Friday, December 07, 2012

ON TV: THE WALKING DEAD, Season 3, Ep. 8 "Made to Suffer" - It's Tough to be a Bald Man, Black Male, or Blond Female in TWD's Zombie Apocalypse

I'm enjoying this show, but love to hate some aspects of it, too.  This  post calls your attention to Scott Johnson's post, titled "The Walking Dead: It's Tough To Be A Bald Man In A Zombie Apocalypse". I second Scott's take and (in my response, which immediately follows his post) raise him two: I think "It's Tough to be a Bald Man, Black Male, or Blond Female in TWD's Zombie Apocalypse".

ON TV: THE WALKING DEAD, Season 3, Ep. 8 "Made to Suffer" - Short Hair Does Not (always) Equal Lesbian

I'm enjoying this show, but love to hate some aspects of it, too.  This  post addresses a comment made by HitFix's Alan Sepinwall, in his recap of the show's mid-season finale: THE WALKING DEAD, Season 3, Ep. 8 "Made to Suffer".  Subtitle to my response: "Short Hair Does Not (always) Equal Lesbian".


Given the confluence of Axel's context, Carol's distinctive butch cut, and her past history, I don't think Axel's statement was farfetched, at all.  In fact, I thought that bit was the writers' clever nod to - and attempt to intertwine - the following relevant threads. Walk with me on this:

THREAD ONE – Carol's  haircut may be an artifact of the abuse she suffered from her late husband, Ed. I've thought her keeping her hair short reflects the fact that she's still in recovery. (See  Thus, Axel may have correctly interpreted her vulnerability, but given his context, misattributed its cause.

THREAD TWO - Axel’s context is prison culture. Prison’s a place where, it’s commonly understood, most sex is not conjugal; rather, it’s same-sex and oftentimes not consensual. And for the better part of a year, Axel’s been cooped up in close confines within a prison-society-within-a prison-society run by two sociopathic predators (“Alpha” Tomas and his “Beta” Andrew), subject to no external authority, and buffered only by Big Tiny and Oscar - two Betas who seemed saner and more “civilized” (i.e., more imbued with traditional values and decency) than Tomas and Andrew.  Remember, Big Tiny and Oscar’s first impulse, when Rick advised them of the apocalypse, was to phone their loved ones, and Oscar retained such domestic leanings as liking to wear house slippers of an evening.

THREAD THREE – Axel may know Rick’s group hails from Atlanta. Moreover, Atlanta may not be overly far from the prison. It’s well-known that Atlanta’s LGBT population ranks amongst the largest amongst American cities (see  

THREAD FOUR - LGBT people in prison are oftentimes targeted for abuse (see Therefore, a “veteran” prisoner (such as Axel) is likely able to recognize vulnerable individuals just as easily as he can recognize those with “Alpha” and “Beta” status (see and Side Notes 1 and 2, below). I think he correctly perceived Carol’s lingering vulnerability (she’s a recovering  - but judging by her hair, not fully recovered - survivor of  years of spousal abuse), but Axel misattributed the source of her vulnerability.

SIDE NOTE-1: I get the impression that Axel held “Omega” (low man on the totem pole) status in prison, as evidenced by his small physical stature, minority status as a white man among men of color, chattiness around those in charge, and quick efforts to make himself useful (by offering to tune up Daryl’s motorcycle). Oscar, on the other hand, was a “Beta”: he was physically imposing, adopted a “you’ll do whatever you’re going to do, but I’m not going to try to convince you” demeanor, and let his actions rather than words show he was useful. Andrew – although less physically imposing - was a Beta, too, under “Alpha” Tomas – who was a stone-cold predator.  Oscar chose Rick over Andrew, because he recognized Rick as an Alpha as well as identified with his decency, while Andrew was only a wannabe Alpha and his sociopathology (and poor judgment) was a known quantity.

SIDE NOTE-2: Axel no longer feels like an “Omega” at the prison, where he’s surrounded by a one-legged old man, a 17-year-old girl, a baby, someone he perceives as a boy, and a slightly-built abuse [recovery] victim he’d dismissed as a lesbian.  But now that Carol’s revealed she’s not gay (and thus is a suitable potential sexual partner), I’m curious about how Axel will reassess his and Carol’s rankings on the Alpha-Beta-Omega scale, and his view of Daryl – whom Axel might now begin to view as a rival when (not if) Daryl returns.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did you know about these black prisoners of the Nazis?

