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    1. TV Tuesdays Free Talk

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Have you watched any TV shows recently you want to discuss? Any shows you want to recommend or are hyped about? Feel free to discuss anything here.

      Please just try to provide fair warning of spoilers if you can.

      14 votes
    2. What are some of the most emotionally affecting or resonant games you've played?

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Doesn't necessarily have to be that you cried, though it certainly can be. It can also be that you connected with the characters or plot, or maybe you clicked with the game's sense of humor. Maybe it creeped you out something fierce, or maybe it forced you into difficult ethical decisions. Any strong personal response counts.

      • Why was the game so meaningful for you?
      • How did the game use the medium to enhance its resonance?

      Please give adequate spoiler warnings!
      (You can use a <details> block to make a convenient collapsible section.)

      21 votes
    3. Movie Monday Free Discussion

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Have you watched any movies recently you want to discuss? Any movies that you'd like to recommend or are hyped about? Feel free to discuss anything here!

      Spoilers are okay, just give fair warning so people who care about them can participate too.

      13 votes
    4. Movie Monday Free Discussion

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Have you watched any movies recently you want to discuss? Any movies that you'd like to recommend or are hyped about? Feel free to discuss anything here!

      Spoilers are okay, just give fair warning so people who care about them can participate too.

      10 votes
    5. Movie Monday Free Discussion

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Thanks to @dubteedub for doing this up until now, let's bring em back :)

      Have you watched any movies recently you want to discuss? Any movies that you'd like to recommend or are hyped about? Feel free to discuss anything here!

      Spoilers are okay, just give fair warning so people who care about them can participate too.

      10 votes
    6. Black Mirror S04E02 “Arkangel” Discussion Thread

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Previous episode | Index thread | Next episode

      Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 2 - Arkangel

      Worried about her daughter’s safety, single mom Marie signs up for a cutting-edge device that monitors the girl’s whereabouts -- and much more.

      Black Mirror Netflix link

      Warning: this thread contains spoilers about this episode! If you haven't seen it yet, please watch it and come back to this thread later.

      You can talk about past episodes, but please don't discuss future episodes in this thread!

      If you don't know what to say, here are some questions to get the discussion started:

      • How does the title relate to the episode itself?
      • Are there any similarities between real life events and the episode?
      • Are there any references or easter eggs in the episode, such as references to past episodes?

      Please rate the episode here!

      11 votes
    7. I finished playing through The Witness.

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers


      What I Did

      The game took me around twenty hours to beat, and I stretched that out over the course of about two months. Sometimes I would dive in deep and play non-stop for an hour or two, but most of the time it was me playing it almost piecemeal, for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Enough to get through one or two panels that I had been stuck on and then stop again.

      I would have liked to do longer gaming sessions with it, but I found that I sort of had finite mental resources to apply to the game. I would hit a panel, be thoroughly perplexed, stare at it for 10 minutes while trying different solutions in my head, on paper, and in the game. Nothing would work, so I'd stop the game. The next day I would boot it up and, more often than not, have the solution in a minute or two--sometimes even the first try! I think my brain was working on these in the background.

      Something that helped me massively was not letting myself get intimidated by the game. As I would work myself farther and farther down a strand of puzzles, I would instinctively start to feel the pressure that they were getting harder and harder each time. Rather than feed into that feeling, I simply reassured myself that each puzzle was its own thing, and each one had a solution right there, staring me in the face. I just had to find it.

      What I Loved

      I think the game is gorgeous. Stunning. Beautiful. An absolute joy to look at. It made me realize that we don't often get vibrant color in games that aren't pixel art. I also think the world is beautifully designed. The island is a memorable place with lots to explore.

      I also loved the game's ability to teach you its rules wordlessly. The line puzzles aren't just puzzles--they're a language. The whole game felt like some geometric force was trying to communicate with me, but first it had to teach me its alphabet, grammar, and syntax.

