Wednesday, 29 September 2010


Scene of crime: The Comedy Theatre, London

Defendants: Stage adaptor Rachel Wagstaff, director Trevor Nunn. Original author Sebastian Faulks.

Case for the defence:

Sebastian Faulks' World War I epic Birdsong has been in film development limbo for several years, its subject – the 1910 meeting of a young Englishman and his affair with his French hostess, his subsequent service in the war, and his descendents' lives in the 1970s – has been thought inadaptable. However, Wagstaff does so and despite trimming the 1970s section, this is an epic at around three hours with one intermission and a five-minute break.

The play starts, as we're told on the projector screen, in 1910 in a very conventional play, one that could have been written at the time – a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, arrives at a well-to-do family house and is entertained. So far so conventional, but when he hears his host beating his wife, Isabelle, Wraysford's attraction to this older woman grows until they embark on an affair. They are found out and elope, but before long Isabelle tires of their poor life and returns, devasting Wraysford.

Act I ends with the sound of war and the stage comes to life – the moving backdrop is now not just a projector screen but three-dimensional, the trenches. As we return in Act II, we're introduced to Sapper Jack Firebrace, a pious man who has a turn at entertaining the troops in drag, but he angers the-now Lt Wraysford by sleeping on duty. Despite the threat of execution for this, the two become friends, or as close as two solitary types can. Wraysford wants to see Firebrace's tunnels beneath the Bosch's lines and despite attacking in the bloodbath of the Somme stays at the front.

His previous life catches up with him when his unit is stationed in Isabelle's old village and he seeks her out. Finding her, seven years later he still loves her despite her wounds, but Isabelle has fallen for a German soldier and won't return to Wraysford. Nor will she tell him about his son. Isabelle's sister tries to, but it is for nothing and he returns to the front. By 1918 he is down in the mines with Firebrace when the Germans devastate their tunnel network, Wraysford manages to blast his way out, saved by a German soon after the Armistice is signed.

Witness statements:

"Nunn’s direction is sometimes turgid, with unconvincing sing-songs round the piano. The play’s most moving moments are the simplest, with Lee Ross as the sapper Jack Firebrace writing letters to his wife and reading her replies. Thanks to Ross’s beautifully simple and direct performance, the scene when he receives terrible news from home is by far the most moving in the play. It is not an easy thing to play uncomplicated goodness without sliding into sentimentality but Ross resists the temptation and moved me to tears.

"…Nevertheless this stage version strikes me as cumbersome and unnecessary, and never comes close to matching the dramatic power and extraordinary tenderness of RC Sherriff’s Journey’s End, written from his personal experience of the Great War, rather than based on scrupulous research like Faulks’s novel. My advice would be to stay at home and read the novel, or better yet, a collection of the great poems written by Owen, Sassoon and others who actually served in the First World War." – Charles Spencer, the Daily Telegraph

"Wagstaff’s version retains many of the novel’s intriguing elements: its concern with class, its sense of war as an exercise in blinkered bureaucracy, its depiction of an early-20th century crisis of masculinity. It’s poetic, too, and beautiful in places, thanks to John Napier’s clever designs, which make generous use of projections by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington. The sound, by Fergus O’Hare, is also excellent. Besides Barnes, there are skilful performances from Zoe Waites, Nicholas Farrell, Genevieve O’Reilly, and above all Lee Ross as Jack, a tunnel-digger with a quirky music hall sensibility. Yet whereas the novel is often claustrophobic, here there is less visceral immediacy. Events are narrated when they really need to be dramatised. The result is too rhetorical: we’re told what we ought to be shown. Barnes has an elegant way with his expository speeches, but Trevor Nunn’s production is often static, and, for all the gravity of its subject matter, it doesn’t engage us fully." – Henry Hitchings, the Evening Standard

"The weakest part of the play is the first third which deals with the sojourn of a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, in the Amiens of 1910. As a working guest in the house of a rich manufacturer, he falls in love with his host's wife, Isabelle: an experience that colours his whole life. But, although we see the affair through Stephen's eyes, this feels like filleted Faulks. The industrial unrest that provides a context to the affair is cursorily dealt with. Even the anguish of the cuckolded husband, who in the book rushes from room to room seeking evidence of tainted bedsheets, is reduced to a single cry of jealous rage. But when the play moves to the western front, from 1916 to 1918, it exerts an emotional grip" - Michael Billington, the Guardian


Starting a play with not one but three "as you all know" in the first thirty minutes is an automatic year in the cubes. I don't care that you may be trying to evoke the plays of the period, with the preconception with witty talk and singing songs, it comes across as sloppy.

