Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Battle-Star-Trek-Galactica Turns A Corner With Context Is For Kings


At some point last week I began referring to Discovery as "Battle-Star Trek-Galactica" because that's what it felt like after the 2-part pilot. Don't get me wrong. I love BSG. I loved it from the first five minutes of the premier of the mini-series that aired what feels like seven million years ago. But BSG was grim. Like, Brothers Grim grim. But I loved it anyway, like I loved I a lot of the shows that came after it and were heavily influenced by it like The 100 (which I recently binged on a near pathological level and which is basically Young Adult BSG with swords.)  But... I didn't really want my Star Trek to be BSG. I wanted needed a little more hope, a little more optimism and, goddamnit, a little more of the crew.

That's why I think the bigwigs at CBS really, really, really should have aired the first THREE episodes of Star Trek: Discovery on CBS as what would basically be a TV movie-type event. The first episode leaves us with our main character being hauled to the brig after a mutiny. The second leaves us with the main character being sentenced to life in prison. It's grim and dark and sad and there's not even a titular ship or a crew to attach to.

I think that's why, after my first viewing of The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, I felt sort of...bereft. Watching it the second time, with my husband, I was dumbfounded by how much more I enjoyed both parts and, as it went off and I watched the preview for (the apparently even darker) Context Is For Kings I realized what it was.

Like so many others, I was a little kid when TNG started. I spent my whole childhood with bright uniforms and mauve chairs and one-off episodes that almost always had a happy ending. The earth of TNG had no famine, no poverty, nearly no sickness. As a kid who was going through a lot difficult emotional and financial stuff that I didn't really understand... the world of TNG was appealing and inviting. And, watching the first two episodes of Discovery, I felt sad that this darker, harsher, angrier Star Trek wasn't going to be for kids. Telling my husband my feelings, I actually began to cry. Star Trek saved me in a very real way but Discovery isn't for kids. And... once I got those words out of my mouth... I actually began to feel a little more ok. Even if I did start going around referring to it as Battle Star Trek Galactica. This Star Trek isn't for kids but it is good.

And, isn't that more important? At least right now? My MAIN concern going into this Star Trek was that it would be bad. That it would be a cobbled together mess. That it would get panned and that it would disappear after one unsuccessful season and it would be another decade before anyone tried another Trek. But if it's good? Who knows? Maybe one season of Discovery will lead to two and three and more and then another Trek that is brighter and happier and more suitable for kids. But first, it has to be good.

This weekend, Scott and I sat down and watched the third episode, Context is For Kings. I watched it again today. It started out with Burnham six months into her life sentence and en route to a mining colony when the shuttle pilot had to go outside to do some fixing and abruptly died (read: grimdark.) They were soon greeted on Discovery by an actual BSG alum, Commander Landry or, as I referred to her for several years, Cylon Foster:

But, once on the ship, things quickly began to look more familiar (even if it still kept a lot of its Battle Star Trek Galactica tone.) Discovery is big and bright and full of officers doing science-y things. Burnham is met by First Officer Saru (who's somehow even better in this episode) and then by Captain Malfoy Lorca who wants her to help out around his super secret war research ship. She's assigned to engineering where she butts heads with astromycologist, Stamets, played to a pitch-perfect annoyed-as-hell-that-he's-doing-war-stuff-vibe by Anthony Rapp. Soon enough we get that Discovery is doing something seriously shady but it all feels a little better, a little less grim, thanks to Burnham's indefatigable new roomy, Cadet Tilly. I swear I almost broke into tears when Tilly opened her mouth and word-vomited this bright, boundless enthusiasm all over the place. Through the rest of this episode we're treated to some killer action sequences and a pretty perfect performance all around from Martin-Green who does science/action/sass/and sweet, remorseful remembrance all in one go.
When Burnham pulled out her copy of Alice in Wonderland and told Tilly about her adoptive mother, I cried. Honest to Kahless, I literally, legitimately, unabashedly cried. This didn't feel like Discovery was just throwing Trekkies a bone. It felt like they understood who they were, what they were doing, and where they were going. Up is down. Down is up. Even in the bleakest, scariest of times, there is hope.

I'm onboard.

My other takeaways:
-Captain Lorca is surrounded by Easter Eggs but my read of all of them is this: Lorca is a man who likes to possess and control dangerous creatures. The creature from The Glenn? The Gorn Skeleton, this whole crazy ass living propulsion system and now... Michael Burnham. And let's not forget the most dangerous creature in his whole collection, which he keeps RIGHT ON HIS DESK--a tribble. This sounds like a joke but I'm totally for serious right now. Someone might oughta check him for the Dark Mark.

-I'm up for any recitation of Alice in Wonderland but 1000 bonus points Burnham for delivering that whilst crawling like hell is on her heels through a Jeffries Tube.

-Vulcan martial arts are the shit. End of story.

-I love the return of memory cards and the forced perspective warp core.

-At the end of Discovery's third outing, I felt that, yes, this is Star Trek. Is this closer in theme and feeling to Deep Space Nine than TNG? Yeah. And that's ok. This is a Star Trek for a time of war, bitterness, hopelessness, and deep-seated prejudices that need to be questioned. In short, it's a Trek for the same sort of times The Original Series was engineered for. That series influenced popular culture in ways that were nothing short of phenomenal. I hope Discovery can do the same. But, hey, even if it can't, it's still damn good TV.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Vulcan Hello/Battle At The Binary Stars Vs Encounter At Farpoint

Before you ask, yes, I am still alive. Just really busy. Learning 2D animation is kind of intense and it eats up approximately 99% of my time. But you're not here to read about my personal misadventures (well, actually, maybe you are, I've definitely set a precedent for that) you're here because, for the first time in twelve years, there's a new Star Trek on television (well, a pay-per-month streaming service, but I'm not here to split hairs, unless maybe I am, I've also set a bit of a precedent for that) and, for whatever reason, you're interested in my thoughts regarding said new Star Trek.

