Saturday, December 19, 2020

F*@%!#G SPOILERS!!!

I’ve been kinda bummed out for the last 24 hours.

When it comes to TV shows, there are two things that Danica and I watch together: anything Star Wars and anything Star Trek.

We’ve really enjoyed getting up early on Friday mornings to watch “The Mandalorian.” I’m a bit of an early riser anyway, often waking up before Dani’s alarm goes off, and I was not going to get on social until after we watched the season finale. However, scrolling through news headlines before getting out of bed is not an uncommon practice for me and that’s when I saw this:

(Spoiler-filled title and image redacted)

I didn’t click on the link. I didn't have to. The ending for Chapter 16 that everyone’s been raving about was right there in the headline and in the photo that accompanied it.

I didn’t want to know what was going to happen before I watched it. I wanted to find out the same way as all the other fans. I wanted to empathize with reactions like Kevin Smith’s and those of my friends…

Thanks to Ryan Britt, writing for Inverse—Why the F#%K couldn’t you wait just a few more hours to post your damned opinion? To say NOTHING of putting the key information right in the title AND the accompanying photograph!—I felt the full, depressing force (no pun intended) of having a potentially awesome pop-culture event SPOILED!

While the title was LATER edited with a spoiler warning, it retains the exact same photo that still gives it away.

Still a spoiler!

Britt seriously owes fans an apology. I can’t be the only one who experienced this.

I know that, in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that big of a deal… but, damn it, my feelings are hurt, and regardless of the cause, those feelings are still valid because they’re mine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

An attempt at Trekonciliation…

n.b. As I’ve stated elsewhere—regarding various topics from socio-economic and political issues to historical events and popular culture—I try my best to be mindful that I’m not the only person to have these thoughts and opinions. However, I hope that my contribution resonates in a way that’s unique when compared to what others have written or will write on the topic. That being said…
I love Star Trek… but I also like consistency.

I want to assure the reader that I’m not one of those gatekeeper fanatics, out to take the fun out of a franchise for everyone just because they’re not satisfied with someone else’s creative choices. If it’s got “Star Trek” in the title—and even if it doesn’t—I’m going to watch it and appreciate it for what it is but continuity problems can affect one’s ability to fully enjoy the experience.

As a filmmaker, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for unavoidable circumstances that could alter a film or subsequent installment like the need to recast a character. Kirstie Alley will always be the best Saavik to me simply because she defined the character. Robin Curtis was okay but not as memorable. A lot of people feel that Don Cheadle was a considerable improvement over Terrence Howard for the part of James Rhodes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the CGI Yoda (while not loved by everyone in the Star Wars prequels) certainly was a better rendition than the redesigned puppet they used for The Phantom Menace (inspiring Lucasfilm to swap them out in time for the Blu-ray release of the “complete” saga).


Sometimes, a change in casting doesn’t matter as much—if at all—if a lot of prosthetics are required for the role. The part of Mason Verger was portrayed by two different actors in the “Hannibal” TV series but the character was unrecognizably disfigured at the end of one season so casual viewers probably didn’t notice that the entire actor and not just his face was replaced for the next part of the story.

The use of props can be a little more tricky. I can’t be the only one who noticed the significant differences in the design—and lettering style—of Wolverine’s dog tag over the years in the X-Men movies.
As a Navy veteran, I can attest that military service members
are indeed issued two dog-tags but they’re identical.
When it comes to production design, Star Trek has always been creative in coming up with ways to explain (off camera, anyway) noticeable changes in sets, props and uniforms, and has also made a sincere effort to acknowledge that the changes did not go unnoticed “in-universe”—to the point where intermediate designs for uniforms and even starships have been created to suggest how they evolved over the decades. For example, the radical change in the design and layout of the bridge from one film to the next is explained by simply stating—granted, never on camera (to date)—that the section of the ship that serves as the bridge (the uppermost deck or “Deck 1” on the saucer section) is a modular component that can be replaced when a major systems upgrade was needed.

Granted, it was a little harder to swallow the radical change in design between the Enterprise of The Original TV Series and the one seen in “The Motion Picture” as an extensive “refit” but as fans, we could see that the newer design was a lot cooler so we just accepted it.
“Well, apart from the new saucer section, engineering hull, nacelles, pylons, outer plating, internal structure, decks, bulkheads, hatches, airlocks, control panels, monitors, furniture, lighting, interior decorating and everything else down to the font in which the name and registry is painted, it’s totally the same ship. Says so right there: ‘U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701.’ Can’t argue with that.”—most Star Trek fans
Fans can be very forgiving. One could also appreciate the dilemma in philosophical terms. The question of whether the Enterprise of The Original Series and the Enterprise of the first three films are the same vessel is an excellent interpretation of the “Ship of Theseus” thought experiment which postulates that if a ship has all of its components completely replaced over time—to the point that none of the original components remain—is it still the same ship?

