Mentalist Review: Episode 5×20 “Red Velvet Cupcakes”

Review of Episode 5×20: “Red Velvet Cupcakes” (AKA “Best Rigspelt Episode EVER!!”)
by castiello

Overall: A refreshingly unique case, some nice character moments, and about twenty gazillion reasons for Rigsby/Van Pelt shippers to grin like maniacs – what’s not to love? 🙂

Jane: Once again, Jane is being a hermit, unwilling to participate in the investigation. Well, technically he did agree to participate by phone – he just refused to grace the team with his actual, physical presence. And although Jane’s long-distance method of investigating does make for some funny scenes (“Rigsby – put the cupcake back…”), part of me couldn’t help but hate him a little bit, for making Lisbon personally come upstairs and tell him she needs him. I mean, I couldn’t see the title of the book he was reading, but he sure didn’t look like he was doing anything Red John-related, or even particularly urgent. It looked like he was just being a difficult, manipulative jerk, trying to see what lengths Lisbon would go to, to get him to come out.

That said, another part of me softened at how quickly he got up when she said she needed him, how gentle his voice was when he said, “It’s nice to be needed.” Maybe he wasn’t trying to be manipulative after all. Maybe he was just in a gloomy, non-social mental place, and he did need someone to come bring him out of it. Honestly, with his character, it could be either one of those possibilities, or both. Good writing, complex characters and nuanced performances make for great, thought-provoking television.

Another thing the episode made me wonder about: Did Jane know that going on the radio show would help reunite Rigsby and Van Pelt? Could he tell that they were right on the brink and just needed the right push? Something tells me the Mentalist knew exactly what he was doing when he set up that undercover assignment for “Dwayne” and “Stace,” and that solving the case was only a small part of his intent.

Lisbon: She’s been busy a lot this season. Busy, like not able to go to the initial crime scene. She’s either been in court, or having lunch with Kirkland, or at her own anniversary party. Though the reasons vary, this is the third time in recent memory that the team has started an investigation without her. Not saying it means anything – just saying it’s interesting.

Also interesting: Lisbon is a fan of the Love Doctor! And not too proud of it, either, lol! Very in keeping with her character, that she would keep something like that a secret – Lisbon raised three brothers and she’s established a career in a tough, male-dominated field. She’s trained herself to deny and squash down her feminine side, to the point where you put her in a pink bridesmaid’s dress and she looks like she wants to smash someone’s face in. It’s always neat when these little glimpses of Lisbon’s girly side come out.

And when glimpses of her womanly side come out – well, then we get some true revelations: I mean, turtlenecks? Really, Lisbon? Suddenly the attraction to Mashburn has layers…:)

In this episode, yet again, Lisbon was stuck with the task of dragging Jane out into the light and making him interact with his fellow humans. She seemed a little tired, and I don’t blame her. In truth, I’m sure she and the team are perfectly capable of solving the case without Jane. They wouldn’t solve it with nearly the speed or flare that he does, but they’d get the job done in a totally legal, slow-and-steady-wins-the-race kind of way. So, when Lisbon says she needs Jane, I think she means that she needs him to be okay. She needs him to be with her, so she doesn’t have to worry about him obsessing about serial killers in a dark attic 24/7. As we saw earlier this season, in “Red Dawn,” Lisbon has been about keeping Jane sane, engaged, and active right from Day One. She is a great friend…I just wish I knew if Jane deserved her.

On a lighter note, it was fun to see Lisbon squirm when Van Pelt and Rigsby were spilling the all-too-true details of their romance live on the radio. Lisbon gets uncomfortable so easily, especially when it comes to her personal life and the lives of her team members. You could just tell she hated every second of what she viewed as an intrusion into Van Pelt and Rigsby’s private lives – a total contrast to Jane, who was eating the whole thing up like a syrupy pile of Belgian waffles. More great character stuff.

And, speaking of:

Van Pelt/Rigsby: Wow. Just…wow. I mean, when Jane set them up to go on that radio show, I had no idea. None. I thought we were in for some humor. A little bickering, maybe. Some uncomfortable silences. Truly, nothing could have prepared me for the raw, naked, painful discussion that took place between these two characters. Years of bitterness, bad timing, and unresolved issues, all washed clean in a ten-minute radio broadcast. They talked about their break-up. They talked about Sarah and Ben. They talked about Craig (AKA, the homicidal maniac!). Van Pelt and Rigsby talked about everything that has been building up since Season One, and Owain and Amanda KILLED IT. I could not have been happier with that scene if you gave me a million dollars afterward. It was perfect, and I hope all the hard-core Rigspelt shippers are floating around on happy clouds right now. It was a long time coming.

Cho: You have to love how Rigsby can’t tell an attractive gold sandal from a loaf of bread, but my man Cho can spot what a sexy shoe is – or isn’t – with one look. 🙂 Footwear issues aside, though, it’s interesting to me that Cho made no attempt to coax Jane into the investigation. When Lisbon’s not present, that makes Cho temporarily the leader of the team. Therefore, wouldn’t it fall to him to make sure their consultant got with the program? I kind of looked forward to how Cho might handle this problem, and whether his methods for getting Jane out of the attic would be successful. It was mildly disappointing to see Cho back down from that challenge. (I forgive him, though, because he’s Cho.)

