MOVIE REVIEW: “Battle in Outer Space” (1959)

I haven’t done one of these in a long while, but when I came across a Japanese space movie I’d never seen before, I just knew I had to cover it.

PLAY BY PLAY

In the not-too-distant future – I dunno, the 1970s, I guess, or maybe the late ‘60s – Japan has a vigorous space program that has its own large space station that looks a lot like a roulette wheel, complete with the little spinny bit at the tip. The station – which is armed for no good reason – is attacked by flying saucers, and destroyed.

Roll opening titles!

UFOs cause several acts of wonton destruction (Which is a great Chinese punk cover band that used to play in…oh, wait, I already used that gag in another review) involving wrecking a train, the Panama Canal, and Venice. Japan got off light. You knew the train was going to get destroyed, though, since it was obviously a miniature rather than stock footage. That’s how you can always tell when something is about to explode in these films: if they use miniatures for something they could have simply gone outdoors and shot for real, it’s gonna’ die.

Anyway, a UN conference is called at the Japanese Space Center to discuss the loss of the space station, the miniature train, and the two poorly painted pictures that are alleged to be photographs of Panama and Italy. They conclude that the earth is under attack by aliens from the planet Natal. How they know this isn’t made clear, and in fact there’s really no way they could.

Meanwhile, the Iranian delegate to the UN Science Thingie wanders off by himself (Always stay with the group! Always!) and gets Zombified by the aliens. He’s now their slave. Why’d they pick an Iranian? I’m assuming either it was the whole “Hostages” thing, which wouldn’t happen for another 19 years, or it might be that he wore a turban, which hid the surgery scars. So anyway, he runs amok breaking stuff ineffectually until he’s outed by a random gaggle of UN delegates who chase him around (If you’ve got sound editing equipment, remove the soundtrack during these scenes, and replace them with “Help” by the Beatles and some girly screams. It’s hilarious!) so he escapes smirkingly, and is disintegrated by his alien overlords.

Scooping up some of the red dust that remains, and putting it under the microscope, they conclude that there was a tiny machine or something in his head that made him act all goofy. The UN re-convenes, and declares that the aliens from the planet they’ve never heard of and shouldn’t know the name of, have set up a base on the moon and are planning to invade, which they also shouldn’t really know. Ok, the invasion is a no-brainer, but the moon thing? What, was it written on the mind control device in really tiny print or something?

In less time than it takes to say ‘jumpcut’ the nations of the world are working together building two large spacecraft (Who’s size is really inconsistent) to go the moon to do recon or possibly to kick butt (Also rather inconsistent). Rather than simply go, however, they decide to pad out the film a bit with the most unromantic romantic subplot of all time:

Protagonist and Chick (The characters are all ciphers and fairly interchangeable ones at that, so let’s not even keep the pretense that they have names) go out for a skrog in the park. They lay down. Chick looks up at the moon and says, “You know, when I look at the moon, I keep imagining there’s a prince up there who’ll come down and swoop me off my feet.” I don’t know where you come from, but around here (Florida), if a girl starts mooning about some guy other than you to take her away, you’re pretty much not gonna get any.

Meanwhile, Protagonist says “I think as we move further into the future, our sense of beauty will fade.” What the frack? What are you, a French existential nihilist? Dude, seriously, that kinda’ crap wouldn’t even get you laid in Paris in the ‘50s. Yikes!

I should mention that the girl is reeeeeeealy pretty. Her name was Koyoko Anzai. I can’t find any pictures of her, but believe you me, she’s way prettier than the chicks you generally see in movies of this caliber and period. While watching this, I remembered a scene in the movie “The Mysterians” that was almost identical, and wondered if clueless people not making out was just the zeitgeist of the time. In looking it up, I found that this movie is actually a sequel to The Mysterians, so it was probably an in-joke. Turns out this was a trilogy: The Mysterians (Which I’ve seen a zillion times, but not in 30 years), this movie, and a third one that I’ve never heard of.

So anyway, Protagonist and Koyoko see a flying saucer and beat it back to the base. Meanwhile, their fellow-astronaut friend – let’s call him “Imomura”* – decides to drive into town before the mission to “Kiss the girls.” He’s abducted by the aliens, who plant yet another Zombification device in his head.

The next morning, the two ships – cleverly named “One” and “Two” – are launched. As they fly to the moon, they have no gravity. One third-class yokel – exactly one, and nobody else, despite there being like thirty people on the mission – gets out of his seat, floats up, and bangs his head on the ceiling. The skipper reminds him that they’re weightless, you need to be careful.

“Oh, that’s right, I remember you saying that.”

You’d think this stuff was covered in Astronaut training, but nope, it’s just “Everyone can be an Astronaut day” down at the Japanese Space Center. First fifty people get to go on a suicide mission to the moon. The first hundred get snow cones!

