Backed into a corner…

A person who is painted or boxed into a corner is someone who has created difficulties for themselves by their own actions where there are no or very few favorable outcomes.

So far, it appeared like the “Teflon Don” president Trump has been able to escape anything sticking to him, from collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, multiple instances of potential obstruction of justice charges, to many, many cases in which Trump and his cronies have simply ignored the emoluments clause of the Constitution and have used the office of the President to add to their personal coffers.

And yet, it looks like El Cheeto Supremo may have really stepped in it this time. 

The situation with the Ukraine has already presented enough evidence to finally persuaded enough members of the House that Nancy Pelosi formally announced a formal impeachment inquiry on Trump.

But, why now? After everything that happened (or rather, didn’t happen) with the Mueller report, why is it this phone call the issue that’s triggering people’s response that Trump has finally crossed the line?

The biggest thing is that it’s pretty simple to explain. As opposed to the Mueller report, which was over 400 pages, the whistleblower report is only 9 pages long.

Here’s the TL;DR:

Trump (and Guiliani, and likely others) leveraged government resources ($400 million in military aid) to pressure a foreign entity (Ukraine) to do them “a favor” (in this case: find Hillary’s missing email server and investigate Hunter and Joe Biden for corruption) for Trump’s personal gain (dig up dirt on a political rival in the 2020 election).

That right there is an impeachable offense.

Then, the White House, realizing that this call could have major implications, actively worked to cover up the event by moving all documentation related to the call to a “top secret” server meant for matters of national security, which does NOT include saving Trump’s ass.

Another one.

Then, days later, Attorney General Barr received the whistleblower report, looked it over, declared that there was “nothing to see here” and tried to make it go away. 

Possibly another one, depending on whether Barr was acting “on orders” from Trump.

Trump released the transcript of the call, and now that the whistleblower report has been made public, a number of sources have verified elements of the report (including the White House, which admitted moving all documentation about the Ukraine phone call to the top secret server).

Reports have come out stating that, per the whistleblower report, phone conversations between Trump and Putin and Trump and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia are also on this server. 

The major differences between this and everything in the Mueller report are: 

1) The Ukraine call (and visits) are linked directly to Trump and Guiliani, his personal attorney. 

2) Trump and Guiliani (and the White House) have admitted they made the call, and Trump provided a document (not a transcript) of a good portion of the conversation from that call, that shows Trump repeatedly brought up investigating the Bidens.

3) The White House has admitted moving documentation to the top secret server (although they’re trying to spin/deflect who actually ordered moving the files)

4) The whistleblower suggests in his report that the Ukraine call is just one example of a disturbing pattern of behavior from the Trump White House.

Nothing in the Mueller report is as clear-cut as this. Yes, Russia actively tried to interfere with our election, and they would have colluded with the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign was simply too inept to understand what was being offered to them. Most of the obstruction of justice incidents involve Trump wanting to do something that, if his orders had been obeyed, would have clearly been obstruction. In many of the cases, though, Trump’s subordinates simply ignored his orders and waited for him to forget about the whole thing. 

But will he be impeached? 

That’s harder to say. As of today, the House has the votes it needs to pass articles of impeachment. However, Republicans in the Senate are currently steadfast in declaring their loyalty to Trump, and a few have declared they’ll never vote for impeachment. Ironically, at least a couple of those members (I’m looking at you Graham and Moscow Mitch) have videos from the Clinton impeachment contradicting everything they’re saying now.

But, public opinion has already shifted in the last week. It’s hard to predict if the House can continue to make a case for impeachment before the public and push public opinion even further into supporting impeachment.

There was a report somewhere that said most voters were against Nixon’s impeachment when the inquiry began, but public support turned against him as the House made their case. By the time Nixon resigned, more than 2/3 of the public were in favor of impeachment.

At what point will public opinion persuade Republicans in the Senate from staying on board the sinking Trump presidency and save their own hides? It may happen sooner for those facing re-election in 2020, especially if public opinion in their home states turn in favor of impeachment. 

Trump and the GOP will likely try to stonewall the inquiry, which isn’t going to be a good look for them, considering Trump offered up the initial transcript. If they start ignoring subpoenas or trying to hide behind executive privilege now, the public may wonder what they’re hiding. 

And, as we’ve seen over the last 2 1/2 years, Trump will go to any length to keep from admitting he was wrong about anything, no matter how trivial (see: Sharpiegate). He doesn’t want to lose, but, considering all of the other investigations involving the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization, Trump likely also doesn’t want to face any legal repercussions either. 

We’ll likely get to see Trump go insane as his ego fights with the mafioso part of his brain over whether to fight or flee. Maybe Putin will set him up with a place in Moscow?

Will he quit? Does Trump have some other goodies on that top secret server that would take down Pence and other GOP members with him? Does his buddy Putin have enough kompromat on leading members of the Senate to ensure they fall in line and vote against impeachment? 

Remember, all Trump needs is 34 Senators in his back pocket, and he walks. 

Or, will Trump completely lose his shit and take us to the brink of war to cover his own ass??? I’m not talking “civil war” with far-right extremists; I mean, like, actual war, like war with Iran.

Let’s hope not.

Maybe the House will be able to make their case against Trump, public opinion will continue to rise in favor of impeachment, and enough GOP members of the Senate will discover enough of the crumbling remains of their spines to finally do something that puts Country over Party.

The Folly of Impeachment (or, maybe not)?

The New York Times came out with a breaking news story today that reveals yet another accuser of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The central point is that one of his Yale classmates had come forward to say he had witnessed Kavanaugh expose himself to an unwilling female student, and that even though he gave all of this information to the FBI, the FBI never investigated the matter.

The fact that the FBI didn’t fully investigate the other allegations against Brett Kavanaugh while he was being considered for the Supreme Court shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. The GOP made sure that the FBI’s scope was extremely limited, and gave them a short deadline to complete any type of investigation. It was clear during that time that the FBI made no effort to look into the reports made by other accusers, and that’s exactly the way the GOP wanted things.

So, naturally, the 2020 Democratic candidates now want to impeach Kavanaugh. At the same time, the House has taken it’s first baby steps into an impeachment inquiry of the Trump administration. 

