Storytelling the Expanse Way

Cast of The Expanse in futuristic space suits against a dark futuristic interior
Image Source: https://www.space.com/the-expanse-season-4-and-5-on-amazon.html

I have to admit this upfront: I originally didn’t like The Expanse. There, I said it. This isn’t news to long-time blog readers as I made no secret about how much I disliked the first season of the show. I “peaced out” after the first episode of the 2nd season. However, last January, when my car died and I was stuck in the apartment for the whole weekend (heh, a pandemic and quarantine gives a whole new meaning to being “stuck”), I watched the entire series of the show in a weekend and I was amazed that I dismissed it so thoroughly as it was really good.

I’ve watched it quite often since, trying to figure out how I could have gotten it so wrong. I think I understand what The Expanse does that makes it so compelling, but why it initially turned me off.

History First

So, I believe that Tolkien would have loved this particular series as well. What the creators of the show (and I assume the book) do very well is focus on the history and then set the characters loose with events. History is paramount to the series and most of the first season sets up the interplay between Mars, Earth, and the Belt. Then (no spoilers), they throw a wrinkle in the midst and then go from there. Tolkien was a huge advocate for setting up the history of a place–that’s why Middle Earth feels like a lived in world. As I’m reading The Lord of the Rings again, I notice how Tolkien is discussing people, events, and places that aren’t really relevant to the story at hand, but give much more context for what is happening and why it is happening.

Mystery Second

The second thing that the creators do is that they present story arcs in the form of mini-mysteries. Yes, that’s right, much of the “binge-watchability” (like the new formation of the word I created there?) of the show comes from the fact that they show you (Colombo-style) what happens at the end of the arc in the very beginning of the arc and then slowly the narrative unfolds until you have all the pieces. Once you reach the end, you see how that piece that they gave you at the very beginning then fits into the larger story. Colombo did this very well, but it gave away the entire ending as you knew who the murderer was and then it was just watching Colombo put together the lies, half-truths, and mistakes of the criminal and watching their ever increasing desperation as the detective got ever closer to the truth. In The Expanse, it is more like a puzzle, in which they give you a “glimpse” of a puzzle filled in and then before you can make complete sense of what you’re seeing, they scatter ALL the pieces and begin reforming the puzzle again. You still have your “clue,” but it isn’t relevant for 4-5 episodes until you have enough of the overall puzzle filled in again to start making connections to what you saw at the beginning.

Warm Up/Cool Down Third

And finally, well not finally, but it is the last one I want to talk about today, they do this interesting technique that I’ve not seen in other long form narrative shows (shows whose episodes follow a story arc and aren’t “episodic” in nature) in that it follows (for the most part) this scenerio: Warm-up episode, 1-3 action focused episodes, Cool down episode. Now, there are exceptions to this, but having watched the series well over 10 times now (and individual episodes to coincide with various reactors–I’m following 5 Expanse reactors at the moment), there is a pattern that you can see developing in those episodes. The Warm-up episode usually establishes some strange situation or occurrence or sets up a problem that needs to be solved/resolved. The Action episodes are usually ones that are “cooking” episodes where the action is happening and everything comes to a “boiling point” (which is usually some unexpected revelation–either plot or character, rarely both at the same time, but it has happened). The Cool-down episode is usually character focused and spends time relating how the characters have been changed or how they are relating to the new status quo.

The cycle usually repeats (although in Seasons 1 & 4, this is elongated and it makes it seem slow at times.) Season 2 and 3 are so hyper-focused on this pattern that it makes the show so intense.

To Watch The Expanse You Have to Embrace the Mystery

Although The Expanse is a science fiction show that features combat, space ship scenes, and a realistic depiction of a science fiction world, one must embrace the mystery genre in order to truly appreciate it. It isn’t so much a “puzzlebox” that is the hot buzzword term in the film industry right now as it is a throwback to a genre that has fallen out of favor. This show leans heavily on the mystery of what has happened/is happening in order to drive its narrative. By showing you a piece of the “endgame” and then going back and filling in those pieces one plot point and character moment at a time, it is inviting you to help construct the narrative along with it and entices you to come along with it to “enjoy the ride.”

