Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Muddling to Make the Sanest Fan Go Mad

SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery's 
"Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" 

"Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" is, in my view, the weakest episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date, but it has its virtues, most of which are unrelated to the hour's central device, the once-novel, now-familiar, time loop conundrum.

In "Magic," Harry Mudd, having somehow escaped from the Klingons, is bent on revenge against Captain Lorca, who left him to rot on a Klingon prison ship. Using alien technology that allows him to reset time and experience events over and over, Mudd is bent on capturing the U.S.S. Discovery and selling it to the Klingons, with disastrous effects on the Federation's war effort. Luckily, Paul Stamets, thanks to his connection to the spore drive, can detect Mudd's interference with the time stream, and he enlists the help of Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler foil Mudd's scheme before time runs out...for the last time.

At first I found it a bit difficult to reconcile this episode's depiction of Mudd as a ruthless mass murderer--he brutally kills Discovery crew members over and over during the course of his plan to capture the ship--until it hit me that Mudd only kills one person on what he thinks is his last go-round. Maybe he was running through all the scenarios until he could capture the ship bloodlessly? Or maybe I'm just rationalizing, trying to make Discovery's version of Mudd compatible with the one we see in the original series. On the other hand, we know that the Mudd of "Mudd's Women" has received psychiatric treatment, so perhaps at some point between Star Trek's new "now" and Kirk's era, Federation medicine heals Mudd sufficiently to transition from mad murderer to jovial con man. Well, that will serve as my head-canon, anyway.

It seems a bit of a cheat to introduce a high-concept, TNG-style episode so early into what has, so far, been a pretty significant departure in storytelling style from past Treks. Maybe this episode would have worked better as a breather in season two or three, when personalities are more established. On the other hand, we get to see Burnham starting to come out of her shell a little, perhaps driven out by the stressful events of "Magic...".

I disproportionately enjoyed a number of this episode's features:

  • The return of a personal log, an old Trek staple (Burnham's, in this case)
  • The civilian costuming
  • Mudd's bug-headed space helmet
  • Continued use of the "vaporize" setting on the phasers - still chilling
  • The brazen use of "Stayin' Alive" at the party that opens (and re-opens...and re-opens...) the episode
  • The many gruesome and morbidly hilarious deaths of Captain Lorca
  • Mudd's ultimate comeuppance
All in all, this hour was an amusing diversion, but I'm not sure it really serves the show's narrative arc. Future episodes will tell. 



Monday, October 30, 2017

Busting Caps: How I Caused the Biggest Bang in Leaf Rapids

While I think myself as a pacifist, I can't deny that much of my play and entertainment revolved (and still revolves) around fantasy violence. I'm not educated enough to know if humanity's violent tendencies stem more from nature or nurture, nor do I understand why cowboys and indians and cops and robbers were games played almost exclusively by boys.

What I can say is there's something deeply satisfying about gunning down an imaginary foe, vanquishing something, even if only metaphorically. Lobbing nukes at Gandhi in Civilization, gunning down raiders and mutants in Fallout, slaying dragons in Dungeons & Dragons, beating up thugs, goons, robots and monsters in games of all kinds. Considering the suffering wrought by real-world violence, I have to wonder if these hobbies serve the greater good. Are they an escape valve for our darker impulses, or am I simply rationalizing my own behaviour?

The older I get, the more questions I have, the fewer answers. So instead of philosophizing further, a story:

Like many little boys, I used to play with cap guns. In the 70s, cap guns, at least the ones I had, looked like pistols from the Old West; wood and iron, with a chamber for caps: segmented rolls of paper, each segment containing a four or five millimeter diameter dot filled with gunpowder. By pulling the trigger, you could advance one segment up out of the gun and into the path of the gun's hammer; when the hammer slammed down, the cap would go off, producing a burst of sparks and noise. It was a very satisfying, visceral way to blow off steam, and many a friend went down in those days, plugged by my imaginary bullets. (Of course, I took my fare share of hits, too.)