Of course, there are times when significant design changes just happen and everyone simply pretends that no one notices. Like the bridge of the Klingon Bird of Prey in Star Trek III:


Compared to the bridge of the “same” ship in Star Trek IV:


But, who really cares about the bridge when the bigger question to consider is where the hell does one squeeze two full grown humpback whales into that ship?

Again, we suspend our disbelief for the benefit of being entertained.

I consider myself a pretty forgiving audience when it comes to movie and TV franchises. They’re not supposed to be high art. They’re spectacle, pure entertainment. But when so much time and effort has gone into building a world (or galaxy) over several decades and then one decides to explore that world’s past, inconsistencies between what’s been said about the past and what’s being presented as the past not only raises questions for detail-oriented fans, it can pull us completely out of the experience of enjoying the film or TV show, shattering the suspension of disbelief that we rely on to enjoy what we’re watching. We go from, “I’m in my favorite fictional universe again,” to “What’s this nonsense pretending to be something that I love?”

When the powers-that-were first decided to create a new Star Trek TV show that took place before the events of the original series, fans were intrigued. When they learned that it would be titled “Enterprise” fans were more than a little confused. How could it be “Star Trek” if the words “Star Trek” are not in the title—an issue that was later remedied. However, the fact that the show was named for the ship that it would feature also raised some legitimate questions. Would they depict the voyages of Christopher Pike, or the captain that preceded him, Robert April, on the original USS Enterprise NCC-1701?

No. Instead, we were given a new “original” starship Enterprise “NX-01”—no “USS” prefix because it predates the United Federation of Planets.

But why had we never heard of this Enterprise before the “Prequel” series premiered? Seriously, if it was so important in the history of space travel—the “first warp 5 capable starship”—shouldn’t it have been included among the images and replicas depicting the lineage of every ship called “Enterprise”? It’s not like there’s wasn’t enough room to display another ship.

There's probably room for the other two aircraft carriers as well

I only just now noticed that they ditched the aircraft carrier in the Enterprise-E
There was even an Enterprise lineage display in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.


Hey, look, apparently, there was a starship called Enterprise before The Original Series.


And it’s even been seen in paintings as set dressing for prequel series (not to mention a desk model in Star Trek: Into Darkness). Of course, there was nothing to directly identify it. My point is that the producers were fully aware of these disparities when they were developing the new show.

Even the NX-01 had its own Enterprise lineage display
I suppose they could have taken a page from Lucasfilm and
released a “Special Edition” of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.”
When “Enterprise” premiered, I watched it because it was the only Star Trek series that was on that was actually making new episodes and I enjoyed it for what it was. But there were a lot of details in the show that confused me even beyond the titular vessel that just didn’t gel with what had been said about this period of time in the previously depicted “future” of the franchise.

I thought these 22nd-century starships would be packing nukes since the show took place prior to the war with the Romulans. And what’s with all the flat-screen displays?

Yes, I’m aware of all the new tools at the production’s disposal that didn’t even exist when the original series first aired, to say nothing of how much technology would advance beyond what could be imagined in the 1960s but that’s not really my point. Some throwaway dialogue about how Captain Pike still insists on communicating through “old-fashioned screens” instead of with snazzy—albeit glitchy—holograms leaves me wanting. Apparently, fans are supposed to accept that holographic communication just fell out of favor until someone decided to “bring it back” over a century later during the period covered on Deep Space Nine. The inconsistencies don’t stop there, of course—promises to “address/resolve” discrepancies notwithstanding:


The reader will note that the video above is part 1 of 47 so I really don’t need to go on…

Except that I will because of another major discrepancy that’s difficult to ignore.


The appearance of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 in the Star Trek: Discovery episode “Will You Take My Hand?” which looks more like the “refit” Enterprise of The Motion Picture than the simpler design we all remember from The Original Series.

According to Designer John Eaves (who’s been working on Star Trek since “Generations”):
“…the task of the Enterprise making an appearance… started with the guideline that the Enterprise for Discovery had to be 25% different, otherwise production would have most likely been able to use the original design from the 60’s. But that couldn’t happen so we took Jefferies’ original concepts and with great care tried to be as faithful as possible. We had the advantage of a ten-year gap in trek history to retro the ship a bit with elements that could be removed and replaced somewhere in the time frame of discovery and the original series…” (emphasis added)—ScreenCrush
So, the 2250s, 2260s, and 2270s...
One problem that I have with this explanation is based on more than aesthetics. I’m not an engineer but I can’t be alone in thinking that the angled nacelle struts of the Enterprise—as seen in Discovery and The Motion Picture—look much more structurally sound than the much simpler ones from The Original Series. Eave’s explanation could be interpreted to mean that the holographic communications system wasn’t the only thing that gets downgraded on the Enterprise.

