Friday, October 28, 2022

Star Trek: Frame of Mind

Episode: "Frame of Mind"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 21
Original Air Date: May 3, 1993

Realities are blurred for Riker.  His consciousness keeps shifting between the Enterprise and "Ward 47" in a mental hospital on an alien world.  Further confusing matters is his role in a stage play in which he plays a mental patient.

Is the entire series a delusion?  Interestingly, the episode doesn't answer that question right away.  "Frame of Mind" tends to rank high on best-of lists.  I admire its production quality.  There's also a wonderful scene in which Riker classifies projections of Troi, Worf and Picard as representations of his own psychological aspects, just the sort of exercise this blogger enjoys (see here).  Overall, I prefer the similar "First Contact."  The fourth season episode feels more connected to the broader series concept.  "Frame of Mind," while clever, feels less Trek to me.  

It's a decent Riker story.  While I haven't written as much about it recently, I still wonder about the Riker character in general.  What is his broader narrative purpose on NextGen?  Couldn't this episode just as easily have been a Picard story?  Don't misunderstand: I like Riker and I like Jonathan Frakes.  And he serves as an important template for the series moving forward, especially for Chakotay on Voyager.  My question is whether or not he's entirely necessary.  Of all the seven principals, despite his second billing, I still see him as the most expendable, six seasons in.  I am sure that was not the intention.

Acting Notes

David Selburg plays the role of Syrus, Riker's psychiatrist in Ward 47.  Selburg was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, December 17, 1948.  "Frame of Mind" was his second of four Trek appearances as four characters in three different series.  Other television gigs include Hill Street Blues, The Wonder Years and ER.  Big screen work includes The Man with One Red Shoe, Species and The Bourne Identity.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Squid Mixes: Cider Battles VI, Unified Press

Unified Press (UP) is Citizen Cider's flagship product, by far the one most likely to be found in Vermont bars.  It's marketed as "semi-dry" which places is it on the sweet end of the company's standard offerings.  Welcome to the arena, UP...

Citizen Cider Unified Press vs. Citizen Cider The Dirty Mayor (DM)

First, the Swizzle comparison.  As pleasant as The Dirty Mayor's ginger kick is, it complicates matters in a mixed drink.  Ginger is always a flavor heavyweight so it's not so great if you want to taste other ingredients.  As such, the Unified Press works better here.  It's also more apple-y, something my wife in particular has been seeking in these tastings and, until now, not finding.  

Winner, Swizzle Category: Citizen Cider Unified Press

In the Sipping battle, we had, for the first time, a difference of opinion.  Given her love for ginger, I fully expected my wife to prefer the DM but, in fact, she liked the UP for its stronger apple flavor.  I guess it all depends what you're looking for in a given situation.

I still prefer the DM.  The ginger provides more body and dimension, thus a more satisfying overall experience.  Plus, the UP has a similar funky aftertaste to the one I described in Pearsecco.  Both the ginger in the DM and the other ingredients in the D-Day Swizzle seem to take care of the problem.

Winner and New Champion, Sipping Category, Her Preference: Citizen Cider Unified Press

Winner and Still Champion, Sipping Category, His Preference: Citizen Cider The Dirty Mayor

Friday, October 21, 2022

Star Trek: The Storyteller

Episode: "The Storyteller"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 1, Episode 14
Original Air Date: May 2, 1993

via Memory Alpha

Dr. Bashir is summoned for a medical emergency in a Bajoran village.  Commander Sisko sends Chief O'Brien with him.  It quickly becomes obvious that O'Brien doesn't like Bashir much but the latter does his best to make pals anyway.  It's a good thing Miles was along for the ride, though.  The village's spiritual leader, the Sirah, is dying and picks O'Brien as his successor.  As might be expected, that doesn't work out too well.

I've been waiting for an eye-roller and I believe this one is it.  The role of the Sirah is to fend off an energy cloud from attacking the city by telling stories which inspire the villagers to resist.  It's pretty hokey - original series-level hokey.  

