Currently viewing the category: "Apocalypse Project"

I recently had the pleasure of being on Timothy Westmyer’s Super Critical podcast, which is a deep dive into pop culture that surrounds nuclear weapons. Westmyer is a lovely, funny dude who knows nuke-related real world stuff, and therefore can actually speak to SCIENCE. I can — and did — speak to Fallout-related stuff.

Behold!

Timothy has other intriguing episodes on depressing pieces of pop culture such as Threads. I’ve actually not yet tackled his Twilight Zone-themed episodes, even though I covered some of them on this very blog.

Give his podcast a listen. Hopefully you’ll find me on it again sometime. Heck, demanding to be a guest worked quite well the first time! (Literally demanded. Politely, but firmly. I regret nothing.)

ICP playing in front of the Lincoln Memorial

ICP playing in front of the Lincoln Memorial

I’d love to love Insane Clown Posse, if only because of my new-found respect for their song subject matter, and in fact, their general sensibility.

There are plenty of ICP songs about mystical carnival stuff. Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope also have songs with subjects that run the gamut from Charles Whitman in the University of Texas tower, to critiques of prosperity doctrine preachers, to killing rednecks, to the everyday magic of everyday life. They’re guileless, but profane. They’re morbid-minded, but full of simple joy about basic things. All of that is a little bit…me. Even if I grew up nice and middle middle class, not bottom of the heap and fighting for self-respect like those two.

The amazing thing about ICP is that they have embraced everything uncool about themselves, and their fans by extension. Pride in poverty, in bad taste in cheap soda, pride about being mocked, and taking it back–saying yes, I am a clown, that’s ok, and turning that into not just a rabid fandom, but an entire subculture who, among their many siren calls, declares each other “Fam-a-ly!”

But it isn’t just their greasepaint clown garbe, their throwing cheap soda around, or their over-dependence on A-A-A-A rhymes. ICP also has a ridiculous, borderline spiritual mythology. First it was the dark carnival, and the Joker’s Cards albums that stressed the murderous stuff. Then the album containing the legendarily-mocked “Miracles” came out in 2010.

Another song off that album was about the end of the world. “It’s All Over” it has some of the usual ICP awkwardness (and Shaddy 2 Dope’s aggressive A-A-A-A breakdown is so unnecessary), but there’s something else going on that has captivated me.

In the video, our boys are in the middle of a city. Everyone else is panicking, but they’re not. Violent J repeats the sentiment that when all of this shit is going down–every possible apocalypse at once, because ICP can’t do anything halfway– my favorite being “aliens come and eat mankind” which proves that these are funny dudes, and have never gotten enough respect for that–he’s just going to “stand on the roof, spread my arms out, and sing.”

Near the end, is my favorite part. Violent J sings  “And you’re not missing anything when you’re gone/Plus seeing it all end and what goes on/To see this great world come to an end/Would be the next best to seeing it begin.”

In one of the tear-inducing pieces on Rogert Ebert a year or two before he died, he had a line, “I was perfectly happy before I was born.” That is to say, old Ebert didn’t fear death. Neither does ICP, it seems. The band is Christian — a supposed twist, that most ardent fans say that everyone should have seen coming — and this casualness towards the end of things could be seen as a Christian confidence in being saved. But it doesn’t come off that way, even if Shaggy introduces things with an evil revival preacher voices. The perspective, still, it comes off more human than religious. More “Can the Circle be Unbroken” than God is Not Dead because the band is accepting the end, but not spitting all over feelings and life the way that hideous movie does.

It’s a funny song, crammed with armageddon overkill, so it’s hard to highlight just one source of doom. However, it doesn’t feel like a mere joke or an alienating belief in God having their backs (and no one else’s), and that’s it. In fact, the song clarifies that “God has had enough of our shit.”

Like even the best ICP songs, this one is a big mess. But it sounds like the mess that these two guys are — it is them, not something made in a hitmaker’s factory. The realness of ICP, even after notoriety and the mantle of “worst band of all time” is obvious after a day of research, and a day spent with the most passionate Juggalos congregated in DC. For a lot of Juggalos, it’s about the scene and the acceptance perhaps more than the music. But there are moments in the music, too. This is a very strange song about death, and the death of everything and everyone, and of all things, it’s kind of comforting and optimistic. People are losing their minds and screaming, and Shaggy and J are just walking and listening to music on their headphones. It’s got the commendable swagger of Benjamin Guggenheim saying “we are dressed in our best, and prepared to go down as gentlemen” as the Titanic listed and sank.

Plus, I really like the moment when Shaggy sits on a park bench and checks out the one woman who seems more upset about the end of the world thing, but then kind of exasperated about being checked out. I am still not sure what’s happening there, but it’s hilarious.

Update: for me on ICP, check out my Spiked Online piece on the Juggalo March on Washington.

Me, except I was a girl with better hair.

Me, except I was a girl with better hair.

Spoilers for the game Fallout 3, ahoy:

The internet suggests that a lot of people knew they were hooked on Fallout 3 the moment the tutorial is over, and you leave Vault 101 to see the (irradiated) sun for the first time. For me, the opening credits in which “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” by the Ink Spots* plays, and then the camera (as it were) pulls back to show a world of desolation and ruin confirmed that Rogert Ebert, may he rest in peace, was wrong about video games not being art.

I have happy memories of Sonic, Super Mario (or rather, watching my brother and cousins play them much of the time) and of playing Mariokart 64 and Super Smash Brothers (and failing atrociously at Goldeneye) after homeschool group was over on Fridays.

I would never have insulted video games as a medium. But for more than a decade, I was stuck firmly in the N64 and the Sega Genesis era of games. I have been amused in passing by the violence of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but only enough to steal a few cars, then drive off a cliff with the cops on my tail. Not enough to really want to get anywhere in the game.

And though I don’t dislike fantasy, it rarely really gets me, so video games never grabbed me as much from that angle. I’ve beaten Shining Force 1, but I have never played Final Fantasy, Warcraft, or Elder Scrolls or anything like that.

My video game knowledge completely stalled out. Games were a bit base with me. They were about a ticcy sort of entertainment, or an itch to scratch when you want to do something with your hands. They were not about simply wanting to see what happened next.