With a child's logic, I reasoned that if popping off one cap at a time was fun, it must be exponentially more exciting to see a bunch of them explode at once. So one slightly overcast day in 1976 or 1977 or 1978, I gathered my friend Kelly Bear and took him to the town's only drug store, located, like most of the infrastructure of Leaf Rapids, inside the rust-coloured Town Centre. Using several weeks' worth of saved allowance (at the time, $1.00 a week), we purchased many, many red boxes of paper caps, which at the time were quite cheap; perhaps ten cents a box, perhaps a quarter. The druggist must have thought we were going to re-enact the American Civil War.

We carried out munitions out behind the Town Centre, at the corner where a loading ramp overlooked a steep dropoff of some two or three metres to the earthy ground below. A large boulder with an admirably smooth, flat top rested in that miniature canyon; we piled our caps atop it, and I carried a heavy stone about the size of a football up to the top of the loading ramp. Kelly wisely stuck his fingers in his ears as I hefted the stone over my head and flung it at the boulder below.

My aim was truer than it had any right to be. With a window-vibrating CRACK the caps exploded, the BANG so loud that my ears rung, and kept ringing, for minutes. Our nostrils filled with the acrid tang of exploded gunpowder, and countless bits of debris - chiefly the tattered remnants of the paper caps and the boxes they'd come in- rained down like dangerous confetti. Kelly and I both reeled, me more than him, as I hadn't been smart enough to anticipate the scale of the explosion.

It was tremendous, and best of all, we had plenty of caps left; once we gathered them all up (a time-consuming process), we figured we had about a third of our stash left, which we promptly used to repeat the experiment, taking turns blowing them up until we had only a handful of leftovers. No subsequent explosion was as amazing as the first, but we still had a lot of fun.

Perhaps luckiest of all, no one interfered with our play. We probably wouldn't have gotten into much trouble, given the era, but we felt like renegades, desperadoes, blowing things up because it was fun. To the best of my knowledge, no adult ever found out (until now).

To this day, I don't know if that experience was good or bad for me, or for Kelly. But if I had it all to do over again, I would.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Few More Mobsters

Here are some more freshly-painted mobsters for Fortune and Glory. I'm most happy with Mr. Grey, centre, with his grey suit and black overcoat. Mr. Orange looks pretty slapdash, while Mr. Red and Mr. Purple each need another coat, I think. Mr. Yellow doesn't look too bad. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fab 49!

Like a fine wine...wait, I don't drink the metaphor doesn't work. In any event, Sylvia just keeps getting better with age, and we had fun celebrating her birthday tonight. Love you, baby! 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

OMNI Returns

I was a big fan of OMNI back in the 1980s, and today I spotted this on the newsstand at London Drugs. This is the first magazine I've bought in a decade or more. Crazy! If nothing else, new fiction from Nancy Kress will be worth the cover price. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Turning Over a New Lethe

SPOILERS follow for Star Trek: Discovery's "Lethe"

The sixth episode of Star Trek: Discovery, "Lethe," is a satisfying character piece that doesn't quite match the series high so far, "Choose Your Pain," but provides important backstory for Michael Burnham and her foster father Sarek, while also giving us a better glimpse into the motivations of Captain Lorca. All this, and "DISCO" t-shirts for the crew!

Lured into a trap by a renegade Vulcan (a "logic extremist"(!)), Sarek lies near death in a small, crippled shuttle lost in a dense nebula. His telepathic death agonies reach Michael Burnham, who asks a strangely sympathetic Captain Lorca for permission to mount a rescue mission. Burnham, Ash Tyler, and Sylvia Tilly board a shuttle, homing in on Sarek's katra in an effort to locate and rescue the dying Vulcan.

Meanwhile, Captain Lorca's commanding officer, psychologist, and lover Admiral Katrina Cornwell - surely not the greatest combination from a human resources perspective - pops aboard Discovery for a visit.

