This Week on TV, June 6, 2020

Spoiler Alert!

The final season of Agents of Shield appears to be shaping up as one of the more reflective TV seasons I’ve seen. The characters are literally going back to the beginning, and even before, and reflecting on their entire history as they endeavor to preserve it from the hands of those who would rewrite it. It’s not so much on the fireworks, per se, as of yet, but it’s absolutely fascinating me.

So, let’s jump in! πŸ™‚

Agents of Shield

Season 7, Episode 2, “Know Your Onions”

This week’s episode delved deep into the moral complexities which arise from the power of time travel.

I’m reminded of a moment from the old, classic Doctor Who, wherein the time traveling Doctor has the power to end the menace of his worst and most devastating enemies, the Daleks, before they ever begin their cosmos-spanning butchery. It is compared to if one could go back in time and, say, kill a child before they became like Hitler, that sort of thing. Naturally, that was the thrust of the conversation here, and it was a riddle that was both very simple and very complicated.

Putting a momentary pin in that, however, for after the synopsis…

May is up and about, and clearly doing quite well from a physical standpoint. But psychologically, something seems to have broken, somewhere in the horror of her most recent experiences. She was, after all, stabbed by a creature wearing the face of the man she loves and cast into the “spirit world,” where she fought a horde of reaching, clutching shadows before emerging back on the physical plane to strike down her enemies before collapsing, and dying, and barely being brought back from the brink in peak physical condition. All of that, put together, is bound to do some sort of emotional damage, and May, I note, has always dealt with that more or less by soldiering on. But this is a bit different, it’s more… desolate, I think.

She feels nothing. If what we see is what we get, then her emotions themselves seem to be absent from her now, leaving something empty, cold, and brutal in their place.

Enoch did very well to not try to sedate May (at Simmons’ instruction) by surprise. That would not have gone well for either of them, I am certain. She might have had that needle accidentally jabbed in the wrong spot of her flesh, but even if not, it would have been a hostile act, and they both would have gotten hurt. As evidenced by how they did both get hurt when they did eventually collide without the needle in play.

May, proactive as she is, wanted to leave the Zephyr (before full recovery and in her 21st century garb) to get on the mission, solve the problem, that sort of thing. Enoch wisely refused her, and stopped her by force, as was necessary. That was an interesting fight to watch, if only for the collision of two brutally precise combatants. It wasn’t nearly as flashy as most other fights have been, but it was so straightforward that it had a unique sort of weight to it. These are two who, when they fight, they just don’t give a crap about “style.” They get the job done with bloody efficiency, without the complications of rage.

It was only Enoch’s control which kept him from killing May, and only his durability which kept her from killing him. …well, that and the timely arrival of most of the other agents, including LMD Coulson. That had to be the definition of cold shoulders she gave him as she submitted, without further resistance, to finally being sedated.

Speaking of said agents, Simmons and Yo-Yo join Daisy and Coulson at Koenig’s place, saving the life of that woman who got shot, whatever her name is, and hiding from the cop-impersonating Chronicoms. Koenig proved invaluable on that score as, despite his protests and his attempts to avoid trouble, he still put his neck out for them. He hid them in a secret room, distracted the Chroni-cops, and, when he noticed the shot glass with the bullet that Simmons pulled out of the woman on the counter, he went and drank the shot, including the bullet, before the enemy noticed it. That’s one of those moments that makes you squirm to see, but Koenig is absolutely awesome for doing it. And he gets to say that took a bullet for the agents!

A little disconcerting, though: Yo-Yo doesn’t seem to have her speed anymore. It might be something about the shrike material within her, or maybe something psychological, but, either way… she’s at a serious disadvantage going forward without a strength that she’s relied on so heavily.

Then, in trying to figure out what’s going on and what’s really at stake, Simmons realizes what the green liquid in those vials is. She runs a quick(ish) test with the materials she has at hand, and confirms it. That little green liquid is a key ingredient in the serum which made the Red Skull, and enhanced the rise of Hydra, thus inspiring the creation of the SSR, which is the foundation for Shield. That is what’s being delivered, and small wonder this is the thread the Chronicoms have decided to pull. It connects so directly to everything that comes after. Small wonder they ignored a future president when their target is the whole of Shield itself.

With intel like that, and a little slip-up on the part of the woman, which Koenig aptly understands, the agents can now tell what’s happening, and where. But, for the “where” part of that equation, Koenig demands that he be brought fully onboard. His goal is to save Freddie, and he recognizes that he needs to know more than he does in order to make sense of what’s going on from his perspective. Time being an issue, Coulson relents and brings him aboard. And what a cascade of wonders he beholds! Things he doesn’t have words for are all around him, and he is amazed. He keeps his head, but displays that excited appreciation which his descendants are well-known for. Now we know where they got that from!

