SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; Counterpart; The Gifted; The Magicians

I like how Star Trek: Discovery is rapidly providing payoff to the mysteries of this season rather than dragging them out too long. The Wolf Inside provided answers to two big questions, while showing more of the Mirror universe.

The big event of the episode centered around  the rebel camp where Firewolf, the rebel leader, had been hiding. (This briefly sounds more like Star Wars than Star Trek). Burnham’s logic for going to the planet didn’t make all that much sense but I’ll forgive it as 1) we’ve often seen that Burnham does not make the greatest decisions, even if she means well, and 2) it did a lot to propel the story. This led to a great scene for fans, seeing other Star Trek aliens, including Voq as Firewolf and seeing Sarek with the obligatory Vulcan goatee. I loved seeing the goatee enough to overlook the problem that this conflicts with the idea of a goatee representing an evil Mirror version.

This leaves open a lot for a possible novelization regarding Sarek as there are questions which I suspect are beyond the narrative on Discovery. Sarek must have learned a lot of interesting things about the two universes which he kept quiet about. I also wonder about the family dynamics. When we first learned in Despite Yourself of how xenophobic the Empire is, I questioned Spock’s position as seen on Mirror, Mirror. I rationalized that as being a rare exception, with Spock being half-human. I also suspect they are emphasizing the xenophobia more in the current incarnation of the Mirror universe as a reflection of our current politics. Spock’s position becomes even more complicated with Sarek and Spock being on opposite sides–not that the two were all that close in our universe. Presumably there was not a relationship between Sarek and Burnham in the Mirror universe, unless this is something being left unmentioned until a later date.

Meeting mirror Voq provided the trigger to finally reactive Voq in Tyler’s body, answering the question of how long until he was exposed now that Discovery finally revealed his identity. It turns out that the Tribble on Lorca’s desk did not play a part as many had predicted.

This also set up the solution to another dilemma. Somehow Burnham and Saru were able to easily communicate with holograms but she could not transmit the data she found back to the Discovery. While the problem is therefore questionable, it was a great solution to place the data on Tyler’s body before beaming it into space. Having Tyler/Voq in custody also raises questions should Tyler’s identity resurface as that part of the duo is innocent.

There were other good moments in the episode, such as Burnham’s interaction with Mirror Saru and Stamets meeting Stamets. Of course I did not believe that Stamets was dead for even a moment.

Ultimately the episode concluded with the answer to another question, confirming as I predicted that the Emperor would turn out to be Georgio. I still hope that, considering how Discovery frequently throws in references to past Star Trek shows, that them also mention a previous Empress Sato.

The huge question remaining is what Lorca is up to, including whether he is the Mirror version and intentionally brought the Discovery to the Mirror universe as part of a bigger plan following his attempt to assassinate Mirror Georgio. With the show appearing to be moving in this direction, Lorca’s decision to get Burnham on board Discovery does seem to fit into the dynamics of the Mirror universe power struggle.

Syfy Wire interviewed Shazad Latif about playing both Ash Tyler and Voq. Here is a portion:

This has been a huge few episodes for you. What is it like to play a character who’s so conflicted?

It’s one of the greatest gifts, and scariest gifts at the same time, that you can get as an actor. Just so much going on, double the amount of things that would normally go on with just one person. Getting to explore that, doubly, at the end of the day is stressful and scary, but very beautiful and very rewarding, as someone who likes to express themselves. It’s just crazy.

Ash has been through a lot, but I loved the decision to portray a character who believed he was experiencing, and was experiencing in many ways, PTSD.

It was always there. You think it’s because he’s been through this war stuff or this torture, and it’s not. He’s been in this crazy war zone, it’s just this trauma that you’ve never seen before. It’s this crazy alien operation.

Me and Sonequa, we always wanted to push it. Because you meet Tyler and he’s this guy who’s going through this trauma and we’ve seen that story many times. It’s amazing to explore, but we wanted to see him … With him and Michael Burnham, she’s always very strong. She’s the strong one and she’s the one looking after him, and he’s weak around her and he’s vulnerable around her, in the bedroom, in the hallway.

I wanted to make sure that that was clear because, to show a man’s vulnerability and weakness and show that you can still be a man and vice versa, that Sonequa is a very strong female character — it was very important to us in the scenes that we played that and we showed that. It’s nice to play the inner turmoil and suffering and weakness of the man as well, rather than being this classic sort of rogue action hero. There’s more to it than that.

Because when you first see him, he is playing that, we’re playing that sort of archetype. He’s this guy coming from the ship, he’s getting his job and “Aha! He’s a classic American hero,” but really he’s crumbling, and it’s very beautiful to watch.

There was a lot of fan speculation about Ash’s true identity. Was that hard to keep quiet about? You were doing publicity with so much of the cast towards the beginning of the show. People were like, “Wait til you see him,” but we had seen you but we didn’t know it yet.

It was my idea. I’ve been keeping it for a year now. It’s harder than any acting … That’s the hardest acting I’ve ever done; I did it terribly. I actually chose the pseudonym for the actor who played Voq in the beginning.

