Monday, April 23, 2012

The Measure of a Man-Boy

I see him setting up his camp at the edge of the woods. He marks his territory with dangling squirrels and zombie ears, hanging them along a line like another person might hang paper lanterns or colorful lights. It's an odd moment for me, seeing what happens when the resident crossbow-wielding badass is left to his own devices, living out the alternate future he might've had if he'd never found other survivors and began forging cautious friendships. Instead of the man who shot a zombie with an arrow he pulled out of his own torso, I see one of Peter Pan's Lost Boys, or perhaps one of the children from "Lord of the Flies," embracing his inner beast with juvenile savagery. For all the reasons that a little boy's nose wrinkles in sheer joy at violent wrestling matches on TV and squished frog guts in the street, our redneck hero decks his fortress of solitude with furry corpses and gruesome trophies. And he just dares you to try tresspassing.

"I, er, love what you've done with the place. Who's your decorator, Van Gogh?"

I speak, of course of Daryl Dixon of "The Walking Dead" fame. As I've previously mentioned, he caught my attention kind of like Dorothy's house caught the attention of the Wicked Witch of the East during the ode to Daryl that was episode 5 of season 2, "Chupacabra." In the course of one episode, we saw a man obsessed with his heroic quest, then rendered into boyish vulnerability by the spectre of his ogre of a big brother, and finishing in a spectacle of sheer zombie-slaying badassery worthy of the Chuck Norris-style jokes that have since sprung up around the character. Needless to say, I've been a Daryl fan ever since.

Somewhere, Chuck Norris is gnashing his teeth and punching a wall.

 Since then, the show's taken care not to neglect the fans' fascination with Daryl Dixon. He doesn't say much, still, but when he does speak, it's worth hearing. And every twitch and glare and reserved glance falls into place like a piece of a puzzle that's just beginning to come together before our very eyes. In our second episode back after the devastating mid-season finale, "Triggerfinger," we saw the above-described camp scene wherein our hero has chosen to stand apart from the others distrustfully and hunker down among his trophies. And consistent with what we saw in "Chupacabra," where you expect to see a lone wolf-type warrior, there's a little boy peeking warily out from his pillow fort in that moment. Far from undermining his authority as a ass-kicking machine, these moments save him from being just a one-dimensional action hero and make him seem like a relatable human being.

"You wanna come play in my fort? I got some dead squirrels!"

But the man-child sweetness wasn't all that this season had in store for Daryl, post-Chupacabra.  In "Judge, Jury, and Executioner," we start out with Daryl as an enforcer, torturing their captive, Randall, in an effort to find out if he's a threat to the group. There is something frightening, but judicious in his torment. Calculation flits through his stony-eyed stare, and you can see that he's not just bloodying Randall up because he enjoys it. Still, the brutality scares Carol, and did send a little chill through yours truly. Lest we forget that Mr. Dixon is not just about giving us the warm fuzzies, let those bloody knuckles serve as a reminder...

But later, as Dale endeavors to convince the group to spare Randall and, in doing so, hold on to their humanity, he comes to Daryl not for his brute force, his deadly accuracy with a crossbow, or his creative ways of smashing in zombie heads with nearby sticks. He comes to him as someone who has Rick's ear. (Hopefully not in the literal sense... *eyes ear decor suspiciously.*) Dale speaks to him as a decent man, someone who wanted to save Sophia and searched for her tirelessly, and someone whose opinion is worthy of respect. And suddenly, Daryl pipes up that he knew Shane lied about how Otis died. He points out that Shane claims Otis was covering Shane's retreat from the school, but Shane returned with Otis' gun. Aaaah... Now I didn't put that one together, myself. Well done, redneck ninja. Or shall we call you the redneck Sherlock Holmes now?

"It's elementary, my dear Shane. No, seriously. That's the highest grade I went to. School is for suckers. Everything I need to know, I learned in redneck kindergarten."

