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My 2 Cents on The Game
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Bilbo67
Heretic


Joined: Fri Oct 27th, 2006
Location: The Daisy Hill Cluster Lizard Farm
Posts: 469
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 Posted: Mon Jan 17th, 2011 12:57 pm

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My 2 Cents on Episode 4.18: The Game
(1/17/11)











I really wanna kick some white ass!
-Xev “Left Eye” Bellringer
 



*SIGH*…

 …and I was doing so well for a while there, ya know?  Bouncing back and forth between temp gigs like a flesh-and-bone paddleball while the “Try back after the first of the year” crowd sat on their collective hands; hoisting large, cumbersome objects a few inches to a few feet from Gaia’s grasp, ever-hastening the day when I will be roused via surgical-grade shaving cream and a strategically applied feather from a chemically induced coma and marched out of the lowest bidding orthopedic surgeon in the tri-county area’s office more goat than cripplingly underinsured man (four-year-old Bilbo’s twice-thwarted attempts to eat an empty Coke can will not have been in vain); and generally not feeling like something that was fished out of an offal-ridden ditch after losing a high-stakes kickboxing match to a sentient Earth mover with a boatload of unresolved father issues and a shifty-eyed hometown referee in its back pocket.  About as smooth as sailing can get in choppy, kraken-infested waters.  Then the freakin’ holidays had to roll around...


And what, pray tell, could Ebenezer Billbeaux possibly have against that most joyous time of year?  Nothing whatsoever.  I quite enjoy it!

What I don’t enjoy, however, is when all that hippie jib-jab about peace on Earth and goodwill toward others filters down to my fascist, trigger-happy immune system, culminating in my white blood cells throwing down their arms and singing Kumbaya while wave after wave of strangely accented pathogens lay siege to my blood stream.  If getting in the so-called “holiday spirit” means ordering a biological cease-fire, count me out!  I swear, next time my lymphocytes are up for reelection, I’m sending those bums a message.

Two wicked colds—and perhaps a touch of bronchitis—within eight weeks of each other.  The first my sole-and-only parting gift from strongman nationals (cracked the top ten with a partially torn bicep and a rotator cuff that’s been on its way out since I was about nineteen), thanks in no small part to a freezing venue accessible only via quarter mile trek through a dank, smoke-filled casino.  The latest—and thankfully lesser of the two—an unsolicited little New Years keepsake from my sister’s ijit boyfriend.  Must remember to return that favor once I dig out my great grandmother’s handwritten recipe for bubonic bonbons.

So with faculties on flex time, away we go…

At long, painfully misunderestimated last we’ve come to it.  My all-time favorite episode.  I’ve been dreading this review—even more so than the grueling pseudo-Shakespearean abomination I churned out several episodes back—for that very reason.  Not because I fear being unable to dissect it objectively; I can rain torrents of praise on the finished product while still pouncing on the occasional clumsy quip or “good-Lord-please-tell-me-someone-got-fired-for-this” editing snafu (hell, my favorite movie, Aliens, contains a couple of downright klutzy editing gaffes that I can’t believe James Cameron failed to notice, but that doesn’t mean I love it any less).  Rather, it’s because for all the personalized hype I’ve subjected it to  since I first registered with the Bboard and started doling out room-temperature sippie cups of unsolicited mental runoff, I can’t come up with a single, quantifiable reason why I like this episode better than any of the others. 

It certainly isn’t because I think it’s the best episode, because I don’t (just as I would never suggest that Aliens is the best film ever made…I don’t even think it’s the best in the series; I consider the original to be “better”), but that’s pretty much par for the course where favoritism is concerned.  Take a second to think of your favorite food, drink, t-shirt, or zombie apocalypse survival scenario.  Probably not a lot of 1:1 matches with what’s “best” for you, eh?  (My favorite shirt would get me tossed out of restaurants in certain states, stoned to death in certain countries, and trigger a full-scale Earth invasion in certain galactic quadrants…but hot damn, does it make me look slim!)

Like a lot of things that occupy a place of prominence in my ever-cluttering bosom, I think the shine I took to 4.18 boils down to “right place/right time.”  While there’s a lot to enjoy about the second half of season 4, it’s fair to say that the beans had found a formula; and while they may have made a few minor tweaks to the main ingredients from week to week, they seemed to have adopted a latter-day Howard Hughes-like aversion to drifting outside the box.  Then all at once, in a flash of baked brilliance, they smashed the box to pieces, took some cheekily horrific Polaroids of the carcass, and mailed them out to the other boxes as a warning!  Don Donovanci send-a his regards.  (Is it too late to blame the medicine for that one?)


That it’s just so different from anything that came before is certainly one of the primary reasons it won me over.  After all, as some third-rate fast food chain once proclaimed, “Different is good,” (ergo, the same pre-processed, rat-based nutritional jetsam in a slightly different wrapper!).  Those of you who’ve been keeping up with your studies (…have I mentioned there’ll be a test when these reviews wrap up?  Fifty multiple choice, ten short answer, two essays, and one interpretive dance [open note on a 1”x1” pizza box scrap]) may have noticed that in praising certain scenes/episodes from season 4, I’m quick to play the “this is a throwback to season 1/2/3” card.  It’s an annoying habit that I hope to break through a combination of hypnotic suggestion, immersion therapy, and six to eight months in my hand-built, DSL-ready sweat lodge; but given the radical season-to-season tonal shifts, it’s the easiest way to analyze the near-bipolar fourth season without having to actually stop and put some thought into it (…da horra…da horra…).  Well, no such easy out for us prolific pigeonholers this time around, because while there are little sprinkles of the best elements of all four seasons whisked into this episode, all told it stands on its own.  Like Brigadoom—my photo-finish runner up in the favoritism game—it exists on another level, worlds apart from anything that came before or after.  A sharp, concussion-inducing left turn from already bizarre familiar territory toward something truly unique.

Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until years later that I found out this episode is actually just a blatant homage to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.  In other words, yet another example of s4’s occasionally ham-fisted overreliance on TV/movie parodies.  I was all prepared for disappointment to have its way with me…until it didn’t (last time I go to the trouble of putting on something nice!).  Turns out the revelation didn’t change my opinion one iota, nor should it have.  So it’s aping a classic piece of cinematic source material…that doesn’t mean it can’t be extremely well done in its own right (Airplane! anyone?).  After all, the beans struck parodic pyrite all the way back in season 2 with 791, a deliciously kitschy send-up of the original Alien that lovingly tipped the cap to Giger’s otherworldly set designs and managed to fuse the film’s unsettling psychosexual undertones with a laser-lighted freestyle dance-off.

It worked then, and it works now.  I just wish I had known what I was really watching when the episode first aired, because I was in college at the time and my favorite professor (a guy whom people literally rearranged their entire four years just to stay the hell away from) was a huge Bergman fan!  Not sure how he would have taken to the show as a whole; astute, high-minded man-‘o-letters that he was.  But being that I had already penned an amorous five-page ode to the faded yellow t-shirt that I wore under my pads in every single football game I ever played (still got it…in fact, I can see it from here!) and used five minutes’ worth of an in-class Socratic discussion circle to propose my spiritually and scientifically irrefutable “‘Shit Happens’ Theory of the Origin of Everything,” it’s fair to assume he would have taken it in stride.  And who knows…rails have been greased in far more unconventional ways…

Finally, while we’re on the subject of my post-secondary sheepskin raid, I’ve one more tenuous anecdote to bore you with: having hardly so much as glanced at a board since high school, this episode renewed my on-again/off-again/slap-the-pieces-against-the-wall-and-pull-a-knife-on-my-frustratingly-smug-opponent interest in chess, which I promptly instilled in my then-twelve-year-old brother when I went home for spring break a few days later (because really, what’s Cancun got to offer?).  Within five minutes he understood how all the pieces moved and had a basic grasp of opening strategy.  Within a day he could beat my ass.  Effortlessly.  (Kid’s a 285lb O-line leviathan now.  If he ever took an interest in strongman he could probably trounce all of my achievements after a couple weeks’ prep.  Naturally, I’m steering him toward gator wrestling instead).  Such is typically my fate when something for which I just don’t possess the grey matter teases my fancy.  Chess, singing, astrophysics, martial arts…they all fascinate me to no end, I enjoy dabbling in them in my private time, and in the presence of someone who really knows what they’re doing, I’m likely to get my skull caved in.

Wow…is this review going nowhere at ludicrous speed or what!  You’d think I was getting paid by the word.  Well, I’m not (pace I’ve kept, I would have starved to death a looooooong time ago), nor have I frittered away all of my writing time trying to balance two forks and a toothpick on a saltshaker (how the HELL do people do that?).  But I will confess to beating around the vicinity of the bush, because this is without a doubt the single most difficult episode to review.  To that end, before I give ‘er the ol’ clown college try, I’m going to recommend a little supplemental reading: back when The Game first aired a chess-savvy Lexxian named Flamegrape did a remarkably in depth move-by-move analysis of Kai and Prince’s chess match (itself a replay of a noted championship game from the 19th century).  His knowledge of and enthusiasm for the game of chess is astounding from a lunkheaded layman’s point of view, and while Paul did a bonny job of injecting some genuine tension into the script, FG’s write-up takes you a level deeper, revealing just how dangerously Kai played and why Prince—blinded by hubris and perhaps a bit of that salty extradimensional sea air—should have won easily on multiple occasions.  Unfortunately, his sniftiest little throw-in—a series of animated chess boards that played through each move as he broke them down—has been lost to the ages, but the write-up is still worth a read.  I’ve got it if anybody wants a copy.

A’ighty, having almost certainly ceded the last remaining shreds of my readership to a rival faction, it’s only prudent that my people and I put our heads together and come up with a grand, sweeping gesture to win you all back!!!

*basks in palpable silence, broken only by the sonorous belly laugh of a lone cricket, before hastily scribbling “FREE BER!” on a sheet of wrinkled poster board*

Quite unlike your humble, soon-to-be-bought-out-for-peanuts-on-the-dollar reviewwright, this episode dispenses with the traditional non-sequitur opening and hits the ground running, picking up approximately seven elevenths of a second after the previous installment faded to black.  Kai is cruising toward the moon, hellbent on showing the comment card crowd how a real dissatisfied customer cancels his PTV subscription, while Xev and Stan swap oddly specific expository banter.  Never the type to take things lying down (wait ‘til Stan’s had a few, then nonchalantly ask him about Izzy’s complicated network of pulleys and harnesses), Prince bids for a stay of post-mortem execution, and since the time-tested “I can’t decide what I want for my last meal” ruse is off the table, he suggests that they pick up their never-resolved game of chess.  Kai—who freely chose to clean and jerk PTV into the moth and fly him to the moon in the first place—reminds him that the dead have nothing even remotely resembling motivations, desires, or wants.  Ah, but he forgets who he’s talking to!  Prince is one of those radical, progressive-minded corpses out to pimp-slap the establishment.  He argues that while he too is dead, he still has wants (doughy, red, pillow-hogging wants).


So who’s right and who’s wrong?  Tough call.  Far be it for us lowly organics to lecture the dead about what it’s like to be dead (particularly right to their faces…bad form indeed).  Besides, I’ve cast my crudely forged lot with both sides in the past, occasionally for the sake of a long, drawn out joke or musing, but more often because I didn’t feel up to combing through my bloated, phlebitic body of work to avoid contradicting myself.  But whereas others tend to drop the issue after one or two cyclotronic exchanges, Prince holds his ground and actually calls Kai out on his “The dead do not…” talk, appealing less to his emotional side—which may or may not still linger in some capacity, but for the purposes of this rant is irrelevant—than his sense of reason, which has never been anything less than highly acute.

In so doing, I think Prince may have hit the bull’s-eye (years of practice and a decade’s worth of Ask Dr. Ruth reruns).  With so many psyche-smashing digital images and only forty-eight minutes of show per week to work with, it’s understandable that small, irrelevant plot points like whether the most captivating character on the show possesses an honest-to-goodness will of his own must occasional be swept under the credenza.  But on the rare occasion when it is touched on, or even shoved to the forefront (the latter half of Stan’s Trial, Woz, Brigadoom to a certain degree, and much of the Vlad arc), the beans tend to present Kai as the ultimate rational animal…the kind of tempered, inflexible logician that a certain pointy-eared hobgoblin who shall remain nameless could only aspire to be.  Cui bono…who benefits?  It’s what Kai would stop to ask himself every time he so much as set foot outside—or back into—his cryopod, were it not already hardwired into his being.

