Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Blind Seeing the Blind

Destabilisation has never been so eerie or surreal as it is in Seijun Suzuki's 1980 film Zigeunerweisen. Describing it as a combination of Igmar Bergman, David Lynch, and Mel Brooks doesn't quite cover it. It's a film where cinematic language and absurd dialogue are deployed to undercut reliable impressions of relationships and reality itself with an intensely beautiful, simple visual style. Through dialogue scenes that constantly frustrate a desire for answers to the strange questions the film poses, there's the impression of an ecstatic dream or violent nightmare that's always kept just on the edge of manifestation.

Most of the film is from the perspective of Aochi, a mild mannered gentleman played by Toshiya Fujita, who was a director who appeared as an actor in only a couple films. He directed the Lady Snowblood movies among others--Suzuki's decision to cast a director in the lead, POV role seems to point to the story's nature as an examination of art or storytelling. The opening credits are shown over a record playing a recording of Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate and Aochi and his friend Nakasago discuss the barely audible voice of the composer accidentally captured on the record, Nakasago pointing out that it's this unintelligible bit of speech that since made the recording famous.

Nakasago is played by the charismatic Yoshio Harada--we're properly introduced to him on a beach where he's apparently just murdered a young woman who was in love with him. But after a brief action sequence, he charms the police officer and a crowd of onlookers into letting him go.

Throughout the film, Nakasago's desires are never impeded, everyone seemingly inclined to let the dishevelled man have his way. He, too, seems to embody something about perspective--his otherwise messy hair almost always has a curl covering his left eye like an eye-patch. In one extraordinary scene possibly hallucinated by Aochi's bedridden sister-in-law (Kisako Makishi), Aochi's wife, Shuko (Michiyo Okusu) actually licks Nakasago's eye.

There's another woman, or possibly two other women, referred to as either Koine or Sono, played by Naoko Otani, who may be a geisha or may be Nakasago's wife. In both personae, she seems somewhat jealous of the other. This may be a statement about the relative appeal of a formal relationship against a freer, more relaxed one. Though when we first meet her in her geisha persona, Nakasago forces her to dance for him because she's mourning the recent death of her brother.

Nakasago is obsessed with human bones, particularly red bones and asks Aochi to bequeath his skeleton to him if he dies first. He describes a series of red crabs crawling out of the woman he murdered.

Can I interpret this? Maybe Nakasago, as one of the voyeurs who is also an object of the voyeur Aochi, is keen to get to what he assumes must be the carnal, true heart of things.

The film has a lovely colour palette, its jade greens and pale yellows reminding me of Naruse's Daughters, Wives, and a Mother but with darker tones for contrast--blacks, reddish wood panelling, and splashes of saturated red.

A trio of blind street musician beggars perform throughout the film and Nakasago argues with Koine/Sono about their relationship to each other. One beggar is an old man, the other two are a young man and young woman. Aochi says the old man is their father, Sono says the old man is married to the woman and the young man is his servant. Later Sono insists that all three married each other while Nakasago says he personally witnessed the two men murder each other while the woman floated out to sea playing her biwa. Whatever this might mean, it seems clearly to reflect the rest of the film. In any case, I couldn't tear my eyes away.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lights in the Ice

Well, it looks like this is the season class and race are going to be issues on Doctor Who, if this week and last are any indication. To-day's episode, "Thin Ice", written by Sarah Dollard, fumbles in a few areas but mostly is an entertaining adventure in a pleasingly novel time and place, 1814 on the frozen Thames. I don't recall another Doctor Who episode in Regency England, actually.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The episode covers a lot of familiar ground. Pearl Mackie continues to impress as Bill and she had the same steps several modern companions have had to take with the Doctor in this episode--the discovery that the Doctor's accustomed to death and has killed people, etc. For this reason it's a bit fitting that Peter Capaldi seems a bit lethargic in this episode; he really seems like a guy having the same day he's had hundreds of times before.

My biggest complaint in the episode has to do with its handling of race. On the one hand, kudos to Sarah Dollard for pointing out England wasn't as white in the 19th century as many portrayals have made it out to be. And kudos for even bringing up the issue. However, though I think it's fine that Bill was apparently unaware slavery wasn't legal in England at the time--many people Bill's age aren't aware of this--it would have been nice if the Doctor had taken a moment to tell her why she was seeing more black people than she thought she would. Especially if the idea was to enlighten viewers who were unaware. Maybe Dollard or someone on the show wanted to avoid making it seem like an educational programme, but since Bill brought up the issue, it would have been a perfectly natural conversation to have. As it is, it seems odd that Bill apparently goes from believing she might be kidnapped at any moment to accepting she won't with no explanation.

