Friday, March 29, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E11 "Perpetual Infinity"

This was a good episode, despite things happening and flashing by the screen so fast you barely had time to breathe before it was all over. But overall it was enjoyable and interesting.

So here we have it, backstory on whatever happened to Michael and her family that day when her parents died. Except they didn't. Or at least her mother didn't seem to. We see the mother, named Gabrielle, suit up and jump away when they get attacked. Only I thought in the previous episode it was mentioned that they died from the super nova, but now it seems they were indeed attacked by the Klingons, like Michael had always said. So now I am not really sure which it is, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that we see Gabrielle use the suit with the intention to jump back in time just an hour to get her family out of there before they get attacked by the Klingons. Something goes wrong and she ends up 950 years in the future instead. Now that's a mistake if I ever saw one! Reminds me of that decimal that was wrong somewhere and ended up costing some company billions... For some reason that is never explained, she has no problem jumping 950 years into the future, but every time she tries to jump back from there, she gets thrown back into the future again. Basically she is stuck there, and this is why she's only made short appearances here and there so far.

I still don't understand the angel-design.

Maybe it's because you can jump forward but not backward with the same ease? I don't know, like I said it's never explained or addressed in any way. I can picture the writers getting the question - "but why...?" and answering "just shhh".

I will give them credit for casting a woman (Sonja Sohn) to play Michael's mom who really has pretty much the exact same mannerisms and way of talking as Michael. They are very similar and credible as parent and child.

Next up we get to see Michael waking up from the shock of what she went through in the last episode. She's only been out for 5 hours, which is pretty strong for someone who literally died. At first she thinks she only hallucinated seeing her mom, but the people around her (the usual gang of Stamets, Tilly, Saru, Pike, Tyler) tell her that it wasn't a hallucination. The Red Angel is in fact Michael's mom. During this scene it's like the person handling the camera has had too many Red Bull or something, because it is shaking all over the place. I wrote down in my notes "what is UP with the shaky cam?!" because it was really annoying. I understand that it's probably a deliberate choice to give more effect to Michael's shaky and unsteady feelings upon hearing that her mother didn't in fact die 20 years ago and also is the Red Angel. I mean, it's a lot to take in. And she did just die and get resurrected. But it ends up being more distracting, although I don't know enough about cinematography to give any advice on how that could've been better. Maybe just trust the skills of your actor and not shake the screen all over the place like there's an earthquake?

I know there was a lot of guessing about who the Red Angel was going to be. I think Spock himself was the hottest contender. Who guessed Michael's mom? Probably no one. But it works, I think it makes sense in the story and I'm buying it. In fact I think I even prefer it over the more lavish choices of Spock and what we thought last week, Michael.

Obviously Michael is very keen on meeting her mom, who has yet to wake up from being unconscious. While she is waiting for her mom to wake up she watches a lot of data and footage downloaded from the suit and this is when we get the information that Gabrielle can't come back to her "own" time anymore. We also find out that Gabrielle finds a desolate universe where everything has been destroyed and I guess she somehow finds out that Control is the culprit? This is also not explained, but suddenly Gabrielle talks about how she has tried to prevent the annihilation event from happening hundreds of times (or at least very many times, can't remember exactly how many she says) but failed every time so far. We get to see how Gabrielle sets up camp on some M-class planet, but it's not explained if that is also desolate. Presumably not or Gabrielle wouldn't live for very long, without food and water.

Planet sets are always some of my favorites.

We move to a scene with Leland who has been captured by Control. He's strapped to a chair while some holograms looking like the main cast walk closer to him, talking about how it needs a body. But wait a second here, did I miss something? Am I having a blackout? I have no recollection of Leland getting captured by Control. It probably happened at some point in the previous episode, but in that case I have completely blanked it out. My last memory of Leland was Michael punching him in the face after he came clean about his involvement in her parents death.

But ok, Control tells Leland that it needs his body to be able to seem more human. It tells him that the reason it used a Vulcan (admiral Patar) and a cyborg (Airiam) previously, was to not have to fake human emotions, which it can't do credibly. I fail to see how taking over Leland's body will solve that problem though? If it takes over his mind then surely it would still have the problem of not being able to fake human emotions, and if it doesn't then... Leland is still in control? But no, apparently having a human and real body is all Control needs. It injects Leland with loads of some sort of nanoprobe-looking things, which means Control has access to some technology that I had no idea the Federation had. I mean, mind-controlling nanoprobes. As far as I know, the first time the Starfleet get anywhere near nanoprobes that can alter the body is when Seven-of-Nine enters the show, which is set after Discovery.

At first I thought maybe Control had taken this technology back from the future, but when and how? But I guess if Section 31 can produce a time jumping suit they could also have this kind of technology up their sleeves. Leland isn't happy about it but can do nothing to prevent it from happening so neener-neener.

No one liked Leland anyway.

Control in control of Leland immediately sets off to get hold of the data from the Sphere. Control-Leland tells Tyler something about how he doesn't trust the data with Discovery and wants Tyler to transfer it over to the Section 31 ship somehow. Tyler isn't too keen on the idea and asks "you want me to commit espionage on another Starfleet ship?". Control-Leland answers "that is the line of work you've chosen" (paraphrasing). I mean, yeah Tyler. That IS what Section 31 is about, among other things. Tyler agrees to do it.

