Saturday, March 05, 2016

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Jason of Star Command: "Through the Stargate" (October 27, 1979)

The Tantalution story arc is now behind the series, and Jason of Star Command's second season continues with an episode entitled "Through the Stargate."  

Here, a minion of Dragos named Adron (Rod Loomis) pretends to be an ambassador so that his disabled ship, "The Space Flyer" can be repaired at an unsuspecting Star Command.

Jason rescues Adron after he experiences a blow-out in his engine. Specifically, Jason "piggybacks" the alien ship to Star Command in a dangerous, perfectly-timed maneuver.  

Once at command, Adron reveals a precious and "fragile" artifact aboard his ship, one that shares an emblem with Samantha's (Tamara Dobson necklace.  Thus, the artifact may be from her world, which she still can't recall because of amnesia. This similarity proves an irresistible mystery to the alien woman.

Soon, Samantha, Jason and Parsafoot use the artifact to transport to an alien world, one where they encounter a giant, injured creature, and nurse it to health. Soon however, Adron shows up too, and reveals his true form.  Before long, he traps his enemies in a cavernous prison edifice.

"Through the Stargate" features a new alien monster costume (Adron), a new stop-motion creature, and even a new spaceship miniature for the "Space Flyer."  Unfortunately, the moments set on the planet surface all look abundantly familiar. We've been to this sound stage and seen these rocks at least three times before during the second season.

Also, we seem to be in bit of a rerun, story-wise. 

In "The Power of the Star Disk" and "Secret of the Ancients" episodes, Parsafoot learned that an alien device was actually a matter transporter, and Dragos used it to strand the crew on a planet in another dimension.

In this episode, "Through the Stargate," yet another matter transmitter strands the heroes on another planet...and the same sound-stage to boot.  This planet, like its predecessor, seems to be set in another dimension, since Dragos tells Adron "We have intruders in your universe." All the same story elements are repeated, only this time, the narrative promises to reveal more about Samantha than Commander Stone.

The twin-highlights of this episode of Jason of Star Command are the piggy-back action sequence set in space (which forecasts a similar scene, done with CGI, in Star Trek: Insurrection [1998]) and Samantha's telepathic communication with the affectionate, stop-motion monster.  Otherwise, this is a case of been there, seen that.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Flash Gordon: "Adventure in Arboria" (November 3, 1979)

In the seventh chapter of the animated Filmation series Flash Gordon, Flash and his buddies Zarkov and Dale reach the shores of Arboria, but are quickly confronted there by a swarm of "Squirlons." 

In case you're wondering, these rabid animals are literally flying squirrels, and they make pterodactyl noises as they swoop around the Mongo jungle. Of course, right after Zarkov notes that Squirlon bites are fatal, he gets bitten by one.  The deadly bite soon begins to make him act in paranoid and irrational fashion. 

While Zarkov and Dale climb a tree to escape the flying squirrels, Flash attempts to dissuade the swarm from he starts a forest fire. I question the wisdom of initiating a forest fire in a kingdom that is one huge forest, but no matter. The Squirlons are repelled. Soon, however, the fire burns out of control.

With the Squirlons gone, Flash must rescue Dale and the increasingly deranged Zarkov from the forest fire he just set. They're all given atimely assist by Vultan and his Hawkmen, who fly in and shoot Barin's "ice arrows" into the fire, squelching it.

Now it's up to Flash and Dale (with the help of Barin and Thun) to cure Zarkov's fatal bite with a special Arborian root that grows only in deep caverns.  

Unfortunately, Ming the Merciless has sent his Metal Men Minions to intercept the good guys, spawning another battle...

Chapter Seven of Flash Gordon culminates with Zarkov cured, and Dale, Flash, Thun, Vultan and Barin "teamed" up to take on Ming the Merciless...again. Meanwhile, they have a secret, not-quite-trustworthy ally in Princess Aura.

Next week: "The Frozen World."

Friday, March 04, 2016

Book Review: It Can't Happen Here (1935)

Sinclair Lewis (1885 – 1951) was the first American writer to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, and the novelist’s most famous work to this day is It Can’t Happen Here. This work of fiction describes, in terrifying detail, how America becomes a fascist dictatorship.

The novel is set during the election season of 1935 – 1936 -- approximately 80 years ago -- and focuses on a journalist named Doremus Jessup as he watches national events unfold in a surprising way.

Specifically, a Democratic candidate, Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip” secures the nomination for the presidency away from incumbent Commander-in-Chief FDR, and then defeats Republican candidate Walt Trowbridge in the general election to gain control of the nation in 1936. 

