Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Meme Planet

Via Jaquandor.

1: What eye color do you find sexiest?

Brown.

2: White, milk, or dark chocolate mocha?

Have I had a mocha? I mean, that wasn't part of a candy? If you're asking me, though (and you are), I'll take milk chocolate.

3: If you could get a Sharpie tattoo on your back, what would it be?

I don't really imagine wanting to do that.

4: Did you grow up in a small or big town? Did you like it?

I grew up in a small suburb sandwiched between big suburbs, which is not the same thing as growing up in a small town. In small towns, children don't get lectures from angry homeowners about property values.

5: Your favorite adult as a child? (and not your parents, if they were your favorite)

My Aunt Amy. She was still in high school (?) when I was born, so she was the young, fun aunt when I was a kid. Of course she grew up and became just like my Mom, so that stopped being so much fun, but I love my Aunt Amy.

6: What kind of smoothie sounds really good right now?

Strawberry-banana.

7: Most embarrassing moment from your elementary school years?

There are lots of those, but top of the heap definitely has to be the time I puked in Sunday School in front of all the assembled classes. My Mom just wouldn't believe I was sick and let me stay home, so I ended up in the very front row of the assembly we had before breaking off into our regular classes (first and fourth grade sat in front, and I was in the very front because my last name starts with D) projectile vomiting to a prepubescent chorus of "Ewwwww!!!!" That was the worst. Honestly, that's worse than the time I was bullied and punched all the way home by every male in my class in sixth grade. But not by much.

8: Most embarrassing moment from your middle school years?

Again, there are a lot. I got yelled at by teachers a lot, particularly my hot 7th grade lit teacher and my evil 8th grade science teacher. To this day I'd like to punch him right in the face, and I don't carry grudges very far. But any really specific occurrences like the above puking incident seem to be pretty much blocked out.

9: Most embarrassing moment from your high school years?

Same as above; lots of embarrassing stuff, but I can't remember specifics sometimes because I was just so angry all the damn time. Pushed around so much that it all runs together.

10: Pirates or ninjas? Why?

Pirates, because they're historically interesting and I just like stories that take place at sea. And I guess the irreverence with which they're portrayed in pop culture. I just find ninjas boring. Even when I was a kid, unless they were Teenage Mutant Turtles, I didn't care much for ninjas. When we used to play G.I. Joe, every kid wanted to be Snake Eyes. But I always wanted to be Shipwreck. Huh, pirates, even then. Plus, I was even more obnoxious as a kid.

11: Have you ever climbed a tree more than twenty feet off the ground?

All the time as a kid.

12: Did you like swinging as a child? Do you still get excited when you see a swing set?

I loved the swings when I was a kid. LOVED them. I don't get excited when I see them now, but I remember how much I loved them.

I also remember an embarrassing incident from my high school years, where I was on a swing that somehow broke. The chain slipped out of the ring holding it up, and I went down hard on the ground. It was at a family barbecue in Iowa, so lots of extended family there, and I thought I'd avoided detection of my graceless landing (right on my ass) until I heard my Uncle Ralph's booming laughter from across the playground. Oy, Uncle Ralph. I was so embarrassed, but I just shrugged it off. Now it just reminds me of how much I love my Uncle Ralph, who died ten years ago.

13: If you could have any pet in the world, illegal or not, what would you get?

I have a great pet now. If I could also have an elephant somehow, I would not mind that. I think one day I'd like to have a dog, but they're not permitted in our apartment, and I'm never sure what kind I'd like. I think Welsh Corgi, put I love pugs...

14: What’s your most favorite part of your body?

Eh. Let's be honest, it's my penis. Why lie?

15: What’s your most favorite part of your personality?

The serenity I'm after. Every once in a while I feel it, and I want to be better and better at accessing it.

16: Madonna or Lady Gaga? Neither? Both? Who cares?

They both put out the same kind of music, and sometimes it sounds good and sometimes it doesn't. Neither one is a great artist or even all that interesting, but I like some of the music, even love some. In the end, I give Madonna the edge for me because she recorded "Live to Tell," one of my favorite songs ever.

17: Have you ever watched the Superbowl all the way through?

Only both times the Chicago Bears were playing. I was 9 when the '85 Bears played at Superbowl XX, and that was a pretty huge deal. I was excited. The second time the Bears played, just back in '07, mostly what I remember is Prince's great performance at the halftime show.

18: Have you ever watched any major sporting event drunk?

No.

19: What’s the most delicious food you’ve ever eaten in your life?

I don't know. If I've found out one thing, it's that the memories of eating wonderful food don't really stay with me, and something delicious is not consistently delicious. There's been a lot of "This place has the best food ever!" and then suddenly they don't anymore for whatever reason. So I don't really keep it with me. Not that I'm ungrateful, it's just that I always want to taste something great now instead of thinking about it. It just doesn't stick.

20: Margarine or butter? Which did you grow up with?

I don't know what I had as a kid, but I buy butter now.

21: Whole, skim, 1%, or 2% milk? (Did you know they make 1 1/2% milk?)

I drink whole milk. Well, not drink. I don't really like drinking milk, except the odd strawberry milk ever four or five years. Mainly I use milk when I'm making pancakes or eating cereal, and in both instances I like whole milk.

22: Which continents have you been on?

North America, born and raised. I've been to Japan, which I guess is part of Asia but technically an archipelago. And Guam is the biggest island in the Micronesia chain. And Hawaii is a chain, too... So, no other continents, but a number of islands.

