Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tolkien and Final Fantasy

Warning! This post will discus spoilery plot points from some Final Fantasy games.

J.R.R. Tolkien looms over the entire modern Fantasy Genre, and doesn't lack influence on other genres either.  However Japanese RPGs seem to be one corner where Tolkien' influence is mostly indirect, with the key middle man being Tabletop Role Playing Games like Dungeons and Dragons (which originated in my home-state of Wisconsin) and it's imitators.

With Final Fantasy in particular, what's cosmetically Tolkien like about it has decreased heavily since the original game which could have been accused of outright plagiarizing D&D.  And even in that first game the race refereed to as Elves aren't like Tolkien's Elves at all, they are more like Santa's helper Elves.

Still translations of The Hobbit, LOTR and the Silmarilion into Japanese had all been done by 1982.  So the potential for some direct influence isn't impossible.  Generally however Fantasy games in a non RPG format (like Zelda) seem closer to Tolkien to me, maybe simply because the way RPGs use Magick doesn't exactly fit Tolkien's use of it.

With Final Fantasy, what is surprising is that the Final Fantasy game that seems the most like a story I think Tolkien would appreciate, is not one of the classic games with a Medieval High Fantasy setting, but rather Final Fantasy VII, the first futuristic FF game.

Some of that could be because of FFVII's Norse mythology influence.  Midgar and Middle Earth are both names that derive from Midgard.

First of all I think of the Cetra as being the most like Tolkien's Eldar of any race appearing in Final Fantasy.  For starters, Tolkien never described or depicted his Elves as having long pointy ears,.  Physically they look like Humans, though often idealized ones.  Their difference is all in lifespan and a more mystical connection to Arda.  I don't recall if the Cetra had any longer lifespans, but essentially they look like Humans but had a mystical connection to Gaia via the Lifestream.

Aerith is Cetra on her mother's side and human via her father, which fits the pattern of all Tolkien's Half-Elven.  But Tolkien's Human-Elf Maiden pairings always resulted in males, a line mingling descent from both Idril and Luthien happened because Beren and Luthien's son Dior had a daughter, Elwing.

But on a more thematic level.  While I hesitate to label Tolkien completely Anti-Technology, he was very concerned about industrialization, and the fear of nature being harmed by it.  So all technology in his Legendarium tends to be villainous, Sauron and Saruman were both Maia of Aule after all.

Final Fantasy VII is likewise very much about fears of technology going wrong and hurting The Earth, with all the SciFi cliches commonly used to symbolize that.  Sephiroth is a Frankenstein Monster, and Shinra is an evil energy company destroying the Earth's life force for profit.  And of course there is a Mad Scientist.

This aspect of FFVII is notable because later FF games particularly X are all about deconstructing and rejecting the technology is bad for nature attitude.  In Final Fantasy X the belief that the evil monster tormenting them is a judgment for their loosing touch with nature by letting technology get out of control is commonplace.  But in fact it's an evil corrupt hypocritical religion (not as Christian as you might assume) advancing that viewpoint.  And in the end they use Technology (Cid's Airship) to help destroy the beast permanently.

One of the reasons I think the story of Final Fantasy X would appeal to Gene Roddenberry.  Another would be destroying a God figure who turns out to be pathetic.  So Final Fantasy VII is for Tolkien fans and X for Star Trek fans (II and XII are for Star Wars and Indiana Jones fans and Tactics is for Game of Thrones fans).

Also the fact that Sephiroth's plan is to sort of merge with the Earth is arguably reminiscent of the premise of Morgoth's Ring.

I want to talk about FFVII's ending, so consider this paragraph another spoiler warning.

That ending where the Meteror is still coming even after they killed Sephiroth fully activating the Holy spell and everything seems hopeless....... then Aerith and the Lifestream suddenly show up to save the day....... is exactly the kind of moment Tolkien coined the term Eucatastrophe for.

Do other FF games have moments that could qualify as a Eucatastrophe?  Eucatastrophes don't lend themselves to Video Games well because we want to feel like the victory is because of the player's work.  In the entire Zelda franchise the only example I can think of is in Wind Waker, when Ganondorf is about to touch The Triforce but somehow out of nowhere The King beats him to it.  (The Rito showing up at the Forsaken Fortress also makes me think of the Eagles).

