Thursday, November 15, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 22 (Space Seed)

I would submit that Khan Noonien Singh is the first true Villain in Star Trek.  Sure, Trelane and Charles Evans were forces to be reckoned with, but the threat was mostly to the ship.  Anton Karidian may have been Kodos The Executioner, but what he did was in the past.  Even the Talosians were trying to rebuild a society.  Khan was the first really evil character that the crew of the Enterprise had to deal with.  It was the first time that there was a threat that extended beyond the ship and had to be stopped immediately.

Khan was a human from the late 20th century who had been selectively bred to be superior.  He and about 70 of his followers set out on a sleeper ship only to be found by Kirk.  Records of that era were sketchy, but it soon comes to light who Khan is.  Khan is bent on taking over the ship.  Once that’s accomplished, he can take over a planet or two.

The episode seems a little silly to me.  Khan’s movements and words seem exaggerated.  The same exaggerated movements are used by Khan’s people when they come out of stasis.  Khan also manages to manipulate ship’s historian Marla McGivers in short order.  (For someone who is serving on the flagship of Starfleet, she seems way to susceptible to Khan’s charms.)

It still ends up being an above-average episode.  Khan and Kirk seem to play well off of each other, mostly because William Shatner was know for being a little exaggerated as Kirk.  Ricardo Montalban seemed to equal Shatner in that respect.  Both Khan and Kirk are strong, smart and seem to be popular with the ladies.  (And both characters seem to have the most obvious stunt doubles in the entire series.)  If you’re going to use an established character to be the antagonist for the second movie, Khan would be your best bet.  I think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Mudd would have killed the movie franchise.

I had only a few issues with the episode and I’m sure people have brought them up before.  For instance, why would the ship have a historian?  It makes sense for Khan to manipulate her, but what need would the ship have for her?  If Starfleet did have historians, wouldn’t they be posted at headquarters?

Also, how is Khan supposed to build a society with 72 people?  It doesn’t seem like much of a gene pool.  As Spock points out, it would be interesting to see how well the group had done in time.  I’d be interested to know if inbreeding was a problem at all.

The biggest issue for the franchise is the fact that when Star Trek: Voyager visited 1996 in Future’s End, there were no obvious signs of the Eugenics Wars that Khan was supposed to have been a part of.  To be fair, I don’t imagine anyone involved with the show expected Star Trek to last this long.  The fact that it had so many spin-off series is impressive.  Voyager could have gone with the alternate history, or at least found some creative way of acknowledging it, but it could also be excused for not acknowledging it at all.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 21 (The Return of the Archons)

Major cast changes aren’t that common in American television.  When two main characters are put in danger, there’s a pretty good chance a solution will be found.  This is especially true with Star Trek, which had no shortage of disposable security officers.  In fact, the episode even starts with Sulu being brainwashed by an alien race.

Sulu is part of a landing party on Beta III.  The Enterprise was sent to find out what happened to the USS Archon.  The inhabitants are strangely peaceful and friendly.  Those that aren’t local are absorbed into their hive mind.  Sulu is with another member of the landing party, who manages to run away before being absorbed.  When Sulu is beamed up, he’s very peaceful until he realizes that those around him are not of the body.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy and a few others beam down to figure out what happened to the rest of the first landing party.  They discover that The Red Hour is about to begin.  This is a time when the peaceful population goes wild.  People think nothing of looting stores, forcing themselves on other people and having an all-around great time.  The second landing party seeks shelter in a hotel.  Those already in the building soon realize that Kirk and Co. aren’t local.  The fact that they’re not participating is against the will of Landru.

Who is Landru?  Well, he’s the one that managed to subdue the local population.  The story goes that 6,000 years ago, Landru absorbed everyone and founded the society that Beta III has today.  Kirk realizes that he has to undo what Landru did all those years ago.  He finds the computer that controls everyone and puts an end to its rule of the population.

