Later Tonight

So here we are, on Memorial Day Monday, the final day of the three day holiday weekend, and I’m wondering–without checking social media (I do not intend to go on social media at all today)–how many people are wishing others have a Happy Memorial Day? Memorial Day isn’t a happy day–even though the majority of people don’t have to work today–it’s supposed to be a day of quiet reflection in honor (or memory) of those who have died serving the country in the military. It’s a day when you should visit the graves of the military dead and clean them, bring flowers, and reflect on their service. While I have no one in my family, on either side, who was lost to a battlefield, it’s still a somber day, and wishing others well or to have a happy day is in extremely poor taste.

But then, Americans generally have a tendency to go through their lives blithely, completely unaware of their own history and the meanings behind national symbology, holidays, memoriams, etc.

Yesterday was a blissful day. I quite happily finished reading The Red Carnelian, and then reread a kid’s mystery I remembered fondly, The Secret of Skeleton Island, book one of the Ken Holt series–one of my childhood favorites, and was very pleased to see that it still held up. I wrote for a little while, did some cleaning and organizing (not nearly enough of either, quite frankly), and then we finished watching Outer Banks, which is really quite something. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of story, really; at first, it didn’t seem like it was sure what it wanted to be, but once it decided to kick it up a gear after a few dull episodes of set-up, it really took off. A lost treasure, betrayals and murder, class struggles, the heartbreak of teen romance–it was a non-stop thrill ride, culminating in our hero, John B., and his star-crossed lover, Sarah, taking off to sea while being hunted by the cops and driving their boat directly into the path of a tropical storm. Cheesy, completely ridiculous, and over-the-top, Outer Banks turned to be much more fun than I would have ever guessed, particularly given the first few episodes, which were just tedious. We then moved on to another Netflix series, a joint British/Spanish production of a crime thriller called White Lines, set on Ibiza and focusing on the discovery of the body of Axel Collins, missing for over twenty years–and his younger sister’s determination to get to the bottom of who killed her brother. It’s trash, but ever so entertaining.

I also spent some time with Harlan Ellison’s collection of television columns from the Los Angeles Free Press from the late 1960’s, The Glass Teat. Harlan Ellison was a writing hero of mine, yet at the same time he was one of those people I never wanted to meet. He wrote one of my favorite short stories of all time (“Paladin of the Lost Hour”) and is probably my favorite short story writer of all time; he also wrote the best episode of the original Star Trek series, “The City on the Edge of Tomorrow”; and also wrote the original story that became the film A Boy and His Dog, which was a bit of a cult classic in the 1970’s and 1980’s. All of his stories are really exceptional, and he was very opinionated–if he thought you were a garbage writer and you wrote garbage, he would let you know–but his television writings, while undoubtedly accurate, are really dated. It also got me thinking about the time period, and the struggles that were going on in the country–the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, the Civil Rights battle–and how much of that period is not only not remembered today, but the specific language of the time has been forgotten: people using words like groovy and squares and the establishment, etc.; I also remember how false those words seemed when filtered through the lens of television producers and writers trying to seem hip and modern and cool….which, naturally, killed the popular usage of the words; after all, after you’ve heard Greg Brady enthuse about something being “groovy” on The Brady Bunch, it’s kind of hard to use the word in any other way than ironic from that point on. But a lot of what he was complaining about, what he was eviscerating, is still true today–that the television networks are all too terrified to put something that actually mirrors people’s realities on; that the whole point of television is to sell products to consumers; and as such, the commercial concerns inevitably will outweigh the artistry and truth of the show.

I’d love to know what he thought of All in the Family, in all honesty.

Today I want to get to some serious work on the multiple projects lying around; I also have two short stories queued up on the Kindle to read–“Rain” by Somerset Maugham, and Cornell Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder,” which was adapted into Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. I’ve been aware of Woolrich for quite some time now, but I have yet to read his work. He is considered a noir master, not perhaps as well known today as he should be, considering how many of his stories and novels became famous films, and he was also gay in a time period where being gay was exceptionally difficult–so naturally, I have a growing fascination for him. I started reading his The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but had to put it aside to read something else (prep work for a panel I was moderating) and somehow never got back to it….maybe instead of proceeding with another book in the Reread Project–I’ve yet to select one–I can go back and finish reading that? I looked at the opening of “It Had to Be Murder” last night as I queued it up and was most pleased with how it opened…so am looking forward to reading the story today.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Disco Potential