Sidney


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Mini-Movie Review: Extraction (Netflix)

A picture of a bearded Chris Hemsworth in military gear looking to the right off-screen against a yellowish background of an Indian cityscape with the words" Netflix Extraction Official Trailer"
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6P3nI6VnlY

This past weekend I watched a movie produced by Netflix. While not my first Netflix movie, I generally pass them up in favor of seeing “studio” produced movies as I’m trying to catch up on movies that I’ve missed theatrically. As an individual, I’ve seen a lot of movies; however, as a film student, I feel that I don’t have the same repertoire as some of my colleagues (one of my friends at school who is also a film student and working on his dissertation watches a movie a day on his phone! I sometimes struggle to keep up with the movie a week paradigm that I’ve set for myself.) This movie was written by Joe Russo (Avengers Infinity War/Endgame) and stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor & Avengers movies). So, did I like it–yes, I did, for the most part.

“The Protector”

This story is very much in the style of films made famous by Keanu Reeves in the John Wick movies. However, there is a difference, story-wise. While those are about “revenge” in some way, this film owes much more to films like Liam Neesom’s Taken movies (which I’ve not seen) and the BMW short film The Escape (which I have seen) in that there is more an element of protection than revenge. While different in tone, the plot actually functions a lot like other movies in the action genre–I’m specifically thinking of 16 Blocks, Special Forces, and Mile 22 (all of which I’ve seen–see, I do have a pretty good film knowledge base to draw on 😉 for my analysis). Chris Hemsworth’s character is tasked with “extracting” a target from a rival faction. I won’t go into the specific plot elements–but suffice to say, if you’ve seen any of those movies, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of the story progression. While not always the most original of ideas or execution, it was still an enjoyable and had enough novel elements to set it above many others in its genre.

“Gun-Fu”

Your enjoyment of the movie will depend largely on your tolerance for “gun-fu,” which is the combination of gun-play, martial arts, and ultra close-in gun-play in which the shooting all happens at extremely close ranges–sometimes right up in a character’s face (literally). This type of fighting and choreagraphy was made famous by John Wick. If you hate that style of action/combat, then chances are good you’re going to hate this movie.

There are also other set pieces in here besides the Gun-Fu that are really well done. There is a car chase scene that is really complex and visually interesting (check out the camera placement during the chase). This scene is NOT shot like traditional Hollywood action set-pieces and (for me) that really made it come alive. Is it the BEST chase scene I’ve ever seen? No, some of the Bourne/Bond movies hold that distinction, but check out the way this movie is shot vs those and you’ll immediately see a difference. Also, the ending sequence has to be mentioned–tense and climatic, I really think it rivals some of the best moments of other “protector” like films referenced above.

What I Didn’t Like

Okay, this isn’t a perfect movie. The story, some are going to argue, is fairly predictable. While you can’t see all of the “turns” coming, you can probably spot most of them.

Going beyond the story though, the sound mixing on this one was rough. The dialogue, in some parts was mixed too low to hear without me having to turn up my system, but then when the action got going, I would have to turn down the system as the gunshots rang out to loud and I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors. I personally couldn’t find a perfect setting–the dialogue always seemed too low and the action always seemed too loud.

Lastly, there’s a lot of violence happening in this story. I know its “Gun-Fu,” but the amount of people being shot in the head, especially, is high. People lose digits, are stabbed in multiple places/ways, and in one case, I kid (ostensibly a drug runner) is thrown off a roof. If violence makes you squeamish at all, this movie may not be for you. Most of it is justified by the story, but you can tell there was a little one upmanship happening here with other films in the genre.

