Boing Boing

Blackmagic adds more pro cameras at market-nuking prices

Blackmagic's trick is to make cameras with great cinematic image quality at a relatively inexpensive price. The tradeoff is gear that is Satan's gift to ergonomics, with low-end audio inputs, terrible battery life and a limited set of features. Enter the Blackmagic Studio Camera, which includes a big 10" monitor, 4 hours on a charge, XLR inputs, and broadcast-friendly features lacking in the earlier models. With the offered grip accessory, one may even hold it with a human hand! The game-changing prices remain: it's just under $2k, with a 4K version for $3k. You'll still need to bring your own lenses and SSDs.

Also announced is the Blackmagic URSA, a higher-end model with a super35-size 4k sensor aimed at professional feature use. At $6k, it isn't as affordable to students and consumers as the other models (especially the $990 pocket cinema camera), but it compares well on paper to the five-figure price tags hanging off similar gear from Canon, Sony and others.

Silicon Valley teaches Richard how to fire a friend [TV Recap: season 1, episode 2]

Silicon Valley’s pilot offered the allure of the billion-dollar tech startup, giving Richard Hendrix the opportunity of a lifetime thanks to his potentially game-changing algorithm. But “The Cap Table” is when reality sets it, tough choices need to be made, and the limitations of all involved come screeching into focus. Having decided to take Peter Gregory’s offer to start small, Richard Hendrix now has to figure out how to build the foundation of a company where before he just had something a lot of other people were telling him had a gargantuan valuation. It’s such a good idea that Jared Dunn (Zach Woods, Gabe from The Office) wants to leave Hooli in order to join up. But Erlich feels threatened by anyone intruding, and threatens the poor guy with the ghostly features on the eve of Pie Piper’s first appointment with Gregory.

The business meeting is a disaster, and represents in one fell swoop the biggest problem with Silicon Valley as a series while at the same time showcasing the best and worst aspects of some of the characters. That problem, which is going to continue to nag until it hypothetically gets rectified, is that Monica, Gregory’s assistant, does nothing more than offer semi-therapeutic input when her boss is strongly dissatisfied with Richard’s belief that he should be given guidance like a syllabus for a college course.

Erlich may be a lug when berating Richard after the meeting, but however inelegantly he makes his point, it still stands: Richard is CEO, so now he needs to take the reigns of his fledgling company and actually wield influence to create a viable structure. Gregory challenges him to build an identity for the company around the idea. That’s what he needs to see in order to succeed. Erlich offers no help, so Richard does the smart thing and calls in Jared to help come up with the formalized business plan necessary to impress Gregory. Sure, he’s a weird guy who asks permission to use the restroom and then stand around looking awfully proud of himself for lasting so long before needing to. But he’s an indispensible asset in light of Richard not having the faintest clue of how to create the necessary plans to get a company off the ground.

Where this hits a roadblock is in determining the titular Capitalization Table, or breakdown who will be given what percentage of equity in the new company. As per the startup incubator agreement, Erlich is unfortunately a lock at 10 percent. (Gregory’s point about getting only five percent in exchange for a lot off money while Erlich gets double for providing a futon and a moronic sense of entitlement is well taken.) Gilfoyle and Dinesh are both skilled programmers capable of unleashing highly entertaining pitches as to their worth to the fledgling company—and they’re mostly interested in one-upping each other in terms of equity percentages, which is the funniest back-to-back moment of the episode. Jared lends invaluable business preparation, since he’s the only one who seems to know how to prepare all the things.

That leaves Bighead, Richard’s best friend, as the odd man out. He’s not a jack-of-all-trades. He’s a master of none. And that means Richard has to fire his friend to present a lean, thought-out business plant to Gregory. Understandably, Bighead doesn’t take the news very well. Everyone knows he doesn’t bring anything to the table—Gilfoyle and Dinesh are particularly blunt and tactless in talking about it while Bighead’s around. Even Bighead comes to this realization, after running away to a stripper’s house and needing Richard to search and pick him up. Their conversation is a tough one, since Bighead has hit the point where he knows he doesn’t belong in Palo Alto plugging away at this life. This episode picks at the morality of making the tough but fair decision instead of the one that makes you feel better for a while. Richard wants the company to succeed, but he doesn’t want to lose his friend, but he knows his friend isn’t fulfilled when given a sympathy stake in the company and nothing important to do.

So it comes down to Richard’s decision, and in an impassioned moment undercut by situational irony, he makes his first bold asshole decision by rejecting majority opinion and keeping Bighead. Which would be great, except Bighead took a big promotion at Hooli because Gavin Belson thinks he’s stealing something away from Pied Piper. That solves Bighead’s existential crisis with a stroke of pure luck inspired by seething, irrational anger on the part of Belson. But in terms of leadership, this doesn’t bode well for Richard. He has the central idea that holds all of these people together, that makes them want to work to see Pied Piper fulfill its potential. But even at the point when he

It’s an important little lesson for a newly minted CEO: not everyone is going to think in the same moral logic as you. And that light bulb is a catalyst for Richard going into overdrive, commanding Jared and setting off for the Gregory meeting with renewed vigor (it happens off-screen but ends up a success). But the episode even goes out of its way to bend backwards on that revelation, because mixing business and friendship is complicated. Bighead phones Richard—as the latter struggles with not knowing how to deposit the check for $200,000 since he hasn’t set up an incorporation or bank account details—to tell him that the prototype he sent to those two jock douchebags from the pilot has given Hooli access to a version of Pied Piper’s algorithm. The big dog is going to reverse engineer a version and rush it to market thanks to superior manpower, and it’s up to Richard to fast-track his software in order to beat the biggest, most powerful, most innovative, most philanthropic tech company in the world.

