Friday, October 24, 2008

The Spike, the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart

Random late-night thought: Spike being bound to Wolfram & Hart, and furthermore to LA as it goes to Hell. Angel's team all agreed, for various reasons sufficient to each of them, to join the new staff of Wolfram & Hart. However, as has been revealed in the comics, WR&H were playing a very long game, and they now have the whole team right where they want them. But they wanted Spike, too, and he never would have agreed to join them of his own free will. They knew, though, that he would insist on wearing an amulet designated to be worn by 'a champion, souled but stronger than human', especially to save Buffy. Passing it from Lilah to Angel to Buffy to Spike ensured both that Spike would insist, and that there would be no way for him to understand where/who it came from. Any one of a dozen spells would ensure that the amulet returned to the LA office, and once conjured there, Spike would be bound to the offices, and whether or not he recorporialized, he would then have ties that would keep him in town for a year, which is all they needed. They played him just as much as the rest of the team, just at one more remove.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nature or Nurture (or, the inevitablity of destiny)

The new season of Heroes has started, and the threads tangle more thoroughly with every scene. First of all we have the clustering of powers: the energy manipulators, with the fire-specific subset and Traci's ice power as well as Elle's electricity; the fourth-dimension folk, who can move at inhuman speed or change the flow of time (I include precogs in this category); the body manipulators, like Claire's self-healing, Linderman's other-healing, and Monica's muscle memory; and the mental ones, like Parkman's telepathy/Influence. And now that we have learned about the Company's formula, how much of this is designed?
Next, of course, is the twists and turns of Gabriel's life. Is he still Sylar? Will he be Sylar four years from now? He will have a child, for whom he will care very deeply, but who is the boy's mother? And why has Gabriel named the boy Noah? Never mind all the convolutions that claim Gabriel is another Petrelli, which seems like something of a cop-out on the part of the writers, frankly.
In an interesting twist, we now have four individuals who are effectively immortal. What that will mean for the continuing story is an interesting point to debate, but there are more immediate concerns. For instance, we have seen both Claire's and Peter's blood restore someone from the dead- if they/someone makes this public knowledge, there will be rioting and mass hysteria. On the other hand, at the moment the Company is keeping this very hush-hush, which suggests that they have nefarious uses for heal-all blood. Well, of course they have nefarious plans- they do have Level 5, with all that implies.
I am a little irked that the writers are continuing the trend of more male characters than female, and the males having more volition than the females. Maya, for instance, took the huge step of seeking out Mohinder so he could help her, but to get there she needed her brother, then she turned to Sylar for help, and now that she has found Mohinder, she has completely submitted to him. She may yet kick him to the curb, but only if she notices that he is being abusive, which, with her history, seems highly unlikely. Claire keeps going back and forth on how active she is (though she's getting more and more dangerous), while her grandmother is just a terrible, manipulative bitch.
Ah, and then there's this formula business... It's possible that, like Mohinder, the Company started with someone with abilities (maybe Adam Monroe? or is there time trickery there?). Equally likely, they decided that they wanted abilities, figured out the formula, and tested it on themselves. We know they found the formula too dangerous for general use, officially for the reasons Hiro saw, but likely for more personal (ie, retaining secular power) reasons, too. Now I just wonder how close Mohinder's formula is to the one the Company created, and how far each of them will spread in the coming months.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More of a placeholder than anything

I'm not entirely sure why I'm bothering, doesn't seem like anyone is reading this, but why not?
I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while, but my motherboard fried, and it's taking me a while to get a new one. I'm using my roommate's computer right now, but I don't write on it. Trust me, this is impeding more than just blogging- I have a TV show I should be working on. However, I have started a campaign to watch every possible Dr Who episode, so I may be discussing some of that at some point soon. Love to hear from anyone who reads this!

Monday, April 7, 2008

They're Three Laws Safe... really

I was reminded today of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (I knew them in general, it’s been years since I actually read them) and I got to thinking about the recent Will Smith movie I, Robot, which is based loosely off an Asimov story by the same name, with elements of other stories. It occurred to me that there is a fatal flaw in the main character’s dislike of robots, the origins of which are explored in flashback.

First, the Laws:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

There’s also the Zeroth Law, which comes into play in the movie, but has nothing to do with this discussion.

Next, the flashback scene: Will Smith was in a multi-car accident. His car and another were forced off a bridge into deep water. In the other vehicle were a dead-on-impact father and a trapped, aware twelve year old daughter. A robot goes into the water after the cars, and elects to save Will instead of the girl, despite Will’s orders to save her. In the return to Will’s ‘present’, he finishes by saying the robot calculated his odds of survival as better than hers, and that’s why it saved him and not her.

