Sunday, August 4, 2013

Premises that I feel were unfairly ignored (by their own shows)

So cataloging everything has resulted in me bumping into a fair amount of Battlestar Galactica and Sancturary.

The lack of plan in Battlestar Galactica is something I've talked about at great length, though I'm not sure if ever in main posts.  It's particularly egregious because for years it was literally spelled out (white letters on a black screen) that "And they have a plan" was a pretty central part of the premise to the point that they put it at the beginning of every episode to the point that until they (finally) took that part out it was impossible to watch an episode of the show without having the idea that the Cylons have a plan (spoiler: they don't) embedded in your mind.

By the end you learn that they're at the levers of power.  Galactica, the only Battlestar that could be foreseen to survive the Cylon attack, was laden with them.  One was second in command, his estranged wife another, another led the deck crew, another was a pilot, another was giving fracking tours.  It was predictable that if anyone survived the attack Galactica would be the military ship to do it (Pegasus was an unpredictable survival and so had only one Cylon to it's name.)

Every time there's a human resistance there's either one or three Cylons leading it.

When the head of government needs a new aide who has been patiently waiting to step into that role?  A Cylon.

So the show seemed well set up for there to be a plan, the Cylons were all in position, unlike the humans who were running just as fast as they could just to keep from falling further behind, the Cylons seems to have everything well in hand and everything going according to their unknown plan.  Except when the curtain was pulled away there wasn't even a man behind it.  Not only was there no wizard of Oz, there was no man known as the Wizard of Oz.  There was nothing there, just an empty promise.

(A point driven painfully home in the Battlestar Galactica movie: The Plan which was basically two hours of, "Ha, ha.  Fooled you.  There's actually nothing to see here.")

Also underplayed, and eventually discarded, thrown to the floor, and finally jumped on over and over again was that the twelve models of Cylons were created to be in line with what the Cylons believed were the 12 Archetypes of humanity.  (As compared to First Wave where there were 117 archetypes and the only one that mattered was 117 itself.  The other 116 would crack under the strain and be easily tossed aside.)

The premise, soon tossed aside, was that the Cylons looked at humanity, considered it, analysed it, broke it down, deconstructed, reconstructed, and finally came to the conclusion that there are really only twelve of us.  Differences in life experience lead to apparent variation, but there are only 12 initial personalities.

When the premise was abandoned it meant that we never got to learn what the 12 personality types the Cylons believed in were.  It also meant that there's something else we couldn't do.  The Cylon belief that there are only really 12 types of human would naturally lead to the belief that every human on the show could be pigeonholed into one of those types and therefore every human would have a Cylon model that represented the Archetype under which they fell.

Like I said, this premise was abandoned.  By the end it turns out that when they set out to make themselves in the image of humanity the number they settled on was eight, one of which died off due to sabotage.

Enough Battlestar for now.


Sanctuary.  The idea was that it was a Sanctuary for all.  The mission of those who worked there was to help those who needed help, protect the abnormals who needed protection from the rest of humanity, protect the rest of humanity from the abnormals humanity needed protection from.

So it would seem like the breakdown would be half episodes saving abnormals, half episodes saving normals from abnormals, the margin of error in the middle providing medical assistance and therapy to those already at the Sanctuary.

It's made very clear in the first episode that the place is not a zoo.  It's not a place where they hunt down rare dangerous animals to put them in cages.

For at least a couple of episodes that was maintained.  The boy was to be protected, kept safe from the police because what happened was not his fault, taught to control it so he would no longer be a danger to people, so on, so forth.

Rumors of something brought them in the second episode and while they did a lot of shooting and killing a good portion of the episode was about treating the just woken from suspended animation witches that I don't think we ever hear from again.

But very, very soon it stopped being a sanctuary for all and started being a zoo in which we follow the people who collect their rare dangerous animals for it.

Study was always a part of the Sanctuary premise, so them searching the world for abnormals of this sort or that certainly could and should have been fit into the show, but that was supposed to be secondary to the whole "sanctuary for all" thing.  Moreover, there doesn't seem to be much call to search for X or Y that's doing just fine in its habitat, boxing it up, and forcibly carrying it back to the sanctuary so it can be imprisoned for study.  Yet there were definitely episodes about doing just that.

And the idea of a sanctuary for all brings up an interesting question that I don't ever recall being addressed: what happens when normal people want sanctuary?  The whole "for all" thing means that they're definitely on the guest list, but they're not who the institution is for and their problems are likely of an entirely different sort.

But, like I said, the idea seemed to be quickly abandoned.

(Also note that the idea of the five was first introduced with the idea that they were immortals all.  Turned out they were immortals three.  With no explanation for why Jack the Ripper is.  It seems to naturally go with being a vampire so evil-Tesla being immortal makes sense even though that's supposed to be Magnus' power.  How teleportation grants you immortality is somewhat lost on me.)

