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JTIBERIUS
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 3:52pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Menagerie

III. SPOCK AND MUTINY--VULCANNESS, DECEPTION & TREACHERY
“and that half is completely submerged. to be caught acting like us or even thinking like us would completely embarrass him...me, yes. I could run off half-cocked, given good reason, so could you, but not spock. It’s impossible.”
--mccoy

oh spock, riddle wrapped in mystery inside enigma--menagerie poses so very many questions about you. spock the mutineer is a fantastic reminder that when a real (harhar burnham) vulcan decides on treachery, careful premeditation and consummate execution are a given even when the decision has an obviously emotional origin. for me one of the deep excitements of menagerie is in its understated, matter-of-fact portrayal of spock’s quiet and appropriately dispassionate display of vulcan deliberateness and calculation in the service of his fascinatingly human motivation. he’s running around literally pinch-dropping starbase techs, impersonating and kidnapping superiors, straight-up grand theft starshipping the enterprise from a federation base like a badass, deceiving his crewmates, and carrying it all off with the easy-breezy effortlessness of a leaping gazelle in his savannah element. aboard ship nimoy really nails the crew interactions. spock is commanding and unflappable in feilding their confused questions, with answers for everything. he’s cool-as-fucking-cucumbers in the face of mccoy’s suspicion. he anticipates potential obstacles and the reactions of the humans around him with assurance and accuracy (he absolutely knows kirk is coming and that shuttle is NOT turning back). and it may seem vulcan-standard--almost blase from a modern trek perspective--but this outing is building ‘vulcanness’ into a recognizable cultural philosophy by mining the contrast between in-universe (human) perceptions of vulcans so far (kirk’s initial defense of spock: ‘a vulcan can no sooner be disloyal than he can exist without breathing/that goes for his present commander as well as his past,’ also mccoy: ‘jim, forgetting how well we both know spock, the simple fact that he’s a vulcan means he’s incapable of telling a lie’), the fact of spock’s biracial heritage i.e. partial humanity, and spock’s actual actions as they unfold. we’re left to extrapolate vulcanness in some sense from what we can assume it isn’t, which makes our insight all the more powerful for not being based in exposition. there is a distinct implication from this storyline that vulcan-human hybrids would be UTTER MASTERS of deception should they choose it--a fleet suggestion of a farfarfuture where human/vulcan hybrids are themselves a differentiated race legitimately blended from their forebears. something out of the trek we’ve really been longing for eh discovery?

IV. BETWEEN TWO CAPTAINS--KIRK BETRAYED, PIKE’S CHOICE & SPOCK’S EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
“you know why i've come, captain (pike). it's only six days away at maximum warp and I have it well-planned...i have never disobeyed your orders before, captain, but this time i must...i know. i know it is treachery and it's mutiny. but i must do this... have no choice.”
--spock

part of what makes spock’s mutiny so compelling is his total commitment to his course of action without pike’s prior approval. the episode’s initial stance is that spock catches pike totally unawares and basically forces the trip on him--that is not in keeping with spock’s general character but it becomes more credible if the extended charade of the court martial is framed as an insistence that pike be given a truly possible, reasonable choice. it is therefore pike, not kirk, who must ultimately see the talosian transmissions. the explanation spock offers for the trial may be as a distraction to keep kirk from regaining control of the ship too soon, but from what we learn of spock’s skillful duplicity in this episode, we need not take him at face value in this story. it is not kirk’s authority to turn the ship around which keeps the ruse going for so long--it’s that until pike has all of the information necessary to freely choose, kirk himself must a) be kept from influencing pike’s decision through appeals to honor/duty and b) still be kept from the bodily danger of being implicated in spock’s crime himself upon return to the real federation, telepathic illusion notwithstanding. so it is in delaying jim’s influence--and not his projected actions--that spock manages to juggle his conflicting loyalties to do what he concludes is best for both captains. he already knows (aside from implicating kirk in the crime) that if pressed he could convince jim to continue to talos for pike’s sake anyway, but only at the risk of contaminating pike’s true freedom to choose. kirk would almost certainly aid/abet him if appealed to--what is interesting then is that although spock’s entire mutiny is predicated upon his reasoned assumption that pike’s happiness/emotional wellbeing may ultimately be increased by choosing to accept the talosian offer, his actions throughout the faux-trial reveal a commitment to protecting pike’s right to make the call for himself. and because he does not--cannot--know with certainty what pike will actually do in the final moment, he must also protect kirk’s innocence. it is one thing to ask jim to disregard starfleet prohibition on a certainty that he is right to bring pike to the talosians. it is entirely another for his presumption of rightness to knowingly consign kirk to death should pike (once again) refuse the talosians and decide to live out a more limited existence among his own kind--both (differently) reasonable choices. there is a very sophisticated level of emotional intelligence involved in his decision to commit to his treason without pike’s affirmation up front. it’s big news! it demonstrates not only that spock’s actions (if not entirely emotion-based themselves) are at least the result of his recognition of a human-based moral imperative here, which could only be arrived at logically through an understanding of the importance of emotional connection for human beings to be mentally healthy. further, he orchestrates the entire affair based on an intuited outcome. he never presumes to make pike’s ultimate choice FOR him, but he does bank on his own guess about pike’s choice being right--a deduction that shows a remarkable reliance on the kind of intimate friend-knowledge of pike as an individual that he might typically deny, but nevertheless clearly possesses and makes use of in this instance. he basically risks life and career not even for pike’s assured happiness, per say, but on the chance that pike MIGHT opt for an alternative choice if given immediate means, and he’s completely willing to take these risks knowing his friend may ultimately reject the offer. obviously, only authentic personal feeling about pike’s fate could be the logical premise from which ANY of his plan is reasoned, but the episode also expertly preserves his vulcan dignity in all this as well through its sparing/subtle use of kirk’s emotional throughline as a reactive counterpoint. speaking of--i’m also (surprisesurprise) a huge fan of kirk in this episode. kirk-detective/kirk-betrayed/kirk-rethinking his preconceptions… shatner once again brings the heft necessary to sell the somewhat flimsy court martial material. as his initially unquestioning defense of spock to the commodore in part 1 gives way to logical suspicion both his amazed second-guessing and his staunch reservation of judgement in the face of mounting evidence of betrayal is powerful. shatner doesnt play up the fallout of this shift like many actors would. after the cat’s out of the bag he reigns it in and lets the atmosphere build around him, holding all but the pressing weight of the mystery back. the last moment of menagerie 1 hangs in the room like a cloud even after the screen is dark, with kirk carrying the dual-weights of command and deep friendship across his shoulders like two heavy buckets of water joined by the same yoke. there is a perfect moment of recognition he gives spock later on in part 2, a little once-over right before the telecommodore disappears. it’s like he’s reevaluating spock as a result of the new information--re-doing his mental calculus on spock, vulcans and friendship to incorporate what this sacrifice for pike has meant to the stoic man before him: just how deep the interpersonal loyalty and friendship might go in this alien-man who denies both...shatner conveys this new understanding like a pro and makes the audience privy to his side of the emotional exchange, elevating the moment of growth for both characters. kirk now knows something more of what spock is capable of. not just masterful cunning and a mutiny he could never have expected, but also what spock would be willing to sacrifice--life, pride, vulcan stoicism itself--not for a captain’s life/safety, but for his mere HAPPINESS (or chance of). when he ribs spock about a ‘tendency toward flagrant emotionalism’ and spock responds ‘no need to insult me sir,’ the levity is not (as usual) based on vulcanness as distinct from humanity, it is, for the first time, in ‘spock-ness’ as distinct from vulcanness--and the reveal rests on kirk’s new grasp of his first officer and on shatner’s acting rather than nimoy’s.
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JTIBERIUS
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 3:50pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Menagerie

