as they understand them are inherently evil, that means the women need their men to control them, to take charge and run their lives and how dare any of them display something like independence. That was, in due time, revealed to not only be illogical and incomplete, but also an outright lie, a bit of spin turned into a family legend so the abusive, controlling menfolk could keep their women in line.

Small wonder Tara starts off seeming so awkward, unsure, and quiet! It’s amazing she ever got the nerve to speak and do anything at all, with all that weighing down on her for as long as she could remember.

Yet there was always a strength to her, a cleverness and courage that belied her timidity. She displayed that when she went off to college, leaving her home and kin behind. Her keen eye showed her that Willow was a real witch, and when things went wrong under mystical influence, she actively tried to help. When she and Willow were both in danger, she kept a relatively calm, level head – as much as one can when one is justifiably afraid – and she stepped up to join her power with Willow’s in a clinch moment.

Tara was also extremely selfless even from the start. People are in trouble? She wants to help. Her friends are investigating a murder scene, leaving Dawn out in the cold? She steps out to stay with her, watching over her and cheering her up at the same time. Willow’s old boyfriend comes back for her? She is automatically ready to stand aside, no matter her own heartbreak, so Willow can be happy.

There are exactly two times I can think of where Tara was more selfish, where she actually made a mistake. Both times are tied to what her old family put her through, telling her she was a demon all her life.

The first is when Willow needs her help trying to find some demons with a spell, and Tara, wanting to remain anonymous in her supposed demonhood, sabotages the spell, holding back her part of it. There were technically lives at stake, but only in the loosest sense. It wasn’t directly urgent, and Tara simply acted to try and protect herself from something she feared: losing her friends.

The second time, also, was when she tried to hide her supposed demonic nature by casting a spell to keep her friends from noticing it. That was particularly dangerous since, as the premise behind the spell was flawed, it didn’t hide anything about her at all, but it did hide every other demonic creature from them, which almost got them killed. However, it was still an honest mistake, made because those who should have protected her were her lifelong jailers instead. She rectified it immediately when she realized what she’d done. She made no excuses, told no lies, and was ready to face judgment and lose everything she truly held dear.

Two times. In three seasons. Not a one of the other lead characters can claim anything so saintly as that!

As the series progressed, Tara lost a great deal of that shy timidity which was the result of her family’s severe mistreatment. However, unlike Willow, who also was once shy, timid, and quiet, she retained her sense of caution and remained a voice of reason against Willow’s increasingly wild, selfish, and erratic shenanigans. And though she was gentle, she was never weak. Indeed, when Willow’s reliance on magic grew to addictive proportions, Tara’s will absolutely matched and even surpassed Willow’s. When Willow tried to take the easy way out of a fight, by erasing it from Tara’s memory, Tara had every possible moral high ground, but she never once pronounced judgment on Willow. She loved Willow enough to fight her, but she never put herself above Willow. That is an amazing balance to strike, especially given the personal, intimate nature of what Willow did to her.

Yet even when she and Willow were broken up, and she was at that much greater a distance from the gang in general, she was still there to support them all as best she could. She still saved their lives, watched over Dawn, and was Buffy’s only confidante and protector as the slayer was corrupted by her toxic relationship with Spike. On which note, she kept Buffy’s confidence, not gabbing about it to anyone. To top it all off, she was ready to forgive Willow as it became clear that the worst had passed and she was strong in her sobriety. By that time, she had long since shed the fears which had once controlled her, so she didn’t take Willow back out of some weakness or dependency. Tara took Willow back simply because it was the one thing they both wanted the most to be happy.

In summary: Tara was a constant support to those around her, never going crazy and never, at any point, being evil. She grew immensely to become a power in her own right, and never needed the spotlight for it. She was almost always right in her choices, and provided much-needed reason and restraint even as she faced danger of all sorts right alongside her friends. She was clever, brave, selfless, thoughtful, protective, and as unyielding as mountains. She was calm, not caught up in her own drama. She once wanted nothing more than to hide, but quickly became willing to stand even against the woman she loved for said woman’s sake. And she was quick, though not too quick, to forgive in a spirit of true love.

In short: Tara Maclay was a truly amazing woman and an amazing character, and I have a new appreciation for her both in her own right and in relation to the crazy crew which surrounded her.

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Not So Sweet on the Tea Witches

When I picked up Southern Magic, by Amy Boyles, and the nice protagonist’s life went down the crapper within the first chapter, I felt an immediate connection. Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that, being reminded of my best friend and the many ordeals he has endured, I reflexively felt a strong interest in how this character would turn things around. What cleverness and determination would they show? I wanted to know.

I was left sadly disappointed, and my interest waned more and more with nearly every turn of the page, to the point I was largely skimming the last few chapters.

Southern Magic, as the first installment in Boyles’ Sweet Tea Witches Mysteries series, follows 25-year-old Pepper Dunn as she is plucked from a life that is falling apart – courtesy of the lies and betrayals of those around her – and introduced to a world of magic. Turns out, her mother was a witch, she has several living, loving relatives, and she has inherited her uncle’s rare ability to converse with animals, as well as the pet shop with which she can pair animals with witches as their familiars. Oh, and she’s accused of murdering the old miser who wanted to buy the shop from her because she happened to be the one to stumble onto the scene.

I gather that the series is a number of murder mysteries, which, considering there are twenty such mysteries, would indicate that there are twenty murders, which, for such a small town and a community of witches, seems a little on the steep side. But that, really, is the least of my complaints.

Let’s start with how absolutely useless Pepper is.

After getting knocked down so hard in the first chapter, I was all set to watch her get back on her feet. Instead, everything is handed to her. Heck, it’s practically shoved onto her despite how she (for some reason?) tries to evade it. She loses her dead-end job because of a jealous, lying, spiteful coworker, and she gets handed an entire pet shop, a very important and successful one, to own and run. She loses her home and her belongings without warning, courtesy of a foolish, short-sighted landlady who is unquestionably breaking the law by barring her without warning, and she gets handed a new home alongside a family she never knew, not to mention suddenly holding a beloved place in the community because, being a nice person, people like her. Her boyfriend prioritizes fantasy football over her, no matter what, and is probably cheating on her, so here comes Mr. Sexy, the handsome, most-eligible-bachelor-in-town, powerful, protective, helpful, private eye, with whom there is a great deal of (quite-literally-unbelievable) chemistry. Any time she is endangered, she is saved. She solves nothing, she accomplishes nothing, she saves no one, she always gets her way no matter how stupid it is, and so on and so forth.

Sound a bit annoying as a lead character?

Hermione is unimpressed.

Oh, the author tries to make Pepper all sassy and independent and all that, but seriously? There are far too many details to go into, but suffice to say all credulity was strained far beyond the breaking point. My favorite example, however, for how useless both she and her sexy PI friend were was in a scene where they hear the footsteps of someone, perhaps the murderer, nearby, and so they dive under a desk to stay out of sight. But though they can hear the steps of this person clearly, this person can’t hear them as they are arguing back and forth, with a possible murderer within reach, for no better reason than to try and claim the last word. That was just vastly stupid. Topped off with how the one piece of critical evidence they have – aka, the one thing they need to actually keep safe – gets taken from them while they’re whisper-arguing their sexual tension to the point where they kiss. Good grief!

