Friday, February 27, 2015

Emotional Suppression

I feel a desperate need to write now. To say something about Leonard Nimoy's passing.

It's going to take a little time, though. I'm writing and deleting words and sentences and paragraphs over and over.

What it comes down to is this:

I can't do it right now. I plan to. I plan to soon. But right now I feel as though my heart will burst and I need to take some time away from all this.

Until then, I'll say the same thing I said earlier today when I first heard--the lines from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities which Kirk utters after Spock's death in The Wrath of Khan:

It is far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

A few past Spock posts: 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Faces

Alright, here's another episode I've always tended to take for granted. I appreciated (or thought I did) the internal (now external) struggle with B'Elanna but this one was always overshadowed for me by one, singular thing:

Actually, in my house, whenever we see a super creepy guy dressed like a super creepy guy on TV, one of us says, "That guy's gonna be wearing someone's face around later." And it's all because of this episode.

You have to admit, it's pretty distracting. That happens sometimes, with baddies. They (or their actions) can be so evil, so memorable, so ostentatious, that they eclipse the actual story. The great, personal story in Se7en is totally overshadowed by Gweneth Paltrow's head in a box. I'm not saying that makes it a bad movie. I'm just saying it happens.

Anyway, this episode isn't actually about a Vidiian surgeon wearing Crewman Daniel's face around like a Halloween mask. It's about B'Elanna Torres' longtime personal struggle. It's about her identity issues suddenly becoming a very real, physical problem that she has to overcome in order to survive.

Re-watching this one it occurred to me that Both Dawson and the writers have a spectacular handle on the character of B'Elanna. Dawson plays each side differently than she plays regular B'Elanna. Klingon B'Elanna's voice is deeper and her speech more aggressive while Human B'Elanna's voice is lighter and gentler and she's more reserved overall. Everything about these characters is just a little different from the way B'Elanna is usually played. From posture to voice to eye contact, each of the three versions of B'Elanna are different and unique.

Back to the story: The idea of a klingon/human woman being at odds with herself goes back to Susie Plackson's character, K'Ehleyr, on TNG. The idea of a human/alien bi-species character having issues with his/her identity in Star Trek goes all the way back to Spock. But no character has before been physically split. And, I kind of get why. It sounds a bit goofy--a little like venturing into "Spock's Brain" territory. It helps, though, that we never see the procedure. Actually, the way we're brought into the knowledge of B'Elanna's split is really well-engineered.

We're first shown Klingon B'Elanna. We're lead to assume that the Vidians have simply done away with B'Elanna's human DNA. We spend a lot of time with Klingon B'Elanna and we get used to her--her aggression, her strength, her confidence. They're all qualities our B'Elanna possesses, just not quite in such abundance. It's not until the end of Act 1 that we get a glimpse of Human B'Elanna. We soon recognize more qualities we're familiar with: sensitivity, self-doubt, and a brilliant, technical mind.

B'Elanna has always been at war with herself but, in these incredibly dangerous circumstances, both sides have to work together to survive and thrive. And, really, that's what B'Elanna does every day. In the end, she doesn't really want to be melded back into her true self but, like it or not, this is who she is. Each half of B'Elanna makes the whole stronger.

The Little Things:
-I love that a Talaxian makes a guest appearance here.
-When Chakotay says, "My face was just grafted." I almost lose it. Every time. I love it.
-I adore Klingon B'Elanna's forehead ridges.
-I love the moment where each B'Elanna sees the other--up to this point they both believed they were all that was left and this reveal is a great one.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Cathexis

About a year ago, knowing I was about to begin work on a new novel that involved a lot of mystery novel themes and tropes, I got a huge stack of them and started cracking spines. I'd re-read all of Sherkock Holmes in 2013 but went ahead and re-read Hound. Then I read about ten Agatha Christies and then some Raymond Chandler and I watched a bunch of mysterious TV shows and BBC costume drama mysteries. At some point, I realized I loved mysteries. I loved reading them. I loved writing them. I loved watching them. Honestly, it shouldn't have been a surprise--I've been in love with Sherlock Holmes since 8th grade and Clue was my favorite board game. Anyway, I guess that's why I find Cathexis so surprisingly satisfying.

Set Up:
Chakotay and Tuvok return from an away mission all messed up and they're sent directly to sickbay where it turns out they've both been whacked in the head by some kind of space mess. Chakotay's in a coma as a result of the blow but Tuvok is pretty ok. No one knows what to do about their first officer but they decide to go about their business when all kinds of strangeness ensues. Foul play is suspected.

