Triple Scoop Review: Big Match, Inseparable Bros, and The Villainess

Big Match

Year: 2014
Director: Choi Ho
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Viki
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

Big Match is enjoyable, pretty light-hearted fare. Once again, Lee Jung Jae is playing a dude trapped in a high stakes game where rich assholes bet money on if he survives; unlike Squid Game, however, Choi Ik Ho (Lee) isn’t playing various deadly children’s games. Instead, he’s a hothead MMA fighter forced to complete various dangerous tasks (escape the police, attack a bunch of gangsters, sing karaoke, etc.) if he wants to see his brother alive again. Shin Ha Kyun, who I’ve been pretty much obsessed with since watching Beyond Evil, plays the villainous mastermind Ace, and his hair in this movie is just . . . it is art. It is perfection itself. If I owned a curling iron, or hair spray, and actually knew how to do anything with my hair, I would 100% style it this way. His whole aesthetic in this film is just . . . *chef’s kiss.*

But yes, yes, the movie itself. Big Match is fun and silly—there are zero tonal similarities between this and Squid Game—and never takes itself too seriously. My attention did start to drift, I don’t know, maybe the last 20-25 minutes of the movie? And of course, it’s always hard whenever an actor I love is playing the villain, since I just end up rooting for them the whole time, particularly since I never did care very much about Ik Ho. (I do feel sorry for his brother, though, poor dude.) Still, I had a decent time watching this. Shin Ha Kyun is campy and petulant and delightful, and it’s fun to see Lee Jung Jae as this buff martial arts dude. I was both surprised and pleased to see Choi Woo Shik pop up, and I enjoyed Ra Mi Ran as Ik Ho’s sister-in-law, Hyung Soo. If you’re in the mood for an easy watch with ridiculous action scenes and fantastic hair, you could probably do worse than Big Match.

Inseparable Bros

Year: 2019
Director: Yook Sang Hyo
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Viki
Spoilers: Some, yes
Grade: Chocolate

. . . LOL, I’m not at all convinced that this trailer does a great job establishing the overall tone of this movie. Like, parts of the film are definitely comedic, but . . . yeah, this isn’t quite it. Also, fuck it, this whole Triple Scoop Review is just gonna be dedicated to Shin Ha Kyun, I guess, because I’ll apparently watch all kinds of shit that I wouldn’t normally sign up for so long as he’s in it. Case in point: Inseparable Bros, which—in fairness—I didn’t watch solely for Shin Ha Kyun. I also wanted to see Lee Kwang Soo and Esom, too. But yeah. My wheelhouse is pretty firmly horror/fantasy/SF/action/mystery. I’m not saying I never venture out of these genres, but inspirational comedy-dramas, particularly ones based on true events, are really not my jam. And a story about two good friends—a very intelligent quadriplegic man and a sweet swimmer with intellectual disabilities—who’ve closely relied on one another for years . . . like, Jesus, I already watched The Mighty, okay? I know where you’re going with this, and my soul’s not in the fucking mood. (I feel the way about tearjerkers that some people feel about horror movies: why would you willingly do that to yourself, why?)

That all being said . . . I actually did enjoy this one.  It helps that while I did get a tiny bit emotional once or twice (because there are sad moments, and/or because I’m a weepy mess of a person), it wasn’t quite the soul crushing tragedy that I’d anticipated. And the movie didn’t feel too, like, cringeworthy inspiration porn, either? (Though as a non-disabled person, I could very well be missing things here.) To me, the focus, really felt like it was on Se Ha and Dong Goo’s relationship, rather than just some, IDK, triumphant underdog story that makes able-bodied people feel good about themselves?

The cast is excellent: Shin Ha Kyun and Lee Kwang Soo both give really solid performances as Se Ha and Dong Goo, respectively, and they have a great rapport. I like Esom in this, too, although I do feel like her character is a bit off balance with the rest of the story; I wish she either had less screen time or a stronger arc. (Although I do like that this isn’t a romance and that any jealousy aspects are minimal. Also, I enjoy the mildly antagonistic friendship between her character and Se Ha.) I was delighted to see other familiar faces in this movie, too: Kwon Hae Hyo, Kil Hae Yeon, Ahn Ji Ho, and Park Chul Min. Ahn Ji Ho and Kim Hyun Bin are both really well cast as Young Se Ha and Young Dong Goo, and despite limited screen time, I really enjoyed Kwon Hae Hyo as Father Park as well.

Inseparable Bros. is kind of a simple story and there aren’t any big surprises except that—SPOILERS—our leads both live! But overall, I think it’s told pretty well: I like Se Ha’s reserve and crankiness, I like Dong Goo’s complicated relationship with his mother, and I think a couple of the flashbacks near the end of the film are used quite nicely. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that I, notably cold of heart, enjoyed a heartwarming dramedy, but there you have it. Sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves.

The Villainess

Year: 2017
Director: Jung Byung Gil
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Streaming Service: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, absolutely
Grade: Vanilla

Hm. You know, I have mixed feelings on this one, and I’m still trying to sort them out. The Villainess has some serious La Femme Nikita vibes (with a few parts that strongly reminded me of Kill Bill), and obviously, I’m a sucker for badass assassins and revenge flicks. I generally enjoyed all the frenetic action scenes. There are one or two pretty brutal surprises. I’m obsessed with the shot of Sook Hee in a wedding dress holding a sniper rifle. And the cast is pretty great, too. I enjoy Kim Ok Bin as Sook Hee, our assassin protagonist whose life just gets increasingly more and more tragic. Kim Seo Hyung is great as Kwon Sook, the chief of the spy agency who recruits Sook Hee. (I loved Kim Seo Hyung in Nobody Knows; this woman was just born to play a mega cool badass in charge.) Obviously, I continue to like Shin Ha Kyun; motherfucker just exudes charisma in this film, like, hot damn. He is one insanely cold-hearted (and sexy) bastard here. And it was nice to see a couple of actors I didn’t expect: Sung Joon (who I enjoyed in White Christmas) plays Hyun Soo, a spy who falls in love with Sook Hee, and Park Chul Min pops up for the second time this week, this time playing Sook Hee’s father.

Still . . . I feel like something’s missing here, and I’m trying to decide exactly what that is. I saw a lot of reviews arguing that The Villainess has second act problems, and . . . yeah, I probably wouldn’t disagree with that. In a way, I feel like this movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be about—or maybe it does know but never quite supports the thesis? Like, okay. By the end of the film, Sook Hee has lost everything—her child, her husband, her (admittedly not great) spy/assassin job—and all she has to show for it are a bunch of dead bodies (including the body of the man who ruined her life) and yet another arrest for mass murder. That, I think, is supposed to be the tragedy here: Sook Hee could (possibly) have had the normal life she longed for, but her obsession with revenge (and with Joong Sang, himself) ruins any chance of that. Kwon Sook tells her as much shortly before Hyun Soo and Eun Hye are murdered, and Joong Sang tells Sook Hee that the real pain will begin once she kills him—which she does, giving way to the last shot of the film, which (in true cycle of violence style) echoes the beginning of the movie, with Sook Hee violently grinning as she’s arrested.

Of course, “revenge destroys you and everyone around you” is not the most original moral, as far as these things go, but that’s not really my problem here. I think my bigger problem is that I never quite buy that Sook Hee does long to have this normal life. We’re told she does, but . . . I don’t know, I never quite felt it. Maybe I would have if we got more into her acting career, or if we spent more time with her daughter, or if I ever bought her romance with Hyun Soo—but I never did. The actors are both fine separately, but I’m not convinced they have much chemistry together—frankly, I think Kim Ok Bin has the best chemistry with Kim Seo Hyung—and while I think Hyun Soo is supposed to come off as an awkward but ultimately good-hearted spy stuck between a rock and a hard place, he mostly struck me as a Nice Guy creeper, and I spent half the film chanting for his death. I totally buy Hyun Soo’s thing for Sook Hee, but I never quite buy her thing for him, and maybe because of that—because Sook Hee never seems all that invested in her relationship or her career or really becoming this new person who puts her old life behind her—I don’t think the tragic arc hits nearly as hard as it could—even though they kill off her small, adorable child, which I will admit surprised me. Likewise, I don’t think Sook Hee’s implied descent into villainy makes for a particularly strong or satisfying conclusion, either. It’s totally a cool shot, but the emotion doesn’t linger. Which . . . yeah, might be how I feel about the movie as a whole. I could totally watch it again, didn’t have a bad time at all, but was also definitely left with the impression that it could have been so much better with a stronger script.

TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2021

It’s December, which means–well, a bunch of things, really, but today it means that I’ve come to talk about all the television I’ve been watching for the past three months. Here are the shows:

What If . . . ? (Episodes 1-5)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (Season 2, Episodes 4-10)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8, Episodes 7-10)
Running Man/Classic Running Man (Random Episodes)
Black Spot (Season 2)
Last Week Tonight
Nailed It! (Season 6)
Squid Game
Slasher: Flesh and Blood
Yumi’s Cells (Ep. 1- 7)
Evil (Season 2)
The Great British Bake-Off (Collection 9)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Ep. 1 – 7)
Hawkeye (Ep. 1-3)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether it’s currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings. I may discuss events from past seasons, however, without such a warning. Which is to say, I won’t spoil any of Nancy Drew, Season 3, without a big heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 or S2 are totally fair game.