That pretty well summarizes the state of almost everything in this book. The characters just fill generic roles, the plot happens just because, there isn’t much in the way of themes to address, and everything about the town and the magic and such was just kind of… there. For some reason.

…and what was the whole thing with riding skillets instead of brooms?! What kind of nonsensical detail is that?

Oh, and a small, personal disappointment, because I am petty: the people who wronged Pepper at the start could have gotten a little due comeuppance, but they were practically forgotten by the end, despite how one of them cost Pepper her job and another still had all her belongings.

Obviously, I did not much enjoy this book. Which is a shame, considering how relatively clean it is, and everything else it could have been and done. We could have had an enchanting tale of love, family, and second chances. The murder mystery wouldn’t even be needed at that point, but if the characters had at least acted with a fair bit of intelligence, then it could have at least added some real flavor to the plot. Instead of inexplicably forcing her way onto the investigation (because she’s both a suspect and a pet shop owner), Pepper could simply have inadvertently gained some critical piece of evidence (that did not need to be deliberately withheld in some way) and been targeted for it, giving her a chance to overcome some physical danger herself instead of always needing to be saved just because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That would speak to her determination and the strength of her character as she took an unusual opportunity and actually made a new life for herself by her own will.

Alas, we just got some cheaply hacked and poorly executed splicing of crime dramas, sitcoms/romcoms, and Harry Potter. I can’t even say that this was a good kids’ book, it was so poorly written.

Rating: 3 stars out of 10.

Grade: F.

Aslan represents my feelings about this series rather well.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #361: Valuable Work

“Sailing a boat cannot be hard.”

“If it wasn’t hard, then why would sailors exist? Why would ships need crews?”

– Isaac & the Captain, Castlevania
Season 3, Episode 2, “The Reparation of My Heart”

The complete context of this snippet of conversation involves the very bored captain of a ship alleviating his boredom by persuading the young wizard, Isaac, to hire his ship for a journey instead of stealing same ship by killing the crew. It is well within Isaac’s power to simply take it, of course, as he is ruthless and commands a small army of deadly monsters. But, as the captain points out, if he did that, who would sail the ship? Isaac is confident he can figure out something which so many less-learned men can do. It can’t be hard. But the captain points out the above and, faced with this, Isaac concedes that he may have a point, which leads into the offering of coins, instead of threats, in exchange for the sailors’ skills.

Isaac has a great deal of knowledge, both scholarly and magical, which most people don’t even bother to think about. But the captain has knowledge of his own, more grounded in the practical realities of life instead of the more esoteric matters of magic. He knows his trade from experience, he knows the many nuanced, practical aspects of maintaining and using a ship, of governing his crew, of navigating the seas, and most of all, at the moment, he knows the value of what he knows.

Wise and formidable indeed is the person who know the value of what they can do.

It is not always an easy thing, to see the necessity or luxury that one fills with one’s role, one’s job, and one’s acquired skills. But every job we do exists for a reason. Understand that reason, understand one’s value, and one gains just a little bit of leverage in the great contest of society.

Many jobs, and the people who fill them, are looked down on by others. This is foolish, even stupid and short-sighted. It takes an especially unwise person to not value the contributions made by farmers, sailors, fishermen, janitors, sewage workers, construction workers, masons, miners, blacksmiths, electricians, and other workers which, really, sustain the life, comfort, cleanliness, and order of our world. Indeed, I have found that, the lower you go on the totem pole, the more useful the job really is. Even baggers at the market enhance the smooth, swift flow of customers through the lines, creating a better experience and a better work environment.

And every such job is difficult in its own way. It can technically be done by anyone, but it takes experience, intelligence, and effort to see it done well, as good as it can possibly be done, better than anyone who’s never done the job before can do it.

Now, of course not all jobs are equal. Some jobs involve endangering oneself, practically running through the jaws of death itself, and saving lives, plucking others from those same jaws. But the fact that a job, any job, exists in the first place means that there is a demand for it, some sort of need to be filled, and thus, it has value. As does the person who does the job.

It is a shame that so many people – both those who look down on others from so-called “higher” stations, as well as those who do these jobs and look down on themselves – do not realize that value.

I once commented on an equality found in death. But I think, individual circumstances notwithstanding, we need to remember the equality found in life, too. We all must eat, drink, and sleep to live, and think, and work, and play to live well, and serve with love to live happily. There is something necessary to each of us. When any of us suffer, so do we all. We suffer much when we forget to value ourselves and others, and forget the value of what we can do, of the roles we can fill.

I believe Shakespeare once put it, “Whate’er thou art, act well thy part.”

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The Ultimate Puppeteers: An Angel Fan Theory

I ask one question of myself, and I get all of this.

I was rewatching a bit of Angel, the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer created by Joss Whedon. In the first season’s finale, it refers to Darla, as they’re raising her from the dead, as “the beast,” and intimated that this event was pivotal to the eventual plans of Wolfram and Hart to corrupt Angel and bring him to the side of evil.

I asked myself how that happens. How is Darla “the beast?”

…aaaaaand down the rabbit hole I went!

Ending at a surprising revelation of who the ultimate puppeteers in Angel were.

In the Beginning…

To begin at the beginning, we begin with Joss Whedon and the influence he had on television in general. Before him, almost every serialized TV show was highly episodic. There would often be recurring elements and characters, most especially when finales came around, but it was largely unheard of to tell cohesive stories that spanned an entire season or more. Now it’s fairly standard fare, and a good deal of that can be credited to Whedon’s success.

That is one major way in which Whedon plowed new ground with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: each episode was a chapter in the larger story of the season surrounding it. He may not have been the very first one to use this approach, but it was still fairly revolutionary at the time, and he proved to be very good at it.

Whedon aimed even higher with Angel. In following Buffy’s vampire lover to Los Angeles, he didn’t simply weave each episode into a season-long narrative… he weaved each season into a series-long narrative! I cannot recall ever seeing that done before or since! Now that was ambitious!

It didn’t quite work out perfectly, as the never-to-be-sufficiently-damned network ended the show too soon. Angel needed at least one more season, and maybe longer, to really come to its true fruition, but Whedon and his crew are due some serious props for cobbling together the ending they made as well as the entire narrative preceding it.

What this means, of course, is that there is a great deal of accurate foreshadowing in the first season, especially its finale, and these shadows reach to the very end of the last season.

Much of that comes from the dialogue of Vocah, a powerful lower being, warrior of the underworld, bringer of calamity, etc. He appeared for only the one episode, but he both significantly altered and foretold the course of the plot for years to come. He was able to do this because he was, in essence, a manifestation of the forces at work in the background come forward to make things happen in accordance with their will.

