Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 6, Episode 26 – “Descent, Part 1” – Anger is the Path to the Dark Side

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     “Descent” is our first time seeing the Borg since “I, Borg” and in this we see how they have changed. I wish this had been a bigger deal. This is a Data episode, as is “Part 2” of “Descent.” I’m doing that as separate episode reviews since one comes at the beginning of the season, while the other appears at the end of a season. Both episodes hold a lot of promise that could have been more fully realized, which I will get into further into the review.

“Descent Part 1” was directed by Alexander Singer with story by Jeri Taylor and Teleplay by Ronald Moore.

The story follows Data who feels anger after a Borg attack on an outpost. The Borg are acting out of character and the crew must face the consequence of this new threat, while Data begins exploring himself.

SPOILERS ahead

Pros:

The New Borg – We are introduced to new Borg in this who from all appearances are simply driven by the desire to kill. It is a strange twist given their desire to assimilate and gives us a good mystery to start everything off. We know how strong Borg technology is, so if they are simply a destructive force than how devastating could it get? This is a good idea, sadly the idea is not fully realized.

Consequences of “I, Borg” – Admiral Nechayev shows up and is not happy with Picard for letting Hugh go in “I, Borg” as these new Borg are a direct consequence of having individuality. I liked that Starfleet is not behind the Picard as it raises the stakes for the rest of the story going forward. We also see how unintended consequences play out in an interesting light.

Temptation of Data – The main arc of this episode is Data finally feeling something and not knowing what to think about it, given it clashes with his ethical programming. He felt anger and pleasure at killing a Borg and in the end when no one calls him out on this being bad fully goes down the path of “The Dark Side.” We have Data the Sith Lord by the end of this episode because no one told him feeling anger is wrong and tried to help him find other ways to explore his exploration to be human.

The Cons:

Purpose of the New Borg – They just kill and to no end. Crosis, who is the Borg who is captured is there to tempt Data, but we get nothing of his own motivations. What is the point of changing to Borg if you won’t explore what individuality even means? This idea is just sitting around the entire episode and is never delved deeper.

Not Enough Concern for Data – If anyone had told Data that killing in anger is wrong this whole episode would have been prevented. Sadly there isn’t enough concern for Data, even after he relieves himself of duty that a crazy Borg is able to corrupt him. This was the crew dropping the ball.

The fall of Data is interesting but not explored nearly as well as it could have been. Why does he want to be angry? He knows that to be human is to feel more than one emotion. Also, what motivates the Borg? We know who their leader by the end (Lore) but none of their motivations. All this is wasted in the episode given how much time we spend with Data and with one of the new Borg named Crosis. Crosis could have been a fully realized character too, but he has no agenda beyond tempting Data and has no will of his own as we discover in the end he is just a pawn of Lore. This episode was enjoyable but never rose to great. It was so many missed opportunities.

7 / 10 This episode was enjoyable but was largely unexplored potential of a few ideas.

Star Trek VIII: First Contact (1996) – Of Facing Trauma and the Quest for Betterment

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“Star Trek: First Contact” is the best of “The Next Generation” films. For me this isn’t initially doesn’t sound like much as I don’t think the others are good. They range from okay to awful for me where this was legitimately a great film. It isn’t perfect by any means, the ending kind of falls apart for one but this feels like an ensemble show. All the crew of Enterprise has a moment and many of them get the chance to grow and change over the course of the film. I’ll get into more of what I mean deeper into the review. As a kid this film freaked me out as this film presented how truly terrifying it would be to be assimilated by the Borg, and why they are one of the greatest threats in “Star Trek.”

The film was written by Brannon Bragga and Ronald D. Moore and directed by Jonathan Frakes.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise-E when the Borg attack Earth. In order stop the Borg from winning they must go back in time to stop them and make sure that “First Contact” between the Vulcans and Humans still happens at the right time.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Enterprise-E – The Enterprise-E is a beautiful ship. It has the torpedo look of Voyager while still having the curving appearance that most models of the Enterprise have. It is a powerful ship and you can see why it is the flagship as it barely takes any damage from the Borg Cube and does enough damage to the Cube that the Sphere has to be shot out and a time travel plan initiated. The bridge is much more military, reflecting a Dominion era ship, and the different rooms feel more mechanical and less like a lounge like on the Enterprise-D. Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite ships to come out of Trek.

