star trek

#846: The United Federation of Planets

GETTING MORE TALE #846: The United Federation of Planets

I used to be an optimist.  In my younger, more impressionable 20s, I felt like humankind had the universe by the balls.  The things we could achieve when united were remarkable but only the tip of what we could do collectively.  Where did I think we’d be by 2020?

Not here, that’s for damn sure!  I didn’t think we’d have the flying car, or free energy.  I thought we’d be on a better road than this.

At that younger age, I immersed myself seriously in science fiction.  Clarke in particular, but Roddenberry was also crucial to my mindset.  The optimistic future of Star Trek was the one I chose to believe in.  Gene Roddenberry was not wrong about what humanity could do when united.  I believed unity was our ultimate destiny, as we left behind our tribal pasts and prejudices.  I thought it was inevitable that eventually we would have something like the United Federation of Planets.  Prosperity through technology and collective wisdom.

It makes me sad and broken to see that we have not made many strides towards Roddenberry’s future, but have taken many steps backwards.  What would Gene think?  While I think he would be delighted to see that technology has leaped faster in some regards than he predicted, he would also be crushed by our continued divisions.

It’s in the news every day.  People are angry.  Some have forgotten the basic manners that their mothers taught them while others are behaving like, frankly, assholes.  Covid has us all stressed, and it has brought some of us together more closely while dividing others even more sharply.  I try to consume as little news as possible but it’s all but unavoidable to see this bullshit.  Even if one only reads music news, it is everywhere.  Ratt and Bobby Blotzer’s son feuding with Sebastian Bach and Dee Snider over the wearing of masks during this pandemic.  This cultural tension has pervaded every aspect of society.  At least you can buy some sweet Kiss-branded masks now.  Yet the amount of hate in the air over this issue is actually quite scary.

Incidentally as a side note, as our economy continues to be devastated by this disease, every brand in the world should start making masks.  Metallica, Maple Leafs, Kiss, Kellogg’s Froot Loops.  People are going to buy them and it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.  Only by adapting to this pandemic are we going to save businesses.  But back to where we were.

I used to believe good would always triumph over evil.  That is what all my favourite stories taught me.  Good is stronger.  Show humanity some adversity and we will unite and overcome.

Roddenberry did predict we’d need a Third World War before we get there.  I hope he was wrong about that too.

Star Trek was popular because people wanted to live in that world.  Star Trek fans exist in every part of the political spectrum.  Millions dreamed of being the helmsman on a starship, and to live in that world.  A world where the Earth knows no war, no poverty and no starvation.  Some of Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction was equally optimistic.  I figured guys as smart as Clarke, who conceived the communication satellite, were smart enough that they were probably right about the future.  Yet here we are, stuck in the mire like it’s still the 1950s.

Of course it’s not too late.  We can still turn around and say “I don’t care if you are this or that, and believe in A, B or C.”  We’re going to have to.  Why can’t everybody see this?  Humanity has no hope of survival if we can’t rise above our tribal differences.

 

#828: The Ones That Got Away

GETTING MORE TALE #828: The Ones That Got Away

A year ago we did a massive de-clutter.  We had gotten to the point where we accumulated too much stuff.  Especially after Jen’s mom passed away.  We probably kept too much of her stuff out of sentiment.  But in a very short period of time we made massive purge; a painful purge.  And it wasn’t the first.  As you go through life you get rid of things.  You can’t carry all your possessions with you through your whole life.

Although I have forgotten many of the myriad DVDs, books, T-shirts and collectibles that I tossed to the curb, there are some that I now regret losing.  Doner’s regret is a very real thing.  Some decisions were made in haste and others were made without sufficient foresight.

I used to record all of my CDs and LPs to cassette so that I could play them in the car.  Once I had a car CD player, I didn’t need to keep doing that.  Eventually I decided to give away all my excess cassettes and that’s how they ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I only regret giving away a small handful of my tapes.  I wish I had hung onto some of the more obscure ones, and anything that I made cool artwork for.  I guess I didn’t imagine that one day people would want to look at photos of old cassettes and read reviews of them.

In years past, any time I have done a major de-cluttering, I’ve thrown a massive garage sale.  Sorting through and pricing items gives you some time to process what you’re doing, and make final decisions.  It’s an ideal way of getting rid of stuff.  But even so, I have made mistakes that I regret now.  My childhood rock magazine collection — what I would give to have some of those issues again.  They would come in handy with what I’m doing now.  I had just about every issue of Hit Parader from 1987 through to 1990.  From there I moved on to RIP, Metal Edge and the various guitar magazines available.  When I purged my magazines, I hung onto just a small handful, but knowing they were irreplaceable, I kept all my M.E.A.T.  Thank God I did!  I’d never be able to replace them all if I hadn’t, and those things have been invaluable research sources.  At least I know my magazines went to a good home.  My old friend Len came to the garage sale and took every one.  I know he is someone who would appreciate them for what they are.

I got rid of the magazines when I got married.  I had to make space for my awesome new wife and her boxes and boxes full of clothes!  Around the same time, I passed all my old Star Wars toys down to my sister Kathryn.  Again, I have no regrets.  They went to the right person to care for them.  I admit I do get a nostalgic craving to hold my Han Solo one more time, but I think that could be arranged if necessary.

More recently, I’m kicking myself for giving away all my Star Trek DVDs.  All the movies (I had the double DVD collector sets), and all the seasons of the Original Series.  The entire “Fan Collective” series, which were so good.  Gone in one trip to the Goodwill store.  Decision made far too quickly and I’ve been regretting it ever since.  Why donate instead of sell?  Because we were trying to do this very quickly.  Hiring an organizer is expensive.  Getting a couple bucks per disc wasn’t worth trying to hawk them all.  I put them in a huge bag, dropped them off at Goodwill and tried to feel good about the regained space.

Don’t get me wrong — I needed the space.  But my purge went too far.

So now I have to re-buy all the Trek movies.  I can do without the series as they are all on Netflix, but I need the films back.  I don’t know what to buy: blu-ray, DVD, whatever has the best content?  This would have been simpler had I just kept them all.  A couple weeks ago I re-bought an old Star Wars comic that I somehow lost.  It must have left the house accidentally jammed between something else because I never would have gotten rid of issue #47, “Droid World”.  It’s the only issue that means anything to me and the only one I want to have.  I used to try and draw all the different robots inside over and over again.  Cost me $5 to replace, but oh well.  Never should have left the house.

At least I didn’t let a single CD go.  That organiser tried, oh did she ever try.

“So what are we doing with these?” she asked about the three CD towers and numerous mountains of dics in my workspace.

“These are all staying.” I replied bluntly.  “These are my life and they are non-negotiable.”

“You know that you can put all of this on a computer now and not have to worry about storing all of these?  I mean when can you listen to all of this?”

The same questions everybody asks.  Everybody who’s not a music fan that is.

“I’m putting them on my computer all the time.  That’s what this setup is for.  But I collect CDs, some of these are irreplaceable.  I love them all.  I could tell you where I got almost every single one.  I read the notes inside.  I look at the artwork.”

Trying to explain it was like talking to a wall.  “But all that stuff is online!”  She was begging me to reconsider but guess what.  I still have all my CDs.

