24 November 2014

The Most Toys

Episode: s3, ep 22

One of the most interesting and tense Data-heavy episodes, in which Data meets a real adversary.

What Happens
Data is kidnapped and his death is faked in a shuttle explosion on the orders of a weird collector who wants to own Data. The Collector won't accept that Data isn't his property and Data refuses to accept he is a captive. The Enterprise mourns Data, but has to get the unstable cargo of rare stuff to a planet that needs it to decontaminate their water supply. Geordi is especially troubled by Data's death, and thinks that something suspicious has happened. At first Picard doesn't believe Geordi.
Data's escape attempts and demonstration of passive resistance cause his ruthless captor to threaten his ow ndeputy with slow, horrible death in order to make Data cooperate. The Enterprise crew discover that the poisoned water supply on the planet was artificial. They track this back to the trader who happened to have the right amount of the rare stuff to sell at the right time. He couldn't have made a profit as the rare stuff is really expensive. A look at his record reveals his passion for one of a kind objects and everyone realises Geordi was right and this guy probably has Data.
The collector's deputy, who previously refused to help Data, is angered and scard by his willingness to kill her and they try to escape together. They are caught in the attempt and the Collector does kill her. He and Data end up in a standoff, and the Collector goads Data to see if he really will kill him. Just as Data has to act he is beamed to the Enterprise. The Collector is apprehended and put in the brig. There is a question about whether Data was about to kill him.

Guest Star
The Collector is played by Saul Rubinek, who I recognised as Donny from Frasier. He's also Artie from Warehouse 13. Here he excellently plays a ruthless, vicious person. It's a great portrayal and unusual in TNG that's it's not a monster, there's no misunderstanding in the situation, or even antagonism from differing cultures/values/points of view. No this guy is very humanly selfish, ruthless and terrible.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard has to go on captaining despite the tragedy. He immediately contacts the Collector and tries to get as much info as he can about what happened. He listens to Geordi's concerns with patience, but essentially has to tell him to keep working as their mission is time-sensitive. Picard's sadness is shown briefly; the book of Shakespeare he gave the android is returned to him and he quotes some lines (if you hire an actor for their Shakespearean credentials you need to make use of them from time to time).
Riker recommends promoting Worf to replace Data, and Picard agrees. Picard calls him Data during his first shift, but quickly realises his mistake. It's going to be an adjustment for all of them, not least because Data was an android and therefore had abilities that Worf won't be able to match.

Does Not Compute
This episode explores Data, his programming and his development. These topics are regularly touched on, but here there's more depth and Data is put to the test in ways he hasn't been before. It seems that Data should be able to defeat a mere human, but here we see him pitted against someone more ruthless and calculating than we've seen on this show before (except for maybe the tar monster and the big scary face, but those were aliens and therefore it's expected they're monstrous). Data states that he was built for peace (which I assume is why he doesn't have eyes that shoot lasers) and has a deep respect for living things. He can kill when needed, but the question becomes when is it needed? This strength of his programming is exploited as a weakness by the Collector, who clearly takes perverse glee in testing the limits of his new toy.
Speaking of perversity, there's some super creepy, possibly sexual subtext here. I suspect wasn't intentional, especially given when this was written, but I read it into the Collector from the start. When Data first asks why he's there the Collector -elated by his new acquisition- slightly coyly says "You have been brought here for my enjoyment and my appreciation." It reminded me so much of Iron Man 3 when the villain, with an air of embarrassment, admits to Pepper that she's there to be his sex slave - it's horrible both because of his intention and the way it's presented. It's not an exact comparison because with the Collector it becomes clear that he feels no embarrassment or shame for his crimes, but that's what I thought of. Later, when Data refuses to wear the outfit the Collector has provided for him, the Collector manipulates him into wearing it by throwing acid on his Starfleet uniform and destroying it. "Personally, I'd be delighted to see you go around naked. I assume you have no modesty." He's so creepy! If you have trouble seeing how creepy this entire situation is imagine Data is coded as female. Horrible, isn't it?
Data refuses to comply, but every time he angers his captor he is punished and manipulated. At first he politely and logically points out why the situation is wrong, which the Collector ignores. Data's captive has already set up tech to preserve his safety and compensate for the android's increased physical abilities. By destroying Data's uniform he forces him into a situation with two unpleasant choices. Data tries passive resistance and basically goes into statue mode, embarrassing the Collector in front of his guest. So the Collector, knowing about Data's respect for life, threatens to kill his own deputy in a slow painful manner unless Data does exactly as he's told. Seeing Data sitting in that chair like the display item his captor wants him to be is powerfully unsettling.
In the end the villain is of course undone by his own villainy and lack of consideration for his underlings, this is pretty typical and made me think of Syndrome from The Incredibles. Data is put in a position where he can kill his captor and escape, but only by using the slow, painful horror-phaser that the Collector used. The standoff is actually tense, with the collector goading Data to kill him, because he's positive he can't. He also taunts Data for his inability to feel anger about what's happened. As Data is transported to the Enterprise the horror-phaser fires. When Riker asks about it Data suggests it must have been triggered by the transporter. Do we believe him? Was he truly going to kill the Collector? If so, was it out of anger, or the only logical way to stop him? If the latter why lie? Can Data lie? The fact that these questions are there show the development of Data.

