NFB Listens To Number Ones: “Red, Red Wine” – UB40

Here’s a genuine question for you: what do you think that “Red, Red Wine” is actually about (bar the obvious beverage)? For many years I didn’t really think too much about that question whenever I heard this song, which I knew mostly for the easily sung-along-with lines of its chorus and its easy-going reggae beat. It’s only now, having the motivation to look into it in further detail, that I realise just how depressing the song is: an ode to the memory obliterating powers of alcohol sung by a guy drunkenly pining for the one that got away. It’s a rather depressing image that does not match the music that accompanies it, that has always seemed at least partially upbeat and laid back to me. For me I always associated the song more with the positive power of alcohol, with the titular words perceived more as an ode than as a note of despair.

My ignorance is my own problem, but I do not feel that it is unjust to wonder if others have had similar interpretations, given the occasional scratchiness of Ali Campbell’s lyrics (for a long time I thought “Don’t let me be alone” was “Don’t let me be in love” for example) that treads a fine line between groovy and unintelligible. Neil Diamond’s version is clearer in that regard, with appropriate music to match, but like a lot of Neil Diamond is also bland and forgettable: the reggae elevates it into higher notoriety at the very least. The radio version of the UB40 song is what got to number one for three weeks in 1983, but there is a longer version that includes a lengthy “toasting” section by Astro, that gets really clear on the depressing picture being painted: “Red red wine, you make me feel so sad, Any time I see you go, it make me feel bad”. It’s a very weird feeling inclusion, and it is no surprise at all that it was left out of the more commercial release. In a more strictly musical sense, this is Baby’s First Reggae really, nothing too special or, crucially, too challenging.

The music video is perhaps required to really get the idea that UB40 is trying to impart, a black-and-white depiction of a drunken night out for a very sad looking young guy (where he’s drinking beer, come on guys, stay on message). Now that is misery territory, but the dissonance is here too, in how the reggae beat just has no business playing over such a scene. I suppose what I am trying to say is that UB40 didn’t really seem to know what they wanted to portray in either the song or the video. Not that it mattered much, because this has been a radio staple since. If people really delved into the song I have a feeling that it might not be quite as popular, because alcohol-fuelled shame spiraling typically doesn’t make for Classic FM residency. Also, red wine sucks. Rose forever.

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Review: Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Trailer

Taking orange and teal to strange new places.

Over a decade since he escaped the harsh upbringing of an assassin, Shaun (Simu Liu) leaves his own life as a valet in San Francisco, working alongside best friend Katy (Awkafina) and trying to forget the past. But when operatives of his father Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) attack him in search of an amulet gifted to him by his deceased mother Ying Li (Fala Chen), he is drawn back into a world of magic and martial arts, that will lead all the way to a fateful confrontation in a world far removed from our own.

The latest Marvel Studios addition to their ever lengthening canon is a welcome blow for diversity in Hollywood and in this genre, that at its worst tells an enjoyable action-adventure that is mired in structural mundanity. There’s little here that I would call truly objectionable really. But Shangi-Chi And The Needlessly Lengthy Title is a film that made me very conscious of a recent trend in these kinds of films, namely that we are very far from a time when a character could hit another character and not have the camera revolve around 720 degrees while they are doing so.

By this I mean that it is an example of a film-making method where the battle against samey-ness – inevitable when we are 25 films into the canon – is waged by those who are always looking for new stylistic ways of depicting things, and sometimes those stylistic choices cross into the realm of making the film visually incomprehensible. Only on rare occasions during action scenes could I say that I fully understood what was going on, that my eye was being consciously drawn to what it needed to see, and not to something happening left of centre, or to a giant neon billboard in the back or any number of fantastical monsters filling a frame. In trying to make Shang-Chi stand out, I feel the production team has only made it seem like an unpalatable kaleidoscope of principal movement, camera swings and messy CGI. That’s when there isn’t some laughable choices, like slow-mo for a fight scene early on so the two characters can gaze at each other in a manner that instantly made me think of Vince Vaughn in Wedding Crashers, and pardon my language: “Girl in the hat just eye-fucked the shit out of me”.

I’m talking about the visuals – which are mostly fine outside of the action scenes, though this may depend on how far you’re willing to accommodate the idea of a Cthulu dragon – a lot because there isn’t really all that much else worth talking about. Everything about Shang-Chi’s plot is regimented, between the rising hero, the daddy issues, the MacGuffin, the fight pit, the family secrets, the big battle finale – the last 40 minutes or so really suffers from a tired sense of upping the stakes to stupid levels – and the MCU cameos tailor-made to keep Youtube reaction videos coming hard and fast. Trying to tie in a family drama with the martial arts only really works to a point, and isn’t enough to mark Shang-Chi out. It’s frequently funny, is paced OK and will leave your mind as easily as it enters it. This belies the importance of Shang-Chi in terms of its racial make-up – it really should be on the same level as Black Panther, so it’s important to “show up ” for this one if we want to see the increasing diversification of Hollywood continue – and I’m inclined to pull my punches.

I did find it a bit underwhelming though. I think director Destin Daniel Cretton wanted this to be the MCU’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and not just because Michelle Yeoh is in it. But it’s more Mortal Kombat really, even if it has more of a brain. There’s a lot to enjoy about Shang-Chi, like its soundtrack which is one of the more memorable to come out of the MCU as of late, and at times its world-building is also to be admired. But there really isn’t any stand-out performances – Leung as the villain, who just wants his idyllic family life back, is probably the best but others, like Awkafina, really struggle – the action scenes are hard to follow and where something like Black Panther felt like it was taking risks and challenging the status quo at least a little bit in every scene, Shang-Chi seems rigidly adherent to the formula, even in the little details. I’m sure we’ll get a sequel at some point as the MCU continues its effort to move beyond the fundamental characters of the comics, but not sure I’ll be taking it in. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).

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NFB Watches Wrestling #73: Raw (06/05/2002)

It’s the, ahem fallout from Insurrextion! It’s the 6th May 2002 and we’re in the Civic Centre of Hartford, Connecticut for episode #467 of WWE Raw! Wait, WWE? Whaaaaaa? Your main event tonight: Steve Austin, Bradshaw and Ric Flair take on the nWo!

So yeah, the “E”. The Fed is dead, with the suit from the World Wildlife Fund reaching its culmination at this time. They tried to frame it as a positive, that they could use the change to emphasise the “entertainment” in “sports-entertainment” but I remember thinking it was one of the most bizarre things that could have happened at the time. It felt so wrong seeing the modified logo, and for years afterwards the company would blur the old one on broadcasts. I had just about given up on the product at the time, and I’ll admit the name change did sort of propel me along that path, it was like it was a different company. So, how did WWE handle it on-screen at the time?

Brand new “Attitude Entertainment” splash, then a video package of a gardener trimming a “WWF” hedge into “WWE”, before making it explode. “Get The F Out”. Wow, remember that? “Across The Nation”, pyro and JR/King welcome us to the brand new world of WWE. “New look, same attitude” promises JR, and we begin this new era with a title match.

Jazz (c) w/Stevie Richards vs Trish Stratus (WWE Womens Championship) (No DQ)

JR runs down tonight’s main event, before we get a recap of Richards winning the Hardcore Title last week. Not a word on the 20 title changes over the last week. “We hear that Jazz and Richards have been inseparable”. You saw them together on Saturday! Trish attacks from the off, Sunset Flip gets two, then kicks in the corner. King decides he doesn’t like Jazz because she ruined a wet T-Shirt contest once, ugh. Trish gets a roll-up but Richards distracts the ref, and when the challenger chases him off it allows the Champ to attack from behind. Beatdown on the outside, back in, some vicious kicks, double underhook suplex and Jazz is feeling confident. Adds another, two, rope choke, two, then an elevated Chicken Wing into a facebuster, looks nasty.

Trish dodges a clothesline, hits a high kick, then the Stratusfaction but Richards pulls the ref out. In to nail Trish with the Steviekick, ref back in, and that’s it in just over three.

Winner (and still WWE Womens Champion): Jazz with Stevie, the ultimate power couple.

Verdict: Too short for a title match, but presumably we’re getting yet another re-match off of the finish.

Bubba Ray is here with a trash can to assault Stevie, and Jazz, to King’s delight. A table is grabbed and set-up, Bubba Bomb to Stevie and that’s a 1, 2, 3.

New WWE Hardcore Champion: Bubba Ray Dudley

Jazz attacks Bubba with a trash can lid, Raven appears and hits a Raven Effect OUTTANOWHERE and gets the pin.

New WWE Hardcore Champion: Raven

Justin Credible the latest to appear, superkick, 1, 2, 3.

New WWE Hardcore Champion: Justin Credible.

Crash Holly is here to hit a missile drop-kick from the top, and you know the drill.

New WWE Hardcore Champion: Crash Holly

Lilian Garcia is announcing all of these by the way. Holly runs into Bubba, gets a trash can to the face, and then somehow in the confusion Trish gets the pin on Crash.

New WWE Hardcore Champion: Trish Stratus

Bubba grabs Trish, but before he can give her the wood he gets a fire extinguisher sprayed in his face by Jazz. Bubba, blind, grabs Trish and gives her a vicious powerbomb through the table, which commentary sells as a case of mistaken identity. Richards sneaks in to get the pin on Stratus.

New WWE Hardcore Champion: Stevie Richards

Stevie beats a hasty retreat, and Bubba realises what he’s done. He heroically carries Trish away, like this makes it OK. JR praises Bubba, because of course he does. Damn, this was messy, but the crowd loved it for what its worth.

Backstage, the nWo, minus Nash, emerge from their locker-room, including Scott Hall, so I guess he hasn’t been sacked just yet. After the break they are in the ring, with Show on the mike, oh goody. “You little people”, um, drink?, have small attention spans, hence why he wants to show us footage of his betrayal of Austin two weeks ago. Is there anything more beautiful? He’s out here to explain why he did what he did, and if he gets “what” chants he’ll break everyone in half. This, of course, generates the loudest “what” chants ever. TBS says he main evented Wrestlemania two years ago, this year he was in WWE New York, and he blames Stone Cold for some reason. You can’t stop or control someone like Big Show, and people are denying what is rightfully his. He’s a pissed off giant, and he’s happy to supercharge the nWo. And there’s nothing Ric Flair can do about it. This was quite rambling and all over the place.

Out comes Flair, fully dressed. He doesn’t care much about Show’s reasons, and criticises him for whining. He apologised to the nWo last week for missing that rope break, but it’s “tough shit”. He doesn’t like the nWo, and he then announces the main event like it wasn’t announced last week. Hall puts his hand up like he’s in class, and now he’s talking. He runs down Flair, and says that the nWo has a surprise for Flair and the whole world. It’s going to happen in the ring, and it’ll change the company for ever. Que music. Hmm. Hall sounds drunk, honestly, but I do wonder what’s in store. After the break, time for a second title match.

Spike Dudley (c) vs William Regal (WWE European Championship)

Here we go again. We get some basic highlights of Insurrextion during Regal’s entrance, focusing on Spike’s injury and then roll-up win. King is incensed at Regal being “besmirched” in his own country. Dudley out limping, and before he’s even got to the ring Regal is on the mike. He says Spike’s courage is admirable, and that it’s unfortunate he agreed to to this title match before Insurrextion. So, wait, Spike signed for this match, then signed for another match against the opponent for the previous night? What? Seems like they should have a title change in Wembley and then had this as the rematch. Regal offers the Champ the chance to forfeit the Euro Title, because if he doesn’t, he’ll get a thrashing “you filthy, disgusting little shitehawk”. Spike with some rare mike time in response, says forfeiting might be the smart thing, but Regal has put things in perspective. He attacks and away we go.

Spike trying a sleeper but gets flipped off and slammed. Regal stomping the ankle, Scoop Slam into the ropes, Regal latches on a sort of ankle lock/half Boston Crab combination and Spike taps out in just over 30 seconds.

Winner (and new WWE European Champion): William Regal, but of course. Should have let him get some heat at home!

Verdict: Too short to merit much judgement.

Regal on the mike again after to declare himself the greatest European Champion of all time, and then attacks Spike as he is being carried away by the refs. Back into the ring, stomps on the injured ankle, then puts on the same submission again. Then, of all people, out comes D’Lo Brown! Regal gets a pop-up powerbomb and retreats as D’Lo sees to Spike. Random to see Brown coming out after a lengthy absence, he’d been in OVW and Puerto Rico for most of the previous year, but hey, at least the next programme is set-up.

Backstage, Ric Flair looks miffed. He tells Arn Anderson if there any surprises tonight, he wants to know about it. It wouldn’t be a surprise then would it? He decides to “address the locker room” and stalks off as AA nods. Hmm.

“Earlier today”, Booker T comes into a 7-11, trying to avoid Goldust, who has apparently been stalking him all week. The cashier, who from his acting talent I presume is some random WWE employee, says he hasn’t seen any gold men around, and T heads to the back to get himself a Slurpee. After telling some kids to get out of the way, Booker is outraged at the lack of Booker T cups. This segment brought to you by Slurpee. T jaws briefly with a cardboard cut-out of Rob Van Dam, before being accosted by Goldust, who wears “an elaborate disguise” of a basketball jersey and cap. He apologises for last weeks “mishaps” and says he wants Booker to team up with him against RVD and Jeff Hardy. Random combo there. They’d make a great team, being undefeated (and the NFB Head Canon Raw Tag Team Champions of course). Further, he wants to trade a drink of his Slurpee for a bite of T’s weiner. T runs off, terrified at homosexual innuendo. “Mind games Booker!”. I was into it until the gay panic.