The producers behind “Discovery” insist that it takes place in what’s come to be called the “Prime” timeline—to differentiate it with the “Kelvin” timeline, created to give J.J. Abrams’—and future contributors—the creative leeway needed to breath new life into the franchise starting with the 2009 feature film “Star Trek.”

As if all the existential angst and online postulating about just how many quantum variations of Star Trek there could be, it turns out that the use of alternate timelines is a lot more complicated* than the producers are letting on.

In the same ScreenCrush article referenced above, John Eaves is also quoted as saying:
“After Enterprise, properties of Star Trek ownership changed hands and was divided, so what was able to cross TV shows up to that point changed and a lot of the crossover was no longer allowed. That is why when JJ [Abrams]’s movie came along everything had to be different. The alternate universe concept was what really made that movie happen in a way as to not cross the new boundaries and give Trek a new footing to continue.”
*An abbreviated version of the video linked above from the YouTube channel “Midnight's Edge,” covers the main bullet points of all the legal hoops that must be jumped through in order to make new Star Trek content in any form.

I remember reading Arthur C. Clarke’s “Space Odyssey” series when I was a kid and rereading them over the years. For those who are only familiar with the two films based on the first two books in the series, it’s interesting to note that in the first novel—which was written concurrently with the screenplay for for the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”—the “United States Spacecraft [USS] Discovery One” traveled to one of Saturn’s moons, Iapetus. In the film, it only made it to Jupiter. When Clarke wrote the novel “2010: Odyssey Two,” it was a continuation of the story as depicted in the film “2001” and not the novel in a much more friendly and collaborative effort with the Soviets than what was depicted in Peter Hyams’ film adaptation, “2010: The Year We Make Contact.”

Clarke acknowledged the discrepancies not only between those first two novels but also subsequent novels in the series when he wrote in the opening pages of the third book in the series, “2061”:
“Just as 2010: Odyssey Two was not a direct sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so this book is not a linear sequel to 2010. They must all be considered as variations on the same theme, involving many of the same characters and situations, but not necessarily happening in the same universe. Developments since 1964 make total consistency impossible, as the later stories incorporate discoveries and events that had not even taken place when the earlier books were written.”
I try to remember Arthur C. Clarke’s words whenever I see an inconsistency or continuity “error” in a series—regardless of whether it’s a TV show, movie franchise or novel.

Upon witnessing a discrepancy in a popular sequel:
“Hey, that’s different from the others.”
Upon remembering Clarke’s thinking:
“I guess this sequel takes place in a slightly different universe.”
When Lucasfilm decided to make prequel movies, TV shows and anthology films related to Star Wars, they had the luxury of a limited body of existing filmed and animated stories. There wasn’t much that was said or referenced about “the past” that couldn’t be explained or “retconned” without doing too much in the way of mental gymnastics or just trying to see things “from a certain point of view.” Rebranding the “Expanded Universe”—which was never very consistent to begin with—as “Legends” and officially declaring it no longer “canon” was a clever way to allow new participants in the franchise to exercise more creative freedom. Just as the declaration that Abrams’ “Star Trek” occurs in an “alternate reality” gave those filmmakers a clean slate for telling their stories.


As I have come to understand it, with few exceptions, the storylines of officially licensed Star Trek novels and comics prior to those associated with the 2009 film have had little or no impact on the TV shows or movies from The Original Series right through Enterprise (or from Enterprise through Nemesis if you want to look at it chronologically, in-universe). There were plenty of episodes dealing with time travel, alternate realities including the “Mirror Universe,” and parallel dimensions. When it came to traveling through time, especially into the past, the principal characters were depicted as being very conscientious that their presence in the past did nothing to alter the course of history. Oftentimes, they traveled to the distant past or even the “present”—as far as when the various series were airing or the films were being produced. Spock always covered his ears, they tried their best to blend in and if they had to reveal themselves to anyone, it was done so discreetly and without revealing too much about the future. Obviously, creative liberties were taken for the sake of advancing the plot.


One of Deep Space Nine’s trips into the past poked fun at one of the major inconsistencies of the franchise without offering an in-universe explanation for it to hilarious effect.


Voyager’s time travels—through no fault of the crew—had apparently played a major role in the technological underpinnings of the entire Star Trek universe. Time travel was also a key plot point in its series finale.

But there is one particular time travel incident in Star Trek where it appeared that all the rules for non-interference when going back in time were just thrown out the airlock:

I’m talking about Star Trek: First Contact.

Not only did the crew of the Enterprise give up—pretty early in the story—on any attempt to fit into the time period, but they also used a telescope to show the Enterprise in orbit and they spilled the beans about a lot of key events to the locals that were going to happen in the future.


To make things worse, they used 24th-century technology to make repairs to Zefram Cochrane’s damaged warp ship and Commander Riker and Geordi La Forge even flew on the first warp flight with Cochrane, telling him when to go to warp and for how long.

