Wednesday, November 3, 2021

"Babylon 5," Season 5

As you may recall from our previous conversation about Babylon 5, the show's existence teetered on the edge of a knife as the fourth season was being produced.  It slipped so severely that one of the main stars, Claudia Christian, ended up leaving the show; an unhappy accident, that.
Nevertheless, a fifth season was commissioned thanks to the last-minute intervention of the TNT cable network, which decided to dip its toes into the original-sci-fi-show waters.
Part of that deal involved making a quartet of two-hour movies, each of which were presumably designed to try to broaden the appeal of the entire venture.  I'm not entirely sure about this, but my research indicates that the production of these four movies may well have been split into two blocks, which occurred at the beginning of the fifth-season production and then again at the end.  The first of them to be filmed was "Thirdspace," and the second was "In the Beginning."  They were aired in the opposite order to that, but both were filmed prior to "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars," the fill-in episode which was used as the fourth-season finale.  Both "Thirdspace" and "In the Beginning" also include appearances by Claudia Christian (in a major role in the former and in a minor one in the latter), which implies that the deal for those might have been done before she decided to leave the series.
In any case, they were both filmed before the rest of the season was.  And I believe it to be the case that both "River of Souls" and "A Call to Arms" were filmed after production wrapped on the actual hourlong episodes comprising the fifth season.  I'm not positive, but I believe that's what happened.
Regardless, for the purposes of this post, I am going to simply cover everything in the order in which it aired.
Up first:
"In the Beginning"
(TNT movie #1)
airdate:  January 4, 1998
written by:  J. Michael Straczynski
directed by:  Michael Vejar
Decades in the future -- mere hours before his fate (as we have seen it play out in "War Without End") -- Emperor Londo Mollari tells a pair of children a story about the war between the humans and the Minbari.  Through his tale, we see a complete look at how the war began, some of the cloak-and-dagger activities which occurred behind the scenes, and how its end finally came about.
Let's address the elephant in the room: the matter of where this movie ought to be watched in the viewing chronology.  In most matters, I am a formalist (no idea if I actually just used that correctly) in the sense that I advocate for following an order of composition chronology.  In other words, if a series of books is written, a reader should read them in the order in which they were written so as to follow the progression of the author's writing.  There might be scenarios in which it would be preferable to instead read them in the order the stories take place, but if I were to have to choose a default, I would default to the order of composition.
Many people argue vehemently that "In the Beginning" should be watched as a de facto pilot episode, even before "The Gathering."  I argue that that is insanity.  Far too much is given away in this movie: you learn way too much about Delenn, Sinclair, Londo, and Sheridan.  Encountering the idea that Sinclair is a reincarnation of Valen this early is a sin; learning that Londo will become Emperor is nearly as bad; that it was Delenn who began the Minbari actions which truly began the war with Earth is, as well, as is learning that Sheridan will become the President of the Interstellar Alliance.  Frankly, I think one would have to be a madman to even contemplate arguing that this is the way to begin viewing Babylon 5.
The idea comes, I think, from an assumption: that the first season of Babylon 5 is so shabby that literally nobody would be able to sit down and watch it from beginning to end, and that therefore nobody would ever make it to the second, and better, season.  Well, maybe that notion carried some weight in 1998, when it was less easy to manage to see the entire series if you had not already.  Back then, I do think there seemed to be a stark enough difference in quality that it made some sense to try to hook people with "In the Beginning" and then hope they'd be so hungry for more that they'd endure the "Infection"s and "Born to the Purple"s and "TKO"s of that first season.
Here's my argument: stripped of the mystery of what happened to Sinclair, and to some extent of the character arcs for both Delenn and Londo as well, the first season is almost entirely pointless.  And from where I'm standing, it can't be.  Too much else is set into motion, ranging from G'Kar's early villainy to the Homeguard to the death of President Santiago to Delenn's journey toward entering the chrysalis.  All of this must be experienced in the proper context, or I don't think it works at all.  And if it doesn't work at all, what's the point of watching any of this stuff?
Plus, I'm going to just be blunt about this: there isn't AS wide a quality gap in the first season and the fifth as people think.  "In the Beginning" is absolutely a more confident and compelling piece of work than, say, "The Parliament of Dreams," but I don't think "In the Beginning" is confident or compelling enough that it is going to play for the average viewer in 2021 as well as it played in 1998.  Better by far, if you ask me, to convince that hypothetical viewer to grit their teeth, pretend it's 1993, and take on "The Gathering."  If they can't get through it armed with an understanding that it does eventually get better, then I suspect they are not going to enjoy the series.  It's not for everyone; never was, and never will be.
So from my standpoint, attempting to counteract that by offering up a huge chunk of the show's secrets right at the outset is sheer lunacy.  It's wrong, and I will not be a party to it, and JMS himself won't be able to budge me offa this rock.  Neither will you, so don't even bother.  If that sounds confrontational, well, you bet I'm being confrontational.  It's a stupid idea and I won't have it.
Now, let's talk about the merits of the actual movie itself.
It's alright.  It's got one major virtue: Peter Jurasik, who does some marvelous work as the aged Londo, telling the tale of the events which did so much to change the galaxy.  Mira Furlan is also quite good, and I enjoyed seeing Theodore Bikel (Worf's father!) show up as the head of the Rangers.  We also get some more time with Reiner Schone as Dukhat, and that's very welcome.
Ultimately, I have little to say.  This is ... alright.  We know most of the story already, and much of what we don't know either does little to impress in its own right or comes off seeming like an excuse to put the show's already-under-contract main players to use.  Does it make any sense for Sheridan and Franklin and G'Kar to go off and have an adventure together years before they worked together on Babylon 5?  Nope, not unless you've got Bruce Boxleitner, Richard Biggs, and Andreas Katsulas under a contract and need to find a way to get some value out of it.  A lot of that stuff makes the universe seem smaller, not larger; this is one of the occasional curses of prequels.
All in all, though, this is a satisfying enough watch.  It has good cinematography, good special effects, a fairly great score by Christopher Franke, and even some decent dialogue here and there.  Does it work as an introduction the series?  Absolutely not.  But it's a solid introduction to the fifth season, for sure.
Bryant's rating:  *** 1/2 / *****  (reviewed on March 31, 2021)