Overall Grade: B

While definitely not a novel story or characterization, there were enough new elements (stunts and set-pieces) and enough articulation of the overall theme, that I didn’t find it tedious or a retread of something I’d already seen. Also, while the violence was a bit over-the-top for me and took me out of the story sometimes, I thought that the actual “action” of the story delivered for me what I was looking for in an action movie. It was fun, but had a heart, and wasn’t a pessimistic, dark, gritty drama that so many films in the genre try to be.

Sidney


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Okay, so I was Wrong–The Expanse is a Really, Really Good Show!

Picture of the cast of the Expanse with a stylized logo of the show's title.
Image Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2019/12/12/amazon-relaunches-tvs-best-sci-fi-show-the-expanse-for-season-4-friday/

So, sometime last year, I finished the first season of The Expanse, and to put it mildly, I was NOT impressed. I thought it was okay, but fell too far into the “Game of Thrones” arena where “bad things happen to good people.” It didn’t help that the show was marketed as “Game of Thrones” in space. I tried two separate times to get past the first episode of Season 2, but I couldn’t–I just thought that I didn’t like the show and that it was, while not bad, not something that I was ever going to like.

However, fair is fair. If I called it out on the blog and I change my mind later, then I’m going to let you know.

So I’m saying it now: I Was Wrong! The Expanse is a GOOD show!

Season 2 and Season 3

Part of the problem is that the show doesn’t really hit its stride until about Episode 2 or 3 of the 2nd season. Like Season 1, the first couple of episodes are more about “set-up” than they are about pure plot. Characterization is always present, but in Season 1, I wasn’t really invested in the characters. However, with Season 2 and especially Season 3, the characters are really tested by the plot and they interact to turn the show into something really special (& really good)!

Without spoilers, let’s just say that everything rises to a crescendo, ramps down after the resolution and then rises a second time to an even more insane and awesome resolution. I think the key is that 1) the characters are ALWAYS acting/reacting based on plot. This is the rare show where plot reveals characters and the characters’ actions drive the plot.

Season 4

So, I binged this show a couple weeks ago when my car was in the shop being repaired. I watched all of Season 2, 3, and 4 back-to-back. While I didn’t think Season 4 had the same insane level of wildness as 2 & 3, I did feel that it was still great and much better than Season 1. I hope that they do a Season 5 as I really want to see where they take the story (yes, I know they are based on books, and I may dip into them a little later, but right now the show has its “hooks” into me).

The characters are really well rounded (now that I’ve seen their arc over more episodes than what was presented in Season 1).

Overall Grade: A

Again, as this is a public forum, I feel compelled to let people know when I get it wrong (& this is one of those times). This is a strong show with compelling characters and an absolutely crazy storyline that really shines in Season 2 & 3. While it doesn’t beat The Mandolorian as my favorite sci-fi show, it has leap-frogged quite few series to become one for which I can’t wait to see the next season.

Sidney


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Let’s Talk About the Mandalorian (on Disney+ Streaming)

Image of the Mandalorian (a man in sci-fi armor with a cape and a rifle strapped to his back) walking down a dusty sci-fi street.
Image Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/47935790

Okay, before I begin, I should note that I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan. While I haven’t been particularly impressed with some of the later Star Wars movies (The Last Jedi & Solo I’m looking at you), I have been a pretty ardent fan of the series since I was a child. According to my mother, I did see SW is the theaters (although I have no concrete memory of it as I was younger than 5 at the time), but my first SW movie that remember concretely was Empire Strikes Back (and yes, I’m old enough to remember the movies without the annoying Episodes numbers in front of them, so that’s how I’m going to roll). I remember being taken back to see SW again in a discount theater a week later (because I liked Empire so much and it was much better the second time around as I now had some context). I give you all this backstory so that you can understand that if my comments seem too positive, it is because I’m coming at this as a fan and not as a scholar and/or dispassionate viewer.