II. FRAME STORY
“first officer speaking. security, send an armed team to the bridge. transporter room, stand by to beam captain kirk aboard...doctor, as senior officer present, i present myself to you for arrest.”
--spock

as for the frame story, there’s no denying that despite its effective broad strokes, there are noticeable missteps in some of its logic. while the more obvious oversights can be either endearing or grating depending on my mood, i hedge like a porcupine at harsh criticism of this episode because despite being an obvious rush job, it owes its existence to savvy problem solving in a tight spot--nothing more trek than finding a clever solution to the problem at hand with the clock counting down and a ship to keep running...so the episode has a few headcanon black holes one might get sucked into, since when is that not half the fun? ooooobviously if the bored trapped talosians can project to starbase 11 their telepathic range is such that they are probably scanning and eavesdropping on brains across a vast region of space surrounding talos, mining passerby psyches for experiences to add to the Thought Record as well as looking for appropriate slave/zoo-species to divert--all enterprise would have to do is clip a section of their (arguably huge) territory again and even across lightyears they could have instantly learned pike’s fate and easily communicated to spock with their offer. vulcans are telepathically sensitive too so it’s not even impossible that they are able to reach spock from even further out. duuuh. (wink) oh. and i always enjoy a good trek court martial in spite of most of them being complete rubbish as believable legal proceedings. yeah, more lay people have been to jail than lawschool or MIT--so it’s pretty common knowledge that evidence doesn’t come after ‘guilty’ and no criminal court of any kind really gives a shit WHY you’re trespassing because that’s fundamentally not its job, but you’ve just gotta treat it like technobabble. it’s obvious legalbabble and it’s absurd. on with the show. death sentence makes me laugh but ok, i see the STAKES you’re going for here. spock is not just risking career but DEATH. He cant just tell kirk what’s up cuz DEATH. pike doesn’t just agree to go with him cuz DEATH. I get it, i’m still in it with you, but leave me my quiet snickeyerolling. the fact that the trial is a literal farce of spock/talosian design with a telepathically-projected commodore helps me with this even though it’s obviously meant to be an accurate rendering of starfleet procedure for kirk/pikes benefit. one thing i always wonder about though is the (teleprojected?) starfleet orders relieving kirk of command and threatening a death sentence for him too. spock acts like the orders are real (‘jim please don’t stop me, dont let him stop me’) even when he knows telecommodore ‘taking command’ effectively puts the talosians in command/control of the ship and therefore, free of kirk’s skepticism, enterprise will almost certainly end up at talos. been trying to pretzel my brain into an explanation that lets me keep that ‘don’t let him stop me’ bit because it’s a nice moment for kirspock but it’s totally undermined by the reveal. the red herring largely succeeds at raising stakes again for the audience in the moment, but in-universe there is just no reason i can think of for the talosians to put this death-pressure on kirk themselves or for spock to go along with such conviction even for the sake of the grand deception. is it possible that spock is not fully aware of what is real in the projection either and believes the commodore is real himself? what might be the talosian reasoning behind leaving him in the dark? and alright, fine. yes. pike’s communicative predicament as described in the story is insanely stupid upon literally 5 seconds of consideration--hell, even hector salamanca and his bell managed better than we’re given to believe pike’s super-dalek chair can. but still, i give equal points/negpoints for a) anticipating neurally controlled robotic augmentation and b) completely failing to logically anticipate neurally controlled robotic augmentation--so it cancels out, right? ok ok. i concede. mccoy’s assertion that it will take months to question pike even with just a two word vocabulary strains believability on literally every conceivable level. i like to think it has to do with the nature of pike’s neural trauma, though the episode verbally contradicts that assumption. still, i give it all a 60s-pass and pretend pike has some kind of aphasia that inhibits his ability to use language without impeding his ability to comprehend it. now where were we?
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JTIBERIUS
Mon, Jan 7, 2019, 1:22pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Menagerie

Re: Menagerie I&II(+Cage)--been away on long holiday, happy to be back to the show! must not be ready to return to real work though because i’ve gone on so long i had to resort to subtitles--hopefully that fades quickly, but yeah, this is going to be in multiple (im guessing at least 5) parts. safe to say this is what the office is paying for today lol.

I. NOTES ON THE CAGE
“they kept us from seeing this, too. we cut through and never knew it captain.”
--number one

like more than half of the trekkies i know, i’ve always been a fan of this repurposing of the original pilot. I have a real soft spot for The Cage so to have it immortalized in canon rather than resigned to an historical footnote in bonus material works for me. but it’s so obvious that if shatner had been on board for it my pseudonym would be pikecentrick right now--in no universe do i think cage was ‘too cerebral’ for the 60s audience as the legend goes. what it lacked was shatnerisma pure and simple. on its own it drags some, a jaded career-captain longing for home is tonally wrong for the beginning of an exciting frontier space adventure, and of course all things considered the chemistry of the actual cast was lightning in a bottle that is absolutely worth the trade of losing ceiling-smasher Number One and a decent story. however, all that aside, shanter would have made this pilot compelling enough for the network through sheer force of will and we’d all be sitting here talking about the delightfully droll vulcan people and majel barrett would have turned up on TNG as a time-travelling starfleet admiral and not lwaxana troi (also, there is a universe in which that trek exists and i’d watch it even if it didn’t end up being better than ours). no disparagement of jeff hunter or the christopher pike we do get--as a great guest star and the tragic former captain of our very own enterprise he’s become a legendary trek figure in his own right. not knocking his performance, i’m just saying whatever failings the episode had writing-wise, cage would’ve been greenlit on shanter’s shoulders. the man is a whirling dervish of the very kinetic energy cage lacked.

random points: lolpoints for the LITERAL shipboard space-fax. points for the blue singing plant; i want one. points for charlotte gercke’s orion slave girl dance--titillation aside, the make-up and performance there are beautiful. The green color of the makeup contrasted with her lively and expressive eyes is really aesthetically pleasing and the shots of her are framed beautifully. attractiveness of the actress notwithstanding (and divorced from the ‘slavegirl’ context), the overall mise-en-scene is gorgeous and her performance is riveting beyond a simple opportunity for ogling, it’s not simply being hot and green that makes her magnetic there.
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JTIBERIUS
Wed, Nov 28, 2018, 11:25pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Corbomite Maneuver

Rahul

you're absolutely right about the production order--i didn't go back to check specifically but it's obvious from golduhura alone. watching it 10th definitely does not do it any favors--i routinely try to watch naked time a few eps later in personal viewing already, maybe i'll think about just switching the two from now on. i bet id like both better that way. plus, as you and Peter G both kind of say 'first contact' is part of the business of trek, so the earlier the better honestly.

also, per you're comment from dagger thread re: bailey. basically the whole time watching this i was thinking how you'd never see that good a young character actor guest starring on a 90s trek.
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JTIBERIUS
Wed, Nov 28, 2018, 6:21pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Corbomite Maneuver

Peter G

completely agree. i had a little trouble figuring out how i wanted to talk about this one because i think of it quite fondly and couldn't quite put my finger on why i felt more disengaged this watchthru when i never remember feeling that before, but i like the angle you found for discussing it. much better fare than what i brought to the table. your small animal with puffed up feathers image lit me up. seeing balok as respecting this plucky little monkey with the nerve to bluff him is a great. wonderful metaphor.
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JTIBERIUS
Mon, Nov 26, 2018, 11:58pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Corbomite Maneuver

corbomite is a charming episode of TOS. i hesitate to use the more jaded descriptions that first popped to mind when i sat to write (standard/middling/average) because they really aren’t fair--i’ve just watched too much trek to feel as excited by this one as i was in my youth.

but i think charming is a really fair description coming from an old spacefart like me, because even though the episode drags a bit for me now, i do recognize that it is in some ways a perfect template-story from way early in production that informs many many later installments of trek. it’s pretty solid on every front even though it fails transcendence and there is something to be said for that--especially when you think about how little trek there was in existence at the time. where the writing fails at pacing and wild creativity in certain areas, it picks up slack in character work, wit, growing the ensemble etc (for the most part anyway, round of apologies to golduhura--thanks for sticking out that meeting and the first few eps. we see you girl. you’re there). sometimes it’s okay for trek’s quality to flag in one area and long as it flares in another and corbomite has a lot going for it when i take off my trekcynic detractor hat and put on my reading glasses.

