Category Archives: television

A few nitpicky thoughts about the new Star Trek

As anyone with any interest in Star Trek knows by now, a new series, Star Trek: Discovery, is in the works.  The premiere date has slipped, but it is supposed to debut sometime this year.  The premise is supposed to revolve around “an incident and an event in Star Trek history that’s been talked about but never been explored”.

Hmm.  Personally, I’m all mixed-up about this.  I basically think television is a barren wasteland without a Star Trek series being broadcast somewhere (I pretty much think the same thing about TV with regard to Firefly,   which should give you a clue about what I think of TV in general).  My first instinct is to welcome the new series with open arms.

The scars of my past viewing history hold me back, though.  Full disclosure: I am one of those Trek heretics who thinks that, the original series aside, the televised Star Trek universe reached its peak toward the end of Next Generation and through Deep Space Nine.  Next Gen actually got more dramatically effective in the later seasons, and Deep Space Nine was narratively vigorous straight through, although not all episodes were equal.  However, the last two Trek series, Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise, were mere shadows of the series that had gone before, sometimes feeling as if they were just going through the motions, other times as if they were recycling ideas and themes from previous series that were already well-worn, and often not very well written.  For my money, Enterprise, especially, suffered from dwindling narrative power.  Voyager, for its part, was often just plain silly, on a Lost in Space level.

In the end, Star Trek became a safe, predictable series of morality tales with pat outcomes.  Critics said that the franchise was out of gas.  Personally I agreed with them.

However, the universe has now lain fallow on television for eleven years.  In that time, TV has evolved.  We are in the era of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones.  It is also the age of pretty damn good CGI that can do pretty much anything you need it to do.  Watching episodes of the previous Trek series nowadays, however good they may be in general, is an exercise in realizing what could have been.

So I have a few hopes for the new series.  I will be very interested in seeing if the show-runners have the guts to bring the franchise into the modern world.  In no particular order, here are my wishes, both the small and the great–

  1. Lose the stupid facial makeup that’s supposed denote different alien species.   It got positively silly toward the end of Voyager and Enterprise.  It’s a relic of the days when guys in rubber suits stomped around smashing model cities.  With CGI, we can have whatever alien species we want, without being tied to a humanoid form.  Spend a little money and show some creativity.
  2. For God’s sake, please don’t afflict us with another buxom female crew-member in a skin-tight uniform.  Aside from obvious titillation for fan-boys, there just no reason.
  3. Please, please, please, refrain from holodeck adventures.  These seemed to be a particular plague on Next Gen.  I tended to turn the TV off when they aired.
  4. I beg of you, hold off the sort of episode that I personally call a ‘mind-fuck’, where the story turns out to be a dream from an alien probe, or some rogue nanite, or some ancient artifact, blah, blah, blah.  Like number 3 above, I think that this kind of episode represents creative failure and/or laziness on the part of the writers.
  5. Ditto the sort of episode where the characters go through some radical event, usually ending up in an unpleasant future where things are grim and getting worse, but then find a way, by some sort of time-manipulation-bugaloo, to reset things back to normal in the past.  A prime example of this kind of thing is “Twilight”, episode 8 of Enterprise’s third season.  For me there’s an adjective that describes that sort of episode, basically employing the metaphor of the effluvium of a barnyard fowl.
  6. Please, somebody give some thought to how space battles would actually be fought with the weapons of the Trek universe.  Deep Space Nine, in particular, had totally unbelievable battles, with massed starships meleeing at what in real-life would be point-blank range.  With weapons that can reach across tens of thousands of kilometers, having ships going mano-a-mano is ridiculous and devastating to the suspension of disbelief.
  7. A little actual science-fiction would be nice.  Too often Trek episodes have been more about clever techno-puzzles or quasi-profound ruminations on the Prime Directive or just straight-up adventuring.  In my opinion, we could use a few more episodes, like “Captive Pursuit” from the first season of Deep Space Nine, or, for that matter, “The Devil in the Dark” from the original series.
  8. Above all, invest the new series with some real dramatic meat.  I don’t necessarily need Star Trek: Discovery to be Game of Thrones in space (The Expanse may have that covered), but playing it safe with characters and story-lines is what helped bury the franchise eleven years ago.  I want to see a series with fully developed characters and complex relationships, set in stories that are not mere morality tales.  A return to the narrative style of the later series will personally leave me in a very, very grumpy mood.  Here’s hoping for better stories.

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some random thoughts on the finale of Game of Thrones Season 6

First thought–

Ho-lee frack.

