Frivolous Comforts in the Crises

This is a reworked draft from July, which is a rather long time to finish a blog post. Things have been fortunately, though frustratingly, busy. Juggling work and trying to keep Arthur focused on digital kindergarten classes has destroyed any defined sense of “work day.” That I still have a work day to worry about I am quite thankful for, all things considered. The curious series of events that has made up the last few decades for me seems determined to keep its course. I’ve even managed to lose some weight, bucking the trend among what I assume to be similarly overly-fortunate people who would bother to take part in the sort of survey required to get this data during all this madness. I can only hope, whoever might be reading this, that things have treated you equally as well.

In writing about 2020 it is difficult to resist the urge to make some reference to hindsight or to quote the generically-fitting 90’s alt-rock wisdom that there’s “reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last” which has perhaps never been truer in my lifetime. Of course, just typing this I have already failed to cave in to that base desire to fill my ramblings with aging cultural references. Buy hey, when pizza’s on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime.

I’m not going to waste time summarizing the year 2020. There’s essentially a room with infinite journalists and infinite keyboards trying to do that as I type this, and two or three of them are bound to do a pretty good job of it, so I’ll leave it to that engine of eager editors to do its work. I’ll note, however, that the sense of each year getting longer and longer has been going on for awhile now, and this is just the latest and longest. The common wisdom has always been that time was to become faster as I aged. I was meant to hit middle-age with a dreadful sense of wondering where all the time went, but such was the wisdom from before the dark times. Before the Facebook. A relentless news cycle and a need to feel pretty much constantly outraged at something (there are so many valid things to be outraged about) packs one’s mind to the brim. It’s exactly that fatigue that’s made it curiously more difficult to finish write-ups like this.

What I will waste time summarizing are the trivial pursuits of distraction in the midst of it all: An pandemic-triggered, early-onset middle-age crisis fueled campaign to finish off (or start in the first place) some collections of things vaguely remembered from my teenage years. If you’re not into that sort of thing, but are still reading to this point, this is a good off-ramp.

Cheers to a new year with a very low bar to meet some hopeful expectations! (And あけましておめでとう for those still on that end of the Pacific.)

On-Ramp to Inconsequence

Still with me? I’ve not fully documented all of the things how I’d like to present them, so here’s a little preview of the nonsense that’s kept me busy in the moments I’ve been able to tear myself away from whatever other chaos gripped my attention.

Who could have guessed my middle age crisis would mostly consist of defunct 1990’s card games? Cloistered in my closet, where I’ve put together my perma-work-from-home setup, I began to eye my little dead card game display. Over the months there grew a bizarre desire. I had always wanted to finally finish collecting Ani-Mayhem, being the finite card set it is, and having once before been within 10 cards of the full set. In my digging around the Internet for modern sources of the cards, other old cardboard memories were brought back to mind: Middle Earth and Star Trek. After some Googling I discovered that one of them was already retooled into a single-player experience, and the other could certainly be molded into one, and so the “I wish I was a game designer” gears in my head began to turn.

Trivial Pursuits

I set off to do three needless, nostalgic things in the last year. I wound up doing four.

1) Finish my Ani-Mayhem collection. A lofty goal that I didn’t actually think would happen. In the process, I wanted to create a game format that used as many of the cards from the game as possible, which meant a huge world map and a number of new features to make it work. The end result is a huge board game that requires a ton of space, but I’m happy with the result.

2) Put together an Arda deck for Middle Earth. Arda is a format that supports one or more players, with some tweaking for single player, and essentially turns it into a board game, something I was already trying to do with Ani-Mayhem (and found, in the process, that the rules I had come up with were in some ways quite similar to Arda).

3) Gather up enough of the Star Trek CCG (1st edition. 2nd edition just looks… off to me.) and mold it into a one or two player game. The original rules for this game are a bizarre sort of slog, but with a little tweaking it can work out pretty well.

4) Finish Apocalypse (not a purposeful 2020 reference). Often I am called back by an inexplicable desire to play one of the worst MMOs ever created: Final Fantasy XI, a bit of nostalgia that, unlike the top three, is neither cardboard nor a relic of the 90’s. This is a relic of the 00’s. Since its awful inception a lot has gone wrong and right with it, and while the miserable guts of it are still there, it’s a much more accessible garbage fire than it used to be. Apocalypse, the original, neigh-unobtainable weapon that turned Dark Knights into a hasty, self-sufficient machine, was one of those glimmers in the eye of any level 75 DRK, so in spite of it being much easier than before it was still quite satisfying getting hold of it. To what end? No idea!