Now, my issue: this robot was violating the Second Law, and by extension the First. In this case, with two humans in essentially equal danger, with A possibly able to save himself and B definitely not, the robot should be going for B. Add in A’s orders to go for B, and the evidence afterwards that A was in fact harmed in the rescue attempt*, and the whole situation doesn’t make any sense at all.

The Zeroth Law and Will’s dislike of and distrust for robots collide, leading to a deep philosophical question about the nature of free will and the choices we as humans make, which is the subject of its own post, but in a movie otherwise decently well adapted and thought out, this moment stands out glaringly.

*This injury the visible reminder of the incident and his new distaste for robots.

Monday, March 31, 2008

What is the measure of Man?

Torchwood is meant to be darker and edgier than the show it spins off of, Doctor Who, and it certainly is that. But it also says things about the human condition that the good Doctor cannot illustrate. One of these is the notion of family, a team. The Doctor might have a Companion or two, but he always knows that he will lose them, either to misadventure or to an excess of adventure that burns them out and makes them long for home. The current Torchwood group, on the other hand, consciously battle incredible odds to stay together, and there have been many circumstances which nearly tore them apart, but in the end, those experiences only draw them closer. This is an idea that recurs again and again in science fiction, the notion that one of the things that makes us human is the impulse, the drive to band together and create teams and communities. We are social creatures, and most of us work better with others around to back us up, to share and expand on our ideas, to be emotional support. The Doctor seems to feel some of this instinct towards group building, but his circumstances are unique, and he often focuses more on that than the people sharing it with him, which can highlight his inhumanity more than any overt action. After all, deciding whether or not to save a thousand humans from Certain Death doesn’t mean as much when you don’t have a grasp on who they would be leaving behind, the bonds that would be broken without those people.

Another poignant aspect of being human is the knowledge of mortality. This was accentuated in the recent Torchwood arc featuring Martha Jones. Owen, the team doctor, is shot, but Torchwood has the Resurrection Glove, which can bring a person back for a minute or two. However, this is the Mark II, and Owen’s resurrection becomes more long-term. It may only be a few weeks or months (or it could be several decades) before it fails again, but in the meantime, he cannot process food or drink, bruises and bone breaks do not mend, and he has no heartbeat. He and Jack have had several mournful conversations about the dichotomy of their situations, one painfully aware that he might fall and die at any moment, the other just as painfully aware that he will never die, no matter what. One missing the food and the love he can no longer fully appreciate, the other missing the spice of subconscious knowledge that all this could be snatched away. They do not come to an conclusions, for what resolution is there for either of them? But they both become just a little more human to us in that moment.

As a minor side note: is Spike a Whovian? We know he likes Monty Python; he makes reference to ‘The Holy Hand-grenade of Antioch’ and ‘that insidious torture device, the comfy chair’, but in As You Were (6.15), he gives himself the code name ‘The Doctor’. Is this a geekly reference?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Buffy Quibble

OK, it's minor, but this one keeps bugging me: At the beginning of Season 1, Buffy was 15 when she started Sophomore year. At the beginning of Season 7, it is implied that Dawn is starting Freshman year, but she is 16. What gives? Sloppy writing? Was she actually taking high school classes before, but in a random building? In fact, for those three years, where were all the teenagers going to school? They could have spent two lines explaining all this, but instead these questions are left to haunt me. *sigh*

Friday, February 29, 2008

Family Of Choice

One of the things that comes up, again and again, in sci-fi/fantasy, is the notion of connectedness, the family you make. It is a thread that runs from Star Wars to Babylon 5, from Doctor Who to Buffy. In every case, teens or adults, generally without close blood family, come together under difficult circumstances, find their strength and their power together, and forge a Family of Choice. (This applies, often more strongly, to written sci-fi, but this blog focuses on filmed art, not prose.)

It is very true that when a group shares a set of experiences, especially if they cannot discuss those experiences with the wider world, they become close. But it can go so far beyond that when the group is a team, when they have a specialized set of skills that integrate well. Consider Buffy and the Scoobies. She is the fighter, stronger and faster than a normal human. Willow has the magical chops. Giles has a wealth of knowledge in their specialized field, and access to even more, plus the training to apply that knowledge and/or teach the others. Xander keeps them all grounded in the real world, reminds them that what they are truly fighting for is humanity, and the safety of ordinary people. Though they have had plenty of arguments, even blow-outs, in the end they are so close they can literally read each others’ minds.

Likewise, Han and Chewbacca are essentially blood brothers, and although Luke and Leia are siblings, they don’t know that when they forge their bond. Through the trials and tests, these four become as close as if they had grown up together, a bond that lasts the rest of their lives. Between them, they have the skills and contacts to move within any circle, interact with any strata of society, from smugglers, thieves and beggars to the heads of planets and empires, and the ability to persuade any of them, whether by money, force, or Force. This makes them an incomparable team for whatever needs doing, especially in the political arenas, both overt and covert.