This is the Star Wars TV show that You’ve Been Looking For

So, let’s talk about what works. To me, Mandalorian represents a show that does the “Space Western” genre correctly. While I don’t want to “crap” all over Defiance as there are talented actors and crew members who worked on that show, Mandalorian represents a shift away from that nihilistic and “grimdark” show of Defiance that emphasizes recreational drug use and heavy doses of sex/sexual innuendo over storytelling. I’m not a prude, but come on, this is supposed to a sci-fi show where people are just barely surviving rather than (being uncharacteristically crude here) getting their “freak” on. Luckily (and blessedly), there’s none of that “grimdark” ambiguity here. The titular Mandalorian is no hero–he is a bounty hunter for whom remorse and emotions are a detriment, not an asset. This is no wide-eyed farmboy here (one of the many criticisms that early Star Wars fans had with Luke Skywalker. However, we’re only 3 episodes in, but we are beginning to see an arc developing for the Mandalorian. I won’t go into details as they could be considered spoilers, but suffice to say, we’re seeing new depths to the character. One of the things that makes this show so good is the high production values of the show. In many ways, this show looks like a Star Wars movie, but given to us in 30-35 minute chunks complete with storytelling arcs that work both on a shorter level (episodic), but also sustain a longer narrative (Episode 3 had consequences so I eager to see where Ep. 4 takes us).

No Disintegrations

So, what are the downsides to the show. Well, for me, not many. The show seems to really do a good job of presenting a live-action version of the Star Wars show (much like the live action remakes of famous Disney animated movies. If there was a downside, I would have to say length (although that could also be considered a plus as well). I really like getting wrapped up in the mythology of the world and so I hate it when the show ends–it feels like the foray into the world is all too brief. However, the fact that it doesn’t overstay its welcome might also be one of its strengths, so I’m torn on whether or not this is truly an issue. For some, not me, the fact that the hero never removes his helmet might be a problem, but I like the mystery. I also like the “everyman” motif happening as well. And since there is a “matriarch” of sorts who also doesn’t remove her helmet, there’s even an “everywoman” vibe happening as well and I think there should probably be more of that. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that those who want “grimdark” storytelling (in which everyone dies a horribly gruesome and unfair death, people “crapping” all over each other just because they can) probably won’t find much here to excite their interests–it just isn’t that type of show (at least, so far, and thank goodness)!

Not a Mini-Review

While I’m enjoying my time with the show, this shouldn’t be considered a mini-review. I’ll wait until the show is finished its run to pass judgement over it. So far, however, I have to say that I like what I’ve seen and hope that it will finish its first series/season run out with distinction. Finally, a contemporary series that I can enjoy!

Sidney


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Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda Series Review

Image of the Andromeda Crew all lined up and staring into the camera.
Image Source: https://andromeda.fandom.com/wiki/Andromeda_(TV_series)

Okay, so this one is going to be an interesting review, although it might be fairly similar to my review (in tone) of my review of Farscape. So, for me, Andromeda was much closer in tone, story construction, and characterization with Farscape than other sci-fi shows that I’ve seen such as Babylon 5, the various Star Trek shows, or even the Stargate shows. There is a more fun vibe going on and less serious vibe in the show where I think the other shows tended more towards seriousness with comedic elements. This show, along with Farscape in certain episodes, tended more toward the wry comedic element rather than full on seriousness. Now depending on my mood, I felt this lightness of subject matter either funny or irritating, depending on how much I just wanted a good, old fashioned, nuts & bolts sci-fi story.

A Story of Two Series: Before Tyr and After Tyr

So, there’s just no way around it. The series can be broken up into two parts (actually 3, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Tyr, a character from the beginning of the series and what I would assume was the “pilot” episode, and a “foil” for Dylan Hunt (captain of the Andromeda) looms large in the discussion of the show. I don’t know the reaction to Tyr during the show’s initial run, but I do know that being the “foil” to Dylan, he had the chance to be redeemed to Dylan’s cause, but being the type of character he was portrayed as, also had the capacity to betray Dylan at any time. The problem is, in year 3, they actually had a storyline that dramatized his choice.