Blind Engineering
Geordi's grief is probably the strongest. He and Wesley go through Data's stuff, he owns about 7 personal affects. After a dream about the logs recorded before the accident Geordi starts listening to them obsessively. I don't know if this is supposed to be keen insight or simply the act of man in denial about the cause of his friend's death. Either way Geordi identifies that Data never reported leaving the Collector's ship. It's a small thing, something most people wouldn't bother to say because they'd know the Enterprise was tracking them, but it's unlike Data not to do things entirely by the book.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Geordi explains to Picard and Riker that he's unable to find anything to explain the explosion besides pilot error, which he can't believe.
2. The away team report that the water contamination seemed to be artificial. Discussion leads to the conclusion that the Collector set the whole thing up to get Data.

Death By Space Misadventure
It seems as though Data dies in the shuttle explosion, transporting unstable cargo, and the only shocking thing is that it happened to Data. The Collector's deputy, Varria, is killed by him using a banner weapon that's like a phaser but ensures a slower, more painful death.
The End
Data visits his captor in the Enterprise brig, and the Collector says he will not repent or beg for mercy, and muses on their role reversal. Even now he is arrogant and seems confident he will return to having power over Data. The android informs him that his collection has been seized and is being returned to the rightful owners. The Collector suggests Data is getting pleasure from this. Data counters, as he often does, by pointing out that he cannot experience pleasure, he's only an android. This time I'm less certain than ever.

20 November 2014


Some months ago I was happy to say that I had (for the first time) finished the first draft of novel. Though in some ways that achievement felt a bit unreal as I know there's loads of work still to do. I've been letting the story percolate in my brain while I wrote other stuff (mostly TNG blog posts as you've seen, but also some short stories). I know it needs loads of work, and so far I've been able to identify big things.

The biggest thing I need to do next is worldbuilding. It's a secondary world fantasy story, and so that means I'm creating the whole thing. I already have a feel for the setting, I had to in order to write the story, but I skimmed a lot of detail that I know have to fill in (at least in my head, if not in the story itself). At Fantasycon I went to a great worldbuilding session by Tom Pollock and Kate Elliott, who both had some great things to say and gave me a lot to think about. I like the idea that worldbuilding is not about piling on details, but thinking about what is different to your setting, what assumptions you bring with you and why, and how your own assumptions and those of your reader can be challenged. I also liked that they mentioned worldbuilding being about what you don't show as much as what you do. 

I don't want to do a traditional pseudo-Western Europe setting, which is used a lot in fantasy (which is not to say it isn't done very well in some cases). As someone who has lived her entire life in Western Europe (apart from a couple of holidays) I know that I am going to have to step outside my comfort zone and do my research. I'm a bit out of practice with research, having last done it seriously 7 years ago when I was studying. Luckily I now work at a university, so I have easy access to vast amounts of research material. I'm hoping that researching is like riding a bike (something else I haven't done in years).