Settle in, kids. This is a long one.

First off, a warning: There will be LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD so, if you don't want to be spoiled, just go ahead and stop here.

Discovery's pilot, A Vulcan Hello, finds Michael Burnham and her captain, Phillipa Georgiou, trekking around a desert planet hoping to help a species with their drought problems. When they get stuck under an incoming storm  and the Shinzhou's sensors can't locate them, Georgiou has the two of them walk in the shape of a giant Starfleet insignia and... somehow the Shinzhou can... pick them out from space? I don't know. In spite of this weirdness it's a fun moment but it still felt like a last minute addition to the pilot--something someone shoehorned in to say, "Hey! Please don't go anywhere! We promise this really is Star Trek!" because so much of the rest of the pilot feels kind of alien

But how alien? After finishing The Vulcan Hello I went over to (another monthly streaming service) Netflix and spooled up TNG's pilot, Encounter at Farpoint. And, as I watched, I asked myself, what is Star Trek? What does it mean? What does it set out to do? These are sort of big questions. But I've been writing this weird blog that is both about Star Trek and about the impact it's had in my life for four years now and I guess I've thought about these things as much as anyone.

-In spite of the silliness, I did love the chevron in the sand with the swell of the theme
-The line, "With respect, it would be unwise to confuse race and culture." Holy shit I love this line.
-Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones are both well cast and perform in their roles admirably if, at times, a little stiff
-The Klingon language. This is, according to several Klingons I follow on Twitter, the most accurate version of Klingon we've ever seen on Trek because it comes from, hardcore fan and top Klingon grammarian, Robyn Stewart.
-Everyone calls Burnham, "Number One."
-Burnham uses logic to make the computer aid in her escape from the brig
-That sweet escape pod effect

So... both pilots are shaky. They move slower than they should because they are pilots and have a whole lot of exposition to get out. They both set up big questions, "Are humans worthy of space exploration or, even, existence at all?" and "Are humans (and this particular human specifically) ready to be part of a bigger and more nuanced galaxy than they had anticipated?" They both set out to feature strong female characters and both hit and miss the mark in ways that are both obvious and subtle. Both show off new, redesigned Klingons (even though both times the Klingons had been redesigned in interim movies.) They both feature a bit of a mystery (what's really going on at this space station/what's this weird object floating around in this part of space) and they both feature characters who struggle with their humanity (a must-have in Trek at this point.) They're both very clearly a product of their time both intentionally (when it's subtle) and unintentionally (when it's obvious and cringe-inducing) but that's also a solid Trekism now as well. Both have clunky dialogue and both, and this is important, came after a very long time without Trek on TV. 

When I was a kid, and TNG was about to premier, my parents (both die-hard Trekkies) almost didn't watch it. My mom grew up watching TOS with her little brother and cherished those memories and when I started this blog she told me how nervous she was about TNG saying that she was worried it would be too different... that something about it would taint those memories. My parents watched TNG anyway and loved it. And, because they loved it, I grew up on a steady diet of Trek. It's because they tried TNG that, on Sunday night, I found myself in the same position they were in thirty years ago. Thirty years ago today, in fact, was the premier of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This morning, I asked my mom what she remembered about watching that premier. She said she remembers being worried, worried that they were remaking her Trek and that it didn't feel right but that she got totally involved with the new crew, especially Picard and Data and LaForge and Crusher and she was happy to see the way Starfleet had evolved over time. But, she was still hungry for her old Star Trek--her old TV friends. 

If I could go back in time, and watch Encounter at Farpoint with my mom, I would. I would ask her, "What do you think about these Klingons?" "What do you think about this female character?" "What do you think about this crew?" "What about the secondary characters?" "Does this feel like Star Trek to you?" But I can't. So, instead, I'll ask myself those questions in regard to Discovery. 

1- The Klingons
I've seen some folks complaining about The Klingon redesign. The design itself didn't offend me--in theory--though, Holy Light of Kahless I do miss that fabulous Klingon hair. I feel that Discovery is trying to add new depth and dimension to Klingon culture and making them look less human is likely a part of that. But, with all the extra apparatus on the actors' faces, I worry that it obscures their ability to really emote and this is kind of a problem because it's clear that the Klingons are going to be around a lot in Discovery and the emotional journeys of their characters are set up to matter. There's a reason that all the TNG-ENT aliens just had some kind of turtle on their head--because it let the rest of their face do some acting. 

2-The Women
Trek has always tried to have strong female characters. Going all the way back to Number One in TOS' pilot, The Cage. They often fell short, like when they only ever gave Crusher and Troi bad boyfriend plots for the first three seasons, but those characters grew along with the show and the introduction of Guinan (and the sorely underrated Pulaski) helped a lot. In Discovery we have Burnham and Georgiou. I like the idea of these two characters and the first ten minutes of pilot ensures that they pass the Bechdel test with flying colors but Burnham is kind of all over the place when it comes to whether she can keep a Vulcan grip on her emotions.  In spite of this, Martin-Green, portrays Burnham's issues capably and, at times, truly shines. Over time, I think she'll grow into this role and, really, I don't think it'll take that long. 
Georgiou, meanwhile, is played by Michelle Yeoh and should be kick-punching Klingons left, right, and center. I've loved (been a little in love with) Yeoh since I saw Heroic Trio when I was a kid and, when I saw that she was captaining this pilot, I was sure there'd be some epic fight scene that harkened back to the TOS roots only, you know, actually good. But... no. When Burnham and Georgiou transport over to the Klingon ship they're both immediately disarmed and the most we get of the captain is a bit of her "oofing" and "owing" while she's beaten up by T'Kuvma in the background. She's killed without even putting up a decent fight and that's a missed opportunity. Otherwise, it seems Yeoh has a hard time getting her mouth around all the techno babble. You could argue it's because English is a second language but I've seen her in other English language stuff (most recently Strike Back, in which she was amazing) and I don't think that's it. I think it's more likely that SciFi techno-speak is just hard for a lot of actors to deliver convincingly. It's something actors like Roxann Dawson and LeVar Burton seemed to do naturally but most folks have bigger issues and end up sounding stiff and robotic when they start talking about all the ways they could polarize the neutron flow or whatever. It seems like Yeoh falls in that second category. 

