Monday, June 21, 2021

LARPing Real Life Versus Leiningen Versus the Ants

Last year, just as the first COVID lockdown was happening, we had a bug problem in our apartment.

No, nothing as serious as Mr. Pratt's houseguests. Our bugs were of the ant variety.

Well, maybe it just felt like the problem was that big. My wife and I certainly had to take some drastic measures.

Okay, it was just me wiping everything down in our kitchen with lemon juice and shaking cinnamon everywhere until I could find out where the little buggers were coming from. Then I went out and bought some ant traps. Happy? Sheesh!

One of the things that popped into my mind while I was looking up ways to fight off this tiny, invading army was "Leiningen Versus the Ants." How could I not think of this classic "Humanity vs. Nature" story that I'd first encountered in a junior high English class? (I seem to recall also being introduced to Jack London's "To Build a Fire" - another classic of the genre - and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" at about the same time. What a trifecta of terror!)

Written by Austrian-born German Carl Stephenson in 1938, "Leiningen Versus the Ants" is an old-style adventure yarn, a short story genre that has fallen out of favor in more literary circles. Modern readers may be surprised to discover that Stephenson's story was published alongside Ernest Hemingway in the December 1938 issue of Esquire.

(Now's not the time or the place to get into the whole "genre vs literary fiction" debate, so I will simply recommend that you check out Michael Chabon's introduction to his 2001 book of essays, Maps & Legends. "Trickster in a Suit of Lights: Thoughts on the Modern Short Story" pretty much says it all as far as I am concerned.)

The story is simple: A government official makes a special and urgent call to Leiningen's plantation in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest. The purpose of his visit? To bring warning of an oncoming nightmare: "Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants!" Leiningen's spread is directly in the ants' path, and if the plantation owner and his 400 workers don't clear out pronto, then they risk being eaten alive.

Leiningen thanks the official for his visit, but he doesn't plan on going anywhere. His plantation represents three years of hard work, and he won't leave it for love or money...or ants.

The rest of the story tells of Leiningen's attempts to thwart the insectoid tidal wave. Moats are dug, petrol is splashed liberally about, and in the end it's up to Leiningen himself to face the six-legged onslaught.

Told you the story was simple.

One of the things that will probably strike modern readers (and maybe infuriate them, too) is that Leiningen isn't the "bad guy" in the story. Sure, he's obstinate and maybe a bit arrogant, but he isn't some mustache-twirling, cigar-chomping villain that will make readers actively root for the ants. He's just a guy who wants to save his life's work from going down the gullet of a bunch of insects. Should "Leiningen Versus the Ants" get a remake, then I can see Leiningen being protrayed as an eco-colonizer who is exploiting the land and his workers for profit. The ants would be recast as a miles-long and wide swarm of tiny avenging angels. 

I'm not saying I wouldn't enjoy watching that movie, and I'm also not saying that the questions that movie would ask aren't pertinent to our present-day eco-crisis, but I think it's also interesting to view this story from the perspective of the times in which it written. For right or wrong, "Leiningen Versus the Ants" is a story about problem solving and overcoming obstacles. It's about heroism in the face of an elemental force, or as the government official says, "an act of God." Reading the story with that frame of mind might allow the more skeptical reader to enjoy Stephenson's story as it was intended -- a simple action-adventure yarn.

While "Leiningen Versus the Ants" might not be at the same level as, say, "The Most Dangerous Game" in terms of number of adaptations, there are still quite a few very good versions that have been turned out over the years.

The radio program Escape churned out a few adaptations in the late-40s with William Conrad as Leiningen. Conrad's voice carried such gravitas over the radio. By his own estimate, he portrayed more than 7,500 roles during his radio career, the most famous being Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. Conrad's Leiningen is determination and resourcefulness personified.

Not to be outdone, the radio show Suspense also brought Leiningen to America's ears in the late-1950s. Once again, William Conrad stepped into Leiningen's petrol-soaked shoes for a 1957 broadcast. Two years later, Suspense was at it again, only this time Mexican-born actor Luis van Rooten portrayed the plantation owner.