The problem was, for me, the storyline wasn’t the greatest articulation of that choice and, then it became the basis for the rest of the storylines of the show moving forward and those didn’t seem as grounded as ones before. Slight spoiler incoming (please skip to the next paragraph if you want to stay unspoiled about ANYTHING in the show–has nothing to do with the resolution of Tyr’s story or the resolution of the series in general).</spoiler>In fact, the whole founding of the “New Commonwealth” (while fine), didn’t really seem fleshed out very well and the idea that Dylan Hunt was a “traitor” and had to go away from the “Commonwealth” simply happened too quick for my liking. It would have taken at least a season of build up for me to have really engaged with that plot line. It all just happened too quickly for me to believe.

Can We Talk About Season 5?

So, taking a “spaceship show” and grounding it in a solar system with a limited number of planets might not have been the best thing for the show. The last 3 episodes were very good in my opinion, but that meant that I had to sit through a lot of “brown” planets to get there. Also, the same sketchiness of storytelling of the previous season was there meaning that sometimes time and character motivations didn’t seem to match up for me, but like I said, the last three or four episodes were masterful–especially when then go into an artificial sun to repair it–now that is what I’m looking for in my science fiction!

Overall Grade: B-

So, like Farscape, I thought the stories weren’t all that great usually, but the characters and the acting were pretty good and fun. I wish that there had been more of Star Trek vibe, with everyone having even more clearly delineated roles and flaws that dovetailed with the plot more often than they did. I would loved to have seen Andromeda as a “dysfunctional” Enterprise–yes, they saved the day, but there individual quirks made it much more difficult that it should have been. On the Enterprise for Star Trek, we see the crew band together to solve problems. It would have been nice to see the crew of the Andromeda try to solve problems, but have their own quirks (or other crew) get in the way, but always somehow overcoming in spite of everything and becoming more of a “family” in doing so. I also think some characters were under-used. I would have liked to have seen more storylines with Becka Valentine’s character, especially with her dealing with her substance abuse–but that arc was dealt with and was only mentioned in subsequent seasons, but not shown.

Still, the show was fun, if a little campy at times, and I say, for me, a darn sight better than Defiance with its “edgy” storylines that don’t seem to work nearly as well for me. I did enjoy my time with the show, but just wished that it could have stayed a little bit more serious.

Sidney


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Unlocked: Mini-Movie Review

So its been a while since I’ve written a blog, but I’ve still been progressing on many fronts. A couple of weeks of go I was in the mood for a spy action film. I’d seen this trailer, but I didn’t actually go to see Unlocked. When I saw that it was on streaming, I immediately put it on my list to see. I watched it a couple of weekends ago and thought that it was good. Not horrible and not great, but good.

The Action is What Makes This Movie

So, it is the action and action sequences that really make this movie. I really like the action sequences (reminiscent of the Bodyguard BBC TV show that I didn’t really care for except for the action sequences). There’s a lot of hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and spycraft that makes up this movie. Even in the action sequences, one can still see the characters and the interplay between the characters and that is also very good.

The Script Really Lets the Movie Down

So, it is the script that really hampers the movie, particularly the plot. Good characters and good action, weighed down by seeming reversals that can be seen a mile away. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the events play out EXACTLY as one expects they will. This is one of those times where film critics (which I have a love/hate relationship with) are right: being derivative really hurt this film. The film makes (or wants to make) a statement about terrorism and peace and warmonger/warprofiteering, but wants to have everything fall into place in such a way as to “hide” the identity of the ultimate bad guy, but (slight spoiler here, so skip two paragraphs if you don’t want ANY spoilers):

. . . if you’ve seen The Fugitive, then you know exactly what’s going to happen. Same essential structure. And that’s just for starters. I can’t recall their names, but I can think of two more movies (oh, just remembered one: Broken Arrow) that do much the same as this one does.