After Inauguration Day, folksy Buzz Windrip declares martial law, relegates the Supreme Court and Congress to advisory status, and unlooses his armed “Minute Men” militia -- originally an “innocent” marching club -- upon the country.

American citizens who protest this turn of events are sent to labor camps while Windrip systematically scapegoats Jews, blacks, and women for the nation’s troubles. 

Soon, President Windrip and his PR advisor/deputy/minister-of-propaganda Lee Sarason abolish the names of the states, and partition America into administrative provinces for easier management. The Republican and Democratic Parties are outlawed, and one party replaces them: The American Corporate State and Patriotic Party. 

Leading members of this party become known as “Corpos.”

Watching America succumb quickly to fascism, Doremus joins up with the N.U (New Underground), which helps beleaguered American citizens escape to Canada.

In the end, the tyrant Windrip is run out of office, but Sarason first, and then another dictator follow in his footsteps.

At the end of the novel, America is still not a free country, and the ruling party wages war on Mexico as a distraction from the internal strife. 

After an apparent false-flag operation, the Party recruits a million American men to fight in the war on the border…

The Dictator: Buzz Windrip

A good starting place in any discussion of this Sinclair Lewis novel is the title.

“It Can’t Happen Here” is the resounding belief and refrain of many Americans in the book, who just don’t believe something as European -- and therefore alien -- as fascism can take hold in the United States.

It’s easy to see why, in the 1930s, Americans would have said “it can’t happen here.”

They watched as Mussolini and Hitler rose in distant lands, but because of language and cultural differences, simply couldn’t see such men assuming power in Washington D.C. 

One of the key conceits of It Can’t Happen Here is that American fascism -- while still fascism -- will be cloaked in different trappings. If it rises here, according to Lewis, it will do so draped in militant Christianity and fronted by a candidate boasting a “folksy," tell-it-like-it-is manner.

The dictator in the book, Buzz Windrip, for instance, likes to claim his birth-date is December 25, the day celebrating Christ’s birth.  He tells stories about himself that make him sound like a winner, like someone amazing.

In addition to his (false) proclamations about his pious religious nature, Windrup relies on homespun wisdom and colloquial speech to meaningfully connect with the “masses” suffering in the Great Depression. 

In other words, he's a populist.

I try to make my speech as simple and direct as those of the Child Jesus talking to the Doctors in the Temples,” he declares at one point, again comparing himself directly to Christ.

Windrip’s appearance and attire are similarly deceptive in their home-spun nature.

The politician is known, for example to wear a “ten gallon hat” -- meaning a cowboy hat -- and he flaunts his ignorance and bad academic grades. 

Windrip likes to tell people the story of how a teacher once called him “the thickest-headed dunce in school.”

In short, this fictional fascist dictator evidences what Sinclair describes as an “earthy, American sense of humor.” 

At one point, the author even compares Windrip’s style to Mark Twain. In this fashion, the reader sees how homegrown fascism would look very different in America, from the model across the world.

Windrip’s characteristics purposefully align him with the less-educated “common men” who support him. Like them, he has a disregard for learning and flaunts a no-nothing attitude.

For instance, Windrip decries diplomacy, calling it “talky-talk” and notes that America is only “wasting our time at Geneva.” 

When he complains and bullies the press, he refers to journalists as “wishily-washily liberal.

The new President of It Can’t Happen Here also derides so-called elites in other ways. 

He dislikes “haughty megapolises” such as New York and Washington D.C., and to assure that the intelligentsia doesn’t get out of hand he even re-writes college curricula to be “entirely practical and modern, free of all snobbish tradition.”

Lewis describes the America dictator, in fact, as a “professional common man,” one who speaks so that all other “commoners would understand his every purpose, which was exactly the same as their own.” 

And when he seeks power, accordingly, Windrip does so for his brothers, not for himself…or so he claims

I do want power – great, big imperial power – but not for myself, for you!” He declares. His promise? To somehow recreate the past, a time when the people who are suffering now were doing great.

His Policies

Windrip assumes control of the White House in 1937 according to It Can’t Happen Here, and establishes fifteen policy goals.

Among these policies is the creation of a Central Bank -- to be administrated by a Board appointed directly by the President. 

Also, Windrip seeks the establishment of a commission to determine which labor unions are “qualified” to represent workers… again answerable to the President. 

Both these policies are crucial ones vis-à-vis fascism: the centralization of authority or power in one person.

Very significantly, Windrip’s platform demands the absolute freedom of religious worship, and a maximum wage. 

