Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Latest Star Trek episodes and more pop culture

"Balance of Terror" pictures. Still one of the best episodes. The Romulan Star Empire is pictured on the map for the first time, and the first mention of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Ever wonder how they make a two-dimensional map of space? Makes me always remember that great line from Star Trek II when Spock says, "His pattern indicates...two-dimensional thinking." Kirk responds with, "Z minus ten thousand meters," referring to the Z-axis.

"Wolf in the Fold" Season 2, episode 15. Space belly dancers! This is the one with Jack the Ripper as the malevolent space entity. Scotty has "fallen under suspicion" for three murders, even though the direct evidence of him being the only one hovering over the three dead bodies with the knife or blood in his hand. Direct correlation with the The Next Generation episode from season one called "Justice" where Wesley has to be saved from the planet in direct violation of the Prime Directive. Kirk says, "If they want to arrest him, try to, even convict him, I have to let them." The only really bad thing about this episode is the Psycho-tricorder that gives a detailed account of everything in a person's conscious or subconscious mind for the last 24 hours. This device, thank goodness, was never used again. Scotty "kills" Lt. Karen Tracy as one of the three victims, although Kirk couldn't know.

"Obsession" Season 2, episode 13. A vampire space-cloud! This episode is kind of like a role-reversal of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Kirk is obsessed with hunting down this strange cloud from his past that decimated the crew of his first deep space assignment, the USS Farragut. He will even withhold important medicines from a colony in order to hunt it down. Neat episode about guilt and recriminations. It opens with no less than three red-shirted crewmen, just waiting to die on the planet's surface. Two die immediately by the strange cloud that sucks red corpuscles from bodies, and another, Rizzo, will die later in sickbay. (One interesting note is that McCoy uses cordrazine, that intense drug that makes him crazy in the classic episode City on the Edge of Forever.) One Deus ex machina is that the new security officer is Ensign Garrivick, the son of the Captain of the Farragut, prompting Kirk even more guilt on this specific mission. They go down to the planet again, with four more obvious cannon fodder red-shirted crewmen. One more dies and one more placed in critical condition (his status is never updated). Later, when they chase the cloud through space, one more crewman dies and another is put into critical condition (again, no status update). So, if those critical conditions stabilized, I place the deathcount of red-shirted crewmen in this episode at 5. Good episode though.

"A Piece of the Action" Season 2, episode 17. One of the great episodes if you go into it with that tongue-in-cheek attitude. The Enterprise visits a world that was previously visited by the USS Horizon from a time before the Prime Directive. They inadvertantly left a book on Chicago gangs of the 1920s, published in 1992. Kirk must retain control. One of these reasons to slip into this episode in the right mindset is the amount of times Kirk and his men get captured. Starfleet, phasers and all, getting overtaken by bad mobsters with tommy guns. It's like they forget that their phasers can stun. I would love to see the obvious sequel to this, because McCoy forgets his communicator. The planet because of their susceptibility to imitation, would then become like Starfleet. That could be a fun revisitation of a concept.

"The Deadly Years" Season 2, episode 12. The crew comes down with some kind of accelerated aging sickness after visiting a planet. This is one of those episodes that seem to just go through the motions, almost like they just come up with a concept and write up what would happen. This week it's getting old, one week it was getting a virus that made them too happy to do their work, next week it could be getting young or reverse aging. It's almost like you don't have to watch. But they have to do these episodes. One woman does die from the excessive aging. And, just to add a touch of stress and danger, Commodore Stocker assumes command and takes them into the Romulan Neutral Zone. But everything is cured in the nick of time.

"The Doomsday Machine" Season 2, episode 6. We meet Matt Decker, captain of the Constellation, the father of Will Decker from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Kirk is stuck on the Constellation and there is a pretty good pulling-rank battle with Spock and Decker. The "battle" with Decker makes Kirk's handling of Will Decker in The Motion Picture completely sensical now, as Kirk was always giving breaks to sons, other crew, like the kid in "Obsession" that reminded him of himself. Spock says, "Severe casualties on decks 3 and 4" with that unemotional air, but it was completely not Kirk's fault as Decker chased the machine. At one point, it is funny that a thing that can eat whole planets, whole solar systems, is troubled by an explosion of a shuttlecraft, and further extinguished by the 97-megaton explosion of the USS Constellation. So if this thing managed to get to the colony on Rigel, and there were any ships in orbit or on the surface (or a power plant), would the machine have died? And then, why does Kirk rig a thirty-second delay for detonation? Why not three minutes, or whatever? This is a great episode but when you subject it to the nitpicking geek logic, it gets screwy.