I'm looking forward to the process, as well as feeling a little daunted by it. I want to create a world that feels like it makes sense, as that is something that so often jolts me out of stories. I know that while I'm trying to create something different from what I'm used to my own ideas and assumptions are going to influence whatever I write. I will try to be aware of that and keep questioning myself.

12 November 2014

Hollow Pursuits

Episode: s3, ep21

If this is what it's like to be an ordinary crew member I understand why we hardly see those guys.

What Happens
An Enterprise crewmember called Barclay causes trouble in 10 Forward, fighting with Riker and flirting with Troi.  It is a holodeck simulation. Geordi complains to Riker about Barclay being always late and kinda nervy. A container of some steaming stuff breaks and has to be destroyed. When Barclay shows up Riker reprimands him. Barclay tries to fix a faulty, floaty trolley. The ship is taking some stuff to some place, because B-plot. Riker and Geordi go to Picard about getting Barclay transferred, but Picard tells Geordi to try harder and make friends with Barclay. Geordi whines about this to other crew members (including other engineers). Wesley calls Barclay Broccoli*, as do Riker and Geordi. A cup has a hole in it and spills on an engineer and that is a problem, because replicators.
Geordi tells Barclay to investigate the floaty trolley and the cup hole, then tries to boost a nervous person's confidence by making him speak at a briefing. Wesley shuts him down and Barclay goes to the holodeck. His holodeck simulations feature senior crew as buffoonish Musketeers, and Troi as a platitude-spouting goddess-type. More unrelated systems do weird things, no one knows why. Geordi walks in on Barclay's insulting simulation, and they have a talk in 10 Forward. Barclay explains the problems he has with shyness. Geordi offers to help and orders him to go see Counsellor Troi.  Barclay visits Troi, gets freaked out and runs to the holodeck. The ship is going faster and no one can't stop it. Geordi, Riker and Troi go after Barclay and see the ridiculous versions of themselves. Geordi suggests Barclay has a problem, and tells him he's needed in the real world. None of the engineers (or Wesley, who is hanging out in Engineering this week) understand why weird things keep happening. Barclay suggests that the engineers themselves are spreading something. They check and it turns out it was that broken container of steaming stuff from the beginning. After a lot of technobabble, and the ship being in danger due to increasing acceleration, the problem is fixed. The ship is saved. Geordi commends Barclay.

Oh Captain, My Captain
It's good, and surprisingly nice, that Picard won't give up on an officer but wants to create a positive environment to bring out his potential. On the other hand, Picard didn't like people telling him how to relax in Captain's Holiday, so why is it OK to order Geordi to become best friends with someone he doesn't like? The answer is cos he's the damn Captain, that's why. A starship is not a democracy.
When Picard unintentionally called Barclay, Broccoli to his face it was funny in an awkward way. Then as Picard stood there and realised what he'd done it just got awkward. He could have just walked away immediately, but he stands there and looks at the man while acknowledging his mistake and waiting until he leaves.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Here we see what a jerk Riker can be if a member of the lower orders annoys him. He's the one who tells Geordi that Wesley calls Barclay Broccoli. Real mature Commander, passing on childish nicknames like primary school gossip. Riker is fed up of seeing Barcley's name on reports. We never see these reports because we don't see the paperwork parts of Riker's job. All the rest of the time I bet he's dealing with forms, even if they are on a tablet. Riker is the first to suggest that Barclay was recommended to them by someone who wanted to get rid of him. Has Riker pulled this stunt himself? Is that his plan for transferring Barclay?
Riker is obviously angry about the party-size holodeck version of himself Barclay has created, anyone would be. Can't blame him for that. Though Troi is right to be amused, it is hilarious..

Does Not Compute
Data is the one to point out, in his figuring-out-social-mores way, that everyone using Broccoli to refer to Barclay is actually mean. Data also tries to help explain Picard's slip of the tongue, but has gotten used to facial cues enough to stop at a glare.
The holodeck-musketeer version of Data kind reminds me of the V masks. I guess it's the pale skin and that style of facial hair. (See my Bonfire Night post before this one to see a load of fellows sporting the style.)