Elsewhere, Mack and Deke are helping (a bit forcefully) one Freddie with a bit of boot-legging and smuggling. They can’t conceal everything from him, like when they use a walkie-talkie in front of him, but pass it off as something Deke invented. Heh, it’s kind of strange to see technology that most of us today would regard as mostly outdated being seen as something fantastic and futuristic. All the advances we’ve made, and can conceive of making in the near future, really are remarkable, aren’t they?

Anyway, they spend their night hitching a ride on a train, in a boxcar. And what an interesting night that is, in regards to the discussion I mentioned earlier. I mean, we tend to think of the monsters of humanity, particularly those who are so removed from their humanity as Hydra, as having always been those monsters. But the ugliest truth about Hydra is that they are human, just like our heroes, and just like us.

So, Freddie Malick is on his way to make a Hydra delivery to the Red Skull, and he will become a man responsible for much bloodshed and suffering, as will his son and granddaughter, though the family line eventually ends when Hydra’s original master, Hive, encounters them (after one of his sons betrays the other). But right now, at this moment in the past? Freddie is just a young man, fallen from the stars and hungering to rise back up to them. His father lost everything in the crash of ’29, which brought on the Great Depression. His mother lost her mind and hasn’t said a word for two years, so she’s being taken care of (translation: she’s in an asylum). And he, Freddie, was on the streets, and, right now, he’s sitting in a boxcar with a couple of strangers, transporting mostly bootlegged liquor.

He’s just a guy, and not yet guilty of anything that he will be guilty of, and he has known pain, and loss, and despair. He’s just… human.

Any human can go either way. Case in point: Grant Ward, also of Hydra. We saw in the Framework that the insane, murderous villain he became didn’t have to be who he was. And even when he threw Fitz-Simmons into the sea, he was telling himself that it was their best shot. And we saw his past, where he was abused and forced to abuse his brother. And yet, for all that, he was human, and there came a point when he took his destiny into his own hands.

Same thing with Freddie, which we saw when he had a chance to choose either Hydra, or the path which Koenig offered him. Koenig put up with a lot, did a lot, and risked a lot just to help Freddie. But when it came time, when the Chronicoms and the agents were fighting and it was just the two of them, Freddie shot the man (non-fatally, thankfully) who came to help him, and joined the people who care nothing for their fellow humans. That is Hydra, in a nutshell.

As things were coming to a head with Freddie, the window of time travel, the “tide” or whatever it is, began to close. The agents raced out, got Mack and Deke back, kept Freddie alive (with much disagreement), kept history on its previous course, and barely got back to the Zephyr before they were carried away on the tides of time and space. In fact, they cut it so close that Enoch got left behind, by a margin of just a few seconds. He’s probably the best one for it, being a robot who does not need to age, and capable of blending into the background as he has before, but that still leaves the agents on the plane one man down, and this was the man most capable of handling May in a physical fight, which could come into play very shortly. So, not an entirely good thing. But some good may yet come of it, as he hooks up with Koenig, becoming the bartender at Koenig’s place.

And Koenig, as it happens, makes a choice as well. He’s good people, all things considered, as evidenced by how he caught a glimpse of things to come, and he’s willing to sign on with Shield even before Shield exists. It would seem that his bar’s historical contributions to the SSR and Shield are already in motion precisely because of all this time traveling.

Heh, and you gotta love how they paraphrased the famous Casablanca line about the beginning of beautiful/amazing friendships. πŸ™‚

So, as the agents are whisked away to their next adventure, we, the audience, are left to digest everything. And I can’t help but think that it’s a good thing we mortals are so limited and unable to do godlike things like, say, meddle with time.

I mean, every one of us has a subjective perspective, which defines a great deal of our view of good and evil. Even more, we naturally want to have what we consider “good” without having to deal with what we call “bad” or “evil.” I think there was a verse somewhere in the Bible about how the ox is worth keeping for its labor, but maketh much poop, so, if we want the one, we just have to accept that we have to deal with the other.

Koenig is right about how you can’t hold what someone hasn’t done yet against them. And Mack is right in how the history they know needs to be preserved. Yet it’s difficult… indeed, it’s very difficult for people whose first impulse is to save lives, to protect the innocent, to sign off on everything that’s going to happen, to allow all the evil that Hydra will do, and, from their perspective, already has done. Daisy and Deke find that harder than most, with Daisy outright ordering Deke to kill Freddie while they have the chance.

