Quark and Odo hugging

S2E23, “Crossover” (story: Peter Allan Fields)

This episode exists for two reasons:

1. We we overdue for a revisit to the “Mirror, Mirror” universe from TOS.

Kira and Bashir have a warp drive malfunction and are accidentally cast into the mirror universe, where they come across a gross evil version of the station, and it’s still known as Terek Nor. There, they learn about the fate of the mirror universe the TOS crew left behind. As it turns out, Kirk screwed everything up. His encouragement and influence on mirror Spock leads to him rising to great power within the Federation on a platform of peaceful reform. Well, that is a very stupid idea in a pathologically evil universe because it just leaves them vulnerable to hostile takeover by a Klingon-Cardassian alliance (in which Bajor has a strong influence).

The story is mostly Kira-centric. Mirror Kira is the Intendant of DS9, brutally ruling in the name of the Klingons and Cardassians, including evil Garak. Most of the regulars are around. Odo is a similarly brutal bureaucratic boss of the ore-processing wing of the station. O’Brien is one of many Terran slaves, although he is employed doing technical work instead of crushing physical labor. Sisko is some sort of pirate. Quark owns an even sleazier bar. But most of the story is about our Kira, given a pretty long leash by evil Kira (who is sortly weirdly into her…self) to conspire about and eventually orchestrate an escape.

I wouldn’t say the plot is especially interesting compared with the original “Mirror, Mirror”. But both really work as executions of great ideas and performances. “Crossover” clips along fine, though. It broadens the scope of the mirror universe in an interesting way, and was worth doing for that. But plotwise it’s really more of a throwback to TOS, being more focused on scrappin’ than talkin’.

2. What’s inside Odo?

An ongoing subject of fascination. From the moment a Nog splattered a bucketful of oatmeal on Jake in “Storytellers“, we have all wondered: what’s inside Odo? What is a changeling’s purest unrefined form? Kind of like a Terminator 2-style liquid metal? Or is he indeed a chunky oatmeal-like glop? Or like us humans, packed full of slimy organic sacs? Well, during Bashir’s escape from the ore processing center, we are given a perfect chance to find out! He blasts alt-Odo, who explodes with extreme splatter. We don’t see what happens next, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he slowly regathers himself like the aforementioned Terminator. But from the on-screen evidence he appears to be a combo of the latter two: mostly glop and sacs. And now we know!

Overall: This is a nice addition to the “Mirror, Mirror” canon, if not as iconic. Great performance by Nana Visitor as both regular Kira and ruthless vixen queen Kira. 4 out of 5.

S2E24, “The Collaborator” (story: Gary Holland)

Vedek Bareil has crossed into the unenviable realm of characters which cause me to elicit a sigh immediately upon their entrance. I know I’m supposed to be like, “Oh cool, some more Bajoran political intrigue!” But: sigh. I’m finding the performances by Philip Anglim to be dead stiff. I know he’s going for understated. Vedeks are the Bajoran equivalents of Buddhist monks, they aren’t going to be vivacious. But I’m not super interested in political/religious philosophizing anyway, vapid mumbling about it isn’t going to help. Now combine that with Vedek Winn, whose insipid fundamentalist nonsense is basically any smarmy TV preacher, or Mike Pence, and barf. I like Louise Fletcher, who is obviously great at self-righteous icy villains. (Who is the DS9 equivalent of Randle Patrick McMurphy that’s going to fix this? The closest Trekster I can think of to the charismatic outsider who disrupts the system and makes everyone question themselves is Q. An episode about Q harassing Winn would be something.) So anyway, yeah, these two again. Bajoran political intrigue: like a rice cake, but with a dash of salt!

And…I didn’t hate it? Actually it was a pretty clever story with a building, complex mystery, and an unexpected reveal at the end. I’m honestly a little stunned! Also interested in what happens next, because the outcome–Vedek Winn falling backwards into the role of Kai–has longstanding ramifications. We’re not done with this, but I can hope this is a turning point.

Highlight: Odo and Kira getting Quark to help hack into a computer because they need to circumvent the usual legal channels. I guess this is why they keep him around: dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

Overall: 4 out of 5. Don’t let it go to your head, Vedeks.

S2E25, “Tribunal” (story: Bill Dial)

Memory Alpha references the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, which refers to this as an “O’Brien Must Suffer” episode. I want to say this is the third or fourth of the series to this point. Why do they like putting O’Brien into every terrible situation? I guess his stoic demeanor and middle-aged physique ensures he’s just gotta power through rather than fight (Kira), charm (Bashir), negotiate (Sisko), weasel (Quark), or transmogrify (Odo) his way out. Powering through can fill out an episode.

And so it does. Largely that’s what “Tribunal” is all about. O’Brien gets framed for running weapons and is arrested by Cardassians. He endures “processing”, imprisonment (actually better than processing, he gets to keep his clothes and all his teeth), and a show trial. Which brings us to the real point of the episode, the portrayal of the mercilessly efficient Cardassian legal system. We are reminded many, many times that the trial is a sham, O’Brien has already been ruled guilty and the execution is already scheduled and will Tuesday work for him.

Nevertheless, the DS9ers push their way into the proceedings and eventually compel the court to overturn the verdict. Mostly this is Odo’s handiwork. He manages to worm his way into the position of nestor, which is a sort of extra attorney behind the court-appointed milquetoast pushover O’Brien has otherwise been granted. He spends most of the proceedings badgering the judge but basically getting away with it. (I couldn’t help but thinking of the episode of Futurama where they keep asking for increasingly insane legal privilege and the judge keeps saying, “I’m going to allow this.”)