Two of these people were not supposed to be in this cockpit
Alfre Woodard's character, Lilly, was supposed to fly with Cochrane but she had to be transported to the Enterprise for medical attention—at least she still got to go into space. I can’t help but wonder who else was supposed to be in that cockpit originally. If Buzz Aldrin  “desperately” wanted to be the first person to walk on the moon for Apollo 11, imagine how he’d feel if some time traveling astronauts—who have probably already been to the moon on vacation or maybe a layover on their way to Mars—showed up and kicked him and Michael Collins off of the Saturn V rocket to make sure they didn’t screw up their own mission… Oh, but Armstrong still has to go because he’s the only one anybody remembers in the 24th century—Despite Buzz’s efforts to keep reminding people that, technically, he and Neil landed on the moon at the exact same time.

I’m really glad he has a sense of humor about it.

Of course, Cochrane—et al—flies in space, the Vulcans detect the warp signature as they were supposed to, the Enterprise crew defeats the Borg in orbit, Data gives up half his face for a blowjob (that plot element’s really more inferred than explicitly presented in the narrative), they travel back to the future and all is well… or is it?

There have been several references to Star Trek: First Contact in Star Trek: Enterprise, including allusions to plot elements from the movie attributed to Cochrane himself and the appearance of 24th-century Borg survivors on Earth. Considering how much of Star Trek’s “past”—as depicted in the prequels—differs from what was described in every other iteration of the franchise, I have my own “fan theory” to explain it—and I can’t possibly be the only person to think of this:

The prequel series (Enterprise, Discovery and any subsequent spinoffs, including the announced series featuring Jean-Luc Picard) and the movies, Star Trek: Insurrection and Nemesis, take place in their own alternate reality. A separate timeline that was created as a result of the events in Star Trek: First Contact. This new alternate reality could be considered the “Prime” timeline as also seen in the 2009 Star Trek feature, narratively—and legally—distinct from the “Canon” timeline which consists of all previously produced Star Trek television shows from The Original Series through Voyager and all the movies from The Motion Picture through First Contact.

It's my opinion, that the powers that be at CBS should quit trying to explain away the inconsistencies and contradictions of all the new stories in an attempt to convince the fans that it all fits into Star Trek “Canon” and simply just publicly embrace that they take place in a completely different “Prime” timeline. There is an in-universe precedent for this explanation that predates the 2009 Star Trek film by 16 years in the form of the TNG Episode, “Parallels,” which established that:
“...all possibilities that can happen or could happen do happen in alternate quantum realities.”—An alternate Data from an unspecified parallel universe.
CBS should just own it and quit trying to make everything produced since Enterprise sync up with the “Canon” timeline because they'll never be able to do it to anyone's satisfaction anyway—Enterprise couldn't even do it and that was before the CBS/Viacom divorce.

As one who has an appreciation for visual aids, I’ve taken the liberty of assembling a chart to illustrate this theory. It has been argued that even the “Mirror Universe” depicted on Discovery can be considered its own distinct universe—earlier versions of the chart actually showed that as well—but things are already complicated enough.

I actually started by using a “mind-mapping” application and then imported the resulting diagram into Photoshop.

The rest is (an alternate) history!

Click here for a higher resolution image.
Digital Illustration created by the author, incorporating preexisting imagery used in accordance with the Fair Use exemption under U.S. Copyright Law.

(Latest revision: February 20, 2019)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Halt and catch your breath

I’m grateful for shows that keep me engaged. For series that don’t overstay their welcome. For programs that leave me wanting more and allow me to fill in the rest of the story with my own imagination, even if it’s limited to vague musings.

Image derived from promotional content.
©Halt and Catch Fire ©2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC.
"Halt and Catch Fire" intrigued me from the get-go. When I started watching it, I thought it was just going to be a fictionalized version of the story of Compaq. As the series progressed, it seemed to encapsulate several different events from tech history from battling online services like AOL and CompuServe to fledgling ISPs and nascent search engines.

Something that I especially liked about the structure of the show was that the journeys taken by Joe, Gordon, Donna, Cameron and Bos weren’t depicted in some parallel television universe where Cardiff Electric was merely a stand-in for a company in the real world—an obvious knock-off of an actual company stopping just short of infringing on trademarks—think “International Parcel Service” from “King of Queens” or “TGS” from “30 Rock”, “brand-alikes” that intentionally bring to mind their real-world counterparts, UPS and SNL. Instead, the ventures, brands and companies mentioned throughout the series—“Symphonic,” “Giant,” “Mutiny,” “Calnect,” “Comet,” “Rover”—are depicted as also-ran endeavors with as much potential to alter the tech-industry landscape as the real companies that actually did, usually mentioned in passing. It would have been disconcerting to the audience to pretend that all the real-world brands that have defined tech over the years didn’t exist. By acknowledging them, the audience is reminded—even informed—that many successful ideas are not necessarily unique. Parallel thinking exists in all fields and industries and credit for the origin of any idea might not necessarily go to the one that thought of it first but to the person who was first able to market it; this doesn’t even guarantee that the most well known execution of an idea is better than another implementation that lacked the resources, scalability, connections or foresight to be released to the public.

Ultimately, what I loved about “Halt and Catch Fire,” wasn’t the way it retold the history of tech in the 80s and 90s, it came down to the same thing that makes anyone love any story that’s being told: characters that the audience comes to genuinely care about.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery speculation (streaming business edition)

I was wondering how many new sign-ups CBS All Access got following the premiere of “Star Trek: Discovery” (please don’t call it “ST:D”) but there is no official data available.

Photo credit: Smoha1996
via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
According to an article published after “Discovery’s” premiere, “…CBS announced on Monday that Discovery helped the platform set a single-day record for All Access on Sunday….but the network declined to…release any actual numbers.” Another article said that “…the number of downloads of the CBS mobile app grew by 2.5x following the premiere of the show.” The specificity of referencing the “mobile app” might suggest that this only refers to All Access subscriptions through mobile devices and not others like Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, etc.

As I understand it, the bulk of the production cost came out of Netflix’s coffers (which only has international streaming rights to the show, an audience about 25 times the number of CBS’s confirmed pre-“Discovery” subscribers.). I don’t know how the return on investment works or how viewership can be independently analyzed for streaming programming (Netflix doesn’t release those kinds of details either) so it’s going to be really difficult to gauge whether or not the show will be “successful” enough to warrant additional seasons.

Other articles that I’ve read suggest that since the bulk of production costs came from Netflix, it’ll most likely be their call as to whether the series gets renewed. It would probably take a major windfall of new subscribers to CBS All Access to enable them to take on the cost of producing a second season and I don’t think that being able to pay for it is any guarantee that they would, especially if they can secure financing from Netflix again–which might be possible but only IF the show is “successful” in their international streaming market.

The reviews so far seem to be pretty good but that just isn’t the primary consideration when looking at the long-term potential of a series.

I’m not an “All Access” subscriber and I don’t want to be. I just can’t justify it for a single show since I don’t watch very much CBS programming anyway and most of the other current programs are broadcast anyway. My current plan is sign up for the one week free trial around the time of the season finale, binge the show and then cancel.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Orange is the new Oz


OITNB

I used to think the HBO series "Oz" was a really good show about life in prison, despite it's over-the-top melodrama and plot holes you could drive a tank through, but I certainly enjoyed watching it. I still think it's a good show… just not as good as I thought it was when I first watched it. Especially since I started watching “Orange is the New Black” which has much better writing with deeper, more believable and sympathetic characters.

When I first heard about the Netflix series, my first thought was, “So this is going to be ‘Oz’ on estrogen?” That was an oversimplification on my part—and admittedly sexist one at that. When I finally watched the show, I realized just how wrong I was.

I absolutely loved Harold Perrineau as the narrator on “Oz” but the show kinda hit you over the head with it’s social commentary and exposition on how screwed up the U.S. criminal justice system is. I think OITNB does a much better job of illustrating those problems. Whereas “Oz” would spoon-feed the issues by breaking the fourth wall—albeit in creative and interesting ways—“Orange Is The New Black” shows the audience how different policies and procedures actually affect people. Instead of dramatically reciting statistics and sociological trends, it introduces the audience to complex, multidimensional and RELATABLE characters then puts them through the system, making the experience much more personal for the audience watching.

Hearing about “prisoners” being mistreated by a “system” is vague, academic and impersonal, thus it doesn’t engender much of an emotional response—certainly not one that would motivate someone to try and change the system.

But loyal viewers get to know characters from well-written shows so intimately, that they don’t see them just as the labels they might be assigned by a system. They have affection for them. Those characters become friends and family. When people that one deeply cares for are treated unjustly by a broken system, they tend to take it personally.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On zombies and who Negan killed (not just a theory nor a spoiler)

Joe Puente
(post-zombie apocalypse)
For the most part, I would not say that I’ve been a big fan of the zombie genre. The only time I ever saw “Night of the Living Dead,” it was an abbreviated version over which comedians improvised new dialogue—with a completely different plot. It’s also interesting to note that of all the zombie movies ever produced, more than half of them were created in this century. I couldn’t keep up with them if I wanted to.

I’ve had a few different reasons for not being interested in seeing most zombie movies. My go-to excuse is that I have no interest in seeing pointless violence in the form of people killing other people that, technically, are already dead. The real reason I haven’t watched too many of these movies is because… well… I think zombies are scary. There. I said it.

Who wouldn’t be creeped out and downright terrified by a hoard of creatures that kinda look like people but can’t be reasoned with? They just keep on coming after you despite your best efforts to evade them. Like a mall kiosk salesperson who won’t take “No” for an answer, it’s horrifying! Okay, at the very least it’s creepy and makes you uncomfortable despite the fact that they’re essentially harmless. The zombies, I mean—because they’re not real. I can’t say the same for the kiosk salespeople.

The slow, staggering zombies are scary enough. Fast zombies like the ones in “28 Days Later” are even worse. I don’t like running! But at least I know that I could outrun a slow zombie. The ability to run seems like a majorly unfair advantage to give to those things.

I totally understand why zombies are so popular as villains. What they lack in thinking ability they more than make up for by instilling fear in others, especially when facing a hoard of the undead. That’s probably why the Borg were such effective villains in Star Trek. They were basically space zombies.

It’s odd to consider characters like the Borg or the White Walkers (occasionally just called "walkers") from “Game of Thrones” as variations on zombies. The “modern” zombie is itself is derivative of the original zombie concept. Am I the only one who remembers “The Serpent and the Rainbow”? (I’m not saying that it’s definitive, I’m just wondering if anyone else remembers that Bill Pullman was in that movie). Remember that one scene that made every guy who watched it cringe and snap his legs together?

As I stated above, MOST zombie movies don’t interest me. Obviously there are a few that I found intriguing.

I did enjoy “Shawn of the Dead” though I only saw it years after it had been in theaters.
That the producers of “Warm Bodies” were able to pull off a Zombie/Romantic Comedy mashup was quite impressive. Of course, making the audience sympathetic to traditionally unsympathetic characters (i.e. zombies) was quite a challenge. The filmmakers’ choice to present part of the story from the zombie’s perspective as well as to contrast them with a different type of zombie that was simply even more unsympathetic (the Boneys) was very effective. Of course John Malkovich’s character did the human population of the film no favors as far as endearing the audience to them which, of course, made the “friendly” zombies easier to root for.

There was a time when I was dismissive of the entire zombie genre but that changed when I saw the first trailer for AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” At first, I was indeed dismissive of it. “Great!,” I thought. “More zombies. When is this zombie fad going to just go away?” But I kept watching and there came a brief moment in that trailer that really got my attention:


Seeing Morgan’s determination to rid the world of walkers seemed apropos for the genre but this is followed by a look of utter devastation when he recognizes the creature that used to be his wife among the hoard. That moment made it very clear to me that “The Walking Dead” was not just an action-packed tv-show about zombies. It was a dramatic series about people and how they live in extremely difficult circumstances and made me think, “Okay, this is something different and I think I need to see it.”

I’ve been watching the series ever since and have really enjoyed seeing how these disparate characters have evolved in this strange world over the course of its run. While I have not taken the time to read the comic book it’s based on, I have read about it in the interest of knowing how the television show has both followed and deviated from the source material.

The original Negan and actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan
(Photo: Twitter Photo Section/@JoBlo)
I recall learning about the new villain “Negan” and how he was supposed to be the worst person Rick Grimes and company have encountered so far. Between the Governor and the “Termites,” I thought that was going to be pretty difficult to pull off but Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s brief introduction of the character at the end of season 6 has certainly made me reconsider that preconception.

Of course, the major mystery of the season 6 finale, “Last Day on Earth,” is just which of the beloved main characters was murdered by Negan with his weapon of choice, a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat named “Lucille.”

The identity of Negan’s victim in the comic books has been known since 2012 when Glenn made his last appearance in issue #101. However, since the television series has never shied away from deviating from the comic book storyline, this particular outcome isn’t set in stone. There are several characters who have been killed on the TV show that are still alive in the comics and vice versa.

It’s reasonable to assume that most fans of the show have their theories about how any one of the main characters got to meet Lucille up close and personal. Some have even painstakingly analyzed the audio and visuals from the show to try and find clues. I personally don’t have the patience to break down the final moments of the episode frame-by-frame nor am I particularly invested in any of the characters to be heartbroken if they’re let go from the series.

Nevertheless, I’m just as curious as anyone else who wants to know who died and what will happen next but instead of trying to analyze audio, video, characters arcs or potential hints from the source material, I thought it would be interesting to try and look at the situation from the point-of-view of the WRITERS on the show.

So, as I imagine myself sitting with the other series writers, I have to ask them a couple of questions:

Writing Staff Question #1) “Who should be kept alive and why?”

I wouldn’t kill off Rick because he is the show.

I’d keep Carl around because watching him grow up in this world is just too damned interesting.

Michonne can’t die. I won’t allow it. ;-) Okay, it would really suck for Rick to lose another love interest so soon after losing Jessie. He had just gotten to a place where he felt he could be with someone after losing Lori in season 2.
Update: It was brought to my attention by a friend familiar with the comics that 
"Negan doesn't kill women with Lucille... Because of that, the women are safe (IMO)." (emphasis added) 
To clarify, my friend didn't say that Negan doesn't kill women. Only that he doesn't kill them "with Lucille." So, I'm not sure how safe women are around him in general. Taking that into consideration, one must ask if this policy will cross over to the TV show or not. One never knows.
Daryl, the only surviving Dixon brother, is way too valuable to the show to let go through the business end of a repurposed baseball bat. Of course, there’s also that whole riot threat to consider.

Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee
(Photo:AMC)
I would prefer not to have it be Glenn. If, for no other reason, than to be different from the comics. That whole expectant father in the apocalypse angle is also something to consider. HIs relationship with Maggie is another thing that keeps people watching the show.

Abraham and Sasha just started their romantic relationship so it would be a pity to see that come to a quick end.

Eugene has come a long way since his “Scientist on a mission to D.C.” ruse fell apart. It could be argued that he needs more time to put the karmic balance in his favor before he can be killed off. Especially since he failed so horribly in his efforts to bait the Saviors away from the rest of the group.

Writing Staff Question #2) “Who’s death would have the most profound impact on the rest of the group (and by extension, on the audience that empathizes with them)?”

Obviously, if you killed Rick, you break everyone’s heart (especially those of Michonne and Carl). Though it would be interesting to see how Carl’s character develops without his father’s guidance.

Norman Reedus already has another show on AMC to fall back on—and I’m sure a backlog of other film and television offers to choose from should Daryl meet an untimely end. Part of what makes “The Walking Dead” so great is the fact that no one is ever off limits when it comes to character mortality, even if they’re the most popular on the show. Let the fans riot!

Which brings us back to Glenn. I don’t think Glenn’s death would be all that impactful. While there would be disappointment on both sides of the fourth wall, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to the audience since it’s known that Negan kills Glenn in the comics. Sure, Rick and company would be devastated to lose one of their own—especially since Glenn is thus far one of the longest-surviving members of the core group—but he wouldn’t be the first husband/father/leader to be lost. This is the point where the reader chimes in with, “What about Maggie? They’ve been through so much together! She’s already lost her parents and she’s pregnant with his child. Losing Glenn would certainly have a profound effect on her.”

To which, I respond, “You’re right. What about Maggie?” She wouldn’t be the first widow or single mother on the show. We already know that she’s a strong character who can survive just about any challenge thrown at her. Losing Glenn would be tragic for her and the audience but she has already proven herself capable of enduring such tragedies.

This begs another examination of the second question posed to the writing staff.

Dare I answer that question with a question?
Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene
(Photo:AMC)

 “What about Maggie?”

Murdering anyone in cold blood for completely arbitrary reasons is awful enough. When that person is an ill, pregnant woman and is also adored by companions and audience alike, it becomes extra tragic. Make said pregnant woman the spouse of an equally admired character—to say nothing of being one half of a fan-favorite couple—and the dramatic stakes are raised even higher and that’s just in the moment. Consider the impact a pregnant Maggie’s death would have on Glenn.

Glenn’s story has been played out in the comic. A good guy in a rotten world whose life ended tragically and without purpose. By changing Negan’s victim from Glenn to Maggie, there is potential to explore parts of Glenn’s psyche that no one has seen before. Not just over losing the woman he loves—he’s considered her loss several times before, though I imagine he usually thought of her succumbing to walkers. While there were certainly situations where Maggie was in danger from other humans, add to the encounter with Negan the factors of her pregnancy, the danger her life and the life of their unborn child are already in as they try to get medical attention and the thought of her being murdered in cold blood and you have a constellation of circumstances that I think could make the otherwise thoughtful and cool-headed Glenn just snap.

By making Maggie the victim of Negan’s sadistic initiation of the group into the Savior collective, the writing staff has an opportunity to take Glenn’s character to places they may never have considered before. Glenn will have lost everything. Not only the world that he shared with Maggie—despite how frightening and uncertain it was—but also their future, the potential that was their child and the hope they may have had to try and raise a good person in a broken society. In this scenario, Glenn has nothing else to lose, except his own humanity. Yes, it would be tragic (dare I say more tragic than the initial loss of his family) but for dramatic and story-telling purposes it gives the writers a lot to work with. How would Glenn process this profound loss? Do the new circumstances he finds himself in even allow him an opportunity to grieve?

As a writer, I would relish the opportunity to explore just how Glenn channels his anger. To figure out how he might avenge the death of his wife and especially to see if his moral compass remains intact throughout. It would be much more interesting (and probably more realistic) if his need for revenge means not allowing anything or anyone—even the people he has survived with—to get in his way. Perhaps even to the point of betraying the people who are, for all practical purposes, his family all so that he can exact vengeance.

Of course, at the end of that journey, the writers would also have so figure out what would become of Glenn in the end. Dying in the attempt would seem anti-climactic. To see Glenn succeed, defeat Negan and then find himself alone because he may have also destroyed what was left of his original group in the process, would be the ultimate challenge. What would that do to the psyche of anyone? Would there be any humanity left within him to redeem at that point? And, if so, how?
N.B. I’m totally calling intellectual property "dibs" on this alternate history. If any comic book artists reading this would like to collaborate with me on a one-off/what-if Walking Dead issue that explores these ideas, let me know.
Revised 4/27/16, 1:51 PM MST

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Better Call Saul… but only once a week.


I can’t say that I’m an intense binge watcher. I did get through “Firefly” in a couple of days and I watched the first three seasons of “Game of Thrones” in fairly rapid succession—then watched it all again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. With other series, I guess I’ve been more casual. I just finished watching “Weeds,” for example. An interesting and unusual story with elements both hilarious and heartbreaking but instead of binging, I would watch it casually, as I’ve done for a few other series.

I kinda dig this method of watching programs but I’ve come to realize that I can’t do this for all programs. Case in point: “Better Call Saul.”

I loved “Breaking Bad” and when I first heard the rumors about a prequel series focussing on Walter White’s crooked lawyer—of all people!—I was simultaneously intrigued and skeptical. Intrigued to see how Vince Gilligan and company would tell the story of how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) becomes Saul Goodman and skeptical about whether that was enough to carry the whole series. The addition of the complicated origins of Mike Ehrmantraut and the judicious use of “Breaking Bad” character cameos have put my skepticism more than at ease.

Bob Odenkirk, Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan
on the set of "Better Call Saul"
I think it’s safe to say that “Better Call Saul” is one of my favorite series currently airing and I’m glad that I can only watch it one episode at a time with a week in between to process. I don’t think I could binge this series because as much as I love the show, every week it breaks my heart. Sometimes for the events that unfold on the show (“You’re not a real lawyer!”) but mostly because, as in “Breaking Bad,” I already know that it can’t end well for anyone involved. Sure, it’s no secret that Jimmy will become Saul and then later become an anonymous manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha. There’s no mystery about where he winds up, only now we’re learning what set him on that path. I knew that going in. What I didn’t fully anticipate, however, was that I would also learn about the body count that Jimmy/Saul would leave in his wake.

In “Breaking Bad,” Walter White was deliberately breaking the law and doing whatever he could to build his empire. The body count in Heisenberg’s story was literal. In “Better Call Saul,” Jimmy starts out trying to do the right thing. As his brother—played brilliantly by Michael McKean (Every time I see him, I still think, “Hey, it’s Lenny!”)—Chuck says, “Jimmy has a good heart.” It’s obvious. We wouldn’t love him as a character if he didn’t. His motivations for the actions he takes are sincere, even if they do range from ethically murky to blatantly illegal. From my observations, Jimmy’s main character flaw—which is exactly the thing that brings us back to his story every week—is that he doesn’t think about the long-term consequences of his actions. His reasoning always seams to be, “If I do A then B will happen.” He doesn’t stop to consider that B leads to C, which effects D, E, F and every other letter down the line. Once in a while, someone is there to give him a course correction. Like his assistant Omar reminding him about some important minutia in his contract with Davis & Main that prompted him to rethink resigning from the firm.

One would think that Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) would be the perfect moral compass for Jimmy. She has a strong sense of ethics (at least where her job is concerned) and she cares about him but she would rather have plausible deniability about Jimmy’s actions than have any part in trying to help rehabilitate him. When she is first made aware of an action Jimmy took that she knew would get him disbarred if it were to ever come to light, she doesn’t say to him, “Please, don’t do it again.” Instead she says, “I can’t know about anything like that.” At first I wondered why she would not just ask Jimmy to play it straight. Is it because she doesn’t want to try and change him? Is she attempting to maintain some boundaries in their relationship? Then I realized that my thinking on the matter was kind of sexist. Kim is a lawyer. Her actions are dictated by that fact. She doesn’t want to know about Jimmy breaking the law because, as a lawyer, she can’t appear to be complicit. It’s not just a selfish act to cover her ass, it’s the default position any lawyer would take in that situation. That’s how lawyers are trained to think. In light of that fact, it’s no wonder that she applies this way of thinking in her personal life, especially considering professional priorities and her youth where the lines between one’s personal and professional life tend to be blurred.

I love Kim’s character. I find myself repeatedly rooting for her, celebrating her victories and mourning her losses but at the end of every episode, no matter how Kim’s character is doing, I feel sad. Because, as a beloved character, I know that this series cannot end well for her. She’s closer to Jimmy than anyone else so, of course, she’s going to be the most tragic victim of his actions and will probably wind up being the most painful of Jimmy’s/Saul’s long list of lifetime regrets.

What’s especially interesting to me about the experience of watching this show is that we’re seeing all of the skeletons in Saul Goodman’s closet, all the things that made him who he was in “Breaking Bad” and yet, none of it was written when we were first introduced to the character. It makes one wonder how Odenkirk envisioned the origins of the character to divine his various motives and motivations and what sort of influence that had on the development of “Better Call Saul.”