Arriving almost stealthily but just in time to prove 2020 isn’t all bad, The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix is a riveting story of loss, genius, addiction and chess.
Smartly and economically written, gorgeously designed and shot, and with an excellent score (by Carlos Rafael Rivera) the series however, is owned lock, stock and barrel by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Emma).
The actor plays orphan Beth Harmon and the seven episodes detail her meteoric rise through the world chess rankings. Director/writer Scott Frank (Godless) makes full use of Taylor-Joy’s eyes throughout, which seem to sometimes threaten to burn right through the screen. It’s a frequently astonishing performance, one that starts from those eyes and manifests a dark and fascinating inner life for her character. This was clearly a rather special collaboration between the two.
Based on a 1983 thriller novel by Walter Tevis (who also wrote The Hustler, The Colour of Money and The Man Who Fell To Earth), the story moves forward propulsively but never less than thoughtfully and also highlights a complicated but tender relationship between Beth and her adoptive mother, played by Marielle Heller.
The cast is uniformly good, featuring superb turns from the likes of Isla Johnston (as young Beth), Bill Camp (the care home janitor who spark’s Beth’s nascent talent) and Moses Ingram (as Beth’s closest friend, a character we should definitely have seen more of in the narrative).
But this is Taylor-Joy’s show and a great showcase for the young actor. Frank and Taylor-Joy give us a fascinating, magnetic character in Beth, and mostly avoid making her talent magical by highlighting her obsessive and destructive traits.
The Queen’s Gambit feels very much like a piece of classic Hollywood storytelling, yet rises above that with a cool boldness that feels utterly compelling.
The series brings a wonderful, stylish slice of viewing joy (sorry, not sorry) to a pretty awful year.
If I tell you that the first episode of The Mandalorian – the new high profile, live action Star Wars series helping to launch the Disney + channel – is simple, I trust you’ll understand that I’m complimenting it.
Set five years after the fall of the Empire, as seen in Return of the Jedi, the extremely straightforward storyline of this premiere episode follows the adventures of a Mandalorian bounty hunter (played by Pedro Pascal, though so far he remains firmly under the helmet) hired to round up or exterminate a mark. And for the first 38 minutes, that’s pretty much it.
Carl Weathers crops up, as does (in a much-ballyhooed, sublime piece of casting) existential German film director, Werner Herzog, who appears to be having a blast in his role, plus we meet (sort of) Nick Nolte and Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit). It’s a heckuva cast for what amounts to a little spaghetti western in space.
What you really want to know is: does it feel like Star Wars? Yes, it does, and it feels like exactly what I had hoped for, Star Wars without the Skywalkers, or Jedi, or the Force (at least so far), and what a lot of fun it is. The Mandalorian comes across as if show creator Jon Favreau and pilot director Dave Filoni are just kicking back and enjoying themselves in the Star Wars universe. They even manage to throw in a deep-cut gag taken from the infamously reviled Star Wars Holiday Special TV show from 1978.
The Mandalorian looks and sounds totally Star Wars too, with some really top notch VFX and creature FX (many of which, I’m overjoyed to say, are practical). Whoever thought we’d live to see a weekly Star Wars TV series with movie level special effects? Not this kid who saw the original movie more than twenty times at the cinema in 1977 and 1978, that’s for sure.
There’s no great human drama, so far, but we get a lot of world-building in just over half an hour (with no necessary Star Wars knowledge needed, but plenty of nods to fans), events are set neatly in place and some intriguing threads are left dangling. We’re offered just enough of what might make the title character of interest (he’s a bounty hunter with a heart of gold), but the main point here is to make us want to come back for more. And if the showrunners can ensure this level of pure enjoyment for the next seven episodes then that won’t be a problem.
Simply put, The Mandalorian is uncomplicated fun.
Note: an earlier version of this article originally appeared in the Norwegian publication, Z Filmtidsskrift, Number 4 in 2013, editor-in-chief: Ingrid Rommetveit, guest editor: Marte Stapnes.
