Friday, May 24, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 8 (Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum)

When reviewing TV series, I have to decide if I’m going to do it by the season or by the episode.  Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation lent themselves to being reviewed by the episode, as each one had a distinct plot.  With Friday the 13th: The Series, I realized that I should have done it by the season, as the episodes weren’t really distinct enough.  I’m still on the fence about Star Trek: Discovery, though.  There is a continuing thread with the Klingon War, although there are a few episodes that deserve further exploration.

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum has the crew exploring a planet that would seem to sing.  It has this giant towering transmitter that broadcasts out into space.  Commander Saru is sent down with Ash Tyler and Michael Burnham to see about using this transmitter to find cloaked Klingon vessels.  It’s not clear how this is supposed to work, especially considering that the spire is so tall.  Do they just need a key component or are they going to take the whole thing with them?  How do they know that it will even work?

Anyway, Saru seems sensitive to the ambient noise.  Shortly after making contact with what would seem to be an indigenous life form, Saru would seem to go sideways.  He crushes Burnham and Tyler’s communicators, leaving them unable to communicate with the ship.  Saru wants to stay on the planet and would apparently have Burnham and Tyler stay with him.  It’s not really clear how much the locals are influencing him, but Saru has to be stopped.  At the very least, the war effort could do with that transmitter.

Meanwhile, Admiral Cornwell is being interrogated by the Klingons.  L’Rell offers to interrogate her only to secretly offer the Admiral the chance to escape.  L’Rell is disillusioned with her new leader and would just as soon leave.  The last we see of it is L’Rell ostensibly killing Cornwell, but it could very easily be a ruse.  (Is the admiral really dead or is she knocked out?  I’m going to have to wait until I get the third disc to find out.)

The title translates as, “If You Want Peace, Prepare for War.”  I’m sort of in the middle about the episode, as it does seem to be progressing nicely.  My only problem is that I kind of like the episodic series.  You’d have some continuity, but you didn’t have to wait until the end of the season to see so many resolutions.  It’s almost like a soap opera in that we keep having to tune in next week to see what happens.

Saru is definitely making progress.  He started the series as someone who would seem to be afraid of his own shadow.  He’s now leading away missions and even commanding the ship for moderate periods of time.  His learning curve isn’t as awkward as I thought it would have been.  I do think there might be some potential for this character.

We also see Paul Stamets confide in Sylvia Tilly.  (This is predicated by Staments having some noticeable mood swings.)  For once, we get a reason why he doesn’t go elsewhere.  It’s not common knowledge that he modified his own genes.  His partner is a doctor and would be bound to report what happened or live in fear.  Keeping it a secret is a priority.  I’m a little curious to see where this will go.

Star Trek: Discovery is becoming a guilty pleasure for me.  I still have issues, but I can’t stop watching.  (Maybe train wreck is better term.  I’m not sure yet.)  I’m going to finish out the season and see what happens.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 7 (Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad)

I suppose that it’s inevitable that every science-fiction show will do at least one time travel/time loop episode.  Star Trek had it with City on the Edge of Forever.  The Next Generation had at least one of each with Time’s Arrow and Cause and Effect.  The crew of Deep Space Nine even went back to visit The Enterprise with Trials and Tribble-ations.

Time travel isn’t so bad.  It’s usually the time-loop stories that get me.  You see, there can be, at most, one person, other than the perpetrator, that knows about  the time loop.  In case there isn’t anyone, everyone will have a sense of déjà vu. But there has to be a way for the characters to break the loop.

With the case of Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad, Harry Mudd is back.  Yes, he skipped an episode and he wants his revenge on Captain Lorca.  He’s going to do this by stealing the Discovery.  To do this, he’s gotten a time crystal to work, meaning he can make all the mistakes he wants before destroying the ship and jumping back 30 minutes to try again.  This effectively wipes the crew’s memories with the exception of Paul Stamets, who remembers everything.

Stamets enlists the help of Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler.  It’s not clear why he chooses these two people, as they are the two newest additions to the crew that we know about and most people still see Burnham as the mutineer.  (Even the captain, who wants her there, makes her a specialist.  If we are to assume that this means the naval rank, that’s about as far down the ladder as you can get.)

I have to say that this is pretty ambitious for Harry Mudd.  In The Original Star Trek, he was generally pretty petty.  Our first encounter had him trying to make a buck off of finding wives for lonely miners.  To actually steal a ship with the Klingons as the buyer is a pretty big con.  It’s actually worthy of the con that the crew pulls on him.  In fact, they bring him to his long-lost love, Stella, who I am to assume is the same Stella referenced in I, Mudd.

