Thursday, October 8, 2020

We Are One Weary Ship: Star Trek, episode 17, "Shore Leave"

I don't know about you, but I could use a vacation.  I had a four-month stay-at-home vacation recently, and at the end of that had three more weeks of it followed by an actual one-week vacation, and I could STILL use a dadgum vacation.  We all could.  "We are one weary ship," McCoy says to Sulu early in this episode of Star Trek, and Doc, I can relate.  We sure the hell are.
Not a favorite episode of mine, to be honest.  It's not bad.  I mean, don't misunderstand me: I like it, of course I do.  It's just not a favorite.  "The Corbomite Maneuver," it ain't.  No need for it to be, of course.  And anyways, let's worry less about what it isn't than about what it is.
What it is is the story of a vessel whose crew has been (presumably) overworked, overstressed, and under-relaxed for the past several months.  They are desperately in need of shore leave, and it seems to be the case that Doctor McCoy has made a medical diagnosis to that effect, and has prescribed it for the crew as a whole.  We do not point-blank see this happen, but it is implied by that conversation I mentioned between Bones and Sulu.  "Just what the doctor ordered, right, Doctor?" the helmsman asks him jovially while they are exploring the planet's surface.
I take this literally.  I think McCoy has noticed an uptick in poor performance among the crew, and has decided that what's at fault is a lack of play.  It could also be a sort of space-based cabin fever resulting from being cooped up in a tin can for too lengthy a period.
Whether you choose to interpret this as literally being McCoy's diagnosis, let's stop and consider the implications of needing shore leave at all.  Here again, we've got evidence of the ways in which Star Trek is grounded in military/naval traditions and terminology.  The very presence of "shore" in the phrase "shore leave" obviously implies being on the ocean.  So here, we've got an admission: even in a more elevated and civilized future, a crew like this is going to have to contend with a need to step away from their jobs from time to time.  Not only that, they are going to have to contend with the need to walk on earth from time to time, even if that earth is not on the actual planet Earth.  These, Star Trek is telling us, are basic human needs.
According to Wikipedia, the notion of shore leave also carries with an implication of debauchery and perhaps even illegality among crews turned loose upon the land temporarily.  There's a reason why docks where sailors hang out are viewed in culture as disreputable places; those fellows step foot off the boat and aim to blow off some steam, not only in the form of seeking female (or the applicable equivalent) accompaniment of a temporary nature, but also intoxication, brawling, and other forms of release.
I think we have to assume that the average viewer who sat down to watch "Shore Leave" in December of 1966 would have had thoughts like this come to mind.  Many of them would have been veterans, and many of them would have served in the Navy, and would perhaps therefore be well familiar with this sort of activity; or, if not with the activity itself, with the stereotype of sailors being prone to that sort of behavior.  I suspect that by 1966, it was decades removed from actually being a reliably real thing; but the stereotype remained, I bet.  So I feel certain that for contemporary viewers, the expectation was that the crew of the Enterprise were going to be getting up to some debauched hijinks.
What's more, it is likely that the episode was made with this expectation in mind.  If you want to read more about how this aspect worked within a late-sixties context, McMolo's writeup about the episode at Dog Star Omnibus does so more capably than I'd manage.  Suffice it to say, there's a lot about sex in this episode.
And why not?  That's what life is!  A big chunk of it, at least.  That's never going to change.  Evolve, yes; or if not, devolve.  But go away?  Forget that idea.  Roddenberry gets a bad rap for the ways in which he's said to have been constantly wishing to push the boundaries of exploring sexuality in the Star Trek franchise, but it's a very logical desire.  The Puritanical idea that there's nothing to explore in sex from a storytelling standpoint is ludicrous.  I'm not sure Roddenberry himself was operating from a dispassionate, intellectual stance, of course; I believe his bedrock interests in the matter were likely rather more salacious.  Still, he wasn't wrong to insist that that sort of thing would still be around in the future; nor was he wrong, in my opinion, to insist that in a future like this one, people would be more open about it and less repressed.
No, I am not going to spend the rest of this post talking about that aspect of "Shore Leave."  But it might come back here and there, so let's keep it in the back of our minds.
I'm going to try to talk about why the episode has even more violence and death in it than sex.  And remember, the stereotypical view of carousing sailors on shore leave is that they are prone to violence; so I don't think screenwriter Theodore Sturgeon was wrong to include this aspect.  What does this say about that elevated humanity of the future, however?
To me, I think it says that a certain amount of violent aggressiveness is simply in our genetic makeup, and always will be.  The fact that this planet was created by and for a different species implies that that species must have been very similar to us, if only in this one regard.  This, perhaps, is a byproduct of evolution from savagery to civilization.  We must fight our way out of the muck in order to escape it; and whatever land we then claim as our own, we must defend it (perhaps after eliminating those who were upon it when we got there), and must keep defending it.  Perhaps the need to retain the potential for violence never goes away at all, at least while we retain any semblance of our essential nature.  If that is true, then perhaps the urges which come with that aspect of our nature is like a boiler in the basement of a hotel: the pressure that builds up in it must be safely expunged from time to time, lest we explode.
If this is true -- and I believe it is, but even if I didn't I'd say that I think this episode believes it is, at least within the context of this story -- then it is logical to deduce that for most human beings, a certain amount of violence must be expressed from time to time.  Because it's in there, whether we like or not; that was true when we lived in trees and defended ourselves against lions, and it was true when we began building houses, and it was true in 1966, and it is true in 2020, and it will be true in the 23rd century when we are flying around the galaxy in starships.  At some points along that timeline, there was no need to purge our violent tendencies; we were still having to actively use them.  By the time of starships, that's almost entirely gone; but the urges remain, and so the need to purge them remains.
Why not do so safely, within a controlled environment?  Spoiler alert: we've been doing that for centuries already.  That's why spectators used to go to gladiatorial arenas and watch dudes cut each other to pieces; their feelings were purged by seeing others do the work for them.  Playing violent video games is a modern equivalent; playing sports can be, as well.
That being the case, what should we make of the bloodbath that ensues when a few of the crewmembers of the Enterprise set foot on this amusement planet?
Let's take inventory:

