Stuff I’ve Read, Watched, Done – April 5, 2022

It’s been a couple of weeks and Star Trek Picard has now transformed itself into the peak of science fiction storytelling, putting all previous iterations of the franchise to shame.

April Fools!

Just kidding, Star Trek Picard is still pretty bad, although the story is moving along now so that at least there is some momentum with things. Let’s see, Picard has a met a younger Guinan now (now played by Ito Aghayere) who doesn’t recognize him. This seems like a continuity problem because of their meeting in the 1800’s in the Next Generation two-parter Time’s Arrow, but really it’s not since history has been changed, and that would include Picard’s “future actions” (ie, traveling back in time). What’s more of a problem is that Guinan is suddenly written like a modern woman in Los Angeles, angry about race-issues, and not like the detached alien visitor that she was both before and after these events.

The show has Seven and Raffi living out some sort of romantic action-comedy side-story where they inanely steal a police car in order to get somewhere fast, an action guaranteed to make getting anywhere fast impossible (something which Seven clearly knows). They have to rescue Rios from being taken away by evil immigration officers, and refuse to use the transporter in case it changes history. However, they happily knock out a couple of police officers and save about twenty illegal immigrants from being removed from the city, because presumably this can’t possibly have any impact on the future.

Meanwhile, Agnes Jerati has become mentally influenced by the Borg Queen, which means that though she seems normal, she’s likely to start behaving oddly and doing things that work against the crew. If this seems familiar it’s also what happens to her in the first season.

We are introduced to Picard’s ancestor, Renée. She is suspicious because for nearly the first time in Star Trek history, a character’s ancestor doesn’t look exactly like his or her descendant. Speaking of strong family genes, Brent Spiner is back as a new member of the Soong family, one who in a bit of consistent continuity is into genetic engineering (another one who showed up in Enterprise had the same focus, before changing his family destiny by switching to artificial life). Isa Briones turns up again as well, as this new Soong’s daughter, and apparently the model for all those androids in the future. And Orla Brady is suddenly there are as maybe Laris’ ancestor, who is placed on earth as long-term agent working for some mysterious power. In a deep-dive of continuity this is said to b the same sort of arrangement that Gary Seven had in the classic episode Assignment: Earth

We are led to assume that Renée Picard’s absence on an upcoming space mission will doom the future, but actually this is not confirmed. I wonder if it will turn out that her presence on the mission is what causes all the trouble–and that Q for some reason is trying to help the situation–and that this will be the way the show “de-constructs Picard” (something it has promised to do). If it turns out that Jean-Luc Picard’s own actions in the past are what causes the future to fall apart, watch this space for some pretty frustrated ranting.

The Man in the High Castle

On the flip side, we have The Man in the High Castle, an Amazon Prime show from a few years ago, which ran for four seasons of ten episodes each, which my family has just finished. It’s not perfect (because what is?) but man, it comes pretty close.

The story is about a parallel world in which the Axis powers won World War II, and the United States is now divided between the American Reich and the Japanese Pacific States with a lawless Neutral Zone in between. Into this world is thrown the discovery of parallel worlds where history played out differently (including ones very much like our own). This reality has a profound effect on many of the characters. Some are inspired by the very idea that a world could exist in which the Nazis were defeated–if it can happen on another world, then why not on their own? For the Nazis themselves, this represents new lands that they could expand their empire toward.

The last season of the show had some difficult hurdles to overcome. For various reasons, the cast of the show changed a great deal. Some characters had been definitively written out in the previous year, whilst others just no longer appeared. Perhaps my favorite character, Trade Minister Tagomi, was abruptly killed off between seasons (there was a flashback in which the actor, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa didn’t appear. I heard one comment that he left the show because of his less interesting role on Lost in Space, but I don’t know if that’s true).

Still, the show weathered these storms, particularly by doing a lot with characters like Chief Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) and Rufus Sewell as Reichsmarschall (at of the beginning af the season, anyway) John Smith. Both characters are reprehensible to different degrees, but absolutely compelling. Smith ends up in many ways to be the central character of the shows last season, if not the whole show. It’s fascinating to see him so cleverly out-maneuver his political enemies, and yet so blindingly miss the point with his family, who are supposedly his prime motivation.

The show’s final moments are a bit confusing. Suddenly the dimensional portal that the Nazi’s have been building activates of its own accord, and once most things have the story’s earth have mostly righted themselves, random people of all walks of life start coming through the portal. It’s all a bit symbolic, one supposes, but it’s treated like a regular “event”. The newcomers are just wandering through, like they are walking through an airport, and while our main characters are confused, they don’t do any of the obvious things like asking anyone what is going on.

