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Pikes, Asteroids, and Spocks Jan. 19th, 2019 @ 11:17 am

One thing's for sure, Star Trek: Discovery's visual design is still top notch. The Alex Kurtzman directed season two première definitely wore its massive budget on its sleeve in an attempt to make up for a incredibly thin teleplay. Much like Kurtzman's Transformers films, I was forced to wonder if the makers of the show have ever met and interacted with human beings.

Spoilers after the screenshot

But I'll concentrate on the positives first. My favourite bit was the landing on that asteroid and the approach to the wrecked Federation ship. The sound of the malfunctioning computer voice echoing through the wreckage was wonderfully eerie and helped create a real sense of a hazardous situation.

Anson Mount seems more like Jeffrey Hunter as Christopher Pike than Bruce Greenwood did in the 2009 film, though he has a weaker screen presence than either actor. I almost wondered if this was intentional to help keep the focus on Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).

This episode featured Burnham frustrated in her attempts to see Spock on the disabled Enterprise. Did anyone ever mention why or how the Enterprise was disabled? If so I didn't catch it. If the writers just forgot to have the characters discuss it it would be par for the course in an episode that featured excruciatingly awkward attempts to write the characters as more down-to-earth.

This seems obviously in response to the fact that The Orville was vastly more successful in its première season than Discovery, proving that audiences still had a taste for the old fashioned Star Trek after all. But if the people behind Discovery got the point that Orville's success hinged largely on building characters, it's hard to say because this first episode of the second season mainly seems to be course correcting in the form of cheap gags.

I thought Tilly (Mary Wiseman) was charming in her first few episodes of the first season but in this première I found her intensely annoying. The moment where she keeps talking on the bridge after accidentally talking too loud was clearly meant to be cute, her awkwardly overcompensating, but it was just excruciatingly unnatural in execution with the bridge crew inexplicably stopping what they're doing to stare at her in consternation. I suppose her arc is still to become captain one day but it almost feels like a parody of such an arc now, like "Weird Al" Yankovic's "That Boy can Dance".

Meanwhile, the show seems to be sticking to their revamped, emotional Vulcans. I haven't really seen other people complain about this so maybe it only bothers me but I watched the "The Menagerie" parts 1 and 2 again this morning and the part at the end where Kirk teases Spock for possibly exhibiting "emotionalism" reminded me what an important part of the show it once was. You can also see the difference in Leonard Nimoy's performance between the footage from "The Cage" (the original pilot that was recut to fit into the plot of "The Menagerie") and the era with Kirk in command. Spock even grins when examining some alien plant-life in the older footage and it's clear the Vulcan practice of emotional repression hadn't been thought of or developed yet. Maybe Kurtzman would argue Discovery's canon hews closer to "The Cage" than "The Menagerie". Maybe people behind the scenes felt it was dangerous to convey emotional repression as a potentially positive alternative lifestyle. Of course, in removing it from the show they make it difficult for the characters to debate the subject, but I suppose there's not much room for that sort of thing with all the elaborate action and disaster sequences.
Current Location: An asteroid
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: "Hybrid Rainbow" FLCL OST - The Pillows

By the Will of Avis and Billy Joel Jan. 18th, 2019 @ 02:37 pm

In addition to some unexpectedly excellent use of music, last night's new episode of The Orville also had that distinct Star Trek feel you can't get from Star Trek anymore courtesy of writers Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis. Both writers worked on previous Star Trek series beginning with The Next Generation, Bormanis also served as a technical advisor. It's fitting last night's episode, "Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes", aired the same night Star Trek: Discovery's second season premièred as it seemed to be, in part, a thinly veiled commentary on one of the main plot twists of Discovery's first season. Braga and Bormanis took Discovery to school.