I do get that the writers are trying to nudge Tyler and Burnham together.  It would make more sense to have Staments go to the captain or to his partner.  Given the number of iterations the time loop had, it’s possible that he did.  The important thing for us, the viewers, is that we learn a thing or two about Burnham and Tyler and that they save the day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 6 (Lethe)

I know that I seem to be getting used to Star Trek: Discovery.  Certain aspects are starting to make sense.  I still have questions and issues, but I’m learning how to deal with that.  Aside from which, I’m getting the DVDs from the library, so it’s not like I’m giving money to CBS.  Still, I have to take issue with any issue that starts with two main characters running laps in shirts that say DISCO in big, bold letters.

I can handle Spock having a foster sister we didn’t know about.  Star Trek V revealed that he had a half-brother and I took that in stride.  I’ve dealt with updated Klingons and easily abandoned technology, as I’ve mentioned before.  I can forgive a lot of things.  Please tell me that there’s no disco in the future.  If I find out that there is, the series is dead to me.

That being said, it looks like Discovery has holodecks, or something similar to it.  Captain Lorca and Ash Tyler are getting a little target practice in when we find out three things about Tyler.  One, he’s a better shot than Lorca.  Two, he’s modest about it.  Three, Lorca is making him the new chief of security.  I guess being in a jail cell together for an indeterminate, yet short, time makes for some good bonding.

In fact, Admiral Cornwell drops by to talk about just that.  She’s worried that Lorca isn’t ready to get back into the captain’s chair just yet.  In fact, she was apparently a psychiatrist, which would lend some credibility.  One thing leads to another, which leads to Cornwell and Lorca sleeping together and Lorca pulling a phaser on Cornwell.  So, yeah.

She wants to keep him off the bridge, but an issue has come up.  Ambassador Sarek was on his way to meet with the Klingons for diplomatic talks, but he was injured by a Vulcan extremist.  Yes, Vulcans have those, apparently.  There are those among the most logical race that would like to keep it that way.  Sarek’s taking a human wife and taking a human girl should be punishable by death.

The good news is that a rescue operation is successful.  The bad news is that Cornwell has to go in his place, as she’s the only qualified authority figure within range.  She and Lorca will talk about him taking a break when she gets back, which is the most obvious way of telling the audience that a major plot twist is coming.  She might as well just say, “I’m going to go put myself in a situation that requires the help of the one person who stands to lose if he’s successful.”

So, I guess Star Trek isn’t beyond a little cliché writing.  That’s ok.  You can’t be perfect all the time.  Aside from which, it does make for a good cliffhanger.  We already knew from the previous episode that maybe Lorca wasn’t the best captain.  Now we know that other people know it, too, and they’re in a position to do something about it.  This really is becoming a lot like a soap opera.

One thing I want to bring up: I don’t recall it ever explicitly being stated that The Original Series never had holodecks, although I could be wrong.  It would seem that holodecks came about during The Next Generation era, as the pilot of The Next Generation would have implied that it was relatively new technology.  I’ll grant that maybe the technology was in development.  Discovery is supposed to be this top-secret super ship, so it’s possible that everything is cutting edge.  I don’t know.

It is nice to see some subtle continuity, though.  Long-time viewers will remember that Sarek was at odds with Spock over Spock’s decision to enter Starfleet.  Now, we know why.  Come to find out that Burnham wanted in on the Vulcan Expeditionary Force, but those running the show wouldn’t hear of it.  Sarek is told in no uncertain terms, only one non-Vulcan at a time.  Either Spock is let in or Burnham, but not both.  It doesn’t matter that Burnham is good enough.  Apparently, Vulcans can be racist, too.

It sort of reminds me of Dark Page, in that the parent of a main character is hiding a dark secret about their child.  In Dark Page, Deanna Troi has to use her telepathic abilities help her mother resolve an issue as Lwaxana is close to death.  In Lethe, Burnham has to use her telepathic bond to help her foster father resolve an issue that’s been eating away at both of them while he’s close to death.  (Oh, and he has to hit the emergency beacon while he’s at it.)

So, Discovery isn’t all that I hoped it would be, but I am finding redeeming qualities and I am curious to see what happens next.  I’m just hoping that it’s not like Enterprise, where it turns out to be a holodeck fantasy or someone waking up from a dream or something.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 5 (Choose Your Pain)

I’ve asked a few questions while watching Star Trek: Discovery.  Notably, I’ve wondered if ethical concerns would prohibit the ship’s spore drive from becoming useful in the long run.  “Choose Your Pain” is the first episode to really face that head on.  The ship’s spore drive requires a living navigator, but that comes at a steep price, especially for said navigator.  The creature that the Discovery is using, Ripper, is in pain and actually gives out during this episode.

