Westmark Manor

Last week I mentioned that I found 2 games on Steam to help me sate my hunger for Eldritch horror.  While Old Gods Rising ended up being a bit more walking sim, Westmark Manor offers a far better Lovecraftian puzzler.  The atmosphere is thick with a sense of dread and the manor itself is full of relics, totems and strange documents that it had that sense of living a Lovecraft story.  So much was to be found in all of its 113 rooms.  But is it a good game?   I’m not sure.  I’ll need a replay to figure it out!

I can’t deny that I did enjoy it.  Like nearly every other Lovecraft game, it doesn’t get it quite right but it does maintain that sense of horror that pervades every moment so it definitely demonstrates a profound understanding of the source material.  I wasn’t bothered by the top-down view either, even though I would have far preferred being able to see things in 1st person mode.  And I actually liked the opening questions that I think configure your difficulty level.  (This probably will help a replay in the future!)  Where the game goes wrong and had me desperate to wrap it up was in inventory management.  If there is a dark god in this universe, it’s the god of inventory management!  You never really know what you should carry and the slots fill up faster than a madhouse in Arkham so it’s always a juggling game of “should I go put this in my stash?”  The stash is lorded over by a big headed leprechaun who you can either talk to (where he says a number of useless things) or open the storage to keep things so you don’t have to put things in your all-too-limited pockets.  (I’d be willing to accept that you can’t carry everything you see in life either, but we go well past that the moment we start carrying an alchemist’s case and an ax.  If we’re expected to believe they fit in our pockets to begin with, I’m asking where these pockets come from…)  Speaking of crazy things, you find “trinkets” in the game, and one of the recipes calls for 4 trinkets to gain 1 sanity point.  Cool.  Except, even though I pulled it off, I have no idea why.  And the items I put together made no sense either: here take this ring, statue, mandrake root and this book.  Put them together and … WOW!  Increased sanity.  (This makes sense, how?)

On it’s own, the inventory management wouldn’t be a big deal but for the other real letdown: light.  This vast mansion is cast in shadows in a way the even a Vorlon would be worried about.  So you get matches, but as everyone knows, you never get a book or even a box of matches; you get individual ones, so you get lucky if you find them, but that means you have a very finite amount of light.  Did I mention there are 113 rooms?  Most are not well lit so you hope to find either matches or lighter fluid for your lantern – that lasts longer, but is just as hard to find.  Now darkness on it’s own doesn’t scare me, but it has a deleterious effect on the character and your sanity starts taking a plummet if you spend time in the dark.  All of this is made still worse but the fact that cabinets you’ve explored refill themselves with random things so taking time to have the light and open another set of draws does pay off.  But the game would have been far superior if once you explored a room, the lights would stay on.  This would also help piece together the map; used like a “fog of war”, this could have changed the very nature of the game.  (I’ve said before, I like a challenge; I don’t like feeling cheated!)

Doesn’t that defeat the challenge, then?  Not a bit, because there are puzzles everywhere.  I completed the game, but didn’t complete all the puzzles.  There are some things I never got to unlock.  I cracked two locks by listening for the noises like a master safe cracker and am ready to costar in Oceans 27 but that wasn’t how I was supposed to do it.  After I completed them, I went online to find out the true way which involved locating the right manuscripts.  I never found either (there are two).   And I’ve said nothing of the curses: hands come up out of the floor from time to time and curse you.  They only last for about 5 minutes but don’t think that’s a short amount of time when your lights are dwindling.  One curse inverted my keyboard while another made it so that I could not use my map.  Still another made my notebook become gibberish.

The crazy bit is that I felt extremely rewarded when I did crack a puzzle.  The graphics are enjoyable and the tension is palpable.  There are some really great moments where the ghostly image of your wife hovers behind you, just over your shoulder, though I am not confident I ever solved even her riddle.  I found a giant cthulhu-like creature in a well which I never got past nor did I discover what his puzzle was all about.  There was a hand with its fingers lit like candles that also needed a manuscript to solve; well, that and a few matches, so I never saw the end of that one.  And there are desiccated devotees all around the manor which don’t seem to cause your character any discomfort.  There’s also a giant head that is willing to trade with you: sanity points for a variety of tools – no matches though.  It is definitely surreal!

As you play the game, you earn “sigils” that will accumulate so that when you have 14, you can leave the house.  I made a beeline for the door only to learn my fate was as existentially dreadful as any Lovecraft would ever have committed to paper.   But I was left with the feeling that I should replay it.  I used to play all my games more than once, but these days, I typically go for one play-through.  This one I may actually replay now that I understand more about it.  It ends with a letter grade and a title, so I was a Devotee, which just made me curious what other grades there are.  (I didn’t like that it made me a husk of a man living in the manor, but I’ll live with this for now!)

At $15, it’s not like you won’t get your money’s worth.  I put in 8 hours and may replay it in the near future, but even if I didn’t, $2/hour is a rate I can accept.  Ironically a far better dollar/hour value than Old Gods Rising.  But I can’t help feel like I’ve been cheated of actually understanding the puzzles.  If the game were balanced, there would be an equal number of puzzles to sigils so once you completed all of the puzzles, you could make it out.  Maybe, had I waited and worked on more of the puzzles, my ending would have been better; a more pleasant denouement to the story.

By the time I was done, I felt like one of Lovecrafts cracked, gibbering protagonists.  And for a game that plays to that existential dread, maybe that’s what I was supposed to feel, but I really thing the game would have been more enjoyable if it gave you some way to end things positively.  Don’t forget to check out the trailer, here:

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Star Trek: The Return of the Archons

Star Trek Opening TitlesAs classic Trek episodes go, this one is reasonably awful but it gets redeemed by something as simple as an expression on someone’s face.  Just look at McCoy!  Kirk and Spock conspire against “the body” of Landrau and McCoy is at peace.  Or, if I’m totally honest, he looks like he’s had a particularly satisfying constitutional.  In fact… is that the bathroom?

I’m sorry!  It just made me laugh when I saw it and that was all I could think of.  Terrible, I know!  If only there were stalls…

image001

So what exactly do we know about this travesty of an episode?  100 years ago, a Starship went missing here.  It was called The Archon.  There, that’s why the episode has that terrible name.  We weren’t expected to know them from a previous episode.  Kirk and crew beam down to investigate and arrive just in time for “festival” where everyone celebrates the movie The Purge and for 12 hours, going wild, and littering in the streets.  The shame of it!  They clearly spend the next twelve hours cleaning up before doing it again the next day.  I was reminded of my pal, HP Lovecraft, due to this aspect of the story.  He has a story called The Festival and if that were the inspiration for this one, it might have been really interesting.  Instead, we go into a whole thing about being “of the body” and Laundry… I mean Landru is the all hearing ears that know when you talk about him.  He sends his Lawgivers with their hollow sticks to make the Enterprise crew “of the body” which effectively turns them into ultra-calm members of society, putting their hands to their hearts and calling everyone “my friend”.  Sadly, no HP Lovecraft influence after that exciting evening of debauchery!  It seems Landru is responsible for a society without fear… but then what the hell is The Festival if not something terrifying where people literally rip each other up, rape and pillage?  So, about that fear-free world…

Watching this story, I was not sure if I was seeing something very anti-religion or just anti-machine.  The fact that some of this went back 6000 years was interesting since the Archon was only missing for 100.  Or was there something anti-colonial about the story, with everyone dressed in colonial attire acting like fools?  On the other hand, there are some master strokes, like Kirk explaining that freedom has to be earned.  Whether or not that means beating people up remains to be seen but he does ask Spock if punching someone was a bit “old fashioned”, so maybe there are better ways to earn freedom. Like neck pinching.  I also like the realization that creativity enhances life.  That’s a fact.  That’s the very reason for our site!  (Well, we hope we’re enhancing your lives, but I know I’m enhancing mine by writing these articles!)

In Trek lore, the idea of non-interference is explained rather brilliantly as Kirk destroys the society he visits.  That law, it appears, is only applicable to healthy, growing societies, of which this one is evidently neither healthy nor growing.  In many ways, that’s the one real take-away from this story.  After Kirk literally talks the bad  guy to death, he turns to the one good monk and says, “Well you’re on your own.  I hope you’re up to it.  If I were you I’d start looking for another job.”  And off he goes.  Basically, everything you know was controlled by a computer, so hey, I’ve saved you but now we’re out of here and you have to figure everything out.  Oh, but I’ll give you a consolation prize: Sociologist Bob can stay here with you and he’ll help you rebuild society!  Bye Bob!

I don’t know what to say.  I can’t talk a robot to death.  And I don’t think I’d look good in a cravat.  But at least, here in the Junkyard, I know we are all of the body.  Right, friend?  ML

The view from across the pond:

The computer-gone-wrong story is one of the most basic tools of sci-fi writers, to the point where it has now become a tedious cliché. Perhaps in the 60s it was less of a cliché, but it was still not the most imaginative thing a writer could come up with. It tends to get used at the end of an episode as a twist revelation, something that works well in Doctor Who’s The Green Death, for example, but here it’s a surprise that doesn’t work. The same society has been stuck in a rut for 6000 years. Only a computer could engineer that.

The society it has engineered is fiendishly clever though, and quite scary too. The computer’s idea of perfection is “peace, harmony and no soul”. Order comes first, and that means crime must be eliminated. It’s impossible for people to be kept under complete control like that though; emotions and urges are too strong and will bubble to the surface, and there will always be the criminal element, however severely it is repressed. The computer’s solution is ruthlessly logical: decriminalise all crimes for a set period of time, make that a “festival”, and then people have an outlet for their frustrations and urges, but the computer retains some degree of control. It has parameters, and they are strict parameters. The clock is obeyed to the second. This is of course horrendously cruel when you think about it. Crimes have victims, and there is little the victims can do about that here. Tula’s plight is a stark and shocking example of that. The computer does not think of feelings. People are conforming to its set parameters.

The contrast between the daytime of order and the night of chaos is frightening, and brilliantly done. During the day everyone walks strangely slow, all at the same pace. Nobody has anywhere they have to be in a hurry, or if they do they are not allowed to show it. It’s all very unnatural. Then everyone stops what they are doing, pauses, and picks up a weapon, and the mob rules: chilling.

There is an interesting tonal shift when Kirk and his team get inside the hotel. Outside, everyone seemed like lobotomized criminals, going berserk by night, but inside the hotel there are people showing their real feelings and emotions. Hacom and Tamar reminded me of Waldorf and Statler, until one of them betrayed the other.

Of course, Kirk was always going to swan in and destroy the balance of this society. That’s how sci-fi works when there’s a computer ruling the world. But this being Trek I was hoping that there would be at least some mention of the ethics behind that. The writer threw me some breadcrumbs:

“Captain, our Prime Directive of non-interference.”
“That refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?”

This is the first time the Prime Directive is mentioned, and already it’s looking like a tool for empire building. Does a culture that is not changing have no value? For anyone who has studied history, that might bring a few things to mind. I’m not disputing that Kirk does the right thing. These people are living in purgatory. But his reasoning and dismissal of Spock’s concerns are hubristic, and worryingly indicative of a philosophy of superiority that remains unchanged since the days of empire.

“Sociologist Lindstrom is remaining behind with a party of experts who will help restore the planet’s culture to a human form.”

But an episode that raises issues like this is a valuable one. It might not have all the answers, but it certainly asks all the right questions. This was the future as seen through 1960s eyes, and sci-fi was starting to grow up.   RP

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Children of Earth: Day Four

Torchwood Children of EarthDay 4 illustrates the power of the 456 and leaves the audience breathless.  The episode offers backstory to dull the shock of Jack’s day 3 revelation and then it kicks us while we’re down.  Kicks us, punches us, spits on us, and leaves us a bloody pulp on the floor waiting to see how on earth Torchwood can save the day.

Jack reveals his reasons for being involved in giving the children to the 456 in 1965: it was an exchange for a cure for an unspecified virus.  12 children and the virus gets a cure.  Imagine that during Covid-19.  It would almost sound like a mercy.  But the 456 are not content with another 12 children.  Now they want 10% of the child population of the planet; 325,000 from the UK alone.  If humanity doesn’t comply, the 456 will wipe out the entire planet.  Surely Torchwood has a plan?

In classic action/thriller style, they do have a plan and it involves Lois Habiba, still the best new character of the season.  She announces to Thames house that every conversation has been recorded; conversations that entailed the dire selection criteria that would keep certain children safe, while others could be sacrificed.  All will be shared with the world at large unless they allow Jack Harkness to enter and negotiate. Jack and Ianto get to enter and the triumph is palpable.  Gwen even gets the upper hand on her assailants.  The audience gets a moment to be excited… until things go very, very wrong.  Not only does it leave Lois in the unenviable position of being held accountable for treason, but Ianto Jones dies.  By this season, I had come to like Ianto immensely and felt he was one of the strongest characters in the show.  His departure is truly soul destroying.  Jack watches him die in his arms.  Clem also is killed remotely by the 456 who give him a horrendously painful death by “disconnecting” him.  When Gwen comes to see the bodies of Jack and Ianto, Jack comes back (as expected) but it’s what Gwen says through tears that lets the audience really know where we stand.  The episode ends with her barely audible words, “there’s nothing we can do!”

When my friend said this was one of the most amazing 5 hours of TV he’d ever seen, it was hard to deny.   It’s raw and its emotional and its terrifying.  It still maintains that cinematic feel that we’ve seen all season long and the music is outstanding hitting a marvelous, melancholy choral piece that lets us know exactly where we stand.  It’s hard to find humor in an episode so charged, but I did enjoy Rhys trying to give Clem a boost when he learns why he was left behind, “saved by hormones!”  Also a light chuckle after Jack springs back to life after Clem shot him; Gwen says, “this is normal, this is what he does!”  And in the most powerful moment of the season so far, as Jack offers some philosophy to the 456, Ianto stops it.  Jack replies, “I liked the philosophy.”  I do admit, I too liked the philosophy, especially since Jack’s friend, from who he picked up the quote, was undoubtedly the Doctor: “An injury to one is an injury to all.”  A good reminder in today’s polarized society. But the humor is so outmatched against the darkness of the episode that it barely works to keep the terror at bay.