Guest Appearances – Robert Picardo, the Doctor on “Voyager” appears as the Enterprise-E to stall the Borg and Ethan Phillips who plays Neelix on “Voyager” appears as a hologram who greets Lily and Picard. It was pretty neat seeing them. Picardo’s Doctor is one of the best parts of Voyager and Ethan Phillips is a good actor.

Lily and Cochrane – Lily and Cochrane are the two people from the past who know about those who visited from the future and for both it is a different experience. Lily passes out after trying to kill Data and finds herself on the Enterprise-E, eventually meeting up with Picard and helping him find a way past his obsession to destroy the Borg for how they hurt him…and Cochrane is running from his destiny and being a major part of the future as Troi, Riker and Geordi eventually help him come to terms with the man he will become. Both offer a different view of time travel that I appreciated. I do wish we could have got more of Cochrane’s motivation beyond selfishness though. The Zefram Cochrane of this series is acted amazingly by James Cromwell, but he is a scummy dude who is only out for himself. This is a man who doesn’t see the big picture until first contact with the Vulcans. Lily, is someone who does get it and Alfre Woodard does a great job.

The Crew – The crew are given a lot of exploration in this film. The only one who really doesn’t have as many scenes is Dr. Crusher, but she is still active and protecting people when the Borg begin taking over the ship. She is also the only who saves Lily who ends up being the person who helps Picard come back to himself again. So I’m mentioning what she did here before I go into detail on the events surrounding the rest of the crew.

Troi – Troi is the one who first finds Zefram Cochrane. She ends up getting drunk with him before he finally admits who he is and has to sadly keep him away. Zefram is a scummy guy in this whose arc is really about becoming a better person. Troi is the one interacting among the people and who can see how much fear there is (this is Post World War 3). I wish we got to see more scenes like this as she is the one outside of Dr. Crusher who really sees the human element best.

Worf – Worf is fantastic in this film. We get to see him fight with The Defiant against the Borg and later face them on the Enterprise-E. It is the fact that the numbers of Borg seem to be endless that leads to Worf realizing they need to blow up the ship as the Borg are adapting more quickly than they can destroy them. Picard calls him a coward at this point before apologizing. I love that Worf isn’t played a joke as he is in the later films. He’s a Starfleet officer and one of their best.

Geordi – Geordi is the first to tell Zefram about the future and is in charge of repairing the Phoenix. It is Geordi’s admiration and descriptions of the future that end up freaking Cochrane out the most as he doesn’t see himself as a genius. In the end he comes through and Geordi and Riker get to make warp speed on the day it is supposed to happen in the timeline.

Riker – Riker is the one who hold Zefram accountable and makes it so he can’t run away from the future. He ends up stunning him, which finally helps him get his act together so they can get the Phoenix ready and first contact with the Vulcans be made. He’s in charge of the team on Earth and you once again see why he’s the First Officer as he pulls everything together and in the end, Zefram and Lily are the only ones who ever knew there were time travelers present.

Data – This film is really Data and Picard’s story and continues the theme of the show with Data’s quest for humanity. In this we have moments where his androidness comes in handy as when they he feels fear, he can just shut it off by turning off his emotion chip. In this the Borg, specifically the Queen offer Data a choice once he is captured. If he joins them he can have the organic and feel physical sensation as humans do. He goes along with it and ends up tricking the Queen and destroying their base. He does mention to Picard that for a near second he was tempted, which is long for an android. The Picard, Data dynamic is wonderful and you can see a friendship has grown between them over the years on the show and the loss of the Enterprise-D.

Picard – This film involves Picard facing what was done to him by the Borg when they made him Locutus. We see this at first when Starfleet doesn’t want him to face them because they don’t trust his judgement and later when after helping easily defeat the Borg we find they are around, and in his ship. This is powerful as Picard is trying to hold onto himself and his ego and in the process doesn’t notice when he loses people or how his obsession is consuming him. It isn’t until Data is captured and Lily calls him out that he calls for a retreat and realizes that losing another Enterprise is the only way to win. After this he goes to the Borg to save Data and comes open and ready to face himself and the memories of his trauma.

Ship Under Siege – What make the narrative work is that when the Borg beam onto the Enterprise it is a slow takeover, but by the time they’re discovered they are permanently entrenched. Our heroes are fighting to hold ground and to prevent more Borg being called so the stakes are high the entire time. This claustrophobia lends itself to the narrative and constant push of the Borg push into Picard’s obsession to destroy them and fight back.

The Trauma of the Borg – When Borg assimilate someone they are made part of the Collective. Their body is mutilated and machine is installed within them. This is what was done to Picard in “Best of Both Worlds” Part 1 and 2. Certain episodes explore how that hurt him, from killing Federation officers in the Battle of Wolf 359, to his loss of self and identity and being a part of the machine. This film explores this beautifully as it begins with Picard having a nightmare about his assimilation and his scene facing the Queen involves him facing that nightmare. It is a good narrative book-end.

The Quest for Betterment – Another major theme of the film is the quest for betterment. Whether it is how the Borg seek perfection through assimilation, Cochrane’s first contact and how it lead to humanity rising up to the Stars and the formation of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets and Data’s quest to become human and more than his programming. All these elements run as the narrative through line and make the film great.

The Cons:

The Borg Queen and Ego in the Collective – The Borg are a Collective and to me that is what makes them the most terrifying. When the Queen is introduced she uses “I” and also is seeking a mate. My guess is they wanted to go for a bee hive for the Borg when they are much scarier as a one mind lovecraftian horror. The Queen’s ego, which a collective doesn’t have, is what leads to her losing as after Data sleeps with her, she fully trusts him and he betrays her and saves first contact and the Enterprise-E goes to waste. If she hadn’t had Data do be the one to fire the shot (which was just to rub in Picard’s face) she would have won. This issue of ego becomes an even bigger problem when she is back again in “Voyager.” The actress does a good job with what she’s given but the moment the Queen showed up, the threat of the Borg no longer felt as great, and the final act simply cemented that.

Picard Wasn’t Needed in the Final Act – Narratively I get Picard going to save Data, as Data saved him in “Best of Both Worlds.” The thing is, how the script was written the Queen would have lost whether he was there or not. She believed she had Data and Data knew what to destroy to stop her. He also isn’t killed or mortally injured after he does this. Picard showing up is just for the sake of narrative and to complete his emotional journey. I wish they’d re-written this whole act so that Data did need rescuing and wouldn’t have been able to stop the Queen on his own. Instead, Data stops the Queen, stops the Borg and makes first contact possible. If Picard wasn’t in the scene it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” than you will probably like “First Contact.” It isn’t as strong as some of “The Original Series” films but it is greater than most “Star Trek” films that are out there. Overall it works and even though the ending didn’t need Picard and the Queen, kind of ruins the threat of the Borg for me, it is still a very well told story. This was a film tacking big ideas and major themes and I think Bragga and Moore accomplished that. The Borg are Picard’s Khan and this is one of the best explorations of that trauma that currently exists in the stories of “The Next Generation.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This is a wonderfully great and flawed film.

 

What We Left Behind – Looking Back on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2019) – The Perfect “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Documentary

  “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Series.” This is a series that was willing to explore philosophy, religion war and give the minor characters full arcs. It is no wonder Ronald Moore created the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” from this show, which is also one of my favorite sci. fi. shows. He was on the writing team while Ira Steven Behr was the showrunner. This is easily the best documentary I’ve ever watched. It has comedy, heart, philosophy, depth and explores the relationships and characters who made up the show. My bias being that “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Franchise” and in Sci. fi. shows as a whole. It certainly has flaws and wasn’t perfect and this is a documentary that honestly explores that.

The documentary was directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, produced by 455 Films and released by Shout! Studios.