Overall Rating: B

So this is probably overly generous (it should probably be a B-/C+), but I found the lead character played by Noomi Rapace and the male character played by Orlando Bloom to be a strong presence. I also liked many of the other actors (& their characters) in the movie and thought that the set-up to the movie was the strongest I’d seen in a while and with the action it seemed poised to be a good one, but ultimately, the derivative script let it down and I didn’t like the last 2/3rds of the movie nearly as much as I did the first 1/3rd.

Anyway, I hope that everyone’s week is an awesome one!

Sidney


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Finally Found a New “Starship Show”: Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda

Cast of the Andromeda TV show posing for the camera.
Image Source: https://andromeda.fandom.com/wiki/Andromeda_(TV_series)

So, even though I did a blog post a couple of weeks ago on Defiance, I’ve abandoned the show for now. The first season was fairly good–I would have rated it a B-/C+ as the “alien artifact” storyline did become more prominent during the later part of the season. B- is probably where I would have settled as it had just enough sci-fi concepts (and great acting!) to overcome what I feel is stereotypical and (to me) uninteresting world building, setting, and too much reliance on Western genre tropes instead of sci-fi tropes. However, what got me was that season 2 introduced new characters and gave the old characters new “problems.” I didn’t really cotton to the new characters, but I felt I could tolerate them–and the problems of the old characters. Of course, to be “edgy” (aka Game of Thrones before Game of Thrones), they had to (for me) take it a step too far by taking one of the hero characters from season 1 and giving her the problem of recreational drug use (their version of cocaine). Yeah, I watched one episode and barely tolerated it, but couldn’t do it with subsequent episodes, so I’ve bailed about halfway into season 2. I may skip the episode and go back one day, but for now, I have a new show: Andromeda.

Captain America in Space

So, this is a bit of an anachronism as Andromeda and its “boy-scout” of a captain came first in terms of appearing on screen with that whole “old fashioned hero out of time” routine. Dylan Hunt was frozen at the Event Horizon for 300 years and when he is rescued, he discovers that his “Commonwealth” has fallen. He discovers the worlds have fallen into disarray, so decides to make it his mission to rebuild the Commonwealth (UN for Planets, but not exactly like Star Trek’s Federation or Star Wars’s Galactic Senate) and restore some semblance of order to the galaxy.

Dylan Hunt is very much in line with the current Marvel Universe incarnation of Captain America. He fights for ideals and is idealistic. He is the hero and pretty much always wins, but the adventures are exciting. This probably will not appeal to most of the millennials who crave “bad people screwing each other over” and who call that “complex,” but if you’re looking for adventure and excitement and traditional space opera (which is my preference), then this one, while a bit hokey at times, still mostly works and is FAR more appealing than Defiance with its pseudo-Western and illicit drug use. And for those who would “nope out,” and claim Andromeda has no complexity, it actually has a character who is dealing with addiction issues, but it actually has the character fall, pay the cost, and then work to rise above and stay above their addiction and is referenced several times over the course of the first two seasons that I’ve watched.

2 – 3 Episodes Per Day

So, I try to download (it is currently available on Amazon Prime) 2 -3 episodes per day. I don’t always get through that many (sometimes I manage all three, but usually it’s 1 or 2). However, I really feel that the show, while not as consistently good as Babylon 5 or the Stargate shows, is still a very strong show and (for me) it is better than the nihilistic shows of Defiance or The Expanse (again, I really like the actors on both of the shows, but I don’t like the “tone” of the shows). With nihilistic shows, it feels like a slog to get through, but I always look forward to most of the episodes that I’ve watched so far.

I’m currently into season 2 and I’m deep into it–I think I only have maybe 4 more episodes before the end of the season. There are 5 total seasons, so I still have a way to go before I finish it.

I have to say that (at the moment) I really like this show and I have to say that the characters have (so far) grown on me. We’ll see if that continues to be the case.