For those poor, deprived souls who have never encountered this most wonderful institution, Doctor Who is a weekly British sci-fi (or more accurately, fantasy) television series, produced by the BBC, which began, just a few months before I was born, in November 1963 and ran successfully until 1989. Apart from one brief revival attempted in 1996 it lay dormant until a major relaunch in 2005, which has seen it scale heights of mass popularity with the general viewing public that are genuinely surprising in an age of dumbed-down, lowest common denominator appeal programming.
At its core the show is a simple and ingenious idea, a person of mystery on the run, able to travel anywhere in time and space, through means of a machine permanently disguised as a 1960’s London Police Box (which is bigger on the inside), alongside one or more companions who act as the viewer’s eyes on the Doctor’s never ending adventures.
Rather unusually, the show was created not for children and not for adults. Instead it was a drama show intended to appeal to the entire family, broadcast in an early evening spot where it was reasoned that everyone would be together. That reasoning worked perfectly in my household; I can still feel flickering, luminous black & white images of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor imprinting on me, as he did battle with Yetis on the London Underground and evil Daleks swirling around Victorian England while my parents and grandparents sat close by, never more than the safety of a comforting lap away. Thankfully, young and imaginative minds such as mine were oblivious to the show’s paucity of production budget during its original 26 year run, reveling instead in its wild flights of fancy.
The show took a bold leap in regards to its casting. After three successful years in 1966, lead actor William Hartnell’s deteriorating health could have signaled an end to its run; instead, the producers decided to take a chance on re-casting the role with a new actor, the mercurial Patrick Troughton, by use of a plot device which saw the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, able to physically regenerate themselves twelve times, thus gifting the character with a distinct new personality every few years and thereby ensuring a potentially limitless run for a successful TV show. It was a brave move from the producers, but one that still attracts massive amounts of publicity for the show, as seen with the recent casting of the Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, boldly changing the character’s gender for the first time.
Fans of the show are often asked “Who (pun no doubt intended) is your favourite Doctor?” the answer to which is usually the one you grew up watching. For me, however, that’s a tricky question, as I have brief memories of irascible First Doctor, William Hartnell and stronger memories of the playful Patrick Troughton. I suppose Jon Pertwee’s eccentric but groovy, uncle-like Third Doctor was probably where I became hooked (probably because I also had an eccentric but groovy uncle in real life), but it was with the truly off-the-wall Tom Baker that I became a die-hard fan, rubbishing rival TV channels’ attempts to lure me away with imported productions such as The Man from Atlantis and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century; glossier undoubtedly, but with far less substance.
We are regularly treated to storylines which feature the likes of shape changing robots powered and driven by miniature people, religious orders focused on bringing about the death of the main character, multiple timelines, Winston Churchill ruling the Roman Empire from a steampunk London overrun by Pteranodon, life or death chess games, heartbreaking nods to characters in the show’s past, ingenious resolutions to character relationships and infuriating solutions to questions posed in the last few years of story lines and yet more questions set up for the future.
And the show still has the ability to chill and delight, as illustrated by one of its more recent creations, the Weeping Angels; a fearsome race of aliens which disguise themselves as stone statues, unable to move so long as you watch them, but ready to ready to pounce as soon as you blink or look away. The children’s game of peek-a-boo has been craftily subverted by successive showrunners Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall, and is guaranteed to have children and adults alike scurrying to watch from behind the sofa.
The show’s attitude to sex and relationships has also been a delight since the relaunch, openly espousing not just a confident attitude to heterosexuality or homosexuality, but indeed to omnisexuality: just one more way in which the makers refuse to speak down to the audience, and one more reason why the BBC should be held in such high regard, for supporting such a consistently adult outlook for a family appeal show.