This show is just starting to scratch the surface of the Gavin Belson/Peter Gregory feud, since they seem like the perfect history lesson in how personalities who join together for a business venture end up as mortal enemies. That doesn’t look like it’ll happen to Bighead, since he’s a go along to get along guy without big ideas. But while Richard has vastly more potential, that also means he has that much more potential for failure should he not take these small lessons to heart when learning how to build and run a company.


Extra Bytes

• Erlich’s solution to bridge the gap of trust with anyone, from Palo Alto pimps to Peter Gregory: “Wanna smoke weed?”

• This week in making fun of nerds: Nobody wants to be left alone with the stripper! Bighead is worried he’ll fall in love; Dinesh didn’t shake hands with a woman until he was 17 and doesn't like the idea of having an erection in the same room as his coworkers; Gilfoyle “entices the flesh,” he doesn’t pay for it.

TV recap: Game Of Thrones 'The Lion And The Rose' [season 4, episode 2]

Spoilers. Spoilers spoilers spoilers. Are we good now? All right, let’s dig into “The Lion And The Rose,” which isn’t a particularly thrilling episode of Game Of Thrones, but does feature one giant event that most fans of the show have been waiting for since the very beginning.

I’m convinced that most of the people who profess publicly that they haven’t read the Song Of Ice And Fire books actually know most of what’s going to happen on the show. (I haven’t read the books. I know what’s going to happen. I’m not scared of spoilers. It is what it is.) There’s not much else to explain this piece, which stakes an early claim on “predicting” Joffrey’s death this season. And in true Game Of Thrones fashion, there’s no delay getting to that event. It’s shockingly cathartic for the object of most fans’ ire to sputter and expire in the second installment of a 10-episode season. King Joffrey is dead. Long live the equally illegitimate King Tommen.

George R.R. Martin writes one episode of the series each year. He wrote “The Pointy End” back in season one, which covered the immediate aftermath of Ned’s imprisonment after attempting to reveal Joffrey’s true lineage. In season two he took the big battle episode “Blackwater,” still one of the high watermarks for the series. And last year Martin wrote “The Bear And The Maiden Fair,” notable for its final scene where Jamie rescues Brienne from a fight with a bear. “The Lion And The Rose” is the first episode written by Martin that falls in the first half of a season—but it’s clear from the dialogue that he’s responsible, and by the end it’s obvious why he chose to craft this part of the story himself.

In comparison to someone like Robb Stark, who was built up as a boring but likeable guy, an underdog to root for because of what happened to his father Ned, Joffrey is nothing more than a pissant. He’s a contemptible little cockroach who does nothing but snipe at those around him out of sheer boredom and in the eyes of most viewers deserved a far more excruciating death. But there’s a sinister poetry to his death at a wedding, after all immediate threats have been removed. This is the chaos of Westeros, where siege threats can be thwarted by magical fire, White Walkers roam the frozen North, and the most dangerous place for a King seems to be a royal wedding. Yes, that means that characters who traditionally would end up the conquering heroes are cut down before following through on that classical arc. But it also means that the evildoers, sinister little cretins who do nothing but destroy all hope for happiness in the world, can die early and without warning as well.

Game Of Thrones doesn’t have the same gleeful attitude toward Joffrey’s death as I imagine many viewers will. (Truth be told, the group I people I watched with sat with clenched fists as the tension grew, then burst out with rapturous joy when the episode concluded.) It treats the occurrence like any other significant event, given a weighty boost from dramatic music. Joffrey begins to cough—anyone who knew what would happen watched on pins and needles every time he brought the cup to his lips—and then sputters uncontrollably, while Cersei and Jamie (his true parents) struggle hopelessly to save him. This is the fate that can befall those in power—especially those who make new enemies daily by inflicting cruelly unnecessary punishment on everyone around.

And there are plenty of people who would want to see him dead. Oberyn Martell is a leading candidate, though he seems intent on the rape and torture of his enemies, so that they suffer as much as his sister did during Robert’s Rebellion. As such, simply poisoning the king’s wine cup seems beneath his penchant for theatricality. His conversation with Cersei and Tywin during the feats is but one of a handful of tense and wonderful scenes between subtly warring parties. The Martells and Lanniesters are joined in a marriage alliance thanks to Cersei’s daughter, but it’s one of political convenience. These families don’t like each other, don’t subscribe to the same social values, and the peace between them is tenuous at best.

Sansa is far too emotionally traumatized to come up with anything like this, but in the cacophony of Joffrey’s death, the King’s fool—the man who gifted Sansa a necklace in the premiere—tells her to follow him in order to escape. Clearly some kind of plan was in place there, designed to give Sansa an avenue to depart, only with an unseen hand creating the opportunity.