They have good motives, but, ultimately, their pain is making them painfully shortsighted.

First, the Chronicoms want Freddie dead and his delivery stopped. If Deke had followed Daisy’s order, instead of letting Mack and Freddie talk him out of it, then they would have done the Chronicoms’ job for them. They, themselves, would have undone Shield before it ever existed. That could only have ended in disaster, for even if the world (and the universe) had overcome everything that Shield faced (which, I doubt), that still would have left the gate open for the Chronicoms to finish the job. Not to mention how it would rewrite the histories of the agents themselves! Some of them may well never have been born, let alone flourished as they have.

Call me crazy, but doing the enemy’s job for them is not what I consider a good idea.

Second, for all the Shield would never have come into being, Hydra would still remain. They’re far older than Shield, after all. So, even if this set them back, they would still be around, murdering people and ruling from the shadows. Indeed, they were only truly, finally, and permanently defeated quite recently, because of Shield. Which, brings me to the next point.

Third, to undo this moment would undo all the good Shield ever did, including Hydra’s end. No Red Skull means no Captain America. No SSR, no Shield, no Avengers.

It’s probably the most epic and complicated version Scylla and Charybdis I have ever seen.

The conflict between Shield and Hydra (among others) spans decades, and there have been many, many innocent lives lost. But that number is fixed, now, and won’t increase again. The war between Hydra and Shield is over. The body count is done, and billions of people are still alive and free. But the agents, especially the ever-impulsive Daisy, the one who tries to save everyone and loses her head over it, have to come to accept that body count. They have to accept the loss and pain now, like they never had to before.

That is what is means to choose Scylla, in this instance, where they know some die, and they know how many die, but not everyone dies. To try and reject that runs the very real risk that more people die, up to and quite possibly including everyone. That’s a Charybdis route if ever I saw one.

Like Odysseus, Mack accepts what has been, and what is, and the dead that come with it. Daisy chose well when she nominated him as their new Director. He is dedicated to saving lives, but also knows what it means to accept the reality of death. What is that old prayer, about having wisdom to tell the difference between what one can and can’t change? Mack is wise enough to not try to change what he can’t, even if some bizarre freak instance gives him a moment where he can, because then, if things get worse instead of better because of it, he’d be completely unable to change things back to how they were in the first instance.

Better not to meddle with the past at all, if you want to get where you are in the future.

And yet, I can’t really say I blame Daisy and Deke for wanting to make things better. I can’t say I would have done differently, and made the hard call that Mack did. Maybe I would have. But maybe not. I just know that Daisy made the easy choice, and that worries me.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #289: A Human Being

“I am not an animal! I am a human being!
– John Merrick, The Elephant Man

I believe it was for an Intro to Film college course that I saw The Elephant Man. It tells the story of John Merrick, which is loosely based on the real-life story of Joseph Merrick. The man was deformed in a pronounced way, and he did not have a very easy life as a result. In the movie, he had to prove his intelligence, but there were those who judged him entirely by his appearance. He was a freak, and there were very few, besides other freaks, who cared about him at all.

Then came a scene, at the climax, where he was just walking along at a train station…

(I think… it’s been a number of years since I saw the movie, but I’m fairly certain it was a train station)

So, he’s walking along at a train station, not moving normally, face covered, and some young hooligan boys start following him. He just keeps moving, trying to stay ahead, get away, but the surrounding crowd starts noticing, and like a building current, the tension, and the rejection of this strange thing which does not conform to them, rises slowly higher and higher. Grown men start following, muttering, crowding in with anger. Then, in his haste and fear, he accidentally knocks over a little girl (without hurting her) as she screams in alarm. And the horde is unleashed, the entire pack of a crowded station pursuing, cornering him, closing in… and that is when he says these words, screaming a declaration which stops the encroaching mob cold.

He survives that day because he learned to speak, despite his deformity, and he learned to fight for himself with the only thing he had to work with, his voice. It is his very self which protects him, and the rightful shame which comes upon those “normal” people who were about to hurt him.

It is a moment that has stayed with me ever since. A loud, simple declaration of something so obvious, so true, and so very important… and so easily and quickly forgotten.

I see it being forgotten today, in so many ways, and the results are always terrible.

Whether we forget it because of race, or religion, or politics, or age, or even legitimate grievances, the result is always the same.

When we forget that “the other person,” the person who doesn’t conform to us, the person who disagrees with us, the person we blame for what’s gone wrong, the person we hate… when we forget that they, too, are human, we lose our own humanity.

