Friday, December 1, 2023

Star Trek: Crossover

Episode: "Crossover"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 23
Original Air Date: May 15, 1994

Garak episode!

And it's also a mirror universe episode, the first of five for Deep Space Nine.  The masterful original series episode "Mirror, Mirror" introduced an alternate reality in which treacherous ambition is the basis of Enterprise culture and its broader society.  The Kira and Bashir of the "normal" universe stumble into this opposite dimension as a result of an accident in the wormhole.  Kira encounters her double, the iron-fisted ruler of the mirror Deep Space Nine.  Fortunately, Mirror Kira likes Normal Kira, preferring to keep her around.  Bashir is less lucky.  He's thrown into the ore processing mines to work as a slave with Mirror Odo as ruthless overseer.

For me, the story itself is not as interesting as what happens to each of our friends once self-interest is the primary character driver.  The mirror universe has lived its own history since Kirk's visit.  Mirror Spock preached peaceful reforms which gained traction for a while but ultimately weakened the Empire.  The Klingon-Cardassian Alliance is now in ascendance with the Bajorans as key players.  As such, most of the Starfleet characters on the normal side don't have mirror equivalents - yet.  There are no mirrors for Dax, Bashir or Jake in "Crossover."  As for the others...

In terms of power status, Kira has benefited the most from mirror universe circumstances.  As "Intendant," she is top dog on the station.  Others fear and envy her, submitting to her wishes.  She also has a target on her back.  Garak and Odo are her thugs.  Neither is shy about using his position and talents to exact cruelty to maintain order.  Garak is the one most eager to betray Kira for his own political gain.  All three fit our expectations from previous experience in this dimension.  The other mirrors are more interesting.

In a world where greed is king, Quark, the normal side's heartless opportunist, has found empathy. Mirror Quark helps others, including our normal universe friends, escape from the station at great personal risk.  Morally, Mirror Miles isn't so different, though his job certainly is.  Now, he's just a grunt, essentially a slave himself.  His technical gifts make him valuable and keep him out of harm's way - until Julian comes along and rocks the boat, that is.  Mirror Quark and Mirror Miles demonstrate that it's not the people who've "gone bad" in this alternate reality.  The rules have changed.  Individual responses to those changes determine who they are.

Most intriguing of all is Mirror Sisko.  Station commander on one side has become space pirate on the other.  The Intendant gives Mirror Sisko free rein because, as he puts it, he amuses her.  The strong implication is that he is her lover, essentially a kept man.  There are also hints, as the story develops, that Mirror Sisko is not entirely happy with the arrangement even if it does help to keep him alive.

Clearly, there's plenty to build on here.  We'll return to the mirror universe in Season 3.

Acting Notes

John Cothran, Jr. played the role of Telak, a Klingon and another of Mirror Kira's thugs.  Cothran was born October 31, 1947 in St. Louis, Missouri.  "Crossover" is his second of three Star Trek television appearances.  He has also appeared in two interactive games.  Films include Opportunity Knocks, Boyz n the Hood and The Perfect Game.  Beyond Trek, television guest spots include Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and ER.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

On the Coffee Table: Romeo and Juliet

Title: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Author: William Shakespeare

Two stupid teenagers fall in love and are dead by their own hands two weeks later.  Yup, that's more or less the story.  It's worth noting their love was complicated by their feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues.

Before we go on, let me make clear that I love Shakespeare and I have personal attachments to R&J that will always be meaningful.  But I hate the story.  I love the language.  It invades my soul.  But I detest the story.

When I first read R&J - in 9th grade English class as is the case for many if not most American high school students, I asserted that it glorifies suicide, an irresponsible message to teenagers.  I know more now and realize that the psychology behind self-harm runs a lot deeper than I imagined it did when I was 14 (Juliet's age).  But the double suicide still bothers me from a narrative standpoint.  It's a cop out.  The beef between the two houses is magically settled once, separately but simultaneously, they drive their children to despair.  It's too easy, a lame payoff outweighed by the crushing loss of the two deaths.

And how soon after the curtain falls do the blame games begin?  Sure, in the moment, trying to impress the Prince, they say they'll build commemorative statues for the doomed lovers as a celebration of their devotion.  But no doubt, the muttering under the breath begins as soon as they leave the tomb...

So yes, I hate the story and good luck convincing me I shouldn't.  But I still love this play.

Of all Shakespeare's work, I have the most intimate relationship with Romeo and Juliet because it was the first one I helped direct.  It was my job in that particular production to help the principals understand what they were saying.  Shakespearean language is challenging for even the most passionate scholars.  For your average middle school student, it's practically gibberish.  But the story must be told.  Going through the balcony scene(s) line by line leads to powerful moments of discovery for both actor and coach.  Prior to this experience, I would have said Mercutio was my favorite character but the most gratifying roles to explore in this context were the Nurse and, of course, Juliet.  Watching a 14-year-old girl play the most important 14-year-old character in world literature and seeing her eyes light up when she realizes the three words in "Three words, dear Romeo" are "I love you"...  I will never forget that moment, a life highlight to be sure.  

