Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: The Emissary

First of all, some good news, my newest graphic essay was recently published over at Neutrons/Protons. It's about dads, death, and video games so, if you feel inclined, you can go check it out. It's called, Growing Up Together.

Second of all, I'm in an editorial phase of work which means that I spend about eight hours a day melting my brain trying to critically read every sentence of a long work and comment on/correct it. So, about midway through the day, I need a break. And that's when I have #LunchWithPicard.  Yesterday, I re-watched The Emissary.

Holy hell, I love this episode. More specifically, I love K'Ehleyr. I love what she brings to this episode and what Suzie Plakson brought to the character. And I love what that character ultimately brought to TNG. Worf has always been an intriguing dude but this opens him up in a way "girlfriend episodes" don't usually do. I think a lot of that is because of the paradoxical way Worf chooses to Klingon. He loves all the crap about honor and death in battle and warrior worship but he's way more stodgy than the other Klingons we've seen. He's not a fan of loud drinking songs, inexplicably yelling everything he says, or bawdy jokes. Dude is uptight. (Later on, in DS9, we finally find out why.)

But this one is just as much (or more) about K'Ehleyr as it is about Worf. Again, this is kinda rare for a girlfriend episode. K'Ehleyr is bi-species: Klingon/Human. And she briefly talks about her experience with Troi, who can sort of relate. Two women. Having a meaningful conversation about their histories and cultures. What show even is this?

K'Ehleyr is unconventional. She speaks her mind and she doesn't let Worf get away with sulkily slinking around the LCARS systems. She knows what she wants and she's not afraid to ask for it. She wears red spandex better than anyone on the Enterprise and has amazing, unapologetic sex with Worf, then tells him how ridiculous it would be for them to get suddenly married. She leads high ranking Starfleet officers in discussions about strategy and though her bias about Klingon attitudes shows she's level headed enough to go along with a smart plan when one is offered.

Even in her exit, K'Ehleyr is amazing. She refuses to let Worf sulk his way through their goodbye and helps him see that, even if they aren't getting married RIGHT THIS SECOND BECAUSE THEY SCHTUPPED they don't have to be on bad terms and can even go on to have a relationship.
In a lot of ways, I feel like they hit something with K'Ehleyr that they wouldn't get again until DS9 and, even more so, with Voyager. (But especially not while Roddenberry was still piloting the ship) An exceptionally well-rounded, complicated female character who's capable of having real discussions (not comforting platitudes or worries about children and boyfriends) with the people around her, capable of being flawed and owning up to it, capable of leadership and of admitting when she's wrong, capable of being unapologetically sexual without being injured or somehow punished by it, capable of just, you know, being a person.

Actually, you know, there are a couple of women in TNG who do this stuff:
Guinan and Pulaski are both full of gumption and realness. Unfortunately, they're both far too underutilized in TNG. I watched all the way into the first episode of season three yesterday which means I got to see Crusher return and spend a lot of time wringing her hands over Wesley's non-problems (not the ship-wide crisis) in Picard's ready room at which point, I made this face:

Friday, June 10, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: Time Squared or The Best/Worst of Times

A few weeks ago I was sitting at a table in Kentucky with my husband and some of my dearest, best-loved friends—my Shakespeare kids adults. Whenever we're home, we try to meet up with as many of them as we can. Though, they now have their own lives which include jobs or college and even a baby! So it can be hard to get the family back together. Still, a few of us were there. It was fantastic.

I bring this up because, as I was re-watching TNG's Time Squared, I thought about an old and often repeated conversation I've had with my husband regarding Trek and other SciFi shows. The people who inhabit the Whoniverse, the Hellmouth, The Verse, the Twelve Colonies, and (maybe especially) The Federation, are always getting into some seriously traumatic trouble. So far I'm only forty-two episodes into TNG and already they all got drunk and had sex with each other, Data was replaced by his evil twin brother AND an old, jerk scientist, Deana had a pregnancy and then a baby and then a little kid who then went off to become one with space, Tasha got eaten by a blob, and the whole ship was captured by a weird giant face who wouldn't let them go until Picard threatened to blow up the ship.

The point is, it seems like these folks wouldn't even be able to sit at their stations and press their flat LCARS buttons because of how traumatized they would be. It seems like all they would do is go around saying things like, "Man, remember that time Riker had a fish tail sticking out of his neck and then a guy's head straight-up exploded. I don't think I'll ever be able to forget about that."

