My 5 favorite Kdrama actors

I’ve been watching Korean dramas for a few years now and have found I have a few favorites. The trouble with watching shows or movies of a different culture and/or language is that acting standards and line delivery are different. For many viewers from Western countries who are used to watching Hollywood, UK, or European films, the acting of other countries can come across as very over-the-top and fake, and often the comedy falls flat or is head-scratching. I have no doubt this works both ways. It takes a lot of viewing time to really see how good actors are, due to cultural and/or language barriers and many people don’t have patience for that. Having spent an embarrassing amount of my own life watching Hollywood, UK, and other movies and shows, jumping to Kdramas was no big deal time wise. The positive view of this is that I have come to appreciate South Korean culture, food, and language, as well as having viewed some of the best shows of all time (Signal, for example).

Here is a list of five drama actors I’ve come to appreciate. Yes, they are easy on the eyes, but are also extremely talented and stand apart from many of their fellow actors.

#1 Seo In Guk

SeoInGuk

We have music talent shows to thank for a lot of our amazing stars and singers today, and one of those is Seo In Guk, who won Superstar K in 2009. He has a classic rags-to-riches story and is multitalented on every level. Due to hard work and thoughtfulness, this guy could succeed in anything he puts his mind and effort into. Not only is he a great singer and performer, but is a brilliant actor who plays his character, not himself, and is able to turn this talent on and off at will. This is rare, as a lot of actors have to continually play the character even when not filming to keep up the, uh, charade. He’s also very open about how he creates each character, also unusual as many actors prefer keeping the acting trade shrouded in mystery. He was due for military duty this past year, but because of a health issue, could not enlist. As a recent fan of Seo In Guk, I look forward to seeing where his career will go from here. Best dramas of his that I’ve seen so far: Reply 1997, High School King of Savvy, Squad 38, Hello Monster (aka I Remember You), and Shopping King Louie.

#2 Jung Kyung Ho

Jung Kyung Ho

Jung Kyung Ho (also Jung Kyoung Ho) is one of those actors who should be showered with awards. He’s on point in every scene and chameleon-like in his ability to handle different dramas. Jung has very emotive eyes and uses them to full advantage. He, too, simply becomes his character and has a magnetic presence onscreen, and his career so far has been a pretty even mix between movies and dramas. Like Seo In Guk, Jung Kyung Ho is a bit under the radar and underestimated in his abilities–at least internationally. Jung is definitely equal to any of Hollywood’s A-list actors, and would probably put some of them to shame. His one flaw may be that he tends to work with writers and directors that flounder a bit, but can’t always be helped. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Heartless City, Missing 9, Falling in Love with Soon Jung, and One More Happy Ending.

#3 Sung Joon

Sung Joon

A tall drink of water, Sung Joon is much younger than he appears. I was surprised to find he’s only 27. Maybe it’s his height or his deep voice, but he has no problem playing characters much older than himself and is often paired with older women. His choices of projects are riskier than most, and sometimes I think he gives the writers of some scripts a bit too much faith, but it’s refreshing to see someone so fearless. Sung Joon started out as a model, but has turned into a great actor, especially when it comes to romantic scenes. If he’s not putting his entire heart and soul into kissing his onscreen women, he’s very good a faking it. If I were a fellow male actor, I’d be a little hesitant to work with him as he has such an overwhelming screen presence, it’s almost distracting. Lee Min Ki had to work very hard in Shut Up Flower Boy Band to make his character come across as the actual leader of their band, so strong was Sung Joon’s presence. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Ms. Perfect, Shut Up Flower Boy Band, Madame Antoine, and In Need of Romance 3).

#4 Lee Seung Gi

Lee Seung Gi

Lee Seung Gi is one of those actors that slowly earns audience appreciation. He is no stranger to TV, having been on several dramas and variety shows and he also is successful in nearly everything he does. Lee Seung Gi comes across as not only likable onscreen, but offscreen as well, joking with interviewers and the audience. He’s comfortable in his own skin and it shows. He often plays characters that seem very dumb at first, but then prove themselves later on. Although he has a good voice, I think he is more talented at acting than singing. So far his career has mostly been playing vain young men forced to grow up, and I hope now that he’s done with his military service he will choose a wider variety of characters to play. It would be great to see him take on the role of the bad guy, for example. He, for one, picks his projects well. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: You are All Surrounded, Gu Family Book, King 2 Hearts, and My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox.