Spoilers for "Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes" and Star Trek Discovery season 1 after the screenshot

Much like Michael Burnham on Discovery, Ed (Seth MacFarlane) falls for an enemy agent who was surgically altered to appear human. The character even has the same name, Tyler, in this case a woman played by Michaela McManus. McManus had played the Krill officer Teleya the previous season and the production team on The Orville wisely didn't waste time and money trying to make it look like Teleya was played by a non-existent actress. She wasn't around in human form long enough, anyway, but the important thing is that the people behind The Orville know that a good story isn't about the plot twist.

We skip past Ed and Tyler getting to know each other and going out and find them already in a relationship, snuggling up to watch The King and I* with Yul Brynner singing the episode title. It turns out to be a very appropriate sentiment as Ed points out later--just as Siam can't be in conflict with the British forever, the Krill and the Union can't be in conflict forever without expecting an ultimate calamity.

There are some nice, clever moments where Braga and Bormanis bring in some twists on old Star Trek concepts. Why didn't anyone think of detecting a cloaked ship by venting plasma or something else on it before? Why not create dummy command codes for captains to give out when they're captured? When Ed is captured by Teleya, the Krill are attacked by another excellently designed alien and Ed and Teleya end up stranded alone on a planet together for a set up that recalls the movie Enemy Mine as well as Star Trek episodes like "The Enemy" and "Darmok". Braga and Boremis add romance to the old equation. They use it do something Discovery avoided by having their Tyler remain confused about his identity; they had Ed and Teleya discuss the difference in ideology that keeps their peoples in conflict.

Discovery tried to have colonialism as a minor theme but it became muddled quickly as the Klingons hating the Federation for eroding their identity didn't make very much sense. With the Union and the Krill, it's cut and dry; the Krill see it as their destiny to take land from other people. I would have liked a bit more development to Teleya's character but at least the basic conflict is clear.

The episode ends with another nice musical choice, Billy Joel with "She's Always a Woman" which also cast Teleya in a more complicated light and made the whole episode better retrospectively.**

*The real life Anna Leonowens, on whom Deborah Kerr's character is based in The Kind and I, had a daughter named Avis. Probably a coincidence.
**I also wondered if the Billy Joel references in the episode were a nod to the writer Billy Martin who's a big Seth MacFarlane fan as well as a Billy Joel fan.
Current Location: Space
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "Strike Up the Band" - Ella Fitzgerald

Grey City and the Countryside Jan. 17th, 2019 @ 05:40 pm

An ordinary, bookish girl from the country moves to Dublin and falls for a man twice her age in 1964's Girl with Green Eyes. Not quite as bold as some of the other kitchen sink dramas of the time, it does have some very good performances from Rita Tushingham and Peter Finch. Its screenplay by Edna O'Brien is imbued with some real insight into the trajectory of certain kinds of relationships. There's also some great location footage of Ireland in the 60s.

After Lolita, there were several films that sought to continue the examination of relationships between older men and much younger women--films like Georgy Girl and Age of Consent. In addition to being one of the few that doesn't star James Mason, Girl with Green Eyes is one of the least strident of such films, not really offering an argument for or against such relationships, but illustrating how important it is to consider the many other factors that might come into play.

Kate (Tushingham) grew up on a farm in County Clare and then went to school in a convent, where she met her best friend, Baba (Lynn Redgrave). The two move to Dublin where Kate gets a job at a grocery store. The film does a nice job of credibly establishing Kate's social circle which includes a few rowdy young men already and the constantly chatty Baba, whose name may have been meant to evoke the word "babble".

One of the scenes that shows off Dublin really nicely takes place in the middle of a busy street where one of Kate and Baba's male friends coaxes them into taking a ride in his car. He's on his way to deliver a dog to a large property outside town. It's here Kate and Baba meet Eugene (Peter Finch), a wealthy writer who owns the place, and who strolls in to accidentally catch Baba with her knickers down in order to piss. This is the first of several moments where the girls are awkward around Eugene. They're always terribly embarrassed and he's always perfectly calm.

