Someone Is Wrong on the Internet: Guardians 2 Is As Good As GOTG 1 and Wonder Woman 3 comments

Certainly the oldest reason for communication was, well, to communicate. But the second oldest reason for communicating was undoubtedly to tell that first communicator they were wrong (possibly connected to the birth of the first critic).

And in that honored tradition of contradicting someone else, I’m introducing another form of debate hereabouts: Someone Is Wrong on the Internet. Why? Because I’m an egotistical human that has to be right? Because I love tilting against windmills? Because I’m a fan of the XKCD comic where I am, umm, borrowing this line from?

Sure, throw them all my way. But more than that, I’m going to argue for things that are actually pretty good, but people seem to be missing the boat on (critics, the internet-water-cooler zeitgeist, what have you). As a creator who is trying to get my foot in the door (and boy, does that door not like to open), this is another way for me to throw some encouragement to people out there who are creating. We need all the cheerleading we can get.

So here we go with “Someone Is Wrong on the Internet: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is as good as the first GotG and Wonder Woman.”

Somehow, via the Rotten Tomatoes aggregator, Guardians 2 is at 81% (71% for the so-called top critics), versus 91% for the other two. When you dig in more between the first and the second Guardians movies, reviewers are finding the second almost as fun but not as “fresh” as the first.

This is boggling to me. The second movie takes what worked in the first movie and does it even better, fixing some flaws along the way. The first movie is great fun, but it has the blandest of bland villains that hardly gets any setup or explanation: me angry alien terrorist! me no like peace treaties! smash! Whereas the villains of Guardians 2 are given such crazy things as depth, setup, and motivation, not to mention a real connection to the Guardians and their own issues.

The first movie also had problems with what I like to call “planet subtitle hopscotch” (not unlike the otherwise great Rogue One from this winter). Throw all the digs you want against George Lucas, but even with the prequels, the guy knew how to integrate a new location into the storyline seamlessly (and for it to stand out visually from the rest). There’s a bit of this problem earlier on in Guardians 2, but then it gets its act together.

And then there’s the soundtrack. I love the opening of the first movie, with Peter Quill dancing through a ruined city (and kicking space rats) to the head-bopping rhythm of “Come Get Your Love.” But the second movie easily tops that with its opening “Mr. Blue Sky” and baby Groot dancing sequence. From there, the rest of the songs work better as a unit, somehow even serving  as a fun commentary or contrast to the action at the time. That is not an easy thing to do, but the movie does it. Can you picture a better song than “My Sweet Lord” to introduce a god-planet and its potential issues? Or a song better than “Father and Son” for the movie’s final scenes?

The fairest criticism I can see of Guardians 2 is that it hits on its themes of family a little strenuously, which I can understand to a point, as there are some moments that are a little in your face with it. But even then, there are issues with this critique. Christopher Orr over at The Atlantic claimed the movie “pedantically” explains how the song “Brandy” ties in with the movie’s themes, but wow, is that ever a misread. One, not everyone may be aware of the lyrics to “Brandy” (I wasn’t really before hearing it in this movie), and two, Ego is using the lyrics to explain and justify his actions. He co-opts the song (anyone notice the song’s title is “Brandy,” not “The Sailor?”) for his own purposes! Rather than being detrimental, it’s an excellent scene, and reveals quite a bit about Ego’s character—much less pedantically than his name does!

Guardians 2 is every bit as good as its predecessor, if not better (hold me to the first part, of you don’t agree with the latter). Both have reasons they’re just shy of perfect, but they’re still quite good and a needed breath of fresh air in the crowded comic book movie/action movie sphere.

As for Wonder Woman, it’s high praise to say Guardians 2 is its equal. I’ve never really had a big connection to the character, with her sometimes feeling like a female Superman: really strong but kind of blandly good, etc. That’s partially my lack of interaction with her comics, but also a shortcoming of the classic TV show and her presentation on the DC cartoons I’ve seen. We’ve at least had some good Superman movies to give depth to Clark Kent.

Wonder Woman certainly takes care of that issue—Gal Godot is sublime as Diana. I loved her enthusiasm, I loved her “I’m going to do what I’m told not to” approach to just about everything, and I loved how genuinely, warmly kind she was. At one point in the film she smiles and asks a character what they would do without his singing (if he left), and I have to say that was one of the most beautiful, caring, and honest smiles I have ever seen. It is good for the soul to see someone smile like that and mean it that much. People talk about how hard it supposedly is to write and act good people (which I quibble with), but I would say Godot’s Diana is up there with Chris Evans’s Steve Rogers, if not beyond, and that’s saying something.

