Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

We pounded the trick or treat pavement y'all. Things melted down when we ran into a skunk along the way. We backed away from the skunk between us and a candy bowl very slowly. After that my kids were convinced we were surrounded by skunks and raccoons everywhere. They were certain they were around every dark corner of the night. We were surely in grave danger and we should make our way home. Who need ghosts and goblins? Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

B5 S4 Ep6: Into The Fire

You just gotta love those First Ones. They are way cool.

Lights! Camera! Action! Like a giant, big, fat, juicy pimple, things are coming to a head indeed with Babylon 5, Season Four, Episode 6, Into The Fire [formerly "Now Get The Hell Out Of Our Galaxy!"].The heat is rising and tempers are flaring. I kind of enjoy the action-based episodes from a blog-writing perspective because there tends to be less writing with the episode tending to be more visual and less talky. So one might think. This one really didn’t meet that expectation. Straczynski strikes once again! Theoretically one might expect to write something along the lines of:

There’s a firefight. Crash! Bang! Zap! BOOM! [Thinking of Ivanova here] and out. This was not to be.

Normally, one would potentially have to spend less time analyzing the character complexities amidst all the action. Granted, writing about character stuff is far more interesting. So action tends to make the writing part easier, but alas I just can't be brief even if I tried.

When we last left our fearless heroes Ivanova had joined the mysterious Lorien to seek out some of those peculiar, off-beat-looking First Ones. Currently they have five on the hook for assistance in the next Great Shadows War. Lorien indicates there is one more. The Sixth and final race arrives in its special effects-laden splendor and it’s pretty damn cool. It’s like a giant wooden football with appendages. Now my friends, we have the team and the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan. Let the battle begin.

Elsewhere, Sheridan and friends take out a heavily-armed Vorlon observation post with precision firepower.

Down on Centauri Prime, Londo is organizing to fight The Shadows on his own front. There’s a great moment for him when he sits in the emperor’s chair as he gives orders. The gay minister calls him on it objecting vehemently that he should place his arse in that chair, because of course he’s not the emperor [yet]. Londo's reply is comical. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Very natural though” he says quite matter-of-factly. It’s no doubt a breach of protocol to the Centauri for such a brazen move. Finally, Londo has summoned for Mr. Morden as well.

Sheridan informs Ivanova to “haul ass” if she wants to make the enemy engagement. We learn Lorien is the last and the first of his kind. The others either fell ill and died or moved beyond the Outer Rim. Ivanova is skeptical of Lorien’s story.

Lorien’s people became more mortal with each passing generation. Their role was to nurture the first races. We are indeed born to die unless of course you are the one, the only Lorien.

On Centauri, Londo is given the truth concerning Adira’s death. He is told what we suspected all along, that Morden manufactured her death. Londo’s stomach is in knots with disgust. Anger, rage and tears quickly follow. “He played me. He played me like a puppet,” Londo growls with pure rage. Londo is getting it. He is finally seeing it all clearly. His heart grows heavy to hear of her death all over once again. It's safe to say Mr. Morden is in deep doo-doo.

Fast Minbari language fact: Ah hell [translates into continuous fire].

Philosophy and deep thoughts with Lorien: “Patience is also a weapon when used properly. You cannot win this war through force. You must understand your way out of this. Sheridan knows. What remains to be seen is whether he knows that he knows?”

Sheridan’s hope for victory rests in the truth. Perhaps he does know that knowledge is power and weapons will not win this thing for him. He certainly seems to be channeling Lorien. Of course having a massive armada to back you up doesn’t hurt either.

Morden has somehow miraculously healed thanks to the rejuvenating powers of those wonderful, creepy crawlies known affectionately as The Shadows. His burns are gone and his skin may look better than ever. I can see a contract for skin commercials in his future. Londo and Morden meet and the stakes are much higher for Morden thanks to Londo’s newly acquired information regarding what happened to his ladylove. Londo calls Morden scared. The guards back away, leaving Morden vulnerable as Londo’s men fire upon him directly to his left and right killing The Shadows creatures that protect him. Straczynski played that scene smart because it was a bit unexpected. He didn’t prompt us to their presence with the usual Shadows bug chitter-chatter sound affect that normally accompanies Morden. It threw me off. I liked it. Londo’s cleansing of The Shadows occupation continues. It’s a pretty strong sequence.

Nuclear testing- Centauri-style. This land mass looks a bit like Portugal and Spain.
I’m reminded of the many moments where these two fine actors [Peter Jurasik & Ed Wasser] played in scenes together over the last four seasons. They were always interesting and whenever I saw them together there was an anticipatory excitement and crackling bit of electrical energy in the air between them. Straczynski was wise to cast Ed Wasser in this fabulous recurring role after underutilizing him in the Babylon 5 pilot.

It was at this point my son was watching this episode with me and he was definitely into it. He asked if I liked Babylon 5 or Stargate better. I said, ‘good question.’ My answer was Babylon 5 because it was more complex than Stargate despite the wonderful special effects and often-fine performances and stories employed for Stargate. I also like the ongoing epic nature of Babylon 5 as a series. I think it's clearly advantage Babylon 5 based upon the evidence of nearly four seasons before me. My son’s answer was ‘Stargate.’ Need I say more? I explained that Stargate was exciting based upon action and performance but certainly less taxing on the mind, which is why it would appeal to a younger set. I think my assessment is fair to say. It amazes me that at one time I never even let Babylon 5 enter my radar.

Off Coriana 6, Lyta senses The Shadows. The Vorlons and The Shadows are on a crash course toward one another. Sheridan serves up a great line, “Good morning gentlemen. This is your wake-up call.” Lyta informs Sheridan, “Captain, they’re pissed.” Sheridan reaches out to The Vorlons on behalf of the lives of Coriana 6 while the battle rages.