When Gabrielle wakes up she doesn't want to meet Michael. Pike tells Michael that he wants to honor Gabrielles wishes and Michael is royally upset about it, since she really wants to see her mom. Instead she gets to watch the conversation Pike and Gabrielle have over a datafeed. It essentially boils down to Gabrielle saying that she has tried pretty much everything there is to try, and asks Pike to simply destroy the data from the Sphere. Reluctantly he agrees. Saru is upset about it at first, comparing it to the burning of the Alexandrian libraries but realizes that the fate of the Universe is at stake. They have a lot of faith in Gabrielle's ability to judge what is the right course of action, considering she clearly doesn't have a clue and has just randomly tried everything she could think of so far. Why would this now be the right thing to do to get rid of Control if all the hundred ideas she had before didn't cut it? Turns out though, the data from the Sphere is undeletable. Just like the Sphere tried to save the data in the episode where it first appeared, the data is now protecting itself and encrypting itself to prevent it from being destroyed.

Michael goes to Gabrielle to tell her this and they have a pretty emotional scene where Gabrielle tells Michael that she's dead to her because she's seen the Universe and everyone in it being destroyed so many times. She says that them reconnecting now is meaningless and to wait until Control has been neutralized. Michael thinks her mom is callous and cold, but I can definitely see what Gabrielle means. To her time has become a fluid thing and that moment with her daughter is just a drop in it, that holds no significance if they can't prevent the Universe from being destroyed.

Gabrielle also explains why she has been showing herself to Spock. At some point she figured out that Spock was the only one able to comprehend her, with his special blend of emotion and logic and apparently because of his... wait for it - dyslexia. His dyslexia has primed his mind to be able to understand the time displacement and... I don't really get it myself. I think this could easily sound really stupid, even as some Star Trek ideas go, but I am going to be the Devil's Advocate here for a bit. Clearly, if you have dyslexia, your brain is wired a bit differently. We're supposed to believe that that same wiring allows you to see time-visions and I mean yeah sure, why not? Michael even tells Spock that "your dyslexia wasn't a failing, it was your advantage" (again paraphrasing). Personally I like the idea of seeing the brain not as something that is black or white (works or doesn't work) but rather as something that is useful in some areas and less useful in other areas. With certain things we might just not have figured out what they are useful for yet. An analogy could be how a disorder like sickle-cell anemia can help you fend off malaria. So something that usually is just a debilitating disorder becomes something of a benefit under the right circumstances.

Speaking of something completely else, how about some more animated Star Trek or what?

Meanwhile, Stamets tells them that the suit will soon snap back into the future with Gabrielle (whether she is in it or not) because that is just how time works. They won't be able to keep it in their time frame much longer. Spock comes up with the idea of transferring all the sphere-data to the suit which would then mean all the data would be 950 years into the future, where presumably Control wouldn't have access to it. They also device a plan to beam Gabrielle out of her future-timeframe and into the present one. Gabrielle says she wants to go with the data into the future to make sure Control can't get it, but Michael doesn't want her to go.

Before they set their plan in motion however, Tyler tells Control-Leland he's changed his mind and doesn't want to help him transfer the data anymore. Control-Leland just lets this go, presumably to not arouse too much suspicion about him not actually being Leland anymore. Instead he asks Philippa to help him and appeals to her vanity as "the most powerful woman in the Universe" to get her in on the idea. He tells her that Gabrielle has infinitely more power than Philippa, because even though Philippa has the knowledge of two Universes, Gabrielle has the knowledge of all of time. She knows what is going to happen to all of them. Philippa agrees to help Control-Leland to transfer the data to the Section 31 ship. She goes down to Gabrielle under the pre-tense of wanting to have a chat, while using some sort of sneaky device to transfer the data from the suit.

They too have a good scene, since they are both mothers to Michael. Gabrielle says she's seen Philippa sacrifice herself for Michael many times throughout the timeline and Philippa says she must be talking about her prime-self. But Gabrielle smiles and says that she knows more about Philippa than she thinks. Gabrielle says something that suddenly makes Philippa suspicious about Control-Leland, and decides not to help him anymore. She tells Tyler on a secret channel about her suspicions and when he goes to confront him, Control-Leland stabs him in the stomach. Things happen very quickly here so I might not get the order entirely right, because it's a bit jumbled in my memory.

They haven't even given her access to lavatories...

Gabrielle is about to snap back into the future with a suit full of sphere-data, Control-Leland has managed to download about a third of the data already. He teleports himself to where Gabrielle is being held to finish the data download that Philippa has interrupted, but Philippa attacks him. While Philippa holds him off, impressively considering Control-Leland seems to have super-humans strength now, Michael very reluctantly says her goodbyes to her mom. Then Control-Leland shoots the suit and the time crystal in it breaks. The machine holding Gabrielle also breaks and she and the suit is sent back to the future, presumably without any means of using the suit again. Then Pike quickly beams everyone out of there, except obviously Control-Leland, and shoots the site to kingdom come with some well placed torpedoes.

Control-Leland of course manages to beam to safety on the Section 31 ship with about half of the sphere-data with him. Tyler, who is still alive, has escaped the ship on an escape pod and gets picked up by Discovery. Control-Leland flies off and masks his trail so that they can't follow him.

So to conclude - Gabrielle is back in the future with her broken suit, Tyler is alive and on Discovery, Control-Leland has run off with half the sphere-data. There seems to be three more episodes to this season, so I don't have a clue what will happen now. I think that is a good thing, they've really got me intrigued for what will come and how this will all play out. While the story-telling has been jerky so far, to say the least, with revelations coming in about 15 minutes before they pay off or get resolved or get thrown out, the story as a whole is actually pretty good. I know I've been nagging about this since the start of this series, but I really would like more padding, or filler if you like. Star Trek is all about the padding. We need the episodes in-between all the seriousness, for character and world building. That is how we end up caring so deeply about the things that then happen to these characters and these worlds.