Then there’s Tyrion, Cersei’s suspect of choice. He’s the one serving as cupbearer, sure, but it appears that sometime between Joffrey’s first sip and the pie being served that some poison got slipped into the drink. And there’s certainly the appearance of motive, since Joffrey relentlessly torments his uncle with drinks over the head, a troupe of performing dwarves, demands to bend a knee, and constant insults. Plus, Tyrion receives news earlier in the episode from Varys that both his sister and father know about Shae. So Tyrion redoubles his efforts to ensure her safety, rejecting her with insulting words he doesn’t mean, intended to inflict pain on Shae so that she’ll agree to get on a boat across the Narrow Sea. Bronn sees her off and confirms the departure.

But Tyrion has only attempted to keep the peace among his siblings this season. He shares a meal with Jamie where he counsels his brother and tells him to seek out Bronn as a trustworthy sparring partner to train with his left hand. (That’s really the only comedic scene of the episode.) And he gifts Joffrey a book about past kings, meant as a gentle urge toward wisdom instead of arrogant, violent excess—which Joffrey quickly rejects, slicing the book to pieces with his new Valyrian sword. Joffrey was rash and unable to heed warnings, and now he’s been poisoned dead by one of his countless enemies. Tyrion though, is one of the most calculating characters on the show, needing all of his cunning to stay alive when so many of his own family members want him dead—but even that might not be enough to save him. The good and the bad all have to die sometime. It’s the great equalizer, regardless of personality or reputation.

Cersei and Jamie both insert themselves into little political squabbles at various points during the wedding. Jamie confronts Loris over his impending marriage to Cersei, directly stating that his sister will have Loris (and any potential child) killed rather than let the wedding go through. Cersei intercepts Maester Pycelle creepily cornering a young girl, and tells him to leave and feed the feast scraps to the dogs, directly contradicting Margaery’s edit (credited to the King) that the leftovers will go to fee the city’s poor. Cersei has been slowly losing her grip on power throughout the past season, as her son grew older and more depraved, and she’s pushed out as Queen Regent now that there’s an actual Queen in Margaery Tyrell. But in light of the episode’s ending, all of this shuffling and squabbling seems rather moot. Jockeying for position under one monarch is meaningless once that person has shuffled off this mortal coil and yet another figurehead gets installed. There’s a lot that happens in this episode, depicting all the little conflicts that dot the political landscape of King’s Landing, and all of them will intensify now that Joffrey has gurgled blood.

Okay, so that’s the end of King Joffrey of Houses Baratheon and Lannister. But this episode also checks in on a few locations that didn't make the cut for the premiere. Those all basically serve as the final initial drop-ins on the goings on around Westeros. Roose Bolton returns from the Red Wedding to his house seat at the Dreadfort. His bastard son Ramsay Snow continues to act like a sadistic jackass, hunting down a random girl for sport and letting dogs tear her apart in the opening scene. Oh, and Theon is still his prisoner, only dehumanized beyond recognition. He answers to the name “Reek” now, and has been tortured into such docility he will shave Ramsay with a straight razor, listen to news that Robb Stark is dead, and keep performing the task. His fate continues to draw out tragically, but the little bit of plot here is that Bolton has been made Warden of the North, only without any help from Tywin Lannister to take or hold those lands.

Over in Dragonstone, Stannis obeys Melisandre and burns heretics still praying to the old Gods on giant pyres, including his wife’s brother. It’s clear that Stannis and his mad wife Sylese don’t get along much, though it’s curious that a big point of contention is how to treat their daughter, the disfigured Shireen. Stannis doesn’t see her much, but wants her cared for without corporal punishiment. Sylese, a devout believer in the Lord Of Light, believes her daughter is stubborn and sinful, and deserves the rod. As a compromise, Melisandre talks to the girl, and it’s here where Martin gets out the episode distilled down into a single, easily quotable line: “There is only one hell: the one we live in now.” An apt description of a world where being in power only increases the size of the target on your back and two consecutive weddings have ended with key political assassinations. It’s not just the night that is dark and full of terrors—all hours of the day must now fear the unexpected wrath of cruel fate.


Extra Thoughts

• Here’s one more round of applause for Jack Gleeson, who has been television’s most hated villain since 2011. He says he might retire from acting now that his stint on the show has ended, and in a way that makes me sad, but imbuing an iconic character with such malice is a tough thing to do on a consistent basis, and Gleeson did that masterfully.

• Up in the North, Bran, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor continue to seek out the three-eyed raven. Bran has been spending too much time in the mind of his direwolf, but later touches a tree, has a vision, and knows where they need to go. Mostly foreshadowing, but that vision sequence was quite engrossing in all that it encompassed.

• The Martells and Tyrells have names far too similar for me to accurately distinguish them at all times. Just wanted to make a note that I’m like everyone else in getting confused by the hundreds of characters swirling around in this story.

This Day in Blogging History: Google's adds dead-man's switch; Hyperbolic Bronnerianism; Amex can't take a joke

One year ago today
Google adds a "dead-man's switch" -- uses cases from torture-resistance to digital wills: If you set it, Google will watch your account for protracted inactivity. After a set period, you can tell it to either squawk ("Email Amnesty International and tell them I'm in jail," or "Email my kids and tell them I'm dead and give them instructions for probating my estate") and/or delete all your accounts.