Back in the arena JR and King queue up a recap of Brock Lesnar destroying both Hardy Boys and then Shawn Stasiak at Insurrextion. “Brock Lesnar is a certified monster”. We have a Lesnar/Stasiak re-match imminently. Backstage Lesnar does pull-ups before being summoned by Heyman.

Elsewhere Ric looks around the nWo locker room, and his suspicions are raised by the discovery of an APA hat. He runs off, presumably to remind Bradshaw that he is not on-brand.

Elsewhere elsewhere The Undertaker arrives at the arena on his motorbike, and tasks some random guy with guarding it. In the background, we see X-Pac and Scott Hall converse. Shenanigans! Five backstage segments in a row, think that’s a new record for this re-watch.

Shawn Stasiak vs Brock Lesnar w/Paul E. Heyman

Stasiak has new theme music that amounts to random sound effects. Tough Enough 3 is taking applications if anyone is interested, that would be the season of Bob Holly nearly murdering Matt Cappotelli, the infamous “Lisa incident” and the future John Morrison strolling his way to victory (along with Cappotelli of course). Stasiak attacks Lesnar as he enters the ring but gets flung back pretty easily. Tries a clothesline but walks into a drop toe-hold. Clubbing blows, rope drag, stomps in the corner and then a choke. Corner clothesline as the crowd starts chanting “Goldberg”, first time I’ve heard that. Lesnar shuts them up with a big spinebuster. Heyman demands that his charge hurt Stasiak some more, two backbreakers followed by a big slam. “Break him in half!”. F-5, standing pin, and that’s it in just over two.

Winner: Brock Lesnar, 4-0 (the tag didn’t count).

Verdict: Stasiak fed to Lesanr’s push once again, and you have to consider him dead and buried.

Backstage The Undertaker stalks the halls, and, with a real “Wait a minute…” energy, discovers that his precious bike has gone missing. He asks the security mook, who has remained rigidly in place throughout the apparent theft, who took it with some force, and the answer is “Hulk Hogan”. Taker is displeased by this news, but the mook gets to run off.

“Get The F Out” video again, just in case it didn’t annoy you earlier. Crowd is non-responsive to it anyway. JR and King run down the Judgement Day main event situation and the closing segment of last weeks Raw. Out comes the Deadman, sans hog. But wait! That’s not The Undertaker! It’s Hulk Hogan. And he is the opposite of sans bike. JR predicts “a nasty battle”. One guy who can’t bump and one guy who doesn’t care? I’ll say it’ll be nasty.

Hogan does his taunts to “Rollin” and soaks in the crowd’s love for a good bit before getting on the mike. He reminds us of some of the things Taker said last week, and invites him to see how much Hogan has changed since the last time they were in the ring together. Yeah, he’s gotten slower. Hogan walks out to Taker’s bike, and suggests that if his challenger wants it so bad, he should come out and try to take it off him.

The real Undertaker comes out, very much sans bike. Takes a while for him to talk what with all the “Hogan” chants. He knows Hogan rides bikes, so he knows Hogan knows better than this. Knowsamania is running wild. Judgement Day, Hogan will get the beating of his life, but Taker has sent people to a local medical facility for giving his bike funny looks. Hogan has one opportunity to avoid getting his teeth kicked in, and Hogan gives us a literal “blah, blah, blah” and suggests that Taker either do something or be considered “the bitch that you are”. After taking an awkward second to get the bike going, Hogan struggles to get the bike up the ramp, and it’s hard to tell if he’s gunning it ineffectually to annoy the Undertaker or if this is one of the most amazing botches ever. Eventually Hogan just gives up, walks up the ramp, but Taker has already retreated. “Such a bizarre night here” says JR as the camera stays rigidly on them as the sounds of a bike revving in the background go on. Hogan is suddenly back on the bike, now he has gotten it going, and gets to the top of the ramp. I guess it was a botch then, good Lord. According to Bruce Pritchard the bike needed petrol, and that’s what some hand was giving it when the camera was locked on commentary. Amateur hour!

Backstage, Hogan stalks the halls on the bike, and has to make a hilariously awkward three-point-turn at one point. This is also why they had to sort the bike thing out before, otherwise this pre-filmed segment would make no sense. “He’s gone down all the hallways” says JR after Hogan has gone down two. Out to the loading bay, Hogan abandons the bike, but the Deadman is nowhere to be seen. Seeing a handy truck, Hogan decides to use it to wreck the bike. Thankfully the keys were left in the truck.

After the break, Hogan finally goes through with it and runs over the bike. Did they need the break to replace the bike with a prop one or something? Bike doesn’t look too bad really, but Ross insists it is “destroyed”. Anyway, back to actual wrestling.

Rob Van Dam & Jeff Hardy vs Booker T & Eddie Guerrero

JR announces that RVD and Guerrero will go again for the IC Belt at Judgement Day, yes please. Random combinations here, but four guys who arguably deserve to be main eventers more than the men currently occupying those spots. “Guerrero never goes on vacation because he is on a permanent ego trip”, nice Jerry. Eddie and Van Dam to start, lock-up, waistlocks, wristlocks, takedowns, and both men are equally matched. Whip chain into a monkey flip from RVD, Eddie dodges a heel kick but not a superkick. Eddie ends up on Van Dam’s shoulders, and gets a facebuster for his trouble. Booker in, strikes into the corner, RVD reverses it into some corner spears, but then eats a side kick. Back with a spinning heel kick, and in comes Jeff to the delight of all the young ladies. Running forearm to T, heels to Eddie, but Booker gets the upper hand back quick enough.

To the outside, and Eddie puts in a bit of a beatdown with an angry Van Dam distracting the ref. Back in, RVD cleared off the apron, and Booker gets his Scissors Kick. Spinarooni, only then into the cover and Van Dam breaks it up. Hardy back with a drop-kick off a pop-up from Booker, then counters a whip into a DDT. Eddie and Van Dam back in, Van Dam dodges a charge, big corner flip gets big air, stepover heel kick, Booker ranaed out, Rolling Thunder to Eddie, but T back in to break it up. Van Dam tossed out, Hardy in to hit a modified DDT on Guerrero, follows up with a Tilt-A-Whirl and Goldust is suddenly in the ring only to get flung out by Jeff, landing awkwardly on Booker. Hardy hits a Swanton, Van Dam hits a very loose looking Five Star right after and that’s enough in just under six.

Winners: Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy, the High Risk Connection.

Verdict: It was OK, would have liked to see it go longer. Jeff was lost in a sea of no narrative.

Commentary cuts straight away to a recap of Hogan trashing Undertaker’s bike, then gets cut off in turn by a throw to backstage. Coach is with Terri. She’s challenged Molly Holly to a swimsuit competition. This will apparently teach Holly what for after she called Terri trash. How does that work? Coach gets a sneak preview and looks suitably impressed.

Elsewhere Ric Flair is with AA. He’s suspicious about this APA baseball cap, and wonders if Bradshaw was even attacked the other week. He’s off to Bradshaw’s dressing room to investigate further. Very unrealistic all of this: like Bradshaw gets his own dressing room?

In the ring, time for the aforementioned swimsuit contest, hosted by, of course. Jerry Lawler. I will not belabour the point here, Terri comes out, Molly comes out, and Holly is carrying a pair of flippers. “I don’t see any water” offers JR, thanks for that. He also calls her the “Hilary Clinton of the WWF”, and you know what Boomer Sooner Jim Ross means when he says that (also it’s WWE now Jim, come on!). Anyway, Molly’s swimsuit is practical, Terri’s is revealing, and Hartford naturally prefers Terri. Molly is unhappy since Terri is dressed more like a stripper. Terri gets the flippers, King pulls Molly off and that brings this nonsense to an end.

Backstage, Ric Flair arrives at Bradshaw’s dressing room, which looks gigantic. Bradshaw isn’t there, but Flair finds Kane’s mask inside. A clue! Flair heads to Austin’s dressing room next to blow the lid on this whole conspiracy.

After the break Flair has quick traveled to his destination. Debra tells him Austin isn’t there, but luckily Bradshaw is. Flair outlines the evidence with all the tact of Cole Phelps, and Bradshaw is unimpressed. He’s heading to the ring to kick some nWo ass, and Flair can come if he wants.

Elsewhere, the nWo head to the ring. After the break, the main event is up.

The nWo (X-Pac, Scott Hall & The Big Show) vs Ric Flair, Bradshaw & Stone Cold Steve Austin

Dissension among the faces seems to be the story of this one. Before Austin comes out we cut backstage where Undertaker discovers his “destroyed” bike. He lays in some weak looking shots on the bike out of frustration, then chucks a handy pallets at it. Then he’s off to find Hogan. After he leaves a limo pulls up and out steps Kevin Nash. I hope the surprise is better than that. After the break the entrances are completed when Austin actually gets some screentime. Debate as to who is going to start, initially it’s Bradshaw but Austin just tags himself in, to face X-Pac.

Lock-up, Pac down off a shoulder charge, then spinebusted straight to hell. Hall in to the take the same move, double headbutt sends Hall spinning before he calmly retakes his place on the apron. You have to sell it better than that man. Pac misses on a drop-kick, stomp to the gut from Austin, then a catapult into the corner. Looks like Austin is sizing Pac up for a Stunner, but he doesn’t turn like he should and Austin puts in some corner smashes instead. Was that a botch? In comes Hall, oh boy. He takes a Lou Thesz almost immediately, forearm drop, looking for the Stunner but Hall pushes out of it, kind of, it sort of looked like Austin just changed his mind. Austin wants Show, and in comes the big man.

Lock-up, Austin backed into the corner, lock-up, Austin flung into the ropes, lock-up, Austin flung into the corner. He’s strong, we get it. Stone Cold back with strikes, but then takes a back body-drop. Bradshaw tags himself in, so does Hall, why, and the nWo man gets flung around for a bit. Corner clotheslines, strikes, chops, and Hall has had enough and sends in X-Pax. Waltman shoulder charged down straight away, pinning powerslam, two. Sends Pac running, catches him on a crossbody attempt, Fallaway Slam. nWo finally gets some room with a spinning heel kick, after spending five minutes taking moves.

Show in, Bradshaw beaten down in the corner then tossed to the opposite corner. Headbutts, and Bradshaw has been busted open again. Big boot, crowd dying slowly but surely with the slow offence. Bradshaw trying a come back with strikes but cut off quick. Falling elbow, Hall in, and now he hits his patented Fallaway Slam for two. Show back in, another headbutt, strikes, knees to the head. Think there are “We want Flair” chants? Really? Pac in, stomps in the corner, chops, Bradshaw trying to come back, but cut off again with strikes. Now Bradshaw gets a big boot, elbow drop, two off a Hall break up. Things breakdown with Flair coming in and everyone bar Bradshaw and Pac end up brawling in front of commentary.

In the ring Bradshaw hits the Clothesline From Hell OUTTANOWHERE, but Show pulls him out of the pin so he can send him through the announce table with a Showstopper. Austin attacks Show, but double teamed with Hall involved. Into the ring, Austin being beaten down, but then he floors Pac and Hall with a double clotheslines, then hits the rarely-seen Double Stunner. Big “Austin” chants as he locks eyes with Show. Hey, why isn’t Bradshaw being counted out?

Show and Austin going at it, no idea where Flair is, and Show takes control with open-hand chops in the corner. “Let’s Go Austin”. He gets tossed across the ring, dodges a clothesline but looks like he tripped in the process and he stumbles out of the ring, very weird moment. Show throws him back in straight away, so I assume that was a very strange botch. Corner clotheslines, Show jaws with Jim Ross for a bit, then gives Austin another back body-drop that gets a loud “Shit! from the Rattlesnake”. Beatdown in the corner, Austin gets boots up on a charge, then a second rope Lou Thesz and mounted punches. Looking for the Stunner, pushed off and Show gets a big boot where Austin sends Hebner flying. The ref very obviously scooted behind Austin for that, looked terrible.

Flair in with a chair, Show knocks it away but before he can hit a chokeslam Austin hits a low blow. Stunner, cover, but no ref (and neither man is legal anyway!). Austin drags Hebner back in but then Flair nails him with the chair! A few shots to the legs! He calls for a mike and says his next official act as Raw owner is to announce that at Judgement Day Austin will face Show and Flair in a handicap match. What? Locks on a Figure 4 as Show laughs and Hall adds some leverage. So, has Flair joined the nWo? Crowd not reacting to any of this at all. Time runs out on the broadcast. No result, so we’ll call it a no contest in just under 16.

Winners: Smackdown, which looks brilliant in comparison.

Verdict: Was as good a six man as you could reasonably expect until everything went to hell in the last few minutes. Turning Flair heel is all well and good, but doing it like this, with seconds left in the broadcast and it unclear if Flair has joined the nWo, is really foolish. Also, where was Nash? Raw’s main event scene continues to flounder.

No time for anything else tonight and maybe that is for the best.

Best Match: I guess by default the mid-show tag, that was a half-decent showcase for the four guys.

Best Wrestler: You know what, X-Pac was trying out there. He’s the only member of the brand’s nominal top-heel faction who can go.

Worst Match: Regal/Spike wasn’t much of one.

Worst Wrestler: I guess Scott Hall does get it one more time.

Overall Verdict: A disappointing episode. Raw’s top players are different shades unfit, unmotivated or operating with terrible material. Only three real matches in 93 minutes and a real “spinning our wheels” sense to things. Not looking forward to the Raw side of Judgement Day.