But other than that, I'm definitely enjoying this.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E10 "The Red Angel"


This series is getting pretty self-aware and I must say I am enjoying it. The interactions and dialogue between characters was one of the best parts of this episode as well, in which we see Michael die. I did say spoilers right?

She doesn't stay dead for long though, but let's go back a little first.

The episode starts with a funeral for Airiam, and I'll be honest, it made me a lot angrier than it made me sad. Why are they trying to make us feel for Airiam now? That ship has sailed people. They make a poor teary-eyed Tilly do her best in selling us that she used to be a really close friend to Airiam and everything is so sad yada yada, no one is buying it. The actors are doing a great job with an ungrateful task here, trying to fix what the writers couldn't put together properly. They throw out Airiams body into space, and if that is the last we ever see of her then she is probably one of the worst used characters in the history of Star Trek (and reading this makes it seem like the writers had no idea what to do with her originally). Please feel free to give me other examples.

So much potential, wasted?

And also, what is up with the whole shooting dead people into space thing? I know it refers back to when people used to do it on sea and I can see if humans thought it might be a good idea in the early days of space traveling. But just like we don't throw dead people into the sea anymore (we don't, do we?) why would they want to throw out dead people into space, knowing how populated space is? Any body you leave floating around out there is almost certain to be picked up by something, is that really how we want our bodies to be left?

Anyway, Tilly manages to find a file inside Airiams head that tell them who the Red Angel really is. Surprise, surprise, it is Michael. Spock delivers a lovely scene where he says that it fits Michael's emotional personality of having to be the one that saves the day, going a little bit meta with addressing the point of how Michael always find herself in the middle of the weirdest situations. It's also something that I guess could've been guessed by a half-clever viewer (so not me), as it also sort of answers the question of why it has been showing itself to Spock specifically. It does make you wonder why Michael hasn't been showing herself to... herself. If you get my meaning. Why go back and give vague hints to Spock?

There is an explanation of sorts to that, for instance way back when Spock first saw the Red Angel and it lead to him being able to rescue Michael from some sort of Vulcan beast in the wilderness. But this could've been accomplished by Michael simply going back and saving herself (which is a possibility as we will soon see in the episode). So there isn't a clear explanation just yet as to why Michael chooses Spock for the visions of herself. This whole issue becomes even more confusing at the very end of this episode, as we will get to.

Section 31 shows up and tells the Discovery people that they have a plan to capture the Red Angel, because they are in fact the creators of the time traveling suit that she is using. Back at the beginning of the Klingon war it seemed like the Klingons dabbled in time traveling and so to not get wiped off the time map, the Federation also created a time traveling device. It was the subsequently lost. Discovery lets them in on the information that the traveller is Michael and they decide they need to team up to set a trap. They put Stamets on the task of very quickly coming up with a solution to capture someone who can time travel, which he of course does in an afternoon (or something), because Stamets will just solve any problem thrown at him. Where is my "Stamets will fix it" meme?

I want an episode where TOS Klingons meet DSC Klingons.

Stamets solution is in part to render the time crystal in the suit inoperational, but what the heck is a time crystal anyway? The way it's worded it's literally some sort of stone that allows for time travel, and how that would work would be very interesting to know.

There is another great scene where Stamets and Tilly talk about the intricacies of time traveling and suits with Philippa, when Hugh comes in for no reason and asks where Admiral Cornwell is (can't you locate people via the computer here? Maybe that comes later?). Everything goes all awkward between Stamets and Hugh and Philippa relishes in it and starts talking about their sexuality. It's just a weird scene which Tilly wraps up perfectly with "what just happened?", which must be what everyone watching is thinking as well. At least the writers acknowledge that

Hugh finds Cornwell, who apparently used to work as a therapist before she became an admiral, and they briefly talk about Hugh's issues with his new identity. It's a nice talk actually where Cornwell sums it up with whatever Hugh used to feel and whomever he used to be, he is still free and in charge of the path he chooses to go forward. It's unclear how this ties in to the bigger story, but it's a good scene nonetheless.

Leland tells Michael the story about why he is sort of responsible for her parents death, and that her parents were also part of the crew that built the time travel suit. Michael kicks his ass in response. At first it's also unclear how this is important to everything going on, besides giving some more backstory to Michael I guess? But it might become a bit clearer moving forward as we will soon find out. It does make you wonder how old Leland is, if he was in charge of Michael's parents. He does mention that he was young when taking those decision however, so presumably he somehow got into high command and highly classified Starfleet dealings at an early age.

They died in a supernova, in case you were wondering.

For the trap to work they need to know when the Red Angel is going to show up again, and Spock tells Michael that he has figured out that she shows up to save herself from death. Michael promptly decides that she needs to die in order to get future-Michael to save her and walk into their trap. Pike and Philippa are not keen on Michael's idea, but agree to it eventually. The trap is set on a planet where no humanoids can survive and Michael is basically going to be allowed to suffocate to death in the hostile atmosphere. Spock tells Michael it would be nice of her not to die, since that would otherwise have him charged with murder again. "Such a way with words" Michael replies.

Spock and Michael are much better friends in this episode and even come around to telling each other they're sorry. It's a bit jarring that Spock tells Michael in this episode that "she was just a child" when in the previous episode he very clearly did not forgive her anything despite her age. Why they've suddenly made up isn't very well established, but I don't even mind because the interactions between them are just so entertaining to watch. I actually really like this Spock.

Philippa goes very protective-mother over Michael in this episode (as much as the character is capable at least), which frankly is an interesting side of evil-Philippa, and something that has been established throughout the series. It works, but Philippa says that she knew Michael would do something like this because she would always try to do the right thing (I am paraphrasing). The way Philippa has been talking about her own Michael from the mirror-Universe, it makes it almost seem like that Michael wasn't even evil? So I am not really sure if everyone in the mirror-Universe is a mirror of themselves or how that works. How could a non-evil Michael even survive in the mirror-Universe?

