August 27, 2016

The X-Files 3.17, Pusher: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Posted in TV tagged at 1:33 pm by Jenn

But...why do I find this so hot?

But…why do I find this so hot?

Summary: It’s a (seemingly) normal day in Loudoun County, Virginia, and a man is shopping for groceries. He gets a bunch of cans of energy drink, then more cans, then even more cans. Another man follows him to the checkout counter, where the first man picks up a tabloid with Flukeman on the cover. He notices a police car arriving outside and says, “Let’s get this show on the road.” The man pulls on a flap on the jacket of the man in front of him, revealing that he’s with the FBI. Suddenly, agents swarm him and arrest him, calling him Pusher.

The lead agent, Frank Burst, wants to stick close to him. In the car on the way to the police station, Pusher (who won’t give his real name) tells the deputy driving them that his uniform is “the most soothing shade of blue.” He talks about how calming that shade is. He thinks it’s called cerulean. Pusher says “cerulean” a bunch of time, repeating that it’s like a gentle breeze. As a truck from a company called Cerulean drives toward them, the deputy pulls out into the road. Pusher braces himself in the backseat as the truck hits the car.

Burst survives the crash and is able to tell Mulder and Scully what happened. The deputy was injured and eventually died, but just before he did, he unlocked Pusher, who escaped. A month ago, Pusher called Burst to confess to a bunch of contract killings. He was just bragging, not wanting to turn himself in. Burst got interested because the killings had been ruled suicides, but Pusher knew enough details to seem suspicious.

Scully wonders why the deputy freed Pusher. Burst tells her about Pusher repeating “cerulean,” as if he was somehow able to will the deputy into causing the crash. Burst shows the agents a picture of the wrecked car – someone has written “RO NIN” in blood. Mulder recognizes this as Ronin, a masterless samurai.

A search of Pusher’s home turns up a bunch of copies of American Ronin. Holly, the woman who brings the magazines to the agents, has a bruise on her face and explains to the agents that she was mugged over the weekend. Mulder thinks Pusher uses American Ronin to advertise his services, then induces people to do certain things. In other words, he’s called Pusher because he pushes his will on people. Scully doesn’t get why he would cause the crash while he was in the car. “Maybe he really didn’t want to go to jail,” Mulder replies.

The agents find an ad that simply states, “I solve problems. Osu.” The ad appears in all the magazines for the entire time span of the murders. Mulder looks up “osu” in a Japanese/English dictionary and sees that it means “to push.” They call the phone numbers listed in the ads and go on some stakeouts at pay phones. They stay at one in Falls Church, Virginia (whoop whoop, my hometown!), for so long that Scully falls asleep on Mulder’s shoulder.

Finally, the phone rings and Pusher asks if Mulder and Scully are going to stay there all night. While Scully traces the call, Pusher notes that the agents seem close. How do Mulder and his “G-woman” get along? He taunts that Mulder has to prove his worth by following Pusher’s trail in order to learn more about him. Mulder asks if this is all a game so Pusher can be found. Pusher replies that the next clue is right in front of them; they need to let their fingers to the walking.

This is an obvious clue, so Scully figures they just have to look in the phone book. (Remember phone books, guys?) But Mulder thinks they really need to find out the last number dialed on the pay phone. Scully gets another agent to hook that up for them, and they’re connected to Teetotalers Golf Driving Range and Pro Shop. “So he’s a killer and a golfer?” Scully says. “Rings a bell, huh?” Mulder replies. “Let’s go, G-woman.”

The next morning, Pusher hits a few balls, then notices some agents hiding in the greenery outside the fence. An agent in SWAT gear finds him trying to hide, but Pusher is easily able to overpower him with just his voice. When Mulder, Scully, and Burst find the agent, Collins, he’s dousing himself in gas and is about to light himself on fire. He screams for the agents to stop him, but all they can do is get ready to put out the fire as he says “light up” over and over.

Mulder hears a horn going off and finds Pusher semi-conscious in his car. “Bet you five bucks I get off,” Pusher says. He’s taken to a bail hearing, where he reveals that his real name is Robert Patrick Modell. Mulder testifies that Pusher has confessed to 14 murders and knows details that no one would know unless he was present. Pusher’s lawyer argues that one of the victims jumped off a train platform; no one saw her get pushed. Mulder states that he thinks Pusher talks his victims into killing themselves.

Since Pusher has confessed on tape, the prosecution wants him held for trial. Pusher admits that he made the confessions but doesn’t remember. His lawyer chalks them up to drunken pranks. Mulder reminds the hearing judge that Pusher knew details that indicate he was at all of the crime scenes. But Pusher’s clearly influencing the judge, who decides he’s not guilty. Mulder owes Pusher $5. As Mulder pays up, he tells Pusher his shoe’s untied. It’s not. “Made you look,” Mulder says. “How do you do it?”

Now that the agents know Pusher’s real name and where he lives, they can keep an eye on him and look into his past. Scully learns that he served in the military; Mulder guesses that he wanted to be a Navy SEAL and a Green Beret but couldn’t complete the training. Scully reports that Pusher also applied to the FBI but was cut for being “acutely ego-centric.” He doesn’t care about people’s feelings, seeing others as objects. He’s also very suspicious of authority, especially governments.

Scully continues that Pusher lied a bunch during the interview process, saying he trained with ninjas in Japan. Mulder notes that ninjas are known for “cloud[ing] the minds of their opponents.” He thinks that’s how Pusher was able to get cleared of all the charges – he put the “whammy” on the judge. “Please explain to me the scientific nature of the whammy,” Scully requests.

Mulder thinks that Pusher uses a cadence or timbre in his voice to influence people. Scully disagrees: “He is just a little man who wishes that he were someone big.” If he really could influence people that much, he’d be a Green Beret or FBI agent like he wanted. Mulder wonders if the ability came to him more recently. He notes that Collins set himself on fire; how does Scully explain that? Scully agrees that Pusher is somehow responsible for the killings, but she’s looking for a scientific explanation.

Pusher pays a visit to FBI headquarters, using a piece of paper with “pass” written on it to gain access. He comes across Holly and gets her to access some personnel files for him. He tells her that if he found the guy who mugged her, he’d get revenge. Skinner catches them together and gets suspicious. He grabs Pusher and tells Holly to call security, but Holly’s still under Pusher’s whammy. When Pusher tells her that Skinner is her mugger, she maces him. “Hurt him back,” Pusher says, leaving Holly behind to beat up the assistant director.

Once Holly’s unwhammied, she tearfully apologizes for pounding on Skinner. I don’t think he’s going to hold it against her. She tells Scully that she felt like she was watching herself from across the room. It was like Pusher was inside her head with her. Mulder pulls Scully and Skinner aside to tell them that Pusher entered and exited without anyone noticing him. He and Scully both think Pusher was behind Skinner’s attack. Skinner tells them that Pusher left with Mulder’s personnel file.

Since Pusher now knows where Mulder lives, Skinner tells Mulder to go find him first and arrest him. When a SWAT team bursts into Pusher’s apartment, they find it empty, but Pusher has left the TV on, playing Svengali. Mulder checks the fridge and finds dozens of cans of energy drink. The bookshelves in the apartment are full of books about psychology.

Scully finds medication Pusher’s taking for epilepsy, possibly caused by a tumor. Mulder thinks that could have caused his pushing abilities – maybe it’s really psychokinesis. The energy drinks could be his way of replenishing his strength after he uses his abilities. Scully doesn’t think someone in Pusher’s condition would be well enough to play games with FBI agents. Mulder thinks that’s exactly why they’ve been able to catch him. Maybe he’s dying and is playing one last game.

Pusher calls and chats with Mulder, Scully, and Burst. He asks Burst how much he weighs, then talks about how unhealthy Burst must be. Mulder realizes what’s going on and tells Burst to hang up. Burst’s determined to keep Pusher on the line so they can trace the call, which means he’s forced to listen as Pusher wills him into having a heart attack.

While Scully tends to Burst, Mulder asks Pusher what he wants. Pusher just wants “a worthy adversary,” and he hopes it’s Mulder. Mulder throws out his guess that Pusher’s dying, then asks where Pusher is. Pusher gives up his phone number instead, saying he’s at a pay phone and will be gone in two minutes anyway. Mulder’s angry that Pusher called just to kill Burst. “They all kill themselves,” Pusher protests.

They FBI traces the call to a gas station parking lot on Chain Bridge Road (real place!) right near Fairfax Mercy Hospital (not a real place, though there is a hospital on that road). Scully remembers that Pusher’s medication came from that hospital’s pharmacy. The SWAT team takes a trip over there, figuring he went to the hospital for treatment. Mulder decides he should go in alone so Pusher can’t turn any of the SWAT members against each other.

Mulder gets suited up with a hands-free microphone so he can stay in contact with Scully and the SWAT lieutenant, and a camera so they can see everything he sees. Scully wants him to take a gun with him, but Mulder’s afraid that Pusher might make him point it at an innocent person. He enters the hospital and soon hears a couple of gunshots. His surveillance tech goes fuzzy, then clears as he finds two bodies – a security guard shot an MRI technician, then himself. His gun is missing.

Scully sees Pusher’s MRI on a computer monitor and is able to confirm that he has a tumor. Mulder reads Pusher’s chart and learns that he is, in fact, dying, which means he has nothing to lose. Scully urges him to get out, but it’s too late – Pusher’s right there with the security guard’s gun. Scully and the SWAT lieutenant go in after him, though the lieutenant thinks they’re giving Pusher just what he wants, more innocent victims.

Scully finds Mulder and Pusher in a patient’s room, sitting at a table and staring at each other. As she joins them at the table, Pusher picks up his gun, talking about budo, the Japanese way of war that teaches a warrior to leave himself outside of battle. The budo warrior always wins because he doesn’t fear death. Pusher passes the gun to Mulder and says they’re going to play a modified version of Russian roulette. There’s one bullet in the gun, and Mulder gets one shot to take down Pusher.

