29 June 2019

Good Omens

Good Omens has been turned into a TV show, it is my favourite book. I talked about why I love it on this blog over 7 years ago, and I've reread it more since then.

I wasn't sure what I expected when I heard Good Omens was finally going to be a TV series, though Neil Gaiman being heavily involved felt positive. The casting of experienced actors David Tennant and Michael Sheen as the 2 main characters was hopeful. Other casting anouncements felt more mixed to me, but the trailers were encouraging.

I watched the series on Amazon Prime one episode at a time, we don't do much binge-watching anymore. I had intended to reread the book before the TV series started, but I don't read as fast as I used to, so I was still reading the end as we watched the beginning, meaning I quoted a long with a lot of it.

I really enjoyed it. I missed some stuff that was omitted, but a lot more of the original text was in the show than I'd expected. I also really enjoyed a lot of the additions. The whole thing felt very in the spirit of the book, so that's good.

I have a lot more thoughts. I have bullet pointed them.

Crowley and Aziraphale
  • Main focus on Crowley and Aziraphale makes sense since they're the only characters there from the Beginning and also they're the stars in the cast. 
  • This focus fleshes out Heaven and Hell (Heaven especially), creating more roles for talented actors to play angels and demons, who look very different but seem equally unpleasant. 
  • Book focuses more on Crowley and Hell as the Antichrist is their operation, Aziraphale is only angel with character, so the show improves on this showing Heaven's attitude early on and rounding out Aziraphale's character.
  • TV show also depicts the evolution of Crowley and Aziraphale's relationship more clearly, from adversaries to friends, to something slashier than the books (though of course the books generated a lot of slash). It initially felt odd to me that Crowley seemed more dependent on and worried about Aziraphale than vice versa, but I realised Crowley was never as committed to being a demon, he enjoyed his job but not the people (Evil is fun, demons are not). Aziraphale on the other hand really does believe in what he's doing (it is Good after all), and so he's far more willing to hold onto a positive, hopefull view of Heaven, even if it endangers his relationship with Crowley.
  • Have I been pronouncing Crowley wrong in my head all this time? The TV show it's Crow(like the bird)-lee, whereas I'd thought of it as Crowl(rhymes with growl)-lee. Like how Ozzy Osborne sings it in Mister Crowley. Is that a West Mids thing? I think my way sounds more snaky.

The Humans
  • The focus on Crowley and Aziraphale means the human characters get shorter shrift, with less development for basically all of them. Crowley and Aziraphale do disappear a bit from the middle of the book as the affairs of humans and horsemen (or bikers) are lined up and investigated, which doesn't happen in the show. 
  • Shadwell looks and sounds too normal, but I appreciate it'd probably be difficult to cast an actor who could match with Shadwell in the book, it's a special kind of awful. Giving him a backstory also took away from the horrifying mystery that is Sergeant Shadwell of the Witchfinder Army ("I never dreamed when I was a kid"), and he seemed a bit too organised and proactive. We don't get much chance to see him through Newt's eyes which flattens him out a bit.
  • Madame Tracy wasn't as old or weathered as I'd pictured, but again TV casting is what it is. She was pretty good otherwise and I though the seance scene was very good.
  • There was more of Warlock and the Dowlings, which was fine.
  • I was worried about Jack Whitehall being cast Newton Pulsifer, but he played Newt so well I kept forgetting it was Jack Whitehall. It's probably due to the kind of performances I've seen Whitehall do in the past, but here he actually perfectly convey a man who would need to undergo a phone box transformation in order to look like Clarke Kent. Bravo to him.
  • Anathema felt a bit hard done by, and so did Agnes by extension. I get that not all of the prophecies or asides could have been included, but Agnes's prophecies and the little details about her life developed Anathema's character in the same way the details about Shadwell and the Witchfinder Army did for Newt.
  • At least we still got Giles Baddicombe (oh look, Samjeev Bhaskar), which I liked. I understand why the history of the Box was abridged, I did miss Newt putting a saucepan over his head and hiding behind the door.
  • Adam and the Them get a fair bit of screen time, but the whole Tadfeld set up is briefer. I can see why Greasy Johnson and the Johnsonites and other Tadfield miscllenia had to be removed, but I didn't realise how much f it there was until it was gone.
  • Adam felt more obviously threatening, more showy than what I'd pictured in the book, which may well be a factor of adapting for TV (though in general the book uses a of filmic tropes and audio-visual description). In my head the rise of the Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of this World, Father of Lies was more quietly terrifying and the eventual victory of Adam Young more triumphant for it. 
  • I was a little surprised the book didn't have more of an environmental message. That's always struck me as a big part of the book, and Adam's rise to his powers is sparked by his realisation of what's been allowed to happen. Goodness knows the anger of youth at the folly and apathy of their elders is a very fitting theme for a show made nowadays.
  • Following on from this, I missed Jaime Hernez, the Brazilian mall maintenance worker who helps a light-starved tree, that was a nice bit. I'm glad the Atlanteans and Japanese whaling ship and Kraken were featured, but Jaime was the main heroic human character from those one-off sections.
  • Adam didn't mention Heaven (Aziraphale) and Hell (Crowley) messing people around, which struck me as missing another major point the book made. I like that fact that the angel and demon talk about it later and come to realise their complicity in how humanity has turned out.

