Sunday, November 22, 2020

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 3 Episode 6 (Scavengers)

I remember not liking Lwaxana Troi during the initial run of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  She was that annoying comic relief that just kept coming back.  Over the seasons, she began to get a back story and seemed less one-dimensional.  She was sympathetic, even if just a little.

I bring this up because I see a similar story arc for the Mirror Universe’s Georgiou.  I have noticed that Georgiou is written as overly aggressive and not much else.  She serves to antagonize at least one character per episode, not unlike Troi.  I’m thinking this might be a pivotal episode for the former emperor in that the writers might have more in mind for her.

The episode starts with various captains receiving their respective missions.  Saru, as captain of the Discovery, is told to wait around headquarters.  Since they have a spore drive and aren’t limited by The Burn, they can pop in on potentially volatile diplomatic talks if the need arises.

It’s an inconvenient time for Cleveland Booker’s ship to pop in, minus Booker.  When his cat hails Discovery, they know something’s up.  This puts Michael Burnham in a tough spot.  Admiral Vance gave Saru orders to stick around, so Discovery can’t go off to save him.  However, he was looking for black boxes from Starfleet vessels, which might contain valuable information on how The Burn played out.  Thus, Burnham and Georgiou take Book’s ship back to the planet where he’s being held.

She saves Book, gets the black box and makes it back to Discovery without incident.  This isn’t to say there won’t be consequences, though.  Saru reports the incident to Vance, who reprimands Burnham.  Since she saved lives and got valuable information, she won’t be put in the brig, but it doesn’t make Saru look good.

My major complaint with the episode is the obvious one, in that Discovery has a problem which prevents them from addressing another problem, which would further the story line.  Burnham, as first officer, shouldn’t have gone.  That much is true.  But there’s no reason another officer couldn’t have gone.  Vance even points out that Saru should have passed the importance of the information up the chain of command.  He may have authorized such a mission.  He might have even dispatched an actual Starfleet ship to deal with it.

That aspect of the episode seems forced to me.  Even having Burnham removed as first officer is more a reminder that she really shouldn’t have been made first officer in the first place.  It would make more sense for her to just be the science officer or, simply, the one who gets sent on such a mission when it arises.

You might be wondering what Georgiou has to do with any of this.  During the mission, she blacks out.  She even falls to the floor at a crucial moment.  We get to see flashes of memory, but not enough to really tell what’s going on.  This could be major.  It could be nothing.  I would hope that we’ll at least find out why Georgiou is the way she is.  (It’s also suspicious that this started right after she met with Kovach.)

It will be interesting to see who replaces Burnham as first officer.  I don’t see it being Tilly.  Yes, she’s on the command track.  She’ll be captain one day, but I don’t think it will happen just yet.  Given that she’s giving sound advice to the captain would indicate that it will happen one day.

For that matter, I don’t see it being any of the main characters.  I think everyone is where they need to be.  Reno, maybe?  I don’t think anyone had her in mind for XO when she was rescued, although it could happen.  I’m putting my money on Linus.  He basically spent the entire episode popping up in odd places, so I suppose anything is possible.

 

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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 3 Episode 5 (Die Trying)

Getting what we want isn’t always what we expected.  It’s certainly not easy.  For the first part of Discovery’s third season, the title ship has been looking for Federation and Starfleet headquarters.  It’s been made more difficult by the fact that there’s no warp drive.  They have a spore drive, which isn’t hindered by The Burn, but information seems to be scarce.

In Die Trying, the ship finally arrives at headquarters, but the crew doesn’t get the warm welcome they expected.  Instead, they’re met with suspicion.  It’s understandable.  At the end of Season 2, it was revealed that Discovery is listed as destroyed in action.  All mention of the spore drive is erased from any official record.  No one will speak of them again, and this comes to bite Discovery in the hind quarters.