Mulder’s ready to play, but Scully notes that there’s oxygen in the room – firing the gun could blow everyone up. Mulder pulls the trigger anyway. Nothing happens, but it looks like Pusher’s claim that he’s not afraid to die isn’t as truthful as he lets on. Pusher lets Mulder go again, and as Scully tries to talk her partner down, Mulder turns the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger. Nothing again.

Scully demands the gun from Mulder, who turns it on Pusher, then Scully. She tells him she’s stronger than Pusher. Mulder wavers as Pusher notes that this could be payback for when Scully shot him. Mulder tells Pusher he’s going to kill him, then orders Scully to leave. She runs out, pulling the fire alarm. Mulder shoots Pusher, firing the gun over and over even after he’s spent the single bullet.

Pusher survives the shooting, though he’s not expected to every regain consciousness. Mulder tells Scully that his tumor was operable until recently, but he kept refusing treatment. He thinks Pusher liked having a condition that made him feel big. They take each other’s hands as Scully says they shouldn’t let Pusher take up any more of their time.

Thoughts: Dave Grohl makes an uncredited appearance in this episode (though I didn’t see him). Rachel Miner is also listed in IMDb as an “injured FBI analyst,” even though she was only 16 when this episode was done. She was later on David Duchovny’s show Californication.

If there isn’t already a driving range called Teetotalers, there needs to be.

Poor Collins. Poor Holly. Poor Burst. Poor Skinner. That beatdown couldn’t be good for his recent gunshot wound.

Mulder in a white T-shirt and Kevlar = nice.

August 23, 2016

SVT #61, Jessica the Nerd: A Girl Who’s Good at Science? What Kind of Bizarro World Is This??

Posted in books tagged , , , , at 5:11 pm by Jenn

Nothing says nerd like an E=MC2 shirt

Nothing says nerd like an E=MC2 shirt

Summary: A new program called SOAR! (Science Offers Awesome Rewards) is coming to SVMS to offer some students two weeks of science, science, and more science, AKA my worst nightmare. The students all take an aptitude test to determine who gets to miss regular classes for all the science-y goodness (i.e., the smart kids) and who has to miss out on beakers and microscopes and frog dissections (i.e., the losers). Jessica has no interest in this and figures only the nerds will get into SOAR!.

She’s wrong. Yes, all the known SVMS nerds score high enough to get in, but Jessica does as well. She’s shocked – though the questions on the aptitude test were more like puzzles than test questions, she hates science. Amy is also shocked, and upset that she didn’t get in, since she loves science. Janet’s crush, Denny Jacobson, gets in but Janet doesn’t consider him a nerd. Only girls who like science are nerds. Well, and nerdy guys. Janet has very strict qualifications for who is and who isn’t a nerd.

The Unicorns vow to help Jessica get out of the program, but their ideas are all dumb, and Jess has to go to the first SOAR! class. The teacher, Mr. Baker, is like Bill Nye and David Tennant’s Doctor rolled into one. He teaches through fun experiments like finding out which of two water balloons (one small, one big) will fall on the twins’ heads first. Jessica’s surprised to find herself enjoying it, even with all the school’s nerds around. Of course, she won’t admit that to the Unicorns.

Janet can’t believe that Aaron doesn’t think Jessica’s a nerd for scoring well on the test. She thinks Jess should downplay her basketball knowledge because guys don’t like it when girls know more about something than they do. $5 says Janet was a Rules girl in the ’90s. Mary clarifies that Janet thinks Jessica should dumb herself down so a guy will like her. Well, of course.

As things in SOAR! get more fun, and Jessica gets recognition for saying smart things, the Unicorns get more and more annoyed. She’s spending so much time with the nerds that she misses Unicorn meetings and Boosters practices. How dare she talk about life on Venus when she could be watching music videos and painting her nails! Amy’s also getting more and more upset, since all the nerds are having such a good time without her.

The Unicorns come up with a plan to get Jessica out of SOAR!: They start a rumor that she cheated on the aptitude test. Jessica is horrified when the principal accuses her of cheating, and even offers to retake the test. He backs off and doesn’t bring it up again, so it’s kind of a waste of a plot. The Unicorns can’t believe that Jessica didn’t take advantage of her chance to get out of SOAR! Then Janet gets even madder when Denny strikes up a conversation with Jessica. She announces that Jessica has to choose between SOAR! and the Unicorns. (Never mind that SOAR! is mandatory, or that it’ll be over in just a few more days.)

Jessica confides in Elizabeth that she’s been enjoying SOAR! and has realized the nerds aren’t so bad after all. In fact, she has some things in common with them. She’s worried that she really is a nerd. After Jessica misses a basketball game because she’s planting a tree with the class, she tells Mr. Baker all about her problems. He helps her come up with some ideas for how to win over the Unicorns.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, Sophia, and Maria (all of whom are in SOAR!) decide to have a sleepover so Amy will know they still want to be friends with her. Amy ditches them because she’s a whiny baby. You couldn’t pay me to go back to the drama of middle-school friendships. They’re probably better off without Amy pouting all over their sleepover.

Jessica tries to make up with the Unicorns by pointing out how much they use science, especially electricity. Mandy even chimes in, noting that medical science saved her life when she had the world’s shortest battle with cancer. The Unicorns are sold, but Janet remains stubborn. Since Jessica won’t give up science, she’s out of the club. This is a fate worse than death, of course.

But Mandy comes by the Wakefields’ to tell Jessica that Janet’s just upset because she thinks Denny likes Jess. She thinks that if Janet knew that Jess doesn’t like Denny, things will go back to normal. Jessica takes it upon herself to approach Denny, who makes it clear that he doesn’t want to date Jess. But he was thinking about asking out Janet, so he’s happy to hear from Jessica that Janet likes him, too.

Just when it looks like Janet will get a boyfriend and basically be forced to back down from Jessica, Janet does an actual mature thing. She tells Jessica that a recent struggle with the family VCR made her realize that boys aren’t the only people good at science. Her father and brother told her not to try to fix the VCR since girls aren’t science-y (Joe? Sexist? No!), but then they couldn’t fix it either. Now Janet knows that your gender doesn’t determine your scientific aptitude.

So Jessica’s allowed back in the club. She gets a little revenge on Janet with some makeup that turns to mud, but since Janet ends up with Denny, I don’t think she’s too mad about it. Amy randomly gets over her issues by performing an awesome baton routine. I’m not sure what the connection is, but she stops moping, so I’ll take it.

In the B-plot, Steven is a huge sexist. He thinks guys are better than girls at science and sports, especially ping pong. The Wakefields have just gotten a ping pong table, and Steven’s obsessed. He gets upset when Cathy beats him, because girls aren’t supposed to be good at stuff like that. They have a rematch, and when Steven wins, he becomes unsufferable. Cathy secretly tells the twins that she let him win so he’d stop moping. But the bragging is worse than the pouting, and Jess ends up telling Steven the truth. After another rematch, which Cathy wins, Steven calms down. Yay, sexism is over!

Thoughts: This book isn’t exactly the best way to let girls know it’s okay to like science, but it’s a start.

“I wish I’d never taken that test. I could have gone my whole life without knowing I was smart.” Jessica Wakefield, ladies and gentlemen.

Ellen once tried to get out of doing a project on fruit flies by saying she was allergic to bananas. Sounds about right.

“You are smart. I mean, it’s only natural. You’re my twin, after all.” I wish Elizabeth were smart enough to shut up.

August 20, 2016

The X-Files 3.16, Apocrypha: And That’s Why You Don’t Try to Make a Deal with CSM

Posted in TV tagged , , , , , , , at 1:14 pm by Jenn

Oh, no, Krycek's trapped inside a giant Magic 8 Ball!

Oh, no, Krycek’s trapped inside a giant Magic 8 Ball!

Summary: It’s August 19th, 1953, and a sailor is giving a statement in a Naval hospital in Pearl Harbor. He testifies that his submarine was on a suicide mission. He tells some men what Johansen did to the sick sailors, sacrificing their lives. Now we get to see what happened on the side of the door Johansen wasn’t on – one of the sailors’ eyes turned black and he knocked out another man. That man’s eyes leaked oil on the floor and into a drain.

The sailor in the hospital calls the oil “the enemy” and says it’s what killed his fellow sailors and caused everyone’s burns. He thinks they were sent to guard it. After it burned everyone, it “slithered away” into the sea. He says it’s still down there. The Navy will deny it, but he wants to make sure the truth gets out. And he thinks he can trust the men he’s speaking with to make sure that happens. Since one of them is Bill Mulder and the other is smoking a cigarette, he probably can’t.

Now, 40+ years later, Scully goes Northeast Georgetown Medical Center to find out how Skinner is. She wants to start looking for the shooter, but the two agents she speaks with don’t seem to see that as a priority. Skinner wakes up from surgery long enough to tell Scully that the shooter was someone he’s seen before. Meanwhile, Mulder and Krycek land in D.C. and continue their road trip to Krycek’s digital tape. Krycek hands over a key labeled C.I. but won’t tell Mulder what that means.

Scully demands guards outside Skinner’s hospital room, knowing Skinner’s still in danger from the shooter. Also in danger: Mulder and Krycek, who are being followed. The car following them forces them off the highway, knocking out Mulder. Krycek is pulled from the car, but he can’t give the other men the tape they’re after. Mulder wakes up to see a flash of light and hear shouts from the men.

Pendrell summons Scully to an FBI lab to let her know he’s gotten some of the shooter’s hair fibers, so he can run his DNA against other criminals in D.C. Elsewhere, CSM meets with a doctor treating two men for massive radiation burns. The doctor’s never seen anything like this before, but CSM has. He tells the doctor to have the bodies destroyed even though the men are still alive.