Sunday morning and I slept very well last night, which feels pretty lovely this morning, quite frankly. Yesterday was a good day, which I took off from all my deadlines, worries, and cares. I did run to the grocery store for a few things, tried to buy ink at Office Depot to no avail, and then went to the gym. I then came home and showered before reading for a while, and then I started watching Outer Banks again, after it being recommended by Chris and Katrina Niidas Holm; this time I got sucked into the story. Is it a great show? Not really, but it is trashy fun, and I like that the writers finally got what they were actually doing and went all in. We also finished watching The Great last night, which is actually quite fun and terrific. I’m not quite sure who the audience for The Great is, but Elle Fanning is terrific as Catherine and it’s highly entertaining.

Sigh. Saturday nights are a whole lot different for me now than they were for years.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Saturday meant an entirely different thing than it does to me now. Now, it’s all about what can I get done today and what will we watch this evening and so forth; back then it wasn’t a question of whether we would be going out or not–the question was which bars would we be going to and what time would we be going out. Even if the idea was always just to be around people and listen to fun music, we’d inevitably pass the tipping point over into drunk. Sometimes we’d go dancing, sometimes we’d just hang out in the non-dance clubs with friends or would run into people; the free flow of going out on the weekend in the French Quarter was something that could never be planned. You never knew who you’d run into and how that would impact or change your plans; whether the mood or the music in a particular club would be off or fun–which also impacted how long we’d stay there before moving on.

I miss going dancing sometimes, but I don’t miss the late nights and the cigarette smoke (of course that’s also a thing of the past) and I don’t miss getting drunk two or three times on the weekend, either (the only question of the weekend wasn’t if we would go out on Saturday or not, it was would we also go out on Friday as well? And Sunday inevitably wound up being a given). I drank enough in those days to last me the rest of my life, and while I do like the occasional cocktail and the occasional buzz, I don’t like getting sloppy drunk anymore, and that happens more rarely now than it used to.

Now, of course, as a fifty-eight year old who feels like he’s going on eighty sometimes, the thought of going to a bar or a club isn’t appealing to me in the least. I can’t imagine standing around for hours, for one thing, and for another, I can’t imagine dancing for hours like I used to, getting hot and sweaty and taking off my shirt and tucking it into the back of my jeans. Then again, it’s been so long since I’ve been to a gay bar I don’t know if gays still do that–oh, what am I saying? Of course they do. Just like the swallows return to Capistrano, a certain subset of gay men will always go dancing on the weekends, drink too much, perhaps indulge in some illegal substances, and dance the night away with their shirts off. Why else would you go to the gym all week if you’re not going to show off the hard work on the dance floor?

I do miss it sometimes, though.

Today I am going to do some writing and trying to get out from behind this eight ball I seem to have been behind for most of this year. I have some things to reread and edit, and of course I want to get going on the Secret Project again, which has stalled for a moment–damned work week heat and humidity, sucking the life out of me every day–and there’s some cleaning to do as well. I didn’t get the floors done yesterday–trying to get caught up on the dishes and laundry was hard enough work as it was–and I am going to try to finish reading Phyllis Whitney’s The Red Carnelian today, as well as Bruce Campbell’s The Secret of Skeleton Island, which is the first novel in one of my favorite kids’ series, the Ken Holt mysteries. And yes, as always, I am probably assuming I can get more done today than I actually can, but hey–you never know until you try.

It’s also so incredibly easy to get distracted…I must try to avoid distractions at all cost. Distractions are the progress killer.

And I am, after all, so easily distracted. In fact, even as I type about not letting myself get distracted….I am thinking about things to do to waste my time today rather than writing.

But one important thing: I am going to close my web browser before I start writing. The Internet is the true distraction.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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It’s A Sin

Ah, SIN.

