Tag Archives: aliens

Verdict: The Orville

I will admit the first episode of The Orville did not reel me in to the show. It was not bad, but it was not good either. There were definitely a few points that made me chuckle, but overall it felt like the blasé day-to-day life that we know now set in the future.

Now maybe I had my expectations high as a fan of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest, but this is definitely something a little bit different. The problem is that I am not sure that it is as good as either of those, which is almost what you have to be at this point. You can be different, but space exploration has been done by a couple of shows and you have to somehow bring something new to the table. I am still not sure that The Orville has completely given me that, but the third episode has shown me that it has more to offer than originally thought. Now the first episode is alright, the second episode a little painful in my opinion, and then the third episode you have an episode that kept me engaged and interested the entire time. At this point the general verdict is we are going to keep watching, but it is on thin ice. (Potential spoilers for the first three episodes of The Orville.)

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Humans as the Latest Addition to a Multi-Species Universe: Mass Effect

Following up my posts about humans as latest additions to a multi-species universe, I would like to talk about the Mass Effect franchise. Besides being a huge Bioware fan because of their storytelling, I find that Mass Effect could be considered a “true” legacy to Babylon 5.

Mass Effect depicts a universe with multiple important alien species, which also have history among them. This is both brought to light in actual missions but also through discussions. One thing I love in video game is being able to interact and learn more about not only my character’s companions but also the larger picture thanks to the companions’ (or even other NPCs encountered) backgrounds.

Like in Babylon 5, the story engages at a point where humankind already works with alien species in an established setting. Yet, humans as the most recent addition still have to prove themselves and negotiate certain remaining barriers. The first game shows that well since the protagonist works on being the first human allowed into the prestigious Spectre force. This elite group answers directly to the Citadel Council. It is interesting to see that while nothing new in Science Fiction stories, Mass Effect featuring a hub of activity on the Citadel space station, also ties into the kind of successful setting Babylon 5 provided, as well in its treatment of political and underground organizations.

Mass Effect 2 Companion Team.

Mass Effect 2 Companion Team.

Mass Effect has a stronger military aspect than Babylon 5 did. The game is indeed strongly combat-oriented in how the player can progress. Yet Bioware storytelling approach, including the moral choices allowed in the conversations give a certain degree of realness to the interactions and the character development. The interactive nature of a video game is obviously different from how a spectator responds to watching a television show, but building credible characters, lead or supporting, remains a strong storytelling component.

It is interesting to see how humans are perceived and handle interaction with numerous alien species. The fact that the games allow for a solid level of customization as well as choice span, which can impact friendships, rivalries, or even romances, helps the player get a more complex experience. The game can be enjoyed for gameplay, story, the pondering on a possible trajectory for humankind in the future can certainly be a very engaging asset of the franchise.

If you played Mass Effect, what did you think of the different civilizations interacting? Did the evolution of humankind’s place in the grand scheme of things have an impact on your experience?

Humans as the Latest Addition to a Multi-Species Universe: Babylon 5

After speaking about Defiance last week, I would like to go to an older franchise: Babylon 5. Spanning more than a decade of productions, the universe is a strong example of promoting multi-species settings.

Humans are one of the major civilizations featured in Babylon 5, and commanders of the space stations come from Earth, yet lead with representatives from the other prominent species and cultures. From start, the franchise presented core characters from multiple species and stuck to that during its evolution. A level of cohesion in representation has rarely been achieved to such a significant and lasting degree.

The choice of having strong backstory that was featured as the story unfolded, such as the war between Earth and Minbari, helped with skipping the premise of having first contact between humans and aliens in the first season. Humans’ pride and their lack of communication is shown on multiple occasions and also gives strong credibility to the narrative. The other species such as the Minbari, Centauris, Narns and Vorlons, also are displayed with possessing flaws pertaining to their culture and/or a specific individual. These also have backstories brought into the light over the course of the show, which strengthens the compelling dimension of the series, because it doesn’t solely focus on humans and other species, but also shows the history between several of the alien species, like the difficult past between Centauris and Narns.

Babylon 5 cast (season 1).

Babylon 5 cast (season 1).

While Farscape is often brought up as a descendant of Babylon 5, and has displayed a complex and engaging story, Babylon 5 remains a stronger example of a large scale narrative. A space opera in aesthetic and thematic senses, the older franchise depicted strong political entanglements, relying on either diplomacy or military, explored relationships between official organizations, secret groups and specific individuals, from friendship to marriage.

Another element that adds to the layers of multi-species settings and also challenges humans as the most recent addition to this vast universe is that not all alien species are purely humanoid. Even when other species can look alike, the physical differences often stresses out even greater societal and psychological ones. Babylon 5 tackles such issues including with the Shadows, long-lasting enemies.

Staying away from Earth for the most part, even when its presence remains embedded in several characters’ development and certain political schemes, helps give new options to how humankind has evolved, the steps it has reached for better or worse.

What about you? If you watched Babylon 5, what did you think of the universe presented and the character arcs developed?

Humans as the Latest Addition to a Multi-Species Universe: Defiance

To start my new series about humans as latest addition to a multi species setting, I will focus on the recent TV show Defiance.