The reality, though, is that nothing will come of any of it. The Democrats will crawl through the steps of some type of inquiry, but I suspect most of it is just for show for their constituents. See? We’re doing something!

The Democrats had zero chance of getting an impeachment inquiry moving while the GOP had control of both houses of Congress. Sure, they have control of the House, and now they can start proceedings and may even put together an indictment. But, it’s always been clear that it’s unlikely they’d ever get enough Republicans to flip in the Senate to actually impeach Trump.

But, now, Trump and the GOP have rigged the game even further. From other investigations in the House, we have seen that Attorney General Barr is wielding the Department of Justice as Trump’s personal law firm, and he’s done everything to obstruct any requests from the House committees.

Now, Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court. We know Kavanaugh believes in two things: that the President is above the law and cannot be indicted for breaking the law while he’s in office, and beer.

So, the impeachment proceedings will try to move forward, but Barr will actively block any requests for documentation. Trump officials will simply ignore any subpoenas to testify. If anyone actually does testify, Trump and Barr will scream “executive privilege” to keep them from giving any useful testimony.

Trump and Barr are effectively daring the House to try take the Trump administration to court for their obstruction, where they’ll simply appeal to the Supreme Court. Since Trump and the GOP have stacked the Court, all they have to do is wait. If a case goes before the Court, and the Court rules in Trump’s favor (which they will almost certainly do), they’ll set a precedent. 

Once that happens, Trump will do whatever the hell he wants, and there’s little anyone can do to stop him. 

Even if things don’t go that far, if the proceedings drag into 2020, Trump will use his “bully pulpit” to scream that the Democrats are only using impeachment as a way to try discredit him. They can’t beat him “fair and square”, so they’re “cheating” to try steal the election. Trump’s cronies will eat it up.

Should Trump lose in 2020, don’t expect him to go away gracefully either. If things look bad for Trump, you can bet he and the GOP will start screaming about voter fraud again. If the election is close (and even if it’s not), I fully expect Trump not to concede. 

Trump and Barr will challenge results in a few states, and if it gets to the Supreme Court, so what? All they need is Kavanaugh to back them. 

But, I think maybe there’s another way around this. Forget about impeaching Trump. Let’s take this new information about Kavanaugh and the FBI and impeach Kavanaugh. 

Here’s my thinking on this. Yes, impeaching Kavanaugh has the same problems as impeaching Trump. Even if the House convicts, there’s no way the GOP members of the Senate will flip, especially if it means implicating themselves in a scandal. And, yes, Barr will continue to obstruct the House in every way. 

Get enough information out to condemn Kavanaugh in the court of public opinion, though, and it may just be enough. I know, Dr. Ford’s testimony wasn’t enough before, but if you bring forth other witnesses, and also paint a picture that shows that the FBI made no effort to fully investigate the other accusers (and who ordered them not to), and then we may be on to something.

There’s no executive privilege to invoke, unless the House starts following the path of who prevented the FBI from investigating. Since it’s not Trump personally, he’ll grumble about it, but not as much. 

If the court of public opinion goes against Kavanaugh bigly, Trump will run like hell. Trump will start saying he “barely knew the guy”, etc. 

Then, you make Kavanaugh an issue in GOP Senate races, especially in ones that may be tight. 

Postpone the investigation until after the elections, but keep pushing it as an issue in GOP Senate races. 

The Democrats may still not win enough seats to get a super-majority in the Senate, but it could help them flip the Senate. 

And, if the Democrats win the White House and manage to finally get Trump out of there, they’ll remove Barr as well.

Then, finally, the House can begin a real impeachment hearing into Kavanaugh, who has no business being on the Court.

Maybe they don’t even need to move forward with anything until the election. If the Democrats were smart, they’d let the spectre of impeachment hang on Kavanaugh, and keep bringing up the fact that the FBI failed to do a complete investigation of all of Kavanaugh’s accusers and the possibility that Kavanaugh lied under oath. 

Trump is already screaming that Kavanaugh should sue the media for libel and have the DOJ back him up. Trump doesn’t realize that a libel suit (especially one backed by the DOJ) will just keep the media spotlight focused on Kavanaugh and his accusers. That’s exactly what Trump doesn’t want. 

Alas, all of this is wishful thinking. So far, the Democrats have shown that they are neither savvy or smart enough to build a strategy around such an idea. With Trump creating any number of new scandals every week, it would be nearly impossible to keep the media focused on Kavanaugh. 

Voting out Trump and impeaching Kavanaugh won’t completely undo the damage that the Trump administration has done (and continues to do) while in office, but, man, it would be a great start.

Game of Thrones Recap S8:EP5 “The Bells” or “Let’s nuke the series from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure”

Ugh, Game of Thrones, for fuck’s sake…

WARNING: This is a spoiler-laden rant about Game of Thrones. If you have NOT watched the latest episode, DO NOT KEEP READING!!!

LAST CHANCE!

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!! YARRR!!!

Now, granted, there are some pretty great visuals in this episode of Game of Thrones, which you may or may not appreciate depending on how much you’re yelling at the screen over the horrid writing that came along with those visuals.

The episode opens with Daenerys locked away in Dragonstone. She’s not eating and not sleeping and refuses to see anyone. Naturally, Tyrion decides that he can cheer her up by revealing that someone has betrayed her. Daenerys, though, feels like everyone has betrayed her, including Jon. Tyrion reveals that it’s Varys. Dany already suspected as much, and quickly puts together the pieces that Varys is now on “Team Jon”. She knows the reason this is all happening is because Jon decided (for reasons) to reveal his true parentage to his sisters. Sansa told Tyrion, who then told Varys, who is now trying to tell anyone he can, which is exactly what Dany warned Jon would happen.

Jon opts to drop by to see how things are going. He’s arrived in time to watch Varys get barbecued, and he has another “chat” with Dany. By chat, I mean make out a bit before Jon pushes Dany away.

Mind you. I’m like 99% sure that NOBODY in the show has said anything about Dany being Jon’s aunt, and certainly these two HAVE NOT! Yes, I know, many fans may understand this, but I’d argue that casual viewers would not, especially since this is THE CORE OF THE FUCKING CONFLICT between them. It’s frustrating because one conversation between these two characters could lay out this conflict (Jon’s weirded out about being in love with Dany and being related to her, which is probably a big no-no in the North, where Dany is okay with it because she was raised as a Targaryen and Targaryens were fine with incest. The crux is that Dany wants Jon to embrace the incest part of his family heritage, but not his claim on the Iron Throne — should they win). Since nobody appears to love her in this kingdom, Dany decides she’s going to rule with fear.

