Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2

You may have noticed how quiet it is all of a sudden. Where’s that ambient noise – that background chatter you’ve been hearing for ten weeks? That, my friends, was the second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Your brain learned to tune it out long ago. Hyperactive schtick will do that. But it happened and I, your favourite critic, tried to watch it. Given the show’s flickering humour and the infrequency with which its juvenilia catches the light, that was no mean feat. Now I’m here to report that after ten additional minisodes, we’re left with the same questions that bedevilled us at the end of season 1. Who is this for, and is that “Star Trek” label appropriate? In fact, might Lower Decks be more than a pastiche – could it be the first television series in history to be guilty of franchise appropriation?

When a series doesn’t have an identity of its own – when it’s built entirely on the recognition of iconography, characters and situations produced on previous television series – what is it? This season of Lower Decks, like the first, gave us a self-aware, post-modern version of Gene Roddenberry’s universe, in which the characters – broad as brass and one dimensional – are both participants and fans. Mariner, Boimler et al, have the same knowledge of pre-Kurtzman Trek that we do and they attach the same weight to those stories and characters. Which given they’re part of that universe is fucking weird, don’t you think?

In our autopsy of season 1 we noted that Lower Decks amounted to the witless stylings of a ‘90’s teenager, having fun with their favourite franchise. Yours truly, aged 14, devised his own comic Trek – Celestial Luminous Space Body Trek (geddit?) and even mapped out episode guides covering several seasons. Like the writers of this show, I had no ideas of my own – just surreal comic scenarios; scenarios that relied on an understanding of Trek’s tropes for their humour. That book of story ideas is sadly lost, though it’s possible Mike McMahan found it in a skip somewhere and has modelled his entire approach on it. If there’s ever a space station spin-off to Lower Decks with a pilot episode entitled “Adolf Hitler’s Penis”, I’m lawyering up – personal humiliation be damned.

Like McMahan and his cabal, I wasn’t really interested in mocking my favourite show. I knew that to present my meta mind waste as the real thing would destroy that thing. As a teenager I didn’t know how to create real stories or generate original ideas. When you’re not yet mature enough to move beyond being derivative, or investing material with your own personality – because it’s still baking – you use humour as a substitute. Lower Decks has no storytelling integrity, no sense its characters are anything other than (bad) joke facilitators. Instead it has Tom Paris commemorative plates, Commander Data bubble bath – cameos from Commander (now Captain) Shelby and Ensign (now Captain) Sonia Gomez. Even holodeck simulations based on classic episodes. Yes, Trekkies love Easter eggs. But they’d like to feel they were in the real Star Trek universe – the one where the characters didn’t have the same information and cultural reference points as the audience – even more.

It’s great to be reminded of TNG, DS9 and Voyager – we miss those shows. And boy, do we miss original stories set in this universe; that once tantalising weekly promise of being introduced to new characters, ideas, and ephemera – the stuff that gives a world its texture. The stuff that takes you to another place and keeps you there.

What is Lower Decks? It’s a tour through the now defunct Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas, with four hyperactive guides – twentysomethings from our miserable world, with its idioms like “dude”, “totally” and “badass”, cosplaying as Starfleet officers (erroneously just referred to as “Starfleet”). At the end of each exhausting trawl through the sets, with actors doing the aliens, though with a certain degree of wearisome self-awareness, you visit the gift shop and see the merch reproduced from your favourite (and least favourite) episodes and movies. Look! There’s Kirk’s ‘go climb a rock’ t-shirt from The Final Frontier. Look! There’s a Child of Tarmar action figure from “Darmok”. Look! There’s a restaurant branded ‘Quark’s’. The Riker steak with Troi sauce looks tasty.

So, anyway, Lower Decks, frivolous and witless, ends its inconsequential second season with a TNG-like cliffhanger. Have we invested enough in Captain Freeman as a human being – a character we identify and empathise with, to care that she’s accused of colluding in an attack on the Pakleds? Could any character in this show, existing as they do just to deliver overwrought comic dialogue – jokes that land with a dull thud, make us excited for a third year of Trek eating itself?

There’s hubris, not to mention arrogance in the decision to end the season that way, given how unearned it is. But Lower Decks is a pretty shameless piece of work. Still, it reminds you of something you used to love – like a sex doll made from a cast of your ex-girlfriend. It has no life of its own, no soul, but it sure keeps those intimate memories alive. What more could one ask for in the golden age of television?

Ed’s novel, Murder by the Bottle is out now. Buy it from Amazon or the RedDoor Book Shop. But do buy it.

More Trek (or something like it):

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Remembering my 9/11

I’ll never forget where I was on September 11th 2001. Well, I say that, I’ve forgotten most of it. I know where I woke up and where I went to bed but I have no memory of doing so. Alright, let’s say I can account for maybe 4-5 hours of the day which can only be relived in grabs, so perhaps – if you insist on concrete replays of actions and incidents, I can only recall a few minutes here and there. But in their own insignificant and transient way they were as meaningful as any this century.

On summer holiday from university and soon to return there for my final year, I’d decided that Tuesday to visit my friend Carrie who resided in the London suburb of Plumstead. Plumstead – once full of plum trees, now full of houses shaped like plums.

Even now, 20 years on, with the horrors of that day jostling for attention alongside the attack’s era-defining implications, I can recall ascending the hill to Carrie’s home, it looming atop, dominating the Plumstead skyline like, well – you know.

This was, it must be noted out of respect to those time has pulverised and turned to ash, a strictly platonic visit. To pluck a metaphor out of the clear blue sky, I had no interest in Carrie’s twin towers, and reciprocally she had none in my low flying airplane. I was there to masticate the cud, take aim at anything late of the anal cavity. It was going to be an afternoon of light relief from life’s trudge ahead of her boyfriend’s return from work, prime time viewing to my daytime filler.

I arrived at her home a little before midday and was announced by her mother. Ominously all was quiet. As she sat on her bed and I took a seat on the sofa that adjoined her bedroom window, neither of us knew that life as we dared to imagine it was about to change forever. Not for either of us personally you understand, but for everyone else.

“Carrie, quick, turn on CNN!” This from Carrie’s mother. It arrested my flow, broke the rhythm of whatever assured, masculine anecdote I was delighting Carrie with at that moment (the substance now sadly lost) but I buried my annoyance beneath the rubble of my destroyed conversation and the drool box was compliantly activated. There, on screen was grainy helicopter footage of the World Trade Center, a plume of black smoke rising from one of its twins like a giant fucking flare or something.

Carrie and I agreed this was not the normal run of things. I knew nothing about architecture and Carrie knew nothing about fire, but we were as certain as two twentysomethings with the world at our feet and a bright future could be, that the situation looked very serious indeed. There was talk of a plane crash, a rogue pilot – perhaps someone like Harrison Ford – who’d lost a bet he could fly between the towers in the worst way imaginable. What either of us said is not recorded but it’s possible, even likely, Carrie now offered me tea.

