“SUPER 8” (2011) Review

 

“SUPER 8” (2011) Review

When I first saw the trailer for J.J. Abrams’ new movie, “SUPER 8”, I had a very difficult time generating any interest in the film. I would have easily ignored it if it were not for the fact that two or three of my favorite actors were featured in the film and that it was produced by Steven Spielberg. 

My feelings toward J.J. Abrams’ previous work are rather mixed. Yes, I realize that he was one of the creators of such television series as “ALIAS” and “LOST”. But Abrams ended up distancing himself from both shows before they eventually suffered from a decline in writing quality. I enjoyed his work on “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III”. But his “STAR TREK” reboot left me wondering about his talent as a writer and director. But after watching “SUPER 8” this summer, my faith in his talent has been fully restored.

Set in 1979, “SUPER 8” told the story of a group of young friends in their early teens filming their own Super 8 movie for a film festival for amateurs, when a train derails, releasing a dangerous presence into their town of Lillian, Ohio. The story began 13 year-old Joe Lamb dealing with the death of his mother in a factory accident. A neighbor named Louis Dainard appears at the wake, but Joe’s father a deputy sheriff named Jackson Lamb, leads him away in handcuffs. Jackson blames Louis for his wife’s death because he was absent during his shift and she had to fill in for him.

Four months later, Joe’s friend, Charles Kaznyk, makes plans to film a zombie movie on Super 8 mm film for an amateur film festival. Along with Joe, he hires Dainard’s daughter Alice to be part of the cast. After stealing her father’s car, Alice takes Joe, Charles, Preston, Martin, and Cary to an old train depot; where the group plans to film a scene. During the shoot, Joe watches a pick-up truck drive onto the tracks and place itself in the path of an oncoming train, causing a massive derailment. In the aftermath of the accident, the kids find the wreck littered with strange white cubes. They approach the truck and discover Dr. Woodward, their biology teacher, behind the wheel of the truck. He instructs them to never talk about what they saw; otherwise they and their parents will be killed. Moments afterwards, the U.S. Air Force, led by one Colonel Nelec, arrives to secure the crash site. The kids flee the scene. Over the next couple of days, a number of strange phenomena occur throughout the Lillian neighborhood. A good number of the town’s dogs run away. And kitchen appliances, car engines, and power lines vanish. Also, many people begin to disappear, among them the town’s sheriff. Joe, Alice and their friends start investigating the strange phenomenons around Lillian, as they continue to shoot Charles’ movie.

Not only has “SUPER 8” restored my faith in J.J. Abrams as a Hollywood talent, I believe it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. I really enjoyed. Abrams created a story that not featured mysterious happenings and an alien, but it also had plenty of human drama centering around Joe’s relationships with his recently widowed father and Alice Dainard; along with a delightful story arc featuring the group of friends’ attempt to film a movie. The interesting thing about “SUPER 8” is that all of the different story arcs in the movie – the personal dramas, the mystery surrounding the alien and Charles’ zombie movie – managed to connect seamlessly to form a first-rate movie. But more importantly, “SUPER 8” brought me back to the days of my childhood of the late 1970s – a time when many of my generation were first becoming fans of filmmakers like Spielberg and George Lucas.

Not only does “SUPER 8” has a first-rate story written by Abrams, it also featured a superb cast. I was surprised to discover that“SUPER 8” featured 15 year-old Joel Courtney’s film debut. Either Abrams has a talent for working with children, Courtney is a natural born film actor . . . or both. All I know is that his performance really knocked my socks off. I was especially impressed that he managed to hold his own with the likes of Kyle Chandler, who portrayed his father. Allie Fanning, who has more experience than Courtney, proved that acting talent obviously ran in her family (she is Dakota Fanning’s younger sister). She was very impressive as Alice Dainard, the daughter of the very man whom Joel’s dad hold responsible for his wife’s death. There were two scenes that really impressed me – her confession to Joe about the circumstances that led to his mother’s death; and her confrontation with her drunken father.

I have been fans of both Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard for a very long time. Chandler, who seemed to have a natural talent for portraying complex characters, displayed this talent again in his portrayal of Jackson Lamb, the deputy sheriff who finds himself as the leading law enforcement official following the disappearance of the sheriff. Chandler not only portrayed Jackson’s growing concern over the town’s strange incidents and disappearances with his usual skill, but also conveyed his character’s difficulties in dealing with the death of his wife and growing estrangement from his son. Eldard’s portrayal of Alice’s father, Louis Dainard, proved to be equally complex. He did an excellent job of conveying the character’s alcoholism, guilt over the death of Joe’s mother and his growing estrangement from daughter Alice. He and Fanning were absolutely superb in the scene that featured the explosive confrontation between father and daughter.

“SUPER 8” also featured first-rate supporting performances from another favorite of mine, Glynn Turman, who portrayed the kids’ biology teacher and the man responsible for releasing the alien from the U.S. Air Force train; and Noah Emmerich, who portrayed the controlling U.S. Air Force colonel, Nelec. But the best performances came from the group of kids who portrayed Joe and Alice’s friends and fellow film fans – Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Remy Thorne. They were absolutely terrific. And more importantly, their performances were not tainted with any “cutesy” quirks that have made some previous child actors rather unbearable. Nor did they act like adults in children’s bodies – a phenomenon of which I have become increasingly intolerant.

The look of “SUPER 8” really brought back memories of past Spielberg films such as “CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND” and “E.T.”. And considering that the movie is produced by Spielberg, I hardly find that surprising. A small part of me suspects that “SUPER 8” is a homage to those particular works. Many critics and moviegoers have compared it to Spielberg’s films. The odd thing is that the storyline for “SUPER 8” reminded me more of the “STAR TREK VOYAGER” episode called (4.16) “Prey”. Although not alike, the storyline for both the movie and the television episode struck me as surprisingly similar.

Whatever people might say about “SUPER 8”, there is no doubt that I really enjoyed it. And once it leaves the movie theaters, I will have a hard time generating the patience to wait for its DVD release. Congratulations, Mr. Abrams. For once, you have really impressed me.

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” (2011) Review

 

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” (2011) Review

Recently, I came across a comment that the last “X-MEN” movie, 2009’s “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE”, had been a failure. I found this opinion surprising, considering that it actually made a profit at the box office. Failure or not, Marvel Studios decided to continue the movie franchise with a fifth entry called “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”

Directed by Matthew Vaughn, “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” is, like the 2009 movie, another origins tale. Only it traced the beginnings of the two friends-turned-adversaries, Charles “Professor X” Xavier and Erik “Magneto” Lensherr. The movie began in a scene straight out of 2000’s “X-MEN” – at a concentration camp in 1944 Poland. While young Erik Lensherr was being separated from his parents by Nazi guards, he displayed an ability for magnetism manipulation by tearing at one of the camp’s gates. This ability attracted the attention of the camp’s scientist, Dr. Klaus Schmidt, who tried to coerce Erik into using his ability again by threatening his mother with death. Unfortunately, Erik failed and Dr. Schmidt killed Mrs. Lensherr. At an estate in Westchester, New York of the same year, young Charles Xavier awakened from a deep sleep by a noise from the kitchen. He investigated and found his mother searching for something to eat. However, being a telepath, Charles was able to discover that he was facing a stranger. The stranger turned out to be a young, blue-skinned shapeshifter named Raven “Mystique” Darkhölme. Charles invited the young stranger to stay at the Xavier mansion and the two became close friends.

“X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” jumped another eighteen years forward to 1962. Charles Xavier has become an instructor on genetics at Oxford University. Raven has remained his close companion in a sibling-like capacity. Erik Lensherr has spent the last decade or so, hunting down Nazis that escaped prosecution by the Allies – especially those who had served at the concentration camp where he had been imprisoned. He has especially become interested in finding and killing Dr. Schmidt out of revenge for his mother’s death. The story shifted to Las Vegas, Nevada; where one Moira MacTaggart and other CIA agents are investigating the Hellfire Club, a social organization led by Sebastian Shaw (aka Dr. Schmidt). After infiltrating the club as an “escort”, Moira discovered that Shaw and his mutant followers – Emma Frost, Azazel, and Riptide – are intimidating a high ranking Army officer into relocating military missiles to Turkey. Moira sought help from Charles and Raven to provide information to her CIA bosses about mutants. They also met Erik, during a trip to Miami to track down Shaw. After preventing Erik from drowning during an attempt to kill Shaw, Charles became close friends with the Holocaust survivor; as they work with Moira and the CIA to bring down Shaw.