Before I expand on that, however, a public service announcement–

**SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS****SPOILERS

 

In making known my thoughts about this final episode, I assume most of you know at least the general outline of the overall Game of Thrones story.  I am not even going to think about summarizing the story so far.  We’d be here until winter (which is coming, you know).  If you don’t know the story, go and binge-watch the series, now.  This post will still be here in 2017.

So, in no particular order–

1.  Ho-lee frack.  Oh wait, I did that one already.

2.  Geez, how many characters were knocked off, blown up, incinerated, stabbed to death or self-splatted in this episode?  Margaery Tyrell (which made me really sad), Loras Tyrell, Mace Tyrell, Lancel Lannister, Kevan Lannister, the High Sparrow, King Tommen, Grand Maester Pycelle (good riddance), Walder Frey, Black Walder Frey and Lothar Frey (no tears shed over those a-holes, either).  That’s one way to help simplify the story-line.

3. Cersei has gone all Richard the Third.  I can’t decide if this was her plan all along or if it is a desperation move now that her crowned pawn, Tommen, is gone (although he had demonstrated a disturbing independence of late, as least from his mother).  Either way, she’s now got the power she’s always craved (and quite possibly full-on bat-shit crazy as well), with nothing in King’s Landing to stop her– but she’s also a patent usurper, even by the loosey-goosey standards of post-Targaryen Westeros.  Her destruction of the bulk of her enemies (along with a large number of innocent bystanders and a fair portion of King’s Landing) at a single blow is the move of a ruthless tyrant, brilliant as a piece of political assassination, but sure to set all of Westeros against her.

4. Maggy the Frog’s prophecy is coming true.  All that’s left now is for the “younger and more beautiful” queen to show up to finish Cersei off.  Smart money is on Dany, but GoT has thrown us curve balls before.  By the way, the show has allowed itself an extra degree of freedom than the books by omitting one line from Maggy’s prophecy, which reads as–

“And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”

As valonqar is Valyrian for ‘younger brother’, this has generally been interpreted by fans as meaning that Tyrion will kill Cersei in the climactic confrontation between the Lannisters and everyone else (certainly that is Cersei’s interpretation, and the source of much of her antipathy toward her brother), but Jaime has also been suggested, since he was born after Cersei.  But since the show-runners excluded this line, they don’t have to expend any story time dealing with its implications.

5. The destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor is one intense piece of dramatic cinematography.  The music, which is a change of pace for the show, particularly builds up the tension.  The explosion and its consequences are dramatic, tragic and horrifying all at once (the bell’s a nice touch).  I’ve already noted how I hated to see Margaery Tyrell go out in this manner.  It all has the tragic inevitability of the Titanic’s sinking- you know it’s going to happen but you wish there was something you could do….

5. We see Olenna Tyrell negotiating an alliance with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes (although it’s not so much a negotiation as a rather tart schooling), whereupon Varys, Daenerys’ envoy, shows up to offer an added element to the anti-Lannister vengeance coalition.  Olenna’s presence and appearance in Dorne makes an important point about something which has confused many fans– how people seem move around the world of GoT so quickly. For example, Varys appears to leave Meereen in one episode, appear in Dorne shortly thereafter, and then very quickly reappear on Daenerys’ ship at the end of the final episode.  The truth is that weeks have passed between each scene.  This is evidenced by the fact that Olenna is in mourning  when she goes to Dorne– she already knows about the deaths of her kin in King’s Landing.  She also refers to how “Cersei stole the future from me”.  If we took the breaks between scenes as amounting to a mere day or so, she would not have even yet received in Highgarden the news of the deaths of Margaery and the others, considering the distance between King’s Landing and the Reach.  In fact, in the show, as in the books, considerable time often passes between scenes, and the intervals are irregular, at that.

6. Daenerys is on her way to Westeros, and not before time.  There has been a lot of griping out there in fandom about the fact it took her six seasons to get moving in this direction.  As frustrating as that might have been to viewers, I think from a story perspective it could not have come any earlier.  Dany and her dragons have obviously been set up as key, perhaps critical, assets to be used against the White Walkers. Sending them to Westeros before the WW’s offensive reaches it’s critical moment would have ruined the whole plot-line, as if Frodo had actually flown a giant eagle to Mount Doom and just dropped the Ring into the lava.  Struggle, failure and frustration are essential to drama, and Dany’s effort to create a base for herself in Esteros was the necessary prelude to her offensive to retake the Iron Throne.  Time also had to pass in order for the dragons to realistically grow to their full, terrifying size.  You cannot rush drama without dissipating its energy (about which, see below).

