Friday, 30 May 2014

Review: Voyager 2.23: The Thaw

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The Doctor banters with Fear. From Wikia
Star Trek Voyager - Season Two, Episode Twenty-Three - The Thaw
Written 29/11/13

Oh, Voyager. I love you. Sometimes after a long line of slightly boring or weird episodes, a work of pure genius comes along that makes everything right again. We already had one such episode with Meld earlier in the season, but now we hit upon an episode whose simple premise manages to take a goofy villain and use him to tap into the darkest recesses of the human soul. It's episodes like these that really help me justify my love for this little show - for where else in Star Trek could you find an episode in which our intrepid heroes must do battle with the idea of Fear itself?
     An exploration on a devastated planet reveals a group of survivors from the planet's civilisation - a group of people meant to have woken up from their self-imposed stasis four years prior to their discovery. Noting that two of the five stasis chambers contain dead inhabitants, Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres are sent in to the stasis chambers' virtual world to find out what's up - leading to the discovery of Fear (Michael McKean), an embodiment of the occupants' anxiety who is holding them hostage as a safeguard against the threat of his own non-existence. Fear punishes his hostages by torturing them with their most primal fears - not helped by the fact that he can read all of their thoughts, and kill them in the real world by decapitating them in their dream state. After sending in The Doctor to negotiate and not having much luck, Janeway tricks Fear by sending in a hologram of herself while simultaneously linking her thoughts to the system, leading Fear to face his own worst nightmare - oblivion.
      From the off, Janeway takes the situation as a challenge - she almost seems delighted, a more cunning and playful Picard. It is for her something of an opportunity - to quite literally fight Fear on its own terms. While she approaches it as a conflict, Michael McKean's Fear does his best to mimic the metaphorical properties that emotion has. His character is paranoid and possessive, passing swiftly from irreverent to draconian at the drop of a hat. He mocks and tears at his captive's mental defences, both in subtle ways and in obvious ones. The to and fro between the two is quite fabulous across the episode, with the final confrontation being a perfect scene in which Janeway reveals that instead of fighting fear head-on, she has managed instead to simply trick it out of existence.
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Don't be afraid. From Wikia
       This was also a sorta-centric for Harry Kim, who as ship butt-monkey ends up trapped in with Fear for the longest. Fear was seen to pick on many things - his crippling insecurity, his fear of being helpless, and his childhood fear of hospitals. (Feelin' ya there, Harry.) We also got some fun moments for The Doctor, whose dead-pan provided the perfect straight-man for some of Fear's funnier moments. Yes, funnier moments - that was part of the episode's charm, in the way that it balanced the terrifying concept with a script which found a way to spend most of the downtime milking the funnies from McKean's performance.
     When it's good, it's good. That's the impression that Season Two has given me, and The Thaw is yet another week where, if you ignore one or two moments that don't work, the show doesn't put a foot wrong. It had charm and grace as well as a fluency with its characters which gave it a shroud of confidence - one that Voyager very rarely gets to put on. Thanks to a combination of a fantastic script, a bally good concept and one of my favourite of the early show's guest stars, The Thaw managed to fight off the lingering fears that I had for the show - for a while, at least. Just wait until next week.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: We discuss morality, the Devil's Advocate, the true nature of the self and whether the writers were on crack when they came up with Tuvix.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Review: Lost 2.20: Two For The Road

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Rest in peace, Ana-Lucia. From Wikia
Lost - Season Two, Episode Twenty - Two For The Road
Written 10/11/13

Ana-Lucia is one of my favourite characters in the show for various reasons better covered in my review of Collision a few weeks ago. This is her final story and her second centric episode, which ties together her usefulness in the series with a nice bow and, just after allowing her the precious character development she deserves, the show exercises its favourite trick and kills her in a way which is blunt and quite enraging. And deliberately so, most likely. It doesn't exactly match its predecessor blow for blow, but it is an Ana-Lucia episode and thus manages its character developments with the utmost finesse, which is always a good thing.
     Ana-Lucia is having a friendly chat with "Henry" when he violently attacks her, goading her about the things she did on the other side of the Island (which, we will find out later, were orchestrated by him anyway.) This kicks up her lust for revenge - she goes to Sawyer to get a gun and ends up having to seduce him to get it. Meanwhile, Jack and Kate bring back Michael and he spins a story about escaping from the Others' custody, and expresses a desire to follow his path back and storm their camp. Ana-Lucia goes to execute Henry, but she can't find it within herself to do it - which is when Michael offers to do it instead. He then shoots her in the abdomen, as well as witness Libby, and lets Henry go, shooting himself in the shoulder.
     In her flashback, Ana-Lucia leaves the force after having executed her assailant, Jason McCormack. She goes to Australia, where she meets Jack's dad, Christian Shepherd, himself having left his family after his son sold him out for drinking on the job. He employs her as a bodyguard, as he attempts to find out about his daughter, who we discover is Claire. A conversation with Christian sees him fire her, with her leaving him in the Bar we find him in in Outlaws. She rings her mother and tells her that she's coming home... on Oceanic Flight 815.
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Fuck you, Michael. From Wikia
     Like one of Henry Gale's plots, the episode's final tragedy falls into place piece by insignificant piece, each small little plot point mounting up to that pivotal moment. Henry attacked Ana-Lucia to get her riled up enough to bring a gun to the Hatch, and he knew that this would give the newly released Michael a chance to carry through with his instructions - the instructions he formulated. If Henry hadn't attacked Ana, she wouldn't be dead; if Hurley didn't want to take Libby on a romantic picnic, she wouldn't be dead either. While on the initial watch it feels inconspicuous, the way everything falls together is evocative of high tragedy, as Ana-Lucia's moment of redemption is underscored by her blunt and meaningless death.
      Even better is the foreshadowing provided during the final scene itself by Harold Perrineau, whose performance as Michael betrays all of his feelings - the mixture of reluctance and desperation and self-loathing as he murders twice and then shoots himself in the arm, all in the name of rescuing his son. Two For The Road wasn't an episode which delighted in grand-slamming or laying on the symbolism - rather, it kept a slow build-up which manipulated characterisations in the way that only Lost can. I'm going to miss both Ana-Lucia and Libby, and the plots that they brought with them, even as we head towards this season's awesome finale.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Do they really plan on having an episode title this short?

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Camaraderie in Space: My Adventures in Mass Effect

Thanks for the inspiration Andy, you too Connor.

After years of Andrew's irrelevant reviews about Star Trek, Lost and Whovian Lore, I shall write the magnum opus of this website and my own writing (which isn't saying much as this is limited to 3 crap reviews and GCSE English coursework). I, however, should probably introduce myself first. I'm Tanju, 17 years old and autistic. Despite what a lot of people think, autistic people feel emotion and have a sense of humour, even if they appear neutral and monotonous. What makes me so different from so-called "neurotypicals" is my difficultly understanding social norms and having deep and very specific special interests like science, maths, politics and video games. This means I often straddle and frequently cross the line between loud and obnoxious and quiet and reserved. I've always managed to fit in with groups of people, but I rarely ever find myself as anything other than an outsider with more than two or three people. All my life I've felt I was shunned and misunderstood and I've never had a long-term romantic relationship with anyone (or short-term really). My behaviour has made people I care about any connection I made with people has been undermined by my autism, even if it doesn't affect their opinion of me and vice versa.

Then came Mass Effect. I've been using the trilogy as a coping mechanism for my autism since ME2 came out in 2010. I then played through the original and finally the third the day it came out. I didn't realise this at the time though. I just thought I was playing a set of really good sci-fi RPGs. It only dawned on me today, on the final day of sixth form, after probably saying a final goodbye to a lot of people I know and a long talk with close friends. But anyway, enough about me, you want to know about Mass Effect don't you?

The greatest innovation in RPGs this generation.
The games in the Mass Effect trilogy are science-fiction action-RPGs with a focus on having strong story and narrative, which meant a complex and interesting backstory for the universe, tough choices that affect the game and personal relationships with characters in the game. Those personal relationships are what made me fall in love with the game. You are Commander Shepard, celebrated war hero and captain of the spaceship Normandy. Inbetween missions, you could explore the Normandy and talk to your crew, which was diverse and consisted of people from different species and within the humans, different ethnicities, nationalities, etc.  They all have their own story to tell, they're all interesting. Even one of the more disliked crewmembers, Ashley, wasn't just some dumb bimbo. She was religious in a society that near-universally secular, she had a sister she cared about and she loved poetry. Then there was fan favourites like Tali, a skilled young Quarian engineer who was eager to prove herself and deeply patriotic, prioritising her fleet over anything else, and Wrex, a disillusioned Krogan warrior who hates how his people have lost their sense of tradition after a weaponised fertility plague dooms them to extinction. These characters were deeply written and if you immersed yourself into the game, you cared about them. The way you talked to them was the dialogue wheel, shown above. Through this wheel, you could advance or end a conversion seamlessly, ask questions, make moral choices or persuade someone to do something or side with you. It towed the line between choice and cinematic immersion and it worked. I felt like I was Shepard by using this to controlling the flow and general direction of his (or her) actions and dialogue. This helped me develop as a person by allowing me to have something I didn't have in real life, people I felt comfortable sharing experiences with. I was respected by the people who followed me to hell and back. I definitely didn't have autism in-game. I was confident and a good leader, without having an extreme amount of choice that would cause my autism to get in the way.

At this point I'd just like to point out that Mass Effect was not about having a power trip, but an experience where I connected with the characters on a personal level. They weren't pixels on a screen. They were friends, as much and maybe more so than my non-fictional ones. And I know that this wasn't a unique experience for me. The games are clearly designed with this in mind. You completed "loyalty missions" in Mass Effect 2, in order to gain the trust of your new crew. You saw their personal struggles and saw them on a deeper level. Then you have the Citadel DLC, basically a touching, hilariously fun 7-hour final goodbye to the crew of Normandy. Seriously, you have a fucking party at the end. Name one franchise where you would pay £15 for a story about having a party with the main characters.

My care for these characters allowed me to have an emotional stake in the outcome of the game. My rationale for my choices in the game wasn't based on the common good or some other bullshit, but on how they would affect my crew. Without Wrex in my crew, the Krogan would be generic alien enemies. I wouldn't give a shit about them and they wouldn't mean anything to me. We base our choices in real life on how they affect people and if you can't visualise these people, you ignore their troubles. The "starving children in Africa" are an abstract concept until you see their faces on charity adverts. My worldview in-game was based on talking to the dozen or so comrades who helped me save the galaxy. They were people who were immersed in a culture I would never understand. If we have wildly different and contradictory traditions on our own planet, how can we ever comprehend as the Volus' finance-based or the Turian's militaristic culture? Well, a good start would be to talk a Volus or Turian.

Mass Effect isn't some happy Skyrim-esque space adventure, where you can just explore wherever you want to and absorb the beauty and complexity of the open world. It has a linear-ish story and it has to progress to mean anything. You're trying to achieve a single goal along the way. Destroy the Reapers, giant robotic space cuttlefish hell-bent on fucking up the galaxy. This enemy doesn't any nuance to it. They're evil and incomprehensible (at least until that ending...). They exist merely as an obstacle for the protagonist, i.e. me and the awesome crew of the Normandy, to overcome. An equivalent in real life would be A-Level exams, like the ones I should be revising for right now instead of writing essays on video games (by the way I study Further Maths and Physics, not English Literature). We experience stress, sadness, turmoil. The stakes are high and there is little room for error. You can't talk to an exam paper, or persuade it to go easy on you. You finish the paper on the day the best you can. But exams aren't the only thing you do, you have banter with friends, parties, drama, relationships. These are the interesting things in student life, not exams and the same goes for Mass Effect, the Reapers exist as a plot device, but it allows us to overcome hardship to show us our true character. Without situations that require us to do so, we will never need to adapt. That's allowed Mass Effect to have contrast and variety. Dark moments were offset by the humour and joy and camaraderie.  For every comrade dead, for every memorial in Mass Effect 3, there was the good times on the Normandy, there was the sheer and utter fun that the Citadel DLC. It was real and even with autism I could feel that. A goal to overcome and an ideal to reach, the future free from the Reapers or the 4 years in university, made me love every moment, good or bad.

You may ask me, "why a video game?" Hundreds of films, books and TV shows have dealt with struggles of people and their personal relationships, some are even about the struggles of the autistic. If sci-fi escapism is part of the equation, shows like Firefly include the tight-knit crew you mentioned. What makes a video game like Mass Effect so special? The answer to that is long-winded and difficult to put into words, but there is one aspect I can confirm. I'm in control. When I watch Firefly, I empathise with the crew, but I'm not Nathan Fillion, however awesome that would be. No matter how much I become part of that community, the story of Firefly isn't mine. Its the story of Captain Reynolds and his crew trying to make it in a world that is indifferent to him, no matter how many fan-fics I write to rectify that. Mass Effect is my story, through and through. Every aspect of Shepard is customisable. My own Shepard I identify with the most is basically a carbon copy of me, friendly whenever possible, with choices which favoured liberal ideology and multiculturalism (that meant mostly Paragon choices) and a straight male who romanced Tali. Another Shepard I'm fond of is a bi female who romanced Liara in ME1 and Garrus in ME2 & 3 and was mostly Paragon, but sarcastic and a no-bullshit kind of girl. This makes Mass Effect good for replaying, but also gave me a way to express myself. The choice I had in the game was mostly an illusion, but it was a good one. With good writing and a little movie video game magic, playthroughs felt completely different from one another. I was writing a new 100+ hour story for the universe every time I replayed the trilogy. Was Shepard someone who tried to be fair and bring peace to everyone he could or did he sometimes make the questionable choice because the ends justify the means? Was he into girls or guys? Was he even a "he"? We will never know and frankly Bioware, I don't want to know.

I didn't write this for any reason other than needing to express myself. These are my thoughts unfiltered by rational argument, or even proof-reading. I am not a creative writer and if you are, you can probably tell I had no plan for this other than chucking all my ideas onto one post. I just hope that you can relate to my story and maybe appreciate autism a little bit. All it takes is some open-mindedness. But if I had to ask for something, an early copy of Mass Effect 4 wouldn't go amiss. Think about it Bioware.

Once last thing, I'd recommend the film Ben X as the themes in that film reflect the ones shown in this essay. Its also an awesome film, check it out.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Review: Voyager 2.22: Innocence

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Kids and Senior Citizens rolled into one! From Wikia
Voyager - Season Two, Episode Twenty-Two - Innocence
Written 18/10/13

Voyager manupulates sci-fi ideas into many shapes and forms, sometimes for the sake of character development as here, sometimes because that's the only way it worked, and sometimes because well, why the fuck not? Here, to showcase what a cuddly pumpkin Tuvok is capable of being, he gets stranded with three kiddy-winks on a jungle planet which happens to render all of the show's magic tech useless. We gain a small insight into what Tuvok would be like as a parent back on Vulcan, and are also led by a childlike mystery which anticlimaxes in a way which is both brilliant and slightly confusing, like a banana-skin tea cosy.
     The episode's rather standard plotline follows Tuvok being forced to help three children who claim to have crashed Lord-of-the-Flies style and who are petrified of going to sleep for fear that a giant monster will take them, as it already has done to members of their group. Tuvok can't sense anything, and as he bonds with these children he tries to teach them to be little logical machines like him. Soon the two boring kids get taken, leaving Tuvok and the one interesting kid left behind. Meanwhile, Voyager are talking with the kids' people, the Drayvans, who are a religious and sacred and proper sorta people. They're pissed when they find out where Tuvok's landed for unspecified reasons, until it's revealed that their species is one of Benjamin Buttons and all the kids who are sent there are in fact that species' elderly who go there to die. So it's fine.
     The episode's main focus is on Tuvok's parenting skills, which are mainly played for some very light humour as the kids misbehave and Tuvok remains the eternal straight-man to the Universe that he is. It's all very uninspiring stuff, especially as the writers try with difficulty to walk around the difficult line that Star Trek has set itself up with as to whether Vulcans actually feel things or not. And whether Tuvok actually feels things or not. That's your problem, really, when one of the most consistant and interesting characters on your show is one who supposedly can't express any emotion beyond smug superiority.
http://images.wikia.com/memoryalpha/en/images/5/55/Alcia.jpg
Our species is lazily designed so we'll wear this veil
to look cool. From Wikia
     Yeah, so... not one that knocked me out of the park. I've probably been away from this show for far too long, but Innocence gave me nothing that I haven't seen elsewhere, and there was nothing to draw me in. No captivating drama, an idea whose execution is deliberately half-baked, a guest cast consisting mostly of child actors. It's not the best shopping list of ingredients that I could have come up with, to be honest. Of course, that could just be my present mood, which at the time of this article actually being published will no doubt feel strange and alien to me. So, to the future me and to you, the reader of this blog in the World of Tomorrow, I wish you a happy day and that this season gets interesting before I pack it in and move to Wales for a life of quiet contemplation as a mad hermit in the mountains of Snowdon.

Thanks.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Review: Lost 2.19: S.O.S.

Lost - Season Two, Episode Nineteen - S.O.S
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Bernard proposes to Rose and discovers her secret.
From Wikia
Written 8/11/13

Just before the plot kicks into gears for the last few episodes of the season, Lost treats us to a unique centric episode focussing on those two background characters who get the odd word in now and then. It was a rigamarolle for all of the main characters, giving them a little bit of buffing before the action and giving us some soppy fluff in the centric plot for us to be going on with. Although it wasn't exactly the massive tour-de-force of television that Lost has the potential to be, it was thick on atmosphere and it was certainlty more pleasant than last week.
      Jack and Kate head out into the jungle to try and organise a trade - "Henry" for Michael - and after temporarily getting caught in one of Rousseau's traps, they reach the clearing where they last met the Others and find Michael alive and well. Meanwhile, Bernard is dismayed at the fact that everyone else on the island has gone native and tries to organise a group together to make a massive SOS sign on the beach. His wife doesn't support him in this endeavor, and in flashbacks we see the two meet, Bernard discovering her terminal cancer and wanting to marry her anyway, and then taking her to Australia on their honeymoon to get a faith healer to help her. In the present, Rose admits to Bernard that it was the Island, not the faith healer, that had healed her - that she didn't want to leave for fear of it ever returning. He breaks down and promises that they'll never leave. (And, as of Season Six, they never do. Aww.)
     Rose has a continued objection to her husband's proactivity in trying to help her, something understandable from both sides of the coin. For Rose, it's because she's accepted her fate (and then her miraculous blessing) and doesn't see the point in trying to change it. Bernard's desperation is clearly reasoned - he proposed to someone after 56 years of bachelorhood only to find out they had a terminal disease, and then crashed on a desert island on the way back from an unsuccessful honeymoon. It's the comedic level of tragedy that Lost seems to enjoy dishing out, even if with Rose and Bernard it's all executed in a single episode and a lot of the time it comes off a little soapy.
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I'd totally forgotten that Michael even existed, sorry.
From Wikia
     The rest of the episode played around a few of the meagre developments between characters in this season, especially in the development of Locke's malaise. Last week Ben told him that he hadn't pushed the button, and even though he's been lying for the past two months of the show, Locke takes this on board and starts becoming despondant, this time obsessing over a map he saw drawn on the Blast Door when it came down and crushed his leg. We also saw more awkard love triangle stuff, with Kate apologising to Jack for randomly snogging him a few weeks ago, and then him totally non-creepily replying, "I'm not sorry."
     Much ado about not very much, then. SOS has a lot going for it and it's a fairly charming little story once you sit down and watch it, but as television and as another piece of Lost's puzzle it seems fairly impotent. Rose and Bernard are two lovely characters, but as characters in the twisty turny and slightly stupid world that this season lives in, they feel too domestic, too unambitious. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, because the show gets to relate to normal issues for the first time since the first season instead of posing such stirling moral dilemmas as, "should I push this button ever two hours?". And, while that isn't Lost's intended direction, it sure as hell made a nice change here.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: My precious gun-toting badass Ana-Lucia bows out in the tragic and brilliant and wait they made her fuck Sawyer? Well that's just silly... Ana Lucia offers us Two For The Road.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Review: Voyager 2.21: Deadlock

http://trekcore.com/gallery/albums/harrykim/deadlock_494.jpg
Alternate!Harry and Alternate!Naomi are brought over to
replace their counterparts. From Trekcore
Star Trek Voyager - Season Two, Episode Twenty-One - Deadlock
Written 15/10/13. "Mr. Kim, we're Starfleet officers. Weird is part of the job."

Deadlock puts me into a state of great disquiet. It holds quite an important position in this season, as it sees the birth of Naomi Wildman, a character who would later go on to act as a funny sidekick to both Neelix and Seven of Nine. It's a big point of canon, is what I'm saying. And aside from that point of canon, this episode is about as batshit crazy as Voyager gets, with temporal-spacial duplication, the return of the Vidiians, another miraculous reset button and the third death of Harry Kim, for good this time. (Don't worry, Garrett Wang wasn't out of a job. Not yet, at least.) This of course means that I can initiate Kim Death Count - 3. Hurrah.
      Voyager is caught in an Anomaly Of The Week and their fuel reserves cut in half. While preparing to analyse the problem, Voyager seems to come under attack from an unknown source, leading to a series of complications including the death of Ensign Wildman's baby post-birth and the unfortunate loss of Harry Kim to the cold void of space, minus the expected cartoon-like explosive decompression which in hindsight would have made it even funnier. Kes wanders through a portal and finds a second Voyager, almost identical to her own, except that their analysis has been causing the "attacks". The two Voyagers attempt to work together, but the "good" Voyager is attacked by a ship full of Vidiians and the "good" Janeway is forced to send her Harry Kim and Naomi Wildman through the portal so that the damaged Voyager can escape unscathed.
     The birth of Naomi Wildman feels very oddly placed, and the dilemma of the two Voyagers places a rather awkward and somewhat black-humoured spin on the entire episode. Long-story short, a baby dies. Despite all of the awesome medical tech of the future, Star Trek has to make up new conditions, and one of these conditions killed that baby dead. Ensign Wildman? She's just experienced something ridiculously traumatic, something that I don't think a show like Voyager is equipped to deal with. The way that the baby is brought back from the other ship and the whole death thing was just glossed over made me feel very uncomfortable, because despite the fact that these quantum doubles are very useful, there's still a god-damn corpse in sickbay, the corpse of Ensign Wildman's real daughter. That's a bit sick.
http://www.startrek.com/legacy_media/images/200303/voy-137-voyager-finds-itself-i/320x240.jpg
The two Voyagers seperate. From StarTrek.com
     That said, the idea of two "quantum" Voyagers existing in the same space at the same time was quite a fun one, and the practical aspects were executed well enough, even if the split screening for the two Janeways looked incredibly tacky, and I'm talking about a franchise which does duplicates more than it does same-sex romances. This proficiency is the execution of the concept did give the writers an excuse to throw in some of Voyager's astounding technobabble along the way. Luckily David Livingston's direction keeps it all together and despite a yard of extra material that had to be bolted onto the episode, the pace is fairly well-done. There are no points in the episode that I could call boring.
     And that's the thing, do I get to harp on an episode like this? Early Voyager has an atmosphere that takes getting used to, and right now I'm a few months out of the loop. Was this episode boring? Did it do anything to really annoy me beyond a few problematic elements? Not really. And that's why Deadlock gets me a little rattled, because I do enjoy it, even though its silliness and the sheer oddity of its premise stinks to high heaven of things that I've berated Voyager for in the past. And that makes it, if not entirely perfect, certainly memorable.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK; Tuvok gets some lessons in parenthood when he fights for the Innocence of three alien children.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Review: Lost 2.18: Dave

http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20090219170836/lostpedia/images/f/f2/Dave-Hurley-Posing.jpg
Dave and Hurley in the Mental Hospital
From Wikia
Lost - Season Two, Episode Eighteen - Dave
Written 5/11/13

Fat shaming and negative portrayls of mental issues - this show has it all! Sorry to be cynical, but Jorge Garcia's performance as Hurley has been a walking fat joke from the moment the series began, and this episode's attempt to make drama out of Hurley's mental illness wanders between the tasteful and the offensive, and I struggle at times to tell which is which. Its internal messages are contradictory and its character development is all over the place regarding our central character, who is becoming less and less relatable by the episode. Meanwhile, Michael Emerson toils away in the background, still being brilliant.
      After being fat-shamed by girlfriend Libby, Hurley leads her to his secret stash of food left over from The Swan, which they destroy together. Discovering an entirely new source of temptation in the food dropped last week, Hurley begins seeing a bald figure in a dressing gown - Dave, man who we discover through flashbacks is a figment of Hurley's imagination which encouraged his self-destructive behaviours after an accident which collapsed a stage and killed two people. Hurley is taken in by Dave's schtick and feels guilty about eating and wanting to eat, and is led by Dave to a cliffside where he is convinced that he can kill himself in order to "wake up." Libby comes along at the last second and talks him out of it.
     Mental illness and the public perception of it is a very difficult issue, and one used far too often willy nilly in some armchair-psychologist fashion in order to extract easy drama from a situation. In this episode, we're told that Hurley's continued obesity derives from forced eating brought on by guilt at the deaths of two people in an accident that he believes he caused. This builds and builds to the point where Hurley seriously believes the idea that Libby's affection for him is a sign that the Island is a Life-on-Mars-style coma dream. Hurley never shows any signs of having continued mental illness elsewhere in the series; he returns to the mental hospital upon leaving the island, but that's because he's got magic powers and actually can see dead people. Here it just feels like deliberate manipulation of the issue for cheap conflict.
http://images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20100425120235/lostpedia/images/c/cb/Dave_Leads_Hurley_Cliff.jpg
Dave convinces Hurley to jump. From Wikia
     I really don't know what Dave was trying to acheive. Any comic relief provided by the titular character is underlined by a bitter sting surrounding the treatment of mental illness, and the rest of the episode seems to look in disdain upon Hurley and continually demonises his weight. Hurley is in remarkable shape for someone of his weight - this guy treks across the island and spends all day in the beating sun and goes spear-fishing, this is not a man whose weight is giving him such trouble that he's at any immediate risk. It's a societal thing - although Libby loves Hurley, she still spends a good half of her time indulging his self-loathing and "helping him" by shaming him about eating. Now, being selfish and keeping a stash, that's wrong. But that part of the situation is never actually mentioned.
     And that was just it. Dave offended my sensibilities, yeah, but beyond that the plot just felt lazy. If you ignore the heaps of subtext, then it's easy to see the various ways in which Dave's personality compliments and mirrors that of his progenitor, and the way that everything is shot to allow Dave's unreality to come as a genuine reveal at the episode's mid-point is fairly impressive. But I do not ignore heaps of subtext, and I can't ignore the fact that when you look at this episode from an external standpoint, it doesn't have many nice things to say about mentally ill people. And that's something that marks the episode down in my estimations, no matter how good it may be technically.

Thanks.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Review: Ghost World

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c3/Ghostworldposter.jpg
From Wikimedia
Ghost World
2001, Dir. Terry Zwigoff, Written by Daniel Clowes. Written 25/4/14.

Teenage cynicism. It's not surprising that we all face a part of our lives in which we question the world around us to the extent that we doubt that anything good will come of our endeavours. Much like it's 90's colleague Daria over on MTV, Ghost World, adapted from the graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes, follows two teenage girl who embody the deadpan cynicism often associated with the teen demographic - taking the time to, of course, deconstruct those associations and examine them for all of theirt worth. At it's heart it's a film about loneliness and disconnect from society, but it's also a fantastic look at all sides of teenage mindsets without doing much stereotyping.
     Having just graduated from high-school, eternally-deadpan friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are planning to get a house together, having chosen not to go to college. While Rebecca is work conscious and has a workable if not that promising idea of her future, Enid is a dreamer whose abrasive personality disconnects her from almost everyone around her - everyone, that is, except Rebecca and Seymour (Steve Buschemi), a lonely jazz-fan who the two meet when Enid decides to prank him by answering his desperate lonely hearts ad and then standing him up. Enid begins to obsess over Seymour, to the point that she and Rebecca's friendship slowly disintegrates - meanwhile, Seymour gets into a relationship and she can't seem to cope. After a misguided one-night-stand with Seymour, Enid makes the choice to run away for good, with her fate left up to the viewer.
     The film uses Enid and Rebecca to contrast stages of maturity and development. The start of the film sees Rebecca as more dismissive and irreverant than Enid, but as the film develops she is the one who develops. Enid stagnates; she never tries to connect with the people around her, instead dismissing the entire human race as beyond her ken and blaming them for her isolation. This is also seen in her remedial art class, where the teacher is a comical figure who is more obsessed with deep, abstract art rather than other, less pretentious forms of expression, culminating in her borrowing a racist caricature as a "statement" on racism which leads to any small hope of a career being removed along with it. It's quite interesting to look at the reactions to this film; a lot of the audience left the film not just invested in Enid's story, but deeply in tune with her views of the world. (Hint: you're not supposed to share Enid's views about the human race.)
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Enid and Seymour are bonded by obsession.
From videovortex
     Part of the film's key statement is to take this deadpan attitude and show how it is fundamentally a great exaggeration, to the extent that Enid cannot really operate. She believes that the adults around her are useless, that society can only bring her sadness; yet society keeps trying to help her. She's on the scholarship but she fucks it up by being ridiculously insensitive, she rejects a pretty decent job offer from her step mother, and she completely fucks up her friendship with Rebecca due to her obsession with Seymour. (There are also some minor characters that steal the show a scene at a time, but they're more for window-dressing.)
     Ghost World is an assault on its premise - and one that's done in a thoroughly world-shattering way. Enid and Rebecca are both parodies and accurate representations of the attitudes they embody - such paradox is usual when it comes to matter of the teenage persona. At the same time, we're forced to examine what society does to people - both in the expectations that are put on Enid and Rebecca in their slow road to adulthood, and in the loneliness which Seymour feels due to his obsession and anger. It's quite telling that just as Seymour explains this to Enid, she can't see those same properties in herself and her obsession with him. The fact that we can is the reason for this film's tremendous success, even if it makes you examine a few uncomfortable home truths.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK:We learn about the fabled Leopard Shark in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Review: Voyager 2.20: Investigations

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Hating Neelix keeps me young and fresh. From Wikia
Star Trek Voyager - Season Two, Episode Twenty - Investigations
Written between 21st August and 14th October 2013 (Mainly on the latter.)

Voyager's writers did their best over the years to make me hate a certain Mister Neelix, a character whose boundless annoying enthusiasm, nosiness, cowardice and general stupidity have led Voyager both in and out of universe into a world of pain. However, despite the fact that this arc-centric episode places him at the very centre of what's going on, it works somehow. Mainly because, apart from a few agonising scenes here or there, the focus is very niftily shifted onto those running plotlines we've been wondering about - Jonas talking to the Kazon in secret, and Tom Paris acting like a douchebag for no appreciable reason.
      Neelix launches his cheesy daytime show, which leads Harry to tell him about the power of "real journalism". Stumbling upon something he wasn't supposed to stumble upon, Neelix uses his show to advertise the fact that Tom Paris, after a month or so of behaving weirdly, has been sent off the ship to work on a Talaxian Mining Colony. After a moving edition of his show saying goodbye, Neelix finds planted evidence that Paris was a traitor, leading Janeway to clue him in on the real plan, which was to allow Paris to be captured by the Kazon in order to allow him to find the spy currently operating aboard Voyager. Of course, they find that it's Michael Jonas - he cocks up, and Jonas ends up getting incinerated by accident. Tom is back on good terms, the spy is gone and Neelix gets to claim all the credit for it.
      "A Briefing With Neelix" is endlessly crappy in all of its incarnations, with Neelix' blundering both playing into the crew's master plan and, in the true Neelix style, hindering it at every step. In this interim where I've not been writing much, I've been watching some more of Deep Space Nine, and compared to the more serious atmosphere over there, Voyager's second season feels laughably trivial. We're supposed to be feeling the strain of the continued battle with the Kazon, of a crew still coping with being on the other side of the Galaxy. It still feels far too early for everyone to feel so acclimatised to their new environment, and Neelix's cheap and cheerful breakfast show.
Neelix badgers a good character.
     While the culmination of Paris' plot was fairly clever, it did fall into the status quo, with the end result being that the possible character development he could have had has been thrown away for the sake of the plot. Michael Jonas, in his final episode, continues to occupy a cartoon villainy which Voyager is particularly adept at delivering, to the point where there are several scenes in which he can be found rubbing his hands together in glee. It's a neat way to tie everything together, but the overall effect when coupled with the larger role given to that hairy-faced yellow-eyed motherfucker Neelix is greatly diminshed. What should have been a tremendous end to an arc came down with all the epic proportions of a graceful butterfly.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Harry Kim dies again, this time for real. Not that anyone will mention it after the fact. Two Voyagers are caught in a Deadlock.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Review: Lost 2.17: Lockdown

http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20090619022757/lostpedia/images/d/db/2x17_LockeDown.jpg
Locke plans on using a crowbar to open a
nuclear blast door. Clever. From Wikia
Lost - Season Two, Episode Seventeen - Lockdown
Written 5/11/13

How do you capitalise on your show's best asset when at best it's a side-plot that's been happily rumbling along in the background for a month? Well, you shove it to the front, that's what you do, with a few nifty sideplots underneath for packaging, a semi-relating flashback and the overall sense of desperation and sadness that only a John Locke episode can really bring us. That is Lockdown in a nutshell, and while Michael Emerson's performance feels a bit less omigosh amazing for the most part, the relationship between Henry Gale and John Locke continues to be a tragic and interesting one.
     On the Island, and an unsuspecting "Lockdown" event sees Locke and Henry sealed in the habitat room of the Swan, which makes Locke paniccy at not being able to reach the station's apocalyptic timer. He employs Henry's help to try and lift up one of the station's blast doors, but on attempting to get through he manages to become trapped beneath it. Time ticking (as it is in every episode of this season, it seems), he sends Henry through the vents to push the button. Meanwhile, Jack wins the meds back from Sawyer in a game of Poker. And Sayid, Ana-Lucia and Charlie find Henry Gale's balloon. As a mysterious package drops in the jungle, the three return to the Swan and reveal that Henry Gale - the real Henry Gale - was buried underneath that balloon, and that all of "Henry"s protestations of innocence had been lies.
     In Locke's flashback, we saw him attend his own father's funeral before discovering that he had in fact faked his death, and wanted Locke to help him out in a final scam before he left for good. To this end, Locke lies to Helen. Refusing to take a cut of his ill-gotten gains, Locke delivers the cash to his father on schedule, but they're discovered by Helen and she leaves him, tired of the his paternal obsession and the destructive effects it had on their relationship.
     Now, it's been a good three months or so since my last Lost review, so I'm probably not in the hokey pokey immersive mood that I usually am. I get that. But Locke's outspills of depressing durges usually incorporate some element of tragedy or catharsis or something that I can grab a hold of. And there's actually quite a lot of that going on at the moment - Henry (hereafter called Ben because I keep defaulting to it and fuck you it's my blog I'll spoil if I want to) is manipulating him into being standoffish towards Jack and feeling like he's being cuckolded, while he faces constant doubt over whether the timer in the Swan is real or just another pipe dream. But the episode doesn't focus on any of that - rather, it's a very, very elaborate-feeling setup for one simple revelation - that Ben is lying, of course. The episode's method of building up the "Henry Gale" persona until it's almost a certainty and then smashing it from beneath your feet probably works well when you don't know who he is, but I'm forever lost in the weary land of hindsight.
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Anthony Cooper is more of an asshole than Jacob,
and that's really saying something. From Wikia
     Locke's dilemma in Orientation was quite well developed, with Locke being unable to reconcile his desire for affection (both parental and romantic) with the loathing and indignation that he held for his father. This episode has that too, except in nowhere near as clear a fashion, meaning that we can do nothing but blame Locke for the stupid shit that he does in this episode. When the Mafioso guys turn up on his doorstep, he should have pointed them towards the bank vault and told Helen the absolute truth from the off, instead of lying out of a lingering sense of misplaced loyalty to the man that ruined his life twice already and will continue to do so twice more before this show's end.
     I think in my head I hyped up Lockdown to be a bit more than it was. It introduced a few more elements to the series' mythology and it finally settled the debate surrounding the honesty of Henry Gale in the only way that a series like lost conceivably could and carry on the mystery. While its revelations were grand and well done, for whatever reason the characters were working on clockwork and outside of the interactions between Jack and Sawyer, there was very little at stake in terms of character development or progression - which, if I remember rightly, is one of the things that Lost should be good at.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: We related Hurley's obesity to mental illness because this show likes picking on fat people, in Dave.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Review: Voyager 2.19: Lifesigns

The Doctor studies Denara's sick body.
Star Trek Voyager - Season Two, Episode Nineteen - Lifesigns
Written 12/8/13

Romance is a difficult genre to get right. The way that people are paired up in fiction is a tricky process and it's not easy to characterise one-episode guest stars to the point where them having a relationship with your already-developed main character feels realistic. This is the first real case of a one-off romance in Voyager, with our guest character being the dying Vidiian woman Danara Pel. The question is, does the episode manage to pull of a fair romance without it feeling forced?
     Voyager comes across a shuttle, empty but for a dying Vidiian woman. The Doctor does his best, putting her body into a coma and then placing her mind in a hologram of her own healthy body so he can communicate with her. The result is a hologram of Vidiian scientist Denara Pel, who becomes attatched to an oblivious Doctor within record time. The Doctor himself, while completely clueless on how to express it, falls in love with her, and rom-com misunderstandings follow. Eventually they are happy together, but Denara doesn't want to go back into her original body and so tries to halt The Doctor's treatment. The Doctor convinces her that it's better to live a longer life, because he'll love her no matter what she looks like, and that even though she'll have to return to her home planet, they still have two weeks left together.
     You know my attitude towards romances. They're not very interesting to talk about, really. I did think the romance in this episode was done well - Denara being attracted to the Doctor's wealth of medical knowledge and skill as well as the compassion which led him to give her a healthy appearance once again, while The Doctor being attracted to someone with the same physical limitations as him who shared and appreciated his profession. I think there was also an element of god-to-honest awe there for both of them - for Denara, it's the thought of someone looking past her usual appearance and then giving her the normality that she always craved, while for him it's his first crush ever and it wasn't even in his programming to be able to feel that way.
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Two holograms in love. Aww.
From jeffords
     There was a secondary story that followed a number of recurring plot points from the past few weeks. Tom Paris' repeated tardyness at the Bridge (last seen in Dreadnought) led to him having an angry altercation with Chakotay that resulted in him being stripped of his duties as pilot for the time being. Jonas also got another scene talking to the Kazon (which have been identical these past two weeks) in which Seska revealed her end-of-season gameplan to take over Voyager and use its infirmary to have her baby. Compared to the first season, this feels a lot mroe devoted to its multi-episodic storylines and does, if I'm honest, make the season feel a lot more whole. (Even if at least one Jonas conversation is stripped from canon thanks to being part of Threshold.)
     Lifesigns was an entertaining 45 minutes with very little new to say apart from the fact that The Doctor can very easily go from being Forest Gump to being Casanova in terms of romantic prowess - thanks, of course, to the fact that he can just download more shit to be getting on with. It was an okay relationship and here or there it had some vaguely positive things to say about relationships and getting over people, but there was no drama, no tragedy. The Doctor may have learnt to understand what it feels like to be happy, but frankly, happiness is easy. Not to be too depressing, but what we needed was some Loss. And Loss was sadly quite absent.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Jonas gets found out and shit hits the fan in Investigations.