Only one crew member, Michael Burnham, advocates for Ripper.  The problem is that when Ripper’s services aren’t needed, it’s not really an issue.  When Ripper is needed, it’s to save lives.  During this episode, the ship has to go into hostile territory and get out as soon as they have their captain.  This can’t be done without Ripper, which means it sucks when he curls up into a ball and can’t navigate the ship.

While in captivity, Captain Lorca has two cellmates.  One is Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd.  Fans of the original series might remember him as the guy who was peddling would-be brides to miners.  He’s not a nice guy.  I don’t know that he deserves to be in a Klingon holding cell, but he’s not the kind of guy I’d want as a friend, either.

The other cellmate is Ash Tyler.  He’s a Starfleet officer who had the misfortune to be captured by the Klingons at the Battle of the Binary Stars.  How he’s survived seven months in Klingon captivity escapes Captain Lorca, but he’s still a Starfleet officer.  The two escape and leave Mudd behind.

I do think that the series is picking up.  We get some plot development and some character development, notably with First Officer Saru, who is left in command.  It would appear that this is the first time that he’s gone an extended period without the captain present, being that he has to look up how to be a captain.  I would have thought that an executive officer would have learned something about that by now.  Still, it’s nice to know that his head is in the right place.  It also gives the show a chance to drop a few familiar names.

Speaking of familiar names, I realize that the part of Mudd has to be recast.  I’m not saying that Rainn Wilson is a bad actor, but I was expecting something closer to Roger C. Carmel.  Instead, I had this lingering image of John Lithgow by the end of the episode.  (Maybe it’s my imagination.)

I’m beginning to get the sense that the writers are playing the long game here.  I suspect that more of my issues will be resolved as time goes by.  I had hoped to watch at least half the season, which would be to the end of this disc.  I may have to go put a hold on the third disc before I’m done with this one.

Monday, May 20, 2019

After Porn Ends 3 (2018)

A few years ago, I came across a documentary called After Porn Ends.  It was a pretty good documentary about people’s lives after they were porn stars.  Some had done well; others hadn’t.  They even did a sequel that followed up pretty nicely.  When I saw a spike in hits on both reviews, I realized that they must have come out with a third installment.   I checked Netflix and it turned out I was correct.

The premise is the same.  There are a lot of people (mostly women) that had been in front of the camera for years.  They tell what it’s like not doing that any more.  Christy Canyon has a radio program on SiriusXM.  Priya Rai is now a cage fighter.  Jenna Presley found Jesus.  The outcomes are usually different, although it would seem many got into the business for the same reason:  Money.  (Tera Patrick was studying to become a nurse until she realized that she could make more playing one on TV, so to speak.)

The movie doesn’t seem like it’s repeating anything from the previous installments, although the franchise does seem to be losing steam.  This one wasn’t quite as interesting.  The stories are new, but not necessarily more interesting  than those from before.  There’s also not the same variety as before.  In the first movie, most of the outcomes were less than desirable.  Actors found it difficult to move on.  In the second movie, many of the actors had found some life after lust.

The previous movies found a way to present the actors as people.  Yes, many of the actors shown here found something else to do.  I didn’t necessarily feel happy or sad about it.  Here, it’s more like actors recalling stories of their glory days.  It’s not said if any of the experiences are typical.  (Is turning to religion common among former adult stars?  I don’t know.)

As you might expect, there are a lot of explicit images.  After all, it is a movie dealing with adult topics.  Many of the stories are happy.  The only really sad one was Bonnie Rotten.  She didn’t have a great upbringing and had difficulty getting into the industry because of her tattoos.

I’m really not certain that a fourth installment is called for.  I spent a while debating over whether or not I wanted to watch this one.  I eventually gave in and watched.  I think if a fourth one is released, I’d probably pass on it.  It would have to pull off something entirely new to catch my attention.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 4 (The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry)

I recently realized that my local library has the first season of Star Trek: Discovery on DVD, thereby allowing me to bypass paying for CBS All Access to watch the show.  I just got the second DVD, so I’d like to review this episode before watching the next few episodes.  The episodes so far would seem to flow more evenly from one to the next, so this will allow me to keep the storylines straight.

This one starts shortly after the previous episode.  Michael Burnham has just come back from the Discovery’s sister ship, the Glenn, with useful technology and a tardigrade-like creature who has been dubbed Ripper.  She and Commander Landry are tasked with figuring out how to weaponize Ripper so that the crew might defeat the Klingons.  After all, Ripper took on a bunch of Klingons alone, as well as giving the away team a run for their money.