On the credits, it’s Javid Iqbal who played Voq, and we created a fake IMDb page, but that was my father’s name, who passed away about six years ago. I was asked to choose a pseudonym, so it was a shout out to him. He was a big movie lover, changed the film reels in the cinema when he was young. I just wanted to shout out to him. We kept that a secret for a long time.

It’s nice to have the buzz, still keeping a secret. You know people are going to find out, whether they find out in the first episode or the last episode.

The characters always find out secrets about the show and stuff like that, but it’s more about how you tell the story and execute. How it’s executed is more interesting. Even if you have figured it out, you still tune in to go, “Am I right or am I wrong? Or how have they done it?” Really, just to see the acting, to see the way they’ve cut the story…

Can you tell us anything about what’s coming for Ash/Voq?

It’s all coming to a head. This four-way love triangle in three bodies, basically. It’s L’Rell and Sonequa and Tyler. That’s gotta come to a head. The solving of the Culber case, all this kinda stuff. Some people don’t know, how are people gonna react to it? It’s a culmination of everything, and it’s going to be very exciting to watch.

One theme of the Mirror episodes of Star Trek: Discovery is to see how different versions of the same person turned out in a vastly different environment. There is another show starting with a similar theme. Counterpart (trailer above) is sort of a combination of a John le Carré novel and Fringe’s alternate universe stories. The Starz series premieres this month, but they have been offering the pilot for free since December. J.K. Simmons stars as a low level employee of some sort of spy agency, but we learn in the pilot that he has a double in the other universe who is far more important. From reviews coming from those who have seen episodes beyond the pilot, there are many characters whose lives were dramatically different due to a single change after the two universes diverged due to a Cold War experiment which went wrong.

The Gifted concluded its first season. While certainly not ground breaking like Legion, it was an entertaining X-Men spin-off. Unlike Inhumans, the show did have some success and will be back for a second season. The show did a good job of progressing over the season, initially centering around one family, and growing to develop a far more complex world. The Frost triplets made matters much more complicated with next season likely to feature a three-way conflict with different mutant camps and humans. The conflict between The Frost triplets and the original Mutant Underground somewhat parallels that of Charles Xavier and Magneto. It is made more complicated with members of the Mutant Underground joining the Frost triplets, including one member of the original family, creating divided loyalties.

The Magicians has started the second season with two strong episodes. I especially liked all the genre references–and how they were used to overcome surveillance. I didn’t notice in the first episode, but they stopped editing out the f-bombs in the second episode for the first run of the show as they had done previously.

Vox spoke with Lev Grossman, who wrote the novels the series is based upon, about seeing his stories being remixed:

Constance Grady

You’re someone who does a lot of remixing in your storytelling and is now watching your own stories get remixed. What’s it like having been on both sides of the process?

Lev Grossman

Well, the kind of remixing I did, The Magicians, and the kind of remixing it’s undergone on TV are not exactly the same kind of remixing. They’re not perfectly analogous.

I would say that I do very much think of The Magicians as a remixing kind of book. I was very conscious of that when I was writing it. In fact, I found it really energizing to imagine myself taking other people’s work, C.S. Lewis’s or J.K. Rowling’s, and — I don’t know if remix is actually the word I’d use, but recasting it, retelling it, in a way that was both an homage and a kind of critique at the same time.

I was conscious that I was doing something that gets done a lot in fanfiction. And then there’s a longer tradition of it; I also had in mind Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard, or Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, high-culture works that take another story and remix it, retell it, reimagine it. I was very aware of all that stuff.

I was aware I was doing something that legally was kind of a gray area right now in the culture that we write in, which was interesting. But I found it just incredibly energizing.

There’s a book called The Anxiety of Influence by Harold Bloom. He has this theory that the way in which artists and creators come into their own is through this act of remixing, which he sees as quite an aggressive act. I think he describes it almost in terms of an Oedipal struggle.

 I thought that was very true. I realized that through this kind of imaginary exchange, which was both aggressive and loving at the same time, that was how I was figuring out who I was as a writer. Which is paradoxical! Because we often think of working with someone else’s material as unoriginal and derivative, but at the same it was through taking control of someone else’s work that I came to understand what my own voice was.

Since then, I’ve seen The Magicians remixed in different ways. I’ve seen it be an influence on other books, I’ve seen fanfiction based on it, and of course there’s the TV show based on it. I’d love to able to say it was a completely joyful and unproblematic process watching The Magicians be adapted — and it was joyful and exciting and thrilling. But it definitely took some getting used to.

I realized that when you write novels, you have a lot of control over what’s going on. It’s not a collaborative art form. It’s one of those art forms where you get to do it all. You write all the dialogue; you point the camera where you want to; you dress the set; you do the costumes. So really, it’s a one-person act.

And when it came to collaborating, to passing this story that I’d written on to other creators, it was definitely unnerving. It provoked a lot of feelings. It was exciting and thrilling and stimulating, but it was also a real gut-check feeling where I had to tell myself, “It’s time to let go, and to let other people find different kinds of meanings in this story, which you’re used to thinking of as your own.”

More on last week’s episode below:

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