Review: Belfast

Belfast

Trailer

The pictures…they’re coming…alive!

Growing up in a street of mixed religions in 1969’s Belfast, a Protestant family tread a fine line amid rising sectarian tensions in the city. Youngest son Buddy (Jude Hill) observes the often fraction marriage of his put-upon Ma (Caitriona Balfe) with frequently absent father Pa(Jamie Dornan), the increasing frailty of his grandfather (Ciaran Hinds) and grand mother (Judi Dench) and the attempted recruitment of his older brother Will (Lewis McAskie) by local loyalist gangster Billy Mitchell (Colin Morgan), all while navigating his own life young and naïve life.

Emotional, gripping and managing a dichotomy of short length with vital details, Kenneth Branagh is back to his very best with the semi-autobiographical Belfast. After the unfortunate drek that was Artemis Fowl, Branagh has moved on with some of the same cast – most notably Dench, and Lara McDonnell as a cousin of Buddy’s who gets him into trouble routinely – and the same island, but produced something that will easily rank among his very best productions. This is clearly a film that Branagh has been thinking about for a while, and that sense of care, devotion and importance to the storyteller radiates out of every scene and line of dialogue.

The story, such as it is, is basic enough, but powerful in its way. It comes down to whether this family is going to weather the sectarian storm of the nascent Troubles – brought to life vividly by the menacing figure of criminal loyalism exemplified by Colin Morgan – or seek opportunities elsewhere, but it is the associated details that make Belfast. I talk of Buddy’s crush on a Catholic schoolmate that propels him to excel academically so he can sit next to her, anytime Hinds or Dench is on the screen as his loving, but inherently roguish grandparents (a scene where an ailing Hinds promises Buddy that he will never “be anywhere you can’t find me” will have you giving the proverbial “something in my eye” excuse) or nostalgic memories of youthful adventures fighting dragons, playing football, stealing from the local shop and taking in the likes of High Noon and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the local cinema.

It’s all undoubtedly a little nostalgic, and Branagh could be criticised for letting a set of rose-tinted glasses influence this monochrome production a bit too much – you’ll think Van Morrison was the only singer of note by the time you are done for sure, and will understand something of the Danny Blanchflower hero worship in the North – but the sense of menace behind Belfast life in 1969 is never very far away. The opening scene moves from idyllic to traumatising in the blink of an eye as loyalists initiate a program against Catholic denizens of the street, and for the next 90 minutes the philosophy of understanding, acceptance and neighbourly affection that Buddy’s family embody in their behaviour towards Catholics comes up right against the necessity for barricades and resident guards to protect their small strip of land. The Troubles is here, but life goes on. The message that blind sectarian hate goes hand-in-hand with devious acts of wanton criminality is clear, as is its rejection by any right-minded people: Catholics and Protestants are not all that different really, exemplified when Pa declares Catholicism a “religion of fear” right before we get a fire-and-brimstone speech from the local reverend (that ends, as it would do any creed, with an ecumenical-sounding plea for money).

Belfast is an acting tour de force, with nary a bad showing from anyone, even the minor players. Where I feel Branagh struggled hugely in getting a good performance from child actors in Artemis Fowl he succeeds admirably here, with Hill’s portrayal of this quasi-depiction of the director perfectly pitched in every innocent utterance and wild-eyed tantrum. Around him are a host of younger stars – Dornan and Balfe excel as Buddy’s perpetually stressed and on-the-edge parents who retain an obvious passion for each other, and Morgan’s menace is tangible in every scene – and older veterans – Hinds and Dench are the beating heart of the film and interact wonderfully – who really embody the material fully and make you believe that you are just a fly on the wall of this Belfast street.

And there is another aspect of Belfast that I feel really does deserve some additional attention, and that is its running time. Too often these days big tentpole films and more cerebral arthouse movies feel the need to present themselves with exorbitant running times that fly past the two-hour mark, and in so doing merely betray an ill-advised grab at being dubbed “epic”, a lack of editing and cutting skill or a distrust that an audience will be capable of absorbing the intended message in a more palatable length. Branagh blows this up with Belfast, which in little more than 90 minutes manages to convey more emotion, more catharsis and more expert story-telling than I have seen in similar visual tomes that prefer keeping you in your seat for twice the time. Less is more has rarely been more apt, and my annual “Bang For Your Buck” award has a very early frontrunner.

Visually, Branagh chooses to use black-and-white, save for those moments when he is in a cinema or a theatre (where a line is drawn between Pa’s singular refusal to aid the loyalist cause with “cash or commitment” and Gary Cooper’s lone stand in High Noon), or in brief openings and codas that give a look at present day Belfast. The effect obviously lends age to the story being told, and of course also imbues in it that sense of youth nostalgia: many shots are from a low level looking up, especially as it comes to Pa. Some may say the effect goes too far, and makes Belfast seem more like an idealistic dream of a childhood lost, but I wouldn’t go that far: while I wouldn’t say it really adds an enormous amount to the experience, I think it does still ground Belfast in 1969, and in the lack of colour emphasises the penury of the moment, both financially in the case of the struggling family, and in the moral decay that permits instances of loyalist violence depicted to go largely without significant challenge from the authorities. Other than that I was struck by the intimacy of Belfast’s cinematography, with Branagh, aided by Haris Zambarloukos, fixing his camera in place for interior scenes that really do what you to feel as if you are sitting there in the kitchen with Ma, Pa, Granny and Pop.

2022 has been a decent year for film so far it has to be said, and it now has an early lead for film of the year. That’s praise enough for Belfast really. an emotionally engaging affair that boils over with warm characters, affection for the city being portrayed, positive messages amid a lot of darkness and an exploration of the importance of a very Irish wit and good humour in the face of adversity. It may be a very particular type of nostalgia-bait in its own way, but when nostalgia-bait is as well-acted, well-written and as well-shot as this, it is difficult to complain. Kenneth Branagh has a new masterpiece. Highly recommended.

(All images are copyright of Universal Pictures).

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NFB Watches Wrestling #91: Raw (01/07/2002)

Time to see if this ladder match is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s the 1st July 2002 and we’re in the Verizon Wireless Arena of Manchester, New Hampshire for episode #475 of WWE Raw! Your main event tonight: The Undertaker defends the Undisputed Championship in a ladder match against Jeff Hardy!

New Attitude splash and into a recap of last weeks “RUTH-LESS AGGRESSION” speech from Vince, which has an orange filter for some reason, followed by the Van Dam/Lesnar stuff. They do a good job at making Lesnar look like a monster admittedly, syncing up his mouth with Vince’s “RUTH-LESS AGGRESSION” (I’ll stop now).

“Across The Nation”, pyro and Ross/King welcome us to Manchester. They plug our title defence main event, with the belt itself already hanging above the ring.

Out comes Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman, with Lesnar seemingly ready for a match. Only now does JR mention that Chris Benoit is making his in-ring return tonight in a tag match later, you’d think they would make more of that. Heyman on the mike to remind us that it’s meant to be the summer of The Next Big Thing, but everyone instead keeps talking about Rob Van Dam. But he doesn’t have the ruthless aggression to match Lesnar, who is going to win the Undisputed Championship at Summerslam. But Big Brock isn’t just about aggression, he has intelligence and inspiration from people like Kurt Angle. They draw the NCAA comparisons, and say that Lesnar is specifically inspired by Angle’s open challenge from Smackdown (good to start drawing that line early). But his challenge isn’t for a rookie, it’s for any veteran who wants to step into the ring. Heyman says anyone can come down and get sent into retirement. Silence, Heyman goading the entire roster, and he gets his challenger with a “Woooo”.

Out comes Flair. He says he hasn’t forgotten Lesnar’s interference in his match with Vince McMahon (I had). He’s a veteran, and even better a legend, and tonight “big boy”, Lesnar is going to find out why. Lesnar goes eye-to-eye with Flair and tells him he’s in the wrong place in the wrong year with the wrong guy. Here we go.

Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman vs Ric Flair

While I’m glad this wasn’t saved for a PPV borefest, I am surprised they are wasting it on TV. Stone Cold must be at home puking. Heyman screaming “retire him!” at ringside. Circling, big delay before any action, lock-up, and Lesnar floors Flair straight away. Lock-up again, Flair thrown back far. Test of strength briefly, Flair able to put Lesnar into the corner where he delivers a big chop. Flair chooses to skip around instead of maintaining the offence, Lesnar backs him into the corner, again reserved, more chops, whip to the other corner for more of it, but Brock puts things right by delivering a swinging powerslam.

Looking for an elbow drop, that’s new for Lesnar, but nobody home. Flair to the outside, back in when Brock pursues, and then able to hang the Next Big Thing on the rope. Lesnar basically no-selling this, but does sell a thumb to the eye. Snapmare, knee drop, two, with Lesnar flinging Flair away with the kick-out. Big clothesline from Brock, stomps, corner clothesline, Flair flop, hard corner whip and into a double backbreaker. Flair out, Lesnar pursues, shots as Heyman argues with the ref, Flair trying to rally back and able to whip Lesnar into the ringpost. Back in, Lesnar misses a corner charge and ends up in the ringpost, more chops, but then Flair knocked down again.

Bear hug for a bit, elbowing out, yet more chops but the crowd is into it, Lesnar back with a huge spinebuster. Baiting Lesnar in, Flair able to hit a low-blow, then another when Heyman distracts the ref inadvertently. Reverse suplex, two, with another big kick-out. Flair with a leg takedown, strut, looking for the Figure 4, locks it in, Heyman up on the apron for some reason, but Lesnar able to get to the ropes on his own anyway. Flair clears Heyman off, walks into a F-5 and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in around seven.

Winner: Brock Lesnar, the Legend Killer

Verdict: Fine, Flair did his best to keep up but mostly just had to be prepared to be flung around. Not sure this really did a whole lot for Brock, but this is what Vince wants.

Heyman mocks Flair as we go to break. The Rewind Of The Night is Trish body-shaming Molly then pinning her a few minutes later. Backstage Jackie Gayda is doing her make-up when Coach rocks up. He basically starts chatting her up which is not really needed, they blather on about whatever diva crap happened last week, and then she blames Molly for the tag loss. That brings up Holly, who says Gayda should spend more time paying attention to a role model like her instead of walking around in her underwear. Jackie says at least she looks good in her underwear and that starts a brawl.

We quickly end up out at the stage area, Holly has a pipe but Jackie avoids a big shot. Holly whipped into the barricade, Gayda tries a pipe swing but Holly avoids it. Holly with the pipe, what is this a pipe match, and uses it to choke Gayda. Down to ringside, Holly beating Jackie down, and delivers a snap suplex. Into the ring, backbreaker, Holly to the top, missile drop-kick, a slap added and Holly walks off. Some mild boos until Trish Stratus appears to attack, inevitably. Back into the ring, where Stratus pantses Holly, because of course. This is the greatest thing King has ever seen from his reaction. Stratus walks off like the victorious bully she is. I haven’t seen a feud where the alignments are this mis-judged since Flair/Lynch.

Backstage, Terri is with Christopher Nowinski. He’s challenged Bradshaw to a “straight-up wrestling match”, and isn’t interested in the Hardcore Title. He doesn’t want to be dealing with trashcans and two-by-fours, and instead wants a civilised contest. That match is up next. Another nail in the Hardcore belt right here.

Christopher Nowinski vs Bradshaw (non-title)

I mean, the Hardcore Title is always on the line so Nowinski should already be Champ after pinning Bradshaw last week, but I guess it doesn’t matter anymore. King has Nowinski’s Harvard class ring and shows it off for us. JR points out Bradshaw has a college education too, way to undercut the gimmick. Bradshaw with clubbing shots, shoulder tackle, then to the outside to grab a trash can, a Stop sign and a few chairs. Little Naitch trying desperately to explain to Bradshaw that this isn’t a hardcore match, and takes a big rope/cowbell away from him. Big boot to Nowinski, Bradshaw distracted by the ref, and Nowinski gets in a shot with he cowbell, without the ref seeing, for the win in just a minute.

Winner: Nowinski, and isn’t it funny how someone like Cena benefited more from a loss to Angle than Nowinski does with this? I suppose he is a sneaky heel, but still.

Verdict: Nowinski should be Hardcore Champ twice over, and Bradshaw looked like a moron. Nuff said!

Backstage, William Regal is looking on this with approval when Rob Van Dam shows up seeking for Lesnar and Heyman. Regal says Lesnar is cooling off after his match, and RVD would have known that if he showed up on time. Sick burn. Van Dam squares up, Regal says it was rude of Van Dam to barge in here, and Van Dam suggests that he take on Regal instead of Lesnar. Regal agrees, and it’s Champion-vs-Champion, but presumably non-title. They were my match of the night at Wresltemania, so sure, let’s do it again.

Elsewhere, Terri is with Jeff Hardy. He doesn’t consider himself the underdog since he doesn’t have to pin or submit The Undertaker. He starts doing some climbing of set rigging that’s helpfully nearby, before settling on a ladder. He’s been in lots of ladder matches, unlike the Deadman, and that’ why he’s going to win. Live free or die – no pop for the state motto, come on NH – he’s living in the moment and not dying tonight. This was a bit of a mess, have to say. “Crazy” Jeff doesn’t quite work for me.

Elsewhere elsewhere, Booker T meets Goldust, now dressed as Darth Vadar, which T does not recognise. Was Attack Of The Clones out around this time? Goldust says he has a splendid plan to help Booker tonight, but T is more interested in his toy lightsaber. “Obi Butt Kenobi” is going to get his ass whupped by the “five time Jedi Master Champion”. Is Obi Butt Kenobi Big Show?

Elsewhere elsewhere elsewhere, Eddie Guerrero is with the Boss. Vince has made an exception to allow Eddie to tag with Benoit tonight, but Benoit is apparently a Raw guy now. That’s not going to last long. He wants a Spanish translation of “ruthless aggression”, and Guerrero says it’s “Eddie Guerrero”, nice (it’s “agresion despiadada”). In comes Benoit, and McMahon would not want to be his opponent tonight. Let’s see some what I am going to call “RA” from now on.

Rob Van Dam vs William Regal (non-title)

This one brought to you by M&M’s, Honda and Slim Jims, what a combination. Lock-up, whip-chain where Van Dam clearly slips and Regal scores with a shoulder charge. Corner kip-up to escape a charge from RVD gets the crowd going, before a rough AF looking Full Nelson Suplex from Regal, someone give Van Dam a HIA. Brief beatdown on the outside, back-in, big “RVD” chants. Regal with his multiple covers for two, knees to the head, hard whip into a corner, uppercut, snapmare, lots of simple, but vicious offence.

Van Dam gets two off a roll-up, but Regal then with a drop toe-hold into a sort of Captain’s Hook crossface, very nice. Van Dam eventually out of it, Regal with more knees but then walks into a Monkey Flip. Kicks in the corner, corner spears, then a twisting springboard crossbody for two. Spinning heel kick floors Regal, Rolling Thunder where Regal scooted into the right position, two. Regal looking for a double underhook something, Van Dam counters into a back body-drop, to the top, Five Star then a three count in just under four.

Winner: The IC Champion, remember that he is that?

Verdict: A little shorter than I would like, and even with that had more than one sloppy moment. But still, these two can always pull off something decent.

Van Dam on the mike after to call out Brock Lesnar, with Mr Monday Night wanting to settle their differences right now. The crowd is certainly down, and after a moment out comes Lesnar and Heyman. Heyman on the mike to reply, saying that Van Dam’s guts have always impressed him, but he tends to have more of them than brains. For that reason, he’s going to do Rob a favour and advise his client not to go down to the ring and destroy him. Instead, he suggests a grander arena, challenging Van Dam to a match with Lesnar at Vengeance. Van Dam says this is cool with him, and The Next Big Thing should remember that he is Rob. Van. Dam. So, if the plan was to have Lesnar/Van Dam at Vengeance – probably the earliest an undercard match has been set in this series, which is good – why have them fight last week? And will we see the Sumemrslam title shot put on the line?

Commentary plugs Benoit’s return, which is next up, and the Booker & Goldust/nWo tag later.

The Dudley Boyz Mk 2 (Bubba Ray & Spike) vs The Radicalz Reunited (Eddie Guerrero & Chris Benoit)

Recap of the events of last week during the Dudley entrance. This is literally Benoit’s return to in-ring since his neck injury at King Of The Ring 2001, he hasn’t even been on a house show since. Spike and Eddie to start, Guerrero on top early, beating down, reverse suplex but then walks into an Inverted Atomic Drop. Drop-kick, neckbreaker, two. “We Want Tables”, but of course. Bubba Ray in, shots to Latino Heat, but then Eddie back with a pop-up drop-kick, awesome. Dudley back quick with a corner splash, thrown out of the corner, Scoop Slam, elbow drops, two. Bit of a botched back somersault dodge from Eddie ends with him nearly slamming face-first into the mat, “Bit of an unorthodox counter there” says JR, covering.

Benoit in, here we go. Lock-up, Benoit backed up into the corner, chops, Benoit reverses it, shots, hard whip to opposite corner, elbow drop, then a short-arm floors Bubba for two. Now Bubba’s back with a Sidewalk Slam for two. Benoit straight back with a hard German, then Dudley right back with a neckbreaker. Little rhythm to this unfortunately. Spike in, gets two off a roll-up, nails a Bulldog, two, then starts taking those knife-edge chops. Backbreaker and Spike sells with a big scream, two. Replays show Bubba’s head hitting hard on that German, that might need a look.