The documentary traces the origins of “Deep Space Nine’s” creation, the actors and their thoughts on the show, gives us a hypothetical new season with many of the original writing team and explores the legacy the show left behind.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Into and Ending – The Into and ending were so corny and perfect. “Deep Space Nine” had Vic Fontaine’s Jazz lounge as a major part of the show and the Documentary paid tribute to that by having Max Grodénchik (Rom) kick it off with a corny song about leaving his heart on “Deep Space Nine.” In the end he is joined by Jeffrey Combs (Grunt and Weyoun on Ds9), Casey Biggs (Damar) and Armin Shimermen (Quark) to finish the song. It had so much heart, even if the lyrics don’t always work. The four of them are also great singers.

The Reaction to the Show – Throughout the documentary the cast reads fans letters as Ira Steven Behr interviews them. These are glimpses of history that show just how much the show was hated by some in it’s initial release. People hated that the show was darker and that it wasn’t daily exploration on a ship. The reactions are nuanced (Ira on making sense of how people saw it as a dark show) to funny when Aron Eisenberg (Nog) reads a reaction from someone who hated it. This was one of the aspects that added character to the documentary.

The Making of the Show – Making the show an episodic story beyond single bottle episodes or two-parters was revolutionary. This was a major part of the film, and beyond that how when most fans talked about the show in interviews it was largely about the Dominion War arc. It was the arc that changed everything outside of the arcs of “Babylon 5.” We also got to see the Writers Room when Behr got together with Ronald Moore and some of the other writers from the show to draft a pilot for a new season. It was really neat seeing that as well as the relationship between the showrunner, directors, actors and crew. They also went into the Evolution of the Dominion and how they evolved into a collection of species versus a single one.

The Actors’ Stories – Part of what makes the story so compelling are getting the stories of the actors and the relationships formed over the course of the show. We learn about how Armin Shimerman (Quark) used to host the other actors who played Ferengi at his home to go over the scripts. “Deep Space Nine” was full of Ferengi episodes and seeing how friendships grew out of it was so wonderful. We also got to see that Alaimo (Dukat) had a crush on Nana Visitor (Kira), and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) and how to this day he is friends and mentor to his show son Cirroc Lofton. The actors also talked about their characters and created interludes. Andrew Robinson (Garak) appeared early on and later to talk about how when he first played the character he played him as wanting to have sex with Doctor Bashir and how the character relationships evolved into a deep friendship. It was awesome hearing that first hand as Robinson always played Garak as Bisexual and him voicing that made me happy.  They also touched on Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) leaving the show and the disrespect from the directors as well as when Nicole de Boar (Ezri) took over for the last season of the show. Even with all that happened there are still so many friendships among the cast.

Taking Responsibility and Impact in Social Justice – This was a show that tackled the themes of poverty, race, war, philosophy and Behr took responsibility the fact that they didn’t explore gender and sexuality very well. They recognized the existence sexuality and LGTBTQ rights but didn’t advocate. Behr owned it and it made me respect him a lot. “Star Trek” has always been a progressive show and it has dropped the ball on LGBTQ justice all of this time until “Discovery” really.

The New Season Pilot – One of the arcs through the documentary getting what writers he could together to write a new season of the snow. The new season pilot is awesome. It starts with Captain Nog being attacked and a reunion of all the characters returning to “Deep Space Nine.” Kira is a priestess and the station is a religious site, Worf is in line to takeover after Martok to rule the Empire, Julian Bashir is a captain with Ezri serving together on a ship and O’Brien is a professor at Starfleet academy while Jake is a successful author. From here things unfold as it starts out with Nog being attacked by an unscene show before arriving at the station. From we learn of a Bajor / Jem’Hadar plot that Kira is tied to and the return of Sisko as he reaches out to his children. I would watch it and I wish it would get made. Sadly I doubt it will exist beyond the fandom of this documentary though.

What You’ll Get on the DVD – The documentary ended with Nana Visitor talking to Behr about everything that wasn’t covered. Whether it was her failed marriage to Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), her having a baby and how they wrote that into the show, “In the Pale Moonlight” and quite a few other things. Behr said they’d all be on the special features of the dvd and that it was cut for time. Hearing that lead me to pre-order the dvd. I can’t wait to see all of the things that didn’t make it and rewatch this perfect documentary again.

