“PLATINUM BLONDE” (1931) Review

“PLATINUM BLONDE” (1931) Review

For over seven decades, many movie fans and critics have ignored the 1931 comedy, “PLATINUM BLONDE”. They have dismissed it as some mediocre, obscure film from the early talkies period deemed unworthy of any real film criticism. But due to recent interest in that particular era, the film’s reputation has grown over the past several years.Directed by Frank Capra and written by Jo Swerling, “PLATINUM BLONDE” is a romantic comedy about a newspaper reporter named Stew Smith, who becomes romantically involved with Ann Schuyler, a wealthy young socialite, after writing an expose about one of her brother’s romances. Unaware of the romantic feelings of a female colleague named Gallagher for him, the reporter marries the socialite. However, both Stew and Ann ending up assuming that the other is the one whose lifestyle must change.

Personally, I believe that “PLATINUM BLONDE” is a decent effort by Frank Capra during the early period of sound. Swerling’s script provided an interesting and comic portrayal of a marriage doomed by the couple’s class differences and their own arrogance. Surprisingly, I suspect that many moviegoers in 1931 saw the Ann Schuyler character as the cause behind the marriage’s failure. After all, she was a woman and from a wealthy background. Many probably felt that she should have been the one to change her lifestyle for the sake of her marriage. The movie did portray Stew giving in to her demands on two counts – living with her family and changing his wardrobe. But he did so, protesting rather loudly and still believing that Ann should surrender to his demands. Instead of condemning both Stew and Ann for their joint failure to compromise for the sake of their marriage, Capra and Swerling decided to portray Ann as the “villain”. Even worse, the script provided Stew with a potentially perfect mate in Gallagher, after his marriage ended before the film’s last reel. Watching a professional journalist like Gallagher portray the little housewife, fetching and cooking for the now free Stew did not exactly leave a glowing feeling within me.

Many of the early talkies had a reputation for being nothing more than a filmed play. Most of ”PLATINUM BLONDE” managed to avoid getting bogged down with a slow pace. I found most of the movie surprisingly fast-paced. This is a miracle, considering that most movies during that period were bogged down in pacing, due to the studios’ inexperience and insecurities on how to deal with sound technology for films. Although most of ”PLATINUM BLONDE” managed to move at a brisk pace, the scene featuring Stew’s first meeting with Ann and the rest of the Schuyler family did not. Only during this sequence, did the movie threatened to bog down into a filmed play. Not even Swerling’s sharp dialogue or actor Robert Williams’ frenetic acting could prevent this.

I have heard that the movie was supposed to be a vehicle for Loretta Young and the movie’s original title was “GALLAGHER”. I also heard that “PLATINUM BLONDE” was supposed to be a showcase the 20 year-old Jean Harlow and the color of her hair (which was one of several aspects that made her a star), hence the name of the movie’s title. Yet, Loretta Young ended up receiving top billing. Frankly, I found this confusing. It seemed obvious to me that Robert Williams was the real star of this particular movie, given his exuberant performance. It is a mystery to me why Columbia Pictures’ boss, Harry Cohn, could not see this. Sure, I could see why they pushed Harlow’s role, considering that she was fast becoming a sex symbol. But Young’s role seemed a lot smaller than both Williams and Harlow’s roles. Why give Williams second billing? He deserved first billing. Another aspect of “PLATINUM BLONDE” that took me by surprise was that it did not seem much of a Pre-Code film to me. Despite Jean Harlow’s presence, the movie seemed too much like a Frank Capra film, with its emphasis on class warfare. Despite the main male character involved with one woman and another woman desperately in love with him, there is very little hint of sex or sexual innuendo in this film. The sexiest scene I could recall featured Harlow and Williams’ horseplay on a sofa that struck me more as adolescent than something worthy of a Pre-Code film or anything Post-Code.

Many critics and fans have claimed that Harlow had been miscast as an heiress. Apparently, many seemed to have the notion that Harlow was incapable of portraying a role that did not call for her to be a spunky member of the working-class. First of all, Harlow did not come from such a background. She came from an upper middle-class or upper-class Kansas City family and was indulged as a child. Which made her, in my opinion, capable of portraying an heiress. And she did a pretty damn good job, as far as I am concerned. Loretta Young was sweet and spunky as the love-sick Gallagher. However, her role did not struck me as strong enough to warrant her top billing. I have heard about Robert Williams in the past and comments about his road to stardom being cut off by sudden death from peritonitis three days after the film’s release. After seeing his exciting performance in “PLATINUM BLONDE”, I believe that he had what it took to become a star in 1930s Hollywood. He was generally good-looking, talented, adjusted to talking pictures like a duck to water, and possessed a strong screen presence. Alas . . . fate had something else in store for him.

And as much as I liked “PLATINUM BLONDE”, I find it difficult to get over my distaste toward the movie’s portrayal of the Stew Smith-Ann Schuyler marriage. I did not care for Capra and Swerling’s decision to make Ann the “villain” of the marriage, considering that both she and Stew were determined to be the one who controlled the marriage. I found the scene featuring Stew’s introduction to the Schuyler family rather long and slow-paced. And I believe that Loretta Young’s top billing undeserved. But aside from one scene, Capra directed a fast-pasted and entertaining movie filled with sharp dialogue written by Jo Swerling. And audiences were given a brief glimpse of the potential stardom that actor Robert Williams could have enjoyed, if fate had not stepped in.

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“Second Power” [PG-13] – 5/8

“SECOND POWER”

PART FIVE

The words reverberated inside Olivia’s mind.

“O eternal Goddess, Maiden, Mother and Crone, I am made from your flesh and you know me better than I know myself.” 

Her eyes firmly shut, Olivia become attuned to the forces surrounding her. Forces that radiated from her body.

“You understand depression, frustration, and anxiety. Please help me to control these emotions, and help me to convert these powerful feelings into love.”

Now other forces captured her attention. They seemed to have originated from another dimension. Filled with magic and wonder.

“O eternal God, King of infinite wisdom and goodness, I am created from your essence, and I thank you for the gift of life.”

A long tunnel appeared before Olivia. At the end, a bright light illuminated. She slowly made her way toward the light, while the chant continued filling her mind.

“Please teach me to be patient and humble, tolerant and gentle, especially when life’s problems become heavy and difficult to bear. So Mote It Be.”

Finally, she reached the end of the tunnel and stepped forward. Olivia emerged into the bright light and found herself in a whole new world. One that seemed filled with wonders and enchantment.

* * * *

Leo and Piper appeared in the hallway, outside Olivia’s apartment. Both heaved sighs of relief. The whitelighter raised his hand and rang the doorbell. Seconds passed and no one answered. Keeping his frustration in check, Leo knocked, this time.

“Maybe Paige was wrong and she’s not home,” Piper commented. She looked eager to leave.

Shaking his head, Leo replied, “No, she’s home. I thought I heard something.”

“Then why doesn’t she . . .?”

Ignoring his wife, Leo knocked once more. When Olivia failed to answer, he and Piper exchanged worried glances. Then the whitelighter closed his eyes in another attempt to sense some kind of presence inside the apartment. “Oh my God,” he murmured.

Piper frowned. “What?”

“Something’s going on in there. I don’t know what. Hold on. I’m going to orb us inside.”

After Piper grabbed Leo’s hand, he orbed out of the hallway. The moment he and Piper appeared inside Olivia’s living room, they were met with a shocking surprise. The couple found everything hovering inches off the floor. Including Olivia, who squatted in Yoga position. Within seconds, both Leo and Piper were also hovering.

“Oh my God!” Piper cried out. “Le-eee-eo-ooo!” While her bulky figure hovered in the air, she waved her arms about. “How in the hell do we get down?”

Unfortunately, Leo was in no position to help his wife. Not while he was floating ten inches off the floor. Even worse, he could not orb. Olivia. He must get through to Olivia. Leo called out his friend’s name. To no avail. The red-haired witch remained in a trance. He tried once more. “Olivia! O-liiv-vee-ah!

* * * *

Something that faintly resembled a voice, echoed in Olivia’s subconscious. It was only a glimmer, but loud enough to interrupt this new spiritual exploration. After a silent pause, Olivia happily resumed her meditation. Then the voice returned. “Olivia.”Was someone calling her? And why was someone trying to pull her from this alternate dimension? Because quite frankly, she had no desire to leave. “Olivia! OLIVIA!” Finally, she recognized the voice’s owner. Leo. Olivia finally snapped out of her trance and returned to her old world.

She slowly opened her eyes and found everything inside her apartment living room, floating in mid-air. Including Leo, Piper and herself. Olivia let out a gasp. Objects started falling toward the floor. And the couple screamed. Using her telekinesis, Olivia again levitated both the objects and the bodies, before slowly lowering them to the floor. She tried to be as gentle as possible with Piper. Once the pair reached the floor, Olivia cast them anxious looks. “God, I’m sorry! Are you guys, okay?”

Leo let out a gust of breath. “Yeah, I’m . . .” He frowned. “I’m fine. What happened? Has your telekinesis developed?” The whitelighter helped his wife to her feet. Then he helped Olivia. “I don’t recall you ever doing that before.”

Olivia shrugged. “It was probably the meditation. Remember, Harry once read one of Phoebe’s premonitions while he was meditating. And they both were miles apart, at the time.”

“Try it again.”

Before Olivia could make the attempt, Piper interrupted. “Uh, before you do, would you mind if I step outside?”

A small smile tugged Olivia’s lips. “Perhaps I should try it another time. So,” her smile disappeared, “what do I owe the pleasure of your company? And what are you doing inside my apartment? Without my permission?”

“Uh, Leo?” Piper shot her husband an uneasy glance. “I think you should answer this.”

The whitelighter squirmed under Olivia’s direct stare. “Uh . . . well, it’s like this. You didn’t answer, when I rang the doorbell.”

“So?”

“C’mon Olivia! I thought something was happening to you!” Leo protested. “I could sense your presence inside and you didn’t answer. So . . . we . . .” He glanced at Piper, “I thought it was best to orb in right away. Just in case.”

Nodding, Olivia said. “Okay. I guess you had every right. Next question. Why are the Elders so interested in my relationship with Cole? Has this something to do with my new power?”

This time, the whitelighter hesitated. “Well, as a matter of fact . . .”

A long dry sigh escaped Olivia’s mouth. “Awwww, I knew it! Good grief! I should have known they wouldn’t be able to keep their damn noses out of my business!”

“Olivia! They’re very concerned, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them! You now have a strong firepower. And a powerful – almost invincible – demon is helping you control it. That’s a pretty dangerous combination!”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Really? And what exactly do you think Cole is going to do? Lure me to the demonic world? Into evil? Hell, I don’t need his help to do that! And neither would anyone else!”

“I don’t know about that,” Piper commented coolly. “My sisters and I aren’t exactly inclined toward . . . the dark side.”

Shooting a contemptuous look at the Charmed One, Olivia coolly retorted, “I wouldn’t sell myself short if I were you, honey.” Piper’s face turned red.

“Look Olivia,” Leo continued, “I realize that you consider Cole . . .” He paused, as another frown flitted across his face. “Wait a minute! Why are you letting Cole train you in the first place? Paige told us that you two were not spea . . .”

The doorbell rang, interrupting Leo. Olivia strode toward the door. A quick glance through the peephole revealed Cole standing in the hallway. Speak of the devil. She opened the door and drawled, “Well, look who’s here. Cole.”

The half-daemon greeted her coolly. “Olivia. Are you ready for . . .?” His eyes fell upon the two visitors inside the apartment. Cole paused. “Oh. Leo. Piper. What are you two doing here?”

“Actually, we should be asking you that question,” Leo shot back, hostility brimming in his voice. “Since Olivia is my charge and I’m her whitelighter, I couldn’t help but wonder why ‘you’ are helping her with this new power.”

The combination of a sneer and a smirk marred Cole’s handsome face. “One, she’s your former charge. And if you had been around more often, instead of meeting every half hour with your masters, maybe you would have found the time to help Olivia.”

Leo’s face turned red with anger. Even Piper seemed upset by Cole’s remark. “Hey!” she protested. “Leo is only doing his job!”

“And what exactly is that?”

The whitelighter made a threatening step toward the half-daemon, before either Olivia or Piper could stop him. “And what are you doing here?” Leo accused. “Last I heard, Olivia had been avoiding you for nearly two weeks! And now you decided to pop back into her life, the moment her second power manifested!”

Olivia began uneasily, “Uh, Leo . . .”

“What?” Leo rounded on his former charge. “Are you telling me that you never found it odd that Cole suddenly became interested in helping you with your new power, after you two spent two weeks not speaking to each? And what happened to the witch who was supposed to help you?”

The uneasy memory of Margot Palmer’s flight, flashed in Olivia’s mind. “Well, about Margot . . .”

“What about her? What happened to her? Did Cole frightened her away? Suddenly offered to help you in her place? I wonder why?” Leo glared at Cole. “Maybe the Elders have a right to be . . .”

Cole waved his hand at Leo. Who immediately transformed into a mini tape recorder. The half-daemon picked it – Leo – from the floor and pushed the STOP button.

“What the hell?” Piper cried out.

Olivia shot her neighbor a warning glance. “Cole . . .”

“He wouldn’t stop talking,” Cole protested with a shrug. “I had to shut him up some way.”

Piper demanded angrily, “TURN HIM BACK! NOW!!”

“I will,” Cole replied casually. “If you promise to keep him quiet.”

The Charmed One raised her hands in a threatening manner. “Turn him back now, Cole! Or I will . . .”

“You’ll do what?”

Dark eyes slitted dangerously, Piper hissed through clenched teetch, “I’ll make you wish you had never returned from the Wasteland! Don’t forget that I’m carrying a very powerful baby!”

“Powerful enough to hurt me?” Cole’s blue eyes flashed in a challenging manner. “Wanna give it a shot?”

Piper made a threatening move forward. At that moment, Olivia decided to step between the two hostiles. “That’s enough!” she bellowed. “I’m not in the mood for a supernatural smackdown! Not in my place!” She faced Cole. “Will you please do as Piper asked and transform Leo back to his normal self?”

Cole let out a sigh. Then he dropped the recorder on the floor with a casual thud, garnering a cold glare from said recorder’s wife. With a wave of his hand, he transformed Leo back into the latter’s original form. The whitelighter opened his mouth to speak and the rest were greeted with silence.

Olivia glared at the half-daemon. “Cole! His voice!”

“Oh. Right.” Cole waved his hand once more and restored Leo’s voice.

The angry-looking whitelighter opened his mouth, but Olivia spoke first. “Leo, don’t. You’re back to normal. And I suggest you accept that and move on. As for Cole training me – well, he did offer his help. But only after Harry had talked him into it. Besides, Margot wasn’t really doing much for me.”

“But Olivia! You could have summoned me,” Leo protested. “I am your whitelighter . . . okay, your former whitelighter! And a close friend.”

Olivia sighed. “Oh Leo! Cole came to me before I could summon you. And let’s face it, you’re rather hard to get hold of.” She glanced away. “You always have – especially during the last four years or so. Just be glad that Cole has been very helpful.”

“Yeah, I’m really glad,” Leo muttered darkly.

“Leo . .”

But the whitelighter would not be appeased. He grabbed Piper’s hand and added, “I’ll see you later, Olivia. Both Leo and Piper shot one last glare at Cole, before they orbed out of the apartment.

An uneasy silence settled between the remaining couple. Cole opened his mouth to speak. “Don’t say anything, Cole,” Olivia retorted first. “Don’t say another damn word!”

“What? Look, I’m sorry,” the half-daemon began. “I just . . .”

“I understand perfectly what was going through your mind,” was Olivia’s acid reply. “I realize that you’re still pissed at what the Halliwells did to you nearly a year ago, Cole. But you really need to get over it. You can’t bear a grudge forever.”

Cole’s mouth formed a moue. “What do you want me to do? Apologize to Leo?”

“I’d say it’s a bit late for that. At least now.”

A frustrated sigh left Cole’s mouth. “Oh well. Even if I had offered an apology, I doubt that Leo would have accepted it.”