He takes them to tea but he quickly grows tired of Baba--but he's intrigued by the quiet Kate from the way she looks at his books. They start to see each other more; she wants to take things slow and he doesn't seem to mind at all--she because she's nervous about her first relationship with a man, he because age has dulled his passions.

And that's the basic nature of their relationship throughout the film--she feels intensely and he's barely interested on more than a level of intellectual curiosity. The dynamic works for them sometimes while at other times it doesn't. When Eugene's intellectual friends visit, Kate's even more awkward as the reality of her simple hearted country upbringing is contrasted with the catty, ironic humour of Eugene's friends. Julian Glover appears in a small role as one of these friends, and it's painful to see him corner poor Kate in the kitchen while she tries to make tea. She has to deal with broken cups while trying to figure out how to take his mildly sadistic teasing.

"Oh, what a sweet little tray cloth." He says while buttering some bread. "Was it a wedding gift? I suppose you look on this as your honeymoon. '"Honeymoon": the time during which the bride believes the bridegroom's word of honour.' Quotation. H.R. Mencken, born 1880, editor, critic, biographer, lexicographer. Oh, and sadist."

Kate recognises a quote from James Joyce earlier in the film but has to ask Eugene what "guile" means when he uses the word. She upsets her family and her own morality by entering a relationship with the married Eugene but she's troubled when he doesn't see the point of going to mass with her on Sundays. She's still figuring things out, her patchwork of experiences still coming together to form her conception of life while Eugene has settled in his.

It's not quite the satire of Lolita or the more positive perspective of Age of Consent and Girl with Green Eyes doesn't have the big moments of those other films. But I quite liked the sort of quiet fade out from the film's climax which doesn't attach the sort of cosmic consequences even essentially secular movies want to moralise with. Life goes on and it's hard to say if it's better or worse than it otherwise may have been.

Twitter Sonnet #1196

A fake potato's like a shapely foot.
A spot of moon is like a watching eye.
The coffee grounds are like a living soot.
The sun is like a burning pumpkin pie.
Approaching blobs again were glowing green.
A city sky perhaps will soon be live.
A million foot through glasses late were seen.
The carpet threads combined'll ever thrive.
The lashes lower like a million legs.
A walking train dispatched to bring some tea.
The ancient tide is rightfully the Hague's.
To England goes the channel's only key.
The water damaged wings were grey and black.
The wicker boat would sink at ev'ry tack.
Current Location: A bookshop
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: "Let Me Die in My Footsteps" - Bob Dylan

The French Rose from Japan Jan. 16th, 2019 @ 04:27 pm

I'm twenty episodes in, now, watching the 1979-1980 classic shojo anime series Rose of Versailles; which is to say, halfway through. There are 40 episodes in total. Those familiar only with modern anime series may find this astonishing; nowadays it's extraordinary for an anime series to get more than twelve episodes and usually the animation is cut rate, overreliant on cgi, and the visual design homogeneous. Rose of Versailles has so far maintained outstanding quality; great animation and design and its story, a fictionalised take on Marie Antoinette centred on a female captain of her royal guard, has been a nice, endlessly engaging melodrama.

The details of Marie Antoinette's story have been mostly true to life in the broadest sense though the nature of the show is to render the protagonists and antagonists in exaggeratedly heroic and villainous ways. Since Marie Antoinette is the heroine of the series, Madame du Barry is naturally a scheming, sadistic fiend (though when her story arc ends there is some implicit sympathy for her as she's expelled from the life of an aristocrat). Every villain so far has at least one moment where he or she cackles maniacally, usually while their face is hidden behind a fan.

Fortunately, the show can't avoid some ambiguity considering its subject matter. It fetishises and adores Marie Antoinette and her lifestyle but it also establishes sympathy for France's impoverished populace whose love for her is gradually turning to the hate that will be her undoing. A character named Rosalie seems to be an attempt to personify the common people.

