setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Many people seem to feel that the second episode of The Orville, "Command Performance", which aired last night, is an improvement over the first episode and in some ways I agree. It had the first moment that really made me laugh thanks to a cameo by Jeffrey Tambor and Holland Taylor as Ed's parents. The scene takes the fractious relationship between Deanna Troi and her mother and pushes it to the higher comedic pitch Orville allows by having them discuss Ed's colon over the main viewer. Yet even this scene doesn't sabotage the reality of the story as a similar moment in a parody might--I believe Ed might have parents who embarrass him this much. And this represents what might be really interesting about the show if it can get through some growing pains, though I might settle for it becoming more of a straight forward space opera--that stuff tends to land more on the show than the comedy stuff does.

I think one of the reasons this episode represents an improvement is actually the directing--surprising given the first episode was directed by Jon Favreau. Robert Duncan McNeill, who played Tom Paris on Star Trek Voyager and who directed several episodes of that series, brings even more of a Star Trek feel to The Orville. The beats at the beginning especially, with an establishing shot of the ship followed by a low momentum scene in Ed's office felt exactly like the beginning of so many Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Next Generation episodes. This episode was again written by Seth MacFarlane and it made me even more eager to see how the show might be with a teleplay by a Star Trek writer.



"Command Performance" combines two relatively familiar plots--humans getting caught in an alien zoo and someone taking command for the first time--you could cite TOS's "The Menagerie" and Data's subplot in TNG's "Redemption" along with many other examples. In this case, the human zoo plot is used to put Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) in a locked room together to hash out some of their relationship issues. It was a nice scene, it helped Kelly feel like more of a character, especially thanks to a nice, open, conversational performance from Palicki, and it really gave a sense of the two of them having had a relationship. The story about the opera and Ed being so high he believed he would be paralysed if he sat still too long was funny in a fairly authentic way.



The other plot centres on the ship's security chief, Alara (Halston Sage), who has to take command in the absence of Ed and Kelly because the normal third in line, Bortus (Peter Macon), has laid an egg and must sit on it for twenty one days, an idea which sounds like it'll be explored more in the third episode. I liked Alara's plot, especially the scene where she rushes down to the shuttle bay after an accident that's ripped an impressive hole in the deck. I found myself really caught up in her anxiety about responsibility and there's also a nice conversation between her and Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) about the burden of command.

Maybe this means I'm getting old but I wish Alara was played by an older actress. I think in the first episode it's established that Alara's species matures faster but I would have liked to have seen some evidence of this in the episode. Her taking the tequila shots from the replicators was a nice bit of humanising but it would have been nice if she'd had a moment where she really showed there was an older mind inside that body. I think there've been some complaints about a young actress being in this role purely for sex appeal. I don't have anything against sex appeal myself, even if it stretches credibility--it is fantasy, after all. But it would have been nice if I could buy into her character a little more. On the other hand, maybe I'm thinking of this as too much like Star Trek--this isn't the flagship so maybe a really young security officer isn't far fetched at all. Halston Sage does a decent job in the role--I found her halting delivery a little distracting but I think she's doing it to sound alien.



Less impressive is Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Finn. Jerald is actually a Star Trek veteran--she played Cassidy Yates on Deep Space Nine, but unfortunately I'm only reminded of how boring I thought that character was, largely because of Jerald's lacklustre performance. But I don't know, maybe she'll grow on me. I liked her reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi, I only wish the name had slid off her tongue a little more naturally. I'm still looking forward to the next episode.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Contemplating the lack of a new Twin Peaks to-night, I finally started watching Stranger Things a few days ago. Two episodes in I'm enjoying it, though I feel like Scottie in Vertigo when he keeps thinking he's spotted Madeleine only for it to just be a woman who looks like her because the massive Twin Peaks influence I see at work in Stranger Things made me jonse for the original even more. But, I realised, that's not fair, Stranger Things draws from a lot of other influences, too, to create its own virtues.



I'm sure all the stylistic echoes from 80s films have been picked over plenty by now--the John Carpenter-ish synthesiser soundtrack, the general ode to 80s kids domestic adventure movies like E.T. and Gremlins, the fact that Natalia Dyer looks like Mia Sara.



I love her outfits, too, and their recollection of a time when women chose clothing that stood in low contrast to their skin.



This compliments the wonderful, shadowy visual style that recollects a time when filmmakers really liked to show darkness in movies, though the lighting on Stranger Things still has the modern care to keep everyone's facial expressions visible most of the time. It's the look that more than anything else made me feel like I wanted to be a kid again. Though the kids on this show are slightly older than me--I was born in 1979, the show takes place in 1983. But I remember how pervasive this type of film was, so much that I remember really looking forward to being twelve years old because so many movies were making it seem like a great time to be alive.