23: Do you get motion sickness? Any horror stories?

I do, sometimes. No horror stories, really, but I do stay off of roller coasters.

24: Backpacks or satchels?

Whatever's handy.

25: Would you wear a rainbow jacket? A neon yellow sweater? Checkered pants?

No on the first two. I stick to my muted grays and charcoals and olive greens and the occasional splash of blue. I have worn checkered pants, actually, when I was a kid.

26: What was your favorite cartoon growing up?

G.I. Joe.

27: If you had to have a cow or a pig, which would you take? Why?

Like, to own and care for? Can I have one of those cute potbellied pigs?

28: If you had to look at one city skyline for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Chicago.

29: Longest plane ride you’ve ever been on?

I can't remember which was longer: LA to Hawaii, or Hawaii to Guam. One of those was 7 hours.

30: The latest you’ve ever slept?

There have been occasions where I've slept past noon, but never past one. And those times I was sick.

31: Would you buy a sweater covered in kitten pictures? Would you wear it if someone gave it you for free?

I wouldn't buy one. Would I wear it? Yeah, probably not.

32: Do you pick at scabs?

When I was little.

33: Favorite kind of bean? Kidney? Black? Pinto?

I don't care for beans, except in chili, and even then...

34: How far can you throw a baseball?

I don't know how far I can throw it now. I could throw it past the shortstop when I was a kid, but we usually played with tennis balls because they were cheaper and everyone's mom had them in the garage.

35: If you had to move to another country, where would you move?

I don't know for sure, but I think about it a lot. I think about Canada, England, France... but who knows? I also think I'd like to just live on a beach in a shack sometimes.

36: Have you ever eaten Ethiopian food? Vietnamese? Korean? Nepalese? How was it?

No, I've never had any of those. Not even sure where I'd get them. DeKalb is small, and mostly it just does Chinese and Indian and Thai.

37: Small, liberal arts school or public university? Why?

I graduated from a state university. I don't really care either way, I think they're both pretty useless debt factories.

38: A relationship with love or one with sex?

No, I don't play that game. You need both or what's the point? But of course love is more important because love means so many different things.

39: Do you eat enough vegetables?

Probably not.

40: Do you like horror movies? How about thrillers?

Well, they're just genres, and there are good movies in every genre. And terrible movies.

41: Would you scratch a crotch itch in public?

Honestly, it depends on how bad and immediate it is.

42: Do you swear in front of your parents?

Depends which parent. My Dad only occasionally, but in front of my Mom, all the time.

43: Coolest thing you’ve ever been for Halloween?

Mer-Man from Masters of the Universe or Shipwreck from G.I. Joe. I just thought they were so cool when I was a kid because I got to wear real clothes and/or masks instead of those silly smocks.

44: If you could change your natural hair color, would you? To what?

No, I'm good. It'll go whenever it wants. Or I'll chop it all off. I've just chopped it all off for, what, the fourth or fifth time, so I'm not really that into doing stuff with my hair. It's just hair.

45: Do you want to get married? Have kids?

Well, I'm already married, and I don't really feel capable with kids. I read an article about how that makes me selfish, not wanting to have kids, but frankly we just got on food stamps, so if it makes me selfish to not have a baby I can't afford to take care of, what the fuck ever.

46: Do you use a reusable water bottle? If not, you should.

No I don't, preachy.

47: City or nature person?

I like where I am now, which is sort of right in the middle of city and nature. I know it won't stay like this forever; it's getting more and more built up. But this is sort of my ideal; not too crowded but not too far away from cities. Unfortunately, most people like that, which is why it keeps moving further and further out; yuppies love to get away from things, but then they need things and bring them with them and eventually the smaller towns become cities in their own right, and people move further, but then they're pissy when they can't get to a Walmart faster, and then...

48: Have you ever used something other than “makeup” as makeup? (Like paint? Markers?)

No.

49: Can you walk well in high heels? Even if you’re a guy?

Dunno.

50: Post 5 awesome things about yourself. BRAG AWAY!

I'm curious. I'm open to change. I'm surprisingly helpful. I'm not a dick about correcting people or explaining their jokes. And I'm getting better at keeping the household... well, not neat, but not a shambles.

Taylor

Carrie Fisher Bids Farewell to Princess Leia

Every link I see to this is all about how Carrie Fisher's piece for Bullett Media is "bitter" and "angry" and "self-loathing." I thought it was acerbic, witty and hilarious, but maybe that's just me. Neither Carrie Fisher nor I regard Star Wars with the reverent seriousness of Star Wars fans.

Read it here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My Chocolate Caramel Mug Cake

I made this last night. It's a microwave recipe, but the closest thing to baking I've done in a while. The caramel mostly sank to the bottom, so I'm going to try to experiment with that, but otherwise it turned out nice and spongey. Here's the recipe. It's definitely a once-in-a-while thing (lots of sugar), but it was fun to make it. (Also, I actually took a half-decent picture of my food for a change.)

Training Montage Montage

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Best Egg Sandwich I've Ever Had

I came across this recipe via Tumblr, and since I've been wanting to cook more, I just went ahead and tried it out. I have to say, I was really surprised by how great it was. It's simple, it's low tech, and it is tasty as hell. I'm going to be making this one a lot in the future, I think, but I'm going to try and vary it a little. Not much in the house right now, so I just used two eggs and a square of mozzarella cheese, but I'd love to have it with a piece of bacon mixed in. I also don't have any bread in the house except for some Fold-It flat bread, so I just toasted that on the pan. The eggs and cheese were surprisingly rich and satisfying, and I think if I had an English muffin, it would have been just perfect. God, I love English muffins.