Sunday, August 9, 2020

''Babylon 5,'' Season 3

The second season of Babylon 5 was in some ways as inconsistent as the first, although by the time it ended a steadier number of quality episodes had begun to creep in than ever before.  Would that momentum maintain into the third season?
Let's find out.
"Matters of Honor"
(season 3, episode 1)
airdate:  November 6, 1995
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Kevin G. Cremin
One of the Rangers escapes from a training facility in Drazi space that is under attack from the Centauri and asks Sheridan to help liberate them.  Sheridan is all like, sure, but how?  Marcus (the Ranger) is all like, how about with this brand-spanking-new Minbari/Vorlon hybrid warship, the White Star?  Sheridan is all like, woo-hoo!  Meanwhile, a representative from Earthdome visits the station to show the various ambassadors the suppressed footage of a Shadow vessel that Keffer captured in his final breathing moments, and of them all, only G'Kar knows a thing.  And speaking of ambassadors, Londo has a meeting with Morden and haughtily tries to sever their relationship.  It doesn't go the way Londo plans.
The third-season premiere aired merely a week after the second-season finale (the final few episodes of season two had been held by the network so they could lead in to the debut of season three), and in some ways, it feels like "The Fall of Night" and "Matters of Honor" are indeed of a piece production-wise.  This probably says something good about the efficiency with which the B5 production was functioning at this point, and it probably also says something good about the way in which Straczynski's one-man-screenwriting experiment was turning out.
That said, there are a few key differences as the third season opens.  As always, there is a new credit sequence, complete with new music by Christopher Franke.  The narration comes via Claudia Christian and Ivanova:
The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace.
It failed.
But in the year of the Shadow War, it became something greater: our last, best hope for victory.  The year is 2260; the place -- Babylon 5.
It's kind of shocking to hear that change in tone: our last, best hope for peace has ... failed?!?  Jesus Christ, what kind of Star Trek show IS this, anyways?!?  It ... wait, what?  Ladies and gentlemen, hold on, I've got some new information coming in...  Oh, this isn't actually a Star Trek?  Wow, okay, well ... huh.  Alright!  You know, I wondered why their transporters weren't working...!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