3-The Crew
Ok, this is my biggest issue with Discovery so far. Two episodes in and we still haven't even met the crew. Ok, we know two characters: Burnham and Saru (who kind of hate each other, more on that later) and that's it. At the end of the pilot, Burnham is court-martialed (another Trek mainstay) and shipped off to the next episode where we will presumably meet Captain Malfoy and the rest of the Discovery crew. But, as much as Star Trek has always featured specific characters who stood out, as much as Saru is this Trek's Spock/Data and Burnham is this Trek's Worf, Trek has always been about the crew. These are the TV friends that make Star Trek as comforting as it is thought-provoking, interesting, sometimes action-packed, and, in turns, funny. The crew is the reason you tune in (or buffer, as the case may be.) 

It's about people who love each other, who would fight for each other, who respect each other even if they don't always agree, and who would stand shoulder to shoulder together to do the right thing--even if it means doing the impossible, even if they're flying headfirst into the no-win scenario. Here, all we have so far are Burnham and Saru who bicker incessantly while the captain tries to regain control of her own command. It irks me a little bit but, then again, it wasn't so long ago that I rewatched all of TOS and had to be reminded that, while Spock and McCoy would do anything for each other, they were constantly at odds. Discovery is much closer in era to Kirk's crew (and their tendencies) than that of Next Gen and their kumbaya dynamic. And, when rewatching the TNG pilot, it was interesting to see the way Tasha was constantly trying to jump and in take the militant route, the way Riker is set up to be a guy who has a tendency to second-guess his captain, the way Crusher straight-up disobeys orders by bringing Wesley onto the bridge (or the turbo lift adjoining the bridge.) In the next episode we'll (I assume) meet Discovery's real crew and I'm hopeful (and optimistic) that they'll reveal a crew we can latch on to.  

4- Secondary Characters
One of my favorite characters in all of Trek is Sarek. I loved him in The Original Series and I love that the national treasure that was Mark Lenard returned to play him in the breathtakingly beautiful episode, Sarek, in The Next Generation. I love that character. And, while TNG had a passing of the baton from McCoy to Data, this episode had Sarek. He's played very capably by James Frain and, because I just finished up Orphan Black I expected to be a little traumatized at the sight of Ferdinand with pointy ears but Frain acquits himself admirably. I was slightly more distracted by all the ways Discovery managed to have Sarek chat with Burnham on the regular. Flash back? Check. Star Wars Full Body Hologram? Check. Long distance call made possible through mind meld? Check. Considering Burnham is basically Spock's adopted sister, I wonder whether Spock was subjected to this kind of incessant parental check-in. Was Sarek there in the radiation chamber with Spock saying, "Son, forget these losers and I'll take you out for milkshakes." It opens up an interesting can of worms. Like, giving a superhero the ability to go back in time, why can't he just go back in time whenever he gets into trouble now? It's a dangerous precedent but I'm interested in seeing what they do with it--if they keep it around.  

Anyway, ONWARD! 

Lt Saru, played by the wonderful Doug Jones is, like Burnham, also conflicted in ways that don't seem on purpose. He has the whole, "My species can sense the coming of death," line which feels a little more magic than science but, whatever, I totally can buy that a species could evolve a heightened instinct of danger. What's interesting to me is the fact that he's not just played as a cautious worrywart but as a coward. He's pretty terrified of the unknown so I'm not super sure why he's serving in an organization whose sole purpose is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. Is he really the guy you want on the bridge informing all your decisions? I don't know. But I'm interested to see. Up to now every single character on Star Trek (minus, maybe poor Harry Kim) has been the fly straight into danger headfirst because COURAGE! So what can they do with a guy who's proudly afraid of everything? 

In Enterprise a big part of the story was how in-over-their-heads the crew was. Here, it seems more like this iteration of Starfleet is, probably unintentionally, being imperialistic and simplistic in the ways they deal with alien species and these characters and (as yet unseen) crew will have to figure out how to better navigate the complicated diplomatic waters of the galaxy. And that's fine. It's potentially a more nuanced version of Star Trek and that's a good thing. Ideas in black and white tend to reinforce our current beliefs, but ideas presented with nuance, in shades of gray, make us think. And Star Trek has always sought to get us thinking.

In both Encounter at Farpoint and The Vulcan Hello, we get a trial. One is a trial of humans as a species. The other is the trial of one human in particular. 

Encounter at Farpoint leaves the viewer with the message that, yes, humans screw shit up. Humans have been imperfect and impetuous and dangerous to themselves and others but, at their core, humans are capable of so much more. They are capable of so much good. The episode ends with the hint that we will continue to be judged, as a species, by our own actions, by the way we treat each other, by the way we treat those less familiar, those who we fear because they are so different and dangerous. 

The Vulcan Hello ends with the admission of guilt by one human for betraying her crew, her captain, her friend. Starfleet is cast in shadow. Burnham stands alone in a single pool of hard light. From here on out, as in TNG, Burnham will continue to be judged, as an individual, as a member of her species--a member of Starfleet--by her own actions, by the way she treats her fellow officers, and the way she treats those less familiar, those who she fears because they are so different and dangerous. 