And above all these values, Doctor Who consistently succeeds at what its far-sighted creators set out to achieve in the dim and distant early 1960’s, to make a drama show for the whole family that educates and entertains. Almost fifty years later it’s still doing that, with a flair, creativity and an ability to stimulate the imagination that dazzles and leaves me breathless with envy and awe.
Doctor Who’s approach to creative drama is one of the reasons I pursued and have succeeded in a creative career, and it continues to inspire me as an adult as much as when I was a child. Its sheer breadth of imagination stirred, thrilled and excited me, fanning the flames of my own need to create stories, a thread which has run through my career, from my years as a comic book writer and artist into my later work as a writer and director for animation.
My love for the show also led me to bring the 50th anniversary film, The Day of the Doctor, to Norwegian cinemas in 2013 (but that’s a story for another time).
Doctor Who is a series which rewards both the casual and dedicated viewer, and in a television landscape littered with deathless reality shows and tired genre formats; it rises high above its faults (which now tend towards a surfeit of ideas rather than the dearth of budget which often plagued the original run). It is unique, charming, exciting, terrifying and thought provoking in equal measures, and I will always adore this wild and wildly eccentric show.
Dave King is the creator and editor of Out Of Dave’s Head. For his sins, which are many and varied, he also works in animation as a writer, director, producer and lecturer. He still waits to be acknowledged for his talents as a lounge singer.
First created in 1962 (by writer George Gladir and artist Dan DeCarlo), Sabrina The Teenage Witch has become a mainstay of popular culture, existing in comic books, a long-running, live-action TV series, animated series and more.
More recently, Sabrina Spellman found herself reinvented once more, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with art by Robert Hack, for the line of Archie Horror comics, replacing the more child-friendly version with a darker take on the same material.
Now Netflix has given this latest incarnation a new afterlife as a ten episode first season, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
The essential set-up is the same, half-witch, half-human Sabrina lives (in Greendale, neighbouring town to Riverdale, home of Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica) with her witch aunts, Hilda and Zelda, and dates the human Harvey Kinkle. As the show opens, Sabrina is approaching her sixteenth birthday, when she will attend an unholy ritual to sign over her soul to The Dark Lord (that’s Satan, to you and me). Of course, Sabrina has been keeping her true nature a secret from Harvey and her school friends, Roz and Susie. And Sabrina, deep in the throes of love with her human boyfriend, is having doubts about her forthcoming dark baptism.
Mixed in with all this are Ambrose, Sabrina’s cousin, a warlock confined to house arrest in the Spellman home and Mary Wardell , Sabrina’s teacher and mentor who proves to be, well, something else entirely…
It’s a great roster of characters and the first thing to say about the show is that it’s packed with terrific actors. A hearty well done to the casting director. Kiernan Shipka makes a superb Sabrina, not quite the bubbly teenager from the 90s show, this incarnation is more complex, and Shipka balances the character’s sweetness with an emerging arrogance and carelessness, while never losing our sympathy. It’s an intriguing juggling act for the young actress to pull off, but Shipka never puts a foot wrong.
Lucy Davies and Miranda Otto are both quite delicious as Sabrina’s aunts, and Chance Perdomo is delightful as her frisky, pansexual cousin. Michelle Gomez is frankly magnificent, obviously relishing her role as Wardell, while Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson make the most of their well-defined ‘best friend’ parts, both providing strong role models. Ross Lynch is somewhat less successful as boyfriend Harvey, which brings me to one of the show’s failings.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina provides us with a raft of strong female characters, with family, friends and rivals all well-written and acted, their relationships complicated and defined. I’m less enamored of some of the fellas, however.
As mentioned, Ambrose is good value, but the other male roles don’t stand up to strong scrutiny. Gavin Leatherwood’s Nicholas Scratch, a classmate of Sabrina’s at the Academy of the Unseen Arts, has mostly been used as a one-dimensional, slutty rival and counterpoint to Sabrina’s boyfriend to little effect, and Richard Coyle, as the Academy’s head (and High Priest of the Coven) is fun and the best of the bunch but, like Scratch, his character hasn’t been gifted with much depth so far. Finally, and most damagingly, Lynch’s Harvey is a 100% genuine wet blanket.
