Miscellanity #2 (5/2/19): The Revenge of “Capacity Weekend”

miscellanity 2

Of all the ideas for which I’ve sent up trial balloons over the five years and counting of darkadaptedeye.org – such as “Musings Deathmatch”, where I compare and contrast different versions of the same property (essentially an original vs. reboot firing range), or “Pilot to Bombardier”, where I review TV pilots three at a time in an attempt to determine whether or not to tackle the series proper – the one I most hoped would turn into a recurring item was always “Miscellanity”. Structured as a potpourri of snap reactions to an unreasonable number of pop culture, concerts, and/or sporting events dropping or landing or taking place within a limited time window, usually the course of a single weekend, “Miscellanity” posts are quick hitter compilations (for this blog anyway) – comparatively fast to write (though not this time), theoretically fun to read (knock on wood) – not necessarily designed to induce whiplash, though the risk is always present. They are also indicative of a life well-lived for a goof like me, who is, after all, nerdy about a great number of things, only some of which comprise the masthead mission statement or are otherwise included within the scope of this site. The occasional crazy confluence of excess subject matter with insufficient time to cover it generally precludes full reviews of things that nevertheless veritably cry out for comment. Then and only then will a “Miscellanity” post be necessary. The first, and, up to now, only, other edition of “Miscellanity” was filed in May of 2015, and actually bears a striking resemblance beyond its street date to the post into which you’re about to wade, featuring musings about the then-ongoing NFL draft, the opening of a different Avengers movie, a very different, though equally awesome, downtown concert, and various substantial televised goings on elsewhere. Though “Capacity Weekend 2015” featured as its centerpiece the most anticipated boxing match in decades, it was actually the 2019 iteration that had more of a palpable “big fight” feel, and, for a change, the hits kept on coming for real.

SPOILERS. SPOILERS. SPOILERS. SPOILERS. SPOILERS. SPOILERS. SPOILERS.

SPOILERS!

As if I even needed to say it. For absolutely everything below. That’s what this post is.

Get out of the house already.

Game of Thrones – “The Long Night” – Season Eight, Ep. 3 (HBO)

I’m not going to defend every aesthetic choice made in Game of Thrones’ feverishly anticipated mid-season stop-puller “The Long Night”, because I can’t, but, intellectually, I understand them. There were significant stretches of the episode – at over 80 minutes total the longest in series history – that were, let’s face it, punishing to watch from a purely visual perspective, bereft of almost any light, as I’ll agree arguably befits a post-midnight, open-field medieval war zone, and further washed out by sustained arctic squalls of blinding wind and snow. The intent was clear: to institute and maximize a prevailing sense of dread and accompanying awe, ala Jaws, whenever the Night King’s army was not strictly visible (I thought the sequence where the massive column of charging Dothraki horselords with their flaming arakhs held aloft could be seen getting snuffed out – or is the word extinguished? – from Jon and Dany’s faraway vantage point was chilling and masterful) and emphasize the ferocity and close quarters chaos when they were. Moreover, the decision was in keeping with GoT’s overarching strategy of making each and every one of its tentpole battles (Blackwater, The Wall, The Bastards, Hardhome – which was essentially this one without extended periods of near-zero visibility) visually distinct, not unlike the various planets/ environments (Hoth, Tatooine, Dagobah, Kamino, Coruscant, etc.) in the Star Wars saga. That being said, there were still several moments where it was damned near impossible to properly tell what was happening, and that had the unintended effect after a while of dampening the impact of what was brutal and eventful combat otherwise. Who would’ve thought a stratospheric tussle among dragons, for example, could come off so comparatively plain and borderline anticlimactic?

Luckily, once the retreat was sounded and our bloodied heroes regrouped (kinda) to make their extended last stands inside Winterfell proper, the visuals largely stopped being a distraction, making way for the procession of “holy shit” moments that is part and parcel of every Thrones battle – Melisandre returning to set first the arakhs of the doomed Dothraki cavalry and then the crucial trench surrounding Winterfell alight; Arya spontaneously displaying the full extent of her mysterious training and innate martial talents against the wall-scaling undead; the surprise reappearance of legendary slain giant Wun Wun, now wrecking shop for the other side, and defiant little Lyanna Mormont slaying him with a dragonglass dagger to the eye just before her crushed body goes limp; Jorah Mormont defending his beloved fallen Khaleesi to his literal last breath and Theon Greyjoy defending his adopted brother turned supernatural oracle Bran from the Night King’s advances with his; the moment when the entire deceased population both in and beneath Winterfell got their second winds simultaneously, etc., etc. And so on. While uber-cool in spots, it was, I thought, a more exhausting than exhilarating episode overall, one that, despite extracting its minimum required human toll – Theon, Jorah, Beric Dondarrion, Dolorous Edd, with the fallen Dothraki and Unsullied multitudes the GoT equivalent of Star Trek red shirts – still felt oddly muted to me. Sword-swinging Jaime and Brienne got in a killer aerobic workout against the swarming hordes but emerged unscathed. Jon was denied his predestined heroic moment repeatedly, almost to the point of impotency, while Dany looked pitifully out of her depth without an airborne dragon under her. Tyrion and Sansa exchanged mournful looks but survived.