Not bad. I'm inordinately proud of myself for actually making something instead of just snacking. Tonight, I'm going to try and make chocolate mug cakes for dessert, so we'll see how that goes...

Seriously, though, if you've got 10 minutes, try this recipe, because it is delicious.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen for, I think, the past three weeks.

REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (1938)
I don't know, I just find Shirley Temple delightful. None of the films I've seen with her have annoyed me yet, and I like it when they show up on TCM. This one has an especially good supporting cast, including Randolph Scott, Gloria Stuart and a funny Jack Haley. Seeing this one, I would have absolutely cast Jack Haley as the Tin Woodsman, too; he's vulnerable, has great timing, an effortlessly good singing voice, and wears his heart on the sleeve. You just want the guy to succeed. ***

SOUND OF MY VOICE (2011)
Brit Marling is such an interesting writer; Another Earth was deeply fascinating, and so is this film, which follows two people trying to expose a cult that revolves around a woman (Marling) who claims to be from the future. It examines the ideas of faith and belief, as one of them (a nervous schoolteacher) finds himself abandoning his skepticism and believing in her, while the other (a former addict) is contacted by the FBI and told what may or may not be the truth. The film doesn't really give you a definitive answer, but plants the seed of doubt firmly in either direction, truly leaving the interpretation of the film to the viewer. Very smart, very compelling. ****

HOLIDAY INN (1942)
I thought it was okay. It sort of went by in a blur, but the musical scenes were mostly nice, particularly "White Christmas." Not so much "Abraham," though, which was the most bizarre outpouring of disturbing blackface I've ever seen. Surprised to see that. I mean, I know it's of the time and all that, but I just found it deeply, deeply unsettling. **

WAKKO'S WISH (1999)
The Animaniacs Christmas movie. It showed up on the Hub a couple of days before Christmas and I was surprised how much I really enjoyed, since my appreciation of Animaniacs is pretty much non-existent (except for a few songs). Lots of fun. ***

LAURENCE ANYWAYS (2012)
Interesting, involving French Canadian film about identity. We follow a couple through the 1990s, as Laurence (interestingly, a name that can be either masculine or feminine in French) starts to come to terms with his desire to be a woman and how that effects both his life and his relationship with his girlfriend Fred. Much of the dilemma is whether or not Fred will continue the relationship and give Laurence her support, and for a time she does. But his identity crisis forces her to examine her own identity as well. It's a long movie--I've seen critics who feel it's overlong, even pretentious, and it might be somewhat inaccessible--but I didn't mind the journey, and what I thought was especially interesting was the ideas it raises about how we construct our identity and how we're willing to express it. What it made me consider is that, on some level, it might not be possible to be completely true to ourselves and still be in a relationship, because we naturally make compromises in what we want to accommodate the relationship. It's just a matter of what we can live with and what's more important to us: our own happiness or mutual happiness with another person. It's a fascinating quandary, and I can't think of another film that made me really think about it. Excellent soundtrack. ***1/2

THIS IS 40 (2012)
Shrill, grating film about a totally unlikable couple. At this point, you know a Judd Apatow movie is going to be overlong and indulgent, but so are lots of movies. What matters in a movie like this--which isn't really a narrative, but a loose collection of scenes--is whether taking the journey is intellectually or emotionally stimulating, and this is neither. There's not a single likable character who registers. Leslie Mann plays another shrew who browbeats and bullies her husband, and Paul Rudd plays another wishy-washy guy who doesn't just grow up already. I've seen a lot of men talk about how Mann's character is so mean and Rudd is so likable, but I didn't like him at all; he's a weenie who runs and hides from his family and his responsibilities at every opportunity. She may steamroll him, but it's probably very frustrating for her that he's so avoidant. In the end, nothing's really settled and I just never felt good about them together; they seemed to hate each other the whole time and only stay together because they both have such bad daddy issues that they don't want to transfer the cycle to their own children. I kind of felt bad for all the actors. The usual Apatow problems of non-pacing and too much improvising apply; there's no structure, no tension... nothing. This might have worked as an HBO series; as it is, it feels like Apatow's trying to cram eight episodes of a half-hour TV show into a long, formless movie called This Is Literally Everything That's Wrong with Well-Off White People. *

PARAPHERNALIA (2009)
Surprising, touching short film about a boy and the robot he can't get rid of. Fantastic twist at the end. ****

MOON ROCK (1970)
Bizarre, fascinating short animation by Yellow Submarine director George Dunning. It's based on lateral thinking, and I'm honestly not sure I understand any of it, but it's just endlessly fascinating. ****

MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)
I honestly expected to hate this, but when it won me over, it really won me over. Wes Anderson's interesting quality is his wistfulness. I think he tends a little too much towards cutesy, but there's a genuine sort of wistfulness in there that, in this case, combines the remembrance of young love and how epic infatuation can seem with a lonely, regretful adulthood that brings its own resentments. It's easy to dismiss this as shallow pastiche, but genuine emotions come through. I admit, I was surprised. I don't usually care much for Anderson's films, but I ended up relating to this as a sort of fantasy film about young love; it's like a storybook, but not one that's been closed off from some place genuine. It's a great movie. It's also satisfyingly concise; at 94 minutes, it's a nice reminder that the art of compression isn't dead. ***1/2