The only other FF example that even comes close is the end of XIII, and I'm familiar with the endings of I, II, Legend, Mystic Quest, VI, X, X-2, Tactics and XII.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Do Movie Trailers give away too much now days?

A perception that many movie trailers give away way to much, effectively the entire movie, is a common thing for internet complainers to complain about.  I think it's a complaint that's not as accurate as they make it seem.

I find it amusing how certain people often are that a trailer revealed everything when they still haven't seen the movie.  Remember, no matter how much you may think a trailer has revealed all it's cards to you, it's still only 2 minutes of a two hour movie.  I know of a few movies I could make a trailer for that seemingly reveals an entire beginning, middle and end while still not showing the actual final act at all.

It's likely they grossly under estimate how much a movie can do.  The way I see it, if it was even hypothetically possible for a 2 minute trailer to truly give away everything about a 2 hour movie, it wouldn't have been a very compelling and worthwhile 2 hours anyway.

I find it especially annoying when they act like it's a modern problem, that the tendency to give away too much has increased since like 2000 or something.  Have they seen any classic movie trailers?  They were often quite literally a narrated summery of the film, in chronological order, like Richard Burton's Alexander The Great.  And with Star Wars, the pre 2000 Episode I trailers gave away far more then any SW trailers since.

With modern trailers, no matter how much they show, that the scenes are in a mostly random order highly skews one's ability to actually guess how the movie will play out.  For some reason the trailers for The Dark Knight had me certain that the confrontation between Batman and The Joker that happens in the Street (where the semi truck gets flipped over) was the final confrontation.  Not sure why but it did.

What prompted me to do this was partly this article about the Terminator Genysis trailers.  Now I don't give a crap about that movie, but he talks also about Terminator Salvation which I enjoyed, it's the only Terminator sequel I really like, but still flawed thanks to still being bound by the mutilated canon of T2 and T3.

He says that the reveal of Sam Worthington's character being a Machine was an important dramatic moment in the movie, therefore it was stupid of the trailers to give that away.

No matter what the trailers had revealed, you'd have to be a brain-dead idiot to not know he was a Machine right from the start.  It begins with him about to be executed donating his body to science and thus signing it over to Cynbernyme.  Then he wakes up all Rip Wan Winkle like in the future having not aged at all.

See I've talked before about why I feel the value of surprising the audience is frankly overrated.  The reveal of his character being a machine is a source of drama for him and the characters around him, the notion that it's meaningless if the audience already knows is frankly a stupid simplistic way to look at it.

This reminds me of how people claim that it'd be sooooo horrible for any new Star Wars fans to watch the films in chronological order first because then the "I am your Father" scene looses it's impact.  To me if you think that scene's impact and importance is dependent on the audience not knowing then you're the ones who don't appreciate the scene.  The scene's importance in the story is that Luke learns he'd been lied to.  And I think it's Mark Hamil's best acting in the trilogy.

Let's speculate while we're at it.  If the Prequels weren't Prequels, if they'd been made first.  Would trailers for ROTS had given away Anakins' fall to the Dark Side?  Would it really be considered a twist without the future already being seen given all the foreshadowing in episodes 1 and 2?

I really don't mind knowing what is going to happen at all, because my mind is still curious about the details of how and why.  Revealing that John Conner becomes a Machine in trailers for that stupid looking new Terminator movie makes the viewer wonder "How the Frak did that happen".

So no, a trailer giving away what seems like a "twist" does not equate to giving away the entire film.

Update: I have a new post that is sort of a follow up to this.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Story telling and the Video Game medium

First I want to preface this by saying I shall be using the word "Story" to encompass a number of literary terms, Story, Plot, Characterization, Character Interaction/Dialogue, character development, character exploration, world building and so on.

Video Games are the only Entertainment medium where story tends to be thought of as less important then the technical aspects.

In movies, cartoons, TV shows, radio dramas, plays, comic books, and of course novels which don't have any other elements really, the technical aspects we expect to also be done well and not lazily, but are ultimately tools in telling a story.

While with Video Games the story is ultimately just a thing that justifies the game-play.  Gamers will enjoy a game with fun game-play but a non existent or crappy story quite often.  While a game with a an interesting story but uninteresting game-play will be something we find ourselves wishing had been a movie instead.

None the less, I as someone who does not consider himself a hardcore gamer really, but still more then just a casual one, care about the story quite a bit.  And clearly so do lots of Gamers for many great games have stories that have proven just as important to their fans as Star Wars or Batman.

