For those us who have been in the dating scene, and by logical extension, childhood sweethearts aside, that’s pretty much everyone, the heartbreaking disappointment of realising the person in front of you is not what was represented in the online profile, is all too real.
It’s a universal experience that we’ve all had at one point or another, a rite of passage we’d all rather avoid if we can help it.
Still, you have to hand it to British actress Sally Hawkins, currently starring in Guillermo del Toro’s masterful romantic fantasy drama The Shape of Water who keeps the faith, believes in the power of love and turns up to a blind date with a man-sized … fish?
Yup, and he LOOKS NOTHING like his profile. NOT … EVEN … REMOTELY …
Surprisingly there’s chemistry until one weird small miscue blunts Cupid’s arrow in a rather hilarious way …
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A SCENE SO POIGNANT YOUR HEART WILL BREAK
SURPRISE! SURPRISE! This is not your grandmother’s alternate universe.
Unless of course she is from the Mirror Universe in which case she may, drenched in blood, anger and betrayal (it’s so “in” in alternate Paris, trust me), absolutely love it and kill you to go back there.
Which is essentially what good old Lorca (Jason Isaacs) who is – MEGA SPOILER ALERT! TURN AWAY NOW – not the Lorca of the old universe but in fact the Lorca from the Mirror Universe who has been rather cleverly hiding from the Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) in our universe – got all that? Good, there’s a quiz later – did when he manipulated everyone, and I mean everyone, for his own nefarious ends.
The revelation in the closing minutes of “Vaulting Ambitions”, which was delivered with maximum effect and minimum cheese, suddenly made all kinds of things from previous episodes make crystal clear sense.
Remember that time after some hot and heavy sex where Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) mentioned that Lorca, who slept with a weapon under his pillow, was not the same man she knew in her youth? That’s because, ta-dah!, he wasn’t, a realisation cemented even further when Lorca effectively sent Cornwell off to be tortured by the Klingons.
In retrospect the real Lorca, so we’re told, wouldn’t have done that; the genius of Lorca’s portrayal up to this point, both from a writing and performance perspective, is that the Captain simply came across a rule-breaking rogue, a man so passionately committed to the truth, to winning the war, that the ends justified his rather convention-defying means.
We bought it because who doesn’t love a maverick? Someone who darts in and around what’s generally agreed as acceptable and makes merry with it. Of course, now we know who he really is, and how brutally realistic the Mirror Universe is, his behaviour makes sense since where he’s from is about as in love with warm, love and humanity as a certain serving US President is with the truth and compassion.
So yeah we were duped but oh lordy doesn’t it all make the journey that much darker and full of WTF moments?
Take what Lorca did to the King of the Spores, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) who was left in a coma after 133 jumps, ostensibly to triangulate some Klingon shield data so the Federation could tell where the cloaked enemy ships are.
Again, on the face of it, and here is Lorca’s cruel Mirror Universe genius, a perfectly reasonable tactic – jump all over the universe, whatever the cost to Stamets, because #warreasons.
Who could question that? Who would even dare question that right? It’d be like questioning cute babies or kittens gamboling – you just wouldn’t think to do it, something Lorca counted on.
Alas it left Stamets in a coma of sorts, his consciousness hidden deep inside the mycelium spore network that is a biological network that stretches not just across the galaxy but between mirror universes, where he ended up conversing with the evil Mirror Universe version of himself.
His dark side wasn’t so much desperately evil as narcissistically pragmatic, impatient to get back inside his own body in the Emperor’s flagship (which rather niftily and imposingly seemed to have it’s own mini-sun within itself) even as Stamets had what is inarguably one of the most emotionally-resonant scenes in Star Trek Discovery, or indeed, any of the Trek iterations.
Having glimpsed his dead husband Hugh Culber, dispatched by Tyler/Voq (Shazad Latif) in the periphery of his vision, he left his alternate self behind, running through corridors until he found himself back in his quarters with his husband, where they very tenderly and with immeasurable poignancy, said goodbye to each other.
It was heartbreakingly, achingly touching, a farewell tinged with a small measure of hope that Culber lives in a mycelium after life – if there is a God, he’s a spore people! Worship the mushroom! – that unfolded over a recreation of the couple’s morning routine, which was, for each of them, the most quiet, intimate part of the day.
In an episode packed full of twists and turns and revelations, this quiet moment of soul-stirring goodbye, this acknowledgement that life as they knew it was over, accompanied by Stamets whispered urgent wish that it wasn’t – there was so much emotion packed into such a hushed utterance that it was impossible not to be choked up by it – was the emotional centrepiece of an episode not short of emotionally in-your-face moments.
