Picard Season One Finale: A Bad Copy

A few weeks ago I posted about the Star Trek: Picard series streaming on CBS All Access. I addressed the usual super fan complaints that accompany any new Star Trek venture, “Is this Star Trek?” and of course, “this sucks.”  I concluded that yes indeed, this was a Star Trek show, and a good one.  I was really enjoying it!

I was wrong. I apologize.

For me everything was going great until the two part season finale, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 & 2.  So be warned, everything beyond this point is super spoiler territory.

Although I was not on board with every decision along the way to get to the season finale, such as the whitewashing of the murder of Bruce Maddox by Dr Jurati, I assumed that in the finale things would wrap up in a satisfactory way.  Nope.  Instead…

Doctor Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill):  As a cold blooded murderer, I expected either a redemption arc or a justice one.  Instead there was neither.  Jurati killed Maddox, the person that got the crew together to find in the first place, and then after promising to turn herself in, everyone just sort of shrugged and forgot about it.  She goes on to become a full-fledged member of Picard’s Scooby gang with no more mention that she’s a murderer and hey, maybe Maddox, a brilliant scientist, deserved some sort of justice.

Soji (Isa Briones): Soji started out as easily the most sympathetic character, a girl who didn’t understand what was happening to her, and then realizing that all of her memories were false and she wasn’t even human, but a sophisticated android. But then as her memories of her prior robot life return, the Soji that we’ve known through the series became effectively dead.  Soji 2.0 goes from being worried about whether she was human or not, to deciding to initiate galaxy wide Armageddon on biological sentient life by contacting the mysterious synthetic race that wipes out biological species that discriminate against robots.  That was a pretty quick turnaround from, “Am I human?” to “Destroy all humans!” Skynet would be proud.  And now she’s part of Picard’s Scooby gang.  I guess attempted genocide is an easily forgivable crime in the 24th Century.

The Romulans:  Surprisingly the Romulans, in spite of being Romulans, come out looking pretty good.  Having lost their homeworld in the Supernova, the scary Romulan Star Empire is a shadow of its former self.  The “Romulan Free State” is a much weaker version, not even able to enforce the Neutral Zone any more.  For all intents and purposes, there is no longer a Neutral Zone.  And still, they are trying to save the universe from the utter stupidity of Picard and the Federation.  Their super duper secret police, the Zhat Vash, has known about the advanced genocidal synthetics all along, and have worked to suppress advanced AI and robotics anywhere and everywhere to avoid attracting their attention.  This explains the motivation of the Romulan spies Narek, Narissa, and Commodore Oh.  They want to keep the galaxy safe from a far superior race which has exterminated entire biological races before and apparently seem willing to do it again.

And yet they are the “villains.”

The Star Trek Ending:  I’ve complained before about the complete hand waving that seems to go along with closing out the conflicts of a Star Trek storyline by a Starfleet officer giving an impassioned speech, and suddenly the enemy lays down his arms and turns his swords into plowshares.  The power of a self-righteous Starfleet speech is apparently not to be underestimated, as I noted about the Discovery season one finale in which Burnham gives the Klingon Chancellor one and the Chancellor calls off the attack on Earth, even though at this point the Klingons had all but won the war and their fleet was just outside the solar system, ready for orders.  This highlights one of the major flaws of the Star Trek worldview, it loves diversity, but as I noted about the Discovery finale, ultimately doesn’t believe in it.

“…the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.”

So Picard gives an impassioned speech to Soji, and she changes her mind about eliminating every biological species in the galaxy, just like that.

I wonder how that would have played out throughout history…

Starfleet vs The American Revolution

Picard:  As an opponent of Brexit, I implore you to lay down your arms and end this senseless conflict.  Think about the lives lost…the waste.

General Washington:  Your words have moved me Admiral.  We started this struggle because we were moved by the writings of enlightenment thinkers, and the very real threat to our right to have representation, but eh, whatever, God Save the King!

Picard:  Actually we’re replacing the monarchy with a Federation Council.

Starfleet vs Hitler

Picard: …and that is why, Herr Hitler, you must lay down your arms, cease this pointless conflict to conquer Europe, and stop killing people based on religion and ethnicity.

Hitler:  You have enlightened me Admiral.  I never realized that Slavs, Jews, and Gypsies shared the same hopes and dreams as Aryans.  I could have saved so many bullets if I had known that!  And yes, my dream of establishing a united Europe, a common market united under a single currency with open borders was a foolish hope.

Picard: Wait, what?  Hold up a second…

Starfleet vs Osama bin Ladin

Picard: …and that’s why, in spite of 9/11, you’ll find that people are pretty forgiving if you pen a sincere apology for your actions and resolve to do better.