Personally, I do not believe that “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” deserved its low reputation. I thought it was a pretty damn good movie – not perfect, but entertaining. However, I do believe I could say the same about “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”. I would add that it might be better than the 2009 film. Despite its flaws. In fact, “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” turned out to be a cleverly written movie that managed to weave two historical events – the Holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis – into its plot. Director Matthew Vaughn did an excellent job in maintaining an even pace for a movie not only filled with exciting and occasionally exaggerated action sequences and dramatic scenes. But aside from the director, the movie’s main virtue proved to be its first-rate cast.

Someone once pointed out that the X-MEN movie franchise did an excellent job of using the topic of “mutation” or psychic abilities to reflect upon the themes of bigotry and tolerance in our society. This theme became even more relevant, considering the movie’s setting of 1962 – a period that reflected the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I can go further and commend screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Vaughn for daring to explore all aspects of the bigotry experienced and engaged by the characters.

Some of the movie’s main characters experienced intolerance at the hands of others. Holocaust survivor Erik Lensherr not only suffered under the Nazi regime as a Jew, but also endured the U.S. government’s (in the form of C.I.A. officials) wariness and contempt toward mutants, as did fellow mutants such as Charles Xavier, Raven Darkhölme, Hank McCoy and the group of young mutants they had recruited. C.I.A. officials Director McCone and William Stryker Sr. (father of the villain from the second and fourth movies) were ready to imprison Charles and Raven upon discovering their mutations. Fortunately, one C.I.A. man in particular – the nameless Man in Black – prevented this from happening. The script also focused upon the two mutants regarded as “odd men out” because their mutations were reflected physically. Raven’s natural blue skin led her to maintain a “human” form that allowed her to blend with other humans and mutants. And C.I.A. scientist who constantly wore shoes to hide his mutation – animal-like feet. Their desperation to blend with the others on a regular basis led Hand to create a formula that eventually backfired.

Finally, the movie also focused on those mutants that viewed their mutation as signs of their superiority over non-mutant humans. Characters such as villain Sebastian Shaw and his Hellfire Club followers, and eventually Erik and Raven allowed their dislike toward humans to manifest into a bigotry that encouraged them to engage in plots of genocide that made the Nazis, North Americans of the 18th and 19th centuries and other bigoted societies look like amateurs. One such plot served as the background of “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”. The movie revolved around Sebastian Shaw’s efforts to use his connections to the U.S. and Soviet military to start a third world war between the superpowers. Such a war would bring humanity to the brink of extinction, allowing mutants (with Shaw as the leader) to dominate the world. This plot eventually resulted in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The producers of “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” chose the right actors to portray the younger versions of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. James McAvoy perfectly captured all of Charles’ intelligence, talent for leadership and subtle wit. He also delved deeper into the character’s idealism and occasional naivety. And McAvoy gave audiences an audacious peek into Charles’ penchant for little seduction with pick-up lines that were both charming and wince-inducing. Michael Fassbender portrayed all of the intensity and anger of the vengeance-seeking Erik Lensherr. Every once in a while, an actor comes along with the ability to perfectly walk the fine line between heroism and villainy. Fassbender certainly achieved this in his portrayal of Erik. And looking at the screen chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender, it seemed a pity that they had never shared a scene when they appeared in the 2001 miniseries, “BAND OF BROTHERS”. Because they were dynamite together.

The supporting cast also proved to be top-notch. The X-MEN movieverse has always provided first-rate villains. Kevin Bacon’s portrayal of the villainous Sebastian Shaw/Dr. Schmidt was no exception. If I must be honest, his Shaw may prove to be my favorite “X-MEN” villain. Aside from intelligence, wit and a taste for grandiose plotting and gadgets that rivaled a Bond villain, Bacon injected a joie de vivre into Shaw’s character that I found very entertaining. Some critics and fans have criticized January Jones’ portrayal of Shaw’s consort, Emma Frost, accusing her of being “wooden”. I am sorry, but I do not agree with this opinion. Yes, Jones portrayed Emma as Miss ‘Cool Hand Luke’. But she also did a first rate job of conveying the character’s strong attraction to Shaw and dislike of his occasional sexist attitudes. And thanks to her subtle comic timing, she provided the movie’s funniest moment in a scene that featured Emma having ‘telepathic’ sex with a Soviet general. Her reaction to being caught had me laughing in the aisle. Instead of Rebecca Romijn, the film’s producers chose Jennifer Lawrence to portray the younger Raven Darkhölme aka Mystique. And I thought she did a pretty damn good job. I have nothing against Romijn’s portrayal of Mystique, but I believe that Lawrence was given a better opportunity for a deeper exploration of the character . . . and she made the best of it. The movie also featured fine support from the likes of Rose Byrne as C.I.A. agent and ally Moira MacTaggart, Nicholas Hoult as the young Hank McCoy, Jason Flemyng as the frightening teleporter Azazel, Oliver Platt as the C.I.A. ‘Man in Black’, and Zoë Kravitz’s subtle and passionate performance as mutant Angel Salvadore.

As I had earlier hinted, “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” is not perfect. I believe it has two major flaws that prevented it from potentially becoming the best film in the franchise. The movie’s biggest flaw proved to be its lack of continuity with the other four films. “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” included the beginning of Charles Xavier’s paralysis and the end of his partnership with Erik Lensherr. Yet, Charles was still walking and working with Erik in a flashback set around the beginning of the 1980s in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. I am aware that Raven’s cells allowed her to mature very slowly. But did the same happen to Dr. Hank McCoy? He was in his early-to-mid 20s in “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”. Yet, he looked somewhere in his 40s in the third “X-MEN”, which was set some 40 years later. And the Emma Frost portrayed by actress Tahyna Tozzi in “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” looked at least five to ten years younger than January Jones’ Emma in this latest film. And “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” is supposed to be set 17 years before the 2009 film. Charles began his school for young mutants in this movie. However, he told Wolverine in 2000’s “X-MEN” that Scott “Cyclops” Summers and Jean Grey were his first students. They are no where to be seen and quite frankly, I could have done without this early edition of the Xavier School of Mutants. I found it annoying.

Another major problem proved to be the film’s costumes – especially for women. The movie is set mainly in 1962. Yet, Sammy Sheldon’s costumes reflected the late 1960s, not the early years of that decade. Just to prove my point, look at the following photographs:

1962 Fashions For Women

January Jones in “MAD MEN” Season Two (set in 1962)

January Jones in “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” (set in 1962)

In fact, the costumes and hairstyles for other female characters DO NOT reflect the year 1962, as well:

 

Both actresses Rose Byrne and Zoë Kravitz are wearing knee-high boots, which WERE NOT in fashion in 1962.

Yes, “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS” had some major flaws. But I cannot deny that I still managed to enjoy the movie very much. Screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn wrote a flawed, but very entertaining and epic story. The movie also boasted first-rate performances from a cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. And Vaughn brought all of these factors together with some fine direction. “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” has made me an even bigger fan of the franchise and I would heartily recommend it for anyone’s viewing pleasure.

“Obssessions” [PG-13] – Chapter 7

 

“OBSSESSIONS”

Part 7

Olivia opened the thick file in front of her and sighed. Long and hard. A tall figure appeared beside her desk and said, “Long night?”

“Huh?” Olivia glanced up and found herself staring into her partner’s dark eyes.

Darryl continued, “That sigh. It had an air of . . . oh, I don’t know . . . long suffering. Which can only mean that you had a busy or rough night.”