I've heard many say Shakespeare is overrated, either because they don't understand it or they feel others - Dante, Milton, Marlowe - should get more attention.  They may have a point on the latter assertion.  However, I know what Shakespeare's words did for me when I truly let them into my heart for the first time.  Perhaps I could experience the same with other writers, indeed I hope so.  But for now, I believe in the unique magic of The Bard.

In this latest reading, I thought about what this particular story has to say about love.  Truly, a lot of it is deeply unhealthy if you take the broader view.  I was struck, however, by a passage from Friar Laurence:

...the sweetest honey 
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite:
Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.

In general, I am one to argue that to love lightly is to live lightly.  But I can't deny the wisdom in these words.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Squid Mixes: Phoebe Snow Cocktail

The Phoebe Snow combines brandy, Dubonnet Rouge and absinthe.  I got my recipe from The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan.  We tried it twice over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The first time I used too much absinthe.  The recipe calls for a dash.  The quick pour I did straight out of the bottle was definitely excessive, even between four glasses.  The result was plenty tasty - not even over black-jelly-beanish according to my wife.  But with absinthe, clocking in at 110-proof, flavor is only part of the concern.  For the second batch, a couple days later, I was a lot more cautious and the result was an improvement.  Less is more.

If only I'd had my actual dash measuring spoon with me...

Phoebe Snow was a character in a publicity campaign for Lackawanna and Western Railroad at the turn of the 20th century, intended to promote the company's use of "clean-burning" anthracite.  

via Wikipedia

Phoebe Snow was also the stage name of a 1970s folk musician, best known for her hit "Poetry Man."  Interestingly, the Phoebe Snow Cocktail isn't even the only drink associated with the advertising character.  The Brandy Alexander was created for a dinner celebrating her.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Star Trek: Emergence

Episode: "Emergence"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 7, Episode 23
Original Air Date: May 9, 1994

All is going haywire aboard the Enterprise and the trouble seems to revolve around the holodeck.  First, a steam locomotive invades Data's Shakespearean Tempest-scape.  Then the ship's computer takes control of the vessel, whisking our friends off to lord knows where.  Back to the holodeck.  Aboard the train - not just any train but the Orient Express - our heroes encounter characters from a wide range of programs: knights in armor, two flappers, a hayseed and a Capone-era gangster.  What's behind all of this madness?  In time, we learn the Enterprise is giving birth to a new life form.

The story's creation began with the jumbled up holodeck program idea, the writers wanting one final send-off for the holodeck arc.  The ship going berserk concept was built around it.  As has become all too common in this seventh and final season, the end result is awful.  Are there fun moments?  Sure.  I enjoyed the opening as Picard explains the Prospero character to Data.  But most of the tale is just irritating, like an anxiety dream you can't quite shake.  The new life form concept feels exactly like the half-assed afterthought it was.  

Only two more episodes to go.

Acting Notes

David Huddleston (the train conductor) was born in Vinton, Virginia, September 17, 1930.  After serving briefly as an officer in the Air Force, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Huddleston had a long and varied career on screen, both big and small.  Films included Blazing Saddles, Santa Claus: The Movie and The Big Lebowski.  He had the title role in each of the last two.  On television, he made appearances on numerous high profile shows across multiple decades, including Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Columbo, The Waltons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Charlie's Angels, The Wonder Years and The West Wing.  

Huddleston passed away in 2016 from heart and kidney disease.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Squid Flicks: A Man Escaped

Title: A Man Escaped
Director: Robert Bresson
Original Release: November 11, 1956
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5

via Wikipedia

Fontaine (François Leterrier), a member of the French Resistance, is held in a Nazi prison during World War II.  He awaits likely execution.  A Man Escaped tells the tale of his complicated scheme to break out.  It's based on a memoir by André Devigny.

Fans of Shawshank Redemption will feel right at home watching Fontaine's patient, methodical approach to his escape.  Letterier even looks a bit like Tim Robbins.  I've found no direct inspirational link between this movie and the 1994 film, nor Stephen King's original novella but there are obvious similarities in the stories.  Regardless, A Man Escaped would fit in well with any prison film binge fest.  

The power of A Man Escaped lies largely in what one doesn't see.  In the opening scene, while riding in the car to the prison, Fontaine makes a run for it.  We hear, rather than see, him being beaten before being dragged back to the car.  Later, we hear machine gun fire when his fellow prisoners are executed.  During the escape sequence, with the need for silence emphasized, each individual sound seems magnified.  The only music used is Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, K. 427.