      Furthermore, I can't tell you how many times I would fight for a solution to a difficult puzzle, feeling it was nearly impossible all the way, only to find the seemingly one right answer. The only way it could possibly work. The next panel? The same damn layout but with an added rule that ruined my prior solution! I loved that the game made me rethink my own thoughts and forced me to see, quite literally, that there is often more than one way to solve a problem.

      What I Felt

      I was probably 12 to 14 hours into the game when I accidentally stumbled onto the knowledge that there were lines that could be activated outside the panels. I can't remember where I was but holy hell can I remember the feeling. I've got goosebumps right now as I type this from revisiting it in my memory. It was the sublime feeling you get from a great plot twist. There was a sense of revelation, the feeling of frission, and a newfound respect and appreciation for the design that went into the game.

      What's sad is that it shouldn't have taken me that long. I saw the circles and lines throughout the environment as I made my way around the island and just assumed that it was a sort of visual motif, or maybe a stylistic flair, much like the game's sort of cartoony, polygonal look. Finding out that I could, in fact, trace them just like every other line I'd been making for the past ten hours was absolutely flooring to me. Experiencing that moment is one of the high points in all of my gaming history. It was the moment the game went from "this is definitely a clever game!" to "FUCK...this game is SO. DAMN. SMART." After that moment I think I spent two hours frantically running around the island hunting environmental lines. Now that I knew what to look for, they were EVERYWHERE. Hiding in plain sight! I was stunned. In absolute awe.

      At probably about the 15 hour mark, I found the movie room and had the input for one movie. It was a scene in which a man lights a candle and attempts to walk across a courtyard, and each time the candle goes out, he returns to the beginning. I took this to be a metaphor for the game--specifically that it is about the journey rather than the destination. As such, this was the point that I realized I wasn't going to get some revelatory story at the end of the game, and that making it to the end of the game, while definitely a goal, was not what gave the game meaning.

      The sub-takeaway from the film was the idea that the effort is worth it. The man in the film could have just crossed the courtyard and lit the candle at the end. The fact that he didn't showed self-restraint and a committment to the rule. I took this to be a comment on how the game is played. I could have looked up solutions to the puzzles online and just inputted them easily as a way of breezing through the game. While it would get me to where I was going (the end), what was the point? My playthrough was the lit candle route--harder because I was forcing myself to put in the work rather than taking the easy way out.

      Oh, and did I mention that the film also had an environmental line at the end you could activate if you went behind the screen while it was running? Genius. This game is SO. DAMN. SMART.

      What I Didn't Love

      Because I didn't pay attention to detail and made assumptions when I shouldn't have, I didn't realize that I could enter the mountain without all the beacons activated. My gamer mind simply saw OBVIOUS GATED DESTINATION and OBVIOUS DESTINATION GATE KEYS and went "yup, gotta get all of these to unlock the end!" As such, I overplayed my game a bit by doing all of that first. I was all set for entering the mountain to be the ending, especially because the village beacon felt like a "final exam" to the game, incorporating all of the other puzzle types. I kept coming back to it after learning a new symbol/rule and would chip away here and there until I finally got through all of it.

      As such, when I got into the mountain and there were even more puzzles I was miffed. My steam had run out. Add to that I'm pretty susceptible to motion sickness in games, so the flashing, scrolling, and color-cycling puzzles were deeply unpleasant for me. I literally had to look away from the screen for the scrolling ones. I solved them on paper and inputted them with the panels in my peripheral vision.

      The double-sided room below those was equal parts brilliant and frustrating, though I was impressed as hell with the room with the four sub-puzzles that fed into the larger one on the floor. Unfortunately, I ended the game on quite a low note, as the pillar puzzles at the very end turned my stomach on account of the rotating camera. I was able to power through those only because I knew I was so close to the end.

      What I'm Left With

      While I didn't love the ending, I, as previously mentioned, don't think it's about that. The game gave me 20 hours of puzzle-solving bliss in a beautiful, rich environment. It gave me legitimate chills when I figured out its secret. It made me think, it made me work, and it made me feel legitimately fulfilled. Good puzzle games make you feel baffled and then they turn around and make you feel brilliant. This one made me feel all sorts of brilliant.