And then I saw Boyfriend play Fallout: New Vegas and said “oooh, pretty backgrounds” and then I got very interested in the nuclear side of the apocalypse via On The Beach, and a few months ago I said, hell, Boyfriend, hook up that Xbox 360, and let’s play Fallout 3.

I was confused for weeks about basic movement, and I missed a few choice things like captions for months. It took me more than six months to play for about 130 hours. Hell, this game is seven years old already. But this game taught me (rather dangerously) that there is a whole ‘nother medium that I could fall into. It was like pretending and like watching a movie that never ended — like an emotionally effective Choose Your Own Adventure book. It was a revelation.

Everything I would gush about in respect to this game would sound obvious to people who play them. And to people who don’t (like my mother, who sticks with Myst and The Neverhood-style puzzle games without violence) it’s hard to describe the mixture of violence, frustration, curiosity, amusement and joy, within this post-apocalyptic Washington, DC.

I never played a game with emotion before, not really. I took joy in the claymation in the aforementioned Neverhood. I know the frustration and the satisfaction red shells can bring in Mario Kart. I even enjoyed the semi-tedious RPG fantasy of Shining Force. But it didn’t fully click until Fallout 3.

Basically, nuclear war happened 200 years before (which is weird, because the terrain makes it feel more recent). You were raised in Vault 101, and your dad (Liam Neeson!) raised you up, and then one day mysteriously left the vault. All else — as in, you and a thousand side quests  before you find him again– follows. The outside is a Mad Max-ian wasteland, except there are ghouls, supermutants, and warring human factions. It’s a first-person shooter, except that it’s also a sprinkle of RPG, and also you can gather objects, and wander around, and talk to characters, and read things, and basically choose a great many things including the order in which you do almost everything.

Oh, and it’s DC. It’s familiar enough DC to give me the creeps (though not as much of the creeps as when you go to Pittsburgh in the expansion!). The metros are the grimmest part. They’re depressing, dank, and easy to get lost in. This was a world in which their reality and ours diverged somewhere after WWII, and it’s a parody of the ’50s (or the World Of Tomorrow ’50s) turned into dust and radiation. (Though the old world lingers, albeit sometimes in chunks of rubble, garbage, and dead people form. And in clouds.)

Since my thoughts are not easy to organize, let me just offer a few scattered impressions of the most memorable bits, starting with the myriad sad ones:

-Night and day. I have never played a game where there is night before. The fact that a video game can actually provoke that feeling of being stuck somewhere where you should not be, with no ride, when it’s getting dark and you’re in trouble, amazes me. Night brings about fear, even if daylight is also dangerous in these times.

-The violence. The extent of my experience with even slightly realistic violence in games is Grand Theft Auto, where I mostly just ran over a few people while fleeing, and Wolfenstein 3D, which is so old I played it in MS dos. Fallout 3 gives you head-exploding bloodshed often. It’s cartoony in its way, but can be unsettlingly graphic when you are the one causing it to happen.

But the moral questions are there, even if they are inconsistently applied. I feel no regret killing the soulless human raiders. But the feral ghouls who were once humans give me the creeps. In the game, you pick belongings off of bodies for loot, and the ghouls seem to invariably be carrying a pitiful collection of a few caps (currency) and maybe a single fork, or worst of all, something like a teddy bear.

Even supermutants, who are entirely unsympathetic until you meet a sane one, can creep you out to kill sometimes. After slaying ten of them one evening, I started to feel all too I Am Legend about the whole thing.

I always feel a pang of regret in killing robots as well. Hostile robots were programmed that way. Raiders and such have made their choice!

-Truly horrible easter eggs abound. Fallout’s mascot is the in-game mascot of the Vault-tec corporation known as Vault Boy. He’s a smiling cartoon fellow who represents the game’s one foot in pure retro-future, ’50s kitsch, in which smiling housewives tout their brand new robots. The other foot is a grim future that (obviously) cannot realistically portray nuclear war, but is intending to disturb you all the same.

Somewhere in Georgetown is a house in which the robot will read a poem if you ask him to. It’s a nod to “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, in which the dogged automatic house keeps functioning long after everyone is dead. The Fallout 3 house contains what is obviously intended to be a child’s room, with a child’s skeleton on the bed. This kind of thing leads to coping habits. I collected a few useless items in-game, such as teddy bears. I did not take them from that house, or from what appeared to be a child’s grave in another area. I have standards.

There are lots of bits of data you can pick up along the way that also add to the picture of this destroyed world. There are diaries by a nurse trying to help people right after the bombs fall. There’s a log from a scientist slowly going mad in a vault after his child dies (yep). There are so many touches that make the world feel too big to even get to. I know I missed important characters, and whole quests, because there was just too much to do.

-Ghouls and their rights. The game more or less gives you the option of if you want to be prejudiced against ghouls, some of whom are perfectly normal non-player characters (NPCs) with which you can speak. One of them in the ghoul town is named Carol. Since ghouls are old, she remembers the day the bombs fell. She can tell you about it if you ask, and it’s as eerie as any cold war sci-fi classic.

When you get to a place called Tenpenny Tower, you find a snobby population of humans warring with a cranky ghoul named Roy Phillips and his followers who want to be able to move in. One of the many skills you can hone in the game is speech, and you can choose to try to resolve the situation peacefully. You can speak to some of the bigots (and they aren’t all bigots) in the tower and convince them to let the ghouls move in.

You feel good and righteous when you do that successfully. Until you come back a few game days later and find that the ghouls have killed everyone, including the endearing NPC Herbert “Daring” Dashwood. The choice to commit horrible revenge upon the killers is yours to make, and it seems to be a popular one. (Myself, I killed Phillips and let the others live.) I was furious with that ending when I found out about it, but I appreciate the gut-punch it delivers all the same.

-Dad and other companions. No game that gives your dad the voice of Liam Neeson, and gives him a habit of calling you “sweetheart” is going to let things be okay in the end. Of course still I thought things would be okay in the end.

The game gives me such an irrational attachment to NPCs. You can pick up followers, including a dog called Dogmeat, a supermutant called Fawkes, and various other short-term followers you must protect on one quest or another. You have so many choices in Fallout 3 — including ones to be downright evil, such as when you can NUKE THE ENTIRE TOWN OF MEGATON — but I mostly stuck with playing myself, with a later character drinking problem. That meant I was not leaving any computer people behind, and I was constantly afraid my stupid dog would get himself killed while attacking a giant radscorpion or something.