The Holocaust (also known as the Shoah, or "catastrophe") was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II (approximately two-thirds of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust), and five to eleven million non-Jews, including Romani, communists, Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah's Witnesses and other political and religious "opponents" of the Nazi regime, of German and non-German ethnic origin, alike. (Source: Wikipedia: The Holocaust)

I am fairly knowledgeable about the subject, but recently I read (and in some cases, re-read) several pieces about the role and fate of blacks during the Holocaust. I started by perusing the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's Holocaust Enyclopedia article titled: "Blacks During the Holocaust"; the Wikipedia articles: "The Holocaust: Non-Jewish: Persons of Color, "Black People in Nazi Germany", and "Racial Policy of Nazi Germany: Other non-Aryans"; and several related resources. In doing so, I came across several names and photographs that many might find unfamiliar. 

For example, did you know about these black prisoners of the Nazis?
Vestre Fængsel survivor - According to Wikipedia: "While touring through Denmark in 1941, Valaida was arrested by the Nazis and probably kept at Vestre Fængsel,[2] a Danish prison in Copenhagen that was run by the Nazis, before being released on a prisoner exchange in May 1942.[3] According to jazz historian Scott Yanow, "she never emotionally recovered from the experience".["

Dachau survivor - he was a Belgian resistance fighter arrested in 1942 for alleged sabotage.

Beverloo, Laufen, and Tittmoning survivor - according to Wikipedia - "On April 14, 1942, four months after the United States entered the war, Nassy was arrested as an enemy national in German-occupied Belgium. For seven months, he was held in the Beverloo transit camp in Leopoldsburg, Belgium. He was then transferred to Germany. He spent the rest of the war at the Laufen internment camp and its subcamp, Tittmoning, both in Upper Bavaria.

Throughout his three-year imprisonment, Nassy created a unique visual diary of more than 200 paintings and drawings. Many of these works depict daily life in the internment camps. Rules of the Geneva Conventions governed conditions in civilian internment camps, including Laufen and Tittmoning in Nazi Germany where Nassy was confined from 1942 to 1945. Such rules did not apply at the nearby Dachau concentration camp and other camps across German-occupied Europe. There, prisoners were brutally exploited for forced labor, and many died from exhaustion, starvation, and other harsh conditions.

For those interested in learning more, I've included links to some useful resources below.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On TV: THE CLOSER series finale recap (Thank yew!)

Saddened though I was to bid farewell to my favorite junk food junkie, I loved The Closer's series finale, which aired last night on TNT.   Thank yew, Brenda Leigh Johnson and company.

In The Closer series finale, episode 7.21 titled "The Last Word" (2012), two men having a moonlight tryst in a secluded, wooded, cliffside section of Griffith Park witness a masked man, clad entirely in black, carrying a naked blonde's body. The trick, who's removed only his jacket at this point (with his cellphone and other personal effects in the pocket), sees this sinister scenario first and takes off running, literally leaving the kid (survival sex prostitute Rusty Beck), with his pants down.  While the boy's yanking his jeans up, the trick's cellphone rings, alerting the killer that he's not alone.  Rusty grabs the phone and flees, with the killer hot on his heels. The culprit catches and struggles with the teenager, who fights back valiantly, and in the process unmasks the culprit. The killer, in turn bangs Rusty in the forehead head with a shovel and shoves the kid off the cliff. Miraculously, Rusty - who (we learn) is a survivor in more ways than one - makes his way downtown and uses his john's cellphone to report the crime.

Thanks to Rusty's call, Brenda and her team find the body and use the clues found at and around the serial killer's burial ground as well as leads generated by the phone call to track down the two witnesses and other important clues. Thusly, they identify the dead girl and tentatively identify the culprit as Phillip Stroh. 

Stroh is a wily attorney who Brenda and her team know is a serial killer, but - until now - he has so deftly covered his tracks that Brenda has been unable to collect the hard evidence needed to close the case.  This has haunted Brenda, who has obsessed over this case for several seasons, even in nightmares that have eerily foretold her and Stroh's final encounter. Unfortunately, Brenda's zealous methods of pursuing Stroh have jeopardized her credibility on that subject and her professional standing.