Spike clears Eddie off the apron, walks into a Crossface but Bubba breaks it up. Ref distracted so the heels can execute a beatdown. Guerrero legal now, hip attack, rope choke, Benoit in. Big reverse suplex, Spike chucked into the ringpost, Eddie in. Shots, another ringpost hit, and Eddie goads Bubba into distracting the ref so Benoit can get in a choke from the corner. Spike dodges a splash, and nails the Dudley Dawg to Eddie. Hot tag to Bubba, he clears house, big powerbomb to Eddie but Benoit breaks up the pin. Dudley gives him a big reverse suplex, shots to Eddie with some Spanish taunting, then a sort of stunner to Benoit on the apron. Scoop Slam to Eddie, set-up and Spike delivers the “Whats Uuuuppppp”. Spike told to get the tables, he sets it up on the outside before getting ambushed by Benoit. In the ring Guerrero nails a sweet hurricanrana out of the corner, Bubba prone, Eddie to the top but nobody home on the Frog Splash. Bubba clears Benoit off the apron, hits Guerrero with the Bubba Bomb and that’s it in just under nine-and-a-half.

Winners: The Dudley Brothers

Verdict: Good fun, a couple of not so great spots but this was a good return for Benoit, while giving Bubba a badly-needed rub. WWE continues its run of mid-show tags bringing the goods.

Benoit in to nail another German on Bubba, Spike in to try the Dudley Dawg but gets chucked through the table on the outside for his trouble, that gets a “Holy Shit” chant. Benoit applies the Crossface to Bubba, Guerrero hits the Frog Splash to Bubba’s legs, and a troop of refs have to come down to get Benoit to release the hold. Bubba selling this like a champ, with Eddie screaming in his face. Damn, they really made Benoit look vicious, which is like saying water is wet I know, but still.

Rey Mysterio is coming. The Network audio cut out for this promo, something they didn’t have the rights to?

Backstage, Goldarth runs into The Big Show. Show is unhappy about Rhodes’ insults last week, and he responds by doing the “I am your father” bit from Star Wars. Shot from the lightsaber, that Show sells for some reason, only for Nash to turn up. “Oh yeah, well I’m your daddy”. Goldust beaten down and chucked into some nearby steel poles. Nash instructs Show to go and take care of the other one, or he is out of the nWo. At some point that threat is going to not mean a whole lot. At least Nash is getting physical.

Commentary plays up our main event and the chance that Hardy might actually pull it off. A video package outlines Jeff’s history with ladders, which is scarily extensive. How was he still wrestling in 2021? Backstage, Taker is with Terri. The Champ wants to talk about Kurt Angle instead of Hardy, and says unlike Hogan, he doesn’t tap. When he finishes off Angle he’s going to move onto The Rock (mild pop). Terri asks if he isn’t concerned about his match tonight, given his lack of ladder experience? An annoyed Undertaker walks off. Good for them to plug Smackdown, and focus on Mean Mark’s potential fear of the ladder stip.

Elsewhere Show arrives in his locker room to find X-Pac laid out. TBS looks pissed, and stalks off with a purpose. His match is next.

Booker T vs The Big Show

Show still has that garbage mash-up of his theme and the nWo one. Show in hot, puts Booker in the corner straight away, lays in some shots then a huge throw across the ring, T dodges a corner charge, some shots of his own, but then a whip countered into a big spinning clothesline. Show with a big delay suplex for two. Bear hug for a bit, arm drops, but T rallies back before three. Out of the hold, ducks a clothesline and nails a heel kick to send the big man down. Show back with a Sidewalk Slam for two where he was falling backwards with little control it looked like. Drawbridge spot sends Show out, so time for some ringside brawling. Booker whipped into the barricade, and TBS grabs some ringsteps. T with a big kick before he can lose them and Show falls back with the stairs landing on his head. Booker goes back in, Show looks knocked out, and Little Naitch counts to ten in just under three-and-a-half.

Winner (by countout): Booker T, give this man a main event push.

Verdict: Little in it really, but I liked T’s method to victory, you don’t see this kind of smart thinking from faces enough.

Booker departs, but thinks better of the ramp where an nWo ambush inevitably awaits, electing for the crowd exit instead. Backstage. Shawn Michaels and Keven Nash stalk the halls unhappy. After the break they are in the ring with a sweaty Big Show. Nash and he staring each other down, some shoving but Shawn gets in-between them. He declares that he has had enough of the tough love crap – way to undercut the gimmick – and wants them to focus on destroying Booker T. They know it was T who took out X-Pac, and next week they will do the same to him. But for now he needs Nash and Show to calm down. He has a big announcement that might help.

He says the nWo is a family, albeit a dysfunctional one, and they can’t operate with one of their family members injured. He doesn’t mean X-Pac, he means someone who is sitting at home right now. This person was at King Of The Ring, and no-one can deny the electricity that was felt when they were all together. Very soon, in this very ring, you will see the nWo standing side-by-side with the newest member of the faction: no-one other than Triple H, and that gets a pop. HBK orders Nash and Show to kiss and make-up. Nash goes in for an embrace but Michaels intercepts Show with Sweet Chin Music! Show left lying as the Bad Dudes with Attitudes leave the ring. So, is Show out of the nWo then? No, Michaels and Nash call him to follow. Weird way of doing things. Not a hope HHH lowers himself to being part of this sinking ship.

Backstage, Vince is with Taker, as the Champ warms up. McMahon says he is proud of Undertaker. He’s been stepping up for over a decade, and confirms the main event at Vengeance will be him vs The Rock. No pop, for whatever reason. Mean Mark takes offence when Vince says this is “whether you are Champion or not”, but McMahon insists he has faith. Taker says he isn’t just going to beat Hardy, he’s going to ensure he can’t leave the ring standing up.

In the arena commentary plays up the ladder match as the “cage lowering” lights and music play. Backstage, Matt checks in with Jeff. He wishes him luck, and someone else wants to do the same: Lita! She’s looking forward to driving home with the Undisputed Championship. Jeff punches some walls on his way out, because he is crazy you see, as Matt and Lita look concerned.

The Undertaker (c) vs Jeff Hardy (WWE Undisputed Championship) (Ladder Match)

Jeff, wearing some distracting neon facepaint, hops on Taker’s bike during his entrance, and that brings Undertaker out of the ring so Hardy can leap in, give a Baseball Slide to an adjacent ladder, that falls on the Deadman’s legs. Great idea, could have had better execution. Jeff follows up with a big chair shot, chucks a ladder, Taker catches it but smashes himself with it on a dodged charge into the apron. No-selling the effects, Hardy floored with a right hand, repeat, into the barricade, clothesline, more shots. Hot start but this has slowed way down now.

Looking for Snake Eyes into the ladder, but Hardy out of it to push Taker into the same. Ladder put on a prone Undertaker so Hardy can deliver a leg-drop from the ringsteps, that looked sore. Into the ring, but Taker able to nail Jeff with the end of the ladder after using the other end to pivot, but without the Joey Mercury outcome. Head shot with the ladder sends Hardy flying into the announce table from the apron. Mean Mark sets up the ladder, starts climbing and Jeff is seemingly out cold on the outside. Taker thinks better of it and decides Hardy needs more punishment. To the outside, and Hardy takes a Scoop Slam into the announce table. JR admonishes the Undertaker and gets the death glare in response.

Taker adds another, a whip into the timekeepers table, a chair edge shot, then back in. Kicks, slammed onto a prone ladder. Hardy rallying back with strikes, backs The Undertaker away for a second, and the crowd pops big. Taker kills the comeback with a stiff right, more kicks, Hardy hanging over the apron, ladder put on top, and Taker delivers a leg-drop. Back in, Hardy set-up in the corner, big clothesline floors him. Mean Mark sets a ladder up in a different corner, and Jeff gets flung into it. Looking for another corner clothesline, but Taker into the ladder off a Hardy dodge. No-selling again to deliver some rights, but Hardy back with a Whisper In The Wind off a corner whip. Taker hasn’t had to deal with that kind of offence in a while.

Jeff has the ladder but gets knocked out with a big boot. Taker looking to continue the beating at ringside, but Hardy gets some space with a low blow, then into the ring to deliver a bit of an awkward somersault springboard rana with a set-up ladder as a kind of diving board, the ladder gave when Hardy jumped so he only just about cleared the ropes. Hardy grabs an even bigger ladder from under the ring, sets it up and starts to climb. He gets about halfway before Undertaker intercepts him, takes him into powerbomb position, but then gets rana’d out! Hardy alone in the ring, starts climbing as JR goes mental on commentary. “Climb your ass off!” Near the top, Taker back in with a chair and delivers a big shot to the back. Crowd believed for a second.

Jeff dragged to the ground, chair shots, the Champ looking for the The Last Ride again, and awesome spot where Hardy battles out, tries a rana and Taker stops him. Hardy is able to grab a chair on the ground and slam Taker with it when Deadman tries again. A huge thunderous chair shot to Taker’s head really gets the crowd going. “Climb the ladder kid, make yourself famous!” Hardy climbs, but intercepted with chair shorts again. He’s not letting go, Taker climbs the other side, both men at the top, and Taker has Hardy by the throat and chucks Hardy off. The Champ grabs the belt in just over 14.

Winner (and still WWE Undisputed Champion): The Undertaker, who departs quick.

Verdict: I wouldn’t say this is quite as amazing as some people say it is. Taker’s offence is super limited at this time, and there were a few spots that didn’t quite come off. Some under-selling didn’t help either. But it had its moments, and the two guys, with JR on commentary, worked hard to sell the idea that Jeff could pull it off. Arguably he should have: now that would have made a singles star in an instant.

Taker gets on his bike, but Hardy is dragging himself up so Undertaker gets back in the ring. He picks Jeff up and delivers The Last Ride. Back on the bike to ride off, but Hardy has found a mike from somewhere. He’s croaking “You haven’t broke me Taker, I’m still standing”. Taker heads back to the ring, looking to deliver a shot, but relents and raises Hardy’s hand instead. Cue Hardy’s music as Jeff collapses. Taker mouths that Jeff is a tough son of a bitch before leaving. Can we call this a face turn? A little sudden, but heel Taker is such a spent force that I’ll take it. That’ll do for this episode.

Best Match: Even if I don’t rate it that high, the main event was a decent spectacle that did loads of Jeff and Taker character wise.

Best Wrestler: Lesnar, for getting something legible out of Flair.

Worst Match: Booker/Show was too short given it was seemingly designed as a bit of a blow-off.

Worst Wrestler: Bradshaw, who really brought little to the table against a rookie like Nowinski.

Overall Verdict: A good episode, a damn sight better than some of the stuff from the previous month. The main event was a highlight, plenty of good matches elsewhere, decent build for the next PPV: it doesn’t have to be a five-star classic show every night, this is enough.

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

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Rapture”

To know the face of God is to know madness.

Air Date: 21/01/2007

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle

Synopsis: As Apollo and Anders try to hold off the Centurions long enough for Tyrol to find the Eye of Jupiter, Dee is ordered to attempt an unlikely rescue mission. Athena goes to extreme lengths to be re-united with her daughter. D’Anna and Baltar move to discover the identity of the Final Five.

Review

“Rapture” is a disappointment. After all of the good work done in setting-up and executing the story beats of this arc in “The Eye Of Jupiter”, which I really do think is an excellent episode, the effort is largely wasted in the pay-off. “Rapture” is frustratingly insubstantial in a lot of ways, an episode where BSG, I would argue for the first time in its run, falls back on spectacle to try and cover gaps in its story-telling. The only problem, aside from the inherent difficulty in using gunfights over drama, is that the spectacle isn’t actually all that good.

To talk on it in a very general manner, the episode has some serious structural issues. The first half has far too much in the way of re-capping of events, with the very real feeling that the narrative has frozen for a period once the cliffhangers are resolved. We’re left waiting around as the Colonials on the surface prepare for an attack, Tyrol looks for the Eye (this stuff especially seems very superfluous), Biers and Baltar look for the Eye and Adama and Roslin twiddle their thumbs. This is then made worse by the poor pay-offs for that waiting, as the action scenes of the episode suffer from bad CGI and less-than-stellar framing. The race-against-time at the conclusion suffers from both of these things, and is the last piece of an ugly puzzle. “Rapture” is the third second part episode of the season, and it’s undoubtedly the worst.

Let’s start with the general “in orbit” side of things. The stuff on Galactica is nothing much really, especially when we move from Athena on the ship to Athena on the basestar. Adama and Roslin are left doing essentially nothing in a few scenes, the confrontations with D’Anna and the narrative beats involving Hera left in the dust. I suppose this could be considered a natural consequence of the set-up, but I still found it too insubstantial: once he puts his nukes away Olmos is reduced down to reacting to other plot-lines happening far away, in a story where he really should be at the centre of things in a more substantial manner. I suppose what I mean is that the Admiral and the President, after having some of the best scenes of “The Eye Of Jupiter”, are too passive in “Rapture”, which isn’t OK given the gaps that appear all over the rest of the episode.

Probably the best part of the episode are those sections that involve Athena. Her plan to rescue Hera has a sort of demented genius to it, a clever way of turning the Cylon process of resurrection into an espionage/infiltration tool, and we get a really great scene featuring her and Helo where her husband is the man who has to be the executioner. This is BSG at its best in terms of marrying sci-fi concepts like the ability to download a consciousness into a new body with a very human drama in terms of a man being asked by his wife to shoot her dead, in order to save their child. Then we get an even better scene between Adama, Roslin and Helo, where we get to see a rare glimpse of a truly angry Helo: unlike Adama, he isn’t going to just give the President the silent treatment, and the moment where Adama, as gently as possible, restrains him from any physical action is probably the episodes best.

“Rapture” might have been better served leaning into the idea presented when Athena resurrects, that the revelation of Hera’s existence has caused her to turn on humanity, but we don’t really get too much of that really, and in a way this makes the Cylons on the basestar look a tad foolish. But that’s alright. Athena’s rescue of Hera is perhaps a little easy, but BSG gets past that with the inclusion of Caprica Six in said rescue attempt, and her subsequent arrival on Galactica.

But lets focus instead on a different part of this sub-plot, which is part two of the Boomer/Athena interaction. The truth is we haven’t really gotten to see all that much of Boomer since “Downloaded”, but there’s a lot of fertile ground that could be used there: here is a woman who can’t possibly be in her right mind, pulled between two different poles in terms of humanity and the Cylons, who saw her effort to craft a middle ground on New Caprica destroyed, and who is now seemingly fated to look after the offspring of what she has to view as a defective model of her own kind. The potential for mental problems in such a scenario is huge, and we get a bit of that here when Boomer, pushed to the edge, threatens to kill Hera. And all in the presence of Caprica Six, the woman who sent her down that path. These sections of the plot made me want to see a lot more of that character going forward. We’ll have to see.

Down on the algae planet, things are much less interesting. The delicious soap opera romance square of “The Eye Of Jupiter” is abandoned save for the interactions between Dee and Starbuck, with Lee put in the extremely awkward position of getting his wife to rescue the woman he’s cheating on her with, to appease the husband of the woman he is cheating with (if you follow). That stuff is great, with Dee’s anger at Starbuck mixing wonderfully with her duty to try and save the pilot. But everything else on the planet is at the heart of why I don’t rate “Rapture” that high. It’s here that the episode tries to set-off a big action finale for the two-parter in a series of gunfights with the Centurions, but they don’t work at all well, a consequence of really piss-poor CGI and not especially great action cinematography. That’s ahead of the actual finale, featuring a supernova that creates a storm, and that’s just silly really, as silly as Tyrol’s few scenes on the planet, that amount to him shouting in a Temple. I think back to a similar set-up in “Fragged” that was carried off really well, and wonder what has happened in the meantime.

The interactions between Sam and Apollo are pretty much non-existent after the first three minutes of the episode, and any confrontation between the two, or larger discussion on Sam’s status as a leader as compared to Apollo, is left to the side. “The Eye Of Jupiter” did such a good job of setting up these simmering tensions and giving us scenarios where those tensions came to a head, but then the conclusion just can’t find anything really satisfying to do with them. Instead, the episode ends with us back on a default position: with the two married couples back in each others arms, and looking at each other regretfully. It’s been a while since I dived into the second half of Season Three, but my expectations for a final resolution to all this stuff coming that will be any good are low.

Over to the Cylons then. The story here is just the most obvious case of what is a long-running plotline I suppose, ever since “Downloaded”: individuality as a threat to the Cylon collective. Once upon a time D’Anna was the champion of what was essentially a Cylon hive mind, now her model is the one embracing sole action. There’s a bit of a Messiah complex developing here, with Biers’ destiny seemingly over-riding any obligations she has to the other six models when it comes to decision making. This sort of narrative was pretty inevitable with the Cylons really, so it comes as no surprise that a fracture is forming.