But, oh. I had a moment with the dad character that killed me. You are supposed to escort your father and some other unhelpfully helpless scientists characters across the wasteland. A supermutant attacked, and I — forgetting that there are essential characters who cannot die — was worried about my father and his mere pistol. I lost track of him in the heat of battle, and then he appeared with some kind of laser gun he had taken off of a supermutant. It was a Hollywood moment of “fuck yeah, dad!” and a game full of uncanny valley-faced pixel dudes delivered it.

And then dad had to sacrifice himself. And it was upsetting. Like a story.  So I added to the story, and I  I went to the expansion pack area of the creepy swamp, and I killed bizarrely-strong hillbillies and drank game alcohol until I felt I could go on with the business of living in the wastes.

-This game starts with you losing your home in Vault 101, you find and you lose friends and safety over the course of the game. It took me a while, but I began decorating my house in Megaton with teddy bears, with souvenirs I couldn’t bare to sell, and with memories of dear old dad. It felt like home. You start to relish safety and downtime on some days, and the next you wander recklessly, itching for a fight.

-After losing Liam Neeson-dad, and after being depressed and frustrated during a 100 trips into the DC metro-horrors; after the no-winning at Tenpenny Tower, there is a final charge on the water filter project that dad was working on, and which has been taken over by the evil Enclave (the US government, for serious).

You are allied with the Brotherhood of Steel, who have some fascistic, racist leanings, but you kind of win their respect over the game. You have power armor, and though I kind of prefer my earlier, scrappy, Mad Max/gasmask-faced, shotgun-toting look, the armor is the classic Fallout look (seriously, it’s on every game cover). The Brotherhood has power armor. I was followed by Dogmeat and the friendly supermutant Fawkes, who you can rescue in a scary vault if you like, and then he later appears to help you out as you flee the Enclave (in another “fuck, yeah!” moment with a less flipping-you-off end result).

And then the Brotherhood mentions they finally got their giant robot working again. The one that was supposed to have been fighting the Chinese communists who took over Alaska right before the bombs fell. The one whose name is Liberty Prime, and who drops mini nukes and who speaks in robotic catch phrases about communism being a lie.

You follow the robot as you charge the water filter, taking out Enclave troops, and it makes every God damned depressing, confusing thing worthwhile during the last 130 hours. The game is such a sandbox, that I forgot I was going to be given some kind of ending. I had no idea the ending would make me giggle happily.

All of this is an incrediblye roundabout way of saying, video games; holy shit, video games. I am used to television, movies, music, and books telling me stories. To feel invested in a character who dwells in a wide-open, free format where you don’t just get to play as a wanderer, but you get to choose which way to go next is to feel like they just now invented a whole new way of telling stories.

You guys were doing this the whole time? God damn it, you should have told me about video games.**

*Way back in 1986, The Singing Detective demonstrated that The Ink Spots could be used to sinister effect. I very much appreciate that the makers of Fallout did their homework.

Also, you can listen to the radio station which reports on YOU a lot, but also plays the same eight old timey songs while you play. I usually played at night, so I couldn’t do this, but wandering in the dark while listening to a solid version of “Anything Goes” was pretty tremendous. However, too much music plus killing feels a little Apocalypse Now dissociative. I mostly keep the music at home in Megaton.

** On the other hand, video games feel a little more disconcerting than even a great movie in a dark theater. I shake it off within the half hour, but they are still weird in that they make me feel not just that I was in another world, but that in this one I have to click on “a” in order to pick something up.

vivianVivian Versus the Apocalypse (2012) by Katie Coyle:

In my apocalypse fiction travels, I haven’t done a lot of slow crumbles. This YA novel written by a MFA-gettin’ author whom my one friend knew is about a declining America thanks to environmental  shenanigans, violence, and an aggressive new cult called the Church of America. Our heroine is Vivian Apple, whose parents have converted to the Church and vanished on what was supposed to be Rapture Day.

There are YA novel and coming of age tale tropes: Apple is a goody-goody with a wilder friend and a dreamy boy with dreamy eyes who also has a — dun dun dun — secret. There’s a whisper of over liberalism, based mostly on the fact that the Church of America is hardcore mocking American Christian conservatism (not that that’s not frequently deserved). Even the existence of decent religious people doesn’t fully wash away the suggestion that this is all a metaphor for fleeing flyover country. But hell, that’s okay. Vivian the character herself seems to be a 16-year-old liberal. Sometimes you have to get to the promised land of California. Everything is okay except for the Walking Dead-esque “no, I won’t use a gun!” moment of stupid. (Nothing in the world is as stupid as a woman objecting to her sheriff husband teaching their 11-year-old son to use a gun in the middle of zombie apocalypse, because it’s not safe. Nothing. I haven’t watched that show in a while.)

Fundamentally, all of these pieces work together much better than they should because Coyle is a solid, serious writer. And Vivian Apple is a sophisticated, but not overly adult character who has to deal with learning that her parents were real, perhaps not good people and that the world is not chock full of answers. That world which may also end in a few months. See, this new Church of Frick (Pittsburgh Homestead Strike shoutout? Probably! The books begins in Pittsburgh!) has a holy book. That book mentions two raptures. This is a great detail, because it sends those Believers left behind into a pious frenzy. They don’t want to be left behind again. That makes some of them very mean, and very against fornicating and homosexuality and such.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the revelations with the would-be villain at the end of the book. Plus, every YA novel and comic book movie now has to end not in an awesome open-ended way, but in a “YEP, A SEQUEL’S A-COMIN'” way.  This bugs me, but I’ll be reading the sequel without question.

This is the kind of book that gives YA fiction a good name. There’s nothing unserious about it, even if it’s not perfect.

Long_Loud_Silence_The_-_Tucker_Wilson_-_1952-_Dell_-SF_-_G_-10_1024x1024The Long, Loud Silence (1952) by Wilson A. Tucker:

My copy of this early nuclear doom novel has the most gorgeous pulp cover. It’s a cheap paperback from the mid ’50s, but it looks amazing. I had meant to read it months before, but I would have bought it just for the cover (as I did a few other books I may or may not read).

