Rebel rebel (time for a punk revival)

On my mind

Oh to be weird.
Hold on, wait. I am weird.
Weirder than most.
I love to be different and David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel was made for me.
When everyone ticks I tack.
It makes me feel slightly smug (and I’m smug about being smug – how meta).
But the funny thing these days is that, yes, everyone wants to be different but, CRUCIALLY, they want to be the same.
To carve their own path, but belong.
To each be a unique little snowflake, but part of the storm.

Maybe it’s always been this way?
(Not that I’m that different really. What a hypocrite.)
And Android cottoned onto this with their ads.
Apple too.
And the biggest joke about Apple is they like to persuade us all that we’re individuals owning their products, yet EVERYONE has a sodding iphone.
Anyway, I digress.

So where does that leave us?
I mean, are there any true mavericks left these days? Those auteurs and visionaries.
Because we should face up to the fact that David Bowie’s death, if we’re frank, left us with an almighty void to fill.
And with the world going somewhat down the crapper and Britain splitting from Europe and Trump building walls around America… the need for mavericks and rebels in 2017 could not be greater.

We need a punk revival.

(For society I mean. Globally. Or at least in the UK and USA).
I mean, going punk is exactly what craft beer brand Brewdog did.
They looked at the stuffy real ale market and shook it until all the crusty old guys fell out.
Trouble is… they became a victim of their own success.
How do you stay a punk when you’re now the mainstream?
That’s the rub. 
And as we know, many rebels eventually hang up their six shooters and put down their guitars and assorted weapons and call it a day.
Resigned to sit in a comfy chair by the fire with a sherry ready for an early night.
It’s inevitable.

But there’s always new blood coming through, right? Right?!
I’m talking about the young firebrands, the future deviants, the intensely passionate leaders and charismatic and cocky outsiders who like to look at the world differently.
THAT’S WHAT WE NEED.
And, honestly, I am drawn to these people like a moth to a flame.
Anyone that likes to disrupt and cause chaos.

Simply put: they’re cool. 
It’s basically where life starts to get interesting, right?

So that’s what’s on my mind.
Rebellion.
Disruption.
Destruction.
It’s time to tear down barriers and scrap rules and let’s all just stop squabbling over stupid things like borders and religion and race and class and creed and all that stuff.
Otherwise we’ll never get off this planet.
Because, let’s face it, there have GOT to be more enlightened civilisations out there in the universe right?
It can’t just be us.
So maybe rebels can be our salvation.
I just hope they get the message, wherever they may be.
And remember folks, David Bowie ain’t dead. He just went home.

Choose life.

On my mind

You all know the Choose Life speech from Trainspotting right? Well recently – with the release of the sequel, T2 – I entered a little writing competition, where we were given the task of updating said speech. And whilst I put mine together pretty quickly, I thought it would be worth sharing here, as I quite like it. So here you go.

Choose life. Choose your precious smartphone. Choose narcissism and selfie sticks. Choose Uber, Deliveroo and online dating. Choose FitBits and self-improvement. Choose masturbation. Choose the herd mentality, trolling culture and the turgid crap that is reality TV. Choose giving a damn about your privacy. Choose government surveillance, tracking cookies and facial recognition. Choose the police, kettling and racial profiling. Choose isolationism, alleged protectionism and border patrols. Choose turning our backs on Obama and voting for Donald fucking Trump, walling off Mexico and Islamophobia. Choose Brexit. Choose interfering in the Middle East and Africa. Choose trusting the conniving, supercilious banks. Choose escapism, geek culture and unrealistic heroes. Choose Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom bloody Hiddleston. Choose celebrity and becoming obsessed with each new shocking death. Choose being labelled and marketed to in every possible way. Choose being a millennial. Choose Generation Z.

Choose globalisation and losing our way.

Choose life.

