Saturday, November 10, 2012

Baby Steps Toward Safer Toys

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 24:  Gerald L. Storch, cha...
(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Toys “R” Us and Wal-Mart announced last week that they’ll be tightening their safety requirements for toy suppliers. Both retailers will institute mandatory third party testing to safeguard against lead paint and Babies “R” Us will cut their phthalate threshold by 85%. Great moves from PR and supply chain risk perspectives. But is it enough to truly protect the companies and their customers?

This is a great example that much work remains in the supply risk management field even after the volume of headline grabbing recalls in the press has declined. In order to create the safest and strongest supply chains, retailers and consumer goods companies are ratcheting up their efforts. They had to - consumers were demanding it (and regulators weren’t far behind).

As you know, we feel strongly that increased testing is only part of the solution. In addition, companies need to accelerate efforts to:
  • Set the right expectations with current and potential vendors
  • Hold them accountable when mistakes are made
  • And most importantly, get better visibility into what’s going on inside of their supply chains
These critical steps are certainly not new… or quick and easy. But with the speed that information travels in today’s consumer climate and ever-longer supply chains, managing risks is a business and brand protection imperative.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Abandon All Hope Episode

There was nothing about this episode that was not beautiful, from the opening shot of the freeway interchange to the last haunting image of a photo consigned to the flames, and the individual performances of the actors were each in their own way heartbreaking and profound. But for all the artistry, this was an episode remarkably lacking in substance.

The episode begins with an introduction to the demon mentioned at the end of “The Real Ghostbusters”, who is seen making a deal under a massive freeway interchange with a banker (Kids! Bailouts are of the Devil) by Castiel.  Castiel tracks him back to his home- and there’s a lovely trick here, where they both simply disappear from human sight, but the camera does not give it away immediately- but can’t enter. Sam and Dean and Jo break into the place, killing a few hench-demons on the way, and are shortly thereafter captured. But that’s OK, because the demon simply wants to give them the mythical Colt and send them off after Lucifer. He even gives them directions.

They head back to…somewhere, where Jo and Ellen are having a drinking contest with Castiel. They’re losing, big time. Castiel knocks back six shots and sets the glasses down next to ten or so of their fallen comrades with no ill effect. As sober as ever, he suggests he may have started to feeling something. Meanwhile, they’re all making plans to go after the Devil, and bemoaning what a stupid idea it is, but they decide that stupid is the family tradition, and they’re going to be stupid ’til the end. And Bobby’s there, too, taking a melancholic black-and-white “last night on earth” photo. Yeah, this is going to end well. It looks quite a lot like the photo in “The End.”

So Ellen, Jo, Dean, Sam, and Castiel head of to the Carthage, where Lucifer is apparently holed up. They find it abandoned, and split up to investigate. Castiel quickly wanders off, as there are about a thousand reapers hanging out in town, looking quite like the angels in City of Angels. There are some more cool shots from Castiel’s POV, both the presence of the Reapers and his translocation from place to place. Anyway, he’s short thereafter captured by Lucifer and stuck in a magic fire circle.  Lucifer has some pressing questions about what it’s like to hang out with humans, and to make him an offer he can’t refuse, except he does.

The actors have great chemistry, and the scene is  quite wonderful. I quite like Lucifer when he’s not going all angsty emo.

Elsewhere, the rest of the group is attacked by a bunch of hellhounds. Jo gets eviscerated by them while saving Dean, and they all take refuge in a hardware supply store. They contact Bobby, who serves really no purpose than to talk Dean through it and to figure out that Lucifer is opening a seal- but this time, it’s one of the classical seals…dealing in this case with the one who rides the pale horse. So they plot some more on how they are going to kill the devil and save the day. Jo tells Dean he’s being an idiot, that she’s dying and there is nothing for it. So she’s going to take one for the team and go all suicide bomber on the hellhounds. Dean kisses Jo goodye, first on the forehead, as if in benediction, secondly on the mouth, in farewell. He tells her he’ll see her sooner or later, and she asks that it be later. There’s then a crushingly sad moment between Ellen and her daughter. In the end, Ellen stays behind with Jo, choosing to die with her, so she won’t go at it alone. And it’s a lucky thing she does, because Jo either dies or falls unconscious before it’s time to push the trigger. It’s beautifully done and heartfelt, if still rather pointless. The entire point of bringing them back to the show, after being gone for two seasons, was so that they could die and drive home the point that the Apocalypse is Serious Business! And, you know, sad! But it would have been more effective, plotwise, if they hadn’t been MIA for two seasons. It was too obviously contrived as a way to sell the cost of the apocalypse.