Naturally, when he was an Assassin, his rationale for doing anything was pretty one dimensional.  “Because His Shadow wishes it.”  Case closed, right?  Well, almost.  HDS may have expressly stated, “I want the arch-procrastinator Bilbo of Palookaville 67 clubbed to death with squirrels,” but with no way of knowing what his Assassin might encounter en route to seeing his orders through—insurgency, trails going cold, mass squirrel migrations—it’s highly unlikely that he took time to spell out, in detail, every single remotely possible action/reaction he might conceivably have to take.  His host body would shrivel up into a bipedal Slim Jim before he got as far as reminding the Assassin to pick him up a sack of flour on the way back.  So it’s safe to assume that your standard, off-the-rack Divine Assassin possessed some degree of rudimentary autonomy, either because His Shadow deliberately left traces of the relevant instincts intact when he wiped the intended’s memories/higher faculties, or because the bio-engineers painstakingly encoded a hyper-complex series of reactive algorithms into the Assassin’s mind (in the same way one might program a chess playing supercomputer, actually…). 

With that in mind, we might consider the possibility that Kai acts the way he does because the memories/sense of identity he regained from the Predecessor were forced to adapt to that physical retooling.  We’ll never know for sure, since Kai is the only example we’re ever given to work with.  But Yottskry’s revival demonstrated that under ideal circumstances, protoblood can revive an unaltered corpse with no ill-effects to the deceased’s memory, motor functions, etc.  So what might have happened if Yottskry—or someone like him—had found himself in Kai’s situation, without the side-effect of having been reworked into an Assassin?  If he had simply been mind-wiped, killed, revived, then reabsorbed his consciousness from the Predecessor that did him in?  I’m tempted to believe that he would have been the same old Yottskry, no different from the restored model Kai and Zev spoke with before the Giga Shadow absorbed him.  

Assuming, then, that he’s still running on the same rigid operating system the bio-engineers stuck him with, it more or less follows that he would apply the same “Who benefits?” logic to his actions post-IWHS.  In this case, “cui” seems to boil down to two overlapping factions:

1) His companions (for whom he exhibits a demonstrable—though highly muted—affection/attachment)

2) The greater good/natural order


You don’t have to look too far for examples of the former.  If Stan or Xev—or someone they consider their friend/ally—stand to benefit from some action of his, he’ll do it…so long as it doesn’t conflict with that second bullet point.  A prime example of this comes at the end of Stan’s Trial.  Kai calmly admits that he would have iced Jihana if Stan had asked him to…then he would have turned right around and essentially executed Stan for ordering a murder!  For an even broader example, look to the Vlad debacle.  As much fun as it is to take little jabs at that arc for how it came to a head, the run-up was an example of Kai’s algorithmic altruism at an all-time high.  He wanted to see the matter through to the end, because all indications pointed toward the presence of a Divine Executioner, which could spell doom for the entire planet.  Stopovers aside, you’ll notice nothing Stan or Xev said could dissuade him from going to Transylvania and investigating the matter…because they’d essentially been overruled!  That his friends are basically decent people deep down is likely why we didn’t see this take place more often.  For example, if Stan had rolled out of bed one morning and said, “Kai, old buddy, old pal…I’ve always wanted a necklace made out of human feet.  Go make me one,” I’m pretty sure Kai would find a way to refuse (though it’s likely he wouldn’t kick up much fuss if Stan went out and took matters into his own hands…until Xev ordered him to make Stan stop!).  

Of course, I shouldn’t even have to mention Kai’s inflated season 4 body count.  By about the fifth episode you’d think the guy used his post-season 3 downtime to study conflict resolution under the renowned Professor C. Bronson, but you’ll notice that whenever he does mow somebody down it’s because he perceives them as an immediate threat to Stan, Xev, or in one case, the Scooby Gang (who if nothing else, are useful to him in the short run).  Tough to imagine the same blood-n-guts outcome if the ATF stooges were coming at him with nets and whistles.

So wait a tick…does that mean that Kai really didn’t want to try to revive Xev after Vlad killed her?  Honestly…probably not.  He probably would have been equally content to leave Stan to his fate after he drowned on Water.  The dead are dead, and logically, should stay dead.  In neither case did Kai take the lead.  He merely followed through on the bereaved living companion’s wishes.  Makes you wonder what ol’ paleface might have done if Stan and Xev both died.  My guess: sit on the bridge until his protoblood expired.  After all, what do the dead really want, except to be dead?

(For a slightly different, far more coherent take on the matter, I once more beseech you to hunt up Valdron’s “Darrow Files.”)

Silver-tongued foot (…the hell?) in the door, Prince once again invites Kai to play for steaks (guy’s bound and determined to clean out his freezer before he goes on vacation).  The lank, pallid, obviously vegan dead man declines the offer (*PRINCE/MEAT JOKE #59683 FILE NOT FOUND*), so Prince sweetens the pot: his vintage, one-of-a-kind “Buffalo Bills Super Bowl XXVII Champions” egg separator, or Kai’s heretofore disembodied conscious spirit.  Novice rube who knows nothing of Craigslist and its ways, Kai opts for the soul, very much to the delight of ol’ Izzy, who boasts of his suddenly relevant ability to put Kai’s mortal shell and its spiritual nougat back together again so that they can finally be at rest.  

Thinking back on the firestorm of feeble speculation that was the Skiffy board circa spring of ’02, it occurs to me that we spent far too much time parsing what we thought Prince said, while effectively tuning out what he really did—and didn’t—say.  Had such pesky little inconveniences as jobs, circadian rhythms, and the occasional desire to willfully expose ourselves to sunlight and interact with a fellow human being in a real-world capacity not cut into our analysis time, it’s likely that many in the audience—myself included—would not have felt quite so cheated by live-Kai’s lack of screen time in the finale.