To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “The Captain’s Hand”

You’re Adama’s pet. Let him deal with you

Air Date: 17/02/2006

Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

Writer: Jeff Flaming

Synopsis: Newly promoted Apollo is assigned to work under Barry Garner, Pegasus’ latest commander, with the two soon clashing over Starbuck’s attitude and two missing Raptors. On Galactica, the sudden appearance of a teenager seeking an abortion and asylum creates a political crisis for Roslin.

Review

“The Captain’s Hand” is an episode about leadership. Multiple characters are called upon to showcase some of it, and not all of them succeed. There are hard choices to be made, conflicts to be managed, vital choices about the future of the Fleet with no easy answers. First up, and most important in the episode, is Apollo.

The episode opens with him declaring that a recent promotion to the rank of Major “doesn’t mean much”, with an assignment as a temporary XO for Pegasus more of an irritation than an honour. But Lee adapts quickly, and before the end of the episode he demonstrates an understanding of what a leader needs to be, especially in comparison to others. He knows when to give people a bit of room, like Starbuck, he knows when to pull people into a tight focus, like when he shuts down the complaints of Pegasus’ air group. He knows when to respectfully follow men like Garner, and knows when to challenge them. Most importantly of all, he’s cool, calm and collected in a crisis, keeping his head when all about are losing theirs: in the midst of a battle no-one expected, he keeps the Pegasus going and even gives the enemy a black eye before escaping.

These are all aspects of a good leader, and speaks to the lessons that Apollo has learned, in part at least, from his father: “Command is about people”. Ever and anon in “The Captain’s Hand”, Lee demonstrates the practicality of this factoid, but none more so with Starbuck. He admonishes her when she feels she deserves it, but only in private: elsewhere he is confident enough in her abilities to trust her instinct on the missing Raptors, and to encourage her to be exactly where she needs to be during the battle, in a cockpit. Later, he has the tact to not be too critical of Garner, or of his father for appointing him in the first place. “The Captain’s Hand” presents us with the scenario where a seemingly obvious case of nepotism is carried out by the elder Adama, but does the hard work in making us understand the choice to place Lee in permanent command of the Pegasus is more than that.

Apollo is put directly opposite the one-episode figure of Barry Garner. He’s an unnecessarily direct and rather bitter man: his rant about how nobody ever gives the engine room any slack early on is evidence of that. Garner gives the impression of being the sort of man who has been unhappy in his position for years, and now that he has been granted a level of higher authority, he is damn sure going to exact a little payback.

As stated perhaps a bit too bluntly over the course of the episode, Garner treats the Pegasus, and by extension its crew, as a machine. He uses the metaphor of a watch, saying that the whole doesn’t work if even one small component isn’t doing its job. Hence a mechanical devotion to procedure, a refusal to countenance “outside the box” thinking and an encouragement for the Pegasus and its crew to be a separate entity from Galactica. Garner has a one-track mind, beaten into him by years of engine room work, and that makes him unfit to be the overall commander of the ship, a job that requires much more nuance. His treatment of Starbuck is proof enough: he is unable to give her the space she needs to be a success, and can’t tolerate her independent streak, even if doing so would be a net benefit to the ship. He has no faith in his own personal authority over people, so he treats them like parts.

The episode progresses to the final crisis, when Garner, fixated on saving his men, disobeys orders and comes into direct conflict with Apollo. Lee’s response is to try and relieve Garner of command, but he isn’t his father in this regard – this most definitely is not “Litmus” – so he doesn’t get his way. In this Apollo betrays a little bit of an over-adherence to regulation, that I think ties into the bit of idealism his character is prone to, as we saw in “Bastille Day”.

But when things really go to hell, it is Apollo who has to rise to the moment. In a way Garner flees his post: that might sound harsh, but it’s a failure of his command if he feels the need to leave CIC to deal with an engineering issue during a life-or-death engagement, and the character does look scared in that moment. He redeems himself by getting the FTL drive going again, but the entire situation demonstrates his failure as a leader on numerous levels. Apollo, managing Starbuck, his CIC staff and himself, brings the Pegasus through the experience with minimal casualties. It isn’t just the calm demeanor though: he showcases some balls in taking on a basestar directly, and does direct the Pegasus to turn to shield its weaker side: he knows what he’s doing.

At the conclusion the older Adama is satisfied with how much Apollo has learned from the experience, most critically that a leader is someone who leads people, he doesn’t direct them like they are the cogs of a watch. This final promotion, unlike the ascension to Major that meant very little to Apollo, means everything: this is a huge example of the trust that Adama has in his son. Adama is following his gut in this decision, having tried and failed twice to follow the chain-of-command in determining Pegasus’ leader: that too, is a symbol of a better leader than Garner was, with Adama admitting his mistake and not second guessing his future choices.

Of course that’s just half of “The Captain’s Hand”, though an exploration of leadership as a theme is very much at the fore of the other 50%. In the Fleet, Roslin is suddenly faced with a very unfortunate choice to make: the human race is approaching extinction level, to the point where that reality is banging up against individual liberty. BSG doesn’t mince words much on this issue, with Roslin coming to a decision pretty quickly on the legal status of abortion. The logic is certainly understandable: as Adama reminds her in a very good moment between the two, one of the first things she ever said to him in the Miniseries was that “we need to start having babies”. Bodily autonomy is obviously something important to Roslin, but equally important is the number on the board.

Is her decision justified? Well, yes and no. Yes in that every possible measure must be taken to encourage an increase in birth rate, especially in an environment like the Fleet which presumably doesn’t scream “Great place to raise a family”. No in that the decision is based on some hard-to-swallow data from Baltar (see below) and can’t deflect from the heinous idea of a woman being forced to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. And the same problems with outlawing abortion still exist, namely it’s hard to stop them taking place. Roslin reaches a compromise in the case of Rya, but it’s just a sop to the idea that there can be any total good in this whole issue. Still, Roslin – with McDonnell putting in a great performance throughout – takes decisive action, and that is a sign of a good leader.

Not so good is one Gaius Baltar, appearing for the first time in a few episodes. Having spent a fair portion of “Colonial Day” mocking Tom Zarek he’s now happy to ally with him, taken in by a preening ego boost and the opportunity to get back at Roslin. It’s all personal with Baltar: he wants the praise, he wants the flashing bulbs, he wants to make a splash and be adored. He doesn’t really care about abortion laws – since when has Baltar ever really cared about women in that kind of way? – and he doesn’t care about religion. Just look how pleased he was when Zarek held him up as a sort of ideal for the non-religious occupants of the Fleet. This, combined with the lasting grudge with Roslin – which, again, was based on a personal slight in “Epiphanies”, not a political one – makes it all too easy for Baltar to betray the President in a very public manner. Does he even realise that his strings are being pulled by Zarek as much as Head Six now? If he does, it’s just another thing that he doesn’t seem to care about. Vengeful, a doormat and obsessed with his own image, the thought of Baltar being President is one to fill anyone with dread. But hey, what are the chances?

Oh my gods.

Notes

-Finally, a title with a bit of thought in it. It presumably refers to the unseen hand of command and how important it is, given the clash between Apollo and Garner.

-Mimica-Gazzan back in the directors chair for the first time since “Home (Part One)” with another very good effort.

-The “Previously On…” sections has some dialogue changes, with Gina now telling Baltar to “betray Roslin and run for President in the upcoming election”, something that did not happen in “Epiphanies”. Seconds later, the same thing is done to show Adama and Tigh discussing Garner’s appointment to command, in a scene that I suppose is meant to be in “Black Market”.

-Colleges have ties on the doorknob, Galactica has boots outside the hatch for when two people are intimately occupied inside.

-The sight of a naked Dee from behind is as, well, nakedly sexual as BSG has gone in a while, probably since the opening scenes of “The Farm”? Also, natural comparisons to the end of “Six Degrees Of Separation”.

-Dee outlines the two battlestars’ nicknames: Pegasus, which eats up Commanders at a frightening rate, is “the Beast” while the poor banged-up Galactica is “the Bucket”.

-Apollo has been promoted to Major, which again really doesn’t mean much in a military that is down to about 2’000-2’500 people or so.

-The count is down six from “Sacrifice”, though seven people died in that episode: the four hostage-takers, two marines and Billy.

-The Garner character allows us the chance to consider, like the Marines, the existence of an engineering section of the military that we never see. Since Garner was installed as CO of the Pegasus, he must have been an officer of some rank: does Galactica also have a chief engineer that we never see?

-Starbuck gives it to Garner with both barrels, and regrets it later: “Barely competent and paranoid”

-“Snipe” is indeed a slang term for an engineer on a ship in the real world.

-Our introduction to Tory Foster, played by Rekha Sharma, here, a stand-in for Billy. I doubt the production team had that much more important role in mind for her at this time though.

-I love Zarek talking to himself in the mirror, or at least appearing to, before it’s revealed Baltar is in the room. It’s like he’s trying to convince himself that buttering up Baltar is the right idea.

-I also love his description of how he is unable to beat Roslin electorally upon her “elevation from politician to prophet”.

-Baltar swings constantly back-and-forth on politics, depending on who he is talking to. After basically threatening to take Roslin on politically in “Scar”, he’s back to treating the whole affair as “tedious” with Zarek,

-Stinger, the CAG who clashed with Apollo in “Pegasus” has been demoted by Garner, and in fact will never be seen again: the actor, John Pyper-Ferguson, couldn’t be tied down.

-Doc Cottle is again luxuriating in his relatively untouchable position, bluntly outlining that he performs abortions on the side. Adama doesn’t kowtow too much though: when Cottle says he doesn’t ask questions, he gets a very stern “You’re gonna start”.

-Cottle is such a dick sometimes: “She could apply for asylum” he says, with a casualness that belies the calculated statement.

-Roslin very curtly dismisses the Gemenon representative when the possibility of banning abortion is brought up. You can tell that’s a mistake from the moment she does it.

-“She’s not Billy” Adama says in response to Tory’s matter-of-fact reaction to the growing crisis. “No she’s not” replies a wistful Roslin. The episode could, perhaps, have done with the inclusion of a deleted scene where Foster flat-out states that she isn’t there to be Roslin’s “counsel or conscience”, she’s there to help her win the election.

-Adama and Roslin have a quiet moment to talk here, in a very relaxed and comfortable manner, which I did like.

-“No…no” says Roslin when she realises what Adama is proposing, with the tone of someone who already knows the answer is going to be “Yes”.

-Starbuck figures out that the “eve” in the missing Raptor’s message about a distress call means “received”, but I really don’t find that the kind of stunning leap that exemplifies her intelligence.

-A small but potent sign of Apollo’s leadership credentials is his urging that Garner and Starbuck take their argument to a private place. The Pegasus’ CO dressing someone down like this in public is unbecoming.

-In private though, Apollo is happy to be as angry as he likes with Starbuck – “Maybe you need a kick in the ass” – even going to the point of going too far by bringing up his wound from “Sacrifice”. Though, at least he is genuinely sorrowful for that call, knowing how much it hurts Thrace. Bamber is at his best in the episode at this moment.

-Apollo and Starbuck are left staring at each other after this emotional exchange, and we should remind ourselves that this potent mix of friendship, lust and command considerations can only ever end in a bad place.

-It’s interesting, and I assume intentional, that Garner’s “I’m going to get my men” is very close to a similar line delivered by Adama at the end of “Pegasus”, but lacks anything like the same punch.

-Adama’s solution to the issue of the missing Raptors showcases his own leadership qualities: reasoned, cautious and not a total shutdown of Garner. But the Pegasus CO just can’t see it like that.

-Roslin plays it very factual with Baltar in their brief scene. Interesting also her reference to “our administration”: she knows Baltar is a threat.

-Baltar’s report on how the human race will be extinct in 18 years makes zero sense. 50 subjects could establish a viable breeding pool for a species, albeit one with severe “genetic depression” likely: 500 is considered the real minimum for guaranteed healthy outcomes. The Fleet has many, many times that.

-I did like the brief montage of people listening in on the President’s speech through radio broadcasts, which is a nice reminder of the limitations of the Fleet as well as giving things a World War Two vibe.

-Nice duality as Garner and Apollo’s argument ends with them both declaring “and place you under arrest” at the exact same time, like it’s a race to the finish.

-Well set-up horror moment when the dead Raptor crews are revealed, suitably bloodied up and very lifeless.

-Sharon did warn Adama the Cylons would try and set-up an ambush at nearby pulsars in “Sacrifice”, so a nice bit of continuity there.

-Tellingly, Garner is frozen at the moment of the basestars’ appearance and the warning to brace for impact has to come from Hoshi.

-Garner tries to talk engineering through the problem with the FTL, but can’t do it. His “They don’t understand” is one of despair, at a machine he can no longer control.

-The engineering set is very basic and very cheap looking, given how advanced the Pegasus is supposed to be. It’s been a while since I’ve had cause to point that out: compare with the well-realised bar of “Sacrifice”. Also the breach in the section Garner goes into shouldn’t be accessible: the breach would make it impossible to open the door.

-Starbuck is enjoying herself in the cockpit. “The Captain’s Hand” would seem to indicate that this is the limit of her effectiveness as an officer: anything higher, even CAG, and she begins to fall apart.

-In the course of the fighting, Lee orders the Pegasus “left” instead of port, which does hue to real-world traditions in the heat of battle: you’d rather not have to take the time to explain which direction to a stressed-out draftsmen.

-Garner collapses in trying to get the FTL going, and with his very last gasp – literally – gets the job done. There is at least that.

