Star Trek Discovery Review

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I am a Star Trek fan. I have been a Star Trek fan for as long as I can remember. I am named after the TOS character Zarabeth. The Voyage Home was the first movie I can remember quoting as a child. When Undiscovered Country came out, my parents pulled us out of school early so that we could go see it. To this day, I can still identify Voyager episodes by a single still frame. Star Trek is in my blood. Okay, perhaps I should rephrase that: Star Trek’s prime universe is in my blood. When JJ Abrams took over the franchise with his reboot in 2009 I abandoned the franchise. Much to the chagrin of most of my Trekkie friends, I have never seen the reboot movies, nor do I have any desire to see them. Abrams cemented that fate himself when he made it clear that he was making a Trek film for non-Trekkies.

When news of Discovery was first making the rounds, I dismissed it. Then I learned that Discovery would not be set in Abrams’ Kelvin timeline, but rather in the prime universe. I was intrigued but discouraged to learn that it would be another prequel, filling the gap between Enterprise and TOS.  Here’s the problem with prequels: prequels must constantly be vigilant of established canon. This isn’t something that studios, production companies, and writers aren’t inherently good at (especially when one has to consider the established canon of five television shows and ten movies). That’s A LOT of history to remember mess up! But, Discovery is going to feature a WOC main character, and so I felt encouraged to at least give it a try because at least Abrams can’t mess this up, right?

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Coming Soon Star Trek: Lens Flare

It’s well known that Battlestar Galactica was in many ways influenced by Ron Moore’s time working on Voyager.  The lack of continuity and realism of Voyager’s journey through the Delta Quadrant upset Moore.  He felt that the ship shouldn’t be pristine at the start of each new episode; that the crew should be more desperate and less rigid in their Federation principles. He felt Voyager missed the opportunity to explore the realism of their situation. When the opportunity to run Battlestar Galactica was presented to Moore, he took all of those lessons he learned on Voyager and poured them into Battlestar Galactica.

In many ways, Battlestar Galactica reshaped the face of modern sci-fi. It was darker, grittier, and more intense than most sci-fi had dared to be in the past. A wave of darker series followed suit, including the much darker Stargate Universe (which incidentally helped kill another beloved franchise). “Gritty” sci-fi has been in vogue now for over a decade. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite shows of all time. It did re-introduce me to Mary McDonnell, after all, and we all know how that story goes. However, it becomes a problem when we’ve gotten to the place where we believe that all sci-fi must be ‘dark and gritty’. It becomes a problem when we believe that sci-fi that predates this move to realism is inherently lesser.

It’s a problem because Star Trek Discovery is billed as the grittiest Trek yet. Above everything else, Star Trek is the utopian vision of humanity. The Federation rules a planet Earth that is freed from war, poverty, greed, inequality, and all the other defects of modern life. When I was a kid, I loved Star Trek so much more than Star Wars because Star Trek was optimistic. The United Federation of Planets is the most powerful force in the Trek universe. And it is a force that constantly strives to do what is right. Discovery betrays that in an effort to be edgy and hip. Discovery’s first two episodes make it clear to me that those running Discovery have no appreciation for Roddenberry’s vision.

Breakdown: I went into Discovery with very few expectations, and somehow I was still disappointed.

Things I Liked – I enjoyed the way that the theme song sampled the theme from TOS.  And for a few moments, I hoped that the sampling of TOS’s theme meant that Discovery would also embrace TOS’s spirit.

– It is obvious that Discovery devoted a huge chunk of their budget to effects. They did not disappoint. The visual effects on Discovery are by far the most beautiful effects of any Trek series.

 

Things I Disliked – Regardless of what the show runners say, it is obvious that Discovery does not exist in the prime universe. One need only watch the first Klingon scene to realize that these are not your parents’ Klingons. Michael Burnham is the adopted sister of Spock (a sister that has never been previously mentioned). The ships are far too advanced to exist in the prime universe, five years prior to Kirk helming the Enterprise. Discovery is a reboot, plain and simple.

vlcsnap-2017-10-01-23h17m32s215 – Lens flares and angled shots. Nothing says “We’re trying too hard” as much as the combination of the two. Seriously, lens flare overuse is a blight upon the genre. For the love of god, STOP USING LENS FLARES!!

All of the promotion for Discovery has revolved around the Shenzhou, Captain Georgiou, and Burnham. CBS used Georgiou to help sell Discovery as a diverse production. So, you can imagine my irritation when Georgiou is killed before the end of the second episode.

 

Star Trek fans are a lot of things – one of those is vocal. Trek fans have resoundingly echoed that they don’t like the Kelvin Universe, but prefer the Prime Universe.  Trek fans have made it clear that they want Trek’s story to carry on, not in reboots and prequels, but in story lines advancing from Nemesis. Trek fans have stated that they want to see a return to Trek’s roots and optimism. It is time for the CBS executives to get their heads out of the sand. Either make Discovery more in line with Trek’s ideals, or let the Trek franchise rest in peace.

I will give Discovery a few more episodes but my low standards are already not being met. I continue to be disappointed by Trek’s current path.

 

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Blood Hunters – A Review

As a devoted, life-long fangirl, I have sat through my share of less than stellar films. In the 1990s it was pretty much every TV Movie that Kate Mulgrew had ever starred in. More recently, I’ve been privy to such masterpieces as Killer Hair and Hostile Makeover (yes, I still love Mary even after watching these films). So, it should come as no surprise that when I discovered several of Torri Higginson’s films newly added to Amazon Prime, I had no choice but to watch them.
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Blood Hunters (2016) is a horror film that centers around a single mother who wakes up in a hospital (after a drug overdose), to find herself nine months pregnant – oh and everyone else in the facility is dead. The main character, Ellie Barnes, is played by Lara Gilchrist. It’s a sufficient, if forgettable, performance. Ellie soon meets up with other survivors Henry (Benjamin Arthur), George (Mark Taylor), Father Stewart (Julian Richings), and Marion (Higginson).

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The premise is simple enough.  The medical facility has been overrun by creatures thirsty for human blood. The only exit to the facility is guarded by a large metal gate.  The gate is keeping the monsters imprisoned, but also stopping the survivors from escaping. The creatures are hurt by sunlight, but the sun is quickly setting on the medical facility and the backup generator is failing.

When we first meet her, Marion is trying to open the gate and escape.  It’s later revealed that she is the cause of the monster outbreak:

Marion: I have spent my entire life being somebody’s lackey.  Do you have any idea what it’s like to be ignored for almost 50 fucking years? For once, I didn’t want to be that person watching life pass them by.  I wanted the headlines. I let them out. I knew about the cages, and I thought it was some kind of illegal animal testing.

I’m going to overlook the implications of the outbreak – and possible destruction of humanity – coming from a working woman’s desire for recognition (Although, I’m confident that there’s a paper in there somewhere). But we’ll come back to this point later.

The film relies far too much on exposition at times, but is still tolerable. It was obviously made on a low budget.  The blood hunting creatures are dancers in bodysuits and masks; however, I’m a fan of practical effects and so this was not a huge deterrent for me. What was a big drawback was the creatures’ weakness to light.  This was taken to absurd levels when Marion used the light from her laptop at one point to fend one of the creatures off.

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Yeah, I wish I was kidding too.

Ellie, who is pregnant when she wakes up, discovers from George (an intern at the medical facility) that her body is hosting one of the creatures.  George explains to Ellie and Henry that they have been experimented on since being brought back from the dead. Ellie died the day she overdosed, and Henry committed suicide. It’s also revealed that all ‘mothers’ have died in the process of ‘birthing’ the creatures.

Father Stewart is totally whacked in the head and views Marion’s actions as ‘God’s plan’. He finds a key card with the security clearance to open the gate.  He then breaks the locking mechanism, freeing the creatures to leave the medical facility (and potentially kill all of humanity). But see above again about how it is all Marion’s fault.

The film is predictable in the end, and each character meets their appropriate fate. Marion sacrifices herself trying to restart the generator.  Of course, she has to because it is her fault after all. </sarcasm>

Father Stewart is killed by the creatures he believes God sent. This is after he leaves Marion for dead, so as far as I’m concerned, he got what he had coming.

The film closes on Ellie and Henry, at the gate entrance. Ellie has discovered that her blood is fatal to the creatures.  It is the only thing that can stop them. Thanks to the concoction of medicines George pumped into Ellie’s stomach prior to her on-the-fly C-section, Ellie is poison to the blood hunters. Her status as a ‘mother’ (incubating the creature) leads to her position as the savior of humanity (oh look, there’s another paper).

Overall, I will watch this movie again, but only because it’s unintentionally comical and as the giant Torri stan that I am, I loved her performance.

Good:

  • Marion’s sass and know-it-all attitude. “I would be outside if that worked,” she says as Ellie pulls on the metal gate.
  • Marion’s queer aesthetic: I see that plaid shirt and I approve completely.
  • Father Stewart’s creepiness.
  • Passes the Bechdel Test:  Marion and Ellie have enough development that they can have a conversation about themselves (even if it’s a snarky conversation).

Bad:

  • The effects can get gruesome. Marion slitting a creature’s neck with a scalpel was ridiculously (if unintentionally) hilarious, but I draw the line at a spatula being used to scrape the remains of George’s arm off an oven burner. (Again, I wish I was kidding).
  • Henry literally performs a C-section on Ellie while Marion fights off a creature just a few feet away. It’s ridiculous – and comical – but since it’s supposed to be the climax of the second act, it’s probably not fantastic that I was laughing hysterically.
  • With all of the exposition in the film, the characters are still stereotypical cliches
  • The implications that working women destroy the world while women who are mothers restore balance.

 

 

Making the Case for Donna Noble

I have been thinking about Donna Noble a lot recently.  Ok, I think about Donna Noble a lot of the time.  It’s not everyday that one is presented with so perfect a tragic character. And boy am I a sucker for tragic characters!

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Recently, after having the opportunity to meet Catherine Tate at Awesome Con last month, I’ve been rewatching Doctor Who and reevaluating Donna’s character. There are a few key aspects to Donna that I had missed in previous viewings.

Donna is the empowering woman we should all strive to be. She does not treat other women as competition.  As much as I love Rose and Martha, both of them fell into the trap of seeing other women as a challenge to their romantic interests in the Doctor. Because Donna doesn’t have any romantic interest in the Doctor, she does not exhibit the same jealousy.  Instead, Donna takes joy in the Doctor’s potential reunion with Rose at the end of season four. Donna delights each time that she meets a new woman. She is thrilled to meet Agatha Christie, and goes out of her way to encourage her (The Unicorn and the Wasp). Donna and Martha become fast friends (The Sontaran Stratagem).  Donna encourages Miss Evangelista (Silence in the Library) after the others insult the young woman’s intelligence. Donna encourages the Doctor to give Jenny a chance (The Doctor’s Daughter). Throughout her series, Donna Noble is an empowered woman that seeks to empower the women around her. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

 

Donna is not the ‘desperate to marry’ woman that I thought she was. All of the times that I’ve watched Doctor Who, I’ve always felt that Donna was that woman who was desperate to get married.  I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with having such a desire.  As long as the characters are acting with agency I’m (mostly) happy.  However, after Rose and Martha’s desires to be with the Doctor, I was worried that the show was pigeon-holing women as relationship-dependent. It is easy to think Donna fits into this mold. When we are first introduced to her, it is the day of Donna’s wedding.  She spends the entire Christmas special in a wedding dress. Similarly, Donna’s last scene shows her finally getting married to a decent guy.  When you consider the simulated-reality in “Forest of the Dead,” that’s three times that we see Donna Noble in a wedding dress. However, to dismiss Donna as a woman who is desperate to marry is to ignore a very important part of a characterization – a part that I’m embarrassed it took me this long to pick up on.

Donna doesn’t want to be married.  Donna wants to be validated.  The old Donna views marriage as the tool for achieving this goal. As soon as she meets the Doctor, Donna has no use for marriage or romantic entanglements.  She even tells Martha “I’m going to travel with that man forever”. Since Donna shows no interest in romantic attachment while traveling with the Doctor, then it’s logical to assume that Donna had no intentions of marrying while she was a companion. Donna came into her own with the Doctor. She did amazing things and, in the very last moments, found her own worth (even though we’d seen it all along). This is evident when she tells the Doctor that she doesn’t want to go back to the way that she used to be.

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In what is one of the saddest character endings I’ve ever witnessed, Donna’s memory is wiped and she’s reduced back to the woman she was at the beginning of the series – a woman incapable of seeing her own worth. It’s a rare day when I leave a show thinking that it would have been more merciful for them to kill off my favorite character.

In “The End of Time,” the Doctor visits all of his companions for a final farewell. We see Donna walking out of a church, having just married Sean. She is overjoyed, seemingly the happiest that she’s ever been.  When the camera angle switches to the Doctor, he is visibly upset.

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Because the scene is from the Doctor’s POV and not Donna’s, the Doctor’s emotions set the tone. We realize that Donna’s marriage is the consolation prize for her never being able to remember the Doctor. Sean will love and respect her – but she’ll never love and respect herself.  Not the way that she did when she was with the Doctor. The theme is cemented further when you realize that the Doctor and Donna are separated by a cemetery (Donna’s figurative death).

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Donna was never a woman desperate to marry.  Donna is a woman restricted by the belief that she can only find value and validation through marriage. That is the second tragedy of Donna’s ending.

Fangirl Linguistics 101

A few months ago, I had a moment of awakening when I realized that my teenage son did not know what the acronym BAMF stood for. Further probing led me to the realization that he did not know the majority of lingo that makes up my vocabulary. This fact, along with the multiple times I’ve had to explain to my mother what a “ship” is led me to this moment right now.

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Gather round friends as we go on a journey of discovery!

I have gathered together a small collection of the words your average fangirl might throw out on any given day. No longer wonder what the hell a Feelings Emergency is or if you should ask your doctor to test you for OTPs. This handy reference guide can get you through even the most feverish fangirl situations.

The Fangirl Glossary

Shipping – Shipping is shorthand for desiring to see two fictional characters in a relationship. The term basically means that your fangirl believes two people are compatible and would make a fantastic couple.

I’ve shipped Janet and Sam since the coffee incident in “One Hundred Days”.

OTP – (One True Pairing) This is the relationship that you ship above all other relationships. It is the couple that you would give up your first-born to make canon. Do not be fooled by the ‘One’.  Fangirls have multiple OTPs.

If Teslen isn’t your Sanctuary OTP, I’m not sure we can be friends!

BROTP – Similar to the OTP, however the BROTP, is a relationship based on mutual respect and friendship.

The Tenth Doctor and Donna give me all of the BROTP feels.

Feelings Emergency (FE) –  This one was actually coined by my dear friend Possum, but since it’s gaining traction on Twitter, I’m adding it to the lesson.  A Feelings Emergency is an instance when a fangirl is experiencing an extreme swell of emotion about a character or middle-aged actress.  The term is generally prefaced by said character’s initials.

My entire life is turning into a giant LRFE (Laura Roslin Feelings Emergency).

Situation – (Generally prefaced with a character/actress’s name). While Situations and FEs are common occurrences in the average fangirl’s life, they are not interchangeable terms. A Situation is when a fangirl is overcome by the attractiveness of her favorite.

I’ve spent the last hour staring at Torri Higginson’s face and worked myself into a full-blown Torri Situation! Why is she so hot?!?

HBIC – (Head Bitch In Charge) While not specific to fandom realms, this is a term to describe the lead female character. She often swaggers into a room, wearing heels, and proceeds to dominate the conversation and lean all over desks, chairs, or anything else she can find.

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Look at this HBIC right here

BAMF – (Bad Ass Mother Fucker) – Don’t be confused, in fangirl circles, a BAMF is almost always a strong, female character. She drinks male tears to make her hair shiny and full.

Helen Magnus is one BAMF you don’t want to mess with!

Amanda Was In The Scene (AWITS) – This serves as a fully-acceptable reason to miss major plot points relating to an episode or series that Amanda Tapping stars in. While this is Amanda Tapping-specific, it’s completely justified to replace her initial with whoever the fangirl’s favorite is.

I totally missed all of the John/James in my first watch of Sanctuary, but it’s not my fault. AWITS.

Adversely, a fangirl can claim that Amanda(or their favorite) Was Not In The Scene and therefore, the fangirl wasn’t following the story line.

I wish I knew the whole Ori origin story, but AWNITS and I ain’t watching it.

These key phrases will certainly help you engage more effectively with the fangirl in your life!

Stay tuned for Part II coming soon…

 

Post-Convention Blues

This weekend I traveled to Houston, Texas for Comicpalooza. It was two hectic days of over-the-top, geeky delight with tens of thousands of my geek brethren. While I usually attend conventions with friends, this was a solo trip. I had been a bit nervous about attending alone, until I walked into the George R. Brown Convention Center. At that point, the excitement for the weekend took over.  Of course, this could be due to Mary McDonnell’s photo op session being the very first thing on my convention schedule.

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If you’ve ever read this blog before, or had a conversation with me that lasted longer than five minutes, you already knew that Mary had to be involved in some way for me to travel all the way to Houston. I had two days of photographs, autographs, and panels ranging from Mary’s Mother’s Day panel to a panel on the science behind Victorian weapons. Everywhere I turned, I was surrounded by fellow fans, young and old, reveling in their private fandoms as we all collectively geeked out in the packed convention center. I strolled through the Exhibit Hall spotting the General Lee (racist and outdated, but who am I to judge), a Winchester Impala, Ten’s Tardis and on the other side of the Hall Eleven’s as well, and almost all of the fandom related merchandise your heart could desire. Then, Sunday evening, it was time to catch a plane home and just as quickly as I’d been immersed in Comicpalooza, I was knocked back into reality.

Sadly, one of the oft neglected results of convention attendance is the post-convention blues that strike once you get back home. You can no longer look in any direction and see at least four women dressed as Harley Quinn. You can’t hop on the elevator and admire a cosplayer’s commitment to Nick Fury.  (Seriously, it was 85 degrees and he still had the full-length jacket on!) You can’t even eat your lunch in the shadow of a hundred Darth Vaders marching by. You certainly can’t walk around a corner and see Mary McDonnell, in all of her perfection, sitting at her table talking to fans. Basically, it sucks!

 

 

Fangirls and Politics – A Survival Guide

There is a man currently in the public eye that I despise – perhaps more than I despise anyone else. I outright loathe this man and do not shy away from saying so whenever I’m given the opportunity. Sometimes I feel the need to create that opportunity if one does not naturally arise.

This man is a perpetual crybaby who whines constantly.

This man wants to be adored for mediocre work.

This man is a raging misogynist and has a terribly sexist relationship with women.

This man’s supporters claim that anyone who doesn’t like his work simply lacks the intelligence to understand it.

This man claims to love the institution he helms, yet he dismantles it at every opportunity.

This man actively seeks to destroy the legacy of his predecessor.

I find myself counting down the days until his reign of terror is finally over.

Dear reader, no I’m not talking about Donald Trump. Rather, I’m discussing the blight on society known as Steven Moffat. Unfortunately for all of us, Moffat’s influence will likely far outlast that of Trump’s.

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If your Facebook newsfeed looks anything like mine has over the past several months, then nary a day goes by without political posts making you want to claw your eyes out.

Whether you agree or disagree, there comes a point of saturation where you consider deleting your Facebook page, removing yourself from modern society, relocating to a desolate ice cave in Antarctica (You can get Netflix there, right?), and never speaking to another human being again. Or maybe that’s just me.

Either way, navigating the waters of fandom have given fangirls an advantage in dealing with these tumultuous political times.

RULE NO. 1 – DON’T ENGAGE THE ENEMY CAMP

I’m not advising you to stop talking to everyone who disagrees with your political beliefs.  That would be pretty ridiculous.  Some of the best friends I’ve had haven’t always agreed with me on social or financial political issues.  If my friendships weren’t created on purely political reasons, why would I end them because of political reasons?

There are times when you can have very open and honest discussions, without either side getting offended, about topics important to you. I have a few friends who are hardcore Swan Queen shippers. They all know that I am not. On many occasions we have discussed why they ship this pairing as well as the problematic issues that I raised about them. Each of us listened for understanding, not in an attempt to convince the other that they were wrong.  I’ll offer you a hint, these discussions rarely happen on Facebook, or message boards, or comment sections, or pretty much anywhere on the internet. They happen when each person involved in genuinely concerned not only with the other person’s opinions, but also with their feelings.

I am not going to seek out Moffat-stans in an attempt to convince them that Steven Moffat is a terrible show runner whose “strong female characters” are as tropey as they come. I won’t even point out to them that Moffat not only contradicts the history of Doctor Who, but also previous versions of his own Doctor Who. You seriously want me to believe that no one saw a giant Statue of Liberty strolling around NYC? Seriously? Not one person? Nobody looked up and thought ‘hey, that doesn’t belong here!’

Basically, unless it is a close personal friend, they don’t care about your opinion and you are only wasting your time and your energy. Your time could be better spent asking people in New York if they’d notice if one day the Statue of Liberty just started walking around town.  

RULE NO. 2 – IT IS OK TO TUNE OUT

In all of these political posts circulating, I’m consistently seeing people admonished for failing to keep up to date on every single minute political issue. At the end of the day, we all have the issues that are significant for us – and ones that aren’t.  It is ok that we don’t all find the same issues important.  In fact, this is how we can insure that the issues get covered; even if you don’t necessarily care about them, there is someone out there who does.

Not only is it fully acceptable to ignore certain issues, it is also fully acceptable to turn it all off and tune out at times.  Sometimes it is a necessary step in self-care.

I have spoken extensively on this blog about my falling out with Major Crimes. Even though I stopped watching the show a year ago, this does not mean that I harbor any ill-will toward Mary or her character. It simply means that I cannot watch the show because it does not align with my personal beliefs. Or my sense of entertainment.

When something important does happen, I tune back in to find out what it was. Nobody should be surprised that I tuned back in for the very important Sharon’s going to turn all of the women queer pant suit episode!

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We all have to tune out at times.  That’s the nature of modern society.  Whether it’s your once favorite show or the current political scandal, there’s nothing wrong with shutting it out and walking away.

RULE NO. 3 – WE (HOPEFULLY) ALL LOVE THE THING

This rule doesn’t really apply to the extremists on either side.  There will always be people who declare that Steven Moffat is the greatest show runner that Doctor Who will ever have.  There are also who will fail to give him credit even when he has a good idea. (Even I can admit that I thoroughly enjoyed “The Doctor Dances”) Ultimately though, both sides of the Moffat debate are people who, arguably, enjoy Doctor Who and want to see the program succeed. While critics raise issues about Moffat’s tendency of having the Doctor imprinting on young girls or his treatment of queer characters, these critiques are offered out of a genuine desire to see Doctor Who succeed. Sometimes we get so focused in the minutia that we forget to look at the greater picture; we are all working to protect something that is greater than all of its parts.

Follow these three simple rules and hopefully the next few years will be slightly more tolerable. If all else fails, at least we can all start watching Doctor Who again in 2019. Lastly, above all else, if you ever see the Statue of Liberty out for an evening stroll around Manhattan, whatever you do Don’t Blink!

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This light-hearted list is in no way meant to belittle the struggle of minority groups. We must continue to support disenfranchised members of our society. It’s simply pointing out the connections between real-life politics and fandom politics.