A poor woman who lives alone with her sickly mother, she struggles to get by and has run ins with several of the series regulars who treat her with kindness or cruelty, depending on who they are. But Rosalie's story gets mixed up in the aristocracy as well and eventually she becomes an adopted member of Oscar's household.

Oscar is the captain of the royal guard, a woman who was raised as a man and, although everyone recognises her as a woman, she dresses and behaves in most ways like a man. This is one of the more remarkable aspects of the series and has been the subject of much commentary. It's partly an example of how different the fantasies of teenage girls regarded as normal were in Japan in comparison to the West; but Oscar's thorough adoption of a traditionally male role, manner, and lifestyle is remarkable, especially as there's little romance involved, aside from the men who secretly long for her, most notably her childhood friend, Andre.

It's Oscar more than Rosalie who serves as the show's moral compass and her approval or disapproval of any decision Marie Antoinette makes seems the final word on whether it was right. The series changed directors after episode 18 due to the sudden death of its first director, Tadao Nagahama. Replacement director Osamu Dezaki, who worked on Astro Boy and Lupin III among other shows, has so far brought an effective, more action oriented tone. He puts more emphasis on movement in sword fights and ballroom dancing. It seems this period in the narrative is finally where the viewer gets to see more internal conflict for Oscar and it's only now that we get a hint that her adopting male roles may entail some sexual frustration. I look forward to seeing how that plays out with the Revolution going on.

Current Location: ベルサイユ
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Sweet Sweet" - The Smashing Pumpkins

Detecting Truly as Ever Jan. 15th, 2019 @ 06:24 pm

We have new detectives and a new season but it's still the old True Detective that premièred on HBO a couple nights ago. Even more the old True Detective than season two, really, as the disappointing reaction from viewers to the second season has seemingly led creator Nic Pizzolatto to codify aspects of season one as series formula; a southern U.S. setting, a story told partly through depositions that become narration, and the main character giving depositions with different behaviour and physical appearance, indicating a long passage of time. I'm one of the two or three people who really liked season two and Pizzolatto's decision to take the story in a radically different direction but I enjoyed the first two episodes of this new season as well.

It does invite comparisons that aren't always to its benefit. This season stars Mahershala Ali in the role essentially occupied by Matthew McConaughey in the first season and while Ali is a decent enough actor he doesn't have McConaughey's star quality. I like his backstory about being a highly trained lone wolf in the Vietnam War, and I like his nickname, "Purple Hays" (his real name is Wayne Hays). But he doesn't have that steady batshit hypnotic quality McConaughey has.

It's funny how everyone can colour coordinate on this show. You'd think there'd be one guy whose tie really doesn't quite go with his coat but everything looks perfect. Of course this is a sign there is a real visual style to the show as opposed to an attempt to recreate real life; once again the opening credits are beautiful images of people and landscapes fading into each other.

So far the show is set in three time settings--the early 80s, 1990, and 2015, with Hays at the centre of each. The ageing makeup in the 2015 segment is amazing; completely seamless and it doesn't make Ali look oddly bulky. Makeup's come a long way.

The mystery involves a missing girl and, in another reprise from the first season, we see there are vaguely pagan, folk horror paraphernalia involved, in this case little dolls handmade from flowers and straw. Only time will tell if the supernatural is another aspect resurrected from season one.

Sometimes I get the feeling Pizzolato has taken the opportunity this season to go back and do things he feels could've improved season one. Age and imperfect memory are already a very important aspect of the story this season in ways they could've been but fundamentally weren't in season one. In any case, I'm eager to see where it goes.
Current Location: The woods
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "Remember" - Jimi Hendrix
Other entries
» The Lingering Blood Sucker

A young woman dies suddenly but then keeps turning up, seemingly alive. One possible reason is suggested in the English title of 1970's The Vampire Doll, though its original title, 幽霊屋敷の恐怖 血を吸う人形, doesn't so clearly categorise the phenomena, translating to something like "The Horror of a Haunted House with a Blood Sucking Doll". The ambiguity is more sensible but this is really a pretty simple horror film mainly worth viewing for its stylish visuals.