Blind Engineering
Geordi doesn't get on with Barclay, not just because he performs badly, but because he makes Geordi and other crew nervous. I expect it's people picking up Barclay's nervousness and responding badly to it. I might feel bad for Geordi -it's not fun having to spend time with someone you don't get on with- except that he's senior staff and he whines about it. Gee, it's so irritating when your boss expects you to use people management skills on your subordinates. He keeps calling Barclay his "project", which is a really helpful way to think when attempting to befriend a person. Also he's the one that refers to Barclay as Broccoli in front of the Captain, while he's supposed to be having a serious meeting. Hardly professional, Geordi. Though this is not the first time Geordi has had issues working with his staff. Maybe this is why Geordi's best friend is an android. Geordi uses the Broccoli nickname until Data points out it's mean, then in fairness he does try to shut it down.
Geordi manages to have an honest talk with Barclay, after finding him in the holodeck. It's good that no one mocks Barclay about his hobby, and though there's disapproval there does also seem to be concern. Geordi obviously doesn't fully understand Reg Barclay's shyness, confident people often don't, but he does listen. This conversation with Geordi is probably the closest anyone gets to connecting with Barclay. He suggests Barclay go to Troi, because to him that's the obvious thing to do in that situation.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi gets to be a Counsellor here (as opposed to Picard's assistant, which is her unofficial role), and again
she proves to be good at her job. She tries to put Reg at ease in the counselling session using a simple breathing exercise to start. He won't let things go any further and flees. You'd think she must sense that he's really nervous and attracted to her. Then again as the show's eye candy (her official out-of-universe role) she may be used to sensing those feelings in others.
Troi is supportive of Barclay's escapist tendencies, if they are useful for him. The reveal of Barclay's holo-Troi does anger her, and would seem to undermine her point, but her anger is as natural as Riker's. Besides I suspect it's less the attraction she has a problem with -though she'd be justified in feeling creeped out by it- than the fact that Barclay's version of her is superficial and spouts nonsense.

Not Actually An Ensign
Mmmm... pie
Wesley started the Broccoli nickname, though there's no indication why he did something so juvenile. Barclay doesn't like Wesley, probably due to the name calling. Or perhaps many of the non-senior staff don't like Wesley. He's not gone through the Academy like they did and he's on the Bridge, flying the ship and buddying up with senior officers, all because his mum is the Chief Medical Officer. I could see Wesley being disliked because of the favouritism that is shown to him.
I'm not sure why Geordi bothers explaining Wesley's presence in Engineering. After the Bridge it's the main place he hangs out. Geordi probably shouldn't have tried to make Reg feel better by inviting to contribute to a briefing also featuring a precocious know-it-all. Not a confidence building moment, being bested by an unqualified teenager. It's no surprise Wesley has a place in Barclay's revenge fantasy, though I'm not sure why he's scoffing pie. Wesley does at least acknowledge that shutting Barclay down was unhelpful when Geordi explains the situation later, and feels pity for Broccoli.

Guinan's Hat: Dark Blue (in the holo-deck, mirroring holo-Troi's outfit) and Orange - orange (the colour) felt that looks kinda like an orange (the fruit)
Pulling it off
Geordi talks to Guinan about Barclay, cos she's the person he goes to when having interpersonal issues. He complains about having Barclay as his "project". Guinan refuses to dismiss Barclay. Yes, he's quiet and often alone, but she doesn't judge him for it. She also knows that Barclay is imaginative. She compares him to her unpopular uncle, who was actually really funny when you got to know him. She also indicates that she didn't quite fit in either, and that she's since rejected the idea of fitting in. When Geordi tries to argue that Barclay's nervy attitude makes other people uncomfortable, Guinan counters that anyone would behave like that if they knew they were unwanted. Thank God (which she is in the Muppets universe) for Guinan's non-judgmental, compassionate attitude.