Harkening back to the old a-plot/b-plot structure of 90s-era Trek (perhaps unsurprising, since this episode was written by TNG veteran Joe Menosky), "Lethe" juggles two stories about relationships and past trauma to good effect. We learn more about the Sarek/Michael relationship, and we're introduced to young Amanda, played here by Canadian actress Mia Kirshner. It turns out that Michael and Spock were both in the running for a prestigious assignment to a Vulcan expeditionary force of some kind, only for an officious Vulcan to tell Sarek that there was no way two non-Vulcans (in their eyes, the half-human Spock fell into that category) were going to join that elite club. Michael learns that Sarek reluctantly chose Spock, and then lied to her, saying that her application had been rejected all those years ago.

Not only is this an interesting turn for Michael's relationship with Sarek, it puts the decades-long story about Spock's relationship with Sarek into a fascinating new context; as it turns out, Sarek should have chosen Michael, since Spock wound up rejecting his father's wishes by joining Starfleet. Sarek's choice was a waste. No wonder there were some hard feelings--even for the supposedly non-emotional Vulcans.

Naturally Sarek is rescued in the end, but not before Michael has a lot of new feelings to process.

Aboard Discovery, we find that Lorca is clearly traumatized by losing the crew of his former ship, the USS Buran, and that his friend and commanding officer is clearly concerned that Starfleet put him in command of a new ship too soon. In fact, when Lorca awakens from a post-coital sleep with Admiral Cornwell, he suffers an episode of PTSD and pulls a phaser on her before realizing what he's doing. Cornwell puts Lorca on notice, saying she's going to remove him from command.

Before she can make good on her threat, however, she winds up having to take over the mission that Sarek was initially supposed to handle. Naturally it's a trap, and she winds up a prisoner of the Klingons. When Saru informs Captain Lorca, Lorca shrugs and says he wishes he could help, but the Admiral herself ordered Lorca to stop being so reckless and get authorization from the admiralty before undertaking any out-of-scope missions.

A simple plot summary doesn't really capture all there was to like here. Aside from the fascinating new context for an old piece of Trek lore, we're treated to an evolving exploration of Lorca's nature - is he evil? Or just traumatized? Is he sincere in that he's trying to be a better captain by following orders, or is he just using that as an excuse, hoping that the Klingons will kill Cornwell before she can relieve him of command?

And what's up with Stamets, who seems completely tripped out in his brief scene this episode? Is he merely suffering the effects of being the new biological navigation computer for the spore drive, or is he some kind of evil mirror duplicate, as hinted at in the creepy closing shot of last week's episode?

Also: loved the callback to the food slots from the original series, Cadet Tilly continues to delight, love the DISCO t-shirts, and the name-drop of the Constitution-class Enterprise. She's out there somewhere, ten years before Kirk took command! So cool.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

10 Little Cultists

Here's another batch of Fortune and Glory tokens; this is a group of cultists. Once again, I'm embarrassed by the sloppiness on display, but I'm quite fond of how the gold dress turned out, and I even tried to innovate a little by painting some blood on the dagger of the foreground helmeted figure, along with what I imagine is the heart in his other fist. As you can see, my paint application is still wildly uneven; I'll have another go at these to see if I can fix some of the rougher spots. I feel like the woman figure could use a bit of detail in the face to draw out her features, but that might be a bridge too far for me at this stage of my (cough cough) painting career. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Five Little Mobsters

As you can see, my painting still needs a LOT of work. While I've been trying to put some tips from Stephen and Jeff into practice, my clumsy hands need much more practice. So very bad. 

These are board game figurines for use with Fortune and Glory, in which players take on the role of adventurers trying to save the world while enjoying Republic serial-style cliffhanger escapades. I'm painting the included miniatures in an effort to make the game more immersive. As it stands, I'm afraid my lumbering incompetence may prove more of a distraction than anything, but we'll see how it goes. It's good to try something new, even if (perhaps especially if) it's outside my core strengths. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Early Computer Art

I made this sometime between, oh, grades 8 to 11, probably on some form of Apple - a II or a IIe. I have no idea what software I used to make it, or why I kept this printout. But here it is, my homage to Colossus: The Forbin Project

Friday, October 20, 2017

Wood Glue

The best way to stick two broken pieces of wood together -
Wood glue
But
It won't bring a tree back to life

