The Strain – “The Box”

The-Strain-1x02-850x560
Standard

Last week we watched the premier of FX’s new drama The Strain and were mildly entertained. There was a bit of mystery that will keep me attached, but I’m not going to like myself for it. I’m not one of those people who needs to be blown away by the pilot. If the subject matter piques my interest enough then I’ll stick around. I like Guillermo Del Toro. I like the bald dude from House of Cards. And I fucking love The Lord of the Rings movies. You’re not getting rid of me so easily, mediocre television show.

What was my reaction after watching episode number two you ask? It didn’t excite me, but still kept me interested. I’m pretty sure we know, and more importantly, the show knows what it is. We have a concept (vampires) that appeals to the masses and we have the mystery dynamic that will keep audience members going. What exactly is this virus? Why are these people spreading it? Who exactly are these…people spreading it? And after a while it will be, “When will I find all of this out because I’m going to give up soon?”. This is a show that’s fit for TNT, not the sole competitor to HBO’s dominance in quality television programming.

Highlights of the episode include meeting Vasiliy Fet, the apparently kung fu oriented exterminator. He will surely have a big part of the show going forward. His background is certainly well suited for what’s about to come. The showdown at the jail with Eichorst and Setrakian was surprisingly tense. We gather they’ve had past experience with each other, in what seems to be a holocaust environment. All that talk of being just a number and Eichorst darkly referring to the old man only as “jew”. Walder Frey is the main reason I’m keeping with this show right now. Between this and the scene with his wife’s heart, I really want to see where his story takes us, past and future.

Corey Stoll’s wig is still awful. Sean Astin is again being woefully underused. The rocker Bolivar annoys me every time he opens his mouth (though the licking blood off the floor scene was respectable). The actress who plays Nora could be replaced with a rock and the show wouldn’t skip a beat. I could go on but then you all would keep asking why I’m watching this show. We all have morals. One of mine is to finish every season of television I start. I will admit the scene where the girl in the tub tongue attacks her father is visually appealing. Saw it coming of course, but it was cool to see the milk white water mixing slowly with blood. Yeah, I’m straining to get through each episode, but I’m not at the point where I should re evaluate my life. Also known as what everyone watching the last season of True Blood is going through. 

The Last Door Stands Always Open

Half-a-King-Quotes-Staggered
Standard

Nothing compared. Not the wait for Breaking Bad’s final season. Nor the twenty miserable years before becoming a “man”. Hell, not even the two hours stuck in traffic while having to take a massive…you know. There has been nothing more excruciating in my life than the two year wait for Joe Abercrombie’s new novel, Half a King.

Abercrombie last published a book back in 2012, the fantastic fantasy/western Red Country. Financially it’s the best work he’s done so far (although I’ll always be partial to The Heroes. That book is a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned). After topping the New York Times bestseller list, Abercrombie seemed to be on top of the world. Fans were clamoring for the next installment in the world of The First Law. It was then that his collective fan base went into the spiraling depression that I have succumbed to these past two years. First he informed us he would be taking a well deserved breakRed Country had burned him out and he needed time to think, read, relax, etc. And then came the bombshell. Joe Abercrombie went soft. No more grit. Good riddance grim-dark, good afternoon….Young Adult? Joe freaking Abercrombie is writing a novel in the same category as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games? Say one thing for Mr. Abercrombie, say he’s full of surprises.

To be honest, I wasn’t as skeptical as many of his devoted fans. I think it’s incredibly exciting when an author takes a leap of faith, attempting something out of their comfort zone. After reading those blog posts he absolutely has a point. Six (pretty massive) books in seven years. Red Country lived up to every expectation, but I admit it felt a bit overdone. Now, is that because I read every single one of his books back to back? Perhaps. But I’m not going to deny I needed a break from Abercrombie after his western tale. This coming from someone who considers himself an Abercrombie super-fan, a borderline stalker really.

I was more depressed that I had to wait two years for his new project. Now I see how selfish this was. Especially considering what all my brethren over at the ASOIAF Fan Club have been going through all these years. Book depression was heavy, but after a few months I started to feel something. Excitement. Yeah it was two years away. But it was something new from Abercrombie, and I mean new. It’s like wondering how Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant would mesh. Or any weird combination in the sports world. Joe Abercrombie and Young Adult? Never in a million years would I expect to see those two in the same sentence. Well let me tell you folks. Bryant and Paul probably would have led to disastrous results, but the Abercrombie Young Adult child Half a King is championship caliber.

The book centers around Prince Yarvi, the crippled second son of King Uthrik. His left hand is mangled, useless, forcing him into a life with the monastery. Luckily this suits Yarvi just fine. He may not have the skills to be a great warrior, but his mind allows him to excel at this field of work. In Abercrombie’s world, and ours equally, life never sticks to your plan. King Uthrik and his first born are both tragically murdered leaving Yarvi as the King of Gettland. My day is ruined when my parents inform me we are going to my cousin’s birthday party at the last second. One can only imagine how hard Yarvi’s head was spinning after such news.

