Monthly Archives: January 2016

Tales from /lost+found 43: Death is a stupid asshole.

Yeah, I wasn’t going to keep doing this, but I said to someone, “I was worried it was turning into a running gag,” and they said, “Yeah, but is it funny?”

I don’t know either. But people have been trying to work out if Abe Vigoda was dead for longer than I’ve been alive. Exactly what I wanted to be reminded of right around my birthday.

Cover blurb below the fold.

Abe Vigoda, Glen Frey in Doctor Who

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Antithesis: Synthetic Love (War of the Worlds 2×09)

Remember kids, yellow drugs are bad. Blue drugs are good.

Remember kids, yellow drugs are bad. Blue drugs are good.

Happy new year! It is January 15, 1990, which is, it is really weird to think about, twenty years and one day before I get married. We’ve been away for a while, so let’s see what we’ve missed. Gorbachev met Pope John Paul II and two days later officially declared the Cold War over. East Germany amended its constitution, permitting political parties other than the Socialist Unity Party to run the country. Egon Krenz resigned as head of state and the SED dissolved a few days later. Václav Havel became the president of Czechoslovakia. Civil unrest broke out in Romania, and unlike all the other communist countries that were collapsing at the time, the Romanian government decided to double down rather than back down, ordering protesters to be shot. On December 22, the military abruptly switched sides. On Christmas day Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife were given a quick show-trial then summarily executed by firing squad.

In January, Turkmenistan, though still communist and not yet independent, held the first partially-free elections in the Eastern Bloc since Poland last year. Poland, by the way, withdrew from the Warsaw Pact at the beginning of the year. Demonstrations in Lithuania presage its independence in March, and protesters in East Germany storm the Stasi headquarters. Martial law in China, imposed after last year’s Tiananmen Square protests, is finally lifted on the tenth.

In non-Cold War news, David Dinkins was sworn in as the mayor of New York and Douglas Wilder as the Governor of Virginia. The US invaded Panama over Christmas break. Strongman Manuel Noriega surrendered on January 3. Mission STS-32 launched Space Shuttle Columbia into space for the tenth time. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is closed to visitors on account of how far it’s leaning.

The Billboard chart-toppers since we’ve been gone have been “Blame it on the Rain” by Milli Vanilli, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel, and “Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Collins, which remains the incumbent for its fourth week. “Pump Up the Jam” is also on the chart this week, as “Don’t Know Much” by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville. New on the top ten this week is “Just Between You and Me” by Lou Gramm, one of those songs I find hard to remember from its title (It’s the one whose chorus goes “Even if heaven and Earth collide tonight…”).

Mr. Bean premiers on Thames Television. The Simpsons premiers on FOX. Bart Simpson is in fourth grade and Maggie is a nonverbal infant. Free Spirit, one of those “high-concept” sitcoms I’m so fascinated by gets its plug pulled after fourteen episodes. I remember nothing of the show whatever and it seems to be utterly unremarkable except that it was Alyson Hannigan’s first regular TV role. Square One TV starts its third season. Everything on TV is new this week, but largely unremarkable. Last week’s MacGyver is another of those ones where Mac gets whacked in the head and hallucinates himself into the old west or something. Without looking it up, I think it may be the one where he gets a wooden Swiss Army knife.

Star Trek the Next Generation takes the week off, but the preceding two weeks gave us “The Defector” and “The Hunted”. I remember “The Defector” pretty well. “The Hunted” I am pretty sure is exactly the same plot they would recycle for at least one of the later series. Possibly more than one. And possibly an episode of Stargate Atlantis too. Friday the 13th the Series returned last week with “Mightier than the Sword”, about a cursed pen that compels people do whatever they’re written as doing. So like that John Candy movie Delirious only not funny. It’s noteworthy because Micki straight-up murders the bad guy at the end. This week is “Year of the Monkey”, and involves a set of those see-no-evil/hear-no-evil/speak-no-evil monkey statues.

If you were hoping that after my very long break, I’d have something brilliant and insightful to say about this week’s episode of War of the Worlds, you’re going to be disappointed. I went through this a couple of times, but all I can come up with is that it’s a confused mess. On the most superficial level, it seems like it’s got something to say — the incredibly banal and underwhelming message that, “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”, screamed from the rooftops. But it spends much of its run-time undermining its own message, and never manages justify or quantify its own moral stance. It’s not even a fully coherent Space Whale Aesop (A speculative fiction morality tale wherein the fantastic elements undermine the moral lesson by giving it an air of fantasy that renders it inapplicable to the real world. Such as, “Don’t torture space whales.”) because while it seems to be going for, “Drugs are bad because aliens,” the actual alien drug is the least harmful thing in here. Except when it isn’t. I don’t know. Maybe I missed a page or something.

“Synthetic Love” tries to be an important episode to the mythos, and completely fails in this regard. Specifically, this is the only time we’re given insight into how the world came to be such a crappile. And man alive is it heavy-handed. There’s been hints, sure: Debi mentioning a senator skipping bail, the talk last time about the soil being infertile. But they’ve never actually come right out and claimed a causal relationship with the collapse of civilization until now. A voice on the TV in the background of the second scene of this episode is going to come right out and say that the economy has collapsed, and the welfare system has collapsed, and social services have collapsed, and it’s all the direct result of the legalization of narcotics four years earlier.

