Monthly Archives: June 2017

Deep Ice: Turn it off! Turn it off! (“Howard Koch’s” War of the Worlds II: Episode 2, Part 3)

No no no no no no no.

Okay. We’re back. No need for a recap because nothing happened last week. We left off with Jessica Storm having a flashback to how she broke up with Mark Rutherford and Nikki Jackson, and why she wants to kill them. In the present, she meets with the rest of the Artemis crew to discuss how to kill their rivals. Predictably, she insists that Nikki be left for her to kill personally, though this does not actually go on to happen. They show stolen files on the Orion crew, identifying all of them as being good in a fight, except for Doctor Morgan, who is a (spit) pacifist, though Jessica calls out Mark’s hero complex and Ferris’s over-protectiveness toward his crew as weaknesses for them to exploit.

Space is warped and time is bendable!

Immediately after the briefing, one of Jessica’s underlings announces that interference from the Martian surface has blocked their feed from Orion 1. It’s not any NASA signal, or any other transmission Jessica is familiar with. This is, presumably, the same interference we heard about before that had stopped NASA from warning Orion about the approach of Artemis. Which means it’s probably time to point out just how few fucks this series gives for anything resembling a coherent sense of how time and space work. I won’t bother faulting them for the fact that there’s no time lag between Earth and Mars, because frankly that would just slow the plot down more. But different parts of the story take radically different amounts of time. They never say how long the trip to Mars actually takes, but it’s long enough that Orion was equipped with hibernation equipment. Artemis will catch up “several months” before Orion is scheduled to depart Mars, and DeWitt was surprised that it could achieve that speed even with bleeding-edge upgrades. Now, technically, that could mean that Artemis is expected to reach Mars only a few days after Orion does, but would you phrase it that way if it were the case? No, of course not. By framing Artemis’s arrival as being “several months before Orion is scheduled to depart”, it implies that Orion will be well into a long mission. And the ordering of scenes so far placed Artemis’s launch after Orion arrived at Mars. But don’t forget, Ratkin and Jessica anticipated that Japan could launch a Mars shuttle in about six months (spoiler: we won’t hear any more of any other country even attempting a launch). In general, events on Earth all seem to be progressing at a normal sort of narrative pace, with gaps of hours or days between scenes, while events in space have large, multi-month gaps in them, yet the events interleave with those on Earth. Even worse, the story on Mars is paced much more tightly; the only time there’s a real gap where you could fit a lot of downtime is before they arrive in Martian orbit, or maybe right before Rover 1 is sent down. Yet the implication is that Artemis’s entire trip from Earth to Mars takes place after half the Orion crew disappears into the Martian underground. The closest we’ll get to a duration for how long they ultimately spend underground is “more than 72 hours”. Things which should take weeks or months are continually interleaved with things that could take at most hours or days.

At this point, something a little funny happens, and I initially misinterpreted it completely. So just for a minute, let’s go with my mistake for a bit, because I’ve got to take some pleasure where I can in this thing. Jessica is trying to figure out what the strange signal from Mars is. She’s sure, with her 180-IQ, that she knows every kind of signal, cipher and encoding used on Earth, and it’s none of those. So she listens to it.

We’re treated to a sample of the audio. Pretty quickly, I recognize what I’m hearing: it’s backmasked. Pull out audacity and reverse it, and it turns out that it’s a clip from much later in the episode:

