Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Cliffhangers and the Walking Dead

Warning - this contains SPOILERS for Season 6 of The Walking Dead, seasons 5 and 6 of Game of Thrones,  as well as some decades old stuff you really should have seen by now.


In less than 24 hours we will finally know who Negan killed in "Last Day on Earth," the sixth season finale to The Walking Dead. Even in this era of spontaneous internet outrage, the response to this cliffhanger- at least online- was overwhelmingly negative; see for instance this Variety article. It even prompted the show runners to issue apologies . But why was this necessary? Why did so many react with such hostility to such a common practice?

Part of it, I think, tied into the general dicking around they did with Glenn in the first half of the season. Glenn was seemingly killed in episode 6.3 ("Thank You"), only to reveal a month later (6.7 "Heads Up") that he was very much alive. By this point most of the audience had guessed he was coming back, and many were genuinely irritated with the stunt, and it seems to have undermined their trust in the show runners.

Ironically, it was the inability of the producers to lie to the audience that created the problem. On The Talking Dead, the chat show that airs immediately after TWD, they left Glenn of their weekly "In Memoriam" segment, and the producers even sent in a message assuring the audience that at least some part of Glenn survived. Had they really been trying to put one over on the audience, surely they would have played it straight, and made sure actor Steven Yeun put in a farewell appearence on Talking Dead.

Nevertheless, the audience felt its chain being jerked, and while it had them hooked, they didn't like it. Thus following Negan's brutal bashing in of the cameraman in "Last Day on Earth," many even doubted whether anyone would be killed, or if they would even bother to reveal it in the first episode back, planning to string it out just as they had Glenn's death. Once again, the producers had to come out and assure fans that the death would be revealed first thing in season seven.

To be fair, not everyone was outraged - casual fans at work general lacked the ire of my fellow internet nerds. Though many were still frustrated, they weren't quite swearing off the series.


So my question was why did this cliffhanger get this response? What made it different? The Glenn stunt may have exacerbated the problem, but it didn't create it.

According to the interwebs, the term "cliffhanger" originated either with the 1873 Tom Hardy serialized novel A Pair of Blue Eyes, or with the early cinema serials such as The Perils of Pauline. Regardless, it referred to a situation in which our hero was left in an unresolved perilous situation at the end of a story. In modern times, the definition has broadened a bit to include almost any unresolved situation or shocking revelation.

In television, arguably the first season ending cliffhanger was the famous "A House Divided" episode of Dallas, which had viewers around the world asking "Who Shot JR?" The stunt paid off, with the eventual revelation drawing the then-largest viewing audience in television history - 83 million, well over 4 times the audience The Walking Dead  had in its latest season (approximately 18 million per episode).

For nerd, the classic television cliffhanger is probably "The Best of Both World, Part I" of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This episode ended with Captain Picard captured, tortured and transformed into the Borg Locutus, facing down his stalwart first officer. Commander Riker gives the order to fire as the screen faded to black. In the years before widespread internet access, rumors were rampant that Patrick Stewart - then in contract negotiations - was being written out of the show. It remains one of the strongest episodes in Trek history, and kept us buzzing the entire summer.

Of course the single biggest cliffhanger for my generation had to be at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Not only was Han Solo left frozen in carbonite, but Darth Vader had dropped the daddy bomb on Luke Skywalker - and we had to sit on that for thirty-six months!

The cliffhanger has now become a television staple, to the point where it is almost expected with every season of half-season finale. Game of Thrones ended season 5 by killing (arguably) its lead character. Breaking Bad's mid-sixth season finale left Hank Schrader sitting on the crapper,  Heisenberg's secret in his hands. Even The Walking Dead has used it to great effect, most notably ending season 4 with almost the entire cast locked in a train car, waiting to be eaten by cannibals.

So what was the sin this time?

I think if you look at most of these cliffhangers, they actually end with some ray of light -either a hopeful resolution for the characters, or the potential for new storylines for fans to chew over.