      The game has so many legitimately clever moments. I loved the pagoda area where you have to look through branches at the right angle to see the solution. The last puzzle has two pieces of the answer, but a section is missing. After traipsing around, trying every possible visual angle, I look down and find a branch broken off at my feet. The missing piece. Brilliant.

      It was filled with little things like these. Little thoughtful twists or nudges. Each puzzle strand was an iterative sequence, and each time you thought you knew where it was headed, they'd push it further. Then further. More and more. Often in ways you wouldn't expect. It's not just that the idea of the game is good but that its execution is so rich and thoughtful that it makes me reverent.

      As for post-game stuff (because I know there's a ton I haven't gotten to), I'm taking a break from the game right now, but I might return to it a little later. I kept screenshots of puzzles I didn't solve or environmental elements that I was pretty sure were really activatable but that I couldn't quite figure out (the brown railroad tracks in the white limestoney area, for example).

      I have the inputs for a couple more movies that I haven't watched, so I'll probably go back for those. I know there's a challenge area as well, and I'm presumably equipped for it given that I did all of the beacons, but I don't know if I'm up for that. Not just yet, at least.

      What You Can Help Me With

      For those of you that have gone through the post-game content, do you recommend it? Are there certain things I should focus on? I'm not terribly concerned about spoilers, but if there's something "big" like the environmental line revelation, maybe just give me a hint or point me in the right direction.

      I also have a couple of lingering questions. Feel free to answer them unless you feel that it's better if I try to figure it out by myself.

      • What do the individual, standalone panels lying around the island do (the gray ones with the triangles)? I've figured out the rule, I just don't know their purpose.

      • Does finding all the environmental lines serve any larger purpose?

      • Is there story or lore in the game? Does the island or its frozen inhabitants get explained? I activated a few audiologs, but those were mostly philosophical ponderings rather than narrative.

      • How on earth do I get that environmental line with the railroad tracks? Of all the ones that I haven't been able to figure out how to get, that one's bothering me the most.

      Finally, to anyone who's played the game (which is hopefully anyone who read this), I'd love to hear your experience and thoughts. What was The Witness like for you?

      EDIT: Writing the post inspired me to go back into the game instead of sleeping. I watched two other videos I had found inputs for. One was a woman talking about freeing yourself from want, and the other was a man talking about science and knowledge. Interesting stuff.

      Then I started exploring and I found an environmental line made by the negative space in the sky when properly bounded by a cloud and wall from the exact right angle. This game is SO. DAMN. SMART.

      EDIT 2: Disregard where I said I was going to take a break from the game. I'm diving back in. I want to explore and find these environmental lines. It's so satisfying when you find one.

      There was one on a bridge leading from the village towards the foresty area with the orange trees. I could see it from the ground and knew it definitely was one, but I could never quite position myself right to actually trace it. I tried climbing in the castle area since it seemed like I needed to be elevated, but that didn't work. I tried it from the rooftops in the village, and that didn't work. Then I looked: the tower in the middle of the village! I'd forgotten to try from there because once I got to the top of that I headed straight for the mountain. Sure enough, that was the spot.

      Also, can we talk about how the sound is so satisfying when you get one? So good.

      EDIT 3: The game might be trying to teach me a lesson in freeing myself from want. Now that I'm fired up to dive back into it, it's hard crashing after I start it up. It loads fine and I can walk a few steps, then it locks up my whole system.

      I'm running it on Linux through Proton and tried all the different Proton versions assuming that was the culprit (it has crashed before) but the outcome is the same. I might be technologically barred from going further, which I guess is in the spirit of the game's ending and philosophy, right?

      EDIT 4: My OS had some graphics library updates for me today, and after installing them I'm back in business--no more crashing! (Sub edit: I spoke too soon. It crashed after about half an hour, but that's way better than what I was getting before). I spent a while traipsing around the island, looking for environmental lines. It's amazing how, in hindsight, so many areas or destinations that I thought were just kind of dead space are actually strategic locations for environmental lines.