The movies got in on the act in 1954 with the release of The Naked Jungle. Produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin, it starred Charleton Heston as Leiningen and introduced a love interest (played by Eleanor Parker) into the equation -- as is Hollywood's wont.

If you aren't into big screen adaptations, how about a Leiningen-esque story from the small screen? Back in 1985, everyone's favorite improv action-adventure hero, Macgyver, battled a horde of ravenous ants in the Brazilian rainforest in the episode called "Trumbo's World." Who knew duct tape and a Swiss army knife were the jungle ant's natural enemies?

Finally, if you like the funny books more than anything, then we got you covered, baby. Strange Suspense Stories #20 published a comic version of "Leiningen..." -- er, I mean "Van Mohl Versus the Ants" back in 1954. This version of the story is the one most modern readers would prefer, with Van Mohl portrayed as a big fat jerk who gets his comeuppance in the most EC Comics' Tales from the Crypt sort of way. It's very satisfying to see Van Mohl's fate in that last panel.

So, I hope you are all better prepared now to handle your next ant invasion. Because, as I'm sure you're now well aware, it's a matter of "when" not "if."

Besides, I'm much happier now that I've made my peace with our new ant overlords. I may not understand what the heck is going on...but it's certainly a funkier world.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

We interrupt this blog to bring you a special news bulletin!

We've got more Wings coming up (stay tuned for Season Two), as well as entries on "Leiningen Versus the Ants" and Tucker's Witch, but first, this special announcement: LARPing Real Life has made the jump to other blogs!

If you like your film discussions to have the piquant flavor of academia, then may I suggest you head on over to Horror Homeroom and read my essay on Ari Aster's Midsommar? Fans of LARPing Real Life (you know who you are!) may recognize it from a previous entry, but I assure you that the version on Horror Homeroom is tighter, more focused, and generally more high-falutin'. I had a blast getting it in shape, and I hope to do more "academic" writing in the future.

Prefer your horror movie writing to be more visceral? Well, I think I got something for ya. The folks at Kindertrauma were kind enough to let me talk about my "Five Favorite Things" about George A. Romero's adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Half. I had a lot of fun talking up one of my favorite Romero films.

I am hoping to branch out more and write for other platforms. I have a few ideas brewing. As they get published, I will be sure to keep yinz in the loop.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming...

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Wings, S01E06, "All for One and Two for Helen"

Roy and Fay are at sixes and sevens. Roy wants to expand his hangar; Fay wants to protect a family of short-eared owls nesting nearby. Joe agrees to support Fay's cause at the next airport committee meeting, much to Roy's chagrin.

Brian has scored three, center-court tickets for the upcoming Celtics-Knicks game. He views this as a perfect opportunity for The Three Musketeers to get together again. Joe and Helen - the other two-thirds of said Musketeers - heartily agree. Huzzah!

Roy, playing the part of Cardinal Richelieu, learns of the trio's plans and arranges for the airport committee to call an emergency meeting the night of the game. Joe, ever the Boy Scout (would he be the Aramis of the group?), agrees to forego the pleasures of seeing a Larry Bird three-pointer in person and promises Fay he'll be there.

Later at the meeting, Joe learns that the game was called off. But if that's the case, then what are Brian and Helen doing? And where are they doing it? And does it involve "Bonus Travel Miles"?

It's the last episode of Season One, so it's nice that they close things out by focusing on the main characters. And, of course, that means we get the first Joe-Helen-Brian love triangle storyline. It's the perfect set-up for the coming seasons. Unless you aren't a fan of "will they, won't they?" stories where the characters bicker endlessly about how they hate each other only to come together and smooch like crazy. And if you are one of those people, I've got one question for you: Why do you hate America?

This episode also contains more instances of what I hope will be an ongoing, series-long game. I am, of course, talking about playing "What the hell is Brian wearing?" First off, what the hell kind of Celtics shirt is he wearing? It's a strange, pea-soup, off-green color that I highly doubt Robert Parish would ever wipe his sweaty face with let alone wear.

Later, after his date with Helen, we see him in a sweater that I gotta admit I would have killed to have had back in high school. Hotchka!