While you could possibly argue that Discovery had killed off the gay in common with far too many other shows – there is a disturbing trend to leave the white, male characters alive and kicking and kill off the minorities in far too many TV shows – the narrative impact was immense and beautifully handled, a testament to the universality of love that was given due respect and honour, and that a good many conservatives, particularly those of a religious bent, would do well to recognise.
Wrapped around this masterpiece of agonisingly sad but deeply moving goodbye, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) had her own moment of “Luke, I am your father” when the Emperor, who kills people with a casualness that is frightening af; goodbye inner circle you know too much! – told Burnham, right before she sentenced her to death for treason, that she was her adoptive mother.
Yep, that’s right not only do the bonds between Georgious and Burnham cross boundaries, but they deepen here in the horrific harshness of the Mirror Universe, but apparently not quite enough to stop Burnham being publicly killed off in the throne room where she, and what a clever ballsy tactic this is, admits she is from the Federation Universe.
Her trump card? Burnham’s Georgiou’s communicator that resonates to another frequency not known to the Terran Empire.
That little moment, which leads to Burnham realises a ton of things such as Interphasic Space not being the way home – the crew of the Defiant went mad, quite mad, something redacted from the intelligence Burnham obtained – and Lorca not being who he said he was, changed everything.
With the Discovery on the way to the Emperor’s flagship to reveal the secrets of the Spore Drive – haha the Emperor said she’ll let them all go if they give over the technology; uh-huh sure you will, sure you will – Burnham realises that it all comes down to her now, that if they’re going to get home it’ll have to be by the mycelium network which is, uh-oh, in danger of dying thanks to Alternate Stamets’ collateral poisoning of it in pursuit of the technology at any costs.
Thankfully Stamets moment with Culber, where his dead husband told him what Alternate Stamets is up to, woke him up, just in time since it looks like the only way they’ll get home is by the mycelium network whose technology cannot fall into the Emperor’s hands.
Burnham has demonstrated she has what it takes to navigate these kinds of tricky situations and frankly she’ll need everything at her disposal to get out of this mess, especially with Lorca poised to execute his own long-gestating plans in the midst of it all.
“Vaulting Ambitions” is exceptionally strong episode in an already narratively-robust series that not only gave us a shit ton of emotionally-resonant scenes – Tyler locked in existential agony until L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) gave him some sweet relief albeit with great reluctance was another highlight, if a small one – but pushed the story ahead by leaps and bounds, while further examining issues of identity, expediency over thoughtfulness and power vs. cooperative endeavour that further burnish Discovery‘s credentials as the most intelligently thought-out Trek since Deep Space Nine.
Next week in “What’s Past is Prologue” we meet up again with the slippery hand of destiny and whether our decisions are very our own … yes, it appears Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the script …
+++ VIDEO UNAVAILABLE BECAUSE CBS HAS BIZARRELY BLOCKED ALL VERSIONS OF IT ON YOU TUBE ON COPYRIGHT GROUNDS. MADNESS SINCE IT’S A PROMO TOOL, NOT THE ACTUAL EPISODE +++
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND A HOST OF EXISTENTIAL CONUNDRUMS …
When I was first wrote about NBC’s savvy, clever new-ish sitcom The Good Place last October, I remarked on how rare it is to fall head over heels in love with a show on a first viewing.
Most TV shows take most of their first season to really find their voice, to nail that indefinable something that takes their premise from intriguing and flirtatious, and let’s face it, in this age of TV plenty you have to flirt like crazy to catch and hold viewers’ attentions, to the stuff of serious commitment.
But in this day and age of serial random viewing where a new TV show relationship is but a streaming service away, that kind of slow burn can harm a show’s chances of getting the necessary traction needed for viewers to stick around for the long haul.
That’s not a fate that should worry creator Mike Schur (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99) who from the get-go, when Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) arrives in the Good Place aka Heaven to find that she and three soon-to-be friends or soulmates are dead, very dead, has crafted a winningly intelligent show that knows what it is and what it wants to accomplish.
And is damn funny doing it, in a way that many modern sitcoms, captive to laugh tracks, obvious dialogues and paper-thin characterisation, simply can’t hope to emulate.
It’s meant that from the start, viewers have flocked to the show which gives a whole new fantastically hilarious slant to the afterlife, where people end up in either the Good Place or the Bad Place by dint of an algorithm that works out where they belong based on how good a life they lived on earth.
Now, if you’re a committed Christian you may take exception to the idea of works, not salvation by grace determining your eternal fate, but for the rest of us, it’s a very funny concept that is ripe with all kinds of comedic and dramatic possibilities.