      A good example is the very beginning of the game. You can get onto the roof of the overhang you first walk out from. At the beginning of the game I got up there, saw some pillows, and just thought it was set dressing in an ultimately useless space. Nope! Not only is there an environmental line you can get from there, but there's an audiolog as well if you're paying attention to detail (which, of course, I wasn't in my first go-around).

      22 votes
    8. What's the best horror game you've played?

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      I'm not necessarily asking for the scariest one you've played but for your personal favorite/best, based on whatever criteria you choose. Games that are more horror-lite/spooky still count as well, so feel free to consider and include those.

      With regards to your pick: what made it so good? In what ways did its use of horror add to your experience?

      Given that a lot of horror relies on surprise, subverting expectations, or the unknown, please give spoiler warnings if you plan to discuss important aspects/plot points that might ruin the game for others.

      13 votes
    9. “How could you, Woody?” Or: my reaction to Toy Story 4.

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      First up: that “spoiler” tag isn’t there for fun. This essay is going to focus on a climactic moment in ‘Toy Story 4’. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens, close this topic NOW.

      I saw ‘Toy Story 4’ last night. I’ve been catching myself up on the previous movies over the past few weeks (I’d never seen any of them before), so they’re reasonably fresh in my mind. I surprised myself by enjoying the movies a bit more than I expected to. I had assumed they were very much children’s movies, but I found them engaging and enjoyable even as a middle-aged adult.

      So I was all caught up, and went out last night to see the latest instalment in the franchise with a friend who’s a massive fan of all things Disney.

      I liked it. It was yet another “toys having adventures in the big wide world” story line. That seems to be the main story line of all the Toy Story movies: the toys get lost or misplaced, or have to go rescue a toy who is lost or misplaced, so they end up having adventures outside of their home.

      But there’s usually an emotional heart to each movie. And that emotional heart often comes from the character of Woody, whose goal has always been to make sure that the toys are doing what toys are supposed to do: bringing joy to children. As we often get told, mostly by Woody, being a child’s plaything is the most noble thing a toy can do. To that end, Woody seems willing to do almost anything. The toys have mounted ridiculous rescue missions, they’ve manipulated humans (it wasn’t Andy’s idea to give his toys to Bonnie), and they’ve made personal sacrifices. Even in this movie, Woody was willing to give up his voice box so that he could get brand-new toy Forky back to Bonnie who had made him, and to give Gabby the chance to belong to a kid.


      Woody met Bo Peep in this movie, and found her living an independent life as a lost toy. We know they’ve had romantic feelings towards each other, but she was given away by Andy’s little sister some years back. Then she got given away again, to an antique store. Now she turns up living near a caravan park, and she’s noone’s toy except her own.

      Normally, Woody would have moved heaven and earth to reunite Bo with her previous kid, or to find her a new one. But she doesn’t want one. She’s an independent toy now, and that suits her fine.

      So they have their adventures. And, at the end of those adventures, Woody and his fellow toys are returning to Bonnie, while Bo is returning to her independent life. And Woody has a moment of indecision. Does he return to Bonnie, or does he go with Bo?

      But, there’s not really that much tension because we know how this is going to end. Woody has told us so many times that being a child’s plaything is the most noble thing a toy can do. Of course he’s going back to Bonnie.

      And then he chooses to go with Bo.

      I sobbed.

      Let me give some context for my reaction to this moment. I do respond emotionally to movies and television. I laugh loudly when something is funny, and I cry openly when something is sad. I jolt back in my seat in response to scary moments, and I’ve been known to cover my eyes during exceptionally gory scenes. I’m not ashamed to feel things in response to events on the screen, nor to express those feelings. That’s normal for me. However, I felt a very strong emotional reaction to this moment in the movie – much stronger than most. I wanted to burst out in loud unmanly sobs because of how upset I was. I wanted to shout at the screen. I felt a real and physical reaction in my gut: it was literally a gut-wrenching moment for me (and that almost never happens!). This was the strongest emotional reaction I’ve had to any moment in movies or television for years. It was strong enough to prompt me to write about it!