Intractable sense of reasoning notwithstanding, Kai has no reason at all to believe Prince ever would or could make good on his promise.  So, quite naturally, he immediately takes him up on it, happily tossing Stan and Xev’s souls into the pot for good measure (I guess they used his codpiece as a makeshift bottle opener one too many times).  From there we’re treated to a full rendition of the Brunnen-G fight song, as opposed to the truncated s4 opening (nice touch, more epic), after which Kai resumes calling the shots, insisting that the game be played “in the Brunnen-G way,” which, if I’m not mistaken means:


*meters instead of yards

*stand on your head and chug a beer at the top of each even numbered inning

*risk limb to hastily bunny-hop through a dimensional ulcer into a little-explained “unstable partial universe” for the purposes of…of…damn it, where’s that cricket when I need him?


Lousy weather and hecklers be damned, we’re settling this score in the Other Zone (so Kai blew an afternoon on Skiffy’s baffling Wizard of Oz reboot too, eh?).  Why it has never once been mentioned, referenced, or alluded to up until now is, as usual, none of our damn business, but in the spirit of such wonderfully farfetched concepts as sentient chess pieces, planet-gulping insects, and a dimwitted libidinous boob in the White House (…and the President’s not too bright either, ba dum bum!), I’m going to let that one slide.  After all, we were never shown any conclusive proof that there were only two universes.

“Ah, but Bilbo, the preceding episodes were shot through with references to the two universes!  You’re running on a particularly lean mixture today, aren’t you?”

First of all, who the hell said that!?!?  Don’t come any closer, I’ve got a…desk lamp!  A really pointy one!  That’s still under warranty!

Second of all, who is it that’s constantly making references to the two universes?  That’s right, characters who grew up in the Light Zone, aka the most oppressive totalitarian hellscape this side of Mrs. Rippe’s Daycare center (…that old bat simply refused to take “I don’t wanna play with him, he smells like paint” for an answer!).  One of the very first scenes in IWHS features Stan in his TV-dinner-sized dwelling being force fed a low definition propaganda film denouncing the Dark Zone as an even worse place to raise a harem.  Now in some ways, that’s actually true.  But be that as it may, it was still a realm totally outside of His Shadow’s domain, which means that no matter how wretched, chaotic, and downright rank it really is, a lot of folks probably would have preferred to take their chances amongst the cannibals, maniacs, and encyclopedia salesmen then bow, scrape, and cough up ludicrous pie making taxes to the Order.  Hence the perpetual negative ad campaigns, mook-staffed military blockade of the only known fractal core, and, in all likelihood, rigorous suppression/purging of all information pertaining to any other parallel universe(s).  As I hold with the theory that human civilization actually originated in the Dark Zone, that that universe owes its sorry state to the fact that the Insect Wars primarily took place there, and that mankind—with the Brunnen-G leading the pack—first piled into the Light Zone as a means of seeking shelter/a fresh start—His Shadow had no choice but to reluctantly acknowledge its existence.  It was common knowledge of the sort that even his empire couldn’t fully stamp out, so he went with the next best option: spinning its nightmarishly disorganized state into the ultimate argument for remaining safely huddled under the umbrella of the Order (your bad analogy for the day: imagine if West Berlin had actually been Mordor).  From there, fragmented knowledge of other, less chaotic universes was probably stamped out with full force, to the point where so much as entertaining such a notion was branded the ultimate act of heresy (akin to giving a medieval Pope a wet willy) that begat the most horrific of consequences.  For their insolence, I imagine more than a few of those starry-eyed temporal tinkerers were transformed into Assassins, which, as a matter of course, would necessitate a Divine memory wipe.  And who was it again that came along all those years later and started calling dibs on His Shadow’s stuff?   

Lean mixture, you say? *reminds himself to buy a new desk lamp…and some stucco…and take pitching lessons at the Y*

“There,” Kai says as they begin to cross over, “I feel it.  We are close!”  Moment of truth, ladies: how many of you have that sound file as your ringtone?  Naturally, Prince cracks a wry grin at this, because that’s his line…or at least, part of his line (ol’ Izzy never really struck me as the “we” type), though it’s difficult to tell if Prince is genuinely confused by Kai’s cosmic know-how, or if he’s feigning ignorance to string Kai along.  

So the moth passes through what appears to be some sort of extra-dimensional membrane (as someone who’s recently developed a layman’s fascination with the thoroughly untestable M-theory, I got a kick out of the unspoken implication) and materializes in…Utah?  I’m still not 6% clear on what’s going on here, or why they had to relocate to another universe in the first place, but it’s worth it to see the Izzy of old, back in the flesh and rockin’ those oh-so-wicked season 3 digs that the costume department went to great pains to recreate after an eBay bidding war dissolved into a hostage situation.  While he stretches his new legs and whips out a hand mirror to make sure that whatever cosmic overforce re-embodied him didn’t short him an inch (…I heard that, go sit in the corner!), our dimensionally disadvantaged heroes back on the Lexx grit their teeth and chatter nervously.  Or at least Stan does.  Xev, on the other hand, is cool as the other side of the pillow (gimme just a second to analyze that image…), because Kai already assured them he would win, and despite the fact that he occasionally obfuscates, engages in misinformation, bends the truth into some kind of hideously misshapen Escher-esque death pretzel, fibs, passes the buck, withholds, talks in circles, and writes checks his ass can’t cash, he never lies.  Except when he does (to say nothing of the fact that some of his “winning” strategies included ordering his ludicrously outgunned/undersized fleet to crash their ships into the Foreshadow, deliberately collapsing an entire universe, and diving headlong into an inescapable limbo without doing a smattering of recon work first.  And do I even have to bring up the giant net theory again…?)

But this time will totally be different, because something worthwhile is on the line, unlike their last match, where they merely played for first dibs on the can (Good Lord, we saw how that went…).  I found it kind of odd that he declined the offer to pick up their original game, considering they walked away from the board with Prince in check and Kai very much in control of the center, but as history has shown us, Kai just wouldn’t be Kai if he weren’t constantly making things harder on himself (…).  Besides, once you’ve succeeded with the traditional “stand in one place and lob brace shots at the problem until it goes away” philosophy the first five thousand times, cockiness and complacency blend together to form a nutritious mush (I still maintain that if Thodin hadn’t adopted an identical fighting style out of his completely reasonable fear of taking a bad right step and getting a run in his battle tights, we would have been treated to a very different show.)