Randomness: Strong, emotional guest performances made some weird entanglements and strange fetishes seem relatable and realistic. From the S&M-enamored husband of the murdered woman, to the Love Doctor with a thing for feet, to the wife who couldn’t take that obsession with arches any longer, I thought the issues were explored somewhat sensitively and believably, rather than the whole thing getting turned into a joke. Plus, it was a plotline the show has never used before, so bonus points for that.

Final Thoughts: Without the beautiful, emotional and redemptive scenes between Rigsby and Van Pelt, this would have been a good episode. With those scenes included, the episode became great. I was blown away. I loved it. I wanted more. Good thing there’s another new episode tonight. 🙂

Supernatural Review: Episode 8×19 “Taxi Driver”

Review of Episode 8×19: “Taxi Driver”
by castiello

Overall: We got to see Bobby again. We got to see him and it was wonderful and epic and brilliant. Do I really even need to talk about the rest of the episode…?

(Yeah, I guess I probably should.)

Okay, so…

BOBBY: Nothing could’ve prepared my heart for the joy of seeing this crotchety old hat-wearing dude on my screen again. Even the previews were misleading – they only showed Bobby from the back, and seeing as the scene was obviously taking place in Hell, I figured the Bobby-like figure would turn around and reveal itself as some grotesque, slobbering monster that would try to chew Sam’s face off. (Hey, this is Supernatural – it could easily have gone down that way). But instead we got some sustenance for our souls in the form of Sam and Dean’s real, honest-to-goodness surrogate daddy. This was the genuine Bobby, people – not some twisted, vengeful spirit version of himself. What a refreshing relief.

Sure, he was a little worse for wear – I mean, Hell will do that to you. But he was more or less intact, and even had some of his trademark Bobby spunk, wanting to rejoin the battle on Earth, and making that joke after killing the Sam-Imposter (“It was 50/50 – I took a shot.” Seriously, Bobby? Seriously?). But best of all, he was the stern-yet-forgiving, tell-it-like-it-is role model that we have all come to know and cherish. Bobby’s shock that Dean had befriended a vampire was as honest and believable as his appalled reaction to the fact that Sam had not searched for Dean. Sam: “Dean and I had an agreement…” Bobby: “I know that agreement – that’s a non-agreement.” Thank you, Bobby. THANK YOU.

Bobby voiced the concerns and angers of the fans this season, which made me feel like the writers heard us – and listened. Thank you, Writers. THANK YOU.

I talked to one fan who said the only thing she didn’t like about this episode was that Bobby did not get to really see or interact with Dean. I actually didn’t have a problem with this. Bobby and Dean have had a lot of bonding moments over the years. Also, when John’s spirit made the trek up to Heaven, he interacted more with Dean, while only sharing a look with Sam. This seemed to even things out. Dean got a better goodbye with John, Sam got a better goodbye with Bobby. And Dean did get to see Bobby’s spirit ascending to Heaven after months of torture in Hell. Dean knew that Bobby was safe at last, and that was enough for me.

Dean: “I don’t trust angels.” You’ve got the right idea there, man. Keep following your gut. Although Naomi proved to be a helpful resource in this episode, I hope Dean sticks to his instincts when it comes to this she-devil in angel’s clothing. Cass may be confused about a lot of things right now, but he told Dean outright what Naomi did, and I don’t think Dean’s going to be forgetting that anytime soon.

Another thing Dean won’t be forgetting soon: the torture he and his brother both suffered in Hell. I can’t imagine what it took for Dean to let Sammy walk through those gates alone…I thought they should have gone together. I mean, as long as Sam did the actual rescuing of Bobby’s soul, why couldn’t Dean be there for backup? Then Benny wouldn’t have had to die, because Dean would have been there to lead Sam and Bobby to the portal in Purgatory.

Instead, this episode turned out to be a heartbreaker for Dean in more ways than one – not only did he let his little brother go to Hell alone, but then Dean had to kill someone he cared about just to get Sam back. The pain in Dean’s eyes and the rawness in his voice said it all. But I think anyone who doubted it can now see once and for all: when it comes to Sam and Benny, one person will always come first for Dean – and that’s Sam.

Dean was somewhat gentler with poor Kevin in this ep, trying to coax him out of hiding with food, but still, it wasn’t enough. The kid needed psychiatric help, and Dean had other things on his mind. The level of paranoia Kevin was experiencing should have had alarm sirens blaring in Dean’s brain. Maybe if Sam hadn’t been in Hell, Dean would have been able to focus more on Kevin’s mental health. Kinda dropped the ball on that one, Dean…But I forgive you, since, well, Sam was in Hell.

Sam: Just as I can’t imagine what it took for Dean to let Sam go, I don’t know how Sam found the courage to voluntarily enter Hell when he should’ve been running screaming in the other direction. I’ve always thought of both brothers as brave, but this may have been the greatest test of Sam’s mettle, yet.