Unfortunately, the cover is the best thing about this book. It’s not all bad. It has a stoic vibe that works well enough to hold interest for the 180-some pages. Basically, the US was attacked by nukes, regular bombs, and disease bombs. Unfortunately this happened right as our hero Russell Gary is on a major bender. He wakes up to a bad hangover of a dead hotel, a dead city, and oops, soldiers are preventing him from going back across the Mississippi river. This we have our class system. (I guess the West IS better. No, it is.)

Gary is a mildly interesting sort. He is a practical, unpleasant, manly man who smacks a girl, and keeps denying that she’s 19, because she looks young (spoiler alert: seducing him convinces him of her age). Wilson manages to write the first female character we meet as a ditz who clings to Gary, and who is wasting post-apocalyptic time collecting jewels.

There’s other awkwardness: Some years after the event, Gary implies at one point that he’s going to go back to a farmhouse of people in order to groom their child to be into him later. Unless I read that way wrong, and I rather hope I did.

For all the dramatic setting, this is kind of a character study of a man who was never very pleasant or kind, who becomes colder and crueler over the years, but never actually becomes a full monster. There’s some nuance in this picture. He saves a child from cannibals, then uses that fact to get a farmhouse and a place to stay and work for the winter. He never murders or steals without cause. But he’s a bit of an asshole (maybe he always was. There’s interesting hints about what war did to him that aren’t really mentioned after the beginning). And the part where he finally succeeds at his years-long goal of getting across the river is…odd. It’s the only part that doesn’t feel quite real in the book. I suppose it had to happen.

The ending is supposed to be cute, I think. I suppose it is a fair capper to all that has happened. Maybe ditzes have good survival skills after all.

mad maxMad Max: Fury Road (2015), directed by George Miller, starring myriad hotties and/or people in awkward masks

Somehow — somehow I accidentally saw the Fast and the Furious Seven (I forget its actual title, therefore I don’t know what to italicize!) in theaters, not having seen a single one of the previous six movies. (It’s because I was supposed to see American Sniper, and then I didn’t get to see that either, and everything was stupid.) I regret that all the more when I realize I saw “sure, cars can fly, and let’s film this action sequel in the dark because Paul Walker is unfortunately dead” in theaters instead of Fury Road. I watched this on the biggest available TV, but I curse myself for not seeing it theaters, the way I curse the six-year-old me who saw Free Willy while my brother and cousin trembled in exhilaration and fear at the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

This is an action movie with strong characterization and world building, that doesn’t spoonfeed context to you. This is a manly action movie that is chock full of bad-ass women. This is a post-apocalyptic movie whose world defies logic and has way too much pageantry and nobody cares, because it’s awesome. This is a movie in which gorgeous women at one point spray each other with a hose, and the camera never leers. (Seriously, seriously picture that scene as shot by Michael Bay or a thousand other assholes).

It’s an ugly, bizarre world in Fury Road, but once you accept that this is is a freaky, car-based cult in control of almost all the resources around — yes, even resources for flaming guitar trucks —  it’s difficult not to be hooked. And for me, that’s saying something. The aesthetic in this film is is exactly the type I dislike because it feels bullshit and embarrassingly cheesy. It feels like people playing dress-up in fake gladiator garb. It feels awkward and inherently low budget. Somehow this movie completely kills that awkwardness through the power of serious, quality acting, and strange amounts of heart.

And with really scary, unexplained shit like those hunched over stilt people. I never want to know what that was about. I never want to know exactly “who killed the world” or how and why Immortan Joe’s cult came to be so quickly and effectively. I know this is mostly action movie that is about a million serious things, the way Attack the Block! is about a lot more than neon aliens. Yet it’s also just a good action movie.

I know a libertarian who hated this film. But once you see “we are not property” (libertarian tears) written on the walls of the wives’ cell, you should be getting hopeful. And once Max and Furiosa fight for the first time, you should be fully absorbed into George Miller’s brain. Do not resist. This movie is so gorgeous that occasional action movie cliches like Furiosa dropping to her knees in the sand in anguish, or the slightly intrusive non-diegetic music feel more frustrating than they would be in an inferior movie.

signsSigns (2002), directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Mel Gibson’s sanity, Joaquin Phoenix, a Culkin, wee Abigail Breslin

Honestly, this film, plus Fury Road, plus Miracle Mile are on my short list of “I do not give a shit if it doesn’t make sense.” And they all involve at least the threat of world ending. Fury Road works becomes of pure audacity and seriousness in the face of absurdity. Miracle Mile is a nightmare, in logic and in pacing, and in ever-growing surrealism. But to me, Signs has always been too scary to mock. It may not be your nightmare, but it is one of mine.

I was 15 when I saw it in the theater with a group of friends. It was quite simply one of those great theater-going moments, where the place buzzes with energy but without distraction or loud noises getting in the way of the enjoyment of the movie (or enhancing the enjoyment, like when the most Canadian man in the world yelled “GET ‘ER PHOONE NUMBER!” at the screen when Mark Wahlberg kissed Helena Bonham Apewoman in Planet of the Apes). Well, quiet except for that moment when Joaquin Phoenix’s character is watching the footage from the children’s birthday party in which something very scary happens. Phoenix’s character shrieks, I shrieked out loud in the crowded theater. Now, I couldn’t sleep for three days after seeing this movie (shut up, my parents live near a cornfield in Pennsylvania), but it was worth it in the end.

It’s a claustrophobic alien movie that’s funny, terrifying, and slow-building. The acting is fantastic from every single person (remember when Mel Gibson was awesome? I do). Maybe there was fluoride in the water, or some weird mineral. Maybe it’s the pipes! Maybe it’s all a metaphor. Maybe the aliens are demons. It doesn’t matter. The movie justifies its own logical evasions by being awesome and scary. If two or three things came together to save the day, it would be Hollywood bullshit. But in the narrative, the obviousness of the puzzle piece is on purpose. This is a world in which everything came together so that Mel Gibson’s character could save his son. Maybe that’s not our world. That’s okay.

(Honestly, the least credible thing to me is the happy ending. Those children would need MASSIVE therapy. Massive. The adults, too.)

1x04_0192Episode five: “Federal Response”

Drink once: every time someone reminds Jake he left town,  every time Jake lies about his past, Eric and his affair are boring, the deputies are stupid, Mayor Green is pompous, Gail is worried, Hawkins knows way too much and is therefore MYSTERIOUS, Emily worries about her finance, Jake has too many ladiez to handle, nobody listens to Heather.