From Twin Peaks, the show takes the concept of a small town reacting to the loss of a child with an emphasis on how marvellous it is, even as it's sad, that an entire town takes notice of and can grieve for the loss of one person. The announcement for an assembly being held at the high school for the missing child, Will, recalls the principal's announcement in the Twin Peaks pilot. The creators of Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers, had previously worked on Wayward Pines, a show that was unabashedly modelled on Twin Peaks, so I wonder if all the Twin Peaks echoes on Stranger Things were intentional or if the Duffer's heads had just been so in the Twin Peaks thought space for so long. Winona Ryder as Will's mother, Joyce, calling around to find out where Will was also couldn't fail to remind me of Sarah Palmer.



I think this might be the best Winona Ryder performance I've seen. Francis Ford Coppola's version of Dracula is one of my favourite movies but I understood the ruefulness with which he comments, on the DVD commentary, on how Ryder had told him she'd already basically done most of her scenes in Edward Scissorhands. Her portrayal of Joyce in Stranger Things is the most engaged I've seen her be with a role, I get the sense that she's fighting tooth and nail to prove she can do it.



I like the kids, the lead characters on the show. I like how they were cast to recall 80s casting trends. All of them seem to have big lips and excess saliva. They're not exactly like 80s movie kids; they're not as cruel, for one thing. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) being forced to stretch his arms by a couple bullies doesn't have the nervous and discomforting quality of Chunk in Goonies pressured to shake his large belly by his friends. But who would have the creative clout besides David Lynch to do something that extreme now? And should it be done? I'm not sure myself, partly because I remember not liking Goonies, the main reason I haven't watched it since the 80s. I probably ought to revisit it.

I will say that in contemplating the value of the show's nostalgia I got to thinking about the value of nostalgia filmmaking/tv making. I think Stranger Things might rise to being more than a collection of stylistic callbacks eventually but I would like to see some of its choices simply taken as good for themselves, regardless of the reason for they're being there, like the darker visual style.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


If the next Doctor is not a woman, Steven Moffat has done a good job making the people who avoid casting a woman look like massive dicks. That's a little flip but it's true and one of the takeaways from the bittersweet season finale of Doctor Who that aired to-day. If one thinks a bit about the plot, there are a lot of things that don't make sense but the thematic stuff is so good I kind of don't care. "The Doctor Falls" brings a new dimension to the season long focus on mentalities that regard other people as less then human to justify subjugation or murder, the most interesting thread in the episode relating to gender and even gender dysphoria.

Spoilers after the screenshot



I really didn't find John Simm half as annoying as he was under Russell T. Davies, maybe because now he's channelling Delgado and Ainsley so much, but also here he's working as a nice representation of resistance to the idea of a female Doctor along with empathy and femininity in general.

The Master: "Do as she says? Is the future going to be all girl?"

The Doctor: "We can only hope."

This seems a pretty loud and clear way of Moffat saying, yes, the next Doctor ought to be a woman. Moffat also uses Simm's Master to bully Bill (Pearl Mackie) on her gender, the above exchange arising from a subtle reconfiguring of the Cybermen, as a concept, to a socially enforced gender construct. The way Missy (Michelle Gomez) awkwardly apologises to the Master for calling Bill "her" is part of Missy perfectly being placed as the transition point, the people caught in an old fashioned view of gender realising that recognising someone's gender identity is truly more natural than trying to force one on them. Missy really has learned empathy, or gotten back in touch with it.



The episode is both about the experience of not being taken as what one sees oneself as and also about the pain involved in change. It's painful for Missy to face that she's not the Master anymore, it's painful for the Master to contemplate his future, and it's painful for the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to contemplate change again as he begins the process of regeneration.



Capaldi, it needs hardly be said, is magnificent in this episode, in big and small moments. His discomfort when trying to explain to Bill what's happened to her is so nicely layered with sadness and empathy. This episode actually invokes that word and the Doctor even mentions Donald Trump, making it clear that this season long theme has very much been motivated by the world's current political climate. It leads to a really fitting modification of the Third Doctor's phrase, "Where there's life there's hope" to "Where there's tears there's hope."



I loved the fact that Twelve gets to offer someone a jelly baby (he offered one in a cigarette case in his first season, like the Fourth in Face of Evil, but this time he was actually able to say it). I like it because, really, more Doctors should do it, there's no reason it should be so married to the Fourth--the Second was actually the first to do it--and I also liked it because it was like the Doctor taking the line back from Simm's Master who used it in one of his Russell T. Davies episodes.



Nardole (Matt Lucas) had a couple nice moments and his goodbye was good though it mostly made me wish more time had been taken to develop him over the season to earn his protestations about being likely to sell children on the black market.



One could say Bill's resolution is very much like Clara's only taken a step further--like Clara, Bill has died and been reborn and has gone off with another woman to have adventures, only Bill's relationship is explicitly romantic. And really sweet. I wish there'd been more build up of a relationship with Heather (Stephanie Hyam) but her appearance and the role in the resolution was so cool I'm willing to accept it. Now they're both water and, as Heather tells Bill directly, change has become for them something easy and fun.

I wonder if the appearance of David Bradley at the end was prompted by leaked set photos from the Christmas special. It made me curious to see how this unfolds, in any case. Bradley isn't that much like Hartnell but at least he's a good actor.

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