Leaving the watch to mark the entrance was a nice touch. Not replacing the giant rock in Purgatory, though? Bad move, Sammy. Not at all in keeping with his character – these guys know to put stuff back where they found it. Especially stuff having to do with gateways and doorways and portals. No way Sam would have left that opening to Hell gaping wide like that. Just seeing it gave me shivers…I’m almost certain that open doorway is going to come back and bite both brothers in the butts – most probably next season – and it ticks me off a bit. You can’t have a smart character do something stupid, just to create a new plotline. If the writers need that doorway open for some future storyline, then they should have shown Sam at least try to move the rock back. They should have shown Sam and Bobby try to move the rock together. Every effort should have been made by these two experienced and intelligent hunters to prevent a stream of Hell-spawn from escaping into Purgatory. Finally, if all efforts failed and Sam and Bobby could not spend any more time trying to move the rock, then I would have been okay with it. But I was so not okay with the two of them just walking away without a second thought.

One thing I was okay with, though – Sam’s treatment of Benny. Despite Sam’s personal feelings, he was willing to bring Benny back to Earth. Later, when Sam told Dean that Benny had stayed behind, I could hear the softness of true understanding in Sam’s voice. He misjudged Benny. He let jealousy cloud over what Dean had always said about Benny being a friend. It was a sweet moment, and a healing one between the brothers. Kudos to Sam on not being afraid to walk into Hell, and double-kudos to him on not being afraid to say, “I was wrong.”

Benny: He let Dean send him to PURGATORY. He allowed Dean to CHOP HIS HEAD OFF. Benny sacrificed his life on Earth to go rescue someone who despises him, all out of loyalty to Dean – take that, all you Benny-haters! This was a great wrap-up of Benny’s storyline. A very different direction than where I thought the writers were going to go with him, and that’s cool. I love stuff that’s not predictable. I’m not saying I won’t miss Dean’s fang-buddy, but he never did seem happy being back on Earth, and this ending seemed to fit. I felt like Benny was back where he wanted to be, and the door’s not closed, so who knows? Maybe someday he’ll be back. (Benny: “Dean, I know you didn’t expect to see me again, but, well, there’s this open portal down in Purgatory, and a whole mess of demons just escaped…” Dun-dun-dun…)

Crowley: Keeping an innocent soul trapped in Hell? That’s low, even for you. But then, maybe Bobby wasn’t totally innocent. He did dodge his Reaper and stay behind, knowing it went against the natural order. Then he became a vengeful spirit and hurt innocent people, so, I dunno…that could be the loophole Crowley used to keep Bobby in Hell. That, or Crowley’s just an a-hole. Yeah, I think I’ll go with a-hole.

Kevin: Oh, poor baby. I could just feel how scrambled his brains were in this episode. He couldn’t tell reality from hallucination, and frankly, neither could I. Even at the end there, I didn’t know whether Crowley had actually appeared and taken him, or if he ran away as Dean assumed. Either way, I couldn’t help but applaud the writers for leaving me wondering.

Evidence for the “It was all in Kevin’s messed-up head” theory:

1.) The glass windows of the boat were not broken when Sam and Dean entered, although Crowley had broken them earlier. Can the King of Hell fix glass?

2.)I think Garth and Co. would be smart enough not to have Kevin’s location stored on a smart phone.

3.) I refuse to believe Tiger Mommy is dead. That’s right, I refuse.

Evidence for the “Oh crap, Crowley really has Kevin” theory:

1.) Dean assumed Kevin had simply run off. And when you assume…well, you probably know the rest of that saying…

2.) Maybe the King of Hell can fix glass – and wouldn’t that be the smart thing to do, if he wanted Sam and Dean to believe that Kevin had taken off on his own?

Naomi: Remember what Dean said once about Bela? “When that b!tch breathes, the air comes out crooked.” Well, I think we may have met Bela’s angel equivalent. Naomi: “Poor Castiel, he’s so confused…He must’ve misinterpreted me.” Really? He misinterpreted you when you had him kill ten thousand fake Deans and then told him point-blank to kill the real one? Not a lot of wiggle room there, honey. Naomi may have saved Sam’s life and Bobby’s soul, but we can’t forget that she only did it to manipulate Dean into trusting her. For all our sakes, I hope she failed.

Randomness: I was a little confused about the rogue reaper – how come he had a body and how come he was visible to Sam and Dean? Previously, reapers were only visible to those whose spirits had left their bodies, e.g. Dean in “My Time of Dying.” Sam and Dean had to do astral projection in “Death Takes a Holiday” so they could communicate with reapers and Dean was actually clinically dead in “Appointment in Samarra” before he could talk to Tess. A little consistency or some explanation of how the Taxi Driver was visible to regular humans would have been a good thing. Other notes: Hell was pretty mild, actually. I would’ve preferred something a little creepier or more original-looking than a red-tinted dungeon. That said, the people Sam encountered were disturbing and suitably tortured/creepy. And the special effects for Bobby’s soul were fantastically beautiful, so all is forgiven.

Last Thoughts: This episode was a relief for me. It reminded me so much of “Born Under a Bad Sign.” In that episode, just like this one, I started out fearing the worst, and it turned out so much better than I thought it would. “Taxi Driver” was awesome and wonderful and it featured the best, most heartfelt brother-hug we’ve seen in a good long time. Definitely one of my favorite eps of the season.