“Hmmph,” Olivia grunted. “Can’t say that I blame him.”

Again, Cole sighed. “Oh God! Olivia, if this is about what happened at that New Year’s party . . .”

“I really don’t want to talk about it, Cole,” Olivia shot back, interrupting him. Vivid blue eyes pleaded with her. She glanced away. “Not now.”

Cole responded with a nervous cough. “Of course. Um, ready for more training?”

Olivia nodded. She allowed Cole to gently take her arm and the pair disappeared.

* * * *

The entire Elders Council stared at Leo with disbelief. Shock. Elder Sylvester leaned forward. “Do you mean to say that you’ve allowed Belthazor to . . . you allowed that demon to train the witch on her new firepower?”

Leo stifled a frustrated sigh. Barely maintaining his composure, he corrected the elder. “I didn’t . . . I never suggested that Cole help Olivia control her power. In fact, I’ve been trying to get hold of her all week. Only . . .”

“Only what?” Sylvester demanded in a chilly voice.

“It was Harry McNeill who talked Cole into helping Olivia,” Leo continued. “Before I found out about it. And I’ve been in Boston, helping another charge.” The whitelighter paused momentarily, as he considered his next words. “I’ve also discovered that Cole has been taking Olivia to another dimension. Which one, I don’t know.”

Elder MacKenzie’s face turned red. “WHAT???”

“I don’t think it was a demonic dimension,” Leo assured the council members.

Her eyes expressing despair, Elder Mathilda muttered, “Oh no.”

Leo quickly added, “I don’t think that Cole would chance taking Olivia to a demonic dimension. And Beltha . . . uh, Cole seems to be doing a good job in hel . . .”

Elder Sylvester’s face hardened. “This is not good, Leo. It’s bad enough that witches like the McNeills are willing to consort with warlocks and demons like Belthazor. But to have him train a powerful witch like the middle child, control her firepower . . .” He sighed heavily. “Clean up this mess, Leo. Now! The two of them together might prove to be a dangerous threat to us all.”

“But why?” Leo demanded. “How? Olivia hasn’t been my charge in years! I can understand Cole being a threat. But he and Olivia – together? Why?”

All of the Elders gave him a stern look. MacKenzie added pointedly, “You have your orders, Leo. I suggest that you carry them out.”

* * * *

Seconds later, Leo shuffled out of the Elders’ chamber, his mind in a daze. How on earth did they expect him to break up Olivia and Cole’s relationship? Order her to stay away from the half-demon? Olivia would only laugh in his face. Or sneer.

Leo recalled Paige’s words about some estrangement between the couple. Something to do with a New Year’s party. His last encounter with Olivia and Cole had not hinted any estrangement. Well, there had been a touch of coolness between the two. Leo wondered if they had reconciled their differences. Or merely putting it aside in face of Olivia’s current crisis. If it was the latter . . .

“Ah! Leo! There you are!” A voice cried out, interrupting Leo’s thoughts. He immediately recognized one of his fellow whitelighters, a Russian woman named Natalia Stepanova. Born into a wealthy St. Petersburg family in the 19th century, she had been killed during one of those revolutionary outbreaks that had plagued Russian cities during the latter half of that century.

The Russian-born whitelighter appeared at Leo’s side, grabbing one of his arms. “Natalia! What are you . . .?”

“I heard about your friend,” Natalia continued, “and her new power.”

Leo rolled his eyes. “Good grief! I bet that the entire realm knows! ‘There goes Leo! Not only does one of his former charges have a firepower, but she’s also cavorting with a demon. The same demon who had once been his brother-in-law!’

“Ah, yes. Olivia McNeill.” The dark-haired whitelighter nodded. “I am familiar with her distant cousin.” She added sadly, “Or should I say, I was familiar with him.”

Leo frowned. “Was?”

Natalia continued, “Keith McNeill. The Laird of Dunleith. He died about a week or two ago, of pneumonia. Like your Olivia, he was a powerful fire witch.” She sighed wistfully. “I miss him already. Did you know that he had introduced me to Scotch malt whiskey. Such a charming man!”

“Wait, he was a fire witch?”

The Russian-born woman nodded. “Yes, very powerful. He was not exactly on friendly terms with most of the whitelighters. Too much of a non-conformist. And he believed that we did not have the right to have authority over witches.”

Leo muttered, “Sounds like a true McNeill.”

“Oh yes. Keith did not share the Elders’ view on good, evil, daemons and such,” Natalia added. “It was one of the reasons the Elders considered him a threat.”

The young whitelighter’s eyes grew wide with shock. “They considered him a threat?”

“Yes. For that reason. And . . .” Natalia glanced around surreptiously. “Have you ever heard of the Staff of Aingeal?”

Leo frowned. “The what? What are you talking about?”

Natalia began, “It is the . . .”

“Natalia!” A third whitelighter strode toward the pair. “You are wanted in the chamber.”

Sighing, the Russian whitelighter waved at her other colleague. “I am coming.” She turned to Leo. “I think you better ask the McNeills about it.” She patted his arm. “They could probably tell you everything.” Then she walked away.

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

“ANGEL” RETROSPECTIVE: (5.15) “A Hole in the World”

Below is a look into (5.15) “A Hole in the World”, a Season Five episode from “ANGEL” 

“ANGEL” RETROSPECTIVE: (5.15) “A Hole in the World”

Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the Season Five episode, (5.15) “A Hole in the World”, centered on the death of one of the series’ regulars, Winifred “Fred” Burkle. The slow road to her death began when a Wolfram and Hart employee named Knox accepts the delivery of a sarcophagus. When Fred touches one of the crystals that cover the lid, a puff of dusty air is released, making her cough. Later, she eventually starts coughing up blood before collapsing.

It turns out that by touching one of the sarcophagus’ crystals, Fred becomes infected by the spirit of an ancient demon named Illyria. The entire crew searches for a cure, but give up hope when Spike and Angel discover that the only way to save Fred’s life would kill thousands of people. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce tries to comfort Fred as she dies and eventually witnesses the emergence of Illyria.

”A Hole in the World” was a very interesting episode that replayed the same issue from various ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” episodes like (3.19)”Choices” and 5.22)”The Gift” and ”ANGEL” episodes like (3.16)”Sleep Tight” – namely the task of making a choice for the need of the few or the many. And the choice that Angel had to make was whether to save Fred from death and the growing influences of a demon that had infected her body, or to ensure that the world would remain safe. Angel chose the world over his friend. And judging from the reactions on the forums when the episode first aired, not many agreed with his choice. I did not condemn Angel’s choice. I believe that he had made the right one . . . just as Buffy had made the right choice for her in ”The Gift”. It did not really matter if the needs of the many were more important than the needs of the few, or vice versa. What mattered was that each person had to make the choice that was more important to his or her heart. For Buffy, Dawn was more important to her; and for Angel, sparing the world from destruction. Or perhaps being a champion was more important to Angel. However, if the choice had been between . . . say . . . Connor and the world; I suspect that Angel would have chosen Connor.

Angel’s decision proved to be some of an irony for Wesley. His reaction to Fred’s death in the following episode, (5.16) “Shells” certainly proved this. After all, I am talking about the ”King of Tough Choices”. This was the same man who felt it was more important to prevent Mayor Wilkins from getting his hands on the Book of Ascension than saving Willow’s life in the”BUFFY” episode, ”Choices”. He was also willing to risk the lives of rebellious Pyleans for a successful revolution in the”ANGEL” episode (2.22) “There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb”. And in ”Sleep Tight”, he risked his friendship with Angel and the others in order to prevent said vampire from killing his infant son, because of a prophecy. Considering his past history, one can only ponder over his reactions to the circumstances that led to Fred’s death.