Mulder wakes up in a hospital with Scully by his side, because they are married. He fills her in on the developments with Krycek and the flash of light he saw. She tells him about Skinner and shares her theory that his shooter was also Melissa’s killer. The hair fibers do seem to match up. Meanwhile, the Syndicate meets to discuss the possibility that they’ve had an information leak. Their “associate” in D.C. has been asked to join them and explain himself.

Scully visits Skinner and gives him the news that he was shot by the person who killed Melissa. Skinner tells her that he was urged to stop investigating Melissa’s murder, which makes Scully think that the government doesn’t want them to find the killer. Skinner knows where he saw the shooter before – he was in the stairwell with Krycek when Krycek attacked him and stole the digital tape. Skinner warns Scully not to let her anger get out of control. In fact, it might be better if she steps away. But she knows that’s what they want.

Scully tries to go through proper channels to request a search for Krycek. She thinks he’s key to both of the cases she’s dealing with. Mulder gets his hands on Gauthier’s diving suit and a sample of the oil found on it. It’s supposedly just diesel oil, but Mulder’s figured out that it’s what’s infecting people. Of course, he describes it as some sort of alien substance that turns people into killers, so Scully finds it a little unbelievable. Mulder thinks Krycek’s been infected, so they need to find out what the oil wants.

The Lone Gunmen are having a lovely afternoon ice skating…and also keeping an eye on some men in trenchcoats. Frohike retrieves an envelope from a storage locker, and the guys take it to Mulder. Unfortunately, the digital tape that should be in there is gone. That’s because Krycek has it, and he wants to trade it to CSM for something.

Sometime later, CSM goes to New York to meet with the Syndicate; they’re upset that he moved the salvaged UFO without their knowledge. He should have just taken it to Nevada, “like the others.” WMM wants to know why CSM went after Skinner, and why the shooting was so sloppy – there were witnesses, so the shooter’s face is out there. CSM takes no responsibility for the shooter’s screw-ups, but WMM orders him to take responsibility for getting rid of him.

Frohike is able to see indentations from writing on the envelope, and from there Mulder’s able to use a pencil to shade in a New York phone number. He calls it and reaches the Syndicate. Mulder tells WMM that he got the number from Krycek, so WMM asks to meet with him. The FBI finally IDs the shooter, Luis Cardinal, but since he entered the U.S. illegally, there’s no paper trail on him. He’s probably already left the country. The FBI thinks they’ve hit a dead end, but Scully won’t give up.

Mulder heads to Central Park – alone, at night – to meet with WMM, because he’s not as smart as he seems. WMM says he’ll consider handing Krycek over to Mulder if Mulder tells him what he knows. WMM confirms that the aircraft recovered from the ocean was a UFO (a Foo Fighter) shot down by American fighter planes during WWI. No one’s sure what happened to the sub that went down to recover it back in the ’50s. Mulder says he knows what killed the sailors, but he won’t share the info until he gets Krycek.

WMM wonders why Mulder didn’t kill Krycek before, when he had the chance. Mulder says he wants the tape, since Krycek has been selling its secrets. He realizes that WMM doesn’t really know where Krycek is, and was hoping Mulder could give him information. WMM replies that “anyone can be gotten to.” Mulder hurries off to call Scully (“Scully, it’s me”) and warn her that Skinner’s in danger. She heads to his hospital room and discovers that the guards she had posted there are gone – and so is Skinner.

The guards have Skinner in an ambulance, supposedly to transport him to another hospital. Scully hitches a ride with them, which allows her to notice something strange about Skinner’s IV bag. (I don’t think it’s hooked up properly.) She ambushes Cardinal, and a chase ensues through the streets of D.C. Scully finally corners Cardinal, who begs for his life, telling her she really wants Krycek. The police arrive and arrest Cardinal, so that was anticlimactic.

Scully calls Mulder (“Mulder, it’s me”) to let him know he was right to be worried about Skinner – Cardinal was going to kill him. She relays the message that Krycek is going to an abandoned missile site in North Dakota. Mulder asks her to meet him at the airport so they can go to North Dakota together and check out the salvaged UFO.

The two head to Black Crow, North Dakota, and start checking out silos. There are only 200, so I’m sure it won’t take long! They hear someone approaching in the first one they check out, and while they’re hiding, they come across bodies covered in burns. Men in military gear chase them through tunnels, eventually surrounding them just before they can access a door marked 1013 that has a warning about radioactive materials.

The agents are taken outside just as CSM arrives. Mulder demands answers, but CSM claims he doesn’t know what happened to Krycek after his disappearance months earlier. After the agents are gone, CSM and the military go back inside to remove the bodies. CSM smirks at the door to room 1013, behind which Krycek is leaking oil onto a spiral symbol. The symbol absorbs the oil completely.

Back in D.C., Skinner’s out of the hospital and back to work. Mulder thanks him for keeping up the investigation into Melissa’s murder, but Skinner says he was mistaken about it. Mulder finds Scully at Melissa’s grave, and she repeats what Johansen said about the dead speaking to us from beyond the grave. Maybe that’s what our consciences are.

Scully thought she would feel closure once Cardinal was brought to justice, but now she knows that “no punishment is ever enough.” Mulder tells her that they might have found a different kind of justice – Cardinal is dead. The two discuss Krycek, and whether the Syndicate got to him. Scully wonders if we bury the dead alive, like Johansen said. Well, in Krycek’s case, it sure seems that way, since he’s stuck in a silo, trapped eight stories underground, behind door 1013. See you later, buddy!

Thoughts: The Syndicate’s phone number ends in 1012, not 1013. I feel cheated.

Oh, show. No one in D.C. would say “the D.C. airport.”

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones, so a town called Black Crow makes me giggle. Does Jon Snow live there?

August 16, 2016

SVT #60, Ciao, Sweet Valley!: The Italian Snob

Posted in books tagged , at 4:56 pm by Jenn

I think Lila's mad, but it's hard to tell since she has absolutely no expression on her face

I think Lila’s mad, but it’s hard to tell since she has absolutely no expression on her face

Summary: The twins were interested in a program called GO, where they could spend three weeks studying abroad, but they’re not eligible since they don’t speak another language. Alice suggests that they host a student from another country instead. Jessica takes the phone call telling the family they’ve been assigned a student named Giovanna Screti. Jessica mishears this as Giovanni and gets really excited about a possibly cute Italian guy living in her house. When she learns her mistake, everyone teases her about it. She panics because Italian girls are really pretty, and Jessica can’t have that kind of nonsense in her house.

Lila’s spent some time in Italy (only a few days, but it totally counts, guys!), so she acts like the resident expert on all things Italian. She’s happy to get the chance to show off to a real Italian girl. A woman down the street from the Wakefields, Mrs. Dalone, is also excited to meet Giovanna, as her own family is from Sicily. Looking at Mrs. Dalone’s mother’s childhood pictures makes Jessica think Italy is the same now as it was decades ago. Maybe Giovanna has goats and walks around barefoot all the time! Maybe she doesn’t have electricity! Even Ginny Lu the farm girl is like, “Jess, chill.”

Giovanna comes to Sweet Valley, and Jess is immediately humbled. She’s tall and gorgeous, and she dresses better than any of the Unicorns. Her English is a little shaky, which leads to moments that are supposed to be funny, like when she doesn’t know what a strawberry is and tries to figure it out from the name. People comment on her language skills throughout the book, making it seem like they’re worse than they are. She’s practically fluent; she just doesn’t know American slang or the right word for everything.

Things get off to a rough start because Giovanna comes across as snobby. Things in America are soooooo different from the way they are in Italy. In Italy, everyone has coffee and fresh fruit for breakfast, and even kids get to drink wine. The buildings are old, but not very big. Everyone walks everywhere or a rides a scooter. Spaghetti sauce does NOT come from a jar. Also, Giovanna’s from Florence, which is apparently better than anywhere else in Italy. The girl won’t stop talking about it.

Lila gets taken down a peg when she has to admit that she barely saw any of the sights in Italy. In general, Giovanna gets along better with the guys at SVMS. This makes the Unicorns seethe – doesn’t she know that they’re supposed to be the popular, pretty ones? (They seem to forget that she’s only there for three weeks, so she’s not exactly going to be able to steal their boyfriends and crushes.) Lila’s knocked down another peg when she and Giovanna wear the same bikini to a party the twins throw. Giovanna, of course, wears it better.

Things really start going downhill when Giovanna meets Mrs. Dalone and belittles her Italian vocabulary and taste in food. Poor Mrs. Dalone just wanted to treat the girls to some spumoni. Even Elizabeth is starting to resent Giovanna, not least because they’re sharing Liz’s room and Giovanna is a slob. I don’t know why the twins didn’t just share a room and let Giovanna have her own instead of making her split time with the two of them.

Throughout the book, the students keep seeing two teachers spending time together. Giovanna thinks they’re in love, which makes everyone think that a date they’ve mentioned is going to be their wedding date. The Unicorns buy them a picture frame and present it to them in the cafeteria, hoping to get a lot of attention for giving such a thoughtful wedding gift. Of course, they’re completely off-track – the teachers are working on a combo math/science program. The Unicorns are humiliated and blame Giovanna.

For Jessica, the last straw comes when she sees Aaron and Giovanna out getting frozen yogurt together. Now everyone’s fed up with Giovanna, so the Unicorns plot revenge. Giovanna has to give a speech in English about her impressions of America, and she’s been stressing out over it her whole trip since her written English isn’t that great. The Unicorns offer to review the speech for her and even type it up. Lila gets it back to Giovanna just before class, so Giovanna doesn’t find out ahead of time that the speech is all about how awesome America is.

Giovanna feels embarrassed for being tricked into telling a bunch of kids how inferior her country is to theirs. (Yep, sounds like ‘Merica, all right.) She tells Jessica she’s closed-minded for not considering that Italy might have some things America doesn’t. Giovanna’s so upset that she wants to go home early. Elizabeth tries to work things out, but accidentally reveals that she didn’t want to share a room with Giovanna anymore, which makes Giovanna feel unwelcome.

