Jeff Russo

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1, Chapter Two (2018)

For Season 1, Chapter One, click here.

STAR TREK: Discovery Season 1, Chapter Two  (episodes 10-15 CBS All Access 2018)

The brave and sometimes lost crew of the USS Discovery have completed their first season, a surprising journey that took them into the most exciting corners of Trek lore such as the Mirror Universe and the Klingon homeworld.  Some fans who were dissatisfied with the first half of season 1 for “not being Trek enough” have been silenced and satisfied by the second part, which concluded on February 11 2018.  Others, of course, will never be happy as mixed reviews continue to indicate.

The writers of Discovery revealed that they wrote the season backwards, starting with where they knew they wanted it to end. They wanted to show the crew of Discovery coming together like a Starfleet crew should. What we didn’t know at the beginning, but do now, is that everything that seemed strange or un-Trek-like happened for a reason. Now we are in a place that feels much more familiar.

The key to the whole bait-and-switch of Discovery’s dark mood was Jason Isaacs, as Captain Gabriel Lorca. Now we know! Every action Lorca took from his very first appearance was not what it seemed. Lorca was not the Lorca we thought we knew, and it all came together so very satisfyingly. Isaacs is a genius, simply put. He was one of the few actors who knew the truth about Lorca, and with 20/20 hindsight, he infused his performance with clue after clue. Fans picked up on these clues and some figured it out early on. Gabriel Lorca, captain of the USS Discovery, [SPOILER] was actually from the evil Mirror Universe all along! Every move he made was a step to getting back “home”. His manipulation of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was always strange. Now we know it’s because she and Lorca had an unexpected connection in the Mirror Universe. Fate was a major theme of this season, though we didn’t know for sure it until about 10 episodes in!

Jason Isaacs as Gabriel Lorca

The Mirror Universe is a treasured Star Trek location, used sparingly across the shows. It first appeared once in the original series, famous for its evil bearded Spock. We never saw it again until Deep Space Nine in the 90s. It returned for a two-part Enterprise in the 2000s, but this is by far the deepest exploration of the Mirror Universe yet. And that means that some characters that were killed off might still have living Mirror Universe counterparts, [SPOILER] like Michelle Yoeh’s Phillipa Georgiou….

The second half of the season even featured an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes (William Riker). He directed some of the best Trek episodes and movies past, such as First Contact. It was no surprise that Frakes did the best Discovery episode, too (episode 10, “Despite Yourself”).

The writers fixed one major complaint with the show, and that was the dreadfully slow Klingon dialogue. Starting with the second half of the season, all the awkward momentum-killing Klingon language scenes ended. Only a few relevant scenes were presented in Klingon during the second half, usually between the awesome Mary Chieffo (L’Rell) and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif).

Speaking of Shazad Latif, the big fan theory from the first half of the season turned out to be true.* Latif was indeed secretly playing two characters: Tyler, and the Klingon Voq. Or not? Though the process isn’t clear, Tyler and Voq were merged into a single individual.  As a Klingon sleeper agent, Tyler’s role was being set up from the first episode. It all came to a head when L’Rell attempted to activate his inner Voq, which failed and led to a tragic Discovery death.

Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber

The death of [SPOILER] Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) was, without question, the most heart wrenching death scene in Star Trek since Mr. Spock himself. Culber was set up as one of the few characters in a long term relationship. The love between Culber and his husband Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) made the pair early fan favourites. Cruz’s Hugh Culber was the character that everybody liked. He was smart, too – Dr. Culber was suspicious of Captain Lorca’s true goals before anyone else was. His killing was shocking and unexpected, especially in its brutality. A followup scene, of Stamets cradling the dead Culber in his arms, stung the senses even more. Discovery raised the stakes by making you care about this pair, only to permanently separate Stamets from his one true love. It was brilliantly written and portrayed.

