Saving the Day as a Hard-Ass

I recently watched the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode (in two parts) the Chain of Command. It is one of my all time favourites. Now I’ve read up on it, I’m pleasantly surprised to see I’m in the majority on this. It is a great story, with a powerful performance by Patrick Stewart under torture, yet I mainly remember it for Captain Jellico.

Jellico is played by Ronny Cox, an actor known for being the bad guy in scifi, such as in Total Recall or in the Stargate tv show. In this, he could easily have played another bad guy, but in truth, he’s far from it.

“He was a bit of a hard-ass, but not a villain.”

That’s from Ronny Cox, so now you know where my title comes from. I utterly agree with it. Some really dislike his character, which is fair enough. He isn’t there to be liked. But what doesn’t happen is Jellico being shown up. That’s the thing I mainly remember about this episode. It stands out from most tv I have seen over my years.

You see, in most shows, anyone who argues or counters the main characters are wrong. Just wrong. No, don’t argue, don’t use logic or reason, they’re wrong. Not only that, but they will be proven to be utterly wrong in time. In fact, most likely, they will fail somehow before the episode ends, to prove just how wrong they are, or, even more condemning, it will be revealed that they are a traitor or spy or something.

You don’t argue with the characters. Too many shows are practically preaching the entire time, which means their characters have to be right and smart and right and correct and right and winners. So when a character is introduced to argue with the main characters, it is someone being sent it to fail. The arguments will only prove how great and right our heroes are.

For instance, while I loved the Stargate tv show, I remember the time Hammond was replaced for one episode. The new bloke fell apart under pressure and all was back to normal by the end. There are other instances of Stargate being better than that, sure, but that’s a good example. Many shows have such.

Star Trek was okay with showing up the main characters. A great example is in the original series, when Kirk and Spock are trapped on a planet when Klingons arrive to claim it. Kirk keeps encouraging the natives to rebel, while they keep assuring him not to worry about it. The more he acts, the harsher the Klingons get, the more the people suffer, the more he wants to help, and so on. By the end, the natives reveal themselves to have attained a higher level of living, so no one has suffered. Kirk and the Klingon commander exchange looks. They both feel a bit ridiculous.

In Chain of Command, Picard is relieved of command so he can be sent on an undercover mission. Jellico is placed in command of the Enterprise. He is strict, hands-on, demanding and authoritarian. What he wants done, he wants it done, no questions, no time wasted. This is very different to Picard. Jellico’s ways do not go well with the Enterprise crew. Again, in most shows this would mean he has to be shown up at some point. We need to know this man is just wrong. Wrong I say!

Yet he isn’t unsympathetic. Not only does he feel for others, sometimes openly, we see softer sides to him. He and Picard have some frank exchanges. He shows a badly drawn picture by his son to Troi. But when push comes to shove, he pushes hard. He understands the role of command – he calls the shots, he takes the responsibility, he gets things done.

When Troi comes to him to let him know the crew need time to get used to change taking place, he listens but in the end he pretty much says too bad. ‘This isn’t the Academy anymore’, or something like that. Essentially, he tells her they need to grow up. Honestly, I really agreed with him. It is at times like this that the Enterprise crew seem pandered to by Picard. He has listened to every whine and whinge. Surely the finest crew of the Federation, who boldy explore space, can handle some ship changes without going to pieces?

Riker bumps heads a lot with Jellico. La Forge complains a bunch too. It is almost funny when he protests against changes Jellico asks for yet Data instantly states these are definitely achievable. In fact, Data seems a perfect foil for Jellico. I would have enjoyed seeing an episode of Data being transferred or somehow working with him again.

Basically, we have someone come into the normal set up and go against the main characters. They complain. This usually leads to the one winner. Usually the show itself portrays the antagonist as the problem and the entire problem.

Star Trek gives Jellico humanity and character. We know more than the main characters too, so often we can see why he is aiming for certain things.

I’ll be honest though, Riker and La Forge don’t really rank as some of my favourite characters. Riker especially. I don’t hate them, far from it. But they aren’t ones I’d side with on instinct. So when they complain, they do really come across as whiney and unprofessional. Riker especially. Jellico is in charge and Riker acts like he is Captain Bligh or something. He pushes the crew but they are on the edge of what was only recently enemy territory. It makes sense that he wants everything he can get out of them.

I love Picard. He is one of my favourite captains from Star Trek. But he was always the liberal, touchy-feely, think first and act later captain. That’s a big part of what I loved about him, yet I also loved Kirk’s man of action, ‘I’m the captain’ Schtick. There were times he would really boss his crew. Picard came across as everyone’s favourite teacher sometimes. Mind you, Kirk and Picard were captains from different eras.

Jellico was a captain who knew the Cardassians – the enemy for this episode. He had negotiated with them, understood them more than any on Enterprise, and knew you had to be tough with them. In essence, Jellico was a war-time captain, and Picard was the peace-time adventurer. I loved Picard, but in truth, if war broke out, Jellico is the one I’d want to follow. You can even see it in some of the crew. Data and Worf go with his demands. Crusher, who I liked a lot, does raise valid concerns about his actions, yet also comes across as petulant. I loved Jellico’s way of handling her. When he tells her he wants sickbay ready, and she adds ‘yeah, for the wounded you’re about to give me’ he just nods and confirms. He isn’t a glory hunter. He isn’t seeking conflict. He has to do this. It needs doing. The others can like it or not, just be ready to ‘Get it done’.

So when this two parter concludes, after we have watched Picard suffer so much and the crew clash with their new captain, we could easily have something where Jellico loses out. He makes a bold call. He plays his hunch. If Picard had, the crew would back him without question. When the new bloke does it, they question and doubt. He goes through any way. This could easily have been a set up just to have him fail.

We do get a scene with him and Riker where they are frank and, while they never make up (which I really liked) they do act together to make this work. In a way, it is odd that Riker agrees. If he had been needed to pilot a rescue mission for Picard, sure, but this is just playing out Jellico’s hunch about a Cardassian ambush. Still, maybe it shows Riker isn’t as smarmy and full of himself as he sometimes comes across. His ‘You’re welcome’ doesn’t help though.

But this whole thing concludes with Jellico not just stopping the Cardassians and saving thousands of lives, but getting Picard back. Okay, I’m sure if Riker had been in charge they would have whizzed off and rescued him somehow, but that’s not how the show played it. They had the ‘hard-ass’ who pisses a lot of people off play out a plan that wins everything. Like him or not, the characters can like him or not, Jellico is someone who gets things done. Do as he asks, complain but don’t challenge him, and you’ll get along fine. You can’t argue with the result. Hell, I kind of suspect that if Picard had been in charge, things would have gone badly.

So kudos to Star Trek. They introduced an individual who rubbed many characters up the wrong way, and many fans too, but they never used this as a means to glorify how great and right the main characters are or to show up the new guy. Jellico is abrasive yet interesting. He is blunt but smart, experienced and rational. He cares about people and does what is best for most, while feeling bad for the one that might have to be sacrificed. When Picard is telling him of the mission, he sighs at how bad the intel is and offers every help he and the Enterprise can be. This is early on. Even then, we see signs that he isn’t just some one-off shithead come to mess up the status quo. They keep him that way.

By the end, he is the hero. The show doesn’t give him a huge fanfare – it ends on Picard telling Troi he believed he could see five lights (which is a powerful way to end) – but that felt fitting to Jellico. He seems the type to say no to any fuss. He was just doing his job.

I do love his little comment about maybe the Enterprise is a little better now.

What is really weird is I had it in my memory banks that Jellico and Riker have a conversation at the end where Jellico spells it out that, yeah, he isn’t Picard, but he is still a good captain. At this point, Riker realises maybe he was being the problem, rather than everything being Jellico’s fault. No such exchange takes place. Perhaps I got this from something else. It felt a lot like the end of that South Park episode where the Mormon kid tells Stan, sure I believe in some weird things, but they make me happy and I don’t hurt anybody, unlike you, so suck my balls.

But even if that bit never happened, I still feel the show’s voice was never on one side only. Riker had concerns, Jellico was certainly brusque in his manner, yet I felt the show was also showing Riker up a little. Others too. Jellico wasn’t bad, he was just different. Perhaps if he had had the time he would have eased changes in, but he knew he was being sent into a dangerous situation with a hell of a lot at stake. He kicked some arse because he had to. In order to save lives. Like a hero.

Anyway, to cap this love fest off, here is a link to an interview with Ronny Cox where he talks about playing Jellico, and some other features of his long and worthy career:

Shadow News is Talking

Recondite Publications is now running a serious of posts where imagined interviews take place to reveal what is going on in the world of Sojourners In Shadow. It should provide extra insight into characters, groups and races in a more fun form than my long, winding blog posts. ;)

The first one is here:

Nuisance Phone Calls Aren’t Just a Nuisance

So one of those PPI phone call bastards threatened my mum with the police today. No joke.

Basically she answered the phone to have someone ask for my dad. She said he wasn’t there and could she take a message. She’s nice and polite like that. The man said no. It was for my dad alone. She then asked what it was about. He told her she wasn’t allowed to know. Mum pointed out that the man the caller wanted was her husband. “So?” came the reply.

My mum’s very nice but she gets tetchy and once there, she gets into super tetchy very quickly. I get that from her. So this man’s abrupt tone annoyed her so she demanded to know what company this caller represented.

“Don’t you understand?” he snapped.
“No, I don’t,” Mum replied.
“Well you will when the cops come round in 24 hours.”
He repeated the line, then hung up.

Mum admitted she was close to tears by then. She wrote down the conversation instantly and the number. That’s how we know it is PPI. They’ve called a few times and each time been told not to call back.

When she told me all this, I laughed at how outrageous the cops threat was, because it was an absurd thing to say. Mum said she knew it, yet she still felt agitated. But I’m fuming about the whole thing. I’ve been urging her to post it on her own FB and let people share it around. She doesn’t want that but is going to complain to OFCOM tomorrow (of what use that will be, I’m unsure). So I’m bitching for her.

What really makes me mad is that I’m looking up things to do about this, and most of the info is pretty pathetic. You can complain to regulators, or the company itself, but not much seems to get done. There’s little normal people can really do to get these shitty phone calls stopped, let alone punish the companies.

We had another phone call later. It was another unwanted call. I answered, told the caller to fuck off, hung up. That’s what I’m doing from now on. No more tolerance. No more trying to explain things to these pricks. They can all shit off. Don’t care what it is. Maybe they’ll get the hint. If not, I just hope no one around here puts a swear jar up.

Six Reasons why Jeremy Corbyn could win next General Election


I think this needs being said to offer a counter point to all the anti-Corbyn sentiment going around.

Originally posted on Think Left:

Six Reasons why Jeremy Corbyn could win the next General Election By James Meadway , previously published by Novara Media

Jeremy Corbyn, on current polling, is on course to win Labour’s leadership campaign. Conventional wisdom, as recycled by Britain’s political class, has put this down to a kind of post-election sulk by Labour’s members and supporters. Elect Corbyn now, they insist at increasing volume, and Labour can kiss goodbye to powerJeremy c192x108 for a generation or more.
The Westminster bubble was wrong about Corbyn’s candidacy, and it’s wrong about how the left might win the next general election. It’s the left in the party, not the right, that can show a path to Labour’s return to power. Supporting Corbyn is not just about principle or ‘self-indulgence’. It’s about strategy. Here’s how it could work:

1. It’s the stupid economy.

The chances of the UK avoiding a financial crisis and…

View original 850 more words

Cinema Experiences

I have never been a big cinema goer. I get engrossed in movies and feel far more comfortable doing so alone or with few others, without distractions. I want to think and analyse and soak it all in. I watched the Lord of the Rings at home on DVD and I wouldn’t want to change that. The first I watched alone and was utterly absorbed by it.

Mind you, my wife is a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings and one day soon we’ll watch it all in one day together. That should be great.

Last summer she and I went to the cinema a couple of times. It was a small one and quiet, about twenty or so people in there at best. We saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy. I enjoyed them both, even if my wife is loud when she sobs or glees over something.

But in my younger years my family went to a much bigger cinema and saw some big blockbusters. The place was packed and I hated going there and coming out, but once I got settled I felt secure and ready to absorb another story. Or at least have my eardrums pounded by the speakers.

We mainly saw Star Trek movies because my uncle and aunt were huge Trek fans and they loved going to see them with us. My dad and I were Trek fans too. This made me like the Next Generation films a lot more than I would have alone. The audience enjoyed the banter of the characters and some of the set-ups. As I have watched those films since, I’ve found myself barely able to tolerate them. Especially after watching some of Mr Plinkett’s reviews. The point about TV Picard vs Movie Picard was spot on.

Still, people had a good time and so I did too.

The same went for watching the Phantom Menace (speaking of Pinkett). I saw that in the cinema and, well, I had a good time. We laughed at Jar-Jar (don’t hate me, I was swept up with the crowd!) and the end fight was pretty cool. However – and this is an important moment for me as a movie nut that I only realised later on in life – as soon as we were in the car, I did start complaining about a few things to my younger brother. Small things, like the bigger fish bit being repeated. He looked at me and muttered: You take movies too seriously.

He was right, of course.

I still have a bit of liking for the Phantom Menace. Oh I know it is a poorly thought out plot with annoying characters. But I find the simple and direct story an okay watch. The other two films I had no enthusiasm to watch and only did so when I got round to it. Neither worked for me. Probably because they were more about the bigger picture, telling a tale I already knew the outcome to. I can give a crappy scifi film a pass if it keeps things more simple and focused. After all, I grew up on science fiction most would despise today. Cheap effects, stereotypical characters, goofy music. Still, I loved them. I watched Roger Corman’s Space Raiders not long ago. It was daft but I couldn’t help enjoying it. So many deaths! Fun times.

So back to the cinema stuff, I have to relate a story while watching the Phantom Menace. We were at the big fight and had just seen Darth Maul kill Quids-In Gin, or whatever. Obi is mad but then is hanging from that thing, whatever that was. Darth Maul is glowering and growling. Suddenly Obi flips up, catches the light saber and cuts Darth Maul in half.

This bloke a few rows back yells in a hushed voice: Yes!

Everyone around us heard him. Everyone laughed.

I know that film is poor and I’d much rather watch Mr Plinkett’s review of it than the movie itself, but I do remember that moment fondly. I love knowing someone was so into the film that they had to let that out. Just had to exclaim it, but still tried to keep quiet. Good for you, man.

I did see Return of the Jedi when I was very young too. I have no real recollection of viewing it though. I just remember my brother and I running about pretending to fly ships and shoot each other. We must have driven everyone around us mad.

Another vivid memory I have is watching the Mask. Us Brits had no idea who Jim Carrey was back then. I didn’t even know I had seen him before! Turns out I had seen Earth Girls Are Easy and a few others he was in. Oh, only recently I watched a vampire movie which was kind of a sex comedy too, and I found that was him. Oddly enough, my uncle and aunt had put this film on one time while we were staying with them. They chatted with my parents at the dining table as my brother and I watched it. Basically we were at that age where we didn’t get half the jokes and didn’t want to let the adults know we knew the other half. It didn’t really stick in the mind until I came across it on tv recenly, and I had to go: Is that Jim Carrey?!

So yeah, we sit and watch this movie (the Mask) we only know has this green faced loon in. I always remember the mood. Everyone was still and relaxed. Things were ticking along. We meet Stanley, Milo his dog, his best friend at the bank, etc. You could just sense people urging the movie forward.

Then he puts the mask on. Wow, the energy level leapt up in the cinema in a second. This was what everyone had come to see! People were laughing and buzzing as the madness was let loose. When the mask was off, people calmed down, but they had had a taste now and you could sense people were still excited for the next time. It came. People loved the big musical number.

What I will say about the strength of the movie was that by the end, I actually cared about Stanley as a character and not about him as the Mask. That other side was fun but ego-centric and reckless. I think the audience went that way too. By the end, everyone was giddy having laughed a lot and, I think, cared a lot. Not many movies I have been to see have left a crowd that way.

There are a lot of things about going to the cinema that still aren’t for me. I was annoyed at having to watch Guardians of the Galaxy in 3-D, and having to pay extra for something I didn’t want. But there have been some films that would never have got me without that crowd atmosphere. There are some experiences I’m glad I had.

Oh, but that time I threw up on myself in the back of my uncle’s car on the way to a film, not so good. Had to change on the side of the road and everything. No idea what that movie even was! Would have been fitting if it had been Star Trek: Generations.

Vandals: Trouble by the Horde

Among the monsters that have entered our world from the Shadow World, the vandals rate among one of the most brutal and aggressive. Of course, this leads to the perception of them as evil monsters – a common reaction to the supernatural races. Harbingers are natural born hunters. Brutes live by strength. Devil-beasts… Well, okay, they are pretty bad in both action and intent. Vandals, however, are not as singularly cruel as many humans would insist upon. They are fighters, conquerors, adapters. A strong rival to the ambitions of super-soldiers and cyborgs, not least due to their large numbers. Vandal hordes have plagued the world for some time.

Vandals have some similarities with brutes – physical power is admired, bravery in combat is demanded – but they are not the same. Vandals are more intelligent. They have learned the ways of humans and mutants, and so are often found using their weapons. They still prefer melee weapons, especially bludgeons, but guns are just too damn good at killing not to be admired. While brutes care about how a fight is won, that the combatants must face each other and win by strength alone, vandals care only about the result. Winning by cunning is just as worthy as by skill or force.

The vandals are also quite egalitarian. While females are the ones who give birth, they are required to fight and work along with anyone else unless incapable. Parenting is not a responsibility of individuals. All young are the property of the horde. Fathers and mothers are only such in a biological sense, and rarely does this matter at all. The young among a horde are raised together, taught the same lessons their elders were raised on, trained to produce strong fighters and clever leaders, regardless of gender. Siblings have a tendency to remain close, either in support or rivalry, but rarely are there lines of succession. Everyone can succeed. If they truly want to.

A feature of the young that vandals prefer to keep quiet is that they are born with soft skin. Adult vandals have green, tough, leathery skin, layering their stocky frames, with solid horns jutting from such places as knees, elbows, shoulders and foreheads. This means they are among the toughest warriors to face. But their young have to grow and develop this skin. Some think this could be why they relish their own resilience when full grown. As children, they have to be protected and nurtured, if in a harsh fashion. Once matured, they have little to fear. Most poisons are like spices to them. They can chew even wood with their wide, solid teeth, and also digest it. Vandals can cross all kinds of terrain, endure all sorts of weather, and survive most hardships.

Not all vandals live in the traditional hordes, though. Many have adapted fully, settling in places like Trade Island, where their natural benefits make them easy hires as mercenaries and bodyguards. Many move across Europe in small bands, sometimes mixed ones, either raiding settlements or offering their services to those who need a strong force. Wherever there is conflict or gain to be had by the ability to kill others, vandals can be found. Often these vandals are more worldly than the common type. Knowledge is a weapon, after all. But their natural ruthlessness and their enduring physiques mean that anywhere, any time, vandals are feared and respected as destructive creatures.

Their name has been well earned.