LINCOLN (2012)
I honestly was prepared to hate this movie--god knows I've hated most of Spielberg's movies over the last 20 years--but I'm surprised by how much it affected me and how much it remains with me. It's not a perfect film, but it has a power that I find lingers with me. I think a lot of the reviews of this film have been pretty much useless; lots of critics seem annoyed that it's not more of a grandiose biopic, but I think what Spielberg has done (to my utter amazement) is to chop through to the heart of the story he's telling and not stray too far from it. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing as Lincoln, particularly in his body language and the obvious physical toll being at a historical crossroads exacts on him. I like the way the film can just fade around him as Lincoln tells a folksy story to illustrate his point or to pass the time when waiting for important news. Lincoln here seems to feel each and every death in the war between the states, and it's very effective. But it's not a biopic, it's something that's a much more interesting idea for a movie: it's about Lincoln's desperate attempt to get the 13th Amendment passed through a lame duck Congress. In that way, the picture's much more like 1776 than a sweeping biopic, and it's riveting. The parallels between politics of the time and how little they've changed now are obvious, and surprisingly cinematic. It's a great-looking movie, one that draws you in with quiet and the power of its performances, not only Day-Lewis' but Sally Field's and Tommy Lee Jones' especially. It's a movie assured of being on the right side of history, but also looks at how that history gets decided. In fact, I really only have one problem with this movie, so...

Spoiler, possibly: what bothered me is the very end of the movie. There's a scene, after the end of the Civil War, with Lincoln and his Secretary of State and others, and then Lincoln has to rush out to meet his wife to go to the theater where he will be killed. The President, as we've seen, doesn't like wearing his gloves, and leaves them behind, walking towards history. That's really the end of the movie. But Spielberg can't resist showing us the reaction to the assassination, Lincoln dying in bed, and then this cheesy, cliched shot of Lincoln reflected in the flickering of the oil lamp while giving his "with malice towards none" speech, like this is some movie from 1942, the music swelling in case you missed how important Lincoln was in the last 150 years. It's a thudding, obvious end to a surprisingly thoughtful movie. It doesn't ruin the picture, but it shouldn't be there. Lincoln walking away, leaving his gloves behind: that's the end of this movie. Spielberg has taken his story and, instead of the worshipful picture of remote authoritarianism that his entire filmography prepared me to expect, given us a very human portrait. Lincoln is about the human being who crafted and desperately pushed through a Constitutional Amendment that ended slavery. He's not unapproachable and perfect, he's very much a human being. And ending on that human moment is the right call. But Spielberg, of course, can't resist deifying the man at the very end, and it's just a tasteless mistake. Just lop off those four minutes, or move the speech to before the scene of Lincoln walking away, and that would have been the right way.

Spoiler over: But it's a surprisingly great movie, which I didn't expect at all. ***1/2

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

On the Occasion of David Bowie's 66th Birthday

"Where Are We Now?", Bowie's first single since 2003. It's the lead in to a new album, The Next Day, his first album since 2003's Reality. I'm so happy.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Star Trek: Enterprise, Season Three

And we're back. A year later, but we're back. The second season ended with a devastating attack on Earth by a mysterious alien race called the Xindi, and the Enterprise heading into the Delphic Expanse to find them. That was an ending with a lot of promise, and I was looking forward to seeing the series gear up for a season-long arc.

And I disliked it almost immediately.

But I'll weave that into the post. Let's get into it.

1. The Xindi (my rating: 2 out of 5)
Okay, I'm immediately torn on this arc. Right away, we're introduced to the Xindi, a collection of five races working together (Arboreal--apelike, Primate--humanlike, Aquatic, Insectoid and Reptilian). They're pretty fascinating, and this kind of societal collective is something we don't see much in Star Trek, where every planet is pretty much represented by one more-or-less uniform species. My problem, though, is that I think it robs the series of its dramatic tension by showing us right away who the Xindi are and what their motivation for the attack on Earth is (they've been told--by someone--that humans are ruthless and are going to exterminate their society). Now there's really no mystery for the viewer; we know who the villains are, we see them interact, and we know their motivation. Okay. I think it is an interesting development to have the MACOs on board--Starfleet Marines--since this is a military operation into the unknown. But wouldn't it have been more involving to be just as in the dark about the Xindi as Captain Archer? (Also, the MACOs aren't so interesting themselves; the most they can muster is a predictable rivalry between their leader--Rex from Desperate Housewives--and Malcolm Reed.)

This episode also starts what I think is the dumbest arc of the season, which is Trip Tucker and T'Pol getting half-naked and rubbing each other every night. Since Trip lost his sister in the Xindi attack on Earth, he has trouble focusing and sleeping at night. As Chief Engineer, he's invaluable to the mission, so in order to clear his head, it's somehow decided that he needs to have sessions with T'Pol every night for neuropressure massage. So we get a lot this season of T'Pol and Trip in their pajamas and getting all sexy-but-not-really with each other. Look, if you want to push these characters together, fine, but this development is totally immature and inorganic. It doesn't feel natural. Hey, Jolene Blalock looks good in her panties, fine, but if you really want to get these characters together, you could do it in a much less silly way.