Despite last week’s bloodthirsty predictions, I didn’t necessarily want Jon, Jaime, or any of the aforementioned heroes to die, but I still expected someone who was a truly big deal to meet his or her end here, if for no other reason than to validate the White Walker threat, which has, after all, been built up as apocalypse plus for years now, dating back to the pilot’s pre-title sequence, yet came off, to paraphrase the great Arn Anderson, feeling more like a popcorn fart. Say what you want about what preceded it, but the first person to touch the Night King killed him, and his minions immediately crumbled into so much shaved ice. Strategy! The fakeout ending where we all expected Jon to emerge and cut short the Night King’s slow-motion victory lap, despite being pinned down by an injured, wildly fire-breathing Viserion, only for Arya to take him out instead with Chekhov’s Valyrian Dagger, poses a few interesting interpersonal questions that will only become germane to the plot once King’s Landing stands or falls. More pressing: Are both Dany’s dragons alive or just the one? Why did Ghost just appear on the battlefield without fanfare, why were we not offered a single shot of him there engaged, and, lacking Valyrian/Dragonglass fangs or claws, how did he possibly survive? Will Tyrion ever get his thinking man’s groove back? (Since he survived, I gotta think yes.) I suppose the dramatic denouement of “The Long Night” makes Arya the fabled Azor Ahai, the “prince who was promised” and stuff of Melisandre’s dreams, only without the “flaming sword” part – this episode actually featured numerous wielders of flaming weapons, each of whom ended up shishkebobbed – or, of course, the “prince” part. I always knew that kid was going places. Three episodes remain now: a traditional wound-licker, The Battle of King’s Landing, which should be both appropriately epic and much better lit, and then a look at the battle’s aftermath that should bring Game of Thrones full circle back to what it does almost as well it does widescreen warfare – backbiting political theater. I’m honestly just as psyched for where Arya goes after the Iron Throne’s custody has been settled. I suggest she reunites with long lost direwolf Nymeria during a pre or post-battle sojourn through the Riverlands so HBO can order up the two of them a spinoff called, “Ahai, How’s It Going?”

Avengers: Endgame

The evidence is in. I would officially make an even lousier writer of fan fiction than – as I once upon a time tried to be (and may yet again) – a writer of fiction. Perhaps that’s why the form has never held much appeal for me as a reader. (I’ve been upfront with my longstanding general hatred of cover bands, which is the musical equivalent.) I love unbridled creativity and cunning plot machinations as much as the next Joe, but tend to think things through in annoyingly linear terms when left to my own devices. Because of near-constant competition for my attention between real and fictional worlds, I’m also not often able to afford the latter the full range of consideration they require. This makes me an ideal member of the general viewing public, of course, a far better reactor than predictor. When I saw him live Sunday night, Patton Oswalt not only talked up the then-looming Battle of Winterfell but implored us not to blurt out anything about Avengers: Endgame either, since his schedule would preclude him from seeing it until Tuesday. Despite his protestations, there’s not actually a heck of a lot there that can be spoiled in two-word outbursts, unless all you strictly care about is who died. It’s not just the “that” that matters here but the “how” and “why” – lessons both properties have taken to heart, though not without the occasional difficulty in deployment – which is part of the reason that, though both have gnawing structural issues underlying some sustained goose-pimply goodness, Endgame emerged, just barely, as victor in the weekend’s battle of the criminally hyped good but not great.