The first blow in what will become an all-out Civil War is struck by Cavil here, and of course it is Cavil. He might profess a desire to maintain Cylon unity, but there’s only room for one “first among equals” in this machine race, and that’s him. Parts of his characterisation in this episode trouble me (see below) but not the closing scene, where he quietly removes D’Anna from the picture, brilliantly done. He skewers Biers’ “messianic conviction”, the kind of thing that a practically agnostic Cavil has absolutely no time for, and removes a threat to his position with a calculating ease. Biers, for her part, doesn’t seem to care all that much. It’s like a twisted mirror image of the secular Adama with the prophetic Roslin on Galactica I suppose, only here it’s more of a zero sum game.

Baltar’s involvement is the wild card of the whole thing. It seems to be a deliberate obtuse choice to showcase his motivations as blurry here: it’s genuinely hard to know if he’s a true believer in D’Anna’s visions of a destiny for the two of them whether he’s just in it to find out if he is a Cylon to satisfy his own curiosity, or if he has designs on becoming some sort of leader to the Cylons. This is all par for the course with Baltar of course, he’s always been a slimy individual who delights in making people second guess him, but I’ll admit in “Rapture” it got a little tiresome. The moment when he seems to indicate to Head Six that he is manipulating D’Anna was cool, but then things changed. If nothing else is consistent about Baltar it’s his own sense of self-preservation: it’s why he goes along with Head Six so many times in episodes like “Six Degrees Of Separation” or “Fragged”, it’s why he surrenders to the Cylons in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” it’s why he suddenly shakes off his death wish in “Exodus (Part Two)”. But here that sense seems to be written out of him, as he professes a simple desire to find out if he is a Cylon “before I die”. I think Baltar is the kind of person who would never go down to the algae planet if he really thought he might not make it back, so his depiction in “Rapture” doesn’t work for me.

The last thing to talk about, in plot terms anyway, is “the cycle”, by which I mean the larger plot of the show. It’s no secret that at this point the writing team was starting to struggle with the longer-term narrative, having planned things out only to a certain stage. Events to come in Season Three are going to show that more vividly, but I do feel like we have seen the cracks appearing in episodes after New Caprica, and “Rapture” represents a moment when those cracks became very noticeable. After the tomb in “Home (Part Two)” sent the Colonials in one direction we’ve come to a seemingly random waypoint in terms of the algae planet, and have now been sent scurrying off towards another stellar waypoint. The sense of sameyness is starting to become apparent, as we wonder what is going to happen at the “Ionian Nebula”: will there be another tomb, another arrow in a different direction? And how many times are we going to have to do this?

The writers attempt to get past this with a new emphasis on Starbuck and her role in the cycle, portrayed here through the link between her paintings on Caprica, as seen in “Valley Of Darkness”, and the mandala in the Temple of Five. Even that’s iffy looking back, as it was a pattern that Sackhoff herself added to the set without direction, that the writers later decided to incorporate. Given the end point, which is Exhibit A in the accusations of BSG losing the run of itself with plot choices, I looked on this with an undeniable sense of dread, as the talk of “destiny” starts us down a path where narrative forks were created and followed less because it suited a grader arc, and more because of shock value and short-term gains. Starbuck is a character we can’t really be on the best of terms with right now, yet BSG see’s fit to slide back into the idea of her being some kind of chosen one all on her own. Perhaps I’ll think better of the subsequent journey his time, but perhaps not.

This is supposed to be happening. That’s it. I was staring at it the whole time.

Notes

-The title refers to the Christian belief in a moment in the end-times when the true believers will ascend to heaven. Not sure how it fits, but I suppose with D’Anna in the end?

-A bit of a clumsy ADR line for Roslin here, to remind us of the stakes at the start: “Are we prepared to sacrifice Lee?”

-Battlestar’s seemingly operate on a “two-man-rule” system for nuclear arms, with the XO’s assent required along with the CO. This is similar to real-life US practice, though for land-based ICBM’s four keys are needed, and three in submarines.

-I never liked that Cavil seemingly changed his mind here, declaring the Eye too valuable to risk in a game of chicken with Adama. After all, if the Eye is destroyed the Cylons can then take out Galactica, and go about looking for Earth the long way, as he previously suggested.

-Lee’s solution to the problem on the ground is delightfully twisted, and one I did not expect: to send the wife he’s cheating on to rescue the wife of the man she’s cheating on. I’m going to need a board and some strings.

-I love Cavil’s horror at what Biers has done: “We made a decision”. It’s an instant moment of putting “We” against “I”.

-The D’Anna heading to the planet is the one we’ve been following with Baltar, but is she functionally the same as the D’Anna in the basestar? That does undercut the “individuality as threat” theme a little bit.

-Oh, the frustration and the exhaustion in Dee’s voice when she agrees to Lee’s order to “attempt rescue” of Captain Thrace: “Yes sir”.

-I love Stockwell’s understated reaction to what has just occurred: “That is not a good sign my friends”.

-Athena’s solution to the problem is an elegant mix of very smart and very brutal, and I love the pep talk she has to give to Helo ahead of her execution.

-The moment of her death is well handled too, with a flash of a muzzle and a horrific blood splash on the wall behind. Agathon’s wail of despair afterwards is the last piece of the puzzle.

-The count is down one from “The Eye Of Jupiter” which apparently reflects an unseen death.

-The teaser montage is one of the worst for spoiling too much of the episode, right down to Galactica fleeing the supernova.

-Adama’s logic of Athena’s presence among the Cylons being a threat to the Fleet is put nicely against Helo’s emotional response. I think Olmos’ ability to go from emotional to logical with the character is an under-rated part of his performance.

-I love that moment when Adama puts a restraining hand, albeit a gentle one, on Helo as he squares up the President. He knows just how Helo is feeling, and wants to defuse things, not escalate them.

-It’s a bit rich for Roslin to proclaim that “There’s plenty of blame to through around”. This all started with her.

-Also important to note in this scene is that Adama is seemingly unable to look at Roslin in the eyes. We’ve seen this before: if he respects you, he will look you in the eyes.

-Dee’s wingman gets killed, and one of the few camera bits I liked in this episode is her panicked look around at the heights, with no shooter visible.

-Lawless and Callis are very obviously not in an outdoor location for this section of the episode, which looks really shoddy.

-The first example of Baltar talking to two people at once in a while here, as he responds “Yes, I know” to D’Anna’s profession of gratitude when he’s really responding to Head Six’s reminder that he is the chosen one, not her. Always cool to see.

-I do like that Anders shuts down criticism of Apollo from his people. He’s smart enough to know that such dissension is not useful at this particular moment.

-The Centurion CGI was on an upward trend for a while, but it’s back to Season One levels here. The models don’t meld into the live-action environment well at all.

-The ground combat scenes were cut and edited a lot apparently, with post-production crews unhappy with what was shot. The end result is not good.

-Sackhoff does good work to show Starbuck in pain, trying desperately not to cry out: a point of pride, but also presumably so she doesn’t tip off any nearby Cylons.

-“My husband ordered me to risk my life for yours”. I’ve said it before, but I love the way McClure deals with these lines. Just snippy enough without being overwrought.

-A little silly, the idea of Hera knowing that Athena is her mother. This seems to tip Boomer over the edge too.

-The Cylons insisted that “We tried everything” when it comes to an ill Hera, but are surprised when Athena points out what appears to be an obvious intestinal issue. OK then.

-Pretty clever of Athena to go down the religious route with Caprica as she tries to get Hera off the ship: “God will never forgive you”.

-The irony of Caprica Six killing Boomer as she threatens to break Hera’s neck, after doing the same to a child in the Miniseries, is not lost on me.

-The combat with the Centurions is rife with some shaky cam framing, which really comes off as a cheap way of getting past the other problems in these sequences.

-“He won’t cheat” says Starbuck to Dee. So, is her definition of cheating one that involves Lee divorcing Dee, and not him actively engaged in a emotional and sexual affair while remaining married? That is a stupid definition.

-Starbuck gets a little out of it with the painkillers, and sums up her current plotlines succinctly: “I love Sam, I hate Sam. I love Lee, I hate Lee. Gods, I have to cheat just to keep the pieces all nice and neat.”

-How did Biers, Baltar and this Cavil get past the Colonial lines to get inside the Temple? Or were the Colonials only defending one line of advance?

-Tyrol hesitates at the critical moment, which appears to be the best that “Rapture” can come up with in terms of concluding his arc. It isn’t good enough, and there’s no follow-up.

-So, the star goes supernova and this makes a storm break out on the algae planet? What?

-Baltar kills again here, and I was surprised not as much was made of the moment, given how pregnant his two previous instances were, with Crashdown in “Fragged” and the Six model in “Torn”.

-We’re back in the Opera House for D’Anna’s revelation, with the show unwilling to let go of the shooting location.

-I think the music here is just a section of “The Temple of Five” that was used in “The Eye Of Jupiter”. “Rapture” is the first in a lot of episodes in the back half of Season Three that feature little to no original music.

-It’s all a bit Raiders Of The Lost Ark as the Temple of Five “activates” with a beam of light. Are we to think that some supernatural power has placed D’Anna into this vision? Or is it some kind of computer projection, ala Cylon technology?

-Lawless does a great job portraying shock and surprise at who the Final Five are. It would make you wonder just what would shock her this much.

-Though, I’m reasonably sure those aren’t the actors playing the actual Final Five in those robes.

-Considering the eventual reveal of the Final Five, is Biers supposed to know who they are at this point? I suppose you could make an argument for four of them, but what about Foster?

-“You were right…” says Biers to Baltar before she dies. But about what?

-Tyrol enjoys being the one to point a gun at Baltar anyway: “Welcome home Mr President”.

-So, what exactly are those meteors meant to be? Has the supernova somehow thrown them into the algae planets’ atmosphere?

-Why can’t the Raptors jump to the Fleet’s coordinates themselves? Wouldn’t it be easier to relay the coordinates to them on the ground so they don’t have to race back to Galactica?

-Some differing hugs back on the flight deck. Apollo seems heartfelt when he embraces Dee, but her not so much.

-We’ve seen plenty of Six on Galactica of course, between Shelly Godfrey and Head Six, but it’s something else to see Caprica there.

-I do love Baltar in the body bag. Apparently some studio heads didn’t like that image, but I think it’s rather clever.

-I do like that Helo connects the dots when it comes to the image in the Temple. Plenty of fans had figured it out beforehand though.

-The mandala is a pretty simple pattern really, but unique enough that it can be easily compared top what Starbuck painted in her apartment (and to the planetary Eye of Jupiter of course).

-Oh, all this talk about “destiny”. Biers has a destiny, Baltar has a destiny, Hera has a destiny, Starbuck has a destiny. The word is losing all meaning.

-Cavil really does appear as an angel of death here, dressed in black against Biers’ over-exposed angelic-ness.

-I love Cavil’s dismissal of Biers’ “messianic conviction”. He’s a machine, and that’s all there is to it.

-D’Anna’s words here indicate that the Cylons don’t know who programmed them or why, which is interesting. And doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, given what comes later.

-“Boxing” is something that was noted as a possibility for Cylons in “Downloaded” but here we see it actually happen, and it is a literal bit of storage, albeit with a Cylon twist.

-Is this facility we see at the end of the episode on a basestar, or some other Cylon storage place?

Overall Verdict: As stated, “Rapture” is a serious disappointment, after what I would deem a big high point in the previous episode. It’s hard not to see the problems that would engulf the show for the rest of its run as starting here, but it’s undeniable for me: “Rapture” is the worst episode of the show since “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”, but the sin is greater since “Rapture” is so plot-pivotal. The plots set-up in the first part are not concluded satisfactorily, the action beats are poor and too much or the episode feels like people standing around waiting for something to happen. The Athena stuff redeems it to a partial extent, but too much of things otherwise are surprisingly sub-par, by the standards of this show. It’s a bad omen, as we move into territory that has a decidedly iffy reputation.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Economic War

Even while his government was dealing with the more political aspects of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in terms of tearing them down, and establishing its relationship with the IRA, de Valera was involved in a showdown with the United Kingdom that would be one of the defining elements of this period of his leadership. It began with one of Fianna Fail’s promised examples of dismantling the Treaty and progressed into a full blown diplomatic dispute of enormous significance. Most importantly, it would end with an agreement that was absolutely pivotal in determining Ireland’s strategic position on the eve of the greatest conflict Europe and the rest of the world would ever see.

The core of the matter was land. It’s a topic I haven’t dedicated as much time to as I could have in light of the Irish revolutionary period, but it was something that had enormous importance. In some ways a war within a war, something akin to the Land War of the previous century, it was a recurring undercurrent of those years. Ireland remained an agrarian society to a significant degree, with a mixture of larger holdings and smaller tenant farmers: many people had expectations of large-scale changes to nature of land ownership during and after the War of Independence, with the expected break-up of larger farms and re-distribution of that land to a greater body of farmers. The final outcome of that war, and the subsequent Civil War, meant that Ireland retained a fairly conservative outlook on the matter: the Farmer’s Party largely represented the interest of larger farms, and Cumann na nGaedheal had little interest in any radical programme of re-distribution.

And there was the issue of land annuities, as agreed in the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Article Five provided for the Irish Free State continuing to pay such annuities, loans to tenant farmers granted in the 1880’s under the Land Acts, to the British exchequer, essentially meaning that Ireland continued to pay taxation to London for land that London no longer controlled. While far from the most sensitive issue at the time that the Treaty was signed, the annuities were deeply unpopular, and remained one of the most consistent sticks to beat W.T. Cosgrave’s governments with in the first ten years of the Free State’s existence, especially given the deal to eliminate Free State contributions to the British national debt with the Boundary Commission outcome. One of Fianna Fail’s central planks of their 1932 manifesto was a commitment to get rid of the annuities, which de Valera did in 1933 after bad-tempered negotiations with London went nowhere. This was hardly surprising, given that de Valera insisted that Britain owed Ireland huge sums for over-taxation over the previous 50 years.

De Valera was adopting an economic policy of protectionism, so the cessation of payments was more than just part of his parties sovereignty-seeking ideals. He wanted a better deal for Irish produced goods, and more self-sufficiency in the Irish economy: to that end he introduced tariffs on imported goods, especially from Britain. In line with a drive for greater industrialisation led by Minster of Industry Sean Lemass, Fianna Fail was determined to bring down the national debt and to correct an imbalanced trade relationship with Ireland’s closest neighbour. To be clear, the annuities were still collected by the Irish government, but the money was then put into government and local budgets.

The British, then under the leadership of Labour’s Ramsey McDonald, was hardly going to do nothing in response to the tariffs, and put a 20% import duty on all Free State agricultural products entering the United Kingdom. Given that 90% of Ireland agricultural exports went to the UK, this was a devastating financial penalty. De Valera’s government escalated by extending their own tariffs to things like British coal imports – Fianna Fail would quote Johnathan Swift in the campaign, saying to “Burn everything English except their coal” – but it was easy to see that the Free State would suffer far more under the effects of such a financial conflict.

And those were severe. The Great Depression was already producing a miserable situation, with high unemployment and with the usual avenue of emigration not as useful as it had been in previous economic crises. For the same reason “remittances” were not as forthcoming from abroad. Government efforts to frame the Economic War as a national effort fell on more and more deaf ears as time went on, especially from smaller farmers. Some of these refused to pay rates, or the annuities, leading to the impounding of cattle, then the blockading of auctions and violence between farmers and police, sometimes to the point of death. Government figures consistently used militaristic language around issues related to the Economic War, and government policy seemed to follow that tack as well, with a lack of sympathy to the suffering of Irish farmers, labourers and others evident: there’s was a sacrifice necessary to secure the position of the nation.

Though de Valera had plenty of political room – a snap election in 1933 followed by some favourable by-elections had given Fianna Fail an outright majority – the agitation could not be tolerated forever, especially given the overtones it had of the unrest during the Land War. Combined with the moving of major businesses in the Free State – including Guinness – abroad and discontent in Britain with the tariffs from those used to replying on Irish exports, and it was clear a solution eventually would have to be found. The 1937 election, where de Valera’s party were again reduced to having to operate as a minority government, may have been the last straw, though for de Valera the deaths of ten Irish migrant workers in a shed outside of Glasgow as a result of a fire also played heavily on his mind. The Economic War had to be brought to a close.

Over time, the conflict began to ease. A Coal-Cattle Pact was agreed between the rival governments in 1935, whereby the Free State agreed to import more British coal in exchange for Britain importing more Irish beef, was the first major step, before more concerted talks too place between de Valera and Lemass on the one hand and the new Conservative British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on the other.

From these talks, which were extensive and frequently ground to halt as de Valera tried and failed to make “movement” on partition a prerequisite, came a new Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement, signed in April 1938. The tariff rates of the previous five years were abolished by both sides, with Ireland making a once-off £10 million payment to settle the land annuities question once and for all. This was only a modest saving on what the Free State had owed if the annuities had been paid to their extent, and the British had already taken in plenty of extra money on account of their tariffs on Irish goods, but de Valera’s government were quick to play up the agreement as a triumph of their willingness to stand up to London and protect Ireland’s financial interests and sovereignty. In essence, they claimed to have “won” the Economic War. A snap election called a few months after the agreement bore out the popularity of the final settlement, with Fianna Fail returned as a majority government again.