no doubt that corbomite’s use of humor in character building is its crowning glory because the zingers here are tight, sharp and pass the test of time. spock suggesting bailey get his ‘adrenaline gland’ removed is a classic establishment of his acerbic wit, jims solicitation of ‘emotional support’ from him is a joke i’ve been laughing at for years and am currently chuckling at. i mean, seriously tho, getting too critical of this episode for being slow is failing to appreciate how QUICK it is amiright. points for just how much good banter this show spreads across the ensemble. the kirk/mccoy scene that starts in the lift is a wonderful expansion of bone’s brusque, trenchant moodiness (‘i never said that’) as well as his intuitiveness. kirk’s amused ribbing is playful and piquant and what it shows about their dynamic in a few short moments is a nicely knit piece of scenework that gets real mileage for how short it is (negpoints for yeoman rand jokes though, not cuz sexism cuz quality). points for spock/scotty exchange about spock’s mother.

i also give points to the episode for being interested in strategic thinking and emphasizing kirk’s tactical prowess (though it succeeds in this better dramatically than narratively). shanter really sells the whole matching-of-wits scenario better than the writing writes it. the episode lacks the nuts and bolts of a real move/countermove exchange and relies on spock’s exposition (this balok seems like my father) to establish baloks cleverness more than actually supplying it. still, we’re in the ballpark, going through the right motions to explore a psychological-game-as-first-contact scenario. i just think the ‘game' itself is ill-defined when it doesn’t have to be--but then kirk says POKER! and i guess that gets the point across well enough dramatically so maybe it’s a nitpick to wish there was more substance to the actual back and forth leading up to it. the bluff he comes up with is clever enough for the plot here even if it’s not as clever in point-of-fact as its name. shanter’s pokerface(voice) is on point enough to get a ‘well-played’ from spock though, so points for delivery too.

A lot of the drag in this episode really comes down to the editing’s slavish mirroring of background music/sound effects in the dramatic sequences, presumably an attempt to signal import and heighten intensity. im pretty sure the numerous reaction shots are a purposeful byproduct of this choice (rather than just for the sake of themselves) and felt artistic at the time rather than plodding and onerous, but switching to a different close-up in (literal) time with every change in the two oscillating motifs of the main piece makes every sequence with this gimmick feel long and over-directed. the music selections themselves aren’t terrible selections for the action, but the tethered editing detracts from both the pieces and the ensemble rather than enhancing either. some good ensemble writing is served poorly here by the close-ups too because the viewer loses the wider context of everyone’s reaction to new information and each other when the action must be stretched out to fit the musical phrasing.

the final revelation is classic twilight zone and plays as such--but this early on aspiring to TZ is not only forgivable for ST, it’s a smart move (again, works better dramatically than narratively) and the payoff of a twist-ending that dashes human expectations of alienness is cheesy but cheeky too. from the time i was quite a young trek fan, it has always been kirk’s (dareisay heroic?) decision to return at balok’s distress signal and render aid to his adversary (of moments before) that i have remembered most about this episode between viewings--and i guess if that’s what sticks with me, corbomite is basically star trek doing its job.
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JTIBERIUS
Mon, Nov 26, 2018, 5:49pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: Dagger of the Mind

re: TOS guest stars:

i think actor-TRAINING as distinct from style used to be better. today actors end up on camera from all sorts of paths and often time learn to act on set with a mish-mash of different techniques or whatever master class they can. the pool TOS drew it's guest stars from were all proficient classically trained stage actors as a baseline = before they EVER got a chance on camera. no matter what your age was you were expected to do your time in live theater first, like the minor leagues . tv casting-directors used to pull exclusively from the stage pool for character actors when they didn't already have someone in mind for a type.
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JTIBERIUS
Mon, Nov 26, 2018, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: Dagger of the Mind

@ Rahul

I COMPLETELY GET why people love this episode--the second half is DYNAMITE horrorfi and the allegorical layer is solid on its own. i think it’s just my disappointment that the narrative and plot don’t live up to any of the episode’s clearly winning aspects that makes me pout. It’s the disappointment of the almost-brilliant that hurts the most.

Also, i think disliking plato’s stepchildren is very congruent with disliking DSC--for some reason these two things seem to divide people into roughly the same two camps, i’ll have to think more about that. i don’t really mind trek going dark, i kind of love it--i just think people draw the line differently when it comes to DARK vs BLEAK. I like seriously love dark trek, bleak trek not so much. Both discovery and stepchildren seem to take that dividing-line head on, which side you fall on may come down to a matter of taste in either case--also, i started to like DSC a little more when i stopped applying episodic thinking to individual episodes. It’s meant for binging, it definitely feels better constructed if you analyze it as one long episode or installment of trek.

@ Peter G

i actually had the lines from Macbeth copy/pasted into the comments field the whole time i was writing but i ran out of steam. i'm a sucker for some shakespeare myself and love TOS's more literary moments as well--i think most tv writing backed off this type of homage for a few decades because adapting/reworking classics (shakespeare/greek/historical pageantry etc) became cliche--it was their version of reboot-fatigue. plus there was just too much new technology to speculate about in fiction.

by the 90s there was a noticeable lack of this kind of fare, particularly on television (movies did better) and particularly on the drama side of the drama/comedy divide. Short-form episodic writing produced some of the best comedy forms we have though--sitcoms, sketch shows, political commentary, cartoons--comedy is where the 30-60 minute episode truly comes to shine for a few decades artistry-wise. To me, at the time it came out TNG was actually one of the only shows to write anything close to what you describe that i can remember right now--maybe i’m wrong but nothing specific is coming to mind for 87...hmm scanning brain for early 90s tv drama...police procedurals, hospital dramas, X-files, buffy? I got nothing of note.

but it's definitely coming back around (breaking bad brainpops first). i think the changing tv landscape and the rise of serialization is restoring some aspects of literariness to television--though that shift is tangled up with naturalism-dominance too, a great and terrible two-headed beast called REALLYREAL&REALLYLONG--because along with the drawn-out grit and hopelessness has finally come the long-form style of film we used to fantasize about, and with it great opportunities for metaphor, thematic depth, time to develop motivic repertoires of our own (like, say, the star wars music) that can link ideas and create parallels across time/space/story--that's mythology building too and, like the 19th cent novel, it can be both great and overbearing. but even with the ridiculous rise of cinematic universes and shows that spend whole seasons of hours doing absolutely NOTHING to advance plot (looking at you walking dead), there is still a lot happening in tv writing that is exciting for a voracious reader with a weakness for the bard, and we’re establishing a more universal, sophisticated poetics of television every day telling us how to decode different kinds of shows on their own terms.

in literature, after all, there are long books with great character studies and no plot at all. there are interconnected universes a la stephen king’s gunslinger. there are expansively plotted political intrigues from dune to game of thrones. But there are also short stories, epic poems, absurdist pieces written in the style of plays but that are impossible to perform, magical realism like american gods or comics like watchmen which resist film adaptation by their very nature. I dont grind on naturalism because i hate it--it’s out there giving us some great things--it’s just that like everything dominant, it flourishes at the expense of other literary impulses. i just can’t wait until we have enough of an established televisual lit-canon (as distinguished from pop/pulp) to use naturalism as a tool rather than a limitation/standard that we judge things by.

my point is that i’m really excited that visual mediums are finally beginning to allow themselves the freedom to aspire to the semiotic complexity of literature and music even if gritty realism is the route they often take--because my prediction is that shows like BSG and ST DSC are necessary pit-stops on the road back to what you're talking about--smart/layered/literary screenwriting that pays homage to naturalism without being cripplingly bound to it, or which pays homage to multiple literary traditions/mythologies simultaneously and unabashedly (performance styles too)--creating richer tapestries of experience for the viewer. right now we are witnessing the codification of visual-lit and watching isms form like planets out of dust in a protoplanetary disc of cinematic potential.

one thing i’ll say for DSC is that even weighted down by the cultural impulse to realism and despite its fundamentally different (serialized) format from all other treks, out of all of them, only it is really TRYING to do what you describe. It displays a taste for 'classical literary writing' and puts actual effort into invoking the metaphors and motifs not only of the western literary canon, but also the themes/motifs of the startrek mythos as well. does this make it more reboot than ‘real’ trek? SO DEBATABLE that you have to at least respect that it is doing some things for some people that it is not doing for you (me lol. I mean the universal 'you', i.e. me). honestly i think it will get better and that in retrospect disappointment over S1 will soften as we get more of what it’s trying to do. i'm still hopeful it will find it's sea legs and give us something closer in tone to dark-TOS than we've had since the original run. the pieces are there, now if they can just nail that dark-not-bleak note we need, i think it can become a formidable trek with that unselfconscious literary gravitas that diehard TOS fans (me again ) miss most. my fingers do hurt from being crossed so long on that though lol.
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JTIBERIUS
Sun, Nov 25, 2018, 5:17pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: Dagger of the Mind

i had another thought about death by neural neutralizer today that I hadn’t had before and scrolled through some of the past comments to see if I spotted anything similar. it seems to me that if the NN really did get left active on a person long enough, the cause of soul-death may very well be loneliness (or as i said before, perhaps ‘non-liness’ is more accurate), but i hadn’t thought about the fact that physiological-death might actually occur in stages as the brain begins to ‘empty’ even further, shutting down systems as it loses the basic information necessary to operate them, eventually unable to sustain the body’s functions--something analogous to the end of HAL9000.

i really hate to read comments before i post my own thoughts and i usually never go farther back than a year because it is so easy for me to get mired there and never write anything, but i did enjoy scrolling through these.