Drink twice: every time Gail is worried for good reason, Mayor Green and Gray Anderson clash, people behave with the amount of fear that would be warranted given ALL THE NUKES EVERYWHERE, Hawkins and his family have a positive interaction, Gracie stops being horrible, Skyler and Dale are capitalists, Bonnie is sassy and/or insulting, someone discovers more about what actually happened in the outside world.

Chug: if Eric has an interesting subplot, Jake’s questionable past is revealed, a woman actually carries a gun, or if Jericho can get something done without the Greens.

We open with Jeicho’s deserted streets, dust, and Jake’s voiceover saying “I’m tired of war, no one ever really wins.” But oh, they’re in Mary’s bar, and Stanley says “me, too.” And then Mimi says “we could play crazy eights instead, or hearts.” Ha, oh, show. But if WarGames can do it, so can Jericho.

Eric is here to ruin everything again.

Eric is here to ruin everything again.

Stanley, Jake, and Mimi have been playing cards in Mary’s bar all night. Jake asks Mimi what she’d be doing in DC, and she says sleeping, which she can’t do now because it’s too quiet. “Why do you think I left town?” Jake asks. Deputy Jimmy moseys in and says “I could tell her.” Mimi thinks shes knows, “the pressure got to be too much….I’m betting prom king, captain of the football team, most likely to succeed.” Beat. “Don’t quit your day job” says Jimmy. He smirks, Mary smirks, Jake smiles, Stanley says — well-delivered — “I think he beat up the prom king.” “Oh yeah, I did.” says Jake thoughtfully. Eric has wandered in to ruin this legitimately cute, funny, moment which manages to deliver Jake’s backstory without the usual melodrama. Stanley says “you must have a million stories about your brother screwing up” and Eric awkwardly smiles and says “Yeah, at least that many.”

Eric gets coffee, and let’s drink because he’s talking to Mary about their affair and telling April, and nobody cares. Jake notices, and Mimi exposits “secrets of a small town” and it almost works because she’s like that.

Lights that make the ideal sinister sound when they turn back on. Thanks, Tesla.

Lights that make the ideal sinister sound when they turn back on. Thanks, Tesla.

Wait, the lights are on! The jukebox is blaring loud enough to cause permanent damage, and this means the power is back. Yay? Jake unplugs just in time for the menacing score to kick in as the phone rings. And the phone are ringing all over town. The fluorescent lights in Gracie’s Market buzz on. There are multiple shots from all over town of people staring confusedly at their ringing phones.

It’s Assistant Secretary Walsh from the Department of Homeland Security! Everyone should stay where they are if they are safe. Help will be there. Repeat. And the TV has

That's how my face looks if DHS calls.

That’s how my face looks if DHS calls.

flicked on with “Emergency Alert System: Please Stand By.”

Scary morse code over opening credits. Code which means “there is a fire.”

People are asking Mimi what’s up, because she’s an IRS agent, the closest thing to a fed. Optimistically, she says she is “this close to nonfat lattes and shiatsu massage.”

Hawkins’ daughter finds Skyler trying to check her email. Having mystery in her genes, MimiHawkins suggests “typing a straight IP address” but then looks puzzled. The internet, she explains, is “supposed to survive nuclear war.” The image changes to the “Emergency Alert” one as seen on the TV. “It’s working, but not for us. We’re being blocked out,” says MiniHawkins.

The Greens are talking about how the power is coming back, but no news is forthcoming. Mayor Green says Jake looks terrible, then lectures him on playing cards all night. Shut up, Mayor Green (drink), it was cute, and it featured some of this town’s least annoying people. Even Mary was tolerable. The Greens and DeputyJerk talk about who to call if they can actually call someone. Eric and Jake have weird tension, and then Jake wanders home because two Greens have been micromanaging this town for years, and they don’t need him right now.

Hawkins tells MiniHawkins to fill up the bathtub, but in a tone that guarantees a surly teen response. Because, he says, pumps pump water (“the water doesn’t get into that shower by magic” is such a dad thing to say, wow), and having more water is nice when the power goes out again. (Do they know their tap water isn’t contaminated? I hope?) Darcy wanders in and says “she’s your daughter, not your employee” which is a good point. But Hawkins has a better point that this shit is serious, and he might not be around forever, so she needs to get more survival skills. Hawkins goes outside for more mysteriousness. (Next week we remove “Hawkins is mysterious” from the drink list because this would kill everyone.)

Gail is busy vacuuming because she’s a mom, I guess. She’s asking Jake if he’s going to stay (hi, premature questions) and says “when you left, you left quite a mess.” (Drink.) She’s mom, so she’s just happy to have her boy back, but Mayor Green is still peeved. Tiresome Green exposition, and then Gail suggests Jake should tell his dad the truth. “You mean tell him…about my time away?” says Jake, clearly upset about this. And wait, does Gail know what her boy was doing? We the audience don’t know what’s up, but this scene suggests Gail knows the truth, which I never noticed before. “This house is too small for big secrets” dramas Gail. And now, electricity!

Mary and Heather and a bunch of precious tots are wandering near the school, but the power spike catches the school on fire, and sends a jolt that knocks Emily out. Heather uses her in charge powers to send the kids away with their buddies. I gotta say, though you could break something from that jolt, it’s not like she was crushed by a train. I think in this case, you move the person away from harm. Heather prefers to try and wake Emily up as we cut to Mary’s bar and drunk Mimi being almost nice to Stanley, saying she would do what she could to help with his whole audit business if she could. Mimi is kind of terrible, and Stanley is a dope, and I yet I support this.

Hawkins mysteriously typing outside with a mini satellite dish. He can get around the internet block. He has a secret code from a fake Discover Card — ’cause what else are they for? This scene needs some absurd ’90s hacking graphics with tunnels and lights. And Hawkins is a on foreign website. Such mystery. Drink.

Everyone is standing too close to the burning school as April tends to Emily. Heather counts the kids, and realizes there is a missing dummy who went back for the school pet. Heather runs inside, because the women on this show may have some traditional jobs, but they’re generally up to whatever post-apocalyptic task is at hand. And I appreciate that.