It has been my hope, for as long as I've been writing this blog, that a new Star Trek series would show up on TV and I'd get to write about it. This weekend that happened. And it made me remember being a kid, watching TNG with my parents. It made me remember growing up with Star Trek--watching it through my parents' divorce, through all the moves, the shuffling back and forth, going in and out of poverty, learning to deal with sickness, death, loss of friends, family, learning hard lessons about the world but, all the while, tuning in to Star Trek. All the while looking at this bright, shining, optimistic future and thinking, "This is a place for me. This is a future that I can believe in. This is a humanity I can believe in."

I hope that Discovery will eventually come to the same place that all Star Treks have eventually found themselves. A place where they can prophecy hope and optimism and a future where we are better than we are now. Burnham's path seems dark and difficult and outside the scope of the rosy-colored TNG era that so many of us think of when we think of Trek. But Star Trek has always been a reflection of our times. And now, our times are dark. I hope, in spite of this darkness, though, that Discovery will find a way to be a beacon of something brighter. Something that can both inspire and comfort. Something that can speak to kids who are downtrodden and say, "It gets better. There will be a place for you and it will be better than the place you are in now." I hope that they will. 

Like my mom, thirty years ago, I am interested in this new Trek. But I am also hungry. I'm hungry for the themes of hope and optimism that have always accompanied Star Trek. And I'll be watching Discovery, every Sunday, to see where they go and what they do. Unfortunately, my mom won't because, like so many other people who need to hear a message of hope in these dark times, she can't justify the monthly cost of a streaming service for a single show. Instead, maybe she'll watch The Orville (Seth MacFarlane's love letter to Star Trek) which has hardcore geek references, a solid crew, a big dose of optimism, and enough pluck to go around. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Enterprise Re-Watch: Exile

First order of business: I can't wait for Discovery to finally get here. I'm still loving Trek and finding it hard to only watch a couple of Enterprise episodes/week but, with so much other creative work on my plate at the moment, I'm having a hard time coming up with new posts for this blog in general. My brain is just elsewhere a lot of the time and inspiration, for the most part, is draining into my art and animation stuff. Lucky for you, today I watched The Exile wherein Hoshi is lured to a planet with a lone, telepathic inhabitant and starts down a classic Beauty and the Beast path.

Let me just start by saying that I've never really liked Beauty and the Beast as a fairy tale, as the Disney film (in spite of its groundbreaking, gorgeous animation), or the novel(s) by Robin McKinley that Disney ripped off took inspiration from--and I'm a huge fan of Robin McKinley. When friends who know I love her work ask me to recommend one of her books I always give them Beauty because it's the most beloved of her novels. (I'm far more partial to The Hero and the Crown, if you were wondering.)

At its heart, B&B is about a woman finds herself in the care of a very dangerous man. She is isolated and subject to no one's company but his (and his is bad company, indeed) but, through the power of her love, he is changed into a kind, gentle, handsome, rich guy who gives her a castle with a big-ass, undying rose garden. I grew up around some dangerous men. I grew up around women who felt sure those men could be changed by the power of love. They never did, of course. Real life isn't like fairy tales or novels based on fairy tales or animated features based on novels based on fairy tales. Real life is just real life and I feel like it's just better not to get involved with jerks to begin with no matter how big their undying rose garden is or how many talking candle sticks and tea pots bring you breakfast every morning.

So this brings me to The Exile. The dangerous man in question, Tarquin, is our beast. He reaches out to Hoshi by getting all up in her mind and, at first, making her think she might be losing it. Once she's convinced she's not she persuades Archer and the gang to find him. He promises to do some magic Xindi-themed sleuthing on the condition that Hoshi sticks around his creepy castle for a few days while Enterprise heads off to check out one of the spheres that's been giving them so much trouble. Hoshi agrees even though literally everyone is creeped out by Tarquin. She insists she can take care of herself. She's not some defenseless 18th century French peasant girl, after-all. She's a member of Starfleet.

So, Hoshi sticks around and Tarquin reveals himself to be more and more creepy as the days pass until he ultimately tells Hoshi she's not allowed to leave his Dracula castle because she's going to stay there and be his companion until she lives out her relatively short existence. Hoshi's all, "Ummm. No," and threatens to smash his prized telepathic gizmo until he finally relents and releases her. She goes back to Enterprise, happy to put the whole incident behind her, when he shows up one last time to give her the Xindi intelligence he was able to suss from the telepathic ether. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

I'd like to say I'm proud of this episode for veering off course from the traditional Beauty and the Beast ending but really it's not as though it could've ended differently. Hoshi had a bad boyfriend as part of a larger scheme of terrible Trek boyfriends which is part of an even larger theme: one episode relationships never end well. Anyway, I am proud of the fact that it was Hoshi who got herself out of trouble in the end. (PS- I never wrote about this but one time Hoshi actually did have a good one-episode fling while Tucker and Reed got themselves tied up in a basement. See episode: Two Days and Two Nights.)

While I watched this one, I did a little fanart:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Trek: Prestige vs Commodity

Over the last few months I've watched a lot of episodic, 24 eps/season-type shows. Shows like The Murdoch Mysteries, Haven, Flash, and Elementary. Lately it's been Elementary that's my video wallpaper while I do color work on my comics and eat lunch and try to defend my living room from the constant influx of red-gray dust we get in the high desert. A few days ago I told my husband, "I think I actually prefer Elementary to Sherlock. I realize it's not as artsy and fancy but its characters' stories play out over a long period of time, which means they actually have more time to develop, which means I care more about them. It also has a sense of humor and it feels like it exists in a real world that's really well thought out and..." I kept going on this Pros/Cons monologue for a while and then today I found an article from said husband in my inbox. It was published in Wired and it's about the importance of "commodity SciFi" vs "prestige SciFi." It's a fantastic read and, since I've been thinking about the topic anyway and because it also made me think a lot about Star Trek: Discovery and the direction it's taking... here I am.