Setting the Stage

After the first several times Angel collided with the nefarious law firm of Wolfram & Hart, things began to heat up when it turned out that powerful otherworldly forces already had their eyes on the vampire with a soul for a long time. He was only one of many pieces on the board, but one of crucial importance, and events long in the making were finally coming to a head. So they didn’t interfere too directly, but waited, biding their time, watching the threads of destiny unfold… with just a little bit of nudging, here and there.

On one side of Angel stand the Powers That Be. We don’t ever know much about them except that they are some sort of collection of higher beings of great power which watch over the world (and more) acting through their flesh-and-blood agents. Among these agents are Angel himself, who acts as their champion. He is assisted by people to whom the Powers grant visions, usually of the immediate future or the present. He also, initially, has a pair of holy oracles who can guide and assist him. This is topped off with a scroll filled with prophecies, many of which involve Angel directly, including how the vampire with a soul will play a crucial role in the apocalypse. Though that role is undefined and foretold to be unclear, the aftermath seems to include the restoration of his mortality, his humanity, so he can live in peace to the end of his days.

Opposing the Powers are the Senior Partners. These are cunning, powerful entities, chief of which are a trio known as the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. Not only are they the obvious founders and patrons of the law firm, Wolfram & Hart, but it is intimated that they were once fairly weak, “barely above the vampire,” and the fact that they grew so much stronger by the use of their wits is certainly disconcerting to think about. They clearly have their eyes on Angel too, and seek to turn prophecy to their advantage by corrupting him and gaining his service. It is not always clear what they think of their underlings’ many disputes with him, including numerous outright attempts to kill him, but, if nothing else, the ongoing conflict kept their power and influence foremost in Angel’s mind, which proved pivotal to their plans as well. That seems to have been their criteria for judging most everything their underlings did.

So, we have two sides of powerful entities, each largely allowing things to play out without direct interference, but nudging things. The Powers mostly used the vessel of their visions, but the Partners sometimes acted a little more directly. They didn’t just dictate or understand prophecy, they meddled in it.

Thus: Vocah, one of their foremost champions.

Vocah

Vocah is sent to LA by the Partners, greeted and his efforts facilitated by the lawyers at Wolfram & Hart, and he has a very specific purpose. That purpose was a little hampered by the fact that Angel had that scroll of prophecies, which, as it happens, he stole straight out of Wolfram & Hart’s own vault. Upon learning of the theft, Vocah’s ire grew greater only by learning that Angel was the one who stole it, and now has it in his possession. In his words:

“Angel. I am summoned for the Raising, the very thing that was to bring this creature down to us, tear him from the Powers That Be, and he has the scroll?”

He waxes a little further about how dire the situation is, as it favors the Powers instead of the Partners:

“He is in possession of the prophecies. His connection to the Powers That Be is complete.”

That connection, one can infer, includes his friend with the visions – Cordelia, at the time – the Oracles, and, finally, the scroll. Everything that the Powers have provided for him, Angel now has. But Vocah is undeterred:

“All avenues to the Powers shall be cut off from him and the scroll returned to us.”

That, at least according to one lawyer, wasn’t just Vocah spouting off his own will, but seems to have also been foretold somewhere. Vocah certainly seems to make good headway with it. He curses Cordelia to die slowly and in pain, murders the Oracles in their own temple, and simply steals the scroll back from Angel’s office, destroying it and nearly killing Angel’s comrade, the one man Angel can rely on to make sense of the scroll, in the process. However, by the end of the episode, Angel retrieves the scroll again and uses it to remove the curse off Cordelia, saving her life. So Vocah would seem to have failed at severing Angel’s connection with the Powers, which seems a bit odd, for something that is foretold to happen, no?

Ah, but that is only in the short term. Cosmic puppeteers are very good at playing the long game, and the longer the game they play, the more formidable they truly are.

The true crux of this first finale was the aforementioned “Raising.” The thing which is actually meant to tear Angel from the Powers and bring him to the Partners. Vocah may have tried earnestly on his own, and nearly succeeded, but it was the Raising which was destined to succeed, not Vocah. So Vocah failed at doing it himself, but he did ensure the success of the Raising, at the cost of his life.

The words of that ceremony, or at least the part which is prophetic, were also uttered by Vocah, before he had to stave off Angel’s vengeful attack.

“As it was written, they shall prepare the way and the very gates of Hell shall open. That which is above shall tremble, for that which is below shall arise. And the world shall know the beast, and the beast will know the world.”

The “they” in question refers to five vampires, the living dead who are sacrificed in this ceremony, to bring something from Hell into the world. It turns out to be Darla, Angel’s vampire lover, the one who turned him in the first place.

And now we arrive back at the beginning, where I asked, “How is Darla the beast?” Which kicked off all of this.

With Vocah’s prophecies, and the foreshadowing they entail, in mind, let’s skip ahead. The point of bringing Darla back, after all, was to bring Angel to the side of Wolfram & Hart. And, as it happens, that is precisely what they got. It didn’t happen all at once, but it did happen, and there is a straight line between Darla’s resurrection and Angel’s fall.

Connor

Angel joins Wolfram & Hart.

Why? Because they had what he needed: a way to save his son, Connor.

The son he had with Darla.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course. Whedon had three years to take Angel down the road to joining an evil law firm, and he made every second count.

There’s going to a bit of bouncing around the timeline here, fair warning.

Starting at the fourth season finale and working our back towards Darla’s return to the mortal world, we have Connor going absolutely stark, raving crazy. He went so off the rails that he took over a store and strapped bombs to innocent people. He strapped a bomb to himself, too, apparently so far gone that all he could really want was destruction, including his own. Angel had to take him down, to save him and the civilians both, but saving Connor’s life wasn’t enough. He had to save Connor’s very soul.

Connor was broken and unstable, so Angel did what he had to do in order to make him whole and stable. With the resources of Wolfram & Hart, he was able to commission a network of wizards and witches to rewrite Connor’s memory, and the memories of a good family, even an entire community, it would seem, so he remembered a happier, more stable upbringing. Overwriting Connor’s own tragic past, giving him a loving, and living, mother, father, and sisters, as well as a hopeful future, Angel saved his son, and sold himself to the Partners for it.

But Connor only became so lethally volatile as a result of the life he had known before.

Jasmine

His birth was apparently included in another set of prophecies, foretelling a confluence of tumultuous events called the Tro-Clon which would bring about either the ruination or purification of humankind. Or, perhaps, both. They did culminate with the advent of a being on Earth whose influence could bespell the entire human race, ending all human conflict of every variety. But then its influence was broken, and humanity resumed its ruinous ways instantaneously. So, humankind was purified and ruined in quick succession.

This entity, however, orchestrated its arrival on Earth with a great deal of skill. It was a cosmic puppeteer on the same level as the Powers That Be. Indeed, it was a rogue Power, a Power That Was, before it broke ranks and began manipulating events to suit its own ends. That was what everything within the Tro-Clon was all about: a multitude of events, large and small, so it could gain a physical body on Earth and enslave the whole of humanity, mind, body, and soul alike.