That has more to do with sheer entertainment value than anything deeper, though, oddly enough, it was on the emotional front that I found Endgame fitfully more engaging, at least in the final analysis. While, as mentioned above, “The Long Night” itself pulled an uncomfortable number of personal punches while still attempting to appear apocalyptic, Endgame delivered two cracking wallops and lots of other red herrings whilst catering almost exclusively to the Saturday afternoon multiplex crowd. Its story can be carved into approximate thirds: the alternately rushed and meandering first hour, with its weird allusions to HBO’s The Leftovers and futile intergalactic stealth mission to interrogate Farmer Thanos; its even weirder second hour, in which three non-physicist former Avengers – one whose only academic degrees are in grand larceny and advanced house arrest – repurpose the van Dyne portable portal to the Quantum Realm into a fully functional, scarily precise time machine, and, pausing just long enough to throw cheeky shade at fans who “learned all they know about time travel from Back to the Future”, unveil a master plan that directly appropriates Back to the Future II’s potentially paradoxical back half by requiring that the Avengers dive into their respective pasts to regather the pristine Infinity Stones from the source; and the spectacular third hour, a sprawling, IMAX-ready, hysterically kinetic final confrontation between past Thanos and his fearsome, slathering minions and a role call of every remaining Avenger (minus one), plus every single Avenger and adjunct who perished during the snap heard round the universe. It’s the tanker chase climax from The Road Warrior, featuring flesh and blood extremity exclusively instead of machines, and one of the best extended action sequences in the MCU canon, which has not exactly lacked for those. You really have to see it to believe it.

My predictions, again, were a bloody mess. I’m embarrassed to report being swayed by personal anticipation for Game of Thrones, coupled with Infinity War’s merciless tone and impressive, albeit temporary, body count, into thinking Endgame might truly represent the full-stop end teased by MCU producer Kevin Feige and others from the moment of its announcement. That was exceedingly foolish on my part, since the two franchises, despite roughly equivalent popularity, provide diametrically different sorts of fan service (humor vs. horror) operating under completely separate sets of rules. Whether it should have gone more for the jugular is a different question, and helps explain why speculative fan fiction, of which I am admittedly neither writer nor fan, doesn’t pay the bills despite being a nice enough way to pass the time. Perhaps I was too close, on both counts. I love the MCU in general, whether it blows the roof off or comparatively underachieves, but, unlike Game of Thrones, where I’ve already read the complete source material 1.75 times and am currently grappling with a newly lit desire to start from scratch again in an effort to both pass the years until George R.R. Martin releases The Winds of Winter and prepare myself for the wondrous journey that book will represent, I really have only the Marvel movies as reference. When it came to comics, I was, growing up, a Batman guy and a Ghost Rider guy – two characters otherwise known, in Monty Python terms, as “Sirs Not Appearing in This Film”. I therefore feel I can’t/shouldn’t be quite as precious about MCU happenings or clutch them close to my chest, whether in joy, umbrage, or indifference. From ragged beginnings came professional, at times thrilling, ends. I’m happy for Cap, I’ll miss Tony, and I already know we’ll see Natasha again. Everything else gets reset, more or less. Dunno how I feel about that. I never particularly intended to write a review of Avengers: Endgame, so I’m thankful these two bookend posts have allowed me a chance to talk about it anyway. While I’m interested in seeing where the MCU goes from here, I desperately need the kind of break Endgame promised – like watching your favorite superhero series finale on the CW, just writ absurdly large – but know intellectually that Spider-man: Far From Home is right around the corner. No rest for the weary.

2019 NFL Draft

After an uncommonly disappointing regular season and a depressingly contentious offseason, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin recently called the departure of All Pros Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, via, respectively, delayed departure free agency and advanced applied assholery, a “cleansing process”. I can see where he’s coming from. Whether it was an uncharacteristic dabbling in the free agent market (scoring potential day one starters at CB, WR, and either ILB or S, depending on young player development) or re-signing franchise lynchpin (and lone remaining Killer B) Ben Roethlisberger to a contract extension that will pay him handsomely to hopefully wreak havoc on a league full of naysayers before retiring in the same place that drafted him, the Steelers’ moves since Herp and Derp exited 3400 South Water Street have felt designed to calm fan agita over the departures and provide assurance that management still knows what it’s doing whilst simultaneously acknowledging the impossibility of replacing what was lost. Pittsburgh similarly made money moves at the 2019 Draft, trading this year’s first and second round pick and next year’s third to Denver for the ability to vault ten spots and secure the services of Michigan team captain and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devin Bush, a prototypical pursuit middle linebacker with 4.43 speed and the kind of football instincts and motor GMs will kill, or at least trade, for at a second’s notice. Bush steps into the yawning chasm left by Ryan Shazier’s spinal injury, and seems poised to not only assume his mantle but, in some ways, live up to it.

