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Sly Cooper and Questionable Children’s Media Heroes




(Spoilers for the entire Sly Cooper series).

This one might be a slight bit controversial. Sly Cooper is the beloved star of an equally beloved series of children’s games. It is probable that anyone who has ever played these games has never gotten the impression that Sly is in any way a bad guy.

Children’s media is often given a short shift. There is a prevailing notion that because this art is being designed for children to consume, there is no need to put in a lot of effort. This is a poor attitude that can lead to some ill-thought out story elements creeping in.

I intend on illustrating this problem by taking a look at the progression of Sly Cooper’s character motivations. As deadlines became tighter between games, Sly’s heroism started to fade away and be replaced by unfeeling recklessness regarding his friends. Of course none of this was intentional; that is what worries me.

Like Clockwerk

Sly Cooper has a tragic backstory. Born into a family of career thieves, his parents were murdered by the vengeful Clockwerk when he was a young boy. He grew up in an orphanage, made life-long friends in the form of Bentley and Murray, yet lived every day knowing that Clockwerk was committed to wiping out the entire Cooper family.

So committed to this goal is Clockwerk (yes that is really how to spell his name) that he has encased his body in soulless machinery. Now more robot than man (or whatever evil bird he is supposed to be exactly), Clockwerk is essentially immortal. If left unchecked he will forever exist to menace Sly and the world at large.

What choice did Sly have put to fight back? Determined to live up to his family name, he becomes a master thief and eventually seeks out Clockwerk. Helped all the way by his two best friends, at the end of the first game he succeeds in defeating his great nemesis. At long last Sly can sleep safe at night.

All is well that ends well, right? Sly has gone on a fairly typical hero’s journey, from tragic beginnings to a victorious end. Indeed, if the original game had not spawned sequels, there would be no need to write this article. Yet it did, and the writer’s began losing sight of what exactly makes for a heroic protagonist.

Wikipedia tells me this is an owl. I’ve got nothing.

Round Two

Dropping your nemesis in a volcano is usually the best way to end things, but unfortunately Clockwerk is made of indestructible metal. The remains of his body (hitherto referred to as ‘Clockwerk Parts’) are reassembled and put on display. This terrifies Sly; what if Clockwerk fully reformed?

A plan is hatched to break into the museum and steal the parts. Unfortunately Sly has been beaten to the punch by the infamous Klaww Gang. This continental criminal organisation has split the Clockwerk Parts between themselves and are using them to further their own illegal activities. Sly and the gang resolve to steal the parts from each of the members in turn.

Clockwerk can only reform if all of his parts are put back together. This is a pertinent piece of information which hangs over every following action in which Sly engages. Provided the parts are kept separate, Clockwerk can never be a threat again.

The Klaww Gang have split up the parts and scattered them to the four corners of the Earth. Sly fails to realise that his mission is already accomplished. One could argue that he needs the peace of mind, given that these nefarious types might one day reunite the parts, so it would make perfect sense for him to steal one of these parts. If he could just lay his hands on any single one of the parts and hide it away forever, Clockwerk could never haunt him again.

Obviously he decides to collect them all; otherwise there would be no story and conversely no game. The obvious need for the developers to structure the game around numerous heists means the characterisation suffers. Not only is Sly acting against his best interests, he is endangering his friends by doing so. This is not how you get a player to view the protagonist as a hero.

Sleeping with the Enemy

Sly is somewhat infatuated by a certain Carmelita Fox. This is more than a little detrimental to his safety as Carmelita is an Interpol Agent tasked with bring him and his friends to justice (they are a criminal organisation, let’s not forget that). In Sly 2 his desire to flirt with Carmelita begin to severely endanger not just his freedom, but the freedom of Bentley and Murray.

During one of the heists the gang needs a lengthy distraction so that Murray can be winched into an occupied ballroom and steal some Clockwerk Parts. It is decided (and never directly stated whose idea it was, but this can only be a Sly brainwave) that the best possible distraction is to amaze the crowd with some incredible dancing. Sly will need a dance partner to pull this off. Who better than the also in attendance Carmelita Fox?

Well, literally anyone. Involving an Interpol Agent who hates you in your heists is generally not advisable. Nor is dancing the best way to distract a ballroom full of people who are also dancing. Really this plan does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny and it only works because presumably everyone at the party was off their faces on hallucinogenic drugs (more on that in a bit). Sly just wanted any excuse to dance with Carmelita.

This is reckless endangerment of his friends for the sake of getting his rocks off. One might argue that Sly is in love with Carmelita and that love makes people to crazy things. Well, if he is in love with Carmelita, then why does he ask Neyla on a date a couple weeks later? This man who just endangered his friends to dance with an Interpol Agent decides to ask out A DIFFERENT INTERPOL AGENT (Sly apparently has a very particular fetish).