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Good Place

Over the course of the last few evenings I watched the first season of The Good Place, in which a mean, spiteful young woman named Eleanor (the delightful Kristen Bell) dies and finds herself in--well--the good place, where good people go when they die. To say much more would be to spoil the fun, and there's plenty of fun to be had. I hope season two comes to Netflix soon, because the first season ended on one hell of a cliffhanger... 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Beginning of the End for Star Trek Continues


Here's the second-to-last episode of Star Trek Continues, the fan film effort that's done a pretty amazing job of capturing the tone and spirit of the original show. This time around Canadian Nebula-winning novelist Robert J. Sawyer wrote the teleplay, which depicts the end of the Enterprise's five-year mission by taking it back to the beginning...

Part one is extremely well done. I look forward to the finale, which hits the Internet in November. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Paperclips Part II

I didn't screenshot it for fear of spoiling the ending, but the Paperclips game I blogged about a few days ago turned out to be a very satisfying experience with very interesting hidden depths. It's a thoughtful piece of art, but if you try it, keep one thing in mind (thanks, Mike!): don't buy more than 33 processors until you get over the 70 memory threshold. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Learn How 2 Amazing Techniques Will Trick You Into Reading This Blog Post

1. Write a headline that sums up the topic and promises a quick, easy read
2. Deliver on the headline's promise

At least, that's what I learned at work today--some basic principles to optimize your content for search engines. I rarely use this approach on The Earliad, but as a service to the reader I'll put more thought into my headlines. I'm hoping for two outcomes: I'll be more respectful of the time of my readers, and I'll improve on a skill (that is, effective headline writing). 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Choosing Your Pain

SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
"CHOOSE YOUR PAIN" 

"Choose Your Pain" reintroduces Star Trek fans to the irascible Harcourt Fenton Mudd, this time played not by Roger C. Carmel, but Rainn Wilson. Not only is Wilson's portrayal consistent with Mudd's character as we came to know him in three episodes of the original series (counting his one animated appearance), the creators also give us some of his backstory and even some justification for his famous attitude toward Starfleet.

Mudd's introduction here is smooth and well-integrated into this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, but as enjoyable as it is, there's much more going on. We get to know a little bit more about Captain Lorca's motivations, his friendships (and not) with Starfleet brass, and his response to stress. We also finally get to meet Ash Tyler, who joins the cast as an escaped prisoner of war who we are led to believe was raped by his Klingon captor.

In brief, the episode's story goes like this: after a meeting with the Admiralty on a Starbase, Captain Lorca is kidnapped by Klingons, who torture him in an effort to learn how the Discovery manages to be seemingly everywhere at once during the war. He's imprisoned with Tyler and Mudd; meanwhile, First Officer Saru has to find and rescue the captain before he can reveal any information. But there's a wrinkle: the spore drive is slowly killing the tardigrade, which means that each use of the drive brings the crew closer to the day they won't be able to use the drive at all.

Naturally the rescue is successful, but the episode subverts a couple of audience expectations - notably, mine. Last week I theorized that the mushroom drive would ultimately fail because the evolved human ethics of the 23rd century would make torturing an animal for such ends unconscionable. While that theme is developed in this episode, Stamets, Tilly and Burnham find a workaround: by gene splicing mushroom DNA into a human subject, they discover they can power the drive with a volunteer - in this case, Stamets himself. Burnham and Tilly release the tardigrade, neatly solving the ethical problem.

But now, of course, audiences are left to wonder why, since the drive now appears ethically viable, it doesn't appear in Star Trek shows set later in the franchise's internal chronology? I guess I'll have to come up with another theory.

The escape from the Klingon prison ship features a couple of very interesting choices: the weapons Lorca and Tyler steal vaporize their enemies, something rarely seen on Star Trek since the original series. I appreciated this touch, as vaporization always seemed more horrifying to me than the "kill" effect seen on The Next Generation and later shows; at least there was a body to bury in the latter series. Being vaporized means poof! you're gone, as if you never existed. And both sides, in the original series, used this technology. It's macabre, but I find it gave the original series a chilling edge, and I'm glad to see the effect come back here; lethal weapons should be horrifying.