But they don't. Obviously. A lot of this is just practical. You have 24 episodes a season. You have forty-five minutes per episode. You have to get into the plot and get out. You can't clutter all that up with everyone bemoaning what happened to them last week. This isn't Luther.
Or is it?
Ok. Time Squared wherein the Enterprise is just going about its business when they discover a shuttlecraft adrift. They reel it in only to find that an unconscious but very real Captain Picard at its helm. So now there are two Picards. Everything begins to feel very Primer-ish as the crew tries to puzzle out what happened (or is going to happen) and what to do (or what they did) with the copy of Picard. By the end, one Picard just full out murders his double, they escape the time loop they're caught in, and they go on their way to the next episode. They will never speak of this again.

Ok, back to lunch with my Shakespeare family. I asked one of my kids why he never emails and he says, "Well, I read your blog and you have so much going on I don't want to add to your problems. You order a bike and it doesn't work, you're injured, you go to the hospital, you wear a heart monitor. Then your grandma dies. Then your other grandma dies. Then you get diagnosed with a chronic illness. You have a really stressful life!"

As he rattled off all the unpleasant facts of my life from the last couple of years, I felt really uncomfortable. His summary was a distilled reduction of my life—a best (or worst) of list. I realized that to him and the rest of my readers (all six of you) my life is probably more like episodic TV than real life. But that's because, like episodic TV, I only really have (and take the) time to write about stuff that's a fairly big deal. Injuries, illnesses, deaths—this stuff is "news" because it fills up a lot of my emotional space while I'm living it. And also because I think reading about my dead grandma is probably more interesting to you than reading about what I had for lunch or what a pleasantly uneventful morning I had watching my favorite Murdoch Mysteries episode for the fifth time or how the roomba I bought has been the some of the best money we ever spent. I'm not saying I don't put that stuff online. I do. I put it right over on my Instagram feed which you are more than welcome to follow:

A photo posted by AshleyRose (@thisashleyrose) on

The point is that, I guess now, while I watch the coming episodes of TNG, while Troi turns into Cruella Deville, while Picard is tortured by the Cardassians, while Data has a daughter who is just as lovable as he is but who then tragically dies, while Dr. Crusher gets it on with her dead grandma's boyfriend, I'll think about how this is just one instance in these people's lives. I'll think about how yes, at the moment dealing with half-Romulan Tasha's daughter is super important but the rest of the time everyone's mostly doing their day-to-day, boring job or just sitting around drinking prune juice in Ten Forward, or playing poker, or reading old volumes of Shakespeare, or simply farting around on the holodeck. That's the stuff that doesn't get a lot of screen time... or blog time. That's the stuff that, while pleasantly uneventful, real life is mostly made up of. This is the stuff that might not even register. These are, in many ways, the best of times. If only Picard were on Instagram. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Boldly Going Barbie

A couple of days ago, Matel announced that they'll soon be putting out a whole line of Star Trek themed Barbies

I'm in my early thirties now. Which means that, bafflingly, everyone I know seems to be having children. I end up being dragged into a lot of conversations about child rearing and one of the most common, off-hand thing I hear is, "Well, if it's a girl, we're not going to let her play with barbies." And everyone nods (I imagine they nod, I only talk to people via a keyboard) approvingly, as if not letting your child play with barbies is the same thing as not letting your child play with rusty nails or lighter fluid.

I realize that Barbies can still or could have contributed to a lot of self-image issues--though this is something Mattel is trying to change. The Barbie we all still picture, though, is impossibly thin, impossibly busty, with legs like a gazelle and feet like a grotesque human-rabbit hybrid. She is perpetually tan with a tiny nose and huge, Disney Princess eyes. She never leaves the house (to go to her job as a surgeon or astronaut or veterinarian) without makeup. I grew up in the 90s era of Barbie doll and, yes, I had self image issues. Whether that was because of Barbie or because of my dad's gibes at my mom's "thunder thighs" (a trait I inherited and proudly own) I don't know. But I had Barbies. I had a bunch of Barbies. And I loved them, literally, to pieces.

Here are some facts about me and my Barbies:

1- I don't remember not loving Barbie. The first one I remember getting, I was five years old. I think she was a Malibu Skipper doll.

2- I never used a pacifier or sucked my thumb as a child but I did (and still do) tend to stick stuff in my mouth. So, of course, I used to chew up my Barbie's feet. They were, as a rule, completely mangled.

3- Once, I left my 2nd favorite Barbie on the radiator and her legs melted.