Kazuhiko (Atsuo Nakamura) travels to the resort hotel run by his dead fiancee's mother to learn more about her death. The mother, Shidu (Yoko Minazake), drifts about, speaking almost mechanically, perhaps a sign of grief, or perhaps something else. Then Kazuhiko is sure he spots the dead woman, Yuko (Yukiko Kobayashi), outside.

Then Kazuhiko disappears and his sister, Keiko (Kayo Matsuo), and her fiance, Hiroshi (Akira Nakao), travel to the hotel to see if they can learn anything. Their investigation gets further than Kazuhiko's--after Keiko survives an encounter with Yuko, they meet Yuko's doctor, Yamaguchi (Jun Usami), and ask him questions about Yuko. If she's dead, why does she seem to be roaming about, disappearing and reappearing, her eyes glowing?

Yamaguchi doesn't give a very straight forward reply, instead delivering an intriguingly, disturbingly ecstatic speech about ghosts, telling them almost feverishly about how he saw a ghost once. This is one of the most impressively weird moments in the story.

The movie's based very loosely on an Edgar Allan Poe story--telling you which one would be a spoiler but it's not "Fall of the House of Usher". Vampire Doll does, though, have a lot to do with eerie, unstated passions in a family. It's a good story but even better is the lovely hotel. I certainly wouldn't mind haunting it. The Vampire Doll is available to stream for free for those who have Amazon Prime.

Twitter Sonnet #1195

The extra metal teeth could play a song.
For added strength a bar contained a neck.
The muscles lift a paddle playing Pong.
An analogue could put a watch in check.
A path of clouds above the road was dark.
A heavy colour, quiet, cold, and slow.
Unnoticed drops of rain deluge the park.
A crafty cricket quickly starts to row.
Withdrawing clouds expressed their good intents.
The sky adopted stripes to make a hue.
A tightly knitted azure thread condensed.
The av'rage person called the colour "blue".
Acrylic halls absorb the shadow rads.
A freight of goods were shipped to packaged bads.

» Never Forget Daleks

I naturally continued my tour of Dalek episodes of Doctor Who recently added to BritBox's collection by watching Remembrance of the Daleks this past week, a Seventh Doctor serial from 1988. This season première serial is when the Seventh Doctor really started to cook after his spotty first season and when his companion, Ace, made good on the potential she showed from her first appearance in the previous season's finale. It also continued the Dalek civil war storyline from Resurrection of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks but with the decidedly different tone of the Seventh Doctor's era. It lacks Eric Saward's penchant for pushing the envelope, violence-wise, yet its introduction of the Daleks conveys more of a sense of danger. But what I like most about this serial is its theme of misapprehension and people, good and bad, suffering for their mistaken impressions. But not the Doctor.

Despite an amusing moment in one of the episode cliffhangers where Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor pulls a face and delivers a line straight to the camera about how he miscalculated, it's very clear the Doctor's only miscalculations are pretty trivial. The proto-UNIT military group in the serial, with which the Doctor quickly makes himself an ally just by intruding on one of their surveillance vans and explaining things, seem to be also his only real problem. As he tells Ace (Sophie Aldred), he has to keep them occupied while the Daleks play into his hands.

The proto-UNIT group has no idea what they're fighting, of course, but a lot of this serial is about just how much the Daleks and humanity have in common, referencing the relatively recent menace of the Nazis in World War II (the serial's set in 1963) and the recent tensions arising from Jamaican immigrants who came to England for the rights promised to them as citizens of a British territory.

Although the serial isn't directly about racial tensions in Britain at the time, 25 year old Ben Aaronivitch's teleplay does a decent job of showing how racism operated in a community. Racists aren't simply easily identifiable two dimensional jerks; they can be the seemingly nice young man, Mike (Dursley McLinden), whom Ace almost falls for. Or Ratcliffe (George Sewell), an Englishman who felt the Nazis had it right, who now allies himself with the Daleks, finding their ideas of racial purity to be congenial.