Olivia rolled her eyes. “Actually, I didn’t. I did a little meditation, and went to bed early.”

“Oh,” Darryl said with a nod. “And you didn’t get a call from a certain ADA?”

Glaring at her partner, Olivia coolly replied, “I doubt that he’s interested in someone who has a powerful half-daemon for a friend. In fact, he didn’t bother to ask for my telephone number.”

Darryl eased into the chair behind his desk. “And you wanted to give him your number?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Okay.” Darryl leaned back into his chair. Olivia tried to ignore him. “Speaking of last night, Sheila and I went to the Top of the Mark to celebrate my promotion.”

Olivia did not bother to look up from her work. “That’s nice,” she replied drily.

“Yeah, it was very nice. And we even saw . . .” Darryl suddenly broke and shook his head – as if he had caught himself from revealing a secret.

Suspicion flared within Olivia. “You and Sheila saw whom?” she asked, glancing at her partner.

Darryl shook his head. “No one that you knew. Just some old friend of . . .”

Olivia leaned forward, her eyes boring into the older man’s. “Darryl, are you hiding something from me?”

“No, I’m not.” Darryl opened the file on his desk.

Time to play dirty. Olivia added, “Darryl, if you don’t tell me whom you saw, I’ll cast a spell on you and force you to tell me the truth. And I can think of one just like that.” She snapped her fingers.

“What about using your powers for personal gain?”

“Personal gain is some nonsense drummed up by the whitelighters to control witches. Trust me, it’s not part of the Wiccan Rede.” Olivia paused. “So, whom did you see?”

Darryl heaved a large sigh. “Okay, Sheila and I saw Cole at the Top of the Mark.” He paused dramatically. “Talking to some blonde at the bar. You know, the ex-model type. They left the restaurant. Together.”

Jealousy consumed Olivia in a sudden rush, leaving her stunned and breathless. Cole picking up a blonde at the Top of the Mark? How long had he been indulging in one-night stands? She struggled to keep her emotions in check. “Well,” she said in a deceptively cool voice, “good for Cole. I see that he’s finally scored.”

“Look, we don’t really know if Cole and that blonde ended up . . .”

Olivia curtly interrupted her partner. “Do you really think I’m interested in Cole Turner’s love life?”

Darryl stared at his partner with knowing eyes. “You tell me, Olivia. Considering that you two have been mooning over each other for the past two or three months . . .” Olivia seared him with a burning glare, but Darryl refused to stop. “Then again, I may be wrong. Especially since you’ve been directing most of your attention of our new ADA. Am I right, or what?”

Olivia’s mouth formed a grim line. “You’re wrong. On both points. I’m no more interested in Paul Margolin than I am in . . .”

Captain McPherson’s burly figure strode into the squad room. “Morris, McNeill,” he barked, “in my office. Now!” He marched past their desks and straight into his office.

Both Olivia and Darryl exchanged wary looks and sighed. ‘Once more into the breach’, their eyes seemed to hint. The two partners rose from their chairs and followed their captain, close on his heals. Once inside, McPherson tossed a file on his desk and added, “You two have a new case. A homicide that was reported last night.”

“Anyone we know?” Darryl asked.

McPherson leaned back into his chair. “I suppose so. If you read the BAY-MIRROR. It’s the columnist, DeWolfe Mann.” Olivia let out a gasp. “Someone slit his throat, last night.”

* * * *

Bruce went into shock as Barbara conveyed the news to him over the telephone. DeWolfe Mann had been murdered. His body had been discovered by Paige and Phoebe, last night. Before a neighbor had reported his death to the police. Barbara had just learned everything from Paige.

“I can’t believe it,” he said to his mother and grandmother, inside the McNeill kitchen. “DeWolfe Mann murdered just like that. Someone had slit his throat.”

Elise McNeill took a sip of her freshly squeezed orange juice. “Well, I guess that’s the end of the Golden Horn story. What a shame.”

“Surely the BAY-MIRROR will assign someone else to the story?” Gweneth McNeill asked in her soft, Welsh accent. “Perhaps another columnist in the same department? They do have more than one food critic.”

Bruce released a caustic snort. “I don’t know, Mom. Considering who’s the new owner of the paper, I rather doubt it.” Both women frowned. “Hel-lo? I’m talking about Jason Dean, Olivia’s ex. You know, the one Dad used to call ‘Dudley-Do-Right’?”

“I thought Jack used to call Richard that,” Gwen commented.

Bruce replied, “He did. When Richard was going through his ‘do-gooder’ phase. But the term originated with Jason.”

Elise shook her head. “I don’t understand. If Jason had assigned the story to DeWolfe Mann, why do you think he’ll change his mind?”

“Because Jason didn’t want to do the story in the first place, Gran. It was Cole who had suggested the idea to Mr. Mann. And the story was almost killed by Jace. Only, according to Paige, Phoebe managed to get him to change his mind.” Bruce paused, as bitterness crept into his voice. “Now that Mr. Mann is dead, I doubt that Jason will revive the story.”

Gwen let out a mournful sigh. “Too bad. A story on the Golden Horn would have been nice. Not that the restaurant needs the publicity. But it would have been nice.” She paused. “Do Paige and Phoebe know who killed Mr. Mann?”

Bruce shook his head. “Unfortunately, Phoebe didn’t see the killer in her premonition. The strangest thing is that Mr. Mann’s apartment was locked from the inside, when they found his body. Also, Phoebe heard voices just before she and Paige orbed inside.”

The two older women stared at Bruce in shocked silence, as they contemplated his words.

* * * *

Darryl eased the dark-brown sedan into an available parking space in front of a light-blue Victorian villa. He and Olivia, who sat in the passenger seat next to him, were in the middle of one their usual daily spats.

“I really don’t see why you’re upset with me,” Olivia was saying. “I’m not the idiot who overlooked a clue laying right there in the middle of the floor.”

A long suffering sigh escaped from Darryl’s mouth. “Look Olivia, all I’m trying to say is that you could have been a little more diplomatic with Jenoff. I mean it was only a button. Anyone could miss a button!”

“In a crime scene?” Olivia regarded her partner with a hard look. “I don’t think so.”

After Captain McPherson had assigned the pair to investigate the murder of DeWolfe Mann, their first action was to receive the police report from the two officers – Jenoff and Stevens – who had reported to the crime scene, last night. Needless to say, the latter had not been pleased to learn that Darryl and Olivia were assigned to take over the case. Upon visiting the crime scene, Olivia had discovered a button – a blue button – lying on the floor, near the couch. The pair had returned to the station to deliver the button to Forensics. But not before Olivia had brought the attention of the button to Jenoff and Stevens.

Darryl heaved another sigh. “Can we change the subject? Please?” The he glanced at the house to their right. “Hmmm, nice place,” he commented. “Even bigger than the Halliwell home. I wonder what Ms. Mann does for a living?”

“Financial backer at an investment firm,” Olivia answered. Darryl stared at her. “Cole had taken me to a party, where I met both of the Manns.” Olivia added that Cole had been DeWolfe Mann’s attorney since last fall. “He’s also Deborah Mann’s attorney.”

A glimmer of suspicion entered Darryl’s mind. “This brother and sister act – the Manns – they aren’t, by any chance, witches, warlocks, demons or any other kind of magical beings?”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “No, they’re mortals. Of the non-magical kind. Cole only has two or three clients who are witches.”

“A half-daemon, attorney for witches. That’s new.” The two partners climbed out the car and made their way toward the Mann villa. “Are you sure that the Manns aren’t witches or anything like that?” Darryl asked. “I mean it was odd that the police found the body behind a locked door. A door that had been locked from the inside?”

A shrug lifted Olivia’s shoulders. “Hey, I know as much as you do. Except that . . .”

“Except what?”

The pair climbed the stoop that led to the front door. “Except that Cole wasn’t the only one who knew the victim. So did Phoebe.”

“What?” Darryl’s suspicions jumped forward a notch or two. “And you expect me to believe that the Manns aren’t . . .?”

