Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 6, Episode 13 – “Far Beyond the Stars” – The Ongoing Struggle For Justice and Equality

Ds9 Far Beyond the Stars

      “Far Beyond the Stars” is a masterpiece on so many levels and an episode where the trials and struggles of the 1960’s reveal themselves to sadly be just as true today. We are so far from the world of “Deep Space Nine” in not just our television but our science fiction books too, even if things have improved in some ways. This is an episode that has such a powerful point with some of the best writing and acting to come out of this series. The fact that Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) was also the director also lends more power to it when you look how focused on justice so much of Avery Brooks’s passion has gone towards post “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” On a final note before I get into the details, it is also a very meta and philosophical episode of Trek.

      “Far Beyond the Stars” was as stated above, directed by Avery Brooks with the teleplay by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler with story by Marc Scott Zicree.

     The story begins with Captain Sisko’s Father Joseph Sisko visiting the station as Ben is rethinking what difference he is actually making, as his friend died in a routine patrol of the Cardassian Border and the Dominion War looks as if it has no sign of ending. His father tells him he should think on it as he begins seeing people from the 1960’s before he is transported into the world of Benny, an African American Science Fiction Writer during the 1960’s where his story unfolds and realities keep colliding as they try to find out what’s going on “Deep Space Nine” as he faces the reality of the past in the life of Benny.

The Pros: Benny’s World – I love that they set in the 60’s and unlike the “Mad Men” version of the 60’s we get to see the lives of the middle class, the poor and people who aren’t of European descent. The world doesn’t pull any punches with every character being flawed and discrimination being widespread and enforced by the law. I’ll get into more of the details when I explore the characters though.

The Soundtrack – There is so much great jazz in this episode and so often the episode knows when to be silent, it isn’t standard recycled music and that really made the episode just that much stronger in the presentation and story.

The Characters – I’m only referring to the characters of Benny’s world in this instance since the only people really explored in Captain Sisko’s time are himself and his father. The characters of Benny’s world (played by the same actors who make salutes to their counterparts in personality and actions) are wonderful. They are distinct while still having the inspiration of “Deep Space Nine” (or vise versa as I’ll go into later).

Willie Hawkins – Michael Dorn plays the baseball player who shows us that it doesn’t matter if you are star athlete, housing ordinances are still just that and even though some whites want to see you play they don’t want you around (most housing ordinances weren’t ended until the 90’s and 80’s even). His way of dealing with it is flirting with everyone. His character is very confident and it’s fun to see. He knows he’s a star and Dorn does it very well.

Jimmy – Jimmy is a young African-american guy and friends with Benny and a bit of a hustler. The day he gets the opportunity for wealth the detectives Burt and Kevin murder him. They say it was for breaking into a car but based of their reaction of beating up Benny for even asking questions I sincerely doubt that. R.I.P. Jimmy. Sad thing is this still happens today. This scene is given more power given the actor plays Jake Sisko…Benjamin Sisko’s son in the series as a whole.

Cassie – Played by the actress who plays Captain Sisko’s wife Kasidy she is great in this as the woman who accepts discrimination (and Willie’s creeping) and wants to build a life that she feels is practical with Benny. To this end she’s working at owning the restaurant she works at and trying to get Benny to see it too. She’s super supportive of him and his writing though and takes care of him after the cops beat him up.

Kay Eaton – Kay is played by Nana Visitor who plays Major Kira and she is an author who writes under a name K.C. so people will think she is man. She is aware of the prejudice and inequality around her and can relate to Benny in that way. She’s more resigned than Benny though and doesn’t fight Pabst over the injustice of the Editors.

Herbert Rossoff – Rosoff played by Shimerman (who plays Quark) is the one person always clashing with Pabst (played by Rene who plays Odo) and is most vocal against the injustice of Benny’s story not being published and the editors shutting down the magazine for a month because of Benny’s black protagonist.

Douglas Pabst – Played by the actor who plays Odo, like Odo Pabst is all about the rules, even if they are unjust. He doesn’t care about injustice he cares about money and fires Benny when the Publishers choose not to run the stories. He isn’t even well intentioned he is all about the rules, just like Odo. He is the status quo and those who do nothing.