It is this latter promise that the wages of millionaires will be capped and that veterans will receive a stipend -- wealth distribution, essentially -- that carries Windrip to the Oval Office in Lewis’s text.

Furthermore, Windrip’s platform targets certain demographics. 

Women, for instance, may work as nurses or in other “feminine” settings such as “beauty parlors,” but otherwise must return to the home to raise children. Typically, women are not valued in a fascist state, except as they can give birth to loyal and strong soldiers.

African-Americans, meanwhile, are to be prohibited from “voting, holding public office, practicing law, medicine, or teaching any class above the grade of grammar school.”  Windrip's supporters seek a return to pre-Civil War society, before the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves.

Furthermore, all African-Americans are to be taxed 100% of all income in excess of 10,000 dollars per family, a year.  Here, we see that a fascist philosophy believes it is appropriate to limit the right to vote to certain groups of people, so as to hold on to power.

As mentioned above, absolute freedom of religious worship is protected in Windrip’s platform, but there’s an important caveat.

No atheist, Jew, or “believer in Black Magic” shall be able to hold office until first swearing allegiance to the New Testament.  

In other words, you have to be a Christian to enjoy absolute religious freedom in Windrip’s America.

If one wonders why Windrip’s agenda specifically targets women, blacks, and non-Christians, it is because, in Sinclair Lewis’s words, “every man is a king so long as he has someone to look down on.” 

Fascism thrives, we can discern, when there is an enemy to hate, and an “inferior” to lord it over. 

Furthermore, any socialist, communist or anarchist in Windrip's America is to be tried for high treason. The minimum penalty upon conviction is 20 years in a labor camp, and the maximum penalty is death by hanging, or whatever method the judge in the case happens to find convenient.

In terms of the other branches of government, Congress will serve only in an advisory capacity and The Supreme Court shall have “removed from its jurisdiction” the power to rule the president’s actions unconstitutional, according to Windrip’s plan.

Finally, Windrip’s agenda includes “consistently” enlarging the military of the United States until it shall equal “the martial strength of any other single country or empire in the world.”

Actions Once in Office

After Windrip takes the oath of office in It Can’t Happen Here, he establishes a new cabinet position: Secretary of Education and Public Relations. In other words, this is the propaganda division of the re-formed U.S. government.

Then “The Chief,” as Windrip is called, disbands Congress with his re-branded“Shock Troops of Freedom,” the Minute Men, whom he has ordered recognized as an “official auxiliary of the regular army.” 

The Minute Men are issued machine guns, rifles, bayonets and other weapons.

It is clear that Windrip and his PR Man, Sarason, also understand the value of imagery and symbols. 

The Minute Men wear white uniforms and their ubiquitous symbol is a five-pointed star, like the one on the American flag. Obviously, there's a corollary for the use of this symbol in history, vis-a-vis the Swastika.

In this new America, the unemployed are sent to labor camps and paid a dollar a day for their work.  Unfortunately, it costs them between 70 and 90 cents a day for their room and board in the camp…

This is the new reality of President Windrip’s America.

Lewis writes: “There was a certain discontentment among people who had once owned motorcars and bathrooms and eaten meat twice daily, at having to walk ten or twenty miles a day, bathe once a week, along with fifty others, in a long trough, get meat only twice a week…and sleep in bunks, a hundred in a room.” (page 188).

Historical Context

FDR is one real-life historical figure featured in It Can’t Happen Here. He loses in a primary his bid for a second term because he can’t end the Depression quickly enough for the taste of many suffering citizens. 

Instead, FDR starts a new party, the “Jeffersonian” Party, which represents “integrity and reason.”

However, this is the wrong approach for the time, according to Lewis because this particular election year is about an electorate hungering for “frisky emotions.”  The public is angry, and desires a leader to channel that anger.

What Lewis hints at, then, is that fascism is a philosophy that hinges on emotions such as anger and resentment, and which isn’t, ultimately, susceptible to reason.  

Once you understand that resentment and other emotions are key to fascism, it is clear that the logic, and even the former positions of the dictator are largely unimportant.  He is a strong-man, one whose rage, not reason, is responsible for his popularity.

In the text, one of Windrip’s key supporters is Bishop Prang, a character based on real-life radio personality Father Charles Coughlin (1891 – 1979). 

Coughlin was a fierce anti-communist, a position which led him to come perilously close to advocating for the policies of Hitler or Mussolini at some points.  Coughlin was also apparently, anti-Jew, a quality reflected in his comment: “When we get through with the Jews in America, they'll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.