“Darryl, DeWolfe Mann was a columnist for the BAY-MIRROR! Remember? Which means he was probably a co-worker of Phoebe’s.”

Darryl smacked his forehead in a dramatic fashion. “Oh. Damn! I forgot. He’s the one who was supposed to interview your brother, Bruce.”

Olivia added, “And Mom. The article was supposed to be about the Golden Horn’s silver anniversary.”

They stopped in front of the door. Darryl rang the doorbell. Seconds later, a handsome Latino woman in her late forties answered. “Yes? May I help you?”

Both Darryl and Olivia flashed their police badges. “I’m Lieutenant Morris and this is Inspector McNeill of the San Francisco Police.” The woman frowned. “We would like to speak with Miss Deborah Mann.”

The woman closed the door on the pair, much to Darryl’s annoyance. He could hear her shout, “Senora Deborah! It’s the police, again!” Darryl and Olivia exchanged mild grimaces.

The door opened again and the woman ushered the two visitors inside the house. She led them from the foyer and into an elegantly furnished sitting room. There, they found a tall, dark-haired woman with a slightly plump figure sitting on the sofa, wiping away her tears. And beside her sat an obviously sympathetic Cole Turner.

* * * *

“Like I had told those two police officers last night,” a tearful Deborah Mann said, “I can’t think of any reason why someone would want Wolfie dead.”

Darryl cocked an eyebrow. “Wolfie?”

“Nickname,” Cole quickly added. He glanced at Olivia, who seemed to be making an effort to ignore him.

Nodding, Darryl continued, “Are you sure, Mrs. . . uh, Miss . . .”

“Ms. Mann,” the grieving woman corrected. “I’m divorced and I’ve returned to using my maiden name. And I can’t think of anyone who would want him dead. Wolfie hasn’t been involved with anyone for nearly a year. I can’t . . .” She frowned momentarily. “Well, he was having trouble with someone at work.”

Olivia leaned forward, her eyes squarely on Ms. Mann. “At work?”

Clearing his throat, Cole explained that Mann had been clashing with the BAY-MIRROR’s new owner. “They, uh . . . didn’t get along.”

“With Jason?” Olivia’s question drew stares from the others. She quickly added, “Jason Dean, right?”

Ms. Mann blew her nose. “Yes, Mr. Dean. Wolfie was always complaining about him. He once said that the man was an amateur pretending to be a newspaper publisher. Mr. Dean and Wolfie had different ideas on what to write about in the column.”

“Also, Mr. Mann came to see me, yesterday,” Cole added. “About ending his contract with the BAY-MIRROR.”

Olivia coolly faced him. “Really? And what exactly did you tell him?”

Blue eyes grew wide with surprise as they met green ones. Cole seemed taken aback by Olivia’s hostility. Darryl began to regret for ever telling Olivia about Cole’s encounter with the blonde. And an uncomfortable feeling struck him that the two friends and neighbors were in danger of becoming estranged.

Just as coolly, Cole replied, “I had told Mr. Mann that he would have no trouble breaking his contract. It was for five years, with an option to end it after three. Another paper, the CHRONICLE, had recently expressed interest in hiring him.”

“Does Mr. Dean know about this?” Darryl asked.

Cole shook his head. “No. Not yet.”

Deborah Mann added, “Maybe he did know. After all, Wolfie was one of his top columnists, along with Phoebe Halliwell and Gunther Weiss. He was also one of the top food critics on the West Coast. Do you really think Jason Dean would be thrilled if one of his most successful columnists had defected to another paper?”

Darryl noticed that Cole did not bother to contradict the bereaved woman. He and Olivia asked Ms. Mann and the attorney, a few more questions. Ms. Mann then escorted Olivia to the guest room where her brother occasionally stayed during visits – leaving Darryl and Cole, alone.

“So,” Darryl began.

Cole spoke up before the police lieutenant could finish. “Is there anything else you would like to know? Like how I became DeWolfe’s attorney?”

“I’m more interested in what happened between you and that blonde Sheila and I saw you with at the Top of the Mark, last night.”

A long sigh left Cole’s mouth. “I guess you saw me after all,” he said with a shake of his head. “I wondered if you did.” He hesitated, giving Darryl a wary look. “And I gather you must have told Olivia. Hence the cold shoulder.”

“Did anything happened between you and . . .” Darryl broke off at the sight of Cole’s face assuming a cold mask. The latter’s expression reminded him that this man had once been a top demonic assassin. “Never mind. It’s none of my business.”

Cole added, “That’s right. It isn’t.”

Darryl sighed. “Oh man! That means something did happen.” Cole glanced away. “Jesus man! Why? What the hell were you thinking?”

“What?” Cole demanded, losing his cool. “So what if I was with another woman, last night? I’m divorced! A free man! I’m sure as hell not involved with anyone, at the moment. Phoebe has a new boyfriend. And as for Olivia . . .” He paused.

Darryl leaned forward in anticipation. “What about her?”

Cole shook his head. “Nothing. It’s . . . nothing.”

It took all of Darryl’s willpower not to yell in frustration. Why in the hell did Olivia and Cole continue to be so damn stubborn? Why were they so determined to pretend they had no romantic interest in each other, when it was so obvious? Darryl struggled to keep his eyes from rolling in disgust. “So, you’re telling me that you sleeping with some blonde had nothing to do with Olivia and Margolin?”

“No, it . . .” Cole broke off, as Olivia and Ms. Mann returned to the sitting room.

Olivia declared, “Well, there wasn’t much I could find in Mr. Mann’s room. We might as well leave.”

“Before you do,” Ms. Mann said, “promise me that you’ll keep me updated on your investigation. Me and no one else.”

Darryl added, “We will have to inform our captain, ma’am.”

Ms. Mann nodded. “I understand. But promise me that you’ll tell your captain and no one else. Except Cole and myself, of course. I don’t feel that it is anyone else’s business. Including Jason Dean’s.”

Both Darryl and Olivia exchanged knowing glances. Then they stared at Cole, who looked away. “Of course,” Darryl murmured.

The two partners finally took their leave from Deborah Mann’s house. Darryl noticed on his way out that neither Olivia nor Cole had bothered to exchange good-byes.

END OF PART 7

“HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY” (1984) Review

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“HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY” (1984) Review

Years ago, I had come across a television movie, at my local video store, about a 19th African-American who found himself kidnapped into slavery. Being a history nut about 19th century America, I decided to check it out. The movie turned out to be 1984’s “HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY”.

Directed by photographer Gordon Parks, “SOLOMON NORTHRUP’S ODYSSEY” told the story of an African-American carpenter and musician from Saratoga Springs, New York named Solomon Northrup. Because of his reputation as a skilled violinist, he attracts the attention of two men calling themselves Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton. They claimed that they wanted to hire Solomon to play his fiddle in a circus in Washington, D.C., for the rate of one dollar per day and three dollars per musical performance. This was considered a good wage in 1841 Believing the trip to be short, Solomon decides not to notify his wife, Anne. Unfortunately, not long after his arrival in the nation’s capital, Solomon is drugged and sold to a slave dealer named Jim Birch. At Birch’s slave market, Solomon is beaten by Birch in an attempt to coerce the former into accepting his new name of Platt. He also meets a Virginia-born slave named Jenny, with whom he strikes up an immediate friendship. And during the sea journey to Louisiana, he meets another female slave named Eliza and her children during a stopover in Norfolk. Upon their arrival in New Orleans, all three are sold to a planter named Thomas Ford. After two years at Ford’s plantation, Solomon has a violent encounter with one of the planter’s white employees and is sold to a second owner, a self-made planter named Edward Epps. Solomon spends another nine-and-a-half years at Epps’ plantation until his meeting with a Canadian-born carpenter named Bass allows him to send a letter to Anne of his whereabouts. With the help of a childhood friend and son of his father’s former owner, Henry Northup, Solomon is free and returns to his family in Saratoga Springs.