Speaking of Brian's quirks, this is another episode where he jumps up and sits on Helen's lunch counter. I don't know what's grosser: Brian putting his shoes where people eat or drinking straight from the coffee creamer pitcher. I mean...ew!

I'll forgive Brian for the above because of the killer ping-pong impersonation he does while Joe is trying to work, as well as for the following exchange with Helen. While trying to look inconspicuous in Helen's living room, Brian quickly grabs a book and pretends to read it.

Brian: This is really amusing.

Helen: [Looking at the cover] Great Moments in British History?

Brian: Yeah, Churchill just gave the queen a wedgie!

Royal wedgies make everything better! We are extremely amused!

While Joe, Brian, and Helen are front-and-center this episode, the supporting cast is given a chance in the spotlight, too. The gags get off to a sassy start when Roy and Fay square off at the beginning of the episode over Roy's plans for the nesting area of the owls Fay is trying to protect:

Roy: I need that extra space for my hangar to park my new plane.

Joe: Couldn't you put it somewhere else?

Fay: I've got a suggestion.

Roy: You and me, the parking lot, anytime you're ready, Granny!

Joe: [Holding Roy back.] For God's sake, Roy!

Roy: She's been asking for it!

Fay: Give me your best shot, Lumpy.

Damn, Fay! Honestly, I think she could take him. Especially if she uses her "Thing I use to peek around corners and look at birds with."

Later, Lowell gets in on the act when Fay informs Joe that he can't go to the Celtics game because the airport committee has called an emergency meeting for the same night. Joe tries to suggest other, more qualified people to take his place:

Joe: What about the president of Nantucket Nature Society?

Fay: Lois Anders? No, I'm afraid not. You remember that bumper sticker she has on her car? "I Break for Field Mice"? Well, she did and got rear-ended by a bus.

Lowell: I paid her a visit in the hospital. She's doing fine. She's still a little skittish if you come up behind her and go "Beep!"

Okay, folks, it is that time. Please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full, upright positions. Securely fasten your seat belts. Tuck your carry-ons under the seat in front of you, and be sure your "Thing you use to peek around corners and look at birds with" is safely stowed in the overhead bins. And, no, we do not offer a Bonus Travel Miles program, no matter what the gentleman in the loud Hawaii shirt says. Please do not sit on his lap for any reason.

This flight we discussed a love triangle. Next time out, we will be flying into another kind of triangle: the Missing Episode Triangle! It's the start of Season Two, but we will be discussing Episode Two, "The Story of Joe," not Episode One, "The Puppetmaster."

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Wings, S01E05, "There Once Was a Girl from Nantucket"

Brian is very excited: it's been a full week, and his brother, Joe, hasn't fired him. [Ed.: I feel the same way about my continued employment.] Looking to celebrate this milestone, Brian asks Helen to go out with him and paint the town red. She turns him down, because, as a rule, she doesn't date pilots. Undeterred, Brian asks Lowell, Fay, and even (gasp!) Roy to tagalong with him, but no one seems much interested.

Could it be the shirt?

Left with his brother as a last resort, Brian cajoles Joe to stop being so boring and by-the-book and go out and pick up ladies with him. Joe refuses, and Brian takes this as a challenge to find the perfect woman for his brother. The next day, Brian introduces Cindy McGrath (Megan Mullally) to Joe. Unbeknownst to the Hackett brothers, Cindy is quite well-known to the male population of Nantucket. Will Joe go out on a date with a woman who has such a "reputation"? Will Helen break her rule concerning pilots. Does Lowell live next door to Quincy, M.E.?

Enquiring minds want to know!

Much the way tofu used to be seen as a marker of a character's flibbertigibbetness (that's a word, right?), working behind the make-up counter was sure sign that a character was a bubble-headed ditz. Nothing could be further from the truth! Personally, I am amazed by anyone who can color coordinate. Also, Cindy seems very proud of her abilities and doesn't see her position as a sales clerk as demeaning or low. So, why should we? Good for you, girl!