“The Chief” -- Windrip himself -- is loosely based on Huey Long (1893 -1935), the Democratic governor of Louisiana from 1928 – 1932, and a U.S. Senator from 1932 - 1935.  In fact, Long had planned to challenge Roosevelt for the presidency in 1936, but was assassinated in 1935. 

His platform called “Share the Wealth” featured elements of Windrip’s “maximum wage” plank.

I suppose the big question about It Can’t Happen Here involves how the American people could possibly let a fascist government come to power. 

In the first case, there is denial among the regular folk (hence the title…).  Nobody takes the threat of the fascist candidate seriously until it is too late to stop his ascent.

Secondly, It Can’t Happen Here suggests that fascism comes to a nation when the people are suffering and poor, and looking to blame someone for their situation.  In such a context, a strong-man who promises quick remedy, and does so with apparent “common sense,” “earthy” humor, and religious piety is difficult to resist. 

One of the reasons that It Can’t Happen Here is so abundantly worth reading today is that the issues it addresses have not disappeared. In fact, the book is scarily prophetic.

It Can’t Happen Here is a cautionary tale about what a lack of vigilance could bring to America if the so-called "poorly educated" get very angry, and tempers run irrationally hot; if experience and wisdom are no longer valued by voters and a strong man -- an authoritarian -- is sought.

For eighty years, Lewis's story has remained a cautionary tale, a fantasy. If we are vigilant, careful and informed, we have nothing to worry about.

Long may that be the case.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Die Hard on a Blog: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

The final Die Hard movie -- so far anyway -- proved a giant hit at the box office, and yet drew the worst reviews of the franchise.  A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) also returns Bruce Willis to his most famous role, cop John McClane, and sends him, for the first time, out of the United States, for one of his demolition derbies.

The fish-out-of-water aspect of the series is left intact, then, as John goes to Moscow to save his grown son, Jack (Jai Courtney), a spy, from danger. The “buddy” element of the franchise, which shows up in Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), and Live Free or Die Hard (2007) is thus satisfied,, too with a resentful son trading caustic quips with Daddy McClane.

The plot is also familiar in terms of other long-standing Die Hard conceits. A man who appears to be a legitimate political dissident, Koromov (Sebastian Koch), is actually just a glorified thief.  

As McClane aptly notes during the film’s action, it’s “always about the money.”

A Good Day to Die Hard is the weakest of the Die Hard films, despite its nods to series standards, for a few crucial reasons. The first involves the action.  It is quite impressive and spectacular at times, especially a car chase on a Moscow highway. And yet the action seems to possess the least visceral impact possible. There's something distant and remote about it all. Sure, there is plenty of shooting, jumping, crashing and exploding in this sequel...yet somehow it seems totally routine and un-engaging.

The routine, ho-hum nature of the violence actually made me miss McClane surfing on a jet plane, in Live Free or Die Hard. That's how un-impactful it all feels.

A part of the problem be the aforementioned epic or spectacular scope, actually. As I’ve written in my other reviews, the Die Hard aesthetic altered the path of action films for a generation. Before Die Hard in '88, action stars were muscle-bound goliaths like Stallone or Schwarzenegger. The characters they often played seemed downright indestructible.

Die Hard flipped the script and gave us a very vulnerable -- but determined -- every-man hero in Willis’s fit but not steroidal John McClane.  He wasn't a muscle-man, he was one of us.

Yet the sad path of the franchise -- as I hope I have demonstrated in my reviews -- is a slippery slope towards mitigating the protagonist's defining characteristic: his mortality.  

In this film, McClane survives crashes, fireballs, collapsing skyscrapers -- and the radiation of Chernobyl -- with just light scratches.  Willis is also the most restrained and unemotional he has ever been in his trademark role, and taken together, it’s a lethal combination.  McClane might as well be a smirking robot at this point.

Actually, A Good Day to Die Hard is a lot like a Bourne movie: international in its locations, epic in its stunts, and featuring a kind of inscrutable figure as its star. 

But John McClane isn’t suffering from amnesia and searching for his identity, like Bourne was.

Unfortunately, the screen writers seem to be suffering from amnesia. They appear to have forgotten which franchise they are writing for.

“Well, it’s confusing…”

When John McClane (Willis) learns that his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney) is in some kind of legal trouble in Russia, he hops a plane to Moscow to help out.

In truth, Jack is a U.S. spy working to extradite a dissident named Komarov (Koch) who possesses a data file that could provide hard evidence that the Russian defense minister is conducting illegal business.