I really did not know how I would react to “SOLOMON NORTHRUP’S ODYSSEY” when I first saw it so many years ago. After all, the movie had not been directed by someone from the established Hollywood community or from any of the film industries overseas. Gordon Parks was a well-established photographer who had worked for“LIFE” magazine and a documentary director, before turning his attention to directing films. And before“SOLOMON NORTHRUP’S ODYSSEY”, he had only directed eight films, his most successful being the 1971 movie “SHAFT”. I must admit that Parks did a first-rate job in his direction of the movie, but I would not go as far to say that it was perfect.

First of all, I wish that Parks had managed to curtail some of leading man Avery Brooks’ penchant for theatrical acting. I realize that “SOLOMON NORTHRUP’S ODYSSEY” was the actor’s first job in screen acting, but traces of hammy acting – a leftover from years of success on the stage – remained in his performance. Come to think of it, I could say the same about a handful of cast members in minor roles, including Janet League as Eliza, the slave mother who ended up losing her children during the journey to Louisiana and eventually, her mind. I had no problems with the movie’s slow pacing, which I felt perfectly reflected its setting of antebellum Louisiana circa 1841-53. But there were times when the pacing threatened to slow down to a halt, especially in scenes that featured montages of Solomon’s duties on the Epps plantation.

Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad. Between Parks’ direction and Hiro Narita’s photography, “SOLOMON NORTHRUP’S ODYSSEY” reeked with the semi-tropical setting of central Louisiana. The Southern Georgia locations that stood in for the area surrounding the Ford and Epps plantations radiated with a natural beauty and a lush green that nearly took my breath away. Yet, the photography also conveyed how the setting served as a physical prison for the outsider from New York. I noticed that Parks was billed as the composer for the movie’s score. Quite frankly, I did not find it memorable. However, I did enjoy Parks’ use of 19th century music throughout the movie and especially in the opening scene that featured a social dance in Saratoga Springs. Most importantly, Parks did an excellent job in guiding television viewers into the world of antebellum United States and Solomon Northup’s journey from freedom in New York, to the slave marts of Washington D.C. and New Orleans, and eventually the slave plantations of Louisiana.

I was also impressed by the screenplay written by Lou Potter and Samm-Art Williams. I have never read Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography. But it would not be difficult for me to assume that the movie was an exact adaptation of his memoirs. After all, we are dealing with a movie based upon historical facts, not a documentary. However, Potter and Williams did an excellent job in capturing the shock, despair and eventual resignation of Solomon’s experiences and situation. They also captured the conflicting and chaotic nature that had an impact upon all of those who participated in American slavery – willingly or not.

One aspect of Potter and Williams’ script that I found especially fascinating was how they pointed out how slavery enabled those trapped in the system to use others as scapegoats for their frustrations and anger. A good example of this is the strange relationship between Solomon’s second master and the latter’s wife, Mr. and Mrs. Epps, the Virginia-born slave Jenny and Solomon. Mr. Epps was a self-made man from the working class, who married a woman from the old planter aristocracy. However, this marriage failed to lessen his insecurities about his origins and his fears that his wife might view him as inferior being. Because of his inferiority complex, he preferred the company of Jenny, the Virginia-born slave with whom Solomon had a brief romance during their time on the Ford plantation. His preference for Jenny (who yearned for Solomon) made him jealous of the New Yorker. However, Mrs. Epps genuinely loved her husband and harbored jealousy toward Jenny. And Solomon harbored jealousy and frustration toward Jenny’s relationship with their master. The interesting thing about this love triangle/quadrangle was that Mr. Epps vented his jealousy upon Solomon; and both Mrs. Epps and Solomon used Jenny as a scapegoat for their anger toward Mr. Epps. And poor Jenny ended up as a sexual victim of Mr. Epps, and a scapegoat of both Solomon and Mrs. Epps’ anger and frustration.

Despite Avery Brooks’ occasional forays into theatrical acting, I must admit that I found his movie/television debut to be very impressive. He did a great job in conveying his character’s emotional journey in what must have been a traumatic period and end in the end, earned well-deserved praise from the critics. I was also impressed by Rhetta Greene’s complex portrayal of Jenny, the slave caught between her love for Solomon and her master’s desire. Both John Saxon and Lee Bryant were excellent as Mr. and Mrs. Epps, who added a great deal of ambiguity into roles that could have easily been a portrait of one-dimensional villainy – especially Saxon’s role. Joe Seneca gave an interesting role as Noah, the elderly slave who tried to guide Solomon into establishing relationship with their fellow slaves and remind the latter of the difficulties in escaping from central Louisiana. Art Evans provided amusing comic relief as Harry, a slave and Solomon’s fawning close friend. Petronia Paley gave a solid performance as Solomon’s wife, Anne, who was beset with worry and frustration over her missing husband. And Mason Adams’ portrayal of Mr. Ford, Solomon’s first master, was an interesting contrast between a genuinely decent man, and a no-nonsense slave master was not above issuing veiled threats whenever he felt they were needed.

Yes, “HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY” had a few flaws that include the occasional slow pacing and hammy acting from a few members of the cast (including the leading man). But the movie is a well made and fascinating look into the experiences of a free man who found himself trapped into the institution of 19th century slavery. Director Gordon Parks and star Avery Brooks proved to be the driving force in a first-rate movie that was at times entertaining, horrifying, educational and especially poignant. “SOLOMON NORTHUP’S ODYSSEY” might prove to be hard to find. I would recommend Netflix or Amazon. But in the end, the movie is worth the search. I assure you.

Observations of “MAD MEN”: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

I usually do not write article about an entire episode of ”MAD MEN”. Why, I do not know. But after watching the latest episode, (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”, I found myself compelled to post several observations about it. 

Observations of ”MAD MEN”: (3.07) “Seven Twenty-Three”

In ”Seven Twenty-Three”, famous hotelier Conrad Hilton, whom Don Draper had first met in ”(3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”, paid a visit to Don’s office and revealed his intent to hire Sterling Cooper to handle the promotion of his New York hotels. This piece of good news turned sour when Lane Pryce, Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper revealed that Hilton’s attorneys refused to go ahead with the deal unless Don sign an official contract with his employers. Naturally, Don was reluctant to sign a contract. He had been living under an assumed name for the past thirteen years, when he switched identities with his Army commanding officer (the real Don Draper). Nor did he want to be bound or obliged to anyone without having the power and opportunity to walk away whenever the opportunity might arise. After Don had a confrontation with Betty over his refusal to sign a contract, he left the house to go joyriding in the countryside. There, he picked up a young couple, who claimed they were on their way to get married at Niagara Falls. As it turned out, they were a pair of scam artists who fed Don some pills, took him to a cheap motel, knocked him out and stole his money.

The episode also featured a subplot for Betty Draper. After joining the Tarrytown chapter of Junior League, she received a request to find someone with political ties to prevent the construction of a giant water tank that they feared would ruin the scenic view. Betty contacted Henry Francis, one of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s aides, whom she had first met in ”My Old Kentucky Home”. The two met at a local bakery in Ossing for drinks and pastries. And although Francis hinted that he might not be able to help the Junior League prevent the water tank’s construction, he made it obvious that he was just as attracted to Betty, as she was to him. Francis had also pointed out a chaise lounge that Betty later purchased for her living room. A chaise lounge that her decorator obviously disliked. By the way, the scene featuring Betty’s telephone call with Henry Francis nearly had me rolling in the aisles. Although I have no children, I have experienced a similar situation in which someone had hung up the telephone before I could pick up the extension. Very frustrating.

Peggy Olson’s storyline in this episode began in (3.05) “The Fog”, in which she was contacted by former Sterling Cooper employee, Duck Phillips. In that episode, he had tried to recruit both Peggy and Pete to the agency he now works for – Gray. Peggy had contemplated his offer, but refused. When Peggy asked Don for a raise in the same episode, the latter refused her request. In Seven Twenty-Three”, Duck continued his wooing of Peggy and Pete with gifts. When Pete pointed out that Duck’s wooing might be an attempt for the older man to get back at Don for snowballing him in the Season Two finale, (2.13) “Mediations in an Emergency”, Peggy became determined to return the gift. Which she did after leaving work. However, her visit to Duck’s hotel suite also led to an evening of some very enjoyable sex for them both.