Fire truck is here, but there are fires all over town, so they’re spread too thin. And this is an electrical fire, so they can’t use water. Jake is here to look worried, so is Eric. Mayor Green, still sick with flu, is trying to come micromanage things, but Eric calls and tells him to turn off the library’s power.

Jake pets the barely conscious Emily, who squeezes his hand and looks a lot more loving towards him than she has lately. Sigh. Annnd the firemen lost pressure. Jake runs off with Stanley to get the pressure back. April says Heather is still inside, and then with some seriously mediocre acting, says “Eric, no” as he rushes inside.

And we cut to Gracie’s store where again the humor works in this episode. Skyler’s terrible friend is staring at a magazine and says “I wonder what Lindsey Lohan is doing right now. Do you think she’s still alive?” Skyler has no time for this shit, but it’s actually a great observation and the only time I ever like Horriblefriend. In the nuclear hellscape that is America, there are celebrities, and you might well wonder about them from time to time. Skyler’s phone battery is dead, but Dale says he’ll charge it for her. She’s still hoping her parents will call, even though she feared they were dead several episodes ago.

More of the town teens roll in on skateboards, and one says “hey check it out, the library is burning, and I didn’t even do it.” “Is anyone hurt?” asks Gracie (not being horrible, so drink twice). “Probably” says evil stoner teen. I laugh. Skyler is lingering, and wants to stay and be nice to Dale, but he says he’ll charge her phone while she’s off gawking at the burning library. Oh, teens.

Heather finds little kid Ashlee hiding in a playroom, and I am reminded of the depressing thought that kids hide from fires sometimes. Eric busts in just in time to be trapped with the two of them. Stanley and Jake struggle to turn on the manual pump at he water tower, or wherever.

The toy snake was the real hero. RIP.

The toy snake was the real hero. RIP.

Heather, Eric, and Ashlee are totally fucked because of the fire. Basically, all of the scenes are a sanitized, but scary thing especially if you were afraid of fires as a child and I totally was. Heather and Eric cover Ashlee’s face with a damp towel, and then when the sprinklers start thanks to Jake and Stanley, they all run out.

April is busy flailing and asking the firemen why they won’t help anyone, which to be honest is a great question. Pretty sure firemen are supposed to check burning buildings for people stuck in them. Are they all volunteer or something? I guess the Greens really do have to do every God damned thing in this town.

Eric hands April the child. Jake climbs to the top of the water tower to check on the status of the fires, and there’s another one near Eric’s house, but nobody cares. BUT THEY DO CARE THAT HAWKINS IS BEING MYSTERIOUS IN HIS YARD, AND JAKE SEES IT, AND HAWKINS SEES HIM. Double mystery. Mystery men. Drink twice for good measure.

MYSTERIOUS.

MYSTERIOUS.

Jake sprints back to tell Eric there’s a fire near his house, but Eric being a martyr-ish Green stays to fight the school fire. It’s the right thing to do. April agrees. It is, but it’s boring.

Hawkins and Jake have a weird moment where Hawkins (again) aggressively asks if he can help (fight Eric’s fire) and then says “If I knew anything, I would tell your mayor.” Would you, though? “What do you know?” asks Jake. “Not much” says Hawkins, even though he was clearly using a computer just now. “Do. You. Want. My help?” smile-menaces Hawkins, and Jake manfully says “get in.”

At Mary’s, Mimi is once again talking about what she’ll do in DC, then prying into Mary’s affair. Mimi is full of Real Talk about how “guys like that don’t leave their wives for girls like us.” Mary says Eric is totally going to tell his wife about them, and Mimi pretends to change her tune on that matter. And this is boring, except that I love Mimi’s hatred of Eric.

Hawkins asks Jake how he learned to use the pool pump to get water. “I was a pool guy” says Jake sardonically. Drink.

Oops, it’s flashover time. And for a hot second we think Hawkins has left Jake in the lurch, but no, he’s just being helpful in getting more power for the pump. “That was quick thinking” says Jake as they fight the fire together. “Yeah,” says Hawkins, “I was a pool guy, too.” Ha. They exchange a funny look. Mysterious bros together. Are they both spies, or what?

The uselessness of the town has made the Greens pompous. I see that now.

The uselessness of the town has made the Greens pompous. I see that now.

Back at the school, a small crowd is cheering the firemen who are now rescuing books, even though they let untrained, clad only in a fireman’s jacket Eric run in by himself. NO ONE BUT GREENS CAN DO ANYTHING FOR THE TOWN. Eric tells Heather he saved Ashlee’s life, then he wanders off to find his wife.

Skyler comes back into Gracie’s store, and no, her parents haven’t called, but her phone is charged. Dale mentions the fire hit the trailer park (I KNEW IT, HE AND GRACIE ARE BLUE COLLAR BROS) so he is going to keep on sleeping at the store. But then, he already was. Skyler tries to convince Dale to come ask the mayor for help, but he’s got his bootstrappy pride, so he’s not having it, man.

April and Eric are cleaning out their burned out house. Guess what didn’t burn? THE DIVORCE PAPERS filed by April! Whoops. But she doesn’t want to divorce him anymore, because things were nuked, and now he does manly things like run into buildings to save teachers and little children. And also, they’ve all had a rough day so let’s not get divorced now? Drink, because their conversation is boring.

Gail is setting the table and talking to Jake about how staring at the creepy TV wasn’t telling her anything. And she says “you know that thing you’ve been running away from?” Well, it’s your dad, so go talk to him or whatever. Does she know about what Jake was doing while he was gone, though? That last scene between them suggested as much, and now I am writing whole new headcanons about this. Eric and April arrive with one sad box each.

Gah!

Gah!

At Mary’s bar, Mary is trying to close down early, and Mimi has a knowing look about “girls like us.” But oh, there goes the TV. It has changed from the warning to an empty podium, as if the president or similar is about to address the nation. But it’s sinister as hell because nobody is there, and I start to imagine that that shot was set-up weeks ago and it’s just been broadcasting an empty room all this time.

The patrons are all agog. Mary sends Stanley off to tell people under threat of having to pay his tab.