If it wasn’t obvious already, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite shows of all time. This was the “Star Trek series” I felt was good to great all the way through and explored the themes I love in stories. It gave politics, philosophy, war, identity and history all in deep and respectful ways. If you are a sci. fi. fan I highly recommend this show. This show started so much and any time I have the chance to see these actors and writers if they end up in Portland at a Comic Con, you bet I’ll be there. This was a show funded by the fans and created for them and the time and love put into it made it the perfect documentary and film. I’ll be surprised if any film compares when this year is done.

10 / 10. “Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite Science Fiction shows of all time and I can’t think of a better way to honor it. The actors in this cast are folks I’d go to comic con for if they make it over my way.

“Helix” Season 2 Assessment – Lost Potential and the Death of a Cool Idea

Helix Season 2

     I really wanted to like this show. I enjoyed Season 1 as it was “John Carpenter’s The Thing” done in such a way that incorporated some of the ideas from “Battlestar Galactica,” since Ronald Moore is one of the Producers this made sense, and it made the show strong. The first season was crazy, scary and characters had arcs that advanced until the cliffhanger end….Which was where the show fell apart in trying to set things up to be much bigger, which this season completely failed to deliver on. This season failed to deliver on a lot of things and this was largely because it was an unfocused mess. More on all of this later.

     Helix was created by Cameron Porsandeh with the executive producers being Ronald Moore, Lynda Obst, Steven Maeda and Brad Turner. It was produced by Sony Pictures an aired on the Syfy Channel.

     The story picks up where Season 1 left off except we are in the future. Julia (one of the scientists who was turned into an Immortal) is now working for Ilaria and trying to stop them from using the upgraded virus from last season by finding a compromise and seeking a way to keep the human population from breeding. In the past we see Doctor Jordan, Peter and Kyle who have come to St. Germain to investigate an outbreak that happened near the Island. This leads to the discovery of the Cult lead by Michael who has a dark agenda as well as Alan who has been targeting immortals and seeks an end to them.

The Pros: Time Jumps – The use of time is one of few things this season did well. We dead the Island was after the outbreak and with it we see that Julia was on the Island prior and also why she doesn’t know what happened to Alan. This is done really well, especially in regards to the reveal at the end.

The Premise – An Island run by a Cult leader with members who seek dominion over each other and outsiders is fascinating. It is it’s own horror trope, just like “The Thing” idea in the North Pole that existed in Season 1. The CDC is unwanted and the early manipulations by the leaders of the Island to try and remove them or set them up is done very well. It’s creepy especially with the reveal of Michael’s birthing chamber where he takes all the women who rebelled against him. The Cult is never presented in a good light, which I appreciated.

The Soundtrack – The music is still ironically happy, like Season 1 which was a strength in that just as it is in this. Reinhold Heil did a good job of making the music very happy but also creepy and foreboding when it needed to be.

Helix - Season 2

The Cons: The Characters – I never understood why the characters did what they did. Peter and Alan fighting each other made no sense. They just decided to turn Peter into a bastard and villain so that they would have another antagonist. His reasons for joining the Cult and becoming a leader made no sense…the same went for Alan’s refusal to open up to anyone, including Sarah Jordan even though they’d had a baby together. The three wives of Michael were also unfleshed out with the youngest wanting power for the sake of power, the second one being a follower who wanted power and the eldest trying to help? It made no sense and the relationship drama was so contrived. In the end I didn’t care about any of the characters…though the biggest disappointment was how the made Dr. Hitaki try and kill Julia his daughter and them making him insane and talking to the corpse of his dead wife and son. That was the part I began to realize the writers were writing character drama for the sake of drama and had forgotten the core of what drove their characters in the first season.

The Writing – The writing was bad, so much of it was telling and in the end very obvious telling that still left questions. Why did Ilaria want to kill the human race? They had a board meeting that they didn’t invite Julia too, so what was the deal? Why hadn’t more people rebelled against the Cult and why didn’t the Cult try and deal with the CDC immediately if they saw them as such a threat? What happened to Dr. Jordan’s baby? Why did Soren return to the Island? What was the birthing chamber at the end? What happened when everyone came back and what was the fallout? There were so many dropped arcs, unexplored characters, characters made crazy for no reason (Hitaki and Peter) and so much contrived drama. It was just bad, and not fun bad.