As the season gradually moved towards its conclusion, the crew bonded in a way that we wanted to see from the start: working as a team, caring about each other, under a charismatic commander. Doug Jones’ Saru has grown into a remarkable leader. Like Spock before him, his alien heritage shades his personality, all under the expert hands of Doug Jones. Mary Wiseman’s adorable Cadet Tilly also demonstrated growth and even earned a promotion to ensign. She proved herself a serious asset this season, with a bright future. All the characters that we were indifferent to in the beginning are beginning to move into our hearts…or are dead!  The darkness of the crew’s mirror selves was the crucible through which they trekked to become who they are now.  Most importantly, Michael Burnham went through hell and back to find the redemption that once seemed impossible.

Doug Jones as the Kelpian first official Saru

The show still has issues. It is, perhaps, a bit too eager to be “modern” with graphic deaths, edgy language, fight scenes and nudity. That feels very un-Trek, but then again, over 50 years have passed since the Enterprise first went to warp.  A lot of culture and history went down over those 50 years.

And speaking of the Enterprise, fans always had questions. Since Discovery takes place 10 years before Captain Kirk, is the Enterprise out there with Pike as its captain? Why does the technology of Discovery seem so different from the classic ship? These questions are beginning to be answered. A huge [SPOILER] teaser for next season revealed the original USS Enterprise herself, NCC-1701, commanded by Captain Pike, and accompanied by the original Alexander Courage 1966 theme music. Holy shit people – this just got real!

James Frain as Sarek

What will happen next? Jason Isaacs’ Lorca is dead and it seems highly unlikely we’ll ever see him again, meaning one of the big stars of the show is gone. Will they add another star to the cast? Will the writers continue to bring back the awesome Michelle Yeoh, who truly shined as her own evil counterpart? And who will we meet on the Enterprise? It’s too soon to meet Kirk, and the writers have said we will not see Spock on screen. But Christopher Pike? That seems possible. It would be cool to see Bruce Greenwood reprise the role from the films, but so far they have avoided any crossover with the movies. Sarek was re-cast as James Frain, for example.

Let’s not, however, get too caught up in our expectations and desires. The writers of Discovery answered early fan complaints by saying “wait and see”. By the end of the season, they proved they had a better handle on Trek than naysayers assumed. We know that they want the show to get closer and closer to the classic era as they progress. This is encouraging. What we have seen so far is enough to keep us watching again next season.

Engage.

4/5 stars

 

 

*  It was a clever ruse.  Shazad Latif was credited as Tyler, while Javid Iqbal was credited as Voq.  Sleuthing fans pieced together that Javid Iqbal had no other acting credits to his name, while Latif once went by the name of Iqbal.  Fans correctly predicted that Tyler and Voq were the same character.  “Javid Iqbal” was actually the name of Latif’s late father.  He chose the alias as a tribute.

 

Advertisements

#647: Cancer Chronicles 9 & Star Trek Radio tonight!

Today Jennifer saw Dr. Sugimoto for the first time since her cancer surgery.  He walked in, and said, “I don’t want to beat around the bush.  All of your test results came back negative.”  Just to make sure, Jen asked, “That’s good right?”

“Yes, that’s very good,” said Dr. Sugimoto.

They found no more traces of cancer in Jen.  The tumour was relatively small.  At this point, she has a very small chance of recurrence:  a mere 5%.  No chemotherapy, no radiation necessary.

We are both tremendously relieved although I don’t think it has really sunk in yet.  I ordered some sushi to celebrate.


Because we got this good news today, I can announce that I will be going live on the radio tonight to talk about music!

LeBrain will be LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET).

This week’s show:  Star Trek: Discovery.  Per Rob:   “As we head in to the first major show of 2018. This week we look at the music to the latest Star Trek TV show, Discovery. Featured will be music from the TV series by Jeff Russo (of the rock band Tonic) and I’ll have special guests that will bring their opinions on the new show as well.” 

I’m a special guest!