Tyrion once again tries to convince Dany to not kill everyone in King’s Landing, and says if the bell towers are ringing, it means that the city has surrendered and they can stop the siege (of course, this is the first time we’ve heard anything about bells meaning any such thing, but whatever). Dany reluctantly agrees.

Jamie has been captured by Dany’s ground forces trying to return to King’s Landing, so Tyrion goes with Jon to perform a little treason of his own. He frees Jamie, then tells Jamie to get to Cersei, convince her to ring the bells and surrender the city, then escape through the same secret cove Tyrion did previously and be free to live out their days together. There’s a great, touching goodbye between the two brothers.

Then comes the morning of the attack. Although they capture Jamie, the Hound and Arya cruise on through Dany’s army with no problem. Jamie also slips into the city.

Euron is out in the bay with dozens of ships armed with the spiffy scorpions. The Golden Company marches outside the gates, ready to go toe-to-toe with Jon’s ground forces of Unsullied, Dothraki and Northmen.

And here’s where things go horribly wrong. Among the scenes of Lannister and Greyjoy men prepping for the coming battle, we’re shown shots of the scorpions – specifically that the magic easy-loading, rapid-firing that can easily be armed and fired by one man are gone. Each machine takes a crew of men to painstakingly load and arm the scorpions, which matches what we saw with Bronn in Season 7, but NOT what we saw in the previous episode. (You know, where they could hit a moving dragon at long range with precision and fire at will) So, something is clearly amiss.

Dany decides to attack by diving at the ships with the sun at her back, making her hard to spot until it’s too late. For this battle, the scorpions also returned to having plot-convenient stormtrooper-like accuracy, so, combined with their now slow-reload times, Dany and Drogon make short work of the Iron Fleet and fly off unscathed. She quickly moves on to the walls of King’s Landing, where she easily decimates the scorpions on the walls.

Dany’s signal to the ground troops to attack? It’s when Drogon explodes through the gate behind the Golden Company, raining fire and debris on the sellswords. (See? Cool visual!) She and Drogon roast most of the Golden Company, leaving her ground troops with an easy march into the city.

And, at that point, the battle is basically over. There’s some fighting in the streets, but it’s not long before the Lannister troops realize they’re outmatched. There are cries in the streets to “ring the bells” – because apparently everyone in the city knows about this bell ringing thing. Dany lands Drogon on a parapet while they wait for the bells.

Jamie hasn’t been able to reach Cersei, though, and as he opts to try get to her through the cove, he runs into Euron, who has a) survived and b) arrived at the exact same spot at the exact same time as Jamie has because of course he does.

Jamie and Euron duel for Cersei? And, Jamie wins, but not without getting very fatal blows from Euron, yet he can still stumbles on into the castle.

Someone eventually rings the bells. Jon sighs, thinking the job is done. Everyone stands down.

Except…

Dany, who has won the day, glares angrily at the Red Keep. After a minute or so, she decides “fuck it” and takes off with Drogon. Then, she proceeds to lay waste to the entire city of King’s Landing and everyone in it. After watching Dany fly off, Grey Worm decides to “fuck it” as well and he and the ground troops begin killing everyone on the ground.

This is the moment that is already causing huge debates online. I’m on the side that even with the hints that Daenerys could be brutal, I think they’ve taken too many shortcuts in this season. Her “descent” into becoming the “Mad Queen” isn’t shown to us, especially after spending so much time trying to turn her into someone more heroic.

Because the show’s creators are entirely focused on hitting all of the plot beats they’ve planned for the last episodes, they’ve completely ignored the characters in the story. So, much like Dany, characters are making bonkers decisions that run completely against their typical behavior, and it ruins the overall effect. Daenerys’ fall is just the most egregious example (so far).

Jon, of course, mostly stands around doing nothing, as he gawks in shock as Dany and his own troops decide it’s a killing free-for-all. He eventually kills one of his own men trying to rape an innocent woman. Eventually, he realizes that Dany may have forgotten she has men in the city and is just as likely to kill all of them, so he orders everyone to fall back.

Instead of seeing a final conflict between the two queens, Jamie and Cersei wind up trapped underneath the Red Keep. They’re trying to escape, but find that the exits are sealed, and wind up dying together as the Red Keep falls on top of them.

Oh sure, there’s a Cleganebowl, which was fine, but there’s no final confrontation between the two Queens, which was really disappointing. Qyburn dies as well, and I imagine a lot of people cheered at that (I did).

And Arya… there’s a good, what, 15 minutes of watching Arya try to escape the city? After entering the keep, the Hound convinces Arya to turn back; don’t let her quest for revenge consume her as it has for him. Go and find a way to live (and maybe murder fewer people?)

So, Arya leaves, but now, she’s on the ground scrambling with everyone else trying to escape Dany’s wrath as she continues to rain fire and destruction down on King’s Landing. After so many close calls it almost becomes laughable, Arya conveniently finds a “pale horse” in the aftermath and rides out of the city.

And. That’s it. Daenerys wins! The Game of Thrones is over! Right?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?

No. Not really.

The most frustrating thing is that so many of the character missteps could have been fixed. The creators are so focused on just getting through their plot beats that not once did they take a step or two back and think: “Whoa, hold on. Why is character X doing Y?” A couple of scenes here, a few lines of dialog there; it might not fix everything, but it would have helped connect some of the dots.

One day, maybe, we’ll get a chance to finally read how George R. R. Martin would have ended the series, and it’ll (hopefully) be a more satisfactory conclusion. That’s assuming GRRM gets around to finishing the series.

But, so far, this season has been a pretty mixed bag. There have been some great moments, but overall, the story is simply flying through the plot beats to get to the finale.

There’s no right way to fix it either. Should HBO have stuck to their guns and kept the show running? Let Benioff and Weiss leave the show and hand it off to someone else? Pushed them into doing two full seasons? There’s no guarantee a new team would have finished the show any better, and more likely, things could have gone a lot worse. If the shows creators are burned out, forcing them to produce more episodes would have also likely created a few more “stinker” episodes just to meet the commitment.