So they pull the guy down. Let’s let that sink in a moment.
He’s floating ‘cuz he’s weightless, they’re weightless too, but they pull him down, when in fact they should go Peter Panning their way up there, too. Evidently, however, you don’t float in zero G as long as you walk carefully.

Seriously: They never explain this. I’d have expected some exposition about “Magnetic Boots” or what have you , but no, just take light steps. Then the officers head into the control room.

Wait – shouldn’t they have been in the control room for liftoff? Wasn’t that where they’ve been all this time?

Evidently not, no.

So they go into the large, submarine-like control room. Evidently the ship was launched on autopilot. Well, really, all rockets are, so I guess they didn’t need to be up there, but it still seems like wasted floor space to me. Ah well.
They pass the floating ruins of the space station, and say a prayer for the dead. This is a really nice scene. Then, en rout to the moon, they get attacked by flying saucers shooting “Space Torpedoes.” (Wouldn’t that mean ‘missiles?’ No matter, they look like rocks anyway.)

Using the super-zap heatray guns that I forgot to mention earlier, but which were invented during a jumpcut in an earlier scene in the film, they manage to fight their way through this and take out a few saucers. Meanwhile, acting under alien influence, Imomura attempts to sabotage and destroy one of their own ships, and disables it’s super-ray gun. He’s caught and ineffectually tied up.

While landing on the moon, the spooky alien baritone warns them to go home, or die. They actually briefly discuss going home.

They then lower some ridiculously over-designed moon rovers to the surface. Seriously: they’ve got tractor treads, and then above these, never touching the ground, they’ve got big car wheels sticking out to the sides. And the things can fly. And they can bend in the middle, but they never do. Impressively enough, they actually built a full-size mockup of the front of one of these! No sooner are they there, then Yokel Third Class (Same guy) manages to bound over the lander by accident. He’s again chided for not being careful.

So they tool around a bit, in boring fashion, and eventually find a cave. Going through the cave, they find the alien base, which is kinda’ boring. They discuss going in to attack it, but decide to get the big portable heat ray machine gun. They send Koyoko back to get the gun, and she’s ambushed by a whole bunch of the aliens in an effectively creepy scene. She’s then rescued by her “Eventually our sense of beauty will fade” boyfriend who’s so forgettable that I actually honestly did forget he was in the movie. And he’s the protagonist!

Why is this scene effective? It’s shot and thought out well. It’s a cave already, so it’s dark and spooky. The aliens are wearing space suits, which saves money on monster costume costs, and allows our imaginations to fill in the blanks. They’re humanoid, but short, child sized, and there’s a lot of them capering about, with helmets that aren’t designed for human heads, making creepy gibbering noises. Protagonist kills them, the they both get back to the cave opening overlooking the alien base.

Meanwhile, Imomura frees himself and blows up one of the moon rockets, then makes his way to the second one.
Humans and aliens shoot at each other a bit, until the alien base blows up, but it disgorges several saucers before it does. On ship two, Imomura loses the voice in his head. In a neat, though brief scene, his face goes from heartless cold to confusion as the signal ceases, and he tries to figure out his last instruction. Then awareness of what he was doing. It’s well played. He sets things right.

The expedition returns to the landing site to find one ship blown up. They assume the saucers did it, but Imomura confesses, begs forgiveness, and stays behind to hold off the saucers with his ray gun while the ship blasts off.
And there you’d think the movie end, but no, there’s an entirely superfluous fourth act.

Back on earth, they decide there’s really nothing to stop the aliens from attacking again, so they decide to build a massive fleet of the “One man scout rockets” they’ve been using, and convert them to fighters. We see several scenes of construction, the aliens attack, and the fighters are launched. These are, no question about it, X-15s with a different paint job.  Seriously, they’re just toy model kits.

Then there’s the titular ‘battle in outer space’ which involves none of our characters. Well, they’re in it, but they’re largely interchangeable anyway, and they’re all on the ground gawking at monitors while the fighting goes on. For a while I thought Protagonist was one of the fighter pilots, but, no, I was wrong. He wasn’t. He was just a gawker, too.

So this is pretty dull. Imagine the last 15 minutes of Star Wars if Luke and Han stayed on Yavin, and the whole fight was left up to Porkins and Biggs. Yeah.

The aliens blow up a very substandard model of NYC, and they take out a mediocre model of the Golden Gate bridge.  The alien mothership attacks Tokyo. Big ray guns on the ground destroy it. Everyone congratulates each other.

Then an American who hasn’t been in the movie at all up to the battle stands up, and a woman and kid come in, and they make a point of introducing his family, and then he leaves. What the heck was that all about?

The end.
OBSERVATIONS

They never specifically say it, but it appears there are only three manned space programs in the world in this movie: The American one, the Soviet one, and the Japanese one. It’s sort of taken for granted that the Japanese had the only space station.