Five years ago today
Hyperbolic Bronnerianism in Graphic Design: A fancy way of saying "crazy mushed up text with LOTS OF ALL CAPS! BOLD! I-T-A-L-I-C ! Nnnnnooooo negative space!" on product labels.

Ten years ago today
AmEx's dumb-ass trademark threats: Brad Templeton -- the long-time moderator of rec.humor.funny and host of the rhf archives -- has received a cease-and-desist notice from AmEx's lawyers over a 13 year old joke called "American Expressway."

Justified circles back to old friends and enemies to close out its fifth season [Recap: season 5, episode 13]

It was never really about the Crowes, or Ava going to prison, or the trip south of the border, or the gangsters in Detroit. This season of Justified, and by extension the entire series, has all been one long road to a final showdown between Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder.

It was the central duality expressed by the pilot, and now that the creative forces behind the show have decided to call things off after one more season next year, that’s the major story resolution to build toward. Raylan has gone after many different villains through the Lexington Marshals office, many of them centered in Harlan County, but the one slippery beast who continues to elude permanent capture is Boyd Crowder. There’s a poetic justice to positioning the end of the show as a showdown between those two men.

What’s unfortunate is that a messy season like this one just feels like a big placeholder delaying the final 13-episode chess match between the two of them. “Restitution” is a fine finale to cap off a mostly good season, but Justified has touched greatness before when keeping Raylan and Boyd apart, sending them after the same objective, or throwing them together. This season barely had any blips of that greatness—mostly confined to one episode that had more to do with Chief Deputy Art Mullen, “Shot All To Hell”—which resulted in a quip-heavy, moderately satisfying few months of shuffling characters around before offing them and making way for the Raylan/Boyd conflict at the center.

Ava’s stint in prison now seems like the most disappointing development, a stall tactic that draws her away from Boyd to the point where they no longer car for each other in the same way—which makes it easier for her to turn against him. All the way back in the first season, it was Raylan who swung in to protect Ava, to be with her, and it was in part due to her jealousy that he went back to Winona that Ava even ended up with Boyd. Perhaps the stint in prison showed her that while she’s made of tougher stuff than she looks, she’s not cut out for a fight every day until her term is up, and that’s the life she was looking at while tied to Boyd’s increasingly dangerous criminal interests. But most of this plot line was executed clumsily, isolating a character the show only seems to care about in relation to the men in her life, and only tying her into the plot in this finale as a way to set up next season.

As for the Crowes, only Wendy and Kendal make it out, and neither of them are unscathed. Dilly took a bullet in the premiere, Danny accidentally fell on his own knife in a showdown with Raylan, and now Wendy shoots her brother in self-defense. Yes, that last one is far more complicated, but it’s the cruel price Raylan exacts in order to be rid of the Crowe infestation once and for all. It’s going to sound like a broken record, but the Crowes are not the Bennetts, which became frustratingly clear when Dickie showed up in a guest spot earlier this season. The only way the show knows how to deal with families like this is to send most of them to their graves, which makes it easy to predict that despite all the tension the episode squeezes out of Wendy, Kendal, and Darryl, it’s always going to end with Raylan standing over a dead body, threateningly victorious.

To get to that resolution, Raylan pulls out one of his patented stories about Arlo, commiserating with Kendal about the first time his dad forced him to kill an animal. For Raylan, it was a feral pig, for Kendal it was a gator, being a Florida Crowe and all. And in that tense, drawn out moment where Raylan puts the screws to Kendal without coming off like a jerk, the one shot that stands out is the one from behind the two-way mirror, showing a distraught Wendy. She sees the effect her absence has had on her son, and though she tries to take ownership of that failure and move on to something better, it costs her and her son any remaining family connection. She records Darryl after turning on the waterworks, and gets her hands dirty in a way she avoided previously in helping her family deal with legal troubles. Raylan’s final words to Darryl Crowe Jr. are as chilling as anything he’s ever said to a dying foe, but because the Crowe plot twisted in so many familiar ways, it just didn’t punch as hard as usual.

Boyd Crowder spends most of the episode in a situation he has grown familiar with: on the verge of losing his life. The heroin cartel guys catch up with him, and though they kill one of his most loyal associates, Boyd is sly enough to eventually turn things in his favor, changing the contact for Raylan in his phone to make it look like he’s contacting Darryl. The shootout at Ava’s house between the cartel men and Rachel and Tim rescues Boyd from certain doom. And his justification to Rachel—that he was merely keeping Darryl out of the situation so he could be alive when the Marshals proved Kendal didn’t attempt to murder Art—is exactly the kind of clever, wry retort that makes Boyd such a compelling character. (But it’s also a major reason why Rachel finally turns her attention to capturing Boyd for his litany of crimes.)

The same goes for his tentative reaction to Ava finally returning home, on the opposite end of the spectrum to present him at his most exposed and vulnerable. He was so hopelessly devoted to her, but unable to secure her release, that now he feels disconnected from what guided him through the past few season of the show. He’s thinking about a hypothetical future for their emotions, but all Ava can do is consider the here and now. A bath, pajamas, sleep, and her deal with the Marshals. They’re not on the same page, and even if Ava comes back to him when the show resumes next year, it’ll be a cover for her stay-out-of-jail motivations.