Shall we begin?

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Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Hereditary, Till Death, and Tag

Horror Bingo continues! Once again, we have three wildly different movies to discuss today. Let’s just skip straight to the blasphemy, shall we?

Hereditary

Toni Collette Crying GIF by A24 - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2018
Director: Ari Aster
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, specifically in the 3rd and 4th paragraphs
Grade: Vanilla

Hereditary is . . . okay. It’s well-acted, particularly by Toni Collette. It’s well-shot. There are definitely some nice creepy moments and a few good surprises, which I’ll detail in the Spoiler Paragraphs. I like the use of the miniatures, which are clearly eerie AF.

But on the whole, I feel removed from this story, distant. I feel vaguely bad for this family because a bunch of truly awful shit happens to them, but I also don’t know that I particularly connect to any one of them as characters. There’s never really a moment that I became fully invested in their lives or the story in general. The whole movie is kinda, hm, flatly miserable I guess? Which, yeah I get it: this is horror, and no one’s here to have a good time. But I do feel like I’ve watched other horror films about suffering and grief that I’ve enjoyed a lot more and that have meant more to me. It probably doesn’t help, either, that I just read a handful of reviews that really have that whole “yes, Hereditary is a horror film, but it’s actually about something” energy, like the entire genre was trash before Blessed A24, Lord and Savior, came to save us from ourselves. I fucking despise that shit.

As far as the actual plot goes, I initially thought that the evil cult was trying to bring Dead Grandma back to life. (The evil cult itself was pretty, obvious, right, like we all knew that Ann Dowd was definitely Evil Grandma’s Equally Evil Friend?) Once we learned about Paimon, though, I was all, Oh, got it, we’ve been trying and failing to do this for a WHILE now, first with Long Dead Grandpa and then Long Dead Uncle and now Recently Dead Charlie. I completely missed that Charlie actually was Paimon since, IDK, she was a baby, basically? Until the ending reveal, I’d just assumed she was all emotionally fucked up due to the prolonged exposure to Evil Grandma.

There are some disturbing and/or holy shit moments I liked. When Charlie died, for instance (I thought she might go out early, but didn’t expect it to happen like that) or when Gabriel Byrne went up in flames. (Damn, that was a good surprise.)  Possessed Toni Collette decapitating herself; also, when she channeled Charlie during the seance. And the ants, God, I fucking hate ants. There really is some genuinely good stuff here.

But for me, the film as a whole didn’t linger. When Hereditary was over, I was kinda like, “Well . . . that was definitely a movie I watched,” and moved about my day. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t connect to it, either, and I don’t think I was nearly as disturbed as I was meant to be.

Till Death

Megan Fox Till Death GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2021
Director: S.K. Dale
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, technically, but nothing that should ruin the movie for you
Grade: Strawberry

Again, this is okay. It’s a fun concept: woman who’s been handcuffed to her dead asshole of a husband has to find a way to survive, especially when a couple of dudes come to rob and kill her. You know, it’s like Gerald’s Game, but worse. (I presume. Despite having been a Stephen King fan since I was 11 or 12, I’ve still never actually read or watched Gerald’s Game.) There are some specific moments I like: golf clubs, the various troubles with staircases, a nice reversal where one of the bad guys gets handcuffed to a dead body. Dead Husband (Eoin Macken) is The Fucking Worst, and rudely, this movie makes you wait a little over 20 minutes for him to die, which is obviously criminal. But mostly, it’s an easy enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Unfortunately, Emma is played by Megan Fox, and while I genuinely like Megan Fox in some things–Jennifer’s Body, for instance–I don’t think she quite works here, which is a bummer cause the whole movie kinda rides on her performance. In the first 20 minutes, she’s going for . . . hm, meek, I suppose? Sad and subservient? But it falls a little flat for me, never quite manages to feel genuine or nuanced. Her performance is a bit stronger when Emma gets to the “fuck you, corpse-husband, I will survive no matter what” stage of the game. Still, even then I don’t buy a lot of her reactions. There’s one moment when Emma yells “Fuck you!” or something, and I flat out laughed.

