Big Brother 20’s Kaitlyn Isn’t Crazy. She’s Just Learning.

Many years ago, when Oprah Winfrey’s show was still a “thing,” — that is, it was appointment viewing for all spiritual-seeking, life-affirming, “you can make it!” types — she featured a guest who had gone bankrupt. Or, something like that. The guest had become involved with a boyfriend whose financial debt she decided to take on.

During the program, the guest explained, “He was my whole life,” as if to say, “This is why I agreed to take on his debt.” When Oprah, doing her Oprah thing, asked the woman what lesson she’d learned from what happened, she answered, “Well, you need to take care of the bills right away. You can’t let them get out of hand.”

Oprah, in all of her Oprah wisdom, responded with her Oprah-esque tone, “that’s not the lesson,” to the knowing affirmative sounds from the audience. I can’t recall if Oprah ever actually spelled out the “real” lesson to the woman on the stage, but to anyone already regularly tuning in to her daily deconstruction of why we do what we do in life, it was obvious. The lesson was in the guest’s own words: “He was my whole life.” You let this person usurp you, failing to take care of yourself. The debt was just a symptom of that larger issue.

Tonight, watching Kaitlyn Herman’s exit interview with Julie Chen after being evicted from the Big Brother 20 house, I had a similar thought. “That’s not the lesson, Kaitlyn.” Referring, I was, to Kaitlyn’s totally unexpected failure to reenter the Big Brother house when given the chance to complete a deceptively simple challenge. Kaitlyn told Julie that it was, essentially, meant to be, and it was for the highest good.

In many ways, it was typical Kaitlyn. She came into the house as a self-described life coach who, early on, engaged some of the houseguests in a meditation session. Faysal, her onetime ally, expressed a belief that he could appeal to her on certain game matters, calling Kaitlyn a “spiritual girl.” But there were other things about Kaitlyn that Big Brother 20 viewers — and perhaps the show’s producers — liked to highlight, in order to make the argument that she’s a little bit batty.

Kaitlyn apparently said a bird in the yard contained the spirit of her grandfather. She talked constantly about following her intuition, but her beliefs of what was going on in the house were often wrong. In short, she was made to seem like a flake. Emotional, somewhat possessive of Faysal.

But crazy she is not. As someone who could very well imagine a loved one coming to visit me in the form of a bird, I’d like to argue that she’s just new at this. She honestly believes the life coach verbiage she uses, but I suspect she doesn’t have the depth of experience to know what it really means. But I imagine she’ll get there.

When time came tonight for the live eviction, I didn’t want anyone to leave. Big Brother 20 has turned out to be a rich season, with complicated and formidable players. It’s like the producers decided this time around that everyone cast would be a Big Brother fan and would be in it for the game. No one on the show is a veteran this season, but no one seems naive about the show. They all know how it works, and they all want to win. The lack of stunt casting, weird twists and showmances has meant the show rests on the houseguests and what they choose to bring to the game. Without gimmicks in the way, viewers have this treat of seeing a pleasing mix of personalities that don’t easily fit into stereotypical boxes. Everyone on this show is somehow relatable, while no one is exactly who they first appear to be. That’s a roundabout way of saying they are real people, who have chosen to get along instead of create unnecessary drama. I was kind of looking forward to another week with this compelling group of 13.

But it wasn’t to be. Kaitlyn, easily voted out after a house-wide debate over whether she or Rockstar was the bigger threat (Kaitlyn, at least on the surface, although I would argue Rockstar is being underestimated), got the chance to earn her way back in the game. That wasn’t a surprise. Sam had let the house know about her power at the veto meeting. The mystery was simply how it was going to play out, and once Chen revealed the details after the first non-split vote of the season — is the house still divided? Maybe not — it seemed like an easy feat. The producers clearly wanted Kaitlyn to stay, and gave her a task that should have been a snap for her to complete.

Kaitlyn was faced with a life-size representation of herself, that she had to break down into pieces. She then had to put herself back together again. Think breaking apart a jigsaw puzzle and then reassembling it, except with much bigger pieces. Her time to complete the challenge? Two and a half minutes. Piece of cake.

But then Kaitlyn dove in, and the pieces weren’t agreeing with her. Viewers like me thought, “it’s harder than it looks. It must be.” It’s a truth of many Big Brother competitions that seem like they should be a snap for armchair observers, but to the players doing the work, it’s not that easy.