And then the frantic 911 call causes Beck's, Brenda's and Brenda's real-life bogeyman's lives to collide.

To positively identify Stroh (in a manner that will hold up in court) and close her final case, Brenda must employ nontraditional means that ultimately sacrifice her job and come close to costing Beck and Brenda their lives. First, Brenda lures Stroh to reveal himself as the masked man who buried women in the park by publicizing in the media pictures of a barechested, scratched-up Beck (who left his shirt at the scene when he hastily fled for his life) wearing the serial killer's mask as a hat and phoning 911, along with the call's audio and transcripts and advisement that Sunset Boulevard is Beck's usual stroll. Stroh takes the bait, approaching Beck on the boulevard, and is hauled by Brenda's team into an investigation room at MCD. There, Brenda threatens that she has Stroh's DNA.  He's too wily, however, to confess.  He knows Brenda would arrest him if she had sufficient evidence, but he hasn't consented to provide a DNA sample, which - he sneers - Brenda cannot legally obtain without his consent.  Clearly, he's unclear whom he's dealing with.

Eventually, MCD must cut Stroh loose.  However, cocky about besting Brenda again (and perhaps still high on his latest kill), Stroh can't resist revealing he closely follows every detail of her life, and taunts Brenda about her mother's recent death.  He then turns and cockily struts into the elevator (that symbolic cell signifying the ability to rise or fall at the push of a button, of life's comeuppances and downfalls). 

Thank yew!

Brenda (whose quick-trigger reflexes have frequently impressed me) takes advantage of that opportunity to dive into the elevator, just before the doors lock them in alone together, and attack Stroh, obstensibly (and probably) expending the rage and frustration she has built up toward him over the years and expressing her emotional reaction to his dig about her dearly departed mother. In the process, she also calculatedly and in sangfroid draws blood and skin fragments, that she (and her friend DDA Hobbs, who offers her a new job outside of the LAPD) convince the crime lab to match against DNA taken from Stroh's mask. Of course, Brenda's attack of Stroh - in plain sight of her whole team and upward chain of command - threatens to invite (another) lawsuit, a definite reprimand, and possible dismissal from the force.  But she ultimately sidesteps all of that and resigns.

That evening, after Fritz has left for Washington, D.C. to expedite the case, Stroh (who's been stalking Brenda) breaks into her house, where a homeless Beck is staying overnight.  Brenda recognizes what's happened when she leaves Beck at the table to have a cry in the w.c. and discovers the window wide open, the screen removed, and a Hitchcockian breeze billowing through the bathroom curtains.  (I'm not sure there actually ARE curtains, but you get the picture.) She grabs a low-tech weapon (some sort of bludgeon) and, pretending she's unaware there's a killer in her kitchen, continues talking to Beck while cautiously making her way to the that now scary room, where she left him sitting at the kitchen table (now vacant) and the purse holding her gun on the kitchen counter (which she must inevitably pass by serial killer Stroh to reach).

Sure enough, there's Stroh, all the more nightmarish-looking with his battered face and raccoon eyes that Brenda blackened in her attack, holding Beck at knifepoint. Brenda advises Beck to execute the defensive move he's found successful with dangerous johns.  Beck complies, letting his body go slack and then judo flipping Stroh.  With the attacker flat on his back, Brenda makes a move for her purse.

Thankfully, Beck's more than a pretty face with a pouty attitude; while Brenda goes for her bag, he tackles Stroh. But Stroh slashes the boy in the leg, temporarily incapacitating him, and then goes after Brenda. 

In the ensuing scene, eerily reminiscent of Brenda's struggle with another psychopathic killer who cornered her at a boatyard machine shop (which she displayed poor judgment to enter without backup, just as she displayed poor judgment to think she and Beck would be safe at her home with Stroh on the loose, after all that's recently transpired), Brenda's able to grab her designer bag in the nick of time.  Stroh's poised his huge butcher knife and is practically upon Brenda when she reaches in her purse and shoots him several times, right through the black satchel's leather bottom.  (I have a similar bag, but it's too full of stuff to ever serve me as well in a pinch.)

