Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weekend of DEATH!

Ok, so I’m relaxing on Saturday night, catching up with some episodes of my favorites shows (That would be Torchwood and Battlestar Galactica for those of you who haven’t been paying attention) when I realize that someone appointed this the weekend of mass slaughter in American Sci-fi television. Yes, I know Torchwood is British but it was on BBC America, so I’m still counting it.
So, first Torchwood. Ihave to say, after the flashback episode, I saw this one coming. I knew people were going to die, and at the moment Jack’s lost brother Grey showed up I knew he would be evil. Not that they teased that much. The who reunion went hug-stabby-stabby. So, you know, evil from the start.

But why did it have to be Tosh? Watching her pull herself down into the medlab and administer a painkiller even though she knew she was a goner, just so she’d be cogent enough to talk Owen through shutting down the reactor, in hopes of saving his life … way to go, Tosh. Owen was not worthy of you. Owen’s own death … well, he’d died already and I’ve never really liked the character, but I did get a little lump in my throat during that last conversation, when he’s raging against death and Tosh asks him to stop because he was breaking her heart. Made more poignant by the fact that Tosh never told him she was dying too. And they did find the one way of killing Owen that would actually work, being dissolved in radioactive goo. (side note: would this work on Jack too, or would he still be alive even though he was in molecular-dispersal form). Can’t say I’m not really sorry to see Owen go (sorry, Burn Gorman, but you just never rang true for me in a rare case of me liking the writing but not the performance. See also: Tracy Scoggins in Babylon 5), but Tosh’s exit really hurt. It was made even more bittersweet by the attempted palliative of her last message, found by the surviving members of the team as they cleaned up her station. “It’s all right.”

And so from there I went to Battlestar Galactica. Now, this is not a show you go to when you want to feel good about life. This episode, though … Oh my holy frakking god.

We knew it was going to go bad when Cally found out her husband, chief Tyrol, was a cylon. This is the girl who shot Boomer, remember. And her conflicted, victim-abuser relationship with the chief would come into play in some sickening ways. So, when she found out and went totally bugshit crazy, it made sense, especially since we’d spent a lot of the episode dealing with her already burgeoning stress-induced breakdown. This quite rightfully tipped her over the edge.
Now, Cally’s been one of those important characters that haven’t necessarily had starring roles on the series. She bit the ear off a revolutionairy on the prison ship when he tried to rape her. She got trapped on Kobol with Hotshot, where she was the first to use the term “Motherfrakker,” which was since become a show staple. She was beaten by Tyrol when he was going crazy after finding out his last girlfriend was a cylon. She later married Tyrol and moved with him to New Caprica, whereupon it was her arrest and planned execution that drove a lot of the plot.

And now this. She knocks Tyrol unconscious, takes her baby, and goes to the airlock. At this point I was prepared for that. The direction of these scenes really showed us how Cally’s world had shrunk to encompass only that which she could experience inside her own head. Her husband is a cyclon. That means her baby is a cylon. Her world is over.

She sets the airlock so that it will space both her and little Nicky, who is of course, crying his little curly head off.

This was going to be brutal. And usually I would turn off a show that did something like this and never watch again (I have a thing about little kids dying because of my own family’s history. It’s why I can’t watch a lot of horror. Yes, I know about the Mist and will never forgive Stephen King) but this show earned it. It was supposed to be brutal.

And then Tory shows up, talks Cally down, takes the baby.

Throws Cally across the airlock and spaces her, while the confused child watches. We see Cally’s astounded, frozen face, as she floats away in the dark.

It could have been so much worse, but … whoa.

This is the first time that we have seen one of the final five cylons, those who are fundamentally different than the rest, do something despicable. But even so … Cally had just tried to murder her own child. And Tory is afraid of being exposed. So, there’s the argument that this was a strange kind of self-defense. Well, I could make that argument if Tory had not done it so coolly, so dispassionately. So, probably not self defense.

And since I brought up the women if refrigerators concept in the post about Bonnie Richmond, I should mention it here. Yes, we have two dead women. But for it to be a true fridging, two factors must be in evidence. The characters cannot die heroically. And they must be killed as part of someone else’s storyline, not in a culmination of their own. It helps if they’re killed by men, but that’s not necessary.

Tosh dies a hero. No question. She saves the world. She tries to save the man she loves (but does not deserve her!). So, no fridging here.

Cally … she’s not a hero, she is definitely a victim. But while she is reacting to events in her husband’s story, this is very much a part of her own. Cally has always struggled with living in this new world. This … this is Cally’s story, this is Cally’s end, not just an adjunct to Tyrol’s. So … no fridging here either.

But this was definitely the weekend of death. I have not watched the new Doctor Who yet, so please … no one tell me Martha got blasted into the sun or something (I know it’s impossible, since she was on Torchwood already). Still, at this rate, I’m expecting the Coen brothers to guest-direct a very special episode of 30 Rock where Kenneth the page is put through a wood chipper. Actually, if any show could pull that off, it would probably be 30 Rock. And Kenneth would probably survive it by the force of his sheer, plucky optimism.

Carry on ….

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mere Mortals

I've been working on a new fiction project. I guess you'd call it a ficblog (I probably didn't make up that word, but I like it anyway). It combines my love of super-heroes, sci-fi, weird science, romance, adventure serials and, of course, the Apocalypse. And zombies.

Here's a snippet:

I decided that no matter what happened, I wasn’t going to close my eyes. There was a theory that at the moment of death, the retinas recorded the last image that slammed against the back of the eyeballs, and I wasn’t going to have that image be the dark insides of my eyelids. I mean, I know that whole theory is just debunked bullshit, but I liked the thought. And I was sure that if it did turn out to be actually true, one of Dan’s friends would be able to find some way to develop the film.
So I looked at Dr. Dillard, I stared at her face as she snarled and spit, animated by that green fire inside her eyes, the fire, I knew, that had burned out her soul.
I couple of low, shattering crunches exploded in from the side—gunshots?—and the hands that had held me released their pressure on my shoulders even as I felt a burst of heat at the back of my head.
I took the opportunity to fall back, but as I had been kicking out anyway, I ended up doing some awkward back-roll that was only barely more survivable than it was dignified, and the zombie doctor was on top of me.
I heard the shot again as the top of her head came off and erupted, a green supernova consuming her head. The rest of her body fell on top of me, splattering me with blood and other, pulpier, fluids.
What. The. Hell.

So, there it is. That's the opening of ep 2. I hope you'll check it out. Its updated twice a month, by the 1st and the 15th, but I've worked a little bit ahead. You can check it out by going to meremortals.wordpress.com

Saturday, April 05, 2008

C.S.A. : The Confederate States of America

The North loses the battle of Antietam, which denies Lincoln the victory he needs to make the abolition of slavery a central goal of the war between the states. This allows the south to keep the moral authority enough to swing Britain and France in on the confederate side. Gettysberg is lost. The South wins the war, destroys the north, and the United States of America ceases to exist, transforming into The Confederate States of America.

This is the plotline of the film C.S.A: The Confederate States of America. The film is a fictional documentary, purported to be a British film at first not allowed to be shown in the C.S.A. The film is presented as if it is being shown on CSA television, complete with fake advertisements aimed at a Confederate, slave-owning, audience. Products (some of which actually existed at one time) like “Sambo Oil,” “Darkie Toothpaste”, a COPS-like show about Runaway slaves called, appropriately enough, Runaway.

In this disturbing alternate history, Harriet Tubman attempted to sneak Abraham Lincoln into Canada and was hung for her trouble, as Lincoln was at first imprisoned, and then eventually exiled. Dying in 1905. Jefferson Davis ignores Robert E. Lee’s pleas for emancipation, and returns the practice of slavery to the north (at the supposed suggestion of his own slave), Frederick Douglass flees to Canada and leads the “Red Canadian” protest against slavery in the former U.S. Chinese immigrants are wrapped into the slavery program as they come to mine gold and build railroads. The CSA becomes involved in a decades-long war as they try to subjugate south America, instituting Jim Crow laws against Hispanics even if they do not enslave them. The CSA even enters WW2 on the side of Nazi Germany, though they do try to persuade Hitler just to make slaves of the Jews instead of exterminating them.