“Tribunal” is sort of an “Amok Time” for DS9. The real treat is seeing the Cardassian homeworld. Although “Amok Time” is more about Vulcans at their craziest and most primitive, “Tribunal” is maximum Cardassia: efficient and unmerciful. Also we see several new Cardassian hairstyles.

Odo tidbit: He doesn’t have any teeth. Have we gotten around to figure out how Odo eats? Does he just, like, absorb stuff?

Overall: A lot of the atmosphere stuck with me, although I can’t really recall the thread of the plot even a week later. We had to see Cardassia eventually, perhaps this is the best way. I guess maybe you can’t have a tense legal drama in a system of preordained verdicts. So, I dunno, maybe a different excuse to get planetside? Let’s go 3 out of 5.

S2E26, “The Jem’Hadar” (story: Ira Steven Behr)

Two distinct, strangely paired halves. First half is setup in the form of delightful farce. Sisko thinks he’s going to get to spend some time with Jake helping him with a science project. Instead Nog gets to tag along and Quark weasels his way aboard too. Sisko’s sitcom-style reaction suggests four’s a crowd! They visit a planet in the Gamma Quadrant to commence some science and ensue some hijinks, mostly in the form of laughing at Quark’s expense as he battles sunburn and bugs in his food (the wrong kind of bugs). Sisko finally tells him to stop complaining in a fierce enough tone that Nog is insulted by proxy, and he storms off into the forest. Jake chases him down, leaving Sisko and Quark alone, and abruptly things shift as a strange humanoid barges into their campsite, apparently being pursued by someone else: the Jem’Hadar. Sisko, Quark, and the humanoid (we learn her name is Eris and she’s a Vorta) are captured and taken away, and Jake and Nog return to an empty campsite.

A bunch of action happens in the second half, but it’s mostly a demonstration that the Jem’Hadar are for serious. There’s a bit more Jake/Nog silliness but mostly it’s just Jake failing to get the runabout to work and Nog screeching. More relevant are the Jem’Hadar proving repeatedly that they have better technology and are real jazzed about killing everyone. It’s a scary new concept for Trek, excepting maybe the Borg. In the old days we had Klingons and Romulans and Cardassians, and they were all formidable, but rarely superior to the Federation. They’d occasionally unveil something like a cloaking device as a potential game changer, but the Federation was able to keep up. The Jem’Hadar are way ahead. They can beam on and off DS9 at will, have fantastic shielding technology, are voraciously violent, and willing to engage in suicide runs. It’s, uh, not a good situation.

But it is a good teaser for future seasons! More to come.

Last note: While they’re in captivity, Sisko tells Quark to pick the lock on Eris’ neckband so she can use her body phaser or whatever it is to damage their holding cell. Quark’s fed up with being ordered around and lays into Sisko about his human superiority complex. He says he’s figured out why humans are so disdainful of Ferengi: they represent human characteristics like greed which are thought to be repulsive and left behind, but remain base instincts and absolutely present. Further, the Ferengi have no history of barbaric practices like slavery or genocides. Quark’s attack is out of left field (and crammed into the episode in such a way that it’s underdeveloped and hard to properly react to) but does try to re-frame how we are viewing Ferengi. Sisko doesn’t know how to respond immediately, but I kinda think it’s a weak argument. Yes I will concede it’s good Ferengi never had concentration camps, but simply not being shockingly, shamefully terrible doesn’t mean they’re good guys. Sisko might have retorted, “Yes, humans are pretty awful. But you have a systematically oppressive society and are constantly engaged in crime, including petty theft via lockpicking. So shut up and get at it so we can avoid getting murdered by Jem’Hadar, who are probably actively trying to do some genocides while you’re bickering with me.”

Morn watch: Now they’re just teasing me. Morn is nursing his drink and Quark invites him to open up and discuss what’s bothering him, and just as he’s about to…Quark tells him to hold that thought so he can get with Odo about something. Naturally, he forgets all about poor Morn.

Overall: Half silly and half scary. Not a lot is developed here, it’s mostly opening the door to what’s to come. But effective. 4 out of 5.

Quark and Odo huggingS2E19, “Blood Oath” (story: Peter Allan Fields)

This one’s about Klingons getting old. When they get old they still have that same bloodlust and honor-seeking drive, but I guess one can’t fight off time with a bat’leth either. An old gang of them appears on the station looking for Dax, who in a previous incarnation was a comrade, and had shared a vow with them to settle an old debt against a common enemy if they ever found him. Retired Klingons have nothing to do, one imagines, but settle old debts or find a good last glorious battle to go out with, and this is a chance to do both.

I always like me a good Klingon episode and this one doesn’t disappoint. I think they always work well in stories because they always have some ethical crisis that eventually gets resolved with the most efficient distribution of honor all around. Tell me that’s not satisfying. DS9 also seems to be continuing TNG’s trend (and really started with Star Trek VI and the end of TOS) of exploring postmodern Klingonism, a term which I have just made up, though certainly the concept isn’t new. What happens when an aggressive, battle- and conquest-crazed society starts experiencing a decline? Its influence lessens, its empire shrinks, the old ways aren’t solving all your problems anymore, and everyone slowly realizes—like it or not—that in a position of weakness, negotiation and peace is just a lot more effective. But the old guard is still around. And they seem sorta pathetic, really.