-Tom Paris looks guilty as hell--which pretty much means he's not to blame.
-Kes gets all psychic and feels a presence in her quarters and is subsequently attacked.
-The warp core shuts down with B'Elanna at the console but she doesn't remember anything.

They pretty quickly get that something's not right--that someone or something is controlling crew members at will. But how? The finger gets pointed all over the place and smokescreens are dragged out to great effect until the real guilty party is revealed and dealt with.

What's really in the little brown envelope?
Tuvok, in the Shuttle, with a Hostile Alien Entity
I knew it! 
This one doesn't have a ton of action. It doesn't have any extra cast or sets or crazy props (outside of Chakotay's medicine wheel). It's essentially a bottle episode. And it's well done. It's eerie. It's quiet. It's a lot like an old novel of espionage onboard a Cold War submarine--only in space. It could be anyone--literally, because in the end, it's not really anyone. And that's what's so lovely about this kind of SciFi. Regular mysteries become extraordinary when mixed with the endless possibilities of space and flexible futures. This is an episode I tend to forget about when listing my favorites but I really shouldn't. It's a legitimately good episode and a fun watch.

Bonus Points:
-Seriously, did you think I wouldn't talk about Janeway's holo-novel cold open? The woman is wearing a tartan dress and inhabiting a creepy ass house on the moors (another genre I love) when she's so rudely interrupted by Harry Kim (of course) with news of the away team. It really feels like this cold open is setting up some kind of big arc for later but I honestly cannot remember whether or not it ends up paying off. I guess I'll see.
-I love that The Doctor knows all about Chakotay's medicine wheel and it totally makes sense--he's the only doctor in Starfleet who even could hold and accurately remember all that medical information since he's basically a walking database.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Heroes and Demons

YES! Heroes and Demons is the first ever Voyager Holo-Romp. Actually, it's Voyager's first romp. And you know how much I love a romp. I was crazy excited about my re-watch for this one. 

It goes like this: Voyager encounters a strange energy in space and think they might be able to harness it for their ongoing "running out of gas" problem. Instead, the energy takes over the holodeck (with Harry Kim, of course) trapped inside. The only one who can go in and save the day is another holo-person. Namely, (or, er... not namely) The Doctor. What ensues is the character's first away mission and his first big character development episode--oh, and a lot of fun. In the end, The Doc saves the day, kisses a girl, and successfully makes first contact with an alien species. 

Obviously, I love this one. The Doctor is one of my favorite characters in all of Trek and one of the things that irks me most in early Voyager is the way The Doctor is treated. Granted, his mistreatment is pretty understandable. For people who inhabit the Trek-verse, holo-characters aren't people--they're objects. They're used to tell stories or help solve problems or, in the case of Reginald Barclay, to ease one's social awkwardness. But, they don't have rights or quarters or families or friends anymore than a tea kettle does. Of course, The Doctor is different--the rest of Voyager just doesn't know it yet. This is the episode makes the wheels of change creak to life. 

But it's not just about the way the crew begins to see this character differently, but also the way that The Doctor begins to come into his own. He accepts his first away mission in spite of the fact that he was never intended to serve as more than a short-term solution to emergencies. He has had to learn and grow so much already and now he's thrust into a difficult, dangerous, and important mission. If he fails, Harry Kim (and the rest of the crew for that matter) could perish but he faces down his doubts and carries out his mission with the grit and heart of any trained Starfleet officer. 

He sword fights. He experiences the rush of a fleeting romance. He confronts a monster. He walks away a more interesting, more thoughtful, more well-rounded person. 

Bonus Points: 
-This episode is packed with Beowulf stuff. 
-Freya the shieldmaiden begins as a somewhat ridiculous and flat character but rounds out by the end, even describing the way she has always hoped to die. 
-This nice line from Freya to The Doctor, "Do you know what it's like to be alone among many and unable to speak your fears," is quite nicely done. 
-"Schweitzer, a hero's name!"

Friday, February 6, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: State of Flux

So I always take notes during these episodes but I've been working like crazy the past two weeks and this is literally the only thing I wrote down last night whilst watching State of Flux:

I promise I did watch the whole thing. I just happened to have some extra work fall in my lap this week and I really had to bust my hump to get everything done. So, as it happened, I was working in Photoshop the entire time this one was on the TV and I pretty much forgot to take notes. Also, yes, I write my Star Trek notes in a Text Edit document because it sucks up less memory than anything else. Photoshop, remember?