"Miri" Season 1, episode 8. Another Earth with the same continents and everything is discovered. The one rotten thing is that the story never explains why the planet was a duplicate of Earth, or even why the story called for that. It was like they wanted to do a time travel story of the future of Earth, but then switched it to another planet. This one, a really good episode actually, brought up a couple stupid geek questions. 1: How are three punches to the face better than being stunned by a phaser? The opponent died immediately thereafter. Whether he was attacking or not, how are physical punches to the face less damage than the phaser stun? 2: Kirk and the party contract the disease. This brings about the most obvious science fiction question asking if we have learned anything from H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, or learning from the Aztecs being decimated by disease from the New World. Let's just beam down anywhere and hope we don't contract anything. In the end, Kirk punches one opponent to death and "stuns" another one to death (only because of the sickness and being on the verge of death anyway), so I guess that kind of answers the question of stunning or punching, although I would still think stunning would be better. This is the precedent for the novel The Cry of the Onlies, which I am going to have to find and read now.

"A Taste of Armageddon" Season 1, episode 23. (Off topic, it is funny that the commercial on the CBS.com website for this one was for Benefiber, the clear "tasteless" fiber supplement--is it a coincidence?) This Star Trek installment has a strange but interesting logic about it. That's what makes a great episode, where you can honestly see the point on the other side of the argument, whether you agree with it or not. The planet had made war "neat and painless," as Kirk says. You can kind of see the strange logic if your culture was somehow stronger than individual lives. This is another episode where a code word would be efficient, and they have a voice-analyzer in this episode--where that one goes in subsequent episodes, I don't know. Spock manages to do some kind of Vulcan mind-touch thing through a wall! Compare this episode to The Next Generation episode "Justice."

"Amok Time" Season 2, episode 1. The Spock mating ceremony installment. It's that Ponfar we see again in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. You know, for a Vulcan who is known to be stoic in his demeanor, there are quite a few episodes that show his full range of emotions. This one has Spock racing to Vulcan in order to mate with his betrothed. Bones says, "He'll die, Jim," if you don't get him to Vulcan...to mate! It's amazing that the medical corps in Starfleet would not have 100% medical data on a race, one of whom is "the best first officer in the fleet." Spock does say it is for no offworlder to know about, but it's still funny--what if it happened during a real mission, or too far from Vulcan? Spock's betrothed, T'Pring, is also mentioned again later in that really good novel I read this year, The Lost Years by J.M. Dillard. Kirk must fight Spock with weapons that look like sharpened shovels with weights at the end. Bones gets to say "He's dead" over Kirk's body, amazingly having a neuroparalyzer, to simulate death, just on his person when he is supposed to be going to a wedding. The one cool element is how T'Pring plays Spock--she is one cold and calculating Vulcan bitch, that's for sure.

"Who Mourns for Adonais?" Season 2, episode 2. They meet the Greek god Apollo! That "What If?" aspect to this episode is cool, the possiblity of an advanced alien race coming to ancient Earth and being seen as gods is extremely intriguing. In a monotheistic aspect, showing the relation of religion to Star Trek in one sentence, Kirk says to Apollo, "Man has no need of gods--we find the one quite adequate." On another note, I was thinking during this episode that it would be kind of cool to have some Star Trek omnipotence battle. The Organians, Q, Trelane, the Talosians, these Greek gods, could all vie for power or something. The Enterprise could prevent it all. Might be worth a revisit in a Star Trek novel.

"The Menagerie-Part 1" and "The Menagerie-Part 2" Season 1, episodes 11 and 12 (and for some reason, here the CBS.com internal episode numbering doesn't work, as there was another episode 12 of season 1 on another page; however, "The Menagerie" being the only two-parter of the entire series could throw off the numbering system.) This one was written by Gene Roddenberry, apparently trying to incorporate all that footage from the original pilot episode called "The Cage," the one that was deemed "too cerebral" for television. Spock gets away with quite a lot of shit sometimes--hijacking the Enterprise to take previous captain Pike to Talos IV, faking orders and Kirk's voice, and assaulting Starbase personnel. We find that to visit Talos IV is the only death penalty left on the books. They basically just sit around and watch "The Cage" for the bulk of the story, during Spock's court-martial. Then all is hunky-dory as we find that due to Pike's "historic" importance, the ban is lifted this one time by Starfleet Command. Spock's disobedience is also negated. One thing bugs me: how did Spock get in touch with the Talosians and what did they really want with Pike? The Talosians appear to have no range barrier, so they could pop up again at any time.

