Monday, May 29, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 5

Season 5 highlights:

"Night" - Voyager is basically becalmed in a seemingly endless region with no stars. The ending falls apart a bit with some preachiness (remind me, Janeway, why it's okay to kill polluters?), but the setting is an unusual one for the show (until Season 7's excellent "The Void," anyway).

"Once Upon a Time" - Neelix cares for the young Naomi Wildman when her mother goes missing on an away mission. Neelix's own emotions about the deaths of his family members influence his decision not to tell Naomi the truth right away.

"Nothing Human" - Creating a realistic-looking non-humanoid alien on a TV budget is tough. But creating a tricky moral dilemma - that's what science fiction was created for. I still don't know if I agree with the Doctor's decision at the end of the episode, but I think the moral quandary he faces is one worth considering.

"Counterpoint" - Captain Janeway gets laid less than any other Starfleet captain, which is a real shame. Here, she falls for a sexy jackbooted thug, and their chemistry makes the story work. I buy her falling for the flirtatious Inspector Kashyk (Mark Harelik), who has the advantage of not being a member of her crew. I also buy her being far too smart to let her emotions get the better of her.

"Bride of Chaotica!" - Okay, so I complain about the holodeck being used in too many storylines. But in this case, seeing Janeway swan around as the Queen of the Spider People makes it all worth it.

"Course: Oblivion" - This episode pays off "Demon," and gives us our only glimpse of the Tom Paris/B'Elanna Torres wedding. It's very sad.

"Think Tank" - Jason Alexander is wonderfully oily as a member of a mercenary think tank that sets its sights on recruiting Seven of Nine. (Also, do we buy the claim that they cured the Vidiian phage? I like to think so.)

"Someone to Watch Over Me" - It's pretty funny to watch the normally self-possessed Seven of Nine awkwardly pursue a cute and hapless crewman. I appreciate, too, that Robert Picardo (the Doctor) is smart enough to call back to this episode on occasion, with just a trace of longing in his eyes.

"Equinox, Part I" - What if Voyager's Year of Hell was their main experience of the Delta Quadrant? We get to see the answer to this question when Voyager makes contact with another Federation ship that's seen better days and is under attack by aliens.

Season 5 losers:

"Extreme Risk" - Ugh, poor B'Elanna and her inability to process emotions. The Klingons have never been my favorite species, because often they are trapped in situations like this one. I always sympathize with B'Elanna, but I also think she needs a good therapy session. (Doesn't that holodeck have therapists programmed into it?)

"Gravity" - I've never been a fan of the single-episode romances. The character of Noss is a little too irritatingly cute and quirky for my tastes, and Tuvok's attachment to her makes zero sense.

"The Fight" - Poor Chakotay. He always seems to get trapped in these god-awful episodes. His character is often such a blank that it's no wonder the writers don't give him good material. (Seriously, they should have just put him and Janeway together briefly so he'd have something interesting to do in later seasons.)

"Juggernaut" - The Malon are a dead-end species, storytelling-wise. The story of nasty, illogical polluters has just been done to death. And the fact that early episodes made it clear that Voyager has a magical cure for disposing of theta radiation makes the Malon seem incredibly dumb and short-sighted.

"11:59" - I get the sense that Kate Mulgrew twisted some arms to get this episode featuring a distant ancestor of Kathryn Janeway made. It's an okay story, but it's not a Voyager story.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Year of No Clutter

Year of No ClutterYear of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stories of hoarders have always fascinated me, and like Eve O. Schaub I find the ideals of Marie Kondo's philosophy deeply appealing but unreachable. I also am a fan of A&E's Hoarders. I have a history of reading books about hoarding/decluttering. It comes from a personal place of dealing with someone close who has hoarding tendencies. Also, since I've moved in the last year, I really appreciate the philosophy of decluttering. (I'm obsessed with tiny house shows, too!)

This book practically leapt into my hands when I saw it on the shelf of my local library. Schaub is a "serial memoirist" like A.J. Jacobs. (I haven't read her previous memoir, Year of No Sugar, mostly because the premise sounds like something MY mother may have tried when I was a kid.)