2. Anomaly (2/5)
This Expanse thing seems important and intense, and the special effects are kind of interesting, with the spacial anomalies and things warping. It's not as scary as we've been warned yet, but it has potential. Immediately, the Enterprise's supplies are stolen by pirates, which seems more like a delay than a plot, but it is interesting to see how far Archer is willing to push. He actually takes a captured Osaarian pirate and nearly lets him die in an airlock just to force him to talk. I think the whole prequel series idea has maybe given the writers a license with Archer to make him more stereotypically a two-fisted man of action, and I'm not sure yet if it's interesting or a crutch. It's nice to see that Archer's not fucking around, but at the same time, it makes him seem less thoughtful. They keep backing him into corners. They're taking what was a man of exploration and putting--literally--the weight of the world on his shoulders. He's sort of trying desperately not to be crushed by this huge responsibility, and it makes him screw up sometimes. Nearly killing the pirate isn't portrayed as heroic, but desperate.

3. Extinction (1/5)
This was the episode so bad that it put me off the show for a year. Archer, Reed and Hoshi Sato go to a planet and get turned into another species by a virus. The race that created the virus--an ancient, now-dead people called the Loque'eque--did so because they had become sterile and their civilization was failing. Their idea was that the virus would turn visitors to their planet into them, complete with race memories, so their species would survive in some form. Interesting idea, but this is already an old Star Trek trope: crew members who are mutated into another species in order to experience a kind of life that is either lost or misunderstood or both. It still seems like a violation. Another alien race even shows up--one that was nearly decimated by the virus--demanding that Archer, Reed and Sato not be allowed offworld because of their vow not to let the virus spread. But the attempts at an ethical debate are ham-fisted, and Archer's final decision--to preserve the virus--just seems dangerous. Luckily this is Star Trek, and even in a season-long arc, there are no consequences of Archer's decision, and everyone is cured instantly and it will never effect anything ever again. It's just another delay on the road, and these delays will be frequent and often pointless, because Berman & Braga don't really have serialization in them.

4. Rajiin (1/5)
Archer meets a slave girl (Rajiin) in a marketplace, rescues her, and she turns out to be a spy collecting scans of human biology for Xindi Reptilians who want to make a biological weapon. Interesting idea, but this should have been the first time we ever saw any Xindi, instead of always going to their council meetings. The Reptilians are kind of scary; they board the Enterprise and are practically immune to phasers and incredibly tough. They're scary the way the Jem'Hadar were when we first saw them. So much wasted potential. Also, Rajiin is a boring and obvious character who's really only there to seduce everyone, almost make out with T'Pol, and just be sexy. We get it, this is the sexy Star Trek, but we're getting Torchwood levels of ridiculous here.

5. Impulse (3/5)
Last season, we were told that there was a Vulcan ship, the Seleya, that got lost in the Expanse after the crew went crazy, got violent, and started attacking each other. The Enterprise finds the ship in this episode inside an asteroid field; apparently the asteroids have a mineral called Trellium all over them that can be used to synthesize a hull plating that would shield the Enterprise from the matter-warping effects of the Expanse, and apparently Trellium acts as a powerful narcotic on Vulcans. This is an out-and-out horror episode, trapping Archer, T'Pol, Reed and some redshirt MACO on the Vulcan ship, which is full of Vulcans who have basically become violent zombies. The tension comes from T'Pol, who is slowly becoming more emotional and more violent as she succumbs to the effects of the Trellium (which Archer decides not to use on the hull because of its effects on T'Pol). Not great, but the first genuinely enjoyable episode of the season.

6. Exile (2/5)
An exiled psychic alien named Tarquin contacts the Enterprise and agrees to help decipher part of the Xindi weapon if Hoshi stays with him while he does it. What follows then is a chaste, uninteresting retread of the Beauty and the Beast fable. It's okay, but Star Trek does Gothic romance about as well as it does, well, any sort of romance. There is an interesting bit with Archer and Trip getting a close look at a sphere that seems to be creating the anomalies in the Expanse; I liked the bit where a thruster fires and Archer and Trip nearly lose the Shuttlepod. That was the kind of thing I liked about the show before: the sense that not everything's been perfected yet. But, again, it seems like we're wasting time, even though the sphere will be relevant to the arc. (And at least Hoshi gets an episode; Travis Mayweather does even less this season than he does on the first two.)

7. The Shipment (3/5)
This would have been the place to really start exploring the Xindi. In this episode, Archer has found a planet that's producing a substance critical to the Xindi weapon. He takes the Arboreal Xindi in charge of rendering it hostage, and some interesting conversations follow. It's here that the Xindi get humanized, and through the scientist, Gralik, Archer starts to understand that not all Xindi are evil, and that there's a chance diplomacy could save the day. He's not turned around instantly, but it's here that the doubt gets planted.

8. Twilight (3/5)
There's a lot of good stuff in here, but I'm not sure it all works. It involves another worn-out Star Trek trope:  one of the main characters waking up in old age makeup in an alternate future. In this one, Archer wakes up in a future where the Xindi have destroyed the Earth and he's suffering from an infection that keeps him from forming new long-term memories. Twelve years have passed, but he forgets every day that his mission failed and that T'Pol has stayed with him as caretaker while what's left of humanity has taken refuge on Ceti Alpha V (nice bit of fatalism, there). What makes this episode are the performances of Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock and John Billingsley as Archer, T'Pol and Phlox. They also find a fairly clever way to undo everything and press the reset button--this idea that destroying the infection in the future destroys it in the past and wipes out the alternate future. It seems like a cheat, but it kind of works. But it's also ultimately like Voyager's "Year of Hell" in that nothing that happens really has any bearing on the plot or goes anywhere. This would have been something to keep going, I think, over a larger part of the season. It would have been a good framing device for a while, because you could have kept the tension of impending failure going. You'd have to let it go on longer to create the tension, since it's not like Starfleet is going to lose the war, since we've already seen what happens in the next two centuries...

