Sci Fi Friday: Blink and You’re Dead, But What About Tony Soprano?


Today’s edition of SciFi Friday will look further at the finale to The Sopranos, as well as other shows but first, don’t turn around, don’t look away, and don’t blink. Blaink and you’re dead. That is unless you haven’t watched last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who and plan to watch in the future. In that case, close your eyes and turn away. This one was just too good to risk seeing these spoilers.

Blink, like the excellent two episodes before it, was based upon a written Doctor Who story which is available on line here. I really didn’t have high hopes for this episode, coming after two such excellent ones and knowing that it was both a Doctor-lite episode and one which was being billed as being behind-your-couch scary. With The Doctor only playing a small part, Carey Mulligan did a superb job as Sally Sparrow. There’s already talk among fans that she should be the next companion.

The show opens with Sally Sparrow investigating an old house and finding a warning addressed to her on the wall to duck, saving her from getting hit. The clues increase as the show goes on until we ultimately learn that the weeping angel statues are actually aliens which have the ultimate protective device. They are “quantum locked, meaning they turn to stone and connot be harmed if anyone is looking at them. If you just blink they can move at incredible speeds. They live off the potential energy of the lives they take away, but they have a humane way of “killing” their victims. They are sent back into the past, leaving their future lives for the weeping angels to live off of. Instead of the typical chases, we have tension created as the statues approach should anyone take their eyes off of them, wondering how long they can go without blinking. Unfortunately nobody thought of alternating closing one eye at a time to give them a rest.

Having characters sent to the past leads to Sally receiving information, such as a letter from a friend who accompanied Sally in a return to the house. The letter was sent down through the generations and was delivered to Sally by the friend who recalled exactly when she would be there. Other clues pop up as easter eggs on DVD’s, which turn out to be messages from The Doctor, who was himself sent back in time by the weeping angels without his Tardis.

Any description of the show doesn’t do it justice as it was the execution of the story which made it work so well. Generally the Tardis is a simply a gimmick to get The Doctor involved in stories which can take place at any time and place. It was a welcome change to see time travel actually play a significant part in the story, despite the paradox. Next week we see the end of the universe, Utopia, and the return of Captain Jack.

Blink left us wondering about the fates of characters, as The Sopranos did at the end. I’ve previously discussed the finale here, and quote information from an interview with David Chase here. Chase accomplished the goal of keeping everyone talking, but I continue to feel he made a mistake in the abrupt ending. Too many of us first questioned whether our DVR was working correctly when we should have been wondering if Tony was dead or alive.

We were left to talk not only about how the show ended, but whether there really was any definite ending at all. Some people are convinced that the screen turned black as things turned black for Tony, noting how Tony had previously told Bobby, “At the end, you probably don’t hear anything, everything just goes black” if you are whacked. Some interviews witih David Chase, as well as HBO spokesman Quentin Schaffer, suggest that Chase did intend to leve clues to a definitive ending. James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano, isn’t so sure. He says he has “no idea” as to how it ended, and said, “I thought it was a great ending. You decide.” Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio, also suported the idea of an ambiguous ending, saying “Life doesn’t have tidy little endings.” Personally I prefer to think that the guy going into the bathroom was just a guy who had too much coffee in his bladder, and that after a good dinner Tony took Meadow out to teach her how to parallel park.

I have mixed feelings as to the ambiguity of the ending. While life doesn’t have tidy little endings, the death of Tony would provide such an ending if that was what was intended. Otherwise the series, like many novels, could end with one aspect of Tony’s life ending, with the future beyond that remaining unknown.

The finale has been compared to The Princess or the Tiger but I don’t find that comparison to be accurate. In The Princess or The Tiger there is a reason for not revealing whether the protagonist lives or dies as we are left to wonder about the motivations of the princess who lost him. There is no such reason for ambiguity in The Sopranos. We’ve seen many gang killings and there was no question that there are people who would kill Tony. This was just a cliff hanger for the sake of a cliff hanger, and reminds me more of the final episode of Dallas. We wereleft to wonder whether J.R. Ewing was dead or alive until the television movie was done. While David Chase denies any such plans, he certainly has left open the door to another story involving Tony Soprano.

Heroes also ended the season with ambiguity as to the fate of Sylar, who appeared to escape after earlier looking like he had been killed. Zachary Quinto, who played Sylar has now signed on as a regular for the second season, answering that question.

The show with the most questions currently on television must be Lost. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof promise that Lost “will not be ending with a blackout.”

“Obviously, we can’t wait to the 48th hour to say, ‘Here are all the mysteries of the show,”‘ Lindelof said. But Cuse also noted the reality of the sometimes vociferous and heavily engaged viewership of the show, which uses the Web to advance theories and post explanations and even freeze-frames to parse further meaning.