Still killing it.

Spock straps Michael into a chair and Hugh is close by, ready to resurrect her. It's a bit unclear here whether they actually mean for her to die-die, or just really unconscious-die. It seems the characters haven't really decided themselves, because as Michael is dying, Philippa and Pike tell them to abort the mission, but Spock won't let them and threatens them at phaser point. Even if they could resurrect Michael after she's died, isn't there a brain damage factor involved? At this point however it seems like Spock actually means for Michael to die-die because he's thinking that is the only way to summon the Red Angel. It's also a pretty well done scene for him.

So Michael dies, and moments after the Red Angel shows up to resurrect her. Firstly, why wait that long? Secondly, why would she have the exact tools required to resurrect Michael in this situation in her time traveling suit? And why does the suit have wings like an angel? I could find possible answers to these question but these posts always get longer than I intend them to anyway so let's move right along.

They manage to capture the Red Angel just like they planned and out of the suit falls... Michael's mom? This would explain the Leland and Michael's backstory scene (why do they insist on always giving us the establishing backstory and character development right before it becomes relevant? Do they think our memory and ability to create a bigger picture in our minds have become that fickle?). This does not however explain why the Red Angel has shown itself to Spock instead of Michael all this time. But they might still give us an explanation for this so I am going to let it slide for now.

Overall a good episode with, as mentioned, more of the fun interaction and banter between characters that we saw some of in the previous episode. It makes the characters come alive a bit and thus the show itself. I hope it continues in this vein and this episode definitely left it on a cliffhanger that makes me very interested in seeing where things are going from here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

World of Goo (PC) - Review

Messy fun.

When finding a game for me and the 5 yo to play, I try to find something that is either whacky (like Worms) or puzzley (like The Room) or even better, both. Like World of Goo.

I got curious about World of Goo after hearing some of the music in one of the umpteen VGM podcasts I listen to. I had heard about the game before and knew it was a puzzle game, and as such I hadn't given it much thought. Personally, I am not fond of puzzling. But with the kid it can be great fun, mostly because he enjoys it so much and quite frankly he is often more clever about it than I am. World of Goo would turn out to be yet another game where he had to tell me what was expected a couple of times.

Simply put, World of Goo is a puzzle game where you stack different kinds of goo to allow them to escape the stage. It starts out with regular building-kind of goo, but soon you'll get to handle not only other types of goo but also several types of goo within a stage. There will be chasms to cross, traps to avoid and most frustratingly of all, gravity to outsmart. The controls are simple enough, simply drag and drop and it rarely took long to figure out what you had to do to finish the level. Executing it was always the tricky bit, just as it should be with a well designed puzzler. Unfortunately World of Goo is hampered by some annoying elements that make you feel like you fail unfairly.

A lot of that unfairness revolves around how the balls handle during the drag-and-dropping. It feels counterintuitive that the balls interact with the surrounding when you hold them, so that you could basically grab a ball and accidentally pull it into a trap without really thinking about it when you were just trying to move it to another part of the screen. I'll admit however that this isn't necessarily bad game design, just game design that didn't click with me. A bigger issue however was how the balls moved around on the grid as you were trying to build with them.

Sometimes there are a lot of balls to handle.

Building with the goo balls requires precision and timing, as whatever you've tried to build will quickly start to sway in the wind or simply under its own weight and finally fall down. It adds an unnecessary element of randomness and frustration then, that your goo balls will move around on your structure as you try to interact with them. Sometimes, when you have several different goo balls to work with and want a specific one, they'll be clustered which doesn't allow you to pick the right one for the job as quickly as you'd like. Other times, they inexplicably choose to gang up at the far end of your structure, requiring you to carry them a great length across the screen to where you need them, wasting precious time during which your structure can collapse. Sometimes you're required to shoot your balls into certain positions, but they just refuse to travel to the right spot on the structure, which is something you have no control over. And the little fire flies that you need to press to backtrack a move are notoriously difficult to target as well. None of these annoyances happen all the time, but every time they do they feel like truly unfair reasons to fail or add duration to a level.

The game presents itself brilliantly. The balls will coo, sputter and make splatty noises that makes you want to poke them just to make them giggle. Coming off having just played Worms together, the balls make coincidentally (?) similar sounds to those murderous little annelids. The music is great too, it is after all what got me interested in the game in the first place and well worth a listen even if you have never played the game or have no intention of doing so. Visually it's both pretty to look at and functional, as all the different tools that you get to work with has its own clear style to distinguish it from another and often also to give a clue as to how it is used. As for the aesthetics of the level design, I really enjoy how they've gone the extra mile in making the stages fun to look at as much as to play, and they often gave my 5 year old plenty of reason to ask questions about what was going on.

Most games try to incorporate some sort of story element, but few do it with such successful tongue-in-cheek and fourth-wall breaking as World of Goo. While the story doesn't make much sense, and in all honesty I think I barely understood what was going on, it does make you smile and chuckle just as much as the cute little goo balls do. It's like the creators were aware of the somewhat ungrateful and maybe unnecessary role of a story in a puzzle game and decided to go all in. The "plot" section on the games Wikipedia page is surprisingly long and even after reading it I found it still made no sense. But as an excuse to provide you with a variety of levels and tools to use it is used very well.