The character is so insufferably dull that you wonder what exactly it is that Sabrina sees in him, and why she might consider giving up her witch-hood for him. Not only does it make any scenes with him a chore but it also diminishes Sabrina’s character as, unfortunately, many of her actions revolve around her relationship with him (which could certainly be argued as another of the show’s failings).
Even when the character finally gets some gumption in the final episode, he does so in a dull-witted manner which just made me want to punch him. Note to writers: must try harder when it comes to Harvey.
The irony of all this is quite rich and I’m sure there might be some readers (rightfully) thinking: well, this is the kind of nonsense female parts have suffered forever! But weak characters make for weak drama, no matter the gender, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina could do with a serious male shake-up for its second season. Be clear, I’m not suggesting the fellas take center stage, far from it. I do feel they should make better use of the corners of the stage they occupy, however. It’s common sense that a show is more enjoyable as a whole if we can get behind all the characters.
Despite these caveats, I can recommend Sabrina as a thoroughly good time. I’ve read certain reviewers having a tough time with the show’s often whiplash changes in tone, but for me this was one of its plus points, adding a frisson of enjoyable unpredictability to proceedings. One moment we’re enjoying Spellman family larks, the next a host of witches are hanging by their necks from a gnarled tree or engaging in a pansexual orgy. Melissa Joan Hart would have a heart attack, but that’s part of the ghoulish fun.
Happily, Sabrina isn’t content to spin its wheels and maintain the status quo, as the show gets gradually darker as the season progresses and leaves many of the characters in very different, more complex places by the end of the final episode.
There’s plenty of subtext behind the show’s blood and zombies too, with fundamentalism and fanaticism, LGBTQ intolerance and even censorship in schools all having healthy swipes taken at them.
For long-time horror fans a swathe of references can be spotted, everything from the sibling cycle of murder and resurrection of DC Comics’ House of Mystery hosts, Cain and Abel, to ‘Salem’s Lot’s hovering ghoul at the window and The Evil Dead’s tree demon. Movies such as Hellraiser, The Shining, The Craft and even The Devil and Daniel Webster all get pointed shout-outs too.
This was a highly anticipated show for me, as I’m a big fan of the Archie Horror comics it’s based on, and while it doesn’t get quite as dark I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed as it does find its own voice and, overall, I had a blast with it.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has me in its spell and I can’t wait for season two to materialise in a puff of demonic fire and brimstone.
“Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
Whatever you do, set aside some binge time for Netflix’s new ten part horror series, The Haunting of Hill House. Since both Shirley Jackson’s original novel and the 1963 movie The Haunting from director, Robert Wise, are among my all-time favourites I went into this quite guardedly. Thankfully, what we have here is not a straight adaptation or remake, but something else entirely.
Directed and written by Mike Flanagan (Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil), the show is a slow-burn drama of a family going into emotional meltdown, with the added bonus of an utterly malevolent haunted house as the disease which tears them apart (in that way completely faithful to Jackson), told through a constantly surprising series of time shifts – which gradually peel away to reveal what lies at its rotten core.
Loss and mourning lay heavily against the beams and timbers of the house, and it’s these psychological terrors that are used to torment the unfortunate Crain family who choose to inhabit the spooky corridors and clammy bedrooms.
Though one or two revelations are a little too easily signposted (I picked up on the true identity of The Bent-Neck Lady at least two or three episodes before her mid-season unveiling) this is pretty masterful stuff, and one episode in particular revels in its glorious nature of seemingly taking place as one, 50-minute long, continuous shot (it’s not, of course, but the trickery is sustained), but does so in service of the story, racking up the tension of a family gathering for a funeral to sometimes truly queasy degrees.
