Lost Characters

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I started watching the TV show X-Files when I was a freshman in college and I was hooked pretty immediately. About a year later when FX aired the entire series in order I video-taped (on VHS in those days) and watched the whole series. A decade later when I was almost done with college my friends Aaron and Russ wanted to watch the series, which they’d never seen before. But X-Files was a pretty long-running show, so we decided to just watch the episodes related to the alien conspiracy. Since I’d seen the series before I served as our guide. I found some lists of the alien episodes online, but I wasn’t really happy with the choices that they’d made and I ended up curating my own list of the episodes that would best let us watch the over-arching plot line.

X-Files is kind of a unique show because it let us do this. There are two kinds of X-Files episodes: the episodes that are part of the over-arching plot line of the alien conspiracy, and the stand-alone episodes of some weird supernatural thing that isn’t alien related. There really isn’t much of a middle ground. (Star was also an X-Files veteran and would sometimes watch with us, but she was and still is opposed to our approach, and in some ways she’s right: Most of the very best episodes were stand-alone episodes because they were so creative and often had really excellent writers.)

 

Ever since then I’ve thought about that idea of analyzing how required an episode is if you want to keep watching the series. I don’t think most TV shows are as clear-cut as X-Files was. Even shows that do have over-arching plot lines and random single-episode plots, they usually sprinkle and mix them so that there’s at least something related to the over-arching plot in every episode. You can’t usually cut out whole episodes and expect to understand what’s going on in the next episode.

 

Recently we’ve started re-watching the TV show Lost, and the third episode of the show suggests a different way for an episode to be really important to the series.

Really nothing happens in the episode to further the overarching plot. There are several reminders of important things going on but nothing new really happens. Sure they talk about being off-course and the weird radio signal, but they’re just reminding us of what’s happened in other episodes. In other words, if you completely missed this episode you could still watch the next one and understand everything that was going on.

Even though you wouldn’t have missed any plot milestones, you would have missed some really important milestones for our characters. There are tons of instances in this episode where you get a first look at attributes of these characters that end up being really important during the rest of the show. So maybe the episode is still really essential for watching the whole series, but for very different reasons. You could understand the plot without this episode, but you might not understand the characters without it.

Consider these scenes and what we learn about the characters:

  • When Jack goes into the airplane wreckage to rummage for medicine he finds Sawyer already in there rummaging for anything else of value. They debate the ethics of rummaging for supplies, and Sawyer suggests that Jack is acting like he’s still in civilization while Sawyer sees them as being “in the wild”. I think there’s an interesting irony that’s presented here. Sawyer is “in the wild” as far as his morals are concerned, having no problem taking from the dead nor from the rest of the castaways in order to benefit his personal stash. However, Sawyer is calm and collected as he does it. Jack on the other hand, operates for the common good and is slowly creating the civilization of the island. But here we see him rushed and almost panicked as he rummages for medicine, and he seems at the end of his wits, like he might just attack Sawyer at any second. We see this battle of values and personalities between Sawyer and Jack over and over during the course of the show, and this first encounter sets it up perfectly.
  • This is really Kate’s episode, and so you see multiple sides of Kate in it. One side is the dangerous criminal. The marshall tells Jack that she is dangerous and that she shouldn’t be trusted.
  • During the conflict over the gun, Kate gets nominated to carry it. She walks around camp with a gun and no one seems to mind except for Hurley. While we were watching this part Kelly said out loud, “It’s amazing that people are OK with her just walking around with a gun.” The thing we really learn about Kate through this is that she is able to command trust from her peers.
  • The marshall and Kate have two encounters when he is conscious: in the first the marshall attacks her and tries to strangle her, and in the second he has a kind of fond-farewell to Kate, even to the point of asking her to put him out of his misery. Here you see the other pieces put together: Kate is dangerous and the marshall both hates her and fears her, but he also strangely sees her as a trusted friend and relies on her to be compassionate to him.
  • You see this dual nature of Kate again in the attempted escape after the farmer sells her out. She is willing to do anything to get away, crashing the truck but ultimately she allows herself to be slowed down to save the farmer from the burning wreckage. She was just dangerous enough to crash the car, but too compassionate to allow the farmer to die, even when it meant her being caught.
  • Sawyer tells Kate that since she has the gun she should put the marshall out of his misery. He doesn’t know that Kate was the fugitive and that it actually would serve Kate’s interests if the marshall weren’t around anymore. We don’t see the rest of the conversation, but later we see it’s outcome when Sawyer has the gun and shoots the marshall. Here we see Kate as a con artist herself, conning the conman into doing something that really serves her more than anyone else, and you can imagine that she’s done it in a way that Sawyer thinks that he’s convinced her.
  • When Sawyer leaves the tent after shooting the marshall, he has a look of pain and sorrow on his face. Jack confronts him and Sawyer justifies his actions and makes a convincing argument that he was actually being merciful to both the marshall and the rest of the passengers. But because of the looks on his face, you get the idea that he isn’t glad that it’s happened. This is the first time that you realize that Sawyer isn’t one-dimensionally evil, but that he’s actually complicated and is trying to do the right thing from his own point of view.
  • When the marshall groans after being shot, Sawyer realizes that he has spent his last bullet and missed. Despite all of the morally questionable things that we’ve already seen him do, this is the first time that he looks afraid and ashamed. It reinforces the idea that Sawyer does have some compassion deep down, but also let’s us see another aspect of what makes Sawyer who he is: even when he is trying to do the right thing, he is ashamed of himself for constantly screwing up.
  • After Sawyer shot the marshall, he accuses Jack of not being able to do what needed to be done. But after he has missed, Jack goes into the tent and puts the marshall out of his misery. Here you see another pattern for Jack: despite whatever character flaws Jack may have, he is extremely capable, and doesn’t shy away from conflict or hard situations.
  • Perhaps most importantly, this is the first episode where Sawyer calls Kate “Freckles”.

