Wednesday, February 3, 2016

TOS Re-watch: The Man Trap

I finally did it. I watched The Man Trap yesterday after pretty much taking a month off from Star Trek and blogging. And you know what's strange? It didn't occur to me until much later, as I was making dinner, that Leonard Nimoy is dead.

I watched The Cage last month, of course, and didn't even think about it. I watched the whole of The Man Trap, where we get our first real glimpse of what Trek would be, and I thought about Spock's character, I thought about the sets, the costumes, the way it's so rich that Kirk tells McCoy not to be ruled by his "glands." I didn't think about the fact that this is my first re-watch of The Original Series since Nimoy died.

For a moment I felt guilty. I should've spent several seconds in silent solemnity as the credits rolled for the first time and Nimoy's name appeared. But I didn't. I was finishing up a painting and drinking coffee and worried about nine million other things and it didn't even occur to me that I should feel anything other than the same familiar nostalgia I've always felt when watching Trek.

Maybe it's because we lost DeForest Kelley and James Doohan a long time ago. Maybe it's because I already felt Nimoy's death so keenly and let it go. Maybe it's because the actors are never their characters--as much as we might want them to be--and even if Nimoy did die, Spock is still right here on my TV. It's his familiar voice that lets me know everything will probably still be ok. It's his skinny build in his blue velour uniform that makes me smile. It's still his way of infuriating the more outwardly emotional people around him that I identify with.

In January I had my birthday--it was lovely. I saw Star Wars for the 8th and 9th times--and loved it more with each viewing. I kept having weird heart palpitations and (after ten years of not-very-well-explained fainting spells) finally made an appointment with a cardiologist. I painted very little. I wrote even less. I turned down multiple commissions and ended up cancelling one that was going too slowly. I worried about my health and then worried some more. What if there's something very wrong with me? What if I don't wake up one morning? What if I never finish my work? Why do I think my work is so important? I spent some (likely ill-advised) time on Web MD. I played so many hours of Fallout 4. I worked on the query for a book I'm dying to send out but anxious about its prospects. I actually picked up the phone and called my mom because her mom is going into hospice care. I felt annoyed with myself for not being more torn up about it.

Then, yesterday, I watched The Man Trap. And I didn't think about losing Leonard Nimoy. And that's ok. Leonard Nimoy was amazing. He brought life to a character that has been and will continue to be beloved by millions. And that character is still alive and well in marvelous technicolor. He's part of a greater family, a greater story, a greater home. It's a home that I can always go back to, after a month of strange ups and downs, and it won't mind how long I've been away. Like any home, it's flawed. It's getting on a bit. Its ideas, while forward for its time, are more dated now. Its music, clothes, and style are a little old fashioned. But I still love it. I know everything it's done for me over the years. Everything it will continue to do. It's still comforting, still comfortable, still safe to sit with Star Trek and know that, whatever has happened in my day, it's there.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Cage

Do you know how many times I've watched "The Cage" on New Year's Eve? I've been doing this blog since 2013 but actually started it on December 31st, 2012 when I re-watched the strange Star Trek pilot with my dad. Since then it's become a reluctant New Year's tradition. I don't hate The Cage at all. (Though every time The Menagerie comes on I find something else to do while I watch it) The thing is, I've thought about it and written about it a lot already. Still, I went ahead and watched it at the beginning of this year and... it was nice. It was nice to return to The Original Series, especially in this, the 50th anniversary year of Star Trek. My plan for 2016 (since sometime in 2015) has been to focus the blog this year on TOS.

But then I got really bogged down. I spent most of December catching up on the work I missed out on when I was so sick in November. Then we took a whirlwind trip home and visit our friends and family and, of course it was lovely to see all of them but, at the same time, there's really only so much I can take. Additionally, my chest pain (from a suspected intercostal strain) has persevered and seems, at times, worse than ever. This, in conjunction with some creative issues, meant that I pretty much spent the first week of 2016 in a major slump. My dad bought me Fallout 4 for Christmas (because he really does know me) and I put it in the Xbox and didn't come out of The Commonwealth for about four days. This, of course, made me feel guilty. Shouldn't I be working, writing, drawing, blogging, writing emails, cleaning the house, taking down the Christmas Tree? Shouldn't I be productive. My heart was skipping beats. It was racing. I was freaking out about taking a break.