9. North Star (3/5)
The inevitable Western. Here, Archer and crew end up involved with a world where humans who were abducted by aliens in the 1890s became slaves, then rose against the aliens and took over. But since there haven't been any technological developments, the whole thing is basically the Old West. It's actually not a bad episode, especially for a Western episode of a science fiction series, but it's so out of place. There's nothing about this Xindi weapon we're all supposed to be worried about. It feels like a second season script that didn't get made but was too good to get rid of. It's too bad; the biggest failing of the episode is that it just doesn't belong in this season.

10. Similitude (5/5)
Suddenly, a great episode. This episode presses the issue of cloning. Trip is critically injured and put into a coma; he needs tissue that the Enterprise can't get without turning back, so Phlox comes up with the idea of using one of his alien animals to clone Trip. The clones created by the animal will grow quickly and only live for about two weeks, but when it catches up to Trip as an adult, the tissue can be harvested and Trip can be saved. The episode doesn't shy away at all from the ethical ramifications: is the clone a human being with its own life and memories? Are those experiences what make up sentience? And is it right to create autonomous life merely to use it as a supply for organic material? It never really finds the answer, but the answer is complicated. It's a surprisingly poignant episode. I think it also points out a better direction for the Trip/T'Pol romance; I like that the clone simply comes to T'Pol and tells her how he feels, but admits that he doesn't know if the feelings he has are Trip's or his own. He could've just done that without the silly massage nonsense. It's also more genuine. I mean, how do you not develop feelings for the sexy woman who is rubbing your naked body down every night? T'Pol reacting with a kiss is interesting; she's getting much more emotional this season, which is an interesting development (and a build both on her mind-melding experiences last season, and her continuing dissatisfaction with Vulcan bureaucracy and society).

11. Carpenter Street (1/5)
Oh, god, more time travel. I am so fucking tired of time travel in Star Trek. And this is the inevitable cast-members-go-back-to-the-period-the-show-was-made-in episode, so Daniels (because we can't be free of the Temporal Cold War) sends Archer and T'Pol back in time to 2003 Detroit where Xindi Reptilians are creating a biological weapon to decimate the population. Boring.

12. Chosen Realm (2/5)
Religious fanatics take over the Enterprise and plan to use it to wipe out the other side in a religious civil war. There's a parallel to be made between the lead fanatic's belief that violence is justified in the name of peace and some of the desperate moves Archer has made (and will continue to make) in search of peace for Earth. But instead, the episode's theme is basically "Fuck you, religion." The cause of the conflict between two sides in a hundred-year-long religious war is ridiculously simplistic, and the final scene, with Archer rather highhandedly showing the leader that religious fanaticism just leads to death and destruction, seems smug, especially for Star Trek. The only interesting idea is that the religion focused on here worships the Spheres--and it turns out there are many of them, and they may be what's generating all of the anomalies in the Expanse. Finding out who would purposely do that adds an interesting layer to the Xindi conflict, which still needs more focus.

13. Proving Ground (5/5)
Well, this episode is highly-rated by me just for the presence of the Andorians. God, I would love to see more Andorians. I wish Enterprise had done with Andorians what Deep Space Nine did with Klingons and the Ferengi and really given them a great exploration. Maybe the next series (and I remain firm in my belief that there will be one). Jeffrey Combs is always so great as Commander Shran, and I like his appearance here, swooping in as help for the Enterprise and grandly talking about how the Vulcans offered no assistance while the Andorians are willing. Even Shran's first appearance has a good humor about it.
It's too bad the whole thing turns out to be a double-cross, with Shran's mission really being to discover the Xindi weapon and steal it as a deterrent in the Andorian border war with the Vulcans. It seems true to Andorian character, though, so it's not a disappointment, and we get a whole episode with an Andorian crew. I really want to see more Andorians on this show. Especially Andorians like Talas.
Yes. More of this. Fantastic episode overall. It's also a better introduction than we've had before to Degra, the Primate Xindi who is the weapon's designer. We'll get much more of him, which is ultimately a good thing.

14. Stratagem (4/5)
Degra wakes up on a shuttle with Archer, and apparently the two have been prisoners together for years in a Reptilian Xindi prison. I was worried this was more time travel bullshit, but Archer is actually playing a captured Degra. He's wiped out Degra's memory of capture, given him a story, and plays it for as long as he can, trying to gain Degra's trust so he can discover the location of the Xindi weapon. Interestingly, it's easy for Degra to believe that the Reptilians and the Insectoids would turn on the others, hinting at unease in the Xindi alliance. I still think there would have been more tension if we didn't know so much about the Xindi and their motivation right away, but Randy Oglesby is really good as Degra and the quiet of this episode casts a spell. When the stratagem doesn't work, and Archer gets more direct--ultimately hatching a more desperate but more fruitful deception--the episode just gets more and more tense. I liked this one. The Xindi are finally starting to get really interesting (and a believable threat).