-Neat production detail I only noticed this time around: Pegasus has two landing pads on both sides, one of which appears upside down relative to the ship.

-There is a very sudden cut from the Pegasus jumping out of the battle to Apollo and Adama in the Admiral’s quarters. Didn’t seem like a commercial break cut either. It was weird.

-Adama is just a little withering in tone when he remarks on Apollo’s report “You give Garner a lot of credit”. His elevation to command is something Adama clearly regrets.

-Adama’s final test is to ask Apollo what Garner’s failing was. Apollo passes by outlining what his own philosophy on leadership is, and by not being overly-critical in the same turn.

-When Adama calls his son “Commander Adama” and the familiar strains of “Wander My Friends” begin to play, it is a very powerful moment, of trust being imparted and respect earned.

-Roslin’s compromise is to ban abortion but allow Rya to have her termination, reasoning it was requested before the law was changed. It’s reasonable, legally speaking, but it’s a cop out in other way. You can see that in Roslin’s face.

-Roslin has little time for fundamentalist dehumanisation of sinners: “She has a name”.

-The Gemenon rep dangerously misjudges her amount of power over Roslin by demanding Rya be handed over: “I insist”. Roslin bites back with a viciousness we rarely see.

-In the process, Roslin says that “you have your pound of flesh” which would appear to be a reference to Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice. A bit anachronistic.

-“The Captain’s Hand” had a darker sub-plot that was deleted, wherein Rya, fearing she won’t be granted the abortion, attempts suicide. This closing exchange between Roslin and the Gemenon rep was meant to be intermingled with Cottle resuscitating her on Galactica.

-Apollo’s heart-to-heart with Starbuck is a nice close for the two in this episode, reconciling them and leaving things open for more, potentially.

-Baltar’s speech where he turns on Roslin is a really vicious piece of political theatre. The comparisons to Cylons especially is very calculated not just to make a big splash, but to hurt.

-Love the closing contrast between Head Six’s clapping and Baltar’s evil smile.

Overall Verdict: “The Captain’s Hand” rights the ship a bit after the fundamentally flawed “Sacrifice”, offering a brilliant character study in the form of Profiles In Leadership. Apollo, Roslin, Starbuck and Baltar all forward their plots and development really well here, and we get a good one-episode version for Garner. It’s well balanced, exciting and has something important to say. It lacks the flash of earlier episodes in this season, but “The Captain’s Hand” is still one of the better offerings from the show total.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Civil War On The Railways

As discussed, by the end of 1922 the anti-Treaty war effort was in a dire state. The IRA’s weaknesses were becoming manifest, and the strengths of their pro-Treaty opponents also. The opportunities for the republicans to strike effectively at the various facets of the provisional government were getting ever more restricted, which might explain how, more and more, the target of anti-Treaty operations had moved from the human to infrastructure. An enormous part of this aspect of the IRA’s offensive capability involved the Irish railway system. This was a vital avenue of transport for the National Army, but with a vulnerability that made the effort to protect it truly enormous for the time and place.

Attacks against the railway system had taken place during the War of Independence, but they had been infrequent at best: it had been worried that such things could alienate public opinion, and many trains were so packed with British troops that taking them on was tantamount to suicide. Such restraint vanished during the Civil War, with republicans using the pretext that even if their attacks hindered the daily lives of the civilian population, that the primary purpose of the rail network at the time was “army work”. Trains, at least in the early part of the conflict, also tended to have less protection than they often had in previous years.

Before the conventional phase was over, Lynch had issued orders that the country’s railway lines should be systematically sabotaged and interfered with. The results could be spectacular: by the end of August, most of the rail system that connected Leinster with Munster was barely operating if at all. Tracks were torn up, sleepers damaged, carriages attacked, engines hijacked so they could be turned into weapons, railway workers shot and stations burned: the railway network provided the unique opportunity of an enormous target that the National Army could not hope to fully protect, that could be disabled with relatively little effort. When a railway bridge over the River Blackwater near Mallow was destroyed in August, it brought National Army operations in that part of the Cork to an standstill temporarily. In Kerry, the hottest part of the insurgency war, rail travel was practically non-existent for much of the Civil War.

The practical effects of such destruction were many. Aside from disrupting provisional government communications, the restriction of the ability of the National Army to move men and material around was severely impacted, an important thing owing to what it led to: the pro-Treaty forces being obligated to rely more on the roads, where they were more susceptible to ambush. In many ways you might compare the railway campaign to the manner in which the IRA selected RIC barracks for destruction relatively early in the War of Independence, a strategy that also obligated the Crown Forces to rely on more mobile projection of power and thus make themselves vulnerable to roadside attack.

The anti-Treaty campaign extended beyond destruction, and onto the human element as well. Lynch issued orders that civilian railway workers were not to undertake repairs when such damage was made, and that any that did so would be considered enemy combatants. In parts of the country railway workers were suitably intimidated, and the provisional government found it difficult to get civilian support for their campaign to keep the railways open. In so doing the battle for the railways became another facet of the war for public opinion: IRA targeting of the railways inflamed civilian perceptions of the anti-Treaty movement in terms of its impact on daily life, but at the same time the inability of the provisional government to keep the system working smoothly could impact hugely on the perception of Dublin’s legitimacy. By January of 1923, the Great Southern and Western Railway Company would provide an estimation of 375 different instances of damage to tracks, over 40 derailed engines, over 250 bridges disabled or destroyed, and over a hundred railway-connected buildings damaged or destroyed.

Before then the National Army had already begun efforts to throw back the tide by forming a specialised unit of the military, the Railroad Protection and Maintenance Corps. Placed under the command of Colonel Charles Russell, a veteran of the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force of the First World War, who is sometimes also credited as a founder of the Irish Air Corps. But it was on land that he would give his greatest service for the pro-Treatu cause. His Railway Corps was something of an ad-hoc unit, whose personnel were a mixture of soldiers, railway staff and other civilians. Their task was to defend the railway lines from a military sense, and to insure that sabotaged sections of track were repaired as speedily as possible.

In many ways, the Railway Corps fought their own little insurgency war for the remains of the larger conflict. Blockhouses were constructed at vital points throughout the country to provide additional protection: especially important bridges and signal points were commonly guarded as such. Some trains were converted into improvised armoured models, with additional armour plating and Lancia armoured cars bolted to the roofs that could provide machine gun fire on any attacker. Larger sections of the Corps were also based semi-permanently in “problem areas”, most especially Tipperary, where attacks on the lines were especially commonplace.

Which is not to say that the Railway Corps immediately altered the entire picture. In took time for their efforts to be successful, and Russell would later complain bitterly at the enormous difficulties he had getting his men even the most basic supplies: at times he would say his Corpsmen worked without shoes, and on at least one occasion a bridge was blown because the soldiers tasked with stopping it from happening had no guns with which to do so. Such things are typical of the National Army experience of the Civil Wart all over the country: the carefully crafted images of men in crisp uniforms that have come down the decades were almost always a propaganda exercise. The real National Army, and especially its smaller sections, were considerable less organised.

But despite the indignities they often suffered, the Railway Corps did turn the tide. As 1922 became 1923 and as the months wore on, the IRA proved less confident in attacking the railways, especially at the vital points where there was now more defences, and they were similarly unwilling to attack better defended trains. As the anti-Treaty campaign slowed owing to other reasons – decreasing manpower, limited supplies, etc – the railway campaign became more and more difficult to maintain at previous levels. It was not until the war was over that the entirety of the system could be repaired and re-opened, but before that point the campaign had faltered to the level that it was more of a nuisance than a serious threat.

The IRA perhaps also over-estimated the value of the railway campaign: before the end of 1922 Lynch would claims that a 100 railway bridges blown was equivalent to a 100 barracks destroyed, which betrayed a blinkered strategic mindset. The attacks on the railway were undoubtedly useful for the anti-Treaty cause, but they would never have won the war for the republican cause: even if the anti-Treaty faction had completely destroyed the network beyond repair, the pro-Treaty side still had the roads, the seas and even the air. Even the Railway Corps efforts were probably best described as a campaign of damage limitation, rather than as a decisive theatre. Not for the first or last time, the IRA placed too much of an emphasis on tactics and strategy that had their uses but no final outcome that they really needed.

From the more general perspective, we will now zero back in to a more specific part of the war. If Lynch was the leader of what we can call the anti-Treaty IRA’s “war” faction, then the other side of the equation can be said to have its significant figures as well. One of those would still prosecute his part of the war with the same kind of energy that had marked his contribution to the War of Independence, but the very act of carrying out his operations in the field would in the end convince him that the war was not worth fighting. It’s time to look at Tom Barry’s Civil War.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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NFB Listens To Number Ones: “Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop)” – Scatman John

I think I will frame this review in the form of a debate question: This house contends that “Scatman” is a notable song only insofar as its novelty value. Leave aside the Eurodance music that surrounds it for a minute, which is fairly basic at best, and really think about how this ended up at number one in Ireland for two weeks in 1995. If this was some younger white guy or girl scatting, and making a music video that makes them look like Sutler from V For Vendetta, I have a feeling that it would have vanished into oblivion long before the chance of a big record deal was on the table. But instead it’s this 53-year-old American guy with a cute mustache and a very strong “fun uncle” energy, and suddenly we’re all going “Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop”. I mean, if you had never heard of this one you’d presumably be wondering what the hell is going on with those first 30 seconds, which sounds like a crazy person is in front of the mike.

I’m pretty sure this is the only number one scat song in chart history, and it’s hard to argue the point that’s it’s because of how weirdly kitsch the whole thing was. Scatman John – real name John Larkin – has a really fascinating life story, moving from LA to Berlin in 1990 to advance a jazz pianist career after a childhood marked with trauma owing to a speaking disorder. Larkin used scat to help get past that, but only belatedly introduced it to his musical career, for fear of his lisp returning and becoming a figure of fun. But when RCA found footage of him performing the act in jazz clubs, a smart producer realised there was gold in them there hills. It was only a small vein of gold though. The follow-up “Scatman’s World” was quite successful too, but after that the novelty had worn off. Larkin found some success in Japan with additional albums, but had been written off as a two-hit wonder by the time of his death from lung cancer just four years after “Scatman” was released.

How to evaluate this one? The scatting is quite proficient, if you’re into that sort of spoken-word lyricism and nonsense-sounds: one can appreciate the skill that Larkin has even if it’s not really my cup of tea. It’s merged well with the Eurobeats and techno, but they are, as stated, unexceptional. It’s undeniably very catchy, but it’s very hard to get away from the idea that the whole thing is just a joke that we’re all in on, this oddly likable guy able to make the weird sounds in a pleasing manner, so why not make him number one?. The annals of music are littered with failed novelty singles, but the odd success keeps them coming at a steady rate: “Scatman” is one of the very best examples, and probably inspired the likes of Bob The Builder and The Teletubbies to the same heights.

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Review: Beckett

Beckett

Trailer

Before the screaming starts.

After choosing to avoid unrest in Athens during their holiday, Beckett (John David Washington) and his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander) take an impromptu trip into the rural north of Greece, where a tragic car accident leaves April dead. In the aftermath, a stunned Beckett is shaken from his grief when, for reasons unknown to him, he becomes the target of seemingly corrupt Greek police and other hitmen, forcing him on a dangerous odyssey to the heart of a political crisis.

There was one film very firmly in my mind when I was watching Beckett, and it didn’t take all that long for the association to become lodged in my head: The Revenant. That was a movie where I had time for the strength of the lead actors performance, in a film he was obligated to carry almost single-handed through a lengthy running time, but in the end had to admit that it came down mostly to a repeated depiction of pain, misery and other negative feelings. Beckett is another overly-long film with a fine actor in the lead role who needs to scramble around a load of unappealing environments while being shot, stabbed, and otherwise beaten up, and it’s another film where I feel the true talents of that lead have been wasted in what is just another example of misery porn. About the time he started getting stung by bees in an otherwise non-violent scene I realised what I had gotten myself into.

Once we get to the promise of the premise, when a somewhat underused Vikander is killed off, Beckett rapidly becomes less of an engaging mystery and more of a tawdry trip through an austerity afflicted Greece. Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino has been given the time and space to elongate everything, and we spend minutes at a time just focusing on on Washington wheezing in pain, scrambling through the underbrush or just bursting into tears whenever he gets a private moment to do so. Sometimes that elongation serves to give Washington the space he needs to emote, and in a very different fashion to the suave persona he had in Tenet or the somewhat unhinged malcontent in Malcolm And Marie. Sometimes it just means that a vert talented actor is stuck screaming in pain for the better part of two hours, when he isn’t suddenly leaping off the top of buildings for some reason.

This could be forgiven if it was in service to a plot that was worth the trouble, but Beckett doesn’t really work as this sort of quasi-Bourne affair of skullduggery and fist fights in exotic places. The effort to craft a large-scale conspiracy – for risk of spoiling I won’t say much, but the phrase “this goes all the way to the top” is apropos in a lot of ways – doesn’t really work for me, tied as it is to an incredulous man that we don’t really know enough about, other than his seriously impressive tolerance for pain. The film takes too long to add meat to the bones, and where I feel it is trying to keep you on the edge of your seat with the lack of information, it instead only make you recline back and look at your watch. You might be expecting for some issue of race to come into things, after all we have a black man here being hunted through a predominantly white neighbourhood by bent cops intent on murdering him, but Beckett eschews this: whether this is a good choice or not I leave to others to ponder, but I will say that the sort of post-racial environment depicted here doesn’t help any effort the film has at claiming realism.