      I know I was supposed to feel happy that Woody and Bo had found each other, and they loved each other, and this was the start of their romantic “happy ever after”. But that’s not why I cried. I cried because Woody turned his back on nobility and chose selfishness.

      Woody had been the conscience and the heart of the whole franchise, reconciling toys to their place in life, and helping toys to achieve their goal in life. Even in this movie, he had turned Forky around from wanting to be trash to wanting to help Bonnie. Woody showed toys their noble goal in life, and did everything he could to help them achieve it.

      And then he turned his back on everything he’d said and believed up till now.

      Sure, Bonnie wasn’t playing with him as much as Andy did. Sure, he wasn’t top dog in Bonnie’s playroom (that place belonged to Dolly, who’d been there much longer than Woody and his fellows). But Woody was always selfless. Woody was always looking out for the children’s best interests. Woody was always putting the children’s needs ahead of his own. He had previously told his fellow toys that even being stored in the attic was a good thing because it meant their child (now a college man) still cared about them to some degree. So, even if Bonnie wasn’t playing with him all the time, he would still want to stay around to be there for her – or even to be there for the other toys she did play with.

      Wouldn’t he?

      Or was it all a lie? Was it all about his own selfish desire to be important and, then, when that importance was taken away, he decided to walk out?

      Or was it as basic as choosing pleasure over service?

      How could you do that, Woody? How could you turn your back on everything noble and good, and choose your own selfish desires instead?

      Woody, you broke my heart.

      22 votes
    10. Breaking Bad on Rewatch (Heavy spoilers)

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      I just finished Breaking Bad, second run-through. I had first started watching it when Season 4 had just started; binging seasons 1-3 and followed it episode-by-episode after.

      I was surprised to notice that the content I binged stayed with me much better than the seasons I watched one-episode-at-a-time.
      Also… Holy shit. Breaking Bad gets dark towards the end (Jesse getting imprisoned and forced to cook for months; his ex-girlfriend getting shot). I had forgotten all about that. I had forgotten almost everything about the last … 4-5 episodes.

      The scenes that had stayed with me the most from my first watch: Box Cutter's throat-slicing scene, the Prison Shankings, Hank vs. the Cousins, Hank's death scene, Gus's death scene.

      But, seriously, rewatching it reminded me how good of a series Breaking Bad is. I couldn't help but binge the entire rewatch marathon. It's an incredibly intense experience.

      In the context of what happened to Game of Thrones I'm also very happy to see the consistent quality and execution in Breaking Bad's storytelling. It's a series that set out to tell a story. The story makes sense from beginning to end, and gets resolved nice and tidy.

      I'm a little disappointed we don't get to see more of what happens to the family while Walt is gone. The trial etc, that all seems like potentially interesting stuff.

      On rewatch, I noticed my sympathies changing. I have a lot less sympathy towards Walt, even very early on. Knowing some things in advanced completely changed my view on him; whereas on first watch I rooted for him quite a bit.

      My sympathy towards Skyler also flipped. On my first watch, I disliked her a lot at first, but grew to like her when she "went dark". On this rewatch, I disliked her less and sympathized more with her, though her behaviour beyond season 4 became incomprehensible to me.
      I like Marie a lot more this time around as well. She's still pretty unbearable when it comes to shoplifting and generally the way she talks to people; but I hadn't realized just how much she loves Hank. How much she supports him through his PT (despite how atrocious Hank is specifically to her). Knowing Hank's death was coming, my heart broke into pieces when I heard their last phone call end in "I love you. // I love you too.". Hearing her say "He isn't picking up, probably because he's in the thick of it".

      I don't think I even noticed anyone's grief the first time around, most likely because I was dealing with my own. Hank's death was a shock then. This time, I knew it was coming, and I had a lot more time to process how people felt about Hank before and their reactions to the news.

      Just a bunch of random thoughts about that series. I usually only rewatch "comfort series" such as comedies, animated series, etc; I very rarely rewatch epics (except that I used to re-marathon GoT before a new season). But I don't regret giving Breaking Bad a full rerun. It is such an intense experience; during Seasons 3&4 I yelled in my pillows a few times on credit roll, just from the adrenaline.