The government announced the final collapse of the welfare system. Rumored for the past month, the official shutdown of all welfare operations will begin at midnight tonight. The plight of millions of unemployed and homeless has reached unmanageable proportions, and the administration attributes the origin of the catastrophe to the legalization of narcotics four years ago.

You don’t say. Well, first-off, I guess we’re meant to understand that War of the Worlds is set at least four years into the future. Probably at least eight since it’s hard to imagine anyone seriously believing George Bush would end the War on Drugs. The TV voice makes a particular point that it was assumed that taking drugs out of the hands of the gangs and giving them to the corporations would make things better but has not. No reason is given for this. No reason is ever given for this. Okay, our motif here is grimdark punk-rock dystopian, so maybe it just goes without saying that corporations are evil and corrupt and make everything worse. I can get behind that, sure, but if you want to actually claim that corporations are worse than street gangs, I think that’s not something you can just handwave. Utterly missing from this discussion is any sense of “how” or “why”. Because it feels for all the world like this episode wants us to believe that drug legalization is the cause of the current state of affairs, and is just hoping we don’t remember that the previous episode told us that one of the attendant problems with this collapse is that they can’t get food to grow in the soil, and a few weeks before that they told us about bio-weapons testing on civilians. Because drugs, I guess.

There’s a note of triumphalism in it, sort of like you often see in religious end times stories — a sense of, “Take that, hippie scum! You thought legalizing drugs would make things better but this entirely fictional story about aliens proves you’re wrong!” Like all triumphalism, it doesn’t really care about the substance of the argument it’s dismissing. It takes for granted that if drugs were legal, nearly everyone would do them, become addicted, and turn into a drain on society. But for all that’s a very right-wing argument, it seems like the narrative’s sympathies are clearly with the addicts, and it strongly agrees with the idea of treating drug addiction as a public health crisis rather than a criminal one. If anything, addicts are depicted foremost as victims of corporate greed.

And yet, the big drug corporation is also painted sympathetically. They do try to do the right thing, and there’s indications of a social consciousness and sense of social responsibility that perhaps they wanted to seem fake, but don’t come off that way. Certainly, if we’re supposed to take away the message that it’s all the fault of Evil Corporations, we shouldn’t have Blackwood speaking approvingly of the narcotics-industry-run free rehabilitation clinics. Which he does.

You know what it reminds me of a little? Way back when I was talking about Max Headroom, one of the things I had noticed was that their critique of capitalism was subtly neutered: the system as a whole stank, to be sure, but it was always the fault of a discrete set of bad actors. A handful of sociopaths who’d wormed their way into positions of trust. Not like out corporate overlords, who totally want to do the right thing, and totally would on balance, if only they weren’t beholden to the advertisers and the shareholders.

Come to think of it, there’s a distinctly Max Headroom vibe to the look and feel of this episode. If “Night Moves” had kind of a Soap Opera feel to it, “Synthetic Love”, despite lacking any of the overt trappings and signifiers of it, feels weirdly cyberpunk. There’s no cyberweb or NuYen or Street Samurai, but there are elements of corporate plotting with overly elaborate plans which have been calibrated for maximum nastiness despite the fact that they could not possibly accomplish any sort of practical goal beyond increasing human misery (It’s even explicit that the drug companies aren’t profitable! It’s not even “They destroy lives, the environment and civilization to turn a profit.” They do all those things at a loss!). But I don’t just mean the plot: there’s been other plots that would lend to a Max Headroom episode (“Night Moves”, “Terminal Rock” and “Breeding Ground” all come to mind), but it would require a substantial rewrite to actually tell the story in that mode. Much more than any other episode so far, you could imagine this one ending with Edison Carter airing his “live and direct” expose on rehab clinics. You can pretty much use Edison, Theora and Bryce as drop-in replacements for Kincaid, Blackwood and Suzanne.

Except, of course, that Max Headroom had a sense of humor, and could revel playfully in the perversity of its setting, while War of the Worlds is more interested in just bringing us down. You’ll notice that there’s no analogue of the Max character in War of the Worlds. I think I would be a lot more forgiving of this show if it were more fun instead of just an endless tragedy parade. Having an element like Max to provide cynical commentary on the situation would also help with the fact that the heroes don’t actually do anything this week. Blackwood and Suzanne spend the entire episode doing chemical analysis, and Kincaid’s role is primarily to serve as a witness. They have nothing to do with the outcome of the story — everything would unfold in exactly the same way had they been omitted. For Max Headroom that sort of thing worked, since Edison’s power in that series wasn’t his ability to intervene in the plot as it unfolded, but to be there at the end with his camera to expose the truth. The truth-exposing part just doesn’t happen in War of the Worlds, and Kincaid isn’t much of a “watch but don’t interfere, and make sure you document everything” character anyway.

The aliens have invented a new drug called “Crevulax”, which sounds almost five percent more like the name of an alien from Doctor Who than like an actual drug. Allegedly, it fixes personality disorders and causes instant euphoria — we see it instantly calm someone who’s violently psychotic.

War of the Worlds

This dude looks like he’s about to ask Lenny to tell him about the rabbits, the girl is obviously terrified… And this is considered a great success

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Ooh, I bet the effects are only temporary and when the withdraw kicks in, you become ultra-violent or explode or something.” You know what would have been a better plot than the plot of this episode? That thing you just said. No, we never see any evidence that there’s any negative side effects to taking Crevulax. Which is not to say that Crevulax isn’t secretly evil: it’s rather predictably so. But, based on what we actually see, it does work. Really well. But it’s somehow bad for some reason.