Anyway, sanctuary for all: interesting premise, too bad its show didn't make use of it.


Tron, either one, there is a metaphysical quality to computers such that programs are people (with the power to think and, apparently, free will) and cyberspace is an actual space in which these program-people live.

The first movie introduces elements that allow the free will component to come into play: An AI worthy of the name capable of contact with the outside world; a human being thrown into the world of programs.

The second takes place entirely on a computer that has been running for 20 years with no outside input and is under the leadership of the one who lead a coup to kick the users out of power.

In neither do we get an exploration of what these metaphysical program-people with free will would do given the chance and impetus.  Even though both movies give them those things.


Every zombie movie ever.  People come together in the face of disaster to the point that those who think they won't usually do more damage than those who don't get on board the whole coming together thing.

We would see people in a largely overrun city trying to hold the line so ambulances could go back and forth, back and forth, transporting to safety safer those who wouldn't survive the trip in less medically inclined vehicles.  We would see the people who think, "I just have to run faster than the person next to me," looked down on and abandoned in favor of those who think, "I just have to help the person next to me run faster."

We would see teamwork and cooperation.


Sharknado which was about a sharkicane and Malibu Shark Attack which was about a sharknami.  These movies should have been Hard Rain with Sharks.  I understand they presumably couldn't afford Morgan Freeman and I do recognize that parts of Malibu Shark Attack almost kind of sort of verged on it.  Even so fell below the expectations of what a movie that combines: "Oh my god the streets/whatevers are flooded, we should have evacuated when we had the chance," with, "Sharks!  Six metric fucktons of SHARKS!" should be like.

Of course, those two movies were basically designed to fall below expectations, they're meant to be "So bad it's good," so it's not surprising that they fail to meat "should be like," since they were never intended to.


Compare any of Lost's various contradictory premises most of which involved outright lying to the audience then saying, "I know I lied to you before but this time I'm for real," to the actual television series itself.

Ditto for Alias.


Stargate Universe failed to live up to anything, including but in no way limited to its premise.


A lone Federation ship is cast far from home and desperately attempts to make the journey home knowing that they cannot count on outside help, replenishing their supplies, or not dying of old age before they get there.  They struggle in more or less the right direction having no idea what is coming but hoping they can get to the other side with their lives and morals intact.

Voyager didn't live up to that.  The Equinox episodes didn't really either; they just made it seem like the only options were the Voyager way and "Our ship is powered by MURDER!" *cue creepy music*.


Any number of series that sell themselves as having an episodic premise but then immediately introduce a myth arc because screw the episodic premise you came here for.  What the hell is wrong with you that you actually believed the advertising?


The Star Wars Prequels.  Here's the story they were supposed to tell according to the original trilogy.


In Underworld Lucian's past was thus:
-Werewolves were slaves.  The daylight guardians of vampires.
-Lucian, one such slave, bore vampires no ill will.
-Lucian fell in love with a vampire and they married (which was forbidden.)
-When his wife became pregnant she was executed by daylight while Lucian was forced to watch.
-Lucian led a slave revolt in the memory of his vampire bride.
-While vampires spent the intervening years trying to exterminate werewolves, Lucian led the werewolves in trying to find a way to unite the two species.

This is a "Who you are," story which I maintain are better than "What you are," stories.  Lucian isn't special because he's some fun kind of werewolf, he's just another slave, instead what matters is that he internalized his oppression to the point that he had nothing against vampires, which in turn allowed him to get emotionally close enough to fall in love with a vampire, and that he cared about that love enough to break with his past entirely and become the leader of the werewolves against the oppression of the vampires even though he was actually initially ok with the oppression itself.

He was a slave who had internalized his slave status to such a degree he had no ill will towards those who made him, and everyone like him, into one and yet he became the leader of those slaves.  Not just leading them to freedom but leading them during centuries of freedom.  And while some might plot revenge or dominance he plotted equality.

He's a complex character who changes and grows.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans totally failed to go with any of that.  He is super special because he's the first Lycan able to take human form, he knows slavery is bad from the beginning rather than having to over come his own internalization of the system, stuff like that.


Prequels in general are, I think, overly willing to toss the story they promised to tell in favor of the one the creator has a whim to tell today.



    (Even though BSG is the only one I mostly know and my knowledge has holes.)

    (Oh, and Star Wars. But I assume if Lucas kept at it he would just re-adjust and re-align the original trilogy as part of his endless cascade of retcons. Ugh.)

    1. > But I assume if Lucas kept at it he would just re-adjust and re-align the original trilogy as part of his endless cascade of retcons.

      I think that could actually be interesting to watch. Of course, if Lucas actually did that, he'd try to throw the original original trilogy down the memory hole. And copyright would let him do that, ugh.