While often in circumstances like these there are fleeting or unrequited romantic feelings (consider Xander for Buffy, or Willow for Xander, which resulted in a brief fling that stressed two established romantic relationships), in the end the feelings between members of the group are generally those of a more familial love. “You’re like a brother/sister to me” is one of the most common sentiments. The love is generally understated, or described in terms of trust and history; these are people who know the depth of feeling they have for one another, and feel no need to state it time and again.

Often, in life, the families we forge in adulthood serve us and support us better than our blood families ever could, and this is merely writ large in science fiction. It is the unique mix of talents, personalities, and circumstances, that makes a sci-fi team so much more magnificent than a single hero, and something so many geeks aspire to. After all, if you could find, not a single person that compliments you, but a whole group that elevates each other, and that loves you as much as you love them, what more could you ask for?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Whistler In The Dark

So I’ve watched an interesting spectrum of Angel episodes in the past few days, and I’ve come to an intriguing but depressing conclusion- Angel’s life is all about futility. Nothing he does is ever going to be good enough for him, or the Powers That Be. The Shanshu Prophecy is actually the best example of this. I rewatched To Shanshu In LA (1.22), and it talks about how the vampire with a soul will live and die, like a human. Now, add Spike into the equation. First of all, it could be interpreted to say that one will live and one will die, or it could speak to the fact that Spike sacrificed himself to close the Hellmouth and was recorporialized. Either way, things do not look good for The Broody One. Granted, he had no idea that he could become human when he started as hero for hire, but he has always been seeking redemption, and the two concepts become linked from that point onwards.

I also watched In The Dark (1.3), wherein Spike shows up looking for the Gem of Amara. Angel decides in the end not just to not use the ring, which would allow him to walk in daylight and stop fearing stakes, but to destroy it entirely. He is in essence saying that he will forever walk in darkness, that no matter what he does, he’s stuck helping girls with abusive boyfriends, kids trying to fight vampires, and the victims of evil law firms.

And yet he chooses to go on. He talks about it at the beginning of Season 4, when he confronts Connor about his little ocean voyage, about how you behave as if the world is the way you want it to be, and act to bring that about. He will keep fighting the good fight, whether or not it brings him any reward, for the sake of those who cannot fight for themselves. He has taken on a Duty, and he will see it through, no matter what, til the bitter end, because that’s the way the world should be. It should be full of hope, and people helping each other when the going is rough, and all Angel can do is lead by example, and keep trying.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Choices and the Chosen

Warning: this post is entirely spoilers for Buffy Season 7.

One of the wonderful things about Buffy is her awareness of power dynamics. This is most explicit in Checkpoint (5.17), when she discovers that both the Watcher’s Council and Glory, the Hell-Goddess, are behaving as if she is powerless in an attempt to undermine her power. She reclaims her power, and in the process completely redefines the playing field. However, it is most resonant in Choices (7.22). The name of the episode itself conveys so much: for seven years, we (and Buffy) have been told that she is “the Chosen One”, the one girl in all the world to fight the demons and the forces of darkness. Only a few episodes earlier we had discovered that the power was forced into the First Slayer by the first Watchers, in an act some have likened to metaphysical rape, and that the only help those Watchers could provide was to give Buffy another dose of that essentially-demonic power. Instead, Buffy redefines not only the field, but the entire game. She gives the girls themselves, all the Potential Slayers she has gathered, the choice to take up the power and “be strong”. She takes them from passive creatures to active agents, from “We the Watchers have chosen you to be the Slayer” to “I chose to be a Slayer.”

This is beautifully foreshadowed an episode earlier in the season, Same Time, Same Place (7.3). Willow had spent the summer learning to harness and control her magic use, something which before had been closer to an addiction (the handling of that arc is something I will leave for another posting), and finds herself afraid of her friends’ reaction to seeing her for the first time since she tried to kill them. She magically puts herself out of phase with them, leading eventually to her being attacked by the Monster of the Week and having large chunks of skin eaten. In the ‘tag’ at the end of the episode, she is meditating to heal herself, and then she and Buffy talk. Willow tries to go back to meditation with the line “it hurts too much not to, but it takes so much strength…”. Buffy offers to share her own strength with Willow, saying she’s got so much she’s giving it away. Sure enough, by the end of the season, she has given away her strength, her power, and found herself with more than she started with.

Buffy has long made the conscious choice to be The Slayer. She first actively chooses it at the end of the first season, when she knows of her prophesied death and goes to do her duty anyway. At least once a season after that, she has to reaffirm her decision to put her life on the line for the greater good. In the end, she offers the ultimate Choice to the Potentials, and by proxy all women, and thereby empowers herself and all of them/us. No longer is there a Chosen One, and Buffy is free to make her own choices in life.