Mentalist Review: Episode 5×19 “Red Letter Day”

Review of Episode 5×19: “Red Letter Day”
by castiello

Overall: The Red John storyline is heating up – big time – but that doesn’t mean we can’t stop and take a few minutes to enjoy the sheer pleasure of seeing Jane and Co. strolling around an Old West tourist town. The visuals of this ep – horses and dust and cowboy hats and saloons – (not to mention the fun factor) made it easy to overlook a slightly predictable plot. Despite the fact that “Red Letter Day” started at almost 11:00pm, I was wide awake and I had a rootin’, tootin’ good time.

Jane: Always a joy to see Jane’s street magician skills at work – swiping gold nuggets, picking cards, predicting the future in sealed white envelopes. These are the things that make Jane such a unique character, and they’re part of the reason this show stands out from other police procedurals. My only minor complaint about some of the mind-reading is that I like to know Jane’s secrets. I want him to tell me the clues he uses to guess where those tourists just came from. I want him to show me how he got the cards into that guy’s pocket, and how he knew what the guy’s favorite number would be. Sometimes, the tricks Jane pulls off are almost unreal – without the explanation of how he does things, it’s more like true magic than mentalism.

On the one hand, this lack of explanation is frustrating. On the other hand, it adds a healthy squirt of gasoline to the fiery debate that has long burned between two groups of Mentalist fans: those who take Jane at his word that he’s just a well-trained trickster, and those of us who like to hold onto that teensy bit of hope that somewhere deep down in the recesses of Jane’s uber-brilliant mind, there lies a modicum of true psychic ability.

The “genuine psychic” vs. “conman” question aside, Jane’s cleverness was in full force as he wedged a toothpick in his door to alert him of unwanted visitors. Personally, I thought he should have placed it a little lower down, because it seemed a bit too visible. Especially if Red John himself might be breaking in. But Jane’s low-tech security system worked better than a Guardian Alarm. In fact, he seemed so pleased with the results, I had to wonder if that was the only security measure he put in place.

On Elementary, Sherlock Holmes has surveillance cameras hidden all over his flat. If Jane really felt sure someone was going to break in, maybe he hid some bugs or mini webcams around to catch the snoops in the act. And maybe, just maybe, Jane was sharp enough to put up fake evidence to throw Red John’s spies off the scent. I’ve always thought the attic – or anyplace at work – was simply too public of a location to keep such sensitive files. I was almost positive that the photo wall in Jane’s loft was a decoy, and that at the end of the ep we’d see the real one – the one he was smart enough to keep hidden in some rented room that no one even knows about. Alas, the reveal didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. The knowing way Jane smiled at that security breach tells me he has more up his sleeve than just a broken toothpick.

Lisbon: When Cho said Lisbon was “busy,” my mind said, “Red Alert.” And for good reason: turns out she was lunching with Kirkland, whom she has correctly classified as a very strange individual. “Everything about Bob Kirkland is weird.” Trust me, Lisbon, you don’t know the half of it. She played it cool, though – did everything she should have done. Lisbon denied any knowledge of Jane’s list, and confirmed Kirkland’s notion that if Jane did know anything, he’d share it with Lisbon. Then, she told Jane everything that Kirkland had asked about. Unfortunately, though Lisbon remained loyal to Jane, and lied pretty darn convincingly, the Kirk-dude didn’t buy it. I’m not abandoning the possibility of Lisbon being compromised, but in this ep she didn’t do anything to warrant suspicion. Also, her expression as she sat in the audience at the Wild West Show was so endearingly long-suffering, I would probably forgive her even if she did turn out to be a Red John mole.

Cho: Cho and Jane partnered up in this episode. Not once, but twice. Sheer. Awesomeness. Have I died and gone to the place with the fluffy white clouds? Maybe not, but from the moment Cho approached the attic and Jane identified him by the sound of his footsteps, I felt like I was in heaven. (Cho: “How do you do that?”) And later, when Jane called Cho to the bar, and Cho was all, “I hate it when you call me for backup and nothing’s happened yet…” Love. It. These two have such great chemistry as partners; they play off of each other with fresh, funny energy. Cho’s deadpan comments and mildly exasperated looks ricochet like ping-pong balls against Jane’s sparkly, merry wit. Jane brings Cho alive in a way that the other characters don’t. And despite the minor annoyances of working with Jane, you can really feel the underlying bond between our favorite Mentalist and one of the very few people he actually refers to as his good friend. Hand me a petition to get more screen time between Jane and Cho, and I’ll sign it faster than Jane can pick your pocket. You can never go wrong when you pair up this odd couple.

Rigsby/Van Pelt: Rigsby the Arson Inspector is back on the scene! Yay! I love it when he shows off his special skills. The writers have shown great continuity on this front, going all the way back to Season One. In less exciting news, Grace apparently “met” someone at the White Hat training program. And of course it happened right before Rigsby was about to man up and be honest with her. It’s a bummer for sure, and would have felt like a rather pointless wrench thrown into the Van Pelt/Rigs romance, if not for Grace’s little slip of the tongue. This new guy – seriously, I already forgot his name – isn’t another fiancé-in-the-making. He’s just a distraction, because clearly Grace’s mind – and heart – are focused on someone else :).