The other interesting bit here concerns Dax’s role in all of this. Sisko initially won’t grant her leave to go do a vengeance murder (possibly because it is not a Federation HR-approved leave category, and also, there’s an idea for the next time your union is settling a new CBA). But she has to honor Curzon Dax’s oath whether Sisko and other crewmates approve of the murder-mission or not. It makes it pretty awkward when she gets back to the station at the end. Dear Ask A Manager….

Tidbit: I thought all the Klingon names sounded familiar but I didn’t connect the dots until I read a review of this episode on AV Club. They are all holdover characters from TOS! It’s not really relevant to the plot since the TOS Klingons didn’t really have backstories, and none of what they did in those episodes matters here, but it’s a super fun batch of easter eggs.

Overall: A really good one, covering new ground for both Dax and the Klingons. All the Klingon guys were great, too. 5 out of 5.

S2E20/21, “The Maquis” parts I & II (story: a whole bunch of people)

“The Maquis” is an pivotal (two-part) episode that sets up some new directions and thematic territory for the series. I think it’s more successful as a setup for what’s to come than super engaging on its own. Which is to say, it’s been several weeks since I actually watched it and I’m absolutely forgetting stuff already. Here is what happens that we need to remember:

  • A new order surfaces in prominence, called the Maquis. Some people pronounce this “MOCK-kee”. Some pronounce it “muh-KEE”. Memory Alpha says “mah-KEE”. I picture fictional grouchy out-of-touch conservative Federation admirals in dim Earth conference rooms saying things like “We oughta just photon torpedo these here Mackeys” amongst friendly company.
  • The Maquis are symbolic of any group adversely affected by territorial decisions made by larger forces. See: most Earth situations where large empires divide up their holdings but cut arbitrary borders through native peoples’ lands. This gives rise to isolated ethnic groups immediately at the mercy of whomever is still around and might have better resources. It’s a natural consequence of war and imperialism and pretty much about the worst thing people do to each other on a macro scale. People are the worst.
  • Their cause has turned a few Federationers and affected Trek notables personally:
    • We first met the Maquis in TNG when Ro betrayed the Federation, and specifically Picard, to join them, pissing off Picard very, very much.
    • One of Sisko’s old pals from the Federation (played here by a wooden Bernie Casey cashing in a paycheck) turns and joins the Maquis.
  • Longer term, betrayals may continue to happen. Everyone sympathizes with the Maquis, but they are also de-stabilizing an already uneasy peace. Sisko may be doing a lot less bureaucratic shuffling and a lot more preventing all out war.

A couple other notes to call out. DS9 has had its moments as an examination of management styles and “The Maquis” has some important additions:

  1. Sisko and Dukat’s relationship is really evolving from hostility to grudging respect. I’m starting to appreciate Dukat’s stark and brutal efficiency. He just wants to blow stuff up and kill bad guys sometimes, and he’s not even wrong. Luckily Sisko has earned his respect and can always provide an effective alternative.
  2. Speaking of seemingly bad management styles that actually do make some sense sometimes: let’s talk Quark. I’m leaving out plenty about the thread with him and the Vulcan Sakonna engaging in some illegal arms deals but the meta-story is how a Ferengi and a Vulcan work together. It’s weirdly, surprisingly effective. Ferengi are certainly passionate, but about the coldly logical bottom line. Ultimately, economic arguments are pretty compelling to Vulcans. Not something I’d thought about before but it’s explored here to great effect.

Overall: Very successful. I expect things that happened here will echo for the rest of the series. Though I have to admit I found Part I a little unengaging, and the overall plot a bit cluttered, so I’ll come in at 4 out of 5.

S2E22, “The Wire” (story: Robert Hewitt Wolfe)

I think I like all the Garak episodes so far, but I’m cautious about getting too involved with him. Obviously he’s written to be tantalizingly mysterious, having had some influence among the Cardassians but is now viciously hates/is hated by Dukat and lives seemingly as an outcast, dispensing men’s fashion on DS9. He simultaneously helps the Federation whenever he can, occasionally demonstrating definitive insider knowledge of Cardassia, but he also regularly drops hints about how much everyone on DS9 hates him and the feeling is mutual. Bashir constantly badgers him about being a spy and he always says something that is somehow neither an acknowledgment nor a denial. Anyway when TV does this kind of thing it means either (A) they have a distinct vision for what’s going on and all will be made known as it best serves the story or (B) they are making it up as they go along and hoping they’ll figure something out, but they usually don’t to any real satisfaction. I have some confidence it’ll be Situation A with Garak but I’ve been disappointed by a lot of Bs.

“The Wire” keeps this going to some degree, but also lets us in on a lot of Garak background, as well as introducing the Obsidian Order. It’s sort of like a cross between the KGB and secret police of the Cardassians (and we have definitely not heard the end of them). The plot is relatively straightforward: Garak develops some medical issues he can’t hide from Bashir, which reveals that he’s got some kind of brain implant typical of members of the Obsidian Order. It’s meant to release endorphins to make him immune from pain in the event of capture, but he’s been depressed and miserable in his DS9 exile and has been gradually using it more and more like a drug. Not designed for continued use, it has burned out and he’s essentially suffering from withdrawals. But it’s less medical drama (Garak is fine in the end) than a chance to delve into his past. In particular, Garak talks about an old aide of his named Elim, and as his condition gets increasingly worse, his story leaks more and more truth about Elim. Bashir ultimately gets the final word from the head of the Obsidian Order, Enabran Tain, who clears up the Elim business but also makes it clear he wants Garak to live a long life suffering as a hated exile, a fate considered worse than death.