It was a nice touch having Ianto tell the 456 to look back through their records 150 years to see who Jack really is, but it pales by comparison to the Doctor and I almost wish that came up because the 456 don’t pay any attention to Jack’s history and they even ignore the threat of war.  Nick Briggs has a chilling moment too, when planning how they could spin the problem of giving away 10% of the Earth’s children.  He says if done right it could be perceived as “good”.  Wow…

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.  10% of the children of earth… but it does appear that the Prime Minister is having second thoughts about agreeing to the ultimatum.  It’s hard to tell by the end if he has come around or is still planning to agree to the “giveaway”.  All I know is that I’m left feeling the heartache as Jack watches Ianto die and pleads with the 456, “Not him!”  Gwen may be right: maybe there is nothing they can do.  But I am willing to bet Jack will try anything to save all of the Children of Earth.  And that will make him a hero!  (…Right?)  ML

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Eden of the East

edenSaki Morimi is a young lady who has just graduated from university, and is taking a trip to the USA. In Washington she accidentally gets in trouble with the police, but they are distracted by Akira Takizawa, who is naked and has lost his memory. Saki gives Akira her coat, forgetting that it still contains her passport. By the time she has tracked him down, he has found the apartment where he was staying, which is full of possessions that suggest a criminal background, such as multiple fake passports. The two form a friendship and head back to Japan together, while Akira tries to figure out who he is. Also in his possession is a very unusual mobile phone, which contains 8.2 billion yen in credit he can spend, and connects him to a “concierge” who can use his credit to carry out his instructions. As Akira starts to piece together his past, he discovers a troubling connection to a terrorist incident.

This is a fascinating series to watch, and there are many mysteries, which cleverly tend to misdirect you to the wrong conclusions before you learn the truth. At first it seems likely that Akira is a dangerous criminal and possibly a mass murderer. He even finds a photo of himself with 20,000 victims of… well we don’t really know what’s going on, but Akira has clearly orchestrated something big. Three months before Saki left Japan there was a missile attack, and yet miraculously there were no victims. Akira seems to have been involved in some way. So there are many questions. Who launched the missiles? How were there no victims? What was Akira up to in that mysterious photo, in which he appears to be a hostage-taker? Who is on the other end of the phone, and where did all that money come from? As the series progresses, Akira meets more people with the same kind of phone, also incredibly rich. What is going on here?

I have seen very few anime series that could be described as a thriller, but I was hugely impressed with Eden of the East. It is an original story rather than an adaptation, and perhaps because of that it is efficiently structured across its twelve episodes. A huge amount of story is packed into this short series and, despite the complexity of the plot, nearly all of those questions are eventually answered, with a few threads left hanging for the two films that follow the end of the series. There is a strong element of danger throughout the series, and the characterisation is brilliant. Saki and Akira are instantly likeable, and have a lovely, understated romance. As the series progresses a team of friends assemble around them, mostly a group known as the “East of Eden Club”, and most of them are great characters too. I particularly liked Micchon, who doesn’t say much but when she does she speaks her mind, and also Pantsu, a genius social recluse.

I was amazed how much was packed into this series. It’s not just the complex but coherent storyline that impressed me, but also the way issues that affect young people are addressed. There is a strong emphasis on fighting against the need to conform to society, and the value of being different and being yourself, but the series doesn’t sell a selfish philosophy, because it is also about using money to better society rather than for personal pleasure. I was constantly impressed by how a middle ground was found for each issue that is raised. Being a societal outcast is shown to have value, but living in isolation is shown to be an incomplete existence, with the importance of friendship also at the heart of the series. There is excitement, emotion and food for thought here in abundance. I can’t fault it.

I do have one slight gripe about the animation though: the censorship. This is done with moving scribbles and is highly distracting and irritating. It was a decision on the part of the animators (i.e. there is no uncensored version and it wasn’t just done for the DVD release), which baffles me. If you feel the need to censor something, why draw it in that way at all? The nudity is essential to the story, but could have been drawn from different angles to avoid the need for censorship. I think it was supposed to be a running joke, but it’s just a running annoyance. Don’t let that stop you from watching Eden of the East though. In order to avoid too many spoilers I’ve only scratched the surface of the complex storyline here. You’ll want to join Akira on his journey to rediscovering his past, and find out for yourself.   RP

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The Quatermass Experiment 1

The Quatermass Experiment Victor CarroonContact Has Been Established

In 1953 British television changed forever. The Quatermass Experiment was far from being the first sci-fi show the BBC had attempted, but it was the first to be specially written for television, for an adult audience. Previous attempts had either been adaptations of novels, or made for children. This was the first time anyone had dared to imagine that sci-fi could be achievable as an original, adult drama production. It deserves to be remembered as the grandfather of sci-fi, and it was a huge success. Virtually everyone who owned a television in Britain was tuning in to watch by the final episode, which is sadly something we can’t do now, because four out of the original six episodes were never recorded. In fact, we are very lucky to be able to watch the first two episodes. All six were broadcast live from Alexandra Palace, and the recording of the first two was an experiment, with a view to selling the series abroad. The idea was abandoned after that, due to the poor quality of the results. This was understandably about the blurriest half hour of television I have ever watched, and getting a good screen shot for the blog was far from easy!

The pace of drama has obviously increased hugely over the years, and nowadays the events of this first episode would probably be dispensed with in a three minute pre-credits sequence, but not for one second did this fail to hold my attention. There is certainly something to be said for a slow build up of tension. Irritating journalist James Fullalove actually puts that into words very well, comparing the anticipation of the opening of the crashed capsule with children waiting to open their presents. The longer you have to wait, the more the excitement builds.

“Little boys, who look anxiously over your shoulder.”

It’s a great metaphor, although in this instance those little boys are a pain in the butt, making a nuisance of themselves while the scientists try to work. Seriously, wouldn’t they cordon off the area from all those jerks? There’s even a drunkard with a rattle wandering around, interrupting Marsh while he’s trying to concentrate on his work, and the reporters are everywhere. Speaking of which… there is such an unintentionally funny moment where Len Matthews and his wife are being interviewed, and they get to the end of the scripted scene (“I got busy putting out the fire…”) and then everyone just pauses and stops acting while the camera is still on them, before we cut away to the next scene. The first rule of acting: don’t stop!

But this is live television, and in many respects it’s a fascinating insight into such a different world. Everything is so unfamiliar to a modern viewer: the mechanical nature of all the equipment (plotting positions in space on bits of tubing, etc), something that is potentially a nuclear bomb falling and nobody thinking about radiation, those weirdly unnatural telephone conversations people used to have on television where they repeated everything the other person said for the benefit of the viewers (“Hello, where? West side of Wimbledon Common?”), the suggestion that journalists could “use discretion” (was there really a time when they had ethics?), even the newsreader looking down at his desk to read the whole time, never once making eye contact with the camera. Watching this really brought home to me how the world has changed beyond recognition so much, and this is not ancient history. It’s a window into a world my parents lived in during their youth (they were teenagers at the time this was broadcast). Fascinating.

Whenever I watch an old British television show, I like to play the game of spot the Doctor Who actor, which is probably something lots of fans do. This was an absolute bonanza: Moray Watson (Sir Robert Muir from Black Orchid, but I’ll always remember him as the General from The Darling Buds of May), Duncan Lamont (Galloway from Death to the Daleks), Paul Whitsun-Jones (The Smugglers and The Mutants), and even our Sam Seeley from Spearhead from Space, Neil Wilson as one of the policemen. But my favourite performance in the whole episode was not a Doctor Who alumnus, as she sadly passed away before the decade was out: Katie Johnson as Miss Wilde. She is of course best remembered for The Ladykillers, in which she plays a very similar role. What a privilege it is to be able to see her performance in The Quatermass Experiment. We are talking about an actress who was born in 1878 (imagine that), started acting on stage in 1894, and appeared in her first film in 1932. She plays such a sweet old lady here, apparently unfazed by something from space dropping on her house, and is only concerned for the welfare of her beloved cat. She also has impeccable manners:

“Would you take Henry first please. Thank you.”

If her reaction seems unnaturally calm, here’s why:

“What is it officer? Have they started again?”

The war generation. This is a portrayal of an old lady who has lived through the blitz, and she takes everything in her stride, while her life is turned upside down. We could all learn something from Miss Wilde and the people of her generation, the ones who kept calm and carried on.

By the end of the episode the mystery is nicely established, with two of the three occupants of the capsule missing, although there’s no way they could have got out. Victor Carroon is the lone survivor, remarkably so, considering he appears to be wearing a black sack with a window over his head. We’ll have to tune in next time to find out, for the next blurry instalment of The Quatermass Experiment. It’s live television, it’s a clumsy and very 1950s attempt at sci-fi, but I love it. This is where it all started… RP

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Nagato 14: Her Confusion

Nagato Yuki-Chan Her Confusion Child HaruhiThe junkyard presents two articles about the Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan episode Her Confusion...

The view from 5930 miles away:

One element of this spin-off that has been a whole lot of fun for fans of Haruhi has been watching the same events as the original series play out in different ways, catching all the references. It’s like a crazy game of spot the difference. This week we arrive in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody territory, with Tanabata. Haruhi is back with a bang (hooray!) and gets Kyon and Koizumi cutting down bamboo. The mosquitoes have a feast, and Haruhi gets in a dig about being scared of insects, a fun little nod to Mysterique Sign. Then, when she wants to show off about the meaning of Tanabata, know-it-all Asakura steals her thunder:

“They’re light years away so we have to make our wishes for far in the future.”

Our game of spot the difference gets particularly interesting with the Tanabata wishes. Boring Koizumi is of course boring in all parallel universes, so his boring wishes are exactly the same, except this time we have Boring Asakura and Boring Koizumi complementing each other in a boring people love-in. Haruhi’s wishes are different: bizarre, but less bizarre than the originals. Kyon’s wishes are also lacking that hint of weirdness that his originals had. He hasn’t spent enough time with Haruhi for them to inspire each other quite so much as in the other universe. Just for the sake of clarification, we have:

Original/Koizumi (yawn):

My family’s well-being
World Peace

Spinoff/Koizumi (yawn):

My family’s well-being
World Peace

Original/Mikuru is not there (although I suspect she would still be asking to get better at sewing and cooking, or to maybe not get groped so much by Haruhi and Tsuruya), and instead we have Spinoff/Asakura (yawn):

Good health
Safety first

Original/Kyon:

Gimme money
Give me a house with a yard big enough to wash a dog in.

Spinoff/Kyon:

I won the first prize in a lottery when I was in the 11th grade.
My grades suddenly improved when I was in the 11th grade.

Original/Haruhi:

Make the world revolve around me
I want the rotation of the Earth to go in the opposite direction.

Spinoff/Haruhi:

Aliens, people from the future, and people with supernatural powers. If you’re out there, come see me.
I wanna play with UMA (Unidentified Mysterious Animals).

And then there’s Nagato, whose original wishes were “Harmony” and “Innovation”, and instead here we have:

Everyone stays good friends.
Things stay as they are.

She stops short of wishing for Kyon to sweep her off her feet, and instead what she wishes for is rather lovely, isn’t it. Not just Kyon, but all her friends have enriched her life enormously, and she just wants to keep them forever. I’m sure most viewers can relate to that feeling, reaching a point in our lives where we have good friends and there’s the risk of everyone moving on. It tends to happen in school, and then again in college or university. Life moves on.

And for those who wished for the Kyon x Haruhi resolution to this spinoff’s love triangle, that ship well and truly sinks this episode. That’s the trouble with love triangles. You either have to leave them unresolved, or disappoint half your audience, unless it’s one of those isekai series where the guy indulges in a spot of polygamy. But it had to happen this way. The cleverness of this episode in particular is that we have the context, finally seeing this universe’s original meeting between Haruhi and John Smith. This time round, Kyon is the same age as Haruhi, rather than an older version sent into the past, so Haruhi has no reason to go to North High to track him down. He’s not wearing the uniform. By the time they meet, she has already lost out to Nagato, although Kyon and Nagato might not yet have acknowledged their feelings. But Haruhi is incredibly perceptive when it matters, and she knows she has lost.

“Did the other Yuki tell you how she felt about you?”

It’s a crushing moment for the Haruhi x Kyon shippers, and the look on her face is heartbreaking, even when she is being brave and trying to smile through it all. In fact, it’s especially heartbreaking when she’s trying to do that. And anyone who doesn’t like the big eyes in anime, this is what they are for. The eyes are the window to the soul, and in the hands of skilled animators, this can happen. Haruhi is smiling, but her eyes tell a different story. You’ve got to hand it to this series. It knows how to stir the emotions. RP

The view from 6,868 miles away:

I guess the question had to be asked: where could we go after the completion of the Disappearance arc and the answer wasn’t going to be a great one: we had to address the fact that our Yuki didn’t know what went on in the previous three episodes.  And I’m not saying that the episode isn’t that great, it’s just that I shouldn’t have expected another deep insight into the nature of life when we needed to take time to welcome back a character we’ve come to know through most of this series.

One thing that we have to give the series is that it does add a little coda in the form of a dream between the two Yuki’s and it’s incredible because we’re seeing the universe from the other side of that incredible artwork from last episode.  (see last week’s image, then see where we are this week!)

image004image005

Yuki has been asleep in the white void, the line of which we saw the previous week as Amnesia-Yuki dreaded being swallowed up.  This is an incredible image, but the sad realization now that I’m slowly coming to terms with is that our replacement Yuki may not have been the Yuki from the parent series after all.  Maybe it will be left to the audience’s interpretation, but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that this entire series will stand completely apart from its parent and I think that is a misstep.  Yes, I have 3 episodes to go before I find out for sure but I’m starting to suspect that all my excitement may have been misunderstood.

That all said, it’s not that there isn’t a number of fun things to observe.  One cannot help but laugh as the departing Yuki won’t tell her returning self just what she told Kyon.  The series also brings back its main advocate for fun, returning Haruhi with her signature abrupt door slam to announce herself.  And Koizumi is back to being the king of all suck-ups, actually channeling his inner Haruhi to help Kyon better understand her.  (More likely, he’s making any excuse to make her look better!)  But Haruhi doesn’t need  a suck-up and we’re also back to that complex little love triangle where we see how much Haruhi really cares about Kyon.  During this episode, she’s turned into a stronger character than ever before for two reasons.  First, she plays a bit of Sherlock Holmes, correctly inferring what’s on Kyon’s mind and then successfully getting him to admit it.  Then, she proves that her love for Kyon, while genuine, is not selfish and she won’t stop or interfere with Yuki having the chance to be with him.  (She accepts second prize of being able to tease him relentlessly!)  Personally, I loved that she treasured the moment when they first met and Kyon didn’t ruin her imagination.  He accepted that aliens could be real.  “…Common sense was edging out our imagination!”  Wow, what a strong statement.  I can perfectly relate to that.  When I was young, a plant I’d never seen before could be a plant from an alien world, and that patch of woods near my house might hold the most amazing secrets; let’s not even discuss the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle, of which I’ve traveled through some dozen times in my life.  As we age, we learn that the world, for all its amazing qualities, isn’t as exotic as that; there’s a logical reason for most of it and imagination slowly has to give way to reason.  It’s part of life, and in one brief monologue, Haruhi explains it, and shows us why she loves Kyon.  And in that instance, I love them both that much more as characters.  They become so much more real than ever before and it’s amazingly captured in a single instance.  (And, kudos to Yuki who also moved up because I totally could relate to her “I like books too; I just like video games more!”)

While my fear may yet become fact, I hold out hope that the parent series is ultimately linked to this in more than just character.  Haruhi’s “why is Kyon making such a big deal about little insects?” might be a playful reminder of what happened with a certain giant insect in the parent series.  Certainly the Tanabata wishes on July 7th make a reappearance and Haruhi once again proves to be the same person in both universes (sans godhood here).  And I begin to understand the value of using such huge eyes in anime, especially as we see reflections in them; eyes are the gateway to the soul and with the whole disappearance arc having so much to do with Yuki’s eyes and glasses, I have developed a new respect for these techniques!

Like I said, the episode is not bad, but it wasn’t as deep as I’d hoped.  But at least it brought back our main comedy character.  And the friendship; may that always remain. We may be away from that introspection I enjoy, and maybe the sci-fi twist will remain in the eyes of the audience, but at least we can have some fun while hanging out with these characters.  At least, for a little while longer.  ML

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Babylon 5: The Face of the Enemy

Babylon 5 Artwork

Artwork by Katie Marriott

It’s strange how all these years later and after all the times I’ve watched this show, it’s never felt more relevant than now.  Again, I will leave a lot of that up to the educated viewer and the interpretation of our readers, but it just feels very timely.  That said, the battle against Earth and Clark’s forces is reaching a climax.  People believe surrendering to Sheridan means death, their crews replaced by Minbari.  They fight with tireless vigor knowing it’s death one way or the other.  Lyta and Franklin arrive on Mars for some overdue prejudices against the telepaths, this time from Number One.  (While I hate that Franklin only stands up for Lyta to a certain extent, I imagine there’s not a lot he can do and ultimately just needs to get a job done.)  And Garibaldi’s very uncharacteristic behavior comes to a head, after helping to capture public enemy number one: John Sheridan.  Susan orders him to be shot on sight if he comes to the station.  Let’s see how that works out!  We’re somewhere between the momentum of No Retreat, No Surrender, with the exposition of The Exercise of Vital Powers, yet that mix of the two creates a very powerful episode indeed.

I love picking up on references within a show.  Even before the flashback with Justin, I remember thinking about what he said in Z’ha’dum, that if the Shadows killed Sheridan, someone would just come along and replace him.  When Susan steps into that role, I realized Justin was right.  I also love references to things outside the show.  In fiction, we have a couple hints that Straczynski was a fan of The Prisoner.  Bester offers his signature “be seeing you” again, and Number One is aptly named.  But also, Garibaldi’s role as Bester’s pawn is fully explained and I could hear the ghost of a certain retired colonel telling a woman “we’re all pawns, m’dear” as that scene played out.  And what a scene!  Garibaldi not only has to live with the knowledge of what he’s done, but he has to contend with that fact that he has just become a wanted man.  Then there were some references outside the show from reality.  Garibaldi’s comment that the last guy who betrayed someone the way he betrayed Sheridan received “30 pieces of silver for the same job”.  This is a biblical reference about Judas betraying Jesus.  What makes it an unsettling comment is Garibaldi’s own sentiments about Sheridan, saying he “thinks he’s the second coming”.  Does Michael feel that way subconsciously?  Or has he just assumed Sheridan believes it and he’s sticking with the allegory?  There’s also Edgars, whose voice catches when explaining that we can soon be rid of “the telepath problem”.  Perhaps he was a student of history and realized he’d just paraphrased Hitler, when referring to “the Jewish problem”.  Again, an uneasy comment considering Bester refers to the extermination of the Telepaths as “a holocaust”.  But then, JMS does seem to like making WWII parallels.

Frankly, the telepath-on-Mars story is all setup for whatever Sheridan wants Franklin to use the telepaths for, but with him gone, does Franklin know all of what he’s supposed to do?   The biggest takeaway here is that Lyta was a bad bad-ass before she was a good bad-ass.  Ok, interesting, but let’s get to the meat of the episode.  Is that Garibaldi or Sheridan?  Clearly we spend over a 1/3 of the episode on Garibaldi and the virus that is 100% contagious to telepaths, airborne, and harmless to normals.  I find I don’t know who the normals are in 2020, but I do know we have a very dangerous virus going on and that too felt timely!   But before I get to the most incredible part of the episode, I’d like to make a few observations.  The feelings Sheridan has about the crew of the Agamemnon is something I can relate to.  When you have a crew that matters to you, that you trust and believe in, it can make all the difference.  It turns any difficult situation into a manageable one.   Edgar’s assessment of Clark is that no matter what, he’d be gone in a few years.  While this is true of any presidency, untold harm can be done before that person leaves office and we see that now.  (Do I mean that about the show, or reality… your call.)   I think Edgars target is incorrect though, but I’m a firm believer that common ground can always be found.  And lastly, I could not help but make myself laugh when Lise goes missing.  All I could think of was that she’s probably off getting married, only so she can blame Michael later because he wasn’t there when he husband was slaughtered when she needed him most!   (Sorry, my brain just went there…)

“Something’s happened!”  All that aside, the episode hits a high note with the fall of Sheridan.  Garibaldi sets him up using his father as bait and lands a tranquilizer on John’s hand (reminiscent of how Kosh was poisoned at the start of the series).  The sequence that follows is visually incredible.  Yeah, the flashing lights get a bit epileptic, but the choreography and cinematography are completely stunning.  What we see of where Sheridan is kept and what’s being done to him is troubling, to say the least.  ISN announces Sheridan has been captured.  The question is, will Clark lower his guard as Edgars expects?   With Edgars out of the way, does it matter?  At least, the battle is still on thanks to Susan and those who joined forces with Sheridan’s army.  But now they have a new problem: can they rescue Sheridan?  ML

The view from across the pond:

Just when Sheridan thought he was having a good day, Garibaldi gives him a ring. Up until that point everything was going well for him, or so it seemed. I am a little sceptical about the defection of the Agamemnon, which seemed a little too easy, so I’m wondering if there’s a double-crossing on the way from them, but the strength of Sheridan’s tactics really shone through in the early part of this episode. His ability to bring other captains over to his side is creating a ripple effect, and this week we saw an enemy surrender thanks to MacDougan, who we saw join Sheridan’s resistance force a couple of weeks ago.

As soon as Garibaldi told Sheridan that his father had been captured, it was obvious what was going to happen next. Despite some half-hearted attempts to stop him, he was never going to abandon his own father. When Ivanova says “it stinks of a set up”, she hits the nail on the head, and of course logically she’s right, but logic isn’t going to overrule the emotion of a situation like that.

“If it were your father, what would you do?”

Predictably Sheridan shows up in a seedy bar and gets tranquillized by Garibaldi. What follows is so ridiculous that I ended up laughing at what was supposed to be a big, exciting moment. The “tranq” is so slow working that Sheridan has time for a bar fight in dramatic slow motion with altogether too many flashing lights, and a stunt man smashing through a window. It was like I had suddenly switched over to The A Team by accident.

Then it was time for the news to be broken to the rest of the crew, and that moment was brilliantly done, the scene cutting between Sheridan being beaten up in prison and the propaganda news report. That was followed by Garibaldi finally finding out the truth that was pretty obvious to anyone watching: Edgars has the virus and the antidote and is planning to use them to remove the threat posed by telepaths.

“You create a slave race.”

I know there are extenuating circumstances, but this whole storyline has ended up making Garibaldi look quite the fool, unable to see what’s at the end of his nose, and saying things like this:

“I held up my end of the bargain, now I want the truth.”

Maybe it would have been a better idea not to betray Sheridan until he knew exactly why he was doing that, and who he was doing it for. Speaking of those extenuating circumstances, it was almost exactly what I was expecting: Garibaldi had been captured by the Psi Corps and was working for them without realising it. The detail that I never guessed was how little Bester had actually done to him. I was expecting something akin to a switch being flicked in his head, or even Garibaldi working as nothing more than a puppet under a telepath’s mind control, but it was much more subtle than that, and makes his betrayal far harder to take.

“We just have to accentuate his natural instincts. More rebellious, more stubborn, more suspicious of his fellow officers.”

My initial thought was how clever that was, but the cracks in the idea became obvious pretty quickly, especially when Bester said he hadn’t even expected the resignation. Surely that was leaving things to luck far too much, considering the high stakes (the potential genocide of telepaths), and when you think back on the chain of events, boy, did Bester get lucky with Garibaldi’s actions. But he’s a great villain though.

“Be seeing you, Mr Garibaldi.”

That’s the second time Bester has used that line from The Prisoner. Does the show exist in the world of B5 and is Bester a fan? Maybe he’s getting some ideas from that series, manipulating his Number Six and playing with his mind. But if so he would do well to remember one important fact: Number Six always fights back.   RP

Posted in Babylon 5, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television | Tagged | 4 Comments

Old Gods Rising

Old Gods RisingI’ve been following HBO’s superb Lovecraft Country which has had the unsurprising side effect of putting me in the mood for Cthulhu-based games. Having just come off Magrunner: Dark Pulse, I guess that wasn’t enough and maybe I can keep a good Lovecraft streak going, at least until the HBO series wraps up.  So I hit up my favorite games provider, Steam, and found two more, one of which is called Old Gods Rising by Bad Blood Studios.  At $12.99, I figured the worst case would be a short adventure game and best case would be another surprise hit.  Alas, it’s more of the former.

That said, make no mistake: the game isn’t bad.  It’s got some decent graphics and plays very smoothly.  The movement is intuitive and the mouse is used to select between dialogue options very easily, requiring less than 1 minute for the learning curve.  You play as Tom Winston, a man interested in occult things who was recently the subject of some mockery for falling for something “mysterious” that was anything but!  You get a call from a movie producer who wants you to meet him at a college campus to look over some odd things.  Right away, it has all the hallmarks of a setup.  When you arrive, no one is around, so it’s established quickly that there will be no NPCs (non-player characters).  In other words, it’s purely exploration; you won’t be meeting people to help you through the game.  For help, you find convenient payphones to call your aide and she helps fill in some blanks.  The only other voice is the guy who hired you who is stuck in traffic and can’t get to be with you, which just further makes you feel like this is an elaborate hoax, but hey, he has some things you can examine while he’s making his way to you so why not…

Right away the game opens with a sense of humor, though comedy is far from center stage.  It just doesn’t take itself so seriously which ends up being a benefit to the game: there’s always the sense that the whole thing is a prank.  In fact, one discovery comes off rather deftly as a major discovery but if you take the time to investigate what you encounter, you find out it’s a fake.  The game manages to add to that sense by being intentionally “meta” where the voicemails you listen to talk about making a movie or a video game based on the events you are going though, even quoting you from earlier in the game.  The dialogue between you and your assistant helps create that sense of a prank because she’s of the mindset you’re being set up and says so at every turn, which just starts to get into your head but the puzzles you find seem too big to be faked.  She wants you to examine things with a clear head because she’s convinced you are being setup for another embarrassment.  (I got a kick out of her international units of scrutiny: sherlocks!)  In other words, she is the voice of reason.   That said, the sense of menace is constant and you can’t shake the feeling that there’s more going on here than meets the eye.  That razors edge is where the game succeeds: is this really a college with a strange history, or an elaborate hoax put on by a crazy director who could be filming your every move?

A personal favourite.

The game manages to be slightly more walking sim than adventure game.  Adventure games tend to have a lot of puzzles, while this was more exploring a college campus.  Yet this still manages to capture the feeling of some old adventure games like Barrow Hill, which was nice since it gave me some happy memories of those classic games.  I used to play quite a few of them and this had that old school feel with some new school graphics.  One of the biggest successes for this game, however, is non-game related: there are sculptures all over the campus and finding them is immensely enjoyable; figuring them out is even more fun.  Alas, I am certain I missed a lot or simply didn’t understand what was being said, but I really enjoyed this element of the game!  I would actually recommend going back for screenshots of all of them!  However, the main game is very linear and pushes you through to completion so there’s no frustration for long; you just need to find signs around the campus to figure out where to go next.  What ends up taking so long is that I could get lost in a wet paper bag in most games.  This is no exception.

I missed the name in the screenshot, but it was something to the effect of Imperial Decor

The game comes in at about 3 hours, but I waited through the credits and was rewarded with a major genre-twist with an added chapter.  Until this point, the game saves on its own as you explore the grounds, but the post-credit sequence doesn’t save at all as you wonder the surrounding lands with a magic wand that can shoot hot or cold blasts at creatures roaming the land.  It’s not a good ending, if I’m being completely honest.  It was too radical a change and while I appreciated getting a bit more bang for my buck, it didn’t fit with what we had done before.  And it took me a while to figure out if this was just an endless battle sequence or if there was a point.   I did figure that out and even felt a sense of accomplishment at the end but it wasn’t as rewarding a game as, say, Magrunner.  And for the price, I would have liked to have gotten more than 4 hours out of the game.

Was the game worth $13?  I’d argue probably not, but it’s not a disappointment either.  After that nightmare that I have now uninstalled (Remnant), I am far happier with this game than the free game that almost hospitalized me.  This captured the Lovecraftian horror that I crave, without making me angrier than the Hulk on a bad day.  Check out the trailer here.  ML

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Star Trek: Court Martial

Star Trek Opening TitlesSo… funny thing about space.  It’s big.  You may have heard this before, but it’s really big.  And Time!  Time can be wibbly and wobbly.  But let me put Court Martial into perspective for you in terms of space and time.

Finney, Kirk’s old pal from the academy who now serves under him, is killed in an ion storm.  But we learn, “oh no he wasn’t!”  He’s alive and he’s going to discredit Jimmers.  But his plan may by up there for brilliance with a certain Doctor Zaroff.  Finney is going to hide on the ship until Jim is stripped of rank.  And then … what?  Thus begins our lesson on “time”.  Does he plan to live in the engineering bay, hidden for the rest of time?  Maybe find a little corner of engineering that none of the cleaning crew goes to, and setup a cot?  The minute he shows up, popping out of the hole he’s hiding in, Kirk’s demotion would be undone, so the idea is ludicrous.  Realizing this, he decides to booby trap the ship to crash it.  Lesson on space beginning… now.  Crashing in space is not as easy as it might sound.  You’re more likely to run out of power or oxygen first.  But Finney knows they are orbiting a planet.  A planet where his daughter coincidentally lives.  I grew up on Staten Island; an island less than 60 square miles in size.  If I wanted to get a job on a plane and then crash it, and I specifically wanted to hit Staten Island, yes, it is possible, but I need to have some aim.  Finney is blindly wrecking the engines without seeing where they are.  This would be like taking a flight around the world, and guessing when we’d be over Staten Island.  But now let’s add a layer of complexity.  Let’s assume I say “hey, not only do I want to crash my ship, but I want to hit the bedroom I grew up in”… NEWS FLASH: this would take an immense amount of skill, planning, and aim.  Yet, we are to believe that Finney manages to find the planet his daughter is on?  On top of that, he freaks out when she’s brought on board?!   As if the whole time/space stuff isn’t enough, how do we determine who is on the ship?  Magnifying heartbeats, and then ruling out the one that’s left.  Clearly, no critters could get onboard.  No mice in the Jeffries tubes, no hamsters and certainly no tribbles!  Otherwise, that might complicate matters one step further.  Trek is nothing if not funny!

Funny it may be, but let’s talk about actual science for a second, not just my interpretation of space and time.  They say the microphone can amplify a sound.  Jim claims it can do that on the order of “1 to the 4th power”.  I wish I could take credit for picking up on this little fact, but it was my son who noticed it.  1 to the 4th power… wow.  That’s… 1.  So… yeah… suddenly doesn’t seem so impressive, does it?   The humor doesn’t end there!  Does McCoy know how to flirt or what?  Walk up to the prettiest woman (not saying much in a room full of men) and say “in case you were wondering, that was Jim Kirk”.  Dude… really?  I’ve never been good at picking up women even in my single days, but I sure as hell didn’t start by saying “Hi, that other guy was damned fine looking wasn’t he?”  He redeems himself slightly with his comical line about all his “old friends look like old doctors”, but Jim’s all look like her.  But is that really a great pickup?  I’d say no.  It’s like saying “hey, would you like to spend time with me, because I don’t know any pretty girls.  Please don’t pity me!”  I might try that one day just to see if I can make people laugh.  And as for laughter, when did Spock and everyone else start calling Vulcans “Vulcanians”???  Must be an Earthlingian thing.  And do all earthlingians look alike to the producers of Trek?  When Kirk and Finney fight, their stunt doubles look about as much like them as I look like Idris Elba!  (Yes, we world build on the blog, ok!)

But Trek didn’t become legendary with silly plot oversights like these.  It become a classic by arguing for human rights and claiming that man will always beat machine because we have a soul.  It stands above other shows because it shows loyalty between friends as Spock, the logical “Vulcanian” defends his friend even in the absence of evidence.  McCoy and Spock are both so willing to support their friend, that they even argue against logic and evidence.  And while we may want to believe that principles are established for a reason, the fact is, a machine can be reprogrammed and the faith they have in their friend is not misplaced.  It’s those things that made Trek the incredible series it was.

So the only question left is: is there always a button on Jim’s chair that says “Jettison”?  What if he spills his coffee or drops a clipboard on it?  Maybe that’s not a great spot for it.  And why does he tell others to raise the red alert when his chair has a red alert button right there?  Perhaps we’ll never know.  At least we know that Trek was capable of some great stories.  This one may not have risen to the heights of some, but it was 1 to the 4th power better than Charlie X, so I’m sure that’s saying something…   ML

The view from across the pond:

Lieutenant Commander Ben Finney is the 26th person to die in our Trek Tally of Minor Crewman Deaths, so it seems odd that such a fuss is made about it. Why does Kirk have to answer a case about this one, and not the previous 25? The answer is that this one is personal. Finney is yet another old friend of Kirk’s and they have had a falling out. It’s a very sad thing when a good friendship breaks down and a friend becomes an enemy, especially when the friendship was strong enough for Finney to name his daughter after Kirk. Speaking of which… just how old is Kirk? We have had this kind of issue before with Kirk’s backstory, but Jamie looks only about five years younger than James. Maybe the ageing process in the future is kinder, and Kirk is a lot older than he looks. Another old friend turns up to prosecute Kirk’s case in a shock revelation that surprises nobody. Leaving aside the unlikely scenario of a friend prosecuting a friend and that conflict of interest not being deemed sufficient to disqualify her, it does provide the other side of the coin in how friendships can endure. Unlike Finney, Areel is able to separate business from pleasure, and is rewarded with a big kiss at the end for her troubles.