Since it’s illegal to use the UN logo for profit, or without written permission, the producers of this film made a near-exact duplicate, only the earth is turned 90 degrees to the right. Clever! And they never actually say “United Nations” in the movie.

There’s no getting around it: this is a lavish production. George Pal would have killed to have this kind of money. Take, for instance, the space station in the opening scene: it’s shaped like a wheel, and the interior sets stretch off into the distance and curve up, just like “Space Station V” from 2001. That movie was filmed 9 years later. They built half of the moon rover. The interior sets of the space ships were not particularly awe-inspiring, but they were competent and pretty big. They had at least a dozen full space suits for the adults, and at least another dozen for the aliens, and at least 24 helmets, they had a fighter cockpit set, they had a pretty large cast, some of whom, I gather, were minor names at the time. This was a sequel to “The Mysterians,” and it clearly had a lot more money behind it than the first film did.

Wanna’ know how to tell if one of these old productions had any money? Space suits. They’re expensive, especially the helmets. If you’ve got a bunch of ‘em, this is a pricey proposition.

The special effects are your typical LB Abbot/Howard Lydecker thing: models on wires. That said, the quality of the shots is really good, and a couple of the scenes – the wreckage of the space station, or the rockets tumbling towards the moon in slow motion – are really pretty. And everything looks good in lurid Technicolor Oh, sorry, “Tohoscope.” When The model building in this movie is surprisingly sub-par, however.

One neat touch: you know how in these old SF films, fire is belching out of the back of the rocket, and the flames kind of bend in some other direction than straight down? And it looks fake? It’s because heat rises, and the flame will find ‘up’ regardless of the position of the model. In this film, to get around it, they built all the launch pad sets upside down, put the camera upside down, lit the fuse, and then dropped the rocket into a net out of shot. The flames don’t look all bendy, and best of all the clouds of smoke gradually appear to rise. They used the same trick for when the aliens are destroying buildings in Tokyo with their anti-gravity guns: the models and camera were upside down. When the explosions start, all the debris falls up, or appears to.

Man, the science in this film is hokey, even by the standards of the time! We’re told that gravity and temperature are related. The alien anti-gravity weapon works by freezing things so cold that they become lighter, and are thrown into the air by the earth’s own centrifugal force. Uhm…..whaaaat?

And…uhm…I guess that’s about it. Now I remember why I haven’t done one of these in a year or so: they take forever to write. I’m tired.

*- That’s actually the character’s real name, I just wanted to see if you’d look down here.

I wrote a new story

yesterday I wrote a short story called “Dead Man’s Dream,” which isn’t entirely apt, since nobody is asleep in it. They are all dead, though. Mostly, though, I just liked the sound.

Took about 3 hours to write, 2300-ish words. Starts out funny, gets kind of poignant in the end. It was originally going to go much darker, but that would have doubled the length of, basically, a one-joke premise that leads into my actual point, so I wisely dropped it.  The wife and kid read it, and thought it was pretty funny.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s very good. I mean, it’s good enough. I’ll set it aside as complete, but I don’t think I entirely ‘stuck the landing’ so to speak. I got my idea across, but not as strongly as I’d hoped. Not really worth going in and heavily re-working it, though.

HOWEVER: this *IS* the first wholly original short I’ve done in, I dunno, a couple years? So hopefully this will be the first step in me doing more writing, and I’m sure I’ll get less rusty quickly. And I’m told, as usual, that my dialog was both absurd, snappy, and fun. So that’s good.

Abe, Honest

About thirty years ago I met a professional Abraham Lincoln impersonator. I don’t remember what his day job was, but his side gig was going around to various historical functions abd playing Lincoln. it wasn’t enough to support him, of course, but there was more call for that sort of thng than you’d imagine,and he made 5 or 10 grand a year on the side.

when I first saw him, he was in a line in a cafeteria Getting lunch. It was all an accident of birth, of course, but he looked just like Abe. Same big forehead, same gangly body, horseface, high cheekbones, same unfortunate beard and….Wayfarer sunglasses.

Damn, there was just something cool about Lincoln in sunglasses, you know? They suited him. He didn’t just look presidential or iconic, he looked cool.

As soon as we were both through the line, I walked over to him and said,

“Excuse me sir, I’m sorry to bother you, but do you know you look *just* like someone…”

“So I’ve been told,” he said.

“Abe Vigoda,” I said. “You look just like Abe Vigoda, from Barney Miller, and also from his own short-lived spinoff, ‘Fish.’ Remember that show? You probably get people telling you that all the time, but it’s uncanny how much you look like him.”

He stared at me in confusion for a beat, and then just about blew out his lungs laughing. Which is also not someing you ever see. You don,t ever get to see lincoln laughing, or wearing cool sunglasses, and certainly not at the same time.