Incidentally, I can do some self-promotion here since the issue just so happens to be covered in the new chapter of my web comic, set in 1674. England profited enormously from the slave trade but slavery wasn't technically permitted in England itself for centuries--though slave owners did manage to bring slaves in and out of England--but even this was made illegal in the 18th century. Of course, there was still racism, especially closer to the 19th century, but free black populations in England actually go back pretty far. Though to-day's episode of Doctor Who wasn't being quite so honest in its portrayal of a London populace on the Thames that looked to be at least 30% non-white. This was probably not Sarah Dollard's fault.

I kind of liked how subdued Capaldi was when he delivered the speech about the poor that everyone seemed to think was amazing. It conveyed that the Doctor knew that it really wasn't going to accomplish anything.

The sets looked really nice and I liked the variety of costumes and social classes visible. I suspect they're probably backlot sets used for a variety of shows but the Doctor Who team made good use of them and really made what was probably a small space look convincingly big.

The episode felt a lot like a sequel to the Eleventh Doctor episode "The Beast Below". Maybe that's another reason the Doctor felt like he'd done all this before. It's thanks to the lesson he learned in "The Beast Below", maybe, he didn't immediately kill the monster.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Brandy on the Pirate's Grave

If there's another film that better showcases Peter Cushing than 1962's Captain Clegg I've yet to see it. He's surrounded by a good cast with Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, and Jack MacGowran, but in addition to the acting talent on display this movie has one of the most satisfying scripts of any Hammer film. Creating a real sense of a world with complex characters who have layers of motivations, Cushing's character in particular shows the perfect confluence of elements that make this a wonderfully engaging mystery.

The film weaves together threads of different genres including mystery, western, and pirate film to make something really fine. Most of my favourite pirate stories, like Treasure Island, have an element of mystery to them. I love the film version with Robert Newton who gets a lot of mileage by seeming perfectly honest and open with Jim even as he's certainly absolutely duplicitous. Cushing's character takes this kind of mystery to another level.

Introduced as the fussy, gentle hearted parson in a small town in the late 18th century, we soon learn he's involved in smuggling liquor, not unlike the smugglers in Fury at Smugglers' Bay. But is that his only secret?

Cushing's character is the sort that holds the viewer's attention because there are so many questions about him, his motives and identity, and Cushing runs with the opportunity in ways many actors wouldn't have the talent for. His routine as the parson has all the assurance of an actor whose played that role many times before, and then you catch a devilish smile on his face and sense there's so much more underneath.

The film has a pretty commonplace romantic subplot about young lovers, played by Oliver Reed and Yvonne Romain. Romain plays a barmaid named Imogene with whom Reed's character, Harry, son of the magistrate, is in love. Of course, Reed's delivery adds a lot of dimension to his fairly average lines about his love and devotion to her. He adds depths with his restrained and relaxed energy that nonetheless burns through his eyes. Romain is decent enough, her breasts maybe drawing more attention than her performance. I'm certainly not complaining. They are really a presence in this film--the other actors keep accidentally bumping them, including Reed with a wide gesticulation in one scene.

Patrick Allen plays a captain in the Royal Navy, former arch enemy of Captain Clegg, and now intent on busting the smugglers with a passion that well outstrips the magistrate's interest in the matter. His character, along with Cushing's, helps add to the sense of moral complication to the film, much greater and more satisfying than most Hammer films. Even Reed's relatively simple lovestruck young squire character is more complicated than average when the extent of his participation with the smugglers is in question. This complication is best manifested, though, in the subtly expressed adversarial relationship between Cushing's and Allen's characters.

And on top of all this, the film opens with mysterious skeletal riders and a living scarecrow that terrorise the marsh. All of these elements might seem like too much in other films but this one ties them altogether beautifully, with Cushing as an intriguing centre of gravity.

Twitter Sonnet #987

The hair that seeps between the split'll drain.
A captured chemical equips the breeze.
A flound'ring corpse amends the shape of sane.
In sockets shaved in rinds she always sees.
In pale constructions carved to swim they go.
The folded birds observe as stars descend.
The egret signs adorn the spreading crow.
A ceiling saw what shaking coins upend.
A chomping C engraves the tomb all night.
Forever canvas blanks opine to eat.
Engagements corked remain in bottle sight.
Along the circuit band she sparked a beat.
The rain of muppet worms enriched the air.
On particles they danced like Fred Astaire.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Once Upon a Time in England

Another chapter of my infrequently updated webcomic, The Devils Dekpa and Deborah, is online. Feminine hygiene and violent revolution are discussed. Enjoy.