I guess maybe you could claim that Crevulax suppresses all violent instincts to the point where it leaves people unable to defend and take care of themselves, in a sort of Clockwork Orange or Serenity way (Or even closer, the Doctor Who serial “The Mind of Evil”). I’d say that fits best with the balance of the facts (Malzor does mention that pacifying the humans is one of their goals, though he seems to be in it mostly for the money this time). But no one ever says so or shows us this in action. You’d want there to be a scene where the Crevulax test subject gets jumped by street toughs or something and Kincaid has to save him because he’s completely unable to protect himself. But no, we’re just expected to take it for granted that Crevulax is bad because (a) aliens and (b) drug.

Vlasta Vrana as Laporte

Only lighting one side of his face and having him always hold a snifter of brandy is the full extent of how they convey that he’s evil.

Malzor, operating again under the pseudonym of “Mr. Malcolm”, signs a lucrative deal with the head of Laporte Pharmaceuticals to distribute Crevulax via their charity free drug rehab clinics. I guess to replace methadone. Laporte is instantly convinced that Crevulax will turn around his company’s projected 13% loss this quarter though an aggressive policy of “giving it away for free”. Laporte’s plan seems to be:

  1. Give Crevulax away for free
  2. ???
  3. Profit

Sure, okay, “the first one’s free” is standard drug-dealer MO. But once again, they never actually say that. Far too much in this episode is predicated on the idea that the audience will just go along with “Drugs are bad, mmkay?” Legalizing drugs will be bad because instead of the narcotics industry running like a business, businesses will run like drug cartels. Only without making any money because you can’t make legit money on drugs, because drugs are bad, mmkay? That murders will go up (42% according to The Exposition Channel) with legalization because drugs make people murderous. For that matter, the whole “Corporations are bad, mmkay?” thing is also something we’re meant to take on faith, given that Laporte never knowingly does anything evil and tries to make things right when he learns the truth.

You could probably say that Laporte ought to have been more suspicious and kicked “Mr. Malcolm” to the curb for being so transparently slimy and evil, but it’s not like he actually trusts Malzor beyond what he demonstrates firsthand in the Crevulax tests. Heck, he goes behind Malzor’s back to have Crevulax analyzed because he’s suspicious. The worst thing he does is to agree to Malzor’s terms when he claims that they’ll need a regular supply of “test subjects” to “calibrate” the Crevulax formulation process.

Yeah, about that. Crevulax is people, in case you haven’t figured it out. I shouldn’t play down the fact that this is evil and all, but it’s a very bush-league sort of evil. The aliens are killing a small number of people for the purpose of making a drug which legitimately seems to help people in very dire need. That’s sort of an “essay topic for freshman ethics class” kind of evil, not what you’d expect from either a secret alien invasion story or a giant evil corporation story.

Adrian Paul

Kincaid demonstrates how to Just Say No to Freddie Mercury

The hook to get our heroes involved this week, insofar as they’re involved, is a guy called Mr. Jimmy. He’s yet another of those “Old friends of Kincaid with a problem” that we’d seen before in “Terminal Rock” and “Seft of Emun”. He’s got one line of dialogue that hints that maybe he became addicted to drugs due to chronic pain from an old leg injury, which is all we’ll learn about his backstory. We watch him try unsuccessfully to buy “a gram of rock” at a fortified pharmacy (Perhaps we’re meant to understand that the drug companies’ unprofitability stems from them relying on a product that actively hinders the buyer’s ability to hold down a job?), then almost get beaten up by a loan shark in a bar. Fortunately for him, Kincaid’s just sat down to a bottle of whiskey, hold the shot-glass full of pills.

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Tales from /lost+found 42: You will know it is time to turn the page…

These things are basically the reason I learned to read by the time I was three. Far as I know, there never was a classic-era Doctor Who Read-along book. This has now been corrected.

I know what the more cynical among you might say about the design of the Cybermen. But obviously, it’s not just a shameless rip-off of Iron Man. There’s a bit of Star-Lord in there too.

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Synthesis 4: Raised on Biggie and Nirvana

Jared Martin, Rachel Blanchard, Lynda Mason GreenSo yeah. As many times as I’ve watched this series, somehow this is the first time I’ve noticed how much “Among the Philistines” prefigures “The Second Wave”. And not just in the broad strokes of “The aliens manage to get an agent inside the Cottage.”

“The Second Wave” begins with Blackwood going to a meeting set up by General Wilson which turns out to be a trap set by the aliens to capture him. That’s basically what happens in the first half of “Among the Philistines” as well, though in a slower way: Harrison and the gang are sent to a meeting with Adrian, who turns out to be an alien infiltrator.

Once the Blackwood team starts working with Adrian, we cut back to the Advocacy in their cave. One of them has sent a transmission to the council in anticipation of their success. Another cautions the first about getting ahead of himself because of the risk they’re taking on if the plan fails. It’s unusual to see the Advocates disagree on strategy — the only other time we’ve seen it was when one of them was sick. But there’s similar scenes in “The Second Season” of Malzor assuring the Eternal of their success, and the recurring element of tension between him and Mana over strategy.

It’s the third act of “Among the Philistines” where the parallels become really strong, though. In both, Ironhorse and his troops are sent off to a location they’ve discovered by studying alien transmissions, and in both cases, it turns out to be a trap. In both cases, Ironhorse is forced to breach security to get back into the Cottage when it’s been locked down in his absence. In both cases, there’s a climactic fight in the basement between Norton and an alien agent — for that matter, both episodes feature a fight between Norton and Ironhorse, though in very different contexts.