Schaub is a funny, relatable, and breezy writer. I thought she managed some interesting revelations about her relationship to the clutter of the single room she tackled for her year, which she had named the Hell Room. (I definitely took away an interest in a company she uses to help organize her kids' art projects, Plum Prints!) In short, it was a funny read with a bit of depth to it - perfect poolside material.

So Quotable:

"There's nothing wrong with keeping things that other people deem strange because it's. It the things that make you a hoarder. What makes you a hoarder is whether it takes over." - 167

"I've been attempting to wrap my mind around another realization for some time now - objects are mortal. They have a life and a death much like people do." - 171

Other titles on hoarding I've read over the years, listed in order of how much I liked/learned from them (Year of No Clutter would go into the middle somewhere):

1. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost
2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
3. The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life by Robin Zasio
4. Stuffocation: Why We've Had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More Than Ever by James Wallman
5. Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act by Barry Yourgrau - Not recommended, at all.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 4

Season 4 highlights:

"Revulsion" - Occasionally Voyager attempts a good old-fashioned horror story, and this one of a murderous hologram is just the ticket.

"Scientific Method" - The crew of Voyager begin suffering mysterious symptoms, and it's up to the Doctor and Seven of Nine to discover the sinister cause. The extremely sinister and self-righteous cause.

"Year of Hell, Part I & II" - Voyager faces continual disaster for months, losing life and limb before learning that the cause of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day(s) is a genocidal monomaniac with a ship that can alter time. I like to think that Chakotay's willingness to cut the guy (Kurtwood Smith!) some slack is a reflection on the Commander's endless devotion to his own Captain Ahab, aka Captain Kathryn Janeway. Kathy gets her crazy on in these episodes, and as usual wins the day.

"Waking Moments" - Mostly I love the nightmares you see in the first ten minutes of the episode. Do Vulcans dream of impassive sheep?

"Message in a Bottle" - The crew gets a chance to use alien technology to contact home, and for voodoo reasons they can send the Doctor to Starfleet more easily than a Facebook poke. Still, we get to have fun watching the Doctor interact with a more advanced EMH (Andy Dick!) in the Alpha Quadrant.

"Hunters" - In struggling to download the messages that Starfleet has sent after the Doctor's away mission, the crew encounter the Hirogen hunters and struggle with mixed emotions about hearing from home. (But seriously, why is Starfleet communication tech so terrible? They are eternally buffering!)

"Living Witness" - I debated whether to put this in the highlights or the losers category, but in the end decided that its storyline is a bold standalone. The Doctor is entertaining as always (his assessment of Tom Paris, for instance), and I love a good Rip Van Winkle storyline, plus evil crew doppelgangers! My only hesitation about this ep is that if you try to cast the Kyrian/Vaskan conflict in an American setting it is problematic, to say the least.

"Hope and Fear" - Voyager's chickens come to roost in a way. The gift of a magnificent new starship, apparently from Starfleet, is such an obvious Trojan horse that Janeway is rightfully skeptical. I liked this episode for asking the question that was avoided in Scorpion, season 3.

Season 4 losers:

"Nemesis" - The ending is the only redeeming part of this slog through some alien conflict I don't care about. It's very difficult to get invested in one-off characters, even cute little girls with bad haircuts.

"The Raven" - Seven has PTSD from her time with the Borg, and it manifests in unusual ways. Unfortunately, in boring ways.

"Concerning Flight" - Again with the lame holocharacters. I couldn't care less about Fake da Vinci's existential crisis, and wish the Captain had just turned him off and put the mobile emitter in her pocket.

"Retrospect" - Suffers from the same problems as "The Raven." Am I the only one who finds it uncomfortable to have Seven make a false accusation of being "violated"?

"Demon" - This story isn't compelling, but it does directly tie into to the later, heart-wrenching "Course: Oblivion", which keeps it from complete ignominy.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 3

Season 3 highlights:

"False Profits" - The Ferangi are obnoxious uber-capitalists, and that's why I like them. This episode also ties neatly into a Next Generation episode "The Price".