Once again, World War II proves to be the narrative well that never runs dry.  It's interesting to see the war story the French were telling themselves in the 1950s: the tale of resistance rather than the tale of collaboration.  History is like that, I realize.  I know full well that there are uglier sides to American involvement in that war and others than many of my compatriots are comfortable discussing.  It's just interesting.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Star Trek: The Wire

Episode: "The Wire"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 2, Episode 22
Original Air Date: May 8, 1994

Garack episode!

Our favorite maybe/probably spy is having brutal headaches and displaying dramatic mood swings.  His buddy Doctor Bashir is eager to help.  Turns out, Garak has an implant in his brain, first given to him when he was a member of the Obsidian Order, Cardassia's intelligence agency.  It releases endorphins to help an agent survive torture.  But the device is not meant for continuous use.  Garak has grown dependent and the implant has run out of juice.

"The Wire" is an addiction story at its heart.  It also provides the deepest development yet for Garak.  As he battles the withdrawal symptoms, he tells Bashir several differing, even contradictory tales of how he came to be exiled.  Desperate, the doctor travels to Cardassia Prime in order to question Enabran Tain, the former leader of the Order who initially gave Garak the implant.  Tain gives yet another perspective on Garak's history, though much like Garak, doesn't provide much in the way of clarity in answering Bashir's questions.

What do we learn about Garak through it all?  He was definitely a spy and a talented one, at that, with what was once a bright future.  Something went wrong.  We can't be sure what because once he gets through the worst of the withdrawal, he tells Bashir that all of the stories he told were true, "especially the lies."  But he did something.  Tain clearly hates him, affirming that Garak deserves his exile and whatever anguish it brings him, either physical or psychological.  

No conclusive details.  Answers only invite more questions.  And that, my friends, is why the Garak story is awesome.  And watching actor Andy Robinson work his magic is always worth the price of admission.

Acting Notes

via Criminal Minds Wiki

Paul Dooley (Enabran Tain) was born Paul Dooley Brown in Parkersburg, West Virginia, February 22, 1928.  Growing up, he wrote a comic strip for the local newspaper.  He joined the Navy at 18, served two years, then came back to attend West Virginia University, graduating in 1952.  

When Dooley went to New York to pursue a showbiz career, he got his start as a clown at children's birthday parties.  Fortunately for all of us, he soon made some important connections with powerful people.  Mike Nichols discovered Dooley and cast him in his Broadway smash, The Odd Couple, first in a supporting role.  Dooley eventually took over as Felix when Art Carney moved on.  Playing opposite Walter Matthau was fortuitous as well.  Matthau helped him get signed by the William Morris Agency.

Dooley is a man of many talents.  Stand-up comedy got him on The Tonight Show and into Second City, the Harvard of comedy troupes, where he worked with Alan Arkin and Alan Alda.  He is a writer, too, which led to co-creating the The Electric Company, a work of children's television genius produced for public television in the 1970s.  Much more recently, he published a memoir: Movie Dad: Finding Myself and My Family, On Screen and Off.

Indeed, on screen Dooley is best known as a movie dad, most memorably in Breaking Away and Sixteen Candles.  Pixar fans would recognize his voice as that of Sarge in the Cars movies.  He's had a long career in television, too, including guest appearances on Bewitched, The Golden Girls and Desperate Housewives.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Squid Eats: Molly's

As noted in my most recent State of the Blog post, one of my closest friends has moved to central Massachusetts.  While this has certainly required emotional adjustments for me, I'm pleased to report that we've managed to see each other surprisingly often since the move in June: twice in Vermont and once down in Mass.  This past weekend, we began the search for good spots midway between, beginning with Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College.  First stop, lunch...

Molly's Restaurant and Bar, originally called Molly's Balloon, has been operating for 40 years.  It's very family-friendly.  Each table is set with crayons and coloring paper.  We saw loads of kids.  While the menu offers child favorites like burgers and pizza, there are more interesting options for us adults.  My buddy ordered poutine from the specials menu.  Our waitress insisted on calling it POH-teen rather than the poo-TEEN we are accustomed to in northern Vermont and Montreal - must be a New Hampshire thing.  I got the Gochujang Chicken Bowl.  I usually steer clear of Asian food in non-Asian restaurants but it was actually pretty good.

The service is very friendly.  Our waitress was professional - a bit aggressive on the up-selling but we managed to resist.  The decor is dark wood with lots of Dartmouth sports memorabilia on the walls, including Ivy League football standings posted behind the bar.  I would go back, though there are other interesting options in town to explore.  Importantly, Molly's is close to The Fourth Place, a game and comic book store where we'll definitely be lingering on future visits.