Not everyone is happy with Yarvi’s ascension to the Black Chair (eerily simliar to a certain popular fantasy seat…). The twists start sprouting right from the start, forcing Yarvi to grow up faster than he ever imagined possible. If you enjoyed Best Served Cold  you will take to his new book well. The revenge factor is heavy throughout, but it is able to separate itself from his previous revenge story as the book goes on. While I won’t add spoilers to this review, I will say, as in every Abercrombie book, the ending gives you a slap in the face. I even tried to see it coming but Joe was too good.

Is this book Young Adult? It is with reluctance that I say it is. Although I think there are deeper themes in this than you would see in most Young Adult literature. I can assure you there is no love triangle. Yet when you write in this genre the main focus will always be a coming of age story. I mean, that’s what we do at Yarvi’s age. We grow, we mature, we experience. None of us are the same as our teenage selves. As played out as that trend may be, it’s just a natural progression for young adult characters. We face hardships, big and small, and learn from them.

The biggest reason for holding Joe Abercrombie in such high regard is the way he paints his characters. He doesn’t always have the most captivating story ( the trilogy dragged at times), but it’s his characters that always suck me in. Now we don’t meet him until almost a hundred pages in, but Nothing is one of my new personal favorites. He’s no Whirrun of Bligh, or Glokta, but he’s like a Logen Ninefingers LIght. A Diet Bloody NIne if you will. And I’m fine with that. Characters like The Bloody Nine aren’t meant for young adult readers. Let’s have them work their way up to that monster.

And really, this book was just a light version of Joe Abercrombie. It had less pages. Less sex. Gore. Cursing. But it doesn’t make it worse. It’s also a leaner, faster read. Never once did I slog. We are always in Yarvi’s point of view, which I found refreshing after reading so many books, like A Song of Ice and Fire for example, that throw a million POV at you. Half a King is the perfect fantasy summer read. It’s light and fun, but with darkness etched in the corners. You won’t feel self conscious for reading a Young Adult novel because it won’t feel like one, even though it would fit the bill compared to The Heroes. In Yarvi’s world, Nothing boasts that steel is always the answer, and it seems that way. But I can tell you that in this world, for Joe Abercrombie, the decision to write this book was not only the right answer, but the only one.

Half a King (Amazon)

The Strain – “Night Zero”

The Strain (2014) Season 1, Episode 1 (Screengrab)
Standard

I’ve been on the road for almost two weeks, doing a mini tour of some major cities in the United States. Like Steve Martin and John Candy, I used multiple sources of transportation throughout the trip. My least favorite being travel by air. I’m one of those nuts who believes I’ll be in the plane that gets struck by lightning. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that “Flight” is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. So when I heard the pilot for FX’s new show “The Strain”, revolves around a massive amount of people dying on an airplane, I was a bit hesitant. Once I landed safely at JFK and nobody uttered the words “We gotta dead plane”, I couldn’t risk losing my Guillermo Del Toro fan boy card. I jumped in head first.

As I said before, the trouble begins when a commercial flight is taken over by some kind of creature. He seemingly kills them all, lands the plane, and closes almost all of the blinds. Eventually the CDC is brought in and we meet our main protagonist in Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll from House of Cards), and his awful hairpiece. Along with his work associates Nora and Jim (Mia Maestro and the GREAT Sean Astin), Ephraim investigates what virus could have possibly done this.

There’s at least one person in the city who already knows. Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley of Walder Frey fame) clearly knows what is going on, and from the sound of it has had past dealings with the virus. If you weren’t aware already, the fact that Setrakian will always pay for silver probably means we are dealing with vampires. Along with the incisions that all the victims bare on their bodies.

We are introduced to a few possible important characters. Eldritch Palmer, a very wealthy evil dude, seems like the person funding the parasitic take over. Gus is the typical TV show street thug. He has a bad attitude, loves his mum, and is having shady characters pay him to do risky jobs. And that shady character is Thomas Eichorst. He has the feel of a “right hand man” type of bad guy. Clearly him and Setrakian have some bad blood between them. I’m excited for their first encounter.

The show has some cheese to it. It feels like a love child between a Law and Order type of show and The Walking Dead. Or any generic horror show. The scene where the dude gets the Red Viper treatment by the main vampire is pretty disturbing. Kudos to the make up team. But what should I expect when dealing with Guillermo Del Toro? The acting is pretty sub par aside from a few, but it doesn’t seem like the show plans on taking itself too seriously. I mean honestly, The Walking Dead isn’t Mad Men either.

I’ll follow it for the first season even though there are better quality shows out there I should be watching (cough Masters of Sex cough). If you like blood, vampires, bad wigs, Guillermo Del Toro, and/or news conference face slaps, then you should give the show a chance.