Dale's perception of Daryl's worth is vindicated a short time later when Dale is attacked in the field by a walker and has his guts scooped out like a generous serving of gooey butter pecan ice cream. Daryl is the first one to come to his rescue, slamming down onto the walker and smashing its brains in. But it's too late for our dear Dale, who is dying in horrible agony. And in this moment, when there's nothing to do but watch him suffer or help him end it, no one can stand to put him out of his misery. Except for Daryl, who takes the gun from Rick and puts a merciful bullet in Dale's brain with respect and reverence.

Everytime a bell rings, a redneck gets an angel vest.

 By the end of season 2, and especially in the wake of Shane's (timely) passing, we can see Daryl stepping forward more and more as second-in-command, the Oats to Rick's Hall. And boy, does this make Rick's dreams come true. He's got to feel thankful that Daryl's shown about as much romantic interest in any of the women in the group as he has in selling Mary Kay products door to door to make a little pocket money during the apocalypse. So Rick can rest easy that his new number 2 won't be sticking it to his wife and then trying to lead him out to a nice dark place with his stabbing knife at the ready. And if he can get the enigmatic redneck to be a bit more forthcoming, we've gotten a smattering of clues that Big D might have quite a lot to contribute.

Still, I'll be very interested to see where they take our guy in the future. We still don't know where he's coming from, not completely. We've had the most fleeting glimpses of his childhood trauma and the bullying relationship he had with big brother Merle. So while I do want to see Daryl as the enforcer, the sleuth, the second-in-command and the brutal warrior, I hope that whatever comes in the action-packed throes of Season 3, we don't lose that glimpse of the wary boy in his fortress of solitude. When he's surrounded by squirrels and ears and that fury that really just hides the fear that all these unlooked for connections might blow up in his face and leave him with still more scars that won't heal, this is what makes me watch his character with such keen fascination. Because I came for the badassery, but I stay for the child-like vulnerability. So may my favorite redneck man-boy ever reign supreme in the coming seasons, but continue to stay true to his roots.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Diamonds in the Prime Time Rough

All too often, we all feel inclined to dismiss something based on scant information. And yet, first impressions aren't always justified. Ever been to a restaurant that looks a bit on the derelict side from the outside and expected the food to be similarly shabby, only to walk out with your tastebuds singing odes of joy? Or perhaps you've been hit on someone at a party or a bar and thought, "Ye gods, I would never," only to find that, in fact, you would and did? If you're nodding right now, then with the wisdom you gained from whichever experience you're nodding over, I want you to bear with me while I put forth seemingly unlikely candidates as excellent TV shows.


I didn't want to like this show. In fact, I was firmly against this show and all it stood for after watching one commercial. Based on the ads, it appeared that the show was going to consist of one-dimensional Texas stereotypes flailing at each other cartoonishly. This premise did not appeal to me.

Then the first episode came on one particularly lazy night. The remote control was in the kitchen, for no good reason I can recall, and I was aaaaall the way in the living room. I thought hard about my options here, including throwing things until I hit the power button, but finally realized the truth: bad TV is sometimes better than no TV at all. So I bravely prepared to face the consequences of my laziness and watch a terrible, terrible show.

I ended up enrapt. I was wrong, and I wasn't wrong all at once. GCB has a definite "guilty pleasure" feel to it. The humor is definitely a little cheap and cheeky at times, and the characters occasionally feel like those cartoons I mentioned. But the dialogue is hilarious, the plots are juicy, and in unexpected moments, the show demonstrates a sincere side. Underneath the ridunkulus spectacle of moments like Carlene Cockburn's "Gone With the Wind" vow renewal and the new-breasts-on-a-young-cheerleader-in-an-old-uniform problem, you have themes of redemption, hypocrisy, and forgiveness lightening the heavy-handed humor.