Prince, who has suddenly—and explicably—assumed control of the situation, agrees to Kai’s terms, then immediately calls dibs on white, to the faint background pitter-patter of all the chess-savvy side-betters who just raced off to their bookies in a frantic attempt to change their bets and/or beg mercy on behalf of their thumbs.  As Prince correctly states, white goes first, giving the player a slight statistical advantage.  While the black/white issue is a fairly moot point among novice players, or in cases of lopsided skill levels, conventional chess wisdom, as it’s been explained to me, holds that in a game between two skilled, evenly matched opponents, a checkmate for black is a highly unusual outcome, thus the player usually angles for a tie or draw.  An intriguing possibility that the episode never really brings up.  Leads one to wonder: why doesn’t Bilbo spend more time talking to girls?

And here is where it just plain gets hard.








Seriously, it’s almost impossible to do a conventional review of the middle portion of this episode, because despite the familiar characters and wicked cool visual gimmicks, 85% of it is a move-by-move chess match, and let’s face it, it would be pert-near impossible for me to take my traditional essayistic approach when attempting to analyze something I barely understand (might be why that Glamour editor hasn’t called me back).  I mean, I guess I could try…


1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qe2 Nf6 4.d3 Nc6 5.c3 Ne7 (…that’s what she said!) 6.f4 exf4 7.d4 Bb6 8.Bxf4 d6 9.Bd3 Ng6 10.Be3 0-0 (i.e., the peyote content of Hirschfield’s Cheerios) 11.h3 Re8 12.Nd2 Qe7 13.0-0-0 c5 14.Kb1 cxd4 (Bilbo, you dolt…) 15.cxd4 a5 16.Ngf3 Bd7 17.g4 h6 18.Rdg1 a4 19.g5 hxg5 (Bunny!!!) 20.Bxg5 a3 21.b3 Bc6 22.Rg4 Ba5 23.h4 Bxd2 24.Nxd2 Ra5 (Good Lord, the whole thing!!!  What kind of masters-level Yoga training would that require!?!?) 25.h5 Rxg5 26.Rxg5 Nf4 27.Qf3 Nxd3 28.d5 Nxd5 (…spiders…) 29.Rhg1 Nc3+ 30.Ka1 Bxe4 31.Rxg7+ Kh8 32.Qg3 Bg6 33.hxg6 Qe1+ 34.Rxe1 Rxe1+ 35.Qxe1 Nxe1 36.Rh7+ Kg8 (And that’s why they call me Bilbo the Inscrutable!) 37.gxf7+ Kxh7 38.f8N+ Kh6 39.Nb1 Nc2

...BLAH BLAH BLAH…timely and efficient manner.


Cheery bye.


Not entirely without charm, like the guy who wrote it (seriously, whoever transcribed that match is a class act!), but at the same time it lacks a certain jalopitous je ne sais quoi, no?  

Well, get used to it, ‘cause lean-n’-hearty is the order of the day from here on out.  Having already pounded you into pudding-eyed submission with paragraph after paragraph of wearisome spec, nitpicking, specpicking, and knitting (I’m this close to finishing off my skull-and-crossbones tea cozy set…and I’ve only lost half a pint of blood!), I’m going to switch things up a bit by artfully picking Father Time’s pocket and winding the clock back to a time long-forgotten.  A simpler time, when men were (metrosexual) men, people used phones to speak to each other, and my episode reviews had yet to let themselves balloon out of control into dissertation-length Unabomber-style screeds.  Yes, since ranting and raving without digging into the minutia of the match itself is nigh impossible for so pedestrian a penman as yours truly, I’m instead going to provide a point-by-point rundown of whatever happened to stand out to me, similar to how I approached my first round of reviews on Skiffy (I mourn the loss of the Bboard archive, I really do…but I don’t miss any of my early posts, because they flat out sucked!).  So anyways, I was thinkin’…


*I LOVE the design of the chessboard.  I don’t know that I would actually go so far as to kill to have one in my home (although it appears to have some wooden components, so scratch at least one tree and the hippie who’s chained himself to it off the list), but I would slander the hell out of my fellow man in a heartbeat to get a hold of one!  Unfortunately, I hear-tell the actors and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye, and if the behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt is to be believed, Mike and Nigel’s version of a wrap party included stomping the episode’s signature prop to bits! (to the thundering backbeat of Flight of the Valkyries…at least in my mind).

*My first thought upon watching Kai and Prince settle in for their game: you guys might want to sit down (bit biased here, as I’m one of those momentum-challenged doofuses who sits and stares at his pieces until his chin starts to gather moss).  My second thought: Mike…dude…trim your nails.

*The character-based chess pieces providing a running commentary on the game, hurling childish insults at each other, and generally chattering like a pack of hyperglycemic howler monkeys was a nice touch (it’d be like if Kasparov did a cram session at the Ron Artest School of Smack Talkin’).  Without them, the action would have been almost impenetrable for non-chess players, and a lot of their taunts and zingers were just plain fun (when I was on the receiving end of one of my kid-brother’s many thrashings, I couldn’t help but imagine my hopelessly outmatched pieces circulating a petition to have me fired).  Prince-king, unsurprisingly, stands out as the most enrapturing of the lot, dropping several key pieces of exposition.  Among them, that Prince’s favorite ploy is to lure his enemies into an unwinnable “game.”  Whether he is explicitly referring to chess is a matter for the courts to decide (by which I mean we should settle it with a free throw contest), but for my hand-drawn money I choose to believe that he’s speaking in much broader terms.  Think of a few of Prince’s more high-profile ploys: the Stan/May debacle, luring Kai down his well into limbo.  Both the very definition of the no-win situation until Xev gave Fire the Gordian Knot treatment.  For that matter, look at this game…does Prince actually stand to lose anything?   