Despite the background of industrial unrest and illicit love – not punishable, yet – the first act feels like any other Edwardian play. It's not until the sound of war that things change for the better. It's not that the first act is bad, but this is a story about war. Here we can commend the director and set designer for not just the uniforms and props but recreating trench and tunnel warfare on stage.

As a Judge I know no woman, but even for me the romance and love was unconvincing and it seemed more an infatuation than a romance. Once together they had some chemistry, but Isabelle could have equally rejected instead o accepted Wraysford's love.

Regarding Wraysford, he seemed lacking. Ben Barnes played him well, particularly as he is on stage for most of the time, but the script took you places and abandoned them. Twice – with card reading then divining the augers - suggested that some hint of his future was to come about, but to no avail. Finally, the theme of Birdsong, and Wraysford horror of birds – the play starts with him describing such a nightmare – goes nowhere. There is an incident with carrier pigeons but no more.

Finally, and appropriately – even I have a sense of humour – the ending. For a long play it felt rushed and not quite clear on its message and what has come from all this.

Verdict & sentence:

Moving and official Justice Department Commendation for Barnes, but Wagstaff and Nunn, I'm taking you down to the cubes. One year for "as you all know" – correction, one year per "as you all know" – and another two for leading us nowhere. Start singing birdies, hope you like your new cage.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit I – The Beautiful Girls

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Dahvi Waller and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

First may I praise you Judge Kritic for your prescient public statement on the lead you have with the Three Dead Kings for now Ida Blankenship has joined the ranks of the dear departed. It simply remains for Duck Phillips to journey to Resyk for your prediction to be complete. May the citizens rejoice at yet another public display of the all-knowingness of our Judges!

Yes, The Beautiful Girls saw the oldest girl, Don's secretary Miss Blankenship, "died as she lived, surrounded by the people she answered phones for", as Roger put it. Her last words were to ask if Don was visiting the toilet. Unfortunately for Don, her death was at her desk in full view of the meeting room with clients and led to sitcomesque attempts to conceal then remove the body. Pete Campbell, although he said nothing, was the man despatched to move Ida and is silent gestures stole that part of the show, edging out Harry's plaintive cry that his mother made the makeshift burial shroud.

Roger, former subject to the Queen of Perversions, seemed to be affected by her death but it did not stop his attempts at wooing Joan. Feeling he had overstepped the mark on discovering that Joan's husband was off to Vietnam, he sent stereotypical Swedish masseuses to "rub her the right way". His demand of a dinner date, eventually accepted, and a mugging that left them bereft of jewellery and cash, led to the mutual rekindling of their romance – with Joan making it clear to Roger she did not regret it.

Dr Faye was another woman to have no regrets in this episodes as it started with her orgasmic screams at the start of the episode. By the end she also states that she had no regrets over being childless, even if it did mean she couldn't deal with normal kids, let alone Sally Draper. Like many a paranoid woman, Dr Faye saw Don's requests for help as premeditated tests – ones that she failed, as Sally hated her.

Why did she get to meet Sally? Because Don's daughter sneaked into the city to see her dad and a kindly stranger took her to SCDP. The fact that Abe, the anti-establishment journalist that Peggy kissed at the party several episodes ago, witnessed Don being "bad with money", as Betty once put it when he tried to hurl dollars at the stranger, probably didn't help Abe's view of 'the Man' being a cruel beast. His attempts to convert Peggy to this initially hit all the wrong notes but by the end of the episode some of what he said had been digested.