*Betty Draper

Betty’s story arc did not provide any jaw dropping moments for me. But I did notice a few things. One, she must be seriously attracted to Henry Francis. I found it interesting that not only did she remember him from Roger’s Kentucky Derby garden party, she also seemed to be in a slight state of heat around him. This especially seemed obvious when Henry shielded her eyes from the sun during an eclipse. But more importantly, she went ahead and purchased the Victorian chaise lounge that Henry had earlier pointed out to her when they passed an antique store. Many saw the chaise lounge as an example of Betty’s desire to be some “helpless damsel in distress” that occasionally fainted. I found that image hard to accept. Despite the ladylike persona that Betty tends to project, she never struck me as that kind of woman. However, I had noticed how she caressed her body in a suggestive manner – especially in the very spot where Henry had touched her, when she was still pregnant with Eugene. I also noticed that Betty has become more assertive in her attitude toward Don. After all, audiences had first received a whiff of this trait back in (2.04) “Three Sundays”, when she ordered Don to take Sally to work with him during Bobby’s small medical emergency. Yet, Betty’s assertiveness has become increasingly obvious this past season. This was certainly apparent in her refusal to cave in to Don’s disapproval over their new son’s name in (3.06) “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”; and in their confrontation over Don’s refusal to sign a contract with Sterling Cooper. I had always suspected that underneath the girlish and shallow exterior lurked a formidable woman. I wonder how Betty would react if she ever discovered the truth about his fake identity.

*Peggy Olson

Peggy may think that she knows a lot about Don Draper. But I rather doubt it. The worst she knows is that he is an adulterer, thanks to her rescue of both him and Bobbie Barrett in Season Two’s (2.05) “The New Girl”. In ”Seven Twenty-Three”, she discovered that he can be incredibly cruel. Season Three has not been particularly kind to Peggy. Following her revelation about their child, Pete Campbell has become hostile toward her. And despite being the first copywriter to acquire a private office following Freddie Rumsen’s departure, Peggy has not been receiving the respect she believes that she deserves. Don had ignored her misgivings about the Patio commercial in (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. In (3.05) “The Fog”, Peggy asked for a raise after discovering that she was the firm’s least paid copywriter and Don rejected her request. And when she asked to work on the Hilton account, Don (who was already in a foul mood after learning that Sterling Cooper wants him to sign a contract) rejected her request in the cruelest means possible. He accused Peggy of using his coattails to rise up in Sterling Cooper’s Creative ranks. His accusation and manner left Peggy shocked and speechless.

When Peggy appeared at Duck’s hotel room to return his gift, I doubt that she had any intention of having sex with him. Did Duck plan to sexually seduce Peggy? I do not know. And since I have no idea of Duck’s intention, I am not going to pretend that I do or speculate. I do have to wonder if the prevalent negative attitude toward Duck has led many fans to believe that he had intended to seduce her. I do recall Peggy complimenting Duck’s turtleneck sweater when they first met in ”The Fog”. I also noticed something else. Once Peggy and Duck were in bed together, they seemed turned on by each other.

A good number of viewers have expressed disgust at Peggy’s sexual tryst with Duck. These viewers have claimed their age difference. But Joan Harris and Roger Sterling were (and still are) nearly twenty years apart in age during their affair. Even back then, Joan was slightly older and more experienced during her affair with Roger. But Peggy is not some blushing virgin. She was already sexually experienced and had given birth to Pete’s son in (1.13) “The Wheel”. She even managed to seduce some college kid in ”Love Among the Ruins” as a test of her sexuality. Yet, not only are many fans expressing disgust at her tryst with Duck; they are labeling her as some sexually naïve woman who found herself seduced and manipulated by an older man. I must be honest. I found that perception of Peggy a little insulting. Peggy may be young and probably upset over Don’s outburst; but as I had stated earlier, she was not that naïve. I suspect that Peggy had simply used Duck’s offer of great sex to derive some kind of pleasure following her disastrous meeting with Don. Many fans have also been predicting disastrous consequences from Peggy and Duck’s tryst. Perhaps she might experience a fallout from the affair. Perhaps not. But a nagging part of me fear that Peggy might end up paying the consequences for failing to accept Duck’s offer of a position at Gray’s.

*Don Draper

I never understood this need to divide the series’ main character into two personas. There is only one Dick Whitman, after all. He is both the rural-born offspring of a dead prostitute and a crude farmer . . . and the brilliant creative advertising executive. The reason why Dick (or should I say Don) can emotionally connect with some people and barely at all with others might be due to the fact that he had assumed another man’s name by fraudulent means. It is not surprising that he has only been willing to reveal some of his true nature to those he believe he may never see again . . . or in the case of Rachel Mencken, someone with whom he thought he could connect. It is also natural that Don had never bothered to sign an official contract with Sterling Cooper. No contract had allowed him to be a free agent even though he has decided to remain at Sterling Cooper. It also meant that Don would be able to bolt without any legal redress, if needed. Well, Don’s years as a free agent at Sterling Cooper ended in ”Seven Twenty-Three”.

The odd thing is that Don’s encounter with another self-made man who had risen from poverty had led him to being finally bound to a contract. It led to a final breach (so far) with Roger Sterling. It damaged his close relationship with Peggy. It made him realize (for the second or third time) that his wife might be a lot more formidable than he had probably imagined. Don’s argument with Betty led him to commit one of his more destructive maneuvers when things got rough . . . he took off. Unlike his trip to California last season, Don did not go very far. Instead, he picked up a hitchhiking couple claiming to be on their way to Niagara Falls in order to elope. But instead of eloping, they fed Don some pills and later clocked and robbed him inside a cheap motel. As his dad, Archie Whitman, had indicated in his hallucination, Don has become slightly soft. This seemed even more apparent when Bert Cooper blackmailed him into finally signing a contract. When Cooper had dismissed Pete Campbell’s exposure of Don as a fraud in Season One’s (1.12) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”, I bet Don never thought the old man would eventually use those allegations against him. And yet . . . while signing that contract, Don demanded that Roger Sterling stay away from him. How interesting. Roger tried to use Betty to coerce him into signing the contract. Cooper sunk even lower and used Don’s secrets to blackmail him and succeed. Perhaps Don realized that Roger (given his questionable standing in the firm with the British owners) made an easier target for his wrath than two powerful men like Conrad Hilton and Bert Cooper. If so, it does not say very much about Don.

Some believe that Don’s new contract is a sign of his eventual downfall. I cannot say that I agree with this. In fact, I have no idea what this contract will symbolize for Don. Every time he has faced a personal crisis in the past – Pete Campbell and Bert Cooper’s discovery of his secret in Season One, and his estrangement from Betty and Duck’s takeover plans – Don has managed to survive or come on top.  By the finale, his marriage to Betty finally ended.  But not everything bad happened to Don by the end of Season Three.  His professional career, on the other hand, embarked on a new path.

“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECTIVE: (3.24) “Displaced”

STAR TREK VOYAGER RETROSPECTIVE: (3.24) “Displaced”

I might as well be honest. I wish I could be objective about the ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Three episode,”Displaced”. But I cannot. My feelings for this episode are too strong. Let me explain. 

Lisa Klink wrote the teleplay for this episode about Voyager’s crew members being replaced, one-by-one, with aliens from an unknown race. While arguing over a Klingon workout program that Chief Helmsman Tom Paris had created for the Holodeck, the pilot and Voyager’s Chief Engineer, B’ElannaTorres, are interrupted by a strange alien that has appeared aboard ship from nowhere. This phenomenon occurs over and over again, until both Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay realizes that this new alien race – called the Nyrians – are bent upon taking control of Voyager . . . but without the use of brute force. Eventually, the entire crew end up as prisoners on a habitat that also contains prisoners from other races whose ships and colonies were also conquered by the Nyrians in a similar manner.