With Kaitlyn, there was an added element. She was panicking. Before her eviction, she had cited a list of her “teachers” that she wanted to thank for their influence on her life. Among them, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson. Probably no one she’d ever met in person, but whose work had clearly affected her. I urge you not to hate on Kaitlyn for what might seem like a shaky attempt to come off as an enlightened person. Many of us have such lists. We may not rattle them off on a reality show, but we have them.

I don’t find her comments disingenuous. But that said, perhaps she hasn’t fully gotten the teachings, at least not yet.

Let’s stop for a second and make the point that, for individuals living with anxiety, it’s not always possible to simply take a breath and have it go away. It’s much more complicated than that.

But for Kaitlyn, her panic in the challenge may not have been anxiety. It may have been layers of emotion coming out all at once. “I can’t lift it,” she said at one point, after assembling the puzzle on the floor, since it was easier than putting it together on the required podium. I can’t do this, she appeared to be saying, throughout the entire two and a half minutes. I can’t do it.

Watching the taped broadcast, long after the challenge was already over, I found myself feeling for Kaitlyn. Just stop, Kaitlyn. Stop. Take a breath, or take three. Then focus on the puzzle. That’s what Deepak, Marianne and Tony would probably tell you — if you are in a moment of apparent crisis, just stop. Breathe.

After the shocking end to Kaitlyn’s game, she told Chen it was for the best. Maybe, she’s right, because ultimately what is has to be. It’s a logic loop. Everything happens as it should, because that’s how things happen. But those teachers she listed also talk about life work and meeting the fates halfway. Maybe she was meant to be evicted, but maybe she may also want to take some time to reassess times of panic. It’s true what Oprah said to that guest all those years ago: it wasn’t just about the debt. But the guest was right too. She learned an important lesson about taking care of her money. Her lesson about relationships and self-protection may have just taken a little longer to learn.

My point (to quote Ellen, “and I do have one”), is that Kaitlyn is not insincere, nor is she crazy. She’s just 24. She’s still learning how to navigate the world and how to put the life lessons she’s read from important teachers into practice. That takes work; there’s a misconception that following a spiritual path is as simple as learning a few platitudes. It’s not. Growth happens when those platitudes are challenged, or when they just don’t quite fit into the particular challenge you experience.

I will so miss Kaitlyn on Big Brother 20. I almost want to say I hope she returns in a future installment, but if this season is any indication, the best game is played by houseguests who have never before set foot in the Big Brother house.

Rockstar’s ‘Big Brother’ Outburst Was The Truest Words Ever Spoken

There’s been an emergence of late of Rockstar on Big Brother 20, the multi-hair-colored stay-at-home mom whom, on another reality program (say, The Bachelor) would have been alternatively dubbed by another line item in her resume (say, Former Zoo Animal Handler). In the beginning, she was quiet, holding her cards close to her chest, in smart Big Brother player fashion. The woman Julie Chen tapped her bet to win this season wasn’t making any overtures about her intention to do so.

Until last week. During the live eviction, Brett, on the block with his fellow bromance member Winston, accused Rockstar of lying to the house to hide her true voting intentions. A bald-faced lie, of course, to which Brett quickly owned up — in the diary room. His reasoning? Well, he doesn’t particularly like Rockstar. Whatever. *Shrug.*

Rockstar, for her part, wasn’t about to take it lying down. She tore into Brett not long after the ceremony, openly calling him out for lying. Later, in a tear-filled conversation with Bayleigh, she explained her emotion.

“Guys like that always win. They always win.”

By saying those words, Rockstar revealed (perhaps) that she was less upset about the damage Brett had done to her Big Brother game, than his ability to do so. She was triggered, probably from past experience. In the real world. Where her words are completely true. But let’s be clear about one thing: when she says “guys like that,” she probably doesn’t mean white males. She means people who are in a place of stability and comfort (popular, easily moving through social circles) who choose to lie, cheat and demean without conscience. Yes, in the real world, those people tend to get away with it. Perhaps without even really realizing what they’ve done or the damage they’ve caused.

That’s not to say that Brett is like that in the real world. Big Brother is a narrow view of humanity, skewed through the lens of a television show where people’s behavior is in large part determined by the fact that they are isolated from the outside, they are playing a game, and they are filmed 24/7.