*First cut-away to the players, and…where the hell did those lawn chairs come from!?!?  Well, since we’ve started down the infinite probability route, it’s too bad the beans couldn’t have added some other amenities after each cut…a hibachi, a cooler of Canadian ale, cheerleaders, some birds idly pecking at Kai’s head…

*Ah, so right off the bat both players appear to be eyeing the old “four move checkmate” ruse.  Can’t say I blame them, it’s quite a thing to behold if your opponent is dumb enough to fall for it.  Unfortunately, if said nemesis is savvy enough to master a light switch, chances are you’re S.O.L.  In other words, it’s right about here when my strategy goes to hell and begins its inevitable collapse into an infinitely dense singularity of boneheaded failure.  But that’s just me…personally, I think it would have been hilarious if Kai had dropped Prince in a matter of seconds.  Ol’ Izzy would have treated us to one of his wacky flustered-faces, Stan and Xev would have continued standing around wondering when something was going to happen, and the beans could have coasted through the rest of the episode with cutting-room footage of Mike and Nigel kickin’ it on an ice floe, totally out of character, sharing a smoke, swapping gardening tips, and idly pondering whether or not Jill—you know, that new cinematography intern with the horn rims and the Dilbert posters—is seeing anyone.  Paging Road Not Taken… 

*No way Kai can lose!  He’s a Divine Assassin!  Programmed to win!  The Bio-scholars gave him a Sun Tzu-ectomy!  Hate to keep two-steppin’ on this grave, but which part of that overhaul included the old “wake the eternally sleeping all powerful nemesis in order to force a hopeless confrontation instead of leaving well enough alone and catching a stag flick” strategy?  

*Bunny-queen: “I can go any direction I want!”  And now we come to my customized ringtone!  (Oh the many, many ways that could backfire)

*Bunny-queen II: “I’m not exactly sure I can control what I do!” Mmmmmm...hmm…no.  On second thought, that statement is just plain creepy.

*Sir Stanley the Priapic: “Better run for your lives, whiteys!” Ladies and gentlemen, meine damen un herren, for tonight’s performance, the part of ‘Captain Stanley H. Tweedle’ will be played by Chris Rock.

*Like I’ve said, the tutorial aspect is one of the absolute highlights of the episode (it’s like a Mister Rogers special…if he were desperately trying to get himself fired).  That said, can the pieces actually see and hear the little light-up squares and railroad crossing sound effects?  Given all that’s gone down already, why is that the one thing I just refuse to let slide?

*Speaking of hallucinations, am I the only one who heard the Stan-knights groaning in unison when the Priest-knight boasted about his Prince’s “dramatic forward position?”  On a totally unrelated note, where might an average Joe secure the services of an experienced herald?  Preferably one who accepts carwash coupons and gum in lieu of a traditional salary (full dental coverage, however.  Inquire within.)

*790-rook: “Finally, some action!”  Minor aside, since I’ve been hanging on this ep every second of the way, but is he supposed to be channeling the audience?  If so he’s quite off the mark, because the Lexxians I know appreciate the heady stuff (…somebody spray Ketana with a hose if she snickers).  That said, there’s been a noticeable dip in Romero-esque projectile bloodshed post-s1.  Cue the compensatory surplus!

*I initially found some of the character-piece assignments a bit odd.  For example, while they represent what Prince himself purports to be, Vlad and HDS seem out of place, as neither character had any connection to Prince whatsoever.  On Kai’s side, the Time Prophet seems similarly out of place, since nothing about her character—save the little precognitive “Get yer ass in gear!” message she recorded for Stan in Supernova—suggested she took sides.  Her conversations with both Kai and HDS were equally detached and amicable, suggesting she was more or less above the fray (and almost certainly something more than human).  Of course it’s worth remembering that this game was specifically designed for Kai (despite the fact that Kai’s the one who insisted they zip on over to the Other Zone…damned if I know what Prince would have done if dead man had said, “Very well, we’ll play here,” and proceeded to carve a crude chessboard into the surface of the moon), so it follows that the character-pieces be culled from Kai’s personal history, as opposed to Prince’s.  Besides, it was worth it just to hear the normally stentorian TP prattle on like a crabby neighbor lady.  Double bonus points for bringing back the velvety-voiced incarnation of His Shadow that originally killed Kai!  

*Prince-king (who looks like a snooty celebrity chef in close-up shots): “Your position is bad, therefore you should have tried something bold.”
Stan: “STOP CALLING ME!”

*Considering I failed to even pick up on it until fairly recently, Priest’s Harry Potter cheek scar is especially noticeable in this outing.  

*And speaking of things I would fail to pick up, I’ve apparently been out of the game (pun optional) for waaaaaayy too long.  I nearly stopped and asked myself why Xev was standing around with her arms splayed out and her back uncomfortably arched for no discernable reason!  Caught myself just in time.  And while I’m on Xev (“…of a little-known cult sci-fi review writer was found brutally dismembered and spread out across five non-adjoining states.  But first the weather…”), kudos to the luscious lil’ lizard for her mildly irritated, “I want my hand back.”  Stan, RoboCop, and two generations of Skywalkers could learn a thing or two from her about keeping their cool while they’re being dismembered (although it’s tough to fault Stan’s Labeouf-ian histrionics when his hand goes…dude’s way too old to start playing the field again).

*“Resign!  Resign!  Resign!”  Ah, so Paul left the camera rolling during the semi-hourly Bonnie Hammer Two Minutes’ Hate.

*There really is a nifty strategy behind castling: it puts the king in a safer position, away from the center of the board, and allows one of the rooks to break out of the corner and potentially do some damage.  At least that’s the theory.  I mainly just do it because it looks cool (didn’t stop my brother from annihilating me Genghis Khan style).

*Prince-king: “Moves like this are a cause for concern.”  Oh, if I had a buck…I’d hit up the dollar menu! 

*So “unstable” is apparently Kai’s way of saying that the Other Zone is melting?  Peachy.  So does that mean we can send you-know-who there for a while?

*Not that I would have lasted half as long as Kai (*hard stare*), but it seems to me that Prince sealed his own fate by a) barricading himself behind a blocked pawn, and b) failing to pounce on Kai’s knight when he had a clear shot.  The Xev-queen sacrifice was just the high-stakes icing on the cake.  Anyone who’s qualified to tell me I’m full of it care to chime in?

*So Xev’s an immobile, half-dressed torso…and Stan’s got no hands.  Ain’t it always the way!  By the way, did the “scratch my head” moment strike anyone else as a little odd?  On the one hand, it was a nice little throwback to some of the endearing bonding scenes that Stan and Xev shared during season 3.  On the other, I couldn’t help but wonder if what we were shown was the scene as scripted, or if Brian and Xenia were just futzing around with the green screen effects (I got to play with one of those once, and tried to make it look like I had a hole in my hand…turns out it would be quicker and more cost effective to just drill a real one.  Will keep you informed).