I don’t want to give the film too bad of a rap. I think it is shot well, even with that overly-patient approach, and it does showcase a different side of Washington’s ability. But overall it’s dull when it doesn’t have to be, doesn’t make the best use of someone like Vikander and loses itself too much in a bit of an unpalatable political message that the film really doesn’t need. There was potential here, but it was squandered about the 10th time we see Washington screaming in pain. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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NFB Watches Wrestling #72: Insurrextion 2002

After weeks of the most intense and detailed build-up in wrestling history, it’s time for the big UK blowout. But not really. It’s the 4th May 2002 and we’re in London’s Wembley Arena for WWF Insurrextion! Your main event tonight: Triple H and The Undertaker collide, because Insurrextion is the one night a year Raw and Smackdown go head-to-head.

Video package that says “the strong will survive and the weak will fall to the hands of mercy”. What does that even mean? Lots of random shots of wrestlers hitting each other with moves, with an emphasis on Taker/HHH and all that nWo/Austin/Flair nonsense.

“Burning Tree” theme, pyro and JR/King welcome us to what they make look like a packed Wembley Stadium, but I think the attendance was just four figures. JR insists it’s “sold out” though, and the crowd is loud. Two “huge main events” tonight, but JR doesn’t elaborate: a remainder that no matches were announced on TV beforehand.

Eddie Guerrero (c) vs Rob Van Dam (WWF Intercontinental Championship)

JR uses Guerrero’s entrance to announce that the twin main events are Taker/Haitch and Austin/Big Show, before we jump to a video recap of the IC match at Backlash. Really basic stuff, for WWF anyway, and it is just about the Backlash match because this feud has been basically dead in the weeks since. King mocks RVD’s use of the word “dude”.

Lock-up, Van Dam whiffs a leg sweep enough that Guerrero doesn’t sell it, kip-up chain and the crowd is in a forgiving mood. Jawing back-and-forth, shoving, “Rob Van Dam”, and away we go again. Spinning heel kick sends Latino Heat out as JR tells us we are also live in “the Republic of Ierland”. Springboard moonsault to the outside catches Eddie, back in with a springboard leg-drop and that gets two. Slam, to the top, and a split-legged moonsault gets two. Corner spears, but Guerrero counters into a roll-up for one, revolving flip, then Guerrero dodges a charge to send Van Dam out. Not a patch on their Backlash match as of yet.

Brawling on the outside, Van Dam into the steps, back in, “Eddie Sucks”, stomps, running elbow, two. “The fans here are absolutely loopy, loopy! “Is that good?” “Yes”. Van Dam beaten down in the corner, suplex, two. Faint “RVD” chant that dies surprisingly quickly. Reverse suplex, springboard senton, two, and into a resthold. Rope break, catapult into the bottom rope, choke with the foot, bigger “Eddie Sucks” chants and now Van Dam mounts his comeback. Tries a Sunset Flip, Eddie hangs onto the ropes, ref kicks his hands and it’s a two. Roll-up from Mr Monday Night for two, but Eddie able to come back and now puts on a sort of kneelock? Van Dam to the ropes, trading shots in the corner, until Guerrero gets in a low drop-kick. Another leglock and the momentum of this one has stalled big time.

Big “RVD” chants, Van Dam out of the leglock but then taken down by the knee again. Targeting the leg to prevent the Five Star is fine and all, but it’s weird for it to be introduced as an in-ring story this late in the match. More leglocks, some with the help of rope-based leverage, but Van Dam able to come back with a whip chain and then a big superkick. Dueling shots, corner monkey flip from Van Dam, big suplex, two. Scoop Slam, Rolling Thunder to a big reaction, two. So, that injured leg has healed up then? Looking for a Press Slam maybe, Guerrero tries to counter into a roll-up but Van Dam out of it and hits a quick moonsault for the top for two. Stepover heel kick sends Eddie prone, Van Dam to the top, but nobody home on the Five Star. Guerrero grabs the title belt, the ref takes it off him and Eddie throws the ref back. And that’s actually it as the ref calls for the bell in just under 11-and-a-half.

Winner (by-DQ): Rob Van Dam, but of course Guerrero is still champion.

Verdict: Started well, stalled a fair bit and then a stupid non-finish that deserved more boos than it got. I presume these two will have the proper blow-out at Judgement Day.

Eddie is unhappy, and chases the ref around the ring, then into the ring, where he takes a heel kick. Strikes, elevated drop-kick, a belt shot, then RVD hits a Five Star with a mid-air direction change to JR’s astonishment. Music hits, crowd is happy without a title change, I guess you can’t complain too much. Replays of what we just saw as JR almost flat-out says “These two will meet again”.

Backstage, Terri is with Jazz and Molly Holly in a segment that very much seems like it was filmed in the States. Molly shakes her head at Terri, and says they have a problem with her, Jackie and Trish, since they are Divas exploiting their bodies for money. They choose to not be on the Divas video because they were asked to expose their breasts, and Holly then points out a Page 3 spread from The Sun to back up her point. Everyone in the UK is trash, but tonight Holly and Jazz will win their match for morality. Terri is proud of her body (cheers) and thinks Molly is jealous, and flashes her bra to prove the point. Some slight body-positive thinking to this against Molly’s tired Ivory-schtick, undermined nicely by King audibly jacking off on commentary. Lets get to it.

Trish Stratus & Jacqueline vs Molly Holly & Jazz

“You don’t look at the mantelpiece while you are stoking the fire” says King in the lead-in to this, and Jesus Christ that’s awful. Brawl to start, and Holly and Jackie end up legal. Jacqueline with an Atomic Drop, mounted punches, the two roll over the referee to the mildest of pops, and then a roll-up for two that Jazz breaks up. Double team with Trish distracting the ref, double shoulder-block, two. Jazz in with a slam, leg-drop, hard corner whip but nobody home on another leg-drop. Trish in hot, flooring Jazz a few times before walking into a jawbreaker. Trish back with a headbutt, Molly thrown into the ring, but while Stratus is distracted with her she eats a spinning kick.

“Jazz a woman of few words, which is unique in my life”, JR keeping pace with King on commentary. Jazz with a Chicken Wing into a forward slam, two. Molly in to maintain the beatdown, handspring elbow, two. Jazz back in, hair pull into a slam, two. Hard rights, Trish back with a few of her own but comeback cut off by a cheap shot from Molly. Ref distracted on a backslide pin and Jazz out at two. Roll-up from Jazz gets two, neckbreaker from Trish gets two. Decent pace now.

Hot tag to Jackie, Jazz hung up on the ropes, slow ass roll-up, countered with a handful of tights, two. Jacqueline with a DDT, Molly breaks up the count, and cleared off the apron for her trouble. Jazz able to put in a Half-Boston Crab, and Jackie pulls herself across to a far rope even though the one to the left is closer. “This match is making me feel a little randy” says King ruining everything, and the crowd is onboard with a “We want puppies”. Trish breaks up the submission, things break down and the faces clean house. Cool spot where the heels try corner whips of the faces into each other, the faces counter each others momentum and send each other back into the heels. You never see the women get to do stuff like that usually. Stereo Stratusfaction and Tornado DDT’s to the heels, the ref counts both pins even though Jackie and Jazz were legal and that combination is not one of the pins, and that’s it in just over seven-and-a-half

Winner: “The Puppies”, says JR. JR!

Verdict: A bit uneven in its pacing, but it was actually pretty good. Of course this is all that the womens division is, so it needs new blood.

King mocks Molly for being a virgin as we look at replays for a hot second. Backstage, X-Pac and Scott Hall converse. Pac remains annoyed about what happened at Raw, and promises to do the same to Bradshaw tonight as he did to Kane. He declines Hall’s offer of help, and heads to the ring. “I don’t know why you would come back to this country after you beat him anyway” says Hall to no one. Why does he say that?

Bradshaw vs X-Pac

Pac out with nunchucks and in the Kane mask, but don’t think Mr Mayor will be here tonight. Crowd goes mild for Bradshaw, weirdly enough. As the ref talks to Bradshaw, X-Pac loosens up a turnbuckle pad. Circling, lock-up and Pac flung back. “X-Pac Sucks”. Lock-up, and X-Pac flung down off a shoulder block. Rake to the eyes gets him a bit of room, but only so he can eat a big boot. Beatdown offence, back body-drop, corner clotheslines but the last dodged and X-Pac back with martial arts kicks. Tries a spinning heel kick, but caught and slammed instead. Low drop-kick gives Pac back the advantage, and he starts working the left leg from then on.

Turnbuckle removed, and Bradshaw’s head gets rammed into it. Nick Patrick saw him remove the pad, but no DQ for some reason. Beatdown in the corner, and Bradshaw has actually been posted open, now is that really required? Might have been unintentional. Spinning heel kick to the shoulder gets two. More kicks, a weak-looking chop, running boot to the head and the crowd is pretty dead at this point. Resthold for a bit, more strikes in the corner, a comeback cut off, elevated punches, and it strikes me that we’ve spent nearly three minutes in and around the one corner. Now Bradshaw able to throw X-Pac off to set-up the last act, I hope.

Bradshaw with strikes, a big forearm, spinning elbow, and a botched spot where he whips X-Pac into the corner, pulls out of a charge because he realised he was too close, and then Pac made it worse by belatedly putting the leg up anyway. “Good awareness by Bradshaw there” says Ross to cover. They redo the spot in the opposite corner just to make sure we know it was a botch. Bradshaw with a powerslam gets two, then goes to the top for some reason and hits the flying shoulder block, but Pac gets his foot on the rope. Pac back with another spinning heel kick, but gets thrown off at two. To the top, caught on a crossbody attempt, and Bradshaw hits a Fallaway Slam.

Now Scott Hall appears, presumably furious at seeing the one move he can do done better by someone else. He is looking in bad shape. Bradshaw clears him off the apron, hits a bit boot on Pac, turns back to Hall and gets nailed with the nunchucks while Patrcik is distracted. Slow cover, and Bradshaw out at two, to the surprise of the crowd. Pac looks from the Broncho Buster, nobody home, Bradshaw looking for the Clothesline From Hell but visibly hesitates so an out-of-position Pac can duck, then cleans an out-of-position Hall off the apron again, a real botch train right there. X-Pac hits a sneaky low-blow, X-Factor and that’s it in just under nine.

Winner: X-Pac, who looked a bit “out of sorts” if you will.

Verdict: Pretty standard match, both guys can go but Waltman was a bit “tired and emotional” I suspect. Hall’s presence added nothing. This feud needs to come to a conclusion fast.

Backstage, the Deadman is with the Coach, who calls his main event contest with Triple H “one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in WWF history”. Hard for that to be the case, seeing as how it was never announced on TV. Generic promo follows where Taker says he will show no remorse or passion for the beating he will give HHH tonight. He likes beating the hell out of people, and he is Haitch’s biggest obstacle. Dreams and hopes will be shattered, rest in peace, etc. Very half-assed.

Stevie Richards (c) vs Booker T (WWF Hardcore Championship)

Again with T in the Hardcore Division, whats up with that? Apparently Bubba Ray is at home because of a family emergency, not sure if kayfabe or not. We get a recap of Stevie winning the broken strap on Raw. Big reception for Booker, there’s a good face run in there somewhere.

Circling, lock-up, arm-drag takedown from Richards who is so super-enthusiastic. King less so: “I’m sure these fans are delighted to see a hardcore match start with an arm-drag”, meow. Circling, lock-up, Stevie backed into a corner, stomps, chops, strikes, more stomps. To the outside, and a trash can, trash can lids, obtained, but Richards chucks them out as soon as they are brought in. He misses one and takes a hard head shot then a running shoulder. Savate kick and Stevie sent out. T sends the Champ into the ring-steps, then the barricade, then produces a sweeping brush. Shot to the back, back in, and Richards with a poke to the eye to get back the advantage.

Shots, chops, then eats another Savate kick for two. Suplex, T back to the outside to grab a trash can and Stevie takes a head shot. Superkick through the can, but only two. Richards back with chops, but T responds with a Flapjack. Richards worked over in the corner, until he gets in a low-blow. Beatdown, lid shot, two. T hulks up, back body-drop, but then sent out on a charge. Trash can thrown at the challenger, that gets two. Back in, elbow drop to the back of the head, yeesh, taunting T with his own moves, Booker back with hard rights, but misses a heel kick and gets crotched. Pan shot to the back. Slow pace to this one, and the crowd not super into it.

Resthold from Stevie, the crowd now starts to rally behind T, and Richards sells his horror at Booker getting out of the hold really well. Out of it, Scoop Slam, but then takes a drop-kick through a can for two. Can set-up in the corner, but T reverses the whip into it and the Champ hits the can hard. Dueling shots, T with a flying forearm, big spinebuster, two. Heel kick as King complains about the lack of hardcore wrestling, T to the outside to grab another trash can, it’s set up on Richards head, Booker to the top, and hits an awkward one-legged missile drop-kick to the can for two. Took too long to set-up for the pay-off. Booker, looking a little gassed, calling for the Scissors Kick, but then walks into the Stevie-Kick instead, but T out at two. Way to bury his finisher. T reverses a whip to hit the Book End, and that’ll be all in just under ten.

Winner (and new WWF Hardcore Champion): Booker T, who is too good of a performer to be competing for this belt.

Verdict: More wrestling match than hardcore match, and it was OK, both guys can go but neither was at full tilt.

As Booker celebrates Crash Holly appears, sneaks up behind and rolls him up for three.