It’s interesting — and probably planned by a smart editing team — that Rockstar’s outburts was intercut with the argument and later reconciliation between Bayleigh and JC. Bayleigh, who self-identifies as a member of the black community and JC, who self-identifies as a member of the gay and Hispanic communities, created some friction by the use of words. It started, interestingly, over discussion of JC’s stature. He objected to the “M” word, and things went from there. The two argued, then — to their immense credit — came back together to discuss what happened and the roots of their respective “triggering.”

So let’s all take a moment to congratulate Big Brother 20 and the maturity of its contestants. We’ve all moved a little bit, one can hope, from the disgusting spectacle that was Big Brother 15 where, as you might recall, a few stray racist and homophobic comments turned into an entire season of identity disparaging. Those contestants left the “safety” of the Big Brother 15 house to discover they had lost their jobs. Notably, without anyone inside the house to offer a check on their behavior, they were clueless as what they’d done wrong. They needed to read the media reports to realize what they’d done was unacceptable.

Kudos for the producers for not taking the radical step of kicking out houseguests for discussing controversial topics. And Kudos for the players, for realizing that we all have to live together, so we should all take a moment and try to understand one another.

That might include “those guys,” who yes, even if they don’t see it, always tend to win.

The ‘Big Brother 20’ App Twist Is Cruel In A Way That’s Atypical Of The Show

One can assume that you make a deal when you apply to be on Big Brother: you agree to total lack of privacy, isolation from the outside world, and virtually unchecked manipulation at the hands of producers and fellow houseguests. In exchange, you get a chance to play a game, perhaps win some money, and if you’re a diehard fan, to experience the world of Big Brother from the inside.

Anyone who’s watched the show over the years has probably noticed that the “real” world appears to become increasingly distant for the houseguests, who, over the course of days, weeks and months, start to be convinced by their own, sometimes skewed, perceptions of what’s happening inside the square footage of the Big Brother set and what people at home must be thinking about them.

This year, that psychological game has the unfortunate potential to be even more damaging, at least for the time the players are “successful” enough to stay in the game. It’s the BB App Twist, which each week gives a special power or punishment to whichever houseguest is most — or least — “trending.”

I know, I know — fans participate like this every season, right? At the end of each installment, after all, there’s a prize of $25,000 given to America’s Favorite Houseguest. The old “America’s Choice” weekly voting let viewers get in on the game by choosing Have-Not foods and special bonuses or game advantages to preferred individuals. The BB App Twist is just like that, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t. Because this year we not only have the one person who’s most trending each week, but the one who’s least trending. Again, you could just say this is Big Brother. Someone has to be the first evicted (Sorry, Steve, I was rooting for you). Someone has to come in last in the competitions. Getting on the show is feat enough — and in some ways, it does come down to a popularity contest.

But right now, in 2018, the idea of someone, or something, “trending,” or not, is particularly sensitive. More than ever before, young and not-so-young people connect the idea of “trending” with self-worth, success or popularity. And in the isolated, contained world of Big Brother, the effects of houseguests not getting an app — or worse yet, getting the “crap app” of least trending — is something that could affect them on a deeply emotional level.

It’s particularly cruel because, unlike the viewing audience, it’s not clear that the houseguests actually know what it means to be “trending” in this context. Even if it were the outside-world version of trending — hashtags, posts, shares, upvotes — it would be bad enough. But on Big Brother 20 it’s based on a set of very specific criteria. If the houseguests understood that, they would perhaps be able to temper their own disappointment at not landing in their preferred spot in the “trending” rankings. Especially since they are edited on a television show — in the beginning, when there are 16 houseguests to track in a 42-minute episode, not everyone is going to get equal time.

First, U.S.-based fans over the age of 18 have to use the Big Brother chatbot to answer 5 specific questions. The “trending” stats are based on the houseguests whose names are most mentioned, whether it’s in response to a positive or a negative question.

– Which Houseguest is most entertaining to watch?
– Which Houseguest is annoying you the most?
– Which Houseguest’s gameplay is most fun to watch?
– Which Houseguest is the funniest?
– Which Houseguest has you screaming at the television?

Last week, the trending app twist seemed to be rather benign. Faysal took his crap app in good humour, although at times he appeared noticably disappointed. (Kudos to Big Brother, by the way, for giving Faysal vegetarian “ham” to fulfill his punishment — I am waiting for the season where there is dairy-free slop for the vegan houseguests.)