@ Peter G (from 2017):
-really liked your interpretation of adam’s choosing the love angle first as a sort of boundary-test of kirk’s natural resistance to suggestion based on his obvious attraction to noel. i find the notion that he is using his subject’s actual subconscious desires to slip in and gain traction instead of immediately forcing his own command so creepy and clever. very savvy insight that adds dimension to adams and enhances my experience--especially since what we do get about why adams does anything amounts to very little.

-three cheers for your comments on the naming of tantalus colony! i had a similar stray thought watching but after my rant wound down it just seemed like too much to stuff it in somewhere for kicks instead of developing it--you link it up with your previous insight about the love-suggestion very nicely...so brave-new-world-death-from-what-you-love, really enjoyed reading it.

-finally, your ’kirk as agent of chaos’ finding the DIS- in UTOPIA was also a nicely articulated discussion. ty.
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JTIBERIUS
Sun, Nov 25, 2018, 10:14am (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: Dagger of the Mind

in the final paragraph I meant 'the actor playing ADAMS is terrifically sadistic' not 'gelder' as I typed
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Sat, Nov 24, 2018, 9:31pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: Dagger of the Mind

in theory, dagger is my jam. It’s a sci-fi horror mystery tackling the ethics of penal colonies (even ‘resort penal colonies’), clockwork-orange-style behavioral control/personality & memory modification and the atrocity of medical abuses. these are high-level ethical concepts that resist easy arguments for and against, even from enlightened thinkers. what to do with offenders who are chronically unable to function in larger society is a question for the ages and no proposed solution can realistically serve the inmates and the larger human community both with perfect justice. while the episode doesn’t clarify whether tantalus colony also houses lower-level offenders with shorter-than-life sentences, i take the episode’s emphasis on psychiatric treatment and behavioral modification as a signal that the colony (or at least dr. adams’ department) is meant for habitual criminal insanity and not petty lawlessness--more mental institution than strictly punitive, run-of-the-mill detention facility. frankly, if that is not the case and the memory/behavior modification technology is also being used to ‘rehabilitate’ minor offenders i find the whole set-up even more insidious, and kirk’s out-the-gate hero worship of dr. adams comes off a bit like he drank the kool-aid and got convinced by some government propaganda. i mean, he sounds like joe kennedy talking up lobotomies at a fundraiser.

any way you slice it, this is where the episode fumbles. even if you accept kirk’s early defense of the good doctor’s humanitarian mission, this is where Dagger kicks off some of the most out-of-character writing for kirk we ever get. right away it sets him up for that really weird exchange with bones, where he shuts him down for suspecting something isn’t quite right--odd coming from a character whose gut-instincts are AT LEAST as responsible for his success as his intellect and who typically trusts the council of his friends (see head/heart/kirk triangle). especially since:
a) bones has ALREADY confirmed that the mad stowaway doesn’t have ‘any condition he is acquainted with’ but that he senses the ‘ring of truth’ in the disordered ravings (confirmed when the guy turns out to actually be who he claims)--hmm suspicious.
b) disturbed intruder dr. van gelder has ALREADY been confirmed to be a successful professional as recently as six months ago (and his only request is to not be taken back, why?)--highly suspicious,
c) tantalus colony (dr. adams) has ALREADY FLAT LIED to kirk--tantalus: ‘we are unable to locate one of our INMATES/this is a potentially violent CASE’ fast forward to--> kirk: ‘dr. adams, regarding your escaped man--’/adams: ‘is dr. van gelder alright?’--red alert. very fraking suspicious.
yet it still takes bones pulling rank and forcing jim to write a report AND prodding from spock to get him planetside. listen to his apologetic fawning when he gets back on with adams ‘...rather embarrassing...strict interpretation of regulation...required to investigate’ etc. he delivers ‘i’ve been to penal colonies before (kirksmirk)’ like an out-of-state security guard turning his citizen’s arrest over to the local authorities.

then the episode doubles down on kirk’s obliviousness in the whole dr. helen subplot, which is one of my least favorite of the kirk-pairings in the whole series. so far he doesn’t trust bones anymore (or his choice of personnel for the mission) and he definitely doesn’t trust dr. noel (or respect her expertise at all or even seem to respect her as a starfleet officer honestly). whatever happened at that christmas party, helen made a pretty bad impression beyond her nice yabos cuz kirk treats her like she’s an incompetent idiot who can’t keep things profesh--nevermind that five seconds into their mission (in the middle of scolding her for flirting) he practically jumps on her in the lift. like, WHAT is going on here? Is kirk embarrassed of her or himself? is guilt over his prior lack of professionalism causing those awkward dismissals of every mission-related thing she says? or does he actually think she’s incompetent (yet attractive of course) despite their history and believe that bones sent him down there with an idiot as a joke (paraphrasing kirk to spock: ‘tell bones she better be the best assistant i ever had’)? I really have no idea. It doesn’t help that she ends up being almost as incompetent as he treats her, contributes nothing of value to the mission, and then breaks with every ethical and moral standard associated with her discipline by reprogramming him to love her--among the most horrific things we see the neural neutralizer do. a deep feminist analysis of this shit would probably make my head explode if anyone is up for doing that (i'd read it).

literally every second devoted to the two of them would be better spent developing the mystery or further escalating the sense of horror--maybe more information about/illustration of the doctor’s past abuses or concrete clues that help kirk arrive at his conclusion (more lethe? other inmates? more on why adams turned on van gelder in the first place?). instead kirk just stumbles upon The Room, has GUT FEELS talking to adams, scoffs at literally everything his colleague says, and then practically jumps in the chair based on, like NOTHING--i mean, he’s RIGHT of course, cuz psychic guts, but it renders his early write-off of bones spectacularly hypocritical. then when noel sides with him against bones and says she sees nothing to indicate foul play by adams, kirk is ridiculously smug about it even though he now suspects something amiss as well--the way he says it, we know he thinks her current assessment is wrong, which would make bones initial suspicions right, so why the frak does it seem like he’s gloating? I don’t require that helen be likable. I don’t care that she’s hot or that she got sloppy at an office party or even that she’s essentially as monstrous as adams by the end (everyone forgets that anyway), but the way this episode goes out of its way to have kirk make her look stupid for basically agreeing with his original assessment and then pillories her for doing the exact same thing he JUST did to bones is, for me, a bit of a mindwarp that can’t just be hand-waved away because ‘TOS is dated-->expect stupid women.’ thank god she gets that solo side-mission to cut off the forcefield later (even though she doesn’t know anything about hyper-power circuits and the ducts are clearly large enough for kirk).

this is the same type of great-concept-but-surface-deep sci fi writing that gets episodes from other treks (mostly VOY/ENT) a good mud-dragging. It does have great and memorable moments in the latter half though--and some really great acting from tortured shatner and the actor who plays van gelder--it just takes SO many eye rolls to get to the good stuff.

the scenes with the first mind meld, for instance, are pretty flipping great. here the meld is presented as a last resort, a desperate move to protect the endangered captain, and characterized as a ‘hidden personal thing to the vulcan people, part of their private lives’ by spock, a notion that isn’t always congruous with later treks. I love how the meld here seems a lot more technical and difficult than it becomes later on--although it is mentioned with fair regularity in the franchise that melds are dangerous to attempt without training, few give the same sense that the meld is active, continuous work for the vulcan and not a form of trance/meditation state that just works once firm connection is achieved. this has something to do with the early technobabble here explaining how the meld works: ‘it requires i make pressure changes in your nerves and your blood vessels’ and something to do with nimoy’s lively enactment (moving around, changing his point of physical contact etc) as well as his more expansive meld-monologue. In general i prefer the monologue-melds to the ones that cut-to dream sequences in the mind--i don’t hate them, it depends on the story, but watching the actor perform the meld is usually more interesting to me. watching this time i wondered if ENT’s ‘vulcan neuropressure’ was reclaiming some of this abandoned meld-science.