˙sɹǝʇunoɔ ᴉʞʞᴉN ,,’ssǝſ ‘ʎɹoǝɥʇ uᴉ ʎluO,, ,,˙sʎɐʍl∀ ˙noʎ uǝʇɐǝq ʎɐʍlɐ ǝʌ,I ˙˙˙uǝɯ uǝʌǝ ‘ɹǝǝɹɐɔ ‘ǝƃǝlloƆ ˙ʇsɹᴉɟ pɐɥ ǝʌ,I ‘ᴉʞʞᴉN ‘pǝʇuɐʍ ɹǝʌǝ ǝʌ,noʎ ƃuᴉɥʇʎɹǝʌƎ ˙ɯɐǝʇ ƃuᴉuuᴉʍ ǝɥʇ uo ɯ,I ‘pǝʎɐld ɹǝʌǝ ǝʌ,ǝʍ ǝɯɐƃ ʎɹǝʌƎ ˙ǝɹoɔs ʇsǝq ǝɥʇ ʇǝƃ I ‘uǝʞɐʇ ɹǝʌǝ ǝʌ,ǝʍ ʇsǝʇ ʎɹǝʌƎ,, ‘ʍoɥ ʇnoqɐ ᴉʞʞᴉN ƃuᴉʇunɐʇ ǝʇnuᴉɯ ɐ spuǝds ɐɔᴉssǝſ ˙ǝɟᴉʍ sᴉɥ pǝddɐupᴉʞ sɐɥ uᴉʞʇɐɹ ǝsnɐɔǝq ɹǝɥ oʇ ɹǝpuǝɹɹns oʇ pǝɔɹoɟ uǝǝq p,ǝɥ ʇɐɥʇ sǝssǝɟuoɔ sᴉɹɹǝℲ ˙ɹǝʇɔɐɹɐɥɔ ɹǝɥ ɹoɟ ǝlʇʇᴉl sʎɐs uosɐǝɹ ou ɹoɟ ɯɹoʇS ɐɔᴉssǝſ ƃuᴉɥʇnoɯpɐq spuoɔǝs ǝʌᴉɟ-ʎʇuǝʌǝs puǝds oʇ ǝpᴉɔǝp ᴉʞʞᴉN ƃuᴉʌɐɥ puɐ ‘ǝuoʇ s,snפ uᴉɐldxǝ ʎllɐǝɹ ʇ,usǝop sᴉɥʇ ˙ɹǝɥ puᴉɥǝq ʇɥƃᴉɹ ƃuᴉpuɐʇs sᴉ ɯɹoʇs ɐɔᴉssǝſ ʇɐɥʇ sᴉ ‘ǝsɹnoɔ ɟo ‘uosɐǝɹ ǝɥ┴ ˙ɹǝɥ ʇdnɹɹǝʇuᴉ oʇ ƃuᴉlᴉɐɟ puɐ ƃuᴉʎɹʇ ʎlʇuǝnbǝɹɟ snפ ɥʇᴉʍ ‘pɹɐǝɥ ʇsnɾ ǝʍ ʞɔɐqɥsɐlɟ ʇɐɥʇ ɟo sʇuǝʌǝ ǝɥʇ ɟo dɐɔǝɹ ʞɔᴉnb ɐ sn sǝʌᴉƃ puɐ ‘qoɾ ǝɥʇ pǝʇdǝɔɔɐ ɐɔᴉssǝſ pɐɥ ʍǝɹɔ uoᴉɹO ǝɥʇ pǝuᴉoɾ ǝʌɐɥ ʇ,uplnoʍ ǝɥs ʍoɥ ʇnoqɐ ǝnƃolouoɯ ɐ oʇuᴉ sǝɥɔunɐl ᴉʞʞᴉN ˙spuoɔǝs ǝʌᴉɟ-ʎʇuǝʌǝs ʇnoqɐ uᴉ ɹɐǝlɔ ǝɯoɔǝq ɟo-ʇɹos llᴉʍ ɥɔᴉɥʍ suosɐǝɹ ɹoɟ ,,’ɯɹoʇS ɐɔᴉssǝſ,, ‘sǝɹɐlɔǝp ʎluǝppns snפ ˙ʎlᴉɯɐɟ sɐ ʍǝɹɔ ǝɥʇ ɟo ʞuᴉɥʇ oʇ ǝɯoɔ s,ǝɥs ʍoɥ ʇnoqɐ ɥɔǝǝds ǝlʇʇᴉl ɐ sǝʌᴉƃ puǝsuʍo┴ ‘pɹɐoqɐ ǝɔuo puɐ ‘uoᴉɹO ɥʇᴉʍ sʞɔop ɹǝʌoɹ ǝɥ┴ ˙sᴉɹɹǝℲ llᴉʇs s,ʇᴉ ‘llɐ ɹǝʇɟɐ ‘ǝsnɐɔǝq ‘uoᴉʇoɯǝ ƃuᴉʍoɥs ʎllɐnʇɔɐ ʇnoɥʇᴉʍ uɐɔ ǝɥ sɐ ʎlʇuǝƃɹn sɐ dᴉɥs ǝɥʇ oʇ ʞɔɐq ɯǝɥʇ ƃuᴉɹǝpɹo ‘ǝɔuǝsqɐ sᴉɥ uᴉɐldxǝ oʇ ǝɯᴉʇ ɯǝɥʇ ǝʌᴉƃ ʇ,usǝop sᴉɹɹǝℲ ɹǝpuɐɯɯoƆ puɐ ‘ɯǝɥʇ ɥʇᴉʍ ʇ,usᴉ pɹoɟɹǝɥʇnɹ ˙(Ɩ ɹǝʌoɹ ʎlɹɐǝlɔ s,ʇᴉ ‘ʇxǝʇuoɔ uᴉ ;ǝʞɐʇsᴉɯ ɐ sᴉ sᴉɥʇ) ᄅ ɹǝʌoɹ uᴉ sɹɐW ɯoɹɟ uɹnʇǝɹ sʇnɐuoɹʇsɐ uoᴉɹO ɹnoɟ ǝɥʇ ɟo ǝǝɹɥʇ ʇɐɥʇ sn sllǝʇ ɹoʇɐɹɹɐu ǝɥʇ ‘dᴉlɔ ǝɥʇ uI

Now okay, backmasking legitimate audio to stand in for an alien transmission is fine. But this goes on for four minutes. Which just played into my sense of this episode being padded all to hell. I didn’t cotton on until I got to the end of side four and the same thing happened again.

Yeah. Turns out that the tape had just gotten twisted when I was ripping the tape to CD. There isn’t meant to be four minutes of backmasked audio here. The reason I didn’t realize it is that it just fits in so well in context. I mean, it happens right when Jessica Storm is trying to interpret this signal from Mars. And it’s not like any of the story is missing here. Plus, there’s places later on where there are actual for-real production errors, like big silent gaps between scenes, or incorrect fades in the music during transitions. So it didn’t tip me off when the next scene cuts in for a second three-quarters of the way through and then switches back to backmasking.

In the scene which the backmasking replaces, Jessica doesn’t pay any more mind to the signal from Mars, but instead just fiddles with the controls until she can hear NASA, and orders the signal jammed to prevent Orion learning of their approach. The remaining three minutes are taken up with a scene which isn’t entirely pointless, but is close enough to it that the episode frankly flows better without it.

We’re introduced to a new pointless character, Hiro Protagonist Stephen Ulysses Perhero Victor Fries Remus Lupin Edward Nygma Eric Magnus Victor von Doom Richie Rich Captain Jonathan Power Moon Bloodgood Jefferson Davis Clark. He’s an unemployed water purification technician who sounds like an unholy fusion of a fourteen-year-old redneck and… a nebbishy Rick Moranis character. And he lives with his mother. Of course. He’s an obsessive Tosh Rimbauch fan, and blames DeWitt for his unemployment. His mother thinks Rimbauch is unfair to DeWitt, who inherited a mess, and disagrees that she’s responsible for him losing his job at the water plant. This thing can’t go more than a few minutes without shitting on the populace, so she patiently explains that he actually lost his job because, “Citizens didn’t want the cost of the operation of the water purification plant added to their taxes.” I mean, that and the public masturbation, I assume. He vows to be at DeWitt’s upcoming speech to the Ice Sectioner’s Union, in a tone that is supposed to be menacing, but just sounds whiny.