Jack and John reunite, and rescue Komarov, but learn that he is in league with his daughter, Irina (Yuliya Sniger) on a daring heist.  In particular, they plan to rob a vault in Chernobyl, and procure weapon-grade uranium for sale on the black market.

Now -- without back-up or allies -- John and Jack must put their differences aside, travel to Chernobyl, and stop the Russian father-daughter combo from making the uranium available to terrorists.

“You’re out of your depth, John.”

The first truly international Die Hard is a disappointment. 

Throughout its history, the franchise has featured sharp writing and real clarity (not to mention brevity) in terms of crafting memorable characters. Sadly, this film gets mired down very quickly in Russian politics and power struggles, generating a feeling of boredom and ennui with the proceedings. 

I can understand choosing to pick up and run with the idea of John as a fish out of water again (as he was in L.A., in the 1988 original) but I can’t imagine why the decision was made to inject him into the thoroughly uninspiring business with Russian gangsters. We get long scenes here of Russian competitors threatening one another, and vying for superiority. Ultimately, it's all wasted time.

A Good Day to Die Hard also sets its finale, implausibly, in Chernobyl, and keeps John and Jack there for a good length of time. John asks if he is in any danger from the radiation, but never gets a satisfactory answer except that he could lose his hair. 

I’ll give him a response. 

He is in no danger, at all, because he has become an indestructible character at this point.

This John McClane can survive the collapse of buildings, fireballs, and yes, any radiation he might happen to pick up. The final act of A Good Day to Die Hard is so implausible and over-the-top that it is breathtaking in its cartoon dimensions.  Jack has apparently been gifted with his Dad’s indestructible DNA, and he survives all the same disasters too, while hardly breaking a sweat.

I can’t claim that the action is particularly badly filmed, or poorly orchestrated and edited. All I can claim is that the action doesn’t create any sense of pace or involvements.  I keep coming back to that elaborate street chase in Moscow.  

The stunts are great in that chase.  So why doesn’t it prove thrilling?  Why doesn’t it get the blood running? Why is the enjoyment of it only intellectual in nature, a recognition that the scene must have been a bear to orchestrate?

The only answer I can provide is that the audience doesn’t feel invested in the story, or the characters. 

And that’s probably the worst thing one could say about a Die Hard movie, since the franchise has always banked on the appeal of its funny, edgy, wise-cracking hero. 

But McClane is just a shadow of his former self here, sullen and quiet. He seems disengaged. 

I appreciate that the character wants to reconcile with his son, but McClane seems, well, highly medicated in this outing.  He doesn’t seem fully there, and so the audience is never fully engaged either.

Though I have made my feelings plain that this is my least favorite Die Hard movie, I feel I should note that it may not be quite as “rotten” as some critics claim.  Like the other films, it is competently made.  It’s just that -- unlike the other films in the franchise -- it feels heart-less and soulless.  There's something rote about it. For me it is a "C-" or thereabouts. But the rest of the films earned much higher than barely-passing grades.

One aspect of A Good Day to Die Hard that I enjoyed is the nearly sub-textual fascination with the 1980s…the era from which the John McClane saga sprang. 

This movie goes back to Chernobyl and reminds us of the disaster that occurred there (in franchise time, just a year or two before the Nakatomi Plaza incident). And one villain has the audacity to tell John “It’s not 1986, Reagan is dead.”

Perhaps, encoded in that line of dialogue, is the intent on the part of the writers and the directors, to update John for the post-9/11 Era; to bring McClane firmly and irrevocably into the 21st century. 

I like the call-back to John’s beginning as an action-hero, and the acknowledgment that the Die Hard films have long since outlived their original context.

But the problem, again, is that no worthy paradigm replaces the old Die Hard one here. The Jason Bourne movies are their own thing, and have cast, already, a spell on the look and feel of modern Bond movies.  I see no motivating reason to import that aesthetic to Die Hard.

Already, that paradigm feels old and used up, and so A Good Day to Die Hard doesn’t gain anything from its sense of seriousness, or even from the international canvas.

How else can I put this?

It’s not a good day for Die Hard.  

My recommendation: bring John and the franchise home. And someone wake up Bruce Willis.

Movie Trailer: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

What Happens Next? Speculation about The X-Files, Season 11

This is the first Wednesday in five weeks that I haven't had the pleasure of reviewing a new episode of The X-Files.  It's a little disappointing.

But with the six-episode revival behind us, it is time to dig deep into "My Struggle II" and begin to look at what comes next, or more accurately, what could come next.

A little speculation is healthy, right?  At the very least, it passes the time until Season 11.

The first question I have seen raised is a good one:  Why is Mulder sick?

That question comes about because we learned in the sixth/seventh season of The X-Files that Mulder was becoming an alien/human hybrid.  

That's the very thing that the Cigarette Smoking Man and the Syndicate had been attempting to create for fifty years. Mulder's "alien" aspect was activated, in particular, by his proximity to the alien saucer discovered on the Ivory Coast in "Biogenesis" (May 16, 1999).  

We saw in the seventh season of the series, in "The Sixth Extinction"/"Amor Fati," (November 14, 1999) that The Cigarette Smoking Man coveted Mulder's status as a hybrid (and savior of mankind), and wanted to be that biological hybrid, himself.  

Accordingly, Mulder was captured by CSM, and experiments were completed to remove the alien DNA from him, apparently, and give it to CSM instead.

So one possible answer for Mulder's illness in "My Struggle" is simply that he no longer possesses the alien DNA that would have saved his life.  It was removed from him back in 1999.

Another, perhaps more complex answer, involves the aliens that abducted Mulder in Season 8 of The X-Files. 

Perhaps, at that point, Mulder still possessed alien DNA, or remnants of alien DNA, but the aliens -- who were converting him into a Super Soldier/Sleeper Agent, essentially -- removed it from him.  

Those aliens, infiltrating the U.S. government, were making an alien replacement of Mulder, essentially, in case you have forgotten.  He would still look and act like Mulder; he would still walk among us. But he would be an "invader."

That process was hindered, however, when Scully saved Mulder...who had been pronounced dead and was even buried in a cemetery. His body had to be exhumed, and only then, was Scully able to stop the super soldier process. 

It is possible that by interfering with this process or development, Scully inhibited the alien DNA Mulder still possessed. 

Or, it is possible that the act of "dying" actually de-activated the alien DNA in Mulder. 

Basically, this mystery is one that can be easily solved using established X-Files continuity. Mulder did possess alien DNA at some point, but has been through so much -- whether human or alien experimentation, or even death itself -- that said DNA is now inert, and requires stem cells from William to be reactivated.

The second question involves Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish).  Why would this trusting, brave agent -- who has always stood her ground, no matter what -- cave to CSM for the mere promise of survival?

I have seen Monica's behavior in "My Struggle II" described as "character assassination" in some quarters, but I feel very strongly that we haven't seen the whole story regarding her apparent betrayal. 

In the first case, who has Monica actually betrayed here?  

In one sense, Reyes has positioned herself brilliantly as a double agent.  She reports to the CSM so -- at the right time -- she can inform Scully about what is going on, and how to stop it. The person she actually betrays?  CSM! 

In one sense, Monica's act of "betrayal" is actually incredibly self-less.  Upon learning that CSM is alive, she keeps him close, watching his every move. As soon as the final strategy is launched, her first act is to contact Scully.  Scully calls her a coward and is quite harsh with her, but in fact, Monica is the one who has made a cure possible.

Assuming you don't buy that explanation, ask yourself if CSM had some additional leverage over Monica that hasn't yet been revealed.

Then ask yourself who we didn't see in this revival.

The answer? John Doggett.

Is it possible that CSM has done something horrible to John Doggett, and is holding him hostage, to keep Monica under his thumb?  

This answer not only explains Doggett's absence (and exonerates Monica, basically), it leaves an opening for Robert Patrick to return to the series in some capacity.  

Furthermore, there is history in the Chris Carter universe of betrayals of this nature. Remember in the third season of Millennium how Emma Hollis was coerced into joining the Millennium Group by the promise of an Alzheimer's cure for her failing father?  

It is possible Monica faced a similar devil's bargain here.  We just may not know what she was bargaining for.

I confess, I want to know more on this front because I am huge fan of Monica Reyes, and have never imagined, even for a second, that she places such a premium on personal survival that she would sacrifice the rest of humanity for it.

There is, however, one other grim possibility. 

 The X-Files episode "Hellbound" (January 27, 2002), reveals that Monica is the reincarnated soul of someone involved in a terrible incident: a bloody, mass murder from 1868.  

Her soul has returned to this mortal coil, connected to that event, in incidents in 1909 and 1960.  

In 2002, Monica learned of this vicious circle and was informed, by the murderer that her soul is always the same; always notable for one thing: failure.  

In 2002, Monica overcomes this deficit and solves the longstanding murder case, ending -- we presume -- the cycle of violent death and reincarnation. 