Comics read lately:

From the Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen storyline: Superman: The Man of Steel #20, 21, 22, Action Comics #685, 686, 687, Superman #76, 77, 78, The Adventures of Superman #498, 499, 500 and Justice League America #70

Star Trek #5, 6, 7, 8 (1990) more Peter David goodness.

Batman #433, 434, 435 "The Many Deaths of the Batman" storyline by John Byrne and Jim Aparo that was very influential to me getting into the DC Universe after the 1989 Batman movie.

Super Powers (Volume 2, 1985) #1, 2 with the magic of Jack Kirby actually drawing the issues, not just plotting them. It's like classic Justice League of America from the 60s.

Mister Miracle #1, 2, 3, 4 (1989)

Action Comics Annual #11 (2007) written with Richard Donner of the Superman movie featuring Zod and Zod's son.

Conan and the Midnight God #1-5 (Dark Horse, 2006-2007) absolutely awesome Conan. Writer Joshua Dysart really knows his Conan. I loved it.

The Megas #1 (Virgin, 2008) what if America was a monarchy?

Superman #675

DC Comics Presents #46 (1982) Superman and the Global Guardians. The hero Green Fury will soon become Fire in one of my favorite titles of all time, the late 80s Justice League by Giffen and DeMatteis and Maguire.

Deathstroke the Terminator #5--it's amazing the more I read his solo exploits that Deathstroke is not the super-intelligent, cold, calculating villain that DC and Identity Crisis portray him to be sometimes. So far in this solo series, he really gets his ass kicked a lot.

London Horror Comic #1 (2007, print form from www.londonhorrorcomic.com) Only the last story is any good at all--in fact it is one of the best horror stories I've ever read.


Romeo Must Die with Jet Li. I liked this one but didn't like it. The action sequences were great, the story was really good, the twist at the end was cool. Somehow, the slow bits really slow it down.

Pathfinder. Very good, especially the beauty of how the movie looks. I liked the first half much better than the last bit, especially a little disconcerted when they got captured. But it was really good.

Bill Engvall: 15 Degrees Off Cool. I was in the right frame of mind when I watched this because I really laughed. He is a downright funny storyteller and I actually think he is getting better. It really helps in that I am a family man in really understanding his astute look at his, and what appears to be my, life.

Delta Farce. I actually got a kick out of this one. If you go into it knowing you are watching a Larry the Cable Guy and Bill Engvall movie, you'll laugh. I mean, these idiots invade Mexico thinking it was Iraq--what's not to laugh at!

Aeon Flux. This movie was much better than I expected and much better than any of the previews indicated. For some reason those previews concentrated on her acrobatic abilities when it was really about taking down a dystopian society. If I had known that from the previews, I probably would have watched it a lot earlier. I really enjoyed it, enough to make me now seek out the anime Aeon Flux that it was based on.

Jumper. I was astonished over how much I liked this one. I never felt slighted--the characters all did what I expected them to do. I now have to go find the 1992 novel that it was based on, and there are sequels too! See, if I want to dive further into it, yet another universe for me to explore, I must have really liked it.

Cadfael: The Raven in the Foregate. I love watching Derek Jacobi act. I am entranced by his craft.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor. Some kind of extra movie from the regular season episodes and I love this universe.


Battletech: Storms of Fate By Loren Coleman. I didn't like this one in the Battletech series at all. I almost put it down. Only the interspersed battletech action sequences kept me reading.

The Crazy Horse Electric Game by Chris Crutcher. This is one of the books for my freshmen literature circles and I really liked it. Liked the second half better than the first half. This is not your watered down young adult fare. This book doesn't lie and doesn't pull punches. End was very good because it does not become an after-school special. I will easily be ably to highly recommend this to my students.

Conan the Defender. Conan the Unconquered. Robert Jordan has made me a real Conan freak lately.

Also read two Sherlock Holmes stories, "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" and "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet." The latter uses the famous phrase: It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

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