Let's start with Dallas. The question on everyone's lips was "Who shot JR?", not "Will JR die?" We knew he wouldn't die. He was probably the most popular character on television at the time. In a night time soap focusing on the machinations of a Texas oil family, introducing a murder- sorry, attempted murder mystery sweetened the pot, and it gave every viewer his own theory to chew on.  It saved the life of its lead character, and found a way to further engage and involve the audience.

In the case of "The Best of Both Worlds," everyone left that episode alive. Star Trek had never killed off a lead character in a television episode before, and it would have been a big step. Most of us figured it wouldn't happen. But if it did... we again had possibilities to chew on. Either Picard died, or he did not, and we were happy gaming out either scenario.
For the Empire Strikes Back, before the credits rolled, they made damn sure to end telling us Han was alive and a rescue mission was underway.

In Game of Thrones, we saw Jon Snow die, but we'd seen others die and be brought back, and Melissandre - the witch who had resurrected at least one other character on the show, had just arrived at Castle Black. As puzzles went it wasn't terribly hard to figure out.

The point is, the writers either tantalized the audience with new storytelling possibilities, or offered them some hope to move forward.

"Last Day on Earth" did neither.

What they did was murder a character off screen. Understand, this was a critical plot point in the comics. Readers knew it was coming, and those who weren't readers had generally been clued in. The only question was who. And it was a death that had been teased at least as far back as episode 1 of season 5, and the threat of Negan specifically had been hanging over our characters for the whole back half of the season. And just to be clear, we saw the bat, saw the swings, saw the blood. We know someone "took it like a champ." In essence, they cock teased the audience for 8 episodes, then cut away from the money shot. As Negan would say, "Not cool."

Had we seen the death, the audience would have experienced the trauma to completion. Had they held off and not shown the swing, there might have been some hope of escape. By taking the path they chose, they didn't leave them any hope, nor did could they grieve, process, and move on (as they had done many, many times before). The audience was left stuck in the moment, paralyzed by plot. There wasn't even a way to speculate on the coming season, because we couldn't be sure who lived (outside Rick and Carl).

Of course they did give us a question: Who died? That gimmick worked well for Dallas because the crisis was past, and there was a genuine mystery with clues (either real or imagined) to chew on. Here, we are forced to dwell on the possible death of a beloved character, which isn't fun for anyone, and they deliberately obfuscated the scene so there would be no deliberate hints for the audience to pick up on.

That said I don't think the show runners' intention was to piss off its audience. They clearly thought this would be a good, tantalizing way to end the season, and erred badly. But now, more than six months later, tempers have died down, and I see fans speculating wildly about tomorrow's - well, tonight's now - big reveal. I'll be very curious to see how the ratings are.

My money is on Eugene. Shouldn't have quit the hair game.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dark Discussions Interview with the Dorkening

CLICK HERE for an interview of myself and Phil Perron by the fine folks at the Dorkening!

My God it is soooo painful to watch yourself. I guess we did OK given the lack of preparation.

Scare-A-Con: Post Con

Sorry for the delay. Things got busy.

Convention Sunday is almost always anticlimatic.
Friday you're happy to arrive, anxious to see who's showing up, finding old friends, scouting vendors, maybe trying to get an early autograph or two. Then there's the inevitable party at the bar.

Saturday everyone is there. All the guests have arrived, the halls are packed, panels are full, everything is in full swing. You have your costume contests, parties, parades and whatever else the con goers dreamt up. It is too easy to get swept up in the excitement and forget about simple things like eating and drinking.

The Sunday comes. For some there is the inevitable hangover after two days of frenzied activity and late night drinking. You've packed up the room, so one foot is already out the door. The crowds dry up, and some of the celebrities and vendors have already decided to punch out early. You can get some good deals, and like Friday, miss the long autograph lines, but the mood is more mellow. The fun is coming to an end.

So it was at day three of Scare-A-Con.

But I was determined to go out big. Or as big as I could. Phil had already headed home to his wife, children and, of course, little dog, leaving me to man the Dark Discussions table alone. I took the opportunity to put on my game face and hand out the last of our discs and put DDP pins in as many hands as I could. Had some great conversations with fans and fellow podcasters and just enjoyed myself.