A Person's Strongest Dreams Are About What He Can't Do: Star Trek, episode 16, "The Menagerie" Part II

Welcome back for our discussion of "The Menagerie" Part II, which continues, obviously enough, on from our discussion of "The Menagerie" Part I.  I was somewhat surprised to find upon rewatching the second episode that there really isn't as much here to discuss as I expected.  This ought not to have surprised me, though; after all, the vast majority of this episode consists of reused footage from "The Cage."  Only about 10-11 minutes of this is newly-filmed material.

For a discussion of "The Cage" itself, I will point you again toward this post, which more or less covers my thoughts on the subject.

I'll have a lot less to say about "The Menagerie" Part II than I had to say about "The Cage," but that's only because this second episode really does exist as an original-pilot delivery system, in a way that Part I arguably does not.  That doesn't mean there's nothing to say at all, though, so let's turn to a handful of screencaps and use them as an opportunity for discussion.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

He Can Say Yes Or No: Star Trek, episode 15, "The Menagerie" Part I

I was somewhat conflicted about what format to use in posting my review/reviews of "The Menagerie."  It is, obviously, a two-parter, and the temptation to cover the entire thing in a single go is certainly present.  Then, too, it is necessary to contend with the notion that I've already written extensively about "The Cage."
Ultimately, I've decided to follow my gut, and my gut says it is both more interesting and more accurate to my own interests to cover the episodes separately.  After all, they are separate episodes; one could debate that point in some ways (they were filmed simultaneously by the same director and crew, so the splitting into two episodes is more an editorial convention than a production reality), but my stance is that they are separate episodes.  Therefore, it makes sense to cover them separately.  Either way, that's how it's happening.
That decision necessitates some alterations to my normal format: namely, I'll be deferring coverage of the behind-the-scenes aspects until the post on Part II.  Also, there will be no Blishful Thinking component, since his adaptation of "The Menagerie" is purely based on "The Cage," which I covered in my post on that episode.
I also confess that I'm not sure what to do in the way of discussing the repurposed scenes from "the Cage."  That, I haven't figured out yet; I'll make it up as we go.  Speaking of which, let's get to gettin'.

Monday, July 6, 2020

''Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,'' Season 4

Return with me now to the Bajor system and the threshold of the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant; return with me to adventure...!
Is that the single cheesiest sentence I've ever written?  No.  Not even close, believe it or not.  God help you if you ever had to read one of my love letters.  Let's find out if this blog post will be a love letter or a Dear Jane...
"The Way of the Warrior"
(season 4, episodes 1-2)
airdate:  October 2, 1995
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
directed by:  James L. Conway
The station is overrun by an armada of spring-breaking Klingons, all of whom are eventually revealed to be gearing up to invade and conquer the Cardassian system, which they suspect of having been invaded by Founders.  Paramount calls in the help of Next Generation cast member Michael Dorn to help revive fan interest in this spinoff.  Sisko calls in the help of Lt. Commander Worf to help bridge the cultural gap with the Klingons.  You can tell within five seconds that Worf and Dax are eventually going to fuuuuuuuuuuck.
My apologies in advance to anyone who has wandered onto this blog hoping for me to wax the car that is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  Previous posts in this series (season one, season two, season three) featured very little in the way of car-waxing, and my presumption is that this one won't, either.  This might logically cause one to wonder why I'm bothering to write about the show at all.  Fair question.  Here's what I hope is a fair answer: I need to understand my responses to it, and so I write about it.
But I won't lie to you; I'll be upfront about the fact that Deep Space Nine does not work for me.  Perhaps that will change as this rewatch (and blogging project) continues, but I suspect not.  I do occasionally like (or even love) individual episodes, but I rarely manage to like the series as a whole.  I do not respect its approach to Star Trek, and while it has considerable virtues, they never surmount the central problem I have with the series: that it is actively dismissive of the approach of the Treks which came before it.
Your mileage may vary, and if you've read those opening remarks and decided I ought to get bent, well, hey, I don't blame you.  I suggest moving along; you're not apt to find much here which will please you. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A Memory Was Not Enough: Reading "Children of Dune" (part 2)