Then the world went rump over teat. As we watched, our mouths agape, me partially tumescent, a second plane entered the frame, right of shot, punching through the other tower. I’d expected it to bounce off, not understanding the precise composition and solidity of the World Trade Center, but it didn’t. There was an explosion, and now the slow realisation that this was not a pilot looking for Harrison Ford and ironically suffering the same fate, but a coordinated act of terrorism. Murder had come to New York for the first time.

In the hours that followed there was punditry both on TV and in that bedroom. I heard Osama Bin Laden mentioned for the first time. Speculation that the West would soon be engaged in a global campaign of retaliation. The lights going out all over the world. Yes, Carrie had a lot to say about it and was surprisingly well informed about the history of Islamic attacks on US interests and the failure of their intelligence agencies to take pre-emptive action. On TV there were crass jokes about a no-show from Die Hard hero John McClane.

Hours passed and it was clear that the incident, I put it no stronger than that, was over. Carrie’s boyfriend had returned home and I sensed the two of them wanted to deal with their grief and the day’s stresses intimately. Though pleas from two sets of dewy eyes appeared to be an invitation to stay, to join their release, aid catharsis, I made my excuses and left.

The bus journey home was difficult. Terrible traffic and precious little ventilation. I reflected the events of 11/9 as I was calling it – shorthand I was confident would catch on – had somewhat dominated my afternoon, cutting into my socialising without apology. That’s my abiding memory of that day. Frivolous chat ruined, two people who had every cause to think it would be just another Tuesday, mildly inconvenienced. That’s why I’ll never forget it – nor history – nor, now, you.

Murder by the Bottle is out now. Buy it from Amazon or the RedDoor Book Shop. But do buy it.

Published in: on September 11, 2021 at 14:40  Comments Off on Remembering my 9/11  
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Murder by the Bottle: Ed answers the BIG questions about his novel

Ed’s novel has begun its journey toward a million sales. As the first stones are laid in what promises to be a very long road, Opinionoid’s book critic Yeesh Patella sat down with the author to discuss his novel.

Yeesh: Ed, thanks for agreeing to talk about Murder by the Bottle on your own blog. Let’s start with the fundamentals. What is a book?

Ed: A book is… a codex compromised of printed pages, usually including text but also, you know, images which are also symbols obviously. These days you can also get electronic simulacrums of the same.

Yeesh: Thanks Ed, that’s a useful starting point. So, your novel-

Ed: I am, yes.

Yeesh: Sorry, if I could finish? Your novel is a psychological thriller – a character study. It’s a deep dive into criminality one could say.

Ed: I’ve said it more than once, actually.

Yeesh: Can you say a little something about the plot?

Ed: I can.

Yeesh: Will you then?

Ed: Sure, well, it’s the story of an implicitly precocious art student who gets kicked out of his college when he threatens to blow the whistle on an affair with a celebrity lecturer. He gets a job in a wine shop and resolves to revive his standing with the school by turning his working environment into a clandestine piece of performance art. That brings him into conflict with his fellow workers and the public, and death and deviance ensues.

Yeesh: That’s a bit of an unusual set up for a crime novel isn’t it? Wouldn’t you have been more comfortable writing about an everyday situation people can relate to in their ordinary lives and putting a sinister spin on it? You know, like woman meets man on blind date – date has an uncanny aspect to it – man seems to know a lot about her, too much perhaps, and everyone she meets is acting funny too. Then maybe later she discovers it’s a set up by a cadre of ex-boyfriends out for revenge – like a piece of immersive theatre designed to make her re-examine her life and choices. Maybe a novel with a working title like, “The Girl Who Swiped Right”?

Ed: Great though that is, I go to novels to experience life and lives divested from my own experience, not just contrived, plot driven stuff.

Yeesh: You wouldn’t read the story I just outlined, now in its 3rd draft?

Ed: It’s not that, it just happened to me is all – I don’t think it’s a suitable topic for throwaway entertainment. Anyway, let’s get back to the novel I wrote, shall we?

Yeesh: You’ve written a novel?

Ed: Yes, Murder by the Bottle.

Yeesh: Good title – trips off the tongue. So, where did this niche, some would say fringe idea, come from?

Ed: A bus stop.

Yeesh: Excuse me?

Ed: I was standing at a bus stop with a friend – it must have been, ooh, 1995? And there was some graffiti inscribed on the shelter. It said “Keir Rothwell is gay”. Now, back in the ‘90s of course no one knew what that meant, but it got me thinking – ‘who is Keir Rothwell?’ and ‘what manner of man inspires a epigram writer of note to immortalise him in this way?’ Well I thought about it a lot and built an entire human in my head. Then it was just a case of waiting for the right backdrop – the appropriate milieu if you will – to drop him into to test his character and carefully dissect how a damaged individual can make chaos in the most benign of settings – events that in well-adjusted hands would be unremarkable.

Yeesh: Do you get many ideas from bus stops?

Ed: Adjacent to the comment on Keir’s presumed sexuality – it’s possible he was just a straight fellow who liked musical theatre of course – was some proxy gang warfare – a written battle between Mega Puck P of the Peckham Posse and the Horn Park Crew. I considered writing about that.

Yeesh: Why didn’t you? That would have been interesting.

Ed: Because I find working class youth asinine and tedious.

Yeesh: Sure. Okay, normally this is the point I’d ask you to pick out some key themes from the novel and unpack them, like a fucking English Lit student or something. Would you mind doing that?

Ed: I do mind but I’ll do it in the interests of developing the conversation. Right, so, the novel’s about a lot of things – it’s about being a non-conformist in a world tyrannised by the majority, it’s about town and country, class warfare, sex and death, how the imagination is conditioned by popular culture, how crime is understood after the fact. It’s as broad as life and as personal as the individual. It’s a novel for people who don’t fit in, who are impotently angry in the face of social forces beyond their control, who want more.

Yeesh: Okay, but is it full of twists and secrets?

Ed: Some underlying secrets, yes, but it’s not really a twisty kind of story – it’s character-driven stuff – the story unfolds for the reader as it does for the narrator, at times in ways that are unanticipated, but only because the writer’s attention is elsewhere. His is a singular focus – on survival and vindication.

Yeesh: That’s great, but do you not think that something like “The Girl Who Swiped Right” – a novel in 32 very short chapters, would be more of a page turner?

Ed: No.

Yeesh: Fine – so, it’s a novel about life and shit. But readers will want to know, is there any sex in it?

Ed: There’s some sexual imagery, yes.

Yeesh: But what about actual buttock rippling?

Ed: It’s not really that sort of book.

Yeesh: Might you add that in subsequent editions?

Ed: Unlikely.

Yeesh: Okay, finally Ed, you’re unknown to readers – they don’t know, or care to know, what an Ed Whitfield is. Which successful authors whose work has actually connected with people, would you self-indulgently compare yourself to – if that’s not courting a masturbatory fantasy, which it is?

Ed: I think of myself as the late Jim Thompson – the American Noir author, with the internal organs of Patricia Highsmith.

Yeesh: You’re talking about her organs being sowed into the husk of Thompson and reburied, or…?

Ed: That’s not – no, that wasn’t really what I meant. The literal stuffing of Thompson’s corpse with Highsmith’s organs would be pointless.