I grinned and excused myself, and went to eat my lunch

OBITUARY: Billy Graham 1919-2018

Ah, poor Billy Graham.

Whether you’re a Christian or even an Anti-Christian, it’s very hard not to appreciate Billy and all his work for social causes in addition to the cause of Christ. Even Harlan Ellison once said that Billy seemed to be the only big-name Evangelist who seemed like a good man who actually practiced and believed what he preached, and wasn’t just in it for the money. (Paraphrased, owing to my faulty memory)

He opposed segregation before it was trendy. As early as 1957, he would refuse to preach at revivals that separated Black and White sections. He invited Martin Luther King to co-headline a 16-week revival in NYC. He spoke publicly about the need for nuclear disarmament. He advocated more attention money and time be spent on AIDS back in the ’80s. He was, as far as I’m aware, completely scandal free.

In the 1968 election, Nixon enlisted Graham’s aid in campaigning for him and helping him wrap up the evangelical Christian vote. He made a number of promises of how greatly he could help Christianity once he was in office. Graham did so, but after the election he quickly realized Nixon had been lying to him, and had no interest in making good on any of his promises. He grew disgusted at having been so gullible and so easily used, and remained mostly publicly apolitical for the rest of his life. Even so, he was a guest of 11 presidents, and functioned as an unofficial spiritual adviser to a couple of them.

You don’t have to agree with his stance on everything – heck, *I* differ with him theologically on at least one important point, possibly others – but in the end he was a man who spent his whole life trying to make the world a better place, both spiritually and materially.

He’d been retired for more than 10 years owing to failing health, but just the same: it’s a sadder place without him in it.

I miss John Bennett

I just got to thinking about how I miss my friend John Bennett. I haven’t thought about him in years, but he popped into my head on the way back from my kid’s school, and, dang, I miss hanging out with him.

John and I carpooled together when we were in high school. He was a somewhat-off, more-than-passingly shy guy who compensated with a sense of humor that I can only describe as random.

Example: One time we’d broken into an old building with lots of very old paint that was flaking.

John: I think this is lead paint.
Me: Probably.
John: Don’t eat the paint.
Me: [Laughing] Thank you for reminding me, John.
John: Don’t eat it!
Me: I won’t eat the paint.
John: Good. Because you shouldn’t.
Me: I wonder why this place was abandoned.
John: Maybe they all ate the paint and died.
[Time passed]
Me: Ah, crap! Back up, back up, back up! We need to find another way!
John: Did you eat the paint?
Me: No, the hallway’s full of snakes! Run!
John: [Running, screaming] As bad as this is, it would be worse if you ate the paint!

If that makes him sound aspergery or really OCD, it wasn’t. He was struggling to keep a straight face every time he said it.

Though incredibly low key, he was always a hoot. We’d be at his house, and he’d be making me listen to backmasked messages on Mylon LaFevre albums (Mylon was a Christian musician) and then he’d say, “Let’s go make bombs!” Being of an engineering mindset, he was really good at bombs. Being of a Floridian mindset, I as entirely in favor of this. Then, we’d sneak out into the well-known makeout spot for the high-school kids in the woods (It goes without saying that as a couple geeky Juniors, neither of us could get any chicks) and set the bombs off (Harmlessly). This, of course, scared the crap out of the people, and there’d be screams, and half the cars would go screeching off into the night, and occasionally a whole bunch of the guys would see us lurking and chase after us while we hauled ass back to John’s car. The time he looked over his shoulder while running, then slammed into a tree is probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life.

We got back to the car, and he was more concerned about spiders than his bleeding wounds. Terrified of spiders.

His nickname was “Evil Genius,” which he chose for himself. Uhm, we’d get on the CB to see if any truckers were Catholics who could help us with our latin homework (nope). We’d sit on his hobie cat on the trailer on the back of his car while a friend would drive us around the Dunedin causeway, which sounded hilarious, but was utterly horrifying. Uhm…oh, he joined the Navigators, a Christian Youth Group, mostly in order to meet chicks. Eventually he realized that wasn’t gonna happen, hence their unfortunate group nickname, “The Never-daters.” One day in frustration, he asked for a garbage bag, then we packed up all their snacks in the bag and left. (We shared them with our friends and total strangers for the rest of the night.) We’d drive up to Newberry and go poking around in the caves.

John: Hey, watch what happens if I turn out the light
Me: DON’T TURN OFF THE LIGHT, JOHN!

He introduced me to the concept of comedy albums (Bob & Doug MacKenzie), and I remember us seeing A Fish Called Wanda together for the first time while visiting him in Gainsville. It about killed both of us

Another fun moment! We were hiking across the unused, shoreward part of Honeymoon island once, through the tall grass, on our way to the woods, to set off bombs. This was broad daylight. I’d never done it before, but past experience had taught John that being on an island well away from the beach gave us a LOT more time to get away before the cops showed.

