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DOLLHOUSE: “Epitaph Two: Return” — thoughts and reactions (and SPOILERS)

January 30, 2010 3 comments

Reposting this from my comments on the ExIsle BBS (beware: full SPOILERS for Dollhouse: “Epitaph Two: Return”:

This worked pretty well, though I was hoping for more exposition on how the “Epitaph One” flashback/forwards fit together.  I guess we’ll never know.

I was surprised that it started with a recap of E1. Since that episode never aired on US TV, I was expecting that Whedon would structure the story in a way that would reintroduce the E1 characters and milieu for new viewers while still working as a continuation for those who’d seen E1 — the same thing he did in Serenity, making it work as a standalone and a continuation. Maybe he just didn’t have time, since there was so much to pack in. Or maybe he figured that since so few people were watching the show anyway, he might as well just gear this finale toward the DVD audience.

Luckily, the ending surprised me too. After Paul died, I was assuming that the grieving Echo would go up above and let herself be wiped by the pulse in order to free herself from the grief. Then when I learned Topher’s gizmo was a suicide bomb, essentially, I figured Echo would be the one to set it off. Instead, they surprised me by giving Echo a happy ending. She’s still superpowered, and she gets a reward, a reunion with the man she loves. And for once, a romantic couple in a Whedon show are guaranteed not to be separated by the death of one of them; indeed, the death of one of them is what truly brought them together for the first time. It’s a poetic and touching departure from the cliched Whedon pattern of relationships.

And there’s a nice irony that after fighting so hard to get out of the Dollhouse, Echo ends up freeing everyone else but returning contendedly to her own familiar sleeping pod. What was a prison for her, Anthony, and Priya has now become their haven.

And Adelle similarly finds herself at home in a kinder, nobler embodiment of her old role. She’s always seen herself as the “shepherd” taking care of her flock of Actives, and she was finally able to fulfill that role without a trace of hypocrisy. I’d call that a happy ending.

The saddest part was Topher’s fate. I wish it hadn’t ended that way. I know there’s a certain standard dramatic logic that people responsible for horrible things have to pay for them with their lives, but it felt more like suicide as a way out, and I’ve never cared for that notion. Plus Topher deserved better. I think he both redeemed himself and paid his penance without having to die too. And just imagine how much good a reformed, wiser Topher’s genius could’ve done in rebuilding the world.

But at least Topher got a nice little moment at the end. Seeing that wall of photos, that little moment of surprise, pleasure, and appreciation. I guess there are worse notes to go out on.

My main regret is that Amy Acker couldn’t appear. I would’ve liked to know what happened to Whiskey. Okay, granted, it kinda looked like she died in E1, but the writers suggested on the commentary that maybe the gas was nonlethal and that Whiskey “cleaned up” the place every time this happened and then waited for the next group to find it. But maybe that’s not the case, and maybe Whiskey did die.

I do find it rather too convenient that all it takes is a single bomb to undo everything that’s happened (except all the dying and stuff). I mean, restoring everyone’s erased memories is a hell of a deus ex machina and maybe a bit too much of a happy ending, and the technical questions involved are complex. If the memories were as completely erased as was claimed, then it shouldn’t have done any good restoring them.

Fortunately, I’ve believed all along that memory couldn’t be truly erased from a brain, that it was a physical thing that would leave a permanent impression no matter how you repressed it. I’ve never bought the cyberpunk conceit of the brain as a hard drive. And heck, even a hard drive isn’t truly wiped clean when you delete a program; the memory is usually largely recoverable unless you go to considerable lengths to eradicate it. So even within the cyberpunk conceit, the idea that the original memories are still there somewhere is one I don’t have trouble buying.

I do have trouble buying that a wave sent out from an LA skyscraper could reach all the way around the world. I’d prefer to believe that it only covered a fair portion of the southwest US and northwest Mexico, and that enclave would’ve allowed enough of a recovery of civilization that more of Topher’s devices could be built (hopefully with survivable triggering mechanisms) to clean up the rest of the world.

It occurs to me to wonder — did Topher’s gadget really end this for good? It’s one thing to restore people’s original memories, but will it prevent them from being wiped or overwritten again? I guess there is the device Alpha invented to shield against wipes (mentioned in “Epitaph One” as well as here); I’m wondering if that’s based on Echo/Caroline’s spinal-fluid immunity in some way. So maybe this isn’t a permanent magic fix; rather, these two technologies in concert can defend against the continuing threat of remote or mass wipes. It’s not so much that nobody will have to worry about this tech ever again; it’s more like the wipes are akin to a disease and there are now ways to both cure and immunize people. So the threat isn’t completely eradicated but can be protected against and mostly nullified, enough that civilization can function again.

On the other hand, the band that Tony/Victor was travelling with seemed to think that Topher’s cure would end their ability to upload knowledge at will, so maybe it was itself an “immunization” against further neural alterations.

———–

All along, this show has been about grey areas and moral ambiguities. It’s fitting that at the end, it doesn’t merely demonize the technology but demonstrates that it can be used for good, to preserve life and promote love. This has never been a show about technology being evil. It’s been a show about technology being at the mercy of the intentions and agendas of humans, many of which are evil and self-serving, but some of which are better than that.

So the show doesn’t end with the chair being smashed or the Dollhouse being blown up. What was an instrument of oppression has become an instrument of salvation; what was a prison has become a haven. It’s all about the intentions of the users. And this was a show about people who started out as users and used, but who changed each other and grew into something better than that. (Even Alpha became better, somehow.) So at the end, with the Dollhouse and its technology in the hands of these better people, it becomes an instrument for good and is no longer something to be feared.

It’s an interesting contrast to how Angel ended. That show’s final season was about the heroes taking over the evil organization, trying to change it from within into a force for good, but ending up being compromised by it and having to go out in a Pyrrhic burst of defiance to save their souls. This is much more optimistic. There’s no entrenched force of evil, just neutral technology and multifaceted human agendas. So the same things that doom us can also save us if they come into the hands of the right people — even people who started out ethically compromised or amoral but who learned to stand up for what’s right through hard experience. In a way, this cast’s journey was the opposite of the Angel cast’s journey — they started out as morally tarnished cogs in a malevolent machine and transcended that to become genuine heroes.

Maybe that’s why I’m so okay with the series ending. Sure, I regret that we won’t get to see the holes filled in, and I regret that we won’t see this cast working together and playing these roles anymore, but I’m satisfied with the series we got. I feel it’s effective as a complete story, beginning, middle, and end. And maybe that’s partly because the ending was so positive, at least by Whedon standards.

Although I suspect the reason he gave us such a happy ending (mostly) was that he knew he had no intentions of returning to this series. If he’d thought there was any chance of continuing to work with these characters, I’m sure he would’ve left more room to continue tormenting them.

———–

Here’s a thought that’s been bouncing around in my head: who was really the ultimate hero of “Epitaph Two?” It wasn’t really Echo. She led the raid to rescue Topher, but beyond that, she kind of gave way to the rest of the ensemble. It was Topher who saved the world, and it’s Adelle who will lead the recovery. Echo’s journey ended more quietly; her climax wasn’t that of someone who saved the world, but that of someone who endured much suffering but finally found a measure of peace. She may well be a force to be reckoned with in the years ahead, once it’s safe for her to go out again, but within the narrative of this particular story, she wasn’t all that crucial. It’s the culmination of a pattern I’ve recognized all along — that even though this show was created as a star vehicle for Dushku, it turned out to be much more of an ensemble piece, and Dushku was admirably willing to step back and let the ensemble carry the story.

But I don’t really see it as a flaw that the nominal hero doesn’t accomplish much in the climax. Because the arc of this season has not been about Echo doing it alone. It’s been about Echo leading by example, inspiring those around her to become better than they were and discover their potential for heroism. Echo’s victory is that she catalyzed the creation of the team that did save the world. The fact that she could step back and let them handle it is the embodiment of her achievement — and that’s a nice parallel for how Dushku herself was willing to step back in favor of the strong ensemble around her.

The Scale of the Universe

January 28, 2010 4 comments

Thanks to Thierry for pointing out this neat site to me:

http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/525347

It’s a very clever Flash animation comparing the sizes of everything from the quantum foam to the entire universe.  It gives a nice sense of perspective.  Cool music, too.

Categories: Science Tags:

Autographed books ON sale

January 28, 2010 4 comments

Note: Prices have been changed again.  See new post.

The response to my book sale has been underwhelming (though I’m very grateful for what response I’ve gotten so far — you know who you are), and I really, really need to make some money, so I’m cutting prices on my books.

You can buy them from me through PayPal (via the “Send Money” tag with payments to clbennett@fuse.net, or simply use the PayPal button on my homepage) for the prices listed below.  Please use the PayPal “instructions to merchant” option (or e-mail me) to let me know which book(s) you’re ordering, provide your shipping address, and let me know if you want the book(s) inscribed to anyone in particular (or not autographed at all, as the case may be).

Here are the books I have available, their quantities, and the sale price per copy, which is 25% off the cover price (in US dollars) except where otherwise noted:

Mass-market paperback novels

  • Star Trek: Ex Machina (15 13 copies): $5.25
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: Greater Than the Sum (13 copies): $6
  • Star Trek Titan: Over a Torrent Sea (13 copies): $6
  • Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder (20 18 copies): $5.25 Over 1/3 off!

Trade paperback collections

  • Star Trek  Deep Space Nine: Prophecy and Change (5 copies): $10.50
  • Star Trek Voyager: Distant Shores (8 7 copies): $10.50
  • Star Trek: Constellations (6 copies): $11.25
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: The Sky’s the Limit (8 7 copies): $12
  • Star Trek Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism (4 3 copies): $12
  • Star Trek Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows (7 copies): $12
  • Star Trek: Mere Anarchy (6 5 copies): $12

I’ll try to keep this list updated with regard to availability, but if you have doubts, query first. For buyers in the US, postage is $2 if you buy only one mass-market paperback, free for trade paperbacks or larger orders.  For buyers outside the US, pay the book price and I’ll bill you for postage separately once I determine the amount.  I’m dropping the extra credit-card fee for PayPal payments, but I’d still appreciate it if you could pay through your own PayPal account, if applicable.

Thoughts on CSI: “A Space Oddity”

January 27, 2010 2 comments

I just caught a rerun of CSI‘s delightful Star Trek homage episode “A Space Oddity,” and I wanted to comment about an aspect of it that I think some people misunderstand.  I’ve seen comments complaining that the episode is just another case of SF fans being stereotyped as dysfunctional geeks and fanatics.  And I don’t think that’s fair at all.

First of all, the story was written by CSI‘s current showrunner Naren Shankar, who was previously a producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the teleplay was by David Weddle & Bradley Thompson, who were staff writers on the last two seasons of ST: Deep Space Nine.  Clearly the people who created the episode understand SFTV and its fandom.

Second, while it’s true that the episode portrays a few fans as fanatical losers detached from reality, it makes it clear that they’re just one part of the spectrum of fandom.   The various characters relate to the ST counterpart Astro Quest in various ways.  Hodges and Wendy are both devoted fans, but while Hodges is close to the dysfunctional nerd stereotype himself, Wendy is a much more “normal” person.  Then we have Laurence Fishburne’s character Ray, who represents the kind of fan who doesn’t dress up and go to conventions but just plain knows and likes the show.  My favorite is the convention bartender who reveals he’s a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan.  He’s a fan of the show and chooses to dress up as one of its aliens because he admires its vision of a future where humanity has learned to live together.  Overall, Astro Quest fandom is portrayed as a valid and valuable thing.  The few mom’s-basement fanatics are the minority.  The producer who rejects the value of the original show’s optimism in favor of a dark, Galactica-style reboot is a smarmy womanizer and plagiarist.   And the character who says that the fans treat the show as a religion is a pretentious media scholar whose opinions are highly suspect.  It’s not a cult, it’s just an eclectic selection of people who enjoy or love the show for their own reasons.  And they end up convincing others of the value of their fandom.  At the end of the episode, two of the characters who were initially outside the fandom have been won over, going off with Ray to an Astro Quest viewing party.  And ultimately it’s Hodges’ intimate knowledge of the show that provides the crucial clue to solving the mystery.

Plus, of course, the episode is so loving in its own Trek fandom that it amazes me that anyone could interpret it as hostile to fandom.  Hodges’ fantasy sequences are marvelous, faithful homages to scenes from “The Gamesters of Triskelion,”  “The Cage,” and “The Naked Time” (Kirk’s “a beach to walk on” speech).  And the end of the teaser is hilarious, with Hodges opening his cell phone like a communicator, calling Detective Brass, and saying “He’s dead, Jim!”  Both times I’ve seen that, it’s broken me up for a good minute.

There’s also the neat metatextual joke that both the biggest fans among the CSI crew, Hodges and Wendy, are played by actors who’ve been in Star Trek.  Wallace Langham was Flotter in Voyager‘s “Once Upon a Time” and Liz Vassey was crewwoman Kristin in TNG’s “Conundrum.”  (Ohh, Liz Vassey.  I love watching her.  She miraculously manages to be both Amazonian and cute at the same time.  And ohh, those eyes…)

Of course there are some nice Galactica Easter eggs too, with Kate Vernon playing the media critic, Rekha Sharma and Grace Park appearing as fans in the convention audience, and Ron Moore himself rising into frame to tell the character (loosely) based on himself, “You suck!”  But ultimately, it’s all about Star Trek.  And it’s about fandom in all its forms.  And it’s a loving tribute to both.

Categories: Reviews, Star Trek Tags: , ,

Murphy’s Law of glassware

January 26, 2010 3 comments

It seems there’s some kind of cosmic law that when you get a set of drinking glasses, they will systematically break until you have only one left, which will last forever.  This was particularly the case with a set of four tumblers I bought just over a year ago.  They were really nice tumblers, tall and sturdy with thick glass and solid construction, or so it seemed.

A few months ago, I had all four of these big, heavy glasses in the bottom tier of my fold-up wooden draining rack (which looks like this), and I made the mistake of emptying the top tier first.  That left a lot of weight to one side of the center of mass, so the whole rack tilted and dumped the glasses into the sink.  Two of the four broke.  Just like that, I’d lost half the set.

This morning, I was doing the dishes I’d forgotten to do last night.  At this point, I have five remaining tumblers of this size, two from the new set and three orphans left over from three other, older sets.  Naturally, it was while I was washing the inside of one of the two new ones that the soapy, wet glass popped out of my hands and shattered on the kitchenette floor.  I was wearing socks, no shoes, so I was trapped by the sink, with broken glass between me and the exit.  So I kept my feet firmly planted while I retrieved the cloth and finished the dishes.  Then I gingerly repositioned my feet so I could reach the towel drawer, and I got a towel to brush clear a path in the floor so I could get out, put on my shoes, then go to the closet and get a whisk and dustpan.

So now all my tumblers of this size are orphans — four of them from four different sets.   Of the four I bought just over a year ago, three are now broken.  And yet the oldest tumbler in my set, a black-tinted, narrow-based one that’s slightly smaller than the others, has endured seemingly forever.  It’s like the Rio Grande on Deep Space Nine — the one runabout that perpetually survives while all the other keep crashing and blowing up.

Man, I wish I could afford to move to a place with a dishwasher.  At this point, I can’t even afford new tumblers.

Categories: Uncategorized

Thoughts on Quinn Martin’s THE INVADERS

January 23, 2010 6 comments

On Monday, Syfy ran a marathon of the first eleven episodes of Quinn Martin’s 1967 television series The Invaders.  This is a series that I’ve read about, but by bad luck I’ve never actually managed to see it before.  And since it was a holiday, I ended up watching nearly the whole marathon (aside from one episode that looked so silly I decided to skip most of it).

The Invaders was an interesting show, but it had problems.  The premise was that “architect David Vincent” (that’s how the narrator introduces him for some reason, “Starring Roy Thinnes as architect David Vincent”) happened to see a UFO landing and couldn’t get the authorities to believe him.  Investigating further, he discovers suspicious-acting people with little fingers that won’t bend, and when he confronts them, one of them fights him until suddenly the guy seizes up and starts glowing red (a nice effect apparently achieved by the actor hiding a bright red light in his hands, pointed at his face).  From that point on, Vincent is convinced there are aliens infiltrating Earth, and they make more than one attempt to kill him.  The rest of the series is basically Vincent trying to track down and defeat alien plots across the country and futilely attempting to prove their existence to the authorities.

The show had some creepy charm and decent production values.  In one sense, it had an unusually serialized quality for a ’60s show, in that Vincent progressively learned more and more about the aliens, their nature, and their gadgets over the course of the show (although one episode, “Vikor,” is evidently aired out of sequence, because it shows him witnessing for the first time how the aliens regenerate their human disguises, but in the previously aired episode he already knew about it).  But aside from that, it had a lack of continuity typical of the more episodic shows of the day.  In the pilot, toward the end of the episode, he became convinced that the aliens wouldn’t try to kill him again since he’d raised too much publicity with his accusations and it would look suspicious.  Presumably that was to justify why he was able to go on functioning on a continuing basis.  But in subsequent episodes, the aliens routinely tried to kill him, even to the extent of devising elaborate plots to get at him.  Not to mention that episode 2 features a scientist who’s been even more vocal about the alien plot than Vincent, and yet the aliens blow up a whole plane to try to silence him and then succeed in staging a fatal car accident.  Why would they be so blatant in targeting that guy if they were trying to avoid drawing suspicion to themselves?

And really, it’s hard to believe that nobody but Vincent is catching on to this.  The aliens have devices that fake heart attacks and cerebral hemorrhages to make their murders look accidental, but there are so many of those murders that you’d think somebody in authority would recognize a pattern.  There was an episode in which a military officer (Dabney Coleman) witnessed an alien himself and tried to convene a Congressional hearing with Vincent as a witness, but the alien Magnus (Michael Rennie) blackmailed Vincent (by threatening innocents) into discrediting himself and scuttling the hearings.  But it’s hard to believe Coleman’s character would’ve fallen for that or given up so easily.  (And by the way, Dabney Coleman looked surprisingly square-jawed and heroic in 1967, a far cry from the smarmy and/or villainous characters he later became known for.)

Apparently, he’s somehow able to continue his normal life, since people know how to contact him with alien sightings, plus he apparently manages to continue earning enough of a living to feed and clothe himself.  So why don’t the aliens get to him at his home?  It’s a paradox that isn’t adequately explained in the half-season I’ve seen.  Also, in most episodes, he gains additional witnesses to the reality of the aliens’ presence, but they never seem to come back and help him out with convincing the authorities; he remains perpetually a man alone.  I gather this changed later on in the series as he finally gained a recurring ally, but it took long enough.  (There’s never any physical proof of the aliens, since they burn up and vaporize when they die, and usually take their equipment with them.)

And if Vincent’s so hell-bent on finding proof, why does he never bring a camera with him when he infiltrates alien nests?  Plus The Invaders suffers from the same problem as the later paranoia-driven series Nowhere Man — namely that the protagonist’s paranoia always fails him at just the wrong moment and he trusts people he should know better than to trust.   For Earth’s sole champion against invasion, David Vincent is really a pretty incompetent guy, except when it comes to fighting his way out of deathtraps.  In fact, bellicosity and stubbornness seem to be his only real strengths as a hero.  In the pilot, he had no really solid reason for being convinced he’d seen a UFO rather than dreaming it, or for  suspecting the “campers” just because they didn’t corroborate his story and had stiff pinkies.  He ended up attacking them with very little provocation, and it was just luck that he ended up finding out the guy he attacked had anything to hide.

But like I said, the show’s production values weren’t bad.  The opening and closing narration is by Bill Woodson, who was a major and prolific TV announcer for decades and had a good rich voice.  He’s perhaps most famous for Superfriends, but of course he used a much more serious, sedate delivery here, and it works very well.  The music is mostly by Dominic Frontiere of The Outer Limits, and in fact the pilot features a lot of stock music from that show.  Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to write a lot of music for the show, and the same limited number of cues seem to get used over and over.  Plus the main 3-note motif for the show is exactly the same as part of the Mission: Impossible theme, which is distracting.

The visual effects are by Darryl Anderson of the Howard Anderson Company, one of the main FX houses that was doing Star Trek at the same time this series was on.  So The Invaders no doubt benefitted from the experience Anderson gained doing a production like ST, which for ’60s television was unprecedented in its FX demands.  One thing Anderson did particularly well here was the effect of the aliens glowing red and disappearing when they die.  The glow often begins while the aliens are still falling, and the rotoscope work — the handmade animation of the red glow fitting the contours of moving bodies — was superbly done.  I would’ve expected they’d require stationary bodies like in the ST transporter effect, but they didn’t.

So The Invaders is a decent show, but not one of the greats.  Hopefully I’ll catch the rest of it someday, but my curiosity is more idle than passionate.

Autographed books for sale

Note: Prices have been changed.  See new post.

I have a significant number of leftover copies of many of my books taking up space in my closet, and I also have an urgent need for funds, so I’m offering autographed copies for sale.  You can buy them from me through PayPal (via the “Send Money” tag with payments to clbennett@fuse.net, or simply use the PayPal button on my homepage) for the prices listed below.  Please use the PayPal “instructions to merchant” option (or e-mail me) to let me know which book(s) you’re ordering, provide your shipping address, and let me know if you want the book(s) inscribed to anyone in particular (or not autographed at all, as the case may be).

Here are the books I have available, their quantities, and the price per copy (in US dollars):

Mass-market paperback novels

  • Star Trek: Ex Machina (15 14 copies): $7
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: Greater Than the Sum (13 copies): $8
  • Star Trek Titan: Over a Torrent Sea (13 copies): $8
  • Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder (20 19 copies): $8

Trade paperback collections

  • Star Trek  Deep Space Nine: Prophecy and Change (5 copies): $14
  • Star Trek Voyager: Distant Shores (8 7 copies): $14
  • Star Trek: Constellations (6 copies): $15
  • Star Trek The Next Generation: The Sky’s the Limit (8 7 copies): $16
  • Star Trek Myriad Universes: Infinity’s Prism (4 copies): $16
  • Star Trek Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows (7 copies): $16
  • Star Trek: Mere Anarchy (6 copies): $16

I’ll try to keep this list updated with regard to availability, but if you have doubts, query first.For buyers in the US, postage is $2 if you buy only one mass-market paperback, free for trade paperbacks or larger orders.  For buyers outside the US, pay the book price and I’ll bill you for postage separately once I determine the amount.

Oh, and if you have a PayPal account of your own, please pay through that instead of a credit card.  PayPal charges a fee for credit card use, so if you do use a credit card, I have to ask for an additional $0.25 per mass-market paperback or an additional $0.40 per trade paperback.  (That’s about half the fee, so we’d be splitting it.)

As far as shipping goes, be patient; I’m new at this, and it may take me a bit of time to get things up and running.