“I’m not sure there is any ending that will satisfy everyone,” Cuse said. “Our hope is that the ending will be … the logical conclusion of the story.”


Perhaps the worst type of series finale of all occur when the fate of the show is not known when the season ends as occured with Veronica Mars. Fans of the show were far more concerned as to whether the show would be renewed than how the season-ending cliff hanger would turn out. The offical word came last week that Veronica Mars has been cancelled. It might be for the better. Without a good idea for a mystery good enough to last all season, the third season was weak compared to the first two. The show also lost a lot of its edge when Veronica went from high school to college, and the theme of the class differences in Neptune was no longer an issue.

And finally, here’s a story where we know the ending. Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign is being made in to a Broadway play:

Last week, Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal did a private reading of “Farragut North” (written by playwright and former Dean campaigner Beau Willimon) about the presidential hopes of a charismatic, unorthodox candidate and his staff. The 26-year-old “Brokeback Mountain” star would play the idealistic young communications director sabotaged by old political dogs with dirty tricks, reports the New York Post. If he’s cast, it would be Gyllenhaal’s Broadway debut.

“Jake was a big campaign supporter of mine, so I hope he takes it,” Dean told us yesterday. “But I want him to play me.” The DNC chairman likes the concept — “Hell, I’ll go to it” — even if it includes his famous scream. “I’d like to see him do that.”

Dimwit Voters and Their Biases

The Economist asks whether voters are idiots. One theory has been that, even though the majority of voters know little about the issues, the votes of the more ignorant voters will be spread randomly and the candidate who wins the majority of votes from the better informed will win. The “wisdom of crowds” often does provide wisdom, such as when the audience of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire picks the correct answer 91% of the time. In contrast, Bryan Caplan argues that voting does not provide the best results since ignorant voters do not vote randomly.

Instead, he identifies four biases that prompt voters systematically to demand policies that make them worse off. First, people do not understand how the pursuit of private profits often yields public benefits: they have an anti-market bias. Second, they underestimate the benefits of interactions with foreigners: they have an anti-foreign bias. Third, they equate prosperity with employment rather than production: Mr Caplan calls this the “make-work bias”. Finally, they tend to think economic conditions are worse than they are, a bias towards pessimism.

It is understandable why The Economist would be interested in this theory as Caplan’s biases fit in well with their editorial bias. While there is some truth to these biases, there are other biases in play, largely because prior to 2006 the Republicans were much better at spreading their message:

Security Bias: Republicans have played politics with the 9/11 attack, using it to push through their pre-9/11 goals and to claim Democrats were weaker on national security, and possibly even unpatriotic.

Values Bias: Republicans, often with the help of churches, portrayed their views as being supportive of family values and more moral, while Democrats were portrayed as sinners.

Free Market Bias: Republicans claimed to be the defenders of the free market while pursuing efforts contrary to true capitalism, including corporate welfare, collusion between businesses and regulators, and the K Street Project.

Anti-Government Bias: The message that “government is the problem, not the solution,” resonates with voters both in situations where it is true and when it is not. Republicans played up running against big government, even when they controlled all three branches of the government.

Republicans were able to take advantage of such biases until 2006 when it became clear to a vast majority that the Republicans were unable to govern. The Economist finds that the problems are easier to diagnose than to cure but part of the cure may come from Democrats better understanding the biases which have led to Republican victories in the past, and concentrate on fighting the Republican misinformation campaigns which capitalize on these biases.

Liberal Hollywood and Abortion

Conservatives love to attack Hollywood despite turning to film stars for many of their top leaders. While there’s no doubt there are aspects of Hollywood deserving of mocking (as I’ve often done here) or worse, it also often seems that Hollywood is guilty in conservative eyes regardless of what they do. This attitude is seen in an article in The Times of London by Gerard Baker on unwanted pregnancies.

Baker’s complaint is that characters on television and movies rarely turn to abortion. He even gives the erroneous impression that television and movie characters never have abortions. If in contrast abortion was being shown in movies I presume he’d also be critical. You would think that conservatives would applaud such avoidance of displaying abortion as desirable, but instead they use it to make some specious attacks on defenders of choice.

Supporters of abortion rights defend this right not out of any great love of abortion but out of the belief that in this highly personal and morally ambiguous situation the decision must be left to the woman involved and not the state. Baker misrepresents the position by claiming supporters of abortions rights believe “abortion presents no deep moral problem because it does not represent the taking of a human life.” Instead he claims those who are pro-choice believe abortion is merely the “disposal of an unwanted clump of cells.”

