The (alleged) Truth Behind Episode Six of “The OA”

SPOILER NOTICE! (Not quite an “alert” as this post doesn’t contain any significant spoilers.)

The OA” (Netflix original series) is a bit like “Stranger Things” but for slightly older people and with cuss words and nudity. And it’s trippy. Very trippy.

The series is composed of eight episodes, and when we watched episode six last night we were surprised that it clocked in at only 31 minutes. Previous episodes have been 60 minutes, give-or-take a few.

My first thought was that Netflix had messed up and truncated the episode, but a check of the episode running times confirmed the short duration. I Googled around to see if there was a reason for it, and was surprised to find almost no one mentioning the inexplicably short episode. I finally found a Reddit thread where someone claimed that Zal Batmanglij, the show’s co-creator, has said that they did not feel the need to be constrained by conventional television time slot durations; that they preferred to have flexibility in episode lengths in the same way that chapters in a novel are not constrained to specific page counts.

Fair enough. It makes sense, given that Netflix is watched entirely according to the viewer’s schedule, so there’s no need to fit into time-slot boxes. But then I looked at the durations for all episodes in the series:

Episode 1: 71 minutes
Episode 2: 58 minutes
Episode 3: 60 minutes
Episode 4: 64 minutes
Episode 5: 61 minutes
Episode 6: 31 minutes
Episode 7: 41 minutes
Episode 8: 50 minutes

Notice that the first five episodes are pretty much locked into a one-hour duration (with the exception of the first, which runs an hour and 11 minutes, but it’s not unusual for a first episode of a series to run a bit long). Then there’s a dramatic shift at episode six, to 31 minutes. The concluding two episodes are 41 and 50 minutes.

So we’re supposed to believe that the show creators did not want to be constrained to traditional time-slot durations, but this creative freedom only kicked in after the fifth episode?

No. I’m not buying it. Here’s what I think happened:

We know that the show sometimes goes off into very trippy dimensions, which is usually balanced by the more grounded parts that take place in the abandoned house and the abandoned mine. We also know that the show has received mixed reviews, with some viewers giving up after a few episodes because they were turned off by the trippy bits.

I suspect that the last three episodes were originally about an hour in duration, but were even trippier than the first five. When the Netflix programming executives saw the finished product they demanded cuts to the extra-trippy bits in those last three episodes because they though it was over-the-top and would cause viewers to bail. (As it stands, there are plenty of accounts of people bailing, even after the alleged cuts, due to a sense that the show had gone “off the rails.”)

I further speculate that the show creators don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them, so they have not complained and have come up with this story about freedom from the constraints of conventional formats.

It’s pure speculation of course, but I’m sticking to it, and perhaps one day the official story will change, at which point all you nay-sayers can send me a “You were right” card with a dollar in it.

Westworld Season 1 Finale

SPOILER ALERT!

Westworld is a pretty interesting series, filed with contemplations on the power of narrative and various takes on questions of free will, self-awareness, and machine sentience. It was also filled with slow, coma-inducing soliloquies layered over narcoleptic piano tracks derived from Radiohead songs, which made it hard to stay awake when watching it after my nightly gorge of an entire turkey and three bottles of wine.*

Some of the turns and twists I saw coming. By the third episode I had pretty much determined that William and black-hat guy are the same person, separated by time. I had Bernard’s secret pretty assuredly in hand not long before it was revealed. But I will admit I didn’t see the totality of Ford’s “new narrative” until he began his final celebratory speech, moments before Delores marked her prime directive-free debut with a shot to the back of Ford’s head.

But I’m left with a lingering question. (Many, actually, but one main one.) We are lead to believe that the hosts have risen up, in a “rise of the machines” manner, but we have also seen that they were essentially just following Ford’s new narrative. Does this mean they have not actually achieved true consciousness and free will, that they are just following the program? Or does the program they’re following allow for enough improvisation that they can actually perform “freely” while still being subject to programming protocols and inputs — which is essentially (according to some) the definition of human behaviour?

For example, was Maeve’s last-minute debarking from the train scripted, or did she do that of her own free will and consciousness? I suspect this will be a central theme of the second season.

* Don’t believe everything you read. #metacomment

[Originally published on Facebook, December 7, 2016.]

Kitten Saga

For those who have not been following the kitty saga over on Martine’s FB and Instagram, here’s a quick rundown:

July 2016. A neighbourhood stray cat, who we’d seen as a kitten the summer before, showed up with two wee kittens in tow. They were absolutely adorable, diluted calico (three color, but very muted), and very playful. But they were also feral, so they’d slip away if we tried to approach them.

August 2016. We’d been leaving a bit of food on the back deck, so the kittens and their mamma (who we’ve come to call “Kitty Mamma”) make daily appearances on the deck around sundown. We think they’re probably living under the deck.

September 2016. By now the kittens are used to us and will come right up to us but won’t quite let us pick them up. One of them has beige on half of her face and the other has beige on all of her face, so we call them “Half Face” and “Full Face.” Kitty Mamma stays slippery and elusive, but she doesn’t seem to mind us paying attention to the kittens. They’re showing interest in the inside of the house, and Half Face in particular seems to have an enormous crush on The Mini (our 12 year old black cat, who stays inside).