The thing is, I've been told by many people, that I'm the hardest working person they know and I tend to only reluctantly admit how much I really do work. I typically spend 12-14 hours every day working. When I sit down in the morning it's the first thing I do and I have to physically make myself stop at night. Wanna know how I pulled my intercostal muscles? Thirty-two days spent on a huge art project wherein I was sort of bent/twisted over my work for up to sixteen hours in a day--every day. I was in the middle of doing the fine line work on a pen and ink hare when there was a crazy spasm in my chest that snatched my breath away. I still haven't had the will to go back to the hare. Every time I look at it my chest hurts.

Anyway, I finally whittled down my Fallout time and went back to work but then, David Bowie died. And then Alan Rickman died. And it was sort of the last straw on a whole other front for me. (Oh my god, this is a long blog post) I've gotten really tired of reading what everyone thinks about everything. This really hit a crescendo in the flurry of Star Wars. I loved it. My feelings about that movie aren't simple and they won't be reduced to a critique. But I kept seeing my geek friends write things on social media like, "I'm sure you've all been waiting to hear what I thought about The Force Awakens. I really liked and here's all the problems I had with it. " And I think, Nope. I actually don't want to hear what you thought.  It was at this point that I realized I was 1000% done with everyone. When Bowie died and everyone poured their hearts out about him on Facebook I couldn't wrap my head around it. My feelings about his death were so complicated and I thought about writing something--I even started a whole essay about it--but I was so exhausted with everyone else that I realized I shouldn't make other people read what I have to say either. That I'm just shouting into a room already so full of shouting that my voice would never be heard or recognized, that maybe I should just keep my thoughts to myself.

And that idea crept into this blog. Why should I write about "what I thought" about whatever episode of Star Trek? Am I just adding my voice to a meaningless cacophony? Is someone somewhere irritated with me because I'm presumptuous enough to think, "I know you've all been waiting to hear my thoughts about The Cage."

<long sigh>

I don't know.

<longer sigh>

When I first started this project, I did it because Star Trek had always meant a lot to me, because I had been stuck in a weird creative rut, because I wanted to examine my life through the lens of pop culture. Early on I realized that I wanted to be a positive voice in a community (the general geek community) that often ends up focusing only on the negative or the minute dissection of something that was never meant to be pulled apart in that way. I wanted to talk about something I love and I wanted to more closely examine my life with the help of something I love and maybe become a better writer/person in the process. I think this blog has done that for me. And will continue to do so.

I don't expect people to sit around wringing their hands, waiting for me to post about a fifty year old episode of television--or even the death of a beloved actor or musician. This project has always been as much (more) for me than for anyone else--though I'm very, very glad some of you have showed up and stuck around. It really does mean so much to me that my little voice, in this little corner of the biggest, craziest, noisiest room in existence, carries. 2016 will be The Year of The Original Series. Maybe, The Year of Spock. And I do hope you'll be here. But, even if you're not, I'm going to keep writing.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

To The Journey: Rewatching Voyager's Endgame

I wish I had more time. Or maybe an injection of chronexiline. I'd love to write about Lineage, Author, Author, or Workforce. But, I'm out of time. I'm watching Endgame as I write this and, at the moment, I feel like taking back the stuff I said about how Shattered should've been the Voyager finale. 

I still stand by what I said about Shattered being a fantastic episode but, even only twenty minutes in, I'm already feeling many emotions about the finale. The last time I watched this one I'd spent the prior eleven months storming through Trek. I'd watched about three episodes a day, every day, and I'd lived a life of Star Trek and, even though I wasn't aware of it, I was about to show the effects of Trek Burnout. I still loved Voyager and I still felt sad when it was over but I distinctly remember feeling not only the pressure of having to squeeze all of Enterprise into December but also the entire weight of My Year of Star Trek sort of hovering over me. 

That was 2013. Now, somehow, it's about six hours away from 2016. The last couple of years have been a whirlwind. 2015 has been especially ridiculous. I finished the Awesome Jones sequel and turned it in. Silver Tongue came out and on the same night someone very close to me attempted suicide. I took time away from basically everything. I wrote a new and unexpected book. I changed the way I eat and the way I lift. I got new personal records in bench and squat. I booked last minute travel arrangements so that we could be in Kentucky when my father-in-law had emergency heart surgery then I sat in his hospital room late at night watching Voyager while he slept. Three anxious weeks passed there. We came home and I resumed revisions on the new book then spent a month doing nothing but drawing for Inktober. I got sick. I pulled my intercostal muscles. I developed an infection. I came back. I started playing the violin. I saw Star Wars. I saw Star Wars. I saw Star Wars. I saw Star Wars with my dad and sisters. I saw Star Wars. I saw Star Wars on the Disney Lot--that was today. 