Speaking of Cindy - and there's a lot to say! - Megan Mullally's accent is pretty great, though I am not sure where it's supposed to land. Is she going for "surfer girl"? There are surfers in New England, right? Let's say there are. Then, she's doing a great surfer girl accent. If that isn't what she was shooting for, then I am not sure where Cindy is supposed to be from. Of course, Helen's Texan accent was easily explained, so let's say all agree that Cindy moved to Nantucket from the Valley when she was in her teens. That's her backstory, and I'm sticking with it.

Cindy's reputation as a "good time girl." Ultimately, who cares, am I right? Breaking news: women like having sex as much as men! But, I suppose if we're trying to put things into context, then the return of conservative values mixed with the VD scares of the 1980s meant that someone was getting thrown under the prejudicial bus for being easy. And we all know that no one is going to snigger behind their hand at Jimmy (Ben Mittleman) for sleeping around. Gee, I wonder why? What could be the difference between Jimmy and Cindy? Hmm? It'll come to me...

Lately, I've been enjoying a YouTube playlist of author Harlan Ellison's commentaries from the old Sci-Fi Channel. Called Harlan Ellison's Watching, they were part of a show called Sci-Fi Buzz running from 1993-1996. The commentaries were four or five minute blasts of Ellison at his best: angry, hopeful, angry, witty, angry, hilarious, and...well...angry. One of the topics that Ellison would return to a few times over the series was the subject of cultural illiteracy. Ellison bemoaned the fact that readers (or TV viewers for that matter) were growing less aware of the past. This lack of awareness of what's come before means that writers are unable to make cultural references for fear of losing their audience's attention. Cultural references are often used as shorthand. If an audience doesn't understand the reference, then they won't understand the implications of it in what they are reading/watching.

When watching older TV shows, there are often names dropped here and there that will have been well-known to contemporary viewers, but whose identities have been lost to the sands of time, so to speak. In this episode of Wings, there are three references being made that may be unknown to younger, modern viewers. Two of them I can understand; the third, though I know it well, I also know that younger people will just not get it at all, and that pains me.

The first two references are to people who would've been known to viewers at the time. When Joe is introduced to Cindy, he learns a little about what she does for a living:

Cindy: I work down at the Bi-Rite drugstore. Yeah, I'm head of the Cosmetics Department. 

Joe: That sounds fascinating. 

Cindy: Oh, it is! I mean the right colors can make such a difference. Well, take your face: great bone structure, but I could do wonders with a little bronzer. You know, sort of a Julio Iglesias kind of a thing?

Ol' Julio is a Spanish singer best known for his duet with Willie Nelson and for his tanning regiment, which he claimed gave him his strength and vitality.

The second reference is made by Roy after he sees the sorry shape that Jimmy left the Hackett boys in:

Joe: God, this is so embarrassing.

Helen: Oh, would you just forget it. That place was full of tourists. Nobody you know will ever hear about it.

[Roy enters the scene and rings a bell on the wall.]

Roy: Well, well. If it isn't the Spinks brothers.

Ah, Leon Spinks...

Ah, Michael Spinks...

Ah, humanity!

I can forgive not knowing those references. If you asked me to name a current Spanish singer or boxer, I'd probably be hard pressed to do so. The third reference, however, is what I would call a biggie. Understanding it makes the joke even funnier. Not knowing the motion picture that is mentioned is, I think, kinda sad.

Cindy arrives at Tom Nevers Field to catch a plane to Boston. She is leaving Nantucket to pursue her dreams in the big city. She lets Joe down easy, but every time she walks away to board her plane, Joe follows her.

Cindy: Joe, Joe, you're ripping my heart out! Don't do this! Don't follow me like this!

Joe: Cindy, I have to. I'm the pilot of your flight.

[The two of them walk off into the fog.]

Roy: [To Fay] Not exactly the end of Casablanca, was it?

At the time, Casablanca was a 50-year-old movie and a cultural touchstone. If you tucked your upper lip above your teeth and said "Here's looking at you, kid" chances were pretty great that other people would know you were doing a Humphrey Bogart imitation. Now, I'm not at all sure that viewers would know what Casablanca was, let alone the famous ending of that movie. Again: ah, Bogie! Ah, humanity!