This episode was called The Beautiful Girls and while there were some stylised scenes, particularly when Betty came to collect Sally and half the office women where there, it was not about looks but personality. In previous defence statements I have defended Pete as being one of the most interesting characters on the programme, but this episode showed that this is ensemble and the girls are just as deserving of a solid defence.

Witness statements:

"It didn't trouble me that the mugger was black, though it did bring into relief the extent to which the struggle of women in the workplace has replaced the Civil Rights Movement as the series' political undercurrent. [...]

"This is more of an observation than a complaint. The shift in focus makes a lot of sense dramatically: In Peggy and Joan, and now Faye, SCDP has three very different women through whom to explore 1960s workplace realities like the ones Julia's mom powerfully conjured." - John Swansburg, Slate

"We never learn why Miss Blankenship ended up alone and in contact with virtually no one outside the SCDP staff—beyond Roger’s Queen Of Perversions line, I guess—but she was doubtlessly given a different set of choices than those presented to other women on the show, and different from those Sally Draper will face when she grows up.

"Maybe 'choices' is the wrong word. It’s the one Fay uses to describe how got to her late thirties childless but accomplished. But where Fay talks about choices, Peggy talks about limitations. After Joyce leads her into an unexpected date with Abe, she at first recoils at the notion that the nice Fillmore family could be racist then turns the discussion to women. 'Most of the things Negroes can’t do, I can’t do either,' an opinion that takes Abe by surprise. It’s a false equivalency for the reason Abe points out, and for others. But her gripes are legitimate, even if downtown progressive types like Abe—and the counter-culture of the later parts of the decade—couldn’t see them at the time." - Keith Phipps, the AV Club


First, Citizen Attorney, Judges do not need flattery, we know the work we do. Second, I agree with your description as this being 'sitcomesque'. Not only the removal of Miss Blankenship's corpse but the orgasmic screams at the start and Roger juggling his telephone calls, all were a tone away from the usual drama. In addition, the clanging of "gee what happened to this neighbourhood?" before the mugging was hard to ignore.

I found this episode far more stylised than normal. While the director no doubt congratulated himself for how the women looked, particularly in Betty's scene in the office, it was guilty of being too staged. Mad Men is highly stylised, yet manages to create a bubble of believability – The Beautiful Girls swelled this bubble and it burst.

The symbolism of the mugging was not lost, although of course I remind all citizens it is their duty to report crimes immediately, lest you be in violation of our ordinances, and Outraging the Public Decency instead of reporting a mugging is not the right option. Both Joan and Roger having their wedding rings taken away by a stranger but they chose to act as if they were single was an interesting development. Roger has been flirting with Joan for some time, and she was an ice queen at the start, but I am not sure if I approve of the new relationship.

The Citizen Attorney barely mentioned Don but I would like to. I am not sure that Don would ask his new conquest Dr Faye to take his child home as he is a man who keeps a clear division between his professional and private life (apart from sex). Even if he does blame it on his secretary's death, Don has previously shown himself to be the type to keep both lives separate unless he can carefully manage this. This lessens the effect of Sally's scene that rouses the entire office – had Don shown how much he valued his private life then the mortifying embarrassment he showed would have been clearer.

Don at least is showing other changes – for the best. He comforts Dr Faye when she confides her insecurities to him. Other, past, lovers, including Betty, would have been scorned. However, Dr Faye's revelation that she 'couldn't sleep' due to thinking and that she wants a dinner to talk to him does not bode well. My mole in the relationship world states that this is not a good thing. May the next bit of evidence attest or deny this.

Verdict & sentence:

Group culpability is a cornerstone of our justice system. However, in this case I am going to split the two writers. Dahvi Waller and Matthew Weiner wrote this together, but I suspect it was Waller that set the sitcom tone. True, Weiner is the producer and could have reined it in, or even set the direction, but the circumstantial evidence is against him. Waller, get your stuff, you're doing time. Two months, cubes, now.

Where are you going Citizen Attorney? I'm not done yet. For nausea-inducing sycophancy in your defence statement I'm sending you to the cubes for a year and stripping of your right to practice.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit H – The Summer Man

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendants: Writers Lisa Albert, Janet Leahy and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

With us now over half-way through the fourth season - a season that has witnessed Don hit new lows and reach the nadir of waking up with waitresses who know his real name - The Summer Man sees Don start his climb back to the top. He's not failing professionally and deserves his place as SCDP partner, but personally he realises that he is not relationship partner material just yet.