How the neural device is handled is insanely interesting conceptually too, mostly because the episode puts forward the idea that to the human mind, the worst horror is emptiness rather than forcible suggestion--the deeply unsettling implication being that after losing your thoughts, memories, indeed, yourself to the machine, the very absence of YOU doesn’t SPARE you existential pain, rather it dials it up to the level of torture--a torture of existential dread so great that being given a thought, ANY thought to think or task to perform alleviates suffering, such that you will happily give up the core of yourself just to be SOMEONE, ANYONE, no matter who that is--or you basically just self-implode to death from loneliness (non-liness?) as adams ultimately does. I mean, that is some seriously good shit right there. It kind of blows my mind. the actor playing gelder is terrifically sadistic and shatner turns in a customary 110% performance. and by that point it’s just so great to watch him back in his wheelhouse that you can almost forget how kirk got there--until you realize the same people who started writing this episode also finished writing it too, because we never do find out what happens to helen or kirk’s presumably deprogrammed love for her lol. shout out to shatner’s ‘loneliness’ reaction-shot in the wrap up tho.
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JTIBERIUS
Fri, Nov 23, 2018, 7:44pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Naked Time

@Peter G/Rahul--first, thank you both very much for your responses to my thoughts. it’s been a very long time since i was active on a trek board but my recent TOS rewatch has made my keyboard fingers itchy and this seemed like a thoughtful, respectful, intimate community worth contributing to. many of the other boards i scoped in preparation to dive back in seemed too massive and/or quarrelsome for my taste and what i see here looks about my speed. you are both active contributors that i have enjoyed reading recently and i look forward to further exchanges.

@Peter G:

absolutely true that the naturalist impulse is primarily a western/american one--but it is one that has had far-flung influence on a global scale in film over the last half-century. It is extremely popular everywhere and has only gained traction with the rise of cross-cultural interconnectivity thanks to the internet. the difference i think is that non-western cultures still have a lot more grassroots access to alternative forms of performative entertainment, or presentation as you say. In many places various types of live performances are still commonplace and culturally relevant IN ADDITION to film-mediums, so non-western cultures are more used to code-switching between styles and engaging different kinds of performances on their own terms. In america specifically, access to stylized artforms like commedia and ballet (and opera, and even orchestral performances and non-performative art spaces like museums etc) is more limited by both education and economic circumstance. people with education (free passes/tickets to college kids) and money are the only ones who can afford to accrue the experience necessary to develop semiotic fluency in a given tradition, and are thus much more likely to develop nuanced appreciation of any (classic) art, not only within the larger cultural zeitgeist, but within its own traditions and conventions as well. variety is the only impediment to homogeneity where people are concerned. I also agree that people do have a natural, visceral response to stylized performance, but today the naturalist mindset only allows such stylized performances as shatner’s kirk to exist when other rules and conventions which eschew the appearance of affectation are also observed--patrick bateman and hannibal lecter are coded as boogeyman BY their stylized acting, but drop them in a film where that is not an obvious meta-choice and watch the reviews trashing them roll in. in other words, our 21st-cent-american-naturalist-tradition does allow us to indulge/enjoy heightened, stylized forms of performance (which, as you say, we enjoy on a deep level), but only when they flaunt meta-awareness, gesture inward at their own frames, or are seamlessly embedded within larger ‘realistic’ contexts. I also like how you point out the real-life-stranger-than-fiction quality of critiques that fail to recognize that our faces themselves are only as expressive as they need be (see evolution).

@Rahul&Peter G.
Re: picard/sisko (&janeway)--i literally cant even right now but know that i don’t lack opinions. I’m trying to stick around the board for a while though so maybe i’ll get there eventually lol. for now i’ll simply state that stewart is a virtuoso who makes everything he’s ever done look effortless, brooks is an actor’s actor and i see/respect his game even when his choices are different than mine would be, and by the end of voyager if you’re not convinced that mulgrew is a goddamn wizard you don’t realize how hard her job really was.

Re: DOOHAN! just thank you.

Re: waxing poetic. in my case it eventually gets tedious but its compulsive so there you go.
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JTIBERIUS
Fri, Nov 23, 2018, 5:29am (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Naked Time

this episode is pretty successful in setting up spock’s internal human-vulcan war even though his characterization remains bumpy for a few more episodes due to production vs broadcast order. For that reason i think it does work better to watch it a little later in the run (some time after miri but before menagerie where there are glimpses of “13 years ago spock” works best for me). viewed as episode 4, Naked Time definitely marks the beginning of the homosocial dynamic (kirk/spock/mccoy) that comes to define the series. between its setup of the enigmatic kirk-spock friendship, development of/commentary on vulcan culture via spock’s breakdown, and its deep dive beneath the surface into his angsty embattled multiethnic paradox, this is one of my favorite early viewing experiences in TOS (shout outs to uhura for ‘fair maiden/sorry neither’ and kirk’s ‘now i know why it’s called SHE’ monologue too). here we have the first indisputable evidence of the existence of spock’s deep emotional undercurrents, cementing his resistance to emotion as the product of the vulcan philosophy of extreme stoicism rather than a genuine lack of feeling, which is complicated further by his biracial ancestry. his reaction to the virus is a demonstration not only of his ingrained commitment to vulcan culture, but also his essential underlying humanity (despite his many claims to the contrary). giving this turmoil visibility and treating it with shakespearean magnitude is one of the truly revolutionary aspects of star trek. the position he occupies between native and alien culture is one that becomes a perfect mechanism for delivering the show’s meta-commentary. the strongest vehicle for dramatizing this conflict is, of course, his relationship with kirk--‘jim, when i feel friendship for you, i’m ashamed”

the insight into vulcans is telling and, to a human, somewhat bleak. right away, as soon as the audience can understand this bond of friendship as taboo and shameful for spock, another aspect of the primary relationship falls into place and solidifies spock as an outsider’s icon: nerds, immigrants, lgbt, people of color, biracial, multiracial, mentally and physically atypical people--anyone with a barrier to emotional expression involving fear of reproach/ridicule/rejection/censure/shaming etc. the idea of love itself as an emotion spock MUST reject/suppress in order to avoid the more damaging emotions of humiliation and shame is a REALLY bold, sophisticated, and heartbreaking conception in the landscape of 1960s television and renders spock a natural tabula rasa onto which we graft our own experiences of outsiderhood. For example, although there is no specifically homoerotic undertone to his relationship with kirk, their connection does capture the illicit/taboo/forbidden nature of spock’s emotion in general--which does dovetail with that kind of reading. because even while such emotions as platonic friendship may be divorced from erotic/romantic forms of love and affection for humans, for spock, even the more benign forms of human sentimental attachment have about them hallmark qualities of “forbidden love”--that which must remain hidden/unacknowledged, even if guessed/hinted at/known, certainly must remain deniable in order to remain ‘excusable’ according to vulcan taboo. From a vulcan perspective, friendship becomes a fascination bordering on fixation for spock--as that of the fetishist--which we continue to see throughout the series. it is a dilemma that comes up time and again in a myriad of iterations (and not just with kirk)--the looming threat of friendship is the thing that makes it truly difficult for spock to be ‘fully’ vulcan on a human ship. one can imagine him in private moments grappling with the same feelings of guilt and shame he confesses to kirk and devoting an inordinate amount of time to tracking/managing/suppressing/evaluating feelings associated with friendship.