There was another aspect of the final agreement that was absolutely critical for Ireland’s future. The Treaty Ports – Lough Swilly, Berehaven and Queenstown – that had been retained by the British for the use of the Royal Navy after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty had been a sticking point for many in the years after, though far from the biggest one. Many resented the loss of territory that they represented, and the continuing British military presence on the Free State landmass. The idea of retaking the ports via military means was nonsensical – any such effort was liable to fail in the first place, and would have provoked a larger, essentially unwinnable, conflict with Britain – and diplomatic avenues were few and far between. But the outcome of the Economic War gave de Valera the chance to facilitate their handover. British government figures had been gung-ho about keeping the ports up to 1938, owing to the increased tensions on the continent, and were only willing to go so far with de Valera as to suggest giving them up if they could re-take them in the event of a declaration of war. But Chamberlain took a different tack, proclaiming that the maintenance of positive relations with Dublin could justify the giving up of the ports on a permanent basis, and stated his own beleif that, for all of his bluster, de Valera should not be considered an enemy of Britain.

The move was not hugely popular in Britain, especially within certain Conservative circles. Winston Churchill, never a man to take concessions to Irish representatives lying down, was outraged, claiming that Chamberlain had undercut Britain’s strategic position on only the word of de Valera, a man Churchill had little regard for. He put on record his fears that de Valera could put a price on use of the ports in a time of war equal to the removal of partition, but his view was of a minority when it came to legislating for the Agreement. By October 1938, the British military had departed from all three of the ports, with de Valera and his government able to claim a huge triumph in their re-taking.

And it was a greater one than he realised. Less than 12 months after the last of the ports saw its final Royal Navy vessel depart, Britain would be at war with Germany, a war that would see a huge facet of its outcome determined by control of the sea lanes that went by Ireland and into the Atlantic. Churchill’s fears were somewhat well-founded, though the fall of France in 1940 would have largely negated the usefulness of the Treaty ports as a western bulwark. From the Irish perspective, control of the ports was key in allowing the country to maintain neutrality in that conflict. British military presence in those ports would almost certainly have provoked German attack, whether from the air or sea or both, and any such attack could have had the potential to drag Ireland into the wider conflict not entirely of its own will. We will reach the Irish experience of the Second World War soon, but for now it is enough to say that if the Economic War cost Ireland a great deal in terms of financial hardship and societal pressure, its outcome perhaps saved the country from what could have been a great deal of destruction.

But from this international stage, we must move back to internal affairs. In a previous entry we explored the IRA’s state of existence under the early years of the Fianna Fail government, part of which involved an escalating serious of violent encounters with those who identified themselves as being on the opposite end of the political spectrum. As it sent Europe on the path to an apocalyptic conflict, so too did fascism spread its ugly roots to Ireland, and the Irish experience of this ideology will be the focus of the next entry.

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

Posted in History, Ireland, Ireland's Wars, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The House

The House

Trailer

A house is not a home.

Over the course of centuries, a strange house built by a malicious architect entangles its various residents in a series of nightmares: a family, among them observant daughter Mabel (Mia Goth), who become caught up in their own material obsession; an unnamed rat (Jarvis Cocker), whose redevelopment project is hamstrung by his own delusions and desperation, as well as a bizarre couple who refuse to leave the premises; and Rosa (Susan Wokoma), whose desire to complete an idealistic project is leaving her unknowingly mired.

This three-part anthology from a number of directors and animators debuted last Friday on Netflix, and provides a unique continuation to the world of film for NFB in 2022. A series of different animation styles, with puppets matched with claymation matched with a bit of CGI, marks this one out, along with its macabre tone. It’s horror, but the kind of philosophically inclined existential horror that is probably more likely to worm its way into your brain and stay there for a while, even if you weren’t totally in love with the material. It suffices to say that The House certainly leaves an impression, but is so obvious with its subtext that it can probably drop the first three letters in that word. It’s this that hobbles it, and prevents it from joining other examples of dark animation on a higher cinematic tier.

Let’s take the three parts separately. The first, “And heard within, a lie is spun”, is a decent introduction to what The House wants to say, presenting a sort-of baroque horror that wouldn’t be out of place in the mouth of Poe. The family, or at least father Raymond (Matthew Goode) and mother Penelope (Claudie Blakley) find themselves all too easily seduced by a maniacal architect, and then seduced by the things that he offers, whether it is a fancy fireplace or a nice sewing machine. This short does a decent job in terms of creating a sense of disquiet and dread right from the off, and then adding to it bit-by-bit, but its anti-consumerist message is so clear so quickly that you’ll be looking at your watch a few minutes before its sudden turn to body-horror at the conclusion. Given its length you’d appreciate a bit more from the villain of the piece too, so it has to go down as a bit of an overcooked opener.

The second part, “Then lost is truth that can’t be won”, is probably the best of the lot, with Jarvis Cocker (who also offers a song for the credits) giving an unexpectedly poignant turn as a put upon rat who is bowed down by the pressures of a modern society that has no time for his hopes and dreams. Nameless, he seems to represent a large swath of humanity engaged in the rat race of late stage capitalism, with predictable results. Here the overt nature of the film’s messages is still fairly obvious, but countered by elements of the fantastique – a cabaret-style interlude featuring dancing beetles is certainly a standout in that regard – and by an truly excellent portrait of plain simple despair. That the rat is perhaps not as sympathetic as he might first appear, or that his house guests’ true nature, played for the blackest of comedy, is not that hard to ascertain really, doesn’t take away from a grim, but effective, short of psychological and Kafka-esque horror.

The last segment, “Listen again and seek the sun”, is at once the most intangible – seeming to take place in some sort of post-apocalyptic landscape where rising waters have left the house isolated, despite still retaining residents – and still carrying a weakness in subtlety. This time it’s essentially a grimmer version of Up, with the main character tied to the house by her failing ambitions to restore it and make memories, not unlike Carl Frederickson being tied to his house by the weight of memories already made. The outcome is largely similar too, if perhaps a bit opaque: it has the most unsatisfying ending of the three shorts, and unfortunately this means the whole experience ends in a bit of a damp squib.

The linking thread between all three of the stories is the perils of real estate. In the first it’s giving up something more fundamentally home-like in pursuit of something grander, but colder; in the second it’s the chase to manipulate the housing market to your advantage, only to get bitten yourself; and in the third it’s attachment taken to apocalyptic levels. In line with themes of obsession, despair and materialism, the creators pretty clearly want us to consider the damaging effect that the search for housing is having on us, and while this is admirable enough, the manner in which it is done is simply too blunt to be as effective as it could be.

The look of The House matches its stories in colour, tone and mood. The puppetry work is terrific, with a big focus on the individual principals of the pieces, over the somewhat more bar-bones backgrounds (the middle section being a bit of an exception, in terms of the rat’s refurbishments). In the first section the small faces on large heads are unusually expressive, while later the animals are created with an excellent air for the right detail in eyes and mouth. The threads are visible, and have a tangible quality to them that is undeniably affecting. One naturally thinks of Wes Anderson and his Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle Of Dogs, and The House is able to capture some of that feeling while presumably working on a much smaller budget.

It’s OK. Perhaps, since I am not a horror aficionado in any serious sense, The House is simply not meant for me. I found it a bit too blunt and obvious when it came to its metaphors and messages, and while it isn’t doing so from a position of blood-soaked butchery, its psychological efforts simply can’t have the same impact when it feels like it is being delivered via cue cards. The middle section is definitely worth checking out, but the larger project just doesn’t have the impact that it wants to have. From a visual perspective it’s certainly worth some consideration, but that’s about it. Similar ideas have been delivered better elsewhere. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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NFB Watches Wrestling #90: Smackdown (27/06/2002)

Oh boy a big, big debut tonight. It’s the 27th of June 2002 (filmed on the 25th) and we’re in the AllState Arena of Chicago, Illinois for episode #150 of WWE Smackdown! Your main event tonight: Hulk Hogan vs Chris Jericho! Is he going to tap to Y2J too? But who cares about that, this is all about the opening segment.

New Attitude splash, “Beautiful People”, pyro and Cole/Tazz welcome us to Chicago. Vince McMahon is already in the ring, as commentary announces our main event for later. On the mike, McMahon introduces us to his friend, the man who made Hulk Hogan tap out, the only Olympic Gold Medalist in WWE history, “Kurt Anguuulllllllll”.

Cole describes Angle/Hogan as “an incredible match” and a “stirring performance”, ugh. Angle still wigged and serenaded with “You Suck”. On the mike, Angle says he’s the poster boy for ruthless aggression. He made Hogan tap out, he beat Undertaker last week, but he still has to deal with the lack of appreciation from “you people” (drink!). He doesn’t suck, the crowd does. All they do is mock him and try to break his concentration. He won’t accept the joking about his baldness anymore, and whips off the wig. Actually a bit of a face move. He challenges the crowd to mock him now, and says nobody can ruin his mood.

In fact, he’s in such a good mood that he’s willing to show one lucky individual what ruthless aggression is all about. He issues a challenge to anybody in the locker room that he has never faced before to come out and take their shot. Stupid people in the crowd start chanting “Rocky”, are they new or something? Who wants to seize the moment? Future superstars want to climb the ladder, and now is their chance. With no-one showing up, Angle says he’ll take it easy on them. An instrumentalist version of “Beautiful People” hits and out comes a young looking guy with a fade and red trunks, to a mild reaction. Cole says “I know this guy…”AND HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA”(he doesn’t, but wouldn’t it have been good craic?).

God damn, this makes me feel old, nearly twenty years later. Cena had started out three years earlier in California’s UCW, before having a few try-out dark matches at Raw and Smackdown tapings where he wrestled as a quasi-cyborg character called “The Prototype”. In 2001 he was signed up to OVW where he was a main event guy, feuding with Randy Orton and The Leviathan (aka Batista), forming a tag team with the future Rico, and holding their top strap for a while. In fact, he’s still going to be making appearances at OVW for the next few months. He’s been making odd house show/dark match appearances for the ‘E for a while now, but the rocket-ship to the moon really begins here.

Cena gets in Angle’s face as your Olympic Hero asks him who the hell he is, and Cena provides his name. Angle wants to know what one quality Cena exists that makes him think he can face the best in the business. Cena, the vein in his neck throbbing and and a crazy look in the eyes, replies “RUTH-LESS…AGGRESSION” to give us the big epoch-defining moment and lays in a shot.

John Cena vs Kurt Angle

Big Match John with a takedown, mounted punches, Angle up and then Cena clotheslines him out hard. To ringside, Angle into the ringpost, then back in. Cena ducks a clothesline, whip, back body-drop, then flooring rights. Angle trying to beg off but Cena only adds a corner splash for two. Crowd into this. Angle with a roll-up for two, Cena back with a clothesline, Angle back with an Ankle Lock but Cena counters out quick. Angle able to hit a German to get some time, then another as Cole keeps saying that Cena is a “young talent” coming up through “the system”.

Angle with stomps, going for another German, countered into a roll-up for two before Cena walks into a stiff clothesline. Shots in the corner, Cena left sitting and Angle delivers a slap. Suplex, two, and Angle puts in a front headlock for a breather. Cena fighting out of it and delivers what I can only describe as a delay belly-to-belly suplex. Both men slowly to their feet, Cena with right hands, running forearm, then what I can only describe as a pop-up double-handed chokeslam for a near fall, crowd thought that was it. Angle tries for an Angle Slam, Cena out of it and nails a DDT for another near-fall. Crowd again thought that was it, he’s got them so far.

Cena into the corner off a reverse whip, but dodges a charge so Angle ends up in the ringpost. Roll-up from Cena for two, small package for two, and the crowd is dying a bit with maybe a few too many near-falls too quickly. Swinging powerslam, two, it’s all Cena, who goes for double covers a few times. Angle back with a takedown, transitions into a modified backslide and that’s the three in just over five-and-a-half.

Winner: Angle, but come on, it was really Cena.

Verdict: Hell of a match, perfectly booked to put Cena over huge. Crowd was into it, Cena looked great, but Angle still got the win (clean). Everybody wins.

There’s an interview Angle gave later where he talks about this match, and says his goal was to try and make Cena “tired”. Well, it doesn’t seem like he was able to. Cena offers the hand in the aftermath, but Angle laughs at him and walks off. Jawing at each other from a distance, and Angle marches back down the ramp annoyed, before taking a powder and heading off, to boos. “We haven’t heard the last of John Cena”. You’re telling me.

After the break, a crowd of mid-carders – Faarooq, Kidman, Rikishi – congratulate Cena on his debut backstage. They all suddenly vanish quick as The Undertaker rocks up. He looks Cena up and down and asks for his name. He offers a hand, Cena takes it. “Nice job” and a crowd pop. Cena is left looking at his hand in awe. I assume this is the beginning of the Taker face turn, but wow, they are commited to making this kid look like the real deal right from the off, huh? I thought they were doing a lot to put Orton over when he debuted a while ago, but this is something else.

Billy & Chuck (c) w/Rico vs Hardcore Holly & The Big Valbowski (WWE Tag Team Championships)

I’d love to know how they are justifying this random assortment getting a title shot, but the Metrosexuals are probably just due a defence. Cole says he was very excited when he heard about this match, and says this with the same gusto he reserves for plugging Greyhound Buses. Apparently Holly and Venis have been talking about teaming up for years. Uh huh. Holly and Billy to start, Holly with a knockdown, leapfrog chain, again and Billy runs into a drop-kick,. Clothesline, Chuck and Valbowski in. Drop toe-hold sends Chuck down, shots in the corner, Valbowski with a leg up on a charge, big boot in the middle of the ring but then takes a hard clothesline. Chuck back with strikes, runs into an elbow, Scoop Slam, kneedrop, two. Tazz says Billy and Chuck have been Champs for months now, so I guess they’re pretending the Ricoshi thing never happened.

Holly back in, another Scoop Slam and both faces drop some elbows. Awkward whip reversal that was done within a foot of the rope, and Billy in to hit a drop-kick that the ref seemingly doesn’t care about. Holly sent out so Billy can work him over a bit, back in, Billy legal, beatdown. “Billy has done wonders for Chuck” says Cole. “Kinda like the wonders I’m doing for you” replies Tazz, nice. Beatdown on Holly with a rope choke, but Hardcore back with a reverse suplex. Rico tries to stop the crowd from geeing the faces up, to no avail.

Hot tag to Morley, he cleans house, neckbreaker to Chuck, Billy sent out, spinebuster to Chuck, looking for a Fisherman’s Suplex but Rico in the ring to distract only to get nailed with an Alabama Slam. In the middle of the chaos Chuck hits a superkick on Venis, Billy adds a Famouser and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in under four-and-a-half.

Winners (and still WWE Tag Team Champions): Billy & Chuck, who still have no one to really feud against.

Verdict: Actually decent enough, Holly and Valbowski could be a half-decent tag team if they were actually allowed to establish themselves a little. But all these B&C matches are getting rather samey.

Backstage Torrie Wilson ogles herself in a mirror because the “Divas Undressed” special has, to my regret, been re-scheduled to Saturday night. After the break she comes out to the top of the ring (introduced as “the gorgeous Torrie Wilson” in case anyone doubts why she is here). She walks around in her underwear for a bit as I wonder why I ever liked this show at the time. (I was 14. This is why).

“Earlier today” Jamie Noble was with Nidia in the locker room, and Tajiri is there too like a peeping Tom. The new Champ offers Tajiri “a taste”, and Nidia plants one on him. Noble promises more of the same if they win later tonight. Tacreepi (I’m sorry) is delighted at the prospect.

Commentary informs us that Triple H is missing tonight on account of injuries he has sustained at the hands of the Undertaker, and won’t be back for a few weeks. Tazz thinks he might be here next week. Please don’t watch something else. Backstage, Hulk Hogan arrives.

Burn Of The Night time, and it’s Lance Storm railing against America last week. “America Sucks!” Sick burn! This leads into our next contest.

Lance Storm vs Mark Henry

Cole claims Storm is trying to turn Smackdown into “an international incident” during his entrance, which gets mild boos from the crowd: “This isn’t Kashmir for God’s sake”. Another “Earlier Today” segment has Storm telling us “on behalf of the citizens of the world” that he will beat an American. You’d think Henry would come out with an American flag or something, but no. We get thrown to footage of Henry at “the annual Strongman Barbell Dinner” where he lifted a 172 pound dumbbell. I assume this was a shoot accomplishment? A wiki search tells me it was. You do sometimes forget, because of his mid-card role here and the way it’s used mostly for skits, that Henry is regarded as one of the greatest strongmen ever.

Lock-up, Storm flung back but avoids a corner splash. “USA” chants. Storm tries a headlock, gets lifted up, whip chain but Henry is unmovable. Press slam where Storm lands a bit awkwardly, he was going for a Sunset Flip but it didn’t work out. Storm picked up and put on the top, gives Henry a slap and then gets chopped to ringside for a huge reaction. Flung back in one-handed, Jesus Christ, Storm begging off but then hits a poke to the eye. Chops and strikes in the corner before he’s flung back again. Shoulder block, then a bear hug which Storm gets out of with a bite. Strikes, Henry whips Storm into the ring post, Press Slam into a forward slam, Storm left prone but nobody home on a Vader Bomb. Storm back with a springboard drop-kick to the head, looked cool. Superkick and that’s it in just over two.

Winner: Citizens of the world!

Verdict: Man, Henry looks incredible sometimes, but his moveset is pretty limited. Storm the perfect guy to put him with in many ways, but the clean finish was strange.