I also found it horrifying - and revealing - that Lorca and Tyler left Mudd behind. They had some reason for doing so, but can you imagine Captain Kirk - who loathed Mudd - leaving him to such a fate? Never. Tyler I can excuse, being thoroughly traumatized by his experience, but Lorca had an obligation to rescue any civilian in that situation. I have a feeling this will come back to bite him.

This was another solid episode, perhaps my favourite of the series thus far. The Discovery's crew is starting to act more altruistically than in episodes past, more in keeping with who they should be, given the utopian setting (even in wartime). Saru gets some more character development. And there were a couple of delightful easter eggs, particularly the name-drop of Robert April and Christopher Pike; in fact, this episode brings Robert April into the Star Trek canon officially, as his one previous appearance was limited to the quasi-canon animated series. (Robert April was Gene Roddenberry's initial captain of the Enterprise/Yorktown early in the development of the original series.)

One final note: I was a little stunned to hear two f-bombs dropped on tonight's episode. I'm not opposed to the use of earthier language in Star Trek, but were it me, I would have saved it for a more dramatic moment - something earned, rather than thrown away for shock value. But all in all - a strong installment.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Paperclips

This is interesting: a game in the incremental genre that asks you to manufacture paperclips. I think I've already messed up, because I'm having a hard time making my computer powerful enough to complete the projects listed in the middle column. I seem to be doing pretty well in the stock market, though.

The game reveals itself as you play; I get the feeling that there's some kind of creepy undertone to all this, but I haven't quite figured it out yet.

You can try it yourself here

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pizza in a Glass

Yesterday's post about bad movie nights in the early 1990s reminded me of the time the same group of friends went to Pizza Hut for their incredibly cheap all-you-can-eat pizza night. I don't remember which of us this happened to--was it me?--but while the waitress was making her rounds, the grease-laden pepperoni pizza she was doling out skated across the surface of her platter and landed, point first, in a full glass of Coke, rendering both inedible and messing up someone's shirt. We all got a good laugh out of it, though. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Wrong Turn

Many years ago--sometime during the early-to-mid 1990s--I was out with my friends Jeff, Susan, Tony, Steven and Ron. Carrie and Allan may have been there too. We were out searching for films to play for our semi-regular bad movie night. Back in those halcyon days, we would visit video rental stores and pore over racks and racks of VHS cassettes. Sometimes the trip itself was as fun or more than the movies themselves.

In this particular instance, we spotted a video store in the Oliver district of Edmonton, in the strip mall that hosts a Brit's Fish & Chips now. We sauntered in and started browsing, and within a few minutes we all realized that the entire store consisted only of the porn section...it was, in fact, an adult video store, a fact that all of us somehow missed. We skittered out, tittering nervously, faces flushed with embarrassed laughter. We were all close, but not so close that we had any interest in perusing pornography together; we were not nearly so hip.

I don't recall if we regrouped to find another video store or if we wound up playing board games or something. It's funny how some memories stick, while others flutter off into invisibility. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Grey Industries

On the long weekend, I spent some time finishing my Lego Assembly Square modular building. I divide the pieces by colour before assembly, sometimes sticking them together so they don't roll off the table. Quite accidentally, I created what looks to me like a future industrial development in miniature. Not long after, I went to see Blade Runner: 2049, and while my impromptu creation looks nothing like the stunning industrial visuals in that film, I do find the thematic similarities evocative. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Wheel of Infamy

Back in the pre-Internet days, software piracy was still a thing - people would make copies of floppy discs and trade games. Naturally software companies did their best to defeat these nefarious fiends, using creative copy protection devices packed into the game boxes. I don't remember ever having a pirated copy of Battle of Britain, nor do I even remember the game at all, but I found this  copied copy protection wheel in one of my old high school binders while doing some cleaning yesterday. Someone was industrious, and I'm sure it wasn't me; I've never had the manual dexterity  necessary to cut out those little windows. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Wielding the Butcher's Knife

SPOILER WARNING
for episode four of
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

In "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry," we begin to see more explicitly what Star Trek: Discovery is about, at least in my still-hopeful view: the rocky road to finding a civilization's soul.