That is a recipe for horror and tragedy.

So I intend to remember it, always.

The “other guy” is a human being too, not an animal.

And I am a human being, not an animal. So I will behave as a human being.

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This Week on TV, May 30, 2020

Wow, it’s been awhile! Since the beginning of August? It actually feels a bit strange to be posting This Week on TV again. I’ve missed it. And the only show left standing in my lineup has begun its final season. That’s a bit sad, in a way, to think about. It’s like saying goodbye in slow motion.

And what better way to begin the end than by going back to the beginning and before?

Agents of Shield

Season 7, Episode 1, “The New Deal”

When one possesses the power of time travel, and intends to make changes, it is critical to select those changes very, very carefully. The Chronicoms intend to take over the world in the present, and they fear that Shield has the power to stop them, that they are the only ones who can stop them, and so they intend to erase Shield from history. Which, this seems a bit shortsighted to me, considering everything else Shield has ever stopped, including, most recently, the very same pair of individuals responsible for burning Chronica in the first place. But, I digress.

The Chronicoms have carefully selected a single thread to pull, to unravel the tapestry of Shield’s entire history, to keep it from becoming the threat which it becomes to them.

It begins with the murder and subsequent impersonation of three police officers in New York, in 1931. They murder the bootlegger the cops were meeting as well, when the man walks in during the process of said impersonation.

The agents arrive in their invisible, time-traveling flying machine, and they have a great deal to catch up on. Not nearly as much as the new Coulson LMD, though. Two entire years of second-hand knowledge flood right through the new Coulson’s mind, including everything of his life and death after the Framework incident, his brief time carrying Ghost Rider in order to defeat Aida, the time travel and fight against the end of the world, losing Fitz, dying, the return of the shell of his form which was worn by an otherworldly evil which put a blade through May’s gut… and so much more, all at once.

He needed a little time out, I think, and Mack was as right to turn him off for a moment as Daisy was to turn him on in the first place.

Coulson gets his feet under him fairly quick, and the rest of the agents have to scramble to do the rest in this most unusual and urgent of situations. They’re in the past, following the Chronicoms and needing to catch up as quickly as possible. But they have to be exceptionally careful. Deke explains it as how they shouldn’t have to worry about small alterations, but need to be careful about big ones. It’s like a stream, he says, where a few sticks tossed in might make a few ripples, but the water keeps flowing and going to where it will, but if enough sticks, especially of sufficient size, are added in, it becomes a dam that alters the course of things, changes the flow.

So, the new mantra is “ripples, not waves.”

Mack (the decision-maker) takes Coulson (the brain, who needs to get accustomed to his new self), Daisy (the brawn, who must sacrifice the purple streak in her hair), and Deke (the improviser) off the Zephyr to look into the faceless cop bodies left behind by the Chronicoms. They find the illegal booze at the scene, so Mack and Coulson follow the lead to a speakeasy. They have to rough up the thugs inside, because of course, but that at least gets them talking to the boss, the ancestor of the Koenig clan. They’re able to appeal to his desire to keep things calm, peaceful, as they are, so he shares information. It turns out, the three cops who were killed were set to provide security, and a free pass for the alcohol, at a party for New York’s governor, one Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The man who becomes president of the United States and founds the SSR, the forerunner of Shield.

Naturally, the agents assume Roosevelt is the target, and why not? I would not have thought that the Chronicoms would be particular about ripples or waves in the timestream, but, then again, they are more precise creatures, aren’t they? Why remove a pivotal figure from history’s spotlight, when you can target any humble thread, one completely unseen within the big picture, and yet every bit as essential to the ultimate design?

That seems to be the MO of the Chronicoms, and they glory in their ability to do so. That bit comes when the Chronicoms find and try to kill the agents, but Daisy takes one of them down, and they take it back to the Zephyr. There, Simmons is trying to unravel the mysteries while coping with being parted from Fitz again, while urging Yo-Yo to use another set of artificial arms which let her actually feel things again, and Enoch works to repair May’s injuries. When Daisy and Deke pull up in a stolen car with a stolen Chronicom, the interrogation begins.

The captured Chronicom has an interesting exchange with Enoch. He’s repulsed by how Enoch chose the humans over his own kind, but Enoch points out that the captured Chronicom didn’t choose anything at all: he was reassigned, reprogrammed, aka the mechanical version of brainwashing. The part where the interrogation, as Simmons simply overloaded his processors and took what bits and pieces of information spilled out, could not have been easy for Enoch, especially since becoming a hunter was so involuntary in the first place.