"Future's End, Part I & II" - Sarah Silverman is adorable, and a highlight of this show where Voyager makes a pilgrimage to Earth in 1996. It's funny when the Captain and Commander are more appalled by Venice Beach than they are by any alien culture they've encountered.

"Blood Fever" - When Voyager gets sexy! Of course, this means the idea of sexual tension is dialed to eleven - actually lethal to characters if left unresolved. What would we do without the Pon Farr and those hyper-repressed Vulcans? Tom stays noble as B'Elanna tries to jump his's a charming story to tell their grandchildren someday. Also, in the tag scene, a chilling reminder of enemies to come!

"Macrocosm" - Janeway goes all Rambo on Voyager against disgusting giant viruses that sound like bees. One of my favorites.

"Rise" - This episode is great for Neelix's devastating takedown of Tuvok's supercilious attitude. Tuvok, normally so wise, comes across as arrogantly blind to his own defects, and is finally called on it. Which is exactly how it should be, though without a permanent payoff.

"Displaced" - Alien takeover of Voyager by unusual means. I love sneaky alien plots that prey on that old Federation optimism. It's fun to watch.

"Worst Case Scenario" - Someone's designed a holodeck program that tells the story of a Maquis mutiny aboard Voyager. Unfortunately for the crew who are fans, it's unfinished. Fortunately, the show writers find a great way to add a twist. And to bring back sightings of the inimitable Seska.

Season 3 losers:

"The Swarm" - Two half-baked ideas do not make a compelling episode. I love the idea of a species that has a language the Universal Translator can't handle, and wish that the mystery had been solved in a more satisfying way. It's also touching to see Kes caring for the Doctor as he suffers computer dementia.

"Warlord" - An interesting idea hindered by a poor performance of its lead. Kes is adorable, but "Warlord" proves that Jennifer Lien is best at being whispery and wise, not brutal and powerful.

"Darkling" - Mostly I ding this episode for its casual shrug-off of Kes and Neelix's long-term relationship. Basically we find out in scene two that they're over. They were always a mismatch, but the show invested quite a bit in their relationship. It would have been nice to see some reasons for their breakup.

"Real Life" - When the Doctor creates a Leave It To Beaver-perfect holofamily, B'Elanna is quick to make sure the experience is as effing depressing as possible. I'm sorry, I just can't care about annoying, cliched holocharacters that are programmed by a hologram: there are too many levels of unreality in that scenario.

"Distant Origin" - A REALLY heavy-handed Star Trek take on the plight of scientists from Galileo to Darwin. The reptilian alien design is pretty cool, though, and a nice change from the Weird Nose and Coral Headed species Voyager usually encounters.

Honorable Mention:

"Before and After" - Because of the reference to the "Year of Hell" episode.

"Scorpion" - The idea of a species that scares the Borg is compelling. It's also the first time we meet Jeri Ryan's drone Seven of Nine. The Borg are probably the single greatest idea Star Trek ever had. My only hesitation with this two-parter is that Janeway and her crew never even consider allowing the Borg to be destroyed by their new enemy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 2

Season 2 highlights:

"Twisted" - There is a great moment at the end of this episode where the crew is literally backed into a corner by a potentially lethal anomaly. Seeing the crew forced to stop fighting for survival is unusual, and it's nice to put an end to the technobabble. It's also fun to see the crew wander lost around Voyager throughout the episode, unable to reach the bridge to even figure out what's gone wrong.

"Maneuvers" - I would watch an entire show based on the adventures of Seska as she schemes her way to power. She's more cunning than the rest of the goody-two-shoes Star Trek crew, and she's a match for Janeway's fanaticism. (Unfortunately, she's mostly pitted against Chakotay, which is less interesting.) Unfortunately, the Kazon are totally sexist or Seska would have conquered the Delta Quadrant.

"Prototype" - A creepy expressionless robot is found floating in space (the design is basically a silver version of the famous Metropolis 'bot). B'Elanna's story arc, moving from intellectual curiosity and a desire to help an artificial species survive to horror at what she's created follows the classic scary-robot story, but is no less effective for it.

"Death Wish" - Love seeing Q, and the moral dilemma is a solid one. I've always thought that boredom would be the worst part of immortality.