Bin Ladin: Admiral you truly bring wisdom surpassing all of our Mullahs.  In fact, you’ve convinced me that not only are you wiser than our best religious thinkers, but that all religion is but primitive superstition and that mankind is ready to evolve into a more enlightened species, ready to achieve utopia on Earth via the mechanisms of advanced AI, automation, and universal basic income.

Picard: #Yanggang2020.

Data (Brent Spiner):  Although the character has been dead since the end of the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, his presence has loomed large on the show as Picard, even years later, still struggled dealing with the grief and guilt of Data sacrificing his “life” to save Picard’s.  So in the finale, Picard meets Data again, or at least a copy of his memories, in a computer simulation.  As a final chat, it’s rather touching, as Data requests that when Picard gets out of the simulation, he deletes the Data memory copy.  As a character who struggled with being human, he wants an ending to his story; “a butterfly that lives forever is really not a butterfly at all.”  It’s a nice speech in which Data makes a point that everything about life has value because it’s temporary, and it really seemed in tune with the entirety of the season, in which Picard is dealing with his own mortality.

Picard (Patrick Stewart):  Getting back to Picard’s impassioned speechmaking, after making his final one to Soji, he collapses and dies, finally succumbing under the stress to his long battle with Irumodic Syndrome.  His companions mourn him, and if the show had just ended there, all the other flaws could have been easily forgiven.  Instead, they copy Picard’s mind, spin it up in a new robot body, and robot Picard lives.  They even made one that looks like an 93 year old man that’s weak and will break down after a decade or two.  How thoughtful.

Not being a series finale like the Lost ending, it’s probably not fair to compare the two. Also the ending of Lost was simply a result of the writers not being half as clever as they thought they were and they simply wrote themselves into a corner.  With Picard, bringing him back to “life” as an android was a deliberate choice, a choice that made Picard’s character arc, as a man coming to terms with his mortality, and Data’s character arc, as a being who wanted to be human so much he was willing to die like one, essentially pointless.  And pointless as it was, Robot Picard had no trouble deleting Data.  Apparently the writers and showrunners saw not a bit of irony in that.

So the show ends with everyone on the bridge of the ship, Soji, the near genocidal monster, Doctor Jurati, a brutal murderer, and robot Picard, all ready to zoom off into the galaxy for more adventures. For a show and season that I had otherwise enjoyed, that was one of the most stunningly bad season finale’s I’d ever seen.  It’s hard to fathom the deliberate choice of making a mockery of Data’s death (or murder at the hands of robot Picard) and the entire premise of the show by having robot Picard plead for more years of existence to his makers.

I wonder if actual human Picard got a funeral, or did they just dump his carcass in the landfill?  With Picard dead, who gets his Chateau?  It’s a cinch that his Romulan housekeepers, Laris and Zhaban, are not going to consider robot Picard as anything but an abomination, a hideous copy of their dear friend. There is no crying in Star Trek but I do have to mourn what started out as great show and turned into merely a synthetic copy of one.

 

 

 

Star Trek Picard: Is it Real Trek?

I’ve really enjoyed the Star Trek Picard show since it dropped on CBS All Access and in the world of Star Trek television (which is surprisingly a going concern) it’s one of the best going; better than Star Trek Discovery.  But some fans are really annoyed, dismissing the show as “not Star Trek” like these two hate watchers.

But what is and isn’t Star Trek goes back to the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, back in 1987.  No Kirk? No Star Trek the thinking went.  And that sort of thinking has accompanied every new Star Trek show.  There was at least a good reason to think that when Star Trek Deep Space 9 came out.  That was a show totally different from the previous two shows, featuring a stationary space station on the edges of the Federation where the Federation and Starfleet only had a toe hold, and aliens set the agenda.  But…as the show grew it produced some of the best Star Trek episodes ever.  However that only happened because Gene Roddenberry died in 1991 before Deep Space Nine premiered in 1993, allowing the show to evolve without Roddenberry’s rigid guidance.

A case was also made that Star Trek: Discovery also, wasn’t Star Trek.  Set 10 years before the original series, it looked and acted nothing like the original series and just didn’t even look as if it was set in the same universe.  The “Klingons” were remade to look like…some other kind of alien.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, had progressively gone more nutso commie from the time his Original Series came out as a space western until The Next Generation came out, where the Federation was presented as some sort of utopian commie empire in which society, and the people in them, had reached perfection. This cut into a lot of drama since Roddenberry’s script guidance in TNG was that there could be no interpersonal conflict among crew members because hey, in the future, we all get along. That ridiculous script guidance started to fade before TNG ended its run and wasn’t a factor in subsequent Star Trek outings.  That wasn’t the worst of Roddenberry’s delusion.  As I noted while reviewing Star Trek Beyond:

“Roddenberry’s “vision” was of a communist utopia that even in the realm of science fiction, made no sense.  It was easier to make up the technobabble of transporters, holodecks, and faster than light travel then explain why they don’t need money and no one is drawing a paycheck, but still showing up for work every day.”