Horsemen (and Bikers) of the Apocalypse
  • The Delivery Man was taller and slimmer I'd imgained. I'd always pictured  It was nice that they showed his wife though.
  • I'm fine with the fact that each of the Horsemen only got 1 section each, they weren't much in the way of characters.
  • I'm OK with the Other Bikers of the Apocalypse being cut. That section was so much from Pigbog's point of view that it would be difficult to do on screen, especially without somehow introducing him earlier.
  • I did miss the rain of fish and the octopus that waves at the shocked policemen

Many Diuerse Wonders and Precepts for the Wife
  • Using the voice of God to do the narration means that a lot more of the jokes were included than I was expecting, so that was good. Initially I felt as though the narrative gave the show a bit of a Hitchhikers feel.
  • There were a lot more women and people of colour in the cast than I'd pictured, which says more about me than anything else. There's some stuff in the book that was a bit iffy (mostly displaying the casual racism and small-mindedness of some characters) and that stuff was gone, but I did 't miss it.
  • Watching the show is the first time I got the bit about the Nightingale in Berkley Square. I mean, I knew it was a reference to a song, but I didn't know the lyrics so didn't get the connection to angels dining at the Ritz until they played it.
  • The theme tune was a lot of fun, the visuals were reminscent of some Python stuff.
  • I like the addition of the ending, it felt very good that Crowley and Aziraphale took the next stuff in their collusion and actually backed each other aginst their superiors. Plus it makes more sense with the militancy and control we see from Heaven and Hell in the show that they would try to punish their rogue agents.
  • I can't rememeber if Aziraphale says the bit about Evil containing the seeds of it's own destruction in the show (it's been a bit since I saw the show, I'm slow to write things up nowadays), but I thought of it when Crowley has trouble crossing the M25 because of his own actions in shaping it to be evil. Also there was a thing with the mobile phone networks, but that's more obvious.

Is it weird that I used my husband's (hardback and unbattered) copy of Good Omens to check some stuff for this post and was disconcerted by the typeface and formatting being different.

3 June 2019

Perfect Mate

Episode: s5, ep21

Given that this episode has a guest actor from the early part of the X-Men film franchise -and of course Patrick Stewart- I was thinking I could do a sort of X-Men/TNG crossover thing. But this episode was so enraging that I just don't feel like being flippant.

