Thursday, March 11, 2021

"Babylon 5," Season 4

When last we spoke of Babylon 5, I announced that I was on the fence as to whether I was going to continue these season-in-review posts.  I was not enjoying writing them, and that, to me, sounds like a job.  The hell with that.
  
For now, though, I've decided that I'll try to keep them going, perhaps in a somewhat less wordy format.  Speaking of which, let's dive right in.
  
  
"The Hour of the Wolf"
  
  
(season 4, episode 1)
  
airdate:  November 4, 1996
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  David J. Eagle
  
In the wake of Sheridan's one-man attack on Z'ha'dum, the rest of the Council of Light tries to figure out which way to move tactically.  The League of Nonaligned Worlds dissolves itself, so things are off to a rough start post-Sheridan.  Susan and Lyta take a White Star to Z'ha'dum in hopes of finding Sheridan, but have no luck.  Little do they know, however, that he is seemingly still alive on Z'ha'dum, in a cave of some sort, deep underground, with an unusual alien around to look at him quizzically. 
  
Meanwhile, Londo is "promoted" and recalled to Centauri Prime, where he becomes aware of just how insane Emperor Cartagia is.
  
  


This is a fairly good season opener.  I like most of the stuff with Susan and Lyta, even though it ends up amounting to little.  G'Kar's concern for the still-missing Garibaldi is well-played by Katsulas, and will have a substantial payoff next episode.
  
Really, though, this episode is all about what happens with Londo.  We find out that Morden is still alive, albeit a little crisp, and that Cartagia has made a deal with the Shadows to allow them to keep a bunch of their vessels on an island on Centauri Prime.  This partial annexation horrifies Londo to his very core, and leads to him catching up with one of the points in time he has occasionally had prophetic dreams about: the Shadow vessels flying by overhead in a clear blue sky.
  
He immediately ascertains the truth: that Cartagia is not merely insane, but dangerously insane, and apt to take the Centauri people down with him when he topples.  He's allied himself with the Shadows because he believes they are going to make him a literal god.  What can you do against that sort of monumental madness?  If you're Londo Mollari, who has always been a true patriot, you begin plotting Cartagia's death.  We'll see how that turns out in some later episode, one assumes.
  
As for the coda with Sheridan on Z'ha'dum, let's talk about that when we discuss the next episode.
  
Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****

Sunday, January 24, 2021

"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," Season 5

We resume our exploration of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the Federation still at war with the Klingons, and maybe with the Dominion as well.
  
In case you missed them and wish you hadn't, here are links to my first four season-in-review DS9 posts:
  
  
But if you're a hardcore Niner, you might want to skip them; I'm not always complimentary.  In fact, sometimes I'm downright contentious.  The show is not, conceptually or philosophically, my cup of tea.  And yet, it can and does satisfy me on occasion.  So let's roll the dice and see which way they land this season.
  
  
"Apocalypse Rising"
  
  
(season 5, episode 1) 
  
airdate:  September 20, 1996
written by:  Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
directed by:  James L. Conway
  
Following up on Odo's information about Gowron being a Changeling, Sisko and a small team infiltrate Klingon space in an attempt to expose the Chancellor's true identity and thereby end the war.
  
  
   
  
This is a relatively satisfying adventure/intrigue episode.  I want to get a complaint out of the way before we progress beyond that, however: golly do I hate plastic-surgery episodes.  Yes, yes, I know; TOS started that rock rolling downhill, so it's hypocritical for me to hold the use of the plot device against later shows, blah blah blah.  It's true.  I acknowledge that.  Therefore, my objections to it aren't strident.  It's kind of like time-travel episodes and mirror-universe episodes in that if you think about it too much, it really just breaks the universe.  Plastic-surgery episodes are even worse, though, because -- and I'm sure I've said this before, so apologies for serving reheated complaints -- if surgery can be this effective, there is zero reason to trust anyone, ever.  Add a shapeshifter element into the mix...?  Forget it, we're done.
  
This is one of those things I simply have to bear while pinching my nostrils closed.
  
Now, that said, it's fund to see Sisko, Odo, and O'Brien as Klingons.  Sisko (and Avery Brooks) gets into the spirit of things capably; you sense he'd kind of like to do this more regularly.  O'Brien sucks ass at it, and Odo is even worse.  Where's Riker when you need him?  He'd have shown these doofuses what to do and then gone off and fucked a couple of Klingon ladies.  Worf makes a good go at it -- the Klingon training, not the lady-fucking -- but he's got too little time and the clay he's trying to mold is awfully runny.
  
Other than that, I don't have a whole lot to say about this one.  It's alright.  Klingons aren't my favorite, but they can be fun, and they are here.  Dukat has a few good scenes, too, and Gowron gets to make bug eyes.
  
Bryant's rating:  *** / *****

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:
  
  
CHILDREN

OF

DUNE
  
  
     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?

Ahem.

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: