TV Episodes For That Kick of Persistance

coyote looks at Sarah Connor, from "Some Must Watch"It’s been a long week and I’ve been thinking about the TV episodes in which a central character hits bottom and rises to fight the good fight again. Here are three episodes of television in which characters persist. I’ll be spoiling the endings so beware!

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Chain of Command Pt. II”

This episode (Episode 11, Season 6) focuses on Captain Picard, who has been captured by the Cardassians. Picard finds himself at the mercy of an interrogator, Gul Madrid. As part of the process of breaking Picard, Gul Madrid tries to force Picard to state that there are five lights shining in the interrogation room. Picard (and the audience) can see that there are actually four lights. The mental and physical battle between these men is harrowing. Few moments are as kickass as Picard’s final words to Gul Madrid:

 

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Anne”

Buffy was full of moments in which a wide variety of sentient beings, including but not limited to humans, tried to make Buffy feel worthless and then got their asses kicked by her. However, I’ve always thought that “Anne” (Episode 1, Season 3) is underrated. Buffy runs away from home and tries to avoid any heroics but naturally she ends up fighting to free homeless teens from monsters who enslave them. In the process, Buffy gets back on her feet and gives the chance of a new life to another girl, who shows up as a hero on Angel. “Can I be Anne?” is, in context, one of my favorite moments from the show.

Buffy in her waitress uniform from "Anne"

The true terror lies in customer service.

 

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: “Some Must Watch, While Some Must Sleep”

Sometimes you just need to accept your ferocious side and roll with it. The Sarah Connor Chronicles stars Lena Headey (pre-Game of Thrones) as Sarah Connor and Thomas Dekker as her teenage son, John, who is destined to save humanity in the future. For the purposes of this episode, you need to know that Sarah’s life is devoted to protecting John and training him to be a leader, and she has been joined by a benevolent Terminator played by Summer Glau.

 

This is a weird episode that tricks the viewer and the characters multiple times. Sarah begins by doubting herself. She regrets a recent act of violence. She is stuck on this violent act, which she dreams about again and again. Here’s the opening voiceover:

 

Midnight is the witching hour, if you believe that kind of thing, and most people won’t admit it if they do. Midnight is the time when a door opens from our world into the next and we are visited by dark spirits of the shadow lands. The incubus, the succubus, the old hag. Visitors are known by many names but each story bears the same marks. The demons come after midnight in the first three hours of the new day when we are alone and vulnerable, deep asleep and hopeless. When we cannot move. They lay on us, press on us, suffocate us, take from us what is most precious. Our lives, our love, our sanity. Our sleep. If you believe in that kind of thing.

 

As the episode progresses, Sarah moves beyond despair and inaction and embraces the side of her that will stop at nothing to protect humanity and protect her son. She’s not nice. She’s powerful. The episode is dark and violent and when you consider that Sarah has to let a softer side of herself die in order to become an agent of violence, it’s tragic. Still, if you need to gather some serious resolve, and you need to be a bad bitch for a while, consider these closing lines, played over the image of a coyote:

A spirit sits on a man’s chest. She is strong, beautiful. She is here to steal his children. She is here to steal his future. He is paralyzed. The terror in him will burst his heart if he cannot control it. She is a Night-Mare, a demon-woman, the oldest and most enduring story told by man. The witching hour is controlled by witches. She is a bad dream. She is a bad bitch.

Sarah, in her hospital PJs, looking annoyed

For heaven’s sake let this poor woman take a nap!

You can find great commentary on this episode at
https://roxybisquaint.livejournal.com/54214.html

 

Next month we’ll look at three episodes in which, as The Doctor says, “Everybody lives” – episodes of hope and our beleaguered characters getting a freaking break for once. Persist!

Advertisements

Classic Sci Fi: Dreadnought! by Diane Carey

Dreadnought_coverWelcome to my beloved Star Trek novels shelf. In an earlier review, I mentioned the high caliber of novels written in the 1980’s and 1990s. Many of these novels were written by women. Diane Carey has written thirty-nine Star Trek novels to date. You’d think at that speed she wouldn’t be able to produce much quality, but her novels are great – exciting, thoughtful, and often highlighting lesser-known characters or introducing new characters who have their own adventures. My favorite is Dreadnought, which introduces Lieutenant Piper.

 

Piper is a hotshot with dreams of her own command who is thrilled to find herself posted to the Enterprise. Alas for Piper, before she even gets a chance to change from her civvies into her uniform, she’s implicated in a treason plot. Piper and her roommates form a mirror group to Kirk’s command group. Piper is the boss and the first-person narrator of the book. She’s human, but has never been to Earth before Command School (she’s descended from colonists of Proxima Beta, another planet). Scanner is the tech guy. He’s human, from the American South. Merete is the doctor (she’s another human descendent of colonists). And Sarda is Vulcan.

 

Piper has another roommate who is a Gorn. I would have loved for the Gorn to have been part of the team, although the Gorn doesn’t seem to communicate verbally so no telling how that would have worked out. Presumably due to this issue, the Gorn is sadly left behind. One of my favorite things about the novels is that, unlike the show, they are unconstrained by technological and budgetary limits, and therefore they have the opportunity to introduce more unusual alien species. Authors Barbara Hambly and Diane Duane had a lot of fun introducing all kinds of bizarre life forms. It was a disappointment to start the book in that direction and quickly devolve into a book in which everyone looks human with the exception of pointy ears.

 

Piper and Sarda have a complicated history in which she spilled some secrets about him “for his own good” at Starfleet Academy and then proceeded to bully him about being Vulcan. This kind of bigotry is omnipresent in Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s a show that very much pushes for inclusion, and yet has an odd dynamic in that people feel compelled to constantly needle Spock about being Vulcan without actually trying to understand him. McCoy is the most blatant offender, with his comments usually being played for laughs. It’s refreshing to see that Piper quickly realizes how inappropriate her reactions to Sarda are. Instead of continually trying to challenge him to behave in a more human manner, she starts to educate herself about Vulcan history and education, and she becomes more respectful of Sarda’s boundaries. This allows them to develop a healthy balance that nicely mirrors the Kirk/Spock relationship and even improves on that relationship a bit.

 

Piper is brash, awkward, nervous, and very young. In the course of this book and the sequel, Battlestations, it’s great fun to watch her mature as a leader. This isn’t a heavy book, but it has some substance behind it as people deal with cultural and ethical problems. It’s one of my go-to books for the bathtub, or when I’m sick. When I was nursing my baby, who wanted to be held all the time, I read piles of Star Trek novels, because they were fast reads that kept my attention and neither strained nor insulted my intelligence, and because they were lightweight paperbacks that I could hold in one hand when I had a baby in the other.

 

The other time in my life when I read a lot of Star Trek novels was high school. Whatever flaws these novels have, they were instrumental in introducing me to the work of many women who were writing science fiction, and they matter-of-factly placed female characters in leadership positions. This was long before Star Trek: Voyager. I was thrilled and astonished at the idea that women would be starship captains, but these books treated the concept of women in high positions of power across multiple disciplines as a matter of course. It’s largely thanks to these novels that I never thought of science fiction as something that was “for boys.” I’ll always be grateful to the women of the Star Trek novels for helping me believe that Space, actual and literary, is a Frontier for everyone.

Classic Sci Fi: Ishmael, by Barbara Hambly

51VD4QQGZRL._SX281_BO1,204,203,200_Before there was fan fic on the Internet, there were official spin-off novels – still are, in fact. Star Trek attracted an amazing array of women who were writing science fiction in the 1980s. Writers included A.C. Crispin, Diane Carey, Diana Duane, and Vonda N. McIntyre. Tim Hanley has a great article about the high number of Star Trek novel writers who were women, and the high quality of their work, over at Straitened Circumstances.

From 1968 – 1970, there was a show called Here Come the Brides, about a group of women who come to Seattle to get married in 1860. Many performers on the show appeared later in Star Trek: The Original Series, including Mark Leonard, who ended up playing Sock’s father, and Jane Wyatt, who played Spock’s mother.

I never saw Here Come the Brides, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have watched the show and thought, “Hey, that looks like great material for a Star Trek story.” Luckily, Barbara Hambly did, and she wrote a novel that is bittersweet, balancing humor, horror, pathos, action, sorrow, and joy, sometimes within a single sentence. Spock is kidnapped by Klingons, tortured, and finds himself with no memory in the woods in 1860. Aaron Stemple (the main character in Here Come the Brides) discovers him, takes him in, and helps him recover. Aaron calls him ‘Ishmael’, and as Ishmael Spock becomes involved in the lives of the Seattle characters. Meanwhile, Kirk believes that Spock is dead, but he also believes that Klingons have travelled to Seattle to change the course of history, The story moves back and forth between Ishmael’s attempts to find his place in the world and Kirk’s attempts to solve a mystery.

Barbara Hambly excels at conveying a sense of place, and both the spaceport where the Enterprise is docked and the muddy woods of Washington State feel sharply real. I can’t speak to how well the book handles Here Come the Brides, but it does a lovely job of giving the Star Trek characters additional depth while staying true to the series. Additionally, the book features a number of women in central roles – scientists, a woman who is a doctor in Seattle, the women who come to Seattle to marry, all of whom have their own personalities and dreams, and of course Uhura, who kicks butt in an alley. It’s delightful to see so many “strong female characters” who are all strong in different ways – and who Ishmael respects and has great empathy towards.

The written format means that Hambly can have some fun with aliens, who on TV were usually humanoid. The book features one of my favorite aliens, Aurelia, a Drelb. Drelbs are basically a mass of protoplasm, and they change color and odor with their emotions. They also like to make people comfortable, so when Aurelia speaks to Kirk she changes a tentacle to a hand, and produces eyes, purely out of courtesy:

The Drelb’s glutinous bulk faded from rose to yellow, and developed bright kelly green stripes. The long eyelashes blinks, and somewhere in the protoplasm there was a shifting and a round knobbly tongued mouth formed. A soft voice inquired, “Is the problem theoretical?”

“In a sense,” Kellogg pulled up a stool to perch on.

The blue eyes turned toward Kirk again, studying him. Then suddenly a deep blue suffered the entire tall cone, and that soft voice said, “Deep sorrow with you in your grief, Jim Kirk.”

Even with no prior knowledge of either series, a reader could instantly feel at home in both worlds described in this book, and would relate to and care about the characters. The book is a masterpiece of concise world-building and characterization. It has scenes that are quiet gems of fun, and it has scenes of great sorrow and compassion. Above all, it’s a very kind book – for all that the Klingons are involved in an evil plan, the other characters are capable of great kindness and sympathy. It’s a great book about found family, and like most books that involve time travel, there’s some fate as well.

Incidentally, science fiction fans will notice references to Doctor Who, Battlestar Gallactica, Star Wars, and several Western shows. This book will bring a lot of tears but even through the tears it never stops having fun.