The information, and the simultaneous attempted murder, indicated that the Chronicoms weren’t targeting Roosevelt, however. They were targeting a young man named Freddie, a little nobody who worked in Koenig’s bar after being on the streets for awhile, following his father’s death. But Freddie’s full name is Wilfred Malick. He’s an ancestor of Gideon Malick, a future head of Hydra. And there is a woman who takes Freddie aside at the party, asking him to make a delivery that night, giving vials of green liquid to parties as-yet-unknown, for the promise of restoring his family’s fortunes and glory.

So, the Chronicoms are trying to undo Shield’s history by undoing Hydra, starting with Freddie Malick.

To save Shield’s history, and be sure it becomes what it becomes, and is ready to save the world in the present and future… the agents have to save Hydra.

They actually have to save the blackhearted organization which has ravaged their organization, and their lives, and their world. They have to, effectively, sign off on everything Hydra ever did.

In Daisy’s long-suffering words, “Super.”

The power to change the past is highly dangerous, and any moment of the present or future could alter our perception of whether or not changing it is a good thing or a bad thing.

Put another way, even the most delicious fruit and beautiful flowers begin as seeds planted in dirt and crap, and the agents just got saddled having to wade through all of the dirt and crap in Shield’s history.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #288: Remember the Fallen

“You may be lost, but you are not forgotten.”
– Jack Durrance, The Four Feathers

I suppose there are not many quotes better suited for Memorial Day weekend, when we remember the fallen soldiers, than one which is uttered by a soldier at a fellow soldier’s funeral.

The story of The Four Feathers, at least the 2002 version, follows a handful of friends, comrades in the British army at the very height of their empire. One became cowardly when he was given time to think about an impending deployment, but then, later on, went on his own, across the world, for the sake of his friends. A second was a stalwart leader of his troops, but suffered an injury which blinded him for life, and was only saved by the intervention of his “cowardly” friend. Another made disastrous mistakes born of pride, and lost many of his men as a result, but still pulled as many as he could back home. Yet another was unable to make that escape with the rest, and was thrown into a hellish prison, until his “cowardly” friend came and got him out. One more was cut down in battle, having lost his wits in the moment and being caught in friendly fire.

That last one was the soldier whose funeral Jack Durrance, the blinded soldier, was speaking at, with all of their surviving comrades present, honoring all of their fallen.

To say this group of soldiers has been through a great deal for their country, and for each other, would be a pretty accurate understatement. They have sacrificed, and lost, and made mistakes, and suffered. And they have died, for king, and country, and the comrades fighting by their side.

The least that those who remain can do is to remember those are lost.

Remember their names, and their stories.

Remember the best parts of them, and of the time they were together.

Remember the cause for which they fought and died.

Even if much is forgotten anyway, we must still remember what we can.

So, I, who have never gone off to battle in foreign lands, never set foot in an army barrack, never signed up to give everything I have for my country, and never died for it, I say thank you to all those who have.

I say thank you to all who have served, and all who have sacrificed. I do not know all of your names, or your faces, or your stories, but for the pains you have endured, and the friends you have lost, I say, for what it’s worth, thank you.

For everything I have, and everything you have given, thank you.

Thank you, fallen soldier, for everything.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #287: Blinding Anger

“You get so furious with them that you wind up climbing onto your high moral horse so you can ride them under the hooves of your righteous fury. But when you close your knight errant’s helmet, the visibility through that visor is just a little limited, isn’t it?”
– Lady Emily Alexander, War of Honor
Β Harrington series, by David Weber

I seem to have a lot of favorite characters in this series, and there are a lot of great moments for them to shine. Among those many moments are times where humility is brought forth as the shining virtue it is, along with self-control. The exact circumstance of this quote involve Emily advising her husband as he tries to deal with the ramifications of his political enemies’ underhanded, shortsighted, dirty-minded tactics. He’s a military man, accustomed to tactics, strategy, and logistics, so he seems unable to wrestle with the malicious, prideful stupidity of it all with any degree of success. Actually, as his wife points out, it’s simply because his well-justified anger towards them gets the better of him, and his fury limits his perspective, so he can’t function as well as he usually does.

I find that particular observation particularly relevant these days. Everywhere you look, it seems, people are clashing over every possible subject, great and small. Every one of us seems to think that we hold the absolute moral high ground, and so anyone who’s not actively standing exactly where we are must be somehow immoral. Yet even when that’s true – which, it isn’t always – our anger, our righteous fury, seems only to limit us. Severely.