There were two events of some significance to me.

First, I got to be on my first ever panel as a guest. When I first started hosting Dark Discussions, I went to Horror Realm in Pittsburg, where there was a similar panel on how to have a successful podcast. It turned out I was the only fan in the audience, asking questions of the four podcasters (most of whom were out of the game a year later).

Nearly five years later here I was, the tables turned. Here I am with author Robert E. Wronski of the Television Crossover Universe Podcast, Jesse of the Deadites podcast, and my weekend neighbor Kevin Crook of the Dorkening.

And here was our audience:

It all comes full circle. Good thing Jesse has a girlfriend.

Funnily enough, we still did the panel, even without an interested audience. We had fun at least. Sorry the fans missed out.

After the panel, there was only about 30 minutes until close. I managed to get ahold of Frankenhooker  star James Lorenz and get a quick interview, which will be added on to the next episode of the Dark Discussions Podcast. Mr. Lorenz was a great sport, and like his character sports a sharp with. Both he and Patty Mullen were great to the fans and even though I hadn't seen the film until the day before the convention, I now consider myself a fan of both. Please be sure to stop by their booth at future shows.

And when that was over, so was the con. Long drive home, and time to go back to work. All in all Scare-A-Con New England was a great time for all. Despite thin turnout (common to first year cons), the celebs seemed happy, the vendors turned a profit, and the fans enjoyed themselves. I want to thank JV Johnson for inviting the Dark Discussions crew, and hope we can do it again next year.

In a little over a month there will be another convention first, Phil, Eric, Patrick and myself will be vendors at Scares That Care Weekend 3 in Williamsburg, VA. Should be a blast, and we'll be raffling some things off to support the cause. If you're in the neigborhood, please stop by and say hello.


A couple of vendors I want to recommend. First, the lovely Firona and her monstrous offspring of Fiona's Fright Shoppe. She has handmade horror soaps and various horror kitsch, including Frankenstein bags we'll be giving away at STC3.

By the end of the weekend, I'd say at least 10% of the crowd were sporting Monsters Are Good gear. Horror tee vendors are a growing breed, but Monsters Are Good have a unique style that harkens back to the classics. I'll be sporting their glow in the dark Big Frankie tee for the STC3 Frankenstein panel.

Fangirl Beth Jankowski and her crafty sidekick were in attendance. Like horror tees, jewelry kiosks are plentiful on the con circuit, but Beth made great effort to get out and circulate and sell her stuff. Mostly made for the distaff side of the gender fence, but I like her style. And a special shout out to her husband Mike for his service and sacrifice.

Lastly we have Happy Kitty Studio's founder Lisa showing off her wares. I have a soft spot for those who combine the creepy and the cuddly, and when I saw her Harley Quinn kitty, I just had to grab one for a graduating student who is a nut for Mister J's better half.

Massachusettes Ghostbusters were out saving the day one last time, and managed to raise more than $1000 for a local children's hospital. The gentleman picking the raffle winners is none other than Butch Patrick, better remembered as Eddie Munster.

And let's just finish off with a father and son zombie hunting team. Parenting done right.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Scare-A-Con Day 2

Holy crap, I'm exhausted.

I always forget how tiring a con can be. You don't really notice at first - you're spending most of the day in one room, albiet a very big room, which you make a few dozen trips through, or standing in line or sitting down at a table, screening or panel. But at least for me, I'm always on, talking to people, either trying to glean some nugget about their business, or selling the podcast, or just reveling in being a fan. And I'm just going on adrenaline, and when it goes at the end of the night, I'm just left drained, albiet in a good way.

Phil and I started the morning with, well, we actually started with a damned fire alarm at 6 am, a tradition started at Scares That Care 2 which I am not happy to see continued. So that kind of killed what little rest we had, adding to the above exhaustion.