Morn watch: He’s seen closing down Quark’s. It seems our friend is back off the wagon again.

Overall: I thought this was a fantastic episode for Garak and Bashir with extremely strong writing and performances from both of them. I like Garak as a character, but also digging the portrayal by Andrew Robinson, who seems to relish the ambiguity of the role. He’s got oodles of secrets that he loves holding over everyone. Who wouldn’t like that? 5 out of 5.

I

On a trip to Scotland a few years ago, my wife and I happened upon a history of video games exhibit in Edinburgh. After a flat entry fee you could play everything. The exhibit started with arcade games, then took you through consoles, PC gaming, and had tons of new experimental stuff across platforms. I thought this would be good for a few hours of fun but it ended up greatly influencing my gaming ever since. It should be made clear that I am completely out of the loop on video games, having made only occasional forays into the 21st century. But for one thing, we learned about Jakub Dvorský, and stop reading this post and go play Machinarium, Botanicula, and the Samorost series immediately. I also learned about what would become my next great gaming madness: SimCity.

The original SimCity was set up on an ancient PC. I’d somehow missed it even though I have done most of my life’s gaming on ancient PCs. Kristen was excited about it. She’d played it growing up and showed me a bit about how it worked. I was super-interested immediately. I mean, of course I was: it combined maps with planning! As a game! As soon as we got back home I checked Good Old Games and was sorta disappointed they didn’t have the original, but they did have SimCity 2000. Something taking place in the distant year of 2000 might have been too advanced for me, but I decided to give it a try.

Then I played it for two months solid. I read a whole book about it. I built lots of crappy little cities with intractable design problems. Then I abandoned them and built a huge elaborate city called New Arran (in honor of the Isle of Arran, my favorite part of the Scotland trip) that filled out the whole map and made it to self-sustaining happiness. It’s been a couple years but I still think about New Arran. Some cool old neighborhoods there. Seems silly but as the mayor I lived in a huge mansion near the hip old downtown and the baseball stadium. My people loved me. Of course I still think about it.

I’d just been waiting for a good time to pick it up again.

II

SimCity’s delight is in its slow burn. You can see everything you’ll eventually have, but you can’t just have it. Other quest games gently introduce new challenges, but give you more abilities to deal with them. SimCity is a blank canvas where you can imagine a lot more than you can actually pull off immediately.

The bottleneck is cash. You start with a nice wad to bankroll some initial infrastructure, but you quickly run out and start spending more and more time passively watching the days go by (liberally using the “speed up time” feature), reading the sim newspaper and letting the city coffers fill back up with tax funds. There aren’t a lot to be had at first, either, because you don’t have that many residents. If you get greedy you can issue a bond, but the crushing interest will probably doom you in the long run. This was my mistake on my first two or three cities. With New Arran, I was patient. I refused to take out loans, and lived within my means. This is the ultimate lesson of SimCity, and if you fail to heed it, you will watch your cities decay, and your abysmal Trumpian approval rating will make daily headlines.

III

Recently Kristen has been playing Neko Atsume, the absurdly cute cat collection game. It is also played in semi-real time. The game’s various cats visit your house when (1) you’ve sufficiently lured them with toys, (2) you’ve sufficiently lured them with food, and (3) they are in the mood. It works brilliantly for an iPhone because you check the thing multiple times a day. Neko Atsume always gives you a few things to do but not continuous action. You have to leave it alone for a while and come back later. But when you do, you’ll find some cats–or at least evidence they’ve been through.

I know real-time games aren’t a completely new idea but they never made sense to me in other contexts. I never wanted a Tamagotchi or something similar I could neglect and feel bad about. A friend was telling me about Little King’s Story for Wii, which required him to do all manner of village chores to run the place. Things would take time to grow and he’d have to attend to the village regularly. Then he lost interest in the game and didn’t play for a year or two. When he thought about it again and popped it in the Wii, the village was still there, covered in weeds. The people asked why he had abandoned them.

But the Neko Atsume model clicked with me, and I felt that I had an unfilled niche for an iPhone project game. There wasn’t a lot of new ground to cover with Neko Atsume. I have demanded, and received, regular cat updates already, which is great because Kristen is doing all the actual cat habitat maintenance. But I was vaguely aware there was a SimCity iOS port, so it was time to try it.

IV

My lack of gaming currency absolutely extends to the realm of iPhone apps. I have a few little games I dig, but I tend to stick with a few reliable ones rather than cycle through new stuff. At some point I discovered that this fantastic logic puzzle game I used to play on previously-mentioned ancient PCs called Sherlock had been ported to a phone app. I still play Ticket To Ride all the time. Over the summer I played a lot of Onirim. Anyway I seldom branch out because frankly, digging into the world of gaming apps turns me into a cranky, cynical, confused old man.

The in-app purchase freemium model has its value–not everyone can or should put out a cash outlay for a garbage product–but is more generally unadulterated shady carnie hucksterism. I got a racing game once. It was free! Unless I wanted to complete a whole lap. That cost $2.99 or something. In the middle of the race it stopped me to beg for money. “Have you enjoyed the last 11 seconds? Want to keep going?” Besides the fact that most apps are just crap, free or not. Craven rip-offs of more well known titles (“Who’s for some Smetris?!”) and Facebook-sign-in-required transparent marketing lead grabs dominate the filthily competitive morass that is the App Store. But as an employed adult that will pay a few bucks for a well-designed game, I realize I am in the vanishing minority of the clientele. For every one of me there are a hundred adolescents with zero phone attention span who don’t expect to pay a cent for anything online ever. They don’t have any money anyway, which is beside the point, because app developers already know that and their actual income is from harvesting and turning out marketing data to the actual good development firms.