And speaking of Fred, what about her choices? One has to admit that many of her choices have led her to this point – a slow death and demonic possession. Fred chose to leave her home in San Antonio in order to attend college in Southern California. This decision put her in the path of Professor Siedel. And her curiosity caused her to open a book that led to five years of bondage in Pylea. After being rescued by Angel Investigations, she made the decision not to follow her parents back to Texas. Instead, she bound her fate with the souled vampire and his companions. This, in turn, led to her employment with Wolfram and Hart . . . and her death by the end of this episode. I have one question – why did Fred open the sarcophagus without first doing any research on it? I must have missed the scene. If so, this only proves to me that Fred never really had a healthy respect for the spiritual and the supernatural, despite her five years in Pylea and three years with Angel Investigations. She has always had a tendency to treat anything supernatural as a science experiment. And in doing so, she may have paid the price for her attitude. It is not surprising that Wesley angrily cursed her curiosity.

I also wanted to touch upon a few other points about this episode:

*While Eve was trying to hide from the Senior Partners, I bet she must have been wondering what kind of situation her love for Lindsey had brought her.

*I could not help but wonder if Fred upchucking blood over Wes was a metaphor or sign of the tragic death that overtook Wesley in the series finale.

*Angel and Spike were quickly becoming quite the screen team by this episode. I enjoyed watching our favorite vamps’ relationship progress from polite antagonism to mutual grief over Angel’s decision. I also enjoyed Spike’s “hole-in-the-world” speech. Very poignant.

*There is an old saying that if you do not have anything nice to say about something or someone, say nothing at all. Considering my opinionated nature, I could not hold back my opinion on the Wesley/Fred romance of Season Five. Watching them share a kiss following their victory over a demon around the beginning of this episode, reminded me of the early stages of Buffy and Riley’s romance in the middle of Season 4 for ”BUFFY”. Wesley and Fred led me to conclude that watching a 30-something man and a 20-something woman act like teenagers in love seemed a little sad . . . and very saccharine.

Does anyone remember the Season Four episode, (4.16) “Players” and the conversation between Wesley and Fred in that episode? I do. In it, Fred had expressed her disgust over the Connor/Cordelia affair. When Wesley tried to make her to understand what would lead those two to have an affair, the conversation eventually drifted toward Wesley’s affair with Wolfram and Hart attorney, Lilah Morgan. Not only did Fred failed to understand Wesley’s lack of disgust over Connor and Cordelia, she could not understand how he could have become involved with Lilah in the first place. And that is how the conversation (and scene) ended . . . with Fred at a loss over Wesley’s attitude. I cannot say what was going through Wes’ head at the time. But judging from the look on his face and his eventual silence, I got the impression that he realized Fred would never really understand “the real him”. Considering that this conversation began with the topic of Cordelia and Connor, I could not help but wonder if Wesley and Fred had lost their memories of this discussion, due to the erasure of their memories of Connor, at the end of Season Four. Also, Wesley’s kidnapping of Connor proved to be one of the catalysts for his relationship with Lilah in Season Four.

I also cannot help but wonder if they would have ever gotten involved in the first place, due to the mindwipe. I realize that many Jossverse fans tend to view Wesley and Fred’s romance as idealized, I never could accept that prevailing view. I simply found their relationship boring and somewhat infantile. It had an uneasy mixture of a high school romance and incest, due to Wesley’s habit of treating Fred as part-lover and part-daughter. It was not surprising to me that a dying Fred had expressed confusion at the reasons behind Wesley’s feelings for her.

*Fred’s Death Scene was one of the most unbearable I have ever experienced on television. In fact, I found it so excruciating . . . and slow that I was unable to experience any compassion or sadness over her death. I simply felt relieved when she finally died.

I must admit that A Hole in the World” was never a favorite episode of mine. In fact, I have never been that fond of the second half of Season Five. But I must admit that Whedon had written a first-rate episode. Yes, I found the Wesley/Fred romance a bit nauseating to endure. And Fred’s death seemed to go on forever. But Whedon’s handling of theme regarding hard choices and the introduction of the Illryia character made this one of the more memorable episodes of the series.

“DUE DATE” (2010) Review

 

“DUE DATE” (2010) Review
I have always been a fan of road trip movies. This come from a love of long-distance traveling that I managed to acquire over the years. Some of my favorite movies have featured road trips – ”IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT””SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT”,”MIDNIGHT RUN” and even ”PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES”. Because of this, I looked forward to seeing ”DUE DATE”, Todd Phillips’ new movie that starred Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Also written by Phillips, along with Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, and Adam Sztykiel; ”DUE DATE” told the story of an architect named Peter Highman trying to get home from Atlanta to Los Angeles to be present at the birth of his first child, a scheduled C-section, with his wife, Sarah. At the Atlanta airport, Peter has an encounter with an aspiring actor named Ethan Tremblay. After inadvertently using the words terrorist and bomb during a quarrel with Ethan, Peter is shot by an air marshal with a rubber bullet. Both are forced off the plane before take-off. And after being questioned by airport security, Peter discovers that he has been placed on the No Fly List and will have to find another way to get to California. After realizing that he had left his wallet on the plane, Peter reluctantly agrees to travel with Ethan all the way to Los Angeles.

At first, it occurred to me that ”DUE DATE” was not as . . . hilarious as two of his other well-known films, 2003’s ”STARSKY AND HUTCH” and last year’s ”THE HANGOVER”. By the time the movie ended, I realized why. ”DUE DATE” strongly reminded me of the 1987 comedy, ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES”. In fact, it could easily be considered a remake of the John Hughes film. Both movies are basically comedic road trips about two different men – an uptight professional desperately trying to get home for a certain reason who is forced to travel with a flaky and accident-prone, yet desperately lonely man for financial reasons. There were differences. In the 1987 film, Steve Martin and John Candy traveled from New York to Chicago, spending most of their journey throughout the Midwest. In this film, Downey Jr. and Galifianakis traveled through the Deep South, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. This movie focused a lot of their journey in Texas – especially in the second half. But if I must be honest, the differences are minor in compare to the similarities. Let us just say that ”DUE DATE” is definitely a remake of Hughes’ film.

Todd Phillips did an excellent job with his cast. The supporting characters turned out to be interesting. Juliette Lewis, who had worked with Phillips in ”STARSKY AND HUTCH”, portrayed a flaky marijuana dealer in Birmingham, Alabama, from whom Ethan (Galifianakis) wanted to purchase some weed. This sequence provided the funniest moment in the movie – an encounter between a very annoyed Peter (Downey Jr.) and the dealer’s bratty kids, which ended up with a surprising punch to the gut. Another interesting supporting performance came from Danny McBride (who worked with Downey Jr. in ”TROPIC THUNDER”), who portrayed an intimidating and physically disabled Western Union employee they had encountered. The movie also featured a wild and funny encounter with two Mexican border patrol cops who arrest Peter for possession of marijuana (thanks to a fleeing Ethan). But the funniest supporting performance came from Jamie Foxx (Downey Jr.’s co-star from 2009’s”THE SOLOIST”), who rediscovered his comic roots by portraying Peter’s oldest friend from college, now living in Dallas. What made Foxx’s performance rather funny was that his character seemed like a very together man . . . who harbored a slight obsession toward Peter’s wife (Michelle Monaghan), whom he had dated in college. But the real stars of the movie were Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis. Phillips was very lucky that the pair managed to generate such a strong screen chemistry. They did an awesome job in portraying two rather emotionally disturbed, yet different men who found themselves forming a strong bond during the 2,200 miles journey. Downey Jr.’s sharp-tongue, yet uptight character balanced very well with Galifianakis’ emotionally immature dweeb.

Did I have any problems with ”DUE DATE”? Well . . . yes. Like ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTO”, it was a strong comedy with some equally strong angst moments. And like the 1987 movie, those angst moments felt very forced. I believe that was due to Galifianakis’ performance. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with his acting, but it felt rather forced. And another scene I had trouble with was the encounter between the two travelers and the Western Union employee. That particular scene started out funny. But when McBride revealed his character to be a disabled Iraqi War veteran, the laughs dried up. The situation grew worse when McBride’s character began beating upon Downey Jr.’s sarcastic character. I did not know whether or not to take this scene seriously. Instead, I winced through it all.

It is possible that many moviegoers might not take this movie seriously, due to its strong resemblance to ”PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES”. Roger Ebert went as far as to compare it unfavorably to the 1987 film. Personally, I have decided to regard ”DUE DATE” as a remake. Is it a good remake? Yes. In fact, not only does the 2010 film not only share similar strengths with Hughes’ film, but also similar flaws. But it is still a first-rate movie, even if I would never regard it as a personal favorite of mine.

“The Meaning Behind the First Evil”

Season Seven of ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” has been a favorite of mine for years. But it has been rather unpopular with many fans of the series. And I suspect that this unpopularity may have centered around the character and main villain of Season Seven – the First Evil: 

 

“THE MEANING BEHIND THE FIRST EVIL”
If there is one nemesis that has baffled fans of ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” for the past six to seven years, it would have to be the First Evil. This entity first made its appearance in the Season Three episode, (3.10) “Amends”and became Buffy Summer’s main nemesis in Season Seven, the last season of the series.

In a nutshell, the First Evil is an incorporeal entity that is manifested from all of the evil in existence. It can assume the form of any person who has died, including vampires and dead persons who have been resurrected. Because of this, it has appeared in various forms over the course of the series as a method of manipulating others. For this reason, the First has appeared as Buffy Summers to the Slayer and her allies. But it has also assumed the forms of Warren Mears, Spike, and Jonathan Levinson on multiple occasions, and a variety of other forms less frequently. It was also able to merge with a corporeal individual, as it had done with a serial killer named Caleb, providing the latter with immense strength. The First Evil’s only real weakness was that it was non-corporeal, and could not do real physical damage. However, it was an expert at psychological manipulation, and could act through its servants such as the Bringers, Turok-Han, Caleb or whomever it could manage to control.

As I had stated earlier, the First Evil made its debut on ”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” in the episode, ”Amends”. It tried to drive Angel into killing Buffy by appearing to him as Jenny Calendar and other people he had murdered as a souless vampire. The First Evil told Angel that it was responsible for his return from “Hell” and that he could end his sufferings by turning evil again. Whether or not this was true is unknown. In any event, it did not mind when Angel chose to kill himself, via a sunrise instead. After Buffy’s confrontation with the First Evil, she managed to stop Angel from committing suicide.

Using Buffy’s second resurrection in the Season 6 premiere – (6.01) “Bargaining, Part I” as an excuse, the First Evil returned in full force in Season Seven in an attempt to eliminate the Slayer line permanently. Using servants such as the defrocked serial killer Caleb and the Harbingers of Death (or Bringers), the First Evil not only brought about the deaths of many Potential Slayers and Watchers, it also destroyed the Watcher’s Council (no loss there) and nearly came close to killing Buffy, Faith, the Scoobies and Spike. It used both Andrew Wells and Spike to raise the Turok-Han (a race of ancient powerful vampires stronger and fiercer than the regular vampires). It manipulated Spike by using an old English folk song – ”Early One Morning” – into killing again, hoping his actions would attract Buffy’ attentions. According to sources from the ”All Things Philosophical on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel the Series’” and”Buffyverse Wiki” sites, the First Evil wanted to seize the opportunity to upset the balance between good and evil whenever the Slayer line was disrupted. It tried to manipulate Angel into committing suicide in ”Amends” about a year-and-a-half, following Buffy’s brief death and resuscitation in (1.12) “Prophecy Girl”. And about a year following Buffy’s resurrection in ”Bargaining”, it made its move to destroy the Slayer line and upset the moral balance permanently.

Many fans did not like the First Evil as Buffy’s main antagonist in Season Seven. From what I could gather from many message boards, forums and blogs; they seemed confused about the First Evil’s intentions or what it represented. Nor did they seemed impressed that it was the one Big Bad that Buffy could not destroy in a physical manner. Some fans even accused ”BUFFY” creator Joss Whedon of writing himself into a corner with the creation of the First Evil. Personally, I disagree. I do not feel that Whedon had written himself into a corner by bringing the First Evil back in Season Seven.

It is easier to identify a nemesis that is solid enough for someone – namely Buffy – to physically kill or fight. Nemesis like the Master, Angelus, Mayor Wilkins, Adam, Glory, Warren Mears or even Willow Rosenberg. But the First Evil was a different matter. It symbolized a continuation of the theme from Season 6 – namely “You are your own worst enemy”. In other words, I believe that the First Evil symbolized the spirit of Evil that existed in everyone – from Buffy to some minor demon minion or some housewife.

I must be one of the few fans who actually enjoyed Season Seven. But even I had one or two issues about that particular season that did not sit right with me. One of those issues was the appearance of a supernatural being called Beljoxa’s Eye in (7.11) “Showtime”. Rupert Giles and Anya Jenkins visited the being to learn everything they could about the First Evil. Instead of fulfilling their wishes, the Beljoxa’s Eye told them that that the First Evil cannot be destroyed and that it exists now because of a disruption in the Slayer’s line, which was in fact, caused by the Slayer. Both Giles and Anya concluded that Buffy’s second resurrection brought about the return of the First Evil.

This did not make sense to me. One, I found it hard to believe that the First Evil existed because of Buffy’s resurrection. It had already existed before the events of ”Bargaining”. In fact, I believe that it had already existed before ”Amends”. Why? As I had stated earlier, I believe the First Evil was . . . or is the spirit of evil, itself. It was all of the negative thoughts, emotions and impulses that reside within all living beings. And the late Joyce Summers hinted this during Buffy’s dream in (7.12) “Bring On the Night”:

BUFFY: Something evil is coming.

JOYCE: Buffy, evil isn’t coming, it’s already here. Evil is always here. Don’t you know? It’s everywhere.

BUFFY: And I have to stop it.

JOYCE: How are you gonna do that?

BUFFY: I-I don’t know yet, but—

JOYCE: Buffy, no matter what your friends expect of you, evil is a part of us. All of us. It’s natural. And no one can stop that. No one can stop nature, not even—

Joyce would eventually be proven right in (7.22) “Chosen, the series finale. When Buffy, Spike, Faith, the Scoobies, Robin Wood, Dawn and the Potentials battled the First Evil’s army of Turok-Han vampires inside the Hellmouth; all they did – especially Spike – was ruin the First Evil’s plans to upset the balance of good and evil in the mortal world. In my personal opinion, that imbalance already existed before Buffy’s first death in ”Prophecy Girl”. It never made any sense to me that a balance between good and evil had been maintained by the presence of one Slayer against a slew of vampires, demons and other forms supernatural evil for centuries. I suspect that the First Evil saw the presence of more than one Slayer and a vampire with a soul as a threat to that imbalance. Like many others, the First Evil believed that only one Slayer should exist. And as I had earlier stated, I found this belief rather ridiculous and I am glad that Buffy proved that it did not have to be so at the end of the series.

Would the Watcher’s Council or the African shamans who had first created the Slayer line approve of the idea of more than one Slayer in existence? I rather doubt it. I suspect that they may have feared the idea of dealing with more than one Slayer . . . or even more than two. I suspect that controlling the Slayer or wielding her as a weapon mattered more to the shamans and the Watcher’s Council than the idea of more than one warrior against the forces of Evil. And I would not be surprised if the First Evil – or their own inner darkness – prevented them from considering this possibility.

And I believe that is what the First Evil represented in Buffy’s story – the inner darkness that she, her sisters and friends all harbored within themselves . . . and which they had to learn to acknowledge. Buffy’s conversation with the vampire sired by Spike – Holden Webster – forced her to face and acknowledge her own inner darkness. By (7.15) “Get It Done”, she also realized that her two most powerful allies – Willow and Spike – needed to face their own darkness:

BUFFY: The First isn’t impressed. It already knows us. It knows what we can do, and it’s laughing. You want to surprise the enemy? Surprise yourselves. Force yourself to do what can’t be done, or else we are not an army – we’re just a bunch of girls waiting to be picked off and buried. (Spike stands and walks toward the door) Where are you going?

SPIKE: Out. Since I’m neither a girl, nor waiting. All this speechifying doesn’t really apply to me, does it? (walks away)

BUFFY: (calls after him) Fine. Take a cell phone. That way, if I need someone to get weepy or whaled on, I can call you.

SPIKE: (turns to Buffy) If you’ve got something to say –

BUFFY: Just said it. You keep holding back, you might as well walk out that door.