Yeesh: It sure would. Ed, thanks for talking to us, if that’s what you did. Good luck with the novel.

Ed: I don’t need luck, God guarantees my sales. Thanks Yeesh.

Murder by the Bottle is out now. Buy it from Amazon or the RedDoor Book Shop. But do buy it.

Published in: on August 30, 2021 at 15:28  Comments Off on Murder by the Bottle: Ed answers the BIG questions about his novel  
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George Galloway’s Batley and Spen Adventure

Why do moderate Labour figures hate George Galloway? It is because he’s engaged in a lifelong political fatwa against Blairism – the party’s most historically electable manifestation – after Tony consciously uncoupled him from the movement he’d devoted his political life to? Perhaps.

Is it because he’s implicitly and sometimes overtly an apologist for anti-Western, anti-democratic regimes with whom he feels a deep and comfortable affiliation, as they’re anathema to the West’s capitalist economies and advocates for a kind of autocratic, authoritarian, masculine medievalism that gets George off? Getting warmer.

Or could it be that he braids both to prosecute a form of demagoguery that’s targeted to upset and destabilise the coalition that holds the traditional Labour vote together – a strategy deployed in seats with large Asian and Muslim minorities, and used to unseat moderate Labour MPs (or their replacements) in his favour? You might think that but I couldn’t possibly comment. Except to say yes.

If you’re on the soft left of Labour, or God help you, you regard yourself as a centrist, it can’t be easy watching George, a bull with large horns and three hydrocele-afflicted testicles, run rampant through your ceramic emporium, destroying the stock you so carefully arranged over a number of years. You’ve been on radio and TV, maybe even a friendly YouTube channel, selling Utopian fantasies – talking about unity and multiculturalism – turning a blind eye to groups with an implicitly non-Western worldview, only for this hulking, bucking bag of bovine muscle ‘n’ cum to threaten the ideal by exposing the tensions that still exist. Tensions that may yet frustrate our transition toward a tolerant and inclusive society of mixed stripe and settled mind.

Even if you think such divisions don’t exist – that there aren’t pockets of society that reject enlightenment values and the general permissiveness and decadence that most of us enjoy and indulge in from time to time – it’s just possible George Galloway doesn’t share that view. We can infer this because when there’s a Commons seat up for grabs in a community riven by racial and religious tension (and why should there be tension if everyone’s on the same ideological page) he’s there, like the proverbial Sir James Savile at the opening of a hospital ward for sick kids.

In 2005, Bethnal Green and Bow was George’s first foray through the gorge between voters. The notional issue was the Iraq War – a conflict Galloway was furious about, as it had displaced a despot he admired, set Muslims tribes against each other, and most egregiously, handed a former jewel in the Arab crown – the former Mesopotamia, with its romantic notions of a once proud civilisation, to the Great Satan itself – the United States.

Bethnal Green and Bow’s minority population – particularly those whose heads remained in the East, even if they’d had to franchise their bodies and families to the West for reasons pertaining to wealth, security, and personal freedom, were outraged – and this made the New Labour candidate Oona King, highly vulnerable to the usurper. Those who said George had parachuted in misunderstood his conception and characterisation of the local community. King, bless ‘er, talked about the constituency, whereas Galloway understood that for some Muslim voters, the demographic makeup of the locale was secondary to the global community to which it belonged – a worldwide religion sensitive to geo-political affronts from its ideological enemies. Later in his career, George would invert this philosophy when campaigning against membership of the EU, retooling his rhetoric to advance the cause of a hybrid community and island nation – but in Bethnal Green and Bow bucking in as the honourable member for transnational reactionary values would do nicely.

Galloway won the seat in the General Election, styling his victory as a rejection of Blarism, rather than the repudiation of social democracy and liberal values it actually was. When he lost the seat five years later – a do nothing MP who’d advanced his constituency’s interests not one jot – he circled, awaiting another opportunity to alchemise the grievances of a politically palsied polity. The chance came in 2012 when Bradford West went to the polls in a by-election.

Again, imagining the constituency to be largely unreconstructed in its hatred of progressive values (the term “woke” had not yet entered circulation), he ran a campaign in which he stood as a bastion of traditionalism – the kind that goes back hundreds of years and originated on a different continent – pitted against forces complicit in the subjugation and secularisation of Arab peoples. And again he won, dubbing the result “the Bradford spring” – an allusion not to the peaceful transition of power in Britain, but the overthrow of tyrannical forces abroad.

Despite his run of form, George’s beeline for Batley and Spen took many by surprise. He’d fought a campaign to become a Scottish MSP weeks earlier, after all. But there was also the matter of the constituency’s recent history – a place where tension over supra-national politics and identity had led to the sitting MP’s brutal murder. “Not here,” you thought, but perhaps Galloway reasoned that Thomas Mair – the degenerate killer of Jo Cox – was a white neo-Nazi, so stoking the ire and outrage of a different part of the community wasn’t strictly a callback. Or perhaps he just hated dynastic politics like the rest of us, wondering why Kim Leadbeater – someone with no experience as a politician, should be permitted to circumvent Labour’s candidacy criteria and stand because she was Cox’s sister.

George’s motivation was purely to displace Keir Starmer, he said – a Blairite blank cartridge who, by virtue of being middle class and metropolitan, could not represent the ordinary working man and their women. He’d win the seat by being a class warrior – a roll-your-sleeves-up grafting MP of the old school who’d get to work on local issues, like potholes and services. And consequently he’d form a coalition of all voters – including, presumably, those who knew better – Tories, moderate lefties, women.

Hope won the seat for Labour, Leadbeater told us on election morning. And it’s hope we turn to when trying to unpick Galloway’s intensions. We hope that talk he was only interested in denying Kim Leadbeater a majority by cleaving off the Muslim vote with a dogwhistle campaign designed to appeal to their imagined bigotry and anti-western ideology, was just that. Yes, George talked about Palestine and Kashmir – but these were bread and butter issues in Yorkshire, the stuff they’d been talking about in Batley since the time of the shoddy and mungo trade. We hope that Tories and Labour voters alike hated LGBTQ+ teaching in schools, necessitating Galloway’s rallying calls on the stump to end the practice. We hope voters, whatever their political hue, were outraged by satirical depictions of the Prophet Mohammed in a country that values freedom of speech and expression. This alone would explain why Galloway made hay with these issues on the doorstep. Not because he implicitly believed they’d cut through to the constituency’s ultra-conservative residents.    

On by-election day George polled 21% of the vote (thereafter further flexing his democratic muscles by threatening to have the result overturned in the courts). The Muslim population of Batley and Spen is around 20%. We hope this is a coincidence. We hope Galloway didn’t see the constituency’s Muslim population as a gullible and pliable demographic, ripe for exploitation. We hope his campaign wasn’t showing the same contempt for Batley’s Muslims that Nigel Farage showed toward white working class Britons when he made immigration and identity the heart of his campaign to leave the EU.

Still, hope won by a stonking 323 votes and Labour’s back – once again the unifying force behind the working class. Next stop Downing Street. Honestly, whatever made George think he had a chance?