Stroh, badly wounded and heavily bloodied, falls to the floor, with his back against the counter, unable to get up. Brenda, by now, has removed the handgun from the handbag and aimed it, two-handed, at his kill zone.  Stroh - recognizing that Brenda is tempted to kill him, and hearing Beck's strident exhortations to do so - urges Brenda to instead phone 911.  Brenda rationalizes that she could kill Stroh "in self defense", but the attorney-at-law counters that Beck could blow that rationalization out of the water when questioned as a witness. 

Brenda doesn't heed Stroh's advice, but takes her own counsel.  Scenes leading up to this one reveal that Brenda's career, conscience, and colleagues (especially Sgt. David Gabriel - note his angelic last name)  are haunted by memories of the Turrell Baylor case, and so - after a tense moment of "will she or won't she?" - former Deputy Chief Johnson phones an ambulance, instead. (Brenda's character contrasts with Dr. Melfi's, in that Brenda's actions in the series finale redeem her, while Melfi  - who was tempted to sic Tony Soprano on her rapist after the legal system bungled the evidence chain-of-custody and thus had to free him - would have been irredeemable had she let street justice dispatch with a criminal the legal system was inequipped to deal with) .

Stroh offers Brenda a confession, but "the closer" - who obsessed over this criminal for years -  uncharacteristically does not want to hear it. Clearly, she has reached another, more important sort of closure; her mother's death and Beck's comments and life story (which she closely identifies with) have taught her to focus on the living, not the dead.

P.S. Brenda - assured that the new job she's offered as chief of the DA's Bureau of Investigation will let her bring Det. Gabriel aboard with her (as her LAPD Liaison) - accepts the position and says her goodbyes in the last few scenes.  The team's parting gift is a black leather designer satchel, filled with the silver-foil-wrapped treats Brenda loves. The purse is meant to replace, as closely as possible, that bag Brenda damaged when she shot Stroh (it's now evidence, so the team couldn't inspect it too closely); the team hopes it's an acceptable substitute.

ASIDE: The filmmakers have ensured that viewers realize how important Brenda's bag is to her; she carried one everywhere, throughout the series, frequently leaving it behind and making a big deal about retrieving it.  At the top of the series finale episode, she hefted it after exiting the police van that brought her to the serial killer's burial ground, and the warddrobe department ensured that the oversized black bag contrasted sharply with her short white overcoat and matched her black gloves and tall black boots, so we'd notice it as she tramped around the park.

Touched, Brenda assures the team the gift is perfect; "it's love", she says repeatedly.  Clearly, it's not just the bag, and not just the treats that touch her.  It's the gesture - so antithetical to the cold shoulder and rebellion that greeted Brenda when she began the job.  (Beware, Captain Raydor!) And they'll see Brenda again (after she returns from Atlanta), the former Deputy Chief promises; after all, her new job is just up the block. (There's that up/down terminology, again.) 

No mushy hugs or kisses in that farewell, but it's so touching, all the same, that some of those gun-toting tough guys fight back tears.

Then it's out the door and down the hall, where Brenda steps into the same elevator cell where she'd previously beaten Stroh to a pulp. There's no sign of his blood or gore now.  Brenda contentedly sniffs the silver treat, much as one might enjoy the bouquet of a fine wine, and smiles, as the door shuts.

Bye-bye, Brenda Leigh!  Thank yew so much.


P.S. Anyone else wondering if The Closer's spin-off, Major Crimes, will continue to use the down home bluesy music that goes hand in hand with Brenda Leigh's southern roots, and that is so reminiscent of another police series I enjoyed: In the Heat of the Night?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In Print: My fave quote today (from Erik Larson's THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY)

Love this quote from Erik Larson's 2003 non-fiction book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (Crown Publishers, ISBN 0609608444):

"At first, most Americans believed that if an exposition honoring the deepest roots of the nation were to be held anywhere, the site should be Washington, the capital. [...] Suddenly New York and St. Louis wanted the fair. Washington laid claim to the honor on grounds it was the center of government, New York because it was the center of everything. No one cared what St. Louis thought, although the city got a wink for pluck." - page 28