Wednesday, April 27, 2016

TNG Rewatch: We'll Always Have Vegas

I watched We'll Always Have Paris yesterday while I was trying (again) to get back to work. In spite of the fact that it's is a Picardisode I could never find my way to loving this one. Once again, it just feels like a leftover story from TOS. I could totally see Kirk pseudo-struggling with having to save his old flame and his old flame's new super science husband from said super science husband's research mistakes. I do like that Picard won't really let himself indulge in a holo-recreation of the day he left her sitting around in Paris on her own and I've always liked the Three Datas ending--even when I was a kid. I suppose it's just that I know that this show gets a lot better and this episode pales somewhat by comparison and I'm eager to get past this (even though you wouldn't know it by how slow I've been moving through this season--but things here have been crazy. I mean, a week ago, I was on my way back from a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas.)

We live in LA so it's not really a huge deal for us to hop over to Las Vegas for a couple of days. And, of course, there's a lot we love about Vegas. Mostly all the magic shows. Really just the magic shows. I'm not overly fond of the rest of it. Anyway, I've gone on and on about Penn and Teller before  and I have a long history of loving their show etc. And (actually, I'm not sure how I never mentioned this before but,) Penn was on an episode that Scott wrote earlier this season and said if we ever came out to Vegas to come by the show. So, of course, we did. And we went backstage and met Penn and Teller who were very cordial and lovely and the whole experience was very nice.

In fact, it was more nice than they knew. Because one of their new tricks involves a little white rabbit and this time (I've seen this trick live twice now) the rabbit was called, AshleyRose. (If you've just found this blog this is significant because my name is AshleyRose, nice (probably!) to meet you) Penn swung the rabbit up into the air Lion King style and said again, "Everyone meet AshleyRose!" and then again, "AshleyRose."

Penn introduced the rabbit to an audience of hundreds but it was a joke for two people. Me and my husband. The words had significance to Penn, Teller, Scott, and me. And that's it. And that's really rather wonderful and special. (It also doesn't hurt that Penn happened to associate my name with a little, white rabbit.)

Several years ago, when I was in first grade, and my parents had just divorced and I'd gone in and out of homelessness and/or home insecurity and it would be over a year before I saw my dad again and I'd been in three schools over the last eight months, I happened to see a promo for a televised magic special. It was Penn and Teller's Don't Try This At Home. Something about them... their irreverence, their dangerousness, their scofflaw attitude... I loved it. I was trying so hard to hold it together and in many ways I relied on the steady hand of Trek during that time but just as much, I needed to scream and I needed to bark and I needed to see magic happen and then, in the same breath, see how easily it's unraveled. I wrote the date of their special on the calendar in the hallway and kept an eye on it until the night it aired. I've been a Penn and Teller fan ever since.

I never would've thought, when I was writing two magicians names on a calendar in crayon that someday I'd be sitting in their packed house when one of them suddenly barked, "Everyone, say hi to AshleyRose!"

That's pretty magical.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: Skin of Evil

So here's the deal, I had this whole idea about this episode. I mean, I already wrote about Skin of Evil back in my actual Year of Star Trek so it's not like I have to write about it again.

When I was a kid, living with my dad, we watched a lot of movies and TV together and a lot of them had really evil bad guys. My dad and I both loved really evil bad guys. I personally love evil bad guys who are also imperious and physically imposing (here I can cite my ongoing infatuations with Khan, Bane, King Thrandy, even Hannibal Lector) and it doesn't hurt if they're vaguely British or old-timey. Anyway, my dad and I would watch movies like 5th Element, Die Hard, Tank Girl, and Heroic Trio and paused the VHS to debate whether Zorg, Gruber, Kesslee or The Evil Master (this one sort of answers itself) had any redeeming qualities. Villains that didn't have any were sometimes more fun but harder to take seriously and sometimes that was the point.

While I was watching Skin of Evil (like two weeks ago) my ears perked up because Data, after beaming down to crap town after Tasha dies, tells Armus (the blobby baddie) that he has "no redeeming qualities." It's something Picard repeats later in the episode. And it's something my dad and I would repeat in countless conversations for years after.