#5 Lee Min Ho

Lee Min Ho

Due to the commercial success of Boys Over Flowers and The Heirs, one would hard pressed to find an international Kdrama fan who hasn’t heard of Lee Min Ho and his Brad Pitt good looks. Although I enjoy his dramas, he has slipped from being my #1 to watch, as his performances are hit or miss for me. When he is good, he is so good, and when he’s not I wonder if his own fame is overshadowing him. Lee Min Ho shot to fame in 2009 by playing Gu Jun Pyo, a vain, spoiled rich boy,  in Boys over Flowers, and hasn’t looked back since. Not the first to play the character, Lee made Gu Jun Pyo his own and the Korean BOF wouldn’t be nearly as funny without him. Lee also is very gifted in doing action scenes, having a natural athleticism that makes the most bizarre choreography (attacking a cook with a spoon, for example) look natural. He is also a very talented model, and would be #1 on this list if it were for modeling. Sadly, Lee’s most recent dramas The Heirs and The Legend of the Blue Sea were definite misses for me. He was paired with other famous actresses with whom he had no onscreen chemistry, and it showed. He also did not have a firm grasp on who his characters were and acted rather blandly due to that. Since all parties in these two projects have been great and successful with other productions, I have to wonder if there wasn’t too much pressure for profit involved. Both projects were very financially successful and had all star casts, directors and writers, but lacked heart and truly good storytelling. After finishing his military service, I hope Lee will choose projects and characters that he can really play well instead of focusing on the financial success. It’s hard to be so famous that you can’t take a real risk, and the projects he’s performed best in were not foregone successes. Best dramas I’ve seen him in so far: Boys Over Flowers, City Hunter, Personal Taste, and Faith.

 

 

Here Lies Daniel Tate: Book Review (spoilers)

Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill has a great plot: Missing kid turns up years later, but can’t remember much about his past. Bit by bit, he tries to understand his family and what happened at the time of his disappearance. My first thought was The Face on the Milk Carton for a new generation!

No. But it’s much worse than that. The real plot is something else. Con man fakes being a missing kid now in his teens in order to get out of trouble. The main character in the story is a liar. Usually, a story involving an unreliable narrator leaves you questioning everything you just saw or read. If this was what the author was going for in this particular tale, for me it fell flat. The first few chapters promised a roller coaster ride that never really manifested. I read about halfway through in one sitting…and then forgot entirely about the story for days before realizing, “oh, yeah, I never finished reading that.”

So what went wrong? First, I just want to say that All Our Yesterdays, also by Terrill is fantastic. That story had me transfixed. With Here Lies Daniel Tate, it seemed like a great idea that wasn’t executed well. The characters were always viewed from a distance by our narrator, and because of that an emotional link is missing between the characters and the readers. The swearing annoyed me, but most swearing in books and movies does. I can understand trying to be realistic, but for me, it just got in the way of the story.

All that aside, after page 100 or so, Here Lies Daniel Tate gets really boring. Nothing happens. Okay, he goes to school, that’s what happens. And for writers, this is death, your story dies if your readers lose interest. Finishing the book was torture, it was no fun to read the rest and I didn’t understand why a vital component was left out: Keep your audience on their toes. Always make things happen faster or before the audience thinks they should. This rule applies especially to modern audiences, many of whom, like me, have a short attention span. I think a good editor would have spotted this problem. A good editor would have also spotted that unreliable narrator set up at the beginning, never delivered the twist calling the whole story into question. An author that does twists extremely well is Ian McEwan of Atonement fame. For a case study in unreliable narrators, please read that book or even just see the film. Another wonderful unreliable narrator book is The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, and I reviewed that a February or two ago. I’m not saying every unreliable narrator has to end the tale with, “whelp, I lied…or did I?” but it’s just so, so much fun when they do.