Is it possible that having over-turned her intended destiny in 2002, Monica dooms herself to it again in 2016? That she fails when she is needed the most -- to save the human race?

I hope that's not the case, but surely this is something about the character's history we can't simply ignore.  If Monica is destined to fail, then her siding with the CSM is not an accident.  It is fate.

Question #3: What exactly does Scully see, above her, on the bridge? An ARV or a UFO?

This question revolves around the ship that targets Scully in the closing moments of "My Struggle II."  Is it an ARV, like we saw in "My Struggle," or is it an actual alien craft?

If it is an ARV (alien replica vehicle) it is undoubtedly there to kill Scully. 

She has created a vaccine to the engineered plague, and is therefore a grave threat to the CSM's strategy.   

It makes sense that the new conspiracy would target Scully, and take her out.  

Remember how "My Struggle II" actually book-ends "My Struggle I," structurally-speaking?  In the first episode, Mulder recounted his history. In the last, Scully recounted hers.  Well, in the first episode, we get a person with alien DNA, Sveta, murdered by an ARV. 

And in the book-end, "My Struggle II," we see the ARV targeting another person with alien DNA: Scully.

Or, contrarily, the ship in the night sky could be legitimately alien in nature, and thus our introduction to a force not explored in the six part revival series: aliens.  Perhaps the aliens have come to Earth, watching the plague unfold, and are also interested in Scully's activities.

Why would they be?  

Well,  she is the fruition of the CSM's work with the Syndicate. She is a human/alien hybrid, who has created a vaccine using it.  That's what the CSM was after all along, and what the aliens -- under no circumstances -- want humans to possess.

Check out Christopher Loring Knowles' brilliant explanation of this possible story twist at The Secret Sun, here.  He lays out a whole new "conspiracy" arc theory, based on the Mytharc, that makes total sense.

Next week, I'll speculate a little more -- based on "My Struggle II" -- about William, and the future of this provocative revival series.

In the meantime, be certain to check out Matt Allair's exclusive interview with writer/director James Wong, now posted at The X-Files Lexicon.

Pop Art: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters Coloring Book (Saalfield)

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters GAF Viewmaster

Board Game of the Week: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (Milton Bradley)

Lunch Box of the Week: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters

Theme Song of the Week: Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1975)

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Miri" (October 27, 1966)

Stardate: 2713.5

The Enterprise encounters an Earth-style distress S.O.S. and traces its origin to the third planet of a system hundreds of light years from Earth.  The planet is an exact duplicate of Earth as it existed in the 1960s. The planet, however is sparsely populated.

A landing party beams down to the planet and discover that all the adults on the planet are long-dead.  Strangely, there are packs of wild children still alive; children who are actually 300 years old, but who contract a deadly disease upon the onset of puberty

As Kirk (William Shatner) and the others learn, piecing together information from a teenage girl name Miri (Kim Darby), this strange set of circumstances came about when scientists on the parallel Earth undertook a project in “life prolongation.”

When Kirk, Bones (De Forest Kelley), Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) and the other humans in the landing party contract the disease, they realize they have only days left before the onset of dementia and an agonizing death. 

And unfortunately, Miri’s friends have stolen their communicators as part of a game, because these ancient children don’t like “grups” (grown-ups). Now they can’t even contact the ship for help in determining if an antidote is fatal.

Finally, Kirk must confront the children about the truth of their existence, and a disease that extends childhood…but never allows one to grow up.

“Miri” is a strange and affecting Peter Pan story. It acknowledges that there’s a strange duality in being young. 

For a time, it seems that childhood lasts forever…and we want it to do so There is nothing more like paradise than the first day of summer vacation…the promise of so many days ahead filled with endless play and games.

But then, as adolescence looms, it seems we can’t grow up and be independent fast enough. Childhood seems like a prison at that point, not the ultimate freedom. We count the days until we can escape curfews and house rules, and chart our own destiny.

What once seemed like paradise now seems like damnation.

This episode of Star Trek (1966 – 1969) takes as the title character a young woman, played beautifully by Kim Darby, who has half-crossed that bridge from childhood to adulthood. Childish things are now behind Miri, and she longs for an adult life. But because of the disease on her planet, she will never reach that threshold.

When Miri grows up, she dies. She has waited quite a long time to reach a destination that she will never see, at least for any length of time. This is her tragedy, though the good people of the Enterprise help her escape the trap.  Her dilemma, however, is haunting.  Miri is very much alone when Kirk and the others first meet her, an outcast who doesn't belong to the world of adults or the world of children.

