Around the Water Cooler: “Revolution,” the Mid-Season Finale and Season 2 Progress Report (SPOILERS)

THE SPECS:

Who: “Revolution” currently airs on network TV, specifically on NBC, Wednesdays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Revolution,” a science fiction thriller and action drama set in a post-apocalyptic landscape.  In Revolution, in the year 2012, scientists Ben and Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost) developed nanotechnology that somehow caused electricity to disappear from the entire world, resulting in chaos and anarchy, particularly in the United States. People were left without vehicles and any other powered apparatuses, and the world descended into uncivilized madness, until two men, Rachel’s brother-in-law Miles (Billy Burke) and his best friend Sebastian “Bass” Monroe (David Lyons), took it upon themselves to form a martial colony that later becomes the Monroe Republic based in Philadelphia.  Other territories begin to sprout up across the devastated nation as well, but Monroe becomes power-drunk and merciless as well as obsessed with finding out how to turn the power back on.  Miles defects shortly before Monroe orders that Ben be found and killed, leaving his daughter Charlie (Tracy Spiradakos) and son Danny orphans.  Danny is thereafter kidnapped by Monroe’s men , including trusted soldier Major Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito, Once Upon a Time), in an effort to bait hostage Rachel into working on restoring power.  Charlie and family friend Aaron (Zak Orth), along with others, seek the help of Uncle Miles to rescue Danny; though initially successful, Miles and Charlie find out how intricately their family is involved in the worldwide blackout and must deal with the ramifications of the post-apocalyptic environment and the vast spectrum of human nature in a world where all must scrape by to survive, all while bands of rebels claiming to be American patriots fight the demagoguery of the territorial governments, (for a more detailed Synopsis, read here: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/revolution/summary.html).

When: The Season 2 mid-season finale aired on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, on NBC at 8:00 PM.  The show is expected to debut the second half of its season on Wednesday, January 8, 2014, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show spans the country formerly known as the United States in a fictitious future but started primarily on the East Coast in the Monroe Republic and in the Southeast in what is known in the show as the Georgia Federation.

Why: The executive producers and creators of this show are Eric Kripke (who created Supernatural) and J.J. Abrams (Lost, Fringe, Alias, Felicity).  That is an epic team of creativity, and I am a great fan of their previous (and some current) series.  In addition, Elizabeth Mitchell, who played Juliet Burke on Lost, and also appeared on V, is a featured member of the ensemble and is one of my favorite television actresses today.  In addition, the concept of the power going out all across the world, suddenly and without explanation – that doesn’t intrigue you?

How – as in How’s It Going? (THOUGHTS…at present)

Season Two has been quite the roller coaster ride since the season premiere.  The story has taken some unexpected turns, and our characters have found themselves surprisingly far away from last season’s quest of attempting to restore power worldwide.  The themes of this season revolve around the mysterious agenda of the so-called Patriots/American government and what is, ultimately, the prescient artificial intelligence powering the nanotechnology invented by Ben and Rachel Matheson, the same technology that caused the blackout initially.  Let’s review the story from each character’s perspective and revisit questions, old and new.

Rachel Matheson (Elizabeth Mitchell):

After the season one finale, when Rachel, her daughter Charlie, her brother-in-law Miles, and family friend Aaron successfully reached the Tower in the Plains Nation and turned on the power via the nanotechnology invented by Rachel and her deceased husband Ben, missiles were launched at key sites around the country, resulting in the destruction of the populaces in Philadelphia, the seat of the Monroe Republic; Atlanta, the seat of the Georgia Federation; and other major populations around the country.  Believing that her decision to turn the power back on directly resulted in the fallout and catastrophic loss of life, Rachel returned to her father Gene in Texas (i.e. the Plains Nation), where he comforted her during what was clearly a psychotic break.  In the meantime, Charlie left to seek her revenge for the deaths of her father and brother, while Miles stayed to tend after Rachel and to suss out information about the mysterious Patriots and the perpetrators of the missile strikes.  The unspoken love between Miles and Rachel resulted in her mental healing; however, life was complicated for them all when Patriots rolled into town.  Rachel, along with Miles, suspects them from the start, and she frequently gets herself into trouble as she sneaks around, looking for answers, and challenges their authority outright.  Yet, her primary purpose, as the inventor of the nanobytes that caused the power outage, is to discover and explain the new behaviors exhibited by the technology, particularly when it revives Aaron from death.  In addition, though Rachel manages to rebuild trust with her daughter, she discovers that her father has been secretly tipping the Patriots off with information related to Miles’ identity and whereabouts, though he is unaware that her life is also in danger, and that a reward for her capture has also been posted.  As of the cliffhanger, Rachel learns finally that Miles truly loved her all along, but that he is dying of a slow burning infection to an injury he sustained during their many skirmishes with the Patriot soldiers.

Miles Matheson (Billy Burke):

Miles chose to hide in the Plains Nation with Rachel, and it has become clear in the first half of this season, if it wasn’t clear before, and certainly by Miles’ own admission, that he has long nursed a deep-seated love for his widowed sister-in-law, a love that began with some kind of affair while Rachel was still with Miles’ brother, Ben.  Miles’ identity and very life were endangered by the arrival of the self-styled patriots, who the viewer finds out came to town on a tip from Rachel’s father, Gene (Stephen Collins).  The American government has issued a bounty for the capture of both Rachel and Miles, as well as Bass Monroe.  Miles, going by the alias of Stu for most of this season until recently, made it his mission to discover the true aims of the Patriots, though he was first captured by a war clan run by a psychopathic ex-patriot attempting to cure his fatally sick wife.  Then, matters were complicated when Charlie returned to the Plains Nation with Bass, who had news of the bounties, in an effort to enlist Monroe’s help in sussing out the secret agenda of the Patriots.  Though Miles attempted to solicit the aid of the Texas Rangers (headed, briefly, by Jim Beaver, or Bobby of Supernatural) with the hope of starting a war, the larger distraction has been Aaron’s trials and tribulations centered on the nanotech, which seems to be at the heart of the American Government’s official plans.  The viewer also discovers that Monroe had a child with a woman who also loved Miles, and Miles secreted the child away from Monroe, as the baby was conceived when the Monroe Republic was ascending in power and control.  Miles’ life and relationships with his family and friends, with the exception of Charlie, remain quite complicated.  As of the cliffhanger, an injury that he sustained while skirmishing with patriot soldiers has become infected, and he is succumbing to the infection, even though Aaron successfully causes the nanotechnology to burn the patriot soldiers, who are laying siege at the old high school, alive.  This character’s struggle centers on redemption for his past misdeeds with his best buddy Bass, the future of his survival, and his ongoing feelings for Rachel.