One day, I may take up the challenge of designing a Federation economy, and see if I can squeeze Roddenberry’s dumb view of economics into some sort of technobabble shape, but not today.

So Star Trek: Picard takes place in a far less utopian time in Federation history.  Set approximately 20 years after the events of the last TNG movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, the universe, in Picard’s view, has gone to hell in a handbasket.  Fourteen years earlier, the supernova of the Romulan homeworld’s sun (which kicked off the events that lead to the “Kelvin timeline;” the three JJ Abrams Star Trek movies) had the Federation engaged in a massive refugee relief effort to evacuate Romulans from their doomed system.  The effort was aborted by an android terrorist attack on the shipyards of Mars, killing 92,000 people.  The androids, called “synths” were based off Commander Data’s basic design, and were quickly banned throughout the Federation and the refugee evacuation was halted.

Naturally Picard throws a fit and thinking he could pull opinion at Starfleet (“do you know who I am?”) throws his position on the line, and Starfleet, to Picard’s surprise, takes it, effectively forcing him into retirement.  This is the scenario that actor Patrick Stewart likened to our current age:

“[The show] was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”

This is, of course ridiculous.  Both Patrick Stewart and his avatar, Jean-Luc Picard are wrong on this.  This isn’t about Brexit or Trump, it’s more about 9/11, and how you respond to a massive terrorist attack when you don’t know the real cause.  Did the Synths just get together and decide to go full Skynet?  Was it some sort of major malfunction?  Did some other nefarious group reprogram the Synths as an attack on the Federation?   Immediately after the attack, nobody would know, so the prudent thing would be to do exactly what the Federation did, ban Synths and halt the Refugee program.  With the Utopia Planitia Shipyards destroyed, you can’t tie up all of your remaining ships on some do-gooder adventure when you have no idea if or when the next attack is coming.

Why the Romulans couldn’t evacuate their own people is never explained.  They ruled a massive star empire covering many worlds.  It would seem they would have plenty of resources to throw at the problem much closer to home.

But to the question, is Star Trek: Picard “Star Trek,” my answer is unequivocally yes.  In fact, I would argue that it is the most “Star Trek” show since Next Generation.  Picard is a nice coda to TNG.  It’s a “where are they now” view of what happened to the Next Generation crew as well as Star Trek: Voyager and answers the question what happened to the galaxy and the universe of Star Trek since those shows ended. Unlike a show that has Easter eggs, the entire show is one big Easter egg. That’s not an answer that will please some Star Trek fans that have never been able to move on from the original series, but almost never does a successful TV show like TNG gets a series that functions as an aftermath.  Fans should enjoy this.

Star Trek Discovery First Season Wrap up

Spoilers Included.  I’m not going to warn you again.

The Season Finale wrapped up all of the various entangling plotlines (except of course for what really happened to the Prime Universe Lorca, so in that way, it was a satisfying, and within Star Trek TV show parameters, solved the main struggle of the season, the Klingon War, in the most Federation-ie way possible, by appealing to the Klingon’s better selves, and of course, also appealing to the better nature of deposed emperor Georgiou. I’ll admit that struck me as ridiculous. Georgiou held the trigger for the bomb that would have devastated the Klingon home world, and rather than use it, she surrendered it to Burnham instead of killing her.  One doesn’t get to be Emperor of the Terran Empire with that sort of maudlin sentimentality.

And even more unrealistic was the resolution to the Klingon War.  With Klingon ships on the edge of the solar system, Burnham gives the detonator to L’Rell, with the hopes that she will unify the empire and yada yada yada, the Klingons abandon the war?  On the edge of full victory? And that’s exactly what happens.

To me, this was a cop out to resolve the war, in a pretty unrealistic way, but I’ve no doubt, most Star Trek fans loved this finale for the very reasons I found it unrealistic; the solution to the war wasn’t found in delivering a decisive military defeat on the enemy, but by adherence to the Federation’s highest principles, and assuming (always correctly) that everyone else in the universe at some deep down level, shares those same principles.  In unrelated news, the Federation has no money but everyone shows up for work and tries to be the best they can be.

But hey, that’s Star Trek.