The twins tell Giovanna that she was rude to Mrs. Dalone, which Giovanna legitimately didn’t realize. She keeps talking about Italy because she misses it, and because she wants people to know how much she loves it. She points out that she knows more about America than the twins do about Italy, so they can’t really knock her for talking up her country all the time.

Jess mentions that everyone’s mad about Giovanna being so flirty, but Giovanna says she’s just being herself. She’s been talking to all the guys at SVMS because she’s interested in the same things they like; she doesn’t actually want to date any of them. She was hanging out with Aaron because she asked him to help her buy thank-you gifts for the twins. The girls easily work things out, and Giovanna apologizes to Mrs. Dalone for accidentally being a jerk. Now everyone can enjoy Giovanna’s remaining time in Italy (and then never mention her again).

Thoughts: Ellen: “I thought Rome was the City of Seven Hills.” What? Ellen knows something?

“I wonder if they drink hot chocolate in Italy.” It’s Italy, Jessica, not Narnia.

Maria gives Giovanna a little American flag when she meets her. If it were anyone else, I’d make fun of her, but it’s Maria, so I’ll give her a pass.

Giovanna: “The Pantheon is over two thousand years old.” Jessica: “It’s about time you built a new one.” Sounds like something Ellen would say.

Tamara thinks the Unicorns can get the teachers something nice from a store called Susie’s Cards ‘n’ Stuff. What a horrible name for a store. This is why you never get to do anything, Tamara.

August 13, 2016

The X-Files 3.15, Piper Maru: Drop Dead Red

Posted in TV tagged , , at 1:19 pm by Jenn

Did you miss me?

Did you miss me?

Summary: The crew on a salvage ship on the Pacific Ocean is preparing to send a diver underwater. They’ve been searching for something for three months, and the diver, Gauthier, confirms that they’ve found the aircraft they’ve been looking for. But moments later, the crew loses contact, so Gauthier can’t let anyone know when he sees a man trapped inside the aircraft, calling for help. The man’s eyes suddenly turn black. When Gauthier is pulled out of the water, his diving suit is covered in something oily. He tells the crew he doesn’t know what happened; he was disoriented. They don’t see his eyes turning black.

At FBI headquarters, Skinner tells Scully that he’s gotten a memo related to Melissa’s murder. Because no progress has been made in five months, the case is being closed. He thinks it’s just because of a lack of investigators, not because of any kind of cover-up. Scully notes that the FBI can piece together crimes when they only have tiny details, but no one can find Melissa’s killer even when they have the murder weapon. She thinks it’s just that no one’s interested in finding the murderer.

Scully keeps the news from Mulder, who wants to discuss the salvage ship, the Piper Maru. He tracked their course to the spot where the Talapus found the sub/UFO and wonders why the crew was there. He can’t ask them, since they’re all being treated for radiation exposure, and the French government is keeping them quiet. Scully laughs a little because Mulder’s so determined to continue working on cases that any other agent would find pointless. If he were dropped in the desert and told the truth was out there, he’d ask for a shovel, or maybe a backhoe.

Since the crew is now in San Diego, that’s where Mulder and Scully go next. They meet Dr. Seizer, who tells them the source of the crew’s exposure hasn’t been determined, and the government won’t release enough information for him to really treat everyone. Scully determines that the exposure was huge enough that the men are suffering close to what people in Hiroshima experienced after we dropped the atomic bomb. Seizer adds that the exposure came from a manmade source – it couldn’t exist anywhere in nature. “Not on this planet,” Mulder mumbles.

Everyone’s semi-comatose except for one who was completely asymptomatic. He left the hospital that morning, but he lives in San Francisco. It’s Gauthier, and he certainly looks completely healthy, if a bit confused by the things in his house. Back in San Diego, Scully tries to get Gauthier’s address while she and Mulder arrive at the Naval yard where the Piper Maru has been docked. They learn that the ship has been tested for radiation but none has been detected.

The agents board the ship and Mulder checks out Gauthier’s diving suit, which is still covered in oil. Mulder touches it with his bare hands, always a great move. Scully studies a dive map, on which is written “Zeus Faber.” Mulder looks for a VCR, since the dive suit has a video camera containing footage of Gauthier’s dive. Scully immediately recognizes the aircraft on the video as a P-51 Mustang. Mulder’s turned on by her knowledge of World War II planes. (Scully got her knowledge from watching her father and brothers put together model planes.) A Mustang is a fighter, so it wouldn’t have been carrying anything, but Scully knows where she can go for more info.

Gauthier searches his house for a letter, finding it just before his wife, Joan, arrives. She’s happy to see him, but he just stares at her. When she realizes he’s trashed the house looking for something, she starts to get concerned. She tries to run, but he grabs her, his eyes turning black. When Joan leaves the house again, her eyes turn black as well. Back in San Diego, Scully visits her father’s old friend, Commander Johansen, at Miramar Naval Air Station. She knows her way around the base, having lived there as a kid. She remembers playing hopscotch there with Melissa.

Meanwhile, Mulder goes to Gauthier’s house and finds the letter crumpled up. On it are the call numbers for the Mustang the crew found. Mulder finds the envelope the letter came in and sees the return address is for J. Kallenchuk Salvage Brokers. He hears someone in the house and finds an oily, barely conscious Gauthier. He doesn’t remember anything that happened after going on the dive. Gauthier’s concerned about Joan, but Mulder wants answers about J. Kallenchuk. Gauthier claims not to recognize the name. Mulder presses the issue, so Gauthier asks to speak to the French consulate.

Commander Johansen doesn’t remember Scully, but he’s happy to talk to her about the Mustang. He quickly determines that the call numbers aren’t accurate for a Mustang. Scully tells him she saw an illustration on the fuselage with the caption “Drop Dead Red.” That doesn’t ring a bell for Johansen, who blames his advanced age and flimsy memory. “Zeus Faber” doesn’t mean anything to him either. Since he’s no help, Scully decides to leave. She reminisces about living on the base and playing a game with the other kids called beckons wanted. As she leaves, she asks Johansen to say hello to his son for her, since they grew up together.

Mulder tracks down J. Kallenchuk’s office, which is being overseen by a woman who definitely has some secrets. First there’s the briefcase she closes before letting Mulder in. Then there’s the gun taped to the bottom of her desk, which she’s more than willing to use on Mulder. The woman, Geraldine, tells Mulder she has no way of contacting Mr. Kallenchuk while he’s out of the country. He leaves, but he’s not naïve enough to believe her. He stakes out the office, sees a bunch of French government officials arrive, and watches Geraldine head out the back door.

On her way off the base, Scully is detained – Johansen wants to talk to her again. He tells her his son died during the Gulf War, but “we bury our dead alive,” so they talk to us every day, begging for meaning. “It’s just the voices of the dead, trying to save us from our own damnation.” He knows all about the Mustang because he was sent to find it when he was an officer on a sub called the Zeus Faber.

Mulder follows Geraldine to the airport and keeps an eye on her while chatting with Scully on the phone (“Mulder, it’s me”). She tells him the Mustang was part of an escort for a plane carrying an atomic bomb. It appears the French military wanted to salvage the bomb, even though it’s been 50 years since it was built. Mulder doesn’t get why Gauthier shows no signs of radiation exposure despite being the one who got close to the plane. The conversation ends when Mulder heads off to get a ticket on a flight to Hong Kong. He doesn’t notice Joan Gauthier watching him.

In D.C., Skinner has a cup of coffee by himself at a restaurant. Some official-looking men enter together but sit at separate tables. One chats with Skinner, who’s justifiably suspicious even before they use his name. The men tell him to follow his orders and leave closed cases alone. After all, the people above him who made the decision to close it must have their reasons. If Skinner doesn’t listen, his career and future could be affected.

Johansen shows Scully a picture of his crew, who all died within months of their mission to find the Mustang and its squadron. They all died of radiation from the same bomb the military wanted to drop on Japan. The captain made them run silent instead of surfacing so the men could get medical treatment. Johansen tried to override the captain’s orders, even more forcefully after a sailor started waving a gun around. Johansen locked all the sick men in together, knowing he was dooming them. By the time they got to Pearl Harbor, all but seven of the 144 men were dead or dying. He never learned what happened.

Mulder corners Geraldine in Hong Kong, revealing that he knows her last name is Kallenchuk. And in fact, her first name isn’t Geraldine, it’s Jeraldine. So I guess there’s no Mr. Kallenchuk after all! Mulder knows she sold the Mustang to the French government, and that someone sold her secrets. Jeraldine won’t give up her sources, calling herself a middle man (or woman). Mulder informs her that her business transactions are killing people, so he’s going to arrest her. She knows he had to give up his gun at the airport, but she doesn’t know that he still has his handcuffs.

Mulder cuffs himself to Jeraldine and drags her to her Hong Kong office. There, he reunites with his old buddy Krycek. (Whichever airport he came through didn’t confiscate his gun.) Krycek pushes Jeraldine out of the room and closes the door on the handcuffs, trapping Jeraldine and Mulder on opposite sides of the door. Just as Mulder determines that Krycek must have sold Jeraldine information, shots ring out and Jeraldine goes down. Krycek goes out the window, leaving Mulder alone in the office to figure out how to free himself from the woman on the other side of the door.

French officials sneak down the hallway as Mulder manages to get himself out of his cuffs an escape. Before the officials can run after him, Joan appears. She starts glowing and temporarily blinds all the men. In D.C., Skinner goes back to the restaurant he was in before. A man complains to a waitress about the payphone being out of order; he’s going to miss a call, which will cost him time and money. Skinner steps in to defuse the situation, and the man shoots him. Poor Skinner.

