The essence of continuation is always an interesting progression. The ideal with certain ideas is how do you make it different than what has come before. In the structure of the first episode of the new CBS All Access series “Picard” entitled “Remembrance”, it takes a well known persona within the Star Trek pantheon and gives him a different perception. In an age that is much different from The Next Generation where the vision of Trek is darker, finding the right balance while not offending the die hards is tricky considering the recent blowback in the Star Wars universe. This pilot harks back through a little bit of IDW’s recent Picard comics which paints what happened to Picard during a Romulan refugee crisis. The interesting structure is that this story takes place in the Prime timeline which is the one the Chris Pine-led Star Trek takes place in which gives it leeway but also an interesting netherworld of detail…what happened and what it ultimately affected. The story of Nemesis and Data’s death still stand but time has given an interesting impact. This is of course what likely drew Stewart back having see the interesting progression, as he has said, of Logan where he played the aging Professor X.
Without giving too much away, the pilot sets up a McGuffin without relying too much if at all of previous Next Generation lore. But that said, the possibilities are endless. It relies though on the theory for years that Picard has been hiding in a way from himself or what he believes to be right. That creates a question, which is shown in a way in the comics, of what could have so fundamentally changed what he believes in. As the first episode ends, there is a connective tissue but it speaks back to an incident that undeniably changed Picard halfway through the Next Generation run. Where it progresses depends on the story dexterity and how much Stewart fundamentally wants to push the character since he has a say this time in the direction of the story. Time shall show.
The relevance of Doctor Who reflects in its ability to show its perspective of life giving a little bit of cheeky adventure sometimes with a heartfelt story. The dexterity of most of the episodes requires a little more mythology understanding than others. But placing it in an interesting perspective (especially today of most days) is an interesting angle. The episode “Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terrors” has the team going back in time per se pursuing an alien trying to track and take advantage of Tesla’s inventions specifically his invention of distributing energy wirelessly. The Doctor shows up when something doesn’t quite feel right. While most of the posturing is done relatively for comic effect, there is some scenes especially between Tesla and The Doctor at one point, that seems almost romantic which is interesting to say the least but also telling to the Doctor’s psychology as well.
The reflection that builds, as always, functions with elements of some orb and a couple aliens. But it is the elements of invention, especially in Tesla and his assistant who sees his potential that speaks volume. The fact the Goran Vinsic, straight from “Timeless” plays the inventor is no idle casting. The irony for fans of that defunct show is interesting. The idea of which the Doctor and her comrades know is if it ever comes to fruition. The enthusiasm and heart and especially the rivalry with Thomas Edison and Tesla is well played, especially in the passion vs. commerce discussion. The parallel in this moment reflects in Elon Musk whose Space X today did an abort launch test blowing up a rocket on purpose after launch to show the abort system of the Dragon Capsule. Now whether or not he will achieve commercial space flight or going to Mars doesn’t diminish what he has done but will people remember his name in 100 years. The parallel of Tesla (which Musk’s production car is named after) who doesn’t get as much credit as Thomas Edison is an interesting parallel. But it is a nice homage which “Doctor Who” doesn’t forge. In fact, it embraces it with a bit more subtext than usual while still delivering the episodic thrust needed to keep The Doctor on her way.
The trajectory of “Doctor Who” is reflected on who and what her perceived enemy seems to be. Sometimes this idea is wrapped in what might be stakes. In previous incarnations there was a sense of chemistry or darker mystery. With the Season 12 premiere with “Spyfall – Part I”, the progressions seems a bit sloggy. The enemy is slowly uncovered with a secret spy ring involving aliens being at the center of the culprit. The reality of the scenario is not as enticing since most of it seems to be buried in a notion of absolute evil which is both diabolical but also unassuming. The Doctor and her team are recruited by MI6 which seems a little too normal for a wizard of sorts that can hop around the cosmos. This adventure seems undeniably earthbound most of the time. The metaphor speaks more towards what might be a thematic on an inner journey but as the story moves on, it feels more like an ego balance against the doctor especially in the closing minutes which are action packed but slightly empty. Hopefully the conclusion paints a more interesting and intrinsic picture on par with The Doctor’s previous escapades.
The building of “The Mandalorian,” taking into effect expectation but also traversing the character beats, is an interesting quandary. The continuation of what Jon Favreau and crew are trying to create takes into account each director and certain writers capabilities within each episode. In having Taika Waititi direct the final episode of the season, there is a different balance in comparison to earlier episodes. Episode 8 is meant to resolve a lot of the questions of the season. And while it does and gives firmer focus, it does open up the door to more ideas but it gives the coming season a very specific trajectory. What works in this specific episode is the fact that it has more stakes than perhaps was there before.