On Centauri Prime, Morden finally meets his maker. It was a pleasure knowing this character but his time had come and it was a fitting way to go. Morden is beheaded and his head is stuck upon a pike in the garden. Ding-dong the scumbag’s dead and it was the right way for him to go. Vir is thrilled to see it come to fruition. I must admit I didn't think Straczynski needed the flashback of Vir reminding us of how he wanted to look up into Morden’s lifeless eyes and wave. It wasn’t necessary at all. The Babylon 5 audience is far too intelligent. We would have remembered that without the flashback. If anyone is following this story up to Season Four they just don’t need it. It’s fine that it was there, but it wasn't necessary for us to see it.

Without further delay, Sheridan calls upon the First Ones to aid in saving Coriana 6. I really like the First Ones. They’re like a superhero group. I especially love the giant space disco ball. I’m a huge fan of that thing. ZOG! Still, the other ships are impressive in design. I always want more detail on the ships but never get it. The attack is swift as the six First Ones pummel the Vorlon planet killer destroying it where it sits. ZOG I say! I would enjoy knowing more about the ZOG! I think I just enjoy saying ZOG. ZOG. Yeah, that's a fun word.

Here come The Vorlons [and there go The Vorlons!]
Meanwhile Londo shares his excitement with Vir that Centauri Prime is cleansed of The Shadows infection. Vir points out the obvious. There is one more influenced or touched by The Shadows left. Londo. He was indeed touched [a tool of The Shadows] and The Vorlons come descending upon the planet. Londo tells Vir to kill him to save the planet. You know Londo has come along way that he didn't flinch to sacrifice himself to save his people. Impressive. I mean he didn't bat an eyelash. Still, Vir can’t do it and just won't do it. There's loyalty to Londo for ya. Suddenly The Vorlons disseminate leaving Centauri airspace thanks to an emergency signal requesting back up off Coriana 6. Thanks to the First Ones, The Vorlons need reinforcements in their fight against The Shadows.

Back on the White Star, Lyta’s eyes glow white and she looks at Sheridan. “You thought we could not touch you, you were wrong.” Sheridan is encased in an electrified cocoon. Lyta’s eyes then turn black as she turns to Delenn and imprisons her in the same way. Lorien tells Lennier not to interfere. Lorien embraces both. The Shadows and The Vorlons are speaking to Delenn and Sheridan channeling their powers through Lyta. She is the vessel. Poor Lyta is used more than any character on this show. They are both in darkness engaging their respective race. Delenn is in contact with The Shadows while Sheridan engages The Vorlons. I love the sequence for stylistic reasons. It makes it all the more powerful.

While Sheridan is hammering away at the woman in crystal, Delenn is approached by various Shadow creatures taking the representative form of her friends on Babylon 5. Still, what is the significance of it? Why do they present themselves in this way? Is it because The Vorlons are pure and untouchable? Is it that The Shadows use deception as a means to power? Yet another fascinating moment as the two races attempt to work their manipulation.

Suddenly hands extend to Sheridan and Delenn and they are pulled back by Lorien and released from their heated exchanges with the older races. Ghostly images of a Vorlon and Shadow appear before our fearless heroes. Lorien cannot interfere. Sheridan pointedly puts the finger squarely in their face. He tells them the questions are always “who are you?” or “what do you want?” but that they are never forced to answer those same questions themselves. Missiles begin firing upon the White Star but the other races surround them and protect them. This is why Lorien is merely energy; he cannot die aboard the White Star even if it did get hit. Sheridan is all fired up and I just absolutely love this line:

Lorien squares it away telling them to beat it and hit the road. It’s time to “let them go.” It’s time for the younger races because they understand now. The Shadows and Vorlons must step aside. I think the clip above illustrates just how childish these two powerful forces are and remain. It's like they never grew up. They are simply children to the paternal/ maternal overseer that is Lorien. They sound pathetic! It really works. All this time they seem like these big baddies [and they are], but everything is relevant and they come off as nothing more than spoiled rotten children behaving badly. Okay so they’re killing billions in the process but who’s counting? Lorien tells them he will join them beyond the rim. Like a parent to his offspring he tells the mischievous ones he will be with them. They seem comforted by his assurance like children are comforted by their parents. It so reminded me of Mother Nature speaking with her ill-tempered kids, siblings Heatmiser and Coldmiser, from The Year Without A Santa Clause. It’s hysterical how immature they seem despite all of their great powers.

Here's my boy!
The First Ones vacate the airspace and head off to the rim through the wormhole. Did I mention I love that giant space disco ball? ZOG! It’s got some pretty impressive firepower by the way. We never did actually meet all of the First Ones officially. We don’t know what they look like apart from our blockheaded buddy ZOG! We don’t know much about them. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more on all of the creatures and their respective races. They were clearly more mature and just as effective with a weapon as The Vorlons and Shadows. As Lorien dematerializes we see the energy force that saved Sheridan, a.k.a. The One, first established in Season Four, Episode Two, Whatever Happened To Mr. Garibaldi?. I had originally wondered incorrectly about the force, but it was clearly Lorien.

The epilogue sees a brief respite of joy for a change as the war is over. The emperor is dead. Centauri Prime is saved. Londo and Vir’s embrace is warm, sweet and filled with sincerity.

I thought this shot really spoke volumes about the series heading home to Babylon 5 and getting on track with new stories and perhaps wrapping up loose ends or ramifications from the Great War.
Sheridan and Delenn sit alone heading back to Babylon 5. “It’s a new age… a third age.” I'm a little uncertain about what qualifies for the first, second and third age, but I imagine it has something to do with the end of conflict. For the first time they feel free and in control of their future minus the meddling of the older races.