The S.A.D.s (winter has come)

Poetry

So you’ve heard of S.A.D.s right?
That seasonal winter disorder.
You know… the one where your social skills take flight like a ship in the night and you can’t get aboard her.
And any activity outside the house is only going to exhaust ya.
Cos you just wanna hibernate.
Well I get it bad each year.
And its tendrils settle on me like blanket fear.
But I gotta fight this trait.
Assuming that it’s a flaw in my character.
Cos maybe I’m looking at life through the wrong lens?
And I need a new kind of aperture.
But I lack skill and feel ill; chasing these good vibes.
This ain’t what the doctor prescribed.
I’m such an emotional amateur.
Trying to squeeze positivity out of every beat.
So effectively, I stave off defeat like a social scavenger.
And yeah, maybe I need a CT scan presented in a nice little 3D plan.
If that’s the case, then someone better call an examiner.
Get me signed off work for a month or two.
And yeah I can put on a positive front, it’s true.
But I need to up my game to fool my manager.
And people keep telling me to chill.
Go run a bath for my ills.
To help soothe my troubles while I drown in lavender.
But all I can do is count down the dark days on my threadbare calendar.
Looking ahead to when my mood lifts.
And I stop taking these rude hits.
And then maybe life will feel less like I’m a coasting passenger.
Toasting my demise with haunted eyes as I witness my own exquisite massacre. 

The Pineapple DiscoLeopard

Poetry

I swear she came to me in a surreal and lucid dream.
On a mission, this little vision.
Keeping me topped up with a hot cup of elusive tea.
Cos she was my hero, this jazzy and beautiful weirdo.
Grinning at me as she plotted to cause an amusing scene.
And of course, yes, she was a potent force.
But one infused with inclusive glee.
Allowing me into her personal space and turning up after a right battle.
There she was with mad hair and a gentle stare.
She greeted me sweetly, this wonderful little Pineapple.

And yeah, as far as first meets go with a DiscoLeopard.
This one simply could not have been bettered.
Cos as I stood there all spacey, battered and weathered.
And dispossessed of thought with my mind in tatters and severed.
It was clear, this had been a night of surprises.
And if I thought I had nothing left to give I was dead wrong.
Cos from the start we didn’t shoot from the hip, but the heart.
Going back and forth like ping-pong.
Background of the club fading away as we danced to the beat of our own theme song.
Cos our chemistry was evident.
And the people round us irrelevant.
Hell, we were headstrong.

And if you thought our encounter would be short-lived.
Then damn, you’d have guessed wrong.
Cos since that first night we’ve been a little unit with a thirst to fight.
Defiantly singing our best song.
So don’t just stand there on some sort of lyrical ceremony.
Cos this is none other than our physical testimony.
As we’ve got each other’s backs in a tag team rocking tracks.
Outperforming you at karaoke.
Basically we’re the Bandit.
Running rings round you as Smokey.
So look, I’ll be candid and draw it big for you in the form of a huge emoji.
As she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
And honestly, life has never looked as rosy.
And out of all the guys out there.
I have to say, I’m still in awe she chose me.

discopineapple

A Monster Calls: deeply sad and moving

Film

Quality over quantity. That seems to be how Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona has approached his career thus far. His first feature length was The Orphanage (2007), then the immensely sad The Impossible (2012), which was a critical and commercial success. And now, at the start of the new year, he gives us likely Oscar contender A Monster Calls; a tale of a 12-year old boy who struggles to deal with his mum’s slow fight with cancer. Tough stuff. But then, cynics would say it’s awards season, so we should be prepared for some difficult subjects at the movies over the next month.

With A Monster Calls we follow Conor (Lewis MacDougall) as he suffers a bully at school and a rapidly deteriorating mother (Felicity Jones) at home. Then one night a giant Yew tree in a nearby field comes alive, turning into a monster (Liam Neeson) and presenting him with an offer: hear three stories in exchange for one ‘truth’. Conor accepts and each night the monster serves up another tale which helps him deal – or fail to deal – with his family situation in some way. Right up until the inevitable conclusion that we know is coming.

My first thought was that this film shares a lot with Pan’s Labyrinth (and a fair helping of Where The Wild Things Are). It’s a fairytale, it has a young character seemingly having to tackle big problems on his or her own and grow up fast, it has magic and fantasy and, naturally, it has a big bad monster or two (some are human some are pure fantasy).