Charlotte “Charlie” Matheson (Tracy Spiradakos):

Charlie has grown up fast since her father and brother died in season one.  Not only has she become an unflinching soldier, able to kill with reckless abandon not unlike her uncle, she has also learned truths about her family and friends that she would just as soon forget.  Her prolonged feeling of abandonment at the hands of her mother Rachel, and her anger over the missile strikes as well as the deaths of those she loves, cause her to leave her mother, grandfather, and uncle Miles to seek out Monroe with the intent of killing him in revenge.  When both he and she are captured, and he saves her life and releases her from her bonds, Monroe tells Charlie about the bounties on her mother and uncle’s heads, as he supplicates her to let him accompany her back to the Plains Nation to start a war against the shifty patriots alongside former best buddy Miles.  She agrees and brings him there, much to the consternation of Rachel and Miles.  Yet, her decision may be sound, as Bass becomes profoundly useful in the efforts to investigate the Patriots.  In the meantime, she is able to make cautious amends with her mom, though her concern is for helping Rachel and Miles to escape capture and to avoid the collection of the bounties on their heads.  Also, and this viewer may be imagining it, but there seems to be a weird sexual tension between Charlie and Bass, which would also be kind of gross, considering that Bass is her uncle’s age.

Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) and Jason Neville (JD Pardo): 

The Nevilles have experienced quite the side adventure, which has not yet dovetailed with the Mathesons and Monroe.  When the season begins, Tom is racked with grief about the apparent death of his wife Julia (Kim Raver) during the missile strikes, and he and Jason find themselves in a refugee camp somewhere in the Georgia Federation, alone and outcast as well as homeless in the fallout.  Tom is also drunk and angry most of the time, and Jason does all he can to slap some sense into his typically slaphappy father.  When persons identifying themselves as members of the American government arrive in the camp with fresh supplies and a seeming mission of rescue and hope, Tom decides to adopt his own mission of infiltrating the ranks of the American government with the intent to kill the President in the name of his dead wife. Most of the season so far has found Tom utilizing his bevy of machination and political schemes and skills to weasel his way into the security forces for the patriots, though Jason is momentarily shipped against his will to a “reeducation center,” where he is brainwashed into fighting for the patriots without discrimination, including shooting at his own father.  Tom is able to save his son and revive his good senses as well as to find his way aboard a train heading for Washington DC, where–twist!–he finds his wife, very much alive and married to someone else.  Their reunion is one filled with love and sex, and Julia is able to see her son briefly and in passing, but Julia convinces Tom, as the power-hungry couple they have always been, to wait to kill the president, as she has plans of her own.  This family has been deemed the antiheroes of the bunch; it’s interesting to see how they have been written as people to both cheer for and despise, all at once.

Aaron Pittman (Zak Orth):

Aaron accompanied Miles, Rachel, and Charlie to the Plains Nation and was actually successful in moving past the heartache of the previous year.  He found his former wife alive in the latter half of last season, and, realizing that she didn’t love him anymore, propagated most by his crippling lack of confidence and cowardice streak, Aaron decided to become a teacher and search for purpose in the sleepy Texas town where his friends were hiding.  At school, he met and fell in love with Cynthia (Jessica Collins); yet, when a war clan attacked the town, Aaron was caught in the crossfire and died – until the nanotechnology revived him and began making his thoughts come to life, such as by burning people alive and healing the wounded and sick.  This discovery horrifies Aaron and even frightens the unerringly loyal Cynthia, until some of the patriots who roll into town make the connection between Aaron and the nanotech based on a tip from Gene, Rachel’s father.  When an official played by Zeljko Ivanek begins to torture Aaron and to threaten Cynthia, hoping that Aaron will cause the nanotech to heal a cancerous tumor in his brain, Aaron cries possum, unable to understand how he is controlling it or why he, of all people and things, is what the eerily glowing nanobytes respond to in the end.  In the cliffhanger episode, the nanobytes adopt the form of a little boy that Aaron used to know as a child and explain to him that because he “woke them up,” by programming them to start the sequence to reset worldwide power in the Tower, they hear his “thinks” and want to help him, but the boy/nanotech is confused by Aaron’s changing whims of healing his now deceased girlfriend and killing those who threatened them.  This little boy also kept asking him about a city in Oklahoma with the second largest ball of twine.  This viewer imagines that this location will become significant in the second half of the season, if the show continues to be too “X-Files” even for Miles by exploring the nanotechnology and its relationship both to Aaron and the worldwide power outage.

Sebastian “Bass” Monroe (David Lyons):

Bass spent much of the first quarter of the season running and hiding from the authorities, who labeled him a war criminal and placed the highest bounty on his head.  He prolonged his survival by engaging in black market boxing matches for money and drinking his days away, missing his best friend Miles.  When Charlie tracks him down with the intent of killing him, the two are captured by bounty hunters expecting to turn them over to the American government, but Monroe is still the ruthless soldier he always has been and manages to rescue himself and Charlie before entreating her to bring him to Miles.  Against her better judgment, she acquiesces, and the two find the rest of the Mathesons and Aaron deep within the Plains Nation/Texas.  Monroe initially attempts to convince Miles to start a war against the patriots; however, their attempts fail, and Monroe is recaptured and sentenced to execution.  Though Rachel and Gene are responsible for administering a lethal injection, Rachel has second thoughts in the end, though those thoughts are largely directed toward Miles, whom she loves, and she creates a non-lethal injection and unearths him from his unmarked grave.  Miles also tells Monroe in his alleged final moments that he has a son by a woman for whom they both shared love.  When Monroe is restored to consciousness, he is hellbent on discovering out the whereabouts of this child, though Miles wants his friend’s help to save Aaron from the clutches of the patriots.  Monroe initially seems to be the same as he always was, ultimately in it all for himself and his own aims, but he does return to help Charlie, who he seems to care about, when she is most cornered by patriot soldiers in the old high school.  What his ultimate endgame is may be the biggest mystery of all, since he is not nearly as predictable as any of the other characters.

Questions, Impressions, and Future Considerations (including questions raised during the premiere)

1) Are the nano-bytes irradiated from the nuclear fallout?  What are the luminescent green things?  They have to be those nano-bytes, right?  And did they revive Aaron at the end of the episode?

Answer: Yes, the nanobytes did revive Aaron.  They are the luminescent green things, though they are not irradiated but are sentient artificial intelligence, attempting to appease who they deem to be their creator (Aaron) and to understand their new world.

New Question: Why did they really leave in the end?  And what purpose, if any, will they continue to play in the ongoing story of Revolution? There is some discontent among viewers and fans that the nanotech portion of the narrative distracts from the overall themes; yet, the show was originally about the power going out worldwide, and the fallout that such an event created, which was propagated by this unique bit of science fiction.  I hope the story continues to follow the life and growing consciousness of the nanotechnology and to find Rachel becoming more involved with it again.

2) What is the real nature of the relationship between Miles and Rachel, and why can’t they explore it if Ben, brother and husband, is now deceased?

Answer: They are definitely in love.  I think Miles was keeping his distance out of respect for his brother’s memory, and possibly for Charlie, but I expect this to change in the second half of the season, assuming that Miles survives his infection.

3) Charlie was an annoying character, but she really came into her own when the death of her brother in season 1, in addition to her proficiency at killing attackers, hardened her.  Yet, this quest to find Monroe is really ill-advised.  What is her endgame?  She kills him, and then what?  Bad things happen when she does the “stupid,” as Miles called it.

Answer: Her endgame was to kill Monroe, but she wisely changed her mind.  

New Question: Will her feelings of revenge re-materialize?  In some ways, she and Monroe are quite similar.  I also still maintain that there is an odd strain of sexual tension between these two characters.  Am I imagining it?

4) Miles and the sheriff of the town occupied by Rachel’s father were captured by a war clan with a dandy of a leader at the end of the premiere.  Who is this guy, and what is his purpose?

Answer: He was a former member of the American government whose wife became fatally ill.  He found a loyal and supportive network in the war clan, but his only purpose was to introduce the Patriots as a body into the town where Miles, Rachel, Charlie, and Aaron hid as well as to be a narrative device to show the dangers, other than the obvious forces like the Patriots, still threatening our heroes.

5) The most interesting piece of the story right now centers on Neville.  He was a broken man at first blush in this episode, assured that his wife is dead, and Jason, their situations reversed from the first season, had to smack some sense into him.  With the arrival of the ship and parties claiming to be government, he’s found a new purpose, and he raised some very good questions and suspicions about their new friends.  What will he find out?

Answer: See above.  

New Question: He and Julia are both power-hungry little B-villains.  Will their aims and goals remain as parallel as they have in the past, and exactly what is Julia’s plan, and what is it exactly that they “have always wanted?”  Also, will Jason be along for this ride, and will it be voluntarily or involuntarily?

6) Will the power ever come back on?

This question has not yet been answered and still holds.

PARTING SHOTS

Because the Revolution writers stuck to the central themes, such as the shady organization behind the power outage, Aaron’s role in it all, and Miles and Monroe’s love/hate relationship, the show has really become better and better each week, delivering mysteries and entertainment in epic and grandiose style. With Eric Kripke at the helm, who plans story arcs well in advance, it will be interesting to see how it all continues to play out.  This viewer hopes, however, that the show does not forget its original premise: worldwide blackout and post-apocalyptic survival.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Revolution was ordered for a full season by NBC, a ravaged network that is hanging on to whatever successes it can muster (much like the characters in this show), but TVLine.com is listing possible renewal for this show as “could go either way.”  Also, the show will be preempted for some time during the Winter Olympics, which will air on NBC during February sweeps.  A renewal decision will likely not be made until May sweeps, depending on where the overall story goes.  Let’s see how it fares.

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What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Keys of Marinus” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The time is not specified, but the advancement of the planet and the talk of its history appear to indicate that this adventure takes place in the future.

Place: Marinus, a technologically advanced but stagnant planet.

Episodes: 

1. “The Sea of Death” (Season One, Episode Twenty-One)
2. “The Velvet Web” (S1, E22)
3. “The Screaming Jungle” (S1, E23)
4. “The Snows of Terror” (S1, E24)
5. “Sentence of Death” (S1, E25)
6. “The Keys of Marinus” (S1, E26)

Today’s Lessons

1. The TARDIS has color television!  So says the Doctor, though he noted it doesn’t always work. Ha!  Meta jokes.

2. One is eternally curious.  In fact, that might be the whole theme of this Doctor incarnation.  For One, it is about the science and exploration.  He wants to test, poke, prod, sample, observe.  One is a scientist above all other things.  His greatest desire as of “The Velvet Web:” a well equipped laboratory with every conceivable apparatus/device.

3. Susan, on the other hand, though she takes after her grandfather in terms of his curious streak, lacks years of intelligence and wisdom and tends to repeatedly get into trouble.  Why does she wander toward the building in “The Sea of Death” rather than toward her grandfather after she loses her shoes to the acidic lake?  That girl!

4. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show the effects of, say, a large cavernous structure or building with many corridors and alien architecture, one only needs to build a partial set and convey size and strangeness with paintings and backdrops featuring perspective drawings.  See also: every other television show from the era.