Still many game reviews out there won't mention the story at all.  Others will say "it has a cool story" but not say anything about why it's cool.

In some ways this different attitude towards storytelling with Video Games is beneficial for story telling, in my view at least.  In the Video Game medium Remakes are not hated on, a technology based medium understands the value in retelling a story people love with now even better technical capacity to do so.  It's not even thought of as blasphemy to declare a remake the definitive version of a game.  However none of that means we fail to appreciate what the older classic games did, and we often enjoy new games done in a retro style.

In other mediums plenty of remakes have surpassed their originals, but society prefers to not acknowledge this by simply forgetting the earlier version even existed.

Likewise with Sequels, Sequels being thought of as great movies is so rare only like 5 examples are even allowed in the mainstream. And Third installments seem universally reviled whether it makes sense to me or not.  But in Video game serieses the 3rd installment is frequently the most highly revered, SMB3, ALttP, Mario Galaxy was the 3rd fully 3D Mario.  Super Castlevania, Super Metroid, and for America Final Fantasy III on the SNES.

I'm often really interested in even the most paper thin stories.  Like the Mario games which besides the NSMB games always have something more to them then just the Princess being Kidnapped, though the way the games are made fun of would have you thinking otherwise.

For some over emphasizing the story can hurt a Game when it causes the game-play to be more linear then they might prefer.  To many this has been the growing problem with the 3D Zeldas, and even sometimes Final Fantasy.  The way to solve this is by allowing the story to have a variety of ways it can play out.  (It sounds like this may be what Wii U Zelda is going for.)  Or perhaps to have multiple stories going on the player can chose to get involved in in whatever order they like, Majora's Mask was like that to a degree.

And it hurts any ability to truly try and make the player character a stand in for yourself if certain aspects of their personality are defined by the set story. I understand this concern, but I don't truly desire to play as myself, I think I'd make a boring a protagonist so for me it's a none issue.

RPGs tend to be the most story heavy games.  Final Fantasy VI (III on the US SNES release) is the Final Fantasy who's story most interests me.  But I can't handle the Gameplay, besides the general reasons why RPGs can be the hardest for a not so hardcore gamer to play (I have beaten the original FF and Mystic Quest, and a few Mario RPGs, and got pretty far in FF II on Dawn of Souls before I think I screwed myself at the Dreadnought), I can't get used to the more complicated battle system, when I play an RPG I want just simple turn based battling.

Not really much of a point to this post, just wanting to share some thoughts.  Many future posts I make are going to be Video Game themed.  Though PLL and DCCU also remain on my mind.

Monday, July 20, 2015

I respond to a review of The Winter Solider, and it's website in general

The Fanboy Perspective is a website I've been following for awhile.  I agree with much of what is said there, but he's one of those internet bloggers who can't handle dissenting things being said in comments, so I got blocked from leaving comments.

Like him I consider The Dark Knight the best Comic Book Superhero movie, and love all 3 of Nolan's Batman movies.  And like him I love Man of Steel and am excited for DC's upcoming movies.  And like me he defends Sucker Punch and points out why it's better then Inception.

On The Dark Knight I go further probably in saying it's my favorite movie period.

But I can't agree with how much he hates on the MCU films (though I am also getting a little fatigued with their approach).  And he's one of those people who worships the R rating and has no respect for how what you don't see can be more impactful then what you do see.

To him Watchmen is the second best Superhero movie.  While I love that movie, it fails at capturing what it could have from the Comics way to often for me to truly praise it on a level remotely worthy of being along side the Nolan Batman or MCU films.  And compared to other Snyder films, I like MOS and Sucker Punch both far more, and probably feel even 300 was handled better, but 300's premise has limited appeal to me to start with so it's not a movie I watch as often.

The Dark Knight is perceived as being "legitimate artistic cinema" in ways other Superhero movies never have been.  To Fanboy Perspective that is all the more reason to look down on other Superhero movies when they are "shallow" and mere "Popcorn movies".  To me The Dark Knight should be viewed as vindicating the less "Respectable" Superhero stories, as proof they were never worthy of being looked down on in the first place.