What a conclusion! That’s it. It’s over. I feel so alone. That storyline has propelled us from the beginning and it feels like the wind was just taken from my sails. I feel as if this would have been a perfect ending to the season or even to the series as a whole if it ended all today [despite lingering questions]. It could have stopped here. There are always questions. It’s like, where do we go from here? I feel like a ship without a rudder, directionless. I must admit I am excited for the prospects of the unknown ahead. Future installments should be interesting. In some ways it feels as though this story ended somewhat abruptly. In other ways it feels as though it was just right and the time had come. There comes a time when you must sleigh the dragon so to speak. It can’t just keep getting up and coming at you over and over. It could lose some of its impact if you know what I mean. I always felt James Cameron's film The Terminator pushed the envelope a bit at the end when the disembodied robot kept crawling toward Sarah Connor/Linda Hamilton to kill her. It was like, 'enough already!'

He is indeed the energy form we thought he was.
So, are there questions remaining? Yes, I have a few like whatever did happen to Garibaldi? He certainly took a bit of a backseat for this one. I know there is much more to come with his character and I look forward to that thread. Also, what of Psi Corps? I’m sure there is much to discover there. Whatever happened to Epsilon 3’s role? It may have been a backup plan and that was that and didn’t necessarily have to get implemented to protect Babylon 5. Perhaps it was enough just to know it was there to protect Babylon 5. PERIOD! What about Babylon 5’s relationship with Earth? Obviously that is in limbo since the station seceded. Straczynski has wrapped up a big one here with Episode 6 very early on in Season Four, but I’m sure there are a number of threads to revisit and probably some new ones to create. I’m thrilled by the prospect of something new. I’m also fascinated at the possibilities of where the Londo/ G’Kar relationship goes from here. It feels like a gift to get more Babylon 5 at the end of this run. With The Vorlons and Shadows gone, Morden dead and nothing to distract Londo I wonder if he will look to the potential prestige of the current vacancy of the emperorship. Will he fill that vacuum as quickly as he can? Will that hunger and thirst for power reawaken the other, not-so-appealing side of Londo that I’m none too fondo of? Will his empty heart fill with greed and selfish desire once again? So it didn’t end in fire. It could have, but it didn’t. Londo reversed course but did he do it in time? Let’s face it Sheridan saved everyone’s ass here. BIG TIME.

Well, now that Babylon 5 is over I guess I’ll just… wait a second. It’s not over! NOTHING IS OVER! It's all just beginning again. From this point forward every episode will be like an added gift.

Into The Fire: B+

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Muppet Show S3: Pigs In Space & The Planet Koosbane Part One

The absolutely inane exploits of those crazy pigs continue!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The King Is Dead

I always enjoyed this number by Peter Cox [as a member of Go West]. I know we're talking about the emperor, but close enough. Some of the lyric is quite good including "you let me in behind the lies."

Serenity Found

The latest in my quest to read any and all things sci-fi-related was discovered in Serenity Found: More Essays On Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe [Completely Unauthorized]. These collections are always a hit and miss bag of fun. I also have to admit I'm a bit partial to analysis books than I am original fiction. It's a sickness. While I should be enjoying original stories I always get caught up in dissecting other people's analysis of my favorite shows. It gives me the chance to be the final arbiter and judge on someone's take, right or wrong, and their assessment of the shows near and dear to my heart.

Anyway, I had read the previous book, Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds And Space Hookers In Joss Whedon's Firefly, some time ago back before I began blogging, so I'll need to revisit that at some point to write about it. Both books are published by Benbella. I love their collections. I had previously given my thoughts on Stepping Through The Stargate: Science, Archaeology And The Military In Stargate SG-1 also by Benbella.

The two Firefly-centric publications are edited by the normally fantastic Jane Espenson [this one edited with Leah Wilson]. So here we are with Serenity Found, the sequel to Finding Serenity and since Joss Whedon made the film, Serenity, this book builds upon the previously ephemeral series and combines analysis with thoughts on the film.