I’d also say the first 80-90% of the movie works extremely well (though I could do without the preface and epilogue—we know it relates to the rest of the DC universe without these). Sure, some things randomly happen, with Diana and Steve Trevor somehow sailing from what seems to be the eastern Mediterranean to London overnight, etc., but they’re small problems.

The real issue is with the generic, climactic confrontation at the end, which somehow just doesn’t work. It should, with how interesting the rest of the action in the movie is (particularly the WWI trench sequence), but the movie doesn’t know if it wants another big fight or to explore the themes and ideas it’s set up so well. I think they had the right casting choice for the big bad if they had focused on the latter and wrote the big bad’s actions and dialogue accordingly, but they didn’t.

What Wonder Woman needed was something similar to the ending of The Dark Knight. There’s good action in that movie’s ending, but what’s really at stake is Batman’s view of mankind versus the Joker’s, with both sides memorably and clearly delineated. Something similar could have been done with Wonder Woman, as the first 3/4 of the movie puts the right ideas on board to accomplish this, but then the movie rather haphazardly follows through on them, squashing them in around a forgettable CG fest with ponderous dialogue.

So where does that leave us? On the one hand, we’re seeing yet again how Guardians 2 is at least on par with a movie that’s been reviewed well ahead of it. I could also argue that Guardians 2 doesn’t have any major issues like Wonder Woman’s finale, which makes it objectively better as a movie, But on the other hand, I am willing to concede that Wonder Woman may be a more important movie, given how reluctant Marvel and other studios have been to focus solely on a female character/superhero. It’s asinine that this is still an issue somehow, but let’s face it, it is. We had men up in arms at a women’s only screening of Wonder Woman, like they couldn’t just go to some other showtime or there haven’t been men’s only clubs and governments for centuries.

It’s not for the first time, certainly, but Wonder Woman reminds us that female characters and female superheroes can and should carry their own weight, and for that, I’m willing for it to defeat the contention of my first Someone Is Wrong on the Internet. Somehow, it only seems right.


On Unlooked-for Humor

Is unlooked-for humor the best humor? I said it was the other night on Twitter when I was surprised by Revanche’s random quote from Galaxy Quest: “By Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings” (seriously, I can just see the annoyance and disdain on Alan Rickman’s face as his character is forced to say his catchphrase). I was amid a sea of depressing news and thoughts, and this hilarious line from out of left field made me laugh out loud (not that “LOL” thing, which often only means you found something amusing).

While things are almost always funny because they surprise us,* that’s not quite the way I meant it when responding to Revanche. We often experience humor when we’re looking for it: comedic movies, sitcoms, late night shows, you name it. But to my mind, the best humor is unlooked for humor, the type that arrives when you are otherwise preoccupied, sitting on the couch with serious thoughts, perhaps with darkness on the horizon.

This conviction has been quite settled in my mind for some time, made particularly concrete by the large amount of time I spent in hospital waiting and recovery rooms about thirteen years ago, when my father’s cancer was being treated. Aside from the memory I’m about to share, the thing I remember most from that time is the smell: the hospital stink. More than the remembrances of my dad in his hospital bed or the people from our church that were wonderful enough to visit is that god-awful smell of the hospital. I can summon it to mind even now, that antiseptic, artificial, non-living stench.

I suppose some could attach it to cleanliness or something at least a bit more positive, but I cannot. While the doctors were quite hopeful for being able to deal with my dad’s cancer and his recovery, lingering in the back of my mind was the knowledge that this was cancer, those damn rebellious, screwed up, abnormally growing parts of your own body that can kill you. The thoughts were there, just like the smell, refusing to be ignored or to go away.

They were worst the evening of the operation, when we sat in the waiting room with them just hanging about. I eventually had to get up and take a walk—I couldn’t sit there for one more minute—and I inevitably found the cafeteria, which was completely deserted, all the places to buy food closed up. Some kindly or lazy person (I prefer the former) had left a copy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune lying on a table, and I riffled through for the comics section.