The good thing is – see even the premise could end up in the Good Place – that the show has absolutely made merry with its founding idea, giving us a show as apt to ponder the philosophical conundrums of self-improvement, working for the benefit of others (are we really being as selfless as we think?) or ethical enrichment as to give its restaurants really silly, pun-heavy names that incite a giggle every time one of the characters wanders through the beatifically gorgeous town square (Fro-Yo anyone? Clam chowder maybe?).
So having fallen in love with a show gifted with robust substantial, even thoughtful, storytelling and dialogue so witty and funny you could slice a guffawing punchline with it, you could be forgiven for wondering if the show, like most longterm viewing relationships, might be inclined to take everything a little bit for granted.
That would be a great and impressive “NO” from Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett and Drew Goddard who pivot with a grace worthy of a Russian ballerina in the 13th and final episode of The Good Place to reveal, and if you’ve been paying attention, in retrospect, it makes lots of sense, that the Good Place is in fact … * SPOILER ALERT * … really * SPOILER ALERT * … the Bad Place.
Yup! Uh-oh, no shit and oh wow!
It’s a bold and audacious move that pays off in spades.
Rather than killing the narrative golden goose that kept laying superlative first season episode after superlative first season episode, this turning of the tables results in an even funnier, more meaningful and immensely clever season 2.
Armed now with the knowledge that they have fallen down, not up, and they are in some sort of twisted bold new experiment to torture people psychologically rather than with four-headed bears or impaling – the demons who had been masquerading as fellow Good Placers are not entirely convinced the change in tactics is a winner; yep, demons are just as conservative as the rest of us, people – and that Michael (Ted Danson) is not a benevolent town keeper but an ambitious denizen of “hell”, Eleanor, ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), philanthropist Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and kindhearted but dumb as a post Jason / Jianyu Li (Manny Jacinto) have quite the problem on their hands.
How do they continue to act like they are in the Good Place when they now know they are but pawns in a game of political control between Michael, and the big boss Shawn (played hilariously well and with deadpan excellence by Marc Evan Jackson) who thinks this bold new experiment in eternal torture and misery is a dubious idea at best (as does Michael’s rival, Vicky, played by Tiya Sircar who portrayed the “good” Eleanor in the first season).
That particular dilemma, which perches precariously on what turn out to be actual demons’ horns, is solved, albeit temporarily, when Michael reboots the whole scenario, convincing Shawn that take 2 will be the charm.
But after reboot after reboot fallen by the fire-tinged wayside and the fake Good Place reaches a dizzying take #802, it becomes readily apparent and the source of much episodic hilarity, that there’s no way they can fake being Good Placers whom are actually Bad Placers who think they’re Good Placers nor, it should be added, can Michael pretend that everything is going swimmingly lake-of-fire well when Vicky has blackmailed him into letting her run the blighted show.
It’s a brilliantly reimagining of the show’s original premise but one which very much hews close to the spirit of The Good Place, which has always been a readily-accessible rumination on good vs evil, altruism vs. self-interest and whether the demarcations between these seeming opposites are as clear cut as we like to think.
In fact, one very clever scene in episode 9, season 2, “Leap to Faith” (thank you Søren Kierkegaard; see how clever this brilliant sitcom is? It name drops Danish philosophers) when the four, along with a reformed Michael, who has taken Chidi’s ethics classes and is a changed demon in love with human things like emotions, friendship and stress balls with corporate logos, and AI guide Janet (D’Arcy Carden), are attempting to board a balloon to the actual Good Place, we are given a funny, quite moving lesson in how malleable these self-imposed boundaries are.
As character after character steps on the lit-up lie detector of sorts, only to find the pillars go red (you’re not the best version of yourself) instead of the much-desired green (you are the best version), they each enter the kind of soul-searching that people who have been trying to get ahead of the worst of themselves would quite naturally embrace.
The genius is that this kind of existential angst is taking place, and with witty, thigh-slappingly line after line, in a sitcom, not your typical vessel for rumination on life, the universe and the meaning of life.
These are characters who being quite dead, are fresh out of options – it’s not like they can go to the police as one of them suggests at one point to which Eleanor responds “You do know where you are, don’t you?” – and this is not the stuff of quick, silly trivial punchlines and merry segues to the next scene for them.
It’s pretty serious, meaty stuff, and The Good Place masterfully meshes this sort of high stakes existential rumination with the kind of absurdity and visual gags that would have amused the likes of the Marx Brothers or the Keystone Cops.