The game is made up of five different stages with several different levels in them. You're allowed to skip levels but overall we found almost all of them were very fun to try to solve even if some required a lot of trial and error. While all of them require you to get your balls from one end of the stage to another, you'll get to use many different techniques to do it and aside from the abovementioned occasional issue with precision they were almost all fun to use and tinker around with. I think I would've been happy even if the whole game was just using the original building-goo and if I'd have any other complaint it would be that you don't get to use most types of balls often enough. Some make very fleeting visits and it would've been fun to get to try more levels with them, or even have an option of choosing what kind of tools you'd like to use on a level yourself. There is a suggestion for a sequel.

Deadpool would be proud of the wall-breaking in this game.

It took me and the kid about seven hours to complete the game, but a lot of that time was spent with him just playing around with the structures and physics of the games. While the game itself was too difficult for him to try to complete on his own, requiring more speed and precision than his five year old self has at the moment, he had loads of fun just trying or sometimes even just doing something completely else within the level. The game does have a sort of "outside" level where you are allowed to build with the excess balls you save from each level (each level has a save quota to be allowed to proceed), and it would've been great to have had all of the different tools you found across the game in that level to just experiment.

World of Goo is a puzzle game that does most things right and the very few things it does wrong you'll forgive it because of its sweet, cheeky and original presentation. Even though I cursed the handling of the balls in some levels, I still came out of this game wishing there had been more of it. When you get someone who doesn't like puzzle games to want to play more of your puzzle game, you can consider yourself a success.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E9 "Project Daedalus"


For some reason I had gotten it into my head that the last episode was a mid-season finale? Did I not do this last season as well? What the heck is wrong with me? Two little children, that's what... But either way, I noticed that I was wrong and here we are.

This episode was a whole lot of good things, baked in between two less good things.

The first not so good thing is how the episode pretty much starts. Admiral Cornwell (I keep thinking it's Cornwall) visits the now fugitive crew of the Discovery and tells them they have a big problem. Well yeah they do, they are on the run for harbouring a murderer, but what did you need help with Cornwell? Apparently some person called Patar has been taking control of a system called... eh, Control, and is misusing it. What is this Control you wonder? Glad you asked - it's something thrown straight in our face this very second for the sake of bad writing. It's also a huge computer system that the Federation uses to aid it in its tactical decision making. Cornwell needs the Discovery to get there and retake it. And since the Discovery has nothing better to do... (?).

Meanwhile Spock and Burnham are trying to understand what the Red Angel wants with Spock specifically and with showing up in general. The animosity between them is clear and actually played out pretty good. I've mentioned before that it hasn't been very well established exactly why they are so bad at getting along (the whole thing about Burnham being mean to Spock as a kid at one point seems like not enough for this kind of bad blood) but through the dialogue it becomes more clear that there is a whole lot more going on and it makes more sense. In essence, Spock is angry about being half-human and angry with Burnham for being a bit of a busybody and a martyr. He ain't wrong though. But it's also pretty classical Spock stuff.

So many Spocks.

In fact, after having complained for pretty much every post so far that I don't particularly care for Spock being in this season, I feel like my opinion of him is a bit more nuanced now that we've gotten to know him a bit better and seen him interact with people. I actually like this Spock. Or let me rephrase - I like this character. It feels like a Spock, sure. But it doesn't feel like the Spock. Zachary Quinto's Spock felt like Spock. This guy is called Spock, and he's a good character but I don't get Spock from him. That is not to say he's bad, but maybe too different. He's interesting though and I don't mind him being in the series anymore, at least for now.

Burnham tries to help Spock figure out what is going on and suggests they play that Vulcan chess game because it is "based in logic". I thought "Kal-Toh" was the go-to logic game for Vulcans though? Mid-game, Spock does the Vulcan version of rage-quitting and they have a good scene where they duke it out (verbally, mind you) leading to the above-mentioned further understanding of the difficulties between them.

Maybe it hasn't been invented yet.

We also get a bit of background story on Airiam and I was getting my hopes up that we'd finally get some more character development. Unfortunately this would all come crashing down with big flaw number two, but there is still some things happening before then. Her background story anyhow is that she is a sort of cyborg, think Robocop, who was in a shuttle crash in which her newlywed husband died. So she used to be human but was cybernetically enhanced because of the accident, presumably, it's not flat out told which I actually prefer.

On board the Discovery, Airiam and Tilly are trying to find out who has been sending the secret messages. Since it is Airiam who has done it, she tries to make sure Tilly doesn't find out. We get to understand that Airiam is only "possessed" by the malicious software/virus intermittently and sort of "wakes up" from it whenever it is done with its deeds. It seems to worry or at least confuse her but why she doesn't tell anyone is anyone's guess. Nahn, Pike's assistent or whatever she is that he brought over from his previous ship and who has been absolutely useless as a character so far, is suspicious of Airiam and keeps an eye on her. Why she doesn't tell anyone is anyone's guess.

Cornwell gets the Discovery to go to Section 31 secret hideout and as they get there they notice it is completely surrounded by a great variety of mines. Slicing mines and scramble mines and magnetic mines and I'm just making names up at this point... While travelling they look at the tactical data on the big viewscreen, with all the stars rushing past in great flashing light as a background, making it virtually impossible to concentrate or make anything out of the information on the screen. Surely there must be a way to remove that star effect if you want to use the screen as a computer screen rather than a window?

Imagine text on that thing and you can see my problem.

Cornwell tells them to lower their shields (because it attracts mines) and use a special route that she has and they'll be fine. Of course that fails almost immediately when they are being attacked by the mines. Detmer shouts something about "the ship being upside down" and what does that even mean in space? Then something happens that makes no sense - possessed-Airiam transmits some message to somewhere and the mines stop attacking. Admiral Patar starts talking to them, telling them they are all going to be arrested for treason. Cornwell tells Pike that they need to sort out the Control system anyway, which he agrees with. They decide to send in Burnham, Nahn and Airiam.

While in the base they find a lot of dead people. Burnham asks Nahn to go find some way to turn environmental controls back on and so she is left alone with Airiam. "Ruh-roh!" as some dogs and people might say. Airiam pretends to start Control back up while instead actually submitting some sort of data. Nahn gets the gravity back on and she and Burnham find Admiral Patar, dead. Uhm? Pike asks the right question when he says "so who was I talking to then?". Saru has the answer, that Patar was actually a hologram. Who made it though? Tilly has the answer. While everything has been going on, Tilly has figured out that Airiam has been acting weird and checks her station. She sees that Airiam has been downloading information from the Sphere that they encountered a couple of episodes back. Pike tells Burnham and Nahn to stop Airiam from uploading that data to the Control system, because the Control system is the actual villain. Think Skynet from Terminator. It turns out it needs the data from the Sphere to become fully sentient, at which point it can exterminate all sentient life in the Universe. They seem to realize this is what Spock has been having visions about all along. So now all that stuff that didn't make sense earlier is supposed to make sense.

Ok so hold it here, I have a lot of questions.

  1. Firstly, what constitutes as "sentient"? Are we talking dolphins and whales? Robots? Mushrooms? I guess if nothing else this will be a way to find out what that means. This is the same issue as the one I had with Thanos killing "half of all life". What counts as life?
  2. And why would Control want to do that? They seem absolutely sure that is going to happen. How can they know, besides assuming this is what Spock's visions is about?
  3. It's credible that Control, which seems to be interlinked with every Federation system, would know about the Sphere. But why doesn't it already have the knowledge of the Sphere? Instead it needs it transferred to it manually? Surely there must've been a better way to do that than to hijack a cyborg and then get it all the way to the main systems by impersonating people and setting them up (Control is what got Spock accused of murder). It's an extremely elaborate scheme that could go wrong in so many ways. Like maybe how about just asking for that information? Until just now, no one has suspected that Control is actually a maniac, half-sentient program.
  4. To do all this scheming and wanting to be sentient it already has to be quite sentient. I mean what does it really need that Sphere information for anyway? They say it's to make it fully knowledgeable and unbeatable, essentially, but the Federation also has all that information.
  5. Why did it attack with the mines? I understand somewhat that Airiam sending that message was for Control to realize that it shouldn't attack, but didn't it know that Discovery was carrying Airiam with the information? What other ship was it expecting to show up at this exact time?
  6. Wasn't Airiam infected by something from the probe which was from the future? Is Control from the future? Or was Control in a future where it was in... eh, control, and sent back that probe to make that future come true?

I could go on pretty much forever, but it's getting boring and I know I won't get any answers to any of this so let's move on instead.

Another guy who wasn't being very clear with his annihilation plans.

Nahn and Burnham attack Airiam, Airiam quickly renders Nahn useless (surprise, surprise) and has a fight with Burnham, who somehow manages to not completely break her hands when punching Airiam in the face. Must be something about the Vulcan fighting technique. Or maybe all that metal looking thing in her face is actually soft? Anyway, Burnham manages to lock her in the air lock and Airiam briefly gets her senses, but not her motor control, back when Tilly talks to her weepingly. Airiam pleads for Burnham to throw her out into space or Airiam will kill them all by being possessed. Airiam tells Burnham that she is the reason Control is acting this way and that Burnham has to remember about Project Daedalus. Burnham hesitates but before Airiam can say anything more Nahn turns up to do the dirty work it for her. That Nahn character has still to prove her point of being in the series for me though.

But yeah, Airiam dies and we don't care one bit because they just started her character development 40 minutes ago. Good job there guys, it's not like you've had over 20 episodes /facepalm.

So in the end we have an episode that has some pretty good scenes between characters, but everything else is so poorly established it's like they've just decided to go this route with the story at the last minute. Control isn't mentioned (at least not to my knowledge) at all until this very moment and Airiam has only been seen in the background basically until this very episode. And this episode is all about us caring about those two things. It doesn't work like that DSC. In VOY (which I am talking a lot about mainly because I am rewatching it simultaneously as I am watching Discovery) they can elude to things tens of episodes before it comes to fruition, like Tom Paris interest of everything vintage (this isn't always true though, as with Seven of Nines and Chakotays sudden romance in season 7).

I'll be honest, I can't even remember how the episode ended, but maybe things will make more sense in next weeks episode.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E8 "If Memory Serves"

Spoilers ahead!

So this was apparently the season finale (or is it just a mid season?), which I never realize until after I've watched the episode. As such I'm not sure what to think about it, so I am just going to look at the episode at face value. It sets up some interesting premises that I can only hope get expanded upon as we go forward. We've got a huge change of character for both Saru and Culber (I'll get to more on that) and of course, the possible destruction of a whole bunch of things unless something is fixed.

Stuff is gonna explode.

Going into this episode I was actually mostly curious as to how they would handle the whole Talos IV thing. I'll be honest, I hadn't really understood where they were in the timeline regarding Pike and Spock's previous visit to Talos. Was this their first or second one? We get a very nice flashback with original footage to their previous visit to set the stage. The interesting thing about it is that unless you've seen that specific episode, I don't think the flashback would do much to help you understand what happened there. For us who have, it was very nice (and dare I say needed) to see.

So when Michael and Spock set down on Talos, it's after Pike and Spock have already been there. It turns out Spock has taken them there because the Talosians are the only ones who can help him. The writers let this be an opportunity to let us see what Spock knows about the future and also what happened between Michael and Spock to make their relationship so strained. The first one I find to be quite clever writing. They find a good way to get Talosians into the story that also makes sense and isn't just fanservice. The other one however... the Talosians tell Burnham that in order to help Spock they require one of her memories as payment, and it has to be that specific memory. It just makes no other sense than to serve as exposition and quite frankly it's a bit stupid. But ok. We get to see Spocks future memory and Michaels past memory (you know it's Star Trek when you have to differentiate memories like that).