Since you're reading this blog I'm assuming you're a SciFi/Fantasy fan and/or some type of geek who isn't totally unaware of the fact that traditionally geek-ish tropes like dragons, zombies, robots, and super heroes are all being wheeled out for the consumption of people who like to think of themselves as high-brow. These shows win Emmys and public approval for their artistic take on traditionally pulpy themes/set pieces. And I've always had a bit of a thorn in my paw about them. It annoyed me that people who would turn their nose up at hobbits and wizards were more than willing to eat a full helping of dragons as long as it came with plenty of HBO-style drama. And folks who would never sit down to enjoy Supergirl or Batman: The Animated Series or Buffy will always pony up for superheroes as long as the heroes in question come with all the cable grit and grime we have come to expect from them.

Of course, this isn't always the case. I have plenty of friends who watch and love both LOTR and GOT, both Data and... whoever's a robot in Westworld. I myself loved Black Sails on Showtime and Strike Back on Cinemax. And, of course, I think all kinds of TV should exist for all kinds of people. If gritty serialization is your thing I hope you're dancing a jig at all the options currently available to you...just please do your best not to look down your nose at the all the people who rush to their TVs once a week, 20-25 nights a year, for a slice of their pie (which is bigger, btw, even if not made from top shelf, hard to acquire ingredients.)

And this brings me (nearer) to my point (I promise.) Star Trek has always been commodity TV. It's always been low-budget, cut-the-corners, rush-to-production, re-use the sets, re-hire day-players you can trust because you're screwed otherwise, how are we possibly going to make 24 of these again kind of TV. And... that's kind of awesome.

Here's why:
Aside from Star Trek being genuinely charming in spite (or because of) its traditionally low-budget and low-prestige rating, it's always had to push against its constraints and it's always had to push for a lot of episodes. But that's how innovation happens.

The Wired article mentions, and I've mentioned several times on this blog over the years, that Star Trek, like any genre show, reuses stories and tropes over and over. There's the memory wipe episode, the alternate-timeline episode, the fight club episode, the dream inside a dream episode, the conspiracy episode, the mistaken identity episode... etc etc etc. But that's alright. Because within those familiar tropes and stories is the ability to reveal character in surprising ways. And, because we've spent thirty or fifty or seventy episodes with those characters, those revelations mean a lot to us, the fans. I smile when the tribbles tumble out of the storage compartment, I cry when Picard plays his flute, I rejoice when Nog is accepted into Starfleet, I laugh when The Doctor sings about ponfar, I grin when Hoshi declares herself Empress. And I do these things because me, the writers, the crew, and the actors have all been through 43/176/173/168/94 episodes together.

And here's the other thing; notice how high the numbers are in the previous sentence? With commodity TV, episodes are produced on a weekly basis for about half the year, thus the approximately 20-26 episodes. After a while, this builds up, by the time you get to season three or four or five you've already done... everything. Well, at least it seems like everything. I've seen in various places that I don't care to google at the moment that writers/comics/artists come up with their best stuff after the first several tries. And the best writers/artists/comics are the people who don't settle with the first ideas that come out. Of course, if you're pushing out 24 episodes you kind of have to take the first great idea that comes along but once you're 40 episodes in you've run dry. Or, at least you think you have. Having to reach into the back of your brain is how you get episodes like The Inner Light and Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy. It's how you get (what is probably the best hour of television ever) Once More With Feeling, the legendary Buffy musical episode that TV shows have been (mostly unsuccessfully) trying to reproduce ever since.

But the ideas alone aren't what make the episode magic. It's the combination of the idea (and the pen of the, by now, practiced writer) with the well known and loved (or hated) characters that produce the tears and the laughter and the grimaces and the way I still tear up if I even start talking about All Good Things.

Again, my point, (hey give me a break, I haven't been blogging regularly so I get a really long post to make up for it, right?) is that Star Trek: Discovery is consistently talked about as serialized with thirteen episodes. It's being billed like a prestige cable show when everything in Trek's history says it's a commodity show. Will they still have a groundhog day episode, a fight club episode, an alternate history episode? I don't know. Will they have an episode equivalent in feeling and magnitude to The Inner Light? I don't know, but that sort of depends on if they're around long enough to create the environment in which those episodes grow organically. No matter what, I'll be watching.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Vacation from Vacation

Okay, so maybe the time to come back from my Blog Vacation was not a few days before I went on an actual vacation to North Carolina to visit my family...

My trip was awesome but also a complete whirlwind. I went climbing, hiking, zooming around a track in go-karts and pulled a brown trout out of the river that cuts through the mountain I grew up on. I ate my mom's BBQ chicken and wolfed down a Cheerwine float. I attended a 10th Anniversary Party for my sister and her cat. I watched fireflies and sunsets and my brother and sister who've grown up without my noticing. I had long, tearful hugs with my mom and stood at the headstone of my grandma's grave.

Needless to say, when I got back I was tired. So, so tired. I grabbed Scott at the airport and hung on for dear life and we got cheeseburgers and came home and took the longest nap. I probably slept at least half of the next seventy two hours. And then suddenly it was the 4th of July and I went climbing/bouldering at our local climbing gym and decided that, in spite of my ravaged grip strength (thanks to a year of undiagnosed nerve issues in my neck) and poor proprioception (the body's ability to tell where it is in space), I should definitely take up climbing. So... I bought a class (as yet unattended) and some climbing shoes.

In the middle of all that I actually did manage to watch a few episodes of Star Trek Enterprise. It's sort of a blur now. But I did watch them. I'm hoping to get back to Generic Ensign soon, or at least regular blogging, but I'm not making any promises because, you know, life. Also, I'm getting ready to start a pretty intensive animation class so... there goes my time.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Two Months Off

It's been exactly two months since my last post. That's the longest I've ever taken away from this project and I guess I sort of needed it.