"Deadlock" - You'll see this on a lot of best of lists, because it's about as dark as Voyager gets, with an unexpected ending.

"The Thaw" - Yes, this is my nightmare. A tacky, multi-colored world with squawking evil characters intent on holding hostages.

"Tuvix" - This might be one of my favorite episodes. Every time I see it I feel queasy at the fate of Tuvix. The way the crew, who liked him, turn away and leave him to his fate simply because he isn't "one of them." It's chilling, and I wish there were more episodes like this one.

"Basics, Part I" - Remember how much I love Seska? This is why.

Season 2 losers:

"The 37" - This episode pisses away a brilliant question: What if the Voyager crew decided to settle? The fact that they decide to leave a human colony of 300,000 without even trying to recruit anyone seems short-sighted to me, considering that with a 70-year journey they'll become a generation ship. Surely there were some capable doctors with a sense of adventure on that planet! Also, I'm not as in love with Amelia Earhart as everyone else is. Sorry. (Now if this had been about Bessie Coleman, on the other hand....) Still, the last scene where Janeway and Chakotay speculate on who may have chosen to leave Voyager is touching - for Janeway, a validation of her unwavering commitment to going home.

"Projections" - Another promising premise killed by a too-short run time. The resolution feels extremely arbitrary. Maybe the rest of the show is set in the Doctor's hallucination! (It is nice to see Barclay, but he isn't given much to do.)

"Threshold" - One of the WORST Star Trek episodes ever. Extreme ick factor.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On Rewatching Star Trek: Voyager - Season 1

I was too young to appreciate Next Generation when it was on air. Voyager was my Star Trek, watched weekly with my family until its finale.

The Voyager crew is cast adrift, alone, stranded in a strange portion of the universe. It will take 70 years to return home, and that's without investigating every anomaly, culture, and distress signal along the way. With one ship and no Federation backup, they have to rely on their wits and each other to survive. It's a fabulous premise.

However, there a flaws - plenty of them. There is WAY too much technobabble, a lot of sermonizing (but less, I think, than we got from Picard), and a plenitude of holodeck malfunctions, time travel, and too-human aliens. Every other week, they seem to run into Alpha Quadrant cross-pollination that strains credulity.

Still, for all of its short-comings, I will always love Voyager and the inimitable, indomitable Captain Kathryn Janeway. Here's a few reasons why.

Season 1 highlights:

"Caretaker 1" and "Caretaker 2" - The 2-part premiere that sets up the Voyager's plight and introduces the main crew. A very promising beginning for a new kind of Star Trek story. The "lost in space" premise wasn't always used to its best effect, but when it was, the show sang.

"Phage" - First contact with the Vidiians goes VERY badly for Neelix. The super-advanced but plague-ridden Vidiians are a great addition to the Star Trek species canon. I also like it when Star Trek characters face suffering without a trace of heroic stoicism. (It's a more interesting story than the priggish and hyper-enlightened officers we normally see.)

"Emanations" - Not for the first time, Voyager stumbles across another species in a damaging and bewildering first contact, even as they try to do no harm. I appreciated the respect given to religion and afterlife myths, particularly Chakotay's story about the sacred stone he once pilfered.

"Prime Factors" - Do you continue to respect the traditions of a hospitable culture when they stand in the way of you getting what you desperately want? For Janeway, yes. Other members of her crew have a different answer.

"Faces" - B'Elanna's interspecies (read: interracial) ancestry is explored in an intriguing way, and the Vidiians reach maximum creepiness here when a scientist experimenting on the fully Klingon B'Elanna borrows parts of another Voyager crewmember that are...recognizable. Shudder. The flaw in the story is its treatment of the Klingon half as Other instead of as an option equal to following her bland human side.

"Jetrel" - An episode that smartly highlights the difficult situation that Voyager is in. When they meet the homeless Haakonians, a race at war with the aggressive coral-headed Kazon, there may be a chance to forge an alliance to save the ship and restore the fate of a species. But Federation's high ideals forbid such an alliance. Can the unbending Janeway leave behind the Prime Directive to achieve her prime goal? (The final moments unfortunately undo all of the moral complexity and Janeway comes off as smug and preachy, but it's still a pretty good episode.)