There is no romantic way to spin any of this. The developers wanted a smooth protagonist, but actions like this just result in Sly looking selfish and dumb.

Pictured Above: Not the best way of avoiding contact with the police.

The Best Laid Plans…

Where does having romantic dalliances with law enforcement inevitably lead a gang of thieves? Why jail of course! Neyla ‘betrays’ Sly, arresting him and Murray. Though they will eventually all escape (thanks to Bentley, not Sly), that hardly alleviates the trauma Murray was subjected to while imprisoned. Controversial though this opinion might be, it is not necessarily beneficial to the mental well-being of a person to be locked in solitary confinement and fed hallucinogenic drugs.

(Carmelita also ends up losing her job and being imprisoned due to an incriminating photo of her and Sly dancing during the heist. She is then subjected to high-tech attempts at brain-washing. It sure is weird how everyone Sly ‘loves’ keep suffering awful fates because of his actions, isn’t it?)

Soon the gang are back to stealing Clockwerk Parts. Then the inevitable happens. When they have almost amassed all of the parts, one of the members of the Klaww Gang finds their stash and sells them all to the other remaining member. Sly’s master plan of collecting all of the parts to avoid them falling into the wrong hands led straight away to them all falling into the wrong hands.

Which means Sly has risked the lives, the freedom and the mental well-being of his closest friends all in the name of stopping a great threat (which probably would not have emerged) that he ends up ensuring comes to fruition. His recklessness has unleashed a potentially immortal evil being on the world. This no longer sounds like much of a hero’s journey, does it?

Once again the developers just needed some high stakes for their dramatic finale. There is nothing wrong with a heroic protagonist failing; in fact it is a good way of demonstrating their vulnerability. When every action of the protagonist is all for nought, however, and succeeds in achieving the exact opposite of their goal (and this being entirely foreseeable), they do not end up looking much like a hero.


Carmelita lost her job, her reputation and was subjected to mind-invasive torture. Murray was also psychologically tortured and even lost the van he has owned since adolescence. Bentley has so far escaped lasting damage. Guess what is about to happen.

After foiling the reanimated Clockwerk’s new master plan (which involved driving the population Paris mad with hallucinogenic drugs. Oh sure, it’s a kids game so they keep calling it ‘illegal spice’, but it is pretty clear the Klaww Gang are running a drug empire), Bentley devises a plan to destroy the menace once and for all. He climbs into the bird’s mouth and rips out the technology that has kept Clockwerk alive all these years.

Then the mouth closes suddenly, shattering Bentley’s legs. Which Murray blames himself for and has a total mental breakdown.

So there we have it. Sly’s grand scheme to pre-emptively stop Clockwerk for a second time (that ended up directly causing his return) ended up permanently paralyzing Bentley and psychologically breaking Murray. Sly, meanwhile, walks away entirely unscathed and immediately does back to flirting with a newly reinstated Carmelita. He disappears into the night without a single lesson learned and the game ends.

All of this assembled proof suggests Sly is a reckless asshole, and these are not even the most questionable acts he has committed. There is a third game in the original series that has not been explored. Surely the developers have learned some kind of lesson by then? Nope, instead they double down on their hero being selfish.

Look on my works ye mighty and despair…

Once More into the Breach

The third Sly game sees the Cooper Gang trying to reclaim the Cooper Vault, the lost sanctum of treasure that the Coopers have been collecting for hundreds of years and…

Wait just a Goddamn minute! In the first game Sly’s life was threatened, so he turned to his friends for help. In the second game Sly was (allegedly) trying to stop an evil menace returning to the world, so he turned to his friends for help. Now he is just trying to get a bunch of money, so he turns to his friends for help. One of these things is not like the others. How the Hell does he justify any of this?

Bentley cannot walk because of Sly’s last adventure. Murray left the gang to try and heal his damaged psyche. Now he’s dragging them into another dangerous adventure where the motivation is simple greed dressed up in ‘preserving the family heirlooms’ (which are stolen, just FYI). There is no hint of self-defence or heroic motivations in this quest. Sly is simply risking his friend’s lives yet again for incredibly selfish reasons.

This what I mean when I talk about Sly being terrible. He is very clearly leaning on his shared history with these people and their obvious affection towards him in order to manipulate them for his own ends. It does not matter how much they might suffer, either physically or psychologically. At the end of the day he will always force them into yet another adventure.

Obviously these are all unintended implications and it is clear the intent was clearly always to create a charming hero. Which Sly is, provided one does not consider his actions all that closely. Children are unlikely to consider the implications of Sly’s rampant selfishness while distracted by an exciting caper. Undoubtedly the likelihood of things going over a kid’s head is what leads developers to being careless.

Sly Romance

At the very end of the third game Sly takes an injury to the head. He immediately takes advantage of this turn of events to claim to have amnesia. This is genius plan for finally having his feelings towards Carmelita reciprocated. He knows that she could never date a criminal, so he pretends he never knew he was one in the first place. Now he just as to lie forever and he will be happy.