It’s name was Jasmine, and like the other Powers, she, too, had servants. Indeed, some were corrupted servants of the Powers, including the demon Skip, who served as a prison guard and as a guide to help Cordelia “ascend” to a higher plane, from which she later descended, with Jasmine hiding within her very mind. To have its own body, however, it needed to fashion one, and it needed Connor to act both as its champion and protector until it could be born… and also as the… ah… male figure involved in breeding its true body within Cordelia’s womb, we shall say.

Another of Jasmine’s servants, before it was born, was the Beast.

Yes, the Beast.

“The world shall know the Beast and the Beast shall know the world.”

The words of the Raising never actually specified that Darla was the Beast, but there remains a clear connection between her and it.

The Beast in question literally rose up from below and made everything above it tremble. It rose to do Jasmine’s will, bringing catastrophe and darkening the sun, for instance. It also slaughtered everyone at Wolfram & Hart, helped to arrange the return of Angelus – intended to be a fellow servant of Jasmine – and kept things so hectic that the team never had a moment to notice Jasmine working among them from within Cordelia. All this, it did at her direction, responding to Jasmine’s summons the moment she was able to call out to it, which she did the moment she was properly positioned for it to act and further her agenda. In short, the Beast was Jasmine’s minion, rising at her call at the exact time she needed it, which involved having Connor nearby, which in turn involved Darla’s resurrection.

Oh, yes, the world knew the Beast very well, and it was not Darla, yet Darla was intrinsic to plans of the Beast’s master.

Remember that, I’ll come back to it in a moment.

Holtz

For Connor, all of this convoluted deception and manipulation by Jasmine, by “Cordelia,” and by the Beast was just the latest in a long line of such. It was almost all he ever knew. The goddess he served was a lie, the woman he loved was a lie told by that same goddess, and his father was a lie.

I refer in that last to his adopted father, or, rather, the man who stole him from Angel: Daniel Holtz.

Holtz was a vampire hunter of particular skill and accomplishment. He hunted Angelus and Darla, especially, after the two of them murdered his family. And not just murder. They turned his daughter, his little girl, and left it to Holtz to finish her himself, throwing her screaming body into the sun to became ash and dust, not even a corpse left behind to bury.

They took his family and set him to kill what was left of his own child.

Holtz returned the favor in kind when he stole Connor from Angel, raised him, and manipulated Connor so he became Angel’s enemy. That last involved his own death, supposedly at vampire hands, specifically Angel’s hands. Holtz’s revenge fell short only because Connor didn’t actually try to kill Angel, just sent him to the bottom of the ocean, from which he was eventually rescued.

Now, take all of that… all the lies and manipulation which rendered Connor’s life as anyone’s but his own… and cap it off with the choice to kill Jasmine. The latest and most powerful figure of his life, the worst, biggest, and most monstrous liar of them all, and he kills her. And that’s it. He has nothing. He is lost, broken, and alone.

Thus, his madness, which required rewriting his past to heal.

Which required Angel signing on with Wolfram & Hart.

And it wasn’t even that much of a stretch, really.

Angel

When it comes to those closest to him, Angel displayed a consistent willingness to sacrifice anything of himself to save them.

When Angel experienced one day as a human and was able to be with his true love, Buffy, he gave back all that happiness so the Oracles would undo the day, all so Buffy would live longer.

When Cordelia was being psychically tortured, he went into Hell to drag a prisoner out as ransom for her life (another manipulation by Jasmine and Skip), followed immediately by murdering the psychic who tormented her, not to mention the time when he killed Vocah and cut off a man’s hand to get back the scroll and cure her curse.

When Darla came back in a dying body, he submitted to three terrible trials so that some higher power would save her. That turned out to be a bum lead, as Darla had already been brought back. And yet, a new life was promised, and so a new life was given: the next time they had sex, they were both undead vampires, and yet they still produced a living child in the form of Connor.

When Connor was first kidnapped, he did not hesitate to kidnap a higher up at Wolfram & Hart and was fully prepared to torture him until he got whatever he wanted: help to find and save his son. And this was after Angel had previously visited the same man, hurting and threatening the man in order to get the various supernatural groups with an interest in the son born of two vampires to back off.

So, after the catastrophic events of the entire Tro-Clon, and finally Jasmine’s death at Connor’s hand, followed immediately by Connor running away, when Wolfram & Hart offered them the keys to the kingdom, with offices rebuilt and newly staffed after the Beast previously destroyed it, it wasn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility for Angel and company to take it. And that was before Angel knew what Connor was up to with the bombs-strapped-to-people and such. Once the fate of his son was at stake, it was game over.

The Partners

The Senior Partners won.

They took losses, but those losses hardly mattered to them. Champions and minions and office workers alike were all slaughtered, but it didn’t even slow them down. They, themselves, brought Darla back from the dead, furthering Jasmine’s plan, including the complete destruction of their LA office, but that was one office in an enterprise that spanned the globe and even reached between dimensions. It wasn’t even a pinprick, really. Meanwhile, all of Jasmine’s servants were annihilated, as was the fallen goddess herself.

They out-schemed a professional cosmic schemer. They used and even furthered their enemy’s plans and turned them to their own end, destroying them and seizing the advantage.

And they even bagged Angel for their troubles.

Heck, it was even their own influence which nudged Angel into that moment wherein Connor was conceived. He had isolated himself – always a mistake – thinking he had to embrace the darkness in order to destroy them, and wanted to keep his friends away from that. But one little bit of gloating by one of their servants, a man whom Angel himself had allowed Darla to murder, and Angel’s will was utterly broken. In complete despair, yearning to feel something other than the cold of his darkness, he took Darla forcibly – in fairness, she did not mind – and had his way with her. It perversely took him back towards the light for a time, after he regained his senses, but there it is: the stamp of Wolf, Ram, and Hart on Connor’s very existence, as well as that of his mother.

They got what they wanted: Angel on their team. The pivotal figure of the end of the world brought to their side at last.

And severed entirely from the Powers That Be.

The Oracles: killed by Vocah.

The scroll: reclaimed in due time.

The one who had visions, tricked and taken by Jasmine until she was done with that body, and left to rot in a coma before her eventual death.

All avenues to the Powers were indeed cut off, in accordance with Vocah’s words. Angel was indeed torn from them by the Raising of Darla from Hell and the grave, and brought down to them, piece by piece and step by step.

The Senior Partners won.

…or did they?

The Chess Analogy

To bring a family anecdote into this, my nephew and I used to play chess every night. It wasn’t a very fun experience for me, as I so outclassed him that there was no challenge, and his incessant yammering about how skilled he supposedly was, and how he now knew how to beat me… next time… yeah, it wasn’t fun. I grew bored and inattentive, didn’t even think about what I was doing, and I was still winning time and time again. But then there was a moment… a single moment where my carelessness was so profound that it could have allowed even him a real chance at victory. I noticed my mistake the instant after I made it, and I had only a second or two to try and mitigate the damage. If my nephew made one, specific move, he would have me all but dead to rights, and, as it happened, he saw that move and was making it.