Mostly, I just couldn’t stop thinking of actresses I’d rather have seen in the role. Like, we’re currently watching Season 2 of Evil, right, so immediately, I’m thinking, “Man, Katja Herbers would’ve owned this.” Other possibilities: Kate Siegel (double feature this and Hush!), Florence Pugh (double feature this and Midsommar!), Samara Weaving (this scream, it is the best, I will never shut up about it), Sandra Oh (Jesus Christ, I would cut off someone’s right arm to see Sandra Oh in a horror movie.) Till Death is decent enough, but a stronger actress could’ve made this one sing.

Tag

Year: 2015
Director: Sion Sono
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, primarily in the last two paragraphs
Grade: Chocolate

I mean, damn. Tag is WILD. I knew that going in, of course, but let’s be clear: in no way does that fucking trailer prepare you for the film you’re about to watch. Holy shit.

I’m finding this one hard to talk about. Tag is a madcap rush of action, gore, and surrealism, and for the majority of the film, I had very little idea of what was going on–though I did accidentally hit on a Big Twist, which I’ll discuss in more detail later. It helps, I think, to have a “fuck it, let’s just see what happens” mindset–which isn’t to say don’t engage with the film, just, like. It’s probably not gonna make much sense until the end. If that sounds super frustrating, this might not be the movie for you. Likewise, if you hate gore (or only like it when it’s tasteful) this is also probably not your movie. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t a big problem for me. The opening scene alone, I mean, shit.

Tag is also a bit difficult to discuss because–as with any foreign film–I’m almost certainly missing cultural references or important context that Japanese audiences would know, not to mention this is Amazon, so how accurate are these translations, really? I can tell you that I enjoyed the score: I really like what I’ve heard from MONO so far; plus, there’s a brief instance of The Walking Dead theme music, which TWD, bah, but it’s damn good theme music. I can also tell you that I’d absolutely love to read an essay on this film from a queer feminist perspective. It’s not apparent from the outset, but by the end, there are some definite  fuck the patriarchy vibes here, which I enjoy. (Though there are also about a billion panty shots, which I guess you can argue makes sense, but I think the argument is weak.) And I can say–with only moderate spoilers– that one of the various antagonists in this movie is Evil Wind, a fear I deeply relate to, since apparently fire season has just sorta permanently traumatized me, goddamnit.

Here’s a funny thing: maybe halfway through the film, I told Mekaela that Tag would make for a decent video game, like, you could see how each reality felt like a different level, with different Bosses and different characters you could fight with, etc. Mek (who’d forgotten she’d seen this movie until it started) had zero reaction to this, which surprised me until we hit the end, and I realized Mitsuko actually has been in a video game this whole time, and Mek had been all, “Keep a straight face, keep a straight face.”

Tag is honestly a bit sad, although we do get that hint of optimism at the last moment. That old fucker doesn’t get his “prize,” at least, which is good. Mitsuko escapes, too, although she has to kill herself to do it, and it’s unclear exactly where she is now. Still. For a movie with Mass Murdering Wind, a pig-head groom, and absurdly comical levels of violence, Tag lands a bit heavier in the chest than I expected. This movie shows women the future, and it’s just Gross, Entitled Men Are Now Even More Entitled and Gross. I just feel very sorry for Mitsuko; also Aki, Sur, and all the other dead girls.

World’s Worst Trekkie: The Omega Glory, The Ultimate Computer, Bread and Circuses, and Assignment: Earth

I know I usually tackle this show three episodes at a time, but with only four episodes left in Season 2, I thought it’d be best to lump them all together.

This is important because it means I have to adjust my very scientific ice cream based rating system. I will now be introducing a fourth flavor: mint chocolate chip. And while I know that many of you will be incorrectly thinking yum, mint chocolate chip is, in fact, the worst flavor–yes, even worse than strawberry–because mint is the devil’s food. There is no lower grade on this blog than mint chocolate chip.

“The Omega Glory”

Wow. Wow. I guess I know what’s winning the mint. “The Omega Glory” may very well be the worst Star Trek episode I’ve ever seen, which is saying something. I mean, it’s worse than the Nazi episode. The Nazi episode. It’s almost impressive, how awful this is. The fact that touch telepath Spock mind controls a woman from across the room simply by Intense Staring is the very least of this episode’s problems.

It doesn’t start so bad. The Enterprise discovers that nearly the entire crew of the U.S.S. Exeter were infected with some weird disease which essentially dehydrated them so badly that their bodies collapsed into crystals. Like, yikes. Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Red Shirt, also now infected, beam down to this planet where they’ll be safe so long as they don’t leave. Captain Tracy, sole survivor of the Exeter, pretends to be a good guy for a whole three minutes before vaporizing Red Shirt and holding our heroes hostage. Turns out, the people on Omega IV all live for centuries or longer, and Tracy wants to figure out this Fountain of Youth shit so he can leave the planet and live forever.