      You too should give it a shot.

      10 votes
    11. Neon Genesis Evangelion is out on Netflix. Discussion Megathread.

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Neon Genesis Evangelion is out on Netflix. I'm thinking to use this topic as the megathread to discuss the (re-)watch, to avoid flooding the Tildes Activity feed with one topic per episode.

      To borrow a past Tildo's approach, I ask that any top-level comments contain ONLY the episode number, such as "Episode 13" and no other text.

      Press the Collapse replies button, find the top-level comment for the episode you care about, and reply under that top-level comment. If there's not yet a top-level comment with that episode number, create it.

      16 votes
    12. How do you fit a video game's interpretation with its source files?

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Given a movie with ambiguous story, you have multiple options to base your interpretation upon: you have the movie itself, the screenplay if available, what the author said in interviews or books, etc... Now, if we take a video game, you also have additional tools: the source code, the installed file names, unused resources, etc. There are of course a few games that expect the player to check these files but that isn't what I want to focus on.

      Would you say that all these files have the same authority as the game itself when it comes to interpretations?

      I'd like to take an example with SPOILERS FOR LIFE IS STRANGE 1, as this is the game that sparked this topic for me:

      The blue butterfly has a special place in this game, it is what starts the whole journey when Max takes a picture of it and Chloe gets shot. It also shown again in the 'Sacrifice Chloe' ending during that same scene. And later during Chloe's burial that butterfly is shown to land on the coffin in front of Max and fly away. There are some scenes that imply that spirit animals are a thing in the in-game universe. After finishing the game my interpretation was that the blue butterfly was Chloe's spirit animal. Now what a surprise to see in the game wiki that the texture file for that butterfly is named 'Spirit_animal_Chloe' !

      Is there any room left for interpretation when the source makes it explicit text? Or can the source be reasonably be pushed aside?

      8 votes
    13. What are some of your favorite examples of storytelling via gameplay?

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Video game's approach to storytelling usually comprise of mixing gameplay mechanics (gunplay, health system, enemy AI...) and storytelling elements (cutscenes, dialogue trees, environment details...). There are also special systems designed to work both as gameplay challenge as well as narrative carriers (quick time events, the nemesis system in Shadow of War...)

      However, there's also a third approach, where traditional gameplay elements when put into appropriate context within the game gain additional narrative significance (the way Thomas was Alone's basic platforming mechanics are personified via narration, or Undertale's combat system being integral to how the story develops...)

      Have you ever noticed if a gameplay element also doubled as a storytelling device in the games you played before? If so, what was it and what did it "tell" you?

      12 votes
    14. HBO Chernobyl miniseries discussion

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Thought a thread for this miniseries would be good, as I've only seen discussion of the trailer up here. As of today (16th May) there are two episodes out, and a companion podcast for each (though I've not listened to these yet)
      I just watched both back to back, and I'm blown away. This is some very well made television, and somehow manages to be simultaneously nightmarish, and fully gripping. That this is based on real events is all the more amazing to me, and after watching the revelation about the exploding water tanks in the second episode I'm astonished that the world is as unscathed by this disaster as it is.

      24 votes
    15. I Am Mother (2019)

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      I Am Mother is a sci fi movie centered in a dystopian future with a novel twist.

      If you prefer neat, predictable endings, then this movie is probably not for you.

      What is particularly interesting, is the movie is almost deliberately ambiguous, and it constantly challenges the usual assumptions you might make.

      The final reveal subtly explains away some of the elements that at first seemed a little jarring or confusing. Other aspects are not fully explained. This creates enough space to construct some very interesting back story theories, while ultimately leaving you guessing.

      9 votes
    16. Movie Monday Free Talk

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Tilderinos, have you watched any movies recently you want to discuss? Any movies that you want to recommend or are hyped about? Feel free to discuss anything here.

      Please just try to provide fair warning of spoilers as you can.