Take, for instance, when the nephew I am helping to raise does something which violates our rules and puts himself at greater risk of some sort of harm. I get angry, yes, as does his mother. But we try – we do not always succeed, but we try – to communicate with him, and help him, instead of simply punishing him. If we simply blew our tops at him, we wouldn’t be able to listen to him, which means we’d be unable to help him as well as we otherwise could.

Anger, even well-founded, blocks the path of communication and understanding. Righteous fury clouds our eyes, makes it so we can’t see another person’s perspective. Holy wrath focuses our vision on our target, yet we lose sight of what’s around us.

Hatred blinds us.

That’s what happens when my nephew gets so angry that he stops listening to us, or when we get so angry that we stop listening to him. That’s what happens when we shut down opinions and perspectives that disagree with our own, resorting to shouting, screaming, insults, etc. That’s what happens when we let our tempers rule us, and stand on our own moral superiority. That’s what happens when we judge.

Even if any of it is for very good reason, which is another question entirely.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #286: What Mothers Do

“She had half-convinced herself that through love, and care, and unending vigilance, she could keep all harm from the fat, fretful child, this tiny inarticulate being that meant more to her than her own heart.”
– from The Last Mortal Bond, by Brian Stavely

This comes from a moment where an empress whose dominion is beset on all sides is having to come to terms with the limits of her power, as it applies to her ability to protect her son, barely a few months old. She has a great deal of influence and power, and the entire purpose she has bent that power to has been to protect her empire and the people within it. None of these is as dear to her as her own son, barely a few months old, and she must protect her empire in order to protect him. But what she’s been doing isn’t working, so she has to do something else, and that involves admitting that all her “love, care, and unending vigilance” just is not enough to ward everything away.

But she is a mother, so she will do what she needs to, even if it means changing her ways, altering her stance, and making some compromises, to situation, and the threat, at hand.

That is what mothers do. Even when they realize that they can’t do everything, which they very much yearn to, they do all they can, the best that they can.

My mother certain did, and still tries to. I am very thankful for – if also occasionally exasperated with – her love, her care, and her unending vigilance. She has bent all her heart to her the welfare of her children and grandchildren, to spending every possible moment with us, to helping us however she may and whenever we need. There is no greater pleasure for her, I think, than to see her offspring happy and comfortable.

Perhaps, as an uncle helping to raise a nephew, I am a little more keenly aware of everything she did for me and my sisters, and everything she does now. She worked hard, took care of us when we were sick, got us to keep the place clean (and stepped up when we failed to meet her expectation there), put up with us, disciplined us, rewarded us, fought for us, cooked our food, cleaned our clothes, taught us how to behave, encouraged us to be ourselves, and so much more.

And when she’s come up against things she can’t protect us from, she has built us up to protect ourselves and each other.

In short, she wasn’t just a female parent. She was a mom.

And now she’s a grandma, fully keen on using all of her previous experience to help her grandkids grow and develop as well. …while, of course, spoiling them rotten for the moment. πŸ˜‰

I am exceptionally blessed with my mother, and, again, I am thankful to have her.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #285: The Way Out

“The only way out is up.”
– Tigress, Kung Fu Panda 2

At this exact moment in the movie, Tigress is referring to how she and her friends are being barraged from all sides by numbers and weapons far too great and formidable for them to match. To survive, they must escape, and to escape, they have to climb up the outside of a collapsing tower they just descended the interior of. It gets them close enough to the walls to jump over, while their enemies scatter out of the falling tower’s path.

I really like the moment for how Tigress clearly sees what they need to do, and leads her friends in doing it. She does so somewhat bodily, because there’s no time to explain, but they trust her and follow. And it bears mentioning, they are going up what they just went down, now in clear view of the enemy and under heavy fire. It seems crazy at first, but it’s the only way.

The only way out was to go straight through the danger, and straight through the madness.

The only way out is through.

It takes a lot of nerve, and a lot of trust, and a lot of effort to do that. Whether it be going straight through a physical danger, or pushing through one’s emotional pain, or working out one’s mental and spiritual issues, getting through anything takes a lot. But what choice is there? To try to dodge, evade, hide? People have tried to use alcohol, drugs, and lies, and even violent behavior, to do exactly that, but it doesn’t work out so well, does it?

Without getting through what besets it, anything else we can do will still leave us trapped by it.

Sooner or later, we must go through.

And we must go up.

We must go towards something better, especially within ourselves, no matter what we must go through in order to get there.