Normally, in the following space, I would go on to pontificate about the very idea of redeeming qualities or write about other Star Trek villains, or I could just write about how the last time I saw this one I'd liked Tasha but after watching Voyager all the women in TNG seem so obviously and purposelessly flat to me which makes me sort of sad--but I don't really have it in me. I've been really worried about my dad lately. I'm going back to Kentucky in a few weeks and I'll see him and I'm really glad because I miss him and anything that makes me think about him just makes me want to be near him and then my mind, instead of spending time on the idea of morally bankrupt bad guys, goes back to my dad and all those afternoons and evenings and weekends and summers that we sat on the sofa and, maybe because of this one line in this one episode of Star Trek that we watched together, years before, when I was little, we talked.

Friday, April 1, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: Home Soil - Symbiosis

This week I watched Home Soil, Coming of Age, Heart of Glory, Arsenal of Freedom, and Symbiosis.

The first season is still rocky as hell but everyone is beginning to find their footing. Patrick Stewart is phenomenal as always. LeVar Burton is fantastic and I love just about every moment he's on screen. Frakes is charismatic even if they still don't really know what to do with his character. The higher ups didn't seem to really know what to do with any of these characters at this point but the lady types seem to have had it worse than the rest. Troi, Crusher, and especially Yar are all examples of well intended characters that nobody understood how to write. They're all more of a statement than a real person with real motivations, thoughts, and emotions. As a consequence Sirtis, McFadden, and Crosby don't get a lot to work with and their characters tend to fall fairly flat, which is a shame.

Heart of Glory is my likely favorite pick out of these, mostly because it's Michael Dorn's first chance to really shine as Worf. You get a better understanding of what this Klingon is doing on a Federation ship--how his parents died on Khitomer (he thinks) and how he was found and raised by a Starfleet officer who settled in a farming colony. It's a solid foundation for one of the most interesting characters in all of Trek--a character we wouldn't truly get to know until DS9. We also see the Klingon death ritual for maybe the first time. And that's nice. It's always fun to watch a bunch of Klingons get all shouty.

Symbiosis is the last of the bunch and the high point here is seeing Judson Scott show up as the narcotic peddling ponce from Brekkia:

You'll remember him as Khan's right hand man, Joachim: 

Or, more recently (for me), as Commander Rekar in Voyager's fantastic Message In A Bottle: 

Actually there is one more thing: This is Denise Crosby's last shot episode and contains her "goodbye" to the show, the fans, etc at about 42:14, just as Crusher and Picard leave the cargo bay (and their wonky understanding of the Prime Directive) behind.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Angel One Etc.

Alright, it's somehow been a couple of weeks. My husband just went on hiatus which is pretty much summer break for folks working in TV and I've been spending all of my time either with him or working on a new comic essay that I hope to start sending out next week. There was also some family stuff. So... I guess that's where the time went.

Anyway, I'm still lumbering through the first season and I think I may just sit down this week and watch a whole bunch of them so I can more on to the much more satisfying subsequent seasons. Last week I watched Angel One, 11001001, Too Short A Season, and When The Bough Breaks or:

The One Where Riker Wears A Codpiece: 

The One Where Riker Hits On A Hologram: 

The One Where A Guy Benjamin Buttons: 
I was fixing the broken hall closet whilst watching this so I should just post a picture of how amazing my work with a hammer, flathead screwdriver, and vacuum cleaner is but here's this instead: 

 The One Where Deep Throat Kidnaps Wesley And Then Wishes He Hadn't: 

See you tomorrow, kids. I'm off to get some cupcakes for Bunny's Birthday:


The last three months have been a little strange. In and out of doctors and specialists. My paternal grandmother passing away suddenly and my inability to get her out of my head. My sudden work (after a long dry spell) on a new graphic essay that ate up all of my time. My husband going on hiatus (ie- Spring Break!) and finally, suddenly being able to spend time with him when we aren't both exhausted and stressed out. I've been meaning to write about Angel One and a bunch of subsequent episodes. I had a whole plan.

Then, two nights ago, we went to see a movie and when I came out I saw a text from my family:

Nana just passed away.

I'd expected it. My grandmother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma nearly eleven years ago and her ongoing level of not only survival but quality of life the last several years has been nothing short of amazing. She took a turn last year and was even in hospice care earlier this year but was taken home when it seemed she wouldn't have much time. But she just kept holding out. Day in and day out. Until, a few nights ago, it was clear that she likely only had a day or so.

I was four years old when I learned to read. My grandma, a second-grade teacher, taught me a letter, a syllable, a sentence at a time. She also taught me the wildflowers of her beloved Blue Ridge Mountains as well as the animals, the trails around her house, the edible wild berries, the best way to cut a rose. She and I had a secret code. In little notes, in letters, on gifts, she was always GrC. I was ARW. She taught me the Golden Rule and to always put family first. She taught me to crumble crackers into my chili and scoop up the salty, crunchy, spicy mess with a spoon. She taught me to scratch a bar of soap before I worked in the garden so the dirt would rinse cleanly away.