Benny Russell – Benny Russell is the one dreaming “Deep Space Nine” and the one being dreamed by Captain Sisko. He has victories like when Pabst accepts the story of “Deep Space Nine” being a dream. He is inspired by Delaney a gay African American writer whose story was rejected because his protagonist was mixed race. Benny the character is different in that he is working to be married with Cassie but his role becomes bigger after “The Preacher” reminds him of his role as a a symbol of the future and justice and making the story of “Captain Sisko” real by telling the story. This ends with him being put in a hospital though as he stands up to Pabst and cries out to be recognized as a human being.

Joseph Sisko – Joseph reminds his son Ben of how important it is to fight, which makes sense that he’d be the Preacher in Ben’s dream of Benny as he is calling Captain Sisko back to the struggle and making sure a just world remains or can come about…that life is bigger than those he has lost and himself.

Captain Sisko – Sisko is mourning the loss of his friend but after he dreams of Benny and realizes that Benny could have dreamed one another into reality realizes how important it is to fight and struggle against injustice, be it discrimination or the tyranny of the Dominion.

Honorary Mentions – Alamo (Dukat) and Combs (Weyoun) play corrupt detectives who are the ones responsible for killing Jimmy…and Meaney played a bumbling writer who liked robots. They weren’t bad characters but they weren’t explored some of the other characters were, which is why I’m giving them honorary mentions.

Easter Eggs – The Magazine they are writing for has “Star Trek: The Original Series” stories in it’s pages. Ranging from “The Cage” to “Where no One has Gone Before.” It’s a really cool salute to the past early science fiction as well as the ripple “Star Trek” created by it’s existence as a show during this time period.

The Meta Moments – The whole idea of “Deep Space Nine” all existing in the mind of Benny is very meta as “Deep Space Nine” existed in the writers who wrote the show. Benny is almost a stand in for them and the story they all sought to tell.

The Message – There are quite a few messages in this that stands out. The dreams of the present can become the dreams of the future and the dreams of the past remind us of what we still need and can accomplish. There is also the fact that injustice must be fought if anything is ever going to change and the power of story and how ideas can never die.

Representation and racism in the Past and Present – Delaney was an African-American Gay Black Science Fiction writer whose story was rejected by his racist publisher. Here is a great article that explores it and the lack of representation of people of color today: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121554/2015-hugo-awards-and-history-science-fiction-culture-wars

This article shows that Delaney’s story is still true in many ways today and it is certainly true on television and other forms media. Now I don’t know how much talking about it changes it, but sometimes it is the stories that do. Look at the influence “Star Trek” has had on the culture and with that the same potential other science fiction shows can have. What is the future we want to create?

The Potential Future – There will always be problems I think, maybe and hopefully not the same ones even if echoes of those same problems remain…but it is in our power to change them, for each generation to make those changes in how they live, the laws they make and how they and we treat our fellow human beings. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I hope for the future that “Deep Space Nine” represents.

Final Score: 10 / 10. One of the greatest stories to ever come out of “Star Trek” and still relevant to this day.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 17 – “The Northern Air Temple” – Safeguarding The Past and the People

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      This episode covers some of the issues of cultural appropriation and destruction that “The Promise” (one of the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comics covers). I’d say this episode does a good job of it too and that in this episode you really feel the loss of Aang’s people as he walks through the changed Air Temple. This is a sad and powerful episode as it is a story of the Aang and of the Refugees who have made the Northern Air Temple their home.

      “The Northern Air Temple” was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Elizabeth Welch Ehasz.

     The story involves Team Avatar stopping at the Northern Air Temple after Aang hears rumors about Airwalkers being alive and wants to see for himself. It turns out an inventor and his group or refugees have taken refuge there after their homes were destroyed by the Fire Nation. Their settling has lead to the destruction of much of the Temple which angers Aang and things get worse when he discovers that the Inventor is also a weapons maker for the Fire Nation. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: The Inventor – The inventor is a compelling character and Rene Auberjonois does a good job voicing this character as his character is complex, unlike the stereotype he played in “The Divide.” His care for his son is what leads to him revitalizing the Temple as a workshop where his people can fly now and he only sold weapons to the Fire Nation so his people would not be destroyed. This doesn’t stop him from standing up and fighting though or from forming a deep friendship with Sokka as their planning minds come up with the plan that defeats the Fire Nation forces that seek to destroy them and the temple.