Poor Broccoli
I cannot decide with Barclay. Is he an average, introverted person working in a place where most people are overachievers who lack social anxiety? Or is he a slightly creepy guy who spends more time than is healthy working out his frustrations with revenge fantasies and titillation involving his coworkers? Probably somewhere in between.
The show wants us to feel sorry for Barclay. He's the only member of the Enterprise crew that I've ever seen being derided. Even when people disagreed before there was always respect, which is just missing here. Guinan makes an excellent point that people don't thrive in hostile environments. His escapism is only natural. There's a suggestion that Barclay has behaved like this in the past, but it could be that the pressure of working on the Enterprise and meeting their standards has caused him to indulge more. He's become dependent on his coping mechanism to the extent that it's interrupting his work. When Barclay is describing his awkwardness and anxiety in social situations my heart went out to him. I'm sure anyone who's felt out of place at a party can sympathise. I suspect that while various crewmembers are characters for Trek viewers to aspire to, according to the old stereotype Barclay is one they can identify with.
The creepy thing really comes down to the content of Barclay's simulations. Most of the in-show objection to this seems to be that it lacks respect, and that people understandably don't like seeing his versions of them. Riker thinks it's bad to use crewmember's images, there's distaste there, but I doubt confident, straight-talking Riker would ever think of using a holodeck this way. The episode says that Barclay is attracted to Troi, and enacts simulations where she responds positively to him. It never says he sleeps with holo-Troi. Then again people assume that is happening. We don't know if the holodecks on the Enterprise even allow for sexual entertainment, it's never suggested that they do. These aren't Quark's holosuites from DS9. If Barclay is sleeping with holo-Troi that would be creepy. Just as it would be creepy if his sword fights with other holo-crew involved slicing them up with realistic gore. Again the show doesn't suggest this, and in this case no one seems to be assuming it. Holo-Beverly tells holo-Wesley Barclay will spank him for misbehaviour, but that is about infantilising Wesley, not something Barclay would actually do.
When Barclay is pushed to really focus on his job due to an emergency he performs well, loses his nerve and solves the problem, thus saving the day. His usefulness means people will be his friends. That's how this social structure works.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Riker and Geordi tell Picard about the Barclay problem, hoping to get rid of him. Picard insists Geordi try harder with him and orders him to become Reg Barclay's best friend.
2. The Briefing in Engineering. Geordi tries to increase Barclay's confidence, by getting him to talk in front of everyone. Wesley totally talks over Barclay even though he doesn't actually work there and is not involved with that project.

Geordi has a one-on-one with Barclay in 10 Forward, which isn't really official.
Barclay has a very short counselling session with the real Counsellor Troi, but is too nervy and bolts after doing some breathing exercises.

Why can't the other crew members find Barclay in the holodeck? It's not a massive room (though bigger than Troy and Abed's Imaginarium in Community). I know there's holo-landscape in the way, but I don't get why. Surely the holodeck should open on the part of the scene the player (user?) is interacting with? Though at least the holodeck is operating normally here; no creating matter that survives outside, killing people, or creating life.
It's interesting that Riker assumes it's against protocol to simulate crewmembers in the holodeck. Geordi doesn't think it is, and surely if it were the Computer would have stopped Barclay doing it? Except Barclay's an engineer, and engineers of certain rank can do just about anything on these ships. Also, if those regulations do exist Geordi very purposely got around them in Booby Trap by creating a replica of a real scientist. Initially he did it for work purposes, but he admits to Barclay that he fell in love with her (an accurate simulation of a real stranger that he had created). What he leaves out is that he was supposed to be saving the ship at the time (and it was assumed he was doing so with his actual staff). Plus it's not like Riker has never got carried away over a holodeck simulation, perhaps even fallen in love with one, thus endangering the ship.

Communication Breakdown
When Barclay is hailed in the holodeck he continues his conversation with holo-Troi, which includes the word "darling", before responding. How does the comms system know not to broadcast that? The whole Computer voice command thing is really confusing. People don't ever tell it they've stopped issuing commands, but carry right on speaking to others. It seems fine to say "Computer" in a conversation without accidentally giving instructions (unlike that XBox Play advert). It always does things immediately, unless you're gonna belay the order or change the instruction. Does it know when you're paying attention to it? Is it a hobgoblin?