    2. Lucas has already gone on record as looking toward the future, considering the relative lifespans of film vs. DVD as well as the mortality of human beings and saying that it's his belief that whatever he releases last will be the only thing that survives to posterity and this is, in his mind, a good thing.

      I think that's a big part of why people are so pissed off at him, he's not trying to release a "Lucas' Cut" of the films, he's trying to overwrite the original. Most people don't do that. I've got a director's cut of Aliens in this room, that doesn't mean that I can't go down to a store and get the original theatrical cut in high definition.

      Also Lucas' "No one will remember" plan is doomed to failure because scholia. Attached to ancient texts (say Homer or Apollodorus) are thousands of years worth of notes that other people have written about the text. These notes are not ignored. If Star Wars is still around two thousand years from now then "Han shot first" will be its scholia. (And I'm probably spelling that word wrong.)

  2. I was thinking the "12 models" Cylon thing must tie in somehow with the 12 Olympian gods (who get special chairs, or whatever...) Anyone?

    1. That's one possibility. Another is that it would tie in to the twelve signs of the Zodiac since each of the twelve colonies happened to be named after one.

      It also could have been something entirely new. Perhaps the Cylon version of the Myers-Briggs test involved two dichotomies and one trichotomy.

      The thrones on Olympus were somehow part of the deep magic even though Olympus wasn't chosen as a seat of the gods until the Olympian gods used it as a base for their war against the Titans so why they couldn't put in new thrones is somewhat lost on me.

      When they had a new god to add and no free thrones Hestia said,"It's ok, I'll sit on the floor. All I need is the hearth." (She was god of the hearth.)

    2. Ohhh, I thought Hestia got a chair, or a stool at least, just not a Super Special Shiny Throne cuz 12 is such an important number?

      Oh, Zodiac, hmmmm. And yeah, the personality test thing makes a lot of sense...

      Because Deep Magic, that's why.

    3. Hestia originally got a throne. My memory is that when she gave it up she sat on the floor but I couldn't cite a myth for that and even if that is correct and even if it is the definitive myth you know that if all the myths survived there would be 52 (thousand) versions of the story.

    4. I always pictured, like, a ginormous fireplace with a big brick or stone hearth in front of it, raised off the floor... so not quite a chair, but not just sprawling on the ground either!

      (And I lubs Hestia, so as far as I'm concerned, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it!)

  3. I may have ranted about this before.

    I think that part of the problem with the American television financing system is the uncertainty it generates. If you're producing a show, you don't know at the beginning of the season whether you're going to get another one. You may not even know by the end of the season. So you can't tell a coherent multi-season story. Even worse, broadly speaking a show will go on until people stop watching it, which usually means that the last season is one that people don't bother to watch, and it goes out on a bad note having been dragged on just that bit too long. (See also the last two seasons of Babylon 5.)

    I think it would be interesting to borrow the structure of the telenovela. 120 or so short episodes, shown one per weekday, all committed up-front -- and at the end, the story is over. So you don't need to worry about actors going off and getting other jobs through the years, you don't need to worry about early cancellation, and you can tell a story with an actual ending.

    New Galactica struck me as having some decent ideas up front, but they weren't worked out in detail, and (particularly in the back half of season 3) the writers often seemed to be flailing around, marking time, and making stuff up because it seemed cool at that moment. It's much easier, I think, to pose questions than to answer them in a satisfying manner. (This is also why two-episode stories on shows that normally tell a story in one episode often fall flat in the resolution. Part 1 builds up tension, part 2 unwinds it -- but some tension has unwound in the week between parts 1 and 2 anyway.)

    Yeah, Alias was a really pathological case. Any time it looked as though there might be some answers, whoops, double cross, there's yet another organisation running all the other conspiracies from behind the scenes. Just as with "They have a plan", the writers had no idea where they were going and were just making stuff up as they felt like it. For this reason I tend now to avoid shows that paint themselves as being about a Big Mystery (I didn't even start watching Lost). And yet, if a show were committed to only ever having one season, it could do a pretty good job of solving one!

    I think Sanctuary surprised its producers with its popularity; the original web videos struck me as more a technical exercise in doing big impressive virtual sets on the cheap and making a small profit than anything seriously intended to be picked up for mainstream production. I thought it drifted too far away from the basic premise with all the underground civilisation and steampunk stuff, but I agree that they never really explored the idea of sanctuary beyond "weird creatures are better off in here than out there, so we will bring them in here".

    I think that one of the points of what one might call the "stress show" -- many soap operas, many disaster films including zombies -- is to show people's true colours coming through. This is one of the reasons a disaster film spends such a long time introducing the audience to the characters before things go wrong: the enjoyment is gained from watching the transition between normal behaviour and stressed behaviour, and working out who's going to be a hero and who's going to be a liability.

    I remember when Voyager started, how cynical we all felt: yeah, right, they're not going to be counting down the light years every week, they're going to get a miracle high-speed transport home in the last season.