In Spocks memory we get to see that some sort of alien beings are destroying planets. They remind me of the Reapers from the Mass Effect series? Can't say for sure what they are. We also get to see that he did in fact not kill anyone at the mental facility he was at, but rather just stunned them. So who killed those people to set up Spock? Hopefully we'll find out.

In Burnham's memory we find out she was being very nasty to little Spock to make sure he wouldn't follow her when she ran away to keep them safe from anti-human Vulcan violence. Kind of when someone throws rock at an animal to make sure they walk away. After rewatching the memory Spock tells Michael that he understands why she did it, but he is for some reason still angry with her? Even after telling her that he is grateful it happened because that meant he left his humanity behind and focused on the logic, which also should mean he can't feel anger towards her anymore. It's a bit unclear why he is still unhappy with her, but in the end they get back to Discovery together.

So what has Discovery been up to? 

Mostly been bossed around by Leland and Section 31. They tell Pike to stop looking for Spock and Burnham and instead collect debris from the futurized probe from the previous episode. Pike decides to do both. They find loads of debris from the blown up shuttle, but absolutely none from the probe. Mysterious!

Then Vina (a woman Pike met on Talos) shows up through projection and tells Pike that he needs to go get Burnham and Spock, so he does that. He at first intends to use the spore drive to jump there and so get rid of Section 31 who are on his tail, but someone has sabotaged the spore drive. Someone who has also sent highly encrypted messages off the ship. Mysterious! Tyler is basically set up as the culprit, but it's very heavily hinted that Airiam is the real crook. We know she was infected by the probe in the previous episode so it's likely she is the enemy at the moment.

Not Pike's Vina

Because they can't use the spore drive, they have to get there the conventional way, which means they get Section 31 to come along with them. Section 31 try to steal Burnham and Spock from under them by teleporting them but it turns out those are only projections. So you can apparently teleport those now or was that all just a big hallucination? Either way, as mentioned Spock and Burnham end up on Discovery instead.

We also get to see a bit more on what is going on with Hugh Culber at the moment. It turns out he is being super weirded by the whole technically being a clone thing and is lashing out at Stamets. It essentially boils down to that he doesn't want to live with Stamets anymore and even though not said out loud it is clear that he doesn't want to be in a relationship with Stamets anymore and maybe doesn't even have feelings for him anymore either. Ouch, poor Stamets, who deals with it like a boss to be fair.

What is he thinking?

There is also a pretty good scene where Hugh confronts Tyler in the mess hall and they have a fight. There is no way in hell that Culber fights better than Tyler unless there is something about them both we don't know. So Tyler is basically letting Culber lay in to him for a bit, which would only annoy me more if I was Culber I think. Meanwhile, Saru stands by and lets it happen, telling everyone not to interfere because as he says it "it needs to play out". Afterwards he gets told off by Pike for not following regulations, and Saru is being well snarky about it. Saru is definitely evolving and changing into something completely else and it's interesting to follow.

We don't know what this all means for Culber as a character though, what will his role be in the forthcoming series? I am actually also curious about this simply because he seems like he doesn't really fit anywhere, so I am hoping he will come a bit out of left field and surprise us.

The episode ends with  Discovery on the run, the world possibly coming to an end, a spy on the ship and two very unstable people going through their own transformations. They've definitely set the stage for greatness, and I hope they will deliver.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E7 "Light and Shadows"

And yes, spoilers.

My first thought after finishing this episode is that this season feels like every other episode is a set-up episode, and every other gives you the delivery of that set-up. It's not exactly like that, but that is the feeling it's giving off right now. And this would then be another set-up episode.

Off the back of what happened on Kaminar, Pike and Michael now seem certain that the "Red Angel" is a humanoid and clad in some sort of futuristic get up. They are still completely in the dark as to the motivations of this person/entity and Michael mentions that she wonders "whose future" this thing comes from. I'm not sure what she means by that, isn't the future everyone's?

Anyway, she goes on to tell Pike she needs to speak to her parents (which she briefly alludes to at the end of the previous episode if I remember correctly) because, as she says, she hasn't "spoken to her mother for a long time". Yeah about four episodes or something? And let us go back quickly to when we last saw Sarek actually. The last time we saw him was in episode 14 of season 1 where I at least got the feeling that he was going on a very dangerous mission (if he's popped up since then I have completely forgotten about it). There was just something off about the way he said goodbye to Michael. But we haven't seen anything come out of that, unless all of that had something to do with Section 31. I can't say that I can piece it together yet, but that goes for a lot of things in Discovery. Overall I feel like whatever happened in season 1 is very disconnected to what is happening in season 2.

I guess Michael dies young because she ain't in any family pictures..

Either way, Michael heads back to Vulcan to talk to her mother about where Spock might be. When she confronts her, she gets the feeling that she knows where he is and Amanda eventually agrees to tell her. She has in fact been hiding Spock in a cave temple of sorts and by bringing Michael there she also inadvertently makes Sarek find out where Spock is. Spock, by the way, is a rambling mess and not really with it. This entire way of revealing where Spock is feels a bit forced, to be fair. Why would Michael suddenly get an urge to speak to her mother, again actually. Despite what Michael says she did talk to her about Spock not long ago at all. Why would she have reason to think that Amanda knows where Spock is suddenly? We also get no explanation as to how Spock managed to get to Vulcan from the shuttle he abandoned in space, without being detected.