Thursday, July 22, 2021

"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," Season 6

Boy, am I a dunce.
When I begin a new installment of one of these season-in-review posts, I often have to contend right at the outset with how to go about communicating the fact that while the entire thing is getting posted as a singular entity, it is actually being written one episode at a time, generally once per week, across a time span of roughly six months.  On the one hand, it's all but certain that virtually nobody gives a loose shit about this issue.  But on the other hand, I myself apparently do care, if only so that it makes sense in my own brain.
The answer was staring me in the face all along: why not just put a date on each episode for when I viewed it and wrote that part of the post?  That, presumably makes it possible to never bring this trifling mess up ever again, right?
And with that determination determined, here we go on the penultimate season of Deep Space Nine.
"A Time to Stand"
(season 6, episode 1)
airdate:  September 9, 1997
written by:  Ira Steven Behr & Hans Beimler
directed by:  Allan Kroeker
It's been three months since the events of "Call to Arms," and the war is not going particularly well for Starfleet, which seems to be losing ships at an alarming rate.  In an attempt to make a devastating blow against the Dominion, Starfleet assigns Sisko to the command of a captured Jem'Hadar vessel, which they will use to infiltrate Cardassian space and destroy the Dominion's main source of Ketracel White manufacture and distribution in the Alpha Quadrant.
Meanwhile, on Terok Nor, Kira tries to convince Weyoun and Dukat to allow Bajoran security guards to return to their patrols on the station.  Odo's involvement is what finally seals the deal.
From this point onward, Deep Space Nine is a Star Trek series in which Starfleet and the Federation are at war.  I don't think that anyone reading my blog for the first five seasons' recaps is going to be surprised to learn that I find it distasteful for Star Trek to have spent time swimming in that river, much less to have spent two seasons worth of it -- and that during an era where seasons ran for 26 episodes.  I simply do not think this is an appropriate or useful manner for Star Trek to be utilized.  
The idea, as many fans of the show (sometimes called Niners to indicate a certain level of partisanship on their behalf toward DS9 in particular) have pointed out over the years, was/is to illustrate that if the vaunted Trekian ideals are never put to the test, then they are worthless.
I find that to be a weak rationalization.  It proceeds from the assumption that testing Star Trek's ideals was necessary in the first place, and I reject that assumption out of hand.  Trek, like all ongoing franchises, certainly needs to evolve with the times, but this type of evolution need not involve a literal deconstruction of the ideals previous iterations of Trek had worked with.  No, this aspect of Deep Space Nine has always struck me as being about one thing and one thing only: the egos of the writers and producers who inherited the stewardship of the franchise.  Even during the early years of The Next Generation, they had begun to chafe under the restraints imposed by Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry.  Practically from the moment his presence as an actively creative producer on the show was minimized, some of the folks who came after him began trying to work against his dictates.  Eventually, he passed away; but even then, The Next Generation was prevented from becoming terribly un-Roddenberrian.
That all changed with Deep Space Nine, much of which seems to me to consist of an active "Fuck you, Gene, you unrealistic bastard."  Sure, they would throw an occasional bone like "Trials and Tribble-ations" into the world to make it appear as if they were interested in old-school Trek, but it was always the grittier and more "realistic" aspects of DS9 that clearly got these folks out of bed in the morning.
And it was all building to this: the Dominion War, which consumed the show's final two seasons.