The majority of the episode follows the events in the courtroom as they play out, and you’ve really got to love court room dramas to enjoy this stuff. Mind you, if you are an aficionado of those, this one will probably annoy you, with absurd moments such as the prosecutor asking McCoy questions that should be aimed at a psychologist, based on his professional opinion as… not a psychologist. But the greatest absurdity is that of a future where people believe this statement:

“Computers don’t lie.”

The future is looking pretty naive to me. Luckily our Vulcanian (when did he become one of those rather than a “Vulcan”?) is on hand to demonstrate the fallibility of computers with a game of chess. This plays out like Spock is discovering something for the first time ever. That something, astonishingly, is the possibility of reprogramming a computer to do something wrong. Someone has adjusted the programming and “memory banks”. You don’t say. Oh, those heady days before hackers and viruses!

Once that has been established, the culprit is obvious. Minor Crewman Death #26 is not actually a death, and Kirk has been framed. It was obvious from the start that he had been framed, but the killer being the… what’s the word? Framer… framester… framemonger? Anyway, that was like an episode of Columbo, but it worked well as a revelation. After that it was all about tracking him down, and I loved Kirk’s demonstration on the Enterprise, boosting the ambient sound on the ship by “1 to the 4th power” (that’s just 1 by the way) and then eliminating the heart beats one by one. It beats scanning for life signs for drama, and the sound of an extra heart beat on board was quite eerie. Finally we have the Kirk fight of the week, and another shirt falls victim to the Kirk hug-fighting technique. I really should have been keeping a tally of how many shirts he rips. His uniform expenses must be huge.

But there’s one person I haven’t mentioned, and I’ve left the best until last: Samuel T. Cogley. He has an aversion to computers, and when he switches his on and a few annoying lights appear on the screen I really can’t blame him. Who hasn’t got annoyed with computers that take ages to even get to the log in screen? This chap really loves his books, and it ties in brilliantly with his moment of triumph when he is able to appeal to the judge on behalf of the rights of a human to defend himself against a machine. His speech is heartfelt, and if the time hadn’t been taken to set up his aversion of computers that wouldn’t have worked half as well. Some episodes of Star Trek can be frustratingly slow, but this one stands as an example of the benefits of a more gradual style of storytelling. The characters’ motivations are carefully established, and that matters. And you know I’m right about that because you’re reading it on a computer, and as we all know computers don’t lie.   RP

Posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Television | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Children of Earth: Day Three

Torchwood Children of EarthIt has got to be said that this season just doesn’t let up.  It’s well-written, excellently acted, and the direction is amazing.  This is what Torchwood should have been doing from the start.  But it’s problem really is Captain Jack himself.  It’s not that he isn’t wonderfully charismatic, but that the writers can’t decide if they want him to be a good guy or an edgy bad-ass.  The problem is that his characterization is what probably kept Torchwood from the heights it could have reached.  Being the class ball-buster has its disadvantages: no one really feels safe with you because you might turn on them for a laugh.  He knows full well what he’s saying when he mentions in front of Rhys that Gwen’s condition means she probably shouldn’t be in the fight.  But he does it to rub it in Rhys’s face that he knew Gwen was pregnant first and it just loses some of the heroism that Jack should possess as the hero of the show.  This is a big shame though because when Jack says “I’m back” and we see him in his jacket again, we want to cheer, but he just is too ambiguously written to feel the same love we’d have for the Doctor if s/he said the same thing!

“We are here!”  Speaking of pregnancy, the species called the 456 takes that name because it’s better than their real name: Masters of the Pregnant Pause.  That doesn’t win respect at the annual villains brunch meetings.  While their pauses and occasional copycat speech seems to be a dramatic affectation, having seen this series before, I know what the 456 want and it only serves to make them more believable and it takes a second viewing to really appreciate it.  It also takes a second viewing to start to appreciate the potential of what the vomitus sludge is.

I mentioned last week that the British government is not portrayed in a particularly loving light.  This week, the Prime Minister gives a head-tilt-y speech to his people that is just trying to hide what a manipulative jerk he is.  Later, he again throws Frobisher (Capaldi) under the proverbial bus saying that he’s a good man, but more importantly, he’s expendable.  He allows Frobisher to represent Britain because if anything goes wrong, it’ll be Frobisher’s career, and possibly life, on the line.  (But if he says it with his head tilted, you feel warmer towards him, so there is that…)

As the middle episode, the tide needs to turn in favor of our heroes and it is again Lois Habiba that brings that about, but not before team Torchwood do some work on their own.  Their criminal actions may be necessitated by the circumstances and that does seem to be the message so far, but make no mistake, their actions are not laudable.  Fun to watch, sure, but not the actions of heroes.  Then they ask Lois to commit a treasonable offense which I also question.  Lois does impress me for a second week running however because, besides her moral compass being far stronger than Jack’s, she uses a bit of clever insinuation to be involved in the action.  Spears almost asks Frobisher about it, but discretion takes over and Lois is able to pull off her plan.  Well played, Lois!  Well played.

There are some mildly fun moments with Gwen’s frequent “shut up” to Rhys while he distracts her or the group discussion of using the contact lenses for “fun” but the story is just too powerful to focus on those things much.  The best lines are around the Doctor referring to Jack as a fixed point in time, meaning he will live forever and Ianto’s worrying line, “one day you’ll see me die, of old age…”  The pit in my stomach opened with that line because it was one of those moments of foreshadowing that I just hope I’m wrong about.  Jack’s daughter, Alice, also impressed me in this story; she is truly her father’s daughter, but there’s a great moment between her and Johnson where Alice threatens to kill Johnson if her son should be hurt in any way.  The very simple “understood” conveys so much from both mother and soldier.

But with all this and as much as I love this story, Jack’s characterization still bothers me.  When he contacts Frobisher about the 456, he finds Frobisher is keeping Jack’s daughter and grandson to prevent Jack doing anything rash.  Jack threatens Frobisher but Frobisher doesn’t believe Jack’s threats because “you’re a better man than me”.  Is he?  First off, if that’s true, why was Frobisher willing to murder people rather than ask for cooperation?  Clearly Frobisher didn’t think Jack would cooperate… why?  Admittedly, so far, we’re lead to think Frobisher is still a worse man than Jack but for the second point.  That being, as the episode ends, we learn that Jack was one of the people who gave the children to the 456 in 1965.  As the 456 tell Frobisher that they want 10% of the population of Earth’s children, sending chills up the spine, Jack admits that he gave 12 children to these creatures “as a gift.”  The cold delivery sends the chills right back down the spine to complete their run through the viewers body and we are left wondering once again, just who are the good guys here?  And how can we save the children?  ML

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