Tracy is a weirdly cartoonish bad guy, especially considering how he’s introduced as this legendary Starfleet captain. (It’s almost funny, just how few fucks this dude gives about his entire dead crew.) Of course, Immortality Seeker is a classic villain trope, but it feels bizarrely random here, like they picked it because it was classic, not because it actually makes sense for this character or this story. Still, the aliens are the real problem here: the Yangs (portrayed by white actors) and the Kohms (portrayed by Asian actors). The Kohms are peaceful and “civilized,” while the Yangs are the unreasonable “savages,” something that’s clearly presented as a surprise, like, isn’t it shocking how the brown people are the civilized ones? It’s definitely no accident that Sulu remains onboard for the majority of this racist ass episode.

It turns out that, somehow*, this planet mirrors Earth’s history to a ludicrous degree. Like, the Big Twist is that the Yangs are actually this planet’s equivalent of Yankees, complete with their own version of the U.S. Constitution, the Pledge of the Allegiance, and–I shit you not–a whole ass American flag. Meanwhile, the Kohms are communists, I guess, and unlike Earth (where a war was avoided), the Kohms defeated the Yangs way back when, pushing them out of civilization and taking over their lands. Which is why the Yangs dress, act, and speak the way they do–because they’re also supposed to represent the Native Americans in this world. It’s, whew. It’s real bad.

Honestly, there’s so much gross bullshit here that it’s hard to even know where to begin. Like, how this episode fully embraces several racist Native American stereotypes, or how Cloud William (the Yangs’ leader) speaks in what I guess is meant to be some kinda generic Native American accent? How the Kohms were secretly bad guys all along, kicking the freedom-loving Yangs out of their land, and how the poor white people were just trying to fight for their own home. How incredibly, ludicrously stupid these language parallels are, and how Spock refers to the Kohms as “Asiatics.” Like, dear God. I can’t even get into Kirk’s hypocritical treatment of the Prime Directive here, which is also garbage. I just . . . wow, there really is nothing good to say about this episode. It is appalling. My eyes are weeping blood.

*There are apparently explanations in some tie-in novels, but in the episode itself? Nope.

Chief Asshat: Gene Roddenberry, who actually wrote this shit

MVP: Scotty and Chekov, for having the good sense to not be in this episode

Grade: Mint Chocolate Chip

Line of the Episode:

(about the Vulcan neck pinch)
“Pity you can’t teach me that.”
“I have tried, Captain.”

“The Ultimate Computer”

We’ve already had a ton of supercomputers on TOS, so I may have facepalmed when I saw the name of this episode. Surprisingly, though, I enjoyed “The Ultimate Computer.” The Enterprise is ordered to install the M-5, a system so sophisticated that it only requires a skeleton crew, which very well may put Kirk out of a job. (And you know. Most everyone else on the Enterprise, but nobody really addresses them.) All the job anxiety stuff still feels pretty relevant now, TBH, and I love how the M-5 totally calls Kirk out for assigning himself and Bones to away missions when their presence is definitely not required. Not that this pattern will be changing anytime soon, alas.

For a while, things go great. Then the M-5, having difficulty distinguishing between a real threat and a false alarm, obliterates an empty freighter. That’s enough for Kirk to call the whole thing off; unfortunately, as he insists on saying this out loud, it’s no real surprise when the M-5 easily locks them out of control before killing a dude who gets in the way and then starts attacking Federation vessels for good measure. Bunches of people die. The M-5 is desperately trying to protect itself because its whole purpose is to keep people from dying in space; when Kirk points out the obvious logical inconsistency, the M-5 self-destructs–a logic bomb that works better than others, I think, because it’s actually written as the M-5’s decision, rather than an inability to compute some paradox it would totally be able to compute. Then Kirk saves the day by relying on human intuition, and everything ends happily . . . except for Dr. Richard Daystrum, that is, who created the M-5 and has a full breakdown.

Some things I enjoy: the M-5 was created with human engrams and is, for all intents and purposes, an AI, which is kind of neat. And Daystrum (who will be referenced in multiple other Trek shows), is played by William Marshall, AKA, Blacula. Marshall was a very, very tall man and had a rather nice voice, so I just like listening to him talk–usually to insult Kirk. He has a few moments here I enjoy: his whole “men no longer need die in space” monologue and when he’s trying to reason with the M-5. Also, I think we see a space station for possibly the first time? Oh, and when Kirk is feeling low, Spock tells him, “A starship also runs on loyalty to one man, and nothing can replace it or him.” Which is obviously Vulcan for, “Dude, I love you, and I’ll follow you anywhere.”

