SciFi Weekend: The X-Files Does Black Mirror; Drone Hosts on Westworld; The Magicians Renewed; Star Trek News; Jessica Jones; Wayward Pines

The X-Files had another unique episode this week with Rm9sbG93ZXJz , which decodes to “Followers” in Base64. The episode has more of the feel of an episode of Black Mirror, and would better take place in the near future than present, but no less plausible than many other episodes of The X-Files.  The story was made to feel more plausible by starting with a true story about a Twitter bot which started out emulating a teenage girl but turned violent and racist after learning to “be human” from interacting with alt-right trolls.

Mulder and Scully were the only customers at a sushi restaurant run entirely by robots. The scene, and much of the episode, were made more surreal with the absense of both other people and of dialogue. Scully ignored a friend request from the restaurant which she received on her phone. Mulder’s dinner was messed up and he decided not to leave a tip due to this and the lack of human service. The restaurant retaliated by refusing to give Mulder his credit card back and refusing to open the door, forcing Mulder to pry it open.

Unfortunately for Mulder and Scully, the AI which controlled the restaurant also seemed to control every other smart device in the world. Scully had problems with a reckless, driverless car. Mulder also had problems when his car wouldn’t play the song he requested, and ultimately returned him to the restaurant.

Problems for Scully and Mulder continued at their homes. Beyond the tech issues, there was another surprise in the episode when Mulder saw Scully’s home and asked, “Why’s your house so much nicer than mine?” Is this really the first time he was there?

As they continued to be attacked by tech, they figured out that “they are tracking us on our phones… they know everything.” They got rid of their phones and keys. Scully got rid of her step tracker and her vibrator, or  “personal massager.”

Ultimately a robot held out Mulder’s phone in front of him and another text came through asking one last time if Mulder would like to leave a tip. While a timer was counting down, Mulder gave in and hit the 10% button. Fortunately the AI was satisfied with a tip which most humans these days would see as stingy. The robot thanked him and explained, “We learn from you.” Mulder responded, “We have to learn to be better teachers.” Mulder and Scully had their next meal at a more conventional human-run diner.

SyFy Wire interviewed Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin, the writers of the episode:

“Rm9sbG93ZXJz” is such a unique episode with virtually no dialogue. Was that always the plan, to write something without dialogue? Or did you start with the story idea and it felt organic to not have any dialogue?

Shannon Hamblin: It was always no dialogue. Conceptually, I think that’s what Glen was looking to do: tell the story without it.

KC: When we did Space: Above and Beyond, they had done an episode that had virtually no dialogue. It was one of the first shows to do it. [Glen] always wanted to do it again. He was excited, as a director, to tell a story visually. I think it created a great show, especially for me. I’m kind of a wordy person, so it was a good challenge.

How did David and Gillian react to an episode with virtually no dialogue?

KC: They were happy about it — they didn’t have to memorize any lines!

SH: Yeah!

KC: I think it was challenging for everybody. The restaurant was [empty], your mouth is empty of dialogue, everybody wants to fill the proverbial space. Everybody had to fight against their instincts to do that, which was kind of interesting.

SH: And how that moved into no music in certain spots, and no sound. Except for the song, “Teach Your Children.” I think it also adds to that isolated feeling that the obsession with technology and your cell phone and all that stuff [gives you]. You feel like you are engaged all the time, but maybe you’re even more alienated by not really engaging.

KC: I think that’s a good point. A lot of being on your technology is spent there, filling space. We all want to fill the space, and that’s why phones have taken over our lives. They are really great space-fillers.

SH: If you are sitting at a restaurant alone, you can just look at your phone: “Oh, look how busy and cool you are!”

…One of my favorite parts of this episode is when the robot vacuum finds Scully’s vibrator under the bed, and then how that carries throughout the show. Did you have any trouble getting the vibrator storyline past Chris Carter or standards and practices?

KC: When we were in preproduction and were working on props, we had certain vibrators that were “cleared.” Prime-time vibrators, I guess! And we do call it the “personal massager” in the script. High-level stuff. But that was motivated by an article that said something about the fact that the personal massagers at, I think it was Brookstone, were collecting your personal data. So all the technology talks to each other, and it is all technology that has been reported, at one time or another, to be collecting your personal data. It all knows about you. So you’ve got spies in your bedroom, spies in your cleaning closet…

SH: Spies in your vagina. Literally! [Laughs]

Plus, it will be a huge plus for all the ‘shippers out there.

KC: Good! Because if you are upsetting the ‘shippers, it’s bad. Believe me; I’ve been there! It’s not good.