The cast are uniformly excellent, featuring excellent turns from both Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton (who really comes into his own during the previously mentioned ‘single take’ show).
If there’s a downside to all this, it’s in an element of the denouement which I actively disliked, but it’s difficult to discuss without going into spoiler territory. It’s enough to say that it irritated me but didn’t take away from the excellence of the preceding story.
Filled with both plentiful jump scares and a surprising number of subtler chills, the show will not disappoint viewers either looking for a funfair ghost train ride or those of us hoping for something whose depth of character allows for horrors of a darker shade.
The Haunting of Hill House is streaming now on Netflix and comes with my highest recommendation. Just don’t expect to sleep easily afterwards…
Spoiler-free review of The Woman Who Fell To Earth.
So, the bit you really want to know first about tonight’s Doctor Who (the first for Thirteenth Doctor, Jodi Whittaker): it wasn’t the end of the world.
That is, the opening episode of (New Who) season eleven wasn’t really about the end of the world, I’ll come back to that, but what’s really important is that OUR world didn’t end because the Doctor has regenerated into… gasp… a woman.
When the first teaser trailer dropped on BBC revealing Whittaker, a very vocal number of fans lost their collective minds that their favourite, alien shape-shifter was going to change gender after more than fifty years as a variety of men.
The precise reasoning behind this anger felt rather nebulous, and certainly doesn’t bear up to scrutiny, especially given that from the moment Whittaker makes her entrance by falling through the roof of a train she literally (and figuratively) fully inhabits the frock coat of her predecessor(s).
The plot, which I’ll skip over to avoid spoilers (but there are aliens and lots of running around), is fairly light (actually, too light) and really simply serves as a mechanism to introduce the new Doctor and her team of companions. And it achieves this very well: new showrunner Chris Chibnall (along with a fabulous production team), moves everything along at a rate of knots and each of the characters are gifted with vulnerability, warmth and humanity (and I’m including The Doctor in that, of course, the most human of aliens) so that the we don’t notice the slight story.
It’s of note that the show is shorn of the self-reference that seems to have been weighing it down for the past few seasons. As a fan since the mid-1960s, it’s fun to see old stories and the show’s vast mythology used, but I also recognise that can be an unnecessary ball and chain to storytelling, particularly when it comes to keeping things light enough for casual viewers. Here’s hoping this continues across the season, as it all felt nicely fresh in this episode.
Of course, as this is a regeneration episode, we haven’t really seen The Doctor’s full, new persona yet, but all the important stuff is there: she’s quirky, brave, resourceful and stands up for what’s right. So, pretty much exactly the same as her previous selves. Whittaker hits all the right notes of humour and heroism and is The Doctor. Just like that. Really, strange, stuck-in-the-mud fans, what were you worried about!?
On the technical side, the show, shot with Cooke and Angenieux anamorphic widescreen lenses for the first time, looks an absolute treat, managing to make Sheffield look wonderful, which is no mean feat (sorry, Sheffield-dwellers).
So, we have a new Doctor – yes, a woman – starring in a new series of Doctor Who (albeit now on Sunday nights) and the world is still turning.
Next thing you know we’ll be getting a black James Bond. Then the world really will end, you wait and see…
HBO’s The Deuce is, as the good folk over at Birth.Movies.Death nailed it: “the best show nobody watches” and maybe it’s time to rectify that. Check out the season two trailer:
David Simon and George Pelecanos, two of the creators behind The Wire, have been quietly producing one of the most engaging and fascinating shows on TV and y’all haven’t been making much noise about it.
The Deuce is set around 42nd Street and Times Square in the 1970s and follows the lives of a disparate group whose lives are intertwined with the lights of the marquees and the sweaty trades that ply behind them: sex workers, junkies, hustlers, cops and those that pull their purse strings, and wraps around them the story of the emergence of the porn industry into its brief life as ‘porno chic.’