Christian comes down the ramp to celebrate with his best friend. Make them a tag team already!

Backstage, Undertaker is here, and gets on his bike. The Slam Of The Week is brought to you by Eight Legged Freaks, and it’s Jeff Hardy getting annihilated by The Last Ride on Monday. It got him a title match though.

Out comes Taker, to a loud reception. “Undertaker’s a bad apple” says Tazz, that seems like a bit of understatement. On the mike, Deadman says he has to get a few things straight. He’s the Undisputed Champion, and no one else can make any claims. He was supposed to defend his title against Triple H one-on-one and even though he won, he’s angry that The Rock thought he could get involved. Huge “Rocky” chants, this crowd are clearly expecting him. Some highlights follow, and Taker says Rock almost cost him the title. Now, Mean Mark has some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we can all set our VCR’s for July 11th, because that’s when The Rock returns. This actually gets a mix of boos and cheers. The bad news is that Undertaker will beat Rock down on that date.

Taker is sure The Rock is out in Hollywood getting ready for his big return, but the Champ suggests he take the time to watch Raw so he can see what he’s going to do with Jeff Hardy with a ladder. That’s just a sample of what will happen when Rock is back, and suddenly Kurt Angle comes out. He gets in Taker’s face and says all he does “is talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.” But Kurt is a man of action, it’s true, to which Undertaker says that Kurt is, in fact, a punk (this is childish stuff). Angle is just here for one reason. He doesn’t know why Taker is having a ladder match with Jeff Hardy (me neither) but if Undertaker wins he wants a title match next week on Smackdown. The crowd goes mild at this suggestion.

Undertaker says he has a motto, which is why put off kickng someone’s ass next week when he can do it now (I’ve never heard him say that before). Angle begs off on account of his “tune-up” match earlier, and Taker mocks Angle for almost losing to “a damn rookie”. Angle demands an answer to his challenge, and Mean Mark makes it real clear: anytime, anywhere, anyhow, it’s on. So, that’s a yes then? Kurt is happy with this, and decides that since he likes gold so much, he’d like to hold the Undisputed Title belt. Taker normally wouldn’t allow that, but gives Kurt the chance on this occasion…because it’s as close as he’ll ever come. Angle attacks, takedown, and the Ankle Lock put in for a few seconds before Angle lets go and flees the ring with a big smile on his face. Staredown. OK, it’s a title match with a bit of build, I’m down. It strikes me that this is also a way to build hype with the smarks for Monday, as Taker/Angle would be heel/heel right now, so WWE might be trying to get across the idea of Hardy winning the big one. Hmm.

After the break, Torrie Wilson is back out again. She’s changed her underwear and walks around the ramp for a bit so we can all have a good wank. Cole gives an outline of the “thong-a-ton” coming up, and Tazz mocks him for his apparent expertise. Cue the intros for our next match, thank God.

Test vs Rikishi

Cole plays up Test’s King Of The Ring run, and Tazz says he has a big future ahead of him. Five years he’s been here! Test attacks before the bell but Rikishi gets the advantage with strikes. Test able to back Kish into the corner for his own strikes, but then hard whip into the corner followed by a belly-to-belly slam. Test back with a reversed whip and then a big corner clothesline. Stiff looking elbows before he takes a break to jaw with Chioda, and it gets bad enough that Test gives Chioda a shove (“I don’t know what just happened here”, great Tazz). Kish able to attack, Test ducks a superkick and then hits a Scoop Slam. Calling for the Big Boot, Rikishi ducks and hits his superkick for two. Test dragged into the corner, but has the knees up on a Banzai attempt, which seems like a low blow? Follows up with a big clothesline that sends Kish spinning, that get a reaction from the crowd. Jawing with Chioda again, looking for the Test Drive, Rikishi pushes out and the ref goes flying. Test nails the Big Boot, cover, but the ref calls for the bell in just over two-and-a-half.

Winner (by DQ): Rikishi, again reduced to being the facilitator of other stories.

Verdict: Short and unimportant, but it is furthering one of Smackdown’s better heel-driven things, so I guess it was OK. And hey, Test actually has a point.

Test is furious, argues with Chioda and gives him another shove. Chioda flees, and Kish able to give Test a corner splash. Calling for it, and Stink Face delivered, first time in a while. Christian is suddenly in the ring, and eats a superkick, and Storm is here too but wisely thinks better of getting in the ring. Rikishi departs, leaving the three Canadian heels in the ring complaining.

Backstage, Hogan barges into Vince’s office. McMahon wanted to see him, and wants to let him know how upset he was over his loss at King Of The Ring. He’s never seen Hogan submit, and has a grin on his face as he recounts how he thought Hogan might have cried. As the man who built Hulkamania – that gets some boos – he would hate to see Hogan tap out to the Walls of Jericho. Hogan does some finger jabbing – unlike others, Vince does not keel over and end the Monday Night Wars in the process – and declares “One day Vince…one day” before walking off. Nine months and counting. Vince has a pin-up of Stacey Keibler up in his office by the way, that seems lame for him.

Elsewhere, the Canadian Super-Friends remonstrate on what just happened. All of the officials, and all of the Americans, are prejudiced. Test agrees with Storm: America sucks. “What the hell is going on?” asks Cole, man commentary is acting really out of it tonight.

Jamie Noble & Tajiri w/Nidia vs The Hurricane & Billy Kidman

Nidia introduced as Noble’s “girlfriend”, that’s weird, but better than Tazz calling her “a gorgeous toe-mate-ah”. So this is the entire Cruiserweight division in one match again, huh? Cane and Tajiri to start. Lock-up, overhead takedown from Helms and Noble flees the apron when the former Champ comes after him. Tajiri with a Scoop Slam, Noble in, Cane laying into him, he flees to ringside, Cane in pursuit, back in and hits a clothesline and a Shining Wizard for two. Noble back with his own short-arm clothesline, Tajiri in, double-teaming Cane, Helms trying for the double chokeslam, that’s not happening, the heels going for a double reverse suplex but Hurricane just about able to land on his feet and then a double Bulldog. Happening fast this one.

Kidman in, double hip-toss sends Tajiri down, then Kidman swings Cane into a senton onto his opponent. Kidman avoids a Snake Eyes and counters into a spin, then an armdrag. Tajiri back with a handspring elbow, Noble in and walks into a powerbomb and a deep cover for two. Nidia grabs a leg of Kidman on a whip, and the distraction lets Tajiri get in a kick. Kidman getting beaten down, Tajiri in, chops, Kidman back with his own strikes but then runs into the Tarantula. Tajiri flashes us an evil smile. What happened with his Maven/Torrie feud?

Tajiri looks for a Tornado DDT out of the corner but it’s countered into a sit-out powerbomb. Hot tag to Cane, Tajiri tossed out, Noble dragged in and Cane puts in some mounted punches. Noble tries a kip-up escape from a corner whip but gets flipped to the outside instead, hell of a bump. Superkick from Tajiri gets two, tag to Kidman, Hurricane hits the Chokeslam on Tajiri then takes Noble out with a springboard crossbody. Kidman hits the Shooting Star on Tajiri for the win in four-and-a-half.

Winners: Cane and Kidman, the face portion of the Cruiserweight division.

Verdict: Hectic action, a lot of fun to see, but would be good to get some new people into this division: the last four Cruiserweight Champions were in here I think.

Backstage Torrie Wilson walks around in a bathrobe when she runs into Stacey Keibler, also in a bath robe. You can see where this is going. They argue about spotlights, and decide to let the people decide who looks better. “Are they both coming out here!?” asks Michael Cole like he’s 13-years-old. Anyway, Wilson comes out and gets her entire skimpy ensemble introduced by the announcers, then Keibler, and then suddenly Dawn Marie too. A very nervous Marie on the mike to run down the other two, and croaks her way through some generic putdowns. Things degenerate into a slapfight, and refs break it up. This couldn’t end fast enough.

Backstage, Lloyd is with Y2J, asking about his match with Hogan tonight. Instead of that, Jericho wants to talk about his beatdown of Edge three weeks ago. Footage is shown, and Jericho says he has a choice tonight: make Hogan tap to the Walls, or pin him with a Lionsault (no one gets pinned with that anymore Chris). He doesn’t mention the Breakdown, remember that? Instead of those options, maybe Jericho will finish Hogan like he finished Edge. He walks off. Random all-over-the-place exchange here I assume the reminder means an Edge run-in is coming.

Rey Mysterio is coming to the WWE and he can’t get here soon enough.

Reverend D-Von & Deacon Batista vs Faarooq & Randy Orton

Batista’s match debut on TV, and Cole/Tazz coo over his physique, which is impressive. No context for this one, that starts with Orton and D-Von legal, Orton hits a few hip tosses and arm drags before a Sidewalk Slam for two, D-Von back with a drop-kick into the corner, spinning elbow, shots in the corner and a knee choke. Orton set-up on top, D-Von up after him looking for a superplex but knocked off so Orton can hit a top-rope Bulldog. Faarooq in, back body-drop, swinging powerslam, looking for a Dominator maybe but D-Von out of it to hit a DDT. Scoop Slam, to the top, but nobody home on a headbutt. Orton in, to the top, big crossbody, two. Orton hits a drop-kick, D-Von with a blind tag and in comes Big Dave finally. Floors Orton with a clothesline. Faarooq cleared off the apron, Orton shoved into the corner, huge Spinebuster and that’s it in under three-and-a-half.

Winners: Batista, and D-Von was there too.

Verdict: Damn, they made Batista look pretty good for 30 seconds of offence. The Reverend a bit of a comparative chump really, getting knocked around by the rookie.

Cole plugs WWE Shopzone, and lets us know how we can order a catalogue by post. I was there Gandalf. I was there 3’000 years ago. Commentary then plays up The Rock’s return, and plugs his next return in a few weeks. Our main event is up next.

Hollywood Hulk Hogan vs Chris Jericho

Silence on commentary for Hogan’s entrance, audio problems? Not an enormous crowd reaction by his standards it has to be said. Jericho ambushes Hogan to start, shots in the corner as the huge “Hogan” chants start now. Elevated punches, but Hogan out of the corner with some big clotheslines and rights. Back body-drop, Scoop Slam, but nobody home on an elbow drop. Y2J back with shots, chops before Hogan counters a whip and tries to throw Jericho out. Jericho skins the cat but then walks into another right hand. Only one person gets momentum here, brother.

Hogan with his own elevated punches that the crowd is only too happy to count along too. Ref distracted breaking it up, and Jericho lands a low-blow. Reverse suplex, cocky pin, two. Hogan set-up on the ropes and takes a hip attack. “Jericho Sucks” chants that the man himself does his best to encourage. Hogan rallying back with strikes, but then walks into a DDT for two. Abdominal stretch for a bit, Hogan eventually rallying out and chucks Jericho around. Dodges a corner charge to send Jericho flying into the ring post, hulking up, shots, Big Boot attempt but Jericho dodges. Looking for the Walls, but Hogan counters out it, and sends Jericho spinning in the process. You can be sure that was 95% Jericho.

Y2J avoids another back body-drop, hits a Bulldog, Lionsault, but no-one gets pinned by that anymore. Hulking up re-commences, crowd is nuclear, right hands, Big Boot, but Jericho has the wherewithal to fall out of the ring. Grabs a chair, back in, and a bit of a weird moment where it looks like the boot through the chair spot but Y2J sort of dodges, only it looked a bit awkward. Either way, Hogan gets brained and the ref calls it in just about six-and-a-half.

Winner (by DQ): The immortal Hulk Hogan, because you best believe he wasn’t losing a fall two nights in a row.

Verdict: What can you say at this point? Hogan’s not up to it but the crowd reaction when they get going is undeniable.

Jericho out to set up the ringsteps, then chucks Hogan out. Shot to the back, Hogan set-up on the steps, but before Jericho can nail him like he did Edge, Jericho’s theme music hits. It’s Edge! He parrots Jericho’s entrance as Y2J acts like he’s seen the dead rise. Edge in like a house of fire, right hands to Jericho, who then gets clotheslined out. Hogan chucks him back in, corner spear, spinning heel kick, Jericho tries to flee through the crowd but Hogan grabs him and puts him back in again. Spear, and the faces are left standing tall. That makes for a refreshing change. Rest assured Hogan’s music plays us out of course, as he and Edge pull Hogan’s taunts.

Best Match: I suppose it has to be Angle/Cena, they did their damnedest to get Cena over and both guys looked good in the process.

Best Wrestler: Jericho, for once again managing to make Hogan look somewhat capable of a main event.

Worst Match: I suppose Test/Rikishi, just because of how short it was, but it was alright.

Worst Wrestler: You know, I don’t think that Faarooq actually did anything in his tag.

Overall Verdict: Decent episode it has to be said. The Cena stuff makes it stand out of course, but I wouldn’t say there were any bad matches, and we have a few feuds that are evolving a bit. The week after a PPV you can’t really ask for much more.

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

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “The Eye Of Jupiter”

Do you really think you have found the Temple of Five?

Air Date: 15/12/2006

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Mark Verheiden

Synopsis: Just as an artifact of the Thirteenth Tribe is discovered, the sudden arrival of the Cylons puts the Fleet and its algae harvesting operations in jeopardy. Apollo struggles to control the situation on the planet amid his part in a complicated tangle of relationships, while Athena is presented with a startling revelation.

Review

In a certain way, BSG has been drifting since “Exodus (Part Two)”. Leaving aside the two-parters of “Torn” and “A Measure Of Salvation”, we’ve had a number of stand-alone stories where Colonial and Cylon were separated, and where the larger point of the show was allowed to be side-lined. Well, the road to Earth, and the war between human and Cylon, is back with a vengeance, in one of the tensest episodes since the conclusion of the New Caprica arc.

The set-up is oh so simple but oh so effective. Galactica and the Cylons both want the next marker on the road to Earth. The humans are outnumbered, in space and on the ground, but they also have the capacity to eliminate said marker if the Cylons get too close. And around this simple but intractable conundrum, a host of human drama stories play out: the relationship square that Apollo, Starbuck, Sam and Dee form planetside; Tyrol being called to prophecy; Baltar struggling to find his place in the universe; Adama forced to gamble with the life of his son.

It’s almost fan-fiction writing, in a good way, as the Cylons and Colonials have a brief summit onboard Galactica, in one of the best scenes of the season so far. Its got it all: Adama going eye-to-eye with D’Anna, Baltar jumping from humble to indignant at the drop of a hat, a scheming Cavil and the meeting between Boomer and Athena. Amid all of the great performances and excellent writing we are brought right down to the brass tacks that will define the main issue of the episode: a game of poker between Adama on the one hand and D’Anna on the other. In a way that the show perhaps hasn’t been able to fully replicate since similar scenes in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”, we get a fraught situation with no easy resolution: oh, and there’s a ready-made ticking clock in the form of the local star, about to go supernova at any moment.

This leads up to the conclusion of the episode, where the Cylons, or more specifically D’Anna, decide to put Adama’s resolve to the test. I really love that cliffhanger ending, with nukes aimed and no obvious answer as to who is going to give way first. It helps that this part of the episode is shot so well, in the way that we cut back-and-forth between the CIC and the heart of the basestar, not unlike the conclusion of “Pegasus”. Who’s going to blink first? We have no idea, and the work that “The Eye Of Jupiter” does to get us to that point really marks it out as a strong effort.

As stated there’s a lot of character drama alongside the main plot, and we’ll start with Athena. She’s been quiet enough in plot terms since “Exodus (Part Two)” bar her brief stints as a side-player in “Torn” and “Unfinished Business” and her role in the opening of “The Passage”, but gets the chance to take back some proper agency in “The Eye Of Jupiter”. From the moment that the Hera conspiracy was hatched in “Downloaded” we knew that the truth would eventually come out. That time is now, with the revelation coming out of a very juicy confab with Athena’s mirror image in the form of Boomer, who seems more than ever to be a fully blown member of Team Cylon.

The following episode is going to have more of course, but I really liked Grace Park’s performance here, both as a goading Boomer and as an Athena who looks like she’s simply had enough. She’s paid her dues in Colonial confinement for over a year, and has risked her life repeatedly for humanity since: her thanks is for her child to be taken from her, and for a lie to be told about her death. Her rage at the meeting with Adama, where she forcefully insists that she speak to Roslin, is extremely powerful, just in terms of the anger she is suppressing.

The consequence of this is one of the most interesting confrontations between Adama and Roslin, where I think some of the key dynamics of the two are helpfully re-stated. Adama is not a true believer, even if, as Gaeta says, the odds of the situation they find themselves in are infinitesimally small. He doesn’t believe in Gods dictating events, he believes in his ship and in his crew. He just watched a member of that crew die of radiation poisoning in front of him. So when Roslin admits the truth and then starts in on a justification for her actions, Adama just leaves. And that’s enough: we don’t need any angry words or shouting from him, the fact that he has cut off Roslin in mid-sentence and marched out of the room is more than enough to get the point across. Roslin may be some kind of prophet, but she’s messing with Adama’s family with these actions. And no better man than Admiral Adama to understand the pain of a dead child.

But forget all of that, because there’s a soap opera happening elsewhere! Yes, it’s an old-fashioned love square, as Apollo and Starbuck cheat on their respective spouses with each other, before they are all forced to be in close proximity of each other in a dire situation. It’s a convenient set-up that I was able to forgive just because, like a soap opera, it’s so juicy and ripe for melodrama that you just can’t pull your eyes away.