Finale aside, this has been without a doubt the best first season story arc (or arcs) of any Star Trek show.  Traditionally Star Trek shows start out not having any idea what direction they were going nor any idea on how to get there, or which characters were going to break out. As a result, they’ve ended up stumbling around for the first three seasons before they get their act together.  But in a media universe of too much content, fans don’t have to be patient, and won’t be. As I mentioned in my review of the first three episodes, the first two episodes were not even a proper pilot, but more of a prequel, with the third episode being the actual pilot that introduces the cast.  I’m not sure if in a general sense that’s a good idea for a television show since it makes it difficult to actually figure out much about the show from the first three episodes.  However in this particular case, that had a high pay off in the last half of the season. So I feel that this time they managed to cram the usual three season shakedown cruise into just a few episodes.

This was a heavily fan service season.  True, you would expect any show like this to be loaded with Easter eggs, but the show moved ahead with a season that had both Harry Mudd and the Mirror Universe. So in an overall sense, this was a show and a season well worth watching. I might have watched even a crap take on Star Trek, but that’s harder to do when you actually have to pay extra to view it.  Luckily I didn’t have that struggle.  I felt I got my money’s worth.

The Trouble With Quibbles…

There were a few things that bugged me though. The reveal that Ash Tyler was a Klingon spy made sense to me and there were certainly enough context clues to figure it out before the reveal; I did. However Lorca being from the mirror universe was, I felt, the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.  Do I think that was planned by the producers all along?  Yes.  In episode 6 Admiral Cornwell and Lorca are sharing a bottle of triple malt scotch and she references a shared event from years ago that Lorca clearly doesn’t remember.  However, Lorca had turned into one of the more interesting characters on the show, based on the appearance that he was a psychopath commanding a Federation starship.  But rather than go with that angle, they decided to comic book it up and make Lorca a Mirror Universe villain.  Sure, it played well on TV and few characters get as great a death as Lorca did, but the idea that if he’s evil, he must be from the mirror universe, is in some ways, a cop out.  There are no bad guys in the Prime Universe?  Starfleet has had no end of various Admirals and Captains that have gone rogue.  The original series did an entire episode around a Starfleet Captain, Garth of Izar, who went criminally insane. And mutinies in the Admiralty were the plot points of at least two Star Trek movies, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and Star Trek: Insurrection.

I’m just saying I would have enjoyed a few more seasons of Lorca the psychopath fooling everyone around him.

The two Harry Mudd episodes were a bit of a disappointment.  Not because of Rainn Wilson’s performance, which was great, but turning Mudd into a many times over mass murderer and traitor seems like a total retooling of the character.  There was nothing comic relief about this Mudd.  True, his murders got wiped out in Discovery’s Groundhog Day episode, but the seizing control of the Discovery and trying to sell it to the Klingons didn’t.  It seems like there were enough real crimes committed both pre and post time loop to send him to Federation jail for a long time.  Instead…they decide being with his wife (Stella!) was a worse punishment and let him go.

The Mirror Universe arc wasn’t a disappointment and was total fan service.  My only quibble on that was again, the Trumpification of the Mirror Universe.  Like the Klingons, the Mirror Universe is retconned so that they just want to make the Galaxy great again^ with a Terra First foreign policy that, to the Prime Universe Discovery crew, is “racist and xenophobic.”  I get it; every TV writer hates Trump and the people who voted for him and wants to squeeze #resist into their work.  But don’t destroy the original idea to do it.  The Terran Empire, as first shown in the original series episode Mirror Mirror, was anything but racist and xenophobic.  Spock was a half Vulcan First Officer serving in a top of the line Imperial warship, with the total trust of his captain, Evil Kirk.  Race based regimes usually hate half breeds more, so the path from son of a rebel Vulcan traitor Sarek (complete with goatee) to his mixed blood son serving the Empire doesn’t make sense on its face.  There is a lot I could write on the Mirror Universe but it would be plunging down a nerd black hole, and no one wants that.

Klingons:  Why Oh why did they go with this total re-do of the Klingons?  If there was an in story reason they didn’t get to it. It seems totally unnecessary after the decade’s long wait to explain why the Star Trek Movie/Next Gen Klingons looked so different from the original series Klingons. There finally had been a canon resolution to the last Klingon re-do in the last season of Enterprise.  It just seemed pointless and irritating to restart that again.

One of my initial complaints about the show was how to access it.  Since the show is shown exclusively on CBS’s streaming service, CBS All Access, I was a bit grumbly about having to pay for a special effects laden show that didn’t have a smart TV app.  Well CBS heard my cries and halfway through the season they added an option to access the app through the Amazon Prime Video service, which does have a smart TV app. So now I can watch the best special effects laden show on television the way it was meant to be seen, on glorious HD big screen TV.  No more hunching over my computer in my home office with my wife asking what I’m doing in there with the door closed.

And speaking of, for some mysterious reason, my wife decided to give the show a try the other day and sat down and binged the first 8 hours of the show with claims that she liked it.  It could be that, or she found a good way to avoid household chores without me bugging her and decided to ride it for all it’s worth.