Happy birthday, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ulysses S. Grant, Coretta Scott King, Russell T Davies, and Jenna Coleman.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Hopeful Journey on a Strange Day

Apparently 20th Century Fox has declared this Alien Day (I guess because of LV-426, the planet from the original Alien where the ship and creatures were discovered--to-day is April 26, or 4.26). To celebrate, they've released a short starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender:

I'm not sure if any of this is footage that will be included in Alien Covenant. It seems like the sequel one would have expected from the end of Prometheus--Elizabeth Shaw and David developing a new relationship as they track down the homeworld of the Engineers. I would've liked to have seen that movie, the one Ridley Scott probably planned before bullshit criticism made him second guess himself. None of the criticisms about Prometheus have held up--I've gone over why before as have other people, this video's pretty comprehensive, though if you're still clinging to a belief that Prometheus doesn't make sense, I suppose you probably can't be reached at this point.

Poor Elizabeth Shaw, I wonder what else happened to make her warm to David. Maybe she was just going out of her mind with loneliness. I'd sure have loved a movie about Noomi Rapace going all Robinson Crusoe, except crazier, on a ship designed by H.R. Giger. But there's no way that would be a mainstream film.

I first heard of Alien Day last night, or early morning, when I saw Mark Gatiss tweet a few seconds after I checked Twitter: "It's #AlienDay ! When is #PrometheusApologyDay?" I thought about tweeting at him, "What about #SleepNoMoreApologyDay" or a reference to one of the other beyond mediocre episodes of Doctor Who or Sherlock he's written but figured at least a few hundred people would be tweeting variations of that at him and, looking now, I see I was right. There's a guy who really should not be throwing stones, but I suppose it would be more surprising to learn he's perfectly aware of what a bad writer he usually is.

Jonathan Demme passed away to-day--I don't have enough to say about him for a whole post but I felt like I should say a few things. I haven't seen Silence of the Lambs in over twenty years but I remember liking it--the same goes for Melvin and Howard. I hated Beloved so much so it was only recently I finally managed to read a Toni Morrison book (Sula) and discover she actually is a genius. I might blame the film version of Beloved's failings more on Oprah Winfrey than on Demme, though. I remember being moved by Philadelphia but, again, I haven't seen it in forever. The only Demme that's fresh enough in my memory is his first feature film as a director, the 1974 exploitation film Caged Heat which I wrote about in 2015. It does remain an entertaining Women in Prison film and works in a nice robbery plot. Rainbeaux Smith, nude, kicking the door in solitary confinement, is still cute and oddly funny.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Someone Finally Picked Up the Phone

Finally, three episodes in, the season of Better Call Saul has begun. Written by Gennifer Hutchison, who's now my favourite writer on the show, "Sunk Costs" dispensed with the loitering that characterised the first two episodes and finally dug in.

Spoilers after the screenshot

My one complaint--they went back to the Mexico is Yellow All the Time thing they used to do on Breaking Bad. It goes back to the lousy 2000 film Traffic, though--after that, lots of filmmakers thought it was a good idea to throw on a yellow filter whenever a film went to Mexico. Like the air is made of piss or something. Great statement, thanks.

I also thought Gus just looked uncomfortable in that coat but at least he had something interesting to say. I like how Mike is just sort of falling into working for him gradually and I loved Mike's clever scheme with the shoes to spill cocaine on that truck. I'm impressed actor Jonathan Banks was actually able to get those shoes to catch on the wire, I don't think I'd have ever been able to do it.

And the Jimmy plot was good, too. From the beginning--I loved how he laid it out for Chuck what it meant to betray the only family member who cared for him. There was the real difference between Chuck's neurotically driven sense of justice and Jimmy's more emotionally driven. I liked the courtroom stuff and Kim's montage getting ready for the day--as well as her subtle reaction to Jimmy not wanting her to work with him at first in defending him. It was all good, I look forward to more.

