Doctor Who Review: Series 8 Episode 9, “Flatline”

by William Hohmeister

I think I’m ready to love again. Jamie Mathieson, will you marry the Doctor and become showrunner? You wrote my favorite episodes of Doctor Who series 8: “Mummy on the Orient Express” and this week’s episode, “Flatline.” I actually like Clara (Jenna Coleman) again! Longtime readers know I generally see no good in Clara’s character. She’s used so… generically, like a stand-in for a real Companion. “Mummy on the Orient Express” kept her out of view, but “Flatline” gives her a chance to act in a uniquely Clara way.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tries to drop Clara off after their latest adventure, but lands in Bristol. As he tries to deduce a solution to the problem, Clara points out something more worrying: the TARDIS’ door has shrunk. The Doctor and Clara squeeze through and find a shrunken TARDIS outside.

tardis_flatline“Flatline” introduces cool ideas about dimensions of space that I think the writer stole from Flatland. The interior of the TARDIS is infinite; the exterior is the size of a police box. As Whovians know, this leads to many humans gushing “It’s bigger on the inside.” The Doctor guesses that something is leeching power from the Tardis, causing it to shrink. He goes back inside, while Clara explores.

Clara meets Rigsy (Joivan Wade) and Fenton (Christopher Fairbanks) cleaning up Rigsy’s graffiti. Rigsy tells her of missing people, and shows her a mural that depicts each person from behind. She asks for his help, and goes back to get the Doctor.

Here’s where the show took a turn it really needed: the TARDIS has shrunk to the size of a paperweight and the Doctor is trapped inside. Clara picks it up, and we find out something really cool: the Doctor can adjust the TARDIS ’ weight. Since the Tardis is infinite, it would also be infinitely heavy if not for the weight adjustment. Usually it weighs as much as a police box, but now Clara can pick it up and stow it in her purse. It’s a great piece of world-building that I really liked.

Why is the TARDIS ’ size so important? The Doctor, just able to fit his hand throughclara_flatline the door, passes Clara his tools: sonic screwdriver, psychic paper, and an ear piece so he can communicate. Clara picks up Rigsy to investigate the homes of the vanished people, and introduces herself as: “The Doctor. Doctor Oswald.”

The episode unfolds as you expect from here: investigation, discovery, running, enlightenment, running, taking control of the situation, running, and a final plan. Clara drives each of these moments instead of the Doctor, however. The Doctor provides exposition, but he does not play a crucial role until the end. And the Doctor himself has admitted that sometimes he just talks until he hears a solution he likes, making him sort of an exposition-machine even to himself.

Clara plays the Doctor’s role in a way I think is unique to her. We’ve seen other Companions – Rose and Donna come to mind – play at being the Doctor. Rose was terrified (“The Christmas Invasion”) and Donna nearly died (“Journey’s End”).

Clara is a human Doctor, and she’s very efficient at it. She tells Rigsy the truth – or at least part of it – and when he tries to leave Clara shows him the Doctor and the Tardis. While investigating one home she pretends to be MI-5 to get PC Forrest’s (Jessica Hayles) help. The Doctor decides the vanished people must be in the walls of the house; in a moment worthy of the Looney Tunes, he passes Clara a sledgehammer through her purse. Clara explains simply: “Apparently they’re in the walls.”

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Weekend Music: Everybody Wants to Rule the World (and announcements)

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I know I’ve shared this here before, but I’m playing the world domination thing for laughs this week, and I’ve heard lots of people like the Hunger Games 😉
Things you need to know:
  • I am on vacation next week with the family. I’ll be keeping tabs, but only around if something comes up or someone really needs to chat, and only responding in the evenings. Contributors’ posts will go as normal, and we may even have a surprise thrown into the mix.
  • I’ve done a little mini promotion for Suze81’s #SundayBlogShare this week. If you plan to share links on Sunday, you need to give Suzie’s post a read. I’m using a couple of Follow Fridays today to give people an easy way to spread the word. If you’d like to join in, I have a post for you at Just Gene’O, and if it’s not your thing, no worries.
  • I’ve got drafts piled up around my ears, but nothing that can’t wait and nothing that won’t be much improved if I work on them a little more. My Saturday Coffee post at Just Gene’O will be my last personal post until I get back unless something comes up that can’t wait.
  • Photoblogging is not going away. I’m just a little short on time to do the loading-and-publishing part of the blogging right now. If you’re following for the photos, stick with us. They’ll be back.
Have a great weekend, all!

American Horror Story Freak Show: “Edward Mordrake, Part 1” Review

I quite enjoy the American Horror Story tradition of a two-part Halloween episode, something that began in the Murder House initial season. In its third episode of the season, Freak Show gives us an hour of Halloween build-up before announcing, rather audaciously, “to be continued.” Ethel is dying-but-not-dead, Elsa Mars is even more determined to be a star, Bette and Dot fight over their success, and the ghost of Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley) rises.

Denis O’Hare and Emma Roberts are also introduced in the episode, so we finally get to see what iterations they’ll take on this season. Roberts and O’Hare are in The American Morbidity Museum, peddling a gaff. They’ve been found out, though, and are on their way out with their baby-Sasquatch-in-a-jar in tow. Evidently the Museum is having a difficult year, what with the Ed Sullvian Show and all, so Roberts and O’Hare are assured that the museum *will* pay well for genuine artifacts, but it *won’t* ask questions. Queue their departure for Florida, to one of the last freak shows. (Major spoiler warning!)

ahsedwardmordrake

Mordrake?

ahsthatotherheadtho

Definitely Mordrake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel’s gone to the doctor, and she only has 6 months to a year to live. Liver cirrhosis, though she hasn’t had a drink in several years. The scene between Bates and the good doctor who delivers the bad news is suitably poignant, and when Ethel wonders what her life might’ve been like it she’d been show kindness by such a doctor (or any other man) before, it’s a little heartbreaking.

