Knight of Shadows, 2013, Toby Venables
A revisionist approach to Robin Hood legends, featuring Guy of Gisburne as a secret agent working for Prince John, desperately trying to hold England together while King Richard bankrupts the country for the sake of his ego. It’s a brisk story, with lots of Templar intrigue and a Robin Hood figure closer to what a 12th Century brigand would have been like.

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In a hospital in Not Canada, aging, barely competent Dr. Lamar nearly kills a patient during surgery, possibly because he is too busy making cracks about Dr. White Cloud’s Native American ancestry, with the following altercation leading to Dr. White Cloud losing his hospital privileges because apparently you can have single-payer or medical ethics but not both. White Cloud visits his grand-father Spotted Owl, a traditional healer, and we find there’s tension in the family because White Cloud went to medical school instead of becoming a very Hollywood Central Casting Medicine Man. His cousin, possibly, Sasheena, has become the apprentice, and takes White Cloud to a, well, Native American burial site, where he finds a rattle while she performs a ceremony. When he picks it up, he receives a vision of an earlier shaman using the rattle to heal someone after killing another person, so hey, standard tit-for-tat cursed object. Back at the hospital, White Cloud finds one of Lamar’s cronies fiddling with the patient that nearly died, so he shakes the rattle at him which…flies into the air and emits a bright light, causing the other doctor to bleed to death. Then, White Cloud is able to heal the patient.

At the shop, Micki is off to the hospital to see her friend Blair, who has just been diagnosed with a very rare form of lung cancer. Dr. Lamar, who has brushed off the death of his underling, orders one of White Cloud’s patients to be drugged up, rather than attempt surgery on her condition, so White Cloud comes back that night and kills Lamar’s nurse-crony and heals his patient, with Blair witnessing the healing and getting ideas about her own terminal condition. Blair tells Micki about the healing rattle, and sure enough, in the Manifest Jack finds a listing for a traditional shaman’s rattle that Lewis sold to Spotted Owl four years ago. Spotted Owl, meanwhile, refuses to help Jack recover the rattle because he’s not going to just hand over a sacred artifact he spent years trying to recover to a white guy. Which, okay, he’s got a point. White Cloud, meanwhile, has run out of Lamar’s cronies to kill and has moved onto the man’s patients, so apparently he’s not supposed to be the sympathetic villain of circumstance the first half of the episode suggested he might be. Especially once Ryan finds out that he is making a deal with a wealthy man dying of cancer to save him in exchange for funding for his own clinic.

Spotted Owl has finally had enough visions of the rattle being used, and agrees to give it to Jack after he takes it from White Cloud. Despite blasting it with some Force Lightning, the rattle kills Spotted Owl, and now White Cloud is starting to feel bad about using an evil cursed antique. Though not so much that he doesn’t use it to heal the rich man or blame Lamar for the death. Blair goes to White Cloud for healing, which gives him the excuse he needs to kidnap Lamar, and Sasheena enlists Jack and the gang to help her “awaken the spirits of the ancestors” to defeat the rattle. When the ghosts do appear, they disintegrate White Cloud, saving the horrible racist in the process and condemning the innocent girl to a lingering death.

You can really see what they were trying with this episode. It’s a standard curse, but an effort was made to make the villain sympathetic, and show him mostly using the rattle for the right reasons. That all falls apart along the way, but it’s a valiant effort. It’s also a fairly cringe-inducing portrayal of Native American religious practice, where it’s fairly clear that no one gave much thought to issues of cultural accuracy. Which is a little surprising, since the show did relatively well when it covered voodoo. Some attempts at sensitivity are on display, especially with the ultimate fate of the rattle being that it is left with the tribe, and maybe I’m wrong, and maybe the costumes and chants are accurate, but on screen they don’t read that way.

A Very Robey 80s

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The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories, 1963 ed., Nathaniel Hawthorne
I’m always conflicted on Hawthorne. On the one hand, I think his contribution to horror fiction is under-rated. On the other, man oh man did he ever resent the fact that women outsold him and boy howdy did that influence the face of literary criticism in America after his fanboys got teaching careers in universities.

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So, as I type this Amazon has recently started carrying the series as part of their streaming video service, so I’m going to drop a link to this episode for those curious if I’m just making this stuff up.

In an upstairs dance studio, stereotypical stern choreographer (right down to the cane and injured leg) Anton Pascola is forcing two dancers to rehearse endlessly, despite their obvious physical exhaustion, in an effort to get his new piece, “The Legend of Shiva,” complete. When he turns on an antique symphonium the dancers dance so hard they end up throwing themselves out the window, falling to their deaths. The next night, Micki, Ryan and Jack take Grace, the daughter of one of Jack’s friends, to a performance of Pascola’s current “Romeo and Juliet” piece in celebration of Grace being accepted into Pascola’s troupe. During the very modern dance production, which is not even slightly marred by the apparent suicide of the two leads last night, another dancer begs Pascola for the chance to prove she’s good enough to be a lead. And so he instructs her to come to his studio that night. That night, as Pascola dances his new volunteer to death, Jack, having learned of the rehearsals using the symphonium, starts researching music boxes in the Manifest, having seen how this shit goes down enough times already to automatically check when he meets anyone with an antique.

Grace falls further under the sway of Pascola rather quickly, her youthful naivete falling for his cod philosophizing about art and sacrifice, even glossing over the fact that yet another dancer from the troupe has mysteriously vanished and they’re rehearsing a piece that Pascola doesn’t actually have completed. Jack, meanwhile, continues to track down the symphonium, and eventually learns that the man who bought one from Lewis Vendredei danced in the same company as Pascola, and joined Pascola’s company when Anton’s leg was injured, giving him the symphonium as a gift, and then dying of a heart attack during rehearsal. This makes Jack understandably concerned when Grace announces that she’s going to move in with Pascola and become his special student. The announcement that Grace will be dancing the principal role also prompts objections from the other dancers, who have noticed the dwindling size of their troupe. But at least Pascola gets a volunteer for his last segment out of it. Grace manages to witness this death, and this still does nothing to dissuade her from dancing for Anton.

During the performance, Micki and Ryan try to pull Grace off stage, but Pascola knocks Ryan out and Micki…gives up? When he tries to persuade his male lead to “swear an oath to the dance,” thus activating the curse, the man walks out, leaving Pascola to dance the finale with Grace himself. And Jack arrives too late to stop the symphonium, and so Pascola and Grace dance themselves to death on stage in front of the oblivious audience, giving us one of our occasional “everybody loses” episodes.

This is one of the more ambitious episodes, and it’s actually very well shot and designed, with some particularly nice shots from inside the symphonium, contrasting the turning of the gears with the deaths of the dancers. Colm Feore is a bit hammy as Anton Pascola, which makes his Svengali-esque hold on the dancers a little implausible. The only major sticking point is Grace, played by Cynthia Preston, his naive devotion to “The Dance” is the mechanism of the episode’s central tragedy, and it’s just such an obvious stock character trope to give her that it’s hard to feel anything other than annoyance that she’s so obviously willingly walk into her death, that the intended dramatic impact is seriously undercut.

A Very Robey 80s

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Joseph Andrews, 1960 ed., Henry Fielding
Tom Jones will always be my favorite Fielding, but I don’t have any editions with covers as nice as this.

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