Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Saturday Afternoon Sci Fi

I'll probably have some more substantial thoughts about Battlestar Galactica in a day or two, but in the meantime it's worth noting that it was a big weekend for science fiction all around, with several interesting developments.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles, "The Last Voyage of the Jimmy Carter" - a strong conclusion to last week's equally strong episode, which brings the Jesse-Riley storyline to a satisfying close. There are lots of good character scenes, and the flashbacks-to-the-future aboard the doomed Jimmy Carter are tense and quite creepy, and do more than the rest of the season put together to make Jesse sympathetic while stressing that she's caused as much suffering and horror as was caused her. On the other hand, the plotting is still middling-to-poor, most notably in the first and only encounter between John and Jesse, when the two of them have to pause what is otherwise a riveting conversation in order for John to spew exposition, alternately telling us things we've known for ages and retroactively altering the plots of preceding episodes by revealing that he knew about Riley's deception for months. It is also presumably an unintended irony that in an episode that is all about John confronting the burden of leadership and stepping a small way into that role, we learn that this whole tragedy--Riley, the submariners, and perhaps Jesse's deaths, John and Derek's hearbreak, the destruction of the Jimmy Carter, the loss of a potential T-1000 ally (who is presumably Weaver--her comment in the present about humans being a disappointment seems to suggest this)--was caused by an abject failure of leadership on future John's part (as well as, to a lesser extent, Jesse).

    Still, on the whole this two-parter was the best story the show has produced in a long time, which perversely enough aggravates me, because it is also the story that's given Sarah the least to do. This after a stultifying sequence of pointless Sarah-centric episodes that did nothing to advance either the plot or my understanding of her character. Is it really too much to a ask that this show's writers come up with interesting and exciting stories for their main character?

  • Dollhouse, "Man on the Street" - this was the episode that was supposed to win us all over to the show, and while that would certainly be taking it too far, it's a definite step up in quality. Most notably, the episode moves away from the assignment of the week format that's been so unsatisfactory (though steadily improving) these last few weeks, and instead delivers a heaping plateful of plot and revelations (some--such as the identity of Sierra's abuser--were painfully obvious, while others--such as the truth about Mellie--were predictable but still a lot of fun to have confirmed). After several stories that seemed to be deliberately moving away from the idea of the dollhouse as a high-tech whorehouse, this episode returned to the sexual angle in force, and hammered in the skeeviness of what's being done to the dolls by both their handlers and their clients. I like this approach better, but at the same time it brings us right back to the difficulty that all the preceding episodes have tried, and mostly failed, to get around--that even the richest, most jaded, most particular people would probably be just as happy with a garden variety high-class call girl as they would with a programmable person. Add to this the man on the street interviews, which while not terrifically interesting seemed to be trying to imagine what effect the existence of dolls would have on the world, and it just becomes painfully obvious that Dollhouse should have been an out-and-out, future-set science fiction show about a world in which doll technology is commonly accepted (per the last interview about such technology changing the meaning of what it is to be human), not a crypto-SF present-day story.

  • Battlestar Galactica, "Daybreak, Part II" - it's hard to imagine an episode that would better encapsulate the complete bankruptcy of this show's plotting and character work. The senselessness of last week's setup is compounded this week when Adama and Lee hand over the leadership of the military and civilian portions of the fleet to, respectively (and I'm still chuckling as I write this) Hoshi and Romo Lampkin, just so that the entire main cast can participate in one last huge space battle regardless of how much sense this makes for their respective characters. Of course, it isn't entirely fair to complain about this since, as I've often said in the past, huge space battles are what this show does best, and indeed the attack on the Cylon colony and rescue of Hera is a tense and well-done sequence, but it's a little sad that a show that's prided itself, with however little justification, on its political storylines, sidelines them in its finale first by concentrating on pyrotechnics, and then by dismantling its political system, in an ending so mind-bogglingly dumb, so steeped in airy-fairy New Age bullshit that even though I truly believed that I was long past being angry at this show I barely managed to make it through the (drawn out and tedious) ending segments of the episode. This is not even to mention the present-day coda, which tries to make some gesture towards a sad statement about man's inhumanity to man, but ends up suggesting that what we really should be worrying about in the real world right now is the possibility of a killer robot attack. Good fucking riddance.

2 comments:

ianras said...

I have a mountain of problems with 'Dollhouse' but not with the demand for dolls. Becoming exhausted with the things you wanted and now have and then moving on to something more particular is just one of those unavoidable things and I can believe wealthy people would go to Dollhouse after reaching that exhaustion point with prostitutes or what have you.

Raz Greenberg said...

I agree, "Man on the Street" was a huge improvement over other episodes, mostly because it actually did something with the show's concept rather than using it as a coat-hanger for a story of another genre (procedural, thriller, what have you). It also placed the events of the show in a somewhat more logical context - I still don't buy the whole "clients know about the true nature of the Dollhouse" thing, but selling the Dollhouse to the rest of the world as some sort of urban legend sort of passes as an excuse.

However, with the general unenthusiastic impression of this season's genre offerings, expressed here and in other posts, I feel a need to share my experience of watching the concluding episode of what turned out to be the best genre show I got to see this season. It's the animated show "Wolverine and the X-Men".

No, I'm serious. This show is, hands down, better than any live-action American genre drama I've seen this season. It has a strong, well-developed continuous plot (that actually reaches a neat conclusion in the show's final episode), it makes imaginative use of the rich X-Men mythology from the comics, it contains some of the finest and most exciting action sequences seen in American animation, and the dialogues, while nothing outstanding, are well-written. I should note that I'm saying all this as someone who could never keep up with anything X-Men related (in any medium) beyond three installments. The 26 episodes of "Wolverine and the X-Men" are really the stuff good genre TV is made of.

I realize that people have certain prejudice against superhero animated shows, and I don't really understand why - because it's the same people who will watch live-action superhero shows and movies, and "adult" animated shows like The Simpsons or "family" animated films like the stuff Pixar makes, but wouldn't accept that these concepts can be combined (even though "The Incredibles" proved it can). So, put your prejudices behind you. Watch "Wolverine and the X-Men". You won't be sorry.

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