250 reviews of time travel TV, movies, books right here

Monday, March 19, 2018

Timeless 2.2: The Nod

Timeless has always had a good sense humor about time travel, and it comes through tonight in episode 2.2 with ... "the nod".

That's "A Subtle Lowering of the Head You Give to Another Black Person in an Overwhelmingly White Place" - see Medium - and that's what Rufus does to Wendell Scott (a real African-American stock car driver) in overwhelmingly white south of the Mason Dixon America in the 1950s.  Hey, that's the second week in a row in which Rufus had a key line or move - last week it was his description of the Rittenhouse Manifesto as like "Mein Kampf, by Philip K. Dick" - and tonight it turns out that the nod is not only funny but Rufus may have been the one to implant it in our culture.  Just think about it: had it not been for tonight's episode of Timeless, there may not have been an episode #3 of Black-ish in 2014 with a literal nod that title.

It's enough to give Lucy a headache, but I like it, and that's because she's actually time traveling on television and I'm just writing about it.  And tonight's episode had some other good ingredients, including Flynn reluctantly helping and Jiya seeing the future (which will no doubt figure in some very important way later this season) and Connor moving towards ... I don't quite know what.

But on that point, it almost seems as if Connor might be headed towards some villainy, given his frustrations.  That would be an interesting plot development, given his superior knowledge of time travel.  We'll have to see.

Meanwhile, Emma continues to be a stand-out despicable character - as Annie Wersching is in every role she plays (that is, stand-out) - ever ready to kill, seemingly beyond redemption, and always ready with a sarcastic cut for anyone around her, whatever side they may be on.

Looking forward to next week, and seeing if Rufus still has the best line.

See also Timeless 2.1: "Mein Kampf, by Philip K. Dick"

And see also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse ... Timeless 1.7: Stranded! ... Timeless 1.8: Time and Space ... Timeless 1.9: The Kiss and The Key ... Timeless 1.10: The End in the Middle ... Timeless 1.11: Edison, Ford, Morgan, Houdini, and Holmes (No, Not Sherlock)! ... Timeless 1.12: Incandescent West ... Timeless 1.13: Meeting, Mating, and Predictability ... Timeless 1.14: Paris in the 20s ... Timeless 1.15: Touched! .... Timeless 1.16: A Real Grandfather Paradox Story

-> and see also (evidence of original reality):  Time After Time, Timeless, and Frequency Now in the Dustbin of History (and the altered reality): NBC Reverses Decision and Renews Timeless: Lessons for Time Travel

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Homeland 7.6: Meets The Americans, Literally

Whew, a powerful Homeland 7.6 tonight which does what Homeland always does best, an episode which changes everything.  Plus this one had some other good features -

Such as Costa Ronin, showing up tonight in a role that he does best - a Russian spy (Oleg in The Americans, Yevgeny in Homeland) in the U.S.  Except Yevgeny has little of the humanity of Oleg, as he makes clear in the speech he gives to his older fellow spy, Ivan, who is wedded to the Soviet ways of spying.  They kept the world safe, Ivan says.  Yeah, but it destroyed our country, Yevgeny truthfully says.  And he therein is the clearest spokesperson for Putin we've yet to see in the real news, fake news, or just plain narrative fiction.

But there was nothing plain about tonight's episode 7.6.  It also featured Carrie drugging and seducing the FBI agent Dante whom she thought was her ally, but was really playing her for his profoundly nefarious plan.

And that's the plan that changes everything.  Because this FBI guy is in fact in cahoots with Wellington's mistress to set him (Wellington, the President's Chief of Staff) up, with an eye towards bringing the President down.  So the twist here is President Elizabeth Keane is a not a Trump in woman's clothing after all - Keane is really Hillary, and Putin's operatives here in America are indeed trying to bring her down.

I'm happy to see this, because I didn't like Keane acting like Trump in even the slightest way.  She's much more convincing, sympathetic, and real as a Hillary Clinton kind of President.

I said in my review of an earlier episode this season that I was a little disappointed in Homeland.  I'm glad I kept watching.  Tonight's 7.6 was one of sharpest to come down the pike in the entire series.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

Counterpart 1.9: The Spy Who Came In From The Fold

With all the killings these days of expatriate Russians in London - presumably on Putin's orders but what do I know - the doings in Counterpart, and its facsimile to Cold War East and West Berlin, seem ever closer to our own reality.