Seattle Seasons

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My friend Rachel posted this, and it was too perfect to not repost. For your reading enjoyment:

The 4 Seasons of Seattle Weather

Equal Partners

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I figure that since I posted my Mother’s Day talk from two years ago, I’d better post last year’s right away or I’ll put it off for another year. I’ll save you a long intro to this since I already share getting suckered into it two years in a row right at the beginning of the talk (along with a lot of ad-libbed nonsense, as I recall, but I’ll spare you that as well and just stick with what my notes said).

Here’s my 2011 talk. (more…)

Mother in Heaven

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Tomorrow will be the first Mother’s Day since we moved to Washington that I have not been asked to speak in church. Pretty crazy, right?

This is the talk that I gave in church two years ago on Mother’s Day. I’ve wanted to post it online since I first gave it, but I was always too lazy to get my draft synced up with my notes so that I could cite my sources. After enough time passed it started to seem silly to post it, but I thought that reposting it for Mother’s Day this year might make it appropriate again.

Sorry that it’s too late for anyone that’s speaking this year to use my notes, but hopefully that also means that it’s too late for the bishopric to try to spring a last-minute talk on me when they are reminded that they let me off the hook this year.

So, here’s my talk from 2010. (more…)

Review: The Amber Spyglass

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The Amber Spyglass
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall “Amber Spyglass” is a fitting but anticlimactic ending to the “His Dark Materials” series. If you’ve read the first two books and enjoyed them, you’ll probably find the third book worthwhile, but disappointing.

The theme of the third book is that an afterlife isn’t necessary for people to have comfort and to be motivated to improve the world that we live in. I think it’s actually pretty brilliant how Pullman takes all of his various plot lines and ties them back to this point. The more I think about it the more I realize how well the ideas of the book fit together into this cohesive message of hope that didn’t depend on an afterlife.

While I personally find my faith in an afterlife very comforting, I don’t begrudge comfort to those that need to find it another way. More importantly for me, I think that the tangential ideas of moving on after a tragedy and of making the world better in this life are things that are moving and meaningful to theist and atheists alike.

Pullman is actually pretty gentle with this message, building it slowly through multiple pieces, instead of throwing it in your face. Of the three books in this series, it’s definitely the second book that has the most potential to be offensive to Christians. If you were able to get through the second book without getting upset, then you won’t be troubled by this final book.

While I don’t think you’ll need to worry about being offended by the book, you may need to worry about being bored.

As the story progresses more characters and fantasy worlds keep being introduced. The new characters and settings just aren’t as engaging as the originals, so there are long sections where I felt bored because I didn’t really care about what was going on in that section. Not only that, but the new worlds and characters are so varied that it starts feeling very incohesive, and to me the previous atmosphere of the setting gets lost in the circus of the new settings.

The pace is also much slower and more dragged out. There were multiple points in the book where I thought “ok, now the story’s resolved”, or “ok, this time it’s really over”, only to find that I wasn’t yet near the end. It was kind of hard to keep going when I felt like the conflict was over and there was nothing left to resolve.

In the end I’m glad to have read the whole thing because of how well all of the pieces fit together when it was done. I do wish it’d been as engaging and entertaining as his other books instead of being a chore to finish.

View all my reviews

Review: The Subtle Knife

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The Subtle Knife
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second book in this series was my favorite. The plot and the world and the characters all got bigger, and Pullman’s storytelling stayed just as immersive and engaging. The second book begins to merge the fantasy world from the first book with our modern world, and as we meet new characters we’re pulled in very thoroughly.

I do feel like I should say something about the ideas in the book, since that’s why this series is famous. This second book introduces the antitheism that’s gotten it so much (negative) attention. Pullman creates a world where God’s existence is an undisputed reality rather than an issue of faith, but he paints God as a tyrant responsible for oppressing and for taking away freedom and happiness. He relies heavily on the symbolism from the Garden of Eden, sympathizing with Eve for being cast out because of her choice. Of course most Christians condemn Adam and Eve for their transgression, so I can understand how people would be shocked by the role-reversal of a praised Eve and a vilified God.