I may actually try and force myself to document these more thoroughly, if the energy sapping properties of just existing in 2020 are arbitrarily alleviated by ticking over to 2021.

Picard Episode 2: Traps and Dead Ends

Episode 2 is called “Maps and Legends.” Taking notes as I watch this one.

Oh no, this episode is rated TV-MA instead of TV-13. Guess we’re back to shoving useless profanity into the script like Discovery.

Humans wouldn’t have allowed themselves to work with androids that behave like this in 2019, let alone the 24th century.

Oh look, useless profanity. How did I guess? Even apart from that, I don’t care if it’s the future, I can’t believe people would speak this way.

We’ve already been told you can clone an android and I assume all of its memories from a single positron, so what’s the point of an android shooting itself in the head while it’s standing on a planet about to be set on fire FOREVER? Did it logically conclude that setting the whole planet on fire might not quite get it done?

Not a great plan to visually remind us that Picard really should have died in that explosion.

Exposition dump. Let’s make up a bunch of stuff about Romulans. Also hand-wave a bunch of rando computer magic because it’s hard to make a mystery work with future technology. Also cut the scenes together out of sequence so it seems equal parts legit explanation and more mysterious. Romulans hate robots I guess. Sure.

Why do the characters and the music in this show think it’s so amazing and shocking that someone might not be on Earth? Did they know the show is called Star Trek? That implies there might be some trekking to or from some number of stars.

A probably magic-android talking about how imperfections are beautiful, loudly whispered into our ears. I hate this.

Creepy McEvilguy is EVIL! Did you notice how he’s evil?

Picard’s talk with his doctor had a lot of oddly delivered lines from both actors. Like they’re having a hard time remembering their lines or they’re saying the words for the first time ever.

We’re 2/2 on episodes reminding us about how much we liked the Galaxy class star ship, and also reminding us that we’re not doing that anymore.

“Welcome to Costc- I mean, Starfleet. I love you.”

Admiral Clancy drops the f-bomb like she was trying to remember not to forget to. It’s like the word itself knows it really wasn’t supposed to be there.

14 species wanted Starfleet to screw over the Romulans, so they did, but “thousands” of species rely on the Federation? What? Was the whole Alpha Quadrant being evacuated at the same time or something? Do the writers even know there’s an Alpha Quadrant?

Yelling expository dialog at each other is drama!

“I never really cared for science fiction. I guess I just didn’t get it.”
The writers sneaking their own internal thoughts into the script. Picard saying this is doomed to get edited into videos hating on this episode.

I think they’re trying to tell us that Bruce Maddox was in love with Data.

Picard’s whole role in this show seems to be to drink tea and have people talk at him. That seems like a pretty sweet gig.

“Going on and on.” Lady, Picard was talking to you for maybe 30 seconds until you got all “I AM THE LAW” on him.

I feel like we should have spent more time on the vineyard with Picard and his Romulan friends. Did he meet them specifically when the whole supernova thing went down? Their history seems like it should have mattered.

Don’t name all these characters I’d rather see show up than whatever is about to happen.

There’s a stunning lack of surveillance in this new version of future Earth. I don’t even trust my cell phone to not record me when I don’t ask it to. Are we supposed to believe that, when everyone’s walking around with communicators and sensors are 24/7 recording everything (as evidenced by the ability to recreate events seen multiple times in TNG episodes that these writers have never seen) that all these secret whispers are so easily hidden?

We learn nothing in the scene with Raffi, but she’s the first new character who seemed like a likeable character for the eventual ensemble cast. If we get Space Pirate Picard out of all this it might even be worth it.

Hey, except for the android in the cold open, no one shot or stabbed anyone else this episode!

Episode is titled “Maps and Legends.” I assume they titled it before they finished writing it, because they forgot to put any maps in it, and I fully believe they would forget something about their own episode title.

Boldly Groaning

Some months ago I had the pleasure of getting to sit in on a brief interview with Patrick Stewart and Alex Kurtzman, with Jeff Bezos asking the questions. I’m not sure if he was involved in some of the funding for Star Trek Picard, but he’s clearly a fan of sci-fi (as evidenced with him taking on The Expanse from season 4). After the event and everyone filed out, as I was making my way down the street some minutes later, I walked right past Kurtzman going in the other direction, and part of my mind wanted to stop and ask him what the hell the deal was with the direction Star Trek has gone, but a general desire to not be a creeper naturally prevented me from acting on that impulse.