It’s just a shame to see a really great show finish up this way.

Game of Thrones thoughts – S8-04 – Last of the Starks

This is a continuing series on the final season of Game of Thrones.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS!!!

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED! If you keep reading past this point, you either don’t care about GoT or about being spoilers because I will be talking about things that happen in the episode.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS…

Okay, so, let’s quickly recap the Long Night (episode 3) death total. Apparently, I was completely wrong about some of the characters surviving the fight. In fact, all of the major characters, and most of the minor ones, survived the night.

I did go into this week’s episode expecting things to be kind of slow after last week’s epic episode, but it was kind of “meh” instead.

The first, say, third of the episode was pretty good. The survivors of Winterfell are given a chance to mourn the dead and celebrate living.

The Gendy lordship scene was a bit odd. Danaerys starts off by acknowledging first who his father is, then goes on about how his father tried to murder her and her brother when they were young, and finally decides oh, you’re a hero of this battle, so I should make you a lord. So, she does. She recognizes him as a Baratheon, and names him lord of Storm’s End.

This prompts some cheers amongst the crowd and begins the celebration.

To me, the Gendry/Arya scene felt forced. Sure there’s an attraction there, but I always got the vibe that Gendry (until last week) thought of Arya as more of a sister than a potential lover. Sure, Gendry was drunk and excited that he’s a lord now and could marry a lady like Arya. Alas, no, Arya shoots him down, and I think a sober Gendry would have known better.

Yep, I’m totally fine with Jamie/Brienne hooking up. I’m not so thrilled with the final scene between those two. If, after Jamie tells Brienne that he will always pick Cersei, she knocks him on his ass, then storms away with tears in her eyes, I would have been fine with that. I’m not as thrilled with her just standing there crying though; it felt completely out of character.

Then there’s Jon/Dany. It’s an interesting conflict between the two. Jon is hung up on the idea that she’s his aunt, but Dany cares more about his claim to the Iron Throne. Jon feels obligated to tell his sisters, but Dany understands that if he does, it won’t stay secret for long. She also understands that it won’t matter what he wants, once people learn who he is, especially after seeing the people cheer for him earlier that night. She begs him to keep it a secret, but Jon refuses.

And – then – the show goes sideways –

Jon tells Sansa/Arya who he is, via Bran (who apparently is only still around to relay this info). He swears them both to secrecy, but the first chance she gets, Sansa tells Tyrion, who then tells Varys.

Instead of resting their men and trying to rebuild their forces, Dany pushes to go for King’s Landing. Everyone reluctantly agrees.

Jon decides to lead the forces on land, and so says goodbye to his friends. He does not, however, say goodbye to Ghost!!! For fucks sake, man, could you not have spared a minute for your dire wolf??? The shot of a sullen Ghost watching his master leave is just as sad as watching Brienne crying after Jamie leaving.

Strangely, this seems to be the last scene for Tormund and Sam/Gilly, so why not simply have let them die during the battle, other than to give them “happy” endings, which generally don’t happen in Game of Thrones.

Arya and the Hound decide to ride off to King’s Landing. They both say they have some killing to do. Presumably, the Hound wants his shot at the Mountain, and Arya will want Cersei.

My prediction there? Jamie will probably be the one to kill Cersei, adding Queenslayer to his list of titles.

Oh, and somehow, Bronn just strolls into Winterfell and finds Jamie and Tyrion drinking together. Bronn happily threatens to kill both Tyrion and Jamie if they don’t come up with a better counter-offer to what Cersei is offering to kill the two of them. Tyrion offers him Highgarden, and Bronn goes on his merry way.

Then…

There’s a “fast travel” moment – and Dany, her dragons, and what’s left of her fleet are arriving back at Dragonstone. Dany is flying casually on Drogon with Rhaegal next to her. Suddenly, Rhaegal is slammed with a giant crossbow bolt. As he struggles to stay in the air, another pierces his neck, and he tumbles into the sea. Dany turns to find some of Euron Greyjoy’s fleet coming around a bend of a cove –

In the time since their meeting and supposed cease-fire, Cersei and her team have a) redesigned the scorpions, b) mass produced them (as we learn later), including mounting them on Euron’s ships complete with custom squid-like appendages to keep with Euron’s motif, c) the new scorpions are also magically auto-loading (unlike the version Bronn had to use in season 7) d) Cersei/Euron figured out that Dany was heading back to Dragonstone, e) so Euron sat around waiting for days for them to reappear, and f) somehow managed to get the drop on a rider on a dragon who should have seen the ships long before they saw her.

Oh, it gets better. Dany opts to charge the ships. There’s a moment of tension as she charges at them and Euron lines up his shot, but Dany finally relents and turns back. At this point, after Euron and his men hit Rhaegal with deadly accuracy at long range, now plot-conveniently suddenly have Stormtrooper accuracy while Dany, at a much closer range, turns and flees the scene.

Also, never mind the fact that Dany could have veered left, then once out of range, quickly double-backed around the same island “concealing” Euron’s ships and blasted them to shreds before they could come about. I suspect she’ll think of that in next week’s episode.

Bummed he can’t kill the last dragon, Euron turns his scorpions on Dany’s fleet, and once again, he and his men are deadly accurate and quickly destroy the last of her fleet. Somehow, Euron manages to capture Missande while ignoring all of the other survivors from the destroyed ships.

After, there’s a new discussion at Dragonstone where everyone does what they can to prevent Dany from tearing off to King’s Landing and burning it to the ground. They’re aware that Cersei is bringing all of the locals into the city, creating a human shield. They convince Dany to give Cersei a chance to surrender before destroying the city, so the people will “know” that it’s Cersei’s fault that they’re being burnt to a crisp.

Later that evening, there’s a long discussion between Tyrion and Varys about whether Danaerys is really the right person to sit on the Iron Throne, especially now that they have another option (i.e. Jon). Tyrion sticks to Team Dany, but Varys seems to be leaning towards Team Jon.