In case you’re wondering, yes, Kirk does mention the Prime Directive.  In fact, this is the first mention of the Prime Directive.  Kirk dismisses it, saying that it applies only to a living culture.  As the culture of Beta III has stagnated, Kirk can and should interfere.

This is one of those episodes that’s changed with time for me.  When I watched it as a child, I didn’t get a lot of the overtones.  It was just a case of Kirk having to save Sulu, even if it means altering the trajectory of a society.  When I watched it recently, I started to think it was a story about communism, with everyone thinking of the good of the whole.

Then, it occurred to me that it was more about religion.  Everyone is indoctrinated.  Those who aren’t part of the religion are considered dangerous.  They even have a founder who lived thousands of years ago and now exists only as an image to be worshipped.  I suppose it could be any mind-controlling agency, whether it be government or religion.  However, there is a very religious tone to the episode.

Landru is held in high regard because he stopped the fighting among the people, although there are other ways to do that.  The Vulcans had the same problem until they adopted logic.  The difference is that Beta III’s population stagnated.  In fact, the regressed.  They had technology.  Now they don’t.

There are a few issues with the episode.  First, I wonder why it took a hundred years for anyone to come and investigate the disappearance of a ship.  That’s several generations.  It would place it around the time of Star Trek: Enterprise, which might mean that no other ships were available.  (Still…)

Another thing I noticed was that Beta III had Earth-style clocks including actual numbers.  It seems odd that a planet so far away would have a 12-hour clock.  Even if we were to assume that the crew of the Archon had some influence, why would the planet adopt a type of clock that I don’t think the Federation even uses any more?  (I suppose having that kind of clock is no different than having human-looking aliens.)

Little is given as to the history of the planet.  It would be interesting for some sort of book or fan-produced movie.  Maybe have something on who Landru was and how the society was founded.  I think that we’re supposed to assume that the entire planet was under Landru’s control.  (On that note, would a few teams of sociologists be enough to help everyone?)

I also wondered how the computers lasted for 6,000 years without anyone fixing them.  It’s possible that there was some pope-like figure who was in on it.  The society had lawgivers.  It’s possible that there was some sort of class designated for tech support.

The big thing for me is that there’s no talk of what happened to Sulu and the rest of the affected crewmembers.  Sulu shrugs it off and we don’t hear anything from anyone else.  Ok.  So Sulu didn’t really do anything wrong, but others did.  I think a few apologies might have been offered.

It’s still an enjoyable episode.  There is a sense of danger, as Landru (or, rather, the computer) can pull a ship down from orbit.  You know this isn’t going to be the end of them, but the same thing happened to another ship.  I don’t think Kirk and Spock want to wait another hundred years for backup.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 20 (Court Martial)

Any sort of military or military-type organization is probably going to be dangerous.  Starfleet, as the name implies, is an organization, ostensibly modeled after the Navy, that travels between star systems, so you have the added danger of being sucked out into space.  It’s not a pleasant thought, but I would think most people sign up understanding this.

This isn’t to say that someone’s death wouldn’t trigger an investigation.  When Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Finney is killed in action, Captain Kirk is held responsible.  Kirk ejected a pod while Finney was still in the room.  Kirk was supposed to go to red alert before ejecting the pod, which he claims he did.  The computer records show otherwise.

Kirk is assigned Samuel T. Cogley as his lawyer.  Kirk has witnesses in his defense, but it still doesn’t look good for the defense.  How do you argue with the computer?  Well, it turns out that the computer might not be operating normally.  Spock had programmed the computer to play chess.  If Spock plays against the computer, he should get a draw at best.  He beats the computer four times in a row.  This means that the computer has been tampered with.

Cogley has the court martial moved to the bridge of the Enterprise.  A minimal crew is on board, so that the can hear what few heartbeats there are.  McCoy uses a device to remove the sound of one heartbeat at a time until one remains:  Finney’s.  It turns out that Finney faked his death, altered the records and was hiding out in engineering the whole time.  Kirk is acquitted and Cogley is off to his next case, which happens to be defending Finney.