Anyway, after breakfast at the hotel and setting up the table (lesson learned: stock up on tape for the banner) we finally recorded the Frankenhooker episode. Got about 45 minutes in when the doors opened and fans started coming in. A few joined in for a bit, and we went to the lovely Patty Mullen to settle a question about the film's finale. Should be a fun ep, and may have an interview with James Lorinz to add if the timing works out tomorrow. Both Patty and James were gracious in their dealings with me, and I urge you to seek them out at future conventions. If you're not a fan already, I promise they will win you over.
Later the fine folks at the Dorkening invited us to an interview, currently available on facebook, and soon to be the most widely downloaded video in YouTube history.

On the celebrity front, I was able to take a new pic with Tom Atkins as yesterday's come out fuzzy, and then tracked down Tony Moran from Halloween  and Trace Beaulieu and Frank Coniff of MST3K.

Real treat though was speaking with fellow fans. This is really why I do the podcast and why I love coming to cons. Met a lot of people of all ages and walks of life and handed out almost all of Kristy Peterson Schoonover's "Greatest Hits" discs. Only a half dozen of the original batch left.

Speaking of, we met our first listener yesterday, a gentleman by the name of Anthony Thurber, who found us specifically because of Scare-A-Con, so thanks to both Anthony and the convention!

Lastly, there were awesome costumes all around. Some to promote FrightFest or the Haunted Hay Maze, others just people having fun. The time and effort -not to mention talent- people put into their hobby never fails to amaze.

Tomorrow we wrap up with the last podcast panel, and hopefully interviews with PJ Soules and the terribly witty James Lorinz.
Definitely a busier day than yesterday. Cons are notoriously difficult to turn out in their first year, but most of the vendors I spoke to were in the black or close to it. Hopefully that means another con next spring.

Some more of the MA Ghostbusters crew - I swear they multiply like tribbles. Yesterday there were 4, must have been over a dozen today. They'll let anyone have an unlicensed nuclear accelerator today....

That Ecto Cooler is in high demand according to Facebook and eBay scalpers, but these guys are just giving it away! However, they have raised over $500 for charity this weekend, so they can hoard whatever they want.

Here's some folks who stopped by during the Frankenhooker podcast: Night life Freddy Kreuger, Anthony Thurber, and... um... I don't remember their names. Sorry. Bad blogger.

And here's Frankenhooker herself, Patricia Mullen:

By now you've heard the next Friday the 13th film will be a prequel, in which we meet a young Jason and his father. They put in a surprise appearance at Scare-A-Con to promote the film.

The very fine folks at the Dorkening, our neighbors throughout the weekend. I have total tech envy.

The Dorkening only employs top professionals - no monkeying around.

The good lookin' man in front was the winner of today's Ghostbusters raffle (and some of those Ecto Coolers). Some guys have all the luck.

I know, I know - who's the lady with the sexy eyes, and is she single? That's Heather the Hag from (I believe) the Haunted Hay Ride attraction. Her piercing cackle could be heard throughout the hall.

This guy (I really am terrible at names) circled the hall all weekend like a Bohr model electron. I hope he got my good side.

Hot patootie bless my soul! The Kids of Albany were here promoting a screening of an old cult film. Solarbabies I think.

 Tom Atkins again, graciously agreeing to a new pic. He even gave the photographer a kiss.

The original Michael Myers. Have his signature on a few items already, I wanted something personalized.

Co-host Phil Peron with one of the hosts of Trick or Treat Radio. Note that Phil never read the memo about the dress code.

Here's the rest of the degenerates of TrT Radio.

Check out that button! Thank you for supporting our humble show....whoever you are.... I need a Secretary of Names or something.

File under "shit you only see at horror conventions." Gotta give Chucky credit. He's been running around the hall all weekend to promote FrightFest. Or the maze. Or hayride. One of them.

Finally some more costumes. I applaud your talent and your enrichment of the con experience, and I wish the ladies luck in dealing with the Disney attorneys.

All joking aside, if you or someone you love is pictured above, please contact me with the correct information and I'll update the post.