Admiral Charles Vance is in charge of Starfleet.  He basically tells Saru, now the captain of Discovery, that the crew will be debriefed and split up.  The ship will be retrofitted and whatnot.  This doesn’t sit well with the crew, but it’s a pretty realistic response.  Starfleet doesn’t have many ships left.  Federation membership has gone from 350 planets at its peak to 38, a reduction of almost 90%.  Vance and Co. aren’t in a good spot.  So, yeah.  It’s not the cheers and balloons anyone expected.

That’s not to say that anything bad is going to happen.  It turns out that there are some refugees that are in dire medical need.  A solution presents itself that’s uniquely suited to Discovery’s abilities, which gives the crew a chance to shine.

There’s a lot going on in this episode, but that’s not what’s important.  Sometimes, it’s what’s not said that draws my attention.  Vance states that Starfleet’s mission has changed over the years, which is probably why there are so many ships docked at headquarters. 

There’s also the giant distortion field, which acts as a giant cloaking device.  Starfleet has gone on the defensive.  It’s not stated exactly what that means, though.  Why have all these ships if you’re just going to keep them docked?  I realize that The Burn has rendered warp drives useless for the most part.  They want to conserve dilithium, which is at a premium now.  It’s also not clear how many other ships there are.  There would seem to be a few ships out and about.  Still, that’s a lot of ships.

Then, there’s the debriefing.  As I said, it’s understandable that Starfleet is suspicious of a crew from the past that just drops by, especially considering that time travel is now illegal.  Vance isn’t going to do them any favors, considering.  Of note is Georgiou’s debriefing.  She manages to disable her two holographic interrogators, leaving a mysterious gentleman named Kovach to question her.

Kovach seems to know all about Georgiou, like that she’s Terran.  How?  We don’t know.  He does know all about The Mirror Universe, stating that no one has crossed over in 500 years.  Maybe this guy is Section 31, which might make sense.  Maybe he’s from the other side, himself, but that would raise more questions.

There are a lot of nods to other series.  Most notable is the USS Voyager-J.  It seems to bear a striking resemblance to Janeway’s Voyager.  There’s also mention of a new Constitution-class vessel.  This makes me wonder if Starfleet is recycling old designs.  If so, why?  Is there some need for smaller ships?

For that matter, holograms seem to have regressed a little since Voyager’s time.  The holographic characters seem to have less personality.  I’m kind of hoping for a visit from the EMH from Voyager.  It might make for some nice commentary.

I miss the episodic format of the other series, but I kind of don’t.  Discovery is striking a nice balance between contained storylines and the bigger picture.  We get the obligatory “We don’t know squat about The Burn” segment, but there are also a lot of new things going on.  This episode moves the season along nicely.  I will say that, five episodes in, there’s no Disco shown.  I’d call that a good thing, knock on holographic wood.

 

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Resolution (2012)

Mike is a good friend.  When he receives a video file from his friend, Chris, he takes it as a cry for help.  Chris is a drug addict and needs help getting clean.  The only problem is that Chris doesn’t want to get clean.  He wants to get more drugs.  He acknowledges that it’s a downhill journey, but it’s the journey he wants to take.

Mike isn’t ready to give on him.  Mike chains Chris to the wall in the hopes of forcing Chris to clean up.  The two friends still have to contend with the locals, including Chris’s drug dealer and the owner of the property that Chris is squatting on.  (Chris neglected to mention this.)

It doesn’t take long for the friends to realize that something strange is up.  For starters, Chris never sent Mike the video.  He never even made that video.  Add to this weird sounds and an even weirder cult nearby.  There are quite a few unexplained things going on.  We’re not talking full on poltergeist or anything, but it is weird.

The movie focuses mostly on the relationship between Mike and Chris.  Mike is more straight-arrow with a wife back home.  Chris seems to be more of a loner, happy to stick around until he gets kicked out.  It’s not until the end that things get supernatural.  Chris and Mike realize that they have to leave, and soon.  Between the owner of the property, the drug dealer and the entity that’s haunting them, it’s probably a good idea to be elsewhere as quickly as possible.

I can see this movie being a bit too esoteric for most.  I can see a lot of people shutting it off within the first few minutes, and I can’t say I’d try to persuade them to keep watching.  It is slow to start and I’m not entirely sure I understand it.