Ok, this episode is basically Seska's big "I'm A Baddie!" Celebration. It seems like there should be a name for that. In my head it's like a QuinceaƱera or Bar Mitzvah or Upanayana. Like she should get a sash or knife or a cake or something and everyone should stand in a circle and say the shittiest thing Seska ever did to them. Of course we all know know who'd win that contest:

My biggest takeaway from this episode is that poor Chakotay probably shouldn't have been given command of a Maquis vessel. This guy is just way too nice. I mean, Tuvok infiltrated his ship. Seska infiltrated his ship. His ship got destroyed. He ended up being Number 2 to some whole other captain in some crap part of space and he can't even eat stolen soup anymore. Bless his heart.

Actually, I think it's really smart that Chakotay voices his concerns about this whole, "Am I an idiot?" thing with Tuvok who pretty much says, "You're not any dumber than the rest of your dumb species."
In a lot of ways, Chakotay's had his world turned on its ear more than anyone else. He was in charge of a wild band of outlaws. He was beating down doors and Robin Hooding the crap out of the Federation. Now his girlfriend is a Cardassian and she's giving him crap about his animal guide. How did it come to this?
Oh yeah.
Anyway, Seska is a 100% badass in this one. Obviously I knew she was the baddie but it was great to re-watch State of Flux with that knowledge so fresh in my mind. The set up of Red Herring Carey is really nicely done and the true villain is withheld until the very last minute. Seska goes on to become an even bigger thorn in everyone's side (especially Chakotay) and I can't wait to see it all unfold.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Voyager Rewatch: Prime Factors

First of all, my birthday was a couple days ago which I wouldn't mention except that I think it's kind of amazing that I've celebrated THREE birthdays with this blog:

I meant to write a post that day and talk about my cake and whatever but I got caught up working and playing Borderlands and watching Death Comes to Pemberley so the birthday post I was so excited about writing totally ran off the rails.

Anyway, I also recently watched the ninth episode of Voyager--Prime Factors. This one's kind of a beast and I mean that in a good way. It's an episode that made me cringe when I saw it the first time but I appreciate it more and more with each viewing.

Basic Story: Voyager encounters a planet full of folks who just like to hang out and enjoy life and they invite Janeway and her crew to chill with them and a guy with a shmancy accent gives Janeway a scarf while Harry Kim hangs out with some chick who's way into checking the weather. Harry finds out that these aliens have incredible transporter technology and, in theory, they could send the whole ship about 40K light years ahead on their journey. But the aliens won't do it because Starfleet isn't the only organization around with a Prime Directive. Moral dilemmas, bargaining, and treachery ensue.

So this one clearly has a lot going on. What stands out most to me is the idea of a Starfleet vessel running into a race of people who are more advanced than they are and yet not willing to share their technology. It totally puts a Trek crew on the other side of the privilege fence. This is a powerful idea and one that isn't explored that much in Trek. Though the TOS crew encounter beings more powerful than they are and TNG has Q problems and DS9 has all kinds of brush-ups with jerks from the Gamma Quadrant, none of those aliens are such a direct parallel to what Starfleet does every single day when aliens who aren't as advanced want their tech. And none of those crews are all alone in a strange and unfamiliar space without any backup.

The crew realize they could do a shady deal outside of the government's knowledge and essentially steal the transporter technology but they'd be compromising their ideals to do so. Ultimately the decision lies with Janeway and she can't go through with it. That's where the next really interesting bit comes in--Tuvok decides to take the burden of guilt from Janeway and steal the tech himself. At first this seems fairly out of character but the (beautifully played) conversation between Tuvok and Janeway at the end of the episode justifies his actions to me. This scene is an excellent example of what not only Voyager but all of Trek can do. It makes us question the logic we use all the time, the way we justify all kinds of things in our daily lives, and the way we chose to protect the ones we love.
"You can use logic to justify anything. That's its power and its flaw."
The friendship between Janeway and Tuvok is deep and hard-won and completely believable. It feels real. Watching Mulgrew and Russ, I believe they've known each other for years and that's why, when Tuvok betrays Janeway, we feel her heartbreak.