One time we went out to the woods on Honeymoon Island, which is where he used to test out some of his homemade explosives. Walking through the tall grass, and I hear rustling.
Me: “You hear noises?”
John: “Yeah.”
Me: “Rats? Snakes? Rats and snakes?”
Kpjm: “No. We don’t want to step on them, though. Here, I’ll clear ’em out.”

He lit an M-80, then chucked it randomly. It exploded. Suddenly, at *LEAST* a half dozen couples of elderly gay men hopped up out of the grass and came running out of the woods, either naked, or in their underwear, or speedos, looking horrified. He threw another M-80 high enough that it exploded in the air. The elderly homosexuals kept running. I said at least six couples, but it was probably more.

“Just in case there’s any stragglers,” he said.
“Good thinking,” I said. “So I’m imagining the first time you came out here, you didn’t know this was a place where gay coots go for anonymous gay coot sex?”
“It was a pretty awkward discovery,” he admitted.

I should mention John was wearing a pith helmet at the time. Whenever we went out in the woods or to the beach or the islands or climbing through an abandoned building, or sometimes even just swimming, he always wore a pith helmet. If you asked him why, he’d mumble something about monkeys.

We went to different colleges and saw less of each other after that, but it was always a hoot. The last time I saw him was his wedding. This was before I’d met my wife, and I was recuperating from a bad breakup, so I wasn’t dating anyone at the time. I asked a friend of mine who was a model to come along as my plus-one. Since we’d known each other for years, and had an easy back-and-forth, and a bunch of jokes only we knew, everyone assumed we were together. Every time she got up to go to the bathroom, the guys at the table (Total strangers) would compliment me on her.

“Oh my God, man, she’s gorgeous!”
Yeah, she is.
“You’re lucky to have a woman like that.”
I know. Her and her live-in boyfriend were going to go camping this weekend, but there was a last-minute change in their schedule, so…
“How did an average-looking guy like you get a girl like her?”
She’s not actually mine. I’m just borrowing her for the evening.
“Seriously, dude, how did you get a girl like that?”
I called her boyfriend, and I said, ‘hey, Bob, I need someone to go to a wedding with me, and Heather’s busy. Can I borrow your girlfriend?
[One of the girls at the table] “I think it’s the hair.”
Oh, for God’s sa—Yes. Yes, yes, yes, it’s the hair. Chicks dig the hair. [My current profile picture is from around then. I did have gobs of pretty good hair]
“See?”
Grumble grumble grumble. Then she’d come back.
“What did I miss?”
Everyone was talking about how much they like your dress.
“Oh, thank you!”

This lengthy digression is because evidently this is the reason I never saw John again. His wife was….uhm….not gorgeous. Not ugly or anything by any means. She just wasn’t a model, and all the other girls were basically normal-girl-shaped. By bringing a ringer, I’d inadvertently upstaged the bride at her own wedding, which was a terrible thing to do, and I had no idea that was going to happen. I later found out she was very upset. They never came back from their honeymoon, they started it here, went to Cancun or Fiji or Newark or some exotic place like that, and then ended it in Texas, their new home.

And that was that.

Probably going on 30 years ago. hadn’t thought about it in years, but now that I have, dang, I really miss my friend John.

The Beautiful Farewell to Star Trek

You ever stumble across something really stupid that, nevertheless somehow manages to fill up a hole inside you that you never knew was there?
 
It’s no secret I don’t like Star Trek, and the reason is obviously that I loved it once, as a kid. I’ve considered all subsequent Treks to be disappointing or flat out awful, and I abandoned the franchise somewhere around 1993 or 4. I like amateur films and videos and things, so my only exposure to Trek in the 21st century was through Fan Films, which primarily had nostalgia value, and mostly suck. Eventually there were just too many of these, and they were all too awful, and I drifted away from them.
 
Fan Films have always been illegal (Copyright infringement) but generally not prosecuted. A year or so ago, Paramount decided to start enforcing their rights, and now they’re verbotten. Nobody’s making ’em anymore. Nor will they.
 
Now, the slickest bunch making ’em was a semi-pro outfit out of California called “Star Trek Continues.” Despite the actors not looking much like their TOS originals, and some occasionally dodgy production values, it *felt* like Trek. It was really good, but I lost interest. Over 5 years they made about 10 episodes. Their final episode was said to be the last one of the golden age of fan films, the last one anyone could get away with, which just squeaked by under the wire. I decided, ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.’
 
Now, when I was 10, 11, 12, I adored Trek. Obviously I wanted more, but like everyone else of my generation I really wanted “Seasons 4 and 5” more than movies, or spinoffs or whatever, right? Even still, I long ago made peace with the fact that it wasn’t gonna happen. And love TOS like I did, even as a kid I was aware that it had a lot of problems. I wasn’t blind.
 