Amidst the alien takeover of the ship, the continuation of the blossoming relationship between the ship’s Chief Helmsman, Lieutenant Tom Paris and Chief Engineer Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres hits a snag. In a previous episode called ”Distant Origin”, Paris had made a bet with Torres over the reason behind a ship malfunction. The Chief Helmsman won the bet and Torres was forced to participate with him in a Klingon exercise program in the Holodeck. Being inclined to avoid her Klingon heritage as much as possible, Torres resents that Paris is interested in all aspects of her entire self – both Human and Klingon. And later in the episode, both Torres and the Doctor revealed Tom’s own insecurities and his tendency to use jokes to hide them.

Temperatures seemed to have played a major role in ”Displaced”. From Paris and Torres’ heated argument over his Klingon martial arts program to the Nyrians and Torres’ low tolerance of cold temperatures, and to finally the warm reconciliation between the two future lovers inside the Holodeck. It was good to see Voyager’s crew – especially Janeway and Tuvok – work at retaking control of Voyager by utilizing the Nyrians’ teleportation system. I especially found Janeway’s ultimatums for the Nyrian leaders inside their habitat rather satisfying.

But what really made this episode rocked – at least for me – was the continuation of Paris and Torres’ courtship that began when the Chief Pilot made his first overture in ”The Swarm”, earlier in the season. By the time ”Displaced” had aired – some twenty episodes later – Paris has been in earnest pursuit of Torres. Lisa Klink had wonderfully brought out Paris’ determination to reveal to Torres, his interest in everything about her – and that included both her Human and Klingon sides – despite how she may have felt about the latter. Klink also did an excellent job of revealing the pair’s insecurities, which ended up providing many roadblocks to their romance and eventual marriage over three years later. Late Season Three and early Season Four had featured some of the best moments in the Paris/Torres relationship. At least until Season Seven. And among those gems included scenes from this episode.

Below are what I consider highlights from ”Displaced”:

*Paris and Torres’ quarrel over the Klingon martial arts program
*Tuvok’s revelation to Chakotay about his survival training experience on Vulcan
*Chakotay’s attempts to defend the ship from the Nyrians, reliving his old role as a Maquis captain
*The Doctor’s exposure of both Paris and Torres’ insecurities inside the Nyrian habitat
*Torres’ ”I’m not hostile” conversation with Harry Kim and his fearful reaction to her tone
*Paris and Torres’ frozen adventures inside another Nyrian habitat
*Janeway and Tuvok’s efforts to gain control of the Nyrians’ teleportation system
*Janeway’s confrontation with the Nyrian leaders

As I had earlier stated, I wish I could be objective about this episode. But how can I? Even after eleven years, I still love it. Lisa Klink’s teleplay seemed to feature everything – adventure, romance, humor, intrigue and rich characterization. It is easy to see why I consider ”Displaced” to be one of the best ”VOYAGER” episodes.

“Obssessions” [PG-13] – Chapter 6

“OBSSESSIONS”

Part 6

Around the same time that Phoebe was experiencing her premonition, DeWolfe Mann sat in front of the computer on his desk. He was busy preparing question that he planned to use for the Bruce McNeill interview. 

“Question number four,” he muttered to himself. The columnist paused momentarily. “Okay. Question four – who provided the bulk of your training in . . .”

The doorbell interrupted DeWolfe’s musings. He heaved an impatient sigh. The last thing he wanted or needed to deal with were visitors. If it was Rudy, he would simply have to be rude and ask his friend to leave. Again, the doorbell rang. “Coming!” DeWolfe cried out in a sharp voice.

The portly man struggled out of his chair – he really needed to lose some weight – and started toward the front door. The doorbell rang for the third time. “Dammit, I’m coming!” DeWolfe growled. He glanced through the peephole and saw two people standing in the hallway – a beautiful dark-haired woman who resembled the typical European model, and an anxious-looking, yet attractive man in his early thirties. “Yes, may I help you?”

“Signor Mann?” The woman spoke in a bell-like tone. Along with an Italian accent. “Signor Mann, my name is . . . Sophia Maganini and this is my assistant, Antony Cicero. I’m the editor of new magazine based in Roma called VITA BUENO. It is a magazine about luxury living that includes travel, houses, and food. May we speak?”

DeWolfe’s eyes lit up at the mention of the Italian capital. “Rome? Uh, what exactly does an Italian magazine want with me?”

“If you will please open the door, we will tell you,” Ms. Maganini replied. When DeWolfe failed to respond, she added, “Please signor, this is about a job offer from our magazine.”

Upon hearing the words, “job offer”, DeWolfe overcame his reluctance and opened the door. The columnist greeted the pair with a reserved smile. “Please, take a seat.” Ms. Maganini and Mr. Cicero sat down on the sofa. DeWolfe eased into a chair opposite them. “Well now,” he began, “what’s this about a job offer?”

* * * *

Ten minutes later, everything went to pieces. Or so it seemed to Nick. It had not started that way.

Portia’s lie about a job offer had managed to get them inside DeWolfe Mann’s apartment. Once inside, the succubus embellished upon her lie – jabbering away about a fictional Rome magazine on high living. All to convince Mann that the so-called “magazine” wanted him as the new food columnist or editor. Her lies had been so effective and detailed that even Nick almost found himself believing her. But when Mann began demanding more details about the job offer, it all went to pieces.

When Mann had asked for specific details about his job duties and salaries, Portia was unable to provide him answers. Suspicion finally gleamed in the columnist’s eyes and he demanded that the two visitors leave. Both Portia and Nick refused. Instead, the succubus attempted to seduce him. Use her power of seduction to control him. She failed, much to hers and Nick’s surprise.

The columnist stood up and stared at the succubus with disbelief. “What the hell is going on, here?” he angrily demanded. “Who are you people? Get out! Now!”

At that moment, Nick decided to take matters into his own hands. After standing up, he reached inside his jacket pocket for the switchblade he kept handy for self-protection. He removed the knife from his pocket, snapped it open and slashed the columnist’s throat in a lightening move.

Blood gushed out from Mann’s throat, while his mouth made a gurgling sound. He swayed on his feet for a few seconds, before he finally dropped to the floor. Dead.

“Ohmigod!” The phrase left Nick’s mouth the moment Mann hit the floor. “Ohmigod! What have I done?” He stared at the dead body in horror.

The doorbell rang. A voice from the door called out, “Wolfie? Are you home?”

“Ohmigod!”

Portia sharply ordered Nick to shut up and get a hold of himself. “What you’ve done is killed a man. And with great skill, I may add.”

“Great skill?” Nick glared at the succubus. “Don’t you understand? I’ve killed a human!”

The doorbell rang again. Followed by knocking on the door. Portia sighed. “Let me see if I understand this. You had summoned me to kill a human male in the slowest way possible and now you’re having a fit over slitting another man’s throat? Humans! I will never understand you.”

“Wolfie!” the voice from behind the door cried. “Are you home?”

Panic engulfed the Streghone. He immediately recognized the owner of the voice. It belonged to Phoebe Halliwell. “We have to get out of here!” he hissed. “Fast!”

Portia frowned. “Why? Are we in a hurry? I can take care of whomever is outside.”

Again the doorbell rang. “Hello? Wolfie?”

Nick shot back, “That’s Phoebe Halliwell! One of the Charmed Ones!”

“Charmed what?”

Nick grabbed the succubus’ hand. “Please! Let’s get out of here! Now!” Portia gave a somewhat nonchalant shrug of her shoulders, before she and Nick disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

* * * *

Phoebe pressed her ear against the door. “I don’t hear anything,” she commented. “At least not now. What’s going on in there?” She pressed the doorbell. No one answered. “Okay, that’s it. You’ll have to orb us inside,” she said to her younger sister.

Paige protested. “Wait a minute! What if your friend is in there? What if he’s . . .?”

“We’re just going to have to take the chance.” Phoebe grabbed Paige’s hand. “C’mon.”