4- I love androgyny (Is that a thing you can love? I hope I'm not being offensive.) Men's clothes dominate my wardrobe and I hold Tilda Swinton and David Bowie as my fashion icons. I'm fascinated by all kinds of gender fluidity or modes of gender outside the traditional norms. Anyway, when I was a kid, and first learned about drag queens (at the time I heard the phrase "transvestite") from my seriously awesome, wry, liberal god-mother, I loved the whole concept. I dressed one of my Ken dolls in a tube top and neon mini skirt and gave "Transvestite Ken" to said god-mother as a gift. She still has them.

5- I used to stash my Barbies in a little green suitcase at night. Locked. Under my bed. Not because I was worried about night-time fashion doll thievery but because I was worried they might come to life and attack me.

6- I had a video game on my dad's Commodore 64 wherein Barbie arranged a date with Ken then drove to various shops (side scroll style) to get ready before the ever-changeable Ken would inevitably call and say, "Wanna play tennis instead?" and then Barbie would hit the road again.

7- I built huge houses for my Barbies out of cardboard boxes and anyone I met (child or adult) was forced to come and see my (always dangerously close to toppling) homemade palaces.

8- After Hurricane Hugo decimated my state, my town, my street, a picture of me appeared in the newspaper navigating the wreckage in my Barbie Jeep.

9- I held onto my Barbies through a ton of moves. I changed schools thirteen times before high school. Each move, my Barbies went with me. In that old green suitcase.

10- I got a Barbie dream house for my 7th birthday and I distinctly remember my dad sitting on the floor in the living room, snapping the fiddly pieces together. My parents suddenly split up two weeks later and I never saw that dream house again.

You might wonder where all of my Barbies are now. As far as I know, my mom still has that old green suit case wedged into a closet somewhere. It's still packed full of 90's era Barbie Dolls. But there's one absent. My favorite one. She was a Midge doll with long auburn hair. Her head/neck connector knob broke so I always just crammed her head back on with unflattering effect. She went with me all the way through middle school, all the way through high school. And, at some point while I was in college, she got left behind. She's probably in a box of my stuff in the back of a closet at my dad's house.

You might wonder whether I'd want those Star Trek Barbies. No. Not really. I don't like having things I won't use. Things that exist merely for display. And I don't play with Barbies anymore. As much as I love that Uhura doll, she would likely just end up (still in the box) in a trunk somewhere. But, man, I'd give just about anything to see my old Midge doll again. That girl saw me through a lot. And, I don't recall her, with her smushed down head and chewed up feet, ever judging me about my cup size or my thunder thighs or putting ideas in my head about impossible beauty standards. She was just... there. And now she's not.

Monday, June 6, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: The Dauphin

A few years ago I worked for an environmental education farm in Kentucky. My job was to teach groups of kids (and sometimes adults) about farm life and to expose them to various aspects of nature. A lot of the kids were from the burbs or inner city (Cincinnati) and couldn't tell a goat from a dog and I let them put their hands all over both. I did birthday parties, school tours, summer camps, and—my favorite—winter camp. Sure, the lush greenness of a Kentucky summer can't be beat (except by the lush greenness of a North Carolina mountain summer) but there was something really nice about sitting in a cold barn with a warm goat and a bunch of kids (human children not goat babies—although there were always plenty of goat babies also) making hot chocolate, decorating pine cone ornaments, and talking about life.
Ok. I worked at this farm for four years and apparently have no pictures of myself with small goats (or any goats.) This is a travesty but I have changed computers about three times since then so I guess some stuff got lost in the shuffle. Just use your imagination and pretend this idyllic girl with goat painting is me. 

One of these winter camps, I found myself sitting next to a 6th grade girl in the early morning as we milked a goat named Mandy. She'd been to the camp in previous years and she chattered to me as if I were the same farmer she'd hung out with last year and the year before (and, in her defense, we were mostly all 20-something college student chicks with hairy legs and company t-shirts) and she said, "Here's an update. It's been an interesting year. I started playing trombone. I'm down one grandpa. But I'm up one puppy. Huzzah!"

She actually said, "Huzzah!"

The kid was homeschooled. Obviously. And I loved her.

Encountering a homeschooled kid in the wild was always, to me, very similar to encountering someone from Tennessee or Virginia now that I live in SoCal. No, we aren't from exactly from the same place, but there are certain environmental/socio-cultural touchstones that we both understand. And, because of that, I feel a certain kind of kinship with them.