To be fair, I remember very little about it.  So I'm railing against something without being fully sure what it is I'm railing against.  Well, hey, it's 2021, isn't it?  This is what people do.
What I'm going to do as this post (and the inevitable one for the seventh season) proceeds is this: I'm going to try to keep an open mind.  For one thing, if I don't then there's little point in writing these except to satisfy some compulsion on my part, and that seems a bit on the wack side, doesn't it?  For another thing, it might be worth paying attention to see if the series really does what its adherents claim: it induces a stress test on the franchise's ideals in the aim of discovering that they are hale and hearty.  I think it's a worthy goal to keep an eye on that and give the show a proper assessment along those lines.
That process begins with "A Time to Stand," which is effectively the first part in a serialized story that goes on for a while.  I think it's about six episodes, if memory and a very scant amount of research have not failed me.  In essence, this episode is a prologue to the rest of the season (if not the rest of the series), and that makes it somewhat difficult to judge as a singular entity.
Not impossible, though.  Sure, it's just a collection of scenes, most of which are really just introductions to ongoing plot threads, but so what?  The question is this: do they work?
I think they do.  More or less all of them, in fact.  The best of them are the ones which are character-centric in their focus.  For example, the scene in Dukat's office in which he creepily insists to Kira that he has all the time in the world to get into her panties (I'm paraphrasing); that scene crackles because Marc Alaimo and Nana Visitor are always great together.  The scenes between Jeffrey Combs and just about everyone also crackle, because Jeffrey Combs is great, no matter whether Weyoun is playing supercilious against Jake or Dukat or Kira or (especially) Odo.  The Garak/Bashir scene is wonderful.  And so forth.
The action of the episode involves Sisko and company taking command of the Jem'Hadar ship they captured way back in the beginning of season five.  Starfleet has been studying it, and have cracked it, so they use it to fly into Cardassian space and destroy a base which serves the vital role of supplying the Jem'Hadar with Ketracel White.  Without it, the Jem'Hadar in the Alpha Quadrant will eventually run out of the drug and will die, which will make the Dominion's odds against Starfleet something less than good.
The conversation about this leads to my one big complaint about the episode that is specific in nature: I do not care one bit for the moment in which Dax says that it won't bother her if the Jem'Hadar all die.
Not only is that an anti-Trekian message, it's out of character for Dax.  Sure, the show is by now pretending that she is almost literally a Klingon (and perhaps that even makes sense given how much time she has spent with Worf), but it simply feels wrong coming out of her mouth.  This is a franchise that once (in "I, Borg") found a method of suggesting that even an implacable foe like the Borg could be dealt with in a non-violent and humane manner.  But here one of DS9's most humane (if not literally human) characters is thumbs-upping genocide.  Yes, I understand: the Jem'Hadar are an active threat to the many peoples and populaces of the Federation.  Again, nobody made the show establish stakes like that; this is a decision the show made, so I'm not inclined to accept bellyaching about how things had to be this way, because no the fuck they didn't.  Either way, it's not really acceptable to me for anyone wearing a Starfleet uniform to hear that the Jem'Hadar are all going to die if their mission succeeds and great news with a verbal shrug emoticon; and it's absolutely unacceptable to me that it be Dax who speaks thus.  You want to give that line to Worf himself, well, maybe I can accept that; Dax saying it is a dealbreaker for me.
Even so, this is a solid episode.  Not a great one, but as a prologue, it'll do nicely.
Bryant's rating: *** 1/2 / ***** (reviewed on February 2, 2021)

Thursday, June 10, 2021

In Brief: "Woman In Motion"