We know this as the episode starts with Don narrating his diary – a trick of many a poor script, but Mad Men just about pulls it off, even if it doesn't reveal anything we don't know. At least now we know that Don is beginning to understand what kind of a man he's become.

As he struggles to regain his former composure, others lose theirs. Joan, subject to common room-quality sketches by the art team, loses it with them and with Peggy when the former secretary fires one of them. Betty too loses it, telling Henry she wants a drink when he meets a political wallah – a no-no in Henry's book. But Betty has just seen Don out on a date in the same restaurant with a suspiciously similar blonde, but a good many years her junior. 

Don's date with the Betty lookalike Bethany ends with what at the time would have got them charged with outraging the public decency, but that's probably the last we'll see of her. Instead Don asks Dr Faye out – and this time she accepts, although not after making it on her terms. After speaking about the heartache of not seeing his two-year-old son, Don does not use this as a tearjerker to wheedle his way into Dr Faye's bed but instead acts the gentleman and drops her off at her flat.

Betty's dinner date with Henry ends with a scolding and while she's upset about seeing Don – and boosted by her friend Francine saying he's a 'sad old man' – by the end she's reconciled and doesn't have a fit when Don turns up at baby Gene's second birthday as if he belonged there.

The former husband and wife seem to become adults, while Henry has regressed, driving his car into Don's boxes and then dumping them on the pavement without a look at Don.

Witness statements:

"As for Dr. Miller, I think she holds more interest for Don than she does for me as a character. Apart from the first season, I’ve always found Don’s extramarital (and now post-marital) affairs the least compelling element of the show. Not that these subplots drag, really. But Don’s parade of women has rarely yielded many interesting characters and I don’t yet see Dr. Miller as an exception, however well Cara Buono plays her. I’ve sometimes wondered if this is by design." - Keith Phipps, the AV Club

"At the onset of the episode, Don is badly winded after swimming a lap in the pool. By the end, he's easily besting an athletic lap lane competitor, easily ten years his junior. The promise for redemption is right there, evident and ripe for the taking, but will he continue on this strange new path? Was Anna's death such a motivating catalyst for self-realization that Don will actually set himself on the straight and narrow? Or is this just an extended moment of clarity, balancing on the temporary calm?

"We'd be foolish to predict anything but the latter, but it's impossible not to root for a man so desperate to right his own wrongs." - Johnny Firecloud, Crave Online


Narrating a journal to start an episode is a crime – a crime where guilt is assumed unless innocence can be proven. The reason we do this is because in the majority of cases that come our way, voiceovers and journals don't reveal anything we don't already know and it's a lazy way to move on a story. Mad Men has received official commendation for its proper use of flashback, which also presumes immediate guilt, but with voiceover the commendation does not apply. It's not done badly, but just because it's passable doesn't mean it's not criminal.

Don's diary does not reveal much more than what we've already seen or will see and his writing is used to show that he wants to get his life back together. However, as Citizen Witness Firecloud observes, his swims do this best – at the start he gasps for air he's so out of shape, but by the end he's pacing his juniors. Likewise Don's rejection – and contrary to Dr Faye's expectation – of ending the night together and his maturity with Betty also shows his change.

Much as I agree with Firecloud's verdict on the swimming metaphor, I also agree with Citizen Witness Phipps that no woman can match those seen in the first series, Rachel Menken and Midge Daniels. Dr Faye is intelligent and independent (literally, being a consultant), but she lacks the banter and equality that Rachel and Midge had with Don. We saw Don woo Rachel and it was more gripping than this.

Joan and Peggy's confrontation did not tell us much more than what we know – that Joan is bitter over Peggy's rise to power and her status as a sex object and nothing more by the office and her husband. Mad Men gets good reports when it works subtly and this episodes was less subtle than most.

Despite these failings, the evidence presented itself well, particularly Betty's maturation, and we gladly anticipate the next piece for judicial review.