*Priest-knight: “I’d say you were in a spot of trouble.”  Bother!  Bother, Reggie, a spot of bother!  Sweet merciful McManus, am I the only one who appreciates a good callback!?!?

*Prince claims that the world of the living was never a good fit for him, but that in the Other Zone he finally understands what he is and how he fits into the big picture.  Aside from the obvious “Thank you sooooo much for that, Kai!” my gut reaction is twofold: Does he really?  And, did the “Prince” who held court on the Beach with Stan possess any such knowledge?  Short answer to both, I believe, is “no.”  

*And while we’re dipping our collective big toe in the metaphysics end of the champagne filled hot tub, Kai speaks of “our consciousness” deriving from the “Dream Zone.”  It’s possible he could be citing some sort of Brunnen-G creation myth, but I can’t picture Kai—particularly postmortem Kai—putting stock in anything not grounded in stone-cold fact.  For that matter, when he speaks of “our consciousness,” is he explicitly referring to his own culture, or to all of humanity, i.e. a collective human conscious/unconscious?  I’ve poked this concept with a stick in a couple of my other reviews, to varying degrees of abject failure, and while it’s unlikely we’ll ever know what the beans truly had in mind unless a medium who’s lost his will to live volunteers to mind link with them, I can’t help but ponder the fascinating big-picture implications that this and other spiritual curios such as the fairies, Brunnis Sun/Blue Star, and even Prince and all his associated baggage hint at.  Everyone is entitled to his/her own take, of course, but for my money this blows the lid off the contention that Lexx takes place in a purely atheistic universe.  Nihilistic, oh hell yes.  But be that as it may, there are clearly larger forces at work.

*I really didn’t keep track of the shifting scenery (though I demand to know where the moth went when Kai and Prince were perched atop a glacier the size of a bath mat).  All I know is that it seemed to vacillate between predominantly snowy white and volcanic black depending on who had control of the board, which leads to an awesome shot of the sky going pitch black, as though it had suddenly been injected with dye, when Kai puts Prince in check.  It certainly gives the black pieces the shot in the arm they need…particularly the Stan-knights, whose faces beam with believable bloodlust.  I don’t have to remind you, Brian Downey—who seems as cool as they come in the interviews I’ve read—can be a downright spooky dude when he wants to be!  If his character in the forthcoming talky, highbrow docudrama Hobo with a Shotgun is anything less than a stark-raving psychotic, I will be most bummed (er, um…hoboed?)

*Much heartfelt respect for Kai’s heroic restraint.  The endgame is in sight, and obviously some taunting is in order, but rather than falling back on the weatherworn “I have killed…” bit, he head fakes us and treats us to his lesser known “balloon story,” obviously culled from his youth (dude had a fondness for balloons, if you recall).  Despite not figuring into this story—Kai and Prince have only ever squared off in gondolas—Prince insists that things will turn out differently this time, at which point I was really hoping Kai would explode out of his seat and shout, “I wasn’t talking about you!  It’s always gotta be about you, doesn’t it!?” then knocked the board over and stormed off.

*“And now the king defends himself!” First there was Stan quoting The Simpsons.  Now Kai is brandishing a Ninja Turtles weapon.  I need to take a quick ice bath, hold my calls.

*Pawn promotions aren’t always as cut and dry as they seem.  Granted, it’s hard to pass up a fresh queen, particularly if you’ve already lost yours, but in Prince’s case it didn’t gain him anything.  Had he opted for a knight instead, Kai’s king would have immediately been placed in check.  A moot point, in all likelihood, as Prince was already doomed at this point.  Besides, why deny us that glorious kill shot?  I could go on at length about the symbolism: a towering Stanley-knight straddling the defenseless Prince-king’s head as he applies the coup de grace with his mighty club, but I’ll just let the harrowing look on Brian “…the abyss gazes also into you” Downey’s mug do the talkin’!



Game, set, and match.  Here endeth one of the most epic, unique, and thought-provoking episodes of the entire series, in typical season 4 fashion…Prince blows out of town, Xev and Stan celebrate their good fortune with the traditional A-frame “I tolerate your existence” hug followed by the lesser known “We Cheated Death Again” square dance, Kai lopes back onto the bridge, indifferent as ever, and we (the people) are left to ponder what will happen next, as well as the feasibility of dumping all of our garbage in another plane of existence.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way!


<GAME OVER>

HIGH SCORES

532,754  KAI
462,902  IZY
318,535  ASS
           9  B67



Cheery bye.

Last edited on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 11:34 am by Bilbo67



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 Posted: Mon Jan 17th, 2011 03:44 pm

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Loved your review!  Honestly, I just watched this episode last night, so kudos to you for great timing!  It was the first time I'd seen The Game in a quite some time, but it was always one of my favorite episodes.  I think I might re-watch it again tonight in light of all the observations you made (Michael's nails needed a trim?  Somehow, I missed that... LOL).

One of the things I loved was the shift in backgrounds depending on who had the upper hand in the game.  It was a really nice touch... and, I'm with you - I want that chess board!  I know there are pics of it being stomped to death, so.... yeah... bummer.

:kai-red::prince:



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 Posted: Tue Jan 18th, 2011 03:49 pm

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Another stunning review !!! I don't know how you do it...good thing I'm not at work when I read this either....

BTW, I have a copy of the original game played by Kai and Prince, it was a world-famous match, and the chess board that Flamegrape made up to showcase the moves. Also, Michael mentioned in several interviews the parallels between Bergman's 'Seventh Seal' and 'The Game' and practiced with Nigel incessantly for the scene.


QUOTE:

“There,” Kai says as they begin to cross over, “I feel it.  We are close!”  Moment of truth, ladies: how many of you have that sound file as your ringtone? "

UNQUOTE:

BUSTED !!!!


:s010a:


Last edited on Tue Jan 18th, 2011 05:13 pm by mayaXXX



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 Posted: Tue Jan 18th, 2011 04:17 pm

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You've got the animated boards?  Sweet, let's do business!

I've got FG's original write-up, and I tried to get a hold of her last week using the only email address I could scrounge up.