The human concept of sin is something that has alays fascinated me; as does the societal distinction that sin isn’t necessarily a crime. Adultery, after all, made the Top Ten in the Bible; but adultery isn’t a crime, at least in our country. Maybe I’ve been reading too much medieval plague history, but as a result the entire concept of sin v. crime has been running through my head a lot. We also always tend to speak and think of historical as being more religious and superstitious than our modern, “rational” time; which is why when the religious superstitions start finding their way out of the woodwork, people are always surprised. I’ve seen that a lot, actually, since 2008; the surprise of people who were just now noticing that much of organized religion is steeped in bigotry propped up by skillful, selective usage of their “holy” book while ignoring the parts that do not prove their bigotry and ignorance as holy. I’ve been toying, since the start of this current pandemic and the beginning of my own plague readings, with a story called “The Flagellants,” based on an idea obtained from rereading Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and it’s plague chapter–about a movement of religious fanatics who believed God had sent the plague as a punishment for mankind’s sin (as fanatics have always believed in divine punishment as long as they have believed there are gods in the sky), and marched through the streets praying and repenting loudly while flogging themselves; their theory (if one can call it that) was that they were representing mankind’s penitence to God and therefore their behavior was intended to get God to take the scourge away. This set me to thinking about that Christian group that loves to show up here in the Quarter during Southern Decadence and Carnival to loudly tell us all, through megaphones and over amplifiers, that we are all sinners that need to repent and find our way back to the Lord, and wondering why they weren’t parading through the streets of the Quarter, doing something similar. (Their faith isn’t as strong as they would have us believe, apparently.) And so I started writing said story, but wasn’t really sure where to take it…I have some ideas; hopefully this weekend will help me sketch some of those ideas out.

Ah, sin.

A three day weekend is always a delight; I’m of the mind that every weekend should be three days rather than two. It generally takes me one day to rest and recover from the weekend, which is when I do my errands and clean and so forth, and then I am centered enough and rested enough (after two good night’s sleep) to get some work done on Sunday. With a three day weekend, that gives me an extra day to simply focus on writing. Naturally, of course, if every weekend was a three day weekend it would eventually prove also to not be enough time for me, I suppose, and so probably best to leave things as they are and simply enjoy those weekends when they come around. I have some plans for today; primarily a grocery run and perhaps a trip to the gym, along with some cleaning and organizing and perhaps some writing/brainstorming.

We continue to enjoy The Great on Hulu; I do recommend it, it’s very entertaining if not always the most historically accurate–and as I have stated many times, when it comes to television or film adaptations of actual historical events, accuracy inevitably goes out the window (the most egregious example of this being The Tudors. By combining Henry VIII’s sisters Margaret and Mary into one person, and then having her die without children, they essentially erased not only the Brandon/Grey line–no Nine Days’ Queen Jane Grey–but also the Scottish Stewarts; so no Mary Queen of Scots or any of the royalty since the death of Elizabeth I); and complaining about historical inaccuracies in fictional representations of actual history is low-hanging fruit, as it were.

I also want to finish reading Phyllis A. Whitney’s The Red Carnelian, and I’ve also started rereading a book from one of my favorite kids’ series, the Ken Holt mysteries by Bruce Campbell. The Ken Holt series is always neck and neck with The Three Investigators as my favorite kids’ series; they are very well written, action-packed, and well plotted as well; with a kind of hard-boiled edge to them. The first book in the series, The Secret of Skeleton Island, (a title also used in The Three Investigators series) introduces us not only to our young hero but to the people at Global News (Ken’s father is a globe trotting reporter; his mother is dead, and since his father is gone a lot Ken is at a boarding school somewhere outside of New York; I always assumed it was up the Hudson valley but it may have actually been Long Island), and how Ken meets up with, and basically is adopted into, the Allen family. I’m actually enjoying the book–and considering it was written for 9-12 year olds in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, and it still holds up, is saying quite a bit. The fact these books never caught on or were as popular as, say the Hardy Boys, and have been out of print for decades, is disgraceful.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I look forward to speaking to you again this weekend.

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The Calm Before the Storm

Alfred Hitchcock was a great film director, and was responsible for some of the best movies ever made, from Rebecca through Notorious through North by Northwest to Vertigo to Strangers on a Train to The Birds to Psycho; the list of great Hitchcock films goes on and on and on and has been studied by film academics and written about; you certainly cannot forget Truffaut/Hitchcock, either. Lost in the discussions of his abilities as a filmmaker (and how he was somewhat abusive to his leading ladies) is his contributions to the culture in other ways. Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran for years; an anthology show like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, he presented bizarre stories (often based on short fiction; perhaps the most famous episode of all was based on a Roald Dahl short story in which a wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, which she then cooks and serves to the investigating police officers) on a weekly basis and the show ran for a long time. (It’s available to stream now, and I keep meaning to dive back into the show.