SPIKE: Holding back? You’re blind. I’ve been here, right in it – fighting, scrapping…

BUFFY: Since you got your soul back?

SPIKE: Well, as a matter of fact, I haven’t quite been relishing the kill the way I used to.

BUFFY: You were a better fighter then.

SPIKE: I did this for you. The soul, the changes – it’s what you wanted.

BUFFY: What I want is the Spike that’s dangerous. The Spike that tried to kill me when we met.

SPIKE (angrily): Oh, you don’t know how close you are to bringing him out.

BUFFY: I’m nowhere near him.

The above conversation was one of the most interesting I have ever come across during the series’ seven season run. A vampire Slayer – someone considered the epitome of goodness and light – encouraging a former killer to face that darkness that made him such an effective killer. She even gave a similar speech to Willow, who as “Darth Willow” nearly came close to destroying the world in the Season Six finale, (6.22) “Grave”. Many fans had thought Buffy may have lost her mind. I understood what Buffy was trying to say. During Season Seven, Spike and Willow had spent most of it wallowing in guilt over certain acts they had committed in Season Six. I could probably say the same about Buffy. Like Spike and Willow, she learned to face her past treatment of the blond vampire in the episode, (7.08) “Conversations with Dead People”. But duties and the re-emergence of the First Evil made her realize that she had no time to wallow in her guilt. Her rants against Spike and Willow in ”Get It Done” expressed her own impatience with their guilt and tendencies to hold themselves back in fear of releasing the inner darkness that made them fearsome. She forced both the vampire and the red-haired witch to realize that they can only be fully effective by learning to face their inner darkness . . . and controlling it. By facing the many aspects of their nature, could Spike and Willow learn to develop as individuals.

The First Evil’s activities forced Buffy to develop in another path. She had to start learning how to evolve beyond her inferiority/superiority complex and learn to connect with others . . . when the situation demanded. Thanks to her former Watcher, Rupert Giles, she tried to use this aloofness to become an authority figure to the many Potential Slayers that had arrived on her doorstep. She also had to learn not to allow her insecurities and fear (traits that originated from the negativity within) of being alone to give others like her former Watcher Rupert Giles and even her friends a chance to dictate her actions and behavior. Like Spike and Willow, she had to learn to become her own person. She had to stop being afraid to connect with others and at the same time, allowing them to dictate her behavior.

In the end, I found Season Seven to be very complex and mature on a level that may have eluded certain viewers. Before the season first began, Whedon and Mutant Enemy had announced that the series would take viewers back to how it used to be during the earlier seasons. And perhaps that was what they had been looking forward to . . . recapturing the past. Season Seven did just that . . . but with a twist. The season reminded viewers that no one can recapture the past. Not really. In a way, Spike and Willow tried to recapture their former selves – the mild-mannered Victorian gentleman and the shy computer geek. And Buffy, at Giles’ orders, tried to enforce her authority upon the Potential Slayers as the Watchers’ Council had done to her in the past. Even the fans got into the act. They wanted Whedon to take this season back to what “BUFFY” used to be, failing to realize that would never happen. Buffy and the Scoobies could never go back to being what they used to be. Too much had changed for them over the years. They had changed. And so had the series.

Not only did Buffy and the Scoobies’ conflict with the First Evil – namely their own inner demons – made them realize they could not recapture their past. They may have learned something else. Battling the First Evil was like battling a part of them. In other words, they had been battling their worst enemy – namely themselves. And in doing so, continued the theme that had been prevalent throughout the series’ run . . . growing up.

“PERSUASION” (1971) Review

“PERSUASION” (1971) Review

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1818 novel turned out to be the first of the old Jane Austen television adaptations that the BBC aired during the 1970s and 80s. Produced and directed by Howard Baker, and adapted by Julian Mitchell; this two-part miniseries starred Ann Firbanks and Bryan Marshall. 

As many fans of Austen’s novel would know, ”PERSUASION” told the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a vain and spendthrift baronet, who finds herself reunited with her former finance, a Naval officer of lesser birth named Frederick Wentworth. Eight years before the beginning of the story, Anne’s godmother, Lady Russell, had persuaded her to reject Wentworth’s marriage proposal, citing the Naval officer’s lack of family connections and fortune. She reunites with Wentworth, during a prolonged family visit to her younger sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Charles Musgrove. And the Naval officer has managed to acquire a fortune during the Napoleonic Wars. Anne is forced to watch Wentworth woo Mary’s sister-in-law, Louisa Musgrove, while he ignores his earlier attraction to her.

Many diehard Austen fans have expressed the opinion that this adaptation of her last novel has a running time that allows for the characters to be expressed with more depth than they were in the 1995 and 2007 versions. I must admit that the miniseries’ running time of 210 minutes allowed a greater depth into Austen’s plot than the two later movies. Yet, despite the longer running time, ”PERSUASION” managed to be only a little more faithful than the other two versions. One of the plotlines that Mitchell failed to include featured the injury suffered by one of Charles Musgrove’s sons, following a fall from the tree. It was this injury that delayed Anne’s reunion with Wentworth near the beginning of the story. Fortunately, the changes or deletions that Mitchell made in his script did not bother me one whit. Especially since ”PERSUASION” turned out to be a pretty solid adaptation.

However, there were times when Mitchell was too faithful to Austen’s novel. I still have nightmares over the second scene between Anne and her old school friend, Mrs. Smith; in which the latter finally revealed the true nature of Anne’s cousin, William Elliot. That particular scene seemed to take forever. And I never understood Anne’s outrage over William’s comments about Sir Walter and Elizabeth in his old letters to Mrs. Smith’s husband. He had only expressed what Anne also felt about her father and older sister. And once again, an adaptation of ”Persuasion” failed to correct the problem surrounding the William Elliot character – namely his attempt to woo and marry Anne in order to prevent Sir Walter from marry Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay, or any other women . . . and guarantee his inheritance of the Elliot baronetcy. As I had stated in my reviews of the two other ”PERSUASION” movies, William’s efforts struck me as irreverent, since there was no way he could have full control over Sir Walter’s love life. Why was it necessary to show William sneaking away with Mrs. Clay in order to elope with her? Both were grown adults who had been previously married. They were not married or engaged to anyone else. I found their clandestine behavior unnecessary. And why on earth did Mitchell include Sir Walter spouting the names and birthdates of himself and his offspring in the script’s opening scene? I do not think so. In fact, this scene merely dragged the miniseries from the outset.

The production values for ”PERSUASION” struck me as top-rate . . . to a certain extent. I have to commend Peter Phillips for his colorful production designs and Mark Hall for the miniseries’ art work. ”PERSUASION” permeated with rich colors that I found eye catching. However, I have some qualms about Esther Dean’s costumes designs. How can I put it? I found some of the costumes rather garish. And the photography for the exterior scenes struck me as . . . hmmm, unimpressive. Dull. Flat. And I had some problems with the hairstyle for the leading lady, Ann Firbank. Her hairdo seemed like a uneasy mixture of an attempt at a Regency hairstyle and an early 1970s beehive. Think I am kidding? Take a gander:

My opinion of the cast is pretty mixed. There were performances that I found impressive. Marian Spencer gave a complex, yet intelligent portrayal of Anne Elliot’s godmother and mentor, Lady Russell. I was also impressed by Valerie Gearon’s subtle performance as Anne’s vain older sister, Elizabeth Elliot. And both Richard Vernon and Rowland Davies gave colorful performances as Admiral Croft and Charles Musgrove, respectively. On the other hand, Basil Dignam got on my last nerve as the vain Sir Walter Elliot. There was nothing really wrong with his performance, but many of his scenes dragged the miniseries, due to the number of unnecessary dialogue over topics that had very little to do with the main storyline. Quite frankly, a great deal of Sir Walter’s dialogue bore me senseless.