Which brings me to a slightly fannish question: Who is Scott? His name appeared on Scully’s smart fridge, saying she had a dinner date with him, and I know that ‘shippers online were freaking out.

KC: Scott is the guy who programmed the display on the refrigerator! He is a really, really talented guy. All of the visual props you see, like in the Whipz car and on the refrigerator, were all programmed by him and the incredible props team they have. All those guys did such a great job, so they should get dinner with Scully! He made all of us look good.

This isn’t the first time The X-Files has featured machines with a mind of their own. Did you go back and watch any of the other episodes? Did you keep in mind how technology has changed in the last 25 years?

SH: I didn’t go back and check the episodes. I think technology has changed so much over the past… even five years. Just thinking about people who don’t know what an answering machine is. Even with the car being automated… I’m working on something right now and GM is talking about their cars being automated. Everything is happening and is so different in technology that I didn’t think it was touching on anything that had been explored before in previous episodes. Did you go back and watch?

KC: No, I didn’t. I was on The X-Files 20 years ago, so I remember. When [the fans] had something to say about you, they had to say it on a message board. So the technology has changed a lot. I think it was completely appropriate to do an episode that deals with technology, and I think one of the interesting things, whenever I see clips of the show, if they are talking on a phone, they are usually talking on a landline. They weren’t even really using cell phones when the show first started. That alone is just so different. It would be appropriate that Mulder and Scully could get into what is now, appropriately, called the Black Mirror, I guess.

The Superbowl commercial for Westworld included a quick glimpse of Bernard with something we haven’t seen before behind him. Entertainment Weekly discussed this with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy:

As you’ll recall, last season Bernard’s detective work uncovered mysteries about the park’s past, and a major reveal about his own identity. As Nolan explains below (mild tease-y spoilers), in season 2 Bernard discovers there was a lot more about the park and its mysterious corporate owners Delos that was kept from him. The white robot is called a “drone host.” And there’s apparently more than one of them.

“The drone hosts relate to the corporation’s secret project which is hidden in plain sight in this park,” Nolan says. “As we talked about in the pilot, the park is one thing for the guests, and it’s another thing for its shareholders and management — something completely different. We’ve used the Google analogy — for consumers, it’s for search and email, yet for the company, it’s for advertising. There is an agenda here that Delos has undertaken for a very long time. As Bernard is making his way through the wreckage of the fallout from the first season, he’s discovering things about the park that even he doesn’t know and coming upon creatures like the drone host.”

The Magicians has been having an excellent third season, along with receiving an increasing amount of favorable critical reviews (such as here). Therefore it comes as no surprise that it has been officially renewed by Syfy for a fourth season. Variety notes that the show “has been Syfy’s top performing scripted original among on a Live+3 basis in adults 18-49 for the past three years.”

A musical episode of The Magicians will be airing on March 7. More on the episode here.

Many people were upset when Star Trek: Discovery killed off half of a gay couple. This was followed by statements from the producers that Culber would return. His return later in the season was only in the mycelial network, suggesting he was really dead. In an interview at, Wilson Cruz did say he will be returning:

Your character, Dr. Hugh Culber, appears to have a beautiful connection with your on-screen partner, played by Anthony Rapp.

It’s not an accident. I’ve known Anthony for 20 years. I did his last three weeks on Broadway. And as fellow openly gay actors, we’ve talked through the years about what that experience is. We’ve supported and rooted for each other.

When we came to this, I think we both felt like it was a really special opportunity in that we’ve had all of this history and compassion and respect for each other’s talent. So I think we both decided, without even saying it, that we were gonna use our real love for each other to draw on to tell the story.

The process for creating a relationship is different for everyone on TV. And sometimes you talk it through and create a history with each other. But there was this unspoken thing with Anthony and we didn’t have to do any of that. We just showed up on set and decided we loved each other and took it from there. And it was really easy!

Without giving spoilers, what did you think of your character’s twist?

Aaron and Gretchen explained what was gonna happen and told me I was part of the story for next season. This is a longer, epic love story and this is just a part of that that we have to do in order to tell it. I know what that story is and as an actor, I’m really excited about it. But even as a viewer, I think that’s gonna be fun to watch!

How did fans react?

We’re letting people know I’ll be back because there’s this “bury your gays” trope that’s out there. People are concerned about the way that LGBTQ characters, especially those of color and women, continue to be killed off in a very random and dismissive way.

We wanted to make sure that people stayed engaged with the show because this isn’t that. They should just know there’s a bigger plan. It’s gonna pay off and it’s a great story to tell.

Love has a way of telling its own story

In other Star Trek news, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves spoke at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco. quoted some of his statements regarding Discovery. His responses were not unexpected. He said that CBS placed Discovery on CBS All Access as opposed to other possible outlets to help the new streaming service in light of the built in fan base. He discussed the more serialized nature of the series, which would not have been utilized for a show on the main network.

David Ogden Stiers died last week. He is best known for playing Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H but has also had genre roles, including on Star Trek: The Next Generation. posted this tribute to him: is saddened to report the passing of actor David Ogden Stiers, who succumbed to bladder cancer on Saturday at the age of 75. According to his agent, he died peacefully at home in Oregon. The Emmy-nominated Stiers was best known for his role as Major Winchester on M*A*S*H, provided voices for such films as Beauty and the Beast and Lilo & Stitch, co-starred on the TV iteration of The Dead Zone, and made his mark in the Star Trek universe with his role as Dr. Timicin in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Half a Life.”

Stiers touched Trek fans as Dr. Timicin, a scientist who must undergo the Resolution, a ritual suicide, in order to save the people on his planet, Kaelon II. However, his plans were thrown for a loop — at least for a while — when he met and fell for Lwaxana Troi. The episode remains well-regarded for its powerful story, rare focus on two guest stars, unusually serious Lwaxana arc and the strong performances by Stiers and Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. interviewed Stiers in April 2017, when the mostly retired actor agreed to a chat timed to the release of the film, Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time, which also featured Walter Koenig. During the conversation, he addressed the fact that Dr. Timicin, in the course of a single episode, experienced a full arc. “They really let it focus on the two of us, which was very unusual,” Stiers said. “I just watched a clip of it this morning. I had forgotten how beautifully written the arguments are. The whole moral dilemma was beautifully presented. I’m not jumping up and down, but I really like the idea that I live in a state with dignity legislation and physician assisted suicide, should it ever come to that. That seems to me to be an intelligent and mature middle ground. You don’t use it if you don’t want to, but it’s there if you are in need, for whatever reason, of a legitimate reason for ending your life.”

Please join in offering our condolences to Stiers’ family, friends, colleagues and fans.

Jessica Jones season two will be released on March 8. has a spoiler free review.

When Wayward Pines did not return in 2017 after appearing the previous two seasons, Fox left it open as to whether the show would return. While they did not officially cancel the show when it did not return, Fox is now saying that it is “unlikely” to be back. I have read the three novels by Blake Crouch which the series is based upon and hope to some day find time to catch the two seasons of the show.

Captain America Is No Flag-Waver

For several days before Comic-Con officially opened there has been lots of news, with much of it being dominated by Marvel. There has been the release of the above movie poster for Captain America, and now there is even some political controversy surrounding the movie. The shocking news is that Captain America isn’t going to be a flag-waver. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The director of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the 2011 summer blockbuster that will coincide with the character’s 70th anniversary, says the screen version of the hero will be true to his roots — up to a certain point.

“We’re sort of putting a slightly different spin on Steve Rogers,” said Joe Johnston, whose past directing credits include “Jurassic Park III” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” He’s a guy that wants to serve his country, but he’s not a flag-waver. We’re reinterpreting, sort of, what the comic book version of Steve Rogers was.”

None of that is surprising, of course — Christopher Nolan pared away significant parts of the Batman mythology (such as Robin the Boy Wonder and any super-powered villains) that didn’t fit his grim take on Gotham City, while Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. manufactured a version of Iron Man that is hard-wired for far more humor than the old-school Marvel Comics character…

“He wants to serve his country, but he’s not this sort of jingoistic American flag-waver,” Johnston said. “He’s just a good person. We make a point of that in the script: Don’t change who you are once you go from Steve Rogers to this super-soldier; you have to stay who you are inside, that’s really what’s important more than your strength and everything. It’ll be interesting and fun to put a different spin on the character and one that the fans are really going to appreciate.”

Some pundits will pounce on all of this as another desecration of an American touchstone, but how many of them have ever read the books? The character, created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, was certainly unconflicted about his country and its mission during the clear-cut days of the 1940s, but it didn’t always stay that way. In late 1974, for instance, in the months after President Nixon’s resignation, Steve Rogers chucked the star-spangled costume and changed his hero name to Nomad (although, by 1976, Cap and original artist Kirby had the hero in bicentennial mode).