I want to remind everyone of one of my favorite Paul Feval quotes
"That insignificant literature sometimes has higher aspiration, but it never declares them, and that is the secret of its power."
See I disagree with this attitude of looking down on what seems like less "legitimate" and "respectable" literature to begin with.  To me it is far more rewarding to find the deeper thought provoking material in what seems like superficial shallow popcorn action films like Guardians of The Galaxy, or soapy teen girl dramas like Pretty Little Liars, then it is to notice it in a pretentious art-house film that is doing everything it can to make sure you don't miss it, yet still thinks it can qualify as subtle just because it didn't have a narrator spell it out to the viewer.  As much as I love The Dark Knight, it usually leans towards the latter.

What prompted me to finally address him here is his recent Winter Soldier Editorial.

He makes a lot of valid points, yes Winter Solider is simplistic in a lot of ways, but still far less simplistic then the original Star Wars Trilogy (The Prequels are hated on by certain morons for being more complex and ambiguous).

But his suggestion that it would have improved the film to fridge Peggy Carter, the MCU's only truly strong female character, is offensive to me.

And I disagree with calling Munich an Action film in any way, Munich is an example of what happens when a director is trying as hard as he can not to make an action film even though the plot requires action to happen.

Here is the thing, one can do the same thing he does to undermine the suggestion that The Dark Knight deals with any true moral ambiguity.

In the last year or so I've become more willing to accept the flaws of The Dark Knight (I always accepted that "five dead, two of them cops" was a plot hole, most likely a carry over from an earlier draft where Ramirez wasn't left alive).  It's still my favorite movie, and will probably never leave my top ten.  But it does have failures.  Something many people who fell in love with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back in 77-80 haven't been able to do in far more time even though they have far more flaws.

The key grey area is the sonar thing.  When I first saw the movie I was so in awe of seeing a movie have Batman do something that ever so slightly alludes the side of Batman that results in things like Tower of Babel, War Games and Brother Eye/OMAC Project.

However at the end of the day, it was okay for Batman to cross this line just once because he always planned to fry the system after using it.  The same way so many other movies and cop shows have hand waved having their heroes doing questionable things, it's okay in this fictional context because we know these characters can be trusted.

It's not quite so simple when Batman does these kinds of things in The Comics.  He stood by his decision to create contingency plans for the League.  Even after War Games he was unwilling to fully admit he'd crossed some dangerous lines.  Yet the writers were clearly criticizing Batman for crossing those lines.  In the comics Batman pulling that kind of things has negative consequences, in TDK it didn't.

As far as it being wrong to lie about what Harvey Dent did. That is only even really suggested in the sequel.  And I'd be less bothered by it taking a sequel to address that if other things about that Sequel didn't completely undermined why I loved TDK's ending.  To me Rises is a great stand alone film, but a horrible sequel and why I can't consider the Nolan films a True Trilogy.

Back to Winter Soldier.  Does putting all the villainy on HYDRA really undermine the questions it brings up?  To me HYDRA is only a slightly more cookbooky version of how I view the real Military Industrial Complex, (the not as direct as people make it sound Nazi connection included) in fact I probably feel more sympathy for HYDRA.  To me what undermines things is how for the sake of a climax with immediately high stakes HYDRA had to be planning to do something horrific right away, even though they had been patiently biding their time for 70 some years.

And some HYDRA villains including Alexander Perice, are presented as villains who honestly believe they are doing what's best for the world on some level, but like Light Yagami have been corrupted by power.  People fail to see this in HYDRA simply because Red Skull was such a textbook Supervillian in a different movie, and because of the Nazi connection, because people forget Nazis were real people with real beliefs behind what they did.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I'm tired of this "Superman shouldn't be like Batman" nonsense

They are indeed different and distinct characters, and I wouldn't want to see them written as if they'd both make the same decisions in every situation.

But I'm tired of them being talked about as if they were created by the same creators specifically to be mirror images of each other.  And that dark and gritty stories are only allowed for Batman.

Superman came first, and was in fact pretty much an Urban Vigilante all through the year before Batman was created and for awhile after.  And when they started writing Super-villains for them, they were initially about the same kinds of super-villains.  Batman fought a few Ultra-Humanite knock offs before his Iconic Rouges gallery came along.

People talk about the earlier characters Batman was inspired by a lot, The Bat, The Shadow, Dick Tracey and so on (and my fellow BlackCoatPress fans can trace those back to older lesser known French characters like Judex).  But it's forgotten that Superman was first and foremost among them.  Kane and Finger were given a mandate to create a second Superman for DC, and Batman's look was simply Kane drawing a Bat themed Mask over a sketch of Superman and then coloring it in differently.

