After some initial good feelings, my sense of this year’s science fiction streaming is mixed.
I’ve blogged here before on Amazon’s adaptation of Philip Dick’s Man in the High Castle. I think this season was the worst, by far. On the plus side was the acting and the set construction. My sense is that the High Castle braintrust got bored with their adventure and decided to call it a wrap. Despite the plans to end the series, they introduced a whole new set of characters after quickly killing off one of the more intriguing people in the fascist universe.
It had its Tasha Yar lecture on drugs moment, or rather West Coast theme. Don’t get me wrong: gays in season 3, black uprising in season 4, Tasha on drugs–these are all good ideas. But I don’t think they needed to be preached quite as hard as they were.
Black people make up about an eighth of the US population, and I suspect it wasn’t much different in 1960. In fact, if the Nazis were offering the final solution to people of color in the East, it might be that some of those people made it to the West, and even to the occupied Pacific States. According to the series narrative, Japan was in solid control, albeit without the nuclear threat hanging over the pre-conquest US in 1947. A small spoiler question: how did twelve-ish percent of the population manage to overthrow their Japanese overlords when eighty-plus percent failed? Even in the show, the Black radicals only wanted a homeland. Would they have been satisfied with Nevada or eastern Washington or the top half of Alaska? While it was easy to cheer for the Blacks to win the day, it was utterly unbelievable, even for science fiction.
The High Castle braintrust also failed with the resolution in the East. Bad guys lost and (maybe) good guys won. Then they put in X-files-style weird at the very end. But the whole exercise of the show illustrated what’s wrong with much of the net’s streaming series. The whole-season story arc is new to the small screen. As such, writers and producers haven’t quite mastered it, let alone earned many grades higher than C-minus.
A bit better has been Star Trek: Discovery. It was better than High Castle in most ways, and not quite as good as the best of other Treks. Season 1 had a better story arc. Season 2 had a few better episodes. (I would say two were in the top 10% all-time.) It had a few good link-ups with the classic Trek (Captain Pike, for example), and two tired ones (the Mirror Universe and Section 31), but failed with its silly main idea (the Red Angel) and how the notable title ship and crew got erased from the history conversation in the four other shows that followed it.
The best of Star Trek goes into the future. That show’s braintrust began to falter in 1992 by keeping everything in the Next Generation “present” and not doing a show some decades beyond Picard and company. The new Star Trek series will supposedly center on the Next Generation captain in his old age. That alone shows promise.
As for Discovery, season 3 as leaked seems to be copycatting the formula for Star Trek: Voyager: putting the whole
fish out of water ship out of water and into a faraway place. I hear the whining about how Gene Roddenberry constrained writers and producers with peace and a lack of conflict between characters. That’s just a load of horta droppings. I can think of several plot ideas that would satisfy a season-long arc of interest:
- A star in known space goes supernova and various beings on planets within several dozen light years must go underground, or flee their home worlds, or otherwise upset the balance of power among the militaries of known space. Possible preachy moment: refugees.
- Since the return of Khan gave us the best movie, maybe bringing back one of the more ominous foes might work. The Kelvans from the Andromeda Galaxy, or the insect-like creatures that operated from another universe. Possible preachy moment: war and its aftermath.
- Characters always generate good fiction, speculative or otherwise. Create a single character or an ensemble, and put them in an unfamiliar place. Limit the fantastic to a single idea and see where it goes.
I suppose I’ll keep watching. Maybe I’ll get surprised in the future.