Clark and his mom are watching The Freida Kahlo Cohen Show, which I assume is a reference to someone, but I can’t figure out who. Sally Jessy Raphael, maybe? She sounds kinda like a drunk Terry Gross. She’s interviewing Tosh Rimbauch about his new book, Better Luck Next Time. He leads off by insulting her weight, though, “I’ve always found heavy thighs real attractive.” “Well then, you must think you’re just gorgeous,” she retorts. They trade barbs for a while (There is an actual good one where Freida says she’s not dumb enough to ever agree to go on Tosh’s show, and he throws back, “I wouldn’t say that”) before getting into the content of his book, which is all about trashing President DeWitt. Predictably, there’s no real content to his arguments other than, “She’s a woman.” He’s proud of his misogyny, as he’d, “Rather insult some desperate short-haired pantsuit-wearing women’s movement than insult the intelligence of decent American people.”

He lays it on thick, blaming DeWitt for literally every problem facing America, and insists that things would be better if voters had followed his advice in ’96 and voted for — they really mean for us to take this seriously as the name of the Republican presidential candidate — Napoleon Creed. Okay, admittedly, there are real actual people named Newt Gingrich, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, and Reince Preibus. Freida doesn’t have any better counterargument than, “But his name is Napoleon” either. Freida suggests that it’s “price wars and bureaucracy on Wall Street”, rather than DeWitt that is responsible for the current state of affairs, but Tosh dismisses her claims, without even addressing the fact that she seemed to just be stringing random words together with no sense of what they meant. No, he simply asserts that having a woman in the Oval Office meant “all hope was gone.”

He shows off a red baseball cap black armband of mourning for his lost country, and insists that until DeWitt is “gotten rid of”, “we” won’t be able to have “our country” back and “Make America Great Again”. “Mark my words, Freida: the world will be a better place when DeWitt is out of here.”

Continue reading

Tales From /lost+found 117: Shell Game

1×10 January 24, 1997
SHELL GAME (Serial 7, Episode 2)

Setting: Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and Mondas, 2003
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Ed Begley, Jr. (Director Slate), Don S. Davis (General Cutler), Leland Orser (Mulchay), Peter Cullen (voice of the Cyb Leader)

Plot: On Mondas, the Doctor and Slate are taken to Cyb Command, located inside a mountain sculpted into the shape of a Cyb helmet. To prevent their escape, the imprisoned scientists are forced into magnetic boots. The Cybs prepare to convert the humans, but the Doctor’s alien biology causes their machinery to malfunction. On Earth, Lizzie observes the Cybs using their technology to shield certain NASA systems from the effect that has blocked the humans’ weapons. She guesses that the Cyb space ships are only capable of one-way flight, and they need NASA’s technology to return to their own planet. Mulchay, a junior scientist, suggests that the space center’s RF isolation room might offer similar protection. General Cutler, Lizzie and Mulchay break away from the group and are chased by a Cyb to the isolation room. Once inside, Cutler’s gun does function again, but it proves ineffective against the Cyb. However, when the Cyb enters the room to dispatch the general, it suddenly collapses and expires. Lizzie opens the Cyb’s suit and discovers that it is mostly hollow inside. The organic components heavily atrophied, and the cybernetics have been streamlined and optimized. Mulchay notices that the Cyb body contains no power source, and must be powered by an outside broadcast source. Armed with the Cyb’s weapon, Cutler manages to liberate Mission Control. NASA reactivates Mission Control using Cyb technology, hoping to launch Constitution to recover the hostages on Mondas. Inside the spaceplane, they discover the Cyb machine responsible for the power drain. Mulchay and Lizzie determine, to the general’s dismay, that attempting to disable the machine will cause a massive explosion. A surviving Cyb attacks them, and Lizzie directs the output of the energy transfer device to destroy it by a massive overload. Lizzie believes that the Cybs always intended to destroy the Earth, and realizes that the Doctor’s reference to gravity was a clue: if Mondas was truly a twin to Earth, its proximity should be causing massive tidal forces. On Mondas, the Cybs repair their conversion machines. Just in time, the Doctor helps the scientists escape by using his sonic screwdriver to release their magnetic boots, allowing them to leap away in the low gravity. During their long journey in deep space, the Cybs consumed most of their planet’s matter as reaction mass to control their travel. Too much energy from Earth will saturate their planet and destroy it, and the Cybs must destroy Earth before this happens. Slate sacrifices himself, staying behind to help the others escape. On Earth, General Cutler orders Constitution launched on a collision course toward Mondas, so that the energy transfer device will explode and destroy the planet. Due to Mondas’s smaller mass, the force from the explosion would devastate the facing side of Earth, so Mulchay works with Lizzie to disable Constitution. The Doctor and the NASA scientists make their way back to Constellation, and are confronted by Director Slate, now a Cyb. By appealing to his sense of duty, the Doctor manages to break through to his original personality long enough for them to launch the spaceplane. The Cybs on Mondas send a remote signal to detonate the energy device, but Lizzie is able to block it just in time. More Cybs arrive on Earth via Verne Gun and retake Mission Control. Cutler, Lizzie and Mulchay defend the space plane, but Mulchay is mortally injured. Constellation lands, and the Doctor attempts to negotiate a peaceful solution. Mondas is close to saturation, and the Doctor offers the Cybs peaceful resettlement in Earth’s uninhabitable regions. The Cyb leader defends their actions in the name of preserving their race, and claims that the Cybs can not survive without a re-energized Mondas; there is no way to preserve both planets. Before the Cybs can take control of the energy device, the dying Mulchay turns its output all the way up, transferring a massive amount of energy to Mondas. The planet saturates with energy and disintegrates, causing the Cybs on Earth to die with their power source. The sight of Mondas breaking up triggers memories of his own planet’s destruction, and Lizzie has to drag the shell-shocked Doctor back to the TARDIS.