Published in: on July 3, 2021 at 10:50  Comments Off on George Galloway’s Batley and Spen Adventure  
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Hello, good evening and bollocks: The launch of GB News

“If it matters to you, it matters to us,” deadpanned GB News Chair and chief anchor, Andrew Neil, as he launched his revenge against the BBC – sorry passion project, with the channel’s manifesto for change(ing channels). The ten-minute monologue was ostensibly a critique of the London-centric mainstream media’s complacency – its self-importance and collusion with government to misinform the masses. But truthfully – because truth matters to GB News, its enemy, though it was but a few minutes old, was Auntie, the maternalistic broadcaster that failed to recognise Andrew’s importance, and almost as seriously, represent Britain or appeal to its people – its services used by a pitiful 94% of the population; the iPlayer a waste of taxpayer’s money, used an embarrassing 4.8 billion times in 2019-20.

So who was this “you” Andrew spoke of? Well it wasn’t those who valued impartial public service broadcasting or Reithian principles of being informed, educated and entertained. The BBC, it was suggested, couldn’t do the job because it hated half its audience, imagining the tory voting, regional viewership to be a Brexity bricolage of reactionary simpletons. There was no evidence of this, you understand; this was the media talking to itself – one set of journalists and commentators rallying against the perceived metropolitan bias of another, and literally channelling that argument to audiences. The idea you needed a propaganda station to correct for liberalism, spoke to both the perceived threat to conservative interests from educated lefties; a telling admission of insecurity; and the belief that the underserved were indeed pliable and ripe for stoking – their anger and ignorance a reliable power source for the weapons that would destroy the scrutineering enemies of the channel’s super-rich backers.

Rupert Murdoch wasn’t complimenting the working classes when he put tits in the Sun and made the type nice and big – he was saying, loud and clear, “you’re libidinous, base and barely literate”. Two punishing hours of Dan Wootton and special guests (in this case a pained and stained Benjamin Butterworth – the sacrificial lefty – sandwiched between Carole Malone and Neil Oliver) told the same story. No channel interested in giving its audience a free media studies degree (if you’ll excuse the middle class metaphor), or giving a voice to marginalised peoples, would hire someone as obnoxiously vapid and tabloid as Wootton, and no conversation about the stories of the day led by him could have any value. GB News, in this guise, was a pub argument without a pint.

That Wootton’s show was the first to go out mattered because it was a statement of intent – a stage setter. At 8pm Neil had promised his audience of febrile fact seekers (half of whom were in reality liberal hatewatchers) a channel that would never knowingly lie to its audience or promulgate false narratives. At 9pm Wootton interviewed Jonathan Sumption who doddered his way through a discussion on the madness and scientific illiteracy of lockdown. Sumption’s belief that the elderly – the same elderly whose views on Brexit were thought by some to be paramount – should have been sacrificed to save the economy, drew praise and sycophancy from Dan – who did everything but reach across and masturbate his guest. Dan didn’t explain why we should care what Sumption, a lawyer thought – after all lockdown was perfectly legal (but then said the Lord, an advocate of proportionality in all things – so were Hitler’s race laws). Instead we got a lesson in class deference – the idea that Sumption’s views, though condemned by the vast majority of epidemiologists and virologists, were inherently valuable because they came from an honoured member of our elite society.

Such doublethink also ran through an interview with – er, Lord Sugar – (The Apprentice being the only reason Dan felt able to pay his licence fee, which confirmed the BBC had someone for everyone – even the hard of thought). Sucre’s great insight? That Boris had a lot to deal with so we shouldn’t rush to judge him, whatever the facts about his handling of the pandemic revealed. Keir Starmer, he told us, was “a nutter”, though he couldn’t exactly say why. Newsnight, move over.

Technical flubs aside – the channel having chosen to hire people who couldn’t operate its cameras, time its segments or manage its feeds – the real problem with GB News, its first night suggested, was the absence of news. Opinionoid would have been a better name for its editoralising and shouty approach to stories. But sadly some bastard had pinched it for their blog.

Nigel Farage, the fading demagogue – who’d piloted GB News in his mind long before it became a real broadcasting entity, enthralled with his hot take that Donald Trump would probably run again in 2024 unless he became unwell. A body language expert told viewers that Emmanuel Macron wished to curry favour with Joe Biden (a shock for politicos) and then… well, I don’t know – I fell asleep. But it’s not hard to imagine, given her Twitter stream, that the forthcoming segment with Allison Pearson shone daylight where once there’d been only darkness.

GB News premiered to 164,000 viewers according to the BARB. Easy to sneer then. See above. But I’m old enough to remember when the BBC got an entire sitcom out of the fledgling Sky Television only to see it drain away viewers, talent and resources. KYTV was a very funny and accurate spoof of Auntie’s new low rent, low talent rival. Sadly, no one’s laughing now. GB News doesn’t have any sports subscriptions to sell, but one should remain cautious. On first night’s evidence it may be terrible and its presenters a clueless confederation of discredited commentators (who flaunt their ignorance as a badge of authenticity) and marginalised old hacks, but in the current climate, dishonesty and degeneracy are no barrier to success. Hello GB News, good evening, and, as Viz’s top reporter Roger Mellie once said, bollocks.

Published in: on June 14, 2021 at 12:32  Comments Off on Hello, good evening and bollocks: The launch of GB News  
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Is the Party over for Labour?

Hartlepool becoming a Tory seat on May 6th ‘twas but a single by-election result, a cup of urine emptied into the ocean. Yet the flipping of a one safe Labour stronghold has already invited premature and alarmist speculation about the slow death of what we used to call the Labour Party. Already there’s fatuous talk that Tony Blair’s 2005 election victory may be the party’s last.

So let’s add to it.

On one hand it may feel absurd contemplating the possibility of eternal Tory government at Westminster. Governments always fall in the end. As Thatcherite marionette John Major once said, the elastic of democracy can only stretch so far. Besides, haven’t we been here before, during the so-called wilderness years, when Labour pressed their noses to the glass of Whitehall’s windows while the Conservatives ran rampant for two decades?

If you went back in time and told a despairing movement that though they were desperate now – so desperate they’d soon be turning to Tony Blair to retrofit the brand so it was compatible with post-Thatcherite Britain (and rudderless discontents who’d kept faith with the classic formula and were assured it would return to the shelves once the party got back in) – one day they’d be nostalgic for this period, they would surely label you a fraud. What kind of time traveller is inbound from the future with talk like that? Not a real one.

Yet some of the party’s denizens must think back to that period of opposition and lament that the face of defeat was so much prettier then. After all, Labour’s route back to government, though an ascent, for want of a better metaphor, was achievable. Today’s mountainside looks less inviting, not least because the climbers have splintered bone protruding from both calves, no food, and rain lashing their pale faces like the slashes from translucent razor blades.  