I mean, look at all this: Lee pushing too hard with Starbuck again, almost revelling in his own guilt as Thrace essentially says she’s looking for something a bit more casual than he is (seriously, they simply are not meant to be); Lee flat-out lying to Dee, who then has to put up the catty comments from Starbuck; Sam goading Apollo by claiming he isn’t the first guy Starbuck has cheated on him with; Starbuck having to come between Apollo and Sam before they come to blows; and, oh yes, Apollo having a gun pulled on Sam when he refuses to follow orders. The layers to this are incredible, and all in the middle of an imminent Centurion attack/prophetic discovery of an ancient Temple. When did BSG become this show?

And I say all that in a positive way. The strength of this show has always been the way that it marries sci-fi action with very human drama, and that’s what the stuff on the algae planet is. It’s dramatised but relatable, these people caught up in extraordinary circumstances still obligated to deal with the kind of relationship train-wrecks that are the reason so many people watch Eastenders. It’s true that BSG has never gone this far with this aspect of itself – not even the love triangle in “Sacrifice” was this convoluted – and it could be played for comedy in different circumstances, but I found it good enough to watch. That’s probably down to the performances of Bamber, Sackhoff, McClure and Trucco, and the way that Verheidan’s script slowly ratchets the tension up to the point that Sam is being held at gunpoint by the guy banging his wife (for the perverse reason that said guy doesn’t want the husband to go to rescue his wife from a dire situation: it gets better!). That is to say we don’t start out with everyone at each others throats, but we build to it bit-by-bit. I remember that the next episode things take a darkly comic swing for Dee and Starbuck in this plot-line, and I can’t wait. Some come to hate Starbuck out of this whole plot-line, but for me it makes her more real: how many of us have had to put up with religiously minded hypocrites at some point or another?

The episode also gives a bit of time, amid all of that, to Tyrol of all people. His role in the episode is important, even if it is a little understated, and I think if we are to trace certain revelations that occur much later on to a particular point, I think this it. He gets the strange call to go out into the wilderness, he discovers the Temple, he becomes obsessed with its meaning. Tyrol’s always had an intangible connection to the larger mystery of the show – I suppose we could call it “the Cycle” – we see that in the manner in which he had strange, prophetic seeming dreams in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” and the manner in which he tends to be around critical moments for that Cycle, like Baltar’s revelation on Kobol in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)” or his interactions with Cavil. His role in “The Eye Of Jupiter” is pretty much just an extension of that, as he elaborates on an aversion to blowing up the Temple that he can’t fully understand.

Over to the Cylons then, who after several episodes of “And they are around too” explode back into the main contention of the narrative. The underlying theme of their part in “The Eye Of Jupiter” would appear to be about the divide beginning, as D’Anna essentially makes a play for leadership of the Cylons, directing things around the stand-off with Galactica and going against the wishes of others in the process. I liked the way that the episode was able to get across how Biers is basically losing control in her increasingly unhinged quest to discover the identities of the Final Five even as she puts on the facade of maintaining it: Cavil especially is not going to tolerate this kind of thing for much longer. That adds something to the larger crisis of the episode, a divide within a divide.

The growing divide is also seen in a more personal way, in the form of Baltar. He essentially separates from Caprica Six as part of D’Anna’s quest, something that really does resonate: this is the woman that Baltar has been obsessed over for years at this point, but he’s willing to walk away from her to find out if he is a Cylon or not (and the irony of her letting Baltar into this Cylon world only to find herself outside of his circle is not lost on me either). And remember that this is not some idealistic mission to find out if he can stop being a traitor to humanity, this is all about power: Baltar happily joins in with Biers’ game, because he knows that it is in his interest to do so, even if all that it does is ferment discord among the Cylons that he might be able to exploit later. Some may say that I am being cynical in all that, but I don’t buy Baltar as the benevolent prophet any more than I buy him as a father to Hera in their one brief scene together early (and hey, remember her?).

I also don’t buy him as a “chosen one” which he is addressed as directly in this episode by the Hybrid. “The Eye Of Jupiter” is an episode where BSG comes down pretty hard on the side of “pre-ordained” in the battle with “free will”, but even with that it is hard to credit Baltar as a genuine hand of God anymore. Maybe that’s because of how far he has fallen in recent times, or how he really does seem subordinate to Biers in this episode. He talks a good game about transcendence, but even on a first viewing I felt very much that the former President was in for a fall: the master of self-delusion, he’s going to find nothing but more questions on this planet.

Before I close up, a brief moment on Dean Stockwell. At time of writing the actors death was just announced, so perhaps I was paying closer attention to him here than I normally would. I do just love his Cavil though: the air of detached amusement in nearly every action, the sense of menace he exudes in every movement regardless and his ability to be the guy in a scene you never want to take your eyes off of. Lucy Lawless is nominally running the show here for the Cylons, but it really is Cavil: he’s the evil Emperor standing behind her grinning. I think there’s a lot that might be worth criticising in BSG as we move forward, but I doubt that Stockwell is going to be one of those things.

So is that what this is all really about?

Notes

-The BBC plot description for this one cracks me up: “A lost temple causes a stir”.

-The title is fairly straightforward, and given the image in the actual temple only adds to the connection of the storm formation on the planet in our Solar System.

-Like that opening shot of a Raptor twirling out of Galactica and then descending into the atmosphere of the planet. It’s good to be reminded of the agility of these crafts.

-Like the Colonies post-apocalypse, the algae planet is shot in an overexposed fashion which perhaps is meant to reflect the radiation level coming from the star cluster?

-Given that it took two seconds for people to start calling the planet discovered in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” “New Caprica”, I’m surprised the Fleet has been in this new location at least a week and it is still called the “algae planet”.

-Oh, the barely disguised bitterness that McClure is able to get into “Funny how she keeps finding herself at the top of rotation”.

-Apollo and Starbuck hook up in the Raptor, and one’s mind naturally goes to a very similarly framed scene from the Miniseries between Tyrol and Boomer.

-It’s good to be reminded that Starbuck remains a religious person, albeit a bit of a hypocrite: divorce is a sin to be avoided but adultery is just “bending the rules a little”.

-Apollo and Starbuck in a nutshell: he waxes lyrical about how “Every time I look at my wife, I see my own guilt reflected in her eyes” and she responds by sarcastically applauding him for being “really poetic”.

-We get a very un-BSG-like dissolve transition to the Cylon fleet from this moment, and then into a pretty harsh montage of Hera crying. It was jarring, but I presume was meant to be.

-Easy to dismiss Tyrol being guided to the Temple as just another part of the prophecy right now: one of the problems with what came late in the season as I remember was the unsatisfied feeling that nothing was set-up, but I guess we could call this a bit of that.

-The algae planet and the distinctive rock formation that hides the Temple are shot on Native lands known as the Hoodoos in British Columbia, not far from the city of Kamloops. It’s private land, so no sightseeing.

-The temple interior is well-realised, and I understand was a jazzed-up silo on the Vancouver docks, previously used for the Ragnar Anchorage in the Miniseries.

-The count is down 18 from “The Passage”. Discounting Kat, this indicates 17 people died as part of the “skeleton crews” of the Adriatic and the Carina.

-Probably not a coincidence, the details of Tyrol’s upbringing within a very religious family that just so happen to be perfect for finding and understanding the Temple. It’s too perfect: can we take this as another hint?

-The runes on the pillar in the Temple appear to be Hebrew in origin, but from what I can find they have no specific meaning put together.

-The “Five” in “the Temple of Five” are apparently five priests who worshiped the suitably ominous “One Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken”. Assuming it’s not Voldemort, this is presumably the Cylon God, but these terms open a window into the Colonial religion that I could stand to hear a little more of. A deleted scene from “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)” mentioned a “Jealous God” of the Colonial pantheon who precipitated the ancient collapse of Kobol, who may be the same figure.

-Brad Dryborough does a food job with the, to this point mostly background, role of Lt Hoshi as he gets the most unexpected phonecall in history: “It’s the Cylon baseship…requesting to speak with you”.

-Callis is great in all his scenes with the Fleet, but most especially with the way he both cracks with emotion and feels the need to identify himself here: “Admiral, I can’t tell you what a genuine pleasure it is to hear your voice.This is Gaius Baltar.”

-There’s an amazing outtake of this scene, where Edward James Olmos picks up the receiver after hearing Baltar’s message and declares “Baltar…eat shit and die”.

-The return of Head Six, last seen I think in “A Measure Of Salvation”. She’s not confined to Galactica, but this is where we see her most.

-Tigh appreciates the irony enough to have a smirk, but isn’t taking any chances when he finds out Boomer is onboard: “You just lost your visiting privileges”.

-Roslin can’t even bring herself to look at Baltar in these scenes, which is a really nice touch. Then again she didn’t have any problems talking to him in “Precipice”.

-Calling back to his “Take me to your leader” line in “Lay Down Your Burden’s (Part Two)”, Cavil opens up here with a slightly sarcastic sounding “We come in peace”.

-Baltar doesn’t keep up the repentant stance for too long, getting outraged when Roslin walks off: “So I’ve saved your life…again. How many times is that now? Because I’m beginning to lose count.”

-Just like his offhand suggest of “Let’s shoot Baltar” back in “Occupation”, Cavil indulges his sense of the comedically dramatic here: “We’ll throw in Baltar”.

-I imagine that Boomer’s revelation that “Hera’s alive” is not some opportunistic thing, it’s a calculated effort to sow discord.

-Adama isn’t messing around, as he steps up and literally stares D’Anna down face-to-face, in a very cool moment.

-Cavil makes sure to throw in a wink as he departs the Galactica. It’s genuinely Joker-like, in a good way.

-I do like that Sam doesn’t just whinge when given orders by Apollo, he points out that he and the civilians are going to be no good with “deployments” and “fire teams”. Lee’s misjudging what he has to hand.

-“Wouldn’t want to step between you and your Major”. I love how bitter Anders is when Starbuck is using Apollo’s rank.

-Tyrol paints a bit of a weird picture of him dancing around naked “with porn magazines” in his mother’s prayer room. OK then.

-One of the basestar’s is literally floating just over the Galactica, which seems like the kind of distance Adama would not be comfortable with.

-Gaeta notes that they will only get the warning of a “helium flash” from the star about to explode, which does match certain examples of “real life” supernova instances. I’m not sure how much such flashes are actually observable though.

-He’s right when he points out out tiny the odds are that all of this would be happening together. Adama tries to appear unconcerned, but his joke about a higher power having a sense of humour is just deflection.

-There’s a deleted scene I thought they should have kept in where Baltar, on Galactica, meets Gaeta and quietly warns him to check out the nearby sun. Always playing the odds is Baltar.

-Our first full Cylon confab in a while here, but D’Anna and Cavil are the only two of import really.

-Cavil makes a good point when he says that the Cylons have a time advantage over humanity, in that they can spend eons looking for Earth if they so choose, but the Fleet can’t. But the others aren’t convinced. This again marks Cavil out as someone who identifies more as machine than as biological.

-Apollo’s right when he praises Sam’s leadership qualities. Anders doesn’t try and hide the difficulty of the task through obfuscation or stirring words, but focuses more on insuring people feel supported and that they have a chance to succeed.

-“You think you’re the first?” Ooooooooh. Saucer of milk for Mr Anders. I love Bamber’s shocked face here too. He doesn’t really get Starbuck sometimes.

-Not much to the Hybrid’s words this time, seems fairly consistent with Biers’ mission to get the Temple.

-This sort of strange menage a trois between Caprica Six, Biers and Baltar appears to pretty much break-up here. D’Anna is at least up-front about it, Baltar can’t bring himself to be so decisive.

-“Pray for us, Caprica. We’ll be praying for you.” I don’t know if I’ve ever hated Biers as much as I did in this moment.

-Good action spot on Starbuck’s crash landing, and Sackoff sells it well with her screaming.

-Olmos knocks it out of the park in just one word, cutting off the President’s train of thought as he moves to confront her: “Laura…”

-I just love that Adama walks out on Roslin. He can’t even let himself hear the totality of her explanation. A deleted version of the scene has him stick around to hear her out, but that wouldn’t have worked half as well.

-Helo cuts right to the heart of the matter by telling Adama that “You of all people” should understand their pain. But the Admiral is right to point out that it isn’t comparable: their child is still alive.

-“Well unfortunately we are bluffing.” “…Are we?” I love Adama here.

-A slightly altered version of “Prelude To War” plays over this scene, which is fine, but perhaps can be seen as evidence that the show was cutting back in certain areas.

-There’s a good visual confluence between the extremely high stakes drama in orbit and the much pettier stuff happening on the surface, but it all works together. It’s hard to see people backing down in either instance.

-We get to see how Galactica deploys nuclear arms here, which is out the top of the ship in some hidden silos. Very cool image.

-Galactica started with five nuclear warheads, and used one to destroy a basestar in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two), then lost one that was used by Gina in “Lay Down Your Burden’s (Part Two)”. With seven here, we can presume Pegasus had a compliment of four, and Apollo was smart enough to leave them behind in “Exodus (Part Two)”.

-“And the heavens opened up, and they saw the Eye”. Tyrol gives the apocalyptic danger of the nukes a nice bit of scripture gravitas.

Overall Verdict: It’s one-half of a whole so maybe I should refrain from giving too complete of a judgement of “The Eye Of Jupiter”, but this is an episode that I have consistently liked since it first aired. I think it balances two very different kinds of drama really well, and combines soap and space operate beautifully. There’s so many single scene things to suck you in here too, and there isn’t a bad performance to be had. I’d go so far as to put this on its own merits into BSG’s top tier, but perhaps I might change my mind after the next episode.

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Ireland’s Wars: Fianna Fail And The IRA

Fianna Fail were in power with Eamon de Valera as President of the Executive Council at the head of a cabinet of well know figures from the revolutionary period: Sean T. O’ Kelly as Vice-President, Sean Lemass as Minister of Industry and Frank Aiken as Minister of Defence were some of these. De Valera intended nothing less from his time in office than to tear down the most hated terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and to republicanise the Irish Free State, to the point of its very name. But right from the off he was first to tackle a very awkward problem, one that would test his commitment to one of the organisation that had, to some degree anyway, backed Fianna Fail since it had come into existence, and which now expected that their place in Irish society would be greatly restored: the Irish Republican Army.

The IRA over the last five years had been making more and more of an impact since their nadir earlier in the 1920’s, bit by bit, action by action. Its range of activities were quite varied: assassination attempts, some successful and some not, of Garda and informants; aiding in industrial strikes, in trying to protect workers from harassment and physical assault; continuing to make links with organisations and nations abroad; providing protection and security for Fianna Fail politicians and candidates; and their own intimidation campaign targeted at organs of the state, especially the judiciary when republicans were up on charges. The growing popularity of Fianna Fail seems to have only emboldened the IRA with such things, to the point that their own harassment of government and legal officials was deemed a serious threat by men like Eoin O’Duffy, though it was unlikely to really be the kind of existential crisis he would make it out to be. The IRA actively aided the 1932 Fianna Fail election campaign, believing that de Valera’s party was their best bet to regaining legitimacy, dismantling the hated Treaty and being in a position where they could better strike at their pro-Treaty enemies, whether it was the Garda, the Army or the veterans of the provisional government/Free State during the Civil War. As noted, the IRA’s leadership even withdrew its stated ban on Volunteers helping with election campaigns or voting in 1932, even if it stopped short of an open endorsement of Fianna Fail.

De Valera didn’t wait too long once elected. Soon enough after Fianna Fail took office the IRA was removed from a list of banned organisations, a move that seems extraordinary with hindsight: here was the government of the Irish Free State, those officials who were in charge of the Irish Defence Forces, legalising an armed militia they had no real control over who were essentially dedicated to the idea of armed struggle with Britain to achieve unification and the institution of a 32 county republic. De Valera proclaimed that no efforts would be made to seize IRA arms as long as no more importing took place. What IRA prisoners were currently confined were released almost straight away and IRA numbers soared over the next 24 months, to an alleged high of 10’000. The numbers included some former members who choose to re-join at this point, among them Tom Barry. Fianna Fail weren’t the only reason for that, with the IRA’s left-wing attitude attracting those unhappy with growing penury on account of the Great Depression, but the fact that membership of the IRA was no longer a crime certainly did not hurt. It was not difficult to foresee that such de facto legitimacy being granted to the IRA by the government would be a problem in the long-term, especially given the serious ideological differences that existed between their respective leaderships. There was some outreach from figures in Fianna Fail, like Aiken, to the IRA in this time, seeking to arrange a full-on merger between the two, or IRA recruitment into a new official reserve force, but IRA leadership balked at what was viewed as a likely one-sided union. That was just the leadership though: plenty of IRA members did join up with thew “Volunteer Reserve Force”, or the Garda, or essentially ceased their IRA allegiance to order to accept pensions from the state for their service during the revolutionary period

On the Treaty, de Valera quickly embarked on what would be a multi-term effort to dismantle its terms, aided in his quest by taking up the Ministry of External Affairs for himself, alongside the Presidency. The Statute of Westminster backed his efforts, though de Valera would never actually invoke it as he did so, reasoning that doing so would acknowledge British primacy over Ireland historically: but it did insure that Westminster was not able to interfere with most of his efforts. The Oath of Allegiance was one of the first things to go, with a bill introduced within weeks of Fianna Fail taking office, completed after some legislative delays by the summer of 1933. The year of Dail committee wrangling had thus, in a stroke, undone much of the cause of the Civil War. Land annuity payments to the British exchequer were halted, something that precipitated a larger economic conflict with Britain that will be the subject of future entries. The Governor-General position was neutered from a legislative stand-point, with James McNeill himself the subject of semi-formal snubbing from de Valera and his Ministers, to the point that McNeill would take early retirement before 1932 was out; his replacement, Domhnall Ua Buachalla – an veteran of the Easter Rising and the anti-Treaty IRA – was a member of Fianna Fail and followed de Valera’s instructions to essentially make the role invisible, living in a rented home in Monkstown instead of the much grander Viceregal Lodge, not attending official functions and not objecting as the powers of the office were transferred bit-by-bit to de Valera.