So I seized on the best idea that came to mind: I smiled.

I smiled in such a way that he, much more keen than he thinks I ever noticed, immediately saw that I seemed pleased with what he was about to do. In reality, in my own mind, I was in a panic over it, but he didn’t know that. He just saw me smile. He questioned it, aloud, but I said nothing about it. I just maintained my facade.

He lost his nerve and withdrew the piece he had been about to set in the best place he could have set it. He made a different move. I won. And I was even able to feel slightly proud of myself for tricking him so perfectly.

Remember: in any game, you aren’t just playing the game, you are playing your opponent.

That is what the Powers That Be really did.

So, yeah, the Partners played a long game, and it looked like they won, just like it looked like Angel and company won in the first season finale.

But the Powers played a slightly longer game.

The Powers

Remember: the Powers That Be are also cosmic puppeteers.

Jasmine was one of them, after all, before she turned to her own agenda, and she was dang good at what she did. She crafted so many events, nudged so many lines, just perfectly that everything went exactly as she wanted it to, at least up until her true birth on Earth. After that, there was exactly one thing which went wrong, and it cascaded into her downfall and her death.

The Senior Partners were heavily involved in many of the events that Jasmine wanted to happen. When it was over and she was dead, they were still standing high and powerful, with the addition of Angel and his team into their ranks. Heck, the fourth season ended with them sending Angel with a pendant to Sunnydale to help Buffy fight back another force of mythical proportions, even the First Evil itself. Though that one was impossible to destroy – it never even got that physical body with which it wanted to murder mortals for pleasure – it was soundly defeated and its most terrifying army was routed, if not outright annihilated, at relatively little cost. Those who paid the price were humanity’s defenders, not the Partners themselves.

That’s two cosmic evils removed entirely from the board along with all of their minions. This may have resulted in the creation of an army of slayers, but these didn’t even have the Watchers’ Council to look out for them anymore. It would be some time before they really posed any significant threat, and with Angel on board, the Partners could advance their true apocalypse all the more.

Said apocalypse, as disclosed by Angel’s frenemy, Lindsey, and by their chiefest servants themselves, was the advance of man’s inhumanity to man. That was the ultimate agenda of the Partners and their servants, the Circle of the Black Thorn. Thus their interest in Angel, whom they corrupted bit by bit by allowing and enabling Jasmine’s agenda. And day by day by day, the power and work of Wolfram & Hart would wear down the humanity of Angel, his team, and humanity itself, bringing about the true ending of the world, the one which no slayer or even an army of slayers could hope to stop: corruption, self-destruction, the lack of love which turns humans into creatures no better than demons.

But whatever the Partners accomplished against Jasmine, the First Evil, and others, they still weren’t quite the only player left on the board. Not just yet, at least. And they clearly weren’t the best.

Everything between the Partners and Jasmine all happened while the Powers simply watched. They let it happen, and waited to make their move.

Just one real move.

And checkmate.

The End

The Powers watched this vampire for years, and gave a little guidance here and there in the form of visions. Those visions, at least on Angel, were first given to a half-demon named Doyle. But when Doyle was about to lay down his life for Angel, he kissed Cordelia and the visions passed to her. Then she evolved and ascended and came back and was possessed and left in a coma. But before she finally died, the Powers sent her back to Angel as an astral projection. Her spirit, her soul came back to him one last time.

Her purpose: to get Angel “back on track.”

And so she did.

Cordelia reminded him of his goodness, that he was a champion of the helpless, not of the powerful Partners. And she kissed him, in the which the visions passed from her to him. It was only a one-shot deal, mind you, but it was enough for Angel to see what he was meant to do. What he was sent to do: to find and eliminate the Circle of the Black Thorn.

And so he did.

For the love of his son, he fell into the ranks of Wolfram & Hart. He was enfolded within them, corrupted by them, and came to start doing things their way. He was raised up among them, even to their highest levels, inducted into the Circle itself, who never suspected that they were revealing themselves to a well-placed enemy that they had greedily brought into their highest ranks.

And he led his people in killing every last one of them.

It sparked a war, a true, open war, with the enraged Partners, but it was too late. Angel and his men knew that it might amount to nothing, in the end, as did even the many machinations of Jasmine. They knew they wouldn’t be allowed to survive. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to show the evil, otherworldly rulers of the world that they did not own them. Earth was not theirs and humanity was not theirs. Not just yet. This, they did, inflicting a blow far more terrible than Jasmine and her Beast ever managed. They actually set the Partners back a bit, truly hurting their efforts, at least for a time.

All this because the Powers made one move.

They allowed the Partners and Jasmine to do whatever they would with Darla, Holtz, Connor, and the rest, uncontested. In the end, their rogue former-member was destroyed and their enemies’ real efforts were truly hampered. All because they allowed both parties to fight over Angel and the world, to each corrupt their champion in turn… and then, in one move, they turned him back around the right way, exactly when he was perfectly placed to do what was needed and get the job done.

And that’s The End.

The Powers That Be are the true and ultimate puppeteers of Angel.

Well done, Joss Whedon!

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The Memory Thief

I remember the children’s books I read as a kid. Matilda. James and the Giant Peach. Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Dr. Dolittle. The Hobbit. They were all good, fun, wholesome stories. They had scary moments and scary monsters, but they were never too terrifying. They dealt with serious subjects, but never took themselves too seriously. They had laughter, but not stupid humor. They were crafted and told with an eye towards creating something pure and true, something magical. I have wondered very much if the world would ever truly produce such magic again for the next generation.

After reading The Memory Thief, I am happy to report that the answer is, “yes.”

This enchanting children’s book, written by Jodi Lynn Anderson, is the first installment in the Thirteen Witches series. To use the book’s own description off Amazon:

Twelve-year-old Rosie Oaks’s mom is missing whatever it is that makes mothers love their daughters. All her life, Rosie has known this…and turned to stories for comfort. Then, on the night Rosie decides to throw her stories away forever, an invisible ally helps her discover the Witch Hunter’s Guide to the Universe, a book that claims that all of the evil in the world stems from thirteen witches who are unseen…but also unstoppable. One of these witches—the Memory Thief—holds an insidious power to steal our most precious treasures: our memories. And it is this witch who has cursed Rosie’s mother.

In her quest to save her mom—and with her wild, loyal friend “Germ” by her side—Rosie will find the layers hidden under the reality she only thought she knew: where ghosts linger as shades of the past, where clouds witness the world, and a ladder dangles from the moon leading to something bigger and more. Here, words are weapons against the darkness, and witch hunters are those brave enough to wield their imaginations in the face of the unthinkable.