Kirkland: Dun, dun, dun! He tried to get Lisbon to cough up Jane’s secrets. When that didn’t work, Kirkland paid some goons to break into Jane’s attic and steal evidence. At the end of the ep, Kirkland stood over a replica of Jane’s Red John Map, looking Mighty Evil. But don’t cue the maniacal laughter just yet – the more they paint this guy as a Big Bad, the more convinced I become that he’s the exact opposite. Having Kirkland be an ally to Jane and Co, a real partner to help them bring down Red John, would be a great twist, and I’m all about great twists. I’m going on record saying that I think Kirkland, in spite of being a murderer and a thief, really is trying to capture Red John, rather than help him. Now, I could be publicly wiping egg off my face as early as tomorrow night, but for right now, I’m having too much fun imagining wild and crazy scenarios where Kirkland is actually a good guy.

Randomness: Rigbsy’s discomfort as he sat in the audience, hoping not to get called on: Perfect. Jane walking out to do his act without putting on a black cowboy hat: Criminal. Shame on you, wardrobe department. SHAME. The case: Interesting because of the cowboy element and the fake meth lab fires, but they’ve done that brother/sister incestuous romance thing before – remember Jared and Undine back in “Red John’s Friends”?

Last Thoughts: Jane’s joy and stimulation at being in an Old West setting was contagious. His secret satisfaction about the toothpick piqued my interest, and I can’t wait to find out more. I’ll be riding onward to the next episode as a very satisfied, dusty-but-grinning cowgirl. Yee-haw!

Constructive Criticism: Giving Back

As writers, we thrive on feedback. We need to know which scenes grab the reader by the throat, and which scenes are total snooze-fests. We need to know when our dialogue sounds realistic, and when it sounds like a bad soap opera. We beg and plead for scraps of critique like chubby Dachshunds under the dinner table, just hoping for a few breadcrumbs that might help us improve our stories and get published.

But constructive criticism isn’t a one-way street. If you want other writers to read your work and take the time to give valuable feedback, then you need to be willing to do the same for them. The following are some links, strategies and techniques that have been helpful to me when I’m writing feedback for other authors.

Step One: Getting Started

Before writing any critique, you should ask yourself a few important questions:

1.)    Why are you writing the critique? Is it a genuine attempt to help another author improve, or simply an opportunity to broadcast your opinion?

2.)    Is the story you’re critiquing a first draft, a recently-rejected manuscript, or a finished/published piece?

3.)    What is the experience level of the author? Is this the first time she’s ever shown her work to another living soul, or has she been published twelve times already?

All of these things will help determine the tone and tenor of your critique. For example, you might want to present criticism more gently to a brand-new author, or not be overly harsh on a piece that’s already been published (seeing as how there’s probably nothing the author can do to change it at that point, and any advice you give will have to be applied to future pieces, not the current one). On the other hand, you might want to get more nitpicky when it comes to recently-rejected pieces (since the author will want to figure out why the piece was turned down) or a piece that’s just about to be submitted (since you want to help give it the best possible chance of acceptance, and sometimes that can mean getting a bit critical 🙂 ).

Step Two: Structuring Your Critique

No matter what the situation, the bottom line is that you want the author to hear you. You want the author to take your advice seriously and apply it to his or her writing. The following are some examples of the best – and worst – types of critiques.

Example A: “Wow. That sucked. I mean, truly. The amount of suckage caused by that story nearly popped my eyeballs out of my head – which actually would have been a blessing, since at least I wouldn’t have had to keep reading. You should definitely stick to your day job, because this writing thing isn’t going to work out for you.”

The review above is just plain rude. It personally attacks the author, and offers no valuable information about why the reader didn’t like the story. There is never any excuse to leave a review like this. It is unprofessional, unhelpful, and reflects poorly on the reviewer, rather than the story.

Example B: “Didn’t care for it. Long paragraphs make me snore, and the dialogue felt like cardboard. Definitely not my cuppa.”

Okay, this review is a bit blunt, but it does offer some specific insights as to why the reader didn’t like the story: the paragraphs were too long, and the dialogue wasn’t natural. There are lots of reviews like this floating around the Internet, and there’s nothing really wrong with them, but think about the first question listed above: “Are you writing the review to help the author, or simply to express your opinion?” If your main goal is to give back to the writing community by helping another author improve, then you might consider using a different format – one the author is more likely to respond to in a positive way. Observe:

Example C: “I really enjoyed your description of the rain forest – I could feel the mugginess of the air, and I could hear the exotic bird calls like I was really there. I did struggle somewhat with the long paragraph structure you used in the middle of the story, and some of the dialogue felt forced, but overall the concept of the story was cool, and the setting was well-handled.”

If you look closely, you can see that Example C gives the exact same constructive criticism as Example B. In Example C, however, that criticism is framed by things the reader actually liked about the story. By saying something nice first, you make the author ten times more likely to listen to any criticism that comes later on. By finishing up with something nice, you encourage the writer to keep working on his/her craft (hopefully using the advice you just provided).