In the good news department, Art finally wakes up, and then Raylan gets what he says he wants but has been avoiding all season: a transfer to Florida. Winona looks positively thrilled—though Natalie Zea again only appears via Skype—but it just wouldn’t be Justified if the show didn’t dangle closing the loop before dashing the mother of Raylan’s child’s hopes once more. US Attorney David Vasquez and Rachel tell Givens that he can’t leave just yet, since they’re preparing to make the big move on Boyd Crowder, to use everything they have in that thick file on his criminal activity, and take him down now that he’s in cahoots with Wynn Duffy’s friend Catherine. It’s a classic “Just when I think I’m out…they pull me back in!” kind of ruse, but the lure of finally catching Boyd and putting him away for good is too appealing for Raylan to pass up. And now the rest of the Marshals are finally on board, so they’re prepared to go all-out by releasing Ava on the condition that she informs about everything.

This whole season had a feeling of biding time, waiting for the real story to come into focus. Last season, the next-best for the show after the Bennett clan in the second season, at least presented some resonant finality with Raylan’s father, racing against Boyd to find Drew Thompson, and themes of sons repeating the actions of their fathers. This season, there was just a hellfire of bullets, makeshift bombs, and drug deals obfuscating that there wasn’t any underlying thematic depth. It’s all been the run-up to the final lap, where everything once again hinges on how Raylan can get his Harlan County doppelganger. Justified is always entertaining—with Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins spouting drawled one-liners it couldn’t be anything else—but what kept it among the best shows on television was always the feeling that all the pulp crime lawman stuff was tied to something weightier in the end. Though this finale also ends with the same song as last year (though a different cover, to connote a different mood), it doesn’t feel like the end of a chapter. It’s the beginning of the final stage, which will pit two sons of Harlan against each other, fates tied together since childhood. There’s a classic kind of harmony to that bookend, but it rendered this season as more of an ellipsis along the path to the ultimate conclusion.


Extra Bullets

• Boyd wants credit from ex-Army sniper Tim for shooting a man with his hands cuffed behind his back. Tim’s excellent response: “Good guys don’t need to shoot people with their hands cuffed, Mr. Crowder.”

• That’s all for Justified this season, thanks for sticking around to read these reviews this season. It’s too bad things took a turn for the disappointing after starting out as electric as ever, but hopefully the final season will go out on a high note, since this has been a wonderfully satisfying show over the past five years.

More "Justified" in our review archives.

Hannibal's design takes shape in 'Yakimono' [TV Recap, Season 2, Episode 7]

Hugh Dancy as Will Graham in “Hannibal” Season 2 Episode 7, “Yakimono”

Characters are dropping like… well, like characters on a televised serial killer drama, I suppose.

But I was not expecting Dr. Chilton to be among the dead when he's supposed to be such a big part of the Silence of the Lambs mythology. And not when I've been loving Raul Esparza so much these last few episodes. Messing with a book's canon can be heresy but Thomas Harris' canon isn't quite as hallowed as, say, George R. R. Martin's, so while it was a truly shocking death -- way more than Beverly's, that's for sure -- Chilton's death means almost anyone not Hannibal or Will can die. It definitely makes me rethink how Jack will fare in that fight against Hannibal that opened the season premiere. And it also made me wonder who, long in the future, will be the "old friend" Hannibal has for dinner when he does escape incarceration.

But that's getting way ahead of ourselves. Despite being one of TV's best and most tense series, there's still no promise of a season three. That's the kind of tension I hate about Hannibal.

And yet that axe poised above the show seems to be giving Fuller and co. a license to just go all out and play with Hannibal however they wish. The Red Dragon season might never come, Clarice Starling might never arrive, but for now, while Fuller can make respectful nods to the stories that came before this one,  this Hannibal firmly belongs to just one particular intelligent psychopath. With a storytelling vision.

So how did Chilton meet his demise? It was Hannibal's design, of course. Maybe he didn't foresee Miriam Lass reacting to Chilton's voice with a firearm, but he most certainly did intend to use her testimony as a misdirect and set Chilton up as the Ripper. Because Chilton isn't Hannibal's friend, not like Will. And we got a crystal clear view of what Hannibal does to his enemies. Even if I wish we didn't. And I wish people just wouldn't go into goddamned basements. Or abandoned silos. From the moment Chilton arrived in his (ridiculously modern and chic) home to the time he fled, covered in blood, you had to know he was screwed. The horror was quick and nightmarish. While I have a hard time believing a doctor at a state hospital could afford such a spacious kitchen, Hannibal's handiwork stood out in monstrous detail.

At what point do we think Hannibal stopped feeding Gideon himself? When Gideon could no longer hold a fork?

Still, maybe Gideon got off easier than Miriam Lass did. "Neither of us are really free," she tells Will, and she was right. Only she doesn't know the extent of her emotional trauma. I had to wonder right away when the first thing she asked Jack after her rescue was "Can I see him?" Was it simple curiosity or was it hinting at some kind of relationship with her captor? Now that we know of Hannibal's talent for hypnotism, it almost seems like anyone who comes into contact with Hannibal can fall under his spell, if he desires it. It seems like he already brainwashed Alana Bloom, who really can't see anything off about her new boyfriend. Christ, she's a terrible therapist.