Good plan.

Travelers on Netflix

Welcome to the 21st…       

When it comes to TV these days, there is just so much content! As it is, I can’t keep up with the shows on regular cable TV.  I’m at the point where I watch almost everything from the DVR and at best,  I’m about a week behind.  That of course doesn’t even count streaming shows, where I may be months behind on.  It’s hard to avoid spoilers for a show that’s dropped on Netflix 8 months ago.  I do my best…

However because there is so much content, some shows get little attention, unlike media hyped shows like Stranger Things, which had a ridiculous amount of promotion, Travelers has barely made a whisper.  In fact the only reason I even heard of the show was because some guy on the radio found it by accident and really got into it.  So on that recommendation, I gave it a try.

Wow, was a blown away!  And it’s not because the premise is particularly clever or ingenious.  In the future, humanity is hanging on by a thread with the Earth largely uninhabitable, so to save themselves, they go back in time to make corrections to history to prevent whatever future disasters have occurred. That idea has launched many science fiction books and stories over the years.  Their method of time travel is only slightly less unoriginal.  Apparently matter can’t travel through time, so they send human consciousness into the “present” to inhabit the bodies of people that history records will die.

The actual results of this may be what make this show uniquely entertaining.  They maintain the cover of the bodies of the people they inhabit.  FBI Special Agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormick) is inhabited by a Traveler who continues to pretend to be…Grant MacLaren.  Although he’s briefed on the subject’s life, he’s not really that person, so whether it’s dealing with personal friendships, his computer passwords at work, or his “wife,” he’s faking it until he makes it.  Other members of his team include an engineer who in the future, is the oldest man on Earth, but in the 21st Century, finds himself in the body of a high school jock and bully.  The team’s doctor Marcy finds herself in the body of a mentally disabled girl, immediately raising the suspicions of her social worker David. The teams soldier finds herself as a single mom with an abusive boyfriend (one who was, by history, destined to kill her), and the historian finds himself in the body of a heroin addict.

For most of the team dealing with their new lives, there isn’t the constant scrutiny and observation, but MacLaren is married, and his wife, although used to dealing with an FBI husband who can’t speak about his work, is suspicious of his abrupt change of diet and personality. Team doctor Marcy has social worker David Mailer constantly in her business and finds herself under even more scrutiny.  Of course, she wasn’t expecting to be overwriting the mind of a mentally disabled woman.  David and Marcy’s relationship becomes the closest, and potentially most threatening to the Traveler’s anonymity.

This is Marcy (actress Mackenzie Porter) by the way.   

Well future knowledge isn’t perfect.  A mentally disabled woman and drug addict are not great candidates, but the limits of knowledge include not only official records but social media…so take that Facebook.

Ethically, the body snatching is justified by the fact that all of these people were destined to die within minutes of being taken over, so either way, they would have been dead. I’m sure that philosophers can debate the morality of that, but it has to be weighed by the good of changing the future to prevent multiple catastrophes that threaten the existence of the human race.

The show does a great job of gradually doing reveals, so that each episode you learn a little bit more about the Travelers, their mission, and the future they come from.  That’s a far superior approach than the old JJ Abrams idea of “I promise this will all makes sense in the end!”  And then it doesn’t make sense.  At least this way, I don’t feel cheated because the story gradually becomes clearer without curve balls and purposefully irritating misdirects.

So there are real payoffs on this show.  By the end of the first season, you have a clear idea of the Traveler team’s main mission, and by the end of season two…well I don’t want to spoil it, but it was one of the best season finale’s I’ve seen.  It had a really satisfying payoff, which is what all season finales should have, instead writing them into a corner.

Of course I have quibbles…  Why does Maclaren work so hard to keep his marriage together?  It’s like he’s trying to really make the marriage work, even though he is, by necessity, lying to her every step of the way, and he’s only just met her.  He doesn’t have the years and years invested in a real relationship with his “wife” Kat.

Also, I don’t think they really addressed the issue that the team has abandoned their original bodies in the future for what’s really a one way trip in someone else’s body.  You would think that the psychological trauma of looking at someone else’s hands, and someone else’s face in a mirror would be a trauma that would have to be addressed.  Instead, they seem perfectly comfortable in their new bodies.

I do hope this show gets a third season.  It made the top ten most binge-watched show for 2017, so that certainly gives me hope we’ll see more of Travelers.

 

My So Called CW Life

In response to an online forum topic a few weeks ago, namely, what TV shows are you currently watching; I dutifully listed the shows that I had been following.  Much to my surprise, about 80% of my current TV show viewing was on The CW.  Considering its reputation for teen dramas, that seemed surprising.  On the other hand, with so many of those teen dramas as either science fiction or superhero genre related, it makes a kind of sense.  The CW seems to go by one rule:  Hot young people making out.  Now; with superpowers.