I’ve been a funnies man my whole life and will continue to be, but I wasn’t particularly expecting or wanting to laugh—I just wanted to think about something else, anything else. To forget that hospital stink in my nose, even in the cafeteria. I perused my usual favorites and didn’t crack a smile. Then I found the Boondocks strip for the day, and I broke into laughter. It was just so incongruous to my situation, so illogical, so everything I needed at that moment and didn’t even know it. I was immediately fond of that strip and tore it out, keeping it in my wallet for years until it started to disintegrate (as you can see above).

And that is why unlooked for humor is the best humor.

*The only exception I can think of is when a loved one tells that one story you’ve heard a million times but you still get a kick out of hearing it. And there’s maybe equal parts fondness and love to this as much as humor. 


On What Absence Makes

Lake Superior from Grand Marais, photo by the author

While they do have a frustrating amount of truth to them, the main reason platitudes and clichés are so annoying is that they are downright obvious. More, they’re generally said when that obviousness is staring you directly in the face. So when I tell you what I’m missing in the following paragraph, know that the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” is making its presence known, and that I am wanting to punch that presence in its clichéd white teeth.

I miss water—open water. Water you can sit and stare at and feel small next to, something in the expanse speaking all the words ever written in literature right inside you, without the words ever needing to be said.

I had an embarrassment of riches in open water when I lived in Duluth. The city sprawls along a hillside overlooking southwestern Lake Superior, so pretty much anywhere you go you’ll see at least a smidgen of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world (so large it’s often called an inland sea).

That’s not to say I’m in an area without water: this year is the 20th anniversary of a major flood here in Grand Forks (I’ve driven across the bridge shown in the Wikipedia entry!). I like the Red River of the North where it is in its greenbelt and don’t need it to become an expanse again. But even though the Red River is a presence in the region that should not be ignored, it’s not a presence in the same way as Lake Superior is in Duluth. You can’t avoid noticing the lake in Duluth, but unless you’re right on the river here in Grand Forks, you’d be hard pressed to notice it.

Driving pretty much anywhere in northern Minnesota or down in the Twin Cities, you’re going to trip over a lake without much effort. Despite its slogan of having 10,000 lakes, Minnesota actually has almost 12,000 that are 10 acres or more, and if you count ones smaller than that, the number just goes up and up. If some of the info I’m finding is correct, North Dakota has… 35? And some of those are reservoirs or larger portions of rivers!

Some of this, I know, is the stir craziness of winter. I’ve been inside too much, I haven’t even been able to walk by the Red River much… and that’s enough to make me miss water right there. There’s a little English Coulee on the University of North Dakota’s campus, and it is a simple joy to stop and watch it tumble over a little rock dam with Jessica during her lunch break. Some of the underwater rocks have beards of algae, and one in particular sports a fu manchu look: not common among rock algae formations, in my experience.

Still, it’s not the same as being able to drive over any number of hillsides in Duluth and have the sudden and overwhelming vision of Superior fill your eyes. Nor is it the same as crouching at the edge of the water at Kitchi Gammi Park, feeling yourself as small as can be while waves wash against the shoreline.

Lester River enters Lake Superior on the edge of Kitchi Gammi Park, and it becomes a raging torrent in the springmelt. I can see its rapids in my mind even now, and I can see the surfing fanatics in their cold water gear, riding the crests caused by the river’s entrance. The lake has so many shades of blue: I can’t describe them all, but I can see them.

I’ve sometimes wished I didn’t have such a strong connection to Duluth, as it would make this move easier and less full of longing. But if one needs to move, maybe it is a good thing to have such deep roots to your old home, if it means being able to find its waters when you need them. Albeit with mind’s imperfect memory.


On Guilty Consciences for Somewhat Good Reasons

Despite my best intentions, this blog has been lacking a post in a good while, and it’s making me feel guilty. Which might be a little silly, after all, considering it’s been without a post due to health issues, a semester (and its requisite grading) ending, and yet another move to a better apartment.

But even though I have no delusions of grandeur about how many people may someday be reading this blog, I do want people to read it. Which means updating more on the regular. So I’ll be aiming for at least a weekly update, dear readers, because nothing has changed since I restarted this blog last fall. If anything, we’re in more need of focusing on good things: of talking about what is worth talking about, of looking at what is worth looking at.

Dogwoods on UND's campus, May 2017

Photo by the author

I’ve been endeavoring to do just that these last couple weeks, with spring finding its ways to my more northern climes. New leaves have burst forth and reached their full growth, and the dogwoods in Grand Forks have made me realize just how many of them there are around town, so abundant is their color and fragrance. Their blooms will fall away all too soon (indeed, some have already disappeared), but in the meantime I am doing my best to notice them, capturing the feeling they evoke the best I can with the camera and photography hobby I’ve decided have lain dormant for far too long.