I’m not really sure what the message is or if the movie is trying to say anything at all, other than drugs can mess you up and leave you in a bad place.  Had I not seen The Endless, I probably never would have heard of this movie, let alone watched it all the way through.  It’s not necessary to have seen this to watch The Endless.  I’m not even sure it helps.  (The two main characters basically make an appearance in the other movie.)

With a lot of movies of this type, you usually get some sort of explanation.  You might at least see the entity that’s playing with Chris and Mike.  Here, it’s some unseen entity leaving photos and videos for the friends to find.  Is it trying to help them?  Is it there to hurt or antagonize them?  Are they stuck forever or is there something they can do to get out?  We may never know.  This might only make it on to your list if you’re stuck at home due to COVID-19 and are looking for something to watch.  If you do, leave me a comment if you get it.

 

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Monday, November 09, 2020

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 16 (A Penny for Your Thoughts)

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if everyone could read minds for a few days.  Even beyond honesty, to have that kind of unfettered access to someone’s inner thoughts could be devastating to people, if not society.  Imagine a person finding out that they married someone who was unfaithful?  You would know instantly what a prospective employer really thought of you or, if you were hired, why you didn’t get a raise.  People who think highly of themselves or their appearance would find out that most people didn’t even notice them.

Hector B. Poole gets a taste of that in A Penny for Your Thoughts.  When a quarter lands on its edge, Hector suddenly realizes that he can read people’s thoughts.  When he’s nearly hit by a car, the driver is polite, but secretly thinks that Hector should watch where he’s going.

When he gets to work, Hector’s coworkers and customers are full of surprises.  His boss is having an affair.  A would-be borrower is going to use the money for gambling to cover his embezzlement.  A trusted bank employee is thinking of stuffing his briefcase with money from the vault.

It creates some problems for Hector.  The boss nearly fires him until it comes out that the borrower was actually arrested.  The details favor Hector.  While Smithers doesn’t actually rob the bank, he admits that he did routinely think about it.  The details might change, but every night, he’d think about how easy it would be.

In the end, things work out better for Hector.  He gets a promotion.  An attractive coworker agrees to go on a date.  Hector even arranges for Smithers to get airfare to his favorite ‘retirement’ spot as a show of appreciation.

There are a few things that might strike the casual Twilight Zone viewer.  I’m not the first person to point out how odd mind-reading is.  At the very least, Hector can hear perfect sentences.  It’s also odd that he has to be within a few feet.  Sometimes, tales like this will show us how overwhelming it can be to hear everyone’s thoughts.

Here, it’s little more than a MacGuffin.  Hector has a series of choices to make.  Is it his place to inform the bank why a customer would need the money?  Gambling would pose a serious impediment to repayment if the gambler didn’t pick the right horses.  (The loan is for $200,000.  That would translate into about $1,740,000 in today’s money.)  A trusted employee does pose more of a direct threat, especially considering that it’s illegal.  Smithers doesn’t even seem to hold any hard feelings towards Hector.  Even the boss’s infidelity is little more than leverage.

It might make for an interesting story to have a mind-reader from a long line of mind-readers.  Hector has no guidance.  It’s plausible that he would react the way he does.  Guidance from a family member would prove useful.  It might allow for more analysis of an issue.  Even with the ability to read minds, you still don’t have all the facts.  This still makes for an interesting story.  There is something to take away from it.  You just have to know where to look.

 

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Sunday, November 08, 2020

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 15 (The Invaders)

I remember having a nightmare once.  I was trapped in my grandmother’s house.  All of the doors were locked and I was being chased by a small snail that secreted ribbons.  I have no idea why, but I was deathly afraid of this snail.  I could easily outrun it, but I kept screaming and trying to get out of the house.

In The Invaders, an unnamed woman finds herself in a similar situation.  A high-pitched noise precedes a small flying saucer.  A small being emerges and chases her around her house.  In this case, the small being is dangerous, as it can wield one of her knives.  It’s unclear why she doesn’t simply leave the building or call for help, but she’s terrified of the small man.