Verdict & sentence:

Lisa Albert, Janet Leahy and Matthew Weiner, your crimes, while you may not view them as major, set a poor example for others in our society. As such I am making an example of you – traffic island, two months, for Wanton Use of Voiceover.

Now to sentence the witnesses. Johnny Firecloud, you get six months in the cubes for Agonising Analogy. "There are some tectonic chess moves at play here" indeed. Take the chess set, you're going to need it in isolation, but your only partner's going to be the earth's tectonic plates. You may be waiting a while for them to make their move.

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Three Dead Kings and Mad Men

A citizen questioned my use of the Three Living and Three Dead, or the Three Dead Kings, in my report on Mad Men The Suitcase. Don't forget creeps, I ask the questions here, and under normal circumstances that citizen would be doing time in the cubes, two years, minimum, Questioning a Judge's Authority. However, as part of our outreach and citizen learning programme, I am going to explain.

The Three Dead Kings is a story from before Brit-Cit, the 15th Century, of three kings hunting boar confronted by three corpses. One king wants to flee, one – and I approve of this – wants to confront them. These corpses say they are not evil (hah! No one is innocent, there's only degrees of guilt) but the kings' ancestors, stating: "While I was a man upon earth, pleasures were mine and now I pay the price". The kings are urged to change their ways and not forget them, much like Dickens' Christmas Carol (*Tharg note: this work is now banned so if you are aware of this report to the nearest Judge immediately).

Citizen, look at Mad Men The Suitcase. Duck Phillips, once like Don, an adman with depraving addiction to alcohol, now – while not in the cubes – fired from his office, his career dead but not his drinking.

Miss Blankenship, where a witness statement declares this old woman once was a "hellcat" and "Queen of the Perversions" - you don't have to be a Judge to deduce the connection with kings. But no more. Don is not into perversions, but he is still very much sexually active, unlike Miss Blankenship (citizens, report for a mind scrub if you have inadvertently thought of Miss Blankenship active with Roger Sterling). She is now a sexual laughing stock and without family, something the divorced Don risks alienating.

Finally, there is the truly dead, Anna Draper who apparently makes a brief appearance in spirit form and Don't ultimate fate (this was before rejuvenation chambers).

I have used the Three Dead Kings and not Three Living and Three Dead as each of the dead are an aspect of Don. Whether he will heed the warning like the Three Living I don't know, I'd need Psi Division to tell me, but he is showing signs of the horror that the Three Living had when they saw the Three Dead. In this case one of the Three Dead – Duck – beat him down while Don was covered in vomit from his drinking. If that doesn't hammer home the message nothing will.

Lesson ends.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit G – The Suitcase

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendant: Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

As the SCDP team gets ready to watch Muhammad Ali defend his heavyweight title against Sonny Liston, Don wants to have a finished idea for Samsonite, even if it means working late into the night. And morning. It's also Peggy's 26th birthday and she's expecting a romantic dinner for two with her boyfriend Mark, but her plans are dashed not just by Don's insistence that she stay late to finish the Samsonite pitch, but Mark has also decided to throw an (unwanted) surprise for her by inviting her family to the meal.

Don invites Peggy to get close in the only non-sexual way he knows how – through drink. It's certainly not through overt displays of respect, although he does let her into secrets and tales of his life no one else at the office knows. Peggy herself reveals some secrets when a drunk, smitten (and recently fired) Duck Phillips turns up at SCDP and confesses his love of her to Don – before beating his former creative director to the ground.

By the time a new day breaks, Don has broken down over the death (and ghostly vision) of Anna but has come up with a pitch for Samsonite. He's also found out some of Roger's secrets through finding his tape of his memoirs – Bert Cooper is a eunuch and Don's secretary Miss Blankenship is revealed to be a "queen of the perversions", one the young Roger embraced warmly.