The Ending – The ending was a giant cliffhanger again with Dr. Jordan doing a birthing chamber for the new world run by Ilaria with her working for Ilaria. We don’t know about anything that happens to the other characters just that Alan is an immortal now, Peter went to jail (But did Ilaria get him out?) or what happened to the surviving members of the cult minus Soren. It was an even worse cliffhanger ending than season 1…and pretty much killed any future interest I had in the show.

   This show was some of the biggest missed potential, it was fun and campy but dealt with the ideas of immortality and flaws in human relationships. This time it was drama for the sake of drama, lack of focus on any point or theme and in the end this drove it down. I could not tell you what the point of this season was and didn’t seem to have a message. If you didn’t watch this season and you watched season 1, don’t watch this season. Season 1 is at least good (minus the ending) this one is just bad. I watched it because I hoped it would get better and there were the inklings of good ideas…but all that was wasted because characters were written to cause drama for the sake of drama and had no purpose beyond that and great characters like Dr. Hitaki (best character from this series) was wasted. I cannot recommend this season at all.

Final Score: 4 / 10.

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Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 12 – “The Day That Was The Day” – A Matter of Choice and Destiny

Carnivale The Day that was the Day

“The Day That Was The Day” is the excellent finale to season 1 of “Carnivale.” Characters are forced to make choices that sets up the struggle of things to come and before making the choices they try to get out of making the choices, to skirt destiny. This episode also ties up the character dramas and answers one of the biggest questions about the nature of Scudder and the powers behind Ben and Justin.

“The Day That Was The Day” was directed by Rodrigo Garcia and written by Ronald Moore.

The story picks up where the last episode left off, with Stumpy confronting Rita about the affair, Sofie setting up a situation to get back at Jonesy and Libby for cheating, Ben approaching Lodz on how to bring back Ruthie who then brings him to management and Brother Justin talks to his adoptive father and shows his father his greatest sin leading him to ask him to prevent his destiny.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Sofie Drama – Sofie sets up a situation where she kisses and sleeps with Libby because she’s found feelings for her but she also has feelings for Jonesy so she bring Jonesy to the same place to get back at them both. Libby for knowing about Jonesy cheating with Rita and Jonesy for the act of cheating. Later Sofie’s mother tries to kill them both in a fire and Jonesy rushes into to save her for the final scene. We are left questioning what will come.

Brother Justin and his Adoptive Father and his Role – His adoptive father raised him as a Christian and after talking to Iris began researching into excorcism to help his son since his son’s power scared him so much. Later when they talk Justin transports him to the past to reveal his sin and the sin of his father was saving Justin. This leads to Justin begging to be killed by him, but when he can’t Justin’s eyes go black showing the full embracing of power and his role as the Avatar of destruction, Left Hand of God and Harbinger of the Apocalypse. The final scene after he makes a deal with Dolan to get his word out into the world is him doing an end times sermon.

Samson’s Warning – Samson warns Ben not to trust Management and Lodz and he’s right on both counts. He also cares about the carnival and tells Ben if he’s going to kill someone to help someone, it won’t be one of the Carnies. Samson is human and showed why he is one of my favorite characters in that scene. He was also right about Management since Management betrayed Lodz to make Ben use his power.

The Choice of Ben Hawkins – Ben continues to resist up until the end, he even gives his own life in the graveyard to bring back Ruthie, but Scudder who is a part of Ben (Ben is the Avatar) is not allowed to die. He almost kills a drunk but decides against it. Thinking he’s one and that he is not like Lodz and management he confronts Management only to have management reveal Lodz as the killer of Ruthie leading to Ben killing Lodz, which brings back Ruthie and solidifies Ben as the same as Management.