New WWF Hardcore Champion: Crash Holly

Crash has just enough time to celebrate with a Spinarooni before he takes a Scissors Kick and gets pinned by Booker.

New WWF Hardcore Champion: Booker T

Man, that was pointless, other than for reminding us Crash exists. Now suddenly Justin Credible and Tommy Dreamer are here to remind us they are still employed, and they beatdown Booker T. Dreamer produces a table, it gets set-up, but then T fights back and floors his new adversaries. Credible with a mistaken superkick to Dreamer, then takes another from T. Booker obliges us with a Spinarooni. Suddenly Jazz is in the ring, low blow and Richards gives T a flapjack onto the edge of the table, which doesn’t break, God damn it maffew. Cover, T kicks out at two while the ref counts three, to the confusion of the crowd. Stevie re-does the Flapjack spot, this time the table breaks, and now he gets the 1, 2, 3.

New WWF Hardcore Champion: Stevie Richards

Richards and Jazz cut a hasty retreat. Booker gets cheered off by the appreciative crowd. Jeez, this was overbooked, and ended confused. Wiki tells me the Hardcore Title changed 15 times in the course of this tour. The lack of reaction to the changes here is an indication of why the Hardcore Title is on its last legs. Three months left.

JR announces that our next match is the Hardy’s taking on Brock Lesnar and…Shawn Stasiak? What? Video package recaps the Lesnar/Jeff match at Backlash and then Brock’s destruction of Matt the next night. Backstage, Stasiak converses with Paul Heyman. He’s excited for Planet Stasiak to team up with Brock Lesnar, and so are the voices in his head. Heyman outlines his strategy: Stasiak stands on the apron, Brock starts the match, Brock ends the match. The only reason this pairing has been made is because Paul figures Stasiak is the most likely guy to stand on the apron for what is mandated to be a 2 on 2. I guess that makes sense? Lesnar says if Stasiak doesn’t obey instructions, he’ll be looking at another beating. If this match doesn’t end with Stasiak laid out I will riot.

The Hardy Boyz (Matt & Jeff) vs Brock Lesnar & Shawn Stasiak w/Paul E. Heyman

JR outlines why Lita isn’t here while plugging Dark Angel, and King is unimpressed, thinking she should just walk the next surgery off. Stasiak charges the ring to start and gets floored off a Jeff forearm. Manages to hit a side slam coming out of the corner, then a big sidewalk slam for two. JR trying to get Stasiak over in fairness, even as Paul Heyman screams abuse at him from ringside. Resthold, Jeff rallies back, jawbreaker, Matt in, dodges a clothesline, Side Effect, Jeff in, trying for the Poetry In Motion, but Lesnar pulls Stasiak out of the way. Lesnar in legally and starts chucking the Hardy’s around. Briefly distracted by Stasiak, Lesnar takes a few rights and a boot from Matt, but then hits a sidebreaker and a powerslam off an attempted second rope crossbody.

Lesnar takes a few moments to soak in the Heyman taunts, then hits a big swinging powerslam. Jeff cleared off the apron, beatdown on Matt continues, and a rope drag adds to it. “I bet that hurt, didn’t it!” screams Heyman, he’s the best. Foot choke for a bit, delay suplex where Matt hits hard. Dumped into the corner hard, again, but then Matt dodges a corner charge. Stasiak tags himself in at the crowds insistence, tries his own corner charge but nobody home. Hot tag to Jeff, Stasiak cleared out, heel drop to the stomach, Whisper In The Wind, two. The Hardy’s clear Lesnar off the apron, Poetry In Motion, Twist Of Fate, Swanton off the top and that’s enough in just over six-and-a-half.

Winners: The Hardy Boyz, and it feels like a while since I have had occasion to say that.

Verdict: Was alright, Hardys were very much in house show mood and not too bothered. Lesnar made to look strong. Stasiak made to look…crazy? Bad at wrestling? If they want this gimmick to work they have to have him win a bit.

Lesnar in to nail Jeff with the F-5, then one for Matt. Spinebuster to Stasiak, then that twisting powerbomb. Heyman raises the hand. As it happened it wouldn’t be Lesnar’s last “match” of the tour…

Footage of a “charity dinner” that the Fed held the previous night, with Linda McMahon present and Coach hosting. Proceeds to Make A Wish. Lots of good news footage. THQ guy pays 14K for a Wrestlemania 19 package, and they haven’t even named the location yet. King is distraught that nobody bought the “glossies” of him that were up for grabs.

Backstage it is what we are all here for as Coach interviews William Regal ahead of his Euro Title match with Spike Dudley. He’s the kind of person who made this country great, with fighting spirit, pride and dignity. But now he looks around at the other people in England, “underachieved dossers”, with “no hope and no future”. No wonder they look to Regal. He’s happy to be facing that “shitehawk” Spike Dudley so he can given the people a ray of sunshine. Sometimes they make him ashamed to be British. Hmm, I’ve heard better from Regal in Britain to be honest. That match is up next.

Spike Dudley (c) vs William Regal (WWF European Championship)

Footage of Spike winning the Euro Title a few weeks previously to remind us that this is sort of a grudge match. Regal, naturally, gets cheered by a large segment of the crowd when he comes out, despite JR’s insistence that they are all booing. Sign of the night: “Regal, Yer Mums A Lizard”. Circling, lock-up, wristlock from Regal and a knee drop to the head. Takedown, stomp to the arm, snapmare and shots in the corner. Spike back with some strikes of his own, running forearm, drop-kick, another, a third, then a headbutt to the gut. Looking for the Dudley Dawg early but Regal shoves him off, and Spike clutches his ankle as Regal fiddles with a turnbuckle pad. The ref’s calling for a trainer, is this legit? No “X” being thrown up so I guess not, strange spot though.

There’s a trainer out and all and they’re cutting Spike out his right boot. I’ll never understand this, there’s a match on, if the ankle is busted he can just tap out, otherwise shouldn’t it just continue? King hilariously wonders if there are any hospitals in the UK. Spike is taken out of the ring and is carried by the ref and the trainer, only for Regal to attack from behind! He rolls Spike back into the ring, and slams the foot into the mat, to cheers. Scoop Slam into the ropes, and the crowd is popping big. Double Underhook Powerbomb, but Regal pulls Spike up at two, more cheers. Suddenly Spike gets an inside cradle and that’s it in just under five.

Winner (and still WWF European Champion): Spike Dudley and his wonky leg.

Verdict: Weird energy to this one. Very throwaway.

A pissed Regal loads up the brass knuckles and Spike takes a hard left. Regal leaves, and doesn’t even look that annoyed, maybe because everyone next to the ramp is cheering. Spike carried out. It was what it was.

Coming up next, the match we’ve all been waiting for, I guess? It’s Stone Cold and the Big Show, and it gets a video package. Flair’s special reffing gets a going over, the ambush on Bradshaw, Big Show’s betrayal, etc, etc. Pretty basic recap. JR outlines that Show is back from his “promotional tour” of India, and suddenly out comes Ric Flair. Horror of horrors, he’s wearing a ref’s shirt. Why. On the mike, he thanks Wembley for their support. He says Stone Cold is “the Man”, and to make sure no one interferes tonight he’s made himself the special ref #2. He’s going to be outside. So, he’s an enforcer then? This is dumb. Also Nick Patrick is the actual ref. You know, Nick Patrick? The guy who first became famous as the nWo’s specially selected ref?

Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Big Show (Special Guest Referee: Ric Flair)

Flair calls for Austin but instead it’s “Weeeellllll, new, new world order”. Terrible mash-up. JR says that Big Show has been living on “a diet of spicy curry” in India, which explains his foul humour. What? Huge pop for Austin, who takes a moment to stare down Flair at ringside. Nick Patrick trying to keep Austin and Show apart, the big man say’s he’ll break Austin in half, and gets the bird. Didn’t hear a bell but away we go.

Lock-up, Austin forced back as the crowd rallies behind him. Repeat, and Austin does some push-ups to mock Show’s dominance. “What” chants, lock-up again and Austin shoved into the ropes. “You fat bastard”, that’s harsh. Lock-up again, Austin backed into the corner again, but now fights back with right hands before getting floored with an elbow off an Irish Whip. Stone Cold takes a break on the outside for a bit, back in, looking for a Test of Strength, but gives a kick to the mid-section instead. More of those, but floored by a clothesline when he tries a charge. Another break on the outside, and this one just has no momentum at all. The fourth lock-up, Austin backed up for the fourth time, and now Show adds on some open-handed chops. Austin back with kicks to the legs, then a double axe-handle to the head that looked really ugly. Low blow with Nick Patrick looking elsewhere, about the most exciting thing so far.

Stomps from Stone Cold, now working over the left leg. Wraps it around the ringpost, more stomps back inside, but Show gets some room with a headbutt. Austin with a takedown, then puts in a leglock while Show tries to crush his head. A break, Austin with a shot to the back of the injured leg, and Show collapses backwards and nearly lands on Austin, very sloppy. Austin starts running the ropes, ducks a clothesline but then picked up for a delay Scoop Slam. Elbow drop, the straps come down and has to be said that Wight looks in worse condition than he did a few weeks ago. More chops in the corner, a big throw, then just stands on Austin for a bit. Clubbing shots to the back, then a suplex where Austin looked like he landed a bit awkwardly. This is not so good.

To the outside, more chops, back in, Austin tying to mount a comeback with more kicks to the leg, but then takes a big back body-drop. On commentary JR complains that King keeps directing the “You fat bastard” chants towards him. In the ring another back body-drop, a foot choke, more open-hand chops, then a hard clothesline. Falling elbow, two, Austin back with shots, then Show with still more open hand shots in the corner, yawn. The match is just too exciting at the moment, so Show locks on a bear hug. A pin attempt, another bear hug, arm drop spot but Austin out before three. Headbutts to Show then a Lou Thesz from the second rope, neat.

Austin with big rights, but then eats a big boot. Show tries a clothesline, Austin ducks and Nick Patrick goes to sleep. Austin with a Stunner, no ref, and Ric Flair is busy trying to ward off the suddenly appearing X-Pac and Scott Hall. He chases them off with a kendo stick, Austin calling for him, turns and walks into a Showstopper attempt. Out of it with elbows, but another big boot sends him down. A falling elbow, a headbutt and suddenly Kevin Nash is here, coming through the crowd. Show trying to hold Austin but Stone Cold breaks free, Stunner to Nash, Stunner to Big Show, another Stunner to Big Show, and Patrick is suddenly conscious to count the fall in 15 on the dot.

Winner: Austin, who won’t be ranking this among his classics.

Verdict: Slow, tedious stuff, with Show looking out of shape. Finish was overdone too with the phased interferences, and no real reason for Flair to be involved at all.

Flair grabs a chair and chases Nash away, so Austin can drink his beers in peace. But wait, the Raw owner is back in the ring with a mike. He says Austin is the man, and Flair hasn’t let him down. Man, he’s out of breath after a light jog up the ramp and back. Austin grabs the mike. “What, what, what”. He runs down some of Flair’s mistakes over the last few weeks, but says he can let bygones be bygones. Then a kick to the mid-section that is so whiffed Flair doesn’t sell it, Stunner and Flair is laid out. Wow, this was bad.

Straight into a video package for the main event. Undertaker interfered in the Backlash Title match against Triple H, HHH beat him up, Taker interfered in the #1 contenders match on Smackdown. All of this to something that sounds a bit like the Crimson Tide soundtrack? Mostly recycled footage from packages used on TV. I guess they just aren’t going to pull out the “A” material for a show like this.

The Undertaker vs Triple H

First one-on-one between these two since X7, right? That match was great, but I don’t have high expectations for this one, especially when there is only 20 minutes left before entrances. Away we go, dueling strikes, high knee from the Game, back body-drop, then the Undertaker clotheslined out. To the outside, Taker gets the advantage, Triple H hung up on the barricade, but then able to shove the Deadman into the ringpost. Taker beaten down, back in and Triple H takes a stiff-looking clothesline to reverse the momentum. Another gets two, arm-wring with shots and the crowd comes alive for Old School, but HHH ruins it by “jerking Undertaker off”, thanks JR.

Haitch with a big suplex, falling elbow, two. Undertaker suckers him in and pulls him out of the ring, but on the outside he gets his head rammed into the announce desk a few times for his trouble. Crowd a little dead for this one it has to be said. Taker able to hang Triple H on the rope getting back in, big corner clothesline and now apron elbows that look fairly whiffed. Taker follows up with a leg drop to the back. Triple H pulls himself up, gets a shoulder on a corner charge, back with shots but then gets his leg taken out. Undertaker working over the leg because that just hasn’t been done enough tonight, and we get a resthold.

Triple H working his way out of it, hard whip to the Undertaker, and the top rope is dislodged upon the impact. Amateur hour, and Taker could have been pretty hurt. As Hebner tries to fix the rope the two men buy some time with a sneaky Taker low blow. Into another resthold as JR tries to insist it was HHH’s strength that did it. Out of the resthold, and Haitch hits a reverse suplex. Doesn’t look like the rope is going to be fixed, but at least neither of these guys is really known for top-rope work. Double clothesline spot sends them both down.

Taker crotches on a dodged corner charge, though the broken rope shouldn’t really allow that, and then takes a swinging neckbreaker, another, spinebuster, two. Looking for the Pedigree, Undertaker powers out of it, and delivers a big boot. Calling for a chokeslam, but countered into an awkward DDT for two. “What did he hit him with?” wonders King, it looked that messy. Hard whip into the corner for Triple H sends some part of the ring flying, back with a knee drop, then Taker back with a chokeslam for two. They show a replay of the previous chokeslam reversal, and it was less a DDT than some kind of shoulder drop.