Kurtzman is part of a troop of writers that have been all over TV and movies since the early 2000s. I can’t speak much to the television writing, but the movies generally lean towards being pretty dumb. I don’t know for sure how much of this is Kurtzman, as he’s nearly always a co-writer, but with his name on such enlightening and impactful stories as Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek 2009, Star Trek Into Darkness, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he’s a common thread through a lot of really dumb movies. Dumb movies can be fine, and it’s fine to make them and for them to exist, but I take some offense to it when we get into something like Star Trek.

Star Trek is campy, but not all the time. It’s also scientifically accurate, but not all the time. Part of good science fiction writing is having some idea how things are supposed to work, and then maybe pushing that knowledge past what the scientific community knows. You’re allowed to make up your own answers to yet unanswered questions, especially if it’s in service to your story. What we see in Star Trek since 2009 has been something far different. Ignoring known science for the sake of pacing and excitement that makes things fun in the moment, but horribly stupid in retrospect.

Star Trek Picard carried with it, at least until the first episode was released, a bit of hope that things could return to form. My guess, though, was that Star Trek Picard compared to Star Trek Discovery would have the same terrible scripts, but will better handle the nostalgia aspect. Patrick Stewart adds a level of class that will make the show seem better than it really is, and the less critically-minded will watch it feeling like old Trek is finally back, even though it’s nowhere close. That’d be a nice thing to be able to feel, though.

Let’s Get Into It

TL;DR: Based on the first episode, Star Trek Picard is not the return to form I was hoping. The action isn’t yet completely excessive, though a scene midway-through the episode goes on needlessly forever, eventually flying off the rails and killing itself off. In the same way it would be difficult to reckon TNG TV Picard and TNG Movie Picard, the production seems torn between wanting to tone things down a bit to make it seem more like old Trek and wanting to make a mindless action show with ninjas and galaxy-destroying super weapons.

By this point I’m sure the Collective has already complained extensively about all these things, but here’s my general irks and grumbles:

Next time on…: It wasn’t until the little trailer for the rest of the season played that it really hit me how dumb everything was. Creepy McEvilguy! Romulans are building a Borg cube? Punching and shooting and sword-fighting elves, oh my! This made it seem clear that the rest of the show is going to be a long-form version of a TNG movie, but with the additional burden of needing to introduce the next-next generation. This is definitely “could be worse” as while none of the TNG movies were particularly good, they probably would have seemed better if they were in an episodic form, even if the stories were just as dumb.

An odd lack of de-aging: I’m not sure why they went this way, but it seems particularly odd to me that Picard remembers Data as though he had kept on aging along with him. He should really remember him as he was in Nemesis. And of all characters, Data being an android is probably one of the easiest sorts of characters you can get away with it without worrying so much about the uncanny valley.

Assuming Dahj has borrowed memories from Data or something, why does she visualize the current-aged Picard? Maybe her third eye got the latest photo off of space-Google or something.

Skipping the Good Stuff: What struck me the most is that they hand-waved over things that I think would have been more interesting stories. This show seems to be keeping the continuity of the TNG movies, and nods to the supernova that causes the 2009 movie to happen, but I think I’d have preferred things to start there. Shoving it 10 years in the past and then just trying to make the audience accept that a bunch of junk went down makes the setup for who Picard is now and what the Federation has become seem rushed and flimsy, especially regarding the bizarre logical leap to it all leading to a ban on androids. Picard seems to be equally revered and detested because all of the social progress that Star Trek had been a beacon of has been utterly trashed.

The explosion that destroys Romulus is supposed to have threatened the entire galaxy. That’s the sort of cosmic event that I want to see get dealt with in science fiction, but unfortunately it’s already been hastily covered in Star Trek 2009, and one of the main figures in that was Leonard Nimoy, who has since passed on. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t do a story about Picard’s part in it. Mention that Spock is out Spocking it up, but show us what’s happening on the administrative side.

Show us his role, the logistical nightmare of getting the fleet together to try an evacuate an entire planet’s worth of a mature world that should have billions of people on it. Give us some rousing speeches of an older Admiral Picard making his case to the rest of Starfleet that they must do whatever they can to help the Romulans. Take some time and explain why they can’t help themselves, as advanced as they are, or where they come up short. Maybe there’s a sect of Romulans trying to screw things up on purpose.