This was a great end to the series! It ties us back into the fight against the Avatars of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness and we see Ben and Justin becoming their roles in the fight to come. It is powerful but still leaves more open. I’m excited to see where season 2 takes everything, especially in regards to Justin. Lodz deserved to die but I’m still going to miss the bastard, he was a great character.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Ronald Moore has once again written gold.

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 6 – “Pick a Number” – Haunted by Ghosts

Pick a number

“Pick a Number” continues where we left off in Babylon and explores the quest for just by the carnival as well as giving us more information about Scudder. It’s a powerful episode to complete the stay in Babylon.

The episode was written by Ronald Moore and directed by Rodrigo Garcia.

The story picks off with Ben still in the mine and transported back to World War 1 in the trenches where he runs into Scudder, Lodz and a Russian soldier. While this is going on a funeral is thrown for the dancer and Carnival Justice is sought against the last man in Babylon who confesses to the act. From here these stories unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is haunting and foreboding, as we learn the people who can the day before were all ghosts and that Babylon is a literal ghost town where the dead can never rest. The last image is of Dora Mae the dancer being pulled into the darkness of her rape in murder after Samson has completed justice against the last man in Babylon. The town’s horrors still live on forever.

Jonesy – Jonesy’s doubts are put a little to rest in this episode when Samson tells him that he trusts him and thought he was trusted in turn. Together with the rest they seek carnival justice against the accused and last man and bury Dora. Eventually Samson wins him over as we see him traveling with Samson at the end as they continue following Scudder.

Professor Lodz – We see he fought in World War 1 with Scudder and that there is more going on too. He tries once again to train and help Ben but is denied. We see his tender side during the funeral and his brutal side when he invites Ben to watch Carnival Justice.

Ben – Is a very lost character still. He seeks Scudder in the visions of the past, but won’t open up to the one person who can help him. He’s keeping himself isolated and I think that’s going to have a bad affect on him later.

Pastor Justin Crowe – Is in the burned out church and eventually realizes God isn’t there for him anymore and leaves to wander. To him his God is dead for letting the children die and the ones who are guilty still live. This is the most desolate we’ve seen him.

Samson – Samson shows why he is co-manager when after carnival justice (Russian roulette) leaves the man alive. He gets information about Scudder going south and Scudder’s killing and bringing the ghosts to this place. After that he kills the bartender, leaving the man in the Hell he never wanted to die in. He fulfills the justice the carnival couldn’t get during the trial. He really steps up in this episode and for all these reasons is able to put Jonesy’s fears to rest, at least for the moment.

The Funeral – The funeral is powerful, with singing and everyone gives a gift to Dora to honor her. It really is a great scene.

This episode was nearly perfect and one I’d recommend. My only issue is that it was hard to hear the important stuff sometimes because characters didn’t enunciate. But the power of what happens and how honoring someone good and killing someone bad are shown lend power to the actions of the carnival as a whole and to Samson as the leader we see.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

Carnivale Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Milfay” – Of Good, Evil and Outsiders

Carnivale      If you’ve been reading the blog for a while now you’ve probably found that I do love shows or movies that incorporate mythology into them, and do it well. Be it Heaven, Hell and the Apocalypse in shows like “Supernatural” and “Sleepy Holow” (and this show), or shows that play off Greek and Christian Mythologies like “Battlestar Galactica.” For me these myths have the potential to teach us about ourselves, as any good story can. It was discussing this with my Grandfather when he suggested this show, and he got me hooked.

I’ll be reviewing episodes of “Carnival” sporadically, but I do plan on going through the entire season since the show itself isn’t that long. The show was created by Daniel Knauf who served as Producer along with Ronald Moore (one of my favorite directors and producers) and Howard Klein. Daniel Knauf wrote the first episode while Rodrigo Garcia directed.

The premise begins with the mythology of the show as one of the Carnies, a Dwarf named Samson who has power says,

“Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called Man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness, and great armies would clash by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was, until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason.”

From here the story unfolds following an ex-con named Ben Hawkins who is haunted by dreams of being hunted by a tattooed man. He awakes and we are in the time of the Great Depression as he is watching his mother die as she is scared of him. From here the story unfolds as two people from the Carnival stand up for him leaving him with the dilemma of recognizing his power and to join or not join the Carnival, fully leaving his past behind to start again.