At the core of this stunning novel—the first of the Thirteen Witches trilogy from critically acclaimed author Jodi Lynn Anderson—is a passionate argument that stories have the power to create meaningful change…and a reason to hope even when the world feels crushing.

Me: “interesssting!”

That is, all in all, a pretty fair summary of the book. It glosses over almost all of the details, but it still retains the heart of the story itself. And said story, despite being quite clearly written for a much younger audience with a noticeably lower reading level than my own, was one I could very much appreciate and love even as an adult.

Not to say it couldn’t be improved in certain aspects, of course. I personally hated the first-person point of view, for instance, and felt the narrative would have flowed better with a third-person view of Rosie and her friends. There are some questions asked that are never answered, like why certain entities who never interfere decided to interfere this time, albeit only a little bit. And the triumph at the climax is… skating around spoilers, there were elements which made little sense to me, even accounting for childlike wonder and magic, which made it feel a little deus ex machina.

However, “perfection,” especially my own, arbitrary definition of it, would be quite a lot to ask of any story. I still very much enjoyed it, even loved it.

I could feel for Rosie in the various ordeals of her life. There was how she, a kid, had to be a capable adult with a mother who wasn’t simply missing “what makes mothers love their daughters.” She was missing the very knowledge, the memory, that her daughter even existed. (one mustn’t think too hard about how she survived her infancy, let alone as a toddler) There was how Rosie turned to stories, told by others and made up by herself, to draw strength from, to still be a kid, with a child’s optimistic outlook. There was how Rosie had to deal with the truth that she was growing up, and couldn’t push the pause button to keep things the way they were long enough for them to magically get better. And there was Rosie’s friendship with Germ, how they were changing, as was the dynamic between them, though Rosie wanted fiercely to just keep that one good thing in her life from becoming something else, something that could end.

On top of all that, suddenly seeing the magical world that lies just out of sight for most people is practically nothing. Even when the eye of the witch known as the Memory Thief fell on her, with vile, murderous intent, even that was sometimes overshadowed by the simple pressures of Rosie’s everyday life.

Rosie: “I think the dead guy’s day might be going better than mine!”

Interesting how dealing with all of the darkness of her life, and of the world, had the same answer: create. Add something worthwhile to the world. Shine a new light into the darkness and stand against it, though high may be the cost.

Speaking of the witches, I liked the supernatural elements of the world. There’s the Moon Goddess, source of light in the dark, who shines with hope. There are the ghosts, who are the spirits of the dead, locked out of whatever comes after due to some sort of regret that needs addressing. There are the cloud shepherds, who quietly watch over the whole of the world, observing and remembering. And then there are the witches: thirteen vile spirits of darkness, not quite physical, souls of greed and spite who take and take and take all the hopes and dreams and goodness from the world, so they can have all the shiny, precious things, and no one else. These are responsible for a great amount of the world’s darkness and evil.

Oh, and there’s the witch hunters. That handful of human bloodlines who can see the world as it truly is, and fight back against the witches. Unfortunately, that seems to be a losing war – or, rather, a lost war – as Rosie is apparently the very last witch hunter of them all, and, in the entire history of the world, only one witch has ever been killed. And they don’t even know how it was done.

Witches: “We have to keep this secret. Tell NO ONE.”

So the witches have lost only one and the witch hunters are down to only one, a young girl, not even a teen, who knows nothing and has no idea what to do.

I am hard-pressed to think of any other story I’ve encountered which has had the hero face odds quite that bad!

And yet, Rosie perseveres. She has a lot of help, most especially in the form of guidance, but, ultimately, she is the one who has to choose to fight. And even if she wins this time, by surviving, and striking down a witch, she will still have to choose, in due time, whether she will keep fighting against all the odds, or try to live normally, doing nothing more.

That all sounds fairly heavy for a children’s story, eh? And had this been handled just a little differently, it could be anything but. And yet, the wonder of the world, the nature of the enemy, the questions of love and life and change, the universal quest to find one’s own light and purpose, not to mention the skill with which the story is woven, it all comes out as… well, as a magical tale which can entertain and enlighten kids for quite some time to come.

That is no small thing in today’s world.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #360: Cruelty and Kindness

“The human race is poisonous and corrupt and should be wiped off the world.”

“And yet yesterday, a man gave you a gift and made a joke. But all you really remember is the port authority trying to run you and your beasties out of town.”

“Do you deny our species is cruel, Captain?”

“No. I’ve been cruel. It’s a cruel world. Maybe we do all deserve to die. But maybe we could be better, too. If you kill us all, you end human cruelty, yes. But you end human kindness, too. No more jokes. No more gifts. No more surprises. Why would a man with all your fantastic knowledge not use it to teach people how to be kind?”

– Isaac & The Captain, Castlevania
Season 3, Episode 3, “Investigators”

This snippet of conversation may be one of my most favorite snippets of dialogue ever.

Isaac is a wizard of skill, knowledge, and terrible drive. Meanwhile, the Captain is a sea-faring wanderer of particular wit who took on his terrifying passengers mostly out of boredom. Yet the latter is now schooling the former about humanity’s merits.

Like most people, Isaac sees the world, and the people in it, with a very narrow, one-sided view. He has seen cruelty so much that it has become all he ever sees. The Captain has a wider view and uses Isaac’s own most recent experiences to make his argument. He does not deny what is wrong with humanity, as he is no naive idealist, but humans have their good points, too. And those good and bad points exist side by side within the same cities, the same families, often within the same individuals.

You cannot simply destroy what is bad about humanity without also destroying what is good. Indeed, the very act of trying to forcefully remove the bad from the world will probably just sow more evil than good.

It occurs to me how significant this is today, in at least two ways.

There are people who truly believe only the worst about all of humanity, as Isaac does. They believe the world would be better off without us. And they believe this goal is worth pursuing at any cost. I believe they are wrong. And that’s all I really have to say about that.

But the second way I see this is in the addition of nuance. Rather than the nothing that all humans need to go, they believe only that other humans need to be wiped out.

The “other” has always been a dangerous idea, a distinction between “us” and “them” that has led to great suffering time and time again. The line between the two sides has always been subjective, based on class, creed, religion, race, nationality, and more. Any difference that can be found is used, because somehow everything would always just be better if not for those other people, so low that they don’t even qualify as people, mucking things up!

It’s for the greater good.

Are there any words more terrifying?

Whether it be the world conquest sought by various groups through the total genocide of other groups, or the political strife which currently ravages my homeland, or any of the many persecutions which have raged throughout history, or even things as small and petty as personal grudges and feuds, the outcome is always the same: death, slaughter, and the end of every kind thing someone might do, and any funny thing they might say.

I have often felt the yearning for enough power with which to smack down all the great evils and tyrants of the world. I am glad that I do not have any such power, as I am clearly not ready to use it wisely and well. I, too, have a cruelty in my heart that wants to break free by way of my self-righteous pride. Perhaps it would be harder to restrain if I were powerful, or maybe it is harder now, while I can imagine its release without every running the hazard of it.

Either way, my choice, in my humble sphere, is to subscribe to something better, wiser, and kinder.

The Captain asks Isaac why one so great, with such advantages of knowledge, would not try to teach people to be kind, rather than cruel.

The greatest one ever to set foot on this Earth did precisely that.

Imagine if every one of us chose to do that, to be kind. To look after the impoverished, the outcast, the elderly, the widowed, the orphaned, the infirm, the abandoned, and all others who are in pain. To work hard and share freely even when we have very little. To help the downtrodden stand up, to shelter victims, to protect each other, to build each other up instead of tear each other down. To offer shelter, kind words, and quiet conversation to those who have nowhere else to go. To give our word and always keep it, to never lie, never betray. To offer respect and dignity instead of offense.

Would the world not be a better place? Would humanity not be better, if we just learned to be kind?

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Castlevania Redux: The Entire Series

It was over four years ago when I reviewed the first “season” of Netflix’s Castlevania. I’d not had any good expectations for it, so I was pleased with how it hooked my interest. Over the course of the next three seasons, it became so many different things: an epic of vampires and humans, a tale of competing intrigues, morality tales of madness, betrayal, and revenge, etc. All the while, it stepped ever further into darker, more hellish corners of humanity, the supernatural, and of existence itself, before the several protagonists succeeded at last in emerging into the light of happily ever after.

Mind you, that wasn’t simply my first experience with watching this show. To refresh myself and get my thoughts into coherent order for this review, I had to go back and watch the whole show again, without losing months of random thoughts between the seasons. It was rather illuminating, actually.

The story begins with Dracula and his wife. We see their first meeting, and we see her murder at the hands of Catholic inquisitors. Enraged to the point of insanity, Dracula vows bloody vengeance which soon engulfs the innocent along with the guilty. Humankind has a few unlikely protectors in the form of Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, and Adrian Tepes, aka Alucard, Dracula’s own son. Together they move to stop the onslaught of Dracula’s wrath, but that is only the beginning. They find themselves fighting monsters and madmen of ever greater power and nefarious skill, until, at last, they find themselves facing their ultimate enemy: death itself.

The story has a significant tangent as it delves into the villains’ side of things. It particularly follows two human wizards, Hector and Isaac. Each has a grudge against humanity which predisposes them towards serving Dracula, but things do not go as simply as either of them want. One falls into the company of a quartet of vampire women – Lenore is absolutely my favorite – who are skilled at manipulation and destruction, while the other undertakes a great journey which brings about great changes to his character and his goals.

Along all of the plotlines, however, there are strong themes which are shown, rather than told. I recall once hearing that a demon was a creature consumed entirely by its appetites and emotions, with no restraining intellect to hold itself in check. That bears out here as every villain in the story, even those who seem to be quite rational and learned, are subject to their wants, their cravings, their most base, selfish desires. The heroes, by comparison, do feel their emotions, but they are not ruled by them. They think, and pursue knowledge, and they build things, make things, improve the world around them. These are inherently part of living, and without them, one is just eating and hiding, like a vampire feeding on life without adding to it and shunning the sun in desperation to keep existing.

There is a great deal of attention given to detail throughout Castlevania. It’s not perfect by any means, and sometimes they conjure up what people need practically out of thin air, but there is much to be said for it. The fights are all the more thrilling for it, especially when melee conflicts are overlapping, but it goes so much further. The epic feel of the story, the conflict, feels that much more significant when we can clearly see factions from around the world, or even beyond it, represented side by side in the halls of power and on the field of battle. The way people talk, presenting their perspectives, is nuanced and personal. The symbols, rituals, and spells are largely consistent. Even the ways in which characters influence each other can be seen in what they do.

Example: flavoring water with lime juice. Seems like an inconsequential detail, no? Yet the first time we see it, a captain is conversing with Isaac, adding new thoughts, a new perspective, to the wizard’s narrow view, widening it a little. The second time we see it, Isaac is displaying how he has internalized this and other views within his own, having changed, evolved from the person he once was. He once drank pure water, and had simplistic views. Now he drinks flavored water, and has expanded his views. He and his water both have more substance, texture, and flavor in them than they did before.

Now, the flip side to this attention to detail is a certain unspoken expectation of relevance, consistency, and realism.

Of course, one can ask for only so much “realism” in a show with vampires and magic and whatnot. But, for instance, while I absolutely love the fight scenes, I did get a little tired of Trevor’s morning star whip being able to apparently extend indefinitely and form all sorts of geometric shapes in the air. And the scene where Belmont rallies a group of townspeople to fight, and they suddenly have everything they need to do so and just enough time for Trevor to instruct them in how to use it? Yeah, I roll my eyes.

Oh, and how is it that the climactic final fight is set up with Sypha and Alucard cut off from helping Trevor when a portion of a castle collapses into thin air… when these are the two characters who can fly?! They ought to have been all over that! That would be an example of an inconsistency, a plot hole.

Another example is… well, again, I enjoy the fights, but it’s a little ridiculous how some enemies are destroyed quickly and efficiently, while others, generally less powerful, take forever to be pounded into defeat. I mean, what’s the real danger of the vampires to humans if humans are so difficult to kill while red-shirt level vampires are slaughtered wholesale?

My biggest complaint against the show is how irrelevant so much of it feels to itself.

There are dozens of vampires who clearly hail from all around the world, or at least Europe and Asia, and yet we barely touch on any of their stories. Heck, most of them are just as much background red shirts as the actual red shirts who don’t even have faces within their shadowed hoods.

Hector and Isaac’s threads are consistently riveting, but they barely influence things for Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard, and vice versa. Even when they come into close proximity, they don’t actually touch. Heck, everything that happens with Alucard in the third season feels shoehorned in like some desperate bid to keep him in the show and find a way to make him more dark and brooding by the start of the fourth season.

Perhaps this may be a stranger critique, but the Castlevania games were about making one’s way through Dracula’s castle, bit by bit. They designed a truly huge castle for the show, but almost none of it actually came into play. It was… well, irrelevant. Which was a bit disappointing.

Oh, and if the spirit of death wants to become the most powerful creature in the world, then what, exactly, is even more powerful?

So, I thoroughly enjoyed the themes, the fights, the characters, the intrigues – Lenore proves in the third season that diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to Hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip… before she became almost entirely irrelevant in the fourth season – and the many, many details that were so lovingly crafted throughout this show.

On the other hand, it could have been improved in some ways, especially regarding the relevance of certain plot lines and characters to each other and to the show itself, as well as some details of consistency and realism.

And then there’s the explicit nature of what was shown and animated.

Now, I do not balk at the horror, bloodshed, and other darker materials which the series delved into. But, even so, the violence did seem a bit overwhelming, and needless in its graphic depiction of, for instance, monsters eating people’s faces while they were still alive and screaming. Or showing them tearing apart babies and dogs and such.

I also do not get squeamish about scenes of passion, be it loving, romantic intimacy or darker lusts, more seductive, possessive, even toxic and traitorous. Still, we did not need to see it depicted so vividly as to see the nipples. Heck, we saw and heard pretty much everything short of the penis and vagina themselves, and we simply did not need to see that much. Not for the point to get across, at least. It just felt gratuitous.

Now, that will not affect everyone in exactly the same way, but it made me feel uncomfortable and tired of it all.

So, with a complete series now to review – and rumor I have not yet confirmed of further additions to the franchise which will follow the descendants of this show’s characters – how does the whole of Castlevania, as done by Netflix, sit with me?

I have some qualms and critiques, but I think I can still be generous for what it does well.

Rating: 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #359: Opposing Evil

“For evil bastards to win power, all ordinary people have to do is stand aside and keep quiet. There’s always a choice.”
– Trevor Belmont, Castlevania
Season 1, Episode 2, “Necropolis”

A much wiser and more refined person put it this way: All the triumph of Evil needs is for good men to do nothing. However, Trevor’s words are something of a more demonstrable example.

Trevor’s family, the Belmonts, had a long, rich history of hunting vampires and demons and the like. They were the protectors and avengers of humanity, champions of the light. Then evil, corrupt officials within the church wiped out the entire family for daring to not submit to them. Same church also persecuted an ethnic sect of healers and history keepers, and also burned innocent people at the stake as witches. So, Trevor has seen his family murdered, seen wise men beaten in the street, and worse. He has understandably grown more than a little bitter over the whole thing.

Most pointedly, though, he has some difficulty empathizing with the common, everyday folk who saw all of this happen and did nothing about it. His family protected common people, but those people didn’t even try to save his family. A particular healer was taken from her village and burned, and none of the people she healed tried to help her. At the exact moment in the show where Trevor says these words, the local church leaders are about to lead a mob, made of commoners, to murder the wise men who came to give aid to those same commoners.

Trevor basically hates that people can stand back and let evil men hurt those who have helped them. And he does realize that some choices come down to either dying, which most people will choose to avoid for as long as possible, or letting bad things happen. But he’s right: it is still a choice. And when the common people let evil, power-hungry men destroy their defenders, and did nothing at all about it, just stood aside and kept quiet… well, then they allowed a terrible situation to take shape, where they are now preyed upon by bloodthirsty monsters, and there is no one left to save them.

So, Trevor is right… but I think there is still something that he is missing, at least for the moment.

People let bad things happen, they let evil people hurt good people, because they think there is nothing they can do about it. They think they are powerless. They think it is the least evil option available. They think that they would prefer spending their lives if they had some hope of success, rather than just throwing their lives into the void for nothing.

To stand up, be loud, confront evil, and die for a cause is noble.

To stand up, be loud, confront evil, and die for nothing is stupid. It is stupid, stubborn, short-sighted, and every bit as self-righteous as anything else one might name.

It can even become wrong, because too much zealotry in standing against evil can easily turn one into another all-consuming evil. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes.

I have been wrestling with that myself lately. I’ve been trying to find some sort of balance between my desire to not stand aside, to not let evil happen, and my fears of becoming the very sort of tyrant I despise within my small sphere of influence. So what do I do? How do I oppose evil without losing myself to it? How do I stand firm without becoming just another aggressor, consumed by contention?

It can seem all but impossible at times.

So, yes, ordinary people let bad things happen all the time. These bad things range from things as small as abuse and neglect within a single family to as horrifically huge as genocide. Ordinary people allow it to happen without fighting back because they’re afraid, helpless, leaderless, without direction, and in despair. They just don’t know what they can do about it.

Once Trevor – who is not so far removed from “ordinary people” as he might be inadvertently suggesting – stands up and stops being quiet, things change. He undermines the corrupt church leaders, exposes their crimes, and reminds the mob of their own goodness, that they are just being used. The mob immediately turns on the wicked leaders and follows Trevor as he uses his knowledge to help them defend themselves and each other from the encroaching horde of monsters.

That’s all ordinary people need: a little help to be their best selves, and a little hope of success. Give them that, and all the tyrants in the world will fall in short order.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #358: Painful Matters

“My suffering is different from yours, and maybe it is less, but it is mine, and I will not listen to you belittle it.”
– Princess Zahrah, “the Little Rose,” Spindle, by E.K. Johnston

When Zahrah says this, she is speaking to a young man whose life has been anything but easy. He grew up without a father, had to leave his home when he was fairly young but old enough to forever remember it as his home, grew up in poverty, and saw his friends lose their loving parents to the same disease which was set to claim his own mother in due time. The youth in question has long been filled with bitterness about the entire situation, though he thankfully looks beyond his own pain to help those closest to him instead of letting it consume his compassion. When his journey through life brought him to an unexpected meeting with Zahrah, he expected to find an entirely spoiled princess whose parents chose her welfare over the lives of their subjects. Instead, he found a young woman who was anything but spoiled, who knew suffering of her own. Zahrah might never have had to wonder about her next meal, but she grew up in almost complete isolation and maddening idleness, forbidden from pursuing any of the useful skills she so loved, knowing she was cursed by a demon who wanted to possess her body and lock her up in her own mind, knowing that she was going to have to marry a prince who was both cruel and stupid, and knowing that her people’s suffering was in some way tied to her, yet being helpless to do anything about it.

One can compare and contrast the pains which these two youths endured for as long as they could remember. One can argue either way which one has suffered worse and which one has had less to hope for in their lives. Indeed, most people in life seem to find such comparisons riveting. But that is not the point of pain, I think.

Some people wear their pains on their sleeves, forever moaning, groaning, whining, and excusing whatever they do because of whatever terrible thing they have felt.

Some people see other people’s pains and immediately dismiss their own as unimportant in comparison, even the point where they refuse to acknowledge it.

Both of those are mistakes, but I think the worst mistake we can make is when we diminish the pains of others. It’s very easy to do, especially when they’re always whining about it, and even more when they are the ones diminishing our pain in some way. It’s yet another mistake to allow that, to let someone else dismiss what we have suffered, but we must avoid doing the same in return. Whether we are the first or second aggressor in such an argument, where we say, at some point, “Your pain isn’t real pain,” we are still in the wrong for it.

Everybody hurts, and comparisons are ultimately meaningless.

Some suffer in poverty without ever knowing their families, while some live in lonely luxury having lost their loved ones, while others are abused, abandoned, betrayed, or even sold by their own blood-kin. Some become great at something and then lose it to crippling physical injury, while others are never able to walk at all, and some lose their very minds to neurological diseases. Some lose everything, and some never have anything.

Whose pain is greater, whose pain matters more, is irrelevant.

It doesn’t matter.

What matters is what we do in response. What matters is how we treat each other and ourselves.

Do we add to the pains of others, or do what we can to help them heal, or at least avoid hurting them further?

Similarly, do we live in our own pain, and keep hurting ourselves, or do we get help to heal ourselves?

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