      Past discussions:
      June 3, 2019 | May 27, 2019 | May 20, 2019 | May 13, 2019 | May 6, 2019 | April 22, 2019 | April 15, 2019 | April 1, 2019 | March 25, 2019 | Sept 3, 2018 | August 27, 2018

      7 votes
    17. Movie Monday Free Talk

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Tilderinos, have you watched any movies recently you want to discuss? Any movies that you want to recommend or are hyped about? Feel free to discuss anything here.

      Please just try to provide fair warning of spoilers as you can.

      Past discussions:

      May 27, 2019 | May 20, 2019 | May 13, 2019 | May 6, 2019 | April 22, 2019 | April 15, 2019 | April 1, 2019 | March 25, 2019 | Sept 3, 2018 | August 27, 2018

      5 votes
    18. I don't get all the love for The Orville

      Warning: this post may contain spoilers

      Spoilers for all seasons of both The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery.

      The Orville isn't bad, but it's not the worthy successor to pre-Abrams Star Trek that a lot of people on /r/startrek—and increasingly on /r/DaystromInstitute—make it out to be, and honestly I struggle to understand how people are even reaching that conclusion.

      I should start, I suppose, with what I like about this show. First, I like the characters—with two exceptions, I'll get to that later. Dr. Finn, in particular, is a delight: Penny Johnson Jerald is a very talented actress and it's really great to see her in a role where the rest of the cast draws on her character's wisdom. She plays it well. The rest of the bridge crew is great, too: Gordon, LaMarr, and Bortas are all lots of fun, and Jessica Szohr is a great addition for season 2: Halston Sage didn't quite have the skill to pull her character off.

      The show looks great. Union vessels are distinct from Federation vessels and they're not just ISO Human Standard Spaceships either, which is commendable. Kaylon spheres are neat play on Borg cubes, and my only real complaint in this regard is that Moclan and Krill vessels look oddly similar. The engine effects, the depiction of celestial objects, the overall Union aesthetic, it's all very pleasing to the eye.

      The worldbuilding is great. This is the one place that I think I would even go as far to say The Orville has a clear edge over Star Trek. Trek has built up loads of cruft over the years and sometimes struggles to keep it all together. For example, The Orville has swept away the inconsistent depiction of enlisted personnel that Trek fouls up seemingly very chance it gets by just depicting officers, which makes sense for a highly automated vessel. I fundamentally "buy" the Planetary Union as a human-centric interstellar polity in the same way I buy the UFP. (My one complaint in this department is that there does not appear to be any bureaucratic distinction between the Union government and the Union fleet, i.e. it lacks the distinction between The Federation and Starfleet. That seems like an oddity I hope they correct in season 3.) McFarlane is a nerd, he's fastidious about detail, and you just know he's has to have pages upon pages of worldbuilding details which helps him keep it consistent. It shows.

      But the show falls flat on its face in two key ways which, unfortunately, appear to be baked into the concept.

      Shortfall one: I just can't seem to warm up to either Mercer or Grayson, which for obvious reasons is a huge problem, because the show is now on record as indicating that their romantic relationship is The Key To Saving The Galaxy™. The Orville is an episodic throwback, but if it has a "main arc," that main arc is Ed & Kelly's relationship, and it just feels awkward and out of place.

      I don't really dislike Grayson, but I can't find anything to really like about her either. She's just kinda there, and her story never diverges from Mercer's. Which brings me to Mercer... which... just... ugh. Never in my life have I seen a more egregious case of a show creator playing out his fantasy on camera. I cannot tell you the number of times I've seen someone make a statement which boils down to "I don't like Discovery because Burnham is a Mary Sue, and that's why I prefer The Orville" as if Mercer is not the most blatant case of a Marty Stu to ever grace network television and get renewed for a second season. I mean, come on. He's the perfect captain, he always makes the right call, yet for some reason the show keeps trying to sell us on the notion that he's damaged goods and out-of-favor with the Admiralty. It's not believable, and it irks me endlessly that anyone would lob this criticism at Discovery when The Orville is an order of magnitude more guilty of this conceit.