Here is the assessment of the pilot:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The Cinematography is fantastic! The scenes that catch the desperation are beautiful as the dust shows how desolate Ben and other characters feel. We also see some spectacular visions that are done to give us glimpses into the minds of the characters.

The Writing – From Samson (Michael J. Anderson of “Twin Peaks” fame) being the co-manager and guy who isn’t fully trustworthy but has good intentions, to Ben’s mysterious past and the mysterious present of Pastor Justin Crowe. The elements of supernatural pervade the themes and the dreams while never fully integrating themselves except for a scene where Pastor Crowe makes a woman throw up money after she stole and Ben resurrects a kitten and makes a little girl walk again.

The Music – The music is amazing! It keeps the mysterious feel and strange of what makes the Carnival and the Carnival while keeping religious themes in it too the way “Battlestar Galactica” did. Wendy Molvoin and Lisa Coleman were perfect composers for the theme and music.

The Characters – All the characters who have scene get great exploration that shows them to be more complex than they first appear to be. This is an ensemble show even though Ben and Justin are the primary drivers of the story.

Samson – I really like Michael J. Anderson, his being co-manager with the mysterious Management makes for an interesting situation as he is the one who is practical but also can be cruel and kind. He offers himself as a mentor figure to Ben but is rejected. I’m curious to see what his relationship to Management is like, as well as the rest of the carnival.

Brother Justin Crowe – He is set up as the powerful and possible antagonist as it is left open if he made the lady who stole throw up quarters since she stole one…and he later has a vision outside an erotic dance bar of a red cross over it in neon after it snows and rains blood upon him…and we see Ben have a vision of him with black eyes jumping out. So he’s probably the well meaning antagonist when the story gets deeper in. Clancy Brown is great for this role.

Jonesy – Works the Ferris Wheel, has a kind heart towards children but is contrasted with his looking down on women. After Sofia is nearly raped in town he tells her she shouldn’t have gone out. She smacks him thankfully but internalizes what he says later. We do see him help a crippled girl ride the Ferris Wheel for free though and gives her and the boy she’s with an extra ticket.

Sofia – Sofia is the one who reminds Ben of his past by reading his guards, which reveal his past and the kitten he brought back to life that his mother killed and caused him to suppress his powers. She stands up for herself against Jonesey’s sexism and fights the rapists but is contrasted by her saying Jonesey was right to Ben showing the growth she still has to go through in regards to respecting herself. She lives with her mother who is in a coma and talks to her through her mind. They are an act at the Carnival. Clea Duvall was good for this role.

Lila – Is the bearded lady who has compassion for Ben. She is the most experienced of the Carnies as far as how comfortable she is in her face. I can’t wait to learn more about her character. Debra Christofferson plays the character.

Ben Hawkins – The primary character haunted by dreams and the protagonist of the series. We don’t know fully what put him in prison or why he is so guarded about his past but we know he can perform miracles as he resurrected a cat and made a girl walk again at the end of the pilot. I’m curious about this character even though the Carnies are at time more compelling. Nick Stahl was chosen for the role and it is a good fit at this point.

The Themes – Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, Wealthy and Poor, Privileged and Victimized, Corrupt and Good. These themes are captured really well and I expect they’ll be throughout given Samson’s opening speech.

Okay: Slow Start – The pilot is slow at times which is good for building tension and setting tone but I would have liked more drama between characters. It’s not bad but can’t put it as a pro either.

So far I really like this series and I was glad my Grandfather got me into it. I like how the Supernatural element is subtle unlike “Supernatural” or “Sleepy Hollow,” which are both shows I really like, but are both strongest when we are being teased by the mythology and discover it over time. This is what makes this show really great, besides the amazing producers, the fact it’s on HBO (giving it more flexibility in what it can do) and working the mythology into the ensemble cast and covering the fascinating era of the Great Depression. The choosing of a Carnival as the main area of drama with Crowe’s town on the other side of the story. It gives a  nice contrast of the poor and outcast versus the wealthy and privileged.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. A great start to the series.