Ascension: Wasted Potential

What would happen if during the Space Race, at the height of the Cold War, the US decided to send a massive space exploration that would take a hundred years to reach the next star system to colonize and continue not only humanity but the American way? But what would happen if 51 years in there was a murder on the ship?

From that question somebody took a great concept and decided to bludgeon it to death with bad writing, poor pacing, and atrocious acting. Welcome to Ascension, the space flight mission designed to last 100 years until they reach their destination meaning that a multi-generational crew would be necessitated with a complex social structure to maintain the longevity required.

SPOILERS though, the ship known as Ascension never made it out of the stratosphere, instead cemented miles under the ground in a government facility. The flight was not an exploration, but an experiment to see the said effects on long-term multi-generational space flight. Every action of the crew monitored and studied by scientist on just the other side of the hull.

You would think for a mini series that is six episodes, averaging around 40 minutes each, that this could be a slow burn that might be made into mid-series twist. That is where you would be wrong.

We are with the crew for maybe a few minutes before we are sent to the perspective of Earth where we follow a guy whose dad it turns out developed the Ascension program. An academic who is interested in his dad’s work visits the dad who is now close to his death, delusional and pumped with medication.

Will we ever see the academic again? Nope.

Will we ever see the dad again and use him for the typical trope of a man on the verge of death hinting at secrets through his ramblings? Nope.

From this interaction though it turns out this guy actually took over his father’s program and it was actually successfully launched and covered up. The catch is that it was never “launched” in the sense of leaving space but rather a sociological experiment on the impact of deep space multi-generational flight like I mentioned earlier.

This should be the twist right? A lot of other media has played this twist of setting up a world with strict rules only to realize this world is bigger than expected. One the most prominent and closest to this probably being M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.

But Ascension cannot contain itself and ruins the surprise almost immediately. Even if the show did a slow burn poorly, it would have been miles better than just giving up the goods immediately.

This presents the major problem I have with the series, there are now two story lines that do not matter because both are taking up too much time and not doing anything. The show acts like it is withholding information while spoon feeding the same information to you as well.

Obviously director no tie guy is bad and despite him touting the fact that he does not know how the escalating malfunctions are happening on the ship, it is clear he is doing it. Yet, we need this investigative character that comes in to assess the way Ascension is being run to report back up the chain of command in the government. At the same time though she is also tasked with solving the murder from the outside(?). How does that make sense.

Her arch ends with her biting a few bullets because she was trying to help one of the people on board the ship escape, but a conspiracy theorist lady she met to help was actually a government agent. Why not use the academic character from episode 1? Would that not be a better twist?

I do not remember a single character name throughout this whole series and I just watched it all less than 24 hours ago. That is how unmemorable the entire group of characters are, none of them having any deep emotions.

This show has a great concept, in fact I was super interested the first few minutes. Inside the ship the scenes take on a glossy shiny look, like a clean bright future straight out of Star Trek. But obviously there are weird signs everywhere; fashion is out of date, social interactions seem old fashioned at best, and the politics is very authoritarian. Most of this is looking into more deeply than anybody making the show did.

Although this was a Syfy show, there could have been decent concepts explored here. You put a bunch of people in a tin can for 50 years with pre-1964 ideas about everything. How would that develop, how would some things stay the same?

The closest we ever really get to that is the idea of a lower class vs upper class that is almost untouched. We meet some lower deck crew but never really see them or the world they inhabit. Class warfare or the possibility of Communist is not even touched. Imagine the idea that a mini Cold War developed inside of the ship itself, that some Soviet spies had infiltrated the project and were planning to overthrow it.

Instead we wrestle with a boogie man that is not there. A group that scrawls “No Future” on the wall for some vague existential event that every crew member goes through. We could’ve explored the classic moral and philosophical dilemmas of the haves vs the have nots in the style of Snowpiercer, but we just get a two dudes being dudes saying we gotta tighten up security every time a bad thing happens.

I would write more, but this show just rustles my jimmies me the more I write or read about it. It got cancelled so it never got more than its six show shot. The final twist that is withheld until episode 4 is that this whole thing was to develop a “star child” some kind of metahuman that can do every super power imaginable just because a few people had children when they thought they were in space(?). This happens and the final thing is that one of the main characters is actually transported to an alien world because of her powers…. Ok I guess….

I wanted to like this show, but I don’t. If you don’t have anything to watch and like bad shows then here is a few hours to go watch that…. I guess….

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Road to the Iron Throne S1E2: The King’s Road

Summary of the Episode

The main host of characters are now beginning to splinter off into separate journies. Ned Stark, accompanied with his two daughters Sansa and Arya, travel with the King Robert Baratheon and company back to King’s Landing. But the venier of the royal family slowly unravels as the journey south continues.

In Winterfell, Catelyn discovers the conspiracy that left Bran in a comma. After an attack by an assassin and a quick investigation everything seems to be coming up Lannister. Afraid to deliver the message by raven, she begins to make travel plans to see Ned in secret.

Meanwhile across the Narrow Sea Danny and the Dothraki continue their journey to…. wherever it is that they are going. The show does not make this extremely clear, instead it spends this travel time focusing on Danny and her need to adapt to her new surroundings. This is primarily focused on sex with Khal Drogo.

Discussion

Just as episode 1 was all about getting to know the characters and getting them together, this episode is continuing to know the characters and breaking them down to smaller interactions. And this is accomplished in the narrative through travel which forces characters to interact with one another where they otherwise would not.

This dynamic of characters interacting is arguably one of the best parts of early Game of Thrones seasons (and arguably its largest failures later on). And out of all the characters Jon Snow has the most of them this episode and some of the best in the show. Two notable interactions are Snow’s interaction with Bran, more appropriately Caitlin, and his conversation with Jamie Lannister. Tyrion and Jon’s relationship will be discussed in later episodes when it becomes relevant again.

In the Catelyn/Jon/Bran interaction there is talk of the future that creates a thin veil over the past experience between these characters. In the books it is clear since Catelyn is a POV character for her dislike of Jon Snow because it is his bastard son that lives with the rest of the family in Winterfell. This is referenced in the episode after the scene but props to Michelle Fairley to really make the hatred work subtly.

Jon’s interaction with Jamie Lannister is a conversation about the future tethered to the past. Jamie is battle hardened but has this experienced naivete about war. Quick to point out how green Jon Snow is but also not disturbed enough to consider the consequences of battles that he seems to have fought. At the same time, Jon is inexperienced but is wise beyond his years, unwilling to dive into a conflict without reason.

This naive view is a tragedy throughout the early part of this season. The youth of this world, having lived through roughly two decades of relative calm in the realm, are now facing situations in which war seems to be the best option. In the scene where Caitlin reveals her theory on what is going on both Robb and Theon the youngest of the circle remark that this could be war. Both of the elder statesmen in the mix voice the refrain of even using such language.

On the opposite end of this spectrum is Robert Baratheon, the man so obsessed with his successful rebellion that he continues to hunt down the tyrants ancestors abroad. When it is revealed who Jon’s actual mother is the scene of Robert and Ned talking in the field makes it crystal clear why Ned did not even trust his wife with the information that he knew.

But in the context of this world Robert’s want of destroying the remaining Targaryens makes sense. Robert openly admits later that he is not a good king. His kingdom is facing extreme debt, there are clearly a lot of interkingdom rivalries flaring up, and Robert is not particularly use to nuance so why not go after the old boogie man that got you to where you were anyways?

(NOTE: If this seems extremely familiar in a political context you are probably just thinking about it too hard.)

Even in the final dispute of this episode Robert remains a bystander to the justice that is being delivered. Where the King in a medieval system should be the final word, Robert remains unclear on the punishments. In his neglect to reflect on the decision to make he is allowing tensions to simmer. All to avoid the blowback from the decision he makes.

Speaking of the Joffrey fight with Arya, this is where a lot of the fantasy tropes of good triumphing over evil begin to become undone. In that scene Sansa is the stand in for all of our selfish innocence about the world. In fact, when Arya fights back against Joffrey for nearly killing the Butcher’s boy her remarks are “You are spoiling everything.”. The rose-colored glasses have yet to fall off for Sansa just like many viewers who may still be watching this expecting last minute saves and good guys overcoming evil.