These early years of the Fianna Fail government certainly emboldened the IRA, even more than the five years before the 1932 election had done. Incidents such as a de Valera visit to Kerry, where he ignored a guard of honour from the local Garda but saluted an assembly of IRA Volunteers only increased the feeling that the government of the day considered the IRA as something more worthy of honour than the institutions of the state. But few in the IRA leadership considered Fianna Fail firm allies, with a 1933 conference claiming that de Valera refusal to tear down all elements of the Treaty in a stroke constituted recognition of “the overlordship of Britain”. Efforts to formalise the relationship between Fianna Fail and the IRA went nowhere, with de Valera’s annoyance with what he viewed as republican intransigence to his aims particular evident in letters of this time. The IRA, for their part, more and more considered de Valera’s government as just a continuation of Cosgrave on every point that mattered, with it headed by a hypocrite who forgot previous commitments now that he was in power.

Violence between the IRA, as a more left-wing organisation, and those on the right also became part-and-parcel of these times. I wish to take the opportunity of a separate entry in this series to more fully discuss the rise of fascistic entities in Ireland and their often violent relationship with the left, but for now it suffices to say that the running battles, more akin to riots, between Volunteers on the one hand and various shades of right-wingers on the other, were a consistent part of political campaigning, speeches and other public events in these years, to the point of being a clear and obvious danger to the proper functioning of democracy. IRA attacks on the meetings of Fianna Fail’s rivals were sometimes so brutal – one in Tralee in October 1933 lasted nearly five hours, and involved bombs and grenades – that the government felt compelled to act, with military tribunals used to try arrested republicans.

Not everyone in the IRA was happy with the direction that the organisation was going though. It might have moved towards the left, but outright communists were still a minority within it, and in this period the term “communist” had morphed into something akin to a catch-all insult for groupings of the centre and right to throw at their opponents. Add in the Catholic Church’s disdain for the ideology, and it is understandable that a significant section of the IRA would now want to distance themselves away from such accusations, that Cuman na nGaedheal and their supporters throw around freely. At an IRA convention in 193X affiliation with communism was declared incompatible with membership of the IRA, causing a split: some IRA members left to form the short-lived Irish Republican Congress as an out-and-out socialist entity with similar leanings to the IRA when it came to unification.

But there was also a more serious divide growing between hardliners who wanted the IRA to take full-on military action in pursuit of their aims – the declaration of a republic and the reunification of the island – and those who were predisposed to a more patient course. As IRA numbers swelled it was inevitable that a cadre of newer, younger members would push for immediate action, up to and including a general insurrection against the institutions of the Irish Free State. A lack of progress by Fianna Fail on republican aims stoked this fire, and left the old guard of the IRA fighting a continuous battle against its larger membership: more than one such figure was heckled at meetings when it became clear the IRA was not about to imminently rise-up. This divide was part of the transformation that came ahead of Fianna Fail’s about face on the IRA, with more and more personalities in that party happy to treat the paramilitary force as a “new” IRA, one that did not conform to the organisation that they were a part of, and thus one that did not deserve their respect, protection or granting of legitimacy.

Eventually, the IRA would go too far, even for de Valera and Fianna Fail, who probably valued the IRA as allies pre-taking power, but had less and less time for what can only be described as a rogue militant entity. In early 1935 IRA Volunteers in Longford murdered the son of a land agent who had been involved in disputes with local farmers, then the next month they fired shots at Gardai during bus-and-tram strike in Dublin. As time went on, more and more IRA members were arrested for causing disturbances or other crimes, as Fianna Fail began to row in more-and-more behind the Garda. The republican newspaper An Phoblacht was suppressed, and the military tribunals suddenly found themselves busy with the trials of detained republicans.

On the 24th March 1936 Boyle Somerville, a retired Admiral of the Royal Navy living in his family home in Newtownsend, Co Cork, was shot dead in the middle of the night by the IRA, with a note left on his body claiming the killing was undertaken on account of his efforts to recruit locals to the British military. The circumstances surrounding this operation are murky: Tom Barry was involved in its authorisation, and would later claim Somerville was meant to have been taken hostage, not killed. Others have posited that Somerville’s brother, living nearby and a member of the British Army, may have been the intended target, and that Boyle was killed in a case of mistaken identity. The killing caused outrage, with Somerville not an unpopular man in the locality, and who was described as at least somewhat nationalist in his political leanings by family members. It was one of the last straws.

In June 1936, just over four years after the IRA had been legalised by the state, the government reversed course. The IRA was banned again, with many more to soon join the hundred or so members already being detained for various offences. It would never again enjoy a similar level of recognition and legitimacy from an elected government, and from this point on would tend to view Dublin as much, or more of, an enemy as Britain or the unionist government in Belfast. The feeling was mutual: a newly installed Minister of Justice Gerry Boland would declare it was the government’s intention to “smash” the IRA as they had done to right-wing opposition.

In many ways, the outcome was inevitable. The IRA that had emerged from the defeat o the Civil War was not an entity that was ever easily going to tie itself to a democratic institution ever again, while Fianna Fail, as headed by de Valera, was an entity that was never likely to seriously tolerate a threat to its position of power for very long. It’s hard to imagine a peaceful co-existence ever coming to pass between them: instead, it was all too predictable as the IRA chanced its arm more and more, to the point that the government felt forced to declare it an enemy of the state again. In so doing de Valera seems to have had the backing of the popular will at least, with the people unhappy at the prospect of a re-run of the Civil War on the streets, or with the idea of the IRA as a group who could murder people at will without much in the way of official intervention until after the fact. With the banning of the IRA de Valera had reached a fairly decisive break with republicans: we will return to the more specific status of the IRA, especially on their leadership and operations outside of Ireland during the 1930’s, at a later time.

The status of the IRA was just one of the problems that de Valera had to deal with in the early years of his lengthy tenure as the leader of the country. While he was not willing to accede to the pressure to completely dismantle the Treaty and Free State constitution in totality, or to make more aggressive moves towards Northern Ireland, he was willing to square up with Britain. But not militarily; instead, de Valera decided to duke it out with London on the economic front, in what would become a long-running financial battle that would define much of the Free State’s progress through the 1930’s. This Economic War, whose final outcome would be vital in determining Ireland’s strategic position on the eve of the Second World War, will be the focus of our next entry.

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

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Perfect Scenes: The Empire Strikes Back

It’s the start of the year and new 2022 films worth watching and reviewing are at a premium. In lieu of a review, allow me to resurrect this series for a long overdue fifth entry.

One of my earliest memories is watching the original Star Wars trilogy on rented VHS tapes for the very first time, on Saturday mornings while my parents busied themselves elsewhere. Like so many others across so many walks of life, I was entranced from the moment I saw that Star Destroyer envelop the screen in Episode IV, but it is a moment in its sequel, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, that actually stands out more to me from that time. I think it was the first instance for me of seeing a scene in a movie and immediately wanting to stop the film, rewind, and watch it again, something that I went ahead and did, multiple times. In this post, I want to examine just why that was, from the perspective of a younger NFB, and of an older one who still feels the need to do so.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back: “Never tell me the odds”

With the Rebel Alliance abandoning their once-hidden base on Hoth, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and C-3PO are left trying to evade the Imperial Fleet: the only problem is that the Millennium Falcon isn’t in the best condition, and that’s before the asteroid field comes into view.

Young NFB loved chase scenes, loved the idea of dodging asteroids, loved the idea of the Millennium Falcon blasting away at pursuing TIE Fighters. But there’s so much more to this scene then the effects and the action. It’s a blend that Lucas would fail to really appreciate when it came to the prequels, but which Empire, under the direction of better craftsmen in director Irvin Kershner, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and composer John Williams, nail in a manner so spectacular it’s like it comes from a completely different canon to the sometimes thrilling but nowhere near as affecting sequences you could compare it to from Episodes I, II and III.

The action is good enough of course. t’s just simply entrancing, as the Falcon dips and weaves ahead of the TIE Fighters and then does its best to avoid crashing into the asteroids. There are lots of simple little flourishes: the twirling asteroid that moves into the right position just as the Falcon flashes past; the TIE that takes a glancing blow and staggers on, electricity frying, for a few seconds before the final collision; and the final crash between the two TIE’s, tense in its inevitability, as they come together in the asteroid valley that is just a bit too small for them (but not the Falcon). Perhaps its just the relatability of it all: you can imagine much the same beats in a much more grounded format, like a car chase out of something like Starsky And Hutch, but the surrounds presented in Empire elevates it into something truly special. The well-worn concept of “Underdog prey outfoxes the hunters” could never be described as played out amidst swirling space rocks and roaring fighters letting off laser guns.

Honestly, this might be the best four minutes of score John Williams ever created, in terms of lining up with and enhancing what is happening on-screen. It starts with that booming Imperial March as the Empire closes in, its Star Destroyers dominating the screen and its fighters hounding at the Falcon. As the hyperdrive fails and Han is forced into some ersatz maintenance it takes on brilliant mix of rapidly sounding horns and swift, tense strings, an eclectic kinetic mix that makes you feel the desperation of the moment as well as the possibilities of gallows humour. As the Falcon soars around the asteroids we get a booming, majestic space opera moment of auditory delight, that dovetails in with Empire’s general theme as Han steers the group into a cave. The motifs flow in and out of each other so easily it’s difficult to classify them as one singular theme, when in reality Williams has essentially made three. His common “Question/Answer” rhythm has, perhaps, never been so well employed.

The scriptwork is also sublime here, perfectly serving both the moment and the characters. The only time that someone points something out bluntly (C-3PO’s incredible “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!”) it fits who the character is, as does the dashing, heroic and slightly reckless response of “Never tell me the odds”. Leia remains the anxious worrier (“I hope you know what your doing”) while Han remains the scoundrel with a degree of self-doubt (“Yeah, I hope so too”). Those two have something electric in every scene they are in throughout this movie, and the asteroid field is no exception from Leia’s panicked insistence that Han doesn’t have to risk their lives to try and impress her, to Han’s admittance that Leia might finally get her wish to be around when he made a mistake. It’s all in the delivery too of course, and everyone is firing on all cylinders in that department.

And despite the seriousness of the scene, it somehow manages to find a few moments of very effective levity. There’s the terrible pause as the hyperdrive fails (“I think we’re in trouble…”), Anthony Daniels as C-3PO is great with his frantic fear and unsolicited statistical computations and there are even some physical yucks as Han gets a hydrospanner to the head. Most importantly none of the humour feels shoehorned in or clumsy: thanks to work done previous to the scene in Empire and Hope, we’re comfortable with these characters and with Han as a guy who prefers flippant comments to a more stoic bravado.

It is the combination of all of these things that forms a symphony of iconic science fiction filmmaking, and the perfect example of what makes Star Wars the addictive adventure that it is. Young NFB certainly thought so, when he stopped the tape, rewound, and watched it all again, and then again. An older NFB is probably going to be watching it over again and again for a very long time.

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NFB Watches Wrestling #89: Raw (24/06/2002)

Fallout from King Of The Ring, yes, it was a show. It’s the 24th June 2002 and we’re in Gund Arena of Cleveland, Ohio for episode #474 of WWE Raw! Your main event tonight: Rob Van Dam defends the Intercontinental Championship against Brock Lesnar!

New Attitude splash, “Across The Nation”, pyro and JR/King welcome us to Cleveland. The entire Raw roster is on the ring apron for some reason. Battle royal time? Nope, here comes Mr McMahon to tell us why they are out here, walking to the ring in a hurry. He’s on the mike to say that he’s been asked one question a lot that he plans to answer tonight. Everyone knows that he’s an unqualified success, and they want to know what his secret is. Tonight, he is going to share that secret. More than anything, his most important quality is…”RUTHLESS…AGGRESSION” (mark the date folks, it’s the beginning an era). He’s beaten every other wrestler promoter in North America, and won, and he faced the USA in a court of law and won, and that was because of ruthless aggression. Oh, and he beat WCW because of it too (think McMahon’s tombstone will have another swipe at WCW on it the way he goes on). The crowd getting nuclear here with the “Asshole” chants, enough that McMahon has to acknowledge them.

Vince wants to know which of the superstars present has the necessary ruthless aggression, which gets “RVD” chants. Bradshaw says he does, Trish is nodding her head, even Spike looks pumped up. Well, we’re going to find out tonight, and there’s one person who isn’t here who does have the needed quota of ruthless aggression. That man is Brock Lesnar. McMahon gets in RVD’s face to talk up Lesnar’s win last night, asking if it bothers him. Van Dam says it does. Vince turns to Bubba Ray and sums up his interference in the Flair/Guerrero match last night. We’ll see how much ruthless aggression he has when he faces Eddie one-on-one tonight (and the crowd goes mild). Next is Jeff Hardy, “Mr Xtreme”, he’s been “buzzing” The Undertaker for the last few weeks, but tonight he will face him in a match, with Matt barred from ringside. Jeff looks very unhappy about this, which makes no sense.

Big impassioned speech as McMahon asks which superstar really wants it, because if they don’t Vince doesn’t want them. The nWo music hits, and out come the monochrome mediocrities. “Hey Vin man!” opens Michaels, who apologises for their lateness. “Ruthless aggression” personifies the nWo, and there are no bigger superstars. They want to extend their services to take out some of the trash in the ring, and Nash suggests that if anyone has a problem they come back to them once they have headlined a few Wrestlemania’s (I wouldn’t brag about those main events too much if I were you Diesel). Booker on the mike in response, suggesting it’s time for the nWo to go (preach), followed by Goldust who says he and T are as tight as it get, boys, homies, practically married. The Bookerman not so pleased with that, but says he will take on any of the nWo tonight.

Vince says it won’t be Booker/Michaels, as Shawn is an icon who has already demonstrated plenty of ruthless aggression. So has Nash, but he’s still injured, and if he doesn’t live up to expectations he’ll be on the unemployment line with Scott Hall (is that what they are calling TNA?). McMahon wants people to reach up and take their opportunities, T grabs the mike to say he’s ready to do so, Vince grabs the mike back and announces that it’ll be X-Pac and Show vs Booker and “your close personal friend” Goldust. The mike gets snatched back and forth, leading JR to hilariously declare “Lot of aggression here” in a deadpan tone, before Vince adds that Michaels and Nash are barred from ringside. T can dig that, sucka. Spinarooni, and fade out, with me distracted by Crash pulling a confused face the one time he is on camera. Interesting opening segment, obviously Vince trying to draw a line in the sand after Austin’s walkout. Let’s see what tonight’s show is life before passing judgement.

After the break, our first match is up.

Bradshaw & Spike Dudley vs William Regal & Chris Nowinski

I hope they told JBL to go easy on Nowinski, he’s just a boy. Recap of what went down last week. Nary a mention of Bradshaw being Hardcore Champ, where if he’s pinned, by anybody, it’s supposed to change hands. Spike flung onto the heels as they come down the ramp, Bradshaw and Nowinski end up legal. Clubbing shots to the back, chops, DDT, two. Big shoulder tackle, corner smashes, more clubing blows, Nowsinki jumps into the Fallaway Slam. Tag to Dudley, running forearm but then he gets dumped out,. Nowinski distracts the ref as Regal gets in a few shots on the outside then feeds Spike back in. Beatdown, powerslam backbreaker, and Regal in.

“Spike wanted to go to Penn State, but he ended up in state pen” says King, is he saying Spike is a criminal? Beatdown offence for half a minute but then a quick hot tag to Bradshaw. He cleans house, one super whiffed big boot to Nowinski, before he and Slick Willy go back to leathering each other. Spike goes for the Dudley Dawg on Regal but gets thrown to the outside, always a sick spot. Bradshaw nails Regal with the Clothesline From Hell, then a roll-up from Nowinski with a handful of tights and that will be the 1, 2, 3 in just under three.

Winners: The Harvard/Blackpool Connection

Verdict: Fast-paced tag, and Nowinski getting out of it without a broken nose from the posterboy of WWE hazing counts as a success in my book.

Nowinski and Bradshaw stare each other down in the aftermath. Oh, the beating is coming college boy.

Backstage Vince is with Sgt Slaughter. There was something he forgot to say out there, and that is there are some people on the Raw roster who don’t belong, and he’s going to be getting rid of them one at a time. First on the chopping block: Tommy Dreamer. #2: Raven. They were stars in “another company I put out of business”, and tonight they will have match: the loser will never again appear on Raw. Well, it’s a match with some stakes at least. McMahon just can’t resist reminding us he won the Monday Night War.

Vince goes into his office where Linda Miles waits, wearing a trenchcoat so you know whats coming. McMahon say this is “an unexpected sulprise…it’s also a surprise” (Good save Vinny Mac). She wants to tell McMahon just how aggressive she can be. Vince is going to give her a chance, in the ring. It’ll be a tag team match: Linda and Molly Holly vs Trish and Jackie. Linda is OK with that, because she loves competition. She’s going to take the “golden thong” award tomorrow night, and gives McMahon, and everyone watching, a preview by taking off the jacket. King dies of happiness (but not literally, mores the pity. I kid I kid).

They get interrupted by the sudden arrival of Deadman Inc, and Miles beats a hasty retreat. McMahon wonders if Undertaker is upset, and Taker confirms that he is. He might have lost the title last night, thanks to The Rock. Taker is here every week, but the Brahma Bull can just show up, give some speeches, and interfere? He wants Rocky tonight. McMahon say Rock’s Raw appearance last week was a once off, and he can pretend Jeff Hardy is The Rock tonight. Tonight, Mean Mark says he’s going to make Jeff Hardy famous, the old fashioned way, before departing. Bit weird to see a three-part McMahon segment, but the first and third segments were decent. The middle one was abhorrent of course. Two steps forward, one step back?

Bubba Ray Dudley vs Eddie Guerrero

Eddie hasn’t even come out and Bubba is setting up a table at ringside. Backstage, Guerrero is with Terri. He’s not intimidated by tables. Bubba jumped him last night, and he won’t tolerate the disrespect. He’s mad as hell, and everyone is about to see the brightest star in WWE: “Latino Heat”. The two trading blows as soon as Eddie enters the ring, Bubba with a big Scoop Slam, Guerrero goes from an Electric Chair into an attempted rana but then has to get out of the way of an elbow drop. Dudley chucking Guerrero around, big elbow shots, but prevented from getting the table. Bubba looking for the Bubba Bomb, countered into a roll-up and that’s it in only a minute.

Winner: Is a roll-up Eddie’s new finisher?

Verdict: These two should have been given more time than this.

Guerrero keeps up the attack in the aftermath, then out to fetch the table. He takes so long with it he doesn’t notice Bubba’s recovery, and walks into a powerbomb through the wood. Suddenly Chris Benoit is here! He floors Dudley from behind, latches on the Crossface and Bubba taps out. A group of refs out to break it up after a bit and Benoit left standing tall in the chaos. Can’t wait for Benoit to be back properly.

A promo for the imminent arrival of one Rey Mysterio follows, with lots of short clips of him zipping around WCW rings. “He’s coming”. Oh hell yes. After the break JR sums up the main event, and then we go backstage where Goldust is dressed up like Steve Irwin, complete with plastic crocodile. He’s not here to go to the jungle, it’s somewhere worse, more vile: the nWo locker room. Nobody’s home, except a sleeping Big Show. Goldust complains about the smell, and then out comes X-Pac from the bathroom. Goldust refers to him as “the rare bandana-wearing grease-rat” and warns us that they “tend to suck”. I laughed. Goldust flees with Pac in pursuit, while Big Show dreams about cheeseburgers. Because he’s fat, geddit?

Elsewhere the Hardy brothers prepare for later. Jeff got himself into this, he’ll get himself out. Matt says that there isn’t any Tag Titles on Raw, so they might as well go for glory themselves. Is this a break-up angle then? Matt wishes Jeff luck and away he goes.

Elsewhere elsewhere, Goldust flees from X-Pac, who runs into a trash can shot from Booker T. “You just went down under you kangaroo jive wombat”, wow. Hey, at least it’s set-up for later.

“Get The F Out”, and onto the next contest, where security are surrounding the ring to escort the loser away.

Tommy Dreamer vs Raven (Loser Leaves Raw)

Man, crazy to see arguably ECW’s most iconic feuding pair in a match like this half-an-hour into an episode of Raw. Raven with corner spears, stomps and a clothesline off a hard corner whip. Knee to the side of the head, two, then Dreamer set-up in the corner so Raven can do that weird looking knee drop from the top. Dreamer with a boot up on a corner charge, Raven back with a Bulldog attempt but Dreamer pushes him off. Dreamer with right hands, swinging powerslam, two. Crowd couldn’t sound less interested.

Raven with the boot on a corner charge now, but then walks into a neckbreaker, two. Raven dodges a corner charge and Dreamer ends up in the ringpost. Back quick enough with a DDT, and the crowd is so quiet that the ref’s counts sound really loud. Raven with a reverse DDT, two, as JR lets us know that the loser won’t necessarily end up on Smackdown. Dreamer hits a Death Valley Driver for the win in under two-and-a-half.

Winner: Dreamer, and who would have thought this would be the end of this feud?

Verdict: The two were fine, I mean God knows they’ve wrestled enough, but it was so short and had zero heat.

Dreamer celebrates with the ringside fans in the aftermath as Raven is escorted away. I think he’ll just be on Heat for most of the next while? JR can’t even muster the enthusiasm to pretend like this is a big deal.

Backstage, Paul Heyman is with the shadow of Brock Lesnar. He’s heading to ringside to intro Lesnar’s official coronation.

Elsewhere, Raven is escorted out of the building, complaining all the way, and suddenly he runs into Matt Hardy. Matt attacks, and Raven is sent into a wall, and then into a car. “Have a nice trip”. Raven is upset, and screams a bit. After the break, we get replays of what we just saw, which I assume is setting up some Heat matches. You’ll never know.

Commentary plays up the Taker/Jeff Hardy match later before we cut to JR and Paul Heyman in the red-carpeted ring. JR outlines what the winner of the tournament is getting, before Heyman takes over to claim that the #1 contendership prize was his idea. His plan came to fruition last night, and he introduces Big Brock, whose music starts playing over Heyman’s words. JR vacates the ring to go back to commentary, why was he even in there in the first place?

Heyman says Lesnar is the answer to all of Vince McMahon’s questions. No man has his desire, his hunger, his craving or his obsession. Paul E asks the crowd to set aside their jealousies, stand-up and applaud the King Of The Ring. A mixture of applause and boos. Suddenly Rob Van Dam is in the ring! Attack from behind, superkick, spinning martial kick, then a springboard martial arts kick that sends Lesnar out. Heyman restrains Brock as Van Dam suggests he get back in the ring. Fade to black. They didn’t belabour this, which I appreciated.

After the break Heyman and Lesnar are backstage with Vince, complaining about what just occurred. Vince asks what they want him to do about it. Heyman doesn’t think Lesnar can wait until Summerslam to become a champion, and suggests Van Dam be forced to put his IC Title on the line against the Next Big Thing tonight. McMahon ponders this, and decides to make the match. A little bit of annoyance on Lesnar’s face as Heyman speaks for him, but I assume it’s too early for a break-up.

Jeff Hardy vs The Undertaker (non-title)

Hardy out in facepaint, before we get an actual video package for this contest, which covers the main beats of the last few weeks of encounters. “Somebody’s career is about to be executed”. Well, it’s not Taker’s anyway. The Champ out on the bike as JR informs us Triple H is getting elbow surgery tomorrow after the match on Sunday. I can’t remember if that was a legit surgery or not.

Undertaker goes to work quickly, sending Jeff into a ringpost. Elbow, hard corner whip, and then a big powerslam for two. Hardy tries a few shots and gets a knee to the gut then a boot to the head. Commentary is acting like Jeff is some 12-year-old kid in there with Taker, they remember he beat Triple H in a match once, right? Case in point, nobody home on one of the apron leg-drops, then a big tope to a big reaction. Going for another one off the apron, caught and Taker delivers a big chokeslam, off. Back in, and a big Last Ride plants Jeff. That’s enough for the 1, 2, 3 in just over two-and-a-half.

Winner: The Undertaker, but of course.

Verdict: I feel like they could give Jeff a bit more to do here, this shouldn’t be a jobber mismatch. But hey, Undertaker looked strong.

Taker rides off on his bike, but suddenly Hardy is on the mike, even while sprawled out on the mat. He says Taker has beat his ass many times, but they aren’t done. He wants a match next week, for the title, and not just a regular match: his way to beat The Undertaker will be a ladder match. Crowd is into this. Taker seems struck by Hardy’s balls, and nods his head. Now, why would he agree to this exactly?

JR plugs an encore presentation of King Of The Ring on WWE.com, and Neurotica’s theme song. Time for our womens tag.

Trish Stratus & Linda Miles vs Molly Holly & Jackie Gayda

Gayda has her last name again. JR admits he feels shame for attacking Holly’s appearance, with the tone of a man who is more bored of this storyline than anything. Holly on the mike ahead of the bell to say it’s an honour to bring dignity back to the Womens Championship. She’s not a sleazy tramp who sleeps her way to the top. Stratus grabs the mike to berate Holly, saying she worked her way to the title. She felt bad about making fun of Holly’s weight – didn’t seem like it – but now it will be her pleasure to kick her fat ass. So, was there some negative feedback from the network or something? That’s two “I shouldn’t have mocked her weight but it’s OK really because she’s evil” type comments in as many minutes.

Brawling to start, Molly and Trish end up legal and Stratus hits a back body-drop. Gayda in and she runs into an armdrag takedown. Miles in, JR makes sure to tell us about her college athletics career because of course, and she puts Jackie into a wristlock for a bit before booting Holly in the head and tagging out. Essentially a repeat of that segment, Miles back in, more wristlocks, they were taught more than this on Tough Enough. Holly with a cheap shot to the back gives the heels the advantage, Holly in, beatdown and a mouth pull. Elbow drops, rope choke, some assistance from Gayda as Trish distracts the ref by complaining. JR goes back to listing off stuff about college basketball.

Some takedowns. A great summarising moment for why this is awful, JR starts talking about how Holly was trained by Dean Malenko, and gets cut off by Lawler making a Thigh Master joke. Miles gets two off a Sunset Flip then radically oversells a few stomps. Snap suplex, Gayda in, to the top very slowly, but Miles able to hit Holly with a drop-kick then crotch Jackie. “Hot” tag to Stratus, she cleans house, Holly breaks up a pin on Gayda off a drop-kick, then in legally. Trish with shots, Chick Kick, two with Gayda breaking it up. Miles takes her out with a drop-kick and dumps her out. Stratus dodges a handsping elbow, Stratusfaction and that’s it in just over four-and-a-half.

Winner: Status, presumably the #1 contender again for getting the pin, and Miles, who does look like she can go a bit.

Verdict: A pretty throwaway tag, but at least they got a bit more time than usual. Still hate this Stratus/Holly feud, it’s one of the worst things of the era.

After the break King oogles a preview of whatever underwear claptrap is happening the following night, before we get a recap of McMahon’s words earlier and RVD’s attack on Lesnar. Backstage Coach is with the man himself. Will he be able to keep up the intensity in his match tonight? Van Dam says he’s motivated every time he goes out there and gets reminded who he is. Heyman and Lesnar rock up, with a furious Heyman saying Van Dam owes everything to him. He rants on for a bit, before Lesnar tells him to shut up! Mild pop for that. Lesnar says tonight he will show Van Dam the meaning of “ruthless aggression”. Cool to hear Brock speak, but there’s a reason it doesn’t happen much.

Elsewhere the nWo walks backstage. Nash and Michaels insist X-Pac and Show get the job done tonight, or they will kick some ass themselves. They are all pumped up, and head to the ring.

The nWo (X-Pac & The Big Show) vs Booker T & Goldust

T and Show to start, circling as the “X-Pac Sucks” chants get loud. Lock-up, and Booker shoved back. Repeat into the corner, with TBS laying on a big chop. Pause, then T laying in some shots and chops of his own, before getting countered into a big Sidewalk Slam. Michaels and Nash watch on from the back as Pac gets tagged in. Shots, and Pac eats a running forearm. Big heel kick, snapmare, knee-drop and Goldust tagged in. Corner clothesline, foot choke, then the world’s worst looking Broncho Buster where Rhodes grinds in a bit too much. Inverted Atomic Drop, clothesline, and this is the most offence Waltman has taken in years. Hip smash, drop-kick from Pac avoided, only for The Big Show to clean Goldust off from the apron.

Show in, shots, headbutt, Scoop Slam, boot, then back to X-Pac. Corner spears with some aggression, another Scoop Slam, leg-drop, two. Into a resthold, Goldust eventually fighting out, gets two off a backslide but then eats a spinning heel kick for two. Michaels and Nash are still watching, if you were wondering. Chops in the corner, corner smash and Show in again. Sit down, Final Cut but T breaks up the count. Corner clothesline, Pac in, kicks, corner smashes and this is all getting a little dull now.

Kicks in the corner, nobody home on the Broncho Buster and we get the hot tag to Booker T. T cleans house, Show nails Pac by accident, Savate Kick from Booker on Show which he no-sells to hit a big right of his own. T hulking up a bit, another heel kick, Scissors Kick, and we get the Spinarooni. Big spinebuster to Pac, tag to Goldust, and the two deliver a double suplex to Show. Booker with a Cactus Clothesline to Pac, Show set-up in the corner, but grabs Goldust’s neck to prevent the Curtain Call. Showstopper and that’s it in just under ten.

Winners: The nWo, who get to stay at four members for another week.

Verdict: It was OK, the nWo’s offence is really limited but Booker and Goldust are over at least. Got a decent amount of TV time, which was in its favour.

Both halves of the nWo celebrate before JR plugs our main event. That’s up after the break.

Rob Van Dam (c) vs Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman (WWE Intercontinental Championship)

You would think this would be worth trying to make a feud out of, with a pay-off at the next PPV. Maybe put Lesnar’s title shot on the line? Speaking of, Lawler announces now that our next PPV is Vengeance, only six months after the last one. Lesnar attacking strong early, lots of corner spears. “Ruthless aggression!” he screams, man this got tired fast. Hard whip to the opposite corner, choke, hard rights, foot choke and have to say the crowd is not hot at all. RVD with a foot up on a charge, springboard martial arts kick, some corner spears of his own, going for the Monkey Flip, Lesnar trying to counter it into a powerbomb like he did last night, but instead Van Dam transitions into a rana. Evolution!

Spinning heel kick sends Lesnar out of the ring, Van Dam going for a springboard crossbody but caught and rammed into the ringpost. Back in, big “RVD” chants, he avoids a back body drop with a back flip, but when he tries another heel kick he’s caught and slammed hard, two. Lesnar is getting a bit better at this, but the crowd isn’t biting just yet, other than for a few of them to chant “Goldberg”. Big belly-to-belly suplex, more corner spears, Van Dam with an elbow on a charge only to walk into another belly-to-belly, two. Rope choke as King reminds us that Van Dam brought this on himself by interrupting the coronation, leading JR to bring up his feud with Bret Hart: “Shut up” is the response.

Backbreakers from Lesnar, Van Dam trying to rally back with kicks, low drop-kick but then Lesnar explodes back with a rough looking clothesline. Bear hug applied, a mild “RVD” chant, and Lesnar just chucks RVD around rather than wait for the comeback. Another hard whip into the corner, then a sort of inverted Snake Eyes with Van Dam smashed into the corner back first. Another, and Van Dam lands awkwardly, though just avoids smashing his head. The lack of Van Dam offence has killed the crowd, has to be said. Lesnar going for another one of those, Van Dam out and pushes Lesnar into the corner. Spinning leg-drop, Rolling Thunder, two. The handstand moonsault variety follows, two again. Crowd waking up a bit now.

Heyman grabs Van Dam’s leg on a whip chain, but RVD able to hit a drop toe-hold then a top-rope martial arts kick to the head. Lesnar prone, Van Dam to the top, but Heyman grabs the leg. Lesnar picks Van Dam off the corner, Van Dam to his feet, spinning heel kick, split-legged moonsault and Heyman is in the ring to break up the count. Earl calls it in just under ten.

Winner (by DQ) (and still WWE Intercontinental Champion): The King of my heart.

Verdict: Much better than the match the previous night, mostly because it got plenty of time, but the over-emphasis on Brock’s offence combined with the inevitable non-finish undercut it a fair bit.

Heyman feeds a chair into Lesnar, but then the Next Big Thing eats a kick through it. Heyman flees with Van Dam in pursuit, into the ring, kick to the head, to the top, and Van Dam nails Paul E with a Five Star. Van Dam celebrates but then gets pulled out of the ring by Lesnar, who lands a stiff looking spinebuster. Commentary desk dismantled, and Lesnar delivers a powerbomb through it, to only a very mild pop. Commentary left speechless as time expires.

Best Match: I guess the main event? Maybe WWE will work something out of it. I hope it’s not the end anyway.

Best Wrestler: Booker T is the main event face that the brand really needs right now.

Worst Match: Eddie and Bubba could have been great, but I presume got gipped for a time as a result of McMahon’s need for a lengthy opening monologue.

Worst Wrestler: The Big Show really needs both a reinvention and a new move-set, because he’s equal parts boring and unhealthy looking out there.

Overall Verdict: Not a bad episode of Raw I suppose, no dud matches at least and the last two were decent. Still, I wouldn’t say a very auspicious start to the era of “Ruthless Aggression”. Onward we go.

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