In this episode, Captain Lorca and the Discovery crew are still trying to perfect their mycelium drive, which, I presume, uses quantum entanglement to transport the ship anywhere in the universe instantaneously. It turns out the key to the drive is the tardigrade creature that wound up leading to the demise of the USS Glenn last episode. The only problem is, the tardigrade doesn't have any say in the purpose it's being used for, and so far only Michael Burnham seems to have a problem with that, though she does go along with it. It's been established in other Star Trek shows that future humans don't use animals for food, labour or other purposes anymore (though they do ride horses and keep pets). Here, ten years before the original series, most humans don't seem to be so high-minded. The episode's title is a pretty big clue that we can expect to see two conflicting views expressed by the characters in the near future: those who argue that using the tardigrade is immoral, and those who argue that winning the war with the Klingons is well worth the life of a perhaps non-sapient creature. Captain Lorca and mycologist Paul Stamets are the butchers here, while the tardigrade is the lamb and Burnham the lost soul torn between duty and compassion. Hey, it's not like Star Trek has ever been particularly subtle, right? White side on the left good, black side on the left bad!

This episode also includes some pretty interesting character reversals and departures, all of which caught me by surprise - again, definitely a new direction for Star Trek, and, so far, a welcome one.

Character-wise, it feels very real and honest to see Michael Burnham in a state of deep mourning for all she's lost, an advantage of this Trek's deliberately arc-based, rather than episodic, format. I'm also enjoying the further development of Sylvia Tilly, Paul Stamets, and Saru; each has significant character notes this episode, and the performances are excellent. Lorca is a bit one-note this time around, but the story demands it in this case; his job is to be the at-all-costs warrior at the moment, and he certainly sells it.

One final kudo: I love the mycelium drive special effects, including the silly but very retro, very fun spinning saucer section. It felt like a callback to the kind of pulp SF I love.

I suspect that we don't see the mycelium drive (I think I'll call it the mushroom drive, actually) in later series because of the animal rights aspect. An episode of Star Trek: Voyager features a very similar scenario, and Captain Janeway and her crew were horrified by the spectacle. I imagine the mushroom drive will be banned after this first season, in tandem with the completion of Burnham's inevitable redemption arc. Of course, that means they're going to have to come up with an entirely different arc for season two...

Saturday, October 07, 2017

1987 Fish Haiku

Blurry and blue fish
Twitching his way to freedom
At the toilet's bottom

Friday, October 06, 2017

Jeff's Personal Fame Meter

As is my wont, I sometimes write "as is my wont." But also as is my wont, I also sometimes, and not just because I'm feeling sick or lazy, use this blog to advertise the work of other bloggers. In this case, I'd like to direct Earliad reader's to a JSVB post from a couple of days ago, in which you can view the current status of Jeff's Personal Fame Meter. Not only is the Fame Meter well executed, I quite enjoy the dry wit evidenced in the work. Oh, and there's some football stuff there for sports fans, and an "I'm Nearly Famous" callback to my days when an actor gave me a button with those words way back in 1985 when I appeared in a pilot on CBC. Still nearly famous, never quite getting there...thankfully. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Not Much Energy for Jawing

I had to have a small chunk of bone removed from my jaw the other day, and my reaction to the anesthetic and painkillers has been less than ideal. But boy howdy, was I ever impressed by the professionalism of the doctors, nurses and support staff at Kingsway Oral Surgery. They really went the extra mile looking out for my health, even beyond the fix I was there for. I'm very grateful for their expertise, experience and compassion, and to Pete for picking Sylvia and me up after the operation was done I feel lucky to be Canadian this week! 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Keep ‘em Laughing

Yesterday I had some minor surgery on my jaw, and the doctors knocked me unconscious for the duration of the operation. When I awoke, I felt something stuffed into my mouth. I couldn't open my eyes or move my body to see what it was, but I could bawl out the question: "Hey! Wash ish thish im my mouff?"