Scotland – once known as “the fortress”, on account of its safe crop of between fifty and seventy seats, has fallen to the Nationalist scourge – an outfit of ethic separatists who’ve cannily disguised their true character and intent using, ironically, New Labour’s playbook. The so-called heartlands – the red wall – about as inviting as its counterpart in Berlin – lined with cloth cap and hot pot seats that once returned MPs with faces like bags of blood, fresh from coal mines and trade union floors, now identify with the Conservatives. This is arguably because Brexit belatedly woke them up to the fact that when it comes to a narrow conception of nationhood, characterised by conspicuous social stratification, suspicion of foreigners, and nostalgia, they had a lot more in common with today’s reactionary Tories than tomorrow’s progressive lefties.

Poor Labour – squeezed between two aggressive and insurgent nationalist movements; the societies it failed to change in government. There’s a tragic inevitability about the party’s perceived irrelevance in its former strongholds. When you accept your ideological enemy’s conception of a nation or region, and so neglect it, though you purport to represent it, it’s only a matter of time before your fecklessness is seized upon and exploited by an opportunistic opposition. Someone always claims to speak for the people; it’s a rhetorical trick as old as politics itself; but sooner or later you have to look like you mean it.  

Keir Starmer, bastion of middle class values, can argue with some justification that his political opponents are divisive, cynical, demented, self-interested and responsible for the social and economic inequities that idiotic voters have just tacitly endorsed. He could go further and argue that had the electorate returned Labour governments a bit more often, and signalled that they’d embrace a radical transformation of society along social democratic lines, instead of suggesting they’d quite like to keep their advantages at the expense of the working poor and uneducated, then the party might have been empowered to make bold and sweeping changes. But that would be a little like blaming the voters for the party’s timidity in government and the ceding of political hegemony to the Conservatives. Though the voters are to blame, obviously.

Labour needn’t feign shock at the desertion of working class voters from its base – the kind that made up much of its former heartlands, because it consciously disavowed them years ago. This, after all, was the party whose design in government was to grow the middle class – championing policies like fifty percent of kids going to university, because it wanted to create a new generation of Labour voters with the same background and preoccupations as its increasingly professional and metropolitan parliamentarians.

The working class would still get a look in, but not the traditional kind – one could do nothing for those people because their livelihood, dignity and identity was dependent on a version of Britain that no longer existed and could not be restored without alienating Tory voters – no return to industry, unionisation, social housing, etc. No, the new working class would be immigrants, fast tracked under the guise of EU freedom of movement – the transitional period for which was nixed by Blair’s government.

Yes, this new electoral coalition would guarantee Labour’s success, except that ironically, tragically, this economy-driven view of society eschewed the one thing that had originally given the party both its impetus and raison d’etre – the politics of identity. In recent history there’s no dollop of irony so large or thick as David Cameron stumbling, via a combination of incompetency, hubris, and grave political miscalculation, on a political realignment that would both reinvent and strengthen Conservatism. Brexit changed everything – the party of Keir Hardy and Clement Atlee was undone by a bumbling PR man. It’s fair to say the cause of progressivism in Britain was a lot more fragile than it looked in 2010. Future opposition leaders take note.

That’s all very well you say, but how does Labour revive? What’s the winning formula? Well it’s easier to say what it isn’t. It’s not appropriating your enemies, because inauthenticity in politics stinks like a gangrenous member. Labour need to build a coalition of voters, yes, but their own, not the disciples of Farage and Sturgeon. They need a big tent that’s inviting due to the state of intent on the marquee. And if that sounds like the vapid shit Labour politicians say these days, that’s because it’s a process without a goal. Brexit was a cause. Scottish nationalism is a cause. People like being part of a cause because it gives them an identity to assume and a political purpose; it compels people to be defined against something and for something, and that excites people. A promise to better administer the country’s finances or improve council services, doesn’t.

Labour needs enemies that it can build up to knock down – things that terrify small C conservatives, whatever their political clothing, invigorating the have nots as the promise of socialism once did. That means criticising the attitudes and ideas of Boris Johnson’s target voter – going hell for leather against Scottish nationalism because that project, if successful, would deprive Scotland of the resources and infrastructure required to remodel its society as part of a newly constituted and radical UK. And such a project needs a salesman – not a political mannequin like Keir Starmer, but an orator and iconoclast who’s angry enough and intelligent enough to scare the shit out of middle England while delighting everyone else. Labour needs to find this person fast, else 13 years of opposition at the next election will become another 18.

You may think Len McCluskey’s broadside against Starmer – that someone has to make the moral case for socialism, is obnoxious because it implies today’s society and the people who vote to sustain it, are immoral. But what do you do when the immoral majority imagine themselves to be the pragmatic and neglected good guys? How do you fix a society conditioned to hate the solutions to its own fundamental and seemingly intractable problems? Only a party of ideologues can do that. The Lib Dems are testament to what happens when virtue signallers not thinkers assume office. Labour’s historic mission was to change society. Until it’s prepared to do so again – to say the unsayable and think the unthinkable, with conviction and authority, and without apology, it will remain invisible and inert – a political brand without a product, unable to identify its target market. Apologies for closing with a market metaphor. That’s a lifetime of unbroken Tory ideology for you.

Published in: on May 7, 2021 at 18:20  Comments Off on Is the Party over for Labour?  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.13 (End of Season Psychosis)

Season finales are supposed to be cathartic, exhilarating, even satisfying. That feeling you get when you close a good book after reaching the final page. On Discovery such emotions are a long shot. The show’s hacks are a world removed from their audience. Yet, who could have predicted that the end of this run of Disco would instil anger. In those final moments, with Saru dispatched so that Mick could annex the Captain’s chair, a passive aggressive quote from Gene Roddenberry, and with Alexander Courage’s Star Trek theme ringing in our ears, the show once again affirming itself as carrier of the flame, the hacks’ complete design was visible to us for the first time. It turned out to be a mechanical boot to kick our teeth in.

We might have hated the story of Su’kal – the Kelpian child who somehow formed a genetic link with dilithium and sub-space, wrecking both with the power of his mind having witnessed the death of his mother, but boy did we understand that exclamation of grief. His upset shattered the Star Trek universe, but ours was a response to seeing it shattered – watching week on week as the hacks responsible played fast and loose with Roddenberry’s vision, only to audaciously quote him at the close. 

For much of this third season (in keeping with the first two) we’ve suspected Disco’s hacks had no strong sense of what they wanted to achieve with this run. The decision to set the show in the thirty-second century was a response to (and acceptance of) the criticism that they’d comprehensively botched, in canon and aesthetic, the ill-defined TOS prequel concept they’d inherited, following the early sacking of show creator, Bryan Fuller – a backdrop only ever intended to be a one-season setting in an era-spanning anthology series.

Sending the Discovery 950 years ahead was a massive overcorrection. Why not set the new series in the twenty-fifth century, building on established Trek continuity? Why force yourself to build a world from scratch, when you’ve already demonstrated you can’t complement the work of those who’ve come before you, or build on those ideas?

The sharpest minds working in television, sci-fi literate, perhaps employing futurists to imagine the tech, might have been up to the task. But Discovery’s hacks were incapable of imagining this strange new world. Their thirty-second century resembled Voyager’s Delta Quadrant – a creative necropolis. It had no unifying identity, a thinly-drawn political backdrop, and no significant technological advances for a universe as separated from the original series as we are from the Norman Conquest.