The End
Barclay strides onto the Bridge, and thanks everyone before saying farewell. Then he ends programme because of course he was talking to his holo-friends. He tells the Computer to erase all his programmes, except one. Oh Barclay, you scamp.

* Due to watching TV I've known since childhood that in the US broccoli is the worst of the vegetables, like some kind of green tyrant king or something. It was only a few years ago that I learned why. It's because the first President Bush became president so that his mother wouldn't make him eat broccoli anymore, and in a fit of loyalty to their leader Americans have vilified that vegetable in their media ever since.

5 November 2014

Bonfire Night

It's been a long while since I've done a history post. I think I'd forgotten that I used to do them. Also I've probably been distracted by TV.

Anyway today in the UK it is Bonfire Night, also known as Fireworks Night or Guy Fawkes Night.

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot

Theoretically we are celebrating the 409th anniversary of King and Parliament not being blown up. Though most people are probably just enjoying watching fireworks and attending bonfires, which for the sake of convenience tend to happen more on Friday and Saturday nights.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot

The image of Guy Fawkes has come to mean different things over time. Especially recently with Alan Moore's V for Vendetta graphic novel, the film version in 2005 and the use of the V mask from the graphic novel/film by various groups, including the Occupy movement. These are all things that make their own very reasonable point. The original Guy Fawkes wasn't motivated by citizens' rights or ending corporate greed. For him it was all about religion.

James I/VI
The Gunpowder Plot took place at the start of one of my favourite periods of British history, the reign of the Stuarts. James VI of Scotland came to the throne of England as James I in 1603. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was cousin to Queen Elizabeth I -who had had her executed, but possibly didn't really mean to. This was the first time England had had a King since young Edward VI, and the first time there had been an adult King with a family since Henry VIII (he of the many wives).

In 1603 England was a Protestant country and Catholics were persecuted. They had to pay recusancy fines for not attending Protestant Church services. Many rich Catholic families would attend Mass in secret, performed by travelling priests and Jesuits who would be tortured and executed if discovered. Many stately homes from the period have priestholes, hidden rooms and spaces where the Jesuits could hide if the house was raided. The general attitude towards Catholics in England and the 17th Century can be compared to the fear and paranoia of the 'reds under the bed' attitude in 20th Century America.

When James I came to the throne English Catholics had reasons to be hopeful, his mother had been Catholic, though she'd barely featured in his life due to her extended imprisonment and eventual execution. His wife, Anne of Denmark, was also a Catholic. Before becoming king Jame hads made promises of leniency and religious freedom to Catholics who came to see him. At first various measures were relaxed and recusancy fines were dropped. This led to Protestants at Court, especially the more Puritanical ones, protesting and pressuring James to reverse his lenient measures. One of the stronger anti-Catholic voices was that of Robert Cecil, who had been prominent under Elizabeth and was one of James I's chief advisers(check). The Catholics of England felt they had been betrayed, especially when James denied ever making any promises, brought back recusancy fines with arrears and ordered all priests out of the country. This new dynasty would be no more friendly to them than (most) of the Tudors had been.

The Plot
The chief arhcitect of the plot was Robert Catesby, who seemed to be a charismatic and convincing guy. He and 5 friends initially discussed blowing up the House of Lords during the OPening of Parliamen(check) thus removing King and Parliament altogether and creating a power vacuum. The plan was to take James' eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and install her as a Queen who would bring England back into the Church. They seemed to think they would meet with a swell of support from all English Catholics, who would ride forth to crown their new Queen.

In fact Catesby and co were radical hot-heads and didn't even have the general support of their oppressed community. Most Catholics were willing to keep quiet and hope King James would return to leniency. The Plot also was not sanctioned by the Pope, the Church, or even the Jesuits who were protected and hidden by the plotters and their families. Even Catesby saw the Plot as a last resort and the plotters tried to find other means, including going to Catholic Spain to see if there would be help from overseas. As it was Spain made a peace treaty with England that made no mention of the treatment of English Catholics. What the plotters did get from Spain was a gunpowder expert called Guido Fawkes.