Teo – Teo is the Inventor’s paraplegic son and he’s a great guy. Aang recognizes he has the “Spirit” of an Airbender and even makes him an honorary one when they go to the room that only Airbenders are supposed to be able to open. The guy is great and is a funloving kid who stands by his friends when the Fire Nation threatens them all and is the main part of the air force along with Aang.

The Fire Nation Army – There is a great battle in this! The Fire Nation has tanks that benders fire fire from and that can correct themselves when they’re turned over. They are only stopped by Katara’s Waterbending in the end and the Slimebombs from the War Balloon.

Sokka – Sokka works with the Inventor to get the War Balloon working that destroys the Fire Nation forces attacking the Temple. We seeing Planner Sokka in this episode and his dynamic with the Inventor is a lot of fun. He is a good strategist.

Katara – Katara is mostly support in this episode but we see her empathizing with both the refugees and Aang showing just how important both sides of this story are. She is our eyes in this episode and reminds us to remember the dead while caring for the living. She also destroys one of the Fire Nation Tanks in some pretty badass Waterbending.

Aang – Aang is fantastic in this episode! We hear how he used to play games at this Temple and had friends here before everyone died and he even makes friends with Teo, who reminds him of his Airbending friends of the past. He also makes the Inventor accountable and kicks out the Fire Nation who are using it as a base to build weapons. He is the moral core of his episode.

The Message – The message is that destruction of cultural artifacts is bad (Aang watches as the Northern Air Temple he once knew is completely changed by the Inventor and later how it’s being used to build weapons for the people who destroyed his people) but also that the dilemma of the Refugees must not be forgotten. Aang wants them to stay after the battle and realizes that he can help them remember his people while still focusing on the living so that Airbender Culture will not fully die. We also see some great cultural open mindedness when Aang takes in Teo as a honorary member of his tribe and recognizes his “Spirit” that was in the Airbender people.

   This episode was powerful, had stakes and dealt with important issues like safeguarding memories of the past, remembering the dead and taking care of the refugees. We see Aang and Team Avatar do all those things and even help fight off a Fire Nation assault. It’s an empowering episode that shows even in horrible circumstances, good can still be found and lived. Desperation does not always lead people to do bad, people can and do have a choice.

Final Score: 10 / 10. One of my favorites for sure after this.

Where the Buffalo Roam (1980): An Okay Hunter S. Thompson Film

Where the Buffalo Roam poster

         Hunter S. Thompson is a fascinating character, he was a journalist who critiqued the world around him and was always getting into trouble and messing with his own perception through the use of drugs. This of course has lead to some interesting books and films…the best of which thus far “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” which feels like a drug fueled trip. “Where the Buffalo Roam” is a much smarter film as far as story goes, but in many ways just as random which brings the story structure down. Beyond this I’ll get into why it’s okay, but not great in the assessment.

         “Where the Buffalo Roam” was directed by Art Linson, who also produced the film and written by John Kaye. The story is based on The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat and Strange Rumblings in Aztlan by Hunter S. Thompson.

        The premise of the film is Thompson recalling the adventures with his lawyer Lazlo and the situations and exploits they were a part of created. The story begins with Lazlo defending teenagers for possession of marijuana and fighting the prosecutor which leads to him being arrested. We than jump four years later, as Lazlo has grown popular and but goes missing and draws Thompson into his life again during Super Bowl VI. From here the story unfolds as they clash and we see how different they truly are in their idealism.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Music – Music is taken from the sixties, seventies and eighties which gives the movie a real lived in feel. Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” is played at some point, as well as some other classics. This was a pro for sure.