It's so much worse to see Hannibal's crimes than to hear about them secondhand some years in the future, when he's behind bars. Told from a distance, they're spooky legends that add to Hannibal's mystique. But the risk of showing instead of telling in this instance makes Hannibal somewhat less than a fairy tale monster and more simply a seriously disturbed human who painted the walls of someone's home with innocent law enforcement officials. As we head towards Hannibal being revealed as the Ripper, the cavalier murder of those agents crossed a line for me. While we're "supposed" to root for Will, everyone loves a good antihero. But this time Hannibal wasn't punishing the rude, obeying his own code; he was killing out of self preservation and that's just vulgar in comparison. And it demonstrates how deadly a cornered Hannibal can be.

Good thing Will isn't in a box anymore, free to create his own snare for Hannibal. Resuming therapy with his "friend" -- and a dweeby but cute haircut -- seems like just the lure to draw the killer in. Or is Will's therapy also part of Hannibal's ultimate design?

"Yakimono," Episode 207. Raul Esparza as Dr. Chilton (Photo by: Brooke Palmer/NBC)

Final Bites:

• Anna Clumsky is a welcome addition to this show and I'd be happy to have her stand in for Clarice Starling if the story continues that far. Or if her damaged psyche lets her survive that long. Though Miriam is vulnerable now, we've seen and continued to see glimpses of strength, despite whatever Hannibal's done to her. I particularly enjoyed her scene with Will.

• Will's extreme empathy is useful for crime solving, but it sure is a double-edged sword. The hurt look that flashed across his face when he learned, just by intuiting what wasn't said, that Alana and Hannibal are A Thing now. It's just one more betrayal in a string of betrayals from Dr. Bloom. Sure, she can judge Will for trying to kill Hannibal from prison, but it just feels like a forced excuse. She abandoned him long before that, when she wouldn't ever entertain the idea that Hannibal is capable of what Will's accusing him of. Boy, is she going to have egg on her face when she finds out who Hannibal really is. (I had to resort to my own cannibal pun because we got none this week.)

• Man, the BAU team is judgey. They processed Chilton with the same disdain they did Will mere hours after Will was exonerated for crimes he didn't commit. Way to give someone the benefit of the doubt, guys. Do you really think Chilton is that clever? Really? Him?

• "You threw up an ear!" Oh, Chilton, I will miss your special brand of sarcasm. Seriously. Who will make jokes now? Jack isn't ever intentionally funny.

• That said, Jack is unintentionally hilarious when he STARTS TO YELL MID-SENTENCE FOR EMPHASIS.

• Palate Cleanser of the Week: Will's puppy love! Could there be any other answer?

More Hannibal in our review archives.

Community is here to let you know everything will keep going when the show ends [TV Recap: season 5, episode 12]

At some point, it all has to end. NBC's Community will close up shop, whether it’s later this spring when NBC announces its fall schedule, after six seasons and a movie, or after it somehow incomprehensibly surpasses The Simpsons for longest-running sitcom and everyone complains even louder how the show isn’t as funny as its earlier golden years. But Community isn’t like other shows. It staved off cancellation due to low ratings thanks to a fervent fan base; it survived the departure of creator Dan Harmon and a creatively tepid fourth season; and now it sits a half hour away from yet another uncertain future after Harmon’s return. Community wants everyone to know that no matter how many stays of execution it earns, the end of a show is ultimately inevitable.

The last time Harmon had a chance to oversee how the show said a potential goodbye—third season finale “Introduction to Finality”— it played like a series finale. The final montage of that episode showed each of the characters moving on after a long year into an uncertain but fathomable future. When the show got picked up for a fourth and subsequent fifth season, it cast into doubt whether the final note could live up to that satisfying punctuation. Fourth season finale “Advanced Introduction To Finality” has the rare distinction of being just about the worst episode of the show imaginable, effectively tearing down much of what made the show great while attempting to engage in fan service by using the Darkest Timeline. But “Basic Story” isn’t just another attempt to give the study group plausible ellipses pointing out past a possible cancellation. It’s a commentary on the very idea of sitcoms reaching a point where their pattern no longer makes sense, realizing that juncture has been reached, and calling an end to that familiar repetition and allowing everyone—including the fictional characters—move on from the 30-minute stories.

What I think is so special about this episode is that it’s stylistically unassuming. I’ve broken down my theory of a spectrum for Community episodes, and this one basically defies classification. It’s a “regular” episode of a typically outlandish show. Tonally, it shares a lot with “Repilot,” and thus much of the first season, and already that creates a calming bookend if this indeed the penultimate episode of the show. Few shows care to acknowledge the idea that material may be running thin, even obliquely, and this episode goes out of its way to suggest that all of the zany things it pulls out don’t come from a limitless place. There is an endpoint, and someday, whether by network decision or creative exhaustion, it will arrive.

Oh, right, there’s plot. That’s the thing about episodes like this that are so on-point about life in general: they almost make the nuts and bolts superfluous, even though that adds all the laughter. The Save Greendale Committee has been so successful in turning the inefficiencies of the campus around that there’s not a lot left to do. To Jeff, that’s the sign of a job well done, worthy of taking a moment to breathe and relax. But Abed, meta-character versed in all the sitcoms patterns that he is, refuses to sit still. He keeps trying to concoct crazy schemes so that the committee will still have something to do, they’ll all hang out the way they have been, and nothing else will have to change. It’s an easily relatable urge since Abed’s life has changed so drastically without Troy, and because he defines his life in relation to other fiction story structures. (As someone who has devoted thousands of hours to picking apart and analyzing fictional stories, I sympathize with this compulsion.)