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That’s it though. Here, this story is different enough. Where the girl in Pan’s Labyrinth is faced with violence (in her fascist father) and how she deals with that in order to protect her baby brother, the boy in this tale is forced to confront – and deal with – the anger within himself in terms of how he copes with his mother’s illness and truly faces his own sense of conflict.

And you’d think a giant talking tree (voiced by Neeson) wouldn’t manage to put us in the right headspace to feel deeply, but somehow, between Bayona, Neeson and MacDougall, the filmmakers manage it, quite cleverly too. Before you realise it you’re right there with Conor, desparately wishing you could take away his pain and acutely aware of the despair and helplessness he must be feeling at the fact that he’s slowly losing his mother and is powerless to stop it.

Casting Felicity Jones was a clever move, too. In someone that beautiful it’s even more painful to watch her slowly waste away (not that attractiveness has much to do with it, but seeing beauty decay, to me, is somehow more heartbreaking). And, whilst her scenes are not lengthy, you get a true sense of the bond she has with her son, and the chemistry they have feels real and credible.

Perhaps in this, MacDougall is the real revelation. Often child actors get surrounded by older ones to prop them up, but here MacDougall is in almost every scene, and you get the feeling he needs very little propping. And it’s testament to his screen presence that his performance will tug at your heartstrings from the off, but you almost don’t notice it’s happening.

Even if you’ve never experienced loss in any significant way, this film will still resonate deeply. We all fear losing a loved one and this will put you right back to childhood and straight into the shoes of the main character, having you care passionately about his fate, all the way until the credits roll. And we can’t ask for any more from a film, other than that it speaks to – and moves us – in some way.

Best films of 2016: my picks

Best Of lists

To be fair I shouldn’t even write this post, I’ve seen a woefully low number of films this past year. So what I’ve done is split it (like last year) into favourites I’ve seen, those on my ‘to watch’ list and proper turkeys.

Enjoy.

FAVOURITES I’VE SEEN

Captain America: Civil War
Famed for their back and forth dialogue, the Russo brothers stepped up from TV to film effortlessly. It also bucked the trend of a smashy ending, which was welcome.
Deadpool
Despite the trailer ruining a lot of the jokes and the positive reviews threatening to put me off, it was still a fun blast and a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre.
Sing Street
As far as coming of age films go, this one is a treat. If you grew up in the ’80s, have been in any way part of a band or creative, this will resonate.
Rogue One
Gareth Edwards has come a long way since his debut Monsters. Here he expands the Star Wars universe in a satisfying way, giving us the familiar but twists and nice new touches.
Doctor Strange
Is it silly to doubt that Cumberbatch would be anything but good for Marvel? His performance was nigh on perfect and helped expand the MCU into new and exciting areas.
Creed
Seems young blood gives old a new lease of life from time to time. In this instance Stallone plays an aged Balboa, training Apollo Creed’s son in this surprisingly engaging story.
The Revenant
The making of this film has become almost as famous as the movie itself. With stories claiming DiCaprio went through utter hell and back to make it. It’s gruelling, but worth watching.
Spotlight
As this came right at the start of 2016 it almost slipped off my list. Not flashy nor showy, but a well-told tale making archive researching seem as engaging as it can.
High-Rise
I’m starting to think I can only take Ben Wheatley films in small doses. They’re way too stylised and I just don’t get them. That said, this film is insanity in a good way. And it’s Hiddleston as you’ve never seen him before. 

TO WATCH LIST

Everybody Wants Some!!
Hell or High Water
Hail, Ceasar!
American Honey
Paterson
The Nice Guys
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Kubo and the Two Strings
Midnight Special
Sausage Party
Green Room
The Big Short
The Hateful Eight
The Girl With All The Gifts
Victoria
Arrival