What Happens
The Enterprise is hosting a ceremony to end a centuries-long war and transporting an Ambassador, business as usual. He has a gift with special storage requirements, but he didn't tell the Enterprise about this before he came aboard.* Meanwhile 2 Ferengi are beamed aboard as their ship explodes. Despite the general distrust and dislike of Ferengi they have freedom of the ship, just like every other unexpected visitor. One accosts the Ambassador to talk about trade while the other sneaks into the cargo bay where the Amabassdor's golden egg gift-thing is precariously balanced on lasers.* Picard and the Ambassador walk into the cargo bay as the Ferengi topples the egg, which dissolves to reveal a beautiful woman. She greets Picard as the Leader of the opposing nation. Picard angrily asks for an explanation, he and Riker are appalled by having their ship used for person traffiking. It's explained that the woman isn't property but a gift (so, property). She says she's a very rare, empathetic metamorph who adapts her personality to please the desires of whichever man she's around. When she reaches maturity (or something, cos she looks pretty grown to me) she will bond to a single man and become his perfect mate. Her being given to the Leader of the other side has been planned since her birth and has great cultural significance. Picard tells Riker to escort her to quarters, seems like a bad plan. And it is, she explains to Riker that she's giving off lots of pheromones**, then she kisses him twice before he hastily leaves for alone time in a holodeck.
Crusher admonishes Picard for allowing trafficking, he points out the Prime Directive stops him from intervening if Fantasy-Gift-Woman says she's doing this of her own accord, though he's clearly not comfortable with his argument. Crusher makes many good points and says Fantasy-Gift-Woman is imprisoned by the Ambassador. Picard visits Fantasy-Gift-Woman and is uncomfortable with the way she behaves; seduction is as natural to her as breathing, yet Picard is curious about her as a person. Picard insists she be allowed out, and despite the Ambassador's objections Data takes her to 10 Forward where she's pleased by the attention of some miners and there's a brawl. 
Picard talks to Fantasy-Gift-Woman about her situation suggesting she should remain in her quarters after all (hmm, so it's OK if he's the one imprisoning her). She's fascinated by Picard who tries to present himself as dull, but as she points out part of him must want her interest or she wouldn't be interested (this is really the clue that it's all her programming). Meanwhile the Ferengi accost the Ambassador to buy the metamorph, he refuses their bribes, things get a bit rough and the Amabassador is knocked unconscious. This means Picard needs to work on the ceremony with Fantasy-Gift-Woman as he has the most authority and she has all the info. Picard and Fantasy-Gift-Woman talk about themselves a bit, even though Picard tries to keep it all business. She thought about his questions (having never metanyone who didn't treat her like a commodity before) and she's decided that she is destined to be the Leader's mate, but meeting Picard has intrigued her.
The Leader arrives, he's more interested in trade agreements than Fantasy-Gift-Woman. It seems like he's not interested in women, or maybe he's not interested in this particular arrangement, it doesn't seem to have the weight in his culture that it does in hers. I think he's supposed to seem unpleasant, the focus on trade is reminiscent of the Ferengi maybe, but he's focusing on the practical matters that will come from peace, not the Fantasy-Gift-Woman he didn't actually ask for and has never met. Fantasy-Gift-Woman asks Picard what her inteded is like and he tries to be diplmatic. She says she craves the Captain's company, but that's the kind of thing a woman designed to fulfil fantasies would say.
Picard unloads to Beverly about the situation, knowing he's gotten involved in something he shouldn't have, but not fully regrettng it. He knows she's different with anyone else, but wishes it didn't have to be that way. Crusher provides a sympathetic ear, which is a different energy from before. As Picard is going to give Fantasy-Gift-Woman away she tells him that she's bonded to him and the person she is with him is the person she will always be (so avoidable), but because he's all about duty so is she now. To do her duty she will go through with the gift-giving cermony and as an empath she'll still be able to please Leader. Picard watches sadly as the gift-giving ceremony happens.