It has an ensemble cast to die for, brilliantly headed up by James Franco (doing superb work in double roles, as brothers Frankie and Vinnie) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (as sex worker Eileen “Candy” Merrell, who engineers a life behind the camera in porn), and features the same kind of measured, unwinding storytelling and sharp eye for character that made The Wire so watchable. It also shares with that show a certain tarnished poetry of the streets, making the criss-crossing lives of those who inhabit them beautiful and vivid, without ever glamorising or papering over their often harsh realities. You can practically smell the disinfectant from the peep shows.
The second season will jump forward some four of five years, to the late 1970s, and if we’re really lucky HBO will renew The Deuce for its third and final season, where Simon and Pelecanos plan to show the beginning of the end of the Times Square fleshpots in the late 1980s, before Disney moved in and made it the family-friendly, conglomorate branded tourist spot it is today.
If you aren’t watching this show you’re missing out on one of the single best pieces of drama on TV. Time to buy a ticket to The Deuce now…
The Handmaid’s Tale returns to television for a second season, amid much hand-wringing about the very need for a continuation and fears of over-extending the natural life of – let’s not kid ourselves – one of the finest pieces of drama ever created for the medium.
Margaret Atwood’s book is no easy read, and the television show is likewise a tough watch – which speaks to the power of its message and the power of its drama, of course, but both have much to say and the show features an embarrassment of riches across the production board, from casting to direction. Elisabeth Moss, eminently watchable in anything, is mesmerizing here, often speaking more with a sustained close-up than reams of pages of dialogue could ever articulate.
And so these worries of diluting something so perfect are not without reason, of course. The first season is a dark gem of narrative, self-sustained and as satisfying as something so horrific can be. Did we really need to see what happened to Offred after she climbed into the back of that van? Do we even want to spend more time in Atwood’s dystopian world – which, like the very best speculative fiction skews uncomfortably close to the world we live in – and suffer more with these characters?
If the first two episodes of the second season are an indicator the answer is a resounding yes. Of course two episodes is not enough to give an overview of the journey viewers will be taken on but the first episode alone contains one of the single most powerful moments of the entire run to date.
I’ll stay firmly in non-spoiler territory, but the moment is such an incredibly produced, terrible and sublime mixture of pathos, horror and humour, that you can’t help but feel we’re in safe hands. Accompanied by the ghostly wails of Kate Bush and This Woman’s Work (see? You’re sold already, right?), it was genuinely difficult to know the proper reaction – outrage, sadness, laughter…? All of the preceeding, actually.
Any piece of dramatic fiction that produces such a complex and literally breathtaking mixture of feelings, and which also engages lively conversation, lingering still two days after viewing, proves the production is still worthy of trust and gets my full support.
So far at least, the return of The Handmaid’s Tale is very welcome and the hand-wringing can pause.
Star Trek: Discovery finally arrives, after troubling tales of behind the scenes problems and somewhat less-than-thrilling trailers, and I suppose the first question to ask is whether it’s the disaster many were expecting?
Happily the answer is no. The first two episodes, which dropped yesterday on CBS and the network’s CBS All Access subscription service in the U.S.A. and on Netflix almost everywhere else today, are generally exciting and well-told, with high production values and a decent cast. However, at least with the evidence at hand, it does veer away from creator Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful spirit of exploration, and this may be an issue for some.
Taking place some ten years or so before the original series’ tales of Captain Kirk and co (a point I’ll come back to later), Discovery features as its focus not the traditional Starfleet Captain (though there is one, played by Michelle Yeoh) but instead on the first officer of the USS Shenzhou, Michael Burnham, as portrayed by Sonequa Martin-Green.
Burnham’s parents were killed by Klingons, which resulted in her being raised by Spock’s father, Sarek, on the planet Vulcan. This becomes important in the opening episode when Burnham’s ship is the first to engage in a direct encounter with the Klingons in almost one hundred years. Needless to say, the encounter quickly goes pear-shaped and we’re treated to a pretty epic space battle, alongside some interesting twists and turns for the characters (particularly in the second episode).