The supposed hero has resorted to tricking a woman into a romantic relationship with him by deceitfully feigning mental illness. Let’s all say that again. He has RESORTED TO TRICKING A WOMAN INTO A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM BY DECEITFULLY FEIGNING MENTAL ILLNESS! How can positive consent possibly exist in this relationship? How can this be defined as anything other than serious emotionally abusive behaviour?

Carmelita has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. She genuinely believes that Sly has amnesia, so she tells him that he is her partner in law enforcement, meaning he is finally a proper candidate for her affections, so that she can…

Wait a second. So she comes across a man experiencing memory loss and her first instinct is to essentially brainwash his identity into something more palatable for her tastes? All so she can date him? Okay, Carmelita is also a terrible person. No wonder Sly has always been attracted to her.

By the way, to pull off this plan, Sly immediately abandons Bentley and Murray without explanation. While he does make sure they’re monetarily compensated, he drops his lifelong friends with nary a word to manipulate a woman into loving him through constant lying.

In this case there is no justification for this situation. It is just awful from whatever way you look at it, which is really the logical conclusion for not taking enough care while writing stories for children.

All healthy relationships are built on a foundation of ‘Hey remember that time my criminal plan resulted in you briefly turning you into a gigantic monster and you almost murdered me?’


This whole idea came from a joke I once came up with it cover up some minor plot holes that snowballed once I started finding more and more evidence. Certainly the developers never intended Sly to be viewed this way. These are children’s games starring a talking raccoon whose entire character is basically ripped from Ocean’s Eleven. These games are supposed to be fun romps, not dark commentaries on recklessly endangering your friends.

Yet while intention is important, it cannot excuse all actions. The fact that these are games designed for kids is particularly concerning; I am not one to lose my mind over the idea a child might be exposed to a mature idea, but presenting recklessness and one-sided friendships as heroic is not exactly an ideal situation.

It is up to you to decide whether or not any of this is cause for concern. Personally I think those writing children’s games in particular should put a little more care into not accidentally making their protagonists sort of terrible. After all, the ending of Sly 3 in particular is really hard to explain away. I am not saying developers need be as methodical as George R.R Martin while making games about a raccoon who pulls off heists. I just expect them to not teach children that lying about mental illness is the key to a woman’s heart.

All images courtesy of Sucker Punch



Shameless Draws the Line Between Healthy and Unhealthy Emotion




When it comes to the ongoing continuity of any sort of story, cause and effect are extremely important. What characters say and do should not be taken lightly, whether it is positive or negative, since completely ignoring a situation where something significant happened only serves to break the kind of immersion a series should be going for. This was never really a problem for Shameless in the past, but recently something has come up to make me wonder, but wait last episode they were literally…? Granted it’s not the biggest of plot points—or holes rather—but still if it happens one time what stops it from happening a second time. Maybe it’s just me nitpicking at this point because I know it wasn’t a central part of the plot (actually it was mostly filler), but the fact it made me question what was going is something that really made me wonder about the rest of the series.

On a different and more significant point, another thing that is important in a series is to divide the line between right and wrong, whether it comes from the for of good and evil or healthy and unhealthy. Granted this is Shameless we’re talking about, and a lot of the morality of the series is pretty gray. But one thing we can count on being thrown onto sides are feelings and emotion. One thing that certainly sets Shameless apart from the rest is it’s realism in context to our relation to its characters. Keeping that in mind, something so central to the show’s success should be able to give us a clear line between what we can expect could be positive characteristics in the form of development and learning while on the negative side being constant poor decision making and remaining the same person of the course of the shows length. This episode reminded me why the line exists and why it is so important.


The episode opens to Ian continuing his plans involving movements against religious homophobia while Frank tries to plan his retirement, which hilariously is nonexistent due to his whole six weeks worth of work in his entire life. Debbie also finds some off the books welding gigs that take place at night which is about as strange as it sounds. Celia appears to take Franny for a few days, begging the question as to what is going on with Derek? Meanwhile, Kassadi continues to be an insufferably happy fiance by buying presents for the family; I forgot she was rich. Yet scarily enough, she give Carl a necklace with a pendant sized bottle filled with her blood…crazy.

Fiona continues to work on the apartment and learns that Nessa lost one of her Ford babies but hasn’t told her wife yet. Speaking of Ford, he does text her asking her to look at some furniture for her apartment as she tells Nessa about their situation. It’s cute to see Fiona and Ford look at furniture and see another language he knows. At least it gets her a huge discount on a pretty expensive Danish chair.

Kev and V continue to try and find Svetlana a rich old man to marry to help her one up her old fellow sex worker from the previous episode. Lip goes to make a visit in prison to see Youens and we shockingly find out that he has passed away, all the office will tell him that there was an incident and he didn’t survive and that the body was claimed by the next of kin. What follows is a quite depressing montage of Lips ride home.