Deep Ice: It was my special thing and you took it away from me (Howard Koch’s War of the Worlds II, Episode 2: Lost in Space, Part 2)

Previously…

You know what? It doesn’t matter. Side two is a really shocking amount of filler and backstory, since that bit with Ohm and Ari and the Tor was too much interesting happening too fast, so let’s slow the plot down for the next forty-five minutes.

Is there a canonical explanation why the Legion of Doom headquarters looks like a Darth Vader Novelty Condom?

At Mount Doom, Ratkin’s pet boy comes in to say goodnight. Ever since Nurse Mary “accepted another position mua ha ha,” he’s been having nightmares about being torn from the arms of a beautiful, singing woman who is thrown to the ground violently as his father watches. Ratkin panics briefly when it becomes clear that the boy is remembering how Ratkin got rid of Ethan’s mother. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.

Jump-cut to an insane asylum nearby, where one of the patients is a nameless woman the staff refer to as “Mrs. Rochester” after the character from Jane Eyre. She’s kept sedated into a state of catatonia because, on her admission a dozen years earlier, they were told that she became violent during her lucid periods. And they’re being paid a huge amount of money to never ever reevaluate her or do any sort of psychiatric treatment to try to improve her condition, and they are cool with it, except possibly the optimistic young doctor who’s just started here and thinks he sees hints of intelligence in her eyes, and possibly in some later episode help break her out to confront Ratkin, provided Sharah Thomas can keep all these stupid, pointless plot threads going. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.

“Mrs. Rochester” carries around a baby doll and sings lullabies to it, to make sure the audience gets that she’s connected to the woman in Ethan’s dream even if they missed the segue about how Ratkin’s secretary was making out a check to the asylum (“Mrs. Rochester”‘s story is kinda inconsistent; they claim she was found catatonic and soaking wet from falling off a bridge, with no ID, and no one ever claimed her… But someone is also regularly sending them massive checks for her upkeep. Untraceable anonymous checks, which identify whose upkeep they’re paying for without revealing her name… Never mind.). The only thing that stirs her to action is if someone tries to take the doll from her, as an orderly found out earlier that day. Though she also gets riled up while Optimistic Young Doctor Who’s Just Started Here meets her, due to what’s on the TV. Segue!

That ‘Stache, tho.

What’s on TV is The Obvious Expy For Geraldo Rivera Show. Yes, Geraldo Rivera. The Fox News Person. Back in the ’90s, he was best known for hosting a trashy daytime talk show in the vein of Jerry Springer. His show today is on Husbands Who Carry Out Needlessly Complex Agatha Christie-esque Plots to Kill Their Wives. This scene takes much longer than I’m making it sound, but nothing of substance happens.

I hope they actually give some reason why Ratkin, who has shown absolutely no qualms about murdering people even when he’s doing it so obviously that there could be absolutely no doubt of his culpability, had his wife drugged and institutionalized at great expense rather than just killing her. But I’m not optimistic.

The “Renaldo” show is interrupted by a CNB news special report (Aww. It’s adorable. They’ve learned how to do a segue between scenes. So grown-up!). The water purification plant in Detroit has just closed up shop, and at least six people are dead in the resulting riots. The Water Refinery (Is “refinery” the right word here? It’s the word they use) had been bought years ago to produce potable water. But after outfitting the plant at great cost, the owners had been forced to operate at only minimal levels due to “bureaucratic debate”. This is that thing they kept banging the gong about in the previous episode, about how water purification was a non-started because of “bureaucratic gridlock”. What was this debate about? Who cares! Bureaucracy, amirite? Arguments aren’t about things; they’re just useless government officials wasting time. After years of losing money hand over fist, the owners of the water refinery have gone bankrupt. Despite not actually doing anything, the refinery was the largest employer in the city, so twenty-thousand people are out of work, hence the riots.

The CNB reporter hands over to a press conference by President DeWitt. In her usual, stilted fashion, she repeats what we already know and sort of vaguely blames greed. She also announces that she’s brokered a deal with the former Soviet block to buy ice from them, and sent in the National Guard to put down the riots in Detroit. Questions from the press corps go all over the place. There’s a rumor — and DeWitt confirms it — that the White House indoor pool hasn’t been drained, though she maintains it hasn’t been filled either. They’re just, y’know, storing it. Fun fact: the White House doesn’t have an indoor pool. It used to. The press briefing room, the room in which this scene is set, was built over it. Someone else asks about reports of a five billion dollar earmark for submarines to collect water from undersea freshwater pockets, and what impact it would have on the environment. DeWitt denies that any funds have been allocated, but does say that they’re still looking into it. (Turns out that undersea freshwater pockets are a thing, and might actually be a more realistic way to provide potable water in the future than ice mining or flying the fuck to Mars. Five billion does seem pretty steep, though, given that it’s the same cost as Mission Red)

Continue reading

Deep Ice: Nobody is listening (Howard Koch’s War of the Worlds II, Episode 2: Lost in Space, Part 1)

That’s still not Mars.

Well shit. Back to this, I guess. The story so far, according to the continuity announcer:

The world was in chaos. Fresh water, the lifeblood of every lifeform on the planet, was in short supply. Efforts at water purification met with fierce opposition and bureaucratic squabbling, orchestrated by Ronald Ratkin, the richest man on the Earth. It was his goal to gain control of the world’s water supply, and by doing so, control the world.

In our last episode, the entire world watched, riveted, as a moon-bound shuttle was launched. Little did they know, the shuttle, Orion-1, was really bound for Mars. In a desperate, last-ditch attempt to find a new water supply, United States President Sandra DeWitt charged NASA to send the shuttle to find the water believed to be trapped within the red planet. Sixty-one years ago, a Martian army had launched an attack on Earth, which the world had barely survived. Now, a team of seven courageous astronauts and scientists, led by Commander Jonathan Ferris, were chosen to confront the unknown, hostile inhabitants of the planet Mars, and return with water to save their dying planet.