Sarek thinks they should hand Spock over to Section 31, and his logic is that they want the information in his head (regarding the Red Angel) the most so they are the least likely to hurt him. He is also not worried about Spock ending up in prison because, as he puts it (and I paraphrase), if he did murder people he should be in prison and if he didn't he wont end up in prison. Great Vulcan logic there. They do hijack the scene to give us some Vulcan vs Humanity quarrel between Sarek and Amanda, something that of course is a big part of Spocks identity but honestly feels a bit out of place right there.

So we "finally" get to meet Spock. I say "finally" because personally I am not particularly interested, as I have said before. I wish they would let this series stand on its own feet and merits rather than try to live off other ones. While I don't mind "intermingling" of series if it's done with a purpose, which I have spoken about in a previous post, this just feels like they are trying to use fan-service and the love of one of the biggest characters in Star Trek to breathe more life into Discovery. We'll see if the decision to make this makes more sense further on and maybe I will warm up to Spock.

Space time anomalies are always a blast.

While Michael is on Vulcan, Discovery finds a space time anomaly. I love space time anomalies, while they can often give you a headache with their internal logic, they are almost always loads of fun so I was immediately hyped for this episode.

Pike decides they need to find out more about this anomaly, because it might be related to the Red Angel, and wants to pilot a shuttle closer to it. Saru correctly points out that sending the captain of a starship on such a dangerous mission isn't exactly protocol, but since when does any captain in the Star Trek universe care about that? Tyler tags along, because he thinks he needs to.

The episode starts out with a lot of animosity between Tyler and Pike. Pike doesn't like Tyler because he killed Culber and because Tyler is sort of Voq in that odd way that doesn't entirely make sense. There is a brilliant scene where Pike asks Tyler about it and Tyler says "I'm sorry, there is no way to get rid of him". Pike answers with "I know the feeling". Oh snap.

While in the shuttle, they of course get sucked into the anomaly and need to be rescued by the Discovery. I love how the shuttle interior show both analog and digital components. Like they have actual switches that they throw to do things in there. I know they build the Delta Flyer in Voyager with switches on purpose because Tom Paris likes things to be analog, but otherwise I'm not sure how common they are. But maybe they just look analog.

In case you'd want to build your own.

While in the anomaly Pike and Tyler continue to bicker about everything. Suddenly they get attacked by some big tentacled robot looking rocket and they realize it's a probe they sent into the anomaly earlier that has been altered somehow. Their shuttle computer tells them the probe is now 500 years older and for some reason it is trying to kill them by breaking their shuttle apart. It manages to get a tentacle or three into the shuttle and attacks them, and also tries to download information from their computers.

Meanwhile on Discovery, Tilly realizes that someone with Tardigrade DNA can probably locate the shuttle inside the anomaly because that's how that works. Stamets to the rescue yet again. Stamets is in Discovery what the "deflector dish" is in Voyager. Every Star Trek series needs that one thing that they can go to, to solve any problem. Stamets not only locates them, but also beams himself on board the shuttle while in the anomaly and pilots them out of there. Or at least close enough to the Discovery for them all to be beamed back. They put the shuttle on self destruct to destroy the violent probe, but the probe manages to not only attack the Discovery computers first, but also seems to infect the bridge resident robot-thingy Airiam with a virus or something. We don't know much about Airiam yet, in fact it's not entirely clear that she is a robot or what she is. Hopefully we will find out more about this soon.

After their ordeal on the shuttle, Pike and Tyler suddenly go from not trusting each other with making a cup of tea to being best friends. Pike now agrees with Tyler that the Red Angel could be hostile, because the probe came from the future and it was hostile, but that is pretty much the only thing speaking for that theory so far. It's a bit like not liking food because you had this thing once that didn't taste good. Talk about generalizing much, Pike.

More Philippa please.

Meanwhile, Michael has taken Spock to Section 31 and is assured that everything will be fine with him. Leland tells her to go to a starbase to get some rest. Philippa tells Michael that Leland is lying (so much for Sarek's logic), Michael asks her why she cares and Philippa answers what surmounts to "I care because you care". Michael and Philippa have a fake-fight for the cameras to make it look like Michael is overpowering Philippa to free Spock and off they go. Leland tells Philippa he doesn't believe that she was actually trying to stop Michael but Philippa says that she knows he killed Michaels parents so Philippa has him under her thumb unless he wants her to spill the beans on that. I'm not sure what that is going to amount to, but the easiest guess is that Philippa will oust Leland as the captain of the Section 31 ship and become captain of it herself.

Philippa is easily the most interesting character in this season so far, although Saru comes a close second. We know very little about her motivations. Her actions are generally egotistical but occasionally seem somewhat compassionate to keep her a multi-faceted and fascinating character. It's definitely keeping me intrigued and I want to know more about what her plans are and how it all ties into the bigger picture. She has basically replaced the Lorca character in that we don't really know if we can trust her and it means all her actions have several possible outcomes. Star Trek characters have a tendency to be a bit black and white so it's a lot of fun to see these more gray area people. Hopefully they won't let Philippa down with their writing.

Red angel?

Michael is hiding with Spock in a shuttle and manages to crack that one of his delusional ramblings are coordinates for a planet. That planet is Talos IV. Sounds familiar? It sure did to me. That is the planet of the Talosians from the The Cage and The Menagerie episodes of TOS where the captain Pike character originally figures. Are they basically tying in the Discovery with what happens in those episodes? That could turn out really awesome if they get it right.

Except for producing Spock it doesn't feel like a lot happens in this episode. It sets up a lot of things that could be really great if they pay off, but that is a pretty big if. While this season has proven it can do some cool things, season 1 had a lot of set up that didn't pay off if you ask me. Hopefully this season won't repeat that.