5.The Doctor just called Ian resourceful!  He really must be warming up to his companions. Perhaps, these are the seeds of doubt regarding the Doctor feeling lonely and enjoying his explorations with others…?  Though, I’ve seen (and shared) a meme quoting One as saying, “Fear makes companions of all of us.”

6. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show or indicate an invisible force field around something, say a TARDIS, one only need to have the actors mime touching an invisible wall in front of them.  In other words, when in doubt: learn to mime.

7. Device introduction alert! Teleportation bracelets?  They’re from Marinus!  Also, as the Doctor says, they are a perfectly acceptable way to travel.  And the ultimate fashion accessory.

8. One’s favorite foods include: pomegranates and truffles.  In addition to salty bacon.

9. When The Doctor decides that the party should split up to look for the remaining keys after the brain aliens are defeated by Barbara, Susan teleports away quickly. She mentions to Barbara that she didn’t want to stay around until the last moment because she doesn’t like “goodbyes.”  Doesn’t that sound familiar?

10. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, when you have a statue with moving arms and no mechanical prowess to clasp the arms shut, grabbing and trapping whomever is in front of the statue, use real human arms.  They may not match, but at least they work!

11. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, when one needs to have a cavern made of pure ice, simulate the effect by hanging a bunch of cellophane.  Of course, your lack of historical special effects prowess may do nothing to muffle the sound of moving “shattered” ice made out of cellophane, but the visual is convincing enough…

12. The Doctor, as of these episodes, is definitely warming up to Ian and vice versa.  When Ian is falsely accused of murder in the Marinus capital, The Doctor takes it upon himself to defend Ian in the resulting trial, where the accused is deemed guilty until proven innocent.  The Doctor gives each of his companions, including the two from Marinus, tasks to complete. When Ian asks what he can do, The Doctor simply responds, “Trust me.”  Ian doesn’t even try to argue. Evolution! Progress!

13. The Doctor resorts to subterfuge to trick one of the guilty parties to admit his wrongdoing in committing the aforesaid murder.  Sadly, it doesn’t really add up to much of a defense in this unusual legal system.

14. One’s “a-ha!” moments are kind of cute.  William Hartnell did an adorable job of creating a demonstrable giddiness when his Doctor is pleasantly surprised, either by the solving of a mystery, such as the case of who really committed murder in the capital – as opposed to the falsely accused Ian – or by being surprised by some trick or bit of cleverness by one of his companions. He was also giddy, and then a bit grumpy, when Ian revealed that he tricked the alien race in the tower by providing them with the fake key that they had acquired in one of the earlier quests.  I think it’s fair to say that giddiness in general is a common attribute to all of the Doctor’s personae.

15. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show, say, a TARDIS in relation to a fictional, large structure, such as an alien pyramid-like tower, one needs to only build a model.  While the model itself doesn’t have to be exactly to scale, or the detailing on the model exactly accurate, one should really invest in realistic looking greenery and shrubbery to better mask the illusion.  The final shot of episode 26 contained what was clearly a model TARDIS on, most likely, the base of a train set.  I know, it was 1964.  Perhaps the budget was a bit too limited for realistic shrubberies – some that looked nice and were not too expensive, at any rate.

16. “The Keys of Marinus” serial is ultimately the most interesting and riveting set of episodes in the One era so far.  Setting the Doctor and his companions in a place where, first, the conceit of the planet/world is that minds are run by machinery, allows for a social commentary/subtext that is both timely to its era and ahead of its time, considering the then-prevalent real-life fear that a surge in advancement of machinery and/or technology could result in a loss of control by the people who created this machinery/technology or greater dangers.  In fact, at the end of the serial, the Doctor advises Sabetha, Arbitan’s daughter, to relinquish the final key and to leave the machine in its dormant state of disrepair, as he suggests that no good comes of people being controlled by machines, or something to that effect.  This statement ultimately serves a double purpose: it’s a warning to the Doctor Who audience about the impending and very realistic dangers that technology can pose to societies and races of beings at large, and in the wake of atomic warfare, twenty years after the conclusion of World War II but deep within the Cold War, this attitude is not surprising.  Yet, the statement provides a secondary effect, in terms of some narrative foreshadowing: after all, are not the Time Lords held somewhat captive by their own advanced technology?  Was the Doctor not making some kind of veiled reference to his own people?  This is, of course, long before Gallifrey disappears in the time stream, but the Gallifreyans are a technologically advanced society who manipulate and control time and events in time.  Interesting to consider, eh?

The second element that makes this serial particularly fascinating and fun to watch is the scavenger hunt underlying the search for the keys.  The Doctor and his companions, including Sabetha and Altos, when they are found in “The Velvet Web,” must travel to pre-programmed destinations via wrist teleporter to search for a set of keys that control the mind and mood altering machinery created by Arbitan.  Each location has different environments and dangers, and each episode is, ultimately, a self-contained story serving a larger narrative arc.  For the first time, it appears, in the show’s history, the writers created a layered and complex story involving the talents of all of its characters, where Ian, Susan, Barbara, and the Doctor himself are able to have a rotating hand in playing victims, heroes, and solvers of greater mysteries.  Of all of the One serials I have seen so far, “The Keys of Marinus” is my favorite to date.

Next serial: “The Aztecs” (Season 1, Episodes 27-30).

Pilots and Premieres: “Almost Human” – Series Premiere (+1)

Who:  “Almost Human,” currently airs on network TV, specifically on FOX, Mondays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Almost Human,” a science fiction action/crime drama set in a future where police forces are partially staffed by androids in cities where crime runs rampant, and a police officer named John Kennex (Karl Urban, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), who loses his partner in an ambush after an android statistically determines that the partner is too badly hurt and too beyond help, must reconcile with returning to work following his own coma, the addition of a “synthetic” prosthetic leg, and the partnering with the androids he comes to dangerously resent.

When: The series premiered on FOX, Sunday, November 17, 2013, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in an unknown metropolis, though it strikes this viewer as being Los Angeles, California, in the year 2048.