Witness statements:

"The Suitcase breaks format by turning, for most of its runtime, into what's essentially a short play about two characters. It blends a surprisingly large number of elements into its plot stew, but it uses all of them in service to a story about Peggy and Don, what the two want from each other and what they actually mean to each other. Look at all of the stuff that Mad Men drops into the pot in the first ten minutes of the episode. Peggy and her team have been struggling to come up with a pitch for Samsonite luggage, which has led to Don being perhaps unnecessarily cruel to his star pupil." - Todd VanDerWerff, The AV Club

"It was hard not to ponder Don and Peg ending this night – which included her and her boyfriend breaking up on the phone – in bed together. Certainly, that's how it would have played out on some shows. But whether that ever happens (and it certainly doesn't feel impossible at this point), it doesn't need to, because this episode solidified a special bond between Don and Peggy – which included the less than glamorous moments of her seeing him puking his guts out in the bathroom and the sweetness of her letting him fall asleep with his head in her lap." - Eric Goldman, IGN TV


I've summarily executed some shows for their use of shimmering, happy ghosts. So why haven't I done this on this episode, did Weiner get lucky? Get this into your heads creeps, no one is ever lucky against a Judge, we're just gathering more evidence.

Was it because this was a strong episode? In some cases, no, this was an episode that seemed to have been written in parts by the audience as character said things that citizens have been shouting for some time – "Peggy, tell Don he doesn't give you credit", "Peggy, tell Don he's a drunk and pushing too hard", "Don, admit that Miss Blankenship is a penance". We Judges don't listen to the people – look how the democracy experiment worked out – and when writers do this it can be the beginning of the end. However, on review of other seventh episodes from Mad Men, the self-contained, tight plot worked and is typical of the series.

Even though it had a soap opera feel – I've lost count of the jaws broken when programmes take a turn for that – and a bit too much humour – Duck trying to violate Public Ordinance H-267/b (*Tharg note: 'Citizens must not outrage the public decency, viz, defecating and urinating in public') - it ultimately came out strong.

In terms of themes, there was a touch of the Three Living and Three Dead in The Suitcase. Duck, whose career died, Anna, who has died, and Miss Blankenship, whose potential for new life (*Tharg note – no longer sexual) all remind Don what the future holds in store. There is also the matter of the tape, Don must be aware of Ordinance J-659/j requiring all relevant information to be handed in to the Judges. Instead he told Peggy. I've also learned that discoveries and revelations should only work against the protagonist, so if this is foreshadowing of Don's life being discovered – again, after Pete and Peggy's discoveries – by others then so be it.

Verdict & sentence:

John Hamm gets a reward for the most convincing cry in television. Certain other perps currently undergoing rehabilitation in the cubes should take note. There were some Justice-approved call backs, such as the reference to the first episode when Peggy uncomfortably takes Draper's hand – in this case he takes hers.

For an atypical episode, I am waiving the automatic fines for use of ghosts and soap opera plotlines. Only the strongest who know the rules know how to bend them. Like Muhammed Ali. Or a Judge.

Draper – a word of warning. I admire your commitment to the job, but you could have come up with that Samsonite image if you waited to the morning and bought a paper.

Bioshock 2

Scene of crime: Xbox 360/PS3/PC

Defendant: 2K Games

Case for the defence:

Eight years after the events of the first game and Rapture is just as deadly a place to visit. Jack Ryan from the first Bioshock is gone, now you are one of the giants – and instantly recognisable image of the game – a Big Daddy. Formerly the only man to have discovered Rapture by himself, as Subject Delta you are a unique Big Daddy, the first to successfully bond with a Little Sister.

That Little Sister – the small girls who harvest ADAM, a genetic-altering material that powers your Plasmid superpowers – happened to be Eleanor Lamb, daughter of Dr Sophia Lamb and the ruler of underwater dystopia Rapture since the fall of Andrew Ryan. Gone is Ryan's devotion to the individual and Ayn Rand, in is the community and Family of Dr Lamb.

While Ryan may be gone, but the Splicers – insane, genetically enhanced, humans – haven't. They've evolved, as have Big Daddies, who have had weapons and other upgrades, making Rapture a tougher place than the first visit, although hacking into machines is easier.

The story itself starts in 1958 with your suicide under hypnosis, only for you to reawaken a decade later in Rapture to hunt for Eleanor and to put a stop to Dr Lamb kidnapping girls from the mainland to become new little sisters.