PROPER TURKEYS
Maybe it’s mean calling these turkeys, but they failed to deliver on many levels, so they get what they deserve.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Hey guys, shall we have any humour in this film? No, let’s keep it as po-faced as possible. Shall we have a plot that makes sense? Nah, there’s no time. Shall we get the audience caring about the characters? Why bother, just smash stuff in the third act. Audiences like smashy, look at Transformers. ‘Nuff said.
Suicide Squad
Ok, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. This film could have been as edgy as Deadpool. Instead it’s got a dull as ditchwater plot where almost nothing happens. It’s got too many characters that serve almost no purpose (including the Joker) and I didn’t care about a single one of them. Not even the delectable Harley Quinn, there I said it.
Magnificent Seven
Now I didn’t see the original, but many people I know did. And most said this remake failed to get us caring about any of the characters whatsoever. Embarrassing, given the quality of the cast. For me, I went in cold as a newbie and thought much the same. Magnificent? Not by a long way.

Luke Cage: season one review

TV

Take Captain America and add a dash of Superman and thread Harlem throughout his core and what do you get? Luke Cage. A badass bulletproof hero in a hoodie. Originally a character that turns up in Jessica Jones but now has his own show. And one that feels pretty different from others out there, and indeed, different from other Marvel ones too. From the opening yellow-washed, funk-inflected theme song – that’s simultaneously retro and contemporary – you get a sense that a lot of love has gone into its creation and how important the Harlem setting is to its fabric and structure.

For example, music is vitally important. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Mohammad put it together and said they were influenced by Wu-Tang Clan, Ennio Morricone and Mohammad’s group A Tribe Called Quest. So we’ve got Western meets ’90s hip hop, with an original track by Method Man too (video below). All of which adds to its identity.

And on the character front, our main man Luke is interesting. Not immediately likeable and some may say stoic and unreadable, but there’s a fire under his surface. He’s a quiet hero, fierce, intelligent, troubled. There’s no spandex or cape and he half shuns the limelight for the most part. In reality, he’s an ex-convict trying to lay low and live his life in peace. But he’s too special to do that for long. He’s bulletproof for one thing, but it’s more than that. He has a strong sense of injustice and the people of Harlem need him to step up and protect them. So far so very Western, right?

Marvel's Luke Cage

And whilst it’s easy enough for him to hurl gangsters about (he’s bulletproof and can heal incredibly fast and has superhuman strength) he does have weaknesses. Namely loved ones, the people that he cares about. Which you’d expect. If you can’t hurt a bulletproof man, hurt those around him. Which is the approach our bad guy Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes (Mahershala Ali) takes for the first half of the season.

And I very much think this is a season of two halves. First is set-up and a bit slow burn, then the second gets more gung-ho, with Luke half on the run from the law and the bad guys at the same time. So an educated outlaw and vigilante with the common people on his side? May as well call him Robin Hood.

Whatever we call him, it’s a good first season for a show and gets better as it goes on. And it’s nice to see Marvel trying new things, but all the while building the MCU on the small screen. We’ve had Agents of SHIELD (decent and still going) and Agent Carter (had its moments but cancelled after two seasons), Jessica Jones and Daredevil (heard both fairly good but haven’t caught them) and now we have Luke Cage. It’ll be most interesting to see what happens in season two.

Rogue One: upping the game

Film

So how on earth do I review a Star Wars film without spoiling it? It’s tough but let’s try. To start with, it’s not called Star Wars colon something, so it already sets itself apart from the others. It’s linked, definitely. But it’s a little rebel of its own, which is kind of great.

Plot wise, I’ll keep it light. Scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) has left the Empire behind, until they find him and recruit him to build the Death Star. His daughter witnesses this and then grows up to be Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a freedom fighter of sorts – who gets recruited by the rebels. They’ve learned of the Death Star and who Jyn is and want to use her to get close to Galen and perhaps kill him. Jyn learns that her father put a weakness in the Death Star and, if they can capture the plans for it, they’ll know how to take it down. Along the way she teams up with rebel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), former Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a force-believing monk (Donnie Yen), mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Yen), and former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Trying to stop them is bad Empire chap, Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, doing his best impression of close to maximum crazy).

So we’ve got a story that slots relatively neatly into the middle of the saga – in that the events that led up to the creation of Vadar come first, then this, then the original films (blowing up the Death Star), then the quest to find Luke (the most recent one, The Force Awakens, with Daisy Ridley). Got it? Make sense? Let’s carry on.

heres-the-first-cast-photo-of-star-wars-spin-off-movie-rogue-one

Sticking with story, it’s funny. In that you could argue it doesn’t actually offer up anything new if you put it under a spotlight. We get a gang trying to get one over on the Empire on a planet’s surface while a space battle rages above. This gang is made up of a main guy and girl, a robot, a guy who believes in the force, and a shaggy man-creature who doesn’t say much. Our main character has major issues reconnecting with her father, convinced of the good in him when others doubt there is any, sound familiar?

I could go on, but I don’t want to criticise too much. It’s still, in some ways, more original than The Force Awakens. It might not have the same heft of character; in that you’re missing Adam Driver’s Ben Solo – possibly the most interesting thing to come out of the new films so far. But what you do have is a real sense of spectacle and weight. The battle scenes in Rogue One are visceral and impactful and put me in mind of Saving Private Ryan‘s Normandy beach landings, and the city battles in Jedha conjured up images of Blood Diamond‘s street skirmishes and Children of Men‘s firefights, all of which are high praise indeed. So hats off to director Gareth Edwards (a normal director, not an evil Imperial one) for the sense of immediacy and danger he gets across.

And in general, the film looks gorgeous too (helps I saw it at the BFI IMAX) and Edwards has gone all out in terms of location and scale. You get a real sense of the different worlds that make up this universe. In particular, the Jedi’s homeworld of Jedha (now fallen into ruin) looks epic and suggests an ancient culture now largely gone from the universe. And the film’s finale on tropical planet Scarif – with all surf, palm trees and beaches, feels fresh and different.

rogue-one-star-wars-story

Cast wise, the film more or less belongs to Felicity Jones and Diego Luna – both of whom put in convincing performances. And there are numerous scenes where they exchange looks or moments that, if left for a second longer, could be seen as romantic. But the filmmakers resisted this, which is great. It isn’t that kind of story. This is war and it’s encouraging they didn’t waver and bow to audience expectation. It’s also perhaps testament to the direction, script and cast that, in a stand-alone film (that’s part of an epic saga), Edwards gets us caring about the main characters pretty quickly. There isn’t a huge amount of time to build their stories, but just enough so that their plight means something. There are high stakes.

So all in all, this is a highly enjoyable entry in the saga. It’s got humour, thrills, spectacle and a certain level of inventiveness. It nods to canon without being overwhelmed, and it puts a twist on a number of things we’ve come to expect to see, making them feel a little fresher, but still familiar. Which is no easy task. So it’s a bit like Russian roulette, in that Edwards has pulled the trigger, the chamber has revolved and he’s gotten away with it. Next up to try his luck: Rian Johnson for Episode VIII. Still, after Looper and his past work, I’m pretty optimistic.

 

 

Westworld: season one review

TV

Now I’ve called this post a season one review because, as we all know, Westworld has been renewed for a second go round. Hardly a surprise, given it’s a flagship show on Sky Atlantic, it’s got a sickeningly talented cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood etc), clever, tricksy writers (Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy), strong concept (sci-fi meets Western) and has been a storming hit with audiences (89% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes).

It’s also fresh because it bucks the modern trend of drowning us in nudity and violence (Game of Thrones we’re looking at you) and doesn’t serve up that much story in one go. That’s not to say it’s light on story and character. In fact it’s quite the opposite. This is a slow burn, but one that’s worth your time. And it’s also somewhat rare for a show to start with the number of characters that it does. In that at least four or five of them have key storylines. (So maybe it’s a little like Game of Thrones.)

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For the uninitiated though, at its basic level, Westworld is a theme park, albeit a giant one, where the population are made up of ‘hosts’ (synthetic robots) that are so lifelike that you cannot tell them apart from humans. The park’s purpose is for humans to visit to get away from the world, to fight and have sex and enjoy the wild west. And the series starts with The Man in Black (Ed Harris), who’s been coming to the park for years. He’s no longer interested in the park’s base attractions, but is searching for its centre, the centre of the maze, as he calls it. To give his life meaning and purpose.