Scully comes home to a phone call about Skinner’s shooting and quickly heads to the hospital to see him. Back in Hong Kong, Krycek (looking hotter than usual in a black jacket) is about to get a ticket to Washington when Mulder attacks him. He wants to shoot Krycek for killing Bill, but Krycek says it wasn’t him. Mulder demands the tape Krycek supposedly stole, and which Krycek claims is in a locker in D.C. If Mulder wants it, he’ll have to go with Krycek to get it. Yay, road trip! Mulder allows Krycek to get cleaned up in the restroom, which is where Joan finds him. When Krycek emerges, his eyes turn black. To be continued!

Thoughts: Piper Maru is the name of Gillian Anderson’s daughter. If you’d like to feel old, she was about one at the time of this episode and is now in her 20s.

One of the sailors in Johansen’s flashback is played by Michael Bublé.

I would watch a spin-off of Jeraldine being an awesome businesswoman.

This episode teaches us the Portuguese for “suck it,” which Skinner’s shooter says after the shooting: “chupa dura.” Who says TV isn’t educational?

August 9, 2016

SVT Super Chiller #4, The Ghost in the Bell Tower: Liz Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

Posted in books tagged , , , at 4:47 pm by Jenn

What are you even looking at, Jess?

What are you even looking at, Jess?

Summary: The Wakefield kids are home for the evening and watching a horror movie with Joe Howell. (Sidebar: I think Joe is a fun character, and I feel bad that he wound up with a disaster of a sister like Janet.) During the movie, the kids hear moaning in the house and Jessica thinks there’s a ghost or something in there with them. Elizabeth is too logical to go down that route and explains how Steven and Joe set up a prank. This establishes a thread that runs through the book: Elizabeth is too logical to believe in things like ghosts.

Aunt Helen is back, and she’s inherited a run-down inn somewhere in California. She wants to hold a big family reunion there, but first, she’d like the twins, Steven, and their cousins Robin and Stacey (Robin’s younger sister) to help her spruce it up. (Lest you think Aunt Helen is taking advantage of child labor to get all the work done, she’s also hired actual professionals. She really wants the kids to spend their summer vacation in a new environment.) The kids accept the invitation, and Steven’s allowed to bring Joe so he’s not outnumbered by girls.

Before they head out, Steven plays another prank on Jess, this one involving a fake bloody hand. Liz, of course, easily figures out that Steven didn’t put a real severed human hand in his sister’s suitcase. Ned and Alice do some actual parenting for once, asking Steven and Joe not to pull pranks at the inn, since Aunt Helen has heart problems and already has enough to deal with.

Everyone gathers at the Lakeview Inn, which has a bell tower, for some reason. That’s kind of the only thing it has going for it; everything else is shabby and needs a lot of work. Aunt Helen would like the girls to clear out the attic so they can access the bell tower. Oh, and by the way, there’s supposedly a ghost up there. Sleep tight! I assume Helen doesn’t believe in ghosts or she’d never invite a bunch of kids to spend the summer in her haunted inn.

Robin and Stacey show up in the twins’ room in the middle of the night, claiming their room is freezing, even though the radiator is on (no one bothers to ask why they were using a radiator in the middle of the summer). Jessica decides there’s a ghost around. I guess Jess has been watching Supernatural, I see. The girls can’t figure out why the room is so cold, so they all just go to bed in the twins’ room.

In the morning, the girls get started on the attic while Steven and Joe work on a boathouse. They tell the girls they found a cave but have claimed it as a secret spot for themselves. Then why say anything at all? Elizabeth finds Alexandra’s diary and learns that she was smitten with a guy named William Cliff when she was younger. She’s surprised to see that a portrait of Alexandra’s father, Phineas, has disappeared from her and Jess’ bedroom and has been replaced with another painting. When she brings Jess in to show her, the painting of Phineas is there again.

That afternoon, Jessica encounters a worker named Bill who tells her about a secret passageway between the twins’ room and Robin and Stacey’s room. There’s a huge mirror in the twins’ room that Bill reveals is a two-way mirror – when the right lights are on, you can see between the two rooms. That night, Liz locks the bedroom door and sleeps with the key under her pillow. She notes the next morning that nothing weird happened, intimating that she thinks humans are responsible for the weird stuff going on, and couldn’t pull any pranks without access to the twins’ room.

But things are still weird: Elizabeth put a fresh bouquet of flowers in the bedroom before going to sleep, and now they’re all dry and dead. Aunt Helen mentions that she can smell flowers in the kitchen, though Liz can’t smell them in the hallway nearby. She starts to get an idea. The twins and Robin go into town to do some shopping, and on their way home, they come across what they think is the guys’ cave. They go inside, only to be met with screaming and what looks like a ghost running at them. As the girls are fleeing, Elizabeth drops her notebook so she has an excuse to go back on her own. As the girls return to the inn, Liz says that she’s sure Steven was just playing another joke on them. But Steven’s been at the inn with Aunt Helen all afternoon. Hmmm, very curious.

The twins wake up in the middle of the night to see light shining behind the two-way mirror. A message shows up, seemingly written in blood, threatening to come after Elizabeth. Liz is freaked out but notices that Jessica isn’t. Curiouser and curiouser! The girls see a grotesque face in the mirror and declares that the ghost is targeting them. Elizabeth suggests that they’re both still asleep and having the same exact dream. Sure, Liz. Suuuuuuure.

The next day, Elizabeth sneaks out and returns to the cave, where she finds two sets of footprints leaving it. She takes some measurements, and when she’s back at the inn, she compares them to Steven and Joe’s shoes. One set matches Joe’s, but the others are a lot smaller – more like the size of Stacey’s shoes. She also discovers a bookcase that swings out to lead to a secret passageway (the same one behind her and Jessica’s mirror).

Liz has now figured out everything that’s happened, but she doesn’t want to confront her sister and cousins yet. Instead, she turns to Joe and Steven for help getting some revenge on the girls. They’ll make a raft, put a fake ghost on it, and have Joe pull it behind a boat on the lake. Hopefully, in the dark and from far enough away, it’ll look like a ghost and fool the girls. Bill pops in to suggest a lighting trick to make sure the girls can really see it. The plan goes off great, and Elizabeth is impressed that the guys were able to use some pyrotechnics to spice things up. The guys, however, tell her they didn’t have anything to do with that.

Jessica takes a nap in the attic and is spooked by some creaking sounds. Then she sees a white figure approaching her. She’s so scared that she tries to escape through the window. Elizabeth realizes she’s gone too far with her revenge and comes clean with the girls about how she figured everything out. She knows Steven stayed home with Aunt Helen so he could have an alibi while Joe and Stacey pulled the prank in the cave. Robin and Stacey made the room cold by opening the windows, then used blue eyeshadow to make their lips look blue (ew). Jessica switched the paintings and cooked Liz’s flowers in the oven, which is why Helen smelled flowers in the kitchen. And Robin used lipstick she bought in town to write the message the twins saw in the mirror.

The only thing Elizabeth can’t figure out is who provided the mask that she and Jess thought was a face in the mirror. Robin says that there was no mask in their plan. Elizabeth, in turn, denies leaving Jessica in the dark attic or sending anyone in to scare her. The girls think Steven must be adding some embellishments to their pranks.

Because this is suddenly a Baby-sitters Club book, the girls find old clothes and dress up for something called Gold Rush Day. Elizabeth grabs a few minutes with a historian who tells her more about the Lakeview Inn ghost: Legend has it that it’s the ghost of a man who died of a broken heart when the woman he loved married someone else. Supposedly the ghost can be banished by ringing the bell.

More wackiness at the inn! Jessica’s doing laundry when bedding starts disappearing and reappearing in the washer and dryer. She thinks Elizabeth is pulling another joke. Liz is the next target of weirdness when she finds that her nice, hot bath has turned ice-cold. She confronts Jessica, who denies any involvement. When Liz goes back to the tub, the water is hot again. The twins decide that Steven and Joe are at it again. But the next morning, they wake up to discover that their beds have been swapped – and there’s no way two 14-year-old boys could have dragged their heavy beds across the room without waking the twins up.

Through all of this, Liz has been reading Alexandra’s diary, and she finally realizes why her picture of William looks so familiar – he looks just like Bill. Just as she figures out this connection, a strong wind comes into the room and almost makes the picture fly away. Then a message appears on the wall telling everyone to get out of the inn. Later, maggots appear, then disappear from muffins Aunt Helen is baking. Suddenly the girls can no longer use logic to explain what’s going on at the inn. They decide Bill is the ghost in the bell tower.

Remembering the lore about banishing the ghost by ringing the bell, the girls focus on getting to the tower. They try to move things around in the attic to get to the door, but the stuff slides back into place behind them, preventing them from going back the way they came. Then the power goes out, so the girls can only see when lightning flashes (because of course there’s a storm outside). Clothes start flying around the attic, which is pretty weak as far as ghost tricks go. Stacey fights back with a bayonet. Stacey’s pretty cool.

The girls head to the tower, though apparently only the twins are there because Robin and Stacey aren’t mentioned for the rest of the scene. The girls find Bill, who’s suddenly glowing. Yes, boys and girls, we’re dealing with an actual ghost. He threatens to kill the kids, but Elizabeth calls his bluff, noting that any time things have started to get dangerous, he’s backed off. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone; he’s just sad.

Bill confirms that he was in love with Alexandra but she was going to marry someone else. Elizabeth has learned from her diary that Alexandra’s father was forcing her to marry a doctor, but Alexandra was going to stand up to him and call off the wedding to be with Will/Bill. Bill died, of course, and Alexandra never married. Bill realizes that, with Alexandra dead, there’s no reason to hang out at the inn anymore, so he lets the girls ring the bell. ‘Bye, Bill!

The kids spend the rest of their time at the inn cleaning, and eventually the place is ready for guests. Steven and Joe try to pull one last prank by dropping a fake spider on Jessica from a tree, but she’s seen so much actual scary stuff that it doesn’t faze her. Then the girls see two ghosts walking on the other side of the lake, which means Bill and Alexandra have finally found their way back to each other. Liz is like, “Well, true love is logical, so this makes perfect sense!” Eh.