I think this may have been an attempt by the show to try something different.  Kirk is put on trial for something we all assume he didn’t do.  We know by now that Kirk is experienced enough that he followed procedure.  He’s also honorable enough that he wouldn’t lie.  I suspect that the script may have been pared down from a slightly longer one.  There are some aspects that are lacking any sort of explanation.

The most obvious is that Finney had to somehow fake his death and hide.  It’s possible that he was stockpiling food, but he still would have had to do something that would have meant risking being sighted by someone else.  At the very least, he would have had to go to a terminal to fake the evidence.  At some point, he would have had to go to the bathroom or take a shower.

I’m assuming that, at some point, he would have had to get off the ship.  I don’t know how he would have done this without being noticed.  If, at any point, someone realized who he was, Kirk would have been set free.  The entire point seemed to be to get Kirk stripped of his command.

There’s also something else I noticed, which no one else seems to have brought up.  Finney had a daughter.  In this respect, one of two things would have happened.  One possibility is that Finney was going to basically abandon his daughter, who appears to be a teenager.  He would leave the ship with Jame thinking that her father was dead.  This is a pretty cruel thing to do to someone.  The other possibility is that he either told her or was planning on telling her at some later point.  This would be, at the very least, a difficult position to put her in.  I don’t know how any father could do either, but Finney did.  I’m not sure how father and daughter handled the situation afterward.  That should seem like a pretty big betrayal to Jame.

Another thing that has been brought up is that the third act seems a bit overdone.  It seems like having McCoy account for the heartbeats one at a time was done just to draw it out.  There aren’t that many people on the ship and only one person wasn‘t on the bridge.  It should have been easy to ask the computer how many life signs are on the ship.  If they have 10 people on board and the computer says 11, ask to locate and/or identify the life signs not on the bridge.

One thing I’ve noticed about The Original Series is that it didn’t seem to pay attention ot detail as much.  I’ve heard that there was more of a focus on the story and the moral.  I could probably go through all of the episodes and find some sort of technical fault with each one.  It’s just that in some episodes, the faults are more glaring.  One thing that always bothered me was that Finney’s plan was unraveled because Spock played chess.  How is it that Spock happened to do the one thing that was also affected by Finney tampering with the computers?  I would have thought that several other problems would have come up.  If Finney was that lazy, why not have a problem with the transporter logs or communications?  Maybe have the food dispenser give someone the wrong order.  It seems odd that Finney would leave one obscure fault that someone happens to find out.  (It’s also possible, although unlikely, that Spock got better at chess.)

It’s still a good episode, even if it’s not perfect.  It’s still enjoyable to watch.  However, I don’t see this being a lot of people’s favorite episode.  It’s the kind of episode you might watch if you were already committed to watching the series.  I don’t think it’s going to be a good episode to introduce someone to the series.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 19 (Tomorrow Is Yesterday)

I grew up having watched reruns of the original Star Trek.  By the time I was old enough to watch TV, the original series had already ended its original run and had become a staple of syndication.  When The Next Generation came around, the production values had gotten much better.  It wasn’t until I started watching The Original Series again that I realized how much.  It seemed like the writers for The Original Series didn’t seem to pay attention to detail as much.  Admittedly, stardates only had to be consistent within an episode.  Still, there were a lot of things that stuck out in my mind.

One such episode was Tomorrow is Yesterday.  The Enterprise finds itself stuck in what was then modern-day Earth.  The ship needs to be repaired, not that it has any place to go.  Add to that the fact that they’re in a low enough orbit that they can be seen by an Air Force base.  The ship is forced to beam up  Captain John Christopher, presenting the crew with a difficult problem.  They can’t send him back for fear that he’ll tell what he’s seen.  However, it’s not fair to hold him indefinitely.  Spock also discovers that his unborn son will make an important contribution.