Without giving too much away, it strives for a sense of meaning within what the characters want and what drives them. Giancarlo Esposito’s character in particular does this well while speaking to a connection to Mandalore lore with the use of a single item. Strategy also plays a significant part. Whether this is in the visual texture of Waititi or just the general bent of the narrative, it closes the loop with much greater agility. The audience gets to see briefly into The Mandalorian’s psyche and a bit of where he comes from. Another interesting dichotomy is that the show continues to show the connection between the film world and the impact of the animated series (specifically “Rebels”) which is directly referenced here. There are many iconic images and perhaps some humor that was a bit too dry earlier in the season that has found its groove here, helped in part by Waititi’s sensibilities. All in all, a very fitting end to the season while both managing expectations but also not overextending its possibilities or production expenditure.
The path of redemption always comes with a price. There cannot be victory without sacrifice. The question becomes what is being fought for. In “The Reckoning,” Episode 7 of “The Mandalorian”, the series has built its house of cards and, at least, for this progression of the narrative, it needs to be reconciled. Mando can only be on the run for so long. What is interesting in this episode, is not so much about sides taken but in the draw of what discerns good and evil and the gray in between. Carl Weathers as Greef, Mando’s would be employer has his own skin to think about. That is why the instinct of The Child is interestingly polarized. His actions bely a darker progression, like all those with the Force. A healing trajectory shows a different possibility.
As a form of the Imperial Guard seems to close in, a greater pressure seems to be building up. Because of actions taken by those who set these events in motion, a larger pressure seems to be building, as if The Child is a certain catalyst either for genetic manipulation or action to be taken. Mando, never one to trust, begins to take a chance on people, whether or not that might place his allies in danger. But no journey is without risks. The question with the series has been the detailing out of information but the key here is establishing a world which sometimes takes standing still. Character, unlike plot, cannot move at the speed of light but there needs to be enough crumbs to make the journey memorable. “The Mandalorian” still, at its heart, is a Western where the gunfight always builds to a pinnacle and the victor lives to fight another day.
The aspect of animation has started to become an interesting progression in terms of mythology creation. While a certain other space franchise has been expanding its structure for years in this regard, “Star Trek” has not ventured into that realm since 1973 in the still infinitely watchable and relatable “Original Animated Series”. While a new fully animated series “Below Decks” is happening, there is the texture of where balance in tone will be. “Star Trek” has always been about relating life lessons. The two upcoming animated shorts “The Girl Who Made The Stars” & “Ephraim & Dot” couldn’t be more different.
“The Girl Who Made The Stars” is a metaphorical story that follows Michael Burnham before she came to be with her Vulcan family. She is still full of emotion and on the edge of star, afraid of the dark. Her father offers her calm while relaying what is more of a parable that is a mix say of “The Lion King” and “First Contact” where a young curious girl in Africa doesn’t take superstitions at face value but still wants to understand the world. She is pursued by a large snake which is more a perspective of fear in her mind than reality. When an alien craft crash lands on the planet (which might or might not be Earth), it changes her fear to strength. The animation gives a good corrolation to the scenario but we don’t sense the darkness of space versus the light that family brings. While it has a good core, it doesn’t bring the intensity or heart it could have.
“Ephraim & Dot” is a slightly different animal, specifically a tardigrade. This short has the frenetic energy of a Road Runner cartoon but using different gifts. It takes place over the life span of the first Enterprise 1701. Using only audio from the original series and a robot that never existed, it finds the said “heart” but in a blur of mania. While extremely musical in context which seems apt since the short was directed by composer extraordinaire Michael Giacchino, the sense of it even with the tradigrade moving through the micro network that fuels the original spore drive is weak at best. That doesn’t really abate any of the great nostagic elements including a different perspective from original series episodes “Space Seed,” Naked Time,” and “Doomsday Machine” as well as “Star Trek II & III”. Granted it doesn’t get into real detail, but just enough to give a sense, and the fluidity of the progression is never in doubt. Ultimately though, there is a sense of “Wall E” in that the universe rights itself just enough to show that everything is fine.
The essence of “The Mandalorian” resides in being able to identify in some way shape or form with the journey he or she is on. Whether it is Neo or Luke Skywalker, a character needs something to fight for, even if it is evil in some way. The structure of this episode: “Sanctuary” takes it into a more intimate setting but gives it a sense more of the familial which might be necessary because of its structure. The episode is also directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard. The episode in many ways feels like “Willow” in its aspect of romanticism but also sense of protection and defense. The episode is not overly dependent on special effects which might have been on purpose since Bryce has not directed much before per se. But what ends up happening is that the episode feels more in the arc of character structure especially what The Mandalorian has lost and gained but what he is willing to give up. The texture of the final moments plays for this with a certain character becoming almost a MacGuffin for the aspect of hope. Ultimately that aspect of trust or protection is brought into imbalance which causes the need for the plot to move forward. However the underlying texture of what path this bounty hunter/myth may be on continues to be murky as the best journeys are.