Anyway I dipped my toe in for SimCity BuildIt. It had a little of the SimCity goodness: plan, build, grow, earn. Nice interface for the phone, easy to move things around, with a really nice look and feel. I initially liked the way I could play a few minutes here and there (i.e., employ it as a phone game as intended) then put it down for a while, and come back later to an accumulation of back-taxes, so I’d have the resources to do more. But like any poorly-financed real estate venture, it was doomed to failure.

In the classic game design, expenses would increase, but population would increase proportionally if I was doing things right, so I maintained a level of steady linear improvement. BuildIt is decidedly exponential. It is not designed to keep things rolling. It is designed to create ever more demands, at ever higher expense. Like movies on cable that suck you in with no commercials for the first 30 minutes, then pile them on as you get more and more invested, after a brief honeymoon period I started running into all kinds of expansion bottlenecks. There’s a leveling-up mechanism that opens up new buildings, and right alongside that, construction crews will start demanding whatever those buildings provide. New resources take longer to create. The in-game trading stops offering you anything you need. Citizens started requiring new services that I hadn’t planned for and required huge investments. That might have been the most annoying: with no warning or initial infrastructure needs, these feel exploitive and arbitrary. (The sewer-less lifestyle was perfectly fine for everyone until level 8!) The net result is that taxes and basic in-game economics stopped coming anywhere close to paying the bills.

So once I was past the early levels, all choices were clear:

  • Wait literally days in real time with little or nothing to do in-game to get the resources necessary to make marginal improvements
  • Make with the cash

This mechanic didn’t sneak up on me. Right from the start they tried tempting me to drop in a few dollars for an infusion of SimCash, which would have let me skip tedious tax collection and resource development in favor of just buying stuff. But with a large open canvas in the early levels, there was plenty to do and no real need to bother. Before long they dropped the subtlety and straight-up offered me rewards to watch commercials. I took them up on it many times, just letting the commercial play while I put my phone down for a minute to do something else. Still, as it went on I thought often of giving in and dropping a few dollars–after all, the app was free and I’d gotten some enjoyment out of it, why not support it and do more in-game? But the math never made sense. I’d have wiped out my SimCash immediately on a few improvements and been right back in the same crunch.

They know all of this. It is 100% designed to hook you in and begin extracting dollars. One can theoretically avoid that forever simply through patience. But I started also feeling like I was due for limited returns. The other thing that happened once I reached the middle levels is that I was required to start socializing. Join Mayor’s Clubs, join forums, launch attacks on other cities, and reciprocate by letting them do the same to me.

V

Multiverse Theory contends that we live in just one of an infinite set of possible universes. This is an amazing thought: it is possible that there are universes where Kristen and I lingered a bit too long for a drink and didn’t make it to the video game history exhibit, or the PCs were down that day, or some other thing that didn’t remind her of SimCity, and therefore never exposed me to it. Who knows what I could have done with the dozens of hours I spent obsessing over SimCity 2000. I’d be a different person today. And further, I never would have tried SimCity BuildIt and written two thousand words about it, intertwined with thoughts on my present-day gaming life.

Another thought about the Multiverse Theory is that there might be a possible universe among the infinite in which Parallel Josh was interested, in any capacity whatsoever, in getting entangled in some contrived virtual mayoral dispute and allowing them to destroy the city I just spent weeks developing.

Vanishingly likely is that, as in this universe, once this became a requirement of progress, I made peace with my stalled efforts and deleted the app.

I have since put down a few dollars each on Mini Metro and the very good port of Pandemic. I am much happier.

Epilogue

I know EA has a long track record of this kind of nonsense, well before SimCity BuildIt. They are routinely voted the Worst Company in the county in various polls. [Although frankly, this is ridiculous. Most of these polls are online and greatly skewed towards younger voters with exclusively first-world problems, and specifically teenagers with entertainment-focused first-world problems, with endless time on their hands and no real sense of scope. Any legit poll like this should be utterly dominated by insurance companies, oil companies, and the pharmaceutical industry.] But the recent rumpus over Star Wars Battlefront II, and its crushing microtransaction malfeasance, has provided me with great delight. I understand they have lost $3 billion in stock value as a result. Here we have a game design so horrendously corrupt it is literally altering the global economy, rousing legislative rumblings, and will likely upend software design trends forever.

I suppose microtransactions will never totally go away, they are probably an inevitable outcome of capitalism. But here’s hoping we are now post-peak.

Quark and Odo huggingS2E15, “Paradise” (story: Jim Trombetta and James Crocker)

What is the archetypical first-world problem? Here are some possible runners-up:

  • Starbucks barista misspells your name on your coffee cup
  • It’s not eligible for Prime shipping
  • It’s not on Netflix/Spotify
  • Cash only

But I don’t think the Number One answer is much of a discussion: it’s when the wi-fi goes down. Of course there’s always something else to do..for a while. Even if you were just about to go do yardwork all afternoon, you peek at the router every time you come back in. Even if you were just headed out to dinner, someone eventually broaches the topic: what are we gonna do if it’s still down when we get back? Did you restart the modem? Naturally. Did you check for area outages? Of course. What can we do? The ISP basically controls our lives. Maybe we should ditch them for satellite. Or maybe we should get off the grid entirely, take back control of these absurd modern lives. This isn’t how people were meant to live. Oh, hey, it’s back on! All good again.