A pissed off Taker grabs a chair from ringside, Hebner slows him down, and Triple H hits a high knee through the chair. Only two. Man this went to big kick-outs very quick. Undertaker decides to show HHH what a DDT actually looks like, and this gets two. Calling for something big, might have been a submission but countered into a clothesline for two. Taker hits Snake Eyes, Triple H back with another high knee, Pedigree and that’s it in just over 14-and-a-half.

Winner: Triple H.

Verdict: Fair play to JR, he acts like this is one of the greatest matches he has ever seen. But it was fairly pedestrian, with neither guy looking too bothered. Then the ring started breaking and they looked even less bothered.

Triple H celebrates, Taker walks off looking annoyed, as JR insists this one is not over. And that’s all we have time for.

Before we move on to final thoughts, we have to talk about the aftermath of this show. Taking place on a Saturday night, the roster took a flight back Stateside the following day, which was a private 747 just for wrestlers, ring crew and assorted WWF officials, including Vince and Linda McMahon. As was customary at the time the flight, being at the end of a successful tour, had a bit of a party atmosphere, with a free bar provided. According to Sean Waltman, numerous wrestlers entered the plane at least somewhat inebriated already, with plenty of GHB being slung around. The result was many of the occupants of the plane becoming extremely intoxicated mid-flight, with several nasty incidents occuring.

In no particular order, you had Ric Flair deliberately exposing himself to flight attendants, including accusations that he cornered one at the back of the plane and forced her to touch his genitalia (Flair denies this, WWE would settle a suit out of court two years later); Curt Hennig and Brock Lesnar engaging in a friendly wrestling match in the aisle that soon turned into a shoot fight, with Hennig shoved up against the plane door in the process, seemingly freaking other people on the flight out; Dustin Rhodes somehow getting access to the planes PA, which he used to drunkenly sing to his ex-wife Terri; Scott Hall verbally abusing flight attendants with words of a sexual nature, before passing out so completely that others had to check he was still alive; Michael Hayes having to be pulled away from Linda McMahon with some believing he was close to urinating on her in the mistaken belief he was in a bathroom; Hayes then punching John Bradshaw in the face, opening up the cut he had got during the Insurrextion show; Hayes then having his pony tail cut off when he become unconscious, which led to him nearly getting into a physical altercation with airport staff when he realised at customs.

Now, bear in mind this was only nine or so months after 9/11, so it was the height of a time when airplane security was a huge issue. The behavior of the wrestlers made newspaper headlines and, as stated, led to lawsuits. A response was mandated, and two people involved in the chaos were almost immediately fired, Scott Hall (though he would last long enough to main event the next Raw) and Curt Hennig. In Hall’s case the plane ride was probably just a convenient excuse to enact an inevitable sacking, owing to his terrible condition and awful in-ring performances, while Hennig was probably just in the unlucky position of being the most easily punished of everyone involved: no-one was going to fire Ric Flair, then the kayfabe owner of Raw, or Brock Lesnar, who the Fed would be strapping a rocket to pretty imminently. Hennig’s was a sad case: brought back for January’s Rumble, where he made the final four and looked good in the process, he had won a contract but then just vanished bit-by-bit, reduced to jobbing in three minutes TV matches in the time after Wrestlemania. He would be dead of a cocaine overdose within a year of Insurrextion. The availability of alcohol was reduced on WWF/E flights in the aftermath, and, apart from the lawsuits, the Fed moved on. But it remains a pretty reprehensible moment in wrestling history.

As for Insurrextion…

Best Match: The womens tag was actually the most entertaining, and had the best energy of any contest on the card.

Best Wrestler: Not sure, maybe Lesnar? Made to look quite strong out there, and hopefully now moving onto bigger feuds.

Worst Match: Austin/Show pretty easily. Awful, slow, too long, Austin looks like he doesn’t care and Show isn’t in good shape.

Worst Wrestler: Can’t give it to Hall this time, so will go for X-Pac instead, who had some sloppy moments in his otherwise unexceptional match with Bradshaw.

Overall Verdict: The British PPV’s at this time always had a reputation for being glorified house shows, and that is pretty much what Insurrextion 2002 was. No really stand-out matches, no title changes and lots of sub-par, half-assed performances from the roster involved. It was at the end of a tour in fairness, but it’s still PPV, you’d expect better. The plane ride from hell was the cherry on top.

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Sacrifice”

Oh…I really am an idiot, aren’t I?

Air Date: 10/02/2006

Director: Reynaldo Villalobos

Writer: Anne Cofell Saunders

Synopsis: Apollo, Dee and Billy confront the nature of the triangle they are a part of, but a resolution is put on hold when the three are caught up in a hostage-taking by a militant group demanding Sharon Valerii be handed over to them. On Galactica, Adama considers if he has gotten too close to the Cylon prisoner.

Review

In “Sacrifice”, BSG takes a step into the realm of action thriller, perhaps in a bid to improve upon what they tried and failed to do in “Black Market”, with a love triangle to provide the human drama at the heart of the excitement. The end result is an episode that feels like a bit of a hack job in too many ways: it works, except when it doesn’t. The separate parts of “Sacrifice” – the interaction between Billy, Dee and Apollo on the one hand, the hostage takeover on the other, Starbuck’s crisis and even the Adama/Sharon stuff elsewhere – are all great, but when you try and put them all together the result is less an appetising gumbo and more of a unpalatable mix of uncomplimentary flavours. Lets go through it.

Part of the problem is that the episode doesn’t have a main character, that singular obvious focus to try and pull things together. For me, probably just because I tend to sympathise with the politics nerd, I tend to look to Billy. There’s some new aspects of him in “Sacrifice” that are worth examining, along with some well-worn ones. I mean stuff like his idealism – such as when he urges Roslin to be straight with the Fleet regards Sharon, or his slightly soppy proposal to Dee – which have never gone away, but now mixed with a new confidence, exemplified when he talks straight to Adama about the danger that Sharon poses. He’s grown up a bit since all this started, what with the coup, his role in “Home (Part Two)” and everything, and he’s starting to feel more at ease with being, essentially, the right hand man to power.

I really thought that this confidence comes out nicely when he confronts Dee in Cloud Nine. A weaker character would have flown into a rage, made a scene, turned vicious. But Billy is quiet, assured to a degree, when he admonishes Dee: “You should have told me about this”. Seeing Billy react to what we can perceive as a betrayal – I do anyway, please see below – is the real emotional core of the episode, and it’s a shame we really only get to see one moment of this.

Billy briefly falls back into the old pattern of well-meaning subservience as he comforts Dee over an injured Apollo, but his new found sense of confidence soon leads to a dark ending. Dee asks the question directly about Billy thinking he has something to prove, and we can well imagine that his desperate grab for that gun had at least a partial goal of re-affirming his masculinity in the face of his would-be betrothed going out with an obvious alpha male archetype (lets also not forget his mortifying mistake with the gun in “Valley Of Darkness”). I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a death wish, but it’s a reckless, and ultimately fatal, choice, that is in keeping with the character that we see in “Sacrifice”. That is, Billy is perhaps a bit tired of being just the President’s weedy hanger-on, and in a moment of high physical and emotional stress, lets that sentiment carry him too far. He started standing up for himself, so I guess he had to go. But it wasn’t that simple.

Killing off Billy was a consequence of issues with Paul Campbell. He had missed several episodes earlier in the season while off filming other projects, something he was able to do because he wasn’t under contract. When he repeatedly put off signing an offered five year deal, the decision was taken out of his hands. It sounds harsh, but I remember reading that a huge number of the cast were in a similar situation at the end of Season One, and there were genuine fears that they could all end up unavailable. I think killing Billy off was a better choice than having him just vanish, and it’s hard to judge the whole thing too harshly given the circumstances (if I was to be harsh, I would say it’s brutally sudden and the latest in a line of convenient deaths this season, ala Cain in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” and Fisk in “Black Market”). At least his death frees up Dee and Apollo to forward their story, gives Roslin some pathos and there was always the chance he would return as a Cylon.

What about the end of the Billy/Dee relationship? It’s heartbreaking, though at least has an established basis in the cause with the Dee/Apollo stuff. For me, Dee is fundamentally in the wrong: perhaps Billy has misinterpreted the seriousness of their relationship, but that’s something Dee should have been conscious of, and been willing to deal with, before embarking on this sojourn with Apollo. Dee seems annoyed when Billy says “You let me propose to you”, but he doesn’t mean she actively facilitated it, he means she knew Billy was more invested in the relationship than she was, but she refused to have that conversation with him. Wanting an open relationship is no sin, but you have to tell the other person. Dee comes across as strangely manipulative in parts of this episode, refusing Billy’s proposal but seemingly not ending their relationship, and then casually discussing it in a bar with Apollo later. It would be one thing if she just wanted Apollo, but she appears to want her cake and eat it too in that sense. In he end, the decision is largely taken away from her, and her final tears may well be more for a badly injured Apollo than for a dead Billy.

The Abinell group is a similar sort of thing to the “Demand Peace” movement of “Epiphanies” or the mafia in “Black Market”, in that it is an aspect of the civilian fleet that has a lot of potential, but it doesn’t realise that potential. Sesha, for me, represents the sort of blind rage about the holocaust that we haven’t actually seen a lot of, demanding explanations for the unexplainable. You know the kind: not being able to deal with sudden emotional turmoil and lashing out instead. Demand Peace funneled that into an illogical effort to make friends of the Cylons, but Sesha goes the other way, demonstrating a hatred of Cylons so fierce that she has to turn the military into the enemy in the absence of any Cylons to actually kill. And of course it’s all a cover for the despair she feels at the death of her husband, something she refuses to acknowledge. There’s a fascinating character, and a group in all that, which I feel could have done with more episodes. An armed militia that is in full-on conspiracy mode? Maybe it was 15 or so years too early for BSG. But instead they become just another enemy of the week, just like Peace Now and Phelan’s mob, which is frustrating.

The other main part of the episode is the internal battle over Sharon. Adama is getting closer and closer to her, to the general unhappiness of Roslin and Tigh. Tigh is especially vehement that the Cylon cannot be trusted, and identifies one of Adama’s possible weaknesses, that his nostalgia for a time when she was a beloved pilot is clouding his judgement. Adama here has to make a pretty huge call, in either handing over his prisoner or playing a game of chance with his sons life. He chooses the later and it works out, but the larger questions about Sharon remain unresolved. Her unwillingness to betray Cylon agents in the Fleet is a pretty major sticking point, and I can’t say that it is one that I buy very easily: she’s come this far after all. “Sacrifice” leaves this plot point unresolved, which is fine, ahead of what I remember is a larger resolution in a few episodes time. As it is, Adama trusts Sharon, but there are a few lives that are the cost in “Sacrifice”.

Taking all these things separately you have what seems like a solid enough episode, but as stated, the mix doesn’t work that well. More than that I was struck by the multitude of small errors – the dud action film lines, the focus on Ellen Tigh too much of the time, the suddenly more noticable absence of characters like Baltar and Six – which indicate an episode that just wasn’t thought through very well. There are other, bigger, things as well, like the sense that we are taking steps back with the Apollo and Starbuck characters when we literally spent the last two episodes moving them forward. “Sacrifice” was forced upon the production team in a way, but I don’t feel that they handled the problem all that well, with a story and character beats that don’t reflect the better work done in the first half of Season Two.

What I want? This is not about what I want.

Notes

-Man, the titles in the latter half of Season Two have gotten really weak haven’t they?

– Villalobos known mostly for his cinematography work down the years, with this episode his only BSG directing credit. Not sure he was the best choice for the job.

-Sesha’s document she is typing up – “Cylon MO” – notes “Sleep Deprivation” (“33”), “Resource Targeting (“Water”) and “Suicide Bombing” (“Litmus”). Nice to see that stuff influencing later thoughts.

-Real “Pepe Silvia” feel off this scene, missing only the bits of string to connect the bits of paper together. Maybe they should have called this one “The Valerii Conspiracy”

-Billy takes it to Adama big time in the prologue, displaying a confidence that seems strange (and getting a withering stare in response), but it makes more sense with what happens next.

-Oh, the desperation we can see in Billy’s face as he realises that Dee is not going to accept his proposal. It’s all in the eyes. Great performance from Campbell.

-Apollo and Dee clean up well for their date. McClure looks stunning in that dress, and I wonder if she’s consciously or unconsciously aping Starbuck from “Colonial Day”.

-“I don’t know what to make of me and Billy” is an infuriating line from Dee, said with far too much casualness considering she’s in the process of breaking his heart.

-Sesha Abinell is played by Dana Delaney, whom I know best from her DC animation VA work. She’s great here, doing her damnedest with what could have been a very one note character,

-The count is down three, reflecting the deaths of Reilly, BB and Jo-Jo in “Scar”.

-Oh, that pained look of realisation on Bily’s face as he twigs what Apollo is doing with Dee. “You can pinpoint the exact second is heart rips in half”.

-Love Apollo’s reaction to Ellen Tigh’s shallow musings on how “people like us” don’t fit with monogamy: “Us?”

-Gotta ask: when Apollo sees Sesha with the concealed gun, why doesn’t he head out the front door with Ellen and/or Dee?

-In seeking information on likely Cylon ambush points, Adama asks Sharon about “wormholes”. That seems like a very Star Trekkian use of that term, like these things just exist naturally in space, and it doesn’t fit at all here.