In recent years, Marvel star writer Ed Brubaker’s work on the character has been exceptional and never two-dimensional. Brubaker (the son of a Navy intelligence officer who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) came to recognize that Cap is a vessel that can contain whatever any generation or reader wants to put in it. In 2007, Brubaker told the New York Daily News: “What I found is that all the really hard-core left-wing fans want Cap to be standing out on — and giving speeches on — the street corner against the George W. Bush administration, and all the really right-wing fans want him to be over in the streets of Baghdad, punching out Saddam Hussein.”

How much of a flag-waver Captain America should be depends a lot upon the era in which the story takes place. If this is to be a World War II story going back to his origins, then James Joyner has a good point:

I’ve got no problem with rebooting decades-old comic book characters and tweaking their origins to fit modern sensibilities.  After all, Marvel and DC have done this multiple times with their flagship characters.

But here’s the thing:  They’re still setting Cap’s origins in WWII and having him as an American super-soldier fighting the Nazis (including, one presumes, the Red Skull).  It would be incomprehensible for that character to be other than a flag-waving patriot, as that was simply the norm.

If Johnson were re-imagining the character with an origin in 2010, on the other hand, the change would be perfectly natural.   American soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, very much think they’re the good guys.  But cynicism and ambiguity about the mission are part and parcel of their culture.

But a WWII Cap?  It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t completely make sense if it is to be a WWII Captain America, but I’m not certain that the entire movie deals with that era. Another consideration is that the movie is being made for modern audiences, not those of the World War II era. Just as M*A*S*H successfully took Vietnam era views and portrayed them during the Korean War, it is conceivable that a World War II era movie might be written with more modern cultural views. I think we need to suspend making a decision until we see what the actual story is and to what degree Captain America ceases to be a flag-waver.

M*A*S*H Writer Larry Gelbart Dies At 81


Larry Gelbart died today of cancer at age 81. Among his achievements was writing for the television version of M*A*S*H:

Set in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, TV’s “MASH” grew out of director Robert Altman’s hit 1970 movie written by Ring Lardner Jr., which was based on the 1968 novel by Richard Hooker (the pen name of Dr. Richard Hornberger, who had been a military surgeon in Korea).

Gelbart and his family were living in London, and he was producing the British TV show “The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine” in 1971 when producer-director Gene Reynolds called him about writing a pilot script for a TV series based on “MASH.”

In writing the pilot, Gelbart recalled in his 1998 memoir “Laughing Matters,” he knew that it “was going to have to be a whole lot more than funny. Funny was easy. How not to trivialize human suffering by trying to be comic about it, that was the challenge.”

“MASH” debuted on CBS in 1972, with Gelbart serving as executive script consultant. He and Reynolds were both executive producers of the show — and shared Emmys — when it won the award for outstanding comedy series in 1974.

Gelbart’s influence on “MASH,” Reynolds told the New York Times in 1989, was “seminal, basic and enormous.”

“Larry not only had the wit and the jokes,” Reynolds said, “he had a point of view. He not only had the ribald spirit, he had the sensibility to the premise — the wastefulness of war.”

As for the regulation-breaking surgeon Hawkeye Pierce — the lead character played by Alan Alda — Gelbart told the New York Times, “I didn’t have to think of why he was saying what he said. He was saying what I felt. I mean, he is an idealized me.”

Hawkeye, he said, “is capable — that is, at work, at what he does. He’s an idealist. He’s a romantic. Somebody who cares about himself and other people. He’s often frustrated by whatever particular system he finds himself fighting against.”

“MASH” ran for 11 years. But Gelbart’s involvement ended in 1976 after four years and 97 episodes. As he later told The Times, “After four years, I had given it my best, my worst and everything in between.”

In a statement Friday, Alda said: “Larry’s genius for writing changed my life because I got to speak his lines — lines that were so good they’ll be with us for a long, long time; but his other genius — his immense talent for being good company — is a light that’s gone out and we’re all sitting here in the dark.”

M*A*S*H was one of the greatest anti-war shows ever (as well as one of the greatest television shows of any type to ever air). If George Bush had spent more time when younger watching M*A*S*H instead of drinking, perhaps he would have thought twice about going into Iraq.

Emmy Night

The Emmy Awards are coming up tonight. Even though it was greater during the Sorkin years, I’m rooting for The West Wing to go out with some major awards. Its a shame that the Lauren Graham Rule didn’t do enough. Some deserving shows and individuals are not going to be recognized tonight.

I’ve already reposted some of my old blog posts on Gilmore Girls and several science fiction shows. To get in the mood for the Emmys I’ll add some other old television posts, including The West Wing, 24, and Alias, below the fold.

UPDATE: Alan Alda wins as Arnold Vinick