“Paradise” is a story of the wi-fi never coming back on. Sisko and O’Brien are doing some surveying and come across a planet with a peaceful idyllic village. We’ve been around the block with Trek enough times to learn to fear all peaceful idyllic villages. Everyone is under the influence of spores or there’s a giant stone snake head that you have to constantly feed and worship. Or it’s some kind of cult. But this bunch just has no technology. No electronic gadgets work, in theory because of some weird interference from local ore deposits generating a weird EM-disabling field. Sure, that sounds like a thing that can happen. But they’ve adjusted and flourished. The village boss, Alixus, actually turns out to have written philosophical tomes about humanity’s overreliance on technology, and haha wow what a coincidence that she ended up being stranded on a planet without it!

Well, O’Brien and Sisko aren’t all that interested in staying on full-time, eventually someone will come looking for them. I asked myself at that point how rescue was even going to work, because naturally they’d beam down and then be stranded. Then someone else would come, and they’d beam down and be stranded. Stranded landing parties all the way down. It’d be like the Monty Python gag about the fatal joke. But in the meantime, O’Brien’s in “maybe the wi-fi is back?” mode and restlessly investigating the cause, while Sisko is not working or playing well with the boss. One way to look at this is that they break down the slim facade of the false paradise both technologically and socially, making everyone self-aware, so they were free to choose what sort of life to have with full information. Another way is to say that they broke everything, and obliterated the Prime Directive doing it. But I’m not sure anyone has even mentioned the Prime Directive this entire series, so I guess we are all good.

Overall: Pretty familiar territory for Trek, but well done. Part of postmodern life is wondering, basically daily, if we’d be better off with a significant technological pullback. Maybe let’s keep Prime Shipping though. 4 out of 5.

S2E16, “Shadowplay” (story: Robert Hewitt Wolfe)

At this point I’m writing several weeks behind viewing and my memory is not always great about how I felt about each episode. But I remember this one: it was great. I keep watching more Star Trek shows because they have an ability to kick out a purely great SF episode at any time, but they also never fail to emphasize characters. As an excellent example of Trek at its best, I’d like to welcome “Shadowplay” to my 5-star club.

Three threads here. Primarily it’s a story about a small village that presents an interesting SF mystery: the mystery of why aren’t these people wanting to ever leave some dumpy village in the middle of nowhere, where the best available toy is a top. Plus a bunch of people are missing but like, where would they even go? Weirdly it never occurs to any of the locals that they might leave this place for somewhere with, I dunno, Xboxes. The writing is very strong, the crew works through the problem in an interesting way, and eventually we learn there is sort of a portable holodeck problem happening. Of course, all holodecks break eventually and need to get turned off and turned back on. I just realized I got tricked into liking a holodeck episode!

While the SF story is interesting, Odo’s friendship with one of the villagers, a young girl named Taya, ends up being the bigger character takeaway. He assumes she will either be scared of him or expect him to do tricks like any other jerk kid, but she doesn’t judge him at all. So, the perpetually lonely Odo’s best new friend ends up being a holographic young girl. He likes her enough that he does a cool spinning top trick for her after all. (Luckily she’s easily impressed.) It was all very sweet but also extremely sad for Odo. I kind of thought he should get a copy of Taya so they could keep being friends back on DS9, but that’s probably even more sad.

What else is going on:

  • Sisko puts a little light pressure on Jake to start thinking about his future with Starfleet by making him intern with O’Brien. Jake already feels like Starfleet isn’t for him, and a baffling day sorting out problems with isolinear rods with O’Brien somehow doesn’t sway him. We learn that O’Brien was similarly almost steered into a nightmarish career as a cello player by his father, where he would probably never get to work with isolinear rods. But he had a heart-to-heart with his father, who eventually came around, and he tells Jake that Benjamin probably would be more supportive than disappointed. Later Jake talks to him, and he’s fine with it. I mean, of course he would be. He’s a good dude. Jake and Benjamin are so nice I sometimes think they are there just to have one conflict-free relationship in the show.
  • Quark is engaged in some kind of smuggling scheme and Kira’s onto him. Quark gets out of it by setting her up with Vedek Bareil. It seems like an un-Kira thing to forget about dealing with a serious problem because she’s feeling all mushy, but Quark is an expert at getting out of trouble, so there we go.
  • We get a very disappointing tease that Bashir has been learning about surveillance techniques from Garak, and Kira wants him to use them on Quark, but then she forgets all about it when Bareil shows up. Ugh, that guy. Got a party you want to make awkward fast? This is your dude. He’s the opposite of charisma. He’s watered-down 7-Up. He’s a beige ball of boring. Luckily his relationship with Kira is more of a setup here that will be more relevant later.

Overall: 5 out of 5. Lots happening and a great story. Really liked this one.