This week, it was a bit more painful to watch. Rachel, whom I’ve barely seen on the show — I don’t get the live feeds, so I had to consult a website to figure out who she was — got the “crap app.” She seemed legitimately hurt, and understandably so. She may have perceived the audience didn’t like her, when in fact, not enough people found her “annoying,” or causing them to “scream at the television.” Most importantly, she wasn’t getting enough airtime.

The “crap app” sends a bad message; Big Brother producers may have thought it was in keeping with the “technology” theme, and it may have been appropriate, say, in 2015, when trending on social media was something that was seen to be not particularly harmful. Now, social media popularity is something that’s increasingly recognized to be potentially damaging, and based on falsehoods. People get hurt.

In the Big Brother context, no one seemed to make that point better than Swaggy C in his reaction to not getting either the Power App or the Crap App. Swaggy is apparently somewhere in the middle, but in the — admittedly edited — Sunday night episode of Big Brother he was seen asking America what he had to do to trend. He even said he’d given the audience “the first showmance” of the season. Sorry, Bayleigh. And Bayleigh, your instincts were right.

At the end of the day, it’s a television show, and the houseguests will eventually exit, some sooner than others. Hopefully the rest of their lives won’t be too much like this falsified version of reality, this makeshift high school, where the cool kids get to run the game while unseen forces constantly change the rules.


‘Westworld’ Has No Moral Compass. That’s What Makes It Hard To Watch.

The first time through, I missed the after-the-end-credits scene of the Season 2 Westworld finale. Turns out, there was a similar tag-on at the conclusion of Season 1, but I didn’t stick around for that one, either. When “The Passenger” reran, I dutifully tuned in for the final minutes to see The Man in Black — a host? A human? — being tested by his daughter Emily — a host? A human? — for “fidelity.” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lisa Joy was kind enough to save us all some trouble and just flat-out explain what was going on.

“In the far, far future, the world is dramatically different. Quite destroyed, as it were. A figure in the image of his daughter — his daughter is of course now long dead — has come back to talk to him. He realizes that he’s been living this loop again and again and again. The primal loop that we’ve seen this season, they’ve been repeating, testing every time for what they call “fidelity,” or perhaps a deviation. You get the sense that the testing will continue. It’s teasing for us another temporal realm that one day we’re working toward, and one day will see a little bit more of, and how they get to that place, and what they’re testing for.”

Reading her description, I thought, okay — so, they have taken a human, or a host, or a hybrid of the two, and put him through the psychological torment of repeating the same loop over and over again, with no memory of each cycle. Is this moral?

That question should be at the heart of Westworld. The question of morality should make the show a compelling, thoughtful watch. But because of the confused storytelling and the consistently blurred lines between reality/fantasy, robot/human, past/present, memory/experience, the show doesn’t have room to present clear questions about what is right or wrong.

There’s no starting point in Westworld — to use the show’s own verbiage, there’s no baseline of accepted modes of behavior and action that all other events are set against. When we enter the show, everything has already been twisted from the world we know, but we’re not really sure if this is a misguided utopia or a very dark vision of the future.

You could say Westworld is very good at introducing ideas that bring up moral questions, but it makes little attempt to resolve those questions. In Season 1, I thought it might have been the robot uprising after this entire species was essentially created to be abused by people. But as the show went on, it was revealed that there are so many problematic things going on, no one is in the right. If the robot uprising may have actually been pre-programmed by a human, is it justified?

Ultimately, what Westworld lacks is the identification of morally problematic choices and consequences for those choices. This is where, in my mind, the show fails — because instead of giving viewers clean character arcs, it seems the powers that be behind Westworld have decided to just throw in neat ideas wherever they could. It’s like the producers are sitting in a room, trying to come up with cool concepts without really thinking about whether or not they fit with the show.

There’s an easy comparison here: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As any Buffy fan knows, there were distinct rules in the universe, and consequences for violating those rules. That’s not to say the rules were never violated — they were — but the characters always had to deal with the fallout. Think Willow and her misuse of magic. The line that Buffy could never cross: killing humans, even if they were bad guys. The Buffy-verse has a set of moral rules that Westworld just does not.

Here’s my short list of potentially problematic aspects of Westworld. Ask yourself how many of these contradict with one another. A clever moral web, you could say, or a lack of moral consistency that prevents you from fully investing in this piece of fiction, because you just don’t know who to root for.