-Stupid Ellen #1: She decides to make herself the centre of attention again by exposing herself to the hostage-takers, and puts Apollo in danger at the same time.

-I’ll admit I rolled my eyes when we find out that Starbuck and a group of marines are already on Cloud Nine. How convenient!

-Starbuck actually says “Lock and load” here. What happened to this script?

-Using Dee to get Apollo to drop his gun is ice cold, and a nice way to establish how far Sesha was willing to go.

-Stupid Ellen #2: “Give her the Cylon!”. Way to remove any scrap of leverage you might have.

-Abinell claims there is “concrete evidence” that the Colonial government was infiltrated by Cylons. Is she just talking nonsense, or is there actual evidence that this occurred? Should Baltar be worried?

-Adama and Tigh’s understanding, about how they can’t give up Sharon, is reached very quickly, which was a nice nod to the nature of their relationship. Early drafts had them coming to blows over Ellen being in peril, which would have been a bad choice in my opinion, not unlike the original plans for “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”.

-Hmm, is it sexist to think that someone should take one look at Kara Thrace in engineers overalls and think something is up? Perhaps.

-Stupid Ellen #3: Giving away Starbuck. She’s really insufferable in this episode, but I guess that is the point.

-The shoot-out is a pretty good action scene to a point, it captures the required sense of chaos pretty nicely, but I felt it got a little silly by the end. Could do with less of the Starbuck duel-wielding.

-Shooting Lee points to Starbuck not being quite the unstoppable badass she thinks she is, as outlined extensively in “Scar”. Remember when she described herself as “the best shot, in and out of the cockpit” in “Bastille Day”? Not anymore she’s not.

-Minor visual flaw in the episode, as Starbuck heads out of the Cloud Nine shoot out we see a muzzle flash on her gun but it clearly doesn’t recoil.

-I love that Billy hesitates when Dee asks him to help stop Apollo’s bleeding, and we might think it’s because of some well-deserved hate towards Lee, but it’s actually because there’s a guy pointing a gun in his direction.

-“I think it was me” Starbuck says, well into another crisis of confidence. Didn’t we just deal with this sub-plot in the last episode? It almost feels like the running order is wrong.

-Love the opening of the conversion between Adama and Sharon, where they are just staring at each other. So much to unpack there, and words aren’t required.

-Sharon says she won’t give up Cylon agents in the Fleet, if asked. “That, I believe” says Adama. In an episode where knowing if they can trust Sharon is at the core of the issue, Adama has to settle for a base level of such things.

-Billy isn’t having it when he hears justifications for the hostage taking, comparing his brothers death on the Colonies with the death of Sesha’s husband: “They’re all good men”, and Billy didn’t start pointing guns at people after he died.

-Sesha and Adama repeat their earlier debate over the phone again, and it really did feel like the episode was just stalling for time at that point.

-I’ll admit, even on a fourth or fifth re-watch, when a gun is put to Ellen’s head I still immediately think “Do it!” She’s that annoying here.

-Adama’s solution is a little ingenious I admit, but Sesha should really see that the Boomer corpse has been dead for some time.

-Adama is unusually cold with Starbuck, but I suppose she did just shoot his son.

-The truth behind Sesha’s desire to kill Sharon is clear when she comes face-to-face with her, with the emotional manner of her putting a bullet in a corpse. It was always about revenge.

-The final shootout matches the editing of the first, with a bit more blood. Initially it doesn’t seem like Billy is hit that badly, but he was dead the moment he hit the floor. He doesn’t even get any final words.

-Adama holds his sons hand as the medics arrive, reaffirming their bond physically, after it was pulled apart a bit in “Black Market”.

-I love Roslin’s “It wasn’t worth it”, so full of anger and yet carrying that hint of the President not believing what she is saying. Just so frustrated and lashing out. Very human.

-Roslin breaks down a little bit at the sight of Billy’s body, almost falling over, and the way she went about fixing his hair was heartbreaking.

-One thing that we needed to see coming out of this that we never got to: Roslin taking Apollo to task for dating Dee when he knew she was still involved with Billy. Or does she just never find out? I imagine it would piss her off.

-“Hell of a vacation”. Man the quippy action hero lines really do land with a thud throughout.

-Dee remembers Apollo’s brush with nihilism in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”, and won’t tolerate a repeat: “You have to stay. You have to really stay”. This time it’s Starbuck watching from the doorway.

-The final shots of the episode, with a familiar but unheard for a while Cylon theme playing over them, seem designed to make us question Sharon’s motives more going forward. I can’t recall if BSG really ran with that ball, but we’ll see.

Overall Verdict: Chalk this one down as an episode that I enjoyed more on previous watches, and less when I got into the nuts and bolts of the thing. The best parts of the episode don’t have the required focus, there’s another instance of good ideas not being explored enough and the efforts to craft an action-thriller results in devolving character arcs and awkward scripting. The second half of Season Two has had its good and bad episodes already, and this ranks somewhere in the middle.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Execution Policy

When it comes to the Irish Civil War, there is little more evocative in the popular memory than the provisional government’s formal policy of enacting executions of captured republicans. We have discussed the course of the conventional war, the death of Michael Collins, the National Army’s COIN operations in general and more focused ways, but so much of the pro-Treaty experience of the war comes back to the powers handed to the military to summarily judge and then shoot IRA members deemed worthy of shooting. Beginning in November 1922 and continuing all the way to the summer of the following year – after the war had ended – the list of executions is not even the totality of the issue, as it does not include the multitude of informal executions that occurred throughout the period, some of which I will cover in greater detail later. The question is why the provisional government thought this policy necessary, if the argument they presented had any legitimacy and what kind of effect on the war the executions actually had.

First, a little background. The death of Collins may not have resulted in enormous reprisals in the short-term, but its impact on the provisional government leadership was significant. Kevin O’Higgins, the Minister for Home Affairs, perceived by many as being the true driving force of government policy, was particularly vehement that a harsher stance had to be taken against the IRA: that they should be treated as criminals engaged in unlawful rebellion against the legitimate ruling power, and not as lawful combatants. The bounce back of the republicans in the period of August to October, the increasing casualty count for the National Army and the major coups signified by the temporary taking of places like Kenmare, Ballina and Clifden, all contributed to others lining up behind O’Higgins’s thinking.

The Public Safety Bill gave the National Army wide-ranging powers to punish individuals as it saw fit, up to the point of a sentence of execution. The offences for which this may be possible were wide-ranging too: possession of unlicensed firearms or explosives, looting property, arson and “aiding and abetting” attacks on the forces of the provisional government. The first charge was particularly important, as it widened the net to include not just Volunteers in arms, but anyone who was willing to help them store ammunition or explosives. The terms of the Bill would later be expanded still further to include those found guilty of carrying messages for the enemy, for desertion from the National Army or aiding in escape attempts.

The laws were of course controversial, and produced significant debate at the time (albeit this was somewhat neutered owing to the limited opposition in the Dail). W.T. Cosgrave certainly expressed something resembling reluctance, but was swept away at the insistence of men like Richard Mulcahy, whose dual role of Minister of Defence and head of the armed forces gave him feet in both sides of the decision. Despite cries of dictatorship and tyranny coming from the likes of the Labour Party, the provisional government stuck to its course.

Why was it thought necessary? As stated, the nominal reason is that it was deemed an appropriate punishment for those engaged in open rebellion against the state, but speaking more practically it was probably hoped that it could tie into the larger counter-insurgency policy and prove a deterrent to republicans taking up arms or for sympathisers to aid them. In essence, it was the gloves coming off: an attempt at intimidation dressed up as law and order. An offer of amnesty for IRA Volunteers made in early October has been largely ignored, so the executions were, for some, the logical next step.

Did the policy have legitimacy? Well, if we consider the provisional government the rightful government of the country, then that government has the right to decide its laws and punishments, especially for those deemed to be in military conflict with the state. Obviously if you consider the pro-Treaty side to be in anyway illegitimate, then they had no right to be enacting such capital punishments. This is a matter of perception, and isn’t something I will comment too much on. For myself I do feel that the provisional government had greater legitimacy than their opponents, but I also believe capital punishment to be among the very worst powers that a state can proscribe for itself.

The first formal executions took place in Kilmainham Gaol on the 17th November when four IRA men belonging to Dublin units were shot on charges of being in possession of unauthorised weapons. The youngest, James Fisher, was only 18, and had been arrested less than a month before. A much more high-profile execution followed a week later on the 24th, when Erskine Childers faced the firing squad in Beggars Bush Barracks. Childers had spent the Civil War, despite his obvious anti-Treaty leanings, doing little of any practical use to the cause, at least partly because he was deemed untrustworthy owing to his birth: one witness at the time has testified to the common sobriquet for Childers as being “that damned Englishman”. Despite National Army belief that Childers was one of the main minds behind anti-Treaty propaganda campaigns, it seems as if Childers was relegated to a minor staff role of little import.

He was arrested while on his way to a meeting with Eamon de Valera in early November. Nine days later his trial took place. The charge was possession of an unauthorised firearm, a pistol that Childers insisted had been a gift from Michael Collins. Despite the origin, Childers was found guilty and sentenced to death. When he faced the firing squad, he allegedly gave them advice on how best to shoot him, and committed a promise from his 14-year-old son – also Erskine, a future Irish President – to make peace with those who had signed his death warrent.

The most high-profile day of executions can probably be considered as the 8th December, when Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey and Rory Barrett went to their deaths in Mountjoy Gaol. These killings were less a judicial exercise and more a naked retaliation: it came a day after the death of pro-Treaty TD Sean Hales, shot down by IRA gunmen outside the Dail (another TD, Padraic O Maille, was shot but survived). Hales was killed as revenge for Childers and the others, and the circle rapidly turned around. As has been well-remembered, O’Connor had been the best man at Kevin O’Higgins wedding in barely a year previously: now O’Higgins signed O’Connor’s death warrant. The executions that day stunned many, and provoked the biggest storm of protest, but the shootings did not stop.

In total, there would be 79 men executed by firing squad. At O’Higgins’ instruction the executions were undertaken in different parts of the country to maximise their impact on opinion. Save for a few weeks in February when the pro-Treaty leadership attempted – without success – to initiate another round of amnesties, they happened consistently all the way up to May 1923. Among the executed were three members of Patrick Mullaney’s flying column captured at Pikes Bridge (sentenced to death for desertion from the National Army) and Charlie Daly, the one-time leader of the anti-Treaty IRA in Donegal, whose death occur ed over the objections of the local National Army commander Joseph Sweeney. The others were a mix of IRA Volunteers, officers, National Army deserters or civilians deemed to have crossed the line in their sympathies with the IRA cause. The majority were quite young – 11 of them at least were teenagers – and many went to their deaths a week or less after being arrested after what can be described as only a cursory examination and military court procedure.

A number of high-profile anti-Treaty figures escaped the firing squads for various reasons. Sometimes it was as simple as knowing the right person in local commands who could confirm a supposed deserter had applied for a the right to leave before being arrested. For others reputation could prove fortuitous: Ernie O’Malley may have avoided execution owing to his role during the War of Independence and general popularity. Still others dodged death by essentially turning their allegiance and giving information to the pro-Treaty side, or by aiding with efforts to end the war from captivity: one very notable Cork-based IRA officer provides the best example, and we will cover that in time. A large number of anti-Treaty prisoners were sentenced to death, but many of these sentences were commuted. Not even 1% of IRA prisoners would end up executed, though this would be of little comfort to those that were.

And those numbers do not include “unofficial” executions of course. Captured IRA men were shot out of hand all over the country during the Civil War. Incidents like that on Ben Bulben we have already covered, and there are other, more infamous, incidents still to come. Some of these deaths could be put down to “in the moment” surges of emotion – which does not excuse them, only help to explain them – but there were other incidents. CID in Dublin became darkly known as an organisation adept at vanishing IRA Volunteers, informants and sympathisers, killing them as a punitive measure after brutal interrogations, and then dumping the bodies in public spaces. The number of such killings countrywide is impossible to ascertain, but almost definitely went into triple figures.

I suppose the really crucial question is if the execution policy worked. Did it contribute to ending the war sooner than it otherwise did? It is impossible to say with any certainty. During the War of Independence British executions of captured Volunteers were undoubtedly a disaster in the larger PR battle, but the Civil War was somewhat different. Perhaps the threat of such punishments influenced the feelings of the people when it came to deciding to offer any support to the anti-Treaty side, perhaps it helped to convince some of the IRA in arms to lay down those arms and go home. It certainly didn’t have much of an effect on the IRA’s leadership, especially the “war” faction of Liam Lynch. For them, the executions simply made them dig in on their opposition to the National Army, and only engendered greater hatred. It was easy to paint the pro-Treaty side as cruel and unworthy of allegiance, though it was less easy to convince people to give that argument a full hearing. Assassinations of TD’s did cease, for the rest of the Civil War anyway, though attacks on their homes did continue.

What cannot be denied is the legacy of bitterness and recrimination that the policy left in Ireland, and those feelings would long outlast the Civil War itself. Decades later, the institution of executions during this period would still be a major factor in determining the leaders of the nation, and the popular remembrance of this entire period is synonymous in many ways with what occurred in various prisons and gaols across the country. It is a topic that we will return to, in part, at a later time. For now, we must move forward with our examination of how the Civil War was fought. It’s time to focus on a sometimes little-noticed, but vital aspect of the conflict: the republican campaign to disrupt and destroy the Irish railway system, and the National Army efforts to stop them.

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