This technique is called the “sandwich technique,” and you can read more about it in this wonderful article: “The Give and Take of Critique” (http://www.lspark.com/writing/critique.html). I like the technique because it’s easy to remember, and it works. For other strategies and tips that can help you write the best critiques possible, check out these useful articles: “Tips for Critiquing Other Writers’ Work” (http://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/tips-for-critiquing-other-writers-work) and “How to Critique” (http://marilynnbyerly.com/page9l.html).

(Special thanks to my writing group member, Pamela, for finding and sharing those resources!)

Step Three: Before Handing it Over

Before you show your review to the author – and especially before you post it online – take a moment to read over what you’ve written. Think about how you, as a writer, would feel if someone wrote this critique about your work. Would it excite you, bum you out, or stomp on your soul like an army boot on big fat cockroach? If you can hear the squishy-crunchy noises of someone’s writing dreams getting squashed, maybe you should tone down your review just a little.

Some reviewers use the realities of the industry as an excuse for writing harsh critiques. I mean, if the author can’t take some blunt remarks, then he/she doesn’t have a thick enough skin to handle rejection from publishers, right? To this, I say: Yeah, you’re right. It is a hard industry. And we do need to have elephant hides in order to survive. But with a steady stream of rejections coming from publishers, editors and agents alike, I believe there should be one group of people we can to turn for some honest feedback and some encouragement to keep going: our fellow writers.

-Gretchen

Mentalist Review: Episode 5×18 “Behind the Red Curtain”

Review of Episode 5×18: “Behind the Red Curtain” (AKA “Forty-eight minutes of adequately-interesting investigation followed by four minutes of HOLY CRAP!”)
by castiello

Overall: Anyone else getting the whole Jane = Wile E. Coyote, Red John = Roadrunner vibe? Though Jane put in an honest effort, I’m not sure he really made any progress in identifying Red John. While “The Red Barn” had a definite feeling of forward motion, this episode once again had poor Jane running in circles…:( On the plus side, we had not one but two very happy reunions, plus a well-constructed case. And, although Jane may not have gotten much new info, the audience got a truckload dumped on us, so all in all, not a bad hour of TV.

Jane: Can I just say that I love how he can solve a case using roughly two percent of his brain, while the rest of his mind is busy at work on other problems? Also, I gotta have some respect for his unwillingness to give up: even though all signs pointed to the fact that Coma Guy, aka Jason Lennon, would not survive to talk to Jane, Jane still super-glued himself to that hospital hallway anyway, hoping against hope. I wasn’t sure if he could trust the nurse he’d befriended, but it turned out she was the only one at that hospital he could trust, and her instincts regarding Kirkland and Co. (“like monsters about to rip off their masks and show their gross, alien faces underneath”) were dead on. I also kinda loved how she was all, “I know you’re using me, and yet I don’t care.” I feel the same way. If Jane smiled at me and took me out for lunch every day, I’d probably tell him anything he wanted to know. Just goes to show how powerful that glow around him really is. When he turns up the charm, 99% of the female population is helpless to resist.

Lisbon: Hmmmmmm. A rare part of the 1% who can resist the Master of Charm…sometimes. In this episode she was gloomy. She did not want Jane at that hospital, and I had to ask myself why:

Option One: She was just trying to keep Jane from obsessing, because it’s unhealthy and all that jazz.

Maybe, but this was a unique situation – a living Red John accomplice within reach. Surely, Lisbon could see that this was a little different than Jane sitting in his attic, rereading his notebook for the one thousandth time. This was a real lead, and a good one. So, why was she so keen on keeping him away?

Option Two: Lisbon predicted the outcome – that RJ would somehow get to Lennon first and kill him – and was trying to spare Jane the pain of yet another anvil falling on his head.

Possible, but it kind of goes against Lisbon’s typical positive and hopeful attitude. She is usually the one saying “We’ll get him,” “Hardy will talk,” “This is a good clue.” To think that she was expecting Red John to win again is a bad sign. Almost like she’s giving up, and I hate that idea, so, moving on:

Option Three: Lisbon didn’t want Jane to get in trouble with the FBI/Homeland Security for hanging around a restricted-access prisoner.

A more likely option, because she does really care about Jane keeping his job. However, when Jane got caught skulking around the hospital, the punishment was minimal. Basically, he was told to leave and escorted out. I didn’t feel that he was in any danger of getting sacked, so why would Lisbon be so concerned?

Option Four: Thinking back to April Grey’s comments a few months ago, I couldn’t help but consider one last option: That maybe, just maybe, Lisbon has been compromised. That somehow, against her will, she has been hypnotized or brainwashed into doing Red John’s bidding, and that the only reason she wanted Jane out of that hospital is so that he wouldn’t be able to talk to Lennon.

A scary option, but that’s what makes it fun! I would totally freak the heck out if Lisbon had been turned, and the storyline following that revelation would be a rollercoaster of must-see, hate-it-but-love-it TV. Of course, I say this secure in the knowledge that any such hypnosis or brainwashing would be reversible, and our beloved Lisbon would be as unaccountable for her actions as Rigsby was in “Russet Potatoes.”