Not to mention the harrowing massacre in the our-side offices near the end of the episode - brilliant as as a piece of fiction, all too reminiscent of the massacres in places much more innocent than spy centrals in our own world.

And if that isn't enough, we now have Baldwin set against Howard-prime.  They haven't fought it out yet, but when they do, that should be something to see.

All of which is making Counterpart a prime piece of spy-game fiction.  As I said in my review of Hard Sun last week - another meld of crime and science fiction story - the crime is diamond-hard in Counterpart, and the science fiction soft and blurry.  We have no idea how the alternate reality was  brought into being - not even a nod to the science that somehow made that happen.  Which means the series, strictly speaking, is not science fiction at all.  It's science fantasy.

But who cares?  Labels are not the most important thing in this or any reality.  That would be the contents in the package, the narrative that the labels seek to describe.  And whatever you want to call it, Counterpart is one superb spy-ride of a story, and I'll be back here with a few thoughts on the season finale after it's aired two weeks from today.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thank You Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking was an inspiration to numerous people, so it's no surprise his work has had a pivotal impact on my own life and work.

The dream of most fiction writers - I'd assume, having not taken a formal poll - is to have their work made into movie.  So far, that's happened to me just once.  And it's because of Steven Hawking's work.

In 1994, Wired Magazine published a short article by me, Telnet to the Future, in which I argued that time travel was impossible.   Shortly later, I received a note from Jack Sarfatti, a physicist who believed the opposite.  But he acknowledged that none other than Stephen Hawking apparently agreed with me, having recently published about his "chronology protection conjecture," which allowed that, even were time travel physically possible, the Universe would not allow it, and would act in defense against its own unraveling by time travelers to stop any time travel from happening.

In my always slightly deranged mind, a science fiction murder mystery immediately suggested itself, and resulted in The Chronology Protection Case, which Stan Schmidt was good enough to publish as a novelette in Analog Magazine in 1995.  It's been nominated for the Nebula Award, been reprinted half a dozen times, and has been a required text in a writing class in the Midwest for a going on a decade now.

And Jay Kensinger made it into a high concept, low budget movie, which screens at science fiction conventions around the country, has been a finalist in several film festivals, and for the past two years has been available for free viewing on Amazon Prime.

If we ever come out with a new version - which we did in 2013 for the original movie made in 2002 - I'll be sure to thank Stephen Hawking - not just for inspiring this little movie, but for work and a life that has inspired millions and will no doubt continue to do so until the end of time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Homeland 7.5: "The Russian Angle"

Homeland 7.5 - about as current as current can be - features Saul investigating "the Russian angle," that is, whether the fake news that unleashed last week's Waco-style attack by the FBI was part of a Russian operation to destabilize the United States by fanning our already close-to-the-boil hatreds.

It's acknowledged as fact - even by the former Russian operative Saul visits out in Wyoming - that the Russians did this, used fake news stories, to meddle in our election.  That would be the election that resulted in Trump as President in our reality and Keane as President in Homeland's.  But the two Presidents, real and fictional, have little in common.

Keane is no paragon of virtue, but she does evince more decency in her "Charlottesville" than Trump did in ours.  Keane is not above manipulating events and people to get her way.  But she is portrayed as having no interest in playing footsie with the Russians, or in any way allowing herself to benefit from their dissemination of fake news - if, indeed, they are the source of the fake news stories that helped her win the election, or the fake news story that erupted last week on Homeland.

The retired Russian operative makes a pretty persuasive case that they're not - that is, not behind the bogus report that the white supremacist's boy was being left to die - but, again, he does this by saying it would be too soon after the Russian use of fake news to influence the election in Keane's favor, and that makes no sense.

Maybe the Russians tried to tip the Homeland election in favor of Keane's opponent?  If so, we need more information to make sense of that.   The upshot is that, in our reality, fake news is a very complex issue.  Homeland therefore needs to treat this a little more carefully, and with a little more logic, than it has been doing so far.  Throwing out concerns about the Russians as the source of the pivotal fake news event on the show may be current doesn't cut it.

More about fake news here ...

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

Counterpart 1.8: Conversations

Some unusually good conversations in the unusually good episode 1.8 of the unusual series Counterpart, which keeps getting better and better.

Howard and Howard Prime always make for a good conversation, but tonight it was top-of-the-line, with Prime haranguing his counterpart to stay out of his wife and his life, and also be grateful for the great eduction meek Howard is getting in Prime's world - until Howard turns the tables on Prime, and tells him that he's gotten Prime's family to maybe care about him just by showing them a little humanity.  Prime leaves angry, which shows us Howard has gotten the upper hand.

But Howard figures in another, even better and more surprising conversation - between Aldrich and Quayle. Aldrich of course suspects Quayle as the mole, and arranges a meeting at his favorite bar.  Quayle, who seems on the verge of collapse, and admitting to Aldrich that Quayle's wife is the mole, indeed tells Aldrich that Quayle is the source of the leaks, but because Quayle himself has been played for years.  And who has been manipulating you this way, Aldrich asks?

Howard Silk is Quayle's answer!  So this puts Prime in a great position - at least, for us, the audience.  Emily may be coming out of her coma.   Prime will have to work hard to fool her, if that's what he wants to do.  But he'll also have to fend off Aldrich, if he believes what Quayle told him.

From what we've seen so far, the other side is far more brutal and outrightly evil than ours - the school and the fate of those children being the latest example. But I'm beginning to think our side has some fearsome malice going too, and I wouldn't want to be anyone, including the very capable Howard Prime, with Aldrich going after him.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Timeless 2.1: "Like Mein Kampf, by Philip K. Dick"

Tonight Timeless roared back from the jaws of oblivion - aka cancellation by the mothership, its network NBC - with a new episode that was far better than anything we saw the first season.  And it did most of this in its final few minutes.

And, indeed, there was one line which really struck me, which shows the high-intellect octane of time travel Timeless can achieve - it's when Rufus, looking at the megalomaniac writings on the smartphone crafted by their new worst arch-enemy, characterizes it as "like Mein Kampf, by Philip K. Dick".

Now I know he could have been speaking figuratively, or loosely, or just mistakenly, but the set-up in this new episode of Timeless and therefore the rest of the series is that history has already undergone changes that our heroes in 2018 don't know about.  Or, even more fun, maybe they do know about it, and it's we the audience on the other side of the screen who don't know about it, because we have a different history.

In our off-screen history, it's of course Adolf Hitler who wrote Mein Kampf.  Philip K. Dick does have some connection to this, because he wrote the alternate history The Man in the High Castle novel turned into an outstanding Amazon Prime series in which Hitler and Nazi Germany won the Second World War.  So what was Barrett referring to?

In the new history on Timeless, unknown to us but not its characters, was Philip K. Dick a Nazi monster who earlier wrote Mein Kampf?  Or was Dick maybe an American biographer of Hitler who titled his rambling bio Mein Kampf?

The possibilities are legion and intriguing.  Time travel and alternate history have always been closely related - I've always thought that behind every alternate history is an implied time travel, as the agent that brought the alternate history into being.   This first episode of the second season of Timeless, in that one statement about Philip K. Dick, promises all kinds of mind-boggling and intellect-puzzling adventures - or exactly what you'd want, or at very least I want, in a time travel story.

And see also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse ... Timeless 1.7: Stranded! ... Timeless 1.8: Time and Space ... Timeless 1.9: The Kiss and The Key ... Timeless 1.10: The End in the Middle ... Timeless 1.11: Edison, Ford, Morgan, Houdini, and Holmes (No, Not Sherlock)! ... Timeless 1.12: Incandescent West ... Timeless 1.13: Meeting, Mating, and Predictability ... Timeless 1.14: Paris in the 20s ... Timeless 1.15: Touched! .... Timeless 1.16: A Real Grandfather Paradox Story

-> and see also (evidence of original reality):  Time After Time, Timeless, and Frequency Now in the Dustbin of History (and the altered reality): NBC Reverses Decision and Renews Timeless: Lessons for Time Travel

Hard Sun: Hard Crime/Soft Science Fiction

What better day to review Hard Sun, binge-watchable in America on Hulu since just a few days ago, than the day in which Daylight Savings Time (which I like far better than Eastern standard) takes effect.