Once Fiona returns home, she sees the family of the man who fell off her roof arguing with his coworker, who is refusing to give her money for the work already done until he’s out of the hospital. It looks like they’re homeless at the moment and Fiona does what she can to help. She realizes they might be homeless, when what starts as his daughters wanting to use Fiona’s bathroom turns into a bath for them. Ian starts to see more supporters come out to see him after the viral video of him saving the priest and he’s approached by a minister to help more of the Gay community. Lip goes back to Youens’s home and walks in on his daughter, Tabitha, going through his affairs. It turns out the withdrawal from booze caused him to have a bad seizure, he tries to seem significant to her but she comes off as offended and asks him to leave and to leave his key.

Svetlana finally has her date with old rich man only to be treated like a cheap sex worker and she ends up punching him in the face when he asks her for a good time for very little money. Ian has a lot of the kids in his home to spread the message of love but it only serves to gain him more followers in which he’ll need a bigger place to speak. Though he’s not sure if he’s up to the task which is as much as he expresses this fear to Fiona. Though now he’s dubbed as Gay Jesus.

Debbie’s night welding job actually ends up working for a bunch of scabs trying to one up production for cheaper against a welding union. They do get caught but most of them get away, including Debbs. Kassidi gets more and more possessive and obsessive when she realizes Carl is still going back to military school. She has a clear freak out about it while Lip tries to write a speech for Youens’s wake. The family finds out he’s engaged, but of course Ian and Fiona try to convince him not to marry him. Frank does what he does best and acts like Frank.

Shameless presents, “Gay Jesus”

Just as Fiona begins to enjoy life on her own, the man who fell off her roof is brought by ambulance to his family who are still living in a car right outside her apartment. Once Ford comes back, Fiona tells them she’ll try and find them family housing until they can back on their feet. Pun not intended. Meanwhile Kev and V work a scheme with mic and two way radio to help Svetlana act more like a submissive woman to help her find a rich old man. Debbs realizes even though there is danger with working with scabs, the pay was too good for her not to take the risk again. Carl comes back home to all his military uniforms ripped apart and this leads to yet another fight as she begins to describe that she’ll die if he leaves. The two compromise on getting married that day, oddly enough it’s not the weirdest marriage that the Gallagher family has produced.

Fiona talks to Trevor about the housing for the family, and Trevor mentions that Ian hasn’t been around much even though he was supposed to speaking to some kids for him that night. Trevor expresses that he misses him. Frank, now pretty much back to his old ways, is using Ian’s message for shameless advertising; of course Ian tells him that 95% of the sales must go to help Trevor’s kids.

At the wake for Youens, Lip realizes that he was not the only life touched by his professor, in fact he was actually the least successful of all of them. They all come up talking about how he helped them become masters in their field, or was there for them when they needed him most, and even more emotionally exclusive situations. Lip crumbles his speech and leaves in anger only to go back to the bike shop to destroy things. Fiona tells the family outside that she found them a place that will take them in two days but offers to let them stay at her apartment until then. Carl and Kassadi’s marriage falls through when they’re told they have to wait for the next day for their marriage license to take effect.

She’s insane

Fiona and Ford spend more time together as she finally confronts him about his lack of interest in her life, only to realize he already knows everything bout her by asking around. She’s surprisingly not creeped out by his extensive knowledge of her because of how he words it that she’s completely out matched by his charm. Svetlana’s second attempt at wooing an older suitor has her take off her mic in frustration and go straight for grabbing the mans crotch. Another successful meeting gets Ian a larger group for support, he waivers only at the idea of saying the same things over and over but quickly picks back up once he’s told that sometimes that’s all one needs to hear.

My ship has set sail

Carl finally admits to Kassidi that he’s having doubts about their marriage the next day and that he was relieved that they had to wait. He wants to wait a little longer and she seems to accept based on his honesty. Probably the best thing she’s done until she ruins it back trying to fake hanging herself so that she’ll be saved by Carl, using that as a sign that he really does love her. This leads to them getting married that day after all.

After Fiona and Ford finally pop the cherry she’s rushed back to her apartment because more people are now squatting with the family to make money off of them. Trevor finally confronts Ian about missing his promise to him and the two fight, Trevor brings up some valid points. Lip finds Tabitha on his porch, she brought him the draft of a recommendation letter written for Lip and she expresses how he was a great dad to strangers but not to her. She says that he never saw her father right more about a student than he did for Lip. She begins to cry and Lip does his best to console her.

The episode ends with Fiona attending Ian’s big night while calling it a cult under hush hush, though I’m not sure if she’s serious or not. Ian gives a great speech, charismatic and relatable. Debb’s gets injured at her scab gig when a heavy metal pipe falls at work, her expression gives away that it’s a serious injury. Fiona finds out that the man whose family she’s been letting stay at her place is now suing her for falling off the roof and wants 6 million dollars.