S2E17, “Playing God” (story: Jim Trombetta)

This one didn’t stick with me as much, so just some notes:

  • It’s most about Dax and Arjin, her Trill initiate. Like Jake from the previous episode, he’s sort of just playing out the string on what his family wants him to do, but since we don’t know his character, I’m not sure we care about him too much. It’s a better episode for Dax, who is pretty interesting when she’s not being the science officer. The problem with her actual job is that I’m actually not even totally sure what it is. In TOS they always needed a science officer to analyze stuff, but mostly she’s just waiting around for things to come to DS9. Outside of work, she gambles with Ferengi, she likes Klingon food (make mine extra squirmy!), she tries to get Arjin to loosen up by not constantly giving her his resume, and also walking around in just a towel. (Which was not actually a good way to get him to relax.)
  • Some weeks later, I’m not really sure what the heck was actually going on in this one. Definitely leaning on the technobabble: some kinda weird field, some made-up particles, a proto-universe that doesn’t seem to respond to physical laws. This is typically a proxy for “listen, we just need something to happen and move things along” and rarely works. Not sure why. Too fantastic? It’s just a hazy danger that will kill everyone.
  • Also the space voles were super gross and I’m not sure it’s that interesting to push the plot forward on account of vole hijinks like having them eat some critical wiring, although if we’re being realistic about a universe with a lot of animal life, shouldn’t this kind of thing be a constant nuisance? At present we live on one planet, and there’s no end of invasive species. My house always has bugs. DS9 is a major port! I know their decontamination technology is way ahead of ours, but they should be constantly dealing with some kind of weeds or viruses. Like tribbles! The universe must be loaded with stuff like that, except usually grosser.

Overall: Not terrible, just didn’t stick with me. 2 out of 5.

S2E18, “Profit and Loss” (story: Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus)

When I see upcoming episode summaries, I’m probably most excited by Quark’s name. Maybe they’ll get old if he doesn’t develop any more as a character and just continues to be a semi-bungling schemer. I liked the first few holodeck episodes of TNG I saw, too. But for now, he’s easily the most lively character and I can expect something other than depressing interstellar politics. (I should make it clear DS9 is doing some fantastic stuff with depressing interstellar politics. It’s not that they aren’t good viewing, just not what one would call “fun.” As a show that can be light on laughs, Quark is a pretty vital character.)

The premise: a small group of Cardassians reluctantly board the station when their ship is damaged–“reluctant” because they are political radicals on the run from Cardassia. Which normally wouldn’t involve Quark, except that he’d try to sell them some kind of black market weapon or fake IDs or something. But he gets involved because it turns out their leader Natima is an old flame he’s still desperately in love with. So we have Quark AND interstellar politics. Which I, I don’t know. Maybe? Does that work?

It follows that it only sort of does. Most of the episode is various forms of negotiation (1) between DS9 and Cardassia about how to handle the situation, or (2) between Quark and Natima about whether they can make things work when she’s got bigger problems. The former makes for pretty typical DS9 fare. It’s tense and complex and handled well, if a bit slow-developing. The Quark part, I’m not sure. Felt a little off to me. Quark drifts fairly well outside of his usual boundaries, namely by displaying actual courage. He’s done it before–as recently as “Rules of Acquisition“–and if he’s not careful he’s going to wreck his reputation as a money-grubbing sleaze merchant. But I didn’t feel like it was out of character for him in “Rules of Acquisition.” It just made sense to keep up the ruse, it was making him money. Here he’s just a lovestruck doofus, which is fine for a human or betazoid or something but for a Ferengi? Ferengi males don’t seem to be in the habit of grand gestures.

Trivia bit: Memory Alpha tells me the writers are a wife & husband team that wrote a bunch of straight-to-video Disney sequels.

Overall: The premise is an interesting experiment, but the outcome is mixed. 3 out of 5.

The ultimate privilege of developed-world living is that you may devote exactly as much of your mental bandwidth as you wish to basic biological functions. We largely transform them from their pure function into pleasurable rituals. Food is a tasty daily highlight–not only delicious but it’s family time, a break from work, a prime opportunity for socializing. Trips to the bathroom are also “breaks”. Bathrooms accomplish exactly what you need them for, are clean, climate-controlled and plentiful, with locking doors and pipes that blissfully carry everything away. And sleep! The ultimate break. On a bed, comfortably alone or with extremely select company.

Now what if I told you there exists a place within this privileged society in which people go, quite regularly, usually on purpose, where all of this is taken away. We call those places airports.

Airports are the Western world’s closest non-war-zone approximation of Hell, though the torture is more subtle. Food: decidedly not fun, but pure sustenance gathering, joyless calorie acquisition. Forget finding something you would like to eat, the goal is to find anything you are willing to eat, at scarcity pricing. Bathrooms: oh there are plenty, especially if you like them crowded and vile. Sleep: oh goodness, no.

What could make this nightmare even worse? A flight delay. Now it’s still the airport, but for longer. The airport as a place has already stripped you of physical comforts. Flight delays work on your emotions. “Why is this happening?” “I’m never getting home.” “I’m stupid to have paid for this, should have driven.” “I’m suing everybody.” You’re mad if you can blame someone (overbooking, airline trying to stretch out a crew) you’re mad if you can’t (weather, mechanical issues). Further, you’re surrounded by dozens of people in the same state.

Now we are at the true dark heart of all this: all of the above, but also enduring everyone else. Usually in life you can ignore almost everyone almost all the time but in this situation, you are trapped overhearing all the little comments, everyone’s lizard-brain opinions, fears, questions, non sequiturs.

“This is the worst airline ever. Never flying them again.”

[Cable news blaring on TV]

[Commercials for cable news blaring on TV]

“I heard this airport can keep a flight on the runway for six hours.”

“Why won’t they tell us what’s happening?!”

Outraged business guy on earpiece phone at maximum volume for the third straight hour: “Still delayed! They say it’s paperwork! What a joke! Paperwork! Anyway, better get back to these sales reports.”