Sidney


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Defiantly Watching Defiance

Defiance TV Show Poster (w show's main characters standing in alien fauna by the backdrop of the St. Louis arch in the background.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2189221/

I am watching a show that I’ve had in my queue for a while: Defiance. It is a Sci-Fi show (post apocalyptic) that is currently streaming on Amazon Prime (not sure if it is elsewhere, but I know its been on Prime) for a while now, so I thought I’d watch it. So, when my late creative writing professor, Ken Smith, opened my eyes to the fact that Science-Fiction’s antecedent genre was the Western, I was aghast. Star Wars and the original trilogy were my favorite movies at the time (this was in the era where the Prequels were still a couple years away from release and the Matrix hadn’t quite changed the landscape for science-fiction films (although Aliens & Terminator 2 had made significant in-roads). And yet, as I watch Defiance, I can’t help but recall Ken’s assertion as this show is every bit the Western.

Alien Backstory & Mythos + Western Plots and Characterization = Defiance

So far, about mid-way into the show’s first season, I’m slogging my way through it. The show takes the approach to adding aliens to Earth via a “failed” attempt (or maybe incomplete) at an alien race terraforming Earth. The Earth has been transformed into a (mostly) post-apocalyptic wasteland complete with alien species and races complicating life for the remaining human residents. One of the things that I like about the show is that it doesn’t just focus on humans, however, but seeks to show a town (Defiance) that has multiple alien and human inhabitants and how they can survive and life together despite their prejudices and differences. In many ways, it tries (again early times, at least) to present a hopeful, unifying front, no matter the individual prejudices that flare up.

All Western, All the Time

And yet . . . the show really hasn’t grabbed me. Even though there are aliens, what looks like an ancient alien mystery, and quite a few alien cultures that have traditions different from our own, all of the stories so far have had a decidedly Western (genre) feel to them. Their has been a feuding pair of families with young lovers on each side of the families (a la The Hatfields & McCoys–and yes, they are of two different races just to ratchet up the tension). The protagonist becomes the town’s “Lawkeeper” in the “pilot” episode. The episode I just finished had to do with a “Bounty Hunter” friend of the Lawkeeper (a “trope” of many a Western). There are deputies, a doc with a possible bad past, prostitutes with hearts of gold, and the like.

Now, all this to say, that the actors and the story isn’t bad–it just skews heavily into the Western motif, where I might want it to do so a little less.

And this is Why I Like “Space Ship Shows”

Defiance (and shows like it–The Walking Dead comes quickly to mind) is that it devolves into the same tropes that a Western might: be quick with a gun or be dead, protect yourself at all costs because your neighbors won’t, the frontier is the big open space of badness, with little pockets of safety coming by way of cities.

Now, you could say this about my beloved spaceship shows (Star Trek, Star Wars, Dark Matter, Stargate (& spinoff shows), etc), but one thing that spaceship shows do better than their post apocalyptic cousins is that sense of “wonder.” There is the chance that some scientific concept or paradigm will be explored in some unique and awesome way that completely explodes the traditional/contemporary way of looking at the world. For instance, Star Wars has a lot of western tropes early in the movie, but moving to the later parts of the movie, we see the tropes of medieval knights (Kenobi vs Vader fight on the Death Star) and even WW2 fighter tropes (the iconic Trench Run). As a child, this blew my mind. Another example, from the world of books this time, was a scene in one of Elizabeth Moon’s books where a main character walked on the ship’s outer hull while the ship was in freakin’ HYPERSPACE. I’d never read the like and this one scene helped make me a lifelong fan of Elizabeth Moon’s work.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to stick through it to the end and report back with a mini-review. We’ll see–while I like and respect the western, I would prefer my science fiction to show a little less western tropes and a little more wonder than I’m currently seeing in Defiance. But who knows, maybe they’ll lean harder into the “alien artifact” mystery and it will have the wonder I’m looking for in my sci-fi.

Sidney


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Series Review: Farscape

Image of the cast of Farscape--Crichton,  Aeryn Sun, and the rest along with the villains Crais and Scorpius standing on the bridge of the living ship Moya as they stare out into space--a photo of the cast.
Image Source: https://paleymatters.org/somewhere-over-the-wormhole-farscape-15-years-later-eef1ebba7e98

So, over the weekend I finished watching the entire series of Farscape. I had the last episode sitting, just waiting to be watched for a couple of weeks, and I sorta’ dreaded watching it because it would mean that it was over and that’s pretty much the last spaceship show that I’m really interested in at the moment–having watched most of the other major ones that I wanted to see. However, now that Stranger Things, Season 3 has come out, I decided I should finish it up and move on.

Two “Different” Shows

Much like Star Trek Voyager, the show is essentially two different main storylines in the show’s history. (Minor spoilers ahead): You can break the show in many different ways, but the way that I look at it is the Pa’u Zatoh Zaahn (“Zaahn”) era and the “Post Zaahn” era. Now this could definitely be broken up with different characters, but, like the character of “Zaahn,” this character was the “soul” of the show–for me, at least early in the show. Zahn, while weird in concept and backstory, was probably the character I most related to, esp. in the early years of the show. Now remember, I’ve seen all of the first 2 seasons before it disappeared from streaming 2-3 years ago. Now that its was back, I was made sure to see all of the episodes this time around. Early in the show, it was still finding its footing. The thing to know is that this show has multiple antagonists–4 major ones that I could count, but there are probably more. However, in the beginning of the show, the episodes are far more episodic in nature and they do a fairly good job of establishing establishing the characters, the setting, the conflict, and the interdynmics of the character drama on the ship.

Post “Zaahn”

After Zahn’s character’s resolution, the show goes into more of a “series”-based show in which the focuses more on characters in a fairly long-running recurring storyline that loosely focuses around “Wormholes.” While this is a theme through the whole show (Crichton, the main character gets pulled through a wormhole the very first episode), the “post Zahn” era really does run with this theme and this idea. Also, the dynamics of the ship’s crew are explored in more detail as the characters form bonds later in the show (to say more would be risking major spoilers). What I like about the show is that even though it is often much more farcical than typical “spaceship” shows (it has an episode the is heavily inspired by the classic Roadrunner cartoons, for example), it still knows when to take itself serious for true “space opera” situations (the series finale is epic AND actually gives true closer to the show). A quick digression: all networks should do things the Farscape way–allow the show to either continue with new storylines or allow it to end via a series finale–this idea of waiting to cancel a show depending on how it does in its “previous” season really shows a lack of understanding of the narrative that they themselves created to sell advertising time on–you have to provide closure for a series if you want long term fan investment–no closure = no future possibility of resurrecting the show at a different time).

Overall Score: B (82-85)

The show wasn’t perfect–it definitely displayed its foreign (Australian) sensibilities. There were more than a few times when it seemed like Mad Max meets Star Wars, but for the most part, I think it carried itself well. Both Ben Browder and Claudia Black were standouts, but I enjoyed most of the characters (and the cast as well). I really liked Chiana and Jool, but they found themselves not as developed (esp. in the later seasons) as I would have liked. While I can only guess at the reason for its ultimate cancellation (well, I can also look on Wikipedia as well), for me, I could never find it during its 1st run. It was one of the first shows to hit streaming when streaming was just starting to get popular, but I didn’t really give it a try–still in “disc” mode and then it disappeared again. When it became available again, about a year ago, I was determined to see it all the way through. Now that I have, I still like other “spaceship shows” better (Dark Matter, Babylon 5, the Star Trek shows), but I still feel like this is a strong contender (and I like it quite a bit better than shows like Killjoys and The Expanse) and really am glad that I (finally) was able to get to see it on streaming (as I write this, it is on Amazon Prime Video.)

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




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