But Ronald Ratkin, ever vigilant, had plans of his own. With his unlimited resources, he purchased his own shuttle. He chose Jessica Storm to command the Artemis. Her mission: to eliminate the Orion crew and return with the secrets of Martian water. And Jessica was only too happy to carry out her assignment: she had a few scores to settle. One with NASA for not picking her to head the Orion mission, one with Jonathan Ferris for winning the position she coveted, and one against Orion crewmembers Mark Rutherford and Nikki Jackson. This score was personal.

As Orion’s crew landed on Mars and began its exploration, people began to disappear, starting with first mate Rutherford and geologist Gloria Townsend. Then, in an attempted rescue, mechanic Gus Pierelli and assistant commander Nikki Jackson were swallowed up in what looked to be a vortex of pure rock.

With four of his seven crewmembers gone, ignorant of what dangers lurked beneath the surface, and unaware of the danger that approached from Earth, Commander Ferris and his remaining crew had a difficult decision ahead of them. They could either risk their own lives to save the missing four, abort their mission and return to Earth, or continue their original mission and abandon all hope of ever seeing their friends again.

Got all that? Good. Now, let’s pick up with that exciting cliff-hanger on Mars… In about eight minutes, because the actual narrative is going to pick up with DeWitt in the Oval Office listening to Tosh Rimbauch. Rimbauch spends his time calling for DeWitt to be “deposed” (not, I note, “impeached”) due to high unemployment and the high cost of April Showers Spring Water, and insults her husband’s manhood. He reminds voters that he didn’t vote for her, and this gives him license to say, “I told you so.” Technically, no one voted for her, since they mentioned last episode that she’d succeeded her predecessor upon his death in office, which is the way we all assumed the first female president would end up happening except for a few glorious days in 2016 and FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU—

Anyway, Ed comes in with the grim news of the launch of Artemis (the mythological Artemis killed Orion, hence the name. Too bad space-murder isn’t illegal I guess, because Ratkin’s pre-confession would probably work against him in court). Ed is super coy about it, delivering revelations in a calculated order to make it seem like a progressive reveal. Of facts we already know from last episode. It makes it sound like he is somehow getting new information passed to him in the middle of this private meeting. What I mean is this: he starts out by saying that there’s been an unscheduled shuttle launch. Then he says that he contacted the various world space agencies, who confirmed that it wasn’t them. Then he offers DeWitt “one guess” who’s behind the launch, and then offers her “one guess” where it’s going, and “one guess” what they plan to do when they get there. Then he reveals the name of Ratkin’s ship. So he actually knew all along that it was Ratkin and even knew the name of the ship. So why would he bother contacting the other nation-state space agencies? And why were they acting like Ratkin being behind the launch was still just a guess? He speculates that Ratkin could have easily bought a ship from a former Soviet state, which he already stated as a known fact last episode. They estimate Artemis will reach Mars months before Orion leaves, which DeWitt finds hard to believe: it would require extensive engine modifications and the world’s best shuttle pilot. Ed reveals that NASA top scientists jumped ship to Ratkin months earlier, and also that Ratkin does indeed have the best pilot ever. DeWitt realizes the thing which they already discussed as a matter of fact in the previous episode: Ed’s talking about Jessica Storm. And they recap her musing over whether or not she made the right choice in picking Ferris over her. Jessica is said to be a “brilliant tactician”, which doesn’t strike me as a normal space shuttle piloting skill. There is no consideration of how Jessica Storm being a murderous sociopath affects her qualifications.

Remember Boness, the NASA project lead who grumpily resigned back on side two of cassette one? Well, he’s still in charge of Mission Red, and they call him to pass along a warning to Orion. Boness grumpily says that he can’t, because a signal from Mars is blocking their transmission. He speculates that it is something akin to a radio signal, but traveling faster than light, and aimed at a planet in a distant star system. In the Oval Office, they reflect, with very little obvious interest, that this means the Orion crew isn’t alone on Mars.

DeWitt’s husband interrupts to suggest she turn the radio back on. Rimbauch is breaking the story of Artemis’s launch, though he doesn’t know who’s behind it. He praises the unknown benefactor for setting out to murder the Orion crew, because clearly, we need a man to go fix this mess, not some so-called “Lady President” with her icky girl parts. And what about her emails?

Continue reading

Metathesis: A Kind of Strange Charisma (Head of the Class: Radio-Activity)

I know what you’re thinking. I also do not know why Bennett the Sage, Rick Springfield, Pearl Mackie, Paul Ryan, and Elizabeth Berkley are in this picture, nor why half of them appear to have Hitler mustaches. It was the ’80s.

Charlie: So to wrap it up, Ronald Reagan is known as the “teflon president”, because nothing sticks to him.
Alan: In that case, I guess you’d call Jimmy Carter the “velcro president” because everything sticks to him.
Charlie: What does that make Richard Nixon?
Sarah: The Saran Wrap president. Covered everything up, but you could still see through him.

I need a palate cleanser. Let’s back up, just a bit. It is March 8, 1989, a week I have already covered in all the detail I care to, aside from mentioning that The Heidi Chronicles opens on Broadway today. When they did it at Loyola back in ’99, my next-door-neighbor played the lead. She asked me how to pronounce “Artemisia Gentileschi”. I’ve spent the following nineteen years trying not to find out if I was right.

I’ve never talked about an individual episode of a sitcom before, I think. I mean, not as the primary focus of an entire article. I’ve padded a few out with digressions about them. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a retrospective on Sabrina the Teenage Witch at some point because it would be something different, but it’s hard to draw out enough words about an episode when most episodes are twenty-two minutes of one-liners glued together by five minutes of story. But like I said, I need a palate cleanser.