15. Harbinger (2/5)
Three disparate plotlines. Two of them--the long-simmering rivalry between the MACO leader Major Hayes and Reed coming to a boil, and the increasingly-emotional T'Pol experiencing jealousy when Trip tries to neuro-massage a sexy MACO soldier--are boring, obvious, and long past due, especially since the T'Pol/Trip story and the Reed/Hayes story haven't really been touched on at all in a long time. These aren't really plot threads or character arcs, and they're just so cliched that I didn't really care. The third plot, with Archer and Phlox encountering an alien pilot at the site of a spatial anomaly, is potentially interesting, but doesn't have enough meat to it to sustain it. It's important to later developments, but is rendered unexciting by the other stuff going on in the episode. Oh, and Trip and T'Pol do it. So there you go.

16. Doctor's Orders (5/5)
Phlox and T'Pol are basically the two most interesting and well-realized characters on the show. (Archer is a close third, but too often falls into the cliche of the noble white explorer two-fisted science hero.) Here they basically borrow the plot device from the Voyager episode "One," where the crew has to be put in stasis to get through a trans-dimensional disturbance that is neurologically dangerous. Phlox, apparently impervious, stays awake to shepherd the ship through. I like the quiet scenes in the first act, with Phlox alone on the ship, watching The Court Jester, Porthos padding along at his side, and then joined by T'Pol. (Can I just say how nice it is on this show to see people in Star Trek enjoy culture from the 20th century, instead of pretending that all advances in entertainment reached their peak in 1897?) It's like the characters are alone in a haunted house, with Phlox hallucinating sounds and even Xindi invaders. I love the twist at the end. Jolene Blalock has a lot of fun being funny and acting really out of character. Just a good time. (As was the Voyager episode, mostly, which was also a showcase for that show's two most interesting characters, Seven and the Doctor.)

17. Hatchery (2/5)
This episode kind of pissed me off. The set-up is interesting: the Enterprise discovers a wrecked Insectoid ship with a nursery onboard. There are 31 eggs waiting to hatch, and Archer believes it's imperative that the crew save the hatchery and the infant aliens. It's an important argument: the Xindi believe that humans are ruthless killers, so it's important to show them otherwise. Trip, still hurting from the loss of his sister and his home, is quick to say that they should just torch the hatchery, but Archer gets to counter with the excellent point that he wouldn't say the same thing if they were Xindi Primate infants instead of Insectoid eggs. I think there's a great argument, but the twist to the episode--that Archer has been poisoned with a substance that reverse-imprinted him into caring only about the safety of the eggs above all else--completely diminishes it. I guess it's not interesting to the fifth-graders that write this show just to have Archer argue an ethical point, instead having some bad sci-fi twist that takes Archer's agency away from him.

18. Azati Prime (3/5)
I feel like this is really the start of taking this whole Xindi thing really seriously and making it the main focus of the show. This episode has some good tension and some great visuals, with Archer willing to sacrifice himself to take out the Xindi weapon--he's foiled and captured--as well as another scene of desperation, with his willingness to destroy a Xindi moonbase in order to keep the location of Enterprise a secret. But it also shows how little faith the series has in its writing and in its ability to balance the Xindi conflict arc by basically having Crewman Daniels once again drop in from the future and basically explain to Archer (and to us) what's going on. Apparently that alien pilot Archer and Phlox found in "Harbinger"--a test subject who basically disintegrated in our reality--was part of a trans-dimensional race called the Sphere-Builders. They built the Spheres, which are what makes the Delphic Expanse so hostile; they're trying to warp that region of space so that they can live there, and they want humans destroyed because it's the human-led United Federation of Planets that will destroy the Sphere-Builders. They're the ones who told the Xindi that Earth was a ruthless threat, and they plan to destroy the Xindi in time. According to Daniels, the Klingons are part of the Federation in the future (we're onboard the Enterprise-J for this), so maybe that's something to explore in the next series. So after the tension of the first half of the episode, the whole nature of the conflict isn't discovered through the ingenuity of our crew, but dropped on us in an infodump by a character whose very existence on this show I despise. Time travel is such a boring crutch. The other interesting aspect of this episode, though, is Degra; apparently they wiped his memory and let him go to, um, continue building the weapon? I don't know, they don't quite justify it, but at least it provides Archer with an ally, as Archer is able to gain Degra's trust and the two begin talking about meeting with the Xindi Council for a possible diplomatic solution and maybe even an eventual team-up against the manipulative Sphere-Builders.

19. Damage (3/5)
I think this is finally the episode where Archer crosses the line: as the Enterprise continues to be damaged in fights with the Xindi, he tries to trade with a crew of Illyrians for their warp coil. Giving up their warp coil would strand the Illyrians three years away from their home (on impulse power), while Archer desperately needs it to meet with the Xindi Council by a certain time. So Archer and his men basically become pirates and steal the warp coil. I get that this is a desperate situation. And to the show's credit, Archer feels bad about it the whole time, acknowledging that leaving the Illyrian crew Trellium and more food supplies doesn't make up for what he's done. But it feels like a betrayal of the audience somehow. It doesn't sit well. I get it, I really do; there's not always a pat answer, and sometimes you have to do horrible things for the greater good (something which Star Trek wouldn't even consider for a very long time). But it's uncomfortable. It's supposed to be. But... I don't know, it doesn't totally work. The other important bit, which I found interesting, is the revelation that T'Pol is a drug addict. Apparently, ever since the encounter with the Vulcan ship, she's been experimenting with injecting Trellium in order to give herself more access to her emotions, experimenting with a part of herself the same way she did with the mind-meld. So that's a big part of the reason she's been so emotional all season: she's fully addicted to the Trellium and even puts her life in danger in this episode to get a fix. They don't come right out and say it in these terms, but she's basically given herself brain damage doing this.