Alrighty, picking up from Part 1, let's see if we can stay focused long enough to work our way through the second half of:


     The password was given to me by a man who died in the dungeons of Arrakeen.  You see, that is where I got this ring in the shape of a tortoise.  It was in the suk outside the city where I was hidden by the rebels.  The password?  Oh, that has been changed many times since then.  It was "Persistence."  And the countersign was "Tortoise."  It got me out of there alive.  That's why I bought this ring: a reminder.
—Tagir Mohandis: Conversations with a Friend

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Universe Would Not Turn Backward: Reading "Children of Dune" (part 1)

Say, y'all, remember Dune Club?
Well, it seems as if the artist formerly known as Comic Book Girl 19 is perhaps not going to do a third round of it, or at least not any time soon.  I myself want to continue to read through Frank Herbert's novels, though, so the time has come to tackle the third in the series, Children of Dune.

Rather than divvy the reading up into separate posts, I think I'll just lump it all into a single entry.  I'll be writing it diary-fashion, and this time I'll provide dates for when the actual reading (and blogging) was done.  Why?  Well, why not?

The structure will be something like this: I'll use asterisks to delineate between chapters.  As with the first two novels, Herbert provides no chapter numbers, so in order to help us keep track of where in the novel we are, I'll begin each section by quoting the epigraph that opens the chapter.
From there, we'll just see what happens.  I suspect this post will not be as in-depth as some of the ones for the first two novels were, but who can say?  Muad'Dib could, but he's dead and gone.

Isn't he...?


     Muad'Dib's teachings have become the playground of scholastics, of the superstitious and the corrupt.  He taught a balanced way of life, a philosophy with which a human can meet problems arising from an ever-changing universe.  He said humankind is still evolving, in a process which will never end.  He said this evolution moves on changing principles which are known only to eternity.  How can corrupted reasoning play with such an essence?

Words of the Mentat
    Duncan Idaho

Sunday, April 12, 2020

This Was Not My First Crisis: Star Trek, episode 14, "Court Martial"

As of the moment I type these words, it's been (consults records) five months since my last review of a TOS episode.  Anything much happened since then, y'all?


Well, pandemic be damned, here we are again, primed and ready to dive into:

Spoiler alert: it's a lousy episode.  I'd argue that it's handily the worst of the 14 we've looked at thus far.  Consequently, I'm inclined to write relatively little about it.  I hope that's not a disappointment to anyone; I'll try to at least not half-ass what I do write.  But honestly, there's just not that much to be said.  It's a dud.  I'll give you a few reasons why I find it to be so and then we can move on.

First, though, I'll tell you what I think works reasonably well.  Hint:

Friday, March 27, 2020

''Star Trek: Picard'' Season 1

What follows is a journey through the first season of Star Trek: Picard, written weekly as the series progressed. 

Buckle up; you'll need a restraint harness for THIS bumpy-ass ride.
(season 1, episode 1)
airdate:  January 23, 2020
written by:  Akiva Goldsman and James Duff (teleplay); Akiva Goldsman & Michael Chabon and Kirsten Beyer & Alex Kurtzman and James Duff (story)
directed by:  Hanelle M. Culpepper
Many years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis, we meet up again with Jean-Luc Picard, who is living a sedentary life at his chateau in France.  His life post-Nemesis has seemingly been defined by a pair of events: first, the supernova which destroyed the Romulan system; second, a vicious attack on Mars perpetrated by "rogue synths" (i.e., synthetic life forms) that apparently not only destroyed thousands of lives but rendered the planet uninhabitable.  The end result of all of this is that Picard grew to feel that Starfleet was no longer Starfleet, and so he quit the service and, as he puts it at one low point, has been waiting to die ever since.  Another significant factor is the loss of Commander Data; it is revealed that B4 failed and was dismantled, meaning that Data is truly dead.  Into this melancholic existence comes a mysterious young woman, Dahj, who has reason to think Picard knows her, even though she herself does not know how that could be.
I'm always reluctant to write about television shows as they are airing; I prefer to look back on these things from a vantage point of seeing them a second or third (or fifteenth) time.  But there's something to be said for getting reactions down in real time.
What I think I'll do with this space is just that; just jot down some reactions.  Then maybe at the end of the season I'll try to find something meaningful to say.  Or not, as the case may be.  Or maybe I'll find something meaningful say as we go.  Who the fuck knows, man?
Anyways, here are the things buzzing around in my head after seeing the first episode:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