But you know what I wanted? The thing that was secretly buried in my heart all this time? A hole in me that I never even noticed was empty? To my surprise, it wasn’t *more* Trek, nor more TOS.
 
I wanted a conclusion.
 
I wanted a solid end to the original show. Not a reunion movie, or anything like that. I wanted the Final Voyage of the Starship Enterprise at the end of its Five Year Mission.
 
And I got it. Holy crap, did I get it!
 
“To Boldly Go…” is a two-part episode. Without spoiling it, the Enterprise’ mission is complete, and it’s heading back to earth when it gets called aside to investigate strange goings on. It bookends the entire series, revisiting some of the circumstances of the “Where No Man Has Gone Before…” and there’s an extended callback to “The Enterprise Incident” that works really well, but the story is all new. Those elements simply serve to bring things full circle, to give a very well-earned sense of completion.
 
The sets are flawless, as are the costumes, the script hits all the right ’60s beats (Though with some modern flourishes, and with some ’60s narrative flaws that I think have to be intentional), the soundtrack (Mostly culled from old episodes) is perfect. It is a bang-on production, and honestly I had no difficulty believing this was the final episode of TOS (Which presumably would have aired in the spring of 1971)
 
At some point, about a third of the way through, the continents shifted inside me and this stopped being a fan film, and *became* TOS. It wasn’t about nostalgia, it was about an end to the epic and the epoch that had been dangling and incomplete in my mind these last 40 years. I never noticed, presumably because shows didn’t have finales in those days. They just *stopped.*
 
This, though, more important than ‘more Trek,’ this was the conclusion I’d never known I was missing. At some point, perhaps halfway through, my ten-year-old self showed up, and we watched it together, me remembering what it was like to be that young, and the other me forgetting what it was like to have grown so crusty and cynical about something I’d once loved.
 
So we watched it, and neither of me can say whether it was really objectively all that good. Both of us thought it was, but both of us were far too close to it emotionally to really be sure. In a way it didn’t really matter if it was good or not (Though, again, I think it was very good), rather it was about fixing that leak inside me. It was about closing that door that had been banging in the wind all these decades, and doing it with a sense of contentment and finality.
 
The final scenes set up ST:TMP, but I don’t care about that kind of continuity. It’s well done, but I don’t need it. What I do need is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy standing alone, talking about what happens next.
 
What I needed was Kirk requesting a desk job because he can still see the faces, and remember the names of all 78 people who died while he was captain, and he just can’t throw people’s lives away like that.
 
What I needed was was Bones retiring because “I’ve seen too much death, and I haven’t seen my daughter in five years.”
 
What I needed was a heartbroken Spock retiring to Vulcan because he’s been tainted by human emotion to the point that he just can’t take it anymore.
 
What I needed was these three guys having been *changed* by their voyage, saying goodbye to the people they were when they started, and moving on to the next stages in their lives.
 
What I needed was them coming home. What I needed was me coming home.
 
Trek is done for me now. There is no more. It ended here, now, last night, on Youtube. None of the subsequent stuff exists. This is all I ever wanted without knowing it, all I never knew I needed. It’s done.
 
The episode ended, and rather than the usual music playing over the closing credits they just played the normal background bridge noises. Then that ended, too.
 
Then I sat there in the darkness, staring at the screen in bittersweet silence for a long time, feeling something I hadn’t felt in 30 years, and smiling all the way through, body, mind, and soul. 
 
And then the ten-year-old version of me got up, walked out of the house, and quietly closed and locked the door behind him.

An Ultimatum on Ultimatums

I’m gonna make an ultimatum about ultimatums:

For the last two years or so now, we’ve all been getting posts from people saying “I love Trump, and if you disagree with me, you may as well just block me now,” or “I love Hillary, and block me now if you don’t agree,” or Bernie or whomever. I don’t like any of those people, but you know what I like less?

Being told that if I don’t measure up to someone’s standards of intellectual purity, I’m not worth knowing. I really hate that.

Firstly: It’s insulting. Not to brag, but I’m actually a really good guy. I’ve done a lot of really good things that have helped a lot of people in my life. I don’t expect or want any praise for that. It is clearly something that you don’t care about, however, if you want to ditch me because I don’t love/hate Trump/Hillary/Bernie/Whomever in the way you do. I’m also charming, funny, smart, and creative. I’ve written six full-length books, which I’m told are quite good. Presumably that means nothing to you, though, because we disagree on some random issue, like, say, abortion or gay marriage or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff act. In other words, in your eyes, *none* of my good or interesting qualities matter, *ONLY* the way I vote. If I don’t goosestep along with your liberal or conservative goon squad, then I’m not worth knowing.