Oh, wait, they covered all of this in the 2009 Countdown comic books. Oh no, they did it again for Into Darkness. Oh no! They’re doing it again with Picard (what the hell is with that cover art?), retelling the latest version of the 2009 Countdown. What the damn it? Stop taking the interesting parts and shoving them in comic book in service of awful action schlock moving pictures.

There’s a whole first season of this show it feels like we’ve skipped. Show us the Federation using the disaster as an opportunity to bring Romulans into the Federation, or other galactic empires trying to muck with the gears of this to their own ends. Talk about the cosmic event itself and flesh it out some to justify what’s happening. Then at the end of that first season have something go terribly wrong that causes Picard to fall out with the Federation if you want. Give yourself time to justify why the hell suddenly everything is the androids’ fault and then you can take it from there and write your story about how an android is Jesus and is the only thing that can stop the Borg from taking over the galaxy again. Again.

As it is, if feels like the viewer is asked to just accept a bunch of junk because reasons, and that feels pretty bad.

Boldly Groaning Where No One Has Groaned Before

“Ugh, really” is not the feeling I wanted to have, but I expected at least some of it. The chief culprits:

FOX News in space!: “FNN” (presumably “Federation New Network”) and some xenophobic interviewer trying to make connections with current events. I don’t remember anyone even watching TV in Star Trek, and I assumed everyone just read things very quickly in some non-video format. New Star Trek viewers apparently aren’t ready for such a hopeful vision of the future, though, so I guess the 24th century is back to getting their news from talking heads and AM radio.

The Federation: Apparently the Federation, made up of dozens of different species, decides that androids blowing their ship manufacturing plant (and somehow setting a planet of fire permanently) means that they should specifically hate Romulans for their sun (???) exploding.

The Romulan Sun Exploding: What? Is this supposed to be the thing that leads to Star Trek 2009 happening? It’s the same writers. Did they forget that it wasn’t the same star? Probably. I mean, it was pretty dumb before, but there wasn’t really a particular reason to change it for this show that I can see. I’m sure they just forgot.

Assassin Girl is Probably the Key to Everything: Is Dahj or her arbitrary twin the key to the universe? Probably. The direction of everything reeks of this, and if that’s not what happens I guess I should be glad that my expectations will be subverted, but I’d prefer to not have that expectation in the first place. Also taking a female character and giving her a coat of “awesome ninja assassin” paint is done to death.

I laughed out loud in disbelief when she jumped up two flights of stairs during the excessively long rooftop fight scene (thankfully one of only two of these spectacles in the episode).

Yeah Okay

Picard Cares Excessively About Data: This seems fine. Picard is older, and clearly nostalgic for old times, just like the audience. The curious bit is the omission of the rest of the crew, but this is in service of some nonsense plot where I’m sure something involving Data will be the most important thing in the galaxy, so while the reality would probably be that Picard misses everyone, the story needs him to specifically care about Data, so that’s all we get.

Assassins Using Really Dumb Methods: It’s hard to imagine there not being surveillance on suddenly teleporting into someone’s apartment in the first place with your little gang of assassins, but I’m guessing even if you can bypass that junk, firing phasers on any setting, even in a residential area, is going to set of some alarms you’d rather not deal with if you’re the kidnapper/assassin sort of person in the 24th century, so I’ll give the “let’s just put a bag on her head and knock her out” and “throw a knife at that guy” stuff a pass.

Get Off My Lawn

Star Trek for me is at its best when it’s a diverse group of people joining together to deal with some sort of cosmic anomaly. Life vs. the universe that gave it to us. Perseverance, ingenuity, and collaboration in the face of the horrible power of nature to show us what we can be when we’re at our very best.

Star Trek Picard looks like it’s going to make a very quick turn down the lesser path: Action! With lasers!

I’ll probably still watch the rest of it, remaining morbidly curious and always very slightly hopeful.

Needless Rambling about Kingdom Hearts

Chase and I sat down a few weekends ago and recorded ourselves complaining about Kingdom Hearts 3. This went on far longer than expected, and even edited down ended up being about 3 hours of discussion split in to two parts.

So why not listen to all that excitement?

Part 1 can be found here. It’s been a fascinating journey, given that neither of us had tried podcasting in years, and probably hadn’t touched sound editing software in over a decade.

Part 1 is mostly us trying to get through talking about the journey to the end of the game, which was full of… well, things happened. If you didn’t watch the movies, don’t worry, Sora doesn’t know what’s going on either, and in the end you learn that it’s totally fine.