What possible connection do you think there could be Howard Hessman and War of the Worlds? If you said, “I bet WKRP in Cincinatti did an homage to the the 1938 radio play,” then YOU FOOL! You fell for my obvious trap! No, impossible as it may sound, there won’t be so much as an oblique reference to Doctor Johnny Fever in our source material tonight. Instead, we’re going to drop in on a later Hessman vehicle, the late ’80s sitcom Head of the Class.

Head of the Class was a successful ’80s sitcom which was basically Welcome Back Kotter with geniuses. Hessman plays Charlie Moore, a failed actor turned long-term substitute history teacher, who ends up spending four years teaching the students of Millard Fillmore High School’s “Individualized Honors Program”. They’re not exactly Sweat Hogs, but rather a diverse group of students, luckily representing a wide array of traditional sitcom high school stereotypes. We’ve got the pocket-protector’d and bespectacled 1950s nerd Arvid, the overweight prankster Dennis, the Reagan-worshipping ultra-conservative preppy Alan, the highly driven rich girl Darleen (played by a pre-Mike Tyson Robin Givens), the sensitive and artistic good-girl Simone, the Indian exchange student Jawaharlal, Eric the ’50s greaser, pre-teen super-genius Janice, the vaguely new-agey Maria, and Sarah, who was basically normal so the audience would have someone to identify with. The cast was rounded out with the antagonistic and reputation-obsessed principal, Dr. Samuels, and his administrative assistant Bernadette, Charlie’s never-paid-off-potential-love-interest.

And Billy Connoly as the War Doctor Johnny Fever

Spring of 1989 keeps us in the “classic” era of the show. The next season would see the cast start to shake up with some departures and new arrivals, and the final season (Yeah, it takes these honors students five years to finish high school. The last two seasons are supposed to represent a single year with an inexplicable surplus of Christmases) would see Charlie replaced by Billy Connoly as Billy MacGregor. Connoly would continue the role in the terrible spin-off Billy, which would move him to California and stick him in a sham green card marriage. But all that is in the future, and a part of the future that’s well outside of our scope.

No, today we’re stopping by to have a look at episode sixteen of the third season, “Radio Activity”, due to a plot point that turns out to be smaller in reality than it was in my memory. In a show with such a large cast, not everyone got equal play every week. Hessman, of course, as the main lead, gets to be front-and-center in every episode, but otherwise, an episode tends to zero in on one or two of the students for the main plot, with a different student or two for a minor and unrelated side-plot that bookends the episode.

It’s not an overwhelming preference, and in fact, it might just be my memory cheating, but I feel like Dennis and Arvid were picked for character focus a bit more than the others. Their relationship fits into a couple of classic comedy-duo tropes: the fat guy and the thin guy, the buffoon and the straight-man, the bully and the doormat, the jerk and the woobie. They’re a dumber Leonard and Sheldon, a smarter Laurel and Hardy, a younger Abbot and Costello, a classier Bulk and Skull. Also, they’re white and male which I’m guessing endeared them to the writers.

This episode in particular belongs primarily to Arvid. We’re back in the ’80s, well before the ascendancy of nerd culture, so you shouldn’t expect this character to be especially nuanced. As I said before, he draws on a nerd aesthetic that was retro even at the time. Pocket protector. Coke-bottle glasses. Deviated septum. Love of chess. Eminently wedgie-able. Arvid is part of the tradition of television nerds that will soon lead us down the dark path of the Ur-kel. It is a portrayal that has a great deal of ugliness stuck around it. It is not an empathetic portrayal: we are meant to laugh at, not with such characters, view their abuse and mistreatment as no less than they deserve. And yet, even at its worst, television is an inherently sympathetic medium. No one’s going to make a TV show where the goal is for you to root for the bully, teaching that sensitive kid an important life-lesson about how he should learn to conform if he doesn’t want to be sexually assaulted with a broom handle. At least, not until Parker and Stone. So there is a paradoxical element to the TV nerd archetype in that while we revel in his humiliation and abuse, we don’t actually want to see him fail. Such is the nature of comedy. If you hit someone with a frying pan and it makes them think they’re a race car driver named Chazz, that’s funny; if you hit someone with a frying pan and it kills them, less so. But also, writing for television is something of a nerdy pursuit, so there tends to be hints of authorial self-insertion here. For the writer, maybe it’s therapeutic to take charge of their childhood traumas by reducing them to a series of jokes. But more than that — and here’s where things get troublesome — there’s an urge toward recompense. Arvid Engin is part of tradition that extends forward through Steve Urkel, to Ross Gellar and Xander Harris, of the Butt-Monkey Ascendant. These are characters who are mistreated and abused — by their friends, by society, by the fates themselves — well beyond what any reasonable person should be expected to deal with. Where this becomes ugly and problematic is that the audience is encouraged to view this as a kind of price that the universe is extracting from the victim. They are “paying their dues”, and we are pushed to see it as just, as fitting, proper and good when the Butt-Monkey is ultimately recompensed for this. The laws of fictional universes tell us that they have earned a happy ending. The have earned it not by working toward a goal, though, or by learning to be better people or by developing as characters. No, they “earned” their reward because the universe incurred a debt to them which now must be paid. We are encouraged to think of how Urkel never gave up his quest to woo Laura no matter how much pain and humiliation it brought him — we are encouraged not to think about the fact that he stalked her for a decade and refused to show the most basic respect for her wishes. Seriously, fuck that guy.

I have, par for the course, wandered away from the point. As far as I remember — and I haven’t seen this show in a quarter-century, so I might be forgetting a lot — Arvid Engin is a fairly mild, innocuous version of the trope. There’s no long-term stalking issue, no discreet passive-aggressive campaign of undermining a woman for a decade until her self-esteem is broken enough to accept his advances. But what’s there is that first thing I said: we’re supposed to revel in Arvid’s humiliation, but we still want him to win. And that’s the force that controls the moral arc of this episode.

Events occur in real time. Provided you keep pausing the tape and doing something else for 23 hours and fifty minutes each day.

After an introductory scene in the classroom as they cover the Reagan era (Will there be an arc of consistent themes and topics as the IHP spend five years working their way through history in some kind of chronological or thematic order? Of course not! Monday: Reagan. Tuesday: the 1930s. Wednesday: The Punic Wars), Charlie Moore is accosted by the principal. Dr. Samuels and Mr. Moore don’t get on well. Samuels considers Moore underqualified, and doesn’t like how he’s teaching his prized honors students to take joy in life and the process of learning and how he encourages them to eat Apple Jacks even though it doesn’t taste like apples. Samuels reveals that all teachers are required to serve as faculty advisers to one of the extracurricular clubs, and orders Charlie to sign up for one. They all sound totes lame, with the Future Farmers getting a chuckle out of the laugh track (I personally know better than to knock the FFA, though it does seem like an unlikely fit for Manhattan), until he discovers that the school has a radio station. It turns out — in a shocking reveal — that Charlie digs radio and jumps at the chance to take over. I know, right? What a stretch to have Howard Hessman play a guy who’s into radio!

While this is going on, Eric is trying to woo Simone. She’s artsy and poetic and sensitive and highbrow and wears sweaters. He’s basically every character John Travolta played in the 1970s, only as a super-genius. Half Danny Zuko and half Vinnie Barbarino, and looking to be his generation’s J. D. Salinger, for whatever “his generation” could possibly mean when he’s meant to be a high school student in the 1980s, played by a 26-year-old actor dressed like it’s the ’50s. He and Simone had their first date a few episodes back, and they’ll meander their way in the general direction of couplehood for the rest of the series, without ever actually arriving substantively enough to upset the status quo.

Seen here for some reason dressed as Rufus from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Simone has two tickets to Mozart night at the New York Chamber Ensemble. She invites Janice, but she’s got girl scouts that night. The basic running joke with Janice is that she’s probably the smartest one in the class, but she’s also still a child. So she cites Ein musikalischer Spaß Köchelverzeichnis 522 as “raising your soul to the heights of emotional and intellectual bliss,” but then whines, “Oh boogers!” when it turns out she can’t make it. Actually, it turns out that there’s a second joke hidden in there which hints at the fact that sitcoms are often smarter than we give them credit for. Ein musikalischer Spaß K. 522 is an odd choice for “emotional and intellectual bliss”: it’s a satirical piece full of deliberate technical mistakes to parody less-competent composers. The English title is “A Musical Joke”. Eric steps in and offers to accompany Simone, but he’ll have to prove to her that he appreciates chamber music first. He conscripts Janice to teach him enough to fake it.

It turns out, because of course it does, that Arvid is the president of the radio club. He’s also the secretary, chief engineer and announcer. He’s the entirety of the club, and an eighth of its audience. Mr. Moore is clearly really excited by the prospect of making something about the radio station, but is less enthusiastic about Arvid’s notions of how to run it. Arvid is kind of spectacularly bad at this, in fact, and it’s one of the weak points of the episode. The writers can’t let go of their “Ha-ha, what a fuckin’ nerd, amirite?” attitude long enough to justify the place they want the themes of the story to go. So Arvid’s idea of exciting programming is “The Wild World of Chess”, “Stamp Collector’s Corner”, and “Insect of the Week”. Ha-ha, what a fuckin’ nerd, amirite? And though Arvid is supposed to be passionate about radio, when Mr. Moore namechecks The Green Hornet, Arvid assumes it’s an entomology show. Because the show has decided that Charlie’s love of Old Time Radio is “cool”, and therefore as alien and mysterious to the nerdy Arvid as the clitoris, or ending a school day with the elastic band of his underwear still attached. I mean, it’s not like nerds are knowledgeable about the things they are passionate about, right? They only know about nerdy things like science and bugs and chess.

But then how do cool people avoid getting ink on their shirts?

So the situation we have here is that Arvid is basically running the station as his own personal hobby, without restraint or supervision, to meet the needs not of the school which is sponsoring it, but just for his own kicks. So maybe the moral of this episode is going to be that being president of the radio club makes him the steward of it, rather than its owner?

Of course not cousin, don’t be ridicu— wrong show, sorry. Nah, where we’re going with this is that Charlie’s going to impose his ideas on the radio station and change things too much and Arvid will feel left out, and it’s Charlie who needs to learn that nerdy clubs should be the personal fiefdoms of nerdy students and not try to reach out to the people it’s supposed to serve. I mean, they make a stab at it being about how Charlie shouldn’t muscle in and make the students’ things about him (one of the show’s occasional themes that comes up in particular when he becomes overly controlling during the musical episodes. Oh yes, they do musical episodes. It is wonderful. And yes, who the fuck do you think plays Danny in Grease, and who the fuck do you think plays Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors? I can’t remember who plays Claude in Hair. And, because of course it was, they made it a recurring joke that Arvid and Dennis wanted to be in the show, but were forced to be tech instead, because Ha-ha, fuckin’ nerds and fat guys, amirite? They were ultimately vindicated when Arvid got the lead in Little Shop of Horrors and Dennis, despite opposition from Charlie because fuckin’ fat guy amirite?, built the Audrey prop as a Power Rangers Monster suit for himself). But they don’t actually bother to show this happening in a substantive way.

What they show us instead is Charlie Moore being an enthusiastic and supportive mentor who wants to get people involved in the radio club and make it serve as a better service for the school, and Arvid whining and sulking because the cool kids are getting involved in his club and he no longer has exclusive control over his own personal radio station. And I’m not unsympathetic. The whole idea of “The marginal thing you were into suddenly becomes popular and you feel pushed out of your own hobby because now it’s all about catering to the popular kids,” is something any fan of classic Doctor Who, original series Star Trek, or basically any band ever can understand. But that impulse right there, the one that says, “It was better before it was popular. It should go back to being the way us Real True Fans remember it,” is the voice of screaming entitlement. It comes from the same dark place that inspires basement-dwelling neckbeards to call SWAT teams out on game developers for the sin of failing to cater exclusively to white heterosexual men or corners women in elevators at conventions.

And if it seems like I’m being harsh, I am. If I were interested in being fair, I’d say that this is a largely harmless story and the only real weakness is that the message of Mr. Moore pushing Arvid out and making it about his own childhood passion isn’t given enough space to grow. But we’ve seen across this blog, I hope, how particular tropes in fiction are all bound up in their historical context. Arvid Engen is one of the earliest ones to be elevated to such a major role, and one of the last ones to be played so utterly straight. There’s a line that runs straight from Arvid to Urkel to the modern era of the sexually precocious man-child who badgers consent out of attractive women in Judd Apatow movies.

Let’s be clear here: Arvid claims to be on-board with Charlie’s plans to improve the station and build its audience. But there is no point where his support goes beyond words. The very moment Mr. Moore actually suggests a change, Arvid deflates. He looks worried by the prospect, and grants permission to launch a new show only with reluctance. We haven’t actually gotten to “Charlie Moore tries to take over the station,” when Arvid starts sulking. We’re still at “Charlie Moore tries to have creative input.” Yes, Arvid will indeed have cause to be upset, but he’s already acting the martyr at the very first suggestion of a new radio show.

Continue reading

Scenes from Walt Disney World with Dylan

At the Tower of Terror:

DADDY: Shall we be stoic, or shall we go crazy?

DYLAN: What does “Go crazy” mean?


While Tossing Coins into a fountain:

DYLAN: You know what I’m going to wish for? I’m going to wish that you didn’t have to wear your magicband.

DADDY: That seems like a silly thing to wish for.

DYLAN: Oh. What should I wish for?

DADDY: I don’t know, Something big, like world peace.

DYLAN: What’s world peace?

DADDY: It’s when all the people in the world stop fighting.

DYLAN: Okay, I’ll wish for that.

(Throws coin)

DYLAN: You know what I’m going to wish for next time? That there were more robots. Lots and lots of robots.

DADDY: (later, to mommy) <robot voice>AND-THEN-THERE-WILL-BE-PEACE</robot voice>


Halfway through a long, wet day at the Magic Kingdom:

DYLAN: If I had unlimited fastpasses, you know what I’d use them for? The bus back to the resort.

 

Tales from /lost+found 114: Children of War

5×12 February 2, 2001
CHILDREN OF WAR (Serial 67)

Setting: Skaro, far-future
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Katherine Heigl (Ruth), Lee Thompson Young (Leo)
Guest Cast: Cam Clarke (voice of the Daleks), Kelley Waymire (B’tan), Matt Winston (Gan’tus), Lawrence Monoson (Phaldotus)

Plot: The TARDIS arrives in a new-growth forest on an alien planet. Leo assumes the forest is regrowing after a fire, but the Doctor sees evidence that the destruction was far more severe, frightening Ruth with a description of nuclear weapons. To calm her, the Doctor uses the TARDIS’s scanners to demonstrate that the radiation levels are safe. However, they show that the radiation is rapidly increasing nearby. The Doctor guesses that a nuclear storage site nearby is leaking, and after handing out anti-radiation drugs, sets out to try to contain the leak to protect the forest. The sensor readings lead them to a city which is technologically advanced, but heavily overgrown. As they work their way through the city, they find pictures, letters and graffiti that tell of a great war between the planet’s two nations. At first, it seems that the warring peoples wiped each other out, but they find stranger things which hint that the city-builders survived the war, but were mutated by the radiation. They learn of the city-builders’ failed attempts to reverse their mutation, as evidenced by cylindrical upright sarcophagi throughout the city. Leo trips an automated defense system and is separated from the others and finds himself in a processing plant where he meets Phaldotus, Gan’tus and B’tan. They are Thals, unmutated survivors from the rival nation, who had come to the city as explorers and gotten trapped. The Doctor and Ruth discover that the city is powered by an atomic pile whose damaged control system is venting radiation rather than using it for power. The Doctor sets about repairing the power source to stop the radiation vent and succeeds just before Leo reunites with them, warning him to stop. As power returns to the city, Leo explains what he discovered from the Thals: the cylinders are not sarcophagi, but protective suits for the mutated survivors. With the power restored, the mutants emerge from stasis, the cylinders extending eight flexible metallic legs, domed lids revealing the one-eyed, pulsating mutants inside. They are Daleks, the ancient enemies of the Thals. Phaldotus is killed when the Daleks recognize him as a Thal. B’tan, Gan’tus and Leo escape, but the Doctor and Ruth are captured. The Thals are pacifists by nature, and do not want to help Leo rescue his friends, but Gan’tus comes around when Leo threatens to offer B’tan to the Daleks in a hostage exchange. By the time they rescue the others, the Doctor has learned that the Daleks have located the Thal village and, obsessed with finishing their war, plan to wipe the Thals out with a nuclear missile. Based on what Leo saw in the processing plant, the Doctor believes they can sabotage the underground supports for the city to collapse it before the Spider Daleks can launch their missile. They sneak back into the Dalek city and evade the now-active Daleks to reach the processing plant. The Daleks attack, and Gan’tus sacrifices himself, baiting the Daleks into shooting through him, igniting a chemical tank which explodes, damaging the city supports. The Doctor, Leo, Ruth, and B’tan escape as the city collapses. The Doctor advises B’tan to return to her people and warn them that the some of the Daleks may yet have survived. As the time-travelers leave Skaro, a long-defunct Dalek space station receives an emergency signal from the collapsing Dalek city and begins to reactivate…