Even more specifically, both fights feature a member of the team dying at the elevator door. Philip AkinAnd in both fights, Norton is knocked out of his wheelchair, but manages to pull himself to something he can use to strike back: the wiring box in “Among the Philistines”, the alarm panic button in “The Second Wave”. Furthermore, both episodes feature a scene where the good guys would be able to safely escape the situation, except that Debi has gone and gotten herself into a position to be imperiled by the infiltrator, and someone’s got to risk themself to extricate her. And, finally, both episodes end with sombre survivors commemorating their fallen colleagues.

Despite their similarities, though, the two episodes are polar opposites in tone. Because their plots hit so many of the same points, this particular pair of episodes serve to highlight spectacularly just how different in tone the two seasons are. In both episodes, Norton is brave, and clever, and more competent in a fight than Ironhorse anticipates. But in “The Second Wave”, that’s not enough to save him (If you’ve got a good memory, I actually did make a crack about how Norton might have survived if he’d had a voice-controlled wheelchair. I did this totally not remembering the episode where he’d survived a similar fight by having his voice-controlled wheelchair ram the alien). In both episodes, Ironhorse is a brave and determined soldier, but in “The Second Wave”, he doesn’t manage to avoid falling into an ambush.

War of the Worlds Season 2 Title SequencePart of the difference is that Norton and Ironhorse (and Blackwood, for that matter, given that he only evades capture himself due to Kincaid’s intervention) all seem a little bit dimmer in the second season. Ironhorse lets himself be led into a trap. Norton fails to recognize the clone’s intentions until it’s too late (In fact, Norton here lacks all the traits which “Among the Philistines” showcased, which certainly gives credence to the unpleasant theory that Mancuso just didn’t see anything to the character of Norton beyond “cripple”). But even more, Frank Mancuso’s War of the Worlds is set in a world that’s just downright nastier. That much you can see from the title sequence. Remember the episode of Friday the 13th from two weeks ago? Basically an old episode of The Twilight Zone rewritten to be nastier. That’s basically Mancuso’s approach here too. What happens when you remake “Among the Philistines” in a grimdark world that cuts you no slack?

Turn LeftYou know what else it reminds me of? “Turn Left”. The antepenultimate episode of the fourth series of Doctor Who. A minion of the Trickster (a powerful extradimensional villain from The Sarah Jane Adventures who specializes in modifying history to sew chaos) creates an alternate reality around the Doctor’s companion, Donna Noble, where she never met the Doctor. Without her intervention, the Doctor is killed by the events of the second Christmas special. As a new timeline unfolds, Earth faces many of the same crises as in the third and fourth series, but with more tragic outcomes as the Doctor’s many friends on Earth are forced to sacrifice themselves to minimize the impact. By the nominative “present day” of the series, Great Britain is rapidly devolving into a police state with deliberate parallels to Weimar Germany after the destruction of London.

I bring it up because I think the general sense of that episode is that it’s not merely the absence of the Doctor himself which changes the outcome of the situations. The casts of the Doctor Who spin-offs The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood are sacrificed resolving events which, in the primary storyline, were resolved not by the Doctor himself directly, but by others who’d been influenced by his worldview. The altered timeline is shaped not by the Doctor’s actions but by his narrative gravity: it is a general recurring theme of Russel T. Davies’s take on the character of the Doctor that his presence in a story alters the nature of the narrative, creating, to oversimplify things, a more optimistic world, where people are a bit more prone to listening to their better angels and outcomes trend toward the better rather than the worse. In other words, the Doctor is the antidote to grimdark (One could be more specific: it is the gestalt between the Doctor and his companion which exerts this narrative gravity, for, in the major theme which Stephen Moffat carried forward when he took over the show, the Doctor seems to lose this power when he is alone).

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Program Note

From my Askimet stats:

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So yeah. I think the amount of spam incoming may be once again edging up to the point where it’s causing my (admittedly somewhat flakey) web host’s database server to crash.

To keep my blog on the air, I’ve dialed the spam retention window WAY back. So if you happen to comment and it gets flagged as spam, it might no longer exist when I go to check on it. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Anniversary

I know I don’t talk about religion all that often. I got something to say today, but if that sort of thing isn’t cool with you, go on and skip this one. Also, fair warning, there’s a bit where I imagine Jesus dropping a bunch of F-bombs. I’ll get back to mocking ’80s sci-fi and Doctor Who sight gags Wednesday.


I went to a wedding today. Not necessarily my first choice of activities, but it was nice enough and the couple look suitably in love. My wife was forward-thinking enough to restrain me when the pastor got to the bit about how God alone defines what counts as marriage and not the state.

But in-between the usual problematic stuff about wives obeying their husbands, a really good bit about love as a choice, and a strange-but-somehow-coherent analogy (marriages should be like icebergs, not piñatas. Though I think the comparison between the betrothed and the Titanic was ill-advised), there was a little bit in there — a juxtaposition I assume was unintentional — that got me thinking.

There’s this bit in Ephesians:

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32

I guess I never really gave it much thought before. Too busy being upset about the whole “Husbands love your wives / Wives obey your husbands” thing.