Here Lies Daniel Tate had potential that was never realized, and I sort of wish we could dump it in the time machine from All Our Yesterdays to rewrite itself and try again.

SJWsADD: book review

SJW. ADD. First of all, let’s just appreciate how well these acronyms go together. Is there a group that pays less attention to what’s happening in the real world around them? Is there a group less inclined to pay attention to details, facts, or truth?

Vox Day’s first book in this series, SJWs Always Lie, is an excellent opening primer to the thought processes of Social Justice Warriors and the tactics that accompany them. Every day it becomes more obvious that we are in a culture war. Blood has even been spilled in its name (yes Antifa, I’m looking at you), and the more power that is ceded to SJWs and their ilk in the public sphere, the more likely America is to see an actual Civil War II. One of the central points in winning a war is to know your enemy. If you know how they think, you are likely to know how they will respond in any given situation. Fighting in this culture war is not for the faint of heart. The battle is largely psychological, the attacks indirect, and the victim mentality in the enemy, strong. Anyone not dedicated to the unvarnished truth may hold out for awhile, but will ultimately be trampled. Kindness, compassion, sense of fair play–it will all be used against you, because SJWs are con artists with the very worst intentions, who parade them around as if they were the best.

I found SJWs Always Double Down to be an easier read than the first book. Maybe it’s because now that I’ve been reading Day’s blog, I understand his arguments better (when I began reading him, I kept thinking, “I like this guy, I like what he’s saying, but I don’t understand it!”). The writing and planning is more succinct in this book and the details about the whole Tor fiasco are left towards the end, which I think makes SJWsADD more relatable to the average Joe who understands something is going on but only gets his news from the MSM. In the introduction, Day explains the criticisms he’s gotten about using too many personal examples of battling SJWs, and, agreeing or not with that criticism, he was smart enough to put the most relatable examples first, those from the corporate and tech world. I like to write and inside stuff about how the publishing world works interests me, but even I got a bit lost with the telling of all the Tor drama–and it did come across as pointless drama at times. However, I now get that that is largely the point. SJWs create senseless drama because it helps them gain power. Few people relish conflict and will often give in to false cries and tears just to make them stop. Day and his posse didn’t just oppose the SJWs, they made them cry harder and longer than they wanted to by being even more committed to the drama than the SJWs, not to mention tiring them out. (For other examples of this, see Gamergate and any of President Trump’s scuffles with the media).

This is how the war will be won. It’s not for those who want to be nice (nice used to = stupid, if you keep that in mind, you’ll never be “nice” again.) Being committed to the truth is not “nice” in any respect today. The light of truth brings people’s own shortcomings up before their eyes, and no one likes to be confronted with their shortcomings. Sometimes when reading Day’s blog, I think, “can’t you just rip the bandaid off slowly today?” Nope, nope, nope. He wants to win the war, not waste time for the rest of us to collect our feelings. Our side can’t start to control the arena and the rules of the game if we’re hiding from the truth ourselves.

[i.e.: For a long time I wasn’t totally grasping what Day meant by his assertion that group identity is simply how the world actually works. It wasn’t until he started talking about the Tower of Babel that I really got it. God made the races, tribes, and nations and He made sure they would never build another tower again by scattering them across the face of the earth. Globalism is against God in every way, shape, and form. People are happier and safer living with their own kind, it’s just we don’t want to admit it today, even–maybe especially–among Christians.

Is God really happy when we disregard the welfare of our own neighbors in order to get a virtue boost by bringing over foreigners who don’t have the skills to succeed in this country and clog vital resources for actual citizens? And we don’t even care adequately for those foreign refugees! I live in Minnesota among many of them–and many are not able to work here, due to language and skill barriers, and what they are allotted in welfare in some cases barely covers rent. It all really is just virtue signaling, not actual virtue, and it’s hurting both sides. I’m sure that the powers that be in MN are determined to bring even more people over, not caring an ounce that they are selling their precious, formerly free country down the river. We know, they know, and the refugees all know they have to go back, but no one is making the first move. (On a positive note, this year I’ve seen a tremendous amount of American flags flying in Minnesota, not only outside homes and places of business, but quite a few stuck on pickup trucks, strategically placed to make those criers cry all the more!)]

The stories about a company soon to be converged were spot on. A couple of years ago, I thought I’d have to quit my job, I was so incensed they made us take an computer test to show us how “racist” we were, all the time claiming it was a voluntary test and then sending out passive-aggressive emails claiming our department or department head would get in trouble if we didn’t have 100% participation. I felt like I was in China again, with their “we happily invite you to this five-hour long mandatory meeting! We invite you to sing a song…for the Communist party!” Oh, and the test was rigged of course, trying first to get us to click certain races with certain words, then suddenly switching which side we were to click on so it would confirm their suspicions about our “bias.” Thankfully, I’ve only gotten small whiffs of convergence since then, and we haven’t had the “test” again, but it’s a big company with a lot of women and likely will be converged at some point. Fortunately, other companies who still understand their business purpose are waiting in the wings.

 

I also found the whole section on the Alpha-Gamma spectrum of, well, mostly males, to be very informative, especially the Gamma stuff. It explains a lot about the reasons behind people’s behaviors and what makes them attractive or not to the opposite sex. It explains a lot of the male SJWs in a sea of female ones.

SJWsADD will give you more ammunition in the fight against the power grab that is “social justice/political correctness.” I can’t wait for what will surely be the third book, SJWs Always Project!

Collective Guilt

On the sins and sexual deviancy of Hollywood, much can be said. The shock among Hollywood’s own community is feigned at best. Whispers of abuse, sexual and not, child and adult, have wafted in and around the entertainment industry since its inception. It would not surprise many that these same things go on in the music industry, in the cable news industry, in fact in any industry where more show than substance gets the eyeballs looking and cash drawers zinging.

As a Christian, I sorrow over the innocence wiped away by such degeneracy. It would indeed be fitting for the perpetrators of such acts to have millstones tied around their necks and for them to be cast into the depths of the sea. As a Christian, I also sorrow over the sinners, the ones that still have some part of their soul that wants to repent, to live better, to be forgiven. It is perhaps the most unfathomable reaches of God’s love that were a pedophile to sincerely repent, he could be forgiven by and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On a purely human level, my jaw drops at the very idea. Drawn and quartered is much more like it.

But for more regular sinners, there’s comfort in the possibility of criminals being forgiven. It means we can be forgiven, too. It means I can be forgiven. It means you can be forgiven.

Along with all of the other oh-so-shocked Hollywood elites, are millions upon millions of viewers, listeners, watchers and consumers who heard the whispers, too. If asked how many films in existence in some way condone, glorify, or promote deviancy on any level, one could wryly answer, “Is there a single one that doesn’t?” Sin is as prevalent in the works of man and it is in every man’s heart.

Those of us who were, are, and remain Trump supporters understand that for some reason God is using this man as a winnowing fork. President Trump is smart, rich, talented, and good looking, but a of people are that, and they’ve never done nothing like this. There might be nothing more significant under Trump’s watch than the number of pedophile rings busted around the world. That is an amazing feat in and above itself. For the first time in a long people, someone in a powerful position cares about the damage being done to innocent souls. And he’s giving others who also care the backing and ability to do something about it.

But God’s winnowing fork cuts much, much deeper. It cuts to the heart. It separates joints and marrow.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

Those whispers about Hollywood, those stories, those movies that testified to what was happening behind closed doors and in some cases out in the open, who of us viewers of Hollywood movies, of American movies and TV shows, can honestly say we didn’t know? Are you really shocked? Really? Actors are asked to disrobe often, asked to simulate sexual activity onscreen, asked to enjoy pretend killing people, asked to swear and drink and behave abominably.  Who’s asking that of them, I wonder? Monsters live among us, we all know that, but who exactly those monsters are may be a little more uncomfortable for us to consider.