The concept of the Burn provided a convenient cover for this creative myopia. If the universe had gone backwards and was fragmented, then no strong identity for the thirty-second century was necessary. Disco’s hacks side-stepped their clean-slate premise with nebulous allusions to the disaster, modest visual upgrades on what had gone before, and the absenting of the Alpha Quadrant’s great powers.

Vulcan and Romulan unification was a cute and unimaginative way to tell a story about Mick’s old stomping ground, while invoking her connection to Spock, but we never learned what the Klingons, Cardassians, and other former Empires were up to. Instead, the hacks repositioned fringe races like the Orions and the Andorians – making the former, mystifyingly, slave traders. Quite a journey for a species who’d once been slaves.

Then there were the details surrounding the Burn – a disaster that ill-advisedly focused on propulsion. Why ill-advisedly? Because the ancient Discovery had a Spore Drive that could and should have provided an instant solution.

The show never explained why the thirty-second century was so reliant on an outdated fossil fuel to power its ships, or why the Spore Drive – the Discovery’s anachronistic prequel tech, could not be replicated in that century and rolled out to restore interstellar travel.

Eventually, the hacks realised this had to be addressed in-narrative, so had the Federation’s less advanced enemies be the ones capable of replicating it. Again, they refused to explain why a Federation 930 years ahead of Discovery’s own, couldn’t find a way to mass produce a technology they’d once built themselves.

It was only in the final episode, “That Hope is You, Part 2” – not, it should be noted a continuation of Part 1 – that we understood how the season had been written backwards, and every head scratching decision we’d poured over had been made to facilitate the pre-determined finale.

In the beginning the hacks had their whiteboard, and on it, we surmised, were priorities like;

  • Make Mick Captain
  • Remove Saru from the ship in a way the audience will accept (he’s so officious and boring!)
  • Make the Discovery a prize for the Federation’s enemies – because they have the Spore Drive (so we’ll need to create a demand for it; maybe have a disaster that’s grounded warp capable ships)
  • Promote Tilly (we love her!)
  • Get more LGBTQ+ visibility on the show. Not important for story purposes but worth pushing to the fore anyway we can. It provides cover for whatever regressive shit we’re doing in-story.

Thus began the work of plotting a serial that would hit these marks. The Burn was a long-winded exit story for Saru – the show’s only bona fide Star Trek character, who took time off to care for the lonely Kelpian responsible. Mick, who once started a war with the Klingons, and has wrought death and destruction wherever she goes, forever insubordinate, was rewarded by a grateful Admiral Vance with promotion to Captain. Yes, she disobeyed orders, and killed a lot of people, including that Orion bitch, Osyraa, but as Vance gushed, it got the job done.

Mick’s promotion formalised her lead character status – giving the hacks an excuse to legitimately focus on her, but the vouchsafing of her methods, recalling a similar scene between the equally undisciplined Mariner and her literal mother superior in Lower Decks, felt wholly unearned.

Those hacks had ensured she saved the ship and the Federation, but they had to turn her into a violent loner to do it. The archetypal badass who doesn’t play by the rules. If you can only conceive of heroism in these terms, don’t quote Gene Roddenberry.

The only thing worse than getting to the end of another terrible season of Discovery, with its requisite brutality, moral confusion, and idiocy, and imagining the hacks didn’t know what they were doing, is imagining they did. As this third run ended, we contemplated the horror that so blind were the writers to the show’s failings, and their own, this season was actually the sum-total of the goals they’d set themselves at the outset. A job well done, if the job was to further widen the gap between the Star Trek we used to love, and the half-witted imposter how strutting around in its clothes.

Anomalous Readings

  • One thing that wasn’t on the writers’ whiteboard was dealing with the crew’s PTSD, once they were displaced from their lives by a millennia. The characters didn’t grow or change now they were out of time. Instead, there was a little moodiness, some whimpering, and even regret, when Stamets realised that Mick was a wreckless arsehole, but nothing like a mediation on what being stranded in the future would actually do to time’s refugees.
  • Rather than develop the cast as an ensemble, the hacks doubled down on placing the emphasis on Mick, Tilly and genocidal deviant, Georgiou. They seemed the least interested in Saru, whom they’d made captain. As the series progressed, the Kelpian’s importance decreased, and with him, the moderation, adherence to rules, and dialogue-first approach to solving problems that he represented. His offloading in the finale should alarm anyone contemplating Season 4.
  • Each episode concentrated on the emotional responses to situations, rather than the logic of the set up or the professionalism of the crew. Plot elements like Adira’s dead lover and former host, the role of the sentient sphere data, and Mick’s relationship with Book (the show’s lonely and desperate attempt at affirming its literary credentials), were introduced, then forgotten for episodes on end, only to be hastily revisited at the close – thereby robbing the narrative of build, tension, or intrigue. The people behind this show can’t manage a serial format, so why use it?
  • There were no memorable or outstanding episodes in the 13-week run.
  • At least the crew how have the correct fucking uniforms.
  • As in J.J Abrams’ dumb movies, the area the turbo lifts move in was shown to be vast and empty, rather than the simple shafts of say, the TNG era. It’s the perfect visual metaphor for the conceptual vacuity that dogs this series.
  • “Let’s fly!” said Captain Mick. I had a different two word phrase for her.  
  • If the show were run on the quality metrics employed under the old studio system, it is inconceivable that any of the existing producers or writing staff would return for Season 4.
  • And that’s it, friends! We’ve done it – we’ve survived another season of Disco. It dares to return and so must we. Be ready. What horrors await with Mick formally in charge and the show’s premise now established, just 40 episodes in? I can hardly bear to think about it.

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Published in: on January 8, 2021 at 14:13  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.13 (End of Season Psychosis)  
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Dear Chris Chibnall: Revolution of the Daleks

FURTHER VIEWING

• Dear Chris Chibnall: The Timeless Criticisms (Video)

FURTHER READING

Everybody do the Chibnall drag:

Capaldi’s Long Goodbye:

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on January 2, 2021 at 14:02  Comments Off on Dear Chris Chibnall: Revolution of the Daleks  
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Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.12

One of the things we lament on Star Trek: Discovery is its hacks’ propensity to borrow from low rent stuff when formulating plots. You see, we like to think of Star Trek as high-minded and we recall the writers of previous series looked to a wide range of sources – from epic poetry to ‘40’s film noirs, via novels and plays, when thinking about hooks to hang stories on.

We didn’t blame them for this, they had 26 episodes a year to make. As noted in this blog, Discovery’s writers, despite having far fewer scripts to produce and far more time to finesse them, have typically drawn from a far more narrow subset of popular culture – franchise movies and schlock; the kind of broad stuff that you or I might think about if we, like these hacks, were genre and franchise illiterate.

Thus, it would be easy to complain that “There is a tide…” was just a lazy Die Hard riff with, who else, Mick as John McClane. After all, the A-Story is her attempt to retake the ship from Osyraa and dull, formless villains, the Emerald Chain, using the grace and intelligence we’ve come to know.