In response, the normally cautious Steelers immediately released free agent signee Jon Bostic, who merely plugged the same hole in 2018 and racked up team-leading tackle numbers (a tribute to how unsettled Pittsburgh’s interior defense was, as opponents tend to attack the weakest areas, not the strongest) without ever seeming at home. The Steelers used the extra third rounder garnered in Brown’s jailbreak to Oakland to draft a would-be successor, sure-handed and slippery Toledo WR Diontae Johnson, a prospect with whom infatuated Receivers Coach Darryl Drake might as well be picking out china patterns as we speak, and then turned their actual third round pick into thumping, imposing Michigan State corner Justin Layne, a lifelong Browns fan whose family instantly began replacing their tacky Cleveland swag with Black and Yellow by the handful. Nice to see somebody jump ship from the NFL’s most insufferable new bandwagon. Elsewhere, the ultra-confident Benny Snell looks to be a nifty (and bruising) compliment to the existing running back room, while, below him, the Steelers drafted mostly for potential at positions of need (TE, OG, OLB). Expect one or three to stick. The final analysis will be all about Bush, however, and to what degree he both solidifies and energizes the Steelers at their defensive core. Analysts who traditionally tut-tut Pittsburgh as timid and predictable had near-universal praise for both the first round move and bounty it took to achieve, with ESPN’s Louis Riddick hyperventilating for multiple rounds, in addition to calling Bush “pound for pound the best prospect in the draft”. Okey dokey then. If I’ve historically been a “prove it” guy when it comes to young talent, perhaps to my detriment, this trying off-season has instilled in me a newfound, hopefully not unfounded, willingness to believe the hype. And so I believe I will. On to OTAs…

Patton Oswalt Live at the Ohio Theatre

If you don’t know master stand-up comic, surpassing yet conscientious Zen Tweeter, and still underrated actor Patton Oswalt, First of His Name, Breaker of Trolls, Father of Zingers, Lord of the Geeks and the Shorter Men…um, you should. You should be watching him on A.P. Bio. Hell, I should be watching him on Happy. Whether shining as an unconventional lead in animated blockbusters like Ratatouille, indie films like Big Fan and Young Adult, or stealing the show in one of his cavalcade of bit parts – master filibusterer Garth Blundin from Parks and Recreation and culinary hatchet man “The Moody Foodie” from Bob’s Burgers are my unquestioned favorites – Oswalt’s endeavors away from the mic – author, witty social commentator, everyman raconteur, loving husband, father, and altogether decent human being sending up desert island distress signals from a sea of social media swill – sometimes distract from just how spectacular the man is at his chosen profession. He’s an artisan. His most recent release, Annihilation, pulled off the tricky feat of making this blog’s year-end cross-genre top twenty list, one of only four comedy albums in the total 120 I’ve spotlighted so far to do so. His genre-redefining Werewolves & Lollipops made the top five in my list of best comedy albums of the new millennium. His debut album, Feelin’ Kinda Patton, single handedly rekindled my interest in stand-up following a lull in engagement that spanned most of the nineties. That in itself was a gift that helped shape my most recent two decades, as a listener, as a fan, as a citizen of the world. Perhaps he doesn’t look like much – I mean, just ask him – but he’s that good. He’s so good. Sitting in my third row seat, listening to Patton Oswalt spin jokes out of thin air, so unassuming and conversational, yet amused, cutting, and always in utter command, was just about the most compelling full spectrum argument in favor of experiencing live comedy I’ve come across in twenty years of regular attempts. Owning all the albums, dutifully streaming the new specials online – I can and I do. But that’s not any more the same than listening to Clutch or Southern Culture on the Skids on my phone is equivalent to standing three feet from stage when the first chord hits and screaming with glee. Here’s hoping, in spite of all the talk about “age” going around, that none of us ever fully lose that. I was so happy sitting there just listening to Patton talk, crowding out all the static and clutter in my brain otherwise and allowing him to craft both trip and destination. It could’ve lasted all night. I would’ve enthusiastically endorsed that. But it was enough in the end to just feel the figurative breeze, to smile broadly and laugh heartily for an hour straight, then reflect as we cleared out and headed home, like him no doubt, to catch The Battle of Winterfell – a beautiful theater full of happy nerds like me, fresh from an audience with their pope.

Taylor Swift – “ME!”