Abortion is far more complex than opponents such as Baker would make it appear. Human development is a continuum–not a choice of “a clump of cells” or a fully developed human. The ethical issues also are more ambiguous than simply declaring abortion to be murder.

Even many opponents of abortion rights recognize this ambiguity without acknowledging it. Many who would make abortion illegal would allow for abortions in cases such as the health of the mother, rape or incest. It is hard to see this justification if murder is really the equivalent of murder. For example, this would allow for “murder” because we do not approve of the father and means of conception in cases of incest and rape.

For the supporter of abortion rights there is no dilemma to allow a woman the choice of an abortion in these cases, but this represents a contradiction for the opponents of abortion rights. In reality, many people on both sides of this issue recognize that abortion is different from murder and that there are situations in which it is justified and should be legal. The difference is that opponents of choice allow the state to make the decision (often based upon religious views, ignoring our heritage of separation of church and state), while those who are pro-choice leave the decision with the individual most affected by the pregnancy.

Richardson Gets Endorsements, Writes Book, Touches the Voters

After having his campaign derailed by poor showings on Meet the Press and the last debate, Bill Richardson is trying hard to remain in the race. He has hit ten percent in the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire and has received a round of endorsements from Congressman Mike Doyle (Pennsylvania), Congressman Solomon Ortiz (Texas), Congressman Gene Green (Texas), and Congressman Silvestre Reyes (Texas).

Richardson also joins Al Gore and John Kerry in writing books on the environment and energy. His book, LEADING BY EXAMPLE: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution, will be published in November. If This Be Treason reports:

The six-figure book deal was made by with agent Rafe Sagalyn, for world rights, with Eric Nelson, a Senior Editor at Wiley. Richardson decided to write the book when he realized that the various solutions on the table from politicians, diplomats, pundits, or industry leaders were not bold enough or comprehensive enough to truly help American reach its goals in time. In LEADING BY EXAMPLE, Richardson argues that we have known about our country’s energy problems for 35 years, but since 1985 our consumption has climbed, fuel efficiency has stagnated, and our crippling dependence on foreign oil is as big as it has ever been. So Richardson is issuing a call to action, for Congress, the energy industry, and the public. He is calling for a new American revolution – an energy and climate revolution.

Richardson did receive some embarassing publicity in this article by Ryan Lizza who finds that his resume might not be enough:

Then again, a good resumé is not all it takes to win the nomination, and there are some signs that Richardson may not be the perfect candidate. In fact, as we get up from our seats to visit the play-by-play announcer’s booth, Richardson does something I’ve never seen any politician do. There are two women sitting in front of us. They are both young and attractive, probably in their twenties. The governor rotates his large frame sideways and shimmies out of his row. The two women smile up at him. As he passes, Richardson reaches down and places his fingertips on the head of one of the women, tickling her scalp as he opens and closes his hand. Then, as he reaches for the next scalp, his hand suddenly aborts its mission, as if the governor realizes this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Richardson’s touching problem isn’t exactly news. In 2005, his lieutenant governor, Diane Denish, told The Albuquerque Journal that she goes out of her way to avoid sitting or standing next to Richardson because he’s a little too grabby. “He pinches my neck. He touches my hip, my thigh, sort of the side of my leg,” she told the newspaper, which illustrated the story with a photo of Richardson smiling mischievously as his hand reached around toward Denish’s backside while the two sat next to each other at a public event.

The truth is that Richardson touches everyone this way. He routinely twists staffers into headlocks and pokes or bear-hugs people he’s just met. At one event, I saw him grab a beefy union guy by the lapels and shout into his face, “Stay loose! No commitments yet!” His “political trait,” he writes in his recent memoir, is to get “up close and personal.” It’s part of his charm and makes him a natural politician (he is, after all, the Guinness Book of World Records champion for a politician shaking the most hands in eight hours–13,392 at the New Mexico State Fair in 2002). It’s also what enables him to negotiate with dictators–to treat them with the same level of cordiality as more upstanding members of the international community. But Richardson’s informal style is not without its drawbacks. On the most basic level, giving an unsolicited scalp tickle to a stranger is peculiar behavior for a presidential candidate, and Richardson’s touching has fueled a nasty whisper campaign that he’s unelectable. But, even if you put aside those rumors, Richardson’s style betrays deeper problems with him as a candidate.

The Fix finds that this behavior paints “a troubling picture for a man who wants to be the next leader of the free world.” Richardson wasn’t helped by the explanation from advisor Steve Murphey that, “Everybody touches everybody!” Michael Crowley sees a campaign theme song in that explanation: