Deep underground, a second-rate scientist mans a discarded research facility struggling to cope with extreme boredom, a desperate voiceless companion and a mystery he’d really rather not have to solve…
Directed by John Lynch, and written by Jon Williams-Nobbs & John Lynch, Eddie is a proof-of-concept short for a feature project set in the same universe. (synopsis via Vimeo)
Eddie is proof positive that just when you think the modern zombie genre has said everything original it can say, that it finds a way to surprise you.
Set at a decommissioned research facility of in the bleak wastes of nowheresville, the short film, which is intended to be the harbinger of a feature film to come, examines what happens to the human psyche when it’s you, a lone undead subject of study and no contact with the outside world.
Funny and profoundly disturbing in equal measure, it explores the limits of humanity in ways that are quite clever, insightful and emotionally resonant, anchored by fine performances by Alan Mandel as Eddie, and Johnny Vivash as the scientists who grows slowly and dramatically mad as the existential pointlessness of the task at hand becomes increasing hard to cope with.
It is part of a fine tradition of zombie storytelling that acknowledges and runs with the idea that the arrival of the undead says as much about those living as it does about hordes of animated corpses coming to feast on them.
Every book, movie and TV show, of which there are many in the zombie genre, ultimately has as it focus an exploration of the human condition and Eddie is no different, giving us an impressively original examination of what happens when the living and the dead come together.
Spoiler alert: It’s everything you expect and nothing at all, gloriously compelling right to its thoroughly unexpected end.
Gertrude is one sick, twisted, murderously-narcissistic individual.
But then the odds are pretty good that you would be too if you’d tumbled into the sugar-drenched delights of Fairyland, where fauns and Giggle Giants and sentient moons and stars romp, at the age of 6 and spent 30 years trying to get the hell back out, with the magic key that could make escape possible proving maddeningly elusive.
The demented, green-haired protagonist of Skottie Young’s deliciously-warped excursion into the suspect delights of wonderment and storytelling merrymaking, I Hate Fairyland, Gertrude has been sent loudly and viciously mad (no such thing in her lexicon of daily, spleen-venting fury) by an inability to find the key that will open the door that will take her back to her pink rug-adorned, plush animal scattered bedroom where at the tender age of 6 she wished she could be in Fairyland forever.
Be careful what you wish for huh Gertrude?
For now, Gertrude, ostensibly a “guest” in Fairyland, is a 37 year old trapped in a kid’s body, all violence, aggression and murderous intent who only wants to get home, a prospect complicated now by the fact that she doesn’t even know what home will be like.
Will she revert to being a 6 year old? Will she stay as she is in which watch out parents? Or will she, as seems increasingly likely, never get there at all, rendering all that fevered conjecture moot?
It’s enough to do anyone’s head, and Gertrude’s is well and truly done in and showing no signs of recovery any time soo, if ever, much to the dismay of her jaded Fairyland companion Larry Wentsworth III, who is bound to her until she finds her way home, and Queen Cloudia, the ruler of Fairyland who rightly views Gertrude’s psychopathic murderous rampages as a threat to Fairyland’s general candy-coloured bonhonie and bliss.
If this all sounds weirdly bleak and a tad too dark for you, Young manages to make it all hilarious, dementedly, fantastically funny.
So funny in fact that when you come across zombie fauns – yep it’s The Walking Dead meets cute pan-pipe playing half-human, half-goats and it’s brilliantly over the top twisted as you might expect – or cute pink teddy bear-like creatures ripped the hearts of our fearsome dragons, you can’t help but laugh out loud at the imaginative absurdity of it all.
What makes the take of a violent psychopathic 6 year old/not 6 year old so profoundly entertaining is the way Young perfectly balances out-and-out technicolour insanity with some good old fashioned heart and soul.
Not too much mind since this is a grand postmodern fairyale-subverting pic that rightly calls into question many of the sweeter-than-sweet qualities we have ascribed to Fairyland in the post-Disney era, many, if not all of which were not present in Grimm’s dark, all-too-real tales of life in more magical times.
In fact, in playing an epic game of subvert the hell out of fairytale tropes, writer/artist Young, ably assisted by colourist Nate Piekos, gleefully puts many of these squeaky clean “Wish upon a star” (too late – they’re all dead now) to a timely death, injecting some good old fashioned bleakness back into all those happy tales of fairies and lands made of icecream and sherbert and teddy bears gamboling along.
The world of I Hate Fairyland very much looks the part, with trippy, imaginative lands and colourful, garrulous creatures, but as Gertrude continues her blood-soaked path home, and even for a time sits upon the throne (how is best not revealed her but suffice to say it works out badly for our diminutive psychopath as most things do), you realise that beneath all that eye-searing colour and sugar-coated utopian idyll lies a dark, beating heart.
Could it be that it’s not only Gertrude who’s on the far side of reasonable, kind humanity but a whole lot of other, ostensibly lovely denizens of Fairyland? Could the good, luminously bright characters of Fairyland be the ones who corrupted the young girl in the first place?
It’s all a bit chicken and the egg but oh what fun Young has with his incredibly rich premise, taking us from cute to nasty to fluffy to a thousand kinds of cruel, often on the same page and always with winning, crowd-pleasing effect.
It may not be your grandmother’s idea of a fairytale, but there’s a fair bit you’re great-great-great-great grandmother would have totally got with the life is ferociously nasty/salutary lesson/humourous vibe of I Hate Fairyland.
The trick with any postmodern subversion of much-loved tropes is making it as entertaining as the original.
There’s no point in being clevely subversive if all you succeed in doing is being unremittingly bleak and negative; once your limited array of sniping jokes is depleted, people quickly turn away, repelled by what is essentially a thoroughly-disagreeable one trick parody pony.
Where I Hate Fairyland succeeds, and succeeds brilliantly, is the way it manages to make this alternate take on the fairytales we know and love, and many we don’t but wish we did, such a gloriously entertaining entity in its own right.
The depth and breadth of the various lands and characters in Fairyland is such that even when Gertude, in another of her murderous fits of pique, lays waste to this group of people or this picturesque village, you’re rapt with wonder and beguiled by the shared transportive colourful fun of it all.
Sure there’s a dark undercurrent, and not just when Gertrude is out and about, but all around is a world so lushly pretty and fairy floss beaitful that you can well understand why other kids like perpetually-upbeat Joy and dragon-garbed Duncan find falling into Fairyland, initially at least, as such a giddy departure from their earthbound realities.
In other words, Fairyland may be dark and flawed and more than a little broken, but it’s also freaking delightful, colourful and blissfully eye-appealing and that makes all the darkly subversive, bleakly twisted moments work like a charm.
It’s clear that Young’s masterful approach has struck a chord with the first issue attracting a 8.6/10 from 21 critics at Comic Book Roundup and subsequent issues selling every bit as strongly, with the third collection of Gertrude’s viciously comical adventure out this last week.
Not everyone will want their fairytales with a side order of bile and a banquet of death and mayhem, but if you’re willing to play with convention, all while gloriously embracing it in a wry and amusing way, you’ll find a great deal to love and laugh about I Hate Fairyland, the tale of one little girl, a place that has more going on than meets the gaudiness-assaulted eye and which is the perfect balance between who we are, who it might be fun to be and that awkward place in the middle where most of us end up, like it or not.
“Shada” finds the Doctor in Cambridge working alongside companion Romana and retired Time Lord, Professor Chronotis, to defeat the evil alien Skagra who is attempting to steal the secrets to the prison planet, “Shada”.
You would be hard pressed to disagree with the fact that Douglas Adams, the much lamented and greatly missed author of legedarily iconic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Doctor Who are both giants of the pop culturesphere. (Yes that is now a thing, and yes, you may refer to it as such as whim takes you.)
So the idea of joining them together, especially when my second favourite Doctor Who ever, #4 played by Tom Baker – sorry good sir but I cannot deny the considerable charms of Tenth Doctor David Tennant – was firmly ensconsed in the TARDIS makes brilliant sense. I mean who could disagree with a such a sublimely imaginative combination?
Precisely no one, of course; alas, circumstances conspired back in November 1979 when a BBC strike meant that the studio filming needed to complete the episode, intended as the celebratory finale of the 17th series, was never completed as Tom Baker relates:
“‘Shada’ was one of my favourite Doctor Who stories. I have many fond memories of shooting the location scenes in Cambridge, and it was disappointing not to finish the story in studio. I’m so glad that BBC Worldwide have found a way to bring fans a complete visual version.” (Doctor Who Online)
In a bid to bring give the Douglas Adams-penned episode the release it deserves, the team who gave us the lost Doctor Who episode, “The Power of the Daleks” and lost Dad’s Army episode “A Stripe For Frazer” are hard at work restoring “Shada” to its originally-intended glory, using the voices of the original actors:
“The team have had access to nearly seven hours of raw footage from the original 1979 Shada shoot from which they are editing the new production from scratch, with all the original film negatives re-scanned in full HD and digitally remastered.” (Doctor Who Online)
This augurs well for a stunning telling of this story, bringing Douglas Adams and everyone’s favourite Time Lord together at last for everyone to see.
‘Shada’ will be available as a digital download on 24 November, and on DVD and Bluray on 4 December.
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A GREAT BIG HELPING OF PARADISE LOST …
Being a doublebanger finale, “Things Bad Begun” / “Sleigh Ride” was always going to be an epic, grand, monstrously big, finish to the exceptionally robust and compelling storytelling of Fear the Walking Dead.
And so it proved, but oh the narrative riches contained within.
For a start, the writers didn’t resort solely to some being bombastic battle for the dam.
Sure that happened with the Proctors, led by the calmly menacing Proctor John (Ray McKinnon) who adopted Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) as his private nurse and good luck charm – she talked through an anesthesia-free operation to remove a spinal tumour during which John seemed also homespun nice – storming the dam, using the tunnels of water by, yep you guessed Victor.
He somehow managed to turn an entirely selfish act into a noble one, from his perspective anyway, arguing that betraying everyone including Madison (Kim Clark), Nick (Frank Dillane), Daniel (Rubén Blades) and dear sweet Lola (Lisandra Tena) to get himself a position of power was exactly the sort of thing that self-sacrificing people do all the time.
Only it wasn’t – Victor knew it, everyone else knew it and when it emerged that Victor hadn’t quite delivered on his promises because Nick and Troy (Daniel Sharman) had warned everyone the bad guys were coming – guess what? Troy regretted nothing; the hordes, the deaths, the motivating racism, none of it and Madison, um, killed him for his unrepentant troubles – John knew it and it was only because of some dramatic last minute sacrificing by Nick (who actually knows what the word means) that Victor managed to somehow, once again, get away with it.
Frankly he didn’t deserve to but then you had a hard time finding anyone who really deserved to get out of the whole mess alive, besides Lola and Alicia who at least has decided what matters to her and followed through on it.
The double-ep finale was a settling of accounts but oddly enough not everyone paid the price you might have expected.
Take Daniel, for example.
After interrogating Nick and getting him to admit, indirectly at least, that Troy is, or rather was, a horde-shepherding, racist douchebag, and staring down Victor only to have a bullet almost rip his face off when Mr Self-Sacrificial tried to be embellish his Proctors-aspirational badassery, Daniel found himself at the bottom of a concrete tunnel, bleeding profusely and seeming ready to finally pay for his sins (a phrase he has repeatedly used through the show).
But just when you thought he was down and out, he rose to the occasion once again, dispatching a few well-armed Proctors like it was nothing, shooting a few more of them atop the dam and rescuing Nick after he’d set off the C4 and demolished the dam.
Or did he rescue Nick? Like all good season-ending cliffhangers, the fate of Daniel, Nick, Victor and Alicia hangs in the balance – the first two possibly crusged by rubble; the latter two lost in the rubble-filled wild water swirl of the dam explosion, with only Madison washing up in the town below – but at least Daniel tried to do the right thing, which is a damn sight more than Victor, who claims no sinning at all of any kind, has managed.
The thing is, it speaks to the sophistication of the writing for Fear the Walking Dead that they don’t necessarily need to kill people off to make a narrative statement. Sprinkled through these two episodes were some intense one-on-ones between people like Madison and Victor, and Daniel and Nick with all of them revealing something about the torment or longing all of the characters are harbouring in the midst of the apocalypse.
That’s always been the great strength of the show, its ability to make a point without cheap death stunts or endless recourse to zombie moments; it’s used them yes but not as a be-all and end-all, something its parent show The Walking Dead could learn a great deal from.
Of course, half the main cast could be dead, crushed under rubble or drowned but I suspect they’re not, since they don’t need to die for us to understand that the apolcaypse has changed things, ruined things, elevated some things, downgraded manty others. It’s there in every anguished conversation, every glance; in fact, it’s suffused throughout the show in such a nuanced, evocative way and so immediately obvious, that you don’t need the show to resort to cheap, nasty stunts that make an impression sure but add little to the overall narrative or emotional impact of the storytelling.
These two episodes were brilliantly well-written, beautifully calibrated, giving us the requisite cliffhanger and action but with the kind of inspired imagination that has elevated Fear the Walking Dead well beyond any kind of simplistic comic book adaptation.
Where Fear the Walking Dead really excelled this time around, adding a beguiling and poetically sense of the fantastical to the show, was Madison’s dream sequence, which was threaded throughout “Sleigh Ride” – and yes the song was part of the soundtrack, as was Peggy Lee’s “The Christmas Spell” – and featured her preparing a perfect turkey Christmas dinnwer with all trimmings and decorations, to which she’d invited Troy, Victor (armed with presents), Daniel, Taqa (Michael Greyeyes), Jeremiah (Dayton Callie) and another Rancher or two.
In other words, a gallery of the dead, many of them reduced to that state at her hand, directly or indirectly, a picture postcard-Christmas by Currier and Ives death scene that was given full import by its dissolution, once she swept out onto the windswept prairie grasslands, into an unending field of gravestones.
The message was hope and loss, life and death, existing side-by-side, cheek by jowl, pointing to the imperfect, messy way that life deals with things, even in the apocalypse, and how even in dire times, there’s a part of you that hangs onto the hope that maybe, just maybe, things can get better.
You know deep down that’s probably not going to happen, with death more likely that boughs of fairy lit holly these days, but Madison’s vision/dream/alternate twist on the present, all experienced most likely while she floated down in the damn explosion’s trubulent afterwash, point to the power of hope but also of recrimination and guilt, and as the appearance of Travis (Curtis Manawa), who almost lifts Madison out of the water (in her mind, at least), of overwhelming loss.
It was powerful, deeply creative, clever television that said a great deal in a way that its parent show has never really managed as effectively; as much poetry as bleak reality, Madison’s twisted perfect Christmas dream was a beautiful though confronting thing, the centrepiece of two riveting episodes of television that neatly summed up a season when imperfect people struggled not so much with the undead, although there were plenty of them, but with the existential demands of a world gone mad where none of the old rules apply but all the people who once subscribed to them still, rather traumatically, remain.
And that, my friends, is that for season 3, with Fear the Walking Deadrenewed for a fourth season, and The Walking Dead season 8 (“All Negan, All the Time”) due to premiere 22 October USA and 23 October Australia …
Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is a Jewish housewife living in New York City in 1958. Her husband, Joel, is a successful businessman who moonlights as a struggling comedian. Midge supports Joel, providing feedback about his sets, but becomes disillusioned when she discovers that Joel has stolen one of his best routines from Bob Newhart. One night, after a particularly rough performance, Joel confesses to Midge that he has been having an affair and leaves her. Midge goes to her family for support but primarily receives criticism for choosing to marry Joel. After getting drunk, Midge returns to the comedy club where Joel performs and impulsively goes on stage, delivering an impromptu set about her predicament which the audience finds hilarious. After baring her breasts in an attempt to demonstrate how attractive she is, Midge is arrested and taken to jail on a morals charge. The next morning, she meets Lenny Bruce, who is also being bailed out of jail. Bruce warns Midge that the comedy business is terrible, but Midge takes his warning as encouragement and teams with Susie (Alex Borstein), a comedy club employee, to hone her act. (synopsis via Wikipedia)
Imagine having your perfect life in your hands only to have it unceremoniously ripped out of them, betrayal and loss all around you.
It’d make you kinda angry right? And prone to have a few drinks or 50 to dull the pain? And maybe, just maybe, inclined to go the comedy club where your soon-to-be ex-husband performed to vent a little, in what turns out to be HILARIOUS fashion?
OK well maybe the final part would necessarily fit into most peoples’ response to the end of their marriage, but thank the Palladinos – that’s Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino who brought us the inestimable delights of the Gilmore Girls and who have been signed to a two-series deal by Amazon – that it’s the response of one Miriam “Midge” Maisel who it turns out has quite a knack for turning adversity into a damn funny punchline.
Or many as it turns out.
It’s a rebirth for the 1950s housewife who discovers there is far more to life than her once limited view of things, and it comes with a swear-laden riff on the Palladino sensibility for substantially fey, clever and wittily written drama, making pretty much must-see TV for anyone who likes their laughs with a whole lot of warm and fuzzy profanity.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel premieres on Amazon Video on 29 November.
Returning to one of the outstanding movies of your young adulthood is not without some risk.
Is it as good as you remember? Have the glasses through you gaze upon it become so deeply and heavily rose-tinted that they filter out even the merest hint of middle-aged criticality? In the case of Wayne’s World, only the second film commissioned from a Saturday Night Live sketch following The Blues Brothers (1980) was it even still funny?
Oh ye of little faith.
Surrounded by ardent fans at a cinema screening recently, a number of whom were channeling their inner Waynes, Garths and neck brace-adorned Stacys, many of whom weren’t alive when the film released in 1992, it became patently obvious that they thought the film retained its stoner-esque, socially-observant sense of the ridiculous and the absurd.
And so, as Wayne (Mike Myers) ushers us into his world of community channel TV in Aurora, Illinois, replete with his extensive collection of hairnets and name badges, it became patently obvious, rather quickly, that Wayne’s World, is as funny now as the day I first saw, yay those many years ago.
Much of that comedic longevity can be sheeted home to the writing team of Mike Myers, Bonnie and Terry Turner (3rd Rock From the Sun, That’s ’70s Show) who managed to turn a sketch into a fully-fledged movie with a reasonably substantial narrative that didn’t collapse under the weight of its central conceit.
Translating films from TV sketch comedy or a TV show even can be a fraught undertaking; what works well in punchy, intense doses often fails to go the distance in lengthier, feature film form.
Sure they roar from the gate, fuelled by fan anticipation and the power of well-wrought and hitherto well-fulfilled premise, but once the one-trick pony has done their thing, events usually trickle to a disappointing middling nothing and you’re left with the realisation that more can so often be less.
Not so with Wayne’s World, directed by music documentarian Penelope Spheeris, which managed on its first outing to hold its comedic head high through its 95 minute running time, and remains as humoruously robust 25 years later.
Born from what was reputedly a troubled set where Spheeris and Myers clashed daily – the famous “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene in Wayne’s best friend Garth’s (Dana Carvey) very small car may look like a joyous homage to Queen’s epically operatic song but was in reality the result of great creative fiction between director and star – Wayne’s World manages to land all its jokes effortlessly, even the ones that, on paper at least, should not have worked at all.
Take the moment when television producer Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe), who has signed Wayne and Garth to a major TV deal, plucking them from Wayne’s parents’ basement and taking them to a TV studio in Chicago where he plans to commercialise the hell out of Wayne’s passion project, reminds his star that the contract he signed comes with the requirement to spruik the wonders of video game arcades owned by Noah Vanderhoff (Brian Doyle-Murray).
Though he’s admitted to the audience, via the fourth wall-smashing commentary to camera that lends much of the film its air of hilarious intimacy, as if we’re welcome voyeurs on Wayne and Garth’s shared life adventures, that he’d love to earn his living doing Wayne’s World, the idea of selling out the soul of his idea to corporate America doesn’t sit well.
But this being early ’90s comedy, and a damn fine example at that, Wayne bats away his contractual obligations with a series of insanely funny product placements for the likes of Pizza Hut, Doritos and Pepsi, with Garth joining in the anti-capitalist fun with Nuprin painkillers and Reebok.
On one level, it’s all school camp charmingly juvenile but with Myers and Carvey hamming it up, and the artfulness of it all in plain view, the irony of a man who sold his show out for money and fame refusing to play by the rules demanded of that decision, is just very, very funny.
As are the endings, which offer up three alternate versions – a sad, grimly-realistic one that is dispensed with as soon as its finished by a Wayne who laughingly says they’d never end the movie like that, a Scooby Doo ending – the pop culture touchstones are everywhere from Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Gone With the Wind to Bugs Bunny and Laverne & Shirley – where Oliver is revealed as Old Man Withers being evil, complete with “I would’ve gotten away with it too …” catchphrase, and the requisite happy ending where Wayne gets the girl Cassandra (Tia Carrere), she gets a record contract, Garth gets his donut shop dream girl and everything lives pretty much happily ever after.
Helping all that humour and the endless catchphrases, which are still repeated today, go a long way, were a bevy of standout guest stars such as Chris Farley, Ed O’Neill, and Alice Cooper (his monologue on the history of Milwaukee is beyond hilarious, nicely contrasting his hard rocker image), all of whom play their small but vital parts beautifully.
Wayne’s World is also immeasurably sped on its comedy classic way by a parodic sensibility that sees it insert an “Oscar clip” into proceedings which nails just about everything that term entails (“But I never learn to read!” cries Wayne plaintively as he tries to win Cassandra back from a devious Oliver) and a “gratuitous sex scene” into proceedings, all with a knowing eye on how odd these cinematic conventions look when taken out of context.
That is perhaps is why Wayne’s World works so well.
It knows its every bit as much a part of the very system it parodies, but figures that since it’s on the inside, why not make merry with the ridiculousness of it all? While you’re at it, why not have some fun with small town dreamers wishing for the bigtime and the inherent disillusionment that sets in when all those starry eyes turn out to be trains rushing down the tunnel at you?
It’s hardly a societal critique of course, and most of the time is more than happy to just have some very silly fun, augmented by some great early ’90s pop rock, a winning sense of the absurd and some of the finest ad libbing committed to film, and maybe make a point or two while it’s at it.
Party time! Excellent! Wayne’s World is all that and more, as funny now in our far more serious times as it was back in 1992 when we all wondered, and with good cause – is Bugs Bunny really sexy in a dress?
SNAPSHOT Stranger Things season 2 is set a year after Will’s return, and everything seems back to normal… but a darkness lurks just beneath the surface, threatening all of Hawkins. It’s 1984 and the citizens of Hawkins, Indiana are still reeling from the horrors of the demagorgon and the secrets of Hawkins Lab. Will Byers has been rescued from the Upside Down but a bigger, sinister entity still threatens those who survived. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
As someone who lived through 1984 at an age when I could cast a somewhat informed nascent-adult eye over things – I was in my first year of university and felt ridiculously grown up as you tend to do in the first rush of freedom after high school – I can attest to the fact that it was a bit of an odd year.
Granted my experience had more to do with surviving dorm life, getting great grades and not getting lost on the busy-filled Nathan (Brisbane) campus of Griffith University than fending off strange, otherworldly goings-on.
But as this very clever new promo video for Stranger Things season 2 illustrates all too well, with the requisite amount of Halloween creepiness of course, there was a lot of decidedly abnormal stuff going on all across the world, a precursor perhaps to a breakthrough into our domain by The Upside Down.
It’s a brilliant way of building suspense ahead of season 2’s premiere on Netflix on 27 October, and makes you wonder just how much of the last 30 years or so is a dark, nefarious plot by forces beyond our imagining.
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND FUNGUS WITH SOME WARP SPEED GRUNT …
When most people reach rock bottom, the natural inclination is to immediately seize the first opportunity to get back up the slippery slope of life.
But then most people are not Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), most recently seen leading a one-person mutiny – the first in Starfleet’s then relatively short history so that’s a point of unwanted distinction right there – against her captain/surrogate mum/mentor/willer of telescopes, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), and in the process, and here’s the kicker, starting a war with the Klingons at the Battle of the Binary Stars.
It’s quite an achievement, though a dubious one, on many levels, given that no one had seen or heard from the galaxy’s most gung-ho warriors in a century, something everyone was pretty content to keep that way thank you.
To be fair, it wasn’t entirely Burnham’s fault that the great big fire of conflagration got lit (the Klingons were spoiling for a fight), but she didn’t help matters either, and so weighed down by guilt and a gnawing sense of responsibility for plunging the Federation into a messy war, she was determined to accept her punishment.
Oh, but she was determined to accept her punishment!
Even when Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), a man who wouldn’t know a smile if it jumped up and dazzled him with its pearly whites, rescued her from the crippled space shuttle she was sharing with three “delightful” fellow prisoners and gave her the chance to contribute to the war effort by working on some super secret squirrel stuff, she remained resolutely committed to not smiling, using monosyllabic responses and practising her rock crushing mallet swing.
Alas, all that passive-aggressive arm-folding got her precisely nowhere and so she found herself, much to her reluctance and pretty much everyone onboard the Discovery, including bubbly and over-talkative bunk mate Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and old crew mate First Officer Saru (Doug Jones), a member of the crew and on her way to possible redemption.
And not surprisingly since this is Star Trek, and all that grittiness only goes so far in a franchise admirably committed to the idea that the better angels of our nature will triumph, and rather comprehensively, sometime in the future, she does manage to rehabilitate herself, playing a pivotal role in making a brand new piece of warp drive technology, that catapults a ship into and out of a point in space almost instantly, work just like nature intended.
Well maybe Mother Nature wasn’t entirely onboard with a warp drive that uses plant spores, which apparently suffuse the galaxy and can be ridden on like a sparkly microbial carpet, but it works a treat – although the alien tardigrade-like creature that helps navigate the warp drive and can speak to the spores isn’t a fan of all that success – and allows the Discovery, which has more secrets and unorthodoxy that the NSA, to go and rescue a bunch of miners at Corvan 2 from the attacking Klingons.
That’s a great thing from a humanitarian point of view, from a strategic point of view since the facility mines 40% of the dilithium uses by Federation ships – without it they’d be very shiny, inert galactic taxis – and for Burnham who went from mutinous pariah (oh the gossip from her fellow crew members!) to saviour in one two-episode mission.
Not bad for someone who had no desire to do anything but become besties with her prison shuttle companions Stone (Conrad Pla), Cold (Elias Toufaxis) and Psycho (Grace Lynn Kung) – haha kidding; she did not – and an example of the way Star Trek often winningly allows its characters to be both fallible and redeemable all at once.
In that respect, Star Trek: Discovery, which also contains some drama-pleasing intra-crew tension particularly between Lorca and Science Officer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and for obvious reasons between Burnham and well, almost everyone (at first, anyway), is more like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) than any of its other franchise siblings.
Sure there is still utopian idealism in evidence with Lorca remarking on the absence of hunger, need and want – although he also observes that the current war has brought them roaring back, thanks a bunch Burnham – and the spaceships are fast and shiny bright and new, but just like DS9, the squeaky clean Federation sits in a galaxy where its ideals are often neither respected or practised, and it’s good to Discovery acknowledging that.
There will, of course, be people , imbued with the appealing perfection of Star Trek who will see Discovery’s gritty fallibility as a betrayal of Roddenberry’s grandiose vision, but it is really an updating of it, recognising that while that kind of utopia is possible, it is neither absolute nor unassailable.
Short of humanity becoming the Borg, and that’s not appealing at all, humanity is stuck with a flawed idealistic future and that makes sense on a lot of levels, especially given that humanity is unlikely to suddenly neuter its less attractive qualities in the next three centuries or so.
So all the argy-bargy between Burnham and everyone, which quickly becomes grudging respect, and in Tilly’s case, glowing cordiality, and the menacing Klingons and the war they precipitate is completely compatible with an idealistic Federation.
Idealism never exists in an existential vacuum and Discovery takes that idea and runs with it, taking care to soften things with narrative steps forward like Burnham’s rehabilitation, her rapprochement with Saru, and a number of other things such as the delightful Tilly who is, quite possibly, the most lovely part of the new Trek iteration.
Star Trek Discovery may not be your grandmother’s idealistic vision of the future, but it is gritty, real and possessed of a nuanced dramatic soul that suggests that along with mainstays of the franchise such as away missions, Ensign Fodders and cutting-edge technology and its attendant technobabble, we will be seeing more of a galaxy where perfection is intermittent and everyone’s utopian sensibilities will have to bend to fit.
I have a feeling that Burnham, and most certainly Lorca, are already there; the rest of us just have to catch up.
And in our next episode, “Choose Your Pain” Lorca comes face to face with some Klingons who are every bit as brutally pragmatic as he is while meeting someone whose name is, quite literally Mudd (remember him?) …
If you were to look around the world right now, and to be fair, at any time through history, you would be well justified in concluding that humanity, for the greater part, does not have an expectationally-idealistic bone in its body.
From war to famine, disease to relational destructiveness and sadly far beyond, we have long demonstrated a remarkable ability to conceptualise and go straight for the bottom and stay there, taking as many others with us as we can.
And yet, as Andy Jones’ robustly delightful novel The Trouble with Henry and Zoe amply and engagingly demonstrates, our natural inclination is to aim and wish for the very best of things given half a chance.
We emerge from the womb expecting the best, not aiming to perpetrate the worst – for proof just ask an average bunch of kindergartners what life will be like and it’s highly unlikely you’ll emerge with even a vaguely-tainted scenario between them – and so we’re all a little surprised when life doesn’t deliver up fairytale castles, princes or princesses riding in on chargers and more happily ever afters than we know what to do with.
“And that is the problem – he can’t be trusted with himself. He cannot be relied upon to intelligently sift his emotions and find the truth beneath the layers of thought and doubt and indecision. Henry loved April, right up until he didn’t. And then back the other way, changing his mind like a kid in a comic shop.” (P. 53)
What we often end up with, as Henry, who skips out on his fiancee at well beyond the eleventh hour, their wedding just hours away, and Zoe, who endures the kind of traumatic event no one should have to go through, discover is a half-baked version of what we expected life to deliver up.
After all, as Henry’s firebrand hairdresser mum Sheila observes in one of the more emotionally-charged scenes in the book, “life is complicated son.”
That it is, and as Henry flees his small home village, where his dad Clive “Big Boots” Smith is the publican, for a hastily-cobbled together new life in London, split between his profession of dentistry and his hairdressing skills, picked up during the parents’ cold war for their son’s heart and soul as he grew up, he comes to appreciate just how complicated life can be.
All those assumptions, forged during a hitherto uneventful life – that he would become a successful dentist, practice locally, marry his childhood sweetheart April and live happily ever after, cliché cliché cliché amen – come crashing down upon him when he finally listens to his heart and casts aside everyone’s expectations, including his own, and strikes out into the thoroughly unexplored territory of the unexpected.
Zoe is also adrift in her jumbled-up existential hell but not one of her own making; well, not for the most part anyway.
Changing from law, a profession which made each and evert waking moment a perpetual and exquisitely awful slice of misery, to children’s book publishing (immeasurably better), her world is rocked by a loss so unexpected and sudden that all the plans and idealistic aspirations in the world could not have prepared her for it.
She is left reeling, although also secretly relieved that her imagined future hasn’t played out, wondering where on earth she heads next and how she gets there when nothing in her life has prepared her for this.
Once again, expectations zero, real life 143.
But Andy Jones, who has crafted a novel full of captivatingly real protagonists who slip and fall and come up again just as we all do, full of hope, humour, drama and a realness that engages from the get-go, does not deliver up the expected twists-and-turns, nor even exactly the ending you might expect.
“And we were going to cover so many miles; exploring the green spaces and hidden parts of our city, maybe even ride to Brighton. So much for ‘going to’; we took the bikes out that first weekend and maybe two or three times since, but we never got to Brighton, we didn’t even get out of South London. We even bought a backpack that doubled as a picnic hamper, but we never used it.” (P. 259)
When Henry and Zoe meet and realise there is something between them that each has longed for but never quite conjured up, it’s tempting to sit back and expect them to fall head over heels in love, dive headlong into all those romantic notions all of us possess to some extent or another, and serve up the tropes and clichés we love so much though rarely get to live out as much as we want to.
He comes deliciously close, just like life, but doesn’t quite take you there, giving us a tale that is so engagingly, richly real, that, just like life itself, it subverts expectations while still producing something wonderfully fulfilling and thoroughly expectations confounding.
Again, just like the real thing.
The Trouble with Henry and Zoe dances with poetic good intent and the artful but accessibly expressed realisation that life never quite matches what we envisage, and how that can be both good and bad, sublime and upsetting, joyous and despairing.
The book is so perfectly well-written, with fully-formed, intensely lovable characters and realistic scenes, with just a hint of delicious melodrama (which let’s face it, life also has in spades if we’re paying attention), that echo the truisms of life, that you will find yourself, flying through the book, eager to spend time with Henry and Zoe, alone and together, and wondering where Jones’ well thought-out and appealingly delivered tale of life gone bad and good and somehow also somewhere inbetween, will take you.
It’s the kind of book that will have you sighing with recognition, laughing and crying at the veracity of it all, and realising once again, just in case you’d forgotten, that life can confound and delight us with equal measure, but that it will never be any less than utterly surprising and more than a little complicated into the bargain.
Best put away those childish expectations; you won’t be needing them.