Cho/Rigs/Van Pelt (!!!!!): She’s baaaaaaaaaaaack! YAY! That moment when VP was just standing in the background, all glowy and happy to be back home – I think my soul fluttered its wings. Beautiful, wonderful reunion scene with her and Rigsby. True, Rigs, Cho and VP didn’t have a huge amount of screen time in this one, but just the fact that she’s back, the fact that she was so warmly and wonderfully received, totally made up for it. I am officially a pile of goo.

LaRoche: Always, always a pleasure to have him onscreen. The actor has a presence, and I can’t help but be enthralled. I love him for his fierce competence at his job, his reluctant affection for Jane and Co, and his complete awkwardness in any situation outside of his comfort zone. Jane was right to bring him in on this investigation, forcing LaRoche to breathe some fresh air and interact with some human beings. Jane learned the importance of that from Lisbon, and it’s lovely to see him passing on the lesson.

Kirkland: What the heck? No, seriously, what the HECK? If anyone can make sense of the last four minutes of this episode, I’m all ears. I mean, I’ve got plenty of theories, but most of them are about as likely as Jane giving up his pursuit of Red John and joining the Ice Capades.

Theory One: Kirkland is Red John, but he had never interacted with Lennon personally. Kirkland decided to make sure his identity was still a secret before killing Lennon either out of mercy, or because Lennon was a loose end who possessed damaging info on Red John’s organization.

Theory Two: Kirkland is Red John, but he uses some form of hypnosis/mind control/disguise to prevent his minions from clearly seeing his face. He checked to make sure that Lennon’s coma had not jarred loose any memories of Red John’s actual appearance, then killed him either out of mercy, because he possessed dangerous info, or because Jane would have eventually been able to undo the mind control/hypnosis protecting Red John’s identity. (Special Note: The idea behind this theory came from a wonderful fanfic called “Reverie by Cho” (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5424258/1/Reverie-by-Cho) which everyone should read for the sheer awesomeness of getting to imagine Jane and Co. as superheroes).

Theory Three: Kirkland is a Red John minion. He wanted to make sure his identity as a RJ disciple had not been revealed to lower members of the group. Once secure in this knowledge, he killed Lennon on Red John’s orders.

Theory Four: Kirkland is a good guy. He is either a mole in the Red John organization, trying to bring the serial killer down, or simply a DHS Agent with lots of insider knowledge. He killed Lennon to stop Jane from identifying and going after Red John prematurely.

Although all of these are total straw-reachers, my favorites are Two and Four. I am totally open to hearing any less-insane theories, though, if anybody has some of those for sale.

Randomness: The case was good. Unpredictable, with a side of real emotion. The motive for the killing seemed a little weak, but I guess desperate psycho people will do desperate psycho things. I loved the mother-daughter angle, even though they’ve used similar storylines in the past. One thing I did roll my eyes at: why did the soon-to-be murder victim tell the murderer she was going to expose him? Don’t any of these characters watch TV? You never tell the murderer you’re going to call the police. You never announce to your lover that you’re going to tell his wife about the affair. Think, people. Think.

Overall: Despite the general and frustrating lack of progress on the Red John front, we do know one thing for certain: Kirkland is a killer. And it shouldn’t take Jane long to arrive at this same conclusion. The nurse will know Kirkland was alone with Lennon. Jane himself saw Kirkland leaving the room after Lennon coded. It’s not rocket science, and surely Kirkland must realize this. Does he want Jane to know he’s a killer? Does he want Jane to know he’s the Killer, the infamous and long-sought Red John Himself? I guess we’ll have to tune in to find out… 🙂

New Fan Fiction for Supernatural and The Mentalist

As promised at the beginning of the year, I have posted two new stories, one for each fandom.

For Supernatural fans, I pulled up a golden oldie from my archives: the very first Supernatural story I ever wrote. Set in the good old days of season three, “Stop the World” is an emotional tale of angst and brotherly love told from Dean’s POV. It is a one-shot story that can be read in its entirety at either of the links below:

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/9181729/1/Stop-the-World

http://archiveofourown.org/works/752786

For fans of The Mentalist, I give you “Red-Nosed,” my first-ever attempt at an AU. I had tons of fun playing around with the differences and similarities between my AU versions of the characters and the ones we know and love. It may be another world, but Jane still manages to get in trouble! 🙂 With three chapters posted and five to go, you can go check out that story in the following places:

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/9109949/1/Red-Nosed

http://archiveofourown.org/works/725057/chapters/1345310

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy them!

Supernatural Review: Episode 8×18 “Freaks and Geeks”

Review of Episode 8×18: “Freaks and Geeks”
by castiello

Okay, on a scale of one to ten, how excited was I to see Krissy again? The answer: eleveny-forty. That is a really high number that Nathan Fillion made up, but I think it accurately conveys just how much I love Krissy and the actress who plays her, Madison McLaughlin. Krissy is one bad-@$$ hunter-in-the-making, and this was one bad-@$$ episode.