And then we’re in a tussling, moving, hive of activity in a tent. Many of the performers are carousing, laughing. Except Jimmy, who cannot forget Meep’s death long enough to carouse, and Bette and Dot, who are still at war with one another.  Dot is aghast at the commotion, especially when Jimmy is clearly still so upset. She suggests they rehearse and get ready for the evening’s Halloween performance…

But Ethel quickly stands, saying there will be no performance. She relates the story of Edward ahstalkingaboutmordrakeMordrake (Wes Bentley), a British nobleman’s son who was cursed with a double-sided head. He was sent to Bedlam to be hidden, but he murdered an attendant and escaped. He wound up at a freak show, parading his aristocratic skills across the stage and performing music he wrote. The other head was a constant source of worry and trouble for him, though, always telling him awful things. One Halloween, Mordrake killed everyone in the freak show before hanging himself. And evidently, if a freak show performs on Halloween, he returns and takes someone with him.

But before Mordrake can visit, it’s time for Emma Roberts to make her appearance as Mystic Maggie, who is looking for a job at the freak show. She surmises, from a set of quick, appraising glances, what has been Elsa’s fate, and explains her past—that a woman stole the limelight from her, stole the applause that should’ve been hers for her beautiful music. Elsa is entranced, and when Maggie gives her hope for a new future—in a vision, she sees a dark stranger who comes to ahsmysticmaggietown and unlocks Elsa’s true potential–Elsa is convinced that Mystic Maggie has the Gift. When Maggie later talks to her partner (O’Hare) over the phone, she is shocked by his cavalier suggestions of murder—or at least she seems to be. But it’s fairly clear that she’s paving a path for O’Hare to walk down when he comes to town.

Dot and Bette are asleep in their tent. They’re having dreams, now, strange ones in which Dot has Bette surgically removed. And Dot is openly hostile, vowing to have the surgery performed, though she knows it will mean Bette’s death. And across the way, Dell and Desiree are in a fight—seems it’s been a while since they’ve had sex because of Dell’s erectile dysfunction.

Dell storms out of the house and into Ethel, who has again opened the bottle of liquor she was advised would only hasten her death. She asks him to take care of Jimmy, but Jimmy is never to ahsanoddconversationknow that Dell is his father. It’s another poignant moment, underscoring the ways that Ethel’s life–and Jimmy’s–could’ve been different outside of the carnival. But it’s also a really weird one, in which Dell proclaims loudly that he never loved Ethel but then stares into the distance wondering what could’ve been and Ethel  wants him to hide his parentage but help Jimmy “become a man” somehow.

Dot and Bette, meanwhile, have decided to rehearse. They’re making everyone nervous, because of the Edward Mordrake story, but they don’t care. And neither does Elsa, who sweeps on-stage in a glorious green gown and boa to dethrone the girls. She needs to practice. Her dark and mysterious gentleman will be there soon, and Edwardahsgreendress Mordrake is a myth. Unless he’s not. The moment Elsa starts crooning “Gods and Monsters,” we something’s coming. There’s a thick green fog, and there’s then there’s Edward Mordrake.

He departs, though. He’s looking for a soul to take with him, a “true freak.” Not entirely sure what that means, yet, but apparently it isn’t Ethel. She’s the first person visited by Mordrake, and he asks for her story. Ethel was a young woman and a favorite on the vaudeville circuit, but when she met Dell, he convinced her to start more highbrow acts reciting Shakespeare and the classics–which no one liked. It tanked her career, and we see a pregnant Ethel reduced to dependency on Dell. In one of the most cringe-worthy-but-not-gory moments of the season (maybe ever?), we see Dell selling tickets to the birth of his child, see Ethel give birth, and watch Dell hold up the baby, charging people to “hold the freak.” But this life of sadness somehow disqualifies Ethel from what Mordrake wants, and he leaves her, shaky but completely intact.

Meanwhile, in Twandy-land…

Dandy and Gloria are preparing for their annual Halloween celebration. So far as I can tell, this involves Patti Labelle donning a Woody the Woodpecker costume, doing lots of work, and Gloria standing around waiting for Dandy in a room that looks like the 1950s went to Pinterest for Halloween decorating tips. Gloria has gotten Dandy a Howdy Doody Halloween costume again, and he abhors it. He starts breaking things, and we finally see more of what’s underneath the facade. He stomps out and makes his own costume, a clown-suit with a mask. On his way out of the house, he threatens Dora (Patti Labelle) but can’t bring himself to harm her, and is in tears by the time he storms away to the trailer where Twisty is holding the others.

Dandy goes to the trailer and begins trying to stab the captives through the wire, but his reach isn’t far enough. He decides to use a stick to poke at them, and he’s in the middle of this operation when he’s interrupted by the  arrival of Twisty, who has acquired a new hostage, the brother of a Young Girl Who is Very Afraid of Clowns.

ahsmordrake

My guess is that in our Halloween finale we’ll see some Twandy-inspired gore and a conclusion to Mordrake’s appearance at the freak show.

Episode Grade: B+ This one is a little messy, and it was difficult to structure a review around, as there are so many overlapping subplots and characters. It’s still a solid entry in the series though, and it lays a lot of groundwork for what could very well be a hell of a Halloween episode.