Still trying to work on a decent storage layout, but I’m not a carpenter.  I can barely hammer a nail.  I need people to help with stuff like that.  It’ll happen one day.  But the discs. aren’t. leaving.  And just on a logistical level, I need to have my music backed up to a hard copy like CD anyway just in case something happened to my 2-terrabyte digital library!

 

I would never recommend hiring a professional organiser to any of my music fans.  They won’t understand your needs and you could end up making mistakes.  Don’t make the same ones I did, but do stick to your guns when it comes to your albums!

 

 

TV REVIEW: Star Trek – Picard (2020)

“Please, my friends.  Choose to live.”

STAR TREK: Picard Season 1 (CBS All Access 2020)

It truly is a shame that the most Star Trek of all the current Star Treks isn’t Star Trek at all.  It’s a goddamn show by Seth MacFarlane, and it is more true to the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision than any of the three modern Trek incarnations.  If Seth can do it, why can’t CBS?  The newest series (which wrapped up its first season on Thursday March 26) is Star Trek: Picard, based on Jean-Luc of course.  It’s closer to the feel of Trek than Discovery or the Abramsverse, but only by small margins.

Warning:  This review will be light on major spoilers, but there will be spoilers, so proceed only if you don’t mind.

Short Treks:  “Children of Mars”

As set up in the final episode of Short Treks season 2: “Children of Mars”, 14 years ago a devastating attack occurred on Mars.  Mars is close to home, Earth, the seat of the Federation.  The attack, by a new line of androids with a golden skin like Data’s, was devastating.  Jean-Luc Picard was blamed for Starfleet’s inability to respond.  He had taken the fleet to Romulus to save their race from the supernova that would destroy the Romulan homeworld in 2009’s movie, Star Trek. To make matters worse, the Romulans blame Picard for not finishing the job and leaving their people behind when the fleet is urgently recalled to Mars.

Jean-Luc at home at Chateau Picard

In a last-ditch attempt to muster some relief for the Romulan race, Picard offered Starfleet a choice:  help assemble a new rescue fleet or accept his resignation.  They chose not to help.  The broken hero went home to the family vineyard of Chateau Picard while Romulus died and Mars burned.

With all this now in the past, a retired and shunned Picard bears a heavy burden.  Because of the attack on Mars, androids have been banned by the Federation.  The only people that seem to appreciate the former Admiral are his two Romulan housekeepers and bodyguards.  At age 94, Jean-Luc is not as spry as he was when he took command of the USS Enterprise-D decades earlier.  And not all Romulans blame Picard, for some understand that he was powerless when the fleet was sent back to Mars.

Picard’s quiet existence is soon shattered by the appearance of Dahj (Isa Briones), an android who thinks she is human.  Dahj has come to Picard for help.  Someone (Romulans!) tried to kill her in her home, and she somehow knows Picard’s face as one she can trust.  It doesn’t take long for Jean-Luc to recognise Dahj for what she is:  an artificial lifeform, created by unknown means as an offspring of Commander Data.

Dr. Agnes Jurati and Jean-Luc Picard

After a visit with Dr. Agnes Jurarti (Allison Pill) at the Daystrom Institute in Japan, Jean-Luc learns that Bruce Maddox (remember him from “Measure of a Man” in The Next Generation?) was working on a technique called fractal neuronic cloning to create a new kind of android.  Using a single neuron taken from Data’s prototype B-4 (remember him from Nemesis?) Maddox apparently succeeded despite the ban on synthetic life.  Interestingly, fractal neuronic cloning always results in two androids.  Meaning, Data had twin daughters — Dahj has a sister!  Due to her familial relationship with Data, the android that gave his life to save Jean-Luc, he decides he must find and protect the sister.

We have a mission!  To find Dahj’s twin, he needs to locate Bruce Maddox who disappeared when the Federation banned synthetic life 14 years ago.

It takes Picard a few episodes to assemble a crew and get the hell back into space.  Once more, Starfleet refuses to help, and drops the first of many unnecessary F-bombs when asked.  “Just because you can swear, doesn’t mean you should,” says Rob Daniels.

Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker

The first three episodes of the show move slowly, as we are spoon-fed dribbles of information about this new Star Trek world.  Jean-Luc had another another first officer after Riker; Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), and guess what?  Preposterously, here’s yet another individual who blames Picard for a whole bunch of things related to the Mars incident.  She’s hooked on booze and smoking “snakeleaf”, but she does have a lovely little motorhome-looking place right near the Vasquez rocks.  Due to the slow moving nature of the writing, it takes a while for Musiker and her motivations to come out.  Apparently she’s a conspiracy theorist, and when Jean-Luc (or “JL” as she calls him) reveals that Romulan agents are running wild on Earth looking for androids, that’s right up her alley.

Raffi is very much correct about her conspiracies, and they go deep.  Dahj’s identical twin sister is named Dr. Soji Asha, and she has been on Romulan radar for some time.  She is blissfully unaware of her own true nature.  Tal Shiar agent siblings Narek and Narissa plan to manipulate her to reveal information they need to wipe out the android homeworld once and for all.  Wait — homeworld!?  That’s right.  Apparently Maddox, on an unknown planet, has been very busy making Data babies.

But why do the Romulans care so damn much about androids?  Things get complicated when you ask that question, and the slow-coming answers never completely satisfy.  It’s all a little too Battlestar Galactica.  “All this has happened and will happen again.”  Cylons uprising against their creators.  Picard digs itself into a pit with this whole storyline, the ancient and previously unmentioned Romulan hatred of artificial life.  A sub-sect of the Romulan Tal Shiar secret police, called the Zhat Vash, is sworn to end all synthetic life — before it ends them, as they have mysteriously foreseen.

Captain Cristóbal Rios

As we slowly piece this information together, Picard also gradually picks up the pieces of the crew in sloth-like fashion.  Next is Captain Cristóbal “Cris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), yet another former Starfleet officer with a dark, hidden past.  What, are there no happy people left in this world?  What would Gene Roddenberry say about this?  Rios drinks, he smokes cigars — vices that Roddenberry thought most people would recognise as dangerous.  Additionally, Rios has a whole series of holograms of himself, all with different accents and nationalities, to help out around the ship.  Wait…what?  Holograms of himself, with different accents? What the hell is that?  While it’s fun to see Cabrera play five or six “characters” together in a single episode, this makes no sense whatsoever.  Who has that much ego, that they want to be surrounded by holograms of themselves all the time?  With different accents?  Though he’s portrayed as a dark and mysterious captain on an existential journey to heal his broken past, apparently Rios is also a raging narcissist.

OK, are we ready to launch yet?  At the last minute Dr. Jurati from the Daystrom Institute decides to join the crew.  We board Rios’ ship La Sirena and we’re off!

Wait, wait, hold on.  Hit the brakes.  We still have to make a stop.  Once upon a time ago, we learn that the once child-hating Jean-Luc Picard befriended a young Romulan boy named Elnor during the attempted rescue.  Now an adult and fierce warrior raised by an obscure sect, Elnor (Evan Evagora) becomes another of Picard’s new allies.  Needing muscle, we make this one last detour at Vashti to pick up the adult Elnor.  Here we find that…oh, come on — Elnor has a grudge against Picard, too?  It takes one episode (a really good one, admittedly) to introduce Elnor and the Roluman warrior nuns (Qowat Milat) that raised him and taught him those awesome ninja skills.  Only for Elnor to be underused in the instalments that follow.

Elnor

“Please.  Choose to live.”

You will love every time those four words are heard on screen.  You would choose to live too when you see what Elnor can do with a sword.  Those warrior nuns mean business, and they do not like the Tal Shiar one bit.  Elnor practices a lifestyle called the Way of Absolute Candor — total honesty in every word.  This results in some of the lighter, more humourous dialogue in the series.

Picard excels in this first season when going deeper into Romulan culture.  It was never really explored in detail during The Next Generation.  No, instead TNG took it upon itself to define the Klingons.  Deep Space Nine did that with the Ferengi.  And Voyager greatly expanded upon the Borg.  It’s about time the Romulans were fleshed out onscreen, and it’s quite well done.

Because of its setting in time, Picard is also the first exploration of the galaxy post-Romulus.  Its destruction in Star Trek (2009) was established but the repercussions never seen until now.  And guess what — those Romulans have been busy.  They’ve established a colony on a derelict Borg cube, cut off from the collective.  This cube, called the Artefact, and its Borg drone inhabitants are harvested for technology.  And that’s where we find Dr. Soji Asha, assigned to work and study.  Zhat Vash agent Narek (Harry Treadaway) has her wrapped around his fingers.

Seven of Nine

The ties to the Borg story allow us to revisit a couple old friends:  Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco).  These characters are shoehorned into the plot just so that they can be in a new Picard series.  Though once upon a time they were all connected by the Borg collective, Seven’s never met the other two on screen before.  Hugh’s storyline is warm but short.  Seven is…oh man, not again?  A broken soul searching for meaning.  Why can’t any of these damn characters have had a happy life after their series ended?

At least there’s Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis).  They seem happy on planet Nepenthe, with their daughter Kestra Riker-Troi.  Riker’s making pizza, and there’s grass and trees and nature and…oh come on!  They have a tragedy too?

Listen, tragedy strikes.  It hits us all.  Lord knows it does.  Star Trek has been building characters on tragedy ever since it killed Sisko’s wife in the DS9 series premier.  It doubled-down when it murdered Kirk’s dad and Spock’s mom in Star Trek (2009).  But why can’t some of our heroes just have life turn out the way they wanted it to?  The way we hoped it would?  Just one character?

Frakes, who directs several episodes of Picard, is still Riker.  The booming voice is augmented by a bigger stature.  Captain Riker has several great moments in this show, in some of the best episodes.

Jean-Luc’s adventures take him from a glitzy Vegas-like planet, to an apprehensive reunion with a Borg cube.  They put our hero in great danger and shine a spotlight on his highest moral standards.  Though the galaxy may have fallen into disarray since we last visited it, Picard himself is just as dedicated to his principles as before.  Perhaps now he is truly able to act according to his moral beliefs, freed of the yoke that was Starfleet command.  Patrick Stewart, as if without pause, has simply become Jean-Luc Picard again.  He still inspires that sense of greatness and meaning that we should all strive for in our lives.  When the adventure concludes, we are reminded that all events set in motion happened because of Picard’s loyalty to his friend.

Commander Data

The lynchpin of the series is Data (Brent Spiner).  Though the beloved android sacrificed himself for Picard in Nemesis (aka Star Trek X, the 10th film), there was always a thread left behind for him to return.  The comic books depicted his return in one way.  Picard takes it in a different direction, one which could either make fans cry or seethe in anger.  Personally speaking I found it to be appropriate and incredibly well performed and directed.  Nemesis was not a great film (perhaps the worst of the original 10) and Data’s farewell was not nearly as impactful as Spock’s was in The Wrath of Khan.  Perhaps this series helps set things right.

We already know a Picard season 2 is in the works, which means we know that the titular character was never in any real danger.  I anticipated one plot twist that happened in episode 10, but a full episode earlier.  It’s a shame they can’t just leave such things unannounced and let the story unfold in surprising ways, not predictable ones.

By season’s end, Picard is a new man again.  With a family-like crew by his side, bonded by life and death and life, the future is promising.  Fans have campaigned for a season featuring Q (John DeLancie) as an antagonist.  This does not seem impossible given that Q’s nemesis, Guinan (Whoopie Goldberg) is confirmed for season 2.  But there are still unresolved threads left hanging in Picard that might be picked up in the second season.  One might even directly tie into Star Trek: Discovery or its spinoff Section 31 starring Michelle Yeoh.

Here’s something else the writers should consider doing next season:  standalone episodes.  We’ve set up Picard’s new ship and crew, as if the season was one 10-hour long pilot episode.  It would be cool to visit strange new worlds every once in a while.  Discover new civilisations.  To boldly go!  To do something more akin to the Seth MacFarlane show, because he’s proven you can do it.  If standalones aren’t likely because overarching seasons are the current fashion, then at least feed us information more quickly and resolve questions sooner.  Picard took forever to get off the ground and moving.  Once that happened…they still spoon-fed the audience in drips.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  To quote Jean-Luc himself, “To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.”

Soji Asha

Most valuable players:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes (as director and actor), Evan Evagora, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco, composer Jeff Russo, and newcomer Isa Briones.  In key dual roles as Data’s daughters Dahj and Soji, and even as a singer in the finale, Briones never ceased to impress.  Welcome to Star Trek, Isa.  You’re in it for life now.

Star Trek series typically have rough first seasons.  The Next Generation‘s first season was quite awful.  Deep Space Nine took several years to get moving (literally since it was a space station and they used a new starship to expand horizons).  Discovery underwent a complete re-jigging after its controversial first season.  It would be nice if Star Trek would stop being afraid of its own shadow.  Be what you are, Star Trek.  Don’t try to be Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica, or anything else that followed in your footsteps.  Writers have always complained that Star Trek is hard to write for, since it has such a long and extensive canon.  Well, Picard is how you avoid those problems — by moving forward into unknown territory, instead of trying to shoehorn your series between others in the timeline.  The future is wide open.  Not only did 2009’s Star Trek create a new playground for the franchise to exist in the cinemas, but it also allowed a “reset” of sorts in the original Picard timeline.  Something bad happened, and the galaxy changed.  This enables freer writing of stories.

It was a good season.  Now run with it, and be intelligently true to Trek at the same time.  It can happen.  To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination!

3.5/5 stars

The next Next Generation.  Engage!

#820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Two)

GETTING MORE TALE #820: 1991 Was the End and 1991 Was the Beginning (Part Two)

Part One:  The Last Note of Freedom

In the annals of rock, the year 1991 is one of the most significant in the entire history of the genre.  No year since 1969 had been so singularly important.  1991 featured the newfound domination of (for argument’s sake) a brand new sub-genre.  Countless influential bands released their breakthrough records that year.  The overturning of an old order had begun.

And highschool had come to an end.  The very last locker posters had come down.  I said goodbye to my friends as we all went our separate ways.  We moved onto different universities and our little group was broken up forever.

1991 was a shock to the system, both personally and musically.

A year before, my Jon Bon Jovi Blaze of Glory T-shirt was cool as hell.  In 1991 it was stuffed in a drawer.  What the hell was going on?  I couldn’t relate to these new bands.  Kurt Cobain was baffling to me.  What was appealing about not washing your hair?  Say what you will about the merits of Bon Jovi, at least when you saw a photo of him, he had bathed and was wearing clean clothes.  I also couldn’t appreciate the musicianship of these grunge bands; not when the groups that were breaking up boasted such virtuosos as Steve Vai and Vito Bratta.  After studying serious players through the 80s, there was nothing about Cobain that I could get behind.

Even my access to mainstream hard rock was becoming limited.  The final episode of the Pepsi Power Hour aired in 1991.  The very last host was veteran Michael Williams.  It was filmed at a welding shop in Calgary, Alberta.  Williams played Metallica’s “One”, and “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog.  The shape of things to come.  The very last band ever played on the Pepsi Power Hour was Van Halen, and the the very last song was “Runaround”.  The Power Hour was then replaced by the inferior Power 30.  It was a significant change for me.  I rarely missed a Power Hour.  The Power 30 was often not worth catching at all.

The sea change in music paralleled a similarly massive shift in my life.  Out with the old, in with the new.  I didn’t know anyone in my classes.  There I sat in the World War II history classroom (really a huge auditorium) by myself.  I overheard a conversation behind me.

“Have you heard of Pearl Jam?  They sound like Black Sabbath.”

What?  What the — no they don’t!  But Seattle was being compared to early 70s Sabbath quite readily, probably due to Soundgarden and the multitude of new riffs that were emerging from the city.  The bands didn’t sound like Sabbath, per se, but the riffs and heavy doomy gloom vibes were reminiscent of the band from Birmingham.  Who were in the midst of a reunion with Ronnie James Dio, but would ultimately fail to overthrow the new grunge kingpins.

I really wanted to turn around and tell the two guys behind me what Black Sabbath were actually about, but that probably wasn’t a good way to make new friends.  University was a lonely time.  Not until second year did I meet new people to hang around.  My love of hard rock was not something I shared with my classmates.  I remember sitting in one of my history classes writing down lyrics for a song I was working on called “Clones”.  One of the lines was “Ball cap, turned back, you’re all clones.”  I couldn’t find a pathway to bonding with any of these people.  Not until I met some fellow Trekkies.*

1991 was significant for me in another way.  It was the year I became obsessed with Star Trek.  I had always watched and even had a lil’ “red shirt” when I was a toddler, but The Next Generation was hitting peak popularity.  It was always good, but five seasons in, it was becoming quite great.  This sadly coincided with the death of Gene Roddenberry in October of that year, but that only served to make Trek even more popular.  In November, The Next Generation pulled in its biggest viewership numbers since the 1986 series premier:  the two-parter “Unification” featuring Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock himself.  Pardon me — Ambassador Spock.  And if that wasn’t enough, in December Trek returned to theatres with The Undiscovered Country, the sixth and final movie with the original crew.  All of this coincided with the 25th anniversary of the original show.  It was a bittersweet but absolutely massive time to be a Trekkie.

And it just so happened that Wilfrid Laurier University was a hotbed of Trekkies.


The years that followed were all Trek-heavy in my life.  I was began buying individual episodes on VHS.  (My first tape was “Balance of Terror” featuring Mark Lenard in the debut appearance of the Romulans.)  I built model kits, I collected the books, and I pieced together a full set of Star Trek stickers from Hostess potato chips.  There was a Trekkie girl in history class named Lee that I really liked.  Lee Ditchfield.  A group of us would get together after class on Fridays to watch Monty Python and Star Trek.  (Or even study sometimes!)  The nucleus of the group was Tim Solie, a guy I knew from highschool and reconnected with in second year.  That guy could (and would) talk to anyone!  Ice broken, we formed a small little group of friends, including Lee.  But she had a boyfriend back home in Woodstock and I just didn’t even try.  I blew it.

My precious metal was not cool at Laurier, not anymore, but Trek was.  I had at least two professors that used Star Trek references in class (Anthropology 101 and European History).  I had a psychology professor whose personal philosophies mirrored the optimistic future that Gene Roddenberry instilled in his work.

After the successful Leonard Nimoy episodes of The Next Generation (“Unification” parts I and II), they were bound to try something like that again.  The following season, in an episode called “Relics”, James Doohan reprised his role as Scotty.  I overheard two professors discussing it in a stairwell.  “They did it without time travel,” said one to the other.  “And they did it reasonably well”.  He was right!

I collected a full set of these.

As time (and Trek) went on, I felt more and more comfortable at University.  By ’93, my sister Kathryn was getting ready to choose post-secondary schools.  I invited her to come to class one Friday morning to sit in and see what it was like.  I chose my Ancient Roman history class as I knew she’d find it interesting.  She was already getting nervous about starting university.  “I bet it’s nothing but Star Trek geeks and losers there!” she said.

“No, no.” I assured her.  “Nothing like that.”

So we walked in, headed down a corridor, turned a corner and walked right past a skinny Trek geek, standing there in the middle of a hallway, digging a Trek sticker out of a bag of Hostess chips.

“I knew it!” she said.

The unfortunate thing about University is that friendships are even more temporary than highschool, and it soon it’s all over.  I didn’t have any classes with Lee or Tim Solie ever again.  In fact I only saw Lee once in passing after that year.  In my third and final years, it was all new faces in every class.  And just as quickly as it started, school was all over…and so was Grunge.  Kurt died during my third year and the best work of most of those new bands was now behind them (Pearl Jam being an exemption).  In hindsight it seems unfair that this massive musical change had to coincide with these critical school years.  Like a cruel joke, metal peaked and crashed when I needed it most!  If it wasn’t for Star Trek, it would have been a far more lonely time.

*I am a Trekkie; I’ve been a Trekkie since my date of birth.  I think “Trekker” is a silly term and people look at you funny when you use it.  But if you identify as a Trekker and want me to address you as such, I’m happy to oblige.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

STAR TREK BEYOND (2016 Paramount)

Directed by Justin Lin

The “Kelvin era” or “JJ-verse” Star Trek movies have been more “miss” than “hit”.  There was a time when you could count on every even-numbered Trek to be excellent, but Star Trek Into Darkness (#12) and Star Trek Beyond (#13) were two rotten movies in a row.  What went wrong?

Too.  Much.  Dumb.  Action.

Specifically, there is one modern action motif that is freakishly common today and it drives me insane every time.  It’s when a vehicle or body hits a wall or other obstacle, going right through, and keeps going, and going…minimal damage and zero loss of momentum.  This happens far too often in Beyond.   Hell, the bad guy Krall (Idris Elba) has a swarm of spaceships completely based on this physics-defying visual.

Every time Beyond feels like it’s going somewhere, the movie devolves into meaningless, dull action.  The shame of it is, there are other scenes that are character-driver and almost vintage Trekkian.  Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) caring for an injured Spock (Zachary Quinto) felt right.  Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) tiring of his daily space-grind was reminiscent of the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage”, and also colours in a little bit about how the prime Kirk eventually became an Admiral.  These slower, more contemplative shots are then succeeded by numbing action, so far removed from Gene Roddenberry’s original vision that you can hear his complaints in the back of your mind.

Idris Elba is unfortunately underdeveloped and buried under layers of makeup.  His character Krall has cloudy hatred for the Federation, believing that their mission of peace and exploration weakens humanity, who must instead be prepared to defend itself.  Krall is not all he appears to be, of course, but the reveal is far less interesting than it could have been.  Ultimately, the setup is never enticing nor is the execution.  Since the plot is based entirely on the motivations of the villain, the movie can’t hold together.  It’s just an alien looking for a superweapon so he can kill lots of people.  And it’s never made clear why he even needs that superweapon, since he can do plenty of damage on his own.

Case in point?  Krall [SPOILER] takes down the U.S.S. Enterprise only three years into her five-year mission.  Compare this to the original prime U.S.S. Enterprise, which only went down only in a last ditch attempt by her captain to keep his crew alive.  Only after 40 years in space, three television seasons, and three movies.  Its ending was poignant, and after saving the crew countless times, it was earned.  This ships’ ending was not earned, to use the words of Rob Daniels.  We’ve only known her in a few hours of screen time.  Her demise was not earned.  It was just a gimmick to sell tickets.  See the Enterprise go down!

A new character created for this movie, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is a tough nut and good companion for Scotty.  Unfortunately, knowing the past history of female sidekicks in Star Trek films, that means you’ll never see her again.

Sadly, Anton Yelchin (Chekov) died tragically in an accident shortly before the film’s release.  J.J. Abrams has said that Chekov would never be recast by another actor.

Star Trek Beyond both gains and loses points for some real-world references.  The death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015 is reflected by [SPOILER] the death of Spock prime in this film, and there is a beautiful moment to reflect on that.  Less successfully, the character of Sulu (John Cho) is ret-conned as gay, to honour George Takei who played the original Sulu.  Even Takei found this ret-con to be strange since he never portrayed Sulu as gay at any point in the series.  It technically doesn’t directly contradict anything from the prime universe, but it feels so awkwardly shoed in.

Star Trek Beyond has, for the time being at least, ended Star Trek’s theatrical comeback.  Patrick Stewart has confidently returned to television in Picard, and so Trek never dies.  No thanks to Beyond.

1.5/5 stars

#745: Lost Things, Found Again

GETTING MORE TALE #745: Lost Things, Found Again

When you accumulate as much stuff as I have over the years, it’s no wonder things get tucked away in a box and eventually forgotten.  I’ve been doing a massive purge/reorganisation.  A huge undertaking.  Many hours logged, and many many things ejected from the house.

I accidentally donated our cable remote to the Goodwill store.  Whoops.  New remote should be here by Wednesday.  Sorry, Jen.

Some things were put into storage, but a lot was flat-out given away because I ain’t got time to sell all this stuff.

My personal goal through this is to completely re-file all my music.  Right now, the many thousands of CDs I own are in a weird sort of limbo.  Some are filed alphabetically (by band; and then chronologically by album), but many have spilled into my computer room.  They sit in huge unsorted piles; stacks of newer purchases and recently reviewed albums.  When I’m done I want them all organised and accessible again.  Something to show off, and something to use as a properly filed library.

But I’ll tell ya, it ain’t easy.  I have doner’s regret over a lot of the movies I ditched a couple weeks ago.  Some of the items I boxed up for storage are notable by their absences too.  I miss having my Star Wars guys hanging around me.

Emptying out some boxes, however, revealed numerous treasures that I had forgotten I owned.  A sealed tin of Star Trek Uno cards.  Three sealed sets of “The Making of Star Trek: The Next Generation” cards — two “gold”, one “platinum” edition.  My rubber Spock ears that came right from Vulcan, Alberta!  I’m going to open some of the cards.  May as well enjoy them, after all these years.

I also found the last of my missing video tapes…and the key to unlocking them all.

Stuffed into my box of treasured comic books, I found my meticulously kept, nearly completely intact VHS directory.

The original was hand-written, in pencil.  The last was typed out in IBM Writing Assistant 1.0.  It looks like I noted every single thing I recorded, with some additional details like the year.  All my video tapes were numbered, and these pages use the same numbering system.  At least one page is torn out, but this is a huge discovery.  I should be able to locate with ease anything I remember having on tape!

I obviously want to keep many of these things as surprises for you.  I don’t want to spoil everything that’s coming.  Here are a few pages to whet the appetite.  Everything that’s allowed will eventually be uploaded and posted right here.

Among the missing video tapes was the very first one, with that sticker of #1 still on the spine.

This tape has a funny history, much of which was deleted when I wrote up my video directory.  Tape #1 wasn’t my tape — it was the “family tape”, until I hijacked it about a year later for myself.  As such, it has a lot of weird stuff taped on it.   The tape began in 1984, with my sister’s Madonna and Glenn Frey videos.  “Material Girl” is the very first thing on Tape #1.  My mom’s 20 Minute Workout.  Boy, I used to get teased by my friends for that being on tape.  “Sure, it’s your mom’s!  Then why is Iron Maiden on the same tape!”  There’s a Transformers episode (“A Plague of Insecticons”) and all my earliest music videos.  My mom and dad also taped a movie on here called Nate and Hayes, however after many years of them not watching it, I decided to erase it.  Over that, I taped two longer MuchMusic specials:  “Rock and Roll all Nite” (Kiss) and “Capitol Punishment” (Iron Maiden) some time in 1988.

There’s not much on Tape #1 that I will be able to show you.  “Thor popping hot water bottle” is good, but the Maiden and Kiss specials will probably be blocked by Youtube copyrights unless I heavily edit them.

The special thing about Tape #1, to me, is that it shows all the earliest heavy metal songs and bands that I heard, almost in the order I heard them.  With very few exceptions like Quiet Riot, recording these videos happened before I owned any of the albums.

Among my first true loves:  Triumph, Kiss, Helix, W.A.S.P., Twisted Sister, Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, and Queensryche.  Originally the last song on this tape was “Queen of the Reich”, but a couple years later I wanted to make sure I used up all the tape, and squeezed on three more videos.

So sad to let old things go, but so glad to have hung up to the important stuff.

 

DVD REVIEW: The Orville – The Complete First Season (2018)

THE ORVILLE – The Complete First Season (2018 20th Century Fox 2 DVD set)

We like Star Trek: Discovery, we really do.  At the same time, we wonder, “Why do studios insist the only way to do Star Trek today is to modernise it into a gritty action drama?”  Does it have to be so?  Is Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future somehow outdated?

Though CBS Paramount seem terrified of anything “too Trekky”, others have not been timid.  Sensing the wide-open void for something styled in the old spirit of Trek, Seth MacFarlane (of all people) made his move with The Orville.

Before you scoff, let’s not forget that MacFarlane clearly knows his Star Trek.  1) Patrick Stewart regularly appears on his shows.  2) He reunited the entire Next Generation cast for the first time on an episode of Family Guy.  3) He cast Michael Dorn in Ted 2 and dressed him up as Worf.  It should surprise no one that The Orville is closest in spirit to Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  In fact, not even Deep Space Nine or Voyager are this close.  From the gentle pastel sets including conference rooms, hallways and holodecks, to the techno-babble, to the minimal use of violence, The Orville is the NEXT Next Generation.  It is the Enterprise D, but if Captain Picard allowed the crew to crack wise when opportunity knocked.

It would take only the slightest nudge to turn The Orville into Trek canon.  Change some names and terminology, tone down the humour slightly, and you’re there.  Humour on a starship?  Yes, of course, but The Orville is not a comedy.  It is first and foremost science fiction, and indeed some of the best science fiction on television since Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled.  The episodes are generally commentary on modern society, much like Star Trek has always been.  Change the setting to outer space and suddenly it’s parable.  Topics covered include the “court of public opinion” seen in social media today, gender reassignment, underachievers, religion in society, and making the most difficult decisions.  The biggest difference between the voyages of the Orville and the Enterprise isn’t even that big:  on the Orville, there are no transporter beams.

The crew of The Orville is obsessed with Earth culture circa 1980-present, but that is to be expected given Seth MacFarlane’s own interests.  References to movies and TV shows of today are rampant.  Jokes are toned down from the usual modern fare, but the pilot episode sets up a comedic premise.  Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) catches his wife, Commander Kelly Grayson, in bed with a blue alien (Rob Lowe).  When Grayson is assigned as his first officer on the Union ship the Orville, the entire crew learns of their marriage issues.  Captain Mercer’s best friend (and best pilot in the fleet) is Lt. Gordon Malloy played by Scott Grimes of American Dad.  Seth’s buddy Norm MacDonald also shows up as Lt. Yaphit, a gelatinous yellow blob based on Odo from Deep Space Nine, but played for comedy relief.

Too much science fiction today has flimsy barely-there characters.  The Orville’s crew are more fully formed than the usual, with a few receiving interesting story arcs.  They are all new versions of classic archetypes.  The robot Isaac (Mark Jackson) is the twist on Data.  He is still immensely curious about humans, but knows he is vastly superior and considers everyone on the Orville his inferior.  Bortus (Peter Macon) is your “Worf”, a deep voiced, strong alien species with head ridges.  His unique trait is that his race is single-gendered, and much of his character development is in tandem with his partner Klyden (Chad L. Coleman).  Halston Sage plays the inexperienced security chief Alara Kitan, a young alien from a planet with such high gravity, that their species have evolved tremendous physical strength.  Though small she can easily throw a punch to send Bortus flying, or re-shape a cube of titanium with her hands!  Yet she lacks the confidence that her crewmates have in her.

More casting genius:  Penny Johnson Jerald, Deep Space Nine‘s Kassidy Yates, as ship’s doctor Claire Finn.  In cameos or recurring roles are Ron Canada (Next Generation), Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West), Victor Garber (Titanic), Mike Henry (Family Guy), Robert Picardo (Voyager‘s Doctor), and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development).  One has to respect both the sheer talent involved, and the willingness of Star Trek actors to participate.

As the show grows during its first season, comedy takes a back seat to science fiction.  In the bonus features, MacFarlane states that he paid attention to fan feedback, and he noted that fans were discussing the legitimate characters and science fiction tales.  Episodes feature a new twist on classic sci-fi (and even Star Trek) themes:  living in a simulation, a space zoo, Flatland, a civilisation living in a generation ship without its own knowledge, interference with space-time and developing cultures, and many planets with Earth-like societies that act as a mirror for us to view our own.  Ray guns are rarely used, and monsters are usually misunderstood.

It’s remarkable but not untrue to say that The Orville is Star Trek, but without infringing any copyrights.  Dig a little further in the credits and you’ll have a better understanding of how they managed to play The Orville so close to classic Trek.  In the director’s chair:  Jonathan Frakes, AKA Riker, and director of Trek on both TV and in cinemas.  Also directing:  Robert Duncan McNeill, AKA Tom Paris and also director of many Voyager episodes.  Behind the scenes is Brannon Braga, a producer on The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, Cosmos…and The Orville.  Jon Favreau even directed the pilot episode.  With a team like this in place, MacFarlane and friends were more than capable of making a show truly within the optimistic Roddenberry philosophy.  Guys like Braga, Frakes and McNeill spent years living in that universe.

The DVD includes your traditional special features, the best of which is a Q&A session with the cast and creators of the show.  Another interesting featurette is about the physical model of the Orville spaceship, used for those slow “beauty shots”.

The Orville is the show that Trek fans have wanted for years now, at least since JJ Abrams brought it back to movie screens.  The true Trek on TV is not Discovery.  It’s not Short Treks.  It is The Orville.  If that pisses off CBS Paramount, then too bad.  If they won’t make the Trek that fans want, then someone else will — and did.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Leonard Nimoy & William Shatner – Spaced Out! (1997)

LEONARD NIMOY & WILLIAM SHATNER – Spaced Out! (1997 MCA)

Although William Shatner has enjoyed a slightly more high profile musical career, it was actually Leonard Nimoy who struck musical gold first!  Nimoy’s debut solo album Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space beat Shatner’s The Transformed Man by a year, in 1967.  Both records are considered novelties, yet were followed up by even more albums.  Shatner’s last, Ponder the Mystery (2013) featured Steve Vai and Rick Wakeman among many others.

In 1997, the Space Channel assembled a fantastic greatest hits compilation of both Starfleet officers’ best.  In 2017, Sir Aaron the Surprising sent me a sealed copy on a lark.  It was meant to be a gag gift, but little did Aaron know I’d actually wanted this CD for a long time!  After all, Shatner’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” has long been a hilariously bad favourite, and Nimoy’s “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” truly is a hoot.  Spaced Out! is a blast-off!

Shatner’s material tends to the so-bad-it’s-funny side of things.  His spoken-word vocals definitely re-imagine many classic songs, including “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”.  Nimoy, meanwhile, uses his baritone to sing charming ditties like “I Walk the Line” and “If I Was a Carpenter”.  In character as Spock, “Highly Illogical” is highly fun.  Nimoy also had a knack for ballads, and perhaps just missed out on a career as a crooner?

Less successful, Leonard goes country on “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”.  He may have been able to play cowboys in movies, but playing one in music is much more difficult.  Nimoy’s music leaned more to the mainstream, while Shatner’s was experimental, bombastic beat poetry to music.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  “It Was A Very Good Year” is highly questionable.

Top Star Trek geek moment:  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) took its name from a line in Shakespear’s Hamlet (1602).  In Shatner’s musical recording, “Hamlet”, he actually recites that line a couple decades before the movie was made.

Who would fardels bear
To grunt and sweat under a weary life
But that the dread of something after death
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action

For fans, it’s ultimately cool to have a copy of Shatner reciting those lines.

Let’s not deceive anyone, Spaced Out! is a novelty.   You will chuckle and cringe more frequently than you will tap your toes to the music.  Trekkies/Trekkers owe it to themselves to add this to the collection to expand their own universes.

2/5 stars

 

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.

 

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1, Chapter One (2017)

STAR TREK: Discovery Season 1, Chapter One (episodes 1-9 CBS All Access 2017)

The difficulty in adapting Star Trek to a new generation, while still being commercial enough for 2017’s television screens is enormous.  Creator Gene Roddenberry had rules he wanted adhered to within the Star Trek universe.  Perhaps most difficult was his “no conflict” mandate.  Roddenberry reasoned that when humanity reaches the technology in Star Trek’s future, there will  no longer be need for Earthly conflict.  Food replicators mean nobody will go hungry.  Warp drive means infinite access to resources.   Antimatter provides unlimited energy.  All Earth’s problems are solved.  Exploration is the new adventure.  This was true of the original Star Trek in 1966, and Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987.

After Roddenberry died in 1991, Star Trek’s new “Great Bird” Rick Berman introduced conflict in clever ways, side-stepping Roddenberry’s mandate.  For dramatic purposes, 1993’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was set on an alien space station on the frontier.  It was run by a mixture of humans and aliens, and hosted a virtual space city of diverse travellers and residents.  Then Star Trek: Voyager broke the mold again in 1995.  A starship’s bridge was the main setting once again, but this time they were stranded on the other side of the galaxy with a crew made up of Starfleet officers and Maquis rebels.  The last Star Trek series under Berman’s control, 2001’s Enterprise, was a prequel set 100 years before Captain Kirk.  The Federation, Star Trek’s peaceful governing body, did not yet exist.  It was a transitional period between the Third World War and the familiar Star Trek we remember.

The first five

Over the past 50 years, Star Trek has been popular, but was surpassed by other franchises in financial success.  Star Wars and the Marvel universe both dwarf Star Trek today.  Some poor theatrical movies, such as Star Trek: Generations (film #7, 1994) and Star Trek: Nemesis (#10, 2002) did not help.  By this time, Star Trek’s continuity had become so huge and entangled that writers struggled to come up with new ideas that a) hadn’t already been done, and b) didn’t contradict established Trek history.

JJ Abrams wisely rebooted Star Trek in 2009 by creating an alternate timeline.  Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) was thrust back in time with a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana), triggering a series of events (including the premature death of Captain Kirk’s father, George Kirk) that re-wrote Star Trek history.  This allowed a clean slate based on the original classic trio of Star Trek:  Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  Largely, it worked.  Star Trek (film #11, 2009) did the trick.  2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness (film #12) tried again by re-doing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in this new timeline.  That was less successful.  Re-doing the gimmick of destroying the Enterprise in 2016’s Star Trek: Beyond (film #13) was far too soon and really seemed to derail the series.  It was the third destruction of the Enterprise on screen and it hadn’t been earned yet.

JJ Abrams and crew

The JJ Abrams universe is continuing with the 14th Star Trek film, somehow resurrecting George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) and perhaps undoing that timeline completely.  We shall see.

Meanwhile and with less fanfare, Star Trek has returned to television.  This seems an even bigger challenge than making a good Star Trek movie.  After all, television is nothing like it used to be.  Reality shows, serialised dramas, and sitcoms own TV now.  Attention spans are shortened and cerebral tales are fewer to be seen.  What does a new Star Trek look like, and what would the story be?

Fans haven’t been shy about what they wanted to see in a new Star Trek TV show.  Most would have loved a series set far into the future, as far beyond Picard as Picard was from Kirk.  But Star Trek isn’t being made for fans.  Today it needs to appeal to anyone and everyone, and simply not alienate too many fans.  So instead, we are getting another “prequel” series set before the time of Kirk.  10 years prior, in fact, and set in the original universe.  And as an added twist, the main character was to be Spock’s never-before-mentioned…adopted sister?

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham

Fans shit the bed.

Star Trek: Discovery has faced (and continues to face) a lot of scepticism.  After all, this is hallowed ground.  You can’t just piss all over the history.  50 years of Trek, and we’ve never heard of Michael Burnham, the girl raised as a step-sister to Spock?

Fear not.  Trek lore has not only been respected in Discovery, but enhanced.  The Vulcan-centric episode “Lethe” is an emotional backstory to who Michael Burnham is, and even colours in the blanks behind Spock and Sarek’s estrangement.  It does so in such a way to soften even the hardest fan’s heart.

Burnham’s parents were killed in a Klingon attack, and she was raised on Vulcan by Sarek (James Frain) as his ward.  She was trained in the Vulcan ways, with logic as a tool to govern her human emotions.  This background also sets up her fall from grace.  Burnham is not the typical Star Trek main character.  In the series pilot “The Vulcan Hello”, first officer Burnham commits mutiny on board the USS Shenzhou.  Her actions in the first two episodes (including “Battle at Binary Stars”) set up the balance of the series:  war with the Klingons!

Being a mutineer making some pretty obvious blunders in spite of her supposed excellent Starfleet record, Burnham is a difficult character to like.  Fortunately, actor Sonequa Martin-Green was the right one for the job.  Formerly as Sasha on The Walking Dead, she was little more than a background character.  Martin-Green was largely untested, until now.  She has done an excellent job in her first half-season on Discovery.  She remained cold and difficult to like, until finally thawing a little bit in episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”.

Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou

Being difficult to like is intentional.  Discovery is not like other series.  It begins on the USS Shenzhou, captained by Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), a cool new ship with its bridge under the saucer section instead of on top.  Georgiou and first officer Burnham begin as scientists and explorers, but Burnham’s mutiny creates war and a new reality.  Episode 3, “Context is for Kings”, introduces Burnham’s new surroundings:  The USS Discovery NCC-1031.  The titular ship doesn’t even appear in the first two episodes.

The USS Discovery’s on-screen design is based on old concept paintings by Ralph McQuarrie, for the first Star Trek movie.  You’ll notice its Star Destroyer-like main hull.  McQuarrie designed all the ships in Star Wars too, and because this starship design is decades old, the USS Discovery fits the classic starfleet look.  This ship is bad ass.  The USS Enterprise, under command of Christopher Pike, is out there somewhere, but the Discovery is fresh off the line.  It has all the latest gadgets.  It’s a black project and a testbed for new technology, now needed desperately.  Over 8000 Federation citizens have died in the war in the first six months.  Defeat is not an option, and Discovery is rolled out to unleash war-winning technological breakthroughs.  It’s the Manhattan Project of the 2250s.  Top secret, high level shit going on here, folks.

Jason Isaacs as Captain Lorca

How did Burnham, a mutineer, get such a cool assignment?  Well, first off, it might not seem that cool once you see what Discovery is up to.  And second, her captain, Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is not a typical Starfleet captain.  He is single-minded and obsessed: victory is the only option and he will stop at nothing, no matter how unethical, to win the war.  Lorca is damaged goods, but he’s also very smart and because it’s a black project, he manages to operate under the radar with minimal oversight.  Bottom line:  He thinks Burnham will be useful, and so he uses her.  If you are stationed on Discovery, that means Lorca thinks you’re useful.

This setup enables some very different Trek dynamics.  Do you think the crew of the Discovery are happy to have a mutineer on board?  One who was responsible for the war in the first place?  Highly unlikely.  First officer Saru (Doug Jones) is one of her old shipmates from the Shenzhou.  Saru, a Kelpian, comes from a planet where his species are only food for other species.  Kelpians can sense the coming of death, and let’s just say that Saru’s spidey-senses start tingling when Burnham pops back in his life.  Doug Jones embodies the alien Saru perfectly, who is the series’ placeholder for a Spock or Data.  In a cool touch, Jones’ height is made abnormally alien with a pair of hooves.

Anthony Rapp as Lt. Stamets

Michael Burnham begins with only one friend on board, her geeky roommate Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman).  Tilly warms up to the audience when she confides that she’s going to be a captain one day, but she has a lot to learn first.  Burnham and Tilly work in engineering under Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Star Trek’s first openly gay main character (not counting John Cho’s Mr. Sulu, based on George Takei’s original Sulu who wasn’t written or portrayed as gay).

I want to pause here and say something that probably doesn’t need to be said.  It took 50 years for Star Trek to finally have an openly gay main character.  Star Trek has been so far ahead in many respects over the years, but way behind in this one way.  And I love it.  It’s been done so well.  As an added bonus, Stamets’ relationship with Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) is critical to the overall plot of the first season.  Without getting too much into spoilers, they are both put into impossible situations because they care about each other.  Rapp and Cruz have turned their characters into favourites, and it’s way overdue and I love it.

Rapp’s Stamets could be the show’s most important character.  He was essentially drafted to serve aboard the Discovery, as the inventor of the top secret and experimental “spore drive”.  It is an organic propulsion system and if Stamets can refine it, Discovery will be able to be anywhere in the known universe in a blink — it is a game changer.  But it requires super-computing the likes of which doesn’t exist…unless Stamets can think outside the box.

Presiding over this is Captain Lorca; no-nonsense all the way.  He’s been given this ship, its crew of “polite scientists”, and a blank cheque.  His orders:  end the war in victory.  Lorca has his own deeply buried demons.  These come to light in “Choose Your Pain”, in which he is captured by the Klingons.

Chris Obi as T’Kuvma

Ah yes, the Klingons.  They are Star Trek’s most iconic villains…and in some cases, heroes.  They have an established culture, design and hierarchy.  Star Trek: Discovery takes its least successful leaps with the Klingons.  New ship, costume and makeup designs are really out of place.  Remember, this series takes place 10 years before Captain Kirk and “The Trouble With Tribbles”.  Klingons looked like humans in that era.  It’s a complicated mess of contradictions, but Discovery should not have made it worse by adding in yet another new Klingon design.

The Klingons are problematic in more ways than one.  The momentum of the show screeches to a halt any time we cut to Klingon drama.  Until recently on the show, they spoke Klingon with English subtitles almost all the time.  This changed in the last episode.  Never before on Star Trek have we had to endure this much Klingon language.  On original Trek, Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine, they had esteemed stage actors saying these lines mostly in English, and it was all very Shakespearean and perfect.  Christopher Plummer played a Klingon, fer frak’s sakes.  The first bald Klingon, I might add, and now on Discovery, they all seem to be bald.  And also bland.  The Klingons, with the exception of one, have not been remotely interesting.  The exception is L’Rell (Mary Cheiffo), a master of deception and spies.

Mary Chieffo as L’Rell

It is L’Rell who tortures Captain Lorca in “Choose Your Pain”, an important episode that also introduces Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson).   Mudd is a fan favourite character, going back to season one of the original series.  As a con man played by Roger C. Carmel in 1966, he is remembered as both comedy relief and a threat.  When we meet him on Discovery, he’s a prisoner of the Klingons.  Wilson was a casting boon.  His Mudd is more dangerous and deadly than Carmel’s, but no less enjoyable.  Count on seeing more of Harcourt Fenton Mudd, particularly in the series’ best episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”.

That episode, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” can also be used to highlight a show weakness.  That is recycling previous used Star Trek story devices.  “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” features a time loop that is very similar to one in The Next Generation’s “Cause and Effect”.  There are others as well.  A planet that changes the personality of an alien character: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is like “The Other Side of Paradise”.  You can keep going.

However there have also been sparks of originality.   Lt. Stamets’ spore drive opens up some new concepts previously unexplored in Trek, inspired by more recent discoveries in the quantum field.  A few episodes challenge ethics in the face of emergencies.  The format of a serialised story is unusual in Star Trek.  Long story arcs were previously used in Enterprise and Deep Space Nine, but not to this degree.  This is what audiences today are familiar with.  Sonequa Martin-Green is now an expert thanks to her time on The Walking Dead.

Star Trek: Discovery will return in January for Season 1, Chapter Two.  It has also been renewed for a further season beyond this.  This mid-season break will give them a chance to address some problems.  Pacing is an issue when we cut to Klingon scenes.  The language issue might have been rectified recently with the introduction of a universal translator.  It would also be nice to settle some continuity problems, especially visually.  Will we see traditional Starfleet uniforms, for example?  We know they are being used around this period, due to their appearance in 1965’s pilot episode “The Cage”, which actually takes place two years prior to Discovery in the timeline.  (This also raises the possibility of a future meeting between Captains Lorca and Pike, and a reunion of Spock and Burnham.)

Jeffrey Hunter and Leonard Nimoy as Captain Pike and Mr. Spock, in original uniforms (1965)

Star Trek series typically have a bumpy first season as kinks get worked out.  If we assume this pattern will continue, then Discovery should turn out to be an exciting show for Trek fans.  Certainly the space battle action scenes have been highlights.  Let’s see more of that.

Shazad Latif as Lt. Tyler

Let’s also see more of characters like Dr. Culber, Paul Stammets, Captain Lorca, and Ash Tyler.  Tyler, by the way, is one of the most controversial characters.  There are fan theories (too many spoilers to discuss!) that suggest Tyler may not be who he thinks he is.  Season 1, Chapter Two promises that his backstory will be further revealed, including his torture at the hands of Klingon L’Rell.

Even if certain continuity problems are never addressed, Discovery has made it an exciting time to be a Star Trek fan again.  Old Star Trek always had its problems with continuity, far too many to list.  If we can accept those, then let’s remain open minded.

Yes indeed, it is a great time to be a Trek fan.  In 1987, I remember fans thought The Next Generation was stiff, and we complained that it copied original Trek a bit too closely at times.  Everyone thought Jonathan Frakes looked like he was supposed to be Shatner.  Their pajama-like uniforms and Wil Wheaton made us all cringe, remember?  You hated Wesley too — don’t lie just because he’s on Big Bang Theory.

Sara Mitich as Airiam

Today, The Next Generation is revered by some as the best series of them all — or certainly the one with the best captain, right Patrick Stewart fans?  Things change, and we know we have two seasons for them to get things running right.  I’d like to see more of the background cyborg character, Lt. Commander Airiam (Sara Mitich).  We already know there are episodes coming directed by Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection).  And we expect that Lt. Stamets’ experiments with the spore drive has opened some kind of portal to the Star Trek “mirror universe”…where good is evil and evil is good.  Can you picture a bearded Stamets?  Lorca, perhaps.  Or would the mirror Lorca be the good one?

See?  It’s a great time to be a Trek fan.

This could just be the excitement talking, but I think Discovery is getting better and the best is still coming.

3.5/5 stars

Star Trek: Discovery episodes from Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki

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