Jamie, after deciding to stay with Brienne in Winterfell, learns from Sansa about Euron’s ambush at Dragonstone, and everyone figures Dany’s going to burn King’s Landing to cinders. That night, Jamie decides to go back to Cersei. This brings an annoying scene where Brienne begs him to stay, and says that Jamie is a good man. Jamie tells Brienne a brief list of things he’s done and would have done for Cersei, and leaves Brienne in tears.

Of course, for one final, tense scene, we have Dany, Drogon, Tyrion, Grey Worm and I guess the Queen’s personal guard of Unsullied rally outside the gates of King’s Landing. Oh, and look, now every parapet of the castle has one of those new auto-loading scorpions upon it. Cersei is feeling pretty smug at this point, and has Missande in cuffs with her (and others) above the gate.

The hands of the respective queens walk out to the middle. Tyrion offers Dany’s terms of surrender, and Qyburn counters with Cersei’s offer for Dany to surrender or they’ll kill Missande right now. Tyrion tries to convince Cersei, and she has the Mountain lop off Missande’s head. Dany simply storms off.

And, for whatever reason, Cersei just lets them walk away. She’s got Dany, Tyrion and her other leaders right there, in range of her archers, and Drogon is riiiiight over there, maybe in range of the scorpions. Why she doesn’t take her shot and finish “the whole lot” right then is beyond me.

So… yeah. The episode was a mixed bag. The first half was pretty good, and the second half was a mess. Cersei has been reduced to a one-dimensional Bond villain. The writers seem to be pushing Dany to becoming the “Mad Queen.” Jon will likely try to do something honorable and get himself killed.

We only have a couple of more episodes left, regardless. I would guess that next week will be the final battle for King’s Landing, and the last episode will wrap up all of the loose ends after the battle?

Maybe it’ll end up with: Hail Queen Arya, First of Her Name, Slayer of the Night King, and Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms?

Never Tell Me the Odds (of Game of Thrones)…

Never Tell Me the Odds…

Apparently, Vegas actually has odds up on who is going to survive the final season of Game of Thrones, and even odds on various fan theories.

Variety: Vegas Odds on Game of Thrones Final Season

In light of this week’s episode (Season 8, Episode 2), I was thinking about the odds I’d give the characters surviving next week’s episode, which will be the “final” battle for Winterfell.

(WARNING: There are spoilers below for this season!!! If you’re not caught up to the latest episode, please don’t keep reading!!!)

Here are the odds I’d give for who’s going to die next week. To clarify: 100% means they’re fodder, 0% means they’ll live on for at least another episode.

Winterfell: 100%

Should be a no-brainer that Winterfell is probably going to fall, fell?, taken, destroyed, whatever. There are a lot of theories about how it will happen, like the Night King is now some sort of brilliant strategist or something. So far, he’s just been using his superior numbers to overwhelm anyone in their path, and it’s worked out pretty well.

They could throw in a twist, though, especially with all the innocents taking refuge in the crypts.

Theon Greyjoy: 100%

Theon’s arc at this point is all about him seeking redemption, and his final act will be redeeming himself in the eyes of the Starks, who’s he’s repeatedly betrayed. What better way for him to redeem himself than to sacrifice his own life to protect one of the Starks?

Grey Worm/Missandei: 100% that one will die: 80% both will die

Planning their post-conquest life just before a major life or death battle? Yeah, that’s almost a guarantee that one or both of them will die.

Samwell / Bran: 100% that one of them will die

Bran is using himself as bait to lure the Night King out, so there’s a very good chance that plan will not end well. Both Sam and Bran’s usefulness at this point really revolves around discovering a way to stop the White Walkers and their knowledge of Jon’s true parentage. Sam is long thought to be George R. R. Martin’s proxy in the books, so I’d give him the edge on sticking around a bit longer.

(Side bet: Night King dies and Bran becomes the new Night King: 10%)

Varys: 100%

Varys is basically fodder at this point.

Gendry: 100%

He’s created all of the dragon glass weapons, so he’s done. His status as Robert’s bastard probably won’t save him. At least he got to have sex with Arya, so that’s something?

Anyone I haven’t named: 100%

Podrick, Ed, Baeric, etc. Time to make some new White Walkers!

Sir Brienne of Tarth: 70%

Like Theon, she’s pretty much played out her arc at this point, and being knighted is just icing on the cake. What nobler death could she have than to die protecting the innocents at Winterfell? I’m reducing her odds just a bit for the potential fun of watching Tormund continue to try to find a way to impress/seduce her.

Dragons: 70% that one will die

My prediction here is that one will die trying to kill the Night King’s new flying mount. The remaining dragon may be in a situation where he has to roast both the NK mount and his brother in order to kill them.

Jamie/Tyrion: 50%

I’d say one or the other is worm food. I don’t see both brothers walking away from this one. One of them may be needed in the final confrontation with Cersei. Between the two of them, I’d put Tyrion as the one to die. If Jamie proves himself on the battlefield, he might be useful helping command the remainder of the forces from Winterfell.

Tormund: 30%

Things are going to be real ugly the rest of the season, and Tormund will be a breath of fresh (and funny) air. And, should Brienne survive, he can keep hitting on her.

Arya: 30%

Outside of the rumor that she’s GRRM’s favorite character, I’m not sure if she’ll make it till the end. I’ll give her a chance simply so she could have a shot at actually killing Cersei.

The Hound: 25%

Only because I think there are a huge number fo fans who want to see a final Cleganebowl between the Hound and his undead? brother, the Mountain.

Jorah Mormont: 25%

I could see him being fodder at this point, but I could also see him take over as Hand should Tyrion die. If Tyrion lives, then Jorah is likely fodder.

Jon “Snow”: 0%

He’ll try like hell to get slaughtered, but he’ll escape just in the nick of time (again).

Now that Danaerys knows about his parentage, he’ll be around until the Game is almost done. If he hadn’t told Dany, I’d put his odds at 70%

(Side bet: Odds that Dany feeds him to a dragon later: 50%)

Danaerys: 0%

Again, she and Sansa are still playing the Game, so she’ll be around until the end. She’s not super thrilled to learn about Jon’s little secret (and she’s not pissed that she’s sleeping with her nephew).

Sansa: 0%

She’s still in the game. My money is also betting she will learn about Jon’s true heritage, and there will be a tug of war between her and Dany over who has a stronger claim to the throne. If they were deciding now, Dany has two armies, so “bigger army diplomacy” would win.