The Daleks also aren't what they seem in this serial. The viewer is deliberately misled as to which side is which now in the Dalek civil war, which has become about race, as well, since one side has mutated, as is shown when the Doctor inspects the shell of a partially destroyed Dalek casing. The old rebels and the old establishment have switched roles but we don't know until we're directly shown, a nice way of showing just how illegitimate intrinsic ideas of racial superiority are.

Through it all, the Seventh Doctor earns his reputation as a manipulator, with Sylvester McCoy occasionally employing an effective, quietly sinister tone between his moments of clowning, giving the impression the latter is a calculated ruse. Like a good strategist, a lot of what he does is counter-intuitive, as when he seems to be working against his British military allies, or when he deliberately refrains from destroying some Dalek equipment, explaining to Ace that he doesn't want to strand the time travelling Daleks, which would increase the chances of them corrupting the timeline.

One of the famous moments in this serial is Ace cracking a Dalek with her enhanced baseball bat and that's one of the reasons she and Seven are such a great pair--he's the subtlety, she's the direct approach. But we see in this episode there's more to the Doctor's disdain for weaponry than pacifism--his techniques can be far deadlier than any weapon.
» The Trade and the Story

Two reporters from rival papers try to expose a drug and sex trafficking cartel in 1960's Smashing the O-Line (密航0ライン, "Stowaway 0 Line"). It should be a pretty straight forward story but director Seijun Suzuki, as he often did, took this poor innocent pulp script for a bizarre ride, making for a tough, dizzying, and tantalising experience.

It's hard to find much information on this movie. Even Japanese Wikipedia doesn't have an entry for it though somehow it's streaming for free on Amazon Prime. The imdb page has one trivia item, claiming the film was "written, shot, edited and released in 16 days." I find that impossible to believe though it does use a lot of location footage that might've been taken without getting permits.

But when I think of a movie shot within a few weeks, I think Ed Wood and Roger Corman, movies filled with bad sound, aimlessly long takes--films in dire need of proper post production. Smashing the O-Line is filled with powerful, communicative cuts and elaborately executed visual ideas. I suppose it could very well be Suzuki was that much of a genius at improvisation, he may well be the Charlie Parker of Japanese New Wave film.

The first half of the film is a little hard to follow--it demands a viewer pay close attention, not sparing time to explain very much. The journalists, Katori (Hiroyuki Nagato) and Nishina (Yuji Kodaka), are introduced as old friends, and then we get scenes in quick succession of prostitutes and drug caches. Quickly we see the difference between Nishina and Katori is more than the papers they work for; they operate under completely different ethical standards. One might say Katori doesn't have any.

Early on we see him getting out of bed with a prostitute, take a shower, and then call in the police from outside while she stands naked in the bath. And Katori clearly seems to get a sadistic pleasure out of it, even assuring her "It's just me!" when she hears the cops open the door. There's no reason for him to do that but to toy with her.

Nishina, on the other hand, has a strong sense of morality and balks at misleading his sources or going places without the proper permits. He's frustrated that Katori consistently beats him to stories.

A lot of stories go by really quick--Suzuki does come up with a lot of fast ways to make things stick out, like when we're introduced to Katori's sister, Kumiko (Mayumi Shimizu), whose face we first see when she turns sharply away from Katori's fashion model girlfriend.

The last forty minutes or so are more straight forward as Nishina stows away on a ship in Hong Kong, posing as a Chinese man despite not knowing how to speak any Chinese. When some dock inspectors ask him to take his clothes off, it's revealed that he's wearing a woman's blouse under his coat for no apparent reason.

It seems like the kind of surreal idea Suzuki would have in his later films but, then again, there's a sense to it--if Nishina is in any way unable to prevent his behaviour from seeming suspicious or like he's hiding something, the blouse gives the inspectors an explanation for it. It's very typical of Suzuki to show something like this without any preamble explanation most filmmakers would feel it necessary to include. And it works great.

Katori is the far more interesting character, though, a man of absolute commitment yet full of contradiction. He really seems passionate about breaking up the trade of sex slaves, explaining he's willing to go to any lengths to do so, yet in one remarkable scene he refuses to cooperate with a brothel madam who has a bunch of her thugs molesting his sister in a car that's racing circles around the car where Katori sits. This scene is dizzying in more ways than one and the editing involved, since most of the shots are from near the characters' points of view, must have took considerable skill. It's not one of Suzuki's best films but it's pretty damned good for a quick work.
» Alara Rides the Alien Horse

Strength is relative, especially when you come from a planet with exceptionally strong gravity, like Alara on The Orville. Last night's new episode found Alara forced to return home, and to the parents she has a turbulent relationship with. The Earth-like gravity on the Orville is starting to soften up her muscles. Her homeworld has strong gravity that gave her strength, and her family may be responsible for her psychological strength because, headed by a patriarch played by Robert Picardo, they certainly seem like they must have been a gruelling exercise to grow up with. This episode was written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, who wrote the far bolder episode "Firestorm" from last season, which was also the episode that introduced Robert Picardo and Molly Hagan as Alara's parents, so it seems Chevapravatdumrong has a particular attachment to Alara.

Chevapravatdumrong is a writer for Family Guy but she also writes young adult fiction under the name Cherry Cheva. "Home", last night's new episode, had a very young adult feel to it with its focus on Alara's need to define herself while finding validation from her parents. For this kind of story, it succeeded pretty well and effectively incorporated some cool Sci-Fi concepts. But maybe the best part of the episode was in its many great guest stars.

Spoilers after the screenshot

In addition to Robert Picardo, there was also Jason Alexander (happily, his bartender character does indeed seem to be recurring), John Billingsley (Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise), and Patrick Warburton as the temporary security officer with an oesophagus for a nose.

This character cracked me up. Lines that aren't especially funny turn into magic with Warburton's delivery. Him explaining to Bortus how his extra oesophagus lets him just "pound" food was hysterical--that inappropriate, Steven Seagal-ish, flat bragging tone that seems to savour the brilliance of his own words . . . Oh, he's so good. If only he was permanent.

It seems this is Alara's last episode, at least for now. I guess Halston Sage has decided to leave the show--maybe she considered The Orville just a stepping stone to a more lucrative gig that didn't require her to wear prosthetics. It certainly didn't feel like the long term plan from the writers--story wise, it doesn't feel right for Alara's thread to stop here. The end of the episode, where she decides to stay on her homeworld, had a subtle tonal difference from the rest of the episode, as though the thing was originally written and shot without anyone knowing Sage was leaving. Alara's reasoning seems hasty for all the confidence in her tone--she says she was only on The Orville because she needed a family but she's decided to stay on the planet because now she has her biological family. I thought she was on The Orville because she wanted to be in the military. But I suppose there are plenty of security posts on her homeworld.

I'd certainly watch a spin-off about Alara and her father. I've been looking forward to Robert Picardo's return as the character since I saw him in the first season and I certainly wasn't disappointed. From early on in the episode, it was clear the plot was going to be about a situation occurring where Alara had the rare opportunity to show to her parents the value of the vocation she's chosen and Picardo brings a lot of nice complexity to his end of that dialogue. We can see he's intelligent, even if he's holding onto a belief that's detrimental to his daughter's mental health.

But seeing Picardo and Billingsley together was even better, Billingsley it turns out being capable of a fine, complex performance as a villain. I liked his motivation for taking Alara's family hostage, an academic argument about a vaccine. You can easily see how such a little thing could lead to such large and small scale problems. There's intellect and duty on Picardo's side and on Billingsley's side there's also intellect and duty but also his emotional investment in his son, which brings another facet to the story about parents' pride in the offspring.