Why: It’s science fiction, it features Eomer/the new Dr. McCoy (Mr. Urban), and it was created and is executive produced by J.J. Abrams and one of his cohorts from Fringe.  As I am in the Cult of J.J., I must sample everything that man touches.

How – as in How Was It?

The pilot/premiere rating scale:

***** – I HAVE TO WATCH EVERYTHING.  HOLY SMOKES!

**** – Well, it certainly seems intriguing.  I’m going to keep watching, but I see possible pitfalls in the premise.

*** – I will give it six episodes and see what happens.  There are things I like, and things I don’t.  We’ll see which “things” are allowed to flourish.

** – I will give it three episodes.  Chances are, I’m mainly bored, but there is some intrigue or fascination that could hold it together.  No matter how unlikely.

* – Pass on this one, guys.  It’s a snoozer/not funny/not interesting/not my cup of tea… there are too many options to waste time on this one.

Almost Human = ***

SYNOPSIS

John Kennex (Urban) finds his life forever altered after a crime syndicate ambush, to which he mistakenly led officers under his charge, results in their deaths.  When one of the force’s requisite androids abandons John’s mortally wounded partner during the siege, categorizing him as an unacceptable risk, John’s partner loses his life, and John loses his leg.  He is then comatose for seventeen months, until he is revived with a synthetic prosthesis to replace his missing limb. Though he attempts to undergo black market treatments to recover some of the memories of that fateful day, his superior (Lili Taylor) recalls him to work and assigns John his mandatory android partner – which he promptly shoves out of a moving vehicle while investigating a robbery.  He is then assigned to work with Dorian (Michael Ealy), an early generation android prototype programmed to have actual feelings and to interact, emotional responses in tact, with his human counterparts. John must set aside his deep seated prejudice, while Dorian reminds John of what it is to be human in a world populated by a growing number of artificial copies, as they investigate and work in a city ravaged by crime and “unregulated technology.”

THOUGHTS

The concept underlying Almost Human reminded this viewer instantly of fare like Robocop or I, Robot, since those big screen vehicles featured cops and robotics.  The pilot/first hour-long episode of this show was exposition heavy, almost to a fault.  While several seeds were planted from a story perspective, almost none of them were offered an intriguing push toward something more tantalizing in the future, and the haphazard sprinkling of such seeds ultimately left the pilot proper playing with a flat and unfocused quality that rendered it somewhat boring, though the second episode (which aired the following night) was a bit better.

The most impressive element of this new program is the visual effects, depicting technology that is either an advanced imagining of devices currently available, or a creative glimpse into devices that have the potential to be invented and simply haven’t been yet.  From the view-screens and floating displays to the changes in the appearance of androids’ faces and eyes depending upon their status, Almost Human may be one of the most visually stunning science fiction offerings on television today, whether free network or cable.

Urban offers a capable if clipped performance as the affected Kennex.  He plays a typical man’s man, haunted by his demons or ghosts of same, since his memory has not fully recovered.  He also has a charming odd couple chemistry with Ealy, who is easily the scene-stealer of this program.  Ealy infuses his soul-programmed Dorian with an effortless innocence and walks the line of “feeling robot” quite deftly.  It’s his “almost human” character that lends dimension to an otherwise hollow affair, a small screen copy of similar stories from film and TV past.

Yet, Almost Human offers some intriguing bits of potential where story is concerned.  Not only are John’s buried memories keys to larger questions, but Dorian’s existence and reemergence after being decommissioned for some time posit some interesting back story regarding this “crazy” feeling android that may serve a larger story arc.  Unfortunately, as is standard for all J.J. Abrams-produced vehicles and as was true of Fringe, this production team’s previous effort, it may be several episodes before that story arc emerges.  For now, these two cops, one human with android features, one android with humanistic features, are learning to navigate their partnership while abandoning their individual, preconceived notions about their time and their environment. If this program drifts into futuristic procedural territory as a mainstay, where each episode merely centers on this odd couple buddy cop team solving a new crime each week, this viewer will not stick with the show.

RECOMMENDATION

Almost Human is for anyone who loves futuristic, science fiction related action stories.  Another similar film with a completely different premise is Minority Report: the visual pastiche of both vehicles are reminiscent of each other.  Also, fans of Karl Urban will probably enjoy his star status and constant screen time in this show.  

THE FUTURE OF THE SHOW:

Too early to tell.  For now, the ratings have climbed and decreased at fairly steady intervals, though at small increments, since the premiere.  In addition, FOX moved Bones to Fridays and gave the latter show’s time slot (Mondays at 8:00 PM) to this new program; the show has held its own when up against The Voice on NBC. Let’s see how it all fares in the future.

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “Marco Polo,” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The year 1289, and perhaps beyond.

Place: Earth – ancient China.

Episodes: 

1. “The Roof of the World” (Season One, Episode Fourteen)
2. “The Singing Sands” (S1, E15)
3. “Five Hundred Eyes” (S1, E16)
4. “The Wall of Lies” (S1, E17)
5. “Rider from Shang-Tu” (S1, E18)
6. “Mighty Kublai Khan” (S1, E19)
7. “Assassin at Peking” (S1, E20)

Today’s Lessons

1. The “Marco Polo ” serial, which is comprised of seven episodes, is entirely lost; some early episodes are lost due to the BBC’s previous policy of recycling tapes by rerecording over established footage.  www.dailymotion.com has uploaded clips that somehow preserved the audio of these episodes but juxtaposed them against projections of still shots from each episode.  The effect is rather like listening to a radio show or one of those books with the small (45) records accompanied by a slide show presentation as texture.  The lost episodes have been rumored to have been found and are said to be under process of restoration by the BBC…but who knows when they will appear (or if they will appear).  The story is rich enough in this serial, and the audio complete enough, that the gist is more than discernible.