The Good Place never puts a foot wrong, either between its pivot between seasons 1 and 2 or the growth and development of its characters who, while heartfelt, are never twee, seamlessly bringing together a taut, cleverly-executed premise, inspirationally good writing and characters who are both flawed and silly and very easy to identify with in a way that marks this as a very relatable sitcom of the highest order.
With everyone now setting off to make their way through the actual Bad Place to get hopefully to an arbiter who can rule on their eligibility for the Good Place – see again clever; we have adventure mixed in with high stakes eternal survival with yet more ethical dilemmas – The Good Place is set for another shake-up.
With most other shows, I’d wonder about its long term survivability since you can’t endlessly shake things up and hope the show will reemerge as engaging as the first day it and we met and fell helplessly in sitcom love; and yet The Good Place, fortified by stellar writing, superlative acting and a delicious sense of the comically absurd, has done, sometimes episode-by-episode so the odds of it not only getting to a third season but making eternally sunshine-y hay with it are extremely good.
So good in fact that if there is an eternal resting place for A-class sitcoms, and history seems to show there is, Mike Schur’s creation should be a shoo-in for inclusion, no further correspondence or Bad Place trickery entered into, thank you very much.
Lena and Martin were once madly in love. But, like many marriages, time and circumstance eventually took their toll. Lena (Jenna Fischer, The Office), the perfectionist, fell into the role of caretaker for everyone, including Martin (Oliver Hudson, Scream Queens). Martin felt he could never do anything right and gave up making the effort. This created a romantic rift between them. Finding themselves in a platonic marriage and acting more like a pair of camp counselors wrangling their kids than a couple hopelessly in love, they decide that everyone’s lives would be better served if they got a divorce. Still wanting the best for their three kids and facing a daunting real estate market, the couple decide not to sell their house and to “Bird Nest” instead. One parent will live in the house as the “on-duty” parent taking care of the kids, while the “off-duty” parent will live in the detached garage, doing whatever he or she pleases. They will switch off every other week.
Their kids, 7-year-old Milo (Sander Thomas), 14-year-old pre-pubescent Mason (Van Crosby) and 15-year-old feminist Mae (Olivia Keville), seem to be taking the divorce in stride. While Lena, the consummate caretaker, has to learn to loosen her reigns, Martin, who has always taken a backseat when it comes to parenting, needs to learn how to step up his game.
Then there are Lena and Martin’s married friends, Camille (Lindsay Price) and Arthur (Bobby Lee). Camille, stunning and way out of Arthur’s league, is sad to lose their best couple friends. Arthur, aware he married up, begins to question the stability of his own marriage when his friends’ falls apart. And Lena’s sister, Maya (Diane Farr), a serial dater who often gets in her own way due to her terrible taste in men, thinks that her sister is too rigid and needs to chill out if she’s ever going start dating again.
As Lena begins to dip her toes into the dating waters, Martin begins to see his own culpability in his marriage falling apart. When Martin realizes that it all began when he refused to dance with Lena at their wedding, he wants to atone for it. He secretly takes dance lessons to surprise Lena by dancing with her on what would be their upcoming wedding anniversary. Could being apart ultimately lead to them getting back together? (synopsis via Spoiler TV)
Ya gotta love life.
On the surface, it looks really simple – get up in the morning, do stuff, go to sleep.
But, of course, it’s WAAAY more complicated than that, by a good long measure, and what looks like a simple and sane solution that should be easy to execute ends up being a whole lot more difficult than anyone envisaged.
That’s the theme, along with a good deal of the detritus that flows from the life won’t scripts epiphany, of ABC’s upcoming new show Splitting Up Together which tells the story of two people who think their lives can diverge and, well, NOT, at the same time, only to find life isn’t going to be so accommodating.
As an ongoing idea, it’s got legs – it’s partly from the creator of Suburgatory (Emily Kapnek), a show I loved – and frankly if the writing stays this heartfelt and sharp, and well downright goody at times, I am totally onboard.
AND I will stop underestimating life because, you know, SNEAKY.
Splitting Up Together premieres on ABC this March.
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND ENOUGH EXISTENTIAL ANGST TO KEEP FRENCH PHILOSOPHERS BUSY FOR DECADES … POSSIBLY CENTURIES …
There are monsters lurking inside all of us.
That deeply unpalatable truth is narratively front and centre in Star Trek Discovery‘s latest tour de force offering with Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) wrestling with the corrosive effects of immersing yourself in a cruel, vicious culture utterly alien to your own (despite looking distressingly and alarmingly similar), Stamets (Anthony Rapp) struggling to emerge from a monstrous world made of spores and multiple dimensions and Tyler (Shazad Latif) losing the battle to stop his inner Klingon (an actual Klingon yessirree; wonder where Voq went? Wonder no more) from taking over.
Monsters, monsters everywhere and not a moment to philosophically ruminate on any of them (although god knows Burnham gave it a red hot go with her opening voiceover musing, rather ruefully and with great trepidation, about how you survive being someone you’re not when day-by-day the real you is under continual assault).
“Can you bury your heart? Can you hide your decency?”
After all, we’re in the Mirror Universe when up may not be so much down as twisted into all sorts of unrecognisable shapes and known as yellow.
Still, confronting though this upended version of her own reality is – how upended? Good old Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is the Emperor of the Terran Empire and nowhere as cuddly and mentor-ish as she was in the Starfleet universe – Burnham found her own way to fight back in ways small and big.
Take her orders to bomb the living hell out of the rebel planet where the Firewolf aka Voq (Shazad Latif … but hey, you knew that, right?) leads a resistance force of Andorians, Tellurites, Vulcans and Klingons, all of whom subscribe to the eternally-appealing and fantastically-pragmatic idea that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.
Rather than pounding the rebel encampment with photon torpedoes from on high, Burnham, seeking answers to their own unresolved conflict back home as well wanting to keep her fraying humanity intact (admittedly it’s not too frayed two days in but Burnham is a little anxious and can see the existential writing on the wall) beams down to parley with the motley crew of resistors.
As an exercise in resisting the corrosive effects of viciously-unyielding self interest and brutally nihilistic politics it’s a triumph with Voq, advised by the wisdom of an uncharacteristically battle-hardened but still serene Sarek (James Frain) coming around to the fact that Burnham means well.
He’s convinced of this by Sarek’s mind meld with Burnham which confirms she’s on the diplomatic level – although he’s thrown by her alternate dimensional images which naturally enough don’t mesh one damn iota with his own Mirror Universe life – and everything looks to be going swimmingly well until Tyler/Voq flips out at seeing his doppelgänger self and tries to, ahem, kill himself (as you do).
That, as you might imagine almost derails the peaceful tête-à-tête with Voq not taking too well to having his life almost taken from him.
Burnham is none too happy too since she’s managed to keep her imagined inner wolf at bay and get some insight into how to play galactic happy families only to have Tyler go all rogue, speaking-Klingon brainwashed, or is that bodywashed, on her.
There’s a lot at stake and frankly Tyler/Voq doesn’t help matters with Burnham and Sarek having to do some fast talking to recover the situation.
Alas while Burnham’s humanity may be temporarily fine and dandy, her relationship with Tyler isn’t so much with his admission that he is Voq, and may or may not have been a real human being in the first place, proving that the old Beatles adage, “All You Need is Love” proving to be a tad insufficient in the fact of Klingon games of genetic mucking around and mind-scrambling.
Oh, and the small teensy-weensy matter of him trying to kill her back on the ISS Shenzhou, a gambit that gets him instantly sentenced under Terran Empire law (not so much the rule of law as “off with your head!” being the guiding principle du jour) to being blasted into space which Burnham instantly agrees to.
At this point you may be thinking “Oh no! She has managed to hang onto her frazzled humanity with the Firewolf but has instantly lost it after Tyler done her wrong! So much for all that Emperor-defying effort dammit!”
To which I’d reply, and honestly this is an oddly entertaining discussion on many levels, “Not so fast! Turns out Tyler/Voq didn’t end up in space but he didn’t die and in fact got the info on how the USS Defiant got back home to a waiting acting Captain Saru (Doug Jones). Take that Burnham doubters!”
One person who probably wishes he was dead is Lorca (Jason Isaacs) who got a brief respite from the Torture Tube o’ Claustrophobia and Pain (should totally be its real name) when he and Burnham had a heart-to-heart about having someone to tether you to who you really are and what really matters.
Tyler, ahem cough, was supposed to be that person but that didn’t work out so well so Lorca it is and naturally vice versa.
Back at Discovery where Tilly (Mary Wiseman) seems rather fond of dressing as a bad ass Mirror Universe captain, and why wouldn’t you, work was progressing or rather not on getting Stamets back to the land of the non-sporal living.
With all evidence pointing to him having murdered his partner Dr Culber (Wilson Cruz) – Guys! Guys! It wasn’t him … honestly! – and his grip on reality spurious at best, Tilly tried to get him out of his comatic funk.
It looked like it was working and then it didn’t with Stamets caught in a weird netherworld where evil and good Stamets appeared to be having a SporeFest; there was no sign of souvenir T-shirts or the like but Evil Stamets was there and given how deep he is in this weirdass world, getting him back might be quite the thing.
“The Wolf Inside” provided us with a brilliantly-nuanced, tense and exquisitely well-wrought exploration of identity and sense of self, that managed with a minimum of fuss and little to no artifice to be confrontingly real about what it is like to face the loss, or potential loss of your true self.
We all like to think we’re good or capable people, the survivors, the overcomers, the triumphant but I like the fact that Burnham, in common with the rest of us if we’re truly honest with ourselves, wonders if she’s truly up to that particular all-conquering task.
Tyler and Lorca are facing different battles but the struggle is essentially the same – how to hang onto the essence of who you are, of what makes you tick when the environment you’re in is quite possibly inimical to that or is changing beyond your recognition?
It’s a fascinating piece of philosophising that Star Trek Discovery is making intensely watchable and engrossing, expanding the fabric of the Mirror Universe as they do so, but more importantly continuing Star Trek‘s brilliantly-realised examination of the very essence of humanity in a galaxy not always inclined to understand or respect it.
In the next episode, “Vaulting Ambition” identity and connection issues once again come into play with Burnham once again grappling with what it means when who you are and who you care about has been turned royally on its alternative dimensional head …
It would be obvious from even just a cursory glance at this blog that I love Stranger Things.
It’s not just the nostalgia factor at work although I do love the myriad influencesranging from Spielberg to Alien, E.T. to Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons; it’s the fully fleshed out, beautifully-acted characters, the stellar cast, the imaginative storytelling, the horror meets innocence of the premise.
However, despite my great love of the series – I binge-watched series 2 in one very memorable day – I have to agree with Honest Trailers, who it must be said also love the show, that there are more than a few things you can have some fun with.
Try Winona’s amazingly odd yet expressive facial contortions. Or how about the great love for Barb that is in magnificently inverse proportion to her time onscreen. Or Eleven’s penchant for creatively killing people.
It’s all there and affectionately parodied in Honest Trailer‘s inimitably clever style, and well worth your Stranger Things-loving time.
(And don’t worry – they only give out spoilers for season 1 so you’re safe with season 2 if you have yet to binge; seriously though it’s been two months – what are you doing with your time?!)
Counterpart is about a mysterious world hidden beneath the surface of our everyday existence. Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) is a lowly cog in the bureaucratic machinery of a Berlin-based United Nations spy agency. When Howard discovers that his organization safeguards the secret of a crossing into a parallel dimension, he is thrust into a shadow world of intrigue, danger, and double cross… where the only man he can trust is his near-identical counterpart from this parallel world. The show explores themes of identity, fate and lost love, posing the eternal question, “what if our lives could have been different?” (synopsis via Indiewire)
The multiverse has long been a staple in genre television.
Countless shows from Star Trek (all iterations) to Fringe to The Flash, and of course, the current watercooler du jour, Stranger Things, have used this shaking-up-the-status-quo narrative device, which introduces all kinds of permutations on the usual characters and situations.
It’s a great to see a world you’ve come to know and love from a whole different angle, affords the writers of those shows a whole host of new storytelling possibilities, and as a result, offers the actors a chance to stretch their acting legs in a whole different direction.
Now Starz have gone the whole hog, making an alternate dimension the entire focus of a new show, Counterpart, embedding a near-identical reality into the everyday life of our world and by the looks of like, makes some piercing, intelligent observations about identity, destiny, society and politics into the bargain.
It’s a bold premise and though we have but one trailer to go on – wonder what the alternate dimension’s trailer looks like? Oh the permutational possibilities! – it looks like one of the must-see shows of next year.
Counterpart premieres at 8pm, 21 January 2018 on Starz.
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND UNLIKE ALADDIN, IT’S NOT SO MUCH A WHOLE NEW WORLD AS A WHOLE NEW UNIVERSE …
We’re not in galactic Kansas anymore Toto!
In “Despite Yourself”, an apt title for an episode where the issue of identity is a constant theme, the crew of the USS Discovery finds themselves in the good old Mirror Universe, a alternate dimension first visited by Captain Kirk and the crew of the Original series in “Mirror Mirror”.
The Star Trek franchise has visited this unnervingly familiar/not familiar realm many times since (Deep Space Nine made particularly good use of it) , an upside down land controlled by the fascist Terran Empire who bear no resemblance to the well-intentional noble folk of Starfleet.
In this unforgiving world of bloodshed, power by the sword and brutal putdowns by an omnipresent power – ruled over apparently by a faceless emperor, an interesting idea given how much dictators in our slice of the multiverse like to stick their face on everything from billboards to coffee cups (OK maybe not but it feels that way right?) – the Vulcans, Andorians and Klingons are not loyal allies but aggrieved, rebellious subjects who are doing everything they can to be free of the Terrans’ unyielding yoke.
It’s into this mess of a universe, albeit one run to very tight, exacting strictures, that the good crew of the Discovery arrive after the Spore Drive aka Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) malfunctions a tad and arrives at the right coordinates in the wrong universe.
Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and Stamets had discussed that entry to the multiverse could be a side project of the Federation’s revolutionary drive but until now it was all theory and no reality.
That’s the case no more, and with all that theory already on very snazzy three-dimensional drawing board, it didn’t take everyone long to figure out that they were a long way from home (although not at the same time, if you think about it) with no way of getting back, given that that last universe-busting leap put Stamets into la la la land, attended to by his doctor and husband Dr Culber (Wilson Cruz).
Well, he was anyway.
In an episode directed by Star Trek: Next Generation alum Jonathan Frakes (his first directorial outing in the franchise since Star Trek Voyager’s “Prototype” in 1995) that was all-go from the get-go, Culber was first demoted as Stamet’s caregiver by a newly protocol-adherent Lorca, and then unceremoniously killed by Klingon sleeper agent Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) who is messily slipping in and out of his new identity, remembering nothing of what he does while under the Klingon influence.
It was a shocking death, partly due to the fact that you simply didn’t see it coming – it was only when Culber noted how much has been done to Tyler mentally and physically that you thought “Uh-oh” and realised that Stamet’s ramblings about “the enemy is here” weren’t about the mirror universe but a threat much closer to hand – but also that it occurred so quickly, so quietly, an interlude on Tyler’s way to join a stealthy mission to infiltrate the Terran Empire ship, Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) beloved Shenzhou.
Only it isn’t really her old ship but a bad ass alternate version where killing your second-in-command, to be fair after he tried to do you in, is greeted by claps and cheers by your crew (yep, tough workplace, people. TOUGH).
So given that the ruling aesthetic is militaristic chic and the mindset is kill or be killed, having someone like Tyler, who is slipping in and out of his Manchurian Candidate persona, on the team is more great big liability than helping hand.
Not that Burnham, who in this universe is captain of the Shenzhou or Lorca, a renegade captain who tried to kill the emperor, know this.
Their only goal is to find out how the USS Defiant managed to get home without a funky Spore Drive to guide their way and to do that they have to go DEEP undercover, as do the rest of the crew with adorable Tilley (Mary Wiseman) the VERY hard-edged captain of the Discovery who sports a ton of weirdly-catchy monikers such as “The Slayer of Sorna Prime,” “The Witch of Wurna Minor” and yes even Captain Killy (yeah not an affectionate nickname now is it?).
With everyone having to switch positions, roles and play havoc with their identity just to stay alive, who you are was the major theme du jour with everyone rightly wondering who they might be at the end of this whole quite peculiar and highly-dangerous episode.
“Despite Yourself” explored the question of identity brilliantly well, with Tyler the emblematic face of what it’s like to have your sense of self royally screwed over.
In a number of key scenes, including a confronting one with his tormentor/lover L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), and a more tender, intimate one with Burnham who is the closest of anyone to know what’s really going on with Tyler (though he’s not telling her even close to everything), you got a profoundly emotionally-resonant sense of what’s going on in the security chief’s deeply-troubled mind (or what’s left of it anyway).
His anguish is writ large on his face, and as he walks with Lorca and Burnham into a situation where each has to trade off who they are vs. who the Mirror Universe will demand they be to survive, you have a feeling that he won’t be the last person to walk away with scars from all identity-finagling.
The episode, which had some lovely quiet character moments beautifully and elegantly slipped into its high-stakes, fraught narrative – the scene where Tilley tried to awaken Stamets with some gentle, affectionate teasing is a gem – and some humour believe it or not (again Tilley was the star performer here as the eminently sweet, nice cadet struggled to play a bad ass killer; spoiler alert; eerily well once she hit her stride), is the first entry in what CBS is styling as Chapter Two of Discovery’s story.
The war story that marked the first half of the show’s opening season is still a factor – they still need to the Klingon shield codes to Starfleet – but right now, Discovery has to stay in one piece if it is to stand any chance of accomplishing its mission.
The stakes have been well and truly raised and Star Trek Discovery looks set to become even more gripping as the next five episodes playing out in a universe where up is down, black is white and there are no guarantees of anything anymore.