Twitter Sonnet #986

An animal returned the root to trees.
Escaping like a leaf, the cloud condensed.
The honeys soon outnumbered all the bees.
As tiny golden steps so clear evinced.
The lead brigade could charge but only slow.
A magic pared before the rind was soft.
A crucial brain aborts the salient blow.
The shipping speeds to mice in yonder loft.
Escaping tea includes the honey width.
In like the cold and heat are snakes and jokes.
A published book became an ancient myth.
Library hearing aids put cards in spokes.
The bluest lines o'ertook the printer card.
A tempered tin relaunched the Sampo guard.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The King is Anna

If someone asked me to write a musical about the King of Siam, I'd probably write a song called "I'm the King of Siam, I am". Fortunately for the world, it was Rodgers and Hammerstein who wrote the music for 1956's The King and I, a beautiful film with great performances. Its cultural clumsiness does not age well yet even now it's hard not to love Deborah Kerr, elegantly and assertively negotiating with an obstinately patriarchal society. And, oh, the costumes, the sets--it's all splendid, I can't resist melting.

The costumes, both Siamese and English, are beautiful, exaggerated versions of their real life counterparts. Kerr, as Anna, wears a ridiculously wide crinoline, about 30% bigger than women actually wore in England at the time--and she wears it in every scene. The fact that Kerr carries it off with dignity alone speaks to her incredible talent. The King, his harem, and children are always covered with jewels.

Yul Brynner as the king cuts a fantastic figure, it's a shame that all the Siamese characters are portrayed like children who Anna must tactfully manage for their own good. The costumes, for being exaggerated, are accurate enough, but the film flaunts misconceptions of Buddhism and portrays most of the Siamese women as pathetically controlled by superstition and the King needing to be guided on nearly every point of etiquette. It is sort of endearing in Brynner's hands that he's actually trying, enough so that the climactic dance sequence is breathtaking, not just for Kerr's gorgeous gown.

The fact that it's immediately followed by a confrontation about the injustice of slavery is really stimulating, particularly after the beautiful and strange Siamese ballet version of Uncle Tom's Cabin a few scenes earlier.

One could look at the whole film as a sort of dream version of Western culture, actually, more than a fantasised version of Siamese culture. By adopting Siamese costumes, names, shapes, and superficial aspects of Siamese culture, the confrontations about slavery, science, religion, and feminism almost seem to exist without any specific cultural connexion. I could almost imagine Anna waking from this dream discovering she's leading a feminist rally in London.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Skulls are Usually Bad Signs

The world may seem like it's controlled by powerful, invisible, malevolent forces. Much of this impression may be mere paranoia, so the best answer is investigation and illumination. This is what Peter Cushing believes in 1965's The Skull, a simple but pleasantly garish horror film directed by Freddie Francis based on a story by Robert Bloch.

It may come as no surprise that eventually Christopher Maitland (Cushing) bites off more than he can chew in the form of a skull, supposedly the skull of the Marquis de Sade. The filmmakers don't seem particularly interested in the particulars of De Sade's life beyond the fact that his name is the origin of the word sadism. So the skull is cursed, possessed by a demon that makes its owners commit murder.

Cushing is a collector of bizarre, demoniac paraphernalia from all over the world, surrounding himself with these items and books about them in his study where he spends most of his time alone with the things. Naturally, he neglects his wife (Jill Bennett) in the process.

When a dealer (Patrick Wymark) from whom Christopher purchases many objects stops by, she pleads with Christopher to give up his obsession. She's worried he's tampering with dangerous forces. He smiles indulgently and patiently explains, "It's because people, all through the ages, have been influenced and terrorised by these things that I carry out research to try and find the reasons why."

We frequently see Christopher at ease in his study, relaxing amidst his nightmare sculptures, completely assured of his control. With the introduction of the skull, this sense of control is undermined in different ways. In a possible hallucination, he's dragged out of his study by two men who claim to be police and taken to a place where he's forced to undergo some simple, sadistic trials.

This movie mostly works on atmosphere and performances. In addition to Cushing, Wymark is great as his shady dealer and Patrick Magee is memorable in two brief appearances as a police surgeon. But next to Cushing, of course, Christopher Lee makes the biggest impression, despite being only credited as "guest star"--he's actually pretty prominent in the film as the former owner of the skull who cautions his friend to stay away from it. It's just great watching these two talk about this while playing billiards. I could listen to them discuss occult artefacts while playing and drink cognac all night.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Happiness Robots of Patrol Death

To-day's new episode of Doctor Who, "Smile", is certainly a step up from the last one Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote, but considering the last episode he wrote was "Forest of the Night", that's not saying much. To give it more of the credit it deserves, "Smile" has some entertaining dialogue that's also thoughtful regarding social media to-day and potentially emerging AI. And in removing the overblown sentimentality of "Forest of the Night", "Smile" feels much more like a Doctor Who story--in fact, maybe too much because the episode is basically The Happiness Patrol meets The Robots of Death. One could argue whether Happiness Patrol is the better story but I don't think there's any question "Smile" falls well short of Robots of Death.