But Hitchcock also was a master, before it was a thing, of licensing his name out for use; his name meant something as a master director of film suspense, and in addition to the television series there were also anthologies, also published under the aegis of Alfred Hitchcock Presents–my grandmother used to buy and read them; so did my parents–and even today one of the best short story markets for crime is Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. There were anthologies for adults, anthologies for teens and anthologies for kids.

And there was also The Three Investigators.

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Bob Andrews parked his bike outside his home in Rocky Beach and entered the house. As he closed the door, his mother called to him from the kitchen.

“Robert? Is that you?”

“Yes, Mom.” He went to the kitchen door. His mother, brown-haired and slender, was making doughnuts.

“How was the library?” she asked.

“It was okay,” Bob told her. After all, there was never any excitement at the library. He worked there part time, sorting returned books and helping with the filing and cataloguing.

“Your friend Jupiter called.” His mother went on rolling out the dough on the board. “He left a message for you.”

“A message?” Bob yelled with sudden excitement. “What was it?”

“I wrote it down. I’ll get it out of my pocket as soon as I finish with this dough.”

“Can’t you remember what he said? He may need me!”

“I could remember an ordinary message,” his other answered, “but Jupiter doesn’t leave ordinary messages. It was something fantastic.”

“Jupiter likes unusual words,” Bob said, controlling his impatience. “He’s read an awful lot of books and sometimes he’s a little hard to understand.”

“Not just sometimes!” his mother retorted. “He’s a very unusual boy. My goodness, how he found my engagement ring, I’ll never know.”

She was referring to the time the previous fall when she had lost her diamond ring. Jupiter Jones had come to the house and requested her to tell him every move she had made the day the ring was lost. Then he had gone out to the pantry, reached up, and picked the ring from behind a row of bottle tomato pickles. Bob’s mother had taken it off and put it there while she was sterilizing the jars.

“I can’t imagine,” Mrs. Andrews said, “how he guessed where that ring was!”

“He didn’t guess, he figured it out,” Bob explained. “That’s how his mind works…Mom, can’t you get the message now?”

“In one minute,” his mother said, giving the dough another flattening roll. “Incidentally, what on earth was that story on the front of yesterday’s paper about Jupiter’s winning the use of a Rolls-Royce sedan for thirty days?”

And that is how The Three Investigators series (technically, in the beginning  “ALFRED HITCHCOCK and the Three Investigators”) began. While it’s not as smooth, per se, as the opening of the Trixie Belden series in The Secret of the Mansion, this is also a dramatically different series, and will always have a place in my heart as one of the best series for kids–if not the best–ever published. It never reached the same heights of popularity as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys; which was a shame, because it was a much better series than either of those. For one thing, the Three Investigators actually considered themselves to be professional detectives; Nancy and the Hardys, amongst with most of the others, were strictly amateurs (although in the Kathryn Kenny books, “the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency” became kind of a running gag or thing; it was what Trixie and Honey decided they wanted to be when they grew up; and frankly, I’ve always kind of wanted to see a Trixie-as-an-adult hard-boiled series). And while this opening is a little longish about getting to the point, it eventually does; Bob is a highly excitable young man who works at the library, and this is also our first look at Jupiter Jones, and one of the best things about the series is Jupiter; he is the central character and there would be no Three Investigators without him–and he is one of the most remarkable, and original, characters in kids’ mystery series fiction.

I always thought of Rocky Beach as a sort of stand-on for Long Beach in this series; this is where the boys live, and it’s just south of Los Angeles and a drive to Hollywood. This is where the three boys who make up the titular team of the series live; the third investigator, whom we have yet to meet in this opening, is Pete Crenshaw. And that bit about the contest and the Rolls-Royce? It’s very important. Access to a vehicle, and someone to drive them around, is an integral part of the creation of this investigative agency; they can’t always count on getting rides or paying for cabs or only involving themselves in cases they can investigate on bikes; this is the impetus Jupiter has been looking for to open the agency. Jupiter’s message to Bob is impenetrable to his mother; but it makes perfect sense to Bob–and therein lies another one of the great charms of this series: Jupiter lives with his uncle Titus and aunt Mathilda; the couple own and operate the Jones Salvage Yard, a sprawling junkyard where they repurpose other’s people things, or fix them. Jupiter himself is quite adept at wiring and repairing things; just one, as we the readers will find out, of his many skills. Hidden deep within the salvage yard is the wreck of a mobile home, which the boys use as “headquarters”; over the years Jupiter has managed to hide the mobile home behind piles of junk. The yard is also surrounded by an enormous, tall wooden fence, and Uncle Titus has encouraged local artists to paint murals on the fence. With the help of Bob and Pete, Jupiter has created “secret entrances” into the salvage yard, with tunnels through the piled up junk; that way the boys can come and go as they please without having to use the main entrance. They also have a covered workshop in another area hidden from view; Jupiter’s message to Bob is simply Red gate rover, come over come over, the presses are rolling. Bob knows this means,  come to headquarters, use red gate Rover, and we’re printing our business cards. 