Thoughts: Elizabeth: “I’m sure he’s stuck in that dark mine shaft. You know how ghosts are.” Yes, of course.

Actually, Elizabeth’s pretty enjoyable in this book, until she starts thinking there’s really a ghost.

“Nice ghost. Nice little ghost. You don’t want to hurt me.” Hee. I like Robin.

August 6, 2016

The X-Files 3.14, Grotesque: Who Says That Murder’s Not an Art?

Posted in TV tagged at 1:37 pm by Jenn

"He's making that face again, isn't he?"

“He’s making that face again, isn’t he?”

Summary: An art class at George Washington University’s extension program is sketching a nude model. One of the students is super into his work, and has drawn the model as a gargoyle. When he tries to sharpen his pencil with a box-cutter, he cuts his finger, then uses his blood to color his gargoyle’s eye. As soon as class is over, he rushes off down the street under the watchful eye of a stone gargoyle. The model, Peter, heads to his car (which he’s parked in an alley, for some reason), but he can’t get in before someone attacks him.

The next morning, the artist, John Mostow, is ambushed in his apartment by the FBI. He bites one of the arresting agents, which isn’t going to help him at all. An agent stays behind to look at the gargoyle sketches all over the apartment. He finds a bloody box-cutter in Mostow’s art supplies, which we can probably assume is a suspected murder weapon.

Mulder tells Scully about the case, giving her details on Mostow, an Uzbekistani immigrant who spent time in a psych facility. He’s suspected of killing at least seven men. All of the victims died of blood loss after their faces were mutilated. Mostow claims he was possessed by a spirit. It’s been about a week since Mostow was arrested, but another victim was found last night a few miles away. Skinner wants Mulder and Scully to find out if they’re dealing with a copycat killer. P.S. Only members of the crime team know the details of the mutilations.

Mostow’s being held in a jail in Lorton, Virginia, and has been killing time by sketching on the floor. Mulder asks if his latest gargoyle is the spirit that makes him kill. Scully thinks it’s more likely that it’s an accomplice. Mostow calls the agents fools for thinking evil can be controlled. He’s surprised to hear that there’s been another murder – the spirit must have found someone new to possess.

The agent who stayed behind at the crime scene, summons Mulder and Scully to taunt Mulder about what kind of supernatural force they’re dealing with this time. Mulder knows the agent, Bill Patterson, who runs Quantico’s Investigative Support Unit. Scully’s honored to meet Patterson, who’s an expert on behavioral science. Mulder notes that Patterson could never fit his own profile – no one would know how mean he is.

Patterson says that he and his unit spent three years busting Mostow, so they’re a little ticked that there’s been another murder. Mulder’s surprised that Patterson thinks there could be another killer, since his profile said Mostow worked alone. Patterson denies that there’s an accomplice; they’re dealing with a copycat. The gargoyle drawings are Mostow’s attempts to keep his demon away, as per the traditional use of gargoyles. Patterson wants Mulder off the case, but that’s not his call.

Mulder and Scully head to Mostow’s apartment, discussing Mulder and Patterson’s rivalry. Scully guesses that Patterson hates Mulder because Mulder didn’t worship him the way other agents have. In fact, some agents joined the FBI to be like Patterson. Mulder doesn’t like Patterson’s theory that you have to become an artist to understand someone’s art. In truth, Patterson means that you have to become a monster to catch one.

The agents are surrounded by gargoyle sketches in the apartment, and Scully gets spooked by a cat, thinking one of the pictures had come to life. They discover a hidden room behind a wall, and Mulder finds clay gargoyles inside. Scully wonders why they’re in a secret room. Well, Scully, it’s because at least one of them contains a body. So he probably didn’t want that news getting out to people like you.

Meanwhile, a man is attached while firing something in a kiln. He survives, so the agents have someone to question about their new killer. Scully chats with Greg Nemhauser, one of Patterson’s agents, who thinks Patterson actually requested that Skinner assign Mulder to the case. Patterson seems to secretly admire Mulder’s work. Scully notices stitches on Nemhauser’s finger – he’s the agent Mostow bit during his arrest.

Patterson joins them, and Scully tells him that Mulder’s looking into the drawings. The latest victim’s heart monitor speeds up when Scully says Mulder suspects a second killer. Mulder’s currently in a library, reading up on gargoyles and how their images have existed for over a thousand years. It’s almost like they actually existed. He wonders if they’re a symbol of evil lurking inside people, waiting to emerge: “Is this the monster called madness?”

Mulder falls asleep doing his research, waking up when Patterson visits him. Patterson taunts him for reading books and calling it investigating, but Mulder says he’s following Patterson’s idea that you have to understand art to understand an artist. Patterson says he’s wasting his time – Mostow draws the same face over and over because he’s insane.

Mulder notes that Mostow also said the gargoyle wants to see its own reflection. Patterson only cares about the name of the new killer. Mulder brings up the theory of possession, but that just disappoints Patterson, who thought he’d outgrown that way of thinking. Mulder broods at a window, seeing a gargoyle staring back at him.

Scully goes to Mulder’s apartment (and we get a rare non-phone “Mulder, it’s me”), letting herself in because they’re totally married. He’s put up a bunch of Mostow’s sketches on his walls. Mulder’s now at Mostow’s apartment, studying a sketch and possibly hearing whispered voices. He gets some clay and begins to sculpt his own gargoyle in the secret room. Ultimately he falls asleep, waking up to see someone else in the apartment. There’s a chase that leads to a storage area, where the intruder cuts Mulder’s temple but doesn’t kill him.

Scully finds Mulder being tended to by a paramedic and chastises him for turning off his phone. She’s worried about him working in the middle of the night. She’s sure that Mostow had an accomplice, and that Mulder just thinks he saw something demon-esque. She’s also a little disturbed by the drawings in Mulder’s apartment. Scully brings up what Nemhauser said about Patterson’s request and says that she thinks Patterson is testing Mulder.

Mulder heads off alone while Scully pulls Patterson aside to confront him for what he’s doing to Mulder. She thinks he’s upset that Mulder quit his unit eight years ago and is trying to get payback. Patterson claims that he just wants Mulder’s help to close the case. They need to let Mulder do whatever he needs to do – not that Scully will be able to hold him back anyway. When Scully gets in her car to leave, she notices a blade sticking out of a tire of a police car. Under the car she finds the handle of a box-cutter.

Mulder goes to see Mostow again, wanting to know why the intruder in the apartment didn’t kill him. Mostow says Mulder wouldn’t understand. Mulder thinks he can stop the killer if Mostow tells him how to find it. Mostow insists that Mulder can’t find it, but the killer can find him – “maybe it already has.” Meanwhile, Scully gets the blade analyzed and learns that the fingerprints on it belong to Mulder.

Scully goes to check out the evidence from the case, but the murder weapon is missing. Skinner summons her, having already followed her train of thought about the blade from the tire being the same one that killed Mostow’s victims. He’d like to know what Scully thinks of Mulder’s current state of mind. She says she’s not worried about him, but Skinner knows she’s lying. He admits that he’s worried, too.

Mulder returns to Mostow’s apartment and is attacked by Patterson and Nemhauser. But don’t worry, it’s just a dream, and he’s actually at home. He goes to the apartment for real, finding a freshly sculpted gargoyle and a trail of blood (which the cat is licking – ew! Why is the cat still there anyway?? Where’s the SPCA?). The blood leads to a new victim.

Scully gets a message from Nemhauser, who was interrupted while leaving it. When she calls him back, Mulder hears the ringing phone in the apartment. Scully starts to wonder if Mulder knows where Nemhauser is. She asks if he knows what happened to the weapon, since his prints were on it. Mulder says he examined it in the evidence room, wanting to know what it was like to hold it, but he didn’t take it. Scully tells him she’s going to meet him and help him work things out.

Mulder gets distracted by the new gargoyle and pulls it apart to find Nemhauser underneath. He hears a noise behind him and spins around to see Patterson. Mulder thinks Patterson is the killer, and murdered Nemhauser when he caught on. He also thinks that Patterson is unstable and doesn’t even know what he did. After three years investigating Mostow, Patterson has turned into him. The evil and violence stayed inside him and finally came out.

Scully arrives and misinterprets the situation as her unstable partner holding a gun on an innocent man. Patterson takes off, and the other agents follow him to the roof of the building. Patterson attacks Mulder and they fight over Mulder’s gun. From the other side of the roof, Scully hears a gunshot and sees a body falling to another level of the roof. It’s Patterson, and he’s still alive to face the music for his crimes. Or, more accurately, to spend his time in jail yelling that he didn’t kill anyone. Mulder voices over about monsters and evil and staring into the abyss, just in case anyone didn’t get it already.

Thoughts: Patterson is played by Kurtwood Smith.

LOL at Mostow, who Mulder says is an unemployed housepainter, being able to afford such a huge apartment in D.C.

How does Mulder sleep with all those gargoyle drawings?

Was there a point to Nemhauser getting bitten? Were we supposed to think he was the second killer, and that Mostow’s evil transferred to him via the bite? Too bad I never suspected anyone other than Patterson.

August 2, 2016

SVT #59, Barnyard Battle: Cowboys vs. Cowgirls

Posted in books tagged at 4:26 pm by Jenn

I actually kind of like Liz and Amy's shirts

I actually kind of like Liz and Amy’s shirts

Summary: The SVMS sixth-graders are about to start a new unit in their social studies class, and they’re dreading the guest student teacher who’s going to lead it. Jessica’s sure they’ll end up with someone dorky and boring. As usual, Jessica’s wrong. Ms. Shepard is young and attractive, so the guys are already excited about whatever happens next. The girls get interested as well when Ms. Shepard uses visual aids to help teach, something that’s apparently unheard of at SVMS. What sad lives these children lead. Anyway, they’ll be studying the pioneers.