Spoilers after the screenshot

By coincidence, I watched Robots of Death again a few weeks ago, after which I wrote this about it in my blog:

Robots of Death is halfway between a story about slavery and a story about technology. There are pitfalls in treating another form of life as an allegory for human race relations, which the writer, Chris Boucher, seems conscious of in creating the villain of the episode as a human deluded into thinking he's leading a race of people into rightful rule over the galaxy for their physical and mental purity. But these aren't Daleks.

This is not a pitfall Cottrell-Boyce successfully avoided. Just because emerging sentience in AI might seem like a malfunction doesn't mean every malfunction is emerging sentience. The robots in "Smile" were established as killing people because their programming mistook grief as an enemy to happiness. How do we leap from that to thinking what the robots want is to negotiate with the humans to share space on this new world?

I did enjoy the early dialogue between the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Bill (Pearl Mackie) in the episode. Her asking what the point of chairs were that can't reach the console was funny. I wonder if someone keeps a list of questions new companions have asked the Doctor before.

Mainly the episode feels like Contrell-Boyce had a few nice big ideas--well, ideas from Happiness Patrol and Robots of Death--and then connected them badly. The story is filled with the characters doing odd things to move the plot where Cottrell-Boyce wants it to go, particularly near the end--why did the Doctor and Bill forget about the little kid? Why didn't the Doctor explain right away to the waking colonists what was going on?

Seeing the show repeat itself does make one appreciate how infrequently the show has done that in past fifty years. And maybe there is value in having these stories translated into concepts from our era. The eerie imperative to be happy is certainly an aspect of social media. I suppose Contrell-Boyce would've been better off focusing on that aspect, maybe making it a bit more like "The Bells of Saint John". I was intrigued by the idea of giving robots the imperative to enforce a concept like happiness which human beings themselves famously have trouble defining.

Twitter Sonnet #985

Peacock collars crowd the message out.
A piece of order languished for the pie.
A king acclaimed the fury of the doubt.
A flattened glade advanced the growing lie.
A boon inside the well approves the stone.
In time, my language girds a cedar plank.
A faceless sand took up the cheeks of bone.
Unwary candy left from Easter sank.
Incisive heels alarm the cooking legs.
On tables told to tallied men were motes.
A centre held the shell like splitting eggs.
A thousand crews mistook their sep'rate boats.
In faces seen in older glass are ears.
An E for A can turn the bears to beers.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Mystery of Science in Theatres

I've been working my way through the new season of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 over the past week and four episodes in I'm starting to enjoy it more. After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, the new season premièred on NetFlix last week, resurrecting the show which ended in 1999 after having been on air for just over a decade--the show involves a comedian and two robot puppets making wisecracks or "riffing" on cheesy movies. You may recognise the famous silhouette:

The series has been brought back by creator and original host Joel Hodgson. Hodgson is not hosting in this relaunched series and has recast all the roles without ever giving a satisfying explanation, particularly after at least one cast member complained on Twitter publicly about the fact that he was not given a chance to return to his role. Hodgson's explanation is that he intended the show to be like Saturday Night Live and stay fresh because of its changing cast for new generations. However, I think if Bill Murray or Steve Martin said they wanted to be a regular cast member to-day, I don't think Lorne Michaels would say no.

In the first episode, new host Jonah Ray didn't really impress me and neither did the new voices for the robots, Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn. I read that Hodgson, who directs the new episodes, intentionally increased the pace of the humour and maybe it's a sign that I'm too old that everyone seems to talk much too fast on the show. On the other hand, I don't have this problem with any other new shows. The host segments, where Jonah and the bots leave the theatre to do bits throughout the show, in particular feel oddly rushed. But four episodes in I am starting to warm to Jonah whose voice and style seem like a cross between Norm Macdonald and Bill Murray. The robot voices still just disappoint me, and I particularly feel the absence of Kevin Murphy as Tom Servo. The voices of the new Tom and Crow are sometimes actually a bit hard to distinguish.

Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as the new mad scientists, King Forrester and Max, respectively, are much better and have a nice rapport but a bubble effect that allows their scenes to be broken up suggests they can't seem to do long takes for some reason. I guess it's not a big deal though it makes me appreciate more how hard the original performers worked every episode to accomplish those invention exchanges and host segments. Of course, the rough production qualities were always part of the show's charm and it extended to the performers, particularly with Joel who made you laugh with him when he stumbled over his lines. I heard one of the reasons Joel left in the fifth season of the original run was his conflict with Jim Mallon, who directed and produced most of the series. I don't know anything about that but so far, from what I can see, Joel is a much better performer than he is a director. The first episode of the new series, where Jonah is introduced and the explanation given as to how he became the new host, is muddled and a bit hard to follow. The running gag that he has to re-enact the whole thing every episode for the theme song stops being funny after the second episode--and if you for some reason decide to dive in at a later episode, it's confusing. However, the commitment to puppets and practical effects is wonderful to see and much of the new designs are amazing.

Mostly, though, I miss Mike Nelson. Not necessarily as host, though I liked him as host, but Nelson was head writer from the show's second season to its 1999 season so inevitably the show has a different feel without him. The new head writer is Elliott Kalan, former head writer for The Daily Show. I don't know if any of the jokes I've laughed at so far are his--the writing staff for MST3k is huge as it's always been--but I do sense a difference in the voice at work with the humour. I'm not sure how much that might also be due to the fact that the show was previously a idiosyncratic product of a Minnesota comedy scene and now has a cast with much more of a standard L.A./New York feel.

Of course, if I really want more Mike, I can just watch RiffTrax. Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff, the original mad scientists, are touring doing their own riffing performances, too, and one can't help wondering how this MST3k diaspora came into being, further making me wonder if yet another cast was really necessary. But, okay. It's done. I'll try and enjoy it.

Speaking of crowd funded projects, my friend Iain Marks, director and cinematographer and contributing writer to American Cinematographer, has launched a page to fund his upcoming Cyberpunk film Harsh Reality. He has a cool trailer up on the page which you can see here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Fruit of Radiation

The pendulum swung the other way on the question of justified violence in last night's good new episode of The Expanse. Featuring some nice action, suspense, problem solving, and a cameo from Adam Savage, it also occurred to me that for a show that's not half as popular as The Walking Dead its special effects budget certainly seems a lot better, in that the effects actually support the story really well. I don't know, maybe animating a tiger is a lot more expensive than what we saw last night.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I only just realised it was the season finale. It really didn't feel like a season finale somehow. I guess that's why Naomi (Dominique Tipper) had that montage narration at the end. I would rather have had Bobbie (Frankie Adams) saving Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and Cotyar (Nick E. Tarabay) without the distance created between us and the scene by the narration. Still, it was all reasonably satisfying.

The episode was written by the writers of the novels the show was based on, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (their collaborative pen name is James S.A. Corey), and veteran Star Trek writer Naren Shankar and I liked everyone brainstorming how to deal with the protomolecule soldier, that felt very Star Trek in a very good way. Amos (Wes Chatham) coming up with one solution and Prax (Terry Chen) coming up with another, better one after being inspired by his plants. That was right out of the old Star Trek: The Next Generation playbook.

Ever since I saw Samuel L. Jackson, in talking about Get Out, criticise the tendency to cast British actors over American actors under the belief that British actors are better trained, I have to admit . . . generally I've been noticing how the American actors aren't as well trained. This doesn't include exceptional performers like Thomas Jane, who I'm missing more and more, but the rank and file like Wes Chatham and Steven Strait. Aside from Aghdashloo, no-one on the show of any nationality has what might be called star quality but the British, Australian, and New Zealander actors seem to have a greater repertoire of facial expressions and vocal intonations to draw on. I guess with Amos it at least makes sense since he's supposed be emotionally numb. But Nick E. Tarabay was particularly bad last night as Avasarala's injured right hand man, Aghdashloo having to carry almost all the emotional weight of his possible betrayal with her reaction shots. She is equal to the task, though, more so than Steven Strait reacting to Dominque Tipper at the end. I can almost hear the actor thinking, "Do I switch on Good Holden or Evil Holden?"

Evil Holden seems to have more of a southern accent. I wonder if Steven Strait and Andrew Lincoln spent a lot of time watching De Niro in Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear.

Before it got diluted by the narration at the end, I was really enjoying Bobbie's segment, though, as much as I do like Frankie Adams, I wish she'd move more like a soldier. But considering all this show does manage to do maybe I shouldn't quibble.