20. The Forgotten (2/5)
I guess it's the quiet before the storm. Much of the episode revolves around Malcolm Reed putting his life in danger to stop a plasma fire, but Reed's just such a non-character by this point that there's no suspense. Trip tries to write a letter to the parents of an engineering colleague who was one of the people who died when the Xindi attacked the ship in the previous episode. He also continues to be (understandably) hostile to Degra, who is now actively working with Archer to stop the impending attack on Earth and hopes to convince the Council that the Sphere-Builders are the real enemy and that Earth has no hostile intentions.

21. E-Squared (2/5)
As Archer prepares to enter an unstable subspace corridor to reach the Xindi Council, he's confronted by an Enterprise from the future crewed by descendants of the original crew. The premise is that when the Enterprise tried to enter the corridor, it was attacked, subspace was unstable, and the Enterprise was spat out of it a hundred years in the past, where it waited and the crew lived on and had children in the Expanse until it was time to warn Archer not to go through with his journey through subspace. It's fitfully interesting, and David Andrews is pretty good as Lorian, the half-Vulcan son of Trip and T'Pol, but it kind of just becomes another action episode. There aren't really any stakes, and we have to endure yet more terrible old age makeup with an old version of T'Pol that's just laughably bad.

22. The Council (3/5)
Archer finally appears before the Xindi Council. I only realize now, with Hoshi working to translate the Insectoid and Aquatic languages, that English seems to be the standard language of the universe once again. Really, Farscape handled the idea of a universal translator so much better and offhandedly enough that it didn't become an issue. Best not to think about a lot of the language barrier issues on this show. Some good intrigue here. Degra meets his death at the hands of Dolim, the Xindi Reptilian leader, and the death stings. The Reptilians steal the weapon and kidnap Hoshi, planning to use her to de-crypt the launch codes so they can destroy Earth. I like the sense of wistfulness about the Xindi, especially with the talk of the extinct Avian Xindi. There's also a subplot with T'Pol infiltrating one of the Spheres; its defense system vaporizes one of the MACOs, which is terrifying.

23. Countdown (3/5)
24. Zero Hour (3/5)
These episodes sort of blend together for me, with their relentless action. The MACO leader, Major Hayes, dies in heroic sacrifice, which you knew from day one would happen. Daniels shows up again, begging Archer not to take a suicide mission to destroy the Xindi weapon because he is apparently integral to the future founding of the UFP. Earth is nearly destroyed, but then it isn't. Wonderfully, Commander Shran shows up at the eleventh hour to help save the day. The weapon blows up with Archer seemingly still inside, and T'Pol captains the Enterprise and destroys the Spheres and terminates the space-altering effects in the Delphic Expanse, defeating the Sphere-Builders and ending the Xindi War. It's all exciting, but not really gripping. It goes by quickly, with only a little room to breathe at the end (I do like the moment when T'Pol tells Tucker her real age--65--which Vulcans consider intimate knowledge).

The very end pisses me off, though. The Enterprise arrives at Earth only to find themselves in 1944, and Archer turns up captured by Nazis who are led by an alien in an SS uniform. Oh, good. More time travel. For fuck's sake. You can't give these guys a break for like a second?

I think it's safe to say that I don't hold with the people who think this is better than the first two seasons. It's pretty much exactly like the first two: slow in spots, okay in others, and with tons and tons of unrealized potential. There really isn't a season-long arc here; there's a season-specific premise, but there aren't a lot of character arcs or plot threads at play. There are a lot of episodes that don't build on the Xindi conflict at all or move the story forward in any interesting way, and I think a lot of it is because either Berman & Braga just aren't brave enough to commit to it, or they think they are and they just don't realize they aren't. It's a lot of the same problems they had on Voyager, honestly, although Voyager's premise was much more able to deal with not serializing it as long as the characters continued to develop (which was also not always successful). It's interesting that there's such a debate about which show is worse, Voyager or Enterprise, and while I don't think either one is out-and-out a bad show, I think Enterprise is the least of them. And it's not because it's bad, but because there is so much potential here that's in the hands of people who don't know what to do with it, but who would rather cling to their cliches and their tropes than do something really different with it.

It's been three seasons of this, so I have no reason to expect the fourth season won't be more of the same. It's just so disappointing how much you could do with this show that's just not really going anywhere. I'm getting real tired of Star Trek, and it's really just because of Berman & Braga and their master plan of just doing all the same things over and over and over again. It's not that Enterprise itself is horrendously bad. It's just that no one seems to care about doing something different from what they've been doing, at this point, for 16 years. It's gotten old. This wasn't the third season of one show. It was the 24th season of muted sameness.

(Oh, and how about the change in tempo for the theme song this season? That thing's just more and more out of place every episode.)

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, January 06, 2013

No Tailgating!

Another great Jim Henson commercial from the 1960s, this one a PSA reminding you not to tailgate.

Song of the Week: "Veteran of the Psychic Wars"

Changing the pace from all that Christmas music. I've had this going through my head a lot lately; I need to pull out my Heavy Metal soundtrack. Does anyone do any dark, weird science fiction hard rock anymore, or is that all in the past? Blue Oyster Cult, 1981.

Sunday Hottie 414

SARAH SHAHI