Let's turn away from such maudlin ruminations on the loss of cultural memory and get down to enjoying some great gags. In this episode, Fay has got some very funny moments. Speaking to a woman enquiring about an upcoming flight, Fay reveals a few interesting facts from her past:

Woman: When does the next flight from Boston arrive?

Fay: There's an Aeromass flight due soon. Are you meeting someone?

Woman: My son. He's in the army.

Fay: How nice for you. My second husband, George, was in the army. Or was that my first husband, George?

Woman: You had two husbands named George?

Fay: Three actually. Buried them all.

Woman: That's rather unusual.

Fay: Not really. Where I come from, we always bury our dead.

Later, when Brian reveals the name of the woman he's found for his brother, Fay mentions that she also knew a woman named Cindy:

Fay: Joe, Cindy is a nice name. In my stewardess days, I once flew with a girl named Cindy. I'll never forget her. She spilled a bag of peanuts in a minister's lap, then made the mistake of going after them herself. It's now in the training manual under the heading "Don't Ever Do This."

We also get a peek at Lowell's life away from Tom Nevers Field. Last episode, we learned that Lowell was married. This time, we learn a little bit about where:

Brian: Hey, Lowell, how about you and me going out and having a couple beers?

Lowell: No, thanks, I gotta get home. Wife called, and I got two inches of water in the living room.

Brian: Is your roof leaking?

Lowell: No, it's the floor. I live on a boat.

Oh, man! Houseboat livin'! I've always dreamed of living on a houseboat. Could you imagine having Lowell and Quincy as your neighbors? Maybe Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice lives across the way, too?

Last, but not least, can we talk about Brian's wardrobe in this episode? That shirt he's wearing in the first half looks like a Bubblicious commercial threw up on him.

And what he has on during his double date with Joe? Well, that's got South of the Border gift shoppe written all over it!

Well, the time has come, ladies and gentlemen. Please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full, upright positions. Securely fasten those seat belts. Be sure your carry-on luggage is stowed beneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. And if a woman named Cindy spills some peanuts in your lap, well, maybe just go with it. It's her first day on the job. Cut her some slack.

Next time out, we will be flying into the last episode of season one. It's called "All for One, And Two for Helen," and it's the first of what I assume will be many episodes about the Joe-Helen-Brian triangle.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Wings, S01E04, "Return to Nantucket, Pt. 2"

Hoping to win back his ex-wife, Carol (Kim Johnston Ulrich), before she leaves for London, Brian Hackett asks her to meet him on top of the Prudential Building in Boston. Joe and Helen follow Brian in order to pick up the pieces when Carol inevitably doesn't show. However, to everyone's shock and chagrin, Carol steps out of the elevator and back into their lives.

Back on Nantucket, Brian is on cloud nine now that he and Carol are back together. Unfortunately, he is the sole occupant of said cloud, because Carol is too busy smooching with Joe. Worse still -- Joe is smooching her back! Has Carol returned to Nantucket only to drive a wedge between the Hackett brothers again? Will Carol ever remember who Helen is and how awfully she treated her in high school? Is "locker pizza" the next big thing?

Let's take a closer look...

Is it me or does actress Kim Johnston Ulrich look a bit like Diane from Cheers? Enough so that I had to check to see if she was Shelley Long's double. No such luck, although Ms. Ulrich did show up on an episode in 1988. Taking a gander at her credits, Ulrich did the tour of all the big TV series of the 1980s and 1990s -- The A-Team, Hunter, Jake and the Fat Man, Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, etc. The credit that caught my eye, however, was Passions. If you've never seen an episode of that bizarro soap opera, then you owe it to yourself to track it down. I'm sure there are clips on YouTube somewhere. If you mixed the paranormal storylines of Dark Shadows with the self-referential, "breaking-the-fourth-wall" nature of, say, It's Gary Shandling's Show, then you'd kinda get an idea of the weirdness of Passions. I mean, this was a soap in which the characters would sometimes be shown watching a soap on TV called...Passions. You see what I mean? Kim Johnston Ulrich portrayed the character "Ivy Winthrop" for the show's entire run from 1999-2008, and I say good for her. That show would take top mention on my CV if I were her.

