messier object

the fringe files: 2×11, “johari window”

Real Fringe is back!  But just back to monster-of-the-week episodes, unfortunately.  This time, it’s a (nonsensical) calque of “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” more or less.  And, in the end, to “Humbug.”     There’s been references to it being closer to “Home,” but in the end it’s not close to being nearly as good as any of those episodes of The X-Files.

Like the inexplicable unaired episode they put up earlier in the week, the episode’s desire to semi-logically explain what’s happening is easily its weakest point.  Because when you think about a magical electromagnet generator that turns freakish mutants into normal-looking people (and moths), the first thing you need to do is explain how it works.  If they’d stuck to Walter’s semi-explanation and made it a town where when you crossed the city limits you went blind that would have made this a much more dramatic episode.  Instead, you get Astrid getting mad at Walter because he brought back an ugly moth (she hates moths, but loves butterflies? unexplained exposition alert!)  and, seriously, a machine that camouflages just people’s deformities.  That was so stupid it’s hard to get over it.

People spend a lot more time screaming at horrible deformities in this episode than they ever did in “Post-Modern Prometheus” or “Humbug,” or even “Home.”  We get it!  They’re ugly.  But when The X-Files managed to be nicer to its mutants than you… Well, let’s put it this way – there’s no dance party with a Cher impersonator at the end of this one, just Walter talking about how brave it was for one of the freaks to be willing to be seen as a freak instead of just murdering a bunch of people.  It’s an oddly deterministic view of things for Fringe, the monster-or-cute-person divide, and not really one that fits into the bigger view of the show’s hidden identities motif.

Anyways, Peter shoots a guy (how hasn’t he shot somebody before now yet?) and is sad but not as sad as Special Agent Olivia Dunham was when she killed Charlie so I guess we don’t need to meet the Lebowski-shrink this week.  This was a bland monster-of-the-week episode and, frankly, they need to get back to the mytharc ASAP.

the fringe files: 2×11*, “unearthed”

Hooray, Fringe is back – and back to direct calques of X-Files episodes.  In this case, s1e21: “Born Again.”  There’s a girl and freaky memories she can’t possibly have and a dead dude and whoooooa.

This time, Fringe is much more into explaining what the heck is going on: in “Born Again,” the strange coincidences of death and birth (or was it conception?) were more than enough to explain what was going on; nearly 20 years on apparently we need more explanation.  Because of Experimental Radiation Poisoning Treatments (Fringe‘s treatment of radiation, in general, is really on the lines of a fifties b-movie.  I’m just waiting for the Night of the Lepus calque.) and dying violently a murdered USN sub officer ends up in the head of a dying Catholic schoolgirl, who is instantly reanimated because, well, brains and spirits and dumb shit and I dunno a weird non-dualistic theory of mind, because she gets his brain’s radiation poisoning too.

Aside from the deeper digging into What’s Going On In Radiation! Science, Fringe is also taking a less agnostic tack than The X-Files towards religion, of all things.  While Fringe doesn’t have characters who are even occasionally defined by their faith like Scully was, the show is in general a lot more respectful of the notion of faith in a way I have trouble pinning down.  I can’t see Mulder (much less Scully) ever defending exorcism or actual demonic possession, for example – while The X-Files treated the weird as undefinable, it was never treated as anything symptomatic of bigger cosmic structures.  An episode like “The Căluşari” doesn’t try to reveal any truths about the existence of anything beyond the weird shit that’s happening in the here and now.  I don’t know to blame this on a change in culture in the past couple decades, or the overarching plots of the shows, with Fringe‘s whole-universe-defining mytharc.  Time, I guess, will still tell, although Walter’s ending beat calling on Isaiah and the old science-and-faith-are-the-same-thing duck wasn’t all that promising.  If you ask me, at least.

So while John Noble throws around a bunch of technobabble (although “What happened to subjects 1 through 5?” “I believe the University settled with them out of court.” was a pretty good exchange) about Tibetan theories of the mind and the right kind of drugs to do an exorcism with, we get to watch Olivia and Charlie run around Boston looking for clues.  That’s right, Charlie.  Because this isn’t actually a season 2 episode: it was made, but not aired, for the first season, which gives us the chance to see how far the show’s come since then.

The show has, frankly, improved a lot.  Importance of minor characters (neither Broyles nor Astrid do a thing in this, which makes them basically boring space-fillers) has been upped, John Noble’s Walter has gotten more sensibly nutty (or at least he’s gotten a little subtler and smarter than “whoa he’s drinking milk from the cow from a beaker! wacky”), and – this is probably the best change – the whack-you-over-the-head romance plot with Peter and Olivia has nearly been killed due to the total lack of chemistry.  When you have a one-ep victim character pushing something to happen, you should know you’re in trouble.  So in conclusion: thank god season two is back.

well the view is delightful/but your air is recycled

The Dexateens – “Neil Armstrong” (from Hardwire Healing, Skybucket, 2007)

This song raises some important questions – like what kind of car does Neil Armstrong drive?  It’s probably not a Volvo, if you can go by this inexplicable ad from c. 1975.