The New

Valor: A military drama seems an unlikely addition to a schedule of teen superhero soap operas, however the IMDB description puts everything in context.  “The boundaries between military discipline and human desire are tested on a U.S. Army base that houses an elite unit of helicopter pilots trained to perform clandestine international and domestic missions.“  Ha!  I couldn’t have written that better if I were a CW publicist!   So the hot young person making out rule is still applicable, in the unlikely scenario of special operations.  Although it’s too early yet to make a definitive ruling on the show, I’ll have to give props to the military technical advisors.  As a veteran, it’s sometimes agonizing watching most television shows depicting the military, as they manage to get it wrong on the simplest things; particularly uniform wear and military customs and courtesy. This show does a great job at working on getting that right.  Or…at least acknowledging when they are getting it wrong.

Returning Shows

Riverdale:  This show, returning for its second season, was one of my more surprising picks.  My curiosity was initially peaked by the idea of a gang of Saturday morning cartoon characters getting a live action make over.  What I didn’t expect was what the CW would actually do with the opportunity.  I’m not sure what I expected, but I don’t think it was the Twin Peaks meets Dawson’s Creek that Riverdale turned in to.  And they started the show turned up to eleven. One of a set of high school twins is murdered which started off the first season mystery.  Frankly, I didn’t care who the murderer was, and by the time I found out in the season finale, it hardly mattered.  The re-imagined characters was the thing.  Miss Grundy as young music teacher; preying on innocent Archie Andrews?  Hilarious!  Jughead as the hamburger chomping noir narrator? Inspired!  And with the spinoff of Sabrina in the works, I expect less magic teenage hijinks and more grim evil spirits (Goth style not included).

Supergirl: In the realm of the CW superhero shows, they almost always include a heavy brood factor, with the fill-in-the-blank hero on the ledge of some building in the dark of night, brooding about some responsibility that’s his or hers alone.  Supergirl has always seemed the least broody of the CW Superheroes, Supergirl being played as an earnest millennial rather than tortured hero-with-a-past.  But the returning season premiere has Supergirl, brooding over the guilt that’s hers alone.  Welcome to the club Kara Danvers.  Whether she continues to try to out brood the other CW Super Friends remains to be seen, but the charm of this show was she often was just as she appeared to be, a mid-20’s go getter, single gal in the big city… who could fly.

The Flash: In the season premiere, Barry Allen returns to Central City from the Speed Force to find himself being out brooded by his girlfriend, Iris West. With the Flash being trapped in the Speed Force for 6 months, Iris picked up the brooding slack and provided the heavy brooding needed by Team Flash. I assume that with the Flash back, he will be back to full brood mode soon.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow continues to be the most off the wall of the CW superhero shows.  Their motto seems to be, “no rules.”  Even when they obey rules, it’s just barely.  A particular moment from last season is classic. When seeking the “Spear of Destiny” the gang is told that it requires the blood of Christ to activate it.  So Sara Lance is like, sure, why not?  Judea  and the Crucifixion, here we come!  Rip Hunter freaks out at the idea but it struck me that time travel shows just don’t “go there” in terms of potentially theologically sensitive moments.  Legends actually brought that up, which tells you that no moment in history is safe from their meddling.  This season, Hunter and the Legends are on opposite sides as they grow bored with their 2017 lives and decide to start time traveling again.

Supernatural, entering its 13th season, amazingly still has more stories to tell.  It’s hard to recall the last time a non-animated show went on this many seasons and still had some juice left.  Frankly, I thought that after thwarting the Apocalypse in season 4, it would be difficult to top, but in season 11 they managed save the entire universe, meet God, and get God and his sister together in a divine family reunion.  After that, dealing with Lucifer’s son and getting their mom back from an alternate universe should be child’s play.

Arrow: Oliver Queen, the King of brooding CW heroes, is back with hopefully fewer flashbacks and more Parkour, this time as a single dad. Juggling fatherhood, being mayor, and being a crime fighting vigilante will fill up a desk calendar.  Because of the over the top brooding I almost bailed out of season 6, but the dropping of the flashbacks is a good sign that has made the show more watchable, and with the upcoming crossover, Crisis on Earth-X, I cannot even think of bailing until we get through that.  This really hits home for me.  As a kid, I read the original Justice League comic which actually introduced “Earth-X,” the world in which the Nazi’s won World War II.  I would never have imagined as a kid that there would actually be a series of TV episodes that would actually adapt that very story.

In some ways, the future turned out to be better than I could have ever dreamed.