Thankfully, we are living in a time when many are turning away from such entertainment, and many are looking for cleaner fare while others are giving up TV and movies altogether.  For myself, I now watch Korean dramas, and although they might be cleaner morally, they tend to be fluffy and superficial. My addiction to consuming stories in some fashion will probably never wane. As much good as I’ve learned from stories, I’ve surely learned a lot of bad things, too.

Remember back in the 80s and 90s where it was if you listened to heavy metal or played Dungeons and Dragons, you were surely going to hell? We may laugh now, we may see both things as harmless, now, but the reality is people who get obsessed with their entertainment are often making idols out of them. This doesn’t happen to every person or in every case, but it does happen. Christian or not, putting entertainment above God,  and above the welfare of your family or fellow human beings is a sin.

We may never have done anything remotely like what Harvey Weinstein has done to his actresses, but we’ve likely watched a few films of his, films that promote living life in a way that is selfish and sinful. We’ve given him and people like him our hard-earned dollars all the while trying to ignore those whispers.

I titled this post “collective guilt,” but the meaning is really guilty individuals together making up a collection. You may agree with me or not, but the truth is that what we watch and listen to affects us, some more than others. And the money given for entertainment is sometimes used to fund the worse abuses. This is a strange and unique time in history when many, many people are starting to wake up from a long slumber of mindless consumerism. For once, they are starting to consider what they watch just like they consider what foods they eat. It merely may be that there are simply more choices for our attention out there, but it’s no accident that all of these Hollywood skeletons are coming out just when the public is finally tiring of immoral gutter stories and constant insults. Penny dreadfuls are no longer satisfying and we long for soul food, for stories where we don’t try to understand the monsters, we instead defeat them.

As a watcher, I’m guilty, if very obliquely, of funding Hollywood’s deviancy and degeneracy.  I’ve watched a staggering amount of movies in my 39 years.  As a writer, I’m not much better.  I’m closer to Jo March and her The Sinner’s Corpse than I ever will be to Little Women. And yet, stories, if we have them, should be fun, shouldn’t they? And how do we portray the real joys and trials of human life without glorifying the evil? Without dragging the audience down into the gutter to dwell there and get snatched away by clown from IT? Is censorship the way to go? Every freedom-minded person would shout a resounding “NO!” to that, especially if the censorship should end up being political in nature.

I can’t offer advice from a human standpoint. Humans aren’t very good at fixing the problems of sin, but God is. Here’s His advice:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8 NIV) 

Put the good things first in your mind and heart. Can we ask for better advice than that? Thank God for his advice, thank God for his salvation, and thank God that he saves and forgives even us! At the end of time our hearts will be laid bare, our sins will be pranced around by the devil for all to see just like Hollywood’s sins are detailed in the tabloids.  We have one hope, and that is Jesus Christ, who lived perfectly for us because we couldn’t, and for love sacrificed himself on the cross and paid for the sins of the whole world, even the very real human monsters. Talk about radical. Sexual deviance can’t hold a candle to that kind of radical. It’s not even in the same league. Final and full forgiveness. That’s better than any Hollywood film ever made.

Six of Crows: Refreshing

I’ve been a bit delinquent on posting, but I’ve been working on Trolls for Dust 2, getting out of a bit of slump. This summer has been crazy busy with work and family things, so I’ve struggled finding the time to let my brain slow down enough to be creative and also to keep up energy at the same time. More sleep helps, but takes up time. In between, I’ve been able to spend ten or fifteen minutes here or there reading the competition. YA fantasy/sci-fi lit right now is…well, I’m seeing a lot of sameness, something to take note of as I continue my own series.

It’s inevitable, something like Twilight or the Hunger Games becomes popular, so similar stories are pushed through and encouraged by publishers, authors, everyone all around, and pretty soon we are in a glut and a rut and feeling genre-ed out! In browsing the shelves, I see a lot of space fantasy/romance plots (speaking of which, I read the first book in one series that was good, a sort of Titanic in space with a space ship crashing on a planet. Sadly the name of the book escapes me. It is a series, but I didn’t read the second installment as it didn’t follow the same couple), a lot of fairy tale-inspired series, still some dystopian themes, and still some paranormal. A lot of the current series involve swordplay, and I like that, but nothing really stands out to me at the moment. Enter, Six of Crows.