The first thing I really want to talk about is Youens’s death. For Lip this had a profound effect and swirled emotions around like crazy. Up until now Youens had been a sort of crutch for Lip; sure he was grateful for the man helping get his life straight and paying for his rehab, but at the same time Lip centered his true rehabilitation by trying to help Youens from succumbing to the same fate. Clearly the man did not want to be helped after he showed up to court drunk. Emotionally the thought of the old professor going to jail weighed heavy on Lip and with his passing Lip was given a forced release from that pain. I’m not saying I wish death on anyone holding someone back emotionally, far from it, but in this case it might have helped Lip in the long run.

This scene was pretty powerful

The second part of this is Lips handling of the wake. We’ve seen Youens not only help Lip to sobriety but a long time ago he saw a future in him, a promising career. This slowly fell apart as the drink became most of what Lip cared for. Upon witnessing all that former students and the like had to say about Youens at his wake we realize that they were all a lot more successful in life than Lip. We could understand if this made him feel like a failure in some respect but the real emotional turmoil is the feeling of not being exclusive or not being someones, “one”. While on the surface it seems like a selfish thought on his part but surely he knew he couldn’t be the only one whose life he touched. Of course this feeling is remedied by Tabitha who most likely feels the same exact way, especially when students had a better child to father relationship than she did with her own father and like that we are given a proper division between healthy emotional grief and selfish possession.

On the opposite side of that spectrum, we have Carl and Kassadi’s relationship which is pretty much dominated by her over bearing possessiveness and emotionally abusive attitude towards Carl. She literally pressures him into seeing things her way by threatening, screaming, and just all around acting quite frankly insane. Carl really needs to find a way out of this before it continues to get worse.

Ian’s plot has gotten a lot of traction of the course of the season with a major pro and con. The pro of course is not only sending this message of love while at the same time facing the realities of being looked to as a hero by so many. The show brilliantly weighs in the issues that are faced by people of importance into their personal lives. But the major con is that earlier this season we saw Ian at an all time low saying something was going to be done. It was solemn, thought provoking and then never mentioned again. It seemed pretty significant at the time so why was it completely forgotten?

I had the same issue with the new plot for getting Svetlana a new old, rich husband. Kev and V just spent almost an entire episode working to shame and humiliate her and once she has a moment of true weakness they run back to her side? Granted they are good people and would do something like that for a friend in need but they literally just spent almost a whole season hating her and suddenly they don’t? Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Images courtesy of Showtime 

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Helsreach Shows Us a Universe of Constant War





Greetings, readers of the Fandomentals, and welcome to my first article of 2018. I’d say I hope it’s better than the last year, but who are we kidding? With that in mind, let me introduce you to a book from a universe that is much, much worse than our own. The book in question is Helsreach, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden. It’s a part of a larger series of novels taking place in the Warhammer 40000 universe, about the battles of the Space Marines – the grim, bald men in very large pauldrons who are perhaps the most recognizable face of the setting… for better or worse.

The title of the novel refers to a hive-city on the world of Armageddon. “Hive”, in this context, means simply a massive city on a planet full of such. Armageddon is an industrial world, producing machines and weapons for the Imperium of Man, and it saw a great deal of warfare, even by the standards of Warhammer 40K. Helsreach takes place during the third war for Armageddon, a titanic conflict depicted in codices, novels and other material. The major dramatis personae of it are Commissar Yarick and the Ork warboss Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka.

…Neither of whom plays any sort of role in this book. Yarrick appears briefly, but Ghazghkull is nowhere to be seen. That’s because Helsreach is only one city on the planet, and not a very important one, even. The sheer scale and brutality of the fighting it sees despite that is a testament to how mind-bogglingly brutal the war at large is. But its relative insignificance provides much of the actual conflict of the novel, due to what it means for its main protagonist.

Said protagonist would be Chaplain Grimaldus, of the Black Templars chapter. Black Templars are fanatical and devoted to the Emperor even compared to other Space Marines. Grimaldus’ role as a Chaplain means that he serves as a priest, leading them in prayer, stoking their faith and encouraging them to ever greater ferocity and brutality in the name of humanity and its God-Emperor.

If that sounds boring and one-note to you, well, I used to think so too. But Dembski-Bowden showed me that it doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. Space Marines stand apart from humanity, yes. Their physical and psychological traits both result from heavy genetic modification.

And yet… Grimaldus is relatable. He hasn’t been a Chaplain for long, having replaced his mentor in the role. He doesn’t think he’s up to the task. His battle-brothers, whom he leads into the battle for Helsreach, agree – but as they will not question the chain of command, it just leads to quiet resentment. Grimaldus is also less than happy to have been sent to fight for an insignificant city with a handful of Marines, rather than join the Chapter in the massive battles in the planet’s orbit or other cities. The fact that he’ll die doesn’t bother him – dying for the Emperor is his goal in life. But dying without glory and honor do.