And now, suddenly, it's almost a new year and I'm watching Endgame. 

I still think mistakes were made. Seven and Chakotay still seem like a forced, unnecessary, sudden relationship. I still think it suffers from being easily compared to All Good Things. But, unlike TNG's storied finale, wherein Picard is an unwitting player, slipping through his own timestream at the hands of Q, Janeway is active. As in all of Voyager, Janeway takes charge of her own destiny--the destiny of her crew, her family. Janeway is on a mission. A mission to get her crew home earlier, to save Seven of Nine, her almost daughter. 

Janeway, twenty-five years after getting Voyager (sans Seven) home, she hatches a plan with Reg Barclay to go back and fix some of the stuff that's been nagging her all this time. She gets a special time-proof vaccine from the doc, grabs a shuttle, snatches a Klingon time deflector, and shoots herself back into her own timeline--with the help of Captain Harry Kim. Janeway pops into the timeline as we know it and tells her past Janeway she's come back with the purpose of getting them all home earlier but they have to fly into a recently passed nebula--a nebula crawling with Borg. 
Things I love about Endgame: 
-Seven playing kadis-kot with Neelix over Facetime. 
-Tom and B'Elanna readying themselves for a baby in the midst of all this and I love how far they've come as a couple. I love that they've gotten used to the idea of raising their daughter in the Delta Quadrant. 
-Captain Harry Kim is the most interesting version of Harry Kim so far and it makes me wish they'd found more to do with him besides just giving him terrible love interests 
-Future Reginald Barclay (like all versions of Barclay) is my BFF. 
-Miral Paris is a total BAMF and I love her. 
-Tuvok's emotional/mental struggle is heartbreaking but I wish there'd been more time to go into it. 
-I LOVE Voyager's kickass new shields. 
-The Borg Queen is a perfect final villain for Janeway and her ship. It might not be as perfectly cyclical as Q's seven-year-sparring match with Picard but the Janeway/Seven/Borg Queen trifecta is a good matchup and it's not only satisfying to see them face off one last time it also totally makes sense that their way home is a Borg transwarp hub. 
-The last senior officer meeting and Harry Kim's speech. 
-I love how dogged Admiral Janeway is. How ready she is to do anything for her crew.

In the end, Janeway does it. She finds a way to bring her crew home. The atmosphere on Voyager's bridge when they emerge in the Alpha Quadrant--that of almost disbelief--is perfect. The relief, the longheld anticipation, the realization of their goal is tangible and just rigiht.

I think the only thing missing here, for me, is the after-effect of their arrival. Voyager is so much about what it means to be a family but the last twenty minutes of the finale are all about Janeway's battle with the Borg Queen. I wish there'd been time, as in All Good Things, to take a breath and let this crew be a family together, in the Alpha Quadrant, having finally, after everything they've been through, succeeded. That's what I need, on this New Year's Eve, a moment of reflection, of peace. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Shattered

It's down to the wire. I watched eight episodes of Voyager yesterday and I have tonight and tomorrow to get through the last seven. I'm doing my best but there's plenty of other, actual, life stuff I need to do as well. Like, you know, eat and sleep and see Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the sixth time.
Anyway, yesterday I re-watched Shattered and thought I absolutely had to write about it because, in many ways, I feel Shattered should've been Voyager's finale.

SitRep: Voyager gets caught in a temporal rift (with Chakotay getting a good dose of it) and the ship is split into several slices of Voyager's past and future. Chakotay (thanks to the The Doc's treatment) can slip between each section of time while the rest of the crew is stuck in their respective eras. Eventually Chakotay and Janeway team up in what becomes a sort of tour through Voyager's past, present, and potential futures. It's a greatest hits album for Janeway & Co and even goes so far as to include the macro-virus, Seska's brief takeover, and the Captain Proton program.
Shattered has all the elements of a good Trek: rompy fun, sciency calamity, adventure, danger, and heart. And it has, in spades, what sets Voyager apart: Shattered is about what makes the crew a family. Season Seven Chakotay introduces Pilot Episode Janeway to the next several years of her life and, naturally, she questions whether or not she should ever have made the choice that stranded Voyager in the Delta Quadrant and it's easy to question the choice along with her. Chakotay points out how many lives have been changed for the better because of Janeway's choice.