Communists Say Avatar Director ‘Robbed’ Soviet Science Fiction: Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia

Indignant party members say that Cameron, prepared to do anything to execute the command of the White House, surreptitiously entered the mysterious and romantic world of Soviet science fiction, and transferred all the action to his primitive propaganda film and to the Strugatsky-created world of planet Pandora.

Now, I haven’t seen Avatar yet.  But, of course, as we all know, the Strugatskys’ Pandora is a world given over entirely to scientific research giant crayfish hunting where when you try to go there you end up crashing off-course because you got hijacked by a time-traveling Red Army officer and if you try to go back in history you end up being menaced by a skull.  And does this mean Frank Herbert’s The Jesus Incident is also to blame for this?

yellow blue tibia, pt. 1

Yellow Blue Tibia is probably the most (personally) important book I didn’t get to read last year because Amazon was shitty at mailing it to me from the UK – a science fiction novel about Soviet SF authors secretly convened by Stalin in ’46 to think up a new threat after America collapses.  The opening is equal parts Bakhnov-style riff on politically correct Soviet science fiction and wide-eyed parody of Herman Kahn’s nuclear planning and wargaming at RAND, which should sound more promising than it is.  So far Adam Roberts seems to have a pretty shaky grasp on Soviet SF culture; the world he’s created has no notion of the “near target” (blizkaia tsel’) or Stalin’s conflicts with SF authors that led to the end of all SF publishing before the Great Patriotic War.  Also, it brings up a question I’ve never pondered before: can an author make references to real figures he probably doesn’t know exist?  The narrator, Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky, appears to be something of a vague parody of Ivan Yefremov, having written science fiction about alternate classical worlds, while another seems to be a vague reference to Vladimir Obruchev.  Of course, I’m only about a third of the way through, so we’ll see how it develops…

new men & “kings”
2010, January 14, 2:42 pm
Filed under: teevee | Tags: , , , ,

While Kings is now long-canceled, the shitty fly-by-night DVD is out.  And, as much as it pains me to say it, you really shouldn’t buy it.  No, I’m not kidding.  I’d say anything to support them, but NBC continues its late series of fuckups here.  Seriously, it’s sixty bucks and the special features are like four deleted scenes and one commentary.  One.  Kings was really the sort of show that was supposed to blossom on DVD – they created a lot of content for the website and there are all sorts of tantalizing hints to the greater world in the show bible in the commentary (like, what’s the deal with Austeria?), but right now Hulu actually has more extra content than the DVD set.  I’m sad to say that this set is an unabashed disaster, and totally not worth watching.

On the other hand, now I can watch it whenever I want.  Now you know where I’ve been all week.

What man could resist a shaving lotion so laden with futurity?

It’s the future’s future now, but I just want to remind you why you should be reading Brett Holman (who seems to be a nice fellow, too)’s Airminded instead of this blog in the coming second decade of the third millennium*:

Are you going to wait — or be one of the ‘Moderns’? For the sake of your skin and your razor-blades do step out of that rut.

So how is the future invoked here in the pursuit of higher sales figures for Field-day? Most obviously, the city of the future has giant skyscrapers, with aeroplanes (and giant tubes of shaving lotion, ridden by a man who is clearly accustomed to boldly taking charge of his destiny in his dressing-gown) flying in between them. In fact, one of the skyscrapers is also an airport: there’s an aeroplane just taking off from it, and at the top of the tower is a windsock. Aside from the odd heliport or two, downtown airports have failed to materialise, but they remained a possibility in the 1930s. The text mentions such wondrous technological possibilities as glass houses, autogiros, and wrist televisions.

Then there is the rhetorical, almost ritual, use of the names of those two great novels about the future to come out of Britain in the 1930s, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and H. G. Wells’s The Shape of Things to Come (1933) (or rather, the 1936 film-of-the-book, Things to Come). Neither of these can be said to look forwards to the future without any misgivings, however; the one is a dystopia (albeit one masquerading as a utopia), and the other might as well be, at least for the hundreds of millions of people killed along the road to a technologically-sophisticated, tunic-wearing paradise. So they might seem an odd choice for a straightforwardly optimistic (if not entirely straightfaced, perhaps) depiction of the future. But that’s par for the course: the titles of both books very quickly became a shorthand for the unknown future, often with little relation to anything in Huxley or Wells.

Finally, there are all the key words defining the attributes which are to be associated with the future, and with Field-day: it will be revolutionary, incomparably better, different, faster, longer lasting, simple and safe. What man could resist a shaving lotion so laden with futurity? It is indeed the shave of the future, NOW. I do so want to be one of the Moderns, and I’d buy it myself, for sure — except that judging by Google, it looks like neither Field-day nor J. C. and J. Field, Ltd., its manufacturer, actually made it into this future. O brave new world, that doesn’t have such things in it!

*and, yes, I realize we aren’t there yet.