Michelle Yeoh is good value, and thankfully brings more humour and emotion to her role than the stilted trailers led us to believe, Science Officer Saru, played under heavy prosthetics by the always welcome Doug Jones, is also immediately likeable. Without these two the show would definitely have been lacking the human touch, as the rest of the crew singularly fail to register anything beyond dark-haired man, red-haired woman and grizzled admiral who only appears as a hologram, etc.
Viewers should be advised there’s also a lot of Klingon grousing about purity of race and what a rum lot we humans are. With subtitles. Of course, looking at the state of the world right now, it’s difficult to disagree with their summation of mankind. Let’s hope the show gives us enough of an opposing viewpoint to feel better about ourselves as it goes on.
Jason Issacs, another actor I usually enjoy, didn’t make an appearance in the first two episodes, so we have that treat to look forward to.
My biggest problem with Discovery was with Martin-Green, who faces the tricky problem of engaging us with a human raised by the emotion-subsuming Vulcans. It’s a delicate balance pulled off marvellously over the years by the late, great Leonard Nimoy, but across the first two episodes I found that balance to be weighted in favour of some stiff-sounding line readings and an inability to connect with the character.
Martin-Green faces a difficult task, especially being the viewer’s eyes through these shenanigans, but the cliff-hanging climax to the second episode at least suggests she’ll be getting a promising arc as we move forward. Of course, some better dialogue might help too. *cough*
My second big issue comes with the show’s setting. As mentioned above, we’re rolling around a decade before Kirk and co, but everything here looks WAY more advanced than the original series. Again, this was always going to be a tough nut to crack: you either embrace the 1960s-produced vibe of the original series or you say “Screw it, no one will buy that in the age of shiny CGI” and go for a modern design ethic. The producers of Discovery have chosen the latter.
Is this a geek-only problem? Will more casual viewers give a hoot that it looks more like the new timeline-set, JJ Abrams movies (particularly in its annoying overuse of lens flare) than a prequel show? Casual viewers may not care but this decision is baffling when so much of Discovery’s Klingon Cold War setting relies on understanding its place in Star Trek’s chronology. If nothing else it smacks of indecision at best, and downright carelessness at worst. The large number of producers and executive producers listed in Discovery’s opening credit sequence may suggest an answer to this…
What is for sure is that most of Roddenberry’s idealism is gone, as Discovery has more in common with a Game of Thrones viewpoint that humans suck and war is hell than it does with discovering Tribbles and dallying with green-skinned dancing girls, while it rams home analogies about fundamentalism with all the subtlety of a Klingon punch to the face.
Finally then, Discovery shows some promise in its set-up, but it’s likely to tick-off many long-term Star Trek fans. Personally, we have endless hours of Star Trek in its various forms before this, so I’m happy enough to see the franchise try something different. However, it’s so mired in Star Trek history (while simultaneously contradicting it left, right and centre) that I’m not certain how much it will appeal to Trekkies or non-Trekkies. Which could be something of a problem.
Whether or not that different feel is enough to sustain my interest in the long run remains to be seen, or to bring in those obviously much-hoped for casual viewers, but I’m certainly intrigued enough to see what this… sorry to use the word, but… grittier take on the final frontier has to offer. I had fun for its duration, and there’s something to be said for that, plus it’s good to see Star Trek back on television, its spiritual home.
Beam me up, at least for now…
Sunday night’s double dose of episodes finally (?) brought David Lynch’s magnum opus to an end. Of sorts.
But anyone expecting a cosy, happy denouement wrapped up in a neat bow for the residents of Washington State’s most bizarre town (and beyond, with these eighteen episodes) has either never paid attention to the auteur’s work or is going to have to try to take comfort from events in previous installments because Lynch was determined to go out with a take-no-prisoners bang of the bleakest kind.