As a Mormon I already revere Adam and Eve for their choice in the Garden, so I agreed when Pullman painted a world where they were right to choose knowledge and choice and happiness even if it meant leaving paradise. It’s just that I believe in a God who also values knowledge and choice and happiness and not in one that restricts those things. For me it was still shocking to read God described as a tyrant, but I recognize that is mostly because Pullman uses names that are sacred to me and describes that person doing things that I don’t believe my God would do. That said, I think that if you’re willing to examine the ideas that the author presents rather than just the names he gives to them, you’ll find that there’s nothing to be offended at.

Unlike a lot of books that push a philosophy, Pullman doesn’t come off as preachy. He tells his story through a lot of realistic and complicated characters. The reader is sometimes just as unsure about who is right and who to trust as the young protagonists are.

All in all the story and the telling of it was excellent. The ideas the story presents are really intriguing and you may have your opinions about them. But regardless of your personal beliefs, at the heart of this book you’ll find what is simply an undeniably well-told fantasy story.

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Review: The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few years ago they made a movie out of this book that didn’t seem to go very far. I probably never would have noticed the book or the movie, except that a bunch of over-zealous people online made a stink about it because the series has some atheist themes that they thought were inappropriate. It’s maybe a little ironic that their attempts to ban the movie actually got it more attention than it would have otherwise gathered.

In any case, I remember reading a quote from some religious writer who I didn’t recognize and can’t remember, but I remember the gist of what he/she said. They said that even as a religious person it was a good experience to read the book, and that faith can be strengthened by dialog even with opposing viewpoints. I thought that was a really cool point of view, so I gave the movie a chance. I don’t actually remember much of the movie now (except that I still picture Mrs. Coulter as a black-haired Nicole Kidman), but I do remember thinking that it was a cool fantasy world that it had created.

I never got around to reading the books until recently. I was reminded of them after reading a quote from Philip Pullman praising Terry Brooks for his fantasy writing. I’m a big fan of Brooks’ books, so that got me interested again, so I thought that I’d give this series a try. I wasn’t disappointed.

The fantasy world that Pullman creates is really intriguing and immersive, and his characters are very engaging. Most of all, though, he has a way of writing that really puts the reader into the mind of the character and makes you experience the thoughts and feelings of the character. His writing style is excellent, in my opinion.

As far as the philosophies of the book, it’s really not atheist (at least not in this first volume). The book does paint a Church that is dictatorial, but beyond that there’s nothing to be offended at, and that’s certainly not a new or unique idea.

Not only is it not strictly atheist, but it actually is very spiritual. In fact, the descriptions of Lyra and her alethiometer (which I assume is the basis of the American title of the book, even though it’s never called the “golden compass” in the text) are likely to be familiar to people that have had spiritual experiences. They were familiar to me, and I actually found that reading this book was very uplifting spiritually.

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Valentine Rant Memories

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A few years ago my brother wrote this gem for Valentine’s day:

I am so glad its Valentines day again. The one day when all the couples in the world pretend to be in love. I’m pretty sure that love is found only on Valentines day. The other 364 days of the year, we can all just go back to hating our partners, and planning how we can survive till next Valentines day without smothering our partner in their sleep with the decorative pillow that everyone hates. I’m so thankful that Hallmark and Sees invented this great holiday, where couples must buy each other material items in order to show how much they are in love for one day.
Because we all know it, when you are in love the only way to show it is with fancy diamonds, and a rolex.

This morning I was thinking about this and remembered how his girlfriend responded. Troy showed her the post, and she laughed and said it was really good. Then she asked who wrote it, and of course got mad when he said that it was him.

Twenty Twelve

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Ok, I’ve been trying to correct this for two years now, but I’m not sure it’s working. People keep saying “two thousand”. Say “twenty” instead. It’s one whole syllable shorter and it makes you sound like a native English speaker. You can do it.

Here’s some encouragement that Russ showed me: http://twentynot2000.com/

Mustachified Yokahomus

Mustachify Everything

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In case you didn’t know, this month is Moustache November, which isn’t even an alliteration so they have to call it Movember. It’s the less hilariously-named but possibly more socially-conscious version of my favorite month, Moustache May. There’s a group at work to support it, and of course I subscribe to the mailing list.

This week someone sent out a link to something truly amazing: Mustachify.Me. Basically you can give the site the URL to any image and it will find the faces in the picture and add moustaches to them.

Question: Could anything possibly be more awesome than being able to put a moustache on any picture you want?

Answer: Of course. Putting a moustache on every picture would be more awesome.

So, that’s what I spent my day on. I made a little program for your browser that will send every picture you use through Mustachify.Me and show you the mustachified version instead of the boring moustache-free version. I know that there are probably better ways for me to spend my time, but today was holiday, so I think it’s allowed.

Go install it: Mustachify Everything.

PS: After you install it, you might want to go look at your friends’ pictures on Facebook or Google Plus or whatever the new hip site is these days. You’ll be entertained.

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