And none of this even covers the mid-season replacements!  More to come on that I suppose…

 

With 12 Monkeys, Cable tries to Binge

When Netflix started to do original programming and released the entire season at once, I thought, “What an original idea!  But how are you going to keep up the excitement of a show if you release it one shot and you’re done?”  Although it does limit the time frame of “buzz” it turned out to be a successful business model.  People can move at their own pace, which could be anywhere from watching the show on the traditional once a week schedule to all at once, bleary eyes and lost weekend included.

But I was surprised when the Syfy Channel decided to do the same thing for returning show 12 Monkeys. Airing season three over three nights, the network is trying something different.

It’s an odd choice for a cable network.  They have airtime to fill, so why blow an expensive season of an original show over a weekend?  And before you say it, no; this is not like showing successive Twilight Zone episodes over New Years. That’s simply to fill airtime during a period when viewing will be exceptionally low.  But dropping an original show is a streaming service move, which Syfy definitely is not.  So what’s up?

Well after watching Friday night’s initial 4 episode blast, I have to say I agree with both the TV Guide and TV Line reviews: This show was meant to be watched in a binge format.  Having watched Season’s 1 & 2 in the traditional once a week format, you often forget where you left off.  After all, this show is complicated.  Each episode takes place in more than one time period, sometimes with the same characters at different points in their lives. Sometimes, death comes first, as for the character of Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), who’s skeleton was discovered in the very first episode way back in season one.  Sometimes it’s in the middle, like for former asylum patient Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who’s death was shown last season.  Not to worry though Jennifer fans, her younger self is featured pretty prominently this season.

And a good thing too.  The character steals every single scene she’s in, adding humor in otherwise grim situations without detracting from the grimness of the situations because…well she’s crazy.  So far my favorite episode of the season is episode 2, which is a Jennifer-centric episode.  Jennifer trapped in the past tries to figure out ways to catch the attention of the future so she can be rescued.  It’s entertaining and still moves the plot along.  So more Jennifer.

 

One character that I like, but has been degraded somewhat is Deacon (Todd Stashwick), the formerly ruthless leader of a violent gang in the future.  In earlier seasons, Deacon made a great foil as a villain more interested in looting the time travel facility than saving the human race. Unfortunately, the violent, evil, but witty bad guy has been tamed somewhat by his attraction to Dr. Railly. It’s not the first time on TV and movies an alpha male bad guy has been tamed by love, but it isn’t very realistic.  Hopefully Deacon gets his evil mojo back.

So maybe binge watching cable isn’t a bad idea after all.  Particularly if it encourages the production of more complicated dramas that may be digested better in very large bites, rather than doled out bit by bit on a weekly basis.

 

Almost Star Trek Beyond Caring

Warning: Very spoilery.

As a long time Star Trek Fan, each new Star Trek movie is reason enough to do something special, like take a day off from work so I can enjoy the movie during a normal workday, without the large crowds of evening or weekend showings.  And that is what I did for the latest outing from the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond.  Like the previous movie, Star Trek into Darkness, the title made no sense and had nothing to do with the actual film.  This is all part of the JJ Abrams school of secrecy that wants to keep as little information about the movie as possible from leaking out.  If 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, had been done by JJ Abrams, it would have simply been titled Star Trek Wrath.  No spoilers on the villain!  Of course Abrams had a lighter touch for this iteration of the film franchise (Justin Lin directed).  He was only a producer, not a director for this one, which probably explains the paucity of lens flares.

star trek beyond

The rebooted Star Trek movies are action movies, so Justin Lin, of the Fast and Furious movies, makes an adequate director for that type of film.  This irritates a lot of old school Star Trek fans, who don’t see Gene Roddenberry’s philosophical vision in the rebooted Star Trek films.  However for me, that’s a feature, not a bug.  Roddenberry’s “vision” was of a communist utopia that even in the realm of science fiction, made no sense.  It was easier to make up the technobabble of transporters, holodecks, and faster than light travel then explain why they don’t need money and no one is drawing a paycheck, but still showing up for work every day.

There is another reason of course.  That kind of film just wouldn’t fly todayMark Wolper, son of the man who brought Roots to life on the small screen in the 1970’s sat his 16 year old son down to watch the original Roots with disappointing results. His son just didn’t get it, it didn’t speak to him, and the production style was just too different.  In other words, much of the movies and television shows that are considered classics now are basically unwatchable to millennials and younger.  I got a taste of this myself when a few months ago I had a hankering to pull up a particular episode from Star Trek, TOS on Netflix.  Although I enjoyed the episode and it was everything I remembered about it, it was also extremely slow moving, and slow paced compared to modern television and movies.  Since I seldom dip back into decades old TV, it was eye-opening for me.  If Star Trek is to survive, it has to be faster paced and more action packed than anything conceived of by Gene Roddenberry.