Episode 17 gave us a more conventional climax (or as conventional as anything can be with Lynch), seeing many of the characters driving the narrative coming together (in the Sheriff’s office of Twin Peaks, naturally) and the evil spirit of Bob finally (perhaps, we’ll come back to that) laid to rest. But Cooper says “Now there are some things that will change…” and seemingly the first thing to do so (after a conversation with David Bowie, now played by a steaming teapot, of course) is that Cooper attempts to go back in time and save Laura Palmer before her terrible final night. But is he successful? The infinity loop image made in the steam produced by David Bowie’s teapot (and isn’t that a hell of a sentence to type) suggests otherwise.
Lynch still has another fifty minutes to go and he doesn’t waste a second of them as he makes even more sweeping changes, launching Cooper and Diane into an alternate time/world where they have adopted different personas (Richard and Linda) and where Laura Palmer – in the persona of Carrie – is now living in Odessa, Texas, and still apparently in a world of trouble, with a dead body in her apartment. So perhaps Cooper’s plan to save Laura did work…
Cooper persuades Carrie to travel with him to Twin Peaks, and much of the episode is taken up by their largely silent journey, and its here that Lynch begins to ratchet up the tension. Along the way, Lynch drops in hints and portents that things are not as they should be (the white horse which appeared in Sarah Palmer’s visions, character names which harken back to clues spread out over the past twenty five years).
Arriving at the old Palmer house, both Cooper and Laura slowly come to the realisation that evil is eternal in a deliciously directed and acted scene, leaving us with an ending both shocking and horrifying, and one for which we may never receive answers. Will the evil which has haunted Twin Peaks play out again and again? Will the fight for Laura’s soul ever end? Does this speak to wider questions of evil’s ever-present existence in the world (theirs or ours)? Will Cooper and Laura ever free themselves from wherever they are now, or have those characters ceased to exist? Would this set off a whole new set of mysteries were the show ever to return (though I guess that last question answers itself, but still…)?
“The past dictates the future,” Cooper intones, during the penultimate episode, further suggesting an endless cycle of events, in which our characters appear to be trapped.
How often are we given drama that truly challenges us, that manages to leave us with a resolution which makes perfect sense yet leaves us with more questions than we started with? How often are we given eighteen hours of drama only to be left screaming for more?
Lynch has given us the show he wanted to make back in 1990, except now he deals with a network (Showtime, and plaudits to them) which understands that in order for this to happen the artist must be allowed to unfurl the story at his own pace, in his own way: each week has given viewers a unique and thoroughly new experience, from romance to comedy to outright existentialism and finally, returning to horror, where it all began.
Art exists to challenge and provoke, to make us view the world from other perspectives, and Lynch and his team have done this for eighteen hours. The return to Twin Peaks has been more than any of us could have oped for, in this viewer’s eyes it is a triumph which will enthrall, amuse, terrify, frustrate, mystify and even make you cry. It is one of the most astonishing pieces of TV ever.
And we shouldn’t expect answers from Lynch anytime soon. However, in the 2004 book Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film, by Joseph Maddrey, Lynch says:
“Being in darkness and confusion is interesting to me. But behind it you can rise out of that and see things the way the really are. That there is some sort of truth to the whole thing, if you could just get to that point where you could see it, and live it, and feel it … I think it is a long, long, way off. In the meantime there’s suffering and darkness and confusion and absurdities, and it’s people kind of going in circles. It’s fantastic. It’s like a strange carnival: it’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of pain.”
That would seem to be a statement which not only fits with his entire body of work, but also feels quite specific to this last season of Twin Peaks.
Cooper/Richard’s chilling final line and Laura/Carrie’s final, blood-curdling scream will resonate with you for days after, as in its final seconds Twin Peaks returns to the horror which has run through its icy veins from the show’s first moments of discovering a teenage body wrapped in plastic on a lonely beach.
“She’s dead… wrapped in plastic,” said Pete Martell on discovering Laura’s body back in 1990, and perhaps she always will be.