NONE of the dark things about MOS lacked precedent in the Comics.  Metropolis had faced similar massive destruction in a number of story-lines, like the Battle with Doomsday, or the Battle for Metropolis story a little latter that ended the Alexander Luthor Jr story-line.  And looking back on those comics now often makes me think of 9/11.  And Superman comics DID address 9/11 after it happened.

And in the comics Superman has killed the Pocket Universe version of Zod, Doomsday, and the Cyrborg Superman, to name a few.  Two of those didn't stay dead but the point remains, when dealing with threats of that level even Superman knows it's suicide not to fight to kill.  Cavil in MOS was actually far more reluctant then comics Superman was to kill Henshaw.  And killing the Pocket Universe Zod was him carrying out an execution, capital punishment, on already captured enemies.  To me that's far less acceptable.

Batman has the luxury of fighting normal humans or occasionally moderately enhanced humans, with the knowledge and ability to do every non lethal take down possible (which is why he can get away with not allowing himself to kill even in situations where a normal person, even a normal LEO would absolutely have to in self defense).  Those are luxuries Superman doesn't have when fighting beings on his level or above it.

Golden Age Superman was just as willing to kill ordinary criminals as Golden Age Batman was.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Femme Fatales and female villiany

There are people who view the Femme Fatale archetype as inherently sexist.  At the same time when dealing with some especially older literature the Femme Fatales and other female villains are often the female characters that seem more real and relate-able (especially to female readers/viewers) since they alone are allowed to break traditional restrictions on what women can be.  Add to that other reasons people often enjoy villains more, and they can be pretty cool.

With the Femme Fatale or The Vamp, I'm more concerned by the fact that that kind of villain never truly wins (in anything remotely mainstream).  I know the bad guy winning is technically rare in general, but plenty of examples of it do exist.  However every-time a Femme Fatale actually succeeds in seducing and ruining/destroying the "hero" of the story, it's always because he was a weak or horribly flawed character to begin with, in movies like Body Chemistry.

Often they think they're being feminist by doing it that way. (though the same scenario plays out in plenty of traditional works, like Samson, Samson was a morally weak hero.  Of course Samson I believe was real so perhaps I shouldn't mention him when discussing fiction at all, but his story is told in a literary fashion). Sending the message that the man shouldn't really be allowed to blame the woman for his moral failings, and I understand that.  Problem is plenty of female characters have been allowed to use being manipulated by a man as a valid excuse for their mistakes, and that too is thought of as a feminist rout to take.

And with that, every time a "Real Man" deals with a Femme Fatale he either resists, or if he has sex with her manages to turn the tables, it sends a message that women can't influence other people as well as men can.

The closest things I know of to exceptions to that are some of the Femme Fatales I really enjoy in French Pulp Fiction of the 19th Century, from Authors like Pal Feval and Ponson Du Terril.  But even those are iffy.

Leaving that issue aside, I would also like to see more Heroic Femme Fatales.

There are lots of examples of a good female character briefly attempting to use her feminine wiles, but it's usually as nothing more then a momentary distraction (if it works at all) and still ultimately the Heroine just uses brute force to overcome her adversary (and recently even female villains using them turns out that way, like Mystique though out the X-Men films).

And again many may think they're being feminist doing it that way, thinking they're deconstructing or subverting the "problematic" Femme Fatale trope.  But in fact the message it sends is that what society has long viewed as the masculine way to achieve a goal (brute force) is more valid.

But there is also the socially conservative reasoning, that a heroic woman could be smart enough to realize that's a weapon at her disposal but is not truly virtuous if she's actually any good at it.

A very notable exception to this is an old Pulp Character known as The Domino Lady, she was a very effective Heroic Femme Fatale, and I'm glad she's making a come back in New Pulp circles.

And as a Christian I'll point out that one of the Heroines of The Bible uses Sex to take out an Enemy of Israel.  Jael in the Book of Judges.  The poetic way it's described may make it difficult in English for some to notice, but in the Hebrew the sexual nature of that story is clear.  She has sex with him when she "covers" him, if it meant covering him with a blanket he wouldn't become uncovered when she gets him something to drink.  And similarly in the Apocrypha is Judith.