Ok, maybe that's bit of stretch.  But there's more than a bit of a stretch in Hard Sun, powerful, searing, and superb as it is.  It's billed as a crime and science fiction story.  And it almost isn't science fiction at all.

The premise is two British police detectives learn that the Earth and humanity have only five years left of life - because the sun is going nova, or some such.  This serves as a harrowing backdrop for a complex and pounding and altogether top-notch police procedural, as only Neil Cross (Luther and MI-5) can do it.  There are twists and turns in both the criminals the two police chase, as well as in their personal lives, not to mention their partnership relationship (Jim Sturgess as DCI Hicks and Agyness Deyn as DC Renko are impressively tough and vulnerable in different ways).  In this regard, Hard Sun is one of the best police dramas I've ever seen - in the top ten, for sure.

But the science fiction part is frustrating.  It's an interesting premise, to say the least - police hunting all manner of heinous criminals, always knowing that the world is going to end in five years.  Some of these criminals are indeed motivated by that knowledge - because it has become public, though denounced as a conspiracy - and MI5 (the British FBI) play a significant role in this action, too.  They know about the hard sun that's coming, and apparently don't want the world to know about it too soon.

Now were this proper science fiction, there would scientists and people trying to do something to stop the nova, or build a fleet of ships to take whatever number of humanity off this planet to possible safety.  But Hard Sun is not proper science fiction.

And though there's a payoff at the end - which I won't tell you - it uses science fiction in a way I haven't ever seen it used before.  Being a fan and author of police procedural hybrids - my favorite as a fan would be Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun, and as an author see my novel The Silk Code - I'm not at all sure that I like to see science fiction used this way.

But as a devotee of police procedurals on television, I can say that Hard Sun is one rough and exciting ride, and on that score I highly recommend it.

"As a genre-bending blend of police procedural and science fiction, The Silk Code delivers on its promises." -- Gerald Jonas, The New York Times Book Review

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A French Village: A Searing Wake-Up Call

I just finished watching A French VillageUn village français - five seasons on Hulu, two seasons (the final two,  two of pieces of an Epilogue so titled) on Amazon Prime.  For a variety of reasons, mostly because I didn't want to rush this experience, irresistible as it was, I semi-binge-watched it, taking in this extraordinary work in I'd guess about a month.

Let me say up front that this series is among the very best ever on television, in any form, streaming or cable or traditional network.  I'd put it right up there with my two other all-time very favorite series, The Sopranos and The Wire.  Like both of those series, A French Village has no villain who is totally bad.  Even the worst have a glint or more of decency or humanity.  And also like those two HBO series, A French Village has no hero or heroine with some serious flaws.  That's why all three of series are so truly human in their stories and perspectives.

A French Village is the story of a fictitious village in France, Villeneuve - near a real village, Besançon - and its Nazi occupation in the Second World War, and, in the Epilogue, the aftermath of that.  No one escapes unscathed.  Every character, if not literally or figuratively destroyed by the experience, is left deeply impaired or indelibly stained.  This is inevitable for all of the collaborators, even the ones who managed to resist a little or more, but also for the resistance fighters, who sacrifice a part of their humanity in their resistance.  The lesson is unspeakably sad, yet at the same time wise, beautiful, and even satisfying.

My favorite characters are two of the outright villains - well, one is outright and the other maybe 60/40 villainous.   Maybe that's just me - but I recall Hitchcock telling Truffaut that his favorites were villains, too.  (I'll try to not deliver any big spoilers in what follows.)

Heinrich Müller is an SS intelligence chief.  He's cold as ice, brilliant, and enjoys meting out pain.  But when he falls into some kind of combination of love and carnal lust with a French woman - it's mostly lust, but there's some feeling there - he's capable of almost being kind and decent, and against all odds I even found myself rooting for him in a scene or two.  Jean Marchetti is French police investigator.  He's no lover of Nazis, but he believes in strong government and has some fascist tendencies.  But he manages to do some very good things, all along, along with the bad - which unfortunately comes to include killing a resistance fighter in a fury, when he's harangued about something he feels deeply guilty about.