I love Endgame and I'm looking forward to it but I remember that, watching it in 2013, I felt that it suffered from the too-easy comparison to the somewhat superior All Good Things. Shattered is also similar but it's smaller in scale, sweeter, and, in many ways, more representative of what sets Voyager apart from the rest of Trek. Voyager's crew is thrown together because of a choice Janeway made seven years ago. They've been through so much, seen so much, they've changed and grown and become a family together in a way that no other Trek crew has and Shattered makes this difference palpable. And beautiful.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch Body and Soul

I'm in Kentucky for Christmas and I'm freezing--because it's hot outside and my inlaws are running the AC. I don't even blame them. I went for a walk this morning wearing a tank top. It's actually much colder back in SoCal. What's happening?! 

I had a crazy day of travel yesterday--worthy of any "trying to get home for the holidays" Christmas flick. It wasn't without its perks though. We saw some snow: 
We nearly missed our second connection and had to run through the airport to make it. Once we got to Kentucky we had to get in a car and drive two hours through a flash flood to get home. We pulled in around 2am soggy and exhausted but, at least, here. 

Before I left for my very, very long day of holiday travel I watched Body and Soul wherein Seven transfers The Doctor's matrix into her Borg tech to save him from some holo-phobic aliens. This leads to The Doc actually inhabiting Seven's body which leads to comic hijinx--so you know I love it. 

Seven is usually so literal and severe that it can be surprising how finely tuned Jeri Ryan's comedy skills are. She absolutely shines in this one as The Doctor in Seven's body. Most of the time when an actor wants to flex their acting muscles they want something super dramatic so they can tear at their hair and rip their shirt and whatever and that's fine I suppose. But I think Jeri Ryan does more in Body and Soul and Imperfection (a few episodes before this one wherein she expresses emotion at the thought of losing Icheb) than most actors do in any movie or episode where there's a lot of screaming and wailing. 

Anyway, this ones worth a watch. I'm loving this seventh season all over again and I'm dreading the end of Voyager's journey. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Muse

Yep. I'm still going along. Basically, while I was sick I couldn't do anything--anything. And now that I've been back I've had about a million things to catch up on. Also Christmas is about to happen. Also I had to go to a Holiday Party last night. While it was fine and everyone was very pleasant I've pretty much filled my in-person social quota for the year--and Christmas (the season of speaking to other human beings) is only just beginning. Oh, also, I've been working on this weird sort of project since I got well. A friend suggested I do a coloring book for grown-ups and I played with a few ideas until I came up with "Dogs in Sweaters" (likely to be followed with Cats, Mythological Creatures, and Jane Austen in Sweaters) and if you're a coloring enthusiast you're more than welcome to check it out over on Etsy or Gumroad.

Ok so here's what I'm really here to talk about today: 
Though it looks like Antigone or Prometheus Bound, it's not a classical Greek play. It's Voyager's Muse. I love this one. I was telling Scott last night that it might actually be my favorite episode even though it always seems to fly under my radar and doesn't possess any of the stuff that usually goes into a recipe for AR's fav ST episodes. No Doctor, really. No Seven. No crazy rompy elements. 

In Muse, B'Elanna crashlands on a bronze age planet and finds herself the subject of a play about "The Immortals" thanks to the playwright's fairly logical assumption that she must be one of their gods. The entire story is about the basics and nuances of a story and, ultimately, the importance of storytelling. In this way it's very much like my favorite TNG (and possibly all-time fav Trek) episode, Darmok. Storytelling is entertainment. Stories evoke emotion. They make us cry; they make us laugh. We hand them down. We learn from them. We get our morals and our values from them. We cherish them. And they're completely intangible. We can't set hands on a story--not really. It exists as part of a shared cultural experience and that's where its value lies. I've thought a lot about this lately. Mostly because tonight I'm going to a (slightly) advance screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I've always been more into Star Trek than Star Wars. This is primarily a function of my childhood--my dad loved Star Wars but he grew up with Trek and was primarily a Trekkie. Same with my mom. Trekkie parents=Trekkie kids. It's all indoctrination. Still, I remember the day my dad brought out the Star Wars VHS tapes and I learned about Luke and Leia. I still remember freaking out over the revelation of Vader as Luke's father. I still remember the dreams I had about the forest moon of Endor. When the prequels came out we watched all the originals again, and all their commentaries and we loved the prequels in spite of their missteps.