“Red Gate Rover” means use the entrance through the fence that is a mural of a team of firefighters fighting an enormous blaze; there’s a dog watching them, and the knothole in the dog’s eye will spring the hidden gate open. And sure enough, once he gets there, the printing press is rolling and Jupiter presents him with a card, that reads:

THE THREE INVESTIGATORS

We Investigate Anything

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–and also has their names. Jupiter is, naturally, the first investigator with Pete as second; Bob is Records & Research, since he works in the library and is their best writer; it is his job to write up their cases. As such, and with an understanding that all cases also need to be introduced as well as get sufficient publicity for their agency to get clients, Jupiter has decided on two things: to ask Alfred Hitchcock to introduce their cases, and offer to help find him a truly haunted house, as he is looking for one for his next film. Using the Rolls-Royce, driven by a very proper British chauffeur named Worthington, Jupiter and Pete call on Mr. Hitchcock at the studio. (The Rolls-Royce, by the way, has every luxurious amenity available to a limousine in that time; and is gold-plated, which sticks out. It was originally commissioned by a Saudi oil millionaire.) They bluff their way in–partly because Jupiter pretends to be Hitchcock’s nephew, even arranging his face to imitate his expressions and voice and patterns of speech–but Hitchcock isn’t that interested in introducing their cases, but has no worries about them looking for a haunted house for him. (While they are calling on Hitchcock, Bob has gone to the library to research something–Jupiter writes the words Terror Castle on the back of one of their business cards and offered no explanation.) But when Jupiter does his impression of “Hitchcock as a 13 year old”, Hitchcock is offended and promises to introduce the first case as long as Jupiter will never do the impression again (and, it is to be noted, the introduction and afterward, as supposedly written by Hitchcock, is clearly done so grudgingly; this was a genius touch by author Robert Arthur–and over the course of the series Hitchcock not only grows fond of the boys but starts sending clients their way).

The thing I loved perhaps the most about this series (outside of the wonderful titles for the books) was they actually were investigators. They actually solved the mysteries they were investigating–well, Jupiter did, mostly–through observation and interpretation of data. Jupiter was, in many ways, kind of a young Sherlock–and he often referred to Holmes. Another thing that was very clever about the series is that the stories were rarely, if ever, told from Jupiter’s point of view; Bob and Pete were always the point-of-view characters, representing the reader, who also couldn’t figure out what was going on. Since it mattered for suspense and storytelling to not know what Jupiter was thinking, Bob and Pete stood in for the reader, confused by the cryptic things Jupiter said–or casually observing Jupiter noticing something that didn’t make sense.

Another thing that, in my opinion, makes the series stronger than others is it is made, very plain, from the very beginning that fat-shaming is a bad thing. Jupiter is described as stocky or husky; he deeply resents being called fat, and whenever someone cruelly makes such an observation, both Pete and Bob always get angry and jump to his defense (Jupiter was also a child star, playing Baby Fatso in a Little Rascals type television show; his being a fat child made him the butt of the jokes in the show and he DESPISES being laughed at)–compare that to how Bess is frequently mocked for being hungry and chubby in the Nancy Drew books, or the depiction of the Hardy Boys’ supposed best friend Chet Morton as an always-hungry, overweight comic relief and foil they always laugh at–yeah, not cool, Stratemeyer Syndicate, not cool at all.