  • Humans create a species of humanoid robots for guests to play with in a park. The robots can’t fight back. Visitors to the park are told they will experience no consequences for whatever they do while in the park on “vacation.”
  • Robots are endowed with the ability to grow, love and form attachments. Although their memories are wiped between “builds,” they retain familiarity and bonds with others, intangible connections they don’t quite understand. They recall, with some prompting, their past abuse at the hands of the guests.
  • The park is copying the cognition of the guests while they are in the park, without their knowledge. The purpose is to turn humans into hosts, something I still don’t quite get, although I predicted it. Is the intent to sell immortality? Otherwise, why would this happen at all? How are the hosts they would create with human consciousness a superior version to the ones they already have?
  • The hosts eventually commit violence against humans, guests and park administrators alike. They do not discriminate between those who have actually caused them harm, and those who happen to be in the way.
  • The hosts can be particularly vengeful, aka Dolores. However, she was designed to be vengeful. Indeed, the entire robot uprising seems to have been orchestrated by a human being, Ford — so do any of the hosts really have a moral justification for taking the actions they do?
  • The Man in Black mows down a group of people, to the shock of his daughter, before he kills her, too. At this point, he’s gone insane, convinced the world has been created for him and none of it is real. He has immediate regret when he realizes the figures were not hosts, but people — but what is the true moral difference here? How is it less reprehensible to end the life of a host designed to act, think and look like a human, than to actually end the life of a person?
  • How should The Man in Black be held accountable for that action? There’s no clear answer because Westworld is a world without consequences — which makes it ultimately unsatisfying.

By the way, we won’t find out soon what happens with host/hybrid William and his testing with Emily. Later on in the Hollywood Reporter interview, Joy says that she doesn’t envision that as part of Season 3. They are just working towards that much-later storyline. (Which is another reason why Westworld is a show that is best binge-watched. Put in a weekend and move on, enjoy the candy without thinking too hard about what’s going on.)


Julie Chen Throws Paul Abrahamian Some Shade In ‘Big Brother 20’ Promo

Okay, maybe it’s not Julie Chen that’s throwing shade — it’s one of the producers or whomever designed the set that’s giving a little bit of a jab to the perpetual Big Brother bridesmaid.

In advance of the Big Brother 20 premiere, Chen gave her traditional house tour to The Hollywood Reporter. Fitting with this year’s theme of interactivity, technology (or whatever), there are 3D-printed game consoles in the fishtank. In the video, Chen pointed out her “favourite” one.

“My favourite game is called ‘Friendship.’ You never win this game. You always come in second place, just like Paul, whose image is on the side of the game console.”

In general, I think it’s bad karma to speak ill of anyone, especially someone you don’t actually know. But it’s safe to say Paul was a character on Big Brother, the only person ever to come in second place twice, two years in a row. Over the course of Big Brother 19 he proved to be a particularly manipulative player, who lied with abandon, while making the entire house feel he was their ride or die.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that making people believe you’re their friend is part of the game on Big Brother. But Abrahamian took it to a whole new level, evidenced by the fact that the jury voted against him — not once, but twice. His gameplay, and the other houseguests’ response, showed the dangers inherent in being locked in isolation with a small group of people with no outside influence. It’s a game, but it has very real psychological effects. It is group think come to life.

Big Brother 20 won’t feature Paul (we can hope) except symbolically in the fishtank. But maybe the new crop of houseguests will have learned from his past deceptions, and remember to think independently as much as possible. You need allies on Big Brother, but you also need to leave the house and re-enter the real world without regret.

‘Colony’ Has A Genius Plot Device: Keeping The Aliens Out Of Sight

The more I’ve become addicted to Colony, the more I realize it’s difficult to characterize, deftly transcending genres. That’s what makes it so consistently interesting but, I imagine, hard to market. (Add my signature to the “renew for Season 4,” petition — this story is far from over.)

Colony isn’t exactly sci-fi, but it’s not your typical drama either. You’ve got many things happening at once: several layers of political conflict, social unease (if not exactly unrest), neighbourly distrust, and at the core an entire family whose bonds are fraying in subtle but perhaps irreparable ways.

Watching the latest episode, “Lazarus,” I realized the main reason this all works is because, although the show sheds locations at a rapid rate and has run through a laundry list of minor characters, it feels cohesive. It’s not just cohesive, it’s compelling — because there are many mysteries at the heart of Colony, and there’s an authenticity to the storytelling that makes you feel like if you keep watching, you won’t be duped by a flashy miscue or dramatic twist that’s ultimately unsatisfying.