At home, Alice announces that she’s gotten a bonus at work, and she wants the family to use the money to buy something fun. Elizabeth suggests a computer, and everyone but Jessica gets on board. Jess thinks she’ll be branded a nerd for having a computer. Little does she know that, since this is 1992, she’ll actually be ahead of her time. She gets a little more excited when she finds out that they get a free portable boom box with the computer. She thinks she can claim that for herself, but Ned and Alice make it clear that it’s another family item.

Ms. Shepard arranges for her class to spend the weekend on a working pioneer farm. The kids will do chores and live like pioneers – no electricity, no running water, and nothing invented after a certain time period. Somehow, this is supposed to be exciting. Look, I’m pretty low-maintenance, but I wouldn’t survive. They should not be this happy about the trip, especially since it’s basically three days of unpaid labor.

Reality sets in when the kids learn that they’re not allowed to bring things like makeup or junk food. Elizabeth and her friends (hey, Maria Slater!) wonder how the Unicorns will survive. The Unicorns are horror-stricken, especially when they realize that the trip conflicts with a big benefit concern airing that weekend, and without electronics, they won’t get to watch it on TV. Recording it and watching it later just wouldn’t be the same.

Some of the guys in the class, including Todd and Aaron, think that they’ll survive on the farm better than the girls will. A lot of sexist things are said. Charlie Cashman’s parents have done a really poor job raising a contributing member of society, by the way. The kids decide to make a bet to see which gender will last longer without modern things. If the guys win, Elizabeth has to make a speech in the cafeteria about why guys are better than girls. If the girls win, Todd has to make the opposite speech.

There’s some fighting over the Wakefields’ new computer, and the twins get really mad at each other. As revenge, Jessica sneaks the boom box into her luggage so she and her friends can both listen to the concert and make Elizabeth lose the bet. See, this is why they need better stakes for the bet. Liz and Todd are the ones with the most to lose. Lila could bring lipstick and not care about losing because she’s not the one who has to make the speech. They should have made the person who loses for his or her team complete the punishment.

So: Farm stuff! It’s your basic cow-milking, horse-tending, egg-collecting stuff. Ms. Shepard and her two fellow chaperones (Mrs. Arnette and Coach Cassels) make sure both boys and girls are assigned traditionally male and female chores, which is nice. Elizabeth hangs out with the horses and learns how to milk a goat (from Ginny Lu, who I believe completely vanishes after this book). Everyone is working hard but having fun, for the most part. Then Jessica reveals to her friends that she brought the boom box with her. Elizabeth is unhappy that they could lose the bet, but Jessica doesn’t care. She’s much more interested in trading her chores with girls who want time with the boom box.

Elizabeth and Maria are chosen to ride horses and herd some cows. A thunderstorm suddenly starts, and Elizabeth’s horse, Slug (who names a horse Slug?), runs off. They wind up a couple miles away at the farm where Slug was foaled. The owners invite Elizabeth to wait out the rain with their 12-year-old daughter, who’s having her birthday party. So while everyone from SVMS freaks out about Liz being missing – especially Jess – Liz is eating cake and dancing to Coco CDs.

Once Elizabeth is rescued and makes up with Jessica, she reveals to the other girls that, by using electricity and listening to modern music, she lost the bet. (She knows that they’ve already used the boom box, which is really what lost the bet, but of course Elizabeth has to be the martyr.) The girls go to the boys’ cabin to come clean and discover that they’ve snuck in junk food and a TV. Coach Cassels is even in on the fun. The kids decide to call the bet a draw, so no one has to make a speech. And since they have a TV and a boom box, why not watch the concert together? By the way, no one seems to get in trouble for breaking the rules. If they had, they probably should have blamed Coach Cassels for encouraging them.

Thoughts: I don’t believe for a second that Jessica would think a weekend on a farm might be fun.

People who don’t want to go on the trip can write a 25-page paper instead. Read that again. 25. PAGES. That’s ridiculous. Even in college, the longest paper I ever wrote was probably 15 pages. They’re 12 years old, Mrs. Arnette! (Also, have fun reading those papers.)

“‘Oh, come on,’ Aaron said with a smark. ‘Girls can’t play baseball.'” I thought Aaron was supposed to be one of the good ones.

“‘Well,’ he began slowly, ‘I don’tt hink girls are as strong as boys are–.” Et tu, Todd?

I’m sure we’re supposed to laugh over Lila being attacked by a goose, but I actually feel sorry for her. Those things are mean.

July 30, 2016

The X-Files 3.13, Syzygy: “Sure. Fine. Whatever”

Posted in TV tagged at 1:41 pm by Jenn

Woke up like this (flawless)

Woke up like this (flawless)

Summary: A teenage football player named Bruno is being eulogized at a candlelight vigil. Apparently he was killed by a cult that might be targeting other teens. Two girls at the vigil look bored. After the vigil, the girls approach the eulogizer, Boom, and tell him the rumor is the cult is going after a blond virgin next. They’re worried one of them will be the next victim.

Boom drives them home while they talk about how the cult can even tell who’s a virgin and who isn’t. One of the girls suggests that they ease their fears by not being virgins anymore. Boom quickly pulls his truck over. The next morning, police find him dead, having seemingly hanged himself off a cliff. The girls are playing “he loves me, he loves me not” nearby.

Mulder and Scully are called to Comity, “the Perfect Harmony City,” though they can’t agree on directions. They make it to Boom’s funeral and meet Detective Angela White, who tells them his death is the third in the past few months. All are linked to local cult activity, as a number of people have reported witnessing rituals. Scully notes that there’s no concrete evidence, adding that the FBI has debunked a lot of rumors of trauma linked to satanic cults.

White directs the agents toward the two girls who were with Boom the night he died. Scully confirms that the girls were interviewed together, which means their statements can’t be taken seriously. They probably also testified about the same rituals everyone mentions when talking about cult activities, such as the sacrifice of a blond virgin. White leaves, and Mulder asks Scully, “You don’t suppose she’s a virgin, do you?” “I doubt she’s even a blonde,” Scully replies.

A man named Bob interrupts the funeral to drum up support for his anti-cult sentiment. The two girls take each other’s hands, and seconds later, Boom’s casket goes up in flames. Everyone flees the room except the girls and the agents. They all head over to the sheriff’s station, where Scully interviews one girl, Terri, and Mulder talks to the other, Margi. Even separate, they tell the same story about Boom taking them to a cult ritual where a baby was sacrificed.

With no reports of mass baby graves or missing babies, Scully figures the girls are lying. They could have made up their stories using details from any newspaper article. Mulder elaborates that there have been cases where witnesses used local rumors to flesh out their lies. The only thing the agents can’t explain is the burning casket, so Scully goes to check it out. She thinks the fire could have been caused by a chemical used to embalm Boom’s body. White and Mulder spot a pattern on Boom’s charred chest – possibly a goat or “horned beast.” Scully: “Sure. Fine. Whatever.”

Mulder goes to White’s house, cautioning her to keep her cat inside while people are worrying about animal sacrifices. He apologizes for Scully’s attitude, which is totally the opposite of his open-minded, charming one. He’s there to ask for White’s help solving “the mystery of the horny beast.” Oh, Mulder.

The two head to an astrologer named Zirinka, who denies the townspeople’s gossip that she’s a Satanist. Really, she just crunches numbers to come up with predictions. Earth is approaching a planetary alignment and will be under great influence from Mercury, Uranus, and Mars. If Mulder wants to know more, he’ll have to come back during office hours (and pay).

Terri and Margi chat about guys on the basketball team in their school’s gym (which, by the way, features emblems of the school’s mascot, a horned goat). They agree on the cuteness of Scott Simmons, and agree on their hatred of his girlfriend, Brenda: “Hate her. Wouldn’t want to date her.” They glare at Brenda and she falls over.

One of the players accidentally crashes into the girls’ table of Gatorade, and they agree that they wouldn’t want to date him either. As the boy chases a basketball under the bleachers, the girls stare at him together. The lights go out and the bleachers collapse. The other players are unable to get the boy out before he’s crushed.

Scully meets up with Mulder and White in the gym, learning that an electrical surge took out the lights while activating the motor that moves the bleachers. Scully sees that both Margi and Terri are there. She’s also annoyed that Mulder was with White at the time of the incident – she feels like he’s ditched her. Mulder denies this. Scully: “Fine. Whatever.”

Across town, Bob has gathered some buddies to dig up what he thinks will turn out to be the mass baby grave. White orders the digging to stop, since the adults are destroying private property. Bob goes off about some rumor about “naked movie-star games.” Mulder somehow does not ask to be included. White tells her that Bob is usually a lot calmer. Also, he’s the principal of the high school. Clearly, he’s really qualified for the job.

Scully knows this kind of hysteria is normal but has nothing to do with actual cult rituals. Just then, a woman shouts that she’s found bones. Mulder and Scully start to glove up to investigate the bag the woman found; Mulder lets Scully go ahead. Someone shouts that the bones belong to a child. The bag is monogrammed with the initials R.W.G., so Bob points the finger at Dr. Dick Godfrey, a local pediatrician.

The mob goes straight to Godfrey’s house, calling him a baby killer. Said alleged baby killer also likes to wear women’s clothes, though it doesn’t seem like the townspeople know that. Godfrey tells White and Mulder that he sold the bag at a garage sale, and he has no idea why there were bones in it. Scully joins them and announces that Godfrey is free to go – the bones belonged to a dog. That dog, by the way, belonged to Terri. “This may not be any time to mention it, but someone is wearing my favorite perfume,” Mulder says. But I’m sure Godfrey doesn’t know anything about that.

Scully pulls Mulder aside to chastise him for keeping the case going. She doesn’t appreciate having to bring Terri in – on her birthday, of all days – to ID the bones of her dead dog. Also, she thinks his behavior on the investigation has been awful. Mulder doesn’t help things by sniffing her to see if she’s the one wearing his favorite perfume. “Must be Detective White,” he decides. Scully tells him that if he wants to keep investigating to be close to White, he’s on his own.