And what about the story’s two leads? Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall gave very competent performances as the two former lovers, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. They competently expressed their characters’ intelligence and emotions. They also made the eventual reconciliation between Anne and Wentworth very believable. Unfortunately, Firbank and Marshall lacked the strong chemistry that Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds possessed in the 1995 adaptation; or the strong chemistry that Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones had in the 2007 film. I never got the feeling that Firbank’s Anne and Marshall’s Wentworth were struggling to contain their emotions toward each other in the first half of the miniseries. Every now and then, Firbank utilized sad and pensive expressions, reminding me of Evangeline Lilly’s early performances on ABC’s ”LOST”. And Marshall’s Wentworth seemed too friendly with the Musgrove sisters and polite toward Anne to hint any sense of remaining passion toward her. It was not until their encounter with William Elliot at Lyme Regis that I could detect any hint – at least on Wentworth’s part – of emotion toward Anne. And it was only from this point onward, in which Firbank and Marshall finally conveyed a strong screen chemistry.

In the end, I have to admit that this adaptation of ”PERSUASION” struck me as entertaining. I cannot deny it. Despite being the most faithful of the three known adaptations, I feel that it was probably more flawed than the later two versions. Screenwriter Julian Mitchell and director Howard Baker’s close adherence to Austen’s novel did not really help it in the long run. In doing so, the miniseries adapted some of the faults that could be found in the novel. And the miniseries’ close adaptation also dragged its pacing needlessly. But the solid performances by the cast, led by Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall; along with the colorful production designs and the story’s intelligence allowed me to enjoy it in the end.

“Second Power” [PG-13] – 4/8

“SECOND POWER”

PART FOUR

Olivia had to admit that Cole’s meditation method seemed a lot more preferable than Margot Palmer’s dependency on gongs. It was not that surprising, since his method matched hers. What the hell had she been thinking? 

Okay, perhaps desperation to avoid Cole’s company had led her to accept Margot’s help. But the moment the other witch began playing that damn CD disk, Olivia had realized she should have known better. And that Margot was the wrong person to help her.

“Uh, Olivia? Are you meditating?” Cole asked in a soft voice.

She opened one eye and glanced at the half-daemon, sitting on the floor opposite her. Staring at her. A hot flush crept up her neck. “Of course I am!” she protested in an attempt to hide her embarrassment at getting caught. Blue eyes continued to penetrate hers. “Okay, I wasn’t. What’s wrong with a little contemplation?”

Cole heaved what sounded like a frustrated sigh. “Look,” he said through clenched teeth, “could you please stop fooling around and concentrate on your meditation?”

Olivia retorted, “Hey! I’m sorry! I merely got sidetracked. Okay? Geez!” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Okay.O eternal Goddess, Maiden, Mother and Crone, I am made from your flesh and you know me better than I know myself.” As she continued, one of her eyes popped open, again. Cole, she noted with relief, had both eyes closed.

“Your eyes aren’t still closed,” Cole’s voice boomed. “Close ’em!”

Asshole. After shooting Cole a death glare, Olivia shut her eyes. And continued to chant.

* * * *

The two neighbors stood side by side in what appeared to be an open clearing, surrounded by a thick forest. Open-mouthed, Olivia glanced around her, awed by the beautiful surrounding. “What is this place?” she asked.

“A dimension I had spent time in, while avoiding the Source’s zoltars. Very nice place. It’s the present home for the Tuatha Dé Dannan, a mythical Irish race. Royalty, by the way. I, uh, I had to receive permission to train you, here.” He paused.

“Huh. I’ve heard of them. They usually fight for good. Are you trying to tell me that they didn’t mind allowing a half-daemon with an evil past to come here?”

Cole coughed nervously. “Family connection. On my mother’s side. Long story.” Then he continued, “Since I can’t help you during the daytime or anywhere in San Francisco in the evening, I thought this would be the perfect place. Well, except on weekends.” Then he dropped a large duffel bag that he had been carrying, on the ground. He unzipped it. “Okay, let’s start with a little practice.”

“Martial arts?” Olivia asked hopefully.

Cole stared at the redhead, wondering if she harbored some kind of predilection for violence. “No,” he answered curtly. “Target practice.” He removed several semi-long wooden stakes from the bag. Each stake had a rectangular-shaped shingle nailed to it. Cole drove each stake into the ground, all of them forming a 180-degrees half-circle. “Okay, let’s see how well you can concentrate on controlling your aim. Uh, you did your meditation and tai-chi exercises, today. Right?”

Olivia let out a gust of breath. “Yeah, yeah! Now let’s get on with it.”

A frown tightened Cole’s handsome face. “Maybe we should do this another time.”

“No,” Olivia insisted. “Might as well start now.”

* * * *

The stream of fire missed its target completely, hitting only air. Olivia cursed out loud. Cole sighed.

“Dammit!” the redhead cried. “I’m never going to learn to control this damn thing! How in the hell did Cousin Keith deal with it?”

Cole frowned. “Who . . .? Cousin Keith?”

“My grandfather’s cousin from Scotland. He just recently passed away. The one who can form fire balls. Remember?”

Nodding, Cole replied, “Oh yeah. I remember you mentioning him, once. Look, if he was able to control his fire power, so can you.”

Rolling her eyes, Olivia murmured, “I should have known you would go back to into lecture mode.”

“What was that?” Cole gave her a sharp look. When Olivia failed to reply, he sighed. Again. “All right. Why don’t you give it another shot?”

Taking a deep breath, Olivia raised one arm and aimed it at one of the shingles. She jerked her arm slightly. Then . . . nothing. She lowered her arm with a frustrated sigh, before raising it again. A burst of flames shot forth. Olivia’s arm took on a life of its own and instead of hitting one of the shingles, she hit Cole. The half-daemon disappeared into a burst of fire. A second later, he rematerialized on the same spot.

“Dammit, Olivia! Can’t you at least keep your arm under control? If I had been someone else, I would have been dead!”

“Keep it under . . .?” Rage poured out of Olivia’s green eyes. “Hey look! I just got stuck with this thing three days ago! Three days! How the hell do you expect me to control a goddamn firepower in three days? Let alone control my arm while fire is spewing from it?”

Cole shot back, “I’m not asking you to control your power within a certain time! And whether you like it or not, you have to deal with that ‘goddamn power’! So the sooner you stop bitching and procrastinating, the sooner you’ll learn to control the damn thing!”

Green eyes glared at Cole. He glared back. Taking him by surprise, Olivia faced the staked targets, raised her hand and one by one, destroyed four shingles with bursts of fire. Then she whirled upon Cole, still glaring. “There! Are you happy now?”

With her hands on her hips, her body trembling and her eyes blazing, Olivia looked magnificent. Cole could not help but think that she also looked vibrant, alive, and regal. He had to fight the urge to take her into his arms and kiss her. Of course, that would be a mistake he dare not commit again. Instead, he took a deep breath and calmly replied, “Not bad. Pretty good, actually. Even if it was merely a fluke.”

“A fluke?” Olivia stared at Cole with outrage. “Are you serious? Did you see what I had just done?”

Rolling his eyes, Cole muttered, “Oh God! Olivia, you can’t simply rely on your anger to control your power. You know that!”

A sneer marred Olivia’s beautiful face. “Oh, what is this? Some damn Jedi knight philosophy?”

Cole struggled to keep his temper in check. “Dammit Olivia! Will you please stop with the bullshit? I’m serious!”

The magnificent body sagged in acknowledgement of Cole’s words. “Okay. I’m sorry. I know. It’s just . . .” Olivia sighed. “I don’t know. Whenever I thought of getting a second power, I never thought it would be one so difficult as pyrokinesis.”

Cole nodded soberly. “Hey look, I understand. Believe me, I do. When my firepower first manifested, I could barely control it. Well actually, I couldn’t. At first, my anger helped me control it, but Ray . . .” Memories of his old mentor, Raynor, flashed in Cole’s mind. “Raynor told me that I needed to keep my emotions in check, in order to maintain complete control. And I’m sure you had to learn the same lesson with your telekinesis.”

A brief silence fell between the pair, before Olivia added, “How long did it take you to control it? Your firepower, I mean. Paige told me last Sunday that you rarely used it. In fact, I don’t think she has ever seen you use it, when you were Belthazor.”

Cole shrugged his shoulders. “It took me quite a while to master it. I mean, we are talking about fire here. It’s a very uncontrollable element. Which is why I rarely used it . . . unless I had to.”