Season 1 losers:

"Parallax" - Your first episode experiencing the Delta Quadrant with a newly integrated crew, and the story is that Voyager is literally going nowhere? Not a strong start.

"The Cloud" - A boring episode, and silly. Makes the Voyager crew seem both absurd and interfering as they try to repair damage they've unwittingly done to an unusual life form.

"Ex Post Facto" - Didn't Riker go through this story in Next Generation? Repeating a weak idea doesn't make it better. At least "A Matter of Perspective" had some Rashomon references to improve it. And Tom Paris is no William Riker!

"Heroes and Demons" - Ugh, the first dumb holodeck malfunction episode. Tell me again why I care about fake characters? Though I do like the forefronting of the Doctor! His journey over the course of the seasons is one of my favorites.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny

Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy BunnyDown the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny by Holly Madison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So Hugh Hefner is a dirty old creep. Raise your hand if that surprises you - that an 80-year-old man who dates multiple blond 20-somethings at the same time is at all immature, controlling, or predatory. No one? Okay then.

Holly Madison has a lot to tell in her tell-all, and almost no one is spared her critical eye. She knows we're reading to get the dirt, and she serves it up by the spadeful. Madison paints herself as an fairly passive innocent swept up into the Playboy lifestyle, aspiring to a cover of her own and centerfold spread. Considering that her entire career has sprung from seven high-profile years at the Playboy mansion (and starring in The Girls Next Door), this is definitely biting the hand that fed her.

Still, there are some great revelations here. Madison writes that "Hef holds the Guinness Book of World Records for largest scrapbook collection at over 2,000 volumes"? According to Madison, Hefner compulsively records everything, writing about himself in third person and grading Polaroids of every woman who enters the mansion.

And "People may find it surprising that Hugh Hefner is nothing more than a tenant renting his room at the mansion, but that's exactly how it is." He rents rooms for each girlfriend, too, except for his "main" one, who lives in his room without privacy of her own. He doesn't have to pay for unoccupied rooms. And you bet each woman knows exactly the price he pays to keep her by his side.

Madison talks about the mansion's many schemers, an international prostitution ring, the photo shoots, and the less-than-glamorous realities of catering to Hugh Hefner's tastes. (Don't try wearing red lipstick, apparently.)

It won't take you long to read this memoir, and the true "rabbit hole" for me was looking up the names and backstories of the people Madison mentions in passing. Just don't use a work computer to do it! The second half of the book dealing with Madison's post-Playboy career is much less bizarrely fascinating than the first (and again, no surprises in her assertions that ex-boyfriend Criss Angel is also a turd).

Hefner, unfortunately, is a lasting part of American culture, one that won't seem to go away. While I find his lifestyle repellent, I also don't believe in slut-shaming the ambitious young women who see his bedroom as a ticket to fame and fortune. It's pure poetic justice when users glom onto each other. Though the women of Playboy are incredibly young in comparison to the Playboy editor (born in 1926!), he isn't a pedophile. No one comes out of the deal smelling like a rose, and there are countless stories told by his former girlfriends and Playmates.

Not a must-read, but certainly a fascinating look into a peculiarly American heart of darkness.

So Quotable:

"Hef was a notoriously lecherous 70-something man offering me Quaaludes that he referred to as 'thigh openers.' Are you kidding me? Why didn't I run for the nearest exit? It doesn't get much creepier than that." - 47

"Of course, to keep myself from really losing it, I was completely ignoring the fact that anyone who was part of an old man's harem and treated like a brainless idiot would be depressed." - 156

"We were like a typical old married couple. The only difference was, only one of us was actually old." - 175

"Just as I had been, seven years earlier, Crystal Harris was 22, thin, blond, a bit plain, and so much shy." - 232

To clarify, this is the "plain" Crystal Harris (later Crystal Hefner):

"Everything else that came from [the Playboy mansion] was laced with darkness, a hefty price tag, or an eventual knife in the back." - 322