A BFS Review: Mystery My Country

Mystery My Country Cover PageI’ve been remiss this past week and forgotten to post about Issue 8 of Split Rock Review going live! A colleague of mine, Crystal Gibbins, started up Split Rock about four years ago, and it’s been a great privilege to serve on the editorial staff since 2015. As with many other web-only literary magazines, most of our pieces are on the shorter side (fiction can be at most 2500 words), but we generally have a great mix of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction to check out. In Issue 8, we even have a short graphic narrative/novel this time around!

As I have with a few other issues, I reviewed a book. This time it was Robert Vivian’s Mystery My Country, and wow… words are just so hard to describe this collection of short essays. I’ll let the review speak for me, but reading these essays is something akin to jumping into a frozen lake. I’m still not sure how sitting in a sauna until you’re almost uncomfortably hot can make it possible for you to run out through the snow and jump into a large hole cut in the ice without once feeling the burn of the cold, but I know it’s possible. It’s a rush and a relief, all at the same time—and that’s the closest metaphor I can find for the joy Vivian’s work creates in its reader.


On the Importance of Learning of Tokyo’s Destruction by Godzilla 2 comments

*A small memoir from a trip this fall*

It’s been a long week of teaching classes: you wake up, you do your class prep, you do your teaching, you do your grading, and you go home. At home is nothing in particular. Your wife is living four and a half hours away for her new job; you’ve moved the majority of your things with her. The apartment is strangely empty and strangely full of far too many things you need to pack before you can join her in a couple months.

The wind likes to whistle lonely in the evening.

Today you’re driving home after another day of teaching, but it’s a little different in that you will be picking up your suitcase so you can drive those four and a half hours to see your wife. The first hour is alright as you drive through the forests of northern Minnesota and the setting sun is turning everything golden. Then the trees go stark and two dimensional against the still glowing horizon; the only things with depth are the clouds in the sky. Then there is nothing but the tunnel your headlights carve along the route, a tunnel that is hours and hours long.

Even the waters of Cass Lake offer no comfort when you stop to stretch your legs: the wind blows too cold in your face for you to watch the lights in the water.

About an hour from your destination, still tired, your searching radio finds it, the song that will take you the rest of the way. “Oh, no! There goes Tokyo! Go, go, Godzilla!” Before your mind can think about how improbably wonderful it is to find this song out of nowhere (though is it even a favorite song of yours?), you’re singing, shouting along with the words.

You’re halfway around the earth from Tokyo, you’re in the middle of the flat beginnings of the Great Plains and the tallest thing around here are grain elevators, but what else would Godzilla have left to stomp once Tokyo and the other great cities with skyscrapers are nothing but rubble?

You’re on your way, you’re almost there.


The BFS Recommends: Moonlight 5 comments

Moonlight Theatrical PosterFriday night, Jessica and I had a decision to make: were we going to see Lego Batman or Moonlight? We ended up choosing the latter, partially under the logic that plenty of people were going to see Lego Batman, and we might as well reward the theater for picking the less popular but more serious movie, which had just won an Oscar for Best Picture.

The logic behind the choice has come back to hit me harder than I thought it would: Moonlight is an important movie, one that we need now, more than ever.

This isn’t going to be so much a review of Moonlight (you can find an excellent review on Roger Ebert’s site), though I will say Moonlight may be one of the most perfect, character-driven dramas I have ever seen. Instead, it’s going to be a plea of sorts, an argument, for why you need to see it, sooner rather than later. Why the argument? I’ll get to that in just a moment.

As often happens with a movie as powerfully immersive as Moonlight, it lingered with me, and I found myself needing to bounce my thinking about it off of others. After talking it over with Jessica, I found the above-mentioned review. Even though I knew what I probably would find there, I scrolled down to the comment section and found this sad little post:

“Can anyone explain to me why this film is “important?” Because there are crack-hos and gay black people and drug dealers with hearts of gold? How am I not a complete human being if I don’t absolutely adore this mediocre trash and weep inconsolably whenever I think of poor little Little or Chevron or Black or whatever his real name is? My life was not “affirmed” by somehow surviving this torturous, dull, self-indulgent and amateurish melodrama. The emperor has no clothes!”