Finally, in terms of the Dothraki, this episode subtly shows a lot of nuance within the Dothraki that people and even the show eventually abandon. When we are first introduced to them the audience is meant to take subliminal cues from other forms of media and history. They are nomadic horseman a rough historical representation of people from the Asian Steppes such as the Huns and the Mongols. Aggressive and savage nomads with little care for the lives of those they conquered let alone anyone in there own society.

But here the images of nomadic warriors galloping on horseback are replaced with groups of people making a slow ride through the grasslands. Whenever camp is set up there are scenes of people tending to food, preparing clothes, or even just talking amongst themselves.

Danny’s handmaidens even represent the strange and misunderstood aspects of the Dothraki. Her handmaidens appear to be slaves but from different areas of Essos. They all greatly variate in skin tones, accents, and even belief structures. (For it is known.) The Dothraki society if not multinational is clearly open to integration in a world that seems to lack a lot of it.

 

Next time: Lord Snow

Narcos: Who’s Afraid of Escobar?

Pablo Escobar is easily the most infamous character of the final decades of the 20th century. His lavish gangster lifestyle coupled with his elusiveness allowed him to become an international vocal point for the international war on drugs and the mythos surrounding it. Many shows that follow similar paths such as Breaking Bad try to draw parallels with Escobar, but nobody in western media has attempted to actually tell the story in a dramatic way, until Narcos.

I had the benefit of watching Narcos two seasons uninterrupted which wraps the story of Escobar in a nice bow.

I think the show altogether is great, if you are looking for a series to binge watch it is one of Netflix’s best, but there are some problems with it.

The biggest one is a disjointed narrative that exists within the story. The show is trying to do two things at once which leads to this disjointed narrative that is being told. We are initially introduced to Agent Murphy, the DEA agent sent to Colombia to assist in finding Escobar and his story through it all. Murphy voices over a lot of the show to explain plot without ruining the drama of the story, but the story is never solely about Murphy. In fact, Murphy is not really the main character. The show gets into longer and longer sessions of events from Escobar’s point of view.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it creates two shows within one. You’re never sure what the show is trying to say. Should we kind of feel sorry for Escobar since he himself is human and we have humanizing moments even when he is committing heinous acts? Should we look down on agent Murphy as we see him go to a dark place as he tries and hunt down Escobar?

The show never seems to get a clear answer, in the end the final episode of season two felt like a lost cause. All this work for the past couple hours seemed to fizzle away as the payoff didn’t really seem to, you know, payoff.

Maybe I’m just over analyzing, anyways I give Narcos a 7/10

Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra Review

As Comedy Central has moved away from the typical stand up specials it had in the 2000s, Netflix has begun to take up the vacuum. It is difficult to find a stand-up comedian that hasn’t done a stand-up special with the streaming service. But instead of one of the many comedians I love, I decided to watch someone new, Ali Wong.

Prior to this special I had no idea who Ali Wong was. I was only vaguely familiar with the show Fresh Off the Boat, which she is one of the writers for, and besides that had never heard of her. But this special got me interested in her comedy and I look forward to more performances by her in the future.

Since comedy is highly subjective, my take on Baby Cobra might be very different than others. Frankly, the special was an hour of almost constant laughs and good jokes. It is clear that Wong has a persona on the stage that she sometimes goes out of in between jokes that is noticeable.

The show also seems to follow a basic storyline of how she “trapped” her Harvard husband into marriage in order for her to quit her day job in order to become a housewife. Most of the laughs come out of this basic premise.

In a world where Amy Schumer, someone who in my opinion is not that funny, I am glad that there are other female comedians getting some spotlight that are hilarious.

I am going to give Baby Cobra the rating of a hilarious time.

Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood: Something Great to Binge Watch

Full Metal Alchemist was one of the animes and manga that I followed when I first became interested in the genre. While like most other animes and manga, it fell out of interest to me when I caught up on the manga and anime and was encountered with filler or at least what felt like filler. But I decided to give Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood a try on Netflix to see what the difference was with the original series. (I should also note here that the American Netflix is missing like the last season of the show, leading to having to find it elsewhere.)

The show is about a world in which alchemy is a legitimate form of science with some humans able to actually change the material and composition of matter. One of the fundamental laws of alchemy, equivalent exchange, essentially says that for every transformation there must be an equal cost paid. Alphonse and Edward Elric pay the ultimate price in the idea of equivalent exchange when they try to bring their dead mother back to life, causing Edward to lose his right arm and left leg and Al losing his entire body and having his soul entwined into a suit of armor. Now they are on a journey to look for the legendary Philosopher’s Stone as a possibility of getting their bodies back.

The world that FMA takes place in continues to be flushed out as the show progresses and with it the characters as well. The characters might be the largest strength of the show with both the heroes and villains being complicated and having goals that just aren’t about being the way they are just for the sake of it. There are surprisingly human moments in a fictional world where a talking suit of armor is the norm especially tense issues like genocide and war.

My largest complaint (not even that large really) is the trope in anime where characters facial expressions alter out of the normal art style to a more cartoonish one when something offensive or funny is said. For FMA, this can happen in serious moments when a character could possibly die and it takes the tension out of it.

Regardless, if you are looking for a good time on Netflix and are looking for a show to marathon through, give FMA a chance.

I’m going to give FMA: Brotherhood a 7.5~8.0/10.

Look Who’s Back: The Satire We Need Right Now

It is not uncommon in the modern era for politicians to be compared to Adolf Hitler. In fact, the election cycle in the United States this year has seen this comparison extend out even more. But what if the infamous leader himself was thrown into modern day Berlin with no recollection of how he got there? What would be his reaction to the modern time and more importantly what would people think of him? That is the premise of the wonderfully dark satire of Look Who’s Back or Er ist wieder da.

The film follows the story of the time travelled Adolf Hitler through mostly scripted events as he rises to fame on a television network, that looks eerily similar to the YouTube logo, because people think that he is a comedian imitating him. People also happen to agree with a lot of the things that he is saying in terms of modern day politics.

The scripted scenes make up most of the movie and have some of the best parts as far as the movie goes. There is a reenactment of the infamous Downfall scene that is just great for those who are fans of the movie or the meme. This part of the film also shines because it does not go for the lowest hanging fruit of Hitler jokes that could have been so easily grabbed. In fact, most of the Holocaust jokes that are introduced are not until Hitler is put on a television show with a comedian that does black face of President Obama when the writers of the show begin to create these kinds of jokes (social commentary!).

The movie also has portions that are in the Borat-style of actual people encountering this fake Hitler without knowing (for the most part) they are part of a film. This leads to moments such as a member of the right-wing party saying that he would follow Hitler again when asked by fake Hitler if he would take orders from him. This side of the film shows that as much as Germany is welcoming and attempting to progress from its past, there are clearly those who do not mind being associated with it at all.

If you are at all interested in the current state of German politics or are looking for some good satire, Oliver Masucci’s performance along with a decent script will take you there.

I’m going to give Look Who’s Back an 8.0~8.5/10.

Ajin: Netflix’s Anime Offers Promise

Netflix’s push to make its own content has now bled over into the world of anime and one of these is AJIN: Demi-human. The basic premise of the show is that there are is a discovery of a group of people know as AJINS, beings that are not able to die, or better yet to stay dead. Whenever a said Ajin dies it regenerates its body to the state it was previous to death. If an arm gets cut off and an Ajin dies missing a limb, they will come back with said limb. This creates interesting action scenes that are the highlights of the show.

The large combat scenes are too few and far in between but when they are present it is fresh and dynamic. The only issue is the fight between the “black ghosts” the projections that some Ajins can create to fight for them. The very first combat scene with these is difficult to keep up with due to the fact that they were dark figures in a dark room. I don’t know where they can go with these fight scenes next season, but to me it was pretty lackluster.

The characters are also not much to write home about. Mr. Sato is by far the best character in the entire show and his true intentions don’t really even make any sense. The main character we are supposed to care about takes a break for the second half of the season and you are basically spent marveling over Mr. Sato’s plot to “save” Ajins from their government imprisonment.

Anime is a genre that I have a mixed relationship about but this is definitely a show that is easy to pick up and does not have some of the tropes that I find annoying within the genre. If you’re interested in the idea of the show I recommend you check it out.

I’m going to give the show a 6.8~7.3/10.