What happened? Well, nothing, really. I just lived some life. Scott was on hiatus which is basically his summer break (though it happens in April and May) and I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could. But I also just wanted to focus on other projects and not worry so much about making Generic Ensign Vlogs or writing posts or watching Enterprise. I've been learning animation and that's taken up a ton of my brain space as I throw myself into it more and more every day. (The other day I spent good four hours on the same bouncing ball only to scrap it this morning and start from scratch.)

And, I still have to deal with my hands. They're... 90% better. A few months ago I realized that the cause of my hand issues was actually something in my neck. Apparently cervical instability and poor posture can work with the weird spasms you get with EDS to create a perfect storm of pinched nerves. So, along with the incredible, sickening, apparently inexplicable pain I felt for several months, I also had neuropathy. I lost strength in my hands, my fingers started to curl up into my palms, and I almost always had a pins and needles feeling in my fingers. It was awful and, really, it wasn't until I had some distance from it that I realized just how much it effected me. Now, as long as I take time (I have reminders set to buzz every thirty minutes) to stretch during the day and I maintain good posture (I also have reminders for this) and I do my physical therapy stuff every night, I don't have much pain at all. Sometimes I have bad days but they're farther and farther apart and I'm grateful for that.

I finished Season One of Enterprise and started into Season Two and I'm ready to chug along but I really want to get a Generic Ensign Vlog up before I go too much further. I confess I feel sort of ambivalent about the Vlogs and general blog posts sometimes. I wonder if the internet really needs another summation of an episode of Star Trek from fifteen years ago. I get bogged down with readership/viewership numbers and I start to wonder if it's worth my time. But, in the end, I always come back to the same conclusion: I do these because I enjoy it and because I think it makes my work better overall to think critically about something I care about and to then try to make something reflective of that thought process.

I just needed a little time away. And that's ok.

The point is: I'm back from my blog vacation. You can expect more posts.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Golana Melon

Last week while I was at the grocery store I happened upon a pile of prickly little orange fruits and thought to myself, "Hmm. That looks like some kind of Star Trek fruit." So I (not being one to turn down whatever crazy fruit my grocer puts in front of me) grabbed one (carefully) and put it in the cart.

Later on, I looked up the fruit and found that it was a kiwano or African horned melon or Cucumus metuliferus and that the one I had sitting on my counter was indeed ripe and should be ready to eat. Since it was a melon I put it in the fridge and decided to eat it when I was hot and it was cold. The next morning, I went for a run. Let me just take an aside here and tell you that I suck at running. This really gets my goat because both of my parents were runners. My mom ran hurdles in high school, my dad was a champion cross country runner in college. I have always run like a baby giraffe whose probably just eaten something horrid. But, whatever, every now and then I decide to try and be a runner. And now is one of those times, baby giraffe or not.

So anyway, I went for my terrible run and when I got back I was plenty hot (and also panting and gasping and clutching at the counter so's not to faint) and the melon was plenty cold and I'd read up on how to hack into one of them online and thus:

We both tried it and Scott was not a fan but I was. Actually, I ended up eating my half and his. The kiwano melon tastes sort of like a cucumber mixed with a lime and the consistency is basically white watermelon seeds in a multitude of gelatinous sacks. The result is a fruit that is assuredly SciFi. 

As I was chowing down I sent a couple picture texts to my mom and said, "Look at this Star Trek fruit!" And then I remembered that in all my googling I'd neglected to see whether the fruit was actually featured on Star Trek so then I finally tracked it down and... yes: 

Remember when Molly fell through a hole in time and when she came back out she was a feral teenager and Miles was like, "Hey remember this delicious fruit you used to eat?!" Well, that's what this is--an African Horned Melon AKA the Golana Melon. Though, it looks like some poor prop guy had to cut all the spines off so (and this is wild conjecture) the actor types wouldn't hurt their widdle fingers. It's much more metal with the spines still on, obviously. But I don't want to be the guy who gets a call from Mr. Meaney's agent wondering why his client had to handle spiny, gelatinous fruit all day. 

Anyway, this weird fruit was totally worth the price of admission (about three dollars) for this Star Trek fan and if you're into sweet/tart gooey food that fights back harder than a targ with a head cold then I'd urge you to head on down to your deep space station's cantina to pick up a couple for yourself. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Enterprise SS1 Episodes 12-17

I've been busy. It's sort of hard to explain. But the long and short of it is that I'm throwing myself into animation and I've been working on that--learning both the software and the foundations of animation--around ten hours a day. It's been pretty all-consuming. The days just keep flying by and I just keep not getting a chance to blog or to record a Generic Ensign. But here I am, attempting to make up for lost time with a quick and dirty round up post.

Silent Enemy:
Archer and crew run into some jerk aliens whilst trying to get the phase cannons online. In the b-plot, Hoshi attempts to learn Reed's favorite food. This "calling Malcom's parents and almost accidentally scheduling a date with him" plot is the one I always remember. Maybe, in part, because of its total weirdness. Does Archer track down everyone's favorite food for their b-day? That seems really time consuming. So why only Reed? A few years ago, I worked at a place that always made a big deal out of EVERYONE's birthday. There was cake and there were chips and there was veggie pizza (which was essentially raw broccoli and ranch dressing on bread) and a card passed around and we all assembled in the staff room and sang the song. It was often my job to help with this business but whenever it rolled around to January (and my birthday) the manager decided we should have combined month birthdays. Watching this episode, I basically just put myself in Hoshi's shoes and thought, "I'm a comm officer and highly trained linguist at the top of my field, serving on the flag ship and first Warp 5 vessel of Starfleet and I've just spent the last three days calling a dude's ex-girlfriends and asking about what he likes to eat."
"I could've published seven linguistics papers in the time it
 took to get this cake for you so I super hope you appreciate it."
Dear Doctor:
Wherein Phlox and Archer have a conversation that basically goes,
Archer: These people asked for our help.
Phlox: But we shouldn't interfere with their 'natural development'.
Me: That's pretty condescending.
Archer: Someday, Starfleet will have some sort of... directive... some sort of prime directive that'll tell us how we should blindly act whenever we get into these situations.
Me: Yeah, you should probably ignore that too.
Basically this episode is why I didn't pursue cultural anthropology at the graduate level.