I also lament the fact that we aren't allowed to have Female Villians who are brains but not brawn anymore.  Because people are afraid of sending the message that fighting is only for men.  Yet plenty of male villains are still allowed to be super intelligent schemers who have others do their dirty work for them.  It seems many attempts to correct mistakes of the past only result in what limits a female character being changed.

I also feel we Feminists should be less concerned about the truly evil Female villains.  And more concerned when a male author seem to be unwilling to make a woman truly Evil.  And that can happen whether or not the female villain in question uses Femme Fatale tactics.  It is that kind of idealization of femininity that causes men to put women on Pedastools.  Now I do love Redemption stories, I'm a Christian after all, but when a writer seems to consistently have female villains less evil then the males it's a frustrating pattern.  It does not cause me to dislike the stories, but the pattern I feel should be noted.  Now works like many Magical Girls shows where all villains male or female get redeemed in the end I'm all for as a universalist.

This is the only area where Lewis is better then Tolkien, he was more willing to have Female villains like the White Witch and the Green Witch.  With Narnia anyway, in The Hideous Strength Mis Hardcastle, the only woman in NICE is also implied to be possibly not quite as evil as everyone else.  But at least she's allowed to die without redeeming herself, my greater problem is that she is the only gay character Lewis ever wrote, and it's purely an example of her evilness rather then an attempted source of sympathy.

The most evil Feminine creatures Tolkien wrote were beings not even remotely human, like Ungoliant and the other Spiders descended from her.  A lot of people feel Tolkien was very hard on the Queens of Numenor, but they were misguided if anything, not Evil.

Paul Feval, as much as I've praised his handling of female characters elsewhere, is in The Blackcoats possibly seemingly guilty of this.  Marguerite, the only woman on the High Council of the Habits Noirs, is also the only one given any depth or sympathy (even The Colonel's love for his Granddaughter is described as being like the love one has for a pet).  However she is also the only one given an origin story, in Heart of Steel, and in that early period is where all the humanity exists, once fully inducted into the High Council she seems as demonic as all the others.  Plenty of lower level Blackcoats are sympathetic, like Ehcolaot and Similor, and also the Marchef, but the High Council members are depicted as pure archetypes of evil.

The Legend of Zelda has the same problem as Tolkien.  Lots of completely inhuman monsters may have feminine names.  But the only two major attempts at having a female main antagonist are Cia in Hyrule Warriors and Princess Hilda in A Link Between Worlds, one  redeems herself in the end, and the other not exactly but she still clearly seems forgiven.  Both were pawns of a greater evil to begin with.  In the case of Cia she was split between her dark and light halves into two separate people, Cia and Lana, but the Dark Half is able to be sympathetic in the end while Lana shows no capacity for evilness at all, it makes no logical sense.

The Zelda franchise has had male villains play out somewhat similarly.  But the greater evil is always Male (not always Ganon, some games do have no Ganon) and never Female.

Hilda was from the start a parallel Zelda so you may think "of course she was never really going to be Evil".  But if we have a Dark Link why can't we have a Dark Zelda?

There is however a notorious fan-made Zelda game, an RPG called The Legend of Zelda: The Fallen Sage.  Where the title character, Sulkaris, is female and is allowed to be as Evil as Ganon, no redemption in the end.  In fact Sulkaris is the Morgoth of that version of the Zelda mythos.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Red Herring kinda sucks

For the first 5 seasons I didn't mind that PLL had such obvious blatant red herrings.  Partly because they've developed such a Meta style about it over the years.

I enjoyed wondering what the real answer would be.  Even in 5B while I was kind of annoyed the Liars thinking Ali was -A went on so long, I enjoyed the whole Mike situation.

But this thing with Leslie is just coming off cheap to me.  Red Herrings about who Charles is is what I was looking forward to.  The Charles mystery was/is the chief selling point of this half season, we already know his name is in the finale.  So the idea that they're going to spend the middle act of the season under the pretense that he's dead really feels like a waste of time.

I was fully expecting that Kenneth would claim or think Charles was dead.  But not that the Liars would buy it this easily.

Now I imagine, we will indeed find out Leslie knew Charles and will maybe provide the key to understanding how his death was faked and how he connects to the Bethany/Toby's mom plot elements.  That's gonna give this detour some justification, but it still feel unnecessary.

I enjoyed pretty much everything else about the latest episode.