Launching directly into my lukewarm take on pop/country constellation Taylor Swift’s long-awaited new single – titled, with surpassing humility, “ME!” – does bury the lede somewhat that I have recently become a full-fledged fan, but I’m hardly concerned. I like her voice, I like her looks. She’s got impressive songwriting chops, a level of self-confidence that only occasionally grates, poise, polish, and personality to spare, and more depth than a baker’s dozen of random current pop stars combined, though the decorum of her station dictates that it is not always discernible without digging. I invite you to sue me for the $1.50 I’m worth. You could dig from Pawtucket to China, of course, and still find nothing but gleaming surface area to “ME!”, but you can also count me among the folks not currently losing my mind over the fact that the fluffy, marching band-flavored confection clearly does not mark any sort of return to the robust, diverse, countrified pop of albums like Red or, to a lesser degree, Speak Now. Because affirming the artistic merit of someone as insanely popular as Swift means going out on a limb for most any outfit (music news, news analysis, whatever) that has ever made a selling point of its own integrity, the idea that “ME!”, which is her most upbeat single (or song) since “Shake It Off”, doesn’t meet their lofty standards has yielded some double-barrel blowback. I’m no connoisseur of pop in general, but this one grew on me pretty quickly through sheer force of personality. Maybe the chorus hook’s not the purest or most palatable – though Panic! At the Disco’s Brendan Urie gets more mic time (re: any) than I’d prefer, his performance still easily stands among the best of Swift’s male collaborators – but it does what all good earworms do, which is to embed, and eventually overtake its host. After the smug roleplaying and misdirected hostility of Reputation, I’m just stoked that Swift seems to have some spring back in her step, however sugary, though I admittedly also don’t yet have the extended relationship with her music to allow me to reliably identify and/or decry big picture trends like ruts and lulls and recoveries. I still see Swift’s music more as an evolving personal collection than a continuum for rabid public consumption, and “ME!” does nothing to dim my enthusiasm for her new album, whenever it should arrive.

Columbus Blue Jackets Playoff Hockey

I know a decent little bit about hockey, see a few games live every year, but am still not really a hockey guy. I hope to get there one day, but it’s a process. I can’t talk Xs and Os beyond my two standby pieces of encouragement/coaching insight – “Pressure!” and “Get it out of there!” – shouted helpfully/relentlessly from either my living room couch or a seat in the upper bowl of Nationwide Arena. Through better and worse, however, I’ve been with the Columbus Blue Jackets for exactly as long as I, or they, have been with Columbus. It’s been a twisty ride. In fact, I remember seeing a snarky “Welcome to the NHL” commercial preceding a movie on my first ever visit to town in 1999. I remember those first dozen or so years of wild futility, almost all the times Rick Nash and/or Steve Mason got the fanbase to believe beyond rationality, the phantom “too many men on the ice” penalty and ensuing power play that shuffled us out of our first playoff season against Detroit as an afterthought. I remember hanging in against Pittsburgh before succumbing, then bowing out of round one against Washington the next year with two wins but still barely a whimper. Mostly I remember all the “wait’ll next years.” Three playoff appearances in nineteen seasons, none that lasted more than a round, equal lots and lots of “wait’ll next years”. Then along came 2019, known colloquially among the many fans who have suffered no longer but yet far more acutely than I have, as “next year”. Almost twenty years to the date I became a Columbian, the CBJ are finally playing not, as has been distressingly typical, below or just barely up to the expectations of their loyal fans but, instead, well beyond them, having advanced to the second round of the NHL playoffs for the first time in team history not by the skin of their collective teeth, as might have been expected, but by blitzing and then sweeping the unquestioned best team in hockey this year, Presidents Trophy runaways the Tampa Bay Lightning. After an all-in late season trade failed to immediately galvanize the team, it coalesced in a more traditional way, through hard work and inspired leadership at just about every level of the organization. It’s been amazing to watch mercurial goalie Sergei Bobrovsky do everything but stand on his head to save us goals and win us games, and, after years of tinkering, our front line depth matches up with most anybody in the league. In a battle of two evenly matched teams, as the CBJ encounters in a second round series with the Boston Bruins that has been characterized thus far by overtime games, desire can be the crucial component. If so, I like our chances. Asked after the Jackets’ series-tying game 2 win if he could imagine the atmosphere at Nationwide Arena for game 3, veteran forward Brandon Dubinsky, who would know, responded in a matter-of-fact manner: “One thing I know is it’ll be way louder than it was here in Boston.” Well, I was there for the Jackets’ thrilling 2-1 victory in game three, five rows below uninhabitable space but still under the roof, and can report that we did our part and then some.

This town is utterly crazed. It’s been a joy to witness.

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