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2013.02.11: Attack of Anthony Disdain.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Last night we watched the "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man", a highly entertaining episode of 'The X-Files', the contents of which relate only problematically to established 'canon'. But it's a fun, fun episode.

Fun is what 'Millennium' lacks; it's dark ... mirky ... did I say 'dark' already? ... and rather ... serious. But because we had an 'X-Files' without a 'Millennium' yesterday, we had to have two episodes of the latter to go with one of the former.

1. "Blood Relatives" ... and once again we were twenty pages ahead of the characters on this one. To quote, in a sense, from "The Perfect Getaway", it was clear that our primary suspect was a 'red snapper'. As for the actual perp, at first I thought he was the guy who played Kyril Finn (IRA terrorist analog in season three of TNG; held Crusher captive), and I said to Ms. S., "hey, it's that guy from Star Trek." But I was wrong, as 'Connor' here is played by John Fleck ... who was also on TNG (and DS9 and other shows). Richard Cox, who played Finn, also made guest appearances on 'The X-Files' and 'Millennium', so not all is lost.

2. "The Well-Worn Lock" ... and yet again we 'figure it out' rather early on. But that's the point, and this is a rather weird episode. This is L&O:SVU before there was SVU. From the perspective of 2013 this 'shocking' sort of episode seems naive, but if we think of it as what it is, an episode that aired in late 1996, it's rather prescient in a way. It tackles domestic abuse not especially gracefully, but at least more ernestly than many other shows would or have done.

Many previous episodes of 'Millennium' to date could have been 'X-Files' episodes as long as a little conspiracy-this or alien-that were added; that would only diminish what was being portrayed here. Here we 'solve' the case early on, but the episode lingers, and we have to go through the trial ... then it ends once a certain catharsis has been reached, emotional rather than narrative closure. For the second episode in a row Catherine rather than Frank is highlighted early on. And here while much is obvious it's suprisingly not-heavy-handed. While it's implied that Sara is not just Connie's sister but her daughter, we are not hit over the head with how the rests of the women in this family ... relate ... to these generations of abuse. That having been said, it is a blunt and obvious plot with little subtlety or nuance. Here we have 'serial rape' or 'serial abuse' vs. a serial killer; the 'serial' aspect remains, but we are, for really the first time, not dealing with an outside perpetrator, an ex-con, a cult, or a loner. Instead it's part of the notion that what's truly terrifying is that it could -- and does -- happen here.

3. "Tunguska" ... in which Mulder ends up in Russia with Krycek. We have the return of the 'black oil', as well as something clearly rooted in the mid-90s, with Mulder and Scully taking down the type of right-wing militia group that would try to mastermind knock-off Oklahoma City bombings. It's a fully stuffed episode ... the kind that has to be a two-parter.

4. And I tried shopping at Food World (now owned by but not yet rebranded as Belle Foods). It's a sad looking facade in a sad looking shopping center just off the freeway. I've been in that parking lot once before, when Ms. S. and I about two years ago went to Trey Yuen www.treyyuen.webuda.com/ for dinner. They do not serve beer. Ms. S. used to live in the neighborhood and had shopped at that Food World before; she described it as a scary place and that I should expect a line at least ten-deep of people trying to cash checks at the customer service counter. I went mid-day and it was raining. The only scary part was the parking lot, which was filled with cars driven by the careless. The store itself was relatively bright and well-lit, the produce section was inviting, the staff was engaging, and the shelves were well-stocked. The inventory nearly mirrored that at the Belle Foods (previously Bruno's) down McFarland near the mall.

Why I was tempted to check out Food World in the first place was that I wanted to try a nearby grocery store that had an actual meat department. Take WalMart, for example: no meat is processed on-site. Everything is pre-packaged probably before even reaching a regional distribution center. Target has a more appetizing meat counter, but likewise everything seems as if it was just packaged elsewhere and then put on display. I still wonder about the meat quality at Food World, but I was interested to see that a good deal of the refrigerated meat on display was cut and packaged there. A number of pork items (in particular ribs and some of the chops) seemed to move rather quickly. If I want organic, I have to rely on Publix or, occasionally, Target. It's possible that Winn Dixie has something to offer, but I'm not sure.

5. Tonight once Ms. S. leaves I'll probably take in an episode or two of recent television, though I could also go for 'Haven'; I only have two episodes in season 3 left to go. The current guise of the skinwalker has been revealed; it's really not that much of a surprise, all things considered. This is a 'comfort show' ... just quirky enough and just small-market enough so you don't feel that everyone is watching it, so it's "yours", but also it's broadly plotted for mass appeal (like 'Bones' and 'Castle', for example).

6. We also watched episode two of 'The Taste'. The food world's dysfunctional relationship with veganism and vegan or vegetarian chefs continues. There was one episode of 'Top Chef Masters' in the first season, years ago, in which the chefs had to prepare gluten-free vegan dishes for Zooey Deschanel, and it was a near disaster. Such challenges do not make their way onto the regular 'Top Chef'. Anthony Bourdain is a great entertainer; Ms. S. admits that she likes it when he attacks Paula Deen but is upset at his anti-vegan vitriol. Are they not the same? one might ask. Superficially similar, yes, as 'styles' of food (that are not haute cuisine, one might say), but in attacking Paula Deen Bourdain is mocking someone with prestige and power, someone highly regarded by a large and vocal subculture; in contrast vegans are a small and not terribly influential minority. Fighting Paula Deen is a matter of putting her and her culinary empire in its place; mocking the latter is pretty much bullying.

That having been said, a great many vegans, vegan cooks, and much vegan cuisine deserve mockery. It's just that a show about spectacle, a show about cheering the underdog but also about tearing down anyone we feel has risen too high above his or her station -- see almost all reality competition shows, especially the 'talent' variety --, is not one poised to present 'issues' or 'ideas' fairly. It's about ratings and gaudiness; so of course they grouped three vegan chefs together (one an outspoken raw vegan fashion disaster) and of course they went down in flames. And the two outspoken ones clearly deserved to. One might also suggest or suspect that, structurally, cooks -- home or professional -- who would rather 'prove a point' as an ideologue than be open to learning and doing almost anything, are never going to be a good fit for this kind of show. But there's also a bit of question begging going on here, because these sorts of cooking shows already and always preference and presume the supiority of "French" technique or style or cuisine; deviating from that is either a template for crashing and burning, or, if you're photogenic and talented enough, for being the exception that proves the rule. See also: Season 1 of 'Top Chef Masters', which in a way was about establishing Mexican cuisine on equal-enough-footing with French and Italian ... that was, it was 'more' than Tex-Mex. One wonders: would a strictly kosher or halal cook/chef receive the same automatic disdain?
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