It was a nice, engaging episode. I look forward to seeing Alara's replacement, who I hear is remarkably similar to her. Maybe they'll call her Alara Pulaski.

Twitter Sonnet #1194

The mazes built in liquid eyes were ice.
Repeated steps became a stair to rails.
In bundled ropes the eyes were kinds of splice.
It's only water waiting late for sails.
The tracks were made for trains to roll to steel.
The cars were built for glass to cover up.
The book was writ 'cause beasts were ever real.
The stove was lit so folks could cook and sup.
The question mark ascends the slimy cliff.
On tables set the check was red and white.
The pantry wall was covered full of 'if'.
Rebounding eyes could not resolve a sight.
The silver petals wink propulsive turns.
The evening sky was left with scarlet burns.

» We Don't Have no Education

The story of the underachieving delinquent who becomes a cruel despot is all too familiar. It was a life path that accelerated temporarily for Bart Simpson in the 1992 Simpsons episode "Separate Vocations" in which a career aptitude test pegs Bart as a future cop and Lisa as a homemaker, suggestions that have profound and destructive effects on both of them.

Written by George Meyer, this episode swings the show back into drawing comedy from insight into human behaviour after the absurdism of the previous episode, "Homer at the Bat". The episode preceding "Homer at the Bat" focused on Bart and Lisa's school with a plot centred on Bart's teacher, Mrs. Krabappel. Like "Separate Vocations", it also drew humour from human insight but differs in that "Bart the Lover" is more sympathetic to the teacher. "Separate Vocations" is in part a merciless lampoon of high school teachers that has some painful accuracy.

The Wikipedia entry for the episode has an analysis section that talks about how this episode exemplifies the show's persistently critical view of authority, citing a few books that have studied The Simpsons;

Daspit and Weaver write that it is "the absolute power that teachers have over students' every action that allows for the image to be presented on The Simpsons. It would be comforting to tell ourselves that this is simply parody run amok, that the writers are stretching reality to make a point, but the discussants in the study [of The Simpsons in this book] had memories of a reality very much like the one presented in this program." One of the discussants said she believes everyone has experienced similar situations in their school years, and she thinks the thought that "an educator could ever do something so useless and pointless with the children's time" is "frightening".

I think "frightening" is overstating it. We're not quite in the territory of The Smiths' "Headmaster Ritual" or even Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" but when Lisa steals the teacher's edition text books and everyone panics, or when Lisa's teacher bitterly complains about how her master's degree should have secured a better job for her than what she calls "daycare", I can certainly remember a few of the high school teachers I had in the '90s. When I saw "Separate Vocations" as a teenager, it was satisfying seeing confirmed what I'd always suspected. But, having now had some limited experience tutoring college students, I can see the other side somewhat. Some people really weren't meant to be teachers but ended up there anyway and unfortunately the kids suffer as a result, but at the same time there are students who are always looking for an excuse to disregard the teacher's claim to any authority. When I don't know the answer to something, I prefer to be open about it and explore the solution with the student but for some students the basis of trust is so tenuous, and the enforced exercise of education so unwelcome, that they'll take any error as good enough reason to close themselves off entirely. So the teachers in Bart's school being paralysed by the absence of the teacher's edition books is only a bit on the unreasonable side.

I have no sympathy for the aptitude test, though. I can't imagine such things still have much currency though they do kind of remind me of many internet memes and quizzes. I guess it's human nature to be forever uncomfortable with not knowing about the future. This is another episode, like "Bart the Lover", where Bart shows a surprising maturity for the climax, which makes the climax truly satisfying. It's like the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance--he has a moment where he can see outside of himself, the character he is, and recognises it's probably more important that Lisa be instilled with confidence in her abilities than for him to be. It's a nice moment in a good episode.
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