Next week on “The Wolf Inside”, Burnham muses, rather gravely we might add, on the corrosive effects of living in a universe where dog eat dog is the norm and human decency is a complete unknown …
If you’ve looked around you this year and thought the world had gone quite horrifically, cartoonishly mad (hate to break it to you but it has), then you’ll find a lot to appreciate in the new(ish) Dastardly and Muttley series from DC Comics.
Continuing the mostly clever reimaginings of a host of classic Hanna-Barbera characters from The Flintstones to Scooby Doo and The Jetsons, Dastardly and Muttley plunges the world into a crisis of quite comical – quite literally as it turns out – when the explosion of new Unstabilium 239 reactor in the fictional country of Unliklistan (home to every over the top Middle Eastern trope you can think of; you find out why later) leaves not so much a toxic radioactive wasteland in its wake as a weirdly-coloured cloud of hippie-ish symbols that strangely affects everyone who comes into contact with them.
Ignoring the usual laws of physics and a host of other constants in the natural world, this extraordinarily odd new world, where people have holes shot through their chest and live and politicians’e eyes literally bulge out where they get angry, changes a great many things.
Including our titular characters, decorated US Air Force pilots who suddenly find themselves profoundly transformed when their mission to check out what happened to Unliklistan takes a very unexpected turn; what should have been a crash into a nightmarish radioactive mess instead changes Captain Dudley “Mutt” Muller into a talking dog/man (he brings his dog along for the mission) and Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Atcherly increasingly into an old time Vaudevillian-looking villain.
That is but the start of a, dare we say it, wacky series of events which see a US drone spreading the effects of the explosion, engineered by one Professor Dubious, far and wide, even infecting Washington DC with its strange brand of warped reality.
As events progress, and Dastardly and Muttley do their best to find out who’s behind the twisting of reality into ever more surreal, cartoonish extremes where decorated pilots such as Captain “Zee” Zabarnowski start speaking like Penelope Pitstop, to her horror and her co-pilot Lieutenant “Uncle” Longman (who remains unaffected by the weirdness enveloping everyone else) and Wiley E. Coyote and Roadrunner (in animal form) go dashing through the Oval Office.
It’s absolutely inspired, totally bonkers and cleverly hilarious and it’s all thanks to the brilliantly good talents of writer Garth Ennis (Preacher, Punisher) and artist Mauricet (Harley Quinn & The Gang Of Harleys).
From the word go, Dastardly and Muttley is an enormously clever, grounded – quite an achievement given the glorious absurdity of the series’ premise – and funny as hell takedown of the way our world, all flashy, digital civilisation and human progress can so easily devolve into a wacky place where up is down, down is up and hitting someone with a mallet seems like a fun idea (trust us, even in this new cartoon universe, it’s not).
One of the chief effects of the Unstabilium cloud is the way it erases the inhibitions of anyone who comes into contact with it, while simultaneously giving them the comedic means to do something about their new, unchecked impulses.
This means that while there are some decided serious dynamics playing out – try a widening conspiracy that may or may not involve Dastardly and Muttley’s commanding officer General Harrington and Muttley trying to de-canine himself so he can get back to his wife and kids looking normal – the storyline uses a range of cartoonish devices to push the surprisingly emotionally-resonant action along.
Take the scene where our two comically-mutated heroes steal a plane to get back to the USA to confront General Harrington, get to the bottom of what’s going on and reset their lives (if that’s even possible anymore).
As Dastardly, who is increasingly speaking like a cartoon character with alliterative hilarity – “Out of our way, you goose-stepping goons! You Nuremberg Ne’er-Do-Wells! Begone! ” – urges Muttley to “Embrace the horror!”, an acknowledgment that the world has gone haywire and they should make the most of it rather than fight it.
If there’s still time left to do that.
The final page of issue 4 indicates that time may be something that the world doesn’t have much left of, at least in its present form.
Ennis deftly guides the narrative between outright nonsensical silliness and some rather sage and sober moments, injecting humour where its needed and going with Catch-22/Dr Strange darkness where it will be most effective.
Mauricet’s art is colourful and cartoonish but also real and stark, a visual tip of the hat to the way the world sits poised between the two extremes, with the tide tilting towards cartoons come to life.
You could well argue that the world is pretty much like that now, without all the visual absurdities, and indeed there is some delicious political parody thrown in for good measure, and Ennis and Mauricet make merry with this idea, delivering up one of the most inspired, compellingly-readable and loopy as Hanna-Barbara reimaginings to come down the DC Comics pike.