How does Colony do this, apart from clearly caring about the story and the characters inside of it? From the premiere episode all the way up until Season 3, they have kept the aliens almost completely out of sight. The alien invasion is not the story; the story is far more grounded in the human world. It’s about how people react to their new circumstances, when no one knows the full truth of what’s going on.

Ultimately, all of the human race is the living under one undeniable fact: they have nowhere to go. They can perhaps move from community to community — like the Bowmans escaped Los Angeles to make way to Seattle — but they have no way to leave the planet. Their oppressors have taken over all of earth, so each character has to make choices about how to live under an environment of limited freedoms, where simply dropping out or finding a democratic regime is impossible. The aliens are in complete control, or that’s what everyone believes; so for human beings, there is no way out.

Watching “Lazarus,” I had the same stray thought I’ve had before: why does Broussard keep going with his revolutionary ways, when he’s basically just one person — Amy and the Bowmans notwithstanding — and he is up against this all-encompassing, totalitarian regime that he cannot single-handedly overthrow?

The answer: because that is his life journey in this bubble where there’s no clear exit. He could never be successful in his mission, but conformity isn’t an option either. Broussard is choosing to fight, because in a way it’s his coping mechanism.

Will Bowman’s coping mechanism? Serious depression, withdrawal from his family, drink and sometimes P.I. work. Bram Bowman? Playing the game for awhile, with somewhat open eyes, while quietly plotting to create a better life for his sister (and himself) as his parents move further and further away, intellectually and emotionally. Katie Bowman? Trying to make things better by processing refugees and getting to know them, expressing kindness and care, one-on-one. This is the “if I can save one, it was all worth it” philosophy of service work.

Katie obviously believes she’s helping, and that’s enough for her, at least at first. Once she realizes she’s not actually improving the situation of refugee families — if anything, she’s condemning them to a much worse fate — she’s forced to make a choice. But more on that in a minute.

If Colony did not have the alien element, there would be a simple out for all of these characters: go away. That would be the goal. Since that’s not possible, we’re forced to watch them try to function, after everything they knew and relied upon in their society has been stripped away with no apparent route for returning to the old structure.

Herein lies the genius of Colony: not focusing on the aliens. I’ll have to admit, in Season 1, this was a bit of a disappointment to me. I kept watching, wanting to know what the aliens looked like, what they wanted, and what The Factory was all about. Now, I’ll admit that is far less interesting than a show that is based on a fantastical event — an alien invasion — while still firmly grounded in the human world.

That was never more effective than in “Lazarus,” when Katie covertly accompanies a group of refugees on Bus D. She thought they were to be resettled in Seattle, but once on board, they are told they are going to enjoy “new opportunities” in Portland. Upon arrival, Katie hangs back as streams of refugees slowly enter isolated barracks.

It’s chilling. Watching that scene gave me a knot in my stomach, even though I know it’s fiction — but there’s enough of a historical parallel to fill you with dread.

If we knew too much about the aliens, it would be easy to write off Colony as a fantasy series, with perhaps underlying political themes. But because it is firmly grounded in the world we know and we witness, it’s infinitely more powerful.

Coupled with that is the ever-deepening mystery of who exactly is in charge. One of the more interesting reveals with the introduction of the Wayne Brady character is that The Hosts are not necessarily behind every decision made by the IGA. The IGA has its own political agenda, because after all, the IGA is just people — trying to function in this human world where there is no way out.


This Is Us: Pilot (S 1 E 1)

Great Episodes is a series of blogs on my all-time favorite episodes of, well, everything. 

It’s tough to recall now that, when This Is Us premiered, no one knew the story of the Pearson family. The show was billed as a non-specific examination of people who happened to have the same birthday. The show’s pilot made good on this promise, following four (seemingly) separate storylines: a woman living with weight issues, an actor experiencing career disillusion, a man searching for his birth father, and a woman at the end of a high-risk pregnancy, accompanied by her attractive and adoring husband.

We find out early on that two of these people are siblings, sharing a 36th birthday, but it’s not until the very end that we discover the entire group is one interconnected family. The delivery storyline is a flashback to when two of the “Big Three” were born and the last, spontaneously adopted after their mother loses one of her triplets. (“Loses” feels like a challenging word here, as the child did not survive the pregnancy.)

The unexpected reveal has a big emotional payoff, and that alone is what set This Is Us up to be such a compelling drama. From the beginning, each character has a rich backstory, complicated emotional challenges, and potentially decades of stories to be told. Anyone who kept watching after the pilot was in for a drama that, although not always as impactful as the first episode, was often meaningful, thoughtful and sensitive in a way that family television dramas rarely are.