My only real problem here is that I’m not wild about how Daystrum’s motivation goes from “saving people” to “no one thought I was relevant and cool anymore, so I made this (ultimately terrible) thing.” It’s not that the latter motivation can’t work (or that Daystrum couldn’t feel both simultaneously), but the bitter childhood prodigy angle felt a bit forced to me, a bit too late in the game for my liking. I’m much more interested in Daystrum as this tragic figure who simply tried his best to help people and failed. Still, overall, this is a pretty solid episode.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Commodore Wesley, no doubt. He needles Kirk by calling him “Captain Dunsel,” essentially saying Kirk serves no useful purpose anymore, and then immediately assumes Kirk is responsible for the attack when it makes way more sense for it to be an M-5 malfunction.

MVP: William Marshall. Could listen to that man all day.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode:

“Please, Spock, do me a favor and don’t say it’s fascinating.”
“No, but it is . . . interesting.”

“Bread and Circuses”

“Bread and Circuses” makes a lot of Top 10 Worst TOS Episodes lists, and I get why: it’s pretty dumb, and it’s dumb in a lot of the same ways that “The Omega Glory” is. This is yet another world that’s basically just alternate Earth, only here we have 1960’s tech in a world where Rome never fell . . . which means we get gladiator fights on reality TV. Honestly, that part was great; I laughed out loud when they pulled back to reveal the Hollywood set. Unfortunately, it also means that we have to learn about Hodgkin’s Bullshit Law of Parallel Planet Development to explain budget problems, ethnocentrism, a criminal lack of imagination how these people could possibly speak English, amongst other nonsense. I guess that’s better than not explaining it at all?

Despite this, “Bread and Circuses” is considerably less offensive than “The Omega Glory” and far more fun to watch. For one, Kirk isn’t the guy engaging in (seemingly unending) fisticuffs! Bones and Spock get that honor this time, facing off against a pair of gladiators, and it’s delightful. Spock gets a new undercover beanie, too; this one is tan and, per usual, he loses it almost immediately. Let’s see . . . I immediately and correctly predicted Evil Roman Dude would stab Last Minute Redemptive Bad Guy in the back, so yay, me. And there’s a really interesting scene between Bones and Spock, where Bones tries to thank Spock for saving his life and ends up accusing him of being afraid to live. I don’t know if the whole scene works for me, exactly–I don’t think it has quite enough space to breathe–but it is, well, fascinating.

Of course, it’s not all fun fight scenes and antagonistic heart-to-hearts. I can forgive the bad guy, I guess, who doesn’t exactly have a firm grasp on the concept of “incentives.” (“Beam your whole crew down so that most of them can die, or else I’ll . . . kill only these two officers?”) The Prime Directive stuff here, too, is pretty ridiculous, and I’m not sure why we’re only clearly defining it now, anyway, at the very end of the second season.

But the worst bits are definitely these: A) it’s heavily implied that Kirk sleeps with the pretty sex slave who, while apparently “willing,” definitely cannot give actual consent, and B) our heroes save the day by . . . running away, leaving behind the last few survivors they actually came to rescue. They don’t defeat the bad guy or end slavery or any of that good jazz, but it’s okay, see, because it turns out that the rising rebellion of Sun worshippers are actually Son worshippers, which means we don’t have to feel bad for abandoning the planet because Christianity is coming to save everyone.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, no question

MVP: Scotty, who basically saves the day by interpreting Kirk’s orders as guidelines

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode: Ooh, difficult. There’s Bones taking the time to yell at Spock, even as he’s poorly defending himself in the gladiator fight. There’s also Spock dryly agreeing with Kirk that the people shooting at them do, indeed, seem to mean it. But I think I have to go with Bones’s somewhat relatable anti-Prime Directive wish:

“Once, just once, I’d like to be able to land someplace and say, ‘Behold! I am the archangel Gabriel!”

“Assignment: Earth”

“Assignment: Earth” is the season finale of S2 and kind of an odd episode all around. For one thing, our heroes have intentionally time-traveled back to Earth 1968 for, I guess, historical research? Which is just not how time travel usually works in Trek. (It also remains unclear how they were gonna conduct said research, as Kirk and Spock make it seem like the initial plan was not to leave the ship, which seems . . . counterintuitive?) More importantly, however, our heroes are largely absent for half the episode and mostly just manage to fuck things up when they are around. (Spock insists they actually helped history play out as it was supposed to, but he’s just trying to save face. Kirk absolutely almost gets everyone killed.) Instead, the action mostly focuses on this mysterious dude, Gary Seven, and his pet cat, Isis, who have come to stop a missile launch that will doom everyone. The setup is so strange that the whole episode almost feels like a backdoor pilot, except did they even have backdoor pilots in the late 1960’s?