Secondly: If I like someone, like *them,* flaws and all. I can name 30 friends who disagree with me bitterly about different things, but I sill like them. And they still like me. If I like someone, I like them as a person, not because of a rigid set of arcane political views. This is called “Friendship,” and “Tolerance,” which are things that folks who sling ultimatums around clearly aren’t really into. Because clearly people don’t matter to you, just dogma.

Thirdly: I suspect you’re hypocrites. Guys: The hottest Victoria’s Secret model you can imagine asks you out, you go to dinner, you hit it off, she clearly wants to jump your bones and as you’re making out in the cab on the way to her place, she mentions that she voted differently than you did. Are you *REALLY* gonna say “Stop the car, because despite this being *literally* my fantasy since I was 12, you think differently than me, and I don’t even care about your reasons.” Are you *REALLY* gonna say that? If not, then clearly you’re a hypocrite. Ladies, gender-swap that (I dunno what the male equivalent of a Victoria’s Secret model is, but I’m sure there must be something). My point being that *IF* your’e the kind of person who *wouldn’t* get out of the cab, then you lack the strength of your convictions, which means you really don’t have any convictions, and you’re just blowing hot air to make yourself feel better.

Which is fine: Spew all the venom you want, I really don’t care, but telling me – or anyone – “If you don’t agree, then just block me right now” is a really bad thing to do, and I don’t think you realize that. Or you don’t care.

I was raised to think, and not just react. To value people more than money. To never trust *any* politician. I was trained not to give way to anger, at least not in public. The only blanket standard I expect from people is that they *don’t* tell me I’m worthless because THEY, THEMSELVES, are intractable. In short, you people who say “Block me if you disagree?” Guess what: I’m *BETTER* than you. You are self-righteous and petty and mean and you do not value others at all. I don’t praise myself much. I really don’t even like myself much, but there it is.

I expect a lot of you are gonna block me for this 

If so, I wish you well. Have a good life, and maybe try to grow up a little. Lose the anger.

So what order do episodes of The Prisoner go in, again?

I recently forced my family to watch “The Prisoner” series. As even casual fans know, there’s not really an official episode order. The broadcast order, the production order, and the order they were written in are all different. Worse still, four separate writers were working on four separate scripts that *they* were told were going to be the second episode. It’s confusing, and people have been nattering about it for fifty years.

I had my own opinion going in, based on the last time I mainlined the series about a decade ago. Upon completing it, though, I realized that while I was wasn’t any more wrong than anyone else, and probably less wrong than most, there was a more pleasing order they could go in.

Here, then, is my opinion of the best episode order, and my explanations as to why.

1) “Arrival.” – This is the premier episode, in which our protagonist is kidnapped and shows up in The Village. It’s sort of got to come first, right? Duh.

2) “Dance of the Dead” – This is one of the weakest episodes, generally relegated later to the run of the short series as a result. It’s also one of the four “Episode Number Twos” that were being written concurrently. Despite its dramatic problems, this is definitely the number two-iest of all the possible number twos. Our hero is still very angry, and he’s introduced to several locations for the first time, all of which he’ll take for granted in subsequent episodes. Here they get special notice, however. Likewise, the rambling and somewhat pointless plot seems to be more about impressing Six with how inscrutable the place was than any other purpose. “We’ll weird the truth out of you yet, six!”

3) “Chimes of Big Ben” – This is one of the four “Second episodes,” and the one that most people consider to be the second episode. They’re wrong, of course, but that’s the consensus. This is one of the best episodes of the series, and Leo McKern is the absolute best Number Two. So good, in fact, that they brought him back twice more. Interestingly, this is also the closest the Village ever came to breaking Six. He actually starts to spill his guts. It’s also the episode in which they identify his one consistent weakness, which they’ll use against him for the rest of the run.

4) “Free for All” – This is the one where Six discovers he can run for the office of Number Two. I’ll be honest, this one could also be in the 5 or 6 positions. It has to be fairly early on in his stay, as he sort of half-believes he can genuinely get power.  It wouldn’t be that easy to dupe him later on.

5 ) “Checkmate” – There’s no solid explanation for this one going here, but logically it must take place pretty early in Six’s stay. He realizes that prisoners and guards can be told apart by their attitudes. He attempts to organize a mass escape using this to figure out who he can trust, but his own imperious attitude runs it aground. I place it early because it’s simply not the kind of observation it would have taken Six long to make, and it’s not the kind of mistake Six would make later on.

6) “A Change of Mind” – To be honest, this could just as easily go in the #4 position. Flip a coin. It’s a sort of meh story, so I just placed the better one first. Definitely it has to take place in the first half of the series, though.