The plot centers around Amanda Vaughn, a recently widowed mother of two who is forced to move back to Dallas from California after her husband dies in the midst of running off with his mistress and the proceeds from his Ponzi scheme. Stinging from the humiliation, the publicity, and the loss of her privileged life, she is forced to move in with her outrageous socialite mother, Gigi. To complicate matters further, Amanda is a bit of a recovered mean girl. Back in high school, she ruled the roost as the queen bee and made some of her classmates' lives Hell. Notwithstanding the kinder, gentler Amanda that maturity has created, those former classmates have neither forgiven nor forgotten her past transgressions.

In particular, the three furies of Dallas take the form of primped and surgically enhanced religious nut, Carlene Cockburn; ruthless businesswoman, Cricket Caruth-Reilly; and teenage-bombshell-turned-timid-housewife, Sharon Peacham. They initially come off as wealthy, scheming, competitive biddies trying to find ways to shut out and shut down the penitent heroine. However, subsequent episodes reveal a softer side of each of these women, as well. Cricket is shown to be involved in a devoted marriage, despite the fact that it's acknowledged between she and her husband that he is gay and their physical needs thus must be satisfied elsewhere. Nonetheless, they are tender and supportive towards one another, and she protects his image while he helps support her ambition and raise their daughter. And Sharon, while seeming ditzy and insecure, is a devoted wife and mother who often has the very best intentions. And the biggest she-witch of the three, Carlene Cockburn, occasionally slacks off from being an over-the-top fountain of insane quotes to show that she, too, has a heart, and is capable of empathizing even with the woman who made her life Hell in high school. Besides, despite the fact that they seem an inch away from making hot monkey love every time they make eye contact, Carlene's relationship with her husband is actually strangely sweet.

Throw in great fun like Amanda taking a job at a Hooters-esque little joint called "Boobylicious" to support herself, a Heck House, and a pre-vow-renewal bachelorette trip that involves primped women in fashionable camouflage ensembles, and you have a lot of spectacle with just enough heart to keep it relatable.


This is another show my sister's been bugging me to watch for ages. I poo-pooed a TV show about fairies, thinking it was either going to be untrue to the folklore in a way that rendered the usage of the word "fairy" purely decoration or far too cutesy. For someone who recently had to eat crow upon the realization that another TV show involving folklore didn't have to be cutesy or trite- that would be "Once Upon a Time," of course- I probably should've learned my lesson by now. But "Lost Girl" isn't at all what I expected.

I queued it up one night when I was bored and in the process of abusing my On Demand options. Unfortunately, On Demand had cycled episodes 1, 2, and 3 out, already, and so I was stuck with episodes 4-7. I shrugged. If 4 stirred my curiosity, I'd track down the rest. If 4 blew a goat, then I'd go back to obsessively watching "The Walking Dead" and be done with it.

The first episode I watched, therefore, opened with a human girl trying to explain the concept of rejection to a beautiful succubus who can magically seduce a man with the merest of touches. The highly comical exchange went something like this:

Succubus: "Feel bad for me, I'm sick."

Human: (after hearing symptoms) "That's not sick, hon, that's rejection."

Succubus: "What is this rejection you speak of? This has never happened to me."

Human: -expletive deleted.-

The ensuing fun of watching the human friend, Kenzi, show the succubus, Bo, how to engage in the required healing catharsis of post-rejection excess is nothing short of hilarious. There is smashing of an abandoned car, and eating of ice cream, and drunkenness with a side of a threesome for Bo. And-

What? What's that you arched your eyebrow at there? Oh, the threesome. Listen, it never gets gratuitous, but there's some sex goin' on in this here show about a succubus who feeds off of human sexuality. With a lot of shows, this could quickly become excessive, but here, it's actually used with enough restraint that I never got to the point where I thought I'd accidentally turned it to Cinemax late at night.

So anyways, getting back to the episode, it turns out one of the folks who approached Bo for a little somethin' somethin' with a seductive siren was a Fury bent on- what else?- revenge. Her ulterior motive in agreeing to a threesome with Bo and her husband was in hiring Bo to kill a human woman her husband was involved with. This, of course, gives our heroine some qualms of conscience. It seems Bo doesn't have that more-magical-than-thou attitude most Fae have towards humans, since she was actually raised among them and didn't know she was any different until she killed a boy the first time she had sex. Plus, while Bo is staying out of the perpetual tension between the Dark and Light Fae, who are headed towards a serious smackdown, she does seem to be more disposed to being good.

Ultimately, after getting sucked into watching all of the available episodes and adding it to the scheduled recordings on my DVR, I found it relatable, funny, colorful and dramatic. I am a huge folklore and mythology buff and I find the approach they've taken here to be quite clever. Taking all the typical magical beings we've peopled our legends with, the story essentially shows us that these are, in fact, just varieties of the Fae, Light and Dark (much like varieties of turkey). Banshees, furies, leprechauns, will-o'-the-wisps, skin-walkers, shape-shifters, sirens... All Fae, all the time.

And though this is not a traditional approach, it involves a lot of the traditional lore. For instance, in "Fae Day," a banshee wails during a celebration and it is explained to Bo that banshees predict deaths, foretelling the demise of  those from the 5 noble families, human and Fae. This is also what Irish folklore tells us. But interwoven with a story that pits a Dark Fae who has succumbed to a mixture of dark magic and Wall Street greed against his more dutiful Light Fae brother while Kenzi shows the latter how to yuk it up with one day left to live, it becomes less dry, more current, and just another intricate fiber in the complicated web that is the Fae world.

I could go on, about quotable dialogue-
  • Kenzi: "It tried to web me in the face! In the face part of my face!"
  • Bo: "It looks like we had a lot in common, looking for love in all the wrong places." Kenzi: "Is that your way of saying 'anal'?"
  • Kenzi: "So not only does this Aswang have a very unfortunate name, but they also eat dead people! And nobody thought to mention this to me, like hey Kenzi watch out for random body parts or by the way foot soup!"
  • Kenzi: "Do you hear that? It sounds like whispering kids or giggling elves. Did you bring elves home? I'm not judging, I just want to know."
-and great characters, plus intriguing plot twists, sexual tension, and romance, but I think I've said enough for now. If you're not intrigued, then perhaps you skipped over the part about the threesome with a Fury and the foot-eating . If so, it's definitely your loss to miss "Lost Girl."

Dogs End Up Resembling Their Owners- Don't Make Yours Look Like an Ass.

Ok, I know I normally blog about TV (insofar as I blog at all), but today I have a burning need to express myself on the topic of leashless dogs in public. I have had my own dog for almost thirteen years, and never has she been off-leash in a public setting. She has, however, been chased and/or almost attacked by other people's leashless dogs. I've also been maimed about the stomach trying to keep her out of a fight because some moron didn't see the harm in letting an 80 lb. boxer trot around freely in their fenceless front yard. I've also had someone be hurt and/or offended when her leashless dog ran up and jumped into my dog's face and my dog snarled. In all three situations, regardless of my compliance with the law, other people put me in an uncomfortable, scary and/or potentially dangerous situation because they did not feel like the law applied to them.

Despite this, I feel like the people who do it feel like it's a victimless crime, like they're breaking some stupid technical rule that doesn't really matter. Or that they should be treated differently because their dog is well-behaved or not agressive. Plus, perhaps they feel bad, restricting the dog's movements when it so obviously wants to run free.

And yet, I think they're missing the point and making a good many unwarranted assumptions. So let's go ahead and address them, shall we?


Maybe you've taken your dog to obedience classes and he was the valedictorian. People admire your dog's impeccable training, and you feel secure in the fact that he will always do as you command. So when you're out with your leashless dog, you are absolutely certain that your complete authority over your companion will suffice to avoid any unpleasant consequences.


Your dog is an animal, with animal instincts. The desire to please you is just one of them, and while it may be powerful, it's not the only influence he's under. As you walk through the neighborhood, you cannot control what you may encounter, because you do not control what is or is not in a public setting. This means other animals, like cats, squirrels, and other leashed dogs may be passing, plus various other humans and cars. Under any number of circumstances, even the best-trained dog can be startled into aggressive or potentially harmful behavior.  (A master animal control officer was quoted in an article as saying, "Even well-trained dogs can occasionally misbehave when distracted, so keeping them under proper leash control keeps them safe also!”) He might find the sudden appearance of your neighbor's cat from under a car frightening and snap. A car speeding by might spook him. Another dog passing on a leash might exhibit behavior that makes him feel that you are being threatened. And being that his senses are so much keener than yours, there's a whole range of stimulating influences in the world you won't be able to perceive and avoid before he can. To assume your will is stronger than your dog's nature seems arrogant, at best, and dangerous, at worst.


The most obvious consequence that we seek to avoid in imposing the leash requirement on people in public is the harm their dog might cause another if not properly controlled. People who have docile, even-tempered dogs might question the necessity of that. After all, their dogs have no history of violence towards humans or other animals. So leash laws clearly shouldn't apply to them, right?


This assumption assumes that because something has never happened, it never will. This ignores the fact that in every situation where something happens for the first time, it had never happened before. It also ignores how many pet owners have, in the past, uttered the baffled statement, "he's never done something like this before" after their dog has mauled another animal or a human being. See, for example, these articles:
So just because your dog has never been startled enough, scared enough, or roused to anger enough before, please don't assume this must mean that the animal you love is immune from these emotions, or so very uniquely human that he would never give in to violent animal instincts. Your dog is an animal, and does not reason through things like a human no matter how bright he is, and so he has the potential to react to the unexpected or unsettling with the same violence as any animal.

Also, please don't go assuming that your small dog is in no position to hurt someone. This assumes that no one can be hurt by the indirect consequences of your failure to control your animal. For instance, if your dog were startled into running in front of a car, which then crashed trying to avoid hitting him, your lapdog could nonetheless still inflict serious injury or death. And even less serious injuries are nothing to scoff at. Small teeth still hurt, and dogs have teeth designed for biting and tearing. If you've ever been bitten by a mouse (I have) or a small child (again, I have), you know that sometimes, the most painful bits can come from things in innocuous packages.

Plus, some people and animals may still find your small dog unsettling. Whether you find that reasonable or not, it's unkind to disregard someone else's discomfort when the solution is compliance with the law. (See, for example:, noting that "[e]ven small, friendly dogs can be frightening when running loose, especially to young children, folks with mental or physical disabilities, other dogs or native wildlife.")


One assumes that those who walk their dogs off-leash do so to promote their pets' enjoyment, that they care about their dogs and wouldn't want to see them hurt. Thus they must assume that, by allowing their dogs to run free, they aren't placing them in any additional danger. After all, with that assumption of absolute dominance and authority


As discussed, you are probably wrong that you have complete control over your dog because your dog is a dog, not a person. He doesn't process stimuli like a human, and you cannot be completely 100% sure that there are no set of circumstances that would not provoke your dog to run where you don't want him to be. For instance, into the road in front of a car, at another animal, at a frightened human with his kicking foot ready, or at another animal who isn't friendly. So by walking your dog without a leash, you may be unintentionally exposing your beloved pet to danger.

In point of fact, a lot of people who let their dogs roam off-leash seem to operate under the assumption that it is safe to let their well-mannered dog approach other dogs who are on leashes. This ignores the fact that the leashed dog may be unfriendly, or, even if usually friendly, it may perceive your dog as threatening to itself or its owner. Your dog may unintentionally provoke or upset the other dog. And again, this puts to test your control over your dog: when your dog is snarled or snapped at, you can only hope your dog will retreat to your side when called. If you're wrong, then you have a dog you cannot control without diving into a dog fight- never a clever idea- or the person who actually did have their dog on a leash is left to the impossible task of controlling their dog AND yours.