The ship does get repaired and a way back home is discovered.  In the process, the crew is able to return Christopher and another unfortunate visitor, leaving them with no memories of their adventures.  How are they able to return them?  By beaming them back into their old bodies.

It seems a little too contrived.  Somehow, The Enterprise is able to beam someone into their past self without any problems.  What happened to the other Captain Christopher?  It’s also not explained how the whole beaming thing works.  It’s more of a hocus-pocus presto-chango kind of thing.

It was one of those things that they presented the audience with, thinking we wouldn’t ask too many questions.  During the episode, Kirk has to worry that there might be footage of the ship.  The same concern should hold true once they go back a few days to erase everything.  If they have to return the officers, shouldn’t they also have to take care of any footage again?  For that matter, shouldn’t there be a second Enterprise?  I suspect that the writers needed a simple way out.

The series also seemed to rely too little on continuity.  The Enterprise has found an easy way to travel through time, which they do use in subsequent outings.  There’s no mention of how common the practice is.  I could see science vessels going back in time a lot.  I could also see the practice being restricted for fear of the timeline being corrupted.

Overall, the episode is a nice diversion.  There are no enemies to fight.  There’s no battling a superior opponent, hoping for a way out.  It’s more having to fix stuff and think their way out.  Still, I think the writers could have done a little better here.  Maybe offer more of an explanation in some areas, or at least make them more believable.  It’s an episode that tends to be more enjoyable if you don’t think about it too much.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Mercury 13 (2018)

It occurred to me one day that astronauts probably have the worst commute ever.  Consider that a rocket launch would subject the passengers to three times the normal gravity of Earth.  Someone going to the International Space Station could be there in a few hours.  For Apollo astronauts, it took about three days for the ship to get there and another three to get back.  Plus, you’re crammed into a little ship and have to bring all your supplies with you.

I don’t imagine many people qualify to do that for a living.  Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb might say otherwise.  Cobb was one of 13 women who wanted to become Mercury astronauts.  All of the women were pilots.  They underwent many of the same tests as the men, even though NASA never sanctioned it.  NASA wanted nothing to do with them in any official capacity.  As far as NASA was concerned, you had to be a man to be an astronaut.

In hindsight, we can see how misguided that thinking was.  Women have become astronauts since.  And you can say it was the 1960s.  That sort of thing was common.  This happened years before the Civil Rights Act would have prevented it.  NASA still required astronauts to be graduates of a certain military program, meaning they basically had to be men.  All this despite the fact that the Soviet Union sent women while all of this was going on.

The truth is that saying women weren’t fit was a load.  No one knew what to expect.  There was no promise that anyone could handle it.  The Mercury program was meant to be our first step out into space.  It was supposed to see how someone reacted to going up and coming back down before going to the moon.

It’s an interesting film to watch.  At 78 minutes, it’s a little long to watch in most grade-school classes, but it does show what sexism looked like.  There was absolutely no reason why the women should have been denied the opportunity to go into space.

This is but one front where women seek equality.  You’d think that women would be better represented.  Given that half the population is female, you’d think that half of any given group would be female.  The Senate should have 50 men and 50 women, give or take.  Even though women have been into space, only about 12% of the 536 people have been female.  We should have had 22 women serve as president out of the 44 people who have held the office.  (For those wondering, Grover Cleveland is counted twice.)

It’s an interesting story for those that want to learn about equality.  It’s a case of women being shoved aside simply because they weren’t men.  It’s almost like that line attributed to Winston Churchill: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Last Laugh (2016)

I remember the first time I heard of dead-baby jokes.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  No, I won’t be repeating any here.  (If you’re really curious, you can look it up on Google.)  It struck me as odd that such a specific type of sick humor existed.  I would have thought that such a topic would be beyond the scope of humor, but it’s not.  Instead, there are lots of them.  The Last Laugh takes a look at that line.  Are there some topics that aren’t for making jokes?  Can you make jokes about the Holocaust or 9/11?  How about AIDS or rape?  Is pedophilia acceptable?