“Oh.” Once again, the couple fell silent. Olivia glanced at the scorched stakes. So did Cole. The former added, “It looks as if we don’t have many targets to use.”

Again, Cole shrugged. “No problem,” he said softly. “I guess a little meditation wouldn’t hurt right about now.”

Olivia looked at him and flashed a shy smile. Cole returned her smile with one of his own. He and Olivia had made a start toward easing the estrangement that had divided them since the New Year’s. Yet, he also knew that their friendship would never be fully restored until they dealt with the repercussions of that one kiss.

* * * *

“So, how is the training going?” The question came from Olivia’s future sister-in-law, Barbara. Inside an herbal shop called Ostera’s, the two witches were perusing one of the large shelves inside the latter’s store for a jar of resin called Dragon’s Blood.

Olivia heaved a sigh and replied, “Okay, I guess. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this new power. At least I think I am. Still, it’s a bit disconcerting.”

“Hmmm.” The blond woman peered at a particular jar and shook her head. “That’s not it,” she murmured. Then she said to Olivia, “You know, there are times I wish I had a psi ability like the rest of you.”

“And other times?”

Barbara paused. “Let’s just say that I’m glad that I only have to worry about mastering potions and spells, and not fire coming out of my hands.”

“Gee, thanks a lot,” Olivia muttered sarcastically. “And thanks for dumping Margot Palmer on me. For a while, I thought I was on ‘THE GONG SHOW’. What is with her and gongs?”

Looking somewhat embarrassed, Barbara replied, “Sorry about that. I forgot that her favorite method of meditation was using gongs. By the way, she told me about Cole. And how you nearly made her extra crispy.”

“Hey, it was an accident! I was trying to stop her from leaving, after Cole nearly scared her to death.” Olivia added ruefully, “Only he ended up saving her, instead.”

A third voice cried out from the other end of the shop, “I found it! I found the Dragon’s Blood!” Paige sauntered over to the other women. She handed the jar of resin to Barbara. “Here. I found it behind the Mandrake. You know, you really should arrange the merchandise in a more orderly fashion. Alphabetically, perhaps.”

Barbara nodded. “You have a point,” she said thoughtfully. “Only, I hardly ever have time to consider rearranging the merchandise. Despite how empty it looks now, this shop can get pretty busy.” She gave Paige a thoughtful look. “Interested in a job? I can use the help.”

To Olivia’s amusement, Paige looked somewhat taken aback. “Uh . . . I didn’t mean . . .” The younger woman seemed to be choking on her words. “What I meant . . .”

“What? You’re not interested?” Barbara continued. “I’m willing to pay well. Eight-fifty an hour. And I’ll hire another assistant, if you need the help.”

Olivia spoke up. “Sounds like a pretty good deal, to me.”

A red flush crept over Paige’s pale skin. “Uh . . . well, it’s a great idea, except . . .” She shrugged. “Well, the reason I had quit my job was so I could be a full-time witch.”

Olivia blinked. She and Barbara exchanged confused looks. Then they stared at Paige. “Full-time witch?” the former commented. “Sounds like a job description.”

Paige’s face turned redder. “What I meant was I want to devote full time to learning the Craft.”

“Honey, learning the Craft is a life-long process,” Barbara gently replied. “And being unemployed isn’t going to make it easier.”

Paige shrugged. “Well, let me think about it. Okay?”

“Sure.” Barbara flashed Paige a reassuring smile. Then the telephone rang. She murmured a quick “excuse me” and rushed toward the telephone.

Paige turned to Olivia. “So, you think I should take the job?”

“Why not? You’re unemployed at the moment. I’m sure that you could use it.”

Nodding, Paige switched to another topic. “By the way, how is your training coming along? Is Barbara’s friend a big help?”

“You know, you’re the second person who has asked me that within the last five minutes,” Olivia replied with a frown. “I didn’t realize that everyone was so concerned about my power.”

A snort left Paige’s mouth. “Are you kidding? Even the Elders are up in arms. They’ve been bugging poor Leo nearly all week! Speaking of him, have you seen him since the brunch? I think he’s been trying to get in touch with you.”

“The Elders are worried about me?” Olivia stared at the younger woman with disbelief. “Why? Because I now have a fire power? I’m not exactly the first. And Leo hasn’t been my whitelighter for years.”

Paige heaved a sigh. “I don’t know. Leo hasn’t exactly been forthcoming, lately. I think he’s in a bad mood.”

“Huh.” Olivia wondered if her whitelighter was experiencing marital problems. “Everything okay between him and Piper?”

After a brief hesitation, the Charmed One replied, “Everything’s fine. At least Piper’s no longer pissed at him for not telling us about the rogue whitelighters.”

“Paige, it’s been over a month since we all found out. Exactly how long was she pissed?”

Paige shook her head. “Oh, you don’t want to know. By the way, Leo should be home, this evening. Why don’t you drop by?”

“Oh honey,” Olivia replied, “I’d love to, but I have more training, this evening. And after that . . . I think I’m going to be a little tired.”

“Boy, this friend of Barbara’s is really keeping you busy.”

At that moment, Barbara appeared before the other two. “My friend? Oh. Didn’t Livy tell you?”

Paige frowned. “Tell me what?”

“Margot isn’t training her, any longer,” Barbara continued. “Cole scared her off and now he’s training Livy.”

* * * *

“Cole is helping Olivia with her new power?” Leo’s usually soft voice now echoed throughout the Halliwell manor. “Cole?”

Paige rolled her eyes. Maybe she should have broken the news about Olivia and Cole with a little more subtlety. Then again, Leo was bound to overreact. “Why are you so surprised?” Paige demanded. “Livy’s family thought it was a good idea.”

“Well, the Elders don’t!” Leo shot back. “In fact, they would feel a whole lot better if she stayed away from him!”

Oh great! For the first time, Paige truly began to understand the McNeills’ attitude toward whitelighters. Which seemed ironic, considering that she happened to be half-whitelighter, herself. “Why? What do they think that Cole is going to do? Turn her to the Dark Side?” When Leo failed to reply, disgust overcame Paige. “Oh for crying out loud! You’ve got to be kidding! Besides, you haven’t been Olivia’s whitelighter for years! It’s not like they have any say in the matter!”

“Maybe the Elders are being smart, for once,” a third voice added. Piper shuffled into the Solarium. “Oh God! My back and feet are killing me. Leo, could you give me a massage?”

Without even sparing his wife a glance, Leo barked, “Not now, Piper! Later. I need to speak with Olivia, first.”

“For what? So you can give her more advice that she’ll ignore?” Piper snapped back. “Why do you even bother trying to pretend that you’re still Olivia’s whitelighter? Or her brothers’? They never listen to you, anyway!”

Oh-oh, another Halliwell-Wyatt blow-up, Paige thought. The frown on Leo’s face told her that he did not appreciate his wife’s words. Not one bit. Even worse, she has also noticed that Leo has grown increasingly tense, lately. Whether it was due to the growing turmoil in the Whitelighters’ Realm, Piper’s pregnancy, or Olivia and Cole’s friendship, Paige had no idea. Perhaps it was a combination of all three.

Leo gave Piper an exasperated glare. “They’re not the only ones who don’t listen!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Piper demanded nastily.

Paige decided it was time to step in and end the quarrel before it grew out of control. Brightly, she added, “If you’re still looking for Olivia, Leo, she should be home about now.” She glanced at the grandfather clock, which read six fifty-eight. “Probably meditating.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” a curt Leo said. “I’ll be at Olivia’s.”

Paige added, “Why don’t you take Piper along? I’m sure that you two could use a nice little outing, together.”

Husband and wife stared at Paige, as if she had proposed something ridiculous. Piper said, “I have to open the club in less than two hours.”

“I’ll do it,” Paige cheerily volunteered. “Besides, the baby isn’t due until another month. You need to take it easy. And you both need to spend some time, together.”

Piper shot her youngest sister a dirty look. “Thanks. I’ll remember this.” Leo grabbed one of her arms and the pair orbed out of view.

END OF PART FOUR