And that’s what the new movie gets right.  It’s a visually stunning picture with great special effects, fast moving, with great action sequences, and is finally starting to tap into some of the relationships that made Star Trek work in the first place.  Karl Urban’s Doctor McCoy is pitch perfect and the movie highlights some of the old Spock-Bones rivalry that played so well on TOS and the original movies.  Chris Pine seems more like Kirk and I would argue that the entire crew cast finally fits into their roles comfortably. If you knew nothing about Star Trek and were just looking for an outer space shoot-‘em-up while waiting for Rogue One to come out, this movie admirably fits the bill.

If you are a Star Trek fan it might be a different story.

In the tradition of JJ Abrams, it’s a great movie to watch, but as soon as you exit the theater and get hit with the harsh summer sunshine, you suddenly realize that the movie that you just watched and enjoyed made no sense.

starbase yorktown

The first thing that made no sense to me was Starbase Yorktown. It just seemed illogical (with apologies to Mr. Spock) to me that 3 years into a 5 year mission to explore unexplored space, the Federation has a starbase as large as the Death Star on the frontier of known space. Visually it’s stunning, it’s like a giant moon sized snow globe, but it also looks ridiculous; something that no one would build regardless of how much money and technology they had.  If you can build something like that, why bother with planets?

But the silliness of the design of a star base isn’t a large plot point.  Having a ridiculous villain is, and Idris Elba’s character Krall is a ridiculous villain.  The alien Krall looks like he put super glue all over his face and dived headfirst into a box of gravel, but the worst part is that Krall isn’t an alien at all; he’s really a human, from an early Federation starship.

I told you this was going to be spoilery.

So this early starship, the USS Franklin, crash lands on this planet with an abandoned alien mining facility, and yada yada yada, the Captain, Balthazar Edison is transformed into some sort of long lived, energy draining rock face who has a totally inexplicable reason for hating the Federation and decides to use the mining facility as a launching pad to prepare an attack against the Federation.  Again, his motivations are pretty unclear except for some vague Nietzsche-like desire to purge the Federation of weakness. Idris Elba is totally wasted in this role.  Any buff guy who can handle rock make up could have pulled it off.

The USS Franklin is it’s own level of ridiculousness, since even though Krall/Edison was the captain of that ship and crashed on that planet, he somehow managed to forget all about it so thoroughly that one of his escapees Jaylah used it as a refuge and was slowly working to repair it.  Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella, actually was one of the more interesting characters and had such a good chemistry with Scotty that I wouldn’t mind if she joined the crew for the next movie.  However could she have done such a good job that Chekov could make the more than a century old ship space worthy in a few hours?  It just doesn’t make sense.

Although I had a lot of high hopes when I heard that Simon Pegg was writing the script, I came away underwhelmed.  Parts of the movie seemed like they were patched on from other movies.  Like in 2009’s Star Trek, this movie made heavy use of the Beastie Boys Sabotage. Now kudos for discovering how good Sabotage is for an action scene, and the battle scene with Sabotage playing is actually kind of cool, but we had already seen that used in a Star Trek movie.  They seriously couldn’t find another piece of music that would work?

Nor was I happy that they destroyed the Enterprise again. Somehow, that ship had managed to last the entire original series up till Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  Now, barely into the 5 year mission and the ship is already toast.  Even some of the destruction scenes seemed like retreads.  Didn’t I see that same saucer section crash scene in Star Trek Generations?  The Enterprise’s destruction in previous movies was because they were simply out of ideas, but if they are already out of ideas on the third movie into a rebooted franchise, what’s the point?  Once you destroy the ship that is as much of a cast member as any of the actors, you lose the ability to keep the crew together in any way that makes sense. If you think this might be your last movie, than go for it, but since there is already a commitment for a fourth movie, why make script writing more difficult for yourself for the next movie?

The movie ends with a montage of the new Enterprise being assembled.  After building a moon sized Star Base, I imagine a starship is child’s play.  My only surprise was that they didn’t play Eye of the Tiger during the rapid fire scenes of the new Enterprise’s assembly, interspersed with shots of Kirk and the crew working out in the snow. Given the limited amount of imagination and originality allotted to this film, I won’t be on the edge of my seat awaiting Star Trek 4: The Revenge of Ivan Drago, or whatever “villain” they determine they need to make the movie work.

So it’s a credit to the people who bring us such movie magic that they actually put together an enjoyable film from such a weak script.  But however disappointed I am in a limited story, they have a chance to make it up to me in January with the new Star Trek TV show, Star Trek Discovery.

Don’t disappoint me, even though I’ll watch it anyway.