I'm not one of those people who feel the need to "correct" the thinking of older shows. People viewed the world differently in the past, and I am sure that the shows of today will look equally "unwoke" to viewers thirty years from now. Or maybe they'll make fun of them for being woke in the first place. Who knows? Having said that, the fat jokes about Helen have worn (dare I say?) thin. I think that every line that Crystal Bernard has in this episode centers around her character's weight and food issues. One or two lines would be fine, but after the tenth such mention, I found myself saying aloud, "I get it! She used to be overweight!" Crystal Bernard is a swell comedic actress, she deserves better...though I have to admit watching her eat pizza in a locker is kinda funny. And the thought of a meatball bouncing off her left breast made me chortle.

You know who else is funny? Lowell. Of course, he is! We're four episodes into Wings, and already Lowell is the guy we can't wait to see on screen. Lowell is in fine form this episode as he gets a bit confused about Roy's aversion to "woman" things:
Lowell: Where's Helen?
Roy: Trust me, Lowell, you don't want to know. 
Lowell: (Thinks it over.) Yes, I do. 
Roy: I think it's one of those "woman" things. God, I'm tired of those. 
Lowell: You're tired of them? 
Roy: Yeah. 
Lowell: You're tired of those "woman" things? (Puts two and two together and comes up with five.) Roy, are you telling me that you're a woman dressed up like a man? 
Roy: What did you say? 
Lowell: And a hearing loss to boot. You've got a lot on your plate, my friend. 
Roy: Are you stark, raving mad? 
Lowell: Ah! A fiery wench. Guys love that. 
Roy: You stay away from me. 
Lowell: Relax, Roy. My wife would kill me if she caught me cheating on her.
Lowell's confusions are compounded to the point where, later, he offers some rather strange advice to a down-in-the-mouth Joe:
Lowell: Everything okay, Joe? 
Joe: Well, actually, I've got a little problem, but, hey, everyone has problems. 
Lowell: Not like yours. Listen, Joe, if you and Brian want to date each other, well, it's your own business. But before you give up on the fairer sex, give Roy a call. A nicer gal you won't find anywhere.
Could we love Lowell more?

Parting is such sweet sorrow, as the Hackett brothers discovered when they gave Carol the bum's rush at episode's end (did you really think Carol was going to stick around?). That's right, folks, it's that time again. Time to make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright positions. Time to securely fastened your seat belts. Time to stow your carry-on luggage beneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. We have been given permission to land. But worry not, our next flight is coming up soon. Next time we take to the air, we will be discussing "There Once Was a Girl from Nantucket."

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wings, S01E03, "Return to Nantucket, Pt. 1"

Brian learns from an old friend that Carol, the woman who came between the Hackett brothers six years ago, is moving to London. Good riddance, say Joe and Helen. Brian outwardly agrees, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself, he engages in a little illicit computer research to discover that Carol will have a four-hour layover in Boston. Reading this as a sign that they are meant to be together, Brian calls Logan Airport and leaves a message for Carol to meet him on top of the Prudential Building.

Will Carol meet Brian atop the Pru? Will the fog covering Nantucket ever break? Will Lowell have the plane fixed in time for Brian to make his rendezvous? Will Roy's love of video store pornography ever not be used as a punchline?

These are the burning questions - more or less - that viewers want answered. So, let's get to it!

First off, let's talk structure. This is part one of a two-part episode. Is it me or does three episodes into a new series seem a little early to be doing this? Multi-part episodes are usually "must-see-TV" - cliffhangers, mid-season turning points, big reveals, etc. You know, the type of episode where Ernie Anderson's mellifluous voiceover on the promo announces, "Tonight, on a very special episode..."

Here, however, it doesn't feel as though Wings has earned the right to have a multi-part episode just yet. Sure, Carol plays a big part in the lives of the Hackett Bros. (and poor Helen, too), but to give her return a two-parter seems a little generous. It would have been better for the writers to play up the character of Carol for a bit longer, to keep her off-screen, but on the lips of everyone - kinda like Harry Lime in The Third Man. Then, after a season or so of dropping hints about her, when she finally enters the action, her appearance would garner a lot more attention and meaning.