While aliens invading Earth is a longtime Science Fiction trope, including on TV, with series such as V, Falling Skies or even The X-Files, Defiance brings an interesting flavor. Defiance is set far enough in time for the change of Earth to have happened, with both pre-existing species and some having emerged prior to the start of the story. Instead of going through a strong invasion setting, the story is more interested in the coexistence of all the species, whether with peaceful times or violently conflicts.

All species still have their biases and issues, regardless of how long they have existed. While the story takes place on Earth, it has been terra-formed so extensively that there isn’t that much left of previous Earth times and cultures, besides a very Western-like feel. Contrary to Firefly, this one has a lot more alien diversity, which is one of the strengths of the shows.

I liked how certain things remained undeniably linked to human history, such as brothels. The NeedWant’s owners were human (including one of my favorite characters in the show, Kenya Rosewater); and a significant part of the sex workers (Night Porters) were human as well, although patrons are from multiple species.

It was also plausible that the screenwriters kept humankind as one of the populations exhibiting racism, notably with some nasty reactions to Irisa, human Nolan’s adopted Irathient daughter.

Nolan and Irisa.

Nolan and Irisa.

I admit not having watched the third and final season so far, as I am horribly behind on TV catch-up! I have also been more curious about the eponymous MMORPG. I never played it but was surprised that it was still going on even after the end of the show. As I was preparing this blog post, I found out that earlier this year, the game released a significant update they promoted as a season four equivalent to the show.

I wonder how the ratio of humans and aliens is in the game when it comes to character creation, and whether the game will have a sustainable future?

If you watched Defiance, what did you think of humans’ interactions among themselves and with the other species? If you played the game, what was your experience like?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, First Impressions

Author’s Note: I watched all the original-cast movies with gusto, but have nothing to add. I suggest this series of articles on EW for insightful commentary on each one.

I love Star Trek: The Next Generation almost as much as the original series, but I’m much less familiar with it. I’ve seen seasons in bits and pieces, mostly when visiting family members who had cable when I was younger — some big swathes of episodes, some random ones here and there. I’ve just started watching the series from start to finish as part of my grand Star Trek watchthrough, and it’s cool to be coming to it straight off the original series. Here are my first impressions of Encounter at Farpoint, informed by memories of the rest of the show.

  • It’s awful. Painfully eager. The cast members hadn’t yet found depths for their characters, and their reactions are comically intense. But trying too hard is, perhaps, better than just being bad, or going off on the wrong track entirely. I do like the idea of having a new crew starting on a new mission, unknown to each other as well as the audience.
  • farpoint_hd_469Those long, lingering shots on their diversity — Vulcan down in engineering, Klingon on the bridge, female security chief. The “no one” replacing “no man” in the opening monologue. A scene describing Geordi’s visor usage in detail. They’re proud, and I’m proud they’re proud.
  • They’re already doing a better job of being an ensemble show, in the newer style that followed “permanent status quo” structures of the 1960s. Even with the one-note acting, they already give the impression of a crew of people with distinct interests, and there are glimmers of the strengths they’ll show later.
  • Picard is weirdly hardass…? He and Riker almost remind me of Gibbs and DiNozzo from NCIS. Which is fine, I love NCIS, but I like them better as themselves. We associate Picard much more with inspiring humanistic speeches. Again, we see some lovely hints, though: “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are.”
  • Data is actually pretty well-formed. They’re not advertising “here’s our Spock,” but rather the newness of an android and what he’ll be able to do on the show. He has a childlike interpretation of events rather than a logical one.
  • farpoint_mccoyADMIRAL MCCOOOOY at age 137! The symbolic handoff is so important to legitimize the show, and Data was a great choice to represent the new generation. Data would be the last person to understand anything McCoy’s ever said, and as a childlike character listening to his elder, his presence creates a sense of newness and hope for the new show.
  • Long, lingering shots of the new set and ship, planets, the holodeck, people using the chest badges… and they disconnect the saucer in the first thirty minutes. They want to show off what the show can look like now.
  • The inclusion of families on the ship is a major change. I’ve always thought it was very unsafe, but I think it’s supposed to indicate Starfleet’s exploratory focus in a more believable way. But the leadership don’t have families, that’s still for scientists and extra people, not really compatible with Starfleet. (Except Dr. Crusher, and Wesley was awful at the beginning just because the lines seemed scripted for a much younger child… And she’s a female character consistently treated in a sexist manner in the early years). Picard makes a point to say he’s not comfortable with children, even. So it’s kind of mixed messages.
  • The plot recalls Star Trek’s first (successful) pilot, with themes of godhood and humanity. But it brings a greater sense of exploration, too. The core plot has that “classic sci-fi” feel, a little sterile but basically about discovering life forms incomprehensibly different from ourselves.
  • This episode is really boring, which makes the conclusion unintentionally funny: “Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir. Picard: Oh no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting.”

Conclusion: The show doesn’t feel grounded yet, and the pace often lags, but it’s got a lot of promise and a genuinely hopeful tone. Can’t wait for more!