Witness statements:

"BioShock is a hard act to follow, but this sequel is definitely a worthy successor to what is regarded as one of the decade's best, smartest games. In a lot of ways it's even better than its predecessor. It's a more competent shooter, with vastly improved AI and a more varied palette of weapons and Plasmids. The story is tighter and more focused, offering a number of challenging moral junction points, and the options for tactical play are much broader." - Andrew Kelly, PSM3

"One thing BioShock 2 does brilliantly where the original game floundered is in creating a feeling of progression and consequence to your actions. BioShock 2 constantly chucks moral decisions at you (and not just whether you should off the Little Sisters or not) and through character dialogue and the odd painful flashback it's clear what kind of path your character is treading; good, bad or somewhere in the middle, ultimately culminating in one of many different endings.

This result is a single-player game that, on paper at least, is superior to its 2007 predecessor - in level design, pacing and combat. The one thing it doesn't do though - just as we expected - is recreate those 'wow' moments from our first title's trip underwater." – Andy Robinson, Computer and Videogames


A good story suspends belief. That's what they taught us at the Academy and if there's a case file for this, it's the original Bioshock. There those creeps at 2K they came up with a 1950s world of genetically modified humans with superpowers that was believable, and you learnt how they did this not through cut scenes and dialogue but through revelation and self-discovery at key points. I liked that, it got a Justice Department Seal of Approval and we gave permission for a sequel.

The first Bioshock (and Halo for that matter)  had a strong story and you know what else it had – a strong theme, it was about survival, it had a pinch to make you more involved, and a twist to make the story even more dramatic. This then set up a big, final confrontation that didn't disappoint and rought back memories of my days as a street judge. Some of my fellow Judges knocked it for slipping in an escort mission but in terms of storytelling my Scriptomatic Gauge hit full and the writers got a reward.

Bioshock 2, on the other hand, while not a bad story, lacks these key points. Despite knowing them for Bioshock 1, the sequel has no pinch or a dramatic showdown. Most worryingly, by the final parts of the game you can kick back and go off duty - you can have an inactive protagonist. They do this by encouraging you to use this to summon an invincible super soldier type to fight for you. I am a Judge, we don't let vigilantes and citizens do our fighting nor should we in training simulators like Bioshock 2.

Finally, the plot is confusing and I had to refer to notes from other investigating Judges to work out what was happening in terms of the story and by the end I did not care all that much.

I know, what was the story to Zelda, Mario or Great Giana Sisters? Not that much, but things have changed. Bioshock is partly sold on the strength of its story, as seen in Andrew Robinson's witness statement. It still gets things right – the antagonist is someone who believes they are acting for the best of intentions, a type I find tougher to battle than a simple 'a mad criminal'. Likewise Rapture is a dystopia but as Isaac Asimov once said, a dystopia that has the single note of 'aren't things bad' gets staler than a synthi-donut pretty quickly. In addition, the Ryan theme park adds a touch of dark humour to anyone who's been on a Disney ride.

It doesn't disappoint but it doesn't live up to the first game.

Verdict & sentence:

2K Games, you have not done badly. But on the other hand you're not completely innocent of crimes. And don't give me the "sequels aren't equals" crap – take a look at Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty.

However, your crimes did not stop enjoyment of the game, but are crimes nevertheless and must be punished. The most suitable punishment in your case is a fine – a million creds. Case dismissed.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Mad Men Exhibit F – Waldorf Stories

Scene of crime: AMC (US)

Defendant: Writers Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner

Case for the defence:

It's awards time and SCDP is up for the advertising industry's Clio – and Peggy claims it's for her idea yet Don gets the credit. Instead of thanking her – and gratitude is something Don's bad at as we later see - he scolds her and makes her work the weekend with a 'lazy and ideas free' sexist art director who waxes lyrical about the joys of nudism.

Some old faces appear at the Clios – self-styled rival Tom, Duck Philips, sailing on neat gin with an embarrassing drunken interruption to the ceremony, and Ken Cosgrove whose client suggests will be working with SCDP very soon. This sets Pete on edge, petulantly asking Lane if a merger was ahead – there isn't, but worse for Pete, Ken may be joining. Pete never liked Ken and his 'easy success', so there's no way Pete wants him there. However, just because he doesn't want it doesn't mean it may not be best for SCDP.