In a way, Miri is the female counterpart for Charlie Evans ("Charlie X"), and so this segment is thus the second episode in Trek's first season that contends with adolescence as a time of great capriciousness. 

The notion of children running a society on their own, often quite cruelly, is a science fiction and literary trope. We saw the concept play out in William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, for example. After Trek, the idea appeared on other science fiction series, including The Starlost (1973) and the episode "The Children of Methuselah."

This situation encountered by the Enterprise in “Miri” could be a metaphor for many things, but it seems a perfect reflection of human life. 

What children don’t always recognize in their longing to “grow up” is that adulthood -- while freeing in terms of decision-making and independence, at least for a while -- is also about shackling one’s self to a certain set of variables or responsibilities. 

You need a job. You need a place to live. You need a car. 

The freedom you imagined is, instead, a kind of soul death where your childhood dreams go to curl up and die.  This is especially true for those with an artistic bent. Want to be a musician, a writer, or an actor?  Be prepared to do a lot of lousy jobs to support your dream. Few kids imagine that truth.

Similarly, the Grups in “Miri” are combative, delusional monsters who just want to fight with another. This seems to suggest that brand of the freedom represented by adulthood is wasted on grown-ups. 

Once ensconced in maturity, grown-ups long for the childhood they once had -- like the disfigured Grup with his broken tricycle -- and now spend their days acting like raving maniacs. 

Miri describes Grups as people who burn, yell and hurt people, a good indictment of some bitter grown-ups, especially today. When one looks at the anger seething right now in this country, one has to wonder what our children make of the so-called "adults."

Like last week’s story, “What Are Little Girls Made Of,” there is a distinctly conservative bent to this episode of Star Trek

The people of Miri’s planet made a grave mistake when they sought to change nature; to pursue immortality through their life prolongation project. They showed hubris or pride in believing that they could over-write nature’s plan, and for their folly the planet was destroyed.  They thought they could substitute their wisdom for the wisdom of God or Mother Nature.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy provide an antidote that restores the previous status-quo; giving the children a natural life-span to live out, rather than the dreamed-of immortality.  In other words, they re-boot in the society in terms of its original design.

The message is quite explicitly that science, medicine and technology can go too far, and so should be viewed warily.  It’s funny for a show about the future -- one that depends so fully on advanced technology -- to take this view, but I understand it.  

Star Trek is about human beings learning to face the mysteries of the final frontier while maintaining their essential human nature.  And that nature, episodes such as “Miri” remind us, is mortal.  The fact that we grow old and die is part of our essential make-up.  Indeed, we count our lives as worth living in part because we realize they won’t last forever. What drives us is the need to achieve great things in the time given us.

Still, I wouldn’t be averse to living for 200 years or so, assuming no plague is created by doctors in giving me that opportunity…

“Miri” is also a kind of second (or is it third?) pilot for Star Trek, in that it is the first in an intended series of “Parallel Earth” stories. 

In these (projected) money-saving type stories, the Enterprise encounters planets that are duplicates of Earth, but ones that veered off of our “chosen” destiny in some key way. 

In “Miri,” the quest for immortality releases a deadly plague that is a “veritable soup of bacteria” destroying the human race, mostly, at a 1960s level of technological development.  

From a production standpoint, these stories are cheap to do because they utilize standing studio sets.

However, I think we can be grateful that no other “Parallel Earth” stories are told in quite this fashion, with the Enterprise encountering exact duplicates of our planet in the distant heavens.  

“A Piece of the Action” and “Patterns of Force” are about alien worlds contaminated by contact with Earth culture, rather than planetary duplicates that spontaneously exist in other solar systems. 

“Bread and Circuses” isn’t set on a duplicate Earth, but rather an alien planet that mirrors the rise of human culture on Earth. Perhaps that’s splitting hairs, but I think it would be awful if Star Trek featured every few weeks, a duplicate Earth. I'm glad the series didn't go that way.

“Miri” does set a trend in Star Trek storytelling in terms of another factor: language.  

In this episode, Kirk and his crew encounter children who have adopted their own slang or vocabulary.  Not merely “Grups,” but “Onlies” and Foolies” too.  The crew must decipher these words as part of their method of understanding another culture.  This notion recurs in “The Omega Glory” with the Yangs (Yankees) and Kohms (Communists), and even in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) with V’ger (Voyager).  

The answer to each story’s particular riddle involves an understanding of language, in all cases, a mangled “code” that no longer functions entirely as it should. The key is to crack the code.

Next week: “Dagger of the Mind.”