My grandma loved me and I will always cherish those memories.

My grandma cut my fingernails to the bleeding quick every time she caught me trying to grow them long because, "Only bad girls have long fingernails." She washed out my mouth with Dial Soap when I said curse words and whipped me with an Easter bush switch when I (often) misbehaved. She took me to her school one day and they served chili and when her coworker admonished me for the way I ate my meal my grandma scolded me without irony and asked, "Where on Earth did you learn that? That's bad manners."  She had a few more grandchildren down the line and exchanged "Grandma" for "Nana" and eventually (before her brain was addled by her sickness and its cure) she forgot all about being GrC. And one night, when I was seven years old and the cold wind of February was ripping through the break in the mountains where her house sat, she stood beside her husband, my grandpa, and watched as he told my mother and me who were homeless and penniless and afraid that we couldn't take a step inside, let-alone take refuge with them. She slipped my mother a few dollars--as much as he wouldn't miss--and we went back into the night.

My grandma loved me and she made mistakes because she was human and I will never be able to forget those memories.

My grandma was the youngest of three girls--and ten boys--the daughter of a legitimately badass farm woman and a father who got his thumb shot off in WWI. She grew up deep, deep in the mountains and moved into the comparative metropolis of Asheville, North Carolina when she got married. She had a daughter, a son, and another daughter. She read the King James Bible every day and she went around handing out Bible tracts to complete strangers. She visited the sick. She prayed several times a day. She loved arts and crafts. I knew all this stuff a long early on.

Somewhere along the line I found out she'd been a poet once upon a time. She had written verses and read voraciously. She'd painted. She had wanted to go to art school and paint the natural world on big canvases like Georgia O'Keefe. She had been a desperately creative person... once. But life takes turns: A bad marriage. A hearing impaired child in a place and time with few helpful resources. A likely severe undiagnosed case of postpartum depression. A desperate need for comfort and companionship found, for whatever reason, in the arms of an oppressive, dogmatic, fire and brimstone church.

My grandma raised herself out of hard situations within the confines of her own beliefs. She found a school for the deaf and sent my uncle there--though it must have been hard. She taught herself and my mother and aunt ASL--my grandpa never learned. She started taking night classes and put herself through college and got herself a teaching job she had to drive an hour away to do. For a time, once all her kids were gone from home, she even had a little apartment nearer to her school. She nursed me when I was sick. She treasured every piece of art her grandchildren made. She gave money and food to strangers. She was a good-hearted and gentle woman moving quietly, unobtrusively through life, constantly reconciling her boundless human compassion with the ugly limitations her dogma provided. She was kind.

And she was flawed. It's tempting, in these times, to write about the dead as saintly. My grandma, for all of her good intentions and all of her beliefs and all of the time spent singing flat hymns in a church that always seemed cold and joyless to me, for all of her work as a dutiful wife and for all of her slipped fives and tens and twenties to people who needed it, my grandma was not a saint. She was a human. And that's better and sadder and happier and warmer and colder and, god damn it, hell of a lot truer.

A human being is never one thing. A human being is many things to many people. To me, she was GrC and she wasn't perfect. And that's ok.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: Datalore

This is a big one. Lore is such a huge part of the TNG... lore... and it's a little mind-boggling to think that it all starts way back here in this wacky-ass first season.

I remember watching this one when I was little, remember hating Lore (as we're supposed to) and I remember going the rest of my life thinking about how I needed a code word or phrase just in case I was covertly replaced by a doppelgänger.  In case you're wondering, yes, my spouse and I have set up an elaborate series of identity checks so that I can't be easily replaced by another me (from a mirror universe, or with my roboticist father's second child, or with someone from Earth 2, or a synth from The Institute) I even have a codename for alternate me just in case she shows up and I'm not even going to tell you what it is because there can be only one.