2. One is extra grumpy.  He is petulant and irascible with Marco Polo, particularly as the TARDIS really seems to not be working and is being towed by caravan while the explorer crosses the Gobi desert, though One eventually fixes it sneakily by night.  Of course, Marco has appropriated it to give to the Kublai Khan in exchange for his release back to Venice.  I don’t remember this part in the history books…

3. The theme of One being an old man crops up frequently.  He is the most susceptible to various forms of danger.  In “The Singing Sands,” after Tegana drains the water gourds, the Doctor is the first to collapse from dehydration.  He was also barely in this episode.  Of course, it is his age and inability to kowtow due to a bad back that allows him to bond with the elderly and feeble Kublai Khan later on.

4. Speaking of Singing Sands…the sandstorm did really seem to be singing.  What’s that about?  They never addressed it!

5. Marco Polo tells the story of this caravan through the desert by writing in a journal.  Paradox alert!  Did this journal survive?  It makes references to the Doctor and his companions and the “flying caravan” (the TARDIS).  Did the journal exist before their arrival to the ancient past, or have the Doctor and his companions altered time?  In other words, is their arrival a “fixed” point, and where did this journal end up?  Maybe it’s buried in the Gobi Desert.  This seems very wibbly wobbly to me.  Perhaps even timey-wimey.

6. What is the Tegana dude’s problem, anyway?

7. Ah…the sixties.  All Asian characters are played by British actors with – augmentations – to help them look Asian.

8. Who is the guy in the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes giving Tegana his orders?  He doesn’t look like the other Mongols, and yet no one can really wrap their head around the space ship concept of the TARDIS.  I think his name is Acumet, but Tegana ends up killing him.  I’m so confused!  Acumet lived a pointless life.

9. The Doctor has been bandying about lots of diabolical laughter in this serial.  He does not get along with Marco Polo and really holds the fact that he is an intellectual superior over Marco’s head on a regular basis.  Except for the fact that he loses the second TARDIS key to Marco in an anticlimactic bait and switch.  When will this incarnation of the Doctor ever learn?

10. Why is it so hard for four people to get back into the TARDIS?  Susan is the weak link of this outfit.  Her loyalty to Ping Cho gets her captured by the duplicitous Tegana, and there is still no word of explanation for Tegana’s motives, unless he is looking to steal the magic caravan TARDIS for himself.  Update: I think that’s it.  I just don’t know why he wants it.  Maybe his faction of Mongols is at war with Kublai Khan.  Update: No, that’s it.  Apparently, he’s been distracting Marco Polo from realizing his true intentions of aggression against the Khan by blaming The Doctor and his companions for everything, and he wants the TARDIS to give his tribe of Mongols strategic advantage to usurp power from Kublai Khan.  Lofty ambitions.  Too bad it took six episodes to make this clear.

11. There are a lot of maps and virtual paths being displayed in this serial.  Exactly how much time are the Doctor and his companions with Marco Polo overall?  It seems like it’s weeks and weeks if not months.  And yet, they don’t seem to appreciate that they are living so much of their lives in the past.  The ancient past.  The history books past.

12. Backgammon can be used to make wagers.  Kublai Khan apparently has a gambling problem. Good thing the Doctor is no good at rolling dice.

13. Kublai Khan, according to these episodes, is the grandson of Genghis Khan.  Except he’s more of a bean pusher and bureaucrat, while granddad was a warrior.

14. These episodes might be a treat to watch in all of their moving picture glory, should they be really found/restored.  They were fairly ambitious in terms of sets and costumes, even if British actors were awkwardly portraying Asians.  The production values seemed to be quite high for the period and point in the series.  Also, the whole story is resolved with a sword fight and then Tegana’s self-impalement, which might have been fairly exciting for its time.  Nothing about the mythology is established by these episodes, though, other than Susan’s wistful admission to Ping Cho that she is from a faraway place.

Next serial: “The Keys of Marinus” (Season 1, Episodes 21-26).

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Edge of Destruction” (One, 1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: The very, very distant past.

Place: A forming solar system, possibly our own, at the birth of its (or our) sun.

Episodes: 

1. “The Edge of Destruction” (Season One, Episode Twelve)
2. “The Brink of Disaster” (S1, E12)

Today’s Lessons

1. Mystery alert!  The TARDIS seems to have crashed, and everyone’s acting strangely, on edge and muscling through various levels and severity of amnesia.  One is suspicious!  He blames his companions (also his captives) for sabotaging the TARDIS with nasty accusations, despite the fact that Ian and Barbara are also suffering from some ill effects.  He also tricks them into drinking something that lulls them to sleep so he can investigate, since the doors keep opening by themselves (but close when the travelers try to leave).

2. Water comes from the TARDIS wafer machine, as does bandages – bandages that come ready with ointment and change colors to show that wounds have been healed.

3. The TARDIS comes with two very important controls: a fault locator, which allows the Doctor to detect non-working elements of his ship, and a “fast return” switch, which allows the Doctor to return to the last point in time and space in which the TARDIS landed.  He admits that he was trying to return Ian and Barbara to Earth, but the fast-return switch gets stuck – a faulty spring, see – and the TARDIS is hurtled back through time past the beginnings of most things in space to the formation of some solar system, most likely our own.

4. The Doctor confirms in episode 12 that they visited Skaro in the future.

5. It is surmised by Barbara, who solves the riddle of where they are and what is happening, that the TARDIS contains its own intelligence and is trying to alert the passengers of the danger to the ship, though the Doctor pooh-poohs that notion in favor of describing it blandly as the “intelligence of a machine” and a “collection of computers.”  Boy, is he in for a surprise!

6. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show the effects of, say, strong turbulence, one needs to make dramatic movements in time with dramatic camera movements to show the severity of the disturbance.  See also: Star Trek.  And probably the new Doctor Who.

7. Answered question alert! The Doctor does, in fact, seem to be learning about humanity through his companions.  His unjust accusations toward Barbara, in turn, leads her to puzzle through clues that the TARDIS is offering to illustrate the danger being presented to the ship.  Her “intuition” trumps the Doctor’s logic in this regard, by his own admission, and he admits that he underestimated both Ian and Barbara’s capabilities.  Barbara doesn’t forgive him right away, so he capitulates rather nicely in the end.  Aw, heartwarming!

8. The Doctor’s love and pride for his granddaughter are quite apparent.  Question: Well, addendum – let’s talk about the Doctor’s family.

9. The Doctor admits for the first time in episode 12 that the TARDIS plays home to “a rather large wardrobe.”  Ian emerges with warmer outer wear in the form of a cloak that was given to the Doctor by none other than Gilbert and Sullivan.  Musical cue alert!  Also, Barbara is given a nice pea coat. Pea coats are fashionable in any decade!

10. The TARDIS landed in snow and clearly not during a 1960s school year in London.  Question: Does that mean Ian and Barbara are now OK to be along for the ride?

Next serial: “Marco Polo” (Season 1, Episodes 14-20 – these are characterized as lost episodes, but I found them on http://www.dailymotion.com).

Around the Water Cooler: “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” The Verdict

THE SPECS:

Who:  “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” currently airs on network TV, specifically on ABC, Tuesdays at 8:00 PM.

What: “Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” a serial television drama based on the comic/graphic novel and film universe of Marvel Comics.

When: The series premiered on ABC, Tuesday, September 24, 2013, at 8:00 PM.

Where: The show is set in the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe and closely follows the events of “The Avengers” film, directed by series creator Joss Whedon.

Why: Two reasons: Joss Whedon and Disney’s first television production of the Marvel property it recently acquired.  Even if I am more of a DC girl, I love Whedon, and I love comic book adaptations, though I have not seen The Avengers.  It seemed like a no-brainer, really.

SYNOPSIS

The mission of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, i.e. S.H.I.E.L.D., is to monitor and collect rogue supernatural subjects, forces, and people and to control them.  The Division is kind of like the so-called Men in Black but is focused on any fringe element looking to create the next Tony Stark (Iron Man) or Captain America or Thor without the natural-born endowments (or the cool suit invented by a rich guy).  There is a movement, however, known as the “Rising Tide,” of which Skye (Chloe Bennett) is a member, which believes that government agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D. interfere too heavily with the natural evolution of humans and science geared toward super status, particularly when such elements may produce heroes and people aiming to do good and to better society/the world.  Skye infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. and becomes a (quasi) reliable member of the team, though it is unclear to the viewing audience what her motives and agenda truly are: is she still working for Rising Tide, or is she becoming swayed by the close-knit team dynamics and mission of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

The Verdict

I initially rated the pilot 3 stars, which earns a six episode trial.  After six episodes, my verdict is:

Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is off to a much slower start than other Whedon creations and is truly a mixed bag, with some entertaining features and some elements that induce groans and boredom.  In the end, I have been convinced to extend the trial until the mid-season break. Like so many other viewers, I want this program to be awesome because I know Joss has it in him…and yet, if things don’t get better soon, the ratings decline will spell certain doom for our intrepid (anti)heroes.

How – as in How’s It Going? (Final Thoughts)

What works for Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:

1) Skye is, by far, the most interesting character because of her outsider status, clear hidden agenda, and relationship with the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.  Skye looks, feels, and acts like any other Whedonverse heroine, and she is the reason to watch the show, because her ultimate goals, ambitions, and purpose, as either a Rising Tide mole or a fish-out-of-water field agent, are what add layers and mystery to an otherwise shallow plot.

2) Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), the connection to The Avengers and general tie to the Marvel cinematic universe, is also somewhat ambiguous.  He places an inordinate amount of faith in Skye, though his faith may be misplaced.  The layers of his character would probably best be filled in by having viewed the movie preceding the creation of this program, but because he is better developed than the other characters, those layers can be surmised from context, if not explicit description.

3) The fight choreography, particularly attributed to Agent May (Ming-Na Wen).  The hand-to-hand combat, particularly from the Agent May character, is the most exciting action element of this show.

What doesn’t work:

1) Agent Ward (Brett Dalton).  He’s the standard beefcake/jock/prodigy agent who is developing into the opposites-attract/odd couple love interest trope for Skye, as he is also her lead/training agent.  The acting from this performer is horrible, however.

2) The story-lines.  So far, Joss (and brother Jed) is using his typical strategy of a series of one-off episodes (see also: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouseto build viewership, avoiding a larger story arc construct until ratings stabilize.  The problem is that the “monster of the week” stories are not interesting enough by themselves to attract new viewers and may, in the process, result in a decline in overall viewers.

In addition, each episode of the six I have seen have been largely uneven tonally.  What’s present and welcome: snappy, Whedonesque dialogue.  What is not present and needs to be: cohesion and more of a cogent process of understanding what Coulson sees in Skye and the back-stories of the other agents we don’t know about, since they haven’t appeared in The Avengers and other Marvel movies.  Sometimes, the episodic writing seems downright lazy, even for a comic book adaptation, or perhaps in spite of it.  Of course, how many live action comic book-inspired adaptations have there been out of the Marvel universe?  Still, none of these characters are a Superman or a Batman (yes, I know those heroes are DC) or even a Spider Man or a Captain America.  What S.H.I.E.L.D. does as an entity has been well established – but  the reasons why it exists and why these agents (other than Skye) have found their places in this unit need to be explored, or the monster-of-the-week format will become hollower and shallower as time progresses until cancellation looms.

3) The special effects.  They are a mixed bag.  Sometimes, they are breathtakingly convincing.  Sometimes, the CGI takes a turn for the worse.  I blame it on a TV budget and timeline.

Thoughts Following the Pilot

It is still evident that Whedon and the show’s other producers presumed the following:

1) That all viewers have seen The Avengers film.

2) That all viewers are Marvel comics aficionados.

3) That all viewers would jump on board with the quick line deliveries and series of action sequences without demanding needed back story to allow those elements to gel.

In addition, I revisit this paragraph from my review of the pilot: “as much as this viewer loves Joss, he has developed a pattern of writing and/or directing somewhat shaky pilots of series that may or may not survive to longer lives without infusing or kick-starting the story in a major way early in the process.  Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse all suffered from slow-to-rise first season stories that depended primarily on how quickly the ensemble casts adjusted to the gimmick of the show. Angel required the introduction of other prior Buffy characters (like Wesley Wyndham-Price); Firefly needed the arc of the search for River Tam and the constant run from the authorities; and Dollhouse utilized the larger arc of former dolls infiltrating the Dollhouse with the plan to expose it before that program really became enticing to watch on a weekly basis.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. feels a bit like the X-Files crossed with Fringe crossed with Men in Black crossed with any other comic book movie, and the seeming lack of originality may lead to its downfall in the end.”

Again, history encourages this viewer to have faith in Joss, having stuck with of all his previous efforts, for better or for worse. Still, as previously stated, Joss frequently has to get warmed up during a new series before it starts firing on all cylinders. After all, though comic book adaptations can often be shallow affairs, the best comic book adaptations are those that meld story and action. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. must shift gears soon in order to manage and combine those elements effectively in the near future, or palpable potential for this series to deliver a solid hour of action-packed entertainment each week will falter and fail.

PARTING SHOTS

Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has enough going for it to permit many viewers, this one included, hope that it will get better.  Time, and this viewer’s patience, however, are running out. 

LOOKING AHEAD:

A full season of this program was ordered, but there is no word yet on renewal for any further seasons.  I would surmise that ABC and its respective executives are probably waiting for the same things the core viewership of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are waiting for – and are hoping that changes will come that will bolster both the viewers’ and network’s confidence.

Dearest Joss – Please hear our plea!

What I Learned From Doctor Who: “The Daleks” (One, 1963-1964)

Doctor: One (William Hartnell)

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell); Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill); and Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Time: It’s not clear in these episodes whether it’s past, present, or future.

Place: Skaro, the home world of the Daleks

Episodes: 

1. “The Dead Planet” (Season One, Episode Five)
2. “The Survivors” (S1, E06)
3. “The Escape” (S1, E07)
4. “The Ambush” (S1, E08)
5. “The Expedition” (S1, E09)
6. “The Ordeal” (S1, E10)
7. “The Rescue” (S1, E11)

Today’s Lessons

1. One is mischievous and stubborn!  On Skaro, he wanted to explore the (seemingly) abandoned city, but when Ian defied him in the name of the safety of everyone else, One removed a necessary “fluid” component that helps the TARDIS work in order to provide ample excuse and necessity to search the city for the requisite replacement mercury for the component, allegedly, while the Doctor surveyed his surroundings.  Karma struck, however, when the Daleks took the component from Ian, and he and Susan had to revisit the city and court capture.  Question: Why is the Doctor so stubborn in this incarnation?

2. We’ve seen Doctors eat before, but back in the day, all nutrients came in the form of TARDIS produced wafers that have the flavor of anything one wants to eat, even if the bacon is a bit salty.  It’s a little like the cakes and drinks in Alice in Wonderland or the gum in Willy Wonka, except you get to choose your flavor.

3. Need to cure a headache?  The Doctor has the elixir for you!  Of course, he’s not a doctor of medicine, so where that elixir came from…unless it’s like the TARDIS food wafers.

4. Ian and the Doctor are still vying for leadership of the group, though the Doctor has an irascible curious streak, and Ian just wants to protect everyone else.

5. The Daleks appear in episode 6.  We learn that they were cohabitants of Skaro with another race of beings known as the Thals.  The Daleks, however, dropped neutron bombs, which have radiation enough to destroy humanoid and biological tissue but not metals, while the Thals discovered an antidote for radiation sickness.

6. When history does not afford one the luxury of good special effects, to show the effects of, say, Dalek lasers, one needs only turn the camera to negative mode.  Then, a good limp will show paralysis by lasers.

7. The Doctor is most affected by radiation sickness resultant from the leftover radiation in the planet’s atmosphere.  Question: Is his Time Lord biology not a defense?  Is it because of his age?

8. Susan wins the award for whiniest companion in history.

9. The Thals are all blonde (or maybe white-haired…black and white TV makes it unclear) and are an agrarian race that used to be warriors, prior to the neutron war with the Daleks, which occurred 500 years prior to the time of the Doctor and his companions’ landing in the TARDIS.  The Daleks, according to the Thals, used to be teachers and philosophers.  Now, as we come to know, they are squishy things inside tin cans with a yen for science and “extermination.”

10. According to the guess of the Doctor, the Daleks’ outer shells are powered by static electricity generated from metal floors.  Queston: They don’t always walk on metal, do they?

11. All aliens still speak English.  I think the universal translator must be working.

12. The Thals are a human-like race that mutated from some seemingly robotic or, perhaps, Dalek-like form.  The Daleks used to be called the “Dals” and are mid-mutation as of “The Ambush.”  Yet, they stay permanently squishy.  Ironically, the Thals’ former form reminded me of the Cybermen.

13. The Daleks “exterminate” all races different from them because they are afraid of those differences, according to Ian’s theory.  Yet, the Daleks indicated that they can only survive in their present state with the power of radiation.  Question: So, they destroy worlds and create radioactive atmospheres to power those tin cans?

14. One stubbornly refuses to learn Ian’s last name.  Does it matter if the Doctor doesn’t have a last name?

15. One also values intellect above most other things, except Susan’s faith in him.  He destroyed the source of static electricity to the Dalek city and took time to revel in how smart he was.  Granted, the poor timing of the revelry didn’t seem very smart.  He also tried to convince the Daleks to abandon their plans for dropping a second neutron bomb by appealing to their intellect.   Granted, Daleks aren’t that smart, either.

16. The Doctor informed the Thals prior to departure that he “never gives advice” but encouraged them to “always seek the truth.”  He also deflected questions about his home world and intimated that he and Susan were far from home.  Question: Why are their origins a secret at this point?

Next serial: “The Edge of Destruction” (Season 1, Episodes 12-13).