Lazlo – Lazlo is Thompson’s idealistic lawyer who gives us a glimpse of the many arms of the activist community during the sixties. This makes him a fascinating figure as we see him fight physically in a court room after a young kid gets 5 years to life for possession of marijuana. Lazlo is fighting to change it and stands by the activists. This is the good of the character, the darker side is when he joins some of the more violent movements and tries to create an isolated community in the middle of nowhere. It is here we see his selfish side comes out as he talks about saving a woman for Thompson (Really? She’s not a thing). I liked Del Toro in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” better in this role, but Peter Boyle does alright and is good at showing both the idealism and violence that made Lazlo who he was.

The Super Bowl – We see the guys who got the press passes go backstage drunk and say hello to their mom on live television, we see Thompson drunk and tripped up playing football with the staff and turning his room into a field and of course Lazlo arriving in a Nixon mask.

The Campaign Trail – This is after Lazlo has gone and Thompson adopts the identity of Harris (Rene Auberjonois) and get him tripped up on acid while he goes and talks to the Candidate and takes off his clothes in front him while advocating for the doomed while the Candidate tells him the “Doomed can fuck themselves.” You pretty much see how his charisma and crazyness is able to put people at ease to reveal themselves to him, making his stories interesting.

Harris – Rene Auberjonois (Odo from “Star Trek: Deep Space 9”) Does a great job as the nervous reporter from the Washington Post stuck in the crazy plane with all the activist journalists. He connects with Thompson though and Thompson’s hallucinatory drugs make him super relaxed and fun. Rene does a good job playing both the different parts and I wish we’d seen more of his character after what went down.

Hunter S. Thompson – Bill Murray does a good job humanizing Thompson and his perspective. What we see is a guy who is a bit of a troll and loves poking power and authority while standing up and helping the poor when he can, as well as just seeking a good time. All these parts of him are shown really well and we get that he’s a genius but not very responsible as he runs away from assignments (he gives his press pass to two strangers to get them into the Super Bowl) but he is aware enough to not join Lazlo’s violent cult that plans to kill those who disagree as he has violent people in his organization. Thompson never loses his idealism, and we see it in his conversation with students at a university where he doesn’t advocate for his lifestyle of drugs and insanity but tells them it worked for him. Murray brings an every man approach to the role that humanizes more than the insane Johnny Depp from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” though Depp is much more fun to watch because of his insanity.

The Cons: Cinematography – “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” felt like a drug trip, this film, even though Thompson is on drugs throughout it, is not. It is almost like the biographical approach was taken too literally in how it’s presented, which takes away from some of the more insane scenes…like spraying people on an  airplane, a drug addled game of football and others.

The Story Structure – Because Thompson is recounting the story, nothing feels at stake. No matter how crazy things get, we know he’ll get away. This is another way “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was better since we didn’t know that. It is also hard to see him his praise for Lazlo when at the end they are fighting all the time and Thompson clearly doesn’t like the revolutionaries after one of them beats up his own men and almost shoots up Lazlo’s cabin. If this is Lazlo’s story, it remains unfinished, so what was the point?

The Beginning – The story kicks off really slow and it is hard to sympathize with Thompson at first as we see him constantly skirting his responsibility and using random people. He becomes more sympathetic in contrast to Lazlo, but the story doesn’t start off making him endearing…even if he’s played by Bill Murray.

The Ending – The Ending just kind of ends, he leaves Lazlo again (when it wasn’t needed, he left him before when Lazlo and his group were getting weapons). It would have been stronger if Thompson had any desire to join the group, but we never see him wanting too. He enjoys what he gets from his work and being able to drink and do whatever drugs he wants while covering interesting events. So Lazlo’s temptation doesn’t really feel like a temptation, which again we see Thompson at his ranch so we can guess even earlier that never took Lazlo up on his offer.

      This movie was enjoyable, it was okay…but it wasn’t great. The story structure and how the film is presented don’t lend themselves will for getting fully invested in the different adventures and events. We in the end, have no reason to care about Lazlo and Thompson is interesting, but without a concrete structure it is hard to get invested in the events that unfold. Knowing he’s writing the story takes away from it too. If it was him writing his biography it should have been revealed at the end, so we wouldn’t know how things would end up in the end. I’d say see it if you like Hunter S. Thompson’s writing and like Bill Murray but if you don’t, you aren’t missing much.

Final Score: 7 / 10. Solidly okay.