Everyone had that kind of beard then

The Man
Guy Fawkes had left England to fight alongside the Spanish, which was why he often went by 'Guido' (the Spanish version of Guy). He and the other plotters gradually filled a basement underneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder, this included replacing barrels that had spoiled and of course always being very careful they were not discovered and their powder did not ignite prematurely* [*Diana Wynne Jones Witch Week]. At the start of November, assuming the authorities had no idea of their plan, the rest of the plotters left London, leaving Guido to watch the basement and start the explosion. Guido was probably chosen for this as his career fighting in Europe meant he had experience with Gunpowder.

As it was the authorities had known for days that something was coming. The Parliament buildings were searched and Guido was found, initially claiming to be a servant called John Johnson. He was arrested and interrogated. Torture could be used by permission of the King, who unsurprisingly granted it. Guido was tortured for days, revealing the Plot, but only naming names after being told his fellow conspirators had been arrested. His final signature is barely legible and a sign of his suffering. Fawkes was eventually hung, drawn and quartered along with 3 of his fellows.

It All Went Wrong
The main reason the Plot was discovered was because of the Monteagle letter. Over time the Plotters grew from a handful to a group of 13. One of the plotters sent a letter to his brother-in-law Lord Monteagle advising him not to go to Parliament. The letter was received on 26 October 1605  and spoke of "a terrible blow". Instead of burning the letter, as it advised, Monteagle took it to Robert Cecil. There are claims that Cecil had known about the Plot for along time, and allowed it to run its course in order to further implicate and demonise not just the Plotters themselves, but Catholics in general. I don't believe Cecil instigated the Plot, or knew about it at its early stages, but he did wait until the rewards of discovery were maximised, and waiting almost a week after getting the letter before telling the King.

News of the arrest of "John Johnson" spread fast and the Plotters fled into the West Midlands.Back then there was no major city in the region, Birmingham (which now dominates the area) was a small town among other towns of similar size. Revelations from London meant a lot of the hidden priests went out to check on colleagues and were caught. The remaining Plotters raided Warwick Castle for supplies, but received little help or sympathy from the family and fellows, who were terrified of being branded traitors too. The fled to home of one Plotter and spread some of their damp gunpowder in front of the fire to dry - this is why these guys needed a powder expert. A spark set it off and  badly burned three of them. Eventualy the Sheriff of Worcester arrived, besieged the house and the last Plotters were killed or arrested.

The outcome of the Plot was that life got even harder for English Catholics, with strict limitations enshrined in law, some of which were not repealed for centuries. Jesuits and priests were blamed and hunted more ruthlessley, even though none had known of or condoned the actions of the Plotters. Parliament felt a wave of goodwill towards the King, and Cecil leveraged this to get a lot of money off them. Foreign, Catholic powers were assured that England bore them no ill will, and they all denounced the Plotters.

When Parliament finally met (in January 1606) they declared that 5th November should be an annual commemoration of the near miss. The act remained in force until 1859, and even today we still celebrate it. Bonfires, fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes were soon part of the festivities. There's a tradition of kids making effigies using any old clothes and and paper, then selling them in the street with the cry of 'penny for the Guy'. I've never seen that happen, but when I was a kid it was the kind of thing adults talked about from when they were kids. Guy came to mean a man in scruffy clothes, and then any male.

Bonfire Night is one of the main UK holidays that remains largely unchanged in how it's celebrated, though nowadays the anti-Catholic sentiment and effigy-burning have been removed. Most other traditional holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.) have had their traditional festivities altered over time. The Victorians often pulled stuff like this, Queen Victoria being responsible for importing and promoting the traditional German-style Christmas celebration. It's mostly about people enjoying fireworks, bonfires and toffee apples nowadays, and November is a good time to have them because it's dark by 5pm.

Happy Bonfire Night!

If you're interested and want more there's Gunpowder Plot Society, their website has a lot of info.