But the pilot episode of This Is Us isn’t without its drawbacks. We’re introduced to the core Pearson gang, but we’re also given Toby, Kate’s controlling and irritating boyfriend. That is not to diminish the actor that plays him: my belief is that Toby has only gotten away with being such a pushy and unlikeable person because of the inherent likeability of Chris Sullivan. My personal hope is that Season 3 of This Is Us will give Kate her own sense of self-worth, that doesn’t rely on having a man take interest in her. At the very least, I’d like to see her in a healthy relationship, where her partner does not feign support by telling her she’s wrong about every opinion or feeling she ever has, especially when it comes to her weight.

This is something that the pilot shows us, in a way, with her palpable emotional connection with her brother. Kate asks Kevin to tell her to lose the weight, and he can’t, or won’t, do it. Toby, on the other hand, has no problem stepping all over her emotional life. That’s not as obvious until later, but we see the early roots of that manipulation from their first encounter at an OA meeting in the pilot.

There is also the grating first scene, where Jack — who, over time on This Is Us becomes a model example of how people can cause hurt with their personal demons but are also capable of great love and self-awareness — wants to get romantic with his heavily-pregnant wife. It’s supposed to be cute, and it is — but before her water breaks, ending the encounter, you kind of just want him to leave her alone and let her sleep. But that’s a minor criticism.

While I’ll put the pilot on my list of “greatest episodes,” it doesn’t contain what is, by far, may favourite scene in This Is Us. That would be the therapy scene from deep in Season 2, where it’s revealed no one in the Pearson family really wants to talk about their demons except Kevin, and no one really has the same perspective on what their upbringing was really like. That scene is posted below.

‘Westworld,’ Tell Me Who The Heroes Are

As much as “Vanishing Point” (S 2 E 9) may have finally answered some questions, it opened others, and left me with this profound sense that I have no one to root for. Bernard, I suppose. But I don’t know who’s the hero in this story, and there aren’t even any dark knights whose victories you can secretly enjoy.

But let’s not forget, Charlotte Hale put code in the host network to kill them all. We weren’t told how that would play out, but it could easily have been in Bernard deleting his Ford code, taking control of his fellow AIs and having Teddy end his own life. I’m not sure, and I’m still trying to find a reason to care.

Westworld has a very dark view of humanity. That darkness is not just in people, but the humanoid robots they create out of human consciousness. I don’t know what the message is here, except that humans are very bad, and there isn’t much to redeem them.

Unless that’s the truth of humanity inside the park — but maybe not outside, where life could be idyllic or at least more complex in its range of human emotions and experiences. That’s why it was compelling, for about 30 seconds, in “Vanishing Point,” when we saw William and Emily’s home life in flashback.

Turns out the story outside the park — that I was so anxious to see — isn’t that deep or compelling after all. Basically, William is a bad guy. Made everyone miserable. His wife couldn’t handle it. He felt guilty. Came into the park, where he’d become obsessed with the characters and storylines.

Which comes to the question of whether William is, or is not, a host. I’m not sure it matters, because by this stage the lines between the humans and the AI have become blurred. Maybe that’s the point.

As for Charlotte’s program to eliminate the hosts, let’s think back to Star Trek: TNG (S 5 E 23, “I, Borg”), when they saved an individual Borg and planned to use him to infect the entire collective with an algorithm that would result in their self-destruction. At the end of that plotline, they decided that to use one Borg that way would be unethical. But they went on to reason that the experiences of independence the one Borg had had while detached from the collective would do the same kind of work. When the one Borg, Hugh, went back home, he’d bring a new sense of identity with him. Eventually, the entire Borg would be infected by that identity, and thus understand the concept of “I.”

Let’s hope the minds behind Westworld are planning something equally as interesting for the finale as that classic bit from TNG.

Abramovitz v. Lee Proves The Law Isn’t About Justice: It’s About Keeping People In Their Place

Eric Abramovitz is a successful clarinetist, who was a music student at McGill when he met Jennifer Lee, his soon-to-be girlfriend. This week, about five years after they first started a relationship and a couple of years after it ended, an Ontario judge ordered Lee to pay Abramovitz CDN$375,000 (USD$284,000).