I wonder: were either Mike or Nigel experienced chess players to begin with?  Sometimes in shows/movies when two purportedly genius-type characters are shown playing, their moves are downright nonsensical.



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 Posted: Tue Jan 18th, 2011 05:46 pm

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This one of the few Lexx episodes where visual aids are not only necessary but integral to understanding the plot.

First of all, I should probaby post some pics so folks can understand some of the visuals:'

KAI'S BLACK KING



GAME SET



MICHAEL PRACTICING



MICHAEL STOMPING THE BOARD



MICHAEL AND NIGEL IN ICELAND



Here are some zip files from the whole episode

http://www.michael-mcmanus.com/769PX.zip

Ok, first off, the basis for the actual game is a legendary chess game:

1834, 21st game of the series, LaBourdonnais vs McDonnell

There is a quite lengthy discussion of all the moves and countermoves on the original Sadgeezers site, where alot of strategy is explained.

http://www.sadgeezer.com/node/1697

flamegrapes page for the moving boards: Now defunct.

http://www.flamegrape.com/lexx/418_TheGame/index.htm

HOWEVER, if some enterprising person goes to the Wayback machine site and pastes in the URL, it may show you the original boards.

Michael did practice for the game, along with Nigel on several occasions, according to board members that were visiting the set during season 4.

As for my copies of the boards, it'll take a millenium or two to dig them up, but have them, I do.

 



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 Posted: Tue Jan 18th, 2011 06:17 pm

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Ah upon further investigation, I was able to access the basic page for the Chess match:

[url=http://web.archive.org/web/20030426171040/]http://www.flamegrape.com/lexx/418_TheGame/index.htm]http://web.archive.org/web/20030426171040/http://www.flamegrape.com/lexx/418_TheGame/index.htm[/url]


COPY and paste the entire url from the web-archive section in addition to the original site link.



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 Posted: Tue Jan 18th, 2011 09:50 pm

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Well, I didn't really get much out of this particular review. I'm not saying it wasn't brilliant, just a bit over my head.

I must admit however, it tickles me no end that Bilbo shares my low regard for fuggin' HIPPIES.

Last edited on Tue Jan 18th, 2011 09:52 pm by eLNunn



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 Posted: Tue Jan 18th, 2011 10:25 pm

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A most excellent review! So funny and insightful. I loved the explanation of why a straightforward essay format wouldn't work for this.

This episode is brilliant, and definitely one of my very top three. I can never narrow it down past that. At times, this is my favorite, at others it is Brigadoom, and then occasionally, it is Twilight. What can I say? I'm a sucker for bad poetry. I like it when Kai is askew (I prefer a happy askew over an on-a-murder-rampage askew).

I especially love the set design for this episode. I sometimes think I would like to live in a chess board. In Wonderland. I do like to play chess, but more than that, I like the idea of chess, of a battle of wits. And I so appreciate that a chess match was the entire episode. Who would do that today, what with the world being taken over by insidious 'reality' shows? (evil, evil things)

Seeing a step-by-step breakdown of the moves, with an explanation of the strategy involved, was really helpful and just made me appreciate the genius that much more. I do play chess, but without the bother of strategy. So, needless to say, I don't play well. 
 



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 Posted: Tue Jan 18th, 2011 11:04 pm

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Kaden wrote: Who would do that today, what with the world being taken over by insidious 'reality' shows? (evil, evil things)

I do play chess, but without the bother of strategy. So, needless to say, I don't play well. 
 

We are not so different, you and I!

Without spraying too much saliva on innocent bystanders, I more or less said my piece about "reality" shows in my Xevivor review.



eLNunn wrote: I must admit however, it tickles me no end that Bilbo shares my low regard for fuggin' HIPPIES.


Oh, they serve their purpose.  Or at least, they will, once those enterprising young Soylent brothers get their small business start-up loan approved.

Last edited on Tue Jan 18th, 2011 11:08 pm by Bilbo67



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 Posted: Wed Jan 19th, 2011 03:21 pm

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Just remember to pick out the fillings and metal hip pins before you bite into your Soylent Green Power Bar.

:2567:



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 Posted: Wed Jan 19th, 2011 05:07 pm

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mayaXXX wrote: Ah upon further investigation, I was able to access the basic page for the Chess match:

[url=http://web.archive.org/web/20030426171040/]http://www.flamegrape.com/lexx/418_TheGame/index.htm]http://web.archive.org/web/20030426171040/http://www.flamegrape.com/lexx/418_TheGame/index.htm[/url]


COPY and paste the entire url from the web-archive section in addition to the original site link.

Thanks, Maya!  That's brilliant.  :)



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 Posted: Wed Jan 19th, 2011 06:41 pm

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I have to give props to Flamegrape for going to all the trouble of making those pages. Chess fans all over the globe were moaning in ecstasy at the strategy and representation of that original game.

:c030a:



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 Posted: Wed Jan 19th, 2011 11:07 pm

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I agree about the velvety voice of the original Kai killer. He was so calm, so nonchalant, and yet somehow sincere. That gentle calm was way spookier than the mocking quality of the next HDS.



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 Posted: Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 07:37 am

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Before I say what an awsome review this is (cause it is), the Virgo in me must point out that Flamegrape is a he, not a she.  (Just in case he reads this and is offended that you changed his gender).  Hehehehehehehe...

I can only imagine (myself not being a chess player), how hard it was to dissect this episode to review.  From my layman's eye, you gave it a great college clown try.  And I give you 10 red bozo noses up.  I sat through the whole review, through a foggy haze (or it was  the *counts them* 6 cigarettes I smoked) and was captured by the words, or maybe it's just the fact my ass fell asleep on this chair and I couldn't move, but none-the-less.....YOU ROCK DUDE!!!  :2567:



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 Posted: Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 11:20 am

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Angel wrote:

I can only imagine (myself not being a chess player), how hard it was to dissect this episode to review.  From my layman's eye, you gave it a great college clown try.  And I give you 10 red bozo noses up.  I sat through the whole review, through a foggy haze (or it was  the *counts them* 6 cigarettes I smoked) and was captured by the words, or maybe it's just the fact my ass fell asleep on this chair and I couldn't move, but none-the-less.....YOU ROCK DUDE!!!  :2567:


Angel, I think I was with you in that foggy haze!



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