If you're thinking that people whose dogs aren't friendly essentially shouldn't be allowed to walk their dogs in public so that your dog can safely get in the face of every passing pup, first, consider that not all dogs are properly socialized during that key time period when they develop "doggie social skills." Then consider the fact that, by assuming these dogs should be forbidden from coming out even if on a leash that you are saying your dog's right to approach every dog whether that dog or his owner likes it or not outweighs an unfriendly dog's right to be able to have fresh air and exercise EVER. And consider the fact that a leashed, properly controlled dog, even if not pleased as punch to socialize with its fellow bowwows, is no danger to others unless they go against the dog and the owner's wishes and insert themselves into the dog's vicinity uninvited.

(NOTE: You may note how adamant I am on this. I will say, I think my dog's a lot friendlier than I give her credit for. She's played with other dogs many times quite happily, and seems especially fond of puppies and smaller dogs like pugs. But she's older now, and has been known to grumble at young whippersnappers who come rampaging towards her. And she's also protective of me, and gets nervous when a big dog runs in my direction. So to play it on the safe side, I don't walk her up, willy-nilly, to other dogs I pass in the street, and when we are approached by strange dogs and their owners, I call out, "she's not friendly." Not because, as a rule, she's not friendly, but because it's easier to call out than, "My dog is friendly for the most part, and has only snarled at another dog a few times when provoked and is not generally aggressive, but I prefer to limit her interaction to avoid playing the odds and only allow her to socialize under controlled circumstances." I am, however, looking into a Wile E. Coyote-style sign.)


There are views contrary to my own on this subject, but I will say, some of the better-formed contrary opinions still require a lot more than I suspect most off-leash dog owners want to give. For example, this article posits that an off-leash dog is all right as long as it's under consistent supervision by its owner and, if the police were to stop and ask you to call it, the dog would come back immediately. And indeed, my uncle in North Carolina is something of an amateur dog whisperer. He's owned rotweilers, German Shepherds, and mastiffs, and I've never seen a single one of them step a toe out of line in public. But I rather suspect my uncle and his kind are very, very rare, and the exception to the general rule.

On the occassions where someone's off-leash pup has come careening at me and my dog as we're out walking and I've called out a request for them to reign in their dog, I would estimate that in about 8/10 such encounters, the dog didn't pay his owner any mind and kept right on running. The ensuing time it took the person to cross the distance and physically capture and restrain their dog was usually not brief, and was often enough time for me to have had to resort to picking up my 50-pound dog in my arms as she became disconcerted so that I could avoid a fracas.

So, yes, I suppose in a world where you're willing to put your money where your mouth is and spend the time it takes to make your dog a model of canine behavior, there's a possibility that this blog sells your pup short. But given that most folks can't guaranty the level of consistency suggested by the above article and in any respect, I have my doubts that even the best-trained dog is 100% unprovokable and undistractable, I think the safer default rule is still to put your dog on a leash in public. He'll always have the dog parks and the yards! He just doesn't get to claim the open roads and sidewalks, too.

In the interest of full disclosure, and my last note before I go, I would add that those restraining their dogs with a retractable leash get an "A for effort," at best, if the dog weighs more than 5 or 10 lbs. I don't mean to belittle your compliance with the law, and my interpretation is not legally binding, obviously. However, these leashes give you so little control over your pet if he has any size or strength that it's almost just an illusion. Remember, these leashes can only be "reeled in," say to pull your dog back from a potential fray or away from a wary person, if the line is slack. What are the chances, if your dog is upset or excited, that the line will be slack? And barring any ability to wind in the cord, you're stuck with whatever length was already out, which could make actually blocking the pup's movements difficult to impossible.

Not to mention how unbelievably painful it is if you try to grasp the skinny rope part of the leash and manually pull the dog in. Having done so, I can attest to the ensuing rope burns. I've once had one come apart in my hands because my dog was pulling so hard in pursuit of a fleeing duck and tried to catch the rope, and let me tell you, it was not fun.

So please read over some of the articles cited and give my articles some thought, if you like to walk your pet off-leash. I think you'll find it's not as harmless as it seems, and that it might be unintentionally stressful or unkind to those sharing the sidewalks with you.