A quick lesson in not-so-current affairs: for about fifty years or so, popular culture was filled with references to the Cold War between the East and West, between communism and capitalism, between dictatorship and democracy. Then, almost overnight in the fall of 1989, the world changed when communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe began to loosen their grips on the reins of power. The symbol for this relatively peaceful change in the minds of many was the fall of the Berlin Wall. Loads of people believed that it was the end of history. Perhaps Fay counts herself as a member of that camp when she announces another delay in Sandpiper Air's Flight 14 to Boston, then tries to soften the blow by also saying, "But on the bright side, freedom and democracy have broken out in Eastern Europe!"

Nice try, Fay, but you and Francis Fukuyama may have celebrated a tad too early!

Enough with the history lessons. Let's take a look at the performances. Everyone in the cast gets a chance to shine and deliver a zinger or two. Helen's takedown of both Brian's friend and the numbskullery of astrology is especially fine:

Danny: Hi, Helen. I'm guessing you're a Sagittarius.

Helen: I'm guessing you're not a high school graduate.

Fay's championing of neo-liberal economics aside, she and Lowell team up for a crackerjack exchange about "the man upstairs." Lowell announces that he's fixed Sandpiper's plane, thus allowing Brian to make his trip to Boston to meet Carol. Brian declares it to be "a miracle" and "divine intervention." Unfortunately, Fay has received some bad news:

Fay: I just heard from the man upstairs.

Lowell: You just talked to the man upstairs?

Fay: Yeah -- Frank.

Lowell: God's name is Frank?

Fay: No, you see...[notes the confusion on Lowell's face]...Yes, that's right, Lowell.

Brian: What? What? What did he say?

Fay: We're fogged in. The airport's shut down.

Brian: Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!

Lowell: Don't be so formal. Call Him Frank.

But let us, like Brian, hasten to Boston. After stealing Sandpiper Air's plane and winging off to Boston in a thick fog, Brian waits atop the Prudential Building for Carol to appear. There's a great little scene between him and a security guard played by Bryan Clark:

Guard: Hey, kid, are you still waiting?

Brian: 'Fraid so, 'fraid so.

Guard: Oh, listen now, don't worry. She'll be here. I know about these things. Yes, sir, I've seen it all up here. This place is a never-ending panorama of humanity: the heartache, the joy, the drama, the tears. [Pats the revolver on his hip.] I've even had to use this baby a couple of times.

Brian: Really? How long have you been working here?

Guard: Oh, I don't work here.

Plus, you gotta love that beatnik beard he's sporting!

Soon, Joe and Helen arrive to give Brian a shoulder to cry on. Before that happens, however, a taxi cab driver enters the scene with a bouquet of flowers for Brian. This character is played by Sy Richardson, who I will always associate with Repo Man (1984). I'd like to think that this is the same character. Maybe a few years after Otto took off in the UFO, Lite figured he'd had enough of the City of Angels and moved to Boston. Now instead of firing a round of blanks into a house while he breaks into a car, he's gotta deliver flowers and romantic messages to mullet-headed honkies on top of the Pru. It's a living!

Can we talk about the Boston skyline in this scene, please? I'm not one of those people who demand realism from sets. In fact, I rather relish the "phoniness" of shooting on a soundstage instead of on location. But, boy, oh boy, does the backdrop from the top of the Pru look disorienting here. It's like a Wayne Thibaud painting. If I would've presented my high school art teacher with a drawing that looked like this, Mr. Joyner would have castigated me for my crummy perspective and vanishing points.

Am I missing anything? Oh, yeah. Carol. Well, right before the end of the episode, she shows up. More on that next time.

For now, let’s make sure our seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright positions, our seat belts are securely fastened, and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of us or in the overhead bins. For our next flight, we will find out if Carol (Kim Johnston Ulrich) is going to stick around and become a full-fledged member of the Wings family when we talk about "Return to Nantucket, Part 2."