"It's just some gauze to stop the bleeding, sir," someone answered.

"Well, that's gauze for concern!" I retorted, laughing hysterically. "Gauze for concern!"

I don't think anyone else laughed.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Cornet Blue


Last weekend, I finished watching one-season wonder Coronet Blue, a short-lived 1967 television series about a man who survives a murder attempt and awakens an amnesiac, remembering only the words "Coronet Blue." While the premise is great, the episodes themselves are a bit underwhelming; "Michael Alden" (the name taken by the main character) makes a coffee shop his home base, and his adventures are funded, for no good reason, by the coffee shop owner he meets in the pilot episode. I guess he just feels sorry for the guy? Michael spends thirteen  episodes dodging the occasional assassin and halfheartedly pursuing leads to "Coronet Blue," whatever that might be.

Years later, series creator Larry Cohen revealed it was the name of a Soviet spy ring; "Michael Alden" was set to defect to the United States when his buddies tried to kill him. Cohen is better known for the much more successful The Invaders, the It's Alive movies, and the infamous God Told Me To and Q: The Winged Serpent, among other cult genre oddities. I was expecting more from a Cohen creation, but compared to his other work Coronet Blue is pretty pedestrian. (To be fair, according to an interview with Cohen included as an extra on the DVD set, he didn't have much to do with the show's actual production.)

Catchy theme song, though! 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Discovery Episode Three: "Context is for Kings"

SPOILERS for "Context is for Kings." You've been warned!

Star Trek: Discovery continues to hold my interest with "Context is for Kings," the first episode to feature the titular starship and its captain, the driven and mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Michael Burnham, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her actions in the show's first two episodes, winds up on the Discovery as a consultant to Captain Lorca, a situation that discomfits most of the rest of Discovery's crew.

Through Burnham's eyes, we meet Lorca early on, introduced in shadow with a really beautiful  special effect: eyes full of stars. It's one of a couple of interesting directorial touches from Akiva Goldsman, who I've disparaged for his by-the-numbers writing efforts; he seems to be a better director than screenwriter. The other touch occurs in a lab and shows the passage of time by fading crew members in and out of invisibility. Historically, Star Trek shows haven't used visual metaphor much, and it's nice to see the producers experimenting with these techniques. Lorca's starry eyes hint (perhaps deceptively) at his vision for the future, and highlight dialogue that explains he's suffering from an eye injury incurred during the war. "The doctors told me I had to stay in the shadows a bit if I wanted to keep my own eyes...and I do."

Burnham is brought aboard to help Lorca and the Discovery research a new means of propulsion, one that could change the tide of the war in the short term, and open up the whole galaxy to much faster exploration in the long term. But something's gone wrong on the USS Glenn, Discovery's sister ship, and Burnham and an away team board the stricken Glenn to discover what happened to her crew. A very effective horror sequence kicks off, and naturally Burnham plays a key role in recovering important information and helping the boarding party escape with their lives. But she's not redeemed yet - nowhere close.

Aside from the visual touches, I appreciated Burnham's response to her situation in this episode. She's genuinely remorseful and committed to serving her time for her crimes. She doesn't make excuses or get defensive; she accepts that former colleagues and new associates fear and mistrust her. She only accepts posting on the Discovery because Lorca makes a convincing argument that she can, perhaps, help end the war she started with the Klingons, and therefore save lives. I also enjoyed the care and attention paid to production design, from the Discovery's interior and exterior details to the very believable prison shuttle craft. We get to see a little more Saru, so far the show's breakout character, who's been promoted to First Officer of Discovery and remains more than a little wary of Burnham, while recognizing her talents. We also meet the prickly genius Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), whose endearing nervousness and enthusiasm are quite refreshing given the more serious dispositions of the show's other players. Already, I want to see more of these characters - a good sign.

Star Trek: Discovery has, so far, improved with each episode. If they can keep this up, it could transition from good to great.