But, how much of anyone’s armies will survive the battle for Winterfell is anyone’s guess.

It’s pretty clear, at least in my opinion, that the Game will end up being a battle of wills between Cersei, Dany and Sansa, or whoever’s still alive. Bigger-army-diplomacy will also play a role. (So, maybe, the Night King wins the Iron Throne?)

My personal favorite: Jon kills the Night King, only to die and become the new Night King, and he (the currently “most-legitimate” claim to the throne) beats everyone, wins the Game and takes the Iron Throne.

So, anyway, those are my odds for next week’s episode. I’ll have to post again next week to review how right (and wrong) I was.

Captain Marvel: Good, but Not Great

For the last ten years, Marvel Studios has done an amazing job creating a cinematic universe using “second-tier” heroes from their comic books. They’ve also done a pretty uncanny job of casting the right people as the heroes. Today, who could imagine someone besides Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man or Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America (and so on).

Although Captain Marvel is a good, decently paced, and entertaining latest entry in the MCU catalogue, it’s just misses the mark of being one of the great films. It’s like the Tony Romo of the MCU films: Good movie, great numbers ($900 million at the box office so far), but is just missing that extra something special to push it over the top.

The first part of the movie is a bit boring. Starforce member Vers (Danvers/Capt Marvel) suffers from amnesia and is haunted by nightmares. She has been a part of Starforce for the last six years and has no memories before that. She has issues maintaining control of her emotions, and is urged by her mentor and commander as well as the Kree leader she must learn to control them.

On a mission to recover a spy, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, an alien race of shapeshifters who the Kree have been at war with, and is subjected to a memory probe. Strangely, although Vers has amnesia, there’s nothing that prevents the Skrulls from scrolling through her memories with a high-tech TiVo. The Skrulls are looking for a specific Kree agent, and as luck would have it, Vers memories lead them to her. Vers escapes, but destroys the Skrulls ship, so both she and the Skrulls crash land on Earth in 1995.

Once on Earth, Vers runs into a young Nick Fury and SHIELD, and hilarity ensues as they try to track down the Kree agent on Earth before the Skrulls do.

The amnesia angle is a bit of a problem, because it seems like the writers have given little for Brie Larson to run with outside of being a stoic warrior. Once she has a chance to interact with her co-stars, she’s much better, and in some cases, her co-stars really outshine her. Larson does fine with what she’s given, though. She may be the right choice for Carol Danvers/Capt Marvel, but we’ll have to wait to see her in Avengers: Endgame to see if Larson has more to work with.

At just over two hours, the movie feels pretty well paced. As with any Marvel movie, you probably don’t want to overthink the plot too much (like a nit picky thing for me is: where is her Kree uniform? Danvers wears normal clothes during a large part of her time on Earth, but there’s no sign of her Kree outfit or some type of Kree fanny-pack that she’s wearing. Sure it’s something they could have explained in a few seconds, but they didn’t) . The 90’s references are fun, and ensures the film has a pretty great soundtrack. The movie does a decent job of introducing the Kree/Skrull conflict and throws in a few MCU connections.

The creators try to give Capt. Marvel a big “hero” moment late in the film. A lot of the elements are there, like flashbacks of Danvers struggling in moments in her past. But, there’s no real context around the flashbacks, and the stakes aren’t really established, so when she overcomes the challenge, it lacks the emotional connection they were shooting for. You can see what they were trying to do, and I think, with a few changes, they could have gotten pretty close.

Spider-Man: Homecoming borrows a scene like this directly from the comics, and they do a much better job of making the “hero” moment work.

The weakest part of the movie comes near the end. Once Capt. Marvel “unlocks” her powers, she masters complete control of her nearly apparently near-unlimited power within about 10 minutes of screen time. Up until that point, we’ve only ever seen Marvel shoot fusion blasts from her hands. The audience has no idea that she can do the other things or was even trained to do anything else with her powers.

I have no problem with Captain Marvel being ultra-powerful, but for me it’s a case of lazy writing. At least show the audience some glimpse of her doing something else with her powers beforehand.

Hopefully, by Endgame, Carol Danvers/Capt. Marvel will have her memories back and can bring more of a human element to her powers, so she doesn’t end up feeling like the Superman of the MCU. I really don’t want to see Capt. Marvel become this emotionless god-like character like DC has done with Superman in the DCCU/Snyder-verse.

The most touching moment of the film? For me, it was the opening credits. Normally, Marvel movies open with an animated logo sequence. As the 3D logo falls into place, we see animations of comic panels inside the logo related to the hero in the movie. For their 10th anniversary logo, the logo changed to splice in video clips of the heroes from the entire MCU. This year, in honor of Stan Lee (who passed away last November), the logo shows clips of all of Lee’s cameos from the MCU movies (I’m assuming only MCU, but I guess they could have clips from the older movies). At the end of the animation, the logo fades to black before displaying a single, simple message: “Thank you, Stan”.

I’ll be honest. I sorta had high hopes for this film. With this being the first major Marvel movie starring a female super hero, and Marvel knocking it out of the park in their most of their most recent films, I really hoped they would do something special with Captain Marvel.

Instead, it feels more like a standard MCU-paint-by-numbers origin story, and while the movie is good, it just misses that something extra to make it memorable.

It’ll be interesting to see if Captain Marvel becomes a part of one of the other teams (Avengers, Guardians), or if they’ll keep her solo and have a Captain Marvel sequel. Based on the box office numbers, a sequel seems like a pretty sure bet. But with the Disney/Marvel acquisition of 20th Century Fox (and the rights to Marvel’s top-tier heroes), it’s too early to guess if Marvel will re-think “phase four” of their plans for the MCU.

What’s a Poor Billionaire (ahem, ‘person of means’) To Do?

In the last week or so, we’ve seen at least a couple of billionaires announce or drop hints that they were exploring the idea of running for President.

Michael Bloomberg has been dropping hints for awhile, but the one out of left field has to be Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks.

Bloomberg has at least some experience as a former New York City mayor, but Schultz wants to follow the Trump playbook.

In the comics, these bored billionaires would become super heroes and fight crime: Batman, Iron Man, Green Arrow, Moon Knight, etc.