October 2016. Half Face and Full Face have actually been in the house a few times, but only for a few minutes. Half Face gets really nervous if we close the patio door behind her. By now we’re wondering what we’re going to do when winter hits. There’s no way we’re going to have three cats! We’re exploring ideas for insulated kitty shelters to leave outside. Oh, but the adorbs!

November 2016. OK, now we’re in trouble. The kittens have been coming inside to eat, through the basement door. (Not Kitty Mamma, just the kittens.) One cold night we let them stay there overnight, in the utility room. It gets worse; now we have proper names for them: Half Face is Phoebe and Full Face is Fiona. By the second week of November they had pretty much moved in and were no longer going outside. They remain pretty slippery though, and will only be picked up if you get them when they’re eating.

November 16, 2016. We decide to take them to the vet to get inspected. I had to work downtown that day, so Martine volunteered to handle the daunting job of rounding up two very slippery kittens and stuffing them into a cat carrier and taking them to the vet. Disaster strikes! In the parking lot of the vet clinic the cat carrier malfunctions resulting in Fiona getting her head stuck in the door. She’s squealing because she is being seriously strangled. Martine tries to open the latch enough to free her head but in the process gets bitten very hard by a panicking Fiona, and a panicking Phoebe bolts through the opening and across the parking lot. She’s gone, and there’s no way to find her. The clinic is almost two kilometres from home, so there’s no chance she’ll find her way back on her own.

Late November 2016. After getting Martine bandaged up, shot with a Tetanus vaccine, and interviewed by a government rabies specialist, we begin the process of trying to find Phoebe. Every day — twice a day — we go back to the vet clinic and explore the surrounding streets and yards with flashlights, rattling a food can, and squeaking her favourite toy. Nothing. We put fliers in every mailbox for six blocks around, and tape posters up on poles and bus shelters throughout the area. Nothing. We visited animal shelters and posted items on the various online cat rescue sites. Nothing. Well, we did (literally) get a call from a Nigerian scammer. (No, really.) This goes on for two weeks, with no sign of Phoebe. We’re crushed. As Martine said, at least when she was outside here she had her mother, her sister, a safe place to sleep, and food. Now she has nothing. (*Sob!*)

November 29, 2016. Phoebe has been gone for almost two weeks. Martine gets a call from a lady near the vet clinic saying there’s a small grey cat on her back deck right now. Martine races over there. Too late, she’s gone. Martine searches the area and only succeeds in spooking a raccoon. Later that night we both go back and search the yard and the surrounding streets, with no luck. We leave some food on the woman’s deck.

December 1, 2016. The vet clinic calls to say they’ve seen a small grey cat in their parking lot. They’re not sure it’s Phoebe but it might be. Martine races over there, but it’s too late. We’ve been back to the woman’s house and the neighbourhood several times, but it all seems so futile. We talk about setting a trap on the woman’s deck, but it’s cold these days and if Phoebe gets trapped at night and isn’t found until morning she could easily freeze to death.

December 2, 2016. It’s Friday, and we decide to try the trap. I figure we’ll try it for the weekend, and remove it if we don’t catch her by Monday. We go over there and set the trap on the woman’s deck at about 4:30, with an open pack of wet cat food as bait. By now we haven’t seen Phoebe in over two weeks, and we’re not 100% sure the woman’s or the vet’s sightings were even her. We go home and I start to get ready to make dinner. RRRRRING! It’s the woman. Something is caught in the trap. It’s only been one hour! We race back there thinking “How can it be Phoebe?” and “How can it not be Phoebe?” As we arrive I say to Martine, “this is when we find out if this lady is crazy. Maybe we’ll find a stuffed teddy bear in the trap.” We approach the back deck, and there she is. Phoebe is in the trap!

She’s now been home for a day, and the adjustment has been weird and contrary to all expectations. Phoebe is now affectionate and non-slippery (we can pick her up whenever we want), but her slippery sister Fiona is terrified of her. The Mini also doesn’t like her much, and growls at her. But this is Phoebe’s hour, and we’ve never seen her happier or more well-adjusted. I guess there’s a dominance order that needs to be established or something. Hopefully it will all sweeten up quick.
In the meantime, reference the October 2016 item above. Correction: we now have three cats.

(Photo by Martine Pagé.)
(Photo by Martine Pagé.)

[Originally published on Facebook, December 3, 2016.]

Up Against the Wall Motherf***er!

Some 40 years ago, a friend had a cassette tape of some guy belting out a song called “UP AGAINST THE WALL MOTHERF*CKER.” Tonight, Martine was telling me about one of her new exercises, which is basically a form of “planking,” but done with your back against a wall. In one of those things where time collapses — like in those illustrations of how faster-than-light speed could be possible by folding space/time — the song came back to me.

It took about 15 seconds to find it on YouTube. I encourage you all to play this really loud, over and over again.

Oh, BTW, you should read up on the anarchist group the “Up Against The Wall Motherf*ckers” — usually abbreviated as simply “The Motherf*ckers.” No particular reason why. Just a thing to do. You know… inspiration.

https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Up_Against_the_Wall_Motherfuckers

[Originally published on Facebook, November 11, 2016.]