Jake and Mayor Green are talking about how they, the Greens, are going to run the entire town and save everyone. However, Mayor Green in his weakened state is going to be nice and tell Jake he did good today. “Folks are saying how lucky Jericho is to have you back” says Mayor Green, and though he’s “tried to correct them, nobody listens to me.” The Greens share a LOL, and Skeet Ulrich continues to have a really attractive smile. But then Jake says being his dad’s son was hard, because his dad “always had a good judge of character, and you thought mine was lousy. When I left town, I was determined to prove you wrong, but everywhere I went, I seemed to prove you right.” WHAT’D YA DO, JAKE?! “I wasn’t just in San Diego” for one. (Drink!) But — “I don’t care” says Mayor Green. Basically, he doesn’t need to hear it, because whatever bad shit his son did, it made him less of a jerk. That’s…good? The audience still wants to know, Mayor Green.

Traveling is sinister. Especially traveling outside of San Diego.

Traveling is sinister. Especially traveling outside of San Diego.

Hawkins is typing mysteriously on his computer, and oops, Jake Green has a flagged passport, because he has traveled to dodgy countries! (Drink!) AND – drink again! — his legal name is Johnston Jacob Green, Junior. No wonder he has such daddy issues. Hawkins looks intrigued, and then is inside being mysterious, but also talking to his son in the basement about what all they’re going to do now that the power is back on. Drink twice because Hawkins and his son have a nice moment together.

The Greens sit around the table discussing what food they wish they had. It all sounds delicious, and makes me want to watch Signs a little bit, because of the amazingly creepy scene where the family eat dinner as the aliens roll in.

98 percent of this show is Skeet Ulrich looking intently at things.

98 percent of this show is Skeet Ulrich looking intently at things.

Stanley interrupts happy family time with news about the TV.  Ooops, Eric has to come down to Mary’s bar. Drink because it’s boring, and it’s technically about the affair. Mary’s fading smile as Eric comes in not sans wife is kind of tragic, but I don’t really care — especially because the TV goes out, the wine glasses starts to shake, and outside there are missiles in the sky.

We drank: a lot. But we’ll fine-tune the drinking times next week. Or whenever I feel like watching. Because I made TWO categories here. Jericho Rewatch and Tuesday Apocalypse are two different categories, so I could rewatch on, like, a Thursday. Imagine that. [Caps via]

1x04_0192

Caps via: http://cccc.1121.org/

Episode four:”Walls of Jericho”

“Five days after the bomb” and one day after the fallout, and HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT. Eric and Jake are watching a video at Mary’s bar, and it’s one of the creepiest images the show has ever portrayed. Everything is red and on fire and panic. It’s disturbingly vague, but suggests the worst things. Eric guesses it’s Cincinatti they’re seeing, and Mary marks a question mark on the map. So, here we are in Jericho, and nobody knows anything, but that they do know looks scary as fuck. That’s how you do end of the world stuff, people. Vagueness and nightmares are key.

1x04_0039Stanley and Bonnie roll in and Stanley stares drearily at the video. He says “makes you wonder what happened to whoever shot this.” Hawkins responds as disturbingly as possible, “I think that might have been the last thing they ever saw.” No explanation as to where the video came from, but in its unknown context, and its terrible ted tint, it does its intended job.

Mary and Eric are boring, but then Mary’s generator runs out, and the bar closes. Jake meets Heather outside and walks her home. SHE’S ACTUALLY CUTE, DAMMIT. They are cute together, and I never appreciated this upon watching previously. This fact makes me dislike concerned ex-girlfriend Emily, even if she is arguably the most competent female character. (Well, the most gun-toting.)

Heather and Jake talk about Jake’s old life in town, and they walk past the boarded up cybercafe, and discuss the health code-violating Pizza Garden. It’s nice until a man with horrible burns on his face staggers into view and asks for help. Heather goes to find some, which is Bonnie, the two remaining cops, and Stanley.

Bill the jerkcop won’t touch the radioactive dude. Neither will Jimmy! Copfail. They’re already making lines between Jericho and the outside world, but Stanley and Jake are too farmboy pure for that.

Eric and his wife are fighting at the clinc, because he was chilling with his mistress (not that wife knows that). Radioactive dude is carried in.

Capitalism, Dale, capitalism is man's greatest achievement.

Capitalism, Dale, capitalism is man’s greatest achievement.

DoubtyourcommitmenttoSparkleMotionGracie is creeping around her store in the dark. Dale startles her, but it’s good because holy shit he brought all the food from the crashed train! How did he carry it all? Plot holes? Dale is the best capitalist. The best homesteader of lost food. Gracie taught him well.

April, Eric, Mayor Green, Jake and Gail are staring at RadioactiveMan. Everyone is wondering how close the guy was to the blast. Jake and Stanley are sent to wash off any potential radiation. April and Gail worry about the preemie who needs to keep breathing. Babies.

Hey Hawkins, what are you doing in your creepy basement? Your annoying son wants something.

Jimmy and Bill talk with Mayor Green about how Gray Anderson hasn’t been heard from since last episode, how the tanks seen could be from Iran, North Korea, Al-Qaeda, or China’s invasion.

Damp Skeet Ulrich has a moment with Heather. Somethin’ for the ladies and some of the fellas, I guess. Heather has a good idea about siphoning gas from cars, and pumping gas from the underground storage tanks at the local gas station so that the hospital generators will keep going.

Bonnie is staring at RadioactiveMan, worrying about how Stanley might still be sick, and whether “this is how they die.” She says “take care of him.” Next scene, though, is Eric and Jake arguing about what can be done for the guy. Jake being the hot-head martry says they can’t let him die, but Eric being kind of a douche says they should give the guy drugs and keep him comfortable. But Jake is on it, and he’s going for Heather’s plan to get more gas.

RadioactiveMan is awake! His name is Victor, and he is here to croak out a terrifyingly cryptic message of “they’re coming.”

Jake and Heather have to talk the gas guy into letting them take the gas. “I could be fired” he says — and he pulls it off more than most actors might — and Jake says “With all due respect, who is going to fire you? It’s a different world.” As much as NOBODY on this show is ever as panicked as they should be, this guy is pulling off the “I need to do my job still because denial is better” cluelessness nicely. Heather says they’ll even leave an IOU. “They’re never coming back — the district manager — are they?” Says gas guy. No, sir. I think the gas is yours then, maybe. But whatever.

Oh hey, Hawkins is quizzing his family on their new, fake lives. Creepy. Sam the boy is messing up, and the teen girl (What is her name, God damn it?) is ranting at the bullshit quality of all this. But hey, Jimmy is here and he wants to get Hawkins, since he “was a cop in St. Louis.” (Was he, though?) Hawkins is waffling. Jimmy needs someone to “show people there is still law and order in this town.” Sort of grudgingly, Hawkins accepts.

Gracie is refusing Eric and his request to donate gas to the clinic. She’s terrible, but she’s right. She did give her whole damn store to the town. I do love that this show deals with the push and pull of individual survival versus collective, and it kind of gives credence to concerns over both.

Science problems! They’re siphoning gas, but Heather says metal is going to spark and cause a fire. Jake the martyr pushes Stanley out of the way because he likes his sibling a lot better than Jake likes his. At Gracie’s, Skyler trades a party invite for Hawkins’ teen daughter’s last of the chips. Good capitalist Skyler.

Gail is sitting by RadioactiveMan, but he’s coding because the generator is out of gas. Gail used to be a nurse, though! She’s got this, because nobody else is there. This clinic appears to have only one doctor, and it’s April. And babies are cuter than dudes with radiation burns.

Jake rushes into the clinic with gas. Hawkins’ daughter shows up at Skyler’s. RadioactiveMan is back from being dead for two minutes. Eric rushes in to say he got gas, but oops, April doesn’t care, because Jake got the clinic some gas by risking explosions!, and Eric got it by asking people politely. Boring. So boring. Your husband is boring.

Men not listening to a woman about science.

Men not listening to a woman about science.

Skyler’s horrible, too horrible to be believed friend is mocking Skyler and Dale’s burgeoning romance. Bitchy girl, both their parents are probably dead. Popularity just doesn’t mean what it once did, okay? Skyler still says “just go home” to Dale. Kids, the world got nuked. Stop.

Victor is flailing in bed, and Jakes asks him who is coming. “They…need help” says Victor. “Twenty from Denver.” They’re at a lake with a dock. And “they” have Victor’s daughter.

Skyler defending her property rights in the face of law enforcement oppression.

Skyler defending her property rights in the face of law enforcement oppression.

Jimmy comes to Skyler’s house to shut down her party and to ask how much gas she is using. She says it’s her gas and generator. And…it is. She’s still dumb, though. Hawkins arrives and sends his daughter home.

The cops did something useful and have Victor’s wallet. Hawkins totally recognizes him, but won’t say anything because Mystery.

The cops want to wake up Victor, but April says no way because of his pain. Mary and Emily watch the scary red video again and talk about it. “What if they all come here” Mary asks. They’re not gonna. They’re dead. Scary Hawkins knows this. Mary and Eric talk about something. I fall asleep. Has an end of the world affair ever been less interesting?

Back to the clinic. I forget why the cops think that the missing Shep was killed by Victor, but there is another fight over waking him up when he’s covered in radiation burns. “He’s going to die anyway, but he could save some people’s lives” says Hawkins. He also wants to “do this himself” which isn’t suspicious at all. April is pissed. Eric grabs her arm like an asshole and says “We need information. He could be a murderer” “And that gives you the power to do anything you want?” his wife asks in rage. “Yes” says Eric. And I have never liked April more for hating her husband right now.

1x04_1408Jake is interrogating Victor about the people in trouble. Hawkins sends him away to get morphine, and then he morphs into Mysterious Sinister Hawkins. “We said family only, hmm? Why? Why did you go back to Denver?” He says scarily. “I couldn’t let them die” says Victor. “Now we’re a man down” says Hawkins. “Someone flipped…there’s a traitor.” says Victor. “Do you know who it was?” asks Hawkins. Victor’s heart rate is going up. Oh, his skull is gross and pink. Annnd Victor is dead. And Hawkins is what? A foreign agent? Because Lennie James is secretly (dun dun dun) BRITISH?!

“We had to do it” says Eric. April stares more daggers. You go, girl.

Back at the store, Gracie tells Dale he’s worth ten of Skyler. The implication is it’s a class thing, I think. Dale isn’t just unpopular, but poor. Somehow I missed this before, because I am an idiot.

Oh, Hawkins might be evil, but he’s being nice to his daughter. He’s telling her she can’t just go to parties, because that puts them all in danger.  Being creepy-quiet-nice-but-menacing, Hawkins adds “And if you pull something like this again, girl, you have no idea how scared you’ll be.” And then he kisses her head. Cringe.

Jake the do-gooder has gone to Mary’s bar to ask for volunteers, and turns off the TV which is repeating the scary footage. He’s…excessive. He learned from his Pa. And pragmatically, he might be wrong. But he means well. And nobody really gets how bad things are in their weird bubble. After a silence, Jake starts to give up, then Mary says she’ll donate gas, and Emily will come along! Good. Ladies with the feelings for the people outside of town. And now more people will help. Posers.

A group drives in cop cars, then crosses the hill, and it seems okay, but the people are all lying dead in the grass. They’ve died of radiation poisoning, as Mayor Green notes in scene that switches back and forth between the meadow and church.

1x04_1799

This town cannot do anything without me.

People with missing or dead family stand. And they “stand because we know that every life matters….The battle ahead is not just for our survival, it’s for our humanity.” You’re not wrong, Mayor. But it’s awkward because the town has sort of been in denial until now. Maybe they get it finally.

In his speech, Mayor Green hits the implied Testament/Rod Serling message right on the nose, and it’s also the message of the episode — along with “us versus them” questions which are helpfully voiced out loud by the dumb-ass deputies. Still, following that idealistic path is going to be harder and hard for people as the situation gets more dire, just as it would be in real life.

Outside church, Emily kisses Jake on the cheek and says he’s a good man for trying to help someone he didn’t know. He smiles goofily. Oh, Skeet. Sometimes your acting is weird. And your bug eyes don’t help when that happens.

Hawkins is in his basement writing creepy messages. There’s a traitor. “The rally point is no longer secure.” And then in whiplash mood, he goes talk to his son, and starts to quiz him about his fake background. Sam gets it right. “Who loves you more than anyone else in the world?” Hawkins then asks. “You” says Sam. “And who is always going to take care of you?” “Mommy.” Welp. You’re not wrong, kid. And yet, there is a lot more to discover about dear old dad.