The scene where Jeff drags Abed out into the hall might as well go ahead and break the fourth wall. If there’s no more trouble for the former study group to confront, and no more classes for them to go to, then there are no more easily crafted story arcs to digest. Abed’s note that Jeff literally drags him across a threshold to tell him there is no story in the Committee’s success is both a comment on how artificial story arcs can be when applied to life, and a beat in the modest arc of this episode. Structurally, this is a thing of beauty. And hey, Abed going crazy at the idea of a sitcom story following him no matter how hard he tries to escape it is pretty damn funny.

Meanwhile, thanks to the work done by the Save Greendale Committee, the hapless trustees (who apparently went to Yale, though that’s not surprising) are so thrilled that the campus now holds a modicum of value that they turn around and sell it to the highest corporate bidder: Subway. In essence, the attempts to save the school becomes the very thing that ensures its devolution into a “Sandwich University” that wants Jeff to pivot into teaching “Sandwich Law.” There’s your ridiculous story beat, as the party celebration the insurance inspector’s conclusion promptly gets cut short now that they need to actually save the school.

It’s impressive how plainly this episode calls attention to sitcoms growing older and creakier, relying on increasingly ridiculous antics to keep the excitement heightened though the spark has long since passed. Community doesn’t look like it wants to do that. t even comments on the likelihood of online social media campaigns designed to save struggling saving something struggling to stay afloat. It’s preparing all the viewers for its inevitable end, and saying how that’s more than okay, because reaching the end is a mandatory part of telling a great story.

And by the end, “Basic Story” veers into the danger zone, throwing Britta and Jeff together in a ridiculous marriage proposal, and gifting Abed, Annie, and the Dean their buried treasure Hail Mary to prevent the school being sold. Chang is even back to his double-crossing ways, eavesdropping on everything in preparation for next week’s “final” big showdown. (Or is it?) This is a lot of build up, and like “A Fistful Of Paintballs” in the second season, a promising first half still feels incomplete without the falling action next week. But with only half the story at hand, Community continues to engage with sitcom history, viewer expectations, and its own internal evaluation of quality. It’s a show that constantly examines television as a medium with a legacy and openly tries to find its place in that timeline.

The list of truly great sitcom finales isn’t very long, and I’m sure varies from critic to critic and viewer to viewer. I’m not hoping for something like that with Community, because I think my favorite episodes will always be from somewhere in the middle of the season, with a concept I personally connected to or a powerful message involving my favorite characters. But an emotionally satisfying capstone is very important to the legacy of sitcoms—as How I Met Your Mother demonstrated just a few weeks ago—and after Harmon finished his first tenure as showrunner with what could have served as a memorable series finale, then the fourth season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, the show is once again set up to potentially go out on a high note that sends a meaningful message about how we think about television.

Extra Credit

• The tag, a delightful shared moment between Jonathan Banks and John Oliver, rewards the two amazing recurring characters from this season with a potential familial link. There’s got to be a way to get that English cousin on the show if there’s a sixth season. Might I suggest Jimmy Carr?

• That’s a picture of the hilarious Chris Elliott as Greendale founder Russell Borchert, the man who contracted the first computer virus.

• The Subway Black Card: Free five-dollar foot-longs for life. What a deal?

More in our NBC Community review archives.

Study: American policy exclusively reflects desires of the rich; citizens' groups largely irrelevant

In Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens [PDF], a paper forthcoming in Perspectives on Politics by Princeton's Martin Gilens and Northwestern's Benjamin Page, the authors analyze 1,779 over the past 20+ years and conclude that policy makers respond exclusively to the needs of people in the 90th wealth percentile to the exclusion of pretty much every one else. Mass-scale intervention from citizens' groups barely registers, while the desires of the richest ten percent of America dictate practically the entire national policy landscape.

In a summary in the Washington Post, Larry Bartels writes,

Alas, no. In their primary statistical analysis, the collective preferences of ordinary citizens had only a negligible estimated effect on policy outcomes, while the collective preferences of “economic elites” (roughly proxied by citizens at the 90th percentile of the income distribution) were 15 times as important. “Mass-based interest groups” mattered, too, but only about half as much as business interest groups — and the preferences of those public interest groups were only weakly correlated (.12) with the preferences of the public as measured in opinion surveys.

Gilens and Page frame their study as a test of four broad theories of American politics: “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy,” “Majoritarian Pluralism,” “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism.” “Majoritarian Electoral Democracy,” with its emphasis on public opinion, elections and representation, provides the theoretical backbone of most contemporary political science (including mine). The training of most graduate students (including mine) is primarily couched in that framework. But Gilens’s and Page’s work makes that look like a bad scientific bet, wishfully ignoring most of what actually drives American policy-making.

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens [PDF] [Martin Gilens/Benjamin I. Page, Perspectives on Politics]

Rich people rule! [Larry Bartels/Washington Post]

(via Metafilter)

Locus Poll wants your picks for the best sf/f of 2013

The 43d annual Locus Poll and Survey is now online. Every year, science fiction trade journal Locus solicits votes on its editors' picks for the best science fiction and fantasy of the year (as well as write-in suggestions for missing works) and awards the winning authors with handsome plaques and the enormous honor of winning an award that's part editors' choice, part peoples' choice. I'm delighted to see that my novel Homeland made the list this year. Subscribers and non-subscribers alike are welcome to vote.