In short, this is a ghastly vision of a history in which U.S. Cultural development is stunted and Canada takes the US’s place in world popular culture. Slavery still exists in the modern day. It is all presented as if it’s a Ken Burns documentary. Some of this works really well, especially the parts that are interviews with history scholars and archived footage. The parts that are reproductions of supposed cultural works, such as plays and 1940’s movies, are the real weaknesses, so poorly written and performed as to breakbelievability a little. This is a forgivable sin, however, as it may be part of the point.

This film is fascinating, revealing a world that might have been. I’m not sure if all parts of the history hold up, but it certainly seems plausible. It’s also a helpful reminder of how some attitudes can become ingrained in a culture. Any history buff, anyone interested in how diversity issues can play out in a culture, should see this film, and shudder at a world that could have existed.

CSA is available on DVD, and often replays on IFC. It was produced by Spike Lee and directed by Kevin Wilmott.

The Return of Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica is back.

Life is worth living again (at least for 10 weeks).

Ok, no, that’s over-stating it, but watching the show last night, it did seem like something vital to our cultural landscape had been returned. Over the past 3 seasons, this show has just hit on so many levels. It’s probably one of the first successful revamps to overcome fanboy handwringing by saying “fuck-all” to expectations, establishing its own voice, and becoming a work superior not only to its earlier incarnation, but to almost everything else out there right now. It’s navigating a tricky, heartbreaking storyline, running full-on into narrative land-mines and somehow surviving them. The End of the World! Everything you know is wrong! Reboot character gender/ethnicity switch! Plucky band of rebels vs. an overwhelming superior force! Character returns from the dead! We are not the people we thought we were! Bob Dylan songs in space (ok, this one may not be a common trope, but it was definitely a mine in the field)! It was all there, and all handled with maturity, brutal honesty, and grace.

Season four finds our “ragtag fleet” of apocalypse survivors facing not only a fleet of enemy battleships but more dangerously, a fatal confusion as to what to do next. It begins moments after Starbuck’s return. She’s been to Earth, and wants to lead the rest of them there. By leaving Starbuck, ultimately, just as confused about how she’s returned as the rest of the cast, the writers expand this story, adding a new layer to Starbuck. They make her an oracle. She knows the way to go (she thinks) but only because she can somehow feel where they’re going wrong. But because she can’t explain what happened to her, no one trusts her. She becomes Cassandra, the prophetess of Troy, cursed to see the future but not to be believed. Of course, Starbuck is a classic screw-up character, so she’s going to take everything to the extreme, and she does go to extremes to make the leadership listen to her at the end of this ep, which leaves her face to face (well, gun to face) with a major character whom, early in the series, she saw as a mentor.

And while Starbuck becomes an unlikely Cassandra, Gauis Baltar, fresh off of his acquittal, is trying to turn himself into a false prophet. The problem is, he may actually have a connection to the one true God. And as he falls into despair, and literally offers up his life in exchange for another (the degree of his sincerity is probably up for interpretation), he may actually be transforming, Siddhartha-like, into something he has never been. An honest man. Purely by accident, of course.

And the newly revealed final four cylons? No one had more importance to the New Caprica resistance that these four. Where do they go from here? Those are the questions they are asking themselves. But for now, Tigh provides the answer. They are who they have always been. New revelations change nothing. There’s a comforting philosophy there: we are who we choose to be. Genetics, race, even experiences, are nothing compared to personal choices. And yes, we’ve seen this storyline before in Caprica-Sharon who became fell in love wit Helo, betrayed her people, and became Galactica’s Athena, goddess of wisdom and war. Who these four become is still unclear. There is a possibility for betrayal.
We’ve been promised an honest, clear-eyed, brutal end to this series. Ten episodes this spring, ten next spring, and that’s it. It’s clear the writers and producers have the end in sight, and the freedom to tell story they need to tell. Not many shows get this chance. And no matter what happens, Battlestar Galactica has earned the right to go where it’s going to go. .