Yes, it’s a comment on the internet (Beware: here there be trolls). But it’s not an out and out troll comment (there’s at least some struggle to know what they’re missing), and more, I know that a movie that focuses on the coming of age of a gay black man in Miami is going to be tough content for some people. Let’s face it, we don’t see many movies like this, particularly one that has won major awards.

I’m actually a big believer in saying that not every movie and not every book is for everyone, no matter how good it might be. And you sometimes have to be in the right mood to handle an excellent movie or play (if you’re wanting comedy, you probably shouldn’t watch King Lear). But for someone to have apparently sat through the whole of Moonlight as this commenter did and have it pass clear above their heads is absolutely depressing.

Moonlight is about identity and trying to find it. About being crushed by others as you try to find it. And no matter how 100% awesome and sure of yourself you might be at this moment, every human struggles with identity. Everyone. So for someone to watch a movie that shows that struggle in a fellow human as perfectly and understandably as the film medium can allow, but still only focus on the externals of its characters? There is something wrong with that viewer.

Our society is increasingly focused on walls now—literal, political, or emotional—maybe more so than it has been at any other time in my thirty-eight years. Maybe the 80s and that part of the Cold War is on par or even worse, but it’s impossible to argue something hasn’t been going down the drain more and more the past couple years. And this problem isn’t due to one group or another, either. Take your pick of the current news: no matter where you look, it’s easy to see humans refusing to listen to each other, whether it’s conservatives ignoring/attacking those who don’t agree with them or this protest/attack on a conservative speaker at Middlebury College. We’d rather shout each other down, or win an argument or election than listen.

What beauty we are missing. I’ve never been to Miami; I’ve never had a parent struggle with addiction. I’m just a straight white guy that has lived his whole life in the Midwest, but I could feel and understand Chiron’s life, the protagonist of Moonlight. The movie is told in three parts, with Chiron in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Each section pivots on a key scene, with Chiron reacting to the ocean. The joy Chiron feels as he learns to swim as a child, with ocean waves washing over him and the camera, is palpable. The hope or love or longing he feels when an ocean breeze passes over him in adolescence is impossible not to register: it’s the most happy we’ve seen him since he learned to swim. And the look on his face when he returns to the ocean as a young adult (he has been living in Atlanta for some years)? It’s the look any human makes when they see something they have missed more than they could describe.

I’d want Chiron to understand me. I know he’d understand the look on my face when I saw my wife for the first time in weeks. It shouldn’t matter that he’s never been to Minnesota or lived as I have lived.

And it really doesn’t.


On What Inspires Writing (and a Little Writing Progress Update)

After the great fiery ash heap that was my fall of 2016, it’s been lovely to be able to get back into the writing game. And egads, I just realized my previous writing update and encouragement for other creators is from late August of 2016: I’m far overdue! Let’s do this.

Crow in field

Photo credit: Public Domain

The two most common demons that seem to hinder most creative types from getting work done are finding the time and inspiration to do it. My weakness is always the former, sometimes thanks to life, sometimes thanks to my own bad habits. But inspiration has never been much of an issue for me—others in my MFA program seemed to love writing prompts, but I never felt the need for them. I had so many ideas banging around in my head that starting on something else seemed like a waste.

More than that, I definitely need to feel a strong connection to an idea to want to write about it, and most writing prompts just don’t do that for me. I need a feeling, a problem, a character—something nagging at me that needs to be said. Some of the better prompts do get you going in that direction, but my inspiration seems to draw more from interacting with the creative work of others or problems I’m seeing in the world around me. It’s more substantial than starting down a path: it’s like getting a vision of a destination some miles away, if that makes sense.

That isn’t to say writing prompts are terrible. Whatever it takes to get you feeling that connection, that inspiration, is all good. I’ve talked to enough writers, read enough about writing, and taught it enough to know that this is one of those things where you have to find the process that works for you.

So what have I been working on, with the type of inspiration that works for me? The story I was able to draft a couple weeks ago has been sitting inside me a long time, a couple years even, percolating whenever I heard the song Mineshaft ii by Dessa. As with many of her songs, Dessa does emotion to perfection, and the driving nature of the song and the situation it describes always led my thinking down a story of my own. It starts with the same situation (an old love calling to apologize for how he was with the main character of the piece), but mine went in a different direction, a darker one. Not that Dessa’s is all unicorns and rainbows—the victory at the end is hard won and fraught. It’s just that the story I kept feeling was more on how we humans can stay stuck. Through the mud life throws at us and how we sometimes just keep spinning our wheels in it.

It needs some more tweaking (which feedback will help me achieve), but it’s most of the way there. And I love it, the emotion surging in my chest as the story races to the end feels just right, it’s the same emotion I get when listening to Mineshaft ii, and that’s part of how I know I’ve gotten it right. Different stories, same, truthful emotion.

Interestingly enough, the story draft I’ve started working on now heavily features a crow—something another song of Dessa’s does. This time, I swear I’m off in my own weird territory, though there is some relation, like Dessa’s song has with Poe’s “The Raven.” Like members of the same club, giving conspiratorial nods to each other from across the room. I think it’s okay for creative types to rub off on each other—we’re all in need of a little bit of inspiration to get it done.


On the Redeemability of Fellow Humans

I saw the documentary The Overnighters on my local PBS station this weekend. It’s an intriguing film about a particularly fraught situation: the oil boom town of Williston, ND and the men it draws to work there, some of whom only have a car (if that) to their name. The local pastor of a church starts a program to help the most desperate, providing food and places to sleep for many in the church itself, and sometimes just the parking lot so some can sleep in their car overnight. He even puts some of them up in his home with his family.

The movie’s description probably puts it best, “Broken, desperate men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor risks everything to help them.” Needless to say, there are a lot of issues at work here, none of them particularly easy to deal with. Some of these men have felonies on their record, and besides that, the town of Williston is going through all the difficulties any community would when its population doubles or triples in just a few years. The backlash of the church and local community against these newcomers is at once understandable and saddening.

The scene that sticks with me, the thing that keeps bugging me, is one where the pastor, Jay Reinke, goes around to neighboring houses, trying to get residents to come to the church and meet the overnighters, on the belief that if they start to get to know them, the fear of the newcomers will go away. After the pastor introduces himself at the door of one house, the neighbor comments on the “trash” he’s keeping at the church.

To call another human trash is to profess a depressing belief in the irredeemability of you and your fellow humans. I’m not so naive as to say there aren’t quite a few members of humanity that can commit despicable and heinous acts—history and the present moment and even this documentary provide far too many examples of this—but to call another human trash is to say they’re on the level of a greasy food wrapper, not worth anything but wadding up and tossing in a landfill. It’s to also ignore the many examples to the contrary of what humanity is capable of, some of which the film also captures.

I wish I could focus more on those hopeful aspects caught in the film, one of which has Pastor Reinke stopping his car so he can wave at a passing Amtrak—the day is beautifully sunny, and it is something to see a grown man wave at a passing train like a ten year-old. But try as I might, I can’t stop seeing the other scene, the one with that perfectly normal house with the perfectly normal person answering the door, calling other humans trash because they’re less fortunate than they are.

I knew some people in high school that liked to look at the “gross stuff” in medical books, for some reason. Weird, cheap thrills, or something… the eww factor that leads to some of the stupid stuff you see on reality TV, I guess. I did it once and couldn’t do it again, because I couldn’t get rid of the image in my head. This is also why I have difficulty with shows or movies that are overly violent—it’s hard to forget what I’ve seen.

I wish I could stop seeing someone call their fellow humans trash, but I can’t.


On a Less Than Hoped for Series Four from Sherlock 1 comment

So the BBC production of Sherlock roared on the scene in 2010, delighting me with its modern take on the greatSherlock Cumberbatch/Freeman detective—surprisingly so, considering the Robert Downey, jr/Jude Law movie of 2009 should have made me feel tapped out on the character and concept… at least for awhile (tell Elementary how not interested in it I am, deservedly or not).

Cumberbatch has his own zany, manic take on the character, with enough indications of humanity brought out by Martin Freeman (and the rest of the cast) to make you want to spend time with him, to hope he might become something more than an often egomaniacal brainiac that turns to drugs to make his overpowered brain slow down for a time.

Which is why Series Four (Season Four, for us noobs across the pond), carried much hope for me. Other than a rather fun special in 2016, we’d all been waiting three years for things to pick up where they left off, with Moriarty maybe, possibly, not being dead as we all surmised.

More than that, in Series Three, Watson was challenging Sherlock’s destructive ways more than ever, backed up by an excellent addition to the cast, Watson’s fiancee (then wife), Mary Morstan. It was just the change the show, and Sherlock, needed. While there were still weird things going on in Series Three that worried me, Series Four was set up to take things in a good direction as a potential finale for the show.

Instead, it royally bollocksed it up.

Bollocks #1: Watson emotionally cheats on his wife, Mary. This might—might—have made sense in Series Three, when Watson first finds out about Mary’s secret past. But no, this is Series Four. The two have a child, and more, Watson forgave Mary all her secrets in Series Three, saying “the problems of your past are your business, the problems of your future are my privilege.” Sure, people can have moments of doubt even after saying something that romantic and loving (and Watson even said he was still angry after he said those words), but one of Watson’s main characteristics is loyalty. He sticks by Sherlock despite all his shenanigans and he shows the same loyalty and love to Mary. The show’s creators even seem to realize how much of a bollocks this is, as they couldn’t go so far as to have any physical cheating going on, just some texting after a woman on the bus takes a shine to Watson and gives him her number.

Infidelity does happen, sure, but it’s an all too common tactic used by lazy writers (particularly TV writers) to shake things up when needed: whether the shoe fits for a particular character or not… and it really does not fit for Watson.

Bollocks #2: Mary’s fate in episode one, “The Six Thatchers.” Good lord, talk about lame. An elite super spy/assassin, taken down by an office drudge—even if said drudge was smarter than she appeared. Extra cookie points for selflessly saving someone else, I guess, but it was a terrible send-off to a character that was a much needed addition to the show (more on this below). It’s made even worse when you consider all of “The Six Thatchers” is incidental to the main villain and plot of Series Four!

Bollocks #3: The main villain of Series 4, Eurus, is inadequately developed and doesn’t have enough screen time. She’s hanging about in little ways throughout Series 4, but she really only has screen time in the final episode. This would be okay if she was a villain of an episode, like Culverton Smith or Charles Magnussen, but she’s not. Compare with Moriarty, Sherlock’s other main nemesis: Moriarty was a factor and had plenty of screen time in Series 1 and 2, and the show plumbed the depths of the connection between the two more than adequately.

With Eurus, we have someone that was foundational to Sherlock and who he is—which the show took pains to note—and all we get is one episode to deal with her, which is mostly filled with nasty little puzzles, like a wannabe Saw. She’s also taken care of far too simply. She apparently has no remorse or conscience, but getting a hug from Sherlock is all that it takes to stop her extremely convoluted and drawn out methods of revenge? Not buying it. The show simply ran out of time to adequately deal with her and what she represented to both Sherlock and his older brother, Mycroft.

Bollocks #4: Sherlock’s emotions and treatment of others receives little recognition or closure. Series Three was aiming in a clear direction: Sherlock’s actions were self-destructive and pushing him away from those who were close to him. Even Molly Hooper—meek Molly Hooper who is hopelessly smitten with Sherlock—literally slaps him upside the head for wasting his gifts.

The show’s main writers, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, remembered this well. They even brought in Molly to up the emotional stakes in the final episode of Series Four, but other than a short, visceral reaction from Sherlock, his harmful treatment of Molly receives no follow through.

As noted above, Mary was a terrific foil for both Sherlock and Watson (and how their friendship was going), but her rather pointless death didn’t even do anything for the show and its two main characters other than to be a cheap upping of the emotional stakes for an otherwise red herring of an episode. At one point, Sherlock notes that Mary’s sacrifice conferred a value upon his life that he hadn’t yet been able to calculate, but just like Molly Hooper, Mary Watson is cast aside so the show can spend more time on crazy, brilliant Sherlock antics.

What always set this show aside wasn’t just its production values—fun and frenetic as they always were—it was its relationships. Despite some weird moments in the first three series, the show paid good attention to those relationships and how Sherlock was endangering them. The pieces were there for Series Four to deal with those effectively (you can see them on the drawing board: how Eurus affected both Sherlock and Mycroft, Mycroft maybe starting a relationship, of all things, etc.), but it simply didn’t focus on them. Instead, it focused on the surface—convoluted plots, Sherlockian hijinks, and vicious villains—mistaking its production values for the real heart of the show.

The final episode ends with an odd fan-service type of superhero shot, with Watson and Sherlock racing out the door to solve another crime. It might have worked, albeit schlockily, if the show had adequately dealt with its emotional center. Instead, it left me feeling hollow—so close, and yet so far from what it could have been.