The very nature of the emotion-taboo thus creates a strong parallel to any human experience involving forbidden love--likely the basis for many noncanonical interpretations of subtext which are difficult to dismiss out of hand in this framework (again, the obvious-but-hardly-only example being the experience of homosexual love/desire aforementioned). Experientially--in as much as humans are able to imagine vulcan emotional life--this seems very much akin to what we feel when we break our own “taboos,” whatever they may be. for spock, i don’t see feelings of friendship for kirk as any easier to internalize as a vulcan than t’pol’s unambiguously romantic feelings for trip--or any less ‘perverse’ by vulcan standards--it’s about the strength (insuppressibility) of the feeling, which for a vulcan need not be differentiated according to human custom. this may be close to the heart of spock’s wide-ranging appeal beyond his outsider status as sardonic alien straight man made party to various human irrationalities/absurdities. not every human is biracial or gay or socially awkward, but every human has been an interloper and felt it keenly when they don’t belong or fit in, and most people have struggled with some feeling or other that causes unwanted complication or deep shame (i mean we were all teenagers once). We identify with spock’s conundrum to varying degrees but the cluster of human-feelings associated with it are universal and familiar, and our own aspirations toward vulcan stoicism in times of emotional distress are just as precariously erected as the episode makes his appear. It’s an early and raw iteration of spock’s buried turmoil that we see in Naked Time, but the tragedy is on full display and treated with all the gravity of gothic romance, so it sets the stage and stakes pretty handily for the more refined portrait that comes after. It’s not just that spock must conceal/control his emotions, the episode also makes clear that his quest to conquer them is a singular battle that he will insist on fighting alone, positioning him as a tragic figure with a rather human tragic flaw.

regarding Nimoy's acting here, i think it gets treated a little harshly, much as shatner’s does throughout the series in retrospect--it’s easy to forget through our modern sensibilities and more highly developed/refined cinematic tastes (meaning time to build common semiotic codes/traditions/vocabulary/shorthand in film, cinematography etc, not a value judgement like ‘better’) that back when TOS was on air, melodrama was a completely legitimate acting style/tool to make use of. It’s a leftover from live-audience mediums like stage acting, lounge shows, cabaret and even the silent film era pantomime when you had to emote to the back of a packed hall, before filmmakers truly understood the sense of intimacy and realism an ‘actual’ fourth wall could achieve with the camera--and so began our uneven progression toward the great reign of naturalism in acting and film that continues today.

It’s a tradition that tells us something is BAD if it’s not ‘natural’ in a certain way. It’s a higher standard for our suspension of disbelief, an inclination toward the voyeurism a camera allows, and a desire for completely seamless presentation of any illusion put before us. It goes for every facet of production: writing (flying supermen and warp drive are all well and good but not without perfect continuity and internal logic), effects (god the cheap cgi just took me right out of the story) so on so forth, and of course, same shift can be seen in acting styles too. today, the crime of OVERACTING is the height of insult for an actor but in all previous acting traditions and throughout the beginning of film as an independent medium it was an important skill for every actor to hone and make use of. Directors used to push actors toward melodramatic performances because they felt naturalized acting was flat, dull, and boring to an audience who could decode the language of the stage fluently and whose expectations grew up in that tradition. Subtlety didn’t transmit dramatic information or convey meaning as effectively because people simply didn’t tune into it the same as shakespearean bluster. ultimately, art and taste evolve together and an eventual schism in stage/screen acting traditions seems historically inevitable now but in a modern (or postmodern sigh) atmosphere it is also arguable that our standards for acting style have become pretty homogenous outside of obvious comedy and indy experiments. We pride ourselves on our cherry-picking/collaging/pastiching/synthesizing in so many artistic traditions today but when it comes to naturalism in all aspects of film production we pledge our allegiance and criticize anything outside the box pretty harshly--even pieces of art that were not made sharing our viewpoint!

tangent, out of scope, re: DISCOVERY: actually there’s an argument to be made here that the same fierce loyalty to naturalism we expect at all levels of production these days is essentially the same impulse that produces DSC’s hyper-alien (in the trekverse anyway) klingons-->subtitles, over-designed ship interiors, dehumanizing makeup/prosthetic choices etc. or the need for an antihero in everything cuz real heros aint naturalistic neither--our need for ‘believability’ can box the imagination in one way even as it elevates it in another.

point: nimoy is doing some great work in this episode, he’s just working in a different tradition than what people are used to now. same goes for shatner in many other instances of ‘overacting’ that turn the modern viewer off or ‘take them out of it.’ and i’ll say it: SHATNER IS A GREAT ACTOR, but we conflate him with his larger than life character written/directed/performed in/by/for the 60s. further, nimoy’s acting as spock only gets a lot of our modern adulation specifically because his vulcan character is written to downplay emotion which inadvertently shifts much of his performance further into our comfort zone. It’s a daring acting (directorial?) choice for the time, but it doesn’t make his acting BETTER than shatner’s. that’s our 21st century value judgement. his creation of the character still deserves high marks for innovation because his usual subtlety becomes a hallmark of the show when contrasted with the heightened drama of ‘human’ emotions, rendered more flamboyant by his foil. his low-key approach works ingeniously to differentiate spock from his shipmates and make him seem dignified and ALIEN--especially as a departure from prevailing convention. still, my guess is that if nimoy had played a human in the show we’d have a whole string of HIS melodramatic moments to lampoon too, not just poor bill’s lol.
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JTIBERIUS
Wed, Nov 21, 2018, 1:12am (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Enemy Within

typo--yin/yang #notthatignorant
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JTIBERIUS
Wed, Nov 21, 2018, 1:09am (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: The Enemy Within

must-watch on my trek screening party playlist (i’m captain kirk! books--argh! monitor--take that! oh sweet sweet shanter bringin it home). who says melodrama has no place in ST? Pfft. my ale-pong buddies disagree heartily. anyway.

always felt that this episode kind of undermines its own essential claim a bit by leaning too heavily to one side of its ying/yang duality-of-the-soul argument. It posits quite clearly, and then reinforces/reiterates/actively demonstrates how poskirk cannot be a successful captain (human) without his ‘negative’ drives, but really fails to drive home the implied reverse with equal success. for all the profundity it seems to be after in posing its SERIOUS PHILOSOPHICAL QUESTION, it never quite manages to sell the (arguably necessary) fact that wildman kirk could not really have run a starship with any more success in the long term than dithering-fence-sitter kirk.

perhaps the implication would be enough if negkirk wasn’t ultimately such a cunning impostor for that end bit, but honestly i rather like that he is. it doesn’t have to destroy the exploration of human duality (though duality as a conception for understanding the human mind produces its own limitations) the episode sets up, but without him losing his cool BEFORE the jig is up via poskirk’s entrance on the bridge, it does somewhat. perhaps seeing negkirk’s ability to control his problem qualities gradually degrade in parallel to poskirk’s ability to command decisively might have balanced the scales here and made a stronger case for their eventual reintegration, the realization of their interdependence dawning on both sides independently if not simultaneously.

another reading might interpret the personality division in the freudian sense of the unconscious. psychoanalysis’ heyday was 50/60s in the US; so regardless of validity there would have been recognition and a basic understanding of the id-ego-superego paradigm common to most viewers. i mean the obvious kirk-spock-mccoy dynamic alone makes it pretty plain that the freudian triad was a familiar framework for personality deconstruction (appraisal of the human mind and all that) to the original audience. poskirk functioning as superego (intelligence/higher reasoning/long-term planning) to negkirk’s id (bodily needs/animal passions & drives/instant gratification) fits rather better with the end of the story we are given--i.e. Poskirk’s taming of the beast within (who just wants to LIVE!) using reason, convincing him, soothing him, comforting him back into the stable, the gentle embrace on the transporter pad, etc.