Guest Stars: 
Famke Janssen as Kamala (aka Fantasy-Gift-Woman)***
She played Jean Grey in the first 3 X-Men films, alongside Patrick Stewart as Professor X (though of course that was a while after TNG finished filming). In this episode the character even says mutant to describe herself early on, so it's annoying to me that I can't focus on that more.

Max Godenchik as a Ferengi (Par Lenor)
He will later play Rom on Deep Space Nine, which is confusing because Rom is fairly nice and this guy is a jerk, as all Ferengi on TNG are.

Oh Captain My Captain
My X-Men idea might've ended up a bit creepy
Why doesn't Picard ask Troi or Crusher to keep Kamala company, for goodness sake! Crusher is the one who highlighted her plight (plus she's definitely only into men). Troi's actual job is to make sure people are mentally well, and maybe her powers would be useful here, as an empath (albeit a much weaker one) she has stuff in common with Kamala. There's no one better qualified in the senior staff than the two women. And if they were busy then maybe any female crew member would have been better. Does Picard even remember that he employs women? Or what about any crew member who isn't attracted to humanoid women. They can't all have been away that week. Maybe he should've tried Data again, the android can chat in her room without there being trouble. Even if Picard feels it has to be him, why doesn't he use video chat or conference calls so the magical "pheromones" aren't a factor? It feels like such a preventable situation given the information provided and the technology available.
Picard keeps protesting that he finds the set up bad, and yet he's enjoying her attention and keeps coming back even though he knows it's nonsense. He might be able to do more (not like he hasn't ignored the Prime Directive in the past) and if he can't surely he should completely stay out of it. The episode praises Picard for his restraint, it's meant to be a sign of the good, intellectual man who may feel strongly but will not act out of line, except he keeps coming back. Additionally, I know we're supposed to feel sad for Picard and/or Gift-Lady, but how likely is it that she's actually in love with him? She's designed/bred/trained to please those around her, so of course she makes Picard feel desired and also dutiful. Of course she would tell him she loves him and he's had the most profound affect on her that any man could, telling people what they want to hear is her entire function. He feels like he's bravely sacrificing his own feelings for a nobler purpose, without any chance of having to make a comitment or disrupt his life in any way. For a life-long bachelor who's committed to hs job but is still a bit of a romantic that seems, well... perfect.

Riker: he has a beard you know
Riker sleeps with ladies quite a bit, and he has facial hair (which is not affectation[link]) and this makes him manly or something, so of course he's going to get a bit of action. While I will generally argue that Riker is a pretty sex-positive, woman-friendly ladies man (and pretty progressive for the time of the show) there are times when the show falls back on stereotypes and he's not so great. This is one of those times. I suppose the show could be emphasising the power of Fantasy-Gift-Woman's Sexy-Magic by showing that it overcomes Riker's restraint, but it's not clear enough that that's what's happening. Also, based on the premise as stated, she only kisses Riker cos he wants her to.
I think we all know what Riker is going to the holodeck to do, and that is a shared space, so ew gross! I hope those things are self-cleaning. I guess they must be.

Does Not Compute
Data is a bad chaperone. He really needs to work on developing the disapproving manner and authority of a posh old aunt who views the world with moral absolutes. Also Kamala may be the only person not charmed by him, she doesn't seem interested in him at all, possibly because he wants nothing from her. I feel like people often project their own stuff on to Data, and Kamala is a being made of people's projections, so possibly he's just null to her. That's something interesting that could've been explored.

Doctor Doctor
Beverly is only one speaking any sense here, she should be listened to. I'm just gonna quote the good
"She has been conditioned since the day she was born to believe it's perfectly acceptable to exist only to please men. ... And bred by those people to seal a treaty with a seductive coup de grace."
Much though I like the words here (and I do!) I feel like it doesn't go far enough, I would have preferred if Beverley had taken some action. Maybe she could have chaperoned (she does disapproval so much better than Data) or offered support and company to Kamala directly. Of course Beverley trusts Picard and probably never assumed he'd get involved the way he did; she was highlighting an injustice to friend who could do something about it. She's a sympathetic ear about his feelings later, but I wonder if she shouldn't have busted his chops more about getting entangled in something she considers to be slavery.

Future is Better?
-This whole set up is very heteronormative. Fantasy Gift Woman's powers are only ever mentioned as working on men. There appears to be no consideration of the fact that some men aren't attracted to women. Or that people who aren't men are attracted to women. Do her powers work on everyone? Do they manifest in any way besides romantic/sexual? What happens when a woman is near her? There don't seem to be 2 women on screen together once in this episode, so I guess we never know. What about an asexual person? Honestly there were so many more interesting things to do here than straight male fantasy made flesh.
-Arranged marriage is mentioned by Picard (Troi did almost have one a while back), but this is more transactional and preceeded by conditioning/grooming. (Why do terms for something so unpleasant sound like hair care?) I mean she's literally trained in sex (alongside music, history, literature and art), and has never been presented with another option her whole life. Also no one ever says wife or spouse, so to me this feels like concubinage. She says partner once, but the main word is mate (and I dont think it's meant in the British/Australian sense).
Though she's in a white dress for the ceremony and it looks kinda weddingy, there's no suggestion that Leader's making any committment to her. She's not his peer, won't lead alongside him or have any political power, there's not even a suggestion that she'll bear his children to unite their peoples. No wonder he finds her part in the peace process so irrelevant and perplexing, she's a cultural symbol and one he has no context for. She is just a woman, standing front of a man, being given to him as a present. A spoil of peace, if you will.
-There are miners in 10 Forward for some reason. They start a mass brawl under the infulence of  Sexy-Magic. There needed to be some unexpected manual labourers around to act in an uncouth manner, because of course the educated and morally upstanding crew of the Enterprise would not behave in such a manner (apart from that time everyone was super angry, but that wasn't about sex). Basically lower class people ain't no good, and if you need proof see the Ferengi.
-Male metamorphs are mentioned as being common, and I have to know what the deal is there. Are they perfect mates to (presumably) women? Do they change themselves entirely to meet the whims/personality/desires their partners? Honestly that's more interesting, why don't we see that? Oh right yeah, male gaze and assumed gender/sexuality of the audience.

The End
Ambassador is awake now. He's curious how Picard could resists Kamala, he was chosen for the mission because he's old**** but even he felt something. Picard pretends he didn't hear the question and sends the Amabassador on his way.

* This is a failure of communication and storage. If the Ambassador had special storage requirements and needed the cargo bay to be guarded, those arrangements should have been seen to before he boarded the Enterprise. Also, why is Kamala even in a floating, golden egg precariously balanced on 3 laser supports? If they want to conceal that she's a person surely there are safer, less flashy ways to transport her. I think hiding people among freight is common for a reason, and probably easy if you're only smuggling one person.

** Pheromones don't work that way! There's no evidence humans even have pheromones. If they do the only thing close to human pheromones is a new born's instinctive reaction to human milk (not so sexy now, eh. And yet that's the only context pheromones are referenced on TV). There's no evidence of a human sex pheromone, and if it does exist it certainly doesn't work at a distance. Additionally, pheromones don't work between species, so the chances Kamala's biochemistry would any effect -much less this effect- on anyone of a different species is unlikely. Just say she's a magic sex lady who'll be whatever you want and have done with it!

*** I debated with myself whether to call Kamala by her name rather than use my usual one-episode character epithets. It initially felt disrespectful to not use the character's name and describe what she is, but it occurred to me that that was only because the role she has is so troubling. Additionally, she's not a real person she's a character purposefully dreamed up to be a straight male fantasy, so hey why not call a spade a spade?

**** It feels both insulting and staggeringly inaccurate to assume that age makes people (especially men) somehow sexually neutral.