As relatable as Grimaldus is to us, the narration emphasizes the differences between the Space Marines and humans. That’s how it refers to normal people, at least in the Polish translation. The Adeptus Astartes are defenders of humanity, but whether or not they’re still human themselves after so many modifications is arguable. The soldiers of the Imperial Guard around them certainly feel the gap. Their towering size, unflinching focus and zealotry, the constant sounds of their power armor… not to mention their inhuman strength and fortitude in battle.

Grimaldus’ journey in this novel involves coming to terms with his position, realizing the worth of the struggle for Helsreach and empathizing with the “mortal” men and women around him. Compared to Warhammer 40000 as a whole, the inclusion of women is what I’d call decent. The Space Marines are a boys-only club as ever, but the Imperial Guard is clearly full of both genders. There’s some romance stories among the Guard that kind of come out of the left field. I think their main purpose is to confuse Grimaldus – who, like all Space Marines, has neither the capacity nor drive for such relationships.

One of Grimaldus’ more interesting relationship is with the princep of an Imperial Knight. For some quick context, a Knight is a building-sized bipedal war machine, basically a mecha. The princep is an extremely old woman who’s the thing’s main pilot, submerged in a tank of liquid and integrating with it through her mind. Her relationship with Grimaldus is that of grudging respect mixed with hostility, as their goals and ideologies clash.

Despite working towards the same goal and against the same enemy, they represent different factions within the Imperium of Man, which do not see eye to eye. The details of it might somewhat confuse a reader who isn’t very familiar with the setting, as they concern the religious and superstitious reverence that humanity has towards technology.

The princep belongs to Adeptus Mechanicus, also called the Machine-Cult, for a reason. They supposedly worship the Emperor in his aspects as the Omnissiah, the Machine-God… which is a thin veneer covering their radically different beliefs. Of course, the talk about machine spirits and machine-gods isn’t entirely superstition, as Titans have a tendency to struggle with their pilots for control once their mental strength wavers…

What about the enemy that they all face? Well… not much to say about them, really. Wahrammer 40000 Orks are very much like fantasy orcs, with all their ugly implications… except cranked up to eleven in most ways. Their every trait, and every aspect of their biology, has been designed for one purpose – waging war. After their creators disappeared, and so did the threat they designed Orks to face… the greenskins simply began to fight anyone and anything they could.

Needless to say, they’re pretty monothematic. There are ways to make them more than just a wave of enemies to cut down, but Dembski-Bowden does not do that. Orks simply are an endless horde of brutal, bloodthirsty fighters. They die in droves, but they keep coming, are far smarter than they look and possess war machines to match those of the Imperium.

Here’s also where the differing perspectives of Space Marines and humans come into play again. A Space Marine, a superhuman wearing power armor and wielding powerful weapons, can swat Orks aside easily. To a regular human, a Ork is a huge, vicious, durable monster.

One way or the other, the Orks simply provide a background against which all the conflicts among the protagonists are forged – Grimaldus’ inner doubts, tensions among leadership or his decision to unearth a massive, ancient war engine that the Adeptus Mechanicus would rather stayed buried.

The constant, unrelenting war the Orks provide as antagonists can become overwhelming. There are brief moments of respite and planning, but other than that, the book really gets across the atmosphere of a battle that just doesn’t end. I consider it a success on Dembski-Bowden’s part, but not everyone might see it this way. It depends on how much you like war stories, probably.

I’ve talked about characters and their perspectives on things, which brings me to an important part. The novel uses third-person narration, but certainly not an omniscient one. We see things from above the shoulders of characters, whether it’s Grimaldus or others. But our view is very much colored by how they see things. This is especially visible when we see the Astartes from the point of view of regular humans, but that’s not all there is to it.

Indeed, I have heard that Dembski-Bowden outright advised everyone to remember that the books are written from the characters’ perspective and express their views, no one else’s. This is particularly apparent in Helsreach when Space Marines of the Salamanders Chapter appear. This Chapter’s traditions and tactics focus strongly on protecting the common folk of the Imperium, setting them apart from the often aloof and arrogant Astartes.

To us, it may seem like a positive trait. But the narration portrays them through Grimaldus’ eyes, and he sees their care for the civilians as weakness and foolishness. Grimaldus would rather take out an Ork warboss than escort defenseless people. Is it bloodthirsty fanaticism or pragmatism?

Having said all that, is Helsreach good reading for someone who isn’t very familiar with the Warhammer 40K universe? Although I learned about it a long time before picking it up, I would say it might be. There are many elements that might confuse a casual reader, mostly the names of different groups within the Imperium. Most of it is easily understood in context or directly explained, however. At the end of the day, the setting uses some very typical elements, putting them in a grimdark space fantasy atmosphere.