Richard Sammel was perfect as Müller and Nicolas Gob as Marchetti, but really everyone was outstanding and memorable in their roles, including Audrey Fleurot and Thierry Godard (who have also been excellent in Spiral - Godard, though he's not related to Jean-Luc Godard, has something of Jean-Paul Belmondo in his look and manner).  A French Village began to air in 2009 and concluded in 2017 in France - or, in American terms, from Obama through Trump.  Sort of disconcerting but instructive to consider that the trajectory in A French Village - Nazi to liberation - is just the opposite of 2009 to 2017 here in America.

Not that Trump is (yet) a Nazi - he's closer to Marchetti than Müller - and I do believe there's more hope for us now in the United States than in Villeneuve in World War II and after, a French village that often feels like a village of the damned, where no one gets out with their soul completely intact.  But in addition to all its other powerful virtues, A French Village is a searing wake-up call for us in 2018 America.

See this marvel of television when you have a month or more.  The French have given us Monet, Debussy, Truffaut, and all the people who made and starred in A French Village.

speaking of Monet ...

Monday, March 5, 2018

Counterpart 1.7: Spying Across Dimensions

A truly masterful Counterpart 1.7 tonight, a perfect spy science fiction story in many overlapping ways.

First, it occurred to me as we watched the young Clare in spy training on the other side, that there's a strong something of The Americans in Counterpart.  Except, whatever Elizabeth's original name was in The Soviet Union (I forget) as she trains to be the adult Elizabeth in America, passing as an American, the ante in Counterpart is much higher, because we get Clare training not to be some rival or enemy nationality but her alternate self.  This, again, as I've said before, comes from this deft mix of spy story and science fiction story.

We also get more tidbits about what happened to the other side.  It was some kind of swine flu that wiped out so much of its population - with the result that, in addition to being paranoid, they don't eat pork.  What's still not clear or not even known is why they blame us for their pandemic - it will be an interesting show indeed when that is revealed.

But the last minutes of this episode revealed an outstanding twist, as any superior spy drama should.  Peter's discovery of that his wife is really her other, and our knowledge that the Clare who is his wife killed the Clare he intended to marry, is not the last word in this complex relationship.  It turns out that Clare has let her cyanide pill outlive its effectiveness - because she wants now, above all else, to live.   That's what having a baby did for her - it transformed her, turned her back into a more normal human being.  She was still fine with spying on her husband, but is no longer fine with sacrificing her life if need be.  Which makes eminent and healthy sense.

--If we can believe her, that is. But I think we can.  That scene in the hospital looked pretty real and convincing.  Good spy stories always have twists.  But they're even better when the spying is across alternate dimensions of reality.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Homeland 7.4: Fake News!

A stunning Homeland 7.4 tonight, which plays right into the mix of dangerous truth and paranoia which besets our world today - in a phrase, fake news.

Here's how it happened on Homeland:  a teenager's dog in the compound - surrounded by FBI, Waco and Ruby Ridge style - goes running the woods, eventually towards the FBI, who shoot the dog.  The boy, running after his dog, sees what the FBI has done, and raises his gun at them, likely to shoot.  But before he shoots, an agent shoots him.

He's badly wounded, and after a whole bunch of harrowing turns in the story, he's in the hospital, being treated, doing well.  At this point, a mysterious man who has entered the hospital puts on medical garb and takes some pictures of the boy on the operating table - bleeding, though the docs says he's doing ok.

But the photo he takes and puts on the web doesn't say that or show that.  To the contrary, it says the FBI have let the boy bleed out and die.  This results in the boy's father on the compound killing the FBI agent they took hostage, which in results in the FBI storming the compound and killing lots of people.

Saul tried to stop this, and got assaulted by the FBI commander for his troubles.  And so, despite Saul's efforts, another Waco has happened.

Yes, O'Keefe was in one sense to blame for starting this, but the worst known villain is the FBI commander who lost his temper and ordered the assault.  He's been portrayed as having a short fuse all along, and should have been fired a long time ago.  (I have to hope that in our reality, no FBI agent in command would have ordered the raid.)

But the deepest villain is the guy who created and disseminated the phony photo.  Fake news in action.  Who was he?  A Russian agent?  We'll find out soon enough.

But as it is, this episode of Homeland is about the best parable on the dangers of fake news I've seen so far on a television drama.

For more about news, see Fake News in Real Context.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional