24 June 2015

Suddenly Human

Episode: s4, ep 4

What Happens
The Enterprise follows a distress signal to a dangerously damaged ship. It belongs to an alien race who look human besides head-ridges and whose name begins with 'T' and ends with 'ian', making them indistinguishable from most of the other alien races whose names I haven't bothered to remember. Seriously, paint them an unusual colour or something! There is no visual hook for me to describe them by. Anyway these boring-looking aliens used to be enemies and this exact set up was often a trap. Despite this an away team including the First Officer, the Chief of Medicine and the Chief of Security beams over. They find 5 youths suffering injuries from an engine malfunction and beam them straight to sickbay. Turns out one of the youths is a human teenager.
The boy is called Jono and believes he's a boring-looking alien when in fact he's a human. He won't respond to Crusher or Troi and only settles down when Picard arrives. It turns out Jono is Jeremiah Rosa, son of two colonists who were killed during an attack by the boring-looking aliens. His grandmother is an Admiral. Crusher notices injuries in the last few years and fears he might have been subject to abuse. Everyone agrees that Jono should be taken by Star Fleet and returned to human society. Troi tells Picard to bond with the kid and he reluctantly agrees, eventually letting Jono stay in his quarters.
A boring-looking alien warship arrives to collect the youths, Picard sends the 4 over but says they're keeping Jono. The boring-looking alien Captain says that Jono is his son. Everyone decides this can't be right because apparently mixed families aren't a recognised thing. Picard stalls, Crusher suggests caution and Jono is allowed a supervised visit with his father. He says that the injuries are a natural part of being a young man in the competitive environment of the boring-looking aliens. The senior crew continue to do all they can to convince Jono that he is human and humanity is great. Telling him about his dead parents makes Jono experience distressing flashbacks. Receiving a message from Admiral Grandma doesn't convince Jono. Picard bonds with him over sport then they meet up with Riker and Wesley. Jono laughs when Wesley gets ice cream in his face. They think they're close to convincing him.
That night Jono stabs Picard in the chest. The boring-looking aliens send more warships and the Captain demands the return of his son or war will resume. Riker tells boring-looking alien Captain that Jono is in custody. Picard, who is soon patched up, asks Jono why he did it. Jono is deeply conflicted; when he had fun with the humans he thought he was betraying his father and his culture. He attacked Picard so he would be put to death. Picard recovers enough to go to the Bridge just as the Enterprise is facing off against warships. He tells boring-looking alien Captain that they were wrong to ignore Jono's feelings. He will be sent back to his home and his father.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard is in full 'get off my lawn you kids' mode at the start of the episode, shouting at the youths to be quiet. The cacophony they were making was actually a tradition of their people and I suspect that if they'd been adults Picard might have been more diplomatic about shutting them up. He is aghast when Troi suggests that he should try bonding with Jono, but accepts that the kid's disdain towards women prevents Troi from doing it. This seems like precisely the sort of thing he told Riker to deal with when they first met. I'm not sure why Picard let Jono stay in this quarters, except perhaps that he wasn't sure what else to do. I think he regrets it very quickly when Jono starts touching his things and playing loud music that isn't to Picard's taste (again not a youth thing but a cultural thing). Picard's awkward speech to Troi is hilariously unconvincing suggesting either that his speeching powers only work when he's being spontaneous or that Troi is immune to them and we're seeing the scene from her point of view. She asks him about his own childhood and it sounds like he didn't interact with other children much then, being too focused on his aim of being a Star Fleet Captain. Having seen his family home 2 episodes ago one wonders whether that was the furthest thing he could imagine from being a Luddite vineyard owner, as his father must have been.
Later in the episode Picard moves from 'get off my lawn you kids' to 'understanding mentor' via 'diffident uncle'. Seeing that Jono is having strong feelings, and deciding he doesn't want to deal with them, Picard introduces Jono to the traditionally acceptable outlet for male emotion that is sports. (I assume, I'm neither male nor into sports so this assumption is based entirely on observation.) He bonds with Jono over a game of future-racquet ball (is racquet ball basically squash?) and then takes him to 10 Forward where they sit with Riker and Wesley in an obviously contrived and very weird male-bonding double date. All is proceeded as planned, until the kid stabs Picard in his sleep.
At least at the end Picard realises what had been obvious all along: that he and his crew had unthinkingly taken a child from his family and his culture. They decided they knew what was best for the kid, plotted to coerce him into their way of thinking and acted as though it was all in the child's best interest. The show doesn't draw any explicit parallels (the kid is blonde and his father is a pinkish boring-looking-alien), but this is something that haunts human history and affects societies even today. Picard's realisation is not accompanied by an apology.

Doctor Doctor
I'm not sure how Crusher knows Jono's name when she also says he won't talk to anyone, but that's a minor niggle. It's quickly apparent that the patriarchal society Jono comes from means he (and presumably those other kids) won't take Crusher seriously. She can't like that but her focus is ensuring they're healthy so she doesn't let it stop her working. Her analysis of Jono shows old injuries and she's the one who brings up the possibility of abuse. I wonder how different this episode would have gone without the abuse concern, we're meant to think that the kid is being saved, tricked out of looking for moral grey areas.

Klingon Warrior
Worf interacts with Jono only briefly. Jono assumes the humans have captured Worf too, and is surprised to find that Worf is there willingly and taking orders from a woman. The boy claims he's no more human than Worf is, and Worf tells him he's confused. It's sort of a nice moment, but then Worf is barely in the episode again. It's a shame because the parallels between Worf and Jono are many and obvious. Jono's origin is practically the same as Worf's and whenever the crew were discussing the situation I wondered whether someone would ask Worf his opinion, or whether Worf would speak up with his own thoughts on this situation that is basically his life! I guess they didn't want to actually explore the ambiguity of the situation during the episode or it would have robbed Picard of his big realisation at the end.
I did consider that boring-looking-alien Captain taking little Jono was very similar to Sergey Rozhenko taking baby Worf, the only difference being that the Rozhenko was a third party in the conflict whereas the Captain was a combatant and did it according to his own customs. No better way to make a character seem unreasonable or suspect than by giving them unfamiliar customs (I know this isn't the point of Trek, but I still think it happens). Did the Rozhenkos contact Star Fleet or the Klingon Empire about finding Worf's family or returning him to Klingon society? I know Worf's supposed to be the last of his family (except his secret brother, shhh), but there must be maternal relatives or distant cousins who could have taken him in. I know family (presumably of the biological kind) is important to Klingons, but equally a warrior culture which is big on feuds must have societal provisions for orphans. His secret brother (shhh) was raised by family friends so it's not like blood is everything.

Counsellor Pointless
Troi's role is a bit mixed here. She's the one who suggests building trust with Jono and introducing him gradually to human culture, rather than snatching him away from the only home he can remember. That said she also seems to be all for taking him away away from the boring-looking-aliens eventually. She's from a mixed family, her background is more peaceful than Jono's (and Worf's) but you'd think she'd understand the benefits of a child being part of two cultures. Can't she tell that leaving his home is not what Jono wants? Also, can't she tell whether Jono has experienced abuse. Even if he doesn't think of it as out of the ordinary, surely she could sense if he was afraid of his father? Again this is the kind of exploration that would rob Picard of his epiphany, so we don't get to see it.
The whole anti-women thing gets Troi out of the way so Picard is forced to step in. It also means we aren't sympathetic with the boring-looking-aliens. Troi's insistence that Picard take responsibility for Jono has some amusing outcomes, and we hear about Picard's odd, lonely childhood. Troi's the one who compares dealing with Jono to parenting, not something Picard's ever shown much interest in. I don't think it would have been difficult to get someone else to care for the boy, but I think Troi wanted to shake up Picard's routine a bit. After all she's up on the Bridge helping him out with stuff all the time, probably wanted some time to actually counsel people.


Staff Meetings: 3
1. Jono's DNA reveals that he is Jeremiah Rossa, grandson to an Admiral whose other relatives have all died in conflict. Troi advises Jono must connect with humans in general before he could possibly be returned to his family and assigns it to Picard as he's male and the only person Jono has listened to so far.
2. Picard tries to convince Troi that he shouldn't take responsibility for Jono because he's not good with children and never has been (even when he was one). Troi encourages him but is clearly in her role as Counsellor (as opposed to being his PA) because she doesn't give him the option to refuse.
3. Crusher, Picard and Troi discuss whether Jono should see his father, what is best for his emotional health and trust building with humans, and what is most diplomatic seeing as they're in boring-looking-alien territory.

Meeting Addendum: Troi and Picard are supposed to be supervising Jono's meeting with his father, just in case there is abuse. Crusher points out that abusers can have subtle influence on their victims, which is valid. So Troi and Picard stand at the opposite end of the room and stare at the wall, supervising nothing. While I appreciate that having them hover over things would have been dramatically a bad choice this doesn't really feel like a supervised encounter. I guess Troi would've said if she's sensed anything bad, though she doesn't tell anyone she sensed good stuff either.

Won't Somebody Think of the... Oh wait, that's kind of the point.
An example of how thinking about the children can still mean things go wrong. Everyone involved believes they are acting in Jono's best interests, but they are blinded by their arrogant assumption that their way is the right/only way. The concern about abuse is valid and so caution makes sense, but that doesn't entitle them to try and manipulate the kid either. Telling him the truth about his origins is fair, but that doesn't mean they should necessarily bring Admiral Grandmother into the situation before Jono's made a decision about his future. The episode doesn't resolve how Jono will cope with his resurfacing memories; what will happen with his much-bereaved grandmother (does he have her number? could they exchange emails for a while?); whether Jono will decide to explore his human background, and whether he will be allowed to. It's important stuff but outside the scope of this episode.

The End
Jono says goodbye to Picard and finally takes his gloves off, allowing himself a touch an 'alien', acknowledging Picard as like him. He also touches forehead with Picard, a custom of the boring-looking aliens, whose culture he's still part of.

7 June 2015


Episode: s4, ep 3

More Brent for your buck.

What Happens
A child is told off by Riker. While his parents were absent he played on prank on his little brother, Enterprise rushes him to a medical facility. He is unsurprisingly reluctant to forgive his brother. Data stops talking mid-sentence, twitches a little, goes to the Bridge and blankly commandeers the Enterprise. He gets everyone else off the Bridge by shutting off the life support, impersonates Picard's voice to access command functions and cuts the rest of the ship off from the Computer. Down in Engineering Geordi and Picard don't know what's happening or where they're now going, all they can do is deactivate the transporters.
tricking the little boy into thinking he had killed him. The boy ran and hid, then ate some fruit with parasites that made him dangerously ill and really infectious. The younger brother is stuck in quarantine under Dr Crusher's care as the

When the Enterprise gets to where Data is going he sets up forcefields to follow him to the transporter room, making it impossible for Security to get to him. In the transporter room he traps Riker and O'Brien in a transporter and beams down to a jungle planet. He goes into a cluttered workshop/laboratory and meets an old man who reawakens Data to himself. This is Dr Soong, the scientist who created Data. He was thought to have died on the colony where Data was found, but he escaped before its destruction. He's lived in hiding for years, but kept an eye on Data's exploits. The pair ask about each other and Soong is confused about Data's choice to enter Star Fleet. Then Lore -the android created before Data- arrives unexpectedly.

On the Enterprise Geordi uses the quarantine field around the sick child to deactivate the forcefields Data put around the Bridge. They still can't do much and time is running out for the little boy. Geordi suggests they may be able to put the Computer in training mode and use something in the transporter to convince it that they're Data and beam after him to find out what's happening. On the planet Lore is angry at Dr Soong and prepares to storm out, but Soong announces that he's dying. Data warns Soong that Lore can't be trusted, and mentions his murderous tendencies. Soong feels guilty about dismantling Lore and didn't know he'd been reassembled or he'd have helped him. Soong says that Lore is not superior to Data, then reveals an emotion chip he made just for Data so he can integrate better. Lore is resentful and while Soong is napping he deactivates Data and swaps clothes with him. After Soong has installed the chip Lore reveals the switch, attacks Soong then beams away.

An away team arrives, reactivates Data and demands to know what's happening. Soong tells Data how to access his suppressed memories and Data apologies for the inconvenience he caused to the Enterprise. Despite the urgent time limit Rker allows Data a moment alone with his father. Data says he cannot mourn him, but he tries to be comforting as Soong dies.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Here Riker fulfils the function Picard set him when they first met, of dealing with children so that the Captain doesn't have to. Riker formally reprimands the boy for playing his cruel prank, which does seem to impress the guilty child sufficiently. This is the main background we get about the incident. I wonder how often Riker has to pause his duties to tell off children? I get the impression this is unusual in its seriousness.

Does Not Compute
I know a big part of Data's stated characterisation is that he doesn't have emotions, but as I've said here before, he sort of does. It's more that his emotions are mild and he doesn't acknowledge them as such. This episode gives us a truly emotionless, characterless Data, performing with machine efficiency as he commandeers the Enterprise and goes to Dr Soong. He says and does nothing that isn't entirely necessary to his goal. It's scary that what makes Data an individual can be overridden so completely. This is what makes him non-human, not his failed attempts at understanding humanity. Data's defining personality trait is curiosity and when he encounters Soong he experiences that strongly and asks him questions about his creation. After Lore's arrival Data learns that his brother previously lied about their respective natures. Lore is not superior. It takes Data a few tries to actually process this revelation, seems like a fairly emotional reaction to unexpected parental validation. Data feels concern about Lore attacking Soong, and about Soong making him delay the Enterprise. He tells his dying father that he can't mourn him, again underestimating his own emotional capacity. Though I suppose that if he mourns Soong in the way he mourns Lal he'll never mention him again.

Soong expresses curiosity about Data's choices. He wanted Data to go into cybernetics, because why shouldn't your robotic children follow in your footsteps? Data completely fails to mention Lal, even though she's relevant to the conversation. Soong would view her as his granddaughter and an impressive next step in cybernetics (self-replication), even if she didn't last long. I guess they really are never going to mention her again. Soong feels fatherly affection and responsibility towards both Data and Lore, and is greatly regretful that he didn't do more for Lore. He ignores Data's warnings that Lore is dangerous, even though I'd assume that was the reason he dismantled Lore in the first place. Though given his behaviour I suspect Soong leans towards amoral. It seems odd that Soong can't tell them apart, they may be identical but if anyone can tell the difference it should be their father-creator. Soong acknowledges that Data's lack of full emotions is a handicap, which is why he called Data in for an emotion chip upgrade. As Soong is dying he acknowledges that Data will mourn him in his own way, suggesting the old man is more aware of Data's capacity for feeling than Data himself.

Lore is sarcastic, angry and mocking, just like in his first appearance. His arrival is unexpected and he's ready to storm out, until he hears his father is dying. This upsets Lore, who quickly goes into denial about it. It is one of the few genuine moments we get from Lore that is free from bitterness. Soong reveals that the androids are identical besides some programming, I guess Lore got all the murdery jerk programming. Lore shows resentment and bitterness towards his father and snaps at Data (though I could see that Data was being irritating). Though he does seem sort of pleased or at least interested in Data getting emotions and suggests Data might be able to understand or forgive him. Despite this he impersonates Data to get what he wants, this time the emotion chip. It's not clear why Lore even wants it, he already has emotions and none of them seem good. I guess he just wants what his brother is getting, a typical sibling response. The chip wasn't made for Lore and Soong is alarmed at what it'll do, but we don't get to see that. Lore has installed a transporter in his thumbnail, which is really useful. I wonder if Data was more willing to embrace his android nature whether he would get some cool upgrades, like laser eyes or something?

Doctor Doctor
Crusher looks after the little quarantined boy. Keeping his spirits up with jokes as well as monitoring him in his isolation unit. Like the other adults she is keen to encourage reconciliation, even though I feel like the younger kid deserves some space for his anger. He speaks eloquently about his situation for one so young, and makes clear that he is not ready to forgive, regardless of whether it suits others that he do so. He's also aware that he might die, which is sad. When the power from the medical quarantine forcefield is used to undo Data's ones Crusher sits with the boy the whole time, even though it's very dangerous. Part of me thinks maybe she should be wearing a bio-hazard suit or spacesuit, but I guess that would worry the kid and her goal is to reassure him despite the danger.
Crusher mentions April Fools, which got me wondering do they still have April? Everything seems to be in stardates and you can't really have months in space. Maybe it still happens on Earth. Has this kid ever been to Earth? He seems pretty embedded in the Star Fleet system.

Security Breach
Maybe put a firewall on the android. Not the first time it's a problem, won't be the last. Might not have helped in this case as Soong's homing beacon was part of Data's programming and he presumably has the IP address and all the passwords. But still, it's best that people/entities/weird-space-things don't remote-access a senior crew member.

This episode reveals major issues with the Computer/Ship setup too:
1. Don't let anyone casually shut down life support where there are people. Surely this should need more than a few button pushes? Maybe it should be locked to Captain-only authorisation? Or maybe two senior crew members have to give the order?

2. Voice commands are a security nightmare. Data convinced the Computer he was Picard by voice alone. Not the first time this has happened either (Wesley in the 2nd episode, though that was only broadcast, not command). Recording devices exist, as do speech simulators, so that's a problem right there. Maybe have something other than/alongside voice control? Especially as you have to say command codes out loud, where people can hear. What's wrong with keying in a code or a biometric scan or something?

3. Crew location detection should be part of security. Data was able to impersonate Picard even though the Computer must have known that only Data was on the airless Bridge and Picard was in Engineering. It's not like Data took Picard's comm badge (which would've been a nice touch, though I guess it may not have made any more sense). Surely establishing the location of the Captain should be a key part of any automatic security checks done as part of a high-level command changes?

4. Use the forcefields better. I didn't think the internal forcefields could be used the way Data uses them here, because there have been various times before when that would have been useful and no one did it. I'd assumed that level of security/containment tech was a Deep Space Nine thing.

5. Plan for this stuff. They have to ask the Computer to figure out what stun setting can take out Data. Why not use kill? It's designed for biological creatures and Data can be repaired. In Worf's role shouldn't he have a plan for how to take Data out if it comes to it? I mean it's not a happy thought, but Data is stronger/faster/better than everyone else and obviously poses a threat if he malfunctions. Plus it's not as though they've never had to deal with a homocidal android before (Lore, again). I get the sense that Worf is a fairly reactive security chief, and it's not as though he's allowed to act on his more aggressive instincts even when a situation does comes up. Odo would have had a plan.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Riker tells off the kid, revealing the details of the worrying prank incident and it's aftermath.
2. Senior crew discuss how to regain some control of the ship and get to Data to find out what's happening.

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
I would like to take a moment to ask about the situation with these two kids. The younger is nine, the elder is like 13, but they are left on a starship while both parents go on sabbatical? Where have the parents even gone that this was the safer alternative? Are there no relatives or family friends who live in safe, settled places? Maybe these utopic Federation planets we never see. Riker agreed to this on the condition that the children behave themselves, as if saying that has ever made it happen. The prank went badly wrong, but even so the elder kid seems to need a certain level of supervision if this is what he does without it. Plus there no suggestion of punishment. I know he already feels bad but wouldn't a punishment help reinforce things and make his victim feel better? Riker's words suggest that the parents came to him with the idea of leaving their young sons behind, rather than being ordered away. I'm side-eyeing these people so hard. Was anyone else assigned to the boys' care? Are they staying with another family on the ship? Are there teachers/carers/guardians involved? Who knows? Troi seems to be minding the older kid, but is she just his liaison for official stuff? At first I thought they were playing in a holodeck, but if the younger one got an infectious parasite they must have been messing around on a planet. Do kids visit planets unattended? How often does this kind of thing happen? I mean Dr Crusher left Wesley on the Enterprise and it was never made clear who was actually responsible for him day-to-day, but at least Wesley was part of the crew structure and nearly an adult. Seriously Star Fleet is a child protection nightmare.
Picard suggests separating the saucer section to Geordi, a rarity for him. Though given Wesley's shocked reaction doing this at warp is really risky. This doesn't have anything to do with preserving the vulnerable members of the community, they'd be stuck with Data. It's just a way for Picard to get control of part of the ship.

The End
The ship got to a medical facility in time and the boy is still quarantined but is recovering. Data watches as the young brothers play with dinosaur toys he brought from Dr Soong's rooms. Crusher tells Data that brothers forgive, Data considers this. Just in case you hadn't realised that the plotline with the two kids was a metaphor for Data and Lore.

23 May 2015


Episode: s4, ep 2

A really strong emotional episode that deals with the issues Picard and Worf have hanging over them. Not the kind of thing I've come to expect from this show.

What Happens
The Enterprise is being fixed near Earth after the 'Borg incident'. Worf's parents (his adopted, human ones) have requested a visit, Worf seems... displeased. Picard is going to his family home for the first time in 20 years, Troi finds this interesting but says it's understandable after what he went through. Dr Crusher gets a box of her late-husband's things out of storage, including a recording he made when Wesley was a baby, she wonders whether it would be good for Wesley to see it.
Picard encounters his nephew (Rene) and sister-in-law (Marie), whom he has never met before. He and his brother have issues, which makes them hard to be around. Robert (the T is silent) Picard is a traditionalist like Picard senior was and doesn't like technology. Jean-Luc meets up with his old friend Louis who tries to headhunt Jean-Luc to help with a project to raise the floor of the Atlantic and create a new continent. Jean-Luc considers his future while being very stoic and brushing off his brother's rudeness. Marie offers sound advice and tries to stop the brothers from making the atmosphere in the house unbearable.
Worf's adoptive parents, Sergey and Helena Rozhenko, visit him from Russia. They are both very excited and not as reserved as Worf would like. His father was an engineer and wants to look at all the parts of the Enterprise. Both of them are worried about Worf and speak to Geordi and Guinan about him. Worf told them about his disgrace in the Klingon Empire, and though they don't fully understand the implications they know it has affected him badly. There are hints of what Worf was like as a child, and the difficulty of him being raised in a human community.
Picard and his brother get into a fight after Robert tactlessly questions Picard about what he went through with the Borg. They end up mud-wrestling amid the family vines and this releases the pent up tension, allowing Jean-Luc to finally react to the terrible things he was forced to do. Although this doesn't remove all the ill-feeling between them, the pair bond and get drunk together. Jean-Luc decides it is time to return to the Enterprise and Robert is less worried about his son dreaming of following in his uncle's footsteps.
Beverly Crusher gives Wesley the recording his father made and Wesley watches it in the holodeck.

Oh Captain My Captain
The Picard sign for recovery
Picard hasn't been home in 20 years, and while Star Fleet can mean people are away from home for a long time it's clear that this absence is unusually long. His talk with Troi reveals time has passed while ship and Captain have been recovering. Picard's physical recovery seems to have been smooth, but psychologically there's still work to be done. He mentions nightmares, but says they've stopped, and it sounds like Troi has been working with him in her Counsellor role. He's grateful for her help, but also dislikes her being analytical and I can only imagine he was a difficult patient.
Jean-Luc has never met his sister-in-law or young nephew before, though Marie has kept up communication with him. My mother is ten years younger than my uncle, and she says she never felt like she knew her brother well until she got to know him  through his wife. This isn't the same situation, but it made me think of that. Jean-Luc is friendly to his nephew, for all his claims of not being good with children he develops a rapport with the boy, but his relationship with Rene only appears a little. Rene is a symbol of the future of the Picard family.
Jean-Luc and Robert have a fraught relationship which involves resentment, jealousy and bullying, as well as the spectre of their father whose attitudes were a lot like Robert's. At first Robert seems grumpy and the issue appears to be his distrust and fear of technology. His brother flies a starship and he may not have electricity (the lighting might have been electric but nothing else was, the house looked a century old now, in the future it must look ancient -no wonder his poor wife has asked about getting a replicator). It's soon clear that their different lifestyles and how they got on with their father aren't the only issues at play. Robert behaves like a dick, and though Jean-Luc tries to be a polite guest at first he soon rises to his brother's taunts. The pair argue and accuse over long-held feelings and end up in a brother-on-brother mud wrestling fight. This seems to be what Robert wanted -though I certainly don't think think that justified saying Jean-Luc deserved what happened to him, nor am I entirely convinced that this was all some cunning plan of Robert's to get his brother to open up. Then again it's very easy to get personal when arguing with siblings. I have no trouble believing Robert bullied Jean-Luc. Much as I dislike Robert and his attitude, as an eldest sibling who didn't rebel against parental values and who experienced a certain amount of jealousy growing up, some of the stuff he says rings true. The wrestling stops with both brothers laughing at themselves, then Jean-Luc starts crying and grimacing as he finally confronts what the Borg did to him, and what they made him do to others. On his mud-covered face the smiles and grimaces form the same mouth-shape, but are so different in context. Both actors deliver excellent performances so the emotions feel very authentic.

Like Capt Picard his entire family seems French but sounds English (the actors are all British). They live in Le Barre in North-east France and grow wine in the traditional way. My earlier theory of Britain conquering France or France conquering Britain, leading to a blending of the cultures, is neither proved nor disproved by this episode.
Rene, Marie and Robert (pronounced Ro-bear) all have English accents, but their names are pronounced in the French way and they use occasional French words (Salut!). Towards the end the two brothers sing drunkenly in French. When saying goodbye (not au revoir) the adults all kiss each other on both cheeks, which is definitely not a British thing.
Then there is the confusing case of Jean-Luc's friend, who also has an English accent. His name is spelled Louis according to the credits (which I think of as the French way, though that doesn't always apply), but is pronounced the English way (Lewis) by everyone. I do not know if he is meant to be English or French? I assume French but then why wouldn't everyone call him "Lou-ee"? It is puzzling.
Of course it could be that this is a US show and if you're going to have Europeans speaking in English you'd better have their accents be something close to Received Pronunciation as that's what the viewers expect to hear from this side of the pond.

Klingon Warrior
I think Odo has this same chair.
I like to think they talk about it when
Worf's on DS9.
Worf wants to avoid spending time with his parents, and tries making excuses. Riker doesn't buy it (he had to spend time with his dad, and their relationship is terrible). Worf's parents turn out to be enthusiastic Russians, his father was an Engineer and is happily geeking out about the ship and telling everyone that he has the specs at home. Worf's mother clearly wants to dote on her son, but also knows he won't accept that, so she tries to keep his father in line and stop him from embarrassing Worf. Worf is just embarrassed anyway, aware that his controlled and reserved manner is undercut by his parents excitement. At one point he even tells them this, and his mother acknowledges that they aren't behaving as he'd like them to, but his father points out they're excited. The Rozhenkos tell Guinan that they knew it would be difficult raising a lone Klingon, and that they let him find out about his own culture by himself. He didn't have other Klingons about, but equally they never tried to make him human, and Guinan praises that. It's interesting that as a child he insisted on eating Klingon food, presumably his way of connecting to his identity, and it's nice that Helena learned to cook Klingon dishes for him.
It's Riker who first suggests that perhaps Worf is concerned about his Klingon dishonour, which I wasn't expecting as it happened more than 6 episodes ago and in a different series. Worf tells Riker that only a Klingon could understand his pain, but when Worf isn't present his parents' concern is evident. Sergey should be bursting to ask Geordi about the engines, but as soon as they're alone he wants a word about his son (though we don't hear that conversation). They eventually tell Worf that they know he's troubled but they will support him, even if he finds their support "too human". He admits that he wasn't sure if he wanted to see them, but he's glad they came.
I suspect that Worf has difficulty being in a support network. While growing up he no doubt felt isolated from all the humans around him (even supportive family members) and leaned on his Klingon identity, he often distances himself from stuff he has decided is "human". That said Worf doesn't seem entirely comfortable in Klingon company either, not helped by other Klingons question/taunting him about being too human/soft due to his Star Fleet position. He didn't grow up around other Klingons and most of his Klingon knowledge was theoretical while he was a child. He's not spent much time in Klingon society and so his pain at being dishonourably barred from it must be great.

The Crushers
Near the beginning Beverly Crusher questions whether she should show Wesley the recording of hisfather as she feels he's just starting to get over his father's death (I have no idea how long Jack Crusher has been dead, but I guess Wesley may have been struggling with it more than we've seen). Troi advises that it might be good for Wesley. Near the end of the episode Wesley sees the recording. We don't seen Beverly give him the recording, or talk to him about it. There are no scenes with mother and son together. The Crushers are only shown as a family unit when it is necessary in an episode, otherwise they seem fairly separate.
Jack Crusher gushes about being a new father and how that feels, happy and overwhelming it seems. He's optimistic about the future and also apologises for the absences his work will force upon them (I'm sure the irony doesn't need pointing out). It's sad that this bright and enthusiastic young man is dead. Wesley says goodbye to his father and it is sad. There's not much more to this story. This feels like a sub-subplot, we've seen Wesley's reactions to his father's death before and in more detail. I guess this is nice to have, but unlike Picard and Worf's stories it doesn't feel necessary.

Guinan's Hat: Navy Blue
When Worf's parents are looking at the stars Guinan introduces herself and asks about Worf. She praises the Rozhenkos for they way the raised Worf, even as they protest they didn't do anything special. It's not false modesty on their part, they did what they thought was right, but equally taking in an abandoned child and adopting him even though he is very different from you and your community is quite a thing. They admit that Worf isn't close to them (which is probably part of his distancing thing) but Guinan points out that it may be true on one level, but on another Worf looks to them for home rather than the Klingon Empire. The whole exchange between Guinan and the Rozhenkos is really lovely.

The End
Picard returns to the Enterprise as Worf's parents are leaving. Worf introduces them, perhaps with less trepidation than before, and Picard smiles as he leaves the warm family scene.
On Earth, Rene Picard looks up at the stars and dreams, his father Robert is content to let him

17 May 2015

Women on the Box

I'm going to talk about 3 British programmes that have no speculative elements in them whatsoever. How unlike me. Two of these were broadcast during the blog project and subsequent hiatus, so I'm talking about them a bit late.

Up the Women
The 2nd series was expended to 6 episodes on BBC2 from the original 3 episode run in 2013 on one of the BBC's second-string channels (though sadly it doesn't look like there will be more). I think this is just how the BBC does things nowadays, it was the same with In the Flesh. I remember when everything started with 6 episodes even if you never saw it again (I know to Americans this still sounds tiny, but that's kinda how it is). It's written by and stars Jessica Hynes, who I've always rather liked but now really admire.*

Set in 1910 against the background of the fight for women's voting rights, it is about 6 women (and 2 men) and their varied attitudes to women's suffrage. The first series saw intellectually curious Margaret become impassioned about the fight for the vote and encourage the women of her sewing group to get involved, with varied success and understanding. The second series builds on the existing dynamic with episodes featuring polling day, a visit from forward-thinking New Zealand sportsmen, a closeted homosexual suitor, and a cross-dressing group outing. Even though it's set in a very restrictive and uptight period the comedy is funny and not afraid to be rude. All sorts of topics including sex, marriage, snobbery and women's roles are covered with good humour and some dialogue that made me laugh out loud. It's all played very straight, no nudging or winking, which only makes the jokes more effective in my view.

The thing that really makes this series work so well is the interactions between the characters. Margaret and Helen both see themselves as the leader of the group, though Margaret's sometimes wobbly self-esteem and tendency to overthink stops her from reaching her potential (I feel for her a lot). Helen is usually the antagonist; the prim, controlling voice of the Establishment, but she's often undermined by her libertine mother who's obviously lived a varied and scandalous life. Helen's daughter Emily is also inspired by the cause of women's suffrage, and has a young woman's passion (or maybe she just takes after her grandmother) suggesting more radical action but still having difficulty openly defying her mother, or declaring her feelings for the man she loves. Eva is more interested in her own life and large family than politics, and she may seem like a bit of a ditz, but she means well and can be supportive of her friends. I suspect Eva is a bit of an everywoman character, though I don't know if that was the intention. Finally there's Gwen, the only lower-class woman of the group, a spinster that the others tend to unthinkingly treat like a skivvy, but whose lack of understanding in certain areas is made up for with good grace and occasionally brilliant practicality and enthusiasm. The token man of the group is Thomas, one of the best effeminate -but not camp- characters I have ever seen on TV. There are a lot of qualities Thomas does not have, but he is principled and compassionate. Finally there's Frank, the caretaker of the village hall where the episodes take place, a non nonsense working-class chap who finds the antics of these ladies somewhat perplexing.

Raised by Wolves
A new series to Channel 4, Raised by Wolves is set in a council estate estate in Wolverhampton (a city in the metropolitan county of the West Midlands, which also contains Birmingham, the city where I live). It's about a large, chaotic family, mostly following the mother Della, and the eldest two teenage daughters Germaine and Aretha. There is one boy among the siblings and the laid-back grandfather -Grampy- appears in the episodes too. It's written by Caitlin and Caroline Moran and is based on their own unusual childhood in Wolverhampton.

Eldest siblings Germaine and Aretha are intelligent and intellectual, aware of politics and pop culture, in a way that you don't tend to see in working class people on TV. Where Aretha is already fairly world-weary and able to see past the trappings of modern life, Germaine is keen to insert herself into the role of edgy outsider, even if that's not how others see her. Della is very dry and never afraid to get her hands dirty. There are various scenes of her doing something practical or giving very blunt and un-TV-mother-like advice to her children. She says it like it is: “We’re not southern twats and we’re not northern twats; we’re Midlands twats." I love this sentiment, if only because as a Midlander it's one I've shared for many years (albeit with less twats).

What's good about the show is that it's focused on what it's like to be a teenage girl, in a way you don't normally see. Despite her intelligence Germaine is attracted to a complete lout and is obviously horny as hell. In most teen-based shows girls are the ones to be attained and rarely is any focus given to their experience of hormones or loneliness (though previous Channel 4 show my Mad Fat Diary also did this). It is a balance that has long needed addressing because TV would have you believe that only men are put upon by puberty, lust and frustration, and that's simply not true. The character I most identified with is Aretha, her head in a book most of the time and never keen to participate, she's a young cynic who is dragged into things by her brash older sister and tries to shield the younger Yoko from Germaine's excesses (not that this reflects my life in any way, but I get the character's point of view best). It's very cool to have a show with multiple weird, offbeat female characters. Many shows will have one odd woman (who can range from regular, returner, or cameo) but never before have I seen so many non-mainstream depictions of women on a show, and it's great.

No Offence
A late addition to this post as it is currently airing on Channel 4, with the third episode broadcast on Tuesday. It's also the odd one out as it's not a half-hour sitcom but an hour-long police comedy drama. Although it is another new show that features prominently female characters. Written by Paul Abbott, whose work I've heard about but not seen much of, it is set in a Manchester police station.

It seems to be shaping into an ensemble show, as there's a cast of various characters, but so far DC Dinah Kowalska is a major focus. She's only person whose personal life we have seen, though that may be because in the first episode she takes work home in a very major way. Her potential promotion to sergeant is scuppered by a mistake she makes off duty, but she does set her station on the trail of a serial killer targeting disabled women. The show deals with serious crimes and treats these with appropriate weight, it is likely to be triggery for some people. Amid the serious stuff there is also a lightness of tone which is similar to that found in other workplace comedies, coupled with a very irreverent and sometimes dark or puerile sense of humour. This is largely embodied by Viv Deering, the mouthy Detective Inspector who is one of the most entertaining characters. Here is another definitely odd woman, but again one who is absolutely effective in getting stuff done. Newly-promoted Detective Sergeant Joy Freers is a nervy presence (and even she questions her promotion), but her insights and tactical knowledge prove she has earned her position and she doesn't quail when infiltrating a criminal's home. DC Spike Tanner seems like the traditional copper you get in this sort of show, and his character hasn't been explored much yet, but never at any point is there the slightest sign that he resents having women as his bosses. This is a gritty show, no gleam or glamour of the US-style cops and nothing cosy like the many police-procedural detective stories that already exist.

I haven't regularly watched a British cop show since Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, and it helped that the weird/speculative elements brought them to my attention. There are whole channels of crime/detective dramas from both sides of the Atlantic (and some places beyond), and I've tuned into a few here and there, but never latched on much. No Offence may not have the most original content, but the tone and style of it feel fresh and it's something I intend to keep watching.

* I started this post before her speech at the BAFTAs, now having heard about that I think I might love her just a little bit.

9 May 2015

The Best of Both Worlds Pt 2

Episode: s4, ep 1

This two-parter spanning a finale and a première is a big step up in terms of continuity and intrigue, especially when you look at the transitions between the previous series.* I was expecting to see a space battle, but even without that the pace of the episode is an improvement on many.

The Borg are close and the Admirals are worried, so they send Borg-expert Shelby to the Enterprise. People who aren't Riker are concerned about Riker's career trajectory and he's annoyed that up-and-comer Shelby is interested in his current job. The Borg headhunt Picard by kidnapping him, leaving Riker in command. A rescue attempt fails when it turns out that Picard has been altered by the Borg and is now their spokesperson (called Locutus). Riker doesn't stop to get advice or orders about Picard's situation, he fires on the Borg Cube...
What Happens
The Enterprise's one-shot weapon doesn't work and Locutus reveals the Borg have all Picard's knowledge. The Borg Cube zips away towards Earth. The Enterprise is damaged and can't join the fleet who are prepared to intercept the Borg at Wolf 359. The Admiral gives Riker a field promotion. Riker has a word with Shelby about putting aside their issues and working together with her as his First Officer. Guinan comes to see Riker and explains that she had Picard's ear because of their very close relationship, which she drops hints about. She tells Riker that in order to get through this he will have to let go of Picard completely, especially as the Borg have his knowledge.
The Admiral's comms drop out suggesting the battle isn't going well. The repaired Enterprise pursues the Borg and finds the devastation of the battlefield (battlespace? battlezone?). We don't get to see any of this space battle only the aftermath of broken ships and as the Enterprise remains in hot pursuit, there are presumably no nearby survivors. Riker gives Data and Worf a special assignment then goes to the battle bridge to try and negotiate. Locutus refuses negotiations as the Borg don't want anything and Locutus thinks it's a trick. The saucer section is separated as the Cube and the battle bridge exchange fire, and Data and Worf quietly take a shuttle into the Borg Cube. The Klingon and the android get Picard and beam back to the Enterprise. Locutus points out that removing him changes nothing as the Borg continue Earthwards.
They only have 27 minutes to save the Earth. Locutus is knocked out and taken to Data's lab, where
Data neural links with Picard to access the Borg system. Crusher monitors Picard's life signs, O'Brien monitors Data, and Troi is there to sense what's happening to Picard. Data is able to connect to the Borg system, slowing the advance of the Cube and causing it to attack the Enterprise. Picard himself facilitates the connection for Data and croaks "sleep." The Enterprise is close to being destroyed by the Borg, and Riker is about to ram the Cube when Data realises what Picard is trying to say. Data manages to access a low priority Borg system and puts the Borg in sleep mode, immediately ceasing the attack. Shelby and Worf beam over to the Borg Cube and confirm that their enemies are dormant. A self-destruct system has been started due to the malfunction and though Riker has the option to disarm it he has the Enterprise moved to a safe distance and the Cube explodes.
Picard is quickly returning to his old self. He and Riker share the ready room as Shelby leaves to help rebuild the fleet. Riker is still prickly about his career plans, but he and Shelby have a warmer, more respectful attitude to each other.

Oh Captain My Captain
We see Picard being upgraded by the Borg and it's a creepy scene as he lies expressionless, surrounded by machines that make him more machine-like. Though he never actually uses his laser-pointer headgear or unspecified-tool-arm for anything. The greater concern is that all of Picard's knowledge has been taken by the Borg. Picard's absence hangs heavy over the first part of the episode, it is the main thing Riker deals with. The Admiral has admired Picard since he was a cadet (not in an inappropriate way, it was because of his uphill-running skills) and views the Captain as a casualty of war, never a traitor.
As Locutus Picard is chillingly robotic. At one point Locutus is stomping around sickbay spouting Borg propaganda about their superior civilisation and good intentions. He's knocked out for being insufferable (and to take him to Data's lab). Locutus also says "Resistance is hopeless" suggesting he's understood the corporate message, but has fluffed the catchphrase wording. The images and Patrick Stewart's performance are definitely effective, and on an emotional level taking away Picard works, but I must admit I don't understand why the Borg need a spokesperson. This doesn't seem to be their usual practice, and as they have no concern for the thoughts or feelings of those they assimilate it's an odd move. When Riker tries to stall them by suggesting he prepare Earth for assimilation Locutus says: "Preparation is irrelevant. Your people will be assimilated as easily as Picard has been." Then why have a familiar face at all? These guys barely need to communicate with their victims. I suspect Picard's strategic knowledge made him more valuable.
During the neural link with Data it's clear Picard is under a lot of strain, but he's still there and helps as much as he's able. He reveals that he was conscious and remembered everything he'd done as Locutus, but being Picard he doesn't express weakness in front of his crew.

Riker: lover, adventurer, temporarily senior management
In the previous episode Riker didn't react very well to his sudden command role, but now that it's made official by an Admiral he puts more thought and care into it. He talks to Shelby in Engineering, praising her on her performance and acknowledging that although they haven't got on, he needs her to keep him on his toes. She pushes for the vacant first-officer post and he comments on her ambition but isn't angry when she points out her value at this time. There's no apology, but equally there's no bitching or snideness, both respect each other and have ways of working together in this challenging situation. It's all very mature and professional.
Riker makes clear to the senior crew that he can't replace Picard, but he will do the best he can. Guinan urges Riker to let go of Picard and tells Riker how low morale is. The crew know and like Riker, but they think they're going to die. Riker isn't sure he can save them, but Guinan points out that he needs to be. Just in case we'd believed the odd 'Riker plays things safe' message from the first part Riker comes up with a daring plan to rescue Picard, which is unpredictable in it's lack of logic and a gamble that Picard has enough Borg knowledge to be useful. At the end when it looks like all is lost Riker is ready to ram the Cube with the Enterprise, sacrificing their lives to save Earth and the Federation.

Does Not Compute
Locutus calls Data primitive and obsolete under Borg system, which makes sense coming from a species that enhances itself through cybernetic upgrades to organic beings; androids would seem like a dead end. Still there are no real parallels drawn between androids and the Borg, which I've commented before strikes me as odd. Data has the most equipment and expertise in this kind of thing. It's never said outright but he's probably the only one who can safely link with the Borg, plus being technology himself he probably perceives their systems quicker and more accurately than a human would. He's also the only one strong enough to match enhanced Picard and remove his cybernetic arm thing. Data hacks into the Borg systems to try and plant a command, but this attracts Borg attention. He figures out that Picard's "sleep" isn't request or expression of feeling but a suggestion about using the regeneration cycle, which is controlled by a low-priority, unguarded system. This episode demonstrates that the Borg's only real weakness is bad system infastructure.

Doctor Doctor
Crusher and Data have been working on possible nanite solution to Borg problem, it will take too long for this situation (weeks not hours). It sounds like a really promising place for further study, I am told it doesn't really come up again, somehow I am not surprised. Crusher examines and monitors Picard, seeing how the cybernetic implants are affecting him. She tries to connect with him as his friend, but it only briefly works before Locutus takes over.

Klingon Warrior and Blind Engineering
Geordi isn't in this episode much, and is mostly around as the Enterprise is recuperating from the initial Borg encounter. When Worf arrives in Engineering Geordi is delighted and gets Worf to help with some engine problems as he's "just the man I need." Yeah, Worf -the Chief of Security- is the only person who can help with a crucial engine problem. Certainly none of these engineers who are presumably littering Engineering can help. Again there seems to be an unspoken rift between Geordi and his staff. Riker seems to have considered Worf for a promotion, but as they're going into battle he acknowledges that Worf serves everyone best by staying in his tactical role. Riker talks to Worf about coming up with strategies that Picard won't know, Worf reckons they're fine because Borg have neither courage or honour. He does not elaborate on how he came to this conclusion.

Guinan's Hat: purple
Guianan pops in to see Riker, explaining that she had Picard's ear. She urges Riker to let go of Picard, not just because he's gone but because the enemy have everything he knows. She hints at the depth of her relationship with Picard "beyond friendship, beyond family", and says she's prepared to let him go. She acknowledges that it's harder because he wasn't killed, just taken from them. Riker can't try to imitate Picard, it won't work. He has to put aside his feelings of stepping into a great man's shoes and instead try to beat that great man.
I wonder whether she would have described their relationship to Picard in these terms. The series has not yet covered how Guinan and Picard know each other, leaving her mysterious and intriguing. Based on what I know I suspect that Guinan already knows/has experienced stuff that is in the future of her and Picard (though at this point the writers wouldn't know that, they were just preserving her mystery). It's interesting that Riker both follows and ignores Guinan's advice. Rescuing Picard is in no way letting him go, but equally it's not something Picard would have done at all. Picard would've listened to Guinan in all ways.

Staff Meetings: 1 (no time for more)
Riker tells Worf and Data he considered promoting them, but announces Shelby as his first officer. After their talk in Engineering he defers to her with more respect and grace than he showed in the previous episode. Everyone discusses options, nothing is decided. Riker gives a small speech about how he doesn't have Picard's way with words and can't replace him. He expresses confidence in everyone's ability, then dismisses them without giving any orders or devising a plan. Bet he was kicking himself just after everyone left.

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
Riker goes to the battle bridge, leaving Shelby with the saucer section. This is exactly what you should do before engaging hostile forces, send the civilian population to safety if at all possible. Except that's not what Riker does. (Being so newly promoted Riker hasn't had the memo explaining that the Captain is charged every time the ship separates, which is presumably why Picard hardly ever did it when going into danger.) He only separates the saucer after drawing the Borg's attention and uses it to mask Data and Worf's shuttle. He knows Picard/Locutus is aware of the limited capability of the saucer, and so the battle bridge draws all the attention, and fire. Though there is a moment when Wesley points out the the saucer is a sitting duck. Riker is gambling with the most vulnerable part of his ship and its population, taking away the protection of the battle bridge's weapon's capability.

Death By Space Misadventure
We only see the aftermath of the space battle, but it was obviously a rout. Shelby names three damaged starships, we see many more. The Enterprise doesn't stop to rescue, suggesting there are no survivors there. From the info we get here everyone could have been killed.
I only know that they weren't because I've seen Deep Space 9. There must have been many casualties, the only one I can name is Jennifer Sisko, a civilian married to a star fleet officer. It's worth remembering that plenty of those who died were probably non-combatants.

The End
Picard left alone is still experiencing some physical discomfort, which puts him off his tea. He's gotten some blood back to his skin (or whatever made him pale has been reversed), but he still has some face furniture. He looks out of the window at space and the music combined with his expression shows this is a melancholy moment. He remembers what he did.

I used to work in a building called the Cube (which is not actually a cube). I have seen an article that compares my former workplace to a Borg Cube, I think that has more to do with the name than anything else, but I'll leave you to judge.

* Series 1 had a gripping penultimate episode but a weirdly anticlimactic finale, which did nothing to build on the success of the previous episode and only weakly hinted at an ongoing story. Series 2 opened with a bland episode featuring annoying tropes and ended with a clip show. Series 3 also started with a bland episode, but at least it was an improvement on the series 2 opener.

3 May 2015

Return of the Blog

Hi everybody!

I'd always intended to have a bit of a blogging break after the Agents of Shield postathon. Even allowing for the buffer I managed to build up for parts of that period, a longish post every 2 days is quite a lot of words and time. I didn't actually intend for the break to be as long as it has been. It was good to stop for a bit, and I've been working on other things in that time, but I know it probably looks like I'd abandoned ship. I haven't, it was just extended shore leave.

So what's happening with me?

I recently had a birthday and am now officially Nearly Thirty. This may mean that I'm supposed to make lists of goals and ambitions and such. I'm not going to do that. I can forsee some life changes in the next year or so, and I don't feel that I need to add to that with a list, which I expect would feel artificial.

There are things about myself that I want to work on, but these are the same things I've wanted to work on for some years now. This suggests that I'm kind of slow to change, or perhaps that I'm wary? There is personal stuff that has changed for the better in the last year, but it's not something I want to talk about on the internet. I will say that I've realised that you can change bad patterns you've developed, that the picture you have of yourself when you're young is not set in stone, but sometimes you need help with that.

I'm not always very good at sharing stuff about myself. I'd like to think I can be quite an open person, but that's not something I am consistent about and I'm sure I come across as aloof too. It can take me a while to feel comfortable, but not always, and I don't know which way I'm going to react. I think it's a confidence thing, I tend to assume I'm not particularly interesting and/or that I am somehow burdensome to others. I sometimes also feel like I don't know how to be friend to others and so I hold back or purposefully position myself on the fringe of things, because at least it's familiar there. I suspect this is thinking I should try to change as I'm sure it's holding me back.

Writing-wise I continue to alternate between feeling I have progressed in what I know, and being mad at myself for not doing more. The latter is helpful as long as it encourages me, but unfortunately it can also be really discouraging (at which point the feeling becomes counter-productive). Looking back I suspect I've gotten better at dealing with this too, though it doesn't always feel that way. I have also joined a fantasy writing group that a friend set up earlier this year. It's been interesting and has already proved helpful, so that's a good thing.

What I have definitely learned is that writing a second draft that's a different shape and tone to your first draft feels a lot like writing a first draft again, which doesn't feel like progress. Though alongside this I'm trying to redevelop the research skills I haven't used since I was student. I recently found out that my current job gives me access to a ridiculous number of academic journals, so that'll help. I'm not a heavy worldbuilder, but as I want the setting of my story to be somewhere unlike where I live (and I now have a main character who's a doctor) I do need to at least look up practical details. Hopefully this second draft will have more depth than the first.

Normal service will resume shortly. I will continue to do the TNG posts, as I feel like that's a thing I have committed to. I'll also try to get back into talking about books again, I'm not really sure why I stopped. In the spirit of what I've said above I may even talk about myself a bit more, though already the prospect feels somewhat self-indulgent.

Thank you for reading all the way down here (unless you've cheekily scrolled down, as that is kind of cheating, but I shan't hold it against you).

7 March 2015

The Beginning of the End

Episode: 22

This episode comes only 6 episodes after the The End of the Beginning, suggesting the middle was pretty short.

What Happens
A new employee is shown around Cybertek, an expanding business with a mysterious "incentives programme" that no one says no to. The handlers watch as super soldiers approach the Shield team. Skye activates her trojan horse in Cybertek's systems, while Trip, Coulson and May take on the soldiers. May takes the Asgardian berserker staff from one and uses it to defeat them. Garrett's revival has left him manic, scratching odd patterns on glass and making no sense to anyone besides Raina. He and Raina discuss evolution and the future, she tells Garrett and Ward that Skye is special and will be part of what is coming. Fitz and Simmons are trapped in a container at the bottom of the ocean. Fitz realises that they can't escape and reluctantly tells Simmons when she regains consciousness. With the info from Skye's hack the team breaks into Cybertek; Trip and Coulson steal a vehicle outside and blast a hole for Skye and May to get inside. Skye finds the handlers, says she has a bomb, and all the super soldiers are sent to protect Garrett, leading Coulson straight to him. Quinn is showing military types around, trying to sell the super-soldiers, Garrett arrives, says a lot of weird stuff then brutally kills a general. Fitz and Simmons talk about death then Simmons figures out a way to escape, but Fitz reveals that there's only enough oxygen for one of them. Fitz gets Simmons to take the oxygen and she pulls him to the surface. They are unexpectedly rescued by Nick Fury. Ward confronts Skye, but May attacks him and the pair have a brutal fight. Skye forces the senior handler to take her to the "incentives programme", which is people's loved ones being held in cells to ensure their good behaviour. Coulson confronts Garrett, surprised by his weird talk and super strength, then Fury turns up and joins the confrontation. Skye rescues the incentives and finds Ace, sending a message to Deathlok, who she's been in contact with. With Ace safe Deathlok attacks Garrett. Cybertek is taken down, the soldiers are freed and the tech is seized. Garrett revives and is upgraded by the cyborg machine, but Coulson kills him with the Peruvan 0-8-4. Coulson confronts Fury about what he put him through, Fury concedes the point then charges Coulson with rebuilding Shield as the new Director. The team go to a new secret base where another Koenig welcomes them. Raina visits a shadowy former associate, who is Skye's father. Coulson wakes in the night, sees the scratched pattern Garrett made and does the same thing on the wall.
Coulson's Alive!
Plans breaking into Cybertek, briefs the team in code, which foreshadows what they actually do. He confronts Garrett, unaware that he now has super strength and a weird, pseudo-mystical view of the world. When facing Garrett Coulson and Fury are in synch, angry at his selfish betrayal and confused by his new mania. When Garrett revives and upgrades Coulson kills him without any remorse or concern. Coulson finally gets the chance to confront Fury about resurrecting him and putting him through something that Coulson himself advised against. Fury concedes Coulson's right to his anger, but explains how important Coulson is to him, and to Shield. He makes clear that he counts Coulson as an Avenger and that all the core principles of Shield are embodied within Coulson. Coulson is surprised when Fury tells him to rebuild Shield, but it's been his life so of course that's what he's doing next. Old Shield was big and unwieldy and had bad stuff hidden in its many shadows, but now it can be recreated carefully with good people at its core.

The Cavalry
During the fight in the basement May gets hold of the Asgardian staff, proving the despite being super these soldiers could be better trained. Later she fights Ward, unleashing all the rage she told Skye about last episode. It is brutal, going into a construction area with both using power tools against each other and throwing each other through plasterboard walls. May eventually nails Ward's feet to the floor and roundhouse kicks him a few times. While Coulson is trusted to rebuild Shield Fury trusts May trusted to have Coulson's back.

Grr, Ward
Ward is worried about Garrett's state of mind, he's still loyal to Garrett and is looking for orders or some indication of what's next now that they've achieved what they've been planning for so long. When Garrett suggests Ward can have/do what he wants Ward doesn't seem to understand, he's too used to being a foot soldier. Garrett's weird rambling about the universe makes Ward impatient and he gets angry with Raina for encouraging it. When Garrett rips out part of a general Ward has to lock up the other officials. Ward is sent to deal with Skye, and says some really creepy stuff to her. He tries to taunt May as they fight, it doesn't work. At the end he's captured and can't speak as May damaged his throat, Coulson tells him they're going to keep him locked up and he will have to figure out who he is without Garrett.

Science Hermione and Monkey Boy
Trapped on the sea floor Simmons regains consciousness to find that Fitz has figured things out. He's set his broken arm and created a weak distress signal, though given Sheild's collapse it's likely no one is listening. They can't escape the container, and even if they did they'd be stuck in the ocean. As they discuss their ideas about death Simmons realises they can escape the container using what they have, though then they'll be in the middle of sea. Fitz can only rig enough air for one and insists Simmons take it. She doesn't want to leave her best friend, and he shyly and reluctantly admits his feelings for her. She's distraught at the idea of leaving him, shows affection while crying, but never commenting on what he's said. The situation is so dire and given all that's happening she probably can't fully process what he's said. Fitz forces her hand by igniting the explosive while she's holding the oxygen tank. She grabs hold of him and drags him to the surface with her, even though it's unlikely to do him much good. After Fury rescues them Simmons has to stay in a chamber, she probably has the bends, but she's still able to tell Fury how to track Coulson. This is more than Fitz can do, we don't see him again, but it's clear he's barely survived. As well as possibly having the bends he was likely close to drowning and the ascent won't have helped his broken arm. At the end SImons is reunited with the team at the new base, but it's sad that Fitz isn't there.

Hacker Girl
Raina again talks to Ward about Skye and the whole vague back story that Skye knows nothing about. Raina suggests that Skye could be Ward's and that in some way they're both monsters. Whatever similarity Raina sees between herself and Skye it doesn't stop her from seeing Skye as a commodity. Skye activates her hack while there's fighting all around, and uses it to trace Cybertek and get into Deathlok's feed. Skye rescues the people held by Cybertek, removing their hold over a lot of their soldiers. She talks to Deathlok at the end, he's still reluctant to see Ace wanting to make amends for all the terrible things he did while he was being controlled. Skye is supposed to take him in, but she's more of a liberator and lets him go. As he points out, she has access to his feed and can track him if she wants.

New Boy
Trip scopes out vehicles with Coulson and his grandfather's spy gadgets are used to create a diversion. After Cybertek is infiltrated Trip is kind of sent away to make himself useful and is kinda absence until the last bit.

Weirdness of the Week
Garrett and Raina look at the gravitonium, they both sense something about it and though it was promised to Quinn as payment it seems they have other plans for it. We never get told what those plans are though.
While they're wrapping up Cybertek (with more people than you'd think fallen Shield would have) it's found that the super soldiers can be returned to normal, though they'll be missing an eye. a lot of one-eyed men about.

Villains of the Week
Garrett's reaction to the recreated GH 325 makes him spout a load of weird pseudo mystical stuff, causing everyone but Raina to think he's gone insane. He also draws that writing which has appeared in the show before. He tries to claim kinship with Coulson as they both had the drug, but Coulson seems to have escape without the mania the he reported when suggesting project Tahiti closed down. Garrett was already a murderer but his new weirdness makes him more unnerving and brutal.
Raina's interest has always been people with powers, though she as willing as anyone to use them. She's convinced she had untapped potential, as does Skye, and the thing she wanted to as ask the Clairvoyant is what she will become.
Quinn just wants to make a lot of money and get his soldiers in important places. His sales pitch to the US military is very polished, until Garrett derails things by being first weird and then homocidal.

Garrett (interrupting Quinn's pitch): You hear the dying breath of an old world, general, and a new world is coming. I taste it on my tongue.
General (dubious): This is your strategy consultation?
Quinn: He's part-time

You don't have to call me sir, Coulson. I look like I live under a bridge.

Garrett: You haven't seen the big picture, the big bang, the timeless frozen ocean, but Phil here has. We share a bond. We're blood brothers.
Fury (to Coulson): You didn't tell me he'd gone this crazy.
Coulson: He's really stepped it up a notch.

Garrett: You remember that speech you used to give us, Nick, about how one man can accomplish anything once he realises he can be something bigger? Well now I am
Fury: A part. A part of something bigger.
Garrett: Is that how it went?

Skye reveals that the bomb she's been threatening the chief Cybertek handler with is actually Ace's Hulk toy.

At the new base the team are surprised to meet Billy Koenig, identical to his brother Eric in looks, speech and mannerisms. "Lanyards will be handed out on a case-by-case basis."

The Last Spoiler

The patterns Garrett scratches into the glass seem to be better understood by him than Coulson, who starts scratching the onto the wall. This writing will be a major part of the first part of series 2, all part of the fall out of Project Tahiti.

Ward does kinda figure out who he is without Garrett. Not sure what his plan is (if he has one) but he seems to revert to where Garrett found him 15 years earlier.

4 March 2015


Episode: 21

I know series 2 has restarted in the States, I'm likely going to wait until the UK broadcast. (Why won't they announce a date? It's bad enough they didn't pick up Agent Carter!) I would appreciate no spoilers for the new episodes.

What Happens
With Agent May returned and Maria Hill withdrawing any official support, Coulson briefs his team on their next step using a flip chart in a motel room. Skye's hard drive is in the hands of Garrett and Ward, but if she can plug her flash drive into one of their computers she can hack their systems.  Everything they're facing is connected to Cybertek, so they go after the tech company using Trip's grandfather's old tech. On TV there are news reports of Deathlok killing a Colombia drug lord.There are flashback scenes of Garrett busting a young Ward out of juvenile detention and forcing him to be self-sufficient in the woods. Coulson and May go to Cybertek for an interview, pretending to be scientists with help from Fitz and Simmons. Skye can't hack the system as everything is in physical files, so the agents steal some. The files reveal that Garrett was the first subject in Project Deathlok and is partly cybernetic. Raina has managed to recreate GH 325 using the info on Skye's drive but only has one vial. Garrett is dying and Ward has to temporarily restart his failing tech. The Shield team figure out Garrett is in Havana and track down the barbershop hideout, but it's already been abandoned. Fitz and Simmons find the plane and see the Hydra team preparing to leave. Ward finds them and takes them prisoner on the plane. A flashback shows Garrett telling younger Ward about Hydra and recruiting him to work secretly within Shield. Garrett's systems fail, he's dying and instructs Ward to kill Fitz and Simmons. The young agents initially escape, but Ward traps them in a container and despite pleading ejects it into the ocean. Raina has to inject the GH serum into Garrett's system to save him. In the seemingly abandoned barbershop basement Skye finds a computer and hacks into Garrett's system. The team are surrounded by Centipede super soldiers, one with an Asgardian beserker staff. Ian Quinn approaches US military type in Washington, offering them sell them a small army of super soldiers, Deathlok's high profile activities were an advert.

Coulson's Alive!
Coulson is determined to track down and stop Garrett and Cybertek. Coulson geeks out over Trip's old-school spy kit, he's really into that stuff. A nice, happy moment between him and Trip. Gets into Cybertek playing pseudo-Fitz in the interview, made tricky (and hilarious) by having to ape Fitz's words. Chucks filing cabinet out of Cybertek's window to escape with intel. Realises how long Garrett's been augmented and working with Cybertek. Tells Skye that Fitz's defence of Ward is just what he needs to hold on to.

The Cavalry
May is back on the team and Coulson says he missed her. Coulson and May in the field together are great. She's pretending to be psuedo-Simmons and has a slightly more sensible audio guide. Skye suggests May doesn't feel anything, due to her calm exterior. May makes clear that she is furious about Ward, but she'll save her anger for when it's useful.

Grr, Ward
In prison as a youth for trying to burn down the family home with his elder brother inside, there's no forgiveness from the Ward family. Garrett offers a chance for Grant to escape, though it'll be hard. Ward is left in wilderness to survive, he's angry at Garrett but proves himself and becomes loyal to him. Agrees to be in Hydra. Garrett orders Ward to kill his dog to overcome his weakness, but watching again it seems like he did but I don't think it's confirmed. It's clear that Ward has been helping and maintaining Garrett for years. Even when he's angry at Garrett he's still loyal and scared when it looks like Garrett might die. Killing Fitz and Simmons pains him and (like with the dog) he can't look them while he does it, but he's determined to overcome the weakness their affection brings out in him. It's all pretty twisted.

Science Hermione
Simmons tries to convince Fitz that Ward isn't worth his attempts to defend or justify his actions. When they're captured by Ward, she understands this is bad and accuses him of never caring for any of them.

Monkey Boy
Fitz is now getting on better with Trip, impressed by the old spy tech (though in a more technical and less giddy way than Coulson). He keeps trying to defend or understand Ward's betrayal. He can't accept that a friend would do that and suggests brainwashing and manipulation, though everyone else rejects his suggestions. After being captured by Ward Fitz tries to get through to him, clearly imagining Garrett as the evil manipulator and Ward as his victim. Fitz doesn't understand the extent of Ward's betrayal until right at the end when he's begging for his life.

Hacker Girl
Skye's Trojan Horse needs activating, so computer connected to Garrett's system must be found. When she can't find any digital signals she checks the building's specs and realises something is being protected on the fourth floor. Her skills are of less use when dealing with paper files. Raina asks Mike about Skye and tells Ward that she heard a story that might be about Skye's family. A whole Chinese village killed, Raina's story suggests the baby's parents were the killers.

New Boy
Trip gets his grandfather's old spy tech from his mum. The gadgets hidden in innocent looking objects are treated as an old style of tech. Trip works well with the team, following orders and finding stuff out. He's the one who figures out where Cybertek are hiding.

Weirdness of the Week
Garrett is the original Deathlok and has had cybernetic upgrades since 1990. His work with Cybertek has all been to extend his own life, GH 325 was just the most likely of the avenues he's investigated. The Centipede serum has been all that's keeping him arrive, but his system is so bad it doesn't make him strong. Raina seems disappointed that Garrett doesn't share her interest in powered people, but just wants to preserve himself.

Villains of the Week
Garrett's corrupting/recruiting of Ward is a major focus of the episode. Raina's success in creating a version of the GH 325 makse her one of the most effective of Team Evil. Both Ward and Garrett are unnerved by Raina. Quinn's the charismatic, public face of the enterprise, his ruthless business skills are put to selling their super soldiers to the US military.

Coulson: I'll be damned if I'm gonna let Garrett and Ward get away with murder... and I want my plane back.

After a Cybertek interviewer comments that Hydra scientists tend to be younger Simmons overcompensates over the comms. "May looks barely a day over... thirty. You're gorgeous."

Coulson and May cosplaying as geeks (with additional glasses that their in-house geeks do not wear)
"Does your sweater itch?" "A little."

Coulson: Skye, Trip, get ready for a large file transfer.
Skye: How large is it?
*Filing cabinet is thrown from 4th floor window*