“You see Game of Thrones last night? I thought it sucked.”

[Kid screaming. Then laughing. Then screaming again. Now parent screaming too.]

This. This is what Twitter is like.

Every minor thought that anyone ever thought about everything, many under stress, no matter how reactionary, inconsiderate, fear mongering, insipid, all presented in an endless scroll**. Of course there are some nuggets in the firehose. Good Twitter exists. Funny Twitter exists. You can also try following only people who are smart and you whose opinion you’d actually want. Ideally you’d think that is how to stifle the flight delay-level comments, but that’s not what really happens. Instead Twitter is a sewer-like platform where the worst of the worst rises to the top. Even the well-meaning re-tweet all the terrible. They see something stupid, it makes them mad, they re-tweet to get confirmation on how truly terrible it is. Also they have a good joke about it that would be killer if the offender ever saw it. (They won’t see it.) This is the same as being the passenger in a car that just got cut off and the driver is yelling at the other idiot. Of course the other idiot can’t hear that, but all the afflicted passengers get to. Similarly, one can never escape the cascades of re-tweets and .@s. The general theme being: “Wow, look at this asshole!”

Listen, I *know* they’re out there. I don’t need reminders. It’s why flight delays are so bad, way beyond any inconveniences. Nothing good will come from me absorbing everyone else’s reactions other than to start wondering, in the absence of facts, whether they might all somehow be right? At least I can put on headphones, or take a walk. But Twitter makes sure I notice. Whether it’s some unfathomably horrendous human in an actual elected job who engenders so little trust I wouldn’t ask them to water my plants for a weekend (e.g., the current President of the United States), or some Fox News talking head, or Martin Shkreli, or a Twitter egg who created an account just to rant at SportsCenter anchors: I *know*. I don’t read tabloids or eat batteries either. I have a general sense of things that are good and bad for me. But Twitter became a place where the worse you are, the more attention you will get. And the effect is that the object of scorn just sees all the re-tweets and thinks, “The people are with me on this.”

I have never hate-followed anyone. Especially not *rump because I am unclear on the appeal of reading the incoherent spew of a incendiary senile idiot. There are a million Twitter users with bald eagle avatars saying the same garbage. Only the cosmic coincidence of his birth into wealth has put him into a situation where anyone knows his name, otherwise he’d be stuck distributing his rants on moist pamphlets from a dingy street corner like a normal crazy person. Since it’s later than 2010, he isn’t confined to the crackliest corners of AM radio, either. Instead, the ultra-privileged son-of-a-millionaire with a gift for the attention grab became of the voice of angry old white America because that’s the way Twitter works. It follows that the ultimate mechanism for identifying assholes would eventually surface their King.

We learn more and more about the toxic effect of social media daily. […he blogs. But I think blogs never had the same problems: they require more energy and focus, so they aren’t just emotional car honks. Blogging is also a medium without the constant reward-generating effect of the endless scroll. It doesn’t have any of the same horrifying privacy issues. It can have a similarly isolating bubble effect, but it’s not so baked in.] We know that social media makes you depressed. It cuts you off from opposing views and in fact, is downright awesome at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs. People legitimately thought Hilary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza place–they wanted to believe she was doing something, anything, illegal. Then they received evidence, via social media. Fox News invents some similar rumor every time the Democrats have a good day, no doubt they hope each will spread on Facebook in the same way. And somehow social media is still managing to get worse. We’re only just starting to learn how thoroughly it’s been compromised by trolls and bots. Facebook’s money-grubbing algorithms have been insidiously helping polarize people for years. Millions of Twitter bots retweet everything *rump says to millions of users. Even back when they were both just feeds of humans posting, you are always seeing people at their best or worst. No wonder everything started to feel black or white.

This obviously starts getting tied up with more deeply frustrating problems. Social media can only partially explain how a thoroughly incompetent out-of-touch millionaire with no policies and no experience gets elected president with millions fewer votes thanks to extreme tribalism and a broken electoral college system. Whether Hilary was a good choice or not, if he had been running against a bucket of warm barf no one should have voted for him. Almost a year in, a theoretical President Barf Bucket would have done exactly as much to create blue collar jobs, wouldn’t have appointed a transparently corrupt cabinet, and wouldn’t be pointlessly taunting a rogue nuclear state. But certainly Twitter’s propensity for normalizing crazy by constant, repeated exposure should get some of the blame for how that insane thing actually happened. Just the fact that *rump loves it tells you it’s probably bad. It’s the perfect medium to eschew nuance, avoid criticism, and yell at strangers. It’s made for politics.

Social media has its positives. I’ve had some laughs. I did occasionally connect with old friends or make new ones. In spite of its limitations it’s an amazing window into real ongoing issues which I never properly understood as a white, middle class, cisgendered dude. Likewise I found solidarity knowing there were others with the same baggage as me. That’s some genuine good.

But I think the moment is past for me. Speaking of baggage, Twitter is overloaded with it now. They just upped it to 280 characters, which I don’t imagine is going to add nuance as much as provide the ignorant the ability to double down on stupid. Also years of Twitter memes are about to resurface and be twice as tiresome. Blogging, even very occasionally, and sticking with RSS on a few vetted sites has a lot more value for me. I think we got it right getting away from mainstream dominance for all media with some bits of the internet. But not having to listen to EVERYONE is the happy medium. So that’s why I’m quitting.

Also because of Awards Show Twitter.

** I have also seen Twitter compared to the river of hate-slime from Ghostbusters 2. Exactly what I’m talking about.