The homeschool kids I met and befriended when I was younger were typically really bright, curious, highly-educated, compassionate people. They were also typically very open, tactless, and truthful. They were a lot like someone with Asperger's. They were a lot like me.

Obviously I can't speak for the wide swath of homeschooled folks out there but the kids I usually encountered (and this was pre-wide-spread internet usage) hadn't got caught up in the same social games I'd been trying to avoid. They didn't give a shit about side ponytails or light up shoes or who they were supposed to listen to on the radio. They liked what they liked (or what their parents or big sister) liked and they told you about it with zero hesitation or apology. Even when these kids were homeschooled for really intense religious reasons and they eerily spouted bible stories with the same sort of practical recitation they might lay down the state capitals in alphabetical order, I couldn't help liking them.

And I guess maybe that's why I can't help liking this awkward, gangly episode of The Next Generation. Because this girl right here:
is every gawky, curious, compassionate, open-hearted, frank homeschooler I ever sat next to and smiled when they said, "Huzzah."

The actresses who play Salia and Anya (Salia's over-protective matron/best friend/confidant) both do a fantastic job in this weird little Westley-centric, rompy episode.

Escorting a female ruler to her new home where she will then presumably lead her people to peace and prosperity is a tried and tested story for Trek. Usually the lady ruler has a love affair with the Cap or possibly the first mate but here, because it's 2nd season TNG, it's Wesley.

Much like a homeschooler in bygone days, I don't know or care what other people think about this episode—though I can likely guess. I realize that focusing on a silly teenager and his silly teenage problems/innocence/mistakes/puberty was a mistake for TNG's early years. It wasn't Saved By The Bell (what possibly could be?) and it shouldn't have tried to be. Nevertheless, just like a girl I once befriended on a hiking trip who played five instruments, spoke three languages and had really strong opinions about the Franco Spanish Civi War but no clue who "Clarissa" was or why she was explaining it all, I have a soft spot in my heart for The Dauphin.

Oh, also, this one gets bonus points for this scene:

Friday, June 3, 2016

TNG Re-Watch: Measure of a Man

I'm finally back from my travels, my injuries are healing up, and Scott's hiatus is over. All of this means that work can now commence! And by work I mean finally editing the second Awesome Jones book, finishing up and submitting new comic essays, and getting back to Star Trek: The Next Generation and blogging about it.

Yesterday I watched Unnatural Selection and A Matter of Honor. Then I started up the next one and they were playing poker for the first time. Here were Pulaski, Geordi, O'Brien, Riker, and Data sitting around the table. I thought, "Wow, this is a bit of a watershed. What episode is this?"
Guys, I even took a picture.
Anyway, the episode ended up being Measure of a Man. THE Measure of a Man. Of course, I wrote about this episode during My (Actual) Year of Star Trek. A couple of years have gone by since then. At the time I'd been married for just over five years and now I'm coming up on my (omg!) ninth wedding anniversary. I moved twice. I wrote more books and started shifting my focus to comics. I watched as Scott started working in TV full time. I found out about my Aspergers and Ehlers Danlos. I sort of sucked at dealing with death. I lifted a bunch of weight. I ate a bunch of ice cream. I played a bunch of video games. I watched all of Voyager. I lived.

Essentially, I humaned. I humaned the crap out of the last couple of years. I was humaning the best way that I could think to human. And, even though I'm kind of bad at various emotional things, I feel fairly certain I could pass Commander Maddox's requirements for sentience and he (probably) wouldn't dis-assemble me.

Today, while watching Measure of a Man, I worked on fine tuning part of my latest comic essay. I drank coffee. I texted with my BFF who sent me pictures of the handouts she'd just got from a writing conference. I thought about how I need to clean the kitchen. Still, I put all of my daily human business on pause to really watch the last fifteen or so minutes. The trial of Data.

I didn't cry. But I did smile. This episode is still, after all these years (after five more seasons of TNG, three more Trek series, several movies, a three movie reboot, and all the hope and anxiety that comes with the new series,) a beautiful, pretty much perfect example of what science fiction can and should do. In 2013 I said that if you only watch one episode of Star Trek, in your whole life, then Measure of a Man (even though it's still not my all-time favorite) might be that episode. I'm not backing down from that now.

One more thing! If you haven't already entered my giveaway to win the new, anniversary edition of Boarding The Enterprise, go over and do that now! The winner will be announced on Monday!

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