And yet, once again, even a DS9 clunker has merit.  The episode marks the beginning of one of the more endearing series threads: the close friendship between Julian and Miles.  "A bromance is born," our progeny said in our recent rewatch.  And the B-plot is surprisingly sweet.  Tetrarch Varis Sul, the 15-year-old leader of another village, represents the interest of her people in tense negotiations with a neighboring community.  The young woman draws the interest of Jake and especially Nog.  The story provides a nice glimpse of the elder Sisko's leadership.  From the beginning, he takes Varis seriously, even as she frustrates his efforts to make peace.  For her part, Varis warms to Ben as she comes to see him through Jake's eyes.

The O'Brien as Sirah story is based on Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be King."

Acting Notes

via Memory Alpha

Lawrence Monoson played the role of Hovath, the more worthy successor as Sirah.  Monoson was born August 11, 1964 in Yonkers, New York.  Films include Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Mask and the HBO movie And the Band Played On, for which he received a CableACE Award nomination.  He had recurring roles on several television series, including Prince Street, ER and Resurrection Blvd.  "The Storyteller" is his first of two Star Trek appearances on two different series.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Squid Eats: Filos Greek Taverna

Filos Greek Taverna in Northampton, Massachusetts has a wide variety of offerings: the souvlaki and gyros you'd expect from a Greek restaurant but also brick oven pizza and, at least according to a 2017 poll, the best french fries in the state.  I got my standard Greek lunch order: a chicken souvlaki wrap.  It was alright - good but nothing to write home about.  I expect we'll be back, though, and if we do, I'll want to explore the french fry (they have poutine!) and pizza offerings.  Plus, they have a galaktobukero for dessert.  I'm a sucker for anything with phyllo dough.

For me, every Greek restaurant competes with one that went out of business about 27 years ago: The Grand Cafe in St. Paul, Minnesota.  My mouth still waters when I think of their chicken souvlaki wrap.  No one since has quite compared.

Monday, October 17, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Old Boy

Title: Old Boy, Volume 7
Writer: Garon Tsuchiya
Artist: Nobuaki Minegeshi

via Amazon

The Old Boy manga has gained a lot more traction in world mainstream media than most, inspiring live action feature films by big name directors in both South Korea (Park Chan-wook) and the United States (Spike Lee).  The basic story: Goto, a gangster (presumably), is freed after 10 years of captivity in a private prison.  He doesn't know exactly who has done this to him or why.  The series follows his efforts to piece it all together.

I will admit, it's all rather difficult to follow.  Goto has friends and, evidently, a lover, too, but it's hard to tell whom he can actually trust - who truly is on his side and not also being manipulated.  Volume 7 covers issues #60-69, all originally published in 1997.  By this point in the overall story, Goto has discovered his nemesis, Kakinuma, who evidently holds a lifelong grudge from childhood.  But the full implications of the grudge are yet to be understood.

As confusing as the story is clearly intended to be, it's beautifully told and highly intriguing.  The series has gone out of traditional print in the United States but is still available digitally on Comixology.  So, I may dig further some day.  It was only by chance that this print copy fell into my hands and I'm glad it did.

The biggest treat for me personally is the strong sense of setting.  1997 Tokyo, you see, is my Tokyo.  I lived in nearby Yokohama from 1996-98 and spent a great deal of time in the capital.  I know the back streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya.  I know the landmarks: Tokyo Municipal Building, Almond in Roppongi.  I recognize the cell phones of the era.  It all looks and feels right in my nostalgic, ex-pat view.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Star Trek: The Chase

Episode: "The Chase"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 20
Original Air Date: April 26, 1993

An old friend of Captain Picard comes for a visit.  Professor Galen, Jean-Luc's archaeology mentor, invites his protégé along for one last adventure.  While our good captain declines, adventure comes to him when Galen is killed moments after he departs.  It falls to the Enterprise crew to solve the riddle of Galen's final quest.

"The Chase" is really two stories for the price of one.  The first half, before Galen's death, falls into the "what might have been" pattern so typical of the Picard arc of late.  The second half is a more Roddenberry-esque morality play.  Representatives of the Cardassians, Klingons and Romulans all compete with our friends to unlock Galen's mystery, each certain it will be of great benefit to whichever superpower finds it first.  Wouldn't you know, instead, they all learn a valuable lesson about their common origin.  Kumbaya.  We are all truly one.