All of this, in the past, tended to be overshadowed for me though. Mostly because of this guy:
The whole idea of a planet where everyone's focused on having a good time isn't a bad idea in itself. But, smooshed into an episode where you're dealing with really heavy issues, it makes the episode feel like a Frankenstein. This guy (and all the people on his planet) are way into pleasure. They talk about pleasure all the time. All. The. Time. And, again, it's not that this is necessarily a problem--if it were in another episode. I just can't help wondering how a culture whose sole ambition is to experience pleasure (and who get bored quickly and easily) had the drive and determination to come up with a transporter technology far beyond anything the Federation has ever encountered. I'm not saying that a hedonistic culture doesn't come up with some legit amazing inventions. I mean, the same culture that went around putting nudie mosaics and dong graffiti all over the place whilst scheduling orgies and drinking wine morning noon and night and also built this:

And this:

So it's hard to say. Still, I find the pleasure culture an unfortunate distraction.

Anyway, this episode has a lot going for it. Even if this slimy Belgian alien guy won't shut up about pleasure.

Bonus Points:
-Seska is a bad-ass lady villain and I can't wait to see her go all-out evil later on.
-I love how interested in everything Janeway is. This girl can put away some hors d'oevours and pecan pie.
-The way Roxanne Dawson plays B'Elanna's failure and the decision to tell Janeway the truth about her betrayal is pitch-perfect.
-In the mess hall scene toward the beginning we see a woman that looks like Samantha Wildman. It's not her. But it still makes me happy for some reason.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Emanations

Welp, I feel a lot of ways about Voyager's ninth episode. Emanations is pretty much an exploration of faith, life after death, and euthanasia. Voyager (still low on gas) believes they may have discovered a new element and head down to the asteroid where they're sensing it to check it out. The asteroid is chock-full of dead bodies and, before anyone can react, Harry Kim gets sucked through a subspace vacuole and winds up in an alternate dimension society where everyone thinks he's come back from the "next emanation" and it's a pretty freaking big deal since the "next emanation" is where their people go when they die.

First of all, I love the very premise of this one. A spaceship crew basically dipping their toes in another culture's River Styx is an interesting thing to do and I give them props for exploring both banks of that river--where do people go when they die/where do they think they go?  I think it's interesting that, out of respect, Chakotay doesn't want anyone to touch the dead bodies (though, even as an anthropologist, I feel like not letting B'Elanna scan the bodies with a tricorder is a bit much) and that Janeway goes along with him. This is a compassionate crew.

I think the culture Harry falls into (and subsequently turns on its head) is a tremendously interesting one and the man he meets and befriends, Hatil Garan, is sympathetically written and convincingly played. Actually, it's his story that gets to me more than anything else. He's had some sort of accident and become "a burden" on his family and they've decided (at a FAMILY MEETING) that he ought to just go ahead and pass on to the next emanation. Harry Kim is horrified.

This is the worst family meeting ever. I mean, I've been part of various dysfunctional families that tried to have meetings and they were awful--but this is worse. Families can make you depressed. It's a terrible thing when the people who are supposed to love you the most, the ones who are supposed to protect you and be there for you are the ones driving you to deep depression and suicidal thoughts. I've been there and it sucks. Thankfully, I never attended any family meetings where they all just looked at me and said, "I think it's pretty much time for you to get it over with."

That was a little heavy. Sorry about that.

The point though is that this episode is pretty heavy. Because, in Garan's culture, they really do believe that they really are going (their physical body and all) on to a better place. But, Harry Kim has been to the next emanation. He knows these folks aren't walking around and drinking tea and having a lovely time up there. They're corpses wrapped in cobweb. And when he (of course) blabs about how there's no afterlife, everyone gets a little worried and upset--especially the guy who's been convinced to kill himself.

Has Harry even been to Prime Directive School?

Anyway, this is a strong episode. It's a preview of the great, allegorical stuff Voyager will handle later.  It asks big questions, explores the debate, and leaves it open-ended so that we can continue to ponder the ideas later. In this case, pretty much twenty years later.

Other Great Stuff About This One:
-I love that when the previously dead Vhnori woman awakens the first thing she does is ask where her brother is. It's a sweet, subtle touch. Of course you would be expecting to meet previously deceased family upon arrival in the afterlife.
-The alien doctor is played by Jerry Hardin (AKA Deep Throat from X-Files) and his performance here is excellent. He brings a lot of gravity to this one without being over dramatic and flashy.
-Jeffrey Allen Chandler (who also guest-starred on DS9's "Facets") is also great as Hatil Garand. His believable resignation and then fear regarding the afterlife are believable and I find him incredibly sympathetic.
-Janeway has her one of her first mom talks with Kim and it's a really, really nice touch.
-Seriously though, has Harry Kim ever even heard of Starfleet? Why does he just instantly blab about this stuff? Is he really an officer? Did he sneak in here?
-This episode marks the first time Harry Kim would legit die on his Voyager assignment.

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