In a way, though, the fear is understandable.  There is a risk to her life.  She can easily kick or throw the being far away, but it returns.  She did nothing to provoke him, yet he’s aggressive and that’s enough.  And then, there’s the twist at the end.  Rod Serling liked to play with our perspective and we get a bit of whopper here.

The Twilight Zone was no stranger to budget restrictions.  It shows here, in that there’s one building, requiring a minimum of sets.  There are two characters, one played by Agnes Moorehead and the other by what would appear to be a toy robot.  With this, we’re given a complete story.  We have a beginning, a middle and a resolution.

There are also a minimum of lines.  The Woman tells us everything with little more than grunts and facial expressions.  Maybe it’s not a particularly deep episode.  There aren’t a lot of complexities, but we get the point.  She wants nothing more than to defend herself and her property from The Invader.

To be fair, she would appear to be on a farm in a remote area.  As to why she didn’t call for help, it’s possible that her neighbor was too far away.  My big question is why the invaders would head for these extremely large artificial structures.  You’d think that someone would have the good sense to keep their distance.

Still, it’s a good study in simplicity.  Motion pictures are more than just words and people.  There’s an emotional element to it.  There’s a physical aspect that’s just as important as sounds.  This episode relies on the small details.  If you are able to watch this, pay attention.

 

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Friday, November 06, 2020

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 3 Episode 4 (Forget Me Not)

I’m not sure what to make of Forget Me Not.  There’s a part of it that seems like filler.  There are some parts of the story that would present as unnecessary exposition.  On the other hand, it could be pure genius.  We see characters pivot and maybe start to work in the right direction.

The episode starts with a trip to the Trill home world.  Adira is a human carrying a symbiote.  She can’t access any of the previous hosts’ memories, which is a problem.  You might think the issue is that a human host isn’t supposed to be carrying a Trill symbiote, but that’s only a small part of it.  You see, one of the previous hosts is a Starfleet admiral that knows where Starfleet moved its headquarters.

This is where the filler comes in.  To me, it looks like an obstacle that the writers threw up to throw up another episode.  Adira faces resistance from the Trill welcoming party.  Michael and Adira get kicked off the planet in the most unapologetic way possible, but one member subverts that and guides them to the caves where Adira can reconnect with the previous host.

The series gets to spend an entire hour in orbit of Trill while everyone works out their issues.  This, of course, brings me to my second point.  Everyone has left their entire lives behind.  All their friends and loved ones are long dead and they’ve spent the first three episodes not acknowledging it.

Saru is trying his best as the new captain, but it’s not easy.  He hasn’t been captain that long and he’s looking for answers.  I wouldn’t expect any captain to be able to handle this situation, mind you.  What’s strange is that the ship’s computer offers a few really good suggestions.  For starters, allow the crew some down time.  Host a dinner for the bridge crew.  A Buster Keaton film is shown briefly, which the crew enjoys.

There is a part of the episode that is necessary.  Adira’s journey on the planet allows the crew to pause and take a good, hard look at what they’ve been through so far.  It also allows Adira and the Trill to acknowledge what has happened.  The welcoming part isn’t that welcoming of a human host.  It’s always been Trill host, and a select few at that.  Trill society has long held that only certain candidates are suitable to host a symbiote.

They initially buck at a human host because it’s an abomination.  It’s aberrant. They won’t tolerate it.  This makes it interesting to have a non-binary actor play the part of the host.  (To be clear, I acknowledge that Blu del Barrio prefers the they/them pronouns.  Since Adira is referred to as ‘she’ in the show, that’s how I’ll be referring to the character.)

It would seem that Adira Tal is standing in for all of those that would be brushed aside as an anomaly and, as such, not worthy of inclusion.  This is despite the fact that the Trill need to be as accepting as possible right now.  Their population has been decimated by The Burn and those that remain are cut off from their homeland.