The episode has its moments.  I always enjoy the way archaeology brings out the romantic in Picard.  There's also a wonderful exchange between our captain and the Romulan Captain in the denouement, hauntingly reminiscent of the end of the original series masterpiece, "Balance of Terror."  True to form, the NextGen version is more hopeful.

Acting Notes

Norman Lloyd (Galen) was born Norman Nathan Pulmutter, November 8, 1914 in Jersey City, New Jersey.  He was performing professionally on vaudeville from the age of 9.  He graduated from high school at 15 and went to NYU, though he left after two years.  

Lloyd had a long, distinguished career on the stage, working with the Civic Repertory Theatre, Federal Theatre Project's Living Newspaper, the Mercury Theatre and the Group Theatre.  In film, he worked with Alfred Hitchcock for years, appearing in Sabateur and Spellbound, then serving as producer for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  In the '80s, he was a principal on St. Elsewhere.  For my generation, he is probably best known as Mr. Nolan, the headmaster in Dead Poets Society.

Lloyd was married to his wife, Peggy Craven, for 75 years.  Yes, you read that correctly.  75 years!  They had two children.  He played tennis regularly until age 99.  He died in his sleep in 2021 at the ripe old age of 106.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Cycles

Title: Y: The Last Man, Volume 2: Cycles
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciller: Pia Guerra
Inker: Jose Marzan, Jr.

via Amazon

Y: The Last Man continues with Cycles, collecting issues #6-10 of the comic book series.  The basic premise: Yorick and his monkey are the last two male mammals on Earth, or so it appears.  At the moment, they're trying to make their way to California along with geneticist Dr. Mann, who is hoping to understand how Yorick survived, and federal agent 355, who is trying to keep them all alive.  Story lines converge in Marrisville, Ohio where a community of women is untroubled by the lack of men, a significant contrast with practically everyone else in the story.  The women of Marrisville also have a secret.

I've been reading other dystopian comics recently - Transmetropolitan and Trees - and Y: The Last Man works better for me.  For starters, the narrative is much simpler in structure.  Yes, there are multiple strands but they converge regularly and their relationship with one another is easily understood.  Also, there's a surprising lightness to Y, not easily accomplished with such a dark tale.  Yorick is likeable and goofy enough to provide comic relief.

There's a lot to unpack with the sexual politics.  Would human society truly fall apart if men suddenly vanished?  The implication is not that men are more capable.  Rather, it's that our entire civilization is built around the patriarchy and losing men would leave a dangerous power void - governments would be thrown into confusion, for instance.  Nearly all airplanes would fall out of the sky because the vast majority of pilots are male.  I think it's fair to say that men would find out in a hurry how dependent they are on women if the reverse were to happen.

But I suppose that's a different dystopian narrative.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Squid Eats: Three Penny Taproom

Three Penny Taproom is a bar and grill in Montpelier, Vermont.  We visited recently after a guided mushroom foray.  The beer list is extensive, as one would hope from a "Taproom" - mostly Vermont and New England products.  Service is good.

We both ordered from the specials menu.  I got the Fried Green Tomato Po' Boy.  Very tasty.  They have a lot of fun comfort food appetizers: tater tots, pretzel bites, corn fritters, etc., though we didn't order any this time.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Family Book Swap: The Book of Form and Emptiness

Title: The Book of Form and Emptiness
Author: Ruth Ozeki

via Target

Ruth Ozeki's novel tells the tale of Benny Oh, an early teen boy who is dealing with his father's sudden death and his mother's hoarding compulsion.  To complicate matters, Benny's hearing voices.  All of the objects around him - a book, a wall, a pair of scissors - are speaking to him.  Through his adventures at a psychiatric hospital and the public library, he makes some interesting human friends, too.

The Book of Form and Emptiness came into our lives this summer through new avenues.  It was the summer reading book for our child's college, then my wife chose it for her book club.  So now all three of us have read at least most of it - not sure the kid ever finished it.