Her infraction? Intercepting an email from a university professor saying Abramovitz had won a prestigious scholarship. She deleted that email, created a Gmail account and used to it create a fake email from the professor, telling her then live-in boyfriend that he was offered a spot at the school, but with virtually no financial backing.

She’d sent an email to the school as well, in the name of Abramovitz, turning down the real offer.

Despicable, to be sure. But $375,000? Let’s be clear about a few things here.

  • Abramovitz finished his education at McGill. As the judgment states, he was already well-known as a prodigy, having won several competitions and been a featured soloist in orchestras.
  • After his schooling, Abramovitz was able to secure an orchestra position without difficulty. In other words, he was able to continue with his art. He was not forced to get a new job or enter another industry. His career was far from ruined.
  • When he received the fake “rejection” email, he didn’t question it. This was in 2014, and it was sent from a Gmail address. As a second-year student at McGill he should have expected a university address, ending with .edu, sent from the instititution. For such a high-value scholarship (full ride tuition plus room and board), it seems highly unlikely he would learn his fate over Gmail, right? Why did the judge not hold him accountable for his own stupidity?
  • If he wanted the scholarship so badly, why did he not contact the professor in question, Yehuda Gilad, and ask why he’d fallen short? Presumably, Abramovitz still wanted a clarinetist career. Why did he not reach out to Gilad, with whom he’d had an invitation-only, in-person audition during the application process for this scholarship, to ask for mentorship advice and guidance?
  • Lee did not deny Abramovitz the scholarship. She made him think he’d been rejected. She took nothing away from him in actual fact. It was always within his power to contact the school and get more details about his status. Even though she’d sent the email saying Abramovitz was turning down the scholarship, presumably the school would have made good on the original offer once the deception came to light.

Here’s what the judge had to say:

“Mr Abramovitz was completely taken in by this deception.  He believed that he had failed to win a place at Coburn.  He did not have the financial resources to attend USC on the basis offered and so declined that offer (by response to the fake email address in Mr Gelad’s name).  As a consequence, Mr Abramovitz lost the two year full-scholarship opportunity to study with Mr Gelad.  He stayed in Montreal and completed his music degree at McGill.”

In other words, the judge in no way placed responsibility on Abramovitz for his failure to perform due diligence.

Let’s do a thought experiment, shall we? Let’s presume the musician was female. Let’s say her jealous, possessive live-in partner was male. Would the judge have been so quick to ignore her failure to push back against the rejection? I think not. I suspect, if she would have received a judgment at all, it would have been for nominal damages, for his bad conduct and nothing more.

In calculating damages, Justice D.L. Corbett undertook the usual math in these cases. Except Corbett relied on some pretty hefty assumptions. Taking the word of Professor Gilad, he agreed that Abramovitz would have accepted and finished the USC program if he’d known of his acceptance. As a result, he would have earned a higher salary at a more well-known orchestra than what he ended up making at an orchestra in Nashville. He granted the CAD$300,000 Abramovitz was seeking, not only for the loss of income but loss of educational opportunity. The additional $75,000 was for punitive damages, aggravated damages and legal fees.

There was no allowance made, by the way, for Abramovitz’s failure to perform his own due diligence on the rejection. He did not mitigate this harm, just let it happen to him. Typically, any damages you receive are reduced by the percentage at which you are said to be at fault. Because Lee did not defend herself in this suit — Abramovitz got a default judgment — we may never know her side of the story.

The math works, because you can make a reasonable argument that he lost about $300,000 worth of benefits because of never knowing he’d actually been accepted into the program.

Herein lies the problem with the law: it’s designed to put people back where they would have been had the harm not occurred. It’s not designed to create a just and fair society.

Think about what $375,000 would mean to anyone who sues over any harm. A car accident injury. Property losses. Fires, floods, discrimination in hiring, police abuse — the list is endless. All those people have to fight to even get a fraction of $375,000, and those people have suffered real harm. Unlike Abramovitz, who can still be a successful musician and have a good life doing what he does, these individuals have experienced ruin and devastation.

But it’s the way the law works — because the law is designed to keep people where they are. In effect, it props up elites and keeps the poor in their place.

Is that an exaggeration? No — it’s the way things are done. Even if Abramovitz never recovers the $375,000, his life is set. He can play clarinet for a living. He’s not getting a job at Starbucks to make ends meet. He’s not considering retraining to enter another profession. He can still do what he loves, because the law helps the elites stay in power, while getting a little bit of extra money for what really amounts to a minor career detour.