''Babylon 5,'' Season 2

Well, folks, continuing the episode-by-episode looks at Babylon 5 proved to simply be more than I was capable of, time-wise.  So here we are, stuck with a season retrospective.
It'll have to do!
And without further preamble...
"Points of Departure"
(season 2, episode 1)
airdate:  November 2, 1994
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Janet Greek
About a week after the assassination of President Santiago, Babylon 5 receives a fresh blow when Commander Sinclair's (offscreen) mission to Minbar turns into a permanent reassignment.  He is replaced by Captain John Sheridan, an Earth Force officer known by the Minbari as "Starkiller" for his success against them during the war.  His first day on the new job is marked by strife as a renegade Minbari warship, the Trigati, resurfaces and begins making trouble.
The big news for the season-two debut is that Michael O'Hare -- and Sinclair -- is out and Bruce Boxleither -- as Sheridan -- is in.  Accounts vary as to what exactly prompted O'Hare's departure; conventional wisdom for many years was that O'Hare's stilted performance was blamed for the show's failure to become a hit in its first season, so he was shown the door.
J. Michael Straczynski has gone on the record, however, as saying that this was not the case; that instead, O'Hare suffered from serious mental-health issues and asked to be released from his contract after the first season.
Whatever the case may be, with the arrival of Boxleitner/Sheridan, the show's true star and protagonist has finally arrived.  Many aspects of the remainder of the Sinclair story would be folded into Sheridan's plotline, so while this episode certainly does mark a pivot point, it doesn't mean that what follows is wholly a compromised version of the originally-intended story.  Some plot threads from the first season go unresolved; many do not, even though they are modified.  So it seems, at least; it's hard to say for sure.
In any case, Sheridan is here, and he's not going anywhere, and that, my friends, is that.
As a Sinclair fan, that bums me out, but Boxleitner is a more dynamic performer in every way than Michael O'Hare was.  In this debut episode for his character, he's still getting the feel of things.  Sheridan makes an impression; he's confident, hard-edged, slick, charismatic, and maybe even a bit mysterious despite all that.
The bulk of the episode involves the Trigati trying to use Babylon 5 to essentially commit suicide by cop.  Sheridan doesn't fall for it; he's no easy mark for such shenanigans.
Elsewhere, Delenn is still in her chrysalis, Garibaldi is still in a coma, G'Kar is still away from the station, and Lennier still sucks.  We hear nothing from Londo, or from Talia (who is barely a character at this point in the series, so infrequently does she appear), or even from Na'Toth, though we do see the latter in the opening credits, long enough to know that Julie Caitlin Brown has been replaced by Mary Kay Adams.  Speaking of the opening credits, we are also introduced therein to a new character, Warren Keffler, a Starfury pilot played by Robert Rusler.  He's apparently a series regular.  Don't get used to it.
Overall, it's not much of an episode.  Sheridan makes a decent initial impression, but otherwise the show still feels cramped and cheap and undercooked.  It was this as much as anything else that moved me to a season-digest format.  See, I'd remembered that the show improved immediately with the debut of season two.  This is not the case; this episode is essentially still the same in the production department as it was in season one, and is maybe even a bit shabbier.  At least three of the show's better actors are entirely absent, so that doesn't help.