So, if you like grim stories about endless war, inner and interpersonal conflicts and don’t get tired easily of fight scenes… Helsreach might be for you. Either as a not too deep, casual read, or a jumping point into a larger universe.

Images courtesy of Games Workshop

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Shameless Tackles Hate and Intolerance with Love and Schemes




With the holidays over and Showtime giving us a week off to really sit in and think about how the first half of this season of Shameless, it’s pretty easy to get lost in what we still want to see from a series that has been on the air for nearly a decade. While I’ve expressed my doubts about what this season could accomplish, and where it may be lead astray, especially considering the lack of unity in the central characters of the show, I’ve also begun to wonder if the magic of the Gallaghers is gone. Like I’ve said oh so many times over, I want the whole family or not at all.

With the week-long break, I really thought about that statement and came to the conclusion that in a way I am entitled to my opinion, but at the same time the very same entitlement may make me look like a spoiled fan. Even so, while I can live with the eventuality of a grown family branching out on their collective own, I believe I’m still right in the fact that the purpose of the story, the series itself, is that it is actually themed around the family. What they do on their own is entertaining enough but again lacks any real consequences to a singular plot as a whole.

While some episodes in this season were still enjoyable without that sense of singularity I find myself on the ropes in the opinion of whether it is time for the series to end or not. While I am enjoying this season for what it is I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels it is lacking that traditional Shameless charm that has carried it so far. With that said I leave it up to the remainder of the series to sway me in one direction or the other, whatever the outcome may be.


The episode opens to quite the loud Gallagher household with incessant doorbell ringing, a baby Franny who will not stop crying and a whole group trying to use the bathroom which Debbie refuses to vacate due to constant use of pregnancy tests. All showing negative of course, did I mention that Fiona’s new pup is adorable? Lip decides to ease Debbie’s tension by offering to take her to Planned Parenthood to get a real test and Brad gets a morning surprise of naked Fiona as he’s sleeping in the tub. Fiona decides to just go to Nessa’s apartment to shower. We get to see more of Kassadi who is now Carl’s girlfriend a little too close to him for comfort, especially as she sits on the head of the toilet watching him pee…and underwear that says “all Carl’s”.


Frank begins his refugee relocation to Canada scheme in the hopes of helping those victimized by Trump’s America xenophobia while of course making a quick buck from them and smuggling cheaper drugs (mostly the medicinal kind) back to the US. At least he’s doing some sort of good even if it is tainted by classic Frank mentality. Watching him try to teach his new clients the Canadian anthem is especially giggle worthy.

Ian, Trevor, and at-risk kids begin to clean up the building they leased from Margot and soon discover that some of their queer kids have gone back home because their parents have forced them to a church where a priest will help them “pray the gay away”. Offensive, but sadly an all too real situation that unfortunately exists in the world. It mostly went unnoticed until one of theirs tried to kill themselves. Kev and V provide some filler from their last scenes as Kev continues to act in his dominant streak. When Lip and Debbs arrive at Planned Parenthood he notices that Sierra’s boyfriend is there with another woman who is pretty much almost in labor. The two exchange looks in uncomfortable silence. Fiona gets Nessa’s apartment all to herself.

Frank begins his journey to the great white north as he tries to make the best out of a long trip by playing confusing word games with his clients…and a goat. I may have also made a weird noise of excitement when I realized Sameer was played by the same actor as Salim from American Gods…but I digress. Lip has a quick word with Charlie about his pregnant companion and Lip gives him ultimatum to tell Sierra or he will himself. Ian and Trevor visit their friend who is bed ridden and find out more about this priest and his church. Fiona enjoys the freedom of living alone for a few hours only to be caught in mid naked dance by Ford in hilarious embarrassment. The two sort of flirt as he invites her to look at some famous architecture of south-side Chicago. He’s really into it and Fiona just kind of goes along with it. Carl and Kassadi’s sort of relationship moves to the uncomfortable and depraved as she begins to give him hand jobs in the middle of driving for Uber.

Lip finally starts to meet with sponsors only to realize that Brad was actually pretty tame compared to the ones that are out there. The best being his first who is basically taking no shit about him being too involved in others lives, while the others end up being way too old or way too weird. Frank takes his refugees into the wild to cross the border while telling hilarious stories about Canada playing on their light-hearted stereotypes. Kev finally starts to employ his newly found dominant mentality on Svetlana while at work and it helps to remove V’s sexual attraction to her and way more towards him. Fiona and Ford share a sweet moment as Ford tells her the beauty of certain buildings she only knows for what ghetto events happened there. It’s sweet to see Fiona have an exchange with a man who isn’t romantically interested in her, which is really cemented when she makes the first move and he tells her he’s not interested. Though not because she’s not good looking but rather because he thinks she’s too complicated. We can’t really tell if she took it as an insult or not at this point.