The first Three Investigators story I read was The Mystery of the Moaning Cave. We were in Alabama one summer, and staying with a cousin of my mother’s who had a son my age who also loved to read, and loved mysteries. He had a stack of library books, and I picked up my very first Hardy Boys read, The Mystery of Cabin Island, out of the stack. I was two chapters in when he finished reading his book (The Mystery of the Moaning Cave) and asked me to swap books with him. I was enjoying the Hardy Boys, but the cover of the Three Investigators book he was offering me was tantalizing, plus that title! How could a cave moan? I started reading, and was soon swept up in the story–which remains, to this day, one of my favorites in the series. It reminded me of another book I greatly loved as a child, The Mystery of the Haunted Mine, but the problem was my library didn’t have any of these books, and I could never find more of them anywhere. In junior high a friend of mine was a fan of the series, which led me to reread The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, which I loved all over again, and then its predecessor, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock, which was also amazing. I eventually discovered, on a birthday trip to Toys R Us, an entire shelf of the books; I got five–The Secret of Terror Castle, The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, The Secret of Skeleton Island, The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, and The Mystery of the  Coughing Dragon. 

I honestly don’t recall how I was able to collect the rest of the series, or where I got them or what order in which I read them, but I did eventually read the entire series. Later, the series moved on to other authors other than Robert Arthur and the quality became more hit-and-miss, but even the worst Three Investigators case was better than the best books in other series. I still love the Three Investigators, and occasionally will take one down to reread it, again marveling at how well constructed the books are; how tight the plots and how strong the characterizations. I also loved how something small and simple, like the search for an escaped parrot (The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot) would lead to a massively complicated and interesting case about a massive art theft, or the search for a missing cat with mismatched eyes turned into The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, or a near car crash led them to a small European principality and international espionage in The Mystery of the Silver Spider. Their cases inevitably started small, but eventually grew into something major; like they grabbed onto a loose, seemingly unimportant thread that unraveled a much larger case.

One thing that always amused me was how adults rarely, if ever, took them seriously. Jupiter’s aunt and uncle, and the parents of Pete and Bob, always looked at their “firm” as a “little mystery-solving club”. Inevitably the adults who pooh-poohed their abilities had to eat their words. I also loved that Jupiter wasn’t athletic but was smart. I identified with that a lot more than I did with the Hardy Boys, who were literally good at everything they tried.

The death of Alfred Hitchcock was an enormous blow, and the publisher–Random House, I believe–introduced a mystery writer for a while to replace Hitchcock, but the quality was already starting to decline, and eventually even the fictitious mystery writer, Robert Sylvester, was replaced by another fictitious entity; but the book in which the switch was made didn’t avoid the truth of Hitchcock’s death, and they actually handled it very well.

And some of the earlier books are seriously dated now; The Secret of Terror Castle centered on the home of a silent film horror star whose career was derailed by his speaking voice when talkies came; obviously, that would have happened around ninety years ago now, so there wouldn’t be any contemporaries still alive. Likewise, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock centered on someone who was a sound effects expert for radio suspense shows–which would, at best, have been seventy years ago now.

I’ve never believed this series was as popular as it deserved to be, nor did it get the attention it truly deserved. The books have been out of print for awhile now–maybe you can get used copies, there may even be ebooks now, I don’t know–but they should still be available. I would love to write one of these, to be honest.

They were the shit, y’all.

You’re the Inspiration

Ah, another week.

I finished watching Black Sails this weekend, and wow. Wow. WOW. That was, without a doubt, one of the best series finales I have ever seen. I cried. Yup, I did. There was a twist there at the end that I did not see coming, and it was so incredibly moving and emotionally satisfying…I mean, wow.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough.

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I love pirates, which was part of the reason why the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were so innately disappointing; sure, I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s performance in the first one, but after that they just seemed like parodies of the first, and the plots, such as they were, were ridiculous. I think I was very young when I saw Treasure Island in two parts on The Wonderful World of Disney, and around that same time A High Wind in Jamaica also aired. I became all about the pirates–there were even Nancy Drew (The Haunted Showboat) and Hardy Boys (The Secret of Pirates’ Hill) and Three Investigators (The Secret of Skeleton Island) adventures revolving around pirate treasure; and any number of Scholastic Book Club mysteries about searching for treasure left behind by pirates. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island when I was around ten; it was an illustrated version, and I remember the pictures as if I just saw them yesterday.

So, yeah, I’ve always loved pirates.