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Some REAL Quarantine Binge Material

A lot of us are staying home these days, for an extended period of time which has already dragged on for far too long, certainly longer than we were told it would when we went meekly into self-isolation, and which has no end in sight (not that I have any strong feelings about that, or anything). It’s a terrible time, full of uncertainty and fear. In such times, it’s only natural to try and keep ourselves entertained, or occupied in some way, at least, if only so we can take a breath, relax, and try to deal with what’s going on from a fresh perspective.

So, it’s no surprise that I’ve seen several of my fellow bloggers publish lists of anime and such that they recommend watching, in binges, during the extended time at home. I don’t particularly disagree with any of the suggestions I’ve seen, except for one little detail: how much, or, rather, how little, time they would really consume.

I don’t have to stay at home, myself. At least, not yet. I’m a janitor, I keep a place clean and healthy to work in, so I’ve been able to go to work and keep my paycheck coming. For that, I am extremely grateful. I am particularly grateful because, in all honesty, I have had – often involuntarily – very long periods of time to kill at home. As such, I am well-acquainted with bingeing, often in my attempt to stave off insanity, and I know that when you have literally nothing else to do, the length, the run-time, of what one is bingeing can very much influence how favorable of an impression it leaves.

In other words: the longer it is, the better it is, for present purposes. πŸ˜‰

So, while I have great respect for my fellow bloggers and their taste for enjoyable shows we can watch all at once to kill some time, I humbly offer that shows which can be binged within a few hours are not quite adequate in the face of weeks or even months of enforced down-time.

Thus, a few suggestions of my own, in no particular order, because they’re long enough that they might actually see you through to the end of the quarantines:

1) One Piece

If you want an enjoyable anime that can eat up your time, one could certainly do worse than a show of adventures out across the open horizon, with a colorful cast exploring zany curiosities, facing down vile villains, and challenging the corruption and evil in all the powers that be, worldwide… oh, and it has something like nine hundred and thirty episodes, and still counting. That makes it the longest anime I can readily recall, and not even counting the specials and movies and such! πŸ˜‰

I actually remember the first time I sat down and watched the show. It was something like five or six hundred episodes long at the time, but I had a good month-and-a-half to kill at the time. I went straight through it, couldn’t get enough, and it was a fantastic balm to my soul! So, I literally speak from firsthand experience, here. πŸ˜€

In my opinion, this is the moment in which the longer anime can truly shine, for just how much of our time they can eat up for us, and One Piece is the longest I know of, and still fun for every minute. πŸ™‚

2) The NCIS Franchise

Departing from anime, we have a live-action police procedural drama, one of the most popular and long running of all time. Seriously, you start from the beginning, and it’s amazing how you see the world has changed just within the time frame of when this show began to air. Following colorful, slowly-changing casts as they solve murder mysteries and safeguard our country, even as they slowly grow and develop as people do, for such a long time is actually pretty deeply satisfying. I love it. πŸ™‚

With three shows that, between them, have quite nearly three dozen seasons, this is a shoo-in for something that can help you eat up a lot of empty time. It utterly dwarfs the run-time of almost every other franchise I can think of, including a number of other binge-worthy crime dramas (Castle, Bones, evenΒ CSI, etc.), long-running shows (Big Bang Theory,Β Smallville, Supernatural), shared universe franchises filled with spin-offs, prequels, and sequels (Star Trek,Β Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries), and even full-fledged cinematic universes (the MCU, the Arrowverse, etc.).

(all of those others, by the way, are also excellent for long-term bingeing)

Seriously, just sit back, relax, and let the hours tick by! πŸ™‚

3) Critical Role

Critical RoleIt’s not an anime, or a movie series, or a TV show. It’s exactly what it says, when they say, “Where a bunch of us nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons!” Now, that might be something of an acquired taste, but I, personally, am loving it! The cast, the characters, the stories, the way those stories can simply zoom off in unexpected directions based on what anyone manages to do at any given moment, and all the flair with which it’s presented by these professionals who are making it up as they go along… it’s hilarious, heart-warming, tense, thrilling, so exciting, and so much fun!

It’s certainly time-consuming, though, but that’s only a disadvantage when oneΒ doesn’t have copious amounts of time to fill. Between two campaigns, the first over a hundred sessions long (and that’s with a mid-campaign premiere of the series), the second having just reached ninety-nine sessions before this crisis put everything on pause… plus a few dozen one-shots, the follow-up interviews in their studio, and various other things… yeah, we’re looking at well over elevenΒ hundred hours (twice that of the NCIS franchise, if I calculated correctly), and counting! That’s pretty remarkable, no? πŸ™‚

I only discovered this fairly recently, so I am still playing catch-up, and I will be for awhile. And I do not mind that in the slightest! πŸ™‚

And on that note, I hope that you can manage to enjoy your time at home, somehow or other, for as long as possible.