Everyone is in a bad place right now.  The question is how to move forward.  Answers don’t always present themselves, but this is Star Trek.  Adira finds her way, as does Saru and the rest of the crew.  Considering that Discovery finds Starfleet next week, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.

 

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Monday, November 02, 2020

Star Trek: Discovery -- Season 3 Episode 3 (People of Earth)

How do you make everything old new again?  Jump 930 years into the future.  That’s how.  The Federation and Starfleet are nearly gone.  Earth is united, but separate from other planets.  A Starfleet Admiral sent a message 12 years ago, but Starfleet’s not headquartered on Earth anymore and the admiral in question is ostensibly dead.

We find Michael Burnham reunited with the rest of the crew of the Discovery.  When they jump to Earth, they find Earth isolated and defending itself from raiders.  This is why Discovery is held at virtual gunpoint and not allowed access to the planet.  No one there has heard of Discovery.  Given that there’s a nonhuman captain, a basic story of a generational ship just isn’t cutting it.  It takes a good dose of the truth for everyone to start trusting each other.

Normally, I wouldn’t worry about spoilers.  The Original Series aired more than 50 years ago.  The Next Generation was 25 years ago.  At this point, if you haven’t seen it, you’re probably not in any rush.  If you haven’t started watching the third season, I should warn you that I will be giving out several important details.

The first is the identity of these raiders.  One might assume them to be aliens.  They’re not.  They’re humans from further out in the solar system.  The colony was self-sufficient.  Recent setbacks forced them to attack Earth.  This gives Saru, as the recently minted Captain of Discovery, a chance to play peacemaker.

This is probably the most Trek moment of the series so far.  Saru is able to bring peace where there was only discord.  It’s not going to be easy.  Neither side is really trusting of the other; it will be a while before it gets to that point.  Unfortunately, Discovery isn’t sticking around to find out.

This brings us to the second spoiler.  The admiral that sent the message was a Trill.  You may remember them as the joined species from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.  We have a new character joining the crew of the Discovery:  Adira.  It’s revealed that she’s the new host for the symbiote.  Being that Earth is more isolationist in the 32nd Century, I think it’s safe to assume that she’s human.

This brings up several issues.  Most notably, how was the transfer done?  From what we’ve seen in other series is that it’s a rather involved process that generally involves surgery.  Yes, Doctor Crusher did it with minimal help.  I suppose it’s possible that a human doctor was able to do it.

This brings me to my second point:  It was established in the Trill’s first appearance that humans weren’t suitable hosts.  Then again, the hosts’ appearance was retconned.  It’s plausible that this aspect was, as well.  It’s also possible that there’s something special or different about Adira that we’re not privy to.  It’s been several centuries, so there may be medical advancements.  Maybe she’s one quarter Trill.

This is only mentioned at the end of the episode and there are complications.  Adira can’t remember anything from the symbiote’s previous hosts.  This will necessitate a visit to the Trill home world in the next episode, so I’m assuming we’ll get some answers.

I do see some pieces falling into place.  It makes sense to have Saru as captain.  The show was always supposed to be about Burnham as something other than the commander of a starship.  We’ve also been seeing Saru’s character arc taking him to along the more-ambitious route.  This wasn’t totally unexpected.

There are also several unanswered question, like where Burnham’s mother is.  Also, what is The Burn.  You’d think someone would have some answers.  I suspect that this information will be withheld until the very end of the season.  We may not find anything out until the last two or three episodes.  I don’t know what it would look like to have the crew find out all the details too soon.  We’re in for a thirteen-episode run.  I would probably dole out little bits, myself.

To that end, I’m wondering what a fourth season might look like.  I think at this point, Discovery can’t go all the way back before the 25th Century.  I foresee one of two possibilities at this point.  Either Discovery stays in the 32nd Century or it jumps back in time to prevent The Burn.  Given that the show likes to end its seasons big, I’m predicting the second one.

This future is kind of bleak, even compared to Deep Space Nine.  I’m wondering how the writers would work this future into the show’s narrative.  Sure, we could have Discovery rebuilding The Federation.  Another time jump might be more dramatic.  Then again, we’re only three episodes in.  Maybe I should watch a few more episodes before making a grand prediction like that.