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I started watching Black Sails a year or so again, and it just didn’t catch on with me. I don’t know why, nor do I remember why. I gave it two episodes and stopped, and I do remember thinking, meh, it’s visually stunning, but I don’t care. But earlier this year, needing something to keep me entertained whilst on the treadmill, I decided to give it another whirl, and got sucked right in.

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Visually, it is an absolutely stunning show. Set in the Bahamas in the early eighteenth century, Nassau in particular, the scenery is spectacular. The visuals are breathtakingly beautiful; the ships at sail, the water, the island, the beach, the town, the costumes. Visually, it’s a sumptuous feast.

In the first episode we meet Captain Flint, John Silver, and Billy Bones; as soon as I heard the names (I only knew it was a pirate show) I knew what it was: a prequel to Treasure Island. This time around, that really got my interest going. But what was strange was that there were also characters who actually existed in history: Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Edward Teach. The lines between the real characters and the fictional soon became so blurred that I forgot I was watching a prequel to Treasure Island most of the time, and was watching a fictionalized version of history; Nassau and the Bahamas were  a failed British colony basically taken over by pirates; the British Empire was too busy dealing with the War of the Spanish Succession to be bothered with doing anything about Nassau; and Captain Flint’s plan to set up a republic of pirates and escaped slaves was actually based in history; I have a book about it called The Republic of Pirates that I haven’t gotten to read yet (but I’ve moved it up the TBR pile).

And of course, the cast is stunningly beautiful.

I mean, Tom Hopper as Billy Bones:

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Toby Stephens as Captain Flint:

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Luke Arnold as John Silver:

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Zach MacGowan as Charles Vane:

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And my favorite character turned out to be Jack Rackham, played by Toby Schmitz.

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What was also enjoyable to me was that the cast was also diverse; and the women weren’t there simply to look pretty, be ogled, or be used as sexual pawns. They were integral parts of the cast, and drove a lot of the action on the show, and were incredibly strong. Eleanor Guthrie ran Nassau; Max moved from being a mere worker in the brothel to major position of power; Madi was Queen of the Maroons and spoke for/led her people, and of course, Anne Bonney was just a badass.

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I also loved that the show included the Maroons; escaped slaves who made their own community and resisted being recaptured.

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All of the characters were fully realized; and the plot was so intricate as each character formed friendships/romances/alliances, and betrayed others, as they tried to gain the ascendancy, not only in Nassau but also over the treasure of the Spanish galleon Urca de Lima. It was interesting watching the characters change and evolve based on their experiences, what they went through, and what they suffered. The relationships, the friendships, completely made sense–even when it came to the betrayals. I was so caught up in the story that it wasn’t until the fourth season that I started remembering, “oh, no, this is the prequel to Treasure Island, and the pirate republic eventually collapsed,” which meant, to my fear and horror, that most of the cast wasn’t going to get out alive.

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Also, serious props to the characterization of Woodes Rogers, the British man who comes to the Bahamas determined to solve the piracy problem with a good heart and good intentions; watching him slowly evolve into one of the best villains on the show as his ideals are slowly stripped from him by circumstance and reality was mesmerizing.

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All of the characters evolved and changed, which is a rarity in any television series, but the acting and writing in Black Sails was so superb it never hit a false note.

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And it was interesting in that not only were women shown nude, but there was full frontal male nudity as well.

In the first season there was a lesbian relationship–which I figured, of course there is, gotta give the fanboys some hot girl-on-girl action–but again; while there were sex scenes, the relationship wasn’t prurient and was depicted as honestly and as importantly as any of the heterosexual romances.

I don’t want to give spoilers, and I won’t–because some of the most powerful surprises in the show have to come as a surprise, or will lose their impact–but in Season 2 as we get the back story on one of the principle male leads….he’s gay, and that changes, not only the character, but everything that came before. And his story is absolutely heartbreaking, and played brilliantly.

And the ending! Again, no spoilers, but I cried. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series finale that felt so right, so perfect, as an end for a story. Where Black Sails succeeded was in making you care about the characters and understanding their relationships, rather than just focusing on story and the size and scope of the show–which, don’t get me wrong, is also pretty amazing.

Bravo, Starz. This is the second series of yours I’ve watched all the way through–the first being Flesh and Bone, which was also brilliant–and I have to say, Starz is kicking ass on the series front. Wow. Loved it.

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