7) “The Schizoid Man”  – one of my favorite episodes, despite it really not making much sense. Evil Twin stuff. In the end, Six manages to assume the identity of one of his clones, and as he’s being driven to the heliport, Number Two mentions “The General,” rather conspicuously. Six has no idea what Two is talking about, so he plays along and says he’ll “Report in to the General,”  when he gets back home. Two finds this a really odd for him to have said, since one doesn’t “Report in” to the General. “Well, you know what I mean,” Six says. Two realizes it’s actually Six, not one of his duplicates.  Given that, the next episode must logically be…

8) “The General” –  It turns out that “The General” is a supercomputer. There are seventeen “Number Twos” in the course of the series, but not all are created equal. “Arrival” starts with one in charge, and ends with another. “It’s Your Funeral” has four. Likewise, as I said, Leo McKern turns up three times. Then there’s this guy: Colin Gordon. He’s got two episodes. This is the first. He’s very self-confident.

Interestingly, the plot of this episode doesn’t really have anything to do with Six directly. They’re not trying to break him. The masters of The Village are simply trying out some new technology (IE, the General), and Six decides to ruin it.

9) “A, B, C” – Colin Gordon turns up as Number Two again in this one. How do I know this one is second? Because Two was confident and self-assured in the previous one, and in this one he’s a disheveled wreck with a peptic ulcer. The episode makes it very clear that he’s in a lot of trouble from The General debacle, and if he doesn’t break Six this time, he’s done. He doesn’t break six.

10) “Many Happy Returns” – Six wakes up to find The Village deserted. He builds a raft and sails back to England, where he contacts his old bosses. They don’t trust him because he quit and then disappeared without a word “For month,” but eventually stuff happens and he’s back in the Village again. “Gee, Gilligan, you think we’ll get off the island this week?”

Why did I place it here? Internal references make it clear he’s been gone for a long time. The overall feel of the episode puts it towards the middle of the run, and the plots to break him are getting more elaborate but less effective. Which is all doubletalk for “It just feels like it fits” to me.

11) “It’s Your Funeral” – Six has realized he’s stuck in The Village for the long haul, and he begins to take an interest in the other people who live there. The plot does not revolve around them breaking him. He discovers a plot to assassinate Number Two (Well, *A* Number Two. There’s four in this episode), and stops it in order to prevent reprisals against the other Prisoners.

12) “Living In Harmony” – a format-breaking episode that seems to take place in the Old West. Six is a sheriff who turned in his badge for unstated reasons, and left town. He gets knocked out and wakes up in a cowboy town called “Harmony,” where he immediately runs afoul of The Judge who runs the place. In the end it turns out to be Virtual Reality, and The Judge is Number Two.

Why did I place it here? As I said, the efforts to break Six are getting more elaborate and less effective. This is arguably the most elaborate.

13) “The Girl Who Was Death” – A terrible episode, and a terrible idea: Number Two hits on the idea that Six might let down his guard around children. It doesn’t work, predictably, as he spins a ludicrous Avengers-styled goofball story with Number Two as a supervillain. Why do I place this here? Because clearly the Village is out of ideas.

14) “Hammer into Anvil” – This week’s Number Two is a sadist who cajoles one of the other prisoners into suicide. Six swears revenge, and over the course of the episode he drives Two insane. This is one of the episodes in which no one is even remotely trying to break Six. I’ve placed it here because Six has grown stronger with each of their attempts. He’s now at the point where they know they can’t break him, but he can easily break them.

15) “Once Upon A Time” – Flag on the play. None of the attempts to break Six have gotten anywhere, so Number 1 stops trying. He recalls Leo McKern to The Village and forces them to undergo Degree Absolute, a psychological test of will that will break one and kill the other. It goes about how you’d expect. Nobody questions that this is the penultimate episode of the series, since it leads directly into

16) “Fallout” – the finale.

“Wait, wait,” you say, “There’s seventeen episodes, not sixteen.” That’s true. I’ve omitted “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling.” It was shot during a scheduling conflict when the star was filming a movie and couldn’t get away. His appearances are confined to some sloppy voiceovers, a thirty second cameo at the end, and a whole lot of stock footage. The rest of the story involves his brain being transferred into the body of another, and being sent out into the world to capture a missing scientist. Along the way he visits his fiance.

You see why I left it out? Everyone hates it, it’s just stupid and poorly acted and poorly written. Everyone onscreen seems bored. The entire thing plays out like someone’s fanfic. I’m not the only person to just drop it from the canon.

However: If you’ve gotta stick it in somewhere, I’d put it in between “It’s Your Funeral” And “Living in Harmony,” since it fits the whole theme of doing more elaborate stuff and getting less payoff.

Some of my order is pretty solid: The first two, the last two, the Schizoid/General/ABC troika, but some of it is pretty subjective, two. Episodes from the first half of the series have a different feel than the ones from the second half, so it’s pretty easy to group them accordingly, but *within* that grouping, my own order is based on what seems to me to flow best.

So there you go.

What do you think?