She strangles a man with her inner thighs, blows a woman out into space with an accompanying quip – “you’re gonna need more regulators”, even neck pinches Stamets to prevent him saving his partner and best friend. And she does it dirty and wounded, with bare feet and plenty of testosterone. It’s idiotic, lazy, boring, not to mention antithetical to Starfleet’s way of doing things, but in fairness to Discovery, it’s not the first time Star Trek has been tempted by this familiar fly in the ointment, pain in the ass tribute to those Bruce Willis actioners.

TNG, which I usually cite as a bastion of restraint and intelligence, had Picard go up against a band of space thieves in the badly titled, “Starship Mine”. He shot one with a crossbow and enjoyed a fist fight with another, before the bad guy blew up while making their escape. Some said, and some were right to say, that this un-Trekian indulgence was Patrick Stewart’s first foray into action schlock territory. He got a taste for it there, foreshadowing the broad and brainless movies that followed.

Voyager’s “The Basics” was far more successful, not least because the writers found a plausible way to have their cake and eat it.  They removed the main cast from the action by marooning them on a prehistoric planet, while the ship’s bad apple – disturbed, psychotic betazoid Lon Suder, became the unwitting hero of the story. The explosion from the Kazon suicide bomber that facilitated the ship’s takeover freed our antihero from confinement and gave him the opportunity to hide, recruit the holographic doctor, and retake the vessel. He succeeded but at the cost of his own life, keeping the show’s moral ducks in a row. Redemption, yes – but getting your hands dirty with violence and murder means paying the ultimate price.

So we’ve been here before, but whereas the TNG and Voyager examples were flights of fancy, format breakers in long seasons, “There is a tide…” was congruous with Discovery’s taste for overwrought action, casual violence, and of course, using Mick to save the day. Fuck, the script even had Book saying as much, in case we hadn’t understood how dependent the hacks are on the character to embody their dumb conception of heroism.

Watching her strut around the ship, using lethal force – except when stunning the wheelchair bound Emerald Chain scientist (because following up his speech to Stamets about the Chain giving this disabled character a chance in life with his murder, would have been crass, even for this show), we were reminded how ill-suited Mick is to a franchise built on enlightened thinking and humane problem solving. Still, director Jonathan Frakes seemed to enjoy staging the fights and the pyrotechnics – it must have felt like the good ol’ days of Star Trek: First Contact.

The only structural element that paid off, conceptually, was the internal theme of the trojan horse. Osyraa had used Discovery to infiltrate Federation HQ. But once inside, her unremarkable henchman struggled to purge the ship’s system of indigenous code. The reason? The Buster Keaton flick in the ship’s memory. This outlying file stubbornly refused to be deleted and we immediately suspected it was being used as a safe haven for the ship’s sentient sphere data – a suspicion confirmed at the close when it uploaded itself into some maintenance droids and offered to help Tilly retake the ship.

With Mick killing everyone, it wasn’t clear why the sphere’s brain thought help was required. But even John McClane needed a little help from Sgt. Al Powell and limo driver, Argyle. No hero can save the day alone. Sometimes secondary characters lend a hand to foster the illusion the writers are as interested in them as their superhuman, indestructible protagonist.

Anomalous Readings

  • As Mick laboured to retake the ship with brute force and a blunt wit, Osyraa was busy trying to convince Admiral Vance that she came not to bury the Federation but to join it. Improbably, she saw the Chain’s future as an alliance with its ideological enemies, and had even gone to the trouble of drawing up an armistice, which Vance read and endorsed without any lawyers present to legally scrub the text, examine the fine print, or indeed, consider the long-term implications. Incredibly, a deal was on the table, backed by one conversation, despite the Chain’s history of extortion, slavery, and murder, until Vance suggested, perhaps unhelpfully, that the price of peace was Osyraa standing trial for her crimes. I’m not a diplomat, you understand, but making the trial and imprisonment of the other party’s chief negotiator a pre-condition for signing a treaty, could be chalked up as a failure of statecraft.
  • Vance, an Admiral, who spoke with the authority of the President, though he’d only been authorised to deal directly with Osyraa prior to learning the subject of their discussion, presumed to make a lot of decisions on the Federation’s behalf, going so far as declaring, “I want the Federation to join the Chain”. Well, you might, Admiral – but shouldn’t you have deferred to the council and its ministers, and representatives from other Federation worlds, the moment you realised it was a peace negotiation? Perhaps then you could have gleaned the Federation’s official position and its red lines. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sitting down with the enemy’s official rep, at no notice, with no one to help me but a hologram. But perhaps Vance didn’t get to where he is by ducking the big decisions.
  • The Chain’s human rights record should mean any formal merger with the Federation was impossible. It would be like the EU admitting a state like Saudi Arabia, or the United Kingdom. Absurd.
  • Osyraa’s big pitch was that Chain scientists could replicate the Spore Drive and cure the galaxy’s ills. Her contention was that her scientists could do it and the Federation’s couldn’t – an impression bolstered by the Chain’s brain, Aurellio, telling Stamets they could replicate the tardigrade DNA in his system and by extension, manufacture the interfaces required to make the technology ubiquitous. Once again we were asked to believe that the Federation, with nearly a thousand years of scientific and technological advancement, couldn’t do this themselves. Why not? The Emerald Chain, a bunch of space merchants, themselves still reliant on dilthium for propulsion, who can’t make a holographic projector that doesn’t glitch, can mass produce the Spore Drive but Starfleet, with its programmable matter, can’t?  
  • Now talk has shifted to using the Spore Drive as a means to solve the problem created by the Burn, it looks like solving the mystery of the disaster will have no bearing on fixing it. So why did we spend 11 weeks fretting over the cause?
  • Crisp dialogue of the week – Vance: “It’s made from our shits, y’know.”
  • Book to Tilly: “You’re the best chance for Michael to make it out of here alive.” Oh, yeah?
  • We learned that by 3189 there’s a Deep Space 253. That’s quite an expansion. They must be running out of distant places to turn into outposts.
  • Mick sent a mayday to her mother, while hiding in a Jeffries Tube. Does that mean the Vulcans and Romulans will show up en masse next week? It wouldn’t be a Discovery season finale without a blowout.
  • Speaking of blowouts, Stamets, just before he was blown into space in a force field bubble, to safeguard the Spore Drive – a decision by Mick that prevented him jumping to save Culber and Adira (his life, apparently), oh and Saru as well, finally released what we’d always known, that he and the crew had jumped into the future for nothing. “We gave up everything so you wouldn’t have to be alone”, he told the woman who arrived in 3188, only to meet a boyfriend and later contemplate leaving her colleagues behind. Oh Paul, you poor bastard. Only now, at the end, do you understand.
  • Join me next week when yet another terrible season of Discovery draws to a close. We’ll pick over what’s left and look back over the whole nonsensical tale. Bring what’s left of your Christmas and New Year booze. You’ll need it.

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.11

Dropping a new episode over Christmas was cruel, even for a show that relishes tormenting its audience like Star Trek: Discovery. Not since Ebenezer Scrooge saw his death notices has anyone had such an unwanted gift with their mistletoe and wine. The show’s hacks, whom we must remember live in a world firmly detached from ours, and that of serious Star Trek fandom, thought we’d all enjoy unwrapping the mystery of the Burn on Christmas morning. But they hadn’t read the letter to Santa that asked for an intriguing, profound, far-reaching explanation. How could they? They can’t read.

“Su’Kal” took us to the nebula when a Kelpian research vessel had laid dormant for 125 years. Saru, wide-eyed at the news that there was a life sign aboard (irritatingly referred to thus from thereon in) – the child of someone or other, though I wasn’t sure who and had no reason to care, spoke as though enough information had already been shared with the audience to make this revelation extraordinary. But, as so often on Discovery, it felt like a conversation you’d joined too late. And so it was that the crew jumped to the ship’s location – a stormfront, following the Wrath of Khan precedent that all nebulas are volatile places – without the build-up of tension that should have prefigured the reveal to come.

So what did the Disco crew find? Well, Mick, Saru and Culber transported over, the clock ticking as exposure to the ship’s interiors would mean bombardment from harmful radiation, only to find themselves made over by its internal holoprojectors as a Trill, Human, and Bajoran respectively. Naturally, we assumed this would form part of the explanation but in the end it turned out to be irrelevant.

In the midst of a surrealist and improbably elaborate training programme designed for the vessel’s lonely occupant by its pregnant mother, the modified threesome witnessed a lot of fairy tale cum fantasy gubbins. What did this meandering, abstract milieu mean? And what did it all have to do with the nearby, er, dilithium planet?

When we found out we could hardly believe it. The Burn, the great cataclysm of the early thirty-first century, that had wrecked interstellar travel, fragmented the Federation, and caused a run on all precious resources – though no one could quite explain why – was triggered by the energy output from a child’s tantrum when reacting to a holographic monster from a Kelpian book of fairy tales.

Reading that back I still don’t understand what happened and perhaps you don’t either. Culber thought he knew – something about the kid adapting to the radiation in utero, but I’ll be damned if I understood why the Kelpian’s adapted physiology, that enabled him to live in a radiative cloud, in orbit around a planet of dilithium, would give him the power to emit a field that reacted with said planet’s deposits and radiate outward, causing the galaxy’s dilithium to combust. Or indeed, why, for reasons discussed in this blog, said disaster would mean the end of interstellar travel in the thirty-first century.

Star Trek, you may recall, used to be a show that concerned itself with scientific probability. It didn’t have the freedom that fantasy series have to invoke magic or mysterious incantations to explain away strange phenomena. Had this been an episode of, say, TNG, someone like Riker, who’d surely be on the away team, would have stroked his beard and asked some fuckin’ questions.

What was the nature of the child’s power? How did he acquire it? How did it act in tandem with the nebula and the planet’s natural fuel source to become amplified? How could such a signal operate on a scale that would allow it to destroy all the active dilithium in the galaxy? Why weren’t stationary vessels affected (though all the vessels shown to us blowing up were stationary)?

Having asked these questions, you can bet your ass Data, having taken some readings and made inquiries, would have a theory. And although it would sound like waffle, it would in fact be the carefully crafted technical dialogue of the series’ scientific advisors who’d worked to retrofit the writers’ dramaturgical designs with educated cladding – the kind of talk that would put a wry grin on the face of real physicists.

But on Discovery no such groundwork is necessary or desired. Instead, the audience were asked to swallow this baffling idea, ripped from a different genre – and mourn all the better explanations that might have been, had any of it been thought out in advance.

Give me an hour and team of Trekkies, and I could give you ten superior Burn causes than a radioactive squidman having a panic attack over a holographic sea monster. No doubt these gormless hacks had in mind a being like the Dowd from TNG’s “The Survivors” – a god-like entity that killed an entire species in a fit of omniscient rage when the offending aliens murdered its human wife. But the episode in question took great pains to establish the Dowd was an ancient, hyper-evolved species with the ability to transform matter using advanced telekinesis. The creature that caused the Burn was just a Kelpian who’d been irradiated in the womb. By rights it should have been born deformed, or laden with tumours. Instead, because the story required it, and no one had scrubbed the script for internally illogical bullshit, it absorbed elements of its environment and had the means to cause a galactic cataclysm using the psychic projection of bad feeling.

A child off the street could have told Disco’s hacks that it wasn’t enough to steal the Dowd concept, one had to explain it – complete the thought. But thoughts, though floated on this show, are then abandoned, and that’s why it’s become the dumbest thing to emanate from a TV screen since Stanley Spadowski’s Playhouse.

Anomalous Readings

  • The B-Story of this fucking episode was Tilly’s unearned and unlikely promotion to Captain in Saru’s absence. Had this been season 23 of the show, rather than season 3, we might have bought into the idea that a ditz like our resident redhead would be the right choice to safeguard the lives of the crew. But as Osyraa – the Orion head of the Emerald Chain – pointed out, when she arrived to steal the Discovery’s spore tech, it was incomprehensible and ridiculous. Tilly, whose hair continuity was all the place, has no authority and no coherent line of thought. So perhaps it’s not a surprise that her brief stint in the command chair ended with the ship captured and its data used to facilitate a surprise attack on Federation HQ (which, you’ll recall was particularly vulnerable as the entire Starfleet and the government were collected in one spot). Honestly, perhaps the Federation doesn’t deserve to survive.
  • “You belong in that chair, Tilly,” opined Mick, supported by no evidence whatsoever. This line alone affirms that Disco’s hacks exist entirely in a closed world – not so much a writers’ room but a bunker, where fan reaction to their wares (and insight from industry professionals with some understanding of the franchise) is carefully censored before being slid under the door. What will they do when they’re let out and have reviews of the season read to them? Resign en masse? Well, let’s give them the mass suicide option at least.
  • I suppose the earworm everyone had in their minds was the Kelpian nursery rhyme from the elder’s big book of fairy tales. I assume this – because it wasn’t said, and it’s quite possible this is a logical bridge that the writers didn’t build.
  • Well, at least they toned down the swearing this year. It’s been a while since anyone said “fuck”. At least, on the show’s side of the screen.
  • Gray, the inconsequential mental projection of Adira, reappeared, and once again Stamets treated it like a normal part of grief, rather than the strange, unexplained, spectral phenomenon it is, that on any previous Trek series would have had a scientific and/or psychological basis that would impact the plot in some way.
  • When we get to the end of this season I hope what’s left of the Federation will finally insist the Discovery crew wear contemporary uniforms.
  • Next week: our new year’s celebrations are ruined as Disco’s hacks desperately try to begin wrapping up another botched season. We know the show will survive, but can the audience?

Michael Burnham in the 32nd Century

Mick’s Calamitous 23rd Century

The Old Man’s Back Again

Picard Portents

Station Keeping

Teen Fan Fic

Published in: on December 28, 2020 at 12:58  Comments Off on Critic’s Log – Star Trek: Discovery 3.11  
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