7. We finally see the second part of the Tower of Joy flashback.  This sequence has been generally interpreted as confirming the “R+L = J” fan theory, that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen rather than Ned Stark and some unknown woman.  The scene certainly implies this, but I have to note that the show-runners are actually still teasing us– when Lyanna whispers to Ned, we cannot hear the first part (at least I couldn’t, and I turned my ear-buds up so high I nearly bled out my eardrums), hearing only “Robert will kill him” clearly.  The show-runners could still throw one of their curve-balls at us.  Fans, I think, should brace themselves for a surprise.  Just in case.

On the whole the episode paid off big in many ways, resolving story-lines and fairly effectively setting up the ultimate and necessary confrontations that will wrap up this whole epic.  Waiting a whole year for Season Seven is going to be very tedious.

Having said that, the episode is not without issues.  Chief among these (for me, at least) is the hurried way in which the alliance between Dorne, the Tyrells and Dany is cemented.  It seemed sketchy, as if the writers were feeling pressured to squeeze it into this season.  An alliance as critical to the story as this one should have involved more time and development.  The whole Dorne story-line, in fact, has felt rather thin, over both Season Five and Six, as if the writers didn’t have the time to do it up properly.

For me this raises a concern.  Despite the fact that the list of characters who still possess a pulse on this show is now considerably shorter, there are still a lot of story-lines to resolve, involving two major conflicts, between the Lannisters and their enemies, and between humanity and the White Walkers– and there are only ten hours of TV left in which to wrap it all up.  That’s not a lot compared to the weight of what needs to happen to bring this tale to a satisfactory conclusion.  It worries me.

Drama is hard.  Pacing in drama is hard.  Pacing in epic drama such as this, with hundreds of characters and all manner of disparate elements that all need to mesh, is supremely hard.  I’ve watched or read any number of epic stories in which the ending seems to be hasty, patched together, or thin, not living up to the promise of everything that preceded it.  J R R Tolkien is about the only writer I can think of off the top of my head who pulls it off successfully, resolving the critical story-lines and outstanding questions in a satisfactory manner, chiefly by taking time to work them out (in my paperback edition of The Return of the King, there are one hundred pages of action after the destruction of the Ring).  I am very much afraid the ten hours remaining to this series are not going to be enough.  I will be very, very disappointed if the good guys finish off Cersei in a perfunctory manner, and then vanquish the White Walkers in a few episodes, as if all the threat they have posed in the previous seasons was hollow and false.

Still, I’m going to risk the disappointment– I want to see how this all comes out.  I’m hooked.  It’s going to be a long year….

Later.

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, what the BLEEEEP just happened?

Agents of Shield episode 117, which is not available online yet, ended just minutes ago here on the West Coast. It was heavily promoted as a tie-in with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I guess it was, kinda–

***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS

I mean, the story mentions Hydra and everything, but it seemed to be more about the villain of the moment, called the Clairvoyant, whom the team has been chasing around for weeks. Something about the episode felt tacked on, as if someone were trying desperately to tie it all together, as if they had too many Christmas packages to wrap and not enough paper.

And, yeah, surprises are good, and doing the unexpected is really good, but I felt jerked around by the story, which kept us guessing about the true identity of the villain, and exactly who was Hydra and who wasn’t, all the way through. The final twist at the very end of the episode didn’t feel very right, either, although I can’t say I was upset by who turned out to be the traitor in the team– I never liked that guy much anyway.

I think my main problem is certain dissatisfaction with the concept of Hydra in the first place– evil that can lie in wait for decades before springing– aha!– and taking over everything. It’s a comic book version of evil that doesn’t much resemble real life– and, as much as I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I have to admit it shared this problem (if you tell me that, hey, this is all from comic books, well, I want my comic books to be realistic. So there). Real evil almost always shows its hand– it is about selfishness and power and self-gratification, and generally doesn’t take the long view of anything. Most evil, in fact, is committed by people who are telling themselves they’re doing the right thing. Self-delusion is a major component of evil, so cold-blooded and rational villains often strike me as fake and unreal. This is, in fact, a problem I’ve had with S. M. Stirling’s Draka.

I’ve complained in comments on other folks’ blogs that Agents of Shield has felt too safe. It’s obvious that Joss is making a bid to turn that around. This once, though, I am not sure I am buying it.

There is one bright spot, though– the next episode has Amy Acker in it. Hallelujah.