The movie focuses mostly on the Holocaust.  Many of those interviewed agree that the topic is off limits for now, but making fun of Nazis is acceptable.  Renee Firestone, a survivor, is featured in the film.  It shows her reacting to some clips by various people.  Some, she finds to be not funny.  Others manage to illicit a chuckle or two.

Time does seem to make a difference, though.  The Inquisition would probably have been off limits several hundred years ago, but is perfectly acceptable to joke about now.  Firestone recalls meeting Josef Mengele, who advised her to have her tonsils removed, should she survive.  At the time, it was serious.  Decades later, there’s a certain absurd humor to it.

There are a lot of celebrities interviewed, such as Mel Brooks and Sarah Silverman.  There are also clips of routines from Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and George Carlin.  Gilbert Gottfried is also interviewed, which has a certain irony to it, in that he made his own controversial comments back in 2011.  (That controversy isn’t mentioned in this documentary.)

I don’t know that anyone will be able to agree on where the line is.  It is possible, with a certain level of skill, to joke about certain topics.  George Carlin was able to do it well.  Others, not so much.  I tend to be more liberal with what I find funny.  Most people I know would be offended at a lot of the jokes I find funny.  That being said, there are a few topics I wouldn’t venture to joke about.

I would say that this could be used in a class on humor or as a starting point for a discussion.  My one big complaint is that it deals too much with the Nazis.  Other topics are mentioned, but there are a lot of topics that would be considered too dark.  (I don’t think dead-baby jokes were even mentioned.)  I think it could have been a little more balanced, or at least bring up more examples of what’s considered taboo.  Still, it’s an interesting documentary to watch.  For the moment, it’s available streaming on Netflix.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017)

“The average woman would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think.”

-- Anonymous

I signed up for Google Analytics for this blog.  One thing I noticed was that a lot of people that read my posts are doing so on a mobile phone.  (When I checked yesterday, mobile users accounted for 74 of readers.)  If you’re reading this on a tablet or a cell phone and are using wi-fi or cellular data, you have Hedy Lamarr to thank for that.  It’s because of her that we now have secure, reliable wireless communication.

The documentary covers Lamarr’s life starting with her film, Ecstasy.  She was known for looking beautiful.  She could act, sure.  But her main draw was that she looked good in front of the camera.  What most people didn’t know was that she was an inventor.  She even made a tablet that, when dissolved in water, would produce flavored water.  (The tablet was done in by the fact that different cities have different amounts of impurities in their water.)

Her big contribution came during the war.  There seem to be different stories, but the one I heard had her watching a player piano.  Radio-controlled torpedoes were susceptible to being jammed, either deliberately or accidentally.  Thus, it was difficult to steer the torpedoes with any accuracy.  While looking at the piano, she got the idea to change frequencies randomly, thus improving the reliability.  She and George Antheil even got a patent.  They were willing to let the Navy use the technology, given the appropriate fee, but Lamarr was told that she could put her talents to better use by selling war bonds.

The documentary comes about due to an interview that was thought lost.    I wonder if a documentary about Lamarr would have been made had it not been found.  It’s a story that people should know about.  It’s a sad fact that people who deserve the credit often don’t get it.  Nikola Tesla got a car named for him.  Alan Turing had a test named for him.  Even still, both inventors aren’t really household names.  Even with Lamarr, most people would know her solely as an actress.

Lamarr never got any money from her invention.  The Navy held on to the actual patent document and Lamarr wasn’t able to renew it.  By the time the technology made its way to wider use, it had expired.  Interestingly, the Navy did use it to some extend and should have paid for that use.  Whether you know Lamarr as an actress your know use wireless communication regularly, I’d tell you to watch this documentary.  You’ll never be able to look at the wi-fi logo the same way again.