It’s exciting to get behind the microphone again.  Due to the stress of Jen’s cancer, I wasn’t able to make it to Visions in Sound for Rob’s Star Wars specials in December.  And here’s a crazy coincidence.  Rob’s wife Dorothea battled and defeated cancer too…and her doctor was also Dr. Sugimoto.  Small world, and great support to have!

Hope you tune in tonight.  I know I’m in a great mood for celebrating music, and life!

 

REVIEW: Tonic – Lemon Parade (1996)

TONIC – Lemon Parade (1996 Polygram)

“If You Could Only See” was both the song the put Tonic on the map, and the one that put the bullet in their career.  If you’re over a certain age, you remember the powerful and tasteful ballad from when it hit the charts in 1997.  I had the album already.  I bought it when it first came out, after reading a glowing review in the local paper and seeing a used copy pop in at the Record Store.  Finding Jack Joseph Puig’s name in the producer credits got my attention too.

Tonic’s debut Lemon Parade is a great sounding CD, thanks to Puig and the richly arranged guitars of Emerson Hart and Jeff Russo.  When the guitars are center stage, all is well.  The opening duo of “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Casual Affair” have the punch that people don’t always associate with Tonic.  These guys could play.  “Casual Affair” in particular has angst and emotion ripping out of those six-strings.  When they get heavy, like on “Wicked Soldier”, there is always something bright and chiming going on with backing guitars.  Check out “Celtic Aggression” for a fine example of their guitar expertise.  Emerson Hart has an emotive voice, whether rocking out or serenading the ballads.

It’s the ballads the people remember, and you have to admit that when you break it down, “If You Could Only See” is a fantastic song.  Layers of chiming, chugging and sliding guitars are right there beneath the core melodies.  On the mandolin-infused “Mountain”, plus “Soldier’s Daughter” and “Lemon Parade”, you can absolutely hear old-tyme southern influences creeping through.  Tonic have traits that sound as if from another era, in many ways.  These are actually quite great songs, largely forgotten because of that one hit.

There are only a few songs that don’t score top marks:  “Thick” (no hooks), “Mr. Golden Deal” & “My Old Man” (both too sleepy).  The rest is pretty solid.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Tonic – Sugar (1999)

TONIC – Sugar (1999 Universal)

Why did Tonic never make it big? Maybe they didn’t have enough of their own identity, maybe it was the 90’s, maybe it was the “one hit wonder” stigma. Whatever it was, I tweaked onto this band in April of ’96 thanks to a positive review in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (probably by Robert Reid).  I thought their modern rock take on their classic roots was interesting and full of integrity. Indeed, this band didn’t seem to be about following the flavour of the week, but by reaching back to 70’s rock roots in a modern context.

Sugar, the second album, was the one where it all came together. Not one weak track on the whole bloody CD. The slow songs are sweeter, the hard songs are angrier. Something must have happened to Emerson Hart to really tick him off. Girl problems. From “Knock Down Walls”:  “So don’t tell me that I’ve gone crazy, you’re the one who tried to fucking change me…”  Emmerson also begs the question, “Why do you have to be so fucking mean to me?” on the track “Mean To Me”.

Whatever his inspiration, the anger struck a chord with me. Yet the slow songs like “Waltz With Me” were beautiful, gorgeous, full of love.  It’s not a heavy album, but it rocks and has a level of quality that was often absent in the mainstream rock music of the late 90’s.  Sugar is loaded with layers of electric, slide and acoustic guitars, great drumming, great singing, and relatable lyrics. The songs themselves are packed with variety and quality. Really, this should have been a huge album in 1999, and the biggest hit of Tonic’s career, but they were never trendy. Shame. They deserved more than the one hit.

Highlights:
The whole album, but I especially love “Drag Me Down”, “Mean To Me”, “Knock Down Walls”, “Sugar”, “Future Says Run”, “Waiting For The Light To Change”.

4.5/5 stars