Of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, I only read book one, but enjoyed it, especially the world having a whole Russian feel to it, but I didn’t read the rest of the trilogy. At first in spotting Six of Crows on the display, I didn’t realize it was set in the same world. Now, as I’m finally getting around to reading it, I’m delighted to find it is set in the same world, and in a setting now resembling Amsterdam mixed in again with Russian and Finnish-inspired countries. Reading the book is a treat because it is an once fantastically strange and also unsettlingly familiar.

I’m only on page 120 or so, and Six has me hooked. I think Bardugo’s writing has improved greatly–not that it was bad before–and her metaphors are used appropriately and sparingly (at least compared to other YA books). Her characters are well-realized and are basically a bunch of ruffians and down-and-outers. The character piece is definitely Kaz, a Ketterdam gang leader with a bum leg who gets propositioned to commit a heist and rounds up the perfect team to help him. I know these days, we like to drone on and on about character, and I think Bardugo writers her characters well, but what stands out to me with this book is: The Plot. Yes, the plot. However Bardugo came up with the idea to set a heist in a fantasy world, I don’t know, but at this time in YA fiction, it’s genius. By only the plot, Six stands on its own, refreshing in its unique plot.  Any romance, any angst or tortured souls, are at best a side to the heist plot and I love it. This book gives me hope for the future of YA fantasy. The plot is clever, as is the dialogue, the world-building is fantastic, and the writing keeps you reading and wanting more.

It’s been awhile since I’ve liked a YA book this much. The last couple I liked were the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M. Cornish, and time travel thriller All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, both of which stood out greatly from the other books on the shelf at the time. I can’t wait to see what Leigh Bardugo comes up with next and am even hoping she continues to use the same world.

Scythe: A Worthy Successor to the Hunger Games

For those who study their history, the fact that all-controlling government “utopias” prove to be anything but is no surprise, yet the youth are often schooled to believe that such utopias should be desired if only the “right” people are in power. Actually, this isn’t so much something the young need to be taught, rather than is a youthful belief that arises from the desire to change things for the good. This desire for positive change is something that makes the young so hopeful…and so stupid. As we grow older, we realize true positive change only comes with time, if it comes at all. Rarely is it instantaneous. And as we age we often become cynical about human-run institutions. Often, these institutions do more harm than good. Given too much power, governments tend to turn murderous on a jaw-dropping scale.

One of the ways to deter the young against eagerly campaigning for more government power over their lives, is to have them read and watch stories in which the true nature of such a “utopia” is revealed in all of its gory detail. Dystopian series such as The Hunger Games conclude that any side that has too much power should be considered dangerous to the common man. The Hunger Games is far more effective in showcasing this phenomenon than say the movie V for Vendetta. V showcases an oppressive Right-wing government, but fails to concern itself with the main problem, which is authoritarianism in the form of totalitarianism, an all-powerful, centralized government of any side that must not be questioned. The Hunger Games shows the true story, which is that both Right and Left can be authoritarian, and hints at a political truth, the scale is not R vs. L, but is collective tyranny vs. personal freedom.

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, is only book one in his new series, so I can’t yet judge the series as a whole in comparison to The Hunger Games, but so far I find Scythe to be a worthy successor. First, there is the necessary government dystopia, masking itself as a utopia as usual. Humans have conquered death by superior technology. Imagine that. They are also run by an internet “cloud” of human knowledge that that records and catalogues everyone and keeps everyone safe. Secondly, despite having their needs cared for (in the Hunger Games this depends on which district you live in), the general populace lives in fear of being murdered by their government. Scythes are the de facto government in place of a president, king, and/or parliament, and they have given themselves authority over death. The reason for this is blandly stated that people must die sometime, but behind that lies the boogeyman of our current time, overpopulation of humanity is the worst thing that can happen to the world. Thirdly, teens are conscripted into the order of the Scythes to become licensed killers, not unlike Katniss and Peeta being forced to kill other kids in the Capitol’s Hunger Games. Both societies are essentially bored with their existence, and these killings are entertainment, both a reflection of the fights in the Roman Colosseum, and a beacon warning us of the dangers of our present society’s boredom and malaise.

A quick, straightforward read, Scythe cuts to heart of the issue in the journal writings of the longterm Scythe members. They live by a number of commandments, feel called to do their work, and are more akin to a religious order than an actual governmental body. The main characters, Citra and Rowan are recruited to be apprentices in the order precisely because they find killing people abhorrent. They soon realize that this abhorrence is not shared by all Scythes and that just as in the governments of old, human corruption and greed reigns in the Scythedom. Just as Katniss and Peeta have to think outside the box to beat the system, so do Citra and Rowan.

As a whole, the Scythe world seems a simpler world than The Hunger Games one, but the board is just getting set up. Scythe is superior in some ways–it’s told in 3rd person instead of 1st, has no love triangle, and makes the slaughters less a game and more of a mission, yet fails in others–at times the story and world seem too simple and non-emotive, and a love story is only hinted when it should have been fully realized. Glaring, is the existence of the Scythedom in the first place. À la The Giver, we get the feeling–or maybe we are just hoping–that there is a big reveal coming, both about the origins of the Scythes and the “cloud” god/government. The biggest similarity to both stories is the truth that when it comes to power, any side, no matter how sanctioned, can prove to be the wrong one when human life is at stake.

Along with believing in utopias on earth, the young often see freedom or liberty as doing whatever you want whenever you want. Grownups know that true liberty and true freedom require core values and adherence and discipline to them.  None of the main characters in these stories are hedonists. They believe in protecting the weak and even that they themselves have a duty to do so. They are unwilling to use violence and only use it if they must. They revere human life, and even the corrupt human institutions, only bringing down either or both if it becomes absolutely necessary for them to do so. These stories do not glorify anarchy, but hold life and liberty dear.

Scythe is setting itself up to be one of the more thought-provoking young adult series of recent years. Like The Hunger Games, it stands apart from so many of the others, most of which are purely fluff and fantasy. There is a silence behind the story of Scythe. It is as if humanity in it holds their breath, waiting for all of the pennies to drop, or rather, for the guillotine blade to fall. They have conquered death to no purpose and still run from it, quaking in fear when the very human grim reaper is at their door. They have thrown off religion and God only to make technology their god. No matter how hard they try, they can’t shake the truth: One day or another, somehow or another, everyone dies.

Doctor Who: Midnight

David Tennant is my favorite Doctor. His Doctor is generally a cheerful, god-like hero. It’s no surprise then, that my favorite episodes of the show Doctor Who are ones from the seasons starring Tennant. “Midnight” from season four is one I like to watch again and again. This episode lands in the timeframe when Donna is the Doctor’s companion. Donna may have never been a love interest for the Doctor, but she understands him in a key way that his other companions do not: Without his companions, he’s scary–at least this Doctor is. While the Doctor may keep companions around to fend off loneliness, the real reason may be that they keep him grounded in reality, something necessary for a true hero to remain so.

As far as episodes go, “Midnight” could be written of as a filler episode, having not much to do with the long-term plot of the series. If one had to cut an episode due to time constrains, “Midnight” would be a good choice as it wouldn’t affect the series as a whole and is rather forgettable coming after the epic episodes of “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” However, taking a closer look, “Midnight” has quality in its own right and deserves to be showcased as more than just filler.

The episode starts with Donna and the Doctor on vacation on a planet called Midnight. Donna’s busy sunbathing, so the Doctor decides to take a tour out to look at the planet which appears to be incapable of supporting life. In itself, the plot would make a great horror movie, but at the same time apart from the Doctor Who universe “Midnight” has little meaning and in fact is only truly scary because of who the Doctor is.

Tennant’s Doctor is always rather curious and chatty, so he wastes no time in getting to know the other people on his tour ship. They are all humans and although this may be the future, they are not depicted as being much different from those in Doctor Who’s present day London. Three are on a family trip, one just broke up with a lover, two are scholars, etc. When the ship unexpectedly stops due to a malfunction, Doctor Who is eager to help and invades the cockpit to talk with the pilots and maintenance men. In what will prove to be a foolish move, the Doctor encourages the men in the cockpit to lift up the sunscreens so he can take a look at the planet. Although they think him merely curious, the Doctor’s real goal is likely to spot a way out of their dilemma. Still, he’s thrilled they are looking on an area of the planet that no one has ever seen before. It is towers and mountains encrusted in diamonds and all uninhabitable due to the proximity of the sun. One of the pilots spots a shadow sliding towards their ship, causing a prompt closing of the viewing screens.

Back in the main cabin, the Doctor finds himself having to settle down the increasingly hysterical passengers who are all afraid they will run out of air before help gets to them. Both the flight attendant and the female scholar are key in helping him calm everyone down. This foreshadows how the two women will ultimately play a role in saving everyone at the end. Why these women are able to see what the rest of the group does not, the writers give no answers, only that perhaps one is thoughtful in a unique way and that the other has genuine concern and care for her passengers. These are both qualities that are easily found in each of the Doctor’s companions.

Just as the passengers are relaxing something knocks on the walls of the ship, presumably trying to get in. Hysteria rises again, ending with the cockpit getting ripped away from the ship and the lights turned out. As everyone comes back to their senses and gets the lights back on, they realize that one of the passengers, a Sky Silvestry (Lesley Sharp), who was extremely afraid, has been so traumatized that she cannot speak. It doesn’t take too long for the Doctor and passengers to figure out that whatever being was outside is now somehow in this woman. Applause to the actress who created a chilling character within such a short amount of time. Her performance as she mimics and manipulates the other passengers is riveting. Not only does she shine but allows Tennant’s Doctor to shine as well, not to mention the other passengers. This is the sort of scene that really tests actors–closed room, no specials effects–as well as the writing, both of which are very good in “Midnight.” It is a scene that I can imagine would be of good use in an acting class or workshop.

With this discovery of an entirely unknown and new creature in the universe, here the Doctor’s penchants for both curiosity and hubris conspire to within a hair’s breadth of his complete downfall. We see him at first having control of the situation and then quite suddenly stuck, unable to do anything to change or affect events around him. His life is at stake with no way out. We know that if Donna was with him, this would not have happened. If Donna was with him, she would have held him back, and in the end it is the two stand-in companions, the flight attendant and the young scholar who save the day, one by contradicting the lie that is gaining power in the room, and the other literally giving her life to save the passengers and perhaps the entire universe. The Doctor is extremely shaken by this whole experience and this may be the part where he becomes too cynical to recover. Though he shares what happened with Donna, I didn’t come away with the impression that she really understood just how dire circumstances were or what an amazing sacrifice the flight attendant made. The attendant didn’t just save one life or a group of lives, she saved all of the lives in the Doctor Who universe.

A space tale about an undiscovered malevolent being could be an exciting movie, but this episode has such tension because it’s about Doctor Who. The new creature is frightening precisely because of who the Doctor is. The Who universe would not be able to thrive, much less exist, without its main character. “Midnight” foreshadows this particular Doctor’s end, should he continue to be companionless, and it is this factor combined with his reckless curiosity and growing self-pride that ultimately leads to his regeneration into someone new, kinder, and smarter.

Of all the Doctor Who episodes from Tennant’s run on the show, “Midnight” truly seems to encapsulate his character. It’s an episode that can be watched again and again, not only for the fine acting and writing, but for the lessons on group dynamics and the false appeal to compassion. Can there be any worse phenomenon in the universe than someone advocating for a clear, present danger to be welcomed unquestioningly into a benign group? Some evils are not to be understood nor negotiated with, but only to be defeated. It is no wonder that the Doctor found his life rightly questioned in the next instant. True love, true compassion, is giving one’s life for one’s friends, in this instance the flight attendant sacrificing herself for her passengers. She saved the Doctor, but shamed him beyond all repair, and although he is unarguably at his worst in “Midnight” it is by far my favorite episode.