Anyway, back to Datalore:

We all know what a jerk Lore is and what an obviously lovely time Spiner had playing him and he'll come up again and again. What totally throws me about this episode is the way it all comes around to the end. Basically, Wesley has to save the day because Wesley saves the day in approximately 75% of these early episodes and yet no one will listen to him. This is the episode that features the famous, "Shut up, Wesley!" line from Picard. Which, let's be honest, this is ridiculous at this point. We all know that Lore could have replaced Data. We all know Wesley has already saved a ship-full of supposedly capable, intelligent, highly-trained Starfleet officers many, many times already. We know Picard has a special/weird/guilty relationship with Wesley. We know Wesley has a friendship with Data and would be the person to know whether he'd been switched out for the newer model. And yet, when Wesley says, "Hey, uh, Cap, I think maybe--"
and also: 

I don't know, I'm not trying to champion Wesley or anything but, come on. This makes zero sense. They go along, not listening to the teenager who keeps saving all of them, and (big surprise) he saves all of them again and then it's basically, "Oh, what a crazy day we've all had. Am I right? See you guys back at the office." Like it's no big thing that Data's brother almost got everyone killed and the only way the whole ship didn't bite it was that a teenager and his reluctant mom snuck off and fixed said teenager's robot bestie.

In spite of all this, Datalore is still one of the best first season episodes. I can deal with my hangups about it because Lore ended up becoming a legit baddie and this is where it all starts. First seasons (as I've stated over and over) are always rocky and a little slapdash and TNG's first season is no different. Next up is Angel One and you all know how I'm looking forward to that biz.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: Haven and The Big Goodbye

Last week I sat down and, while working on a new graphic essay, watched Haven and The Big Goodbye--two episodes at complete opposite ends of the fan appreciation spectrum.

So this is the one wherein Troi reveals that Betazoids (this is never brought up again btw) do genetic bonding (read: arranged marriages) all over the place and that her dad for some reason bonded her to one of his buddy's kids. This whole issue has likely been written about all over the place but I'm working and just don't have time to read a bunch of the internet's feelings on the matter. I'm not a fan of this whole idea (and it really feels like a TOS episode pitch) but that's the way the whole first season is which is something I've already talked about at length. This is an episode both of the generation prior and it's stylistically very much of its own time. The color changing rose, Troi's tight super bun and weird outfit that makes you wonder if she's even in Starfleet (I've also written a whole post about Troi's uniform) and the object of her arranged affection has floofy late 80s hair and a nice tan and he's a thoughtful doctor who carries around his sketchbook full of pictures he drew of another floofy-haired late 80s person everywhere he goes all the time.

Actually, this guy:
Isn't bad at all. Once you get past the floofy 80s hair and the Thirty Something styling of this Wyatt Miller dude, he's lending some legit sensitivity to an otherwise fairly ridiculous character. In a seriously silly episode, this actor seems to be playing it straight and he really does stand out. As I was watching I thought, "Wait...this guy looks really familiar. I feel like I've seen him very recently."

Luckily IMDB exists and I found that he's been on basically every television show since 1999 (including Voyager) but that he was also Clock King in The Flash which Scott and I finally tried about two weeks ago and then watched it every free second of our time it until we were caught up. This is Wyatt Miller now:
He was also (originally?) in Arrow but we're going about our bingeing fairly backwards and haven't seen it yet.

Anyway, here's my main takeaway from TNG's Haven: Robert Knepper is a fucking boss and has been ever since he, as Wyatt Miller, got himself out of that arranged marriage and onto a plague ship with the (literal) girl of his dreams.


The Big Goodbye:
I've written two posts about this one. The first in 2013 and again when I happened to catch it on TV in 2014. To be fair, I was really not in the mood for any Trek the January after my whole life had been monopolized by it so it's no wonder that my feelings regarding Picard's first turn as Dixon Hill hadn't changed. And... they still are... well, they're ok.
Look, really, I feel like The Big Goodbye is a good early episode of the show. It heavily features Picard doing interesting things which will pretty much always guarantee at least a couple classic moments. It's a romp. Everyone's running amok in a pulp novel marveling at the slang and the clothes and we're all marveling at them doing it. It's fun.
I think my argument with this one has always been that it gets too much credit but, as I've mentioned, that's probably more a generational thing than anything else. When this episode first aired I was too young to appreciate it and by the time it came around again I'd seen the show, the writing, the acting develop into something else and I preferred that something else. Still, The Big Goodbye, is a classic episode so it's worth the watch. And, if you're me, it's worth the watch not because of the trench coats and fedoras, not because of Data's kooky hijinks, not even because of MacFadden's rare chance at some comedy. For me, the reason to spool up this one is to see the usually stuffy Picard fanboy gush over his first experience in the Dixon Hill program to his entire senior staff without any inclination that he's being slightly ridiculous. In this scene, Picard is all of us. In this scene, he's me.

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