      And that brings me to the elephant in the room: the direct Star Trek comparison. I seem to recall Season 1 having a novel episode here and there, even if they were snoozefests. Season 1 also bothered to draw from other sources of inspiration, even if those sources were Trek-adjacent shows like Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone. But on the other hand, some episodes from season 1 were straight rips from old Trek. "If the Stars Should Appear"? Straight remake of "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky." "Mad Idolatry"? Straight remake of "Blink of an Eye."

      And Season 2? Season 2 doubled down on the Trek remake approach. No other sources, no novel concepts: almost every episode is a remake of a previous episode of Star Trek. Sometimes The Orville at least bothered to remix a pair of episodes, and sometimes a lot of the details got changed, but with one exception, every episode was a Trek episode remake.

      Orville Ep Trek Ep(s)
      "Ja'loja" This is the only original one
      "Primal Urges" "Hollow Pursuits" and/or "Extreme Risk"
      "Home" "Home"
      "Nothing Left on Earth Excepting Fishes" "The Wolf Inside" (Ash Tyler's arc in general)
      "All the World Is Birthday Cake" "Who Watches the Watchers" mixed with "First Contact"
      "A Happy Refrain" "In Theory"
      "Deflectors" "A Man Alone" and/or "Suspicions"
      "Identity" (both parts) "The Best of Both Worlds" mixed with "Prototype"
      "Blood of Patriots" "The Wounded"
      "Lasting Impressions" "Booby Trap" and/or "It's Only a Paper Moon"
      "Sanctuary" "The Outcast"
      "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" "Second Chances"
      "The Road Not Taken" "Timeless"

      The degree to which a given The Orville episode is a remake of the Trek episode I've listed varies. "Home" is only similar if you look at the broad strokes: the officer on loan from the scientifically advanced Earth ally goes home where her family disparages her for spending all that time with humans. The home invasion plot from that episode was original, but it was also kinda weird and contrived. The flipside of this constant borrowing from Trek is that when The Orville does go off the beaten path, it's inevitably flat out boring. "Ja'loja" was an utterly forgettable episode because it largely focused on Ed & Kelly relationship drama.

      And even if we look at "Ja'loja," there's a bit of "Amok Time" in there with the whole "returning to the desert homeworld" for the Moclan urination ceremony. Sometimes it's bits and pieces into a blender, but other times it's a basically a straight rip, like it is with "All the World Is Birthday Cake" and "Blood of Patriots." Perhaps the most blatant "homage" was introducing a surgically altered Klingon Krill to infiltrate the hero ship, right down to the name and rank of the infiltrator!

      I know, everything's a remix, and I know, it's a fine line between "ripoff" and "homage," but the problem with this level of "borrowing" is that when you've seen every episode of Star Trek as many times as I have, each episode of The Orville just becomes an exercise in "I wonder which Star Trek episode this will be," and once you figure it out, it just saps all the urgency and tension out of the viewing experience. It gets boring.

      I didn't get bored with Discovery. I mean, sure, Discovery has its problems. In many ways its problems are the inverse of The Orville's strengths: I struggle to care all that much about any of the characters, the show is rife with dark sets and quick shots which just isn't that visually appealing, and the worldbuilding is at times really difficult to reconcile with established Trek lore. (The Spore drive is classified? That's why we never see it again? Ummm... OK, then.) And the story, while chaotic and poorly paced & planned due to constant showrunner turmoil, is at the very least interesting and novel.

      The perfect Star Trek would be a synthesis of these two shows, but apart, each show pretty much breaks even when you take the strengths and weaknesses on the merits. Which brings me to my title: I cannot for the life of me get into the mindset of the fans who see this as the True Trek of our time. It's just remakes of old Trek, and while the visuals have been updated for 2019, the stories have not.

      The bottom line is that while it's great that we have two Trek-style shows on the air at the same time for the first time since the 90's, neither show is great, or even good. They're both just OK, and the huge disparity between how they've been received doesn't make much sense to me.

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