problem there is that as nicely as the ending aligns with freud’s unconscious, that is NOT what the episode sets up with its patently stated “positive/negative” dichotomy thesis. It asks us to view/decode kirk in specifically binary terms (spock: “appraise the human mind, in human terms, to examine the roles of good/evil in a man” [paraphrasing] etc), and from that stance, even the classic angel-vs-devil-on-the-shoulder personification of the id-ego-superego triangle becomes a stretch in the practical depiction of the conflict as it is presented to us. with kirk’s ego (unified self) totally absent and out of frame, his superego (poskirk) has to do double-duty and function as both in order to resolve the conflict while the id (negkirk) must also act outside the paradigm to get to the bridge in the first place--which to me ultimately creates the same sort of lopsided feel to the action as the failure to balance the intended binary split.

still love seeing any trek that is trying this hard to do SOMETHING with itself other than tread water--no one can ever take away the fact that shatner was ALL IN with this before any other part of trek was yet steady on its feet.
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JTIBERIUS
Sun, Nov 18, 2018, 6:14pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: What Are Little Girls Made Of?

where's susan calvin when you need her? dammit jim, you're a starship captain, not a robopsychologist!
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JTIBERIUS
Tue, Nov 13, 2018, 10:30pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S1: Charlie X

consumption of classic sci-fi at this point is in a fundamental way an historicist exercise in tracking our social progression as much as it is entertainment. while there is no point maligning it for where it fails to meet modern sensibilities--especially since one is presumably there in the first place to celebrate where it still manages to succeed in doing the same--i do believe discussion of how our sensibilities have shifted out-of-universe is a useful and important continuation of the REAL WORK i like to see trek attempt in all its iterations. After all, trek doesn’t just inspire us to model our flip phones and ipads on ‘communicators’ and ‘padds’ and theorize about warp drives--it also attempts to give us a model for human behaviour in our BEST POSSIBLE FUTURE. Checking in with older versions of our best possible future is one way we find the consensus to course-correct our biggest and most necessary cultural shifts and recalibrate our (projected) trajectory (see TOS ref. interracial kissing or DISC ref. homosexuality. whatever you think of them, most of us apparently agree now that they will probably still exist in ALL of our possible future(s) and that our posterity will very likely not give whatever shits we might).

So although i found myself mostly tracking themes of gender-interaction & adolescence in charlie x during THIS watchthrough and plan to spew some impressions about those subjects here, I’m not really trying to squabble/troll/strut my neo-americo-politico. For contrast, the last time i watched it the gender politics were totally eclipsed by my simultaneous reading of a ton of ray bradbury and harlan ellison so scifi-horror genre blending and twilight zone comparisons were my primary analytical lenses. anyway, people get real sensitive about gender discourse without pretty thorough disclaimers these days, but gender discourse is nevertheless part of that REAL WORK i was talking about before so feel free to engage, but only if you can sustain a picard-level of civility in the undertaking, thx.

so as an artifact of its time, i find charlie x pretty daring in its effort to imagine its own time's 'less sexist' future. even stuck in our ‘past-future’, blind to its own blind spots, and missing some of its marks, this episode still feels like it’s doing some of that realwork in parsing sexual politics and departing from realworld madmen-era norms. I get that by modern standards the males here come off as (still in the 23rd century) somehow unable to explain simple ideas of autonomy and a sentient being’s innate right to bodily agency to an adolescent boy (even though they manage just fine to speechify the same concepts to/about blobs and gasbags)--but the take away to me is that they try at all in a less-than-totally-alien context.

it’s a pretty bold depiction for the time of a woman flatly denying male attention without any consequence/scorn/joke (perhaps only possible then because of the young male/older woman angle)--especially of a woman who actually DOES appear to care about the person whose attention toward her feels increasingly rooted in the obsessive/possessive feelings that are so often real-world precursors to sexual violence. It devotes quite a lot of time to showcasing the yeoman’s gradual steps toward taking the actions that (may) become necessary to her bodily safety and which match the escalation of charlie’s advances in a pretty true-to-life way. She sends him to an older male for counsel, she tries to explain it herself, eventually she goes to her superior with her grievance. etc. I bet at the time it felt very familiar to women but maybe not so much to men who probably couldn’t bring themselves to break decorum and address harassment directly if at all then. In retrospect, rand’s comfort with sending charlie to a man in authority to ask about his misstep is kind of great since it supposes a future in which she is not ashamed and presumes that man will have a reasonably accurate understanding of her perspective sans any assumption that she herself somehow invited the affront. again, possibly only the age difference makes this work here, but in the mid-60s i call it a win.

it does seem that her genuine affection-but-not-passion for charlie is presented as something that this adolescent (male?) just cannot decode without (male?) guidance though. without this guidance, it seems that every time rand responds warmly to him or appears friendly (as during the mess scenes with the card tricks), it appears not just to reinforce his crush (totally natural) but also feelings of entitlement to reciprocation (also natural? only correctable through social instruction? idk). his previous lack of human contact is the in-universe explanation for this inability, but he is not also a small child like anthony from twilight zone’s ‘it’s a good life’--he plays chess and runs a starship with his superpowers. he knows that HE feels emotion and that others do as well. he knows that he doesn’t like his feelings hurt. he says kirk is “not nice” when he tries to confine him, hates being laughed at or feeling humiliation but nevertheless laughs at spock and attempts to humiliate him on the bridge by having him spout poetry, turns that girl into an iguana and grins maliciously, etc so it’s difficult to buy from a contemporary standpoint that he doesn’t have enough on humans at his disposal to deduce that if the yeoman does not want him, his taking her or disappearing her is, in fact, ‘not nice.’ if charlie knows what he is doing is wrong, his acts against rand are much more frightening, but also much more analogous to realworld situations. when does a young man learn that it is wrong to force your will onto others? is the answer different now than it was then?

The assumption of young men’s lack of emotional intelligence here is totally expected in this period, but I also think it’s worth noting that the apriori assumption that charlie (and by allegorical extension adolescents in general) CANT learn to identify, decode, and apply emotional information based on experience and observation alone (listening to rand and accepting her choice) helps absolve him/them of the responsibility of cultivating the skill (emotions are a skill some people have to work on), and then simultaneously punishes him/them for not having it down already--which is a very arrogant and adult failure. charlie is first snickered at for benign faux pas and then eventually banished for, in some sense, quitting the growing-up game and the intricacies of navigating adult space at a disadvantage while he is faced with perceived ridicule--a very adolescent failure, to be sure. but where does the episode place the blame for this failure? on him rather than the adults around him who fail him spectacularly even though they clearly want to help and feel that what they offer him should be enough for him to extrapolate the rest.

so the episode positions kirk as the dispenser of knowledge, arbiter of justice, and guiding paternal hand here--all in keeping with period--but consider kirk's initial fail regarding the 'bum-tap.' it’s a less successful joke in today's atmosphere because its humor comes from our adult knowledge that there are, in fact, 2 answers to charlie's question, well why can’t you slapass anyway?
answer 1) in public and in theory (and in fictional projections of our best future-selves which celebrate us at the height of our civility) we don't harass unfamiliar women/people like that because we agree as a society that certain areas of the body are restricted-access. they require familiarity and prior authorization to engage them. it is a violation of the other person's body-sovereignty/sentience/personhood to treat them as something you are free to manipulate without obvious encouragement if not outright verbalized permission.
answer 2) well, son, when you're naturally 'gifted' at this (as i am, kirksmirk) you just KNOW when it's okay to initiate rump-thumping protocols and when it isn't, how can i possibly TELL you if you don’t already KNOW? It’s just INTUITION my boy...
I wonder where charlie’s feelings of inadequacy start, eh? WE get kirk’s joke, of course, but charlie doesn’t. he needs the first answer but he only gets the second. worse, kirk’s delivery makes it pretty obvious that there IS some second meaning he should already know. coupled with the pain of rejection you’ve got a perfect kickoff for the development of feelings of inferiority in an adolescent superbeing.

the episode’s “right” answer is of course what kirk says later in his failure--there are a million things you can have and a million you can’t--an oversimplification that only comes AFTER charlie has failed to miraculously devine human taboos through the very helpful mix of snickering, teasing, ignoring, and patronizing he endures at the hands of cap’n’crew. as an adult, you know uhura’s teasing song and the crew’s laughter is based in affection but if you know any teens you also know how obtuse they can be when they feel stupid academically, socially, or otherwise.

so here, where charlie’s initiation into the club of adulthood becomes VITAL for him to be accepted/acceptable in society because of his power, again, the only instruction he receives is in the form of a frustrated, nervous adult laying down the law. if emotional intelligence IS innate, the implication becomes that charlie just ain’t got it, and his failure to meet ‘normal’ social standards is grounds for expulsion from the club of humanity. the inability of his untutored adolescent brain to decode rand’s or the rest of the crew’s behavior positions charlie, for all of that power, as inherently defective, unfixable, and dangerous. even if on the other hand, emotional management is a learned skill, the implication here is still that charlie couldn’t learn it because he was supplied by kirk with the KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL so to speak, and was still unable to process the information into a usable moral code within a few days. either way, it amounts to a very adult dismissal of a very real adolescent quandary--especially in a reality where humans are interplanetary superstars at diplomacy with various alien species of various emotional configurations all mostly figured out (snort from over here in reality snort).