Well this was awkward…

Ian and Trevor finally attend a meeting for the conversion church and it is very sickening to say the least. At this point they’re just gathering some intel for an eventual strike back until Ian can’t stomach the hatred anymore. One of Frank’s followers faints and he cuts open her Burka and carries her on his back for the remainder of the journey. Debbie has Liam take some sultry photos of her to put on craigslist for employment, “sexy welder girl looking for work”. Lip almost spills the beans about Charlies other woman to Sierra because of her obvious distress, but is quickly saved by Sierra correcting him and telling him her father had murdered her mother years ago and his parole is coming up in a few days. Lip reminds Charlie of his ultimatum especially with the long drive they’re going to take.

Debbs decides to get her weekly groceries from emergency food banks and acts slightly entitled for an unemployed mother seeking out assistance. The dinner she prepares for the family is pretty unappetizing though. Frank finally gets his flock to Canada and the goodbye is bittersweet for Frank has actually done a good thing for some very good people. Kassadi’s crazy begins to come out more and more as the episode goes on and Ian prepares a bible study of his own. Also the whole family bashes Fiona on why she is complicated. Again can’t tell if the intent was malicious or not, seems like no though.

Ian finally goes back to the church and has a bible quoting contest with the priest, a back and forth of sections in the bible that either condemn gay love or Ian’s pro love quotes focusing on loving your fellow human no matter what. The scene is absolutely fearless and astounding that not only does it resonate on the viewers of the show but even in show as it’s hits thousands of views on YouTube. Carl and Kassidi finally reach a weird impasse as he finally gets mad at her and she pulls out the extra crazy acting both completely dependent on him and just overwhelm him with really weird emotions. Yeah, I don’t like her. Kev’s dominance continues to reign as he pushes Svetlana farther and farther away from almost total control of The Alibi and it double serves him with V’s new found love for his new machoness.

This scene was so well done

The episode concludes with Fiona attending a party with Nessa and her wife to find that they are both pregnant. Funny enough Nessa’s wife is pregnant through artificial insemination thanks to Fords sperm…and Nessa is pregnant also thanks to Ford but she actually decided to have sex with him, being drunk and laughing the whole about it anyway. Fiona approaches Ford about it but not really seriously and as more of a “oh I’m the complicated one?” type of way. He’s also got a total of five kids already. Lip decides to see the first sponsor as she’s pretty much the most normal, if not a little unflinchingly honest. Debbs also finally gets her period assuring that she is not pregnant and Frank prepares for another refugee relocation job.


Like the previous episode this one was probably one of the best this season. Even though we’re still dealing with mostly smaller stories, the ones that stuck with us really did for good reason. The most talked about of course being the whole conversion church situation with Ian and Trevor. As I mentioned in the recap it is a really sad reality that these types of places exist and even worse is that they use not only fear mongering in the form of eternal damnation but also treat queerness as an affliction or disorder. Beyond this incredibly ignorant mentality it was great to see Ian not only confront and conquer but to also do so using the same exact texts these intolerant zealots do. It’s a wonderful thing to see fear and hate brought down by love and respect.

Ians face is the collective anger of an entire fandom

In the most nuanced plot line of the episode, Frank’s journey to Canada with middle eastern refugees is an especially delightful segment to watch. Not only is the scene a critique on the xenophobia plaguing our country ever but also a general lack of humanity on some of our peers parts. What I loved most about this segment was that it had literally nothing to do with their religion or country of origin. Other than the fact that we know why they’re going to cross the border illegally Frank nor the writers put in anything associating them with a religion or country and choose to let us see just our fellow Man and Woman. Even for Frank this something completely different but carries a message we should all accept by now. Granted he does throw in a little quip here and there like calling them his “little brown bunnies” it’s hardly something to take as condescending or insulting and is mostly just Frank being Frank.

On of the weaker moments of the episode was Carl’s current involvement with Kassadi. I mean I liked his story earlier on in the series in trying to find a way to afford to get back into military school. Then suddenly she appeared and made things super weird for everyone and his return to the academy completely went out the window. I mean, I’m sure he is going to go back, he already has the money for the next semester but where will that leave her. At this point she is already very manipulative and uses negative emotion to get what she wants from him. I have a feeling this will lead to conflict when he decides it is time to go back to school and whether she’ll let him or not. Time will tell.

On a final note, this episode did seem to ignore the last few minutes of the previous episode where Ian seemed to be under some heavy emotional distress. He talked about something that may need to be done but was pretty vague about it and didn’t respond to Fiona when asked him what it meant. While his mind was no doubt preoccupied with what was going on this episode I would really hope they follow up on this as it could lead to an increasingly emotional and authentic experience in story telling.

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