Apparently, yes. They did because that’s exactly what “Assignment: Earth” is, a backdoor pilot for a show that nobody picked up. It’s unfortunate, too, because although the pacing of this one is a bit off, I actually really enjoyed Gary Seven and Isis. Seven is sort of an understated character, but he has a dry sense of humor that appeals to me, and I had fun watching him deal with his delightfully snotty computer, the Beta 5, and communicate with his cat. (Isis has a human form too, of course, but we only briefly see it at the end of the episode.) All of Isis’s cat attacks are hilarious. Also in one scene, Seven clambers up to the missile to sabotage it, while Isis helpfully hangs out on his back. It’s fantastic. I’d have watched the holy hell out of this show.

Teri Garr is fun in this, too. She’s playing Roberta, the secretary who accidentally gets wrapped up in all these secret agent/time travel shenanigans, and she feels like the rare female character in TOS who, by God, actually gets to be funny. The new characters all click here; it’s mostly that the action, itself, isn’t terribly interesting, particularly in the second half. Plus, yeah, the characters you actually showed up for are kinda twiddling their thumbs a lot. Still, I had a decent time watching this episode.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Kirk doubting Seven totally makes sense, but it also nearly starts World War III, so . . .

MVP: The Gary Seven, Isis, and Beta 5 trio.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: “That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know? We wonder if we’re gonna be alive when we’re thirty.”

World’s Worst Trekkie: Wolf in the Fold, The Trouble With Tribbles, and The Gamesters of Triskelion

Well. There are many fascinating things in this trio of episodes. Tribbles. Serial killers. Talking alien brains that orchestrate death matches. Prepare yourselves, my friends, for the road ahead is paved with hilarity, absurdity, misogyny, violence, unexpected historical references, and fantastic hair.

DISCLAIMER

There will be SPOILERS for these three episodes and probably also the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.

“Wolf in the Fold”

Oh, wow. That was, yes. That was surely an episode.

At first, I assumed we were in for our standard ‘Starfleet officer is framed for murder’ story, but oh no, my friends. Oh no. Things take a turn for the WTF when it’s revealed that it’s not Scotty who’s murdering women but Jack the Ripper. JACK THE FUCKING RIPPER. Redjac is a non-corporeal alien entity who kills women because they’re more easily terrified than men. (According to Spock, that is, who you’ll remember is absolutely perfect 80% of the time and sucks so hard the other 20%.) Obviously, I was unprepared for this turn of events. Mek mentioned JtR early in the episode (cause murder, fog, etc.), but it was supposed to be a joke. Reader. It was not a joke. Kirk actually says things like “but everything we’ve uncovered points to Jack the Ripper,” which is just categorically untrue, BTW. It has literally been less than 20 seconds since JtR even became a possible suspect. Redjac is also played by John Fiedler, who notably voiced Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. Which means that “Evil Piglet is Jack the Ripper!” is now a real thing that I have said.

That’s obviously the most ludicrous thing that happens in the episode, but never fear: absurdity abounds in many forms today! Like how Scotty is only on this planet at all because Bones prescribed him a rehabilitative trip to the local belly dancer tavern, which is supposed to cure him of his “total resentment toward women,” an affliction he’s been suffering from ever since some woman caused an explosion that knocked Scotty into a bulkhead?

I . . . I can’t. I just can’t.

There’s also the “psycho-tricorder” (a device I’m relatively sure is never used again), Spock’s random ass theory of the “hypnotic screen,” the fact that Kirk seems way more concerned about making sure Scotty gets cleared of all charges than he is about any of the dead women (including one of his own officers, for Christ’s sake), and the fact that Kirk ultimately defeats Jack the Ripper by getting everyone on board high.

I can’t stress enough that this is all a real episode, a real episode that really aired.

It’s terrible. I wanna watch it twice.

Chief Asshat: I’m gonna have to go with all of them? Yeah, all of them.

MVP: Whoever’s responsible for Sybo’s hair and wardrobe because it’s incredibly rare for me to see women’s fashion on TOS and think, Hell yeah, I’d wear that.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:
“I . . . I don’t remember.”
“Really, sir, that is hardly helpful.”

“The Trouble With Tribbles”

HOLY SHIT WE’VE REACHED THE TRIBBLE EPISODE!