 

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Monday, October 26, 2020

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 14 (The Whole Truth)

George Carlin once said that if honesty were introduced to politics, that the system would fall apart.  You would think that honesty would count for something.  Certainly, you don’t have to lie all the time.  It’s generally considered a good trait to tell the truth.

Harvey Hunnicut would rather lie his way to an easy buck.  He has his own used car lot and would seem to typify the stereotype of a lying about everything.  If he told you the weather was bright and sunny, you’d look out a window to make sure.

The episode starts with Harvey trying to sell a clunker to a young couple, only to have the car fall apart on him.  As they’re looking it over, a man drives another used car in for Harvey to buy, which he does for $25.  There’s just one catch:  The legal owner is compelled to tell the truth, no matter how hurtful or damaging it is.

As you might expect, things go south for Harvey.  He can’t sell a car.  He’s compelled to tell his wife that he’s actually playing poker when he says he’s doing inventory.  He even loses his one employee, who only wants a raise.  Harvey almost sells the car to Honest Luther Grimbley, a politician.  Before they can close the deal, the two hatch a plan.  A visiting foreign dignitary will be steered to Harvey’s lot so that this dignitary can be the car’s next victim. 

There are certain Twilight Zone episodes that I am just now seeing for the first time on Netflix.  In most cases, like The Whole Truth, I can see why they don’t make it into the normal rotation.  It’s one of the weaker episodes.

On the face of it, there is a lesson to be learned.  Yes, truth is good.  If your girlfriend’s grandmother makes her special casserole, you don’t say anything, no matter how bad it is. 

The problem is that Harvey is an out-and-out liar.  Sure, he could be honest.  There’s nothing stopping him from buying better cars or fixing up the ones he has.  He could easily be more truthful.  Then again, there does come a point where it is acceptable to lie.

The twist ending is also kind of weak.  It’s implied that international relations will take a sharp left once the whole truth starts coming out.  There isn’t any sort of punch.  I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny or satirical.  Most world leaders would probably handle their affairs through intermediaries, so some of the damage could be mitigated under the right circumstances.   There’s only one explanation that I can think of: Harvey did one good thing in his life by at least trying.

 

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Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Twilight Zone (1959) -- Season 2 Episode 13 (Back There)

There are a lot of ways time travel could go wrong.  True, there are a lot of ways it could go right, but it’s impossible to know how one small change will affect things.  Go back and kill Hitler and Himmler takes over, who could be much worse.  Even if you prevented the deaths of millions, you have no idea what those people would have done.

Is it even possible?  That’s the topic of discussion at the Potomac Club on the night of April 14, 1961.  Even if time travel were possible, could major events be changed?  Peter Corrigan is about to get a very powerful lesson on that in The Twilight Zone.  He’s allowed to go back to April 14, 1865 with just enough time to maybe prevent Lincoln’s assassination.

This puts him in a difficult position.  He knows, but how does he prove it?  For that matter, how does he tell someone without looking guilty?  Peter tries, but gets himself arrested for making a scene.  He’s eventually released to Mr. John Wellington, who subsequently drugs Peter.  By the time Peter awakens, it’s too late.  Then again, this is The Twilight Zone so Peter does effect some change.  It just isn’t the change he expected.

There is some irony in that Peter is the one person who thought time travel was ridiculous.  It had to be him that went back.  There’s a greater sense of futility, though.  It’s possible that Peter could have saved Lincoln.  He wasn’t given the opportunity to prepare, which undoubtedly came at a cost.  Had he been given more time to prepare, he might have avoided certain pitfalls.

There’s no talk of what kind of person or president Lincoln was.  Of course, does that even matter?  How could Peter not try to save someone?  Does it even matter that history would have been altered?  The episode just puts the idea out there, that maybe we live in a universe that has a sick sense of humor.  It gives us just enough that we can try, but not enough that we could reasonably succeed.  If it’s that important, it’s going to happen anyway.

 

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