Recruitment and getting into ad land runs through this episode. Getting that break– we see a flashback to how Roger gave Don a job (or did he? Drink was involved) while in the present one of Roger's wife's cousins is trying to land a job. All he has are hack lines and a tenuous connection to Roger.

The other major theme in this episode is that of drink, and saving face the morning (or two mornings) after. Don stole the cousin's pitch, Roger gave Don a job when told that he had said so while drunk.

It's an office-life focused episode, and all the stronger because of it.

Witness statements:

"This week’s episode of Mad Men gives the idiom an origin story while providing illustrations of how careers get made as much through hard work and persistence as raw talent. And how people who don’t remember that could lose what they’ve got. Aspiration may not be as good as perspiration, but either one beats coasting." - Keith Phipps, The AV Club

"I don’t know what to do with the information that Roger hired Don to come work at Sterling Cooper because he was drunk at lunch one day and Don was being a pest. What did this shed light on? Roger’s lucky that Don turned out to be a spectacular creative genius? Both of the men have drinking problems? Don didn’t really work his way into anything, he just knows how to work a drunk man? His line about wanting to become a big manly man working in a manly man’s office was adorable, though. Hamm laid on the good-boy charm thick, and that part I enjoyed. Mad Men: Flashbacks are not for you." - Michelle Stark, The Daily Loaf

"Lane, Peggy and Pete - and soon Ken - represent the new order, and they'd be very at home in 2010. They're (mostly) moralistic and bottom-line-oriented, unattractive qualities in anyone. Peggy, exiled to develop a Vick's campaign with sexist-cliche-spouting art director Stan Rizzo, calls his sexist bluff by daring him to strip as she does. It's kind of a stupid scene, actually, and we won't dwell on it." – Kyrie, The Houston Chronicle


Drink does strange things and that's why we banned it in Mega City. Mad Men reminds us all why – Don used it to weasel the job that launched his career and it's to blame for him hiring a man he clearly doesn't want. It's also the reason he lets down his kids for the first time, and for making a fool of himself with Dr Faye. Washed up Duck Philips is a warning of where he could end up and some good foreshadowing of mixing drink with work. It also made me realise that for all the drinking done on Mad Men, we rarely see the consequences, other than with Freddy Rumsen. Other than a long stretch in the isolation cubes of course.

The acting rated highly on my Acting Detector – Don played three versions of himself, as literally wide-eyed (a little too wide-eyed if you ask me) 50s go-getter, stern creative director, and drunk. We saw Joan in love with Roger and as an old friend. Peggy got naked, but as a Judge I'm not surprised but what citizens get up to. It's Pete who I have under surveillance as it is hard to tell how he'll react and that makes him dangerous. If he was under my jurisdiction I would have hauled him in for analysis and perhaps a protective lobotomy to keep him on track.

Don Draper also needs some protection for his own good, a spell in the isolation cubes would do him a service. I don't approve of a man who livers on a false identity as it's a crime, but he has at least been consistent so far. That he told a waitress – and not up to his usual standard going by Hot-or-Not gauge – his name's Dick is major flaw. If he was a Wally Squad member (*Tharg note – undercover Judge) he would have been dead long ago.

Drink lets people get you over a barrel – Don had Roger, cousin Danny had Don. Peggy got the art director over a barrel by calling his bluff but at least no drink was involved there. And Peggy was the only one without regrets because of this.

Don kissed Joan and I hope this doesn't lead to a new affair and more regrets. My instinct is nothing will come in Don's current shape, as a washed up exec at his nadir, but he's not at Duck Phillip levels just yet. There is still more evidence to consider.

Verdict & sentence:

Performances varied in portrayal but not in the acting and despite what Witness Kyrie claims, flashbacks do work well in Mad Men, and work better on this programme than on any other.

Dr Faye and Joan to remain observation, Pete to be brought in for interrogation.

Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner, you are acquitted.