To say I liked Firefly is an understatement. It's an amazing series. One of the best. I hope to squeeze an episode by episode analysis in someday before I die.
Let's take a look chapter by chapter at Serenity Found. There are 19 chapters if you include the Introduction.
Introduction: Espenson pours much praise on Joss Whedon albeit deservedly and not without great reasoning.
Catching Up With The Future: Orson Scott Card really does a number on many of our favorite science fiction shows doling out all kinds of criticism here, there and everywhere. He's an unabashed Firefly fan and, like myself, saw the series long after it was cancelled. He got me quite annoyed with one section in particular. Leonard Nimoy might beg to differ and take him to task with his analysis. After reading I Am Spock, he'd never let him get away with this one. "Scif-fi films and television shows had no characters whatsoever. Oh, they had people wearing costumes and saying lines, but once you had stated their role, there was nothing more to say. On Star Trek, what were the crew of the Enterprise after you set aside their ethnicity and their job description on the ship? Nothing." Ouch! I mean perhaps you can argue it to a point, but the chemistry of these actors and the characters they played made this series endure. He takes it one step too far here. "And as for Spock, he was a one-note character (He gave the illusion of being an interesting character because he was played by the one excellent actor in the series)." WOW! I think there are a few actors on that show that would beg to differ with you Mr. Card including one pompous William Shatner. I really felt he was way off base. Here, let's add insult to injury and give you his final parting shot. "(I realize, of course, that saying these things will result in Trekkers burning me in effigy, but it's simply true. We know what film and television characterization looks like-finally-and it simply was not present, was not even attempted, in Star Trek-or, I must add, any of its spin-offs and sequel series. It simply wasn't part of the formula as it is today in, say, Lost or Medium)." HOLY COW! What were these characters played by? Card board cutouts. Seriously, Lost even better Medium? We'll see where Medium is in ten years. Formula? I thought you didn't care for formula. You said it yourself. Look, I understand Card's point, but it is a different era and what was achieved in the 1960s with Star Trek, with character, was pretty profound. Excuse me, I have an effigy to burn. Okay....I'm back. Oh and Blade Runner was "good." Uh-huh. This guy rips just about anything sci-fi, but Firefly, at least a little. As much as this guy pissed me off, I really liked his article. I really did. You never saw that one coming did you?
Mars Needs Women: How A Dress, A Cake, And A Goofy Hat Will Save Science Fiction: Maggie Burns concentrates on the female element of the show, girl power if you will. She doesn't dog other science-fiction quite as intensely. It's another solid entry. She makes a few cool points worth mentioning. First, she points out Farscape's success, but that it was centered upon an alien-centric cast as opposed to a human one like Firefly. "The only sci-fi television show that has ever dared to tell the truth like this was Farscape, which only got away with it because every character except the hero was an alien. Farscape showed us messy,gross, violent, crazy alien life in Technicolor... Until Firefly, we never saw so much reality played out with people." Next, she makes a great point here, but again it was a defining character by its creators within a military context, "I adore the admirable Samantha Carter of Stargate SG-1, but she is just not representative of most women I've ever met." That's pretty funny. Finally, she talks about how the crew of Serenity are real and deal with real, emotions, scraping by, surviving, scrapping it out. They even lived on a ship that felt lived in with food and "dirty dishes" as she puts it. I love this line. "Didn't you always wonder about the bathrooms on the Enterprise?" I didn't actually, but now that you mention it, I really think there is a lot to discover on the next Star Trek series within the ship itself. Bring on those bathroom urinals! We want details!
Girls, Guns, Gags: Why The Future Belongs To The Funny: Natalie Haynes really delves into why Firefly was such a success thanks in part to the humor. Like alot of female writers she really zeroes in on Joss Whedon's ability to write strong female characters. Still, she makes a great point that men are well-represented too, case in point, Mal Reynolds. It's another fine essay. My favorite line: "Zoe is what Condoleezza Rice would be if she were in the future and had a better boss- smart, brave, and compassionate, with really nice outfits." I love that!
River Tam And The Weaponized Women Of The Whedonverse: Michael Marano delves into the world of Whedon's female characters as weapons. He begins with Alien: Resurrection. This brings me to a point I finally had the chance to write about. I think I knew, but may have forgotten and it came as a bit of a revelation that Joss Whedon had provided the script for the fourth, much maligned and underrated Alien installment. Here's the thing. I have always been a huge fan of that film. In fact, I've seen it a few times, because it's just so damn creepy and scary and it just freaks me out. The film was truly massacred by critics upon arrival. Marano is correct in assessing Whedon's characters as weapons. Ripley has truly become one in this film beautifully directed by then future star director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Here are the reasons to this day I qualify Alien: Resurrection as a great piece of science-fiction: First, the Joss Whedon script. Second, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Third, Brad Dourif [Babylon 5's Passing Through Gethsemane], Ron Perlman and of course Sigourney Weaver all star. The script, the cast, the atmosphere and the ship [the Betty- it's just so Whedon!] are all highlights for me. Everything about it is the perfect fusion of Whedon and Jeunet and I had since forgotten about the fusion of the two. I never knew the reasons why I loved it so much, but they are obvious in retrospect. I had to jump in with my own thoughts on the aforementioned film because it has always bothered me that it has been so strongly ridiculed and belittled. About the only error in judgment for me was the use of some of the CGI. Anyway, the article is written at an academic level with loads of River Tam examples and, if you like it, loads of Buffy, which I haven't actually seen.
I, Malcolm: Nathan Fillion provides personal insight into his experience as a cast member on Firefly. It's a nice piece with humor. He refers to his experience as "super duper." I love that phrase. It's such an old, nostalgic way to describe something cool. While on the subject, I actually became a huge Nathan Fillion fan after witnessing this series. It's been kind of sad to see him bounce from job to job, some successful, some not. I think he'd return to Firefly in a heartbeat if they reignited the old girl. In the meantime it almost feels as though he's always trying to find the right place in the universe for himself since having such a wonderful experience with his fellow castmates on that show. Let's do a quick run through since his days on Firefly and before that One Life To Live. Before his launch to science fiction stardom he had a brief part in none other than Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan as well as an episode of The Outer Limits [Star Crossed]. Following the demise of Firefly it has been a struggle. He's appeared in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Desperate Housewives [good Lord], Lost [he was Kate's main squeeze in flashback episode I Do], and Drive [he was a primary cast member in this even shorter-lived ensemble series]. He got a starring role in a terrific, old-fashioned horror comedy Slither. Great stuff! He also starred opposite Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff in White Noise 2: The Light. More recently he appeared in Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog as Captain Hammer [you know what body part the hammer referes to]. More great stuff! Up next he stars as Nick Castle in TV series' Castle. I wish the man all the best because he is immensely talented and a scream to watch. I sure would love to see a Malcom Reynolds rebirth though because Nathan Fillion made that role his. It wouldn't have worked without him.
Freedom In An Unfree World: Forget about Democrats and Republicans, P. Gardner Goldsmith takes the libertarian ideals and philosophy and applies that to our Robin Hood-like Captain Malcolm Reynolds. The theme of freedom is embodied in the person that is Mal. I do think Serenity is the vehicle that gives Mal hope for freedom just as the theme song describes, but Goldsmith clearly sees freedom as something embodied within each and every one of us. It's a nice piece.
A Tale Of Two Heroes: Shanna Swendson makes a case for two heroes in Firefly [obviously there were many heroic moments for all], Mal and Simon. Now, truthfully, I scoffed at the suggestion. I mean, Simon? Come on. The idea seems preposterous. Rediculous I said. After reading her essay and her plethora of parallels and evidence to argue the point I was a changed man. I am a believer. Well done.
The Good Book: As you might well imagine this one concerns Shepherd Book. No. Come on. Stop. Really. I loved this observation from writer Eric Greene. "Mal's crew was an extension and reflection of Mal. Echoing attributes of the central character in the supporting characters is of course a time-honored technique. Star Trek again offers an instructive example in the way Spock reflected Kirk's intellect and McCoy embodied Kirk's emotions. Watching McCoy and Spock argue was like seeing Kirk's internal dialogue externalized. This dynamic made both Spock and McCoy vital to Kirk's success as a captain and integral to his wholeness as a person. It also helps account for why the trio was so compelling as a unit." Well said. I'm sure this observation is nothing new but it is well artuclated here. Another way of seeing it, and I'm sure this has been discussed ad nauseum in the Star Trek universe, is the whole idea of McCoy as Id, Spock as Superego and Kirk as Ego. A friend of mine and I were just discussing the whole Freud dynamic regarding Star Trek: TOS the other day around the watercooler. Yeah, we have pretty good watercooler talks. Seriously, this is why Star Trek remains number one on science-fiction lists. It was complex in idea and concept back then and it remains so today. It's easy for criticism to be levied against Star Trek today, but given its timeframe and everything it achieved, it still remains the benchmark series. Now, I must tell you, the essay spirals out of control in the end. The final 3-4 pages takes Greene into political territory and is just plain maddening. I'm glad I never watched Serenity in this way because he attempts to connect dots that I think just can't connect. I love essays like this that go on these anti-American tirades with all of the injustice in the world. I know the US has problems, but you never hear the other side of it. It's always America bad and guys like this apologize for the rest. Did you know The Alliance is really the US government? You do now. Then we have the anti-Catholic and anti-Christian angle of the piece. We get a little anti-George Bush. I'm not a fan of the man mind you but this stuff gets old. The evils of torture at Guantanamo and the veil of "terra-forming" as nation-building. Good Lord. He ties The Reavers to an Iraq gone wrong and we even get some Donald Rumsfeld throw in for good measure. It's all those Neo-Cons! Damn it! They are evil. Blah blah blah. Come on. Look, he makes a few points in this piece I will concede I agreed with, but it's completely one-sided and he gives a free-pass to, as he puts it mildly, "sectarian militias." He breezes over the hijackers of 9/11 and their belief that "God" was their co-pilot and quickly moves on following his two-word concession "point taken." What? This stuff is just so one-sided it more or less pissed me off. Not my favorite piece you could say. Here I was just enjoying the adventure that was Serenity as delicious storytelling and science fiction. I was clueless to the political subtext and parallels to my own country. Thank God for my ignorance in this application.
Mal Contents: This is a truly tremendous analysis of our hero Captain Malcolm Reynolds. This digs deep and remains focused throughout the discourse. A few key points I enjoyed from writer Alex Bledsoe included his keen observation on the relationship between Mal and Serenity. It is a strikingly profound point. "During the trip to Miranda, there is a short, wordless scene where Mal, alone in the depths of Serenity, shows how affected he is by the recent tragedy. He can drop his facade to this degree only with his ship, the one thing he fully, totally trusts." Exactamundo. This is precisely why Serenity is such an essential character to the show like so many space vessels are to their respective series. Serenity is real. In fact, Bledsoe delves into Mal's character and how he relates to all of the characters of the series. He also rightfully gives tremendous credit to Nathan Fillion for his work. This is another great article written post-Serenity as most of the pieces in this book are by writers who penned them after seeing both the series and the film [unlike the series only-based Finding Serenity].
Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal: Things My Husband And I Have Argued About While Watching Firefly: This is an amusing piece by two fans of Joss Whedon. It's a very conversational article about their battles over various topics while viewing Firefly. It probably didn't hurt that Lani Diane Rich absolutely sings the praises of editor Jane Espenson in one section. Anyway, she declares, "My husband and me? We're geeks" The only problem I had was this. "I am a fan of neither Westerns nor science fiction, so for me, believing that I would be remotely interested in a combination of the two was way beyond my limited vision." Okay, what self-respecting geek doesn't like science fiction? I'm having a hard time with that one. : ) She does make loads of great observations including the fact that "engaging storytelling is not genre-dependent." There's a brief mention of how alot of people watch Whedon's work in groups or with other people. Sadly, I am here to declare I watched Firefly solo. There's no shame in that as far as I know. Granted I have turned others on to watching it alone. I can hear the song by George Thorogood & The Destroyers in my head to I Drink Alone, "I Firefly alone and with nobody else."
Mutant Enemy U: If you want to know more about the special effects team in the Whedonverse this is your article. In fact, the title of the article by Loni Peristere is fairly misleading and should be called How I Designed Serenity as it is almost exclusively dedicated to an in-depth analysis of one of our favorite characters, lady luck herself, Serenity. There's something very feminine about her as one might well imagine from the mind of Joss Whedon. The complexity and detail of creating one of science fiction's most beloved ships is a thing to behold. The title of the article itself refers to the education, on the job, of Mr. Peristere.
Geeks Of The World, Unite!: Great title and while it didn't quite deliver the promise I was expecting it made some clever and entertaining points. Writer Natasha Giardina utilizes Mr. Universe as an example of Geek champion to implement her points. I love this: "He seems to own his very own planetoid, as well as the fortress, satellite dishes, and associated computer hardware, including the lovebot. (And may I just point out here that the Serenity crew, by contrast, own little more than the clothes on their backs and the junk-heap they fly around in. Action heroing may look good, but it doesn't seem to pay the bills too well.) So if you're starting to think that maybe geeks aren't that unappealing after all, I have some good news for you: if you have an Internet connection, can make your computer go, and have ever bought or sold anything on eBay, then there's really little difference between you and Mr. Universe, it's only a question of degree." That is absolutely classic, but I will say this as a self-respecting geek, don't be calling my lady girl Serenity a "junk-heap" girlfriend. I will fight you on that. I will leave you with this final thought from her essay which really is a bit of a coda for me, "the ideology of geekdom says that life should be fun, that play is part of life and should be undertaken with great enthusiasm." Amen!
The Alliance's War On Science: I'm not surprised San Diego physics professor Ken Wharton gets into a healthy dose of America-bashing here. For many in America it has become something of a favorite pasttime thanks in part to George Bush and in part to self-loathing. I wasn't crazy about this piece which analyzes The Alliance and suggests it to be a glimpse at one possible future resulting from corporate America. On the one hand some nations don't have enough scientific freedom, while still others, America, are just plain out of control. I'd love to see a guy like Wharton have to spend a year in Iran, Russia or North Korea. If we had to wait to protect ourselves we would have ceased to exist years ago. Look anyone can put their spin on US or world history without giving you all the facts [and please disregard Pearl Harbor and the kamikaze pilots over behind the curtain number two]. I've read stories where the Japanese even accept responsibility for the way the end of World War II went down, case in point, thoughts by anime filmmaker Isao Takahata who directed Grave Of The Fireflies. Here's an excerpt from Wharton's piece on the A-bomb: "During World War II, America concentrated many brilliant scientists and engineers under tight security in a major effort to create these weapons. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist running the effort, kept the exchange of information relatively open (within the large project), and the scientists were able to produce two different types of atomic bombs-from scratch-in just a few years. But despite their quick work, the war in Europe had already ended, leaving only the war with Japan. Japan was effectively already defeated; they were simply holding out for face-saving surrender terms." I love that. Isn't that nice? It was just that simple. "The Russians were about to declare war against Japan, clinching the victory. All of this was known to the U.S., and yet they deployed not one, but two atomic bombs on civilian populations before Russian involvement could end the war on less favorable terms. The death toll was hundreds of thousands." Yeah Ken, war is a nasty business and it's ashame the governments in play would allow their civilians to be targeted as victims to press forward with their political agendas. There are winners and losers. Maybe you should read the history books. There are a number of authors who offer a more accurate read on history than yours. I'm not sure the Japanese were as anxious to take the gloves off following the devastation of World War II, but you go ahead and paint America to be the bad guy. Democrat Harry S. Truman would beg to differ with your assessment were he alive today. "And after the war, when Oppenheimer and other scientists proposed strict controls over these weapons, they were persecuted by the very government that they had served so faithfully. Scientists 'in charge' of secret projects have been manipulated into producing what is desired of them, but upon success, they inevitably lose their imagined control. The weapons becoming militarized, the knowledge becomes classified, and the scientists become obsolete nuisances." Oh come on, the scientists aren't growing flowers for cryin' out loud and scientists globally were doing the same. It's always a race for power Ken. The scientists the deal. The nuclear club includes the following: USA [1945]/ Russia [1949]/ United Kingdom [1952]/ France [1960]/ China [1964]/ India [1974]/ Pakistan [1998]/ North Korea [2006] and Israel [1979]. Iran is next. "Our primary anti-science innovation has been the rise of the corporation." Check it out for yourselves to read more on the evil nation that is America and "how scientific truth is a frequent casualty of capitalism." But heck what do I know? I'm just a lowly blogger. Honest, I swear, I do not work for The Alliance. I wasn't all that impressed with Jane Espenson's introduction to the essay either. Certainly I wasn't surprised and everyone is entitled to their perception of the political game as they see it even if they subscribe to a more than healthy dose of conspiracy theory.
The Virtual 'Verse: This one tackles, with great enthusiasm, MMOG [Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming]. My favorite line in the whole article is this: "Lean closer. I'll tell you the real secret of the Firefly MMOG. We want the game to be such a big damn success that studio execs will be tripping over themselves to make more TV shows or movies. A pipe-dream? An immposibility? Pfah. We're Browncoats. We do the impossible before breakfast." That's the spirit. That is pure optimism. It's a fine position that anyone of us supports while I reserve my skepticism for another day.
Firefly And Story Structure, Advanced: Writer Geoff Klock serves up an incredible dissection of the Firefly episode, Out Of Gas. It's a solid read and like him, I agree, this particular episode is an "outstanding" entry and remains one of my personal favorites. Klock thoroughly analyzes the entry. I love how Serenity is kind of the glue that holds the whole thing together. It really is a love story of sorts and anyone, if you're like me, can understand why Mal would fall in love with an old girl like Serenity. She's a beauty. I love how Klock ties it all together. This is a very eloquent close. "Out Of Gas tells a science fiction love story, but rather than a man and a woman against the world and time, Out Of Gas shows us love among a rag-tag 'family' of outsiders, and the love between a man and a ship, the symbol of his freedom." A man and his romantic. Now that's my kind of love story.
Cut 'Em Off At The Horsehead Nebula!: I began the article with the kind of built-in bias against Westerns that I possessed for Firefly. I didn't check it out until long after its cancellation because of it. By the end of this essay writer Bruce Bethke had won me over with his oustanding entry backed with loads of great background on why we as viewers are so prejudiced against the Western genre and don't dare marry it with science-fiction. It's a fascinating study and supported with critical thinking. The bottom line is Bethke actually brings us back in time to the point where science-fiction outlawed the Western as a genre. The piece really gets at the heart of all of the anti-Western sentiment that discarded it from ever influencing sci-fi, except here we have a classic called Firefly. Nice stuff.
The Bonnie Brown Flag: Evelyn Vaughn compares the world or at least the war backdrop of Firefly's world to the American Civil War with mixed results for me. Slavery enters into the equation too. I find pieces like this sometimes read into things that just aren't there.
Signal To Noise: Media And Subversion In Serenity: Jacob Clifton inserts his one-sided political agenda into his arguments here. There is one great point made about River and Reavers being "siblings." I never really connected the two in quite that way, but it's true. He gives a nod to Babylon 5's Psi-Corps and the X-Men's Dark Phoenix. Normally I'd be won over immediately by those kinds of references, but alas we were squarely in different camps on the political tone.
The greatest testament to the popularity and endurance of this amazingly brief series, Firefly, is indeed thanks to the fans who appreciated such intelligent writing and characterization within the Whedonverse. Further proof of how it endures is in the fact there are roughly 40 essays combined between Finding Serenity and Serenity Found. All of this coming on the heels of 15 episodes and just one film. Now all we need is a third book installment, Beyond Serenity, and a Firefly re-launch [including the same actors] and all will be right with the world. When you think about it, Firefly gave birth to the Browncoats and there are moments when I pause for a second to ponder- could this be the infancy and birth of another franchise in much the same way it was for Star Trek in the 1960s? If so it will be inspired by and built upon what amounts to a series that lasted a little more than a mere half season. Time will tell, but that there is something special folks.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Muppet Show S3: Pigs In Space & The Dumb-O-Waves

Those dumb-o-waves can be a real problem especially when they affect your fellow citizens.

Friday, October 17, 2008

B5 S4 Ep5: The Long Night

Rage Hard and then Freedom!

Babylon 5, Season Four, Episode 5, The Long Night begins with Captain Sheridan’s personal log. The personnel of Babylon 5 are preparing to strike Z’Ha’Dum from their base of operations just off Epsilon 3. Things are really coming to another head as Ivanova and Sheridan observe a kind of metallic shroud of dust around yet another planet nearing Vorlon annihilation.

On Narn, Londo engages in a secret meeting with Vir and others regarding the removal of the wackjob that is Emperor Cartagia as well as the elimination of The Shadows from their own homeworld.

Ivanova and Sheridan meet regarding the assembled fleet. Susan is eager to join Sheridan for the impending battle. It's all coming to a head and she knows it amounts to everything she has trained for all her life. Instead, Sheridan wants her to search for more of the First Ones. Of course, Susan is like, ‘again with the bloody First Ones, enough already, I’m tired of looking for these weirdoes.’ Things get personal and Susan lets down her walls for a moment. It’s a very nice sequence.

I thought this was really illustrative of what many mentioned earlier in the season concerning Susan’s personal losses. She loses people she cares about and it has a major impact on her internal make-up. It speaks to her youth and her experiences and how profoundly the loss of her mother impacted her. It really paints a portrait of why she is who she is. Sheridan is quite protective of his commandant. She in turn grows here as she wishes to kind of stand on her own by his side. It’s a very sweet exchange. Their friendship is real and in some ways I’m reminded of a kind of father-daughter love. In retrospect, thinking back to Season One, it struck me how much Ivanova has grown and changed. Her transition has been quite gradual and logical whether it was planned that way or not. When we first met her she was very strict military, rigid, cool as a career person. Now, she retains her strength while also displaying vulnerability. She’s softer, wiser. She’s loosened up considerably even letting her hair down more often. You can tell how much Sheridan means to her. It’s a moving exchange.

I liked this photo of both Sheridan and Ivanova. It was quite by accident but reminded me of a kind of mentor-student relationship.

On Narn, the festivities continue for the imbecile that is Cartagia. Cartagia adds another wrinkle to Londo’s understanding by informing Londo that he plans to watch the Vorlon destruction of Centauri Prime from afar. While the party continues, Londo visits G’Kar in his cell one last time and is troubled by what he sees.

I found it intriguing when G’Kar looked at Londo and tells him “Your heart is empty Mollari. Did you know that?” I wondered if Londo was actually attempting to right the course of events and G’Kar was wrong or if he saw something in Mollari that will influence his actions in the future. Will Londo vindicate his mistakes or will he slide again? Hmmm. One thing is certain Londo didn’t disagree with G’Kar. Doth not protest too much. Doth not protest at all.

By the way, did you know the Centauri have more than one heart? I certainly did not until now. Vir and Londo meet to discuss the administration of the poison into their target, Cartagia.

I thought perhaps a proper Centauri investigator [or a telepath] might be able to spot the nail sized hole stabbed through the emperor’s new clothes.

Things become very disconcerting as a slow, methodical drumbeat accompanies the arrival of G’Kar who is paraded before his people prior to his inevitable execution. With G’Kar standing before the emperor, Cartagia throws a wrench in the works turning to Londo and informing him he had the chains replaced because the older ones looked weakened. Londo is certainly concerned about this news, as this will certainly have a deleterious effect on the implementation of his assassination plot. Not to worry, the blood of his freedom drips into the crevices of his mouth and G'Kar's heart pounds with the desire to be free. G’Kar is empowered by the freedom of his people and with great physical strength still overcomes the new metal chains breaking that which binds him. It is a potent and symbolic moment of freedom for the Narn race.

Londo quickly whisks Cartagia to safety, well, not really. Londo, like a spider, pulls Cartagia into his web of deceit so that he may remove him from power. Londo quickly fumbles for the poison needle and rattled tells the ranting emperor to be “quiet!” This forces an unexpected response as the emperor swings around and backhands Londo in anger and frustration over the situation and for his insubordination. The needle flies to the floor knocked from his hands and as Londo searches for it the emperor places him in a stranglehold. As he releases his grasp on Londo and turns Vir plunges the needle straight into the center of his chest. I had a feeling Vir was going to be the one to save Londo. The deed is done. The emperor is dead. It is the perfect murder [well, in television anyway].

Londo addresses his people telling them Cartagia’s death is a sign the Centauri must vacate Narn. Londo is nominated to the seat of Prime Minister to lead during this crisis. He is now one step closer to the throne. He has three days to remove The Shadows and those that have been touched by their influence.

Back on Babylon 5, in the War Room, Sheridan and Garibaldi debate their current status and Lennier, who is trying to give them a report, just can’t get a word in edgewise. Before he can share his information a report comes in from Ranger Ericsson on White Star 14. Ericsson [played at the time by the up and coming Bryan Cranston; future star of Malcolm In The Middle] is the good soldier. He informs them thermo nuclear missiles are burrowing into the planets' surfaces and obliterating them from the inside out. Lennier finally informs his colleagues that he is aware of the next Vorlon strike based upon the Vorlon fleet movements and can predict and track their next strike. Well damn Lennier why didn’t you say so? Poor guy.

As the Centauri occupiers prepare to release Narn Londo goes to Vir’s room where Vir is highly inebriated. He is significantly troubled by what he has done. He has killed one of his own. This is a deeply moving moment between Vir and Londo. And don't you mean two "good" hearts for Vir, Londo?

The two men continue to amaze and while Stephen Furst isn’t quite the caliber of actor that Peter Jurasik is, he still does tremendous work with the material he's given and the moments he's allowed to shine. He can seriously hold his own. I was crushed when Vir talks about how he hoped someone could love him. Does your heart just break for the guy? How many of us have felt inadequate from time to time? He just kills you. Londo exhibits vulnerability with his turn and as usual blows us away by his amazing ability to walk the line of cool and sensitive. It's quite the touching scene.

In the end Londo keeps his promise to G’Kar. He reminds us, and in some ways intentionally reminds himself, that honor is all he has left. As Vir looks out upon Narn's celebration, fireworks fill the sky [apparently they have fireworks on Narn too!]. Vir asks what only the peaceful heart of Vir could ask, “What was it all for I wonder? What was any of it for?”

Back on Babylon 5, Sheridan rallies the troops in preparation for the Vorlon attack on Coriana 6. It astounds me when I step back to see that a small faction of the human race [at least those found on Babylon 5] have aligned with other worlds to now fight a two-pronged, two-front war. Who knew going into Season Four we would need to fight The Shadows AND The Vorlons. Damn! Talk about having the cards stacked against you. So Sheridan has a plan. When doesn’t he? He’s good- real good. His plan is to have Ericsson drop misinformation into the enemy hands of The Shadows. He will plant a bug for the bugs to dispatch to Coriana 6 and arrive at the same time The Vorlons arrive in that system. In other words, as Bruce Willis said in Die Hard, “Welcome to the party pal!” With the knowledge there is a Ranger base on Coriana 6 it will draw The Shadows, well, out of the shadows and force a conflict between The Vorlons and The Shadows. Brilliant! Simply brilliant! Holy mackerel! Sheridan is learning from the masters of manipulation. It would appear he is able play chess with the big boys and manipulate with the best of them. The two races continue to avoid direct conflict and Sheridan is going to ensure that direct contact is exactly what they get. He knows he cannot just ask The Shadows to come so he will mislead them into a trap. You slimy Second One you!

There’s one catch. Ranger Ericsson MUST DIE! Sheridan asks much of him indeed. He must engage The Shadows in a conflict with White Star 14 and see to it the deceptive information falls into the wrong hands. For this to happen, he will die. He has been tasked with a suicide mission. WOW. That’s hardcore. Knowing the sacrifice he must make Ericsson signs off with one of those Nazi-like, Minbari salutes. The party begins in three days.

On Narn, G’Kar’s people celebrate in a ballet of violence. G’Kar asks why. I don't blame him. I never could understand why people get violent when they're celebrating. This is a fairly powerful conclusion to a very solid episode. Kim Strauss is always a pleasure to watch take on a variety of recurring roles on Babylon 5. He appears here opposite G’Kar as G’Lorn.

How could G’Lorn address G’Kar in that way? I mean, just look at him. WTF?! The guy stands before you with wood and chains. He’s missing his fucking eye! He’s been in solitary confinement for days! He’s been through extreme physical torture. He looks like he's been through everything but bloody sodomy [an even then you never know with those Centauri]. Not to mention the poor fella carries a major heavy heart over the occupation of his world. He’s been through it all. I understand he may not know it, but his physical scars exemplify that he deserves a bit more respect than that for cryin' out loud. G’Kar rightfully laughs defensively in utter amazement.

In the final moments Sheridan sits alone listening to the final seconds of Ericsson’s mission broadcast across channels. He dies heroically and it cuts at Sheridan’s heart to know what is required for victory. Sebastian knew he and Delenn needed to be tested for this journey and they continue to pass that test. Sheridan confers with Delenn, “The Shadows took the bait.”

Sheridan and Delenn converge with the fleet and prepare for battle. They are heading into “the heart of the fire” between Vorlon and Shadow. It appears to be building to a big battling crescendo indeed. The allied fleet is massive and impressive in scope. Will it be enough? They are ready “not to yield” referring to a poem by poet Alfred Tennyson as recited by Sheridan over the final scenes of the entry.

One equal temper of heroic hearts
Made weak by time and fate
But strong in will… and not to yield

The Long Night: B+