It's an engaging read.  Perspective shifts frequently and oddly.  Sometimes it's Benny, sometimes his mom, sometimes a librarian.  The book itself becomes its own character and, in fact, most of the story is told from its point of view.  For this and other reasons, the novel is a book lover's book.  On page 388, there's a shift to second-person narrative which I always find unsettling but within context, it makes sense.  Goodreads classifies the novel as magical realism which got me to wondering about the fine line between that genre and schizophrenia, one of Benny's diagnoses.  Interestingly, I learned that magical realism developed, primarily among Latin American authors, as a vehicle for writing about mental illness without actually naming it. 

Our progeny found it tough going at times and I can understand why.  The story of Annabelle, Benny's mother, gets especially heavy as we watch her life spiral out of control.  Some in my wife's book group found the ending too tidy, which I can also appreciate.  But for me, overall, the story works.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Star Trek: Battle Lines

Episode: "Battle Lines"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 1, Episode 13
Original Air Date: April 25, 1993

Kai Opaka arrives for a visit.  It's not only her first time on the station but her first time leaving Bajor.  She is eager to see the wormhole and, of course, the Gamma Quadrant on the other side.  Sisko arranges for an expedition though not all goes according to plan.  The adventurers crash land on a moon where the inhabitants have been condemned to fight an endless war, not even allowed to die.

While there are a couple later appearances for the character, Opaka essentially leaves the DS9 narrative in this episode.  She doesn't die - at least not permanently.  Instead, she decides to stay on the moon, feeling a spiritual calling to help the eternal combatants.  It's a curious choice for a series still finding its footing.  The spiritual elements of DS9 set it apart from previous Star Trek stories and as such, the removal of the Bajoran spiritual leader feels awkward, especially since the decision was made only because Opaka was seen as the most expendable recurring character.  On the other hand, her choice to stay opens up new directions for the spiritual arc, too, both for Kira individually and for the crew overall as they adjust to Opaka's very different successor.

Acting Notes

Jonathan Banks played the role of Shel-La, the leader of one of the warring factions.  Banks was born January 31, 1947 in Washington, DC.  He went to Indiana University, where he was a classmate of Kevin Kline.  After graduation, he worked as a stage manager for a touring company of Hair.  

Banks found roles in some high-profile films: Airplane!, 48 Hrs. and Beverley Hills Cop, among others.  His career really took off when he landed the part of Frank McPhie in the CBS series Wiseguy.  The Breaking Bad franchise has been especially good for him with 73 episodes as Mike Ehrmantraut between the original series and the Better Call Saul spinoff.  Overall, Banks has six Emmy nominations.  He is the only actor to be nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series as a main cast member for three different shows.

Banks has been married twice and has three children.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Squid Mixes: Cider Battles V, Enter Citizen Cider

Citizen Cider is based in Burlington, Vermont and has established itself as the hip, accessible local brand. The Dirty Mayor is named for Ric Cengeri, a longtime radio personality in our area, nicknamed "The Mayor."  Its driving flavor ingredient is ginger, always a winner with my wife.  It's an intimidating challenger for our current sipping champion.

Citizen Cider The Dirty Mayor vs. Woodchuck Cider Pearsecco

Given the ginger factor, the Mayor was always going to be the winner for my wife.  I have to give it the edge, too.  The ginger gives the Mayor more body than the Pearsecco.  I like the fact that it's less sweet, too.  I also sensed a funky aftertaste with the Pearsecco this time that I had missed before.  Maybe the ginger in The Dirty Mayor brought it out?

It's a close call, though.  The defending champ is still plenty good.  In this tasting, I was particularly appreciative of the fact the Pearsecco truly does taste like pears - the fruitiness doesn't always come out so reliably in a cider, the sugar or acidity often more prevalent.  We both feel the Pearsecco is probably a better candidate for mixing.  The ginger might not play so nicely with the other ingredients in a D-Day Swizzle.

Winner and New Champion, Sipping Cider Category: Citizen Cider The Dirty Mayor