I just watched
and thought it was terrific.
The notion of Star Trek having been as much a force for societal progress as it was a television show has been well-explored for many years now, and there's a natural tendency to wonder why anyone would need to hear it be re-emphasized once more.
Maybe there isn't; I don't know, maybe the story of Nichelle Nichols' involvement with NASA has been told numerous times before and I simply haven't encountered it.  (I've not read her autobiography as yet, so that's the likeliest place for me to have missed it.)  Let's assume that it's entirely possible that my lack of knowledge in this arena is entirely due to my own failures of exploration.
If not, though, then this documentary is proof that indeed there is a need to continue delving into those mines; there are still sizeable chunks of gold in there, evidently.
What happened was this: in the seventies, Nichelle Nichols had some critical words for NASA over the fact that there were no black or female (much less black female) astronauts.  Somebody had the idea to use her in an effort to recruit minorities and females into the space program; she put a goodish amount of effort into doing so, and her labors are credited directly with bringing thousands of applicants to the program.
This is no minor thing.  A number of these applicants actually became astronauts with the space shuttle program; Nichols spearheaded the effort which got them there.  Think of that!  
Think also of this: three of those men and women were aboard the Challenger when it exploded in 1986.  There's a scene in which Nichols attempts to talk about this and cannot; if it does not move you, you may be a Vulcan.  And even then, I know you're just repressing it.
The film obviously goes farther into the past even than that, recounting Nichols' feelings about being able to represent her race and gender on such a prominent show.  She then also recounts her disappointment at being given so little to do on that show, and tells the story of how she was talked into staying on the series by no less a personage than Martin Luther King, Jr.  He convinced her that what she was doing was important; she believed him, and stuck it out for all three seasons.  Years later, due to the unique notoriety that Star Trek afforded, she was able to use her status to recruit actual astronauts for the American space program and bring diversity to its face for the first time.
What must the real-world impact of this have been?  The film doesn't dwell on what-ifs all that much; it's more interested in letting Nichols present the facts as she recalls them, and while there's a good amount of sentiment and (well-earned) congratulation, I don't think I'd say the movie ever really buckles down and asks the question I just asked.  I'm not complaining, mind you; it need not ask the question, because you're bound to ask it yourself as a result of seeing Woman In Motion.
Again: what must the real-world impact have been?  How many children looked at these astronauts and felt inspired by them and moved to try to follow in their footsteps in some way?  Even if they weren't moved to try to become astronauts, how many were moved to go into the sciences in some way?  Or even just simply to think of themselves in a more positive light than they might have otherwise?  
It would probably be easy to oversell this.  I don't think Woman In Motion ever does.  You know what else would be easy (and in this case very easy indeed)?  To undersell it.  The impact of Nichols' efforts is not measurable in total, but there is no question whatsoever that it exists, and that very idea kind of blows my mind.  Nichols takes a role which proves to be a positive image; she then parlays that image into real-world change; that change inspires further change.
That being the case, how can anyone question the impact of Star Trek?
Trekkies get high on their own farts a lot.  Or they used to, at any rate; I'm not sure they really exist in the same manner anymore.  But certainly once upon a time (you know, back in the '10s), you couldn't bring up the subject of Star Trek without some wrinkly bastard singing the praises of the show for championing diversity and social progress and the like.  I picture the average such person as wearing an elbow-patched sportcoat, a t-shirt, spectacles which dangle precariously on the end of his nose, and an ascot.  He begins every sentence with "actually" and ends every sentence with "you know."  He is tiresome and smells faintly of damp newspapers.
Thing is, he's not wrong.  Star Trek really was special.  Most of the spinoffs were special in one way or another as well -- and it might even be that the new shows are serving that purpose for some people nowadays, though I'm so cynical about them that I'd have a hard time seeing it even if they are -- but I do believe there was something about that original show that is one of a kind in American television.
Frankly, I thought that even before seeing Woman In Motion; after seeing it, I realized that the river ran deeper than I understood.
A few more thoughts:

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

In Brief: "Star Trek The Next Generation: Warped" by Mike McMahan

I wrote this back in February intending it to be part of a "Books I Read In 2021" post at one of my other blogs, The Truth Inside The Lie, but I'm reading so little this year that the post went fallow, shriveled up, and blew away.
However, I wanted to share my thoughts on:

Take it away, Bryant of the near past!
This book began life as a Twitter parody account in which the plots of the (completely nonexistent) eighth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation were summarized.  The Twitter account was the work of Mike McMahan, a comedic writer who was at the time probably best known for episodes of Rick and Morty. 
The conceit here is that there was an entire eighth season of TNG filmed, but that it was of such low quality that the studio scrapped it rather than put it on the air.  McMahan has generously provided full synopses, memorable quotes, mistakes and goofs, and genuine on-set photos for all 26 episodes, which are: 

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'.