In the real world, some billionaires try to make a difference in the world through philanthropy, like Bill Gates.

But, then, there are these guys. Men who, like Trump, live in their own protective bubbles and have surrounded themselves with ‘yes men’ who happily praise any idea their bosses come up with.

After seeing two years of insanity of Trump, what makes these men want to run?

Are they bored, and looking for the next big thrill? Being President would certainly mean obtaining power at a level their fortunes can’t begin to touch.

Are they seeing what Trump is getting away with now and thinking: “Look at what Trump is getting away with, and he’s a fucking moron. Just imagine what someone with real intelligence could do with that kind of power.” They’re looking for new tax breaks or other policy changes that could help add more to their pockets and the pockets of their billionaire friends?

Are they seeing the winds of change blowing in after the 2018 midterms, with fresh Democratic faces advocating for things like Medicare for all and new taxes on the wealthy, and they want to ensure such things never happen?

Maybe they want to take a turn at being Putin’s puppet? 

As we’ve seen with the continued backlash in social media over Schultz’s announcement (which shocked Schultz and absolutely no one else), many Americans are simply not thrilled with the idea of another “Trump”, even an “anti-Trump” billionaire with zero experience running the country.

Sure, there’s the chance that a billionaire “independent” candidate could create a huge mess in 2020, like Perot and his charts did in 1992. This time, though, they could snag a huge batch of “anyone but Trump” voters, which might pull enough votes from a Democratic challenger and help re-elect Trump.

Or, maybe, that’s the plan? They may despise Trump and hate most of his policies. But, they have to love what he’s doing for the rich and corporations. What if one of them runs, not to win, but to steal enough “anti-Trump” votes to ensure that Trump wins re-election?

So far, though, Schultz also hasn’t helped himself by continuing to shoot himself in the foot, and chances are that, hopefully, his “campaign” will end before it even gets out the gate. After seeing the reaction to Schultz, the other billionaires appear to have decided to hold off a bit.

Maybe they should look into a buying a cape and dressing up as a bat?

Justice League – Watchable, but pretty meh

A couple of weeks ago, a buddy of mine and I went to see Thor: Ragnarok (again). Afterward, we were discussing if Ragnarok was worthy of being in our personal top five Marvel movies. 

 

For both of us, it was. 

 

Last week, I watched a review of Justice League and the most positive thing they could say about the movie was that they considered to be the 2nd best DC Cinematic Universe movie behind Wonder Woman. 

 

So, now, after seeing it, where does Justice League land, in my opinion? 

 

Meh? It’s watchable, but it’s also kind of boring. 

 

Instead of the top five Marevel movies, think about which one you would consider to be the WORST of the MCCU movies (starting with Iron Man in 2008). 

 

Your pick for the worst Marvel movie is still able to tell a more coherent story and may actually have a better villain than Justice League. 

 

Despite this, you may ultimately agree that Justice League is the second best DC movie to date (and that depends on how you felt about Man of Steel). The bar, though, is so low at this point, it’s hard not to beat those expectations.

 

Justice League also has the misfortune of following Thor: Ragnarok: It’s easily the best Thor movie to date, and it’s a showcase of the MCCU hitting all the right notes. 

 

So what worked in Justice League? 

 

Certainly, adding a bit of humor to the movie certainly helped along with making Batman less murdery (although Affleck’s “phoned-it-in” performance seems pretty obvious he’s lost interest in the role – or maybe that was his intent for Batman to sulk because he’s not killing so many bad guys this time around).

 

Gal Gadot is still great as Wonder Woman.  Flash and Cyborq are pretty good, and even Aqua-brah is at least tolerable. It’s disappointing that the movie didn’t take a bit more time fleshing out the back stories of these guys, especially Aquaman.  They made him look cool, sure, but there’s just not much revealed about his own story outside of the fact that he’s Atlantean.  There are some funny moments, and there are a few moments of seeing the group start to bond that are fun to watch. 

It certainly feels like Whedon had a hand in some of the bonding scenes.

 

The opening song is a bit gut-wrenching. It’s meant to echo the feeling of the world losing hope as they mourn the death of Superman, but the song also touches a bit close to home with the political situation here in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

 

I’m still a bit disappointed in Cyborg being in the League, but that’s mostly because of my background. When I read & collected comics in the 80s, the sixth member of the Justice League was Green Lantern and Cyborg was part of the Teen Titans. 

 

What didn’t work?

 

It’s hard to get into what went wrong with the movie without delving into spoilers. Basically, Batman, for reasons, suspects that something bad is coming, and that the world is in danger. He needs to put together a team to fight this thing and hopefully stop it and help restore “hope” to the world.  Beyond that, the story is a complete mess.

 

Part of the problem with Justice League is that it wants us to forget about Batman vs Superman. Part of the entire theme of that movie was that world wasn’t sure about Superman, but now that he’s dead, everyone loves him. Batman already has files on the “recruits” so it feels odd that he’s got to find them and/or isn’t sure how to approach them. 

 

Another part of the problem is the main villain: Steppenwolf. For one, he looks too much like Mars did in Wonder Woman. He’s just not interesting. He shows up, and he’s out to destroy the world: for reasons. There are hints about a backstory, but there are almost no details. 

 

Unless you’re deeply familiar with DC comics, you’ll have no idea who or what Steppenwolf or parademons or mother boxes are. They could have swapped any of the bad guys out with vampires or zombies or giant alien robots and you’d care about the same.

 

Why does this suck? 

 

Towards the end of the credits, the movie recognizes some of the brilliant creators who have worked on Justice League over the years. The Justice League/Justice League of America/JLA have been in comics since 1960, yet Warner Bros/DC could not find a single story from almost 60 years of comic archives by some of the greatest creators in the industry that would have worked in a movie? 

 

The other sad thing is that the villain most fans were truly excited to see doesn’t show up until the post credits scene. He looks amazing, and I look forward to seeing him in action. But again, in my comics background, that bad guy isn’t one of the JLA’s normal opponents.

 

I guess Steppenwolf is meant to be a kind of an harbinger of Darkseid, but outside of Steppenwolf saying the word “Darkseid” once in the film, the movie never mentions anything about that. 

 

It’s almost like the movie creators put a list of names of villains that could be powerful enough for the League to fight on a wall and just threw a dart at the wall to pick one at random. 

 

And don’t get me started on what happens with Superman. 

 

Ultimately, the movie suffers from the same thing that all of the DCCU movies have suffered from: they’re desperately trying to catch up to Marvel. But, they don’t want to spend the time in creating individual movies and building the characters up to a point where a movie with them working as a team makes sense. 

 

From a software perspective, it’s like rushing a product that tries to catch up to a competitor and trying to convince buyers that they have the same “feature set” as the competition, even though the competition has spent years getting to where they are. Look at this list of features, marketing says, we check all the same boxes as the other guys. 

 

That’s what Justice League is: See? We’ve got all the things as those other guys! They have six super-heroes; we have six heroes. They have witty banter; we have witty banter.  They save the world; our guys save the world, too. They care about protecting innocent civilians, and, now, so do our guys. 

 

And for better or worse, DC can now say they’ve checked off all the boxes, and that Justice League is “just the same” as the Avengers. 

 

Except that Marvel can still tell a better, more coherent story on their worst day.

 

I won’t even bother comparing it to Thor: Ragnarok, because that wouldn’t even be a fair fight. 

 

Justice League may check off all of the boxes and it may be better than the clusterfuck that BvS, but DC still has a long way to go before they’re able to put together something that competes with the Avengers. 

 

I wouldn’t rush out to see this one; maybe it’s worth a rental. A cheap rental.

As much as DC likes rebooting their comic universe lately, I’d say that maybe it’s time to boot Zack Snyder and start over. (Find a way to keep Gal Gadot though)

 

Additional Notes:

 

I found the second post credits scene to be a complete cringeworthy mess despite the fact of who shows up in it. It’s amazing that a single two minute scene can make you exclaim “Wait, what?!?”, then “Yes!”, then “Oh, for fuck’s sake” by the end. Again, you’d think this scene would drop hints that would tie this movie into the sequel, but nope, not so much. 

 

Will DC try to make individual movies for Superman and Batman (and Flash and/or Cyborg)? Aquaman is basically done, so they’re committed there. Obviously, Wonder Woman is a go as well. Flash seems to be getting pretty positive vibes from other reviews I’ve read, so… maybe?

 

There are also the constant rumors that Affleck wants out. Do they do an Affleck solo Batman movie and have him pass the torch to a younger guy to be the new Batman?  Do they just let him off after the solo Batman movie and then retcon Batman as a younger actor and hope nobody notices? 

(No, really, Batman is really this guy not that old Affleck guy – fake news!)

 

Of course, if not Affleck, then who would be the next to wear the cowl?

The New MacBook – Just the Beginning?

This morning, I made a comment on Twitter that the new MacBook is really meant to be a “road” or “travel” or “second” computer for people who already owned Macs. It’s probably not powerful enough or flexible enough to work as an everyday computer. 

But then, on my drive into work, I was thinking that I’d heard that before…

Isn’t that what a lot of people said about the original MacBook Air in 2008?

What’s this? A computer without a CD/DVD drive? Only a single USB port? So thin you could use it as a knife? 

What was Apple thinking?!? 

As we know now, the Macbook Air is one of Apple’s best selling line of laptops, and, in fact, now represents the “budge-conscious” side of Apple’s lineup. It’s only in the last year or so that competitors in the PC world have been able to come close to replicating the Macbook Air’s form factor and weight.

What does it mean? 

Right now, the MacBook is step towards the future. We won’t know for sure until next month, but from what I’ve read the Core M processor won’t match the performance of the Core i5’s in the baseline Macbook Air’s. It probably won’t be fast enough for power users, but it may be plenty fast enough for the average computer user. 

If I remember correctly, the first generation Macbook Air suffered from the same problem. It wasn’t nearly as fast and as the other machines in Apple’s lineup. They had less memory, less hard drive space, etc. 

But that form factor was damn sexy. 

The Air’s design elements eventually spread to the Macbook Pros: thinner, lighter machines with fewer ports and no CD/DVD drive.

Like the original MacBook Air, the new MacBook has taken some gutsy steps of its own. It’s even thinner and lighter, with a Retina display, new keyboard, new trackpad, and a single USB-C port. And, like previous MacBooks, it comes in colors!

i’ve no doubt that we’ll see Apple sell a ton of them. 

Intel is working towards moving the Core i3/i5/i7 processors to the 14nm process, so it’s possible that in a couple of generations, the MacBook may be powerful enough to meet even power user demands. It will probably replace the Air lineup in a couple of years. 

The trackpad is already in the 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro, so it’s a no-brainer that the pad will move to the other MacBook Pros.

What about USB-C? 

This is the one area i’m the most curious about. How soon will (or if) Apple will ditch Thunderbolt in favor of USB-C?  Will there be any adapters, especially since right now – the MacBook won’t be able to connect to any Apple Cinema Display. How aggressive will Apple be in moving the new components into the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro lines?

Basically, how soon will my fancy new Thunderbolt dock become obsolete?

Also, if Retina now appears in the MacBook, does that mean that the MacBook Pros will bump up to 5K displays? 

Picture that: A new, thinner 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 5k display, 4 USB-C ports and weighs less than 4 pounds? 

That would be pretty sweet.

Disneyfying-Star Wars Part Two

Ok,
After reading this post by Harry Knowles of AintItCoolNews, I’m feeling a bit less pessimistic about Disney owning Star Wars.
Harry Chimes in on Star Wars
My biggest fear is that they’ll stay the course like Lucas did with the first three films and try to specifically target an 8-to-10-year-old audience.
(Of course, strangely, Lucas says he was targeting that age group, but the plot – what plot there was – really didn’t play to that age group)
The other concern was that Disney would take some of their Disney TV shows and churn out a bunch of kid-friendly shows set in the Star Wars universe. For example, they have a “sitcom” about a bunch of kids studying karate. Take that same show, cast them as padawans, put them in the Star Wars universe, and BAM! – new show!
But…
If Disney takes a more open-minded approach and opens up the Star Wars universe to both family-friendly content and more “grown-up” content, then there could be some potential for some very cool stuff. It’s certainly something Lucas would have never done.
It will be interesting to see regardless.