That night, Terri and Margi have a joint birthday party, though they’re the only guests having fun. They bring out a Ouija board, and Brenda asks it who she’s going to marry. The board spells out “Satan.” Brenda runs off to the bathroom, where Margi and Terri are playing Bloody Mary in the mirror. When Brenda tries to leave, the door slams shut. The other girls hear screaming.

Mulder tries to make a screwdriver in his motel room, using frozen orange juice and a small bottle of vodka. He turns on the TV, finding Keystone Kops on every channel. Scully has the same experience next door. She smokes a cigarette and complains to herself about Mulder’s affection for White. Speaking of White, she’s now at Mulder’s door with the body of her dead cat. He comforts her, then sniffs her.

White notices that Mulder’s been drinking, which he says is abnormal for him. She swigs his makeshift screwdriver and asks to spend the night. Mulder tries to call the front desk to get another room, but the phone doesn’t work. White goes in for the kill, saying they can solve the mystery of the horny beast at last. Mulder isn’t interested, but White isn’t going to give up. Scully finds her on top of him when she arrives to announce that there’s been another death.

Once Mulder and White are ready to venture out in public, Scully tells them that a high school girl was found impaled by broken glass. She insists on driving, pretending she’s not upset about seeing Mulder and White together. She wonders why Mulder always has to drive anyway: “Because you’re the guy? The big macho man?” “No, I was just never sure your little feet could reach the pedals,” he replies. OH, MULDER.

Terri and Margi leave their party to corner Scott in a restaurant. They want to make him “feel better” now that Brenda is dead. He runs off to cry. “Hate him,” Terri says. Margi doesn’t reply, so Terri says it again. Margi just walks away. This is turning out to be the worst birthday ever!

While Scully and White go to the crime scene, Mulder goes to see Zirinka, who makes sure his credit card is good before she helps him. He wants more information about the planetary alignment. She tells him that every 84 years, something something something astrology, and this year is particularly bad. Disastrous, even. The worst day will be today, and anyone born today in 1979 has the energy of the cosmos focused on him or her.

Scott heads home, finding out when he arrives that Margi has stowed away in the back of his pickup. Terri arrives moments later, and their anger at each other makes things start flying around Scott’s garage. Scott gets impaled. The girls can’t agree on which of them killed him. Elsewhere, Scully and White are in the middle of a silent car ride when they come across a bunch of dead birds.

Still at Zirinka’s, Mulder gets a call from Margi, who says she knows who the killer is. Scully and White are standing up to the armed town mob when Terri finds them and announces that she knows who killed everyone. Meanwhile, Mulder finds Margi cowering in Scott’s garage. She tells him that Terri killed everyone. Margi tells the others that Terri did it, and may be possessed. The girls tell the same exact story again, this time about each other.

Mulder calls Scully (“Scully, it’s me”) and they learn that they’re with each other’s accused killers. Mulder decides that they need to take the girls in to get formal statements. “Sure. Fine. Whatever,” Scully replies. At the sheriff’s station, a TV turns itself on, showing Keystone Kops. The building starts to shake, moving the furniture around. Terri and Margi are now both in the building, and it’s clear that’s a dangerous thing.

Guns start firing on their own and the lights go out (though the TV still works). Mulder grabs Margi and hurries her out of the room, which makes everything calm again. Terri follows, so the agents put her in the same room as Margi. Mulder figures they’ll just let whatever’s coming play out. The building shakes again. At midnight, everything stops. The mob arrives, demanding to see the girls. Mulder protests, but White insists on opening the door, so Scully lets her in. The girls are huddled together, crying.

Mulder wrap-up voiceover time! Something about the universe and the cosmos and forces and the girls having those forces focused on them. Bob still thinks Satan’s to blame. Whatever it really is, the case is over, so the agents can leave. Scully has to adjust the driver’s seat before they go. Mulder tries to give her directions, but she won’t listen. He tells her she ran a stop sign and he tells her to shut up. “Sure. Fine. Whatever,” he replies.

Thoughts: This episode is probably best known now as the one with Ryan Reynolds (he plays Boom).

The teens go to Grover Cleveland Alexander High, which is another jab at David Duchovny for another question he missed on Celebrity Jeopardy.

Scully’s skeptical face really gets a workout in this episode. It’s one of her better faces, really. Definitely better than her jealous face.

’90s music alert: Live’s “All Over You.”

July 26, 2016

SVT #58, Elizabeth and the Orphans: Like Party of Five, Except I Like These People

Posted in books tagged , , , at 4:39 pm by Jenn

Sansa Stark and Kirk Cameron are sad

Sansa Stark and Kirk Cameron are sad

Summary: The twins’ social studies class has been given a new project: Pair with another classmate to interview and write about each other’s families. Jessica is paired with Lila, which makes her happy since Lila only has one family member to interview. Elizabeth is paired with a girl named Melissa McCormick, who’s shy but nice. Elizabeth is happy to have a chance to get to know Melissa better. Melissa, however, is worried about having to reveal that her father abandoned the family years ago and has no contact with her or her brother Andy, a senior at SVH.

But Melissa has bigger things to worry about: A long-time heart problem has landed her mother in the hospital. Melissa and Andy are pulled out of school to see her, and minutes later, she’s dead. What a fun book! Andy decides that no one can find out that their father is out of the picture, because he and Melissa could be sent to separate foster homes. They lie to a social worker and their neighbors, saying their father is traveling but will be home soon. The social worker allows the kids to stay with the neighbors until Mr. McCormick gets back.

This works for a week. Andy even gets a guy named Sam to pretend to be Mr. McCormick and talk to the neighbors on the phone. This is, at best, a short-term solution, because I think the neighbors will notice when a few weeks pass and they don’t see any fathers at the house. Plus, the neighbors are heading off on a long European vacation soon, so Andy and Melissa can only stay with them for a few days. But the adults all fall for the ploy, so the McCormicks are in the clear for now.

Lest any impressionable preteens reading this book think the kids are living the dream, we learn that reality makes the situation pretty bleak. Though the house is paid for (which makes no sense to me; Melissa says they’ve moved around a lot because her mother was always looking for better work, so why buy a house when you might not stay in that town?), the kids still have to deal with things like utility bills. Andy decides to get an after-school job, but he refuses to let Melissa get one. He wants her to focus on school instead.

This seems like a fine solution until Andy realizes that two people can’t live on money from a part-time job. He quits the basketball team so he can work longer hours. Melissa’s finding it harder and harder to keep up the lies she and Andy have told people about their dad, and she finally tells Elizabeth the truth – they don’t know where he is or how to reach him, and she and Andy are living on their own. Elizabeth agrees not to tell anyone, though she knows this is a Bad Situation for grownups to take care of.

Liz helps Melissa clean up around the house, and they find a bunch of letters Mr. McCormick sent Mrs. McCormick over the years. Even though he left the family and doesn’t keep in touch with his kids, he clearly loves them and has sent money to help take care of them. Hey, if they move around so much, how does he know where they are? Wait, this book doesn’t care about being realistic. Never mind. Andy worries that Elizabeth will spill the secret and he and Melissa will be separated.

Andy skips school to work, so the principal announces she’s going to call his father. Andy enlists Sam again to pretend to be Mr. McCormick, and the principal is completely fooled. At first Sam says he’s doing this as a favor to Andy, but then he says he’ll find a way for Andy to repay him. Andy admits to Melissa that Sam wants him to do something illegal. Melissa tries not to worry too much, since Andy’s generally a good guy.

Not long after, Melissa’s home alone when she sees a couple of people breaking into the neighbor’s house. She calls the police, who easily nab the robbers. Unfortunately, one of them is Andy. Sam blackmailed him into breaking in, threatening to tell social services the truth if Andy didn’t do it. The McCormicks’ worst fears are realized, and they’re sent to separate foster homes. Elizabeth tells Ned what’s been going on, and he’s nice enough to pay Andy’s bail and work on his case.

Now that she’s broken her promise to keep Andy and Melissa’s secret, Liz figures she might as well keep meddling. She finds the last return address Mr. McCormick wrote from and sends a letter to it. It’s a motel in Texas, and he was there a year ago, but somehow, her letter gets to Mr. McCormick. (The details are never mentioned. I assume the ghostwriter didn’t plan to think them up.) Mr. McCormick comes to Sweet Valley and reunites with his kids, who are suddenly forgiving of him for not talking to them in years. Andy doesn’t go to jail, so that’s good. I hope Mr. McCormick has enough money for his legal fees.

In the dumb B-plot, Jessica’s mad at Steven for some reason she doesn’t even remember, and she WILL NOT SHUT UP about how annoying he is. She’s especially mad that he keeps hogging the phone, so she makes a phone schedule, giving him slots in the middle of the night. Ned and Alice can’t be bothered to parent their kids, as usual, and leave them to work things out themselves, which really means they just ignore all the fighting. Jessica also creates a jerk-o-meter to keep track of how annoying Steven is, but I’m not sure what happens when he gets more than a certain number of points.

Just as Jessica’s only a few seconds away from splitting the house down the middle with masking tape, Melissa’s home situation makes her realize how dumb she’s being. She’s grateful that her family is so normal (relatively speaking) and drops her vendetta against Steven. She also admits that she can’t remember how their battle started. Thanks for wasting my time, B-plot!

Thoughts: Dear whoever named this book: They’re not orphans.

Lila is really nice to Melissa, since they’re both motherless, so someone should probably check on her and make sure she’s feeling okay.

Sam’s watch has diamonds on it. I’m afraid to ask how he got it or why hangs out with teenagers.

“They had another big electricity bill and he was hoping his overtime pay would be enough to cover it.” Either the McCormicks’ electricity bills aren’t really that big or supermarket jobs pay a lot in overtime.

“Maybe if I’d been a better friend, none of this would have happened.” IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, LIZ.

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