Good luck! πŸ™‚

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Sunday’s Wisdom #284: Our Choices Are Ours

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I require any slave to be that heroic, that self-sacrificing. But I have, by God, known slaves who were that heroic, and I know the tales of the ones who were that self-sacrificing.”
– Cathy Montaigne, War of Honor
Honor Harrington
Series, by David Weber

You know something I notice?

Villains and traitors say, “You would have done the same.”

Heroes and martyrs say, “Anyone would have done the same.”

And everyone in between says, “It’s what anyone would do.”

It’s interesting how we all say it, and we’re all wrong.

It’s been on my mind lately, since I made a point to my young nephew, so full of promise, that our choices and our attitudes are always ours, no matter our situation.

Cathy Montaigne is a relatively minor character, at least as far as I’ve thus far read, but I absolutely love her. She is fierce and principled and firm in her resolve to hold true to those principles. This precise quote comes from a scene where she is speaking to an escaped slave… or, rather, a slave who bought her way to freedom by way of betrayal. She sold hundreds of escaped slaves back to the people they escaped from, just for her own freedom and a bit of money, and the fate of those people does not bear thinking on.

Thus, when Cathy says this, she is framing her judgment of this individual, and stripping away the most common excuse, because she has seen both ends of the spectrum. She knows heroism can be far too much to expect, especially when one’s life is practically Hell itself, but she also understands that thereΒ are heroes, and, even more, that there is a wide difference between “failing to be a hero” and “actively being a traitor.” Thus, the traitor really has no excuse.

Heroes are the proof that heroism is possible, and it is always a matter of choice. That’s why villains hate heroes so much, for stripping away their excuses. Their cloak is ripped from them, their hiding place laid bare. They can’t hide behind the idea that anyone would have done the same in their place, because others have already done differently in similar situations.

And, really, doing exactly the same thing as someone else just isn’t a part of human nature, is it? Not that we can’t act similarly – we often do – but we are not identical, and never will be.

If you put two people, or three, or however many, in exactly the same situation, odds are none of them will react in exactly the same way. Some will act sooner, some will act smarter, some will act bolder, or any number of things. Some will look after themselves first, some will help others first, some will lead, some will follow, some will disrupt, and so on. The differences multiply practically without limit.

Simply put, the fact that we are all different is proof that our choices are not dictated by our circumstances, and therefore we cannot use our circumstances as an excuse.

So, as much as one might say, “Anyone would have done the same,” that’s not really true, is it?

A hero’s heroism really is their own doing, and they should let themselves feel good for it every once in awhile. That said, of course, there are those who – again, a difference in choices and attitude – either let their egos boil over, or remain humble. Myself, I think a hero should accept credit for their deeds, and use it to motivate themselves to further excellence. Not that they have to change their lives or keep doing spectacular things, but that they should always strive to be their best selves… like everyone else ought to. πŸ™‚

And a villain’s villainy, no matter their tragic backstories or misguided goals, is also theirs. They can’t escape the truth that somewhere in their actions, a decision was made. Now, I believe very much in redemption, but that does not happen without accepting responsibility, and making a different choice.

We don’t always fall into either category so easily, of course, filling out the distance between. For the most part, I’d say we shouldn’t let ourselves feel bad if we don’t think we’re as good as others… though, conversely, we really should not linger in that place where all we can say is that we’re “not as bad” as someone else. I would simply say that we ought to do the best we can… and maybe we’ll surprise ourselves with how much good we can do.

Whoever we choose to be, though, we do make that choice on our own, and we are responsible for it.

If nothing else, I intend to always own up to that much, at least.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #283: Life Goes On

“Yet life went on. People still needed to work, to eat.”
– from Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan

This little observation is made by Inspector Adamat as he sees his city and his nation caught in a massive upheaval, including a showdown between two magnificent military commanders and their respective followers. And yet, despite the chaos and conflict, the rest of the nation, indeed, the rest of the city directly surrounding the bloodshed, just keeps going on as per usual. There are changes, of course, but people adapt quite well as they go about their normal, daily lives.

The world can be coming apart, but until the ground directly beneath us cracks open, we humans tend to just keep going, don’t we? We get up, we work, we earn our way, we pay our bills, we make ends meet as best we can, and we go to bed. And then we do it all again. And again. And again. There’s a certain strength in that, isn’t there?

No matter how bad things get, or how bad they’ve been, we just keep going. We keep living. We keep doing the best we know how to do.

In these trying times, that gives me a bit of hope.

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