The real horror of this episode isn’t charlie himself really. It’s the terrifying, ever-fading ability of adults to communicate with, relate to, and/or control younger people who seem too volatile/reckless/fearless to wield the powers and knowledge they already have with wisdom they certainly do not have, yet cannot realize they lack. In other words, not all teens are a charlie, but every adult is a kirk--we all see ourselves as someone who could take a kid underwing, do a little boxing, fishing, and viola! But then we end up talking way too much instead of listening. We’re too busy reminiscing, too cringingly knowing, we think we’re funny (because we are) but we forget so easily that they don’t get us yet because we vaguely remember being like them.

But when we abandon kids in trouble or railroad their lived experiences or titter at their juvenile antics its easy to forget the humiliation that is sometimes involved in learning the rules that govern adult conduct. Something small can feel big enough to a kid to justify copping out of learning these rules and avoiding people altogether. Then, a few years later that kid is a charlie, limited experience with people and a whole lot of new power, wondering why someone won’t just explain the rules and stop laughing at them.
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JTIBERIUS
Tue, Nov 13, 2018, 1:49am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S4: These Are the Voyages...

on my 3rd go around of ENT--well, actually i just went ahead and started at s3 this time even though it is by far the trek i've watched least. actually it has been pretty satisfying not to be completist about it since i usually force myself to sit though all the trek presented to me regardless of quality because even crap trek tells me something about what other people think trek is and i like to think it gives me some insight into some of the wildly different species of trekkie one encounters. there's a joke somewhere in here about needing a diplomatic conference of our own but i digress--as it stands, there is only a single episode in the franchise i've NEVER seen and it's this one.

I've been warned. i heeded the warning when it aired (barely) and then i managed to avoid it again the second time when i was concerned the girlfriend i was watching it with might get turned off too near the start of her trek journey since she insisted on a 'chronological' viewing of the franchise. I'm a staunch publishing/release-order-first completist usually so this had me totally sensitive to how bad the quality of ENT can subjectively feel relative to a viewer's prior experience with other trek and my internal monologue of it that time was a hypercritical fret-fest because, lol, i really felt like i needed this girl to at least make it as far as TOS before my chance to subject her to trek fizzled, you understand.

So now i have arrived again at this test of my will and my resolve is weak. I initially put ENT back in rotation again because i havent watched it at all since DISC started and i wanted a light, abbreviated prequel refresher--skip to s3 and do not watch the end. that was the plan. not sure whether i'll make it this time. its like my tv is over there glaring at me and demanding i choose my pain.
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JTIBERIUS
Thu, Nov 8, 2018, 4:36pm (UTC -5)
Re: TOS S3: Plato's Stepchildren

Watched this episode in college with a room full of people during a tv marathon, maybe 13 of us. i had seen all of TOS prior but I could only remember this one vaguely for whatever reason as 'the one where they dance and sing and the spock kiss'--like, did not even remember it was also the famous kirk/uhura kiss episode, did not remember the plot at all or alexander. it was totally surreal because although the images were familiar in that dejavu-movies-from-childhood way, it felt on some level like a first viewing or a lost episode from a show i thought i knew literally backwards and forwards. I can only surmise that i spent years of star trek viewing subconsciously skipping it entirely--perhaps for some of the same reasons described above for those who hate the episode.

Maybe as a young trek fan it seemed too silly or juvenile with all of the horseplay to a mind too young to quite get the adult implications but feeling too mature for the surface ham of it, maybe I got it just enough to be deeply discomforted at the humiliation of my heroes. I honestly dont know how i experienced it before this night.

That viewing party had about a half-half ratio of full blown veteran trekkies and casual fans--some there for nostalgia who had probably seen a few episodes with daddy or come-with-a-friend types who had a general cultural awareness and were there to giggle at some shatner--all valid reasons to watch some trek, and we had been tuned in for hours at this point, commercials and all. The bloodwine I brought was long gone and the party had taken over the actual viewing by this point.

And then I saw this episode LITERALLY TRANSFIX the entire group, myself included. The two vets I was with were rolling their eyes and I was totally embarrassed that I couldn't remember what I should be eye-rolling about lol and they wanted to leave but I of course secretly wanted to stay because for me it was kind of like watching new trek for the first time in years. So i convinced them to stay by being like, guys, LOOK at how the rest of them are watching this! They've been giggling at shanter all night--even during the great episodes getting mad at us for shushing them and now look at them! they are silent, leaned forward, on the edges of their seats CARING about KIRK with lined serious faces, NOT laughing at shanter and nimoy crawl around and sing? Im pretty sure i actually said 'fascinating.'

Anyway, they stayed and I watched the episode right along with the newbies (also riveted myself) and after a while I saw my trek friends fall into the group mind tool--seeing it through their friends eyes and then feeling it differently than they had before. There were TEARS in that room when Alexander’s monologue was through. When Spock asked Kirk if he felt anger i HEARD people inhale sharp and then hold breath.

After the episode--by some silent agreement of groupthink the tv went off and the, like, 13ish of us talked trek for 4 more hours! None of the new fans left and today all of them are seen-every-episode-ENT-->VOY fans that I freak-tweet during discovery episodes. For most of them, this is their favorite episode. The group as a whole considers it brilliant, even the longest standing trekkies in the group eventually had to admit that night (3 hours to 3 years later) that if it could affect a whole room that way randomly, even if it wasn't their taste or on their top 10 list, that for some people it was doing what they also loved best about trek--making them think, reevaluate, explore, learn, grow, discuss, debate, synthesize, so many ideas all around a ridiculously campy backdrop, a made-up world etc.

In the end, it's a favorite for me too. In fact its on my personal introduce-a-friend-to-trek list now. I try not to tell them how "stupid" it is before they watch. Ive realized over the years that it is still polarizing. Some people ultimately find it TOO gratuitous or TOO exploitative or just TOO cheesy in its presentation though sound in concept--like many people above. But Trek as a whole is TOO everything at some point. It’s a giant, sprawling, unevenly gratuitous/exploitative/cheesy-in-practice-if-not-theory/goodadjectivestoo beast where there is room for other people to see brilliance differently. Some people like Janeway more than Picard because they think the erratic writing of her character makes her more interesting on repeat viewing--a pastiche of the developing StarTrekCaptain character like a dissection and meta-examination of the tropes of trek itself, or because they interpret her philosophical inconsistency as an exploration of her psychological trauma as a lone authority figure isolated from her command structure. Both are interesting reads that have made VOY more enjoyable to me over the years.

Some of the people who watched Plato’s Stepchildren that night say they never saw better acting in TOS ever again--one of them says this episode is the crown jewel of nimoy’s spock and makes the argument in detail as part of a thesis years later (it was her first introduction to trek). They have high praise for how WELL they think the director/actors/episode convey the depth and gravity of torture/sadism/control through classical performance styles like you might see on a stage with only the actors bodies to engage with and almost no reliance on TV magic.

Anyway, I've had a lot of conversations about this episode over the years at this point and my thoughts along with the thoughts of my friends and the internet have melted together so much that at this point I'm not sure what parts of the case I make for it are mine per say. It's still not my absolute favorite episode and I still know for some reason I skipped it for years but it has brought more richness to my experience of social fandom than any other single episode in the franchise. My advice is to try it again with someone farther outside the fandom and hear what they say without bombarding them with trek-dogmas first.

LL&P
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