Burnham does make a major discovery:  Ripper has some sort of symbiotic relationship with the spores.  He’s also not that aggressive when not provoked.  All of Ripper’s actions thus far have been in self defense.  Furthermore, it would appear that Ripper can help navigate the ship for long jumps.  Discovery can use the spores for shorter jumps with some degree of accuracy.  To do the math for longer jumps requires some sort of supercomputer.

It’s not clear exactly what Ripper does or how Ripper knows where to go.  It’s not possible to communicate with the large creature, although the large creature does appear to be in pain when the drive is in use.  Captain Lorca uses Ripper to get to a colony that mines 40% of the Federation’s dilithium to protect it from a Klingon attack, so some discomfort isn’t his concern.  In fact, Burnham seems to be the only one who does show any sort of concern, ethical or otherwise.  She’s able to demonstrate that there’s no threat.

The ethics of using an alien creature without consent really isn’t dealt with in this episode.  The entire thing seemed a little too convenient.  I’m assuming that Ripper was trained by the crew of the Glenn.  Much like Star Trek’s The Devil in the Dark, it’s possible that a Vulcan was able to mind meld with Ripper to communicate what was going on.

So much is still unknown about Ripper.  Part of me feels like I’m missing something.  Maybe this will be explained in later episodes. I expect someone to leave a comment, “Didn’t you see when someone said X?”  I feel like the episode could have used a little more exposition.  It’s too bad for Ripper that his one advocate is someone who’s already on shaky ground with the rest of the crew.  However, this would be a very good reason for eventually discontinuing the use of the spore drive.

I definitely want to watch the next four episodes.  Maybe I’ll find a few of my answers.  At this point, though, I’m only expecting more questions.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 1 Episode 3 (Context Is for Kings)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was dark, but it was still Star Trek.  It showed that things weren’t always rosy in the idealistic Federation or Starfleet.  Being so far from the center of Federation space had implications.  Rules were stretched.  Sometimes, people did things they weren’t proud of.  But, it was still Starfleet.

Discovery started out dark, but seems to be coming around to something that looks like Star Trek.  It’s been six months since Michael Burnham turned against her captain and got her old ship destroyed.  She’s since been court-martialed and sent to prison.  While being transferred to another facility, her ship runs into trouble and is aided by the USS Discovery.  Burnham and her fellow prisoners are brought aboard temporarily.

Burnham finds several of her former crewmates are now serving on the Discovery, including Saru, who got promoted from science officer to Captain Lorca’s first officer.  Saru would be more than happy to help Burnham…get right back on that shuttle.  For the time being, he’ll have to settle for being polite to her.  He realizes that whatever else she might have been, she’s now someone who can’t be fully trusted.

Still, Lorca has a plan for Burnham.  That plan includes sending her to the Discovery’s sister ship, the Glenn, to retrieve classified technology.  When the away team arrives, they find the ship damaged and the crew badly mutilated.  Add to that Klingons that were viciously attacked by something.  The team gets what they need and discover the mysterious creature, which is resistant to phaser fire.  The crew makes it back to the Discovery.  The episode ends with Lorca offering Burnham a place on the ship, telling her what the secret project really is.  Oh, and it also turns out that he somehow got the vicious creature onboard.

I will admit that the show is getting more to the point where my questions aren’t as pressing.  The creature looks like a giant tardigrade, which is unusual, but I suppose not impossible.  Given that so many alien species look eerily human, it’s easy to imagine that a microscopic Earth-bound creature might be the template for a large creature of unknown origin.

Also, it’s revealed that the secret project is a new method of navigation that allows the ship to go anywhere instantaneously.  One might wonder why none of the other series had this technology.  That’s what Star Trek does.  One thing I remember from Star Trek: Voyager is lots of one-off technology.  (Voyager even had a species that had a personal cloaking device, if you can believe it.)  This aspect of the series is actually the most believable.

The one thing that gets me is that Burnham, who is usually quiet and logical (and is now more so after six months in prison) is given Cadet Sylvia Tilly as a roommate.  Tilly is a Chatty Cathy.  When she says that she talks when nervous, she’s not kidding.  I suppose that there’s a certain irony in this.  The one person that will actually talk to Burnham won’t…stop…talking!

I am kind of wondering what this black alert is.  It seems unnecessary.  Isn’t it enough to have red alert and yellow alert?  I guess I’ll find out what that is eventually.  (I just got the second DVD of the first season from the library.  Please explain if you can keep it spoiler free.)