I’ve never actually seen this episode in full before. I have seen the above GIF plenty of times–which is actually more morbid than you’d expect, considering how many of those cute cascading Tribbles are already dead–plus “Trials and Tribble-ations” a billion years ago.  But this is the first time I’m seeing the OG version, and folks, it’s delightful. There’s a reason this one’s a classic: the script is hilarious, and the actors land every damn line. (Well. Okay, I found Chekov’s “everything was invented in Russia” shtick a little forced today, but everything else.)

Some of my many favorite moments:  Scotty being able to endure any insult except an insult to the ship, Spock fooling absolutely nobody when he insists that he is immune to the charms of the tribble, Uhura archly reminding Kirk how often she gets short leave, Kirk putting his foot down due to the tragic loss of his chicken sandwich and coffee, and nobody wanting to take responsibility for beaming all the tribbles over to the Klingon’s engine room. (Which is hilarious, but also, holy shit, this is an act of WAR. Like, they basically just sentenced Cyrano Jones to 17 years of fuzzy labor for this kind of irresponsible shit.)

Short of quoting half the episode, I’m not sure how much I have to say. I do, of course, deeply relate to Scotty trying to pass up shore leave in order to stay inside and read, but I wish he’d also said something like, “Yeah I’ve had trouble relaxing on shore leave ever since that unfortunate time I was framed for multiple murders by Alien Jack the Ripper.” And the Klingons, once again, do not particularly act like the Klingons I’m familiar with, though I was kinda amused to see Klingon Trelane, or rather, the actor who played Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos” showing up in this episode as Koloth.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Baris, just for being a whiny little shit.

MVP: Kirk and Scotty. They both made me laugh a lot.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Oh, this is hard. “Extremely little, ensign” is a fantastic burn by Spock. I always enjoy some Bones and Spock banter, and of course, “You gave them to the Klingons?” is just fantastic. Still . . .

“My chicken sandwich and coffee . . . this is my chicken sandwich and coffee . . .”
“Fascinating.”
“I want these things off the ship. I don’t care if takes every man we’ve got. I want them off the ship.”

It’s all about Kirk’s delivery. It’s so incredulous/plaintive. It makes me think fondly of Janeway, who we all know would’ve burned every tribble alive if they got between her and her coffee.

“The Gamesters of Triskelion”

. . . can I have Jack the Ripper back?

Seriously. “Wolf in the Fold” is terrible, but like, drinking game terrible. It’s delightfully bad. There is no such delight to be found in “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” The script physically hurts me. There are discussions of freedom, slavery, love, and beauty, and every single line is the worst line. The fight scenes are terrible, too, which of course is totally normal, but as this is a classic “you must fight to the death for our amusement” episode, it’d be cool if I could at least say nice things about the death battles. Alas, there is very little to praise here. Like, okay, I did laugh when Galt says he’s been sent to welcome our heroes, and we immediately cut to Kirk being forcefully cuffed to the wall. That was funny. Also funny: the fashion. Kirk’s battle harness, for instance. Also, I wanna get a bald cap and cosplay Galt. His collar is so sparkly!

Otherwise, yeah. We get a weird amount of closeups and poorly acted monologues delivered to the sky. We get a lot of pointless filler scenes where Bones and Scotty argue with Spock, which is especially galling because it’s so goddamn obvious that Spock is correct. (There is, admittedly, a funny moment where Spock totally trolls these two as he leans in, all hush-hush, and brings up mutiny–but it’s too little, too late.) We get Kirk seducing an alien woman for the 87th time. (I initially thought of her as Sexy Oompa Loompa, which isn’t entirely fair, considering her green hair is fantastic, and her skin isn’t nearly orange enough. Mek mentioned that Lady Gaga could rock this look, which is absolutely correct–and yes, Google tells me the similarities have definitely been noted before.)

Alien Lady Gaga wants to leave on the Enterprise and learn about the stars, but isn’t allowed to despite her newfound freedom because, IDK, it’s more important that she stays here, being taught by the evolved, colorful brains who enslaved her in the first place? Bullshit, sir. You take this woman away from this terrible place. Also, Kirk wins everybody’s freedom far too easily, like, what the hell happened to the whole “to the death” part of the rules? And did I mention the scene where Lars the Thrall tries to sexually assault Uhura offscreen? Yeah, no, what the fuck was THAT shit, writers? Absofuckinglutely not.

In conclusion:

Chief Asshat: Lars, obviously, but Kirk kinda sucks here, too

MVP: Uhura, who’s had an immensely shitty day and deserves better

Grade: Strawberry

Line of the Episode:
“Your–your terms are unfair!”
“On the contrary, they’re extremely fair, since your alternative is death.”