Sleeping Dogs:
Hoshi, Reed, and T'Pol are trapped on a Klingon ship as it sinks into a gas giant. I actually quite like this one but I did imagine, while watching, a scene wherein Hoshi blows up at Reed about how much crap she had do to for his birthday.
"Once again I'm saving the day. What even is your job here?"
Shadows of P'Jem:
Archer and T'Pol are captured by some hostiles. The Vulcans and Andorians get involved and before long everyone's pointing fingers and name calling and making threats. Naturally, I love this one. Anytime the Andorians show up, I'm on board. Archer and T'Pol have natural chemistry and Shran has a wonderful sort of anti-chemistry with everyone.

Shuttlepod One:
Remember how the early astronauts were, nearly to a man, test pilots? The astronauts in these early missions were trained to continue the mission and to try to save themselves until they either succeeded or died. Welp, when Tucker and Reed find themselves stranded in a shuttlepod and they believe Enterprise to have been destroyed, while Tucker goes about trying to figure out a solution Reed gets down to business moping and mooning into several personal letters to friends and family about his soon-to-be untimely death. Even less productively, he manages to have a dream wherein he's making out with T'Pol. Had I been Tucker, I likely would've jettisoned the bastard and kept the remaining oxygen for myself but I'm chaotic neutral and Tucker is, like those early astronauts, lawful good and that's not how things work out.
"I bet you don't even really like pineapple!" 

Truly, I don't mean to pick on Reed. All the Star Trek first seasons have problems and they all have characters who hang around like wet dishrags because they're a good character in theory but no one really knows what to do with them. Archer and Tucker are pretty nailed down in this first season and I think that's because, like I mentioned, these guys are pretty much modeled on the early space program. What kind of guy is Archer? He's Jim Lovell. What kind guy is Tucker? He's Pete Conrad. All the rest of these people are still really malleable. Even T'Pol who it seems was meant to be Enterprise's Spock (and therefore also its Data, Odo, Doctor/Seven) feels a little adrift. What do we do with T'Pol in this episode? Hmm. Let's put her in her underwear. Or maybe she could make out with a guy in his dream. Or maybe a Ferengi should grope her ears. Or maybe she could be attacked in her quarters after she told a guy to stop. My point is that the first season of Enterprise, like the first season of any Trek (and any show, really) is shaky. Even though you're using similar ingredients the recipe isn't coming out like you thought it would. And that's ok. You just have to keep tweaking it until you find the right blend. Just look at how much Next Gen's second season improved!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ten Times Trek Tackled Tough Topics

Growing up on Star Trek, I've always felt an unflinching optimism about the humanist direction of our world culture. I was a child of the 90s. A poor kid, a transient kid, a kid with divorced parents, a kid who went to fifteen schools and experienced therein a variety of micro-cultures. I was a kid from the Mountain South, a kid with strict, Southern Baptist grandparents but liberal-minded, artist parents who had all sorts of friends. I was a kid who stood in line for food stamps, a kid who lived, for a time, in a shelter and, for another time, in a fancy suburb. I was a kid who watched as factories and jobs and coal mines and mountain tops and any sense of pride went out of small town after small town in Appalachia. I was a kid who watched an Oxy epidemic and a low employment rate contribute to the already low life expectancy of those around her. I was a kid who once went hiking in the hills of North Carolina and watched as her mother burned to ash a racist symbol she'd found littering the overlook. I was a kid who grew up with family and friends of various colors, creeds, and sexual orientations. I remember being that kid, looking around at my own world and at the world on Star Trek, and thinking, "We've got a long way to go but at least we're on the right track."

I remember thinking that something like the future portrayed in Trek was where we were headed. And I still believe that.

When November rolled by and things shook out the way they did, I was disappointed by many things but, because of my varied background, unsurprised. I hoped it wouldn't be as bad as I worried it might be but, as January unfolded, I watched as the highest office in the land was filled by a man who seemed incapable of taking us anywhere but backward. I watched as cabinet positions were taken by confirmed bigots and misogynists and billionaires who'd bought and paid for a seat at a table where they might only wreak havoc on the poorest and most desperate families of this country and others. I watched as people on both sides on an invisible line shouted into their echo chambers and posted articles they hoped would garner favor from their like-minded friends. I watched and I retreated into my own world because confrontation and public discource is not something that comes naturally to me. And in my retreat, I continued to do as I have always done. I watched Star Trek. And, one afternoon, at the sound of a single line, about human compassion, I began to cry.

Star Trek has had a long, long history of turning its eye on the current cultural climate, of tackling the issues which tug at the ugliest, fuzziest, darkest parts of our world and brings them into sharp, technicolor focus. These episodes are a cornerstone of Trek and of Science Fiction in general. They allow us to see our own problems through the eyes of others (sometimes subtly, other times less so) and, hopefully, in looking through those other eyes, we can find some empathy or, at least, some empathy can find us. Star Trek says the things I have difficulty saying. It says these things with grace, compassion, and a hope that I will continue to turn to. I figured I might as well make a list for reference so, here it is:

1- A Taste of Armageddon, The Original Series
Two societies are content to let a computer deal out death so their physical culture is preserved. Kirk is having none of it. This is one of my favorites from TOS.

2- Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, The Original Series
Two races from one planet hate each other for superficial reasons the Enterprise crew can't even percieve. This one is easy (or maybe not) to scoff at these days but, in its time, it was a necessary and poignant episode.

3- The Drumhead, Next Generation
A confessed spy, a terrorist plot and a devious witchhunt are the set pieces of this quiet, courtroom episode and Picard is its beating heart.

4- Darmok, Next Generation
(Full Disclosure: This is my favorite episode of Star Trek. I will put it on every list I ever make. However, it absolutely deserves a spot here.) The Enterprise encounters a race of aliens whose language they cannot even begin to understand. Captain Picard is spirited away to a dangerous planet where he and the alien captain must overcome their differences and learn to work together.

5- The Outcast, Next Generation
Riker befriends a member of an androgynous race who considers an individual that identifies strongly as either male or female to be criminally deviant and perverted. Featured here is one of the best speeches in Trek.

6- Duet, DS9
Set against the still tense Bajoran/Cardassian conflict, Kira discovers an infamous, Cardassian war criminal aboard DS9. Things are not what they seem.

7- Far Beyond The Stars, DS9
This one features the crew in old timey duds and no alien makeup or prosthesis. It also features a stark look at the life of minorities in 1950s America as Sisko finds himself in the story of a black Science Fiction author trying to sell his vision of an egalitarian future to a world that's almost but not quite ready.

8- Distant Origin, Voyager
The Voyager gang becomes embroiled in one species' debate over evolutionary science.  This is an often forgotten but very strong outing. I'd also add that I think it's the best Chakota-sode but that would sound like I'm damning it with faint praise.

9- Remember, Voyager
The full title of this one should be, "Remember: Hard to Watch" and that's really the whole point. Basically, Voyager comes upon a somewhat serene society only to find an ugly and evil truth in their recent past. It's a truth most everyone would like to forget. Except they shouldn't.

10- Terra Prime, Enterprise
Alternate title: "Make Earth for Earthers Again!' This one pits Archer and crew against a xenophobic, isolationist leader (in the fabulous Peter Weller) who'd like to build a wall around the world make sure Earth is safe from any further seeking out of new life and new civilizations and/or boldly going.

Of course there are plenty more. When I mentioned to my husband that I was going to make a list of socio-political Star Trek allegories he said, "How long is that list going to be?" And I decided to limit it to ten. But there are plenty more.

Here are a few, in brief:
-TOS: Devil in the Dark (A lesson in tolerance and the dangers of hasty assumptions)
-TOS: Plato's Step-Children (First inter-racial kiss on US TV)
-TOS: A Private Little War (Overtones of the Vietnam War)
-TNG: Measure of a Man (What does it take to be considered human?)
-TNG: Journey's End (Native American rights in the 24th Century)
-TNG: Chain of Command (The horror and futility of torture)
-DS9: Homefront/Paradise Lost (Starfleet goes Patriot Act in fear of shapeshifter terrorists)
-DS9: Second Skin (Problems of identity, point of view, indoctrination)
-DS9: In The Pale Moonlight (Personal Values >/= Ultimate Goals?)
-VOY: Author, Author (Another exploration of humanity and human rights)
-VOY: Prototype (B'Elanna finds herself repairing instrument of endless war)
-VOY: Faces (B'Elanna confronts both parts of her bi-racial identity)
-ENT: Cogenitor (Rights of individual)
-ENT: Dear Doctor (Doctor and Captain grapple with the question of non-interference)
-ENT: Home (Issues of xenophobia in the wake of terrorism)

Welp. I'd meant for this to be a super short, list-form post. It became something... else. But if you're sitting around in your house thinking to yourself, "Gee. I wonder if there's any Star Trek out there that might resonate with whatever complicated feeelings I'm currently feeling regarding the current socio-political climate." The short answer is, "Yes." The long answer is, "Yes."

Friday, January 27, 2017

Generic Ensign ENT: Andorian Incident and Breaking the Ice

I ate a lot of pecan pie to make this post. A lot. I am not ok after that.

Generic Ensign's Log: ENT 2 from AshleyRose on Vimeo.

Sidenote- I realize that I have a "weird mouth" when I eat. It's a combination of my highly elastic skin and a strange Aspie thing where when I was a kid I was told not to eat with my mouth open and I took that to mean, "NEVER EVER OPEN YOUR MOUTH EXCEPT TO PUT NEW FOOD IN." So my whole life I got weird looks/giggles in school cafeterias and never understood why. Then one day when I was 33 I made a silly Star Trek Vlog and watched it and just laughed and laughed. (That day was today.)

Extra Side Note: (since I'm over here spilling my guts) I have a REALLY hard time with some food textures and gooey/gelatinous sweet stuff is one of them. I'm telling you right now that I sacrificed for this video. Sacrificed. Also I'm still on a bit of a sugar high, if you can't tell. From the rambling. I  hope you enjoyed this installment of Generic Ensign! In spite of my silly struggles, I really enjoy making them.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

NEW Generic Ensign for 2017

BAM! I'm back, y'all!

I was SO sick over Christmas and then had SO much work to catch up on once I got back and seriously I haven't even taken the tree down yet. That's how behind I am. It's January 19th or some biz. Anyway, one of the things I hated getting behind on was this blog. I had big plans for the new year. I was going to suddenly pop up on January 1st in my new GE costume and be all like, "GUESS WHAT I'M WATCHING!!!!" But I didn't have time to work on said costume because of said flu. Whatever, I can do that even if it's January 19th because this is my blog and it's the fourth year of this blog and I make the rules (up as I go.) So, without further ado:

(Prepare yourself for five episodes covered in short order)

In case you didn't watch the video because you, like me, have an aversion to video posts (unless they're walkthroughs for video game stuff) and you can't even guess from the still up above--it's Enterprise! And, because there's comparatively so little of it, I'm hoping to either write or Vlog about each episode. I've seen Enterprise all the way through three times with a few outliers here and there having been watched a couple more times and I haven't seen it at all since my initial Year of Star Trek so I'm (if you can't tell) super excited. Here we (boldly) go!

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