We also have various hosts who evolve throughout the story, becoming more human as they go. In particular both Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood’s characters are searching for who they really are. Their purpose.

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In fact, most characters are searching for meaning, trying to discover who they really are and why they’re here. Why are they a part of this world? What makes them who they truly are? What makes humans real and hosts not? Tugging the strings and playing God with barely concealed glee is Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who’s treading a fine line between villian and a mysteriously benevolent creator. It would be easy to play him as a straight up bad guy, but Hopkins gives us more, adding layers and nuance to Ford. And by the end of the season you’re still not sure of his motives and whether he’s playing a trick on everyone, as all the best magicians do.

So this show has laid down a big and bold marker; in that it’s fairly different from a lot out there. A bit more thinky thinky and less smashy smashy. But it gets the balance right and answers enough questions to keep season one satisfying, but holds enough back so that season two promises to be worth waiting for.

Walking Dead: season 7 – midway review

TV

It’s funny… the ‘mid season’ break of The Walking Dead seems like it’s splitting hairs calling it mid season, because the show is basically over for a few months. It even had a mini finale and everything (as it always does). Although this means as fans we get left in the lurch, and I often find I half forget what happened in the first half of a season by the time the second half comes around. It feels, at least to me, that the show’s creators have to rekindle my interest. Which they nearly always do (or at least by a few episodes in).

But maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, as usual, I’m off topic before I’ve even begun.

So let’s talk about the first half of season 7, which has been interesting and actually a significant change in terms of the journey of the characters. Indeed, almost fundamental, in that an encounter with a new bad guy has shaken them all to their core. The guy? Negan, the despotic leader of a violent group known as the Saviours, who’s played with relish and gusto by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. And what a way to keep a show fresh. Seldom has an actor that’s been drafted in to play a big character – in such an established story – managed to cause such an upheaval. In the most delicious way possible, of course.

Often it’s the case where actors make the mistake of hamming up the baddie, sneering and moustache twirling until the cows come home. That’s not what you want in this day and age. I mean, this ain’t the 80s or even the 90s. You want menace and charisma in equal measure, and you want him or her to flip between the two on a dime. Which Morgan does as Negan like a natural, it’s delightful.

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And everyone loves to hate a bad guy, right? It’s like we’ve all got Stockholm syndrome when they start abusing the characters that we know and love. But then, that’s what the show’s creators wanted Morgan to bring when they cast him. And boy, did he deliver. It helps that Negan is meant to be the biggest threat old Rick and the gang has ever had to face (at least in the comics, and the show is shaping up that way too).

But just so I don’t get carried away, waxing lyrical on the Negan bandwagon, there’s the main cast to consider, too. Because it should not be underestimated just how fine a performance the majority of them put in. We take it for granted now (as most of them have been around for a good few seasons, and some since the start), but that’s our failing, because they really are outstanding and know their characters inside out.

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And top of that tree has to be Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, the heart and soul of the show. After Negan more or less breaks him by dispatching a number of notable characters in a highly brutal and visceral way, Rick is left utterly hollow, devoid of any fight he may of once had. And gone is the confidence, swagger and resolute nature that had served him well as a leader up until then. He’s unsure of his path and focused on the safety and survival of the group alone. And the others cannot handle seeing him this way.

It’s not the Rick we’re used to but perhaps the one we need, as the show had become a bit samey in recent seasons. Or you could say that Rick was losing himself and his way, that he needed focus. Maybe Negan, as his nemesis, gives him that? Particularly as he breaks him in such a profound way, that the payoff for us as an audience is going to be that much bigger when Rick finally bests him. As he surely must do this season, no?

And this break has taken us up to a nice point, bringing the group back together. Where for most of the season they’ve been disjointed and fragmented, hiding out in different communities, or on different quests after one another. Originally I had planned to talk more about the ins and outs of the show in terms of plot, but that seems unecessary. I prefer to just offer my general thoughts and feelings on the season so far. And to say that, with the mildly hopeful ending, it seems to have set things up for the second half to be most interesting indeed. Or as some might say, one hell of a shitstorm.