Scott and I were dating when Revenge of the Sith was released. We saw it together on opening night and then the next night at our small town drive-in and six more times (and would've seen it more if we'd had the money.) Scott grew up a Star Wars kid. He loves Trek mightily (which contributed to our getting together) but he's a Star Wars super fan. So of course we were thrilled to get tickets to a local advance screening.

And then I got an email from the organizer which said: Due to recent events, there will be no masks or toy/replica weapons of any kind allowed in the theater.

"Recent events" weren't specified but we all know what they're talking about. When the "recent event" happened in a Batman showing, I was stunned. I couldn't even go about my day. I fell into despondency. It totally knocked me off course. Why?

Batman is a story. It's meant to entertain but also to inspire. To teach kids that you can change the world for the better even if you don't have superpowers. That you can stand up for people who can't stand up for themselves. That you can make a difference. As a kid, I loved Batman. I believed in him. The same way I believe in Trek. The same way I believe in Star Wars.

These stories are modern mythology. They're larger than life. Their plots are simple and their heroes and villains fall on one side or the other with little gray area. They're enjoyable and exciting and memorable and we show them to our kids not only because they're fun to watch, not only because they're part of our culture, part of our shared history, part of our greater human legacy, but also because we want our kids to be more like the heroes in these films. We want to give them good role models. We want them to grow up conscientious, caring people who would stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves, etc.

So, I guess the whole point of this is that it makes me really sad that there even has to be an email. That there have been any "recent events" at all. That the ideals--the rules--of these stories were so horrifyingly broken and that we all have to be nervous about sitting in a theater now. It makes me sad.

Still, I'm not giving up on the idea that stories can change lives, hearts, cultures. I believe in their power. I believe in the message that is so clearly spelled out in Voyager's Muse:
Kelis: Anger is like fire. Love can be the rain that extinguishes it. My patron is filled with hatred for his rival. So our play should be filled with love.
B'Elanna: You can't change somebody's way of life with a few lines of dialogue. 
Kelis: Yes, you can! It's been done before. Do you know what this place used to be, a hundred years ago? A temple. And this was the altar stone. Every year, a victim would be sacrificed on it, in honor of winter. And then, one year - nobody remembers exactly when or why - a play took the place of the ritual. And no one had to die here again. Why can't my play take the place of a war?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Back on Track

I'm still watching Voyager, just so you know. I mean, I don't want you getting all worried about that. The thing is, this kidney infection left me totally exhausted. Even after I finished the antibiotic I still felt like some kind of dried out sea creature that had wondered onto land. I've not really been able to do any art or work out or really much of anything besides slug around on the couch. One day I tried to take a walk and immediately had to lie down and then I crashed for two hours. Today is the first day I feel even remotely like myself.

So, of course I'm watching Voyager. I'm trucking along. Right this minute I'm watching Ashes to Ashes--the one where Lindsay Ballard (dead ensign) shows up after three years as a lovely violet alien who thinks she wants to eat fruit salad and crack jokes but mostly what she really wants to do is mope and eat gray paste.
I love this character design. I love the extra lobes of her brain shaping her skull, I love the coloring--especially the spiky coloring on her eyelids which make it seem as though she has extra-long eyelashes. I love the ears. I love the wardrobe. I feel like Voyager really gets into its alien-design stride somewhere in Season Five. Maybe with the Hirogen?

The other thing that occurs to me in this episode--and I've mentioned it before--is that you should never, ever, ever go anywhere in a shuttle. Always use the transporter. If you can't--you need to head right on down to sickbay and try to get yourself a doctor's note because that shuttle is pretty much your ticket to ride--in a torpedo casing. Because you'll die. Anyway, that's what happened to Lindsay and now she's back.

Of course, this is a Harry Kim episode which means he'll be having a brief, stormy romance before the girl dies/leaves. Tom Paris actually pokes fun at this trope when he cites all the doomed relationships Harry's gotten himself into. Lindsay goes back to her new people and Voyager goes on about its way.

I'm most of the way through Season Six of Voyager now and a third of the way through December. I feel like I'll be able to manage this--so, stick around, and hopefully I'll be able to get back on track.

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