There’s something profound there. If you look back at the old testament, there’s a big old recurring pattern of humanity fucking up, and The Big Guy responding with smiteyness. Adam and Eve. The snake. Noah. Sodom. Israel. Israel again. Israel again.

Certainly, the traditional way to interpret this is to say that humanity is just that unspeakably awful that God is constantly struggling to hold Himself back from just turning off the strong nuclear force and being done with it.

Even leaving aside that this is a pretty fucking awful view of humanity, what, in this view, are we to make of the comparison between Christ and the holy mystery of marriage?

You could read it as “Humanity was so bad that God had no choice but to put a ring on it to make them settle down.” But (1) real fucking misogynist and (2) kind of makes God sound like Cary Grant in a ’30s screwball comedy.

Fred Clark wrote an article some years ago on the idea of Epiphany. He refers back to the climax of the story of Job:

“Life seems pretty unfair and bewildering to us humans,” Job says.
“Well,” God replies, “you’re just going to have to trust me.”
“But you don’t understand what it’s like to be us,” Job says. “You don’t understand how all this looks from our point of view.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t understand how it looks from my point of view, either,” God says. “One of us loosed the cords of Orion and laid the foundation of the earth and the last time I checked, it wasn’t you. So just trust me, OK? I’ve got this.”

I have this little story I like to tell, a sort of little skit. It about what happens when Jesus arrives in heaven after the crucifixion.


 

God: Welcome back, son. Good work with the whole dying for the sins of mankind thing.

Jesus: Dude! What the balls, Dad! Me H. Me that fucking hurt!

God: Um, yeah, sure. Anyway, now that’s over with—

Jesus: Dad, you are not getting this. Dying really fucking sucked.

God: Language, Son.

Jesus: Do not talk to me about language, Pops. Three fucking hours. Do You have any idea what being crucified is like?

God: Do I have any idea? Omniscient, remember? I loosed the cords of Orion and laid the foundation of the Earth in case You’ve forgotten, Young Man.

Jesus: Yeah, and how long did that take?

God: Um. I just kind of magicked it into happening.

Jesus: Three fucking hours. How many times have You had to carry your entire body weight by your rib cage for three fucking hours — which, in case You’ve forgotten, nails in your wrists.

God: I just don’t see why You’re making such a big deal of this

Jesus: And that’s not even getting into the scourging and the crown of thorns. Or that I had to carry the fucking cross up the hill for them to murder me on it. It’s not enough that they’re like, “Hey Jesus, we’d like to kill you slowly over the course of three fucking hours by nailing you to a cross, and oh by the way, we’ll need you to bring your own cross; we don’t have one prepared or anything. Oh, and hey, guess which local carpenter just happened to have the big cross-building contract?

God: Son, I get that you’re upset about this. But really. It’s only a painful mortal death lasting three hours. What’s three hours compared to the entire 14-billion-year history of the universe? Or maybe it’s only four thousand years, but we’re still talking about a pretty insignificant ratio here. And, I mean, it’s not like You thought it would stick or anything.

Jesus: Do You not remember me shouting “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”

God: … I thought You were being ironic.

Jesus: For someone omniscient, You can be real dumb, Dad. Let me lay it out for you: when you’re a human, dying really really sucks. It doesn’t matter if you know that there’s something better coming after. It doesn’t matter if you’re prepared. It sucks balls. It’s painful, it’s scary, and most of the time you end up soiling yourself. Seriously, have You ever asked anyone about this?

God: I, uh, I’m not really big on asking people things. Omniscient and all.

Jesus: Go ahead. I dare you. Ask Moses. Or Noah. Ask Methuselah.

God: Okay, fine. Yo, Moses.

Moses: Sup?

God: That whole “dying” thing. You did that, right?

Moses: Yup. Got this close to the promised land, but You were like, “Nope!”

God: Right. But it wasn’t a big deal, right? I mean, you had a good run on Earth, and then you got to come hang out here, so it’s all good, right?

Moses (sheepish): Um… About that… I mean… Okay, look, I’m totally over it now, and we’re completely cool. One hundred percent cool. I mean, this whole thing with the Romans sucks. And the Seleucids. And the Babylonians. And the Assyrians. But anyway, yeah, like I said, I got over it. But, uh, yeah. The actual dying itself was pretty bad. You know how you always want me to come over and watch the wars with you and I always say I’m washing my hair that night? Yeah, actually, it’s just that having gone through it, I kinda get flashbacks when I see someone buy it.

God: Oh. I… Do the others feel that way too?

Moses: I don’t know about everybody. I mean, not Enoch, obviously. But me and Noah and Joseph hold a support group the first Tuesday of every month.

God: Ah holy Me. Crap. You guys think I’m a giant hooting asshole, don’t you?

Moses (quickly): Oh, no- no not at all. We all love you up here. You’re the tops, Boss. It’s just, Y’know, sometimes, uh, little things get missed. It’s cool. We all know You’ve got all that big important loosing the cords of Orion stuff and the making Behemoths. But, uh, Noah would really appreciate it if you laid off the “giant piles of drowned animals” jokes.

God: For the love of Me! I thought he loved those. Why does no one ever tell Me these things? Okay. New plan. Son, Imma need You to go back down to Earth. Let everyone know that we’re working on the problem, and maybe suggest that they try to cut back on killing each other in the mean time.

Jesus: Fine. But give Me a couple of days first? I want to go spend some time with my buddy Lazarus first. I want to make sure he’s okay.


 

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,” is a reference to Genesis 2:24, and more proximately, to Matthew 19:5, where Jesus quotes the passage and adds, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

That’s another popular passage for wedding liturgies, along with Matthew 19:14-15 (You want to skip Matthew 19:8-12 because no one really wants to be told how it would be better if those who could handle it became eunuchs instead at a wedding), the one about letting the little children come to Jesus.

It is not a popular view in most branches of Christianity to say that “changing” is the sort of thing God is wont to do, and I’m enough of a pussy about committing straight-up heresy to propose that God changed in a literal sense. Fortunately, I’ve read enough Aquinas to know that we only ever assign predicates to God by analogy. So, analogy: marriage is to two people as Christ is to God and mankind. And if in the holy mystery of marriage, spouse and spouse “are no longer two, but one flesh,” and “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” then in Christ, mankind and God are no longer two but one flesh.

I don’t believe that marriage is a union of unequals. I got married because I wanted a partner, not a pet. And the complementarians keep assuring me that just because the husband is called to lead and the wife to obey, that’s totally still equal because separate spheres and also sit down and shut up, this is a wedding.

So what does it mean if the eternal, unchanging, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, purely transcendent God ceased to be a separate being from humanity?

If you’re curious why my little comedy sketch up there mentions Lazarus at the end, it’s because (Yes, I know I’m Lazarus of Bethany with Lazarus from Luke. I don’t care.) he’s the reason for the events portrayed in the famously shortest verse of the bible. Here’s Fred Clark again:

When Job learned that his children had died, he wept. But God did not weep.
Jesus wept.

Lazarus got sick and then, like Job’s children, Lazarus died. And when Jesus saw Lazarus’ sisters weeping, “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And then God Almighty — God who laid the foundation of the earth, who determined its measurements when the morning stars sang together, God who commands the morning and causes the dawn to know its place, God who bound the chains of the Pleiades and loosed the cords of Orion — wept.
That’s an epiphany.

Maybe the point of the incarnation isn’t that we were so wicked that God needed to come down and straighten us out. Maybe the point is that after hundreds of years of trying to smite humanity into being better, it finally occurred to God that maybe the problem was him. That maybe He just didn’t get mortal, linear beings. And so He decided to fix that.

 

Tales from /lost+found 41b: Fair Warning, I’m not doing this for René Angélil

Well shit. I’m burning through a lot of material here.

There’s been persistent rumors since the ’70s (or was it the ’80s?) of someone somehow persuading the Thin White Duke to do something related to Doctor Who, so it just made sense with his passing to do this kind of tribute. And then Alan Rickman died, and I thought, “You know, Alan Rickman should have had some connection to the Doctor Who universe as well.” But now this is starting to turn into a running gag, which isn’t what I wanted. But I didn’t want Dan Haggerty to, uh, feel left out. If that makes sense (it doesn’t).

Honestly, Grizzly Adams doesn’t mean a lot to me. Statistically speaking, I’ve probably seen it, since its reruns tended to air in syndication along with The Greatest American Hero, but I don’t remember.

But you know, what the hell.

Dan Haggerty in Doctor Who

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Tales From /lost+found 41a: Five points from Gryffindor

Damn. I wasn’t expecting to have to do something like this again so soon. Fuck cancer. You go kill it, Joe Biden.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ve always kinda wanted Alan Rickman to play Avon in a big-screen adaptation of Blake’s 7. But this’ll have to do. Check below the fold for the back cover blurb…

Alan Rickman in Doctor Who

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Tales From /lost+found 41: Planet Earth is Blue, and There’s Nothing I Can Do

When Christopher Lee died last year, a lot of people joked about the basic unbelievably of Death actually being a thing that could happen to him. With David Bowie, that’s not really a joke. David Bowie always sort of seemed less like a man and more like a force of nature. It seems wrong that he should even be capable of doing such a mundane thing as dying. For a lot of my life, I was only really aware of David Bowie on a subconscious level, like the weather.

When I started this project of mine, a big part of my mandate was to always make choices that were both obvious and believable, rather than being especially what I wanted to do. That’s why the enemies from the Time War turned out to be the War Lords and not the Abstract Concept of Capitalism, and why the tenth Doctor is Rowan Atkinson and not Robert Carlyle.

But to hell with all that this week.

Check below the fold for the back cover text.

Doctor Who Meets Scratchman with David Bowie

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Thesis: Among the Philistines (War of the Worlds 1×11)

Don’t you see? It’s not just our problem. If we lose this war, we lose the entire planet.

Ah yes, the shocking discovery that "Too Doo Nakotae" means "To Da Nakatoo"

Ah yes, the shocking discovery that “Too Doe Nakotae” means “To Da Nakatoo”

It is January 9, 1989. In Japan, Emperor Akhito has just ascended to the throne. Wednesday, President Reagan will deliver his farewell address to the nation before ascending directly into the heavens on a rising tide, leaving golden showers trickling down in his wake. I assume. In a weird bit of synchronicity, there was a peace summit between the US and the USSR since last we met, the outcome of which was an agreement by the Soviets to destroy their chemical weapons. The big news this week, of course, is the crash of British Midlands Flight 92 near Kegworth in England. The crash, the result of the pilots shutting down the wrong engine (The relevant indicators had recently undergone a design change) when one of them failed due to metal fatigue, killed 47.

Over the weekend, 42nd Street and Starlight Express closed on Broadway. The Lost Lennon Tapes are released on vinyl. The Billboard Hot 100 continues to stagnate, though there’s just a hit of movement at the bottom of the top 10 with the arrival of Def Leppard’s “Armageddon It” and Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”. MacGyver, Alf, and Newheart are new. Star Trek the Next Generation returns from Christmas break with “Loud as a Whisper”, which is the one about the mute telepathic negotiator who speaks via three interpreters until they get offed. I’m told it’s really really good, but honestly I remember almost nothing about it. Friday the 13th gives us “Night Hunger”, in which a cursed car key, when bathed in the blood of a murder victim, upgrades your car to win illegal drag races. It’s sorta like Christine got crossed with Knight Rider and also that episode of Futurama where Bender gets turned into a were-car. Also, The Pat Sajack Show premieres.

It’s time for a little blast from the future. “Among the Philistines” was the eleventh episode of War of the Worlds to air, but the sixteenth produced. We’ve seen episodes out-of-order before without it being an issue; this isn’t really the sort of show with an episode-to-episode story arc. But this episode is actually going to reference things that haven’t happened yet. These won’t be spoilers for us, thanks to the order in which I’ve done things, but Harrison’s going to mention the name of the alien homeworld and the time-table for the invasion, which he’s not going to learn until February, in “The Prodigal Son”. He also places the events of the “The Resurrection” about a year earlier.

War of the Worlds - Cedric Smith

The Cray-1 was discontinued in 1982, which actually makes it surprisingly new technology for a government job.

The lab set’s also been redressed a little, though looking back, the refurbished set actually debuted back in “The Second Seal” (Notably, after two episodes that didn’t have any footage set there), and I just didn’t notice because it switches back for a couple of episodes. I only noticed it this time because there’s a few shots where you can see the supercomputer, which actually looks like an honest-to-goodness Cray-1 now, the height of 1970s computing technology, all decked out in red leatherette.

There’s also one particular scene early on which seems very strange in context, but will make a lot of sense to you if I tell you now that this episode was probably supposed to fall immediately after “He Feedeth Among the Lilies” (Which will ultimately air before “The Prodigal Son”, but was produced after).

We open with Ironhorse’s squaddies — Ironhorse has squaddies now, another thing that won’t be introduced until later, though I do find myself thinking that it actually makes sense that it be this week’s events that prompts him to get some — setting up a fake car accident to serve as a road block. Stopping for the road block, three aliens driving a truck under the marque of the “Source Chemical Company” are captured alive. Harrison repeatedly stresses how important it is that they be taken alive for interrogation. Inexplicably, Harrison repeatedly saying this out loud right in front of them somehow alerts the aliens to the fact that the humans want to take them alive and interrogate them, so, exchanging a meaningful glance at each other, they each in turn punch themselves in the chest causing them to die in a spray of alien goo out their backs.

War of the WorldsWar of the WorldsWar of the WorldsWar of the WorldsWar of the Worlds
I tried making an animated gif out of this, but it’s like half a second long and would give you motion sickness.

Harrison completely flips his shit over this. They’d set up the roadblock due to a tipoff from an unknown source, and Harrison is convinced that the fact that the aliens were able to commit suicide apparently by force of will when captured after he’s told them that he wants to interrogate them about the invasion means that the aliens must have been warned about the ambush. Maybe we missed a scene or something.

For reasons that will become clearer when we view this episode in its proper context, this latest setback pushes Harrison into a dark place. He sits in his office brooding angrily until Ironhorse shows up to ruin my policy of only shipping Ironhorse with Norton. He actually gives Harrison a heartfelt shoulder-massage and talks about the stress of fighting an unseen enemy, leading into another of Ironhorse’s famous tonal whiplash military anecdotes.

Jared Martin and Richard Chaves

Well this certainly isn’t going to launch a thousand slashfics.

At the point, the prime discussion is the mission. Fighting an enemy you couldn’t see. It takes everything you have just to hold it together. I’ve been there. We fought all night at Khe Sanh. Pinned down. The screams, the dying that night. We all knew we’d be overrun. We’d be dead by the end of the night. In the morning, the mist cleared in the valley and they were gone. We’d done it. We’d held our position: we’d won. But that night was a million nights long.
You’re going through a night like that, Harrison. But the mist will clear. And we will have won.

I love it when Ironhorse goes into Dark Vietnam Anecdote mode. The music goes all grim and brooding and the lights dim, and I’m pretty sure they mixed in some jungle ambient sounds, and I just keep thinking of the scene in Gremlins where Phoebe Cates tells the story about how her father died (Or better, the scene in Gremlins II about why she hates Lincoln’s Birthday). While those two are exchanging meaningful looks, the aliens back in the Land of the Lost cave are having a Mua-ha-ha moment over how the death of the three aliens from the truck means that everything is going exactly according to their plans. So no suspense about that then.

Cedric Smith

This week’s lesson: never trust a man who eats salad

Here, then, we introduce this week’s guest star, Doctor Adrian Bouchard, played by Cedric Smith. Smith is a prolific actor, known for his roles in Anne of Green Gables and Avonlea, as well as for voicing Professor Xavier in the ’90s X-Men cartoon, opposite Captain Power alum David Hemblen’s Magneto. Also, minor fact, at the time, he was married to actress Catherine Disher, who was, I’ve mentioned, their first choice for the role of Suzanne. Pity they couldn’t get her to do the show.

Adrian is a researcher who’s spent the last decade doing language research with a couple of dolphins names Mona and Mabel. His work will eventually lead to seaQuest DSV. The gang has brought him to a cool old mansion that’s being used as a government safe-house so they can talk to him about aliens. During the copious down-time involved in studying dolphins, he listens to the radio a lot, and had noticed a correlation between an “odd percussive transmission” he’d picked up and news reports of terrorist attacks. Applying his dolphin research to the transmissions had yielded the tip we saw the team respond to earlier. Adrian had done work with the Navy in the past, training dolphins to lay mines or something (They don’t go into detail, but I just keep thinking of the “dipshit stuff” Gillian had suspected Kirk of being up to in Star Trek IV), and had some military contacts who’d hooked him up with Harrison and company.

Cedric Smith and Richard Chaves

Here’s a picture of Ironhorse pouring cream into Adrian’s coffee because I just find the image hilarious.

Adrian seems to have no awareness of the 1953 invasion, though he looks to be older than Harrison and therefore would have lived through it, probably as a teenager. And yet his response to the news that Earth is being invaded by aliens is not fear or panic, but simple scientific curiosity, asking about the aliens’ origin and technology. When asked, Harrison volunteers the name of their planet, that a colonization force of millions is four years away, and that they’ve tried without success to make peace with the aliens. Adrian agrees to help them decipher alien transmissions.

At their next coffee break, Harrison leaves Adrian alone with Suzanne so they can flirt a bit in the hopes it will make his sudden but inevitable betrayal a little less obvious. I mean, come on. Having an alien in human form casually flirt with Suzanne, feigning total sincerity? If we hadn’t seen the new alien commander last week humoring the little girl over the parking meter, I wouldn’t have imagined them capable of it.

What? You hadn’t worked out Adrian is an alien? I’m sure writer Patrick Barry will be happy to hear it. Yeah, it’s him again, back again after “The Second Seal”, an episode, you’ll recall, that I’d really liked in my youth but had serious misgivings about this time through. Anyway, it’s hard to avoid realizing that Adrian and his game-beaking ability to decipher alien transmissions is actually a trap when they keep cutting back to the Advocacy in the cave talking about how well their plan is going, which they do again now.

War of the Worlds

But I do dig that the UI on the mainframe is visibly crappier than on the supercomputer.

Adrian and Norton try running the algorithm against an incoming alien transmission on the safe-house’s mainframe, and there’s lots of computer-sounding gibberish about opening new windows and bitmapping the X-axis or whatever, but the signal is too big or something and the computer overloads, causing all the text windows to fade out and the whole system to go down. And the computer scientist person who has ever used a computer in me wants to call bullshit on that, but for all I know, ’80s mainframes did work like that. When Ironhorse comes in to see what’s wrong, he name-drops their supercomputer, and Adrian storms off in a huff, angry that they were screwing around with a Commodore 64 when they had a supercomputer.

Since Adrian’s background check had just come through before the computer crashed, Harrison is now at liberty to invite him to come back to the Cottage and work with them. Adrian claims that he wants to go back to his dolphins, but Harrison makes an impassioned plea about the fate of the world, and he agrees to be blindfolded and driven to their place.

Yeah... This isn't going to end well.

Yeah… This isn’t going to end well.

There’s another new arrival at the cottage: Debi just got a new evil-detecting dog, Chekhov Guido, from Anton Chekhov’s Evil-Detecting Dog Emporium. Adrian and Guido, predictably, do not hit it off, with Debi barely able to restrain Guido from attacking, because Patrick Barry does not know the meaning of the word “subtlty”.

The supercomputer solves their overload problem, and begins producing translations of the alien recordings, which everyone assumes will be the key to swift victory. Norton cautions them that Adrian’s algorithm doesn’t work on older recordings for some reason, so there might be more to the cipher than they’ve figured out. The team wants to bring Adrian on permanently, and both Suzanne and Harrison make pitches to him, but he plays hard-to-get.

During a break, they realize that they meant to establish Norton’s action skills at some point and haven’t gotten around to it, so Norton and Ironhorse spar at bojutsu. At first, they seem to be evenly matched, but Norton finally opens a can of whup-ass so big that he breaks Ironhorse’s staff.Philip Akin and Richard Chaves

It turns out Norton was cheating: his staff has a metal core. Seriously, I hope Anton Chekhov got royalties for this episode. But I kid. I think it’s actually a good thing. This episode much more than any episode so far has made a point to set things up ahead of time. The climax of this episode is going to play out as a series of callbacks invoking things we learned in the first half. It’s a big departure from the, “Heroes just kind of stumble onto the alien plot by dumb luck and a series of coincidences put people in the right place at the right time to foil them.” It’s not as funny as “Alien plot to nuke a peace summit foiled because they only put an hour on the meter,” but it’s more dramatically satisfying.

It’s right around here that Debi announces that Guido has disappeared, maintaining her perfect track-record with pets. Suzanne isn’t going to let her have so much as a goldfish after this. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “To lose one pet due to the machinations of a malevolent alien race bent on world domination may be regarded a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.” While everyone’s discussing their intent to hire Adrian on permanently (And give him Ironhorse’s parking space, according to Norton), Adrian decrypts another transmission, and announces that the aliens are up to some vaguely outlined plot involving nerve gas, and gives them the exact time and place where it’s all going down complete with a note to make sure to show up exactly on time and for the love of God, don’t come three hours early and scope the place out for an ambush ahead of time.

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