Heaving a sigh, Paige orbed herself and Phoebe out of the hallway and inside the middle of DeWolfe Mann’s living room. Phoebe glanced around, until she spotted a body sprawled on the floor behind her and Paige. Judging from the wide eyes, staring lifelessly ahead and the scarlet slash across the neck, there seemed to be no doubt that the columnist was dead. Phoebe knelt beside her former colleague. “Oh no!” she bemoaned. “We’re too late!”

Paige responded with a heartfelt, “Ugh!” As Phoebe reached out to touch the body, the younger woman grabbed her arm. “Phoebe! Don’t touch him! Don’t touch anything! You might leave . . . fingerprints.”

“I have to do something! Maybe I can find out who killed him through a premonition.”

“But you already had a premonition about this and you didn’t see the killer’s face.” Paige frowned. “Which is strange, when I think about it.” She looked at her sister. “Why didn’t you see the killer’s face?”

Phoebe sighed. “I don’t know, Paige. Maybe I had cut off the vision before I got the chance. I think we better call the police.”

Doubt clouded Paige’s dark eyes. “And tell them what? How we found a dead body inside a locked apartment?”

An impatient Phoebe added, “Then we’ll call Darryl.”

“Pheebs, he’s probably off-duty by now. And so is Olivia. And how do we know they’ll be assigned to the case? And I certainly don’t see them trying to explain how they knew about your friend’s body. The best we can do is . . .” Paige paused. Someone was knocking on the door. “God! Who is that?”

A voice from the other side of the door cried out, “Hello? Is anyone there? Mr. Mann?”

Paige grabbed Phoebe’s arm. “Let’s get out of here!” The person in the hallway continued to knock. “C’mon Phoebe!”

Phoebe protested, “Wait a minute! We can’t leave! My fingerprints! They’re on the door, outside. And on the doorbell!”

The knocking continued. “We’ll get rid of it, once that person leaves to call the cops! “Let’s go!” The two sisters orbed out of the apartment.

* * * *

cell phone rang, cutting through the chatter inside the Top of the Mark restaurant, at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill. Darryl automatically slipped a hand inside his jacket pocket and reached for his own.

“Darryl,” his wife warned, “don’t answer that call.”

Realizing that it had not been his cell phone ringing, Darryl shook his head. “Relax. It’s not mine. See?” He pointed at another customer, who seemed to be talking to her cell phone. “Besides, what if it was a call from the babysitter? About the kids?”

Sheila calmly reminded him that their babysitter had the number to ‘her’ cell phone. She gently took hold of his hand. “Besides, we’re supposed to be celebrating your new promotion, tonight. Privately.” She smiled.

Darryl returned his wife’s smile with his own. “Yeah, you’re right. It’s a good thing Olivia and Cole had treated me to lunch, today. Or this celebration would not have been so private.”

“Where did they take you?” Sheila asked.

“Morgan’s,” the newly promoted lieutenant replied. “And man, was that some lunch!” Darryl went on to describe the appearance of the new ADA, Paul Margolin, and the ensuing tension between him and Cole. “And if that wasn’t bad enough,” he continued, “Phoebe showed up with her new boyfriend.”

Sheila frowned. “You mean Jason Dean? The new owner of the BAY-MIRROR?”

“Yeah,” Darryl said, nodding. “It turns out that he and Olivia used to date a few years ago.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

Darryl shook his head. “I wish I were.”

Sheila added, “I wish I had been there. I bet Cole forgot all about Olivia and this new ADA, when he saw Phoebe with her new boyfriend.”

“Actually, I don’t think he was really concerned about Pho . . .” Darryl paused, as his eyes spotted a familiar figure sitting at the bar. “Well, what do you know? There’s Cole.”

Sheila asked, “Is he with Olivia?” She turned around to glance at the bar.

Shaking his head, Darryl replied, “Doesn’t look like it. I think he’s . . .” The police office saw a beautiful-looking blonde woman approach the half-demon. “I was about to say that he’s alone. But not anymore, it seems.”

Husband and wife breathlessly watched Cole, as he responded to the blonde’s attention with great interest. “Now, this is interesting,” Sheila commented.

“It’s nothing,” Darryl said, trying to assure himself. “Women come on to Cole all the time. Hell, both Olivia and Phoebe have complained about it.”

Sheila murmured, “I know how they feel.”

Darryl shot his wife a mock glare. “As I was about to say,” he continued, “In the end, both Olivia and Phoebe had nothing to worry about. And I’m certain that Cole isn’t interested in this woman.”

To Darryl’s surprise, Cole paid for his drink and followed the blonde out of the restaurant. “Well now,” Sheila said in her usual sardonic tone, “looks like he was interested, after all.”

* * * *

“Hmmmm.” The moan filled Cole’s ears. Seconds passed before he realized that it had came from his mouth. His eyes blinked open. He shot into a sitting position. “Olivia?” he muttered. The maroon-colored sheet that covered his torso, slipped to his waist.

Cole glanced around the bedroom with glazed eyes and realized that he was alone. Much to his relief. That meant Mary or whatever her name was, must have . . . His eyes spotted a pile of clothes on the floor. His clothes and those that belonged to a woman.

“Hey! You’re finally awake!” A beautiful, blond woman with gray eyes, came out of the bathroom, wearing a half-slip, pantyhose and nothing else. She greeted Cole with a smile. “Good morning!” Cole stared at her. “It’s me, Monica.”

Feeling even more dazed, Cole managed to grunt a low-key, “Morning. Uh, I, uh . . .” He shook his head. “Um, how long have you . . . have you been up?”

“Only a few minutes.” Ma-Monica’s smile became sultry. “I must say – you really know how to exhaust a lady. I didn’t think I was going to wake up.”

Embarrassment, panic and maybe just a touch of pride, whirled within Cole’s brain. “I . . . uh, thanks. Listen, can I make you some breakfast?”

Monica, or whatever her name was, reached down to the floor and picked up a bra. She proceeded to put it on. “Thanks, but no thanks. There’s a Starbucks just down the street. I can pick up a roll and coffee on my way to work.” She picked up her blouse.

“Oh. Okay.” Cole began to climb out of the bed, when he realized that he was completely nude. Great. He tightened the sheet around his waist. Then it hit him. Monica would probably expect him to call her for another date. Something he had no desire to do. He glanced up and noticed that his guest was now fully dressed.

The blonde woman grabbed her purse and coat. “Well, I better get going. It was nice . . .” Another sultry smile slid across her face. “. . . meeting you. Maybe we’ll meet again, someday.” She turned away.

“Uh, wait a minute!” Cole called after her. Ma-Monica paused. “Your phone number. I don’t have it.”

Panic filled Monica’s blue eyes. “Oh. Um, that’s okay. I’ll just give you a call. Bye!” She flashed a brief smile and disappeared from the bedroom. And out of Cole’s life. He hoped.

Cole heaved a relieved sigh. He wondered how long he would be waiting for Monica’s call. Then it struck him. He had never given her his telephone number. Either she had lied about him satisfying her in bed (God forbid!) or she had only been interested in a one-night stand. Cole hoped the latter.

Before he could crawl out of bed, the telephone on the stand, next to the bed, rang. Cole reached for the receiver. “Hello?”

A tearful voice filled his ear. “Cole? Is this you?”

Cole frowned. The voice sounded familiar. “Yeah. Who’s this?”

A few more sobs followed before the voice replied, “Deborah Mann. Oh God! It’s about my brother, Wolfie.”

Now Cole remembered. Deborah Mann. She was a well-known broker in San Francisco’s financial circles. And she also happened to be DeWolfe’s sister – and Cole’s other client from the Mann family. “Deborah, is there something wrong?”

More sobs followed. “Oh God! I’ve been trying to get in touch with you, since last night.” Cole felt a touch of guilt. “My brother . . . Wolfie . . . was found dead, last night. Murdered!”

Cole took a deep breath. Shit! A dead client. He finally collected himself and offered his condolences to the grieving woman. “Deborah, I’m so sorry. I’ll be over as soon as possible.”

END OF PART 6