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Friday, February 14, 2020

Comic Cuts - 14 February 2020

We survived Storm Ciara with only an overturned bin and a loose fence panel to show for gusts of wind that I'm told reached 60-70 mph. In fact, the weather was so reasonable on Saturday that we spent the afternoon in the garden attacking the tangle of trees that have formed an impenetrable barrier between the garden (a mossy/grassy square with ivy growing rampant) and the road.

There are two pluses to this: it's a formidable sanctuary for nesting birds during the spring/summer months, as it is too tangled for local cats to have any chance of sneaking in; and it cuts down the noise of traffic, especially that deep, low bass rumble of buses and trucks as they slow to take the blind corner that we're on.

We've let it grow out of control for a couple of years, but it's desperately in need of a pruning and now is the time to do it, while some of the branches are bare of leaves and we don't have anything else requiring disposal. It's unfortunate that the local council has cut the number of garden waste bags that we can put out over the winter months. It used to be eight, but now it's only four a fortnight.

Well, we filled four bags easily on Saturday and had to drag the rest of the branches we'd cut down into a slightly sheltered cove between the front porch and the house next door. Having disposed of those bags during the week's 'green' collection, I'm filling a bag a day just to get rid of the tangle that's blocking the view out the front window. We have some spare bags, but it might be a month before we can tackle the rest of the pruning.

Incidentally, the fallen tree in the pic above is just one that I came across when I was out for my morning walk on Monday. It just goes to show what strength the storm had. I'm thinking we were lucky to get away with only that one bit of minor damage.

The next book from Bear Alley Books will be the Rocket index. The full title will be Rocket: The Space-Age Weekly, it will have a long, detailed introduction – as usual – with plenty of biographical info. on the various folks involved in its production.I had the first run-through finished on Tuesday evening, and I've spent the last two days (it's Thursday evening) rewriting and doing some tidying up of a couple of chapters I still had in note form. I should finish the rewrites Sunday, and I'll be doing some scanning and thinking about layouts from Monday. Fingers crossed!

Below the pic I'm reviewing Treadstone. There are spoilers, so don't look if you don't like that kind of thing.

It took two attempts to watch Treadstone. I made the mistake of watching the first episode at a time when I had a ton of other things to watch. By the time I got to the second episode, all I could remember was that Kerry Godliman had suddenly turned up and sung Frere Jacques to an oil rig roughneck. I then watched the second episode thinking, "It'll be fine, I'll pick up the various plot lines without too much trouble."

No. No I didn't.

So I've deliberately left it a while, watched a couple of palate cleanser series and taken a new run at it. It made more sense, but jumping into about over half a dozen different storylines isn't going to earn it any fans.

The show is a spin-off from the first Jason Bourne movies, Treadstone being a  CIA black ops programme to create soldiers and assassins who will obey orders without question. To do this, they are broken physically and psychologically and rebuilt with new identities. The programme was said to have been shut down at the end of The Bourne Identity, but another successor programme (Blackbriar) was still running.

In the TV series, similar programming methods are being used to create sleeper agents known as cicadas in the early 1970s. In 1973, a CIA agent, John Randolph Bentley, whilst investigating the programme has been captured by Russians involved in it. Unaware that nine months have passed, he breaks free of his captives, evades the clutches of Petra Andropov, who has been bonding with him even as she breaks him, and returns to the CIA. Fearing they believe he has been turned, Bentley goes on the run, returning to his place of captivity to look for clues that eventually lead him to Budapest.

In the present, journalist Tara Coleman, who was fired for writing articles about a nuclear programme known as Stiletto Six, is contacted by the CIA. A senior North Korean wants to meet her, warning her that cicadas are being activated and there is a connection to Treadstone. He asks Coleman to protect his daughter and, soon after, he is killed by a SoYun Pak, the wife of a young Korean named Dae who is rising through the ranks at his job.

Doug McKenna is sacked from his job on an oil rig; discovers he has fighting skills he was unaware of. His cicada programming is on the fritz and he flies back to his home and his wife, Samantha, only to have a Treadstone "cleaner" attack him. Samantha admits she is a former Treadstone programmer.

At the CIA, Ellen Becker is following up a bizarre shooting that takes place in a convenience store. The shooter, Stephen Haynes, appears to be highly trained and highly effective. She sends agent Matt Edwards to investigate and Edwards finds himself in a situation where teaming up with Haynes might get him the answers he is seeking.

Meanwhile, a much older Petra Andropov has been looking after Stiletto Six for decades. When her husband discovers the nuclear missile hidden under their farmyard barn, she kills him and tries to reconnect with her handler Yuri, only to find she has been forgotten.

OK, so I've simplified the plot so that you can follow it. There are seven main plot threads, with each episode weaving drunkenly between all seven. Creator and Executive Producer Tim Kring is no stranger to multiple storylines, having been the creator of Heroes, which stitched together an amazing and critically acclaimed first season from the character arcs of its ensemble cast. That worked because each thread was very different to the others.

Here, I fear, it didn't work. While the individual characters may be engaging, they're all going through the same thing – the breakdown of their cicada training. By the third or fourth episode, I'd already decided that the show needed to simplify and concentrate on fewer characters: kickass Korean housewife SoYun, ex-journalist Tara, old Petra and CIA operative Matt, perhaps. I'm pretty sure you can take out the whole 1973 storyline and Doug McKenna's storyline without damaging the plot and get the show down to a tighter, less confusing eight episodes.

No news if this is going to get a second season. There are dangling threads that need to be picked up and some characters who I would be happy to see again.

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