So it’s a great show, but with a slightly unsatisfying final two minutes.

Chocolat

A little out of left field, my family and I also watched Chocolat, a film by Swedish director Lasse Hallström, and based on a novel by Joanne Harris. My middle daughter watched the movie for high school English, liked it, and in order to become more familiar with it for school wanted to watch it again. So one day it became our family viewing (aside from a couple of bits that we had to fast-forward through).

It’s about Vianne Rocher, a single (indeed, never married) mother of a young daughter who sets up a chocalatièrre in 1959 in a sleepy French village which is under the strict authority of the religiously dogmatic Comte de Renaud. Vianne has a natural gift for selecting people’s favorite chocolates, and ends up being a catalyst for all sorts of needed (though not always wanted) change in the community. The only person who she can’t seem to pick a favorite for is an itinerant “river rat” (part of a group who live on boats that travel up and down the river) named Roux, who becomes Vianne’s lover.

The conflict in the film is largely between Vianne and the Comte, but also between Vianne and her own daughter Anouk, who is only six years old but is growing increasingly challenged by the impermanence of her mother’s lifestyle.

It’s quite a funny film with good performances, especially from Juliette Binoche (Vianne), Lena Olin (a village woman trapped in an abusive marriage–a far cry from her role in Alias), Judi Dench (Vianne’s unusual landlady) and Alfred Molina (the Comte). It’s especially to hear my daughter talk about it. She said that in the analysis that took place with her class, a lot of people thought that Anouk’s imaginary friend (a kangaroo named “Pantoufle,” which actually means “slipper”) represented her absent father, but my daughter strongly disagrees. She said the creature was a place where Anouk could transfer all of the negative emotions she has about her mother’s lifestyle and choices, a view which her teacher agreed with.

Steps

I’ve gotten out of the habit of sharing my steps on these posts but I wanted to just point out that I was back on track after two weeks of falling “off the wagon” in terms of hitting my 10,000 / week goal. That happened because I was stuck at home a lot having been a “close contact” in my state’s increasingly outdated COVID-related definitions.

But as you can see here I am back to pounding the pavement, as it were.

Good times.

2 thoughts on “Stuff I’ve Read, Watched, Done – April 5, 2022

  1. Hooooo you worried me for a second with that first sentence. I steadfastly cling to my Rodevacantist beliefs: No Roddenberry, No Trek. Had you not been joking, ok, I would have investigated the possibility that I’ve adhered to a misapprehension for over 3 decades, especially considering the source, but I would not have been happy about it.

    Agreed on The Man In The High Castle. I didn’t finish the series as I cancelled my Amazon account completely for unrelated reasons sometime after the second or third season, but I enjoyed what I saw, it was very well done.

    Current faves are “Severance” on Apple TV, which really manages to successfully tread some very fine lines and not fall into some of the common pitfalls a lot of very high-concept, “quirky” scifi gets mired in, and “Reservation Dogs” which, while not scifi or fantasy, is a really excellent, entertaining, occasionally magical-realist depiction of modern life on an Indian reservation. Slightly older, but another huge favorite which is still on Hulu, is “Man Seeking Woman”, an extremely fanciful magical-realist take on the romantic comedy genre. For instance, in the first episode, Jay Baruchel gets set up on a blind date with an actual troll, and then goes to a party and discovers his ex-girlfriend is happier now literally dating Hitler. As to content I think that’s about as risque as it gets, it’s been a while since I watched it so I don’t recall clearly but I thiiiiiiiiiink if your kids are a little older it might even qualify as family-friendly, and it’s definitely off-kilter enough to probably be interesting to scifi/fantasy audience if they can appreciate the comedic approach — later on in the run there’s even a straight-up time travel/alternate history episode featuring an alien invasion.

  2. I haven’t heard of any of those shows, but they all sound interesting.

    I’m glad you didn’t jump into watching Picard on my “recommendation”. I think its legitimately terrible, but of course like a sucker I keep watching it out of some strange compulsion. However I don’t fully agree with your “Rodevacantist” beliefs. In general As much as I loved the original series, I see the high point of Star Trek as being the end of the 80’s and into the 90’s, when Roddenberry was becoming less personally involved in the franchise’s direction. Deep Space Nine, on the whole, was my favorite Star Trek series.

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