Locus Poll and Survey

Kickstarting Storium: turn writing into a multiplayer game

Mur Lafferty sez, "This week, Storium launched its Kickstarter and reached funding ($25000) in the first day. Storium is a web-based online game that you play with friends. It works by turning writing into a multiplayer game."

With just your computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can choose from a library of imaginary worlds to play in, or build your own. You create your story's characters and decide what happens to them. You can tell any kind of story with Storium. The only limit is your imagination.

Storium uses familiar game concepts inspired by card games, role-playing games, video games, and more. In each Storium game, one player is the narrator, and everyone else takes on the role of a character in the story. The narrator creates dramatic challenges for the other players to overcome. In doing so, they move the story forward in a new direction. Everyone gets their turn at telling the story."

Storium offers worlds to play in created by authors, transmedia writers, and game designers, and one of the perks of supporting the Kickstarter campaign is instant access to the already-running beta.

Storium — The Online Storytelling Game (Thanks, Mur!)

HOWTO buy your way out of a California speeding ticket

Pricenomics revisits the perennial scandal of the 11-99 Foundation, which benefits California Highway Patrol officers and their families in times of crisis. Major donors to the foundation receive a license-plate frame that, drivers believe, acts as a license to speed on California highways. The plates were withdrawn in 2006 after a CHP commissioner's investigation seemed to validate the idea that CHP officers would let off drivers with the frames. The frames are back now, thanks to a funding crisis from 11-99, and some posters on cop-message boards say that the frames themselves aren't enough to get you out of a ticket -- because many of them are counterfeits -- but if you have a member's card, too, well, that's another story, wink, nudge.

On, in a discussion about 11-99 frames (and fakes) mentioned earlier, a number of cops weighed in. Priceonomics is still trying to verify identities, so their statements could be fabrications. But it presents an intriguing perspective of officers’ potential views on the 11-99 frames.

A number of cops reported ignoring the license plate frames when they decided whether to pull over and ticket drivers. One cop describes a driver whose “first words” were about the stickers indicating the donations he made. When the driver insisted that they required big donations, the cop replied, “Well, paying for these citations shouldn’t be a problem.”

But some answers indicate that people have reason to believe that the frames will help them avoid tickets. In addition to the frames, the CHP 11-99 Foundation gives out membership cards to big donors. In reference to secondhand or fake frames, one cop wrote, “Unless you have the I.D. in hand when (not if) I stop you, no love will be shown.” Another added, “Ya gotta have more than just a license plate frame or a sticker.” The implication from these officers seems to be that buying a fake license plate frame is useless, but real donors will receive some leniency.

Can You Buy A License to Speed? [Alex Mayyasi/Pricenomics]

(via Naked Capitalism)

Vodo's indie science fiction bundle: comics, movies, novels, and more!

Jamie from Vodo writes, "We've launched Otherworlds, our first indie sci-fi bundle! This pay-what-you-want, crossmedia collection includes the graphic novel collecting Cory's own 'Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now', Jim Munroe's micro-budget sci-fi satire 'Ghosts With Shit Jobs', Robert Venditti's New York Times Bestselling graphic novel 'The Surrogates', and Amber Benson/Adam Busch's alien office farce, 'Drones'. Check out the whole bundle and choose your own price 5% of earnings go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation!"

I love Vodo -- they produce gorgeous, high-quality science fiction shows that are CC licensed; each episode is released once donors have pitched in to pay for it. It's a business-model that lets them make good art based on generosity, trust and working with the Internet, instead of stamping their feet and insisting that it change to suit their needs.


This Day in Blogging History: Iranian scientist's future-prediction machine; Rotting WWII junk in the jungles of Peleliu

One year ago today
Iranian scientist invents machine that predicts the future: My invention easily fits into the size of a personal computer case and can predict details of the next 5-8 years of the life of its users.

Five years ago today
Rotting WWII junk in the jungles of Peleliu: Tons of the war stuff (tanks, guns, ruined buildings) lies out in the jungle, and I took a tour round, snapping some interesting photos and listening to stories (and weirdly, I discovered during writing the post that the battle was the origin of the phrase 'thousand yard stare').

Tech companies could force NSA reform if they wanted to. Why haven't they?

President Obama at meeting with executives from leading tech companies at the White House in Washington December 17, 2013. Pictured are (L-R): Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Obama, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Pictured are (L-R): Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Obama, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.

In a Guardian op-ed, Trevor Timm writes: The CEOs of the major tech companies came out of the gate swinging 10 months ago, complaining loudly about how NSA surveillance has been destroying privacy and ruining their business. They still are. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called the US a "threat" to the Internet, and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, called some of the NSA tactics "outrageous" and potentially "illegal". They and their fellow Silicon Valley powerhouses – from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft and Apple and more – formed a coalition calling for surveillance reform and had conversations with the White House. But for all their talk, the public has come away empty handed.

Read: Silicon Valley could force NSA reform, tomorrow. What's taking so long? [The Guardian. Trevor is executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, of which I am a proud board member.]