Dean and Sam confront the devil. Dean shoots the Devil, who of course doesn’t die but he does play dead for a moment, and whine about getting shot “owww!” He knocks Dean into a tree, then tells Sam the Colt can kill everything “in creation” but five things, and he’s one of the five. Lucifer goes back to grave digging. He looks cool doing it, instead of making a minion do it. He speechifies at Sam a bit, asks him to embrace the dark side and agree to be his vessel. He also drops several more family-and-fate anvils. I sure hope he’s simply playing Sam, but that seems unlikely as he’s not the only one dropping those anvils. He lets Sam know that he expects Sam to say yes…in Detroit, in six months. Maybe he’s planning a birthday party. Anyway, the Devil completes the ritual, slaughters his demonic minions (proving Crowley right).

Castiel has some fun playing with Meg, while he borrows a page from Uriel’s book and uses telekinesis to unscrew a pipe from the ceiling. He knocks her into the circle with him, holds her close, and fails to exorcise her. She taunts him a bit, and asks him what he can do. He says, “I can do this!” and leans a bit closer. She’s totally thinking he’s going to make out with her, but unfortunately for her, he simply knocks her down and uses her as a bridge out of the fire circle. He’s all kinds of awesome. Anyway, this means he’s able to come to the rescue and whisk Sam and Dean away. Death rises.

Back at Bobby’s, it turns out that Cato got his wish (that Cartago Delenda Est). Bobby burns the black and white photo they took just a day ago. It’s a nice imagine, and a passable substitute for the usual pyre, but kind of defeats the point of taking the photo in the first place.

Last week, I found myself wondering if the writers were simply stalling. This week, I’m pretty sure they are. Let’s look at what we learned this week, folks.
  • The Apocalypse means death and destruction.
  • Lucifer is keeping up with his busy schedule.
  • Attempting to short circuit the apocalypse by shooting Lucifer in the face is a stupid idea.
  • Family-and-Fate anvils.
  • Anger leads to the dark side.
  • Lucifer’s vessel is falling to pieces.
  • Lucifer expects Sam to say ‘yes’ in Detroit.

None of these things were anything we didn’t particularly already know, even if just in theory, with the exception of 7. The entire point of this episode seems to have been to kill some more time, but this time with angst rather than humor. It was like a collection of random and beautiful tragic portraits; the bits and pieces were individually compelling – all of Castiel’s scenes, the Harvelle’s deaths, Lucifer finally seeming both charming and totally evil- but there was no larger impact, no strong narrative to tie them all together and give them meaning beyond the sum of their parts.

That said, I do want to give credit for a few things, the call backs to “The End” in particular. In this, the episode managed to toy with the idea that nothing had changed while undermining it at the same time. The similarities- the photograph, Detroit, the shoot-lucifer plan, even the abandoned city- all mirrored what we saw in 5×04, including the fact that it ended in failure. But that is undermined by the very changes that made those mirrors possible; the Detroit timetable has apparently been moved up quite a bit, Dean won’t spend five years chasing after a hopeless plan, and the photograph was destroyed. I also must mention Castiel’s loyalty to the Winchesters, diminished  powers, drinking, and charisma with the ladies (even of the demonic sort). It’s similar enough that to  2014 seems inevitable, but the meaning has changed. The future was nothing but despair; but even in this angsty episode, hope remains in the smallest things.

There was one other thing that impressed me. The idea of drawing parallels between the good guys and the bad guys (especially when fate is thrown around) in a story about an epic battle is not a new one, and always requires that there be some defining difference- usually love, but also sometimes loyalty, camaraderie, and selflessness. It’s a fine storytelling device, but it’s usually clumsy as hell. Normally it involves characters shouting it from the rooftops as clunky exposition. (See Harry Potter for a particularly clunky version, and Lord of the Rings for a less clunky but still anvilicious example).

Not so here, where the contrast between Lucifer’s self-absorption and disloyalty (in more than just the obvious sense; he  feels nothing for his devoted followers, his offer to Castiel is made in terms of self-interest, etc.) and the heroes’ iron-clad loyalty and selflessness is present, but notably not harped on. The conclusion is drawn but not beaten into our heads, for which I am endlessly grateful.