Sammy: Gotta love a guy who can spot a phony surveillance photo. He may be under the weather physically, but his brain is still all sharp and pointy. 🙂 Another thing still intact when it comes to Sam’s character: his hope. Throughout this episode, Sam repeatedly expressed optimism about the possibility of being able to hunt and lead a normal, picket-fence life at the same time. He wanted Victor to be the real deal, and even when that guy turned out to be a crazy mofo, Sam still hoped that maybe Krissy and the other “X-Kids” could manage to stay in school and take on the occasional hunt. I wonder if this is what Sam really wants – not to leave hunting (and Dean) behind entirely, but to find some kind of balance or compromise. The closest thing we’ve seen to a normal or balanced hunting family is Mary with her parents. They lived in a nice house and Mary went to school, but she also went with her family on nearby hunts and was well-trained to handle all manner of monsters and demons. That lasted at least eighteen or twenty years before Yellow Eyes stepped in and everything went down the crapper. So, maybe it isn’t as far-fetched as Dean thinks?

More Sammy Notes: That little look Sam gave Dean when Dean came in and saw Sam tied to the chair – great comedy. These guys don’t even need words anymore, because their expressions and gestures say it all. Sam’s little look said, “Sorry, man – they got me.” I also loved the hilarious moment at the beginning of the episode, when Sam got tired of Dean’s fussing and finally turned the tables around. The minute Sam said he wanted to talk about Dean’s emotional state, it looked like Dean had just taken a long swig of lemon juice. Everything about Dean’s demeanor immediately said “Are you kidding me? No way!” and what started out as a classic emo moment morphed into a laugh-out-loud one instead. It reminded me of the Lord of the Rings joke in the previous ep. That’s one of the great things about Supernatural – they never take themselves too seriously, and they’re always willing to poke a little fun at themselves when things are getting heavy.

Speaking of heavy, though: The fans who are worried about a possible Amelia pregnancy storyline are probably freaking the heck out right now. Several weeks ago, Prometheus (I think it was him) asked Sam what he would be willing to do if his own son’s life was on the line. A hint about an upcoming plot development? Some Supernatural geeks thought so. And now, in this episode, we have yet another character talking to Sam about the possibility of having kids. Victor asked Sam if he wanted to have kids of his own, and Sam expressed uncertainty. Being spoiler-free, I have no idea what to make of this, but it is two separate mentions of how Sam might feel about having kids. I’m not sure I like the idea because I’m not that fond of Amelia, but there might be a few bright spots to a pregnancy storyline: 1.) It would give Sam some strong motivation to survive the trials, since he’d want to live to see – and raise – his son. 2.) The idea of Dean watching out for/protecting Sam’s child is all kinds of hot.

Dean: As always, Dean has a special bond with the kids on this show. And even though Krissy is almost an adult, the connection she shares with Dean is just as strong as ever. Sam, aka Mr. Perpetually Awkward With Children, even left the room so that Dean and Krissy could have a moment to say their goodbyes. And so Dean could have a “talk” with Krissy’s future boyfriend. Dean: “If you ever break her heart…” Aiden: “I know, I know – you’ll hurt me.” Dean: “No, she’ll hurt you.” So true, Dean. So true.

I like how Dean could smell the phoniness of the Victor situation a mile away. His hunter instincts are awesome. Remember back in “Croatoan” when Dean wanted to kill that kid and everyone else said no? Well, that kid turned out to be possessed by a demon, didn’t he? Dean may not be as intellectual as Sam, but sometimes you have to just trust your gut. I’m glad Dean wanted to dig deeper and find out what was really going on with Too-Good-To-Be-True Victor. Also glad to see that Dean was the one who wanted to hunt the vamp nest so the kids wouldn’t have to, and how Dean was the one who talked Krissy out of killing Victor at the end. “We don’t kill humans,” Dean told her. Isn’t this the same lesson Sam taught Dean in “Faith”? Nice to see Dean taking the message to heart, and passing it on to the next generation of hunters.

Randomness: The X-Kids were pretty cool. I liked them all, and I liked the storyline in general. It was a departure from the norm, and I’ve always enjoyed it when the show explores the morality of other hunters that Sam and Dean encounter. We’ve had several hunters who wanted to kill Sam because they thought he was evil. We even had a hunter-turned-vampire who justified turning an innocent girl into a vamp just to trap Sam and Dean. Victor, however, seemed like the lowest of them all. His idea to raise promising young hunters in a stable, non-dysfunctional environment was a good one. Commendable, even. I think murdering the families of those young hunters and turning completely innocent people into vampires for “practice kills” was where he started to lose me. 🙂

Other Notes: The plot was predictable (previews kinda spoiled it), but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment because I cared about the characters and had fun watching them figure out the mystery themselves. The biggest surprise for me was Victor’s suicide. I didn’t see that coming, but it fit with his character and the situation, and in the end I was just glad he didn’t choose to harm anyone else on the way out. If he hadn’t been completely unhinged, Victor might’ve actually done some good in the world. If he’d chosen to locate and care for real victims of random monster violence, rather than “creating” his own victims, this would have been a much different episode.

It made me happy to see Krissy stay with the other young hunters, and even happier to imagine Garth checking in on them. I so wish that could’ve happened onscreen! But since it didn’t, and probably won’t, I guess we’ll just have to settle for tonight’s brand-new episode. 🙂 I do hope we get another Krissy episode sometime in the future, and I really hope tonight’s ep lives up to the previews, because it looks unbelievably cool.

Happy watching!